Monday, September 24, 2018

Swelling reverberations

On his blog, Vincent Torley has posted a massive attack on the Resurrection accounts. This summarizes an even larger, self-published book by autodidact Michael Alter. 

I don't know much about Torley. He is (or was) a contributor to Uncommon Descent. He's a convert to Catholicism (from what, I don't know).

The main problem with Torley's attack is that it's just a basket full of musty chestnuts. Most of these a very stale objections.

I'm not saying old arguments are necessarily bad arguments. Old arguments can be good arguments. 

But these objections have all been discussed in evangelical commentaries, monographs, and periodical articles. I myself have been over this ground, sometimes quoting other scholars and sometimes offering my own explanations. 

Torley's attack is rather one-sided. He seems to be better read in infidelity than in conservative scholarship. And his rosy assessment of liberal critics lacks discrimination.

What one person finds convincing another person may find unconvincing. There's such a deja vu quality to Torley's attack. Right now I don't feel like posting a repetitious rebuttal to repetitious objections. There are so many layers to peel away, and it's all been done before. How many times must we peel the same onion? 

However, I will reiterate one point: the evidence for Christianity isn't confined to ancient documentary evidence. Christianity is a living faith. Christians prayer to Jesus, or pray to the Father in Jesus' name. Countless Christian prayers have been answered. How is a dead Savior answering their prayers? If Jesus was just a man who ceased to exist when he expired, who is answering prayers addressed to and through Jesus?

Likewise, contemporary dreams and visions of Jesus are instrumental in the conversation of many Muslims. How is a dead Savior, a mortal who passed into oblivion 2000 years ago, appearing to them? Same thing with Christian visions of Jesus. For instance:

I'm not saying we should believe every testimony. That needs to be sifted on a case-by-case basis. 

Yet this isn't simply about something that, if it happened, happened in the past, and that's all behind us–but about something that continues to happen as a result of that past event. Supernatural reverberations. And they aren't fading reverberations, but swelling reverberations. The bell rung 2000 years ago gets louder, not softer–filling the earth. 


A scurrilous allegation against Kavanaugh: 

But suppose for argument's sake that as a Yale student, Kavanaugh exposed himself to a female student. Why do secular progressives act like that's a big deal? For instance, Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris are both members of the Judiciary committee. And both of them rose to power in San Francisco political establishment. They don't seem to think that obscene, pornographic gay pride parades are morally disqualifying. For that matter, Feinstein's predecessor, Harvey Milk, was a notorious queer pederast. 

What universities with coed dorms, coed bathrooms, and coed locker rooms? That includes state universities in California and Hawaii (which Senate Judiciary committee member Mazie Hirono represents) as well as Yale. Liberal college administrators have made it nearly impossible for students not to expose themselves to members of the opposite sex. So do they really think flashing is wrong? What about Yale sex week?

Don't all the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary committee support transgenderism? So they don't have a problem with anatomical men exposing themselves to women and vice versa in public restrooms and locker rooms. 

Either Kavanaugh's critics are brazen hypocrites or else they were so deranged that one part of their brain doesn't remember what the other part of their brain believes. 

Turmoil in Chicago

Roman Catholic Priest “Off the Grid and On the Run” to escape official retribution from Cardinal Blaise Cupich

I apologize to those of you who tire of the Roman Catholic scandals. I follow them fairly closely, and the tangle of names of all the different Cardinals and Bishops from all the different countries around the world can become tiresome, and I have a hard time following them myself.

But the shenanigans go on and on, and I think these are illustrative of how the Roman Catholic Church sees itself … some sort of trans-governmental government of its own, still relying on Medieval tactics to “get the job done” (i.e., to make sure that “the gates of hell” do not prevail) in its own neurotic, sociopathic ways.

Given that overarching “method” of Roman operation (likely left over from the early middle ages, if not from ancient Roman government itself), we now have some battle lines being drawn, fairly clearly, within the confines of that neurotic system.

In the process, a conservative priest who allowed his parishioners to burn a "gay flag" (superimposed on the cross of Christ) has been summoned to undergo psychiatric counseling. He refused to submit, and now he is on the run. I find this video to be both sad and entertaining.

P.S. Edit: Cupich is one of Pope Bergoglio's first and most visible appointments in the US.

The sacrifice of the Mass

A friend asked me to comment on this post by a Catholic apologist:

I'll confine my observations to what I take to be the meat of his argument. 

