Sunday, April 4, 2010

The meaning of the Resurrection

As with Christ’s Passion, people are always trying to attach to His Resurrection various counterfeit meanings. But it is, in this case, harder to do it with a straight face. Were you present at the crucifixion, you would have seen what on the surface required no supernatural explanation – a man nailed to a cross, as so many had been before by the Romans. Were you present at Christ’s tomb on that first Easter Sunday, you would have seen a corpse returned to life. “Keep hope alive!” “Jesus is still with us in our hearts!”“You can’t keep a good man down!” and all the other banalities liberal pastors will waste their congregations’ time with today rather fail to convey this central fact about the Resurrection. It was a divine suspension of the natural order, a miracle, or it was nothing. “If Christ is not raised,” St. Paul tells the Christian, “your faith is worthless.” And by “raised” he meant raised – reanimated, brought back from the dead – not eaten by wild dogs but remembered fondly, or whatever it is the John Dominic Crossans of the world want to put in place of what Christianity has always claimed. The Christian faith has, historically, laid everything on that line: Accept the Resurrection, and you must accept what Jesus Christ taught; reject it, and you must reject Him too as a fraud.

Thus, while the Resurrection is an affront to naturalism, it is not primarily that. The most formidable pagan critics of Christianity already knew that naturalism is false. Indeed, almost all serious philosophers historically have known that; it was part of the common ground most of them took for granted in their disputes over less fundamental matters. (The atomists are an obvious exception, though their naturalism was less crude and less dogmatic than that of their modern successors.) In particular, the existence of God and the immortality of the soul were known by Neo-Platonists and others to be demonstrable through philosophical arguments; and such demonstrations ought in any event to form the preamble to an apologetic for the Resurrection, rather than its sequel (or so I would argue).

No, the Resurrection is primarily an affront to the religious rivals of Christianity. It is the point where the tedium of “dialogue” finally ends and the serious business of conversion begins. The Man Who said “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through Me” was either raised from the dead or He was not. If He was, then His startling claims received thereby a divine seal of approval, and the only rational response of the non-Christian can be to request baptism. If He was not so raised, then His words reveal Him to have been a megalomaniacal lunatic. An interesting lunatic, maybe; a lunatic whose historical, cultural, religious, and moral impact has vastly – one might say miraculously – outweighed that of any sane man. But a lunatic all the same, and appropriately treated as such. There really is no third option. (Even C. S. Lewis’s “liar” alternative isn’t all that plausible – what sane first-century Jew would think claiming personal divinity a good way to raise a following? And the “guru” Jesus pushed by Crossan and his ilk is manifestly sheer unhistorical fantasy.)

The Resurrected Christ will not be dialogued with. He will be worshipped, and obeyed, or He will simply be rejected as one would reject the ravings of a Jim Jones or David Koresh. Politely rejected, perhaps, at least this side of the grave; we can concede to the dialoguers their good manners. But rejected, and in no uncertain terms. “Let your Yes be Yes and your No, No.” Unless you are prepared to call Him your Risen Lord, seek no religious meaning in His life and teachings. Nor in His death; for the Passion is what it is only in light of the Resurrection. If we who did not know Him in the flesh worship at the foot of His cross, it is because we have worshipped first at His empty tomb.

76 comments:

Maolsheachlann said...

Dr. Feser, you are the anti-Spong.

Your Good Friday meditation was very helpful to me, and so is this. Thank you and Happy Easter.

Anonymous said...

Like Jonathon Edwards' "Sinners in the hands of an angry God" thinly veiled contempt for other ways of knowing are not effective in our modern world.

If Fr.Crossan is extreme, so is "[t]he Resurrected Christ will not be dialogued with. He will be worshipped, and obeyed, or He will simply be rejected as one would reject the ravings of a Jim Jones or David Koresh. Politely rejected, perhaps, at least this side of the grave; we can concede to the dialoguers their good manners. But rejected, and in no uncertain terms. “Let your Yes be Yes and your No, No.” Unless you are prepared to call Him your Risen Lord, seek no religious meaning in His life and teachings."

