CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

This is my third post on the issue of divine hiddenness. The first post laid out the so-called problem of divine hiddenness, flagged some of its limitations as an argument against God's existence, and offered a number of suggested answers to the objections usually associated with divine hiddenness. One of those suggestions was:

Or perhaps the "epistemic distance" is in fact a mercy. That the more clear, the closer, is God's presence to humans the closer and swifter his judgment must be. God is, after all, an "all consuming fire." Heb. 12:29. Perhaps God has balanced the level of evidence of His presence with His desire to give more time for the spread of the Gospel before His judgment must come.
This post expands on this point.

A recurring theme throughout the Old Testament is that human beings cannot stand the full presence of God, at least not in their current condition. In Exodus 3:5-6, God revealed himself to Moses through a burning bush, but even so, Moses "hid his face" because he was "afraid to look at God." Later, when Moses was apparently more sure of himself, he asked to see God's full glory. In response, God said, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live." Exodus 33:20. Nevertheless, God allowed Moses to get a sheltered, partial glimpse. "There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen." Ex. 33:21-23.

God hid his full glory from Moses as a mercy, to protect him. Yet God understood Moses' request and did not reject it out of hand. God revealed enough of Himself, but not too much. Notably, when a time of judgment comes, people complain about experiencing too much of God's presence, not divine hiddenness. From Revelation 6: 16-17: "They called to the mountains and the rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?'" The problem at this point was not insufficient evidence of God's existence, but the association of God's presence with judgment.

This association of God's presence with judgment as well as with God's limiting of His presence are linked in that God may limit His presence for our own good. This can, admittedly, be a fine line, weighing the amount of faith more evidence may generate (acknowledging as we noted in the last post, that evidence is not necessarily the solution to doubt or rebellion) with the potentially undesirable effects -- at least undesirable at a given particular point in time -- such an increase of the powerful presence of God may bring. Such balancing is more properly within the realm of an omniscient God than more limited, finite beings looking to second guess God.

One of those potentially undesirable effects is an increase in God's judgment; in temporal proximity or severity. In James 3:1, the author warns of the consequences of increased knowledge that is presumably associated with being a teacher: "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly."

This point is made even more explicitly in Matthew 11:20-24 (and, to an extent, in Luke 10:12-15).
Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.
In this passage, the rejection of Christ after receiving such overwhelming evidence regarding His identity will result in a more severe judgment. The emphasis on this point may be overlooked, but Jesus' emphasis is made clear by his reference to Tyre and Sidon. As Robert H. Gundry explains, “OT prophets regularly condemned Tyre and Sidon as typical heathen cities (see Isaiah 23; Jer. 25:22; 27:3; 47:4; Ezekiel 26-28; Joel 4:4[3:4]; Amos 1:9-10; Zech 9:2-4).” Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on his Literary and Theological Art, page 214. As Ben Witherington puts it, "these cities are more culpable for hearing, seeing, and rejecting the good news and the Dominion than even those profligate infamous sinners in Tyre and Sidon . . . who had never had the benefit of seeing a miracle of Jesus....” Ben Witherington III, Matthew, page 236. This is similar to the point Paul makes in Romans 2, that sinners are condemned by their sin and have some knowledge of God through general revelation, but those who have more revelation through the law will be judged by the higher standard.

Another commentary puts it all together well:
This passage vividly illustrates the simple truth that the greater the revelation, the greater the accountability. This is a principle encountered elsewhere in the NT, for example, in Rom. 2:12-16. The cities of Galilee were especially privileged. A great light had shone in their midst (cf. 4:15-16), yet they refused to acknowledge that light. They accepted neither the message of the kingdom nor the messenger of the kingdom. They are accordingly more culpable than those who, though very wicked, had less clear evidence of the will of God. The reality of their future judgment points inescapably to the supreme importance of the mission and message of Jesus. This is the truce center of the passage. The meaning of the failure of Jesus’ mission to Israel will remain unclear until his disciples are forced to grapple with the problem of the failure of their mission to Israel (see esp. Rom. 11:11-12, 25).
Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1-13, WBC, pages 314-15.

We are not, in our current condition, able to handle God's full presence. Moreover, the more of His presence and revelation (i.e., evidence) we get, the more prompt or severe God's judgment may be. God, at times, may choose to reveal less than His full presence, less than the total evidence possible, as a merciful act. It buys time, delays judgment, brings less judgment than otherwise might be experienced.

This is one facet of the explanation for God's so-called hiddenness, or epistemic distance as I prefer to call it in that I do not think that God's existence or basic nature is hidden from humanity. I believe it may mesh with other proffered explanations, such as "to permit the level of free will desired by God and the necessity of such distance for 'soul-making,' the process whereby humans grow, learn, and mature," or other explanations noted in my first divine hiddenness post.

In a previous post, I began a discussion about the issue of Divine Hiddenness. A perhaps unwarranted assumption of the argument from divine hiddenness is that more evidence of God's existence would necessarily result in the conversion of all rational unbelievers. While it is possible that more evidence of God’s existence or nature may result in the conversion of more unbelievers, it is by no means certain and it is doubtful that it would lead to the conversion of all rational unbelievers. The assumption that more evidence will result in such conversions rests on the questionable premise that the rejection of God is simply a matter of intellectual rigor rather than of rebellion. Christianity does not accept this assumption nor should it.

In Romans 1:18-24, Paul is clear that people who have sufficient knowledge of God continue to sin because they choose to do so. Although “God has made it plain to them” they “have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.” This is true not only for humanity, but also for Satan and some angels. Orthodox Christian belief holds that Satan and one third of the Angels rebelled against God despite knowing Him in ever more powerful ways than Christians do. The Gospel of Mark emphasizes that the unclean spirits knew Jesus (Mark 1:23-24; 1:34; 3:11, 5:6-7) and James wrote, “ You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” (2:19). See also Acts 16:16-18.

