Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Putting all your chips on the Resurrection

I'm discussed this before, but I'd like to address it in more detail. Nowadays there are prominent Christian apologists who say that if the Resurrection happened, then Christianity is true even if some things in the Bible are false. But I've never seen them spell that out.

Here's the most charitable interpretation of that basic approach. As I recall, back in the 70s, John Warwick Montgomery used to present a multistaged argument like this:

We don't have to begin with the inerrancy of Scripture. Rather, the Gospels are demonstrably historically accurate in general. The Gospels record the Resurrection of Jesus. If Jesus rose from the dead, then he must be divine. And the divine Jesus vouches for the historicity of the OT, as well as promising that the disciples will enjoy inspired recollection of everything he said. (I'm summarizing his argument from memory.)

This seems to be what gave rise to the current approach. And I think there's some merit to Montgomery's argument. Mind you, I don't quite agree with his argument as it stands, because the Bible doesn't treat the Resurrection as direct proof for the deity of Christ. Rather, the Bible typically says the Father raised Jesus from the dead.

Perhaps, though, we could modify the argument by saying the Resurrection is an indirect proof for the deity of Christ. It would be counterproductive for God to raise a false Messiah from the dead, since people would naturally take that as evidence of divine approval. The more so if the claimant predicted his resurrection, because that would be prophetic fulfillment. 

If, therefore, Jesus claimed to be divine, if the Gospel narrators claim Jesus is divine, and if the Father raised him from the dead, then he must be divine. And I think there's a good potential argument there, although it has to be fleshed out. 

However, that's not the kind of argument that the apologists I allude to are using. They've made a crucial change. Montgomery appealed to the Resurrection to prove the inerrancy of Scripture. By contrast, more recent apologists are doing just the opposite: they appeal to the Resurrection to prove the expandability of Biblical inerrancy. Yet there are major problems with that position:

i) If Jesus routinely appeals to the OT as unquestionably true, then you can't simultaneously affirm Jesus and disaffirm the Bible. That's incoherent, for they rise and fall together:

Let us examine then, first of all, His attitude to the historical narratives of the Old Testament. He consistently treats them as straightforward records of facts. We have references to: Abel (Lk. xi. 51), Noah (Mt. xxiv. 37-39; Lk. xvii. 26, 27), Abraham (Jn. viii. 56), the institution of circumcision (Jn. vii. 22; cf. Gn. xvll. 10-12; Lv. xii. 3), Sodom and Gomorrah (Mt. x. 15, xi. 23, 24; Lk. x. 12). Lot (Lk. xvii. 28-32), Isaac and Jacob (Mt. viii. 11; Lk. xiii. 28), the manna (in. vi. 31, 49, 58), the wilderness serpent (Jn. iii. 14), David eating the shewbread (Mt. xii. 3, 4; Mk. ii. 25, 26; Lk. vi. 3, 4) and as a Psalm-writer (Mt. xxii. 43; Mk. xii. 36; Lk. xx. 42), Solomon (Mt. vi. 29, xii. 42; Lk. xi. 31, xii. 27), Elijah (Lk. iv. 25, 26), Elisha (Lk. iv. 27), Jonah (Mt. xii. 39-41; Lk. xi. 29, 30, 32), Zachariah (Lk. xi. 51). This last passage brings out His sense of the unity of history and His grasp of its wide sweep. His eye surveys the whole course of history from ‘the foundation of the world’ to ‘this generation’. There are repeated references to Moses as the giver of the law (Mt. viii. 4, xix. 8; Mk. i. 44, vii. 10, x. 5, xii. 26; Lk. v. 14, xx. 37; Jn. v. 46, vii. 19); the sufferings of the prophets are also mentioned frequently (Mt. v. 12, xiii. 57, xxi. 34-36, xxiii. 29-37; Mk. vi. 4 (cf. Lk. iv. 24; Jn. iv. 44), xii. 2-5; Lk. vi. 23, xi. 47-51, xiii. 34, xx. 10-12); and there is a reference to the popularity of the false prophets (Lk. vi. 26). He sets the stamp of His approval on passages in Gn. i and ii (Mt. xix. 4, 5; Mk. x. 6-8.)

Although these quotations are taken by our Lord more or less at random from different parts of the Old Testament and some periods of the history are covered more fully than others, it is evident that He was familiar with most of our Old Testament and that He treated it all equally as history. Curiously enough, the narratives that proved least acceptable to what was known a generation or two ago as ‘the modem mind’ are the very ones that He seemed most fond of choosing for His illustrations. 

ii) Likewise, Christianity can't be true if OT Judaism is false. To be true, Christianity must fulfill the OT. Christianity can't be true unless OT Judaism is true. 

But Judaism can't be true if the call of Abraham is fictional, if the Akedah (Gen 22) is fictional, if the Abrahamic covenant is fictional, if the Joseph cycle is fictional, if the call of Moses is fictional, if the Exodus is fictional, if the Davidic covenant is fictional, &c. 

So where to these apologists draw the line? Their position is ominously similar to "progressive Christians" who say you can discount most of the reported miracles in Scripture. The only miracles you really must profess to be a Christian are the Incarnation and Resurrection. 

iii) In addition, the Christian faith isn't based on bare events, but interpreted events. Not surprisingly, the NT contains extensive theological interpretation regarding the significance of the Resurrection. What's the divine purpose behind that event–as well as other events in the life of Christ (e.g. the Crucifixion)? 

What is Calvinism?

i) When we discuss theological traditions, the tendency is to concentrate on what's distinctive about that tradition. There may be individual distinctives, or there may be a distinctive package. We tend to focus on what differentiates that tradition from the alternatives. That can be misleading inasmuch as there's more, much more, to a theological tradition than what distinguishes one tradition from another. 

ii) That said, let's consider the distinctive features. What is Calvinism? At the most general level, Calvinism takes the view that everything happens for a reason. Every event, whether physical or mental events, serve a purpose. Indeed, everything happens for a good reason, including–or especially–bad things. Some events may be intrinsically evil but instrumentally good.

iii) But what is necessary for everything to happen for a reason? In order for everything to be purposeful, to have an explanation, there must be a master plan, in which every event is coordinated in a part/whole, means-ends relation. Everything happens according to plan. God wrote the plot. 

I should add that this isn't unique to Calvinism, but holds true for other predestinarian traditions (e.g. Thomism, Augustinianism, Jansenism). 

If there are unpremeditated events, then everything doesn't happen for a reason. Some events are brute facts–like sheer luck, which can be good luck or bad luck. Pointless things happen. Tragedies happen that serve no purpose. By chance, the victim was in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

When Calvinism says everything is predestined, that means everything happens for a reason. The alternative is that some, many, or most events have no specific rationale. In that regard, they are random events. Inexplicable events. 

iv) In fairness, a freewill theist might say everything happens for a general reason: namely, the overarching value of libertarian freedom. But freewill theists typically denounce the idea that some tragedy or atrocity was "God's will". So they deny that every event–especially evil events–happens for a specific reason, or serves a particular purpose. 

v) That's a definition of Calvinism at the most general level. Of course, that cashes out in more detailed terms. There's the particularism of grace. Unconditional election and reprobation. Limited atonement. 

In theory, critics might not find Calvinism so objectionable if it  merely took the view that everything happens for a reason, but in a world where evil occurs, they find that more principle more contentious. And they think reprobation is evil in its own right. 

vi) One objection is that it's cruel for the Calvinist God to save only some people when he could save everyone. But bracketing other issues, that's equivocal. Let's pick a figure out of thin air for discussion purposes. Suppose, in the actual world, the elect are 70% of humanity while the reprobate are 30% of humanity. Could the Calvinist God save the 30% in addition to the 70% if he so chose? 

That's far from clear. Although there are possible worlds in which everyone is elect, those have different genealogies than a world in which 70% are elect and 30% are reprobate. If the 30% were elect, they'd make different choices in life. They'd produce different family trees. It wouldn't be saving the same 30% in addition to the same 70%, for almost no one would be the same. In a world where everyone is elect, different people are born into that world due to the choices of their elect forebears.  

The upshot is that none of the heavenbound people in a world where 70% are elect would even exist in a world where 100% are elect–assuming death seals your eternal fate. A critic might say the Calvinist God could still save the lost after death, but that moves the hypotheticals outside the boundaries of biblical orthodoxy. 

vii) Another objection is that it's a miscarriage of justice for God to punish agents for sins he predestined them to commit. And that might strike many people as prima facie counterintuitive. However, it's often the case that we can't properly assess a potion in isolation. Rather, we need to compare to the alternatives. 

What does it mean for human choices not to be predestined? When freewill theists say humans have libertarian freedom, does that mean our choices are ultimately uncaused?

Consider dice. Predestination is like loaded dice. The outcome is certain every time, ahead of time. 

The alternative is fair dice. It's not that the outcome is strictly uncaused. The laws of physics apply.

Rather, each throw is causally independent of the preceding or succeeding throw. In that sense, the outcome is random or uncaused. Every time you throw the dice, it's like the first time. A particular outcome doesn't make the next outcome more or less likely. Each time you throw the dice, you might roll different numbers or the same numbers. So it's arbitrary in that regard. In effect, every throw is a fresh start, no matter how often you threw the dice. 

This also means that inevitably, the results of throwing fair dice will sometimes coincide with the results of throwing loaded dice. Likewise, odds are that random choices will sometimes coincide with predestined choices. In that case, would it be unjust for God to punish an agent for a predestined choice of that coincided with a random choice? 

viii) Conversely, is it just for God to punish an agent for a random choice? Suppose a psychopathic kidnapper took a man's wife and kids hostage. But he gives the man a chance to save his family by throwing dice. If the outcome is six or above, the kidnapper won't shoot them. If the outcome is below six, the kidnapper will shoot them. 

But isn't that grossly unfair? The results of one throw are arbitrary inasmuch as each throw might be different. Why should the first and only throw be decisive? 

If freewill theism is true, aren't our choices like that? If I roll the dice at noon, I'd get one outcome. If I roll the dice at 11:59, I might well get a different outcome. Likewise, if I roll the dice at 12:01. Yet the God of freewill theism holds me to one particular throw, even though it's by chance that any particular outcome occurs. Picking one particular throw out of a hypothetical sequence, where if the pick was sooner or later, the results would chance. 

Suppose a free agent (in the libertarian sense) made a different choice than the predestined choice. But his actual choice, if random, is arbitrary.Given the opportunity to role the same dice multiple times, the results might differ every time. So why privilege or absolutize the actual choice? Isn't that an artificial sample? Why make that the cutoff when, if he repeated the trial under the same circumstances, the results might turn out differently? Why select for that particular throw as if that's somehow definitive? 

ix) However, a freewill theist might object that I've caricatured libertarian freedom. An astute freewill theist will concede that we don't approach decision-making as blank slates. Although our choices may not be predetermined, there are factors that predispose us to opt for one choice rather than another.

On that view, the alternatives aren't confined to fair dice and loaded dice, because libertarian choice is more like throwing biased dice. Unlike loaded dice, which make one outcome inevitable, or fair dice, which make every outcome equiprobable, biased dice make some outcomes more likely than others. 

But I don't see how that refinement helps the freewill theist. In that event, is it just for God to punish the agent for his choice unless the agent wasn't equally free to choose one thing rather than another? I'm not saying I agree with that. I'm just considering the libertarian position on its own grounds.  

Zoological diversity


Monday, March 27, 2017

What does panta denote?

Freewill theists need to be more flexible about universal quantifiers ("all"). They seize on pas/panta to prooftext universal atonement, yet that's frequently employed as a hyperbolic or idiomatic generality. To take some Johannine examples:

"Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them" (Jn 8:2).

Does this mean every human being came to the temple that morning to hear Jesus? 

How about: "All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them" (Jn 10:8).

Is Jesus saying all the OT prophets were thieves and robbers? Hardly. 

Or this: "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn 13:35).

Does every human being know that? What about people who don't know any Christians? 

Or this: "Jesus answered him, 'I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret'" (Jn 18:20).

Did that include Jews living in the Diaspora (e.g. Rome, Alexandria)? 

What about: "And they came to John and said to him, 'Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him'" (Jn 3:26).

Or this: "Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?" (Jn 4:29).

Or this: "So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast" (Jn 4:45).

Nazca lines

My response to a particle physicist on Facebook:

Brian Colquhoun 
Not really; that's just an argument from ignorance. Things boggle my mind every day. That makes the case that I don't understand something for whatever reason, and not that it points to some purpose.

Would you say the same thing about Nazca lines? These are puzzling because it's unclear how the artists are able to draw these patterns when they couldn't see the pattern from ground level. So should we infer that these are made by humans, or is that an argument from ignorance? Should we instead presume that these are natural patterns? 

Brian Colquhoun
There isn't any reason to suppose we're anything other than matter.

You mean, other than the hard problem of consciousness, precognition, psychokinesis, veridical apparitions, veridical NDEs, veridical OBEs, terminal lucidity, demonic possession, and John Lorber's hydrocephalic patients? There are multiple lines of evidence for substance dualism.

Brian Colquhoun
That doesn't necessarily mean that's definitely the case and can't be shown otherwise, but matter is all we know about.

Really? What about abstract objects, viz. numbers, logic, possible worlds? Even W. V. Quine resigned himself to being a "reluctant platonist". Likewise, Roger Penrose, although agnostic, is a mathematical realist.

Occam's rusty razor

From an impromptu Facebook debate I had with an atheist:

Isn't that amazing? I've proven I'm blue. Of course, when my proof meets evidence, I'll be a liar, but for now, I've used logic to show that my childhood worldview is correct. #TeamBlue"

Your faux syllogism fails to distinguish between validity and soundness.

The biglyest hole in apologetics is the presupposition that all these pious biblical figures were not simply making things up.

That's not just a presupposition. Rather, "apologetics" provides supporting evidence.

When it comes to Occam's razor…

Occam's razor doesn't predict for what reality is like. The principle is merely that we shouldn't postulate more entities than are necessary to explain things. But that doesn't tell you in advance how many entities are too many or too few. 

Atheists resort to intellectual shortcuts like Occam's razor without understanding the principle.

...and our understanding pre-scientific people

Prescientific people can be reliable eyewitnesses. 

...the most likely conclusion to phenomena which violate seemingly natural rules of the universe, is that they were making it all up, exaggerating, or grossly misstating something"

Except that you fail to give any reason for why the most likely conclusion regarding reported phenomena that "violate natural rules of the universe" is that reporters were making it up. Thanks for consistently begging the question. 

Fact is, our knowledge of how the universe operates is based on observation. If observation includes reported phenomena that "violate" the ordinary course of nature, then that has as much epistemic merit as observation regarding the ordinary course of nature.

You're thinking of religion.

No, I was thinking of your syllogism, which is a non sequitur. Apparently, you think that's analogous to religion. If so, your syllogism fails in yet another respect inasmuch as you're attempting an argument from analogy minus the argument. 

Sure - when they write things that likely occurred.

I see. What about this: 

You know, the most amazing thing happened to me tonight... I saw a car with the license plate ARW 357. Can you imagine? Of all the millions of license plates in the state, what was the chance that I would see that particular one tonight? Amazing!

I take it that you discount Richard Feynman's report since that's so unlikely to occur. 

But talking snakes and proxy angels didn't.

i) What do you even mean by "proxy angel"?

ii) The account of the Tempter in Gen 3 isn't based on eyewitness testimony. The narrator wasn't there to witness that event, and there's no reason to suppose he got that information from someone who was, so your example misses the point. 

iii) I doubt the Tempter was a talking snake. The name of the Tempter is probably a pun. The Hebrew word is a triple entendre. It can mean "snake," "diviner," and "shining one". 

The fact that something has an animal name doesn't ipso facto make it an animal. Consider animal names for Indian braves, or animal names for sports teams.

Speculations should always be 0.

i) So much for theoretical physics, forensics, &c. 

ii) In any event, I wasn't referring to speculations but observations. 

If you have to speculate, speculate as economically as possible.

So you automatically discount the multiverse. 

Don't violate nature

So you think we should ban water pumps, airplanes, dams, &c. Mustn't credit gizmos that violate the ordinary course of nature. 

and don't propose mechanisms that are not established.

What "mechanism" did I propose?

That's how Occam's razor works.

That would rule out the establishment of a novel mechanism. Is that how Occam's razor works? So much for new technology.

Please spare me your faux authority on the matter

Because I should defer to your faux authority instead?

Occam's razor tells us that we should not speculate when it's not necessary."

Since I wasn't speculating, that's a red herring. 

Coupled with the fact that these things don't happen…

Circular reasoning.

For example, the Apostle Paul claimed to have received quite a lot of information from 'revelation' from supernatural realms. Is that really the most likely way he got his information? Really?"

Since that accounts for his otherwise inexplicable conversion, yes

It would mean anyone's facts are as good as anyone else's.

You're confusing the credibility of a reporter with what is reported. 

Should I believe accounts of bigfoot? Leprechauns?

i) Since you're using some testimony evidence to evaluate other testimonial evidence, do you have a noncircular criterion? 

ii) And if bigfoot sightings were as well-documented as some miracles, then you ought to believe it. 

What if we know that the writings of this otherwise honest person had been copied, translated, and copied again?"

i) Protestant theology, and even modern Catholic theology, doesn't rely on translations, but the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic.

ii) Yes, we have copies. Thousands of copies. Copies diverse in time and place. Many independent copies. We can compare and contrast the copies. They preserve the same essential message.

Improbable things happen all the time, but the reason you selectively choose to believe one collection of improbable events over another is not a good strategy. When you are emotionally invested in the truth of one collection of improbable events over another (ie Christianity over the Hermetics, Gnostics, Egyptians, Babylonians, Native Americans, etc), you've surrendered skeptical inquiry in favor of dogma... Not a good strategy for getting the right answers... But hey, you feel it in your heart right?

Apparently, Claason operates with the ignorant notion that Christianity rules out non-Christian miracles. And I haven't appealed to what I feel in my heart.

One wonders why the all-powerful, all-knowing oz would have built in such a predictable defect as cancer, which exploits these mechanisms.

Why classify cancer as a "defect" rather than a way to prevent overpopulation among animals and cull weaker specimens, so that stronger specimens will reproduce. In relation to humans, the Fall makes humans liable to disease.

