Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Antipope


It had been a contentious conclave. Celestine VI was senile for the last seven years of his pontificate. As a result, there was a power struggle long before he died. The two leading contenders were Cardinal Mancini, Dean of the College of Cardinals, and Cardinal Andretti, Prefect for the CDF.

Mancini was a progressive or “liberal,” while Andretti as conservative or “reactionary”–the choice of epithet depending on the viewpoint of the speaker.

During the final years of his pontificate, Celestine was trotted out at carefully staged events were he had nothing much to do except sit on his throne, smile benignly, and make the sign of the cross.

Homilies were read on his behalf. Homilies allegedly written by Celestine himself. It was said that he was too nearsighted to read his own homilies. Of course, the real reason is that he was too feeble-minded to recite a prepared speech.

And, in fact, Cardinal Mancini and Cardinal Andretti ghostwrote the homilies. They also ghostwrote his encyclicals. But that was only known to a few insiders within the bowels of the Curia.

This left many bishops, theologians, and Vatican watchers bewildered, since Celestine’s encyclicals and homilies would lurch to the right, then lurch the left, in utterly unpredictable ways.

Mind you, most of the faithful were oblivious to what the pope actually said, as long as he projected a beatific presence. But Vatican insiders as well as bishops around the world felt the pressing need for theological stability.


During the first two years of his Pontificate, Andretti, who took the name of Pope Adrian VII, managed to pacify disaffected Catholics on the rightwing of the spectrum. At first the sedevacantists were both hopeful and skeptical. They’d been disappointed so often. Would he go soft in office? But his “regressive” policies won them over.

Of course, the liberals were aghast. But Andretti had a certain charm. He had learned a thing or two from his predecessor. As long as he could smile benignly and make pretty speeches about love, justice, and world peace, he had the faithful on his side. They didn’t pay much attention to his “regressive” policies.


One day, when Andretti took his afternoon nap, he woke up in a dark, tinny, boxy compartment of some sort. He started to yell and kick and bang away.

Suddenly it became light as man in a white jacket and a startled expression opened the door and pulled him out. Andretti blinked his eyes in the bright light. He was stark naked, lying atop stainless steel drawer.

It took him a few moments to compose himself. He looked around. He was in the morgue of the Gemelli hospital. He looked down at his body. Only it wasn’t his body. According to the toe-tag, it belonged to a Tullio Pinza.

As it turns out, Tullio Pinza was an assembly lineman at Fiat with a wife and six kids. He died of congestive heart failure two hours earlier.

How did Andretti get here? How did he get into this body?

Unbeknownst to him, Cardinal Mancini had formed a business relationship Mme. Duvalier, a Mambo living on the outskirts of Rome.

The next day, as Andretti was paging through L'Osservatore Romano, he read about the sudden death of Cardinal Mancini–the day before. About the same time Tullio Pinza expired. About the same time a wire transfer was made from the Banco di Santo Spirito to Mme. Duvalier’s account.


Andretti found it awkward, not to say frustrating, to adjust to his new identity as married auto worker with six kids. For one thing, his wife was getting impatient with the fact that “Tullio” hadn’t resumed conjugal relations. But the body-swap posed some intricate questions of casuistry. What were his domestic duties to this woman? He was married to her in body, but not in spirit. And how did his vow of chastity apply in this unusual situation?

Then there was the matter of the Vatican. If he was no longer pope, then who was? He still saw Pope “Adrian” on TV. It was a bit disconcerting to watch someone commandeer your body and take all the credit. Indeed, it felt distinctly schizophrenic to see someone walking around in your own body, giving speeches and saying Mass. Who was that man addressing the throng from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica? What was going on behind the eyes?


As weeks wore into months, papal policy began to bear a startling resemblance to the policies of the late Cardinal Mancini.

The sedevacantists felt dismayed and betrayed as papal policy took a hard left, after having taken a hard right just two years earlier. They denounced “Adrian” as a Quisling and Antipope. But they were dismissed as a lunatic fringe-group.

Bishops, theologians, and Vatican watchers were also bewildered–though not necessarily displeased with this turn of events.

Pope “Adrian” was shredding Andretti’s reputation–since Andretti got the blame for his imposter’s antics. Andretti wrote indignant letters to L'Osservatore Romano. However, letters from an auto worker declaring himself to be the real pope while the current incumbent was the Antipope never made it past the editorial desk.

So he wrote the police. He challenged the police to compare handwriting samples of his own writing with Cardinal Andretti’s handwriting. This tactic succeeded in capturing the attention of the authorities. Unfortunately for him, Andretti, a.k.a. Tullio, was indicted on several counts of forgery and identity theft.

After having been interviewed by several court-appointed psychiatrists, Andretti was involuntarily committed to a sanatorium. He died nine years later, proclaiming himself to be the real pope to the bitter end.

In the meantime, “Adrian” had a long pontificate. By the time he died, and a new conclave was held, most of the cardinals, including his successor, were his personal appointees–thereby securing the indefectible succession of the Antipapacy.

Freedom of choice

You’d think that Arminians could at least agree on the definition of “choice.” After all, that’s a central plank in their belief-system. More so considering the fact that Dan has put so much weight on the correct definition of “choice” (and “choosing”). Yet over at Dan’s blog, major disagreements have repeatedly broken out over this key concept. If Arminians can’t agree on the fundamentals of their system, including the definition of choice, then it’s hard to see how they’re in much position to attack the Reformed definition of choice. Let’s take a few examples:

Arminian said...

I disagree strongly with your argument for being able to make a choice when not having a choice. If we do not have a choice, then we obviously cannot make a choice IMO. What one merely believes does not matter; reality is what matters.

Let's analyze your example:

"Say I am considering going to a movie: so when I get to a theatre and purchase my ticket, I believe that I could choose to go and see either Movie A or Movie B. I then make the choice of movie A, though unbeknownst to me, there is some sort of mechanical malfunction with the projector that was going to show Movie B, so seeing Movie B was not an available and actual alternative. Did I make a choice? Yes. Did I have a choice with respect to being able to see either of those two different movies in that context? No."

***One huge problem with your example is that it does not fit Calvinism's exhaustive determinism (ED). You would have to adjust the example significantly, something like this: Add that every decision you make in the example is caused by someone who has given you a drug that renders you only willing to do whatever he tells you; call this person the controller. But you don't know it. The drug blinds you to his presence and makes you think the things you think are your own thoughts. So you go the theatre and buy your ticket. You believe that you could choose to go and see either Movie A or Movie B, because the controller has made you believe this. Then you decide to see movie A because the controller makes you decide on A, though unbeknownst to you, there is some sort of mechanical malfunction with the projector that was going to show Movie B, a malfunction also caused by the controller. So seeing Movie B was not an available and actual alternative. But neither was anything that you did. There was no alternative at all in anything, for someone else made every decision and caused you to do it. Did you make a choice? No; a choice is selecting from available alternatives. The Controller made all choices and caused you to carry out his choices. So you neither had a choice nor made a choice.

It is not necessary to take this further because the issue is whether the concept of choosing is compatible with ED, but I think your example fails even apart from considerations of ED, i.e., even if LFW be allowed to operate in the example. I believe you are being too vague with what choice one has and makes. In your example, you actually had a choice of A or B. You could have chosen B, but then you would have found out that you could not actually see the movie. But you still had a choice of selecting A or B. What you need to make your point is an example in which someone does not have a choice, but makes a choice. Perhaps the simplest way of naming your problem here is that you seem to be conflating making a choice and carrying out the intended outcome of the choice made (e.g., there is a difference between choosing to watch the movie and actually watching it, but you seem to be conflating these at times; when LFW is allowed, if one think he has a choice about watching a movie that he can't actually watch, he does indeed have a choice about the movie and can make a choice in favor of the movie, only then to find out that he can't carry out the itneded outcome of the choice).

Godismyjudge said...
Dear Robert,

Determinists can say they "make a choice", only by using speciallized definitions and avoiding common sense ones. If choices involves possible alternatives, then they neither have or make them, since determinism rules out possible alternatives.

Does your understanding of "make a choice" include possible alternatives?

God be with you,

Arminian said...

I left a long, almost point by point response to you and was posting it when you posted your response to Dan. Now I believe Dan skewered your whole argument with one simple, straightforward question, which makes a point I made a number of times in my repsonse, that in an ED world there are no alternative possibilities, and choosing means selcting between alternative possibilities. Therefore, ED is incompatible with choosing (we already all agree that ED os incompatible with having choices).

Now, you seem to try to explain how we can have access to alternative possibilities in an ED world. But you seem to take refuge in the vagueness of the language Dan used (choices involving alternative possibilities). But the issue is that in ED, there is never such a thing as an alternative possibility for human beings. We never have a choice about anything. And what we do has been irresistibly predetermined so that there is ever only one course of action that we can enact.

Here is a critical point in which you define "alternative possibilities" invalidly, and in such a way as to make your view correct by definition. But again, the problem is that your definition is invalid. You define alternative possibilities like this: "Alternative possibilities are the different options the different possibilities *that we believe that we could choose* when we make our choice" (emphasis mine). But an alternative possibility is not defined by whether we believe it is possibile, but whether it is possible. Something can be described as possible if it is possible--a self evident truth. But it cannot rightly be described as possible if it is impossible. One's belief about whether it is possible or not neither makes it possible or impossible. Your use of this definition confirms some of my critique of your position: in an ED world, people might believe they make choices, but they never really do. Just like they only think they have choices, but it is an illusion, as you readily admit, so they think they make choices, but it is only an illusion. For they never actually select from possible alternatives, but only act as they have irresistibly been made to act.

Your message to Dan also continues another problem that I identified in my last post: you must assume LFW in order to ry and make your point. But the isue is whether the concept of choosing is compatible with ED. It is not, as your reliance on LFW to try and make youre point at times shows. In fact, I think my last post addressed most if not all that you say to Dan. So I'll just leave it there.

arminianperspectives said...

I must admit that it seems like you are playing semantic games here (though you probably do not intend to).

Here is how I see it:

Alternative possibilities = alternatives that are possible = possible alternatives. It is exactly the same thing. It is like saying that, "You are talking about brown dogs, but I am talking about dogs that are brown. Everything you say is true of brown dogs, but I am not talking about brown dogs, I am talking about dogs that are brown, so what you say about brown dogs does not apply to what I am saying."

There really is no difference between AP's and PA's anymore than there is a difference between brown dogs and dogs that are brown.

Perhaps you should drop AP's and go with PAP's (perceived alternative possibilities). That might make some sense. Maybe it would even be better to just speak of perceived alternatives since they are not really possible (though alternative implies possibility, so that might not really help). But trying to cling to AP's or trying to say that AP's and PA's are very different seems like semantic games (though I assume you are just trying to be clear, but IMO you are just adding to confusion by clinging to terms that do not seem to apply and drawing what appears to be invalid distinctions).

So from where I am sitting you hold to perceived possibilities and perceived choices. But neither the possibility nor the choice is real (i.e. grounded in reality).

But still, there is an undeniable connection between having and making choices. Even if we imagine that we "make" a choice in our minds we must first imagine that we "have" a choice to make. So if you own "making" choices in regards to perception only, then you must own "having" choices with regards to that same perception. If you deny one, then you deny it on the grounds of it's connection with reality, and in doing so the other follows. They must stand or fall together.

