Easing your way into a Worldview

I want to offer a brief reflection on a phenomenon I see often which strikes me as curious; namely, the phenomenon of easing your way into a worldview by piecemeal steps.

In certain religious traditions (most commonly in those traditions typically referred to derogatorily as ‘cults’), there is a proselytic strategy of conveying certain articles of the faith (which may seem intuitive, wholesome, or otherwise welcome) but keeping information about other articles of faith hidden or secret except to the appropriately initiated. Underlying this practice is this unarticulated recognition that several of that religion’s teachings are so outlandish and counterintuitive that to even admit them in public (or in the presence of the uninitiated) would do damage to the cause of winning people over to their faith. As slimy as I’m inclined to think this practice is, there is perhaps something shrewd about it in light of the way most of us form our worldview-sized beliefs. In fact, it may be the case that for most major worldviews (worldviews which, in the free marketplace of ideas, do exceptionally well at winning over a great portion of the human race) people naturally ease their way into them by finding good reasons to affirm them and then making counter-intuitive adjustments along the way to accommodate them. We can illustrate this, in my submission, even by taking a critical look at metaphysical naturalism.

Take naturalism to be, approximately, the belief that (i) ‘God exists’ is not true, (ii) there exist at least some of the theoretical entities postulated by our best science, and (iii) that there exist no entities belief in which cannot be motivated in principle by a scientific view of the world (with the possible exception of God, caveat in casu necessitas). Perhaps naturalism sounds prima facie plausible to many people; the tremendous success of the scientific project of making sense of the world, the apparent superiority of scientific explanations over pre-scientific explanations, the relative implausibility of worldviews competing with naturalism given our new scientifically updated background knowledge about the world, all seem to lend some credence to metaphysical naturalism. One might be led, for these reasons, to adopt a naturalistic worldview and then slowly adjust their auxiliary beliefs accordingly one at a time. First, they may give up robust (or at least traditional) moral realism. Second, they may give up on affirming that there are objectively true (in the correspondence sense) mathematical propositions, or even analytic ones.1 Next they may give up correspondence theory, and then finally they end up denying things like qualia and conscious states.2 Before too long the naturalist will go from sounding soberingly sane to talking about “the illusion that thought is about stuff,”3 and insisting that there are no true sentences (including this one). The conclusions to which one arrives end up being so obnoxious to common sense, so ludicrous to the man on the street, that no sane person could ever agree to them without being eased into accepting them one small step at a time. Just as the frog who remains in slowly warming water until it boils her alive, so too the stubborn naturalist complacently gives in, incrementally, to ostensible insanity; the more comprehensive the atheist’s guide to reality gets, the more it looks like a guide to the surreal.

The very same happens with (some popular versions of) fundamentalism; one begins by finding the Christian worldview plausible for a variety of reasons ranging, perhaps, from natural theology to historical biblical scholarship, from cute arguments (like C.S. Lewis’ trilemma)4 to (Josh McDowell’s)5 systematic apologetics. However, before long one is arguing that the light of supernovae, which has taken millions of years to reach us, was created by God merely a few thousand years ago in order to create the appearance of now-dead stars, or that cancer exists because a talking snake fooled our most primitive human ancestor, or that carbon-dating is so inaccurate that it doesn’t preclude the possibility that dinosaurs were roughly contemporaneous with mankind. In this manner one slides from apparently reasonable starting points to what may as well be Alice’s wonderland.

A similar pattern holds true for lone-wolf thinkers whose worldviews end up being hodge-podge syntheses which hardly anyone else will ever find plausible or intellectually satisfying. Original thinkers from Zeno to Berkeley, from Diogenes to David Lewis put forward philosophies regarded by most to be laughable grandiloquent fictions. It is not surprising, then, that so many should regard the history of philosophy as a museum of the absurd. Even the man who abandons philosophical inquiry altogether creates for himself a view of the world riddled with inconsistencies and idiocies to which he remains blind thanks only to his refusal to reflect critically upon them.

Given this situation, it seems reasonable to ask: is there any stopping the flood of myriad derisory beliefs? The question of how plausible a worldview is seems irrelevant to the assessment of its truth unless the presumption that reality is not too counterintuitive turns out to be correct. If reality turns out to be massively counter-intuitive, then plausibility provides no guide to truth. However, if plausibility is the primary litmus test for believability (after logical coherence, etc.), then we are proverbially up the faecal creek without a paddle.

My reaction to this line of thought is as follows; just as parsimony should be regarded as a signpost of truth in the sense that between any two views, ceteris paribus, the more parsimonious is more likely to be true, so closer alignment with common sense makes a view, ceteris paribus, more likely to be correct. What qualifies as common sense may not be so easily answered, but something like nearly universally shared intuitions about plausibility will qualify (we can leave the details to be worked out elsewhere). Obviously most people are prejudiced, to some degree, in advance of the following exercise, but I think one of the most valuable procedures when it comes to worldview-selection is to take inventory of a (prima facie sufficiently plausible) worldview’s most counter-intuitive consequences and compare them to the most counter-intuitive consequences of competing worldviews. This exercise won’t provide us the means for any definitive doxastic adjudication, but I think it remains one of the best approaches we have to comparing competing worldviews.

The alternative, realistically, is for us to unreflectively slide comfortably into a worldview by taking incremental steps towards the absurd, readjusting our plausibility assignments slowly and surely, and ending up with beliefs we would never have consented to accept had we seen clearly precisely to what it was we were inevitably committing ourselves when we adopted the overarching paradigm in question.

1 See: W.V.O. Quine, “Two Dogmas of Empiricism,” Perspectives in the Philosophy of Language (2000): 189-210.

2 See: William Ramsey, “Eliminative Materialism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta (2016), accessed March 27, 2017. https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2016/entries/materialism-eliminative/

3 Alexander Rosenberg, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions. (WW Norton & Company, 2011), 95.

4 See: C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (Samizdat, 2014): 29-32.

5 Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict: Evidence I & II Fully Updated in One Volume to Answer Questions Challenging Christians in the 21 st Century, (Thomas Nelson, 1999).

Some Miscellaneous Reactions to Some of Robert Price’s Points in Favour of Mythicism

In a not so recent debate1 between Bart Ehrman and Robert Price the topic of whether Jesus of Nazareth historically existed was explored. This provides us with one of the first and few high-profile debates with at least one bona-fide scholar where the participants are directly arguing about mythicism. Unfortunately, the debate was a disappointment in several respects in that neither Ehrman nor Price gave performances of the quality many, who were anticipating an outstanding debate, were expecting. However, Price did say a few interesting things which I thought I’d pick up on and say a few words about. This is not intended to be a comprehensive dismantling of Price’s view (I have not the time to be so ambitious), but just intended to provide a registry of some of my miscellaneous reactions to various points.

Price, in his opening speech, provided at least three examples of evidence which may insinuate that one early objection to Christianity was that Jesus never existed. First, he cites a statement which Justin Martyr puts into the mouth of his interlocutor Trypho in his famous Dialogue with Trypho. Second, he cites a statement which Origen is at pains to refute from an anti-Christian polemicist of the second century, Celsus. Third, he calls into evidence the words of 2 Peter 1:16-18 as though they indicate an implicit awareness that there was an allegation already circulating within the first century that Jesus of Nazareth may not have existed at all.

Let us begin with the passage from the Dialogue with Trypho, according to which Trypho, (a Jewish intellectual who, in the dialogue, claims to have been a pupil of Corinthus the Socratic in Argos,2 and may possibly be the second century rabbi Tarfon,3 though that is not widely accepted) makes the following provocative charge:

But Christ—if He has indeed been born, and exists anywhere—is unknown, and does not even know Himself, and has no power until Elias come to anoint Him, and make Him manifest to all. And you, having accepted a groundless report, invent a Christ for yourselves, and for his sake are inconsiderately perishing.”4

Does this passage contain a veiled insinuation that Jesus did not exist? It doesn’t seem so. At very least we gather from the way Justin Martyr proceeds to respond to this comment that he doesn’t have that accusation in mind. Justin promises Trypho that “I will prove to you, here and now, that we do not believe in groundless myths nor in teachings not based on reason, but in doctrines that are inspired by the Divine Spirit, abundant with power, and teeming with grace.”5 However, Justin Martyr goes on to give argument after argument from prophecy to demonstrate that Jesus is a good ‘fit’ for the anticipated messiah of the Tanakh. He never goes on to argue that Jesus of Nazareth existed; he argues on the clear presumption that he and Trypho are agreed that Jesus of Nazareth existed. The likelihood is relatively high that Justin Martyr is writing a largely or entirely fictitious dialogue, but whether it was fictitious or not there is no way to read Trypho’s (alleged) statement as an insinuation that Jesus didn’t exist. That isn’t what Justin Martyr thought the statement insinuated, and it isn’t plausible that a historical Trypho intended to insinuate that the historical Jesus didn’t exist but just let that point drop entirely for the rest of the dialogue with Justin.

My verdict, therefore, is that this provides absolutely no evidence of any early anti-Christian polemic which insinuated that Jesus never existed.

What of Price’s second example, from the second century anti-Christian polemicist Celsus? Well, Price points out that Celsus says: “it is clear to me that the writings of the Christians are a lie and that your fables have not been well enough constructed to conceal this monstrous fiction.”6 However, to read this as a veiled charge that Jesus never existed is implausible for a variety of reasons. First, consider how the passage from Celsus continues: “it is clear to me that the writings of the Christians are a lie and that your fables have not been well enough constructed to conceal this monstrous fiction. I have heard that some of your interpreters…are on to the inconsistencies and, pen in hand, alter the originals writings, three, four and several more times over in order to be able to deny the contradictions in the face of criticism.”7 That is clearly an accusation of embellishment and selective redaction; it is clearly not an accusation of having invented the historical Jesus whole-cloth. Second, consider that Celsus elsewhere argues that Jesus is a bastard child; according to Origen in his Contra Celsus, “[Celsus was] speaking of the mother of Jesus, and saying that “when she was pregnant she was turned out of doors by the carpenter to whom she had been betrothed, as having been guilty of adultery, and that she bore a child to a certain soldier named Panthera.”89 Clearly, however, if Celsus thought that Jesus was born of illegitimate relations between Mary and a Roman soldier named Panthera, then Celsus could not have also believed that Jesus never existed. Those beliefs are so obviously logically incompatible that even an imbecile (as Origen thought) like Celsus could not plausibly have entertained both.

Finally, what of the words in 2 Peter 1:16-18? They read:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.”
(2 Peter 1:16-18, NRSV).

I consider it obvious that the author gives us an indication of what the allegation of ‘cleverly devised myths’ comes to by the way he responds to the charge. Clearly, however, he spends all his time emphasizing not that he was an eyewitness (or that there were eyewitnesses) of Jesus of Nazareth, but that he was one of many eyewitnesses of the majesty of Christ which was attested to and illustrated by miracles. It is the majesty and/or the miracles which the author believes are being alleged to be cleverly devised myths, not the historicity of the person, Jesus of Nazareth; we know this by inferring it from the way the author responds to the allegations he has in mind.

So, in my opinion, all three of these evidences of some early objection to Christianity to the effect that Jesus of Nazareth did not historically exist are completely bunk.

