bookmark_borderMcDowell’s Trilemma – Part 3: An Eternally Omniscient Person

McDowell’s Trilemma Argument (hereafter: MTA), can be found in The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (hereafter: NETDV) by Josh McDowell (see pages 158-163).  The first key premise of MTA is this:

  1. Jesus claimed to be God.

There is no good reason to believe that Jesus claimed to be God.  None of the canonical Gospels report Jesus as having asserted the claim “I am God” nor the claim “Jesus of Nazareth is God” nor the claim “The Messiah is God, and I am the Messiah”.  However, it is possible to IMPLY that a person is God without saying so directly, so it is possible that Jesus IMPLIED that he was God, but did so without saying so directly.
To determine whether Jesus IMPLIED this, we need to understand the meaning of the following sentence:
JIG: Jesus of Nazareth is God.
Based on my analysis of the sentence “God exists”, the meaning of (JIG) can be analyzed as follows:
Jesus of Nazareth is God IF AND ONLY IF:
(a) Jesus of Nazareth is an eternally bodiless person, and
(b) Jesus of Nazareth is an eternally omnipotent person, and
(c) Jesus of Nazareth is an eternally omniscient person, and
(d) Jesus of Nazareth is an eternally perfectly morally good person, and
(e) Jesus of Nazareth is the creator of the universe.
So, for Jesus to clearly IMPLY that he was God, Jesus would have to make the following CLAIMS:
I am an eternally bodiless person, and an eternally omnipotent person, and an eternally omniscient person, and an eternally perfectly morally good person, and I am the creator of the universe.
There is no passage in any of the canonical Gospels where Jesus clearly CLAIMS that he has any of these basic divine attributes.  Thus, Jesus did NOT directly CLAIM to be God, and Jesus also did NOT clearly IMPLY that he was God.
Although Jesus does not use the terms “bodiless person” or “omnipotent” or “omniscient” or “perfectly morally good” or “the creator of the universe”, he does say things about the nature and characteristics of God that are very similar in meaning, and that strongly suggest these ideas.  Since Jesus can suggest or indicate these various divine attributes without using the specific terms in my analysis (i.e. “bodiless person”, “omnipotent”, “omniscient” etc.), perhaps he claimed to possess one or more of these divine attributes without using the specific terms found in my analysis of “God exists”.
In Part 1 of this series, we saw that Jesus never directly CLAIMED to be a bodiless person, nor did Jesus IMPLY that he was a bodiless person.  Because Jesus never claimed to be a “bodiless person”, and never claimed to be a “spirit”, and because Jesus repeatedly asserted that he had a physical body made of “flesh and bones”, Jesus clearly IMPLIED that he was not a spirit and not a bodiless person.  Therefore, Jesus clearly IMPLIED that he was not God.
In Part 2 of this series, we saw that Jesus never directly CLAIMED to be eternally omnipotent, nor to be omnipotent, nor all-powerful, nor almighty.  We also looked at some passages from the canonical Gospels put forward by McDowell in support of the view that Jesus was omnipotent, but upon closer examination of those passages, we saw that in none of them does Jesus clearly CLAIM or IMPLY that he was eternally omnipotent or even just omnipotent.
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Eternal Omniscience
In this post (Part 3),  we will consider these questions:

  • Did Jesus directly CLAIM that he was eternally omniscient
  • Did Jesus directly CLAIM that he was omniscient?
  • Did Jesus clearly IMPLY that he was eternally omniscient?
  • Did Jesus clearly IMPLY that he was omniscient?

