Saturday, July 09, 2016

Policing elementary students

Why do police even respond to calls like this?

Well, in one sense, they respond because that's become departmental policy. But that's the problem. Police should only respond to reports of illegal activity. Even if a student used a racial slur, it's not against the law to use racial slurs. 

When the police department gets a call like this, they should explain to the school representative that since no law was broken, the police won't respond to calls like that. Indeed, they should warn school officials not to call the police for frivolous reasons. 

I'm somewhat puzzled by why police are so apathetic when it comes to political correctness. Why don't police protest stupid policies? 

Even if active duty police might be afraid to publicly criticize official policy, for fear of demotion, why don't retired police mobilize to do so? Likewise, why don't police unions protest such policies? 

Increasingly, police are doing things that make them unnecessarily unpopular with the general public. It is in their self-interest to push back rather than passively acquiesce to social justice warriors who conscript the police to spearhead their social agenda. 

Way back when I was a junior high student (c. 1972), during football practice, one boy hurt another boy. Knocked the wind out of him. The boy was in pain, and cursed the other boy who knocked him over, using an obscene epithet for homosexuals. Other students heard it. Some repeated it. Our coach probably heard it.

But it didn't occur to anyone to report it to the police. Indeed, it didn't occur to anyone to report it to the Principal or Vice Principal. Sometimes boys swear at other boys. 

The Scepter of Judah

I'm going to expand on my previous post:

On the face of it, the OT witness to a divine messiah is sparse. Yet there's heavy emphasis on the deity of Christ in the NT. How were NT writers able to bridge the difference? What made it so easy for NT writers to seamlessly transition to a divine messiah as the fulfillment of OT expectations? I submit that there are several converging themes:

1. Sonship is a theological metaphor. In the OT, this applies to Israel. In that application, sonship is a figurative, collective, and adoptive category. A metaphor for God treating the Israelites as if he was an adoptive father who rescued them and raised them.  

However, once sonship as a theological metaphor comes into play, that carries a potential shift from figurative, collective, adoptive sonship to metaphysical, individual, analogical sonship. 

2. It has the added advantage that fatherhood and sonship simultaneously represent similarity and difference. On the one hand there's the physical and psychological affinity between fathers and sons. On the other hand, these are distinct individuals. 

3. In addition, the OT contains two or three repeated and related themes:

i) A king is coming

ii) God is coming (e.g. Day of the Lord)

iii) An heir to David's throne

These are pervasive theological themes. A sampling of passages includes Gen 49; Pss 2, 8, 72, 89, 110, 132; Isa 2, 7, 9, 11, 34; Jer 23, 30; Ezk 37; Dan 7, 9; Hos 3; Micah 5, Haggai 2, Zech 9. 

4. The notion of royal succession explicitly or implicitly involves sonship. Ordinarily, a royal son is the king's successor. 

In human terms, the reason for royal succession is mortality. Kings die of old age. Some kings die in battle.

Usually the royal son assumes the throne upon his father's death. Sometimes, however, to ensure that the crown will pass to the designated heir, a king will abdicate the throne or appoint his son as coregent. In other words, while the old king still holds the reins of power, he will use it to ensure the succession. The NT trades on this dynastic backstory. 

And, of course, normally, fathers and sons exist on the same plane and domain. If a father is human, his son is human. Indeed, it's because fathers and sons are so alike that a son is the most natural successor to the throne. A natural extension and continuation of the old king. 

If, however, the king is divine, then it's a short inference to the divinity of the crown prince. What was latent in the OT becomes patent in the NT. 

5. On a related note is the coming of God motif. This typically depicts Yahweh coming in salvation and judgment to deliver his people and vanquish their enemies. And it dovetails nicely with the motif of a future Davidic king. 

