Friday, August 28, 2015

What Sort Of Judges Would Trump Appoint?

See here. Even if his comments cited by Ponnuru aren't representative of what Trump would do in office, why trust him? Why take the risk when such better presidential candidates are available?

Trump supporters often cite illegal immigration as a major, primary, or sole reason to vote for Trump. But think of all the steps needed to get to the point where Trump's position on illegal immigration would be implemented. You have to:

1.) Think he'll get elected, despite his big electability problems.

2.) Think Trump will do what he says he'll do, despite his character problems and long record of inconsistencies.

3.) Think the Republican Congress, who Trump supporters keep denouncing, will pass his immigration plan.

4.) Think the judiciary, including judges appointed by Trump in the future, will refrain from significantly altering his immigration plan once it's enacted.

Let's see if people like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity give prominent attention to the issue Ponnuru has raised, putting it at the top of their radio programs and denouncing Trump in strong terms, as they would if Ponnuru's post were about somebody like Jeb Bush or John Kasich instead. And let's see if Evangelicals and other people supporting Trump do enough research, and have enough discernment, to find information like what Ponnuru writes about and react appropriately to it. Or will they just keep following the lead of Limbaugh, Hannity, et al. so uncritically?

William Lane Craig On Extraordinary Claims, Dwindling Probabilities

Here's the audio from one of William Lane Craig's Defenders classes several years ago (series 1, section 13, part 17), in which he discusses the idea that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and the notion of dwindling probabilities. Both issues are often brought up by skeptics. I've even seen an Eastern Orthodox appeal to the concept of dwindling probabilities to suggest that we can't rely on a historical argument for the canon of scripture. Craig's discussion of dwindling probabilities includes some comments about an exchange he had on the subject with Alvin Plantinga. Craig also brings up some helpful illustrations on both topics, extraordinary claims and dwindling probabilities. A lot of good points are made. I recommend listening to the whole thing. It's only a little more than half an hour long.

How would we ever manage without the Magisterium?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

You can have it all!

There are conventional explanations for Trump's current popularity among some Republican voters. These include his image as somebody who's not afraid to be politically incorrect, not beholden to lobbyists and special interests. As well as his rhetoric on immigration. 

However, there may be a neglected reason: envy. I daresay there are probably lots of voters who secretly (or openly) envy his lifestyle. It wouldn't surprise me if many Trumpkins are regular viewers of The Apprentice

I think it's probably safe to say that most middle-class or working-class wage-earners belong to that income bracket by necessity rather than choice. For them, that's a hard ceiling. That's as high as they can go. They lack the advantages to become rich, much less superrich. 

Since that's the situation they are stuck in, because there's no realistic alternative, some of them may make a virtue of their situation. But given half a chance, many of them would jump at the opportunity to have his lifestyle.

There are people who are conventionally moral for the simple reason that certain kinds of vice are out of their league. They will never be in the rarefied position to indulge those particular vices.  But if they could have it all, they'd go for it. 

And I'm not just talking about the secular culture. Why do some middle-class and working-class wage-earners dig into their pockets to float the lifestyle of Benny Hinn, Steven Furtick, or Joel and Victoria Osteen? My guess is voyeurism. If you can't be rich, you can still indulge a vicarious fantasy. That's what makes tabloid journalism sell. For a certain audience, there's an insatiable appetite for that sort of thing. 

Isn't that the appeal to The Apprentice? If you win, you enjoy an instant, quantum socioeconomic promotion? And isn't that why people watch it? The vicarious appeal?

Out of curiosity, I've seen a few minutes of a few episodes. As I understand the show, there are two competing teams. However, there can only be one winner, one apprentice. It's not the team that wins. By process of elimination, it comes down to one victor. That means contestants aren't simply competing with the rival team, but competing with their fellow teammates. That's a recipe for backstabbing and betrayal. The more so when you're dealing with a group of ruthless and avaricious contestants. 

From the little I've seen, episodes end with obsequious contestants appearing before Trump. He asks them to handicap the performance, not only of the opposing team, but their fellow teammates. The audience then gets to watch the contestants claw each other to pieces. 

That says a lot about Trump's character. He enjoys wielding that kind of power over others. He enjoys watching ambitious contestants tear each other apart. He enjoys contestants groveling in his presence. 

And that despite the fact that they don't really respect him. They fawn over him because he's their ticket to shot at quick riches. What does it tell you about him that he gets satisfaction out of bootlicking supplicants? Surely he must be aware of the fact that their awestruck admiration is feigned. Like royal courtiers, they flatter him because he has something they want. 

But more to the point, what does that tell you about regular viewers? Doesn't that mean they are projecting themselves into his position? 

On a related note is Ann Coulter, who's currently stumping for the Donald. She'd always coveted the diva role. She reminds me of Arianna Huffington.  Back when Arianna was married to a rich Republican, she palmed herself off as a conservative commentator, but like Coulter, she's a glamourpuss, not an ideologue. 

In many cases, Trump's appeal is to voters who are as venal as he is. 

Deistic evolution

Contemporary Christian apologetics devotes massive attention to atheism, but ignores deism. In one respect, that makes sense. Historic deism is long gone. However, there's a version of deism that's fairly dominant in some intellectual circles, and that's deistic evolution. Much of what flies under the banner of theistic evolution is really deistic evolution. And many religious critics of intelligent design theory espouse deistic evolution. Even if they allow for divine intervention in human history, the disallow divine intervention in natural history. Moreover, I suspect some of them are just maintaining pious appearances. 