Christians throughout the world who are actively seeking to join the original “Church” which Christ founded are confronted with the myriad of communities and denominations which compete with each other.

That's a Catholic solution to something that's only a problem if you grant Catholic ecclesiology. In my 42 years as a Christian, I never sought to join the original “Church” which Christ founded. What about joining Christianity? That's a better starting-point.

I don't think there's a one-to-one matchup between "the original Church which Christ founded" and particular instantiations of the church. I'm not looking for a needle in a haystack, because I don't need to eliminate all the contenders. I don't view Christian denominations as a zero-sum game. It's not mortal combat, where you have to kill off all the competition. I don't subscribe to a Hunger Games ecclesiology. 

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The presumption of innocence

There's currently a debate about whether Kavanaugh ought to enjoy the presumption of innocence.

1. The presumption of innocence is an artificial legal standard. In our system of justice, it's better for a guilty man to go free than for an innocent man to be convicted. That's a good legal standard. For one thing, a defendant has so much to lose in a criminal trial. In addition, the state has resources that most defendants don't. 

2. However, I wouldn't say there's an abstract or general presumption of innocence outside the courtroom. Rather, it depends on the evidence. If there's insufficient evidence one way or the other, the responsible attitude is to suspend judgment.

3. The mentality of secular progressives, exemplified by affirmative consent and campus kangaroo courts, is that when a woman accuses a man of sexual harassment, assault, or rape, the woman is presumptively innocent and trustworthy while the man is presumptively guilty and untrustworthy. 

That's a sexist attitude, and it disregards reality. Sometimes men lie, sometimes women lie. When you throw alcohol into the mix, the accuser or the accused can sincerely misremember. 

There's no justified general presumption, no presumption in the abstract, that a female accuser is the innocent victim, is telling the truth, while the accused is the perp. That can only be assessed on a case by case basis. It depends on specific evidence, or lack thereof. 

4. At this point I support Kavanaugh's confirmation, not based on the presumption of innocence, but because I haven't seen any convincing evidence that he's guilty. I make allowance for the possibility that her story is true. The fact that Kavanaugh hung around Mark Judge makes it likely that he attended some of the same drinking parties. 

But that doesn't make the allegation true or even probably true. What if she was under the influence? What if they were both under the influence? That clouds judgment. 

5. The closest thing to independent evidence is the polygraph. But that's dicey:

i) From what I've read, polygraph results are just slightly better than chance.

ii) We don't know what questions she was asked.

5. In addition, there are holes in her story. 

6. It's important that we not let Democrats win using these tactics. 

The Euthyphro Dilemma - Matt Flannagan vs Jason Thibodeau

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Lustful monkeys with big brains

As I've probably said on more than one occasion, conservative candidates are at a disadvantage in public debates. Democrats and/or secular progressives are uninhibited in saying whatever they think. They express the most outlandish views with impunity. By contrast, conservative candidates have to project sensitivity. To mix metaphors, they're constantly pulling their punches and walking on eggshells. They're afraid to say what needs to be said. They're afraid to challenge liberal assumptions. Liberals win by stipulating outlandish claims as indisputable, then proceeding to build on that false premise. 

I don't necessarily blame conservative candidates for being so squeamish, because many voters are irrational. It's a tough environment to navigate. That's why those of us who aren't candidates need to challenge Democrats and/or secular progressives to be consistent.

A Supreme Court nominee has been accused of attempted rape when he was 17. How should that be morally assessed? That depends in large part on our moral frame of reference. Is that Christian ethics or secular ethics? Before I get to that I'd like to address two preliminary issues: 

1. What's the difference between rape and attempted rape? Attempted rape is ambiguous. Consider two different scenarios:

i) A male intends to have sexual intercourse with a female against her will. He initiates the action, but for whatever reason, is unable to carry it through. 

ii) A male at a drinking party gets sexually aggressive with a female to test her sexual receptivity. If she resists, he will back down.

In the case of (i), he was willing but unable. In the case of (ii), he was able but unwilling. In the case of (i), he tried and failed. In the case of (ii), he was in a position to physically overpower her, but relented. In the case of (ii), the overture was unsolicited, but whether he carried through with it was contingent on her consent. He didn't intend to have sexual intercourse against her will. 

Are both these actions attempted rape? Is (ii) sexual assult or aggressive unsuccessful seduction? Is (i) failed rape while (ii) is failed seduction? 

Up to a point, this is reversible. At a drinking party, a female might get sexually aggressive with a male to test his sexual receptivity. She can't physically overpower him, but her overture is unsolicited. She "forces" herself on him in the sense of forcing the issue, pressuring him to make a choice. Is that sexual assault or aggressive unsuccessful seduction? 

Men can be the object of rape. That's common in prison. 

It's possible for a woman to roofie a guy and perform sexual actions on him. Is that rape? 

It's possible for a woman to sodomize a man if she incapacitates him and uses something like a mop handle. That's rape.  

2. Another issue is the role of alcohol in relation to rape or attempted rape. There's a sense in which intoxication induces a state of diminished responsibility. And if both male and female are drunk, that lowers or erases the threshold for consent. Indeed, that's one reason some people get drunk in the first place: to remove sexual inhibitions.

That said, an agent can be morally responsible for inducing a state of diminished responsibility. If I drive to a tavern, I intend to drive back. If I get drunk, I'm making a choice, at the time I'm sober, which will severely impair my perception and reflexes. If I kill a cyclist or pedestrian when I'm under the influence, I'm culpable for inducing that condition. 

However, there's a sense in which driving drunk is more brazen, more premeditated, than getting drunk at a partywhere the objective is to create open up certain possibilities. 

Moving along to the main point: 

3. From a Christian standpoint, humans have animal bodies, albeit bodies designed for human minds. We have the ability to inflict physical or emotional harm on others. But we're supposed to exercise self-restraint out of consideration for the welfare of others. 

In addition, standard Christian ethics regards fornication as a sin. That rules out rape, attempted rape, and seduction. Consensual as well as nonconsensual premarital sex. Not to mention extramarital sex. 

Of course, secular progressives despise Christian ethics in general and Christian sexual ethics in particular. So what's their alternative? 

4. From a secular standpoint, humans are libidinous monkeys with big brains. There are, moreover, evolutionary theories of rape. Combined with evolutionary ethics, what's the secular basis to condemn rape or attempted rape? 

One response is that sometimes we have a duty to resist our natural impulses. But there are problems with that response:

i) How many times have you seen atheists say we don't need God to be moral because evolution can account for our moral instincts? But how can they simultaneously insist that we ought to suppress our evolutionary mores? Is evolutionary psychology a reliable source of morality or not? 

ii) What's the standard an atheist relies on to differentiate good evolutionary mores from bad evolutionary mores? 

5. Since sexual performance declines with age, isn't it reasonable, from a secular standpoint, for men to make the most of their short-lived sexual prime? Why should they turn down opportunities when their opportunities will diminish with the passage of time? 

6. Sodomy and sadomasochism are more damaging than attempted rape. If attempted rape is so traumatic to the victim as to disqualify a candidate, why not sodomy or sadomasochism? 

Stats on rape allegations

Friday, September 21, 2018

Suppose he did it?

In different ways, Michael Brown, Dennis Prager, and Robert Gagnon have all argued that even if the allegation against Kavanaugh is true, he should still be confirmed:

Their arguments are worth reading. The tactical advantage of that position is that you can discount the allegations, discount calls for an investigation. It's a simplifying maneuver.

Since I think Ford's story is weak, I don't need to have a considered answer to that hypothetical. I think it's unnecessary to go there. But if we do go there, it's much harder to maintain our moral footing. We lose some landmarks. 

1. One problem is that when people get away with a crime for many years, that aggravates rather than mitigates the original offense. Consider Michael Skakel and Bill Cosby, who were able to elude justice for so long. (Skakel is still gaming the system.) I'm not saying the allegation against Kavanaugh is morally comparable, but just using extreme examples to illustrate a point of principle. 

It's good when justice finally catches up with them. They managed to cheat justice for so long. To cheat the victim's right that just retribution be exacted on the perp. 

2. The best reason not to harm the innocent is because it's wrong to harm the innocent. That's the direct reason. That's the best disincetive.

A secondary disincentive is self-interest. If the would-be perp fears the consequences in case he's caught. The harm his action might do to his own prospects. Although that's not an admirable motive, it's often what prevents wrongdoing. If, however, we reward a fugitive of justice so long as he's able to play out the clock, then that dilutes the deterrent value of punishment. 

3. Assuming that he's guilty, there's more than one way it might have happened:

i) They were both sober

ii) They were both drunk

iii) He was sober and she was drunk

iv) He was drunk and she was sober

Culpability comes in degrees. Which of those scenarios is true affects the gravity of the offense. Intoxication can sometimes put one in a state of diminished responsibility. It can also make it easier to take advantage of someone. Depending on who's drunk or sober, that can be an aggravating or extenuating circumstance. 

4. Hopefully, Brown, Prager, and Gagnon don't think it makes no difference what you do as a minor so long as you clean up your act. If Michael Skakel turned over a new leaf after bludgeoning Martha Moxley to death, does that mean his crime should not permanently stigmatize him? 

What about teenage members of Muslim rape-gangs? What about young Muslims who disfigure women in acid attacks? Is there any adequate restitution? 

Grace in weakness

The dogs of war

From a recent Facebook exchange: 

TJ is with Joe Carter and Alan Noble.
Evangelical leaders are upset with the GOP, because the GOP isn't damning the proverbial torpedoes and rushing through the confirmation of a judge who's been credibly accused of sexual assault. This is where we find ourselves in 2018.

The next time some Christian conservative risibly tries to claim the moral high ground with you, keep this in mind.

Where we find ourselves in 2018 is people who think an unsubstantiated allegation of sexual assault should put the onus on the accused. What if TJ was on the receiving end of that standard? What does he have to fear? Seize his bank records, medical records, email, text messages, &c.

Where we find ourselves in 2018 is beholden to a bunch of old, white Conservative men who refuse to have the president authorize an FBI investigation into a sexual assault allegation against a potential member of the Supreme Court - a lifetime appointment, mind you - even though that precedent was set by President George H.W. Bush (R) in 1991 during the SCOTUS hearings for Clarence Thomas. 

These same old, white Conservative men want to rush the hearing and think the American public can't see that these same old, white Conservative men had no problem sitting on the Merrick Garland nomination for almost a YEAR. 

Where we find ourselves in 2018 is that many evangelical Christians seem to support this hypocrisy and the outright appalling assault on our democracy.

i) If it happened it wasn't a federal crime. Thomas and Hill were federal employees. The alleged harassment took place in the workplace. Hardly analogous. The FBI has no authority in that case.

ii) Why are you making sexist, racist, ageist comments about "old white men"? Is bigotry okay so long as you're a woman?

iii) The Senate had no Constitutional obligation to consider Garland.

Actually precedent shows the president is allowed to - and should - ask the FBI to investigate the claims. 

I explained why the comparison with Thomas/Hill is bogus. You didn't refute what I said. 

What's the problem? If Kavanaugh's done nothing wrong he should welcome an investigation. I would. 

No one should welcome a rogue FBI investigation. The onus is not on the accused to disprove an unsubstantiated allegation. 

Also GTFO with your Garland justifications. The entire country knows that was yet another GOP sham/scam. It's ok though.

Yes, it's okay for the Senate to ignore a nominee. It has that Constitutional prerogative. Remember when Democrats stiffed Estrada (and Janice Rogers Brown)?

I'm fine with whatever you want to call me...ageist, racist, whatever. You don't know me so your labels mean nothing to me.

Dianne Feinstein and Ruth Bader Ginsburg are both 85-year-old white women. Do you have a problem with their age and race? Your complaint reduces to misandry. 

I refute your idea that there should be no investigation because this was not a workplace/federal worker incident. In no way does that change the need for an investigation.

Actually it does since it falls outside the jurisdiction of the FBI.

And in what world does an FBI investigation go "rogue"? Do you believe in the deep state or some other bizarre notions of the FBI?"

When people urge the FBI to violate its mandate. So it's your position that the FBI has the statutory authority to investigate alleged sex crimes by minors in private homes?

Why don't you want an investigation?

i) You're playing a bait-n-switch. There's a difference between an investigation and an FBI investigation. In fact, when Susan Collins proposes that both the accused and the accuser testify, and be subject to cross-examination by their respective lawyers, that's an investigation.

ii) No, I don't think it's a good idea for Federal agencies with police powers to engage in extralegal investigations. That's a banana state.

Maybe you're a closet misogynist who thinks all women fake sexual assault claims.

Maybe your'e a closet misandrist who thinks women never make false rape allegations. Do you think every black man who was lynched in the Jim Crow South was presumptively guilty just because a white woman accused him of rape? 

There's every possibility you're just toeing the party line.

Unlike when you toe the Democrat party line?

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Pick on somebody your own size!

A quick observation on the Cartesian demon: Why would a being so vastly our intellectual superior find it interesting or entertaining to delude other beings so much simpler than itself? Consider teenagers or adults who outgrow toys, movies, stories, and games for little kids. According to the Cartesian thought-experiment, the cosmic deceiver is incomparably more intelligent than puny humans. So what's the fun in toying with us? Wouldn't that be boring? It's way too easy to outsmart us. Where's the challenge in that? 

The Good God

Steve just wrote about how unanswered prayer can sometimes cause us to doubt God’s benevolence.  Indeed, I’ve run into many atheists who have used just that argument, and during struggles in my own life it likewise becomes tempting to question whether or not God is good.  Indeed, I have never questioned whether God exists, but I have often questioned whether He is good.  Because I anticipate that I am not alone in that struggle, and because it could be used as a wedge issue, I want to delve into that a bit here. 

The first thing that we ought to examine when questioning whether or not God is good is whether or not we are even qualified to answer that question.  The truth of the matter is, each of us is a sinner.  To quote John Newton (who wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace”) at the end of his life: “Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.”

Too often in Christianity, we focus on the second part of that: how great a Savior Christ is.  And generally, there’s nothing wrong with focusing there.  That is, after all, the essence of the Gospel.  It is the very reason it is “Good News” in the first place.

And yet, Good News does not appear in a vacuum.  The Good News of Christ only works because of the Bad News in the first part of that sentence: “I am a great sinner.”

Now there are obviously countless Scriptural passages we could look at to demonstrate this fact.  To do a quick scenario, Jesus says in John 8:34, “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”  And 1 John 1:8 informs us, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”  So by these two passages, we know that each of us is a slave to sin.  Of course, Jesus says more.  In John 8:36, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  So this once again gives us our great hope in Him.

But let us return to the first half of the equation yet again.  When we are saved, we are saved indeed, but our old self still remains.  It doesn’t disappear.  That is why Paul says in Ephesians 4:22, 24, “…put off your old self, which belongs to our former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and…put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

The old self is still there and it fights against the new self, and it is important to note that Paul is addressing believers.  That is, putting on the new self is not talking about salvation, but rather the sanctification of those who have already believed.  For instance, in the parallel passage in Colossians 3, Paul states: “In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.  But now you must put them all away...seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:7-8, 9-10).  Notice that the old self is described as being the way “you once walked”—past tense.  And in fact, the first verse of the chapter even begins, “If then you have been raised with Christ”, indicating salvation has already occurred to those Paul is addressing.

So this struggle between the old self and the new self continues, even after salvation.  This is why even though the Apostle Peter was able to preach the great sermon of Acts 2, Paul still had to later oppose him to his face because his actions were literally harming the Gospel message.

Now, why do I bring this up?  Because it is important for us to remember that even as Christians, if we begin to accuse God of not being benevolent, we have to know whether or not that accusation is coming from the old self or the new self.  The old self is evil.  1 Corinthians 2:14 goes so far as to say, “The natural person [i.e., the old self] does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

Think about that for a moment.  If we experience something in our daily life that seems to indicate God is not good, then which is more likely: that God actually is not good, or that we, who we already know are great sinners and who in our natural state cannot accept the things of God because they are foolish to us, do not actually know that “good” really is?

“I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.”  If I am a great sinner, I cannot trust my judgment of what is good and what is evil.  Instead: “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him?  So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:11).  We have that Spirit, not just via our new self, but in the Word of God, written for us in Scripture.  And Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  This means that even if our old self does not understand how something God does is benevolent, our new self can have that assurance—all things, even the things that appear not to, work for good.

It's party time!

For what it's worth, a few more thoughts on the Kavanaugh imbroglio:

1. I think Ford's story is generically credible in the sense that things like that happen at drinking parties with teenagers or college students. It falls right in line a painfully familiar narrative.

Of course, that doesn't make it true–or even presumptively true. Indeed, because the narrative is so familiar, it's easy to fabricate. 

2. On the face of it, there are holes in her story. As Ben Shapiro notes:

Why Do Her Therapist’s Notes Conflict With Her Account? 
Ford showed her therapist’s notes to The Washington Post. Those notes conflict with her account. The notes don’t include names, instead stating that the alleged perpetrators were “from an elitist boys’ school,” and had since become “highly respected and high-ranking members of society in Washington.” The notes also state that four boys were involved, not two; she says her therapist got it wrong, and that there were four boys at the party but only two boys involved. Another therapy session the following year includes the charge that Ford underwent a “rape attempt” in “her late teens,” but she was allegedly 15 – not late teens – when this incident occurred. Her husband, who was present for the first therapy session, said Kavanaugh’s name was raised, but the Post account doesn’t say that Kavanaugh was called the alleged perpetrator.