Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Dunkirk: “English fathers, sailing to rescue England’s exhausted, bleeding sons.”


Calvinism is the worst theodicy–except for all the others

Churchill's quip reminds me of Calvinism and its critics. Here's a fascinating extension of Peter van Inwagen's theodicy:

God has a criterion for salvation. And he has a policy of enforcing it that goes as follows: If a creature meets the criterion for salvation, then admit him to Heaven. Otherwise he will end up in Hell. In creating a chancy world with free creatures and orderly laws of nature, God risked creating people that would not meet that criterion. For all we know, that is his plan and this is the world he created. And for all we know, just as it is not determinate that there is a minimum number of horrors required to realize the divine plan, it is not determinate that there is a minimum cutoff for satisfying the criterion of salvation. For any person in the indeterminate range that God saves, he may just as well have saved a slightly worse person who is also in that range. But this is no moral flaw of God’s, because – given that the criterion of salvation is indeterminate – it is not possible to always satisfy the proportional justice principle. In practical sorites situations, moral agents must arbitrarily discriminate between points in the series. For all we know, God faces a practical sorites in his plan of salvation. So, for all we know, premise (6) of Sider’s argument is false. p408.

Sullivan, M. (2013) Peter Van Inwagen's Defense, in The Blackwell Companion to the Problem of Evil (eds J. P. McBrayer and D. Howard-Snyder), John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Oxford, UK,ch27

How's that supposed to be an improvement over what freewill theists find objectionable in Calvinism? Basically, salvation and damnation are the result of getting lucky or unlucky.


I'm going to comment on this essay:

Trakakis, N.N. (2013) Antitheodicy, in The Blackwell Companion to the Problem of Evil (eds J. P. McBrayer and D. Howard-Snyder), John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Oxford, UK.ch25

Trakakis takes the same antitheodical position as David Bentley Hart:

Perhaps that's a reflection of the apophatic orientation in Eastern Orthodox theology.

What's interesting about this is how antitheodicy is the polar opposite of Calvinism. In Calvinism, everything happens for a particular reason. Every event makes a contribution to the whole. There's a blueprint for history, where each event is coordinated in a part/whole, means/ends relation. 

Even though most freewill theists believe in theodicy, there's a tension in their position, because they wish to avoid making God complicit in evil. Carried to a logical extreme, this results in the antitheodicy. 

Although he doesn't mention him, Berkouwer is a good illustration of this outlook. Early Berkouwer was a Reformed theologian, but he drifted. Late Berkouwer was a modernist theologian and antitheodicist. As I recall, Philip E. Hughes reacted in the same way. There are informative parallels between objections to Calvinism and objections to theodicy. The position of Trakakis et al. is a reductio ad absurdum of freewill theism. 

Roman Catholic Doctrinal Inventions (and cherry-picking support for them)

Please share these videos with your Roman Catholic friends, either on Facebook or wherever you tend to find them. Dr. Robert Godfrey provides excellent summary statements of prevalent Roman myths, in the context of what Roman Catholic apologists are always telling us, in a couple of very short summaries.

The Inventions of Rome Part 1: Godfrey directly addresses Roman Catholic apologists here: especially the myth that Rome is fundamentally unchanged, with an unbroken tradition for 2000 years. He calls this notion "fundamentally untrue and historically inaccurate".Godfrey traces the various historical phases of the Roman church through history, and how it has changed at various times.

The inventions of Rome Part 2: A look at "development" and how Rome invented "The Eucharist".

Rome "cherry-picks" what early church writings say, that seem to support its later doctrines. But when you look at them more broadly, that language is used very loosely, and the early writers can also support Lutheran and Reformed doctrines. If Rome's story about itself is "fundamentally untrue", as Godfrey says, and as I thoroughly believe, then calling it out, in any period, is a necessary duty of Christians in any age.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Comparing and contrasting Christianity and Islam


Machine Gun Preacher

I'm going to comment on this essay:

Oppy, G. (2013) Rowe's Evidential Arguments from Evil, in The Blackwell Companion to the Problem of Evil (eds J. P. McBrayer and D. Howard-Snyder), John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Oxford, UK, ch4.

