Saturday, August 27, 2011

Welty on the well-meant offer

Greg Welty said...
Hi Ynottony,
I think, then, that this is the issue you're going to have to mull over in your forthcoming reply.
You say:
"Just because there is a divine purpose to leave the non-elect in their sins everlastingly, it doesn't follow that God never, at any point, wanted their compliance to what he commanded."
"He is not insincere in giving His gospel offer to the non-elect because it's still true that He wills their life, according to the revealed or preceptive will of God."
"... the existence of a secret will does not diminish the existence of the revealed will."
I entirely agree with all of this. But notice that what ensures the sincerity of the free offer is, for you, the same in all three assertions above. As long as God "wants compliance to what he commanded" -- that is, as long as we affirm "the revealed or preceptive will of God" -- then that is sufficient for sincerity.
But, presumably, the advocate of Owenic limited atonement can believe in this divine "want" or "revealed will" as well. There's nothing in the Owenic version of limited atonement that excludes it (as far as I can tell). So what's sufficient grounding for you is sufficient grounding for them. Thus, if this particular grounding of the free offer works, it works for all.
So I think the task you have cut out for you in the second part of your series is giving a good argument for the view that those who believe in Owenic limited atonement can have no place for the revealed will of God. A tall order, I say :-)
Thanks for your work.

Justification by Faith Alone

Scripture, Interpretation and Science

When's an offer not an offer?

An offer is not a simple statement of fact in the form of a bare statement of material conditionality. An offer is by definition (normal standard English usage) this, I am willing and able to give you this, if you are willing to receive it.
In the case of an offer of something, one is not just making a bare statement of fact in the form of a simple statement of material conditionality. For in that case, the veracity of the statement of fact is not being called into question at all, which misses the point entirely. What is being called into question is the veracity of the offer of the thing, not the fact of the thing.

Several problems:

i) Ponter is committing a classic semantic fallacy: the word-concept fallacy.

Even if (arguendo), the concept of an offer incorporates sincerity or veracity, that doesn’t figure in the meaning of the word itself.

ii) In addition, to stipulate that an offer must be sincere or true to be a genuine offer begs the question. That’s not something which Ponter is entitled to posit at the outset. For that’s the very issue in dispute.

iii) Ponter’s stipulation apparently includes a tacit proviso: God would never make a false or insincere offer: therefore, a genuine offer is, by definition, sincere or true.

But even if that’s a correct statement regarding the nature of a divine offer, that is not the nature of an offer, per se. So Ponter can’t extract that additional caveat from the concept of an offer qua offer. 

iv) Must an offer be a sincere offer to be a genuine offer?

Let’s distinguish between a “sincere” or “well-meant” offer and a true offer. Take a dilemma. Suppose I’m a high school football coach. One of my players comes to me, telling me he saw the halfback take a laptop from the locker of the running back, and put it in his own locker.

Suppose I confront the halfback. I tell him that if he lets me search his locker, and I don’t find the laptop, then he’s in the clear–but if I do find the laptop, then he’s off the team.

If he’s innocent, then he has nothing to lose by letting me search his locker. But if he’s guilty, then he’s in a bind. If he let’s me search his locker, then that will confirm his guilt. But if he refuses, then I know he has something to hide.

I make the offer knowing that if he’s guilty, he will probably refuse the offer. And I’ll infer his guilt from his refusal.

It’s a no-win situation for a guilty player, but that’s the point. If he lets me search his locker, and I don’t find the laptop, then he’s exonerated.  If he refuses, then his refusal is the evasive behavior of a guilty man.

Whatever choice he makes will succeed in establishing his guilt or innocent.

My offer is a true offer. If he’s innocent, he will be vindicated. If he’s innocent, then he’s motivated to take me up on the offer and clear his name.

Yet there’s another sense in which my offer is insincere or ill-meant inasmuch as I know that if he’s culpable, he won’t cooperate. He will spurn the offer. Indeed, I’m banking on that quandary as a pressure tactic to smoke him out.

The same offer functions as an incentive to the innocent, but a disincentive to the guilty.

Is an insincere, but true offer, not a genuine offer? If not, why not?

v) Must an offer be true to be genuine?

Suppose a store offers a product on sale to lure customers in. Suppose the store has no intention of honoring the offer. The store made no effort to stock the sales item. That was just a deceptive come-on.

Isn’t that a fraudulent offer? Isn’t the store legally liable for false advertising? 