If you do not really have a choice than you cannot really make a choice and if you only believe you make choices, then you must also believe you have choices to make. So we cannot make a real choice unless we have a real choice. If we do not have a real choice then it is nonsense to say we make a real choice, and irrelevant to say we make an unreal (or illusionary) choice (which is really no different than not making a choice at all since the choice isn't real but illusionary- an unreal choice is not a choice).

But as has been demonstrated, even your imagination is predetermined and necessitated in an ED world, so even your "perceived" choice is not a choice, because you can only imagine one way, the predetermined and necessitated way.

God Bless,

And that's just a sample of the entire exchange. And here's another thread in which they go round and round on the true meaning of choice:

The Alleged Unreliability Of Eyewitness Testimony

In our discussion of the resurrection of Christ on the Stand To Reason blog, Jon Curry has been arguing for the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, something critics of Christianity often do. Jon initially didn't include some qualifiers he later added, but instead suggested that he was addressing eyewitness testimony in general. I addressed eyewitness testimony in general when I responded, citing examples like testimony in a court of law and witnesses to a scientific experiment. But Jon would later claim that "Eyewitness testimony, while surprisingly unreliable, is still enough to establish non-outrageous claims."

The evidence he cited against eyewitness testimony in general, later changed to eyewitness testimony of "outrageous claims", was a case cited by the atheist philosopher Arif Ahmed in a 2008 debate with Gary Habermas. You can watch that debate here. Ahmed discusses the case about one minute into the second video clip, if anybody wants to go directly to it. In that case, an attack was staged on a university professor in front of 141 university students. Seven weeks later, the students were given some photographs and asked to identify which one was the attacker. Of those students, 60% identified the wrong person. The person attacked also identified the wrong person.

Here are some portions of what I wrote in response to Jon on the subject:

Eyewitnesses serve as eyewitnesses in a large variety of contexts. Citing an instance of a staged attack, with attributes unfavorable to the preservation of memories, doesn't tell us much about the significance of eyewitness testimony in general. Has Ahmed's illustration convinced scientists to stop relying on eyewitness testimony in their experiments and their gathering of research? Has it convinced courts of law to stop relying on eyewitness testimony? Has it convinced you to stop relying on eyewitness testimony in your everyday life?

You said that you were granting the date and authorship of the New Testament documents for the sake of argument. It follows, then, that we have men like Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John referring to conversations the resurrection witnesses had with the risen Christ, eating meals with Him, etc. They weren't just watching Him carry out an unexpected staged attack at a distance. And it's not as though the witnesses didn't begin trying to remember what had occurred, didn't write anything, and didn't tell anybody else anything about their experiences until "20 years or 30 years or 70 years" had passed. Thus, Luke can refer to the existence of many other accounts in the opening of his gospel.

Richard Bauckham discusses issues like the enhanced memory skills of oral cultures (such as first-century Israel) and the reliability of human memory in his book Jesus And The Eyewitnesses (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006). I quote Bauckham, and discuss this issue further, here. Regarding the alleged gullibility of ancient people, see here....

We have far more than Ahmed's case to go by. That's why I cited Richard Bauckham's discussion of the subject. He cites far more data than what you're discussing.

But even if we limited ourselves to the case cited by Ahmed, what he describes is a case in which 60% of the witnesses to an event misidentified a person involved. But there was agreement on the occurrence of the event. If people who were far from the stage where the event occurred thought they saw different facial features, or some of the witnesses didn't pay much attention to such details, but instead were focused on the more general features of the event, then 60% can be unable to identify the person when asked to do so. But the identity of the person isn't equivalent to the event. As far as I know, from what Ahmed says about the case, nobody denied that the event occurred, thought that the person in question was an animal instead of a human, etc. And I mentioned some of the differences between Ahmed's case and the cases of the resurrection witnesses. You aren't interacting with my comments on that subject either.

You referred to "eyewitness testimony, which is notoriously unreliable". You cited Ahmed's case when asked for evidence. But you haven't given us any reason to think that his case is representative of eyewitness testimony in general. And even his case involves disagreement over some details accompanied by agreement over at least the general outlines of the event.

Furthermore, Ahmed is himself relying on eyewitness testimony when he cites this case. He's citing the research of Robert Buckhout. Not only is he relying on the testimony of Buckhout about what happened in the case in question, but Buckhout in turn was relying on the testimony of others. And you're relying on the testimony of Ahmed, who is even further removed, regarding what was reported about the case in question.

If you want to reject eyewitness testimony as "notoriously unreliable", then you need to make a lot of changes in your life. Stop using arguments that depend on eyewitness testimony, as you've been doing in this thread. Stop trusting eyewitnesses in scientific experiments, in court cases, in your workplace, in your neighborhood, etc.

C.A.J. Coady writes the following about Robert Buckhout, the source Ahmed is relying on:

"The claim that testimony is unreliable amounts to a sweeping rejection of it as a form of evidence. Just how drastic the rejection is supposed to be is never made clear by the critics, but since 'unreliable' means unworthy of being relied upon a remark like Buckhout's constitutes, on a natural reading, a pretty wholesale rejection. But any such rejection is absurd to the point of idiocy. This is exhibited in Buckhout's own article, as we can see if we ask why we should believe any of the results Buckhout reports to us about the experiments on testimony he says he has done and witnessed, or if we ask how Buckhout came by all sorts of information he relies upon in his work and quotes to us as definitively known. Buckhout tells the reader, fully expecting to be believed, that various results were obtained in a classic experiment in the 1930s by Jerome S. Bruner and Leo Postman at Harvard. This is only one of numerous pieces of hearsay that Buckhout produces to support the unreliability thesis. I do not myself object to the hearsay - it is part and parcel of all scientific work, especially in the social sciences - but Buckhout's own reliance is fatal to his unreliability thesis. Testimony cannot be unreliable if its reliability is required to prove that it is unreliable." (Testimony [Oxford University Press, 1992], p. 265)...

Have you consulted any source other than Arif Ahmed's brief description of the case? If not, then all you have to go by are those brief comments. Ahmed tells us that the eyewitnesses were asked to identify the person in question from a set of photographs. The eyewitnesses didn't initiate it. They were asked to do it, and they were given a set of photographs to choose from. That doesn't suggest "some degree of confidence"....

Do you know how easily the attacker could be identified (how unique his appearance was, what he was wearing, the angle at which he approached his victim, how long the victim had to see him, etc.)? Not if all you have is Ahmed's brief description of the case....

I was saying that it [the case cited by Arif Ahmed] doesn't lead us to the conclusion that eyewitness testimony is generally unreliable. I wasn't denying that it would take us closer to that conclusion. But it doesn't take us all the way there.

It's not as though that study is the only data we have. That's why I keep referring you to Bauckham's book and other sources that address a much larger amount of data than the one study you keep referring to.

How can a study involving one type of eyewitness testimony, namely eyewitnesses of one unexpected and relatively unimportant event that may have been brief (I don't know much about it beyond Ahmed's description of it), lead you to a conclusion about eyewitness testimony in general? Not only is it just one case, but, as I pointed out earlier, the witnesses seem to have agreed on the general outlines of what happened. You're assigning far too much significance to the unreliability of 60% of the witnesses on one aspect of one event in one study....

The vast majority of eyewitness testimony is about what you would consider "non-outrageous claims". Why, then, would you cite the case Ahmed referred to, which isn't about "outrageous claims", to counter my claim that eyewitness testimony is generally reliable? If you agreed with me, but wanted to make an exception for "outrageous claims", then why didn't you say so earlier? Why did you make an unqualified reference to eyewitness testimony as "notoriously unreliable", then argue against my dispute of that claim by citing the case discussed by Ahmed? I made it clear that I was referring to eyewitness testimony in general. I cited examples such as eyewitnesses in court cases and in scientific experiments. You had to have known that I was addressing eyewitness testimony in general. But now you tell us that you accept eyewitness testimony in general, but not for "outrageous claims". You've changed your position.

And you give us no justification for the exception of "outrageous claims". What qualifies as "outrageous"? How do you know that eyewitness testimony is unreliable in such cases? If you're defining "outrageous" as "unprecedented", then see my comments above on precedent.

Did you have precedent for the case cited by Ahmed? Did you already believe in one or more scientific studies in which a majority of eyewitnesses were wrong? Even if you did, how did you believe in the first such case? It would have been unprecedented.

I've mentioned specific differences between the case cited by Ahmed and the case of the resurrection. I've linked to an article that discusses eyewitness testimony in more depth, and I've cited Richard Bauckham's book, which takes into account far more data than the one case cited by Ahmed. As I said before, you're assigning far too much significance to the unreliability of 60% of the witnesses on one aspect of one event in one study. You want us to believe that 100% of the resurrection witnesses were wrong, including ones who had lived with Jesus for years, claimed to have seen the risen Jesus more than once, thought they spent enough time with Him to eat meals and have conversations, etc. And you don't want us to believe that they were wrong about one thing related to the events while being right about the general outlines. Rather, you want us to believe that they were wrong about far more than the 60% of witnesses were wrong about in Ahmed's case. It's far easier to be mistaken about the identity of one man you've never met before, who you saw only briefly and unexpectedly, than to be mistaken about seeing Jesus risen from the dead under the conditions described in the New Testament. How does one mistakenly think he experienced such things? If only 60% of the people in Ahmed's case were wrong about such a comparatively forgettable detail, then why think that 100% of the resurrection witnesses would be wrong about not only far more details, but also the general outlines of what happened?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Twisting the record

David Waltz has hosted and posted a questionnaire by a revert to Orthodoxy:

“1) Was not 1400 years from the first century rather late to try to purify and to remold the Church according to new doctrinal views?”

Rather late in what sense? Overdue? There’s a sense in which it was long overdue. So what?

There’s an obvious sense in which the reforms of Josiah were not only long overdue, but came too late. Too late to forestall the Babylonian Exile.

That, however, is hardly an argument against the need to address and redress the corruptions that Josiah inherited. That hardly means the status quo ante was acceptable.

“2) If the Reformers considered the Roman Catholic Church to be the true visible church during the preceding centuries, why would they provoke a schism? (Yes, we know they sought to restore true doctrine.) The results for Protestantism have been, first, a schism from the mother Church.”

i) That’s a false dichotomy. It’s not as if you must regard the status quo ante as either wholly true or wholly false.

ii) Why does an Orthodox churchman like Ken think it’s schismatic to break ties with the Church of Rome? Does he also think Photius was guilty of schism?

iii) The Reformers didn’t leave “the mother Church.” Rather, they left a local church. The church of Rome is a local church.

They were members of that church because they were 16C Europeans. The church of Rome was the regional church for someone living at that time and place. The church of 16C Western Europe.

If a Dane leaves the Lutheran church to become a Baptist, has he left “the mother Church”? Hardly.

He attended the Lutheran church because he was Danish, and the Lutheran church is the national church of Denmark.

The Reformers were affiliated with the church of Rome for geographical reasons.

iv) Likewise, what they left was a 16C institution. What’s wrong with leaving a 16C institution? If a student transfers from Harvard to Patrick Henry College, has he done something wrong?