Oppy's argument centers on this real life example:

The girl’s mother was living with her boyfriend, another man who was unemployed, her two children, and her 9 ­month old infant fathered by the boyfriend. On new Year’s Eve all three adults were drinking at a bar near the woman’s home. The boyfriend had been taking drugs and drinking heavily. He was asked to leave the bar at 8:00 p.m. After several reappearances he finally stayed away for good at about 9:30 p.m. The woman and the unemployed man remained at the bar until 2:00 a.m. at which time the woman went home and the man to a party at a neighbour’s home. Perhaps out of jealousy, the boyfriend attacked the woman when she walked into the house. Her brother was there and broke up the fight by hitting the boy­ friend who was passed out and slumped over a table when the brother left. later the boyfriend attacked the woman again, and this time she knocked him unconscious. After checking the children, she went to bed. later, the woman’s 5­ year old girl went downstairs to go to the bathroom. The unemployed man returned from the party at 3:45 a.m. and found the 5­-year-old dead. She had been raped, severely beaten over most of her body and strangled to death by the boyfriend. (Russell 1989, 123, drawing on a report from the Detroit Free Press, January 3, 1986)

Before delving into the details, I'd like to make some general observations:

i) Cases like this pose a psychological dilemma for Christian philosophers and apologists. A clinically detached philosophical response seems to be heartless. Yet that's the nature of philosophical analysis. It requires critical detachment. If you're going to throw these examples at Christians, don't turn around and blame us for presenting an unemotional analysis of a heart-wrenching case. 

ii) In addition, they pose a prima facie dilemma. To present a justification of divine permission might seem to justify the evil itself. Yet condoning divine permission is not condoning the permitted evil. 

However, atheism has a corollary dilemma. Atheism must say these things happen for no good reason. Tough luck, kid! That's the kind of world we live in. Deal with it!

iii) A male philosopher or apologist is at a disadvantage when discussing female victims of horrendous crimes. Where the perp is male and the victim is female, it looks bad when a male philosopher or apologist presents a theodicy. It would be better for male philosophers and apologists to substitute male-on-male examples, and female philosophers or apologist to use female examples. 

iv) Although Oppy's example is appalling, and intentionally so, it doesn't budge me an inch towards atheism. In a godless universe, human life is worthless. The alternative to Christian theism is moral and existential nihilism. Whatever the difficulties posed by the problem of evil, atheism is hardly the answer. Indeed, atheism is evil. 

If there is to be a justification for the suffering of the five­-year-­old girl, that justification surely must be in terms of goods for her.

As I noted earlier, if there were to be a justification for the permission, by an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good god, of the rape, torture, and murder of five­-year-old girls (if there were an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good god), that justification would surely have to be in terms of goods for the five­-year-­old girls in question.

Unfortunately, Oppy never bothers to explain why any justification must be in terms of goods for the victim. Is that a general principle? Or does Oppy have other, unstated caveats in mind, such as the innocence of the victim? 

For instance, suppose Pol Pot was brutally murdered when he was five years old. Would justification for divine permission have to be in terms of goods for little Pol Pot? I'm not directly comparing the little girl to Pol Pot. I'm just probing Oppy's rationale. Is this meant to be a sufficient, universal principle–or does it require other qualifications for the argument to go through?

However, if squaring Theism with the distribution of intense suffering in our universe is taken to require the postulation of an afterlife in which there is compensation for that intense suffering, or the postulation of fallen angels who inflict that intense suffering upon us, or the postulation of goods beyond our ken that provide justification for permission of the distribution of intense suffering in our universe by an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good god, or the like, then, the distribution of intense suffering in our universe does turn out to favor naturalism over Theism, since this increase in the theoretical commitments of Theism merely adds to the initial advantage that naturalism has over Theism on account of theoretical commitments.

