Friday, April 28, 2017

Canons on the right and canons on the left


The Bible and the Church

One of the cliches in Catholic apologetics is that the Bible belongs to "the Church". "The Church" produced the Bible (so we're told), so only "the Church" has the right to interpret the Bible. The Bible can only be understood by the community of faith, within the community of faith. 

This is set in contrast to Protestant "individualism," "pervasive interpretive pluralism," and "30,000" denominations.

However, the fallacy of shifting to a communal emphasis is that if "individualism" and "interpretive pluralism" are such a problem, then that that simply relocates the same problem. The "30,000" denominations aren't 30,000 individual interpreters or voices, but 30,000 interpretive communities. So they, too, can lay claim to the same slogan. They don't interpret the Bible "individualistically" but "communally". Appealing to a communal standard of comparison does nothing to solve or mitigate the perceived problem, for "interpretive pluralism" is just as much a communal phenomenon as an individual phenomenon. The Catholic church is just one more religious community among thousands. 

In addition, the contrast between individuals and communities is often deceptive, for communities can be and often are characterized by possessive and aggressive groupthink. Their like-mindedness codifies a particular individual interpretation. Within religious communities, powerful, influential individuals vie for supremacy, to make their particular vision the dominant vision. Indeed, the larger the community, the greater the perceived need to impose unity through topdown structures and peer pressure. Conformity to the outlook of the reigning individual or oligarchy at the top of the pyramid. That's a highly selective, elitist individualism, which is then magnified the herd instinct.  

Cemeteries of Eden

According to Scripture, human life began in a garden. But as punishment for their disobedience, Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden. Their posterity is born in exile. And because they were banished, the lost access to the tree of life. They lost the opportunity for immortality. 

In Christian tradition, human life ends in a garden. Cemeteries are typically designed and landscaped to resemble park-like gardens. Gardens for the dead. 

The symbolic justification for cemeteries is that the dead are buried in the hope of resurrection. At the return of Christ, cemeteries will come alive as the dead in Christ arise. 

So the story comes full circle from garden to garden, life, death, and life restored. 

The Enfield Poltergeist: General Skepticism (Part 2)

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

Whatever poltergeists actually are, they often behave like a lunatic with supernatural power. One moment, they'll be calm, rational, or even helpful or humorous. Another moment, they'll be destructive, irrational, vindictive, or disturbing. That may be because poltergeists are "dissociated fragments of the personality or consciousness of the focus person", as Playfair puts it (THIH, 211). Or they may be manifestations of a spirit - a living human, a deceased human, a demon, or whatever - with a mental illness or some equivalent. They may be manifestations of multiple spirits, which could explain some or all of the inconsistencies involved. They may be the faltering efforts of a spirit to communicate in contexts the spirit is inexperienced with or in contexts in which any spirit would have difficulty communicating. And so forth. Whatever is going on, if a paranormal scenario like one of the ones described above is involved, we may not be able to make sense of it, at least not all of it. We should try. But as we try, we should keep in mind that we may be attempting to make sense out of something that's senseless.

Our expectations have a lot to do with how we judge a poltergeist case. Critics of a case, whether Enfield or some other one, often don't know much about the explanatory options or are overly influenced by movies, fictional literature, or some other source that distorts their expectations. We have ideas about how a demon, deceased human, or some other entity should communicate in a poltergeist or some other context, and we make judgments accordingly. If some phenomenon doesn't conform to our expectations, we may be overly critical of that phenomenon and not critical enough of our expectations.

We should keep these things in mind as we consider one of the most criticized aspects of the Enfield case, the voice phenomena. Over several months, three of the Hodgson children (mostly Janet, but sometimes Margaret or Billy) would occasionally speak in a "harsh male voice" (THIH, 115) often representing itself (when it identified itself at all) as a deceased human. The voices claimed to be different individuals at different times. Most of what they said was trivial or nonsensical, and they often seemed to have the interests and other characteristics of Janet. Playfair writes of how, on one occasion, "it became clear that the Voice was not going to talk about anything except girls' periods…The idea that a dead old man would be obsessed with the details of menstruation was a bit too much for me" (130). Add to this the fact that if you pull up a video about the voice phenomena on YouTube, it's easy to see how a skeptic listening to a brief clip of the voice would come away with the impression that it's something a child could easily fake. In the documentaries I linked earlier in this series, the people being interviewed would often express incredulity about the voice and dismiss it without much or any argumentation.

But that's not the full picture. Other factors have to be taken into account as well. The voice phenomena have to be judged by the totality of the evidence.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Babel answer man

Was the ark a lark?

19 And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female. 20 Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground, according to its kind, two of every sort shall come in to you to keep them alive. 21 Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up. It shall serve as food for you and for them”…Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate, and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate, and seven pairs of the birds of the heavens also, male and female, to keep their offspring alive on the face of all the earth (Gen 6:19-21; 7:2-3).

i) The rationale for this is pretty straightforward on the YEC interpretation. Since a global flood will destroy all land animals, breeding pairs are preserved on the ark to replenish the earth after the flood. 

ii) Mind you, that position is not without complications. For instance, after the predators and prey disembark, what are the predators supposed to eat? The prey species. But if there's just one pair for each unclean species, and a predator eats the male or female member before they have a chance to reproduce, that species becomes extinct. Even with seven pair of clean species, that's an awfully slim margin with all those hungry predators afoot. 

There are other familiar questions, like whether the gene pool is rich enough. Whether there's enough time for such a small sample to reproduce and diversify to where the situation is today. Of course, young-earth creationists are used to fielding those objections. 

iii) But what's the rationale, if any, on the OEC interpretation? That's a neglected interpretation. Consider some stock objections to the OEC interpretation: the size of the ark is out of all proportion for a local flood. Indeed, the ark is pointless since Noah and his family could just hike out of the flood zone in advance, while the flood zone would be repopulated by neighboring species after the fact. What about that?

iv) I'm not a shipwright, much less an authority on ancient shipbuilding, but it's my layman's impression that larger vessels are apt to be more seaworthy than smaller vessels. So even if, on the OEC interpretation, an ark that size was unnecessary to accommodate a regional sample of species, perhaps it would still be necessary or beneficial for stability. 

v) What about the objection that on the OEC interpretation, neighboring species could simply repopulate the flood zone, so preserving a sample on the ark is pointless? 

