The God Or Not Blog Carnival is a cool idea. It happens once or twice a month. For each carnival, there is a theme and the carnival host selects an approximately equal number of posts on that theme by atheists and theists for inclusion. The theme of the December 12 carnival is miracles. I have dealt substantially with miracles on this blog in a general way already, and so I've decided to post on applying my views to one very specific miracle which is central to the claims of Christianity and especially Evangelicalism: the inspiration of Scripture.
The story so far: nearly a year ago, I posted on what I referred to as "Christian naturalism". In this post I argued for a view that I continue to hold quite strongly: the view that traditional monotheists should not believe in exceptions to the laws of nature, as this would undermine the constancy of God. This, of course, creates a problem for miracles. I addressed that problem briefly in that post, but dealt with it more precisely in a recent post on Leibniz's discussion of efficient and final causes. In that post, I showed how the efficient/final cause distinction could be used to differentiate the miraculous from the mundane. I argued that the distinction was purely subjective, so that every event could be viewed as either miraculous or mundane depending on the disposition of the observer.
In the latter of these two posts, I briefly mentioned that fellow Christians, especially Evangelicals, with whom I have discussed this tend to be especially uneasy with my application of this theory to the inspiration of Scripture. This is the issue I intend to discuss here.
In Donald Bloesch's book, The Essentials of Evangelical Theology, he says, "the Bible is not partly the Word of God and partly the word of man: it is in its entirety the very Word of God and the very word of man" (vol. 1, p. 52). He goes on to say that, "inspiration is both conceptual and verbal, since it signifies that the Spirit was active both in shaping the thoughts and imagination of the biblical writers and also in guiding them in their actual writing ... The divine activity does not supersed the human but works confluently with the human so that the Scriptures are the joint product of both God and man. The writers are not to be thought of as simply the pens of the Holy Spirit ... but as partners with the Spirit so that the end product can be attributed to coauthorship" (p. 55).
Like Bloesch, I believe that, from one perspective, it is the case that the writings which came to be included in the Christian Bible came about in precisely the same fashion as any other books: that is, human authors sat down and wrote, and when they wrote they had particular views, thoughts, current issues, and so forth in mind which they wished to address. Their thoughts were influenced by those that came before them. I think, for instance, that it is clear that the theory of the self contained in the Pauline epistles must have been influenced by Plato's Republic (compare Paul's division into pneuma [spirit], psuche [soul], and sarx [flesh] with Plato's division into the philosophos [wisdom-loving], philotimos [honor-loving], and philochrematos [money-loving] psuchai [souls]), and the Johannine literature must have been influenced by Heraclitus (compare the use of logos [word]), although this influence may have been indirect (it has been suggested that it may have come through Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish philosopher who lived from about 20 BC to about 40 AD). However, this does not undermine inspiration. The Holy Spirit was active in shaping their life experiences so that their beliefs, ideas, thoughts, intentions, etc. would be such as to write down the Word of God, and also in imparting ideas to them at the time of writing.
Christians often seem to assume that if they Bible is inspired by God it must have come from nowhere - that is, it must have fallen from the sky (in the King James Version, of course), or the human authors must have experienced a sort of divine possession in which they did not write anything that they wanted to write or that they would have thought of, but merely "channeled" God's word in a highly supernatural way. Now, clergy, theologians, and others who have devoted a great deal of time to serious study of Scripture, tend not to take views that are so extreme as all of this (and I'm exaggerating even the popular view here), but they still seem to think that if the New Testament was influenced by Greek Pagans this would undermine its spiritual authority. But why should it?
