Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Violent crime

Some comments I left over at Denny Burk's blog:

i) To begin with, mass shootings in the US have gone up over the past few decades. That doesn’t correlate with access to firearms.

ii) By definition, if you confiscate enough guns, you may have fewer shootings. But that’s a deceptive comparison. That doesn’t mean you have less violent crime.

Gun bans and gun confiscation can lead to a spike in crime. There’s a loss of deterrence. In addition, citizens can no longer defend themselves or their property. That gives crooks a green light.

It’s not enough to compare a drop in gun violence with a drop in gun ownership. You need to compare that with overall crime stats .

iii) I don’t know where you’re getting your stats. For instance:

“Many people don’t have the connections to get illegal firearms. You’re looking at these folks as if they were ‘rational’ murderers who’d have the presence of mind to make the necessary connections to procure one illegally (if they were illegal).”

Mass shootings are typically premeditated.

“Consider the kid in Newton. Do we think a borderline autistic home-schooled high school kid would have the connections (and money) to illegally procure the kind of weapons he used (if they were illegal)?”

i) Your objection is circular. Because private gun ownership is currently legal, there are restrictions on minors. If, however, guns were banned, you’d have an unregulated black market giving everyone, including minors, unrestricted access to guns.

ii) Likewise, because private gun ownership is currently legal, you don’t need special connections to procure firearms. If, however, guns were banned, then a black market would open up. You wouldn’t need spacial connections to get the gun of your choice under that scenario. If it was against the law to obtain any gun whatsoever, then all types of guns would be available on the black market.

iii) Yes, access to guns means some people die by guns who otherwise wouldn’t die that way. That, however, overlooks the fact that guns are both offensive and defensive weapons. Just as guns take lives, guns save lives. Access to guns means some people, who’d otherwise die, are not killed because they are in a position to protect themselves. There are tradeoffs. 

God, goodness, and experience

Experience has little to do with it

Roger Olson
However...if monergism is true AND there is an eternal hell, then...as I always say, God is a moral monster (because he could save everyone and doesn't). My reason for believing in synergism has little to do with experience; it is all about the character of God. 

It's all comes down to experience

Roger Olson
However, I do not think there is any rational proof of God's goodness. I agree with Pascal, Kierkegaard and Coleridge (not exactly intellectual slouches) who all said (in their own ways) that the only proof of Christianity is in the experience of it

Civil war

I've discussed this before, but I'll elaborate on a few points:

i) It wouldn't surprise me if, at some point, Democrats try to confiscate guns. There's an incremental strategy. You can see Obama attempting to build a case. 

If there was an attempt to confiscate guns, that could trigger a civil war. At the very least it would lead to massive civil disobedience.

In addition, I think many liberals would welcome a civil war. With the gov't on their side, they think their side would win. That would be an opportunity to stamp out the "rightwing" once and for all time. 

ii) I've seen liberals mock the idea that an armed citizenry is any check on gov't. Surely an armed citizens are no match for the US military. 

iii) That, however, overlooks a number of complications.  There's the question of which side our soldiers would take in an American civil war. 

And I don't just mean soldiers quitting to fight for the rebels. You might have a sizable percentage of soldiers (as well as police, FBI, NSA) who keep their jobs, but assist the rebels from the inside. Spies and sympathizers. 

iv) The US military has awesome firepower at its disposal. Remember, though, that we're discussing the scenario of a civil war on American soil. You don't fight that the same way you fought the Japanese in WWII. It's one thing to destroy someone else's country, it's quite another thing to destroy your own.

v) Unlike the American Civil War (1861-1865), which was a regional war with fairly clear geographical boundaries, in the scenario we're considering, the rebels would be distributed nationwide. In the American Civil War, the Union could treat the Confederate states as if they were a foreign country, like a border war. In addition, the Southern economy was largely agrarian whereas the Northern economy was largely industrial. The North was able to damage the South in a way the South was unable to damage the North. 

So, for instance, Sherman could get away with burning Atlanta. But if you had a nationwide Civil War, then the gov't can't afford to use the same scorched-earth tactics. It's not going to firebomb cities or suburbs, is it? It's not going to send cruise missiles to take out residential skyscrapers, is it?

With rebels dispersed in urban and suburban population centers all across the nation, military firepower is fairly useless. Tanks, bombs, missiles, &c., are too destructive. The battlefield isn't foreign territory, but your own cities and suburbs.  

The rebels would resort to guerilla warfare. Blend into major population centers. To combat that would require US troops going door-to-door to ferret out rebel cells. 

vi) The modern-day US economy is far more fragile than it was in the 19C. Just consider how dependent we've become on electronic communications, including mobil networks. 