6. Critics might object that this can be satisfied by human agents who act in God's stead as his vice-regent. There are, however, problems with that explanation:

i) The coming of God passages suggest a climactic advent. Something that hasn't happened before. If, however, it refers to just another human representative, then that would be anticlimactic.

ii) Apropos (i), if it refers to just another human representative, then either Yahweh repeatedly comes in the person of his agent, or else he never really arrives–because an agent always takes his place. Again, though, the coming of Yahweh passages suggest something different from business as usual. Not just another human stand-in, but the culmination of promise, where human agents were merely proxies and precursors to the real deal. 

iii) Apropos (i-ii), Israel had a series of kings. Even her best monarchs were notable failures. Wouldn't yet another human king be a major letdown? The golden age prophecies about the coming of God and the heir to David's throne envision something truly superlative. 

The final score

A brief sequel to my previous post:

Another possible reason for the final judgment of believers. Church history is, among other things, a history of doctrinal disputes. Sometimes violent doctrinal disputes.

That's in part because there's no voice from heaven to referee these disputes. The final judgment might be an opportunity for God to post the official scoreboard, viz.

Calvinism       1

Arminianism   0

Flying blind

1. I've commented on this before, but I'd like to attack it from a new angle. A common plank in the freewill defense is appeal to natural law. In order to make morally responsible decisions, our choices must have predictable consequences. That requires the uniformity of nature. Hence, God can't intervene too often without having disruptive effects. 

2. I think there's a grain of truth to this theodicy. And it's hardly exclusive to freewill theism. Popular caricatures notwithstanding, Calvinism isn't fatalism. In Calvinism, it's not merely the outcome, but every step leading up to the outcome that's predestined. Hence, breakfast won't cook itself whether or not you get out of bed. 

3. An elementary problem with the freewill theist appeal is that life is often unpredictable. Much of the time we're flying blind. We can't reliably anticipate the end-results of our actions. It's just a guessing game. And even when the consequences are foreseeable, there's a big difference between having a purely intellectual grasp of the consequences, and having to actually experience the consequences.

Many people, including many Christians, if they only had the benefit of hindsight, would avoid making some of the decisions they did. And that isn't merely regret over impulsive decisions. You can make a thoughtful, conscientious decision, with the best available information at the time, only to have that blow up in your face. You can make a reasonable, responsible decision, then helplessly watch it turn out for the worst. 

4. According to freewill theism, moreover, a large part of what makes the future so unpredictable is the libertarian freedom of human agents. And the further into the future you project, the harder it is to extrapolate from present trends. 

It's like a game of chess. Good players think ahead, several moves deep. But each subsequent move in that calculation is exponentially more complex than the previous move, because each subsequent move is contingent on which of all the possible moves opened up by the previous move the player will opt for. Each player's next move must consider multiple chains or nested outcomes of hypothetical moves and countermoves, branching into infinity. 

Nothing could be more destabilizing to predictable consequences than the wave interference generated by so many competing agents. So many countervailing choices by other agents, which neutralize your singular choice. 

5. It might be objected that my argument commits a category mistake, inasmuch as the uniformity of nature is categorically different from the libertarian ability of human agents. 

But in a couple of respects, that's an arbitrary place to draw the line:

i) If predictable consequences are a necessary condition of praiseworthy or blameworthy choices, then it's ad hoc to insist on the uniformity of nature, while allowing human freedom to run riot. For that undermines the principle at least as much as heightened divine intervention. 

ii) Furthermore, the dichotomy isn't nearly that cut-and-dried. Human agents manipulate natural processes to produce outcomes that would not occur if they let nature run its course. Examples are endless. Consider just one: the sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway. In one sense, that exploited the laws of nature to produce a chemical weapon. However, that combined natural elements in unnatural ways. 

In sum, the freewill defense appeals to two divergent principles. They tug in opposing directions. 

Friday, July 08, 2016

Gun control and Black Lives Matter

Liberal pundits are a sight to behold:

On the one hand, when cops shoot blacks, they presume the shooting was racially motivated. 

On the other hand, they lobby for gun bans and gun confiscation so that only cops will have guns. 

Why Fossils Cannot Demonstrate Darwinian Evolution

Identity politics and law enforcement

1. We have a vicious cycle. On the one hand, white cops sometimes justifiably shoot blacks (and other races). When that happens, they are sometimes indicted by Kangaroo grand juries as SJW scapegoats. 

