Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Some Tantalizing Tidbits

As I am busy cramming for the examinations, do allow me to post a couple of links to some interesting news and blogs.

The first highlight of the day is none other than the (ir)religious fundamentalist, Richard. Some fundamentalists kill themselves with bombs, fire, and shrapnel. Others, like Richard, sink themselves with poorly thought out arguments and logical fallacies like those in his infamous, The God Delusion. Now who is the one who is truly deluded?

And due to the follies of Richard, the Intelligent Design lobby will have much to thank him for. And of course, the main problem with The God Delusion is this: If Darwinism logically leads to Atheism, then it is likely a pseudo-scientific, religious philosophy and should not be taught in schools due to the constitutional separation of Church and State.

Michael Ruse, a prominent Darwinian philosopher and agnostic based in the US, criticized,
"Suppose it is true - that if you are a Darwinian, then you cannot be a Christian. How then does one answer the creationist who objects to the teaching of Darwinism in schools? If theism cannot be taught in schools (in America) because it violates the separation of church and state, why then should Darwinism be permitted? Perhaps, given the U.S. Constitution, the creationists are right and Darwinism should be excluded." (Michael Ruse, "The God Delusion," ISIS 98 (2007): 814-816)
Ruse concluded, "If Darwinism equals atheism then it can't be taught in US schools because of the constitutional separation of church and state. It gives the creationists a legal case. Dawkins and Dennett are handing these people a major tool."

But the question for us today is this, “Is Richard Dawkins a Fundamentalist?” I’ll let the reader draw his own conclusions after reading this.

Rev David A. Robertson from Dundee (Scotland) commented,
“It is clear that Dawkins is using his post as Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science not to promote science, but rather his own atheistic materialist philosophy. Using the language he does in his letter does not advance his cause, and indeed makes him sound like a self-important and petulant fundamentalist whose only resort to those who disagree with him is mockery and accusation.”
Truly, it seems that Richard is indeed a religious fanatic and fundamentalist.

There is also an interesting series of blogs on the recent dialogue between Daniel Wallace (Professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary) and Bart Erhman (Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) concerning the "Textual Reliability of the New Testament.”

Apparently, Bart Erhman sold many copies of his “Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why.” This book attempts to popularize his thesis that orthodox Christians, instead of heterodox-heretics like Marcion, were the ones who corrupted the Scripture with allegedly “orthodox” emendations. While it would definitely be engaging to listen to the dialogue between these two scholars - one an Evangelical and the other an apostate - I would also recommend the following very accessible book that refutes Erhman’s arguments in Misquoting Jesus - Timothy Paul Jones’ Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus. This is certainly one book for the layman.

Lastly, here’s a movie you ought to catch - “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” by Ben Stein. It's definitely better than watching those Hollywood nonsense.

The international distribution of the show has yet to be announced, and I personally do not know if it would be shown in Singapore.

Kevin gives us a brief description of the movie, “In the documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, Ben Stein narrates an expose of the narrow mindedness of the scientific elite. It reveals how even some who have barely considered the scientific arguments of Intelligent Design have lost jobs and been effectively excluded from the scientific community. Those who dare to question the sacred fact of Darwinism with profane questions rising out of their work in genetics or math are said to be unscientific.”

It is also interesting to read bestselling author Dinesh D'Souza's scathing critique of Dawkins' part in Stein's movie:
"Is it possible that living cells somehow assembled themselves from nonliving things by chance? The probabilities here are so infinitesimal that they approach zero. Moreover, the earth has been around for some 4.5 billion years and the first traces of life have already been found at some 3.5 billion years ago. This is just what we have discovered: it's quite possible that life existed on earth even earlier. What this means is that, within the scope of evolutionary time, life appeared on earth very quickly after the earth itself was formed. Is it reasonable to posit that a chance combination of atoms and molecules, under those conditions, somehow generated a living thing? Could the random collision of molecules somehow produce a computer?

