Thursday, April 24, 2014

Is science self-correcting?

Atheists allege that Christian theology is unfalsifiable, unlike scientific theorizing, which, because it's fact-based rather than faith-based, is not only falsifiable, but according to Carl Sagan, "self-correcting."
Here's an example of self-correcting science:
During a talk at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Nima Arkani-Hamed, a physicist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., paced to and fro in front of the blackboard, addressing a packed room about the future of supersymmetry. What if supersymmetry is not found at the LHC, he asked, before answering his own question: then we will make new supersymmetry models that put the superpartners just beyond the reach of the experiments. But wouldn’t that mean that we would be changing our story? That’s okay; theorists don’t need to be consistent—only their theories do.

"Thomistic Simplicism"

I'm going to comment on this post:

I'll begin with two general observations:

i) A basic problem with Oliphant and Shannon is how they seem to be saying more than they really are. They are writing words. Words which denote ideas. They put certain words together, which makes it look like they are putting certain ideas together. Combining ideas with other ideas. 

But they aren't showing how the ideas go together. They aren't showing how these concepts are logically interrelated. At most, they assert that this idea is related to that idea.

So it's combining words with other words, words which denote ideas, as if that explains anything. The words are doing the work of logic. The discussion stays at a verbal surface level. They are saying far less than they appear to be, to the casual reader. We see words on a page, words connected to other words, as if that connects ideas to other ideas. But the performance is illusory.

ii) Another problem: in his post he keep claiming that Helm's position (i.e. God is unaffected by the world) is grounded in Thomistic simplicity. However:

i) He doesn't quote Helm making that connection.

ii) He doesn't show how that follows from Thomistic simplicity.

iii) The denial that God is affected by the world doesn't presuppose Thomistic simplicity. One can hold that on other grounds. 

Moving along:

On the one hand:

Metaphysical simplicism renders all biblical teaching about God ‘metaphorical’, at best, or “not literally true,” says Helm: “On the theory of divine accommodation, statements such as ‘God repented’ are in a sense false, false if taken literally.

On the other hand:

Oliphint acknowledges that speaking of God’s essence requires that we speak apophatically, but he affirms a notion of analogy which allows us to speak theologically after the pattern of God’s own trustworthy speech about himself. That is, Scripture affords true knowledge of God as he is in himself, even given creaturely epistemic limitations. “We can affirm that of which we cannot conceive”

i) But if we can only speak of God's essence apophatically, then isn't "God repented" literally false? 

ii) Notice how Shannon goes straight from apophaticism to analogy, as if those are compatible concepts. But doesn't analogy requires some degree of positive knowledge? 

iii) No, we can't affirm what we can't conceive. We can affirm what we partially conceive. 

And so Helm describes a dichotomy between eternal decree and historical event. “In short what God timelessly decrees is a complete causal matrix of events and actions” (Eternal God, 170). In his post he writes, “[b]iblical theism requires that we make a sharp distinction between what God has eternally decreed, and what as a result comes to pass moment by moment, stage by stage in time. Otherwise we confound the Creator with his creation. The coming to pass of what is eternally decreed is executed in time. But God is not in time, though what he decrees to come to pass most certainly is.”

i) I'd say that's a distinction, not a "dichotomy." Those are not in tension. 

ii) What's wrong with Helm's formulation? 

God decrees eternally; and we see this as God acting temporally. 

That's because we're on the receiving end of the transaction. We experience the effect. 

Following Thomas, Helm claims that God eternally decrees historical event E, and therefore we do not say that historical event E affects God in any way or implies the historicity of divine activity.

i) That's because an effect cannot affect its cause. Otherwise, you have retrocausation. 

ii) I don't know what he even means by the "historicity of divine activity." Frankly, I doubt he knows what he means by that.

iii) Although the relation between the decree and the outcome goes in one direction, we can infer the decree from the outcome. The order of knowledge can reverse the order of being. Shannon fails to distinguish between ontological priority and epistemological priority. 

 This is an obvious non-sequitur which gently overlooks the entire economy of salvation, as a result of which Helm denies a historical transition from wrath to grace.

i) Well, you could have a historical transition from wrath to grace, in terms of how sinners experience God's wrath and grace. Take a transition from an unregenerate to a regenerate state. 

What you can't have is an eternal transition from wrath to grace. 

ii) The "entire economy of salvation" is the result of God's decree. So, no, that's not reversible.

Are sodomy and gluttony analogous?

Is Heaven is for Real a hoax?

