Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Ben and Barrett on apostolic succession

This begins with a quote from C. K. Barrett. A Catholic then challenges BW3 in the combox. A brief exchange ensues. BW3 talks circles around the Catholic disputant, who's no match for BW3 on 1C ecclesiology. 

Into the light

and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day (Gen 1:2-5).

Here's an interesting detail. Notice the steady progression from general to specific. The contrast between day and night is more specific than the contrast between light and dark, while the contrast between dawn and dusk is more specific than the contrast between day and night. So there are increasing degrees of specificity. Light and dark could be anytime. By contrast, day and night have calendar dates, while dawn and dusk are parts of a day–beginning and ending. 

Light and dark is the most general distinction. At arctic and antarctic latitudes, you have polar days and polar nights much longer than 24 hours. Likewise, in outer space, the distinction between light and dark is spatial rather than temporal. 

By the same token, firelight (from a campfire or fireplace) and candlelight involve a spatial rather than temporal contrast. That would be familiar to ancient Israelites. 

Day and night involve a temporal and cyclical contrast, while dawn and dusk are brief, borderline conditions that shade into light or darkness. The boundaries of day and night. 

So the creation account has a certain motion to it. From darkness to light. From light to daylight. From daylight to dawn and dusk–as limiting cases. Moving into the light. Moving into daylight. Moving into the dawn of a new day–or twilight, which portends another day.

How would that be significant to the original audience? Well, I can't say for sure, but in general, I think that for people who lived before the advent of electricity, night was fearful. Darkness was threatening. In fact, modern man is still instinctively fearful of the dark. 

So moving into the light evokes connotations of safety. And having that to look forward to evokes hope. 

In the ancient world, people generally traveled on foot. Imagine you plan a trip to a destination that's a day's journey from home. You intend to leave early, but due to unforeseen circumstances, you are forced to get off to a late start. 

Say the sun is ahead of you when you start out. As you continue, the sun is overhead. Then the sun is behind you. And you begin to see your own shadow. And the shadow lengthens. And trees around you cast longer shadows. You are walking into darkness. 

You glance behind you and see the sun nearing the horizon. You begin to panic, because you're running out of light. You won't arrive at your destination before darkness falls. 

By contrast, imagine emerging from darkness into the light. Putting darkness behind you. Walking towards the light.

And that's a vampire trope. The traditional vampire mythos plays on Christian symbolism. Light is emblematic of God. Because a vampire is an evil, godless, satanic creature, it shuns the light. Sunlight is lethal. 

A vampire is active from dusk to dawn. If its prey can survive the night, the vampire can't follow them into the emerging sunlight. If they can make it through the night, if they can hold out until dawn, they put the danger behind them. 

For a vampire, the danger is just the opposite. To be overtaken by the dawn is fatal. 

Although that's fictional, it's rooted in Biblical symbolism. For instance, that's a leitmotif in John's Gospel and First John. Part of the unique power of John's Gospel lies in the evocation of these ancient and elemental symbols. They've retained their psychological grip on the modern reader. 

It has its basis in literal experience. That, in turn, creates a psychological resonance. And all that supplies a theological metaphor. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Mary and Jesus

I recently debated a Catholic on Facebook. The question was whether Mary is the "Mother of God," and the inferences which Catholics build on that premise. They begin with a deceptively simple argument: If Jesus is God, and Mary is the mother of Jesus, then Mary is the Mother of God. 

"Can there ever be a time, place, or location where Jesus is not God? The Church does not teach that Jesus was created in Mary's womb, but that God's word, through the power of the Holy Spirit, was incarnate in the Virgin's womb, and she bore a Son, Jesus. The eternal word was incarnate in her womb and she became his mother."

That suffers from equivocation. There's a sense in which Jesus was created in the womb. The Son qua Son is eternally preexistent, but the Son qua Incarnate has a before and after. Jesus is fully divine, but he isn't simply divine. The hypostatic union was created in the womb. That relation was created. Likewise, the human nature was created.

