Saturday, February 07, 2009

I Have A Dream

"If we do not move swiftly to sign [the act] into law, an economy that is already in crisis will be faced with catastrophe. This is not my assessment. This is not Nancy Pelosi's assessment. This is the assessment of the best economists in the country." - Barak Obama

Thomas Sowell, Stanford Economist


I have a dream that one day, over in Washington, with its vicious liberals, with its president having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Washington, black economists will be able to join hands with white economists as both constituting "best" economists.

Failure to recognize Sowell is evidence of this country's racism. As Pike would say, I blame global warming and Bush; but mostly Bush.

Submetropolis

-i-

Capt. Roger McCoy opened his eyes. The transparent screen on his stasis unit was covered with a thick layer of dust. He pushed a bottom on his control panel, and the screen slid open.

The first thing he did, after getting out, was to check on the stasis unit of his comrade, Capt. Joe Derrick. The unit appeared to be offline. McCoy swept his hand across the dusty screen, to reveal a mummified remains of his comrade. At some point the unit had obviously malfunctioned.

McCoy and his ill-fated comrade were the proverbial canaries in the mineshaft.

This all got started when the mad dictator of a rogue state developed cobalt bombs. He sold these to a jihadist organization. American intelligence picked up on the transaction.

As a precautionary measure, Pres. Todd Whittier ordered the Pentagon to refurbish an old Cold War fallout shelter to serve as a vast, underground city in a worse case scenario.

The stasis units were programmed to automatically open whenever radiation levels returned to safe levels. When that would be, whether decades or centuries later, was anyone’s guess.

If the earth was habitable, Capt. McCoy and Capt. Joe Derrick were to notify the inhabitants of Submetropolis, as designers dubbed it, that they could return to the surface and attempt to recolonize the earth. Assuming the inhabitants were still alive.

This is part of the Project Genesis contingency plan, copies of which were available to the inhabitants.

-ii-

McCoy took a hidden elevator down to Submetropolis. The elevator was sealed to prevent contamination, and hidden away to prevent survivors from prematurely exiting the shelter.

The first person McCoy bumped into a teenager by the name of Zack. After McCoy briefly explained himself, Zack’s expression took on a mixture of awe, fear, and exhilaration.

Zack took McCoy to the home of the Preacher. As it turns out, Submetropolitan society was divided into two factions. Zack belonged to a persecuted minority movement known as the Genesics. Genesics took Project Genesis literally, and looked forward to the day when a Deliverer from the world above would come down and lead them out of Submetropolis.

But the Genesics were opposed by the Brites, who regarded Project Genesis as a superstitious fairy tale—harmless, if interpreted allegorically, but subversive if interpreted literally.

The Brites confiscated and destroyed all official copies of Project Genesis, but contraband copies circulated among the Genesics. Under the Act of Sedition, Genesics were executed as enemies of the state.

As a result, the Genesics formed a secret society, subdivided into semiautonomous cell groups so that if one member was captured by the authorities, he couldn’t betray his fellow Genesics under torture.

-iii-

At first, the Preacher was extremely suspicious of McCoy, fearing that McCoy was an undercover agent, posing as the Deliverer, to infiltrate the Genesics. This led to a roundabout conversation in which the Preacher tried to question McCoy without tipping his own hand.

After having satisfied himself that McCoy knew things only the Deliverer could know, the Preacher allowed McCoy to speak with the small band of followers in his cell group. Over the next few weeks, McCoy spoke to a number of Genesiac cell groups.

He had to dampen their enthusiasm by cautioning them about the hardships of life in the world above. Technology was in disrepair. Having spent so much time in this artificial environment, with filtered air and water, Submetropolitans would lack a natural resistance to various diseases. Although most natural predators were wiped out by the fallout, some hardy specimens survived. In the absence of human occupation, they had the run of the place.

To evade the authorities, it was agreed that Genesics should make their escape a few at a time. McCoy only told a few trusted members the location of the elevator.

-iv-

On his way to a meeting, McCoy was intercepted by the secret police. As it turns out, there was a mole in one of the Genesiac cell groups. He was taken into custody—Mayor Richard Dickens personally conducted the interrogation. After McCoy explained the situation, Dickens challenged him:

“Submetropolis is all there is or ever was or ever will be. It is just there, and that's all,” Dickens said.

“But I just told to you that Submetropolis was constructed by order of Pres. Todd Whitaker,” McCoy interjected.

“That’s a copout!” Dickens exclaimed. “To say ‘Todddidit!’ is a science-stopper!”

“But it’s obvious that someone must have designed Submetropolis,” McCoy replied.

“Submetropolitanism is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose. Even if there were no actual evidence in favor of Submetropolitanism, we should still be justified in preferring it over all rival theories,” Dickens said.

“Why?” McCoy asked.

“An intrusion ‘from above’ is a violation of Submetropolitan laws, and since firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against such an intrusion, in the nature of the case, is about as complete as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined. So no testimony is sufficient to establish such an extraordinary claim. When anyone tells me that he came from an unseen world, I immediately ask myself if it isn’t more far more likely that he’s either a deceiver or self-deceived,” Dickens replied.

“Submetropolis wasn’t meant to last forever. Sooner or later you’ll run out of supplies. Sooner or later you’ll need to leave your underground city for the surface, if you expect to survive,” McCoy said.

“If you insist on teaching our children blatant falsehoods—that someone built Submetropolis, that there’s an invisible world ‘up there’—then you must expect, at the very least, that those of us who have freedom of speech will feel free to describe your teachings as the spreading of dangerous falsehoods, and will demonstrate this to our children at our earliest opportunity. Our future well-being—the well-being of all Submetropolitans—depends on the education of our descendants. I’ll find out where your ‘hidden elevator’ is located and have it destroyed it so that no more Submetropolitans will be deluded by your seditious and superstitious fairly tales,” Dickens replied.

-v-

After Mayor Dickens had McCoy summarily executed, he was able, eventually, to track down the location of the elevator, which was duly detonated. But that did not occur until many Genesics made their escape to the world above, and began to make a new life for themselves.

27 years later, Submetropolis ran out of supplies, and the inhabitants all died of starvation, after resorting to cannibalism in the final weeks of their subterranean existence.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Abel's Paradise

-i-

For a split second, Abel felt excruciating pain as a rock smashed the base of his skull. He blacked out momentarily. When he came to, he felt himself floating above his crumpled body. His head lay in a pool of blood.

Cain was standing over the corpse, with fear in his eyes. Then Cain ran away.

Abel was still trying to piece together what had happened. He and his brother were having a verbal altercation. When Abel turned his back to leave, that’s when it happened.

It suddenly occurred to him that Cain tried to kill him. How could his own brother do that?

It then occurred to him that Cain had succeeded in killing him. Was he dead? Is this what it was like to be dead?

He had seen animals die. Indeed, he had killed his share of animals. Livestock and wild animals. He was a hunter and herdsman.

After his parents were banished from Eden, they moved south to a shady spot on the right bank of the Upper Euphrates, which would one day become Carchemish—the future capital of the Hittite Empire. There his parents and their two sons tried to eke out a meager subsistence from farming, fishing, hunting, and husbandry.

He used to own a pet fox he was very fond of. Because its mother would prey on his lambs, he set a trap. She left a puppy behind, which he raised. Nursed by hand with goat milk.

But it grew frail with age and died. Everything died.

His parents also told him about the curse. About their impending demise. They, too, would age. They, too, would die of illness or old age.

But this was different. Abrupt. Violent.

And, as it turned out, they would have to bury their son.

-ii-

Yet he didn’t have much time to think about it before he felt himself passing through a tunnel towards a light. When he came out the other end, he was back in his body—or so it seemed—standing on the bank of the Euphrates. It’s as if he’d never left.

And there was a stranger standing nearby. The stranger looked like a man, but there was something a little odd about his appearance. The face was perfectly symmetrical. Except for his eyebrows, he had no facial hair. No beard. No stubble. The skin was perfectly smooth. No lines. No variation in the tone or texture of the skin. No freckles or blemishes or ruddy cheeks or five-o’clock shadow.

“Who are you?” Abel asked.

“Gabriel,” he answered.

“Are you a man?” Abel asked.

“No, I’m an angel,” Gabriel answered.

This is the first time Abel had ever seen an angel. He’d heard of angels. His parents told him about the cherubim who patrolled the Garden of Eden. They told him about the Angel of the Lord.

And they told him about another angel named Draco. Draco tempted his parents to disobey the Lord.

“Is that your body?” Abel asked.

“I don’t have a real body,” Gabriel answered. “I assume this form when I speak to human beings.”

“Am I dead?” Abel asked.

“Yes,” Gabriel answered.

“Do I have a body?” Abel asked.

“Not really. Not now,” Gabriel answered. “Someday you will. At the resurrection of the dead.”

“So this is like a dream body?” Abel asked.

“Yes, you could say that,” Gabriel replied.

“Where am I?” Abel asked.

“Heaven,” Gabriel replied.

This is heaven?” Abel asked. “Why does it look like earth? Why does it look just like where I came from?”

“Heaven isn’t any one thing or one place,” Gabriel explained. “Heaven is a place of infinite beauty and infinite variety. Endless possibilities. We thought it best to start you in familiar surroundings. Give you time to adjust. After you get used to your new existence, I’ll show you other dimensions of heaven.”

“So this is like a dream?” Abel asked.

“You could say that,” Gabriel answered. “But you won’t be waking up from this ‘dream.’ Not for thousands of years. Not until the resurrection the dead.”

-iii-

Outwardly, heaven was just like the world he left behind. Night and day. Wind and water.

Yet something felt different. For a time he couldn’t quite put his finger on the difference. He couldn’t see anything different.

Then it occurred to him. What made it different wasn’t the presence of something new, but the absence of something old.

He was different. For the first time in his life, he was sinless. And that made all the difference. A world of difference. He saw his old world through new eyes.

All the anxiety, sadness, resentment, regret, impatience, pride, and boredom which he used to feel from time to time had melted away.

He could now see the beauty in all the little, mundane things he used to take for granted.

Living with his parents was sad—because his parents were sad. So sad. Burdened with regret. Inconsolable.

He was alone here, but he didn’t feel lonely. For heaven was reverberant with hope and expectancy.

There was no hurry. Each day had its own good things—to taste and savor. Just enough. Not too much and not too little.

He wasn’t totally alone, though. He had his pet fox. Gabriel restored his pet fox to him.

-iv-

Abel was sitting on the bank of the river when Gabriel appeared to him.

“Now that you’ve had time to become accustomed to your new existence, what would you like to see?” Gabriel asked.

“Could I see Eden?” Abel asked.

His parents often spoke of Eden. Of life in Eden. Of what they left behind. Bittersweet memories. Nostalgia drenched in regret. So Abel was naturally curious about the Garden of Eden.

“Yes,” Gabriel answered. “We have a replica of Eden.”

The scene faded. The very next moment he found himself in the Garden of Eden.

It was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. A river valley with plush meadows and perennial trees. Wildflowers and fruit trees. Songbirds and butterflies. And panoramic views of the Taurus Mountains in the distance.

The fruit was delicious. Not that he needed to eat to survive. But heaven simulated the senses. Indeed, it was more vivid than life on earth.

Abel lost track of time. Every day was full of wonders, great and small.

-v-

One day, whether months or years later, Abel couldn’t tell, Gabriel appeared to him again.

“Today I’ll take you to see the New Jerusalem.”

The New Jerusalem was a vast, gleaming city, like a huge solarium or Gothic cathedral. A park-like city.

It’s as if a city sprung up from the Garden of Eden. The New Jerusalem had a river flowing through it, lined on either side with trees like the tree of life.

It felt a little odd to be the first man in heaven. To stroll through this deserted city. It was an awesome sight.

But he didn’t want to live there. Not alone, all by himself. Not now. Not yet. But the day would come.

-vi-

One day, when Abel was back in the Garden of Eden, Gabriel appeared to him once again.

“Today I’ll take you to the throne room of God!”

The throne room was situated in the New Jerusalem, within the inner sanctum. He who sat upon the throne had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.

And around the throne, on each side of the throne, were wingéd seraphim. And day and night they never cease to say, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!"

Abel was overwhelmed. He swooned at the sight. When he awoke, he was back in Eden.

-vii-

Abel waited. As the first man in heaven, he would be the usher, to greet each saint upon their arrival, as they began to trickle in. Be their tour-guide to the glories of heaven. He was given visions of the future to prepare him.

And come they did. One by one, then by twos and threes. The trickle became a steady stream—at times a torrent. First Enoch. Then Abel’s parents. And Noah and Abraham and Moses and David and so many many more—from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

The deserted city began to fill and to swell. Brimming over with the joyful citizens of a better country.

And so it went—until the day of resurrection, when the New Jerusalem made her earthly descent. Heaven on earth, for the ages to come.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Dwat dat wascally wabbit!

DOMINIC BNONN TENNANT SAID:

Steve, you never told me that Triablogue was making money hand over fist. I've been commenting here under false pretenses. Fortunately, Loftus found out your nasty little secret, and now that the cat's out of the bag, I expect a cut for my comments—back-dated with interest. They're all high quality stuff. You can't keep everything for yourself buddy. That ain't cricket. (Incidentally, what's your secret? I don't make a damn cent off all my hard work, and I want a piece of that action!)

I saved up twillions of dollars in my Swiss bank account so dat I could wetire to Wio de Janeiwo wid my mistwess Kiwi Te Kanawa and our sewen wonderful wuv childwen. Eating kiwi fwuit and watching Da
Wegend of da Twue Seeker
under da pineapple twees.

Den along comes da New Zeawand wabbit, wooking so innocent wid his fwuffy gway tail and wittle pink eyes. Oh, dat wicked New Zeawand twickster, wid his wevil hare-bwained schemes!

Along he comes and bwows da wid wight off my cover! Dat New Zeawand mawifactor wuins all my pwans!

I’m gonna thwack you and bwast you to smitheweens wid my jumbo wabbit-whacker, you cwazy, scwewy wabbit!

Kill da wabbit! Kill da wacky wabbit!! Kill da wacky, wascally wabbit!!!

Good widence to da wicked, wevil, wascally waaaaaaaaaabbit!

Obama's narrow window of opportunity

Obama has a very narrow window of opportunity to succeed. Although presidential elections only occur every 4 years, congressional elections occur every 2 years, and he needs Congress to help him implement his agenda.

And on that timetable, he has even less than two years to succeed, for voter opinion will begin to gel well before election day.

Obama was only elected because a certain percentage of the electorate ignorantly blamed the Republicans for the economic downturn. If the Democrats were to lose control of one or both houses of Congress 2 years from now, Obama would be a lame duck president for the remainder of his term.

Now, he may get lucky. Life is unfair.

