Lawrence Krauss on “Nothing”

While not typ­i­cally clas­si­fied as one of the “four horse­men” of the New Athe­ist move­ment, Canadian-​​born the­o­ret­i­cal physi­cist, out­spo­ken skep­tic, and critic of reli­gion Lawrence Krauss is one of the few liv­ing physi­cist referred to by Sci­en­tific Amer­i­can as a “pub­lic intel­lec­tual”, and he is the only physi­cist to have received awards from all three major U.S. physics soci­eties: the Amer­i­can Phys­i­cal Soci­ety, the Amer­i­can Asso­ci­a­tion of Physics Teach­ers, and the Amer­i­can Insti­tute of Physics. He earned his PhD from MIT in 1982 and has been active ever since, gar­ner­ing acclaim from schol­ars and laypeo­ple alike. He was one of the first to sug­gest the notion of dark energy, served on Barack Obama’s cam­paign sci­ence pol­icy com­mit­tee, and was even inter­viewed by NPR.

In an inter­view, audio excerpts from which can be found in the Feb­ru­ary 23rd episode of the pod­cast “Rea­son­able Faith”, Krauss belies a fun­da­men­tal philo­soph­i­cal error con­cern­ing a premise on which the the­sis of his recent book hangs:

I’m amused that peo­ple keep redefin­ing their def­i­n­i­tion of “noth­ing” when­ever I point out that noth­ing can cre­ate some­thing. But they always want to sort of define noth­ing as “that which some­thing can never come from”. And that’s sort of [unin­tel­li­gi­ble] seman­ti­cally. I think if you’d asked philoso­phers years ago “what is noth­ing?” they’d say “empty space noth­ing­ness”. But then when you show that that can cre­ate some­thing you’d say “well that’s not really ‘noth­ing’, cause there’s—cause space exists”. And then I could show that while maybe the laws of physics that we now under­stand tell us that even space itself could be cre­ated from noth­ing. And they’d say “well that’s not ‘noth­ing’ because the laws, the poten­tial for exis­tence, is there”. And then I could argue, based on mul­ti­verse ideas, that even maybe the laws of physics arrived spon­ta­neously. And more­over I think it’s kind of silly to say the poten­tial for exis­tence is dif­fer­ent than noth­ing, that that’s the same as exis­tence. If there’s no poten­tial for exis­tence, then not even a cre­ator can cre­ate it, I assume. And more­over, as I argue in the book a lit­tle graph­i­cally, I think, the poten­tial for exis­tence is very dif­fer­ent than exis­tence. I mean as I point out the fact that I walk near a woman implies the poten­tial for cre­at­ing life, but it’s very dif­fer­ent than cre­at­ing it.

Krauss’ book claims to answer a ques­tion that Leib­niz noto­ri­ously posed as the basis of a philo­soph­i­cally tech­ni­cal argu­ment for the exis­tence of God from con­tin­gency, “why is there some­thing rather than noth­ing?”. Obvi­ously a crit­i­cal issue to clar­ify when dis­cussing “noth­ing” is the def­i­n­i­tion of “noth­ing”. Krauss uncon­ven­tion­ally uses “noth­ing” to refer to the quan­tum vac­uum instead of the object of uni­ver­sal nega­tion, and in doing so fails to even address Leibniz’s argu­ment, which uses “noth­ing” conventionally.

What piques my inter­est in this seg­ment in par­tic­u­lar is the bear­ing that the de re/​de dicto dis­tinc­tion has on the dis­course. Krauss acts out a dia­logue in which “philoso­phers years ago” point osten­si­bly to “empty space” in response to the ques­tion “what is noth­ing?”. All his­tor­i­cal con­tentions aside, if Philoso­phers Years Ago were to engage such a dia­logue using the con­ven­tional def­i­n­i­tion of “noth­ing” as the object of uni­ver­sal nega­tion (“not any­thing”), then their point­ing to empty space as an exam­ple of “noth­ing” would indi­cate the belief that there is not any­thing in empty space. How­ever, Krauss would have us take their osten­ta­tion to mean that “empty space” (and what­ever it is found to be or to con­tain) is “noth­ing” by def­i­n­i­tion. Then he shows that empty space is, or con­tains, vac­uum energy such that, given his def­i­n­i­tion of “noth­ing” as “empty space”, he becomes war­ranted in using “noth­ing” to refer to “vac­uum energy”. If he suc­cess­fully shows that vac­uum energy can give rise to the uni­verse as we know it, then he can claim to have shown how the uni­verse could have arisen from “noth­ing”. In fact one of the chap­ters in his book is enti­tled “Noth­ing is Some­thing”, and in his inter­view with NPR he says,

…both noth­ing and some­thing are sci­en­tific con­cepts, and our dis­cov­er­ies over the past 30 years have com­pletely changed what we mean by nothing.

In par­tic­u­lar, noth­ing is unsta­ble. Noth­ing can cre­ate some­thing all the time due to the laws of quan­tum mechan­ics, and it’s — it’s fas­ci­nat­ingly interesting…

…Empty space is a boil­ing, bub­bling brew of vir­tual particles…

So you can see that he never even intends to address why there is some­thing rather than there not being any­thing, nor does he attempt to explain how some­thing can arise with­out any­thing. He merely attempts to show how things like plan­e­tary bod­ies might be able to arise from a state of affairs in which there is a “bub­bling stew of vir­tual par­ti­cles” that he refers to by the word “noth­ing”. If those Philoso­phers Years Ago whom Krauss depicts as point­ing to empty space as an exam­ple of “noth­ing” used “noth­ing” to mean “not any­thing” as opposed to “vac­uum energy”, they would cease point­ing to empty space as an exam­ple of “noth­ing” upon being shown that it is, or con­tains, a par­tic­u­lar kind of energy, and would dis­pute Krauss’ iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the two. This would not be a rede­f­i­n­i­tion of the word “noth­ing”, but would sim­ply reflect a new under­stand­ing of “empty space” as “vac­uum energy”, which would mean that it is no longer an exam­ple of “nothing”.

If we were to tem­porar­ily adopt Krauss’ own rede­f­i­n­i­tion of “noth­ing” and tem­porar­ily grant the suc­cess of his attempt to show that vac­uum energy could give rise to the uni­verse as we know it, we could sim­ply restate Leibniz’s ques­tion as “why is there some­thing rather than there not being any­thing at all?” or “why was there vac­uum energy rather than there not being any­thing?”, or even “why was there ‘noth­ing’ rather than there not being any­thing?”. To my knowl­edge there is no doc­u­mented attempt by Krauss to answer this question.

In addi­tion to improp­erly han­dling de re/​de dicto dis­tinc­tions by rigidly defin­ing “noth­ing” as “empty space and what­ever it is found to con­tain” (which, by the way, also treads on what we con­ven­tion­ally mean by “empty”; in fact the NPR inter­viewer asks “…empty space is really not empty, cor­rect?”, Krauss’ answer to which is “That’s exactly right. Empty space is a boil­ing, bub­bling brew of vir­tual par­ti­cles…”), Krauss fails to rec­og­nize dis­tinc­tions in uses of the term “poten­tial”. He says,

I think it’s kind of silly to say the poten­tial for exis­tence is dif­fer­ent than noth­ing, that that’s the same as exis­tence. If there’s no poten­tial for exis­tence, then not even a cre­ator can create…

If the poten­tial for exis­tence is some­thing, and it exists, then some­thing exists. If the poten­tial for exis­tence is some­thing, and it does not exist, then there is not a poten­tial for exis­tence. If the poten­tial for exis­tence is not any­thing, then there is no ques­tion that it does not exist, and there­fore there is not a poten­tial for exis­tence. Con­tra Krauss, in none of the three states of affairs is there simul­ta­ne­ously a poten­tial for exis­tence and nothing.

