Edward Feser: Why Is There Anything At All? It’s Simple

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Why Is There Anything At All? It’s Simple

By Edward Feser:

I thank John Leslie and Robert Lawrence Kuhn for their gracious and substantive response to my recent comments on their fine anthology The Mystery of Existence: Why Is There Anything At All?  In the course of my earlier remarks, I put forward a “friendly criticism” to the effect that John and Robert had paid insufficient attention in their book to the tradition of classical theism, which has its philosophical roots in Aristotelian and Neo-Platonic thought and whose many illustrious representatives include Augustine, Anselm, Avicenna, Maimonides, and Aquinas.  Though there are selections from some of these writers, they are very brief, and the bulk of the theological selections in the book are from recent writers of what has sometimes been called a “theistic personalist” or “neo-theist” bent.  John and Robert have offered a lively defense of their approach.  In what follows I’d like to respond, pressing the case for the primacy of the classical theistic tradition.

Classical theism, divine simplicity, and ultimate explanation

One of the points John and Robert make in their defense is an appeal to the very specific aim of their volume:

Our book’s limited mission is to build appreciation for the most baffling of all enigmas: Why is there something rather than nothing? In its shadow, all the big questions – Does God exist?  Why the universe? Life after death? – are eclipsed…

The Mystery of Existence is not about the clash between classical and modern/personal forms of theism (“theistic personalism”), a distinction that is anyway not directly on point in explicating Nothing (our limited mission again), since in either case, classical or modern/personal, God can be in some sense necessary.

End quote.  Now, while our editors are of course the best experts on their mission for the volume, I would respectfully disagree with them about the relevance of classical theism to that mission.  For the philosophical dispute between classical and modern forms of theism is, I would argue, exactly on point.  And when we understand why, we will also see that the question whether God exists is in no way eclipsed by the question why there is something rather than nothing — on the contrary, the existence of God, as classical theism understands God, is (so the classical theist would argue) the only possible answer in principle to that question.  Let me explain.

Both classical theism on the one hand and “theistic personalism” or “neo-theism” on the other have their strictly theological aspects.  There is, for instance, a longstanding dispute over which of these views better comports with what we find said about God in the Bible.  I would certainly agree with John and Robert that such disputes are tangential to the aims of their volume.

However, both views also have a purely philosophical side, and their purely philosophical differences make a world of difference to the question of whether theism offers us any insight into the question of why anything exists at all.  For you might say that classical theism in its philosophical aspect just is the development of the implications of there being an ultimate explanation of why anything exists at all.  Theistic personalism or neo-theism, by contrast, is motivated by a different set of concerns, and touches on the question of ultimate explanation only in a secondary way.

At the core of classical theism is the notion of divine simplicity — the idea that God is non-composite or without parts.  This is a doctrine having its philosophical roots in Plato and Aristotle and defended by pagan, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim thinkers as diverse as Philo of Alexandria, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Athanasius, Plotinus, Augustine, Boethius, Anselm, Maimonides, Avicenna, Averroes, Aquinas, and Scotus.  The doctrine is the de fide teaching of the Catholic Church and is endorsed by many Protestant theologians.  The point of all this name-dropping is to emphasize how absolutely central the doctrine of divine simplicity is to the mainstream Western tradition in philosophical theology.  And why is it so central?

The reason is that for the classical theist, whatever else we mean by “God,” we certainly mean by that label to name the ultimate source, cause, or explanation of things.  Properly to understand classical theism, the hostile atheist reader might even find it useful to put the word “God” out of his mind for the moment — given all the irrelevant associations the word might lead him to read into the present discussion — and just think instead of “the ultimate source of things.”  The classical theist maintains that whatever is in any way composed of parts cannot be the ultimate source of things.  For wherever we have a composite thing, a thing made up of parts, we have something that requires a cause of its own, a cause which accounts for how the parts get together.

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The Final Destination- Heaven or Resurrection?

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Importance of the Resurrection

When it comes to the Christian faith, one of the most important doctrines is the resurrection of the dead/the resurrection of Jesus. Biblical faith is not simply centered in ethical and religious teachings. Instead, it is founded on the person and work of Jesus. From a soteriological perspective, if Jesus was not raised from the dead, we as His followers are still dead in our sins (1Cor.15:7). Jesus said in John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me shall live even of he dies.” Jesus could not have made full atonement for our sins without the resurrection. Also, through the resurrection, Jesus took on the role as advocate and intercessor (1 John. 2:2; Rom. 8:34). His resurrection also guaranteed us the opportunity of having a resurrected body’s like His (1 Cor.15:20-23, 51-53; 1 Pet.1:3; Phil. 3:20-21; John. 5:25-29).