But there are many ways in which his tenure can go badly wrong. For example, if what is euphemistically called the “stimulus package,” which is doubletalk for massive pork barrel spending, fails to salvage the economy, that’s one thing that could sink his administration.

It may also be that Obama is setting some traps for himself. Not only has he vowed to close GITMO, but he’s offered a date certain (a year from now). That’s very foolhardy. It’s imprudent to set a date certain when, by your own admission, you don’t know where else to put the detainees.

Here’s a very plausible scenario: they are brought to the mainland to stand trial in Federal court. They will be acquitted on various technicalities since the gov’t can’t meet the usual burden of proof in a criminal trial.

For reasons of political correctness, they can’t be deported to their own countries for fear of being “tortured.”

Therefore, they will be released onto the streets of America.

Suppose one (or more) of them then commits a terrorist act on American soil, thanks to the bleeding-heart policies of the Obama administration. Imagine the coverage on talk radio, cable news, the blogosphere, &c.

Or suppose the mainland suffers another major terrorist attack. Obama has been very vocal about reversing the countermeasures introduced by the Bush administration. A certain percentage of the electorate would attribute the attack to his bleeding-heart policies.

He has also vowed to repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Now, that’s not the sort of thing which will single-handedly sink his administration. But he will blow political capital on an issue where he has little to gain and much to lose.

A politician can doom himself in two different ways: by one very long misstep or by a series of short missteps.

Moral extortion in time of war

As I Biblicist, I don’t feel bound by just-war theory merely because it’s traditional. Just-war criteria must be subjected to rational scrutiny. However, since the debate over counterterrorism is often framed in terms of just-war theory, let’s play along with this framework.

i) One criterion in just-war theory is the immunity of noncombatants.

Terrorist organizations exploit this provision by using civilian populations as human shields.

This is a form of moral extortion. A bluff. We dare you to exercise your right of self-defense in case that would result in the foreseeable loss of innocent life.

ii) According to this scenario, nation A forfeits the right to counterattack nation B in case nation A would be taking innocent life in the process—even if nation B deliberately made it impossible for nation A to discriminate between combatants and noncombatants.

iii) However, as one philosopher has pointed out, the logic of that premise can be taken a step further:

Nation A forfeits the right to counterattack nation B in case nation B threatens to retaliate by executing its own citizens:

“Also, your scenario raises the interesting possibility that all Hamas has to do to make Israeli retaliation morally impermissible is to threaten to execute its own people if they retaliate.”

http://blog.talkingphilosophy.com/?p=580#comment-17520

Notice that under this scenario, nation A isn’t killing any civilians. Nation B is threatening to kill its own civilians if nation A dares to defend itself.

Is that a reasonable restriction on the right of self-defense?

This is analogous to a hostage situation in which the kidnapper threatens to execute the hostage unless his terms are met. Should we accede to his demands?

What if this is his demand: unless we execute one of our children, he will execute the hostage.

What should we do in that situation? If we refuse his demand, are we responsible for the death of the hostage?

iv) Isn’t the enemy blameworthy on two grounds?

a) It’s blameworthy for the original provocation (an unprovoked attack).

b) It’s also blameworthy for exposing its civilians to needless harm by using them as human shields.

Hence, (b) compounds the guilt of (a).

v) Thomas Aquinas was an architect of just war theory. However, Aquinas was also the architect of another principle: the double-effect doctrine:

Thomas Aquinas is credited with introducing the principle of double effect in his discussion of the permissibility of self-defense in the Summa Theologica (II-II, Qu. 64, Art.7). Killing one's assailant is justified, he argues, provided one does not intend to kill him. Aquinas observes that “Nothing hinders one act from having two effects, only one of which is intended, while the other is beside the intention. … Accordingly, the act of self-defense may have two effects: one, the saving of one's life; the other, the slaying of the aggressor.” As Aquinas's discussion continues, a justification is provided that rests on characterizing the defensive action as a means to a goal that is justified: “Therefore, this act, since one's intention is to save one's own life, is not unlawful, seeing that it is natural to everything to keep itself in being as far as possible.” However, Aquinas observes, the permissibility of self-defense is not unconditional: “And yet, though proceeding from a good intention, an act may be rendered unlawful if it be out of proportion to the end. Wherefore, if a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful, whereas, if he repel force with moderation, his defense will be lawful.”

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/double-effect/#Formulations

Logically speaking, I assume the double effect principle would modify the immunity of noncombatants.

vi) If we treat the immunity of noncombatants as absolute, then just-war theory becomes incoherent. Taken to a logical extreme, the immunity of noncombatants would nullify the right of self-defense. All the enemy has to do to forestall retaliation is threaten to execute its own civilians.

If just-war theory entails unilateral disarmament, then just-war theory is self-contradictory, for just-war theory was predicated on the right of self-defense. It imposes certain restrictions on the right of self-defense, but if the restrictions are so restrictive as to negate the right of self-defense, then the theory is self-refuting.

vii) This, in turn generates a moral conundrum. The enemy can murder your civilians with impunity. You don’t have a right to defend your civilians against attack, for if you do so, the enemy will execute its own civilians.

So, in the interests of sparing the lives of enemy civilians, you expose your own civilians to annihilation.

But why should one set of civilians be totally immune to harm while another set of civilians is subject to total annihilation? How can the same theory promote genocide and the immunity of noncombatants?

[Keep in mind that I’m stipulating to just-war criteria for the sake of argument. The disjunction between combatants and noncombatants is often morally arbitrary.]

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

"Causal relations and Stop the War nonsense"

From Jeremy Stangroom.

Dawkins Thinks Badly (Arguably)

From Jeremy Stangroom.

"Ethical Traps in Gaza"

From Steve:

This post is a good example of how many philosophers use philosophy to simply baptize the conventional beliefs of their social circle. The opinion expressed in this post is interchangeable with the opinion of a CNN journalist.

The value of this post lies, not in Jean Kazez's utterly predictable position, but in the feedback, where commenters begin to dissect the moral complexities of the issue.

In Honor of Our Atheists Buddies...



If any atheists are upset by that, I'm vewwy vewwy sawwwy. Maybe this will help.



Remember...unicorns and puppy dogs.

Image shamelessly stolen from James White.

The Boys Club

The Catholic church has another sex scandal on its hands. This time involving the late Marcial Maciel. Assuming the allegations are true, he was an active bisexual.

This raises a number of issues. Sexual misconduct, can, of course, occur in any denomination. And it occurs both inside and outside the church.

That said:

1.If the Catholic church is the true church, then shouldn’t we hold it to a higher standard? At one level, this scandal is very familiar. It reflects the pattern of misconduct and cover-up that we’d expect to find in a secular organization. Yet Catholicism doesn’t claim to be just another human institution.

2.Likewise, if the Catholic church has the true sacraments, sacraments which confer grace ex opere operato, then shouldn’t we expect Catholics who were regenerated in baptism and attend Mass regularly to be more saintly than the average evangelical?

3.Fallen human nature is prone to hero worship and personality cults. Within Protestantism, we see this in blind following which some televangelists attract.

The problem in Catholicism, however, is that, instead of resisting this sinful tendency, it promotes it. Makes it official.

Therefore, a celebrated prelate like Maciel has much further to fall than the downfall of a televangelist or faith-healer.

4.Maciel was acting just like a typical cult leader. And it says something about Catholicism that gives haven to cult leaders like Maciel.

5.From what I’ve read, the late John-Paul II is also complicit in this scandal. He functioned as a shield.

Now, John-Paul II was very pious by Catholic standards. He wasn’t like the Borgia popes. He wasn’t worldly. He wasn’t a nominal believer.

What does it say about Catholic spirituality when intense piety and moral blindness so easy cohabit?

What does all that Marian devotion, daily masses, prayers, confessions, &c, amount to when the individual is that deficient in elementary moral discernment and resolve?

Remember, too, that the pope is ultimately responsible for church discipline. He’s the top cop in the hierarchy. He’s responsible for someone like Maciel. Responsible for the conduct of his subordinates.

He can’t prevent them from doing certain things, but if it comes to his attention, he can take action.

6.Due to the hierarchical structure of Catholicism, accountability is a one-way street. There is no one to watch the watchman. So it operates like a classic cult. An autocrat at the top of the food chain who is answerable to no one. And Catholicism is an overarching cult that spawns miniature cults under its protective penumbra.

7.This scandal also draws attention to the overly familiar problem of clerical celibacy.

8.Ultimately, though, the lion’s share of the blame belongs, not to the Catholic hierarchy, but the Catholic laity. The laymen are responsible for bankrolling this operation.

What we will see, in the face of this scandal, is the usual hand-wringing and fist-shaking by indignant laymen during the week, only to see them dutifully process back into same corrupt institution come Sunday.

Catholic laymen are the enablers. They write the checks which their decadent clergymen cash. It’s a self-perpetuating scam.

It reminds me of what happens when a faith-healer is exposed. His “revelations” turn out to be somebody backstage whispering into his earpiece.

After he’s exposed, some of his one-time followers become disillusioned and go elsewhere, but others head straight back to the tent meeting the very next day.

For them, this is an act of faith. This validates their faith. They prove their faith by continuing to believe in the discredited faith-healer despite all the damning evidence. Only a true believer would stand by a fallen faith-healer. So this is their way of showing God how faithful they are.

And devout Catholics react exactly the same way in the face of the latest clerical scandal. This is a test of their faith in Mother Church. They must bear their cross. Indeed, there’s something meritorious about their perseverance despite the public stigma.

This is why we needed a Reformation. And this is why the Reformation is far from over.

Ignorant Appeals To Paganism

It's common for critics of Christianity, particularly those of a more ignorant variety, to cite alleged parallels to Christianity in ancient paganism. The large majority of skeptics who use such argumentation don't know much about the subject, and they're often relying on sources who are themselves grossly incompetent and/or dishonest. For a recent illustration, see the comments section of the thread here.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Trusting in the dark

From B.B. Warfield:
Said Robert Leighton, holy man,
Intent a flickering faith to fan
Into a steady blaze --
"Behold yon floweret to the sun,
As he his daily course doth run,
Turn undeclining gaze."

"E'en when the clouds obscure his face,
And only faith discerns the place
Where in the heavens he soars,
This floweret still, with constant eye,
The secret places of the sky
Untiringly explores."

"Look up, my soul! What can this be
But Nature's parable to thee?
Look up, with courage bright!
The clouds press on thee, dense and black,
Thy Sun shines ever at their back --
Look up and see His light!"
From Francis Thompson:
But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry; -- and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob's ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.
Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry, -- clinging to Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water,
Not of Gennesareth, but Thames!
From William Blake:
Think not thou canst sigh a sigh
And thy Maker is not by;
Think not thou canst weep a tear
and thy Maker is not near.

O! he gives to us his joy
That our grief he may destroy;
Till our grief is fled and gone
He doth sit by us and moan.
From George Herbert:
Thou that hast giv'n so much to me,
Give one more thing, a grateful heart.
From John Donne:
Since I am coming to that holy room,
Where, with Thy choir of saints for evermore,
I shall be made Thy music; as I come
I tune the instrument here at the door,
And what I must do then, think here before;

Whilst my physicians by their love are grown
Cosmographers, and I their map, who lie
Flat on this bed, that by them may be shown
That this is my south-west discovery,
Per fretum febris, by these straits to die;

I joy, that in these straits I see my west;
For, though those currents yield return to none,
What shall my west hurt me? As west and east
In all flat maps -- and I am one -- are one,
So death doth touch the resurrection.

Is the Pacific sea my home? Or are
The eastern riches? Is Jerusalem?
Anyan, and Magellan, and Gibraltar?
All straits, and none but straits, are ways to them
Whether where Japhet dwelt, or Cham, or Shem.

We think that Paradise and Calvary,
Christ's cross and Adam's tree, stood in one place;
Look, Lord, and find both Adams met in me;
As the first Adam's sweat surrounds my face,
May the last Adam's blood my soul embrace.

So, in His purple wrapp'd, receive me, Lord;
By these His thorns, give me His other crown;
And as to others' souls I preach'd Thy word,
Be this my text, my sermon to mine own,
"Therefore that He may raise, the Lord throws down."
From Christina Rossetti:
If I might only love my God and die!
But now he bids me love him and live on,
Now when the bloom of all my life is gone,
The pleasant half of life has quite gone by.
My tree of hope is lopped that spread so high;
And I forget how summer glowed and shone,
While autumn grips me with its fingers wan,
And frets me with its fitful windy sigh.
When autumn passes then must winter numb,
And winter may not pass a weary while,
But when it passes spring shall flower again:
And in that spring who weepeth now shall smile,
Yea, they shall wax who now are on the wane,
Yea, they shall sing for love when Christ shall come.

The Violinist Argument

This argument seems a successful defeater to me (not that there haven't been other ones) of Thompson's violinist argument for abortion:

One of the most sophisticated case for pro-choice comes in the form of what Dr. Judith Jarvis Thompson called the violinist argument. Briefly, this argument goes like this: Say a world-famous violinist developed a fatal kidney ailment and the Society of Music Lovers found that only you had the right blood-type to help. So, they therefore have you kidnapped and then attach you to the violinist’s circulatory system so that your kidneys can be used to extract the poison from his. To unplug yourself from the violinist would be to kill him; therefore, pro-lifers would say a person has to stay attached against her will to the violinist for 9 months. Thompson says that it would be morally virtuous to stay plugged-in. But she asks, “Do you have to?” She appeals to our intuitions and answers, “No.”

The strength of this argument is that it grants the full humanity of the fetus and therefore sidesteps the rather poor arguments we saw above. The weakness of this argument is that it is an argument from analogy. Arguments from analogy destruct if they rest on fatal disanalogies.

Besides many of the other problemspro-lifers have pointed out, here's a big one. Thompson seems to make a distinction between consent to pregnancy and consent to sex (as Beckwith and others point out). But it seems that pregnancy is the designed result of sex, even though it may not be the desired result. It would seem that our sex organs have the purpose of being ordered towards procreation. Applying this to the violinist then: What if I engaged in an activity, say, spelunking, that regularly created rare kidney diseases in violinists? Say that every time I dropped 50 ft into the cave, a violinist was almost sure to develop the disease that only I had the blood type to correct or fix. If I did so, should I not be hooked up to him, voluntarily or not? Say that there was protection, some kind of spelunking helmet. Say that it was not 100% effective. If my helmet ripped, should I be attached to the violinist? Or say I tried to "pull up" before I hit 50 ft. Unfortunately, it felt so good to decend that I pulled up a little too late and my right foot passed the 50 ft mark. Should I be attached to the violinist? I don’t see why not. Indeed, say that the statistical evidence was that the first two people that ever spelunked together would eventually cause 6 billion violinists to come down with rare kidney diseases, I dare say the Society of Music Lovers, and almost everyone else for that matter, would call for abstaining from spelunking unless you agreed to take care of the violinists until they got better. This seems fatal to Thompson’s argument.

