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Why Yahweh isn’t a spirit

Image and likeness
Yahweh is often treated as being a spirit in the Tanakh. Among Abrahamic faiths, Yahweh is a spirit, or more commonly admitted today as a disembodied mind. He lacks flesh and bone, viz., a physical body. He is incorporeal and non-spatio-temporal. The reason Yahweh must be so is because if he’s corporeal and spatio-temporal, then he is subject to physics. If he is subject to physics, then he cannot be omnipotent. Not only that, matter is treated as a creation and Yahweh isn’t created.

My observation of what’s in the Tanakh tells me otherwise. It begins in Genesis 1:26 where Yahweh tells his divine council, “Let’s make humans in our image, after our likeness.” The image of God isn’t understood as if Yahweh has human-like features to those of the Abrahamic faiths. Technically, the appropriate understanding would be to say that humans have divine-like features, having been created by Yahweh. Instead, the image of God refers to something metaphoric.

If one looks at the Hebrew word צֶלֶם, translated as “image”, one will find oftentimes that it’s used in a context of idols.1 Cult images (often called idols) are physical objects, which represent deities. There are two instances I’m aware of where צֶלֶם doesn’t refer to physical objects, but these ironically are in poetic literature.2 In Genesis 5:3, it is said that Adam “fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.” To put it another way, Seth was the spitting image of Adam.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that two verses earlier, the author writes that Yahweh made Adam in his likeness.3 I don’t see any reason to assume there’s a difference in understanding the language. Since likeness and sameness aren’t the same, I am not saying that when Adam was created that he had the exact features that Yahweh had. What I mean is that Adam wouldn’t be an exact replica, just like Seth wouldn’t be an exact replica of Adam.

A possible objection to the notion that Yahweh has some kind form might be that צֶלֶם refers to function, not a literal image. How then, does one get around this when Seth shares this image of Adam? Where is it defined that צֶלֶם refers to function? The conflict isn’t within the Tanakh. It’s that Abrahamic faiths believe Yahweh is a spirit who is without any form. When John wrote in his gospel that Yahweh is a spirit, he likely used this belief from what he was taught.

Walking with God
In order to walk, you needs legs. In the story of the fall, Yahweh walks in the garden some time later in the day. Adam and Eve hear Yahweh approaching, so they hide because they’re naked. Yahweh calls out to Adam and asks where he’s at. I used to think that when Yahweh asked, “Where are you?”, he was simply asking a rhetorical question. After all, an all-knowing god wouldn’t need to ask this question. Yet, what I think is most telling in this story is that Adam and Eve hid.

Why I think this is so telling is because if Adam and Eve knew Yahweh, they probably would have known him better than any Jew, Christian, or Muslim today. Why would they hide, unless they were unaware of the fact that Yahweh was all-knowing? This might be a reason given to preserve the notion that Yahweh lacks a physical body. I don’t think one needs to even suggest omniscience, since if Yahweh is omnipresent, Adam and Eve couldn’t hide if they even tried.

What the author tells us is that Adam and Eve hid themselves from Yahweh’s presence.4 Once again, one who believes Yahweh is a spirit would need to explain how Adam and Eve weren’t in Yahweh’s presence if he was omnipresent. It would be like trying to explain how Cain was still in Yahweh’s presence, even after Cain left Yahweh’s presence and went to dwell in the land of Nod.5 This language would be contradictory if it gave the impression that one wasn’t in Yahweh’s presence, even if one was.

Once Adam told Yahweh the reason he hid was because he was naked, Yahweh asks him who told him he was naked. Neither an omniscient, nor omnipresent god would have to ask this question. It’s easy to dismiss this by asserting the question was rhetorical. However, a rhetorical question isn’t meant to receive an answer. It’s meant to make a point. Adam answered Yahweh and gave his reason why he hid and even blamed Eve, whom Yahweh made.

The appearance of God
Going back to Yahweh walking in the garden, this might be treated as a theophany. I find this to be unwarranted. I suspect the reason why events where Yahweh performs actions that would otherwise only be possible as a human is because Abrahamic faiths believe Yahweh is a spirit.6 It’s unusual that if Yahweh is a spirit that there would be phrases, such as “spirit of Yahweh” or “spirit of God”. I understand trinitarians will say this is the Holy Spirit, but I think “spirit” has a lot of baggage.