Here’s an offer that’s both false and insincere. If, however, we say that such an offer is not a genuine offer, then the store can’t be fined or sued for fraud. After all, if it never even made an offer (as Ponter defines it), then it can’t be guilty of making a fraudulent offer.

vi) Must an offer be true to be sincere or well-meant? Suppose I offer to sell a friend my classic Mustang. He pays me the amount.

When we go to the garage, I discover, to my surprise and consternation (not to mention my friend’s dismay), that the Mustang has been stolen. When I made the offer I was (unwittingly) in no position to make the offer. My offer was sincere, but inadvertently false. I was willing, but unable (unbeknownst to me) to make good on the terms of the offer.

vii) Here’s a divine offer:

10Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11"Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven." 12But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.”(Isa 7:10-12)”

There are two parties to this offer: God and Ahaz. God is both  able and willing to do it. Indeed, God will make good on the offer–despite the intransigence of Ahaz.

By contrast, Ahaz is unwilling to take God up on the offer. What is more, God foreknew that Ahaz would refuse the offer.

So does Ponter think God is guilty of insincerity? Was this not a bona fide offer?

viii) It’s also unclear, on Ponter’s own definition, how the free offer of the gospel can be either universal or well meant. Since Ponter is not a universalist, he must believe that God knowingly makes the offer to many who are unwilling to receive the offer. But in that event, God never even made them the offer (as Ponter defines it).

So on Ponter’s own terms, the offer is either universal, but not uniformly sincere–or uniformly sincere, but not universal. 

Friday, August 26, 2011

History & archaeology

Ancient writing was restricted to an elite class and frequently biased (Chippindale 1996, 43). Archaeology by contrast describes and explains to us how all types of people lived, from the agricultural peasant to the king on his throne. Archaeology is no respecter or discriminator of class. Rather, it broadens our understanding of antiquity in ways that written documents cannot.

J. Currid, Doing Archaeology in the Land of the Bible (Baker Books 1999), 17. 

John Loftus: man of science

Believers denigrate the sciences in a number of ways in order to believe. That's because faith demands it. Some believers don't even know what I'm talking about.

Human beings will evolve into different sorts of creatures, perhaps like the Na'vi of James Cameron's movie Avatar.

All Na’vi have a long, prehensile tail. This is used for balance, acting as a moving countermass to smooth out the stride at a full run, and to assist with direction changes. The tail is also used for social cues regarding emotional states, as are the ears. Some Na’vi subspecies can suspend their weight from their tail, but the Na’vi in the Hell’s Gate region cannot. They have been observed however using the prehensile tip of the tail to grip tree limbs and vines during climbing, and to help arrest a fall.
The Na’vi skull is proportionately small, compared to a human head/body ratio, and is characterized by high cheekbones, feline ears and a protruding, snout. Na’vi eyes are large and adapted for nocturnal hunting. The eye is four times human size, by volume, and has a characteristic gold pigmentation of the pupil. The pupils will retro-reflect green light at night, due to a layer of light amplifying cells in the retina.
Bioluminescent skin cells that produce the noctilucase enzymes emit light when ambient light levels are low.
At first glance, a human might think of the Na'vi queue as simply a long, rather ostentatious hair braid. This seemingly conventional braid actually sheathes a “neural whip” that is an extension of the Na’vi’s nervous system. At its distal end is a remarkably intricate branching of neural tendrils that can be connected to similar structures of other life forms, both animal and plant. This connection allows a Na'vi to exchange sensory information with other creatures, and members of the zooplantae phylum, the animal-like plants which are unique to Pandora. From birth on, the Na’vi individual’s hair is painstakingly braided over the antenna-like neural whip, protecting it from harm.

No Hooters shirts in Mass, please

Venema’s Epilogue

Tooting his own horn

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips (Prov 27:2).
1"Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
 2 "Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
5"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
16"And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  (Mt 6:1-6,16).
33And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil (Lk 6:33-35).

Armstrong is a roided up version of Catholic piety. Incapable of doing any good deed out of purely disinterested concern for others.

When I read his original post, correctly defending my use of the reductio ad absurdum (before he had second thoughts and scrubbed the original post), I asked myself, “Where’s the catch? Where’s the hidden fee?”

And sure enough, it didn’t take long before he dropped by our combox at Tblog to collect tribute. It’s always for the greater glory of Dave. What’s in it for him? That’s the bottom line.