There are basically two versions of deistic evolution: 

i) Deterministic deistic evolution

This is planned evolution. A frontloaded process where the outcome is inevitable. It isn't necessarily that every detail is predetermined. It's more like general providence. But progress is built into the process. A means-ends relation.

ii) Indeterministic deistic evolution

This is unguided or undirected evolution. Like a stochastic, adaptive program that takes on a life of its own once the program is switched on. 

In both versions you have a noninterventionist God who merely initiates the process. In the case of (i), God takes a personal interest in the ultimate outcome, although there may be multiple paths for arriving at that outcome.  It's broadly teleological, but redundant. 

In the case of (ii), God is indifferent to the outcome. It rejects human exceptionalism. Both versions are consistent with open theism, although (ii) leans more strongly in that direction. 

iii) Deistic evolution raises questions about divine benevolence and rationality. Why would God create sentient beings if he had no concern for their welfare or destiny? Do individuals count? 

In the case of (ii), God did not intend to create humans. He did not foresee their development. Yet once the process happens to produce in sentient beings, would he not take a subsequent interest in the result?

But perhaps, on this view, it's like a science experiment conducted by an alien. Our species is too insignificant to merit his concern. He's interested in the overall process more than any particular result. Humans are like disposable characters in a vast video game. It's the game, and not the fate of any specific character, that's the object of divine curiosity.

In the case of (i), God cares more about the end-result than how the process arrives at that solution. Rupert Sheldrake employs the metaphor of an attractor:

Dynamics is a branch of mathematical theory dealing with change, and a central concept in dynamics is that of the attractor. Instead of modelling what happens to a system by considering only the way it is pushed from behind, attractors in mathematical models provide an explanation in terms of a kind of pull from the future. 
The principal metaphor is that of a basin of attraction, like a large basin into which small balls are thrown. It would be very complicated to work out the trajectory of each individual ball starting from its initial velocity and angle at which it hit the basin; but a simpler way of modelling the system is to treat the bottom of the basin as an attractor: balls thrown in from any angle and at any speed will end up at the bottom of the basin.

Simon Conway Morris toys with the same metaphor to model convergent evolution. Cf. The Runes of Evolution: How the Universe became Self-Aware

This emphasis puts a premium on the desired outcome at the expense of individuals. After however many failed trials, the goal is eventually reached. 

In natural theology, you first prove the existence of a Creator God. You then show that such a God would be likely to take a personal interest in the wellbeing of the sentient creatures he made. We'd expect him to be actively involved in human history. Reveal himself to humans. Act on their behalf.

An irony of deistic evolution is that it posits the existence of a powerful, rational Creator God. And as the either intended or unintended consequence of the process he put into motion, religious creatures arose. Creatures who believe in a Creator God. Creatures with detailed religious narratives about God's character and agency in human affairs. They believe in a Deity, and there is, in fact, a Deity. Yet what they believe about God bears little resemblance to what he is truly like. Their religious narratives don't correspond to world history. Not just Gen 1-2, but the entire story–from Genesis to Revelation–is a systematic mismatch for God's nature and behavior in deistic evolution. And the same holds true for other religious narratives. 

Conversely, evidence for the religious narrative (e.g. argument from prophecy, argument from miracles, answered proper) will serve to undermine the deistic evolutionary narrative. 

How firm a foundation

A final comment on the Arminian blogger who lost his faith. Obviously, every theological tradition has its share of apostates. Calvinism is no exception. 

However, here's a man who was a Christian from age 18-40. He has a degree in philosophy of religion, and teaches on the subject.

Yet it only dawned in him when he developed a medical condition that Christian don't always get what they pray for? Surely it doesn't take much personal experience or observation of other Christians to find that out. 

Now to some extent his reaction is what Gary Habermas calls emotional doubt rather than factual doubt, although they are intertwined to some degree. I do wonder, though, if his Arminianism didn't create a problem in this sense: so many Arminians define themselves in opposition to Calvinism. That's their frame of reference. They are obsessed with Calvinism.

That can lead to their neglecting to study basic things like the evidence for Christianity. There are many deep lines of evidence for Christianity. But if you devote so much of your time to attacking Calvinism, you may be coasting. 

He didn't have much to fall back on when his personal crisis hit. Moral of the story: don't neglect to lay a firm foundation. 

First day of school

As I helped my daughter get on the bus for the first day of school today, it occurred to me that her mom had died at the beginning of this summer vacation, on the last day of school (June 5) from the last school year.

In my wife’s case, she certainly did not know the day and the hour. What a blessing that she knew her Lord when he came for her.

What a summer of transitions it has been.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Stranded time-travelers

Time-travel is one of the reasons the SF genre exists. In addition, there are philosophical and scientific debates about whether time travel is physically or metaphysical possible. 

But is there evidence beyond the theoretical debates? I'd say there's some strong, but strangely neglected, empirical evidence for time travel. 

Every so often I see people who look like they just popped out of the 1950s. They are so out of place. 

They always come in pairs. Usually two young white guys. Always two guys. They are dressed in Eisenhower-era attire. Black business suits with white shirts and ties. Even on a hot summer day. They have name tags with quaint designations like Elder Hyrum or Elder Nephi. 

Why they're called "Elder" is perplexing inasmuch as these guys appear to be about 18 years old, give or take. 