Want to Deduct?

Want to Donate?
By John W. Loftus
at 10/15/2007

If this Blog is helpful to you in some way then please consider helping out by donating $5-$20-$50-$100 or more. Any amount would help quite a bit. Christian ministries rake in a great deal of money. I'd like to think skeptics financially support those sites that "minister" to them too.

Help me stay alive in these hard economic times. I need your help. I need people who are willing to donate on a regular basis, a monthly commitment if you can. Unless more money comes in I’ll be forced to get a second job.

http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2007/10/if-you-want-to-donate.html

In the interests of intellectual equity, I have an alternative suggestion. If DC is harmful to you in some way then please consider deducting $5-$20-$50-$100 or more from John’s budget.

We need Christians who are willing to deduct from John’s budget on a regular basis, a monthly commitment if they can.

Or, if you can’t make monthly deductions, your deductions can be prorated per post. Deduct $50 for every post by Loftus, Evan, Touchstone, &c.

All we need is to set up a reversible PayPal account for DC.

Woodshedding the argument from evil

Christian apologist David Wood recently posted a series of comments on the argument from evil over at Reppert's blog:

http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2007/06/ethics-without-god-or-ethics-without.html

I think these are worth reproducing in their own right:

David Wood said...
EA,

Whenever someone raises the question of an atheist foundation for morality (which is an important topic, considering that atheists are currently calling all sorts of things "evil"), you immediately change the subject to theistic foundations for morality. I think you're trying to imply that atheists and theists are in the same boat here. But we're not.

Consider the following imaginary conversation between an atheist and a theist, which roughly follows the Hitchens-Wilson debate:

ATHEIST: Christianity is evil!

THEIST: Why is it evil?

ATHEIST: Because all sorts of evil things have come from it!

THEIST: How do you identify those things as evil?

ATHEIST: Well, we've evolved some moral views, and some tendencies to do right and wrong.

THEIST: But why are certain tendencies "right" and others "wrong"? They both evolved.

ATHEIST: You're saying I can't do good things! You're saying that all atheists are immoral!

THEIST: No. I simply asked on what basis you distinguish between "right" evolved tendencies and "wrong" evolved tendencies. What foundation do you have for this distinction?

ATHEIST: Atheists can do good things too!

THEIST: I haven't denied this. I'm simply asking how you can say that some things are bad while others are good.

ATHEIST: But I can do good things just like a theist!

And so on, and so on.

Now let's look at a different conversation.

THEIST: Hey, stop murdering people!

MURDERER: Why should I?

THEIST: Because an all-powerful, all-knowing, wholly good being became a man, told us to love one another, died for our sins, and rose from the dead.

MURDERER: Well, is he "wholly good" because he lives up to a certain standard outside of himself? If so, then there is a standard outside of God.

THEIST: No, goodness is part of God's nature.

MURDERER: But his nature could have been otherwise! Would that other nature then have been "good"?

THEIST: No, God could not have been otherwise.

Here the conversation would become quite difficult, as theist and murderer attempt to understand how morality relates to God's nature. But this is quite different from the situation with the atheist, who can't so much as defend the concept of morality.

In other words, if theism is true, then an all-powerful, all-knowing, wholly good being has told us how we should live. We may wonder how morality relates to God, but surely God understands such things and actually knows what we should do. But if atheism is true, then some tendencies that evolved (I'm going with Hitchens here) tell us how we should live. But do these tendencies really know what is right and what is wrong? Isn't there a marked difference between the statements "God said it" and "It evolved this way"? Be honest. Even given all of your philosophical objections, wouldn't the former statement, if true, carry far more weight than the latter? If so, are atheists and theists really in the same boat?
4:16 PM

David Wood said...
John,

I'm not sure why I'm answering you, since it will ruin any chance of the good conversation that we were about to have. (Sorry EA.) But here goes.

(1) In our debate, you spoke before I did, and you're the one who brought up arguments for the existence of God. If it's off topic, why did you bring it up? If you raised the subject, how did I change the subject? Since you brought up the topic, I can only assume that you really understand that it's relevant. You're only complaining now because you know you never gave a good answer.

(2) The topic of our debate was whether the extent of evil in the world makes the existence of God implausible. If you were making the logical argument from evil, that would be one thing. But you were making the evidential argument from evil. That is, you were claiming that evil is a certain amount of evidence against the existence of God. Hence, if you are going to show that the extent of evil makes the existence of God implausible, you must show that something about evil outweighs all evidence for God's existence. I brought up arguments for theism and asked you, quite reasonably, what it is about the argument from evil that makes it inherently better than all these other arguments. That seems like a relevant question. You never answered it, and you still haven't. Moreover, you're still complaining that I asked a completely relevant question.

(3) You note that I brought up the problem of defining evil for atheists. How is this "changing the subject"? If you're saying that God can't exist because of evil, don't I have a right to ask on what basis you're identifying evil, especially if I believe, as I do, that God is the ultimate foundation for distinguishing good from evil?

So here you accuse me of changing the subject based on (a) the fact that I brought up an issue that you first brought up and which was entirely relevant to the debate, and (b) the fact that I inquired into your foundation of morality, which your argument rested on.

Now let's compare this to what I said to Exapologist. The question raised was a simple one. Do atheists have a foundation for morality? Exapologist said (perhaps in reply, perhaps just as a related question): What foundation do theists have for morality? These are two different questions. We can answer either without appeal to the other.

But we can't answer the question "Does the extent of suffering in the world make the existence of God implausible?" without considering what you mean by evil and whether other evidence bears on the question. So, nice try.

P.S. Didn't you say I'm no longer worth your time, after calling me "idiot," "moron," etc.? I liked it better that way, for obvious reasons. Conversations with you degenerate quite quickly, and little ground it gained for anyone.
4:50 PM

David Wood said...
Vic,

I agree that an atheist would have to make some metaphysical commitments in order to have a real ground for morality. I just can't think of any that would qualify. The most promising approach I see for atheists is to say that moral laws are similar to certain logical laws. Triangles have properties, whether or not any triangles exist. One might argue that "Do not kill" is similar to "The three angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees." If no people exist, then the moral laws don't obtain. But as soon as there is a group of people, some laws go into effect, just as some laws go into effect when there is a triangle.

I think this would only push the problem back one level. But utilitarianism is a lame foundation, and atheists need some metaphysics. So I think this would be the best direction to go.
5:10 PM


David Wood said...
EA,

It sounds like you're in substantial agreement with Vic.

Regarding the purpose of the question, I'm not sure what Vic has in mind, but there's more relevance to such questions than the Moral Argument for God. Two of the most common claims I hear from atheists right now are (1) God cannot exist because of evil, and (2) religion is bad. The question of an atheist ground for ethics is certainly relevant to both of these claims. And I would have to say that neither claim can really be defended on standard atheistic accounts of ethics. Would you be interested in going into more detail regarding your view?
5:17 PM


David Wood said...
EA,

Here's a scenario from the Hitchens-Wilson debate. I don't think Hitchens answered very well, and I think you would answer differently. I'd be interested in hearing your reply:

"Take the vilest atheist you ever heard of. Imagine yourself sitting at his bedside shortly before he passes away. He says, following Sinatra, 'I did it my way.' And then he adds, chuckling, 'Got away with it too.' In our thought experiment, the one rule is that you must say something to him, and whatever you say, it must flow directly from your shared atheism--and it must challenge the morality of his choices."
5:23 PM

David Wood said...
EA,

It seems that the list of necessary moral truths that could be derived on your view would be quite limited. Your example was "torturing babies for fun." Here you added a specific motive ("for fun"), and I suspect that such motives would usually be required.

For instance, you couldn't say that "killing babies" or "killing old people" are necessarily wrong. But you could say that killing old people "for fun" is necessarily wrong. (By the way, Richard Carrier disagrees with you even when it comes to torturing for fun. It's not, on his view, necessarily wrong.)

Now, since we need more from an ethical system than things like "don't torture babies for fun," how would you derive the rest of your moral precepts?

For instance, how would you rule in the following case. Our medical knowledge is increasing rapidly. With this knowledge, we can treat people who would have died otherwise (due to old age or diseases). But when we do so, we preserve bad genes that otherwise would have been eliminated from the gene pool, thereby causing problems for future generations. And we increase the number of old people in society, which causes a drain on the economy and lessens the overall happiness.

To be honest, I only say that the medical field should keep old people (or people with certain diseases) alive because of my commitment to the view that humans have inherent worth. I would never have said such a thing when I was an atheist.

So my question is this: when you cannot pronounce necessary moral truths (I'm not sure you can pronounce any, but let's assume you've got some), how do you keep your moral theory from degenerating into the standard atheistic utilitarianism?

To put it more bluntly, would your moral theory really amount to more than utilitarianism with a metaphysical cloak?
6:17 PM

David Wood said...

The point is this John. The universe, from your perspective, seems to revolve around you. If someone does something or achieves something, it must be thanks to you. (Unless, of course, you do something bad. Then it's everyone else's fault!) If someone takes some position, it must be because they're impressed with your arguments. Do you have any idea what people really think of you, John?
7:04 PM

David Wood said...
EA,

My difficulty is that I'm not sure how we can tell what the necessary moral truths are. You said that it's empirical. So human beings "discover" that slavery is wrong, because we realize that it conflicts with human flourishing. But what do you mean here? Do you mean the flourishing of each individual human, or the flourishing of the greatest number of people?

If it's the latter, then you're stuck with the moral dilemmas. I'm not even sure you could say that slavery is wrong on such a view. That is, suppose slavery, though bad for slaves, ultimately contributes to a greater overall human flourishing. On the other hand, if you're talking about what will help each individual human to flourish, then there are conflicts of interest. For instance, it might help me to flourish if I have a slave to take care of various tasks that distract me. But it wouldn't be good for the slave.
7:43 PM

David Wood said...
Exapologist said:

"The basic metaphysic requires abstract objects, such as normative properties of the good and the bad. But my own form of 'naturalism' requires that only contingent entities must be grounded in the physical. But since abstract objects are timeless, spaceless, necessary existents, they need no causal or explanatory ground in terms of the physical, since they never 'arose' at all."

So you believe in abstract objects?
8:50 PM

David Wood said...
So you believe in a timeless, uncaused ground of morality that exists independently of the physical world. On this we are in full agreement. (And you are not far from the Kingdom of God.)

Do you have some independent reasons for believing in these abstract objects? Or does your reasoning run as follows:

(1) If a transcendent ground of morality does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
(2) Objective moral values exist.
(3) Therefore, a transcendent ground of morality exists.
11:55 PM

David Wood said...
But which of these reasons accounts for your belief in a ground of morality?
12:21 AM

David Wood said...
XA (I think that's cooler than EA) said:

"I treat certain moral intuitions, moral statements, practices, etc., as data, and then I posit the existence of theoretical entities (in this case, moral properties) to partially explain the data, as they play an indispendabile role in my moral theory."

A jump to non-physical, theoretical entities is somewhat extreme, yet you feel it is necessary, for some reason that doesn't convinvce most other atheists.

Nearly all atheist philosophers are reductive or non-reductive physicalists. But you find physicalism altogether inadequate.

You said that you posit theoretical entities based on the data of your moral intuitions. But other atheists have the same data, and they are content to appeal to the physical world.

Take Hitchens, for instance. He has all the same intuitions as you. Then he simply says, "My intuitions evolved."

But you're not willing to say this, which means you are for some reason taking moral intuitions much more seriously than Hitchens. That is, for you, these intuitions are not so easily explained, and appeal must be made to something other than evolution.

Is it because you believe, based on your intuitions, that morality is objective? If so, then why wouldn't the following argument be an accurate representation of your reasoning:

(1) If a transcendent ground of morality does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
(2) Objective moral values exist.
(3) Therefore, a transcendent ground of morality exists.
7:51 AM

David Wood said...
Sorry I'm late. I'm taking a summer course in French.

X-A said:

"Lots of philosophers I know who are atheists accept the existence of at least some sorts of abstracta."

But surely not in the sense you're using. Empiricists generally reject abstracta because we don't have sense-data for them. And physicalists will only hold to a very limited notion of abstracta.

But you're basing a moral theory on such theoretical entities.

Now I have a question. You said that slavery is necessarily wrong because it is at odds with human flourishing. Which of the following is your claim:

(1) So long as we grant that whatever is in accord with human flourishing is right, then we may empirically derive moral principles based on our commitment; or

(2) It is necessarily the case that whatever is in accord with human flourishing is right.

In other words, is the idea that human flourishing is the goal itself an abstractum? Or must we first grant this and then derive ethical principles?
2:43 PM

David Wood said...
(1) I said that empiricists generally reject abstracta (which is true) and that physicalists typically subscribe to a very limited notion of abstracta (which is true). The point was that even those who appeal to abstracta rarely do so in the manner you're using. That is, saying "slavery is necessarily wrong" is quite different from saying "the three angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees."

(2) Granting that "human flourishing" is a property, in what sense is "human flourishing is necessarily good" a property?

(3) I understand, given belief that human flourishing is good, how one might say that we can discover empirically that slavery is therefore bad. However, how does one go about empirically discovering that human flourishing is necessarily good? It seems that such a statement would really amount to nothing more than "I like human flourishing so much that I'm going to say it's necessarily good."

It seems that all you could really say here is that just about everyone would agree that human flourishing is good. But that's far from showing that it's necessarily so.
3:33 PM

David Wood said...
X-A said: "Re:(1): I'm not following. The way you put it with your geometry and your moral propositions, it sounds like you're taking 'abstract objects' as synonymous with 'a priori propositions', which is a misuse of the term."

The triangle is the abstract object. We know it's an abstract object because it has certain properties that hold whether an actual triangle exists or not. You've argued for moral properties. But surely these cannot be verified in the same manner that we verify the properties of a triangle. In fact, I can't think of any way to verify them as properties of abstract objects.

X-A said: "Re:(2): 'Human flourishing is necessarily good' isn't a property at all, but a proposition. However, the property of human flourishing has the essential property of being good, on my view."

Consider the following propositions:

(1) Human flourishing has the essential property of being good.

(2) Sex has the essential property of being good.

(3) Rejecting God has the essential property of being good.

(4) Torturing old ladies has the essential property of being good.

I assume you would reject (2)-(4). But it seems that the only ground for doing so is (a) you agree with (1) but not with the others, or (b) most people would agree with (1) more than with the others. But surely we can't be deciding what is necessary based on personal preference or majority vote. Which brings us to . . .

E-A said: "Re:(3): One doesn't go about discovering empirically that human flourishing is necessarily good. As I said in a couple of earlier comments, I take that to be a priori."

