I was raised as one of Jehovah's Witnesses. However, I came to doubt my Witness beliefs, rejecting many of them, and the doctrinal autho...

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Are We There Yet?

Are We There Yet?
October 5th, 2017
[1.9.2018] I want to preface this post with some thoughts on the points I made last week. See, in concluding that the failed predictions and false prophetic interpretations proffered by "the Organization" are, in fact, false prophecies I took into consideration the following exculpatory evidence: 
(1) They denied having what one Witness apologist calls "direct inspiration" - that is, hearing God's voice, or having dreams or vision, or having angels appear to them and converse with them, or the kind of inspiration that God employed in writing the Bible.  
(2) They often describe their predictions and prophetic interpretations, both specifically and generally, more as the result of their (hopefully / probably) correct conjecture, than as the revealed knowledge of God.  
(3) They disclaim infallibility, at least in general.
Perhaps I neglected the full import of these facts, but any objective critic will also consider the following inculpatory evidence:  
(1) The present themselves as speaking for God, claim that their publications are not offering the opinions of men, but God's word for his people. That it is he through them that interprets prophecies.
(2) It has been claimed that angels (and later Holy Spirit) in some way reveal God's truths to "the anointed", including specific predictions and prophetic interpretations they proclaim.
(3) They expect people to accept their claims precisely because they are not their own thoughts, but God's. The Organization would not look kindly upon those who voice their dissent, which is not how one would expect mere human conjecture to be viewed.
Thus I'm forced to conclude that they have claimed to speak in God's name, and have attributed their predictions and prophetic interpretations (including those of the recent past) to Him. And these, of course, have so often proved false. (Also, I'm not saying that their claims make sense or are self-consistent.)
Today, I'll cite various Witness publications wherein their leadership predict when the end of the world, beginning of Christ's reign or other significant eschatological events were supposed to take place, where they've obviously failed. (Sometimes they make claims about events or dates that were prior to their writing, but that is beside the point for present purposes, since it's merely that they've erred that is relevant here.) Additionally, one should take note how later publications gloss over these embarrassingly false predication - not exactly a sign of God's spokesman. (But it is hard enough to say that one is guided by God and yet so consistently get things wrong here.)

Now, what follows is not an exhaustive list, nor are all of these dates predictions, though, most are. That is, some were interpretations given to past dates.
"Our Lord, the appointed King, is now present since October 1874, A.D., according to the testimony of the prophets, to those who have ears to hear it: and the formal inauguration of his kingly office dates from Apr 1878, A.D." - Studies in Scriptures Series IV (1897) p.621 
"The Scriptural proof is that the second presence of the Lord Jesus Christ began in 1874 A.D." - Prophecy 1929 pp.65,66  
"… from the beginning of the Lord’s presence in 1874 the Devil used the Papal system as the chief opposing instrument of God’s kingdom …" - Watchtower 1930 p.275 
"The year A.D. 1878 … clearly marks the time for the actual assuming of power as King of kings, by our present, spiritual, invisible Lord - …" - The Time is At Hand (1911 ed) p.239  
"The Watchtower has consistently presented evidence to honesthearted students of Bible prophecy that Jesus’ presence in heavenly Kingdom power began in 1914." - Watchtower 1993 Jan 15 p.5 
"Jehovah's witnesses pointed to the year 1914, decades in advance, as marking the start of "the conclusion of the system of things." - Awake! 1973 Jan 22 p.8 
"But bear in mind that the end of 1914 is not the date for the beginning, but for the end of the time of trouble. - Zion's Watch Tower 1894 Jul 15 p.226 
"In view of this strong Bible evidence concerning the Times of the Gentiles, we consider it an established truth that the final end of the kingdoms of this world, and the full establishment of the Kingdom of God, will be accomplished near the end of A.D.1914." - The Time is at Hand (1889 ed) p.99[1]
"… the battle of the great day of God Almighty … The date of the close of that "battle" is definitely marked in Scripture as October 1914. It is already in progress, its beginning dating from October, 1874." - Zion's Watch Tower 1892 Jan 15 p.23 
"When you take up a more advanced study of the Bible, you will find that the year 1925 A. D. is particularly marked in prophecy." - The Way to Paradise p.220 
"The Bible and "The Bible in Stone" [the Pyramid of Giza] give the date 1914: for the beginning of the great change. History proves that the ouster proceedings began promptly on time. Prophecy indicates that 1925-1926 will see the greater part of the ousting completed. All the world's statesmen are dreading the next few years." - The Way to Paradise p.171 
"What, then, should we expect to take place? The chief thing to be restored is the human race to life; and since other Scriptures definitely fix the fact that there will be a resurrection of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and other faithful ones of old, and that these will have the first favour, we may expect 1925 to witness the return of these faithful men of Israel from the condition of death, being resurrected and fully restored to perfect humanity and made the visible, legal representatives of the new order of things on earth." - Millions Now Living Will Never Die! p.88 
"The year 1925 is a date definitely and clearly marked in Scriptures, even more clearly than that of 1914;…" - Watchtower 1924 Jul 15 p.211 
"The year 1926 would therefore begin about October first, 1925. ... We should, therefore, expect shortly after 1925 to see the awakening of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Melchisedec, Job, Moses, Samuel, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, John the Baptist, and others mentioned in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. - The Way to Paradise (1925) p.224 
"The published timetable resulting from this independent study gives the date of man's creation as 4026 B.C.E. According to this trustworthy Bible chronology six thousand years from man's creation will end in 1975, and the seventh period of a thousand years of human history will begin in the fall of 1975 C.E. So six thousand years of man's existence on earth will soon be up, yes, within this generation. So in not many years within our own generation we are reaching what Jehovah God could view as the seventh day of man's existence. How appropriate it would be for Jehovah God to make of this coming seventh period of a thousand years a sabbath period of rest and release, a great Jubilee sabbath for the proclaiming of liberty throughout the earth to all its inhabitants! This would be most timely for mankind. It would also be most fitting on God's part, for, remember, mankind has yet ahead of it what the last book of the Holy Bible speaks of as the reign of Jesus Christ over earth for a thousand years, the millennial reign of Christ. It would not be by mere chance or accident but would be according to the loving purpose of Jehovah God for the reign of Jesus Christ, the 'Lord of the Sabbath,' to run parallel with the seventh millennium of man's existence." - Life Everlasting in Freedom of the Sons of God 1966 pp.26-30 
"Does God's rest day parallel the time man has been on earth since his creation? Apparently so. In what year, then, would the first 6,000 years of man's existence and also the first 6,000 years of Gods rest day come to an end? The year 1975. It means that within a relatively few years we will witness the fulfillment of the remaining prophecies that have to do with the "time of the end"." - Awake! 1966 Oct 8 pp.19-20 
"It did not take the brothers very long to find the chart beginning on page 31, showing that 6,000 years of man's existence end in 1975. Discussion of 1975 overshadowed about everything else. "The new book compels us to realize that Armageddon is, in fact, very close indeed," said a conventioneer. Surely it was one of the outstanding blessings to be carried home!" .. Brother Franz. 'Does it mean that Armageddon is going to be finished, with Satan bound, by 1975? It could! It could! All things are possible with God. Does it mean that Babylon the Great is going to go down by 1975? It could. Does it mean that the attack of Gog of Magog is going to be made on Jehovah's witnesses to wipe them out, then Gog himself will be put out of action? It could. But we are not saying. All things are possible with God. But we are not saying. And don't any of you be specific in saying anything that is going to happen between now and 1975. But the big point of it all is this, dear friends: Time is short. Time is running out, no question about that." - Watchtower 1966 Oct 15 pp.629,631 
"Just think, brothers, there are only about ninety months left before 6,000 years of man's existence on earth is completed. Do you remember what we learned at the assemblies last summer? The majority of people living today will probably be alive when Armageddon breaks out, and there are no resurrection hopes for those that are destroyed then." - Kingdom Ministry 1968 Mar p.4 
"The immediate future is certain to be filled with climactic events, for this old system is nearing its complete end. Within a few years at most the final parts of Bible prophecy relative to these "last days" will undergo fulfilment." - Watchtower 1968 May 1 p.272 
But, he pointed out, “we should not think that this year of 1975 is of no significance to us,” for the Bible proves that Jehovah is “the greatest chronologist” and “we have the anchor date, 1914, marking the end of the Gentile Times.” So, he continued, “we are filled with anticipation for the near future, for our generation.”—Matt. 24:34." - Watchtower 1975 May 1 p.285
Whether you think they're 'merely interpreting' or claiming to propagate divinely guided and transmitted interpretations (which amounts to prophesying as far as I'm concerned) or not, the evidence is clear: they're not that good at making predictions, and will often down play down their responsibility for getting people's expectations up, and whitewash their formed, demonstratively false predictions. Would you trust them when they claim that their Governing Body is the doctrinal authority God, about which the Bible foretold?

