Thursday, 8 December 2016

Fuzzy science Mike

One of the podcasts that I really enjoy listening to is Ask science Mike. At the moment he is doing a speaking tour in the United States, to promote his new book Finding God in the Waves - which I like by the way.

In his most recent podcast he is as interesting,  witty, thought-provoking and yet fuzzy as ever as he does a live show from Portland, Oregon.

Atheist question, would God exist if we didn't? He "thinks" no. He hopes, comtemplatively and mystically, "yes". The reason for this apparent dissonance is because there are ways of understanding and experiencing and expression that cannot be explained by empiricism. I have a feeling that Mike might need to de-fuzzy a bit what he describes as "existence". At one point in the Portland show, he clearly states that Superman and Batman don't exist. Not "don't exist in the real world", they simply: "don't exist". What about his psychosocial models? Do they exist? What about the inexpressible mystical experiences? Do they exist? Does his memory of what happened to him on the beach exist? Does my idea of Batman exist (in my mind and in millions of minds)? Surely the answer is "yes" to all these examples? The problem then is that there are things that exist - most things in fact - that exist about which no-one has any idea, like each individual blade of grass in the field or photon of light that goes anywhere except towards our tiny planet. God, according to Mike's confessed pantheistic definition of God, cannot exist without the universe he sustains.

Funnily enough, and I would be surprised if he knew it yet as he probably is not as insanely interested by the Trinity as me, this role reversal has been attempted in theology quite a bit already. In recent times, various theologians have attempted ways of understanding the Trinity or the cross of Christ in such a way as to make God dependant on his creation and its failure - even on man's sin. People have asked the question: is God essentially a saviour, or did he incidentally become one when his creation got itself into a pickle? There is then a popular current that says yes, voluntarily so, God has submitted himself in a sense to a state of dependence on what he has made. Science Mike's conclusions are remarkably in sync with that Trinitarian movement.

He speaks with surprise at his popularity among Calvinists. He really is not a consistent Trinitarian though, so I'm not sure what he is criticising when he says that "God who sends his son to be murdered as a sacrifice to himself, and that sacrifice is himself to himself", when the alternative of incarnational love sounds like a pure, no-distinctions modalism! A couple of times in the past, he has attempted an answer to his audience about the Trinity which does not come close to satisfying me that he is really engaging with it - except that it is mysterious, and mystery is good. For instance, in this episode he states (4'20" approx.) that "God is a [one] being" (my emphasis), yet when discussing the Trinity elsewhere, I have heard him go to a completely different extreme and say that God is three beings. To be honest, I don't think he knows what he really thinks about the Trinity, which to be fair, is probably the position of most folk.

Answering a question about Otherness: I didn't like the way he dealt with this. Followers of this blog know that I love distinction, the ultimate one of which is that between the Father and the Son. If there is no space between those two, then there is no room for love between them. It is love that binds persons distinct in their personhood together. But all too quickly, because of our experience of conflict through difference and intolerance of difference, Mike wants to immediately go for pure unity. He cites research done on even the most introverted of folk, who must have contact with others, as we are social animals. This research is only half the story, however. We are also made for distinction. Fusional relationships have been shown in the social sciences to be harmful in child-parent relationships to the child's sense of autonomy and responsibility.

Finally a hilarious moment in this episode that made me laugh out loud: Science Mike prayed as a kid Satan would accept Jesus into his heart. Solved problem of evil! Actually, that reminds me of when I was a kid and my parents taught me about the existence of the invisible Satan character, and I threw him a punch! Great how as kids we already want to kick evil in the teeth.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

A couple of trinitarian quotes


1. God inspired and required a remodeling of his people's faith into a new trinitarian shape, now including two others.

2. God is now working in his multiethnic people through his messiah Son and his promised Spirit, and they advance his kingdom and righteousness in the world through his people, the church.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Rattrappage sur la traduction du Nom Saint et Personnel et Retour à la Trinité

Cela fait un bon bout de temps que je n'ai pas publié en français, je m'en excuse! Je voudrais toucher deux mots à ce qui m'a intéressé ces derniers temps et puis le focus pour le mois à venir.

Exclusivement en anglais j'ai entrepris sur le blog une enquête sur le modus operandi des traducteurs grecques de l'ancien testament, travail réalisé pendant une siècle à peu près à partir de l'an 250 avant Jésus Christ. La tâche devant moi est vaste: tracer les particularités des divers traducteurs pendant ce siècle vis-à-vis la traduction du nom personnel de Dieu, "Yahweh". En grecque, cela a été décidé que ce serait bien de traduire et non seulement le transcrire dans la nouvelle langue. La traduction donné est: SEIGNEUR. Notons bien, il s'agit bien de SEIGNEUR, et non de LE SEIGNEUR. La traduction françaises de la Bible représentent une particularité très intéressante. Contrairement aux pratiques anglosaxones voire d'autres langues européennes, les versions françaises ont été réticentes à adopter cette traduction SEIGNEUR, en préférant L'Eternel. Il y a une traduction en particulier qui a capté toute mon attention: La Darby. La Darby est la seule traduction en français ou en n'importe quelle langue que j'ai trouvé jusqu'à présent à essayer de tracer le Nom Divin dans le Nouveau Testament, écrit et non traduit en grecque. A la place de simplement traduire le mot pour Seigneur (Kyrios) par Seigneur, Darby met un astérisque devant Seigneur - *Seigneur - lorsque le context induit fortement que le Nom Divin est en jeu. Cela, pour moi qui serais fier d'une étiquette "antimodaliste", représente un choix excellent, car cela permet une distinction légitime entre la désignation humaine du titre Seigneur et une traduction très spécifique du nom Divin, Yahweh.

Je vous ai dit qu'il fallait noter bien que la traduction grecque donnait: "SEIGNEUR" et non "LE SEIGNEUR". Ce qui est très particulier donc de cette traduction c'est qu'elle manque, dans une majorité des fois, l'article définit. Ce que cela veut dire c'est, plutôt que de dire des phrases telles que "l'ange du Seigneur", on dit "l'ange DE Seigneur". Seigneur comme traduction est en effet une mélange entre titre et nom personnel. Le jouet de Stéphanie: Stéphanie est un nom personnel, donc il n'y a pas d'article. Pareil pour Seigneur dans l'ancien testament. Plus ou moins. Mais personne jusqu'à présent a vraiment étudié l'ensemble de ces traductions du Nom Saint. Une des raisons pour cela est qu'elles comptent à plus que 7000! Mais j'ai bien démarré, en réalisant jusqu'à présent les Psaumes et le livre prophétique d'Ezekiel (ça doit faire à peu près 1200).

Mais j'ai dû appuyer sur le bouton "pause".

L'année dernière j'ai écrit un thèse sur la question de la Trinité. J'ai toujours eu le désir de compléter et améliorer ce travail, et maintenant cela devient une réalité. Cela représente aussi un très grand travail, et j'ai déjà fait des milliers de modifications, éclaircissements, références depuis la version de 2015. Le titre va aussi être modifié. Je pense utiliser le titre "Trinitarian Interpretations: Mutated Faith" (Interprétations Trinitaires: Une foi métamorphosée). Dedans je vais proposer deux solutions au problème posé par la doctrine imposée du quatrième siècle du Dieu Trinitaire. Cette doctrine qui veut un Dieu en trois personnes a des soucis logiques et bibliques, mais s'assoit sur une effective évolution de priorités des convertis au Christianisme. L'objet de la foi est devenu, pour de vrai, une question de Père, Fils et Saint Esprit. Comment exprimer cela et s'assurer à ce que cela ne soit pas corrompu?

Dans la nouvelle version nous verrons que cette nouvelle configuration mérite plus d'attention que jamais, mais aussi que la doctrine du Dieu Trinitaire a effectivement des soucis qui seront mis en évidence. En terme logique, nous avons le problème de trois "il"s vaut toujours un "il", ce qui n'est pas possible. Dieu le Père est un "il". Il aime son Fils, Jésus en l'offrant en sacrifice. Ce dernier est aussi un "il" car il aime son Père son Dieu et il s'est offert en sacrifice. Le Saint Esprit est aussi une personne, un "il", à part entière selon la doctrine qui doit aussi être magnifié et loué. Mais en même temps, il est très rare de parler de "ils" au pluriel pour ces trois là, car nous les Chrétiens nous avons une foi monothéiste, n'est-ce pas? Donc on préfère, largement, parler toujours de "il". Dieu, IL t'aime. Dieu, je T'aime, TU es bon. Je pense que tu capte le truc. Le problème biblique est la difficulté de vraiment trouvé des preuves que dans Dieu en retrouve trois personnes.

Trinitarian Interpretations va cette fois-ci tenter un travail plus constructif à proposer deux solutions au problème. La première a déjà été décrite et ne vient pas de moi: Chad McIntosh parle de "group persons", à savoir des personnes groupales si je peux me permettre! Pour moi de toutes les théories et justifications des doctrines d'un Dieu réellement Trinitaire, c'est celle qui tient la plus la route. La deuxième que je vais proposer va se concentrer sur la reconnaissance de ma part de l'inclusion du Père, Fils et Saint Esprit au centre de la foi chrétienne, que leur présence au coeur de la communauté représente une évolution importante et intrinsèque à cette nouvelle configuration, ce qui permettrait j'espère à l'ajouter à d'autres évolutions telles que les six proposés par NT Wright, la septième que Wright a accepté par John Dominic Crossan, et puis la modification donnée par Larry Hurtado.

Ah oui, en réponse à la question de langue de cette nouvelle publication de mon thèse, malheureusement je ne projète pas de le traduire en français. Cela représente plus que 50000 mots donc ce sera trop de travail pour moi de le faire. Merci pour votre suivi et votre intérêt!

Thursday, 17 November 2016

YHWH to... Yahweh?

It is sometimes noted that we really don't know how the Hebrews first pronounced the divine Name. Was it Yohwih, Yuhiweh, Yahweh, Yahovah or something else? There are complex explanations along the lines of the interchangeable Yahweh and Adonai and the sharing of their sounds.

But today I want to ask (as I am sure it must have been asked by others), can the Septuagint not help us? It was translated in the mid third century before Christ and does include vowels. True, we have few extant manuscripts dating close to this time, but there are a few before the common era. From what we know of Hebrew and Greek translations at this period, especially since the Dead Sea scroll discoveries, is that there was considerable flux in times prior to text standardisations. This would likely have included variations around pronunciation for some names. With all of that in mind, we can look to the best critical editions of the Septuagint for clues on pronunciation. 

Take for example the name Joel, an Old Testament prophet. Pronunciation of the Greek gives something like Yo el, and it comes from Yahweh is God. Here, Yo seems to stand for Yahweh and El for God. In contrast, in the Psalms (and also in Revelation), we have Allelujah! Which is the Greek transcription of praise be to Yahh, the contracted Hebrew form of Yahweh.

The latter example seems to suggest that the first vowel of the divine Name, before it was rendered "unpronouncable", might indeed have been "aa". But if that is true, where does the "oo" sound come from in JoEl?

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Craig's minimum salvation criterion questioned for its consistency

From time to time on this blog I have shown some of the small interaction I have been privileged to have with important biblical scholars, including Dale Tuggy, Larry Hurtado and Bart Ehrman.

One Christian writer I really respect is Dr William Lane Craig, whose work I only really know through his podcasts. With my friend Reinald, we wrote him a question based on an important comment he made during a Q&A in his Defenders class. Before I get to our question to Dr Craig, I would also like to point out that I am on the look out for written reference material to Craig's view on the Trinity, which is a unique and interesting view. The reason for this is that I'd like to update my chapter in my paper on the various and conflicting trinity theories. FYI Dr Tuggy is in the process of writing a whole book on trinity theories and is going to devote a chapter to Craig's view, which like all trinity theories, will enjoy its own particular set of problems. Here's our question to Dr Craig:

Dear Dr Craig,

We've greatly enjoyed your last series on Trinity. It's been a subject of great discussion between us friends in Marseille, France, and of deep thinking about God - and how the NT authors described Him in the 1st century. Near the end of your Defenders 3 class: Doctrine of God: Trinity (Part 11), you received a question about the necessary understanding of Trinity for salvation. In response you perform three quite remarkable logical steps.

1) You recount a story in which you were personally impressed with the personal faith of a oneness pentecostal, for whom there were no real or personal distinctions between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

2) This person was quite clearly saved despite this confusion, because Christ's divinity was absolute in that person's mind.

3) You provided textual support for this from Romans 10:9, where Paul states that "if you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

How does 3 follow from 2? You clearly imply that the distinction of persons requirement is secondary to the divinity requirement, yet Romans 10:9 has distinction at its exegetical core (GOD raised HIM), and "divinity" more contingent on subsequent catholic interpretations of Kyrios (we agree with Hurtado that the Kyrios-ship conferred upon Christ by the Father, according to a few NT passages, is absolute).

In light of how you connect your experience with this oneness pentecostal and Romans 10:9, we would also be interested to hear how you would respond to a recent posting by Dr. Larry Hurtado, who - as we are certain you will be aware - is most reluctant to import or assume fourth century ontological system of categorisation on first century thought:

1) "My own plea is that we respect the historical particularities of those earlier statements and texts, and try to avoid anachronism in our historical task of engaging them.

2) "The Christological claims in NT writings are remarkable enough in their own terms and setting, and even more so the programmatic place of Jesus in earliest devotional practice."

https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2016/09/26/chronology-and-ontology/ 

We look forward to hearing from you, and thank you for this most engaging discussion,

Reinald and John

As of yet, we have heard no response from Craig.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

The Moral Argument: is it any "good"?





I hate what appear to me to be bad arguments for Christianity - I always think it's such a bad mistake for apologists to get too excited about logical "proofs" for God that short-circuit actual belief and faith. The worst ones of course are the God of the Gaps arguments, that I have already discussed, which also touches on what is often called the "fine-tuning" argument for the existence of God. Before I look a little more into the moral argument for the existence of God with you, let me just spell out again why I think defending the faith in this way is most unhelpful - even destructive.  The whole project and approach, in my view, is off base. The apologist often wants you to feel required - by logic and reasoning alone - to believe in God's existence (or Christ's resurrection, or whatever theological point is in view). Sometimes the more careful ones may employ might use words like "compelling", but even in using such vocabulary as this, two things are at play: the apologist believes, and belongs to a tribe that believes, that the arguments she presents are compelling... to her! Secondly, despite the relativistic language these rare, more careful apologists use, the posture and theological commitment behind the presentation belies the apparent care.

If you can assess these arguments critically as I attempt, and find them wanting, you might actually feel your faith is being undermined. That, at least, is my feeling in both the instance of the fine tuning argument and the moral argument (I do not have much to say in criticism of the cosmological argument, mainly because I take refuge in it as the others "fail" me). It is not that the arguments themselves are bad, although they could be framed quite differently, it is that their goals of proving God precede their presentation, and thus skew it. Rather, why not say: let's try and see how God could have given us morality! The apologist says: let me show you how God miraculously downloaded morality into human brains.

William Lane Craig for me is definitely one of the more careful apologists, and I enjoy his work. In this debate with Shelly Kagan, however, I find even this high-level debate just confirm the points I have just made. Here's the debate if you want to watch it, with a few comments below.



One of the views expounded by Kagan is "Contractarianism": perfectly rational beings would be able to come to an agreement about what the common rules needed to make a functional society. Or something like that.

Another naturalist view (although my point is of course not limited to naturalism): it is necessary that rational beings would reason about what is normal interactions between themselves.

Still others: where there is a command, there is a commander; where there is a law, there is a law-giver. Things don't come from nothing (a nod to the cosmological argument, really). But not necessarily. E.g. no-one needs to lay down a rule of non-contradiction for that to be necessary as a practice. But in morality, we could agree, says Kagan: the law-giver is all of us, says philosopher Shelly Kagan.

"Given the finality of death it really does not matter how you live", says William Lane Craig.
Only on theism can you make choices that are altruistic.  Ultimately no difference to the heat-death of the universe.

Firstly, both debaters make a mistake: they assume that there are only two types of animals: humans and non-humans. That's a serious error when looking at why humans generally agree, regardless of culture, that murder is objectively bad. Although Kagan didn't seize on the opportunity, it is not the case that lions are only spared of being moral murderers when they kill lower animals for food because they are not subject to our moral codes. The argument would only stand if lions went about killing other lions. Guess what: they don't. Some animals do kill other other members of their own species, but still others will lay down their lives for the sake of their offspring - sometimes even systematically as a part of that specie's reproduction process.

Kagan was absolutely right to challenge Craig on the condemnation of holocaust being dependent on an ultimate and cosmic judge. However, he failed to point out an important part of the german regime's dogma. Firstly, those in charge did not really believe that they were doing something wrong. Secondly, the way that they justified this action to themselves and the rest of their tribe was to state that Jews were a harmful and lower race. Lions don't kill lions. Notice that in order for these atrocities to be performed it was absolutely necessary that in the Nazi mindset the victims really occupied a fundamentally different genus - a harmful genus.  

Another thing that was not debated here was how civilisations slowly shift their moral perspectives. While it might seem just really obvious that murder is wrong, war is at least legal and soldiers are generally not considered guilty of murder. The same is true of abortion - although that depends on which country you're in. From a Christian perspective as well, there are stacks of laws that are no longer considered binding despite their presence in our holy book.

So I reject the moral argument as proof for the existence of God. Its starting point is not neutral enough, its goals affect its methodology, and the animal couter-examples are insufficiently accounted for. I happen to believe that morality is of God, but is not necessarily of God in the miraculous way Craig and others will try to present it. As a Christian, it is important to me to pray to ask God to help me and my family make good choices, to reflect back to God more and more my understanding of Christ's character in my own. Christ was not just "good". In fact, as the perfect man, he was what Adam was born to be: very good. That is to say: pleasing. I want my humanity to please God, but I haven't a cat in hell's chance without his help.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Why this research matters

In the previous post I presented some preliminary results of my Septuagint study of the divine Name renderings into Greek in the Psalms, noting only around 18% of nominative and genitive occurrences of the hundreds surveyed to include the definite article: the remaining 82% are "anarthrous", lacking the article.

I am now starting to see already why this research matters. Professor Albert Pietersma is the lead translator of the NETS New English Translation of the Septuagint. This is a major scholarly work combining expertise across the Septuagint field, including Larry Perkins, whose paper on Exodus we have already discussed on this blog.

Pietersma includes in the introduction to his translation the following note:

Since the Greek Psalter provides no evidence that the translator made any serious attempt at distinguishing between the divine names Yahweh, including the short form "Yah", and Adonai, I have in accordance with NETS policy rendered all occurrences of kyrios, when representing either, by "Lord".

The decision is a difficult one, because even if he is right about this (no serious distinguishing going on), then you still have to work around the Adonai plus Yahweh problem with increased difficulty if both are translated by "Lord" (see Psalm 68:20: Our God is a god to save, and to the Lord Lord belong the escape routes of death).

But I don't think he is quite right about that assumption of no difference, and here're two reasons why.

1. In contrast to the article treatment in Yahweh translations (82% are anarthrous remember), when Adonai is translated into Greek only half of the translations are anarthrous (53%, that is 9 out of 17 times with respect to genitive and nominative cases - note however that one of these anarthrous instances, Ps 16:2, could almost certainly never have been confused with Yahweh in that it translates a possessive, "my Yahweh" being unheard of). This partial similarity between Yahweh and Adonai translation policy may represent a vague gesture at the sanctity of the Yahweh solution, but nonetheless, a significant difference remains (from an albeit small sampling).

2. Less significantly, but most intriguingly, is a translation of Psalm 130:6, my soul waits for the Lord. Here the Greek reads: ἤλπισεν ἡ ψυχή μου ἐπὶ τὸν κύριον.  Since we are focussing on the more meaningful cases of nominative and genitive, I almost missed this accusative construction, but it rang a bell. As it turns out, "ἐπὶ" before κύριον when translating "to Yahweh" systematically removes the accusative article τὸν: Ps 4:5, Ps 21:7, Ps 22:8, Ps 31:24, Ps 32:10 and 11, Ps 37:3, Ps 40:3, Ps 55:22. Not so in Psalm 130:6 translating Adonai.

So to conclude, I can't help but wonder if Pietersma has considered these two important pieces of evidence when he dismisses the possibility of distinguishing efforts on the part of the Psalter translator. Only a more thorough investigation of the benchmark for anarthrous renderings, the Pentateuch, and the Adonai goldmine of Ezekiel will provide us with more evidence. If it can be shown that the "NETS policy" is in fact misrepresenting the translation practice of the Greek translators, then that should filter down to less clear-cut cases such as the Psalms.