I'm going to quote from (and comment on) some of these posts:

i) I've been reading some bad objections to Heaven is for Real. Bad objections can backfire. Bad objections to NDEs invite empirical disproof. Bad objections may inoculate people against good objections.
If a pastor tells people that a certain kind of experience is impossible, and if a person later has that experience, or knows someone he trusts who has that experience (e.g. a friend or family member), then the pastor has blown his credibility. When people are told something can't happen, then encounter evidence to the contrary, one reaction is to become cynical. 
Ironically, bad objections can predispose people to the very error you warn them against. Take inaccurate objections to Roman Catholicism. Some converts to Catholicism had an "anti-Catholic" religious upbringing. Unfortunately, in their experience, Catholic theology was caricatured. That actually made them ripe for conversion to Catholicism when they were later exposed to a more accurate version. When their childhood indoctrination was corrected, they felt betrayed. Had they been raised on accurate objections to Roman Catholicism, they'd be far less susceptible to Catholicism. 
ii) One danger or misuse of NDEs is religious pluralism. As Ken Samples puts it, "NDEs can be used as evidence for everyone’s worldviews."
That highlights the need to distinguish between the raw experience and the interpretation of the experience. 
These books are coming out with such frequency that it is virtually impossible to read and review them all. But that shouldn't even be necessary. 
There's some truth to that. It's possible and preferable to stake out a general position on NDEs. Our position at any given time shouldn't be based on the last book we read on the subject. 
It's like natural disasters which kill hundreds or thousands of humans. That goes to the problem of evil. However, a Christian needn't and shouldn't revisit the problem of evil every time there's another natural disaster in the news. He should have a theodicy which deals with that kind of event.
Same thing with NDEs. It's good to work out a position on that kind of experience. At the same time, your position needs to be informed. 
“I’m convinced that the entire book and movie is a hoax from start to finish,” said John MacArthur, the pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif.  “It has nothing to do with Christianity.  It has nothing to do with the Bible.”

i) We need to distinguish between the book and the movie. Movies take artistic liberties with books they are based on. If the source of the movie is factually dubious, and the movie takes artistic liberties with a dubious source, then the movie will be even less factual than the primary source. 

ii) To say it's a "hoax" suggests conscious deception. Is MacArthur alleging that Colton and/or his parents are intentionally deceiving the public? Certainly that's one possibility we need to take into consideration. But is MacArthur in a position to know that? Rather than speculating on their motives, unless he is privy to inside information, it would be preferable to critique the book and the movie on the merits. 

Colton’s descriptions of heaven are full of fanciful features and peculiar details that bear all the earmarks of a child’s vivid imagination. 
i) This goes to one of the basic problems with the account. A 3-4 child lacks the mental competence to be a reliable witness. In evaluating NDEs, one preliminary consideration is the competence of the subject. Compare Colton Burpo to Eban Alexander. What makes Alexander's case interesting, aside from the medical details, is the fact that he's a neurosurgeon with Ivy League credentials. He brings professional competence to the issue.
Keep in mind that this is just a necessary rather than sufficient condition of a credible witness. You can be a mentally competent witness, but still be unreliable for other reasons. But in Colton's case, he lacks prima facie credibility because he lacks a necessary condition to be a reliable witness. 
In evaluating NDEs, we need to do some preliminary sorting. Some accounts have no prima facie credibility. Others pass that initial test. Some of them merit further scrutiny. 
ii) Having said that, MacArthur's objection exposes a point of tension in his theology. MacArthur subscribes to universal infant salvation:
He thinks all children who die before the age of discretion go straight to heaven when they die. But in that event, what do they experience? 
Is there a kindergarten section of heaven for kindergarten decedents? Is heaven age-appropriate? 
Keep in mind that the intermediate state is, in a sense, a subjective state. A psychological state. The condition of the discarnate soul. It has simulated sensory stimuli. Heaven is not an objective "place" in the concrete, physical sense that the new heavens and earth will be. So, in principle, the experience of heaven could vary to some degree. 
Does MacArthur have some antecedent theological reason to think God would not accommodate the experience of heaven to a child's mind? To what would be pleasant and intelligible to 3-year-old? 
There is simply no reason to believe anyone who claims to have gone to heaven and returned. John 3:13 says, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” [NLT: “No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven.”] And John 1:18 says, “No one has seen God at any time.”
But even MacArthur has to make exception for Samuel, Moses, and Elijah. So that proves too much. 
Four biblical authors had visions of heaven—not near-death experiences. Isaiah and Ezekiel (Old Testament prophets) and Paul and John (New Testament apostles) all had such visions. Two other biblical figures—Micaiah and Stephen—got glimpses of heaven, but what they saw is merely mentioned, not described (2 Chronicles 18:18; Acts 7:55).
i) That's a superficial criticism. After all, some Biblical seers (e.g. Ezekiel, St. John, St. Paul) describe their visionary experience as an out-of-body experience. And a near-death-experience is an out-of-body experience, where the soul or consciousness disengages from the body. An out-of-body experience needn't be a near-death-experience, but a near-death-experience is a type of out-of-body experience. 
ii) In addition, Scripture doesn't presume to give an exhaustive list of every type of experience people can have. So, at best, that's an argument from silence. 
In this podcast, John Piper argues against such books from Isaiah 8:19 (And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living?)
God’s beef with necromancy is that it belittles the sufficiency of his communication. Why would you inquire of the dead to find out what you want to know instead of inquiring of me? And if they say: Well, I have inquired of you and you didn’t tell me what I want to know. He would say: Well, that is your problem. I have told you what you need to know. You don’t need to know about such and such if I haven’t told you. And, in fact, if you go trying to inquire about such and such that I haven’t told you, you are dishonoring me. So that is the nature of the argument. And, therefore, I think the prohibition of séances and necromancy applies to this kind of thing and people ought to stop writing those books.
i) That fails to distinguish between an altered state of consciousness which we initiate, and an altered state of consciousness which we were involuntarily caused to experience.
ii) How is necromancy germane to the experience of a dying child? The child wasn't conducting a séance.  
- Impossible like “people having near death experiences?”Probably not.  That happens all the time.  Even I had a near death experience once when I woke up in a bed soaked in my own blood from head to toe…well, it was mostly my blood…and 2 liters of saline…- Impossible like “people having surgery and being on the ropes?”Again, no.  That happens all the time.  I know of a guy that swallowed a rope and had to have surgery to get it out…well, it was more like floss…and the surgery was non-invasive…
Does Unger deny veridical NDEs? If so, has he studied the evidence for veridical NDEs? Can Unger stop performing stupid pet tricks long enough to do real research? 
- Impossible like getting to go to Heaven outside of Christ, based on the “hope” that…uh…somehow that God will just toss aside his own holiness and the entire person and work of Christ and let everyone in?Well, not everyone everyone.I mean, God can’t let Hitler in…and Stalin…and really bad guys like kidnappers, and child molesters, and pyramid scam artists, and homophobes, and people who deny global warming, and people who eat gluten…and people who are bigots according to your standards of what’s “open minded”…so in the end nobody but yourself and your relatively small circle of friends…Is that the kind of impossible we’re talking about?Well, that must be it.  That’s gotta be the “possibility” that the film is portraying.No sin.No repentance.No gospel whatsoever.
That's a valid objection when NDEs are cited to defend universalism, but what about the status of a dying child? That specific example. What does Unger think happens to children when they die? Does he think a baby has to repent? 
As usual, Unger is incapable of mustering intelligent criticism. He thinks his brand of puerile ridicule is a substitute for reason and evidence. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Not a chance