Let them be like every other interpreter throughout history if they want. But then let them cease to make such spectacular claims for themselves. If they wish to be accounted with the others as merely sincere, yet incompetent, prophetic interpreters, then they've undercut their credibility when it comes to their insistence that prophecy clears shows that God is using their Governing Body as his channel for proclaiming his Truth, and that is why they have authority when it comes to doctrine and God's people.

And this is important to emphasize. Without a record of successful prophetic interpretation, Witnesses can't maintain that the Governing Body is what they say they are. Replying that 'the light gets brighter' and 'I'm not serving God with a date in mind' doesn't save Witnesses from this dilemma: their Governing Body is a false prophet or they're just laughably bad at interpreting prophecy (as every human who have tried to do so on their own have been); either way they aren't arbiters of doctrine and are have no God given authority. The upshot is that a Witness should - and if you can make these points tactfully, just might - reexamine what they've been taught as a Witness. I have, and that's why I'm no longer a Witness.

[1] My copy (a 1911 edition) says "1914" but later copies say "1915".

[12.30.3017] P.S. Here is a useful chart:
From Wikipedia

Sunday, January 7, 2018

A Prophet By Any Other Name

A Prophet by Any Other Name
October 5th, 2017
[Edited: December 28th, 2017,
January 4th, 2018]

I've added links to scanned copies of the quotations in question, in case you want to verify things for yourself. These are files that are kept on my own Google Drive. I've not yet added all of them, but will in the near future, probably.

Today we'll see what Witness leaders say about themselves - what they are and what they do when they predict future events (or interpret Scripture generally). Next week, we'll note many of the specific predictions that they've made, all of which are wrong.

As to our present task, one is struck by the indeterminate role that Witnesses assign themselves or their Governing Body (called by them the 'Faithful and Discreet Slave'). It seems that their left hand doesn't know what their right hand is going. They deny making predictions in God's name, except when they seem to say that they do just that. They aren't quite prophets, but aren't merely human interpreters of prophecy either. They're interpretations aren't merely speculations, but then again they're not inspired - they're divinely guided. (Except where they're more than that.) If someone would doubt their predictions, they're reminded that they're merely proclaiming what God has revealed, and yet when these predictions fail, they note their humble role as merely sincere interpreters.

Yet in this confusion, there is one constant: they'll claim what is convenient for themselves at that moment. If they wish to enforce the doctrinal authority and supremacy of the Governing Body, they'll claim prophetic status. Yet, when their predictions fail, they'll claim to be mere interpreters. They'll even deny the central premise in their defense against the charge of being a false prophet - that there is a difference between inaccurately interpreting prophecy and making false prophecy - when they wish to portray themselves as unique compared to past, failed interpreters; that is, they're call those failed interpreters false prophets! However, when it again becomes convenient for them, they'll say that these past interpreters were not false prophets because they were merely interpreting prophecy best they could, and so neither are they. (I neglected to note where these claims are made in their publications, but for now the following should suffice.)

“We have not the gift of prophecy.” - Zion's Watch Tower, January 1883, p. 425 
“Nor would we have our writings reverenced or regarded as infallible.” - Zion's Watch Tower, (December 15, 1896, p. 306)
"We are not prophesying; we are merely giving our surmises . . . We do not even aver that there is no mistake in our interpretation of prophecy and our calculations of chronology. We have merely laid these before you, leaving it for each to exercise his own faith or doubt in respect to them" - Zion's Watch Tower (January 1, 1908, p. 411) 
"[The fact that some have Jehovah’s spirit] does not mean those now serving as Jehovah’s witnesses are inspired. It does not mean that the writings in this magazine The Watchtower are inspired and infallible and without mistakes." - Watchtower (May 15, 1947, page 157)
"However, The Watchtower does not claim to be inspired in its utterances, nor is it dogmatic. It invites careful and critical examination of its contents in the light of the Scriptures. Its purpose is to aid others to know Jehovah and his purposes toward mankind, and to announce Christ’s established kingdom as our only hope." - Watchtower (August 15, 1950, p. 263) 
"True, the brothers preparing these publications are not infallible. Their writings are not inspired as are those of Paul and the other Bible writers. (2 Tim. 3:16) And so, at times, it has been necessary, as understanding became clearer, to correct views." - Watchtower (February 15, 1981, p. 19) 
"The mysteries locked up in the book of Revelation have for long baffled sincere students of the Bible. In God’s due time, those secrets had to be unlocked, but how, when, and to whom? Only God’s spirit could make known the meaning as the appointed time drew near. (Revelation 1:3) Those sacred secrets would be revealed to God’s zealous slaves on earth so that they would be strengthened to make known his judgments. (Matthew 13:10, 11) It is not claimed that the explanations in this publication are infallible. Like Joseph of old, we say: “Do not interpretations belong to God?” (Genesis 40:8) At the same time, however, we firmly believe that the explanations set forth herein harmonize with the Bible in its entirety, showing how remarkably divine prophecy has been fulfilled in the world events of our catastrophic times." - Revelation—Its Grand Climax at Hand! (p. 9)  
"There are some who make spectacular predictions of the world’s end to grab attention and a following, but others are sincerely convinced that their proclamations are true. They are voicing expectations based on their own interpretation of some scripture text or physical event. They do not claim that their predictions are direct revelations from Jehovah and that in this sense they are prophesying in Jehovah’s name. Hence, in such cases, when their words do not come true, they should not be viewed as false prophets such as those warned against at Deuteronomy 18:20-22. In their human fallibility, they misinterpreted matters." - Awake! (March 22, 1993, pp. 3-4) 
"Jehovah’s Witnesses, in their eagerness for Jesus’ second coming, have suggested dates that turned out to be incorrect. Because of this, some have called them false prophets. Never in these instances, however, did they presume to originate predictions ‘in the name of Jehovah.’ Never did they say, ‘These are the words of Jehovah.’ " - Awake! (March 22, 1993, p. 4)[1]

"No, the truths I present, as God's mouthpiece, were not revealed in visions or dreams, nor by God's audible voice, nor all at once, but gradually, especially since 1870, and particularly since 1880. Neither is this clear unfolding of truth due to any human ingenuity or acuteness of perception, but to the simple fact that God's due time has come; and if I did not speak, and no other agent could be found, the very stones would cry out. 
"The following history is given not merely because I have been urged to give a review of God's leadings in the path of light, but specially because I believe it to be needful that the truth be modestly told, that misapprehensions and prejudicial misstatements may be disarmed, and that our readers may see how hitherto the Lord has helped and guided." -
Zion's Watch Tower July 15, 1906 p. 230
"Then I knew why the Lord had led me to it so slowly and cautiously. I needed a special preparation of heart for the full appreciation of all it contained, and I was all the more assured that it was not of my own wisdom; for if of my own why would it not have come at once?" Zion's Watch Tower July 15, 1906 p. 234
"… this chronology is not of man, but of God. … the addition of more proofs removes it entirely from the realm of chance into that of proven certainty. … the chronology of present truth [is]… not of human origin." - Watch Tower (July 1, 1922, p.217) 
"In recent months the Lord has revealed to his people a clearer understanding of the Devil's organization, and of his purpose to wreck that wicked system that the people may have complete deliverance. This message he has been pleased to permit to appear in a book entitled DELIVERANCE. Has not God provided this instrument in the hands of the anointed class? Let those who so believe carefully study the message therein and be prepared to use it" Watchtower 1926 August 15 p.248
"Jehovah God has made known to his anointed ones in advance what these Scriptures mean." - Watchtower (Jun 1, 1931, p.160) 
"The Watchtower is not the instrument of any man or set of men, nor is it published according to the whims of men. No man's opinion is expressed in The Watchtower. God feeds his own people, and surely God uses those who love and serve him according to his own will. Those who oppose The Watchtower are not capable of discerning the truth that God is giving to the children of his organization, and this is the very strongest proof that such opposers are not of God's organization." - Watchtower (November 1, 1931, p.327) 
"The Sovereign Lord giveth the word." Manifestly this is the reason why in verse eight it is stated: "The heavens also dropped [dripped showers of truth] at the presence of God" when at his holy temple. "The word," or "speech", is a comprehensive form applied not only to one specific message that the Lord gave or is giving or has given at any one time, but to the whole series of messages of truth which he gave and which he continues to give ever since the lightnings have been flashing from the temple and upon the record of his Word. The expression "the word", therefore, includes every revelation of truth down to and including the book Vindication and whatsoever shall be revealed and published, by the Lord's grace, as long as the remnant is on earth. - Watchtower (April 1, 1932, p. 101)
 "God uses angels to teach His people now on earth." The Golden Age 1933 Nov 8 p.69
"Certain duties and kingdom interests have been committed by the Lord to his angels, which include the transmission of information to God's anointed people on the earth for their aid and comfort. Even though we cannot understand how the angels transmit this information, we know that they do it." - Preparation (pp.36,37) 
"Enlightenment proceeds from Jehovah by and though Jesus Christ and is given to the faithful anointed on earth at the temple, and brings great peace and consolation to them. Again Zechariah talked with the angel of the Lord, which shows that the remnant are instructed by the angels of the Lord. The remnant do not hear audible sounds, because such is not necessary. Jehovah has provided his own good way to convey thoughts to the minds of his anointed ones." - Preparation (1933) p.64
"Judge Rutherford couldn't write these things unless he were used of God." - Golden Age 1935 Oct 23 p.50
"No man can properly interpret prophecy, and the Lord sends his angels to transmit correct information to his people." - Watchtower (February 15, 1936, p.52)
If he does believe that the Lord uses The Watchtower  to dispense his truth to his people, then in order to be faithful he will be diligent in carrying out the instructions of the organization and will give consideration to the subjects that are set forth in The Watchtower. - Watchtower (March 1, 1936 p. 73)
"The Watchtower is a magazine without equal in the earth …. This is not giving any credit to the magazine's publishers, but is due to the great Author of the Bible with it truths and prophecies, and who now interprets its prophecies." - Watchtower (April 15, 1943, p.127) 
"Yes, the “faithful and discreet slave” was awake to the coming of 1914. In 1942 the “faithful and discreet slave” guided by Jehovah’s unerring spirit made known that the democracies would win World War II and that there would be a United Nations organization set up. Such wakefulness was concerning events that unerringly took place three years later. At the 1958 Divine Will International Assembly amazing advance information in connection with Daniel’s prophecy was given about events to occur in the immediate future. Such evidence of spiritual foresight is recorded for us in the book “Your Will Be Done on Earth.” Once again the “faithful and discreet slave” has been tipped off ahead of time for the guidance of all lovers of God. Surely one’s present security depends on his staying awake with the “faithful and discreet slave.” " - Watchtower (July 15, 1960, p. 444) 
The definition of false prophet given in their own literature seems relevant:
Individuals and organizations proclaiming messages that they attribute to a superhuman source but that do not originate with the true God and are not in harmony with his revealed will. - Reasoning From the Scriptures (1989) p. 132
They have claimed that their teachings, prophetic interpretations and attendant predictions, originate with God, but they don't, at least not the many that failed; since these are false, they are not in harmony with what God actually wills. Thus, they are self-condemned, I think.

At the least, I hope I've shown that the claim that Witness leaders are false prophets is understandable and to that extent reasonable. I think that I've also shown that they're not loathe to talk out of both sides of their mouths, to say what ever is convenient to them, even if it reduces their claims to incoherence and contradiction. And this kind of double-speak is frustrating. If you say your predictions are of superhuman origin, backtrack, reaffirm, backtrack, etc. don't be surprised if someone calls you out on it. At least don't insinuate that hatred and ignorance could be the only factors that lead to such criticisms.

Still, if I've failed in this case, it remains the case that merely pleading incompetence will not do. If it is said, 'We are not false prophets; we're just like all these other failed interpreters', we have our response ready, 'They were wrong, you're wrong, so why should I think that you're God's unique spokesman?' To what, specifically, they got wrong we will turn next week.

[1] The mission statement of the magazine at that time concluded with these words: "Most Importantly, this magazine builds confidence in the Creator's promise of a peaceful and secure new world before the generation that saw the events of 1914 passes away." (Italics added)

Excursus: Pastor Russel as the Faithful and Discreet Slave
Scriptures indicate that [Pastor Russell] was chosen of the Lord from his birth. His mother was a consecrated Christian. She taught her son in the way of the Lord, and he early gave evidence of his loving devotion to the great Master. 
God used the Prophet Ezekiel to foretell the events that were to come to pass upon Christendom. He used Pastor Russell as an antitype of Ezekiel to make clear to the Bible students the real meaning of these events as they came to pass. The great Master, speaking to the church through John the Revelator, foretold that the church would be developed during a time of stress and that the entire Gospel age would be divided into seven distinct epochs or periods of time. He also clearly indicated that each of these periods or epochs of item would be blessed by a special messenger representing him. The great drama of the Gospel age opened with the Apostle Paul as the chief messenger, or angel, to the church. It closes with Pastor Russell as the seven, and last messenger to the church militant. For the other five epochs of the church the Lord provided messengers in the order named: St. John, Arius, Waldo, Wycliffe and Luther. Each in his turn bore the message due to be understood during the epoch he represented. The two most prominent messengers, however, are the first and the last - St. Paul and Paul and Pastor Russell. 
"That Wise and Faithful Servant"
The Lord Jesus in his great prophetic statement in Matthew 24:45-47, made known the fact that at the end of the age he would be present and would have a special servant whom he would "make ruler over all his house to give meat in due season to the household." For many years Christian people of all denominations have been looking for the manifestation of that promised servant. For several years some have recognized, and now many more are recognizing, that Pastor Russell is that servant." Watchtower November 1, 1917 p. 6159
And this raises yet another problem: who really is the faithful and discreet slave? Russell, all the anointed, or just the Governing Body? Why did it take for so long, within the last few years, for them to conclude the latter? (And how can this be reconciled with the fact that the Governing Body was practically a non-entity until the 70s?)

Sunday, December 31, 2017

No Loopholes Allowed

No Loopholes Allowed
October 4th, 2017
[Edited: December 26th, 2017]

It is not uncommon to hear the claim that Witness leaders, presently the Governing Body, are false prophets (à la Deuteronomy 18). And this is not without basis. Indeed, I think it is true, though, to be sure the "Organization" and the "Governing Body" are ambivalent about how they present themselves: sometimes as speaking what God in some fashion communicates to them, sometimes offering what is merely their own sincere - and yet in some way (generally?) divinely guided - interpretation of prophecy or Scripture.

I was hesitant to come to this conclusion, because I could point to many places in the old Witness literature that showed that they eschewed prophetic status; and sometimes the supposed quotes that non-Witnesses would use to prove that they considered themselves inspired prophets seemed to have been misunderstood. However, I think there is good reason to think that, by their own words, the Governing Body and their predecessors - Russell, Rutherford and Knorr - considered themselves to be, or where considered to be, inspired by God to interpret prophecy (and doctrine). Demonstrating this claim will be the task of next's week post.

However - and this is not appreciated by many - it doesn't really matter if the Organization or its leaders are false prophets or not. Why? Because their record of failed predictions, whether considered as the product of divine guidance, inspiration or mere human conjecture, speak for themselves: they are no good at interpreting prophecy. At least, no better than anyone else. And this gives the lie to their Governing Body's claim to be God's unique spokesman as demonstrated by the various prophecies they say that they and their Organization fulfill. If they were wrong these numerous times before (and in substantial ways), why pay them credence now? They were just as confident before, and dead wrong.