I want to end this reflection on some points brought out by Price in the debate with a few positive notes. There are some areas where I actually agree with Price over against the majority of New Testament scholars. For instance, Price maintains (and this came out in parts of the debate) that there is no more reason to think that Paul wrote Galatians than there is to think that Paul wrote 1st Timothy. Price’s conclusion is that we have reason to believe that Paul did not write any of the epistles traditionally ascribed to him. My conclusion is that Paul plausibly wrote all of the epistles traditionally ascribed to him. This was somewhat tangential to the debate, but it is a point of interesting qualified agreement nevertheless. More interesting still, Price argued that if we strip away all of the miraculous claims made about Christ, we are left with a first-century Jewish Rabbi about whom nothing would have been worth writing in the first place. He says, at one point, that if Clark Kent existed and superman didn’t, there would be no gradual embellishment of stories about Clark Kent because there would be no reason for anyone to remember any stories about Clark Kent in the first place. There either has to have been something about the Jesus of Nazareth of history which made him worth writing (talking, etc.) so much about in the first place, or else the stories about him were mythological from the beginning.

This, I think, is a very interesting point. If historians are intent on whittling down the Jesus of the Gospels to the point where he was an utterly unremarkable first century Jewish rabbi then there is no explanation for why he caused such a stir in the first place. Obviously most historians will respond, here, by conceding that Jesus claimed to be a miracle worker, and performed exorcism ceremonies in a way which presumed an immense and unprecedented amount of authority for himself. It was his innovative preaching along with what W.L. Craig has called the historical Jesus’ “unprecedented sense of divine authority,”10 which sufficiently explain why there were any stories about him in the first place. So, on the one hand, Price has, I think, failed to take inventory of what most New Testament scholars believe we can say with enormous confidence about the historical Jesus of Nazareth. On the other hand, though, Price does well to remind us that if scholars aren’t careful to preserve something remarkable and unique about the historical Jesus, if they reconstruct only a version of Jesus wholly sanitized by the presumption of naturalism, and about whom there was really nothing terribly special, they may be proverbially cutting the tree branch from which they hang.


1 Anyone interested can find the debate, at least currently, at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oIxxDfkaXVY

2 Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Ch. 1, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/01281.htm

3 Claudia Setzer, Jewish Responses to Early Christians,Fortress Press, 1994: 215.

4 Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Ch. 8, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/01281.htm

5 Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Ch. 9, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/01281.htm

6 Celsus, On the True Doctrine, translated by R. Joseph Hoffman, Oxford University Press, 1987: 37. See: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/celsus3.html

7 Celsus, On the True Doctrine, translated by R. Joseph Hoffman, Oxford University Press, 1987: 37. See: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/celsus3.html

8 Origen, Contra Celsus, Book 1, chapter 32. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/04161.htm

9 I have written a little bit on this before, a long time ago. Those interested may see: https://thirdmillennialtemplar.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/celsus-attack-on-the-holy-mother/

10 http://www.reasonablefaith.org/does-god-exist-1

An Amended Modal-Epistemic Argument for God’s Existence

Several years ago I was introduced to a clever and fascinating argument, developed by a philosopher named Emanuel Rutten, which attempts to demonstrate the existence of God from two key premises: (i) that anything which is possibly true is possibly known, and (ii) that it is not possible to know that God does not exist, from which it logically follows that (iii) God exists. The argument has some intuitive appeal to me, though I was initially skeptical about the second premise (skeptical, that is, that the atheist could be persuaded to accept the second premise). I had also heard certain criticisms of the argument which seemed to present nearly insuperable objections to it; although I started working on responses to those objections, I eventually moved on to other philosophical inquiries leaving this argument (and my many notes on it) to gather proverbial dust on my old hard drive. Recently, however, I decided to revisit the argument and use a variation on it in the context of a semi-formal online debate. I was shocked by my interlocutor’s reaction; although he had not been shy about sinking his teeth into every other argument I had presented for theism (from the cosmological argument from contingency, to the transcendental argument from the laws of logic, to a version of the moral argument, to the modal-ontological argument), I received radio-silence when presenting this argument. After several days of him reflecting upon the argument, he eventually rejoined by saying that he couldn’t think of a single criticism, but that he was convinced the argument was bad for some reason he was unable to articulate. This made me want to revisit the modal-epistemic argument for God’s existence and see if it couldn’t be salvaged in light of certain criticisms of which I am aware.

The basic intuition behind Rutten’s argument is that reality’s being intelligible is somehow connected to, and explained by, the existence of a God-like being. This same intuition seems to lurk behind Bernard Lonergan’s argument for God in the nineteenth chapter of his magnum opus, Insight, where he made the tantalizing claim (for which he argued at great length) that “if the real is completely intelligible, God exists. But the real is completely intelligible. Therefore, God exists.”1 There is also a subliminal connection here, I think, even to C.S. Lewis’ argument from reason. The same intuition is also bolstered, to some extent, by Fitch’s paradox, which is a logical proof developed by the philosopher and logician Frederic Fitch in 1963. Fitch was able to prove, using prima facie uncontroversial assumptions, that “necessarily, if all truths are knowable in principle then all truths are in fact known.”2 This philosophical finding was taken to be paradoxical by many, but it sits exceptionally well with the theist who affirms that omniscience is exemplified by God. What these observations show, I think, is that the intuition behind Rutten’s argument is widely shared (at least among theists) and may be well motivated.

The bare-boned sketch of Rutten’s argument can be outlined as follows:

  1. All possible truths are possibly known (i.e., if there are logically possible worlds in which P is true, then there will always be a subset of such worlds in which P is known).
  2. It is impossible to know that God does not exist.
  3. Therefore, God necessarily exists.

It has to be said straight-away that this is an over-simplified formulation of his argument; we will come, in due course, to his more measured articulation of the argument, but the rough sketch provided by this syllogism will help us lay the groundwork for the actual argument.

Rutten stipulates the following relatively modest definition of God, for the purposes of his argument; God is the personal first-cause of the world (where the world is the whole of contingent reality). Since that logically implies that God is incontingent, I will abbreviate this as ‘IPFC.’ He also specifies that, for the purposes of the argument, he means the following by knowledge: “A conscious being… knows that proposition p is true if and only if p is true and the being, given its cognitive situation, cannot psychologically but believe that p is true.”3 More precisely, for any P, if some conscious being B cannot psychologically help believing that P is true, then P satisfies at least one of the following four conditions for B: “(i) The proposition is logically proven; (ii) the proposition is obviously true, i.e. intuitively self-evident; (iii) the proposition is grounded in indisputable experience; or (iv) the proposition is based on indisputable testimony.”4 This makes it obvious that Rutten means that something is known if and only if (a) it is true, and (b) given some conscious being’s cognitive situation, that being, whose cognitive faculties aren’t malfunctioning, cannot psychologically help believing that it is true. In what follows I will refer to this peculiar kind of knowledge as knowledge*, instances of knowing satisfying these conditions as knowing*, et cetera.

The first premise seems to flow directly out of the perennial philosophical commitment to the world’s intelligibility. Arguably, to be intelligible the world has to be the kind of thing which is knowable* in principle (if not always to us, due to some limitations of our cognitive faculties, then at least to some logically possible intellects with different cognitive faculties). This philosophical presumption has, Rutten hastens to note, “led to extraordinary discoveries”5 in science. In fact, it seems to be a fundamental pillar of science itself, for science is predicated on the assumption of the world’s intelligibility. The second premise also seems prima facie plausible; it is, somewhat ironically, appealed to confidently by many agnostics and some atheists.

The argument is, in its rough form, susceptible to a myriad of informative objections. Consider, for instance, the possibly true proposition: “God understands my reasons for being an atheist.”6 The proposition, although plausibly possibly true, is not knowable – for knowledge requires belief, but no atheist can believe the proposition. Similarly the proposition “there are no conscious beings”7 may be possibly true but is also not rationally believable. To avoid these kinds of counter-examples Rutten stipulates that his first premise should only quantify over rationally believable propositions. He thinks it is reasonable to exclude rationally unbelievable propositions, and that this way of restricting his first premise is not ad hoc, for it seems intuitively plausible that all rationally believable possible truths are knowable. Requiring the propositions of the relevant sort to be both (possibly) true and rationally believable navigates the argument away from obvious counter-examples. There are other counter-examples, however, and Rutten discusses some. First, consider a proposition like “‘John left Amsterdam and nobody knows it.’”8 This seems possibly true and obviously unknowable, even though it could be argued to be rationally believable. To deal with objections like this Rutten introduces a distinction between first-order propositions and second-order propositions; first-order propositions, he says, are directly about the world, whereas second-order propositions are about people’s beliefs about the world. Rutten then decides to limit the first premise of his argument to truths expressed by first-order propositions. In this way he blocks cute objections from propositions like ‘there are no believed propositions.’

Then he states his argument9 more formally in the following way (I have changed the wording very little, and added nothing of consequence):

1. If a rationally believable first order proposition is possibly true, then it is knowable* (first premise),
2. The proposition ‘IPFC does not exist’ is unknowable* (second premise),
3. The proposition ‘IPFC does not exist’ is rationally believable (third premise) ,
4. The proposition ‘IPFC does not exist’ is first order (fourth premise),
5. The proposition ‘IPFC does not exist’ is not possibly true (from 1, 2, 3 and 4),
6. The proposition ‘IPFC does not exist’ is necessarily false (from 5),
7. The proposition ‘IPFC exists’ is necessarily true (conclusion, from 6).

The third premise is either true, or else atheism is irrational. The fourth premise is self-evidently true. The fifth premise follows logically from 1,2,3 and 4. Six follows logically from five. Seven follows logically from six. So the key premises are 1 and 2. The first premise is very plausible insofar as its negation would imply that reality is not intelligible, but to deny that reality is intelligible seems absurd. That reality is intelligible (if not to us then at least in principle) seems to be a fundamental commitment of epistemology. However, if reality is intelligible, then for any first-order rationally believable proposition P, if P is possible then P is possibly known*. Can we know this premise in the strong sense of knowledge used within the argument? Maybe (e.g., perhaps it is obviously true, i.e. intuitively self-evident), but that’s also irrelevant; all we need is to ‘know’ it in the more general sense (i.e., having a true justified belief – allowing for whatever epistemology you’d like to use in order to qualify ‘justified’) in order to know (as opposed to know*) that the conclusion is true. 

The second premise is plausible given that, for the purposes of the argument, ‘knowledge’ is defined as satisfied just in case at least one of the four stipulated conditions are satisfied. However, God’s non-existence cannot be logically proven (if it can, then obviously this and all other arguments for God’s existence are worthless). On atheism, the proposition that God does not exist is not self-evidently true. On atheism, the proposition ‘God does not exist’ cannot be grounded in indisputable experience. On atheism, the proposition ‘God does not exist’ cannot be believed on the basis of indisputable testimony. It follows that the second premise is true. So, the argument looks sound, at least at first blush.