The origin of life

Jonathan McLatchie recently did a webinar with Intelligent design theorist and young-earth creationist Paul Nelson:

Between about about the 1 hr 46 min mark until about 2 hr 18 min, Nelson had an impromptu debate with Darwinian biologist and militant atheist Zachary Moore.

i) I believe Moore's impediment is the assumption that direct causation is impossible. For X to cause Y, there must be an intervening physical medium.

That, however, exhumes the ancient conundrum of infinite divisibility. Take particle physics. You can keep down down lower scales of matter and energy, but if you insist that cause-effect transactions require an intervening medium, then there's no ultimate explanatory terminus, for there must always be some physical medium in-between the cause and effect to facilitate the transaction.

ii) Another one of Zach's impediments, which Nelson kept returning to, is Zach's failure to distinguish what constitutes a scientific explanation given an ongoing cyclical process from what constitutes a scientific explanation of how that cyclical process originated. The fact that we may commonly require identification of a natural "mechanism" given the existence of a cyclical process does not imply that such a demand is reasonable to account for the given itself.

iii) Zach also missed the point of Nelson's SETI illustration. The point is that we'd be justified in inferring that signals from outer space transmitting Pi are the product of an advanced alien civilization even if we didn't an inkling about the technology by which they were able to transmit a signal that distant. You don't require the identification of a mechanism before you're warranted in inferring design or intelligent agency.

Gregory Boyd on Calvinism

Boyd covers a lot of ground in 10 minutes. These aren't necessarily verbatim quotes, but paraphrasing the gist of what he said.

1. "The majority were predestined to hell."

Calvinism has no official position on what percentage of humanity is hellbound. For instance, Warfield thought the majority will be saved.

2. "The Calvinist God is duplicitous"

It isn't clear to me how much of this is from John Wesley and how much is Boyd's. 

Consider the analogy of a novelist, director, or video gamer who creates a villain. It isn't duplicitous for him to create evil characters, because he also creates good guys to defeat the bad guys. There are countless novels, movies, and TV dramas on that theme. Does that makes the novelist or director guilty of duplicity? 

3. "God says he loves everybody but then damns the majority to go to tell."

Boyd is imputing a freewill theist assumption ("God loves everyone") to Calvinism, then positing a contradiction. But that's due to confusing his own position with the opposing position. 

4. "God tells us to love everybody, but he doesn't. Makes God hypocritical. Doesn't practice what he's preaching."

i) There's nothing intrinsically hypocritical about commanding something contrary to what you yourself do. If I drink beer, but don't allow my 5-year-old to drink beer, is that hypocritical? 

ii) God commands Christians to love our enemies, and God loves his enemies. Calvinists can and do affirm Rom 5:6-10). Although God doesn't love all his enemies, he loves some of his enemies.

I'd add that it isn't possible for Christians to be equally loving to everyone. You can't be equally loving to school children and and a schoolyard sniper or suicide bomber. 

iii) That said, there are two fundamental asymmetries to take into account. To begin with, Christians are supposed to show mercy to others because we were shown mercy (Cf. Mt 18:21-35). But it hardly follows that God is supposed to show mercy to others because he was shown mercy. So the rationale for why Christians are commanded to love sinners has no parallel in the case of God.

iv) In addition, God is the eschatological judge. So he has a different role to play. "Vengeance is mine, I will replay" (Rom 12:19). That stands in contrast to Christian duties.

5. "God commands us to resist sin but predestines sinners to sin."

In Calvinism, God doesn't only predestine sinners to sin. God also predestines some sinners some of the time to successfully resist sin. 

6. "God says he hates evil but predestines evil"

That's simple-minded. God can hate evil in its own right, but predestine evil as a means of achieving particular goods that can't be realized apart from evil. 

7. "He predestines the evil we're supposed to fight".

Once again, that's like a novelist who scripts an evil scenario, then scripts the heroes to defeat it. There's nothing inconsistent about that.

8. "Freewill is true because God gives choices"

i) What does Boyd mean by libertarian freedom? Does he mean are choices are uncaused? If so, then our choices are just a roll of the dice. Each time you roll the dice you may get a different random outcome. You don't even get to take your chances; rather, chance takes you.

ii) Determinism is consistent with choice. Determinism is consistent with deliberation.

iii) Deuteronomy is conditional. It describes consequences for alternate courses of action. That's perfectly consonant with determinism (or predeterminism). If you do A, B will happen–but if you C, D will happen. 

9. "Humans can thwart God's will–Lk 7:30"

That fails to distinguish different senses of God's "will". In context, Lk 7:30 is referring to obligations. But shirking our duties doesn't imply that we can thwart God's will in the sense of God's plan for the world.

10. "In the Bible God wants everyone to be saved–2 Pet 3:9"

As Richard Bauckham documents in his commentary, Peter is using stock language drawn from the OT regarding God's patience for the Jews. That stood in contrast to the larger world of the ancient Near East. By analogy, Peter is referring to God's patience for Christians.

11. "God loves everyone–1 Jn 2:2"

If Boyd thinks cosmos is a synonym for "everybody." But is that consistent with Johannine usage? 

i) If so, then 1 Jn 2:15 ("Do not love the world or the things in the world") forbids Christians from loving everyone?

ii) What about "The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil" (Jn 7:7). 

If you think cosmos is synonymous with everybody, then that includes Christians, in which case, according to Jn 7:7, Christians hate Jesus. 

iii) What about "even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you" (Jn 14:17).

But if cosmos means everyone, then no one believes in Jesus. No one receives the Spirit. Yet that contradicts the second sentence. 

iv) "Jesus answered him, 'I have spoken openly to the world'" (Jn 18:20). 

Did Jesus speak to every human being during his 2-3 year public ministry?

v) "I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world" (Jn 17:9).

But if cosmos means everybody, then Jesus is praying for everyone and not praying for everyone, which is contradictory. 

vi) What about 1 Jn 5:19 ("We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one"), where the first clause, which refers to Christians, stands in contrast to the second clause, where the "whole world," lies in the power of the Devil? But that can't be synonymous with everyone, since Christians are excluded from that comparison.

12. "We break God's heart"

That reflects Boyd's open theist hermeneutic, where he refuses to make allowance for anthropopathic expressions.

13. "God loves everybody"

What's so great about universal ineffectual love? What's the practical difference between that and God not loving everyone? According to Boyd, the damned would be damned whether or not God loved them. 

14. "We're not puppets"

That simply begs the question against determinism, using a simplistic, tendentious metaphor.

15. "God desires a real relationship"

To take a comparison, do pet dogs choose to love their owners? Do they have a "real relationship" with their owners? 

16. "Go doesn't force you to choose him"

That's either incompetent or demagogical. If God causes the human response, there's no force. Force implies resistance. 

17. "Tragedies aren't God's will"

How is it supposed to be better to say tragedies happen for no good reason?

18. "God didn't predestine natural humanitarian disasters"

But the open theist God could prevent those humanitarian catastrophes. Just give people advance warning. 

19. "God didn't predestine the Holocaust, kidnapped children, suicide bombers"

But the open theist God could step in to prevent or stop those evils. 

20. "For God's glory"

In Calvinism, God doesn't do anything for his own glory in the sense of amassing glory for himself. God has nothing to gain. It's all for the benefit of the elect.

21. "God doesn't cause evil"

According to a standard philosophical definition of causation, the open theist God does cause evil. Divine nonintervention ensures the evil outcome. Inaction can cause something just as surely as action.

The practical problem Calvinists face in the "real world"

From Facebook:

Leighton Flowers shared a link to the group: 316 Roundtable 
This is hard to watch but it's the practical problem Calvinists face in the "real world."

A Calvinistic state congressman is asked if rape is God's will.

Oklahoma State Rep says Rape or Incest is "the will of God"

According to freewill theism, God willingly allowed the rapist to commit rape. Doesn't God will the consequences of what he does or refrains from doing?

When the father of the prodigal son allowed his son to leave with his share of the inheritance, does that mean that the father willed or wanted for his son to leave?

Are you saying the father didn't will to allow his son to leave? Keep in mind that in the story of the parable, the father didn't have the ability to restrain a grown son from leaving. That's hardly analogous to God's relation to a rapist. 

If God allows a rapist to rape, the consequence of divine permission is rape. And that consequence is due in part to divine permission. So, once again, are you saying that God doesn't will to permit the rapist to commit rape? 

However, the father didn't want to hold him against his will, and so he willed to let his son do as he wanted."

How do you suppose a human father would be able to hold a grown son against his will, anyway? 

Even John Calvin mocked the concept of divine permission within the paradigm of exhaustive divine determinism.

i) No, he "mocked" the concept because God's permission is either willing or unwilling. And that's not an issue unique to Calvinism. Freewill theism has the same issue. Does the freewill theist God permit evil willingly or unwillingly?

When we say someone was acting against their will, we typically mean that either it wasn't in their power to refuse or else they were acting under extreme duress, viz. acting at gunpoint, or hostages taken as collateral.

But clearly the freewill theist God is never forced to act against his will in that sense. So he willingly permits evil.

ii) I'm not invested in divine permission language. And just punting to divine permission is hardly an adequate theodicy. Do we excuse a human parent who left a child unattended in the kitchen with a boiling pot of water on the stove, if the child scalds itself? 

iii) However, if you wish to make hay about Calvinism in relation to permission, there's no contradiction: an agent permits what he could prevent.

In that parable, no, I don't believe that the father wanted or willed for his son to leave, though he did decide to allow his son to leave by acquiescing to his demand."

So you admit in a roundabout way that he willed to let his son leave. 

So if God allows the rapist to proceed, it is again, a matter of acquiescing to the will of another.

In that case, the freewill theist God is acquiescing to the will of the rapist rather than the will of the rape victim not to be raped. Why does the freewill theist God honor the will of the rapist rather than the victim? 

That is a mystery of God's working that we will not fully understand until God presents the entire story."

So it's okay for freewill theists to retreat into mystery, but not for Calvinists to invoke mystery. 

However in Calvinism, God does not merely passively foreknow and just allow and intervene, but instead God causes and ordains every evil act ever committed throughout human history as an exercise of divine 'sovereignty' so that God may be most glorified."

The freewill theist God causes moral and natural evils. According to a standard philosophical definition of causation, "We think of a cause as something that makes a difference, and the difference it makes must be a difference from what would have happened without it. Had it been absent, its effects — some of them, at least, and usually all — would have been absent as well" (David Lewis). 

Put more formally, B causally depends on A in case, if A didn't occur occur, B wouldn't occur.

Hence, the freewill theist God causes evil by refusing to prevent evil or stop evil. 

But that's like saying that a husband who hires a secondary agent to be a Hit Man to kill his estranged wife is innocent because, after all, the Hit Man did it.

Which applies with equal force to freewill theism, inasmuch as God initiates a chain of events resulting in natural and moral evils. It's traceable back to God's creative fiat. Moreover, Coords admits that these are divinely foreseeable evils. So the freewill theist God knows that by initiating that chain of evils, natural and moral evils will be the end-result. 

Calvinists don't like that analogy because Calvinists say that you cannot hold God to the same standards that He sets forth for man, but that would make God into a hypocrite. Calvinism just doesn't work."

i) Let's see. Humans have a duty to intervene if they see a rapist about to commit rape. But the freewill theist God doesn't do that. So freewill theists say you can't hold their God to the same standards as human duties, which makes the freewill theist God a hypocrite according to their own yardstick.

ii) Or take the recent story of the four year old boy (Ryu Pena) who accidentally hanged himself in a dressing room. A human would have an obligation to save his life. But the freewill theist God didn't do that. So freewill theists hold their God to a different standard.

iii) BTW, what theodicies could a freewill theist offer to justify God's inaction in this case? The freewill defense won't work. It's not as if God would be violating the little boy's freewill if he miraculously intervened to save his life. It's not as if the little boy wanted to accidentally strangle himself. It's not as if his grandmother wanted that to happen. 

iv) The natural law theodicy won't work. Since the little boy was hidden from public view, if God temporarily suspended the laws of nature in that situation, it would be undetectable. 

Calvinists love Calvinism, 'a lot'…

I'm not a Calvinist because I'm enamored with Calvinism. Rather, I'm a Calvinist by process of elimination. I'm a Calvinist because I'm not an atheist. I'm a Calvinist because I'm not a freewill theist (or Hindu or Buddhist, &c.). The alternatives are bunk.

The reliability of Gospel geography


Compartmentalizing miracles


Academic groupthink


How 1 Corinthians 15 Dovetails With The Gospels And Acts

I posted an article last week that argues for a large amount of agreement among the resurrection accounts in the New Testament. What I want to do here is focus on 1 Corinthians 15, which receives a lot of attention for various reasons in discussions of the evidence for Jesus' resurrection. I want to discuss how well the passage aligns with what we find in the gospels and Acts and some of the reasons why that alignment is significant.

Paul lists six appearances of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15. At the outset, I want to note that I'm not aware of any inconsistency between Paul's list and the material in the gospels and Acts, which is significant, given how easily these sources could have come into conflict. Having said that, let's look at each of the six appearances:

Sunday, March 26, 2017

"Animadversions of a Synthetic Chemist"

From James Tour:

Life requires carbohydrates, nucleic acids, lipids, and proteins. What is the chemistry behind their origin? Biologists seem to think that there are well-understood prebiotic molecular mechanisms for their synthesis. They have been grossly misinformed. And no wonder: few biologists have ever synthesized a complex molecule ab initio. If they need a molecule, they purchase molecular synthesis kits, which are, of course, designed by synthetic chemists, and which feature simplistic protocols.

Polysaccharides? Their origin?

The synthetic chemists do not have a pathway.

The biologists do not have a clue.


Those who think scientists understand the issues of prebiotic chemistry are wholly misinformed. Nobody understands them. Maybe one day we will. But that day is far from today. It would be far more helpful (and hopeful) to expose students to the massive gaps in our understanding. They may find a firmer—and possibly a radically different—scientific theory.

The basis upon which we as scientists are relying is so shaky that we must openly state the situation for what it is: it is a mystery.

When I survey the wondrous cross

When I survey the wondrous cross,
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast -
Save in the death of Christ my God.
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.

See from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did ere such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small!
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul,
Demands my soul,
Love demands my soul,
My life, my all.

Fox spirits

I attempt to read the Bible counterculturally. I was raised in a hitech civilization with strong secular and Christian crosscurrents. That's completely different from the world of the Pentateuch, where paganism and witchcraft were pervasive. So I like to ask myself how certain Biblical narratives might come across to people with a background that's more like ancient pagans. 

I haven't done in-depth study of fox spirits, but from what I've read, it's a fixture of Chinese and Japanese folklore. Here's one example:

There are different ways to interpret this kind of material:

i) We might discount it in toto as sheer folk mythology.

ii) By the same token, we might discount it on the grounds that where there's a preexisting explanatory category, many people default to that generic category. 

iii) Or we might say it has a basis in fact, but it's undergone legendary embellishment. In other words, this derives from actual encounters with malevolent supernatural agents, but as a result, people invent a backstory to explain where these "spirits" came from, where they normally reside, how their world intersects with our world. Stories about their origins, social order, &c., are mythological, but a genuine experience underlies the narrative overlay. 

I'm sure that (ii) is often the case, but I also think (iii) is likely to be the ultimate reason. 

If fox spirits exist, what are they? In principle there are three possible candidates:

i) Animal spirits

ii) Demonic spirits

iii) Ghosts

What's notable is the distinction between a physical animal and a roaming "spirit" that's detachable from the body. Given the association in some cultures between animals and malevolent free-ranging "spirits," it may be instructive to consider how the Tempter in Gen 3 would register to the original audience. What cultural connotations would that evoke? 

Predictive dreams

I don't automatically believe reports like this, but by the same token, I don't automatically disbelieve reports like this. I'd add that the more often that's reported by credible people, the more likely that premonitory dreams actually happen. 


DwimblePuritan Board Freshman

Speaking of predictive dreams, here's a weird one for you. A little over 20 years ago I had a vivid dream one Saturday morning where I was standing on a dock in Haiti, beside a ship I came on, wearing a goofy safari hat, and listening to a Haitian tell me a story about how his little daughter had been taken from him by practitioners of Voodoo. I woke up, thought it was weird and half wondered if that dream could have been given me by God. Then I immediately dismissed that idea and thought it was silly because why in Heaven's name would I go on a ship? No one goes anywhere on a ship anymore. If I was going to go to Haiti I'd go on a plane, and I certainly wouldn't be wearing a stupid safari hat. Besides, I didn't really believe in that sort of thing anyway. So I dismissed the dream and quickly forgot about it.

A year or two later an opportunity was presented to me to go with a mission team to Haiti to help build an orphanage and school in a little village on top of a mountain near Port au Prince. I accepted, raised the money, and off I went...on a ministry ship. So, what happened? On the dock in Haiti immediately after arriving I met a man and had a long conversation with him about Christ, and eventually he started telling me a story about how his little daughter had been taken from him by practitioners of Voodoo. The second he told me that, memories of the dream came flooding back, and with a stunned look on my face and my friend immediately asking me what was wrong with me, I looked over my shoulder at the ship I had come on, looked again at the man who had just told me the story, and then took off my, yes, totally goofy safari hat that I can't believe I was wearing.

There are a ton of things from that trip that I won't go into, except to say that it truly transformed my life and gave me a heart for missions and the poor from that day forward. But on the topic of dreams...you tell me...was the dream a predictive dream providentially given by God or was it the weirdest coincidence in human history? Nothing like that had ever happened before or since, but it is something I've always treasured but rarely told anyone about.

Oh, and one little humorous aside about the goofy hat. When we got up to the village and everyone was very nervous (both us and the villagers), someone on our team yelled at me to throw him my goofy hat. Lo and behold it sailed through the sky like a Frisbee. So, before you know it our team and virtually the entire village were in a giant circle playing a game throwing my stupid hat across the circle to each other and trying to catch it on our heads. That hat ended up being be best ice-breaker I've ever seen. We all had so much fun it was like we had been friends forever by the time we stopped playing and got down to the business of unloading gear and getting our work started.