It is ridiculously implausible to think so. And the absurdity was recognized more than a decade ago by Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the DNA double helix. Yet Crick is a committed atheist. Unwilling to consider the possibility of divine or supernatural creation, Crick suggested that maybe aliens brought life to earth from another planet. And this is precisely the suggestion that Richard Dawkins makes in his response to Ben Stein. Perhaps, he notes, life was delivered to our planet by highly-evolved aliens. Let's call this the "ET" explanation.

Stein brilliantly responds that he had no idea Richard Dawkins believes in intelligent design! And indeed Dawkins does seem to be saying that alien intelligence is responsible for life arriving on earth. What are we to make of this? Basically Dawkins is surrendering on the claim that evolution can account for the origins of life. It can't. The issue now is simply whether a natural intelligence (ET) or a supernatural intelligence (God) created life. Dawkins can't bear the supernatural explanation and so he opts for ET. But doesn't it take as much, or more, faith to believe in extraterrestrial biology majors depositing life on earth than it does to believe in a transcendent creator?"

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Machen on Doctrine

Note: My friend Daniel posted some quotations from Machen’s book, Christianity and Liberalism. It is Machen’s words in the second chapter of this remarkable book that inspired this post. The entire book is available online.

In his famous treatise against the false religion of the Liberals, Christianity and Liberalism, Gresham Machen made extensive comments concerning the importance of doctrine in the second chapter. His thoughts concerning the significance of doctrine were weaved into this remarkably clear, concise, scholarly, and yet spiritually rich polemic against one of the greatest heresy of his time.

Some of us had, probably in one way or another, met some zealous young Christians who would be keen to discuss or even have a debate on some nifty, theological points. A few of us from a fundamentalist background might also be familiar with the constant reiterations concerning the importance of doctrine for the Christian life. As familiarity sometimes really does breed contempt, the Christian pilgrim would sometimes be tempted to harbor a certain disdain or even disgust for any such reminders with regard to doctrine. In fact, for some of us, the insistence upon the importance of doctrine is likened to a kind of narrow-minded “Pharisaism.” Worse, some would even associate such an insistence with spiritual immaturity and “carnal” dogmatism.

But why would any Christian create such a false dichotomy between doctrinal precision and spiritual maturity? Regrettably, many church leaders I met have often associated Christian “maturity” with doctrinal broadmindedness and vagueness. Any attempt to spell out the doctrines as taught in the Word of God would be seen as subversive behavior, disrespect for the leadership, or schism. There are, of course, people who are guilty of all or some of the above i.e. subversion, disrespect for church leadership, and/or schism. But to stifle any discussion of doctrine within the church by using the guilt by association fallacy is unbiblical at best. Sadly, isn’t it relatively common to hear the parroting of this comment, “Doctrine is unimportant. Christianity is all about Christian living and service. Let’s not talk about doctrine. Let’s live out our Christianity with Christian service?”

In the second chapter of Christianity and Liberalism, which is entitled “Doctrine,” Machen pointedly states,
“At the outset, we are met with an objection [from the Liberals]. “Teachings,” it is said, “are unimportant ...” But, it will be said, Christianity is a life, not a doctrine. The assertion is often made, and it has an appearance of godliness. But it is radically false, and to detect its falsity one does not even need to be a Christian.” (Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (NY: Macmillan, 1923), 18-19)
It becomes apparent that the mantra, “doctrine is unimportant,” is not uncommon after all. The liberals used to say it. The postmodernists are currently saying it. But worst of all, evangelical Christians are also mimicking the mantra of the liberals. Is doctrine really unimportant? Ironically, those who pontificate about the unimportance of doctrine are usually the ones who are regarded as being spiritual and godly within the church. The defenders of the faith are perceived as the enemies of the Church, while those who demonstrate a blithe disregard for Christ’s teachings are now welcomed just as Liberals were welcomed into evangelical seminaries all over the world earlier in the last century.