One immediate reaction to this argument is to suggest that it can be parodied by a parallel argument for atheism by substituting the second premise for: 2.* The proposition “God exists” is unknowable*. However, this is naïve; in at least one possible world in which God exists, plausibly God knows* that the IPFC (i.e., himself) exists, but in no possible world where no IPFC exists can anyone know* that no IPFC exists. As Rutten explains:“on the specific notion of knowledge used for the argument… logical proof, intuition, experience and testimony exhaust the range of knowledge sources, and none of them suffices to know that God does not exist.”10

Years ago now I heard one very interesting objection which I will try to reproduce as fairly as my memory and skill will allow. The objection basically maintains that if God could know* that the IPFC (i.e., God) exists, then it is possible for at least one atheist in at least one logically possible world to know* that the IPFC does not exist. Rutten suggests, in the paper, that “God’s knowledge that he is God – if possible – is an instance of (iii) (or (ii)),”11 meaning that it is either “obviously true, i.e. intuitively self-evident; [or]… grounded in indisputable experience.”12 But what experience could possibly establish the indubitability of being the IPFC? For any experience you can imagine having (if you were God), it seems logically possible that it is the result of an even greater being who created you with the purpose of deceiving you into thinking that you are the IPFC. What about intuitive self-evidence? Well, if it is possible for God to simply look inward and, through introspection, discover his relations (for, to be the IPFC is to bear certain relational properties, such as that of being first-cause), then why can’t there be a logically possible world in which an atheist introspects and discovers that she lacks any relation to an IPFC? If it is logically possible for the IPFC to introspectively survey its own relational properties, then why can’t a logically possible atheist do the same?

I think the best answer to this is to note that it may be possible to introspectively discover at least some of one’s essential properties (as opposed to merely accidental properties). I can know, by rational reflection, that I exist (cogito ergo sum), that I am a thinking thing, that I am either contingent or not omniscient, et cetera. I can also deduce from what I discover as self-evident through introspection that other facts happen to be true, such as that there exists something rather than nothing. So, coming back to God, perhaps God can know by introspection that he is incontingent, personal, and has some uniqualizing properties13 (that is, properties which, if had at all, are had by no more than one thing) etc. – and perhaps that means that he can deduce that he is the only being which could be an IPFC in principle, and that he is an IPFC just in case a contingent world exists. But, he could plausibly know* from indisputable experience (of some sort) that a contingent world exists. Therefore, he could deduce and know* that he is the IPFC. If atheism were true, no being would have, as an essential property, a lack of any relation to an IPFC. Lacking a relation cannot be an essential property, so there’s no reason to think it could be introspectively discovered that one lacks a relational property to the IPFC. Moreover, unless the atheist can actually produce (perhaps with the aid of premises introspectively discovered as self-evident) a logical proof that the IPFC does not exist it seems they cannot know* that no IPFC exists. So while this objection is extremely interesting, I do think that it fails; it is reasonable to maintain that, possibly, God knows* that the IPFC exists, and it does not plausibly follow that an atheist possibly knows* that no IPFC exists.

Another objection might come from considering large facts. Take, for instance, what Pruss has called the Big Conjunctive Contingent Fact (BCCF),14 and let’s take the sub-set of that fact which includes only first-order, rationally affirmable facts (for simplicity, I will abbreviate this as the BCCF*). The BCCF* is plausibly comprised of infinitely many conjuncts, and at least is possibly comprised of infinitely many conjuncts. Is this possible truth, the BCCF*, possibly known? I think it is possible so long as there is possibly a being with an infinite capacity for knowledge (or else, perhaps, an actually infinite number of beings with some finite capacity for knowledge not all of which are such that a discrete set of first-order rationally affirmable truths would have been beyond its ken). But, assuming there cannot be an actually infinite number of beings, doesn’t that presuppose something like theism, by presupposing the possible exemplification of omniscience (here we assume that BCCF*⊃BCCF, and that any being which knows the BCCF* also knows all analytic truths)? After all, the Bekenstein bound15 is generally taken to imply “that a Turing Machine with finite physical dimensions and unbounded memory is not physically possible.”16 However, it seems senseless to suggest that there could be a physical object (like a brain, or some other kind of computer) which is actually infinitely large. Therefore, doesn’t the first premise presuppose something like theism insofar as it presupposes the exemplifiability of omniscience or at least an intellect with an actually infinite capacity for knowledge? That would make the argument ostensibly circular.

First, the IPFC needn’t be omniscient even if it knew the BCCF*. Second, and more importantly, the IPFC isn’t being presupposed to be omniscient, or even knowledgeable enough to know the BCCF*. Third, a being’s being omniscient is necessary but insufficient for the truth of theism. Fourth, I’m not sure whether it is senseless to talk about infinitely large physical objects, or (actually) infinitely many beings, but I am relatively sure that most atheists have a vested interest in allowing for those kinds of possibilities in order to avoid conceding important premises in some (Kalaam) cosmological arguments. So this attempted charge of subtle circularity seems wrong.

[I should grant this this last objection could be accused of being a straw man erected by none other than myself; to that I just briefly want to say that I had originally thought that there may be an objection here, but as I tried to write the objection down clearly it seemed to crumble in my hands. Having already written it out, and having found it interesting to reflect upon it whether or not it is a viable objection at all, I decided to keep it in this final draft.]

I’m sure there are other possible objections which I would have been better able to iterate or anticipate had I done so years ago when this argument, and some objections to it, were still fresh in my mind. However, my sense is that that will do for an introduction to the argument. What makes this argument really exciting, I think, is that it, as Rutten notes, “does not fall within one of the traditional categories of arguments for the existence of God. For it is not ontological, cosmological or teleological. And it is not phenomenological either, such as for example the aesthetic or moral argument[s] for God’s existence.”17 The argument, whether sound or unsound, is doing something genuinely novel, at least for the analytic tradition of the philosophy of religion.

Rutten ends his short paper on an optimistic note which may be appropriately appended here, and this is where I will end my short excursus:

As I mentioned in the introduction, I propose to refer to the argument as a modal-epistemic argument. Ways to further improve it may be found, just as has been done with arguments in the other categories. I believe that if this happens, the prospects for the argument are rather promising.”18

1 Bernard Lonergan, Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, vol. 3, ed. Frederick E. Crowe and Robert M. Doran (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1992), 695.

2 Brogaard, Berit and Salerno, Joe, “Fitch’s Paradox of Knowability”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2013/entries/fitch-paradox/&gt;.

3 Emanuel Rutten, “A Modal-Epistemic Argument for the Existence of God.” Faith and Philosophy (2014), 3.

4 Emanuel Rutten, “A Modal-Epistemic Argument for the Existence of God.” Faith and Philosophy (2014), 4.

5 Emanuel Rutten, “A Modal-Epistemic Argument for the Existence of God.” Faith and Philosophy (2014), 14.

6 Emanuel Rutten, “A Modal-Epistemic Argument for the Existence of God.” Faith and Philosophy (2014), 7.

7 Emanuel Rutten, “A Modal-Epistemic Argument for the Existence of God.” Faith and Philosophy (2014), 8.

8 Emanuel Rutten, “A Modal-Epistemic Argument for the Existence of God.” Faith and Philosophy (2014), 9.

9 Emanuel Rutten, “A Modal-Epistemic Argument for the Existence of God.” Faith and Philosophy (2014), 10-11.

10 Emanuel Rutten, “A Modal-Epistemic Argument for the Existence of God.” Faith and Philosophy (2014), 2.

11 Emanuel Rutten, “A Modal-Epistemic Argument for the Existence of God.” Faith and Philosophy (2014), 5.

12 Emanuel Rutten, “A Modal-Epistemic Argument for the Existence of God.” Faith and Philosophy (2014), 4.

13 Alexander R. Pruss, “A Gödelian Ontological Argument Improved Even More.” Ontological Proofs Today 50 (2012): 204.

14 Alexander R. Pruss, “The Leibnizian cosmological argument.” The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, ed. W.L. Craig and J.P. Moreland (2009): 24-100.

15 See: “Bekenstein Bound,” Wikipedia, accessed March 24,2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bekenstein_bound

16“Bekenstein Bound,” Wikipedia, accessed March 24,2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bekenstein_bound

17 Emanuel Rutten, “A Modal-Epistemic Argument for the Existence of God.” Faith and Philosophy (2014), 28.

18 Emanuel Rutten, “A Modal-Epistemic Argument for the Existence of God.” Faith and Philosophy (2014), 28.

A Passage (not) About Rape

In the last several years I have shifted the focal point of my studies from broadly theological (including, but not limited to, Biblical studies), to specifically philosophical (through the avenue of philosophical theology). However, recently I was treated to a somewhat nostalgic experience: being called upon to act as an apologist for scripture. Although it is somewhat unfortunate that the question caught me unprepared, it did catalyze my interest in looking at the passage more carefully. In the end I found the problem to evaporate entirely upon closer inspection (as I have learnt from experience to expect). However, I also found that this verse is popularly used on the internet in an attempt to undermine the credibility of the claim that the Bible is a product of divine inspiration. So, I thought maybe I’d briefly address this alleged difficulty. This treatment will be a little more anecdotal and exploratory than academic, but whatever – it’s my blog and I’ll do whatever I want.

I was presented with a passage from Deuteronomy by two young women who had interpreted it as a justification for rape and a very peculiar kind of victim blaming. The passage read as follows:

“If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you.”
(Deuteronomy 22:23-24)

They had reasoned that because the term ‘violated’ had been used this was a description of a man who had raped a virgin pledged to be married. They inferred, therefore, that the young woman who had been raped would be put to death because she did not scream for help. They then argued that in actual rape cases one is not always able to call out, nor is it always acceptably safe to do so. The passage had scandalized them and they turned to me to see what I might say in its defense. Having felt pressed for time I decided to assure them that although a passage like this may look bad at first blush, I have always found that upon closer inspection one finds that understanding more of the historical, legal and literary context mitigates the scandal we originally feel. With my dinner growing cold as it sat on the table, I asked if I could get back to them after having looked at the passage more carefully for myself – and that’s when one of them accused me of sounding like a Jehovah’s Witness (I happened to know that she had grown up in that community and had a bad experience ending in her departure – in fact, it was in excommunication). Being unable to tolerate the slight, I gave them my full attention, leaving my dinner to get cold. As I tried to balance reading the passage (along with the surrounding context, etc.) with keeping up in conversation with them over the phone as they jumped from one related issue to another, I noticed that they were trying to enunciate a general view of religion in line with that of the new atheists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins; a view of religion particularly contagious to those who had a negative experience with a rather immature version of religion (usually found in cults like that of the Jehovah’s Witnesses).

Then, after several dozen minutes of discussion which began to trail further and further away from the original topic, I decided to read the passage again with fresh eyes, but this time my eyes seemed drawn to the very next verse:

“If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you.
But if out in the country a man happens to meet a young woman pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die.”
(Deuteronomy 22:23-25).

Those words contextualized the passage in a way which I thought, and continue to think, makes it impervious to the objection that it engages in victim-blaming. Even though I was at the disadvantage of no longer having my preferred bible-study software (for my laptop had recently just died), I couldn’t help but notice that in the only clear instance of ‘rape’ here, not only was that term used in contrast to the term ‘violate,’ but the punishment was supposed to be meted out differently. There are, it seems, (at least) two ways to interpret this passage. Either it suggests that a woman who is raped in a city is at fault, while one raped in the country is not – or it suggests that the woman in the city is being put to death for being a willing participant in the crime of adultery (as indicated by the fact that she did not cry out for help in an urban area where she would presumably have been heard). The first reading seems pretty wild, even on the assumption that the text is merely an uninspired primitive catalogue of ancient near-eastern jurisprudence. On the second reading, however, the alleged problem just evaporates, for the woman, far from being a rape victim, is being punished for deciding to cheat. Now, while that doesn’t mollify us completely (and, as I will shortly argue, shouldn’t), it is quite a different thing from suggesting that being raped is a capital offense (or that being raped without crying for help is a capital offense).1 The passage states, instead, that cheating (here understood as adultery) is a capital offense – worthy of capital punishment. I have read (though I cannot strictly confirm) that the Talmud calls the sin of adultery ha’averah meaning something like ‘the paradigmatic sin.’2 Interestingly, however, the way adultery is used in the Torah, it is meant to indicate illicit sex between a woman married, or one pledged to be married, and some man other than her husband (or soon to be husband). It does not apply to sex between an unmarried woman (not pledged to be married) and any man, whether married or not.3

This is for at least two reasons, as far as I can make out; first, because the law was written in a time and place where culture was inexorably (and, importantly, incorrigibly) patriarchal. I have elsewhere written about the nature of law under less than ideal circumstances of justice, but to reiterate the idea briefly; I believe that some laws, even if good, would be unenforceable given the reality of less-than-ideal circumstances. To give a simple modern example, I believe that it should (ideally) be illegal to mistreat animals intended for consumption (where by mistreat I mean abuse, put into horrible conditions, made to live through a hellish existence, et cetera). I also believe that such a law would be literally unenforceable in our current society. We would need moral and cultural progress with respect to our understanding of animal rights for that law to be feasibly enforced. I am suggesting that something similar is true nearly across the board; realistically speaking, whether we like it or not, it seems as though reforming a patriarchal society in the blink of an eye by introducing laws which would, for them, completely reorganize their societal structure and be incomprehensible to them as a culture, is just infeasible. No appeal to omnipotence (omniscience and omnibenevolence) can help one circumambulate this problem unless some good argument is provided to think that God would either prefer, or be indifferent to, a culturally-coercive revelation, rather than a sort of ’embedded revelation’ designed to catalyze progress organically by working to reorient culture from within (note the parallel, here, to the doctrine of justification by infusion, rather than by imputation). I can think of no such argument. Moreover, given the destabilizing effects of changing culture too radically too suddenly (i.e., a sort of cultural whiplash), I just don’t see how it could be incumbent upon God to demand a people, as a culture, to live up to standards which would have been entirely incomprehensible to them (such that they would appear not just mysterious, but utterly baffling). Culture, after all, is largely a product of people’s collective free expression and (in my opinion) all noteworthy theodicies rightly presume that freedom is paramount.

Now, obviously this rationalization (a sort of attempt to harmonize primitive systems of justice with modernist temperaments and moral scruples) applies to civil rights more easily than it could to natural rights. However, if no natural rights are violated in principle by capital punishment (which, I maintain, is not a violation of natural rights in principle), and no natural rights are violated in principle by inequality under the law, rather than inequality of treatment under the same law (and, again, I maintain that no natural rights are violated by some inequality under the law, whether that’s ideal or not), then I think the difficulty here is largely emotional, rather than strictly intellectual.4

I also want to note that if I am right about the realistic constraints of less than ideal circumstances vis-à-vis justice, I would expect the law, were it inspired, to on the one hand navigate its way around violations of intrinsic natural human rights, and on the other hand set a trajectory towards the good society. I would expect to see the establishment of a jurisprudential tradition which would, given its initial conditions, aim naturally towards moral progress. Do we have any reason to think this is the case with Jewish law? Well, perhaps we do. For a start, I think there is good evidence that this Jewish law already set itself apart as morally outstanding in its own era. Consider the following observation from the analytic philosopher of religion Paul Copan:

Middle Assyrian laws punished not a rapist but a rapist’s wife and even allowed her to be gang-raped. In other ancient Near Eastern laws, men could freely whip their wives, pull out their hair, mutilate their ears, or strike them –a dramatic contrast to Israel’s laws, which gave no such permission.5

These laws were clearly steps in the right moral direction. I also cannot quite see how they would violate, strictly and in principle, natural rights. It is interesting to ponder whether these laws, though they appear primitive to us (their beneficiaries who have had several thousand years to build systems of law influenced by them), really do appear to lubricate the gears of progress insofar as they really do catalyze significant legal and moral progress. Notice that David Werner Amram, a reputed legal scholar in his time, argued that progress in the holistic interpretation, understanding and application of the Pentateuch’s law concerning adultery was already observable by the end of the first century (A.D.).

Under the Talmudic law the severity of the Mosaic code was in many instances modified, and the laws relating to Adultery came under the influence of a milder theory of the relation of crime and punishment. Indeed, the rabbis went so far as to declare that a woman could not be convicted of Adultery unless it had been affirmatively shown that she knew the law relating to it—a theory that resulted in the practical impossibility of convicting any adulteress. No harm was done by this new view, because the right of divorce which remained to the husband was sufficient to free him from the woman, who, although guilty of the crime, was not punishable by the law. Upon this mild view followed the entire abolition of the death penalty, in the year 40, before the destruction of the Second Temple (Sanh. 41a), when the Jewish courts, probably under pressure of the Roman authorities, relinquished their right to inflict capital punishment. Thereafter, the adulterer was scourged, and the husband of the adulteress was not allowed to condone her crime (Soṭah, vi. 1), but was compelled to divorce her, and she lost all her property rights under her marriage contract (Maimonides, “Yad ha-Ḥazaḳah, Ishut,” xxiv. 6); nor was the adulteress permitted to marry her paramour (Soṭah, v. 1); and if she married him, they were forced to separate.6

Perhaps the sample-size (of precisely one) and the viability of several alternative hypotheses for this apparent progress (conditioned on the implementation of this Jewish legal framework) makes such an argument appear overly ambitious. However, at least as far as the test-tube of history is concerned, the Pentateuch’s laws ostensibly showed themselves to be indisputably progressive, both for their time and in their orientation.

Second, I think the true tropological richness of the passage is filtered through its anagogical (i.e., eschatological) and allegorical senses. It is pretty clear that throughout their literature the Isrealites constantly return to one particularly popular way of conceptualizing their relationship with God, and this is in the form of a marriage covenant. For example:

For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name;
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called.”
(Isaiah 54:5)

Israel’s sin and rejection of God, then, was often couched in the language of adultery:

“I passed by you again and looked on you; you were at the age for love. I spread the edge of my cloak over you, and covered your nakedness: I pledged myself to you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord God, and you became mine… But you trusted in your beauty, and played the whore because of your fame, and lavished your whorings on any passer-by. You took some of your garments, and made for yourself colorful shrines, and on them played the whore; nothing like this has ever been or ever shall be. You also took your beautiful jewels of my gold and my silver that I had given you, and made for yourself male images, and with them played the whore… Therefore, O whore, hear the word of the Lord… I will judge you as women who commit adultery and shed blood are judged, and bring blood upon you in wrath and jealousy.”
(Ezekiel 16:8,15-17, 35, 38)

The New Testament obviously makes special use of this theme as well, in talking about the Church as the bride of Christ (the bridegroom); indeed, eschatology is ultimately expressed in the Bible using this imagery. So, with this allegorical trope in place, and the anagogical significance of adultery in place, one can see how the punishment for adultery may have been partially motivated by its archetypal significance for Israel within the context of its covenant relationship with God.

As an aside, it seems to me, at the risk of sounding a little cheeky, that the real injustice, if there is one, in the way this law was written seems to be that the man who sleeps with a woman pledged to be married is put to death, even if she seduced him and he had no knowledge that she was pledged to be married. There was obviously a presumption behind the law that men either were already aware of who was (pledged to be) married, or that they had a duty to verify that the person was not married or pledged to be married which it is reasonable to expect them to be able to do. However, just like all systems of law, this one allows for ambiguities, and this is why there are judges (and why jurisprudence develops in an organic way, much like tradition).

As a post-script, I want to acknowledge that there are, of course, other Biblical passages allegedly condoning or enjoining rape. Perhaps the most well known comes from Numbers:

“Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.” (Numbers 31:17-18).

This is, I do not hesitate to say, a difficult passage, but it is largely difficult precisely because young women and girls are spared, while boys are all killed. I can understand the reasons for this; one would want to kill all the males because men are stronger than women, and they may grow up to not only resent the Israelites, but to rebel against them. The married women could be killed for the same reason, for even if they are the weaker sex (on average and in kind), their resentment and ability to rebel (by killing children, for instance, or poisoning men) cannot be ignored. Why, though, spare the young women? I think the idea was that they could be assimilated; in particular because they had obviously not participated in the immorality associated with Baal worship (due to their being demonstrably virginal). This is, however, apologetic speculation on my part. I raise the verse only to call attention to the fact that while Biblical passages can be difficult, no passages (no, not even this one) come close to enjoining rape. Although that seems a popular interpretation in the dark corners of the internet, a much more viable interpretation is that the passage recommends keeping every virgin girl alive and considering them eligible to marry the sons of Israel. In fact, I think that is the standard Jewish (and Christian) interpretation of this passage.

1 Although it is, of course, possible to be raped while being physically prevented from crying out, the law was obviously not written with this circumstance in mind. Rather, this just represents a more primitive standard for evidence establishing guilt ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.’

2 I cannot confirm that this traces back to the Talmud, since I have been unable to find any such reference in the Talmud, however, that may be due to my own incompetence or unfamiliarity with the Talmud. Where I read this about adultery, originally, was from Rabbi Ronald H. Isaacs, in an online article here: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/adultery/

3 Another interesting note: the law seems to apply even if the man were seduced by a woman pledged to be married and he had no knowledge that he was participating in adultery. Ironically, then, the law seems especially unjust, if it is unjust at all, to men. I would dispute, however, that this is genuinely unjust; it simply makes presumptions about the man involved in the crime (namely, that he did so with knowledge concerning the act’s adulterous nature, and that of this the judges could be sure beyond reasonable doubt).

4 Think here, for example, of the way the modern constitutional-democratic law treats children as ineligible voters, even though arguments could be made for allowing them to vote should they feel so inclined. Indeed, they arguably have a greater vested interest in politics than do senior citizens, but they are treated unequally under the law because we believe that most of them are unable to consent to the extent we reasonably expect voters to be able to consent. Consider, additionally, whether it intrinsically violates human rights to be able to forcefully conscript men into the military (in a time of desperation and war), but not forcefully conscript women into the military (perhaps allowing them to exercise freedom in joining the military under these conditions).

5 Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011. 140.

6 David Werner Amram, “Adultery” in The Jewish Encyclopedia. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/865-adultery

Grave Findings

The recent opening of the alleged tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre has attracted worldwide attention as the marble slab overlaying the tomb has been removed exposing it for the first time since 1555 (A.D.). This historic event has served as an occasion for Christians to review or explore the strength of the case for identifying that tomb as the genuine burial place of Jesus. A thought which occurs to me, as I review the evidence for the authenticity of the site, is that the evidence is actually good enough to provide some very moderate but noteworthy evidence for the historicity of Christ.

The historicity of Christ is, of course, not hotly contested among professional historians or academics, but it has gained notable popularity on the Internet among many new-atheists who adopt the ‘mythicist’ view propounded (or defended) by folks like Dr. Robert Price and Dr. Richard Carrier. In fact, as recently as October 26th, Robert Price finally debated Bart Ehrman (Ehrman being one of the preeminent biblical scholars in the world, as well as a staunch agnostic and author of the book “Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth”) on the topic of whether there was a historical Jesus of Nazareth. While I haven’t yet seen the debate (because the group uploading the content to youtube is currently still charging money to view it), initial reviews are a little disheartening. The conspiratorial views of the mythicists are a long way off from getting any serious foothold in mainstream academia, but they are (or, at least, seem to be) gaining more ground in the popular culture.

