Friday, August 03, 2007


“The term [apokatastasis] is found in Justin Martyr and Irenaeus and developed into a doctrine of universal salvation by Origin. Origen was condemned by a synod in Constantinople…the general concept of a final apokatastasis is, however, found in Gregory of Nyssa and persists in a modified form in Byzantine theology, notably in Maximus the Confessor. It recurs in Modern Russian thinkers such as Solovyov, Bulgakov, and Berdiaev,” The Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity, 36.

As the implacable opponents of Eunomius, the Cappadocians were nevertheless dependent on Origen both for their biblical learning in the succession of his Hexapla and for their speculative thought; that becomes evident above all in the formulation of the doctrine of apokatastasis put forward by Gregory of Nyssa, which was spared the official condemnation visited upon Origen’s doctrines,” ibid. 482.

"Hell exists as a final possibility, but several of the Fathers have none the less believed that in the end all will be reconciled to God. It is heretical to say that all must be saved, for this is to deny free will; but it is legitimate to hope that all may be saved. Until the Last Day comes, we must not despair of anyone’s salvation, but must long and pray for the reconciliation of all without exception. No one must be excluded from our loving intercession. ‘What is a merciful heart?’ asked Isaac the Syrian. ‘It is a heart that burns with love for the whole of creation, for men, for the birds, for the beasts, for the demons, for all creatures’ (Mystic Treatises, edited by A. J. Wensinck, Amsterdam, 1923, p. 341). Gregory of Nyssa said that Christians may legitimately hope even for the redemption of the Devil."

Leaving the fold

The Grim Reppert has posted the following challenge to the Reformed doctrine of perseverance:

I think this is an empirical problem for point 5 to be honest with you. Point 5 advocates use this passage to buttress their position, I John 2: 19

"They went out from us but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us; but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us."

But can that be generalized to all instances of "leaving the fold?" Doesn't this commit you to an a priori theory of people who leave, which isn't supported by the evidence?

At issue is whether there is such a thing as an “ex-Christian atheist.”

By way of reply:

1.I appreciate the fact that Dr. Reppert takes Calvinism seriously enough to challenge it. We can take the heat, and the heat will temper our steel.

2.Reppert is correct to say that Calvinism would be guilty of overgeneralizing from 1 Jn 2:19 if, in fact, that were our only prooftext for perseverance.

Yet he must know that the doctrine of perseverance is founded on a far broader database than 1 Jn 2:19. In particular, various aspects of Johannine and Pauline soteriology lay the principle foundation for the doctrine, although the Biblical witness is wider than that.

3.It’s also unclear to me why he thinks that this doctrine is at odds with the empirical evidence.

i) Election and regeneration are necessary conditions of perseverance. Yet these are not empirical conditions. They are no open to public (or even private) inspection.

Catholic iconography notwithstanding, election and regeneration do not confer a halo on the elect and regenerate.

ii) In addition, the regenerate remain sinners in this life. So there’s no observable criterion that unmistakably distinguishes a nominal believer from a “true” believer.

Hence I don’t know what Dr. Reppert thinks would count as evidence against the doctrine.

4. Perhaps this is due to semantic confusion. As a matter of linguistic convention, Calvinism distinguishes between “nominal believers” and “true believers.”

When we deny that a nominal believer is a true believer, we do not deny that a nominal believer (or future apostate) can truly believe Christian theology. It’s just an idiomatic way of contrasting elect/regenerate believers from reprobate/unregenerate believers.

This usage is simply a carryover from Scriptural usage, which speaks of “unbelievers” in contrast to Christians.

It’s quite possible for the reprobate/unregenerate to believe in Christian theology. It may strike them as very reasonable. It may be all they know. Social approval may depend on their acceptance of Christian doctrine.

But the moment their hereditary faith comes under attack, especially if they move away from home and begin to shift their social arrangements, it may crumble into dust.

Some nominal Christians, whether converts to the faith or cradle churchmen, are intellectually inclined. As a result, they may dig deeper into theology, apologetics, and Bible study. This puts them on a track to ordination.

When a minister leaves the faith, that’s more conspicuous than when a layman leaves the faith, but it’s no more surprising. The apostate pastor got that far into the faith because his intellectual curiosity took him that far.

Moreover, there comes a point along the professional continuum where, to some extent, you feel emotionally or financially committed to see it through. A seminarian or ordained minister isn’t motivated to jump ship as soon as he begins to entertain some doubts about his faith.

For one thing, he may hope that he can overcome his doubts by toughing it out during the dry season. And, in some cases, he does overcome his doubts.

Beyond that, it is very awkward to make a midlife career change. Because all your training is in the field of theology, you may not be qualified to do anything else. You have no other marketable skills.

In addition, most of your relationships are centered on your Christian identity. Your marriage. Your parishioners. Your fellow ministers, seminary classmates, and mentors.

Think of all the people you’ll let down! You’ll be ostracized. You’ll lose your job. Your marriage may fall apart. You reputation in tatters.

Loss of face and loss of income are strong disincentives to making a drastic career change. So a nominal believer turned closet apostate may keep up appearances for a very long time. Indeed, some closet apostates never come clean.

Therefore, it isn’t terribly surprising that someone who seemed to be very advanced in the faith would suddenly drop out of the faith. He may have been treading water for a number of years.

He knows the role. He can play the part. The right code words. The right tone of voice. The right facial expression.

A man with public speaking ability can feign a passionate performance. Actors do it for a living. Think of Richard Burton as Thomas a Beckett or Paul Scofield as Thomas More. Think of all those worldly actresses who play nuns and mother superiors (e.g. Audrey Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Diana Rigg, Deborah Kerr). Heck, think of all the charlatans on TBN!

Conversely, a lot of ministers are mediocre preachers, so even if they lose their faith, it doesn’t show in the pulpit since their delivery was always a flat, lackluster affair.

5. And as far as the indirect evidence is concerned, consider two sets of professing Christians. Both sets go through the same ordeals. One set may suffer a crisis of faith or temporary lapse of faith, but they hunker down and stick it out. In time, they experience spiritual restoration.

The other set lose their faith and never look back. On the face of it we have the same causes resulting in different effects.

So what is the differential factor? There must be some other, intangible dynamic that distinguishes the backslider from the apostate. That would be grace.

Their outward circumstances are the same. For a time, their reaction may be the same. To all appearances they both look like lost sheep. But over time, one stray sheep returns to the fold while the other sheep continues to wander in the wilderness until it dies.

A Matter of Perspective

Yesterday was a really bad day for me.

After working all day long (at a job which is stressful enough as it is), I was finally looking forward to getting home where I could simply relax and continue to work on my current writing project. I got down to where I parked my bike and pulled it off the rack only to discover I had a flat rear tire.

Great, I thought. I so totally wanted to go to the bike store and spend money repairing my bike today. That was awful nice of God to oblige me in that manner.

Luckily, a block away from where I work there is a free shuttle stop. There is another shuttle stop right outside of the place where I bought my bike, which also repairs my bike whenever I break anything. So I walked over to the shuttle stop and waited for the shuttle to come by, because I knew that the shuttles have bike racks on the front too.

Or rather, I should say that most of the shuttles have bike racks on them. The one that showed up at the stop I was waiting at was one of the shuttles that did not have the bike rack. Since it was a mile down to the bike shop, I could have waited for the next shuttle to arrive and hope that it had a bike rack like it was supposed to. But since that wouldn’t be for another fifteen minutes, and since I could walk the distance in that time, I took off instead.

By the way, I should note at this point that I can walk a mile in fifteen minutes…assuming that I don’t have to wait at traffic lights. Alas, I didn’t consider that when I started to walk. I ended up getting to the bike shop about three minutes after the shuttle went by. Oh, and it did have a bike rack on the front of that shuttle. Talk about rubbing it in…

In any case, I got into the bike shop and wheeled my bike to the back where they do repairs. After waiting in line for another fifteen or twenty minutes, they finally got to my bike. I said, "I just need to buy a new tube and have you guys put it on." So the lady there took my bike and pulled off the bike tire. She showed me what had caused the tire to go flat—a barbed piece of wire roughly in the shape of a fishhook. Then she started to put the new tube on when she stopped suddenly.

"You’ve got another problem." (Note: this is not a good thing to hear when you’re getting your bike repaired.)


She took the back tire off again and brought it over. One of my spokes was broken. So, after rummaging around in a few drawers, she got a spoke that was the right size. Then, because it was the rear wheel, she had to take off the gears, repair the tire, and put everything back together. She said, "This will get you home, but you should have someone look at your tire soon."

I said it would be no problem as I still have the free warranty check for my bike. Technically, you’re supposed to have it done within the first ten days or 100 miles, but if you’re nice to the people who work there they always tell you, "Just bring it in when you really need to fix something." This does mean I’ll be without my bike this weekend though.

In any case, I paid my bill and finally got to leave an hour and a half after I got off work. Since it was much later, and since everything had gone so badly, I decided that I didn’t want to risk trying to cook (which for me means microwaving whatever I happen to have left in the freezer), so I stopped at Burger King. (Note: when your day is being consistently bad, don’t expect fast food to be anything approaching fast.)

After I explained my order (which had the tricky request of asking for "no tomatoes"), the guy at the counter got to call his manager over and fix the register, delete out my order and re-enter it twice, and finally get it finished. Miraculously, my sandwich did arrive without tomatoes! I just had to wait an extra twenty minutes to get it is all.

While I was waiting for my food, however, an interesting thing happened. I was standing by the beverages refilling my Diet Coke (you can tell there’s a problem with speed when you’re able to drink an entire Diet Coke and refill it while waiting for your sandwich) and a man stepped up to refill his water. He was about my height, around 40-45 years old, and he happened to be in uniform, which isn’t all that uncommon since I live in a military town (NORAD is practically in my backyard, and Fort Carson is just to the south). I told the gentleman standing there, "Thank you for serving." He smiled and thanked me for thanking him. I told him that I appreciated what he was doing, and asked him if he had been in Iraq.

"Twice," he responded. "And I’ll be going back again, either in October or March. They haven’t told us when yet, but we should know in a couple of weeks."

As we talked, I noticed a slight change in how this soldier (his name is Jim) reacted to me. At first, when I brought up the subject of Iraq, he said, "I can’t wait for us to get out of there. Our generals have been telling Bush for two years that we need to get out." But as our conversation progressed, his tone changed, and I got the feeling that, while it was definitely true he didn’t want to go back to Iraq again, he had stated his position stronger than he really felt because he didn’t know if I was anti-war and thus didn’t want to get into a verbal altercation when he was just trying to eat his dinner in peace. As we spoke and he saw that I wasn’t about to verbally abuse him, he softened up a bit and began to tell me some of what had been going on in Iraq while he was there.

To hear it on the news, the entire country of Iraq is a deathtrap. Yet Jim served two tours without firing his weapon outside of target practice. That’s not to say that it was safe for him—in fact, he told a story about how he and his squad were getting ready to go to a training exercise, and the gate they were to go through en route was hit by a suicide bomber killing six civilians. If it had been fifteen minutes later, they would have been right in the middle of it.

But this brings up an interesting point. The insurgents in Iraq are killing far more Iraqi civilians than anyone else. Jim told me how he sees little Nissan pickup trucks with as many as twelve Iraqis riding in them at one time—people just hanging off the back of the pickup and such. There is no armor on those vehicles. When they get hit by an IED, you have twelve dead civilians. And while the IEDs that hit US troops are reported in the news, those that the civilians accidentally set off only appear as little sidebars.

Jim told me of how his squad was up near the Iranian border and found a weapons cache with lots of grenades in it. "We probably shouldn’t have been playing with that stuff," he told me. Then he relayed a story of how one of his Sergeants pulled out an RPG shell and a giant spider ran from where it had been hiding. These desert spiders are said to be able to kill cats—they’re not the little critters we have here in the States. In any case, Jim said that they finally blew up the weapons cache standing about three hundred yards away from it. After the explosion, they decided they probably should have stood four hundred yards away from it.

Jim also told me of the children in Iraq. They love to play soccer—but don’t you dare call it anything other than football. They also like to run up to US soldiers because they know they can get food and candy. Jim told of having kids ranging in age from teens to two-year-olds standing in front of him. He would take a roll of candy and give the kids a piece at a time. When they traveled through a village without stopping, he would toss MREs (he said that an MRE is "considered gold" over there since there’s so little food) to the kids. He quickly learned that he had to make sure to get the MRE as far away from the edge of the road as possible, because the kids would run into the road and risk getting run over by traffic if it fell too short.

When he mentioned this about MREs, I laughed and said, "I used to have a friend in the fire department. He got a box of K Rations from there that we took on a hike. The only thing good in them was the Charms candy!"

Jim’s face lit up at this. "Charms are the candy I was giving the kids!" he said. Ironically, the fact that I knew what Charms candy was (and face it, if you’ve never had a ration you pretty much never heard of Charms candy) built a link between us. It was like we had an underlying bond, all formed on the basis of something as insignificant as the fact that seven years ago I had a K Ration while hiking with a friend who worked at the fire department in the town I used to live in.

In any case, because of this, Jim told me that every single person in his squad who had been married had gotten a divorce. This included Jim. Serving two tours in Iraq, the first one for six months and the second for eleven months, tore his family apart. He’s got three kids; his daughter, who will turn nineteen next month, just got married to one of Jim’s squad-mates—one of the guys who had been divorced during their time in Iraq.

Jim told me about his own divorce, and how he had heard stories about how some people had gotten divorced and then later remarried each other and went back to normal. He said, "I’m not too interested in remarrying right now. But my wife—ex-wife—thought differently. She remarried, so I guess we’ll never get together again." The way he said it, you could tell the pain that was inside over the whole issue.

And at this point, I realized something else. See, I had gotten my food about twenty minutes earlier, despite how long of a wait I had to get it. Yet Jim, who had only gone up to refill his cup of water, and I were still talking. Jim seemed to have this loneliness about him and he just wanted to keep talking. As I thought about it later, I realized that it could be since he got divorced he simply doesn’t have anyone to talk to about what he’s gone through. A stranger in Burger King might just be the closest thing he has had to conversation in a while.

Of course, I don’t want to read too much into it. Perhaps he’s just a talkative guy. But it didn’t feel that way, and the way he talked about his wife gave me good reason to suspect that he was lonely. Who knows for certain.

All I know is that when I left Burger King, I realized that our entire conversation came about as a result of my having a flat tire on my bike. Had I not needed to get my bike repaired, I would have biked straight home—I hadn’t intended on stopping at all. Had I been able to catch a shuttle ride down to the bike shop instead of having to walk it, or had my bike not needed to have the spoke repaired in addition to having a new tube, I still might have decided to stop at Burger King for food (since that alone made me irked enough to not want to spend time in the kitchen when I got home)—but it would have been at least a half hour earlier than when I actually got there. Had the cashier not messed up my order and needed to call the manager over, my order could have been prepared that much sooner. Had I not had to wait for so long for it to be cooked, I would not have been getting a refill of my Diet Coke at the same time Jim showed up to refill his cup of water.

If I wanted to, I could extrapolate it further back—if I liked tomatoes, I wouldn’t have requested my sandwich without them and the cashier wouldn’t have messed up my order in the first place; if I hadn't run over a tiny wire in the road somewhere, my tire wouldn't have been flat—and how did that wire get there anyway? Etc. But we don’t need to go that far to see what a bizarre, convoluted trail of coincidences lead to my meeting Jim, and to my subsequent writing of this post.

Naturally, our atheist friends will say that my having spoken with Jim was just a fluke, that all these events occurring were just a happy turn of events, a rare case of serendipity. But there are two important things to consider before dismissing this in such a manner.

1) All the events that lead up to my meeting Jim were, from my perspective, bad. I had a flat, I had to walk a mile, it ended up taking longer to get fixed, the cashier messed up my order, I had to wait nearly half an hour just to get my food. None of these things are exactly events that you would go running up and down the streets shouting, "Hallelujah, God blessed me today!" Yet:

2) Before I talked with Jim, I was having a really bad day. After talking with Jim, my day didn’t seem so bad at all. Not only was I able to meet someone I’d never met before, but I was able to talk to him and help him deal with some of the stress and issues he’s had to confront since being in Iraq. All the bad things that happened to me were trivial compared to the good that came about.

Steve has posted some articles recently about evil and hell and the atheists’ arguments about the morality of said places. I don’t need to repeat his work here. But I’ve also read Joe Holman on the Debunking Christianity blog write about how his mother was almost attacked by a serial rapist when Holman was a child. Holman used this event to attack God—why would God save Holman’s mom, but not the six other victims of the rapist?

It always amazes me how atheists who write about the Problem of Evil approach the issue as if they just discovered something that no one else in the world knows: there’s evil! It’s like someone running into the middle of the room to shout out, "Guess what? The sky is blue! The sky is blue!" As if the book of Job had never been written, or Christians always live perfect utopian lives and if they would just only experience evil then the first thing they’d do is abandon their faith instantly!

Yet everyone experiences evil. Evil is not some unique discovery that atheists just found; it’s something that Christianity was built on. A Christian is nothing more than an evil person who has been redeemed by Christ.

In a minor way, my experience of today illustrates the fallacy of the Problem of Evil. If we only focus on the bad events that happened to me, we don’t see the culmination of the events leading to a greater good. The thing that atheists don’t realize is that it was the grace of God who gave me the resolution to my bad day today. All these things could have happened to me, including my conversation with Jim, and yet I might not have ever put it together than my conversation with Jim was a direct result of every single one of the "bad" things that occurred to me this afternoon. Similarly, God could have used a bad event in my life to have someone else placed in a position to help another person in need. The lady who fixed my bike tire had to change her schedule around so that I could get my bike back. God could have used me to delay her so that she would run into someone. Of course, I don’t know whether this happened or not; but I do know what happened to me.

Naturally, someone can respond: "Having a flat tire on your bike is worlds different from someone being raped or murdered." Yes, this is true; yet the principle remains the same. Again, I can use my own life since I’ve experienced it. When I was a child, I was literally tortured in elementary school by kids who used to be my friends. Day after day, I was beaten up, pushed into fences, had my library books ripped up (so I would get fined), insulted, and tormented. This went on for two years at the school (and I should point out that children are geniuses at figuring out how to hurt others when the teacher isn’t looking).

To say that this experience changed my life is an understatement. To this day, I have problems developing deep friendships with people because of the fact that my friends were involved in the abuse. Before I realized I was doing it, the only friends I had were people I knew I could beat up if I had to fight them; that way, if they betrayed me, I wouldn’t be back in the same cycle.

There are parts of my memory of elementary school that I have literally blocked out. I honestly can’t say what happened to me in a full extent. But the abuse I suffered was the closest thing to being rape without actually being sexual in nature (after all, this happened in fifth grade). By no stretch of the imagination can anyone say that this event that occurred in my life is anything but evil.

Yet I don’t deny God, nor do I deny that God had this happen for a good purpose. Yes, it was bad for me then. Yes, I’ve been through hell since then, as a direct result of those events. Yet for all that, I’ve seen the good that comes out of my past experiences. I see how God can use me to help others. I’ve seen the hand of God directing the way things in my life turned out—things I didn’t see at the time, but which in retrospect are obvious, just as the chain of events leading up to today’s conversation with Jim is obvious.

If we only focus on the evil, we don’t have the whole picture. If we intentionally ignore God’s ultimate purpose in the events that occur—which atheists, and even some Christians, do—we have but a skewed picture of what has happened. What man means for evil, God means for good. And His plans are the ones that come to pass. I see this now, and hopefully you can see it from this post too. If so, well…

Yesterday was a really good day for me.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Deity of Christ

from Steve:

Since the deity of Christ is the hot button topic at T-blog at the moment, here are a few helpful titles.


The Lord of Glory by B.B. Warfield
Jesus: Lord and Savior by F.F. Bruce
Putting Jesus in His Place by Robert Bowman & J. Ed Komoszewski

More Advanced:

Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity by Larry W. Hurtado
Pauline Christology by Gordon Fee
Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus by Murray J. Harris
Self-Disclosure of Jesus by Geerhardus Vos

Reading List...

In the spirit of this thread:

The Art of Compromise: James White & Steve Camp

A Soft Answer Turns Away Wrath: Art Sippo, MD

All Sufficient: The Authority and Sufficiency of the BFM2K: Paige Patterson, Al Mohler, & Chuck Kelley

I Can't Get No Respect! Dave Armstrong

Illiterit : Even Maye

Brevity: Dave Armstrong & Steve Hays

Around the World in Seven Days: Touchstone

Missing Links: Touchstone

Evolution: No Joke! Steve Hays and Pete Pike

Salvation: Like a Tattoo! Dan Corner

Hair! The Musical, Jan Crouch

Irenicum: Kind Words For The Apostate: Steve Hays

From Apostasy to Faith: My Journey, John Loftus

Pecuniary Atonement: Classic Supralapsarianism and Equivalentalism Defined and Defended: Tony Byrne and David Ponter

General Atonement? Yes! Dr. Tom Nettles

Amyraldianism and You: Robert Reymond and Robert Nicole

Why I'm a Baptist, C. Matthew McMahon & R. Scott Clark

Speaking the Truth in Love: Art Sippo, MD

Philosophy Is Useless, Paul Manata

A Convention of Small Churches, Johnny Hunt, Charles Stanley, Jerry Vines, and Steve Gaines

Paige Patterson: Man's Best Friend, Benjamin Cole

With Right Authority! Why I'm a Landmarker, by Wade Burleson (Part 1 of 3)

Private Prayer Language Prohibited! Wade Burleson (Part 2 of 3), (Forward by Dwight McKissic)

How to Make Friends and Influence People: Handbook for Getting Everybody to Love You, Wade Burleson & Ben Cole (Part 3 of 3)

The Arminian Flyswatter, Charles the Brave

Handbook for Brief Writing: Gene M. Bridges and Steve Hays (seven page booklet)

My Journey To Rome: Jason Engwer

Baptists: Fruit of the Reformation: Paul Owen

Calvinism and Race: White People Crazy: Black Calvinist

Three Covenants, Seven Dispensations, A Modern Biblical Theology: Jason Robertson, Scott Hill, and Gene Cook Jr.

Why We Believe in the Covenant of Works: Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church and Conference

The Clarity and Perspicuity of Scripture: Kevin Johnson and Paul Owen

Handbook of Biblical Exegesis: Kevin Johnson and Tim Enloe

I Chose Him Because He Chose Me: Drs. Ergun and Emir Caner

Manual of Church Order: Ron Parsley & Jim Bakker

I, Robot: Henry

Why I'm Not a Calvinist: Timmy Brister, Nathan White, Andrew Lindsey, Dustin Segers, Tom Ascol, and Gene M. Bridges

Why I'm Not an Arminian: Peter Lumpkins, Ergun Caner, Jerry Vines, and Johnny Hunt

Every Calvinist is a Covenantalist by John MacArthur

Set the Prisoners Free, John L. Dagg

Many Translations are Good For Getting The Sense: Gail Riplinger and Peter Ruckman

Christ and The Decree: The Foreordination of God, William Lane Craig and Greg Boyd

Puritan Shmeritan! J.I. Packer and Paul Helm

Dare To Differ: Manual for Unity in Diversity: Marc Carpenter

The Solemn Rite of Believer's Baptism: Ronnie Floyd

The Blessings of Infant Baptism and Mixed Membership: Tom & Bill Ascol, (Forward by Jim Eliff and Voddie Bauckum)

Why Solo and Skywalker Are Better than Kirk and Picard, L. Russ Bush, Patrick Chan, & Eric Vestrup

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Everyday Theology

Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends by Kevin J. Vanhoozer (ed.)

(Read a sample)

Holy Imprecations

According to David Lewis, “Some worshippers of the perpetrator are obviously evil. They relish contemplating the torment of the damned. Some of them even think that delight in the eternal sufferings of worldly sinners will be a component of the bliss of the save,” Philosophers Without Gods, 239.

In the endnotes (295n12) he quotes a colorful passage from Tertullian to illustrate his point.

Several comments are in order:

i) Like so many atheologians, Lewis carries on a moral tirade against the Christian faith without bothering to explain how he, as an atheist, is in a position to moralize.

Now, perhaps he could marshal sort of argument for secular ethics. But he doesn’t. He simply takes for granted the moral authority of his value-judgments.

ii) We also find some imprecations and taunt-songs in Scripture. What are we to make of these?

One needs to make some allowance for hyperbole and picturesque figures of speech. It’s funny how many unbelievers quote the Bible in the same vein as Elmer Gantry.

iii) Let’s remember that the Scriptural imprecations and taunt-songs are directed at powerful enemies of the faith. Men who persecute the people of God. Men who hound the poor to death and corrupt the system of justice through bribery.

iv) Lewis seems to think the saints will glory will spend eternity gloating over the fate of the damned. There’s nothing in Scripture to justify that assumption.

What we have, instead, are the righteous taking moral satisfaction in the final judgment. The scales of justice are finally righted. Evildoers who defrauded widows and orphans or massacred the faithful will get their comeuppance at last.

How is that obviously evil? On the contrary, what would be obviously evil is someone so morally blind that he is offended by retributive justice.

We should rejoice when the wicked receive their just deserts. It’s a good thing when the innocent are vindicated and the guilty are punished.

This doesn’t mean the saints spend eternity munching on ambrosia while they literally look down on the damned, from their Olympian heights, as the damned writhe in agony. Some unbelievers have clearly seen too many reruns of Clash of the Titans.

It’s not as if, after a judge has sentenced the accused, the family of the victim stays in the courtroom, day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. No, once the sentence is pronounced and the court is adjourned, they go back home and get on with their lives.

Justice is a liberating force. It doesn’t keep you trapped in the past, but—to the contrary—frees you to move forward.

Divine Evil

(Posted on behalf of Steve Hays)

Of the various contributors to Philosophers Without Gods, David Lewis is undoubtedly the most high-powered thinker of the bunch. However, the actual essay is a work of composite authorship since he died before writing out the essay in full. Perhaps this accounts for all the slack reasoning.

There’s nothing terribly original about his argument, and I’ve dealt with this sort of thing before. But since unbelievers may quote from this book in the future, I might as well take one more whack at the dead horse on the backstretch.

Also, when a philosopher of his stature offers his own formulation of what many unbelievers regard as the decisive objection to the Christian faith, there’s some value in evaluating his performance. If this is the best that the best can do with the best weapon in their arsenal, what’s left?

Basically, he contends that the doctrine of hell is a special case of the argument from evil. Of course, he’s hardly the first atheologian to approach the issue from this angle, but let’s study his own formulation.
Standard versions of the argument from evil concern the evils God fails to prevent: the pain and suffering of human beings and non-human animals, and the sins people commit…What interests me here, however, is a simpler argument, one that has been strangely neglected. The standard versions, I said, focus on evil that God fails to prevent. But we might start instead from the evils God himself perpetrates. There are plenty of these, and, in duration and intensity, they dwarf the kinds of suffering and sin to which the standard versions allude.[1]
I don’t see that this version of the argument has been at all neglected, but, to continue:
For God, if we are to believe an orthodox story, has prescribed eternal torment as a punishment for insubordination.[2]
It’s unclear from his essay what his source is for the “orthodox story.” In the endnotes he refers to Scripture, Dante, and Tertullian. Does he therefore include both Scripture and tradition as the source of the “orthodox story”?

If so, this raises the question of his target audience. For Protestants, Scripture rather than tradition is the rule of faith.

For Catholics, Dante is not an ecumenical council. And Tertullian was a Montanist.

I doubt the Eastern Orthodox are overly concerned with what a Latin Father or Florentine poet believed. In addition, there is a universalist strand (which I reject) in Eastern Orthodox tradition.
The orthodox story is explicit about the temporal scale of the punishment: it is to go on forever.[3]
This is a correct statement of the Scriptural doctrine. And that is binding on Protestants like myself. But Eastern Orthodoxy is tolerant of universalism.
Many of those who tell the orthodox story are also concerned to emphasize the quality of the punishment. The agonies to be endured by the damned intensify, in unimaginable ways, the sufferings we undergo in our earthly lives.[4]
Several issues here:

i) He seems to define eternal punishment in terms of pain. But he makes no attempt to show that pain is the singular or primary component of eternal punishment. Does he think he’s getting this from Scripture? If so, where’s the exegesis?

And if he’s getting this from tradition (e.g. Dante, Tertullian), why should I care?

ii) Where does Scripture tell us that the damned suffer in “unimaginable” ways? Maybe they do and maybe they don’t, but if you’re going to attack the doctrine of hell, you need to attack what is taught in our rule of faith, and not embellish that teaching with fanciful additions and hyperbolic descriptions.

iii) To say that damnation intensifies the sufferings we undergo in our earthly lives does not imply that such sufferings are “unimaginable.” To the contrary, such an argument appeals to our to imagination as we project what we suffer in this life into a heightened form in the afterlife—in the case of the damned.

Dante and Tertullian, as well as Milton and Hieronymus Bosch had, if anything, an overly active imagination when it comes to fleshing out the details of everlasting punishment.

iv) It may well be that hell embodies an extension and intensification of what the reprobate already suffer in this life. But we need to distinguish between the actual teaching of Scripture and mere speculation.

If hell is a place devoid of special grace or common grace, that it’s easy to conclude that whatever is bad in this life is even worse in the life to come—for the hell-bound. And I think that’s a reasonable inference from Scripture. But one can extrapolate from this principle in more than one direction.

a) Hell is not merely a worse version of what the reprobate suffer in this life, for many of the reprobate do not suffer in this life. They make others suffer while they luxuriate. In this life, they get off scot-free.

One aspect of Biblical teaching is that hell will mark a reversal of fortunes. The ungodly who prospered in this life suffer in the next, while the godly who suffered in this life prosper in the next. So it’s quite inaccurate to say that hell is merely a linear extension and intensification of what the reprobate suffer in this life.

b) Once again, if we’re going to use this life as our frame of reference, then there are many different ways in which men make themselves miserable, or make the lives of those around them miserable.

Most human misery does not resemble a horror film. Most human misery is far more mundane and banal. Most human misery resembles a film like The Last Picture Show rather than the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Loveless lovers in search of love. Loveless lovers who fall in love with other loveless lovers. Men and women bored out of their minds by trite, repetitive lives.

So, if you are going to view hell as the perfection of everything that makes the reprobate miserable in this life, then, for the most part, hell would be a pretty tame place to spend eternity. What would make it insufferable is not the blood and gore, but the interminable triviality of a godless existence ad infinitum ad nauseum.

If Lewis is going to speculate, then I’m free to speculate as well, and my conjecture is that hell is a place with a wide variety of punitive lifestyles. There are many ways to be miserable, and a lot of misery consists in a mind-numbingly dull existence. Tedium rather than torture. Life without hope is unbearable.

Indeed, that’s the underlying reason why some people resort to a life of violence or drug abuse. Anything to temporarily break the crushing monotony of their godless little lives.
So, along both dimensions, time and intensity, the torment is infinitely worse than all the suffering and sin that will have occurred during the history of life in the universe.[5]
i) Maybe yes and maybe no. That’s an armchair version of hell.

ii) Is infinite agony a meaningful concept? Doesn’t physical pain have a physical threshold?

Or does he include psychological torment? But is infinite unhappiness a meaningful concept? You can speak of an infinite quantity, but what does it mean to speak of an infinite quality? What palpable sense can we extract from infinite intensity?
What God does is thus infinitely worse than what the worst of tyrants did.[6]
i) Lewis makes no attempt to defend this statement. And it builds on other indefensible premises. What tyrants do is to make their subjects miserable rather than let their subjects make themselves, or one another, miserable.

A tyrant will have a secret police force that tortures revolutionaries and terrorizes the populace to keep the populace in a state of fearful submission to the tyrant.

God does not torture or terrorize anyone (or contract that out to a subordinate) in order to keep people in fearful submission to himself. The only men and women who submit to God are those who have been favored by his gracious loving-kindness. They serve him out of joy—by hearts liberated from the bondage of sin.

By contrast, hell is a penal colony for rebels. Their insubordination is everlasting. And if there’s any torture in hell, it’s a case of one hellion tormenting another.

How is that "infinitely worse than what the worst of tyrants did"? To the contrary, this is a situation in which one evildoer repays evil for evil by returning the favor to another evildoer. How is that unjust? How is that not the essence of justice? Each evildoer receives his just deserts at the hands of his fellow evildoers. Not a pretty sight, to be sure, but richly deserved and eminently fair.

ii) A tyrant is someone who allows the wicked to prosper while he persecutes the righteous. God is doing the very opposite in damning the wicked.
God is supposed to torture the damned forever, and to do so by vastly surpassing modes of torment about which we know.[7]
i) He keeps telling us that God tortures the damned. He never gets beyond the bare assertion. What is his justification for this claim—which undergirds his entire argument?

ii) Where does Scripture ever say that eternal punishment vastly surpasses the modes of torment about which we know? Indeed, isn’t his claim self-refuting?

If everlasting punishment vastly surpasses the modes of torment about which we know, then how would he be in a position to know that? How does he know so much about the unknowable? For someone who tells us that hell is “unimaginably” cruel,” he seems to have some very definite ideas about the nature of the punishment—otherwise, how would he know enough to attack the doctrine of eternal punishment?
For the punishment of the damned is infinitely disproportionate to their crimes. Even the worst of this-worldly offenders is only capable of inflicting a finite amount of suffering. However many times that offender endures the exact agony he caused, there will still be an infinite number of repetitions to come.[8]
This is a very revealing analysis.

i) He equates suffering or agony with punishment. But how does that follow?

I go to the doctor because I feel unwell. The cure may be painful. Is the doctor “tormenting” me? Is painful medication or surgery a form of punishment?

Suppose I accidentally injure my best friend. He’s in agony. Was I punishing my best friend? There’s nothing intrinsically punitive about pain.

ii) What makes a crime criminal is not that a criminal pained the victim, but that he wronged the victim. The amount of suffering is not what makes an action unjust. And it’s not what makes on action more unjust than another.

Suppose a Nazi gasses a Jew, or shoots him in the head. Is the evil quantified by the amount of pain endured? If you could make the Nazi feel the same amount of pain as a bullet in the brain, would that be a just punishment? Does Lewis believe that if only there had been an ouchless, painless way of implementing the Final Solution, the Nazis would be innocent of their crimes?

iii) How does he measure pain and suffering, anyway? And what point does the offender endure "the exact agony he caused"? Does Lewis have an agonometer? Is pain and suffering quantifiable in discrete units? How many units of pain and suffering does he think a child rapist should have endure to recompense the exact amount of pain and suffering he inflicted on the victim? What’s the minimum?
Moreover, in each of these repetitions, the torment will be intensified and extended across all possible modes.[9]
It will? How does he know that? What’s his source of information?
This is to assume, of course, that the damned have committed some crime. If the orthodox story supposes only that they fail to believe in God, then the injustice is even more palpable.[10]
This assumes, without benefit of argument, that atheism (or agnosticism or idolatry) is blameless.
Alice the agnostic may live a life full of charity and good works, notable for its honesty, fairness, and loving care of those around her. If lack of faith suffices for damnation, then the divine reward will be an eternity of the most exquisite agony.[11]
i) Alice is a virtuous agnostic due to common grace, and not due to her innate goodness or personal merit. Left to her own devices, she would be unfair, uncaring, uncharitable, dishonest, and full of bad works.

ii) Lewis has done nothing to show that Alice will suffer the "most exquisite agony."

Indeed, if Lewis really thinks that hell is populated by people as honest, caring, and charitable as Alice, then why does he also think that hell is such a horrific place to spend eternity? If the damned are such a nice bunch of people, then hell would be pretty idyllic.

I’m deeply disillusioned that a humanist would have so little faith in his fellow man. If what Lewis supposes is true, then the most loving thing that God could do is to allow so many wonderful unbelievers to spend forever and a day in one another’s philanthropic company. We should all book reservations before the vacancies fill up and the boxed chocolates run out.

Where did Lewis every come across the nasty rumor that hell is a place you want to avoid—much less a torture chamber? With all those humanitarians running around in hell, handing out bouquets and valentines, who would they recruit to torture anyone? Didn’t anybody ever tell him that hell is just one big rose garden, with fawns and butterflies and bunny rabbits?
So I think the usual philosophical discussions of the problem of evil are a sideshow. We seem to strain at the gnat and swallow the camel. Why is this? Many will say that what I have called the “orthodox story” is a cartoon theism. Real, grownup theists believe something much more sophisticated…I reply that this overlooks two important points. First, the neglected argument does apply against mainstream version of theism preached all around us. There is a strong case for claiming that the overwhelming majority of Christians and Muslims, both in North America and the rest of the world, are committed to the “orthodoxy story.” There are many passages in the New Testament (and in the Koran) that tell, or presuppose, that story, if they are read at face value.[12]
Since I’m not a Muslim, I don’t care what the Koran has to say on the subject.
Second, the reply fails to appreciate how difficult it is to avoid the “orthodox story” while simultaneously retaining the distinctive doctrines of Christianity. To evade the neglected argument, you must contend that prominent passages of scripture should not be read literally. Perhaps there are alternative ways of reading the idea of God’s punishment or understanding torment. But we need to hear not just that there are such ways but what they are.[13]
That depends on what he means. You don’t have to assume that the damned are Billy goats, or the devil is a red dragon with a chain around his neck, or that Jesus has a sword sticking out of his mouth, or that Jesus rides a warhorse into battle, to believe in the biblical doctrine of hell. One can make intelligent allowance for idioms, stock imagery, and literary genres. That’s a matter of retuning our ears to hear Scripture as it would have been heard by the original audience.
But if damnation is torment, or if it is a state for which eternal torment is an apt metaphor, then trouble recurs. For if we suppose that the alleged choice is ill informed and irrevocable, then God does evil. He places people in a situation in which they must make a judgment that binds them for eternity, and he knows that some will be so inadequately informed that they will opt for an eternity of torment (or for a state for which torment is an apt metaphor).[14]
A couple of problems:

i) Lewis is superimposing his own viewpoint onto God, as if God shares his viewpoint regarding ignorance of the hellbound.

ii) But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the hellbound didn’t know the consequences of their actions. So what?

Suppose that child rape is a capital offense. Suppose a child rapist doesn’t know that child rape is a capital offense. Suppose, if he’d known the penalty, he would have refrained from sodomizing little boys and girls.

How is that exculpatory? It’s a way of saying that he would do it all over again if only he could do so with impunity.

Does that somehow make the crime any less heinous? Does that somehow mitigate his guilt?
It is hard to distinguish between God and the parent who equips the nursery with sharp objects galore and plenty of matches, fuses, and dynamite.[15]
This assumes the hellbound are in a state of diminished responsibility, like children before the age of discretion.
Things would be different if those who are damned are stubborn, persisting in their choice even when fully informed. What would these people be like? They must prefer a state of torment (literal or metaphorical) to the alternative of salvation.[16]
Do people choose to be miserable? Maybe not directly. Remember, though, that Lewis regards damnation as a carryover from life on earth.

It’s a commonplace of human experience, in the here and now, that many people make themselves miserable by making destructive, lifestyle choices. They don’t like to be miserable. But they like the lifestyle that leaves them unhappy.

One more thing. Lewis has a myopic focus on the “torments” of hell. But his analysis is very lopsided.

What makes hell hellish? There are two things, not just one. Of course, one of them is where you end up. But the other is where you don’t end up. For one of the main things that makes hell hellish is that hell isn’t heaven. This is a neglected truth, yet it’s quite fundamental. To miss out on heaven is, itself, a hellish deprivation.

The penalty of damnation is, in part, the loss of heaven. The absence of heaven and not merely the possession of everything that heaven is not. Damnation is as much a matter of what you lose as what you incur.

To take a mundane example, suppose a man fumbles the chance to marry the love of his life. He procrastinates a little to long in popping the question. She gets tried of waiting, and accepts the proposal of his rival.

If he marries a battle-ax, then that is twice as bad. But even if he never gets married, or marries a good, dutiful woman, he will always regret his lost opportunity. If only he had screwed up the courage to seize the moment. But now it’s gone forever.

[1] D. Lewis, “Divine Evil,” L Antony, ed. Philosophers Without Gods (Oxford 2007, 231.
[2] Ibid. 232.
[3] Ibid. 232.
[4] Ibid. 232.
[5] Ibid. 232.
[6] Ibid. 232.
[7] Ibid. 232.
[8] Ibid. 232.
[9] Ibid. 232.
[10] Ibid. 232.
[11] Ibid. 232.
[12] Ibid. 232-33.
[13] Ibid. 233.
[14] Ibid. 233.
[15] Ibid. 233.
[16] Ibid. 233.

Abusing Atheists

(Posted on behalf of Steve Hays)

Earlier this month, Jeff Lowder posted an open letter to theists about abusing atheists.[1]

This is what he said:
In his contribution to Philosophers Without God (ed. Louise Antony, Oxford University Press, 2007), Walter Sinnott Armstrong describes the sort of bigotry he encountered after his debate book God (co-authored with William Lane Craig) was published. One theist sent him an email calling Sinnott-Armstrong

a "small minded" "egotist," "an arrogant fool," and a "pompous PhD," then added "it is pathetic that the College allows you in a classroom," and "That you don't [believe in God], I am sorry to have to inform you, calls into question your intelligence." Then it concluded, "Please be assured that this theist will impartially consider any persuasive response you can offer and, as such, I look forward to continuing this dialogue with you."

Commenting on this email, Sinnott-Armstrong writes:

This exchange indicates a larger problem: Many theists feel perfectly justified in abusing atheists. I would never consider writing such a diatribe against a theist who argued for belief in God. I would remain calm even if a theist misrepresented atheism. Most atheists I know let ridiculous religious views go unchallenged.

I'd like to pose the following question to all theists, especially evangelical Christians:

What are your thoughts about the email sent to Sinnott-Armstrong? Do you condone the email? Do you condemn it? Or are you indifferent? Do you agree with Sinnott-Armstrong that "Many theists feel perfectly justified in abusing atheists"? Why?

In raising this issue, I recognize that there have been atheists who have been guilty of committing the same kind of abuse against theists. Nevertheless, I'd like to focus the discussion on the treatment of atheists by theists. Please share your thoughts with me.
Among others, Victor Reppert responded. Among other things, he said the following:
I dislike Richard Dawkins, but I don't envy him his hate mail…I have no idea as to why Christians send these things to atheists.
This raises a number of issues.

1.I don’t think that Christians should send “hate mail” to Dawkins. On the other hand, Dawkins writes in a deliberately offensive and provocative style, so he richly deserves whatever hate mail he gets.

2.I don’t know why Reppert is jumping to the conclusion that a Christian sent this “hate mail” to Sinnott-Armstrong. Maybe it was a Christian. But Sinnott-Armstrong doesn’t say that. And neither does Lowder.

It could also have been sent by a Muslim or Mormon or Hasidic Jew, among others. The fact that Reppert instantly assumes that it must have been sent by a Christian reflects a prejudicial stereotyping on his own part. One wonders if even Reppert bothered to read the book before he clambered onto the bandwagon.

3.Unfortunately, neither Sinnott-Armstrong nor Jeff Lowder defines what they mean by “abusing atheists.”

Maybe Jeff’s question is an invitation to Evangelical Christians define such abuse. Here are some examples of what I would consider an improper response:

i) It is wrong to knowingly speak falsehoods about an atheist.

ii) It is wrong to disrespect a respectable argument.

4.On the other hand, there are atheists like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins who willfully misrepresent the Christian faith through their studied ignorance of Christian theology and Biblical scholarship.

Likewise, I’ve found that Darwinians such as Ridley, Futuyma, and Kitcher presume to critique creationism without making any good-faith effort to acquaint themselves with the standard creationist literature.

They also pass over in silence the secular critics of the standard evolutionary paradigm, thus leaving the reader with a very inaccurate or lopsided impression of the state of the evidence.

That flagrant misbehavior deserves to be denigrated. It’s especially egregious when an atheist is posing as a rationalist, lecturing the rest of us on the rational superiority of atheism, at the very same time he resorts to patent sophistries and pig-ignorant aspersions.

5.As to the specifics of the email sent to Sinnott-Armstrong, I do not condone the email. It’s derogatory to no good purpose. There is no attempt to present a counterargument to his stated position. So it’s a gratuitous putdown.

6.So that is roughly how I’d distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate Christian rhetoric. But I still don’t know how they define “abuse.” For example, what does Jeff think about the stream of invective which his coeditor, Robert Price, directed at William Lane Craig in TET? Does he condone it or condemn it?

By definition, an atheist has a more favorable view of atheism than a Christian. So there’s no value-free standard to invoke. In the same volume that Jeff referenced, we encounter this complaint:
Within this climate, skeptics and atheists are viewed with suspicion. We are presumed to be arrogant, devoid of moral sentiments, and insensitive to a wide variety of human goods. Indeed, according to the authors of a recent survey from the University of Minnesota, “Atheists are at the top of the list of groups that Americans find problematic in both public and private life.” Forty-seven percent of those surveyed said that they would “disapprove” if their child “wanted to marry a member of this group.”…these opinions…linked disbelief with egotism, consumerism, and ethical relativism.”[2]
i) Does Jeff regard that as an example of abusing atheists? Up to a point, I can understand, from their perspective, why an atheist would resent this “suspicion.” On the other hand, it would be unreasonable of an atheist to expect a Christian to view atheism favorably. These are, after all, opposing positions. They find fault with each other.

Indeed, the very volume in question operates on the principle that the best defense is a good offense. It goes on the offensive by attacking Christian ethics in a very in-your-face manner.

A number of the contributors clearly view Christians with suspicion. They view many Christians as arrogant, devoid of moral sentiments, and insensitive to a wide variety of human goods. They view Christian ethics as deeply problematic in public and private life. They wouldn’t want their child to marry a devout, Bible-believing Christian.

ii) Moreover, is this an inaccurate impression of atheism? In the very same book, one of the contributors makes the following admission:
This is not to insist on moral realism, the thesis that moral discourse is objective. Moral non-cognitivists from Hume to Simon Blackburn insist that moral assertions, such as the wrongness of killing innocent children, do not express matters of fact, or have truth conditions.[3]
Not all atheists take this position, but for those that do, why wouldn’t a Christian be well-warranted in viewing them with suspicion? In this case there is a direct link between disbelief and ethical relativism.

iii) There’s also the bloody track record of secular regimes like Stalinism and Maoism.

iv) Furthermore, is secular moralism necessarily an improvement over secular nihilism? The average secular humanist takes positions on abortion, infanticide, eugenics, euthanasia (whether voluntary and involuntary), sodomy, pedophilia, organ-harvesting, homosexual adoption and marriage, as well as other social issues that are diametrically opposed to Christian ethics.[4]

Just consider Richard Dawkins’ social blueprint for a secular technocracy:
Yet the book [The God Delusion] ranked number two in Amazon’s worldwide sales list, and is fueling an antireligious campaign in Britain, which Dawkins himself is leading, canvassing government ministers and promoting atheism in state schools. This effort has already notched successes in restricting religious rights, most notably in a new British law requiring Catholic adoption agencies to place children with gay and lesbian couples.

The National Secular Society (NSS), of which Dawkins is an honorary associate, has campaigned for a godless Britain since the nineteenth century, and devotes its Web site to decrying and ridiculing religious faith. The NSS, whose associates include twenty British parliamentarians, as well as such establishment cultural figures as the playwright Harold Pinter, vows to combat “religious power-seekers” and “put them in their place once and for all.” For his part, Dawkins has said he would remove all financial support from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim schools and make them teach atheism; prohibit hospital chaplains from solacing the ill; and undertake other measures to combat the “infantile regression” of religious belief. And what about parents who persist in telling their children about religion? “It’s probably too strong to say the state should have the right to take children away from their parents,” Dawkins told an interviewer. “But I think we have got to look very carefully at the rights of parents-and whether they should have the right to indoctrinate their children.”

Asked why the twentieth century had witnessed so many atrocities, he insisted Hitler and Stalin had been “quite mild” compared to the religious “monsters of the Middle Ages.” In a series on Britain’s Channel Four TV, he equated elderly pilgrims at Lourdes with suicide bombers on the London Underground. “Far from being beaten, militant faith is on the march all across the world with terrifying consequences,” Dawkins told TV viewers. “It’s something we must resist, because irrational faith is fuelling murderous intolerance throughout the world.”

Language like this would sound familiar to those who remember the campaign against religious faith in Eastern Europe, where claims about religion’s social divisiveness were used by totalitarian regimes to justify savage repression. Under such regimes, scientific atheism was a requirement for teachers and educators, legislators and ministers. Schools and colleges were seen as the frontline in a struggle against religious belief, a struggle that included removing Christian symbols and place names and disrupting Christian influences in marriage and family life. These were political systems in which just being a Christian was enough to attract the cold glare of suspicion and hostility. The utilitarian morality favored by Dawkins was given free rein.
His atheist campaign, with its chilling eugenic undertones, appeals to many people raised with little knowledge or understanding of religious belief-people for whom the fear of Islam touched off by September 11 has metamorphosed into a public phobia about all religion. Such people may be tempted by Dawkins’s Darwinist notion of religious belief as a virus that infects inferior genes and needs “quarantining,” as well as by the summons to defend society against a rising tide of “religious fanaticism.”

For another, Dawkins has influential friends and formidable resources. Hostility to religion has a long tradition in the United Kingdom, where “organized religion” often sits uncomfortably alongside Anglo-Saxon empiricism and individualism, and anticlerical sentiment reflects the impatience of an antireligious elite that resents alternatives to its own way of thinking. Welcoming Dawkins’s new book, the veteran BBC broadcaster Joan Bakewell said the professor was right to be “not only angry but alarmed” at the spread of religious faith. The liberal peer, Lord Ralf Dahrendorf, who scrutinizes all legislation passing through the British Parliament, has also deplored threats to the “secular commitment” of Western societies. “The return of religion to politics-and to public life in general-is a serious challenge to the rule of democratically enacted law and the civil liberties that go with it,” Dahrendorf wrote in the Guardian, and he appealed to “enlightened communities” to respond accordingly.

Britain itself may already be feeling the effects of such “enlightened” thinking. A recent Education Bill amendment would have required Catholic schools and other church-owned colleges to reserve at least a quarter of their places for nonreligious children (it was reluctantly withdrawn by Britain’s education minister, Alan Johnson, after Catholic and Anglican leaders said they would create such places voluntarily). And an upcoming debate this month will center on the new Equality Bill, which threatens to deny religious organizations the right to follow conscience in dealings with homosexuals. Meanwhile, social services in several counties-including Dawkins’s native Oxfordshire-are reported to have denied adoption rights to Christian couples, after claiming the children in question could be “brainwashed.”

One church leader, Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow, has warned that the controversy over Catholic adoption agencies is just the “tip of the iceberg.” If enacted, new regulations “could compel religious organizations to renounce their activities or be removed from public life,” Conti warned. A new Charity Law is expected to withdraw tax-exempt status from religious bodies that fail to reflect “modern morals and existing orthodoxy,” even as Christian Union societies at British universities have had to resort to legal action after being denied facilities and having their bank accounts frozen. Meanwhile, Edinburgh University has banned copies of the Bible from student dormitories after condemning the Christian Union for violating its “equality and diversity policy” by claiming that “any sexual activity outside heterosexual marriage is not God-ordained.” And religious leaders have resisted attempts by secularist local councils to “de-Christianize” Christmas and Easter and remove Christian place-names from towns and cities-literally wiping religion off the map.

As for Dawkins, a new Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason was unveiled in December to fight the “scandal” of religious teaching in schools, and to prevent children from being “labeled with their parents’ religion.” With a Labor Party Humanist Group launched in Parliament earlier this year to “oppose faith schools,” Dawkins can be confident his campaign is flourishing. Britain’s crusading atheist looks set to fight on for his ideal utilitarian society, a brave new world in which secularism reigns supreme, while lives, values, and freedoms are ruled by scientists.[5]
Is it any wonder if Christians distrust militant unbelievers in positions of power? Why wouldn’t we view secular humanism as a mortal menace to our civil liberties? What is Jeff’s position on Dawkins’ sociopolitical vision?

7. It’s also amusing to see Sinnott-Armstrong cast himself in the role of Mr. Nice Guy—brimming over with tolerance. You’d never know from Lowder’s excerpts that Sinnott-Armstrong has some very choice comments about Bible-believing Christians, in the very same chapter from which Lowder excerpted his quotes:
You had to go along with whatever the Bible said, even when it was puerile.[6]

My quietism ended when current events taught me the dangers of religion. I had always known how religions, including Christianity, led to wars in the Middle East, Ireland, and so on.[7]

On a more personal level, I was not prepared for the death of Matthew Shepard. When bigots kill defenseless homosexuals, they do not always cite religion as their reasons. Christianity still fuels their bigotry. If Christians did not broadcast their condemnation of homosexual, then the bigots would be less likely to kill. Christianity is at least part of the case. I came to see why Christianity should be held responsible for these deaths. The dangers of religion are even more evidence when abortion doctors are killed by openly religious groups.[8]

Of course, atheists kill, too. Russian and Chinese communist governments are famous examples. However, these atheists killed in the name of communism, not atheism.[9]

Other deaths are caused by religious views in less obvious ways. One such case was brought to my attention by a conference at Dartmouth College on stem-cell research…our government was restricting it.[10]

Most atheists I know let ridiculous religious views go unchallenged.[11]

This defeatist attitude means that fundamentalists get away with spouting harmful nonsense…If atheists let themselves be cowed, our country’s policies will continue to be distorted by ancient religious myths. More religious wars will arise. And there will be more suffering among people who need abortions or stem-cell treatments or just sexual freedom.[12]

Professors don’t put up with beliefs in ghosts, even in student papers. Why should we have to treat religion differently?[13]
This raises a number of apt questions:

i) Why does Sinnott-Armstrong take such offense at the email when he himself is so harsh and denunciatory in his characterization of Christian ethics?

ii) How does Jeff feel about Sinnott-Armstrong’s description of Christians and Christian ethics?

iii) Notice that Sinnott-Armstrong is threatening to downgrade the term papers of his religious students. Isn’t that a way of saying that Christian students need not apply? Why is it wrong for the email correspondent to say that he has no right to be in the classroom while he insinuates that Christians have no right to be in the classroom?

Incidentally, there are well-attested case studies of “ghosts.”

iv) The gov’t does not restrict stem cell research. It only restricts gov’t funding of stem cell research. At even that only holds for the Federal gov’t.

If successful, stem cell research would be immensely lucrative. If private companies are not prepared to invest R&D capital in stem cell research, it must not be a very promising research program. So why should gov’t fork the bill?

v) Does he have any hard evidence that stem cell research will save lives?

vi) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that it would save lives, is it ethical to extinguish some human lives to save other human lives?

vii) Christians don’t oppose stem cell research. What they oppose is embryonic stem cell research.

viii) How many women actually need abortions? Is Sinnott-Arnold prepared to restrict abortion to women who actually need them? Would he legalize therapeutic abortions, but criminalize eugenic and elective abortions?

ix) Which is worse, to verbally abuse a tenured professor, or kill a baby?

x) Does he have any hard evidence that unbelievers murder homosexuals due to Christian preaching?

If anything, I’d suggest that Christian preaching restrains violence against homosexuals. Normal men are ordinarily contemptuous of homosexuals. Left to their own devices, normal men would be more likely to assault or murder homosexuals.

xi) To say that atheists kill, too. Russian and Chinese communist governments are famous examples. However, these atheists killed in the name of communism, not atheism is a lovely piece of special pleading inasmuch as these are militantly secular ideologies.

xii) Why does he think it’s wrong to kill homosexuals, but right to kill babies? Given how he’s cheapened the value of life, what does it matter who lives or dies?

xiii) Is the civil warfare in Ireland due to religion or colonialism?

xiv) What “openly religious groups” assassinate abortionists?

If nothing else, Sinnott-Armstrong is very loose with the truth. And just in case you think that he is over the top, Sinnott-Armstrong is downright charitable in comparison with another contributor to this very same volume. David Lewis thinks that Christians are even worse than Nazis, and he treats Christianity like an infectious disease:
Many Christians appear to be good people, people worthy of the admiration of those of us who are non-Christians. From now on let us suppose, for simplicity’s sake, that these Christians accept a God who perpetrates divine evil, one who inflicts infinite torment on those who do not accept him. Appearances notwithstanding, are those who worship the perpetrator of divine evil themselves evil?[14]

Consider Fritz. Fritz is a neo-Nazi. He admires Hitler. Fritz’s’ admiration of an evil man suffices, we might think, to make Fritz evil…Fritz is evil, it seems simply because it is evil to admire someone who is evil. Or more exactly, it is evil to admire someone evil in full recognition of the characteristics and actions that express their evil.[15]

Many other Christians…are sincerely compassionate; they genuinely forgive their enemies. Yet they knowingly worship the perpetrator…They endorse the divine evil. And that’s bad enough. [16]

We admire religious people famed for their selflessness, their courage, or their scholarship—Mother Teresa, Father Murphy, Jean Buridan. Yet we know that they worship the perpetrator. Moreover, since they worship the perpetrator, endorsing his judgments about the propriety of eternal torment for some (including us), the perpetrator’s evil extends to them.[17]

What attitude should we non-believers have toward our Christian friends? Can they avoid contagion? Can we admire them and not be infected?[18]

They genuinely think that their God will commit those who do not accept him to eternal torment. They may prefer not to dwell on the point, but when they consider it, they accept his judgment. Of course, they do not see this as divine evil. Instead they talk of divine justice and the fitting damnation of sinners. If Fritz is clear about Hitler’s actual deeds, he will tend to use similar locutions. He won’t talk about evil and genocide but will praise the proper purification of the highest form of culture and the justified wiping out of a disease.[19]

Modest Fritz isn’t disposed to persecute the Jews in his neighborhood. Nor are our Christians friends inclined to rain suffering and humiliation upon us. Yet if Hitler, or one of his appropriate representatives were there, beside Fritz and his mates and the potential Jewish victim, Fritz would approve of the persecution’s being carried out by the proper authorities. So, too, with the worshippers. If the day of judgment were to arrive now, and they were to stand by and observe God’s decision to punish us—their unbelieving friends—they would endorse it…in the end, they would worship the perpetrator; they would label divine evil as divine justice.[20]

We can admire their compassion, their perseverance, their selflessness. But can we admire them, despite their preparedness to worship the perpetrator?…Over all, it seems, our evaluation must be negative. They are like the tyrant whose many small contributions to his subjects’ welfare pale in contrast to the monstrous repression he will countenance.[21]
Incidentally, yet another contributor also compares Christians to Nazis.[22]

Does Jeff agree with this comparison? Surely what the email correspondent said about Sinnott-Armstrong is pretty tame in relation to this. For that matter, what does Sinnott-Armstrong think of the Nazi comparison? Are Christians the moral equivalent of Nazis—or worse?


[2] L. Antony, “Introduction,” L. Antony, ed. Philosophers Without Gods (Oxford 2007), ix.
[3] Ibid. 15.
[4] For some concrete examples, go to
[6] Ibid. 73.
[7] Ibid. 76.
[8] Ibid. 76.
[9] Ibid. 76.
[10] Ibid. 76.
[11] Ibid. 78.
[12] Ibid. 78.
[13] Ibid. 79.
[14] Ibid. 238.
[15] Ibid. 238-39.
[16] Ibid. 339.
[17] Ibid. 239.
[18] Ibid. 240.
[19] Ibid. 240-41.
[20] Ibid. 241.
[21] Ibid. 241.
[22] Ibid. 277.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Contours of Christian Theology

The Revelation of God by Peter Jensen
The Doctrine of God by Gerald Bray
The Providence of God by Paul Helm
The Person of Christ by Donald Macleod
The Work of Christ by Robert Letham
The Holy Spirit by Sinclair Ferguson
The Doctrine of Humanity by Charles Sherlock
The Church by Edmond Clowney

The Entropy Paradox

Our resident ignoramus, Touched By A Stone, has weighed in on my comments on Steve’s previous post about the Entropy Paradox. Never one to let knowledge get in the way of his vitriol, T-Stone has accused me of being “thoroughly confused” and presenting “pure hooey.”

This despite the fact that (as I told T-Stone) I was presenting arguments from Brian Greene in The Fabric of the Cosmos. Greene happens to be a physicist. T-Stone happens to be dimwitted. Which one wins this contest?

T-Stone says:
Parsimony isn't a statistical evaluation, it's an evaluation of *economy*.
Unfortunately for T-Stone:
The notion of entropy was first developed during the industrial revolution by scientists concerned with the operation of furnaces and steam engines, who helped develop the field of thermodynamics. Through many years of research, the underlying ideas were sharply refined, culminating in Bolzmann’s approach. His version of entropy, expressed concisely by the equation on his tombstone [S = k log W], uses statistical reasoning to provide a link between the huge number of individual ingredients that make up a physical system and the overall properties the system has.

Greene, Brian. 2004. The Fabric of the Universe. New York: Vintage Books p. 151 (emphasis in bold added)

To carry on with Greene’s thought:

…[I]magine unbiding a copy of War and Peace, throwing its 693 double-sided pages high into the air, and then gathering the loose sheets into a neat pile. When you examine the resulting stack, it is enormously more likely that the pages will be out of order than in order. The reason is obvious. There are many ways in which the order of the pages can be jumbled, but only one way for the order to be correct. …A simple but essential observation is that, all else being equal, the more ways something can happen, the more likely it is that it will happen. And if something can happen in enormously more ways, like the pages landing in the wrong numerical order, it is enormously more likely that it will happen….

Entropy is a concept that makes this idea precise by counting the number of ways, consistent with the laws of physics, in which any given physical situation can be realized. High entropy means that there are many ways; low entropy means there are few ways. If the pages of War and Peace are stacked in proper numerical order, that is a low-entropy configuration, because there is one and only one ordering that meets the criterion. If the pages are out of numerical order, that is a high-entropy situation, because a little calculation shows that there are [Greene then writes a number that continues for the next page and a half which only a masochist would reproduce here]—about 10 ^ 1878—different out-of-order page arrangements.

(ibid, pp. 151-153, all italics his)
Naturally, there are some differences between this and physics:

Of course, in making the concept of entropy precise and universal, the physics definition does not involve counting the number of page rearrangements of one book or another that leave it looking the same, either ordered or disordered. Instead, the physics definition counts the number of rearrangements of fundamental constituents—atoms, sub-atomic particles, and so on—that leave the gross, overall, “big-picture” properties of a given physical system unchanged. As in the example of War and Peace, low entropy means that very few rearrangements would go unnoticed, so the system is highly ordered, while high entropy means that many rearrangements would go unnoticed, and that means the system is very disordered.

For a good physics example, and one that will shortly prove handy, let’s think about [a] bottle of Coke… When gas, like the carbon dioxide that was initially confined in the bottle, spreads evenly throughout a room, there are many rearrangements of the individual molecules that will have no noticeable effect. For example, if you flail your arms, the carbon dioxide molecules will move to and fro, rapidly changing positions and velocities. But overall, there will be no qualitative effect on their arrangements. The molecules were spread uniformly before you flailed your arms, and they will be spread uniformly after you’re done. …By contrast, if the gas were spread in a smaller space, as it was in the bottle, or confined by a barrier to a corner of the room, it has significantly lower entropy. The reason is simple. Just as thinner books have fewer page reorderings, smaller spaces provide fewer places for molecules to be located, and so allow for fewer rearrangements.

But when you twist off the bottle’s cap or remove the barrier, you open up a whole new universe to the gas molecules, and through their bumping and jostling they quickly disperse to explore it. Why? It’s the same statistical reasoning as with the pages of War and Peace. No doubt, some of the jostling will move a few gas molecules purely within the initial blob of gas or nudge a few that have left the blob back toward the initial dense gas cloud. But since the volume of the room exceeds that of the initial cloud of gas, there are many more rearrangements available to the molecules if they disperse out of the cloud than there are if they remain within it. On average, then, the gas molecules will diffuse from the initial cloud and slowly approach the state of being spread uniformly throughout the room. Thus, the lower-entropy initial configuration, with the gas all bunched in a small region, naturally evolves toward the higher-entropy configuration, with the gas uniformly spread in the larger space….

The tendency of physical systems to evolve toward states of higher entropy is known as the second law of thermodynamics. (The first law is the familiar conservation of energy.) As above, the basis of the law is simple statistical reasoning: there are more ways for a system to have higher entropy, and “more ways” means it is more likely that a system will evolve into one of these high-entropy configurations. [I note in passing that this is the third time Greene has used “statistical reasoning” in regards to entropy; perhaps T-Stone should e-mail him to correct Greene’s obvious stupidity!] Notice, though, that this is not a law in the conventional sense since, although such events are rare and unlikely, something can go from a state of high entropy to one of lower entropy. When you toss a jumbled stack of pages into the air and then gather them into a neat pile, they can turn out to be in perfect numerical order. You wouldn’t want to place a high wager on its happening, but it is possible. It is also possible that the bumping and jostling will be just right to cause all the dispersed carbon dioxide molecules to move in concert and swoosh back into your open bottle of Coke. Don’t hold your breath waiting for this outcome either, but it can happen.

The large number of pages in War and Peace and the large number of gas molecules in the room are what makes the entropy difference between the disordered and ordered so huge, and what causes low-entropy outcomes to be so terribly unlikely. If you tossed only two double-sided pages in the air over and over again, you’d find that they landed in the correct order about 12.5 percent of the time. With three pages this would drop to about 2 percent of the tosses, with four pages it’s about .3 percent, with five pages it’s about .03 percent, and with 693 pages the percentage of tosses that would yield the correct order is so small—it involves so many zeros after the decimal point—that I’ve been convinced by the publisher not to use another page to write it out explicitly. Similarly, if you dropped only two gas molecules side by side into an empty Coke bottle, you’d find that at room temperature their random motion would bring them back together (within a millimeter of each other), on average, roughly every few seconds. But for a group of three molecules, you’d have to wait days, for four molecules you’d have to wait years, and for an initial dense blob of a million billion billion molecules it would take a length of time far greater than the current age of the universe for their random, dispersive motion to bring them back together into a small, ordered bunch. With more certainty than death and taxes, we can count on systems with many constituents evolving toward disorder.

(ibid, pp. 153-157, italics his)
Now that we have established how unlikely it is for even one Coke bottle's worth of carbon dioxide to randomly form out of a high entropy situation, it is time for the paradox:

Earlier, we introduced the dilemma of past versus future by comparing our everyday observations with properties of Newton’s laws of classical physics. We emphasized that we continually experience an obvious directionality to the way things unfold in time but the laws themselves treat what we call forward and backward in time on an exactly equal footing. As there is no arrow within the laws of physics that assigns a direction to time, no pointer that declares, “Use these laws in this temporal orientation but not in reverse,” we were lead to ask: If the laws underlying experience treat both temporal orientations symmetrically, why are the experiences themselves so temporally lopsided, always happening in one direction but not the other? …

Notice that in our discussion of entropy and the second law, we did not modify the laws of classical physics in any way. Instead, all we did was use the laws in a “big picture” statistical [there’s that word again, T-Stone] framework: we ignored fine details…and instead focused our attention on gross, overall features…. We found that when physical systems are sufficiently complicated (books with many pages, fragile objects that can splatter into many fragments, gas with many molecules), there is a huge difference in entropy between their ordered and disordered configurations. And this means that there is a huge likelihood that the systems will evolve from lower to higher entropy, which is a rough statement of the second law of thermodynamics. But the key fact to notice is that the second law is derivative: it is merely a consequence of probalistic reasoning applied to Newton’s laws of motion.

This leads us to a simple but astounding point: Since Newton’s laws of physics have no built-in temporal orientation, all of the reasoning we have used to argue that systems will evolve from lower to higher entropy toward the future works equally well when applies toward the past. Again, since the underlying laws of physics are time-reversal symmetric, there is no way for them even to distinguish between what we call the past and what we call the future. …Thus, not only is there an overwhelming probability that the entropy of a physical system will be higher in what we call the future, but there is the same overwhelming probability that it was higher in what we call the past. …

This is the key point for all that follows, but it’s also deceptively subtle. A common misconception is that if, according to the second law of thermodynamics, entropy increases toward the future, then entropy necessarily decreases toward the past. But that’s where the subtlety comes in. The second law actually says that if at any give moment of interest, a physical system happens not to possess the maximum possible entropy, it is extraordinarily likely that the physical system will subsequently have and previously had more entropy. …With laws that are blind to past-versus-future distinction, such time symmetry is inevitable.

That’s the essential lesson. It tells us that the entropic arrow of time is double-headed. From any specified moment, the arrow of entropy increase points toward the future and toward the past. And that makes it decidedly awkward to propose entropy as the explanation of the one-way arrow of experiential time.

Think about what the double-headed entropic arrow implies in concrete terms. If it’s a warm day and you see partially melted ice cubes in a glass of water, you have full confidence that half an hour later the cubes will be more melted, since the more melted they are, the more entropy they will have. But you should have exactly the same confidence that half an hour earlier they were also more melted, since exactly the same statistical reasoning implies that entropy should increase toward the past. And the same conclusion applies to the countless other examples we encounter every day….

Toward this end, imagine it’s 10:30 p.m. and for the past half hour you’ve been staring at a glass of ice water (it’s a slow night at the bar), watching the cubes slowly melt into small, misshapen forms. You have absolutely no doubt that a half hour earlier the bartender put fully formed ice cubes into the glass; you have no doubt because you trust your memory. And if, by some chance, your confidence regarding what happened during the last half hour should be shaken, you can ask the guy across the way, who was also watching the ice cubes melt (it’s a really slow night at the bar), or perhaps the video taken by the bar’s surveillance camera, both of which would confirm that your memory is accurate….

But as we’ve seen, such entropic reasoning—reasoning that simply says things are more likely to be disordered since there are more ways to be disordered, reasoning which is demonstrably powerful at explaining how things unfold toward the future—proclaims that entropy is just as likely to have been higher in the past. This would mean that the partially melted cubes you see at 10:30 p.m. would actually have been more melted at earlier times; it would mean that at 10:00 p.m. they did not begin as solid ice cubes, but, instead, slowly coalesced out of room-temperature water on the way to 10:30 p.m., just as surely as they will slowly melt into room-temperature water on their way to 11:00 p.m.

No doubt, that sounds weird—or perhaps you’d say nutty. To be true, not only would H2O molecules in a glass of room-temperature water have to coalesce spontaneously into partially formed cubes of ice, but the digital bits in the surveillance camera, as well as the neurons in your brain and those in the brain of the guy across the way, would all need to spontaneously arrange themselves by 10:30 p.m. to attest to there having been a collection of fully formed ice cubes that melted, even though there never was. Yet this bizarre-sounding conclusion is where a faithful application of entropic reasoning—the same reasoning that you embrace without hesitation to explain why the partially melted ice you see at 10:30 p.m. continues to melt toward 11:00 p.m.—leads when applied in the time-symmetric manner dictated by the laws of physics. This is the trouble with having fundamental laws of motion with no inbuilt distinction between past and future, laws whose mathematics treats the future and past of any given moment in exactly the same way….

Math and intuition concur that if there really were fully formed ice cubes at 10 p.m., then the most likely sequence of events would be for them to melt into the partial cubes you see at 10:30 p.m.: the resulting increase in entropy is in line both with the second law of thermodynamics and with experience. But where math and intuition deviate is that our intuition, unlike math, fails to take account of the likelihood, or lack thereof, of actually having fully formed ice cubes at 10 p.m., given the observation we are taking as unassailable, as fully trustworthy, that right now, at 10:30 p.m., you see partially melted cubes.

This is the pivotal point, so let me explain. The main lesson of the second law of thermodynamics is that physical systems have an overwhelming tendency to be in high-entropy configurations because there are so many ways such states can be realized. And once in such high-entropy states, physical systems have an overwhelming tendency to stay in them. High entropy is the natural state of being. You should never be surprised by or feel the need to explain why any physical system is in a high-entropy state. Such states are the norm. On the contrary, what does need explaining is why any given physical system is in a state of order, a state of low entropy. These states are not the norm. They can certainly happen. But from the viewpoint of entropy, such ordered states are rare aberrations that cry out for an explanation. So the one fact in the episode we are taking as unquestionably true—your observation at 10:30 p.m. of low-entropy partially formed ice cubes—is in fact in need of an explanation.

And from the point of view of probability, it is absurd to explain this low-entropy state by invoking the even lower-entropy state, the even less likely state, that at 10 p.m. there were even more ordered, more fully formed ice cubes being observed in a more pristine, more ordered environment. Instead, it is enormously more likely that things began in an unsurprising, totally normal, high-entropy state: a glass of uniform liquid water with absolutely no ice. Then, through an unlikely but ever-so-often-expectable statistical fluctuation, the glass of water went against the grain of the second law and evolved to a state of lower entropy in which partially formed ice cubes appeared. This evolution, although requiring rare and unfamiliar processes, completely avoids the even lower-entropy, the even less likely, the even more rare state of having fully formed ice cubes. At every moment between 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., this strange-sounding evolution has higher entropy than the normal ice-melting scenario…and so it realizes the accepted observation at 10:30 p.m. in a way that is more likely--hugely more likely—than the scenario in which fully formed ice cubes melt. That is the crux of the matter.

(ibid p.157-165, italics his)
Brian Greene includes a note here that illustrates even more clearly how absurd T-Stone has been in questioning what I previously wrote:

Remember, on pages 152-53 we showed the huge difference between the number of ordered and disordered configurations for a mere 693 double-sided sheets of paper. We are now discussing the behavior of roughly 10^24 H2O molecules, so the difference between the number of ordered and disordered configurations is breathtakingly monumental. Moreover, the same reasoning holds for all other atoms and molecules within you and within the environment (brains, security cameras, air molecules, and so on). Namely, in the standard explanation in which you can trust your memories, not only would the partially melted ice cubes have begun, at 10 p.m., in a more ordered—less likely—state, but so would everything else: when a video camera records a sequence of events, there is a net increase in entropy (from the heat and noise released by the recording process); similarly, when a brain records a memory, although we understand the microscopic details with less accuracy, there is a net increase in entropy (the brain may gain order but as with any order-producing process, if we take account of heat generated, there is a net increase in entropy). Thus, if we compare the total entropy in the bar between 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. in the two scenarios—one in which you trust your memories, and the other in which things spontaneously arrange themselves from an initial state of disorder to be consistent with what you see, now, at 10:30 p.m.—there is an enormous entropy difference. The latter scenario, every step of the way, has hugely more entropy than the former scenario, and so, from the standpoint of probability, is hugely more likely.
(ibid. p. 165 note)
So now we can see that when T-Stone offers his “trick question” about two decks of cards and asking which has more entropy, he’s not even in the right playing field. The fact is that the entropy paradox does exist, and scientists do choose the value that is less statistically likely—that is, they trust their observations are correct. In so doing, they continually stipulate that the further back we push time, the less entropy was in the universe, which means that the further back in time we go the less likely it was to have spontaneously arisen this way and the more likely it is that our memories are wrong. But since very few people want to live in a universe where we cannot trust our own experiences, the net result is that scientists ignore the entropy paradox and assume the least parsimonious explanation. To be sure, there have been attempts to imagine how the big bang could have introduced low entropy at the beginning of the universe, but these theories are untestable (and, as T-Stone is so fond of saying, untestability means it’s not science).

Now, T-Stone can certainly feel free to continue to mock me if he wishes, but his protestations do not affect reality. To use a metaphor from the book, he can continue to flail his arms around in the air, but it will not override the reality that the air is uniformly mixed.