Here I just don't understand what you mean by "a priori." "Tom is a married bachelor" is a priori false. "I've got a square circle in my pocket" is a priori false. "If Tom is a bachelor, then he's unmarried" is a priori true. Now here are some more propositions:

(5) Human flourishing is good a priori.

(6) Animal flourishing is good a priori.

(7) Mosquito flourishing is good a priori.

(8) Cancer flourishing is good a priori.

Would you grant (6)? How about (7)? How about(8)? My point here is this. To say that slavery is necessarily wrong, in our conversation, presupposes your claim that human flourishing is good a priori. But this claim itself presupposes a certain value of human beings, one which makes us more valuable than, say, cancer cells. Do we have to add, then, that human beings are more important than other living organisms, a priori? If so, it seems that we're just taking whatever we want to say and adding "a priori" to it, and I'm not sure this is a realistic approach.

(P.S. I said in a comment before we started that I think this is the best approach for atheists who want a ground of morality. When I was an atheist, I rejected the idea of objective moral values, and I think that's the correct view if atheism is true. Nevertheless, for atheists who want a foundation, I'd say you're on the most plausible track. I think it's full of holes, but it's still better than the "Evolution made it so" response.)
6:21 PM

David Wood said...
X-A said: I accept (1), on the grounds that flourishing is good as such.

What about (2)? Well, it depends. Some kinds of sex don't contribute to human flourishing --- e.g., abusive sex. However, plenty of instances of sex contribute to human flourishing. That's known a posteriori, since it was an empirical discovery (albeit a relatively simple one) that certain kinds of sex contribute to human flourishing.

What about (3)? That's going to depend on empirical research as to whether it contributes to human flourishing.

That leaves us with (4). This is another one of those simple empirical discoveries that something doesn't contribute to human flourishing; as such, it's bad.

I'm not sure why you would have thought that those sorts of decisions would lack a principled basis on my theory. It's a part of my theory that flourishing is good, and what hinders it is bad. If so, then I have an objective basis for these sorts of judgements.


The point of those additional propositions was that we can say that they have the essential property of being good just as easily as we can say that human flourishing has the essential property of being good. Someone could easily make it a part of his moral theory that sex is good, or that rejecting God is good, or even that torturing old ladies is good. For a more realistic example, take the claim “pleasure has the property of being essentially good.” Note here that I’m not saying that pleasure is good because it’s in accord with human flourishing (as I wasn’t saying that with the other propositions). I’m saying it has the property in itself. I could then construct a moral theory based on my claim that pleasure is essentially good. I then define sex as necessarily good. Someone asks me, “How can you say that sex is necessarily good? That just doesn’t make sense!” To which I reply, “Well, according to my theory, pleasure is good a priori. And sex is pleasurable. Hence, sex is necessarily good.” I still wonder why, using your method, I couldn’t define practically anything as essentially good.

X-A said: As a side note, I want to say that I find it fascinating that you find this theory so odd. This theory is kissing cousins with natural law theory, which has been one of the dominant ethical theories for Christians since at least the time of Aquinas (the ideas of which are rooted in Aristotle's notion of flourishing).

I think all ethical theories have problems. Theories don’t get a free ride just because they’re promoted by Christians.

X-A said: On my view, "'Goodness' denotes whatever contributes to flourishing" is a reference-fixing description; as such it's continent yet a priori. On the other hand, "Sex contributes to human flourishing" is a necessary a posteriori proposition. From this one and the reference-fixing description, we can deduce that sex is good.

So, just as you can point to a ball and say, “That’s what I mean by ‘red,’” you can point to whatever contributes to human flourishing and say, “That’s what I mean by ‘good.’” Granted. But when you use terms like “necessary” and “a priori,” I assume that you’re using them as other people use them. Hence, when you said that human flourishing is a priori good, I assumed that you meant that human flourishing is either analytically or synthetically a priori good, and I didn’t see how it was either. But now, as I’ve said more than once, it seems that you’re just defining human flourishing as good and saying, “It’s good a priori, since I’ve defined it that way.” And I’ll say again that what you’re doing isn’t very different from saying, “I like human flourishing a lot! Say ‘Yes” to human flourishing! Down with whatever doesn’t contribute to human flourishing!”

X-A said: I *grant* that the flourishing of any member of any species is *good*; what's *right* or *wrong* depends on what we proscribe as a community (on the condition, once again, that it's in conformity with what is good).

So now you’ve granted that the flourishing of cancer is a priori good, and that the flourishing of humanity is a priori good. So if Bob gets cancer, it’s a priori good for the cancer. To say that we should put Bob through chemotherapy presupposes that humans are more valuable than cancer cells. Is there a scale of a priori goods? Is the order of the scale itself a priori? Or do we select the ordering based on personal preference?

X-A said: David: If so, it seems that we're just taking whatever we want to say and adding "a priori" to it, and I'm not sure this is a realistic approach.

Me: In light of my discussion above, we can now see why my account doesn't suffer from this charge of arbitrariness.


No, we can’t. But perhaps the longer account you're planning on writing would help.
12:54 PM

David Wood said...
X-A,

I accept the I.O.U.

Just to clarify something from earlier, I said:

"To say that slavery is necessarily wrong, in our conversation, presupposes your claim that human flourishing is good a priori."

You responded:

"In any case, though, whether something is necessarily right or wrong certainly does *not* depend on whether certain propositions about what is good are a priori or not. That's just a flat-out non-sequitur."

I said "in our conversation," i.e. in the context of your moral theory. Certainly something is not right or wrong based on the failure of a particular moral theory. But if we are discussing whether something is right or wrong in the light of a specific theory, then we can talk about it being right or wrong based on that theory.
5:03 PM

Terrible terrorists

Paul C said:
Would it be relevant if, having committed a murder, an individual took issue with the definition of murder? Your moral relativism here is extremely dangerous - imagine if everybody was allowed to define what was legal solely on their own terms! Clarification is a more valid question, and in that area you might be able to find some room to justify waterboarding - although that justification is unlikely to stick, as we are finding out.
1. That's interesting. How do you go from my taking issue or asking for clarification with a legal definition of "torture" to your belief that I'm a moral relativist here? Among other things, it'd depend to what degree I'm taking issue with or seeking clarification in regard to certain words and phrases and so on.

2. Just because a definition is legal doesn't necessarily mean it's moral or ethical. In my original post, my claim was that some Americans sometimes object to the use of "torture" because they believe it means they've ceded the moral high ground. In other words, I framed my post primarily in moral or ethical terms, not legal ones.
Let me give you a parallel - tongue in cheek, obviously. Perhaps it's true the United States can win the war against drugs without nuking Afghanistan into a post-apocalyptic wasteland. But just because we can, does that then mean we should?
1. The question "Just because we can, does that mean we should?" was dependent on the statement which preceded it, i.e., that it might be possible for the United States to win the war on terrorism without using "torture." It was in this context in which I asked the question. It wasn't meant to be a blanket statement which somehow allows for whatever might pop into someone's head.

2. That said, I'll still respond to your parallel.

a. There's plenty of drug production and smuggling in certain regions of the world. As far as I know, there's not any major drug production or smuggling through Afghanistan. So I don't see why nuking Afghanistan would help win the war against drugs.

b. Or did you mean the war against terrorism instead? If that's the case, I don't think it's possible to win the war against terrorism even if we nuked the whole of Afghanistan. For one thing, I'd think it's doubtful that most terrorists are solely or even primarily still hidden within the borders of Afghanistan. Many have fled over to Pakistan, or go back and forth between the two nations, using political borders to their advantage.

c. Another problem with your parallel is that it equates the use of "torture" with the use of nuclear weapons. That's quite a parallel.

d. Plus, we need to distinguish between things like innocent and guilty as well as non-hostiles and hostiles. Nuking Afghanistan, for instance, could possibly wipe out innocent civilians (you said Afghanistan would be turned into "a post-apocalyptic wasteland" which I take to include wiping out towns and cities) whereas "torture," as I've been referring to it, would target captured war combatants.
Actually I think we do need real-life examples, for two main reasons. First, one could completely reject your notion that your hypotheticals are "realistic" if you do not provide any examples that would validate them as realistic.
Realistic is not necessarily the same as real. You asked for "real-life examples." I responded with "realistic hypotheticals," and then asked whether there's anything wrong with producing a "realistic hypothetical" in lieu of having a "real-life option." So at best you're only rejecting my distinction between "real-life examples" and "realistic hypotheticals."
Second, we are talking about practices which will be applied in real life, not merely theoretically, and that means that we have to discuss not what is possible, but what is likely - many things are possible, but not all of them are likely. For example, I could conjure a realistic situation in which the only way to save the population of the USA is to sacrifice a living baby (although that sounds more like a plot twist in 24...), but that doesn't mean that we should pass legislation to allow baby sacrifice in case one day that scenario comes to pass.
Okay, let's say there aren't any "real-life examples" that "torture" is able to save lives. Let's say the US has in fact never used "torture" in its history (thus voiding my question or point re: historical precedence). Yet this doesn't then mean that "torture" is necessarily ineffective let alone that it's necessarily immoral or unethical, which is the main question I've raised. The lack of any "real-life examples" that "torture" effectively saved n lives doesn't necessarily mean it won't work if we implement it, or, more importantly for my post, that it's immoral or unethical.
For starters, let's say as expressed in the Bill of Rights.
It doesn't seem very likely that this is what your opponents refer to when they say that torture is un-American, does it? What do you think *they* mean when they say American values?
1. Why not? Take the First Amendment guaranteeing freedoms such as freedom of speech and assembly. Or take the Eighth Amendment, for example, which is against "cruel and unusual punishment." Or take the reason(s) we have habeus corpus. Allowing for the "torture" of an unlawful combatant might be an indirect attack or erosion of American freedoms and liberties as guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. That's along the lines of what some lawyers who oppose torture have themselves argued, at least as far as I understand.

2. But, again, this is less a legal issue for me than an ethical or moral one. As I mentioned in my original post, I brought up the Constitution and the Bill of Rights for the (popularly perceived) ideals upon which they were founded.
I would've thought that at some point during one of our wars we've successfully used "torture" to save many lives?
This would appear to be a concession that you are not in fact aware of any situations in which torture has been successfully used to save many lives. Given that you lack any evidence, why do you hold this belief?
1. Originally, I asked a question: "Historically, haven't Americans successfully used 'torture' on enemies to, say, extract necessary military information which would save thousands of lives?" What's more, I followed up with another question which you yourself quote directly above.

2. In fact, for the most part, I've expressed myself throughout my entire post in the interrogative. Although I do have opinions (which I've expressed), I've primarily been asking questions, not making assertions.
Also, even if they do constitute torture, can't torture sometimes be acceptable under certain conditions?
No. It might be necessary, but that's not the same thing as being acceptable.
1. What do you mean by "necessary"? Do you attach moral or ethical value to "necessary"?

2. As for me, what I'm essentially asking here is, even if a form of "torture" like sleep deprivation or waterboarding is almost always unethical or immoral, is it necessarily unethical or immoral in every, single case? Are there cases where "torture" is morally or ethically justifiable?

3. What's more, as Steve pointed out, doesn't a captured unlawful or war combatant (like a terrorist) with actionable information that could potentially aid us in the war on terrorism and/or possibly save lives not have the duty to divulge such information? (BTW, Steve made other good points in his response to you. And I'd agree with all of his points. You might consider reading his response if you haven't already.)
Yes, so you say, but where's the argument that it's "better" for the society that lets them go free"?
That is my argument. I prefer to live in a society that is not prepared to grind up the innocent in order to get to the guilty; therefore - all other factors being equal - I deem that society "better". I find this incredibly obvious, and I wonder why you find it a difficult question to answer.
Then, with all due respect, it's not much of an argument. By the same token, someone could "argue": "All things being equal, I prefer to live in a society that doesn't allow scores of thieves, rapists, pedophiles, murderers, and other criminals off the hook and free to roam our neighborhoods and communities even if it means our justice system isn't always morally perfect despite it striving to be. I deem such a society 'better.' I find this incredibly obvious, and I wonder why you find it a difficult question to answer."
I think some terrorist organizations are more militarily powerful and perhaps even financially solvent than some govts.
Really? Can you name them for us, please?
Sure. Hamas, Hezbollah, and Al-Qaeda are militarily stronger than some national govts (e.g. Kiribati).
However, I think it's indicative of the fact that some cultures and societies have flawed ethics or morals. In this sense it's relevant to whether we're better than our enemies.
It's relevant only if you accept the very argument that you're trying to attack. You're seem to be arguing that because our enemies have flawed ethics that allow them to engage in things we consider morally unacceptable (like torture), we are allowed to use torture on them - because we're more moral?
1. As I've previously stated, I wouldn't necessarily consider certain "interrogation techniques" "torture."

2. Remember, I was asking whether the use of "torture" makes us morally or ethically "no better than our enemies."

3. But to respond to your question, no, that's not what I'm arguing. Rather, here's what I'm arguing. The fact that we even have a national debate over the morality or ethics of torture arguably means that we have some sort of a conscience over what's objectively right or wrong. As far as I know, however, terrorists do not seem to wrestle over the morality or ethics of things far worse than torture ("interrogation techniques"), such as suicide bombing. In fact, some terrorists even think of suicide bombing as a virtuous action. Hence, on this score, such terrorists and the organizations or groups which would agree with and support them seem to me to be morally deficient and even dead. If I'm correct, I'd think we are morally or ethically "better than our enemies" in this respect.

What wrong with the world?

I’m catching up on a bit of unfinished business. In his reaction to my review, Francis Beckwith made the following accusation:

“It seems that this well-meaning fellow has let his anger get the best of him.”

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2008/11/another_review_not_so_nice_1.html#more

I, then, made the following point:

“And, of course, we could say that Beckwith let his own emotion get the best of him: ‘my return to the Catholic Church had as much to do with a yearning for a deeper spiritual life as it did with theological reasoning’(129).”

Beckwith then offered the following response:

“If I may come to your defense at this point, I think I can offer a substantive example of what you mean. Here is something from Mr. Hay's post…That quote from my book was lifted out of context and comes at the end after three chapters in which I explain the core of my journey to Catholicism. It is the part of the book in which I talk about my life now…Thus, the deeper spiritual life I spoke of in the book is connected to the theological views that I would eventually come to hold. There is no ‘spirituality’ trumps ‘theology’ meme here. It was a package deal, an organic whole, and one would understand it that way if one read and understood the over 100 pages that preceded the above paragraphs. Apparently, the one who lifted the quote did not read the book with charity or clarity.”

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2008/11/horton_only_a_subset_of_calvin.html#comment-41220

What are we to make of this charge?

1. First of all, he says, “Here is something from Mr. Hay's post.”

Unfortunately, the post he links to is not by me, but by Gene Bridges:

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2008/11/acting-like-grown-up.html

While that’s the sort of mistake anyone could make, it’s ironic to have someone accuse me of careless reading when he misattributes the source.