But Machen argues,
“Is it true, then, that Christianity is not a doctrine but a life? The question can be settled only by an examination of the beginnings of Christianity. ... But if any one fact is clear, on the basis of this evidence, it is that the Christian movement at its inception was not just a way of life in the modern sense, but a way of life founded upon a message. It was based, not upon mere feeling, not upon a mere program of work, but upon an account of facts. In other words it was based upon doctrine.” (Christianity and Liberalism, 20-21)
How can it ever be that the Christian life and service should be divorced from solid foundations in biblical doctrines? If the Christian walk and mien is all about appearing nice, compassionate and cheerful, or simply about being broadminded and accommodating, then why shouldn’t we be all initiated into the teachings of Buddhism or Hinduism (or a myriad of other -isms)? Most religions teach their members to be “good,” or to be nice, compassionate, cheerful, broadminded and accommodating. Most religion likewise indoctrinate their believers to follow the moral law, to donate to the poor, to help the helpless, and to be a “cheerful giver.”

So what is the fundamental difference between the religion of Christ, and the religions of the world? We have seen that the outward expression or practice of our religion may in many ways be similar; in reality, there are times when such expressions of piety and charity would be similar to those of another religion. It is therefore the content (propositional truths), or rather, the doctrine of Christ which sets Christianity apart from the other religions of the world. Some might say, “We do not know what doctrine you are talking about, but we know Christ.” My question to them is this, “Which Christ are you talking about?” For in order for us to know the Christ of the Bible, we have to know the teachings concerning Christ which is laid out in the Word of God. Similarly, if we are to practice the Christian religion as taught by Christ and the Apostles, we have to know the doctrines concerning the Christian religion as it is written in the Word of God.

The Word of God exhorts the church elders to hold “fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers (Titus 1:9).” How can the elder “hold fast” the teachings he had been taught, if he was never taught in the first place? How would he convince the “gainsayers,” if he would adopt the attitude of theological “broadmindedness” and postmodern relativity? Such “sayings” by the gainsayer would only be another “breath of fresh air” amidst the theological hodgepodge found within the postmodernist’s viewpoint. But what about tolerance with regard to certain doctrinal differences?

Concerning Paul’s attitude towards doctrine and his tolerance of dissenters, Machen writes,
“Certainly with regard to Paul himself there should be no debate; Paul certainly was not indifferent to doctrine; on the contrary, doctrine was the very basis of his life. His devotion to doctrine did not, it is true, make him incapable of a magnificent tolerance. One notable example of such tolerance is to be found during his imprisonment at Rome, as attested by the Epistle to the Philippians. Apparently certain Christian teachers at Rome had been jealous of Paul's greatness. As long as he had been at liberty they had been obliged to take a secondary place; but now that he was in prison, they seized the supremacy. They sought to raise up affliction for Paul in his bonds; they preached Christ even of envy and strife. In short, the rival preachers made of the preaching of the gospel a means to the gratification of low personal ambition; it seems to have been about as mean a piece of business as could well be conceived. But Paul was not disturbed. "Whether in presence, or in truth," he said, "Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice" (Phil. i. 18). The way in which the preaching was being carried on was wrong, but the message itself was true; and Paul was far more interested in the content of the message than in the manner of its presentation. It is impossible to conceive a finer piece of broad-minded tolerance.