I do not presently have the time, the space, or even the inclination to take a comprehensive approach to dismantling the mythicist’s case, but I do note that, for what it’s worth, the mythicist hypothesis is regarded by academics as on a par with flat earthism, 9/11 conspiracy theories, and young earth creationism (or, as it really ought to be called, young universe creationism). It is a hack conspiracy theory for which no reasonable case can be made (I would invite the skeptic to explore the case(s) presented by Price and Carrier and contrast that(/them) with Ehrman’s work, as well as the work of figures like N.T. Wright). It will be evident to the reasonable person’s satisfaction that there was clearly a historical figure ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Mythicism is of fleeting relevance, but the opening of the tomb in Jerusalem gives me an excuse to offer a thought about how the evidence for the veridicality of the site heaps even more evidence against the Mythicist.

As to the Tomb itself, the archaeological community considers it likely to be the burial place of Christ. It fits the description of (along with everything else we’ve learned about) a first-century Jewish tomb. The Biblical accounts say that Jesus’ body was laid in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea, a well respected and wealthy member of the Sanhedrin (the same council which had been instrumental in condemning Jesus). Some of the Gospels indicate that Joseph of Arimathea had become a disciple of Christ, though only in secret, and the Gospel of John indicates that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (another Jewish follower of Christ who kept his views secret) worked together to give Jesus a proper burial.

“After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews.” (John 19:38-40)

The tomb itself is an authentic first-century tomb with a disk-shaped rolling stone at its entrance. Although it is true that there were two kinds of tombs with a stone-slab covering the entrance (one kind with a rolling stone, and another with a roughly rectangular stone covering a doorway), and the disk-shaped stone covering is much rarer (and reserved for the wealthy), the Gospels indicate that the tomb of Jesus was found with its stone ‘rolled’ away (Luke 24:4), indicating that it was the rarer variety of tomb in Jerusalem. Some scholars doubt that the actual tomb of Christ had one of the rare disk-shaped stones covering the entrance; Urban C. von Wahlde, for instance, has written an article titled “Biblical Views: A Rolling Stone That Was Hard to Roll.”[1] Nevertheless, I think a stronger case can be made for the disk-shaped stone, especially in light of the case for the authenticity of the tomb safeguarded by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Apart from this tomb matching the biblical description, the story of its discovery also lends it immense credibility.

The story of the tomb’s discovery is ancient history, but it is extremely interesting. William Lane Craig, speaking casually (and excitedly) on his podcast recently recounts the following:

“Scholars believe that the The Church of the holy Sepulchre has a very credible claim to be on the site of the actual tomb of Jesus, and this is based on a couple of very interesting facts about its discovery. In the year 326 (this is just one year following the council of Nicea that was convened by the emperor Constantine and then promulgated the famous Nicene creed – the following year) Constantine’s mother, Helena, went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, for the purpose of finding relics from the time of Christ and when Constantine’s mother came to Jerusalem she asked the residents of Jerusalem where the tomb of Jesus had been… The people in Jerusalem at that time pointed her to this site where a pagan temple now stood and they said the tomb of Jesus was on this site and this pagan temple was built over it. Well, Helena ordered the temple to be razed and the earth to be excavated [to] get rid of this pollution of paganism. Now, what was interesting about the site identified by the residents of Jerusalem at this time is that the site lay within the walls of Jerusalem. If you look at where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is, it’s inside the city walls, but the Gospels state that Jesus was crucified and buried outside the walls of the city; they would never allow a crucifixion site and burial of unclean corpses to be going on inside the Holy City, it had to be outside the walls, and so it was odd that the residents of Jerusalem would point Helena to a site inside the city walls. Well, as it turned out many centuries later archaeologists excavating the city discovered that the original walls of Jerusalem were more narrowly constrained in that the site that the residents of Jerusalem pointed Helena to actually lay outside the original walls of Jerusalem. They had been later expanded. … The second thing that’s interesting… is that when they began to excavate the site and remove the earth they dug down and… lo and behold they excavated a tomb exactly where the residents of Jerusalem said that it would be. Now what’s interesting is that this Pagan temple stood on that site since it was built by the emperor Hadrian in A.D. 110. Now, since Jesus was crucified around A.D. 30, that means that the memory of this temple being on the site of Jesus’ tomb goes back to within just 80 years of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, well within the time that historical memory might be preserved. And so there’s a very very good chance that this is the very tomb in which Joseph of Arimathea lay the corpse of Jesus of Nazareth.”[2]

The fact that the site originally identified was identified within the walls of Jerusalem (to the best of everyone’s knowledge), and that it came to light only centuries later through archaeological discovery that it was actually outside the original walls of Jerusalem, gives this site immense plausibility. Being originally inside the walls lowered the conditional probability of its being authentic (though the fact that there was a tomb there fitting the description of the biblical tomb and that it was identified by the residents of Jerusalem as the spot, raised the conditional probability of it being the authentic tomb). However, once it was discovered that this tomb was, in fact, outside of the walls of Jerusalem in place at the time of Jesus’ burial, that greatly raises the conditional probability of its being authentic. It is not merely that the tomb resides outside the original walls which is relevant for the conditional probability assessment here, it is that it was identified first as the tomb and was later discovered that it lay outside of the original walls of Jerusalem. That discovery raises the conditional probability tremendously. To formalize this a little bit:

Pr(A|B&W) < Pr(A|B&~W)

Pr(A|B&D&~W) >> Pr(A|B&~W)

Where A means the tomb is authentic, B stands for our background knowledge, W stands for ‘the site of the tomb is located within the city walls’ and D stands for ‘discovering after the fact that ~W.’ In the words of the archaeologist Dan Bahat, “we may not be absolutely certain that the site of the Holy Sepulchre Church is the site of Jesus’ burial, but… we really have no reason to reject the authenticity of the site.”[3] In fact, the discovery after the fact (in conjunction with the other properties which fit the description of the tomb from early sources) raises the probability of this being the authentic tomb highly enough that we can say it provides evidence that there was an authentic tomb. This entails that there was a place where the historical Jesus of Nazareth was buried, and so a historical figure, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’

Pr(J|B&D*) > Pr(~J|B&D*)

Where J stands for ‘Jesus of Nazareth existed,’ B stands, once again, for our background knowledge and Dstands for ‘the case for the authenticity of the tomb in light of the discovery that it lies outside of the original city walls.’

This case isn’t compelling. It’s just something to think about… Also worth thinking about, depending upon how strong you think the case for the Shroud of Turin is, is the following report from the U.K. branch of EWTN.[4] I leave that here, without endorsing any of it, for those of you who may be interested in a pretty far-fetched but provocative suggestion.


[1] http://members.bib-arch.org/publication.asp?PubID=BSBA&Volume=41&Issue=2&ArticleID=10

[2] http://www.reasonablefaith.org/opening-the-tomb-of-jesus

[3] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/10/jesus-christ-tomb-burial-church-holy-sepulchre/

[4] https://www.ewtn.co.uk/news/latest/astonishing-discovery-at-christ-s-tomb-supports-turin-shroud

Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust

The Catholic Church certainly doesn’t have an immaculate history; from the Spanish inquisition to the atrocities committed during the crusades, history has borne witness to myriad spectacles of moral failure on the part of Catholics. This point, I take it, is beyond reasonable contest. However, having acknowledged that, I have to say that I have grown aggravated by the mindless tendency to sensationalize and exaggerate these failures, as well as to fabricate some of them wholesale. Enough is enough, and the nonsense has to be called out. Nowhere is this trend more irritating to me than in the case of the wild accusation that Pope Pius XII (one of my favorite popes of all time) was a Nazi sympathizer. So, I will break with my usual habit of blogging about strictly philosophical and/or theological issues and write a little bit in defense of venerable Pope Pius XII.

The late Christopher Hitchens, one of the famed ‘four horsemen’ of the new atheism, wrote:

“None of the Protestant churches, however, went as far as the Catholic hierarchy in ordering an annual celebration for Hitler’s birthday on April 20. On this auspicious date, on papal instructions, the cardinal of Berlin regularly transmitted “warmest congratulations to the führer in the name of the bishops and dioceses in Germany,” these plaudits to be accompanied by “the fervent prayers which the Catholics of Germany are sending to heaven on their altars.” The order was obeyed, and faithfully carried out.

To be fair, this disgraceful tradition was not inaugurated until 1939, in which year there was a change of papacy. And to be fair again, Pope Pius XI had always harbored the most profound misgivings about the Hitler system and its evident capacity for radical evil. (During Hitler’s first visit to Rome, for example, the Holy Father rather ostentatiously took himself out of town to the papal retreat at Castelgandolfo.) However, this ailing and weak pope was continually outpointed, throughout the 1930s, by his secretary of state, Eugenio Pacelli. We have good reason to think that at least one papal encyclical, expressing at least a modicum of concern about the maltreatment of Europe’s Jews, was readied by His Holiness but suppressed by Pacelli, who had another strategy in mind. We now know Pacelli as Pope Pius XII, who succeeded to the office after the death of his former superior in February 1939. Four days after his election by the College of Cardinals, His Holiness composed the following letter to Berlin:

To the Illustrious Herr Adolf Hitler, Fuhrer and Chancellor of the German Reich! Here at the beginning of Our Pontificate We wish to assure you that We remain devoted to the spiritual welfare of the German people entrusted to your leadership. […] During the many years We spent in Germany, we did all in Our power to establish harmonious relations between Church and State. Now that the responsibilities of Our pastoral function have increased Our opportunities, how much more ardently do We pray to reach that goal. May the prosperity of the German people and their progress in every domain come, with God’s help, to fruition!

Within six years of this evil and fatuous message, the once prosperous and civilized people of Germany could gaze around themselves and see hardly one brick piled upon another, as the godless Red Army swept toward Berlin. But I mention this conjuncture for another reason. Believers are supposed to hold that the pope is the vicar of Christ on earth, and the keeper of the keys of Saint Peter. They are of course free to believe this, and to believe that god decides when to end the tenure of one pope or (more important) to inaugurate the tenure of another. This would involve believing in the death of an anti-Nazi pope, and the accession of a pro-Nazi one, as a matter of divine will, a few months before Hitler’s invasion of Poland and the opening of the Second World War.”[1]

This is as naïve an analysis of Catholic theology, as well as of history, as it is possible to find.

Specialists on this issue, such as Ronald J. Rychlak,[2] had challenged Hitchens to debate the issue publicly, but Hitchens never accepted (for whatever reason), and lest one imagine that Rychlak, being Catholic, is unfairly biased, I can direct the reader just as easily to X-Catholic atheists, such as Mark Riebling (who, it just so happens, has done an interview on the topic with another one of the horsemen of the new atheism, Sam Harris).[3] It is worth noting, for a start, that Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli (better known as Pope Pius XII) ascended to the papacy as a successor to Pius XI, whose legacy of opposition to the Nazi’s is as clear as is his encyclical Mit brennender Sorge (1937), in which he denounced and condemned them unequivocally. One source reads:

“When Pius XI died in 1939, the Nazis abhorred the prospect that Pacelli might be elected his successor.
Dr. Joseph Lichten, a Polish Jew who served as a diplomat and later an official of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, writes: “Pacelli had obviously established his position clearly, for the Fascist governments of both Italy and Germany spoke out vigorously against the possibility of his election to succeed Pius XI in March of 1939, though the cardinal secretary of state had served as papal nuncio in Germany from 1917 to 1929. . . . The day after his election, the Berlin Morgenpost said: ‘The election of cardinal Pacelli is not accepted with favor in Germany because he was always opposed to Nazism and practically determined the policies of the Vatican under his predecessor.’ “[4]
Former Israeli diplomat and now Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Pinchas Lapide states that Pius XI “had good reason to make Pacelli the architect of his anti-Nazi policy. Of the forty-four speeches which the Nuncio Pacelli had made on German soil between 1917 and 1929, at least forty contained attacks on Nazism or condemnations of Hitler’s doctrines. . . . Pacelli, who never met the Führer, called it ‘neo-Paganism.’ “[5]””[4]

For example, in April of 1935 Pacelli delivered a speech at Lourdes, France, stating before an audience of no less than 250,000 pilgrims that “[Nazi’s] are in reality only miserable plagiarists who dress up old errors with new tinsel. It does not make any difference whether they flock to the banners of social revolution, whether they are guided by a false concept of the world and of life, or whether they are possessed by the superstition of a race and blood cult.”””[5] When he finally ascended to the papacy, Pius XII confirmed every worry the German elites had about him when he continued to write scathing speeches against Nazism. Not only did he remain vigilant, but he alerted the world to the philosophical horrors of Nazism long before the discovery of the death camps, particularly in one Christmas address so clear it became a cry heard around the world.