It may be reel­ing to think of the poten­tial for exis­tence as some­thing that exists, but that is only because of the self-​​reference latent in the state­ment, and the con­fu­sion may be mit­i­gated by look­ing at the state­ment from its other side. If one sees that every actu­al­ity indi­cates its own poten­tial­ity, the state­ment becomes obvi­ous. That is, if some­thing exists then it must be pos­si­ble that it exists! If the poten­tial for exis­tence is some­thing, and it exists, then there­fore some­thing exists. If some­thing exists, then it must be pos­si­ble for some­thing to exist.

The poten­tial for exis­tence, if it exists, exists.

What Krauss may actu­ally be try­ing to argue is that the exis­tence of a meta­phys­i­cal poten­tial for the exis­tence of phys­i­cal objects is not equiv­a­lent to the exis­tence of phys­i­cal objects, and that if there were not a meta­phys­i­cal poten­tial for the exis­tence of phys­i­cal objects, then it would not even be pos­si­ble for an omnipo­tent being to cre­ate phys­i­cal objects. This is coher­ent, how­ever I think it obvi­ously unprob­lem­atic for the the­ist. He seems to imply that the impli­ca­tion of such state­ments is that both the­ists and skep­tics must admit that there is a poten­tial for exis­tence, and that a poten­tial for exis­tence is all he needs to demon­strate the pos­si­bil­ity of a uni­verse aris­ing “from noth­ing” and with­out any agent of change. This later state­ment is, inde­pen­dent of its uncon­ven­tional use of “noth­ing” and mutual exclu­siv­ity with the Prin­ci­ple of Suf­fi­cient Rea­son, obvi­ously not implied by its antecedents.

On van Inwagen’s View of Chance

To a book appar­ently enti­tled “Chance, Evil, and Modal Skep­ti­cism”, Peter van Inwa­gen con­tributes a chap­ter called “The Place of Chance in a World Sus­tained by God”. (I don’t have the bib­li­o­graphic infor­ma­tion; I only have a PDF that Derek von Barandy emailed me in response to this thread, though the piece is appar­ently reprinted from this book.)

What fol­lows is my sum­mary and assess­ment of the chapter.

van Inwa­gen sketches a pic­ture of the Cre­ated uni­verse in which par­ti­cles, whose con­tin­ual exis­tence and causal pow­ers are sus­tained by God, are sus­pended in the void. On this view, a “mir­a­cle” occurs when God tem­porar­ily diverges from His typ­i­cal activ­ity. One who holds a more com­plex pic­ture of the uni­verse, physics, and divine prov­i­dence can con­sider van Inwagen’s sug­ges­tions by com­pli­cat­ing the model sketched of the uni­verse as needed.

He says some­thing hap­pens by “chance” if it is with­out pur­pose or sig­nif­i­cance, not part of anyone’s plan, and might very well not have been. If some­one asks why an event occurred, if it occurred by chance then the cor­rect answer is “There is no rea­son or expla­na­tion; it just hap­pened.” (p. 51). This is not to say that there is no expla­na­tion of any kind (eg. nec­es­sary antecedent con­di­tions or per­haps even a suf­fi­cient cause), but only that it serves no end (I take this to mean some­thing like that it wasn’t a nec­es­sary con­di­tion for some future good). van Inwa­gen describes a sit­u­a­tion in which a man loses his wife to a car acci­dent and asks “why?”—it would be cruel to explain the car acci­dent to him in depth. He is ask­ing about the pur­pose, not the cause, of the accident.

Peter van Inwa­gen says there might not be a spe­cific one.

How­ever, there is most cer­tainly a gen­eral expla­na­tion. On van Inwagen’s view God is in full con­trol. This means that God cre­ated every­thing and sus­tains its exis­tence and causal pow­ers. He knows every­thing in advance and even chooses to devi­ate from His typ­i­cal sus­tain­ing activ­i­ties, some­times endow­ing par­ti­cles and struc­tures with dif­fer­ent causal pow­ers in order to sub­vert the course of his­tory for His own pur­poses. God has a pur­pose, or pur­poses, on this view, and such will be accomplished.

He says a lit­tle more about God’s “plan”. He defines God’s plan as the sum of His decrees. His decrees are those things He directly causes and the things nec­es­sar­ily entailed by those things He directly causes. Knowl­edge of an event alone, even if held in advance, does not imply that such an event is part of God’s plan. van Inwa­gen gives the exam­ple of lies. God may have known in advance that peo­ple would tell lies, but those lies them­selves may not have been part of His plan. There may be decrees that God issues in reac­tion to events He did not decree (eg. the mirac­u­lous heal­ing of a knife wound that itself wasn’t decreed by God). Reac­tive decrees are not part of God’s “plan” either.

If this lan­guage makes you uncom­fort­able, just sup­ply your own terms for the dif­fer­ent modes of decree. For exam­ple, call God’s “plan” His “per­fect will”, and those things that occur out­side of His plan His “per­mis­sive will”, and come up with a name for His reac­tive decrees, etc.

van Inwa­gen offers three sources of chance: the free will of ratio­nal crea­tures, nat­ural inde­ter­min­ism, and the ini­tial state of the cre­ated world.

Where God decrees (not com­mands or pre­scribes, but causes) a human’s behav­ior, that behav­ior is not free. How­ever, not all behav­iors are decreed by God. There are some cre­ated things whom God cre­ated with causal pow­ers of a sort that enable them to do things not strictly entailed by God’s decrees (although antecedent con­di­tions nec­es­sary for these behav­iors are sup­plied by God, the pow­ers them­selves are cre­ated by God and given to the crea­tures, and the results of these choices are known in advance by God). Freely made deci­sions of this sort are not part of God’s “plan”, as we are defin­ing God’s plan as the sum of His decrees and these deci­sions are made freely of His decrees. If free deci­sions of this sort are ever made in a way that they are not a part of any human’s plan either, then they are said to be the result of “chance”, where “chance” is some occur­rence that was not designed to serve anybody’s ends.

Next the author con­sid­ers nat­ural inde­ter­min­ism. This is the doc­trine that God’s decrees con­cern­ing par­ti­cles are not strict—they are loose and do not always suf­fi­ciently deter­mine exact out­comes. This is of course, within God’s con­trol as well and if it is the case it must only be by God’s per­mis­sion. He would be able to deter­mine with max­i­mal speci­ficity the exact behav­ior of every par­ti­cle if He so chose. But on this view, He doesn’t. He usu­ally let’s things like, per­haps, quan­tum events occur with prob­a­bil­ity (within bounds He deter­mines). Accord­ing to this pic­ture of prov­i­den­tial quan­tum mechan­ics, chance events occur where they are not decreed by God or strictly entailed by His decrees.

Finally van Inwa­gen con­sid­ers the ini­tial state of things. This func­tions sim­i­larly to nat­ural inde­ter­min­ism, as the pic­ture of Cre­ation painted is one of inde­ter­min­ism. God would decree some­thing like “let X or Y be”, and then as a result either X or Y would be where God did not spec­ify which. On this view then, He may have spec­i­fied a great num­ber of qual­i­ties when Cre­at­ing, but left plenty up to chance.

