Thursday, March 22, 2007

Our Lady

I’ve been reading Tim Perry’s Mary for Evangelicals: Toward an Understanding of the Mother of Our Lord.

Don’t you just love these tendentious, prejudicial titles? It’s about as question-begging as “homophobia.”

It skews the analysis right at the outset with the presumptive imputation that Evangelicals just don’t “understand.” That’s why they reject Marian dogma. And it’s his job to enlighten us.

What we are then treated to is one of those stereotypically ecumenical, let’s-split-the-difference books.

One course, one of the problems with split-the-difference ecumenism is that Catholicism isn’t going to meet you half way. Marian dogma is just that—dogma.

Perry can make all of the concessive overtures he likes, but the motion is all coming from his end of the dialogue.

And it doesn’t matter what Catholic Bible scholars say, even when they’re right, for their correctives do nothing to alter dogma. Once the traditional prooftexts yield dogma, the conclusion remains even after the premise is withdrawn. You can admit that the prooftext was misused. But that retraction does nothing to retract the result.

Not that I, personally, have any particular problem with splitting the difference. When I read a book like Perry’s, I’m more than happy to split the difference. I support him whenever he opposes Marian dogma, and I oppose him whenever he supports Marian dogma.

In reading the book, two things came to mind. When, some years ago, I was in Vernazza—a picturesque little down on the Italian coast—I overheard a prayer service in which an old woman was leading other old women in the recitation of the Rosary.

It’s easy to see the emotional appeal of Mariolatry to peasant women. Women who had a hard life. Had a hard life with hard men—husbands, sons, and brothers. Mary is their great emotional refuge. At a functional level, she’s just another mother goddess.

But what accounts for her appeal to men? Well, it isn’t just any sort of man. The male architects of Mariolatry, as well as the men who are the most devoted to Mary, happen to be celibate clergymen. Popes and priests. Monks and prelates.

What we have here is a transparent case of sexual sublimation. They transfer their affection for the wife they never had to Joseph’s wife. Of course, this process of transvaluation is dressed up in very ethereal and rarefied terms, but any outsider can see that it’s simply an arrested, frustrated, and redirected exercise in libidinal energy. Sanctified lust. Spiritualized adultery.

Sodomy, concubinage, and Mariolatry are merely different outlets for their pent-up masculinity.

And even Catholic laymen who have a normal family life go along with this because, once it’s dogma, then it’s their duty to affirm it and defend it. That’s part of the package.

A Short History of the True Church

St. Singularis was a member of the true church. Needless to say, there was only one true church.

The true church was a rock-hewn church located somewhere in Nubia. The exact location was a closely guarded secret. Only a true member of the true church was allowed to know its location.

No one took more seriously than St. Singularis the motto: nulla salus extra ecclesiam. That’s why it was so important to be a member of the true church.

There were certain marks of the true church. For example, the true church only used communion wine with 18% alcohol content.

There was another monolithic church just down the canyon that served communion wine with 17.5% alcohol content. Such were the perennial dangers of apostasy.

The true church also used communion bread baked by vestal virgins. If the communion bread was accidentally baked by a married woman, then that rendered the Eucharist invalid.

At one time, the true church consisted of two members—St. Singularis and his twin-brother Unicitas. However, Singularis once caught his brother crossing himself with his left hand. (That’s because Unicitas was left-handed.)

Needless to say, the only way to make the true sign of the cross was with the right hand. So Singularis excommunicated his heretical brother.

It was an onerous duty, but someone had to perform it. Otherwise, chaos would ensue. Utter chaos!

St. Singularis used to write encyclicals to himself because…well…because there was no one else to write them to.

After St. Singularis died, there was no one left to sweep the dust, and the true church was eventually engulfed in a sand dune.

But let me reassure you that the true church still exists. The true church is still there—buried beneath that pile of sand, just waiting to be excavated so that you, too, can become a member of the one and only true church on earth.

The "true" bread

In the Eastern Church the breads were made by consecrated virgins; in the Western Church, by priests and clerics (Benedict XIV, De Sacrif. Missae, I, section 36).

For valid consecration the hosts must be:
• made of wheaten flour,
• mixed with pure natural water,
• baked in an oven, or between two heated iron moulds, and
• they must not be corrupted (Miss. Rom., De Defectibus, III, 1).

If the host is not made of wheaten flour, or is mixed with flour of another kind in such quantity that it cannot be called wheat bread, it may not be used (ibid.). If not natural but distilled water is used, the consecration becomes of doubtful validity (ibid., 2). If the host begins to be corrupt, it would be a grievous offence to use it, but it is considered valid matter (ibid., 3.) For licit consecration:

• the bread must be, at present unleavened in the Western Church, but leavened bread in the Eastern Church, except among the Maronites, the Armenians, and in the Churches of Jerusalem and Alexandria, where it is unleavened.

An Eastern Orthodox Drinking From A Muddy Roman Catholic Well

In various threads, Orthodox has been making a lot of misleading claims about the church fathers, and he occasionally attempts to support his assertions with quotes from the fathers that he seems to have gotten from some other source. Compare his quotes here to the Catholic Answers tract here. I think Orthodox would be better informed if he read the fathers for himself and spent more time consulting credible scholarship rather than consulting Catholic Answers.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Day After Tomorrow never comes

I saw The Day After Tomorrow on TV last Sunday.

It has some cool special effects. The beauty of computer generated FX is that you can simulate all sorts of fantastic stuff that could never happen in real life.

The film works at the level of dumb fun. Indeed, it’s never funnier than when it takes itself seriously. The same could be said for the movie’s high-profile promoter, Al Gore:

One of the best scenes in the movie is where super-cell tornadoes level Hollywood. That’s just one of the fringe benefits of global warming. Can you think of a better reason raise green house emissions? We clearly need to subsidize the purchase of more SUVs.

It’s odd that liberals are so opposed to global warming. After all, they keep complaining about the “two Americas,” the haves and the have-knots.

Yet, at the moment, all the finest waterfront property is owned by the wealthiest one percent of the population. But if the mean sea level suddenly rose, that would instantly wipe out all of those plush estates and open up vast new tracts of virgin coastline for the proletariat to colonize.

Moreover, there’s a fundamental difference between a humanitarian disaster and an ecological disaster.

Environmentalists keep telling us that human beings are a threat to the ecosystem. In that event, shouldn’t they promote global warming as a kind of insecticide against the human parasites who infest Mother Nature? Think of it as global flea spray. A way to fumigate the planet.

Rowe, Rowe, Rowe your boat

A while back, John Loftus indicated that William Rowe’s book, Can God Be Free?, undermined David Wood’s attempt to construct a theodicy. But Rowe's stated position is a good deal more nuanced and concessive than Loftus makes it out to be. Here are a few quotes:

"What then are the qualities that make for superior worlds? And are these qualities such that they have intrinsic maximums, a degree beyond which no greater degree is possible? Unlike determining the qualities that make for better persons, it is profoundly difficult to be confident in determining the qualities that make for better worlds. And more difficult still to determine that such qualities have intrinsic maximums, a degree beyond which no greater degree is possible," W. Rowe, Can God Be Free? (Oxford 2006), 43.