It's unclear why Oppy is so dismissive regarding the relevance of eschatological compensations. He's appealing to simplicity. But if eschatological compensations are required for a moral universe, then that's a necessary increase in theoretical commitments. An amoral universe may be ontologically simpler, but that has no category for moral evils. 

Yes, we have come to recognize that slavery is intrinsically wrong, and that homosexuality is not intrinsically wrong, and so forth

Does this mean Oppy's argument is predicated on moral realism? If so, the onus is on him to explain how naturalism can underwrite moral realism. 

I think that nothing could justify rape, torture, and murder of five­-year-­old girls; and I think that nothing could justify inaction in the face of rape, torture, and murder of five-year-old girls other than inability (on grounds of lack of power, or knowledge, or the like).

i) He's bundled two distinct propositions into one claim, but how does the proposition that nothing could justify rape, torture, and murder of five­-year-­old girls entail the additional proposition that nothing could justify inaction in the face of rape, torture, and murder of five­-year-­old girls other than inability (on grounds of lack of power, or knowledge, or the like)? Or is that meant to be an entailment relation? How are those two propositions logically related? Clearly he thinks they are inseparable in some sense. 

ii) On the face of it, it's hard to take him seriously. There are many hotspots around the world where child abuse is rampant. But Oppy isn't jetting around the globe to protect kids from rape, torture, and murder. There are many opportunities for him to do so. Take the movie Machine Gun Preacher, based on a true story:

If Oppy really believes that inaction is unjustifiable in the face of horrendous crimes against children, why does he sit behind the safety of his laptop? 

iii) Suppose I take the position that the action of the machine-gun preacher was admirable. This doesn't imply that I think it's obligatory for everyone who's able to intervene in the same way. We have a variety of social duties which must be counterbalanced against each other. 

Oppy might object that God doesn't have the same limitations. However, much of his argument is predicated on his presumptive analogy between what's permissible for man and what's permissible for God. 

Howard ­Snyder says: “Given that intervention and non­intervention have massive and inscrutable causal ramifications, and given that the unforeseeable consequences swamp the foreseeable ones, we have just as much reason to believe that the total consequences of non­intervention outweigh the total consequences of intervention as we have to believe that the total consequences of intervention outweigh the total consequences of non­intervention. Thus, we should be in doubt about whether we should intervene” (Howard ­Snyder 2009, 38)

Synder makes a very important point, although it seems to jumble together considerations that need to be sorted out:

i) Divine intervention to prevent evil has massive, causal ramifications. 

ii) These are divinely foreseeable (unless Snyder is an open theist), but humanly unforeseeable. Therefore, it's reasonable for Christians to make allowance for the fact that God may very well have good reason not to intervene more often, for reasons inscrutable to shortsighted humans.

iii) But by the same token, because human agents are necessarily shortsighted, we don't have the same responsibility to take unforeseeable consequences into account. For that matter, both action and inaction have unforeseeable consequences. Our duty is to act on the best available information. 

As Howard ­Snyder (2009, 43f.) observes, Theists may well suppose, for example, that God has instructed humankind to prevent suffering in general, and that God permits a lot of it precisely because he intends for us to try to prevent it. (So, somehow, I would not stand between the five­ year ­old girl and her deepest union with God were I to intervene to prevent her rape, torture, and murder.)

There are situations where, if I had foreknowledge or counterfactual knowledge, I might refrain from intervention if my action, while beneficial in the short-term, did greater harm in the long-term. 