But the tolerance of Paul was not indiscriminate. He displayed no tolerance, for example, in Galatia. There, too, there were rival preachers. But Paul had no tolerance for them. "But though we," he said, "or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed" (Gal. i. 8). What is the reason for the difference in the apostle's attitude in the two cases? What is the reason for the broad tolerance in Rome, and the fierce anathemas in Galatia? The answer is perfectly plain. In Rome, Paul was tolerant, because there the content of the message that was being proclaimed by the rival teachers was true; in Galatia he was intolerant, because there the content of the rival message was false. In neither case did personalities have anything to do with Paul's attitude. No doubt the motives of the Judaizers in Galatia were far from pure, and in an incidental way Paul does point out their impurity. But that was not the ground of his opposition. The Judaizers no doubt were morally far from perfect, but Paul's opposition to them would have been exactly the same if they had all been angels from heaven. His opposition was based altogether upon the falsity of their teaching; they were substituting for the one true gospel a false gospel which was no gospel at all. It never occurred to Paul that a gospel might be true for one man and not for another; the blight of pragmatism had never fallen upon his soul. Paul was convinced of the objective truth of the gospel message, and devotion to that truth was the great passion of his life. Christianity for Paul was not only a life, but also a doctrine, and logically the doctrine came first.” (Christianity and Liberalism, 21-23)
Machen continues to elucidate,
“But what was the difference between the teaching of Paul and the teaching of the Judaizers ? What was it that gave rise to the stupendous polemic of the Epistle to the Galatians? To the modern Church the difference would have seemed to be a mere theological subtlety. About many things the Judaizers were in perfect agreement with Paul. ... The difference concerned only the logical--not even, perhaps, the temporal--order of three steps. Paul said that a man (1) first believes on Christ, (2) then is justified before God, (3) then immediately proceeds to keep God's law. The Judaizers said that a man (1) believes on Christ and (2) keeps the law of God the best he can, and then (3) is justified. The difference would seem to modern "practical" Christians to be a highly subtle and intangible matter, hardly worthy of consideration at all in view of the large measure of agreement in the practical realm. What a splendid cleaning up of the Gentile cities it would have been if the Judaizers had succeeded in extending to those cities the observance of the Mosaic law, even including the unfortunate ceremonial observances! Surely Paul ought to have made common cause with teachers who were so nearly in agreement with him; surely he ought to have applied to them the great principle of Christian unity.

As a matter of fact, however, Paul did nothing of the kind; and only because he (and others) did nothing of the kind does the Christian Church exist today. Paul saw very clearly that the differences between the Judaizers and himself was the differences between two entirely distinct types of religion; it was the differences between a religion of merit and a religion of grace.” (Christianity and Liberalism, 23-24)
Let it therefore be known that differences often referred to as “theological subtleties” may seem innocuous enough to the “theological agnostics,” but one such difference might have destroyed Christianity at its inception - the teachings of the Judaizers. The practicers of the religions of Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism may have similar expressions of charity and piety, but it must be remembered that the propositional truths as expounded by these three religions are fundamentally different and contradictory in many areas. It is these differences in doctrine, or rather, the specific teachings of Christ and His Apostles found in the Bible which set Christianity apart from the other religions of the world.

And to him who insists that “doctrine is unimportant,” let him explain why we shouldn’t be followers of the doctrine of Buddha or Brahma if indeed “doctrine is unimportant.”

Friday, April 18, 2008

An Informal Reply to Agagooga Concerning Some Allegations

As fellow blogger Gabriel Seah, or better known as Agagooga, has taken the pains to comment extensively on my previous post, I would like to return him the favor with this very informal reply. Please refer to his comments in the last post (in this post, his comments are in italics).

On a more cordial note, I would like to state that I appreciate Gabriel's input, and I wish him all the best in his studies and vocation.

A. Dan Brown is Sneaky

“Dan Brown's language is very sneaky. As I said, he did not say the EVENTS were true, he said the ORGANIZATIONS etc existed. Please note the distinction.”

This is not true. Dan Brown said, “All of it. The paintings, locations, historical documents, and organizations described in the novel all exist.” “All of it” would include all the allegedly “factual” information in the novel (except the plot/story line). The historical documents, if factual (as he claimed), would have substantial theological implications as well.

“You say that major religions should have special exemptions. How is this different from the double standards you accuse the government of having?”

Again, this is a misrepresentation of what I wrote. I wrote, “The Bible, as well as the Quran and Sanskrit, are the religious texts of various major religions. As a multireligious society, the government cannot ban such religious texts.” The outlawing of religious texts central to worship would be considered religious persecution within a “multi-religious” society. The allowance of freedom of worship would include the legal possession and usage of such religious texts i.e. Quran.

How does allowing “the possession and usage of religious texts” by the various religions in Singapore constitute “double standards?”