In the canonical Gospels, Jesus never says “I am eternally omniscient” nor does he ever say “I am omniscient”, nor does Jesus say “I am all-knowing”, nor does Jesus say “I know everything that it is possible to know”, nor does Jesus say “Of the countless meaningful factual claims that have ever been made, ever will be made, or ever could be made,  I know of each one whether it is true or false.”   In short, Jesus never directly CLAIMS to be omniscient or eternally omniscient.
However, we also need to determine whether Jesus ever, according to the canonical Gospels, said something that clearly IMPLIED that he was eternally omniscient (or just omniscient).  In the book Jesus: A Biblical Defense of His Deity, McDowell puts forward 22 different passages from the canonical Gospels in support of the view that Jesus was omniscient (see pages 53 & 54).  I have examined each of these passages to determine whether any of them show that Jesus clearly IMPLIED that he was omniscient.
McDowell’s “Biblical” evidence for Jesus being omniscient comes in at least FOUR different types:
TYPE I.  A report that Jesus said something, and that something was (allegedly) intended to CLAIM or IMPLY that Jesus was omniscient.
TYPE II. A report that someone else (other than Jesus) said something, and that something was (allegedly) intended to CLAIM or IMPLY that Jesus was omniscient.
TYPE III. The author or narrator of a passage says something (in that passage) that was (allegedly) intended to CLAIM or IMPLY that Jesus was omniscient.
TYPE IV. A report that Jesus said or did something, and that event (if it actually occurred, allegedly) provides EVIDENCE that proves or supports the claim that Jesus was omniscient.
The only type of evidence that is relevant to assessing premise (1) of MTA is TYPE I evidence, a report that Jesus said something, and that something was (allegedly) intended to CLAIM or IMPLY that Jesus was omniscient.  For purposes of evaluating premise (1) we don’t care whether other people (including the disciples of Jesus) believed Jesus was omniscient, and we don’t care whether the author or narrator of a Gospel passage believed that Jesus was omniscient, and we also don’t care whether Jesus was in fact omniscient.  In this context, we are only concerned about what Jesus CLAIMED or IMPLIED about himself, which means that we only care about the Gospel passages that contain (or that appear to contain) TYPE I evidence.
Because we are only concerned about TYPE I evidence, we can quicly eliminate most of the 22 Gospel passages put forward by McDowell as irrelevant to the task of evaluating premise (1) of MTA.  The following image shows a chart about the TYPES of evidence contained in the 22 Gospel passages put forward by McDowell:
Gospel Passages on Omniscience
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Actually, the 16th passage in the chart (John 13:21-26) is not from McDowell.  I just threw that one in as a free bonus; it is closely related to the 15th passage (John 13:10-11).
As you can see from the chart above, only five of the 22 Gospel passages contain TYPE I evidence, so only those five passages are relevant to an evaluation of premise (1) of MTA.  Only one of the passages from the synoptic Gospels contains TYPE I evidence:
Matthew 11:25-27 (NRSV)
25 At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants;
26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.
27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
If the key phrase “All things have been handed over to me by my Father” was a reference to Jesus having POWER and CONTROL over everything that exists, then this passage would be about POWER not about KNOWLEDGE, and in that case this passage would be relevant as evidence that Jesus claimed to be omnipotent (all-powerful), but not relevant as evidence that Jesus claimed to be omniscient (all-knowing).
In Part 2 of this series I argued that this phrase is probably not about POWER, but is rather about wisdom and KNOWLEDGE,  so this passage does not provide solid evidence that Jesus CLAIMED to be omnipotent.  But if the phrase “All things” refers to bits of wisdom or KNOWLEDGE, then this passage would be relevant as evidence that Jesus CLAIMED or IMPLIED his own omniscience.
I previously argued, however, that the most likely meaning of the expression “All things” is, “all of the important spiritual, theological, and moral truths and principles that God wants to reveal to (some) human beings”.  The context of the phrase “all things” is in a discussion about KNOWLEDGE of important truths of religion and morality that God wants to reveal to (some) human beings.  In this context, there is no reason to dramatically expand the scope of of the topic to include every possible fact or statement no matter how trivial or irrelevant the fact is from the point of view of religion and morality.
An omniscient God would know the number of hairs on my head, but God has no interest in “revealing” this trivial information to the human race; that fact is trivial or irrelevant from the point of view of religion and morality, so that sort of “truth” is outside of the scope of the topic under discussion in this passage. It is unlikely that this expression was intended to refer to “knowledge of every single fact no matter how trivial or insignificant that fact might be”.  Thus, it is unlikely that in this passage Jesus is CLAIMING or IMPLYING that he is omniscient, that he knows every single fact no matter how trivial or insignificant the fact might be.
Furthermore, in stating that these important bits of wisdom or KNOWLEDGE “have been handed over” to Jesus by God,  Jesus IMPLIES that he did not alway possess those bits of wisdom or KNOWLEDGE, and thus Jesus IMPLIES that he is not eternally omniscient.  But a person is God ONLY IF that person is eternally omniscient, so Jesus IMPLIES here that he is not God.
Four of the passages from the Gospel of John contain Type I evidence.  The passages are very similar in content, so I will examine them all together:
John 7:28-29 (NRSV)
28 Then Jesus cried out as he was teaching in the temple, “You know me, and you know where I am from. I have not come on my own. But the one who sent me is true, and you do not know him.
29 I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.”
John 8:54-55 (NRSV)
54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whom you say, ‘He is our God,’
55 though you do not know him. But I know him; if I would say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know him and I keep his word.
John 10:14-15 (NRSV)
14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,
15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.
John 17:25-26 (NRSV)
25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me.
26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
In these four passages from the Gospel of John, Jesus claims to KNOW God.  Furthermore, Jesus also asserts that other people, at least some other people, do not KNOW God.  So, Jesus is claiming to have KNOWLEDGE that other people, at least some other people, lack.
There are several problems with using these four passages as proof or evidence that Jesus CLAIMED or IMPLIED himself to be eternally omniscient (or just omniscient).
First, most mainstream NT and Jesus scholars view the Gospel of John as an unreliable source for the words and teachings of Jesus, especially when it comes to reports in this Gospel about Jesus making exalted claims about himself.  This is NOT how Jesus spoke according to the synpotic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).  So, it is doubtful that Jesus actually said the things attributed to him in the above four passages from the Gospel of John.
Second, to be omniscient means to know every single fact about every single thing that has ever existed and ever will exist, and having KNOWLEDGE of or about God does not IMPLY that one knows every single fact about every single thing that has ever existed or ever will exist, so the claim to have KNOWLEDGE of or about God is, at best, only partial evidence of omniscience, not proof of omniscience.  One must also know every single fact about every single plant, and every single animal, and every single human being, and every single planet, and every single star in the universe.  Having some KNOWLEDGE about God does not mean having all knowledge about everything; it does not mean that one knows every single fact about every single thing that has ever existed and that ever will exist.
Third, Jesus does not claim to KNOW every single thing that there is to know about God.  So, it is not at all clear that Jesus CLAIMS to be omniscient even with respect to God.
Of course, God is, if God exists, eternally omniscient, meaning that God knows every single fact there is to know about every single thing that exists or has existed or ever will exist.  So, to know every single thing that there is to know about God, one must actually know every single fact that God knows, because there are many facts about God of the following form:
God knows such-and-such about X.
For example:
(E) God knows that the Earth orbits the Sun.
In order to know this fact (E) about God, one must know that “the Earth orbits the Sun”.  So, in order to know every single fact that there is to know about God, one must know every single fact that God himself knows!  Since Jesus does not explicitly CLAIM to know every single thing that can possibly be known about God, and since making such a claim would IMPLY that one KNOWS every single fact that there is to know about every single thing that has ever existed or that ever will exist, it is unlikely that Jesus intended to make such a strong claim about his KNOWLEDGE of God.
If Jesus did not intend to CLAIM or IMPLY that he KNOWS every single thing that can possibly be known about God, then what did he intend to CLAIM or IMPLY in the above four passages, assuming that Jesus said what these passages report Jesus to have said?
In reading the four passages, and reading them in context, it seems fairly clear that Jesus was talking about having a close relationship with God.  God “sent” Jesus as a messenger (John 7:28-29 & 17:25-26).  Jesus refers to God as his “Father” (John 8:54-55, 10:14-15, 17:25-26).  Jesus speaks of “the love with which you [God] have loved me” implying that God has great love for Jesus.  In claiming to KNOW God, Jesus thus is claiming to have a close relationship with God.
Jesus KNOWS God in the way that a person KNOWS a best friend or a spouse or a sibling or a parent.  If you have a close relationship with another person, you do KNOW a lot of information about that person, and you have a lot of experiences of that person.  You KNOW what they like and dislike, how they think, what they believe, their personal history, and so on.  But having a close relationship with another person does NOT mean knowing every single fact that can be possibly known about that other person.
It is very likely that in the above four passages, that Jesus was IMPLYING that he had a close relationship with God, and this means that Jesus was IMPLYING that he had a good deal of KNOWLEDGE about God, but not that he knew every single fact that it is possible to know about God.  That is NOT an implication when we talk about having a close relationship with another human being, so it is unlikely that Jesus intended such an implication when he CLAIMED to KNOW God in the above passages, assuming that those passages accurately report the actual words of the historical Jesus.
Fourth, not only do we have good reason to doubt that these four passages provide an accurate report of the actual words of the historical Jesus (because most mainstream NT and Jesus scholars have concluded that the Gospel of John is an unreliable source of the words and teachings of Jesus), but we have a more specific reason to doubt the reliability of the Gospel of John on this particular point concerning the alleged omniscience of Jesus.
I stated previously that only the Gospel passages that contained TYPE I evidence were relevant to this question, but that is not entirely correct.  The idea that Jesus possessed supernatural or superhuman KNOWLEDGE is a theme in the Gospel of John, and it is clearly an important belief of the author of the Gospel of John, a belief that the author clearly wants to persuade his readers to accept.  Given this information about the author of this Gospel, this casts additional doubt on the historicity and reliability of the above four passages from the Gospel of John.
The other passages from the Gospel of John that do not contain TYPE I evidence provide us with evidence about the beliefs and ideological aims of the author of this Gospel.  This is particularly the case with TYPE III passages where the author or narrator makes comments about Jesus’s alleged superhuman knowledge:
John 2:24-25 (NRSV)
24 But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people
25 and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.
John 6:64 (NRSV)
64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him.
John 13:1 (NRSV)
13 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
John 13:10-11 (NRSV)
10 Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.”
11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.
John 18:3-4 (NRSV)
3 So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons.
4 Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?”
John 19:28-30 (NRSV)
28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.”
29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth.
30 When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
The above comments by the author/narrator about Jesus having superhuman knowledge indicate that the author believed that Jesus had superhuman knowledge and that the author wanted to promote this belief by means of this Gospel.
Other passages from the Gospel of John contain TYPE II evidence where people other than Jesus say something that is (allegedly) intended to CLAIM or IMPLY that Jesus had superhuman knowledge.  These passages with TYPE II evidence provide further confirmation that the author of this Gospel wanted to promote the belief that Jesus had various kinds of superhuman knowledge (John 1:48, 4:16-19, 16:30, 21:17).  There are also a least three passages in the Gospel of John where although nobody says something that is intended to CLAIM or IMPLY that Jesus had superhuman knowledge, the event itself appears to provide evidence for this belief about Jesus (John 11:11-15, 13:21-26, 21:6-11).
So, it is clear that the author of the Gospel of John (a) believed that Jesus had superhuman knowledge, and (b) wanted to promote this belief by means of this Gospel.  The fact that the author of the Gospel of John had this belief and had this ideological aim in writing this Gospel amounts to a bias in the author that casts additional doubt on the objectivity and historical reliability of the above four TYPE I passages from that Gospel.
CONCLUSION
In the canonical Gospels, Jesus never directly CLAIMS to be eternally omniscient, or even just omniscient.  Nor does Jesus directly claim to be “all-knowing” nor does Jesus directly claim to “know every single fact there is about every single thing that has ever existed or that ever will exist.”
McDowell has put forward only five Gospel passages which contain TYPE I evidence, evidence consisting of a report about Jesus saying something, where that something was (allegedly) intended to CLAIM or IMPLY that Jesus was omniscient or eternally omniscient.  Only one of those passages comes from one of the synoptic Gospels, and I argued that it is unlikely that what Jesus said in that passage (Matthew 11:25-27) was intended to CLAIM or IMPLY that Jesus was omniscient or eternally omniscient.  Rather, it is likely that Jesus was making the more limited CLAIM to know all of the important religious and moral truths that God wanted to reveal to (some) humans.  Furthermore, since Jesus states that this wisdom or knowledge had “been handed over to me by my Father”, Jesus IMPLIES that he did not always have this knowledge and thus that he was NOT eternally omniscient.
The four remaining TYPE I passages put forward by McDowell are from the Gospel of John, and Jesus makes the same CLAIM in those four passages; he claims to KNOW God.  But I argued that it is unlikely that this statement was intended by Jesus to IMPLY that he knew every single fact about every single thing that has ever existed or that ever will exist.  Rather, it is likely that Jesus intended to IMPLY that he had a close relationship with God.  Having a close relationship with a person does not imply knowing every single fact that it is possible to know about that person, so Jesus did not intend to IMPLY that he knew every single fact that it is possible to know about God.  Thus, what Jesus says in those four passages from the Gospel of John does not IMPLY that Jesus was omniscient nor that Jesus was eternally omniscient.
Furthermore, it is doubtful that the four TYPE I passages from the Gospel of John provide accurate reports of what the historical Jesus actually said, because (a) most mainstream NT and Jesus scholars have concluded that the Gospel of John is an unreliable source of the words of the historical Jesus, and (b) we can see from the TYPE II, TYPE III, and TYPE IV passages from this Gospel, that the author of the Gospel of John wanted to promote the belief that Jesus posssessed superhuman forms of knowledge.
Therefore, the Gospel passages provided by McDowell fail to show that Jesus CLAIMED or IMPLIED that he was omniscient, and fail to show that Jesus CLAIMED or IMPLIED that he was eternally omniscient.
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UPDATE:
I missed one of the Gospel passages that McDowell cited in support of Jesus being omniscient:  Luke 5:5-6 (on pages 54 & 64 of Jesus: A Biblical Defense of His Deity).  Here is the passage:
Luke 5:4-6 (NRSV)
4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.
This passage does not contain TYPE I evidence, so it is irrelevant to the question of whether Jesus ever CLAIMED or IMPLIED that he was omniscient.  In fact neither the narrator/author makes this claim, nor does anyone in the story make this claim.  This passage thus contains only TYPE IV evidence.
Furthermore, this event is easily explained without the hypothesis that Jesus had supernatural knowledge of the presence of a large mass of fish and their location.  Jesus could have simply prayed to God asking for the fishermen to have a large catch of fish, and God could have responded to Jesus’s prayer by either creating a bunch of fish in (or right next to) their nets, or by causing fish to swim from various locations all over the lake to where the fish nets were placed.  (As an atheist, I don’t accept these alternative explanations myself, but they are perfectly reasonable explanations from a Christian or theistic point of view).
 

bookmark_borderGratuitous Evils: What are the Chances?