I see them knocking on the doors of complete strangers. Clearly they are lost. Trapped in the wrong century. Desperate to get back to the 1950s, where they belong. 

The future shock must be extremely disorienting. When they stepped into the time machine, it was the era of Pat Boone, Buddy Holly, Frankie Avalon, gas-guzzlers with tail fins, ducktail haircuts, TVs with rabbit ears, and hula hoops. The next moment it's 2015. 

I assume they're the result of experiments conducted at Area 51. Ike realized we lacked the technological wherewithal to repel an alien invasion, so the only defense was to escape into the past or future. 

I wish I could give these stranded time-travelers some technical advice on how to return to their own century, but having seen the future, if they took that advance knowledge back with them, it would change the past, which would change the future. Unless the changes they made already happened. Or maybe they'd erase themselves from the space-time continuum. It's all so confusing. What if I unwittingly unleash the clock roaches? Better not to interfere. Unless my nonintervention is what unleashes the swarming clock roaches. But I digress. 

Rewarding virtue

In a recent interview (Inquisitive Minds postcast, part 2), atheist Hector Avalos says:  

It's no virtue in doing good because you're tying to please an invisible being. There's no reward that's going to come to you. That's not really moral action. 

That sounds oh-so idealistic. But let's be honest. What reason does an atheist have to be sacrificial? From a secular standpoint, isn't that irrational? Where's the evidence that Avalos practices moral heroism? 

It also depends on what you mean by "reward." There's the quid pro quo sense of reward, where you do something in exchange for what you receive in return. You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.

But that's not what's meant by eschatological rewards. To begin with, to be a creature is to be dependent. To have physical and emotional needs. Humans aren't robots. There's nothing intrinsically unspiritual about enlightened self-interest when it comes to having your essential needs met. That's actually a pious, humble acknowledgement that you're not God. 

"Eternal life" is eternal happiness. Although duty takes precedence over happiness, you can't be depressed all the time and survive emotionally. Without hope, existence becomes unbearable. Hell is everlasting despair.  

In addition, the question of whether virtue is "rewarded" and vice is punished goes to the issue of whether there's any ultimate justice. If doing good is an infallible recipe for getting screwed, it is foolish to keep doing good. 

It sounds nice to say we should simply do good for its own sake, come what may, but if the universe was rigged so that do-gooders always lose and always suffer while evil-doers always win and always prosper; if–without fail–evil is rewarded and virtue is punished, it would be irrational to do the right thing. We need something to look forward to. We need to get something out of life. If not this life, then the afterlife. Interminable misery is nothing to live for. That's damnation. 

Why the Republican Party is Dead to Me

Be nice to "bad Jesus"

In The Bad Jesus, Hector Avalos has backed himself into a dilemma:

He calls himself a Jesus agnostic. He claims we don't know if there was such a person as described in the Gospels. But if that's the case, then he's in no position to say Jesus was a morally flawed teacher. 

If, on the other hand, the Gospels are reliable sources to evaluate the words and deeds of Jesus, then they do more than inform us about what he said and did. They inform us about who he was and is. And the Jesus of the Gospels is more than human. 

If the Gospels give us access to the genuine teaching of Jesus, then give us access to the genuine Jesus. A Jesus who is God Incarnate. The eschatological judge. The coming of Yahweh in the flesh. 

But in that event, how is Avalos in any position to attack the ethics of God? To say nothing more, isn't that foolhardy? If Jesus is bad, and Jesus is God, then Avalos should make every effort to avoid getting on the wrong side of Jesus. Bad Gods make bad enemies. 

The man who would be king

The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people's fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That's why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most specular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It's an innocent form of exaggeration–and a very effective form of promotion. Donald Trump, The Art of the Deal (Random House 1987), 58.

How Early Christians Changed the Sex-Abuse Culture

They redefined the terms for it. From Larry Hurtado this morning:

The sexual abuse of children has now become a major and publicly recognized concern (and high time too!).  A recent study by John W. Martens shows that for early Christians, too, it was a major concern, and that this is reflected in what appears to be a distinctive early Christian vocabulary to refer to the practice:  John W. Martens, “‘Do Not Sexually Abuse Children’: The Language of Early Christian Sexual Ethics,” in Children in Late Ancient Christianity, eds. Cornelia B. Horn and Robert R. Phenix (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009), 227-54.

As Martens notes, there was a whole Greek vocabulary for the practice of having sex with children:  “pederastia” (“child-love”), “pederastes” (“child-lover”), etc.  Indeed, Roman-era poets and others celebrate the practice, and it seems to have been tolerated widely.  It was particularly slave-children who likely suffered the most.  But (and this is Martens’ contribution) in early Christian texts we see what appears to be a rejection of these benign and condoning terms in favour of terms to express forthrightly that the practice is evil and destructive [emphasis added].

In Christian texts from the second century onward, the person who engages in sex with children is called a “paidophthoros” (“child-corrupter/abuser”), and there is the prohibition, “do not corrupt/abuse children” (“me paidophthoreseis”).  Our earliest instances are in Epistle of Barnabas (10:6; 19:4) and Didache (2:2).  These terms seem to have been coined by early Christians to re-label and condemn the practice and those who engage in it:  Not “child-love,” but “child-corruption.”

Another important observation by Martens is that these texts show, not only that early Christians condemned the practice, but also that they recognized the need to avoid it among Christians.  The exhortations in these passages are in texts written primarily for Christians to read, and, along with the other exhortations, were intended to shape Christian behaviour collectively.