On the other hand, cops sometimes unjustifiably shoot blacks (and other races).

When that happens, some prosecutors manipulate the grand jury system to make sure they will never be held accountable.

The media ignores shootings of white suspects.

The media ignores the fact that many cops aren't white. 

The liberal establishment treats Muslims as a protected class, so they aren't held to the same standard.

The ruling class exempts itself from the laws it imposes on the governed. Hillary Clinton is currently Exhibit A. 

Identity politics and cronyism are destroying law enforcement. 

2. That said, I find black pundits stereotyping whites. They overgeneralize about whites. 

i) There are old guard white conservatives who automatically side with the police. 

ii) But there are younger white conservatives who distrust government, and evaluate police shootings on a case-by-case basis. For instance, most white conservatives sided with the police in the Michael Brown shooting. However, many white conservatives were very critical of the police in the Eric Garner situation. It's not monolithic. 

iii) I keep reading blacks telling whites that whites don't know what it's like to be black. 

That's a truism. By definition, it's true.

Problem is, the assumption that only blacks experience police harassment. But just as whites don't know what it's like to be black, blacks don't know what it's like to be white.

It doesn't seem to occur to many black pundits that whites experience police harassment as well, viz. random checkpoints, stop-and-frisk, no-knock raids, Stingray surveillance, John Doe investigations, civil forfeiture. 

That's in addition to the fact that cops shoot white suspects, too. That's habitually underreported. 

My problem is not with acknowledging that some blacks face police harassment and police brutality. My problem is with the failure of black pundits to acknowledge that this isn't confined to the black community.

iv) In addition, many cops aren't white. To constantly recast the issue as a black/white narrative when many cops are Asian, Latin, black, &c., is a distortion of reality. 

v) Finally, the police are, to a great extent, pawns of the liberal establishment. That puts police in an increasingly difficult situation. Take police who are required to enforce transgender policies on public restrooms, locker rooms, and speech codes (i.e. mandated transgender pronouns). Or police who are required to crack down on Christian bakers, florists, and photographers who refuse to cater homosexual weddings. Or police who may soon be required to crack down on climate change "deniers". 

“A Serious Challenge to the New Perspective on Paul”

Not to be missed: Michael Kruger’s review of The Righteousness of God: A Lexical Examination of the Covenant-Faithfulness Interpretation (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2015):

One of the major flash points in this debate is the term “righteousness of God.” Paul uses this phrase in a number of places, but it takes center stage particularly in Romans. Indeed, one might suggest that the “righteousness of God” is the theme of the entire book:

“For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith” (Rom 1:17).
So, what does this phrase mean? NPP advocates say it refers simply to God’s covenantal faithfulness. Reformed theologians have argued that it refers to a righteous status received from God.

It is on this very question that NPP advocates are facing a new and robust challenge from Lee Irons ...

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Nazi lampshades

Jeff Lowder debated me at Victor Reppert's blog. Here's my side of the exchange:

Two related questions for Jeff:

i) Suppose moral nihilism were true. In that event, does Jeff think it would be worthwhile to defend moral nihilism? Would he create educational organizations dedicated to the promotion of moral nihilism on the Internet?

ii) Suppose existential nihilism were true. In that event, does Jeff think it would be worthwhile to defend moral nihilism? Would he create educational organizations dedicated to the promotion of existential nihilism on the Internet?
Jeff thinks that he is important. That his dignity is important.

This is one of Jeff's intellectual problems. He's never allowed himself to appreciate the reductionistic consequences of atheism for human significance.

If atheism is true, then Jeff is worthless. Everything is worthless.

Jeff is a temporary entity that came into existence for no good reason, that will soon pass out of existence. Jeff is interchangeable with billions of other human biological units. He will be replaced.

If atheism is true, Jeff's existence has no intrinsic value. At best, it's only subjectively valuable–the way some Nazis (reputedly) valued Jews as as raw material for lamp shades.