So naturally he came by, with outstretched palm, demanding reimbursement for his good deed.

And, come to think of it, that’s the essence of Catholic piety: “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” 

Obamanonics vs. Reaganomics

Thursday, August 25, 2011

"We Are Aunicornism"

Color me confused. Here I thought atheism was merely lack of belief in a God or gods. So how can one build a whole campaign around a nonbelief? What does it mean to say We Are Atheism if what they are is what they aren't?

I mean, haven't atheists compared atheism to aunicornism? So are they going to launch an Aunicornist campaign as well? Are they going to come out of the closet and let people know where they stand on the unicorn hypothesis? Will they write or film their aunicornist testimonials?

What would the aunicornist billboards depict, exactly? An encircled unicorn with a red line through it? Would that include videos not showing unicorns?

I'd like to be on the ground floor of this movement. Be the Co-Founder of the Aunicornist party. That would be a real addition to my resume. We could even run Aunicornist candidates for local, state, and national elective office.

Wearing two hats

I have never countenanced sexual abuse from priests. I condemn it wholeheartedly as an abomination and an outrage, as my Church did.

On weekends, Dave is a Green Peace activist condemning water pollution downstream. During the week, Dave is employed by the factory further upstream that contaminates the water.  Dave the loyal company spokesman stoutly defends the polluting factory while Dave the volunteer protester roundly condemns the pollution. 

What's an article of history?


The point is that our moral reasoning, while logical, is nonetheless fueled by fundamental axiomatic starting points concerning what good and evil look like. In other words, it is fueled by strident basic intuitions over what must be the case and what cannot be the case. And in that regard it also closely parallels our logical intuitions. Both Locke and Descartes discussed at length the penetrating luminosity of our basic logical intuitions in a way that parallels to a striking degree our moral intuitions, with all their added emotionalism. Our emotional attraction to certain actions (e.g. altruism) and aversion to others (e.g. rape) is the way we perceive truth in morality.
I’m happy to say that any person who thinks God ordained the wholesale slaughter of an entire society from infants to the elderly has spent one too many days in (1) Sunday school, (2) a Hutu training camp, or (3) the SS youth corp.
Throughout the whole exchange I’ve presented an argument: our moral intuitions provide is with powerful prima facie evidence that genocide is always wrong. This moral intuition comes both in contemplating individual incidents of killing, like the dismemberment of an infant, as well as the whole sweep of a society decimated by genocide as in Rwanda (read Dallaire’s Shake hands with the devil). We have a moral revulsion to such actions which strongly supports the axiomatic starting point that such actions are intrinsically wrong. And that moral intuition is stronger than our beliefs that scripture is wholly inerrant and correctly interpreted in the relevant passages.

Rauser stipulates an axiomatic moral intuition against “genocide,” then cites two historical examples to corroborate his claim. But a basic problem is his argument that his supporting material undercuts his claim. His examples unwittingly amount to counterexamples. Wouldn’t the Hutu and the SS count as empirical evidence against his intuitive appeal?

But that’s not the only problem. He also says:

These young Christians are thus unaware of the large number of Christian evolutionary biologists back to the great Theodosius Dobzhansky, and indeed all the way back to Asa Gray, a contemporary of Darwin and America’s leading botanist of the 19th century. They are often unaware that the Catholic Church embraces evolution, as do leading evangelical scientists like Francis Collins and Denis Lamoureux. Not surprisingly, they also remain unaware that most of those theologians laboring in the theology/science dialogue made peace with Darwin long ago (Alister McGrath, John Polkinghorne, R.J. Russell, Ted Peters, Arthur Peacocke, Ian Barbour and many many others besides).

Does evolution underwrite a moral intuition against “genocide”? Doesn't evolution directly undermine a moral intuition against “genocide”? As Michael Lind has noted:

Evolutionary biology does not provide much hope for the sort of altruistic personal commitment to planetary solidarity that secular humanists want to encourage. Humanist Manifesto III claims that the joy in Stakhanovite that enlightened human beings liberated from religion are expected to feel -- an "ought" -- can be derived from an "is" -- biological fact. "Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships."
But social animals are not altruists. Nor are they strict individualists. They are nepotists. As a rule social animals, like wolves, deer, humans and chimps, show favoritism to their relatives and friends and allies, with little or no concern for members of their own species with whom they have no close connection. Abrahamic monotheism insists on the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God. Darwinism insists at best on the distant cousinhood of humanity.
Among humans, nepotistic solidarity can be transferred, with difficulty, to political units larger than the extended family.

