Saturday, December 12, 2009

Children of a lesser god

Before I respond to Reppert’s latest comments about Calvinism, I think we need to define our terms. Reppert’s objection actually consists of several different objections bundled into one. So we have to disambiguate the objections. And, by way of preliminaries, we need to define what a possible world is, as well as what makes it possible.

In freewill theism, a possible world is frequently indexed to the ability of the human agent. The ability of a human agent to do or choose otherwise. And that forking path is captured by two or more possible worlds or world-segments.

In Calvinism, by contrast, the freedom to do otherwise is indexed to the ability of God to do or choose otherwise.

Both Calvinism and freewill theism make room for possible worlds, but ground them in different agents.

In Calvinism, a possible world is God’s mental narrative of a possible world history. A complete, coherent story.

Put another way, a possible world is a measure of what God can possibly think (omniscience) and possibly do (omnipotence). How many different global stories can an infinite mind coherently imagine?

Not all possibilities are compossible. The same story can’t contain mutually exclusive events. But up to a point, the same story can have alternate endings–after which you have two different stories.

Because not all possibilities are compossible, this gives rise to alternate histories or alternate timelines. An alternate past or future. The only upper limit is what is conceivable for the mind of God.

Predestination involves God’s decision to instantiate a possible world.

However, predestination can also be recast in counterfactual terms. It was possible for Judas to remain faithful to Christ in the sense that it was possible for God conceive of, and therefore, to decree that alternate outcome. Different possible outcomes are both conceivable and decreeable. For God knows what God is capable of doing. And there’s no one thing that God is capable of doing.

You could say that God’s decree selects from a range of possible worlds. But you could also say that God’s decree selects from a range of decreeable worlds. A distinction between the actual decree and unexemplified decrees. For every possible world is a decreeable world.

Now for Reppert:

It is not clear that Calvinists have the motivation to evanglize based on the truth of certain subjunctive-conditional claims concerning what the oucome will be if they do or do not evanglize.The reason is that, given what God has predestined, the future is closed.

True. But we need to explicate that concept:

i) It is closed for the human agent. And, given the decree, it cannot turn out either way.

However, this doesn’t mean the decree was a given. God was free to decree otherwise. In that respect, the future was open for him (God).

ii) Yes, the future is closed, but not in isolation to past and present conditions. What you have, rather, is a system of internal relations. Changing one variable entails corresponding adjustments.

Suppose Smith witnesses to Jones and Jones is saved. Smith, however, has struggled with getting up the courage to witness to Jones. He wonders if it will make a difference as to Jones' salvation whether he preaches or not. He knows that his preaching will not cause Jones to become one of the elect, since the elect were chosen unconditionally before the foundation of the world.

i) True. But this doesn’t mean the outcome is insulated from prior conditions (unless it’s the direct effect of a miracle).

ii) Yes, there’s an asymmetry between divine and human agency. However, to take an illustration, a backlit tree casts a shadow. The sun causes the shadow, not vice versa. But barring a miracle, you can’t eliminate the shadow while you leave the other variables intact.

Can the statement "If I don't witness to Jones, Jones won't be saved" be true if in fact Jones has either been unconditionally elected or unconditionally reprobated.

It is true if God has decreed that Smith’s testimony is instrumental in Jones’ conversion.

Perhaps Reppert is tripped up by the notion of “unconditionality.”

What this means, however, is that there are no autonomous human variables which condition God’s elective act.

By contrast, this doesn’t mean there are no teleological conditions which God himself has decreed as instrumental factors in the realization of his appointed ends.

What would make such a statement true or false? Any world in which Jones doesn't witness is a world which God did not predestine. Asking the counterfactual question is assume that there are other possible worlds, but there are no other possible worlds.

There are other possible, decreeable worlds in which Jones doesn’t witness to Smith, as a result of which Smith goes to hell (in that other possible decreeable world).

A possible world is a set of logical compossibilities. The fact that it’s indeterminate (in the sense that God didn’t decree to instantiate that mental narrative) in no way renders it logically impossible. God can conceive of many things he never decreed.

The statement is false in relation to the actual world (assuming, ex hypothesi, that Jones is instrument in the conversion of Smith in the actual world), but true in relation to one or more possible worlds which encapsulate the alternate outcome.

Ultimately what you are asking if you are asking the counterfactual question of "What would have happened if I had not witnessed" is to ask "What would God have predestined to have happen to Jones if God hadn't predestined that I should witness to him?" I can't see how to make sense of the statement "In the nearest possible world in which I don't witness to Jones, Jones is reprobated." Is there even such a possible world?

Why does Reppert find that puzzling? Does Reppert suppose, on Calvinist assumptions, that God can’t imagine a reprobate counterpart to an elect Jones?

Perhaps the underlying problem is that freewill theism hasn’t given much thought to divine agency. It is too preoccupied with human action theory.

For freewill theism, God exists to grant our wishes. Our personal, customized genie. But we mustn’t pop the bottle too often lest he (or she!) decide that life in a bottle is a bit confining.

The irony of freewill theism is that, by debasing God, it debases man. the creature of a lesser God is a lesser creature. The creature of a greater God is a greater creature.

A painting by da Vinci is a greater painting than a painting by Andy Warhol–because da Vinci is a greater artist. Indeed, there’s a sense in which a da Vinci painting is greater than Warhol himself.

It seems that, when we deliberate and decide, it seems to us, and must seem to us, as if the future is genuinely open, that we can choose one thing or another, and that no particular choice of ours is guaranteed. We envision what the world will look like if we do one thing, and envision what the world will look like when we do another thing. Both possibilities seem open to us when we decide. But if Calvinistic determinism is true (and by the way I once did a post arguing that you could be a five-point Calvinists and a libertarian on free will), then in fact there aren't any possible worlds in which we do anything other than what we do, so long as God's predestinating is determined by his nature.

This is confused on several grounds:

i) Report is shifting from the metaphysics of modality to the psychology of deliberation. Perhaps he assumes the ontological availability of these hypothetical outcomes is what underwrites our deliberations.

But even on its own terms, how can that be the case? In his bedroom, at 10:01 PM, May 18, Brad decides to take Tiffany Hofsteder to the prom. In the bedroom next door, at 10:01 PM, May 18, Chad decides to take Tiffany Hofsteder to the prom.

Well, they can’t both have her as their prom date, now can they? So the psychology of human deliberation severely underwrites the ontology of libertarian freedom.

Does Reppert really think that we can do whatever we can imagine? Wouldn’t that turn the world into a futuristic amusing park where every wish comes true? Sounds like fun, but in my experience, reality is far less adventurous.

ii) Yes, there are possible worlds in which we do something else. That doesn’t make those are live possibilities for us, in this world. Does Reppert think every imaginable choice is a viable option?

Sola Fide Between The Apostles And The Reformation

In case it would be helpful to some readers who aren't following the discussion, here's something I wrote in the comments section of a recent thread:

A collection of some of our articles on pre-Reformation beliefs can be found here. On justification in particular, see here and here, for example.

Given that some of the advocates of justification through works prior to the Reformation expressed their view in opposition to people in their day who were arguing for justification through faith alone, why would you claim that nobody believed in justification through faith alone during that timeframe? When a church father criticizes people who believe in justification through faith alone, who is he addressing if no such people existed? It seems that a lot of people who make the claim you're making either aren't aware of this sort of evidence or haven't given it much thought. You can't have church fathers or other pre-Reformation sources criticizing people who advocated sola fide in their day if nobody was advocating sola fide. At a minimum, then, you ought to acknowledge that there were some such advocates of the concept prior to the Reformation.

A common response at this point is to acknowledge what I've said above, but then dismiss all of the pre-Reformation advocates of sola fide as heretics. But that approach won't work either. First, the mainstream sources who criticize such advocates of sola fide don't claim that all of these people were heretics. The assumption that they were all heretics is dubious. Secondly, some of the people criticizing them acknowledge the orthodoxy of the sola fide advocates, despite their criticism of those people. Third, the pre-Reformation advocacy of sola fide comes from some mainstream sources as well, not just sources who were criticized by the mainstream. It's true that justification through works was a more popular view among professing Christians prior to the Reformation, as it is today and as it is among humans in general. Justification through works is a popular concept. (So are a lot of other errors.) But justification through faith alone was one of the views that existed during the era between the apostles and the Reformation, alongside the many and contradictory forms of justification through works that existed during that timeframe.