I'm pointing to the ironic fact that atheists like Jeff can't stand it when people treat atheists consistent with the reductionist view of humanity that atheism entails. 

Moral ontology and evolutionary psychology

I'm going to comment on some statements by apostate atheist Jeff Lowder, 

Steve’s first link is about Sharon Street’s paper, “A Darwinian Dilemma about Realist Theories of Value.” Street’s paper has nothing do with an alleged contradiction between moral realism and atheism. In fact, Street’s paper has nothing whatsoever to do with moral ontology. Street’s paper is about moral epistemology: she argues that if evolutionary naturalism is true, we have an undercutting defeater for trusting our second-order ethical intuitions. In plain English, it’s as if she says:

“Many people think moral realism is true because it seems like moral realism is true. But that isn’t a good reason to think that moral realism is true if you are an evolutionary naturalist. If evolutionary naturalism is true, it would ‘seem’ that moral realism were true even if it weren’t. So the ‘argument from seeming’ [my name] isn’t a good reason for evolutionary naturalists to think that moral realism is true.”
The other part of Steve’s Rosenberg post includes the same basic point about natural selection tricking us into believing moral realism is true. It fails for the same reason as Shermer’s and Flannagan’s.  
For now, I will simply point out that (1) even if Ruse’s argument were correct, it would provide no support for the claim that atheism and moral realism are logically incompatible; and (2) Ruse’s moral anti-realist argument fails because it commits the genetic fallacy. Indeed, it contains the very confusion Steve described in his (ii): Ruse confuses moral psychology with moral ontology. So both Steve and I agree that Ruse’s argument against moral realism fails. 

i) To begin with, slapping the "genetic fallacy" label onto a position doesn't make it fallacious. There are people who mechanically apply a list of alleged fallacies to arguments. They don't stop to consider if the alleged fallacies are simplistic. 

At the risk of stating the obvious, the source of beliefs or truth-claims can be quite germane to assessing the veracity or probability of the belief or truth-claim. For instance, making decisions based on astrology, fortune cookies, Tarot cards, or dial-a-psychics is irrational and harmful because those are unreliable sources of information regarding future outcomes. That's not a trustworthy way to evaluate the consequences of your actions. 

Likewise, when assessing testimonial evidence, the source can be quite germane to our evaluation. Is it a reliable source of information?   

ii) One of Jeff's ploys is to pretend that when atheists repudiate moral realism, their repudiation is purely incidental to their atheism. Jeff's evasiveness is symptomatic of someone who's in a state of intellectual denial. 

iii) In addition, Jeff's objections suffer from a common incomprehension on his part. This is due to his bad habit of compartmentalizing issues. To say that in critiquing evolutionary ethics, Street, Ruse, Rosenberg, and Flannagan are talking about moral psychology (or moral epistemology) rather than moral ontology misses the point: For them, the problem with evolutionary ethics is that it does not and cannot go any deeper than moral psychology (or moral epistemology). Evolution has programmed us to have certain moral instincts, but there's nothing to back that up. Our conditioned beliefs don't track moral facts. Indeed, evolution has deluded us into believing in nonexistent moral norms.  So it doesn't go beyond evolutionary psychology, and that's the problem. 

Thomas Nagel. Quoting Daniel Dennett, Nagel endorses the view that if everything reduces to physics, then there is no naturalistic answer to a cosmic question. The cosmic question is put into square brackets. I haven’t read Nagel’s 2010 book, so I can’t tell if the words in the bracket come from Nagel or from Steve. I don’t have enough context for the quotation to make sense of the question put in the square brackets. In any case, I agree that with Nagel that naturalism is nonteleological. I do not find, however, an argument (in Steve’s post) for the conclusion that the non-teleological nature of naturalism is logically incompatible with moral realism. 