It’s fascinating to see how beliefs and stances on behaviour can generate terminology like this.  And it’s one indication of an early stage in the revolution in “sexual logic” generated by early Christianity that is described by Kyle Harper, From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013).

Is John Boehner Running For President?

Every time Trump supporters refer to Boehner, McConnell, Bush, the establishment, etc., we should keep in mind that they're doing nothing to explain why we should prefer Trump over Rubio, Walker, Cruz, Fiorina, Carson, and other candidates who can't rationally be placed in the same category as Boehner, et al. Punishing somebody like Walker or Cruz by supporting Trump instead, because you're upset with people like Boehner, makes no sense. If you're upset with Boehner, then do something about it in Ohio or in the House, not in a presidential campaign. When you get upset with your representative in the state legislature, do you normally take it out on gubernatorial candidates who have no significant connection with your representative in the legislature?

Besides, Boehner is far more reliably conservative than Trump. That's not because Boehner is so good. It's because Trump is so bad.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

And while we are at it, let's throw the Republican anchor cry babies over Trump's Wall...

 Image result for republican boehner crying


The Damage Already Done By Trump

Here's an ABC story about how some states have been taking steps to prevent people like Donald Trump from eventually running as a third-party candidate if they want to first appear on the ballot as a Republican. I think it's good for the states to do that sort of thing. But one of the dangers of a campaign like Trump's is that it can so easily be replaced by another movement of a similar nature. The longer Trump is in the race, the more committed some of his supporters are likely to become to notions like the alleged corruption of the Republican leadership and the supposed unacceptability of all of Trump's rivals. Even if Trump were to leave the race without running as a third-party candidate, his campaign has already created an environment that makes it much easier for somebody like Trump, even if not Trump himself, to get significant support as an anti-Republican third-party candidate. Even if that candidate were to get as little as, say, half a percentage point or one percent, that could easily be enough to give the election to the Democrats. Trump's campaign and his irrational supporters have already done a lot of damage, even if Trump were to drop out tomorrow and never run as a third-party candidate. Maybe there won't be a significant anti-Republican third-party candidate in 2016. But the risk should never have been taken by starting or supporting a campaign like Trump's.

The Oedipus effect

I'm going to wade into shark-infested waters of racial politics.

i) The liberal establishment has a vested interest in not solving social dysfunctions. That's a source of power. That's a voting block. 

ii) Some Christians, usually white Christians (in my experience) advocate a colorblind policy. I agree with that in one respect. I think the justice system ought to be colorblind: equal justice under the law.

There are, however, people who disagree with that. They believe in distributive justice–a la John Rawls. They think inequality is inherently unjust. Not merely inequality of opportunity, but inequality of outcome. If there's social equality, that must be due to systemic racism. 

iii) A common contention is that due to past discrimination, it is necessary to have equalizing policies which offset past inequalities. "Level the playing-field." 

One problem I have with that framework is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If a people-group is routinely typecast as the victim, there's a temptation to play the part. It perpetuates a cycle of failure when people perform according to script. The script conditions them to views themselves in self-defeating terms. That, in turn, affects how they behave. They make it come true. 

The narrative about slavery and Jim Crow functions like an oracle of doom that predisposes people to be losers, in the self-fulfilling belief the system is stacked against them. The result is fatalistic. We need to break the vicious cycle of that self-fulfilling malediction. 

iv) In my somewhat limited experience, black evangelicals diagnose the problem is the same way as secular academics and pundits. That includes the white privilege trope.

But if you insist on casting the issue in terms of privilege, it would be more accurate, and less aggravating, to frame it in terms of social class rather than ethnicity. There are people who come from privileged backgrounds. But that's an essentially socioeconomic category, not a racial or ethnic category. 

Now, the socioeconomic category can often overlap with the racial or ethnic category, but that's incidental to the "privileged" component, for anyone of any race or ethnicity can either have a privileged or underprivileged background.

To routinely frame "privilege" in racial or ethnic terms is both inaccurate and counterproductive. Because it's inaccurate, it provokes justified resentment. 

If fact, you can turn that around. What about black privilege? 

v) In my reading, the black commentariat is paranoid about the police. I realize that's an incendiary way of putting it, but I say it because I think it's true.

When a black "suspect" is shot, they jump to the conclusion that the police must be guilty of wrongdoing. That's not my own position.

I don't think there's any general presumption one way or the other. I don't assume, in advance of the facts, that when that happens, either side was innocent or guilty. I don't prejudge which is more likely. 

Sometimes the "suspect" had it coming. Sometimes the "suspect" was innocent. Sometimes the police overreacted. Sometimes the police were thugs.

On the one hand there's a lot of bona fide criminality in the black community. On the other hand, police abuse is underreported. And I think a fair percentage of police are bandits with badges. 

Let's be clear on what I mean: I don't think it's paranoid for black individuals to be nervous around the police. I don't think it's paranoid for them to be nervous if they sense they are being tailed by police. That's both understandable and justifiable. But I don't think the police are out to get blacks. 

But by the same token, they don't know what feels like to be a white driver when the lights are flashing in his rearview mirror. When you deal with the police, it's a gamble:

vi) Apropos (v), the black commentariat says white folks like me just don't know what it's like to be black. That's a truism. But it cuts both ways. They don't know what it's like to be white. 

Whites are harassed by the police, too. Whites are shot by the police, too. 

