Saturday, April 23, 2011

One angel or two?


Unbelievers make heavy weather of the fact that Mark mentions one angel at the tomb while Luke mentions two. But if you ask me, I’d chalk this up to Lukan/dominical numerology. Consider the stereotypical use of “2” in parabolic discourse:

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty” (Lk 7:41).

“There was a man who had two sons” (Lk 15:11).

“I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left” (Lk 17:34).

“There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left” (Lk 17:35).

Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector” (Lk 18:10).

Numbering things by two seems to be a narrative cliché.

Consider some other parallels:

While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel” (Lk 24:4).

“And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah” (Lk 9:30).

“That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem” (Lk 24:13).

So Luke is fond of grouping things by two. Of course, this doesn’t mean that every use of “two” must be conventional. But the use of “two” as a storytelling convention ought to forewarn us not to press Lukan usage with mechanical literality. 

Etiquette

Should There Have Been More Resurrection Witnesses?

The objection that Jesus didn't appear to enough people isn't new. It was raised by Celsus in the second century, and Origen considered it something "which is not to be lightly passed over" (Against Celsus, 2:63). The objection has taken different forms. Sometimes it will be asked why Jesus didn't appear to more non-Christians. Other times, it's asked why He didn't appear to more people in general. Or both points might be brought up.

Friday, April 22, 2011

From Easter to Pentecost

One of the stock objections which the village atheist raises to the Bible are alleged contradictions in the Resurrection accounts.

Village atheism suffers from self-reinforcing ignorance. There’s a typical failure on the part of your average village atheist to acquaint himself with evangelical scholarship–or other types of literature which fall outside his provincial outlook. So he repeats the same stale objections ad nauseam as if these had gone unanswered.

So we need to give the village atheist a remedial tutorial on the question at issue:

1. At the risk of stating the obvious, the more complex an event–which is to say, the more things happening, at different times and places, involving different participants–the more difficult it will be to reconstruct the original sequence of events. There are so many possible combinations. So many different ways to correlate the same data points.

2. Keep in mind that where you have overlapping events, it isn’t even possible to reduce the sequence to a single linear series.

3. In the case of the Gospels, an already complicated situation (1) is further complicated by the rhetorical strategies and compositional techniques of the respective writers:

i) The gospel writers are selective in what they report. They omit details which are extrinsic to their purpose.

ii) They sometimes rearrange the order of events to create a thematic rather than chronological sequence.

iii) They engage in narrative compression.

iv) Sometimes they employ literary conventions like numerology.

v) The same person or place may go by more than one name.

4. In addition, what one writer includes or omits won’t be the same as what another writer includes or omits. One writer’s thematic sequence may differ from another writer’s thematic sequence. One writer’s numerology, or narrative compression, may differ from another writer’s numerology, or narrative compression.

Since we don’t have direct access to the original sequence of events, we may not be able to retroengineer a thematic sequence back into a chronological sequence. Indeed, that’s not a reasonable expectation at our distance from the time and place.

To know how the reported events go together, you need to know everything that happened, in time and place. For you need to know the connecting events. How two events are interrelated in time and space is often determined by intervening events. That’s how historical causation works. Where an earlier event causes, or leads up to, or leads into, a later event. But you can’t retrace a stepwise progression if there are too many missing steps in the record.

5. Then there’s a fairly unique complication in harmonizing the Resurrection accounts. Normally a person can only be at one place at a time. But even before the Resurrection, Jesus could do remarkable things in time and space. He could walk on water. He could disappear in the middle of a crowd. And in John 20, he has the ability to appear or disappear at will. Physical barriers pose no obstacle. 

So in harmonizing the Resurrection accounts, we must also make allowance for paranormal phenomena like bilocation. Which, in turn, raises the issue of spatiotemporal displacement. Variables like that introduce a degree of flexibility which you don’t ordinarily have in a spatiotemporal series. But Jesus is not an ordinary person.

Of course, infidels don’t believe that. But if they’re going to attack the coherence of the Resurrection accounts, then that’s a case of judging each account on its own terms, given the theological assumptions of the narrator.

6. Some village atheists seem to imagine that merely showing how the Resurrection accounts are formally contradictory somehow disproves the inerrancy or historicity or reliability of the accounts. But that’s terribly naïve. That would only be a problem if each writer intended to mirror the original series of events. Since that is manifestly not what they meant to do, the problem is a pseudoproblem. 