Nagel details that in the book Jeff hasn't read. For instance, here's his sympathetic exposition of Street's argument:

Street points out that if the responses and faculties that generate our value judgments are in significant part the result of natural selection, there is no reason to expect that they would lead us to be able to detect any mind-independent moral or evaluative truth, if there is such a thing. That is because the ability to detect such truth, unlike the ability to detect mind-independent truth about the physical world, would make no contribution to reproductive fitness…So far as natural selection is concerned, if there were such a thing as mind-independent moral truth, those judgements could be systematically false, T. Nagel, Mind & Cosmos (Oxford, 2012), 107.

Back to Jeff:

First, it could be the case that God does not exist, in which case there is no cosmic teleology, but some version of Platonism is true (and so moral values exist as abstract objects). 

i) To begin with, that's a nonstarter for atheists who are physicalists. And it's my impression that most modern-day atheists are physicalists. Appealing to Platonic realism is just a decoy. 

ii) What does Jeff think abstract objects are? How do they subsist? It does no good to postulate something inscrutable to salvage your position.

iii) Even if abstract moral universals exist, what makes Jeff think we'd be obligated to them? 

Second, it could be the case that God does not exist and a neo-Aristotelian approach to ethics like that found in Larry Arnhart’s book, Darwinian Natural Right, is correct. But Arnhart’s neo-Aristotelian (and Humean and Darwinian) approach to ethics is a realist approach to ethics.

i) I've discussed secularized Aristotelian ethics in response to Keith Parsons:

ii) I just cited secular philosophers who explain the inadequacies of a Darwinian approach to moral realism.

iii) Hume was a classic exponent of ethical subjectivism. 

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

All flesh is grass

Peter Singer on altrusm:

The possibility of taking the point of view of the universe overcomes the problem of finding meaning in our lives, despite the ephemeral nature of human existence when measured against all the eons of eternity. Suppose that we become involved in a project to help a small community in a developing country to become free of debt and self-sufficient in food. The project is an outstanding success.... Now someone might say: "What good have you done? In a thousand years these people will all be dead, and their children and grandchildren as well, and nothing that you have done will make any difference."  
I am not defending the objectivity of ethics in the traditional sense. Ethical truths are not written into the fabric of the universe: to that extent the subjectivist is correct…We cannot expect that this higher ethical consciousness will become universal. There will always be people who don't care for anyone or anything, not even for themselves.

To be fair, in the essay as a whole, Singer labors to argue for altruism despite these bleak concessions. But consider the hand he dealt himself. 

Protecting Mohammedans from Mohammad

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

The McDowell/Humphreys Debate On Apostolic Martyrdom

Sean McDowell and Ken Humphreys recently debated whether the apostles died as martyrs on the Unbelievable? radio program. Some other issues came up along the way, like historical methodology and the existence of the apostles.

Humphreys spent a lot of time trying to cast doubt on the reliability of Christian sources. He kept referring to Christian documents, like the gospels, as biased or unreliable in some other manner. And he kept changing his standards during the discussion, which sometimes makes it difficult to evaluate his position. At one point, he asks for sources other than the gospels. At another point, he asks for non-Biblical sources. Then he asks for secular sources. To make matters worse, he would sometimes ask for such sources after McDowell had already provided some. When Josephus, who meets Humphreys' definition of a secular source, was brought up again after initially being ignored by Humphreys, he objected that the passage in Josephus is so short, was preserved by Christian sources, etc. At one point, around the 47:30 mark in the program, Humphreys refers to how having "a secular source to back it up" would make McDowell's case far more convincing. He refers to "how very convincing that might be" if we had a secular historian somewhere in the Roman empire who commented on the death of an apostle. He goes on to refer to how we have to rely on Christian sources instead, apparently implying that there aren't any secular sources to support a traditional Christian view of the death of any of the apostles. Though he added the "historian" qualifier at one point, as if the secular source in question has to be a historian, most of the time he doesn't include or imply such a qualifier. So, it seems that he's arguing that we only have Christian sources to go by.