B. Jesus and His Alleged Attacks Against Judaism

“Judaism is against humans being divine”

I suppose you mean, “Judaism is against humans claiming to be divine.” Christianity is also against humans claiming to be divine (it’s blasphemy!). Jesus, however, is not merely human. He is God Himself in the flesh. So, is Judaism against God claiming to be divine?

“Judaism preaches the indivisibility of YHWH.”

Indivisibility of what of YHWH? We Christians believe that the Trinity is indivisible as well. (See Thomas Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God (Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark, 1996), 185.)

“Jesus falsely claimed to be a messiah.”

This is another one of your bare assertions. You need to show that he “falsely claimed” to be the Messiah. “Falsely” according to what documents and textual evidence?

“He contradicted the Torah and claimed that its commandments were null and void. One example of a Jewish religious law he transgressed (and urged transgression of) was that of diet - he said you could eat anything, which is blasphemy in Judaism. Another example is his plucking grain, which transgressed the Sabbath. In fact if you're really strict, the punishment for breaking the Sabbath is stoning.”

This is an interesting assertion from you.

Firstly, He did not claim that “its commandments were null and void.” If you insist, you should at least provide us with the relevant exposition and textual evidence. And what historical documents will you use to support your proposition?

If you are arguing from the New Testament, we must make a distinction between narratives of events, and their respective interpretations. Your question impinges upon the issue of hermeneutics. Should we interpret the events the way you did? What is your exegesis of the related texts?

You claim that Jesus “said [they] could eat anything.” You must mean that Jesus encouraged the Jews and His disciples to eat pork and other non-kosher food as well (i.e. everything). Where in the biblical documents (or whatever textual evidence you have) do we find this?

Secondly, we have the question of the Sabbath. Jesus claimed (and Christians agree) that He did not transgress the Sabbath according to the biblical texts. How do you exegete this particular passage to make it say what you want it to say i.e. that He did transgress the Sabbath?

Furthermore, you haven’t answered my question of textual evidence. This is important because: if you want to argue via reductio that based upon the Christian Bible, Jesus did indeed transgressed the Sabbath, the onus is on you to furnish us with that exegetical evidence from the OT and NT.

“I am not assuming the truth of the bible in any way. I am showing that, even on Christianity's terms, what Jesus did was a violation of Jewish law.”

Again, you’re begging the question. How would you interpret the Law in the OT? Why, according to your exegeses, do you think that Jesus transgressed the Law?

According to the biblical documents, Jesus did not violate any “law.” This is the understanding “on Christianity’s terms.” Besides, the law needs to be interpreted before it can be applied.

Finally, concerning your allegation that Jesus “attacked” Judaism, what in your opinion constitutes an “attack?”

Jesus may have taught doctrines that were not palatable to the Judaists, but does that constitute an “attack” on the Judaists? As an analogy, let us consider the Buddhists in Singapore. They are teaching certain doctrines in their sermons that we may find objectionable/heretical as Christians. Some of the Buddhists may even teach/discuss these doctrines in public places. Will you say that the Buddhists have attacked Christians in this regard? Again, if Buddhists do not follow certain Christian practices (and teach their disciples the same), will you claim that the Buddhists have attacked Christianity?

Following your line of reasoning, if the preaching or teaching of doctrines contrary to another religion is considered an "attack," have you considered the option that it was actually the Judaists who "attacked" Christians? The Judaists were preaching and teaching doctrines contrary to Christianity, even heretical doctrines. The Judaists were the ones who oppressed the minority Christians (see the Book of Acts on how Christians were sorely persecuted by the Jewish leaders). And the One who got "attacked" on the Cross was Jesus Christ, not the leaders of Judaism. So should we say that the Judaists persecuted and "attacked" Christ unto death, and not vice versa?

C. Christians shouldn't be offended by the double standards; besides, they persecute others when they get offended

“The degree of offensiveness... is evaluated by the leaders of a particular religion. This is amusing, given that Jewish religious leaders got Jesus crucified.”

