Thursday, March 8, 2012

J. P. Holding Defends an Incoherent Incarnation.

Intro:

This post covers part of Christian internet apologist J. P. Holding's response to atheist Richard Carrier's chapter 9 in the book "Not the Impossible Faith" which is a refutation of Holding's original online essays which are no longer online.  This post will be part of The Richard Carrier Project.

The issues of this post are:
  • Is (J. P. Holding's version of ) the Christian doctrine of Jesus' incarnation coherent?
  • Did Jesus claim to be Yahweh incarnate by identifying himself with the Jewish concept of Wisdom?
And the short answers are probably not on both counts.

In a previous blog entry I wrote this:
This brings up the issue of the coherency of Christian concepts of the doctrine of the Trinity.  An entity with a separate will and a separate knowledge base (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 22:42; Luke 2:52; Matthew 24:36) is a different person.  Even if you choose to do the will of someone else, that doesn't make you them.  Even if they grant you superpowers and equal authority, that doesn't make you them either.  Being them is what makes you them.  What's the difference between the Holy Spirit influencing or informing Jesus at times and influencing other prophets?  I don't know.  I don't know what it means to say that Jesus is the same as Yahweh if all the components of not being that god are conceded to be as a separate human person.  It just sounds like a bunch of nonsense.
How does Holding deal with this?  He asserts:
Personhood is not incompatible with being an attribute of another person.
Um...yeah it is.  As long as it is admitted that Jesus and Yahweh are two persons, that's two different gods (Or rather, Yahweh is a god, and Jesus is just an honorary god since he clearly would have all human components and whatever divine ones must have been slapped on like what could be done to any human).  It simply doesn't mean anything to claim that Jesus and Yahweh are the same being when Jesus is clearly meant to have all the limitations and faculties of the human condition and an independent will.  The things that make each person their own person are the same things that make them two separate beings.

The closest thing I can think of to help a Christian position out here is the Borg from Star Trek and the problem there is that even if there is a hive mind with people who are attributes of that greater collective, those "people" are actually drones with no free will.  The character Jesus had the option of doing his own thing on more than one occasion in the gospels.  A hive mind of distinctive persons with their own will and knowledge bases is really incoherent gibberish.  It's just like normal people being on the internet.

In terms of other conceptual possibilities, a human brain couldn't even process an iota of Yahweh's infinitude of anything, and it would have nothing meaningful to contribute to it.    A facsimile of Yahweh's personality in human brain form would infinitely pale in comparison to the real thing ("I'll call him mini-Me!").  I'm sure some of the official Christian concepts rely on superstitious concepts of the mind/body problem that are not immediately evident.  The only way Jesus and Yahweh could be one being is if Jesus is just an empty avatar body for Yahweh's will, like he's playing a video game.  Obviously that's also heretical for most mainstream Christianities.

Holding skips a whole section of Carrier's chapter because of Carrier's supposed ignorance on an important concept of Holding's that he addresses elsewhere.

Holding equates Jesus with the Jewish concept of "Wisdom" and says:
In Hebrew and Ancient Near Eastern thought, words were not merely sounds, or letters on a page; words were things that "had an independent existence and which actually did things."
So, apparently because of ancient superstitions about wisdom, all of the sudden this incarnation makes sense?  It's a common human mental bias to externalize things and treat it like a personal agent.  This sounds like a textbook case of that.  Hardly a sound foundation for a supernatural belief system.  [Note, Carrier actually responds to this Wisdom objection in his book on pages 249-250.]

The fact that ancient Jews accepted other semi-personified not-god god concepts doesn't make the concept coherent.  It just moves the incoherence back to that and explains that it had precedent (which supports a naturalistic account of Christianity).  The personification may have just been metaphorical.  In which case Jesus would be a new category of an actual personification of a divine trait.  It's hard to tell though with ancient sources, since it can be really hard to tell what they take seriously or what exactly their half-baked philosophy entails if they don't ever explicitly get into it.  And lots of philosophers in the history of philosophy say things they just don't mean.  Holding's reference to Philo's interpretation of Abraham's 3 divine visitors as an example of a Jew conceiving of a monotheistic trinity is again, just incoherent precedent.

So Holding dismisses some other ancient Christian ideas on Jesus' incarnation that actually make more sense (lol) and moves on to say this:
Christ's functional subordination (just as our words and speech are subordinate to ourselves) and his ontological equality (just as our words represent our authority and our essential nature) with the Father.
Our words may "represent" our authority and "essential nature," but that does not make our words either of those things.  That's like saying the word apple is an apple.

Holding casually glosses over the fact his references say Wisdom was created, since Jesus as a created being is a heretical view.  That's kind of funny.

Jesus' subtle appeals to Wisdom that Holding talks about seem to me to be like what any Jewish wise guy familiar with the traditions might say to themselves when they feel like people aren't listening to them.  Probably not a declaration of godhood.

Perhaps Holding could explain if Jesus is identifying with pre-Incarnate Wisdom how exactly he grows in knowledge and *wisdom* as a child (Luke 2:52)?

Also, since presumably Yahweh has more than just 2 attributes, by logical extension, Holding would have to accept the real possibility that he believes in much more than a trinity.  Also a heresy.  :D

The bottom line is that theologians are just going to have to shortstop logic all over the place and mystify this away since it doesn't really make sense.  The construction of the Nicene Creed seems to be more about Christian theologians (over time) backing themselves into corners because they don't like the implications of various views and merely swallowing what they found to be the most traditional elements of their religion even if those ideas differed from later versions they also sandwiched together.  Their view of their god is a happenstance historical Frankenstein concept glued together by implausible mystery and unsubstantiated authority.