Evolution fosters nepotism rather than altruism. Michael Lind’s claim about in-group solidarity among social animals has far more empirical support than Rauser’s appeal to moral intuition.

In the same vein, Edward Wilson, the father of sociobiology, recently recanted his theory of eusociality:

So Rauser’s endorsement of human evolution is at war with his condemnation of “genocide.” 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Crowd control


Wow, much as I laughed out loud at that comment, I hope you're going to confess it to your priest.

That poses severe logistical challeges. You see, Armstrong is so fond of talking about himself that whenever he goes to confession, you have a line stretching all around the block as other parishioners wait their turn while Armstrong updates his priest on the very latest installments in the story of Dave. The police require advance notification to erect barricades and reroute traffic. Concession stands are wheeled in to feed the waiting parishioners. Tents are set up for overnighters. Trapped in the Confessional with the interminable Dave-a-thon, the famished priest must order delivery pizza on his cellphone. 

Athens and Jerusalem

From the latest post by Bryan Cross:

Of the various philosophical factors that helped me become Catholic, one was teaching through Plato’s Republic.

That’s always what a Catholic apologist must fall back on. Since exegetical theology is not his friend, since historical theology is not his friend, he must ultimately appeal to what (according to him) is antecedently probable.

First, it is reasonable to expect that Christ, being God and therefore all-wise, would establish for His Church the best form of government, not a form of government faulty in some respect. That does not mean that the government that Christ established for His Church would never err, only that the form of this government would be the best one.

i) An obvious problem with this assertion is the presumption that there’s a best form of gov’t. But on the face of it, there are tradeoffs between one form of gov’t and another. Some have advantages the others do not–but with the advantages come corresponding disadvantages.

ii) We don’t have to speculate on how God governs or establishes his church. We actually have an inspired history of the NT church. What do we find when we read Acts? Do we find Peter headquartered in Rome, where he directs and coordinates the expansion of the church? No.

We see free-lance agents like Philip. We also see Peter as one among several different delegates to the council of Jerusalem.

Second, the best form of government is one that is capable of preserving the unity of the society it governs.

That’s hardly self-evident, or even evident. Isn’t justice more important than unity?

Emotional blackmail has a return address

A Parting Thought for My Brother
By John W. Loftus at 8/24/2011
My brother and his wife visited from the west coast and stayed the night last week. We had talked about his Christian faith. I gave him both barrels to no avail. Then as they were leaving, as his wife took a picture of us together, I said: "Keep in mind according to your faith I am going to hell." Now hopefully they will think of what I said whenever they look at that picture. Can he really imagine his brother in hell? See if that breaks them out of their dogmatic slumbers. It should.

My brother and his wife visited from the west coast and stayed the night last week. We had talked about his atheism. I gave him both barrels to no avail. Then as they were leaving, as his wife took a picture of us together, I said: "Keep in mind according to your atheism, 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." Now hopefully they will think of what I said whenever they look at that picture. Can he really imagine his father, mother, brother, wife, son, or daughter passing into oblivion? Their life and death devoid of meaning? See if that breaks them out of their secular slumbers. It should. 

Bowdlerizing the Bible

Rauser offers a selective, deflective response:

Steve Hays of Triablogue wrote a response to my discussion of teaching biblical genocide to children called “Scout’s Honor!” It includes all the hallmarks of Hays’s critical analysis (or lack thereof) including the claim that I accept the UN as my “moral authority”. (How’s that supposed to work exactly?! “Hmm, has the UN addressed whether I can cheat on my taxes? No? Then I guess I’m good to go!”)

He took the position that the UN trumps the Bible on POWs.

So how does Hays explain the fact that the market is flooded with “children’s Bibles” which include the R-rated bits but attempt to obscure the horror with things like talking parrots? Isn’t his quibble with Zondervan rather than me?

i) I don’t have to explain that fact since that does nothing to refute my contention. That does nothing to show that I’m either inconsistent or mistaken. That's a red herring. 

I assume children’s Bibles are published because there’s a market for that demographic niche. It’s profitable.

ii) Moreover, his counterexample makes no sense even on his own terms since he immediately qualifies his counterexample by saying children’s Bibles present a bowdlerized version of events. But if that’s the case, then publishers don’t think everything in Scripture is suitable for children. They don’t give kids the straight skinny.

iii) Does Rauser think the Bible was written to or for children? Does he think Romans was addressed to 5-year-old? Was Hebrews, Lamentations, or the Song of Solomon written for children? Was that the implied reader? Is that the intended audience?