“Second divisions within their own denominations over the sacraments and other matters”

It’s like medical diagnostics. If your initial diagnosis is wrong, what should you do? Should you stick with a mistaken diagnosis because it’s too messy to go back through all the symptoms and debate alternative diagnoses? Better to let the patient die than have to messy up our pretty black board?

To take a concrete example, consider messianic Judaism. You have Jews who convert to Christianity. But having rejected the hereditary package of beliefs and practices they were raised in, they then have to do a lot of sorting. It would be a whole lot simpler if they never left their faith. If they died in a Christless state. Does Ken think that’s preferable?

“And finally, endless splits (schisms), new sects and cults giving birth to endless discussions over how to maintain biblical truths and to just live as churches.”

There are splits within Orthodoxy. Indeed, Orthodoxy often forces the issue. Every ecumenical council has winners and losers. If you can’t stand schisms, then adopt a latitudinarian policy where anything goes. The big tent approach.

“Third, a massive adoption of liberalism in Europe and America”

Of course, that trend is occurring in nominally Catholic countries and nominally Orthodox countries as well as nominally Protestant countries. So if that trend disproves Protestantism, it also disproves Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Futhermore, you have liberal Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox politicians in America.

“Matters settled ages ago are continually brought up for renewed discussion in their national assemblies.”

Ken reminds me of liberals who defend Roe v. Wade as a “super-duper” precedent. Let’s not debate whether Roe v. Wade was wrongly adjudicated. Instead, let’s justify Roe v. Wade by appeal to stare decisis. Stability trumps truth or morality.

His 3rd point is a repetition of his second point.

“4) Is the ecclesiastical situation better today than during the 1500s?”

Yes. It’s better to pick and choose which mushrooms you eat.

All sects claim they ‘follow the Bible alone (Sola Scriptura)”.

i) Actually, they don’t. You have charismatic sects.

ii) You also have “sects” which claim to be the one true church.

“One might also examine the history of various theological schools to see how the winds of liberalism influenced them.”

That’s funny coming from an Orthodox churchman. What about St. Vladimir’s?

In his 5th point, Ken questions the coherence of Presbyterian paedobaptism. However, even if his objection were sound, that’s hardly an objection to Protestant sacramentology in general, since there are several other options he needs to evaluate.

“Protestant Worship Services - Protestant worship services did not fill me with a sense of God’s Presence, of mystery and awe.”

i) That objection depends on what we should expect in this life.

ii) It also confuses the emotional effect of fine art and music with the presence of God.

“Some Reformed congregations celebrate with grape juice, others with wine and still others offer both on the same plate in little plastic sterile cups.”

We can have a legitimate debate about the communion elements as well as the best way to celebrate communion.

But it’s not as if a church service at St. Alexander Nevsky’s in Sophia Bulgaria bears any close resemblance to the Last Supper in the upper room.

“7) Evidence from the Early Church writers (2nd to 6th centuries) - The apostolic tradition, whether in the West and held by Justin Martyr, (the Latin writer Tertullian, who is not regarded as a saint or a Church Father), Irenaeus, or in the East, John Chrysostom and others, gives evidence of a high view of Baptism and the Eucharist.”

Why would we equate a 6C writer with apostolic tradition?

“8) Church Services - The Protestant rejection of the ‘Mysteries’ has given rise to church services that are intellectual and/or entertaining. Protestant worship has lost all sense of continuity with the Church of the first millennium.”

I’m more concerned about losing all sense of continuity with the NT church.

“Their sermons are intellectual, stressing the exegesis of Scripture and biblical languages…”

Yes, it’s an awful thing when a pastor makes a conscientious effort to teach what the word of God actually meant to say. So much better to feed your flock allegorical fantasies.

“The Worship Space - The removal of the lamps and icons (and in some denominations, crosses and stained glass) has diminished a sense of reverence and worship, the sanctuary becomes a place for conversation and socializing. The worship space often resembles a classroom where the laity is expected to sit still and listen while the ‘anointed’ one preaches and prays for all in attendance. The rejection of icons has caused a loss of familiarity with the lives of the Christian heroes of the faith (Hebrews Chapters 11 & 12).”

Did 1C house-churches have icons?

“What would they do without the Book?- In the end, Protestantism gave me the impression of being a religion of the book. (And I am in no way denigrating Holy Scripture which I read every day.) Protestant churches have great appeal for intellectuals and folks who are in love with knowledge for its’ own sake. Attending their services one notes the endless stress placed upon the ‘Bible’.”

That’s the problem with St. Paul. He’s so wordy and Protestant (Acts 19:8-10; 20:7-8). Or take those long, boring speeches by Jesus (Mt 5-7; Jn 14-17). Give me icons and incense.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The cult of St. Dave

I see that Dave Armstrong did a post on his all-time favorite topic of conversation–himself:

You have to wonder how many hours he devoted to this exercise. It’s meticulously formatted, with footnotes, bullet points, italicized words, no fewer than three photographic illustrations, and a soundtrack to boot. And all that time and effort on a post that’s to, for, and about himself.

It reminds me of those Catholic cathedrals in which the Lady chapel is the center of attention. There’s a huge altar to Mary, crowded with flickering votive candles. Then there’s a dark, dingy, lonely little side chapel with an altar dedicated to what’s-his-name. You know…some guy by the name of Jesus. Ever heard of him?

You have to wonder what Armstrong would do with himself in heaven. I don’t think heaven is big enough for God Almighty and David Armstrong. If Armstrong ever gets to heaven, he’ll have to evict the Lord to make room for himself.

Dave is his very own religion. Both subject and object. He carries around a mental icon of his adorable self-image. Lights imaginary candles to his self-image. Burns imaginary incense to his self-image.

This overweening self-importance isn’t limited to Armstrong. In my observation, it’s fairly characteristic of Catholic converts who become pop apologists.

And, from what I can tell, this is not characteristic of cradle Catholics. Some cradle Catholics are proud, but others are quite humble and self-effacing.

What is it about Catholic converts like Armstrong which selects for this particular mindset?

Armstrong maintains exhaustive records of what anyone, anywhere, at any time, ever said about him. His self-obsession reminds me of a woman I once read about:

If Price's memory of her own history is so precise, why is it so average for everything else? Or, more to the point, if her memory for everything else is so ordinary, why is her memory of her own history so extraordinary? The answer has nothing to do with memory and everything to do with personality.

Price remembers so much about herself because she thinks about herself—and her past—almost constantly. She still has every stuffed animal she's ever gotten, enough (as she showed me in a photograph) to completely cover the surface of her childhood bed. She has 2,000 videotapes and countless audiotapes, not to mention more than 50,000 pages of diary entries in idiosyncratic handwriting—so dense that it's almost unreadable. Until recently she owned a copy of every TV Guide since summer 1989. I'm not sure Price wants to catalog her life like this, but she can't help herself. When she tells me that one of her biggest regrets in life is that no one followed her around with a microphone during her childhood, I'm not the least bit surprised. In her own words, she lives as if there's a split screen running in her mind—one half on the present, the other on the past.

Laughing with him...or at him?

Robert said...

I find the card player analogy of the emotional necessatarian [sic] to be laughable. While it is true that the card player has no control of the card sequence (unless he is a cardsharp manipulating the cards, which don't forget is exactly the view that this necessatarian zealot has of God's character). But that does not mean much in respect to whether or not the card player has choices.

It is like the weather: we don't have any control over the weather that presents itself to us, it is out of our control, we have no choice in the matter. On the other hand, we have choices in response to the given weather (take an umbrella, not take an umbrella, dress warmly or dress for hot weather, etc. etc. etc.), just as the card player has choices in response to the cards being dealt to him and others.

What is the famous Kenny Rodgers song again about "the Gambler": "Now every gambler knows that the secret to survivin, Is knowin what to throw away and knowin what to keep . . . . You got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em, know when to walk away and know when to run".

That is a very clear and unequivocal statement of the choices that the "gambler" has(he can choose to stay with the cards he has, choose to draw more cards, choose to quit the particular hand and fold um, choose to walk away or choose to run! Whichever choice he makes he most certainly had a choice.

To argue from the fixity of the sequence of cards in a particular card game against the reality of free will in that same card game, is like arguing from the fixity of the weather against the reality of free will, it is just stupid on the part of the one who does so. We may not have control over certain things like the sequence of cards or the weather, but we have choices in response to these given circumstances. Unless of course you are a necessatarian [sic] and in serious denial of reality, then perhaps you might foolishly argue that we never have a choice.

If that’s a laughing matter, then the laugh is on Robert. The illustration wasn’t meant to address the question of whether card-player ever has choices. It wasn’t meant to address the question of whether a card-player has libertarian freedom. Robert isn’t paying attention to what I was responding to.

Rather, the example targets the issue of whether you can make choices even when you don’t have them. It dealt with the issue, raised by Dan, of whether you can deliberate about various hypothetical alternatives and make a choice even though only one of those hypothetical alternatives is a live possibility.

In terms of the illustration, the hypothetical alternatives have reference, not to whether the gambler can fold or bet or draw, &c. Rather, the hypothetical alternatives have reference to what cards remain in the deck, in what sequence. Depending on the state of the game, several hypothetical alternatives are mathematically possible. But only one of these abstract possibilities is a live possibility. Only one represents the actual sequence. Yet the players are deliberating as if more than one possibility is a live possibility. That’s the point. Robert’s little tangent does nothing to rebut the scope of the illustration.

Moving along:

This is why I say people like Hays are dishonest and not forthright about what they really believe. If he was consistent with his espoused exhaustive determinism, then he never would have made that statement, he never would have said that you ****can do either one****, that you can both choose to give the combination or choose to refuse to give the combination. The fact is Hays cannot live with his false theology and philosophy in the real world that God designed where we do sometimes have choices. He like everybody else believes we sometimes have choices and ***talks about*** our ***having choices***. But talk of having choices is both false and incoherent if his view were true. Just another example from many of the falsity of calvinistic determinism. This one from the “horse’s mouth.”

This criticism is inept on several grounds:

i) The point at issue was whether a “forced choice” is a real choice. But even a libertarian can view a “forced choice” as a real choice since, on libertarian grounds, if someone puts a gun to your head, you can do what he says or refrain from doing what he says. Here I’m merely answering Dan on his own terms.

ii) Moreover, we can cast a “forced choice” in hypothetical terms: If X obeyed at gunpoint, that would be a choice. But if X disobeyed at gunpoint, that would also be a choice.

The hypothetical formulation is perfectly consonant with determinism. It doesn’t commit one to PAP. Rather, it merely states, in conditional terms, that in case X obeyed at gunpoint, that would be a choice. But in case X disobeyed at gunpoint, that would also be a choice. Each case needn’t be in play for either case to count as choosing.

iii) Furthermore, Robert brags from time to time about corresponding with John Martin Fischer. I wonder if he ever told Fischer that Fischer was intellectually dishonest. Perhaps I should email Fischer and ask him about Robert’s views on the intellectual dishonesty of determinists.

Flyers or liars?

Jason Engwer has been debating Jon Curry over at the STR blog. I myself have a running, email commentary on Curry’s remarks which I may post once the threat runs its course. For now I wish to make a general observation.