Linguistic/Thematic Parallels between Revelation 12 and 20

Obviously a major debate in eschatology is the question of what the vision of Revelation 20 refers to. While Premillennialists contend that Revelation 20 should be read as chronologically following chapter 19, Amillennialists hold that chapter 20 begins a new recapitulation of the series of events that are discussed repeatedly in the book. One argument in favor of the Amillennial position cites the parallels between chapter 12 and 20, concluding that these two texts are discussing the same events in redemptive history but from different perspectives. That is, if chapter 12 is referring to the cross/resurrection/church age, then chapter 20 is as well. Here are some of the parallels:



Revelation 12:7-12

Revelation 20:1-6





v. 7 ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ
v. 1 ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ





v. 7 ἄγγελοι
v. 1 ἄγγελον





v.9 ὁ δράκων ὁ μέγας, ὁ ὄφις ὁ ἀρχαῖος, ὁ καλούμενος Διάβολος καὶ ὁ Σατανᾶς
v. 2 τὸν δράκοντα, ὁ ὄφις ὁ ἀρχαῖος, ὅς ἐστιν Διάβολος καὶ ὁ Σατανᾶς





v. 9 ἐβλήθη
v. 3 ἔβαλεν





v. 9 ὁ πλανῶν τὴν οἰκουμένην ὅλην
v. 3 ἵνα μὴ πλανήσῃ ἔτι τὰ ἔθνη





v. 12 ὀλίγον καιρὸν ἔχει
v. 3 μικρὸν χρόνον





v. 10 ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν καὶ ἡ ἐξουσία τοῦ Χριστοῦ αὐτοῦ
v. 6 ἱερεῖς τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ τοῦ Χριστοῦ, καὶ βασιλεύσουσιν





v. 11 διὰ τὸν λόγον τῆς μαρτυρίας αὐτῶν
v. 4 διὰ τὴν μαρτυρίαν Ἰησοῦ καὶ διὰ τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ

Everybody Harmonizes

In light of Rhology's recent harmonization of the gospel resurrection accounts, I thought it would be useful to post some comments about harmonization in general. One of the skeptics who posted in Rhology's thread, Zilch, wrote:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

I harmonised the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection

Some time ago, I shared two harmonisations of the four Gospels' resurrection accounts that I'd found elsewhere, but for one thing I find them a little bit hard to follow, especially the one from Answering Islam.
So as a bit of a personal devotional exercise, I decided to see if I could figure it out more or less on my own, and here's the result. If nothing else, it helps me make sense of the accounts since it's undeniable that these four different accounts with different foci can be sort of confusing.

Before we launch in, it's instructive to recall that "these four resurrection accounts are mutually contradictory" is still a popular objection to biblical Christianity. In last week's edition of the Unbelievable? radio show, Bart Ehrman mentioned that very thing a few times, specifically at minute 34 and again at minute 44. As I was listening to it yesterday, I found myself shaking my head and smiling - once again, Ehrman demonstrates he is very poorly versed in biblical exegesis, or is simply unwilling to put forth the effort or perhaps to allow for harmonisation at all, which is a sign of severe bias. 
For the charge of contradiction to stick, the skeptic would have to demonstrate there is no possible harmonisation of the texts, not merely that it's difficult or that you don't understand it. And as I show here, this charge has no teeth. Glory to Jesus Christ.

1)  Angel, earthquake, stone is rolled away, soldiers faint.
Matthew here provides a bit of background information before continuing with his story of the women, begun in verse 1.
Matthew 28:2And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. 3And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. 4The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men.

2)  Jesus exits tomb while soldiers are flattened.
Not specifically mentioned, but obvious deduction.

3)  Soldiers wake up, find tomb empty, scatter. 
Taken from later references, like:
Matthew 28:11Now while they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. 

4)  Still early in the morning, Mary M, other Mary, Joanna, Salome, and probably other women come to the tomb. 
Matthew 28:1Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave.
Mark 16:1When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him. 2Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. 3They were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 
Luke 24:1But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared.
John 20:1a Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark...

5)  They find the stone rolled away.
Mark 16:4Looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large.
Luke 24:2And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb.
John 20:1b ...and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. 

6)  Mary M at least runs to tell Peter and John that the stone is rolled away.
John 20:2So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”

7)  Peter and John run to the tomb.
John 20:3So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb.