I don’t understand the spirit of Yahweh in a literal sense. I would agree that this is part of Yahweh and that there is more than one meaning. The spirit of Yahweh is associated with prophesying or inspiration. Having once been a Christian myself, the understanding I get from this is feeling great joy or awe. It’s quite an emotional experience, which is often associated with the belief that such an event could only have come from God. Isaiah says of the coming messiah:7

And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

I suspect a theological bias is present in this verse, only because the first letter in “spirit” is capitalized. What I want to show here is that no one thinks there are multiple spirits. The spirit of Yahweh needn’t refer to a person any more than the spirit of jealousy,8 or the spirit of Elijah.9 The spirit of God is also considered to be the wind.10 In the creation narrative, it is often translated that the spirit of God hovered over the face of the deep, but Josephus, for example, didn’t understand it this way. He wrote:11

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. But when the earth did not come into sight, but was covered with thick darkness, and a wind moved upon its surface, God commanded that there should be light: and when that was made, he considered the whole mass, and separated the light and the darkness; and the name he gave to one was Night, and the other he called Day: and he named the beginning of light, and the time of rest, The Evening and The Morning, and this was indeed the first day.

Another example of the spirit of God being wind can be found in 2 Kings 2:16 where the sons of the prophets who tell Elisha that there are with his servants fifty strong men. They tell him to let them please seek Elijah. It is often translated that the “Spirit of the Lord” might have caught up Elijah and cast him to some mountain or valley. Within this context, it would make more sense if it was translated “wind of the Lord” because it lifted up Elijah and cast him to some mountain or valley.

The whirlwind was most likely a tornado. The first verse of this chapter states that Yahweh was going to take Elijah up into heaven by a whirlwind, viz., taken up into the sky by a tornado. Chances are Elijah didn’t survive when this event is understood this way. Since there is no single meaning for “spirit”, it should be understood within the context one is provided with.

I could see someone object to the idea that Yahweh has a physical body because he speaks from the burning bush in Exodus 3. There are two things worth noting. The first is that it is the messenger of Yahweh, not Yahweh himself. Second, the messenger of Yahweh appears to Moses in a flame, which I would understand this to actually be saying that the messenger appeared as a flame. This doesn’t say anything about Yahweh or his messenger being a theophany, that is, a manifestation of God.

Perhaps this wouldn’t be a popular view, but shapeshifting would be equally a possible explanation. After all, if Yahweh was the burning bush, and if Yahweh could appear as a man,12 or even a pillar of cloud and fire,13 then it’s just as valid as the belief in theophanies. I don’t expect any Jew, Christian, or Muslim to suddenly agree with this, likely due to both tradition and because their scriptures support the belief that Yahweh is a spirit. Jews would be an exception if they accepted the Tanakh alone.

I could continue searching through the Tanakh to present more examples of Yahweh possessing a form of some kind, experience physical attributes such as the use of senses, emotion, and actions, but I think all of this should suffice. If there is a verse or more that I have forgotten about where Yahweh is clearly demonstrated to be a spirit, then I’d be more than happy to see it. Otherwise, there isn’t much else to be said.

References

  1. Numbers 33:52; 1 Samuel 6:5, 11; 2 Kings 11:18; 2 Chronicles 23:17; Ezekiel 7:20; 16:17; 23:14; Amos 5:26
  2. Psalm 39:6; 73:20
  3. Genesis 5:1
  4. ibid. 3:8
  5. ibid. 4:16
  6. Christians have a reason to believe this because of John 4:24. Perhaps Muslims do, too. As for Jews, I’m not so certain.
  7. Isaiah 11:2
  8. Numbers 5:14
  9. 2 Kings 2:9, 15; cf. Luke 1:17
  10. Genesis 1:2
  11. Antiquities, Book 1, Chapter 1
  12. Genesis 18:1-21
  13. Exodus 13:21, 22; These phrases have been thought to be referring to an active volcano producing volcanic ash (“pillar of cloud”) and lava (“pillar of fire”).

Are there morals without humans?

I don’t care about the subject of morality, but I have found myself recently thinking about morality. If I had to say what kind of moral position I hold, it’d be moral relativism. I’ve been thinking about a possible world without humans. If humans didn’t exist, but all other animals today did exist, would there be morals? I will imagine in this possible world that animals that have been domesticated by humans do not exist, but their ancestors and offspring that might have come about from natural selection do.