I wrote, “The degree of offensiveness of a particular religious publication is not based upon headcount, but is evaluated by the leaders of a particular religion i.e. theologians and pastors who know what is at stake, and what exactly is being said in such literature.”

This statement is made within the context of a tolerant, multi-religious and multi-racial society.

It is amusing for you because you have amusingly made an anachronistic comment outside the Singaporean context (fallacy of abstraction and context-dropping).

“I am also reminded of the Last Temptation of Christ. It was considered offensive by some Christians, but now people realise it made a very pertinent, important and moving theological point.”

What pertinent, important and moving theological point are you referring to, pray tell? Pertinent to who/what, important to who/what, and moving according to who/what? How is that relevant to our discussion here?

The issue at hand concerns apparent double standards by the censorship board with regard to the “Da Vinci Code.”

(Note: In October 2006, our Minister George Yeo said that, “When I was MITA minister, we banned Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses while allowing 'the Last Temptation of Christ' because the Muslim reaction was entirely predictable."

On an earlier occasion (2/06), he said, “In ASEAN, we must not allow similar misunderstandings between Muslims and non-Muslims to surface. When Salman Rushdie's book "Satanic Verses" was published some years ago, Singapore banned it because we knew it would cause trouble. In contrast, we did not ban "The Last Temptation of Christ" because the Christian ground and the Muslim ground are different.”

So it seems that the “Last Temptation of Christ” is not currently banned in Singapore, and this buttress our suspicion of existing double standards.)

“Some Christians wanting to persecute those who allegedly attack their religion: - Corpus Christi got bomb/death threats - The Last Temptation of Christ movie got molotov cocktail-ed in France -”

In your previous comment, you wrote, “Christians want to persecute those who (allegedly) attack their religion.” You have failed to show how you know that Christians-simpliciter “want to persecute” such people because they attacked “their religion.” Unless you can argue for causation, your statement qualifies for the honorifics cum hoc, ergo propter hoc and bare assertion.

It is quite feeble that you have to resort to quoting the ST Forum as a source of authority. At best, your aforementioned examples only qualify your allegation as a hasty generalization.

I notice that you have added a modifier – “some” Christians. That makes better sense, but falls for the fallacy of guilt by association. Allow me to explain.

Your allegation = Some Christians want to persecute those who allegedly attack their religion.

But this allegation is true for almost every sect, cult, political association, pugilistic organization and religion, including atheistic and non-religious associations.


P = Some X want to persecute those who allegedly attack their Y.

Where X is a subset of a particular class of people, and Y is the associated ideology/affiliation of this class. There will always be “some” X who would do objectionable deeds apart from the teachings of Y. In this case, the Bible (i.e. Sermon on the Mount) does not teach Christians to “persecute” their enemies.

But what has P to do with the issue at hand? Beside making the whole class of “Christians” or X look bad by associating them with the actions of certain groups of extremists (more accurately, self-professing Christians who do not follow biblical injunctions), how does P support your argument concerning the presence/absence of double standards in Singapore?

That is the point of the entire post.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Couple charged under Sedition Act for evangelism in Singapore

From the Straits Times, dated April 16, 2008

Couple charged under Sedition Act

A COUPLE were yesterday charged with distributing an evangelistic publication that cast Prophet Muhammad in a negative light.

Ong Kian Cheong, 49, and Dorothy Chan Hien Leng, 44, face two charges each - one under the Sedition Act and the other, under the Undesirable Publications Act.

They are alleged to have distributed the evangelistic publication to a Woodlands resident on March 6 last year, and to a Sembawang resident seven months later, on Oct 19.

Ong, who works in a telecommunications company, and his wife, a bank employee, were represented by Mr Selva K. Naidu.

In court yesterday, the police prosecutor sought an adjournment of the case, pending a Health Sciences Authority report on handwriting specimens.

It was not explained in court why this came about.

The couple were freed on a $10,000 bail each, and their passports were impounded.

The case will come up on April 29.

In 2005, a 27-year-old man became the first since 1966 to be jailed under the Sedition Act for posting inflammatory and vicious remarks about Muslims and Malays on the Internet. He was jailed a month. In a connected case, a 25-year-old was given a day's jail and fined $5,000.

Later that year, a 17-year-old blogger was given probation.

The following year, a 21-year-old accounts assistant was given a stern warning for putting up an offensive cartoon of Jesus Christ on his blog.

Under the Act, the maximum penalty is a $5,000 fine and/or a jail term of up to three years.

The maximum penalty under the Undesirable Publications Act is a fine of up to $5,000 and/or a jail term of up to 12 months.

By Elena Chong

A brief note

Within a multireligious and multiracial society, I believe most Singaporeans would agree that the deliberate provocation of religious sentiments via incendiary speeches or related acts should be monitored closely and even condemned by the law. However, the case as presented above is perplexing and very disturbing indeed. It seems that the distribution of “evangelistic publication that cast Prophet Muhammad in a negative light” is a seditious act in Singapore. But what about the distribution of books and movies that cast Jesus - the Lord, Savior, and God of Christians - in a “negative light?”

Apparently, it is not only considered non-seditious to distribute, sell, and promote books in Singapore that cast Jesus “in a negative light,” but also regarded as good entertainment to show movies that promote blasphemous massages concerning the deity of Christ.

Beside the Sedition Act, the Undesirable Publications Act (CAP. 338) “prohibits the importation, distribution and reproduction of undesirable publications.” The only conclusion I can draw at this moment is this: literature that casts “Prophet Muhammad in a negative light” is undesirable and illegal in Singapore, but materials and movies that blaspheme Jesus Christ is not only legal and acceptable, but also considered acceptable public entertainment.

Why are there double standards?

PS: Isaiah, a fellow Christian blogger, has more to say concerning the "seditious" tract. My friend, Daniel, has some comments concerning religious persecution.

Friday, April 04, 2008

A Logical Examination of the Unknowability of God Hypothesis

I have thought of including a logical argument in my previous post to prove the logical failure of the unknowability hypothesis of Neo-Orthodoxy. (1) Nevertheless, due to my tight schedule, I am only able to include the arguments here.

In the current post, I will show that the "unknowability hypothesis" - which is the basic epistemological assumption of Barth - is logically vacuous, and defies the Law of Non-contradiction. We are reminded that any proposition that contravenes the Aristotelian Law cannot be true.

Suppose, for a reductio, we accept the proposition that p = "God is unknowable" is true. In fact, let us agree with the Barthians concerning the unknowability of God that p = "God is X" is true, where X is an attribute of the noumenal God which is unknowable, and therefore, not known and can never be known. We agree, for argument sake, that we are ignorant of some truth concerning God (i.e. that p) which can never be known via Scripture (or by any other means for that matter). And so we suppose that p is true but not known to be true; then (p ∧ ¬Kp) is true.

Therefore, in accordance with the "unknowability of God" hypothesis, Barthians claim that (p ∧ ¬Kp) is true. (2) Furthermore, they know that (p ∧ ¬Kp) is true, that is, ◊K(p ∧ ¬Kp). (3) Now, this is extremely difficult for any logical mind to receive. How can we know that p ∧ ¬Kp? If knowing a conjunction entails knowing the conjuncts, then K(p ∧ ¬Kp) entails Kp and K¬Kp. Now knowledge entails truth (or more accurately, justified true belief), so K¬Kp entails ¬Kp, which is a contradiction for Kp. So, by reductio ad absurdum, it is not possible that K(p ∧ ¬Kp). We have hereby refuted the "unknowability of God" hypothesis of Neo-Orthodoxy.

To further elucidate the problem of the unknowability hypothesis, we understand that the basic premise of Neo-Orthodox epistemology is K(p ∧ ¬Kp). If p = "God is X," and X represents any attribute which is unknowable of God, then the Barthian's denial of the knowledge of X would paradoxically mandate the knowledge of X. Let us say that p = "God is unknowable." We have seen that Barthians insist that p ∧ ¬Kp is true. Knowledge of p ∧ ¬Kp would entail Kp and K¬Kp i.e. knowing that "God is unknowable," and at the same time, knowing that "God is unknowable" is unknowable. This is a contradiction of the Law of Non-contradiction. In other words, if the Barthian claims that they do not know that p, they must also admit that they know that p.

The onus is therefore on those who insist that "God is unknowable" to show that their epistemological presuppositions are logically viable and coherent.


1. The "Unknowability of God" hypothesis is basically the belief that God, who belongs to the noumena, is unknowable to the mind of man. This must be distinguished from the Reformed understanding of "Finitum non Capax Infiniti," or "the finite is unable to contain the infinite." The Latin phrase should be understood within the context of the Incarnation of Christ. As Frame had aptly commented, "In the incarnation, Calvin argued, God was manifested in human flesh. However, because nothing finite can completely contain the infinite (finitum non capax infiniti), Christ is also active outside the flesh of Jesus. No less than Luther, Calvin insisted that God wills to be known only in Christ. But he did not believe this meant that God is revealed only in the incarnation; Christ, the eternal Word, also operates outside the work of Jesus. Lutheran critics of Calvin's Christology called this the extra calvinisticum." (John Frame, "Incarnation," in The Westminster Handbook of Reformed Theology, ed. Donald K. McKim (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 120.)

2. Where p = "God is X," including the proposition "God is unknowable."

3. For those new to modal logic, the basic unary modal operators are usually written □(or L) for Necessarily and ◊(or M) for Possibly. In modal logic, each can be expressed by the other and negation, that is:

\Diamond P \leftrightarrow \lnot \Box \lnot P;
\Box P \leftrightarrow \lnot \Diamond \lnot P.

Re: A clarification for those who are perplexed

I apologize for the use of symbolic logic which may be confusing for some, but it allows some of us to see the picture in a neat, mathematical way.

My point in this post, and the previous one as well, is this: we cannot teach that God is unknowable. Firstly, we cannot know that God is unknowable since this entails a logical contradiction. Secondly, if we do not know that God is unknowable i.e. p ∧ ¬Kp, we should abstain from teaching such a doctrine in theology classes. If you do not know that Tom is unsaved, would you teach others that Tom is unsaved with any certainty?

If God is unknowable (and Barth insists that He cannot be known even through Special Revelation), he has attributes that cannot be known i.e. p = God is X, where X is any unknowable attribute of God. Therefore, with or without the agreement of Barth, if he teaches that "God is unknowable," that proposition can be expressed as p ∧ ¬Kp. Since Barth teaches this in his Church Dogmatics, he must be fairly dogmatic (pun intended) concerning this.

But as we have seen above (in the two posts), to say that God is unknowable (and to say that you know that God is unknowable) is to say ◊K(p ∧ ¬Kp), and this entails Kp and K¬Kp. If you were to look at this expression carefully, you would notice that, to claim knowledge in the proposition that you cannot know p i.e. (K¬Kp), you must also claim Kp. To put this simply, to say that you know that you cannot know that p = God is X, you must paradoxically know that p. But this makes sense. To say, for example, that you know that you cannot know that God is X, you must know what God is X is in order to know that you cannot know that God is X! Contained within the proposition that "you know that you cannot know that God is X" is "God is X," and that logically entails knowledge of "God is X." Because without knowledge of "God is X," we cannot even claim knowledge that "we cannot know that God is X."

But the problem here is: p ∧ ¬Kp is possibly true. Then we can simply say that it is possible that God has certain attributes that we can never know, but we cannot know this for sure (i.e. it is not possible that we know this). In other words, we cannot say that God is unknowable. For surely God is knowable through Scripture, for scriptural revelation is propositional and clear. There may be attributes of God that we do not know and will never know this side of eternity, but we do not know this, and we cannot teach this as part of our theology proper.