In the past, cities were largely suppled by local farms. Communities were more independent. Now stuff is trucked in from out of state. If interstate commerce began to break down, if the power grid failed, cities would begin to shutdown. Just imagine what would happen nowadays if mobil networks were disrupted. 

There's no telling in advance how damaging the effort would be. The degree of popular support. Inside help. Hacktivists. 

Francis fatigue


Forget not all his benefits


Maybe God can forgive you, but I can't!

i) Doug Wilson is in a pickle over the way he handled the case of two pedophiles at church. Peter Leithart is also implicated in the mess. I'm not going to discuss all twists and turns of that controversy.  

I'll just use it to illustrate a general point: I think some Christians are confused or conflicted about how to deal with cases like this. After all, there's a sense in which Christianity is a religion of second chances. We believe in redemption. Forgiveness. So what about that?

ii) There's a sense in which God is in a position to forgive people we can't. For one thing, God knows who is truly contrite, and who is faking it. We don't. 

iii) Which brings me to a related point: even if I'm prepared to forgive you, that doesn't mean I'm prepared to trust you. Forgiveness is about the past–trust is about the future. Those aren't interchangeable concepts. 

Take a comparison: suppose I'm a pastor. We need to hire a new church treasurer. We advertise the job and get several applicants. One has an impressive resume. MBA from a top college. Experience as a CPA and investment banker. If anything, he's overqualified. Yet there's an odd gap in his resume.

I, in agreement with the church board, have criminal background checks performed on all job applicants. Turns out, this applicant was convicted of embezzlement. 

As a result, we don't hire him. Instead, we hire another applicant without the Park Avenue resume, but who has a squeaky clean reputation.

The applicant who was turned down phones me a few days later wondering why he didn't get the job. I explain. He complains that that's unchristian. He tells me that he committed embezzlement before he was saved. He converted in prison. Now he's turned over a new leaf.

Well, I wish him all the best. I hope that's true. But, honestly, it's a self-serving claim. I have no independent evidence to confirm his claim. I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt, but it would be foolhardy to do so. I have no reason to believe he's trustworthy, while I do have reason to believe he may not be trustworthy.

Moreover, it's not even a case of trusting him with my own money. As a pastor, I have a fiduciary responsibility for the money which parishioners contribute. 

In addition, the fact that he wants to go right back to the same kind of work that got him into trouble in the first place is suspicious. At best, that exposes him to temptation, at his weakest. At worst, that indicates a lack of sincerity. If I said I was a recovering gambler, would I apply for a job at a casino? 

iv) From what I've read, pedophilia has high rates of recidivism, although that's complicated by the fact that there's now a movement to mainstream pedophilia, so the evidence will be suppressed. It's just asking for trouble to give someone like that a second bite at the apple. 

I'll make two other points:

v) From what I've read, Wilson defends his conduct in part by appealing to the fact that the judge approved of the marriage. But given Wilson's disdain for the moral wisdom of public officials, he can hardly take cover in the opinion of the judge. At best, that just means there's blame to go around. It doesn't get him off the hook. It merely means additional people are at fault. 

vi) He also speaks as if pedophilia is a psychological condition to be treated by counseling. That's sadly similar to the Church of Rome, which has viewed predatory priests as a psychotherapeutic issue.

Wilson is a man who's done a lot of good. It's a pity to see him show such poor pastoral judgment. And that's aggravated by his refusal to accept legitimate criticism. 

Monday, October 05, 2015

Godless consolation

Godless consolation:

Students still shaken from a shooting rampage days earlier that claimed 10 lives were welcomed back on Monday by grief counselors and comfort dogs to their community college in southern Oregon, but classes remained canceled through the week.

Those arriving on Monday were greeted by teams of volunteers with six golden retrievers from the national K-9 Comfort Dogs network run by Lutheran Church Charities.

Christian consolation:

UNTO Almighty God we commend the soul of our brother departed, and we commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection unto eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ, at whose coming in glorious majesty to judge the world, the earth and the sea shall give up their dead; and the corruptible bodies of those who sleep in him shall be changed, and made like unto his own glorious body; according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself.

Book of Common Prayer

Godless honor code

Based on reviews and trailers, The Martian is apparently based on a traditional honor code. This operates at two levels. At one level, you don't leave a comrade behind. Even if he's injured, you try to take him with you. Shared risk. 

Over and above the crew or military unit itself are those in power. Because we're responsible for getting you into that risky situation, we're responsible for attempting to get you out of that risky situation.

This appeals to an instinctive sense of social obligations. But here's the snag: from a secular standpoint, it's ludicrous that people would move heaven and earth to save one human life, one smidgen of matter, stranded some 50 millions miles away (give or take). Even if the rescue mission is successful, Mark Watney will still be dead in a few decades. He will slip into oblivion, like the billions who lived and died before him. Just a blip between one nothingness and another.  