Some may ask how it is possible that Satan, reputably God’s highest creation, could have rebelled knowing he would lose to an all-powerful creator. This makes the same failed assumption mentioned above: that faith in God is a mere intellectual exercise. Satan may have deluded Himself into thinking He could defeat God. Hence the saying, “Pride goeth before the fall.” Satan could have known rebellion was hopeless but he would “be damned” if he would worship God. Hence the saying, “He’d rather rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.” He'd rather be master of his own domain and do as much damage to God as possible rather than continue to serve. I've seen atheists express this sentiment, that God is not "worthy" of love and worship. The heart, the exercise of will, the emotion involved, means that issues of belief are not just an abstract intellectual exercise. Just as Satan’s will colored his perceptions, so our own desires, our lusts, our wills, affect our intellect and our decisions.

To turn back to humans for a while, Adam and Eve had full knowledge about the existence of God, but still defied His command regarding the Tree of Knowledge. Israel too lost their faith in God despite have experienced wondrous miracles. They felt that pull to go back to a more familiar -- if subservient -- life in Egypt, to fall back on their old ways of understanding. Even Moses defied God and disobeyed Him, retreating to the familiar way rather than the instructed way. (Numbers 20:8).

In my own experience, during a period of spiritual and intellectual struggle, issues of evidence were one part of a broader equation. My studies mediated the intellectual challenges -- some so silly as I look back (or read Debunking Christianity today) -- finding the evidence and argument that convinced my head, but heart and maturity issues also needed reform.

How is all of this relevant to the issue of divine hiddenness? My point is not to deny that there are valid intellectual questions or challenges for the Christian faith. Rather, it is to first point out that not all doubt is purely, or even mostly, intellectual in nature. It can also be about isolation, depression, sin, or just maturing. Additionally, the assumption that more evidence from God will mean the elimination of doubt and rebellion is inconsistent with Christian theology and human experience. Disbelief is not necessarily going to be remedied by more evidence of God's existence or nature. As a result, God is not just about giving evidence, but about cultivating a deep faith. A faith that is not only a bulwark against intellectual doubt, but about the other issues of the world that can so easily ensnare.

What is the genre of the Gospel of John and why does it matter? The latter question is easy to answer. It matters because “identification of a work’s genre helps us understand its place within the literary history . . . and aids us in its interpretation.” A.R. Cross, "Genres of the New Testament," in Dictionary of New Testament Background, eds. Craig Evans and Stanley E. Porter, page 402. When you pick up a contemporary book, you start with the knowledge that what you are reading is a romance, a science text book, a science fiction novel, a biography, or a book of history. That knowledge informs how you understand the text you are reading, such as reading how spaceship's propulsion system works in a scientific textbook or a Star Trek "technical manual". Or a scene of combat found in a historical novel or a biography of a medal of honor winner. Although these accounts may be described in similar ways, one you accept as true and the other you treat as fiction. The distinction comes not necessarily from the account itself, but the broader genre of the work that contains it.

Given the importance of genre in understanding ancient writings, how does one go about determining the genre of an ancient document? I like the approach taken by Christopher Bryan in A Preface to Mark. I blogged on his approach to genre, which focuses on evaluating the dominant cluster of motifs.

Genre involves a cluster of elements. So striking are these elements that we can entirely understand why one might be tempted to regard them as ‘rules.’ Yet they are not precisely ‘rules,’ for they need not all be present in one example. The genre of a particular work is established by the presence of enough generic motifs in sufficient force to dominate....

A work of one genre may contain motifs from another. This means that in establishing genre we need to identify the dominant cluster of motifs: just one or two will not do.

A Preface to Mark
, page 13.

The reason genre is so helpful in interpreting ancient documents is because they provide us insight into the mind of the author and his audience. Genre “is widely acknowledged as one of the key conventions guiding both the composition and the interpretation of writings. Genre forms a kind of ‘contract’ or agreement, often unspoken or unwritten, or even unconscious, between the author and a reader, by which the author sets out to write according to a whole set of expectations and conventions, and we agree to read or to interpret the work using the same conventions, giving us an initial idea of what we might expect to find.” Richard Burridge, Four Gospels, One Jesus, page 5.

Given the two elements of this contract, the author and the audience, I thought it would be helpful to begin by examining the author's stated intent and the audience's understanding of the Gospel of John. Future posts will examine more discrete, literary aspects of the Gospel of John to help determine genre.

Stated Authorial Intent

This section does not examine the identity of the author of the Gospel of John. Needless to say, if one concludes upon independent examination that this gospel was written by a disciple of Jesus, the likelihood that this disciple then decided to write a novel instead of a historical or biographical account is very low. In any event, regarding the author’s expressed intent, he emphasizes to his readers that the events about which he writes are “true.” They are not just profitable or useful, but what actually happened. In John 19:35, he writes, “And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe.” Similarly, in John 21:24, “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.” John also stresses the truth of his witness -- through his account of John the Baptist' witness -- in John 10:40-41, "Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. Here he stayed and many people came to him. They said, 'Though John never performed a miraculous sign, all that John said about this man was true.'"

