Wednesday, May 28, 2014

SIR DAVID ROSS ON ARISTOTLE AND THE METAPHYSICS

            I will premise this by noting that this is not a book review. My purpose in this short text is to explain how Ross approaches Aristotle’s Metaphysics, ousia and the question of Being in his classical introduction to Aristotle. Aristotle,[1] now in its sixth edition, and accompanied by a helpful introduction by John L. Ackrill, was not written for a beginner in philosophy.  Rather, notes Ackrill, it can be useful for general readers who use it to understand elements of Aristotle’s philosophy; for university students who use it as an introduction to research on Aristotle, and for professional philosophers (p. ix-x). This book gives a general overview of Aristotle’s thought. Ross begins with an historical introduction explaining who Aristotle was, what he wrote, and his views on the authenticity, integrity and composition of the numerous books that have been attributed to Aristotle. Following this introduction Ross goes on to introduce the reader to the important elements of Aristotle’s Logic, philosophy of nature, biology, psychology, metaphysics, ethics, politics, and works on rhetoric and poetry. Ross discusses the composition and integrity of the Metaphysics on pages 11-12, and the contents of the Metaphysics on pages 161-94.

            In case anyone would be tempted to say otherwise, an analysis of the purported integrity or lack of integrity is necessary if one is going to adequately discuss Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Ross, though not going to the extreme of some (such as Jaeger) concerning the arbitrariness of the composition of the Metaphysics, does not think that the Metaphysics was originally in the form in which it has been received by modern philosophy. Ross theorizes that the title of the Metaphysics was provided by Andronicus, and that it was given to the collection of (mostly) independent treatises that “were placed after the physical works in Andronicus’ edition. (p. 11)” Concerning the composition and integrity of the Metaphysics Ross theorizes that book α was inserted into the already completed Metaphysics at a later date, and, though it is a general introduction to theoretical philosophy which adheres to Aristotelian thought, it is most likely not written by Aristotle himself (p. 11-12). Ross goes on to state that books Α, Δ, Κ, Λ, Ν were most likely written first (p. 12), but, Κ was then supposed to be replaced by Β, Γ, and Ε, and M was attached to N (p. 12). As such, Ross claims, the earliest complete text of the Metaphysics was composed of books Α, Β, Γ, Ε, Ζ, Η, Θ, Ι, M and N (p. 12). Λ, according to Ross, though written earlier, was considered a separate text concerning Aristotle’s theology, and, therefore, was only added at a later date. As such, the original text of the Metaphysics, according to Ross, that which should, primarily, be studied in order to understand Aristotle’s “Metaphysical” thought, is composed of books Α, Β, Γ, Ε, Ζ, Η, Θ, Ι, M and N.

            In light of Ross’s theories concerning the integrity and composition of Aristotle’s Metaphysics it should come as no surprise that, in his overview of Aristotle’s Metaphysics (pp. 161-94), Ross only interacts with books Α, Β, Γ, Ε, Ζ, Η, and Θ, with special mention given to Λ, due to the importance of its subject for modern metaphysics. It might seem curious that Ross does not give explicit attention to books Ι, M and N, however, much of what is covered, in depth, in these books is discussed in cursory form in the other books. Also, it would be almost impossible to give a cursory exposition of the subjects treated in these books.

            Ross claims that Aristotle’s motive in the Metaphysics is “the wish to acquire that form of knowledge which is most worthy of the name wisdom. (p. 161)” Wisdom, for Aristotle, is “knowledge of causes” and “of the first and most universal causes. (p. 161)” In explaining the contents of Aristotle’s Metaphysics Ross begins by noting the purpose of the book (p. 161-2). He then summarizes the rest of book A (p. 162). Ross notes that book B explains the nature of metaphysical inquiry and he then goes on to show where Aristotle presumably answers the questions that he raises in book B. In doing so he uses this overview to claim that Λ, Δ, and Κ do not fit into Aristotle’s inquiry (p. 162). Ross then finishes his explanation of Book B by stating the two main questions that Aristotle is worried about in the Metaphysics, and showing how they are answered by Aristotle (p. 162-6). Turning to book Γ Ross explains how Aristotle explains and defends the first principles of demonstration – the principle of non-contradiction, etc. (p. 166-70).  He then gives a summary of the purpose and accomplishments of book E. Ross gives his understanding of Aristotle’s thoughts on οὐσία in book E (p. 171-3) and then explains Aristotle’s consideration of the principles of sensible substance in book Z (p. 173-9), as well as Aristotle’s consideration of the principles of becoming and change as found in book H (p. 179-81). Ross goes on to explain Aristotle’s solution to the problem of change – namely the doctrine of potential and actual being – found in book Θ (p. 181-4). Though Ross does not consider book Λ to be a part of the original 10 book Metaphysics, he does provide a summary treatment of Aristotle’s theological considerations, as found in book Λ (p. 184-91). Ross does not treat, explicitly, books α, Δ, Ι, Κ, M, or N.

            Ross translates οὐσία, in the traditional way, as substance. Aristotle says that there are 4 meanings of the word, or ways in which we say, being. Ross treats the 4 ways on pages 170-84. Aristotle sought to discover which of the 4 ways of saying being was primary. Ross’s explanation of Aristotle’s rejection of the primacy of Accidental being and true-being is a relatively uncontroversial summary of Aristotle’s analysis of these 2 ways of saying being. Ross then turns to Aristotle’s notion of οὐσία (p. 171-3). Ross shows why Aristotle thinks that οὐσία is primary to the categories (p. 171-2). One of the more interesting parts of Ross’s explanation of Aristotle is when he notes the apparent ambiguity of Aristotle’s use of the word οὐσία in the Metaphysics (p. 172). This term is occasionally used to refer to the individual being & occasionally to refer to the essence or nature of the individual being (p. 172). Ross does not appear to consider the fact that Aristotle discusses various meanings of οὐσία,[2] and that this helps to explain why Aristotle seems, occasionally, to use οὐσία in different ways. This may also be why Ross does not accept the general integrity of the Metaphysics, in which Aristotle is exploring the question of Being (as οὐσία), with the purpose of discovering the principles and causes of the primary sense of Being (οὐσία). Of course, in order to answer this question, Aristotle begins with sensible οὐσία and, as he did with being (τὸ ὄν), sets out to discover the primary meaning of οὐσία.

            On pages 173-81 Ross provides a decent introductory explanation of Aristotle’s views concerning the causes and principles of sensible οὐσία. Ross explains the notion of prime matter, the hierarchy of Being (p. 175) and two important difficulties raised by Aristotle’s analysis of the principles of sensible οὐσία, including an analysis of the relation of universals to sensible οὐσία (p. 175-8). Ross then notes Aristotle’s realization that the phrase which is frequently translated essence (τὸ τί ᾖν εἶναι), as an answer to the question “what is the cause of sensible οὐσία?”, is overly theoretical and incomplete.

            Ross’s explanation of Aristotle’s discussion concerning becoming is helpful, but basic (p. 179-81), as is his discussion of Aristotle’s observations concerning potency and Actuality (p. 181-4).



[1]Sir David Ross, Aristotle, 6th ed. (1995; repr., London: Routledge, 2006). All page numbers in this text refer to this edition.

[2]Also, as some scholars have noted, Aristotle’s οὐσία seems to always include the notion of the Being of some individual nature or essence.

Monday, May 26, 2014

CONSIDERING DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES ON THE DOCTRINE OF GOD – A BOOK REVIEW

Perspectives on the Doctrine of God. Edited by Bruce A. Ware. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2008. 273 pp. $24.99. ISBN 978-080543060-8.

            It is sometimes thought that there is only one evangelical view concerning theology proper (the doctrine of God); however, the deeper that one delves into the important theological treatises of evangelicalism, the more that one realises that this is just not the case. In reality, there are almost as many different views of God as there are good solid theologians. That being said, most of these differing views can be placed under two broad categories: Calvinist-Reformed and Arminian-Reformed. The purpose of a “Perspectives” book is to allow the reader to interact with the most prominent views as presented and defended by the theologians who hold to these views. In this book review we will be considering the book Perspectives on the Doctrine of God, edited by Bruce Ware. We will begin by considering the purpose of the book, and providing a general outline of the contents of the book. I will then give my opinion concerning the relative utility and worth of the book, how it achieved its purpose, as well as some questions and reflections concerning some of the subjects brought up in this book.

            The purpose of this book is to introduce the reader to 4 predominant evangelical perspectives on the doctrine of God, in dialogue. The theologians that participate in this book are Paul Helm (representing traditional Calvinism), Bruce Ware (representing a form of modified Calvinism), Roger Olson (representing Arminianism), and John Sanders (representing Open Theism). In the introduction Bruce Ware explains that he sought to provide two different views from within the two predominant evangelical schools of thought (Calvinism and Arminianism). The book seeks to accomplish the purpose by presenting an article from each position, followed by responses to that article from the other authors of the book. The responses from the authors are often, to be totally honest, the most informative parts of this type of book, as we are shown with what and why the authors agree or disagree.

            The book is organized as follows: Bruce Ware begins by introducing the purpose of the book, the importance of the theme, and by giving a brief overview of each of the chapters. Paul Helm begins the discussion, in chapter 1, by presenting the traditional Calvinist view of the doctrine of God. Helm states that his purpose is to “undermine the presumption of parity between the tradition and the three other perspectives offered in the book. (p. 7)” Helm then proceeds to explain his position concerning the relation between providence and free-will. This is followed by an attempt to refute the other three views on this subject. Helm concludes with a strange and somewhat bewildering section concerning the role of philosophy in theology. Chapter 2 is composed of the responses of Olson, Ware and Sanders.

            In chapter 3 Bruce Ware presents his article concerning what he calls a modified Calvinistic view of God. The purpose of his article is to expose “certain adjustments to our understanding of attributes such as divine eternity and immutability in ways that represent modifications within the Reformed tradition. (p. 77)” Interestingly enough, Ware’s article is the only article in the entire book that truly adheres to the proposed subject of the book. Ware begins by presenting his proposed modifications to Divine transcendence and Immanence. He then presents his proposed modifications to divine eternity and immutability. This is followed by a defense of his view of Divine providence and how this relates to the problem of Evil. He finishes by explaining how he thinks that some form of Molinism is helpful to Calvinism for answering questions related to God’s providence and the problem of evil. Chapter 4 is a response to Ware’s article by Helm, Olson and Sanders.

            In chapter 5 Olson presents what he calls the Free Will Theist model of God, which, he claims, is the umbrella under which Arminianism, as well as a number of other views, is found. He says that his purpose is to explain classical free-will theism (p. 149). He begins with an explanation of the Free-will Theist view of Free-will, which is followed by interaction with, and answers to, a number of common misconceptions about this view. He then attempts to provide biblical evidence for the libertarian view of free-will. He finishes with an overview of Classical Arminianism which is quite interesting. Near the end of this section he outlines some of the important aspects of the Arminian view of God. Chapter 6 consists of the responses of Helm, Ware and Sanders, to Olson’s article.

            In chapter 7 John Sanders presents the Open Theist view of the doctrine of God. In his conclusion he notes that the purpose of this chapter was “to explain how providence is understood from an openness of God perspective and to provide some biblical and theological support for this view. (p. 239)” He begins by explaining the main tenets, or presuppositions, of Open Theism, followed by an explanation of how Open Theism fits under the umbrella of free-will theism, and interacts with Arminianism. He then explains some of the important aspects and consequences of the Open Theism view of Divine Providence (considering the relationship between prayer and providence, salvation and providence, divine guidance and providence, and evil and providence). This is followed by a section in which he attempts to show that Open Theism actually provides the best explanation of the biblical claims concerning God and his interaction with humanity. He then outlines some of the theological points that he thinks supports Open Theism, and concludes by responding to some popular attacks on Open Theism. Chapter 8 is composed of the responses of Helm, Ware and Olson to Sanders article.          

            It should be noted, first of all, that this book is extremely interesting, as each of the articles in this book, as well as the responses, provide interesting insights into some of the most important theological movements in evangelical theology (if one can get back the playful banter and rhetorical sarcasm). The major problem with this book is that only one of the articles truly adheres to the proposed theme of the book. This is obvious from the get-go, when Helm states his purpose, which has absolutely nothing to do with the theme of the book. Olson laments the fact that Helm did not write an article on the proposed subject “Helm’s chapter is primarily about predestination, and in that focus it deviates from the original plan of this book. (p. 54)”. The irony of Olson’s lamentation is, of course, brought up by Helm’s response to Olson’s article (which also deviated incredibly from the purpose of the book), “Roger Olson provides the reader with a synoptic view of Arminianism, concentrating his attention so much on the importance of indeterministic human freedom that there is a danger of altogether forgetting the doctrine of God. (p. 173)” Sander’s article comes close to fulfilling the purpose of the book, however, he ends up spending almost all of his time discussing the Open theistic view of providence and free-will. One is, however, able to glean, from what he denies about God, something of a picture of the Open theistic view of God. The only article in the book that actually fulfills the proposed purpose of the book is Ware’s article, and even in this article, at least a third of the article concentrates on the relation of divine providence to creation. I’m unsure how this book, with this title and proposed purpose, even made it to publication. If you are looking for a book on issues related to divine providence, then this book is going to be of great interest. If, however, you are looking for an involved discussion concerning the various doctrines of God, you will have to look somewhere else. Each of these views have different views on the nature of God, but, unfortunately, the reader will not discover them in this book. As such, this book is almost worthless for its proposed purpose. This is not to say, however, that its articles are worthless. On the contrary, the discussion that is presented in this book is quite interesting, and is a great introduction to the evangelical debate between Calvinism and Arminianism (especially concerning divine providence and free-will).

 I will conclude with some thoughts on some of the claims in the different chapters. First of all, one gets the impression that Helm puts too much importance, for a reformed author, on tradition (how can tradition be used to show that someone is a heretic when Helm is, as a reformed author, saying that tradition does not bind?), but, that he reads Calvinism into Christian tradition. He also gives the impression that tradition weighs primarily in favor of classical Calvinism (which, as the other authors demonstrate, is far from being true). Helm’s critiques of the other views are interesting, but, unfortunately, most of his critiques come out to “This goes against established tradition, and the reformed interpretation of scripture, therefore this is wrong.” The weakest part of his article was his section on the use of philosophy in theology. He seems to be saying that it is wrong to think about scripture and to try to answer apparent contradictions in scripture. Many of the points that I brought up are also mentioned, in chapter two, by Olson, Ware, and Sanders. All in all, Helm’s article was so polemical that it was difficult to find any positive doctrine of God in his article.

One of the major questions that I would ask for Bruce Ware, is “why think that God is the way that he describes God?” Many of the verses that Ware provides as support for his theological claims are open to interpretation, and simply do not say what Ware wants them to say. Ware proposes that God, using Middle-knowledge (knowledge of what we would do if circumstance x arrived), determines all that happens. In this way, Ware proposes, compatibilism is true, and God is not the author of evil. He seems to rely on Jonathan Edwards explanation of free-will (as found in Edwards The Freedom of the Will). This, of course, leaves the reader with two questions: 1. When we “willfully turned from him (p. 84)”, is that because God caused the circumstances, in which he knew that we would willfully turn from him, to come about, thus guaranteeing that we would turn from him? In other words, God is not the cause of the rape of a woman, but, knowing the character of the rapist, he brought about (knowingly) the circumstances in which (he knew) the rapist would unfailingly rape the woman, and thus, was indirectly the cause of the rape? If this is what Ware is saying, then how is this really any different from saying that God determines all that we do? In other words, is there really a meaningful difference between the two following claims: (1) God causes agent A to do action x in circumstance α, and (2) God, knowing that if Agent A is put into circumstance α, then Agent A will, unfailingly, do action x, puts Agent A is put into circumstance α. Is God in this case responsible for causing Agent A to do action x? Yes and no. The deterministic slant of Ware’s view is seen in the claim on p. 119 where he says, “Therefore, he regulates their choices by presenting them with a situation in which the free choices they make accord with his will for them.”  Another major difficulty with Ware’s view is brought out by the following question: Is it possible for God, at the same time and in the same sense, to be both temporal and atemporal, limited by space and not limited by space? Ware seems to think that the answer to this question is a resounding “Yes!” No comment necessary.


Olson’s chapter on Arminian theology is interesting. However his distinction between freedom and free-will (p. 153) seems to be somewhat shallow (at best), and perhaps even inaccurate. He seems to say that freedom is eschatological liberation (the end, or purpose, of free will), and that free-will is liberty of decision and action. A better distinction between freedom and free-will is that freedom is a state of being of a creature that is not hindered by certain limitations (and only with regards to certain limitations); free-will is the faculty of choice of rational creatures. As such, eschatological freedom would be a “type” of freedom. His conception of foreknowledge as future vision, seems problematic, and the difficulties are brought up by those who comment on his chapter.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

LOOKING FOR THE LOST WORLD OF GENESIS ONE: A BOOK REVIEW

The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. John H. Walton. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009. $16.00. ISBN 978-0-8308-3704-5.

            The origins of our universe, where we come from, and why we exist are some of the most difficult questions to answer, and some of the most highly debated questions that mankind has ever posed. Christians have frequently turned to Genesis 1 for an answer to these questions, and, seemingly, with good reason, for the first chapter of Genesis seems, to the modern mind, to answer the questions concerning the creation of the universe, of all that exists, of humanity, and the questions concerning mans purpose in this world. In The Lost World of Genesis One John Walton argues that what seems evident to the modern mind was anything but evident to the minds of those who originally received the teaching of Genesis 1. In this book review we will begin by explaining the purpose of this book, followed by a brief outline of its contents. If space permits we will discuss some of the difficulties and points of interest of Walton's theory.