“”The New York Times at the time observed of Pius XII’s Christmas address, “This Christmas more than ever he is a lonely voice crying out in the silence of a continent.” Pius XII’s message was carefully analyzed by Reinhard Heydrich’s branch of the SS, which saw the pope’s message as an attack on the Nazi regime and its anti-Semitism. Calling the Christmas address “a masterpiece of clerical falsification,” the SS reported that the “Pope has repudiated the National Socialist New European Order” and noted his assertion that “all peoples and races are worthy of the same consideration.” “Here,” they argued, “he is clearly speaking of the Jews.”””[6]

How are we to believe that this man was Hitler’s Pope? This is the same man who helped write the first draft of Mit brennender Sorge,[7] who orchestrated the secret rescue of as many as 800,000 Jews,[8] who was consulted in the (unsuccessful) plot to oust Hitler from power,[9] who sanctioned the plot to assassinate Hitler,[10] and the same man whom Hitler allegedly[11] plotted to forcefully enter the Vatican and detain.[12] This was the man upon whose death in 1958 Israel’s Foreign Minister at the time, Golda Meir, issued the following statement by way of condolence communicated to the Vatican:

“When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the Pope was raised for the victims. The life of our times was enriched by a voice speaking out on the great moral truths above the tumult of daily conflict. We mourn a great servant of peace.””[13]

In 1955 the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, in an act permeated with symbolism, gave a special performance at the Vatican in honour of the Pope. No less eminent a scholar than Rabbi David G. Dalin observes:

“on May 26, 1955, the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra flew to Rome to give a special performance of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, at the Vatican’s Consistory Hall, to express the State of Israel’s enduring gratitude for the help that the Pope and the Catholic Church had given to the Jewish people persecuted by the Nazis during the Holocaust. That the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra so joined the rest of the Jewish world in warmly honoring the achievements and legacy of Pope Pius XII is of more than passing significance. As a matter of state policy, the Israeli Philharmonic has never played the music of the nineteenth century composer Richard Wagner because of Wagner’s well-known reputation as an anti-Semite and as Hitler’s “favorite composer,” and as one of the cultural patron saints of the Third Reich, whose music was played at Nazi party functions and ceremonies. Despite requests from music lovers and specialists, the official state ban on the Israeli Philharmonic’s playing Wagner’s music has never been lifted.”[14]

This is the man whose example of Christian charity, virtue and faith was so great that, in the absence of intellectual argument (of which, I note in passing, he was eminently capable), he managed, by example alone, to convert the chief Rabbi of Rome (who also happened to be a doctor of philosophy) Israel Zolli, who, upon conversion to and reception into the Catholic Church in February of 1945, took as his baptismal name ‘Eugenio Maria Zolli,’ in clear homage to the pope.[15] Pius XII actually agreed to Zolli’s request to become his godfather. This conversion, it is worth underscoring, was sincere, as Zolli stresses in his book originally titled “Before the Dawn” and later released under the title “Why I Became a Catholic.”[16] It came about as an indirect result of Zolli observing the actions of Pius XII throughout the second world war, which included housing Zolli in the Vatican, as well as making the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo a refuge for a significant number of Jews, even allowing his own bed to be used at least 17 times for Jewish mothers to give birth within the safety of the Apostolic Palace.[17]

To claim in the face of such evidence that Pope Pius XII was, in any way, sympathetic to Hitler or Nazism is flatly incredible. Whence, then, this impression of him as Hitler’s Pope? The answer may surprise you. It comes primarily from a piece of propaganda in the form of a play popularized in Germany, written by Rolf Hochhuth in 1963, titled Der Stellvertreter (which is usually translated as “The Deputy” but may be better translated as “The Vicar”).[18] This eight-hour long piece of… egregious historical revisionism was used by the Soviet Union to promote communism in Germany. It was, however, only after this play was performed on Broadway that the caricature of Pope Pius XII as Hitler’s Pope gained notoriety in the West.[19] It catalyzed a slew of literature in the English-speaking world, among the most influential fruits of which we find John Cornwell’s book “Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII,” published in 1999.[20] Since then it has shoved its way into the collective subconscious of misinformed westerners everywhere. Misinformation, it seems, travels faster than the speed of thought.

To be fair, while the play is undoubtedly the primary source for the popular perception, the impression is at least partly promoted by some criticisms of Pius XII suggesting that he could have done more. The Encyclopedia Britannica has an entry an excerpt of which reads as follows:

“Pius XII… played a much more controversial role during the war, [and] has been criticized for failing to speak out more forcefully against the genocidal policies of the Nazis. His strongest statement against genocide was regarded as inadequate by the Allies, though in Germany he was regarded as an Allied sympathizer who had violated his own policy of neutrality. Pius also approved efforts to help the Jews and ordered that the Jews of Rome be given refuge in the city’s religious houses. After the war, the Vatican was involved in extensive humanitarian efforts. Pius, however, was criticized for not having done more. A cautious and experienced diplomat who feared that bold actions would cause more harm than good, he was not a prophet at a time when the world may have needed one.”[21]

This criticism is slightly uncharitable, and it fails to appreciate some of the complexities inherent in negotiating the political and religious terrain with which Pius XII was presented. It is true that Pius XII urged the allied forces to seek alternative solutions to war (see Summi Pontificatus). It is also true that Eugenio Pacelli, acting as the Vatican’s secretary of state, negotiated and agreed to the Reichskonkordat in 1933, a concordat between the Holy See and the German Reich.[22] It is fair to say that Pius XII also attenuated his tone during the second world war, particularly when he saw the Nazi’s target for imprisonment and death Catholic laity, nuns, and clergy by the hundreds in response to his own rhetoric. Hitler’s Nazi Germany showed itself to be incorrigible in the face of criticism, and Pius XII readjusted himself accordingly, focusing his energy on the ‘underground network’ he used to save hundreds of thousands of lives.

If this criticism, with all the advantage of hindsight and the luxury of idealism, is all there is to say against Pope Pius XII, then even if we conceded it without qualification it would go no considerable distance toward justifying the moniker ‘Hitler’s Pope.’ Once we clear away the debris of misinformation and bring into focus all the evidences which bear on his actions, his attitude and his general character, we can see with stunning clarity just how astounding, even scandalizing, it is to refer to this Pope as a Nazi sympathizer. Almost literally, nothing could be further from the truth. As far as asking people in the Church to pray for Hitler, that is not only standard (the Bible in 1 Timothy 2:1-4 commands Christians to pray for their political leaders, however awful they may be – and all the more the more awful they are), but to do the contrary would have been to send a very strong condescending message from the Vatican to Nazi Germany, and the Vatican had to be meticulously diplomatic in its actions (and inactions) to prevent or mitigate the complete political turmoil in Germany. As I indicated above (and others have made the point more competently than I have), the Pope could only vocally oppose Hitler to an extent before it would lead to more casualties, and Pius XII took it as his priority to save lives rather than to save face.

Allow me now, briefly, to anticipate one possible objection to this conclusion on which I insist. Perhaps it occurs to the reader that I, being a Catholic, have a vested interest in defending the Pope, in shielding the Pope from criticism, and as such I turn out to be (even if through no fault of my own) as unreliable as any inordinately biased source. Two responses come to mind. In the first place, if you think that I am guilty of misrepresenting the historical portrait, then I sincerely invite you to peruse and explore the literature on this topic and see for yourself what you make of the matter. Second, perhaps it is worth clarifying that Catholics believe in papal infallibility, but not in papal impeccability. We believe that Popes are guarded by the Holy Spirit against teaching error through the exercise of their papal authority. We do not hesitate to believe that many popes have been astonishingly and spectacularly sinful. Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that Pius XII was actually horrendously evil, that he was Hitler’s pope, that he had horns growing out of his head, et cetera. What consequences would follow from this for the credibility of the Catholic worldview? Precisely none. Nothing of relevance follows about the truth or falsity of the Catholic worldview as a whole, or about any doctrine in particular. Infallibility does not entail impeccability, and Catholics regard the Pope as infallible only when, under very specific conditions, he invokes his papal authority. Nowhere does Pius XII teach anything (positive) about Hitler’s ideals, or his national socialism, so there is simply nothing here for me to defend out of any misguided sense of Catholic propriety.

The reason I defend this Pope is that I have grown to have a warm affection for both his character and his intellect. Of the veritable library of encyclicals he managed to produce during his pontificate, Humani Generis, Mystici corporis Christi, Orientales omnes Ecclesias, Sempiternus Rex Christus, Musicae sacrae, Ad Apostolorum principis, and Divino afflante Spiritu stand out as being among the most beautiful and (for me) intellectually formative encyclicals I have ever read. Pope Pius XII was a towering intellect with a solid commitment to the exploration of the beauty, truth and goodness of his faith. He also happened to have the moral fortitude and heroism of a saint. This is the reason I rush to his defense.

[1] Hitchens, Christopher. God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. New York: Atlantic Books, 2008.

[2] See some of his extended interviews here: http://www.catholic.com/profiles/ron-rychlak

[3] https://www.samharris.org/blog/item/rethinking-hitlers-pope

[4] http://www.catholic.com/documents/how-pius-xii-protected-jews

[5] http://www.catholic.com/documents/how-pius-xii-protected-jews

[6] http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/not-hitlers-pope/

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Pius_XII_and_the_Holocaust

[8] http://www.catholicleague.org/the-real-story-of-pius-xii-and-the-jews/

[9] Peter Hoffmann, History of the German Resistance, 1933-1945. (McGill-Queen’s University Press: 1996) 161, 294.

[10] http://www.catholic.com/audio-player/40725

[11] This is hotly disputed, and may be propaganda from British and allied forces.

[12] Owen Chadwick, Britain and the Vatican During the Second World War, Cambridge University Press: 1988. And Dan Kurzman, “Hitler’s Plan to Kidnap the Pope,” June 26, 2007, accessed November 25, 2016. http://www.catholicleague.org/hitlers-plan-to-kidnap-the-pope/. Additionally, note the oddity of the British using this as pro-allied forces propaganda if Pius XII really was in league with Hitler. Thus, even if this was originally propaganda, it is propaganda which provides evidence that Pius was not a Nazi sympathizer.

[13] Rabbi David G. Dalin, “A Righteous Gentile: Pope Pius XII and the Jews,” http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/controversy/common-misconceptions/a-righteous-gentile-pope-pius-xii-and-the-jews.html

[14] Rabbi David G. Dalin, “A Righteous Gentile: Pope Pius XII and the Jews,” http://www.catholiceducation.org/…/a-righteous-gentile…

[15] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel_Zolli

[16] https://www.amazon.ca/Why-Became-Catholic-Eugenio-Zolli/dp/0912141468/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1480144352&sr=8-3&keywords=Why+I+became+a+Catholic

[17] http://www.catholic.com/audio-player/40725 (29 minutes in).

[18] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Deputy

[19] http://www.catholic.com/audio-player/40725

[20] Cornwell, John. Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII. Penguin, 2000.

[21] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Roman-Catholicism/The-age-of-Reformation-and-Counter-Reformation#toc43758

[22] Which can be found here, but only in Italian and German: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/secretariat_state/index_concordati-accordi_en.htm

Origen’s ἀποκατάστασις: The Question of Satanic Salvation

In this post I will explicate and critically assess Origen’s soteriological views, with a particular focus on his universalism, and the question of whether his understanding of ἀποκατάστασις (apocatastasis) really did entail that even the devil will be saved. It will be argued that Origen’s view of ἀποκατάστασις, once viewed through the lens of his understanding of his doctrine of free will, may not, in fact, entail a universalism which is far-reaching enough to include even the devil himself. Although there has emerged an academic consensus that Origen’s view does involve Satan’s salvation, I submit (and here argued) that whether or not the Devil is saved, for Origen, is to be regarded as a matter of legitimate academic controversy.

It is no exaggeration to say that Origen was perhaps the most highly revered and most innovative of Christian theologians during the whole of the ante-Nicene period. St. Vincent of Lerins, writing in the fifth century, in his Commonitory, notes:

“My belief is, that among many instances of this sort of trial which might be produced, there is not one to be compared with that of Origen, in whom there were many things so excellent, so unique, so admirable, that antecedently any one would readily deem that implicit faith was to be placed all his assertions.”[1]

St. Jerome allegedly said of him that he was “the greatest master of the church after the Apostles.”[2] Yet, the image of Origen as it exists in the religious imagination of Christians is a mixed one, with Martin Luther questioning “whether he was not “doomed to endless torment” for his impiety,”[3] and, of course, Theophilus of Alexandria condemning Origenism in the fifth century at the Synod of Alexandria.[4]

Although the Church did officially offer condemnations of ‘Origenism’ centuries after Origen had passed away, these condemnations do not strictly translate into condemnations of Origen himself, or even a condemnation of Origen’s own beliefs and teachings. The condemnation of a theologian’s teachings does not always entail that the theologian should be regarded as a heretic, as the famous example of St. Thomas Aquinas illustrates. After all, St. Thomas argued against the immaculate conception,[5] and the immaculate conception is today regarded as De Fide by Roman Catholics, but nobody concludes from this that St. Thomas is a heretic. Likewise the implication that condemnations of Origenism, even if they did properly identify views attributable to Origen himself, entail that Origen is a heretic simply can’t go through so easily.

Moreover, there are at least two reasons to be suspicious of the inference from ‘Origenism’ being heretical, to Origen’s being heretical. First, Origen’s name came to be associated with a number of movements and beliefs which Origen would not have identified or associated himself with. For example, the “Arians [had] claimed Origen for their party, followed by the Pelagians and the Nestorians,”[6] and this association of ‘Origenism’ with condemnable views (in the eyes of the Catholic establishment) led to the condemnation of what had become ‘Origenism.’ Origenism, in this way, had departed significantly from Origen himself, being hijacked by those parading themselves as his pupils, but whose views found no solid foundation in his writings.

The second reason this inference should be regarded with skepticism is that, for the most part the matters of which Origen treats had not yet been, in any manifest way, settled by ecclesiastical authority, and Origen may have offered some of his more eyebrow-raising suggestions as merely theologically permissible speculations. Thus, Origen may have put forward his most controversial ideas as mere speculative hypotheses, to be rejected if the authority of the Church should say otherwise. Scholars now widely acknowledge that much of Origen’s work suggests views which were “not intended by Origen to be any more than speculation.”[7] As Lisa R. Holliday rightly observes:

“Here, Origen offered his views on topics about which the church did not have clearly established doctrines. Working within these parameters, Origen speculated about such things as bodily resurrection, the fall, and methods of biblical interpretation. His aims were not to provide definitive answers, but to offer alternatives and possibilities.”[8]

If this is the right way to read Origen’s more provocative and innovative theses, then Origen can be acquitted entirely of the charge of heresy.

Nevertheless, there are elements in Origen’s thinking which give the appearance of being out of step with orthodox theology, such as when he says of baptism that “not all those who are baptized in water are forthwith bathed in the Holy Spirit.”[9] Although he clearly did have a sacramental view of Baptism (and even of Holy Orders), it is not difficult to see why his writings would have been “controversial, even during his own lifetime.”[10] The question of whether, or to what extent, these issues were considered to be settled matters of faith shall have to be left aside, to be investigated elsewhere,[11] in order to allow the focus of the present paper to be on his most controversial doctrine; namely, the doctrine of ἀποκατάστασις.

Without a doubt, one of the most fascinating elements of Origen’s thinking is put on display in his doctrine of ἀποκατάστασις, which provides a view of soteriology, eschatology, and freedom. For Origen, “the apocatastasis is both an eschatological and a soteriological event.”[12] By this doctrine Origen is usually understood to imply the universal salvation of all souls, including the Devil’s, and a subscription to a cyclical view of time (or, at least, history) with indefinitely many future ‘falls’ from grace and returns/redemptions of all souls. Origen suggests that “an end or consummation would seem to be an indication of the perfection and completion of things.”[13] He elaborates as follows:

“The end of the world, then, and the final consummation, will take place when every one shall be subjected to punishment for his sins; a time which God alone knows, when He will bestow on each one what he deserves. We think, indeed, that the goodness of God, through His Christ, may recall all His creatures to one end, even His enemies being conquered and subdued… What, then, is this “putting under” by which all things must be made subject to Christ? I am of opinion that it is this very subjection by which we also wish to be subject to Him, by which the apostles also were subject, and all the saints who have been followers of Christ.”[14]

Although universalism has been classically rejected by Christian theology, the official condemnation of the doctrine occurring “during the Second Council of Constantinople – the Fifth General Council of the Church- which Justinian convened in the year 553 [AD],”[15] it has come back in vogue in recent times. John Hick, for instance, has developed what he has called an Irenaean theodicy[16] (which may owe more to Origen than to Irenaeus), and although Origen doesn’t present the doctrine of ἀποκατάστασις as a theodicy, there is a possible rapprochement to Origen in Hick’s programme. Hans Urs von Balthasar has developed and defended an ‘existential’ universalism,[17] and figures in the emergent church, like Rob Bell, have jumped onto the new universalist bandwagon.[18] This trend makes a careful examination of Origen’s theology all the more pertinent for contemporary theology.

Origen’s doctrine, of course, does not proceed from a theological or ideological vacuum. Indeed, there are some passages in scripture which catalyze, if not foreshadow or justify, the development of this doctrine, such as Acts 3:21, which mentions “the time of universal restoration [ἀποκατάστασις] that God announced long ago through his holy prophets.”[19] Although “Origen’s was the name destined to be associated with “apocatastasis””[20] the doctrine, including “Satan’s possible restoration to grace… begins properly with St. Clement of Alexandria.”[21] In fact, Origen is far from the only figure to have (allegedly) entertained the speculative belief in universal salvation, as it was apparently shared by Didymus of Alexandria, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and even St. John Chrysostom.[22] Origen, it would seem, was not alone.

The scholar Ilaria L.E. Ramelli has also suggested that the roots of this doctrine can be found among many early Christian apocryphal writings with which Origen had some familiarity, including the so-called Apocalypses of Peter and Elijah, the Life of Adam and Eve, the Sibylline Oracles, and the Epistula Apostolorum.[23] Some of these texts may have even been considered, by Origen, to be either inspired or at least authoritative.[24]  The Apocalypse of Peter, in particular, contains an interesting passage which goes as follows:

“I shall grant to my summoned and elect all those whom they ask me to remove from punishment … And I shall grant them a beautiful baptism in salvation… in the Acherusian Lake, which is said to be in the Elysian valley, a sharing of justice and justification with my saints…”[25]

Thus the theological roots for the doctrine of ἀποκατάστασις were already present in sources with which Origen was familiar and likely considered authoritative.

There is no question that the impetus was there for Origen to develop a doctrine of ἀποκατάστασις, but the question of whether Origen really believed or affirmed, even as a matter of speculation, that the Devil would also be redeemed is not so easily answered. Origen’s eschatological and soteriological framework seems to require it because it entails both that the Devil be capable of repentance, and that ‘every knee will bow,’ and God will become ‘all in all.’

At the same time, some scholars have insisted that Origen, who “mentions the devil mostly in passing, with little elaboration,”[26] would have indignantly protested against the charge that his doctrine bound him to the conclusion that the Devil would be saved;

“… there can be no question about whether or not Origen intended to propose salvation for the devil: he himself said that such a claim was madness. [Rufinus, Adult 6,8-14 (SC 464)].”[27]

How can one make sense of Origen’s (alleged) denial of Satan’s salvation in light of the premise of ἀποκατάστασις as he outlines it?

In order to establish to what extent Origen actually adopted the doctrine of ἀποκατάστασις as applied to Satan, one needs to turn to Origen’s writings themselves. The most important writing left by Origen which gives insight into his thinking on this questions is his infamous work Περί αρχών (pronounced Peri Archon), sometimes also referred to by its Latin title De Principiis, (both of which translate to ‘on first principles’). Some brief preliminary notes about the problems involved with interpreting this text should be mentioned.

The text itself has been transmitted down to us primarily through Rufinus of Aquileia’s Latin translation, and not in the original Greek. Furthermore, Rufinus not only “admittedly altered the text,”[28] possibly in an attempt to “make [Origen] more palatable to Latin theologians,”[29] (an observation which has led most scholars to presume that his insistence that Origen never taught ‘satanic-salvation’ is nothing short of a brazen lie) but also “made many subtle changes”[30] and “overlooked the technical terminology that Origen employed.”[31] The overall effect has not only been to obscure the text’s clarity on finer soteriological and eschatological points, but to fuel the suspicion that the text as we have received it presents “potential inconsistencies.”[32] Thus;

“(De principis), the work in which he deals with “apocatastasis,” survives largely in the inadequate translation of Rufinus of Aquileia, who elected to alter a number of Origen’s controversial views in an attempt to make him more palatable to Latin theologians.”[33]

Perhaps the most significant problem, however, is that Origen never makes an explicit and unambiguous statement about the salvation of the devil. Furthermore, De Principiis, is also riddled with ambiguities and lends itself easily to alternative interpretations. Prior to the sixth chapter of Book I, where he fleshes out his doctrine of ἀποκατάστασις in some detail (as has already been seen), he also says things which, on their face, seem to contradict universalism. For instance;

“It is recorded that God spoke thus, as of undeserving men and sinners: “My Spirit shall not abide with those men for ever, because they are flesh.” By which, it is clearly shown that the Spirit of God is taken away from all who are unworthy…”[34]


“will take up His dwelling, not in all men, nor in those who are flesh, but in those whose land has been renewed.” [35]

In order to evaluate the consistency of Origen’s position, it is necessary to explore, briefly, Origen’s view of freedom. Although he is writing against a backdrop of multiple and evolving philosophical traditions ranging from Stoicism to Aristotelianism, Origen actually develops a philosophically novel account of freedom. This account begins with the distinction of two key philosophical terms; first αὐτεξούσιον, which is, for Origen, “an imperfect reflection of God’s power,”[36] and signifies merely the innate, raw ability to choose arbitrarily, and second ἐφʹ ᾑμῖν, which is “an extension of αὐτεξούσιον”[37] and signifies the power to move oneself toward an end (whether good or evil) in response to choosing to (αὐτεξούσιον).

Although one can never lose one’s αὐτεξούσιον, one’s ἐφʹ ᾑμῖν can be helped or hindered with respect to its ability to recognize and move one toward the good on the basis of a habitual acquisition of virtues and/or vices. As one chooses to act in a morally virtuous way, one’s αὐτεξούσιον with respect to the good remains the same, but one’s ἐφʹ ᾑμῖν changes. In short, αὐτεξούσιον refers to the ability to choose in principle, and ἐφʹ ᾑμῖν refers to the ability to act in fact (or, alternatively, it refers to the facility with which one can act virtuously). Thus “Origen’s view of volition is a process: man has the power (αὐτεξούσιον) to choose actions based on whether they are virtuous or not and [then] act accordingly (ἐφʹ ᾑμῖν).”[38]

It is with this two-tiered view of freedom in mind that one can, despite the accusations that his system either entails or allows for the salvation of the devil, make sense of Origen’s protestations to the contrary. Origen, in fact, draws a parallel between Satan and Christ;

“In the PArch there are two instances of souls that are unique in that they do not follow the cycle of progression and regression, but remain in a fixed position. The souls of Christ and Satan, though polar opposites, do not fit into the schema Origen establishes for all other beings.”[39]

Although the Devil is looked upon as evil, and perhaps even the most evil thing in all creation, it is worth noting that, like Augustine after him, Origen maintains that “evil, in and of itself, does not have a substantial reality… [and] Origen defines it as the absence of good.”[40] The devil, therefore, is clearly not essentially or substantially evil, on Origen’s view, but is evil by reason of his own exercise of free will. Since all souls (i.e., intellectual beings) pre-exist their (re-)incarnation, and, on Origen’s view, have a freedom of the will, some have inevitably turned further away from God than others, and the intellects which fell furthest from God are “powers, demons and lastly, the devil.”[41] In fact, Origen maintains that to claim that Satan is evil by his very nature, and acts according to the compulsion of his essence qua evil being, would “remove the responsibility for evil.”[42] Satan could not, therefore, be justly punished at all, or held in contempt of any kind, and these conclusions were rejected by Origen.

If Satan was not evil by nature, however, then it seems as though Satan would have to have αὐτεξούσιον in principle. This is probably the right way to understand how Origen intended to qualify the belief that Satan could be redeemed. In fact, Origen draws an analogy from Christ himself, whom he says has “the ability [to sin], but not the desire to choose evil.”[43] Just as Christ had the αὐτεξούσιον to sin, but did not have the ἐφʹ ᾑμῖν to sin, so Origen may have thought that Satan had the αὐτεξούσιον to humble himself before God and accept redemption, but did not and would not in fact have the ἐφʹ ᾑμῖν to do so. Thus, one can see clearly how to make sense of Origen’s claims that he did not accept Satan’s salvation in fact, and yet accepted Satan’s possible salvation. How, though, could this be made consistent with Origen’s blanket statement that God will be all in all? I think the most plausible answer has to be that the way in which God brings Satan into subjugation to himself is qualitatively different, for Origen, than the way God brings any other being into subjugation.

How plausible is this reading of Origen? There is already reason for being suspicious of Rufinus’ protestations against the accusation that Origen taught the salvation of the devil, given his treatment of Origen’s works and his motivation for making Origen palatable. However, this suspicion cannot definitively settle the matter of whether Origen did, or did not, believe in the Devil’s redemption. I can imagine somebody suggesting that, since Origen’s predecessor (as leader of the Catechetical school of Alexandria) Clement of Alexandria believed in the salvation of the devil, Origen plausibly did as well, but it is a mistake to put it past Origen to be original and innovative. It is entirely possible that Origen was introduced to the doctrine through the influence of Clement, but that he then transformed it in an interesting way. Moreover, considering the lack of clear textual evidence committing Origen to the Devil’s salvation, and some of his comments (which preclude the salvation of Christ, for instance – for one cannot be saved if one is never lost) mentioned earlier, it should be regarded as an open question whether Origen really did believe in a universalism so far-reaching that it included the devil.

In conclusion, we have seen that although Origen’s doctrine of ἀποκατάστασις was developed in a milieu which may have encouraged and/or excused his application of universal salvation to Satan, his doctrine of free will, combined with the other considerations raised in this article, lend significant support to the hypothesis that he found a way to secure belief in the possibility of Satan’s salvation, but rejected its actuality. He could have made sense of this precisely by appealing to his categories of αὐτεξούσιον and ἐφʹ ᾑμῖν.

[1] St. Vincent of Lerins, “Commonitory,” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 11. ed. by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. by C.A. Heurtley, (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1894.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3506.htm

[2] Fred Gladstone Bratton, “Origen, The First Christian Liberal,” in Journal of Bible and Religion (1940): 141.

[3] Fred Gladstone Bratton, “Origen, The First Christian Liberal,” in Journal of Bible and Religion (1940): 141.

[4] Chrysostom Baur, “Theophilus” in The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 14. (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912), accessed 29 Jan. 2016 http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14625b.htm.

[5] (ST III, q.27, a.1-2).

[6] Fred Gladstone Bratton, “Origen, The First Christian Liberal,” in Journal of Bible and Religion (1940): 141.

[7] Celia E. Rabinowitz, “Personal and Cosmic Salvation in Origen,” in Vigiliae Christianae (1984): 319.

[8] Lisa R. Holliday, “Will Satan Be Saved? Reconsidering Origen’s Theory of Volition in Peri Archon.” Vigiliae Christianae 63, no. 1 (2009): 1.

[9] Homilies; on Numbers III:I. taken from Fred Gladstone Bratton, “Origen, The First Christian Liberal,” in Journal of Bible and Religion (1940): 140.

[10] Lisa R. Holliday, “Will Satan Be Saved? Reconsidering Origen’s Theory of Volition in Peri Archon.” Vigiliae Christianae 63, no. 1 (2009): 1.

[11] I wrote another paper examining Origen’s ecclesiology and how it connects with his distinction between settled matters of faith and matters which have been left open (where speculation is welcome and legitimate).

[12] Celia E. Rabinowitz, “Personal and Cosmic Salvation in Origen,” in Vigiliae Christianae (1984): 321.

[13] Origen, De Principiis, Ch. VI, Paragraph 1

[14] Origen, De Principiis, Ch. VI, Paragraph 1

[15] Constantinos A. Patrides, “The Salvation of Satan,” in Journal of the History of Ideas (1967): 469.

[16] Hick, John. “Evil and the God of Love.” (1966).

[17] Von Balthasar, Hans Urs. Dare We Hope: “that All Men be Saved”?; With, A Short Discourse on Hell. Ignatius Press, 1988.

[18] Bell, Rob. “Love Wins: A Book AboutHeaven, Hell, and the Fate ofEvery Person Who Ever Lived.” (2011).

[19] NRSV Acts 3:21

[20] Constantinos A. Patrides, “The Salvation of Satan,” in Journal of the History of Ideas (1967): 467.

[21] Constantinos A. Patrides, “The Salvation of Satan,” in Journal of the History of Ideas (1967): 467.

[22] Constantinos A. Patrides, “The Salvation of Satan,” in Journal of the History of Ideas (1967): 469-70.

[23] Ilaria L.E. Ramelli, “Origen, Bardaiṣan, and the Origin of Universal Salvation,” in Harvard Theological Review 102, no. 02 (2009): 136.

[24] Ilaria L.E. Ramelli, “Origen, Bardaiṣan, and the Origin of Universal Salvation,” in Harvard Theological Review 102, no. 02 (2009): 138-9.

[25] See Ilaria L.E. Ramelli, “Origen, Bardaiṣan, and the Origin of Universal Salvation,” in Harvard Theological Review 102, no. 02 (2009): 140.

[26] Lisa R. Holliday, “Will Satan Be Saved? Reconsidering Origen’s Theory of Volition in Peri Archon.” Vigiliae Christianae 63, no. 1 (2009): 3.

[27] Lisa R. Holliday, “Will Satan Be Saved? Reconsidering Origen’s Theory of Volition in Peri Archon.” Vigiliae Christianae 63, no. 1 (2009): 3.

[28] Lisa R. Holliday, “Will Satan Be Saved? Reconsidering Origen’s Theory of Volition in Peri Archon.” Vigiliae Christianae 63, no. 1 (2009): 4.

[29] Constantinos A. Patrides, “The Salvation of Satan,” in Journal of the History of Ideas (1967): 468.

[30] Lisa R. Holliday, “Will Satan Be Saved? Reconsidering Origen’s Theory of Volition in Peri Archon.” Vigiliae Christianae 63, no. 1 (2009): 4.

[31] Lisa R. Holliday, “Will Satan Be Saved? Reconsidering Origen’s Theory of Volition in Peri Archon.” Vigiliae Christianae 63, no. 1 (2009): 4.

[32] Lisa R. Holliday, “Will Satan Be Saved? Reconsidering Origen’s Theory of Volition in Peri Archon.” Vigiliae Christianae 63, no. 1 (2009): 4.

[33] Constantinos A. Patrides, “The Salvation of Satan,” in Journal of the History of Ideas (1967): 468.

[34] Origen, De Principiis, Book I, Ch. III, Paragraph 7.

[35] Origen, De Principiis, Book I, Ch. III, Paragraph 7.

[36] Lisa R. Holliday, “Will Satan Be Saved? Reconsidering Origen’s Theory of Volition in Peri Archon.” Vigiliae Christianae 63, no. 1 (2009): 13.

[37] Lisa R. Holliday, “Will Satan Be Saved? Reconsidering Origen’s Theory of Volition in Peri Archon.” Vigiliae Christianae 63, no. 1 (2009): 12.

[38] Lisa R. Holliday, “Will Satan Be Saved? Reconsidering Origen’s Theory of Volition in Peri Archon.” Vigiliae Christianae 63, no. 1 (2009): 14.

[39] Lisa R. Holliday, “Will Satan Be Saved? Reconsidering Origen’s Theory of Volition in Peri Archon.” Vigiliae Christianae 63, no. 1 (2009): 17.

[40] Lisa R. Holliday, “Will Satan Be Saved? Reconsidering Origen’s Theory of Volition in Peri Archon.” Vigiliae Christianae 63, no. 1 (2009): 16.

[41] Lisa R. Holliday, “Will Satan Be Saved? Reconsidering Origen’s Theory of Volition in Peri Archon.” Vigiliae Christianae 63, no. 1 (2009): 16.

[42] Lisa R. Holliday, “Will Satan Be Saved? Reconsidering Origen’s Theory of Volition in Peri Archon.” Vigiliae Christianae 63, no. 1 (2009): 16.

[43] Lisa R. Holliday, “Will Satan Be Saved? Reconsidering Origen’s Theory of Volition in Peri Archon.” Vigiliae Christianae 63, no. 1 (2009): 18.


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