8)  John gets there 1st and doesn't go in. Peter gets there 2nd and does go in, sees the cloths lying there.
Notice that they only see the stone rolled away and the gravecloths lying in a heap and do not see an angel or Jesus.
John 20:4The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; 5and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. 6And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself.

9)  John then goes in and believes but neither of them fully understand.
John 20:8So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed. 9For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. 

10)  Peter and John return home.
John 20:10So the disciples went away again to their own homes.

11)  Mary M at least is at the tomb weeping, and the other women may or may not be around.
John 20:11But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb

12)  The other women come back at some point it would seem, though, and they all look into the tomb. They see two angels inside and they ask why they're crying and announce the resurrection.
A few notes here:
--Where there's two angels, there's always one. 
--In biblical angelophanies, they virtually always appear as men.
--There is no good reason to think that all of the conversations noted here did not occur.
Matthew 28:5The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. 6“He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. 7“Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you.”
Mark 16:5Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed. 6And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him. 7“But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.’”
Luke 24:3but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing; 5and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? 6“He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, 7saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.” 8And they remembered His words.
John 20:12and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”

13)  Mary at least turns around, coming out of the tomb, conceivably drying her eyes, and encounters Jesus, Who talks to her.
A few notes:
--She doesn't understand right away that it's Jesus because she's been weeping hard this whole time and is still composing herself, and also she wasn't turned His direction when He first talked to her.
--There's also no indication of how far He was away, whether He was sort of calling to her from across a few dozen feet or behind a tree or bush or something.
--There's no indication of whether the other women are present. I think maybe they were, but John's account merely focuses on Mary M. Maybe He spoke to the other women too and it simply wasn't recorded.
John 20:14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’” 

14)  Looks like many or all of the women run off first of all and are so blown away by the experience that they don't say anything for some time.
Matthew 28:8a And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy...
Mark 16:8They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

15)  They eventually recover and go to tell the disciples that Mary M at least (and maybe the others were there too, standing around or something) actually met and talked to Jesus. 
Matthew 28:8b ...and ran to report it to His disciples.
Luke 24:9and returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.
John 20:18Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her. 

14b) or 15b) Jesus greets them on the way and they worship Him.
It's unclear whether they were on their way to tell the disciples and then Jesus met them and that really overwhelmed them, or whether they were overwhelmed first and went to tell the disciples and then were met (again) by Jesus, or whether they were already overwhelmed and on their way to recover and Jesus met them then.
Matthew 28:9And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me.”

16)  The disciples don't believe the women's report (presumably, the report of actually seeing and talking to the risen Jesus).
Luke 24:11But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them. 

17)  Peter runs to the tomb and goes inside, sees the cloths.
Looks like this is his 2nd time to run to the tomb, probably b/c the 1st time he went, recorded in John, he'd only heard that the stone was rolled away and gone and seen only that and the cloths, but not Jesus Himself. Maybe he wanted to see if Jesus was still hanging around there, and though He wasn't, Peter still took another look into the tomb.
Luke 24:12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings only; and he went away to his home, marveling at what had happened. 


Bock reviews Forged

Darrell Bock has apparently completed his serial review of Bart Ehrman's Forged:

http://blogs.bible.org/bock/darrell_l._bock/and_a_look_at_forged_by_bart_ehrman_and_another_nt_blog_recommendation_ben_witheringtons_site

http://blogs.bible.org/bock/darrell_l._bock/issues_of_ancient_composition_thucydides_and_ehrman

http://blogs.bible.org/bock/darrell_l._bock/ehrman_chapter_2-_forgeries_and_the_name_of_peter_apples_oranges_and_scripture

http://blogs.bible.org/bock/darrell_l._bock/ehrman_on_paul_part_1_pastorals_and_2_thessalonians

http://blogs.bible.org/bock/darrell_l._bock/erhman_on_paul_part_2_ephesians_and_colossians

http://blogs.bible.org/bock/darrell_l._bock/ehrman_chapter_4_agreement_but_more_nuancing_is_necessary_and_crucial

http://blogs.bible.org/bock/darrell_l._bock/ehrman_chapter_5_on_conflicts_with_jews_and_pagans_revised

http://blogs.bible.org/bock/darrell_l._bock/ehrman_chapter_6on_forgeries_and_false_teachers

http://blogs.bible.org/bock/darrell_l._bock/ehrman_chapter_7_and_8_false_attribution_and_the_book_as_a_whole

The Misanthropic Universalist


Re: Rob Bell's Love Wins
by tomtalbott » Wed Apr 20, 2011 7:41 am

The reaction of the evangelical community to Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, continues to be quite remarkable, in some cases even disgraceful, and reveals a lot more about today’s evangelical community than it does about Rob Bell or his book. So when a host of evangelicals began pointing to Martin Bashir’s interview of Bell as if it were a tour de force and had supposedly made him squirm, I decided to watch the interview for myself. I was stunned, not by Bell’s answers, which were both intelligent and appealing, but by the absurdity of Bashir’s questions, which were more like dogmatic assertions than real questions.
 
As the interview came to an end, I found Bashir’s approach merely bewildering—until, that is, I later learned that he was a member of a conservative Calvinist church at the heart of the firestorm.


i) Before getting around to my main point, I’ll make a parenthetical observation: critics of Bashir act as if this is the first TV interview they ever saw. But to anyone who’s not been living under a rock, there’s nothing unusual about Bashir’s style. As a rule, there are two kinds of TV interviews:

a) You have the softball interview, in which a gushy, sympathetic interviewer poses leading questions to help the guest make his case.

b) You have the adversarial interview, in which a pushy interviewer tries to put his guest on the defensive.

What Bashir did is nothing out of the ordinary.

ii) Now to my main point: Observe the palpable hostility of universalists like Talbott towards Calvinists and other exclusivists. For folks who believe in universal love and universal reconciliation, why do they treat exclusivists as their mortal enemies? Given their seething animosity towards Calvinists and other exclusivists, they convey the impression that universalists only love universalists.

No one is more exclusivist than your average inclusive universalist. But isn’t the acid test of universalism to love those who don’t believe in universalism?

Indeed, from the way they carry on about exclusivism, you have to wonder if universalists believe exclusivists are damned. Do they think exclusivists are going to hell, to purge them of their wicked exclusivist theology? Must the exclusivist practice postmortem contrition, to repent of his evil exclusivist theology, before he’s allowed to join the saintly universalists in heaven?

Does the eschatology of universalism entail heaven for universalists, and purgatorial hell for exclusivists? Will exclusivists be subjected to coercive torment until they recant their exclusivism and beg Thomas Talbott to forgive them?

Just spend a little time browsing the Misanthropic Universalist...uh...I mean, the Evangelical Universalist forum, and sample the antagonism, the resentment, the vindictive barbs directed at Calvinists and other exclusivists. Notice the whole in-group/out-group mindtrip. It's all about drawing lines. Us v. them. Bunker universalism. 

The view from anywhere

The following are a few notable atheist scholars who, insofar as I understand, do not hold either (1) one can know objective morality (epistemology) or (2) objective morality exists (ontology). Some presumably reject both.

In addition, I've cited representative quotes and/or literature from each atheist scholar.


  1. Richard Joyce

    See his books:

    The Evolution of Morality

    The Myth of Morality

  2. J.L. Mackie

    In his book Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong:

    "There are no objective values."

    and

    "If there were objective values, then they would be entities or qualities or relations of a very strange sort, utterly different from anything else in the universe."

    Note also the argument from queerness:
    The first argument is that our ordinary moral discourse purports to refer to intrinsically prescriptive properties and facts "that would somehow motivate us or provide us with reasons for action independent of our desires and aversions" — but such properties and facts do not comport with philosophical naturalism (page 50).

    The second argument is that, if moral realism posits the existence of objective moral properties that supervene upon natural properties (such as biological or psychological properties), then the relation between the moral properties and the natural properties is metaphysically mysterious and does not comport with philosophical naturalism (p. 51).
    Also see:

    Mackie, J. L. (1946). "A Refutation of Morals", Australasian Journal of Psychology and Philosophy, 24: 77-90.

  3. Will Provine

    In his debate with Phillip Johnson:
    Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear -- and these are basically Darwin's views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That's the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either. What an unintelligible idea.
    In the following abstract:
    "Evolution: Free will and punishment and meaning in life"

    (Abstract)
    Dr. William Provine

    Second Annual Darwin Day Celebration
    University of Tennessee, Knoxville
    Feb. 12, 1998

    Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent.

    Free Will

    The first 4 implications are so obvious to modern naturalistic evolutionists that I will spend little time defending them. Human free will, however, is another matter. Even evolutionists have trouble swallowing that implication. I will argue that humans are locally determined systems that make choices. They have, however, no free will.

    Without free will, moral responsibility seems impossible. But I will argue that moral responsibility is actually based upon the lack of free will.