Köstenberger reviews How God Became Jesus

The sheep hear his voice

10 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers” (Jn 10:1-5).
i) This is a much-loved passage of Scripture. Recently I saw a poster for a lost dog that made me aware of a distinction which commentators usually overlook. The distinction between hearing and naming. 
The poster had a picture of their dog. It said their dog "responds to the name…," then gave three variations on the same name or nickname. I assume the theory behind this is that if a stranger sees their dog roaming around, and he calls to it by name, it will come to him because it recognizes its name. 
That's an example of humans projecting human aptitudes on animals. It may flatter them to think their dog knows its own name. After all, they named it! 
But I think that overestimates canine intelligence. For that matter, we don't even know if dogs distinguish consonants and vowels the way we do. 
When people walk their dogs I sometimes notice then talking to their dogs, as if their dogs understand English. As if a dog is a child. 
Now, admittedly, I can't get inside the mind of a dog, and even if I could, I couldn't report back to you what a dog thinks like, since if I was thinking like a dog, I'd lack the cognitive ability to articulate my thoughts.
However, I'm guessing that when a dog responds to someone calling to it, what the dog recognizes is not the sound of a name, but the sound of a voice. It recognizes a familiar voice. The voice of its master or a family member. A unique timbre. A stranger can call a dog by name, but I doubt the dog will come to him for that reason. 
By the same token, dogs are very sensitive to the owner's tone of voice. A friendly tone. An angry tone. That's what they respond to. Not words, but tone and timbre. 
Of course, there are gregarious dogs who rush over to anyone they see. But that's a different principle.
ii) Naming is significant to the person who designates the dog. Hearing is significant to the dog. Naming has significance to the dog owner. It's a way the owner relates to his pet. He attaches personal significance to his dog by naming it. It's his dog, which is why he has the right to name it. It belongs to him. The name means nothing to the dog. 
However, the dog is familiar with his master's voice. He associates that voice with his master. That voice is significant to the dog. 
iii) I don't think sheep are terribly bright animals. And they're generally dumber than dogs. They are certainly dumber than sheep dogs (e.g. a collie or shetland shepherd). A sheep dog has to be smarter than the sheep to herd a flock of sheep. 
So the naming/hearing dichotomy applies to sheep as well as dogs.
Sometimes two or more flocks of sheep intermingle. Shepherds can separate them because his sheep know his voice. 
iv) I doubt shepherds name every sheep in their flock. It's been estimated that on average, a Palestinian shepherd had a flock of about 100 sheep. That would be a lot of names to keep track of. Fathers of large families sometimes find it hard to remember the names of all their kids! And they don't have a 100 kids. 
So this is probably a contrast between the average shepherd, who may name a few standouts, and the Good Shepherd, who really does know each sheep by name.
v) It's not just that Christ knows his sheep by name: he names them. Christian sheep have different first names, but the same last name (Rev 2:17; 3:12). Our surname is God's name. We are his adopted sons. 
In Scripture, naming is significant. When God names someone, that's an indication of possession, character, and/or future destiny. 
The elect are significant to God ever before God is significant to the elect. He loved us before we loved him. 
vi) Parents name their children. They often give a lot of thought to the name. Before the child is born, they may choose a boy's name and a girl's name, they wait to see which applies.
Babies aren't responsive to names, but they're responsive to their mother's voice. 
Unlike sheep, a child's name becomes significant to the child. He resents it if people forget his name, mispronounce his name, or make fun of his name.
vii) Sometimes this comes full circle. If the parent becomes senile, the parent will forget his (or her) child's name. The parent will forget his own name.
However, I suspect a parent who's becoming senile forgets a child's name before he forgets a child's voice. Until he becomes completely senile, he will continue to recognize the sound of his child's voice even after he's forgotten his child's name. 
Hearing his child's voice will comfort him. He won't feel so alone.
viii) Even though he's forgotten his own name, his child remembers. If a senile parent is hospitalized, he's surrounded by strangers. He could easily be lost.
His only real protection is having someone with the same last name who visits him regularly. If a grown child visits the parent every day, or camps out in the hospital room until he's discharged, the staff have to be more attentive. Whether or not they care about the patient, their actions are being monitored by someone who does. Someone who shares the same surname. 
That's a name they need to respect. There are legal liabilities if they don't. 
The Good Shepherd protects his sheep even when, or especially when, his sheep may be oblivious to danger, or defenseless in the face of danger. 