At his web site, he goes as far as to say:

There is NO corroborating evidence for the existence of the twelve Apostles and absolutely NO evidence for the colourful variety of martyrs' deaths they supposedly experienced. The Bible itself actually mentions the death of only two apostles, a James who was put to death by Herod Agrippa (see James for a discussion of this tricky character) and the nasty Judas Iscariot (see below), who gets several deaths because he's the bad guy.

Humphreys is wrong. A few years ago, I wrote an article that addresses what ancient non-Christian sources tell us about the death of the apostles. One of the points I make there is that the relevant sources go beyond Humphreys' secular category. Some of the ancient heretics had an interest in denying the martyrdom of one or more of the apostles. Think, for example, of how many ancient heretical groups were opposed to one or more of the apostles and therefore had a motive to deny accounts of those apostles' deaths that made them look good. It wouldn't make sense to exclude such heretical sources just because they aren't secular by Humphreys' standard. It seems that the principle Humphreys is getting at is that we should be looking for sources who don't have a bias toward affirming a traditional Christian view of an apostle's death. But secular sources aren't the only ones who can fall into that category.

In his book on the martyrdom of the apostles, McDowell gives some examples of ancient Christian sources saying or implying that various apostles didn't die as martyrs. And many modern Christians do the same. It's common for Christians to say that the apostle John died of natural causes, for example (though I disagree). So, having a Christian bias doesn't require that you believe that a given apostle died as a martyr. And it's somewhat common, not just a rare occurrence, for a Christian to say that one or more of the apostles didn't die as a martyr or that the evidence for an apostolic martyrdom is weak or too ambiguous to justify a conclusion.

Anybody who's interested in doing more research on the death of the apostles can read my series on the topic here. You could also read McDowell's book, The Fate Of The Apostles (Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate, 2015).

Inflammatory language, perversions, and the church

Calvin, Classical Trinitarianism, and the Aseity of the Son

After God

Peter Singer frankly distinguishes Christian ethics from secular ethics:

Any discussion of the ethics of voluntary euthanasia must begin by considering whether it can ever be right to kill an innocent human being. The view that this can never be right gains its strongest support from religious doctrines that claim that only humans are made in the image of God, or that only humans have an immortal soul, or that God gave us dominion over the animals-meaning that we can kill them if we wish-but reserved to himself dominion over human beings. Reject these ideas, and it is difficult to think of any morally relevant properties that separate human beings with severe brain damage or other major intellectual disabilities from nonhuman animals at a similar mental level. For why should the fact that a being is a member of our species make it worse to kill that being than it is to kill a member of another species, if the two individuals have similar intellectual abilities or if the nonhuman has superior intellectual abilities?

Monday, July 04, 2016

Moral Arguments for Theistic Belief

Wesleyan Church Closes Doors After Pastor Stumbles Upon Romans 9

New Stephen Braude Videos

Stephen Braude has a YouTube page with some new videos on it, on topics like poltergeists and the thoughtography of Ted Serios.

Making the world safe for child-rapists

The primary objection that freewill theists raise to Calvinism is a moral objection. They say Calvinism is morally repugnant. Moreover, freewill theists like Jerry Walls routinely accuse Calvinists of deceptive rhetoric to conceal just how awful Calvinism truly is. 

Here's a recent statement by freewill theist philosopher Victor Reppert on the problem of evil:

Well, I personally would rather live in a world in which children are raped than in a world without free will. 
But I suspect you will find my preference repugnant. 
A world with childrapists raping children is a better world than a world in which they are prevented by God from raping. Yes.

For some readers, especially rank-and-file freewill theists, it might be shocking to be exposed for the first time to stark implications of their own position. Have you ever heard Jerry Walls or Roger Olson say something like that? 

Although most freewill theists aren't as blunt or forthcoming as Reppert, his underlying position isn't idiosyncratic. It's just the particular example that's so grating. 

A freewill theist is committed to the proposition that many horrendous moral evils in this world are divinely preventable. Assuming divine benevolence, they have to say that God doesn't intervene more often to prevent them because a world in which God did so would be worse overall. It would sacrifice some greater good.

Burial service for suicides

An early article by Roger Beckwith on a sensitive pastoral issue: