Monday, October 22, 2018

Parsing the Ligonier survey

A few observations about the recent Ligonier survey. They plug this video:


I don't see the point of going to downtown Seattle and sticking a microphone in the face of random pedestrians. Is that supposed to be a representable sample? Of whom? Notice, too, that it's the same handful of respondents. 

Regarding some of the test statements in the survey:

1. God is a perfect being and cannot make a mistake.

According to open theism, God does make mistakes. So much the worse for open theism.

2. Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.

A classic Arian formulation. I wonder how many Americans in general have the theological literacy to understand that statement. 

3. Jesus Christ is the only person who never sinned.

So either the Father and the Spirit are sinful or else the Father and the Spirit aren't persons. Ditto: the angel Gabriel, Archangel Michael, seraphim and cherubim. 

4. Even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation.

I don't think that's the best way to frame the issue. It's not first and foremost about particular sins, but the moral and spiritual character of the sinner. That's the source of sins. 

5. God counts a person as righteous not because of one’s works but only because of one’s faith in Jesus Christ.

A good Pauline formula, but I wonder how many Americans in general have the theological literacy to grasp what that means.

6. The Bible, like all sacred writings, contains helpful accounts of ancient myths but is not literally true.

That's really two statement bundled into one:

i) The Bible contains ancient myths

ii) The Bible isn't literally true

But should we give the same answer to both parts? Surely the Bible can be entirely true without being entirely literally true. Take the parables of Jesus. 

7. There will be a time when Jesus Christ returns to judge all the people who have lived.

Again, that's two statements bundled into one:

i) Jesus will return

ii) He will return to judge everyone

Regarding (ii), what about a passage like Jn 5:24? "Judgment" has ambiguous connotations.  

8. Sex outside of traditional marriage is a sin.

Presumably, "traditional" means "heterosexual monogamous" marriage in this context. But do Americans in general understand that?

9. Gender identity is a matter of choice.

On the one hand, transgender activists say it's a social construct. On the other hand, they say some people are psychologically trapped in a body of the wrong biological sex. But if that were true, it wouldn't be a choice. So it might be better to have two test statements on transgenderism.

10. The Bible’s condemnation of homosexual behavior doesn’t apply today.

What about homosexual attraction? Is that condemned? If so, why leave it out? 

Sunday, October 21, 2018

"The paradoxes of hell"

Bill Dembski has written a very long essay in defense of inclusivism:


This post will be long, not because my responses to Dembski are all that lengthy, but due to my quoting him before responding. 

Dembski's a Roman Catholic convert to evangelicalism. Had a layover in Eastern Orthodoxy. All these experiences provide him with a comparative frame of reference. I think he took heat from progressive Christians at Princeton, he's been the target of ruthless and relentless attack from the secular scientific establishment, he's been under fire from young-earth creationists, then he was knifed in the back at SWBTS. So many enemies both inside and outside the church. It has a cumulative effect. Finally, he has an autistic son. So all these factors condition his outlook. He's a heroic figure, but there's an understandably reactionary element to his position. It's to his credit that he can muster so much grace under pressure. 

His essay is very intelligent. He's a brilliant thinker. He gives some bad answers to some good questions. His position is confused or downright pernicious. And he doesn't seem to consult commentaries to familiarize himself with the range of interpretations.

Argumentum ex bacon

https://argumentfrombacon.wordpress.com/

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Museum piece Catholicism



Limbo is nearly defunct. The official softening up exercise is well under way.

After Vatican II there are basically three factions: liberals, RadTrad/sedevacantists, and "respectable" mainstream conservatives (e.g. Robert George, Ryan Anderson, George Weigel). The Francis pontificate has a clarifying effect by forcing mainstream conservatives to either join the winning side or begin adopting the harmonistic strategies of the RadTrads.

The RadTrads are half-right. But it's a dilemma. RadTrads wax nostalgic for museum piece Catholicism. They cling wistfully to a version of Catholicism representing Pius IX, St. Alphonsus Liguori, the Rosary, the Roman Catechism, Fatima, and Eucharistic adoration. (An oversimplification, but you get the point.)

It is, however, arbitrary to make older magisterial pronouncements as the yardstick to measure newer magisterial pronouncements. Ad hoc to make older magisterial pronouncements more authoritative than newer magisterial pronouncements. The logical response is to conclude that the underlying paradigm is fatally flawed. The ideal of a divine teaching office is a romantic fiction, falsified by history. 

Can We Trust the Gospels?

https://www.michaeljkruger.com/book-notice-can-we-trust-the-gospels/

Roundup on creationism

To my knowledge, these are the most competent books of their kind:

Old-earth creationism

C. John Collins, Reading Genesis Well: Navigating History, Poetry, Science, and Truth in Genesis 1-11 (2018)

Vern Poythress, Interpreting Eden: A Guide to Faithfully Reading and Understanding Genesis 1-3 (2019)

New-earth creationism

John Byl, God and Cosmos (2001)

Jonathan Sarfati, The Genesis Account: A theological, historical, and scientific commentary on Genesis 1-11 (2015)

Andrew Snelling, Earth's Catastrophic Past: Geology, Creation, & the Flood (2014)

Kurt Wise, Faith, Form, and Time: What the Bible Teaches and Science Confirms about Creation and the Age of the Universe (2000)

Todd Wood, The Quest: Exploring Creation’s Hardest Problems (2018)

Darwinism

Douglas Axe, Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed (2017)

Robert J. Marks et al. Introduction To Evolutionary Informatics (2017)

Stephen C. Meyer, Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (rev. ed., 2014)

J. P. Moreland et al. eds. Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique (2017)

Doppelgänger

One of the stock objections to Calvinism is the allegation that according to Calvinism, the spiritual experience of the reprobate may be indistinguishable from the spiritual experience of the elect. 

i) To begin with, evangelical Arminianism believes that some people are deluded about their salvation. For instance, there are nominal Christians and progressive Christians who imagine they are heavenbound, when in fact they lack saving faith. Not to mention members of cults who imagine they are heavenbound (e.g.  Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses). So Calvinism is hardly unique in taking the position that people can be deluded about their salvation. It doesn't require an inner experience by an outside agent (God, Satan) to produce that delusion. Mundane factors can have that effect. 

ii) It depends on what is meant by indistinguishable. Is the allegation that they have the same spiritual experience? If so, that's not the case. The elect experience regeneration and sanctification while the reprobate do not.

iii) Or does it mean that even though their psychological experience is different, they have no intersubjectival basis of comparison to determine whether their perception is what the elect experience or the reprobate experience? Even if that were the case, so what? Assuming that's a consequence of Calvinism, how does that disprove Calvinism?  

Let's take a comparison. Here's a philosopher invoking the science-fiction scenario of machines that can duplicate a human being. He's using this thought-experiment to undermine dualism, but we could tweak it to stipulate that the machine duplicate the soul as well as the body:

Those who believe this will concede, after a moment's reflection, that just as most of the duplicate's memories will not be real memories, so most of his beliefs about himself and his history will be false. The duplicate will, for example, believe that he is the [original] Alfred, and he is not. That is, he is not a man who has existed for such-and-such a number of years (he is only a few minutes old) and is married to Winifred (he has never met her), and so on. The duplicate has no sense of Alfred. He is someone else, for if you stick a pin into Alfred, the duplicate feels no pain. Nevertheless, it seems to the duplicate that he is Alfred. What it is like to be the duplicate is just exactly what it is like to be Alfred. If Alfred was unconscious when he was duplicated, and if he and the duplicate were then "scrambled"…no one, including Alfred and the duplicate, could ever know which was Alfred and which was the  duplicate. P. van Inwagen, Metaphysics (Westview Press, 4th ed., 2015), 264. 

In this scenario, the original and his duplicate are physically and psychologically interchangeable. Exact same mental furniture. Same memories and psychological makeup. Identical bodies. There's nothing they can point to differentiate the original from the duplicate.

Now that might have unsettling consequences. But you can't disprove it just because it generates an identity crisis. You can critique it on other grounds, as unrealistic or impossible. But the fact that it has unnerving or creepy consequences doesn't make it false. And that's much more extreme than comparing elect and reprobate. 

Dualism and model airplanes

If dualism is true, our relation to our bodies is analogous to the relation of the operator of a remotely controlled device (such as a radio-controlled model airplane) to that device. Now consider Alfred, who is operating a model airplane by remote control. Suppose that something–an unwary bird or a large hailstone–strikes a heavy blow to the model in midair. If the blow does significant damage to the model, we can expect that both the performance of the model and Alfred's ability to control the model will be impaired. But the blow will have no effect at all on Alfred…but if Alfred's body were struck by a heavy blow, and particularly if it were a blow to the head, this might have an effect on him, an effect that goes beyond his becoming aware of the blow and its damaging effects on his body and his ability to control his body: Alfred might well become unconscious. 

This is just the sort of effect we should expect if Alfred were a certain human organism, for if the processes of consciousness are certain physical processes within this organism, a damaging blow might well cause those processes to cease, at least temporarily. But what effect should dualism lead us to expect from a blow to the body? I submit that if we are non-physical things, and if the processes of consciousness are non-physical processes that do not occur within the body, the most natural thing to expect is that (at the worst) we should lose control of our bodies while continuing to be conscious. The blow to the base of Alfred's skull that in fact produces unconsciousness should, according to dualism, produce the following effects on Alfred: he experiences a sharp pain at the base of his skull; he then notes that his body is falling to the floor and that it no longer responds to his will; his visual sensations and the pain at the base of his skull and all other sensations he has been experiencing fade away; and he is left, as it were, floating in darkness isolated, but fully conscious and able to contemplate his isolated situation and to speculate about its probable causes and its duration. But this is not what happens when one receives a blow at the base of the skull. One never finds oneself conscious but isolated from one's body. 

Dualism, therefore, seems on the face of it, to make wrong predictions about what the human person will experience in certain situations. Here is another wrong prediction that dualism seems to make: if dualism were correct, we should expect that the ingestion large quantitates of alcohol would result in a partial or complete loss of motor control but leave the mind clear. P. van Inwagen, Metaphysics (Westview Press, 4th ed., 2015), 260-61.

i) I wouldn't say that if Cartesian dualism is true, we are non-physical things, simpliciter. Compare it to the nature/nurture debate. I'd be the same individual if I grew up in a different town. However, I'd turn out differently. If I grew up in rural Montana rather than Chicago; on a military base in Germany rather than St. Augustine, Florida; if I was an orphan; if my mother died when I was young; if my father died when I was young; if I had brothers, and so on, I'd be the same individual, but those formative experiences would have a tremendous shaping influence on my personality. I'd have different memories, different friends. Some of my beliefs might be significantly different. 

By the same token, embodied experience has an enormous conditioning influence on our personalities. Even though we can exist apart from our bodies, embodied experience profoundly shapes the mind. 

ii) When the brain is put to sleep (so to speak), people sometimes remain conscious but isolated from their bodies. Stock examples include near-death and out-of-body experiences. Then there's the more dramatic example of ghosts. 

iii) The remote control analogy is useful up to a point, but too superficial. Cartesian dualism is more immersive. Embodied experience is more like someone born into virtual reality, where his awareness is systematically filtered through the artificial stimuli. He has no awareness independent of the simulation unless the simulator is destroyed, and his sensory relays are uncoupled from the simulator. 

Friday, October 19, 2018

Survey of contemporary American religious beliefs

I may comment on this for later, but for now, here are the statements given to respondents, percentiles, as well as demographic breakdown:

http://lifewayresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Ligonier-State-of-Theology-2018.pdf

http://lifewayresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Ligonier-State-of-Theology-2018-White-Paper.pdf

Paradise on earth

Fourthly, what natural evils a world contains depends not just on the laws, but also on the initial, or boundary conditions. Thus, for example, an omnipotent being could create ex nihilo a world which had the same laws of nature as our world, and which contained human beings, but which was devoid of non-human carnivores. Or the world could be such that there was unlimited room for populations to expand, and ample natural resources to support such populations.


Because Tooley's argument is so terse, I'm not sure how he'd develop it, but the thrust of his argument appears to be tolerably clear, so I'll operate with what I take to be the implicit argument.

i) There are limits, even severe limits, on what an omnipotent being can naturally do. An omnipotent being can often circumvent natural processes to produce an outcome directly–although there are some limits on that as well–but when it comes to a world that operates according to physical cause and effect, the finite medium imposes many constraints on what's feasible consistent with natural forces and processes. 

ii) I'm struck by how often atheists who pride themselves on their commitment to hard science veer off into superficial and unbridled speculations about how nature could be different. A world with only herbivores would require so many adjustments that it's hard to imagine in detail. 

iii) What does he mean by a world with unlimited room? Does he mean something like earth scaled up to the size of Jupiter or the Sun or VY Canis Majoris? What about the Hayashi limit? 

Is it naturally possible for a celestial object that size to be a platform for an earth-like biosphere? Likewise, if you scale up the earth, consider all the adjustments to the solar system that are necessary to make earth biofriendly. 

iv) Or does he mean a planet that's still the size of earth, but where every region is hospitable? Is it naturally possible for the earth to have a uniformly hospitable climate? Don't differences in altitude and latitude entail climatic differences? Isn't there a necessary interplay between hospitable and inhospitable zones? Take the water cycle. Doesn't that require dramatic zonal contrasts? Take mountain ice caps. What about wind systems? 

v) Part of what makes the earth so interesting is the wide variety of landscapes and ecological zones. Some magnificent landscape aren't very hospitable. Take the Alps, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, &c. Yet these are tourist attractions.

There are people who live in less hospitable regions by choice. Folks who live in Alaskan outback because they like the wild, the challenge, the out of doors. 

You have folks like George and Joy Adamson who move to the Serengeti, which is loaded with dangerous animals and diseases, because they love wild animals. They love the out of doors. Take scuba divers. Take mountain-climbers. Take astronauts. 

Tooley sounds like a risk-averse city-slicker who spends all his life in climate-controlled buildings. That's not everybody's idea of paradise. 

Our Lady of Lourdes

To my knowledge, Fatima and Lourdes are the showcase Catholic miracles. Fatima because it's supposedly well-attested by so many witnesses and Lourdes because it's supposedly well-attested by so many miracles. Not only as Catholic miracles, but miracles that specifically attest the cult of Mary. I've discussed Fatima on several occasions, but Lourdes on fewer occasions. 

In my experience, atheists typically discount the "miracles" of Lourdes as coincidental. Even Catholic authorities only vouch for an infinitesimal fraction of healings compared to the total number of pilgrims.

On the face of it, Lourdes might seem to pose a dilemma for Protestants. If, on the one hand, we accept the atheist explanation, that will boomerang on Christian miracles and biblical miracles generally. If, on the other hand, we credit some miracles at Lourdes, that seems to boomerang against our Protestant position. 

I disagree with the atheist position. It's true that some healings are ambiguous inasmuch as they could either be due to natural or supernatural causes. However, the naturalistic explanation is only available to medical conditions that can naturally improve. But there are medical conditions that don't naturally resolve themselves. 

Conversely, since authenticating a religious claimant is not the only purpose served by miracles, I don't have to rule out Catholic miracles inasmuch as Catholic miracles, per se, don't entail the truth of Catholicism. 

That said, there's a sense in which the issue of coincidence remains, only I'd relocate the coincidence. Even assuming that miracles associated with Lourdes are genuine, yet when only an infinitesimal fraction of pilgrims are healed, in proportion to the vast number who aren't, why attribute a healing to Lourdes? Given the extremely low correlation between healing and a pilgrimage to Lourdes, is there any presumption that the same pilgrims would not be healed if they stayed home and simply prayed to the Father, or Jesus, or Mary, or some saint or another? Is it possible to compare Catholics healed in association with Lourdes to Catholics healed who didn't make the trek to Lourdes? 

Even in Catholic theology, it's not as though a pilgrimage to Lourdes is a necessary condition for miraculous healing. That site didn't exist until the mid-19C. If it was demonstrable that pilgrims to Lourdes experience healing at statistically significant rates higher than Catholics who simply pray to the usual suspects, I don't see how, even on Catholic grounds, Lourdes constitutes evidence for the intercession of Mary.  

A Catholic apologist might counter that even if it doesn't single out Mary, it singles out Catholicism so long as efficacious prayer was directed at the cult of the saints. 

However, that raises another basis of comparison. What about Protestant healings? Protestants who experience miraculous healing by praying to the Father or Jesus? 

The Fatima legend

The second part of the book is more interesting. The authors examine the evolution of the Fatima legend, showing how the simple testimony given by the seers in 1917 evolved into an elaborate web of "secrets", creating a credulous cult around Lucia while enhancing the influence of Fatima within the Church. The authors attribute all this to a deliberate Jesuit conspiracy, but if the evidence they present is correct, the more likely culprit is Lucia herself.

More work needs to be done to explain the obvious and suspicious discrepancies between what Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco told the authorities in 1917, and the extensive new details "revealed" by the increasingly powerful Lucia decades after her cousins were dead.


Thursday, October 18, 2018

What was Job thinking?

According to Alvin Plantinga:

There are at least two ways to understand Job. On the one hand, it seems that his problem is intellectual: he can't see what reason God could have for permitting this suffering (or visiting it upon him); he infers that probably God doesn't have a reason. But the point is that Job's suffering comes to him for reasons entirely behind his ken, reasons having to do with the relation between God and creatures he knows nothing about. 

Alternatively, we could understand Job like this. He doesn't really doubt that God has good reasons for what he does or permits; after all, being omnipotent and omniscient and all that great stuff, he would have good reasons, wouldn't he? But Job simply hates what God is doing (or permitting) and becomes furious with God: "why did I have to suffer for those no doubt dandy ends of yours?…I don't give a fig for your reasons, and I loathe what you are doing!" Here Job doesn't really doubt that God has good reasons, but he doesn't care; he mistrusts God, is wary of him and his no doubt magnificent aims and ends. He hates what these aims and ends require of him; he feels like rebelling against God, telling him off, telling him to go fly a (no doubt splendidly magnificent) kite. Alvin Plantinga, "Reply to Tooley's Opening Statement," Knowledge of God (Blackwell 2008), 182-83. 

Are the genealogies complete?

Are the genealogies in Genesis complete or incomplete? Let's consider two striking features:

i) Unless I missed something, the genealogies only mention male descendants. But the antediluvians undoubtedly had female descendent as well. 

ii) In addition, even if the genealogies only mention the firstborn, it's statistically unlikely that the firstborn child was always a son rather than a daughter. 

iii) Then there's the extraordinary age at which they are first mentioned as fathering offspring. Did it take that long for them to reach sexual maturity? Were they all virgins up to that point? Or is the tactic assumption that the first mentioned decedent is not in fact the firstborn? 

iv) Take the curious case of Noah. Was he really childless until the ripe age of 500? And did he father all three sons in the same year?

v) I think all these factors suggest that the genealogies are selective. In principle, they could be selective about naming siblings, but still be complete in naming a representative of each successive generation. But the fact that they're that selective may mean there's no presumption that they name representatives of every generation. 

vi) An unbeliever might say they don't make sense because they're fictional or legendary. However, they made sense to the narrator. Presumably they made sense to the original audience.  So unless he's randomly picking ages out of the blue, there's a pattern–even if it may be obscure to modern readers. 

Bored to death

I'm going to revisit a statement by atheist philosopher Michael Tooley:

Finally, there is the brief span of human life, and the inevitability of bodily death. This feature of human life seems very unsatisfactory from a moral point of view, as it both places a severe limit upon the possibilities for personal growth and intellectual development, and ends relationships between people that are often deep and enduring. In a well designed world, surely, the lives of people, and the relationships between them, would be completely open-ended, free to develop indefinitely, with no terminus imposed from without. Michael Tooley, "A brief catalogue of some notable evils", Knowledge of God (Blackwell 2008), 113.

Fact is that for many people, the problem is not that life is too short but that life is too long. Many people already find life tedious decades before they die. They don't have enough to live for. They turn to drugs and alcohol. They pad their lives with frenetic busyness and ephemeral entertainment to stave off the sense of emptiness, pointlessness, deadening repetition. That's especially problematic for unbelievers. But even for believers, much of what they hear in church is so repetitious that it palls. Many people are restless because there's not enough to look forward to from day to day. They lack a theological imagination. 

In defense of meat eating

http://www.academia.edu/6986943/In_Defense_of_Eating_Meat

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A catalogue of evils

In his written debate with Alvin Plantinga, secular philosopher Michael Tooley has "A brief catalogue of some notable evils", Knowledge of God (Blackwell 2008), 109-15. Since Tooley is a high-level atheist, and this is an impressive list, I'd like to interact with his examples.  

First, there are extreme moral evils [Hitler, Stalin, genocide].

Secondly, there is the suffering endured by innocent children, including the suffering caused by lack of food in many parts of the world, by diseases such as muscular dystrophy, leukemia, cerebral palsy, and so on, and by abuse inflicted upon children by adults…

Thirdly, there is the suffering that adults endure as a result of terrible diseases–such as cancer, mental illness, Alzheimer's disease and so on. 

Fourthly, there is the suffering of animals. 

All of the types of evils just mentioned could be prevented by a very powerful and knowledgeable person. But the God of theism, if he exists, is not just a being who now has the power to intervene: he is also a being who created everything else that exists. Consequently, one can also raise the question of how satisfactory the world is. When one does this, it appears, for example, that there are a number of "design faults" in human beings that contribute greatly to human suffering and unhappiness, and where either no benefits at all are apparent, or else no benefits sufficient to counterbalance the negative effects.

(1) The sinuses are misdesigned: the lower sinuses open upward, and thus they do not drain properly, with the result that they may become infected and cause, in some cases, severe headaches. 

Evolution, of course, provides and explanation of both good "design" and bad "design". Thus, for example, our sinuses would be fine if we were four-legged animals,, rather than two-legged ones. But this explanation is not available to the creationist, and if the theist who is not a creationist attempts to appeal to this idea, he or she needs to say why an omnipotent, omniscience, and morally perfect being would employ evolution as a way of designing different species. Why leave things at the mercy of a morally unguided process that has had, as one would have expected, a number of bad results?

(2) As in the case of sinuses, so with the human spine: while its design is not too bad in the case of four-legged animals, it is a very unsatisfactory piece of engineering in the case of two-edged animals. This bad design, in turn, means that many humans suffer from back problems…

(3) Another example of what would seem to be an easily correctable "design fault" is the presence of wisdom teeth…impacted wisdom teeth, by becoming infected, could then lead not only to considerable pain, but to septicemia, and to death. 

(4) A fourth illustration is provided by childbirth. The size of the human head relative to the size of the birth canal has three unfortunate consequences. First, humans are born in a much more underdeveloped, and therefore more vulnerable state than newborns of other species. Secondly, childbirth is often a very painful experience. Thirdly, childbirth is potentially a very dangerous event for the woman…In the past, many women died in childbirth and many continue to do so in less affluent countries.

(5) Men and women differ in various ways…women [are] more likely to develop lung cancer than men, without smoking more…So greater susceptibility to lung cancer is programmed into women.

(6). Another striking source of considerable suffering is declining hormone levels as one grows older [osteoporosis, Alzheimer's disease].

(7-8) The body is equipped with sensors that detect injury, and announce the presence of bodily damage via painful sensations. these injury-detectors are badly designed, in at least four ways. First, they are not sensitive to the presence of many life-threatening bodily changes [e.g. cancer]. 

Secondly, these injury-detectors often produce high levels of pain when there is no condition that poses a serious health risk [e.g. migraines]. 

Thirdly, there is no way of shutting down these injury-detectors in situations where, rather than providing the individual with a useful warning of bodily damage, they only contribute to the person's misery by producing ongoing pain sensations. 

Fourthly, the injury-detection system produces levels of pain that are often unbearably intense and that are in no way needed to serve the purpose of alerting one to bodily damage. 

When some part of the body is being damaged, the injury-detectors, rather than giving rise to pain associated with that part of the body, could, where possible, immediately generate an automatic withdrawal response…

(9) When people become overweight, there is no reduction in appetite, nor is the mechanism that enables one to make use of stored fat an effective and well-designed one. Nor does the body cease extracting and storing calorie-rich compounds, such as fat, from the foot that it is processing.

(10) The body contains a variety of defense mechanisms to deal with the threats posed by bacteria, viruses, toxins, and so on. But viruses are often capable of countermeasures–sometimes of quite a sophisticated sort–that enable them to foil the body's defense mechanisms. A better designed defense system would not be thwarted by such countermeasures. 

(11) Malaria, sickle cell anemia. 

(12) Humans are sexually mature some time before they exhibit significant emotional maturity, with the upshot that quite young girls can bear children long before they have developed the emotional responsibility and commitment needed to care for children satisfactorily.

(13) The association of intense pleasure with sexual activity also appears to be a design fault. For while sexual pleasure can certainly contribute to human happiness, it appears that when everything is taken into account, the world might well be better off if people reproduced simply because they wanted to have children, and if people were not seduced by the very great pleasure associated with sexual activity into actions that have far-reaching and often quite disastrous consequences.

(14) Conscience seems to be quite a fragile thing, and many people seem to have a very weak sense of right and wrong…Would not such a stronger and clearer sense of right and wrong make the world a better place?

(15) Humans are subject to aging, a decline in physical functioning…arthritis…the deterioration of one's mental capacities, sometimes including the complete destruction of those capacities that make one human.

(16) The mind can be damaged not only by processes connected with aging, but by strokes and other injuries to the brain…If mental faculties, rather than being dependent upon the brain, were instead faculties of an immaterial soul, such unwelcome occurrences would be totally absent from the world.

(17) More radically, embodied persons could be constructed of tougher stuff, so that all bodily injury was ruled out: they could be supermen and superwomen, in a world without kryptonite. 

(18) Finally, there is the brief span of human life, and the inevitability of bodily death. This feature of human life seems very unsatisfactory from a moral point of view, as it both places a severe limit upon the possibilities for personal growth and intellectual development, and ends relationships between people that are often deep and enduring. In a well designed world, surely, the lives of people, and the relationships between them, would be completely open-ended, free to develop indefinitely, with no terminus imposed from without. 

"Design faults" are not limited, however, to human beings…thus, in the first place, the earth is misdesigned in many ways that give rise to natural disasters resulting in enormous suffering and loss of life, for both humans an animals. This includes earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, cyclones, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, tidal waves, and epidemics. 

Secondly, the world contains bacteria and viruses that cause very great suffering and death.

Thirdly, there is the enormous suffering that results from the existence of carnivorous animals. 

Fourthly, the world is one where the resources that exist are too limited to provide for populations of humans and other animals that are expanding at natural rates. The world could instead have been an infinite plane, or have had inhabitable planets that were easily accessible. 

That's quite a litany! I imagine something like that might be devastating to the proverbial young man raised in the proverbial fundamentalist, anti-intellectual church, who's never been exposed to the objections of a sophisticated atheist. 

I'll begin by making some general observations, followed by some specific observations. 

Richard Carrier is displeased

https://historyforatheists.com/2018/10/richard-carrier-is-displeased-again/

The metaphysics of resurrection

There are different models of resurrection. I don't mean the resurrection of Christ, in particular. I mean the more radical case of resurrecting someone whose body completely disintegrated. 

One model is replication. God creates a new body that duplicates your old body. The new body is discontinuous with the old body, although it's indistinguishable in the sense of being an exact copy of the original. (Of course, on any model, the resurrection body will be somewhat different because it lacks the same susceptibility to disease and senescence.)

This raises questions regarding personal identity. Is it the same you? 

Since I'm a Cartesian dualist, I think the soul contains the core person rather than his body. That's not to deny the formative influence of embodied experience, which conditions our outlook. But that's imprinted on the soul (as it were). We take that with us when we die. 

If the soul is immortal, then there's no gap between death and resurrection at that level. The person enjoys continuous existence. Resurrection reembodies the soul. The same soul is transferred to a new duplicate body. 

There are, however, Christian physicalists (I use "Christian" advisedly in this context) who don't have that fallback. For them, brain death cancels out consciousness. On that view, there's a complete gap between death and resurrection. An interval during which you cease to exist.

Even if God recreates your body, the question is whether that's the same you. Due to the break in personal identity, is this still the original you, or is this a copy of you–a doppelgänger? Were you restored to life, or is the original you gone forever, while you were replaced by someone else with the same memories? 

That's eerie, like those body-snatcher scenarios. Since I'm not a Christian physicalist, that's not my problem. But to be fair, I'm not sure that's an insuperable problem for Christian physicalism. If God stores your memories (in his own mind) during the hiatus, then uploads your memories to the new brain, is that still you? Perhaps. 

But I think there's actually more to personal identity, even at a psychological level, than memory. A mind is more than its memories. A mind includes innate character traits, liquid IQ, &c. So a physicalist model of the resurrection requires God to recreate the whole package. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Strategic inscrutability

There's a family of objections to God as an explanatory principle. There's Elliott Sober's objection that you can't draw a design inference unless you know the intentions of the designer. There's a related objection to skeptical theism as a double-edged sword: it relieves the problem of evil at the expense of making God generally inscrutable and our corresponding intuitions generally unreliable. 

But let's take a comparison. In games like chess, poker, and football–as well as stratagems in warfare–the intentions of the agent are often inscrutable to an outsider. Why did the chess player make this move rather than that move? 

It would, however, be erroneous to conclude that just because we may not be able to figure out what the agent is up to, therefore the agent's actions are random. That there is no reason for what he did.

Indeed, we can put a sharper point on that. In the aforesaid examples, the agent will deliberately mask his intentions. He doesn't want his opponent to know what he's up to. He tries to throw him off the scent.

Not only are his intentions obscure, but they are obscure by design. Strategic inscrutability. 

So even if an agent's intentions are puzzling, that doesn't mean we should be agnostic about his having intentions. That doesn't mean the outcome is equivalent to chance. Indeed, in cases like military deception, we should infer design especially when the agent's behavior is puzzling. It's not merely that the agent's intentions happen to be obscure; rather, they are intentionally obscure. 

Platonic realism to the rescue

Platonism is the view that there exist abstract (that is, non-spatial, non-temporal) objects (see the entry on abstract objects). Because abstract objects are wholly non-spatiotemporal, it follows that they are also entirely non-physical (they do not exist in the physical world and are not made of physical stuff) and non-mental (they are not minds or ideas in minds; they are not disembodied souls, or Gods, or anything else along these lines). In addition, they are unchanging and entirely causally inert — that is, they cannot be involved in cause-and-effect relationships with other objects.[1]


A popular objection to God's existence is the claim that appealing to God lacks explanatory power because you're invoking something inexplicable to explain what you don't understand. God is even more obscure than whatever you're trying to explain. 

It's unclear what it means to say God is inexplicable. Do they mean the concept of God is incoherent? Do they mean divine intent is inscrutable? Do they mean God's relation to time and space is mysterious? 

There are answers, depending on the specific allegation. But for now I'd like to focus on a different point. 

Physicalism is the default position of naturalists. However, some atheists admit that physicalism lacks sufficient explanatory power, so they fall back on Platonic realism or keep that in reserve. They use it as a blocking maneuver against Christian theism. 

But here's the irony: Platonic realism is even more inexplicable that what it's pressed into service to explain. On the one hand we have a reasonably clear grasp of what it means for something to be a physical entity. It's true that physics hasn't got to the bottom of what ultimately constitutes matter, but up to that barrier we have a fairly precise scientific idea of what matter and energy are–as well as having a ubiquitous phenomenological experience of matter and energy.

On the other hand, we have an even firmer grasp of what mental entities are. We have unmediated access to our own minds. We know our minds better than anything else. We have direct experience of what thoughts are. The furniture of consciousness. Those are the two basic categories of human experience and understanding.

But we have no grasp, no experience, of what it's like for something to be neither mental nor physical. There's no frame of reference. We can give it a label, but it doesn't match anything in human experience or understanding. It's just an opaque postulate. 

Dale doubles down on dumbing down



Here's what Dale said about business majors in his own words (verbatim):

Let­ter to the Ed­i­tor: Dale Tuggy: A re­sponse to our pre­vi­ous edi­to­r­ial

A re­cent un­signed ed­i­to­r­ial here ex­co­ri­ates me for point­ing out that busi­ness and ed­u­ca­tion stu­dents are, col­lec­tively, weaker stu­dents than the over­all stu­dent pop­u­la­tion. But this is a fact, un­pleas­ant though it may be. The av­er­age SAT and GPA numbers for stu­dents with those ma­jors is lower; look it up. I know that takes longer than lazily lob­bing a charge that my truth-telling is “un­fair, un­jus­ti­fied and cruel,” but still, you should run the num­bers. Point­ing this out is not at­tack­ing those stu­dents, as if they were not try­ing or as if they should­n’t be at Fre­do­nia. Rather, it is to point out that the qual­ity of in­tel­lec­tual life at Fre­do­nia has been de­graded un­der the poor lead­er­ship of pres­i­dents Hefner and Hor­vath.

The in­tel­lec­tual abil­i­ties of your peers here mat­ters a lot to the qual­ity of the ed­u­ca­tion you get here. In point of fact, pro­fessors in many of the more chal­leng­ing dis­ci­plines have been pres­sured by both them­selves and by ad­min­is­tra­tors to dumb down the ma­te­r­ial in classes, so that not too many stu­dents fail. 

Is a foundation unrepeatable?

1. At the risk of belaboring Eph 2:20: a foundation has a horizontal dimension as well as a vertical dimension. Cessationists focus on the vertical dimension. I believe their argument goes something like this: according to the law of superposition, the bottommost layer is the earliest layer. The foundation goes down first, then upper stories may be erected over the foundation. The foundation is unrepeatable because it's inaccessible. The foundation is covered by upper layers. So there's an irreversible bottom-up process. 

2. But that's a fallacious inference:

i) Sometimes the foundation is exposed. Take a dirt floor. Many 1C buildings had dirt floors. Nothing was built directly on top of that foundation. Rather, there's space between the dirt foor and the ceiling. 

ii) Even if the dirt foundation is covered by tilings, that can be washed out by a flood. Cf. Mt 7:26-27.

iii) Likewise, even if a building has a rock solid foundation, an earthquake can buckle the foundation. 

So even in reference to the vertical dimension, there's nothing inherently permanent or unrepeatable about a foundation. After a natural disaster, rebuilding may require a new foundation. 

iv) Now a cessationist might object that Jesus and/or the apostles didn't build the church on an unstable foundation. In a sense that's true, but it's not something you can prove from Eph 2:20. At best, you need to supplement Eph 2:20 with something else (e.g. Mt 16:18).

v) Moreover, even that has to be qualified. How many churches planted by apostles still exist? How many 1C house churches still exist? Compare the state of 1C Christianity in Greece, Asia Minor, and the Middle East with the 21C state of Christianity in those locations. The gates of hell often prevail at a local level. 

3. In addition, a foundation can have a horizontal dimension. If the original floor plan becomes too cramped for the occupants, the foundation can be extended along one or more sides. The original foundation can be expanded, adding new side rooms. Pushing walls back. A foundation has an outward dimension as well as an upward dimension. And the outward dimensions aren't necessarily confined to original floor plan. 

4. Finally, a foundation has both spatial and temporal dimensions. Foundations at different times and places. The Great Commission lays new foundations at different times and places or extends the foundation to different times and places. By itself, a foundation is a flexible metaphor–vertically, horizontally, spatially, and chronologically. 

A cessationist might object that even if a foundation, considered in isolation, can be extended or multiply laid, a foundation in combination with the apostles and prophets cannot, because that had a 1C expiration date. But in reference to Eph 2:20, that begs the question. The point of quoting Eph 2:20 in the first place was to prove the discontinuance of apostles and prophets. So that must be derived from the text rather than treated as a given. 

Reclaiming the Reformation

https://www.firstthings.com/article/2018/06/latimer-and-ridley-are-forgotten

Is a foundation once and for all?

1. Once more I'm going to comment on Eph 2:20. This is the primary cessationist prooftext. I agree with cessationists that the Apostolate was a temporary arrangement which died out with the last apostle. Likewise, I agree with cessationists that the epoch of prophecy in the sense of public revelation is behind us. 

2. In my experience, the cessationist appeal to Eph 2:20 is circular. They implicitly argue that the foundation is once and for all time because the apostolate is once and for all time while the apostolate is once and for all time because the foundation is once and for all time. So what's the logical connection? What grounds the conclusion? 

If you think the Apostolate is unrepeatable, then by definition an apostolic foundation is unrepeatable. Conversely, if you think a foundation is unrepeatable, then by definition an apostolic foundation is unrepeatable. It seems to me that cessationists oscillate between these two criteria without clarifying the logical relation or direction of the inference. You can't use each to prove the other. If you already know, apart from Eph 2:20, that the apostolate is unrepeatable, then you might use that to establish the unrepeatability of the foundation, or vice versa. If, however, you're using this verse to establish the unrepeatability of the apostolate in the first place (or the unrepeatability of the foundation in the first place), then the appeal is viciously circular. It takes for granted the very thing you need to prove. 