If morals do exist, even if humans do not, how does one determine that morals would still exist? Invoking the belief in a god wouldn’t matter because even if this god was good, there wouldn’t be any way to determine his goodness. In fact, if that which is immoral is that which offends this god, then there wouldn’t be immorality, since he couldn’t be offended by anyone. He couldn’t be offended by animals, since animals aren’t in need of any kind of salvation.

I wondered if my lack of belief that morals aren’t objective or independent of humans made me a moral nihilist. It might or might not be. It seems to me it’s not so definitive. I do accept that morals serve a purpose in society. I think they are a social construct based on the ability to experience empathy and to think rationally. I am willing to admit that morals have existed before humans existed, but not to the degree we can understand. After all, morals have progressed as our past can attest.

Problems with the Kalām Cosmological Argument

What is the Kalām Cosmological Argument?
The Kalām Cosmological Argument (KCA) is an argument written in the form of modus ponens to come to the conclusion that the Universe has a cause, which is often thought to be God. The word comes from الكَلام, which is Arabic for “speech”. الكَلام wasn’t just meant to defend only the cosmological argument. It applied to the defense of the Islamic faith as a whole. Today, analytic philosopher and Christian apologist William Lane Craig is a well-known proponent of the KCA amongst both Christians and skeptics alike.

While the KCA isn’t a stand-alone argument, it is one of many arguments used to prove the existence of God. It is also one of Craig’s most common argument used throughout debates with skeptics. It may be said that Craig has refined the KCA, but from what it appears, the argument has remained the same. There might be underlying arguments that lead to each premise, but I am not aware of such arguments and I will be focusing only on the two that are offered. Here’s the argument.

P1: Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
P2: The Universe began to exist.
C: Therefore, the Universe has a cause.

Everything or nothing
We can see this is quite a basic argument, but if the premises are true, then so is the conclusion. I am not the first to critique the KCA—let alone offer criticism—nor shall I be the last. It seems P2 is the first to be addressed among skeptics, but I think addressing P1 affects P2. I will begin by addressing the word “everything”. I would understand “everything” to involve more than just the physical universe. Of course, Craig might be focused only on the physical universe.

If Craig is focused only on the physical universe, then this entails an interesting result. It seems to me that Craig uses a particular criterion, specifically everyday experience. I will refer this as the “experience criterion”. Based on this criterion, “everything” must be referring to anything or something. Suppose everything E, anything A, and something S are all equivalent. We can then understand this as E = A = S. If this can be agreed upon, then let’s rephrase the first premise.

P1: Something that begins to exist has a cause.

What’s interesting about this is that I know Craig doesn’t believe something can come into existence from nothing. At the same time, he believes that God created the physical universe out of nothing. This common belief in the Abrahamic faiths is known as creatio ex nihilo. Since something cannot come into existence from nothing,1 this first premise would only make sense in a temporal understanding. However, since nothing cannot include anything, this means time isn’t included. This is a contradiction.

From small beginnings come great things
What do people think of when they hear someone use the word “begin”? One could say, “The movie is going to begin”, or “We began a project”, or “In the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah the son of Josiah”.2 In all of these instances, we find ourselves understanding something temporal. In fact, since “begin” is a word related to time, one cannot sensibly speak of the beginning of the Universe prior to 10-43 seconds.3 What I mean by this is no one currently knows what was prior to 10-43 seconds.

Now that I have presented a few examples of what is understood by “begin” based on experience, it’s also worth noting that physical things are made up of pre-existing materials. If we consider something as simple as a wooden chair, we can point out that the wood came from a tree, and the tree came from a seed. This seed used soil, water, and sunlight to grow. Where did the seed come from? We wouldn’t assume it came from a primordial seed that always existed.

Perhaps Craig or proponents of the KCA might say this isn’t comparable to God. Why not? Because God isn’t physical, and seeds couldn’t exist eternally in some infinite past, especially because actual infinites are impossible. That’s fine and well, but one wouldn’t need to assume a primordial seed has an infinite past, although if something is eternal, it would have an infinite past. If God is eternal, then he also has an infinite past, which means he’s an actual infinite, or at least has an attribute of an actual infinite.