2. More to the point, did I quote him out of context? Here is what he originally said in his book: “Although it may be difficult to detect from much of what I have written in this book, my return to the Catholic Church had as much to do with a yearning for a deeper spiritual life as it did with theological reasoning” (129).

Notice that in the passage I quoted from his book, he draws a contrast between the reasons he gave in his book, and another motive which you could scarcely detect from reading his book.

In his response to me, however, he accuses me of quoting him out of context because I allegedly disregard 100+ pages of material in the preceding three chapters.

And yet, in the passage I quoted from his book, he admits that it would be difficult to detect this ulterior motive from what he put in his book. Therefore, the larger context of the book is irrelevant since, by his own admission, the larger context barely scratches the surface of this ulterior motive.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Saving babies or preaching the gospel?

Some Christians object to prolife activism on the grounds that our priority, as Christians, ought to be evangelism rather than social activism.

To that objection I’d just make one small observation: it’s hard to preach the gospel to dead babies.

We’ve had about 50 million abortions since Roe v. Wade. That’s 50 million men and women we’ll never evangelize. And that’s not counting abortion around the world:

http://www.abortionno.org/Resources/fastfacts.html

So I really don’t see a tension between saving babies and preaching the gospel.

Misreading Scripture

A few years ago, Al Kimel tried to justify his switch from Anglicanism to Catholicism. He did a running series on the subject:

http://pontifications.wordpress.com/reading-scripture/

http://pontifications.wordpress.com/sola-scriptura/

He has a rambling, repetitious style: I’ll try to excerpt his major arguments. I won’t necessarily comment on every idea of every statement I quote. I may comment on one idea, then, when he repeats himself, I’ll comment on another idea. That way I avoid being as repetitious as he is.

Sometimes he quotes other people. Since he quotes them approvingly, I won’t go out of my way to distinguish the speaker.

Before we delve into the details, I’ll make a general observation. Kimel is better at asking questions than answering questions. He poses some good questions. But he doesn’t have good answers. So he stops looking. His conversion to Rome is an act of despair. Because he can’t think of good answers to his questions, he resorts to the deus ex machina of the Roman Magisterium.

Who decides which interpretation of Holy Scripture is correct? And here I have been forced to confront one of the fundamental weaknesses of my Protestant faith. Since my conversion, I have always considered myself as a catholic Anglican.

This illustrates the close connection between one’s starting point and one’s conclusion. It was a short step from Kimel’s “catholic Anglicanism” to his Roman Catholicism. But since I don’t begin where he began, I don’t end where he ended.

This is, I am now convinced, the source of our present crisis. Our fatal problem is not the rejection of biblical authority. Our problem is the dual Protestant assertion of sola scriptura and private judgment. This is why the churches of the Reformation have been unable to maintain the catholic faith in the confrontation with modernity. The private individual will always be able to justify to himself and others a new interpretation of the Scriptures.

Shifting from Protestant to Catholic doesn’t change anything in that regard. You simply shift from liberal Protestants to liberal Catholics. Theological liberals have no more regard for ecclesiastical authority than they have for Biblical authority.

How do we interpret the Bible with the Church?

i) This assumes we are supposed to interpret the Bible with the Church. Did OT or Intertestamental Jews interpret the OT scriptures with the Church?

ii) It also assumes a particular definition of the church. Which church? Whose church?

How do we read it as Scripture? As noted by Richard Swinburne, “The Bible does not belong to an obvious genre which provides rules for how overall meaning is a function of meaning of individual books.”

Swinburne is a philosopher, not a Bible scholar. Bible scholars frequently identify the literary genre of this or that book of Scripture.

Take Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Does Swinburne think a letter doesn’t belong to an obvious literary genre? Did Paul invent the epistolary genre? Did no one ever write a letter until the time that Paul penned the letter to the Galatians? Was he the first man in history to write a letter? No precedent for this literary genre before the ministry of St. Paul?

This is a critical philosophical observation–at least I found it to be such when I first read Swinburne’s book Revelation: From Metaphor to Analogy ten years ago.

It’s critical to Kimel’s argument. It’s one of the faulty presuppositions of his argument.

Swinburne gave me permission to unprivilege the critical-historical reading of Scripture and to begin to appreciate and affirm the rich and variegated interpretations of the Bible found in the patristic and medieval periods.

“Rich” and “variegated” interpretations of Scripture. Aren’t those pretty synonyms for fanciful and contradictory?

If the Bible is one book, whose ultimate author is God and whose audience is the Church, then we simply cannot assume that the canonical meaning of a given text is identical to its authorial meaning.

i) Is “the Church” the audience for the Bible? This is another one of Kimel’s strategic equivocations.

High churchmen like Kimel always employ a top-down methodology. They begin with some abstract category, like “the Church.” They take their definition of “the Church” for granted. They then impose that framework on the subsequent discussion.

Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with the use of abstractions in theological analysis. But what’s the basis of the abstraction? How did we derive our abstract category?

ii) Kimel ought to employ a bottom-up methodology. Start with the concrete data.

It doesn’t even occur to him to ask a rather obvious and elementary question like, Who was the audience for the Book of Exodus?

Was “the Church” the audience for the Book of Exodus? Is that the logical place to begin? Or should we begin with Jewish nomads in the Sinai desert?

iii) Why does he even assume the Bible can only have one audience? Take Jn 6. Who is the audience for the Bread of Life discourse?

a) There is the audience for the speech itself. The narrative audience. The audience for the spoken word. The Jews whom Jesus was talking to at that particular place and time.

Not only were these Jews instead of Christians, but they included unbelievers as well as believers. The effect of his speech was divisive. Many of his nominal followers fell away as a result of hearing his speech.

So the audience for the Bread of Life discourse included unbelievers. In was directed, in large part, at them.

This is quite different than saying it was written for the church.

b) There is also the audience for the Gospel. The literary audience. The audience for the written word. John recorded the Bread of Life discourse for their benefit—whomever they happen to be. What nowadays we would call the implied reader.

Keep in mind that (a) and (b) are not the same audience.

c) There is also posterity. The future audience. Christians throughout the ages.

Mind you, that involves a fairly flexible definition of “the Church.” That audience includes the Amish milkmaid and Appalachian hog farmer. Nothing distinctively high churchly about the future audience.

iv) And every audience does not supply the hermeneutical frame of reference. If I’m reading the Divine Comedy, I’m part of Dante’s audience, but as a modern reader I need to adjust to his historical outlook. I need to buy an annotated edition of the Divine Comedy which will explain his medieval Florentine references and allusions.

“We may hanker,” writes Swinburne, “after the ‘original meaning in the sense of the meaning of the separate units before they were used to form a Bible, but that sense is not relevant to assessing its truth; for the Bible is a patchwork and context changes meanings.”

But what the Church proclaimed as Holy Scripture were not individual books, let alone the units out of which they were made, but the whole collection. Putting the books together into a whole Bible involved giving them a change of context and, in consequence, by processes similar to those involved in the formation of an individual book, a change of meaning. The process produced a change of literary context: what were before books on their own became parts of a big book. And it also produced a change of social and cultural context, but just what the change was depends on who we suppose to be the author of the whole Bible and who was its intended audience. For, as we have seen, it is the social context and the cultural presuppositions of the author and his audience which dictate how the book is to be interpreted. The Church put the Bible together, but it did so by selecting books deriving from prophets or apostles in which were recorded what in its view was God’s revelation through them to man. God, in the Church’s view, was the ultimate author of the Bible–working, no doubt, through human writers with their own idiosyncrasies of style, but all the same inspiring the individual books.


This is a rather careless way of putting things:

i) Exactly what Church put the Bible together, and exactly when did that happen? It was not until the 16C that the church of Rome formalized the canon. Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox all have differing canons of the OT.

ii) The Bible was never a collection of isolated books. For example, Luke-Acts and the Pentateuch were originally written as literary units.

So how do we then discern the canonical meaning of Scripture?

I think the “canonical meaning” is a misleading expression, although you could use it as a shorthand expression. But, to go along with his usage, the canonical meaning would, by definition, involve interpreting any particular book of the canon in relation to the canon, not the church.

By learning to interpret the Bible as the early Church did.

That doesn’t follow from the “canonical meaning” of Scripture. The church is not the canon. The canonical meaning would be a self-contained meaning—a meaning internal to, and restricted to, the canon itself, and not something extraneous to the canon.

Or to put it somewhat differently, by adopting the rules of interpretation that were employed by the same folks who canonized the Old and New Testament books.

Notice the number of equivocations in this one statement:

i) What folks canonized the OT? Was it only one set of folks who canonized the OT? Does he think the church canonized the OT, but the Jews didn’t? Did the Jews have no canon of Scripture before the church canonized the OT?

This is another example of how Kimel moves in the rarified air of fact-free abstractions.

Would it not be more historically accurate to say that more than one set of folks canonized the Bible? For example, the Jews canonized the OT. The church then had to either reaffirm the Jewish canon or disaffirm the Jewish canon and substitute an alternative canon in its place. So, in a sense, the church also canonized the OT. Both groups canonized the OT.

The Jews originally canonized the OT. The church received the OT from the synagogue. The church then had to decide whether or not it was going to reaffirm the Jewish canon.

ii) What folks canonized the Roman Catholic Bible? That would be the Tridentine Fathers.

So, using Kimel’s criterion, we should discount the hermeneutical principles of the church fathers and medieval theologians. We should confine ourselves to the hermeneutical principles of the Tridentine Fathers.

iii) But that raises some additional problems. The decrees and canons of Trent didn’t pass by unanimous consent. Some Tridentine Fathers voted one way, others another way, while still others abstained from voting. So which subset of Tridentine Fathers sets the standard?

iv) Even if we go back to the church fathers, it’s not as if the church fathers have a uniform set of hermeneutical principles. Just for starters, isn’t there an elementary distinction between the Antiochean school and the Alexandrian school?

v) For that matter, the church fathers didn’t have a uniform canon. So which subset of church fathers sets the standard?

And if we do this, we suddenly find ourselves reading the Bible in ways that would have horrified the Reformers and their heirs. Yes, I’m talking about typology, allergory, tropology, anagogy, and all that good stuff.

i) And does Kimel apply the Quadriga to extrascriptural statements as well? What’s the anagogical interpretation of Vatican II? What’s the tropological interpretation of Humanae Vitae?

Does Kimel interpret the church fathers allegorically? For example, Augustine favors the allegorical interpretation of Scripture. Does this result in a double allegory? We allegorically interpret Augustine’s allegorical interpretation?

ii) Any heretic can use the allegorical method to legitimate his heresy.

I’m not merely saying that any heretic can use the allegorical method. In the case of a sound methodology, it’s possible to misuse or abuse the method. But in this case, since no allegorical interpretation literally corresponds to the truth, no allegorical interpretation is wrong.

So there was a wide tradition in the early Church of reading the Bible metaphorically and not always literally; it was the Church of the centuries which established the canon of Scripture which taught that this was the way in which it ought to be read. It was the Bible understood in that way which they declared to be true…

By now I should have said enough to alert the reader to the many equivocations in a statement like this. Moving along:

Of course if we are misguided enough to interpret the Bible in terms of the ‘original meaning’ of the text, that original meaning is often false: there is scientific, historical, moral, and theological falsity in the Bible, if it is so interpreted…. Yet the rules are there, sanctified by centuries of use by those who claimed in accord with Christian tradition that the Bible was “true.”

Several problems:

i) When Swinburne makes a statement, should we construe his statement according to the original meaning of his statement? Or should we disregard the authorial intent of an author like Swinburne? Perhaps we should interpret Swinburne’s statement allegorically. When he refers to the Bible, I interpret that statement to be an allegorical reference to Tiny Tim.

ii) Swinburne tips his hand. His real motivation for favoring the allegorical interpretation of Scripture is his low view of Biblical inspiration. But that’s an autobiographical projection.

He then resorts to a face-saving expedient to salvage the credibility of Scripture. But if he thinks that Scriptural statements, as they were understood by the original author and audience, are often false, then who is fooled by this face-saving expedient?

iii) A final problem is that Swinburne’s position is equally applicable to the church fathers. By his lights there is often scientific, historical, moral, and theological falsity in the church fathers. So how can patristic hermeneutics set the bar for the interpretation of Scripture? Isn’t that using an erroneous lens to view an erroneous text? Doesn’t that multiply error? Layering the errors of the church fathers onto the errors of the Bible writers?

The acid test is the “Song of Songs.” A number of years ago I led a Bible Study at a clergy retreat, using Gregory of Nyssa’s commentary as my guide. Afterwards, several of the priests came up to me and told me how interesting and helpful it had been for them. We all agreed that new vistas of interpretation for preaching and devotion had been opened up for us.

It’s true that if you interpret the Song of Songs allegorically, that will open up new vistas of interpretation. Suppose I treat the Song of Songs as an allegory of Grand Theft Auto? That would be a very “interesting” interpretation, all right. Substitute pimps, cop-killers, gang-bangers, drag-racers, and Vice City for the original setting.

Simple fact: the Song of Songs was admitted into the canon because it was seen as a love story between God and his people.

i) Statements like this evince Kimel’s lack of a historical sense. I assume he’s alluding to rabbinical and patristic debates over the canonicity of Canticles. What’s the problem with that frame of reference?

Let’s assume that Canticles was written by Solomon. I won’t take time to defend traditional authorship. For a good discussion, cf. D. Garrett, Proverbs. Ecclesiastes. Song of Songs (Broadman 1993), 348-52.

If we accept a Solomonic date, then Canticles had been kicking around for about a 1000 years before these rabbinical debates arose. So what status did it enjoy for all the preceding centuries? Does Kimel think that someone wrote it, put it in a draw, and forgot about it until it was rediscovered 1000 years later?

Of course, Kimel takes a liberal view of Scripture, so he’d reject Solomonic authorship. But, remember, the question at issue is the grounds on which the Jews incorporated Canticles into the canon. Unlike Kimel, the Jews affirmed the Solomonic authorship of Canticles.

And that’s why they would incorporate this book into the canon. Based on Solomon’s reputation as a divinely inspired sage. And that would greatly antedate later rabbinical debates. Subsequent debates at a time when Judaism was suffering an identity crisis in the wake of its disastrous wars with Rome. When Judaism was trying to define or redefine itself after it’s expulsion from the Holy City and the Holy Land.

ii) Another problem with Kimel’s argument is that he’s trying to validate a historical outcome by appealing to the historical outcome itself. But that’s viciously circular.

iii) Moreover, it doesn’t occur to him that we can have our own grounds for accepting the canonicity of Canticles. We aren’t necessarily dependent on someone else’s argument.