Related to John's emphasis on reporting the truth is his emphasis on the "testimony" he records about Jesus. At least sixteen times John refers to "testimony" regarding Jesus, usually to demonstrate Jesus' high place and true mission. (1:19, 32; 2:25; 3:11, 22, 32; 4:39; 5:31, 32, 34, 36; 8:13, 14, 17; 19:35; 21:24). The Synoptics' references to "testimony" are fewer, and not generally linked directly to their depiction of Jesus. But in John, he relies on the "testimony" of John the Baptist, of the Father, and of Himself, as to His life and significance. Whatever our final assessment of the historical accuracy of the Gospel of John, therefore, the author communicates his intent to write about actual events. This is consistent with biography and historiography, but does not usually correspond to a novelistic intent.

Ancient fiction forms a very different understanding between the author and the audience. Its author does not intend, nor attempt, to pass off his work as "what really happened" and the audience did not receive it as such:

Fiction is not just a matter of the absence of other evidence; it depends rather on the conviction, engendered by the genre, that certain propositions are meant not to refer. Fiction presupposes a contract or collective understanding according to which the habit of reference is curbed or inhibited. It is this contract that discriminates fiction from falsity, which is failed reference.

David Konstan, "The Invention of Fiction,” in Ancient Fiction and Early Christian Narrative, eds. Ronald F. Hock, J. Bradley Chance, and Judith Perkins, page 7. In other words, what makes fiction, fiction is not that it is false or fails to correspond with reality, but that neither the author or the audience expects it to be true. “The implicit awareness on the part of writers and readers of the novel’s referential independence is what constitutes the genre as fiction.” Id. at 15.

It is important to distinguish “verisimilitude” from the perception of historical fact. Verisimilitude is the attempt to make a novel realistic, not to pass it off as a true account. It is best understood as a means to facilitate the willing suspension of disbelief in one’s readers by making a story pleasurable to read. Generally, ancient novels did not try to establish verisimilitude by assuring their readers that their stories were historically true or based on eyewitness accounts. Rather, they would do so by including exciting details or what passed as a local flavor of the locations in the account. Historical accuracy was a challenging enough feat for ancient historians and biographers, authors of ancient fiction usually lacked the motivation or ability to ensure it in their novels.

Although the novels written in the era of the gospels do not present themselves as "truth" and historical fact, a few other works of fiction from the ancient world contained such elements. None are comparable to the Gospel of John, however. First, for example, is The Wonders Beyond Thule, which B.P Reardon dates to the mid-second century AD or later. The work is known to us by a few fragments and a summary recorded by Photius, a Christian bishop of the Ninth Century. It a vast, 24-book epic tale of romance, travel and adventure, with exotic locations and peoples. The 'account" of the protagonists is purported to be recorded on clay tablets, buried, and uncovered years later. Notably, the author of The Wonders admits that he was "fabricating wondrous and false things" and Photius, though writing centuries later, clearly understands it as a "work of fiction." The account is then recorded on clay tablets, placed in a box with the writing "Stranger, whoever you are, open this box to learn what will amaze you." The box was hidden away until recovered by "King Alexander of Macedonia."

Another account of a fantastic journey -- this time to the moon, the underworld, and even the belly of a whale al la Pinocchio -- is A True Story, by Lucian. Although the narrative of the protagonist is in the first person, it is -- according to Reardon -- "above all, [] a parody of literary 'liars' like Homer and Herodotus." Collected Greek Novels, page 619. Lucian writes that he has "no true story to relate" and that he is a 'liar" and that his subject is "things I have neither seen nor experienced nor heard tell of from anybody else; things, what is more, that do not in fact exist and could not ever exist at all. So my readers must not believe a word I say." Id. at 622.

There are also two accounts of the Trojan War that purport to be first hand accounts but are in fact completely fictitious: Dictys of Crete and Dares the Phrygian. Both are accounts of the Trojan War stripped of their supernatural elements but including romance. Both also claim to have been ancient accounts, lost for a centuries, and then later uncovered, much like the account of The Wonders. The account by Dictys was supposedly written in Phoenecian letters on bark tablets, buried, then found by shepherds in a collapsed tomb centuries later. The account of Dares was supposedly found by its translator centuries after it was authored while doing research in a library, who offered it as a counter to the Homeric tradition. Dares is dated to the Sixth Century AD. Dictys's to the Fourth. As with The Wonders, but unlike the Gospel of John, we have long lost accounts fortuitously revealed centuries after their origins. Obviously, the subject matter is strikingly different as well.

All told, the author's stated intent is much more consistent with a genre that presents itself as true accounts, likely historical in nature, such as a biography or historiography. Ancient forms of fiction, such as novels, did not usually emphasize the authenticity of their accounts. The few exceptions discussed above tend to date much later than the Gospel of John and are otherwise easily distinguished.

Reception by the Audience

Having examined the stated intent of the author, what about the other side of the genre equation? How did the early audience perceive the Gospel of John? An examination of its genre is unlikely, but we can see if they treated it as a historical account, as purely metaphor, as an entertaining and profitable novel. Thankfully, we have much earlier information about the reception of the Gospel of John than we do for any novel, which is itself evidence against it being considered fictitious. Based on this information, there is no evidence that the intended audience understood the Gospel of John to be anything other than a historical account of the life and teachings of Jesus.

The earliest possible evidence about the reception of the Gospel of John, is Papias. In the early Second Century AD, Papias expressed his understanding of the gospels of Mark and Matthew. Papias considered them to be factual accounts of the life and history of Jesus, written by people in a position to know the facts. Eusebius, Church History 3.39.15. But what about the Gospel of John? No extant writing explicitly attributes any discussion of the Gospel of John to Papias. However, a number of scholars have concluded that Eusebius, in 3.24.5-13, alludes to Papias' description of the Gospel of John. Charles E. Hill, "What Papias Said about John (and Luke): A New Papian Fragment," Journal of Theological Studies 49.2 (1998): 582-629. If true, then Papias refers to the Gospel of John in the same way he refers to Mark and Matthew, noting "the apostle John, being asked to do it for this reason, gave in his Gospel an account of the period which had been omitted by the earlier evangelists, and of the deeds done by the Saviour during that period; that is, of those which were done before the imprisonment of the Baptist." Id., 3.24.11.