We should also keep in mind that while the absence of a doctrine during the patristic era or the medieval era, for example, would be significant, an absence from the Bible would be even more significant. The Bible has more authority than later sources, and its books were written over a period of more than a thousand years. If you (erroneously) think that justification through faith alone was absent during the patristic centuries, for instance, and that fact is significant in your eyes, then the absence of justification through works in a more authoritative source that covers a longer period of time (the Bible) should seem even more significant to you. There's no way to avoid addressing the Evangelical appeal to scripture. While other data, like the patristic evidence, is significant and should be addressed, the Biblical evidence is even more significant. Asserting that nobody believed in sola fide between the apostles and the Reformation doesn't get you far. You need more than an assertion, and you need to address other lines of evidence, such as the Bible.

The Historicity Of The Slaughter Of The Innocents

BK of CADRE Comments recently posted a good article on the Slaughter of the Innocents. I added some points of my own in the comments section of the thread.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Revenge is a dish best served cold

Spider-Man 3 was on TV last night. Due to mixed reviews, I hadn’t bothered to see it on DVD.

For now I’ll bypass what I think of the film overall and focus on one aspect. The central theme of the film is the notion that forgiveness is better than revenge. There’s an undercurrent of moral relativism, bordering on moral equivalence, in the film. And that’s deliberate, as interviews with Sam Raimi make clear.

The treatment of revenge in Spider-Man 3 illustrates the inability of secular ethics to adequately deal with evil. In many Hollywood films and TV shows, the hero is made to feel guilty about his vengeful feelings. The hero is conflicted and apologetic about his vengeful impulses. And Spider-Man 3 is no exception. This is epitomized by Aunt May’s prim, good-as-gold homily at one point in the film.

It’s not that Hollywood can’t revel in revenge. But gleeful, guilt-free revenge is typically assigned to a juicy villain. For the typical film, vengeance, while it may sometimes be excusable on the grounds of some mitigating factor, like extreme provocation, is fundamental wrong.

That’s ironic since, from the viewpoint secular ethics, there’s no reason why vengeance would be always be out-of-bounds. What’s the source of this inhibition? This disapproval?

I chalk it up to a secularized version of Christian ethics. Because vengeance is problematic in Christian ethics, this has influenced the general culture, including Hollywood directors and screenwriters. Yet the secularized version loses some key qualifications.

In Biblical ethics and theology, revenge is double-edged. On the one hand, there was an avenger of blood in the Mosaic law. The imprecatory Psalms call on God to exact judgment on evildoers. This also carries over into the NT (e.g. Rev 6:10).

So, fundamentally, a vengeful impulse is not intrinsically evil. To the contrary, it can be the pious expression of righteous indignation.

On the other hand, vengeance is a morally and spiritually hazardous emotion for fallen men to entertain. Even if the feeling is objectively just and justifiable, it easily plays into our sinful predispositions.

It also reflects an itchy, overrealized eschatology. A premature demand for the Day of Judgment. For God frequently brings good out of evil.

So Christians are ordinarily required to be forgiving and forbearing–with important exceptions–both for their own benefit and the benefit of others.

It’s a delicate balance. For, in a fallen world, acting in the best interests of one party may come at the expense of another. In case of conflict, the interests of the injured party should normally take precedence over the interests of the offender. But if you personally are the injured party, then you have more latitude to be forbearing.

Who is my brother?

Before I proceed, I’ll repeat a distinction I recently made:

In Scripture, there are different types of love. Loving the brethren isn't interchangeable with loving one's neighbor or loving one's enemy. Bible-believing Christians could (and should) love Roman Catholics without loving them as fellow-Christians.

Moving along:


“Out of curiosity and out of lack of knowledge about U.S. Protestant history, how long has it been the doctrinal position of Protestants to make it explicit that they will in no way regard Catholics and EO's as Christians? Are there official, formal documents from various denominations and church bodies dating back X number of years stating either directly or indirectly that Catholics and EOs are not to be thought of as Christians? Or is this an informal, and perhaps somewhat of a recent phenomenon, that's generally and widely agreed upon, and which really should be known by both Protestant leaders and by Protestant laity that it's truly a mistake of significant magnitude to ever refer to Catholics and EO's as Christians?”

1.To answer the question directly, when the Westminster Confession speaks of denominations which “have so degenerated, as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan” (WCF 25:5), I suspect that it’s primarily alluding to the church of Rome.

2.However, the question is misleading. If a denomination defines its own theological identity, then it will, in the process, whether implicitly or explicitly, differentiate itself from the competition. In that case, it isn’t necessary for the competition to issue a separate statement. For the initial exercise is logically reciprocal.

If, for example, Tridentine theology defines itself in specific contrast to Protestant theology, then it isn’t necessary for a Protestant denomination to return the favor. By defining itself, Trent has automatically defined itself in relation to the competition. That’s how it wants the competition to view it. Classical Protestants don’t have to differentiate themselves from Trent, for Trent has already done that for us.

While the definition was unilateral in execution, it is bilateral or multilateral in its implications.

Of course, if we think a denomination is defining itself in very self-serving terms, to the expense of others, we might take issue with that self-serving definition. Still, that self-definition supplies a logical point of reference.

3.Apropos (2), if, say, Trent, or Vatican II, or the Synod of Jerusalem, implicitly or explicitly define Protestant theology as a false gospel, then we as Protestants don’t really need to build a second fence. Whoever builds the first fence will suffice for both parties. If you build a fence, I don’t need to build a parallel fence. If you build a fence facing my backyard, I don’t need to build another fence facing your backyard. A double fence would be redundant.

4.Of course, we’re still at liberty to evaluate the opposing definition on our own terms. Is the incipient modernism of Vatican II consistent with the Gospel? Is the Tridentine theology of the (seven) sacraments, Purgatory, indulgences, justification, the Mass, and/or the cult of the saints compatible with the Gospel?

5.Historically, Eastern Orthodoxy is an outlier in American culture, so we may be less familiar with what it stands for. Here are some examples, from the Synod of Jerusalem (1672) of how it demarcates its theological identity in contrast to Protestant/Reformed theology:


To the candid and lovers of truth, what hath been said will be sufficient, or rather, so to speak, more than enough to enable them to understand what is the doctrine of the Eastern Church, and that she hath never at any time been in agreement with the Calvinists in their novelties (nor in fact with any others besides herself), nor hath she recognised him {Cyril Lucar ELC} whom they contend was of their party, as being so. For the complete refutation, however, and uprooting of the designs which have been formed, contrarily to the glory of God, against the sacred bulwarks of our Orthodox religion, and, so to speak, for the complete demolition of the blasphemies contained in the vaunted <110> Chapters {of the 1629 Confession ELC}, we have thought it right to put forth certain Questions and Chapters {the 18 decrees below ELC} corresponding in number to those written by Cyril, and diametrically opposing the same, wherein he hath, as it were (as hath been supposed many times), whetted his tongue against God, {cf. Psalm 43:4} so that they may be called a refutation and correction of the said Chapters of Cyril. And the order which is there observed will be followed in these which will be put forth by us, so that each of the Faithful may be able to compare, and judge of both, and easily know the Orthodoxy of the Eastern Church, and the falsehood of the heretics. Where, however, necessity requireth, we shall omit some things, or add some other things tending to the accurate understanding of the matter. And we shall use words, entire sentences, and periods {sic ELC} set out there, so that we may not seem to fight against words and Orthodox sentences rather than against novelties and impious dogmas.