Curry’s remarks are very scattershot, but to the extent that it’s possible to rearrange them in something resembling a coherent argument, I think it goes something like this:

i) Miracles are incredible
ii) Incredible because they’re antecedently improbable
iii) Antecedently improbable because God, if there is a God, doesn’t normally perform miracles.
iv) To evaluate the credibility of a reported miracle, you have to weigh that report against the prior probability of the reported event.
v) It’s irrational to believe in a miracle if a miracle is unprecedented.
vi) Since, by definition, miracles are extraordinary, the overwhelming evidence for the ordinary course of nature automatically outweighs any ostensible evidence for a miracle.

What are we to make of this argument, such as it is? Let’s consider a few comparisons.

Some body functions are autonomic, like your heartbeat. Your heartbeat is automatic. You don’t need to consciously do something to make your heartbeat. It beats on its own, whether you’re awake or asleep. And short of stabbing yourself in the chest with a butcher knife, there’s nothing you can do to stop your heart from beating. You can’t will your heart to stop beating.

Needless to say, that’s a good thing. Life would be very precarious if you had to consciously will your heart to beat.

That’s analogous to what theologians call ordinary providence, and some philosophers call the uniformity of nature.

Then there’s eating and breathing. Breathing is semivoluntary. We don’t have to think about breathing to breathe. The body inhales and exhales on its own, without our conscious direction.

However, it’s possible to voluntarily regulate our breathing. We can hold our breath for short periods of time. That’s useful in singing, swimming, and other related activities. So we can make ourselves stop breathing. And if we pass out, we start breathing again.

Eating is different. You have to do something to eat. The intake of food doesn’t happen all by itself.

Let’s take another example. Water normally flows down hill. If allowed to operate unimpeded, that’s what water does. That’s comes naturally to water.

Yet it’s possible to make water flow uphill. If you build a water pump, you can make water flow uphill. That’s analogous to a miracle.

Now, let’s apply Curry’s logic to these examples.

Suppose Curry saw water flowing uphill. He would summarily discount the reliability of his perception. It must be a hallucination or optical illusion.

Suppose you showed him a water pump to explain this unnatural phenomenon.

Although a water pump supplies ostensible evidence for how the water could flow uphill, that has to be counterbalanced against the antecedent improbability of water flowing uphill. Since water normally flows downhill, it’s overwhelmingly improbable that water ever flows uphill. Therefore, it’s incredible to believe any report, or even your own perception, that water flows uphill. For the probability that such a report or observation can never overcome the towering presumption against its occurrence.

Likewise, suppose a man is put on trial for murder. He’s accused of murdering his roommate by stabbing him to death.

Curry is a juror. Curry votes to acquit.

Why? Normally, the only thing that stops a beating heart is a heart attack. It’s statistically improbable that you will ever die from a stab wound to the heart. In the overwhelming number of cases, the heart keeps beating until you die of natural causes–like old age.

Any evidence for murder must be counterbalanced against the prior probability that a heart pumps blood with autonomic regularity. So the evidence of murder can never outweigh the uniformity of nature. Any evidence to the contrary (e.g. reported murders) is infinitesimal in contrast to the crushing evidence for autonomic functions.

Even if we see a butcher knife sticking out of the victim’s chest, with a bloodstained T-shirt, it’s far more likely that our perception was a hallucination.

Or suppose Jon Curry was reading the Dayton Daily News, and saw a report, accompanied by a photograph, of some newfangled invention call the Wright Flyer. Now you tell me: what’s more plausible? The photograph is obviously a hoax. Manned flight is unprecedented! Unnatural! A flagrant violation of the uniformity of nature! Reports of manned flight are simply incredible. Only superstitious Bible-thumpers would be gullible enough to believe stories like this.

So where does that leave Curry’s argument? Is it antecedently improbable that water flows uphill? There’s no uniform answer to that question since it depends on other variables. Left to its own devices, it’s antecedently improbable that water flows uphill.

However, given a water pump, it’s not antecedently improbable that water flows uphill. Indeed, given a water pump, it’s antecedently probable that water will flow uphill.

More to the point, prior probabilities are irrelevant at this juncture. How do you calcuate the probability that a water pump pumps water uphill? Do you start with the prior probability that water flows downhill? Is that a factor in your calculations? No.

Must the explanation of a water pump overcome a presumption to the contrary? Not at all. The water pump removes any presumption to the contrary. That’s a sufficient explanation. There is only a presumption to overcome in the absence of an adequate mechanism.

So Curry’s objection to miracles is ultimately tautologous: absent a miracle, it’s highly unlikely that an unnatural event ever occurs.

But that’s hardly an objection to the occurrence of an unnatural event given a miracle.

You can’t very well say there’s a presumption against miracles because there’s a presumption against unnatural events. For there is only a presumption against unnatural events given the absence of a countervailing factor, like a miracle. The ordinary course of nature does nothing, of itself, to create any presumption against the occurrence of a miracle.

High School Musical. Starring Dave Armstrong. Costarring Dave Armstrong. With special guest star: Dave Armstrong

Imagine having everything we ever dreamed
Don't you want it?
Can't you see it?
Imagine first audition after college
I get the lead!
A part for me?
Well of course
Yeah right!
You gotta believe it
Keep talking
You and I all the fame
Sharpay and what's his name?
sound exciting?
Let's do it then
Personal stylist, agent and a publisist
But where do I fit into this?
With you we can win

Win a part
Think bigger!
Become superstars
That's better
Don't you see that bigger is better
And better is bigger
A little bit is never enough
No, No, No!

Don't you want it all!
You want it, you know that you want it
The fame and the fortune and more
You want it all, you want it, you know that you want it
You gotta have your star on the door
You want the world nothing less, all the glam and the press
Only givng you the best to use.
Sing it!
I want it all
I want it, I want it, Yeah
My name in lights at Carnage Hall
I want it all!

Can't you see it
They're gonna love me
I mean us!
Red carpet, rose bouquets, crowd waiting back stage
I'm with her, don't stop me, I'm not the paparazzi
Invitations, standing ovations
Yes please
Gonna be celebrities!
Photographs, fanclubs, give the people what they love
Now you're excited!
I like it
Let's do it then
Times Square, jet setters, sequels
Hey better
New York today, tomorrow the world!!

Sold out shows
Think bigger
And the oscar goes to....
That's better!

Don't you see that bigger is better and Better is bigger
A little bit is never enough!
No, No, No!

I you want it all!
I want it, I want it, Want it
The fame and the fortune..and more
I want it all
I want it, I want it, Want it
I gotta have my star on the door
You want the world nothing less, all the glam and the press
Only giving me the best to use.
I Want it all!
I want it, Want it, Want it, Radio, CD, Music Hall
We Want it all!!

Here in the spotlight we shine, look at who we are

When Broadway knows your name,

you know that you're a STARRRR!

I want it, I-I I want it, I want it, I want it,
I-I, I want it, i want it, i want I-I I Want It!

I Want It All! I want it, I want it, I want it! (I WANT IT ALLL)
The fame and the fortune and more!
I want it all! I want it, I want it
I gotta have my star on the door
You want the world nothing less, all the glam and the press
Only giving you the best to use.
Buenos Aires!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Schrödinger's cat-holicism

Of late, James Swan and Turretin Fan seem to be insinuating that Dave Armstrong is less than intellectually or morally consistent. But while their accusation is entirely understandable, it happens to be based on a case of mistaken identity. And that’s because they’re tacitly assuming that there’s only one Dave Armstrong in the universe. Therefore, they find it difficult if not impossible to reconcile his contradictory statements as well as the glaring contradiction between his stated policy and his real policy.

However, appearances are deceptive. You see, there are really two individuals in the universe who jointly and simultaneously constitute Dave Armstrong: Uncle Dave and Antidave.

The Antidave is the alter-ego of Uncle Dave. The Antidave made his escape from parallel universe when warp travel created a rift in the very fabric of the subspace continuum. The Antidave is the antithesis of Uncle Dave.

Uncle Dave is a modest, kindly, saintly, self-effacing man who does whatever he says. Birds eat out of his hand. Snarling pitbulls wag their tails and roll over on their backs at his approach.

But the Antidave is a vain, vitriolic, frantic, manic man in whose presence sleeping babies wail while zoo animals flee for cover at his approach.

If the Antidave ever meets Uncle Dave face to face, a little mushroom cloud will rise over Detroit as matter annihilates antimatter. And then there will be none.

One for all and all for one

Mark Dever recently may a statement which is getting some buzz:

I think that millennial views need not be among those doctrines that divide us. . . . I am suggesting that what you believe about the millennium—how you interpret these thousand years—is not something that it is necessary for us to agree upon in order to have a congregation together. The Lord Jesus Christ prayed in John 17:21 that we Christians might be one. Of course all true Christians are one in that we have his Spirit, we share his Spirit, we desire to live out that unity. But that unity is supposed to be evident as a testimony to the world around us. Therefore, I conclude that we should end our cooperations together with other Christians (whether near-ly in a congregation, or more at length in working together in missions and church planting and evangelism and building up the ministry) only with the greatest of care, lest we rend the body of Christ for whose unity he’s prayed and given himself. Therefore, I conclude that it is sin to divide the body of Christ—to divide the body that he prayed would be united. Therefore for us to conclude that we must agree upon a certain view of alcohol, or a certain view of schooling, or a certain view of meat sacrificed to idols, or a certain view of the millennium in order to have fellowship together is, I think, not only unnecessary for the body of Christ, but it is therefore both unwarranted and therefore condemned by scripture. So if you’re a pastor and you’re listening to me, you understand me correctly if you think I’m saying you are in sin if you lead your congregation to have a statement of faith that requires a particular millennial view. I do not understand why that has to be a matter of uniformity in order to have Christian unity in a local congregation.

I don’t know whether I agree or disagree with this statement, because it’s rather vague. If, by “requires,” he means that you’re required to affirm every jot and tittle of a statement of faith to be an active member of a church, then I’m inclined to agree.

Even then, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with like-minded Christians who form a like-minded fellowship. It’s a free association.

But assuming that this is not a requirement for active church membership, I don’t see why a statement of faith can’t include something that individual Christians don’t see eye-to-eye on.

For example, a pastor has a theological viewpoint. He thinks his interpretation is right. And he’s trying to convince his congregation to see things his way. In that sense, he thinks the Bible, rightly understood, requires a certain belief. And that’s something he urges on the congregation.

I don’t view that as inherently divisive or exclusionary. It’s a statement of his opinion. And if enough parishioners share that opinion, is there some reason they shouldn’t express their common conviction in a corporate statement of faith?

We need to avoid two extremes. One is to disfellowship other Christians over differences of opinion which are not a sufficient basis for excommunication.

The other is to be so worried about offending people and hurting their feelings that we can’t bring ourselves to say what we believe.


“He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Ps 1:3).

One of the areas where I lived had lots of oak trees. An oak tree is one of the natural wonders of the world.

Oak trees are very aggressive. They grow fast and vast. Huge, shapely, and stately.

Yet some of the old oak trees I’ve seen seem rather beleaguered. They’ve seen better days. Windstorms and lightning strikes have left them scarred and battered.

Oak trees send out long, heavy branches which scrape the ground. In time, these become overextended and crack under the sheer load.

When the broken boughs and branches are pruned away, the oak tree looks like an amputee.

