March 27, 2012

I get mail . . . about earthquakes

Filed under: Philosophy,The New Atheism,Theodicy — William Witt @ 7:08 am

In response to my post entitled “Why God Does Not Prevent Earthquakes or Tsunamis,” I received some questions from “Rob.” Here’s my somewhat lengthy response.


Thanks for your comment.  The above is a blog post, and is by necessity concise.  I could not address every possible question or concern, and some things were implied more than stated, or, I assumed could be concluded reasonably in what I wrote above.  To your questions:

1) Do you think this same sort of destruction of being is both possible and inevitable in the new heavens and new earth, which will be just as contingent as the first heavens and earth? If you don’t think this will be the case, why?

1) By definition, anything that is contingent is subject to the possibility of non-being.  In fact, in a created universe, everything is intrinsically subject to the possibility of non-being at any given moment.  The traditional Christian doctrine of creation is that if God were to cease the act of creation at any given moment, the entire universe would “blink out” like a light bulb.  Even angels, who are “naturally” immortal, because immaterial, are dependent on God’s continuing power to exist at all. (Angels are “naturally” immortal, because they are pure minds.  Not being composed of physical parts, they cannot die should their parts be destroyed. Nonetheless, should God cease to create them, they would cease existing.)

Of course, any universally broad statement like “destruction of being is both possible and inevitable” also has to be understood in light of other premises implicit in the very definition of contingency that would include an “unless.”  Since all contingent being depends on God for its initial and continuing existence (by definition), the inevitability of destruction contains an assumed “all other factors being the same” or “unless” God wills otherwise.  All contingent being always has the possibility of non-being, but, since all contingent being is given by God, there is nothing to prevent God’s continuing to give being.  So, in the new heavens and the new earth, destruction of being is certainly intrinsically possible, since God alone is the source of creation, and could, if he willed, cease to create.  However, destruction of being is not inevitable, if God decides either to preserve intrinsically destructible beings from harm, or to create beings in such a way that that they have an intrinsically natural immortality (something like the angels).  Both possibilities are logically possible.  What God will do is up to him. (more…)

March 23, 2012

Why God Does Not Prevent Earthquakes or Tsunamis

Filed under: Philosophy,The New Atheism,Theodicy — William Witt @ 8:56 pm

There is an atheist apologetics website that calls itself “Why Won’t God Heal Amputees?” By “atheist apologetics,” I mean the kind of thing engaged in by advocates of the New Atheism like Richard Dawkins, that is, an attempt to make an argumentative case for atheism and against religion, specifically against Christianity. The basic argument of the website is a simplistic argument against the existence of God based on the problem of physical evil. It is a variation on the “old chestnut” “village atheist” chain of argumentation:

If God is good, he would want to eliminate evil.
If God is all-powerful, he could eliminate evil.
But evil exists.
Either God is not good
God is not all-powerful
God does not exist.

The website presents the argument in terms of the problem of amputees.

If God were good, he would want to heal amputees . . . etc.
But God does not heal amputees.
There is no God.

Atheist versions of the argument from evil do not usually distinguish carefully between moral and physical “evil,” and this is a classic example. The vast majority of suffering that takes place in the world is a result of moral culpability on the part of human beings. Hitler killed 6 million Jews. Wars create amputees. Physical suffering and moral evil need to be distinguished.

March 21, 2012

Some Brief Reflections on Inclusive Language

Filed under: Christianity and Politics,Ethics,Scripture,Theology — William Witt @ 4:46 pm

I first encountered the problem of “inclusive language” when I was working on my doctorate quite awhile ago.  The University of Notre Dame Theology Department had a policy that all written work had to use “inclusive language.”  At least one of the faculty members interpreted this to mean that one could not use male language in reference to deity, and would penalize students a full grade for doing so.  I encountered a real problem when I wrote my dissertation and had to decide how to translate homo (the Latin word for “human being”).  Latin does not normally use pronouns, but English does.  In translating Latin “homo,” should I use “man” or “human being”?  Which pronoun should I use when an English translation of a Latin verb referring to the action of “homo” needed a pronoun — “he”? “He or she?”  “They?”

I think the problem is less acute these days. However, if we write papers or give sermons, we still have to ask the question of how properly to refer to God and to human beings.  Do we call God “she”?  If God is “Father” is God also “Mother”?  Do we use “man” when referring to human beings?  Why or why not?  Following are some short reflections:

March 19, 2012

Spiritual Autobiography or My Early Life: How I Became an Anglican

Filed under: Personal — William Witt @ 4:22 am

I wrote this a very long time ago and have debated whether I should ever put it on my blog. I don’t share a whole lot of personal material on my blog, and the following is the story of a much younger man who was in a lot of ways very immature. It might well take some patience to get through to the end. Nonetheless, it is an important part of “my story.” I am sharing it now in the hopes that some might find it helpful.

TThe following account grew out of a paper I was assigned to write when I had just began my doctoral studies at the University of Notre Dame that was supposed to have been titled “My Approach to God.” As I wrote at the time, I find it a bit misleading to write about my ‟approach to God” because I have not had an approach to God. Rather, I have approached God in a number of ways or, to be more precise, God has been chasing me all my life, and I have perhaps used a number of approaches to keep from getting caught. But that’s not right, either. God and I have been approaching each other, I think, but sometimes more like wrestling opponents than lovers. The biblical character with whom I identify most is the patriarch Jacob, who wrestled with the angel and refused to let go until he had been blessed. After many years of wrestling, God blessed me and, perhaps, like Jacob, I limp a little. Sometimes I feel like the prophet Jeremiah—‟Thou hast seduced me, and I have been seduced.” Anyway I cannot talk about how I approach God without telling how I have approached him—so this is an account of my spiritual pilgrimage, at least up until the point I became an Anglican.

Faith has not come easily for me. I have known many people who seem to have no doubts and are constantly aware of God’s presence in their lives. People like this no longer make me as uncomfortable as they once did. I am sure that many of them have a superficial faith and are masquerading—pretending an assurance which they really do not have. Probably a good many more than I would like to admit have a genuinely simple faith. They are perhaps saints and, if so, they leave me in awe. But I am not one of the simple. Faith has been a struggle for me.

On the other hand, in some sense I have never been without faith. I cannot remember a time when Jesus Christ did not play an important part in my life. I say ‟Jesus” because, for me, faith in God and faith in Jesus Christ are synonymous. I cannot conceive of one without the other. Jesus is the paradigm through which I have come to know God. Evangelical (or perhaps Fundamentalist) Christianity goes back at least three generations on both sides of my family—although the name we preferred was ‟born-again Christian” or simply ‟Christian,” since both expressions meant the same thing. You couldn’t be a ‟real Christian” if you weren’t a ‟born again Christian.” For Fundamentalists, religion means Jesus. My parents were uneducated blue-collar Southern Baptists, conservative Democrats, labor union supporters.

After wandering in sin and darkness for several years, I ‟got saved”—at the age of five! This was not nearly as dramatic as people who have seen only television evangelists might think. One day I simply asked Jesus to ‟come into my heart” and forgive my sins—hardly a long list at this point. (It should have been obvious already that I had been touched by the finger of God—for better or worse. I used to set up a toy box as a pulpit and preach to my younger sister and her dolls, who were my faithful congregation. Apparently I also once warned my Aunt that she would go to “hull” because she drank beer. This was perhaps only excess enthusiasm on my part as my parents later assured me that they had never taught me such things.) (more…)

March 4, 2012

New Article on The Hermeneutics of Same-Sex Practice

Filed under: Ethics,Scripture,The Episcopal Church,Theology — William Witt @ 9:02 am

Melancholy It is only within the last generation that affluent Western Christians have suggested that same-sex sexual activity might be morally permissible. The unanimous consensus of the previous Christian tradition (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and Anglican) has been that homosexual activity is immoral, condemned by both Scripture and Church tradition. The vast majority of critical biblical scholars continue to recognize that the plain-sense reading of the biblical texts prohibits homosexual activity, and that Scripture endorses only one permissible model for sexual activity: exclusive life-long commitment within heterosexual marriage.

Given the historic Anglican commitment to the primacy and sufficiency of Scripture, it would seem difficult to make a case from an Anglican perspective for the approval of same-sex activity, for the blessing of same-sex relationships, or for the ordaining of practicing homosexual clergy. Those who attempt to make such a case necessarily have to address the question of biblical authority. How one attempts to reconcile the endorsing of same-sex practices with the authority of Scripture will depend, first, on whether one recognizes that Scripture prohibits same-sex activity, and, second, how one responds to Scripture’s teaching.

The above is the beginning of a new rather lengthy article I’ve just written entitled “The Hermeneutics of Same-Sex Practice: A Summary and Evaluation.” It can be found in the Pages section to the left. I cannot imagine it will win me many friends.

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