Albeit, in prayers and supplications unto Him, we say the Saints are intercessors, and, above all, the undefiled Mother of the very God the Word; the holy Angels too — whom we know to <121> be set over us — the Apostles, Prophets, Martyrs, Pure Ones, and all whom He hath glorified as having served Him faithfully. With whom we reckon also the Bishops and Priests, as standing about the Altar of God, and righteous men eminent for virtue. For that we should pray one for another, and that the prayer of the righteous availeth much, {James 5:16} and that God heareth the Saints rather than those who are steeped in sins, we learn from the Sacred Oracles. And not only are the Saints while on their pilgrimage regarded as mediators and intercessors for us with God, but especially after their death, when all reflective vision being done away, they behold clearly the Holy Trinity; in whose infinite light they know what concerneth us.

That the dignity of the Bishop is so necessary in the Church, that without him, neither Church nor Christian could either be or be spoken of. For he, as a successor of the Apostles, having received in continued succession by the imposition of hands and the invocation of the All-holy Spirit the grace that is given him of the Lord of binding and loosing, is a living image of God upon the earth, and by a most ample participation of the operation of the Holy Spirit, who is the chief functionary, is a fountain of all the Mysteries [Sacraments] of the Catholic Church, through which we obtain salvation.

And the one having received the dignity of the Priesthood <128> from the Bishop, can only perform Holy Baptism, and Prayer-oil, minister sacrificially the unbloody Sacrifice, and impart to the people the All-holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, anoint the baptised with the Holy Myron [Chrism], crown the Faithful legally marrying, pray for the sick, and that all men may be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, {cf. 1 Timothy 2:4} and especially for the remission and forgiveness of the sins of the Faithful, living and dead.

But the High Priest is also the minister of all these, since he is in fact, as hath been said before, the fountain of the Divine Mysteries and graces, through the Holy Spirit, and he alone consecrateth the Holy Myron. And the ordinations of all orders and degrees in the Church are proper to him; and in a primary and highest sense he <129> bindeth and looseth, and his sentence is approved by God, as the Lord hath promised. {Matthew 16:19} And he preacheth the Sacred Gospel, and contendeth for the Orthodox faith, and those that refuse to hear he casteth out of the Church as heathens and publicans, {cf. Matthew 18:17} and he putteth heretics under excommunication and anathema, and layeth down his own life for the sheep. {cf. John 10:11}

But it is well said by one of the Fathers, that it is not easy to find a heretic that hath understanding. For when these forsake the Church, they are forsaken by the Holy Spirit, and there remaineth in them neither understanding nor light, but only darkness and blindness.

We believe to be members of the Catholic Church all the Faithful, and only the Faithful; who, forsooth, having received the blameless Faith of the Saviour Christ, from Christ Himself, and the Apostles, and the Holy Œcumenical Synods, adhere to the same without wavering.

We believe the Catholic Church to be <131> taught by the Holy Spirit. For he is the true Paraclete; whom Christ sendeth from the Father, {cf. John 25:26} to teach the truth, {cf. John 26:13} and to drive away darkness from the minds of the Faithful. The teaching of the Holy Spirit, however, doth not immediately, but through the holy Fathers and Leaders of the Catholic Church, illuminate the Church. For as all Scripture is, and is called, the word of the Holy Spirit; not that it was spoken immediately by Him, but that it was spoken by Him through the Apostles and Prophets; so also the Church is taught indeed by the Life-giving Spirit, but through the medium of the holy Fathers and Doctors (whose rule is acknowledged to be the Holy and Œcumenical Synods; for we shall not cease to say this ten thousand times); and, therefore, not only are we persuaded, but do profess as true and undoubtedly certain, that it is impossible for the Catholic Church to err, or at all be deceived, or ever to choose falsehood instead of truth. For the All-holy Spirit continually operating through the holy Fathers and Leaders faithfully ministering, delivereth the Church from error of every kind.

We believe a man to be not simply justified through faith alone, but through faith which worketh through love, that is to say, through faith and works. But [the notion] that faith fulfilling the function of a hand layeth hold on the righteousness which is in Christ, and applieth it unto us for salvation, we know to be far from all Orthodoxy. For faith so understood would be possible in all, and so none could miss salvation, which is obviously false. But on the contrary, we rather believe that it is not the correlative of faith, but the faith which is in us, justifieth through works, with Christ. But we regard works not as witnesses certifying our calling, but as being fruits in themselves, through which faith becometh efficacious, and as in themselves meriting, through the Divine promises {cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10} that each of the Faithful may receive what is done through his own body, whether it be good or bad, forsooth.

We believe Holy Baptism, which was instituted by the Lord, and is conferred in the name of the Holy Trinity, to be of the highest necessity. For without it none is able to be saved, as the Lord saith, “Whosoever is not born of water and of the Spirit, shall in no wise enter into the Kingdom of the Heavens.” {John 3:5} And, therefore, it is necessary even for infants, since they also are subject to original sin, and without Baptism are not able to obtain its remission. Which the Lord shewed when he said, not of some only, but simply and absolutely, “Whosoever is not born [again],” which is the same as saying, “All that after the coming of Christ the Saviour would enter into the Kingdom of the Heavens must be <140> regenerated.” And forasmuch as infants are men, and as such need salvation; needing salvation, they need also Baptism. And those that are not regenerated, since they have not received the remission of hereditary sin, are, of necessity, subject to eternal punishment, and consequently cannot without Baptism be saved; so that even infants ought, of necessity, to be baptised. Moreover, infants are saved, as is said in Matthew; {Matthew 19:12} but he that is not baptised is not saved. And consequently even infants must of necessity be baptised.

Now the matter of Baptism is pure water, and no other liquid. And it is performed by the Priest only, or in a case of unavoidable necessity, by another man, provided he be Orthodox, and have the intention proper to Divine Baptism. And the effects of Baptism are, to speak concisely, firstly, the remission of the hereditary transgression, and of any sins whatsoever which the baptised may have committed. Secondly, it delivereth him from the eternal punishment, to which he was liable, as well for original sin, as for mortal sins he may have individually committed. Thirdly, it giveth to such immortality; for in justifying them from past sins, it maketh them temples of God.

The Body Itself of the Lord and the Blood That are in the Mystery of the Eucharist ought to be honoured in the highest manner, and adored with latria. For one is the adoration of the Holy Trinity, and of the Body and Blood of the Lord. Further, that it is a true and propitiatory Sacrifice offered for all Orthodox, living and dead; and for the benefit of all, as is set forth expressly in the prayers of the Mystery delivered to the Church by the Apostles, in accordance with the command they received of the Lord.

This Mystery of the Sacred Eucharist can be performed by none other, <150> except only by an Orthodox Priest, who hath received his priesthood from an Orthodox and Canonical Bishop, in accordance with the teaching of the Eastern Church. This is compendiously the doctrine, and true confession, and most ancient tradition of the Catholic Church concerning this Mystery; which must not be departed from in any way by such as would be Orthodox, and who reject the novelties and profane vanities of heretics; but necessarily the tradition of the institution must be kept whole and unimpaired. For those that transgress the Catholic Church of Christ rejecteth and anathematiseth.

And such as though envolved in mortal sins have not departed in despair, but have, while still living in the body, repented, though without bringing forth any fruits of repentance — by pouring forth tears, forsooth, by kneeling while watching in prayers, by afflicting themselves, by relieving the poor, and in fine {in summation ELC} by shewing forth by their works their love towards God and their neighbour, and which the Catholic Church hath from the beginning rightly called satisfaction — of these and such like the souls depart into Hades, and there endure the punishment due to the sins they have committed. But they are aware of their future release from thence, and are delivered by the Supreme Goodness, through the prayers <152> of the Priests, and the good works which the relatives of each do for their Departed; especially the unbloody Sacrifice availing in the highest degree; which each offereth particularly for his relatives that have fallen asleep, and which the Catholic and Apostolic Church offereth daily for all alike; it being, of course, understood that we know not the time of their release. For that there is deliverance for such from their direful condition, and that before the common resurrection and judgment we know and believe; but when we know not.

Nevertheless they [the Scriptures] should not be read by all, but only by those who with fitting research have inquired <153> into the deep things of the Spirit, and who know in what manner the Divine Scriptures ought to be searched, and taught, and in fine read.