He also argues that if God had no good rea­son for choos­ing between X and Y (say, whether thus and such a neb­ula were pur­ple as opposed to pink, or whether there were one addi­tional olive tree in the Gar­den, etc.—use your imag­i­na­tion), and yet God chose, then such would be an arbi­trary decision—a deci­sion made with­out suf­fi­cient rea­son. Rather he prefers to think that God would issue decrees for suf­fi­cient rea­sons and that some would be loose and allow chance to play a part in their out­comes. For exam­ple, God would have suf­fi­cient rea­sons for cre­at­ing the Gar­den with a numer­i­cal range of trees, but not really care about the exact number.

What does van Inwa­gen get out of this view? For one, it might be the case that God has good rea­son for per­mit­ting evil, but that par­tic­u­lar evils occur with­out spe­cific rea­son. To be clear, there are prob­a­bly many spe­cific evils that God, in reac­tion to the Fall and sub­se­quent events out­side His decree although not out­side His knowl­edge and per­mis­sion, orches­trated in order to accom­plish future goods. The trial and cru­ci­fix­ion of Jesus of Nazareth comes to mind. Addi­tion­ally this piece does not deny that God is capa­ble of mirac­u­lous “inter­ven­tion” (remem­ber that on this view the exis­tence and causal pow­ers of every par­ti­cle are due to God’s activ­ity so it’s not as if He ever needs to “break” a phys­i­cal law or some­thing like that, only alter His own sus­tain­ing and empow­er­ing behav­ior). So God could pre­vent many evils that occur by chance. And He likely does.

van Inwa­gen briefly men­tions Cain’s mur­der­ing of Abel and says that per­haps God had rea­son to allow Cain the free­dom to do evil, and while He knew about the mur­der in advance and had the power to stop it, did not directly cause it and the fact that it was a mur­der instead of, say, a betrayal of another sort—a lie or a non-​​fatal bru­tal­ity, etc.—was entirely due to chance. This could be because Cain had no spe­cific ends which the mur­der served, which is not to deny that he had moti­va­tions for the mur­der, only that the mur­der served no pur­pose. If you like you can con­sider details about the mur­der as occur­ring by chance, like the fact that it occurred at thus and such a time or was accom­plished by stran­gling instead of stab­bing or vice versa, etc. The author also briefly men­tions that for some Chris­tians, an early death is itself not nec­es­sar­ily a misfortune.

So God may have good rea­sons for allow­ing evil, but not for allow­ing this or that par­tic­u­lar evil.

The piece is obvi­ously much more elab­o­rate than my review of it, and many inter­est­ing appli­ca­tions of this view are con­sid­ered that I do not have room to treat here. The read­ing through of the author’s con­sid­er­a­tions and illus­tra­tions is an expe­ri­ence that itself seems to do some per­sua­sive work on the reader, and so if you find that you are get­ting emo­tion­ally wound up, I rec­om­mend read­ing it for your­self (leave a com­ment and I will email you the PDF).

In the mean­time, what should I say by way of assess­ment? First, I like what we get out of the view. Aside from briefly sketch­ing a model of divine prov­i­dence that pre­serves free will within the non-​​negotiables of divine omnipo­tence and omni­science, van Inwa­gen carves out room for chance. This in turn frees us from hav­ing to spec­u­late as to the pos­si­ble good that could come out of each and every instance of evil or pos­si­ble evil, some of which are quite frankly very bizarre, grotesque, and deeply hor­ri­fy­ing. This often results in some very twisted, far-​​out theod­i­cies, both on the schol­arly level and in pop the­ol­ogy. Some­times bad things seem to just hap­pen for no good rea­son. Call­ing tragedy “tragedy” brings a cer­tain satisfaction.

And some­times good things hap­pen with­out pur­pose too—or equally good options are given to us by God along with the choice to pick between them. God prob­a­bly did not pick out your lip­stick this morn­ing and He may not care whether my wife and I try to get preg­nant this month or next year. This is not to deny that God cares about you and me, is a good lis­tener, or is inti­mately involved in our lives just as the fact that I do not care whether my son col­ors with the blue or red marker does not indi­cate that I do not care about him or his activ­i­ties or that I won’t be engaged in the deci­sion if he wants me to be.

That said, a num­ber of crit­i­cisms arise in response to var­i­ous aspects of this piece. Let’s start with the less sig­nif­i­cant and work our way up. The orig­i­nal moti­va­tion for read­ing this piece was to hear van Inwagen’s case for nat­ural inde­ter­mi­nacy. What he does say about it, how­ever, isn’t in its defense. He describes it but does not give any rea­sons to think it exists. Nor does he treat objec­tions to it. Surely his project can suc­ceed with­out it, but for what it’s worth, inso­far as he treats it in this par­tic­u­lar piece, he fails to give any good rea­sons for affirm­ing it.

To me, any inde­ter­mi­nacy under­mines the Prin­ci­ple of Suf­fi­cient Rea­son and results in an incom­pre­hen­si­ble meta­physic that destroys the empir­i­cal sci­ences. This would include inde­ter­mi­nacy in the Cre­ative decrees as well. If God decreed some­thing like “let X or Y be” with­out spec­i­fy­ing which and thereby leav­ing the out­come to chance, then what pos­si­ble force would deter­mine the out­come? Surely van Inwa­gen would want to deny that “chance” is any sort of force inde­pen­dent of God, for such would under­mine ase­ity and the con­tin­gency of every­thing on God’s char­ac­ter and deci­sions. But with­out a force exter­nal to the decree of God, what could pos­si­ble sup­ply the result of an indef­i­nite decree?

Unlike the author, I would pre­fer to think of God as hav­ing the abil­ity to make arbi­trary deci­sions. This would ground the out­come of a divine decree in the cre­ative will of God every time, regard­less of whether He had good rea­son for it. It strikes me as far and away more plau­si­ble that every phe­nom­e­non would have a suf­fi­cient rea­son, either in antecedent con­di­tions which suf­fi­ciently deter­mine it, or in a free agent. That’s exactly what agency is—the abil­ity to determine.

How can some­thing, other than agency itself, not be determined?

This brings me to free will. At the very least God has free will and is capa­ble of mak­ing uncaused deci­sions. His char­ac­ter sets the bounds of His deci­sions, but to say that every deci­sion God makes is a nec­es­sary and inescapable result of His char­ac­ter makes God Him­self a very bizarre piece of meta­phys­i­cal machin­ery with­out any per­son­al­ity or cre­ativ­ity. So, if it is the case that God’s will is free then surely there is room for “chance” in the world, where “chance” describes those par­tic­u­lars that are not absolutely nec­es­sary for God’s pur­poses. I think this sal­vages the ini­tial state of things as a source of chance after doubt­ing as much due to the rejec­tion of all indeterminacy.

Next, I have come to believe that humans have free will not unlike God, although this is less obvi­ous than the free­dom of God’s own will. In which case such would be another poten­tial source of chance. Why did I choose the cin­na­mon oat­meal packet this morn­ing instead of the straw­berry one? I just did.

Why did my friend cheat on her hus­band? She just did. The­o­ret­i­cally any­thing you can say by way of explanation—she was lonely because her hus­band was on a busi­ness trip, she had daddy issues, etc. would only give con­text to the sit­u­a­tion. Another woman in the same posi­tion could have done oth­er­wise. She could have done oth­er­wise. But she abused her free will; there’s noth­ing else behind that.

When my friend lost his job because of gen­uine libel against him and couldn’t find a job despite apply­ing for lit­er­ally hun­dreds of them, and he and his wife strug­gled to acquire food and gas money, I con­soled him with the phrase “that sucks”, not “every­thing hap­pens for a reason”.