Polycrates was a Christian leader in Ephesus from the mid-to-late second century AD. A letter which he wrote to a leader in the Roman Church is preserved by Eusebius. Church History, 5.24.2-7. Therein, he refers to "John, who was both a witness and a teacher, who reclined upon the bosom of the Lord, and, being a priest, wore the sacerdotal plate." 5.24.2. The reference to reclining is a clear reliance on the Gospel of John, and the reference to John as a "witness" suggests authorship of that Gospel. Indeed, a number of scholars have concluded that the reference to "a witness and a teacher" refer to John's authorship of the Gospel and the Epistles, respectively. In any event, Polycrates treats the passage from John as establishing a historical scene.

Justin Martyr writing in the mid-second century referred to the Gospels as the “memoirs” or “reminiscences” of the apostles. 1 Apology 66.3. See also 1 Apology 67.3. David Aune notes that given Martyr’s background as a philosopher his use of the term “reminiscences . . . suggests a connection with Xenophon’s Memorabilia . . . a ‘biography’ of Socrates.” Aune, op. cit., page 67. Similarly, writing in the mid-to-late second century, Theophilous of Antioch quotes the Gospel of John, attributes it to John, and refers to it not as fiction, romance, or a novel, but as "holy writings" that "teach us." To Autolyc. 2.22.

Another important piece of evidence is Tatian’s Diatessaron. Written around 160-170 AD, the Diatessoron is a biography of Jesus based on all four Gospels. Not only does Tatian use the Gospel of John in his harmony, but he makes it as the basis for the chronology into which the rest of the Gospels are incorporated. A little later, Irenaeus, writing in the late second century, refers to the Gospel of John as an account of Jesus' life. He directly attributes its authorship to one of Jesus' disciples: "John the disciple of the Lord, who leaned back on his breast, published the Gospel while he was resident at Ephesus in Asia.” Against Heresies 3.1.2.

I have not found any evidence indicating that the Gospel of John was understood by its audience to be fiction. This does not mean that everyone accepted it as accurate history. For example, a group known as the Alogi, dating from the second century, rejected the Gospel of John and Revelation as having been written by the disciple John. Their rejection, however, was not based on the concerns about the genre of the Gospel of John, but on its doctrines concerning the Holy Spirit. Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., 3.2.9. Believing a document is in error, or is historically inaccurate, however, is not the same as understanding it as a work of fiction. Accordingly, the reception of the Gospel of John by its earlier readers also weighs in favor of understanding it as a form of biography or historiography.

In future posts I will continue to examine the genre of the Gospel of John, focusing on more direct literary elements of the Gospel of John.


Paul Tillich wrote a little paper back called The Courage To BE in which he set forth one of his most important concepts, the "God beyond God." That phrase refers to the truth of God beyond the cultural constructs and religious doctrines which are constructed out of cultural constructs. Of course Tillich didn't write in all this post structuralist jargon. The idea behind the title is that belief requires courage. A lot of people think he was saying that the existentialists have the real courage, but he was not only lauding the existentialist but any person of faith who is willing to seek God beyond traditionalism. The phrase "cowardly mind" I take from Joseph Campbell in his Hero With A Thousand Faces. There he says that cynicism appears as insight to the cowardly mind.

This is phrase is very apt for atheists on CARM and fora  huge segment of atheists in general, especially the "new atheists." What the phrase means is this, you have cynics who dogmatically take the negative, believe the worst, area always ready to tear down anything that isn't in their comfort zone. New thoughts and ideas are always a negative proposition for such people. Everything is bad you can be sure everything will turn out wrong. We see these people in Atheist circles and on Atheist message boards to a extreme degree. They think cynicism is insight because they are afraid to risk being wrong. These are the people who mock and ridicule faith because "belief without evidence is stupid." Usually they don't face belief without evidence they face a barrage of evidence which they ignore, they dogmatically sweep aside without truly examining it. We can see this in their responses to God arguments where they always take the option that is least likely. No matter how unlikely it is they will take over the risk of belief in God which may turn out to be wrong.

For example in my version of the cosmological argument (cosmological necessity) I can work it down to a choice between the unsupported possibility of a rules change beyond our space/time or some other unknown, like string membranes or something we have no support for, vs the probability which is on our side, that every we see requires a cause. They are always willing to assume that the unsupported is more likely becuase it supports their unbelief, and to assume that God is least likely because why? they don't want God. They are afraid to move beyond the template of their ideological socialization because that might be a risk and risks are always bad. That's a cynical move but they embrace it as insight. That's the point, the cowardly mind looks at the world and sees the constant critic who never says anything positive or supportive but constantly ridicules and they take this as "insight" because it supports not taking risks. Atheists are always lauding "skepticism" that's to be expected, they are skeptics of course. A certain amount of skepticism is good. But I find so many atheists expressing real contempt for the basic concept of belief itself especially if it invovles the unseen. They hate the concept of the unseen. To them that's a red flag to a bull. I think that is becasue the unseen threatens to take them out of their comfort zone where they have come to rest in the trumped up concept of science as all knowing; thus they place scinece in the place of God and expect it to save them from the angry God they  hope doesn't exist.