That doesn't register with the black commentariat. They just assume if it happened to a white guy, that's an isolated incident, or he had it coming. They don't consider the possibility that we have a larger pattern of oppressive policing. 

vii) Apropos (vi), it's my impression that police are apt to profile young men, especially young men who dress and act like gang-bangers. That's the case whether you're black, white, Asian, or Latino. That's the demographic group that's most likely to be hassled by the police. 

viii) It wouldn't surprise me if there's a growing generation gap concerning popular perception of law enforcement. The older generation was raised to respect the police. Regard the police as trusted public servants. It's my impression that the younger generation is becoming more critical of law enforcement. The traditional deference is on the wane. 

v) I think one reason the black commentariat so often frames the issue in terms of white privilege, and discounts examples of police brutality against white "suspects," is that so long as whites are in the majority, that's ipso facto "privileged". 

However, that oversimplifies the nature of majorities. For instance, although whites are still in the majority, that doesn't mean conservative voters are in the majority. Just look at the last two presidential cycles. The minority experience isn't exclusively ethnic or racial. It can break along ideological lines. Conservative voters don't represent the dominant culture. Conversely, a coalition of special interests groups can add up to a majority voting block. 

"Bad Jesus"

1. Recently, apostate atheist Hector Avalos published The Bad Jesus. Last night I listened to his 2-part interview on the Inquisitive Minds podcast.

Even without reading his book, you get can a feel for the argument by perusing the table of contents:

1. Introduction
   Basic Elements of the Argument

2. The Unloving Jesus: What’s New Is Old
   Loving the Enemy in the Ancient Near East
   Love Can Entail Violence
   The Golden Rule: Love as Tactical
   The Parochialism of New Testament Ethics

3. The Hateful Jesus: Luke 14.26
   Jesus Commands Hate
   Expressing Preference
   Hate as a Motive for Divorce
   The Statistics of Hate and Love
   The Semantic Logic of Love and Hate

4. The Violent Jesus
   Matthew 10.34-37: Jesus’ Violent Purpose
   Matthew 5.38-42: Don’t Victimize Me, Please
   Matthew. 26.48-56: Non-Interference with Planned Violence
   John 2.15: Whipping up Pacifism
   Acts 9: Jesus Assaults Saul

5. The Suicidal Jesus: The Violent Atonement
   Jesus as a Willing Sacrificial Victim
   Mark 10.45: Self-Sacrifice as a Ransom
   Sacrifice as Service: Transformation or Denial?
   2 Corinthians 5.18: Anselm Unrefuted
   René Girard: Sacrificing Apologetics

6. The Imperialist Jesus: We’re All God’s Slaves
   Rethinking ‘Anti-Imperialism’
   Selective Anti-Imperialism
   The Benign Rhetoric of Imperialism
   Christ as Emperor
   The Kingdom of God as an Empire

7. The Anti-Jewish Jesus: Socio-Rhetorical Criticism as Apologetics
   Abuse Me, Please: Luke T. Johnson’s Apologetics
   When is Anti-Judaism not Anti-Judaism?
   When Did Christian Anti-Judaism Begin?

8. The Uneconomic Jesus as Enemy of the Poor
   Jesus as Radical Egalitarian
   The Fragrance of Poverty
   Sermon on the Mount of Debts and Merits

9. The Misogynistic Jesus: Christian Feminism as Male Ancestor Worship
   Mark 7//Matthew 15: The Misogynistic Jesus
   Mark 10//Matthew 19: Divorcing Equality
   The Womanless Twelve Apostles
   The Last Supper: Guess Who’s Not Coming to Dinner
   The Egalitarian Golden Age under Jesus

10. The Anti-Disabled Jesus: Less than Fully Human 
   Disability Studies
   John 5 and 9: Redeeming Jesus
   The Ethics of Punctuation
   Paralyzed by Sin

11. The Magically Anti-Medical Jesus
   Miracles, Not Magic?
   The Naturalistic Jesus
   Psychosomatic Ethics

12. The Eco-Hostile Jesus
   Mark 5: Animal Rights and Deviled Ham
   Luke 22 and Matthew 8: Sacrificing Animal Rights
   Matthew 21: Fig-uratively Speaking
   Mark 13: Eschatological Eco-Destruction

13. The Anti-Biblical Jesus: Missed Interpretations
   Mel and Jesus: The Hypocrisy of New Testament Ethics
   Mark 2:23-28: Jesus as Biblically Illiterate
   Matthew 19: Jesus Adds his Own Twist on Divorce
   Isaiah 6:9-10: Integrating Extrabiblical Materials

14. Conclusion 
   The Ethics of New Testament Ethics

i) The basic strategy is clear. He cites examples which, based on his own interpretation, show that Jesus held views that are politically incorrect. That makes Jesus "bad." 

Of course, the conclusion only follows if you think the views of the Western secular elite c. 2015 supply the standard of comparison. 

ii) Hence, Jesus is "eco-hostile" because he was responsible for pigs drowning and a fig tree withering. Once again, that only makes Jesus "bad" if you share the views of Peter Singer and radical environmentalists.

iii) The two examples he cites here create a quandary for his position. Both examples involve the supernatural, which Avalos denies. So he doesn't think Jesus really transferred evils spirits from the demoniac to a herd of pigs. Likewise, he doesn't think Jesus really caused a fig tree to miraculously wither. From his standpoint, that's fictional or mythological. 

As for Jesus incinerating the earth when he returns, Sodom and Gomorrah were population centers. It wasn't firebombing nature, but targeting sinners. Smart bombs.

And even if (ex hypothesi), Jesus were to incinerate the earth, that would be resetting the clock. Like terraforming.  

Finally, Avalos doesn't actually believe Jesus will do that.  

iv) He interprets the healings naturalistically, as psychosomatic cures. But at best, that explanation is only plausible for certain kinds of medical conditions.

v) Sometimes his allegations depend on absurd interpretations. He has a tin-ear for hyperbole in Lk 14:26. 

vi) Sometimes his allegations are inconsistent with secular ethics. For instance, even if you say the atonement of Christ was suicidal, secular ethics doesn't consider suicide to be inherently wrong, much less altruistic suicide. Hume considered the taboo against suicide to be superstitious. 

2. In his interview, Avalos made the following claims: 

i) When historians study figures like Herod, Alexander the Great, and Augustus Caesar, they consider the good and the bad. But when they study Jesus, he can do no wrong. They defend his ethical superiority. That's because they filter him through the lens of Chalcedon and Nicea. They treat him as divine rather than human. They continue to employ a "religionist" agenda. That's despite their claim to study him as a historical figure. 

ii) Likewise, that's in spite of the fact that many things Jesus said and did are antithetical to many of the ethical norms we hold to today as good.

iii) If you interpret the Sermon on the Mount in the context of the Olivet Discourse, Mt 5 is a case of deferred violence rather than nonviolence.

iv) Jesus is eco-hostile. He's guilty of "anthropocentric" ethics because he cares more about human beings than animals. 

Likewise, at the day of judgment, he will destroy the biosphere. The day of judgement is like the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah on a global scale. 

v) Jesus was anti-Jewish. That's not at odds with his Jewish identity. Jews can speak against other Jews. Consider the intra-Jewish polemics in Isaiah, or Jewish sects like Qumran. Some Jewish sects accuse other Jews of not being the true Israel. So Jesus could be guilty of "ethnic slurs," like Jn 8:44. 

vi) Some scholars defend Jesus by denying that he said some of the things attributed to him in the Gospels. But that's circular. That's only supposing Jesus couldn't say that. But the scholars have no independent corroboration for what he could or couldn't say. 

vii) Apropos (vi), Avalos is not a Jesus mythicist or a Jesus historicist, but Jesus agnostic. We don't have enough data to know whether there was such a person as is described in the Gospels. 

Avalos calls himself an empiricist. We don't have anything from Jesus' time. Nothing contemporary. Our sources date from the 2C and beyond. Since we don't have the "original Jesus," we can't tell how representative our sources are. We lack that standard of comparison.

viii) Modern morality is based on empathy. That's an evolutionary survival mechanism. It makes you care about others. It's not based on rewards.

ix) Some critics of Christianity like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris speak outside their field of expertise. They aren't Bible scholars, and that hurts their case.

3. Let's run back through his interview and assess his claims:

i) What if Jesus really is different? What if Jesus really is divine? 

Avalos erects a false dichotomy between Jesus as a divine figure and the study of Jesus as a historical figure. But if Jesus is God Incarnate, then that's a historical event. A real life. Avalos begs the question.

ii) I agree with him that, considered light of eschatological justice, Jesus was not a pacifist. The Sermon on the Mount is indeed a case of deferred violence.

But that's only morally problematic if you think violence is intrinsically wrong. How can Avalos hope to justify that claim?

iii) Even on evolutionary ethics, man is the apex predator. Likewise, animals typically care about members of their own species rather than other species. So Avalos can't justify animal rights on a secular basis. 

And to say anthropocentric ethics is wrong begs the question against Christian ethics.

Moreover, Avalos is disingenuous. He is spouting radical chic nonsense that he himself doesn't take seriously. He wouldn't hesitate to kill an animal to feed or protect himself–if it came to that.

iv) Since Avalos isn't Jewish, why is he so judgmental concerning intramural disputes about who is the true Israel? That's none of his business. 

Consider intramural wars in atheism concerning who best represents atheism?

He disregards the fact that in Jn 8:44, Jesus is turning the allegation of the critics back on themselves.

v) I agree with him that scholars have no objective basis for distinguishing authentic words and deeds of Jesus from inauthentic words and deeds of Jesus in the canonical Gospels.

vi) To claim that our sources for Jesus date from the 2C at the earliest is bizarre. 

It's unclear what he means by "contemporary" or "from Jesus' time." Does he mean anything written after the death of Jesus is unoriginal? That only something written about him during his lifetime could be original?

If so, that's extremely arbitrary. For instance, a younger contemporary can write about an older contemporary after he died. A son or daughter can write about his late father or mother. He needn't write about them when they were still alive for his account to original. 

Oral history and living memory can be reliable decades after the event. Likewise, a historian can make use of firsthand accounts, even if the historian was not, himself, a firsthand observer. In addition, the sources can be much earlier than the history or biography that incorporates the sources.

Finally, do our sources of information for historical figures like Alexander the Great date from the time of Alexander? 

vii) Hector's skepticism generates a dilemma for his critique. He can only say the historical Jesus was bad if he knows what the historical Jesus said and did. If, however, he considers the canonical Gospels to be historically untrustworthy, then he's in no position to evaluate the ethics of the historical Jesus.

At best, he's evaluating the ethics of a fictional character. But what does that accomplish?

If your aim is to attack Christianity, the way to do that is not to attack the ethics of Jesus, but to attack the historicity of Jesus, and especially the divinity of Jesus. 

