Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Divine Pinocchio

It's interesting to note that some Arminians have taken a view of foreknowledge and freewill which, among other things, posits that our actions determine God's beliefs. One philosopher expresses this view of freedom and foreknowledge thus:

The answer, we think, is that it is indeed sometimes within our power to determine what God believes. We do not thereby cause any changes in God, nor limit His omniscience, for it is neither change nor limitation in God that some of His states count as beliefs of what we do in virtue of our doing those very things. 'A thing will not happen in the future because God knows it will happen, but because it is going to happen, therefore it is known by God before it does happen.' as Origen said. This is, perhaps, what God's foreknowledge is all about.
Widerker, David. Religious Studies, Vol. 23, No. 1 (Mar., 1987), pp. 19-28 (emphasis mine).

So, if God determines some human beliefs, that makes those humans into puppets. Man must be libertarianly free, and so woe to those who would dare take man down from his exulted place and try and remove his powers of creating events ex nihilo. Libertatrian freedom is so valuable that some would make God into the puppet, just so long as they get to keep their powers of libertarian freedom. However, if God remains "unpuppeted" in this scenario, then Arminians are compatibilists about God freedom in some cases. Thus, they wouldn't believe compatibilism necessarily rules out freedom, losing the principle objection to Calvinism.

Prayer To The Dead And Angels In The Psalms?

Below is something I posted in another thread. It might be helpful to some people not reading that thread. The issue under discussion is whether passages like Psalm 103:20-21 justify prayer to the dead and angels.

MG wrote:

"However, addressing angels would be fundamentally different from addressing mountains. Angels are indeed conscious of what is happening on earth to a considerable degree. We know they are the kinds of beings that could, in principle, respond to prayer."

The same can be said of believers who haven't yet died and the unregenerate who have died. I mentioned mountains, but I also mentioned other objects, such as "all you works of His" (Psalm 103:22). We wouldn't use that passage as a justification for praying to a Christian who lives in another country or praying to deceased unbelievers.

You write:

"For any people who are in the vicinity when Psalm 148:11-14, it would make sense for them to take these as requests or instructions."

Only by implication. I wouldn't think that the psalmist was expecting every entity he describes to perceive his request at the time he made it, nor would I expect angels to think that the psalmist was attempting to communicate with them.

You write:

"Yes, there is a poetic element, and it is exclusively poetic in verses like 7 and 8. But when we get to requests to actual people, things become a little different."

See my comments above regarding believers who haven't yet died and the unregenerate who have died, for example. And I've already cited the examples of a Protestant gravestone that's written as if addressed to the dead and a Protestant hymn that's written as if addressed to an angel. We know that people often write that way without any intention of communicating with the dead or angels. As I said earlier, such data is inconclusive at best.

You write:

"So it seems to me the argument from these verses depends on whether or not we have reason to think that angels are aware of what is happening on earth."

As Steve has explained, we don't have sufficient knowledge of what the angels know so as to justify prayer to angels. Our knowledge of what they know about earthly affairs doesn't extend to the point of justifying such prayers.

You write:

"I think you might be assuming that prayer to angels is being thought of as a bigger deal than it actually is. Really, I’m not claiming such prayers are common or extremely important; I would assume they are comparatively rare, and comparatively unimportant."

You've tried to include prayers to the dead in the discussion. And prayer to the dead is common in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, for example. Even prayer to angels is more common in such belief systems than the absence of it in scripture would suggest it should be. Why would prayer to the dead and angels be so "comparatively rare" that there are no examples of it in the sort of narrative portions of scripture I referred to earlier? Why would you have to resort to passages like Psalm 103?

You write:

"The same logic of 'we don’t see any examples of that or explicit prescriptions in its favor' could be used to deny that women can take communion, for there are no clear cases of it in Scripture."

Contexts in which people pray are far more common than contexts in which communion is discussed in such a way that the gender of the participant would be specified. Communion didn't even exist in the Old Testament era and most of the time covered in the gospels.

And there's no significant obstacle to taking female participation in communion as an implication of scripture, whereas there are significant obstacles to taking prayer to the dead and angels as implications of scripture, as Steve and I have explained.

You write:

"The same logic of 'where does that happen in the historical narratives?' could probably be used to deny that the name of David was ever invoked in prayer to God; but the Psalms do this (132:10)."

Some of the same principles I outlined above regarding female participation in communion are applicable here. And I didn't reject your reading of Psalm 103 just because it appears in a psalm. Rather, I cited the context (Psalm 103:22) and similar practices elsewhere (Protestant gravestones, Protestant hymns, etc.) to justify my reading. There is no such qualifying evidence with regard to Psalm 132:10. It's not as though we would expect people to repeatedly be appealing to David in historical narratives as Psalm 132 does. You're comparing two things that aren't comparable.

You write:

"Regardless, I think we have several other references to prayers to angels: Deut 32:43 (Septuagint), Psalm 97:7, Hebrews 1:6 (quoting Psalm 97:7) are the most explicit."

You'll have to explain why you're citing the Septuagint version of Deuteronomy 32:43 (a passage cited in Romans 15:10 without the implications you seem to be drawing from it). And you'll need to explain how you derive your conclusion from Psalm 97:7, a passage addressing idolatry. Hebrews 1:6 says "let all the angels of God worship Him". Not only is there no attempt to communicate directly with angels, but the phrase also is reminiscent of Psalm 97:1, which reads, "let the earth rejoice; let the many islands be glad" and verse 7, which reads, "Let all those be ashamed who serve graven images". Is the psalmist praying to the earth, the many islands, and those who serve graven images?

If those are your "most explicit" passages, then I think the dispute is settled.

You write:

"I would add that it is a lot harder to write them off as examples of poetic device, as they are far removed from the context of 'praise the Lord all ye his works' etc."

It's not as if there has to be such a phrase nearby in order for the sort of interpretation I've suggested to be reasonable. But there are such phrases nearby. See my comments on Psalm 97:1 above. See, also, Psalm 97:10 and 97:12. Should we use such passages to justify prayer to Christians living in other nations? Should I say a prayer to a Christian in Brazil and expect him to hear me and grant what I request?

Paradox and Mystery

Paul Helm reviews Paradox in Christian Theology by James Anderson.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Defining inerrancy

1.It’s fashionable in some quarters to say the inerrancy of Scripture dies the death of a thousand qualifications. Critics insinuate that conservative Christians pile on ad hoc qualifications to shield the Bible from falsification.

However, there’s a basic problem with this allegation. The concept of inerrancy is obviously bound up with the concept of truth. What makes a statement a true statement? For example, what makes a statement about a historical event true?

The problem is truth is not self-defining. There are competing theories of truth. And theories of truth are bound up with other issues, like competing theories of meaning.

By the same token, inerrancy is not self-defining. If truth is not self-defining, then neither is inerrancy.

Inerrancy needs to be defined. It’s not as if there’s a ready-made definition of inerrancy which conservative Christians proceed to load down with additional, ad hoc qualifications.

These are not extraneous qualifications. Rather, these figure in the definition itself. Otherwise, you have no operating definition.

And, of course, unbelievers have their own definition of inerrancy. They, too, determine what feeds into the definition.

2.So what makes a historical statement true? There are at least three elements:

i) The statement must bear a certain relation to the event it describes.

But a statement is also a form of communication. As such:

ii) The statement must also bear a certain relation to the intent of the speaker or writer. What was he trying to convey? What did he mean to say?

iii) Likewise, the statement must also bear a certain relation to the audience. What expectations feed into their construal of the statement? What makes it meaningful to them?

These are complicated issues. Any definition of inerrancy which tries to be reasonably complete is bound to provide a number of conditions under which a statement is true or false.

Any definition will have to do something like this. We might disagree on the conditions, but there’s no simple way to define inerrancy.

3.Critics of inerrancy single out the allegedly suspect the motives of the inerrantist. According to them, the inerrantist is guilty of special pleading. He’s trying to rig the definition of inerrancy to shield the Bible from falsification.

But one of the problems with that accusation is that it cuts both ways. We could just as well say the critic is trying to define inerrancy in a way that makes it easy for him to falsify the Bible. It’s a set-up.

As such, the critic of inerrancy would be well-advised to refrain from impugning the motives of the inerrantist.

If he thinks the inerrantist is guilty of rigging the definition, then he needs to specify what, exactly, is wrong with the definition.

Inerrancy and experience

I was just reading someone who's moved to the left theologically. He used to be more conservative. Now he rejects inerrancy. He used differences between one canonical Gospel and another to prove his point.

There are different ways of responding to this objection. For now one content myself with one observation that ought to be obvious, but is routinely overlooked. He fails to consider the obvious fact that there really is more than one way to report the same event. Historical events have more than one aspect.

As a practical matter, human beings are used to screening out a lot of extraneous information, such as background noise. We disregard the density and complexity of experience.

Suppose I told a painter to paint a tree. The same tree. What would he paint?

Well, there are many variables. The time of day affects the lighting. If he paints in the morning or afternoon, the tree will present a different aspect.

It is clear, partly cloudy, or overcast? Sunny, rainy, misty, or snowy?

He can position himself closer to the tree or farther away. That will affect the appearance of the tree.

He can take up a wide range of different positions along the 360º perimeter of the tree. That will affect the appearance of the tree.

Maybe he can paint the tree from a hill, looking down–or paint the tree from below, looking up.

Whether he paints the tree in spring, summer, fall, or winter will affect the appearance of the tree.

He has to decide how much foreground and background to include in his painting.

Does the sky have clouds? What about the grass? Weeds and wildflowers? Squirrels? Birds?

He could produce hundreds of different paintings of the same tree i n just one year.

And even then he's only capturing the visual aspect of the tree. What it looks like on the outside. He's not even showing us what it looks like on the inside.