    Free will is a disastrous and mean social myth. Using free will as an excuse, we condone a vicious attitude of revenge toward anyone who does wrong in our society. Most of the movies in a video store are based upon getting even with some nasty person. This attitude leads to a gross ly expensive and hopeless systems of punishment in America , though much the same attitude can be found in most countries around the world.

    Without free will, justification for revenge disappears and rehabilitation is the main job of judicial systems and prisons. We will all live in a better society when the myth of free will is dispelled.

    Devout Christians also believe in forgiveness and rehabilitation. Agreement here is possible between atheism and religion.

    Meaning in Life

    How can we have meaning in life? When we die we are really dead; nothing of us survives. Natural selection is a process leading every species almost certainly to extinction and "cares" as much for the HIV virus as for humans. Nothing could be more uncaring than the entire process of organic evolution. Life has been on earth for about 3.6 billion years. In less that one billion more years our sun will turn into a red giant. All life on earth will be burnt to a crisp. Other cosmic processes absolutely guarantee the extinction of all life anywhere in the universe. When all life is extinguished, no memory whatsoever will be left that life ever existed.

    Yet our lives are filled with meaning. Proximate meaning is more important than ultimate. Even if we die, we can have deeply meaningful lives.

    Meaning in life is shared. We cannot have even proximate meaning except in the context of culture. This is true for religious people as for agnostics or atheists. No group can cut out the others.

    Evolution in the classroom

    Evolution is of interest to all. 50% of Americans believe humans were created by God in the last 10,000 years. Most other Americans who do believe in evolution think that God guided it. But a small group of powerful naturalist evolutionists have taken control of our schools. They want to stifle discussion of evolution in the classroom by everyone according to his or her beliefs Discussion may then change minds. Evolutionists are their own worst enemies by preventing free discussion of all views in the biology classroom.

    Dr. William Provine
    Professor of History of Biology
    in the Section of Ecology and Systematics and in the Department of History
    Cornell University
  4. Michael Ruse

    In an interview:
    I think I would still say—part of my position on morality is very much that we regard morality in some sense as being objective, even if it isn’t. So the claim that we intuit morality as objective reality—I would still say that. Of course, what I would want to add is that from the fact that we do this, it doesn’t follow that morality really is objective.

    I’m saying that if in fact you’re Christian then you believe you were made in the image of God. And that means—and this is traditional Christian theology—that means that you have intelligence and self-awareness and moral ability… it’s a very important part of Christianity that our intelligence is not just a contingent thing, but is in fact that which makes us in the image of God.

    What I would argue is that the connection between Darwinism and ethics is not what the traditional social Darwinian argues. He or she argues that evolution is progressive, humans came out on top and therefore are a good thing, hence we should promote evolution to keep humans up there and to prevent decline. I think that is a straight violation of the is/ought dichotomy…I take Hume’s Law to be the claim that you cannot go from statements of fact—“Duke University is the school attended by Eddy Nahmias”—to statements of value—“Duke University is an excellent school.”

    Ed [Edward O. Wilson] does violate Hume’s Law, and no matter what I say he cannot see that there is anything wrong in doing this. It comes from his commitment to the progressive nature of evolution. No doubt he would normally say that one should not go from “is” to “ought”—for example from “I like that student” to “It is OK to have sex with her, even though I am married.” But in this case of *evolution* he allows it. If you say to him, “But ‘ought’ statements are not like ‘is’ statements,” he replies that in science, when we have reduction, we do this all the time, going from one kind of statement to another kind of statement. We start talking about little balls buzzing in a container and end talking about temperature and pressure. No less a jump than going from “is” to “ought.”

    My position is that the ethical sense can be explained by Darwinian evolution—the ethical sense is an adaptation to keep us social. More than this, I argue that sometimes (and this is one of those times), when you give an account of the way something occurs and is as it is, this is also to give an explanation of its status. I think that once you see that ethics is simply an adaptation, you see that it has no justification. It just is. So in metaethics[4] I am a nonrealist. I think ethics is an illusion put into place by our genes to keep us social.

    I distinguish normative ethics from metaethics. In normative ethics I think evolution can go a long way to explain our feelings of obligation: be just, be fair, treat others like yourself. We humans are social animals and we need these sentiments to get on. I like John Rawls’s[5] thinking on this. On about page 500 of his Theory of Justice book, Rawls says he thinks the social contract was put in place by evolution rather than by a group of old men many years ago. Then in metaethics, I think we see that morality is an adaptation merely and hence has no justification. Having said this, I agree with the philosopher J.L Mackie[6] (who influenced me a lot) that we feel the need to “objectify” ethics. If we did not think ethics was objective, it would collapse under cheating.