Apostolic miracles

12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it (Jn 14:12-14).
i) Here are some elements of the cessationist argument:
a) They typically take Paul's discussion (1 Cor 12) of the spiritual gifts as their framework. Individuals who have a gift of healing, gift of xenoglossy, gift of prophecy. What ceases in cessationism is miraculously gifted individuals. 
b) They typically argue that if someone has a miraculous gift, then he can exercise that gift at his own discretion. Once God endows an individual with a miraculous gift, it operates autonomously. God has delegated that ability to the gifted individual. For instance, a healer is able to heal whoever he is willing to heal. (From what I've read, that's the position of Fred Butler and Sam Waldron.) 
c) They regard these gifts as essentially apostolic miracles. Their primary function is to authenticate the divine mission of the apostles. Hence, they cease with the apostles or their immediate disciples. That's the cut-off. It may be transmitted from an apostle to his disciple, but it's not transmitted from disciple to disciple. 
d) Some cessationists deny that answered prayer, however extraordinary, is ever miraculous. At most, an extraordinary answer to prayer is merely providential. (For instance, I've read things to indicate that's the position of Phil Johnson and Mike Riccardi.) 
Other cessationists might concede that answered prayer is sometimes miraculous, but it's not a "gift" of working miracles. (For instance, I've read things to indicate that's the position of Lyndon Unger and possibly John MacArthur.) 
ii) Cessationists of my acquaintance (e.g. Sam Waldron, Fred Butler, Matt Waymeyer) restrict the promise of Jn 14:12-14 to the Apostolate. Let's grant that narrow referent for the sake of argument.
iii) In v12, "greater works" denote miracles. That's admitted by cessationists. For instance:
Jesus was referring to miraculous works in John 14:12 when He spoke of “the works that I do.” This is clear not only from the immediate context of John 14 (see verses 10-11) but also from the greater context of John’s Gospel in which the miraculous works of Jesus gave evidence of His identity (see 5:36; 10:25; 20:30-31). And what miraculous works was Jesus referring to? He doesn’t name them, but the Gospel of John—which records only a fraction of the signs and wonders Jesus performed (21:25)—provides several examples:
  • Jesus changed water into wine (2:1-11).
  • Jesus healed a boy who was about to die (4:46-54).
  • Jesus healed a man who had been crippled and unable to walk for 38 years (5:1-9).
  • Jesus fed 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish (6:1-14).
  • Jesus walked on water (6:16-21).
  • Jesus healed a man born blind (9:1-41).
  • Jesus resurrected a man who had been dead for four days (11:1-45).