If Jesus was either a fictionally character or a merely human historical figure, then his moral teaching has no authority. Proving his teaching to be morally flawed would be superfluous. For the only reason Christians venerate his teaching is because they venerate his person as God Incarnate. 

Conversely, would Avalos attack the morality of Jesus if he thought Jesus really was God Incarnate? So the whole elaborate exercise is a misguided. 

viii) To make evolutionary ethics the standard of comparison is futile. To begin with, even if you accept naturalistic evolutionary psychology, that would only account for the origin of our moral sentiments. It would explain why we have instinctive feelings about right and wrong. But that wouldn't mean our moral instincts correspond to moral facts. To the contrary, our moral instincts would the byproduct of mindless, amoral evolutionary conditioning. Our sense of right and wrong would be arbitrary.

Even if, for the sake of argument, we grant his evolutionary narrative, natural selection doesn't foster universal empathy. Throughout human history, there's a double standard: empathy is reserved for members of your in-group. By contrast, there are no inhibitions on what you do to members of the out-group. 

There's a tension between altruism and self-interest. In case of conflict, do you save yourself at the expense of others, or save others at your own expense? Does the survival mechanism apply to the individual or the population? 

Even if evolution programmed humans to be altruistic, once we become aware of our programming, we can override our programming. It's just a form of brainwashing. It only works so long as you don't know that you were brainwashed. 

Unless Avalos has an objective standard to evaluate the ethics of Jesus, his critique is systematically tendentious. And he can't very well mount an internal critique of Jesus' ethics. He can't attack the ethics of Christ on Christian grounds, for the ethics of Christ are normative for Christian ethics. 

Faith Alone In First Clement

I recently came across the following rendering of chapter 32 of First Clement. This is Maxwell Staniforth's translation, edited by Andrew Louth. Notice that Staniforth expresses Clement of Rome's sentiments by adding the qualifier "alone" to faith:

"Similarly we also, who by His will have been called in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves or our own wisdom or understanding or godliness, nor by such deeds as we have done in holiness of heart, but by that faith through which alone Almighty God has justified all men since the beginning of time." (Early Christian Writings [New York, New York: Penguin Books, 1987], 36)

For my argument that Clement was affirming faith alone in a Protestant sense, see the thread here, including the comments section.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Donald Trump's eminent domain

Personal identity and going bald

While his response drew a healthy applause from the audience, I felt a little disappointed. I know those who just want us to get over race issues will use Carson’s remarks as ammunition  in the race relations discussion. I anticipate people responding like, “Look, one of your own just said we should move past it, so what’s the big deal?” I do not doubt Dr. Carson’s sincerity for a second, but his response was incomplete at best. Here is why: 
Skin Colors and Hair Textures 
The color of our skin and texture of our hair does matter, because every shade of skin and every hair texture displays the creative brilliance of almighty God. Our ethnic distinctions exist for the glory of God. We see in John’s glorious visions people from every nation, tribe, and language worshiping around the throne of God. These distinctions were God’s idea, and for the glory of his great name. 
Trying to simply get past race denies the image of God reflected within ethnic diversity.

Honestly, this is both silly and confused:

i) How important is my hair to my identity? If I'm a middle-aged man who's going bald, should that trigger an identity crisis? 

It's important to know that God numbers the hair on our heads. But surely hair is pretty incidental to my core identity. 

ii) This isn't really about race but history and narrative. About whether people are defined, not by race, but by American history and a racial narrative. Are people today defined by the actions of people who lived 150 years ago (give or take)? Are you a prisoner of the past? Are you trapped in collective memories? 

Has the Comforter come?

This is a sequel to my previous post:

This blog recently received a reply which I would like to address specifically. It comes from a blogger called Triablogue. 

Actually, it comes from a blog called Triablogue. At the bottom it is states that it was posted by Steve. 

The blogger (aremonstrant) took umbrage at my post:

I would just like to say, I’m surprised it took this long for an unsympathetic Calvinist to turn up and gloat at this post. 

He's overreacting to something I didn't say or imply.

I was expecting it a lot earlier to be honest.

Actually, I learned about it from SEA::

A blogger from A Remonstrant’s Ramblings (whose abandonment from traditional Christian faith is regretful) presents a devastating critique of Calvinist Derek Rishmawy’s comments regarding why God would unconditionally elect some and not others in the former’s post: “To Tu Quoque or Not to Tu Quoque?“
Back to aremonstrant:

Regarding i) it’s a real shame such “compelling” evidence appears to be so uncompelling even to very sincere truth-seekers! But then the typical Calvinist reply to this is to suggest such people are not really sincere in their searching for God which is, of course, a classic ad hominem. 

He's overreacting to something I didn't say or imply. He stereotypes Calvinists. He imputes to me something I didn't suggest, then accuses me of ad hominem based entirely on his own imputation. 

This blogger may feel there is compelling evidence for such activity but I wonder what he/she would list? Patterns in toast, funny feelings, weird dreams, that one person survived a plane crash when the other 244 passengers died, things which could be mere coincidence, or appeals to what we cannot yet explain? 

i) There's a range of well-attested phenomenon, viz. miracles, answered prayer, premonitions, crisis apparitions, terminal lucidity, possession/exorcism. 

ii) In the nature of the case, this is underreported because most examples happen to people who aren't famous. Their experience never makes it into the history books. There are, however, examples throughout church history. Consider patristic testimony to contemporary miracles:

Consider firsthand testimony to the miracles of St. Bernard, cf. Benedicta Ward, "Miracles in the Middle Ages," Graham H. Twelftree (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Miracles. Cambridge Up 149 (2011).

