Saturday, February 15, 2014

How wolves change rivers

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe." (John Muir)

The body of Moses

But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you” (Jude 9).
According to some church fathers, this is an allusion to a pseudepigraphal work: the Assumption of Moses or Testament of Moses. Since the book is no longer extant, we can't directly compare it to Jude's statement. 
However, this still raises questions about Jude's use of that suspect material. In principle there are three explanations:
1) There's a liberal explanation. Jude was gullible as well as careless about his sources. He believed this apocryphal story was true. I only mention this explanation for the sake of completeness, as well as to provide a point of contrast for two orthodox alternatives.
2) Jude isn't crediting the historicity of the anecdote. Rather, he's using it the way a contemporary Christian might use an anecdote from a popular science fiction movie or TV series, or a comic book superhero, to illustrate his point. 
That explanation would be consistent with the inerrancy of Jude. And since we can't interview Jude, we don't know for a fact how he viewed this material.
3) Jude was crediting the historicity of this incident, and he was correct. Let's consider a few points:
i) Although the immediate source may be a pseudepigraphal work, that, in turn, is glossing a canonical source. For the passage is paraphrasing Zech 3:1-2:
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. 2 And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! 
As in Jude, you have a high-ranking angel rebuking Satan in the name of the Lord. 
Also, in Dan 10, you have the Archangel Michael contending with a territorial spirit. So, to that extent, Jude's source has a basis in OT history.
ii) It's not unlikely that Satan would lay claim to the body of Moses. His corpse would be a prime candidate for the veneration of relics. Corpses of holy men, even reputed corpses of holy men, become the basis of shrines, pilgrimages, and prayers. 
So the proper disposal of Moses' body is religiously significant. Making his corpse inaccessible–in an unmarked grave (Deut 34:6)–forestalls the development of a religious cult that rivals the true faith.    

Miracles and medicine

I think many atheists, especially scientists, are conditioned to secularism because, in their observation, the natural world operates like a machine. 

And up to a point, that's consistent with Christian theology. Christian theology has a doctrine of ordinary providence. As a rule, natural events are governed by secondary causes. A chain of physical cause and effect. 

As a rule, a botanist wouldn't attribute a sickly plant getting better to divine intervention. As a rule, a veterinarian wouldn't attribute a sick horse getting better to divine intervention. 

However, let's consider miraculous answers to prayer. These are usually prayers for humans. If God intervenes more often in medical practice than botany, that's a reflection of the fact that more prayers are directed at sick humans.

But let's take a comparison. John Wesley once prayed for his horse:

Wesley was familiar with all the discomforts of the road. His horses fell lame or were maimed by incompetent smiths. Sometimes there were more serious accidents. In July 1743, he and John Downes rode from Newcastle to Darlington. They had young horses, which were quite vigorous the day before, but now both seemed unwell. The ostler went in haste for a farrier, but both animals died before they could discover what was the matter with them. In June, 1752, a young strong mare which Wesley borrowed at Manchester fell lame before he reached Grimsby. Another was procured, but he was “dismounted” again between Newcastle and Berwick. When he returned to Manchester, he found that his own mare had lamed herself whilst at grass. He intended to ride her four or five miles, but some one took her out of the ground. Another which he had lately bought ought to have been forthcoming, but she had been taken to Chester. In one journey his horse became so exceeding lame that it could scarcely set its foot to the ground. Wesley could not discover what was amiss. He rode thus seven miles till he was thoroughly tired, and his head ached more than it had done for months. He says, “What I here aver is the naked fact. Let every man account for it as he sees good. I then thought, ‘Cannot God heal either man or beast by any means, or without any’ Immediately my weariness and headache ceased, and my horse’s lameness in the same instant. Nor did he halt any more that day or the next. A very odd accident this also!”
Although it could be coincidental, this seems to be a case of answered prayer. For the sake of argument, let's say that's the case. 
Back in the days when many Christians relied on horses for farming and transportation, more prayers would be directed at ailing horses. To the extent that God answered their prayers, God intervened more often on behalf of horses. In that event, veterinary science ought to make greater allowance for miracles. But there is less occasion for that today.
Likewise, if a Christian farmer prays for infested crops, and God answers his prayer, then God intervened on behalf of corn or wheat. In that event, a botanist ought to make allowance for a miracle. 
To some degree, what scientists observe concerning the presence or absence of miracles in their field may mirror what Christians generally pray for. Nature is more automatic when we have less occasion to pray about natural events. We pray for what we need. 

The ethics of assisted suicide

I haven't surveyed the vast literature on euthanasia, yet I'm guessing that proponents of euthanasia regard assisted suicide as an extension of mere suicide. But in this little post I will argue that assisted suicide raises ethical issues over and above mere suicide. 

i) Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that suicide is licit if you're diagnosed with terminal cancer, Alzheimer's, or some degenerative condition. Does it follow that assisted suicide would likewise be licit under those circumstances? No.