There was a time when Jesus was not. There was never a time when the Son was not. That's the problem with your equivocal usage. It becomes a shell game.

Jesus isn't simply the Son. Jesus is the Son Incarnate. The Son is timeless, but Jesus has a temporal side as well as a timeless side. Jesus had a first moment of existence, for Jesus is the result of a union in time between the timeless Son and human nature. The relation is temporal, although divine relatum (the Son) is timeless while the human relatum (rational human soul and body) is temporal. The Incarnation is an event. There was no Jesus before Mary became pregnant, although the Son is eternally preexistent. Jesus had a beginning. The Incarnation is a datable event. The Son had no beginning.

"Christ is fully human and fully divine - there can be no separation."

True, However, the question at issue isn't separating the natures but distinguishing the natures. Refusal to distinguish they natures makes you a monophysite.

"God's humanity" is shorthand. What that means, presumably, is that Mary is the mother of his humanity, which is united to his divinity. So she is indirectly the "mother of God" in that convoluted and qualified sense. "Mother of God" is a half-truth.

"Mother of God" has pagan connotations of mother goddesses, like Juno. Their offspring are gods who originate in their mothers.

You can make the title true by layering on caveats, but it's a half-truth because the title itself doesn't contain those caveats. The title itself can be taken in different directions. It dies the death of a thousand qualifications.

Jesus isn't simply God, and God isn't simply Jesus. So, yes, orthodoxy requires qualified usage.

i) For convenience, I've stipulated that Mary was the mother of Christ's human nature. I've said that because it's useful to focus on one issue at a time. If, however, we wish to be theologically precise, that's an oversimplification, and attributes a larger role to Mary than is actually the a case, even in reference to Christ's humanity. 

ii) Christ's human nature has two ingredients: a soul and a body. Even in reference to his body, Mary can't naturally be the sole source, because mothers lack the Y chromosome (or SRY gene) to create a male body in the womb. So that had to be supplied directly by God. 

iii) Then there's the source of his soul. Some Catholics are Thomists, but Thomistic anthropology can't naturally accommodate the postmortem survival of the soul–as Catholic philosophers like Peter Geach and Mary Anscombe concede.

iv) If you espouse creationism, then Mary was not the source of Christ' soul. Rather, God created that directly.

v) If you espouse traducianism, then we're in uncharted waters. Normally, the soul would be the joint product of a biological father and biological mother. There's no precedent in traducianism to say if a mother could be the sole source of a child's soul. So that, too, might require God to act directly, or at least supplement Mary's contribution.

The upshot is that even in reference to the humanity if Christ, Mary is only a partial source. Her contribution to the human nature of Christ is limited, and for all we know, may well be severely limited.

i) What does "mother" mean? Minimally, a biological mother is a necessary source of origin for a child's body. Clearly, though, Mary is not, in any straightforward sense, the "mother of God" in that respect. 

So the Catholic argument boils down to a relation of association. Mary is the mother of God because Mary is a necessary source of origin for Christ's body, which (along with his soul) is linked to the divine Son. 

At best, it's one step removed from God. Mary is the mother of God by association: she is the partial source of his humanity, which makes her the mother of God by association via the hypostatic union. When you bother to unpack the claim, it's rather convoluted. A link of a link. 

Mary is linked to the deity of Christ because she's linked to the humanity of Christ, which is linked to the deity of Christ. 

ii) That, however, is a pretty loose inference. To take a a few comparisons:

a) Aldous Huxley authored Brave New World. Aldous Huxley is the grandson of Thomas Huxley. So he is biologically linked to his grandfather. Therefore, Thomas Huxley authored Brave New World!

But, of course, the fact that the grandson is linked to the grandfather doesn't mean you can attribute to the grandfather the literary production of his grandson. 

b) Suppose an automotive engineer designs the brake system for a Ferrari. And the brake system is linked to the steering system, which is linked to the motor, &c. 

Does that make him the designer of the Ferrari? No. That inference would commit the composition fallacy.

"Then you are your own authority, yes?"