3. Another issue concerns what the foundation is. 

i) I'm not posing a grammatical or syntactical question in terms of how to render the Greek phrase, but a conceptual question regarding the larger idea that Paul intends to convey. 

ii) Should we understand the claim to be that the foundation just is the apostles and prophets? Are they foundational simply in virtue of being apostles and prophets, even if they said or did nothing? Does the foundation consist of the apostles and prophets in that regard? I don't see how that makes any sense. 

Or is the phrase a shorthand expression for the foundation which they laid? Their unique activities? If so, which apostolic and prophetic activities are foundational? 

Is the composition of the NT the foundation? But that's both broader and narrower. Broader inasmuch as the apostles and prophets did other things in besides that. Narrower inasmuch as not all or even most of them contributed to the composition of the NT.

iii) Another candidate might be church-planting, witnessing to Jews, witnessing to Roman dignitaries. If so, that principle doesn't have a 1C cutoff. They only planted churches in some localities of the Roman Empire. Only witnessed to some Jews and some Roman dignitaries.

iv) On that view, the foundation may be continually or periodically extended by planting additional churches, evangelizing new people-groups. Indeed, to play with the metaphor, sometimes congregations outgrow the original foundation, so it's necessary to expand the foundation. Build additions or annexes. 

Dropping the metaphor, when, after the death of the apostles, churches were planted in N. Europe, E. Europe, Asia, N. & S. America, China, Japan, &c. doesn't that extend the foundation?

v) Conversely, some countries that were originally evangelized lose the foundation. Where's the church of Ephesus c. 2018? In that missionary sense, it will be necessary to lay a new foundation. 

4. In sum, I think the cessationist appeal to Eph 2:20 fails. That doesn't mean cessationism is wrong. It's always tempting to settle a theological dispute by appeal to a single trump card. That's very convenient, if available. But many theological positions resist refutation at one stroke. They have multiple justifications. Nowadays, for instance, it's customary for sophisticated cessationists to mount an argument based on redemptive-historical theology. A whole paradigm rather than a single decisive prooftext.  

Monday, October 15, 2018

Calvinism and meatatarians

According to Arminian theologian Randal Rauser, there's a sinister link between Calvinism and meatatarians:


Counting the animals

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him (Gen 2:18-20).

I'd like to say a few more things about this passage. The launchpad is Randal Rauser's dismissive comments about young-earth creationism.

i) It's deceptive when folks like Rauser attack young-earth creationism, because their true target is much broader. It's not as if Rauser is an old-earth creationist. I'm quite sure he's a theistic evolutionist. 

More to the point, as you can see from his glowing review of Robin Perry's book (The Biblical Cosmos), it's pretty obvious that Rauser views Gen 2-3 as fictional. So his actual position is far more radical than whether day 6 was a calendar day. 

ii) Scholars like John Walton and Peter Enns say we should interpret Genesis in the way the original audience would understand it. I agree. But there's a bait-n-switch.

When scholars like Walton and Enns classify Genesis as mythology, that's a retroactive classification. That doesn't reflect the viewpoint of the original narrator but the viewpoint of modern scholars who don't believe anything like that ever happened or even could happen. In reality, they are doing the polar opposite of what they claim to be doing: rather than adopting the viewpoint of the original narrator, they superimpose the viewpoint of a modern scholar who regards the outlook of the original narrator as antiquated and erroneous. 

iii) In context, I don't think Gen 2:18-20 means Adam named every kind of animal on earth. Gen 2 is about the land of Eden rather than planet earth. In particular, it's about God preparing the Garden of Eden. Fauna and flora God made for that particular locale, as man's original habitat. That's the setting for vv18-20. So it's quite possible that Adam would have time to name all the animals in the course of one afternoon. That's not unrealistic given the narrative parameters. 

iv) In addition, the function of the naming is to make Adam aware of the fact that he has no human companions generally, as well as no female counterpart in particular. The animals have male and female pairs, but nothing corresponding to Adam. Adam doesn't even need to name every animal in the garden to get the message. A sample would drive home that point. The purpose is not to exhaustively name the animals but to create a point of contrast between animals, including male and female animals, and Adam's lack of human companionship and female companionship. 

(For that matter, there's a difference between naming kinds of animals and naming each individual of the same kind.) 

v) The account itself doesn't say how long it took Adam to name the animals. It doesn't say he had to do it all in one afternoon. The assumption that it all had to happen in the span of one day isn't based on Gen 2, which lacks temporal markers, but the attempt to synchronize Gen 2 with day 6 of Gen 1. I think the reasoning goes like this:

In Gen 1, God creates man and woman on day six, then ceases his creative labors on day seven. In Gen 2, God creates Adam, Adam names the animals, then God creates Eve. If the creation of Eve succeeds the naming of the animals, but precedes the divine rest, then all that has to happen on day 6.

Maybe that's the correct interpretation, but maybe not. As Rabbi Brichto pointed out, there's the OT technique of narrating the same event twice. The first account is simpler or more general while the second account is more detailed. This relates to similar techniques like narrative compression and prophetic telescoping. Applied to the question at hand, day six may mark the terminus ad quo for the creation of man, but not the terminus ad quem. That might also account for the vaguer timeframe of Gen 2.