Those who believe in the truth of the Christian Scriptures believe that Pauline Christianity is an accurate representation of Christ's intentions for the Church. What is the chief thrust of Pauline Christianity? It is nothing other than the God of the Hebrews reaching out to the Gentile (in that time, primarily Hellenistic) world. I do not mean to say that this is the only thing Christianity is about, or even the core of the message, but the idea that God has taken action to reach the whole world and not only Israel is certainly the thing that Paul was most surprised by and continued to be most excited about. We often talk about, for instance, Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey as being a symbolic action based on prophecy in the Hebrew Bible in which Jesus declared himself to be Messiah. Now, in light of the thrust toward reaching the Greeks, consider the story of the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). Remind you of Greek mythology? How often do Greek gods disguise themselves as mortals, enter a home, and make their identities known only after eating dinner? The meaning of this story in light of Greek myth is outisde the scope of this post (and really beyond my knowledge - I don't know my mythology very well), but my point is, doesn't it make perfect sense that in the same way Jesus takes symbolic actions to reveal himself to the Jews, he would take symbolic actions to reveal himself to the Greeks?
If, then, Christianity can be influenced by Greek Pagan religion in this way, why should it not be influenced by the likes of Plato? If Plato is right about something (and can someone as smart as Plato possibly be wrong about absolutely everything?), or provides a good vocabulary for speaking in very precise terms about an issue important to Christianity, why shouldn't God use Plato's writings to form the views of the authors of Scripture in order to bring it about that they write down his word?
The objection that Scripture can't be inspired if it has outside influcences is essentially the same as the objection that the parting of the Red Sea wasn't a miracle if it had a naturalistic explanation, and this is simply false. A world in which physical laws were broken ad hoc would be a world unworthy of the Christian God. Why should the miracle of inspiration of Scripture be any different? Are there not "laws" about the ways human beings come to knowledge and form opinions, just as there are laws about how physical objects behave? Couldn't God construct the circumstances in the lives of the authors of Scripture in such a way that their words would coincide with his? And wouldn't this be a much greater miracle than his using his unlimited power to override the free will and individuality of the Biblical authors in order to "channel" his thoughts through them?
According to the definition I gave previously, if the Bible is the living word of God it should be easy for those who have been affected by it to see the miraculous nature of its inspirtation: its effect on us is clearly miraculous, in so far as it changes our lives by drawing us into relationship with God. This is its final cause, and it is immediately apparent to those who have had this experience. It's efficient causes, however, require extensive historical research and literary study to ascertain. In this sense, the Bible is a very miraculous collection of literature.
Finally, a word on use of miracles as proof of the existence of God: David Hume argued that we are never justified in believing a miracle has occurred. I'm undecided as to whether his reasoning is valid, but it is based on his (in my view, flawed) conception of miracles as exceptions to the laws of nature. Suppose we concede Hume this point. On my view, no such miracles occur anyway. But "miraculous" (in my teleological sense) events can still be accepted as proof of the existence of God. When the world seems to manifest purpose where humans have none, there may be a miracle. If many such events occur, such that the world appears to have a direction, a purpose, an intention, this may be evidence for God. Furthermore, as to the miracle of the inspiration of Scripture, we can be justified in believing it is inspired and hence miraculous because of a strange series of coincidences surrounding it (consider, for instance, the detailed discussion of the conflict between the Ptolemy and Seleucid dynasties at the end of Daniel, and consider the fact that the book of Daniel was translated from Hebrew into Greek decades before said conflict occurred. Consider also the events surrounding the foundation of the Christian church, and the various miracles reported in that connection). But all of these things require detailed historical analysis and there is a great deal of uncertainty about them. More immediately there is, along the lines of the argument from "religious experience," the fact that the text of the Bible has impacted the lives of millions in ways that are in line with the effects the God depicted in the Bible would want to bring about. There is a sort of inherent purposiveness to the Christian Scriptures that exceeds the purpose and planning of the original authors and compilers and reaches forward to present day circumstances the authors and compilers could not have had any knowledge of. This, above all, is evidence for the miraculous nature of Scripture, and if it is miraculous then it serves as an argument for God. Don't understand what I'm talking about? Go read it.Posted by Kenny at November 28, 2005 11:29 AM
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