Are you your own authority when you rely on your own reason to conclude that Rome is the One True Church? You didn't begin with the authority of Rome, because you had to establish to your own satisfaction that Rome had the authority in question. So at that stage of the process you had to exercise your independent judgment by interpreting and assessing the documentary evidence for yourself. 

The Internal Testimony of the Holy Spirit

The Internal Testimony of the Holy Spirit by James Anderson.

Vanhoozer on Sola Scriptura

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Self Does Not Die

For what it's worth, Mike Licona recently plugged a book on NDEs. Here's the plug:

And here's the book:

Titus Rivas, Anny Dirven, & Rudolf Smit, The Self Does Not Die: Verified Paranormal Phenomena from Near-Death Experiences (International Association for Near-Death Studies, 2016).

Rivas is a New Age figure. This presents a common dilemma in paranormal studies. Because "mainstream" scholarship generally ignores the topic, investigation is often relegated to quacks and debunkers. However, Licona is not a flake, so the fact that he recommends this book counts for something. Presumably, the value of the book, if any, lies in the collection of case studies rather than the editorial viewpoint of the authors. 

Ayer's red light

I already posted a link to this article, but I'd like comment on Douthat's statement:

But the implausibility of hard materialism doesn’t mean the cosmos obviously confirms a Judeo-Christian paradigm. And the supernatural experiences of the irreligious — cosmic beatitude, ghostly enigmas, unclassifiable encounters and straight-up demons — don’t point toward any single theology or world-picture. 
I can make the Friedkin and Verhoeven experiences fit with Christian doctrine; Ehrenreich’s aren’t perhaps as distant as she imagines. But Ayer’s weird red light and the ghost of Peter Kaplan? If I were coming to these kind of stories with no preconceptions, I might reach for polytheism or pantheism to explain the variety and diversity of what reaches through the veil.

1. Although necromancy is a forbidden activity, the possibility of contacting the dead is consistent with the Christian worldview. The soul survives death. Contacting the dead is dangerous, and therefore forbidden, but that doesn't make it impossible. Indeed, the possibility is what makes it dangerous.

2. As for Ayer's NDE, the pluralism of some NDEs is a familiar issue. There are different ways we might interpret that phenomenon:

i) If there was no evidence for veridical NDEs, we could explain the pluralism by saying NDEs are imaginary. But given credible cases of veridical NDEs, that's not a good explanation.

ii) A pluralist might say this is evidence for universalism or religious pluralism. But there are problems with that explanation:

a) Religious pluralism is incoherent. All these contradictory positions can't be true. Hence, that can't be the ultimate explanation. 

b) A pluralist might counter by saying the Divine wears many masks. But even if we grant, for argument's sake, that all roads leads to the same destination, isn't postmortem experience where we encounter the face behind the mask? If that's just another disguise, then there is no destination. Many roads continuing into the afterlife, with no convergence in sight. In that event, why think there is a face behind the mask? 

iii) By way of orthodox interpretations, perhaps some NDEs are like allegorical dreams. A symbolic analogy of the afterlife. 

iv) Or perhaps some NDEs are analogous to a psychedelic experience. Someone who's high may hallucinate, yet his perception of reality isn't merely a figment of his imagination. His sense organs are still receiving input from the outside world. An objective, external stimulus forms the basis of his perception. But his perception of reality is distorted because his brain misinterprets the sense data.

It may be that some NDEs are disorienting in that respect. It represents an unsettled state, where the soul has one foot in this life and one foot in the afterlife. Perception of reality is clouded by that transitional condition. It hasn't had time to make the adjustment. 

And, of course, NDEs are, by definition, temporary. At best, the afford a glimpse of the afterlife. But is that a representative sample? 

Saturday, January 14, 2017


Rongorongo -Hieroglyphs written with shark teeth from Easter Island, remain indecipherable

Unfortunately, there are faith heads who insist attributing these markings to intelligent agency. Classic hieroglyphics-of-the-gaps reasoning. Despite the proven track record of science to explain how things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose are, in fact, the product of non-purposive processes, faith heads, with their superstitious belief in skyhooks, refuse to wait for science to discover the natural cause of these random markings. Cryptography is a cop-out. A science stopper!

Spooky atheism

Enforcing Roe v. Wade

During his confirmation hearing, Jeff Sessions took the following position:

During one of the key exchanges of the day, Senator Feinstein pressed the proven pro-lifer about abortion and whether he would deny access to victims of human trafficking, since those funds are all under the purview of the DOJ. Immediately, Sessions drew the line, insisting that his duty wasn't to write the law–but enforce it. "...Ultimately," he replied, "It's a matter for this United States Congress, not so much a matter for the attorney general. We need to put our money out to assist in this activity according to the rules established by the Congress." Feinstein pressed more, asking if he still believed Roe v. Wade was one of the worst Supreme Court rulings of all time. "It is," he answered truthfully. "I believe it violated the Constitution and really attempted to set policy and not follow law." Even so, he went on, "It is the law of the land... and I would respect it and follow it."

It's true that judicial rulings generally have the force of law. That's because judicial rulings are supposed to have a basis in law. There's an underlying law (e.g. the Constitution, statutory law). It's not a legal opinion out of thin air. 

But let's pass on that for now. Let's grant for the sake of argument that Roe v. Wade is the "law of the land". In that event, what would it mean for DOJ for "follow" it or "enforce" it? 

Let's put in this way: what does it mean to break a law? Generally, there are two kinds of laws: laws that mandate particular behavior and laws that prohibit particular behavior. To break a law is either to do what's prohibited or fail to do what's mandated. To enforce the law would be to punish a violator for breaking the law in one of those two respects (prescription or proscription). 

Suppose there's a law mandating car insurance. To enforce the law might be to fine a driver who has no proof of insurance (if that's the prescribed penalty).

Suppose there's a law prohibiting the sale of narcotics. To enforce the law might be to arrest the dealer and charge him with breaking that law. 

Assuming that Roe v. Wade is law, what is there for DOJ to enforce? How does someone break that law?    

Even if abortion is deemed to be a legal right, that doesn't compel anyone to perform abortions–any more than the Second Amendment (which is a bona fide Constitutional right) compels anyone to sell guns. 

Someone blocking the entrance to an abortion clinic might violate the law, but his infraction is already covered under trespassing. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Touring Perelandra

One of the exhilarating things about Christian metaphysics is how it opens up vistas of possibility that atheism can only dream of. Literally, that atheism can only dream of.

For instance, how many readers of Perelandra have yearned to actually visit Perelandra and experience firsthand the exotic world of sensory enhanced sights, sounds, taste, touch, and fragrance. Lewis's intense, visionary descriptions whet the appetite to go there. His novel is a tantalizing appetizer of an imaginary world that's too good to be true. Or is it?

But if the Christian God exists, then there are senses in which it would be possible to visit Perelandra. Lewis's Perelandra existed in God's mind before it ever existed in Lewis's mind. Human imagination is parasitic on God's imagination. There's nothing we think that God hasn't thought before. Indeed, Lewis's Perelandra is a pale imitation of God's minutely detailed idea. 

Given God's omniscience and omnipotence, it's possible for God to create Perelandra in a parallel universe. God can fill in all the practical necessities to make it feasible and hospitable.

Or God could cause us to experience an immersive simulation of Perelandra. Our experience of virtual Perelandra would be phenomenologically indistinguishable from a physical visit to a physical planet. 

I'm by no means suggesting that Perelandra is real. I'm just pointing out that God could make that a reality. Christian metaphysics makes so many things possible that are utterly impossible in a godless universe where only matter and energy exist. A bracing consideration. 

Millennial ethics

The myth of human perfectibility

As conservatism enters a new era, and a new challenge, during the Trump presidency, it's useful to clarify the difference between liberalism and conservativism. There are different ways to draw the line. Here's one way. 

Liberals, secular humanists, and/or secular progressives assume that every human problem has a human solution. For some, that's an explicit article of faith. Others may not have that articulated belief, but they operate as if that's the case. Let's call this the myth of human perfectibility. 

So, if every human problem has a solution, what's the source of the problem and what's the solution? Answers vary. Some liberals think social ills are due to the inequitable distribution of goods and services. That requires the state to step in to redistribute goods and services.  

Some liberals think social ills are due to defective social conditioning. On this view, human nature is a blank slate. That requires the state to step in through compulsory public education, with a centralized curriculum, to indoctrinate students in socially enlightened values. Likewise, the state must step in to legislate speech codes. And so on.

Some liberals are more pessimistic insofar as they think social ills have a hardwired source: a throwback to our animal ancestry. We evolved from predators who had to fight to survive on the African savannas. Men are especially bad. 

However, transhumanists are more optimistic. Perhaps we can rewire the brain through genetic engineering and bioengineering (e.g. neural implants, cyberware) to eliminate antisocial traits that produce social ills. Once again, this requires the state to step in, a la Brave New World.

By contrast, conservatives don't assume that every human problem has a human solution. Indeed, they generally regard some human problems as humanly insoluble. Secular conservatives base this in part on human history. Given man's evident penchant for violence and criminality, social ills are inevitable. Secular conservatives might also augment that by their belief, shared by some liberals, that this is in our genes. An inheritance from our nasty animal ancestors. The "killer ape". For their part, Christian conservatives attribute social ills to original sin. 

To say social ills are inevitable doesn't mean nothing can be done to improve the situation. We need enough government to keep crime from spiraling out of control. But because social ills can't be eliminated, the role of government is limited, since government has limited ability to control crime. Moreover, some social ills are best addressed within the private sphere (e.g. church, family). 

So a primary role of gov't is to keep crime at manageable levels. When gov't aims at something more utopian, gov't becomes dangerous. That's in part because bureaucrats aren't morally superior to the general public. If there's no check on the power of gov't, then who polices the police?

In addition, when the state is too powerful, it becomes a magnet for the criminal class. That's where the action is. That's the greatest racket in town. Totalitarian regimes are notoriously corrupt and crime-ridden. 

From a conservative perspective, the state is on a knife-edge. Too little gov't, and you have rampant crime. Too much gov't and the state becomes arbitrary, unjust, suffocating, or a criminal syndicate in its own right. 

Is the Son autotheos?

On Facebook, a Catholic apologist objected to the belief that each person of the Trinity is autotheos. Before addressing his objections directly, I'd like to take a few steps back:

i) I don't have a problem with church councils. There's nothing wrong with Christian representatives getting together to produce a joint declaring that not only expresses their individual beliefs, but their shared beliefs. A public statement of common faith can be very useful in various ways. But from a consistent Protestant perspective, a council doesn't make doctrine true; rather, true doctrine makes a council true. In the classic words of the Westminster Confession:

The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture (WCF 1.10).

ii) Some Protestants pay lip-service to sola scripture, but when that's put to the test, they seem to be insecure about their ultimate commitments. Some Protestants act as though God made a temporary exception to sola Scriptura by inspiring "ecumenical councils" for the first 500 years of church history. But if you can't make allowance for the possibility, in principle, that these councils could be mistaken in some particular, then you're not operating with a consistent Protestant epistemology. Rather, you're straddling the fence.  

Objecting to my position, the Catholic apologist said:

He has constantly ascribed "aseity" to each of the persons of the Trinity in their personal capacity, rather than properly limiting it to the Trinity as a whole and/or the unbegotten, unspirated person of the Father. It seems clear that he wants to apply the concept of aseity to the Son as to the Father. So, what we are left with is separate persons who are gods or separate gods, i.e., polytheism. 
Clearly there cannot be separate infinite, perfect, omnipotent gods as a logical proposition; there can only be one infinite, perfect, omnipotent God. The existence of a second such being would mean that one or the other, or both, is not perfect, infinite or omnipotent. 
The Trinity is one God; the persons of the Trinity are identical and equal, except in origin, since the Son is begotten and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, and the Father is neither unbegotten and proceeds from nothing. Thus, they share the same nature and the same substance and are one God. There cannot be two different Gods having different origins with a different nature.

His objection is a bundle of confusions:

i) He doesn't actually present an argument. But he seems to have two intuitive arguments that he lacks the competence to articulate. So we have to begin by making his arguments for him before we can dispose of them. The first argument he's groping at seems to be this: If all three Trinitarian persons are autotheos, that means they have different origins. If they have different origins, that makes them separate Gods. 

And I agree with him that if the Father, Son, and Spirit each has different origins, that makes them separate Gods. But the problem with his argument is this: to be autotheos is to be unoriginate. Likewise, aseity means having no origin. 

Therefore, to say each Trinitarian person is autotheos, or to ascribe aseity to each person of the Godhead, is the polar opposite of saying each person has a different origin. Rather, it means none of the persons of the Godhead has a source of origin. So his argument is utterly confused. He has things exactly backwards.

ii) The second argument he's groping at is based on the alleged impossibility of two (or more) "infinite" beings. He doesn't turn that into an actual argument. He merely asserts the impossibility of two (or more) "infinite" beings. I'm guessing that in his inchoate intuition, he's getting carried away with a spatial metaphor. 

This seems to be what he has in mind: there can only be one infinitely large object. That's because it takes up all the available space. So there's no extra room for a second infinitely large object. One infinitely large object squeezes out the possibility of more than one infinitely large object. And perhaps he thinks that's analogous to monotheism. Assuming that's an accurate reconstruction of what he's gesturing at, it's beset by a host of problems:

iii) It presumes a theory of absolute space, where space is considered to be an empty container. That's the Newtonian view. And that was eclipsed by Einstein's relational view of space.

iv) What does he mean by "infinite"? If he means a potential infinite, then you could have two (or more) infinitely large objects inasmuch as a potential infinite is an actual finite.

v) Perhaps, though, he means an actual infinite. If so, why think the notion of an actually infinite physical object is even coherent, intelligible, or realistic? Try to imagine an infinitely large steel ball or an infinitely large cube. Is that even conceivable, much less physically possible? To be a physical object is to have boundaries, right? To have boundaries is to be finite rather than infinite.  

vi) A deeper problem is that God is not a physical object, so spatial infinitude is inapplicable to God. That's a category mistake. God doesn't literally fill the universe. But if the objection is that God is analogous to a physically infinite object, I have no idea where the point of comparison lies. 

vii) Perhaps he means God is "infinite" in the sense of unlimited. Yet there are things that God can't be and things that God can't do. God can't be ignorant. God can't scratch his head (since God has no head or hands). 

Likewise, for the argument to go through, God would have to be unlimited in a sense that precludes two unlimited beings. But that's just too vague. 

viii) The coexistence of abstract actual infinities is not only possible, but bedrock reality. Just combine mathematical realism with infinite sets. 

ix) Furthermore, if we choose to stick with the language of infinitude, there is a sense in which the Trinity does consist of three "infinite" individuals. For instance, if you define omnipotence as infinite (i.e. unlimited) power, and each person is omnipotent, then each person is infinite. Mind you, I don't think that's the best way to define omnipotence. 

To take a better example, if you define omniscience as knowing an actual infinitude of necessary truths, contingent truths, and counterfactual or hypothetical truths, and each person is omniscient, then each person is infinite. So either our Catholic apologist must deny that the Son is omniscient, or he must deny that his knowledge is actually infinite. Otherwise, he must be prepared to admit that, in this sense, monotheism is consistent with three "infinite" individuals.   

x) Indeed, it's always been a challenge for Christian philosophers and theologians to formulate the Trinity in a way that avoids modalism while avoiding the appearance of tritheism. But that's the hand we've been dealt. Those are the cards we must play. We can't burn a card to avoid the charge of "polytheism". We are duty-bound to work with what we've got. 

xi) Finally, to say the Son's existence is absolute and inderivative is a higher Christology than to say the Son's existence is derivative. (ditto: the Spirit.) It's ironic when, in the name of orthodoxy, Catholics accuse you of heresy for defending higher Christology than their own.