Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Unlocking the secret Hebrew of the mind

A lady wanted me to double check the following report from this blog. (and wouldn't you know it is a blog which all moldy Thomists check daily):

In the shocker of all shockers, Tom Cruise isn't the linguistic expert he claims to be. Despite telling everybody Suri means "princess" in Hebrew, Hebrew linguists have confirmed that it doesn't. Suri has only two meanings - one is a person from Syria and the other "go away" when addressed to a female.

Hebrew expert Jonathan Went says, "I think it's fair to say they have made a mistake here. There are variations of the way the Hebrew name for princess is spelt but I have never seen it this way." Suri can also be translated into a Hindi boy's name, and it also means "pointy nose" in some Indian dialects and "pickpocket" in Japanese.

...He's gonna have to name his next kid "degenerate puppy killer" or something.

So, for the record, I confirm that suri does mean "Syrian", and can also mean "go away" to a girl.

But I am no Hebrew expert either: We just figured it was the secret "Scientology" dialect.

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Logical Relationship Between Faith and Works

Among Christians and non-Christians alike there continues to be confusion over the relationship between faith and works. In many cases I think this stems from a basic misunderstanding of cause and effect. In this post I would like to briefly describe the relationship using basic logic.

In logic a distinction is made between "necessary" and "sufficient" conditions. Simply stated, a necessary condition is one which must be present for a thing to be the case (but does not guarantee it), and a sufficient condition is one which, by itself, guarantees that a thing be the case. For example, one must be female to be pregnant, but there are non-pregnant females. So being female is necessary for pregnancy, but does not guarantee it. Pregnancy is sufficient for femaleness, however, because only females can be pregnant.

In logical terms this relation can be expressed in the hypothetical phrase "If P then Q" (symbolically, "P>Q"). In this equation P is the sufficient condition and Q is the necessary. This can be demonstrated using the above example. It is clear that "if female then pregnant" is false, for there are non-pregnant females, but it is true that "if pregnant then female." So the relation between two terms is only correctly stated when the necessary and sufficient conditions are in their correct place.

Concerning faith and works we see from Ephesians 2:8-10 that:

For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from
yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no
one can boast. For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus
for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.

Thus, it is clear that faith is the instrumental cause of salvation (what we are saved through)and that good works are the effect of salvation (what we are saved for), and an effect cannot be its own cause. However, confusion arises in James 2:14-22 when he states:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to
have faith but does not have works? Can this kind of faith save him? . . . faith,
if it does not have works, is dead being by itself. . . . would you
like evidence, you empty fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not
Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?
You see that his faith was working together with his works and his
faith was perfected by works.
Those who see James as contradicting Paul here miss a very important point - Abraham was already affirmed in his faith by the time he offered his son Isaac (see Heb. 11:8-20). While Paul is stressing that faith alone saves - it is for good works. Thus, what James indicates is that faith that is alone is a worthless faith because it is not achieving the end to which it is oriented. James contrasts mere assent (which even demons have) with true, saving faith - one that will have good works as its result.

So it seems then that the proper way to understand this relation is that faith is the sufficient condition for good works (Thus, "If F then W"). Faith guarantees good works, but good works do not guarantee faith (for one can do "good works" without having faith).

Now, it might seem that if faith has good works as a result then we ought to be able to evaluate someone's faith by their good works. Alas, this is not the case. In a hypothetical syllogism (see below) there are only two valid forms: in order to arrive at a sound conclusion one can either affirm the antecedent ("F") or deny the consequent ("W") - neither works vice-versa. So, for example, in the arguments above one could not validly conclude faith ("F") from good works ("W") for this would be committing the fallacy of affirming the consequent.
F > W
= W


F > W
However, can one validly conclude lack of faith (~F) from lack of good works (~W)? Logically, yes - practically, no. There are two difficulties. The first is that we are not privy to the entire life of a person so we may simply be ignorant of their good works. But even if we had access to one's entire life we are not given a biblical standard for the amount, quality, or frequency of these good works. Theoretically even one good work would satisfy the equation (indeed James' illustration of Abraham included only one). I think the most we can say is that when examining our own lives we can be pretty sure that zero good works are indicative of the kind of "faith" James is attacking - but we must be careful in how we judge others.

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