Decapitation strike

I'm going to comment on something a friend posted on Facebook. He's welcome to my comments. He said:

One of the biggest problems with modern apologetics and some other Christian activities is that there's too much of a focus on atheism. Atheists are still just a very small percentage of the population. Because of their disproportionate influence in academia, the media, the web, and other contexts, they warrant more attention than their percentage of the population suggests they should get. But they shouldn't be getting nearly as much attention as they're typically given. 
Focusing on America, since that's where I live, the vast majority of Americans believe in the existence of God, but most have a highly deficient view of him. They don't think about him much, and they research the subject even less. To the extent they do think about him, they view him as morally too permissive and religiously too pluralistic. It doesn't take much thought or research to arrive at that sort of view of God, and that kind of God accommodates their preferred lifestyle. The degree to which their view of God resembles them is suspicious. "You thought that I was just like you" (Psalm 50:21). They'll take traditional Christian beliefs, like monotheism, the virgin birth, and Jesus' resurrection, and mix them with other beliefs that are non-Christian or even anti-Christian. Their views aren't particularly coherent, consistent, thought out, or well researched. But they aren't atheists. So, why is there such a focus on atheism when Christians are talking about apologetics, academia, our political opponents, etc.?

To some degree I think he answers his own question. There's greater focus on atheism because secular progressives, in relation to their numbers, have vastly greater influence on law and public policy. Most Americans aren't opinion makers or policymakers. It's the political class that enjoys that distinction.

Because atheists dominate so much of the media, education establishment, as well as state and Federal gov't, they impose change from the topdown. A rudder is only one small part, yet it controls the direction of a supertanker.

Targeting atheism is a decapitation strike. The best way to win a war is to defeat the leadership, not the foot-soldiers. Put another way, we might call it trickle down apologetics. 

In addition, most of us lack direct, mass access to the general public. Although it would be very beneficial to educate the unchurched on Christian theology, it's not like we have a platform on which to reach them. So it's easier to attack pernicious ideas, and hope readers disseminate the material. 

Table games

There are plenty of things that evolution explains quite well that creationism struggles with.  For example, why are there australopiths?  Why not make humans extremely distinct from the mammals?  Why even make primates at all?  Evolution explains primates as the distant relatives of modern humans, and australopiths fit in that model very well.  Creationism (of any stripe) doesn't really explain that very well. 

i) One problem is the question of coherence. If humans were extremely distinct from mammals, we wouldn't be human. 

ii) Let's take a comparison. Humans like to play games. Some games are very different from each other, viz. chess, Go, Backgammon, roulette, Yahtzee,  scrabble, Monopoly, Mahjong, pool. 

You also have different games that use the same deck of cards, viz. Poker, blackjack, Bridge, Baccarat. Finally, you have variations on the same game, viz. seven card stud, five card draw, Texas Hold'em, Omaha High. 

What accounts for the similarities and differences? On the one hand, humans like to play very different games. That accounts for dissimilarity.

On the other hand, humans like to explore the range of possible variations within tighter limitations. Consider how many different card games we could devise if we restricted ourselves to the same deck of cards. 

There are different ways to illustrate intellectual creativity. One way is through dissimilarity. Inventing things that are very different from each other. Another way is through similarity. In a way, it's a greater challenge to produce interesting variations with fewer options. 

One creationist explanation for the spectrum of biological similarity and dissimilarity is a demonstration of God's creative ingenuity. And that's something which human creativity mimics. 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Prayer, providence, and Dunkirk

Then another thing that has focused attention on the doctrine of providence is what we call 'special providences'. Now special providences are special interventions of God on behalf of individuals or groups of people. For instance, at Dunkirk during the War a kind of mist came down to protect the soldiers while at the same time the sea was unusually calm and smooth, and many people in this country were ready to say that that was a providential act of God. They said that God had intervened in order to save our troops by making it possible for them to be brought back into this country. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Great Doctrines of the Bible (Crossway, 2012), 141.

Vatican chess: bishops and queens





Friday, July 21, 2017

“This Land”

Jeff is a dear old friend of mine; I worked for him for several years in the 1980’s (right out of college). This is a magnificent tribute to God and country. Please share this video far and wide.