"There is a principle, the Principle of Organic Unities [See G. E. Moore, Principia Ethica (Cambridge 1903), 187ff.], held by a number of philosophers from Leibniz to the present day. According to this principle, the intrinsic value of a whole may not be equal to the sum of the intrinsic value of each of its parts...So, for all we know, the best world may include some intrinsically bad states of affairs...For, as we've seen, a state of affairs that constitutes an organic unity may be better for the presence of a bad part than it would be were the bad part replaced by a good part. So, again, we must note that a possible world with some bad parts may be better than a possible world with no bad parts," ibid. 78 (and footnote #6).

"We should not confuse the intrinsic value of a state of affairs with the intrinsic value of a state of affairs of which it is a part" ibid. 79.

As we've seen, owing to the Principle of Organic Unities, the best whole may have some parts that are not the best. Therefore, the best world may contain some human beings who are not better than, or even as good as, their replacements in the closest world to the best world," ibid. 86.

"He [Tom Morris] points out that some philosophers are doubtful that there is a single scale on which all creaturely values can be weighted so as to determine what world possesses the maximum amount of value. "Some world A might be better than rival world B in some respects, but with B surpassing A in others, and the relevant values are not such that they could be summed over and compared overall ["Perfection and Creation"], ibid. 99.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Should We Rid The Mind of God?

Darwin and humanity: Should we rid the mind of God? (2007)

A special debate between Alister McGrath, Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University, author of "Dawkins' God" and "The Dawkins Delusion" and Peter Atkins, Professor of Chemistry at Oxford University, well-known atheist and supporter of Richard Dawkins. As seen on Channel 4's "The trouble with atheism".


(HT: Andrew Myers)

Unity, Apostolic Succession, And Determining Truth By Popularity

The following is a reply I wrote to Orthodox in another thread. I thought that some of you might find it, or portions of it, helpful, so I'm putting it in a new post here.

Orthodox writes:

"There is no scripture saying which things are essential to the faith as a basis for a standard."

Passages like 1 Corinthians 15:1-19 and Galatians 1:6-9 tell us that some beliefs are essential. Protestants have a standard for unity from such passages.

You write:

"Yes, there was an odd group here, and a group there, who in a limited geographical area for a limited time broke unity, usually over one or two points of contention. I did originally say 'basically' one church. Why you think a few exceptions that prove the rule help you much I don't know."

No, your "basically" qualifier was added later. You originally said that there was only one denomination. See my documentation of what you said at the beginning of this thread. When you claimed that there was only one denomination, you surrounded that claim with criticism of "thousands" of Protestant denominations, and you went on to use the example of a church celebrating communion only once a year. As I explained to you earlier, you can't count "thousands" of Protestant denominations unless you include some relatively minor differences in the count. And how often communion is celebrated is relatively minor. Thus, to be consistent, you ought to include relatively minor differences among Christians of the first millennium as examples of significant disunity among them. And if you do that, then there were many divisions among Christians of the first millennium.

You write:

"And the church is capable of keeping Spain in the family if it so chooses despite a disagreement. The church decides what disagreement is tolerated and what isn't."

If you can "tolerate disagreement", then why can't Protestants? Earlier, you criticized the existence of disagreements. Now you're saying that disagreements are acceptable for Eastern Orthodoxy, as long as Eastern Orthodoxy is willing to tolerate them.

You write:

"Who would have thought someone claiming to be knowledgeable would want such a thing documented?"

You then cite men like Irenaeus and Tertullian referring to successions of bishops. That's not enough. For one thing, you claimed to be addressing what ancient Christianity as a whole believed, not just what was believed by some men from the late second century onward. Furthermore, you're assuming that your quotes mean what you were arguing for earlier. But that's a dubious assumption. There were multiple concepts of apostolic succession among the ancient Christians:

"Succession lists of kings, periodically appointed magistrates, and heads of philosophical schools were kept in the Hellenistic world. The Jews had lists of prophets and rabbis, but most importantly of high priests. Although early Christians had an interest in the succession of their own prophets and teachers (particularly in the catechetical school in Alexandria), special attention attached to the succession of bishops, who by the end of the second century incorporated much of the authority and function of prophets and teachers into their office. 1 Clement 42-44 taught the apostolic institution of the offices of bishop and deacon in the church. After the appointment of the first bishops and deacons, the apostles provided for the continuation of these offices in the church. This was not the same as the later doctrine of apostolic succession, and it is to be noted that Clement included deacons as well as bishops in his statement. Ignatius, the first witness to only one bishop in a church, did not base his understanding of the ministry on succession. The one bishop was a representative of God the Father, and the presbyters had their model in the college of apostles (Trall. 3). The first claim to a succession from the apostles in support of particular doctrines was made in the second century by the Gnostics. They claimed that the apostles had imparted certain secret teachings to some of their disciples and that these teachings had been passed down, thus having apostolic authority, even if different from what was proclaimed in the churches (Irenaeus, Haer. 3.2.1; cf. Ptolemy in Epiphanius, Haer. 33.7.9). Hegesippus, an opponent of Gnosticism, compiled a list of the bishops in Rome (Eusebius, H.E. 4.22.5f.). Irenaeus of Lyons drew on the idea of the succession of bishops to formulate an orthodox response to the Gnostic claim of a secret tradition going back to the apostles. Irenaeus argued that if the apostles had had any secrets to teach, they would have delivered them to those men to whom they committed the leadership of the churches. A person could go to the churches founded by apostles, Irenaeus contended, and determine what was taught in those churches by the succession of teachers since the days of the apostles. The constancy of this teaching was guaranteed by its public nature; any change could have been detected, since the teaching was open. The accuracy of the teaching in each church was confirmed by its agreement with what was taught in other churches. One and the same faith had been taught in all the churches since the time of the apostles. Irenaeus's succession was collective rather than individual. He spoke of the succession of the presbyters (Haer. 3.2.2), or of the presbyters and bishops (4.26.2), as well as of the bishops (3.3.1). To be in the succession was not itself sufficient to guarantee correct doctrine. The succession functioned negatively to mark off the heretics who withdrew from the church. A holy life and sound teaching were also required of true leaders (4.26.5). The succession pertained to faith and life rather than to the transmission of special gifts. The "gift of truth" (charisma veritatis) received with the office of teaching (4.26.2) was not a gift guaranteeing that what was taught would be true, but was the truth itself as a gift. Each holder of the teaching chair in the church received the apostolic doctrine as a deposit to be faithfully transmitted to the church. Apostolic succession as formulated by Irenaeus was from one holder of the teaching chair in a church to the next and not from ordainer to ordained, as it became....[In Tertullian] Churches were apostolic that agreed in the same faith, even if not founded by apostles. Apostolic succession arose in a polemical situation as an effective argument for the truth of Catholic tradition against Gnostic teachings. As so often happens to successful arguments, it came to be regarded as an article of faith, not just a defense of the truth but a part of truth itself. Hippolytus is apparently the first for whom the bishops were not simply in the succession from the apostles but were themselves successors of the apostles (Haer., praef.). When Eusebius of Caesarea used the lists of bishops as the framework for his Church History, he did not count the apostles in the episcopal lists. Cyprian, however, made an identification of the episcopate and the apostolate (Ep. 64.3; 66.4; cf. Sent. epp. 79 and Socrates, H.E. 6.8)....The sacramental understanding of ordination that grew up in the fourth and fifth centuries shifted the emphasis to a succession from ordainer to ordained, but the earlier historical type of succession was preserved in the lists of local bishops." (Everett Ferguson, Encyclopedia Of Early Christianity [New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1999], pp. 94-95)

Furthermore, there were multiple forms of church government, with church leaders being chosen in different ways in different places, with different standards. For example, sometimes an apostle or his associate appoints a church worker (sometimes specified as a bishop, elder, etc.) in the New Testament or in post-apostolic references, but sometimes the appointment is referred to the church in general (2 Corinthians 8:19; First Clement 44; The Didache, 15; Ignatius, Letter to Polycarp, 7). As Ferguson notes, "[In Tertullian] Churches were apostolic that agreed in the same faith, even if not founded by apostles. Apostolic succession arose in a polemical situation as an effective argument for the truth of Catholic tradition against Gnostic teachings....Election by the people was one of the methods of appointment known to Origen (Hom. 13 in Num. 4)....The will of the populace could prevail over clerical opposition (Sulpicius Severus, V. Mart. 9)." (Encyclopedia Of Early Christianity [New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1999], pp. 95, 366-367)

You write:

"If someone goes out of your congregation to that one in the Philippines you'd have to spend 6 months interviewing the pastors before you could make even a person judgement on whether your friend had 'gone out', and even then it would be just your individual belief and not 'standard'."

Why should we accept your unargued assertion about how long it would take to discern whether a person has left the faith? And where does 1 John 2:19 give us a time limit on such a process? As I told you before, 1 John was written in a particular historical context. Do you know what it was? As I told you earlier, the heretics John was referring to held highly unusual beliefs. He wasn't referring to people who had left one denomination for another, like going from a Baptist to a Presbyterian church. He was referring to people who adopted beliefs that undermined essentials of the Christian faith. You still haven't justified your interpretation of 1 John 2:19. You just keep asserting it.

You write:

"What I am pointing out is that John is assuming one 'denomination' if we want to use that term, because he is assuming that it is always clear when you 'go out' so that you 'may KNOW' they are not in the church."

Where does John say that it's "always clear"? Where does he say that he has denominations in view? You're reading things into the text that aren't there.

You write:

"We don't have unity with Roman Catholics. We do have unity with the other Orthodox churches. What is not clear?"

But you go on to say, concerning whether 1 John 2:19 applies to Roman Catholicism:

"this is not the time and place to get into the more difficult cases when the protestant case is oh so clear."

How can the case of Roman Catholicism be "difficult" and not "oh so clear" if 1 John 2:19 is teaching that it's "clear" who is and isn't part of the faith? You aren't being consistent.

You write, concerning Roman Catholicism:

"That's like asking how you can be a Christian under a tree in no church. The answer is, you will be in a severely impaired spiritual state."

But 1 John 2:19 doesn't refer to "being a Christian" who is "severely impaired". John is addressing heretics who he later refers to as "antichrists". He's not addressing "impaired" Christians. You're badly distorting 1 John. You can't have it both ways. You can't say that 1 John 2:19 is about making easy judgments concerning non-Eastern-Orthodox denominations, then turn around and refer to how it's difficult to judge how Roman Catholicism relates to 1 John 2 and refer to Roman Catholics as "Christians" who are just "severely impaired".

You write:

"But again, the church is not obligated to negotiate with schismatic groups."

If you can choose not to negotiate with some groups, then why can't Protestants do the same? And you refer to divisions you've had with some groups that have lasted for several hundred years. If you can take several hundred years to "negotiate" and remain divided, then why is the smaller amount of time for which Protestants have done the same unacceptable?

You write:

"But again, we're under no obligation to make unity work. You are under obligation to join The Church."

And we're under no obligation to make unity work. You are under obligation to join those who obey scripture.

You write:

"Sure there was, it was called the Jewish nation, which Moses brought out from Egypt. You didn't get out of Egypt in some schismatic group. Earlier on it was Noah's ark, and you didn't survive the flood if you were in a right believing group not in the Ark."

Nobody has denied that there was some unity and some organization in Old Testament times. What I said was that the unity and organizations took different forms. There was no one denomination throughout Old Testament history. And how do you know that men like Abel, Enoch, and Abraham were part of one organization comparable to a denomination, and that every other godly person on earth was a member of that same denomination? You don't.

You write:

"Israel was a denomination. From your point of view, a Jew could leave Israel, move to Australia, and still be part of Israel with all the promises and so on."

Israel was a physical nation for a while, but not throughout the Old Testament. Men like Abel and Enoch weren't part of the physical nation, and there were times when the organizational structure of the nation fell, like under the Babylonian captivity. As I said before, God worked in a variety of ways and through a variety of individuals and institutions in the Old Testament era. He didn't work the way you keep assuming He should in this New Testament era.

You write:

"So you look to a time in history that there is unambiguous agreement."

You still haven't proven your assertion that widespread agreement proves that a belief is correct. And you ignored the Old Testament examples I cited against your interpretation of Matthew 16. God also said that Israel wouldn't be destroyed (Jeremiah 31:35-37), yet Israel sometimes lost its organizational structure, went into captivity, engaged in widespread neglect of God's revelation (2 Kings 22:8-13, Nehemiah 8:13-17), misinterpreted Messianic prophecy, etc. If God could promise that Israel would never be destroyed, yet there could be widespread disunity and error and Israel could take a variety of organizational forms, then how do you supposedly know that the church must have the attributes that Eastern Orthodoxy claims to have in order for the church not to be destroyed?

You write:

"We understand there were some people who differed from the current standard, but without clear unambiguous proof that this is the catholic faith, believed everywhere, that is a nothing argument."

I've given you examples of people disagreeing with Eastern Orthodox belief in the early centuries, including widespread disagreement with Eastern Orthodox belief. Your doctrines weren't "believed everywhere" early on. In some cases, you can't document that a single person held your beliefs in the earliest generations. Why should we think that what allegedly was "believed everywhere" later on must be true? Was the general disobedience of the people of Israel described in 2 Kings 22:8-13 and Nehemiah 8:13-17 proof that such disobedience was correct? Are you going to add further qualifiers to your argument, without evidence, in an attempt to arrive at your desired conclusion?

You write:

"I am in contact with my priest who is in contact with the bishop who is in contact with the other bishops."

And how do you know that each person in that chain of contact is correct in his judgments? Are they all infallible in telling you who has unity and who doesn't? And does your local priest give you regular updates about who is and isn't part of your Eastern Orthodox unity worldwide? When's the last time he did that? What if some people or churches have joined Eastern Orthodoxy since then, and you don't know about it? When discussing 1 John 2, you suggested that we must be able to "easily" tell who is part of the unity and who isn't. So, how do you "easily" know who's part of the unity worldwide and who isn't from day to day? Do you get daily updates from your priest?

You write:

"I said that the kind of modern analysis that protestants do would have been unworkable before the modern age. That can't be said for evaluating the competing claims of Rome and Orthodoxy."

The same sort of historical analysis that Protestants apply to scripture and other historical documents is also applied by Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic scholars to the patristic documents and other relevant literature that you use in "evaluating the competing claims of Rome and Orthodoxy".

Monday, March 19, 2007

How To Be An Objective Non-Christian Scholar, By Bertrand Russell

  • "Historically it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if He did we do not know anything about him, so that I am not concerned with the historical question, which is a very difficult one." -Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not A Christian.

  • "So little is known of him [Leucippus] that Epicurus (a later follower of Democritus) was thought to have denied his existence all together, and some moderns have revived this theory. There are, however, a number of allusions to him in Aristotle, and it seems incredible that these (which include textul quotations) would have occured if he had been merely a myth." -Bertrand Russell, The History of Western Philosophy, 1972, p.64

Thoughts On Free Will

The recent discussion Paul’s been having on compatibalism reminded me of an argument by Arthur W. Pink in The Sovereignty of God. This argument is addressed to believers (sorry, atheists who wish to respond—this is an intramural discussion) who have a problem with the Calvinistic understanding of the sovereignty of God:

Friend, was there not a time when you walked in the counsel of the ungodly, stood in the way of sinners, sat in the seat of the scorners, and with them said, “We will not to have this Man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14)? Was there not a time when you “would not come to Christ that you might have life” (John 5:40)? Yea, was there not a time when you mingled your voice with those who said unto God, “Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways. What is the Almighty, that we should serve Him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto Him?” (Job 21:14, 15)? With shamed face you have to acknowledge there was. But how is it that all is now changed? What was it that brought you from haughty self-sufficiency to be a humble suppliant, from one that was at enmity with God to one that is at peace with Him, from lawlessness to subjection, from hatred to love? And, as one “born of the Spirit,” you will readily reply, “By the grace of God I am what I am” (I Cor. 15:10). Then do you not see that it is due to no lack of power in God, nor to His refusal to coerce man, that other rebels are not saved too? If God was able to subdue your will and win your heart, and that without interfering with your moral responsibility, then is He not able to do the same for others? Assuredly He is. Then how inconsistent, how illogical, how foolish of you, in seeking to account for the present course of the wicked and their ultimate fate, to argue that God is unable to save them, that they will not let Him. Do you say, “But the time came when I was willing, willing to receive Christ as my Saviour”? True, but it was the Lord who made you willing (Ps. 110:3; Phil. 2:13); why then does He not make all sinners willing? Why, but for the fact that He is sovereign and does as He pleases!

Pink, AW (1961). The Sovereignty of God: Revised Edition, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust (pp. 45-46; all emphasis in the original).

One point I would focus in on is the personal aspect Pink brings up. Everyone is born a sinner in rebellion against God, and as such “a non-believer.” Each of us—even those of us who were saved at a young age—knows what it is like to be in rebellion against God. The question is rightly asked: “What was it that brought you from [that state] to one that is at peace with Him…?”

The common reply of “I was willing to receive Christ” begs the question. Why did one become willing? What is it that was involved in the mechanics of your choice? The choice is not made in a vacuum—if it were, it would be a random, arbitrary choice, morally no different than flipping a coin.

Yet we know that when we chose Christ, it was because we desired Him. We longed to be with Him. We wanted fellowship that only He could give us.

In short, the choice was made only after we found Christ desirable. We could not have chosen Christ if we hated Him for such a choice would go against our nature! We could only choose Him then if we are coerced into doing so. But that is not how we know we were saved. We did not choose Christ grudgingly or against our desires; we chose Him after our very hearts were already turned toward Him! We chose that which we most desired.

The choice, therefore, was nothing but a reflection of what was already present in our heart.

Scripture is clear that we are born at enmity with God (Romans 8:5-8). This explains why those who are disbelieve refuse to submit to God’s law. Yet something must occur within us to change us from hating God to loving God. This change cannot be the choice we made to follow Christ for, again, that choice can only be made after the change has already taken place.

The common Arminian refrain, “I’m elected because I selected” echoes hollowly when you realize that your being—your nature—began to love Christ before you chose Him. Your selection had nothing to do with your altered nature; your altered nature dictated your selection.

By Gihon's Gilded Shores


Ethan was in a daze when he got home.

Well, to tell the truth, he’d been in a daze for several weeks. Headaches, blurry vision, and misremembering. He even thought he saw his doppelganger a few times.

Still, the diagnosis came as something of a shock. Or, perhaps I should say, prognosis.

The oncologist tried to be as upbeat as possible, floating the hope of experimental therapies, but terminal brain cancer had a certain ring of finality.

As a life-long Christian, Ethan had imagined that he would be better prepared for the prospect of death.

He had seen his saintly grandmother die a peaceful death, haloed with the hope of immorality knocking at the door.

And, indeed, Ethan was a believer. But believing was one thing, and knowing was another. Or was it?

He had no reason to doubt. Indeed, he had every reason not to doubt.

But imaginary doubts have a way of bootstrapping their own conception, gestation, and birth.

He had faith, but how could he trust his own state of mind at this stage of the game? Was his faith a grace of God, or merely a symptom of his cancerous delirium?

He had read of signs and wonders. And heard of many more. But that was hearsay.

God had spoken to the prophets, but not to him. No burning bush or water into wine in his own experience.

Where was God?


Ethan woke up in the middle of the night. Or, perhaps I should say, he was awaked from sleep.

At the foot of his bed stood a shadowy figure. Ethan tried to suppress his terror.

At first he pretended to be asleep; hoping he would, in fact, fall asleep; hoping the specter would go away.

But even with his eyes shut, he sensed the specter staring at him—as if it could pierce his eyelids with the intensity of its gaze.

At last he sat upright and addressed the specter.

“Who are you?”

“I am Legion.”

“What do you want?”

“To do you a favor.”

“What sort of favor?”

“I can cure you.”

“What’s the point? I’m already an old man. I’m going to die sooner or later. I admit the diagnosis threw me for a curve. Like everyone else I’ve been procrastinating about the inevitable. Maybe I needed this jolt to prepare me for my final end.”

“But that’s the catch, now isn’t it?”

“What catch?”

“It’s easy to believe when you have no other alternative. As long as you’re going to die anyway. What kind of faith is that? But suppose I could make you well? Suppose I could make you young? Suppose I could make you immortal? Then how would you choose?”

“I don’t know. I never thought about it.”

“Then give it some thought, and tell me how you choose when I return.”


And, indeed, that’s all Ethan could think about the next day. But wouldn’t this be apostasy? If he were wrong, he would forfeit eternal life for this hopeful hallucination. Or maybe it was the other way around. Was eternal life the delusion? Maybe there was no heaven or hell. Only here and now. Why mortgage the present on a future that might never come?

Either way, the stakes were equally high. If he accepted the offer, and he was wrong, he would damn himself for all eternity. God would never forgive him. Or could he take it back?

He could only know by giving it a try, but by that time it would be too late to rectify his mistake. Ethan’s mind went round and round.


Once again, Ethan awoke in the middle of the night. Once again, the specter was standing at the foot of the bed.

“How do you decide?”

“I can’t?”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know what to believe. What if I accept your offer, and it turns out badly?”

“Then I’ll make you another offer. So it’s risk-free, you see.”

“What do I do?”

“Follow this map. It will take you to Gihon spring, deep in the woods. Take a drink. The spring will restore your youth. Render you ageless.”


The next morning, Ethan woke up with the usual headache. Blurry vision. Forgetfulness.

He showered, shaved, and dressed. Then, when he went to put his wristwatch on, he saw the map on the chest of drawers.

So he drove to the countryside. The trail was overgrown with underbrush, making it a hot and tiresome hike. Age and ill health made it even more onerous.

Without the map, he would have lost his way many times. But finally he arrived at the spring.

The aureate tint of the gurgling the waters set it apart from any an ordinary spring.

Even under normal circumstances, a drink of cool spring water would be refreshing after such a hike. But the flavor of this water was especially bracing.

He decided to lie down for a little nap before retracing his steps. When he awoke, the sun was already edging towards the horizon.

But his headache was gone, and there was a new spring in his step.

It was nearly dark when he got back to the car. After arriving home, he went to the bathroom.

What he saw in the mirror as soon as he switched on the light was amazing. It’s as if the odometer of his life had been turned back to the time he was twenty or so.


There were some unforeseen circumstances when he accepted Legion’s offer.

His picture ID was out of date. And he couldn’t very well update his picture ID, for there was a mismatch between his present appearance and his date of birth.

Neighbors also began to notice that they never saw Ethan around the house. Instead, some young kid was coming and going.

A homicide detective came rapping at the door. Ethan was able to bluff his way through the conversation, yet it was clear that he had only succeeded in arousing rather than dispelling the detective’s suspicions.

The next time the detective came rapping at the door, he would no doubt have a search warrant in hand.

So Ethan suddenly found himself on the run. He was able to book a flight to Rio, since Brazil had no extradition treaty.

No doubt life as a fugitive was a small price to pay for immortality, but it did put a crimp in his plans. And the irony of it all is that he was completely innocent, yet he couldn’t afford to prove his innocence, lest someone dissect him for his immortal genes.

So he’d have to lay low for a few decades. Create a new identity.

Indeed, to be an immortal in a world of mortals meant recreating your identity every generation or so—as he was to discover.

He couldn’t get married. Or even have a girlfriend for very long. He couldn’t live in one place for very long.

It was only a matter of time before the natives began to notice that Ethan was immune to the passage of time. He could only visit Monte Carlo every so often. Every few decades, really.

If you went back too soon—say, thirty years later—and the same card dealer was still there, it would raise awkward questions. Hazardous questions.

He made many new friends. But the trouble with making new friends is that they had a habit of eventually dying of old age.

And he had to fake the aging process himself—as best he could.

At first he reveled in his apostasy. The nice thing about being an apostate is that you could cast off all the hang-ups of organized religion.

And Ethan was in a hurry to make up for lost time. Not that he needed to be in a hurry. It took him a while to make the mental adjustment.

He had all the time in the world. He would be alive until the sun went supernova.

For the first few years, he wondered to himself how he was ever able to put up with the utterly suffocating, claustrophobic creed of organized religion. Life was so much bigger than the four walls of a church.

But with time to burn, time began to burn a hole in his proverbial pocket.

He didn’t dare have a wife and kids. And even if they kept his secret, he would outlive them. He would have to watch them die, one by one, of old age.

No wife or mistress. Just a trip to the local brothel.

He did attempt to make one exception. For there was one woman who was everything he ever wanted in a woman. The sort of woman that a man could only hope to meet once in a thousand years. Which meant, for most men, never meeting her at all. But as an immortal, the odds of meeting her were greatly improved.

She would be the love of his life. Or, should I say, the love of his many lives. His serial lives, as he traded on alias for another. Or so he hoped.

He didn’t care about risk. She was too good to lose.

He tried taking her to Gihon spring. But the spring had dried up. Legion’s offer was to him, and him alone.

And it wasn’t just people that died on you. Places changed.

He began to appreciate the sense of place. Place was a beachhead against the high tide of time. Place was memory externalized. A way of fixing memory.

We associate people with places. Even when the people are gone, the places remind us of them. But when both are gone, what is left?

He went back to his hometown for the first time in 50 years. But his parents’ house was gone. His grandparents’ house was gone. His junior high school was gone. His high school was gone.

Without these outward dikes to dam the flood of time, the loss of continuity began to erode his sense of identity.

Everything which anchored him to his past was gone. His childhood. Coming of age. First love.

And making new friends, far from replacing old friends, accentuated the sense of loss.

Even if his new friends had been immortal, they could never take the place of those he’d grown up with. Those with whom he’d come of age. His father and mother. Brother and sister. His adolescent buddies. His high school sweetheart.

There was no substitute for that look of recognition in the eyes, when you spoke of shared memories.

To mention a girl you both knew from high school. To mention a trip you once took with your brothers.

There’s a reason these were called the formative years. They were irrevocable.

The isolation became unbearable. The dislocation became maddening. It was like being an amnesiac. Knowing no one and known to no one.

And there was one more thing. Before his rejuvenation, he had been an avid nature lover. And after his rejuvenation, he was looking forward to revisiting his favorite haunts as well as exploring a hundredfold more.

And yet, for some reason, which he couldn’t quite put his finger on, it didn’t have the same resonance.


So, at the age of 473, he demanded that Legion put in an appearance.

“I’m tired of living like this!”

“So soon?”

“I’d rather die. Give me back my brain cancer!”

“If you wish. But there is another alternative.”

“What’s that?”

“I could send you back in time to when you really were about twenty. And I could immortalize your loved ones as well.”

“That would be better. Yes, that would make a world of difference.”


And it was better—for a time. He offered to take his best friends to Gihon Spring. He offered to take his next of kin to Gihon Spring.

His grandmother was the only holdout. To her, apostasy was not an option. Life without Christ was a living death.

Her refusal was a disappointment to him. For she was one of the people he cared the most about—because she was one of the people who cared the most about him. And she died as she lived—praying for his soul.

But while that was loss, there was gain. They could face the future together.

One by one they drank the water. And it changed them. Renewed them.

Yet it changed them in other ways as well.

When he told his younger brother Austin about the spring, the first reaction took him aback. He saw disillusionment in his brother’s eyes.

Austin always looked up to Ethan. Ethan was his hero. Ethan’s piety was a cornerstone of Austin’s piety.

So Ethan’s apostasy left his younger brother shattered. But eventually he succumbed to temptation. Indeed, the loss of faith made it easy.

His mother, father, and older brother Dominic, none of whom were what you’d call devout, needed no convincing.

Neither did Selina, his high school sweetheart, or Brad, his best friend from junior high and high school.

Everything was looking up—for a while.

But one of the unforeseen complications of immortalizing your love ones is that they will also want to immortalize their loved ones, and so on. And all their loves ones are not the same as all your loves ones.

Here you were hoping to spend eternity with all, and only, your loved ones, only to find yourself in the company of folks you’d rather avoid.

Ethan found that he was unable to immortalize only his own loved ones, for some of them were unhappy unless the same benefit was extended to all of their loved ones.

Yet another oversight is that, because his loved ones had been dead so long, it slipped his mind that things had not been all that idyllic to begin with.

It’s easier to love some people after they’re gone. You can forget about all of their irritating traits, and just remember the good things about them.

But having immortalized his loved ones, he immortalized all of their irritating traits.

In his memory he had unconsciously rewritten parts of the past. Made some signal improvements. Perfected the past.

He forgot that his mother never understood the first thing about men. He forgot that his dad was the consummate backseat driver.

And he also forgot why he and Brad drifted apart in the first place. Indeed, “drifted apart” is a euphemism. They had a falling out over Selina. They were both in love with the same woman.

Now he was right back to the same ménage a trois.

What is more, Selina wasn’t the way he remembered her. How could she be?

He hadn’t seen her for over five hundred years. The Selina he remembered, the Selina he idolized, was the legend. The ingénue, forever frozen in time at sweet sixteen.

Not a real woman. Or a real wife. But a fantasy.

And it now occurred to him, for the very first time, that this is why he could never settle down with another woman.

I don’t mean, when he was immortal the first time around. I mean back when he was still a mortal.

In fact, it dawned on him that he might have had a happy marriage with any one of several other women he met over the years if he hadn’t been constantly comparing them with Selina. How could any flesh-and-blood female compete with a legend?

What is more—having now known countless women over the centuries, he could suddenly see her for what she really was all along—just a normal, ordinary girl.

When he was a teenager, Selina was a goddess. A star in the constellation.

In the meantime, his parents were getting a divorce. They had a good, working marriage back when the two of them expected to grow old together. Nurse each other in their dotage.

They were sensible people. Life is short. You take what you can get. You settle for less. You make the most of what you’ve got.

But now, restored to youth, with limitless opportunities ahead of them, they could afford to be more finicky. They had the luxury of time to find the perfect mate. The husband or wife of their dreams.

And this degenerated into a lawsuit over the division of their assets.

Early one, without consulting Ethan, his parents decided to cash in on Gihon’s spring. There was a fortune to be made. People would pay anything for immortality.

They took out a loan to buy the tract of land on which the spring was situated. They then had various investors put in a bid. Billionaires. Multibillionaires. Multinational corporations.

For a time, they were living the high life. But as is so often the case, a dream come true is only as good as your wildest dreams.

Success is the worst thing that can happen to some people.

Austin became a compulsive gambler. Dominic became a compulsive womanizer. Both became alcoholics and drug addicts.

The property deed was challenged in court. The state exercised eminent domain.

Overnight, Ethan’s family was dirt poor—hopelessly mired in unimaginable debt.

A civil war ensued when Washington attempted to federalize the land, after having been seized by the state.

The civil war escalated into a world war as everyone attempted to wrest control of Gihon’s spring from everyone else.

That’s before Gihon’s spring went up in smoke—or, more precisely—a mushroom cloud.

In a fallen world, eternal life is a living hell.

Ethan saw the fallout on the horizon when he went hiking one day. He was still trying to figure out why the mountains and streams and other wonders of the natural world had ceased to inspire him they way the used to—before Legion first appeared to him.

Then it came to him. Or, rather, it came back to him. Flooding back. Before his apostasy, there was more to nature that meets the eye. Nature was a sign.

Behind a tree stood the tree of life. Behind the starry heavens stood the throne of heaven. Behind a stream stood the river of life. Behind a mountain or high hill stood Mt. Zion. Behind the dawn stood Eastern morn. Behind a woman stood the Church.

And behind it all lay God, as the surpassing good in every earthly good, and greater good in every incidental evil.

Where was God? God was everywhere he looked. But, up until now, that had been subliminal. Something he took for granted. Something so familiar that it escapes our jaded gaze.

That’s what he was missing. God was there all along. God was writ so large that he couldn’t see him—for the whole of a nature was an allegory or theophany, of which Scripture was the key.

Throw away the key, and nature is all surface. An antique photograph. A thin film of sepia.

Once more, he demanded an audience with Legion.

“I repent! I recant! I take it all back!”

“As you wish.”


Ethan woke up the next morning with a headache. He showered, shaved, and dressed for church.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Eastern Orthodoxy Without An Appeal To Historical Knowledge?

Sometimes our critics do us the favor of denying the validity of their own belief system. Orthodox is generous with such favors, and here's another one from one of his most recent posts:

"And furthermore, this historical method is an anachronism and is necessarily so. Even the ability to check all the evidence is a 20th century thing. This could lead to a continually shifting canon. One minute a book is in because the evidence seems enough. The next minute it is out because some new writing is discovered, or some new internal analysis is done, or some new scholarly argument is published. You are tossed around in the wind and waves with no source of authority. This is why ONLY a living tradition can work....The only valid argument against a particular tradition is that it isn't being lived in all the Orthodox Church. And if it isn't being lived, it isn't dogmatically Eastern Orthodox to begin with."

How does he know that his "living tradition" is the right one? By examining church history? Then he's back to the sort of uncertainties of historical judgment that he just dismissed as unacceptable.

And how does he know what's "being lived" in Eastern Orthodoxy? Does he have discussions about every issue with every individual Eastern Orthodox in the world? How does he know what's happening in an Eastern Orthodox church a thousand miles away on a given day? By the time any such information would reach him, it would be historical information, information about a past that he didn't witness. And he's told us that basing our judgments on the uncertainties of historical research is unacceptable. He's denied the validity of his own belief system.

Notice, also, that Orthodox often raises common skeptical arguments against the historical verifiability of the Biblical canon. He doesn't seem to have read much conservative scholarship, and he often makes claims that reflect a high degree of ignorance about the relevant issues. Why is it that so many of the people who tell us that their denomination "gave us the Bible" are so ignorant of the Bible and willing to so uncritically repeat the arguments of skeptics?

The Immorality of Hell

I recently had a brief exchange with atheist Spencer Lo over the supposed immorality of God sending people to hell for committing sins he foreordained they would commit.

The exchange is brief but interesting since it gets into issues of compatibilism and moral responsibility.

I asked Spencer (through James Lazarus) if he wanted to post some final thoughts, or each have one more round, with him having the last word, but at this time he's letting the discussion go since he's writing his Masters Thesis (he's getting an MA in philosophy).

His non-response to my final post should not be taken as in any way his conceding my points. He also told Jim Lazarus that he may respond once he's done with his Thesis paper. If so, I will post it along with my future rejoinder.

For the moment, then, I post the exchange we had with the hopes that it will be helpful for Calvinists who hold to compatibilism.

Spencer's argument will be posted first, my response, his response, and lastly, my response.


1. Ought implies can is essential to moral responsibility.

2. If God predetermined all human actions, no person can act contrary to the way he or she was predetermined to act.

3. God commands humans to act in accordance with his laws, and warns that any deviation from them is punishable by an eternity in hell.

4. Since all humans act contrary to God's laws (no one's perfect), God must have predetermined that no would always act in accordance with his laws. (from 2, 3)

5. Whenever humans act contrary to God's laws, God must have predetermined that they would have deviated from them. (restatement of 4)

6. Humans cannot be expected to act in accordance with God's laws, whenever God predetermined that wouldn't. (from 2)

7. Humans cannot be morally responsible for not acting in accordance with God's laws, when they do not act in accordance with God's laws. (from 1, 5, 7)

8. Therefore, humans do not deserve to spend an eternity in hell.

- Spencer Lo



1. How is "can" being used in the argument? In one sense, all Calvinists believe people "can" do otherwise in the sense that their body operates just fine. That is, God is not moving their arms to do an evil act against their will. they have the "ability" to do otherwise. For example, it was prophesied that Jesus' bones would not break. God predetermined that Jesus' bones wouldn't break during the crucifixion. Now, Calvin asks, "Where Jesus' bones unbreakable bones?" Of course not, they still "could" have been broken.

2. Why is "being able to do otherwise" a precondition for saying an act is immoral? Or for moral responsibility? Say that Spencer, hating the Whereican government, is well known for wanting to shoot the president of Whereica. Now, an evil crime Lord, James Lazarus, wants the president dead so he can move forward with his nefarious plot to rule the world. James thus hires Spencer to do the job. Now, James, a staunch proponent of the "failure is not an option" school of villainhood, implants a device into Spencer's cerebral cortex that, if Jim Lazarus presses a button, will make Spencer go though with the assassination plot. This is a back-up plan, in case Spencer has a failure of of nerve.

Well, it should be fairly obvious that Spencer "can't" do otherwise. So, the question is, if Spencer shoots the president, and does this without having Lazarus pressing the button, should Spencer "ought" not have killed the president?

3. Is Spencer or Jim a determinist? If so, how can there be "oughts" in their worldviews?

4. Isn't Spencer a Buddhist, and Jim a physicalist (or something near enough)? How is identity of a *person* through time accounted for? Moral responsibility also presupposes that the person punished forthe crime is the person who did the crime (note, I critique memory views of identity in my response to RSS, and other physicalist (supervenient) views of identity in an old post of mine (The Convenience of Supervenience).

5. With respects to P.5, the point is that persons have *chosen* to do so "freely" were "feely" means "they did what they wanted to do and where not compelled."

6. I deny that P.6 follows from P2. God certainly can *expect* them to act according to his laws, since he calls all men to an account.

7. Ought implies "obligation." Men are obligated to obey God's law, whether they "can" do so or not.

8. "Can" should be viewed ethically not metaphysically. Men are not puppets being forced to go this way or that, against their will. No, our arms, legs, eyes, and mouth all work the same whether we sin or not. If Spencer kicks some person, that does not mean that he didn't have the metaphysical "ability" to not kick the person in that his sensory-motor skills were broken.

In Calvinistic (Christian) philosophy, the reason men "can't" obey God's laws is because that takes a desire to do so, and all men (without the regenerating work of the spirit) do not have that desire. Their nature is set against god and his law, hating it. It's rather like a lion, in some ways, who has the "choice" to eat lettuce or Gazelle flank. The lion's "body" works fine and nothing is broken with his control of his body to maneuver his mouth the chew the lettuce. But, it's not in his nature to choose the lettuce. And so as Jeremiah asks,

"Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil" (Jer. 13:23).

And I think the point here is that these things are part of their very nature (the point isn't to say that God could call skin color morally reprehensible, and so as we all know, all analogies break down). Men are ethically set against God and his law in such a way that, for them to do good is like an Ethiopian to change his skin color. In this way men "can't" obey God's law, unless they have a change in nature, becoming born again.

This doesn't mean that there isn't a law, though. This doesn't mean that the King of the Universe doesn't have obligations for all persons who live in his kingdom. And, this doesn't mean that God cannot expect men to live up to his law. That, they "ought" to live up to his law. Even though men ethically cannot choose to do good, this doesn't apply to the converse. They (ethically) "can" choose to do bad, and so since *they* have *chosen* from their *own desires* to do evil things, and they know these things are wrong, that these things "ought not" be done, i.e., that they *should not* be doing these things, then they most certainly deserve to go to hell, which is where they chose to go, the want to go there, and they desire it. Hell is a place where people will live without any common grace. They will not have God giving the regular blessing we enjoy now, while he waits patiently for his elect to come in. God will not restrain sin anymore, like he does now (pause... if you think the earth is bad, people are evil sick and disgusting, note that God is actually *restraining* people from being as bad and evil as they can be). And so people will go there, because that's where they wanted to go.

And, just because God determined that, that does not logically imply that *they* haven't chosen and desired to go there. Compatibilism is applied here.

I don't know, those are a few rough thoughts on the matter.



1. How is "can" being used in the argument? In one sense, all Calvinists believe people "can" do otherwise in the sense that their body operates just fine.

Suppose I mean logical possibility. I claim that given the facts of the situation, it is logically impossible for a reprobate to choose God. One only has two options; either you reject God for eternity, or you come to accept him. I'll argue that the reprobate can't choose otherwise, in the strongest sense of "cannot" possible: it would entail a contradiction. Whether or not being able to choose otherwise makes the reprobate morally culpable is a debate for next time.

Let's look at the facts of the situation. (i) The only way for a person to choose Jesus is if Jesus chooses him first. (ii) God has determined who the reprobates are before any of them were born. (iii) Whoever God has determined to be a reprobate will never be chosen by Jesus, and will always reject him.

It follows from these three facts that a reprobate cannot logically choose Jesus. Why? The necessary and sufficient condition for choosing God consists in Jesus choosing you first. If Jesus has not chosen you first, then you cannot choose Jesus. It's irrelevant that a reprobate's body "operates just fine," because there's nothing that the body can do which could enable one to choose Christ. A person can open his mouth and assert the words, "Jesus, please save me," but that won't save him; those words need to be spoken from the heart. Since the unsaved can't desire what he doesn't want to desire, unless Jesus changes his desires, there's nothing that the unsaved himself can do to desire salvation. Hence, there's nothing that the reprobate could do, himself, to choose to speak those words from the heart. This all goes to show that there is no sense in which the reprobate "could" choose.

I'll make my point more explicit. It is logically impossible for the reprobate to accept Christ because that would contradict the facts.

If a reprobate could choose Jesus, then (i) would be false; it would not be true that Jesus has to chose you before you can choose Jesus. Jesus choosing you wouldn't be the necessary sufficient condition for salvation, if one could choose Jesus without Jesus choosing him.

If a reprobate could choose Jesus, then (ii) would be false. It would not be true that you're a reprobate if you could choose Jesus, since a reprobate is someone who, by definition, would never chose Jesus.



Hey Spencer,

Okay, and I deny that the ability to do otherwise is a condition on moral responsibility. That is, I deny the "ought implies can" principle.

I affirm that (i) having alternative possibilities is not required for moral responsibility, and (ii) there is no reason why moral responsibility and determinism (or divine foreordination, for that matter)would be incompatible other than the fact that such determinism (or foreordination) would preclude alternative

Once premise 1 is refuted, then premise 6 does not follow from 2 (and 1). I'd defend both (i) and (ii) by appeals to Frankfurt-type counter example and (ii) by Fischer's refutations of source incompatibilists. Also, given my view, I see no reason to accept your argument as bearing on my theological distinctives. Though I'd say it's a good argument against libertarians (assuming they granted the sovereignty of God in the sense you employ it).

Also, I'd add that your argument is incoherent for assuming an deterministic worldview and a libertarian one. Your argument hinges upon my accepting determinism, but if so I reject libertarianism, but P1 asks me to accept libertarianism, and if I did that I'd reject other premises. So, your argument mixes internal and external critiques.

I think we can briefly look at your argumentation, though:

1) If you mean "logical possibility" (broadly logical) then I'd disagree. It is true that S cannot choose Christ in our world W where God has decreed that S would not chose Christ. But, it could be that at W* S is not reprobate since the decree is not the same. The same decree qualification is required, because if God's decree with respect to S in W* is that S be elect in W* -i.e. if W* were actual, then S would be elect - then it is not the case that S would be *necessarily* reprobate; for God could have decreed differently.

So, just because a person is actually reprobate, it doesn't follow that it is "logically impossible" for him to choose to come to Christ. For who knows if God's decree with respect to that person could have been different in another possible world?

But, if the decree is the same, then we can say that at any world W*, if God's decree is the same as in W, and S is decreed reprobate in W, S will be decreed reprobate in W*.

Same with physical determinism. One could ask, "could S have done different?" And, since there is no logical necessity to our physical laws being what they are, or what has happened physically in our world must physically have happened in all possible physical worlds, then govern a world W* with different laws or antecedent events, then S "could have" done different in the "broadly logical sense." And, therefore, your comments, construed as "logically possible," are false. Now, I suppose you could exegete Holy Scripture and make the case that God must have decreed in W* who he decreed in W (the actual world). But, minus that, it's false to say that by "can" you mean "logical possibility" and, based on that, S "cannot" chose Christ.

2. I maintain that *your construal* of "can" or "cannot" is subject to a serious reductio. If "ought implies can" in the "broadly logical sense" of "logically possible or impossible," then how could you say that S "ought" not, say, beat his wife for merely saying his name? Imagine the possible world W* where the laws of biology are such that, not unlike when a doctor hits your knee to check your reflexes, every time you hear your wife’s voice, you automatically swing your arm forward and punch her. So, it is "logically possible" that S "can't* refrain from hitting his wife for merely saying his name, therefore S has no moral obligation to not hit his wife!

3. Even if you change your "supposings," I still find your account problematic. I still don't know what you mean by "can" or "cannot." There are many different ways to look at this. To begin with an obvious example, which will prove my point without recourse to any moral dilemma, let's look at this example: due to psychological factors, a woman might freeze upon seeing a mouse in her kitchen. Paralyzed by fear, she "cannot" move a muscle. But, she "physically" can in the sense that this phobia is "all in her head." So, she "can" physically throw a glass at the mouse, psychologically she "cannot."

Now, take moral cant's and can's. Say that S is raised in a culture where the tribe members have a moral obligation to kill witch-people (say, all those from the tribe upstream). Now, say that S meets witch-S in the jungle. We would say that S not kill witch-S. But, S may reply, "I just can't let witch-S go. It is my duty to kill it." Certainly S *physically* can refrain from killing witch-S, but morally S believes he cannot, and this belief is as powerful for him as any other basic belief.

A more contemporary example, is that of someone raised in Hitler's Germany. S is reared in a society where he cannot help (as a psychological fact) to hate and act badly against the Jews. Say that S cannot help but see Jews as evil and in need of extermination. But S ought not do this, even though he might not be able to think or act otherwise.

Of course S would be *physically* able to refrain from killing Jews.

So, how is "can" being used?

I think it is obvious that in some cases, given that S cannot do act A, S is still obligated to do (or refrain from doing) A. So, there are some cases where one still has the ought even though one cannot refrain from an immoral act (see above).

Having proven that there are some ways in which people have obligations, even though they "cannot" act otherwise, I must wonder how you're using "can." Perhaps (and this would fit with both examples you gave me on the phone) you mean something like this maxim: Ought implies 'can' where 'can' means 'physically able.'

In this case, we can say that the witch-S murderer, and the Jew hater, ought not do the immoral acts they do, because they 'can' physically refrain from doing those immoral acts.

So, either "ought implies can" is outright false, or you save it by appeal to mere physical ability. The latter renders your argument without any teeth. Because, as you admitted above, people "can" physically utter the words "I choose Jesus," in the sense that their body is able to perform this function, it's not broken. The vocal cords are in tact. The speaker can form their mouth to make the English words intelligible, etc. And so even though God determined that S would ~A, S is still *physically* able to A. More specifically, God determined that people would put His son to death. But, these people still had the physical ability to refrain from hammering the nails into his hands. They were not trying to hold back with all their might, shouting "No, we don't want to crucify the Lord of glory!," while God was just stronger, pushing their hands down, thus rendering them physically unable.

Since I take it to be obvious that, given different things which refrain us from doing something (i..e, psychological, moral, etc), there can be cases where S just can't A but nevertheless ought to do A, I'll try to refute the last out, i.e., "ought implies that we physically can:"

4. Suppose that I promised to pick Spencer's parents up from downtown New York, after the Chinese new years parade. One would say I 'ought' to do so since, after all, I promised that I would do that.

Now, suppose that I purposefully handcuff myself to the bed in my hotel (since I'm visiting New York to see Laz and Spencer). Thus it appears that people can control their moral obligations. If you don't want to be obligated by a moral "ought," render yourself unable to do it. In that case, then obligation disappears.

Once I eliminate my "can," I eliminate the obligation. To respond that I should not posture myself as to not be able to do the obligation seems wrong since up until I render myself unable, I still "can" do it, but the second I incapacitate myself, the obligation leaves that second. And, now there is no more obligation. It "disappears" as soon as I render myself unable to perform it. Further, if we have 2nd level duties to perform 1st level duties, do we have 3rd level duties to perform 2nd level duties, and on and on...

5. And, take my Frankfurt-type counter examples: Why is "being able to do otherwise" a precondition for saying an act is immoral? Or for moral responsibility? Say that Spencer, hating the Whereican government, is well known for wanting to shoot the president of Whereica. Now, an evil crime Lord, James Lazarus, wants the president dead so he can move forward with his nefarious plot to rule the world. James thus hires Spencer to do the job. Now, James, a staunch proponent of the "failure is not an option" school of villainhood, implants a device into Spencer's cerebral cortex that, if Jim Lazarus presses a button, will make Spencer go though with the assassination plot. This is a back-up plan, in case Spencer has a failure of nerve.

Well, it should be fairly obvious that Spencer "can't" do otherwise. So, the question is, if Spencer shoots the president, and does this without having Lazarus pressing the button, should Spencer "ought" not have killed the president?

Here, though Spencer *psychologically* and *morally* could refrain from killing the president, Spencer could not do so physically. But, it turns out that Spencer didn't refrain from killing the president, but Spencer could not have done otherwise. So, if "ought implies can," then why is Spencer morally to blame for shooting the president?

6. Lastly, if Spencer cannot show that libertarian free agency is possible, given prevailing secular accounts of the world we live in (a deterministic one), which would put him up against the majority of atheists, naturalists and scientists today, then either Spencer must hold that ought does not imply can, or that there are no moral oughts. If the former, accepted. If the latter, so much the worse for his argument against the immorality of sending people to hell. If he wants to say that it is strictly an *internal* critique, then he must change his argument to premises I accept, and also deal with the arguments which show how I have no internal incoherence here.




The End