I’ve seen some historic photographs of oak trees in their prime, before they were ravaged by time and natural disaster. It’s sad to see.

But that’s misleading. All we see is what lies above ground. Yet that’s only half the story. An old oak tree has a vast, underground root system. Even though the old oak tree appears to be very vulnerable and diminished to the observer, it’s actually more secure than when it was young and pristine.

This is like the Christian lifecycle. Although some people have a terrible childhood, youth is generally an upbeat time of life. We’re in the pink of heath. We haven’t suffered the disappointments and the deprivations which will pile up over the years.

Most of us don’t get through life without taking a beating. Outwardly, an older Christian may look and feel like an oak tree that’s been through wind and fire. Disfigured. Missing boughs and branches.

But just under the surface is a taproot that goes deep. He’s stronger than he looks. For his inner source of strength lies out of sight. Out of harm’s way.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"When Detainees Get Rights They Don't Deserve"

From Michael Barone.


Here are two arguments by conservative Christians for not opposing the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor:

Stopping Sonia Sotomayor would just lead to a different appointment that will probably be worse. While she was not really the choice of President George H.W. Bush, she was the choice of Senator Daniel Moynihan (in a deal with the first President Bush over New York appointments) and Moynihan was a reasonable person who was unpredictable in some of his left-of-center views.

Of all the appointments President Obama was likely to make (imagine the horrific governor of Michigan on the Court!), this one has the best chance to pull a reverse-Souter (a drift right) and present some pleasant surprises to conservatives. Of course, Sonia Sotomayor is likely going to be a conventional liberal, but she has staked out few opinions on hot-button social issues.

Nonetheless, it would be stupid to filibuster this nomination. Judge Sotomayor is probably as good a nominee by conservative lights as anyone could expect to get from President Obama. I'm convinced that all three of his other short-listers would be less friendly to concerns conservatives would care about, expect perhaps on specific issues. For example, Elena Kagan would be more friendly toward Bush views on security and executive power, something Obama may kick himself for once Sotomayor is on the Supreme Court if she, as I expect, continues to vote the way Souter has voted instead of taking the majority toward views more favorable to the ways Obama has continued Bush policies on the war on terrorism, which Kagan would have been more sympathetic to. But I'm convinced Kagan would probably more easily import ideology over the law than Sotomayor would do, given Sotomayor's case history and Kagan's lack of judicial experience, which often produces justices who vote based on policy preference.

These are two statements of the same basic argument. And it’s a reasonable argument. So I won’t pounce on Jeremy Pierce or John Mark Reynolds for making it.

However, I can also think of some counterarguments which are equally reasonable–if not more so:

1.Much of the success of liberalism lies in building on false premises. Liberals will stipulate a falsehood. If allowed to go unchecked, this falsehood will become an unquestionable “truth.” And liberals then proceed to erect a superstructure on that false premise.

One can think of many examples. For example, the Supreme Court made the freedom to buy of contraceptives a Constitutional right by finding a right of primacy in the Constitution.

Now, there may well be a right of privacy in the Constitution. But it has nothing to do with a Constitutional right to buy contraceptives.

Likewise, I think adults do have a right to buy most contraceptives. But that doesn’t make it a Constitutional right. That should be a statutory right, created by state legislatures.

This, in turn, became the false premise for a Constitutional right to have an abortion.

Then, having trumped up a bogus Constitutional right to an abortion, that became the premise to create a Constitutional right to Federally funded abortion “services.”

To take another example: Congress struck down the Jim Crow laws. Fine. Jim Crow laws should not have been enacted in the first place.

However, just because mandatory segregation is wrong doesn’t’ mean the alternative should be mandatory desegregation. Having made that fallacious leap of logic, Congress and the courts then began to practice reverse discrimination.

To take yet another example: I think, starting in the 80s, state and federal gov’t began to pass hate crime laws. That was a mistake from the get-go. And, predictably, as time went on, ever more groups came in for preferential treatment.

Back to Sotomayor. Take her infamous remark about how a “wise Latina” makes a better judge than a white man.

This is an allusion to the liberal notion of white privilege. Whites have it easy. Only minorities know about adversity.

This is classic stereotyping of the worst kind. If a white nominee said the same thing in reverse, he’d have to withdraw his name from further consideration.

But because liberals automatically treat certain minority groups as victims of oppression, they think minorities like Sotomayor are entitled to a double standard.

This is precisely the sort of false premise which ought to be cut down root and branch before it takes hold and begins to spread--–like a wild vine that chokes the life out of everything within reach.

Or take her notorious ruling in which she summarily disenfranchised white and Latino firefighters because some black applicants flunked the very same exam. Pure outcome based jurisprudence. Disregard objective, uniform qualifications. Arbitrarily discriminate on the basis of race.

Once again, that should never be tolerated. Never be allowed to take root.

These false premises are dangerous on two grounds. They are harmful in their own right. And they lay the foundation for further absurdities and injustices.

Every liberal false premise must be subjected to immediate and unremitting attack before it gets a chance to become entrenched and do ever more damage. Dig it up before it gets dug in.

2.Then there’s the tactical question. In politics, you win by winning. You win by racking up a record of wins. Winning is cumulative. Progressive. Winning creates its own momentum. A previous win raises the odds of a subsequent win.

Sure, you don’t win every time, but unless you play to win, you’re bound to lose every time. If you do nothing, you lose. If you do nothing, the other side wins by default. If you do nothing, you lose influence. You lose relevance. Coming in second is better than sitting it out.

The only way to stay competitive is to compete. Compete wherever and whenever the opposition competes.

So conservatives should maintain the pressure. Steady pressure. Never let up. Never back away.

Put another way, don't refrain from taking action out of fear. As the Italians say, whoever acts like a sheep will be eaten by the wolf.

3.Finally, I think Jeremy Pierce is always worth reading. He’s usually incisive and insightful. I appreciate his painstaking analysis.

However, there are times when he can be charitable to fault. It’s not always prudent to give people the benefit of the doubt, or put the best possible construction on their words. In many situations, that’s just plain gullible.

The judiciary is very politicized. And politicians can be quite devious. We need to read between the lines. Have a good ear for code language. Know what makes a liberal tick.

It’s not an intellectual or moral virtue to be played for a chump.

The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Fideism and Obfuscation

Posted on behalf of Steve Hays -- blue background indicates Dr. Stenger's comments and quotations, red background indicates Steve Hays'.
Subject: The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason

On Jul 13, 2009, at 8:25 AM, Steve Hays wrote:

Dr. Stenger,

I was looking through the excerpts you've posted of your forthcoming book. I found some of your statements a bit puzzling:

"Science sees no limit in the human capacity to comprehend the universe and ourselves."

Isn't that a rather hyperbolic claim? For example, isn't paleontology limited to whatever trace evidence happens to survive the ravages of time? Likewise, in your own field of specialization, if the ultimate constituents of matter are immeasurable (because they're too small to measure), then doesn't that limit what we can know about the ultimate constituents of matter? We can extrapolate and postulate, but we can't really know, can we?

"God does not exist. Life without God means we are the governors of our own destinies."

That sounds very idealistic in the abstract, but how does it cash out in practice?

Does a baby who's terminated in the 8th month of pregnancy govern his own destiny? Does a senior citizen who's involuntarily euthanized govern his own destiny?

Isn't it the case that some people will always wield power over others? How many North Koreans govern their own destiny?

All of us eventually die of old age. That's our destiny. And it's not a destiny that we govern. We can sometimes do little things to hasten or forestall the outcome, but the outcome is inexorable.

"Taoism also preaches an end to the love of self and its replacement with a love of the world."

First of all, w hy should we care what Taoism preaches?

Secondly, isn't that a false dichotomy? It is still the self that loves the world. Eliminate the self, and you have an object without a subject.

“I like simple answers, and the answer is simple. People are capable of slitting a baby's throat if they are convinced they are following God's orders.”

Peter Singer advocates infanticide. Is he following God's orders?

"The evidence is overwhelming that the happiest, best-adjusted, healthiest societies in the world are those in which the majority has freely abandoned belief."

To judge by comparative rates of suicide around the world, the stats don't seem to bear out your correlation.


Sent: Mon, Jul 13, 2009 12:44 pm

I was looking through the excerpts you've posted of your forthcoming book. I found some of your statements a bit puzzling:

"Science sees no limit in the human capacity to comprehend the universe and ourselves."

We don't have to know every detail to comprehend something.

UNDERSTAND, grasp, take in, see, apprehend, follow, make sense of, fathom, get to the bottom of; unravel, decipher, interpret; informal work out, figure out, make head(s) or tail(s) of, get one's head around, get the drift of, catch on to, get.

"God does not exist. Life without God means we are the governors of our own destinies."

That sounds very idealistic in the abstract, but how does it cash out in practice?

Does a baby who's terminated in the 8th month of pregnancy govern his own destiny? Does a senior citizen who's involuntarily euthanized govern his own destiny?

Isn't it the case that some people will always wield power over others? How many North Koreans govern their own destiny?

All of us eventually die of old age. That's our destiny. And it's not a destiny that we govern. We can sometimes do little things to hasten or forestall the outcome, but the outcome is inexorable.

OK, so maybe we all can't. But at least many can since we don't have God pulling the strings, in which cans none can.

"Taoism also preaches an end to the love of self and its replacement with a love of the world."

First of all, why should we care what Taoism preaches?

Because it may be a good idea.

Secondly, isn't that a false dichotomy? It is still the self that loves the world. Eliminate the self, and you have an object without a subject.

It's not the self that's eliminated, its the love of self.

“I like simple answers, and the answer is simple. People are capable of slitting a baby's throat if they are convinced they are following God's orders.”

Peter Singer advocates infanticide. Is he following God's orders?

I wasn't talking about Peter Singer.

"The evidence is overwhelming that the happiest, best-adjusted, healthiest societies in the world are those in which the majority has freely abandoned belief."

To judge by comparative rates of suicide around the world, the stats don't seem to bear out your correlation.

Suicides were included in the total statistics on happiness in the survey I reference.

Victor J. Stenger
Adjunct Professor of Philosophy
University of Colorado at Boulder
Emeritus Professor of Physics and Astronomy
University of Hawaii at Manoa
Author of the 2007 NY Times bestseller
God: The Failed Hypothesis
Soon to be released: The New Atheism

On Jul 13, 2009, at 1:29 PM, Steve Hays wrote:

Thanks for taking time to reply.

"We don't have to know every detail to comprehend something."

True, but that sounds far more modest than your original claim. Instead of saying "Science sees no limit in the human capacity to comprehend the universe and ourselves," I take it that you now say something like:

"According to science, human beings have a very limited, but genuine, capacity to comprehend something about the universe and something about themselves."

Is that your actual position?

"OK, so maybe we all can't. But at least many can since we don't have God pulling the strings, in which cans none can."

  1. That sounds like a rather emotional objection.

  2. Moreover, aren't you just exchanging one puppet-master for another? Instead of God pulling the strings, it's genes, hormones, brain chemistry, natural selection, cultural conditioning, &c.

  3. Furthermore, on your view, isn't the puppet-master an ultimately blind, mindless puppet-master?

  4. Finally, you yourself said "Christianity and Islam are the two most popular religions today for one reason more than any other: the promise of eternal life. Atheism can never compete with this promise."

    Isn't a supernatural puppet-master who offers eternal life better than a natural puppet-master who consigns you to oblivion?

"Because it may be a good idea"

Why is it a good idea to replace self-love with altruistic love? From a secular standpoint, why would an atheist recommend self-denial? If this life is all there is, wouldn't it be foolish to deny yourself?

"It's not the self that's eliminated, its the love of self."

Are they really separable? We love what we do because of who we are. We value the things we love in large part for what they mean to us.

"I wasn't talking about Peter Singer."

I know you weren't. And that's the problem. Shouldn't your objection be more even-handed? You said "People are capable of slitting a baby's throat if they are convinced they are following God's orders."

I take this to mean that people wouldn't commit infanticide unless they were convinced that they were following God's orders.

Now Peter Singer is a very articulate and unapologetic proponent of infanticide. Yet he's a secular bioethicist. So where's the religious connection? If there is no intrinsic religious connection, why cite infanticide as an objection to religion?

"Suicides were included in the total statistics on happiness in the survey I reference."

I'm not sure I know what that's supposed to mean. Seems to me that rates of suicide are a fairly obvious barometer of a happy, healthy, well-adjusted society. So what is your point?

Do you still insist on a consistent correlation between lower rates of suicide and higher rates of secularization? Or do you admit that there is no consistent correlation, but say this is offset by other factors which yield a higher sum total of social happiness?

Sent: Mon, Jul 13, 2009 5:47 pm

I do not have time to carry on email dialogues, although you are certainly welcome to send comments that I do look at.

In any case, I am not inclined to carry our discussion further since you have not read the book where these statements that you object too can be found in context and are expanded upon.

If you want to participate in a discussion with other scientists and freethinkers, I invite you to join my discussion list See my home page for details.

Heads up on heads up

Benjamin Ramos, on July 6th, 2009 at 6:54 pm Said:

I saw that Steve Hays over at Triablogue made a response to this post. In it he makes the following statement:

“Arminians believe in libertarian freedom, defined as the freedom to do otherwise (or choose otherwise). But one problem with this belief is the total absence of any empirical evidence to substantiate their belief. For we only make one choice at a time. Arminians think freedom of choice entails the freedom to choose between two or more options. But we have no experience in choosing each option. Therefore, we have no evidence that the options we didn’t choose were ever in play.”


Hays apparently assumes that the fact that “we only make one choice at a time” somehow vouches for his claim that there is a “total absence of any empirical evidence to substantiate” the belief that one can “choose between two or more options.” But I do not see how this follows (perhaps he might say that I’ve not been programmed to see it?).

I personally know of numerous instances in my own life where I’ve have had “experience in choosing each option” available to me in a certain circumstance. For instance, in putting a quarter into a kiddy ride for my 2-year-old daughter, I have the option of putting the quarter face up or face down. In the many times that I’ve put my daughter on a kiddy ride, I’ve exercised the choice to do both: to insert one quarter into the machine face up and another face down at the same time, since the machine requires that two quarters be placed into the delivery mechanism at the same time. Perhaps Hays would argue that I have no choice to put both quarters face up at the same time, but I’ve done this as well. I’ve even put both quarters in face down at the same time. With each repetition, I’m given the same options, and I can vary my choices from instance to instance. I can even choose not to put any quarters into the machine, or to put something other than quarters into the machine.–-fallacy-4-free-will-is-the-power-to-do-anything/#comment-2891

This is a good example of somebody who lacks basic reasoning skills. He’s not inserting the same coin face up and face down at the same time. Rather, he’s inserting two different coins at two different times. Therefore, he has no experience doing otherwise in the very same situation.

Having choices

Arminians think it’s crucial that human agents have two or more choices at a time. There are various problems with this assumption, but for now I’ll focus on one in particular. Having several choices can be disadvantageous. For the more opportunities you have, the greater the opportunity to make the wrong choice. At least in some situations.

Suppose I’m a computer security specialist for a large bank. That position gives me the opportunity–and attendant temptation–to surreptitiously divert funds to my Caiman account.

I can only succumb to that temptation if I have that opportunity in the first place.

Praying to the saints

One of the problems with praying to the saints is that you’re praying to saints who don’t believe in praying to saints. You see, there are no Catholic saints in heaven. All the heavenly saints are Protestant.

This doesn’t mean no Catholics ever make it to heaven. But once they reach heaven, they realize the error of their ways and begin to memorize the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

You see, heaven is, among other things, a seminary. A Protestant seminary. Christians often arrive in heaven with certain erroneous beliefs. And heaven is the perfect corrective for their lingering theological errors.

So there’s no point praying to the saints–since the saints disapprove of prayers to the saints. Even if they could hear you, they wouldn’t answer you. It’s contrary to their theology.

For example, to keep his inbox manageable, St. Jude has a spam filter to divert all messages with a terrestrial IP address to a junk mailbox.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Michael Medved Is Wrong About Polygamy

I just heard Michael Medved say, on his radio program, that the Bible is "at best undecided" on polygamy, if not in favor of it. He argued against a caller who said that the Bible condemns polygamy, and the caller wasn't particularly effective in responding.

As I type this, he's citing Augustine on the subject, suggesting that he didn't have as negative a view of polygamy as Christians do today. He isn't saying anything about the earlier fathers who condemned polygamy.

Medved is mistaken. I'm going to be sending him an email, which I don't know that he'll ever see, but those interested in reading more on the subject may be interested in the thread here.

Insulted By Jon Curry

Yesterday, I mentioned a discussion about the resurrection of Christ at the Stand To Reason blog. Since then, Jon Curry has entered the discussion and is behaving as he usually does. I don't know whether the relevant posts at the Stand To Reason blog will remain up for long, but here's my response to Jon, in case our posts get deleted there:

Readers should know that Jon Curry was banned from two forums I've moderated in the past, including Triablogue two years ago. Since then, he's been posting personal criticisms of me on his blog, in which he complains that I personally criticize people too often. The same sort of "insults" he complains about are found in his own posts.

Readers may also want to know that Jon denies the existence of Jesus and rejects the traditional authorship attribution of every book of the New Testament. When he was at Triablogue, before being banned, he left dozens of threads without interacting with people's responses to him. He frequently got basic facts about church history wrong, often placing people or events in the wrong century and relying on Wikipedia as one of his primary sources. Any interested reader can consult the Triablogue archives and find many examples of his behavior.

That behavior includes Jon's references to Christians as "having reading comprehension problems", "clueless", "wicked", etc. See here for some examples.

Concerning my posts here, he writes:

"I'd like to comment on one of Jason's arguments, though I haven't read this entire exchange. The frequent personal attacks jumped out at me as I skimmed this, but also Jason's response to your point about your grandfather living a busy life at the age of 125. The point, Jason, is that we believe it to be wrong not because we know he's making it up but because we know people don't live to be 125 and if they did they wouldn't be partying at the Playboy mansion. You would contend that we know it didn't happen because we believe he's making it up, but in fact it's more like the opposite. We know he's making it up because it doesn't happen."

If Jon had read my responses, instead of just "skimming" the thread, he'd know that I addressed Joe's analogy from both perspectives. I addressed what we know about Joe's intention in giving us the analogy, and I addressed the problems with the analogy apart from that knowledge. I went on to address the problems with Joe's second analogy, which was supernatural rather than natural. In other words, Jon admits that he's only "skimmed" this discussion, and he goes on to misrepresent what I've said.

He writes:

"We know of nobody rising from the dead by either natural or super natural means, so we dismiss that as well."

Earlier, in this thread, I repeatedly addressed the issue of historical precedent. Jon doesn't interact with anything I said on the subject. Apparently, he missed everything I said about this issue when he "skimmed" the discussion. Or he chose to ignore what I said.

But it's "insulting" for me to point that out.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


I got around to watching the film Knowing recently. Except for Roger Ebert, most of the critics despised the film. In one or two respects I can understand their reaction, although I think that’s an overreaction.

I think, for example, it was a mistake to cast Nicolas Cage as the protagonist. It’s a sympathetic role, which requires a more sympathetic actor. Cage isn’t very likable. He’s annoying to watch. Of course, that’s subjective. Thankfully, the child actor who plays his son is far more appealing.

I also understand why critics found the plot confusing. Yet I also think that’s largely the fault of the critics. They’re ignorant of the literary allusions. If, however, you view the movie as, in some measure, a religious allegory, with subtle illusions to the Bible, then the plot makes more sense. What’s driving the plot is a biblical subplot.

But that, in turn, raises the question of how much subtext we should discern. It’s possible to either overinterpret or underinterpret a film like Knowing. Only the director and screenwriters are privy to their ulterior intentions.

There is, though, some reason to expect that Knowing goes deeper than the average SF flick. The original screenplay was penned by a professional SF novelist and Roman Catholic. The director is a sophisticated, thoughtful director. And there were several other screenwriters whose precise contribution to the final product is indetectable. And least one of the screenwriters is a Christian (Stuart Hazeldine)–or so I’ve been told.

The film is ambiguous. It could either be given a secular gloss or a Christian gloss.

The secular gloss would involve a ufological interpretation of the Biblical allusions, a la Erich von Däniken. On this reading, the Strangers are really aliens.

Or you could view it in reverse: the Strangers are really angels. The alien paraphernalia is a cultural accommodation to the human observers. (e.g. Heb 13:1-2).

Some of the biblical allusions or Scriptural parallels are explicit. In other cases, it may just be coincidental.

For the sake of argument, let’s exhaust all the possible, literary allusions. This may result in overinterpreting the film, but it’s an interesting exercise to see how far you can push it.

1.Koestler is the son of a clergyman. Ezekiel is the son of a clergyman (Ezk 1:3).

2.Koestler is a widower. Ezekiel is a widower (Ezk 24:15-18).

3.Lucinda’s envelope contains oracles of doom. Ezekiel’s scroll contains oracles of doom (Ezk 2:9-10).

4.Koestler tries to warn his contemporaries of impending disaster, yet his warnings are ignored. Ezekiel tries to warn his contemporaries of impending disaster, yet his warnings are ignored (Ezk 2:3-7; 3:7).

5.In both cases, the oracles of doom are inexorable.

6.In Knowing, the earth is incinerated. In the oracles against Gog and Magog, Ezekiel also describes the eschatological judgment in the imagery of a cosmic conflagration (Ezk 38:17-23; 39:6).

7.In Knowing, only a chosen remnant are able to hear and heed the Strangers. In Ezekiel, only a chosen remnant are able to hear and heed the voice of God (Ezk 11:19-20; 36:26-27).

8.In Knowing, only a chosen remnant survive the catastrophe. In Ezekiel, only a chosen remnant survive the catastrophe (Ezk 11:15-20; 39:25-29).

9.In Knowing, the “spacecraft” which rescues the chosen remnant has a set of wheels within wheels. In Ezekiel, the divine chariot has a set of wheels within wheels (Ezk 1:15-21). In Jewish tradition, this gave rise to the “Ophanim.”

10.In Knowing, the chosen remnant are transported to an Edenic paradise with a tree of life. In Ezekiel, the Consummation envisions an Edenic paradise with a tree of life (Ezk 47:7,12).

Strictly speaking, the film doesn’t identify the tree as the tree of life, but in the history of Western art, the iconography is unmistakable.

11.In Knowing, the name of Koestler’s son, a member of the chosen remnant who will be transported to the new Eden, is Caleb. In the Pentateuch, Caleb is one of just two survivors of the Exodus generation who will enter the Promised Land.

12.In Knowing, the Strangers emit a nimbic aura. In Ezekiel, the angels emit a nimbic aura (Ezk 1:7; 40:3).

13.The boy and the girl, with two rabbits, as they are swept to safety, are reminiscent of Noah’s ark.

14.In one scene we have an explicit reference to 1 Cor 12.

15.Ascending to the heavens (as the “ship” whisks the children away) is a stock metaphor for going to heaven (e.g. 1 Thes 4:17).

16.The stones may be an allusion to Gen 2:10-12–another Edenic motif which is carried over into Ezekiel (cf. Ezk 28:13-14,16).

17.The use of numerology in Knowing would dovetail with Biblical numerology, such as we encounter in the Book of Revelation.

18.Caleb is hearing-impaired, but he can hear the Strangers. This dovetails with the Biblical distinction between natural and spiritual perception. Some people can have keen sight and hearing, yet be spiritually blind or deaf, while other people can be blind or deaf, but have keen spiritual discernment. Only the sheep know the voice of the Shepherd.

19.Caleb and his dad use a bit of sign-language with each other. Ezekiel also used sign-language (Ezk 4-5).

20. Knowing has 4 Strangers. Ezkekiel has 4 angels (Ezk 1:5).

21. The Strangers have wings. The angels have wings (Ezk 1:6).

On a broader note:

22.The film includes a conversion experience, where Koestler goes from being a bitter atheist to a believer or revert. Koestler is a backslider who, at the end, returns to his former faith.

23.There’s a predestinarian undercurrent to the film. This is inevitable, since the film deals with prophecy, and the future can only be foreknown in case the future is foreordained. On a related note, there's a line of demarcation between the elect and the reprobate.

24. There's a scene at Caleb's school where the kids sing "This little light of mine," a classic Christian children's song, based on Mt 5:14-16.

25.Knowing contains an extrabiblical, literary allusion to Arthur Koestler, the science writer who took an interest in telepathy, synchronicity, and Johannes Kepler (among other things).

I don’t know how many of these apparent parallels are deliberate. But the degree to which, without having to strain, you can view the film as an allegory of Ezekiel (and other Scriptural motifs) is certainly striking. Some of these themes could also be lifted from the Book of Revelation–which is partially indebted to the Book of Ezekiel.

Of course, many Hollywood films ransack Biblical eschatology. But in this case the level of specificity is fairly intriguing.

Since most film critics are biblically illiterate, this would go right over their heads. That's why they were baffled by the plot. The subtextual logic of the plot was lost on them.

Of course, had they been aware of the biblical subtext, they would simply despise the film for a different reason. Indeed, some people are now attacking the film because of its hidden theological agenda. They assail the film as deceptive religious propaganda.

But, of course, that’s silly. Atheism doesn’t hold the copyright to the SF genre. And SF stories are often allegorical. There’s nothing inherently wrong with recasting Biblical eschatology in SF imagery. And, indeed, since Christ will return at a time when modern technology is the norm, there’s no reason why a film about the Day of Judgment and the world to come shouldn’t have a hitech dimension. That’s realistic.

Moreover, it’s not just a case of Christianity baptizing SF. Often it’s a case of SF secularizing Christianity.

This is not to say the film is, in every respect, logical or orthodox. Some of the characters who are left behind assure the elect that they will see them again. But if everyone winds up in the same place, why rescue the elect from the impending conflagration?

I don’t know if this contradiction is due to logical and doctrinal indifference. Due to too many screenwriters having a hand in the script. Or just an effort to blunt the catastrophe. Make it more emotionally palatable.

Closing Arguments/Final Thoughts on the "Choose Debate"

Both Steve Hays and I have interacted quite extensively with Dan's "choose argument from the dictionary." I believe we have shown enough potential and actual problems with it that it should not command the assent of any Calvinist. Libertarians may like it, but I suspect that that's because it presupposes libertarianism. A good rule to go by when making a good argument (i.e., a cogent one, one that aims at persuading the opposition) is not to build into your argument the truth of your position, or assume the falsity of the other one. Dan's argument carries zero persuasive force, and so isn't a good (in the above sense) argument. In fact, I take it that both I and Steve have shown the argument to be false, and obviously so. But Dan and some of his readers are impressed with it (though I cited numerous libertarian action theorists, many of them the leading voices today, that disagree with Dan), that's just how these things go. An example might be that I think constructivism (the view that reality is the construct of (a) human mind(s)) is obviously false. I think some of the arguments against it are very good (e.g., those that make the charge of self-referential incoherency), but the anti-realists don't think they are. They make their own arguments, and those in agreement with them laud those arguments. There comes a time when you just have to let the arguments stand and let people decide. At the very least, Steve and I have shown that Dan's argument is far from obvious and makes too many highly questionable empirical assumptions---assumptions hitherto unargued for or proved---for it to count as a good argument. Now, if Dan's only goal was to reaffirm the beliefs of fellow Arminians, that's all fine and good. But to the extent that he wanted to try and give the Calvinist good reasons to drop his Calvinism, he has failed. The Calvinist doesn't find Dan's argument troubling, in the least. Indeed, the Calvinist (like me) doesn't really even know just what Dan is trying to argue. So, since I think the argument has not come close to defeating the defeaters given it, and since I think it is hopelessly flawed (though I grant that Dan and some of his readers may find it the best thing since sliced bread, and be rational in doing so), there's really not much left to say. So in this post I will critique some of the points Dan has raised since my last posts, and I will also offer some more critiques (mostly just putting my previous defeaters differently with the hope of achieving some persuasive force) of his claims and arguments. Most of my comments to his claims and arguments will be fairly short, but I think they are all sufficiently strong to show the (what I take to be) insurmountable problems with his argument; and if not that, they will at least show that he has not met his burden thus far. I realize Dan may advance and clean up his argument, but I do not think it will closely resemble his initial argument. Until he does so, below lists some of the main reasons why Dan's argument is flawed.

Dan's Choose Argument

Dan says that (one of his) his argument for LFW is this:

P1: The bible says people have wills and choose


P2: choosing rules out determinism


C1: the bible rules out determinism.

Okay, so let's grant [P1]. Let's also overlook the use of "wills" as it appears superfluous to the argument and doesn't do any work. Undoubtedly, the questionable premise is [P2]. So, what is Dan's argument for [P2]?
Dan writes,
I supported P2 based on the dictionary... Here’s my initial argument: The American Heritage College Dictionary (3rd edition) defines choose as: to select from a number of possible alternatives.

And then,
Hopefully it's clear that the 'dictionary definition' of choose includes at least two possibilities. But determinism prohibits twofold possibilities, so the dictionary rules out determinism.
But what does all this dictionary stuff have to do with the Bible and the Bible's use of the word "choose"? This brings in another premise of Dan's argument. Dan states,
...the common man thinks of choice as libertarian, ... the bible was written by common men and to the common man (i.e. to the people of Israel and the church, not the semi-compatibilist) and it uses the terms choice and choose.
And why think common man thinks of choice (or "choosing") as libertarian? Dan tells us,
the dictionary is better at establishing the laymen, common-sensical understanding of terms
Okay, so far as I've been able to discern, the above quotes constitute the relevant material from all of Dan's posts from which to make the argument for [P2]. So, let's try to construct the dictionary argument in support of [P2], and thus find a complete statement of Dan's argument.

The Complete Statement of the "Choose Argument"

[P1] The dictionary definition of "choose" includes, most importantly, the idea that there be at least two alternative possibilities from which a chooser chooses from, all of which are live possibilities.

[P2] If determinism is true, then no chooser has any live possible alternatives ever.

[C1] Therefore, the dictionary definition of "choose" is inconsistent with determinism.

[P3] If the Bible uses the word "choose", then the Bible means the word the way common man means the word.

[P4] If the Bible means a word the way common man means a word, then the dictionary is the best way to decipher how common man means a word.

[C2] Therefore, If the Bible uses the word "choose", the dictionary is the best way to decipher how common man means a word (and so how the Bible means the word).

[P4] The Bible uses the word "choose".

[P5] Therefore, the Bible means "choose" as the idea that there be at least two alternative possibilities from which a chooser chooses from, all of which are live possibilities.

[C3] Therefore, the Bible is inconsistent with determinism.

[P6] Libertarian Free Will, LFW, teaches that a chooser has alternative possibilities from which to choose from, all of which are live possibilities.

[C4] Therefore, the Bible assumes that choosers have LFW whenever it uses the word "choose".

[P7] Whatever the Bible assumes to be the case is the case.

[C5] Therefore, LFW is the case.

So stated, we have an argument against determinism and for LFW. I hope that Dan and other Arminian readers can grant that I have fairly represented his argument, and presented it forcefully. This argument, though long, also captures what Dan said his initial motive was that brought about his "dictionary argument". Dan said he was initially trying to answer Gene Bridges' request that an Arminian exegete LFW from the Bible. Though I think this can't be done, the best Dan can do is show that the Bible presupposes LFW. So, this argument does justice to Dan all the way back, if you will.

Defeating the "Choose Argument"

Here are three reasons for showing the "Choose Argument" to be unsound.

1. It is false "the dictionary" defines "choose" as, most importantly, including the notion of live alternative possibilities.

I demonstrated this here, by citing eleven dictionaries that do not include any talk of "possibilities" or "alternatives." This shows that [P1] is false.

Dan responds to this counter argument in a few ways:

(i) This is to use the thesaurus approach (using the words "select", "pick," etc., in the definition of choice is tautological).

(ii) Paul provides no argument as to why these arguments reconcile with determinism.

(iii) When you say a person is able to choose you are right back to possibilities.

(iv) My [Dan's] definitions are more clear and revealing than Paul's.

(v) Paul is a semi-compatibilist; semi-compatibilists say that freedom and determinism are not consistent.

(vi) Paul likes Kane's definition, and Kane's definition is philosophical, and we shouldn't impute philosophical definitions onto the Bible, and Paul didn't address my arguments for why Kane's definition of "choice” was philosophical.

I'll now respond to points (i) -> (vi).

Ad (i): This is to miss the point. All I needed to do was to demonstrate that it is false to claim that "the dictionary" defines "choose" by using, as an essential element, the notion of live alternative possibilities. I provides a sufficient amount of quotes by Dan above that all claim that "the dictionary" defines "choose" by including the idea of alternative possibility. So, it is false to claim that "the dictionary" defines "choose" by using the words: alternative, possible, option, etc.

In fact, as
Dan argues in this post, we can see that it his argument clearly depends on the idea that the dictionary definitions of "choose" include the words: alternatives, possibilities, options.

And this is why Dan states in that post, "I could go on, but you get the point." That is, he could go on giving definitions of "choose" that state that the "choosing" is among live "possibilities" or "alternatives.

What's more is that in the same post I just linked to, Dan admits that in a
previous post of mine, where I provide a few definitions of "choice", that they were consistent with determinism. Note well what Dan says here:

In our debate, I argued that the dictionary definition of choose rules out determinism. In Paul's recent rejoinder he states: “I cited numerous dictionaries that didn’t include a PAP (Principle of Alternate Possibilities) element”. (link) This is true, but misleading. Paul defined choice, but not choose.
See, as Dan makes clear, my definitions of "choice" not including the notion or words "possible alternatives" didn't land because Dan was defining "choose" and not "choice," and "choose" does include those words. See, when I used definitions of "choice" that were almost exactly identical to the definitions of "choose", Dan didn't say to those definitions what he said to my "choose" definitions! Dan allowed that those definitions were consistent with determinism. he then tried to side-step those definitions and claim that they didn't matter because he was defining "choose" and not "choice". The problem is, since those definitions of "choose" are almost identical to my "choice" definitions, then if the latter is allowed to be consistent with determinism, so is the former. Notice that to my claim that those definitions do not include the notion of "alternative possibilities," Dan says, "this is true" (emphasis mine). Thus, if they do not, and since they are virtually identical to my definitions of "choose", then "choose" does not include said idea.

Ad (ii): See answer to (i). I should not that I did make the same argument as the above in the post Dan responded to, just not as lengthy. So, Dan is wrong to say I didn't argue for my view.

However, I should say more. See, actually, neither Dan's dictionary definitions nor mine, at least a great many of them, are good definitions of "choose." For example, take this one of Dan's definitions:

The Wordsmyth English Dictionary: to select from two or more alternatives.

But of course this would include me nonchalantly reaching over and grabbing a Martini off a tray of drinks, without even looking where I was grabbing. It also does not rule out the mentally insane from freely choosing, since they do not have the requisite control needed to make free choices. Therefore, it is obvious that more needs to be said about "choose", and it is far from clear that "possible alternatives" are what is "essential" to "choose" (which I demonstrate above is not even included in numerous well-respected dictionaries, at all).

Now, let me define "choose".

Recall that Dan says to use the word "select," "pick," "take," etc., in your definition of "choose" is "tautological." Well, not obviously so. I would argue that a "choice" happens when you "select" or "pick" in a specific kind of way. If "pick" (say) were tautological, then Dan would have to say that I "choose" the Martin just because I took a random drink off a tray. Here Dan would admit that there were possible alternatives, and "selecting," or "taking" but no "choosing." However, many of his definitions simply say "to select out of possible alternatives." Again, then, the dictionary is just too problematic to make any solid argument on which the Arminian can stand to challenge the Calvinist to move off his position.

Now, my definition might be philosophical, but I'll address this criticism of Dan's when I get to (vi).

Choose = df to select freely out of a greater number of things, where this selecting is a mental action explained in terms of reasons, where a reason is a purpose, end, or goal for choosing one (or more) thing to make a selection out of a group of things, or an intentional object, which is about or directed at the future and opative in mood, i.e., wishing to pick x-thing and that it be good for x-thing to prevail in the world rather than y-thing being picked and prevailing in the world.

This looks good to me (and it is a combination of dictionary and philosophical definitions, taken from Oxford dictionary, Goetz and Talliaferro, and Ishtyaqui Haji), and is consistent with determinism. For it to be inconsistent, there would have to be some talk of "indeterminate" or "absent any antecedent conditions" or "the chooser must have been able to do other than choose x if he chose x, given the exact same history (or decree of God) up to the moment of the choosing," etc. But as it stands, and as was confirmed to me by Taliaferro and Goetz, the above definition is compatible with determinism (and I dare say they know what is and isn't compatible). Another benefit this definition has is that it isn't rigged. It works just as well for a libertarian model as it does a compatibilist model.

Ad (iii): This is only the case if you're assuming libertarianism. If a dictionary says "choose" is "selecting freely out of a great number", it is only problematic if you assume that "free" can only be possible on libertarianism. Yes, at this point we would have to debate whether "freedom" can be had on either determinism or libertarianism (for let us remember,
there are many good arguments that attempt to show that indeterminism does not provide us with the kind of control needed for freedom1) which, of course, takes us far away from any dictionary/common man argument. Now instead of engaging in a look-and-see what the dictionary says discussion, we are engaged in a metaphysical discussion that has raged over two millennia. So, Dan is free to claim that my definitions which define "choose" as "select freely from a greater number" involve a debate over the metaphysics of free will so we can see which views (libertarianism or determinism) allow ascriptions of "free" to be made, but this isn't to "restart" the argument. Rather, it is to show that he can't engage in making an argument just from the dictionaries words. So, when you say "a person is able to choose" you are not "right back to possibilities."

Another thing Dan says is that my definitions, which say, "select from among a greater number of things," means "possibilities" because it says "things." However, this seems obviously strained. Things is just the collection of stuff, if you will, from which you choose something, rather than another thing, out of. The mere presence of the word "thing" in the definition does not imply "actually possible thing" unless you're assuming libertarianism, which is just what we're supposed to be debating.

Ad (iv): See (AD (ii)) above.

Ad (v): This is false. Semi-compatibilists only admit that determinism is incompatible with "could do otherwise" or a freedom that "requires alternative possibilities." Only if "could do otherwise" or "alternative possibilities" is essential to freedom would we say determinism is not compatible with freedom. But, since it is far from clear that a freedom worth having requires the above (as even some libertarians (e.g., narrow source incompatibilists) have admitted), then it is far from clear that semi-compatibilist is inconsistent with freedom.

Ad (vi): I'll say it up front: I have no problem with a philosophical definition being used when trying to understand God's revelation. In fact, I find the denial of that idea extreme. What of all the analytic theologians (e.g., Crisp, Rea, Anderson)? What of the early church and the formulation of Christian doctrine? It seems to me obvious that we use philosophical definitions to make clear certain concepts used in the Bible. If Dan objects to this, I only shrug my shoulders. I guess I can also play the et tu card. See, Dan thinks that his definitions are not "philosophical". Unfortunately, this isn't the case. Let's see how the Harper Collins Dictionary of Philosophy defines "choosing":

Choosing = df A voluntary act preceded by deliberation; conscious selection; the mental act that causes an action to take place which is usually the on preferred from among alternative courses of action. (Peter Angeles, The Harper Collins Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd ed., 1992, 46, emphasis mine).

What do you know, looks like Dan has been trying to impose a philosophical definition on Scripture!

I guess another response here might be that I deny that Kane's definition is a "sophisticated philosophical definition."

2. It is false that however common man defines a term the Bible so defines that term, and we know how common man defines a term by going to the dictionary. In fact, sometimes common man is just wrong.

In response to this
Dan wrote,

Then God would either not use the term choose or deny the term or explain what He means by it.
I just find this false. Where does Dan get this idea? God didn't tell him. It looks like an ad hoc constraint conjured up to save Dan's argument. See, let's take two words:

(i) Know


(ii) See

The Bible uses these words. God never explains what he means by it. And, common man has held a wrong or severely deficient view of these words. Take (ii). There are various views of perception. Many common men have held to naive realism. This is probably wrong. At any rate, God never defines the view. And, the dictionary is helpless here. It simply says "to perceive with the eyes." But Dan must not allow this definition for the reasons he didn't allow many of my "choose" ones. The definition is so vague that it could be obviously false, and it hopelessly insufficient as a definition,
here's some reasons why. So, I maintain that philosophical analysis can help here. Lastly, take (i). Here's a dictionary definition: "to perceive or understand as fact or truth; to apprehend clearly and with certainty: I know the situation fully." Now, to anyone even remotely aware of the current discussions in epistemology, this is likewise inadequate, and probably false. It very easily could be read to support internalism. Is Dan going to argue that:

[P1*] The Bible uses the word know.

[P2*] Know is inconsistent with externalism [insert dictionary argument].

[C1*] Therefore, the Bible rules out externalism.

I take it that this shows that Dan's argument is invalid via the method of testing for validity by logical counter-example. Is Dan going to argue now against Plantinga et al? If so,
does he have an answer for Bergmann?

3. It is not obvious that "the common man" has a default setting for libertarianism.

Dan has assumed many times that common man is a libertarian. I offered empirical evidence denying this assumption. I have also asked than Dan argue for this empirical claim of his, no argument has been forthcoming. In fact, since Dan defined "common man" as all who have been, and are members of the Church of Christ, then he admits that there have been, and are, thousands of compatibilists among the rank of "common men."

But, even if common man did have said setting, this doesn't seem strong enough to make Dan's point. Common man gets a lot of things about how God runs his universe flat out wrong.2 Dan has argued (as I cite him above) that God would explain this different use of words to them. I answered that this idea of his seems contrived. I also showed that it was false. And now I will add that it begs the question since the Calvinist argues that we have just such revelations from God from which we can assume some kind of divine determinism. But even if we didn't, who says God must tell us now? Surely he could wait until heaven to tell us that he determines all events and compatibilism is true---explaining how he brings freedom and determinism together; which, if I may speculate, might be easier than explaining, if he does, and if we could understand it, how he brought the divine and human together so that there is one person who is fully human and fully divine!).


These points (along with the dozens of others both Steve and I have made) really seem to undercut Dan's argument. Here I simply try to explain the reasons why Calvinists do not and should not find Dan's argument persuasive at all. As I said above, I think Dan's argument here is about as wrong as you can go, and wrong at many points too, with an argument. But I realize he and his readers like it. Given the amount of energy and time expended on it, I really don't see that any progress will be made. So I simply lay out some reasons to think Dan's argument unpersuasive, some reasons for thinking it unsound, and I leave it to the readers to decide. No doubt many Arminians will be unmoved the the counter arguments made here. That's fine. Besides these counter arguments are the positive Biblical and extra-biblical reasons for thinking compatibilism true and libertarianism unable to square with the Bible, as well as possibly failing to provide enough control for freedom. These arguments would also need to be weighed in considering Dan's argument. Overall I think for all the time and energy defended, and all the lauding of Dan's argument by Arminians, it was nothing but a paper tiger. I know he feels different, we'll have to leave it at that.


See further: Lucky Libertarianism, M. Almeida and M. Bernstein, Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition, Vol. 113, No. 2 (Mar., 2003), pp. 93-119; Indeterminism, Explanation, and Luck, Ishtiyaque Haji, The Journal of Ethics, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Jul., 2000), pp. 211-235; Alternative Possibilities, Luck, and Moral Responsibility, Ishtiyaque Haji, The Journal of Ethics, Vol. 7, No. 3 (2003), pp. 253-275; Libertarianism and the Luck Objection (Comments on Robert Kane's Presentation), Ishtiyaque Haji, The Journal of Ethics, Vol. 4, No. 4, Free Will and Moral Responsibility: Three Recent Views (Dec., 2000), pp. 329-337; Alfred R. Mele (1999), Kane, Luck, and the Significance of Free Will, Philosophical Explorations 2 (2):96-104; Alfred R. Mele (2005), Libertarianism, Luck, and Control, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 86 (3):381-407; Peter van Inwagen, Free Will Remains a Mystery, Oxford Handbook of Free Will, 158-177, esp. 167-175; and Sean Choi, The Libertarian Dilemma: A Study in the Logic and Metaphysics of Indeterminist Free Will, (VDM Verlag, 2008).

2 As C.S. Lewis reminds us: "Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have. So let us leave behind all these boys' philosophies--these over simple answers. The problem is not simple and the answer is not going to be simple either."