If Craig or proponents of the KCA must point out the differences between God and the Universe, then why is Craig allowed to use physical objects in the physical universe to describe or explain the existence of a non-physical being? Humans build objects like chairs. Humans are conscious. God creates objects like universes. God is conscious. It turns out God is built upon an analogical argument, although it is an imperfect analogical argument. The first premise, too, is built on an analogical argument.

Based on the experience criterion, I cannot say that I’ve ever observed an object come into existence. Neither has Craig. This is the reason why he has a problem with the notion that the physical universe came into existence out of nothing. Yet, not only have humans built things with pre-existing materials, so have other animals, such as birds building nests. Even the Universe has made astronomical objects like stars and planets. To be consistent, Craig should accept creatio ex materia.

Craig holds to an Aristotelian view of causality. Two of the four causes are the efficient cause and the material cause. The efficient cause may be thought of as a sculptor. What is a sculptor if he has nothing to sculpt? He requires material of some kind. I’ll use marble. Marble is then the material cause. It might be said that Craig doesn’t believe the Universe didn’t come into existence from nothing, since God was the one who created the Universe, and God would constitute something.

Let’s think of God as G, material as M, and the Universe as U. Would Craig believe G ⇒ M ⇒ U? No. Craig would believe G ⇒ U. M is unnecessary in his belief. A skeptic, on the other hand, would likely accept M so that his view is M ⇒ U. This would mean the skeptic is fine believing something has existed eternally, but it isn’t a god. Of course, in order to avoid eternality, and by extension, an actual infinite, Craig describes God as timeless, viz. not affected by time or the passage of time.

This would still make God eternal, and the fact that he’s described as so within the Bible means this view must be maintained to be consistent. Craig knows the problem of how God could cause something without time existing. This is a common objection to the KCA, after all. This is what Craig says from his site, Reasonable Faith:4

This is admittedly hard for us to imagine. But one way to think about it is to envision God existing alone without the universe as changeless and timeless. His free act of creation is a temporal event simultaneous with the universe’s coming into being. Therefore, God enters into time when He creates the universe. God is thus timeless without the universe and in time with the universe.

I’m not certain how I am to imagine God existing alone without the physical universe, let alone a non-physical universe. By non-physical universe, I’m referring to some other plane of existence like heaven. If there wasn’t anything, except God, how did God even exist? How was he omnipresent if there wasn’t anywhere to be present? In order to be present, one needs to be in a particular location, and a particular location would need to be spatial. Or that’s what the experience criterion would tell me.

I don’t see how God’s free act of creation could be a temporal event simultaneous with the Universe coming into being. I understand that this idea seems intuitive. If you threw a brick at a window, the brick would come into contact with the window and simultaneously shatter it. This is cause and effect, but without cause and effect, God couldn’t even begin to create anything. Entering time as you create time is like entering a house as you begin to build it. It’s nonsense.

It’s also worth noting that objects that have some sort of beginning aren’t actually created out of nothing, but are simply rearranged. I doubt Craig really means “Everything that begins to be rearranged has a cause.” Yet, this is what one would expect based on the experience criterion. In Craig’s mind, the Universe wasn’t made, it was created, and while that might seem insignificant, it’s very significant for proponents of creatio ex nihilo. An object that’s made is an object of pre-existing materials. Creation is not.

An existential crisis
If one thinks of “everything” or “begins”, there is an implicit understanding that it exists. After all, these would be the opposite of non-existence because they are something, rather than nothing. Why does Craig use the word “exist” in P1? Even al-Kindi of the 9th century didn’t mention the word “exist”. I will present his argument as a syllogism while preserving his argument verbatim.5

P1: Every being which begins has a cause for its beginning.
P2: Now the world is a being which begins.
C: Therefore, it possesses a cause for its beginning.

As far as I’m aware, existence isn’t a predicate. For example, Socrates does not exist. The predicate would be “does not exist”. How could Socrates lack Socrates? If “being” is synonymous with “existence”, then al-Kind’s argument is problematic. After all, Immanuel Kant wrote in The Critique of Pure Reason, “Being is evidently not a real predicate, that is, a conception of something which is added to the conception of some other thing. It is merely the positing of a thing, or of certain determinations in it.”6

Cause célèbre
Having used the experience criterion throughout my critique, I will apply this to causality. Since God is timeless in Craig’s belief, God cannot have any causal power.7 Without time, an event would remain motionless like a paused movie. The only alternative is to think God was within time before producing a universe with its own time. Craig doesn’t have a problem with God being temporal with the Universe’s presence, so what’s wrong with God being in a temporal location prior?

Creatio ex materia
The Hebrew for “In [the] beginning” is בְּרֵאשִׁית. You will notice that I put the definite article in brackets. Why? The Hebrew lacks a definite article. The translation would quite literally read “In beginning”. This issue isn’t new. Medieval French rabbi, Shlomo Yitzchaki—commonly known as Rashi—pointed this out in his commentary regarding. He considered that if one wished to read this creation narrative as a creation sequence, it should have read,8

At first (בָּרִאשׁוֹנָה) He created the heavens and the earth.

What’s more interesting is Rashi’s mentioning of the waters. He tells those who accept the narrative, “be astounded at yourself, for the water preceded, as it is written: ‘and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the water,’ and Scripture did not yet disclose when the creation of water took place!” While I understand Craig doesn’t take the creation narrative literally, he does believe creatio ex nihilo, which the Abrahamic faiths accept based on the narrative.

Primordial water is a common motif in the ancient Near East. Benben was a mound that came out from the primordial water, Nu.9 In Enûma Eliš, Apsu bore heaven and earth.10 Tiamut appears to be the mother of the two as well. Both Apsu and Tiamut are primordial waters. Interestingly, the second creation narrative says nothing about primordial waters. Furthermore, just like Enûma Eliš, the second narrative is treated similarly in phrasing. Consider:

  1. When in the height heaven was not named, and the earth beneath did not yet bear a name.
  2. When the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

If Craig involved himself in exegesis, he might focus on “created” in the first creation narrative, but because a literal translation would read “In beginning”, the entirety of the first verse must be rearranged so that it would read, “In [the] beginning of God’s creating the heavens and the earth [. . .]”. The New Jewish Publication Society Bible reads, “When God began to create heaven and earth”.11 This is comparable to both Genesis 2:4 and Enûma Eliš.

What about the personified wisdom, who states that she was with God before the depths? The Hebrew word for “depths” is the same word for “deep” in Genesis 1:2. I would see this as a contradiction. The conservative view would likely say this isn’t a contradiction and could be explained by saying the creation narrative doesn’t say when the water was created. Well, it doesn’t say the water was created to begin with, and the author of Genesis wasn’t the author of Proverbs.

Even so, the belief of primordial water is not present in modern cosmology, so regardless of whether or not God created water, the conflict between a supposedly divinely-inspired book and modern science is present.12 If I understand Craig correctly, it seems to me that he believes that if the Bible is errant, it doesn’t mean Jesus’ divinity, nor his resurrection “go down the drain”.13 So I am curious as to what he thinks about the inconsistencies between the creation narrative and modern cosmology.

A sloppy syllogism
To conclude my critique regarding the KCA, I will present the final result of Craig’s KCA when it is rephrased based on the arguments I presented. I present it thus.

P1: Something that begins to be rearranged has a physical cause.
P2: The physical universe is something that began to be rearranged.
C: Therefore, the physical universe has a physical cause.

References

  1. This is based on the Parmenidean thought nihil fit ex nihilo.
  2. Jeremiah 27:1; cf. Genesis 1:1 where the Hebrew בְּרֵאשִׁית, that is “In [the] beginning” is also used in a temporal sense.
  3. This is called Planck time.
  4. Reasonable Faith, The Kalam Cosmological Argument by William Lane Craig
  5. Reasonable Faith (Craig, 1994)
  6. Critique of Pure Reason, Section IV. Of the Impossibility of an Ontological Proof of the Existence of God
  7. Causality requires time.
  8. Bereishit – Genesis – Chapter 1 (Parshah Bereishit)
  9. Genesis 1:9 states that land appeared from the water.
  10. Enûma Eliš, First Tablet
  11. JPS Tagged Tanakh, Genesis Chapter 1 | Parsha Bere’shit
  12. See 2 Peter 3:5, 6 where the author believes God created the world out of water.
  13. Reasonable Faith, What Price Biblical Errancy?

A reply to Kyle Butt’s FANG refutation

The problem with Butt’s problem
I recently stumbled upon a response to Dan Barker’s Freewill Argument for the Non-existence of God (FANG).1 The author of the response, Kyle Butt, begins by summarizing Barker’s argument. Butt believes Barker’s argument has “several problems” for this argument. The first problem, according to Butt, is how Barker can maintain that personal beings have free will, yet not believe humans, who are personal beings, have free will. In order to support this, Butt quotes Barker from his debate with Peter Payne, where he thinks free will is an illusion. Barker considers himself “a strict determinist.”

I thought to myself what relevance does this have if Barker actually doesn’t believe free will exists? It doesn’t seem to have an relevance, since Barker doesn’t consider himself omniscient. I decided I’d be charitable in my interpretation of what Barker meant by free will being an illusion and what he meant by “strict determinist”. Having been able to actually read Barker’s argument, I feel that I have been charitable. I don’t doubt Butt read Barker’s argument, but it seems strange that Butt could have missed this.

According to Christians, personal beings have free will.

This doesn’t state that Barker himself believes personal beings have free will, so I don’t think there’s anything difficult for Barker to maintain. In fact, Butt quotes Barker from his book, Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists. This is what Barker says.2

I am a determinist, which means that I don’t think complete libertarian free will exists. Since we don’t know the future . . . we have the illusion of free will, which to me is what ‘free will’ actually means.

I think if Butt had used the principle of charity, he wouldn’t have fallen into a misrepresentation of what Barker actually believes. Reading Barker’s words, it seemed to me that when he said he doesn’t think complete libertarian free will exists, he wasn’t denying free will. He was simply denying the libertarian definition of free will. In fact, I decided to see what it was that Barker actually believes. Ironically, Butt should have known better,3 unless his article was written prior to his FANG response. From Barker’s same book,4

By the way, this contributes to my compatibilist position on human free will.

Perhaps Butt simply overlooked this if his response to the FANG argument was written afterwards. Either way, it’s clear that Barker believes in some kind of free will, just not the libertarian kind, which he considers illusory. Butt thinks this is a “devious switch”, but it honestly isn’t. Even Calvinists accept compatibilism. There is no specific definition of free will, since humans are bound by their physical bodies. It doesn’t seem to me problematic that humans are incapable of breathing underwater, whereas fish are incapable of surviving outside of water. There are restrictions, regardless.

Does free will require that you don’t know the future?
Barker believes that free will requires that you don’t know the future, but Butt dismisses this as “an assertion, with no factual or logical backing. Who says that free will requires that you not know the future?” Either Barker thinks this is simply common sense, or perhaps there’s an enthymeme. It seems reasonable to me that in order to have free will, you must lack foreknowledge of the future. After all, knowing what is in store for you means there’s nothing you can do to alter the future. It simply will happen. This is probably what Barker means. Butt disagrees.

In fact, free will does not require that a person be ignorant of the future. Could a person know what would happen in the future, have the ability and power to change it, but still choose what he knew would happen? Yes. The life of Jesus Christ gives a perfect case in point. In Isaiah 53:9, the Bible says that the Messiah would not lie. This prophecy was written about 700 years before Jesus walked the Earth. According to Dan, that must mean that since God knew that Jesus (God in the flesh) would not lie, then Jesus did not have the ability or choice to lie. Yet, when we look to the New Testament, we see that Jesus was tempted in all ways like other humans are (Hebrews 4:15), but He did not sin. Did Jesus have the ability to lie? Yes. Did He have the opportunity to lie every day of His life on Earth? Yes. But did Jesus know that He would not lie? Yes. We see, then, that foreknowledge of an event does not rob a person of the ability to change the event. It is not that God, by knowing His future actions, cannot change them. It is simply that He does not choose to change them.

It seems Butt misses the point. In fact, Barker addresses this in his FANG argument. Suppose God could know what will happen in the future and has the ability to change it, but chooses to go with what would happen. Is it really a choice that he made? Or does he simply think he made that choice, since he knew full well what would occur? If God knows what will happen and decides to pursue it, then his decision is illusory. If God can change the future, but decides not to, then this comes off as illusory as well.

Let’s work with the example of Jesus that Butt provided us. Since it’s most likely that Butt believes Jesus was the incarnation of God, then Jesus wouldn’t be capable of lying anyway. His humanity may be brought up, but who are Christians fooling? I doubt they would believe that Jesus’ humanity would be more powerful than his divinity, as if his humanity could somehow override the desires of his divinity. It’s doubtful that Jesus could even sin, since if Jesus is God incarnate, and if God cannot be tempted, then Jesus couldn’t be tempted.

Butt thinks that it’s not that God cannot change his future actions, but instead chooses not to change them. Well, this is also a problem, especially since it is likely Butt’s understanding of God originates from classical theism. The classical view is that God is immutable. Thus, it’s not that God chooses not to change. He simply cannot change. If Butt thinks God can change, but chooses not to, then omniscience must be redefined. Process theism would be able to address this problem.

While I can agree with Butt that knowledge of a future event doesn’t mean that it is the cause of the future event, I find his example to be faulty. If the person in question is simply a human being who has decided that at 12 p.m. tomorrow is going to drink coffee, then all is well if such an event takes place. However, this means that the future cause occurred because he decided for it to. He could have done otherwise, not knowing the future. After all, suppose this man looked forward to drinking coffee at 12 p.m., but ended up in a vehicular accident. Butt continues:

To further illustrate this fact, consider the idea of God’s omnipresence in relation to the actions of humans. According to the biblical definition, used by Barker to form FANG, does God know all future actions of every human? Yes. So, God knew that you would be reading this information at this moment. Does God’s advance knowledge cause a person’s actions? No, because foreknowledge does not equal causality.

It seems Butt isn’t grasping the point. If God knew that I would read the article at this moment, then this moment could not have been performed otherwise. I could not have decided to perform a different action. It might be that God isn’t causing me to read Butt’s article at this moment, but he knows fully and completely without so much as an atom deviating its course that I would read Butt’s article. I could not have done otherwise. It might be thought that God has set up the future this way, so he would have indirectly caused this event.

References

  1. The FANG Argument: A Refutation by Kyle Butt
  2. Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists, p. 128; since I don’t have the book in my possession, I quoted what Kyle presented.
  3. Does God’s Existence Rest Upon Human Consensus? by Kyle Butt
  4. Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists, p. 213

A defense for Adam and Eve

Let’s consider the story of Adam and Eve.1 It begins in the second chapter of Genesis where we are told that Yahweh took Adam and put him in the garden of Eden. With Adam in the garden, Yahweh commands Adam that he is free to eat from any tree of the garden, except the one in the middle, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. How peculiar that Yahweh even commands Adam. It comes off as an invitation with a warning.

The warning, by the way, is eating from the fruit will cause death. How would Adam know what death was? There isn’t any indication that Yahweh explained to Adam what death was. Even if Yahweh did explain what death was, how would he have done so? It would be akin to explaining what red is to a blind man. It might be said that Adam named all the animals, but he didn’t know what these animals were called. All right, but we know Adam was capable of speech and ideas.

Suppose we compare Adam to a child. A child is capable of speech and ideas, but that doesn’t mean this child knows what death is unless he has observed it for himself, either by seeing a dead insect, animal, or even a relative. Furthermore, children think differently about death than adults. They think it’s temporary until they mature in their understanding.2 It might be said that Adam was more mature than children, but the advantage that children have in knowledge is that death is a reality.

Adam could not have known that death was even unpleasant, since he lacked knowledge of good and evil. It would seem that Adam’s understanding of the world around him wasn’t good or evil, since there wouldn’t be any way for him to compare the two. Suppose two individuals who are the opposite. One is rich and the other is poor. The rich man has access to premium foods and drinks. Everything he purchases is of premium quality. In his eyes, such a quality is mundane.

On the other hand, the poor man wouldn’t see premium quality as mundane. It would be of the highest excellence and for this rich man to be anything but impressed would be unusual to the poor man. In Adam’s situation, he would be neutral like a balanced scale with neither side being weighed down, even insignificantly. In order for the scale to tip one way or the other, Adam would need to make a choice. Since there wasn’t evil, he wouldn’t even know what evil was.

Things become a little more interesting, however. We are told that the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that Yahweh had made.3 One might wish to interpret “crafty” to mean “prudent”, as it can be in other cases,4 but I don’t think it’s appropriate in this regard because the serpent uses his cleverness to deceive Eve. He is not regarded as prudent in Pseudo-Jonathan,5 nor by Josephus himself.6 Rather, the serpent is considered evil.

Since the serpent lies through half-truths,7 and since lying is considered sinful, as is deception, then sin must already be present. Even Eve tells Yahweh that the serpent he placed in the garden deceived her.8 I think Eve is right to put blame on Yahweh for placing the serpent in the garden. I’d even say it’s right for Eve to charge Yahweh for creating the serpent in the first place. God, in his vast knowledge, knew that he made the serpent this way and placed a forbidden tree in the center of the garden.

Certainly, Yahweh would know the risks, since even skeptics see a problem with their own finite minds. If it was part of Yahweh’s plan for Adam and Eve to disobey, then he cannot punish them, since they were simply doing what was part of the plan. It might be said they had free will, but the game was rigged from the beginning.

Yahweh knowingly created Adam and Eve. He knowingly placed the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the middle of the garden. He knowingly brought Adam to the garden. He knowingly created the serpent to be crafty and did nothing to bar the serpent from the garden, although he had the power.9 Adam and Eve shouldn’t be guilty for acting as they did. If the outcome would have always been the same, whether Adam or Eve were in the garden, or if someone else, then the game was rigged.

References

  1. Genesis 2:15-17; 3
  2. A Child’s Concept of Death – University of Rochester Medical Center
  3. Genesis 3:1
  4. Proverbs 12:16 et al
  5. Pseudo-Jonathan, Genesis 3:1
  6. Antiquities, book 1, ch. 1, para. 4
  7. Genesis 3:4, 5
  8. ibid. 3:13; cf. 2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Timothy 2:14
  9. ibid. 3:24; Oddly enough, the text doesn’t say Yahweh drove Eve out with Adam.

On God’s omnipotence

It has long been accepted that “almighty” refers to God’s omnipotence. This should come as no surprise, since the Vulgate translates the Hebrew word שַׁדַּי to omnipotens.1 I’m not aware of any evidence that the Israelites understood שַׁדַּי to mean “the ability to do anything”, or “the ability to do all that is logically possible”, or even “infinite power”. Oddly enough, the Septuagint says nothing about God’s power in this verse,2 although παντοκράτωρ is used in Job 5:17.3

It might be said that our understanding of omnipotence is biblical, since Jesus himself says, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible.”4 Yet, it is also said to the disciples that if they have “faith like of a mustard seed [. . .] nothing will be impossible for” them.5 If it is said this is an exaggeration, then why not the same for God? If it is said because he’s omnipotent, then that’s begging the question. If it’s because he’s God, then so what?

If one is to be consistent, then even verses mustn’t be taken out of context, for I can say that Jesus only was referring to the power of salvation. Furthermore, if we are to take Jesus’ statement prima facie, then there’s no reason to reject the idea that God cannot do the logically impossible. To do so is not to take the statement prima facie, but to interpret the statement in a way to avoid logical absurdities that have been demonstrated throughout history by skeptics.

This correction is acceptable in classical theism insofar as it remains only in classical theism. After all, when there is a contradiction with respect to omnipotence in the Bible, how is one to maintain the classical definition of omnipotence? The language must be cleverly skewed, but skewed nonetheless. This is no issue for those of a more liberal approach, those who accept that the Bible is not a homogeneous work.

While those of the conservative view accept that the Bible is an anthology of books, laws, poems, and letters written in different periods for different audiences by different authors, they still wish to maintain that the Bible is homogeneous. They must needs maintain this view to preserve the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible, even if this belief extends only to the original manuscripts. Yet, to believe only that the original manuscripts were so is unfounded.

While I am aware of a classic example of the chariots of iron,6 I won’t bother with this, since neither the Septuagint understands God’s inability to move these chariots of iron.7 Rather, it is ascribed to Judah. As to why God did nothing to resolve this situation is unknown. Still, perhaps instead of translating שַׁדַּי as “almighty”, it may be translated or at least understood to refer to ruling over all, viz., to be sovereign.

While this may be acceptable to classical theists, I find this more appropriate from a biblical standpoint. I don’t see this understanding of God to suffer as much in terms of attempting to resolve the incoherency of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence, which burdens classical theism. Although classical theists may disagree with me that there’s a burden at all, even they should admit that skeptics of these attributes of God helped reshape them.

References

  1. Genesis 17:1 – Latin Vulgate
  2. Genesis 17:1 – Septuagint
  3. Job 5:17 – Septuagint; cf. 8:5; 11:7; 15:25; 22:17, 25; 23:16; 27:2, 11, 13; 32:8; 33:4; 34:10, 12; 35:13
  4. Mark 10:27
  5. Matthew 17:20
  6. Judges 1:19
  7. Judges 1:19 – Septuagint