Moreover, his painting doesn't capture other sensory properties of the tree. The texture of the tree. What the bark fees like. Or the leaves. And the leaves feel different in spring or autumn.

What the tree sounds like when the wind blows. The fluttering leaves. The creaking boughs.

Or the fragrance of the tree. Or the fragrance of the meadow in which the tree is planted.

Or other ambient sounds which are part of the painter's experience. The sound of birds, cars, airplanes, radios, cellphones–in the background.

Or what the grass feels like under his feet. Or the air temperature.

Much of this we register at a subconscious level.

What if, instead of one painter, you asked two painters to paint the same tree.

In addition to all the variables I just mentioned, different painters have different styles.

They also find different aspects of the tree interesting to paint. Focus on different details. Amplify some details while ignoring others.

Are these contradictory depictions of the same tree? Are they erroneous?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Warren on Moral Status and Abortion

Jeremy Pierce critiques Mary Anne Warren's 1973 article "On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion."

Nature raw in tooth and claw

In this post I’m going to review a review:

The reviewer (Mylan Engel) is reviewing a recent book which tries to construct a Christian theodicy for animal suffering. From what I’ve read, the reviewer is an atheist and a “moral vegetarian.” As such, he uses the book as a foil to promote the argument from evil based on animal suffering. In consequence, there’s some value in reviewing the review since the reviewer uses the medium of a book review as a pretext to attack Christian theism.

Michael Murray's provocative book addresses 'the Darwinian problem of evil' for theism. In Murray's words: "the Darwinian problem consists in the vast and unquantifiable array of nonhuman-animal suffering that is endemic to the evolutionary machinery -- machinery which has been winnowing unfit organisms from the planet (often kicking and screaming) for nearly three billion years" (pp. 1-2). Murray then cites Darwin's poignant explanation of the problem: "'the sufferings of millions of lower animals throughout almost endless time' are apparently irreconcilable with the existence of a creator of 'unbounded' goodness" (p. 2). Darwin is not alone in expressing this worry. It has seemed to many that the magnitude, variety, intensity and duration of animal suffering provides compelling evidence that God[1] does not exist.

Several problems:

i) Murray’s book is predicated on the factuality of Darwinian evolution. But if you reject the Darwinian narrative, then, to the extent that the book is uniquely keyed to that specific paradigm, you reject the problem of evil to which this book is a solution.

ii) Even if you accept theistic evolution, this doesn’t commit you to the proposition that animal suffering is pointless. If, for the sake of argument, we grant theistic evolution, then animal suffering is not wanton suffering. It’s not an aimless phenomenon. Rather, it’s a means to an end.

Naturalistic evolution can’t accept teleological explanations, but theistic evolution can.

iii) I don’t see that Darwinian evolution, even if you believe it, adds anything fundamental to the problem of animal suffer–assuming that is a problem.

If animal suffering is unjust to animals, then it doesn’t matter how many animals suffer. It doesn’t matter if animals have been suffering for a million years or a billion years.

So it seems to be that recasting the problem of animal suffering in Darwinian terms represents an effort to contrive a new, “scientific” objection to the Christian faith. Prescientific Jews and Christians used to believe in God because they didn’t know any better, but evolutionary biology has made us aware of a moral objection to God’s existence which leaves a modern-day Christian without the excuse of blissful ignorance.

But if that’s the incentive, then it’s fraudulent. Assuming that animal suffering counts as evidence against the existence of God, Darwinian evolution contributes nothing distinctive to the problem. Ancient Jews and Christians were aware of animal suffering. If the argument from animal suffering has any merit, its merit is independent of specialized refinements like evolutionary biology. Prescientific examples of animal suffering should suffice. If they fail to suffice, then the Darwinian version will likewise fail.

The Darwinian evidential problem maintains that the magnitude of animal suffering in the world provides compelling evidence that God does not exist and that theism is irrational in light of that evidence. The evidential arguer begins with the following definitions:
D1. Gratuitous evil is evil that serves no God-justifying good.
D2. A good g is a God-justifying good for evil e only if (i) g could not have been secured without permitting either e or some other evils equivalent to or worse than e, (ii) g is sufficiently outweighing (i.e., g is a positive good sufficiently valuable to outweigh the disvalue of e), and (iii) it is within God's rights to permit evil e.[4]
It is generally acknowledged by theist and atheist alike that a 3-omnis God[5] would prevent the occurrence of any gratuitous evil whatsoever and that, therefore, gratuitous evil is incompatible with God's existence.[6]

Here I take issue with Engel’s implicit definition of gratuitous evil as unnecessary evil. I don’t see why we should adopt that definition. I’d define gratuitous evil as pointless evil. Wanton evil. An evil which serves no greater purpose. No ultimate good.

Given the incompatibility of God and gratuitous evil, the atheologian argues as follows:
Evidential Argument from Evil (EA)
(1) If God exists, there would be no gratuitous evils.
(2) There are gratuitous evils.
(3) God does not exist.

i) This is simplistic. For one thing, we might have many independent reasons for believing in God. Even if we’re confronted with some apparently gratuitous evil which counts as prima facie evidence against God’s existence, that doesn’t negate other evidence in favor of God’s existence.

ii) There is also the illicit shift from suffering to evil. Pain is a natural phenomenon. But evil is a moral category. Engel needs to explain, especially from his atheistic standpoint, how his objection is exempt from the naturalistic fallacy. How does he derive moral properties from physical events? What makes one natural outcome morally right while another natural outcome morally wrong?

He thinks that the inscrutability response to evidential arguments succeeds in showing that we aren't justified in accepting (2),[8] but he thinks the theist can strengthen her inscrutability response by providing what he calls a 'Causa Dei' explanation.[9] A Causa Dei [CD] explanation is a case offered on behalf of God's innocence in light of the evidence (p. 40). In the present context, a CD is an attempt to show that in light of our justified acceptances, we aren't justified in believing that animal suffering is gratuitous and thus aren't justified in taking such suffering to be evidence of God's nonexistence.

Crucial to a successful CD-explanation is that the reasons constituting it be such that we aren't justified in rejecting them given our justified acceptances. Since people differ with respect to what they justifiably accept, tying a CD's success to its compatibility with one's justified acceptances introduces a relativistic element to Murray's approach. Since theists and nontheists will presumably differ with respect to their justified acceptances, an animal-suffering-CD that is successful for the theist might not be successful for the nontheist.

i) It seems to me that the person-variable response to a Christian theodicy is inevitable and unavoidable. To some extent, and often to a great extent, believers and unbelievers lack a common value-system.

ii) At the same time, this doesn’t mean we simply assert our respective value-systems. It’s possible to argue for your value-system.

In Chapter 2, Murray draws on recent work in philosophy of mind to develop four neo-Cartesian CDs according to which animals lack the sort of phenomenal consciousness needed to experience pain.[10] One representative neo-Cartesian explanation that Murray proposes appeals to the higher-order theory of phenomenal consciousness. On this view,
“For a mental state to be a conscious state (phenomenally) requires an accompanying higher-order mental state (a HOT) that has that state as its intentional object. The HOT must be a thought that one is, oneself, in that first-order state. Only humans have the cognitive faculties required to form the conception of themselves being in a first-order state that one must have in order to have a HOT.” (p. 55)

If the HOT-account of phenomenal consciousness were correct and if animals lacked the capacity for HOTs, then animals would be incapable of experiencing pain.

We also have independent evidence that many animals are capable of experiencing pain, evidence that parallels the evidence we have for thinking our fellow humans are capable of feeling pain: We witness pain behavior, not just reflex actions to noxious stimuli (protective pain), but subsequent pain-induced behavioral modification caused by bodily damage (restorative pain); we observe significant anatomical and neurophysiological similarity between humans and many animals (including all mammals and most vertebrates); endogenous serotonergic and opioid pain-control mechanisms are present in all mammals[11] [Why would organisms incapable of feeling pain have endogenous pain-control systems?]; efferent and afferent nerves run throughout their bodies; analgesics and anesthetics stop animals from exhibiting pain behavior, presumably because these substances prevent the pain itself in much the way they prevent pain in humans; and there is compelling experimental evidence that the capacity to feel pain enhances survival value in animals, based on the self-destructive tendencies displayed by animals that have been surgically deafferented.

Several more issues:

i) As a physicalist, Engel needs to address objections posed by eliminative materialism. Do animals suffer?

I myself don’t doubt that there’s prima facie evidence for animal suffering. But is that consistent with Engel’s other philosophical commitments?

ii) Assuming that his summary of Murray’s argument is accurate, I agree with Engel that Murray’s argument is overstated.

However, there is still some truth to Murray’s argument, even if you reject his particular formulation. For even if you reject neo-Cartesianism, it’s still the case that sentience ranges along a continuum, from higher animals to lower animals. You can’t ascribe the same pain-states to all animals viz. sponges, anemones, corals, crickets, lice, termites, beetles, spiders, scorpions, shellfish, snakes, snails, sharks, cows, crows, frogs, crocodiles, monkeys, parrots, dogs, dolphins, elephants, &c.

Pain-states correlate with mental states. You can’t ascribe the same mental states to all animals regardless of their mental capacity.

iii) In addition, we can’t assume that all animals have the same pain tolerance. Wild animals seem to have a pretty high pain tolerance. Indeed, they seem to have a pretty high pain threshold.

iv) Moreover, treating animals as analogous to human beings is a double-bladed appeal. One stock objection to animal suffering is that animals are innocent victims. If, however, you treat animals as analogous to human beings, then why not regard some animals as evil, mean, or vicious or cruel?