Consider evidence of historic Protestant miracles:

Consider evidence of "Catholic" miracles:

Consider evidence of contemporary miracles in collections like:

Craig Keener, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, 2 vols. 

Rex Gardner, Healing Miracles: A Doctor Investigates

That's just scratching the surface.

I think the confession that such activity is “perplexing” is an admission that the case is maybe not as compelling as he/she first thought!

That confounds two distinct issues: the fact that the pattern is perplexing doesn't mean it's random in a naturalistic sense. Even if the general pattern seems to be somewhat haphazard, that doesn't mean specific examples are random. They often have very opportune relevance and significance to the parties concerned. 

I would have thought that any careful reader of my post would have noticed, my concern was not with the character of God as described in classic Christian theism. It was not about whether God is ‘nice’ or not in human terms. That had nothing whatsoever to do with my deconversion. My only expectations were for a relationship with God the kind of which the New Testament describes and Calvinists and Arminians see that pretty much the same I’d say. But of course I can see why this blogger has chosen to distort it this way. 

Let's compare what he said in his deconversion post to something he said in another post:

There was no sense of companionship, friendship, or experience of the one called “the comforter” in the New Testament. And if there is to be absolutely no relational value in being a Christian then I seriously question the value of believing it...The companionship which the New Testament appears to talk about was simply not there. So what is the point of all this noetic belief if that’s all my Christianity is (was)? What kind of God has no relational component to offer in this life? 
Christians love to use the father analogy for God. But what father would do that to his child especially if he has all the means to be alongside them at that moment? Certainly no decent father would distance himself at such a time. I cannot bring myself to believe in a God who is so clearly absent at the moment I needed him most.

Compare that to how he contrasted Arminian theism with Reformed theism:

I am sometimes asked why I am not a Calvinist. I thought about writing my own blog on this issue but two factors made it seem unnecessary to do so. One is because I have previously given some reasons why I reject Calvinism back in my previous blog called ‘Coherent Calvinism? A response to Mike Ovey’. Second is because, in recent months, I have both begun reading, and saw this lecture by, the Arminian philosopher and theologian Jerry Walls. Since Walls explains why he is not a Calvinist so well in this lecture, in my opinion, there is really no need for me to do a worse job explaining it. Therefore, if this is a question you like to think about I here recommend both his lecture and the notes I made whilst watching it underneath. The notes summarize his main points and I have also recorded all quotations made by him in his power point. 
1. God truly loves all persons.
2. Truly to love someone is to desire their well being and to promote their true flourishing as much as you can.
3. The well being and true flourishing of all persons is to be found in a right relationship with God, a saving relationship in which we love and obey him. 
When love is subordinated to will, then the fatherhood of God, which is emphasized in the Trinity… takes a back seat to the image of God as King or Ruler. 
Before God was King, he was Father, and his fatherhood is more ultimate than his kingship. Kingship speaks of his relationship to his creation. He reigns and will reign over it all. But fatherhood speaks of a relationship within the very nature of God that was there before he spoke anything into existence. In the bosom of eternity, before there was time or space or humanity, the second person of the triune Godhead called the first person of the Trinity not Lord, but Father.”

Observe how he frames Arminian theism in contrast to Reformed theism. Notice how that parallels the description of his disillusionment when his theological expectations were disappointed. 

This blogger must also think there cannot be evangelical Arminians since the God of evangelical Arminianism is far from “softhearted” as they usually adhere to the doctrine of punishment after death and they hold to the judgement described as being done by God in the Bible. But this oft-used parody of the God of Arminianism is just that.

That's another example of his overreacting to something I didn't say or imply. Yes, there are evangelical Arminians like John and Charles Wesley, Craig Keener, John Oswalt, Douglas Stuart, &c. 

This Calvinist almost wants to boast of the seemingly horrid kind of God he/she believes in! It’s almost as if the more horrible God appears to us the better he must be!

I'm just saying it's more realistic. If there is a God, then frankly he's fairly hard-nosed. Just look at the kind of world we live in. And it hasn't changed from OT times. 

My thanks to the person blogging for pointing out that the world is a harsh place. That is a very welcome reminder. Having been in daily chronic pain for almost two years I needed to be reminded of that just in case I had forgotten.

He's the one who indicated that his experience was at odds with his theology. 

This kind of response from a Calvinist reveals, I think, their very fatalistic approach to apologetics and relationships. This blogger must think that his/her total lack of empathy can have no adverse affect whatsoever. After all, should I change my mind it will have everything to do with God and nothing to do with him or her.
One last observation I would make is that the responses from Arminians has always been one of sympathy but responses from Calvinists have been mixed. A few have been sympathetic but there have been a few who have either completely ignored me or been really very cold in their response (both online and in person). I suppose those are the ones who are being more consistent in displaying what the Calvinist God is like? The love of the Christ they believe in is shining through. Well done to them!

i) Naturally Arminians are concerned with an Arminian blogger goes off the reservation. That's simply theological partisanship.

ii) For all he knows, I might be very sympathetic to much of what he said. I didn't go into that because I don't care to make public statements about my personal experience, including the experience of some close relatives. In their private life, many Christians suffer. 

But he chose to go public about his experience, and how that led him away from the Christian faith. So that does invite public scrutiny.