And I'll repeat this observation again, for it is so important. Indeed, I recognized the strength of this point even before I realized that there was good reason to consider the Governing Body and their predecessors as false prophets The legitimacy of their movement and their Governing Body's putative doctrinal authority rest on the role they posit for themselves in the last days. For instance, the Governing Body - it is said - has doctrinal authority over God's people; we can know this because they fit that role as foretold in prophecy (as interpreted by them). But we know there is no good reason to trust that they have any special insight into prophecy, so we know that there is no reason to think they've correctly interpreted prophecy when it concerns the role they've posited for themselves. Thus, we have good reason reject the doctrinal supremacy of the Governing Body. 

And once this implication is grasped, then the ability to reason with a Witness on doctrine is greatly increased. This is true in my case, as I will relate in the future in more detail. And it is for this reason, and for the reason that it is not as confrontational as arguing that their Organization or its leaders are false prophets, that I recommend that this more modest case be made: they are not reliable interpreters of prophecy.

Next week, though, I will argue that given their own characterization of their role, interpretations and predictions, their leaders have made themselves out to be prophets. In the third and final post of this series, I will note of many of their predictions that have failed - a fact which once grasped is sufficient in of itself to reject the authority claims of the Governing Body, as I have said.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

"Five Proofs of the Existence of God"

Five Proofs of the Existence of God
November 29th, 2017

Edward Feser is a very readable and insightful author, not to mention a prolific one![1] And this work is no exception. There was only one thing overlooked, however, and that was a failure to attach the following warning for the protection of the new atheists: abandon all hope, ye who enter here. For in presenting his extensive case for classical theism, he dashes to pieces the pretensions of the new-atheists. (And it's not the first time he's done so.)

I like the cover
Perhaps, the first bad omen for Dawkins and Co. is the list of thinkers Feser draws from: Aristotle, Plotinus, Leibniz, Augustine, Aquinas. 'Who the hell are these people?' is probably all the new atheist can say. If knowing your enemy is half the battle, there is certainly no hope for the new atheists; however, Feser clearly knows the arguments of the new atheist and serious atheist alike. (The two camps, if they overlap, only do so only slightly.)

The book is divided into seven chapters, five for the five arguments for God's existence that he presents: (1) The Aristotelian Proof; (2) The Neo-Platonic Proof; (3) The Augustinian Proof; (4) The Thomistic Proof; (5) The Rationalist Proof. (The first four are kinds of cosmological arguments.) The sixth chapter is devoted to completing the work of explaining why we can know that God has the divine attributes (omniscience, omnipotence, etc.), which he only touches on in the course of giving his five arguments, as well as explaining how God relates to the world. The seventh chapter more fully addresses objections to the arguments and project of natural theology. And it is with such objections, and Feser's responses, that I'll begin my summary.

Perhaps you don't see what's so great about cosmological arguments. How could you write 300 pages arguing that, since everything has a cause, and the universe has a cause, therefore, God exists. What caused God? Wouldn't God need a cause? Yet, if he doesn't, why think that the universe does? It's just so obviously wrong, right! Wrong! and Feser shows why.

While this straw-man is surprisingly popular among atheists, even among philosophers who should know better, it is nowhere embraced by any theist thinker. Indeed, the question the atheist should be asking isn't 'How could they believe something so obviously wrong', but 'Since they aren't idiots, even if they're wrong, this can't be what they're actually saying, so what are they actually saying?' If you read the first four chapters, you'll see what they actually are saying, and if you still don't get it by the seventh, he'll remind you again: theists don't say that everything has a cause, but that everything that begins to exist, is contingent, has an essence distinct from its existence, is composite, is a mixture of act and potency, etc. has a cause, which is a very different claim from 'everything has a cause'.[2]

Thus it will it not do for an atheist to dismiss the cosmological arguments that Feser presents as being mere superficial variants of a purported 'basic version' of the cosmological argument which argues that from the premise that 'everything has a cause'. One might as well dismiss evolution on similar grounds: sure no one actually says that humans descended from monkeys, but this is the basic version of evolution, everything else being mere superficial alterations to this basic claim, which is obviously wrong; thus we can easily dismiss evolution. Evolutionists would be rightly irked at such lazy thinking; well, us theists expect the same from you atheists.

Since the claim isn't 'everything has a cause' (where God is somehow arbitrarily exempted from this principle), saying that God lacks a cause whereas everything that isn't God has one isn't ad hoc. The claim is principled. Those things which are contingent, mixtures of act and potency, whose essences are really distinct form their existence, etc. must have a cause given the kind of things they are, but something which exists necessarily, and is pure actuality, and just is existence itself, etc. need not - indeed, could not - have a cause because of the kind of reality that He is.

Now before discussing the five proofs a bit, perhaps a word is in order about the word choice (i.e., "proof"). Doesn't "proof" seem a bit over-confident? Isn't "proof" only applicable in math or science? Actually, no. By "proof" Feser is indicating that the arguments rest on metaphysical positions that cannot coherently be denied (e.g., one can't coherently deny that change exists, or that composite objects exist, or that there are propositions that are necessarily true independent of human awareness of them), and the argument proceeded premise by premise deductively, and hence the conclusion they arrive at is certain. This isn't to say that every person who examines the arguments will accept them, at least not after the first few times they consider them. But this, he maintains, doesn't change the fact that they are proofs. (For comparison's sake, the Pythagorean theorem doesn't become less sure because I might ignorantly doubt or disbelieve it.)

As to his arguments I'll be brief, since I expect to argue for God's existence at greater depth elsewhere. First, to aid in understanding, some preliminary remarks are proper. Not only do these arguments not depend on the claim that 'everything has a cause' (a claim which he rejects), but they also don't rest on the claim that the universe as a whole began to exist or has a cause. Concerning the former claim - that the universe began to exist - these arguments would go through even if the universe was past eternal; concerning the latter - that the universe as a whole has a cause - this certainly is true, but it isn't a claim his arguments rest upon. You could start with the existence or activities of a rubber ball, a table or a water molecule and find out that God must exist as that things first cause here and now (and, by extension, anything else relevantly like that rubber ball, table or water molecule, namely, everything that is not God).

There is also the crucial distinction that Feser makes between two kinds of causal series. The first is a causal series ordered per accidens, which he helpfully refers to as a linear causal series, the other ordered per se, which he calls a hierarchical series. Understanding this distinction between the two kinds of series is the key to understanding why these arguments don't depend on a temporal beginning to the universe, but instead argue that anything in it must here and now have a first cause. Thankfully, Feser provides illustrations for these two kinds of series to aid the reader in apprehending them.

Set Your Fesers to Fun!
A father begetting a son, who begets a son, who begets a son and so on - this is an example of a linear causal series, of the sort that could in principle be past eternal.[3] You pushing a stick, which in turn pushes a rock - this is an example of a hierarchical causal series. What's the difference between the two? Note that a man can have children of his own even if his father dies. So his causal power to beget a son doesn't depend on his father's existence, that is, it is not here and now derived from the previous member(s) of the series. However, in the second illustration, the stick only moves the stone insofar as it is being moved by your hand. That is, in a hierarchical causal series, each member depends on the prior members for its existence and/or causal power. They are all instruments of the prior members, and therefore, only exist or function if the previous members do; thus they must all operate simultaneously with each other if they are to exist / operate at all.[4]

Now, the above illustration of a hierarchical casual series, while a bit simplistic, it is sufficient to see that, in such a series, its members are all instrumental causes, and hence don't act (or exist) on their own. More accurately, all but one of the series is an instrumental cause, existing or having causal power in a derivative way. Now the reason why we say 'all but one' is clearly not ad hoc, since the series must terminate. If every member of the series is an instrumental cause, then nothing could happen or none of them could exist. (In that case, what would they be instruments of?) Something that derives it's existence / causal power derives it from something, or it doesn't exist or have causal power, and that which doesn't have existence or causal power can't impart these to anything else.

So there has to be a first cause to get the whole series going; first, not in the sense of existing a temporally before the other (secondary) members of the series, but in having underived causal power and existence which it can in turn impart to the secondary causes.

Feser argues that the existence and activities of objects of every day experience here and now, including ourselves, fit into hierarchical causal series, and hence there must, in actuality, be a First Cause. For example: here and now,we are beings whose existence (that we are) is really distinct from our essence (what we are), and hence there must be something that 'puts them together', as it were, here and now, and if that which does so also has an essence distinct from its existence here and now it also needs these to be conjoined, etc., which is a hierarchical causal series. Now, this must terminate in something that can impart existence without deriving it from something other than itself, that is in something whose essence just is existence. The other three cosmological argument Feser develops, while independent from each other (insofar as they take their starting points from different aspects of everyday objects), reason in similar fashion.

He doesn't argue that this First Cause is the God of the Bible, though, he does believe that this is so; but that isn't the focus of this book, so his failing to make this further argument is not a defect in the book. But, as noted above, he argues why this First Cause must have the divine attributes (intellect, will, power and so forth), and why there could only be one such First Cause / God. And this is as important a task as arguing for the existence of the First Cause. It's fine to say that there is a First Cause that is pure actuality, or existence it self, or is purely simple, but this doesn't sound personal, and hence, not much like God. I can't do justice to how he argues for attributing the divine attributes to the First Cause of all things, but I will say a word or two on this matter in summary.

Probably omnipotence is the easiest of the divine attributes that can be seen. As noted above, everything depends on the First Cause of its existence and causal powers (and anything else that could possibly exist would as well), and hence this First Cause is omnipotent.

And yet, this isn't a personal attribute. Feser says much to argue for God's intellect and volition and goodness. I'll say less. He argues that God has knowledge, and thus intellect, from the first chapter on, but it has pride of place in his chapter on the Rationalist Proof, and then is further developed in his chapter on the divine attributes and God's relation to the world (Chapter 6). One argument he makes for this First Cause having knowledge takes as its starting point the principle that everything in an effect must exist in the total cause of that effect in some way. There are various ways this it can exist in its total effect - formally, virtually, etc. - and Feser does well in illustrating these concepts to the uninitiated. I won't do that, however.

Suffice it to say that the principle that the effect must exist in some way in the total effect must be true, given that the principle of sufficient reason (PSR) is true. The PSR says that everything that exists has an explanation as to its existence and attributes. (Why believe the PSR? In short, the world acts as if is true, and not as if it is false. Also, to deny it is ultimately self-refuting.[5]) If some part of the effect didn't exist in the total cause, then its existence would lack an explanation. Feser argues that the way everything that God causes to exist exists in God is analogous to the way our own intellects can grasp things, and thus there is in God something analogous to intellect.

I just said analogously. What is the significance of that? Basically it is that we can't talk about God univocally. He doesn't exist in the same way as you or I do, he isn't good in the same way as you and I are, and so forth. However, we can predicate existence, goodness, intellect, power, etc. to God in a meaningful way; that is, we are not predicating existence, goodness, power, etc. to God equivocally compared to how we can predicate it of human beings. The senses are not wholly dissimilar. Feser provides arguments for analogical predication, also noting that we even employ it to describe the findings of science. Analogical predication, which Feser explains with technical precision, makes sense of the fact that God, as the most metaphysically fundamental reality is going to be unlike created things like you or me, and yet can be partially grasped; thus, when talking about God, we are not just limited to negative statements about God (God is not X), but can make positive ones too (Gos is Y). So this is an important part of natural theology, and one masterfully developed by Feser.

Before I finish my summary and officially recommend this book, I must describe what he says about God's relation to the world. Above, I noted that God is the source of the existence and causal power of everything that is not God. This would seem to indicate that God determines everything that happens as far as secondary causes are concerned. How can you are I have free will, if our causal powers stem from God? Here Feser usefully explicates various views on secondary causality (including human causality) opting for divine concurrence, which preserves human freedom, and the fact that secondary causes are true causes, and yet respects the fact that God is the first cause upon which everything depends. He has more to say about this as he describes God's relation to the world, of course, which just goes to show that this is quite an exhaustive work.

So, should you read Feser's new book? Yes! He gives a useful 300 page defense and explication of theism, gives important insights into how we can talk and think about God, and pushes back against numerous objections to both the project and arguments of natural theology. I only hope that my summary hasn't made it seem otherwise. And if it moves you to buy this book, I'm pleased.

P.S. It might be helpful to first read The Last Superstition and Aquinas.[6] Moreover, if one is up for a much more technical book, Scholastic Metaphysics goes into greater depth about many of the themes that Five Proofs. And of course, these books, like any worth reading, should be read multiple times, for that is how one profits the most.

[1] Here's a list of books that he's written (as of November 29th, 2017): (1) On Nozick; (2) Philosophy of Mind; (3) The Cambridge Companion to Hayek; (4) Locke; (5) The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism; (6) Aquinas; (7) Aristotle on Method and Metaphysics; (8) Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction; (9) Neo-Scholastic Essays; (10) [with J. Bessette] By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment; and (11) Five Proofs of the Existence of God. Not to mention he's also a college professor, essayist, blogger and father of six children!

[2] Given the popularity of this caricature of the cosmological argument, one wonders how well justified the atheism of most atheists really is. This should indicate that the case that Feser and his ancient predecessors make is at best only out of style, not refuted; and that listening to it on its own terms is urgently needed.

[3] At least as far as Feser is concerned in this book. In one of his blog posts, he indicates he is agnostic about the Kalam Cosmological argument (KCA), which argues that the universe is past finite. (This argument is defended by the likes of William Lane Craig and David S. Oderberg.) Myself, I tend to think that neither kind of causal series can be past infinite, though, I'm not entirely sure about the KCA.

[4] Simultaneity is not to be confused with instantaneous-ness.

[5] If it was false, then we would have no reason in principle to think that anything else of our experience has an explanation, even things which we think we have explanations for. That there seems to be an explanation is merely a brute, ultimately inexplicable fact. Indeed, this goes as far as undermining rational thought. While we take the reasons for a conclusion as explanations for why we accept that conclusion, given a denial of the PSR, we would have nor reason in principle to think that we deny the PSR for any reason, even if we think we have a reasons to deny it. Thus to deny the PSR is self-refuting.

If the PSR was false, then we should expect things to come into being without an explanation all of the time. Root beer bottles should be appearing everywhere, and yet that doesn't happen and my thirst is not quenched. Instead, the world (in itself, if not in our finite grasp of it) is rather regular and orderly, which would be a miracle if the PSR is not true.

[6] The Last Superstition is rather polemical, mean spirited some might say. However, that book should be understood in context, namely as a response to the works of the new atheists, who are, when it comes to matters philosophical and theological, as ignorant as a mule, but as flamboyantly derisive as all get out. Feser gives them a taste of their own medicine here, but then out does them in that he provides solid argumentation. Most of his other works, such as the one under discussion here, however, are more dispassionate, since they respond to (or are in part meant for) more sober minded and reasonable atheist critics.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

"Shades of Sheol"

Shades of Sheol
November 27th, 2017

The book is very readable, and its arguments are quite clear; even the more technical aspects (kept at a minimum it seems) can be followed with relative ease for a non-expert (if you get confused read it one or two more times, you'll probably get it then). Moreover, the summaries at the end of each chapter aid greatly in understanding what our author, Philip Johnston, is saying.

I like the cover as well.
What is he saying, what are his conclusions? Perhaps most surprising is that the OT writers weren't particularly concerned with what the afterlife was like. This can be seen by comparing what they wrote on the underworld and how frequently they wrote about the nature of the after life with the ANE generally. Their details are rather sparse and they find few occasions to discuss it, or to shed further light on the topic. No detailed mapping out of the underworld, description of the various entities that governed it and operated there, no developed thought on the powers of the spirits of the dead and how they could affect the living. In fact, what they did say ran contrary to much of what the ANE was saying.

To the OT writers, the underworld or realm of the dead was a place of inactivity and overwhelming weakness. Those in it were mere 'shades', who, if one wanted to contact them in necromancy, had to be awakened, thus indicating that their typical state was sleep-like. The dead were powerless to affect the living, and indeed, they couldn't do anything, even praise God. (Though, the underworld was 'naked' before God, and his power was present even there.)

What of Sheol? What is it? Who goes there? 'Sheol' is a name for the underworld, but given how and why its used, it doesn't refer to the underworld per se. Rather it is the underworld seen as the fate for the wicked and those under divine censure. Now, does that mean that the wicked only go to the underworld? More on that later.

Before we turn to the ultimate fate of the righteous and wicked, let's take a note to see further what this book says of how Israel interacted with the dead. In orthodox Israelite religion there was no need to interact with them. Worshiping them (as in the cult of the dead) or contacting them (in necromancy) was prohibited.[1] Some Israelites evidently left food for the dead (for their journey to the underworld, not continually as some pagans did), and this practice is mentioned neutrally.[2] But, again, it is something in addition to - even if not inimical to - orthodox Israelite thought. And, even those two prohibited practices are only mentioned (and often there condemned) occasionally, not frequently. Even in their apostate lapses, Israel wasn't particularly interested in the dead.

Now, what of the righteous - do they go to the underworld or no? is Sheol their dwelling place? Many psalms seem to indicate that they expected to be delivered out of Sheol, which they viewed as a most unwelcome fate. However, most of these only refer to deliverance from premature death, not 'ultimate' deliverance from death and the underworld. However, as implied, some seem to envisage that their communion with God will continue on after death; though, what exactly this entails is not spelled out. (But keep in mind that Sheol is presented as a place where the dead do not praise God.)

As time progresses, the idea of resurrection is developed. Some allege that this is largely due to pagan influence - perhaps from interaction with Persian religion during and after the exile to Babylon. However, this is quite unlikely, and in any event unnecessary. Israel had plenty in its own religion and experience to explain the development of resurrection into their theology. First, they knew - and as time went on, more keenly understood - that Yahweh is the sole and all-powerful God, and so that life and death were within his power: he could kill and could make alive. Moreover, in their history they had three recorded resurrections (or revivifications, returns to mortal life) performed by Elijah and Elisha by God's power. And, their constantly being devastated and restored as a nation was the background against which the imagery of resurrection was first employed. From there the natural development was individual and eschatological resurrection. Individual in that it was individuals - and not the nation as a whole in a metaphorical sense - being raised up; and eschatological in that this would not be a return to mortal life, but to perpetual life, and that this would take place at the end of history. This was the idea that was beginning to emerge as the OT comes to completion. During the intertestamental period further speculations were made, but it was left to the NT to flesh out this further - confirming or rejecting as the case may be various intertestamental speculations, drawing out the implications in the OT further - particularly in the case of Jesus Christ.