Manna and mature creation

4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you...13 In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. 14 And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat...31 Now the house of Israel called its name manna. It was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey (Exod 16:4,13-15,31).

7 Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium. 8 The people went about and gathered it and ground it in handmills or beat it in mortars and boiled it in pots and made cakes of it. And the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil (Num 11:7-8).

To bolster their interpretation of Gen 1, young-earth creationists typically cite other examples of mature creation. The stock example is Jesus turning water into wine. Recently, John Byl mentioned Jonah's shade tree (Jonah 4). 

Manna is a neglected example. There's no natural process by which edible food rains down out of thin air. Presumably, the manna is a case of instantaneous creation. 

Miracles, induction, and retrodiction

According to the principle of induction, we can retroengineer the past from the present. There's a chain of events leading up to the present. Antecedent states produce subsequent states. The same causes produce the same effects. Since that's repeatable, if we're familiar with the process, we can retrace an effect back through intervening stages to the originating cause. 

For instance, when I see an adult human, I know how he got to that point. I can run it backwards from adulthood through adolescence, childhood, gestation, and conception. 

All things being equal, that's a generally reliable inference. However, miracles pose an exception to induction. A classic miracle (in contrast to a coincidence miracle) is causally discontinuous with the past. A miracle isn't uncaused, but it's not the result of a causal chain. Rather, a miracle results from the introduction an anomalous cause outside the ordinary chain of events. It represents a break in the causal continuum. The continuum resumes after the break, taking the miracle as a new starting-point. 

For instance, suppose a person suffers from a naturally irreversible degenerative condition. Suppose he undergoes miraculous healing. That outcome can't be retrodicted from his prior condition. 

In the case of miracles, induction hits a wall. When the subsequent course of events is the result of a miracle, inductive inference can't go further back than the miracle. It can't reconstruct the past before the miracle occurred, because the post-miraculous state is not a product of the pre-miraculous state. Induction can only take you from the present to as far back in time as the precipitating miracle. It can't jump over that to the other side, because the chain of events prior to the miracle is a dead-end. The prior chain of events terminated with the miracle, which represents a new beginning. 

This raises a potential problem regarding past-oriented sciences (e.g. cosmology, historical geology, paleontology, evolution). If miracles occur in the past, are they even detectable? What's the scope of any particular miracle to reset the status quo? That limits our ability to reconstruct the past. 

Reason and authority

Leaving Christ out of view (as if nothing had ever been known of him), it proves, by absolute reasons, the impossibility that any man should be saved without him. Again, in the second book, likewise, as if nothing were known of Christ, it is moreover shown by plain reasoning and fact that human nature was ordained for this purpose, viz., that every man should enjoy a happy immortality, both in body and in soul; and that it was necessary that this design for which man was made should be fulfilled; but that it could not be fulfilled unless God became man, and unless all things were to take place which we hold with regard to Christ. St. Anselm, Cur Deus Homo.

There's a subversive quality to Anselm's program. He takes Christian tradition as his starting-point. That supplies him with the materials for his consideration. But his objective is to prove dogma by reason alone. If successful, that subverts ecclesiastical authority. If dogmatic truths can be detached from creeds and councils, if their veracity can be established on grounds independent of ecclesiastical authority, then the role of the church in authorizing dogma becomes superfluous. In that regard, Anselm is more radical than Aquinas. 

Plague of darkness

i) Some scholars attempt to explain the ten plagues of Egypt naturalistically. That has the merit of taking the historicity of the events seriously, but the danger is to secularize the account. 

Some miracles may employ natural mechanisms. Those are coincidence miracles. 

However, the plagues can't be sheerly natural events. One reason is how selective they are. They single out the Egyptians but exempt the Israelites. Natural events aren't that discriminating. Although some natural disasters have disparate impact, the distribution is random. 

The plague of darkness is a striking example. Unlike the other plagues, which are physically destructive, this is more a case of psychological warfare. It happens without warning. The Egyptians go to bed at night, expecting sunrise. Nothing is more elemental and perennial in human experience than the diurnal cycle. Yet imagine waking up in the dark, wondering what time it is. At first they assume they must have awakened in the middle of the night, and go back to sleep. But as the hours wear on, sunrise never happens!

In theory, they could resort to firelight (lamps, torches, bonfires) to create a bit of illumination, but paradoxically, it takes light to make light. You can't make a fire when it's pitch black. You need to be able to see what you're doing to make a fire. And the plague of darkness struck without warning, so they didn't have a chance to make preparations. They couldn't keep a fire burning. 

Moreover, even if they did have a lamp or torch, that's not a flashlight. It doesn't project light any distance. So you'd become hopelessly lost in the dark if you ventured a few yards from home.

In the meantime, the Israelites in Goshen continued to have natural light. Sunlight, starlight, moonlight. 

It's as if thick clouds blanketed the land of Egypt, but there was a hole in the cloud cover just above Goshen. Sometimes, if you're outside during a daytime storm, the sky is blackened by menacing clouds, yet there's a break in the clouds. The ground is dark as night, except for a bright patch, like a spotlight from the sky. Perhaps, in the enveloping darkness, the Egyptians could see Goshen encircled in light. 

ii) There's an interesting relationship between the plague of darkness and the creation account. The plague lasts for three days. The land is plunged in darkness apart from Goshen.

In comparison, you have the paradox of Genesis, where the diurnal cycle seems to preexist sunlight for the first three days. Day and night alternate, yet the sun is not created until the fourth day. Or is it? 

By the same token, Egypt is enshrouded in darkness for three days, except for Goshen, which remains illuminated by shafts of sunlight through an opening in the clouds. (Or something like that.) Then, on the fourth day, sunlight is restored to the land of Egypt. 

Door into heaven

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. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens…7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture (Jn 10:1-3,9).

7 And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. 8 I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut (Rev 3:7-8).

After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said,“Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this” (Rev 4:1). 

i) A neglected line of evidence for the common authorship of John's Gospel and Revelation is the door motif. In both documents, Jesus functions as the doorway to heaven.

It might be objected that in Jn 10, Jesus is the door, whereas in Rev 3:8, is distinct from the door. However, the metaphor is flexible. Jn 10 alternates between the door and the doorkeeper. Rev 3:7-8 has the same alternation. To say Jesus is the door or Jesus has the key are variations on the same metaphor. 

ii) A door is a screening device, allowing authorized individuals to enter while disallowing unauthorized individuals from entering. Jesus is the way to salvation. But because Jesus is the only way to salvation, he is simultaneously an entrance and a barrier. A person can only enter through him.  

iii) The image of a door between this world and the world to come is simple yet arresting. In this life, heaven seems far away. We can't see it or touch it. We can't hear the saints and angels on the other side. Yet in reality, it's as if there's an invisible door connecting our world to the world to come. A door that becomes visible at the moment of death. It was there all along. We just don't know where to look. And the door is locked until the moment of death. By passing through the door, we leave this world behind.  

iv) A door demarcates the outside from the inside. In addition, it may be dark outside, but light inside. When the door is open, you walk into the light. Moreover, the light guides you to the door. If it's dark outside, and the door is closed, the door is invisible. If the door is opened, it suddenly becomes visible.

v) In Jn 10 and Rev 3:7-10,20, the door is a metaphor. But in Rev 4:1, the door is a simulation rather than a metaphor. John has a vision of a door, and passes through the visionary door. His experience is a sample of what Jesus promised to the beleaguered Philadelphian Christians. 

Although the door is imaginary or figurative, it's possible, if God so wills, for a dying Christian to experience death as seeing an open door, approaching the door, and passing through the door into the light beyond–just as John did in his vision. The body dies, releasing the soul.