            John Walton is no beginner in Old Testament studies. He is professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, and holds advanced degrees in Old Testament and Hebrew studies. He has been teaching for years and has authored numerous books on subjects related to Old Testament research. The purpose of this book is to explain Walton's theory concerning the purpose and proper understanding of Genesis 1, and how this interpretation of Genesis 1 should affect the debate concerning the origins of the universe. Walton argues, in this book, that Genesis is primarily a cosmic temple inauguration text.

            In order to explain, defend and prove his interpretation of Genesis 1 Walton provides 18 propositions in 18 chapters. The first 11 chapters contain the argument and defense of his position. The last 7 chapters contain his understanding of how the interpretation of Genesis 1 as a temple inauguration text impacts the debate concerning the origins of our universe. In chapter 1 Walton explains that Genesis 1 is an example of Ancient Cosmology and warns us against reading our own modern cosmological views into the text. It is important to remember that for the ancient world God was intimately involved in every thing that happened in the universe, therefore, it would make no sense to talk about God intervening in the everyday workings of the world. If you are always active in bringing something to be, then your activity by which you bring that thing to be cannot be called "intervention". In chapter 2 Walton argues that Genesis 1 is not oriented towards a material beginning of the universe, but towards the functional arranging of the universe. This chapter get off to a rocky start with his discussion of existence, which seems to be more than a little confused. However, if one is able to get past the confused ontological musings, they will discover that what Walton is attempting to show is that in ancient cosmological stories, the important point of the stories is to show how God organized the universe so that it could serve as His temple. Walton provides a great deal of proof to back up his claim that Ancient stories of origins were not about how the universe came to Be, but, how the universe came to be the temple of the God of which ever culture was telling the story. 

             In chapter 3 Walton explains that the Hebrew word which is translated create refers primarily to the bringing of order in a place that was previously without order. One might think of the cleaning up of a messy room, or of making a house into a home (to borrow an illustration from Walton). In order to prove this point Walton, once again, provides an overwhelming list of references that demonstrate his point. This chapter finishes with an explanation of the role of Genesis 1:1. In chapter 4 Walton seeks to show that the creation story of Genesis 1 does not begin with nothing but God, but, rather, with God and something that was formless and void (shapeless and empty). After examining the meaning of these words he shows how this description is paralleled in other ancient cosmological origins stories, and how this description should be understood. He concludes that "cosmic creation in the ancient world was not viewed primarily as a process by which matter was brought into being, but as a process by which functions, roles, order, jurisdiction, organization and stability were established. (p. 52)" In chapter 5 Walton proceeds to explain what is being explained in days one, two and three. He explains that the purpose of these days is to explain that God created the basis for time, the basis for weather, and the basis for food. We should, of course, when we read "created the basis for" not understand the creation ex nihilo of those things which are the basis for these things, but, rather, the putting into place of that by which these things are possible. Thus, we might think of the clockmaker putting together the pieces of a clock (that exist already) so that the clock can be used to tell time; or a farmer who spreads manure and plants and water seeds, so that food can grow.

             In chapter 6 Walton explains the purpose of days four, five and six, as the putting into place of those things that would serve him in his cosmic temple, and the assigning of their tasks. We can think of the installing of light fixtures in a house with an automatic movement sensor; getting a guard dog; and bringing in workers to help around the house. A major part of this chapter is his explanation of what humans are, what they are made of (according to Genesis), and their purpose in the cosmic temple. In chapter 7 Walton explains the purpose of chapter 7, which is the day on which God rested. He notes that this day always seems difficult to explain when we interpret Genesis as an account of the material origins of the universe. On the other hand, for an ancient reader, Walton explains, this day is the key day of the chapter. Day 7, for the ancient reader, is the highlight because it is the day when God entered his temple. So, "rest" for God, is not a question of ceasing to work, but of beginning to work in a recently prepared workspace. Days 1 -6 could be considered as the preparation of the workspace, putting things in their appropriate places; Day 7 is when true work starts. This brings us to chapter 8 in which Walton is now able to argue coherently for the claim that the cosmos is the temple of God. He begins by providing us with other examples from the ancient world, and then goes on to explain how the temple of Israel portrays the cosmic temple of God. At the end of the chapter he states, "Genesis 1 can now be seen as a creation account focusing on the cosmos as a temple. It is describing the creation of the cosmic temple with all of its functions and with God dwelling in its midst. This is what makes day seven so significant, because without God taking up his dwelling in its midst, the (cosmic) temple does not exist. (p. 83)" This last statement, for a philosopher such as myself, seems obviously false. However, when Walton says that the temple doesn't exist, what he means is that, though the building may be built, though all of the furniture, fixtures, artifacts, and priests may be on hand, unless God is in the temple, the building is not a true temple; it is, rather, just an empty building in which some false religion may be practiced. Walton is claiming that what makes a temple to Be a temple is the presence of God within it.

            In chapter 9 Walton continues to defend his interpretation of Genesis 1 by noting other elements of this first chapter that may be linked to the inauguration of a temple. He concludes by noting that, if his interpretation of Genesis 1 is the right interpretation then the entire debate concerning whether God created ex nihilo in 7 literal days, or whether he created ex nihilo in 7 long periods of time is wrong-headed. It is an argument about something that is not even found in the text. In chapter 10 Walton argues that Genesis 1 does not discuss the material origins of the universe. His primary contention in this chapter is that "viewing Genesis 1 as an account of functional origins of the cosmos as a temple does not in any way suggest or imply that God was uninvolved in material origins--it only contends that Genesis 1 is not that story.(p. 95)" In this chapter Walton also takes the time to consider whether or not his interpretation is invalidated by other parts of scripture, and provides an interesting discussion of what is meant by the claim of Romans 5:12. In chapter 11 Walton claims that his interpretation of Genesis is, of all the possible interpretations, the interpretation that is the closest to how the text was meant to be understood. This chapter includes a discussion of how the "concordist" method of interpretation twists the meaning of the texts and reads modern science into the text.

            In chapter 12 Walton takes on other interpretations of Genesis 1 and shows why they fail to do justice to the text. In chapter 13 Walton once again tries to take his discussion out of the text of the Old Testament and into philosophy. He seeks to "draw some distinctions at the metaphysical level that will seek to probe some of the philosophical questions and reality outside of the material realm. (p. 113)" He provides an interesting analogy for explaining how God acts in this world in every event, and how everything that happens is able to maintain its own causality. However, the rest of the discussion is notably shallow. This chapter was, in my view, unnecessary, and more of a hindrance than a help to this book, due to its lack of philosophical precision. In chapter 14 Walton discusses how God is both creator and sustainer of everything that exists. He warns us against two extremes of Deism and constant creation. I'm not sure what this chapter contributed to the rest of the book. In chapters 15 and 16 Walton discusses how his view of Genesis 1 impacts the current debate concerning origins. In chapter 17 Walton argues that our theological position is stronger if we accept his view than if we don't. Finally, in chapter 18 Walton argues that if his view of Genesis is true, then the war between the creationist ideology and extreme evolutionist ideology, to gain the classroom is misguided. The book finishes with a summary of the primary argument, and a section of frequently asked questions concerning his theory.

            This book is primarily, except for a few (in my opinion) misguided chapters, a book about how to properly interpret Genesis 1. What this means is that in order to defeat his theory one must show that he has not properly interpreted Genesis 1 and why. Attempting to demonstrate that God did indeed create the world ex nihilo will not refute his interpretation of Genesis 1, as his point is that regardless of whether or not God created the world ex nihilo, Genesis 1 is not about creation ex nihilo, but about the organizing of the material elements of the world so that it would become Gods temple. There are other parts of scripture that claim that God created all things that exist, so, Walton is not saying that God didn't create everything that exists. Walton's claims is that Genesis is not an account of how God created the material world. This is an intriguing contribution to Old Testament scholarship, and, if this interpretation holds up against scholarly critique, then it will significantly change the face of the origins debate. Indeed, if Walton's interpretation of Genesis 1 is the best way to understand Genesis 1, then the entire creationist camp (both 7 day and day-age theorists) needs to disband. I look forward to see how this theory will be accepted by other Old Testament scholars. Walton provides an intriguing argument, and does a good job of defending his interpretation of Genesis 1. My main complaints with Walton's book are not so much about his interpretation of Genesis 1 as about his philosophical claims about the relationship between science and scripture, and about various metaphysical claims. He makes a number of questionable claims which are not necessarily true, philosophically or theologically. For example, he states that "If we were to say that God's revelation corresponds to 'true science' we adopt an idea contrary to the very nature of science. (p. 15)" His use of philosophical terms such as "ontology", "existence", "create", etc. (cf. p. 20-22) are ambiguous and confusing. A further difficulty is his distinction between the function and that to which the function is given. How exactly do we distinguish between the function and the thing to which the function is given? If we do distinguish between them, then what was the function of the thing prior to receiving its function? If it didn't have a function, then what was it doing? This is where Walton's notion of teleology runs into some difficulties. In philosophy, when we discuss teleology, we are talking about that for which a thing is - the final cause. There is an important sense in which the final cause is inseparable from the thing of which it is the cause. The final cause of the uninhabited building which is meant to be a temple, regardless of whether it is inhabited by a God or not, is "temple-ness". From the moment that the ground has been cleared the structures that are being put in place are meant to be a temple. The final cause is that towards which the thing in question tends, the perfection of its nature. There are a number of other questionable claims planted throughout the book (cf. p. 60, 87, 116, 127, 152, 153, 154, 156.), which, however questionable they may be, do not necessarily affect Walton's theory concerning the proper interpretation of Genesis 1.


            All in all I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and learned quite a bit about ancient cosmology. Walton is a great scholar who presents a solid argument for his interpretation of Genesis 1. His argument would have been helped by better familiarity with the philosophical systems and claims that he introduced into the book. This book would be a great addition to a class on Genesis. Though it appears to be primarily written for lay-people, anyone who is interested in interpreting Genesis 1, in ancient cosmology, or in the debate concerning origins, will find this book both helpful and challenging.

Friday, May 16, 2014

On the Causes of Sensible Substances in Metaphysics Lambda, chs. 4-5

This is simply a preliminary thought as I work through Aristotle's thoughts. 

In Metaphysics Lambda, books 4 and 5 Aristotle examines the causes and principles of sensible substances. His discussion is a little bit confusing, but he seems to conclude that, in one sense, all sensible substances have the same principles and elements, and this by analogy, but in in another sense, all sensible substances do not have the same principles and elements.

In the first sense, all sensible substances have the same elements by analogy, in the sense that all sensible substances are composed of (what was then considered to be the elements) water, air, earth and fire. In the same way, all sensible substances have the same principles by analogy, in the sense that all sensible substances are composed of form, privation, matter, a proximate first mover (for example, man gives birth to man) and the first mover which moves all things. Therefore, since both the elements and the principles are causes of the sensible substances, therefore, all sensible substances have, by analogy, the same causes.

In a second sense, however, all sensible substances do not have the same elements, nor the same causes/principles. This is the case because every individual sensible substance is different from every other sensible substance. Therefore, the elements of one sensible substance are not the same elements of another sensible substance even if they are of the same species. Also, the principles or causes of one sensible substance are not the same principles or causes of another sensible substance, as they each are different composites of differentiated form, matter and privation, and the proximate first efficient cause (for example, man gives birth to man, horse to horse, maple tree to maple tree).


Interestingly enough, although Aristotle recognizes distinct first causes, he also seems to say, and repeat a couple of times in these chapters, that even in this strict sense in which all individual separate substances are different they all have the same first efficient mover. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

A REVIEW OF WINFRIED CORDUAN’S « IN THE BEGINNING GOD »

In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism. By Winfried Corduan. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2013. 368 pp. $19.99. ISBN 978-0-8054-4778-1.

            The idea that human religions developed, progressively, from some form of animism or polytheism into the predominant theistic religions has been the predominant view of historians and historians of religion for some time now. Evolutionary theory is applied to the development of human society and religion, and, in this way, we are told that humankind evolved from the least complicated religious views to the most complicated and developed religious views. Though the evolution of religion has been a predominant view, there have also been those who have proposed that, on the contrary, the original religion of mankind was Monotheism, and that this Monotheism was eventually corrupted, degrading into the various polytheism and animistic religions. In his recent book, “In the Beginning God”, Winfried Corduan, a well-known expert in the study of Religions, argues that the theory of an original Monotheism merits a second chance, especially since it has never really been refuted; it was just put to the side by rhetorically powerful, but philosophically unsound, critiques.  In this review we will begin by noting the purpose of the book. We will then give an overview of the content. This will be followed by our opinion concerning the relative worth of this book.

            The purpose of this book is to explain the genesis of the theory of original monotheism, its reception by those scholars who were researching the history of religion, and to contend that this theory, which has never been properly refuted, seems to be even more valid today, then it was when it was originally proposed. The book is written so that people who are unfamiliar with the study of the history of religion can understand what is at stake, and follow the discussion. However, the book will be of great interest to those who are currently involved in researching the history of religion.

            The book is presented almost like a history of the history of religions. The book advances by explaining each step in turn. The reader, in chapter 1, is introduced to the important questions that are asked by those who engage in the history of religion, as well as the terms that are used by this domain of research. Chapter 2 considers the contributions of Max Muller to the study of human religions, which developed out of his work concerning the Indo-European Languages. Muller proposed that much of Mythology came about through a confusion of and literal application of poetic language. We are introduced to his theory, his method, and the general application of his method to Sanskrit. We are then presented with Andrew Lang’s critique of Muller. In chapter 3 we are introduced to E. B. Tylor, who is used as the primary representative of a Darwinian evolutionary theory concerning the development of human religions. Corduan begins by presenting a number of questionable assumptions that Tylor (and others) uncritically accepted. We are then introduced to a number of scholars who engaged in this debate, including Adolphe Pictet (who proposed original monotheism), and some of his critics: John Muir, Otto Pfleiderer and Edmond Scherer. These sections are used as a prelude to an examination of Tylor’s work, which is explained and critiqued in the rest of the chapter. This chapter contains an interesting excursus concerning the development of a Darwinian history of socio-religious development. In chapter 4 Corduan returns to Lang, mentioned in chapter 2, in order to take a look at Lang’s rejection of his professors’, E. B. Tylor, theories, and his proposal of the possibility of an original monotheism. Lang’s work centered around the aboriginals of Australia, and Corduan takes the time to explain the important elements of Lang’s research and theories. Corduan also notes, as this chapter advances, the names and work of a number of prominent scholars whose research helped Lang. In chapter 5 Corduan continues his explanation of Andrew Lang’s research, and introduces the reader to the various responses to Lang’s theory. Corduan also takes the time to point the errors in Lang’s research, but, even more importantly, the errors in the critiques of Lang’s research. This chapter also explains the basic social structure of the Australian aboriginal groups (especially Totemism). The reader is left with the impression that the critiques of Lang’s theories did not actually affect the overall theory.

            In chapter 6 we are introduced to Wilhelm Schmidt and Fritz Graebner. These scholars developed the Cultural-historical method of Ethnology, and in chapter 6 Corduan explains the important elements of their method, discusses elements which contribute to cultural migrations, and considers the elements that allow us to notice the possibility of interaction between cultures. In chapter 7 Corduan explains the results of the cultural-historical method. In this chapter Corduan considers a number of aboriginal groups in North America and shows how the cultural-historical method, when applied to these groups in North America, is able to give testable and falsifiable results (which, however, seem to be confirmed by the work of ethnologists and anthropologists). In chapter 8 Corduan considers the reception of Schmidt’s work by noting how other scholars interacted with it. Corduan explains the most important critiques, and notes how none of them affect the overall method, but, rather, help to refine the results; rendering the method even more useful. One is left with the notion that most of the people who actually interacted with Schmidt and Graebner never even took the time to read and study their theory.

            In chapter 9 Corduan explains the theories of Mircea Eliade, Rudolf Otto and Émile Durkheim, showing how, rather than engage the question of the historical origin of human religions, these scholars preferred to remove all question of historicity, and concentrate on the psychological or phenomenological origins of religion. These authors created confusion by using the term “origin” in a psychological and non-historical (temporal) manner. Corduan takes the time to critique their views. In chapter 10 Corduan, rather than concentrating on those cultures that seem to be the most primitive (meaning closest to the original human culture), turns to the cultures of the great civilizations (Egypt, China, etc.). He seeks to discover whether it is possible, or not, to find, at the base of these polytheistic religions, a core of monotheism. Corduan does not make any absolute claims, but argues, providing evidence as needed, that there does indeed seem to be a monotheistic core in these religions. The concluding chapter is an overview of what has been discovered, a discussion of the utility of these discoveries for Christian Apologetics, as well as a caution concerning the use of these conclusions.


            Winfried Corduan presents a compelling case for the claim that the theory of original monotheism must be put back on the table. In fact, he presents a convincing argument that the theory of original monotheism was never removed from the table, just ignored by those who claimed to be working in that domain. As a relative beginner in this domain of research I found this book extremely interesting. The arguments presented by Corduan were well presented, and the evidence was easy to understand. I would have suspected that this type of book would have been difficult to follow, as I am unfamiliar with the history of this domain of research, but, the opposite was, in fact, the case. Corduan takes the time to explain the terms properly, to outline the arguments, and to introduce the important people who worked in this area of research. Corduan has presented the theory in an easy to understand and coherent manner. This book will hopefully stimulate renewed interest in the theory of original monotheism, and will hopefully send many scholars back to workshop in order to truly give this theory a critical consideration. I highly recommend this book.