Although, on the OEC interpretation, neighboring species probably expedited a restoration of the status quo ante, I think that, by itself, is a shortsighted objection. To begin with, consider the destruction of habitat. What's the impact on flora to be submerged for a year? I'm not a botanist, but I'm guessing many plants would die under those conditions. To be under standing water for about a year will block sunlight, which will, in turn, impede photosynthesis. So I'm guessing the flora would be fairly devastated in the flood zone. 

But neighboring herbivores can't repopulate the flood zone until there's enough flora to support their diet, and neighboring predators can't repopulate the flood zone until there's enough prey to support their diet. So it might take a fair amount of time for the flood zone to naturally recover. 

What is Noah's family supposed to eat in the meantime, after they disembark? If most of the fruit trees and other edible plants perished in the flood, the fallback might be a diet heavy on meat. But in that case, it would be advantageous or even necessary to have game animals aboard the ark. That would give Noah's family something to eat after the flood. Indeed, that may be one reason there's an emphasis on a carnivorous diet after the flood. 

On the OEC interpretation, moreover, Noah's family might continue to supplement their diet from food stored on the ark. Because the ark wouldn't need to accommodate so many animals, there's been more available space for food storage. 

vi) In addition, there might be animal breeding on board the ark. On the OEC interpretation, the ark would have lots of extra space for animal breeding and food storage. The number of animals that deboarded the ark might greatly exceed the number of animals that boarded the ark. That would expedite the process of repopulating the flood zone. 

That doesn't work as well on the YEC interpretation, where space is at a premium. 

vii) Furthermore, even if wild animals are replaceable by neighboring species, the same can't be said for livestock. It would make sense for Noah's family to bring their livestock on board. Imagine if all the livestock was destroyed in the flood, so that Noah's family had to start from scratch by catching, taming, and domesticating wild animals. That's a Hurculean So on the OEC interpretation, preservation of livestock on the ark would still be beneficial or even necessary. 

viii) Also, the suggestion that Noah's family could just hike out of the flood zone in advance is pretty facile. To make a trek on foot, you need to know where the terrain is passable. Where there's fresh water along the route. Where there's edible plants and game. You need to be able to catch game animals. You need temporary shelter. 

And even if Noah's family had the hunting skills and survival skills to hike out of the flood zone, that doesn't mean they could take their livestock with them. Consider modern farm animals like pigs, cows, and chickens. Imagine trying to take those with you on an expedition through the wilderness. Trying to keep them fed and watered. Keep them from escaping. Protecting them from predators. Likewise, to my knowledge, hens and cows require a certain routine to produce milk and lay eggs. Imagine the disruption to their daily regiment.

I'm not claiming that Noah's family had modern farm animals. My point is that we have to take that sort of thing into consideration when critics of the local flood interpretation breezily suggest that Noah's family didn't need the ark.  

There are, of course, other stock objections to the local flood interpretation, just as there are stock objections to the global flood interpretation. But my aim in this post is to say something new, and not to rehash my answers to other stock objections. 

Methuselah died

Apostate Dale Tuggy did another podcast:

in which he labored to selective respond to my post:

I listened to his lumbering analysis. 

1. He repeated his definition: "To die is to lose all or most of one's normal natural life functions." 

But God is not alive in that sense. Angels are not alive in that sense. Is there any evidence that 1C Jews or Christians thought incorporeal beings are alive in that sense? 

Tuggy says the decedent can't think with their brain anymore. True, although that's not a 1C understanding of death. 

2. Tuggy says that to disprove his inconsistent triad, it's necessary to show that each proposition is true. But that's a category mistake. That's not what makes a triad of propositions logically consistent or inconsistent.  Tuggy is shifting grounds. 

3. Tuggy denied my statement that the same person can both be a son and not be a son. But I explained what I meant by that. Tuggy disregards the explicit qualification. That's dishonest on his part. 

4. What sailed over Tuggy's head is that I was using an implicit argument from analogy. So let's spell it out for him.

Suppose we say "Methuselah died". From a philosophical standpoint, that's deceptively ambiguous. 

What died? That depends on your anthropology. Suppose you're a substance dualist. In that event, you define a complete human being as a composite being: an embodied soul. 

To be more precise, suppose you define a complete human being as a union of a mortal body with an immortal soul.  

I'd add that for purposes of assessing an inconsistent triad, it isn't necessary to justify this anthropology. We can posit this as a hypothetical. For the only salient consideration is whether the logical relationship between two or more propositions. Not whether they are true, but whether they are logically consistent with each other.

So what does it mean to say "Methuselah died"? On the face of it, that's an identity statement.

If, according to our definition, Methuselah just is an embodied soul, then to say "Methuselah died" might mean the entire composite died. His soul died along with his body.

But that's a very wooden interpretation of how identity statements are used in popular discourse. If we wanted to be pedantically precise, we wouldn't say "Methuselah died", but "Methuselah's body died". 

According to substance dualism, Methuselah isn't identical to his body, even if, as a matter of linguistic shorthand, we use identity statements. 

Although Methuselah is an embodied soul, to say he died is not equivalent to the claim that all of him died. Not equivalent to the claim that both his body and soul expired. 

According to substance dualism, it's just understood that to say "Methuselah died" doesn't mean the entire composite died. There's an implicit qualification. 

Now, if like Tuggy, you're oblivious to these elementary distinctions, you can devise a specious inconsistent triad:

i) Methuselah died
ii) Methuselah is immortal
iii) What is immortal can't die

That appears to be an inconsistent triad. It posits contradictory predicates of the same subject. Only mortals can die. If you're immortal, you can't die.

But, of course, that's simplistic. From the standpoint of substance dualism, the same individual is both mortal and immortal. That's because he's mortal and immortal in different respects. Mortal in reference to his body but immortal in reference to his soul. 

(Technically, substance dualism doesn't entail the immortality of the soul, but since I'm using a hypothetical case, I can stipulate the immortality of the soul for discussion purposes.)

Why am I discussing substance dualism? As an analogy for the hypostatic union. Just as a human being is a composite being, Jesus is a composite being by virtue of the Incarnation. A union of two natures, one mortal and the other immortal. That's analogous to a union of two substances, one mortal and the other immortal. And in both cases, there are material and immaterial components. 

The onus is not on my to prove the Incarnation. As Tuggy framed the issue, we're just discussing whether the propositions that comprise orthodox Christology are logically consistent with each other. 

Back to Tuggy's "inconsistent triad":

i) Jesus died
ii) Jesus was fully divine
iii) No fully divine being has ever died

But that suffers from the same equivocation as my "inconsistent triad" about Methuselah. 

To say "Jesus died" is a claim about his body, and not about the individual in toto. Just as Jesus is both mortal and immortal by virtue of a mortal body in union with an immortal soul, Jesus is additionally both mortal and immortal by virtue of a mortal component (his body) in union with an immortal component (his nature).

An immortal being can die if "death" has reference to a mortal component of an immortal being. That's not contradictory. 

In context, "death" isn't predicated of the immortal component or the individual as a whole. That's true whether we're making loose identity statements in the context of substance dualism or the hypostatic union. 

Incidentally, this goes to vexed questions in personal identity. How much can I lose and still be me? It's like the sorites paradox. If I undergo an appendectomy, am I the same individual after the operation that I was before the operation? 

5. In response to my statement that in NT usage, the extension of "God" is indefinite in reference to the Trinity or any particular person of the Godhead unless the context uses "God" with a more specific extension, to distinguish one divine referent from another divine referent, Tuggy says I deny that the NT authors successful refer to the Triune God or to any of the three in many cases. But he doesn't bother to explain how he derives that conclusion from my statement. 

Sometimes "God" refers to Jesus. But that's not due to "God" having a default determinate referent. 

Likewise, NT authors can refer to the Trinity without using "God" or some technical designation for the Triune God. 

6. Tuggy says the NT just doesn't use language in the way Reformed apologists like me think it should. Really? Where did I say or imply that NT usage is defective? 

He says you can be a Trinitarian and think for some strange reason that when the NT says "God" it almost always means the Father and never refers to the three of them all together as the one God, but that's surprising given Trinitarianism. 

i) Notice the irony. The NT just doesn't use language like unitarian apologists think it should if Trinitarianism is true. 

ii) I don't grant that when the NT says "God" it almost always denotes the Father. To say it doesn't normally denote the Son does not imply that it normally denotes the Father. Rather, the referent can left be indeterminate in that respect unless there's contextual need to distinguish the persons of the Trinity. For instance, why assume that general references to "God" in the Gospels single out the Father to the exclusion of the Spirit? 

iii) Why does Tuggy imagine that if Trinitarianism is true, we'd expect the NT to refer to the three of them all together as the one God? He gives no argument for that contention. 

What does he even mean? Does he mean that if Trinitarianism is true, the NT should have a technical term for the Triune God? Does he mean a particular verbal formula? Does he mean something like the Johannine Comma? Does he imagine that if Trinitarianism is true, the NT should have a passage like the Athanasian creed? 

The Bible isn't written in the nomenclature of systematic theology, with technical definitions and formulations. It generally uses popular language, imagery, and metaphors. 

6. I said Tuggy's presumption is circular. Tuggy accuses me of "denialism". But I didn't merely say it was circular; I gave a reason: 

Our only clue that "God" denotes the Father is in passages where the context singles out the Father as the intended referent. There can be no evidence for a default referent, for unless the context supplies further specification, we have no additional information to justify a more definite or determinate referent.

Tuggy doesn't attempt to directly engage that. 

7. Tuggy quoted a lengthy statement by Murray J. Harris. By citing a scholar's opinion is not an argument. The conclusion is only as good as the supporting evidence.

Then there's Tuggy's double standard. If I disagree with Harris, I'm unscholarly, but if Tuggy disagrees with Harris, Tuggy is scholarly. 

Tuggy and I both agree and disagree with Harris in differing respects. The monograph is a defense of the deity of Christ. I agree with Harris's conclusion in that regard, whereas Tuggy does not. 

8. It's not my job to make Tuggy's argument for him, but for the sake of completeness I'd take a stab at his nonexistence argument. Perhaps what he's gesturing at is this: because the NT so often uses "God" in reference to the Father, and so rarely in reference to the Son, the Father is the default referent of "God" by statistical association. But if that's what Tuggy has in mind, the inference is fallacious:

a) To begin with, a unitarian thinks "God" refers more often to the Father than a Trinitarian like me. So we don't even agree on the percentages.

b) In addition, it's not just a question of quantitative usage. The reason "God" so often denotes the Father in NT usage is because "God" is so often used in contexts where "God" is a differential designation to identify and distinguish one Trinitarian individual from another Trinitarian individual. If a NT writer is talking about the Father and the Son, or the Father and the Spirit, then "God" frequently stands in grammatical contrast to the other individual. For clarity of reference, it's necessary for NT writers to use different designations to talking about two or more individuals. In group settings, "God" is routinely used as a designation for the Father. 

To take a comparison, suppose there's a SEAL unit in which two members have the same first name. That's potentially confusing. It's important to have unambiguous designations for each member of the unit, so that there's no confusion about who's receiving an order or warning. That can be a life and death situation.

If two members of the unit both go by the name of Jake, to say "Jake, freeze!" may fail to save the right Jake from stepping on a land mine or a puff adder since it's unclear which Jake was intended.

In that context, one of them will be allowed to keep his first name while the other may be called by his last name or given a nickname. 

That isn't because "Jake" is uniquely or especially suitable to that particular designee. It's a coin flip which member of the unit gets to retain his first name. 

And even if that individual becomes the default referent, that's not primarily due to quantitative usage or statistical association, but usage in a group setting. 

Outside that setting, it's not as if old friends and relatives will call him what his unit members call him, to demarcate him from the other Jake. 

c) In addition, NT writers frequently use divine titles or designations with divine connotations for each person, viz. the Son, the Lord, the Spirit of God. It's not as if "God" has an exclusively divine connotation unlike the other designations. 

9. Tuggy takes issue with my statement that "the Father" is a Trinitarian designation. But he misses the boat–as usual. The point is that if you have a "father" and a "son," where only one is divine while the other is human, then absolute comparative usage is deceptive. A human son isn't a son to God in the same sense that he's a son to a human father. There's a fundamental and radical disparity.

This is why, even though NT writers use sonship language for Christians, they do so in a guarded fashion, unlike their use of sonship language in reference to Jesus. In Paul, it's plural and adoptive in relation to Christians. And John reserves the filial designation exclusively for Jesus.

In reference to Jesus, NT language regarding sonship involves parity between two individuals of the same kind. On the same plane. 

A quick argument against purgatory

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Letter to a young philosopher


I thought it might be helpful to share some of my (layman's) notes on the cursus honorum (primarily). How a Roman becomes a senator. Of course, the Senate was the body of men that ruled the Roman republic.

A few preliminaries:

  • The context for my notes is the Republican period.
  • Rome was a militaristic society and culture (e.g. Romans believed military aptitude meant political aptitude and vice versa, and their highest offices combined political and military roles e.g. a consul or praetor leading legions to battle).
  • One gained lifetime admission to the Senate after serving as a magistrate for one year. A magistrate wasn't a judge like we might think today but an elected official. I suppose we'd simply say a politician.
  • The Senate originally had 100 members, which kept increasing over time. The Senate was 300 up to Sulla, then 600 shortly before the time of Spartacus, then 900 under Julius Caesar, then over 1000 under Augustus Caesar. However, Augustus Caesar eventually reduced the number to 600.
  • Although estimates can vary widely, at its height (i.e. during the Roman Empire) I believe the total population was around 75 million, and the city of Rome around 1 million, with the contemporary world population around 300 million. I've heard (but never verified) that no city in the world ever rivaled the population of Rome until the Industrial Age.
  • Order of speaking in the Senate: first, the current consul who called the Senate to meet; then the princeps senatus; then current consuls; then ex-consuls; then current praetors; then ex-praetors; then current aediles; then ex-aediles; then current quaestors; then ex-quaestors. In general the Senate met from sun up till sun down. It would be rare for those below the praetor level to ever speak.

Now the path to the Senate:

  1. Tribune (military). 24 positions per year. Tribune was often (though not always) the first step for a young man aspiring to the Roman Senate to take.

  2. Quaestor. 20 positions per year: 14 to provincial governors to serve as their deputies, 2 to consuls, and 4 to Rome's treasury. Quaestors were usually lowly bureaucrats with limited political power and no military power.

  3. Aedile. 4 positions per year in Rome: 2 plebeian aediles and 2 curule aediles. Their role was public works such as ensuring "temple" upkeep where "temple" included religious and social institutions. For example, the Temple of Castor and Pollux was the Senate house, the Temple of Saturn was the treasury, public baths were like modern shopping malls, etc. Aediles also helped maintain aqueducts and thus the water supplies to Rome, they stored and distributed grain, they maintained roads, among others. However, the most prominent role of the aedile was festivals and holidays such as the gladiatorial games. If done well, aediles could win over the commoners or plebeians. That's what Julius Caesar, for one, did.

  4. Praetor. 8 positions per year. Praetors were essentially judges. But not merely judges as in our modern conception of judges. Since the Romans united military and political into a single role, praetors had vested in them military powers (e.g. commanding a legion) as well as judicial powers. Imperium.

  5. Consul. 2 positions per year. Traditionally each consul would alternate between their roles and responsibilities every other month (i.e. "holding fasces"). Consuls had the power to open debate in the Senate, propose laws, veto, call the public assembly, oversee elections, wage war, implement martial law, read or interpret omens. Consuls were the height of Roman political achievement.

  6. Proconsul (or propraetor). Basically a governor of a Roman province. It was what praetors and consuls usually wished to do after serving as praetors or consuls. Some provinces were more desirable than others. In general due to how lucrative it would be for the proconsul to govern the province. Judea was not a province at this time. It held no promise of wealth. It had too many rabble rousers to control. Its main value was it lay at the crossroads between the eastern trade routes as well as Syria and Egypt, two affluent provinces.

  7. There were other magistrates or political positions (e.g. censor, tribune of the plebs, pontifex maximus), but they aren't officially part of the cursus honorum, as far as I'm aware.

All this said, I'm no ancient Roman historian or classicist so I'm open to correction.

Gaius Julius Paulus?

Excerpted from Colin Hemer's paper "The Name of Paul" (1985):

It is generally recognised that Paul, as a Roman citizen, must have possessed a full Roman name, in fact the tria nomina (three names). 'Paulus' was his cognomen, but his praenomen and nomen are quite unknown to us. When a provincial was enfranchised, as when a slave was freed, he automatically assumed the praenomen and nomen of his patron and transmitted it to his descendants...

According to Acts 22:28 Paul was born a Roman citizen. If his family bore the names of a Roman benefactor, the origin must be sought in a previous generation, presumably in the person of a famous Roman who had favoured Tarsus, and bestowed citizenship on some of its leading citizens. If we cannot explain Paul's citizenship in this way, we can only confess our total ignorance of the circumstances.

The three eminent Romans associated with the East and with Tarsus in particular in the preceding period were Pompey, Caesar and Antony, the two latter especially being linked favourably with Tarsus. There is then the possibility - we can say no more - that Paul might have been Cn. Pompeiu Paulus, C. Julius Paulus or M. Antonius Paulus.

The purpose of this note is to draw attention to an inscription from Naples which illustrates the question of Paul's name and identity at three separate points...

'To the spirits of the dead. L. Antonius Leo, also called Neon, son of Zoilus, by nation a Cilician, a soldier of the praetorian fleet at Misenum, from the century the trireme "Asclepius", lived 27 years, served 9 years. C. Julius Paulus his heir undertook the work [of his burial]'...

Paul was both Hebrew and Roman by birth, and operated under either name (Saul or Paul) according to context. It is a neat example of the 'undesigned coincidences' of Acts and Epistles that Paul's Hebrew name is known only from Acts, and his tribe (Benjamin) only from an acknowledged epistle (Phil. 3:5): he was named after the most famous member of his tribe...

Leo's heir bears exactly the name which may possibly have been Paul's own. If he was Leo's near kinsman he may also have been a Cilician, and Tarsus was the capital and dominant city of Cilicia. The form of his name makes it probable that he or his ancestor was enfranchised by Caesar...

The name 'Paulus' itself was a common cognomen, occurring also in the variants Paullus, Polus and Pollus, and meaning 'small', whether in origin pejorative or affectionate. It may sometimes have been confused with an obsolete rare praenomen, usually spelt 'Paullus', which was occasionally revived as an archaizing fashion, as in the names of Paullus Aemilius Lepidus (consul suffectus in 34 B.C.) or Paullus Fabius Maximus (consul in 11 B.C., proconsul of Asia in 9 B.C.; IGRR 4.438, etc.). In Paul' case, as in that of enfranchised provincials generally, the cognomen will have been his ordinary personal name in the Gentile world, his formal designation by praenomen, nomen, father's praenomen, Roman tribe and cognomen being reserved for official documents and remaining unknown to us.

Narrative order

A friend asked me to comment on this:

[The amillennial] approach does not fit the literary movement of Revelation. John pictures the period between Christ’s exaltation and return as the time of Satan’s banishment from heaven to earth, where he deceives the nations and persecutes the saints (Rev 12:1–17). By way of contrast, in 20:1–3 Satan is confined in the abyss, which means that he cannot deceive the nations “anymore” (eti), just as defeat in heaven meant that he had no place there “any longer” (12:8) and Babylon’s fall mean that life was not found there “anymore” (18:21–23). Satan does not deceive anyone during the millennium (20:4–6), but deception resumes afterwards (20:7–8; Mounce; Osborne). If the vision of Satan persecuting the faithful in 12:1–17 shows the present character of earthly life, the vision of Satan’s binding assures people that the present situation is not the final one. Evil will be defeated in ways that are not now evident (Boring; Giesen; Murphy) [Craig R. Koester, Revelation: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, 785.]

1. Recapitulatory parallelism

Warfield is the earliest writer I've seen appeal to this. It was, of course, popularized by Hendrickson, and later picked up by Beale and Poythress. Metzger defends it as well.

I think there's some truth to it. When I first read Revelation through several times as a young Christian, I was struck by how the narrative structure was cyclical to some degree. That's before I read any commentaries advocating recapitulatory parallelism.

That said, there are limitations to that analysis:

i) While I think Revelation has a degree of periodicity, efforts to subdivide it into 7 sections strike me as artificial. Also, I doubt the book is that literary. This isn't Dante or T. S. Eliot. I don't expect Revelation to be that symmetrical. I don't think it's that kind of work.

ii) Although Revelation has a degree of periodicity, it's both linear and cyclical. There's progression towards a definitive climax. So it's not endless repetition circling back on itself like Finnegans Wake. 

2. Visionary genre

Poythress makes the point that Revelation originates in a vision. So the question is whether the sequence is chronological or psychological. Michaels raises the same basic issues. And I think that's a legitimate query.  

To be sure, that's more of a question rather than an answer. In principle, that could be a false dichotomy. Maybe the sequence in which God revealed these scenes to John are chronological. Or maybe John edited his visionary experience into a chronological sequence–assuming he'd know the actual order of events.

3. The nature of narrative sequence

i) To my knowledge, there are roughly three types of literary genres that use plotlines: historical narratives, fictional narratives, and historical fiction. The whole issue of narrative sequence is interesting and perhaps underexplored. 

Take intervals. Our preference is to group intervals by longer or shorter units of time: we group minutes with minutes, hours with hours, days with days, weeks with weeks, months with months, years with years, decades with decades, centuries with centuries, millennia with millennia.

By the same token, our preference is to group sequential intervals by common type: a day follows a day, a week follows a week, a month follows a month, &c.

One consequence is the natural tendency to group intervals in concentric temporal relationships. For instance, we group months within a year, weeks within a month, days within a week.

So there's concentricity as well as linearity. Sequences within sequences. 

As a rule, we prefer to add days to days, weeks to weeks, years to years, &c. We prefer to say a day is sooner or later than another day, rather than a week is sooner or later than a day. We have an ordinal numerical sequence of days that begins with each new month and terminates with that particular month, then starts all over again with the new month. Self-contained intervals that are expansive when linked with other self-contained intervals. 

Of course, there are times when that breaks down. Is May later than April? Depends. If the same year, yes. But April 1941 is later than May 1940, while May 1939 is sooner than April 1940. 

So context is crucial. Are there temporal markers that clarify relative sequence? Are we comparing days to days? Years to years? A month in one year to a month in another year?

ii) Or take autobiographies. These are wildly disproportionate in terms of how much detail is lavished on particular intervals of time. That's because a human life consists of some personally significant events, along with many average days, weeks, and months. An autobiography will focus on events significant to the writer. He will write a lot about shorter significant intervals and only write a little about longer average intervals. So there's a certain paradox, where more time is given to less time and less time is given to more time. 

If he didn't make explicit that he was discussing what happened to him in the course of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it might be impossible to gauge the length of the intervals comprising the sequence. Whether he was skipping over extensive intervals. 

We also have this in Scripture. Luke and Acts are about the same length, but Acts covers a much longer span of time. Although Genesis is just one book, it covers a far longer span of time than Exodus-Deuteronomy combined (even if we omit the legal material). 

iii) And that's historical narrative. In fictional narrative or historical fiction, the chronology of the plot follows dramatic logic rather than an actual historical order of events. 

iv) Allegory is a subgenre. The plot that may in some sense parallel reality, but the correspondence isn't a mirror image of reality. 

v) Back to historical narrative, consider what's involved in writing a history of WWII. You have to write about developing events in England, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Japan, North Africa, the USA, &c. So a historian will have to write about a certain interval of time in one country, then back up and write about an interval of time in another country, because there are so many parallel as well as intersecting events and developments. A historian sometimes has to back up to go forward. To pick up where he left off as he narrates the evolution and intersection of events in each major country that figured in the war. 

And if we think Revelation is about world history, will it be any less complex?

Neo-Apollinarian Christology

I'd like to comment in more detail on the neo-Apollinarian Christology of J. P. Moreland and W. L. Craig, which they present in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (IVP, 2003).

A few preliminary comments:

i) When I classify a position as "heretical," I'm not using ancient church councils as my standard of comparison. I'm Protestant. 

I don't object in principle to church bodies declaring certain propositions to be heretical. Indeed, that's a duty of the church. However, it's not an official declaration that makes it heretical. Rather, it's because certain propositions are heretical that a corporate declaration is merited.

A basic problem with making the heretical classification contingent on an "official" declaration is that, by that logic, Arianism wouldn't be heretical unless, say, an ancient church council condemned it as heretical. 

ii) Regarding orthodox Christology, the basic duty of Christians is to affirm the constituent elements of Christology presented in the NT, and avoid beliefs or formulations that explicitly or implicitly deny one or more constituent elements. Basically, to affirm the full humanity and the full divinity of Jesus.

If they have a muddled view of how those interrelate, that's understandable.

iii) Some Christians have a higher responsibility to avoid basic doctrinal error (Cf. Lk 12:36; Heb 13:17). I'm not suggesting that Craig and Moreland are hellbound. But their position is a pretty straightforward denial of the Incarnation, despite their efforts to finesse it. 

iv) To briefly state my own position, I think the Incarnation has an ineluctable element of mystery. That's in part because God is somewhat mysterious. God's mind is infinite, our minds are finite. God's mode of subsistence is categorically different from ours.

This doesn't mean we can have no true understanding of God, but God surpasses complete understanding.

By the same token, a divine incarnation is unparalleled in human experience. That's not something we can grasp from the inside out. So there's an element of mystery to that as well.

However, we have some understanding of the constituent elements. We have some understanding of the divine nature. Divine attributes. That's knowledge by description. And we understand human nature firsthand. That's knowledge by acquaintance.  

Moreover, we can also use analogies to gain some understanding of the hypostatic union. 

v) To be truly divine, Jesus must have all the divine attributes. To be truly human, Jesus must have a human body as well as human psychology. Of course, his mindset isn't confined to human psychology. It's more complex. His mindset includes divine psychology.

vi) I don't view the hypostatic union as a pipeline that pipes divine properties into the human nature or human properties into the divine nature. The Incarnation doesn't humanize God or divinize human nature. These remain what they are, in their distinct integrity. There's no intermingling of divine and human properties. They don't leak into each other and blend into each other, like mixing red and yellow to produce orange. The Incarnation doesn't change God. 

There's an asymmetry in the relation. In the hypostatic union, the divine nature affects the human nature, but the human nature does not affect the divine nature. The divine nature remains in control. 

Craig and Moreland say:

In the Incarnation–at least during his state of humiliation–the Logos allowed only those facets of his person to be part of Christ's waking consciousness which were compatible with typical human experience, while the bulk of his knowledge and other cognitive perfections like an iceberg beneath the water's surface, lay submerged in his subconsciousness (ibid. 611).

A basic problem with that model is that many times in the Gospels, Jesus exhibits a distinctly divine awareness. Indeed, that's one line of evidence for the deity of Christ. 

…the Logos contained perfect human personhood archetypically in his own nature. The result was that in assuming a hominid body the Logos brought to Christ's animal nature just those properties that would serve to make it a complete human nature…Such an interpretation of the Incarnation draws strong support from the doctrine of man created in the image of God…in being persons, [humans] uniquely reflect God's nature. God himself is personal, and inasmuch as we are persons we resemble him. Thus God already possesses the properties sufficient for human personhood even prior to the Incarnation, lacking only corporality. The Logos already possessed in his reincarnate state all the properties necessary for being a human self (ibid. 608-09).

Several basic problems with their argument:

i) There's the use of Aristotelian and evolutionary categories (animal nature, hominid body). That's not something they can validly prooftexts from the Biblical imago Dei. 

ii) But more deeply problematic is how they define the imago Dei. They just assume that the imago Dei stands for the psychological properties that make humans human. But Craig and Moreland don't even attempt to offer any exegetical justification for that crucial assumption. And this is in the tradition of Christian philosophers and theologians who use the imago Dei as a cipher for whatever they deem distinguishes humans from animals, such as reason. But that's not an exegetical conclusion. 

Likewise, to say God is personal and we are personal, therefore the imago Dei mirros divine personhood is not a valid inference from what Scripture says about the imago Dei. Rather, they begin by stipulating some communicable attributes, then ascribe that to the imago Dei. But they haven't begun to demonstrate that that's the concept of the imago Dei in the context of Scripture. 

iii) The closest thing to that is Eph 4:24 & Col 3:10. But it isn't clear that Eph 4:24 denotes moral properties rather than moral ascriptions (i.e. imputed righteousness). And even if Eph 4:24 refers to actual virtues, those aren't innate moral properties, but acquired moral properties, via sanctification. 

Regarding Col 3:10, although knowledge is an intellectual property, that's hardly exhaustive of human psychology. What about emotions?

Moreover, Col 3:10 isn't referring to innate psychological properties, but acquired knowledge via the historical revelation of the Gospel (cf. 2:2). That's not given in the imago Dei. Rather, that's historical knowledge. 

iv) There's more to human psychology than possession of certain psychological properties. There's vulnerability to psychological harm. How we experience those properties in a real-world setting. Take fear. Or pain. Or depression.

Or something as simple as taste. When Jesus eats fish, does the divine nature taste fish? No. The brain or soul tastes fish. The embodied soul tastes fish. 

The divine nature can't experience human sensation via human sensation. That would change and humanize God. Even if God knows what pain feels like, that's not in virtue of the hypostatic union. God has a divine mode of knowledge. 

Even if (ex hypothesi) the divine nature of Christ had human psychological properties, that's hardly enough to confer a human viewpoint or mindset. If the divine nature of Christ can't be affected by his surroundings, if hurting the body doesn't hurt his divine mind, then he doesn't have a comparable psychological experience. It isn't just a question of having certain psychological properties, but what one is able to experience through those properties. Take televised warfare. You can see the carnage, but you can't be harmed by what you see. It poses no threat to you. You don't feel the gunshot wound. 

v) Another problem is how Craig and Moreland are able to partition the psychology of Jesus from the Father and the Spirit if his "soul" just is the Son. If it's his divine nature that experiences human emotion, the divine nature is common property of the three persons. So how is that compartmentalized? How do Craig and Moreland avoid patripassianism?. They can't just invoke mystery willy nilly. There are certain conditions that warrant mystery. If they withdraw a necessary condition, then they're stuck with the straightforward implications of their position. 

The Enfield Poltergeist: General Skepticism (Part 1)

(You can read the first part of this series here.)

On a May 28, 1999 BBC radio program, Richard Wiseman remarked that most criticism of the Enfield case boils down to saying that the girls in the home where the poltergeist activity occurred, Janet and Margaret Hodgson, were playing tricks. (Start listening around 11:30 in the audio here.) In the time since Wiseman made those comments, Enfield skepticism hasn't changed much. For some recent examples of skeptics attributing the phenomena to cheating by the Hodgson girls, see here, here, and here.

There were five people in the Hodgson family, a mother, Peggy, and her four children: Margaret (age 13), Janet (age 11), Johnny (age 10), and Billy (age 7). Why do skeptics focus on the two girls?

Billy was too young, doesn't seem to have been the sort of person who would do what skeptics are alleging, and was never caught faking anything, as far as I know. Johnny was a few years older, but he also doesn't seem like somebody who would have done the faking in question, he was often away at boarding school when the events occurred, I don't think he was ever caught playing any tricks, and he died of cancer in 1981 without ever renouncing the family's claims about what they experienced. Peggy, the mother, died in 2003, and she never retracted her claims about the poltergeist. (You can watch a video of Maurice Grosse interviewing Peggy and Margaret Hodgson several years before Peggy's death here.) In one of the documentaries I linked in my first post, the SPR's Mary Rose Barrington refers to how impressed she was by Peggy (see here until 1:04:50). Guy Playfair writes:

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Legitimacy of Miracles

I. Exposition

I'm going to review Robert Larmer's The Legitimacy of Miracles (Lexington Books, 2014). Larmer is a Canadian Christian philosopher whose area of specialization includes the philosophy of miracles. He's published books and articles on the subject since 1983. The Legitimacy of Miracle is the culmination of 40+ years of research and reflection. This may be his magnum opus on the topic. Incidentally, Larmer has forthcoming book entitled Hume's Muddled Mess. Larmer is also developed a website. Stay tuned!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Papists or Thomists?

I recently had an impromptu debate with a Catholic on Facebook. Here's the exchange (with minor editing):

To support Jerry's claim from another angle, there's the phenomenon of conservative Catholics who disregard the pacifism of recent popes. They justify their support for capital punishment or a particular military intervention by appealing to Thomism. Many conservative Catholic intellectuals are functional Thomists rather than papists. Their standard of comparison on just war and capital punishment is Thomism rather than the modern Magisterium. You can see the same phenomenon when they disregard the economic views of recent popes and bishops, or their views on illegal immigration.

I forget, did a Pope declare ex cathedra a particular position on any of the issues you just listed?

You forgot that Catholics have a duty to submit to the ordinary magisterium and not merely the extraordinary magisterium. Anything else you'd like me to clear up for you?

892 Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a "definitive manner," they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful "are to adhere to it with religious assent"422 which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.

Yes, actually; what level of doctrine do those things listed fall under?

You mean, recent papal opposition to the death penalty (for instance)?

But nice to see you having to backpedal from your initial criterion.

Well, let me ask it like this, do the teachings you listed above, fall under ordinary, extraordinary, or ordinary universal magisterium teachings? Also, are these teachings considered dogma, definitive doctrine, authoritative doctrine, or prudential admonitions?

They don't need to be dogma or definitive doctrine to obligate assent. That's the point. And if you wish to retreat into uncertainty regarding how recent papal policy on capital punishment or default pacifism should be classified, that's a problem for Catholics, not Protestants. By what authority to does a Catholic layman classify recent papal policy as authoritative or unauthoritative? Your own authority?

Since it's "a problem for Catholics," then probably not a thing for you to concern yourself with here. 

Do you also think Christians are not entitled to concern themselves with problems internal to atheism? Should we just leave that to atheists to hash out among themselves? What a mistake for Plantinga, Swinburne, van Inwagen et al. to bother with atheism.

Also, If the teachings you listed above do indeed fall under the last two categories, one is able to disagree with the magisterium regarding these teachings. See Richard Gaillardetz's By What Authority? on this point.