The Saints being, and acknowledged by the Catholic Church to be, intercessors, as hath been said in Eighth Chapter {sic; Decree VIII above ELC}, it is time to say that we honour them as friends of God, and as praying for us to the God of all. And the honour we pay them is twofold; — according to one manner which we call hyperdulia, we honour the Mother of God the Word. For though indeed the Theotokos {Mary ELC} be servant of the only God, yet is she also His Mother, as having borne in the flesh one of the Trinity; wherefore also is she hymned, as being beyond compare, above as well all Angels as Saints; wherefore, also, we pay her the adoration of hyperdulia. But according to the other <157>manner, which we call dulia, we adore, or rather honour, the holy Angels, Apostles, Prophets, Martyrs, and, in fine, all the Saints. Moreover, we adore and honour the wood of the precious and life-giving Cross, whereon our Saviour underwent this world-saving passion, and the sign of the life-giving Cross, the Manger at Bethlehem, through which we have been delivered from irrationality, {In allusion to the manger out of which the irrational animals eat their food. JNWBR} the place of the Skull [Calvary], the life-giving Sepulchre, and the other holy objects of adoration; as well the holy Gospels, as the sacred vessels, wherewith the unbloody Sacrifice is performed. And by annual commemorations, and popular festivals, and sacred edifices and offerings; we do respect and honour the Saints. And then we adore, and honour, and kiss the Eikons of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the most holy Theotokos, and of all the Saints, also of the holy Angels, as they appeared to some of the Forefathers and Prophets.

Let us briefly suffice for the reputation of the falsehoods of the adversaries, which they have devised against the Eastern Church, alleging in support of their falsehoods the incoherent and impious Chapters of the said Cyril {Lucar ELC}. And let it not be for a sign to be contradicted {cf. Luke 2:34} of those heretics that unjustly calumniate us, as though they spake truly; but for a sign to be believed, that is for reformation of their innovations, and for their return to the Catholic and Apostolic Church; in which their forefathers also were of old, and assisted at those Synods and contests against heretics, which these now reject and revile. For it was unreasonable on their part, especially as they considered themselves to be wise, to have listened to men that were lovers of self; and profane, and that spake not from the Holy Spirit, but from the prince of lies, <174> and to have forsaken the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, which God hath purchased with the Blood of His own Son; {cf. Acts 20:28} and to have abandoned her. For otherwise there will overtake those that have separated from the Church the pains that are reserved for heathens and publicans; but the Lord who hath ever protected her against all enemies, will not neglect the Catholic Church; to Him be glory and dominion unto the ages of the ages. Amen.

In the year of Salvation 1672, on the 16th [day] of the month of March, in the Holy City of Jerusalem: —
I, DOSITHEUS, by the mercy of God, Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem and of all Palestine, declare and confess this to be the faith of the Eastern Church.

{Chapter VI. concludes with more than five full pages of signatories, omitted here. ELC}

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Libertarian brainwashing


You go to professional philosophers to determine whether determinism is a natural belief?

Considering the fact that action theories are philosophical theories, why wouldn’t we poll the folks who are conversant with action theory?

People who have had naturalistic determinism pounded into their brains from day one in grad school? You're kidding, aren't you.

The hoi polloi, as Vytautas would call them (including introductory philosophy students), invariably accept libertarian free will. They have to be exposed either to naturalism or to Calvinism before they will even consider the idea that our actions are all determined.

For the sake of argument, let’s stipulate that this is true.

i) Reppert defends the “natural” belief in LFW. And he substantiates that claim by also claiming that the hoi polloi, including introductory philosophy majors, “invariably” accept LFW.

But doesn’t that strike you as an oddly deterministic way to defend the natural belief in LFW? To begin with, wouldn’t a “natural” belief be a predetermined belief? The involuntary result of natural conditioning?

Even if it could be overcome, people didn’t initially choose to believe in LFW. Rather, that’s something which comes naturally.

ii) Then, to make matters worse, Reppert says that, left to their own devices, they “invariably” believe in LFW. But, once again, doesn’t that strike you as an oddly deterministic way to defend the natural belief in LFW?

I mean, if they really had LFW, then wouldn’t we expect some variability on their pretheoretical beliefs about freedom and responsibility? Aren’t they at liberty to accept something other than libertarianism?

iii) Then, to top it off, when confronted by the fact that 86.3% of professional philosophers and grad students (in philosophy) reject LFW, Reppert discounts this statistic on the grounds that they were brainwashed into rejecting LFW in grad school. But, once more, doesn’t that strike you as a oddly deterministic way to defend the natural belief in LFW?

After all, if philosophy majors really had LFW, then why would they be so susceptible to social conditioning and operant conditioning? Don’t they have the freedom to resist peer pressure?

So, Reppert has defended LFW by appealing to such deterministic mechanisms as natural conditioning, social conditioning, and operant conditioning. Seems like a self-defeating argument to me.

iv) BTW, the fact that Reppert was an avid Obama supporter enjoys a high correlation with his academic affiliations. So should we chalk that up to peer pressure?

v) However, let’s to back to the operating assumption. Do professional philosophers constitute a poor sample group? What is Reppert’s alternative? Does he think we should conduct one of those man-on-the-street interviews where a talk show host leaves the TV studio, shoves a microphone in the face of random pedestrians on the sidewalks of Manhattan or LA, and poses the following question:

Which action theory do you accept or lean toward?

i) Compatibilism
ii) Semicompatibilism
iii) Fatalism
iv) Mysterianism
v) Revisionism
vi) Substance-dualist libertarianism
vii) Agent-causal theory
vi) Noncausal free agency
vii) Event-causal free agency
viii) Hard incompatibilism
ix) Freewill subjectivism
x) None of the above

Needless to say, it requires a certain amount of philosophical background to even know what LFW is. Or determinism. Or variants of each.

The idea that we are, in some absolute sense, guilty before God for the things we have done, and liable to everlasting punishment for such misdeeds even though our actions are determined, ultimately, by divine choice, is a thesis that people like Dennett would find simply horrifying and barbaric.

Apparently, Reppert can’t remember his own words. Here’s the statement (of his) that I was originally responding to:

All of which goes to show that belief in determinism, with or without a predestinating God, is a profoundly unnatural belief.

Notice the explicit rider in his statement: “with or without a predestinating God.”

Is determinism a profoundly unnatural belief?

Victor Reppert said...

All of which goes to show that belief in determinism, with or without a predestinating God, is a profoundly unnatural belief.

Let's compare that assertion with polling data on where professional philosophers come down on the freewill debate:

The PhilPapers Survey was a survey of professional philosophers and others on their philosophical views, carried out in November 2009. The Survey was taken by 3226 respondents, including 1803 philosophy faculty members and/or PhDs and 829 philosophy graduate students.

The PhilPapers Metasurvey was a concurrent survey of professional philosophers and other concerning their predictions of the results of the Survey. The Metasurvey was taken by 727 respondents including 438 professional philosophers and PhDs and 210 philosophy graduate students.

Free will: compatibilism, libertarianism, or no free will?

Accept or lean toward: compatibilism (59%)
Other (14.9%)
Accept or lean toward: libertarianism (13.7%)
Accept or lean toward: no free will (12.2%)

Question: if determinism is a "profoundly unnatural belief," then why do only 13.7% of respondents accept or lean toward libertarianism? Sounds like Reppert is profoundly out of touch with the philosophical consensus in his very own field.

Apostate rentboy: see ad

John Loftus has done a post sort of responding, in part, to something Jason Engwer posted:

Because of his refusal Christians are mocking Dawkins, seen at Triablogue and especially by James White, who calls this refusal “Amazing Arrogance”.

As usual, Loftus’ emotions and chronic self-absorption interfere with his reading comprehension. The subject of Jason’s post was not whether Dawkins should debate Craig. Rather, the subject of his post was the way in which Dawkins misrepresented Craig’s credentials. Either Dawkins is willfully ignorant or simply dishonest. Neither explanation is to his credit.

I suspect Dawkins is merely mocking Craig. He surely knows who Craig is by now. He's using the now famous Courtier's Reply in response. Everyone knows that Dawkins does not have a philosophical/theological background so he would probably lose such a debate (at least in the minds of most Christians), just as Christopher Hitchens lost his debate with Craig, especially since Craig is a master debater.

i) Fear of losing may well be why Dawkins has avoided a debate with Craig. However, that’s not the reason Dawkins gave. So Loftus must think that Dawkins was dissembling.