And the fact is that kids in Sunday school are fed all sorts of R-rated Bible stories. It is just that they are airbrushed to the point of egregious distortion. The drowning of millions of people and animals in a mass flood becomes a playful bedtime story in which animals march onto a big boat two by two, driven by a jovial Santa Claus with sandals and staff. David killing and decapitating Goliath becomes the equivalent of giving the bully a knockout punch at the bike racks. The genocide of Jericho is taught with a joyful ditty that makes it sound like we’re cheering on our favorite basketball team: “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho….” And all depictions of the atonement — understood as a human sacrifice to appease the wrathful deity — is rendered as bloodless as the death of Aslan in a certain big budget, family friendly film.

So how does that disprove my point?

I can understand that Hays would think these are not age appropriate stories. So does he believe we shouldn’t teach children about Noah and the flood, David and Goliath, Joshua and Jericho or Jesus and the cross?
And if you think we should teach these stories, how do you do so in a way that is age appropriate without hopelessly distorting the R-rated realities that they convey?

i) I didn’t single out any particular instance. I merely made a general observation. If you want some concrete examples, I don’t think children need to read stories about incest (Gen 19:30-38), prostitution (Gen 38), dismemberment and gang-rape (Judges 19), or war brides (Deut 21:10-14).

That’s not because it’s wrong for the Bible to record these incidents or have regulations mitigating the fate of wartime widows. But it’s not relevant to children. It’s not something they need to know about.

ii) As to what’s appropriate, I’d draw a broad distinction between boys and girls. As a boy, I used to play cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians–with other boys. We had toy cap guns. But what’s suitable for boys might not be suitable for the average girl (unless she’s a Tomboy).

Of course, given his radical chic ideology, Rauser would probably disagree. If he fathered a son, Rauser might wait to let his son choose his/her gender–or transgender. Dress him in a frilly pink skirt. Let him play with dolls instead of cap guns.

Speaking for myself, both boys and girls should be taught the metanarrative of Scripture. Both boys and girls should learn about the life of Christ–including the Crucifixion.

Children have an instinctive understanding of penal substitution. Indeed, they grasp that better than Bible-haters like Randal Rauser, Thom Stark, James McGrath et al.

In the meantime, Rauser dodges the larger issue I raised. Why does he believe in God if Yahweh is unbelievable? Why not be an atheist?

When the Bible attributes something to God that Rauser finds too repugnant to believe, he relegates that story to the realm of fiction. That never happened. Whew! What a relief!

That’s his way of domesticating the Bible. Making it safe for his flower power faith. Insulating his flower power faith from abrasive truths. So he has his own way of bowdlerizing the Bible.

Yet all sorts of equally horrible things happen outside the Bible. And unlike the Bible, he doesn’t have the luxury of salvaging God’s reputation by relegating these events to the realm of fiction.

He doesn’t believe any children really perished in Noah’s flood. That’s fictitious. Yet he believes many children perish in coastal flooding from tsunamis.

He doesn’t believe women and children really died in Jericho, or Sodom and Gomorrah. Yet he believes real women and children die in aerial bombardments.

Why is God believable outside the Bible, but unbelievable inside the Bible?

Prima donna


In your first message (Aug 12: 8:56AM) you disagreed with my using "Christian" in quotes. I honestly wasn't trying to insult all Protestant Christians. . . . if putting "Christian" in quotes was lacking in charity that is my fault, and I have and do apologize. (8-12-11, 2:46 PM, ET at CathApol)
Thanks Dave. I wrote those comments before I read yours in the other comment box. If I had read your comments first, I would not have written that. I am suitably humbled by your words and would appreciate being able to bow out gracefully from the conversation. I will not be participating in the discussion anymore. My humble apologies to any and all Christians who felt insulted by my words. (8-12-11, 4:42 PM ET)
This demonstrates a number of things:
I seem to have been the primary agent in persuading her that she was wrong in her language, which means that:
I was not acting as a "team player" and overlooking all fault on the catholic "side" simply because these are fellow Catholics (one of your major complaints, and a legitimate one).

I'll be the first to concede that Dave is not a team player. By definition, a prima donna can't be a team player. Prima donnas don't play team sports.