Outro:

The last part of my response to the issues of chapter 9 will be, "J. P. Holding Defends a Special Incarnation" dealing with the likelihood of any first century Jews accepting the concept through the filter of how they understood what was possible in Judaism.




5 comments:

Edward T. Babinski said...

Note: Probably a little before the time the Gospels were composed there appeared the non-canonical book, The Wisdom of Solomon, that portrayed Wisdom as the primary player in Israel's history. Several NT writers made use of this work.

In the OT Wisdom was personified (Prov 8), but the idea of personified Wisdom appears so rarely in the OT that the curiosity posed by such rarity probably motivated later writers to explore the idea further, including the author of the Wisdom of Solomon.

There was also a well-documented tendency to equate the concept of Wisdom with Torah as in another pre-Christian work, earlier than the one above, called, The Wisdom of Ben [=son of] Sira[ch].

As already noted, aside from the Bible's rare allusion to personified Wisdom in Prov 8 it spoke of wisdom as mundane advice (just as in plenty of other ANE lands), but in the two later works above, wisdom becomes steeped through and through with references to biblical figures and events. In the Wisdom of Solomon that includes Wisdom's participation in all of Israel's traditions, and Wisdom is described as a cosmic principle dwelling on the throne of glory next to God, and as knowing and designing all things (ix. 1, 4, 10), being identical with the creative Word (ix. 1) and God's Holy Spirit (ix. 17).

"Interpreting" the wisdom of God became hugely important during the Second Temple period. And there were plenty of interpretations (see, A Companion to Biblical Interpretation in Early Judaism, Eerdmanjs, 2012), from the books mentioned above to the Dead Sea Scrolls, pesher, midrash, mimesis. If anything, second Temple writings and speakers (including early Christians) engaged in a parallelo-mania approach to the OT, including seeking parallels between early Christian beliefs and passages found in intertestamental works, as cited by NT authors.

Ben Schuldt said...

Yeah, the Wisdom of Solomon was what Holding was quoting from in his post. It didn't amount to much so I didn't get too far into it.

Drake Shelton said...

I have 3000 hours of work on this issue. http://eternalpropositions.wordpress.com/2012/03/14/the-end-of-christianity-ed-loftus-second-reply-to-chapter-3-part-1/

Drake Shelton said...

"I don't know what it means to say that Jesus is the same as Yahweh if all the components of not being that god are conceded to be as a separate human person. It just sounds like a bunch of nonsense."

>>>Jesus is not the same person as Yahweh. He is Yahweh's son and is consubstantial with Yahweh.

"Um...yeah it is. As long as it is admitted that Jesus and Yahweh are two persons, that's two different gods"

>>>Wrong. The one God (speaking in the concrete) of Christianity is the individual person of the Father. Jesus and the Holy Ghost are called Theos/God not in the concrete but in the abstract. That is, when the NT calls Jesus and the Holy Ghost Theos/God it is saying that these persons are consubstantial with God.

Tertullian, Against Praxeas, Chapter XIII.—The Force of Sundry Passages of Scripture Illustrated in Relation to the Plurality of Persons and Unity of Substance. There is No Polytheism Here, Since the Unity is Insisted on as a Remedy Against Polytheism,

“That there are, however, two Gods or two Lords, is a statement that at no time proceeds out of our mouths. I will therefore not speak of Gods at all, nor of Lords, but I will follow the apostle. So that if the Father and the Son are both to be invoked, I will call the Father “God” and invoke Jesus Christ as “Lord.” But when Christ alone [is spoken of], I will be able to call Him “God,” as the same apostle says ” Of whom is Christ, who is over all, God blessed forever. For I should give the name “Sun” even to a sunbeam, when considered by itself. But if I were to mention the sun from which the ray emanates, I certainly should at once withdraw the name of sun from the mere beam. For although I do not make two suns, still I will reckon both the sun and its ray to be as much two things and two forms of one undivided substance-just as God and His Word, the Father and the Son.”

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf03.v.ix.xiii.html


"In terms of other conceptual possibilities, a human brain couldn't even process an iota of Yahweh's infinitude of anything, and it would have nothing meaningful to contribute to it. "

This assumes upon Absolute Divine Simplicity which is Neoplatonic and foreign to the teaching of the original Nicene Creed. What you are saying is that if one participates in anything in God he has to participate in all of God. That is Neoplatonism and is not the teaching of the original Nicene creed and the Greek fathers.

Drake Shelton said...

"The only way Jesus and Yahweh could be one being"

>>>They are not one being. The original Nicene Creed says,

"We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of his Father, ********of the essence****** of the Father". Notice it does not say "one substance". This is then generic unity not numeric unity- three beings of the same generic nature. One God because one Father-auto-theos.

"Holding casually glosses over the fact his references say Wisdom was created, since Jesus as a created being is a heretical view. That's kind of funny."

>>>Well it is tragic. Holding is most likely a product of Rome which denied the original Nicene Creed to buttress their papacy idea. Modern protestants do not understand the original explanations of God and Christ.

"Perhaps Holding could explain if Jesus is identifying with pre-Incarnate Wisdom how exactly he grows in knowledge and *wisdom* as a child (Luke 2:52)? "

>>>There are two minds. The former is referring to the divine mind, the latter to the human mind. The divine mind hypostatizes the human mind. I explain this in detail in my linked article above.

"Also, since presumably Yahweh has more than just 2 attributes, by logical extension, Holding would have to accept the real possibility that he believes in much more than a trinity. "

>>>The union is not at the level of nature as to share attributes, but is at the level of hypostasis. See Constantinople 553, The Capitula of the Council VII, and Aquinas Summa Theologica Part Three, Incarnation, General, On the Union Itself, Article 2. Whether the union of Incarnate Word took place in the Person? http://www.newadvent.org/summa/4002.htm.