Your last two categories included "authoritative doctrine" (second to last). So you're saying faithful Catholics are at liberty to disagree with authoritative doctrine.

If you classify recent papal policy on capital punishment and default pacifism as merely "prudential admonitions," what's your criterion? By what authority do you apply your criterion? Same thing with recent papal teaching on economics.

I notice that you cast the issue in conditional terms (if–then). So is the classification uncertain? But isn't a divine teaching office supposed to compensate for the lack of certainty that allegedly besets Protestant theology?

Well, we are back at my above question, how did these teachings come to be ( ordinary, extraordinary, or ordinary universal magisterium)?

Are you claiming there's some sort of quantitative threshold that distinguishes the ordinary universal magisterium? Can you point to an unambiguous criterion or sufficient condition?

Does the Vatican issue labels: "ordinary magisterial teaching," "ordinary universal magisterial teaching"?

Or is that left to the private judgment of individual Catholics to tell which is which?

No, actually, basic Catholic ecclesiology.

Oh, but we're discussing how individuals, including lay Catholics, apply "basic Catholic ecclesiology. Are you saying the classification of papal teaching as merely prudential admonitions is not an exercise in private judgment at the level of application?

Given the development of doctrine, what may prospectively appear to be merely prudential advice may retrospectively be seen as authoritative, as a pattern emerges. Or do you deny that?

Ordinary Magisterium consist of teachings by individual bishops, groups of bishops, or the Pope (non-infallible). 

Extraordinary Magisterium are things taught by the College of Bishops while gathered in Ecumenical Council, or the Pope doing so, as headof the College of Bishops, declared Ex Cathedra. 

Ordinary Universal Magisterium is something made by the bishops while dispersed throughout the world, united in judgment indicating that a teaching is held definitively.

Your definition of the ordinary universal magisterium fails to provide any identifiable event or discernible criterion for when that threshold has been crossed. Care to try again?

Your distinction between "groups of bishops" and bishops "dispersed throughout the world" is fuzzy, especially given the fact that the geographical extension of the Catholic church has varied in the course of church history.

Not to mention weasel words like "united in judgment" and "definitively held". Do you have a noncircular criterion or condition?

Wait, why do you care, again?

So now you're trying to deflect.

No, I'm just noting above you said this was a Catholic problem. I explained that there are different types of Church teachings.

Also, are you trying to learn about Catholic ecclesiology, or just being a troll?

So exposing the incoherence of Catholic claims is trollish. Well, if that's the best you can do.

So because the process isn't neat, somehow it is incoherent?

The process isn't "neat". What a lovely euphemism. So that's your backdoor admission that you don't really have any objective way to differentiate ordinary magisterial teaching from ordinary universal magisterial teaching.

Why can't evangelicals say the process of Protestant theology isn't "neat".

1) There are some "objective" criteria, as I stated above, how were the teachings stated? Ecumenical council? Ex Cathedra? Statements made by the Pope in a homily? 

2) It isn't exactly a neat process. Takes time, as the first few hundred years of christological debates should show. 

3)I am not exactly sure what it means to have a process of Protestant theology.

To repeat, what's the threshold for knowing when or if ordinary magisterial teaching has passed or will pass into ordinary universal magisterial teaching? At best, that can only be known in hindsight, which leaves much Catholic teaching uncertain or practically unauthoritative since the future is out of sight. And this isn't just a question of development or reiteration, but dramatic reversals in the status quo ante, for centuries.

To my knowledge, no papal statements are labeled "ex cathedra".

BTW, is there an infallible list of ecumenical councils? Clearly Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox have different lists.

The threshold is when the bishops, as members of the college of bishops even though they are dispersed globally, are united in a judgment that a teaching should be considered definitive doctrine. In other words, a judgment made by only the USCCB, cannot be anything more than ordinary magisterium (therefore not infallible).

Once again, how do you know if or when that threshold has been crossed? Does the Vatican stage a fireworks display? 

Since the Catholic church wasn't global for most of its history, does that mean ordinary universal magisterial teaching only became possible since the 19C (give or take)? How do you determine that the bishops are "united in judgment"? That doesn't even occur during so-called ecumenical councils. If, in some or many cases, the distinction between ordinary and ordinary universal magisterial teaching can only be seen after the fact, then how do you achieve any certainty in distinguishing the two in advance of the fact?

The statement about bishops being global isn't meant to imply that there must be a bishop on every continent. Rather, it is meant to reference the bishops dispersed to their diocese, wherever they might be found, rather than together at a council.

But you'd have to determine (taking a poll?) that the bishops are united in judgment. Presumably, moreover, that must be diachronic as well as synchronic. Bishops over a span of time. What's the minimal sample group in space and time? Presumably you don't think "united in judgment" means unanimity since, as I pointed out, that's not even a necessary condition for an ecumenical council. So it's a fuzzy criterion, too. A matter of degree. What's the threshold?

How do you determine, before the Council of Nicaea, whether or not Nicaea should be considered authoritative?

I don't consider church councils to be intrinsically authoritative. That's not my paradigm. If, for argument's sake, we wish to cast the issue in authoritarian terms, then the product of a council is "authoritative" insofar as it happens to be true.

What's not the question here?: your paradigm or what you think is authoritative in these matters. Rather the question is whether or not your initial comment that sparked this is back and forth makes a worthwhile contribution and criticism within the Catholic paradigm. It doesn't. Whether the catholic paradigm is complicated, or satisfies your emotive self isn't too interesting, since you aren't a Catholic, and is to be expected beforehand.However, what is interesting is that you continually pontificate about Catholic authority, and yet did not seem to know about the distinctions within the magisterium....

You were the one who asked for my personal opinion. My objection wasn't that the Catholic paradigm is "complicated" or that it fails to satisfies an "emotive self". And what's interesting is your persistent inability to show how the abstract distinctions are tenable in practice.