iv) But notice the relationship between v12 and vv13-14. Even though, according to cessationism, these are apostolic miracles, this does not involve an autonomous ability to work miracles. Rather, these are miraculous answers to prayer. Performing these miracles is conditioned on asking God to make it happen. It's not a blank check, where an apostle can simply fill in the desired amount, then cash it. Rather, it happens at God's discretion, not the apostle's. They can't just perform a miracle at will. Rather, God must will the miracle by honoring their prayer. 
Jn 14:12-14 is not about spiritual gift to work miracles, but a promise regarding God's willingness to perform a miracle upon request.  
That's a very different paradigm than the standard cessationist paradigm. Yet this is the programmatic statement of how the apostles perform miracles (assuming we restrict the promise to the Apostolate). 
v) By implication, this means that if miraculous answers to prayer occur in postapostolic times, that's a continuation of the promise in Jn 14:12-14. It doesn't terminate with the apostolic age. It's not confined to the Apostolate. 
It's arbitrary to cast the cessationist/noncessationist debate exclusively in terms of the continuation or noncontinuation of "gifts" or gifted individuals. That's not the only operative framework in the NT. That overlooks Jn 14:12-14. 
vi) Interpreters struggle with the unqualified language of vv13-14. Is that really meant to be unexceptional? Is that a command performance? Does God do miracles on demand?
Since this passage occurs in the Johannine corpus, there's probably an unstated caveat that's made explicit in 1 Jn 5:14: And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.

The Bart Ehrman defense

Apologist and annihilationist Glenn Peoples chimed in:

Glenn4/22/2014 7:58 PM 
Initially the author was talking about inerrancy. But then came this: "Denying the inspiration of Scripture can have far-reaching theological consequences." 
For some people, believing in inerrancy is the same as believing in inspiration. And this definitely, absolutely will create more Bart Ehrmans. Because now, as soon as they start to doubt inerrancy, they will think that perhaps the Bible isn't even inspired. 
An unintentional insight from the author perhaps, but an important one!

i) For purposes of this discussion, inerrancy and inspiration are interchangeable. That's because of how the issue was framed. The argument goes like this: "Even if we conclude that Scripture is not inerrant, Christianity is still true. That's because, even if the NT is just a historical document, like other uninspired ancient histories, an uninspired historical document can still be sufficiently accurate to vouch for the Resurrection."

That's the argument under review. Whether that's a viable fallback position. 

Notice that I'm simply responding to Peters et al. on their own terms. At this point I'm not saying if I personally think inerrancy and inspiration are interchangeable. 

ii) However, since Glenn brings it up, I'm happy to state my own position. Yes, inspiration does entail inerrancy. It's a cause/effect relation. 


iii) I'm also struck by what seems to be the growing popularity of the Bart Ehrman defense by ostensively Christian apologists. Making the reaction of a hypothetical Bart Ehrman the new standard of Christian orthodox. The principle is: Don't classify as a Christian essential anything that would make more Bart Ehrmans. 

I'm curious as to how far they take that standard. Don't insist that the Exodus really happened. That will create more Bart Ehrmans. Don't insist Adam and Eve were real people. That will create more Bart Ehrmans. Don't insist sex outside of marriage is sinful. That will create more Bart Ehrmans.

Is the standard of Christian orthodoxy how individuals react to Bible teaching? Is what we ought to be believe relative to what we are prepared to believe? 

If people threaten to reject Christianity because we insist on some "offensive" Bible teaching, are we supposed to capitulate? 

iv) Now, there's a sense in which we shouldn't impede Christian faith by making gratuitous demands. But the Bart Ehrman defense is boundless. 

v) Let's take a bad example of how to formulate inerrancy. In his attempt to harmonize the timing of Peter's denial (i.e. synchronize Peter's denial with cockcrow), Harold Lindsell resolved the perceived tension in variant synoptic accounts by multiplication: Peter denied Christ six times!

Now, that's a misapplication of inerrancy. It reflects a ham-fisted understanding of inerrancy.

Suppose a young Bart Ehrman, reading Lindsell's harmonization, exclaimed: "Well, if that's what inerrancy implies, then I reject the inerrancy of Scripture!" 

Who's primarily to blame? Erhman is to blame.  The proper response to Lindsell's harmonization is to say "Lindsell meant well, but the man has limitations."

Nominal Christians who lose their faith for bad reasons are responsible for their folly. 

vi) Let's examine Glenn's worse case scenario: "And this definitely, absolutely will create more Bart Ehrmans. Because now, as soon as they start to doubt inerrancy, they will think that perhaps the Bible isn't even inspired."

To begin with, so what? Should we deny the link between inerrancy and inspiration just because that has unfortunate consequences for doubters? If, as a matter of fact, inspiration implies inerrancy, then why shouldn't they take their denial to the logical conclusion? 

vii) What's the proper response to doubting inerrancy? Consider two possible responses:

a) The Bible seems to be in error. Therefore, the Bible is in error. Inerrancy is false. 

b) The Bible seems to be in error. Therefore, I'm in error. Inerrancy is true, but my interpretation is false, or my understanding of truth and error needs to be refined.

If we doubt the Bible, we should doubt ourselves. 

Aquinas, “existence”, and the failure to observe the Creator-creature distinction

Van Til, in his Introduction to Warfield's “Inspiration and Authority of the Bible”, notes that Roman Catholicism does not “start with the Creator-creature distinction as basic to all their interpretation of doctrine. They started with the idea of being as such and introduced the distinction of Creator and creature as a secondary something” (p. 49).

Protestants, from the earliest days of the Reformation, understood a “categorical distinction” between God and all of the rest of creation: the “Creator-creature distinction”. On the other hand, while God is Creator within the Roman Catholic system, God is not “above and beyond”, in a totally other category. He shares a trait, and that trait is “existence”.

In other words, the first category in Roman Catholicism is to start with “existence”: God has “existence”, and he passes this characteristic along to every other created thing. Down below and in subsequent entries I’ll begin to show how that cashes out in the Roman Catholic understanding of the universe.

This is not something that “damns them all to hell”. But this kind of difference at the starting point does lead to the kind of confusion in which Roman dogmas and Protestant doctrines cannot be reconciled after 500 years of differences.

There is also a caution that goes along with all of this.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"God and the gay Christian"

Physicalism and abortion

A stock argument for abortion is that the "fetus" is cognitively undeveloped compared to a child or adult. Indeed, this argument is increasingly extended to infants, to justify "afterbirth abortion."

This argument generally presupposes physicalism. Personhood is tied to brain development. 

Therefore, the mother has rights which the fetus does not. Indeed, the fetus has no rights.

But there's a catch. Physicalism is inconsistent with consciousness. Many secular philosopher admit this. It's the hard problem of consciousness. 

Some secular philosophers simply accept the dilemma. They think physicalism is true and consciousness is real. They despair of resolving the problem. 

However, some philosophers relieve the dilemma by reaffirming physicalism, but rejecting consciousness:

For them, there is no dilemma. Many secular philosophers reject eliminative materialism because they think consciousness is undeniable and elimitative materialism is self-contradictory.

Given their presuppositions, both sides are half-right. It's true that consciousness is undeniable. To deny consciousness is absurd and incoherent.

However, that's because eliminative materialism is a reductio ad absurdum of physicalism. Given physicalism, that's a logical consequence of physicalism. Valid, but absurd. Taking a false premise to a logical extreme. Physicalism commits them to that conclusion, even if its self-refuting. 

The only proper way to relieve the dilemma is to reject the other horn of the dilemma: physicalism. 

But this also poses a dilemma for defending abortion on the grounds of physicalism. Because it proves too much.

It's true that according to physicalism, the fetus is not a person. Problem is, according to physicalism, the mother is not a person either. Just as the fetus lacks consciousness, so does the mother. That's consistent physicalism. 

If rights are indexed to personhood or consciousness, then not only does the fetus have no rights, the mother has no rights. 

If no one has rights, then raw power is the broker. And in that scenario, men dominate. Women have power to the degree that men defer to women. 

Abortion and organ donors

Peter Singer is arguably the most influential secular bioethicist of his generation. He's a proponent of abortion and infanticide, as well as euthanizing the mentally and physically disabled. And he's the father of the modern animal-rights movement.

One of his arguments is to draw invidious comparisons between the cognitive development of a one-year-old chimp and a one-year-old child. Since humans take longer to mature than chimpanzees, there's a sense in which a one-year-old chimp is more mature, more developed, than its human counterpart. Of course, that's not a fair comparison. You should compare a one-year-old chimp with what would be the equivalent for a child. 

But in any event, many people who support abortion appreciate Singer's arguments. However, there's a catch.

He's a utilitarian. The common good trumps individual rights. In principle, a utilitarian will support involuntary organ harvesting. At present, the human body has the following reusable organs: kidneys, heart, liver, pancreas, intestines, lungs, skin, bones, and corneas. 

There are patients in desperate need of organ transplants. There are more patients than donated organs to go around.

But in principle, one healthy donor could supply several desperate patients. Of course, if you remove one or more vital organs from a healthy donor, he won't survive. 

In utilitarianism, it would be justifiable, perhaps even obligatory, to kill a heathy patient to save several ailing patients. The common good trumps consent. 

And this is more than just hypothetical. To the extent that society abandons Christian ethics, anything goes. It becomes a question of what you can persuade judges or lawmakers to accept. The rules are whatever rules we make. 

I doubt those who sign onto Singer because they like what he says about abortion would like to be on the receiving end of his value system when they are strapped to a table to donate vital organs (or corneas) against their will. They may not think that's a realistic danger, but if they have their way, that's the future. 

History and miracles

This is a sequel to two previous posts:

I'm going to respond to some statements by Nick Peters, both in response to me and other commenters:

Also, in my apologetics endeavors, I am very careful with when I deal with Bible contradictions. I will normally address some for other Christians, but too often many atheists have this idea that "If I find one contradiction in the Bible, I can throw the whole thing out." That's a terrible way of doing history and would require we pretty much scrap all of ancient history. I ask that they just at the start treat the Bible like any other document. Of course, I hope that they would come to see its divine inspiration and Inerrancy, but I am fine with them starting where they are.Yet I do not deny for a moment that resurrection is the more important belief. If Inerrancy is false, well I have to change my view of Scripture, but not my view of who Jesus is or if Christianity is true. If the resurrection is false, my entire worldview is changed. We're not saying to reject Inerrancy. Not at all. We're saying it's not essential and the way you can know what Jesus did can also be done just by historical research. You can treat the Bible like any other historical document and still come to the conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead.If someone wants to come to Jesus and says "I'm convinced Jesus is the God-man who died and rose again, but I'm not sold that Jonah was in the belly of a big fish for the time he was" I'm not going to tell them to wait. They need to come now.
This conflates several issues that need to be distinguished:
i) We need to distinguish between defensive apologetics, and offensive apologetics or personal evangelism. 
In reference to offensive apologetics or personal evangelism, you can't make a direct appeal to the authority of Scripture since the unbeliever rejects the authority of Scripture. For the unbeliever, that's not a given. So the Christian apologist must reason for the authority of Scripture in that context. That's a conclusion rather than a starting-point.
ii) But in defensive apologetics, the Christian apologist can and should take the inspiration of Scripture for granted, since defensive apologetics isn't confined to common ground with the unbeliever, but what Christians believe. 
iii) In principle, a Christian apologist can ask or challenge the unbeliever to grant the inspiration of Scripture for the sake of argument, and explore the consequences of that postulate. 
iv) On a related note, it's necessary to distinguish between apologetic strategy or apologetic method, on the one hand, and Christian theology, on the other hand. 
Even if we think, as a matter of apologetic method or strategy, that we should bracket inspiration and simply treat the Bible like any other historical document, even if we think the inspiration of Scripture is inessential as an apologetic presupposition, it hardly follows that inspiration is essential from the standpoint of Christian theology.
v) Apropos (iv), it is essential to Biblical theism that God is a God who speaks as well as acts. A God who communicates to and through humans. Divine inspiration/revelation is no less important to the Biblical worldview than the Resurrection. Both involve core notions of God's activity in the world.
Likewise, inspiration/inerrancy is arguably indispensable to the distinction between true and false prophecy. And that's a key distinction in Biblical theology.  
A religion in which God raises Christ from the dead, but God doesn't communicate to and through humans (e.g. prophets, apostles) is not the Judeo-Christian faith. 
vi) There are "progressive Christians" who distinguish between inspiration and inerrancy. They hold some diluted view of inspiration which allows for errors in Scripture. Be that as it may, bracketing inspiration in toto, to simply treat the Bible as a historical document, whatever its merits as an apologetic method or strategy, is wholly inadequate unless we can reintroduce inspiration/revelation into Christian theology at a later stage of the apologetic argument.
vii) Merely treating the Bible as a historical document is deceptively simple. For Bible history isn't just a matter of historical events, but miraculous events. In that regard, unbelievers raise one of two objections:
a) Some unbelievers insist that methodological naturalism is essential historiography. Therefore, as a matter of principle, they preemptively discount the record of Scripture when it reports a miracle. 
b) Some unbelievers allow for historical evidence for miracles in theory. However, they maintain that the prior probability of a miracles is so vanishingly small that historical testimony for miracles can never surmount the overwhelming presumption to the contrary. A naturalistic explanation, however improbable, is always more probable than a supernaturalistic explanation. 
Therefore, simply approaching the Bible as a historical document isn't nearly as straightforward as it sounds. That's instantly complicated by these objections. So a Christian apologist who takes that tack will be immediately plunged into a debate over methodological naturalism and/or the probability of miracles. 
viii) Nick hasn't explained how he gets from the Bible as a generally reliable historical source to the Bible as inerrant/inspired.
ix) There are traditional ways of arguing for Scripture that don't just treat the Bible as a historical document. Take the classic argument from prophecy. To be sure, that has its own complications. The apologist must establish the priority and fulfillment of the prophecy. 
But that's an argument that which the Bible as divinely inspired right from the outset–without, however, begging the question. For the apologist proceeds to make a case for prophetic corroboration. 
x) The question of apologetic method/strategy is also distinct from the question of whether Christians need a fallback position, short of inerrancy and short of apostasy, to soften the landing in case they either lose faith in the inerrancy of Scripture or were never convinced in the first place. Even if we agree with that, it's a separate issue from apologetic method/strategy.
xi) Apropos (i), the threat that if I find one mistake in Scripture I will chuck the Christian faith, assumes that there's a viable alternative to the Christian worldview. Many apostates make fairly minimal adjustments to their worldview after they defect from the faith. That's because they are philosophically superficial. They continue to take many things for granted which naturalism is unable to justify. 
Rather than lowering the bar of Christian theology, we should raise the bar of atheism. There are atheists who are more candid and probing about the radically skeptical consequences of atheism (e.g. Hume, Quine, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Dennett, Rosenberg, Benatar, Paul & Patricia Churchland). It would be better to point out that if you jump ship (i.e. Christianity), there's no lifeboat waiting for you to conduct you to safe harbor. Rather, you're diving into the shark-infested waters of nihilism. Conversely, we can turn that into a presuppositional argument for Biblical theism. 
xii) If an unbeliever says he can't take Jonah's fish miracle seriously, instead of giving him a pass, we should question him on why. Does he object to that miracle because he objects to miracles in general, or is there something about that miracle in particular which he finds incredible? If so, what?
xiii) There's the specter of lowballing the unbeliever in Nick's apologetic strategy. Instead of leveling with the unbeliever about what the Christian faith commits him to, we try to get him hooked, then reveal the hidden surcharges after the fact. Is that really preferable to being upfront about the whole package deal? Otherwise, we're guilty of false advertising. 