It is ludicrous to suppose that any Church Father, even the most ‘literal-minded’ one, would have supposed that [the Song of Songs] meaning was its meaning as a book on its own.

It might be ludicrous to a church father. But why should that supply the standard of comparison? It’s not as if Canticles was written to a church father.

On its own it is an erotic love poem.

And what, exactly, is wrong with that interpretation? On the most probable interpretation, the poem is about a couple betrothed to be married. Is there some reason the Bible can’t celebrate their anticipation?

They would all have said that its meaning was to be understood in terms of its place in a Christian Bible. Just as the rabbis had interpreted it as concerned with God’s agapeistic love for the old Israel, so now the Church Fathers normally interpreted it as concerned with God’s (or perhaps Christ’s) love for Israel, new (the Church) as well as old. Even those Church Fathers who protested against the allegorical interpretations of other passages interpreted allegorically here and no doubt in some other places as well. There is no justification whatever for them or us to regard the Song as a special case; whatever rules apply to it apply generally.

I don’t regard Canticles as a special case. Kimel’s objection cuts both ways.

But is Kimel consistent? How does Kimel interpret the Virgin Birth, Crucifixion, and Resurrection? Are those literal events? Or does he interpret those stories allegorically?

The genetic fallacy that origins determine present operation leads us to suppose that we understand the meaning of a text when we understand its literary history. But we do not; what we need to know is its literary context, not its literary history.

That is not the genetic fallacy. Here’s a standard definition of the genetic fallacy: “A critic commits the genetic fallacy if the critic attempts to discredit or support a claim or an argument because of its origin (genesis) when such an appeal to origins is irrelevant.”

http://www.iep.utm.edu/f/fallacy.htm#Genetic

First, we must recognize that although Scripture is itself a collection of ancient documents, written, redacted, and edited by many individuals over a period of a thousand years, Scripture is itself one book. Its divine author intends it to be read as a narrative whole.

I basically agree, although I don’t share his views on higher criticism.

Hence the insistence of the Articles, as cited above, that one part of Scripture may not be expounded to contradict another part of Scripture.

That’s not at odds with the grammatico-historical method.

“The New Testament is hidden in the Old,” explains St Augustine, “and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.”

This is so vague that it could be true or false depending on how it’s developed.

To the eyes of faith, the Bible enjoys a wondrous unity, and that unity is Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

“To the eyes” of faith the Bible is unified? Does this mean the unity of Scripture is a private projection onto Scripture rather than an objective feature of Scripture? Is the unity superimposed by the allegorical method?

Every verse, every passage must be read within the one story and revelation that is Holy Scripture.

That’s pious bunk. Although the OT has an overarching storyline, many verses are simply factual or practical. Amos supplies some autobiographical information in 1:1 to introduce himself to the reader. There’s nothing messianic about 1:1. Solomon gives some cautionary advice about prostitution in Prov 7 because it’s good advice. There’s nothing messianic about Prov 7.

Everything in the OT isn’t meant to be prophetic or typological. The Bible contains many mundane statements because the Bible is descriptive of life on earth—with all its physical necessities. They don’t always point to something else. To turn the OT into an elaborate allegory converts the OT into a work of fiction—like Bunyan or Dante. But every bush is not a burning bush. Every dove is not a theophany.

Second, the Bible is the Church’s book and is thus to be read in the Church and with the Church, in the community of the Holy Spirit.

The church inherited the OT from the Jews. The modern church inherited the NT from the NT church.

We are privileged to share this heritage, but that doesn’t mean we get to redefine it. We are to be faithful custodians, not revolutionaries who remodel the estate handed down to us by OT Jews and NT Christians.

The Bible did not fall from heaven, but was collected and formally canonized by the community of believers.

From a Catholic standpoint, that’s false. The community of believers doesn’t have the authority to formally canonize the Bible. Only the extraordinary Magisterium can do that.

Historians read the Bible as ancient literature; Christians read the Scripture as contemporary revelation addressed to the Church for eternal salvation.

Kimel drives a wedge between what it meant and what it means. That’s a false dichotomy. Since the Bible was written for the benefit of all believers, what it meant remains perennially relevant to all believers—past, present, and future. One doesn’t need to alter the original meaning to make it relevant.

I have found helpful and persuasive philosopher Richard Swinburne’s little book Revelation. The Protestant rule “Scripture interprets Scripture” is philosophically hopeless, he says. Why? Because the meaning of a given text changes when it is incorporated into a wider collection of texts that is intended to be read as one book. It’s not enough, in other words, to determine the historical-critical meaning of a specific passage. The act of canonization effects a change in literary context and therefore in meaning. Every book, ever chapter, every verse must now be interpreted within the context of the whole. This means that even if St. Paul could come back and explain to us precisely what he meant when he wrote his Epistle to the Galatians, he would not be able to determine for us the true significance of his words. The meaning of this letter has been altered precisely by its incorporation into the collection of Holy Scripture. It is the entire canon that the Church proclaims as Scripture, not just individual texts.

The ever provocative Stanley Hauerwas has presented a similar argument in his book Unleashing the Scripture. Invoking Stanley Fish for support, Hauerwas writes:

Once Paul’s letters become so constructed canonically, Paul becomes one interpreter among others of his letters. If Paul could appear among us today to tell us what he “really meant” when he wrote, for example 1 Corinthians 13, his view would not necessarily count more than Gregory’s or Luther’s account of Corinthians. There simply is no “real meaning” of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians once we understand that they are no longer Paul’s letters but rather the Church’s Scripture. Such examples remind us, according to Fish, that texts only exist in a continuing web of interpretive practices.

Swinburne suggests that the passages be read historically, i.e., as local instruction not necessarily universally applicable. He then states:

And I re-emphasize that reading the passages in such a way is not saying that that is what St Paul meant by what he wrote. People sometimes write what they do not mean; what they mean is determined by the context, and if the context is the whole Bible as a Christian document inspired by God, the meaning of these passages may be quite other than St Paul meant them to have. (p. 200)


i) I appreciate the graphic illustration of what rejecting sola Scriptura and original intention leads to. This puts Kimel, Swinburne, and Hauerwas on a collision course with apostolic authority. And, in so doing, puts them on a collision course with divine authority.

If they were to try that line one of the Apostles, they would have been excommunicated. Such an attitude would disqualify them from membership in the NT church, which is the paradigmatic church.

ii) I’d add that this is exactly how liberals in the church treat the Bible. Liberals appeal to the evolving consensus of the living community of faith. They claim the Holy Spirit is leading the church into newer and truer interpretations of Scripture.

iii) Appealing to tradition is no solution, since, if Scripture has no “real meaning,” or if the meaning of a Biblical statement may be quite other than what the Bible writer meant it to have, then one can apply the same hermeneutical relativism to the church fathers, Scholastic theologians, ecumenical councils, papal encyclicals, &c.

Our interpretation may begin with historical exegesis, but it cannot stop with a merely historical reading. The Bible as God’s Word given to us today. Thus its proper location is the liturgy of the Holy Eucharist.

Of course, that’s just a grand assertion, screaming for an argument. Not even the NT is centered on the Eucharist.

Third, because the Bible as the Word of God does not belong to an obvious genre of literature and because it does not itself provide us with rules on how to read it as one book, we must look to the community of the Bible to show us how to interpret it properly.

i) He keeps saying it doesn’t belong to an obvious literary genre. What does that claim even mean? At one level, the Bible doesn’t belong to any one literary genre because it represents several literary genres.

What he seems to be saying is that Scripture, as the word of God, is a unique genre. Inspiration creates a unique genre. But does it? He seems to be assuming that inspiration can’t express itself through the medium of a preexisting literary genre. If so, where’s the argument?

And why does revelation require a different set of rules? Once again, where’s the argument? Didn’t God reveal his will in human language? Through human linguistic and literary conventions? Indeed, isn’t God ultimately responsible for these preexisting media?

Very early on the Church insisted that the Scripture must be interpreted in accordance with the creeds of the Church. Later the Church insisted that it must be interpreted in accordance with the dogmas of faith established by the Church in ecumenical council. In other words, the Bible can only be rightly interpreted within the Holy Tradition of the Church. We do not come to the Scriptures as solitary individuals nor is our reading of Scripture limited to contemporary concerns. We read the Bible in community with the saints and martyrs. “Tradition,” G. K. Chesteron remarked, “refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around.”

i) Have you ever noticed that Catholics reason like Marcionites and anti-Semites? It’s as if the Chosen People never existed. They’re like the prediluvians. We’re starting from scratch. Wipe the slate clean.

ii) What is the papacy or episcopate if not an “arrogant oligarchy”?

We may legitimately question the arbitrariness of limiting the authoritative Tradition to the first four ecumenical councils, but what is crucial for us to see is the insistence that Holy Writ must be interpreted through the hermeneutical lens of the Fathers.

i) If it’s admittedly arbitrary to limit authoritative tradition to the first four ecumenical councils then why should we limit our interpretation of Scripture to the hermeneutical lens of the Fathers?

ii) Does Kimel, in fact, so limit his interpretation of Scripture? If the church fathers interpret Scripture geocentrically, does that commit him to a geocentric interpretation of Scripture?

iii) Is there a patristic lens? Aren’t there several different patristic lenses? What happens when one church father disagrees with another? Which patristic lens takes precedence?

iv) Why must Scripture be interpreted through the lens of the church fathers? It wasn’t written to them. And it wasn’t written for them, in some exclusive sense.

v) Do the church fathers have some special expertise on Egyptology or Assyriology?

Yes, the Scriptures must be interpreted in light of new developments in historical, economic, and scientific knowledge. We understand more clearly today, for example, the inherent wickedness of slavery than we did fifteen hundred years ago. The Spirit leads us into deeper understandings of God’s Word, even as we sometimes forget the truths learned by earlier generations.

So how does he reconcile that claim with the primacy of the patristic lens? He doesn’t. He merely places two contradictory hermeneutical principles side-by-side.

It’s important to recall that the meaning of a sentence changes when it is incorporated into a wider work. Context changes meaning. This means that the meaning that God intends in his Bible is not necessarily identical to the meaning intended by a given biblical writer.

That’s a muddled claim. What context is he talking about? Authorial context? Authorial context doesn’t alter authorial meaning. The author intended his statement to be construed in light of the authorial context.

We note that Augustine allows for extra-textual factors to compel a metaphorical interpretation of a given text. If a literal interpretation contradicts the doctrines of the catholic faith or violates the love of God and neighbor, then a figurative interpretation is called for, regardless of the intent of the biblical writer.

If the original intent of Bible writers can be set aside, then what’s the basis for believing in the love of God and neighbor, or the doctrines of the catholic faith?

Elsewhere Augustine acknowledges that knowledge gained through scientific and historical inquiry may also compel metaphorical interpretation. For example, Augustine argued that the days of creation in Genesis 1 should not be taken literally because a literal day requires the existence of the sun. Now Augustine may be wrong in judging that the biblical writer literally intended twenty-four hour days; but what is important is the interpretive principle.

To merely cite Augustine’s opinion is not an argument.

The beliefs shared by God and the Church of many centuries which force metaphorical interpretation on the text will be not only those of Christian doctrine, but those of science and history, provided by normal secular enquiry. God knows all truths in these fields; so if the Bible is addressed to the Church of many centuries, then truths of which that Church also becomes aware may force metaphorical interpretation on biblical passages which, taken literally, contradict them….This point was not a modern discovery but well recognized in the centuries which preceded the final canonization of Scripture, and is therefore among the understandings with which it was canonized.

If you conceded that God omnisciently inspired the Bible writers, then there would be no need to adjust your interpretation in light of future developments inasmuch as God took future developments into account when he inspired the Bible writers.

In determining the meaning of a given text, it is often critical to identify the audience to whom the text was addressed and to find out as much as possible about that audience. So to properly understand Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, I need to understand the Corinthian church in its historical and cultural context (as much as that can be determined). But First Corinthians is not just an isolated text. It belongs also to a book that we confess to be Holy Scripture, whose author is God Almighty and whose audience is the one holy catholic and apostolic Church of Jesus Christ. One implication of this confession is that the canonical meaning of any given sentence may not truly become clear until many generations after the text was originally composed.

Why should a sentence in 1 Corinthians mean one thing to the Corinthians, and something else to a later audience? Why isn’t a later audience responsible for taking the original situation into account?

Does the meaning of 1 Corinthians change from decade to decade and place to place? Notice the hermeneutical relativism implicit in his position.

The author of Genesis 1 may well have believed that the world was created in seven twenty-four days; but the Church Fathers “knew” that the ultimate author of Genesis, God, intended the seven creation days to be interpreted metaphorically.

So uninspired church fathers knew better than inspired Bible writers?

We have seen how Augustine allowed that scientific discovery forced metaphorical interpretation on a text; for it was scientific “discovery” which suggested that in a literal sense there were not separate “days” of creation. And Augustine belonged to the century which promulgated a canonized Scripture. But if the intended audience of Scripture is the Church, not only of the first century (many of whom, presumably, Augustine would have regarded as scientifically backward) or the first four centuries, but of later centuries and millenniums, then … truth evident to the latter (especially as the Church of later centuries is by numbers of members much larger than the earlier Church) must also be allowed to force a reinterpretation on the text in the way that truth evident to Augustine forced that. New scientific and historical discoveries may force that kind of reinterpretation.

i) To begin with, the apparent tension between day 1 and day 4 of Gen 1 is not a scientific discovery. The fact that we already have a diurnal cycle in place on days 1-3 is given in the text. That’s not an extratextual finding. And that, in turn, raises the question of whether days 1-3 are solar days, and how they relate to day 4. These are hermeneutical questions, not scientific questions. The text itself supplies the data for these reflections.

ii) Moreover, Kimel’s explanation leaves us with the absurd conclusion that Gen 1 had no target audience until the advent of the church fathers. The author wrote Genesis with no one in mind, put the scroll in a drawer, where it gathered dust for centuries upon centuries, bypassing generations of Jews, until the church fathers opened the drawer, dusted off the scroll, and told us what it means.

The future of catholic Christianity thus lies … where else but with the two traditions that are truly catholic–Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Both traditions deny the formal sufficiency of the Bible. Both reject the sola scriptura of Protestantism. Both insist that the Scriptures are to be interpreted through the living Tradition of the Church. And for this reason, both communions have the structural capacity to say No to modernity and to maintain, by the grace of God, the core doctrines of Christianity.

Does Catholicism say No to modernity? Doesn’t Catholicism make many concessions to modernity? It tends to be tardy in its concessions to modernity, but it has a way of catching up.

The Scriptures are themselves the product of Holy Tradition. “Tradition is the matrix,” Fr John writes, “in which the Scriptures are conceived and from which they are brought forth.” This is most clearly seen in the relationship between the New Testament and the apostolic Church.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that this is true. By his own admission, the OT is an exception of this principle. But surely the OT is not a minor exception? Indeed, Jesus and the Apostles rely on the OT to a great extent.

The relationship between Bible and Tradition is therefore a closed hermeneutical circle. Holy Scripture is God’s Word to his Church for salvation and is thus the canon by which all traditions are judged and authentic Tradition is determined. The Holy Scripture, on the other hand, is birthed within the Church and by the Church as the normative expression of her Holy Tradition. Holy Scripture is Tradition, the normative part of Tradition, yet not independently of the whole of Tradition. Holy Tradition thus determines the canonical limits of Scripture and provides the interpretive community in which Scripture may be rightly read and interpreted.

i) But that’s obviously false. The OT wasn’t birthed by the church. Moreover, the NT wasn’t birthed by the church. It was “birthed” by individuals. Kimel is equivocating.

ii) And what was the interpretive community for the Pentateuch, or the Psalter, or Ezra, or Jeremiah? The church? The Jewish community doesn’t count? Only the church? Why is the OT covenant community irrelevant to the interpretation of the OT? Why is the NT covenant community irrelevant to the interpretation of the NT? Why is the interpretive community shunted off to the church fathers or the medieval doctors?

iii) Moreover, Kimel is equivocating in another respect. For him, the “church” is code language for the church fathers or the Magisterium. That’s the “interpretive community.”

To the patristic mind, what makes this seemingly circular approach not only possible but necessary is the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, who guides the Church and her inspired authors both to preserve and transmit the essential elements of Tradition, and to produce the canonical or normative writings which Tradition spawns and shapes in terms of their content. Without this inspirational work of the Spirit, both Scripture and Tradition would be purely human products, devoid of any claim to ultimate truth or authority. It is the work of the Spirit that enables the Church both to generate and to interpret her own canon or rule of truth, and thereby to preserve intact, as she must, the true hermeneutic circle constituted by Scripture in Tradition.

i) So the Holy Spirit signed an exclusive contract with the church of Rome. Only Roman Catholics enjoy the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Not uncircumcised Protestants.

ii) Yet Kimel is quoting an Orthodox author. In that case, why does the Holy Spirit guide Catholics to believe one thing, and Orthodox to believe something different?

How very different this approach is from all Protestant formulations of the authority of the Bible! The Protestant sola scriptura seeks to exalt God’s Word and authority over the Church, and yet, ironically and contrary to intention, ends up exalting the private opinion of the interpreter over all.

Even if we accept this characterization of Orthodoxy, how does that apply to Catholicism? When you claim infallible authority for ex cathedra pronouncements of the pope, that ends up exalting the private opinion of one interpreter over all in a way alien to Protestant theology.

A question for my unrepentant sola scriptura brethren: Both Orthodoxy and Catholicism reject sola scriptura and construe a circular relationship between the Holy Bible and Holy Tradition. Which is more likely to be a late innovation? the catholic approach or the Protestant approach?

Several problems:

i) Kimel likes to play both sides of the fence. He doesn’t object to novel reinterpretations which are leveraged by modern science, &c.

ii) There is also the question of “innovative” in relation to what? Yes, you can say the Protestant Reformers are innovative in relation to the church fathers. By definition, they occupy a later date in church history.

But the church fathers are innovative in relation to the Bible writers.

iii) Moreover, Kimel admits that he is advocating novel interpretations of Scripture—novel because they deliberately disregard the original intent of the Bible writers, whereas conservative Protestant scholars try to honor the original intent of the Bible writers.

So, at a substantive, rather than merely chronological level, Kimel’s version of the hermeneutical circle is self-consciously and defiantly innovative. You couldn’t get more innovative than that if you tried. That’s a paradigmatic form of theological innovation. Novelty isn’t side-effect of this approach, but central to this approach.

A very interesting argument. I first ran across it in Richard Swinburne’s book Revelation and Stanley Hauerwas’s Unleashing the Scripture. Once an individual’s writing is incorporated into a collection of writings (in this case, the canon of Holy Scripture) it must be interpreted in light of the changed literary context; it must be interpreted within the entire collection of writings. This means that we must entertain a distinction between grammatical-historical meaning (what the text means according to the author’s original intent) and canonical meaning (what the text means within the context of the whole of Scripture, according to God’s intent). It is this traditional distinction that seems to elude so many of us today. Swinburne explains:

So there was a wide tradition in the early Church of reading the Bible metaphorically and not always literally; it was the Church of the centuries which established the canon of Scripture which taught that this was the way in which it ought to be read. It was the Bible understood in that way which they declared to be true…. By and large this general spirit of interpretation continued, despite much more emphasis on the literal meaning, during the later Middle Ages and even the period of classical Reformers. But in the nineteenth century the Bible came to be interpreted by many Anglo-Saxon Protestants in perhaps the most literal and insensitive way in which it has ever been interpreted in Christian history. This literalism was encouraged by the basic philosophical mistake of equating the “original meaning” of the text, gradually being probed by historical enquiry, with the meaning of the text in the context of a Christian document. We may hanker after the “original meaning” in the sense of the meaning of the separate units before they were used to form a Bible, but that sense is not relevant to assessing its truth; for the Bible is a patchwork and context changes meaning…. The genetic fallacy that origins determine present operation leads us to suppose that we understand the meaning of a text when we understand its literary history. But we do not; what we need to know is its literary context, not its literary history.” (Revelation, pp. 206-208)


This is deeply confused:

i) For one thing, it fails to draw an elementary distinction between authorial intent and audient understanding. For example, I have a better understanding of 2 Corinthians if I’ve read 1 Corinthians. It’s more meaningful to me. It makes more sense to me if I read 2 Corinthians in light of the background supplied by 1 Corinthians.

That, however, doesn’t alter Pauline intent. It doesn’t change what Paul meant to express by the words he used. Rather, the more I know about the circumstances underlying 2 Corinthians, the better I know what Paul had in mind. I have a better grasp of what he meant.

ii) We also need to distinguish between authorial context and canonical context. Reading another writing by the same writer (authorial context) can sometimes help you understand what he meant.

That’s quite different than using a different writing by a different writer. As a rule, we shouldn’t use one writer to interpret another writer, for one writer didn’t write with a view to the other (unless it’s, say, a correspondence).

iii) We also need to distinguish between sense and reference. There is a historical subtext to a lot of Scripture: a pattern of promise and fulfillment. Knowing the outcome gives you a clearer sense of what the prophet was talking about. That, however, doesn’t alter or augment the meaning of the words. Rather, it supplies the future, extralinguistic referent.

iv) One problem with the reader-response theory which Kimel is advocating is that, his position notwithstanding, “the role of an audience appears to be primarily to understand a text, not to establish its meaning. An audience tries to get the point made by an author or user; not to impose a meaning on the text it reads or hears. Audiences feel constrained by the meanings they understand texts to have. This is why they often criticize the views expressed by texts, or modify them to fit their own views,” J. Gracia, “Meaning,” K. Vanhoozer, Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (Baker 2005), 496a.

The canonical interpretation of the Bible ultimately requires a catholic understanding of Church, canon, and dogma; otherwise, Scripture becomes a wax nose that can be construed to mean anything we want it to mean—always, of course, under the alleged inspiration of the Spirit.

Of course, that’s an artificial solution to an artificial problem. First, he unnaturally divorces meaning from intent. Then, to avoid the promiscuous consequences of that divorce, he must introduce the makeshift solution of Magisterium to restrain hermeneutical debauchery.

In other words, we may adopt a figurative reading of a given text only when we are constrained to do so by ethical and theological considerations.

In other words, our theology and ethics have no basis in Scripture. Rather, we use these extrabiblical filters to screen out anything that doesn’t pass through out strainer. Why bother to go through the motions of using Scripture at all?

We should also add that new knowledge in the scientific and historical realms may also compel us to interpret a biblical text metaphorically, as evidenced by Augustine’s own interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis. But as the Bishop of Hippo makes clear, our interpretation of the Holy Scripture always begins with the literal meaning of the text. We may depart from this literal meaning only when legitimate considerations force us to do so, when it is clear that God could not have intended the literal meaning as his Word to his Church.

Of course, Bultmann had a word for that: demythologization. He applied that solution to the entirety of the Christ-Event.

If we feel free to resort to blatantly anachronistic interpretations, then the Bible is just a game of scrabble, where we keep rearranging the pieces to form new meanings.

And it won’t to do invoke Sacred Tradition as a constraint on this process, for there’s no reason we shouldn’t treat Sacred Tradition as metaphorically as we treat Holy Writ.

But not so the grammatical-historical critics of the past hundred and fifty years. It is an axiom within the academy that faith has no place in the interpretation of Scripture. In a recent article published on the Society of Biblical Literature website, Michael V. Fox argues that “faith-based study has no place in academic scholarship, whether the object of study is the Bible, the Book of Mormon, or Homer.” He acknowledges that faith-interpretation of the Bible has a place in “synagogues, churches, and religious schools,” but it is not scholarship. I agree with him. There is such a thing as the grammatical-historical exegesis of the writings contained in the Bible. This form of critical reading treats these writings as man-made documents that can be objectively interpreted by any individual trained in the use of approved scholarly apparatus. The historical exegete does not read the Bible as Scripture. He reads the Bible, or more accurately, the individual texts contained within it, as historical artifacts.

i) Kimel is confusing what the author means with what the reader believes. These are distinct issues. At one level, I treat Homer and Moses the same way. I try to ascertain what they meant.

ii) Whether I agree with them is a different issue, and quite irrelevant to exegesis.

iii) But part of exegesis is also to ascertain the viewpoint of the writer. How does he view himself? If a writer claims to be a prophet, then I need to evaluate his claim.

The act of exegesis is not, of itself, intended to verify or falsify that claim. That’s a different operation.

The question then becomes, Of what interest to the Church is the grammatical-historical interpretation of the Bible? I remember attending a lecture given by Stanley Hauerwas on how to read the Bible. In the audience were a number of esteemed scholars, including Jack Dean Kingsbury. Hauerwas was asked what he would do to reform theological education. “Fire the Bible scholars!” he declared. In his book Unleashing the Scripture, Hauerwas states that he no longer trusts “the distinction between exegesis and eisegesis.” He acknowledges that the historical-critical method may provide readings of Scripture that are helpful to the proclamation of the gospel, but he rejects the privileging of such readings.

Underlying Hauerwas’s approach to Scripture is the catholic conviction that the living reality of the Church is prior to the written word. “You do not have or need ‘a meaning’ of the text,” states Hauerwas, “when you understand that Church is more determinative than text.”


Of course, one small problem with this position is that it’s self-refuting. Kimel is quoting from the spoken and written words of Hauerwas to prove a point. But if we disregard authorial intent, if we don’t have or need a meaning of a text, if we don’t distinguish between exegesis and eisegesis, then his statements have no fixed meaning or objective sense.

Before the Bible, there is the Word of God dwelling in the heart of the Church. It is this faith in Holy Tradition that enables the Christian to find Christ in every sentence of Holy Scripture—holy eisegesis indeed.

Has the Vatican issued a commentary on the Bible in which we can find Christ in every sentence of Scripture?

The writers of the biblical books are all dead. We cannot now ask them what they meant when they wrote what they did. We cannot put our questions to them. They are not available to clarify and correct what they meant to say nor amplify on what they wrote. Nor can we ask the subsequent redactors and editors who pulled the material into their final written forms what they intended. All we have are the texts. With the death of the original authors and editors, the reader necessarily assumes an independence over against the text.

Of course, that ignores the rationale for a written record. Bible writers wrote for those occasions when they were unavailable. Because they couldn’t be two places at once. Because they were mindful of their own mortality. As one scholar explains:

“It is a fact that we have a text because we had an author(s) who produced a text for us to seek to understand. Interpretation then very naturally should be concerned, at least initially, with what the author who produced the text sought to communicate through it…the purpose of exegesis is to articulate what the author expressed, since the text is the ‘voiceprint’ of an author. Even when we do not know an author’s exact identity, as is the case in a book like Hebrews, we can still examine his text for his meaning…A text is the recorded product of an author so that even if the author’s identity is not known or the author is dead and unavailable, the text gives access to the author’s expression and thought,” D. Bock, “Opening Questions: Definition and Philosophy of Exegesis,” D. Bock & B. Fanning, eds. Interpreting the New Testament Text: The Art and Science of Exegesis (Crossway 2006), 24-25,28.

Thus the historical problem. How can we figure out, with any degree of accuracy and authority, what the dead biblical writers—or individuals, like Jesus, who are quoted within the texts—meant when they said what they said?

i) There are limitations to this process. But God is aware of the limitations. We’re responsible to do what’s possible, not to do what’s impossible, in that regard.

Through the OT and NT, Jews and Christians are commanded to heed dead Bible writers. Bible writer who were by the time the newer generation was commanded to heed their inspired words.

ii) It’s not as the church furnishes any alternative. The church can’t hold a séance to interview Daniel or Isaiah or Luke or John. The church has no greater access to dead Bible writers than the rest of us.

iii) Is Kimel suggesting that we should simply disregard all writings from the past (e.g. the church fathers) and rely on the spoken words of a living prophet, from one generation to the next?

This is where the historical-critical method ostensibly comes to our rescue. Let the historians immerse themselves in the literature and artifacts that have survived and let them tell us what the texts mean. But it hasn’t worked out quite like that. Perhaps it can’t work out quite like that…C. S. Lewis’s essay “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism” (Christian Reflections [1967], pp. 152-166) offers a helpful perspective.

i) Needless to say, it’s a truly stupid move for Kimel to quote Lewis at this point, for Lewis is dead. He died in 1963.We cannot now ask him what he meant when he wrote his essay. We cannot put our questions to him. He’s not available to clarify and correct what he meant to say nor amplify on what he wrote. All we have are his texts. With the death of the Lewis, the reader necessarily assumes an independence over against his text.

ii) And even if we could interview Lewis, remember Kimel’s approving citation of Hauerwas (as well as Swinburne), according to whom we don’t have or need a meaning of a text. If Lewis were to interpret his own statements, Hauerwas would feel free to brush aside that interpretation.

iii) Moreover, the quote from Lewis is misleading. Many books of the Bible state the author’s purpose, or the situation which occasioned the writing. So this isn’t a case of trying to psychoanalyze the hidden motives of the author.

Remember, too, that Lewis is attacking Bultmann. Bultmann didn’t take his cue from information which a Bible writer volunteered about his own motives. To the contrary, Bultmann disregarded that information as pseudonymic pose. That’s why Bultmann found it necessary to peel back the alleged layers to discover the “true” sitz-im-leben.

Who will defend Scripture when the Church is confronted by two or more contradictory interpretations of Scripture? As Chesterton observed, we cannot put a book in the dock and ask it what it means. Here we confront a problem inherent in every text.

