"What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism." - G.K. Chesterton

Monday, July 30, 2007

Omnipotence and the impossible

(Look at that: you wait ages for a post and then two come along at once. I'd only just knocked this one into shape when I noticed that Alex had posted. Mine suffers from a lack of cute pictures though.)

The most common answer from theists to the problem of evil is the ‘Free Will Defence’, which maintains that it’s logically impossible for God to remove evil and provide free will to humans at the same time – therefore the presence of evil is necessary to achieve a greater good.

On the face of it, this is a perfectly good answer – assuming you accept the libertarian concept of free will*. However, I’d argue that serious problems arise when, as many seem to do, you use the FWD alongside claims of God’s omnipotence. A being cannot be all-powerful and yet unable to do something: an omnipotent being would have to be able to create a world in which we had free will yet in which evil did not exist.

Over on his own blog, Revvvvvvvd argued that asking God to do something illogical was to ask a meaningless question: a 4-sided triangle is just as meaningless as tugimahy a hufquest bubaluyte.

But, in order to worthy of the term omnipotent, I’d say that such a being couldn’t be bound by meaning either: I may not be capable of understanding what I’m arguing, but an omnipotent being would have to – I’d ask it to tugimahy a hufquest bubaluyte, it’d tugimahy a hufquest bubaluyte and in that moment I’d understand. In the same way, although I’m incapable of conceiving a 4-sided triangle (for example), or who libertarian free will could co-exist with the complete absence of evil, an omnipotent being would have to be capable of it. To say that X cannot do Y (whatever Y is) is incompatible with X is omnipotent.

Therefore, while the presence of evil is compatible with a loving God, it surely rules out a loving, omnipotent God?

(*I don’t, but that’s another argument)

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Grammar, inerrancy, and sleepless nights

Dear friends,
As you may have noticed posting has been rather slow as of late. Given that, I'm sure many of you have been wringing your hands in distress wondering what has become of me. Let me just assure you that all is well. I'm still right here in Rice, MN. Still, all is not now as it once was.

As you may remember, I started a masters program a few months ago. The last two weeks I have been away at my first set of on campus intenives. Let's just say the name is aptly given. Because of this, Alex's mind has been feeling a bit tuckered out these days. During week two they sprung grammar on me! Apparently they feel you need at least cursory understanding of the topic in order to participate in graduate level exegetical studies. So at the moment I'm trying to relearn what a prepositional phrase is along with adverbs, infinitives, conjunctions, logical connectors and all the rest. I suppose I don't blame them, but being forced to dig around in an area that I once prided myself for being completely ignorant feels much like trying to put together a puzzle in the dark.

Aside from that, there is a certain theological issue raised by one of my professors that seems to have some pretty deep implications depending on which side of the fence you fall on the topic. It's an area that I have conveniently ignored, but now I'm being forced to deal with it. It's this idea of the inerrancy of scripture. My hermeneutics professor held this position. While he acknowledged not all of us would agree with him, he did not take the time to defend his presupposition. He simply stood there holding it. I cannot fault him though, as a reasoned defense of various doctrinal positions was simply beyond the scope of the class. Still, for a guy like me, this is absolute torture! To raise a contentious presupposition then just carry on with another topic that is in some ways directly influenced by one's stance on the aforementioned presupposition is like finger nails on a chalk board to me.

The reason I find this presupposition so disturbing is this:
My professor defined "inerrancy" as: being completely true and without error in everything the author intended to communicate. and also: being the exact words that God wanted wanted communicated to his people.

But then, within the course of my studies, I read through the entire chapter of Genesis in a single sitting. Then I sit back and think to myself... "These are the EXACT words that God wanted communicated?" Furthermore, it is generally recognized that later editors placed some finishing touches on the story after it's original composition. What does that say about the inerrancy position? Now I'd like to simply brush this aside and take a position that does not require this thorny word "inerrant", but the evangelical position tries to force the issue by saying that Jesus and the early church viewed the Pentateuch as inerrant. If one accepts this position, then if it can be shown that the pentateuch is not inerrant (which I would not be surprised at all to see happen) then Jesus himself was wrong and we all know where that goes. Is this a false dilemma? Are the evangelicals creating a problem where none need exist? I'm not sure yet, but that's what I aim to find out. I will be ordering N.t. Wright's The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture this morning.

So at the moment I feel rather adrift. This is nothing new for me. It happens every time I run into an area that I don't know how to process. I'll float around in my cognitive dissonance until I can finally come to some sort of peace on the issue. At the moment I'm taking comfort in the fact that I'm far from the first to have dealt with this issue. I expect to find a reasonable position I can accept, but at the moment I'm having trouble sleeping at night.

How are all of you faring? Are all my British friends keeping dry?

P.S. Here's Adrian with a puppy. He likes the puppies. The kitties? Not so much. They bite.

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