Next, while I reject nat­ural inde­ter­mi­nacy, there seems to be the pos­si­bil­ity that some nat­ural evils, such as global warm­ing, the evo­lu­tion of rabies and HIV, the extinc­tion of wild salmon, the con­t­a­m­i­na­tion of North Ida­hoan water sources by mer­cury and other met­als, etc. may be the result of the aggre­gate of human actions, includ­ing actions that served nobody’s ends or of unin­ten­tional byprod­ucts of actions that served no ends, self­ish ends, or even well-​​intended ends. In this way many nat­ural evils may be by “chance”, although not for the rea­sons van Inwa­gen suggests.

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the bat­tle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intel­li­gent, nor favor to those with knowl­edge, but time and chance hap­pen to them all. For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the chil­dren of man are snared at an evil time, when it sud­denly falls upon them.

–Eccle­si­asts 9:11–12

That said, we are sim­ply not in a posi­tion to know what God’s ends are and how they may be served by par­tic­u­lar evils. While spec­u­lat­ing about how this or that evil might serve God’s pur­poses we are very likely peer­ing beyond our purview of cos­mic his­tory. This seems to be equally a prob­lem for van Inwa­gen as for the per­son advanc­ing a bizarre, spec­u­la­tive theodicy.

There­fore I am most open to the fol­low­ing as pos­si­ble loci of chance:

1. The ini­tial state of things, but due to the like­li­hood of there hav­ing been arbi­trary deci­sions made on God’s part and not due to any indef­i­nite­ness in His decrees.

2. Freely made deci­sions (crea­turely and divine).

3. Some or per­haps all “nat­ural” evils, but due to the like­li­hood that they are some­how the result of the free actions of men and angels and not due to any inde­ter­mi­nacy in physics.

How­ever —and this may be the bot­tom line for me—I do think van Inwagen’s pro­posal might under­mine divine benev­o­lence on the basis of the fact on van Inwagen’s view, some evils occur that serve no pur­pose, which God could have pre­vented. So, if God were benev­o­lent and max­i­mally mer­ci­ful, wouldn’t He want to pre­vent those evils that occur that do not in some way ulti­mately serve His ends? Per­haps if we grant that God is max­i­mally good and that there are evils that do not seem to serve His pur­poses, which He is able to pre­vent, we could con­clude that it is more likely that even such evils, which seem triv­ial or point­less to us, do in fact have some ulti­mate cos­mic rea­son for being permitted.

So if this is cor­rect, then there would be room for chance in amoral mat­ters, and per­haps even in the par­tic­u­lars of cer­tain evils, but every instance of evil, as well as its sever­ity, has a pur­pose, because God would not let any ounce of evil go to waste, and squeezes every bit of glory out of it for Him­self, and of good­ness for His sheep, that He pos­si­bly can.

Maybe, just maybe, every­thing does hap­pen for a reason.

More Work on Premise 1 of the Kalam

In an attempt to rebut my orig­i­nal straw man sus­pi­cion I recently thought: Per­haps Craig isn’t actu­ally mis­rep­re­sent­ing the objector’s posi­tion so much as he is doing exactly what I said is required: argu­ing that the denial of premise 1 entails the affir­ma­tion that every­thing comes into being every­where at every moment. Per­haps the rea­son­ing goes some­thing like this: To admit that there is a reason—any rea­son whatsoever—as to why every­thing pos­si­ble doesn’t come into being at every point in space and at every moment in time—to say that there is any gov­ern­ing or reg­u­lat­ing fac­tor in the com­ing into being of objects—is to grant the first premise already. Thus, to deny the first premise is to deny that there is any rhyme or rea­son to the com­ing into being of objects.

Would such an argu­ment con­flate the Aris­totelian “effi­cient cause” with the Leib­niz­ian “suf­fi­cient rea­son”? If it would, would it there­fore be ille­git­i­mate to use in con­text of the Kalam, which only argues for the exis­tence of God based on the neces­sity for the uni­verse to have an effi­cient cause based on its past fini­tude, and not on the basis of the neces­sity of the uni­verse to have a suf­fi­cient rea­son for its exis­tence, regard­less of whether it is past-​​eternal?

Fur­ther­more, does it present a false dichotomy? Per­haps the choice isn’t between the affir­ma­tion that every­thing that begins to exist has a cause and the affir­ma­tion that every­thing comes into being every­where at every moment. Per­haps there is some­thing that gov­erns the com­ing into being of objects such that every­thing except the uni­verse that comes into being has a cause. Why would the uni­verse be exempt? Per­haps due to the nature of the uni­verse as a whole that is so rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent from every­thing inside it. The uni­verse itself is not made out of mat­ter and energy like every­thing inside of it. Maybe the uni­verse itself—the very fab­ric of space and time—is just the sort of thing that could come into being out of noth­ing under the right conditions—namely, the con­di­tions that were present with­out (can’t say “before”!) the uni­verse: noth­ing­ness (not even a vacuum).

This view would only leave it inex­plic­a­ble why the uni­verse came into being “when” it did (darn those inescapably tem­po­ral words). But it wouldn’t leave it inex­plic­a­ble why every­thing doesn’t come into being at every moment every­where within the universe.

Of course, there are at least two prob­lems with such a view. One would be that it requires posit­ing this strange tran­scen­dent law that makes it such that the uni­verse could come into being uncaused out of noth­ing but that noth­ing else could, which is basi­cally self-​​refuting. If the law existed, on this view, the uni­verse couldn’t coher­ently be held to have come into being truly out of noth­ing. Whoops.

[Edit: This might be wrong. The objec­tor need not affirm that the uni­verse came into being uncaused out of noth­ing, but only that it came onto being uncaused. The view might still be vul­ner­a­ble to the LCA, and it would be grotesque and ad hoc, but it seems sur­pris­ingly resilient against the KCA’s the­is­tic conclusions.]

The other prob­lem with this view would be that the Kalam is eas­ily mod­i­fied to avoid it. All the defender of the Kalam needs to do is reword the argu­ment to be based on the exis­tence of mat­ter and energy within the uni­verse. If one grants for the sake of argu­ment that the uni­verse came into being uncaused out of noth­ing, the things within the uni­verse that come into being must be held to have causes. There­fore the Kalam could be re-​​worded:

1. Every­thing [within the uni­verse] that begins to exist has a cause.
2. [Every­thing within] the uni­verse began to exist.
3. There­fore, [every­thing within] the uni­verse has a cause.

The chain of cau­sa­tion of the exis­tence of things within the uni­verse could not regress infi­nitely and thus the need to posit some entity that is not within the uni­verse and that is not made out of the things out of which every­thing in the uni­verse is made out of, arises once again.

[Edit: This mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the argu­ment immu­nizes it against the objec­tion that empir­i­cal argu­ments in favor of premise 1 com­mit the fal­lacy of com­po­si­tion by infer­ring some­thing to be true of the whole uni­verse based on what is true of its parts, and it strength­ens it so that it goes through even against the posi­tion that every­thing, except the uni­verse itself, that comes into exis­tence has a cause.

How­ever, it leaves the Kalam vul­ner­a­ble to objec­tions claim­ing that cer­tain argu­ments in favor of premise 1 con­flate cau­sa­tion out of some­thing with cau­sa­tion out of noth­ing. In response to this objec­tion, I’ve argued in the past that cau­sa­tion out of noth­ing is much more intense than cau­sa­tion out of some­thing and that the for­mer is at least as involved as the lat­ter (requir­ing not just an account of the mate­r­ial cause, but of the effi­cient causes as well). There­fore the fact that noth­ing comes into being uncaused even out of pre­ex­ist­ing mate­r­ial just goes to show that noth­ing could come into being uncaused out of noth­ing at all.]

Deity of Christ, Part 6: The Very One

This is the sixth part in a series on apolo­get­ics to Jehovah’s Wit­nesses. This series focuses on defend­ing the deity of Christ to Jehovah’s Wit­nesses who come knock­ing at the door say­ing oth­er­wise. In the pre­vi­ous post I intro­duced a chal­lenge: The Watch­tower believes that use of the name “Jeho­vah” is the only way to cer­tainly iden­tify the one true God. Some­how they need to be shown that Jesus is Jeho­vah. But how can that be done when “Jeho­vah” is the translit­er­a­tion of four Hebrew let­ters while what is com­monly styled the “New Tes­ta­ment” is all in Greek? On page 11 of their King­dom Inter­lin­ear Trans­la­tion (1985) the Watch­tower tell us about at least one way this could be done (brack­ets mine):

…what is the mod­ern trans­la­tor to do? Is he jus­ti­fied or autho­rized in enter­ing the divine name, Jeho­vah, into a trans­la­tion of the Chris­t­ian Greek Scrip­tures? In the LXX [Sep­tu­agint] the Greek words Ky’rios and Theos’ have been used to crowd out the dis­tinc­tive name of the Supreme Deity. Every com­pre­hen­sive Greek-​​English dic­tio­nary states that these two Greek words have been used as equiv­a­lents of the divine name.* Hence, the mod­ern trans­la­tor is war­ranted in using the divine name as an equiv­a­lent of those two Greek words, that is, at places where the writ­ers of the Chris­t­ian Greek Scrip­tures quote verses, pas­sages, and expres­sions from the Hebrew Scrip­tures or from the LXX where the divine name occurs.

I believe that fol­low­ing the Watchtower’s instruc­tions in this regard yields read­ings of the Chris­t­ian Greek scrip­tures that use the divine name of Jesus, and I’ve shared one exam­ple so far. Here’s another one to add to the list.

Psalm 68:16–20 (NWT):

Why do YOU, O YOU moun­tains of peaks, keep watch­ing enviously
The moun­tain that God has desired for him­self to dwell in?
Even Jeho­vah him­self will reside [there] forever.

The war char­i­ots of God are in tens of thou­sands, thou­sands over and over
again.
Jeho­vah him­self has come from Si´nai into the holy place..

You have ascended on high;
You have car­ried away captives;
You have taken gifts in the form of men,
Yes, even the stub­born ones, to reside [among them], O Jah God..

Blessed be Jeho­vah, who daily car­ries the load for us,
The [true] God of our sal­va­tion. Se´lah..

The [true] God is for us a God of sav­ing acts;
And to Jeho­vah the Sov­er­eign Lord belong the ways out from death.

Who ascended on high and car­ried away cap­tives? Eph­esians 4:7–11 (NWT) says it is Christ:

Now to each one of us unde­served kind­ness was given accord­ing to how the Christ mea­sured out the free gift. Where­fore he says: “When he ascended on high he car­ried away cap­tives; he gave gifts [in] men.” Now the expres­sion “he ascended,” what does it mean but that he also descended into the lower regions, that is, the earth? The very one that descended is also the one that ascended far above all the heav­ens, that he might give full­ness to all things.

And he gave some as apos­tles, some as prophets, some as evan­ge­liz­ers, some as shep­herds and teachers,

In most Bibles, includ­ing the NWT, the two lines that read “You ascended on high, lead­ing a host of cap­tives in your train” are tagged as Psalm 68:18. But in the Sep­tu­agint (an early Greek trans­la­tion of the Hebrew scrip­tures) accord­ing to Rahlf, they are tagged as Psalm 67:19. Here is what they look like in Rahlf’s Septuagint:

ἀνέβης εἰς ὕψος, ᾐχμαλώτευσας αἰχμαλωσίαν, ἔλαβες δόματα ἐν ἀνθρώπῳ, καὶ γὰρ ἀπειθοῦντες τοῦ κατασκηνῶσαι. κύριος ὁ θεὸς εὐλογητός,

Here is the Greek text of Eph­esians 4:8 accord­ing to West­cott and Hort (the Greek edi­tion used by the Watch­tower to make the New World Translation):

διο λεγει αναβας εις υψος ηχμαλωτευσεν αιχμαλωσιαν [και] εδωκεν δοματα τοις ανθρωποι

While there is no “κύριος” or “θεός” in the Eph­esians pas­sage that cor­re­sponds to the divine name in the Psalm, there is a per­sonal pro­noun whose ref­er­ent is Jeho­vah. In the Psalm, Jeho­vah ascends and car­ries away cap­tives, yet Paul says the very one who ascended is also the one who descended [19]! In the Psalm it is Jeho­vah who is praised for his sav­ing acts, for car­ry­ing our load for us, and for giv­ing gifts in the form of men, yet in Eph­esians it is Christ who is praised for freely giv­ing sal­va­tion and giv­ing gifts in the form of men—apostles, prophets, evan­ge­liz­ers, shep­herds and teach­ers. I believe this strongly implies that Paul believes Jesus is Jeho­vah and is the ful­fill­ment of this Psalm.

Deity of Christ, Part 5: Is Jesus “Jehovah”?

This morn­ing there was a pam­phlet on my kitchen table from the Watch­tower Bible & Tract Soci­ety of Penn­syl­va­nia. The Jehovah’s Wit­nesses must have dropped it off while I wasn’t home (a shame!). See­ing it gave me just the moti­va­tion I needed to pick up this series again. I hope that any print­able pam­phlet that comes out of this will be both con­cise and orga­nized, but I am tak­ing the lib­erty to jump around a lit­tle bit and be a lit­tle longer in treat­ing cer­tain issues here on my blog. Today I want to argue that we should take seri­ously the idea that the New Tes­ta­ment authors believed that Jesus is Jeho­vah. To the Jehovah’s Wit­ness, this is the ulti­mate cri­te­rion of supreme deity, and their belief that Jesus is not Jeho­vah is one of the most fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence between their doc­trine and ortho­dox Chris­tian­ity [17].

At first it seems as though the Watch­tower has given us a chal­lenge we can­not meet: to find a place in the scrip­tures in which the four Hebrew let­ters they translit­er­ate “Jeho­vah” is used of Jesus, while the New Tes­ta­ment is all in Greek! While many argue about whether this is even the right approach to the ques­tion of the deity of Christ (“Jeho­vah” isn’t God’s only name, the New World Trans­la­tion delib­er­ately slants the issue, etc.), I see it from a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive: The Watch­tower has very clearly spelled out a sin­gle cri­te­rion that, if met, would prove the deity of Christ. Even though their chal­lenge might be wrong-​​headed to begin with, what if we were able to meet it any­way? Wouldn’t it be eas­ier to give them what they want than to argue about whether they are cor­rect to want it? What if we could prove that Jesus is God, from their own scrip­tures, using their own criterion?

Where could we start in on a project like that? The Watch­tower spells that out for us too—on page 11 of their King­dom Inter­lin­ear Trans­la­tion (1985) (brack­ets mine):

what is the mod­ern trans­la­tor to do? Is he jus­ti­fied or autho­rized in enter­ing the divine name, Jeho­vah, into a trans­la­tion of the Chris­t­ian Greek Scrip­tures? In the LXX [Sep­tu­agint] the Greek words Ky’rios and Theos’ have been used to crowd out the dis­tinc­tive name of the Supreme Deity. Every com­pre­hen­sive Greek-​​English dic­tio­nary states that these two Greek words have been used as equiv­a­lents of the divine name.* Hence, the mod­ern trans­la­tor is war­ranted in using the divine name as an equiv­a­lent of those two Greek words, that is, at places where the writ­ers of the Chris­t­ian Greek Scrip­tures quote verses, pas­sages, and expres­sions from the Hebrew Scrip­tures or from the LXX where the divine name occurs.

What at first looked like an insur­mount­able chal­lenge begins to look like an oppor­tu­nity. Doing what the Watch­tower tell us to do (find­ing Greek scrip­tures that quote from Hebrew scrip­tures that use “Jeho­vah”, then read­ing that use of the divine name back into the Greek scrip­ture) actu­ally yields read­ings of Greek scrip­tures that iden­tify Jeho­vah as Jesus. And what’s more is that the cross-​​references in the Watchtower’s own New World Trans­la­tion even indi­cate the con­nec­tions between these Greek verses about Jesus and the Hebrew pas­sages from which they quote. Let’s take a look at one.

Isa­iah 45:23–25, NWT:

By my own self I have sworn—out of my own mouth in right­eous­ness the word has gone forth, so that it will not return—that to me every knee will bend down, every tongue will swear, say­ing, ‘Surely in Jeho­vah there are full right­eous­ness and strength. All those get­ting heated up against him will come straight to him and be ashamed. In Jeho­vah all the seed of Israel will prove to be right and will boast about themselves.’”

To whom will every knee bow, accord­ing to the prophet Isa­iah? And who is the object of the ensu­ing confession?

Now look at who the object of this prophecy in its quo­ta­tion by Paul in his let­ter to the Philip­i­ans (2:9–11, NWT):

For this very rea­son also God exalted him to a supe­rior posi­tion and kindly gave him the name that is above every [other] name, so that in the name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven and those on earth and those under the ground, and every tongue should openly acknowl­edge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

In its use here, it is in Jesus that every knee should bow and Jesus is the object of the ensu­ing con­fes­sion of faith [18]. Paul takes the words used of Jeho­vah and uses them of Jesus. If we take the advice in the King­dom Inter­lin­ear, we would clothe “Lord” (κύριος) and “God” (θεός) with the per­son­al­ity of “Jeho­vah” in this pas­sage, giv­ing us “…Jesus Christ is Jeho­vah to the glory of Jeho­vah the Father”.

There are some other things to note here, too. This verse actu­ally says that God gave Jesus the name that is above every other name! Now let’s take a look at (Matthew 28:19, NWT, empha­sis mine):

Go there­fore and make dis­ci­ples of peo­ple of all the nations, bap­tiz­ing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit

The Father and the Son share a name. Rev­e­la­tion reflects this too, by using sin­gu­lar third per­son pro­nouns to refer to both God the Father and Jesus the Lamb together (Rev. 7:14–17 & Rev. 22:1–3, NWT, empha­sis mine):

I said to him: “My lord, you are the one that knows.” And he said to me: “These are the ones that come out of the great tribu­la­tion, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. That is why they are before the throne of God; and they are ren­der­ing him sacred ser­vice day and night in his tem­ple; and the One seated on the throne will spread his tent over them. They will hunger no more nor thirst any­more, nei­ther will the sun beat down upon them nor any scorch­ing heat, because the Lamb, who is in the midst of the throne, will shep­herd them, and will guide them to foun­tains of waters of life. And God will wipe out every tear from their eyes.”

And he showed me a river of water of life, clear as crys­tal, flow­ing out from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the mid­dle of its broad way. And on this side of the river and on that side [there were] trees of life pro­duc­ing twelve crops of fruit, yield­ing their fruits each month. And the leaves of the trees [were] for the cur­ing of the nations.

And no more will there be any curse. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in [the city], and his slaves will ren­der him sacred service;

Isaiah’s prophecy about every knee bow­ing to Jeho­vah and con­fess­ing faith in him is used of Jesus, God gives Jesus the name above all names, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share that name, God the Father and Jesus the Lamb share the throne, and are referred to col­lec­tively by sin­gu­lar third per­son pro­nouns in Rev­e­la­tion (rem­i­nis­cent of some­thing I saw in Gen­e­sis once). These con­sti­tute good grounds for think­ing that the New Tes­ta­ment authors believed that Jesus, together with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, is Jehovah.

Deity of Christ, Part 4: JW Christology

This is the fourth part in a series on apolo­get­ics to Jehovah’s Wit­nesses. This series focuses on defend­ing the deity of Christ to Jehovah’s Wit­nesses who come knock­ing at the door. It’s impor­tant to remem­ber that the Watch­tower tells them that Evan­gel­i­cals are rude, unlov­ing, nasty peo­ple who will slam doors in their faces; let’s prove them dead wrong on that front, too!

Today I want to give you a lit­tle back­ground on the the­ol­ogy of the Jehovah’s Wit­nesses. When I first started talk­ing to them as an adult I was sur­prised to real­ize what they actu­ally believe, and why all my old argu­ments for the deity of Christ are inef­fec­tive in con­ver­sa­tion with them. There was a brief period where my mind was even opened to the idea that Jesus is not in fact God! It was only after re-​​searching the scrip­tures with these new issues in mind that I re-​​discovered the supremacy of Christ over all things. So what had me reconsidering?

The first thing you need to under­stand is that the Jehovah’s Wit­ness who comes knock­ing at your door is ‘not’ a poly­the­ist. He is a henothe­ist. That is to say that he believes that there is only one God, whom he calls “Jeho­vah”. Yet, he believes that Jesus is a god — a being more pow­er­ful than every ‘other’ cre­ated thing. In their own words:

God’s name is Jehovah
Christ is God’s Son and is infe­rior to Him
Christ was first of God’s creations

While the poly­the­ist believes there are mul­ti­ple gods of equal power, the henothe­ist believes there is one supreme God, but that there may be lesser deities as well. This is not so unlike clas­si­cal the­ism, where the exis­tence of all man­ner of angels and demons far more pow­er­ful than humans is con­sid­ered plau­si­ble. And in fact the Wit­ness the­ol­ogy even holds Jeho­vah as the cre­ator of all things, not merely the most pow­er­ful among them — they are much closer to Chris­t­ian ortho­doxy than you might think.

But nei­ther does the Wit­ness deny the divin­ity of Christ, or his par­tic­i­pa­tion in the cre­ative act, or many other things you might think indi­cate the supreme deity of Christ. The Wit­nesses believe Jeho­vah cre­ated Jesus first, that Jesus is more pow­er­ful than every­thing else, and that it was through Jesus that Jeho­vah God cre­ated the cosmos.

This allows them to fully embrace “theos” as a descrip­tion for Jesus. When you turn to your favorite verse in the Greek scrip­tures that proves the deity of Christ, chances are it uses the Greek word “theos”. Even the clas­si­cal debate over John 1:1 (about which, of course, I side with the Chris­tians — see here and here.), if won, is inef­fec­tive to prove the deity of Christ to the Wit­ness. It only attrib­utes theo–ness (godhood) to Jesus, and not Jeho­vah–ness (Godhood). And Jeho­vah­ness is their cri­te­rion for supreme deity.

Understanding Trinitarian Theology

In order to ade­quately defend the deity of Christ, you have to be able to pre­cisely artic­u­late the doc­trine of the Trin­ity. The rea­son is that when the Wit­ness shows you scrip­tures that high­light the dis­tinc­tion between Jesus and the Father, you can­not allow your­self to be pushed into the the­o­log­i­cal errors that lie on either side of the nar­row road of ortho­doxy. On one hand, they are try­ing to prove that Jesus is so dis­tinct from the Father that he does not share in His deity. But you do not want to push back so hard that you end up con­flat­ing the dis­tinc­tions between the per­sons of the God­head either.

So here are the basic affir­ma­tions about the trini­tar­ian nature of God that Chris­tians have his­tor­i­cally made, which I believe make log­i­cal sense out of the Bib­li­cal data:

1. There is only one being who is God.

2. The Father is God.

3. The Son is God.

4. The Spirit is God.

5. The Father, Son, and Spirit are dis­tinct per­sons.

[Update: Another blog­ger laid it out well here. Also, I wanted to add this thought — we need to remem­ber to try to use words the Wit­ness on the street can under­stand, or else be pre­pared to explain our lan­guage, and to defend our right to be a lit­tle bit philo­soph­i­cal when describ­ing the nature of God. Wit­nesses have a ten­dency to eschew any­thing that seems com­pli­cated or con­fus­ing at first blush because “God is not a God of con­fu­sion, and even the first cen­tury fish­er­man under­stood every­thing Jesus had to say” (which will be treated in another post).]

For fur­ther read­ing go check out how the early Chris­tians worded this in the Athanasian Creed. But if you only have time to read one source on the trin­ity, stop read­ing this blog now and go read John’s gospel!

Understanding Christology

Going one step fur­ther, you have to be able to pre­cisely artic­u­late the nature of Christ. On the one hand, you have to get his human­ity right, or else he can­not be an appro­pri­ate sub­sti­tu­tion­ary sac­ri­fice for any human. Fail­ing to affirm the true human­ity of Jesus will result in a beat­ing from the Wit­ness who comes knock­ing, as there is verse after verse that demands it. On the other hand, you have to get his deity right, or else Jesus can­not afford to be a sac­ri­fice for all humans. The affir­ma­tion of the deity of Jesus is the most fun­da­men­tal dis­tinc­tion between the Chris­t­ian and the Wit­ness. The Wit­ness will tell you that wor­ship­ping any­thing but Jeho­vah is idol­a­try, but he needs remind­ing that refus­ing to wor­ship some­one who is truly God is just as griev­ous an error. Jesus Him­self says that if we reject Him, we reject the Father.

These two natures of Christ must be kept dis­tinct (He is not what geneti­cists call an “F1 hybrid”). Yet these two natures can­not be sep­a­rated into two per­sons (or else, how could the merely human Jesus be wor­shipped or the God-​​but-​​not-​​human Jesus serve as a sac­ri­fice in the stead of humans?). So:

1. Jesus is truly God.

2. Jesus is truly human.

3. These two natures are dis­tinct from one another.

4. These two natures are united in a sin­gle person.

For an elab­o­ra­tion on this you can read how the early believ­ers put it in the Chal­cenon­ian Def­i­n­i­tion. Though if you only have time for one source on the nature of Jesus, stop read­ing this blog and just read Colos­sians. And Hebrews.


Now when the Wit­ness at your door argues that Jesus makes a dis­tinc­tion between him­self and the Father, prays to the Father, and wor­ships the Father, that there is only one God, and that Jesus is God’s son, you can show him with ease how all of these things are true, and yet none of them are incom­pat­i­ble with the deity of Christ.

In future posts we will look at how to show the Wit­ness, on their own terms, that Jesus is Jeho­vah (even though “Jeho­vah” is a Hebrew word that does not show up in the Greek New Tes­ta­ment man­u­scripts). We will also be con­sid­er­ing other argu­ments against the deity of Christ, such as that he is called the “first­born”, that other beings are called “sons of God”, that no human has seen God yet many have seen Jesus, that Jesus does not know the day or hour of his return yet God is omni­scient, that the Father is greater than the Son, that the Trin­ity is con­fus­ing yet God is not a God of con­fu­sion, and more!

Deity of Christ, Part 3: Jesus Rejects Worship

This is the third part in a series on apolo­get­ics to Jehovah’s Wit­nesses. This series focuses on defend­ing the deity of Christ to Jehovah’s Wit­nesses who come knock­ing at the door. It’s impor­tant to remem­ber that the Watch­tower tells them that Evan­gel­i­cals are rude, unlov­ing, nasty peo­ple who will slam doors in their faces; let’s prove them dead wrong on that front, too!

Today I want to look at the old “Jesus refuses to be wor­shipped” argu­ment. Mark 10:18 says “Jesus said to him: ‘Why do you call me good? Nobody is good, except one, God.’”. Here it is impor­tant to remem­ber that Jesus was actu­ally a very bril­liant logi­cian. So let’s look at a pretty sim­ple log­i­cal argu­ment for the deity of Christ:

1. No one is good except God.

2. Jesus is good.

3. There­fore, Jesus is God.

In the Mark pas­sage, Jesus affirms (1), that no one is good except God. He does not reject (2) that He is good, or (3) that He is God. Rather, He sim­ply draws atten­tion to the log­i­cal con­clu­sion of (2). So here the Jehovah’s Wit­ness is sim­ply mis­taken — Jesus does not refuse to be wor­shipped in Mark’s gospel.

Fur­ther­more, (2) is directly affirmed by Hebrews 4:15. So the pas­sage the Wit­ness brings up gets you started with (1), and Hebrews affirms (2), and the con­clu­sion that Jesus is God fol­lows inescapably!

There’s one other pas­sage I know about that is some­times used to try to prove that Jesus refused to be wor­shipped. Luke 4:8 says “In reply Jesus said to him: ‘It is writ­ten, “It is Jeho­vah your God you must wor­ship, and it is to him alone you must ren­der sacred ser­vice.”’”. Here it is impor­tant to note the con­text of the state­ment. Jesus is object­ing to Satan’s demand to be wor­shipped. Satan is most cer­tainly not Jeho­vah. But if we look at this log­i­cally again, we see some­thing else:

4. Jeho­vah alone you must worship.

5. Jesus you must worship.

6. There­fore, Jesus is Jehovah.

In the Luke pas­sage Jesus affirms (4). He does not deny (5) or (6). And if we take a look else­where in scrip­ture we see at least one explicit affir­ma­tion of (5): in Hebrews 1:6 (as pre­vi­ously dis­cussed). So the pas­sage the Wit­ness brings up gets a whole new argu­ment started by estab­lish­ing that only Jeho­vah deserves wor­ship, then Hebrews again pro­vides us with the teach­ing that we should wor­ship Jesus, and the con­clu­sion that Jesus is Jeho­vah fol­lows inescapably!

Deity of Christ, Part 2: Jesus Worships God

As I men­tioned in my inau­gural note on the deity of Christ, con­cern­ing first per­son plural cohor­ta­tive verbs, I have been inter­mit­tently work­ing on a lit­tle Jehovah’s Wit­ness apolo­getic pam­phlet. Today I want to post a note in response to the “But Jesus wor­ships the Father!” objection.

The Jehovah’s Wit­nesses are right. Jesus does wor­ship the Father. But then he so closely iden­ti­fies with the Father that He demands to be wor­shipped in the exact same way (cf. John 5:23, 20:28–29 [14].). Since that’s the case, and yet there is only one God, we know that Jesus and the Father must be the same Being (even if they are dif­fer­ent per­sons).

Hence the whole thing about the Trin­ity and such.

Another note on this issue is that while Jesus wor­ships the Father, the Father wor­ships Jesus right back! Even the New World Trans­la­tion says in 1 Peter 1:17 that Jesus “received from God the Father honor and glory”, and in Hebrews 1:6 [15] it says that when Jeho­vah “brings his First­born into the inhab­ited earh, he says: ‘And let all God’s angels do obei­sance to him.’”. The Watchtower’s older King­dom Inter­lin­ear Trans­la­tion actu­ally says “wor­ship” instead of “do obei­sance”, which is a much bet­ter trans­la­tion and I’ll tell you why.

The Greek lemma here is “προσκυνέω”, and John uses it in Rev­e­la­tion, too: “I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to wor­ship (“προσκυνῆσαι”) at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fel­low ser­vant with you and your broth­ers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Wor­ship (“προσκύνησον”) God.’” (22:8–9, NWT) [16].

So the scrip­tures explic­itly for­bid us from προσκυνέω-​​ing any­thing but Jeho­vah, and they also explic­itly teach us to προσκυνέω Jesus. There­fore, Jesus must be the same Being as Jeho­vah. Regard­less of how you trans­late the Greek.

Why God Doesn’t Save Everyone

I inter­mit­tently fol­low a blog called Parch­ment and Pen, but haven’t ever com­mented on any of the posts until today. The author of the post, Sam Storms, con­sid­ers why God doesn’t just save every­body, weighs the Calvin­ist and Armin­ian answers, and finds the Armin­ian posi­tion want­ing. He quotes John Piper, who says,

Both [Calvin­ists and Armini­ans] can say that God wills for all to be saved. But then when queried why all are not saved both Calvin­ist and Armin­ian answer that God is com­mit­ted to some­thing even more valu­able than sav­ing all… What does God will more than sav­ing all? The answer given by Armini­ans is that human self-​​determination and the pos­si­ble result­ing love rela­tion­ship with God are more valu­able than sav­ing all peo­ple by sov­er­eign, effi­ca­cious grace. The answer given by Calvin­ists is that the greater value is the man­i­fes­ta­tion of the full range of God’s glory in wrath and mercy…

And he’s more or less cor­rect in his sum­mary of the two posi­tions. With­out speak­ing for any­body else, my posi­tion (which, on this issue, is more con­gru­ent with the Armin­ian one) is that it is a con­tra­dic­tion in terms to talk about forced love, even if you call it “sov­er­eign, effi­ca­cious grace”. And God wants our love. This can be expressed in philo­soph­i­cally tech­ni­cal lan­guage, but I don’t think it needs to be.

But Mr. Storms raises some great points. He made me iden­tify a bit of irony in my posi­tion: If love can­not be forced, then how can I demand of God that He must love every­body in a sav­ing fash­ion? Put another way, if true love is freely given, then the dis­tri­b­u­tion of God’s love must not be made under any coer­cion. And surely God doesn’t owe sin­ners any­thing — they deserve hell for their actions, fair and square.

How is the non-​​Calvinist to respond to that? Well for starters I agree that it is God’s pre­rog­a­tive to save whomever He wills, and I grant that jus­tice alone doesn’t demand that God save every­body (or any­body at all, for that matter).

But the Bible clearly teaches that God is max­i­mally lov­ing. And it is less lov­ing to save less people.

This is not a char­ac­ter trait foisted upon Him, but one that He sov­er­eignly and con­tin­u­ously chooses to exhibit, just like His jus­tice. It is the char­ac­ter of God to love every­body, and that’s why He desires every­body to be saved.

So what about the Calvin­ist argu­ment, then? Doesn’t God want to exhibit sav­ing grace as well as damn­ing wrath, such that He needs to do some elect­ing and some repro­bat­ing? This is the pre­sump­tion to which I felt com­pelled to respond.

First of all, I don’t think wrath is an attribute of God. Jus­tice is. Wrath is the result of when a just per­son wit­nesses injus­tice. But jus­tice doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily result in wrath. It only demands that wrongs get righted. If you ain’t got no wrongs, ain’t no wrongs need to be righted.

In that way, jus­tice can exist in a vacuum.

This directly con­trasts love, which must be actively present within the rela­tion­ship of two or more peo­ple in order to have any existence.

Love can­not exist in a vacuum.

But aside from the con­tention that God is not by nature wrath­ful, I have this com­plaint against the Calvin­ist answer to why God doesn’t save everybody:

To say that the dis­play of wrath requires repro­ba­tion is false.

It pre­sumes that wrath is not dis­played in elec­tion. But God’s wrath is equally dis­played in elec­tion! The dif­fer­ence is that in elec­tion God’s wrath is poured out on Jesus instead of the elect, whereas in repro­ba­tion His wrath is poured out on the sin­ners who deserve it. That’s what it means for the atone­ment to serve as a “pro­pi­ti­a­tion” for our sins. God’s wrath isn’t diluted in any fash­ion what­so­ever. Jesus’ death sat­is­fied it all. Entirely.

If you hold the Calvin­ist posi­tion on this issue after read­ing this post, that’s entirely up to you, but I hope you’re con­vinced that it shouldn’t be on the basis of this idea that God has to repro­bate peo­ple in order to dis­play his wrath.

Deity of Christ, Part 1: Neat Hebrew Verbs

A while back I began work on a Jehovah’s Wit­ness apolo­getic pam­phlet for my own per­sonal use. As it came up in con­ver­sa­tions with some friends I real­ized that many other peo­ple could ben­e­fit from it. I haven’t fin­ished it yet, but I fig­ured I would start try­ing to pol­ish off some of the sec­tions one at a time, from time to time, and post them, or excerpts from them, here. Below is a morsel to whet your appetite.

As you would expect, Chris­to­log­i­cal and Trini­tar­ian issues are inex­tri­ca­bly linked. If Jesus is God, and if God the Father is God, yet there is only one God, then there must be a plu­ral­ity of per­sons within God. One of the ear­li­est allu­sions to the Trini­tar­ian nature of God is found in Gen­e­sis. In verses 5–7 of chap­ter 11, the name that the Jehovah’s Wit­nesses offi­cially rec­og­nize as “the” Divine Name, is used with a first per­son plural cohor­ta­tive verb.

What does that mean?” you ask?

In the Watchtower’s own New World Trans­la­tion, the pas­sage is ren­dered thusly:

And Jeho­vah pro­ceeded to go down to see the city and the tower that the sons of men had built. After that Jeho­vah said: “Look! They are one peo­ple and there is one lan­guage for them all, and this is what they start to do. Why, now there is noth­ing that they may have in mind to do that will be unat­tain­able for them. Come now! Let us go down and there con­fuse their lan­guage that they may not lis­ten to one another’s language.”

The word used in verse 7 is “נֵרְדָה”, which is a con­ju­ga­tion of a verb that can mean “to go” or “to descend”. It is “cohor­ta­tive”, mean­ing that it expresses intent, and it is in the first per­son, so the speaker is refer­ring to Him­self. The speaker is iden­ti­fied as “יהוה” (what the NWT ren­ders “Jeho­vah”) accord­ing to verse 5.

But it is plural.

First per­son sin­gu­lar cohor­ta­tive verbs were in use at the time, as evi­denced by Gen­e­sis 12:3, so the author’s use of the plural must have been deliberate.

A plural verb implies a plu­ral­ity of agents. But it is in first per­son, and the only speaker listed is Jeho­vah. So there must be a plu­ral­ity of agents within Jeho­vah.

This case is more poignant than Gen­e­sis 1’s “let us cre­ate man in our image”, as “יהוה” is not used as the sub­ject, so a uni­tar­ian could eas­ily say that Jeho­vah, after cre­at­ing Jesus, asked him to par­tic­i­pate in the cre­ative process. The way to counter that, of course, is to point out that in Gen­e­sis 2, “יהוה” is used in a way that denotes a sin­gle cre­ator. But Gen­e­sis 11 is more direct.