In that event, why is Kimel quoting Chesterton? Chesterton is one of those dead writers. We can’t put Chesterton in the dock and ask him what he meant. Yet Kimel doesn’t bring the same scepticism to his interpretation of Lewis and Chesterton.

In his book Revelation (1992), British philosopher Richard Swinburne notes that the meaning of a text may change when it is incorporated into a wider literary context…Genesis does not stand on its own; it must be interpreted in relationship to Exodus and Isaiah. Paul’s Letter to the Romans does not stand on its own; it must be interpreted in relationship to James, Hebrews, and Matthew. The Old Testament does not stand on its own; it must be interpreted in relationship to the New Testament. And the Bible itself does not stand on its own; it must be interpreted in relationship to the Incarnate Christ, to whom the entirety of Scripture gives witness. Each book of the Bible was in fact divinely intended to be a chapter in the one book of the Bible, even though none of the original authors knew this at the time.

This fails to draw some basic distinctions:

i) Naturally we should interpret Genesis in conjunction with Exodus. The Pentateuch was originally composed to form a literary unit. The five books of the Pentateuch share common authorship (something Kimel would deny).

That doesn’t change the meaning of Genesis, for the author of Genesis never intended that Genesis be understood in isolation to Exodus or the Pentateuch as a whole.

ii) Although Bible writers don’t have the entire Bible in view, they’re aware of the fact that they are writing in a literary tradition, with a view to the past as well as the future. Promise and fulfillment. They look backward and forward.

iii) As I’ve pointed out before, Kimel confuses the meaning of a text with the meaning of an extratextual referent. Historical narratives track historical events. Indeed, in Scripture, they also anticipate historical events. A retrospective knowledge of the future event—future to the original author, but past or present to a later audience—enables the audience to better understand the direction of Scripture. But that doesn’t add new meaning to the text. Rather, that adds an element of recognition.

iv) As a matter of fact, we shouldn’t use Paul to interpret James, or vice versa. We should interpret each author on his own terms, then, at the level of systematic theology, discuss their logical interrelationship.

Swinburne would not agree:

What the Church proclaimed as Holy Scripture were not individual books, let alone the units out of which they were made, but the whole collection. Putting the books together into a whole Bible involved giving them a change of context and, in consequence, by processes similar to those involved in the formation of an individual book, a change of meaning.

The process produced a change of literary context: what were before books on their own became parts of a big book. And it also produced a change of social and cultural context, but just what the change was depends on who we suppose to be the author of the whole Bible and who was its intended audience. For, we we have seen, it is the social context and the cultural predispositions of the author and his audience which dictate how the book is to be interpreted. The Church put the Bible together, but it did so by selecting books deriving from prophets or apostles in which were recorded what in its view was God’s revelation through them to man. God, in the Church’s view, was the ultimate author of the Bible—working, no doubt, through human writers with their own idiosyncracies of style, but all the same inspiring the individual books. What the Church proclaimed with respect to the Bible was not just “here is a book which we have found and recognized as true,” but “here is a book which we have found and recognized as inspired by God and so as true.” (pp. 174-175)


This sort of reasoning commits the division fallacy. For example, the Psalter is an anthology of many different Psalms, written over the course of many centuries. As such, the Psalter has an overall meaning which goes over and above the meaning of any particular Psalm. But by that same token, no particular Psalm shares the meaning of the whole. Psalm 1 doesn’t mean what the Psalter means. There’s no expansive meaning. Although you can go from part to whole, you can’t reverse the process and backload any individual psalm with the total meaning of the Psalter.

The poet who composed the Song of Songs certainly did not know he was actually composing a poem about the mystical marriage between Jesus Christ and his Church.

Kimel keeps using this example as if we should take his allegorical interpretation for granted. That’s highly ironic coming from a man who employs this example to justify his conversion to Rome. Can Kimel cite any major Catholic Bible scholar from the post-Vatican II era who thinks the Song of Songs is really about the mystical marriage between Christ and the church?

Moreover, while each individual text was written for a specific audience, the Bible as a whole is understood as having been written for all mankind in every age. The Bible is Scripture, Holy Writ, God’s Word written. Hence the Bible is a unique book. It stands apart from all other collections of writings. It enjoys no human analogies. Its genre is sui generis. We therefore cannot figure out through any form of historical research how to properly read it. Neutral scholarship is incapable of discerning the rules for its correct interpretation.

i) This is clearly an overstatement. The conclusion doesn’t follow from the premise. Yes, in some respects, the Bible is sui generis. What makes it sui generis is not that it’s written for everyone. That’s the effect of an underlying cause. What makes it sui generis is that it’s divinely inspired.

ii) Divine inspiration makes use of standard literary genres. There’s no tension between inspiration and genre.

iii) The fact that it’s written for everyone doesn’t mean we’re free to disregard original intent. It’s incumbent on every reader to ask himself what this would have meant to the target audience. We should be so egotistical as to think that Bible use personally written for you and me, without any regard for the immediate audience to whom it was addressed.

I thus find myself in total agreement with Swinburne when he dismisses the Protestant claim of the Bible’s perspicuity. The slogan “the infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself” is impossible, for “the Bible does not belong to an obvious genre which provides rules for how overall meaning is a function of meaning of individual books” (p. 177).

This is another example of Kimel’s glaring incompetence. Having just told us that we should treat every book of the Bible as if it’s a chapter in a single book, so that we must interpret each book of the Bible in relation to every other book of the Bible, Kimel then turns around and expressed his “total agreement” with Swinburne in rejecting the principle that Scripture is its own interpreter.

If critical scholarship cannot provide us the rules for the proper interpretation of Scripture as Scripture, who can? The answer is clear—only the community that acknowledged, and acknowledges, this collection of writings as Scripture can do so. More specifically and practically, we must learn how to read Scripture from the Church Fathers and medieval doctors: they must teach us the fundamental hermeneutical principles of the proper interpretation and application of the Bible. The Bible cannot tell us how to interpret the Bible; only the Church can.

Notice the equivocations. We shift from the “community” to a little subset of the “community—the church fathers—and then we extend that to the medieval doctors—as if Duns Scotus or Thomas Aquinas was responsible for canonizing the Bible.

What could be more arbitrary? Kimel doesn’t begin with the evidence. Rather, he begins with his foregone conclusion. He paints a target in empty space, then paints a fictitious background around his target.

Kimel is welcome to hang his painting in a museum, but for those of us who don’t live in museums, we need something closer to terra firma.

The problem posed by the historical-critical method may be posed as the difference between what the text meant and what it means. Once this dichotomy is clearly and sharply posed, we find ourselves in a crisis of authority. How does Scripture exercise authority in the Church if its meaning is restricted to what the original authors meant? And indeed why should anyone care about Scripture if its meaning is so restricted?

This is another pseudoproblem. You ascertain what the text meant, then you analogize from the historical situation it was addressing to a comparable situation in your own experience. Why doesn’t that even occur to Kimel?

This only creates a crisis if you assume the Bible was never meant to be germane to future generations. If, however, the Bible contains timeless norms and perennial situations, there is no chasm between what it meant and how it now applies.

The only reason these writings have been saved for posterity is because of the commitment of the religious communities to them as Holy Scripture. The existence of the canon challenges the primary presuppostion of historical criticism that a given text is to be interpreted only within the historical context in which it was written. “The very existence of a canon,” Levenson notes, “testifies to the reality of recontexualization: an artifact may survive the circumstances that brought it into being, including the social and political circumstances to which so much attention is currently devoted. Indeed, it can outlive the culture in which it was produced.

Kimel confuses meaning with relevance. The meaning of a text is not dependent on its relevance to the reader. If I read Bertrand Russell book on Marriage & Morals, what he meant is thankfully irrelevant to my own outlook.

What makes the Bible relevant is that Scripture is inspired for the benefit of posterity.

The historical-critical method thus introduces a cleavage that had never existed before—a cleavage between the meaning intended by the biblical writers (the concern of scholars and all other intelligent persons) and the meaning intended by God (the concern of preachers, mystics, and the religiously gullible). For the past hundred years, Christian hermeneuts have sought to bridge this chasm.

One of Kimel’s problems is his failure to distinguish between the grammatico-historical method and the historical-critical method. The latter often presupposes methodological naturalism. The former does not.

Hauerwas again:

North American Christians are trained to believe that they are capable of reading the Bible without spiritual and moral transformation. They read the Bible not as Christians, not as a people set apart, but as democratic citizens who think their “common sense” is sufficient for “understanding” the Scripture. They feel no need to stand under the authority of a truthful community to be told how to read. Instead they assume that they have all the ‘religious experience’ necessary to know what the Bible is about. As a result the Bible inherently becomes the ideology for a politics quite different from the politics of the Church….

I certainly believe that God uses the Scripture to help keep the Church faithful, but I do not believe, in the Church’s current circumstance, that each person in the Church thereby is given the right to interpret the Scripture. Such a presumption derives from the corrupt egalitarian politics of democratic regimes, not from the politics of the Church. The latter … knows that the “right” reading of Scripture depends on having spiritual masters who can help the whole Church stand under the authority of God’s Word….

Indeed literalist-fundamentalism and the critical approaches to the Bible are but two sides of the same coin, insofar as each assumes that the text should be accessible to anyone without the necessary mediation by the Church. The reformation doctrine of sola scriptura, joined to the invention of the printing press and underwritten by the democratic trust in the intelligence of the “common person,” has created the situation that now makes people believe that they can read the Bible “on their own.” (Unleashing the Scripture)


i) This confronts us with a set of false alternatives. It isn’t a choice between either democratic common sense or ecclesiastical mediation. The grammatico-historical method is distinct from either approach.

ii) Every Christian is not equally competent to interpret the Bible for himself. At the same time, this doesn’t mean we default to blind authority. A professional exegete should argue for his interpretation.

The idea that the Bible could be interpreted naked, without a tradition of interpretation which clarified its meaning, is not intrinsically plausible and would not have appealed to many before the fifteenth century. Theology from without always dictated which sentences of the Bible were benchmarks by which other sentences were interpreted. (Revelation [1992], p. 177-178)

i) Once again, this confronts us with a set of false alternatives. The grammatico-historical method doesn’t mean the Bible should be interpreted “naked.”

ii) In addition, one can overemphasize the need for background material. Many statements in Scripture can be understood without a specialized knowledge of the sitz-im-leben. The world of the Bible is not a world apart from the modern world. There are continuities as well as discontinuities. Cultural universals as well as culturebound expressions.

Now consider the vast array of writings that are contained in Holy Scripture. We all know, for example, that the Book of Genesis has been pulled together from various sources—the infamous JEDP sources. In the first two chapters we find two different accounts of God’s creation of the world. Presumably each one originally stood alone; the meaning of each was contained within itself, as it were. But now they stand together within the book of Genesis and mutually interpret each other within the context of the book as a whole. Similarly, Genesis itself belongs to Torah, which belongs to the wider collection of writings that we Christians call the Old Testament, which is coordinated with the New Testament within the one book of Holy Scripture, whose author, the Church confesses, is God Almighty.

i) This is a good example of how, if you begin with a liberal view of Scripture, you’re likely to end with a liberal view of Scripture. You meet yourself coming and going.

ii) However, Kimel raises a valid question, even if he uses a bad example to illustrate his question. No doubt some Bible writers make uses of extrabiblical sources. In that event, to what does original intent apply?

Answer: it applies to the secondary source rather than the primary source. Our concern is limited to what the Bible writer meant to make of his sources. What he intended to do with them.

The Church rightly interprets Scripture because the Church knows the gospel, because the Church has internalized the gospel, because the Church is the gospel. She received this faith directly from the risen Christ and this faith is sealed in the depths of her being by the Holy Spirit. The apostolic and catholic faith has existed within the Church from the very beginning, and it is by this faith that she infallibly determines the sense of Holy Scripture.

Here, Kimel is getting carried away with a personification, as if the Church were a single, immortal personage.

If an alien were to land on earth, buy a copy of the Holy Bible from Barnes & Noble, and then return to his home in a galaxy far, far away, he would not be able to then sit down and deduce from its pages the religion that is catholic Christianity. He would not know that every page, every verse of the Old Testament actually witnesses to Jesus of Nazareth. He would not reason out that Jesus is the eternal Son of God, co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit, possessing both a divine and human nature. He would not infer that the Church is institutionally structured around a three-fold ministry of bishop, presbyter, and deacon, which gathers weekly with the laity to offer the sacrifice of Christ’s Body and Blood. And he certainly would never guess that life-long celibacy is considered a high and holy calling.

i) On the one hand, this assumes, without benefit of argument, that we can’t derive certain doctrines like the Trinity from the Bible.

One wonders if there isn’t something viciously circular about Kimel’s entire exercise. How much of this reflects the deficiencies of his theological education? The deficiencies of the Anglican seminary he attended.

ii) On the other hand, if we can’t derive certain doctrines from Scripture, then why, indeed, should we believe them? Kimel begins with a preconception of what we’re supposed to believe, like the real presence or the priestly celibacy. If he can’t find that in the Bible, his response is not to change his preconception, but to change his rule of faith to accommodate his preconception.

But why not reverse the process: If my rule belief-system contains so many unscriptural doctrines, then shouldn’t I change my belief-system to bring it in line with divine revelation?

In 1993 the Pontifical Biblical Commission published its attempt to solve the hermeneutical problem: The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church. The document certainly has its strengths, but its critical weakness is revealed in its treatment of the literal meaning of Scripture...I find the above confusing and unsatisfactory. If the literal sense of a biblical text is that meaning “which has been expressed directly by the inspired human authors,” then it seems wrong to criticize historical-critical exegesis for tending to “limit the the meaning of texts by tying it too rigidly to precise historical circumstances.” On the other hand, if we are allowed to entertain extensions or expansions of the literal meaning of a text, then it seems wrong to insist that “every interpretation alien to the meaning expressed by the human authors in their written text” must be rejected as inauthentic.

The irony of his reaction is acute. Kimel has been steadily attacking sola Scriptura and the grammatico-historical method to justify his conversion to Rome. Yet when he arrives at the portals of St. Peter’s basilica, he finds out that his newfound church has adopted the “Protestant” approach to Scripture which he labored to disprove.

This document comes with the seal of approval of two popes, John-Paul II and his successor, Benedict XVI:

http://archive.salvationhistory.com/library/scripture/churchandbible/pastoral/pope93.cfm

http://archive.salvationhistory.com/library/scripture/churchandbible/pbc/PBC_Interp0.cfm

Yet Kimel finds it “confusing and unsatisfactory.” It suffers from a “critical weakness.”

I agree with Kimel that this documents papers over some internal tensions. It’s an intellectual compromise, which tries to harmonize past practice with present practice in a way that doesn’t do justice to either.

But that’s not my problem. That is a problem for Kimel.