I can't blame anyone for rejecting the concept of hell on its face due to the absurdly revenge oriented nature of it. I can't blame anyone for dumping the concept of the big angry sky father as a instigator of the abruptly vengeful concept of hell. But this sort of thing gets to the point where they distort the meaning of faith itself, creating a straw man argument to the extent that "faith is believe any kind of evidence" to such an extent that the true meaning of faith, trust, is forgotten and seems  a foreign concept, than I just suspect this is the cowardly mind at work. They want their comfort zone which is built upon the assertion that only science matter, because scinece "proves" (supposedly) that religion is stupid so therefore they are not in danger. This I see as the cowardly mind because they are afraid to move beyond the safe confines of that which can be proved empirically and that which the white lab coat god will approve.

Recent run-ins on CARM have borne this out for me. One atheist self styled "Big Thinker" (yea, can you bleieve it?) was saying that God is imaginary. "Prove it" I say. His proof: God doesn't' exist. God is imaginary because he's only the mind. Astounding proof! The proof that he doesn't exist? He's not real. further prodding revealed his line of reasoning: imaginary things can't be seen, can't be detected with the senses, have no impact upon the world, and God is like this too. God can't be seen or detected with the senses and has no impact upon the world (that we can prove to his satisfaction)  therefore God must be imaginary. In other words, if you think it quakes like a duck, if you hallucinate that it walks like a duck, it it's in your fantasies that it looks like a duck, you might be having a delusion that you see a duck.

I try the old reliable ploy of bringing up thing in scince that fit the same criteria, we can detect them with the sense and they don't have a perceptible impact upon the world:

the singularity
the big bang
string membranes
dark matter
other subatomic particles.

The scoffed at the concept of dark matter, he must think it's a Christian doctrine. But when all was said and done what it came down to was, that stuff is ok, it doesn't matter that it meets the criteria of imaginary things because scinece guys say its ok, ("its part of a theoretical heuristic--he didn't know that word--that is demonstrated by a theoretical data matrix blah blah yada yada). My stuff that can't be seen is imaginary because it's not part of this er zots god thing he worships which protects from the angry god. In other words, if it's part of the ideological template it's ok. It's his stuff so it doesn't matter that that it meets the same criteria. It's only stuff not sanctioned by the ideological template that is indicative of delusion.

This tendency to abhor anything not part of the ideological temple is an aspect of the cowardly mind. Just ilke the guys who were afraid to look through the telescope and see mountains on the moon because they feared it would be a trick, they are refusing to think about things hey have not thought about before because they have their little world all worked out where its comfy and they don't have to think too hard and it is not scary because it keeps big mean god away. If they move out into the cold cruel world where we don't know everything then they might have to re think the big mean god thing and get scared again. It's this fear that kept people from sailing off the end of the world. Of course the real joke is that these cowardly minded people call themselves "free thinkers!"

Part of the myth that supports their comfort zone is the pretense that science is the only form of knowledge. That's how they know there's nothing to fear, becasue there's nothing beyond what science tells us is there. Science will never tell them the big mean god si there so they don't have to worry, but only so long as scinece is the only form of knowledge. If there are other forms of knowledge then they have to fear becasue one of those forms might tell them that there is something to think about in the unseen that will bring on fears of the big mean god. For this reason when his stuff meets the criteria of imaginary that's ok because it's sanctioned by the ideology, when it doesn't then we have to disparage it and go on message boards and mock and ridicule people who believe in it. In the old days we had an expression for that, it was called "special pleading."

Now it is true that these phenomena such as dark matter have some aspects that are supportive of their existence. We can't see them or detect them with our senses and we have no devices that will pick them up as radar detects a storm moving in, but there are ways of doing it:

John Polkinghorne (major physicist)

To respond to (2) first: since no-one knows what Dark Matter is, almost anything is possible.  But Dark Matter is subject to gravity – that’s how we deduce that it is there.  Therefore any abnormal increase in the density of Dark Matter (such as would be associated with a putative DarkHomoSapiens) would presumably have measurable gravitational effects.  This rules out many obvious ways in which there might be a DarkHomoSapiens. And the whole area is so speculative that it is scientifically impossible to address meaningfully.

Polkinghorne himself did not write that but his assistant did, and we are told the man himself reads all and approves the answers. But thing is I've laboriously discussed in the past how we can detect the Trace of God, I just wrote a book about it. That book may be coming out in a few months (hint hint). Same your pennies. We have these 200 studies, yes peer reviewed, yes published in academic journals, and they show religious expression can be discernment scientifically and distinguished from fantasy and folly. Like the guys who refused to look through Galileo's telescope the atheists on CARM steadfastly refuse to look at a single study. I have put out the link to a chapter in the text book by Ralph Hood the major researcher on the M scale (inventor of the M scale) the leading researcher in the field. The chapter talks about the studies on mystical experience and explains the M scale in detail. They refuse to click on the link. I put it right in front of them and they wont look. All the while the insightful cynics steadfastly that the studies are no good, they are not in peer reviewed journals, they can't be trusted, yet none of them has ever bothered to get one!

That is the cowardly mind at work (not to mention laziness). They are so anxious to have the universe sealed off from God that mock and ridicule metaphysics but they are doing metaphysics all the time. It is metaphysics to say "there is no such things as the unseen." To say "there is no metaphysics" is a highly metaphysical statement. They are so anxious to have their comfort zones totally proved and supported 100% and declared the only form of truth that they are closing off possibilities and losing phenomena and special pleading all over the place. In fact most of what exists is unknown to us.

Polikinghorne again:

However since it is known that only 4% of the matter and energy in the  Universe is made of what we understand as matter, and most of the  universe seems, on current understandings, to be “dark matter” and “dark  energy” about which we know nearly nothing, and no-one knows how to  reconcile Quantum Mechanics with General Relativity (the much-hyped  String Theory looks increasingly like a dead-end) it is unwise to assume  that current understandings of cosmology represent the last word.

I would suggest that this 4% is really more like 0.000000000000000000000000000x? When we take into account the whole of reality. The cowardly mind forms itself into a constant critic which must ridicule everything that crosses its path because it has to maintain the inviolability of the ideology at all costs. That means it's bound for a paradigm shift, it can't help but become top heavy with anomalies eventually.

One thing about Jesus, he's a good paradigm shifter.


Atheists think it is. I've seen many a knock down drag-out fight, multiple threads, lasing for days, accomplishing nothing. I wrote that dilemma off years ago before I was an internet apologist, so long ago I don't remember when. I wrote it off because at an early date I read Boethius who, in his great work The Consolation of Philosophy (circa 524), puts to rest the issue by proving that foreknowledge is not determinism. In this essay I will demonstrate not only that this is true but the atheist error about omniscience and omnipotence contradicting are actually hold overs from the pagan framework which Boethius disproved.


Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius

 Aurthor The Consolation
 of Philosophy

For years my debates on the matter were marked by silly repetition. I would constantly argue that just knowing that someone does something is not controlling it. But atheists were always cock sure that it was. I used the follow analogy: I know how the Alamo turned out. Travis and the men stepped over the line and chose to stay and die. I know they did that, does my knowledge of it mean that I made them do it? Of course the atheist say "O of course not, but you are not in the past, you are knowing this by a look back in history to see what they already did." Of course, but God doesn't know about events before they have happened in time, he knows about them because he's beyond time and he sees everything in time as a accomplished fact. From our perspective in time God's knowledge is "foreknowledge" becasue it is for us. But it's not foreknowledge for God, he doesn't know before it happens, he knows about events because form an eternal perspective its a done deal. Just as my knowing what the men at the Alamo already did does not give me control over their choices, so God's knowledge of facts we have already accomplish does not give God control over our choices.

Of course, predictably, the atheists dismiss this idea as "nonsense" and go right on asserting that to know of an action is to control, but they can't tell me why. They can tell me a  theoretical reason but they can't tell me why if my knowing about the Alamo ex post facto does not control those actions why would God's knowledge of a past even already done control the past event? Why are these not analogous if God is outside time and sees all things in time as accomplished facts? They can't tell me but they are certain the idea is nonsense. The reason they give initially is this. Say that God knows today that I will go to the store tomorrow. That means that i can't tomorrow morning decide "I don't want to go tot he store, I hate the walk." I can't decide that and follow it because God already knows I went so I have to go. But the problem is they are not following a modern concept of God knowing becuase he's outside of time. They are still stuck in the pre Christian framework which has clung to modern Western Philosophy lo these many centuries. That frame work can be clearly seen in Boethius because that's what he was arguing against. The fame work is the Greek Gods were controlled by the fates, but they also had foreknowledge, so they were trumping the fates, to whom they were really subject. That creates an issue. Moreover, foreknowledge was about things that had not yet taken place, thus that is a contradiction; it hasn't taken place, how can it be known what one will do, to know it is to set in stone and thus not free will. But that only holds in the case of god in time not outside of time. It doesn't apply to the idea of God transcendent of time and thus that's why they can't answer me, but because they know the philosophers they read still assert the old Greek idea they must cling to it.

We can see the exact kind of thinking the atheists use in the Consolation and it is the framework against which Boethius toils. This quotation is form a summary in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The summary is by John Marenbon.

The first point which needs to be settled is what, precisely, is the problem which Boethius the character proposes? The reasoning behind (7) seems to be of the following form:
  1. God knows every event, including all future ones.
  2. When someone knows that an event will happen, then the event will happen.
  3. (10) is true as a matter of necessity, because it is impossible to know that which is not the case.
  4. If someone knows an event will happen, it will happen necessarily.(10, 11)
  5. Every event, including future ones, happens necessarily. (9, 12)

The pattern behind (8) will be similar, but in reverse: from a negation of (13), the negation of (9) will be seen to follow. But, as it is easy to observe, (9–13) is a fallacious argument: (10) and (11) imply, not (12), but
  1. Necessarily, if someone knows an event will happen, it will happen.

 (emphasis mine)

 The summary of the problem he's working against indicates exactly the problem I frame it, that the atheist (following the Greeks) is not assuming transcendence of time but is working on the assumption that God's knowledge is prior to the completed nature of the action. This was the framework in which Boethius found the problem in his own contemporary scene which came from the pre-christian Hellenistic world. Even when the philosopher writing the article sums it up he still speaks form the same perspective:

The fallacy, therefore, concerns the scope of the necessity operator. Boethius has mistakenly inferred the (narrow-scope) necessity of the consequent (‘the event will happen’), when he is entitled only to infer the (wide-scope) necessity of the whole conditional (‘if someone knows an event will happen, it will happen’). Boethius the character is clearly taken in by this fallacious argument, and there is no good reason to think that Boethius the author ever became aware of the fallacy (despite a passage later on which some modern commentators have interpreted in this sense). None the less, the discussion which follows does not, as the danger seems to be, address itself to a non-problem. Intuitively, Boethius sees that the threat which divine prescience poses to the contingency of future events arises not just from the claim that God's beliefs about the future constitute knowledge, but also from the fact that they are beliefs about the future. There is a real problem here, because if God knows now what I shall do tomorrow, then it seems that either what I shall do is already determined, or else that I shall have the power tomorrow to convert God's knowledge today into a false belief. Although his logical formulation does not capture this problem, the solution Boethius gives to Philosophy is clearly designed to tackle it.

He's speaking form the perspective of future events which have not yet happened, being known before they happen. But that leaves out the assumption that's God's is not actuality foreknowledge so much as transcendent eternal knowledge that sees the events as an accomplished fact because it sees the the end result from a perspective after the event is accomplished. That's the wider perspective. Transcendent eternal knowledge is the knowledge of all time as the "eternal now" not "foreknowledge" in the sense of known only prior to the doing of the event. Then there is also an issue about the nature of the knower. This is a point Boethius may be making but it's hard to say. God knows form the standpoint of eternity but he speaks within times arrow to us so it appears to be foreknowledge, knowledge of that which has not yet transpired. Thus the illusion of determinism is created. But the fact of it is that knowledge comes from viewing all events as accomplished facts. It's in the perspective of timeless transcendence which only God can have.

This latter issue of the nature of the knowledge is marked by the summary and by the text itself as "modes of cognition." The Consolation of Philosophy is the old fashioned Philosophical dialogue which no one writes anymore, the kind Berkeley write (out of date in his day--early 1700's).

Erronious: "hi fallacious how's it going?"
Fallacious: "great, I'm now considering a new idea"
Erronious: "prey tell good sir what idea might that be?"

And they go on to discuss and provide endless house of fun writing Monty Python style paradiges of themselves. Then burst into a course of "Rene Descartes was a Druken fart, 'I drink therefore I am.'

But before they do that they discuss issues and the philosopher places his arguemnts in the mouth of the character. In the Consolation the Character Boethius is agonizing over philosophy when Philosophy personfied as a beautiful woman comes to him and gives him the answers. That's the context in which this reviewer states the following:

Her view, as she develops it (in V.5 and V.6), is based on what might be called the Principle of Modes of Cognition: the idea that knowledge is always relativized to different levels of knowers, who have different sorts of objects of knowledge. Although she initially develops this scheme in a complex way, in relation to the different levels of the soul (intelligence, reason, imagination and the senses) and their different objects (pure Form, abstract universals, images, particular bodily things), for most of her discussion Philosophy concentrates on a rather simpler aspect of it. God's way of being and knowing, she argues, is eternal, and divine eternity, she says, is not the same as just lacking a beginning and end, but it is rather (V.6) ‘the whole, simultaneous and perfect possession of unbounded life.’

Boethius did not have the knowledge of modern cosmology, the big bang, quantum theory or any of the other scientific data that we have so he did not possess the concepts of being outside of time. He did however have an understanding of eternity that came form his own spirituality, and it seems to coincide remarkably with the modern notion. What he's saying is that God]s is an eternal perspective. He can see the events of what to us are the future but to him is an eternal now. So he's not knowing something that hasn't happened yet, he knows something that to him has happened, but to us has not yet happened. Without the big bang Boeithius still has the concept of God being outside of time and he saw that as the basis of non-deterministic events in time which known to God as completed events due to God's unique perspective.

A being who is eternal in this way, Philosophy argues, knows all things—past, present and future—in the same way as we, who live in time and not eternity, know what is present. She then goes on to show why, so long as God knows future events by their being present to him, this knowledge is compatible with the events’ not being determined.

Through the mouth of philosophy Boethius speculates that there two kinds of necessity. The first is:

Simple necessities are what would now be called physical or nomic necessities: that the sun rises, or that a man will sometime die. By contrast, it is conditionally necessary that, for instance, I am walking, when I am walking (or when someone sees that I am walking); but from this conditional necessity it does not follow that it is simply necessary that I am walking.

Although some philosophers disagree,  she is not noting the scope fallacy above but is actually using Aristotelian modality to argue about the eternal perspective. All things are known to God as though they were in the present. Future events for God are necessary in just the way that present events are necessary for us. What I'm doing  now (this moment) I am necessarily doing because I'm really doing it. But because it's my choice to do it and I'm doing it now (as opposed something I already did five years ago) my will to do it is not negated. I can stop doing it and do something else. But I can't go back five seconds ago and stop doing it in the past. All moments are known to God from this perspective.

Now so far so good. But there are two problems:

(1) Most philosophers today do not accept this reading of the issues.

It is important to add, however, that most contemporary interpreters do not read the argument of V.3–6 in quite this way. They hold that Philosophy is arguing that God is a-temporal, so eliminating the problems about determinism, which arise when God's knowing future contingents is seen an event in the past, and therefore, fixed.

That's going to be a problem for me becasue it means that timeless state of "beyond time" would mean God is "frozen" unable to act and thus can only act in time and thus the temporal problem. Rather, God sees as past and while may not control past is also not free to act in the past becuase it is a done deal.

(2) Dame Philosophy seems to swing to a predestination view at the end.

She make God the determiner of events. There are also interpreters who see the Consolation as a satire that should be called "the insufficiency of philosophy." The only problem for me is that atheists will read this part of the article and say "O see Metacrock is stupid because he didn't read the whole article." Marenbon argues that Boethius' purpose is complex it can't be summarized as either "philosophy is insufficient" or "the whole issue is decided." what he's really saying is that philosophy is an ongoing concern. The true consolation of philosophy is not that such issue can be put to rest and summed up easily in nice little easy to understand phrases that only take a few syllables but we can have partial solutions and we can continue to work on problems and continue to seek answers and the act of so doing is a consolation even if we never find clear and easy answers. The interpretation of the Consolation is a literary problem, not a theological one. I will, therefore, bracket that until such as a time as I work on literary criticism.

The first problem is of much greater concern but I have an answer. I think I've analyzed Boethius' claims in the section where philosophy answers the issues of foreknowledge,I think I have that right and it works. It doesn't seem to work when we extract it form the framework of his day and place it in the world of modern cosmology, but it works again when we extract it from the framework of modern cosmology and place it in the framework of my theology (the Berkeley-Gaswami argument). My theological frame work differs from the modern cosmological in this way: I do not see God as a big man in the sky existing beyond the big bang which is a timeless void. I see God as the mind that thinks the universe, and the universe is therefore, analogous to a thought in a mind. I say "analogous" becuase it's a metaphor. If it was literal it might be more deterministic than any other view because it would mean that all events are thoughts in the mind of God in a literal sense. I do not think that. The Gaswami part comes in where I take a page form the book of physicist Amit Gaswami (a Hindu vedantist who teaches physics at University of Oregon. Like Gaswami I see mind as the fundamental stuff of the universe rather than energy or mater. I don't mean that in the sense of the universe being a mind, but that is related to mind in the way that a thought is related to a mind. I take that as a metaphor because like
Bishop George Berkeley I accept the premise "to be is to be perceived." God is the observer that collapses the wave function and causes the universe to be by beholding it. God is observing a thought that he has set up to run on its own. He's not making it happen or thinking every event at a microscopic level.

Two analogies that will clarify the difference. In the standard view God's relation to the world is like that of a man standing in a big room holding a world globe. The room is the timeless void beyond our space/time. The man is God, of course, and the globe is our space/time. That puts God as a thing in "creation" or at least a timeless void, it makes God subject to the laws of physics and the problem of time. It makes God out to be a big man in the sky, although really far up in the sky. My view: we have the room and the globe, no man. The room is the mind of God. the globe and the empty void of "timeless" are both thoughts in the mind of God. What this means is God is not subject to either time or the problem of non time. Both are pseudo problems for God because they are just ideas he thought up to create a framework for our world, which is a further thought of that preliminary thought in his mind. God is no more subject to the problems of time or even non time than we are to our day dreams and momentary fleeting fantasies that cross our minds.

This has many implications that have to be weighed. For one thing we just forget about the issues surrounding the "omnis,", let them go completely. Not that God is not all knowing or all powerful, but the concepts "all knowing" and "all powerful" are hazy shadowy concepts that do more to confuse us than to help us. These are Aristotelian ideas and the hold overs from Greek philosophy. These things enter Western philosophy from Greek thought and they preserved by the prejudices of Western European philosophers. Modern philosophers still think the Greeks were the summit of human civilization, even the Church adopted its language of Greek philosophy to discuss doctrine so we should look to the Greeks. The Hebrews were corn pones and the early Christians were Greeks themselves so Greek ideas hang on in philosophy. Thus the older meaning of "foreknowledge" and it's problems adhere to all modern discussions. The chruch began to use the language of Aristotle after the Apostolic age so we continue to speak of "omnipresent." "Omnipotent" even though the Bible doesn't so speak. We should scrap the language of "all knowing" " all powerful" because it communicates badly. Rather than these we should say, not that God is the "most powerful" that's a mistake too (from a Tillichian perspective) but that God can do whatever is logically doable. God knows whatever is logically knowable.

The problem is in speaking of God as "doing" and "knowing' we give the importation of God as a big man and God's knowledge as the kind of knowledge city zoning board use to plan things. All of this anthropomorphic language is bring God down to the level of a thing in creation. It's not preserving the transcendent nature of God's knowledge which so different form ours we can't even know what it's like. What we can be sure of is that God has left us free will and he's not violating it. God knows whatever is logically knowable. It may not be logically knowable for God to know how it feels to be not God. But at the same time, he does know empathy, he knows the heart he knows the mind, he can take a much better intuitive feel of what that might be like than even we can ourselves. He doesn't know first hand what it's like to be human.

God does not have to make rocks he can't lift. That is a childish trap set for eighth grade apologetic hobbyists in Sunday school classes. I know because I'm still smarting from falling for it in eighth grade.God can't smell next Tuesday because days don't have smells. The eager beaver atheist can say "there's something God can't do." I say "so?" God cannot do nonsense, ok so what? We need to redefine the omnis and come up with a new term  ( I don't like "maximal greatness" too easy to confuse with "most power being"). The import this has for this issue is that there is no contradiction between omniscience and omnipotence because those are not helpful words and they don't really mean that much so they don't really describe God's attributes well. Since God is beyond the problems of either time or non-time he is not in the big room of timeless void so he's not frozen. Thus God's knowledge can come form all perspectives, from the eternal now and from time's arrow.

Might there actually be aspects of time God chooses not to see? The problem with that question is it assumes God is a rubber-necking tourist roving the expanse of all  existing matter and observing it as one would observe the country side of France from a  train window. Because God is not a big man in the sky, not anthropomorphic we can come up with other metaphors to compare God to, and that indicate that God's relationship to time is one we can't understand. Compare God to the strong force, to the unified field, to the laws of physics, the Hegelian dialectic. The Zeitgeist. I don't believe that God is impersonal but I do think it's a good exercise to think of him that way at times just to break the habit of thinking of God as a big man in the sky.

Such a God cannot waste his time worrying about conflicts between one badly worded phrase that doesn't really describe him and another badly worded phrase that doesn't describe him. Thus the problem is now reduced to a pseudo problem. It' an antiquated problem because it's rooted in the pre-Christian Greek understanding of God and time and the world, and it's also rooted in thinking of God as a big man in the sky rather than the transcendent and immanent ground of all being that God is.

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