Perhaps the best case an atheist can make is that since everything we do is equally meaningless, we might was well do something preposterously pointless rather than mundanely pointless.   

Why do men have nipples?

i) Darwinians sometimes taunt creationists with the question: Why do men have nipples? They seem to think that's inconsistent with creationism. Perhaps they think Christians are embarrassed by discussing nipples. 

ii) To begin with, it's not as if there's a good evolutionary explanation. Male nipples have no survival value.

And it makes no sense to say male nipples are vestigial organs. Even on evolutionary grounds, it's not as though men evolved from mammals that were exclusively female. Even from an evolutionary standpoint, mammals were always sexually differentiated. For that matter, so are reptiles, from which mammals allegedly evolved. 

iii) To my knowledge, the reason men have nipples is because men and women share the same basic underlying design. Our bodies have most things in common. Engineering is conservative. 

Sexual differentiation is due to sex chromosomes and male or female hormones. But that leaves many underlying structures intact. 

Even in sexually mature adults, if you administer male sex hormones to women or female sex hormones to men, they develop some characteristics of the opposite sex. 

iv) Sexual arousal is based, in part, on touch. Because male nipples have nerves, that's an "erogenous zone." So it's not useless. 

v) It's sometimes said that all humans begin as female in the womb, but that's simplistic. The male or female DNA is present from the get-go. 

vi) Finally, lactation is a remarkable process. We think of animals as food. And trees produce food. But for animals to produce food is rather remarkable, if you think about it. Women have a whole little factory for producing a vital food stuff. 

Martians and mutineers

I haven't seen the new movie The Martian. I've seen two trailers and read two reviews. To judge by that, it's an inspiration, beat-the-odds movie.

In order to rescue the stranded astronaut, his crew members must disobey orders. The audience is, of course, expected to root for the mutineers and jeer the NASA administrators. 

Keep in mind that NASA astronauts are gov't employees. Based on the reaction to Kim Davis, shouldn't they "quit or just do their job?" 

But the film is predicated an audience sympathy for the insubordinate gov't employees and antipathy towards their heartless supervisors. 

The facts of life are conservative

"In the Zombie World, Only the Conservative Survive" by David French

Sunday, October 04, 2015

The soul in the cellphone

In this post I will do two things: discuss student rights, then segue from that topic to dualism. Seems like an odd couple, but I think they're analogous.

i) Suppose a high school has a policy prohibiting students from inciting other students to break the law. The rationale is that a school does not exist to host a student's subversive political agenda. It is not a recruitment center for his subversive cause. Indeed, the school would be complicit if it knowingly supplied a platform for that activity. 

ii) Consider an illustration. In the US, the legal drinking age is 21. In Germany, by contrast, the drinking age is 16 for beer and wine, and 18 for hard alcohol. In addition, you can enlist in the US military at age 18 (without parental consent), or 17 (with parental consent). Seems absurd to say you're old enough to fight and die for your country, but not old enough to drink beer. 

Because some students think that's unreasonable, they share tips with other like-minded students on how to skirt the legal restrictions. Suppose that's grounds for suspension–or expulsion for repeat offenses. 

iii) Let's say that up to a point, it's reasonable for schools to have that policy. But are there limits?

Suppose two students visit another student at home. In his bedroom they mention tactics to circumvent the drinking age. Suppose the school administration finds out about this conversation through the grapevine. Is that grounds for suspension?

I suspect most of us would say no. What students tell classmates off-campus is not something for school administration to monitor or penalize. Unless they are plotting a Columbine-style massacre, school administrators should mind their own business.

iii) And the same principle would apply when it comes to social networking, viz. Facebook, email, texting. If the "incitement" takes place off-campus, then school administration has no right to butt in. That falls outside the jurisdiction of the school. Students have a life outside school. 

iv) But suppose this takes place on school premises. Is that grounds for disciplinary action? 

Well, suppose it takes place after hours. Suppose some student frequent the athletic fields on weekends, or during summer break. Suppose that while they happen to be on school property, they share tips about how to circumvent the drinking age. Should that be punishable?

Seems like an arbitrary technicality to me. Assuming the policy is reasonable at all, the logical context is when school is in session. The mere fact that some students are physically on site, even though school is not in session, seems to make the policy irrelevant in that setting.  

If that's correct, then where this takes place is not a sufficient condition, although it may be a necessary condition. It also depends on when it takes place. 

v) There's also the question of how we define "incitement." When school is in session, suppose, in the cafeteria or locker room, in casual conversation, a student gives advice on how to get around drinking age restrictions. Does that violate school policy?