Gratuitous evil is evil that God would not permit. In Alvin Plantinga’s terms, God would not actualize such evils either strongly (i.e. by directly creating them) or weakly (i.e. by allowing free creatures to commit them). A gratuitous evil is one that God would have no morally sufficient reason for actualizing (strongly or weakly). God has a morally sufficient reason for actualizing an evil e in a world W if and only if e is necessary in W for some good g, and W, containing both e and g, is better (by whatever criterion) than any world W*, actualizable by God, where W* contains neither e nor g. Put simply, where W is the real world, God permits evil e because e is necessary for the realization of good g, and g is realized, and the world with both e and g is better than it would be with neither e nor g.
The hackneyed example is that moral evil is permitted in the world because moral evil is necessary in our world for freely-chosen moral goodness, and there is no alternate world, actualizable by God, in which the overall balance of moral goodness to moral evil is better than in the real world. Perhaps there are possible worlds in which free creatures always choose to do good, and so, in those worlds, moral evil is not a necessary condition for moral goodness. However, perhaps no such world is actualizable by God. Perhaps, all possible free creatures suffer from what Plantinga calls “trans-world depravity,” that is, the “counterfactuals of freedom” (over which God has no control) are such that every free creature will freely choose to do some evil in any world in which it exists. In this case, not even God can create worlds with free creatures and no moral evil. Therefore, so far as human creatures can know (since we cannot know the counterfactuals of freedom) perhaps even the grossest moral evils are not gratuitous. I would add that, since we cannot know the counterfactuals of freedom, then neither can we know that moral evils are not gratuitous. Perhaps God could have created a better world after all.
I have to confess that, despite Alvin Plantinga’s gigantic reputation, when we start talking about “trans-world depravity” and “counterfactuals of freedom,” then I am afflicted with a palpable and undeniable sense that we have flown off into Cloud-Cuckoo-Land. Let me see if I can put the problem in less recherché terms: First, what would be a candidate for a gratuitous evil, that is, what kind of an event, if it did occur, would require a morally sufficient reason if it were preventable yet not prevented? I think that instances of unwanted and undeserved suffering would be our candidates. Some suffering may be desired. One who fancies himself as a Nietzschean übermensch, may welcome suffering as travails that the great must endure to prove their superiority. Other suffering may be deserved. Hitler’s suffering in his final days in the bunker need not excite our sympathy.
Unquestionably, however, there are and have been, among human and non-human animals, many cases of unwanted, undeserved suffering. How many? No one can say, but it seems reasonable to posit that, since organisms achieved the neurological complexity to suffer (far back in the Paleozoic, no doubt), there have been a trillion (1012) instances of unwanted, undeserved suffering. Note that if even a single one of these 1012 instances of suffering is gratuitous, that is, if even one is such that God would have no morally sufficient reason for permitting it, then God does not exist. If one Diplodocus suffered unnecessarily in the Jurassic, then there cannot be a perfectly good and all-powerful being who, by definition, would have prevented such suffering and could have prevented such suffering. In other words, if only one of the trillion possible cases of gratuitous evil truly was in fact gratuitous, then God does not exist.
“Skeptical theists” deny that we can know of any particular evil that it is likely to be gratuitous. Their argument is that we are not in the epistemological position to know the goods that omnipotence can achieve over the course of eternity. God is postulated to be omnipotent and to have all of eternity in which to fulfill his plans. Therefore, we cannot be sure, of any particular evil, and however pointless it appears to us, that God will not generate a redeeming good that at some future time (perhaps in the distant future) will serve to redeem that evil. That is, sub specie aeternitatis, the world will be better with that evil and its redeeming good than with neither the evil nor the good. However, the real problem that theists face here is not whether any particular evil can be known to be gratuitous, but whether any of the postulated 1012 evils is gratuitous. Even if each such evil has only a very small chance of being gratuitous, the disjunction of those small probabilities might sum up to virtual certainty. Put equivalently, even if it is highly probable (but not certain) that each instance of unwanted, undeserved suffering is not gratuitous, then the product of those probabilities, the probability that NO such instance is gratuitous still might be very small—close to zero.
It appears, then, that if they are to reasonably deny that any instance of unwanted, undeserved suffering was in fact gratuitous, theists must be confident that none of those 1012 instances of undeserved, unwanted suffering was gratuitous. Merely arguing that it cannot be known that no particular one of these was gratuitous will not do the job here. Not even close. I can give very good reasons for saying that I will not be involved in a fatal accident the next time that I drive, but I cannot say with much confidence that over a, say, sixty year driving career, I will not be involved in such an accident. What grounds, then, can a theist have for being confident that no instance of unwanted, undeserved suffering was gratuitous?

bookmark_borderMcDowell’s Trilemma – Part 2: An Eternally Omnipotent Person

McDowell’s Trilemma Argument (hereafter: MTA), can be found in The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (hereafter: NETDV) by Josh McDowell (see pages 158-163).
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…Jesus definitely claimed to be God (see below and in Chapter 6).  So every person must answer the question: Is His claim to deity true or false?   (NETDV, p.158)
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The first key premise of MTA is this:

  1. Jesus claimed to be God.

This first premise appears to be false.  Jesus did NOT claim to be God.  Or, to be more accurate, there is no good reason to believe that Jesus claimed to be God.  That is to say, none of the canonical Gospels report Jesus as having asserted the claim “I am God” nor the claim “Jesus of Nazareth is God”. However, it is possible to IMPLY that a person is God without saying so directly, so it is possible that Jesus IMPLIED that he was God, but did so without saying so directly.
To determine whether Jesus IMPLIED this, we need to understand the meaning of the following sentence:
JIG: Jesus of Nazareth is God.
Based on my analysis of the sentence “God exists”, the meaning of (JIG) can be analyzed as follows:
Jesus of Nazareth is God IF AND ONLY IF:
(a) Jesus of Nazareth is an eternally bodiless person, and
(b) Jesus of Nazareth is an eternally omnipotent person, and
(c) Jesus of Nazareth is an eternally omniscient person, and
(d) Jesus of Nazareth is an eternally perfectly morally good person, and
(e) Jesus of Nazareth is the creator of the universe.
So, for Jesus to clearly IMPLY that he was God, Jesus would have to make the following claims:
I am an eternally bodiless person, and an eternally omnipotent person, and an eternally omniscient person, and an eternally perfectly morally good person, and I am the creator of the universe.
There is no passage in any of the canonical Gospels where Jesus asserts that he has any of these basic divine attributes.  Thus, Jesus did NOT directly claim to be God, and Jesus also did NOT clearly IMPLY that he was God, nor does Jesus clearly INDICATE that he was God, based on the words and teachings of Jesus found in the canoncial Gospels.
Although Jesus does not use the terms “bodiless person” or “omnipotent” or “omniscient” or “perfectly morally good” or “the creator of the universe”, he does say things about the nature and characteristics of God that are very similar in meaning, and that strongly suggest these ideas.  So, it appears that the concept of “God” that is present in the words and teachings of Jesus (according to the canonical Gospels) corresponds closely with my analysis of the sentence “God exists”, even though Jesus does not use any of the key terms in my analysis of “God exists”.
But, since Jesus can suggest or indicate these various divine attributes without using the specific terms in my analysis (i.e. “bodiless person”, “omnipotent”, “omniscient” etc.), perhaps he claimed to possess one or more of these divine attributes without using the specific terms found in my analysis of “God exists”.
Jesus does not speak of God as a “bodiless person”, but he does speak of God as a “spirit”, which implies that God is a “bodiless person”.  Does Jesus ever claim to be a “spirit”?  There are no passages in any of the canonical Gospels where Jesus claims to be a spirit.  There are, however, passages where Jesus implies that he is NOT a spirit (Mark 14:8, 14:22, 14:37-39, Luke 24:39, John 20:27).
Because Jesus NEVER claimed to be a “bodiless person”, and NEVER claimed to be a “spirit”, and because Jesus repeatedly asserted that he had a physical body made of “flesh and bones”, Jesus clearly implied that he was NOT a spirit and NOT a bodiless person.  Therefore, Jesus clearly implied that he was NOT God.
In this post, we will look at another of the divine attributes and determine whether Jesus used alternative terminology to imply that he possessed that attribute.
Eternal Omnipotence
Jesus never directly claimed to be “omnipotent”, and he never claimed to be “all-powerful” or “almighty”.  But did Jesus use other words or phrases to IMPLY that he was eternally omnipotent?
McDowell asserts that Jesus claimed to have “all power in heaven and in earth (Matt. 28:18)…”  (McDowell quoting John Walvoord in McDowell’s book, co-authored with Bart Larson, Jesus: A Biblical Defense of His Deity, p.54), and he takes this to be a claim by Jesus to be omnipotent.
There are two problems with using this verse from Matthew as evidence that Jesus claimed to be eternally omnipotent.  First, most modern translations of Matthew 28:18 use the word “authority” rather than the word “power”:
ASV: And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying, All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth.
NASB: And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.
NET: Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
NIV: Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
NLT: Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.
NRSV: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
RSV: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
So, it is likely that Jesus was talking about AUTHORITY here, not POWER.
Here is some commentary on this verse by N.T. scholar M. Eugene Boring:
The basis for the words of commission is the claim of the risen Jesus that all authority has been given to him by God (cf. 11:27).  The risen Jesus is pictured as Lord of heaven and earth–the cosmic ruler in God’s stead (cf. Phil 2:5-11); Col 1:15-18; Heb 1:1-3), the king in the present-and-coming kingdom of God, the one who represents God’s cosmic rule.  The babe worshipped by Gentiles and mocked at his crucifixion as “king of the Jews” (2:1; 27:11, 29, 37) has assumed his throne and begun to reign.  The lowly Son of Man has been enthroned as the exalted Son of Man (cf. Dan 7:13-14); his resurrection was not only his vindication but also his enthronement.
(The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VIII, p.503)
Boring uses the expression “all authority” and does not use the expression “all power”. He understands this passage to be talking about Jesus becoming a “king” and a “ruler” and that Jesus has “assumed his throne and begun to reign.” But all of this language speaks of AUTHORITY not of POWER. In this passage, Jesus claims to have been given great AUTHORITY, not unlimited POWER.
According to the book of Genesis, God put human beings in charge of the Earth:
Genesis 1:26 (NRSV)
26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
When God put humans in charge of the Earth, he gave humans AUTHORITY over the Earth, according to Genesis.  But that does not mean that God gave humans unlimited POWER over the Earth.  Animals sometimes injure or  kill humans.   Fires, floods, storms, volcanoes, and earthquakes sometimes injure or kill humans.  Humans do not control the weather.  Humans do not control geological forces.  So, God giving authority over the Earth to humans does NOT imply that God made humans omnipotent or all-powerful, or even that God gave humans unlimited power over the forces of nature on the Earth.  AUTHORITY over X is not the same as unlimited POWER over X.  Thus, the claim that God gave Jesus AUTHORITY in “heaven and on earth” does NOT imply that God gave Jesus unlimited POWER over what happens in “heaven and on earth”.
Second, Jesus states that this power or authority “has been given to me” which implies that at some previous point in time he did NOT have “all authority in heaven and on earth”.  In order to be God one must be eternally omnipotent, not just omnipotent for one day or one month or one year or one century.
In Matthew 28:18, Jesus only claims to have a great deal of authority (not power), which was (allegedly) given to him by God at some point in time.  So, in that verse Jesus does NOT claim to be an all-powerful person, and Jesus does NOT claim to have been all-powerful from eternity.   In fact, if one prefers the translation using the word “power”, then Jesus implied that he was for a period of time NOT all-powerful, and thus Jesus implied that he was NOT God, based on the translation of Matthew 28:18  that uses the word “power”.
Another passage from the Gospel of Matthew might be used as evidence for the view that Jesus implied his own omnipotence:
Matthew 11:27 (NRSV)
27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
There are at least three problems with interpreting this verse as a claim to the divine attribute of eternal omnipotence.
First, whatever it is that Jesus is talking about, it had “beeen handed over to me by my Father”.  As with Matthew 28:18, this implies that there was a previous point in time when it was not yet the case that Jesus possessed this attribute.  Thus, if we interpret “all things” to mean “all power”, then Jesus is implying that he did not always have such power, and thus Jesus is implying that he was NOT eternally omnipotent, and thus that he was NOT God.
Second, this verse sounds rather similar to Matthew 28:18, which is probably about AUTHORITY rather than about POWER, so that gives us reason to doubt that Matthew 11:27 is about power.  The author of Matthew might have intended for verse 11:27 to be read and interpreted in relation to the similar sounding verse Matthew 28:18.
Third, the context of this statement is clearly focused on KNOWLEDGE rather than on POWER.  Immediately after the sentence speaking about “all things” having been “handed over to” Jesus by God, Jesus speaks about how only God “knows the Son” and how only the Son “knows the Father”.  Furthermore, if we look at the verses immediately preceding verse 27, we see that those verses also are focused on KNOWLEDGE rather than POWER:
Matthew 11:25-27 (NRSV)
25 At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants;
26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.
27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
Note that in verse 25 Jesus refers to important bits of wisdom that God has revealed to some people as “these things”.  Thus, when Jesus speaks of “All things” in verse 27, this appears to be a reference back to the bits of wisdom that God has revealed to some people.  The most likely meaning of the expression “All things” is thus, “all of the important spiritual, theological, and moral truths and principles that God wants to reveal to (some) human beings”.  It is unlikely that this expression was intended to refer to “complete power and control over everything that exists”.
So, for these three reasons, it is unlikely that Jesus is implying in Matthew 11:27 that he was eternally omnipotent.
McDowell puts forward a few Gospel passages (by quoting John Walvoord who in turn cites some Gospel passages) as evidence for Jesus being omnipotent:
The evidence for the omnipotence of Christ is as decisive as proof for other attributes. Sometimes it takes the form of physical power, but more often it refers to authority over creation. Christ has the power to forgive sins (Matt. 9:6), all power in heaven and in earth (Matt. 28:18), power over nature (Luke 8:25), power over his own life (John 10:18), power to give eternal life to others (John 17:2), power to heal physically, as witnessed by his many miracles, as well as power to cast out demons (Mark 1:29-34)… (McDowell quoting Walvoord, Jesus: A Biblical Defense of His Deity, p.54)
Keep in mind that the main question at issue in relation to MTA is not whether Jesus was in fact eternally omnipotent, nor is the issue whether Jesus’ disciples or the authors of the NT believed Jesus to be eternally omnipotent. The question at issue here is whether Jesus CLAIMED or IMPLIED that he was eternally omnipotent.
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1. The “Power” to Forgive Sins
Matthew 9:6 (NRSV)
6 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.”
First of all, as this translation indicates, Jesus appears to be talking about AUTHORITY here, not about POWER.
Second of all, it is easy to forgive someone’s sins.  All you have to do is say “I forgive you” to the person who wronged you, and mean it.  No special supernatural power is required to perform this mundane human action.
Third, it is so easy to forgive that Jesus demanded that his followers forgive those who wrong them “seventy-seven times”:
Matthew 18:21-22 (NRSV)
21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”
22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
The real trick, of course, is to forgive someone for wrongs they have committed against another person, when you (who are doing the forgiving) are not the person who was wronged.  If a friend of mine steals money or something valuable from me, then I can forgive him or her for that selfish action.  But if a friend of mine steals money or something valuable from somebody else, someone who I don’t even know, then how can I forgive my friend for the wrong against that other person?
The obstacle here is not that I lack some magical “forgiveness power”; the problem is that I don’t have the RIGHT to forgive my friend for wronging somebody else.  The problem is one of AUTHORITY, not POWER.  Perhaps God, unlike mere mortals, can forgive my friend for wronging somebody else, but not because God has some supernatural “forgiveness power”.  God can perform such forgiving only if it is MORALLY RIGHT for God to do this, only if God has the MORAL AUTHORITY to hand out that sort of forgiveness.
Fourth, according to the Gospel of John, Jesus bestowed such forgiveness authority on his inner circle of disciples:
John 20:22-23 (NRSV)
22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
If having the authority to forgive a person’s sins means that one is eternally omnipotent, then we would have to conclude that each one of the eleven remaining disciples from the inner-circle must also be eternally omnipotent. But that is absurd and is contrary to the doctrines of the Christian faith, so this argument proves too much. The claim that someone has the authority to forgive sins does NOT imply that this person is eternally omnipotent.
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2. All “Power” in Heaven and in Earth
Matthew 28:18:   
I have already discussed this passage above.
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3. “Power” Over Nature
According to the Gospels, Jesus sometimes performed amazing nature miracles:
Luke 8:22-25 (NRSV)
22 One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they put out,
23 and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A windstorm swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger.
24 They went to him and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm.
25 He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”
Remember, the question at issue is NOT whether Jesus was in fact eternally omnipotent, nor whether his disciples believed he was eternally omnipotent.  The issue is whether Jesus CLAIMED or IMPLIED that he was eternally omnipotent.
First, even if this event showed that Jesus was omnipotent, it at most only shows he was omnipotent for a brief span of time, not that he was eternally omnipotent.  This is one reason why the words and claims of Jesus are important for the issue of whether he was eternally omnipotent, because actions and demonstrations of power can only show that he had great power at that particular time.
Second, the power to stop a storm is, at best, only evidence of omnipotence, not proof of omnipotence.  One must also have power over floods, fires, earthquakes, gravity, inertia, electromagnetic forces, insects, predators, the sun, the moon, billions of stars, etc. This is one reason why the words and claims of Jesus are important for the issue of whether he was eternally omnipotent, because actions and demonstrations of power can only show that he had a particular sort of power at that particular time.
Third, even if this event showed that Jesus was eternally omnipotent, that does not mean that Jesus CLAIMED or IMPLIED that he was eternally omnipotent.  Actions are often even more ambiguous than words.  It is very difficult to clearly claim or imply some specific idea without uttering clear words and sentences expressing that idea.
Fourth, the words that Jesus uttered in this situation (according to the passage from the Gospel of Luke) cast serious doubt on the view that Jesus was claiming or implying himself to be eternally omnipotent.  Jesus asks his frightened disciples “Where is your faith?”  Given Jesus’s radical beliefs about faith, the implication appears to be that his disciples could have calmed the storm themselves, if they simply had strong FAITH in the power and mercy of God:
Mark 11:23 (NRSV)
23 Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you.
Jesus taught his disciples that they could perform amazing nature miracles too, if they just had strong FAITH.  Making a mountain rise up into the sky and move a mile or more and then drop into the ocean would be an even more fantastic nature miracle than calming a storm.  But Jesus taught and believed that his disciples could perform such nature miracles if they developed a strong faith in God.
Note the phrase “it will be done for you” at the end of Mark 11:23.  Who is performing the action here? God.  God is answering a prayer request: “God, please move this mountain into the sea.”  So, it is not the person of faith who directly CAUSES the mountain to rise up and move to the ocean, but it is the eternally omnipotent God (to whom the person of great faith prayed) who moves the mountain into the sea.
In speaking of FAITH here, Jesus implies that he had strong faith in the power and mercy of God, and could request that God calm a storm, and as a result of his strong belief that this “will come to pass”, God would do this for him.  Jesus also implied that his disciples were just as capable of making such a request of God and having God do this for them, if they simply had strong faith.  Jesus IMPLIED only that he had strong faith in the mercy and power of God, not that he (Jesus) was omnipotent that day, nor that he (Jesus) was eternally omnipotent.
Jesus did NOT believe that his disciples were eternally omnipotent, and such a belief is clearly contrary to the doctrines of the Christian faith. Thus, this argument (from the nature miracle of calming a storm) proves too much, because if performing such a miracle implies that one is eternally omnipotent, then it follows that the disciples of Jesus were eternally omnipotent, and that anyone who has strong faith in the power and mercy of God must also be eternally omnipotent, which is absurd.
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4. “Power” Over His Own Life
According to the Gospel of John, Jesus claimed to be able to choose when he would die and also to choose to come back to life:
John 10:17-18 (NRSV)
17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
First, having power over life and death in the second half of the first century, does not mean that Jesus had this power for all eternity, so this is not proof that Jesus is eternally omnipotent.  The statements of Jesus about this matter are important for assessing the significance of this evidence.
Second, power over life and death is only one sort of supernatural power, so this is, at best, only evidence of omnipotence, not proof of omnipotence.  The statements of Jesus about this matter are important for assessing the significance of this evidence.
Third, Jesus concludes with the statement “I have received this command from my Father”.  This statement indicates that Jesus is talking about AUTHORITY here, rather than POWER.  God has commanded that Jesus suffer death by crucifixion, and God has commanded and thus authorized Jesus to come back to life after suffering and dying on the cross.  Thus, the point appears to be NOT about Jesus having POWER over his death, but about Jesus being given AUTHORITY over his death by God.
Fourth,  in general, the Christian faith asserts that “God raised Jesus from the dead” (Acts 2:24, 2:32, 3:15, 3:26, 4:10, 5:30, 10:40, 13:30, 13:37, Romans 10:9, 1 Cor. 6:14, 15:15, etc.), so the resurrection of Jesus can be seen as evidence of God’s omnipotence rather than as evidence of Jesus being omnipotent.
The case of the resurrection of Jesus is thus analogous to other nature miracles performed by Jesus: they are CAUSED by God in response to Jesus’s FAITH in God; they are not CAUSED by the exertion of supernatural powers possessed by Jesus.  If Jesus had the power to overcome his own death, then the resurrection would fail to establish that GOD was giving his seal of approval to Jesus by CAUSING Jesus to rise from the dead.  If Jesus was the cause of his own resurrection, then his resurrection would fail to show God’s approval of Jesus ministry and of Jesus teachings.  The resurrection would then provide no evidence that Jesus was a prophet of God or a savior of mankind who had been sent by God.
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5. “Power” to Give Eternal Life to Others
John 17:1-2 (NRSV)
1 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you,
2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.
First, having the “power” to give people eternal life on judgment day does not imply that Jesus always had this “power”, thus this is, at best evidence of omnipotence, not proof of eternal omnipotence.  Thus, it is important to pay attention to Jesus’s words and statements about this matter.
Second, the “power” to give people eternal life is only one sort of power, so this is, at best, only evidence of omnipotence, not proof of omnipotence.  Thus, it is important to pay attention to Jesus’s words and statements about this matter.
Third, the above translation, and other modern translations (e.g. NIV and NASB), use the word “authority” here rather than the word “power”.  Jesus is claiming that God will give him the AUTHORITY to be the judge of all human beings; that Jesus will be the one to decide who goes to heaven and who goes to hell.
But being the judge of mankind is NOT the same as being the executioner.  Although Jesus claims to be the one to make the decision on the eternal fate of each human being,  this is completely compatible with it being the case that GOD is the one who carries out the punishments and rewards, that it is GOD who will cause some people to have eternal life in heaven and others to have eternal misery in hell.  Having the AUTHORITY to make this decision is NOT the same as having the POWER to implement the decision. Jesus is only claiming to have been given the AUTHORITY to make this important decision.
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6. “Power” to Heal Various Diseases and to Cast Out Demons
According to the canonical Gospels, Jesus could heal various diseases and cast demons out of people:
Mark 1:32-34 (NRSV)
32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.
33 And the whole city was gathered around the door.
34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
First, this event only shows that Jesus had influence over diseases and demons for a particular period of time, not that Jesus always had this “power”. So, this is, at best, evidence of Jesus being omnipotent, not proof that Jesus was eternally omnipotent.

Second, “power” over demons is only one sort of supernatural power, and power to cure diseases is only one sort of power, so this event is, at best, only evidence of Jesus being omnipotent, not proof of his omnipotence.
Third, as with nature miracles and granting eternal life to some people,  this event is best understood in terms of Jesus having AUTHORITY over diseases and demons, rather than Jesus having POWER over diseases and demons.  It is because Jesus had strong FAITH in the power and mercy of God, that Jesus could request God to cure a person’s disease or to remove a demon from a person, and God would then respond by doing what Jesus requested.
Fourth, Jesus taught that his disciples would themselves be able to “cast out many demons”:
Mark 3:14-15 (NRSV)
14 And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message,
15 and to have authority to cast out demons.
Note that Jesus gave his disciples AUTHORITY to cast out demons, not the POWER to cast out demons.
Furthermore, Jesus related his success in exorcism to his FAITH in God:
Matthew 17:18-20 (NRSV)
18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly.
19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?”
20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”
The problem is NOT that his disciples were lacking in some supernatural powers; the problem was their lack of FAITH in the power and mercy of God.  With faith in God “nothing will be impossible” for an ordinary human being, because (according to Jesus) God will respond to the requests of a person who has FAITH in God, and God is eternally omnipotent, and thus able to do anything that a person of FAITH asks him to do.
Jesus also gave his disciples the AUTHORITY to heal the sick:
Matthew 10:1 (NRSV)
10 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.
This argument, like others previously considered, proves too much.  If being able to “cure every disease” and “cast out many demons” means that a person is eternally omnipotent, then we must also conclude that each disciple in the inner-circle of Jesus’s disciples was also eternally omnipotent, but this is absurd and contrary to the doctrines of the Christian faith.
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CONCLUSION
The question at issue here is NOT whether Jesus was in fact eternally omnipotent, nor whether his disciples or the authors of the NT believed that Jesus was eternally omnipotent.  The question at issue is whether Jesus CLAIMED or IMPLIED that he was eternally omnipotent.
In the canonical Gospels, Jesus never directly CLAIMED to be eternally omnipotent, nor omnipotent, nor all-powerful, nor almighty.
Furthermore, based on the Gospel passages that McDowell points to concerning Jesus’ alleged omnipotence, Jesus never IMPLIED that he was eternally omnipotent, nor that he was omnipotent.  The passages that McDowell puts forward in support of Jesus being omnipotent fail for the following reasons:

  1. Omnipotence for a day or a year is not the same as eternal omnipotence.
  2. Having one sort of supernatural power is not the same as having all possible power.
  3. Using a supernatural power is not the same as CLAIMING or IMPLYING that one has that supernatural power.
  4. A claim to have been given a supernatural power implies that one has not always possessed that power.
  5. A claim to have AUTHORITY over something is not the same as a claim to have unlimited POWER and CONTROL of that something.
  6. Jesus generally spoke of himself as having been given great AUTHORITY by God, not great POWER.
  7. Jesus taught his disciples that they too could have great AUTHORITY (to forgive sins, over natural phenomena, over diseases, over demons) by means of FAITH in the power and mercy of God and by prayer requests to God.

In general, the evidence provided by McDowell proves too much, because the same logic can be used to prove that Jesus’s disciples were also eternally omnipotent, which is absurd and contrary to the doctrines of the Christian faith.

bookmark_borderMcDowell’s Trilemma – Part 1: An Eternally Bodiless Person

Here are the basic premises of McDowell’s Trilemma Argument (hereafter: MTA), from The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (hereafter: NETDV by Josh McDowell:
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…Jesus definitely claimed to be God (see below and in Chapter 6).  So every person must answer the question: Is His claim to deity true or false?  This question deserves a most serious consideration.
[…]
Jesus’ claim to be God must be either true or false.  If Jesus’ claims are true, then He is the Lord, and we must either accept or reject His lordship.  We are “without excuse.”
If Jesus’ claims to be God were false, then there are just two options: He either knew His claims were false, or He did not know they were false. …
If, when Jesus made His claims, He knew He was not God, then He was lying. But if He was a liar, then He was also a hypocrite, because He told others to be honest, whatever the cost, while He, at the same time, was teaching and living a colassal lie.   (NETDV, p.158-159)
…for someone to think he was God, expecially in a culture that was fiercely monotheistic, and then to tell others that their eternal destiny depends on believing in him, was no slight flight of fantasy but the thoughts of a lunatic in the fullest sense.  (NETDV, p.160-161)
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The first key premise of MTA is this:

  1. Jesus claimed to be God.

This first premise appears to be false.  Jesus did NOT claim to be God.  Or, to be more accurate, there is no good reason to believe that Jesus claimed to be God.  That is to say, none of the canonical Gospels report Jesus as having asserted the claim “I am God” nor the claim “Jesus of Nazareth is God”, nor the claim “God and I are the same person”, nor the claim “God and I are the same being”, nor the claim “The Messiah is God, and I am the Messiah”, nor the claim “The Son of Man is God, and I am the Son of Man”.   Strictly speaking, none of the canonical Gospels report that Jesus claimed to be God, so premise (1) is probably false.
However, it is possible to IMPLY that a person is God without saying so directly, so it is possible that Jesus IMPLIED that he was God, but did so without saying so directly.  To determine whether Jesus IMPLIED this, we need to understand the meaning of the following sentence:
JIG: Jesus of Nazareth is God.
In order to understand (JIG), we need to understand the meaning of a more basic sentence:
G: God exists.
Here is my analysis of claim (G):
God exists IF AND ONLY IF there is exactly one person P such that:
(a) P is an eternally bodiless person, and
(b) P is an eternally omnipotent person, and
(c) P is an eternally omniscient person, and
(d) P is an eternally perfectly morally good person, and
(e) P is the creator of the universe.
So, the meaning of (JIG) can be analyzed in similar terms:
Jesus of Nazareth is God IF AND ONLY IF:
(a) Jesus of Nazareth is an eternally bodiless person, and
(b) Jesus of Nazareth is an eternally omnipotent person, and
(c) Jesus of Nazareth is an eternally omniscient person, and
(d) Jesus of Nazareth is an eternally perfectly morally good person, and
(e) Jesus of Nazareth is the creator of the universe.
So, for Jesus to clearly IMPLY that he was God, Jesus would have to make the following claims:
I am an eternally bodiless person, and an eternally omnipotent person, and an eternally omniscient person, and an eternally perfectly morally good person, and I am the creator of the universe.
Does Jesus assert these claims according to the canonical Gospels?

  • There is no passage in any of the canonical Gospels where Jesus asserts all five of these claims.
  • There is no passage in any of the canonical Gospels where Jesus asserts four of these claims.
  • There is no passage in any of the canonical Gospels where Jesus asserts three of these claims.
  • There is no passage in any of the canonical Gospels where Jesus asserts two of these claims.
  • There is no passage in any of the canonical Gospels where Jesus asserts one of these claims.

What if we weaken these claims by dropping the qualifier “eternally”? The weaker divine attributes would still work to INDICATE that Jesus was God, so  Jesus could INDICATE that he was God by making the following claims:
I am a bodiless person, and an omnipotent person, and an omniscient person, and a perfectly morally good person, and I am the creator of the universe.
Does Jesus assert these weaker divine-attribute claims according to the canonical Gospels?

  • There is no passage in any of the canonical Gospels where Jesus asserts all five of these claims.
  • There is no passage in any of the canonical Gospels where Jesus asserts four of these claims.
  • There is no passage in any of the canonical Gospels where Jesus asserts three of these claims.
  • There is no passage in any of the canonical Gospels where Jesus asserts two of these claims.
  • There is no passage in any of the canonical Gospels where Jesus asserts one of these claims.

There is no passage in any of the canonical Gospels where Jesus asserts that he has any of these basic divine attributes.  Thus, Jesus did NOT directly claim to be God, and Jesus also did NOT clearly IMPLY that he was God, nor does Jesus clearly INDICATE that he was God, based on the words and teachings of Jesus found in the canoncial Gospels.
Someone might object that I am imposing a modern conception of “God” on Jesus, and that Jesus might have had a different understanding of the meaning of the word “God” than what is presented above in my analysis of the sentence “God exists”.  But based on the words and teachings of Jesus as presented in the canonical Gospels, it appears that Jesus would probably agree with my analysis of “God exists”:
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God is spirit…   (John 4:24) This implies that God is a bodiless person.
… for God all things are possible.  (Mark 10:27)  This implies that God is an omnipotent person.
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted.   (Matthew 10:29-30)  This implies that God is an omniscient person.

And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  (Matthew 5:47-48)   This implies that God is a perfectly morally good person.

No one is good but God alone. (Mark 10:18)  This implies that God is a perfectly morally good person).
For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be.  (Mark 13:19)   This implies that God was the creator of the universe.
But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’  (Mark 10:6)  Jesus quotes from Genesis here implying that he accepts the inspiration and truth of the Genesis account of creation, and this account asserts that God created the  the universe.
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Although Jesus does not use the terms “bodiless person” or “omnipotent” or “omniscient” or “perfectly morally good” or “the creator of the universe”, he does say things that are very similar in meaning, and that strongly suggest these ideas.  So, it appears that the concept of “God” that is present in the words and teachings of Jesus (according to the canonical Gospels) corresponds closely with my analysis of the sentence “God exists”, even though Jesus does not use any of the key terms in my analysis of “God exists”.
But, since Jesus can suggest or indicate these various divine attributes without using the specific terms in my analysis (i.e. “bodiless person”, “omnipotent”, “omniscient” etc.), perhaps he claimed to possess one or more of these divine attributes without using the specific terms found in my analysis of “God exists”.
Jesus does not speak of God as a “bodiless person”, but he does speak of God as a “spirit”, which implies that God is a “bodiless person”.  Does Jesus ever claim to be a “spirit”?  There are no passages in any of the canonical Gospels where Jesus claims to be a spirit.  There are, however, passages where Jesus implies that he is NOT a spirit:
================

Mark 14:8
She has done what she could; she has anointed my body [Jesus’s body] beforehand for its burial.
[Jesus clearly refers to his own body here, implying that he is NOT a spirit.]

Mark 14:22
22 While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.”
[At the Last Supper, Jesus allegedly hinted at his soon-to-come death by crucifixion, and used the bread to symbolize his body and his physical death.]
Mark 14:37-39
37 He came and found them sleeping; and he [Jesus] said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour?
38 Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words.
[This implies that Jesus himself was praying because he had “flesh”, i.e. a body, and that having a body made Jesus subject to temptation.]
Luke 24:39
39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”
[When Jesus allegedly appeared to his disciples after rising from the dead, they thought he was a ghost, but Jesus insisted that he still had “flesh and bones”.]
John 20:27
27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”
[After his alleged resurrection, Jesus invites doubting Thomas to touch wounds in his hands and his side.  Clearly Jesus implies that he has hands and has a side, which means that Jesus had a body and was NOT a spirit.]
==================
Since I don’t believe that Jesus rose from the dead, I view the passages above from Luke 24 and John 20 as fictional.  However, a Christian believer does not have this interpretation as a viable option.  If a Christian grants me that Luke 24 and John 20 are fictional stories, then the case for the resurrection is seriously damaged, if not completely destroyed.
Because Jesus NEVER claims to be a “bodiless person”, and NEVER claims to be a “spirit”, and because Jesus repeatedly asserts that he has a physical body made of “flesh and bones”, Jesus clearly implied that he was NOT a spirit and NOT a bodiless person.  Therefore, Jesus clearly implied that he was NOT God.
In the next post on this subject, we will look at more of the divine attributes and determine whether Jesus used alternative terminology to imply that he possessed one or more of those attributes.

bookmark_borderAn Evidential Argument from Evil: Natural Inequality

I want to quickly sketch an evidential (aka “explanatory” aka “abductive” aka “F-Inductive“) argument from evil, one which focuses exclusively on natural inequality.  The argument is not mine; it belongs to Moti Mizrahi.
The key point of Mizrahi’s argument, which he credits to an insight of John Rawls, is this:

natural endowments are undeserved.Now, if natural endowments are undeserved, then the fact that one person is more innately endowed than another is arbitrary from a moral point of view. In that case, if one person has more natural talents or is more talented than another person, then that is an unequal distribution of natural talents. From a moral point of view, it is not fair that one person is taller, healthier, faster, thinner, more intelligent, more beautiful, more agile, and otherwise more naturally endowed than another person. Both did not deserve their shares of natural talents (or lack of natural talents, for that matter). The talented do not deserve to be talented just as the untalented do not deserve to be untalented. More generally, the haves do not deserve to have just the have-nots do not deserve not to have. (p. 6)

Using this insight enables to Mizrahi to frame the natural inequality version of the problem of evil as follows:

Now, since moral arbitrariness in the distribution of natural endowments gives rise to unequal distributions, which are unfair because they are undeserved, as when some (e.g., Albert Einstein) get all the cognitive goods, whereas others (e.g., microcephalics) get nothing, the problem is to say how could God—who is supposed to be omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent—allow for this sort of natural inequality. In other words, if God is morally perfect, why is the distribution of natural endowments so unequal? How could an all-good God be so unfair in distributing natural endowments? This is the problem of natural inequality, which is a new evidential (not logical or incompatibility) problem of evil, or so I argue. (pp. 6-7)

I find Mizrahi’s paper very convincing, but I think it is also incomplete, since it never actually states the logical form of his evidential argument. But this problem is easily solved. Using the generic structure for F-inductive arguments, this passage (and the paper as a whole) inspire the following F-inductive version of the problem of natural inequality.
Let E = a statement about known facts about natural inequality: the unequal distribution of natural endowments (such as height, health, speed, weight, intelligence, beauty, agility, and so forth).
(1) E is known to be true.
(2) Theism is not much more probable intrinsically than naturalism, i.e., Pr(|T|) is not >! Pr(|N|).
(3) E is much more likely on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true, i.e., Pr(E | N) >! Pr(E | T).
So, (4) Other evidence held equal, theism is probably false, i.e., Pr(T | E) < 0.5.
Assessment
Premise (1) is beyond reasonable doubt.
Premise (2) is eminently plausible, for reasons which I have discussed on this blog many times before. (See the recent guest post by Paul Draper for a primer.)
This leaves premise (3). The justification for (3) may be summed up as follows:
On naturalism, E is just what we would expect. If naturalism is true, all animals are the byproducts of unguided evolution by natural selection, which is both indifferent to the distribution of natural endowments and incapable of distributing them fairly. Everything else held equal, on naturalism, we would expect natural endowments to be distributed randomly (such as in the shape of a bell curve).
But if theism is true, God is neither indifferent nor incapable of distributing natural endowments evenly. God is capable of distributing natural endowments evenly because God is by definition all-powerful. God is interested in the distribution of natural endowments because God is both loving and morally perfect. God’s love for his creatures, as well as his moral perfection, entails that God allows a state of affairs to obtain only if he has a good moral justification for doing so. But, as noted by both Rawls and Mizrahi, natural endowments are not morally justified. For example, there is nothing Michael Phelps did to deserve to be born with the kind of physiology which made his athletic achievements possible, just as there is nothing Nick Vujicic did to deserve to be born with no limbs.
Furthermore, as Mizrahi notes, the lack or minimal presence of natural endowments relating to intellectual ability, such as microcephaly, can prevent people from responding to God appropriately. So the distribution of natural endowments, in some cases, also causes important restrictions on people’s ability to have a relationship with God. Again, blind nature is both indifferent to (and incapable of) taking such factors into account while conducting what Rawls calls the “natural lottery,” but God has no such limitations.
This leaves (4), which is the inference drawn from (1)-(3). 4 follows deductively from (1)-(3) as a natural consequence of Bayes’ Theorem.
I conclude that the problem of natural inequality, especially as manifested in individuals with microcephaly or other severe intellectual disabilities which prevent a relationship with God, is strong, prima facie evidence against God’s existence.

bookmark_borderDebate: External Evidence for Jesus – Parts 5B and 5C

Joe Hinman’s fifth argument for the existence of Jesus based on external evidence is presented in two sections of his post on the Web of Historicity:
5B. Big Web of Historicity
5C. Jesus Myth Theory Cannot Account for the Web
The fifth argument for the existence of Jesus can be summarized in terms of a single premise:
1.There is a web of historicity.
Therefore:
2. It is probable that Jesus of Nazareth was a flesh-and-blood historical person.
Given this very simple summary, the argument appears to be illogical, because the conclusion does not follow logically from the premise.  We can enhance the premise a bit to make the argument less illogical:
1A. There is a web of historicity that has Jesus of Nazareth at it’s center.
Therefore:
2. It is probable that Jesus of Nazareth was a flesh-and-blood historical person.
With this modification, the premise at least mentions Jesus of Nazareth and so appears to be more relevant to the conclusion, which is about Jesus of Nazareth.  However, the argument is still illogical, even with this enhancement of the key premise.
We can, however, make the argument logical by adding a generic “Web Warrant” premise that connects the key concept in premise (1A), namely the concept of “a web of historicity”, to the conclusion:
1A. There is a web of historicity that has Jesus of Nazareth at it’s center.
WW. IF there is a web of historicity that has a person X at it’s center, THEN it is probable that person X was a flesh-and-blood historical person.
Therefore:
2. It is probable that Jesus of Nazareth was a flesh-and-blood historical person.
This clarified summary of the fifth argument shows that Hinman has three main tasks in order for his fifth argument to be successful:

  • Provide a clear explanation of the concept of “a web of historicity”,
  • Provide sufficient evidence to show that premise (1A) is true.
  • Provide good reasons showing how and why “a web of historicity” provides strong evidence for the existence of a person who is at the center of such a web.

Unfortunately, Hinman accomplishes NONE of these three tasks, and so this fifth argument is unsuccessful, at least based on the evidence and reasons that Hinman has provided in his post on this fifth argument for Jesus.
Although Hinman failed to provide a clear explanation of the concept of “a web of historicity”, and thus he necessarily failed at the other two main tasks of supporting the two premises of his argument,  I will try to help him out and begin to analyze and clarify the central concept.
I expect, however, that Hinman will need to either (a) accept the clarifications that I suggest, and expand upon them further, or else he will need to (b) provide an alternative analysis and explanation of this key concept.  Unless and until Hinman can provide a clear explanation of this metaphor, the premises of his fifth argument will remain unclear and unsupported.
What are the basic components of “a web of historicity”?  Hinman hints at the components of such a web:
There are links between individuals that tie our knowledge back to Jesus. …There are many such lines of links; they from [sic] a huge web because they are all interconnected.
Thus, “a web of historicity” is made up of individuals (i.e. people) , and links between individuals.  We know that one of the individuals in the “web of historicity” that Hinman argues for is: Jesus of Nazareth.  What other individuals are part of this alleged web?  Hinman mentions two of the original disciples of Jesus in the opening of his section called “Big Web of Historicity”: John and Peter.  At the end of the second paragraph of this section, Hinman provides us with a clear and relevant example of a “link between individuals”:
Peter knew Jesus.
So, we can construct one clear and relevant component of the alleged “web of historicity” for which Hinman is arguing.  It contains two individuals and a link between the individuals:
JESUS—PETER
Presumably, Hinman would also claim the same thing about John:
John knew Jesus.
So, we have a second component of the alleged “web of historicity”:
JESUS—JOHN
Hinman also asserts that Clement of Rome “most probably” knew Peter, so this additional individual has a link to Peter, and we can now form an example of an alleged line of links:
JESUS—PETER—CLEMENT
Hinman also asserts that Polycarp had a “connection” with John:
John taught Polycarp.
So, we have a second alleged line of links going back to Jesus:
JESUS—JOHN—POLYCARP
Here is a graphical representation of links between individuals and lines of links (click on the image for a clearer view of the graphics):
WOH basic
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
In a spider web, or in a simplified graphical representation of a spider web, there are lines that radiate out from the center of the web, like the spokes of a bicycle wheel radiating out from the hub at the center of the wheel.  Here is a simple graphical representation of a spider web (click on the image for a clearer view of the spider-web graphic) :
WOH graphic
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The two lines of links that we have presented so far would presumably constitute two “spokes” or lines of links with Jesus being at the center of the hypothetical web:
WOH 2 spokes
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
But two “spokes” don’t look like a part of a spider web.  To get something more like a spider web, we need to add some horizontal “links” between individuals at the same level:
WOH horizontal
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Hinman asserts that in a Web of Historicity with Jesus at the center, the lines of links form “a huge web because they are all interconnected.”  This might be a bit of hyperbole, but if we take this assertion literally, then lots of other connections between individuals in this alleged Web of Historicity would exist, such as additional links between the inner level (i.e. Jesus’ immediate disciples) and the next level (e.g. the disciples of the disciples):
WOH vertical
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Note that in the above diagram of one small piece of a hypothetical “Web of Historicity” (hereafter: WOH)there are eight different links or connections between individuals.  Furthermore, since a link can in some cases go one direction but not in the reverse direction, the eight links in the above diagram actually represent SIXTEEN different possible relationships between these five individuals.  Thus, in order to SHOW that this small part of a WOH actually exists, one might need to SHOW that sixteen different relationships actually exist between these five people.  I’m not sure that Hinman is aware of the degree of complexity and difficulty involved in showing the existence of  a WOH.
There are other complexities and issues surrounding a WOH which Hinman has not touched upon, and about which he might simply be unaware.  But in order to have a clear conception of a WOH, Hinman needs to be aware of these complexities and be able to explain and clarify the concept of WOH in relation to these complexities and issues.
First, let’s discuss the most basic component of a WOH: “individuals”.  For the sake of clarity and simplicity, I have been assuming that an “individual” must be a single unique person.  But some examples of “individuals” in links and lines of links that make up parts of the WOH that has Jesus of Nazareth at the center are NOT single unique persons. This creates significant complexity in the concept of a WOH and can lead to confusion and incoherence.  So, I’m not sure that Hinman really wants to open this can of worms.  Allowing for different and various kinds of things to be “individuals” in a WOH does give Hinman greater flexibility and more options for constructing a hypothetical WOH, but this flexibility comes with a serious cost in terms of complexity and the risk of confusion and incoherence.
In one example, Hinman allows for a document to be an “individual” in a WOH: the Gospel of Thomas.  But if a document can be an individual in a WOH, then this creates the possibility of four different types of relationships, which must each, then, have it’s own set of rules and constraints:

  • Person—>Person
  • Person—>Document
  • Document—>Person
  • Document—>Document

For example, one person can TEACH another person (Hinman asserts that “John taught Polycarp”), but a person cannot TEACH a document, nor can a document TEACH a person (although a person can learn from a document, but that is not the same as the document performing the action of teaching), and one document cannot TEACH another document.  So, the relation “A taught B” can only be allowed when the two individuals that are connected in this way are both persons.
So, allowing one more type of thing to be an “individual” in a WOH creates a great deal of complexity, and the need for muliple sets of rules and constraints that would otherwise be unnecessary.  Does Hinman really want to go down this road?  It would be much simpler to restrict what can be considered an “individual” to a single unique person, and exclude other things (like documents) from being considered “individuals” in a WOH.
Hinman might be able to avoid this additional complexity and potential for confusion and incoherence by talking about the author of a document as being an individual in a WOH, instead of having the document itself be an individual in a WOH.
Hinman also has groups of documents or texts as individuals in one of his examples of lines of links: “Other Gospels” and “PMPN” (Pre Mark Passion Narrative).  Hinman describes PMPN as refering to “a large swath of readings in various manuscripts that pre date the Gospel of Mark…”.  So, “PMPN” refers to texts or passages from several different manuscripts and, presumably, from different works.  Allowing a collection of texts from varous manuscripts and various works to be considered an “individual” in a WOH creates even more complexity and more potential for confusion and incoherence.
Does an alleged relationship between this “individual” and some other “individual” imply that the same relationship holds between each of the particular texts in the collection and the other “individual”?  Probably not.  If a person has familiarity with ONE of the texts in the collection, it does not follow that this person is familiar with ALL of the texts in the collection.  So, this creates the potential for ambiguity and confusion.  What matters in this case is the relationship that exists (or does not exist) between the person and a particular text that is within the collection of texts, but then the WOH obscures and blurs the important facts if it simply shows a relationship existing between that person and a general collection of texts.
Hinman also allows for groups of people to be treated as an individual in a WOH: “church of Rome”.  This also creates additional complexity and increases the potential for confusion and incoherence.  If the “church of Rome” knows Peter, does that mean that every person who attended gatherings of the “church of Rome” in the first century KNEW Peter?  Probably not.  If Peter visited the “church of Rome” for a few weeks, then some people in that church who were travelling to other cities during that time did not meet Peter.
Also, some people in the church probably only saw Peter in a worship service a couple of times and did not have any conversations with Peter, while others may have had many in-depth conversations with Peter.  While the latter people could be said to have “known” Peter, it seems misleading and even false to assert that the former people KNEW Peter.  So, allowing for groups or collections of people to count as “individuals” in a WOH adds more complexity, and increases the potential for confusion and incoherence.  Does Hinman really want to go down that road?  It might be better to only allow for a single unique person to be an “individual” in a WOH.
So far, we have seen that Hinman allows for four different kinds of things to be considered “individuals” in a WOH:

  • one unique person
  • a group of people
  • one unique document
  • a group of texts/documents

Hinman might also have a whole host of other sorts of things that he would allow to be considered “individuals” in a WOH; this is an important issue that Hinman fails to discuss and clarify.  But even if his intention was to limit “individuals” to just these four kinds of things, this creates a great deal of complexity, since he now needs to have separate sets of rules and constraints for each of the following SIXTEEN different possible types of relationships in a WOH:

  • Person—>Person
  • Person—>Group of People
  • Group of People—>Person
  • Person—>Document
  • Document—>Person
  • Person—>Group of Texts/Documents
  • Group of Texts/Documents—>Person
  • Group of People—>Group of People
  • Group of People—>Document
  • Document—>Group of People
  • Group of People—>Group of Texts/Documents
  • Group of Texts/Documents—>Group of People
  • Document—>Document
  • Document—>Group of Texts/Documents
  • Group of Texts/Documents—>Document
  • Group of Texts/Documents—>Group of Texts/Documents

A person can TEACH a group of people.  Can a group of people TEACH one person?  As mentioned previously, a document cannot TEACH a person, nor can a document TEACH a group of people.  Hinman has sixteen different relationships about which he needs to answer this sort of question.
I seriously doubt that Hinman realizes the degree of complexity that he is generating by allowing four different types of things to be considered an “individual” in a WOH.  He might also intend to allow for other types of things besides these four.  The potential for confusion and incoherence in Hinman’s current scheme for a WOH is very great, and upon considering this complexity,  Hinman might well decide to not go down this road, but to stick with a much simpler scheme in which only a unique person can be considered an “individual” in a WOH.
The same sort of issue occurs in terms of links or connections.  I have emphasized the link between individuals that is described this way:

  • Peter KNEW Jesus.

This is clearly one sort of link that Hinman allows in his alleged WOH.  But there are other kinds of links in his examples:

  • John TAUGHT Polycarp.
  • Polycarp PASSED ON THE TESTIMONY OF JOHN TO Irenaeus.
  • All four canonical gospels USED the Pre Mark Passion Narrative.

It is not clear that these four different kinds of “links” are the only four kinds allowed by Hinman in the construction of an alleged WOH.  But even if these are the only four kinds of links that he allows, going beyond the one basic link of “Person A KNEW Person B” creates a great deal of complexity and significantly increases the risk of confusion and incoherence in a WOH.  Each type of link has it’s own logic, and there is also the question of the logical relationship between different kinds of links.  For example, If “Person A TAUGHT person B” does that imply that “Person A KNEW person B”?  If we allow both kinds of links to be used in a WOH, then the logical relationship between different kinds of links needs to be clarified and specified to avoid contradiction and confusion.
Some links or relationships are SYMMETRICAL and others are not, and in some cases there may be unclarity or ambiguity on this point.  For example, does “Person A KNEW person B” imply that “Person B KNEW person A”?  At first blush, I would agree with this implication, but on second thought it is not completely clear and obvious that this is a SYMMETRICAL relationship.  If one person carefully studies the life of another person, and even watches the other person from a distance, and has many conversations with friends and family members of that person, in order to get to know about the other person, then couldn’t we reasonably conclude that the first person KNEW the second person, even though the second person did not know the first person?  Thus, some clarification of the logic of each type of link or relation may be required.
We saw previously that the link or relation in the link “John taught Polycarp” makes no sense when one of the individuals is a document rather than a person:  “The Pre Mark Passion Narrative TAUGHT  Polycarp” is an incoherent sentence.  “The Gospel of Thomas TAUGHT the Gospel of Mark” is also an incoherent sentence.  So, in allowing for different kinds of “individuals” and different kinds of “links”, Hinman creates the need for a wide variety of rules and constraints and clarifications of logical relationships.
The great complexity that results from allowing for a variety of kinds of “individuals” and a variety of kinds of “links” in a WOH quickly becomes unmanageable, and dramatically increases the opportunities for confusion and incoherence.  Thus, Hinman might want to give serious consideration to the idea of KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) in laying out his concept of a WOH.  If he sticks to only allowing a unique person to be considered an “individual” and if he sticks to only allowing one type of relation (say “Person A KNEW person B”) to constitute a “link” in a WOH, then he could save himself and those who are trying to understand his argument from getting bogged down in a great deal of complexity and unclarity and confusion.
One other concern that I have about Hinman’s concept of a WOH is that it appears to involve circular reasoning.  Now it might well be the case that this is only a superficial appearance, and that when one has a full and clear understanding of the concept of a WOH, that there is not actually any circular reasoning involved.  But Himan shows no sign of being aware of the appearance of circularity in the concept of a WOH, so he has, so far, provided no explanation or clarification of this concept that shows that there is no actual circular reasoning involved in his use of a WOH.
To be brief, the claim “Peter KNEW Jesus” assumes and implies that Jesus existed.  How could Peter possibly KNOW Jesus, if Jesus did not exist?  So, if a WOH contains or represents the assertion or claim that “Peter KNEW Jesus”, then that WOH would, it seems, be making a claim that BEGS THE QUESTION at issue.  The claim “Peter KNEW Jesus” assumes that Jesus existed, so this claim assumes the very thing that the WOH is supposed to be proving or supporting.   In order for Hinman to show that a WOH provides strong evidence for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, Hinman needs to explain how a WOH avoids committing the fallacy of circular reasoning.

bookmark_borderOK, so That’s What he Really Means

The following are recent statements by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, and the explanations of those statements by his staff.
[Note: Yes, this is satire. I am explicitly noting this since the Trump candidacy is proving Poe’s law that reality can become so bizarre that it is indistinguishable from satire.]
 Trump: Yeah, shoot crooked Hillary. Shoot her now.
Staff: He meant that photographers should make an effort to shoot candidate Clinton in a more complimentary way, since she often looks a bit frumpy compared to Melania.
 
 
Trump: Yeah, I really don’t like black people, OK? I mean, I got nothin’ really against ‘em. I just don’t like ‘em.
Staff: He means he doesn’t just like black people. He loves them!
 
 
Trump: Yeah, I’m gonna launch the nukes. Push the button. I’ll do it. No kidding. You got a problem with that?
Staff: Isn’t it great that a candidate for president has a sense of humor? What a joker! He will keep us in stitches as president.
 
 
Trump: Yeah, Obama is a member of ISIS. He follows their orders. He has sworn allegiance. He has personally beheaded infidels.
Staff: He means, “Make America great again!”

bookmark_borderLINK: Would the World Be Better Off Without Religion? A Skeptic’s Guide to the Debate

I am linking to this, but not endorsing it. In fact, I haven’t even read the entire thing yet!
LINK
What I am about to write is not necessarily about the linked article, but about the article’s topic. My hunch (or bias?) is that the question posed in the title of the article is an extremely complex topic. Rather than trying to “boil the ocean,” all sides would be better served by “decomposing” the question into multiple questions with a much smaller scope. For example:

  • Would women be better off without religion?
  • Would science have made more progress, less progress, or about the same amount of progress without religion?
  • Would children be better off without religion?
  • Would people living in poverty be better off without religion?

Out of all the books I can think of, probably the best treatment of the title question, from a critical perspective, is found in the anthology, Christianity Is Not Great, edited by John Loftus, because that book follows the approach described above. There may be a parallel book, from a supportive (i.e., pro-religion) perspective, but if so, I’m not aware of it.

bookmark_borderAre we Addicted?

As an entrepreneur, a heroin pusher has a big advantage. His customers become addicts; they cannot do without the product he sells. Pushers have no problem with getting repeat customers.
Heroin addiction is a terrible national problem, but it is far from the most widespread addiction. According to an article in today’s Houston Chronicle, “The Talking Dead” by Prof. James A. Roberts, Professor of Marketing at Baylor University, the typical (‼!) American checks his or her smartphone every 6 and a half minutes—approximately 150 times a day. 53 percent of 15 to 30 year olds report that they would rather give up their sense of taste than surrender their smartphones. According to Professor Roberts 80 to 90 percent of people use smartphones while driving, resulting in, by one estimate, 6000 deaths and 9 billion (with a “b”) dollars damages annually. College students spend 8 hours 48 minutes on their smartphones each day.
 I have observed smartphone addiction firsthand. In my classes students often just cannot last through an hour and fifteen minutes of class without getting out their phones. One student last spring term sat on the front row, holding up his phone in front of his face during my lectures. These students soon make an interesting discovery, namely, the decibel level that can be reached by a sixty-something professor. Actually, I don’t get all that loud. I just get nasty: “Are you texting??? In my class??? How dare you!?!?” One outburst a semester generally takes care of the problem. And it is not just in class. Twice while attending the Houston Symphony performance, the maestro had to stop in the middle of a piece when someone’s goddamn phone rang repeatedly.
I knew that something very strange was going on when, a few months ago, I passed the Advising Office, and several young people, male and female, were waiting their turns on chairs and sofas in the hallway. Now, I imagine that throughout human history and prehistory, whenever young men and women found themselves in each other’s company in a relaxed, unsupervised circumstance (a situation that parents in previous generations often were anxious to prevent) there would be some banter, chit chat, and maybe a bit of flirtation. On this occasion each was buried in a shell of perfect solipsism, intent only on their devices and ignoring each other. This is very odd.
I was feeling very self-righteous when reading Professor Roberts’ piece since I often go a day or more without checking my phone. I then recalled that the first thing I do when arriving at the office each morning is to check my e-mail. I check it again periodically throughout the day. I am not as bad as those I heard of who cannot play a round of golf without pausing at each hole to check e-mail. I also check the postings and comments on Secular Outpost a half dozen times or more during a day at the office. So I am addicted too.
I have not seen the studies yet, but surely our electronic devices must affect the pleasure and pain centers of the brain much the same way that narcotics do. Our devices are changing our brains, and not necessarily in good ways. Prof. Roberts cites evidence of the decline in attention span from 12 seconds to 8.5 seconds (a goldfish has an attention span of 9 seconds), and this nearly 30% decline has occurred just over the last 15 years. Maybe this is a correlation, not a cause, but surely electronic obsession is the most obvious candidate for an explanation.
What to do about it? I think the genie is out of the bottle, and there is no feasible way to go back to the era before personal electronics. Will willpower work? I am going to try. I will limit myself to checking Secular Outpost twice a day, in the morning and in the afternoon. I will report my success or failure.
If willpower will not work, what will? Should we just concede that this situation is how things are and will be and try to adapt? I have already been told that my teaching style is far out of date. I am told that today’s students just cannot pay attention to a lecture or group discussion. “Flipped learning” is the model Ed.D.s now favor for our attention-deprived students. In flipped learning the professor is no longer the “sage on the stage,” but the “guide on the side.” That is, I must give up on trying to tell students what I know and then engage them in a Socratic exchange. They just do not have the attention spans for learning philosophy as it has been taught for 2400 years. Instead, I must put them on self-study projects—using their smartphones, I guess—which I then try to guide in useful directions. Sounds like a pile of crap to me. (I have lived through many now-defunct educational fads, including the “new math” in seventh grade).
So, are old farts like me just swimming against an irresistible tide? Or, are we ready for a sort of Butlerian Jihad (nerdspeak: See Frank Herbert’s Dune)? Perhaps the Pokemon Go zombies roaming the landscape will be the final straw, and there finally will be a movement to restore some sanity to our use of electronic devices. Otherwise, some fascist might take over our country, and we would be so busy playing Pokemon that we do not notice.