That’s an odd way to defend Dawkins, but I guess you have to make the best of the hand you’re dealt.

ii) At the same time, the fact that Dawkins has no philosophical/theological background didn’t inhibit him from writing a whole book on the subject. If Dawkins was qualified to write the God Delusion, then he’s qualified to debate Craig. If, however, he wasn’t qualified to write the God Delusion, then Loftus would do his loyal little band of followers a favor by writing a review of the God Delusion in which he points out its many deficiencies, and as result of which readers shouldn’t waste their time and money on such a book.

iii) Moreover, it’s not just that he avoids debating men outside his field of expertise. To my knowledge, Dawkins has yet to debate any prominent representative of intelligent design theory.

The disingenuous goal of the Christians calling for such a debate is simply to embarrass Dawkins, not unlike the white supremacists who wanted to embarrass black heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson. Johnson was arguably the best boxer of the past century, or at least close to being equal to Muhammad Ali. Since Jack Johnson reigned as the heavy weight boxing champion for several years in the early part of the 20th century it just galled the white folk in that era. PBS documented his life here.

Debates are like boxing matches. No intelligent person thinks that the issues are solved depending on who wins a debate. No one. But debates are entertaining and educational. The debaters are sparring, yes. We like to watch them. They want to win. We want our man (or woman) to win for our side. But they are like boxing matches. And Dawkins is the leading atheist in our generation. So Christians are acting just like the supremacists did back in Jack Johnson's day. "Knock Dawkins out," they're saying. "Embarrass him." "Show the world our Christian man is better than your atheist man." "They're a minority and so let's keep them in their place." In Johnson's day it was a fight between the races. This is a fight between skepticism and faith.

There are several weighty problems with this invidious comparison:

i) Loftus takes for granted that white supremacy is wrong. But as a Darwinian atheist, Loftus is not entitled to that presumption. That’s something he needs to argue for. Why would racism be incompatible with atheism or naturalistic evolution?

ii) But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that his analogy is sound. In that case it backfires. Indeed, his very post is only the latest in a long-standing effort by Loftus to goad Craig into debating him.

So, if we measure Loftus by the very yardstick he just handed us, then Loftus is acting “just like” a white supremacist. Loftus is the moral equivalent of Bull Connor.

iii) Finally, there’s nothing unethical about Christians wanting to see Craig take Dawkins down a few pegs. I daresay that most folks who are bowled over by Dawkins’ attack on Christianity have only read or heard one side of the argument. They’re getting all of their information about the Christian faith filtered through ignorant, hostile, third-hand sources like Dawkins. It would be a real eye-opener for some of them to hear the other side of the argument. To see the way in which Dawkins’ case against the Christian faith would collapse like a papier-mâché shack in a rainstorm if he had to test his arguments against William Lane Craig.

But to burst the Christian bubble let's place this debate challenge in a larger context. Bill Craig has refused to debate me so far. When I was a student of his he said something I thought was odd at the time. This was back in 1985 at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He said "the person I fear debating the most is a former student of mine."

Sorry, but that didn’t burst my bubble:

i) For one thing, Loftus expects us to take his word for it. Now, for someone who regards the canonical Gospels as historically unreliable, that’s a very telling assumption.

The statement is something that Loftus allegedly heard just once about 25 years ago. Yet Loftus, assuming that he didn’t make it up whole cloth, is utterly confident in his verbatim recollection of something he heard only once some 25 years ago.

Now Jesus probably died around 30 AD. And it’s quite plausible that the synoptic gospels were written about 30 years later, give or take a few years. (One can also make a good case for the early dating of John).

Moreover, it’s fair to say that Jesus frequently repeated himself. And, of course, having several gospels gives us multiple-attestation.

Therefore, if we judge the gospels by the same rules of evidence that Loftus has implicitly applied to his alleged recollection of Craig’s statement, then we have much better reason to think the Gospel writers accurately preserve the words of Jesus than we have to think that Loftus accurately preserves the words of Craig.

ii) In addition, there’s a glaring disanalogy between Craig/Dawkins, on the one hand, and Craig/Loftus, on the other.

Craig is an established writer and tenured professor at a major Christian university. He isn’t trying to make a name for himself at this point in his career.

By contrast, Loftus is a middle-aged social climber on the lower rung of the ladder. Like a rentboy in the service of a dowager, he’s trying to massage his career by hanging out with the right people.

"Dos and don'ts when dealing with the downcast"

Sometimes people need to be told, "Trust God!"; sometimes people need to hear "God can be trusted!" The downcast are in the latter camp. Serve them by sensitively exalting the God of life in the face of death.
Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Making The Judaizers Orthodox

Defenders of the Manhattan Declaration have been posting a lot of bad arguments in response to the controversy over the document, in addition to largely ignoring the best arguments against their position. One argument I've seen is an appeal to 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, as if the passage demonstrates that a group can reject justification through faith alone, yet still be orthodox.

Evangelicals and Catholics disagree significantly over what "died for our sins" (1 Corinthians 15:3) means. As the book of Galatians illustrates, the adding of works to the gospel nullifies what Paul summarized in 1 Corinthians 15. As he puts it elsewhere in 1 Corinthians itself, the gospel involves the sufficiency of the crucified Christ (1 Corinthians 2:2). Paul defined that sufficiency in a way that made the inclusion of works as a means of attaining justification a denial of the sufficiency of Christ and His finished work. Any understanding of 1 Corinthians 15 that makes the Judaizers orthodox is problematic.

For an explanation of why the Roman Catholic gospel is false and why it should be considered to be under the anathema of Galatians 1, see posts # 94 and # 99 in the thread here.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Ovarian theodicy

The world is chockfull of evils. Let’s take just one especially heinous example. You want to cook fried eggs. But as you’re cracking the shell, you inadvertently break the yoke in the process.

Now, instead of having a pretty yellow center, surrounded by a pure white circumference, the yoke contaminates the egg white. And I don’t need to tell you how appalling that is.

Yet in Calvinism, God is ultimately to blame for this sorry situation. Yes, I know it’s hard to believe that there are actually professing Christians out there who brazenly teach something that blasphemous, but Calvinism logically makes God the author of the broken egg yoke. I’m not making this up!

Oh, sure, the Calvinist will play word games with “freedom.” He’ll ransack vain philosophy for hifalutin’ theories that allegedly reconcile predestination with responsibility, but at the end of the day he’s going to tell you that God decreed the breaking of the egg yoke. And God brought that to pass by his particular providence.

So there’s just no way a candid Calvinist can evade the incriminating conclusion that God is ultimately responsible for the broken egg yoke. Not if you buy into his blasphemous assumptions.

For a Calvinist, the egg yoke never had a choice. You see, Calvinism denies the egg yoke the freedom to do otherwise. To break or not to break. So Calvinism reduces the egg to the status of a mere puppet in the hands of the almighty cook.

Arminianism, by contrast, has an ovarian theodicy. Arminianism exonerates God of complicity in the evil of broken egg yoke by pinning the blame squarely on the willful egg yoke itself. The egg yoke was free, under the exact same circumstances, to break or not to break.

And that’s just one example. Don’t get me going on lawnmowers that don’t start when you pull the cord.

Richard Dawkins On Why He Won't Debate William Lane Craig

Here's Richard Dawkins' unconvincing explanation for why he won't debate William Lane Craig. Keeping in mind that many of Dawkins' anti-theistic arguments are centered around the Bible, church history, and philosophy, see Craig's curriculum vitae here. And here are some examples of Craig's published work. Here's what the person who posted the YouTube clip wrote in the comments section of his page:

"It just amazes me how such a prominent atheist like Dawkins can be so profoundly ignorant of philosophy and Craig. I mean he has a whole chapter in his book addressing arguments for God's existence and yet totally missed the argument that is being more widely discussed among professional philosophers than any other: the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Dawkins missed it back then with his book and now almost 5 years later he still doesn't have a clue about Craig and his academic fame and impact....Actually I'm not even sure Dawkins accused Craig of being a creationist here. I think he was just speaking in general there about the type of people he wouldn't debate. To me, it sounded like Dawkins was saying he wouldn't debate Craig because he doesn't have any other claim to fame besides him being a really good debater. Of course that's patently false. Craig's academic credentials and fame far outstrip any of Dawkin's past debate opponents against theists....It's quite amusing, to say the least, that after 2 full years of hearing about him, Dr. Dawkins still doesn't have a clue about who Dr. Craig is. He doesn't know, for example, that Craig is a world renowned philosopher of Religion (indeed he's considered to be at the top of his field). He doesn't know that Craig is a 'leading philosopher of space and time' (Quentin Smith quote). He doesn't know that Craig's claim to fame is actually on the Kalam Cosmological Argument, not his debating."

For those who want to see the larger context of the question and Dawkins' response to it, go here. The question comes at about the 65:30 mark, and Dawkins' response is at about minute 67. I would note, too, that the man sitting next to Dawkins, the philosopher Anthony Grayling, clapped after Dawkins' misleading comments.

Creation Ministries International has asked me to add a note to this post letting readers know about an article they have on atheism here.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Forensic neuropsychology

This article explores theoretical and empirical issues in the application of clinical neuropsychological evidence to forensic issues in the criminal law. The nature of forensic neuropsychological evaluations is discussed with reference to issues of competency to stand trial, criminal responsibility, and other competencies in the criminal process. Examples of specific disorders relevant to criminal law standards are presented, together with data estimating the prevalence of brain dysfunction in criminal and forensic populations. Research is also reviewed on the role of neuropsychological brain dysfunction in the etiology of violence and criminally relevant behavior. Finally, empirical and ethical issues concerning the applicability and admissibility of forensic neuropsychological data in the criminal context are discussed.

The underlying assumption is that brain dysfunction left the offender in a state of diminished responsibility. He couldn’t help himself. His dysfunctional brain made him commit the crime.

Now, the point of this post is not to debate the validity of that defense, as such. Instead, I’m simply going to note that this assumption generates a dilemma for most of its proponents.

For most folks who use this defense are secular physicalists. For them, the brain makes us do whatever we do. We lack the freedom to veto what our brain perceives or directs the body to do. For better or worse, the brain calls the shots.

This is true regardless of whether or not the agent is neurologically impaired or unimpaired.

Suppose a sociopath lacks compassion because his brain is defective. Due to brain dysfunction, he has no conscience.

The difference between an empathetic agent and a sociopathic sociopath is that natural selection selected for altruistic brains, since altruism confers a survival advantage on the species. Like drones that go on a suicide mission to protect the queen. Drones are expendable in a way the queen is not. A queen can make new drones, but drones can’t make a new queen.

However, this means an altruistic brain is the byproduct of an amoral process. Natural selection has no ethical criteria.

Therefore, from the standpoint of secular physicalism, isn’t everyone in a position of diminished responsibility? A compassionate agent is just as helpless to resist his altruistic impulses as a sociopathic agent is helpless to resist his murderous impulses. In both cases, his brain won’t allow the agent to stop himself.

What is more, in both cases, the brain is the byproduct of an amoral process, whether or not he’s neurologically impaired or unimpaired.

A Christian dualist or even a Christian physicalist (unless he’s a libertarian) could still invoke forensic neuropsychology without generating the same dilemma.

A Realistic View of Science

Now that we have taken a look at the “ideal” description of the scientific method, it’s time to look at a more realistic (some may say “cynical”) example of how science works in the real world. It should be pointed out that most scientists genuinely do wish to adhere to the idealistic version of the scientific method. That is, they want to set up their four step loop: observation, induction, deduction, and experimentation. However, for virtually every interesting experiment, there is a big problem to getting this loop started.


It takes money to run experiments. Often, it takes massive amounts of money just to observe your experiments, especially when you deal in fields such as physics (anyone care to pay out of pocket for their own particle accelerator?). But even if you take a simple Darwinist experiment, where you observe finches in the Galapagos Islands, the scientist still must travel to the island with some kind of instruments to record data (even if just a pencil and paper), and he or she must live there with all the expenses of food and shelter that would normally be required.

So unless the scientist is independently wealthy, he relies upon OPM (Other People’s Money). And just like opium, OPM is an addictive drug. Experiments can run over-budget, and scientists are generally curious people in the first place so if there are extra funds they will find a way to put them to use (ever wonder what a loaf of bread would look like after it's put into a vacuum?—trust me, some scientist knows). In other words, you can never get enough of OPM.

The result is that, to get an experiment done, it takes more than just the ideal four-step loop. A scientist must first start by begging for money. This is often done in the form of grant proposals. Barring that, a scientist can also decide to go work for a corporation with a vested interest in his or her field. For example, a geologist may go work for an oil company, even if he’s a vegan green New Ager, simply because the company has funds to conduct experiments loosely based on his degree; or a biologist may go work for a pharmaceutical company, even if she voted for Obama and wants universal health care coverage extended to pets, again simply because the pharmaceutical company has money to fund research. But no matter how it’s done, the scientist must first secure funding.

Funding is often extremely limited in scope and duration. But it is also simple reality that apart from a few wealthy eccentrics, the money is given to scientists as an investment. Those who give the money expect something in return for it. When it comes to corporations, obviously the owners want to increase their profits—so if you can find a cheaper way to get oil, the oil companies will fund that research; if you find medicine that prevents heart attacks, the pharmaceutical companies will fund that. For other grants, there are a few cases where people give money for “pure” science, but many come from non-profit organizations with a vested interest in proving something (to use an example I personally am aware of, although for reasons you will see later I must keep it general, a non-profit once paid an archaeology team to determine which tribe of Natives arrived at a Central American site first).

Once the scientist secures this OPM, he can then begin to do the four-step loop of “ideal” science until the funds run out. At which point, he must ask for more OPM or else the science is “done.” The net result is that scientific method ends up working like this:

1. Get OPM
2. Observe
3. Hypothesize
4. Predict
5. Experiment
6. Return to step 2 until OPM = $0.
7. Return to step 1.

Naturally, while the above loop doesn’t have an end, there will be an end to science beyond just running out of money. For instance, the pharmaceutical companies look for effective drugs, and they only do this loop until it either becomes cost prohibitive or else they succeed at finding an effective drug they can sell at profit. This opens up a new dynamic, because each experiment is finite but you can always do new experiments if you keep your nose clean.

If you have a good relationship with someone who will give you OPM, it is more likely that you will receive OPM in the future. This means that the scientist, who does not wish to spend his time getting funds—he wants to do science—is given an incentive to keep the person writing him checks happy. For corporations, this means that scientists want to keep their employer happy; for those who live by grants, they want those who give grants to continue to give those grants to them.

This puts high subjective pressure on the scientists. Science is supposed to be objective, but when scientists know they have to keep certain people happy in order to continue getting OPM just so they can do science in the first place, it’s easy to “misread” an experiment. And sometimes, it’s done intentionally. For instance, the non-profit who paid for an archaeological dig to see which Native tribe first got to a specific Central American site paid for the research because they wanted to prove a specific tribe got there before another. The archaeologists found evidence that indicated the other tribe got there first. But the published reports of the experiment said otherwise. Because scientists know which side their bread is buttered on.

(Full disclosure: obviously, this example is hearsay, but comes from a source I trust. That doesn’t mean you have to, of course.)

Scientists are no more or less human than a Wall Street stockbroker or a banker or a lawyer or your next door neighbor. They are no more likely to “do the right thing even if it costs all their funding” than would anyone else. Yes, there are some who do so (just as there are some in every profession) but there are also some who take shortcuts, fudge the data a bit, and make sure the experiments come out in the way that will benefit them.

The “corrective” for this is repeatability. Science, to be science, ought to be repeatable by others so that this can expose biases (hidden or otherwise) in the methods the scientists use.

But what happens when the same group, or a likeminded group, funds both the original experiments and the repeats? Since funding is coming from the same, or similar, source, each group of scientists has an incentive to please the person giving them OPM. And when the opposite occurs—that is, when someone who opposes the first group’s ideology funds a counter-experiment to disprove it—it is ridiculed as being biased. The net result is that science becomes politicized, and he who controls the most OPM controls the results of science.

While OPM has the most impact on the objectivity of science, it is not the only thing to impact it. In my previous post, I mentioned that science is theory-laden. That is to say, people have to have a kind of structure already in place in order to do science. The fact is that while there are a few times when people discover something serendipitously, most discoveries will occur because someone is specifically looking for something. A simple example demonstrates this. If you were asked to read a news story and then, after you finished and the story taken away, were asked “How many proper names were in that story?” you would probably have a difficult time answering; yet if you were told “I want you to read this story and tell me how many proper names are in it” before you read it, you would easily be able to keep track of that information because you are actively looking for it.

But how do you determine beforehand what information is or isn’t important in a scientific experiment? It can be quite difficult. For example, suppose you were doing an experiment into what made the best baseball player and you found that the best (however you wish to define that) baseball players tended to have been born in the summer months. How would you know that this correlation is relevant rather than accidental? This is especially insidious because one can hypothesize many different reasons why the timing of one’s birth could be relevant: babies born in the summer were gestating through winter, and perhaps the extra stress of the mother going through cold contributes someway to their development; the Earth is located at a different place in its orbit during the summer months; babies born in the summer are born in warmer weather, so maybe they start out more active; etc. All these possibilities, however, are based on the first assumption that it is actually relevant what month a player was born.

You can see from that example how it is easy to get lost down many bunny trails once dealing with information that may, or may not, be correlated to your specific experiment. What you look for and what you discard as being irrelevant depend highly upon what your theory already leads you to believe.

And what is true for the individual scientists is likewise true for groups of scientists, especially as we relate back to funding. If those who control the purse strings of your experiments are convinced that the month you’re born in determines your athletic ability, then they will not pay you if you disagree with that thesis. But since that thesis seems harmless enough—how could it really impact anything? you may wonder—then even if you don’t hold to it yourself, it’s easy enough to say you do. Soon enough, you have scientific consensus established and anyone who disagrees is, by definition, unscientific for having rejected a consensus that was derived by OPM, not science.

This makes it all the more important for scientists to be clear about the sources of their funding (to disclose possible conflicts of interest) and for us to know what effects it may have on their research. And as we shall see in my next post, this is especially true for any scientific endeavor that claims “the science is settled.”

Why Did Gentiles Accept Jewish Christianity?

Robert Price writes:

I think it quite likely that Jesus is an offshoot of an ancient version of Yahve depicted along the lines of Baal, Osiris, Dionysus or Attis: a heavenly hero or king who won his divine throne by defeating a dragon who initially devoured him, but then yielded to the resurrected savior. At some point, institutional consolidation, factional polemics against spiritualists like the Gnostics, led church officials to historicize their Jesus as a figure of recent history....

Nor is it clear that whatever new element lent Christianity its new nametag must have had much to do with ostensible events in Jewish Palestine. One can understand how various Mediterraneans of various nationalities would have been happy enough to add a new name, Jesus, to their portfolio/pantheon of initiation deities. (First Corinthians 8 seems to be trying to stop such ecumenical henotheism, presupposing its practice.) It is not so easy to picture Gentiles giving a fig over whether a recently executed man named Jesus had really been the theocratic king of Israel. What concern was that of theirs?...A Jesus mystery religion with its sacramental meal of wine (like the Dionysiac blood) and bread (like the Osirian flesh) required no historical founder, recent or remote, any more than the similar faiths of Isis, Mithras, Attis or the rest. (in James Beilby and Paul Eddy, edd., The Historical Jesus: Five Views [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2009], pp. 179-180)

In later generations, did Christianity radically redefine itself, in a manner comparable to what Price is suggesting, whenever it came into contact with opposition from groups like the Gnostics? Was Christianity radically redefined in response to later Gnostics, modalism, Arianism, etc.? Did the Christians of later generations collectively rewrite the gospels whenever such groups came along, perhaps placing Jesus in a different century, changing the events that occurred during His life, discarding previous gospels and adding new ones, etc.? Or did such radical changes only occur early on, then were persistently avoided? Why don't we see a Chinese Jesus placed in the third century B.C. in order to respond to the Gnostics of Irenaeus' day, a Spanish Jesus placed in the second century A.D. to respond to the Arians, etc.? If the beliefs surrounding early Christianity were so flexible, why is there not nearly as much flexibility in the generations following the period Price is speculating about? High flexibility of belief could be closely followed by high inflexibility, but that's not the best explanation of the evidence. High inflexibility all along makes more sense of the data.

How would the early Christians have gotten so many people, including enemies of Christianity, to go along with such a major redefinition of the religion? As second-century disputes among Christians illustrate (the dispute over second repentance, the Quartodeciman controversy, etc.), it would be difficult to even get all mainstream Christians to go along with a change like the one Price is suggesting. Getting people like Josephus, Tacitus, and Trypho to go along with it would be even more difficult.

A common skeptical reaction at this point is to argue that the early Christians may have distorted the historical record, such as by destroying or altering documents, so that we can't trust what that historical record tells us about sources like the second-century Christians and Tacitus. For a discussion of some of the problems with such an objection, see here, including the comments section of the thread.

Price refers to a reaction against "spiritualists like the Gnostics", but such spiritualists were already acknowledging more than Price's theory would suggest. If Jesus didn't exist, then spiritualists would have had an interest in saying so. Instead, we find them acknowledging that Jesus appeared to exist, but arguing that He wasn't physical. For example, Ignatius of Antioch writes in response to such spiritualists:

"He [Jesus] was truly of the seed of David according to the flesh, and the Son of God according to the will and power of God; that He was truly born of a virgin, was baptized by John, in order that all righteousness might be fulfilled by Him; and was truly, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch, nailed to the cross for us in His flesh....Now, He suffered all these things for our sakes, that we might be saved. And He suffered truly, even as also He truly raised up Himself, not, as certain unbelievers maintain, that He only seemed to suffer, as they themselves only seem to be Christians. And as they believe, so shall it happen unto them, when they shall be divested of their bodies, and be mere evil spirits....But if these things were done by our Lord only in appearance, then am I also only in appearance bound. And why have I also surrendered myself to death, to fire, to the sword, to the wild beasts? But, in fact, he who is near to the sword is near to God; he that is among the wild beasts is in company with God; provided only he be so in the name of Jesus Christ. I undergo all these things that I may suffer together with Him, He who became a perfect man inwardly strengthening me." (Letter To The Smyrnaeans, 1-2, 4)

In other words, people like Ignatius weren't the only ones who affirmed that Jesus seemed to exist on earth. The spiritualists Ignatius is responding to also acknowledged that fact. The difference was over whether Jesus' apparent existence was physical or only appeared to be physical. The spiritualists acknowledged that there was an appearance of existence that had to be explained. Not only do the mainstream Christian sources contradict Price, and not only do mainstream opponents of Christianity like Josephus and Tacitus contradict him, but so do spiritualists like the Gnostics. Price's speculations are grossly inconsistent with the historical record, inconsistent with both Christian and a variety of non-Christian sources. (For some additional evidence from Ignatius and other early sources, including more evidence that I'm interpreting Ignatius correctly, see Allen Brent, Ignatius Of Antioch [New York, New York: T & T Clark International, 2009] and John McGuckin, The Westminster Handbook To Patristic Theology [Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004], pp. 105-106. Concerning the widespread Gnostic and heretical acceptance of the gospels, despite their efforts to reinterpret those documents, see here.)

Notice, too, that these early spiritualists don't just acknowledge that Jesus appeared to exist. Rather, they even acknowledge that He appeared to experience what mainstream Christians were claiming He experienced physically. As Ignatius' comments above illustrate, the spiritualists acknowledged that Jesus "seemed to suffer". Apparently, Ignatius emphasizes that Jesus truly was born of a virgin, suffered, rose from the dead, etc. because the spiritualists were saying that He only appeared to experience such things. Not only did these spiritualists corroborate the fact that Jesus seemed to exist, but they even corroborated the fact that He seemed to experience the events that mainstream Christians were claiming He experienced (the virgin birth, crucifixion under Pilate, etc.).