Better stay with your day job and leave theology and preaching to those trained in the art.

bgc said...

"In particular, the existence of God and the immortality of the soul were known by Neo-Platonists and others to be demonstrable through philosophical arguments; and such demonstrations ought in any event to form the preamble to an apologetic for the Resurrection, rather than its sequel (or so I would argue)."

This seems to me a vital insight - and is the reason why Christian apologetics have so little traction in the modern compared with the ancient world.

If only people could be brought to attend seriously to the metaphysical arguments, it would be of great benefit.

However, most intellectuals are extremely good both at avoiding confrontation with metaphysical arguments, and also at tolerating vast and intractable contradictions in their ideas stemming from incoherent metaphysical beliefs.

It is these incoherent metaphyical beliefs which make their holders believe that the the resurrection was impossible, hence Christianity is necessarily absurd.

Certainly I managed to do all stuff this for 50 years...

Anonymous said...

bgc

What many moderns believe is that metaphysics issuing from the left brain interpreter in response to the right brain's ineffable ecstatic feeling of life.

The interpreter may mold a story of mythos or of logos, thus giving rise, among other fields, to departments of theology and philosophy.

Crude said...

I don't see where Ed said Crossan was "extreme". Just banal and wrong.

And bgc seems on target to me. Too many don't know, don't know what they don't know, and often don't care besides.

Happy Easter! Christos voskres!

Ilíon said...

What a self-contradictory posture this Anonymose evinces.

Renaissance Man said...

The response by “anonymous” is an interesting materialist view of both faith and reason. I wonder, however, if the materialist view is just a bit incoherent on this very subject addressed by anonymous. If the highly evolved (and adaptive) brain can lead many people into the fairy tale of theology (faith) and then into martyrdom (I refer to the history of the Church for my evidence of martyrdom following the emergence of, as anonymous puts it, "theology") this seems positively maladaptive to me. Think about it---the brain, which is supposed to keep us alive, leads us into death-by-fairy tale. Should we not ask which is the fairy tale---faith and reason or materialism?

Ilíon said...

"Even C. S. Lewis’s “liar” alternative isn’t all that plausible – what sane first-century Jew would think claiming personal divinity a good way to raise a following?"

I agree that, in that context and with that goal, that leg of Lewis' trilemma is not socially plausible.

However:
1) the trilemma was not formulated for the context of a first-century community of Jews, but rather for any context subsequent to the success of Christianity;
2) socially plausible or not in that context, “liar” is still logically viable and therefore had to be included.
3) if “megalomaniacal lunatic” means anything, rather than being emotive venting, does in not include a component of “liar?”
3a) so why not separate “lunatic” from “megalomaniac,” such that we have Lewis’ trilemma, after all?

Ilíon said...

There is another interesting observation to be made, RM.

As we are seeing, right now in real time, those societies and nations which are most "rational" (that is, anti-rational and in accord with materialism) are also those societies which are dying.

Who would have thought that the society-wide acceptance of the (asserted) truth of materialism should lead to extinction of the society? Who'd have thought that knowing the truth shall make you dead?

Why, it's almost as though the nation whose God is the Lord shall live and prosper.

Maolsheachlann said...

I agree with Renaissance Man. It's like people take one step backwards but not the next. They take a step backwards and look at religious belief "from the outside", as it were. But they seem reluctant to take the next step back and to look at our mental processes and the nature of the material world, and to wonder why on earth they should be like they are, and why of all things they should give birth to the idea of God.

I'm sure there are a hundred evolutionary just-so stories that could be imaginatively conjured up to explain Renaissance Man's question about apparently maladaptive behaviour like martyrdom. But even if they worked, they still leave the whole chain of events rather bizarre and suggestive. As Dr. Feser says in the Last Superstition-- "it's the moon, stupid".

And I agree with Ilion that the Trilemma seems to come under an unfair amount of pressure. I don't think Lewis ever meant it as a rigorous philosophical proof. Remember he was dealing with answering a particular SORT of view.

Ilíon said...