I guess that's a matter of interpretation. It's not like he's circulating a student petitions. It's just a spontaneous, informal exchange of views between a few classmates. They talk about whatever is on their minds. Talk about whatever they feel like. 

Teachers and administrators aren't a branch of law enforcement. It's not their duty to police what students talk about. 

vi) But there's another complication. In the age of smartphones, what students do at home doesn't stay at home. They take Facebook, texting, and email wherever they go. The record of those transactions in contained in their smartphone. Does it violate school policy when they bring that information to school? 

One question is whether that message becomes a part of school the moment they step on campus, but ceases to be a part of school the moment they leave campus. That seems to be ad hoc. 

vii) Another objection might be that this is a record of what was said off-campus. Suppose, though, between classes, one student texts another regarding how to circumvent the drinking age. Is that a violation of school policy?

That raises some intriguing philosophical issues. Where is the message? In one respect, the message is in the smartphone. But does that mean the message is now at school?

On one interpretation, perhaps. The information is in the phone, which is in a backpack, which is in a locker, which is in a school building, which is on school grounds, which is in a city, which is in a state, which is in a country, which is on the planet, which is in the universe. But is that the best way to frame the issue?

To approach it from another angle, does the information in the phone become part of the school when the phone is on school grounds? Seems like an odd claim.

For one thing, the information is in the phone, not where the phone is–apart from the phone. The information doesn't remain on-campus when the phone is off-campus. 

Yes, there's a roundabout sense in which the information is wherever the phone is, but that's separable from the locale. The information is not in any particular place, but in the phone–which could be anywhere. 

The data is located in the phone, and the phone may be located at school, but the phone is portable in a way the school is not. The data goes with the phone, not the school. The relation of the information to the external location is incidental and adventitious. 

viii) But suppose we treat the school like national airspace, where you require overflight rights. You need permission to pass through another nation's airspace. Is the information part of the school in that sense?

But that analogy breaks down. For instance, I believe it's illegal to intercept electronic communications like that without a warrant. The school is not a party to that.

Rather, that's a contractual arrangement between customer and the company. In a sense the wireless company has custody of that airspace. 

The mobile network is like a closed system. Even if the electronic communication intersects with school property, that's a legally self-contained transaction with privacy rights. Although the information sharing may take place at school, it is not a part of school. 

ix) Finally, asking where the message is in relation to the world is akin to asking where the soul is in relation to the body. The smartphone is the access point for information storage, retrieval, and transmission.

Likewise, the body is the access point for the soul to interface with the world. It's not that the soul is contained in the body, any more than the smartphone data is contained in the school. 

Continuous creation

I'll comment on this post:

As some of you who have been my long-time readers know, Austin Fischer is my protégé even though I can’t take credit for his intelligence or writing skills. He’s a brilliant thinker, teaching pastor (The Vista Community Church, Temple, Texas) and excellent writer.

It's fine with me if Arminians make Fischer their spokesman.

“Monergism: Maybe True, Definitely Unnecessary”
by Austin Fischer (Author of Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed
Monergism (“one work”) is the belief that God works alone in salvation. 

No, that's not what it means. Some (but not all) divine actions in salvation involve God's unilateral action, viz. unconditional election, monergistic regeneration.  

It’s usually set against synergism, which is the belief that while God alone does everything in working for our salvation, 

What does it even mean to say "God alone does everything in working for our salvation" in contrast to synergism? 

Seems like Fischer want to hang on to a sola element, but combine that with a non-sola element. So he simply glues them together. 

humans must cooperate with grace in some form or fashion (the cooperation itself, of course, is possible only because of grace).

Calvinism doesn't deny that salvation has cooperative facets. For instance, sanctification has a cooperative dynamic in Calvinism. 

However, the "cooperation" of the regenerate in their sanctification is the predestined effect of God's efficacious grace. It's not "cooperative" in the libertarian sense. 

But what I would like to point out is that you don’t need monergism to prevent human boasting or protect God’s glory. Nope—all you need is a healthy doctrine of creatio ex nihilo (creation from nothing)…or better yet, creatio continua (continuing creation).

Continuous creation denies human agency. There is no cause and effect connection within the world. Rather, it's a version of occasionalism where God is the sole agent. Human beings don't make anything happen. The future is entirely the result of God's direct fiat. There are no second causes. Just God's primary causality, through-and-through.

So Fischer's Arminian alternative to Calvinism is to replace Calvinism with a metaphysical position that denies human agency!

Fischer's post is incompetent from start to finish. He doesn't begin to know what he's talking about. His analysis is inept and counterproductive even on Arminian grounds. 