And if, as Price suggests, the early Gentile Christians didn't "give a fig" about Jewish religious concepts, then why would a mostly Gentile Christianity, or one interested in appealing primarily to Gentiles, fabricate historical accounts that are as Jewish as the New Testament documents? Is a religion that started with pagan mystery concepts less than a century earlier the best explanation for a long series of founding documents that are so Jewish, documents that repeatedly condemn paganism and refer to the ignorance and corruption of those who follow pagan religions?

Price ignores what the New Testament documents themselves say about why Gentiles accepted a Jewish religion, particularly one as despised and persecuted as Christianity. There does indeed need to be something sufficient to explain such an unlikely scenario, and the explanation given by the New Testament is one that Price and other critics don't like. The New Testament documents, as early as Paul's letters, repeatedly appeal to evidential categories like fulfilled prophecy, eyewitness testimony, and miracles performed by Jesus and the apostles. Paul makes much of his own performance of miracles (Romans 15:19, 1 Corinthians 2:4, 2 Corinthians 12:12, Galatians 3:5). It should be noted that Paul sometimes refers to his miracles in contexts in which his authority was being questioned and among people who were skeptical of him for other reasons (the Corinthians and the Galatians). In Romans 15, Paul refers to such miracles as characteristic of his ministry in general. He refers to his apostolic status derived from what he eyewitnessed (1 Corinthians 9:1), and he cites the testimony of other witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:3-11). Such appeals to evidence are found many times in the New Testament, from a variety of authors and in a variety of contexts, and those themes are repeated many times from the earliest patristic documents onward. The claims are sometimes corroborated by non-Christian sources, as we see with Jesus' performance of apparent miracles and His empty tomb, for example.

Under Price's view of things, both the earliest Christian sources and the earliest non-Christian sources frequently arrived at radically incorrect beliefs, often agreeing with each other over those wrong beliefs. Multiple groups that had an interest in mentioning the errors of Christianity that Price alleges, and were in a position to know about those errors, not only didn't mention the errors in our extant documents, but instead repeatedly corroborated what the Christians were saying.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Why James White is not a REAL preacher or teacher

“Mr Swan, why do you think that God called Dr White to preach, teach and shepherd a flock? It is self evident that Dr. White meets none of the requirements of a preacher, teacher or shepherd. Those would be: 1. Valid apostolic succession. Read Sacred Scripture (Matt. 10:1,40)…”

That’s a good place to stop. So what does Mt 10:1,40 actually say?

“He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness…"He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me’.”

Let’s apply that test to validate (or invalidate) the Catholic clergy. A Catholic priest (or bishop or pope) is in valid apostolic succession in case he can go to a hospice and cure every terminal patient, or go into the local ER and heal every trauma patient.

As a fringe benefit, that would also solve the so-called healthcare crisis.

The Hope Of Millions Of Enslaved Peoples

In my post yesterday on Evangelicals and the poor, I mentioned that giving money isn't the only way to help the poor. Let me expand upon that point with some other examples. Then I want to address another subject raised in David Platt's sermon.

Around Thanksgiving, churches often collect food to give to the poor. And some charities accept donations of clothing. Some accept computers, furniture, or other items. People who work in homeless shelters or other facilities intended to help the poor often do things other than giving money. They spend time with the poor to help them with a drug or alcohol problem, to teach them how to read, to present the gospel to them, etc.

What about our development of technologies, medicine, and other non-monetary products that benefit the poor around the world? When American doctors teach doctors in other parts of the world how to perform a particular type of surgery, for example, don't they act, at least in part, out of an interest in helping the sick in other nations, including the poor? When we give other nations our technology, our medicine, our methods of producing food, and other such things, aren't we intentionally benefiting the poor (among others)?

America has also been a major source of missionary work around the world. Much of that work has benefited the poor.

I mentioned that the United States military will often help the poor to some extent in a nation like Afghanistan or Iraq. A couple of other examples, involving more than just our military, would be our efforts to defeat Nazism and Communism. What we did, through our military and by other means, benefited many millions of poor people around the world. Richard Wurmbrand, a pastor who spent more than a decade in a Romanian prison camp, wrote:

Every freedom-loving man has two fatherlands; his own and America. Today, America is the hope of every enslaved man, because it is the last bastion of freedom in the world. Only America has the power and spiritual resources to stand as a barrier between militant Communism and the people of the world.

It is the last "dike" holding back the rampaging floodwaters of militant Communism. If it crumples, there is no other dike, no other dam; no other line of defense to fall back upon.

America is the last hope of millions of enslaved peoples. They look to it as their second fatherland. In it lies their hopes and prayers.

I have seen fellow-prisoners in Communist prisons beaten, tortured, with 50 pounds of chains on their legs - praying for America...that the dike will not crumple; that it will remain free. (cited in William Federer, America's God And Country [Coppell, Texas: FAME Publishing, Inc., 1994] pp. 705-706)

In his Farewell Address, Ronald Reagan commented:

I've been thinking a bit at that window [in the White House]. I've been reflecting on what the past 8 years have meant and mean. And the image that comes to mind like a refrain is a nautical one -- a small story about a big ship, and a refugee, and a sailor. It was back in the early eighties, at the height of the boat people. And the sailor was hard at work on the carrier Midway, which was patrolling the South China Sea. The sailor, like most American servicemen, was young, smart, and fiercely observant. The crew spied on the horizon a leaky little boat. And crammed inside were refugees from Indochina hoping to get to America. The Midway sent a small launch to bring them to the ship and safety. As the refugees made their way through the choppy seas, one spied the sailor on deck, and stood up, and called out to him. He yelled, "Hello, American sailor. Hello, freedom man."

A small moment with a big meaning, a moment the sailor, who wrote it in a letter, couldn't get out of his mind. And, when I saw it, neither could I. Because that's what it has to -- it was to be an American in the 1980's. We stood, again, for freedom. I know we always have, but in the past few years the world again -- and in a way, we ourselves -- rediscovered it....

But life has a way of reminding you of big things through small incidents. Once, during the heady days of the Moscow summit, Nancy and I decided to break off from the entourage one afternoon to visit the shops on Arbat Street -- that's a little street just off Moscow's main shopping area. Even though our visit was a surprise, every Russian there immediately recognized us and called out our names and reached for our hands. We were just about swept away by the warmth. You could almost feel the possibilities in all that joy. But within seconds, a KGB detail pushed their way toward us and began pushing and shoving the people in the crowd. It was an interesting moment. It reminded me that while the man on the street in the Soviet Union yearns for peace, the government is Communist. And those who run it are Communists, and that means we and they view such issues as freedom and human rights very differently....

The past few days when I've been at that window upstairs, I've thought a bit of the 'shining city upon a hill.' The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we'd call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free. I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still....

And she's still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.

I don't think it's accurate to describe Americans in general, much less conservative Evangelicals in particular, as the rich man of Luke 16. We've always been a nation that's had a significant amount of concern about the poor and have benefited many poor people around the world. That's due largely to our Christian heritage.

And that brings me to something else I want to address from David Platt's sermon. Why do we give so much attention to issues like homosexuality while, allegedly, neglecting the poor? I've explained why I don't think we neglect the poor as much as David Platt suggests, though I do agree that we should be doing a lot more. But why so much attention for an issue like homosexuality? Part of the answer is that this nation seems to be more at a turning point on the issue of homosexuality than it is on issues pertaining to the poor. There isn't a prominent movement of people arguing that we shouldn't be concerned about the poor, comparable to the prominent pro-homosexual movement. Thanks largely to our Christian heritage, there's an American consensus that we should be concerned for the poor. Despite disagreements over how to best help them and disagreements over just how much of our money and other resources we should give, there's widespread agreement that we should help the poor and should do so in many ways and to a large extent. The comparable consensus that used to exist on homosexuality has been rapidly deteriorating in recent years, and that deterioration has implications for other issues (polygamy, how we view human sexuality, the raising of children, etc.). There's good reason to give an issue like homosexuality more attention than issues of poverty in some contexts.