Of course! Lewis explicitly made it clear that the trilemma wasn't offered as any sort of proof of Christ's divinity. Rather, that it was a logical refutation of a certain sort of condescension toward Christianity.

Lewis’ point with the trilemma is exactly the same as Mr Feser’s in the OP: “The Resurrected Christ will not be dialogued with. He will be worshipped, and obeyed, or He will simply be rejected as one would reject the ravings of a Jim Jones or David Koresh ... “Let your Yes be Yes and your No, No.” Unless you are prepared to call Him your Risen Lord, seek no religious meaning in His life and teachings. Nor in His death; for the Passion is what it is only in light of the Resurrection.

Lewis’ point was “Reject Christ’s claims or accept them … but be an honest man about your choice of which you are doing! Stop being a passive-aggressive in your rejection.

BenYachov said...

“ If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true ... and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms. ”

—J. B. S. Haldane,

“ If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on biochemistry, and biochemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees."-C.S. Lewis

Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It's like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can't trust my own thinking, of course I can't trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God." ”

—C.S. Lewis,

Anonymous live in a self-referential world.

Anonymous said...

I honestly can't tell whether anon 5:41 is joking or not. Once again, we see that the net-skeptics can barely be discerned from the people making fun of the net-skeptics.

Anonymous said...

By holding too distinct of a boundary between the mental and the physical, A-T and other dualist beliefs do not see the possibility of physical change by having pure thoughts or conforming the mind to Christ. Right thoughts and brain plasticity can lead to a 'holier' brain. And thru epigenetics, such 'blessings' can be passed along.

Neither metaphysical myth or logos, just emerging science that confirms religious traditions.

Anonymous said...

"But if I can't trust my own thinking, of course I can't trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else."

I believe this is what neuroscience is suggesting to be the case.

Anonymous said...

Make me a channel of peace. Be compassionate. Do good works.

Praxis, not theory.

Why do sports players, surgeons, singers, etc., need to practice so much?

Loosen dogmatic 'logos' views, and the wisdom in the mythos can become less mysterious.

Anonymous said...

"Think about it---the brain, which is supposed to keep us alive, leads us into death-by-fairy tale."

AFAIK, science does not posit infallibility in evolution.

Crude said...

Anonymous,

"Too distinct a boundary" between the mental and the physical? The arguments I've read from A-T proponents is that they're critical of (cartesian) dualism precisely because of that boundary - the suggestion that the material is entirely mechanistic, devoid of qualia and intentionality or formal/final causes, which in turn makes the mind utterly foreign and a mystery. Indeed, the idea that practice leads to virtue seems to be a page right out of what I know of Aristotle.

Have you read The Last Superstition?

Anonymous said...

Crude

Not yet. Is there a short piece you could quote about Aris, and praxis?

I am aware that A-T and DesCartes do not see mind/body identically.

Crude said...

Anon,

That's the important thing to realize. My understanding is that the difference between A-T and cartesian dualism is not that they both view the mind/body problem differently. It's that they pretty much view everything differently: Matter, nature, animals, etc. Cartesian dualism is not merely a statement about minds and souls, but a statement about nature and the physical as well (hence the dualism). The same goes for A-T.

As for praxis and Aristotle: http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2008/10/brain-science-and-the-soul It's a casual commentary at most, but it's relevant.

Zeno said...
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Anonymous said...

Crude

EXCELLENT!

Anny said...
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Benny said...

Amen, Happy Resurrection Day professor Feser.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:14

"Like Jonathon Edwards' "Sinners in the hands of an angry God" thinly veiled contempt for other ways of knowing are not effective in our modern world."

Jonathan (you spelled his name wrong by the way) Edwards had more theological knowledge and pastoral skill in his right pinky than any hack-liberal modernist 'theologian' that has lived in the last six decades, because unlike such hacks he was not afraid of admitting the obvious truths about human sinfulness and the theological ideas of complete divine sovereignty. As someone who comes from a Church that is liberal by and large, I have personally seen the damage that your condescending, "smarter than thou" modernist 'theology' (if in its appalling character it can even be called that) has done to public understanding of the Gospel and Christianity in general. I suggest that you, perhaps then, stay with your own day job before you succeed in damaging further what 2000 years of thinkers much more eminent than yourself believed and preached.

Anon. 5:41-

Wow! What an insightful point! I've never heard that before! Of course, it's hard to see how many metaphysical ideas such as the act-potency distinction, divine aseity, the theory of forms, realism about universals etc. really give anyone an "ineffable ecstatic feeling of life," any more so, at least, than say the law of universal gravitation or the laws of electromagnetism. But I'm sure you'll have some imaginative pseudo-psychological explanation for that as well.

Resief Nov Drawde said...
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Ilíon said...

"So much for the supposed rational disputation."

Why is the world so full of such tiresome ... um ... (ahem) rationalism?

Edward Feser said...

Ilion, that's just our old troll friend J/Perezoso/Nutcase, who occasionally posts under other on-the-spot pseudonyms but who can, given his usual weird obsessions (Giuliani, Vichy France, etc.) and semi-lunatic style, can be spotted from a mile away. As per my standing policy, I've deleted his comments.

Ilíon said...

Well, I did see some of Perezoso's comments (such as they are) show up in my email inbox. And then I saw that you'd deleted them from your blog. So, I assumed that *those* were from him.

I guess I should have realized that even this last was just him pretending to be someone else "speaking out" about your "tyrany." You tyrant, you! ;)

Anonymous said...

Crude, et al:

A most wonderful piece by none other than Roger Scruton, whom Ed just posted about at the Gifford Lectures website is a paper by Roger  http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/gifford/2010/the-sacred-and-the-human/

Do read it, it will change your knowledge for the better. I think we can all agree that Roger's sweeping tale of how myth, theology, literature, and religion come together in Rene Girard's theology of scapegoating is profound. (Girard is central to Stephen H. Webb's theology as well.)

I belief it is fair to say that this well-presented sweep of religious history is of the utmost timeliness, as somewhat evidenced by the fact that it squarely focuses on the themes posted by Ed in 4 of the last 5 blogs.

I like his gentle style and ability with synthesis.

Anonymous said...

Retrying to post...


Crude, et al:

A most wonderful piece by none other than Roger Scruton, whom Ed just posted about at the Gifford Lectures website is a paper by Roger  http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/gifford/2010/the-sacred-and-the-human/

Do read it, it will change your knowledge for the better. I think we can all agree that Roger's sweeping tale of how myth, theology, literature, and religion come together in Rene Girard's theology of scapegoating is profound. (Girard is central to Stephen H. Webb's theology as well.)

I belief it is fair to say that this well-presented sweep of religious history is of the utmost timeliness, as somewhat evidenced by the fact that it squarely focuses on the themes posted by Ed in 4 of the last 5 blogs.

I like his gentle style and ability with synthesis.

Jime said...

Professor Feser, can you write a post explaining Thomas Aquinas' view on Divine Concurrence and its difference with Luis De Molina's view on that topic?

I was hearing a debate between William Lane Craig and Anthony Flew, and Craig said that Aquinas' view on Divine Concurrence is not correct, and he prefers Molina's view.

Flew was using the Thomistic view on Divine Concurrece to make an objection to God' omnipotence.

Craid replied the Molinistic view makes Flew's objection irrelevant.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...
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Crude said...

By the way, for those of you who are interested in arguments about what 'materialism' ultimately leads to, the following article may be of interest: What's in a Mind?.

It reminds me of Ed's argument in TLS about how typical talk of 'information', etc, either leads one to a broadly Aristotilean view or (if the talk is merely for show) eliminative materialism. In this case, the argument is that if Dennett is serious about subjectivity being real, yet rejects cartesian dualism and vitalism... Well, that'd spoil the surprise.

Ilíon said...

from the article Crude links: "This traditional view, known as theism, is quite hard to defend for anyone who has scientific or philosophical training."

Well, that would be the trained scientists' and philosophers' problem, wouldn't? For, theism certainly isn't at all difficult not only to defend, from a logical standpoint, but also to prove.


from the article Crude links: "Crude materialists ..."

Oh?! What's this, then? ;)

Ilíon said...

Here's something which hay interese some here: You Can't Argue with a Zombie (note: I'm not sure I totally agree with Mr Lanier; I'm also not sure I totally understand what he means to say)

Anonymous said...

The author of the Dennet is a panpsychist paper needs to study process philosophy a bit deeper, though he is generally on the right track that process is a good meeting place for modern science and theological reasoning ala Scruton, Webb, Griffin, Cobb, etc.

Whitehead, the principle developer of Process Philosophy, did not hold firmly to panpsychism. (His follower, Hartshorne, did.) Influenced by James, for Whitehead, events, or occasions of experience, form the stuff of existence. David Griffin more correctly characterises Whitehead as holding to panexperentialism.

Basically higher order events, or occasions of subjective experience, come into being by taking in past events (objective realities – brute fact). During this occasion of subjective experience, a universal telos of sorts lures the subject to concrete action toward creatively advancing reality by optimal synthesis of all potential values at hand. The subjective experient thus actualizes its potential and becomes yet one more objective brute fact.

Reality is thus in a perpetual flux of pulsation between objective and subjective phenomena. Moving atoms are doing the same dance, but their occasion of subjective experience is much lower order and does not likely rise to self-awareness.

Consciousness is what the actualization of potential feels like for a high order experient.

Ilíon said...

Crude, what a strange fellos this Tam Hunt is! First, he says that materialism plus certain other "views regarding consciousness, biology, and philosophy [must] unavoidably lead to that most ridiculous of philosophical views: that all things have some degree of consciousness, otherwise known as panpsychism."

Yes, panpsychism *is* a most ridiculous philosophical view.

And then he concludes by asserting what he asserts about panpsychism.

Crude said...

Ha, crude materialist. I thought about that too. Of course, thinking rules materialism out for me.

See, I agree that panpsychism sounds crazy. The problem I have is that it sounds a lot less crazy than materialism. Admittedly, that's a pretty low bar, but there you go.

I also agree his crack about theism is lame and out of place, though I also think it's somewhat self-refuting given his stance: It's not easy to write off theism on the grounds that so few people believe it, when he's defending - of all things - panpsychism.

What I mostly found interesting isn't his defense of panpsychism so much as his insistence that it's what Dennett's views naturally lead to. Hitting Dennett for being an EM and pointing out the absurdities of EM is one thing. But accusing Dennett of being a panpsychist? That's a real interesting move.

anon said...

Anonymous

The Roger Scruton paper reflects a way of thinking about God that I have never considered.

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

"But accusing Dennett of being a panpsychist? That's a real interesting move."

I think that is the point of Anonymous 2:14, it is quite fitting if you use the right term - panexperentialism.

Ilíon said...

Now, I think panpsychism is vastly more crazy than materialism.

As for Dennett, given his mix of presuppositions (at any rate, as represented by Hunt), then yes, his position *is* panpsychism.

For, the whole is never greater than sum of the parts -- just as there is no free lunch, you can’t get what isn’t there.

Crude said...

Anon,

I am using the right term - I'm talking specifically about what Tam Hunt is accusing Dennett of. And he's pretty clear: "Daniel Dennett is a panpsychist." is the first line of the article.

That said, I don't think the claim loses much sharpness (or it's innate humor) if it shifts to panexperientialism.

Anonymous said...

With the term panexperentialism, Dennet's postulations of subjective experience now REALLY do find a metaphysical home in process philosophy.

If the author was more precise, then what he said tongue in cheek could actually have been a serious, honest constructive appraisal of what Dennet is thinking.

Crude said...

For those of you really interested in Tam's greater thoughts, I emailed him asking for a PDF of his larger paper and he replied with it. It includes mention of David Ray Griffin, which is apparently important to some people, so if you're interested consider the email. (It's in the comments section beneath the article.)

For my own part, I'll just repeat something I said long ago on this site: New Atheism is a red herring. I more and more suspect pan[en]theism, panpsychism (and yes, panexperientialism) and the like are the next big thing, with more staying power than those guys.

Anonymous said...

Nobody is commenting on Scruton's whalloping of Hitchens in his Human and the Sacred paper. He says that contrary to being a cause of violence, the scapegoat theory of Girard proves that religious ritual is the only way to avoid violence. So if Hitchens had his way and religion is gone...

Process philosophy was Whitehead's attempt to explain all experience (all reality) - from quantum physics and abstract mathematics to animal emotion and religious experience.

Crude is right, the future paradigm of postmodern man will be a synthesis along the inductive theorizing lines of a Whitehead and a Scruton.

Both are Gifford Lecturers.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't A-T dualism imply determinism with respect to our actions? How can an A-T account of the soul ground free will?

Crude said...

Anon,

I don't know why everyone else isn't commenting, but I'll give my reason (already hinted at): The New Atheists are done. Those particular goats have been drug out and slaughtered repeatedly (some Scruton play there), and Hitchens was always the one thinnest on actual argument-meat besides. Their popularity is already on the descent, and their lasting contribution to discussion for the next decade or two (at least) will be "Gee, it turns out even atheists can be every bit as self-righteous, repetitive and dogmatic as the most stereotypical fire-and-brimstone preacher." Why we needed to learn that lesson again after the 20th century, I do not know. Less bodies this time, thankfully.

I will note I didn't say this is the 'future paradigm of post-modern man'. I just think the next likely intellectual trend will be panpsychism/panexperientialism-heavy. Then again, what do I know?

Maolsheachlann said...

Maybe the descent of the New Atheist star has more to do with the fickleness of the book-buying public than the rigour of philosophical argument?

Crude said...

Maolsheachlann,

I'm tempted to say it's both. Then again, the NAs never really thrived on the (even attempted) rigour of philosophical argument. Remember the whole "Bright" thing?

Though they may have been indirectly responsible for Ed writing TLS/Aquinas (and other good books), so some good came out of it.

Maolsheachlann said...

Amen to that. I wasn't impressed by the God Delusion, but I was alarmed by the upsurge of triumphalist atheism, and that sent me reading various tracts on both sides. I was dissatisfied with most of the religious apologetics, since they were so piecemeal and circumstantial, so to speak. Then I read the Last Superstition and was surprised to encounter a book that took a totally different tack to all the religious apologetics I'd read, that aimed for logically watertight rather than empirical or suggestive arguments (if I may put it like that). Now I'm tackling God: His Exitence and Nature by Garrigou-Lagrange. It's tough...but I'm still struggling with the Thomistic arguments and thought more detail might help.

I browsed the Scruton article. I'm not sure I'm understanding him fully, but if he's saying that violence is unleashed by the suppression of the sacred, I wonder how that applies to heavily secularised societies like Scandinavia? It all seems very speculative. GK Chesterton ridiculed theories that made religion a sublimation of various other urges, since it seems more primordial than any of them. I agree.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how this thread on the Resurrection suddenly morphed into a discussion of Roger Scruton and of the New Atheism, but since we're on the two subjects, here's a 2008 article by Scruton directly concerned with the NA:

http://catholiceducation.org/articles/apologetics/ap0259.htm

My favorite quote:

"The atheists beg the question in their own favour, by assuming that science has all the answers. But science can have all the answers only if it has all the questions; and that assumption is false. There are questions addressed to reason which are not addressed to science, since they are not asking for a causal explanation."

Anonymous said...

I am concerned that there are only one or two people besides EF actually posting to this combox.

I cannot prove it.

Tim said...

anon @ 6:44...
what does it matter?

Windion said...
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Anonymous said...

With respect, I must affirm that the trilemma is a false trilemma, as there is a fourth option:
4. Legend (or, if you prefer, historical-literary development of deity and exclusivist-salvation claims)

One does not have to a be a radical in New Testament scholarship to assert that 'I am ... no one comes to the Father except through me" was not spoken by Jesus, but is the result of devotional-theological development within a Johannine Community. Even 'conservative' scholars either admit this is the case or entertain and argue against the possibility using historical arguments.

The proper response to the possibility or claimed actuality of the 'Legend' option is one of historical argument, not dogmatic counter-assertion nor ad hominem denunciation.

Anonymous said...

As far as history goes, also interesting is the history of modern new testament scholarship itself. So long as you like comedy.

Edward Feser said...

Anonymous @ 10:32,

I don't agree that the "Legend" theory is plausible, and it isn't just John's gospel that is in question here. (E.g. Jesus claims in the synoptics to have the authority to forgive sins, places his own authority above that of Moses, etc., all of which his critics rightly interpreted as implying a claim to divinity.) But in any event it doesn't affect the point I was making. That point was that IF one accepts that Jesus claimed to be divine, then one must also either conclude that he was right, or conclude that he was crazy. There is no plausible third option in THAT case; in particular, it is not at all plausible to say "He thought he was divine but wasn't, but we can still admire him anyway." No, if he really thought he was divine, but wasn't, then he has to be dismissed as a lunatic rather than a possible "dialogue partner."

That is not a "dogmatic counter-assertion or ad hominem denunciation," but rather a fairly obvious observation about how we actually evaluate people's credibility. Anyone else who claimed to be divine would be regarded as a lunatic. Hence, to be consistent, someone who both concedes that Jesus claimed to be divine but denies that he really was must regard him as a lunatic too.

Ilíon said...

In this context, the problem with the legend "hypothesis" isn't so much its implausibility, but that it's already included in the Trilemma. I'll post a longer explanation, later.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser,

I fully understand the point you were making and that you are making. I disagree that the 'Legend' hypothesis is "implausible" and could cite conservative New Testament scholars who argue, some of them with truly historical arguments that are (relatively) free from apriori theological commitments, that the claim is false - though not implausible. (And not all liberal New Testament scholars are 'comedians.')

The rhetoric that religious persons who make extrordinary and false claims can only be judged as 'lunatics' is questionable. People, especially some religious people, make many extreme and irrational claims, have 'extreme personalities,' but are not in any clinical sense crazy or 'lunatics.
They are 'enthusiasts' but they are not (in the clinical sense) 'lunatics.'

Yes, you have responded respectfully and non-dogmatically to my comment. (The preceding response of Anonymous @11:01 was the opposite: of the ad hominem variety.) I appreciate your response. I enjoy your blog and learn quite a bit from it.

Anonymous said...

Who said anything about "liberal"? It wasn't good ol' anonymous at 11:01 here. Interesting projection, though.

I said, have a look at the history of modern new testament scholarship. It is rife with comedy.

Anonymous said...

"Like Jonathon Edwards' "Sinners in the hands of an angry God" thinly veiled contempt for other ways of knowing are not effective in our modern world."

I believe this comment sums it up. Ed, I routinely pick up on the rigidity and contempt that comes through in your works.

You are gifted in dialectical argumentation, but your harsh sophistry taints your talent.

Ilíon said...
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Ilíon said...

Let us that God that Mr Feser is not a weak-minded simpleton who can be intimidated by the intellectual dishonesty of the 1:14 Anonymouse.

===
This post brought to you by the word verification "shiess" -- which seems so appropriate, given the Anonymouse's assertion.

Anonymous said...

'intellectual dishonesty of the 1:14 Anonymouse'

What?

Eric said...

Professor Feser,

What do you think about historically based arguments for the Resurrection, such as the ones made by Habermas and Craig? (That is, the sorts of arguments that move from a set of more or less probable historical data -- e.g. the empty tomb, the disciples' belief in the Resurrection, etc. -- to the conclusion that the Resurrection is the best explanation of the historical data.)

Edward Feser said...

Anonymous @ 12:37,

Thanks. I agree that "lunatic" is a strong term, but I also think it is appropriate, because the claim literally to be identical to the Creator of the universe, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, etc. is, if false, so far beyond a mere mistake and so far beyond any other sort of high-flown religious rhetoric that it could not be sincerely uttered by someone who was sane -- again, unless it's true. People fail to see this, I think, because they are simply so familiar with Christianity that they have lost all sense of the strangeness of this central claim.

Anonymous @ 1:14,

Thanks for sharing.

Eric,

I agree with such arguments, but I think they need to be presented in the context of an independently established theism and hylemorphic dualism. Otherwise the naturalist can say "Well, that's all well and good and I may not know how to answer this or that point, but since I already know independently that miracles don't occur, that can't be the explanation." (That was, for example, more or less Flew's approach back in the day.)

Edward Feser said...

I should add that in using "lunatic" I was merely following the standard terminology of the familiar "Lord, liar, lunatic" apologetic. Always better to use familar jargon when possible in a discussion of this sort, so that everyone is "on the same page" as it were. But a softer term ("mentally challenged"?) would do equally well if one wanted to insist on it.

Anonymous said...

'Anonymous @ 1:14,

Thanks for sharing.'

No prob...I'm sure you've heard it from numerous other sources.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Feser,

Given your previous incarnations as a zealot atheist and libertarian, how long do you think you're gonna stick with your current Catholic fixation?

Edward Feser said...

You guys (if there's really more than one of you) have way too much time on your hands. Anyway, if you've got something interesting to say, feel free to post it, but if it's just more of this sort of crap, I start deleting.

Ilíon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ilíon said...

Anonymous @ 10:32 "With respect, I must affirm that the trilemma is a false trilemma, as there is a fourth option:
4. Legend (or, if you prefer, historical-literary development of deity and exclusivist-salvation claims)
"

E.Feser: "I don't agree that the "Legend" theory is plausible ..."

Plausible or not, the "Legend" hypothesis is all-but irrelevant to the specific issue Lewis is exploring, and the specific manner in which he is exploring it, with the Trilemma.

And, as I said earlier, it's already accounted for in the Trilemma ... under "liar;" for the primary issue explored by the Trilemma involves categorizing the truth or falsity of the truth-claims about Jesus the Christ, not in determining who made/recorded them, nor in showing whether and why the claims are either true or false. If Christ is a "legend," or if the man Jesus never said what the Gospels claim he said, then the claims are not true, and the person or persons who knowing this advanced the claims is a liar.


What Lewis is doing with the Trilemma is drawing out the implications of treating the reasons advanced as supporting a proposition as though they were causes.

Treating the reasons advanced as supporting a proposition as though they were causes is not to be thought a way to establish whether the proposition is true or false, nor whether the reasoning is sound and valid or not; the technique depends upon those steps having already been properly done. It's a wholly separate thing, with a separate goal: to determine how best to attempt to correct the erroneous reasons that were advanced.

When we treat the reasons advanced as supporting a proposition as though they were causes, the causes of belief (or, at least, of assertion) that the proposition is true fall into four general or high-level categories:
1) the proposition *is* true;
2) the proposition false, but the person holding the belief (or making the assertion) is uninterested in correcting the erroneous reasoning by which he seeks to support the false proposition;
3) the proposition false, but the person holding the belief (or making the assertion) is unable ever to see and understand the truth of the matter;
4) the proposition false, and the person holding the belief (or making the assertion) is mistaken in his understanding, but with correction to his understanding he will be able to see and understand the truth of the matter.

SO, as one can see, all propositions are potentially "Quadrilemmas" under this treatment -- just not in the way that Anonymous thought. At the same time, for some specific propositions, horn #4 cannot apply, for there are some propositions about which it is not logically possible that one is *merely* mistaken or *merely* lacking some pertinent information; the proposition "I am God" is one such.

There are only three viable categories of explanation for why a person might assert "I am God," these are:
1) the claim is true;
2) the claim is false, and the person asserting it knows it to be false;
3) the claim is false, but the person asserting it does not know it to be false and is unable to know it to be false;

Thus, we see that Jesus is "Lord, Liar, or Lunatic;" there are no other options.

Ilíon said...

Blogger is acting oddly ... I've experienced this same behavior recently on my sad, little blog.

That post I deleted was showing up when one was in "Add a comment" mode, but not in the main "reading the thread" mode. When I deleted it, the reverse was true!

Resef Drawde said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.