An important aspect of possessing eternal life is the ability to raise the dead. The Jewish people knew the God of Israel as the only one who could raise the dead (Job 19:26; Ps. 17:15; 49:15; 73:24; Is. 26:19; 53:10; Dn. 12:2;12:13).Therefore, by claiming the authority to raise the dead, Jesus was exemplifying both the same actions and attributes of the God Israel. The resurrection also marked Jesus as the one who will be the judge all men (Acts 17:31).

As just stated, belief in a resurrection of persons from the dead are seen in eight passages: (Job 19:26; Ps. 17:15; 49:15; 73:24; Is. 26:19; 53:10; Dn. 12:2;12:13). The resurrection terminology is seen in two places (Ezek. 37:1-14; Hos. 6:2) to show a national and spiritual restoration brought about by the return from the exile. As far as the nature of the future bodily resurrection, it may involve a corpse or the receipt of a material body comparable to the present physical body (Job 19:26; Is. 26:19), or it may be a matter of transformation (Dn. 12:2-3 and perhaps 12:13); or glorification after reanimation, in the case of the righteous.

As far as the function of the resurrection, it may be personal vindication (Is. 26:16; 53:10-12). Resurrection may also have a function in relation to reward or punishment (Dn. 12:2; 12:13), an assumption to heaven and enriched fellowship with God (Ps. 49:15; 73:24,26), or preface to the beatific vision of God (Ps. 17:15 and possibly Job 19:26). (1)

The Greek word for resurrection is “anatasis” which means “a raising up” or “rising.” There are resuscitations in the Tanakh such as the example of Elijah and Elisha raising a person from death (1 Kings 17-23; 2 Kings 4:34-35). While these figures may have been raised in a resurrection sense, they were not raised immortal in the same way Jesus was.

Extra-Biblical Passages on Resurrection

There are also extra-biblical passages that speak about the resurrection (Enoch 92:2; 4 Ezra 7:32; Enoch 91:10; 2 Maccabees 7:9; 14; 28-29). Even the The Messiah Apocalypse, which is dated between 100 and 80 B.C.E mentions resurrection: “He [God] frees the captives, makes the blind see, and makes the bent over stand straight…for he will heal the sick, revive the dead, and give good news to the humble and the poor he will satisfy, the abandoned he will lead, and the hungry he will make rich.” (2)

In the Rabbinical literature there are explicit teachings on the resurrection. It says in the Mishnah 10.1, it says, “All Israelites have a share in the world to come; … and these are they that have no share in the world to come: he that says that there is no resurrection of the dead prescribed in the Law.” Moses Maimonides, a Jewish rabbi and a medieval Jewish philosopher who has forever influenced the Jewish and non-Jewish world said:

” The resurrection of the dead is one of the cardinal principles established by Moses our teacher. A person who does not believe this principle has no real religion, certainly not Judaism. However, resurrection is for the righteous. This is the earning of the statement in Breshit Rabbah, which declares: “the creative power of rain is both for the righteous and the wicked, but the resurrection of the dead is only for the righteous.” Our sages taught the wicked are called dead even when they are still alive; the righteous are alive even when they are dead” (Bab. Talmud Brakhot 18 b).

3 points are made here: 1. Resurrection is a cardinal principle taught in the Torah which all Jews must believe 2. It is for the righteous alone 3. All men must die and their bodies decompose. (3)

As we approach the New Testament, Joachim Jeremias comments:

” Ancient Judaism did not know of an anticipated resurrection as an event in history. Nowhere does one find in the literature anything comparable to the resurrection of Jesus. Certainly resurrections of the dead were known, but these always concerned resuscitations, the return to the earthly life. In no place in the late Judaic literature does it concern a resurrection to doxa [glory] as an event in history.” (4)

N.T Wright says:

” In Greek thought, the living could establish contact with the dead through various forms of necromancy; they might even receive ghostly visitations. But neither experience amounts to what the pagan writers themselves referee to as “resurrection,” or the return to life, which they all denied. Thus, Christianity was born into a world where one of its central tenants, resurrection, was universally recognized as false.” (5)

The main reasons that were behind the Greek’s general denial of the resurrection were:(1) the low value they placed on the human body, and (2) their firm belief in man’s inherent immortality, i.e., that his soul was naturally imperishable. We one day lose the “bad body,” but we retain the inherently imperishable soul.

In the Biblical view of body, the body is good because God made it. When Adam led the human race into sin, this sin affected his body, just as it affected every aspect of his being (Genesis 3:16-19). Even though man’s body succumbs to illness and death because of sin, this is not what God originally intended.

Other Issues of Defining Resurrection:

1. Resurrection is completely different from reincarnation which is a many-times event: Reincarnation is also categorized as a rebirth of a soul into a new and different but still physical and mortal body. Resurrection is a one-time event where the believer receives not a second body but a transformed body. In resurrection, there is continuity between our present bodies and the transformed body to come.

2. There are three resuscitations in the Gospels: Lk. 8:49-56; Jn. 11:38-44; Lk. 7:11-15. Lazarus was resuscitated. He went on to live on in his old mode of but still had to face a second death. Lazarus and these other resuscitations are similar to the raising of the dead as already mentioned in the examples of Elijah and Elisha raising a person from death (1 Kings 17-23; 2 Kings 4:34-35). Jesus was not only but resurrected, he was changed. His body was transformed into what Paul calls a glorified body. He never died again. Therefore, it is important to remember that Jesus is not the only one in human history that has been raised from the dead ( if we call it resuscitation), but he certainly is the only one that has ever been resurrected! In other words, He is the only one who has been raised immortal.

3. Resurrection is not translation: Within the Tanakh, people such as Elijah and Enoch did not die but were simply translated to heaven (2 Kings 2:11; Gen. 5:24). Also, within the extra-canonical Jewish writing called Testament of Job 40, an account of translation was given as a category to describe recently deceased people as well as to the living.(6) Translation is defined as the bodily assumption of someone out of this world into heaven while resurrection is defined as raising up of a dead man in the space-time universe.(7)

4. Resurrection is not the same as the so- called dying and rising fertility gods in the ancient world: The myths of dying and rising gods in pagan religions are merely seasonal symbols for the processes of nature and have no relation to historical individuals. (8)

5. Resurrection involves transformation since “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 15:50). Accordingly, Paul indicates that believers will be “raised immortal” (1 Cor. 15:52), which suggests the transformation or change that results in immortality is coincident with resurrection- and, in fact, is part of the resurrection event itself.

6. Another aspect of resurrection is the how it impacts our present life: We as believers now live in a resurrection state. For after noting that God “made us alive together with” Messiah (this is a past event). Eph. 2:5 says: “by grace you are now in a state of salvation” (indicating a present resurrection state).(9)

This is where many of us miss the boat. When Jesus rose from the dead, He broke the power of sin in this life for us (Read Romans 6). This doesn’t mean we will be perfect. But it does mean we can have a transformed life and victory over sin in this present life. Many of us don’t appropriate this truth because of poor discipleship.

8. What are the differences between our resurrection and the Messiah’s resurrection? Jesus was raised on the “third day” whereas we will be raised on the last day. And only of Jesus was he installed as Son of God (Rom. 1:4), as universal Lord (Rom. 14:9; Eph.1:20-21; Phi.2:9-11), and judge of the living and the dead (Acts 17:31). (10)

What is the final destination for the follower of Jesus?

Sadly, due to a lack of teaching on the resurrection, the average Christian assumes that that the final destination is to be in the intermediate state- the place that is called ” heaven.” Hence, immortality is generally viewed as the immortality of the soul. Contrary to what many people think, salvation in the Bible is not the deliverance from the body, which is the prison of the soul. The believer’s final destination is not heaven, but it is the new heavens and new earth- complete with a resurrection body. Eternal life does not start when we die, but begins right now in the present (John 17:2).

In the final state, heaven including the New Jerusalem portrayed as a bride breaks into history and comes to the renewed, physical, earthly, existence (see Rev 21). This shows that God is interested in the renewal of creation- God cares about the physical realm.

Sources:

1. Adapted from Harris, M.J. From Grave to Glory: Resurrection In The New Testament. Grand Rapids: MI: Academie Books. 1990, 66-67.

2. See Yamauchi, E.M. Easter: Myth, Hallucination, or History? Available at http://www.leaderu.com/everystudent/easter/articles/yama.html.

3. Gillman, N. The Death of Death: Resurrection and Immortality in Jewish Thought. Woodstock, VT. Jewish Lights Publishing, 1997.

4. Craig, W.L. Reasonable Faith.Third Edition. Wheaten, ILL: Crossway Books, 1984.

5. P. Andrew Sandlin. New Flesh, New Earth: The Life Changing Power of the Resurrection. Lincoln, CA: Oakdown Books, 2003.

6. Craig, W.L. Reasonable Faith, 394.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Longenecker, R.N. Life After Death: The Resurrection Message in the New Testament. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1988.

10. Ibid.

Daniel Wallace on Dating and Authorship of the Four Gospels

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Here are some resources on the Four Gospels by Daniel Wallace, one of the top textual critics in the world. His books on Greek are used in almost all the seminaries. He gives detailed explanations on the dating, authorship and other issues. Enjoy!

Matthew

Luke

Mark

John

A Short Cumulative Case for Biblical Theism

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Here is a small Cumulative Case for Biblical Theism.  I have left a lot of supplemental reading. Obviously much more can be said. But for now, I hope this helps.

Which God Shall I Pick?

1.Pantheism: (Hinduism/Buddhism)

  • God is not personal and knowable
  • The  universe is eternal and unchanging, without an end or a beginning (this contradicts the evidence for the beginning of the universe)
  •  If divinity and matter are mystically “one” ( you can’t have god without matter), how is the pantheistic god capable of producing the effect in question such as the origin of space?
  • Says the universe is a necessary being. But this makes no sense because we know the universe is contingent.
  • To bring a universe into existence means the cause would have a volitional will- they made a choice. This is a personal cause (i.e., Agent Causation). Will is one attribute that characterizes personhood.

2. Polytheism

  • Says there are more than one god.
  • Gods either came from nature or where at one time men and women who became gods.
  • Gods are thus finite and contingent.
  •  The Universe has always existed. This contradicts Big Bang cosmology.
  • They don’t account for the creation of the universe. All things come from the  universe, even Gods. Gods don’t exist apart from the universe, and the beings that do exist all have limited power which causes polytheism to not meet all the requirements.
  • Polytheism fails the Ockham’s razor test: “Entities  must not be multiplied beyond necessity.”

3. Other common internet objections: (i.e., Thor, Zeus, etc, Flying Spaghetti Monster)

  • These are created gods/they are part of the universe
  • They are contingent gods
  • The God of the Bible is necessary, not contingent, and he transcends the universe- he is not part of the universe! To compare the God of the Bible with Thor, Zeus, etc. is a category mistake.
  • There is 0.0 evidence for Thor, Zeus or FSM. Perhaps someone may find the evidence for the God of the Bible to not be sufficient, but that is not the same as having zero evidence. Those who say there is “no evidence,” or “zero evidence” have a very naïve view of epistemology  and classical theism.

4. Theistic God (i.e., Judaism/Islam/Christianity)

A Theistic God is  more likely to explain:(note: Thanks to Wintery Knight for some of these resources).

Because of these three theistic possibilities, we need to look at  Historical Revelation:

  • Revelation: a disclosure of something that has been hidden– an “uncovering,” or “unveiling.”
  • There are three  things are needed for a revelation to take place: God, a medium, and a being able to receive the revelation.
  • Communication : God does want to communicate with humans.

Why the need for revelation?

  • Man’s lack of knowledge: Aquinas offered a good case for the need for revelation. He set forth five reasons why we must first believe what we may later be able to provide good evidence for (Maimonides, 1.34):

1. The object of spiritual understanding is deep and subtle, far removed from sense perception.

2. Human understanding is weak as it fights through these issues.

3.  A number of things are needed for conclusive spiritual proof. It takes time to discern them.

4. Some people are disinclined to rigorous philosophical investigation.

5.  It is necessary to engage in other occupations besides philosophy and science to provide the necessities of life (On Truth, 14.10, reply).

  • Aquinas said it is clear that, “if it were necessary to use a strict demonstration as the only way to reach a knowledge of the things which we must know about God, very few could ever construct such a demonstration and even these could do it only after a long time.”Elsewhere, Aquinas lists three basic reasons why divine revelation is needed. 1.  Few possess the knowledge of God, some do not have the disposition for philosophical study, and others do not have the time or are indolent.2.  Time is required to find the truth. This truth is very profound, and there are many things that must be presupposed. During youth the soul is distracted by “the various movements of the passions.”

    3.  It is difficult to sort out what is false in the intellect. Our judgment is weak in sorting true from false concepts.

We also need to know the following:

  • Character of God: we need a concrete communication to establish the exact  nature of God’s character. Who is God and what is He Like?
  • The Origin of Evil/The Fall: Man needs to be educated concerning the reasons for our situation.
  • Man’s Origin: Without a clear revelation, people might think they are the result of a blind, naturalistic process instead of being created in the image of God.
  • Mankind’s Destiny: In the absence of a revelation, we might think that this life is all there is.

How would we defend the Bible is a true revelation of the true God?

  • We must admit that all the Holy Books contain contradictory revelations: To assert that the God of the Bible would give a clear revelation in the person of Jesus (33 A.D.) and then give another revelation 600-650 years later (Islam), which contradicts the one in 33 A.D is odd. Furthermore, what about the two other so-called revelations in the 1800′s (Mormonism and the Watchtower Society) that both contradict the Christian and Muslim claim. If anything, that would make the God of the Bible a very contradictory Being.
  • Wrong approach: The Bible is the Word of God because it says it is the Word of God (we quote 2 Tim 3:16; 2 Peter 3:15-16).  This is circular.

We would have to establish there is a God who can give a revelation to mankind: Theistic God (see above)

The Old Testament explains:

The New Testament explains:

The structure of the argument may be formalized as follows: Read a fuller form  from the book In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture here:

(1)  The New Testament documents are historically reliable evidence

(2) The historical evidence of the New Testament shows that Jesus is God incarnate/the Jewish Messiah.  God authenticated Jesus’ teaching/ claim to divinity by His miracles/His messianic speaking authority, His messianic actions, and His resurrection .

(3)  Hence, Jesus is God incarnate.

(4) Jesus (i.e., God incarnate) taught that the Old Testament is divinely inspired, and he promised the inspiration of the New Testament through his apostles.

(5) Therefore, the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) is divinely inspired.

Potential Objections:

Contradictions: Remember genre issue; Ancient vs modern historical methodological considerations.

Richard Swinburne on Explanations

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Thanks to Steve Dunn at Hellenistic Christendom for this post

Professor emeritus of philosophy Richard Swinburne at Oxford University is one of the leading champions in regards to the analytic tradition and its association with the philosophy of religion. In his famous 1979 book, The Existence of God (second edition, 2004), Swinburne argues that ”the existence of the universe, its law-governed nature and fine-tuning, human consciousness and moral awareness, and evidence of miracles and religious experience, all taken together (and despite the occurrence of pain and suffering), make it likely that there is a God” [1].

This compelling thesis is shortened for a wider public audience in his recent 2010 book, Is There a God? [2]. Swinburne’s chapter on explanation is my main focus for this post. Interestingly, the approach Swinburne takes in respect to the question of God’s existence is something akin to the Leibnizian tradition of explanations. Swinburne in the introduction writes:

Scientists, historians, and detectives observe data and proceed thence to some theory about what best explains the occurrence of these data. We can analyse

the criteria which they use in reaching a conclusion that a certain theory is better supported by the data than a different theory – that is, is more likely on the basis of those data, to be true. Using those same criteria, we find the view that there is a God explains everything we observe, not just some narrow range of data. It explains the fact that there is a universe at all, that scientific laws operate within it, that it contains consciousness animals and humans with very complex intricately organized bodies [ ... ] The very same criteria which scientists use to reach their own theories lead us to move beyond those theories to a creator God who sustains everything in existence. [3]

However, respectively in this post, I wish to answer the question: “What does Swinburne mean by an explanation?” and, “How do we explain things?”

How Scientists Explain Things

It is in order to address first what we mean by a “scientific explanation”. Philosopher of science Brian Ellis writes in his essay What Science Aims to Do (1985) that “any request for explanation is a request for information” [4]. Ellis thence goes on to outline four different types of scientific explanations:

◦Causal Explanation
◦Functional Explanation
◦Modal-Theoretic Explanation
◦Systematic Explanation

A causal explanation is “information about the causal history of something or about the causal processes which result in something” [5]. A functional explanation is “information about the role of something in some ongoing system – about the contribution it makes to sustaining it” [6]. A model-theoretic explanation is “information about how (if at all) the actual behavior of some system differs from that which it should have ideally if it were not for some perturbing influences and, where necessary, includes some information about what perturbing influences may be causing the difference” [7]. Lastly, a systematic explanation is “information about how the fact to be explained is systematically related to other facts” [8].

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