Chapter 3 explores whether Fall-CDs might succeed in reconciling animal suffering with divine goodness. Murray notes: "[F]or almost every major Christian thinker reflecting on evil, the Fall [of Adam] has played a central role in explaining both the origin and persistence of evil in the universe" (p. 74), but Fall-CDs face the problem of pre-Adamic pain [PAP]. Sentient animals pre-date the first humanoids by hundreds of millions of years, and trillions of the unfit among them suffered terribly as natural selection mercilessly eliminated them. After rejecting a young-Earth-CD and a precursive-conditions-CD, Murray defends the Satan-CD. On this CD, all the natural evil in the world, including animal suffering, is the result of the Fall of preternatural beings with morally significant freedom, viz., Satan and his cohorts. Murray contends that our justified acceptances do not justify us in rejecting the Satan-CD. Is the Satan-CD "as plausible as not, overall" given our justified acceptances? To see that it's not, consider a question Murray poses: "Could these beings [Satan and his cohorts] be to blame for the fact that human beings often have bad backs, myopia, liability to cancer and heart disease?" (p. 103). It's logically possible, but that's not the relevant question. What matters is whether we're justified in denying that that possibility is actual, and we are. We have good, scientifically-confirmed, naturalistic explanations for all of the conditions and diseases Murray mentions. We know, e.g., that heart disease is caused by diets high in saturated fat and cholesterol and is exacerbated by a sedentary life-style. We also know that the other diseases mentioned have naturalistic causes,[14] and so, we're justified in rejecting that Satan is their source. The point generalizes. We needn't appeal to Satan to explain any natural phenomenon, and since it's unreasonable to postulate entities beyond necessity, we're justified in denying that Satan exists. Do we know for certain that Satan does not exist? No, but that is not the standard that is required for rejecting a CD. To reject a CD, we must be justified in believing that it is false, and since we're justified in believing that Satan does not exist, we're justified in rejecting the Satan-CD.[15]

I have several disagreements with this, both in reference to Murray as well as Engel:

i) Whether Satan exists, and whether Satan is responsible for some or all natural evils, are two separate questions.

ii) To say we don’t need Satan to explain any natural phenomenon is simply an expression of Engel’s secular prejudice. It has no argumentative weight.

iii) I think that human liability to disease is a consequence of Adam’s fall. To say these have natural causes misses the point. The fact that they have natural causes doesn’t mean we have a natural liability to these diseases. Our liability could be (as is) a result of the Fall.

iv) Engel’s objection is, once again, predicated on the Darwinian narrative–which I reject.

v) Even if I accepted the Darwinian narrative, Engel is in no position to assume the viewpoint of a trilobite (to take one example) and assure us that trilobites “suffered terribly” as a result of natural selection. That’s a purely anthropomorphic projection.

vi) I don’t attribute animal pain to either the fall of Adam or the fall of Lucifer. And I don’t think it’s necessary to do so. For theodicean purposes, we only need to show that animal pain serves a legitimate function. And I don’t think that’s a problem. To take one example, the ecosystem is based on a food chain, and the food chain is cyclical:


Producers (e.g. plants)

Consumers (e.g. herbivores, carnivores, parasites)

Decomposers (e.g. scavengers, detritivores)

Since the trophic network is obviously functional and purposeful, I don’t see that it requires any further justification. Given its teleological structure, this is not a gratuitous. And if it’s not gratuitous, it can’t be gratuitously evil. Indeed, it’s a natural good. It yields many goods.

vii) Both Murray and Engel also overlook the theodicean dimension of the cultural mandate. God designed the natural world in such a way that it would pose a challenge to man. Man has a calling to cultivate the wilderness and tame the wild kingdom. To make the whole world a garden of Eden.

viii) Apropos (vii), there’s a distinction between the Garden of Eden and the surrounding wilderness. That’s in large part what made banishment from the garden a punitive action.

ix) Finally, God designed the sensible world in such a way that animate and inanimate creatures symbolize good and evil. That’s why the Bible uses natural metaphors to illustrate moral and spiritual truths.

Murray seems to recognize this point, for he seeks CDs that are consistent with the "common set of justified acceptances endorsed by individuals who are reasonably well-educated in matters of contemporary philosophy and science" (p. 39).

Here Murray might retreat to the claim that at least theists aren't justified in rejecting the Satan-CD, but then he will have abandoned all pretense of providing a CD that comports with the "common set of justified acceptances endorsed by individuals who are reasonably well-educated in matters of contemporary philosophy and science." I suspect that the Satan-CD will even fail for most theists, because given what they justifiably accept, it is not "as plausible as not, overall" that Satan is the source of pre-Adamic animal suffering.

That does introduce a point of tension into Murray’s monograph. It leaves him open to some of Engel’s objections. For it’s clearly impossible to offer a theodicy of animal suffering which is equally convincing to both an orthodox Christian as well as Peter Singer (to take one example).

In Chapter 4, Murray defends two CDs that attempt to justify animal pain in terms of benefits to the animals themselves. Since both CDs are open to the same objection, I'll only address the first. CD1: Animal pain and suffering are necessary to preserve the integrity of sentient physical organisms engaged in intentional action. The problem with CD1 is that it doesn't take seriously God's omnipotence. The evidential problem of evil is only a problem for rational belief in a particular kind of deity, namely, a 3-omnis God. An omnipotent God can do anything logically possible for God to do that is not inconsistent with any of God's essential divine attributes. All that's required to be justified in rejecting CD1 is that we be justified in believing that it's logically possible to create successful sentient organisms that don't experience pain. Conversely, for CD1 to succeed, pain and suffering must be logically necessary for preserving animal life. It's irrelevant how animal pain happens to function in the actual world. What matters is whether it's logically possible to create thriving sentient creatures that either aren't capable of feeling pain or aren't in environments where their capacity for pain is ever realized. Do we know that this is logically possible? No. But we're justified in believing that it is, since creating such beings and placing them in non-hostile environments involves no contradiction. To think otherwise is to deny that the Garden of Eden is even logically possible. Since we are justified in believing that it is logically possible to create sentient beings and place them in non-hostile environments, the Necessity Condition (see note 4) is not met, and consequently, CD1 fails.[16]

i) Once again, I disagree. This is not a question of logicality, but teleology. As long as a natural evil is purposeful, then it’s not gratuitous.

ii) Moreover, it’s very lopsided to accentuate animal pain and suffering. What they have are nerve endings which conduct either pleasant or unpleasant sensations. Without a capacity for pain, there’s no capacity for pleasure.

iii) Furthermore, there’s a fundamental tension running through Engel’s entire line of objection. Animals don’t share his viewpoint. For example, carnivores don’t lament their lifestyle. They don’t view themselves as the victims of some cosmic injustice. From what I can tell, a well-fed lion is a happy lion. Except when they’re eaten, herbivores seem to enjoy their lifestyle as well.

Engel is superimposing a human viewpoint on the subhuman viewpoint of the animal kingdom Lower animals don’t even have a viewpoint. So that’s a purely anthropomorphic projection. His attitude is quite elitist and condescending.

If Engel had his way, most animals wouldn’t even exist, since he thinks their existence is so horrendous. But do most animals think their existence is horrendous? Obviously not. Many animals seem to thoroughly enjoy their bestial existence. And many other animals hardly think that all. Apart from the possible exception of a few higher animals, most animals don’t reflect on their quality of life.

I end with a moral worry. In Chapter 2, Murray admits that we don't know that neo-Cartesianism is true, and there, he offers an argument from moral caution that since we don't know the neo-Cartesian view is correct, it would be morally reckless to act as if we knew animals were incapable of suffering. But in Chapter 7, he downplays the significance of animal suffering. There, he claims that we have reason to believe that animal pain and suffering is not as bad as human pain and suffering, and returning to the neo-Cartesian CDs, he claims that "it is hard to know how 'bad' those states are" (p. 193). Human psychology is such that the less bad we think some evil is, the less we're willing to do to prevent it. Downplaying the moral significance of animal suffering makes it likely that some readers will be less inclined to take conscious steps to avoid contributing to such suffering. It would be both sad and ironic if Murray's attempt at explaining away the evidential problem of animal suffering had the evil end result of making theists more inclined to contribute to that very suffering.

i) Secular ethics can't even lay a solid foundation for human rights, much less animal rights.

ii) From a Christian perspective, animals are divine artifacts. We should treat them with the same respect that we treat all of God’s handiwork. Not every type of creature should be treated the same way. But we should avoid inflicting wanton harm on a creature. It’s wrong to vandalize God’s handiwork.

[18] Elsewhere in the text, Murray admits that a good that could only be attained by permitting "creatures to live lives that were perpetually and unrelentingly filled with pain, misery, and devastation . . . would not be outweighing, but would rather be outweighed" (p. 87). For billions upon billions of unfit organisms, their brief lives are filled with unrelenting pain, misery, and devastation. Accordingly, even if a CTO-universe is intrinsically good, we are justified in believing that this good is not sufficiently good to outweigh all of its attendant animal suffering.

Unless you can argue that animals suffer some injustice, then I don’t see that animals must be individually compensated for their pain and suffering. It’s sufficient that there be an overall good which comes of some individual suffering.

Discussions About Christmas And Prayer

I've been involved in a couple of discussions at another web site that might interest some of you.

Here's a discussion about the infancy narratives, especially whether Jesus was born in Bethlehem, with a liberal Anglican. The thread began on another topic, but shifted to the Bethlehem birthplace and the infancy narratives in general. He seems to have gotten much of his information from sources like Marcus Borg and John Spong, and he repeats a lot of the common liberal objections to the infancy narratives: Matthew and Luke contradict each other, no other source mentions the Bethlehem birthplace, Mary and Joseph would have received more hospitality in Bethlehem in an ancient Jewish context, it was only recently that people began interpreting the Bible as Evangelicals interpret it today, etc. I don't know whether the thread will remain up much longer, given how far it's gone off the original topic and given some of the comments I've made about this man's ignorance. The moderators might get some complaints.

And here's a thread about prayers to the dead and angels. A lot of issues have come up: the definition of prayer, whether human communication with angels through angelophanies justifies prayer to angels, whether Psalm 103:20-21 justifies prayer to angels, the significance of the harrowing of Hell, etc.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Fallacies of Arminian Apologetics – Fallacy #1

According to Thibodaux:

Calvinists often pose questions along the lines of, “If 2 people are given the same grace, why does one receives it and another reject it?” This question was popularized on the internet by John Hendryx at, who in one rendition of this particular fallacy states: “If prevenient grace places us in a neutral state, then what motivates one man to believe and not another? … What principle in him made him choose what he did?” [A Prayer That a Synergist Won't Pray (An Open Challenge to All Synergists), John Hendryx]
The problem:
Hendryx’s wording is very telling, he asks ‘what made him choose?’, when the defining property of a libertarian decision is that nothing caused it to be one way or another except the person’s own will. While free will certainly is subject to influence, if some external principle coerced, impelled, or simply necessitated a specific decision, then the choice could no longer be called ‘libertarian.’
To break down Hendryx’s question:
The context (note the title I listed above) is that Hendryx is addressing the question to Synergists (people like myself who believe that there are at least some non-necessitated choices), trying to show what he perceives as problems in our beliefs. His putting forth of the question, “What principle in him made him choose what he did?”, amounts to him asking what necessitates our decisions, since anything that makes someone choose a specific way would constitute necessitation of that choice.
So given that,
1. The question is posed to people who believe in libertarian (non-necessitated) decisions
2. The question challenges the libertarian view by asking what necessitates peoples’ specific choices
Hendryx’s question effectively boils down to him asking,
“What necessitates choices that aren’t necessitated?”
This line of questioning is not only logically absurd, but also requires assuming that all of our decisions must be necessitated, when that is in fact the proposition he is trying to prove. This fallacy is more formally known as ‘begging the question,’ a form of circular reasoning.

Thibodaux exhibits a very simplistic grasp of libertarian action theory. And his commenters suffer from the same simplistic grasp.

Let’s quote from a contemporary analysis which illustrates some of the complexities and difficulties of libertarianism:

“Some libertarian accounts require that a free decision or other free action have no cause at all; some require that it either have no cause or be only nondeterministically caused by other events. Since both such views place no positive causal requirements on free action, we may call them ‘noncausal accounts.’ (They are sometimes called ‘simple indeterminist views.’),” R. Clarke, “Libertarian Views: Critical Survey of Noncausal and Event-Causal Accounts of Free Agency,” R. Kane, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Freewill (Oxford 2005, 356.

“Two (related) main problems arise from libertarian accounts of this sort: both are problems, in the first instance, for noncausal accounts of action. The first concerns control. Performing an action, even acting unfreely, is exercising some variety of active control over one’s behavior; acting freely is exercising an especially valuable variety of active control. A theory of action, whether of specifically free action or not, ought to say what the pertinent variety of control is or in what it consists. It is questionable whether noncausal views have an adequate account to offer at this point,” ibid. 357-358.

“The second main problem concerns rationality. Acting freely is acting with a capacity for rational self-governance and determining, oneself, whether and how one exercises that capacity on a given occasion. Hence it must be possible for a free action to be an action performed for a certain reason, an action for which there is a rational explanation. Again, it is questionable whether noncausal views can proved adequate accounts of these phenomena,” ibid., 358.

“Consider first the matter of control. An obvious candidate for an account here is that an agent’s exercising active control consists in her action’s being caused, in an appropriate way, by her, or by certain events involving her, such as her having certain beliefs and desires or a certain intention. Since noncausal accounts reject this type of view, what alternatives are available?” ibid. 358.

“McCann rejects causal construals of it, but since he offers no substantive alternative, the exercise of active control is left something of a mystery. The resulting view, in my judgment, falls short as account of action (and hence of free action) because it provides no positive account of the crucial phenomenon,” ibid. 359.

“When it comes to acting for certain reasons and to rational explanation, again obvious candidates for accounts of the phenomena invoke causation: an agent acts for a certain reason only if the agent’s having the corresponding reason-state (such as a desire) causes, in an appropriate way, the agent’s behavior, and citing a reason-state contributes to a rational explanation of an action only if the agent’s having that reason-state caused, in an appropriate way, the action. Proponents of noncausal libertarian views reject such proposals,” ibid. 359-360.

This is just a sample. Clarke runs through a number of noncausal and event-causal strategies to make libertarian action theory satisfy the conditions of control and rationality. He draws attention to various deficiencies of among competing versions.

Thibodaux is welcome to present a version of libertarianism which sidesteps all these pitfalls. For example, how does he avoid the argument from luck?

My church is true cuz it says so

Unbelievers frequently caricature the faith of Christian believers by putting the following argument in their mouth: “The Bible is true because the Bible says it’s true.”

They then proceed to ridicule this caricature, which they imputed to Christians, as a vicious circle. Begging the question.

Now, there may be some unsophisticated Protestants who actually use this argument, but, of course, that’s hardly representative of the way in which a Christian apologist argues for the Bible.

What’s ironic, though, is that some Catholic epologists use a parallel argument: “My church is true cuz my church says it’s true.”

For instance, in making his case for Catholic ecclesiology, Bryan Cross essentially argues that the papacy is necessary because the papacy says it’s necessary. He goes about proving the authority of the pope by quoting various popes on the authority of the pope.

Now, that’s not all he does. He also quotes from Scripture. But when Scripture doesn’t give him as much as he needs to make his case, he putties key gaps in his argument by falling back on Catholic sources to authorize his claims.

Needless to say, appealing to Catholic authorities to prove Catholicism assumes the very issue in dispute.

Here are some examples of his methodology:

But the members cannot be formally unified as a Body if they are divided on doctrines concerning which the Church has definitively ruled. This is why Pope Pius XII wrote:

“Hence they err in a matter of divine truth, who imagine the Church to be invisible, intangible, a something merely ‘pneumatological’ as they say, by which many Christian communities, though they differ from each other in their profession of faith, are united by an invisible bond”.15

Regarding Christ’s establishment of a visible head of His Body, Pope Pius XII wrote:

“But we must not think that He rules only in a hidden or extraordinary manner. On the contrary, our Redeemer also governs His Mystical Body in a visible and normal way through His Vicar on earth. You know, Venerable Brethren, that after He had ruled the “little flock” Himself during His mortal pilgrimage, Christ our Lord, when about to leave this world and return to the Father, entrusted to the Chief of the Apostles the visible government of the entire community He had founded. He was all wise; and how could He leave without a visible head the body of the Church He had founded as a human society. Nor against this may one argue that the primacy of jurisdiction established in the Church gives such a Mystical Body two heads. For Peter in view of his primacy is only Christ’s Vicar; so that there is only one chief Head of this Body, namely Christ, who never ceases Himself to guide the Church invisibly, though at the same time He rules it visibly, through him who is His representative on earth. After His glorious Ascension into Heaven this Church rested not on Him alone, but on Peter, too, its visible foundation stone. That Christ and His Vicar constitute one only Head is the solemn teaching of Our predecessor of immortal memory Boniface VIII in the Apostolic Letter Unam Sanctam; and his successors have never ceased to repeat the same”. 24

If Christ had not established an essentially unified visible head, any schism at the vertex of the visible hierarchy would separate His Mystical Body into two or more Bodies.

And Pope Leo XIII, says,

“Indeed no true and perfect human society can be conceived which is not governed by some supreme authority. Christ therefore must have given to His Church a supreme authority to which all Christians must render obedience. For this reason, as the unity of the faith is of necessity required for the unity of the church, inasmuch as it is the body of the faithful, so also for this same unity, inasmuch as the Church is a divinely constituted society, unity of government, which effects and involves unity of communion, is necessary jure divino. ‘The unity of the Church is manifested in the mutual connection or communication of its members, and likewise in the relation of all the members of the Church to one head’”27.

Pope Leo XIII, in unambiguous language, teaches that the notion that the Church is “hidden and invisible” is a “pernicious error”:

“[T]hose who arbitrarily conjure up and picture to themselves a hidden and invisible Church are in grievous and pernicious error: as also are those who regard the Church as a human institution which claims a certain obedience in discipline and external duties, but which is without the perennial communication of the gifts of divine grace, and without all that which testifies by constant and undoubted signs to the existence of that life which is drawn from God. It is assuredly as impossible that the Church of Jesus Christ can be the one or the other, as that man should be a body alone or a soul alone. The connection and union of both elements is as absolutely necessary to the true Church as the intimate union of the soul and body is to human nature”.43

Pope Pius XII says something quite similar about the notion of the Church’s being invisible:
“Hence they err in a matter of divine truth, who imagine the Church to be invisible, intangible, a something merely ‘pneumatological’ as they say, by which many Christian communities, though they differ from each other in their profession of faith, are untied by an invisible bond”.44

“From what We have thus far written, and explained, Venerable Brethren, it is clear, We think, how grievously they err who arbitrarily claim that the Church is something hidden and invisible, as they also do who look upon her as a mere human institution possession a certain disciplinary code and external ritual, but lacking power to communicate supernatural life. On the contrary, as Christ, Head and Exemplar of the Church “is not complete, if only His visible human nature is considered…, or if only His divine, invisible nature…, but He is one through the union of both and one in both … so is it with His Mystical Body” since the Word of God took unto Himself a human nature liable to sufferings, so that He might consecrate in His blood the visible Society founded by Him and “lead man back to things invisible under a visible rule”.45

“For this reason We deplore and condemn the pernicious error of those who dream of an imaginary Church, a kind of society that finds its origin and growth in charity, to which, somewhat contemptuously, they oppose another, which they call juridical. But this distinction which they introduce is false: for they fail to understand that the reason which led our Divine Redeemer to give to the community of man He founded the constitution of a Society, perfect of its kind and containing all the juridical and social elements - namely, that He might perpetuate on earth the saving work of Redemption, - was also the reason why He willed it to be enriched with the heavenly gifts of the Paraclete. The Eternal Father indeed willed it to be the ‘kingdom of the Son of his predilection;’ but it was to be a real kingdom in which all believers should make Him the entire offering of their intellect and will, and humbly and obediently model themselves on Him, Who for our sake “was made obedient unto death.” There can, then, be no real opposition or conflict between the invisible mission of the Holy spirit and the juridical commission of Ruler and Teacher received from Christ, since they mutually complement and perfect each other - as do the body and soul in man - and proceed from our one Redeemer who not only said as He breathed on the Apostles ‘Receive ye the Holy Spirit,’ but also clearly commanded: ‘As the Father hath sent me, I also send you;’ and again: ‘He that heareth you, heareth me’”.46

The constant teaching of the Catholic Church is that Christ founded a visible Church with an essentially unified visible hierarchy.

The keys of the Kingdom of Heaven are the apostolic authority over the Church. That is why the Catechism says,

“The Church is the seed and beginning of this kingdom. Her keys are entrusted to Peter”.51

“To fulfill the Father’s will, Christ ushered in the Kingdom of heaven on earth. The Church is the Reign of Christ already present in mystery”.52

“The Church is ultimately one, holy, catholic, and apostolic in her deepest and ultimate identity, because it is in her that the Kingdom of heaven, the Reign of God, already exists and will be fulfilled at the end of time”.53

The current state of the prolife movement

Trevin Wax interviews Scott Klusendorf.

Late-term abortions

Jeremy Pierce on late-term abortions.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Christian Unity

Like a beacon to guide us between the shadows of the divisions inherited from so many centuries of sinning against unity, our steadfast hope endures that Christ's Spirit will sustain us on this crossing, healing our weaknesses and reticence and teaching us to live his commandment of love to the full: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn 13: 35).

Suppose we actually take him at his word. Suppose we judge the church of Rome by Jn 13:35.

When this verse refers to “all men,” who does that denote? Well, it’s set in contrast to the disciples. So it represents outsiders, unbelievers.

Those, outside the Church, who witness the mutual love among Christians inside the Church.

And a further implication of this passage is that some outsiders will join the Church when they witness this outpouring of loving fellowship. Certainly that’s how an ecumenist like John-Paul II is using this verse. It’s is a fundamental feature of their witness to the world. The mutual love of the members has an evangelistic dimension. A magnetic, missionary attraction. It draws outsiders into the fold.

Assuming that this is the correct interpretation of John-Paul’s appeal–and I don’t see what other interpretation is tenable–let’s measure the church of Rome by the yardstick which he has given us.

When outsiders survey the history of Roman Catholicism, what impression do they come away with? Are they impressed by how loving the papacy has been over the centuries?

Put another way, when outsiders object to Roman Catholicism, what do they single out? Don’t they generally seize on things like the Inquisition and the Crusades? Aren’t they put off by Roman Catholicism because it strikes them as being a very violent, autocratic, iron-fisted organization–at least when it had that power at its disposal?

For the moment I’m not debating whether or not the Inquisition, the Crusades, or other suchlike, can be justified on their own terms. Even if, for the sake of argument, these are justifiable, this doesn’t change the fact that, by the standards of Jn 13:35, the church of Rome strikes many outsiders as an institution which has frequently been the very antithesis of a loving institution–even in the way it treats fellow Catholics (e.g. dissenters).

So if we measure the church of Rome by John 13:35, it comes up short. The claims of Rome are falsified by this appeal.

Ut Unum Sint

This is a specific duty of the Bishop of Rome as the Successor of the Apostle Peter. I carry out this duty with the profound conviction that I am obeying the Lord, and with a clear sense of my own human frailty. Indeed, if Christ himself gave Peter this special mission in the Church and exhorted him to strengthen his brethren, he also made clear to him his human weakness and his special need of conversion: "And when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren" (Lk 22:32). It is precisely in Peter's human weakness that it becomes fully clear that the Pope, in order to carry out this special ministry in the Church, depends totally on the Lord's grace and prayer: "I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail" (Lk 22:32). The conversion of Peter and that of his Successors is upheld by the very prayer of the Redeemer, and the Church constantly makes this petition her own. In our ecumenical age, marked by the Second Vatican Council, the mission of the Bishop of Rome is particularly directed to recalling the need for full communion among Christ's disciples.

The Bishop of Rome himself must fervently make his own Christ's prayer for that conversion which is indispensable for "Peter" to be able to serve his brethren. I earnestly invite the faithful of the Catholic Church and all Christians to share in this prayer. May all join me in praying for this conversion!

This is unintentionally comical. On the one hand, Pope John-Paul II says that it’s his duty to take the lead in ecumenism due to unique prerogatives of his papal office.

On the other hand, it doesn’t even occur to him that these pretentious claims are, themselves, an insurmountable obstacle to reunion with Rome.

His very rationale for Catholic ecumenism is one of the major reasons why Catholicism is a standing offence to other Christians.

This is the dilemma of Catholic ecumenism. Progress would only be possible, if at all, were the Pope to recant these pretentious claims. (And, of course, there are many other equally insurmountable obstacles to reunion with Rome.)

I don’t question his sincerity. But his “outreach” merely confirms his utter insularity.

Abraham doesn't know us

“For you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name” (Isa 63:16).

There are various objections to the intercession of the saints. Turretin has a characteristically thorough discussion of the subject. Cf. Institutes, 2:38-51,385-90.

For now I’m going to focus my attention on one particular obstacle. Even if, for the sake of argument, we waive other objections to the intercession of the saints, this dogma presupposes that the saints are in a position to know the precise circumstances of the supplicant.

That, in turn, raises the general question of what the dead can know about the living. What, if anything, would be their source of knowledge?

The most obvious source of knowledge would be the newly departed. Men and women die every day, and go to heaven or hell. Presumably, they take their memories with them. In principle, then, that would furnish a lot of detailed, up-to-date information about earthly affairs.

However, that’s far from sufficient to deal with the case at hand. In order for a saint to intercede on behalf of the living, he would need very specific, timely information about that individual supplicant.

In theory, what specific information is available about any particular individual? Well, here’s one scenario. My granddad dies before I’m born. In the afterlife (whether heaven or hell) he knows nothing about me.

Say his wife (my grandma) dies 20 years later. At that point she can fill him in on what she knows.

Likewise, when my mother and father die (if they predecease me), they can update his information.

That’s roughly how it would go. Of course, that involves extended intervals of time when my granddad has no current information about me.

And there are other potential complications. Suppose he goes to heaven, but his wife goes to hell. Then he’s not privy to her information.

And, of course, Catholics don’t pray to their ancestors. Rather, they pray to some official saint who’s not even related to them. So, it’s not as if every decedent is debriefed by one of the saints as soon as he dies regarding the state of the survivors.

Indeed, given the sheer number of people who die every day (about 250,000 - 300,000) in relation to the number of official saints, it would be impossible to debrief every new arrival.

Suppose I pray to a saint about my job interview tomorrow. On the face of it, the saint has no source of information about my situation.

It is, of course, possible to conjecture makeshift news outlets. You could postulate that every Christian has a guardian angel who keeps track of everything we do.

Seems to me that this would be pretty voyeuristic. But the other problem is that it’s sheer speculation. Sure, it’s hypothetically possible, but shouldn’t you have some positive evidence that it’s true before you pin your hopes on praying to the saints? Otherwise, why have any more confidence in your prayers to St. Jude than Shinto prayers to the dead or Tibetan prayer-wheels?

Perhaps, at this point, a Catholic would say he does have good reason to believe it–and that’s because his church teaches it. But, from what I can tell, all his church did was to ratify a popular custom. The basis of the practice is not the dogma; rather, the basis of the dogma is the practice. A preexisting custom. A pious superstition.

The future of the GOP

A typically thoughtful essay by Hadley Arkes on what Newt Gingrich left out of a recent speech. Here's a sampling:

“My late professor Leo Strauss, in his commentary on Machiavelli, drew attention to Machiavelli’s silences and omissions. He offered this rule of interpretation: When a wise man is silent on a matter that is regarded, in common opinion, as a matter of importance, he gives us to understand that, in his own judgment, it is not that important after all. Newt has made it clear that when it comes to leading the Republicans back, their appeal to the broad electorate should not mention these vexing issues of abortion and marriage.”

steve said...

At one level I agree with the criticism. However, let's remember that we can only elect candidates who run for office. There's a limited value in those who never run for office, but are always quick to find fault with those who do. There's a limited value in saying what a better job you could do in office if you always delegate the job to someone else. Failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This side of heaven


At the age of 77, Deangelo died in his sleep. As a Christian, Deangelo didn’t fear death in the way that many unbelievers he knew dreaded the prospect. Of course, we don’t have complete control over our feelings. There’s a certain natural anxiety doing something for the first time. Deangelo had no prior experience of dying.

Deangelo read about deathbed visions in which a dying saint had a vision of his relatives waiting for him on the other side. But Dangelo was the first Christian in his family. He had no parents or grandparents waiting to greet him when he crossed over. Two of his older children were Christian, so he would have to wait for them to join him.

Deangelo was curious about heaven. What was heaven really like? He’d read some descriptions of heaven by Isaiah and John the Revelator. Glorious, to be sure. But a bit intimidating. Indeed, when Bible writers describe their encounters with God, they often fainted in his presence. So Deangelo was a bit apprehensive.

As a kid, Deangelo had a dog he was very fond of. He was sorry when his dog died. He missed his dog. After he became a Christian, Deangelo wondered if he would see his dog again.

Still, he found it hard to imagine where his dog would fit into the picture of the glassy sea, with the lightning and thunder, cherubim and seraphim.

What was the first thing you saw when you died? Does every Christian see the same thing the moment he dies? The moment he crosses over to the other side?

If you had friends and relatives waiting for you, where were they waiting? What was in the background? Meadows and mountains? A garden? A shining city?


Deangelo woke up. Or was he awake? At first he thought he was dreaming. A lucid dream. He remembered going to bed. He was feeling very tired that night.

Deangelo looked around. He was on a bus. Deangelo was a bit disoriented at first. It took a few moments for him to get his bearings.

As he looked out the window, he knew where he was. This was his old bus route. As a college student, living at home with his parents, he used to take the bus to school and back.

That was nearly sixty years ago. He later moved away. Made a life for himself. His parents died–as parents are wont to do.

Yet he always felt nostalgic about that time of life. That time and place. Although he went back from time to time, there’s a sense in which you can never go back. Places change over time. And even if you can go back to the same place, you can never go back to the same time. To the way things were.

Deangelo always enjoyed coming home. There was something special about coming home. Leaving home felt different from coming home. Even if you wanted to leave home to go do something, it always felt good to be on you’re way back home.

Not that things were necessarily any better in the past. Rather, the goods and evils of life were distributed throughout life. If only you could hold on to all the good things, and forget the bad things.

That’s why Deangelo enjoyed dreaming about the past. Dreaming was the closet thing he had to going back.

Not that he wanted to live in the past. But it would be nice to visit. And it would be nice to cut and splice the past so that you could cut out the bad parts and splice all the good parts together.

Of course, when you dreamt, you dreamt about a fallen world. The good and the bad. Some dreams were wonderful while other dreams were horrible. There were some dreams you wanted to go on and on. You were sorry when you woke up.

That’s why Deangelo enjoyed lucid dreams. In a lucid dream, you could dream about whatever you wanted. But, there was a catch. Lucid dreams were rare. And once you knew you were dreaming, it was hard to stay in the dream. You woke up as soon as things started to get interesting. Deangelo was determined to make this dream last as long as possible.

Deangelo got off at his old bus stop. He used to walk to the bus stop. It was a long walk, but he enjoyed the walk. Part of the walk had a view of the lake. Then he’d take a shortcut through the woods to get back home.

He hadn’t does this for over 50 years. And in the intervening years, things had changed. The area became increasingly urbanized. It lost its rustic charm.

But in his dream it was just the way he remembered it. Indeed, better than ever. It seemed to mix and match the best of different decades. At least, during the he lived there, and went back there for the holidays.


The driver let him off at his own bus stop. This was exhilarating. It’s the first time he’d had such a long lucid dream. He was apprehensive that he’s wake up any moment and find himself back in his bedroom. He wondered how long he could string it along.

Walking back felt good. He felt young again. The weightless gait of youth, before age capitulated to gravity. That was one of the nice things about dreams. Everyone was young again in his dreams. You might be bedridden, arthritic, a quadriplegic, but in your dreams you were in the prime of life.

Yet this was different. He couldn’t quite place it at first. Then it dawned on him. It wasn’t just the aches and pains, stiff joints and general fatigue that seemed to melt away. No, it went beyond the body. It’s as if all the cumulative regrets and disappointments, resentments and anxieties of 77 years in a fallen world suddenly melted away. He was elated. He’d forgotten what it felt like to be so happy, so carefree. It was like a second childhood.


He started down the tangled driveway of his old, childhood home. It was a long, winding, wooded driveway–with dappled light from the trees overhead. As he was about halfway down the driveway, he saw his old dog bounding towards him. His old dog coming to meet him. Coming to greet him.

She seemed to anticipate his arrival. Seemed to be waiting for him.

The last time he saw her alive was not the way he wanted to remember her. She’d had a stroke. He had to put her to sleep. He stood by her and stroked her as the veterinarian inserted the needle. Then she went stiff. That was his last image of her. Seared in his memory.

But now she was young again. They were both young again.

They went down to the house together. The house was still intact, but the grounds were overgrown–as though no one had lived there for a hundred years. The forest was reclaiming the property.

Deangelo spent several weeks pruning trees and vines and shrubs. Clearing underbrush. Burning heaps of clippings. Mowing. Weeding. But he enjoyed the work.

His old home reemerged from the thicket. Things were back to the way they were when he was a kid. Now he had to wait for his children to pass over and rejoin him in the sweet bye-and-bye.

What a beautiful dream! But only a dream. Alas! If only that were true! A dream come true! But any minute this would fade away, and there he’d be–a lonely old man in the bedroom of his empty house.


The next day, Deangelo woke up. Or did he merely dream of waking up? He looked around. It was the bedroom he had as a child. His dog wagged her tail when he got up. He must of dreamed of falling asleep, then waking up.

It seemed like a whole night and day had passed, but of course, time passes at a different rate when we dream. A few minutes of dreaming may seem like hours.

Deangelo walked around the neighborhood. It was a picture perfect day. He didn’t know who he'd find, if anyone. Maybe it was deserted. Dreams are funny things.

But as he was out walking, he saw Gabriella gardening in her front yard. He hadn’t seen Gabriella since high school. He had a bit of a crush on her, but at the time she was dating another boy. And she was a bit out of his league, anyway.

She looked up from her garden. When she saw him she beamed. She looked exactly like he remembered her in high school–only better.

She came over to him and gave him a hug. “So glad you finally made it,” she exclaimed.

“Made it?” he said?

“To heaven, of course!”

“This is heaven?”

“That’s right!”

“I was expecting something different.”

“There’s a lot more to see. What you see right now isn’t all there is. Not by a long shot. But newcomers need some time to adjust. So they’re generally assigned to some place fond and familiar. After they get settled in, they can explore the more exotic reaches of heaven.”

But she could tell, from his expression, that he didn’t seem convinced. “I know–it’s hard to believe at first.”

Yet Deangelo was thinking to himself, “If I’m dreaming, then I’d expect somebody in my dreams to tell me I’m not dreaming.”

Still, it was the best dream he ever had. So he was happy to play along with it.

Gabriella made lunch for him. They reminisced about old times. They also talked about how God had guided them from the time of their high school graduation to their deathbed. Guided them without their even knowing it.

It occurred to him that some of his classmates were sure to be heavenbound. After all, some of them were Christian. Either Christian in high school or later in life. He hadn’t thought of heaven as a high school reunion, and, of course, heaven would be a very selective reunion. But, among other things, heaven would be a way of reconnecting some of the folks you lost track of over the years.


At first, Deangelo was afraid to believe it was real. It was too good to be true. It would be a terrible letdown to convince himself that he was really in heaven, only to wake up the next moment and find himself back in his old bedroom, in his empty house, in his decrepit body. He’d suffered enough disappointments in life.

But as day followed day and night followed night, it dawned on him that he might have everything backwards. Maybe this was too good not to be true. Maybe it just got better and better as time went on.

In which Van Til bites me again

Charlie Sebold's latest post is excellent. Well-worth reading.

Two-kingdom theory

“It seems to us two-kingdoms folks that Jesus, Peter, and Paul all had perfect opportunities to argue for this very thing, but instead took those opportunities to tell us to mind our own business and pay our taxes (Matt. 22:21; Rom. 13:1-7; I Thess. 4:11-12; I Pet. 2:13-17)… But more important than the reasons why I like the doctrine of the two kingdoms or the fact that it is the historic Reformed position is the fact that it is taught implicitly and explicitly in Scripture. So if anyone out there wants to challenge the two-kingdoms position exegetically, the comment button is conveniently located just below this line.”

1.It this the “historic Reformed position?” Seems to me that in its modern formulation it owes more to Meredith Kline than John Calvin or the Westminster Divines. That doesn’t automatically make it wrong, but it also doesn’t make it the historic Reformed position.

However, the question of historical theology is not my primary concern.

2.I assume the locus classicus of two-kingdom theory is Mt 22:15-22 (par. Mk 12:13-17; Lk 20:20-26).

3.We can’t assume that Jesus is even stating his own position in this passage. In context, Jesus is responding to a trick question. His enemies are trying to box him into a dilemma: any answer he gives will be the wrong answer. If he answers “yes,” then he will lose popular support. If he answers “no,” then his enemies will denounce him to the Roman authorities as a seditious leader.

Jesus’ response is to expose their hypocrisy, and thereby throw the dilemma back into their own lap. It’s quite possible, then, that his answer is purely tactical or ad hominem.

4.Even at the level of a trick question, the question is narrowly framed. It’s a question of what is permissible, and not necessarily what is obligatory. As such, it doesn’t lay a foundation for a general theory of church/state relations.

Even if his answer is not ad hominem, it says less about what we’re supposed to do, and more about what we’re allowed to do.

5.What was Jesus’ own position? One can think of several possible reasons which would be consistent with the answer he gave:

i) Jesus may have thought that Roman rule was legitimate insofar as Roman occupation represented divine judgment on the Jews for their infidelity to God.

ii) Jesus may have thought that, up-to-a-point, even a decadent regime is preferable to out-all anarchy. After all, it’s only because we live in a fallen world that we even need the state. And since the state exists in, and because of, a fallen world, the state is bound to share in the same corruption.

iii) Jesus may have thought the Jewish establishment was just as corrupt as the Roman establishment, so that Jewish self-rule was no improvement over Roman subjugation. After all, the Sanhedrin was going to try Jesus in a kangaroo court. Was Caiaphas any better than Pilate?

6.Even if you think Jesus is making a timeless pronouncement about church/state relations, his answer doesn’t actually spell out the respective duties of church and state. So you can’t derive much concrete guidance from his answer.

And I think that’s deliberate. There’s a studied ambiguity to his answer. He refuses to play into the hands of his enemies. Instead, he answers them in a way in which they can only clarify the answer at their own expense. If they’re forced to explain why they themselves use Roman coinage, then that will force them to come down on one side or the other of their own trick question. So Jesus answer is designed to silence his opponents on pain of self-incrimination. They tried to trap him. Now they’ve fallen into their own trap.

They dared him to answer a trick question. Having received an answer they didn’t expect, they don’t dare pursue the question any further. He called their bluff, but they can’t afford to play the next card. For them, the next card is a losing card.

7.Jesus doesn’t state that there are two different kingdoms with autonomous spheres of authority. An obvious problem with that bifurcation is that, if you have two different kingdoms, then you have two different kings. Yet Jesus also said his followers can’t serve two masters (Mt 6:24).

Even if Jews and Christians are subject to Caesar, Caesar is subject to God. So we still need to answer the question of how the civil magistrate is held accountable to God. His authority is a divinely delegated authority. As such, it’s possible for him to exceed his God-given mandate.

Therefore, I think the locus classicus of the two-kingdom theory is neutral on the debate between theonomy and two-kingdom theory.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Apologetics and the university

Prof. Trevor Cairney posts on the importance of apologetics and the university. Of particular note, he points out the following:
We have even fewer Christians on university campuses who are leaders in their fields and who actually see that their faith has relevance to what they have to say on physics, medicine, law, education, sociology, new media, economics, history and so on. Not surprisingly, there seem to be less and less Christian voices amongst the opinion makers, thought leaders and media spokespeople than ever before. As a university academic I know the challenges in applying one's faith to one's scholarship and how hard it is ensure that one's faith is not simply an adjunct to our intellectual pursuits in the academy. This is the greatest challenge that those who are academics on campus face. But what is clear, is that Christian voices do need to be heard on campus not just from the student body and from the visiting Christian staff workers, but from university academics who teach our students and whose views potentially shape how they view the world, how they view epistemology, what the nature of evidence is and so on. Ultimately, this is the sharp end of their preparation to at least hear and consider the claims of Christ.
Read the rest here.

The food police

Yesterday I heard Christopher Dodd say that improving “prevention programs” would be a way to subsidize so-called health insurance reform.

That’s a good example of what passes for rational thinking among liberals. When dealing with a liberal, it’s always necessary to explain the obvious.

There’s a reason why a lot of people overeat, or consume quantities of “junk food,” “fast food,” sweets, and all the other stuff the food police decry.

I think a lot of people figure that they’re going to die anyway. Jogging and counting calories is not a recipe for immortality.

So since, no matter what they do, death is inevitable, they’re prepared to shave a few years off their lifespan if that improves their overall quality of life. Given a choice, they’d rather die a little sooner, but enjoy themselves–than die a little later, and deny themselves.

This is no different in principle than men and women who engage in contact sports or water sports or other activities which involve an element of risk. They assume an extra risk because they like to have fun.

Now, we could spend a lot of time debating their priorities–although it’s none of our business–but my immediate point is that people who do this are making a rational calculation. A cost/benefit analysis. It’s not because they don’t know any better. Rather, this is a calculated risk. For them, the pluses outweigh the minuses.

Pouring taxpayer money into prevention programs won’t make a dent. For the target group isn’t doing what it does due to ignorance of the consequences. To the contrary, they’ve taken the consequences into account. They’re prepared to live with the consequences. For them, that’s a good trade-off.

I’d also note, in passing, that, on average, liberal Congressmen don’t strike me as being more fit and trim than their constituents.

From Arminianism to universalism

It’s not surprising that some Arminians now espouse postmortem salvation. If you begin with an Arminian premise, then there’s an inexorable logic to that next move.

In the traditional Arminian view, this life is your only opportunity to be saved. Once you die, that’s a lost opportunity.

Yet it’s perfectly obvious that, in this life, every human being doesn’t have the same opportunity to believe the Gospel. Opportunities to believe the Gospel are quite inequitable.

Many people never have a chance to even hear the Gospel. On the other hand, some people hear the Gospel at one time or another, but come from a background which is highly prejudicial to the Gospel. They grew up in a very legalistic church. Or they were brainwashed by secular humanism. Or they were indoctrinated in Islam. And so on and so forth.

So even if they happen to hear the Gospel, they don’t hear it with the same pair of ears as someone who was raised in loving Christian home. It’s hard to overcome a well-entrenched bias. And even if you can, you’re operating at a handicap. Others don’t suffer from your handicap.

Likewise, some people attend an evangelical church with fine expository preaching. Others attend a church in which they don’t know enough to know what they’re missing. It’s a vicious circle. The preaching which they’re used to hearing is so deficient that they have no standard of comparison.

In addition, some people have lots of leisure time to study Christian literature. Other people have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet.

So, if you define a “fair chance” the way Arminians define it, then it’s absurd to suppose that everyone has a fair chance in this life to believe the Gospel. The range of impediments and disparities is stark. Hence, the Arminian deadline is a very arbitrary deadline–given the egalitarian assumptions which underwrite the Arminian position.

As such, extending the “grace period” into the afterlife is a necessary equalizer–necessary given the Arminian premise. It tries to level out the vast spiritual inequities in the here-and-now.

And, of course, it’s a short step from postmortem salvation to universal salvation. Everyone will be saved sooner or later–whether in this life or the life to come.

The only equally logical alternative is Calvinism. For Calvinism never predicated salvation on equal freedom of opportunity. Calvinism never took the position that God would be unjust to deny someone a “chance” to be saved.

A schlimazel's worldview

No, you have perfect reflexes. The problem is that you live in a world where malicious walls and spiteful poles move around when you're not looking to trip you. They really weren't there the moment before. But the instant you look away, they move in front of you to block you and trip you.

With walls and poles constantly changing positions to block you and trip you when your attention is momentarily diverted, it's a tribute to your wonder reflexes that you manage to avoid colliding with as many malicious, mobile walls and poles as you do. It takes an Olympic class athlete to adapt as quickly as you do to this enchanted forest of a world you've been condemned to live in.

Of course, the walls and poles don't do this to everyone. Just to make you look bad, they act perfectly inanimate in the company of most other folks. But they pick on certain individuals, to make them appear uncoordinated in public.

They especially like to do this when you go out on a date with a pretty girl. The wine glass is pretending to be an inanimate object, but as soon as you glance away, the wine glass spills itself on the tablecloth.

You should consider forming a support group for other victims of spiteful, willful walls and poles. You're not alone, Patrick! You're not the only person who's been the victim of pranks and practical jokes by "inanimate" objects.

Most "accident-prone" individuals are simply too embarrassed to tell other people what so-called inanimate objects are really like–since they know from sorry experience that their friends and family members won't believe them.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bringing good out of evil

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today (Gen 50:20).”

If God is good, then we’d expect whatever God has made to be good. Whatever he creates is good because it’s the handiwork of a good God. That comes as no surprise.

Not that this logical correlation should blind us to the miraculous power of his creative fiat.

But by the same token, there’s a sense in which it’s even more impressive when God brings good out of evil. We’d expect good to come from good. Creaturely goods from a good Creator.

But for good to come from evil is counterintuitive. How can one thing yield its antonym?

Theodicy is obsessed with the question of how evil can come from good. And that’s a worthwhile question to address.

But obsession with that narrow question can blind us to the reverse question–which is equally profound: how good can come from evil?

That question is no less important. And the two questions are interrelated. To bring evil out of good, there must be evil. There must be evil in the first place for God to bring good out of evil.

And that, of itself, is a partial answer to the problem of evil. Why is there evil? So that God can bring good out of evil.

To bring good out of evil is a greater demonstration of divine omnipotence than bringing good out of good. We expect like from like. Good from good and evil from evil. That’s logical. Almost predictable.

But this is unlike from like. Turning something evil into its polar opposite.

If creating good is a miracle, then recreating good from evil is an even greater miracle. The creation of Adam and Eve was a testament to God’s almighty power. But the new creation of Adam’s elect posterity, by redemption, regeneration, sanctification, and glorification, is a greater testament to God’s almighty power.

Making the garden of Eden is a testament to God’s almighty power. But making the Church is a greater testament to God’s almighty power. Greater by far.

A boy and himself


Jeremy was an only-child who just moved from Chicago to Seattle with his parents. As an only-child, he was used to feeling a bit lonely. But moving away from his all his childhood friends accentuated his sense of isolation.

I say they moved to Seattle, but strictly speaking they moved to an outlying community. An isolated area with lots of woods and ponds.

His parents never went to church. But they jogged religiously on Sunday mornings.

Jeremy went for long walks in the woods. Not knowing his way around the new neighborhood, Jeremy lost his way in the woods. He wandered around until it started to get dark. He then sat down and tried to not cry. Jeremy never felt more alone in his life.

Then a strange man came up to him. As if he was hiding behind a tree. Jeremy was terrified, but there was nowhere to run.

Yet there was also something strangely familiar about the stranger.

“Hi, Jeremy,” the man said.

“Who are you?” Jeremy asked.

“A friend,” the man answered.

“How do you know my name?” Jeremy asked.

“I know all about you,” the man answered.

“How?” Jeremy asked.

“That’s a story for another day,” the man answered. “It’s time to take you home.”

With that, the stranger took Jeremy by the hand, and led him out of the woods. When they arrived at a clearing, the stranger pointed Jeremy to his house, then said good-bye.


A week later, while Jeremy was going for another walk in the woods, the stranger approached him from the other end of the trail. This time Jeremy was not afraid.

“How are you doing?” the stranger asked.

“I’m bored,” Jeremy said. “There’s nothing to do. No one to play with.”

“Let’s go fishing,” the stranger said.

So they went fishing. Caught some trout. Cooked their trout over a campfire.

“What’s your name?” Jeremy asked.

“Call me Jem,” the stranger answered.

After they ate, Jem said it was time for him to leave.

All in all, was one of the happiest days Jeremy could remember.

Over the next few months, Jem frequently met with Jeremy when he was outside, by himself. There was no predicting when Jem would show up. But it seemed to happen whenever Jeremy was feeling really lonely or upset.

Jem was easy to talk to. It was nice to have someone to talk to who understood you. Jem seemed to know what Jeremy was going to say before he said it.

Jeremy’s parents didn’t have much time for him. They both had careers. Long hours at the office. Working every Saturday. Sometimes on Sunday. Taking business trips out of town.

Jeremy missed Jem when he wasn’t around. One time he went outside and called to him, but Jem didn’t answer. That made Jeremy mad.

The next time Jeremy saw Jem, he was still mad at him. “Why didn’t you come to me when I called?”

“I’m not God, Jeremy. You need to have a few friends your own age. I’m not here to replace your other friends. I’m available whenever you need me, but not whenever you want me. I have a life, too.”

At that point Jeremy was sorry for what he said. In fact, he was afraid that Jem might be mad at him for getting angry. But Jem assured him it wasn’t a big deal.

Over the years, Jem continued to take Jeremy fishing. Or take him to baseball games. Or take him to church. As long as his parents were not around. They didn’t pay much attention to how Jeremy spent his free time. They had more important things to think about.

Jem seemed to stay the same age. Around 30, give or take. It was odd. But Jem was a great storyteller.


One day, when Jeremy was in junior high, his mother was scheduled to fly out of town on a business trip. But when she went outside to drive herself to the airport, her car tires were slashed. So she missed her flight.

Later in the day, when Jeremy happened to see Jem, he asked him about that.

“Yes, I slashed her tires,” Jem said.

“Why would you do such a thing,” Jeremy replied–incredulous and furious.

“I have my reasons. You’ll see.”

Jeremy was furious. He felt betrayed. He didn’t think he could every trust Jem after that. In fact, he told him to go away and never come back.

That night, as Jeremy and his parents were watching the local news, they saw the report of a passenger plane that crash-landed, killing everyone aboard. His mom looked at her tickets. It was the same flight number.

The next time Jeremy saw Jem, he asked him about it. “You knew about the flight, didn’t you? You saved her life,” Jeremy said.

“Yes, I knew,” Jem answered.

“How could you know the future?” Jeremy asked.

“I’m from the future. That’s how.”

“Is that how you know so much about me?”

“Yes. But there’s a bit more to it than that. I’m not merely from the future. I’m from your future. I’m the future you. I’m you!”

In one sense, Jeremy wasn’t surprised. That explained a lot. Indeed, he’d suspected something like that for a long time. Still, it was a bit puzzling.

“But if you come from the future, aren’t you changing the future? Every time you talk to me, aren’t you changing the future? Changing the future you come from? How can you still be me while you give me advice about what to do next?”

“Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. I admit oversimplified a bit. I’m not exactly from your future. To be prcisee, I’m from a different timeline. So I’m not going back in time. Not into my own past. But an alternate past. I’m you in a different timeline. They run along parallel tracks at many points, but diverge at other points.”

“Can you tell me when my parents–I mean, our parents–are going to die?”

“I’m not here to tell you your future. That would ruin your future. You’d lose the sense of adventure. The element of surprise. And if you knew what bad things were going to happen, your foreboding would spoil the good things. You’d be apprehensive about the bad things long before they happened. It would kill your capacity for joy.”


During his senior year in high school, Jem showed up one day. “Let’s go for lunch.”

Jem was unusually pensive. “You haven’t said much. What’s on your mind?” Jeremy asked.

“This is the last time I’ll be seeing you, Jeremy,” Jem replied.

Jeremy was stunned. Grief-stricken.

“You’ll miss me, but you’ll get over it.” Jem said.

“Why are you leaving? Why are you deserting me?”

“I can’t really abandon you. After all, I’m you. You’ll outgrow me. You’ll grow into me. In another ten years or so, you’ll be me. I’m just an older version of you. And you’re catching up.”

“Why did you ever come into my life in the first place?”

“God sent me to you. Sent me back to guide you and protect you at a time when you needed me. I’m like a guardian angel. Or an older twin-brother. Much older! But you don’t need me anymore. I’m in the way. From now on you need to look to God. I’m just a bridge. It’s time to cross that bridge and put it behind you. And it’s time for me to return to my own timeline, to my own life and family. From here on out you’ll do just fine without me. After all, you’re already me–near about.”

And with that, Jem started to fade. The colors began to pale. He became transparent. Then he disappeared.

Liberal Theocracy

See here. I don't think that anything done by people like Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, George Bush, and Barack Obama amounts to a theocracy. But liberals often speak that way when the person doing such things is a conservative. I think most liberals don't have as much of a problem with the involvement of theology in politics as they suggest, as long as the theology and its use are consistent with their liberalism.

May We Pray To Jesus And The Holy Spirit?

The earliest Christians prayed to Jesus. In Matthew 21:16, Jesus identifies Himself as the object of the prayer of Psalm 8:2. Jesus is referred to as the one who chose the apostles in Acts 1:2 and as Lord in Acts 1:21, so the prayer to the Lord to choose another apostle in Acts 1:24-25 seems to be a prayer to Jesus. Hebrews 1:8-12 identifies Jesus as the object of some prayers in the Psalms. See, also, Acts 7:59, 1 Corinthians 1:2, 16:22, and Revelation 22:20.

Prayers to Jesus suggest that the prominence of prayer to the Father in scripture isn't meant to exclude prayer to the other persons of the Trinity. And the prominence of prayers to the Father shouldn't be overestimated. With many of the prayers in scripture, we aren't told which person of the Trinity they're directed to. People may have a misconception of the extent of the Father's prominence in this context as a result of a dubious assumption that all prayers with an unspecified recipient are prayers to the Father. And the significance of the prominence of prayers to the Father in the gospels is lessened by the fact that Jesus wouldn't have prayed to Himself and the fact that His followers wouldn't have needed prayer to communicate with Him while He was on earth. The prominence of prayers to the Father isn't as significant as it may seem. If Jesus is sometimes the object of prayer, as He is, then that precedent for praying to a person of the Trinity other than the Father increases the credibility of praying to the Spirit. In Acts 5:3-4, Peter not only refers to the Holy Spirit as God, which suggests that prayer to the Spirit would be acceptable, but also seems to assume that it's acceptable to speak to the Spirit. Ananias would have been speaking to the Spirit whether he had lied or told the truth. The problem was that he lied. Peter condemns the lying, but not the concept of speaking to the Spirit.

Mary, Eve, And The Ark

I recently had an exchange with a Roman Catholic about the sinlessness of Mary. Here's a portion of the discussion that some of you may find helpful, since it makes some points that aren't often made:

You write:

"Notice it includes by example, and this dogma of which you are an opponent is rooted largely in the typology of Mary as the new Eve and the Ark of the Covenant. I hope you will post what some of the authors you quote have to say about the antiquity of this theology."

You haven't explained how either concept, the New Eve concept or the ark as a type of Mary concept, logically leads one to the conclusion that Mary was sinless. Not only does neither concept logically lead one to your conclusion, but some of the fathers I cited advocate such concepts while referring to Mary as a sinner. Tertullian, for instance, refers to Mary as a New Eve (On The Flesh Of Christ, 17) in the same document in which he refers to her unbelief and other sins (On The Flesh Of Christ, 7).

There's no need for any New Testament figure to be foreshadowed by the ark of the covenant. And even if one were to be foreshadowed, the individual wouldn't have to be sinless. A lot of objects mentioned in the Old Testament are pure or holy in some sense. We don't conclude that there must be some sinless individual in the New Testament era who parallels each one of those objects.

And even if we decided, unreasonably, that we must find such a parallel, why conclude that the New Testament individual involved is Mary? Why not Jesus? Or why not somebody else? Mary can be said to have carried Jesus in her womb, as the ark carried the word of God, but then we would be defining the word of God differently in each case. Why make such a parallel, then? Must there be a parallel in Mary's life for every aspect of the Old Testament ark? Since the ark was stolen by the enemies of God for a while, for example, must the same occur with Mary? How do you know what to parallel and what not to parallel? And Mary wasn't the only entity to carry Jesus in some sense. The cross carried Him. Joseph of Arimathea, or more specifically the men who worked for him, carried Jesus. So did Joseph's tomb. Why can't those objects or individuals be the parallel to the ark? As some of the leading Roman Catholic and Protestant scholars in the world concluded in their study of Mary:

"However, in our judgment there is no convincing evidence that Luke specifically identified Mary with the symbolism of the Daughter of Zion or the Ark of the Covenant." (Raymond Brown, et al., Mary In The New Testament [Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1978], p. 134)

The earliest ark parallels among the church fathers identify Jesus or something else, not Mary, as the parallel to the ark (Irenaeus, Fragments From The Lost Writings Of Irenaeus, 48; Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, 5:6; Tertullian, The Chaplet, 9; Hippolytus, On Daniel, 2:6; etc.). The earliest patristic interpreter of Revelation 11:19 doesn't refer to Mary as the ark (Victorinus, Commentary On The Apocalypse Of The Blessed John, 11:19).

I would add that passages like John 13:10 and Hebrews 3:1 refer to individuals as "clean", "holy", etc. without suggesting that they're sinless throughout their lives. Even if we were to assume that Mary is to be paralleled to the ark, and were to assume that she's to have some quality such as purity or holiness in that context, it wouldn't follow that she was sinless throughout her life.

For those who don't know, you can find links to some of our articles on topics related to Roman Catholicism here.