Take a comparison. I have a right to drive from Seattle to San Diego. That, however, doesn't mean I have a right to ask (much less compel) you to drive me from Seattle to San Diego. I'm not entitled to make the same demands on your time. Your time is your own. What you do with it is up to you. 

ii) Conversely, let's suppose suicide is illicit under those circumstances. If so, then assisted suicide is even worse. If it is wrong to kill myself, then I alone bear the guilt for my action. But assisted suicide makes a second party complicit in the same evil. A solicitation to evil. 

iii) Take a home euthanasia situation. If an ailing parent asked a grow child to euthanize the parent, that's an unfair request. A coercive request. That's a tremendous imposition on the son or daughter. That places the grown child in an emotional or psychological dilemma. 

On the one hand, the child looks into the pleading eyes of the parent. The child doesn't wish to refuse the desperate parent. 

Moreover, simply by making the request, the parent has now shifted the onus onto the child. If the parent continues to suffer, that's because the child refused to euthanize the parent at the parent's request. The child now feels directly responsible for the parent's suffering. It's his fault. Yet it's unjust to put the child in that position.

On the other hand, what if, quite understandably, the child can't bear to do that to his parent? For that matter, what if he can't do that to himself? For he will have to live with that decision. He will have to carry that around with him for the rest of his life. He may hate himself for complying with the request.

Sometimes it's wrong to even ask someone close to you to do something onerous. You are leveraging their feelings. In principle, they can refuse, but at a cost. 

iv) On a related note, the state permits suicide for the simple reason that the state can't prevent suicide. Even if suicide is technically illegal, that's unenforceable. The only way for the state to prevent suicide is to have a person involuntarily committed and kept on suicide watch indefinitely. And that's not practical on a large scale. Moreover, suicide is often unpredictable. Furthermore, involuntary commitment raises its own ethical issues.

By contrast, if euthanasia is legal, then the state will be directly involved in that process. It will regulate medical euthanasia as well as home euthanasia. The state is morally complicit in assisted suicide in contrast to mere suicide.  

v) Once euthanasia is legal, med schools will include that in their curriculum. And it won't be an elective. Every student will be required to learn how to euthanize a patient. 

vi) Moreover, once euthanasia is legal, it becomes a civil "right." Doctors will be required to euthanize a patient upon request, as long as the patient meets the criteria. In theory, there could be conscience clauses which permit a physician to opt-out, but in reality, liberals are intolerant of conscience clauses. This will be deemed a "medical procedure" (like abortion or a sex-change operation) which is the patient's right to demand. So even if it's voluntary for the patient, it's not voluntary for the physician. If he refuses, he can be fired, sued, and/or lose his license. That's how things will play out.

So, once again, a second party is implicated in the process. Even against his will.

vii) Furthermore, it's not hard to commit suicide. There are many time-tested methods. Why insist that someone else do it for you? Why wait around until you get to that point? If you really think life is not worth living under certain foreseeable conditions, why not do it yourself rather than making someone else do it under compulsion?

viii) Apropos (vii), perhaps an advocate of euthanasia would say assisted suicide is necessary because the patient has become too incapacitated to take his own life. If so, that raises questions. Incapacitated in what way? Mentally incompetent? If so, he's in no condition to give informed consent–absent advance directives. 

Physically incapacitated? If so, why did he wait until it was too late to carry out his own wishes? Does he now have the right to demand assisted suicide because he procrastinated to the point where he can't end his own life? 

An exception would be those who suffered a debilitating accident, like paralysis due to spinal chord trauma. But proponents of euthanasia don't confine the right to such narrow examples. 

viii) Finally, voluntary euthanasia inevitably leads to involuntary euthanasia. The patients who make the greatest demands on the healthcare system are generally the elderly and the disabled. They are a "drain" on the system. Once the state allows for voluntary euthanasia, it will justify involuntary euthanasia for the common good. The young and strong will euthanize the old and weak to keep healthcare available for the young and strong. 

The Historicity Of The Star Of Bethlehem (Part 5)

(Previous posts in the series: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4.)

Adair tells us that "one must wonder" why Luke doesn't report the events surrounding the Bethlehem star. Luke goes from the opening weeks of Jesus' life to an incident that occurred when he was twelve years old. The events of Matthew 2 seem to have occurred when Jesus was close to two years old (2:16). Why expect Luke to narrate something that occurred during a timeframe he wasn't covering? As Richard Burridge notes, even if an ancient biographer covers some of the events of his subject's childhood, "usually the narrative moves rapidly on to the public debut later in life" (in Joel Green, et al., edd., Dictionary Of Jesus And The Gospels [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2013], 337). Sometimes a figure's childhood wouldn't even be narrated at all, as the gospels of Mark and John illustrate. There wasn't a shortage of significant events in Jesus' life to report. The sentiment of John 21:25 surely was widespread in ancient Christianity. Luke knew more than he records in his gospel and Acts. The "we" material in Acts, for example, doesn't include everything Luke would have experienced in his travels with Paul. Luke seems to have used Mark as a source, yet he doesn't include every miracle Mark narrated. He would have known of Jesus' resurrection appearance to James, but he doesn't mention it. And the frequency of Pauline miracles in the letters of Paul suggests that Luke could have included more miracle accounts from Paul's life if he'd wanted to. He surely left out much of what he knew even in the context of events as significant as the miracles of Jesus and the apostles. Luke, like other ancient historians, was highly selective in what he reported. The absence of the star of Bethlehem events in Luke's gospel isn't much of an objection to the historicity of those events.

Friday, February 14, 2014

"Why I am no longer a creationist"

A friend asked about a video. Here's my response (with some minor revisions):

I just watched the "Why I am no longer a Creationist - Part 1: Genus Homo" video. Here are some thoughts:

John 14:12

Borrowed rage

Evan May did a little post on secular ethics, which was swarmed by village atheists:

Here's my response to the commenters:

Dont be absurd there ARE NO rights or freedoms according to the bible for humans, the very concept of human rights go against what the bible teaches

Both OT and NT ethics lay down basic standards for how humans should normally treat one another. Providing for basic needs, as well as certain protections.

What is wrong with you? dont you think this through do you,if what was the case you would not be outraged if i owned people as slaves?

i) From a secular standpoint, Tony needs to explain why owning slaves is morally wrong:

a) To begin with, many secular thinkers admit that atheism leads to moral relativism or moral nihilism.  

b) In addition, secularism has a very reductionist view of humans. We're just animals. Temporary, fortuitous organizations of matter. So even if an atheist could get over the first hurdle (are there objective moral norms?), why is it wrong to enslave a human animal?

ii) The fact that Biblical law regulates slavery doesn't necessarily mean the Bible condones slavery. Law codes aren't ethical ideals. They simply set a floor for social mores. A minimal standard for what's socially intolerable. The law is not a substitute for moral and spiritual renewal. 

iii) There were basically two reasons for "slavery" in the OT. One was for captured enemy combatants. Well, what's the alternative? If you defeat the enemy on the battlefield today, but let the defeated soldiers go home, you have to keep fighting the same battle. So that leaves you with two practical alternatives: (a) execute them or (b) subjugate them. 

iv) The other reason was insolvency. Indentured service is no fun, but it's preferable to starvation. 

v) As Richard Bauckham discusses in The Climax of Prophecy, Rev 18  is a searing indictment of an economy based on forced labor.

Also you cannot account for the existence of psychopaths and sociopaths, your bible clearly says God had written his moral laws in the hearts of men, but psychos and socios do not care for anyone but themselves WHAT SO EVER, nor can they feel love, the closest thing they can to love is control and domination. And to top it all off these traits emerge when psychos and socios are CHILDREN…

It's not hard to explain how people can turn out badly due to early social malformation. 

if morality is rooted in the will of any being it is subjective by definition

Morality isn't rooted in God's sheer will.

its to show how God did not write his law on anyone’s heart if he did write them on the hearts of men then there would still be evidence of that law being written on his/her heart…

Scripture also talks about a seared conscience (1 Tim 4:2).

if you follow Christian ethics to their conclusions you should be owning slaves and killing everyone who doesn’t follow your religion in a brutal and painful fashion.

Even in the Mosaic theocracy, there was no duty to kill everyone who didn't follow the true faith. There was no duty to kill pagans outside the Promised Land. And there was no duty to kill resident aliens who didn't belong to the covenant community.

God cannot be objective, he is a person and anything rooted in a person is by def subjective…

Suppose I don't understand how a gadget works or what it's for. But the inventor can tell me. He knows why he made it. What it's for. How it works.

Likewise, a writer is the best interpreter of his own writings.

you must steal Chinese or any number of other culture’s morality to support your own primitive stone age tribal morality

Normally, unbelievers date OT books very late. But he's dating them very early: to the stone age! That's earlier than most conservative Christians date them. Just think: Genesis dates to the stone age! That brings it much closer to the events it narrates.

it would be impossible for psychopaths to suppress such things completely, and yet they do as they show no signs of any moral outrage at anything bible god says he finds disgusting

What does he actually know about psychopaths and sociopaths? Is his information based on horror movies? Is it based on academic research of actual cases?

sorry buddy your God isnt objective,because he is a person anything that is based on a person is not objective

Really? What about favors. If somebody does me a favor, I'm in his debt. I owe him a favor in return. Social obligations are often based on reciprocity. Parents cared for their kids. Now grown children should care for elderly parents.

By contrast, we don't have duties to inanimate objects. 

if he was objective he would do things that are considered good INPEDENTDENT of his own opionion .

That begs the question of whether good can be independent of God.

not really… plenty of ethical systems work without a person that enforces things
It's not just a question of a person who enforces things. Rather, social obligations presume that it's possible for one person to obligate another. One person to be obligated to another. For instance, if you save my life at great risk to yourself, I owe you my friendship.
you do realize that all you did was re-word the problem not solve it right? why is something that is considered objectivity good apart of God’s nature instead of something else? how does God’s nature know something is good or bad? in other words is God’s character the way it is because it is good or is God’s character good simply because it is God’s character? If we identify the ultimate standard for goodness with God’s nature, then it seems we are identifying it with certain of God’s properties (e.g., being loving, being fair,being kind). If so, then the dilemma resurfaces: is God good because he has those properties, or are those properties good because God has them?
The Euthyphro dilemma is generated by Platonic metaphysics, where there's a dichotomy between abstract universals and concrete particulars. Persons, including gods, are concrete particulars in Platonism. 
But in Christian metaphysics, God is not an instance of the good. God is the absolute Creator. God is the standard of goodness for creatures because they exemplify divine intentions. But that doesn't generate an infinite regress or vicious circle in relation to God. Since God is the exemplar, there is no standard behind the exemplar. 
Since you acknowledge that your own moral compass is corrupt, I wonder what mechanism you employ in order to ascertain that God is more moral than man – would that be your admittedly flawed moral compass?
Total depravity is mitigated by regeneration and sanctification, as well as common grace. Born-again Christians aren't totally depraved. 
You’re merely blindly accepting DCT from what I read here.
Divine commands aren't arbitrary fiats. Rather, God commands us to do what God designs us to do. Human duties are grounded in human nature, according to God's design for human creatures. 

Camels in Genesis

Bill Nye's astronomy

The Historicity Of The Star Of Bethlehem (Part 4)

(Previous posts in the series: part 1, part 2, part 3.)

Adair wants to know why "Zoroastrians from Persia" would "want to become Jews because of a Star" (1553). He goes on to argue that Zoroastrians at the time of Jesus' birth would have been uninterested in or opposed to the sort of astrology relevant to Matthew 2, that it wasn't until centuries later that they developed a more positive view of such astrology. In third-century inscriptions, "we have the leader of the magi conducting persecutions of Jews and Christians" (1593). Adair argues that if the events of Matthew 2 had occurred, then later groups affiliated with Matthew's magi should have held a higher view of Christianity.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The God Who Speaks

Old age

Hans Küng is contemplating suicide. He's 85. Going blind. Suffers from Parkinson's disease. 
He's been criticized, not only for the prospect of ending his own life, but for how others might follow his lead. 
I'd like to make a few observations: He's a Roman Catholic priest. A childless bachelor. To my knowledge, he never fathered children by a secret mistress. And even if he did, he clearly didn't raise them. 
So he doesn't have a loving wife or loving grown children to cushion the prospect. It's a terrifying prospect. Losing control. Going blind. Becoming incapacitated. Maybe losing his mind. I believe Parkinson's sometimes results in senile dementia. 
It's all the more terrifying when you face that alone. Oh, he has friends. But that's not the same thing. 
In addition, he was never a good priest. By that I mean, he was never the kind of selfless priest who ministers in obscurity to his parishioners. 
Instead, he was a theological showboater. Tried to be an influential player in Catholic theology. A trend-setter. A man on the world stage. 
But eventually, you become a has-been. If you live for your work, you will be inconsolable in old age when time passes you by.
In some ways his situation is unusual, but in other ways not. When I go for walks, I see lots of elderly widows with little dogs. I sometimes see an elderly widower with a little dog. It's both pitiful and understandable. 
But I also see lots of young couples walking dogs rather than kids. We're developing a subculture in which many young people have adopted an antinatalist philosophy. They look down on parents as "breeders." Their pets are their children. 
They will be very lonely in old age. 
In addition, we have smaller families than in the past. Even couples who do have children usually have just one or two. 
But in old age, that may not be enough. They may live out of state. They may be estranged. 
This is both an opportunity and a challenge for the church. And with the graying of the population, it will only increase. 

Missing links

A friend asked me about missing links. For what it's worth, here's my reply:

Keep in mind that I'm no expert. In answer I'll try to first address the question of intermediate forms generally, then discuss hominids, although there may be some necessary overlap in my analysis:

i) Although I think Darwinians use intermediate form and transitional form synonymously, an organism can be an intermediate without being transitional. Take ecological intermediates like semiaquatic species. They share some features with land animals and other features with aquatic animals. That's not because they represent an evolutionary link, but because they function in a habitat that straddles land and water.

ii) I'd say one reason the fauna and flora exhibit such a range of similarities and dissimilarities is that God chose to manifest his wisdom by creating a wide variety of creatures. Ringing the changes on certain basic models. 

iii) A hybrid appears to be an intermediate form. Take ligers (a cross between a lion and a tigress). If a Darwinian was examining the fossil remains of a hybrid, he might well classify it as a transitional form or evolutionary link. Could he tell from the fossil remains that it's actually a hybrid? 

iv) Marsupials are similar to their mammalian counterparts. If all a Darwinian had to go by were fossil remains of extinct marsupials, he might classify a Tasmanian "wolf" as a transitional canid. 

v) Some snakes are oviparous, which they share in common with birds, most fish, and amphibians–but other snakes are viviparous, which they share in common with placental mammals. By Darwinian logic, that would make boas and anacondas an evolutionary link between reptiles and mammals! That's despite the fact that these are considered primitive snakes, compared to more advanced species like pit vipers.  

vi) To my knowledge, fossil remains of hominids are usually skeletal fragments. From skeletal fragments, could a Darwinian tell the difference between a simian child, simian adolescent, and simian adult, or would he classify these as three different taxa? 

Children have smaller skulls than adults. Since encephalization is considered evidence of evolution, would a Darwinian mistakenly classify the skull or skull fragments of an extinct simian child as an earlier hominid? 

Likewise, I believe Cromagnon man had a larger cranium than modern man. If both were extinct, Darwinians would logically classify Cromagnon as later than modern man. 

vii) To my knowledge, disease, diet, and climate can all affect body size, shape, and skeletal structure. Consider the difference between the Tutsi, central African pigmies, Australian aborigines, Eskimos,  and Samoans.

If these were all extinct, and all we had to go by were skeletal fragments, would a Darwinian classify them all as homo sapiens, or would he classify them as different hominids? 

Mere theism

The Ham/Nye debate exposed some fissures in Christian apologetics. Some critics resent the fact that, from their viewpoint, Ham created a false dichotomy between naturalistic evolution and young-earth creationism. Critics think that unfairly squeezes out old-earth creationism, theistic evolution, and/or intelligent design theory.

Mind you, I don't think they can really blame Ham. He issued the challenge and he hosted the debate, so he's entitled to present and defend his own position. That's what you'd expect. Nothing prevents others from challenging Nye to a public debate. Of course, Ham is more high-profile, so he garnered more viewers.

On a related note, there were critics who bemoan the missed opportunities to expose the public to other related and relevant issues. To some extent I agree. Of course, there's only so much you can say in one debate. In fact, the Ham/Nye debate already tried to cover too much ground.

What we need are public debates on multiple topics, like methodological atheism, or scientific evidence against macroevolution and universal common descent, &c.

There is, though, yet another issue. Some critics favor a mere Christianity or mere theism strategy.  They think inerrancy is a secondary issue. They think evolution is a secondary issue. As one critic put it:

So let’s make a hypothetical situation here. Let’s suppose for the sake of argument, and I do not believe this at all, that the first two chapters of Genesis are in error. Does that mean the whole NT is untrustworthy? No. It does not. It just means we need to change our doctrines of inspiration and Inerrancy. Note I am taking a scenario that is unfavorable towards us intentionally and using it to show that the central truth can still stand. 
So in that case, I again repeat, if you want to know if Christianity is true, you don’t need to answer the question of evolution. If evolution is wrong, I would rather someone come to Christ with a belief in evolution, than to avoid Christ while having a true belief that evolution is wrong. I am more interested in getting people to Christ and removing as many hurdles from them as I can. I don’t want them to think they have to overcome a hurdle with evolution. Just show them what alone is essential. 
Now if you want to critique evolution, then have at it! Go for it! Just make sure that it is a scientific critique and not a Bible critique. The last thing we need is to have this be the case of science vs. the Bible. As soon as we put that to the world, guess which one they will go with.

I'll return to this in a moment. I'd just like to contrast that to young-earth creationism. They have different priorities. Their aim is to convert people to the Bible. Their aim is to convert people to Biblical theism. The whole nine yards.

Now, you may disagree with their science. You may disagree with their exegesis. But I think their aim is correct. They use scientific arguments to defend their interpretation of Gen 1-11. That's because their ultimate commitment is to Bible history, as they understand it. And I agree with that. 

Of course, an old-earth creationist can have the same agenda. They simply disagree on what the Bible teaches. But (some of them) also believe in converting people to Biblical theism. 

Now let's compare and contrast that to the position I just quoted. It sounds very pious, very evangelistic, to say our priority should be converting people to Christ, and avoiding obstacles which impede conversion to Christ. But is that reductionistic strategy really pious?

Logically, that would mean we shouldn't require people to believe that God called Abraham out of Ur, that God spoke to Moses, that the Exodus really happened, that Isaiah foresaw the future, that God commissioned St. Paul. What if the Bible itself is a hurdle? 

In addition, let's review some versions of theistic evolution. Here's one:

Nonteleological Evolution, the view that, while the supernatural may exist, it does not intervene after the universe comes into existence…This view affirms evolution and shares many similarities with naturalistic evolution because even though a supernatural being may have jump started the process, the universe, as it evolved, did not originate or progress with an intended telos, or plan, in view. Therefore, the randomness that characterizes evolution in philosophical naturalism is preserved, as is the attempt to explain everything from naturalistic causes. M. Barrett & A. Caneday, eds. Four Views On the Historical Adam (Zondervan 2013), 20.

Would it be okay to graft that onto faith in Jesus? If not, why not? On scientific grounds? Biblical grounds? 

Refuting Evolution and “The Science Guy”

The Historicity Of The Star Of Bethlehem (Part 3)

(You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.)

Adair gives no example of an early source interpreting Matthew's star account, or Matthew in general, as belonging to the genre of novel. In some of my posts referenced earlier, I cite evidence that early Christian and non-Christian sources assigned the gospels, including the infancy narratives, to a historical genre. In some cases, the star of Bethlehem passage in particular is addressed in a way that suggests that the passage is meant to be taken historically.

Bill Nye and the Fossil Record

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Not a chance

To some extent, events often appear to be random. When you have the sole survivor of a plane crash or train crash, when a passenger is thrown from a car and survives unharmed, some people, especially friends and relatives of the survivor, call that a miracle.

But atheists respond by saying that's random. Odds are that every so often, that's bound to happen. But what about all the other cases? What about the causalities? 

The atheist has a point. Statistically speaking, we'd expect that to happen by chance every so often. So these anomalies don't necessarily reflect the hidden hand of providence.

Mind you, apparent randomness is consistent with particular providence. To take a comparison, pi is apparently random, yet pi is utterly and exactly predictable. Indeed, there are formulas for generating pi:

So there's a hidden pattern in pi, even if pi is too big for the human mind to detect the hidden pattern. 

Likewise, the fact that some people die in accidents while others survive isn't proof of randomness. Who dies and who survives affects the future. Even one individual's life or premature demise can have an enormous impact on subsequent events further down the line. We don't see the pattern because we don't know the goal, and we lack the overview to see how apparently independent events converge on the goal. Ye everything happens for a reason–however obscure to you and me.  

So even if the only kinds of events in life were seemingly random events, that would still be consistent with predestination. With God prearranging the outcome to further his long-range aims. 

But in addition to deceptively random events are other examples, like answered prayer, where a pattern is more evident. Of course, some apparent answers to prayer may be coincidental. But there are other cases where it's too specific to be random. And that's just one type of divine intercession. There are miracles, prophecies, premonitory dreams, &c. 

God is not himself today–come back tomorrow

I'm going to comment on this post, by a Barthian universalist:

In fact we object to violence and to the destruction of our enemies because this is precisely what God does too; this how God manifests himself when he is in us. The virtue lists in the New Testament depict human likeness of God in fundamentally nonviolent, benevolent terms: poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungry for righteousness, merciful, pure, peacemakers, persecuted (Mt 5.3-10); lovers of enemies (Mt 5.43-8); loving, joyful, peaceful, forbearing, kind, good, faithful, gentle, self-controlled (Gal 5.22-3); not angry, not malevolent, beneficent in speech and deed, not bitter or rageful, kind and compassionate and forgiving (Eph 4.25-32); pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and goodness, impartial, and sincere (Jas 3.17). Persons who embody and manifest these traits are not violent; they are not descriptions of persons acting violently or malevolently. If this is what it means to have God present in you, then we infer that this is what God is truly like.
i) Nemes is burning a straw man when he equates retributive justice with violence. And the fumes rising from his straw man become even more acrid when he equates retributive justice with rage, bitterness, and malevolence. He isn't even attempting to accurately characterize the opposing position.
ii) Then there's his flawed theological method, where he resorts to non-eschatological, common grace passages to negate passages specific to eschatological justice and judgment. But our primary source of information about eschatology ought to come from passages directly concerned with eschatology. 
“But God is demonstrably violent and malevolent to some.” Yes, but he is not being himself. This is an important insight Jon D. Levenson mentions in his analysis of Torah in Creation and the Persistence of Evil: in his battle against sin and the forces of evil, God is forced to behave himself in a way with which he does not identify, which he does not desire. His ultimate goal is to be the benevolent, sovereign ruler of a freely cooperative world in which all flourish; but when evil threatens to destroy everything, he must cease to be benevolent to work towards preserving his threatened sovereignty.This is why it is important that we do not accept depictions of divine violence, of divine judgment, of damnation, etc., as final and definitive realities: God must be himself, he must be his true self in the end, and his true self is not the damning God but the saving God. Like Levenson says, God may not be proximately good, but he must be ultimately good.
That's an arresting notion of God. It reminds me of movies in which the villain gives the protagonist a choice: he can shoot one of his friends to save the other, or if he refuses to choose, the villain will shoot both of them. 
To judge by this, the God of Barth, Torrance, and Moltmann is a finite deity at the mercy of a rebellious creation; a God who is "forced" to act out of character–forced to commit heinous crimes in the short-term as he struggles to regain control of the situation. 

God's justice in damnation

I'm going to comment on this assertion, by a Barthian universalist:

So it is very much incompatible with God’s goodness to create a world in which everyone is damned.

i) Universal damnation is just a hypothetical limiting-case to make the point that if God is just in damning everyone, then God is just in damning anyone.

ii) As I pointed out in a previous post, Nemes artificially opposes divine goodness to divine justice.

iii) What I'd say is that universal damnation is incompatible, not with God's goodness or justice but with his wisdom. On the face of it, it would be pointless for God to create a world in which everyone is damned. Who benefits from that scenario? Not God and not the damned. Yet those are the only two parties on that scenario. 

Something's gone awry

What would follow from that difficulty is not that “the God of Molinism is fallible” or that “God is fallible on the Molinist view” or that “according to the Molinist view there are possible worlds in which God’s plans fail”. No, they are clearly committed to ID. That’s their view! Rather, at worst, they’ve given an inadequate metaphysical defense of how ID could be true.
When an Arminian comes to us Calvinists and says, “According to the Calvinist view, people are robots and God is a moral monster,” don’t you think that’s a misrepresentation? Isn’t it better for them to say, “Calvinists say that humans have free agency and that God is holy, but I don’t see how they give a consistent defense of those commitments”?
Here’s a quicker analogy: “Molinists say that God knows these counterfactuals, but we all know they haven’t solved the grounding objection. Without grounds, there aren’t any truths to know. Therefore, Molinists believe in an ignorant God. The God of Molinism is ignorant.” Surely something has gone awry here.

What's gone awry is the analogy. The ostensible warrant for Calvinism is revelation. By contrast, even Craig admits that middle knowledge is not a revealed truth. At best, the traditional Molinist prooftexts only establish divine counterfactual knowledge, not middle knowledge. 

Calvinism rises or falls on exegesis. Exegetical theology and systematic theology. If we have the exegesis right, and the logical synthesis right, then it's authorized by divine revelation.

By contrast, Molinism is a construct of philosophical theology. Therefore, we judge it by a different standard. It must withstand rational scrutiny. It rises or falls on reason alone. Unlike Calvinism, it can't invoke the argument from authority to justify appeals to mystery. 

Dissecting Molinism

I'm going to post an email exchange I had with a friend on Molinism. His comments are indented. 

1) I find Molinism is self-contradictory. Molinist assumptions generate an internal dilemma for Molinism. Let's take two of Craig's claims:

i) there is an intrinsically possible world in which Peter freely affirms Christ in precisely the same circumstances in which he in fact denied him

ii) logically prior to His creative decree, God knew that if Peter were in circumstances C, he would freely deny Christ three times…given the counterfactual truth that if Peter were in precisely those circumstances he would freely deny Christ, then the possible world in which Peter freely affirms Christ in those circumstances is not feasible for God. 

Seems to me that Craig is making two diametrically opposing claims:

i) Peter denies Christ under those circumstances

ii) Peter both affirms and denies Christ under those circumstances.

Craig seems to say that Peter only does one of those while saying in the same breath that Peter does both! 

2) Likewise, I don't see where the "counterfactual truth" is coming from. If, as Craig admits, there's a possible world for each alternative, then what privileges Peter denying Christ as the "counterfactual truth"? 

3) Notice that at this stage we're still talking about would-statements rather than will-statements. Obviously, if God instantiates one of those scenarios, then there's only one choice which Peter will make in the actual world. 

But is it the case that Peter will deny Christ because God instantiates that choice, or does God instantiate that choice because Peter will deny Christ? Craig's position commits him to the latter. 

But how does he get from plural would-choices to the singular will-choice? There's more to it than the shift from possible to actual, for there's more than one would-choice that's initially available to God. 

Yes, Craig says the "counterfactual truth" moots one of those possibilities, but I don't see how he derives that from his set-up. 

4) Which brings me to the next point. I think rewinding the tape is a good way to illustrate libertarian freedom. Assuming the agent could do otherwise given the same antecedent conditions, then if God put him in the same situation 20 times, would we expect him to make the same choice each time? Isn't that implausible? If he's truly free to do otherwise in the same situation, and he's put in the same situation repeatedly, why would he invariably make the very same choice? Doesn't that uniformity indicate some factor that's swaying the outcome? 

Seems to me that if he has the freedom to do otherwise whenever he's put in that situation, then if God rewound the tape 20 times, there shouldn't be a consistent pattern. He might do the same thing three times in a row, then do something different, then alternate. 

I think Craig's definition of freedom clashes with his counterfactual truth. Pick one or the other, but I don't see how he can insist on both. 

At the very least, your statement of the claims elides the distinction between would and could. This distinction is crucial. Would-claims are about actual truth, whereas could-claims are about possible truth.
Would-claims are about the actual world. They indicate brute facts true from eternity. They could be otherwise, but they are what they are. They are just about the only element of the actual world that God doesn't actualize. They are actualized and 'in place' from eternity.
Craig is not claiming that Peter "both affirms and denies" Christ under those circumstances. Craig claims that it is possible that Peter affirms Christ under those circumstances, and Craig claims that it is possible that Peter denies Christ under those circumstances. But those are mere could-claims. They don't tell us (and aren't intended to tell us) what Peter would actually do if he were created and placed in C. That's what claim (i) tells us. Claim (i) is better described as the claim, not that "Peter denies Christ under those circumstances," but that Peter *would* deny Christ under those circumstances.

I don't think the could/would, possible/actual dichotomy is metaphysically sustainable at this hypothetical stage. And I don't think we can adjudicate the issue before we address the preliminary question of what possible worlds are. What's our ontology of possible worlds? Seems to me that, in principle, there are basically four models:

i) Fictionalism/nominalism

This denies the existence/reality of possible worlds. But aside from the general fact that fictionalism/nominalism fall prey to tenacious objections, this doesn't seem to be a viable option for Molinism, which is heavily invested in possible worlds. At the very least, it would require a drastic revision of Molinism. Can Molinism survive an eliminativist ontology of possible worlds? 

ii) Concrete entities

According to David Lewis, possible worlds are alternate spatiotemporal scenarios. If you're an atheist, that's probably your best bet to ground modal distinctions. But it has no appeal to a Christian. 

iii) Divine ideas

In the Augustinian/Leibnizian framework, possible worlds are God's exemplary ideas. Compete conceptual alternate scenarios. And if God is timeless and spaceless, so are possible worlds. 