[1] Necromancy was seen as effective, however.

[2] The practice per se is not condemned, only the using the food used for this purpose in the tithe is.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Decline of Mainline Protestantism

The Decline of Mainline Protestantism
December 13th, 2017

From a friend in California
Do you see the problem? If not, here it is: what is a church of supposedly Christian denomination doing offering Hindu worship services? Now, it's really a typo, and the sign should read "Hindi Worship"; that is, the language not the religion. But given the present state of mainline Protestantism, is it so obvious that it's a typo?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

No Jewish High Priest For Me! - A Response to JimSpace (Part Four)

No Jewish High Priest for Me!
September 30th, 2017

(Part One / Part Two / Part Three / Part Four)

JimSpace makes an number of interesting, if ultimately poorly-reasoned, arguments to the effect that Jesus' offering himself as a sacrifice and his serving as our High Priest require that he was raised up as a spirit being, ceasing to be a human being. I will be responding to these argument as he presents them in his post Passing Through the Curtain
Additionally, as the High Priest carried only the sacrificial blood and not the sacrificed body past the curtain into the Most Holy, so Jesus then as our High Priest carried the value of his lifeblood that he willfully sacrificed in death and not his sacrificed body through the spiritual curtain.
The basic flaw I find in his arguments presently under consideration is that they press OT type and NT fulfillment too far. (It's a similar mistake as taking an analogy to far.) While OT types are fulfilled in the NT, not every aspect or detail of the OT type is fulfilled in the fulfillment of the type as a whole. And, we must be cautious in assuming this or that finds typological fulfillment in the NT.

Specifically, Paul doesn't mention anything about Jesus leaving behind his body, so we should not assume he must have as part of his fulfilling the OT type of the sacrifices prescribed under the Mosaic Law Covenant. Especially is this so where making that assumption would lead us to contradict the rest of the Scriptural witness, including those mentioned in the previous post.
Paul then compares the curtain, which separated the first compartment from the Most Holy compartment, to Christ’s flesh. 
Since the curtain "is" his flesh, why did Jim say that curtain was "spiritual" earlier?
The high priest in passing into the Most Holy, into God’s typical presence, did not carry the curtain with him but passed through that barrier and beyond it, so that it was behind him.
That is correct, but the high priests of the Old Covenant also didn't offer up the "curtain"; but Christ's flesh is both the curtain - which unlike the typical curtain, which prevented access to the Most Holy, facilitates our access thereto - and the offering. So this observation doesn't strengthen his case at all, since it undermines his assumption that there is a point-for-point correspondence between the OT type of sacrifices and its NT fulfillment in Christ.
he had actually presented the value of his sacrificed lifeblood to his Father in the spiritual Most Holy on the day of his resurrection.
A small, and ultimately irrelevant point, but John 20:17 seems to contradict this claim. And, since Jesus indicates that his body was human (and not merely appeared to be human), this would only strengthen my case.
After Jesus died on Nisan 14, the Temple’s curtain was rent from top to bottom down the middle. (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45) The rending was doubtlessly a devastating, unmendable tearing. As the curtain signified Jesus’ flesh (Hebrews 10:20), a symbolic barrier preventing Jesus’ entry into heaven, its rending was a dynamic demonstration that his flesh was no longer a barrier to his entry into the spirit realm or heaven. 
Keeping in mind what I've previously said, why should we assume that it was his flesh (human body) pure and simple that prevented him from entering the Most Holy and thus needed to be discarded? Moreover, wouldn't the curtain still exist, and thus Jesus still possess his flesh (in some form)? Assuming that there is a type here, which the Bible doesn't explicitly claim, it would seem to be this: the rending of the literal temple curtain, which enabled entrance to the typical Most Holy place, was a type foreshadowing the fact that Jesus' mortal body must be killed (it was just prior to the rending), to enable access to the Most Holy place. Taken this way, this fulfillment-then-type (a strange order for typlogical fulfillment) doesn't imply that Jesus didn't take on glorified and now incorruptible human flesh after his resurrection.
Therefore, on Nisan 16 Jesus was resurrected and passed through the spiritual curtain with his sacrificed body outside, with the torn physical curtain now having exhausted its purpose before God. . . . 
The [M]essiah he would likewise leave his sacrificed body behind, just like the High Priest on Atonement Day who left the sacrificed body outside. Sacrificed bodies always remain outside, as Hebrews 13:11-12 and Leviticus 16:27 make clear, even equating the burned up animal sacrifice outside the Temple with Jesus’ sacrificed body.—Hebrews 10:10
The point of Hebrews 13:11-12 isn't that Jesus left his human body "outside" never to assume it again (in glorified form) but that, since he suffered outside of the city (Jerusalem), we too should suffer outside of the city, spurning it, but hoping for the city that is to come. (Hebrews 13:13,14) 
As Jesus was born from the tribe of Judah and not the priestly tribe of Levi, he could not serve as the Christian High Priest if he retained his Judahite body.—Matthew 1 and Luke 3 genealogies; Revelation 5:5; Numbers 1:50, 51.
Jim's reasoning seems to be: under the Mosaic Law, only a Levite descended from Aaron could serve as High Priest, so Jesus couldn't be a Judean if he serves as our High Priest. Not only is it not exactly the most convincing reasoning (we're not under the Mosaic Law), but it practically gets things backwards.[1]
Hebrews 7:12-14 - For since the priesthood is being changed, it becomes necessary to change the Law as well. For the man about whom these things are said came from another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the altar. For it is clear that our Lord has descended from Judah, yet Moses said nothing about priests coming from that tribe.
It is because Jesus becomes the High Priest as a Judean - and indestructible Judean at that! (v. 16) - that Paul is able to discern that the Law or Covenant is getting replaced by something better, the New Covenant. Paul's reasoning seem to require Jesus being Judean, and thus human - as his used of "man" in the passage quoted above indicates.

And that is a fitting way to conclude this series, with yet another argument indicating that Jesus is a human after all - and one I had not considered until I read his post. I may return this topic in the future.

[1] And, it seems to me that if Jim thinks the requirements for the OT high priests apply to Christ, he should conclude that Christ must be Levite, and thus human. (But Jim seems to think that the OT requirements only apply a little: Jesus just can't be a Judean.)