Should Evangelicals Embrace Historical Criticism?

In Defense of the Bible

Reviewing Paul & the Faithfulness of God

The Curious Case of Cardinal Cajetan

Monday, April 21, 2014

Anscombe on Hume

In her essay on "Hume on Miracles," Elizabeth Anscombe offers a compact critique of Hume's celebrated attack on miracles:

A strong reason for the fame of the Essay, I should judge, is the literary skill, which is greater in the Enquiry than in the Treatise. Literary skill is independent of the soundness in argument or truthfulness in reporting. One of the most agreeable passages in Hume's chapter, for example, is that in which reports an account by Cardinal de Retz of an alleged miracle in Saragossa. 
But if one looks up the passage one has to conclude that Hume was probably relying on his memory to report it, and his memory cooked it up a bit in the interests of his argument. E.g. you would think from Hume's passage that de Retz had questioned the townspeople, whereas all he reports is what the Dean and cantors (elevated by Hume into the greater dignity of canons) told him. The comic effect, from the point of view of pious credulity, of a story of being cured by lamp oil, is taken away by making it "holy oil"; the Cardinal's own caution in committing himself as to whether the people, whom he saw at a day's journey away covering the roads on the way to Saragossa, really were going there to celebrate this miracle–which suggests that he wasn't sure it was not a leg pull on him–is transmuted into his having found that the whole company in town, by their zealous devotion, were thorough believers in the miracle. 
The accusations against Hume's arguments by his critics, which seem sound enough, can be listed quite briefly: 
1. Hume doges about between different definitions of a miracle as (a) anything contrary to the uniform course of experience, or (ii) a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity or by the interposition of some invisible agent. 
2. The first definition is question begging, as may be seen from his remark: "It is a miracle, that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed in any age or country." 
3. Indeed Hume carries the first definition to an extreme point of absurdity: "There must therefore be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation." This is self-defeating, as the alleged miraculous event, having possibly happened, would be enough to call its miraculous character in question–since if it had happened, there would not be uniform experience against it; and hence its miraculous character could not be adduced as an argument against it having happened. 
4. Hume's aim is to procure (what has indeed been procured) that the miraculous character of an event shall be sufficient reason to reject the story of its having occurred without investigation of any evidence. This is a strange termination of an argument which starts with the thesis that a wise man proportions his belief to the evidence. 
5. Hume misdescribes the role of testimony in human knowledge. "The reason," he says," "why we place any credit in witnesses and historians, is not derived from any connexion, which we perceive a priori, between testimony and reality, but because we are accustomed to find a conformity between them. But when the fact attested is such a one as has seldom fallen under our observation, here is a context of two opposite experiences." 
Well, I have not merely not often, but never, experienced an earthquake; yet there is no conflict, no principle of experience which in this case gives me a "degree of assurance against the fact" that witnesses to earthquakes endeavor to establish. 
6. On the point of consistency with his own philosophy, there cold hardly be a defense. Hume is so clear that no amount of uniformity of experience can possibly be a rational ground, or evidence, let alone proof, that the like must happen in a similar case, that it really looks as if his tongue were in his cheek when he says that the occurrence of a miracle is disproved just by the fact of its being a violation of the laws of nature; that it is ruled out as an impossible event. In the very next chapter but one he repeats his constant position that, reasoning a priori, we must grant that anything may produce anything. "The falling of a pebble may, for aught we know, extinguish the sun." and yet in his chapter we get him saying "The raising of a house or ship into the air is a visible miracle. The raising of a feather, when the wind wants ever so little of force requisite for that purpose, is as real a miracle, though not so sensible with regard to us" In short for purposes of this chapter he is adopting the mechanistic determinism–the picture of nature bound fast in fate by inviolable laws–which belong not to Hume's conceptions but to those of his century–the effect of Newtonian science (?). His own view is: 
That there is nothing in any object, considered in itself, which can afford us a reason for drawing a conclusion beyond it; and That even after the observation of a frequent or constant conjunction of objects, we have no reason to draw any inference concerning any object beyond those of which we have had experience; I say, let men be once fully convinced of these two principles, and this will throw them so loose from all common systems, that they will make no difficulty of receiving any, which may appear the most extraordinary. 
The essay is brilliant propaganda…The argument for Hume's account of causality, that this is just the avoidable way we do think, is as silly if addressed to believers in miracles as the proof of God from universal consent addressed to atheists. 
G. E. M. Anscome, Faith in a Hard Ground (Imprint Academic 2008), chap. 4.