On a related note, Peter Geach defines a possible world as a nominalization (in the grammatical sense) of divine omnipotence. In that respect, a possible world is a description of what God can do rather than what human agents can do.  William Young, "What is Truth," defines a similar model. 

I think this is the best model of possible worlds, and it dovetails with Calvinism. But by the same token, it's a poor candidate for freewill theists, inasmuch as God is the ultimate source of possible worlds on this model. They totally depend on him, whereas freewill theism demands a degree of autonomy for the "counterfactuals of freedom."

iv) Abstract objects

This is a variant of Platonic realism, like Richard Creel's plenum. On this view, possible worlds would be complete, timeless, spaceless alternate scenarios. 

I think that's the best bet for freewill theism. But it erases the would/could dichotomy. 

Maybe it's implausible. But as long as the conditions for libertarian freedom are met (source and leeway), where's the problem? Libertarian freedom isn't some kind of empirical inference from trial runs or something! We don't have access to that.

I think that's too facile. If a dealer assures us that the deck is randomly shuffled, yet each time he shuffles the deck, the cards have the same sequence, then we'd be forced to conclude that the deck is stacked. Odds are, an indeterminate outcome will occasionally parallel a determinate outcome. If, however, the outcome is always the same, then that's not coincidental. 

I think Molinists would want an argument for thinking that. What metaphysically precludes there being brute facts about what creatures would choose? Many critics of Molinism have raised this issue, and they make interesting points. But Molinists have directly engaged them on these issues. So we have to see more than just a claim that it's not metaphysically sustainable. Why can't there be these facts?

You're substituting "fact" for "actual," as if those are synonymous. 

And I'm not sure what you mean by "this hypothetical stage"

At this stage we're referring to unexemplified possibilities, where what's "actual" typically stands in contrast to what's possible, viz. physical, instantiated in time and space. 

What does it matter what possible worlds are, or if there are any possible worlds in some metaphysically robust sense, as long as those claims are true?

It matters when you attempt to distinguish between what an agent would do and could do. 

Molinists are unique in holding to the contingent truth of CCFs. But these are claims about the actual world.

That's ambiguous. You mean about the actual world in the conditional, roundabout sense that if God instantiated a counterfactual, that would refer to something in the actual world?

How is Molinism "heavily invested in possible worlds," where the latter are entities in some metaphysically robust sense? 

Is it your contention that prominent Molinists like Plantinga and Almeida aren't heavily invested in a metaphysically robust conception of possible worlds?

All Molinism needs are facts about possibilities, and facts about subjunctive truth.

With all due respect, isn't that hopelessly superficial? "Facts about possibilities" don't subsist in a metaphysical vacuum. There needs to be some metaphysical framework in which they inhere. 

Molinism can survive an eliminativist ontology of possible worlds just in case there doesn't need to be such worlds in order for claims about possibilities to be true.

"Just in case" is evasive. Do you or don't you think that's tenable?

PWs are necessary but CCFs are contingent. Holding that "God is the ultimate source of possible worlds" because PWs are "divine ideas" doesn't tell us anything at all about CCFs.

Since I explicitly said this is a poor model for freewill theists, the fact that "doesn't tell us anything at all about CCFs" is what we'd expect if it's a poor model for freewill theists. Remember that I set this in contrast to a more promising model for freewill theism. So it's strange that you criticize my statement by raising an objection that's consistent with my statement.

Some people think that possible worlds are just giant propositions

Which pushes the issue back a step. Propositions about what? Presumably, about alternate scenarios. 

Why would the fact that possible worlds are "complete, timeless, spaceless alternate scenarios" somehow "erase the would/could dichotomy"? I'm not getting the connection here.

If possible worlds are abstract objects, then these don't merely represent what an agent could do, but what he did or will do in that world. Like an abstract actual infinite, we're dealing with complete world histories. Complete alternate timelines. In that event, there's more than one thing the agent would do.  

In the actual world -- that is, in the only possible world that is in fact actualized -- a particular set of claims is true, including would-claims. If these contingent claims about the actual world are indistinguishable from possibly true claims, on the grounds that possible worlds are "complete, timeless, spaceless alternate scenarios," then there can be no contingency at all.

There's contingency in what God chooses to instantiate.

I don't see why it's "too facile," when all you've done is repeat the claim I've disputed: that epistemological concepts -- of what choice we would "expect him to make," of the uniformity 'indicating' some outside factor of influence, that there are 'odds' that are relevant here -- have any bearing on the fact of libertarian free will. 

No, I haven't simply repeated my original claim. I tried to advance the argument by pointing out that if a supposedly indeterminate outcome is consistently indistinguishable from a determinate outcome, then we're dealing with determinism rather than libertarianism.

You don't have an argument that the counterfactual must be necessary.

It was never my intent to argue that the counterfactual must be necessary. Rather, I've challenged the postulate that there's only one available counterfactual for God to instantiate.