    If we knew that it was all just subjective, and we felt that, then of course we’d start to cheat. If I thought there was no real reason not to sleep with someone else’s wife and that it was just a belief system put in place to keep me from doing it, then I think the system would start to break down. And if I didn’t share these beliefs, I’d say to hell with it, I’m going to do it. So I think at some level, morality has to have some sort of, what should I say, some sort of force. Put it this way, I shouldn’t cheat, not because I can’t get away with it, or maybe I *can* get away with it, but because it is fundamentally wrong.

    We’re like dogs, social animals, and so we have morality and this part of the phenomenology of morality, how it appears to us, that it is not subjective, that we think it *is* objective…So I think ethics is essentially subjective but it appears to us as objective and this appearance, too, is an adaptation.

    Within the system, of course, rape is objectively wrong—just like three strikes and you are out in baseball. But I’m a nonrealist, so ultimately there is no objective right and wrong for me. Having said that, I *am* part of the system and cannot escape. The truth does not necessarily make you free.

    There is no ultimate truth about morality. It is an invention—an invention of the genes rather than of humans, and we cannot change games at will, as one might baseball if one went to England and played cricket. Within the system, the human moral system, it is objectively true that rape is wrong. That follows from the principles of morality and from human nature. If our females came into heat, it would not necessarily be objectively wrong to rape—in fact, I doubt we would have the concept of rape at all. So, within the system, I can justify. But I deny that human morality at the highest level—love your neighbor as yourself, etc.—is justifiable. That is why I am not deriving “is” from “ought,” in the illicit sense of justification. I am deriving it in the sense of explaining *why we have* moral sentiments, but that is a different matter.

    I think ultimately there is nothing—moral nihilism, if you wish.
  5. Bertrand Russell

    In a debate with Frederick Copleston where "R" refers to Russell and "C" to Copleston:
    R: But aren't you now saying in effect, I mean by God whatever is good or the sum total of what is good -- the system of what is good, and, therefore, when a young man loves anything that is good he is loving God. Is that what you're saying, because if so, it wants a bit of arguing.

    C: I don't say, of course, that God is the sum-total or system of what is good in the pantheistic sense; I'm not a pantheist, but I do think that all goodness reflects God in some way and proceeds from Him, so that in a sense the man who loves what is truly good, loves God even if he doesn't advert to God. But still I agree that the validity of such an interpretation of a man's conduct depends on the recognition of God's existence, obviously.

    R: Yes, but that's a point to be proved.

    C: Quite so, but I regard the metaphysical argument as probative, but there we differ.

    R: You see, I feel that some things are good and that other things are bad. I love the things that are good, that I think are good, and I hate the things that I think are bad. I don't say that these things are good because they participate in the Divine goodness.

    C: Yes, but what's your justification for distinguishing between good and bad or how do you view the distinction between them?

    R: I don't have any justification any more than I have when I distinguish between blue and yellow. What is my justification for distinguishing between blue and yellow? I can see they are different.

    C: Well, that is an excellent justification, I agree. You distinguish blue and yellow by seeing them, so you distinguish good and bad by what faculty?

    R: By my feelings.

    C: By your feelings. Well, that's what I was asking. You think that good and evil have reference simply to feeling?

    R: Well, why does one type of object look yellow and another look blue? I can more or less give an answer to that thanks to the physicists, and as to why I think one sort of thing good and another evil, probably there is an answer of the same sort, but it hasn't been gone into in the same way and I couldn't give it [to] you.

    C: Well, let's take the behavior of the Commandant of Belsen. That appears to you as undesirable and evil and to me too. To Adolf Hitler we suppose it appeared as something good and desirable, I suppose you'd have to admit that for Hitler it was good and for you it is evil.

    R: No, I shouldn't quite go so far as that. I mean, I think people can make mistakes in that as they can in other things. if you have jaundice you see things yellow that are not yellow. You're making a mistake.

    C: Yes, one can make mistakes, but can you make a mistake if it's simply a question of reference to a feeling or emotion? Surely Hitler would be the only possible judge of what appealed to his emotions.

    R: It would be quite right to say that it appealed to his emotions, but you can say various things about that among others, that if that sort of thing makes that sort of appeal to Hitler's emotions, then Hitler makes quite a different appeal to my emotions.

    C: Granted. But there's no objective criterion outside feeling then for condemning the conduct of the Commandant of Belsen, in your view?

    R: No more than there is for the color-blind person who's in exactly the same state. Why do we intellectually condemn the color-blind man? Isn't it because he's in the minority?

    C: I would say because he is lacking in a thing which normally belongs to human nature.

    R: Yes, but if he were in the majority, we shouldn't say that.

    C: Then you'd say that there's no criterion outside feeling that will enable one to distinguish between the behavior of the Commandant of Belsen and the behavior, say, of Sir Stafford Cripps or the Archbishop of Canterbury.

    R: The feeling is a little too simplified. You've got to take account of the effects of actions and your feelings toward those effects. You see, you can have an argument about it if you can say that certain sorts of occurrences are the sort you like and certain others the sort you don't like. Then you have to take account of the effects of actions. You can very well say that the effects of the actions of the Commandant of Belsen were painful and unpleasant.

    C: They certainly were, I agree, very painful and unpleasant to all the people in the camp.

    R: Yes, but not only to the people in the camp, but to outsiders contemplating them also.

    C: Yes, quite true in imagination. But that's my point. I don't approve of them, and I know you don't approve of them, but I don't see what ground you have for not approving of them, because after all, to the Commandant of Belsen himself, they're pleasant, those actions.

    R: Yes, but you see I don't need any more ground in that case than I do in the case of color perception. There are some people who think everything is yellow, there are people suffering from jaundice, and I don't agree with these people. I can't prove that the things are not yellow, there isn't any proof, but most people agree with him that they're not yellow, and most people agree with me that the Commandant of Belsen was making mistakes.

    C: Well, do you accept any moral obligation?

    R: Well, I should have to answer at considerable length to answer that. Practically speaking -- yes. Theoretically speaking I should have to define moral obligation rather carefully.

    C: Well, do you think that the word "ought" simply has an emotional connotation?

    R: No, I don't think that, because you see, as I was saying a moment ago, one has to take account of the effects, and I think right conduct is that which would probably produce the greatest possible balance in intrinsic value of all the acts possible in the circumstances, and you've got to take account of the probable effects of your action in considering what is right.

    C: Well, I brought in moral obligation because I think that one can approach the question of God's existence in that way. The vast majority of the human race will make, and always have made, some distinction between right and wrong. The vast majority I think has some consciousness of an obligation in the moral sphere. It's my opinion that the perception of values and the consciousness of moral law and obligation are best explained through the hypothesis of a transcendent ground of value and of an author of the moral law. I do mean by "author of the moral law" an arbitrary author of the moral law. I think, in fact, that those modern atheists who have argued in a converse way "there is no God; therefore, there are no absolute values and no absolute law," are quite logical.

    R: I don't like the word "absolute." I don't think there is anything absolute whatever. The moral law, for example, is always changing. At one period in the development of the human race, almost everybody thought cannibalism was a duty.

    C: Well, I don't see that differences in particular moral judgments are any conclusive argument against the universality of the moral law. Let's assume for the moment that there are absolute moral values, even on that hypothesis it's only to be expected that different individuals and different groups should enjoy varying degrees of insight into those values.

    R: I'm inclined to think that "ought," the feeling that one has about "ought" is an echo of what has been told one by one's parents or one's nurses.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

UNCG Outreach Report 4-20-2011

INTRODUCTION:  Today was a great day of outreach.  I didn't do any open-air preaching as I was engaged in several evangelistic conversations as the crowd of passersby was growing quite large.  This is when a team of evangelists can be helpful, but until the Lord provides another evangelist, we will continue doing what we can by God's grace.

Questions of the Day:  "Does absolute truth exist?" and "In your opinion, what does it take for a person to go to heaven?"  

Rejection Question

I want to talk a little about the "question of the day" and rejection.  I've noticed that different questions lend themselves to more positive evangelistic encounters whereas others seem to cause people to cut you off.  For instance, I've had several people cut me off (usually done politely) and tell me that they don't really want to talk to me anymore once I have started asking more penetrating questions about absolute truth.  I've asked the above question of people hundreds of times, and each time the conversation goes South, it seems to almost always be with relativists who get caught affirming the very thing they just denied, and then because they end up making themselves look stupid in front of their friends, they get frustrated, and say, "I'm really not interested in talking anymore."  I had this happen today when I spoke with my first two people and one girl got herself somewhat in a dither when she contradicted herself a few times, realized what was happening, and then gave up on the conversation.  What's worse is that they think that you are trying to trap them even though you qualify with something like this, "I'm not trying to give you a hard time or trap you, I'm just interested in finding out how you answer this dilemma."  Also, I think that conversations about absolute truth are too abstract for some people, and so they simply shut down intellectually after they have made themselves look and feel stupid when they really didn't understand the real issues to begin with.   Given the fact that they have all of that working against them due to a combination of misunderstanding and nil philosophical self-reflection, I can't say that I blame them!  Thus, I think that crafting more basic, less abstract questions might be helpful in the future and if and when the conversation gets further than the 1 minute mark, popping off with questions about absolute truth might then be helpful.  In other words, my experience is teaching me that using a question to find out where a person is from a worldview perspective that gives them "permission" to express their opinion about issues of ultimacy seems to be more well received than other questions that almost immediately place them on the horns of a dilemma.  As a result, any advice from experienced evangelists and apologists is certainly welcomed.

Being Thankful for Praying Christians cum Professional Philosophers

I was witnessing to a group of pleasant young ladies, and two of them said they thought they were good people.  So I went through a modified form of the "Good Person Test" and one of them said "You can't go to heaven if you're gay" to which I admitted, "That's true, but God is an equal opportunity judge and will also condemn unrepentant liars, fornicators, adulterers, blasphemers, covetous people, and every other kind of sinner, including homosexuals."  While I explained the gospel to this young lady, unbeknownst to be, I had a Christian sitting a few feet away who was walking by and overheard the conversation and decided to come back and pray for me while I was witnessing to this young lady  The young lady listened attentively to what I said, thanked me for the conversation, and said she would call me to talk about these things later.  It was then that I turned around from where I was sitting, and an older student came up and told me that he had been praying for me and the young lady almost the entire time.  This was so encouraging.  We then proceeded to enjoy some fellowship for at least 30-45 minutes and we learned that we had so much in common both from the standpoint of religious backgrounds to virtually the same theological and philosophical views.  Thus, it was truly a pleasure to fellowship with this dear brother before he had to go to his mythology class.  I am so thankful for people like this more than words can express. 


An Existentialist turned Inquirer

Last semester I had a long conversation with a young, existentialist student named Adam.  Adam and I had a conversation that lasted well over an hour last fall in front of Yum Yum hot dogs at the edge of campus.  He listened well when I refuted his existentialism that day, and as I was leaving campus today walking back to my car, I recognized him walking toward me and I said, "Hey man, I spoke to you last semester in front of Yum Yums!"  He warmly shook my hand and then told me that that conversation last semester changed his life!  He said he was going to church with his girlfriend and investigating the truth claims of Jesus Christ.  I was so encouraged.  He then explained that after our conversation he saw the vacuous nature of his worldview and started looking into the claims of Christ.  I gave him some apologetic materials that I had in my backpack and then told him to call me anytime if he wanted to chat or if he had any questions.

IN CONCLUSION, it is so important to be open, willing, and ready to talk to people with compassion and concern for their souls.  Remember, Jesus too looked at the crowds who were distressed like sheep without a shepherd and had compassion on them.  We too, should be willing to consider our next door neighbors, our co-workers, and our own family as Jesus did, for you may be the only source of spiritual light they are ever exposed to, so "let your light so shine."

Evaluating NDEs

I have a limited interest in NDEs. I haven’t read everything of relevance on the subject. I’ll supply a bibliography of my sources at the end of this post. For the record, I think proponents of NDEs have the better of the argument. But that’s subject to various caveats.

Jason Engwer continues to research the issue, and his treatment will no doubt improve on mine when he’s done.

The incredible shrinking church of Rome

http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/article.php?storyid=14269

Monday, April 18, 2011

Near-Death Experiences

For those who don't know, there's a lengthy discussion about near-death experiences in the comments section of a recent thread. I'm still in the early stages of my study of this issue, so there's a lot I don't know, and I don't have much confidence in some of my conclusions at this point. It's a subject that Christians have handled poorly so far. We can, and should, do better. I think the thread I've linked above goes into more depth than most Christian discussions of the subject. If anybody wants to offer corrections of what I or others have said, recommend some resources, or contribute in some other way, I'd be interested.