Archive for August 7th, 2011

August 7th, 2011

“Let the Dead to Bury Their Dead,” Jesus Claims to be God

by Max Andrews

Luke 9.57-62

 As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.”  58And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”  59And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.”  60But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.”  61Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.”  62But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

The passage in Luke is in reference to a problem passage where Jesus describes the costs to being His disciple by claiming that you must put Him at priority above all else.  In a culture completely different from first century Judaism, the words spoken by Jesus are incredibly problematic and make Jesus seem to be unsympathetic to a man in grief. The historical context to Jesus’ words serve to eliminate the problem of sympathy and goes to show that His words carry much further to a deeper and more profound meaning.

The key historical context that is needed is to understand is the Jewish thought and priority to the parents.  Parents were to always be shown favor.  In light of parents being due honor in the Ten Commandments, it was esteemed with more honor than many other commandments (Letter of Aristeas 228). Tobit [4.3-4; 6.14-5] gives further historical background on the priority and respect given to parents in the context of the death of a parent.

Josephus elaborated on the view of funerals and the dead from a [Jewish] legal perspective according to the law [Against Apion 2.27-28 §§205-206].  The death of anyone was an event that was highly respected.  During the funeral procession, anyone who passes by was to join with those who are mourning and lament.  Josephus adds that the death of a parent is honored immediately after God Himself and if anyone does not honor this law then that person is to be stoned.

The historical facts that make these words of Jesus so incredibly profound are that it involved the death of someone and the death was of the man’s father.  The question that immediately arises is whether or not Jesus broke the law by telling the man to follow Him.  The answer would simply be “no,” He did not break the law.  Jesus completely overrode that priority given to parents and in doing so actually made a claim of divinity.  Notice that Josephus pointed out that parents were a priority immediately after God Himself.  In Jesus saying that He had priority over the death of this man’s father was a claim, which would be understood to those who knew the law, that He was God.  Jesus [as God] has immediate priority over everything.

August 7th, 2011

A History of the Design Argument

by Max Andrews

The teleological argument was not articulated and popularized as an argument for the existence of intelligent causation (God) until William Paley (1743-1805) authored his seminal work Natural Theology.  Arguments for designed existence long before Paley.  Plato (429-347 BC), in Book X of The Republic, presented an argument for design.  In the Philebus dialogue, Socrates is discussing nature with Protarchus and Socrates appeals to the apparent order in nature.  Plato articulates that “mind rules the universe” and that the mind is the cause of all.  The famous Roman orator, Cicero made a similar argument in On the Nature of the Gods (45 BC), that man may infer design by intelligent causation, that of a mind.

Paley resumes and revitalizes the argument by applying analogy to it.  He states, “When one encounters a watch, the complexity of this artifact and the interrelations of its parts lead to the inference that it was the product of a purposive design.”  The complexity of life exhibits the design like that of a mind.  The Scottish Enlightenment philosopher, David Hume (1711-1776), responded to Paley’s claims and objected to the argument from analogy on nine different points in his work Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.

Hume’s first objection was that the argument does not conclude that God exists, merely a designer.  Using Paley’s work as the referent for his objections, this may seem appropriate since Paley spends the large majority of his book reviewing the attributes of the designer, whom he calls God.  The problem with this objection is that Paley arrives to the attributes and identifies the designer only after other metaphysical implications and other evidences.  Hume’s objection is precisely the argument.  The argument does not argue for God, it argues for a designer.

The second objection is that one may only use analogy to argue for things that are similar, but the universe is unique.  The error here is that everything is unique in its own respect.  In order to properly use analogy, there must be at least some properties of the two things being compared for it to function.  The third objection Hume proposed was that analogy can only be used for things that have been experienced, and no one has experienced the beginning of the universe.  The response would be that it is not true, scientists infer the existence of operations of inexperienced entities all the time and analogizing the cause and effect relationships from what is already known by experience.  Fourth, the designer would need a designer and so on to an infinite regress (presupposing the impossibility of an actual infinite).  This objection would bring an abrupt halt to all scientific inquiry.  One does not need an explanation of the explanation in order for that explanation to be the best explanation.  This is particularly true if the explanation is an agent; agent causation is internally originating without any necessary external causes to consider.

Hume’s fifth objection was that all known designers are corporeal human beings, therefore the most one can infer is a super human being.  This objection is similar to the first objection, not all properties have to be similar in using an analogy.  Sixth, why would the design proponent not postulate more than one designer since there is no evidence of a single designer?  This would be a simple application of Occam’s razor, the principle of simplicity argues for only one unless there is evidence for more.  Even if the design proponent was to concede this objection that would be entirely within the scope of the argument’s claims because it does not defeat the need for at least one.  Seventh, the universe may be more like an organism than a machine.  This objection is a repetition of one of the arguing points for the design proponent because he claims that organisms still show evidence of design.

Hume’s eighth objection is that it is still possible that order in the universe was brought about by chance and randomness.  This is a misunderstanding of the argument.  Referring back to the evidences for design, the chance probability is infinitesimally small.  The design argument merely argues for the best explanation and the greatest probability.  The final objection Hume raised to Paley’s argument was that there are many signs of disorder in the universe.  Hume has an implicit concession of design within his own objection.  One can only infer disorder if there is supposed to be order.  The whole universe must not even exhibit order to use the argument, all one would need is one piece of evidence that exhibited design to make the argument.

August 7th, 2011

Metaphysical Implications of the Fine-Tuning for Life

by Max Andrews

The truth is that now all theories of origins, theistic or atheistic, involve speculation as to the nature of what it was that created a universe so fine-tuned for life.  The question is only, was it an intelligent or an unintelligent cause that created time, space, matter and energy out of nothing?[1]  With regards to the argument from design, Columbia University astronomer, Robert Jastrow discussed what he calls “the most theistic result to ever come out of science”:

According to the picture of the evolution of the universe developed by the astronomer and his fellow scientists, the smallest change in any of the circumstances of the natural world, such as the relative strengths of the forces of nature, or the properties of the elementary particles, would have led to a universe in which there could be no life and no man…

It is possible to make the same argument about changes in the strengths of the electromagnetic force, the force of gravity, or any other constants of the material universe, and so come to the conclusion that in a slightly changed universe there could be no life, and no man.  Thus, according to the physicist and the astronomer, it appears that the universe was constructed within very narrow limits, in such a way that man could dwell in it.  This result is called the anthropic principle.

Some scientists suggest, in an effort to avoid a theistic or teleological implication in their findings, that there must be an infinite number of universes, representing all possible combinations of basic forces and conditions, and that our universe is one of an infinitely small fraction, in this great plenitude of universes, in which life exists.[2]

As I’ve noted in previous works and posts, the design argument is quite modest by simply stating that intelligent causation can be detected in the natural world.  The argument does not and cannot infer the identity of the designer alone.  In order to identify the designer one must seek external evidences, such as other scientific, philosophical, historical, and theological evidences.  A cumulative case argument would fulfill this need.

            [1] Granville Sewell, In the Beginning (Seattle, WA:  Discovery Institute Press, 2010), 25.

            [2] Robert Jastrow quoted by Roy Varghese, The Intellectuals Speak About God, (Regenery Gateway), 1984.