This is a good example of how Arminian partisanship suspends critical judgment.  They don't listen for content–they just listen for the label. If you call it "Arminian," it must be right; if you call it "Calvinist," it must be wrong.

It's like those man-on-the-street interviews where a reporter will ask Democrats what they think of a statement. The reporter will quote a statement which he attributes to a Democrat, even though it's actually a statement made by a Republican. Democrats respondents immediately agree with the statement, because they were told a Democrat said it. They stop listening after they hear the partisan label.  

Christian Life As Springtime And Joy

"Our childhood [in Christ] again brings the freshness of morning, and we live in perpetual springtime, always young, always mild, always new, but always growing in maturity. We are the children carried on the shoulders of God. [quoting Clement of Alexandria] 'Our life is a perpetual springtime; because the truth within us cannot be touched by old age, and our whole way of living is saturated by this truth' (paed Our relation to God as children in Christ is one of joy, of divine or mystic sport….For Clement, man is, by definition, a rational laughing animal (8.6.21), Christ has turned all sunsets into sunrises and Christian life is a season of ever-renewed springtime. A fragment of his instructions to the newly baptized exhorts them to cheerfulness: 'show always that you are a partner and partaker of Christ, who shines the light of God from heaven. Let Christ be to you continuous and unceasing joy.'" (Eric Osborn, Clement Of Alexandria [New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008], 245, 276)

Astrological atheism

Over at Debunking Christianity, apostate Hector Avalos says:

One should not let these apocalyptic interpreters forget that it is atheists who have been 100% correct in predicting that those end dates will fail, while it is believers who have been 100% incorrect. In other words, atheists (and other skeptics) have been the best "prophets" when it comes to these end dates.

To simplify, let's use round numbers. Suppose Jesus was going to return before 3000 AD. That means the odds are about 11,000 to 1 that he won't return on any particular day during that interval. Any astrologer with half a brain could safely predict that any given date for his return will be wrong. Mathematically speaking, the odds are overwhelmingly against the accuracy of any date you pull out of the hat. And that will be the case even if Jesus was, in fact, going to return before 3000 AD. 

Predicting when something won't happen can be infinitely easier than predicting when it will happen. If it happens on one day, it won't happen on all the other days. The days when it won't happen outnumber the day when it will happen by many orders of magnitude. Don't pat yourself on the back when you accurately predict a nonevent. In general, it takes no foresight to predict the nonoccurence of an event on any given date. 

Some events are predictable if they fall under human control. Likewise, some events are predicable if the outcome is connected to an observable a chain of causes, like running out of fuel, or the trajectory of a hurricane. 

But in the abstract, a one-time event is unpredictable in the sense that it could happen at any time, yet it won't happen most days, weeks, years, centuries–even millennia (or more). 

For instance, some scientists theorize that a vast asteroid struck the earth about 65 million years ago. Let's grant that for the sake of argument. Consider all the days when it didn't happen, both before and after. Yet impact craters bear witness to such events, however rare or isolated. 

ISIS is getting whomped by Russia (it seems)

I've been seeing articles like this one today:

ISIS left so weakened by airstrikes and desertion it could be wiped out in just HOURS

Maybe that's a bit overly-sensational. But it appears as if the Russian military means business.

The response from the west (the US included) has been more along the lines that "Assad is worse than ISIS":


It seems as if the west is trying to "thread the needle" -- that is, degrade ISIS while not giving Assad any advantages. Russia doesn't feel the west's sense of propriety.

Older (background):



Liberty and Law and Gun Control


Pope Francis: what he gives with one hand he snatches back with the other

Francis seems to have a policy of studied ambiguity where he tries to say or do something to please everyone. One action or statement negates another. A classic politician. At the same time, his papacy is clearly tilting to the left:



Saturday, October 03, 2015

The "root cause" of gun violence

i) Trying to ban/confiscate guns misses the point. That's treating symptoms. Fixating on the weapon of choice fails to address the root cause. Why do some people turn to violent crime in the first place?

There are various reasons, not all of which are soluble. 

One thing we know is that violent crime is overrepresented in certain intersecting demographic groups, by sex, age, and ethnicity. 

Young men from stable two-parents homes are less prone to violent crime. Young men who stay in school are less prone to violent crime.

Conversely, violent crime is fostered by absentee fathers, a culture of dependency, high dropout rates, &c.

Partial solutions include school choice, so that kids aren't chained to failing schools. Plus welfare reform. 

ii) In addition, as society becomes more secularized, it becomes more nihilistic. And that's coming from the top down, not the bottom up.

If kids are taught that there's no afterlife, no final judgment, no heaven or hell, no moral absolutes, that we are just fleeting, fortuitous collections of particles, then it's not surprising if some people act on that nihilistic philosophy. If you want people to behave better, you might begin by giving them something worthwhile to live for. 

Atheism is a recipe for moral and existential nihilism. And we're beginning to see the results. Not just in mass shootings or urban violence, but at Planned Parenthood clinics. Likewise, we're poised for an exponential rise in euthanizing the elderly and developmentally disabled. 

Arguing about guns


An anatomy of apostasy

i) Many apostates make a common mistake. And it's an elementary mistake. 

Typically, they were raised in a Bible-believing church. Then they took high school biology, or college Biology 101, or read a book by Richard Dawkins or Jerry Coyne. That sort of thing. And they lose their faith.

The rudimentary mistake is to compare two things that operate at different levels. They are comparing the Bible to science, or comparing theology to science. But these aren't directly comparable. There's an obvious sense in which a few pages of Scripture are no match for hundreds of pages of textbook evolutionary biology. Scripture wasn't designed to engage the issue at that level. Same thing with systematic theology.

The proper comparison would be to read two or more science books from opposing viewpoints. Those operate on the same plane. They address the same issues, at the same level of detail or technicality. They adduce prima facie scientific evidence for their respective positions. That's the relevant level of direct comparison and contrast. 

ii) It's also striking that apostates like this are often so lop-sided. Having dipped into the evolutionary literature, they refuse to read the opposing literature. They have no intellectual patience for the other side of the argument.

iii) In addition, they cut evolutionary theory lots of slack while they cut creationism no slack. They make many allowances for evolutionary theory. They don't let the difficulties in evolutionary theory faze them. They have faith that if we're just patient, if we wait it out, these challenges will be resolved. Or, if not, that in principle, they must be consistent with evolution. But they don't show the same deference to creationism. 

iv) They ask questions until they arrive at evolution. They come to rest with evolution. At that point they stop asking questions. Evolution is unquestionable. They no longer feel the need to keep posing pesky questions and demanding answers. At best, all questions and answers must now take place within the evolutionary paradigm. Ironically, that's the mirror image of many creationists, whom they disdain. 

The power of paradigms

One objection to creationism is simply the fact that so many scientists subscribe to evolution. Why would they do that? Is there a scientific conspiracy to reject Christian theology? Did they get together and take a vote? 

i) To begin with, a certain percentage of scientists are, in fact, hostile to Christianity, Christian ethics, the idea of God. That's clear from surveys as well as outspoken critics. That's not a hidden agenda. That's upfront. 

ii) But another factor is the power of a paradigm. By "paradigm" I mean an interpretive grid. People who are trained in a particular way of seeing a problem and solving a problem may find it almost impossible to conceive of any other way to analyze problems in their field. To deny the paradigm is a hallmark of irrationality. 

Paradigms have a powerful conditioning effect on how we frame issues, what solutions we consider to be acceptable. Many people find it difficult, even for the sake of argument, to step outside of their paradigm and consider the evidence from a radically different perspective. They've lost the capacity for critical detachment. They are so used to operating with the paradigm that it dominates their thinking. 

Paradigms are appealing or seductive because they seem to offer a unified explanation for complicated phenomena. You're confronted with a range of apparently disparate factors. How do you sort it out? Is there a common thread?

A paradigm offers a unifying principle. A way to simplify the analysis by reducing it to some general explanatory dynamics. 

For instance, some people have compared reading Marx to a religious conversion. Suddenly, all the pieces fell into place. 

This is true for many academic disciplines. Take different approaches to psychology, viz. behaviorism, depth psychology, evolutionary psychology.

Take different theories of mind, viz. functionalism, computationalism. 

Take different theories of historical causation. What's the "root cause"? Is history driven by ideas, individuals, economics, luck? 

Some paradigms have, or seem to have, great explanatory power. An ability to integrate wide swaths of data. They can be very persuasive. 

A breaking point is when a paradigm tries to explain too much. The paradigm no longer explains the evidence; rather, the theorist labors to show how the evidence is consistent with the paradigm. He may introduce makeshift modifications to the paradigm, or speculate on how the total evidence would be consistent with the paradigm if only we had a larger sample. 

A paradigm may explain, or appear to explain, a lot of evidence, but when it becomes strained or overextended, that reveals internal weaknesses in the paradigm. It's like a half-truth. It may capture some truth, approximate the truth in some respects, but it's off the mark. 

When we evaluate a paradigm, we need to take into account, not only what it seems to explain, and so without difficulty, and what it fails to explain. It's a question of starting-points. Do you begin with what the paradigm seems to explain with ease, take that as confirmation that the paradigm is roughly on target, then chalk up difficulties to remaining problems to be resolved, which you have faith are ultimately soluble within the parameters of the paradigm?

Or do you begin with problems it has difficulty assimilating? Do you take that as an indication that the paradigm may be flawed? When you evaluate a paradigm, do you begin with apparent problems or apparent solutions? With what it can it explain or what it can't? Which endpoint is your frame of reference? 



Clement Of Alexandria On Christian Intellectual Neglect

"Pagans had to find the treasure which was in Christ. Christians had to explore it, to advance beyond the mediocrity in which they slumbered. Tertullian spoke at this time of 'nostra mediocritas'. Faith must grow into knowledge. Clement showed more sympathy with Gnostic sects than did his contemporaries; at least Gnostics saw the need to move on. His own ideal, the true gnostic or man of knowledge, was within the reach of all believers….his chief concern was to join Athens and Jerusalem….The farmer needs to learn different skills if he wants to cultivate, just as the doctor and hunter need to learn many things if they are to heal or hunt. And so must he who wishes to gain from the scripture and from Christ learn all rational and logical skills. He must go to geometry, music, grammar and philosophy itself and take from them what is useful, in order to defend his faith against those who plot to destroy it. If he does not do this, he is, as Plato says, like the athlete who turns up unprepared for the games (Rep. 3.404ac)….'How can it not be necessary, for him who wishes to lay hold of the power of God, to philosophise and to grasp with comprehension intellectual concepts?' ( He who reads the bible must know how to detect ambiguities and multiple meanings in the biblical text; this is where philosophy helps….There is no doubt that the joining of Athens and Jerusalem in Philo and Clement provided a major element of western culture." (Eric Osborn, Clement Of Alexandria [New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008], 24-5, n. 84 on 25, 63-4, 104)

Homo naledi

The internet has been abuzz regarding a new fossil find, named Homo naledi. What do I make of that?

i) Let's begin with deja vu. Every so often we're treated to the discovery of the missing link. Lots of fanfare. Upon closer examination, it turns out there was far less to the story than meets the eye. It's like fake hate crimes. 

ii) Darwinians know that showing the public skeletal remains isn't very impressive. So what they do is give us a hypothetical reconstruction of what the creature allegedly looked like.

Now, I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with that. Forensic anthropologists do that sort of thing.

Nevertheless, it's just an "artistic rendering." And it's bound to be prejudicial. You aren't seeing what the creature actually looked like, because we don't know what the creature actually looked like. 

Take the face. Obviously, a skull has no face. So that gives tremendous play to facial reconstruction. It can be made to look more human, protohuman, or apish. 
We've all grown up with imaginative mock-ups of "early man". So when we see a hypothetical reconstruction, that subconsciously conditions us to perceive evidence for human evolution. The fossil is depicted in a way that makes it appear to be an intermediate form: more than a monkey but less than a man.

Again, though, that's prejudicial. Salting the mine. We're not viewing the actual fossil. We're not seeing the raw evidence. Rather, we're seeing a face that's, at best, imaginative guesswork. How much of the transitional appearance is due to artistic imagination? 

For instance, if all we had was the skull of Nefertiti, could we go from that to the famous bust? 

Moreover, the skull was pieced together from fragments of four different skulls. And it's unclear if these even come from the same species. 

iii) Then there's the reconstructed body. That raises the question of what makes a body recognizably human. 

Even in modern-day humans, there's a wide rage of body shapes and sizes. That often reflects environmental adaptations. Likewise, some sports, like pro football and pro basketball, select for extreme body shapes and sizes. 

As I boy I used to read Road & Track and Car & Driver. When commenting on Italian cars, reviewers would quip that Italian cars were made for drivers with long arms and short legs!

More seriously, I once read an interview with a costume designer for The Highlander. She said it was hard to costume Adrian Paul because he didn't have a typical 17C body. Rather, he had a typical mid-20C body. His body shape wasn't suited to period attire. They had to fudge it. 

iv) What did Adam and Eve look like? We don't have much to go on. Assuming that Eden was located in a hot river valley, it would make sense if they had tan skin and dark eyes.  

Friday, October 02, 2015

Through African eyes


It takes a gun to stop a gunman

Every time we have a massacre, Democrats demand new gun control laws. A few observations:

i) What causes a gunman to stop shooting? In my observation, it's generally one of two things:

a) He runs out of ammo

b) Someone shoots him

So it takes a gun to stop a gunman. Having a gun gives the shooter a nearly unbeatable advantage over unarmed targets. It's hard for unarmed men and women to stop or disarm a gunman.

Occasionally, a gunman will shoot himself to elude capture. That's after he's completed his shooting spree. 

ii) What's the alternative? That only police have guns? If so, there are obvious problems with that:

a) It's my observation that most folks who lobby for gun control are often very critical of police shootings. 

b) If only the police (and military) have guns, doesn't that put the general public at a tremendous disadvantage with respect to gov't? What's to prevent gov't from acting like a bully? You can't fight back. Gov't has all the firepower. 

c) Suppose a gunman begins to shoot up a school or office or whatever. Suppose someone inside manages to call the police.

It takes the police however long to arrive at the scene of the crime. Moreover, they don't rush right in. They take time to position themselves. Study exits and floor plans.

That gives the gunman lots of extra time to keep killing people inside.

iii) Are gun-control advocates proposing gun confiscation? After all, if you think gun ownership should be restricted to law enforcement officers (and the military), how do you make sure that only the police are armed? How do you get all those guns off the street? How do you make sure guns are in the "right hands"? 

So does that mean gun-control advocates think police should ransack every house, warehouse, car, truck, boat, business, &c. in America in search of guns? 

iv) Even if you outlaw gun stores and gun shows, won't that simply create a lucrative black market for gunrunners? You will replace legal arms dealers with illegal arms dealers. 

Pharaoh’s Magicians Redivivus


Patronizing evil

One of the striking things about life in a fallen world is the spectacle of evil or dangerous people with powerful friends who protect and promote them. So often, evildoers have patrons who excuse them and empower them. 

In response to yesterday's college massacre, Democrats immediately called for gun control, ignoring the fact that the shooter was (reportedly) targeting Christians. Ignore the real motivation. 

Consider Obama's policy towards Muslims. His plan is to effectively subsidize the Iranian nuclear weapons program by dropping sanctions while simultaneously sending them a huge foreign aid package. 

Likewise, consider his domestic policy. Under his watch, we've had a string of jihadist attacks on American soil. This includes Muslims in uniform. His response is to blame everything and everyone else except Islam. And he has a plan to import tens of thousands of "Syrian refuees" (euphemism alert) into the US.  

Or take the promotion of Muslim Rep. André Carson to sensitive national security positions. Why take the risk? Why invite disaster? 

On a related front is Obama's nomination of an open homosexual to be the next Army secretary. Likewise, giving homosexuals access to underage kids (e.g. homosexual Scout leaders). And we now have an incipient movement to mainstream pedophilia. 

The pattern is to promote the most subversive elements of society to positions of power and influence. Once motivation is to prove how tolerant we are. The onus is not on Muslims (or homosexuals) to prove that they are trustworthy. Rather, the onus is on us to trust them. To give them every benefit of the doubt. Put others at risk. 

This is nothing new. Last year there was a hagiographic film (The Imitation Game) about Alan Turing. His security clearance was revoked, which many people find unfair. Keep in mind, though, that Turing was a member of the same Cambridge circle that produced the infamous spy ring (e.g. Philby, Burgess, Blunt). 

And that's not coincidental.You had the intersection of the Cambridge Apostles with the Bloomsbury circle. A common denominator was atheism. In addition, many members were avid homosexuals. No doubt this was fueled by the boarding school system. 

Between homosexuality, atheism, and academia, they represented a countercultural outlook that was contemptuous of normal men and women who get married and have children. In the nature of the case, homosexuality cultivates a carpe diem philosophy. They don't think in terms of posterity. It's a childless youth culture.

They really were a security risk. And spies like Blunt evidently had friends in high places who protected him. Why might that be? One reason is the possibility of blackmail. People like Blunt were in a position to out high-ranking officials. 

But above and beyond that, atheism and homosexuality sap a capacity for genuine moral disapproval. Loyalty was defined by allegiance to the cult of homosexuality. Likewise, atheism fosters moral relativism–or nihilism. 

Its a subculture that doesn't identify with normal human social life. It has contempt for Christian morality. Contempt for the common lumpen.  Alienated from all that's natural, normal, good, and decent. 

A Response to Jerry Walls on Christian Compatibilism


Francis Turretin: “Papacy is AntiChrist”

Following up on the wild popularity of “Pope Francis” to the United States, Leonardo de Chirico looks at the question of whether “the pope is AntiChrist” in his occasional “Vatican Files” email this morning. In it, he cites Turretin’s “7th Disputation on the AntiChrist” which was part of a larger work entitled “Concerning our Necessary Secession from the Church of Rome and the Impossibility of Cooperation with Her” (1661) (published as F. Turretin, “Whether It Can be Proven the Pope of Rome is the Antichrist”, ed. by R. Winburn, Forestville, CA: Protestant Reformation Publications, 1999).

Here is a selection: Turretin: “Papacy is AntiChrist”:

Clement Of Alexandria And Roman Catholicism

Here are some comments from Eric Osborn, a patristic scholar who specialized in the study of Clement: