Thursday, August 16, 2018

Cosmic programmers

Recently I was asked how I'd respond to this question:

Your recent discussion with the pagan brought back a question I had thought of a year or so back when Elon Musk was making all those headlines for saying he thinks reality is a computer simulation.

What would you say to an atheist who tries to reverse the transcendental argument by saying that perhaps reality is the product of something we would understand as a simulation, that way it is true that everything in our universe does indeed receive its value and commands from a “creator” or “creators” outside it programming everything. We’d never have any way of knowing these creators apart from their revelation to us.

Further, suppose that many of the arguments theists use in this universe (the moral argument, the argument from the universe being finite chronologically) are true in this universe as the creator(s) of this universe did indeed make it, but they don’t necessarily inhere within the creator(s) universe. Perhaps there is a way in their universe for it to be eternal, or for them to have objective values inherent in themselves.

Further, what if this theory is said to do more to account for our reality. What if all the gods and goddesses in this history of the world were actually where their cultures say they were doing what they were said to have been doing. Perhaps they programmed Baal to be the ancient god of the Canaanites and Buddha to live amongst the ancient Indians. Wouldn’t this account for why so many different cultures are so adamant that their gods exist?

Finally, how could we know that the Christian God isn’t part of the simulation too? Perhaps they programmed it so that the Christian God did all the things we believe he did in the Scriptures, create this universe, foreknow, predetermine, call, justify, glorify, etc. Perhaps with regard to this universe the Christian God is indeed God, but there is actually, behind wherever he exists, other creator(s)/programmers.

Sounds like a really hyper-Marcionism, I know, but I’m thinking of modern video games like God or War where there are indeed multiple culture’s deities existing side by side, or a novel like Gaiman’s American Gods where gods throughout all history exist together.

Is this one of those times where we’d just have to have faith in God’s pronouncement that He alone is God? Even if he might not have any way of knowing there is anything beyond/above Him?

Lots of moving parts. 

1. Consider the nature of transcendental arguments:

Because of their anti-skeptical ambitions, transcendental arguments must begin from a starting point that the skeptic can be expected to accept, the necessary condition of which is then said to be something that the skeptic doubts or denies. This will then mean that such arguments are ineffective against very radical forms of skepticism, which doubt the laws of logic, and/or which refuse to accept any starting point as uncontentious; and it will also mean that they may be effective against a skeptic who is prepared to accept some starting point, but then ineffective against another skeptic who is not. But neither of these features of transcendental arguments need be felt to be disabling: for the skepticism of the radical skeptics is perhaps of dubious coherence, or at least of little interest because they seem so unwilling to engage with us, while the second limitation may mean merely that different transcendental arguments are required for different skeptical audiences.

Because of the need to find an uncontentious starting point, transcendental arguments will also then characteristically be first personal, by beginning from how I or we experience, think, judge, and so on. Thus, while it is perhaps reasonable to hold that there are necessary conditions for the possibility of ‘extra-personal’ entities such as material objects, substances, the universe, time and so on, a transcendental argument which is directed against skepticism is unlikely to be concerned with exploring such conditions, as the skeptic is unlikely to admit the existence of the things to which the conditions belong.

From this it follows that an atheist can't produce a transcendental argument along the lines you hypothesize because the thought-experiment is skeptical rather than anti-skeptical. You can't produce a transcendental argument to justify skepticism since the whole point of transcendental arguments is to defend realism and common sense rather than antirealism. 

2. It would be self-defeating for an atheist to raise this objection since, if taken seriously, the thought-experiment is equally incompatible with atheism and monotheism alike. Why should this be a problem for Christians but not for atheists? If polytheism is true, that falsifies atheism as well as monotheism. 

3. Or is this a variation on ufo religions, where human encounters with ancient extraterrestrial astronauts kickstart religion? But that only pushes the question back a step: how do the cosmic programmers originate?

4. Is the idea that Yahweh is the god of our universe, but not the god of the multiverse? Each god only exists in one universe? No god exists in more than one universe?

But according to the logic of the multiverse scenario, each parallel universe corresponds to changing one variable, with whatever adjustments that requires, while leaving other things intact. In one timeline I'm raised by my parents. In an alternate timeline I'm an orphan. In another timeline I'm raised by my dad. In another timeline I'm raised by my mom. In one universe I have a brother, in another universe I'm an only-child. In one universe my hometown is New Orleans, in another universe my hometown is Albuquerque. 

However, it wouldn't be a different god for each parallel universe. Changing the god is one variable, with a parallel universe (or more) corresponding to that altered variable. But many altered variables don't entail changing the god in charge. So the same god would exist in more than one universe. Even if we play along with the thought-experiment, Yahweh will have jurisdiction over a vast number of parallel worlds. 

Just run through OT history and change a variable. Suppose Yaweh calls Abraham's brother out of Ur rather than Abraham. Suppose Isaac runs away rather than submitting to sacrifice? That creates alternate timelines, but Yahweh is the same deity in those alternate world histories. 

5. If the gods are necessary beings, then they must exist in every possible world or parallel world. So does it mean that each god has jurisdiction over one universe? How does that work? Are they assigned jurisdiction by one supreme god who's above the others? But then, he's in charge of the whole multiverse. Or do they simply agree to divvy up the multiverse? If so, what prevents a theomachy? A civil war in the multiverse between competing gods? 

6. Are the gods supposed to be virtual characters in a cosmic simulation–having no reality outside the simulation–or do they represent projections of the cosmic programmers, where there's a real agent behind the avatar? Do they only exist in the world of the story, like a video game, or do they stand for the cosmic programmers?  

7. Polytheism is a part of terrestrial world history, not a part of multiverse history. So it's not like Yahweh is the god of this universe while Zeus is god in a parallel universe and Baal is god in yet another parallel universe. Rather, these are territorial gods in the same universe. Patron gods of city-states or nations.

8. Are different cultures so adamant that their gods exist? Some ancient writers are quite skeptical about folk polytheism. In addition, there's lots of syncretism where the gods of one pantheon are amalgamated into the gods of another pantheon. To that extent they're not viewed as separate individuals, but more like stock fictional characters. 

Likewise, you had people who switch gods (e.g. a wife who adopts the religion of her husband). 

9. Some theistic proofs can be extended to a multiverse, viz. teleological, cosmological, argument from reason, argument from consciousness, argument from abstract objects, moral argument, principle of sufficient reason.

10. Suppose I can't disprove a skeptical thought-experiment? So what? If I can't disprove that you're a philosophical zombie, or a virtual character in the cosmic simulation, is it permissible for me to vivisect you? It's not murder if you're not a real person. But we don't take hypothetical scenarios that seriously–for good reason. 

11. Skeptical thought-experiments are like ethical dilemmas. If you're really caught in that situation, then you just do whatever you can do without compunction since you have no alternative. It's like On the Beach, where the doomed survivors decide how to spend their remaining months of life. 

“Pope Francis”: “We are full of homosexuals”

Here are multiple sources, isolating a key problem in the Roman Catholic Church:

Ruth Institute on Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal

Is the current Catholic sex abuse scandal related to homosexuality?

Yes. The current scandal includes mostly revelations about male on male sexual abuse of seminarians, where the victims are adults. These kinds of cases were not even considered in the responses to the 2002 scandal, which was about the criminal abuse of minors.

Was the 2002 scandal also related to homosexuality?

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned two reports, one in 2004 and in 2011, by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice to study the reported cases of clerical sex abuse from 1950 through 2002 and 2010 respectively. Both reports found that over 80% of the victims were neither girls, nor pre-pubescent children (true pedophilia), but pre-teen and teenage boys. These results clearly indicate that the problem was male on male predation by priests against under-aged boys.

Is there a “homosexual subculture” which exists within certain Catholic institutions?

Yes. In a 2002 survey of a national sample of 1,852 Catholic priests by the Los Angeles Times, 44% responded "yes" when asked if there was a "homosexual subculture in your diocese or religious institute". To the question, “In the seminary you attended, was there a homosexual subculture at the time?” 53% of recently-ordained priests responded “Yes” (reported in Hoge and Wenger, Evolving Visions of the Priesthood, p. 102. Their own concurrent survey yielded 55% “Yes” to the identical question.)

About the Ruth Institute:

The Ruth Institute is a global non-profit organization creating a mass social movement to end family breakdown, by energizing the Survivors of the Sexual Revolution. We especially focus on the impact of family breakdown on children: understanding it, healing it, ending it.

“Pope Francis” to the Bishops in Chile (all of whom tendered resignations) and assembled Bishops in Rome:

In the ten pages that Francis conveyed to the Chilean bishops in mid-May as an outline for “discernment,” he scolded those bishops and superiors who entrust “to priests suspected of active homosexuality” seminaries and novitiates, with their associated recruitment. He addressed a similar rebuke a few days later - behind closed doors - to the Italian bishops meeting in Rome for their plenary assembly. “We are full of homosexuals,” he lamented.

Reverend John William Wellinger

My wife and I were married in a civil ceremony on June 1, 1987. But being good Catholics at the time, we wanted to “get married in the Church”.

So after a couple of years living in Memphis, with our small son Jeremy, Beth and I traveled back to Pittsburgh, and we re-joined my home parish, and sought to have our wedding vows in a church ceremony. We thought it would be fitting to have a unified anniversary on June 1.

The Reverend John William Wellinger was the pastor of the church at the time. We attended several private sessions with Fr Wellinger at the rectory. We thought this was very good of him, to invite us there. (In my time at the church prior, the long-term pastor there rarely let anyone into the rectory).

In any event, Fr. Wellinger showed a great deal of playful interest with our three year old son, even pretending to be a puppy dog, and licking his face.

Fr. Wellinger had a ceremony for Beth and me, and for members of our immediate family, on June 1, 1991.

Apparently, later that month, Fr Wellinger resigned for “reasons of health”, although he served in several other parishes over the next several years.

Here is Fr Wellinger’s summary paragraph from the PA Attorney General’s Grand Jury Investigation Report:

On or about February 19, 1986, Father John Wellinger was sent to the St. Luke's Institute for a number of issues, including drug and alcohol abuse. Diocesan records received pursuant to a Grand Jury subpoena revealed that on the evening of October 8, 1987, Wellinger provided alcohol and drugs to an 18-year-old parishioner of the Holy Spirit church. The parishioner had a "bad reaction" to the drugs and had to be taken to Shadyside Hospital for treatment. Within days, Wellinger was confronted by the victim's parents. Efforts were made by the church to promote a reconciliation between Wellinger, the victim and the victim's parents.

On July 12, 1988, a letter was sent to Bishop Wuerl from "Concerned Parishioners" of Holy Spirit. This letter outlined concerns about drug use and excessive drinking to the point of intoxication by Wellinger. The parishioners also expressed concern about Wellinger exposing the young people of the church to illegal drugs.

On June 22, 1989, Father Theodore Rutkowski of the Office of Clergy and Pastoral Life received a letter from a parishioner at Holy Spirit. Bishop Wuerl was carbon copied in the correspondence. In this letter, the parishioner listed a number of problems that the parish was having with Wellinger. In part, the letter read "Just to refresh your memory and bring you up to date on John's ministry here at Holy Spirit here are some of the significant problems . . ." The list included: "Giving drugs and alcohol to teens;" "Teens in the parish have been warned by their parents about drugs from Father;" and "Young men staying at the parish house."

On June 3, 1991, Wellinger was drinking alcoholic beverages with a 24-year-old man in the rectory. Wellinger unbuttoned the man's pants and began to perform oral sex on him without consent. A few days later, the victim reported the incident to the Diocese. Wellinger was subsequently questioned by Diocesan officials, at which time he admitted to the unsolicited sexual activity with the victim. Wellinger was then sent to St. Michael's Community in St. Louis, Missouri for an evaluation. Wellinger' s absence from the parish was explained as a request for resignation for "reasons of health."

On January 2, 1992, a meeting took place between Wuerl and Wellinger. The Bishop agreed that Wellinger could return to priestly ministry and was appointed as Parochial Vicar (Pro Tem) at St. George in Allentown [PA, in another diocese across the state]. On July 30, 1994, Wellinger was stopped by officers of the Borough of Crafton Police Department for driving under the influence of alcohol. Father David Zubik [the current Bishop of Pittsburgh], Director of Clergy Personnel, subsequently notified Wellinger that he had been placed on a leave of absence until he returned from an evaluation at St. Luke's Institute. Wellinger was at St. Luke's from September 29, 1994 to March 27, 1995. Because he did not complete the required treatment, his leaving was unauthorized by the Diocese. On May 18, 1995, Wuerl granted Wellinger a leave of absence from June 1, 1995 to December 1, 1995 for "personal reasons."

On September 22, 1995, Diocesan officials met with the parents of a 17 -year -old boy. The parents said that a week earlier, their son told them he had been sexually molested by Wellinger. This abuse reportedly occurred in June 1991, when he the victim was 13 years old. The victim stated he and some of his friends were watching videos with Wellinger late into the night. They all fell asleep on the floor. The victim awakened to find that Wellinger had put his hands down the victim's pants and was fondling his penis. More than two weeks later, on October 10, 1995, Diocesan officials met with Wellinger to discuss the allegations. Wellinger admitted to spending a lot of time with the victim. Wellinger denied consciously touching the victim's genitals. Wellinger explained that he did fall asleep on the floor with the victim. He said it was "pretty tight quarters" so he may have "unknowingly" touched the victim's genitals. The Diocese did not report the matter to law enforcement for years. Instead, arrrangments were made to provide counseling for the victim. The victim later notified Diocesan officials that during counseling, he was informed that the sexual abuse that occurred was his own fault.

By the year 2004, the victim's allegations against Wellinger became part of a lawsuit that accused the Diocese of conspiracy to cover up the sexual abuse of minors. By March 21, 2005, the victim had disclosed Wellinger had molested him on several occasions. He stated these incidents occurred both in the rectory where Wellinger lived and at the victim's home. In 2007, Bishop Paul Bradley settled the lawsuit, which included accusations from 32 individuals against 17 priests, for $1.25 million.

On November 9, 2012, a woman contacted the Diocese to report that her brother had just died in August of that year. She indicated that about a month prior to his death, he told her he had been molested by Wellinger, while Wellinger was assigned to St. James. The woman explained that her brother was an altar boy when the abuse occurred and he was about 11 or 12 years of age at that time. She estimated the assault(s) took place in 1981 to 1982. She added that Wellinger used illegal drugs and he provided drugs to some of the children.

[Italics in the original text; I’ve added bold face for emphasis.]

One of the young men in this account later committed suicide.

A Credible “Proposition”

In October 1984, I was accepted into a program to study for the priesthood by the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. As a recent college graduate, who hadn’t majored in philosophy, I would be required to complete a year-long program of philosophy, prior to entering the theological seminary. I was 24 years old at the time.

I thought I was to begin in January, but the Diocese wanted me to take the full year in residence with other students (probably simply to keep me on a September-May schedule), which would have begun in September 1985. So, since I had nearly a year to wait (and think), I went back to Memphis to spend yet another year “on the road” with my good friend, Jeff Steinberg.

While I was in Memphis, I became a (loose) part of the Roman Catholic community there. When I was not traveling with Jeff’s ministry, I attended Mass daily at the small local Catholic Church near where I lived. As well, I befriended a priest at one of the larger churches, and in fact, I took a missionary trip (as a “seminarista”) to spend some time with a missionary church in Zacatecas, Mexico.

But at the small local church I attended daily, there was another, older Roman Catholic seminarian (perhaps in his 30’s). in fact, I think he had been ordained a Deacon, and was in preparation for ordination to the Priesthood. I’ll call him “Fr. Bernie”. He had in fact graduated from St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. I didn’t know it at the time, but St. Mary’s had a reputation, being known as “the Pink Palace”.

In 2002, a genuinely devout Roman Catholic writer, Michael Rose, wrote a work entitled “Goodbye, Good Men”. The book discussed a broad range of “liberal” issues within the network of Roman Catholic seminaries, including a “gay subculture”.

The book was trashed by conservative Roman Catholic writers. But one paragraph rings true to me:

“a large number of students had been convinced by some liberal teacher that sexual promiscuity with the same sex was not a violation of celibacy”(pg. 59)

This is precisely the appeal with which “Fr Bernie” approached me. I was too unsophisticated to know what this was about at the time, but in retrospect, this did seem to me as if he had been trying to proposition me. I tended to avoid him after this.

Interestingly, “Fr Bernie” is still a priest in Memphis. I recently saw videos of several of his recorded Masses on YouTube.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Catholic catch-22

Even though we live in the information age, where there's so much scrutiny, it's striking how the Catholic church was able to get away with so much for so long. Just imagine how much greater the scale of corruption and abuse in past centuries prior to the information age. Imagine what happened behind closed doors at monasteries and Catholic orphanages. And back when the Catholic church had much stronger ties with the civil authorities–the better to conceal wrongdoing. 

Odds are that some victims of abuse committed suicide. Their ordeal was inescapable. No one believed them. They were punished if they told outsiders what was happening. It seems statistically inevitable that victims killed themselves to avoid further torment–or from unbearable depression, shame, false guilt. 

And here's the clincher. They were denied Catholic burial because their mortal remains desecrated the hallowed ground of a Catholic graveyard. 

So the very people who made their lives unendurable, who pushed them over the edge, to commit suicide, were the same people who denied them burial in "consecrated" ground because they died in a state of mortal sin. Can you imagine a more diabolical dilemma? Reminds me of some definitions of catch-22:

a situation in which there are only two possibilities, and you cannot do either because each depends on having done the other first.

an impossible situation where you are prevented from doing one thing until you have done another thing that you cannot do until you have done the first thing.

a difficult situation in which the solution to a problem is impossible because it is also the cause of the problem.

Catholic consiglieri

Ed Condon
A few people have asked me if I am not concerned about damage to the Church, and to her moral authority. I am not. The Church itself, and her authority, rests on God and his plan of salvation. The gates of hell will not prevail against it.

This is what happens when people are locked into the Catholic paradigm. It's inconceivable to them that there's any alternative to Rome. They have no Christian fallback. So they can't avoid becoming enablers. No matter how Satanic it gets, they will always support the institution that does it.

Atheists like to ask Christians what evidence it would take for them to give up on Christianity. Christians return the favor by asking atheists what evidence it would take for them to give up on atheism. I've discussed both questions.

By the same token, we should ask Catholic loyalists what evidence it would take for them to give up on Catholicism. Is there any tipping point?

They have lots of escape clauses. When Rome changes position, they may say that's a doctrinal development, or they may say that means the past teaching was fallible and reformable, or they may say that means the past teaching as infallible and irreformable while the change is fallible and reformable. So it's always heads I win, tails you lose.

Some Catholic loyalists seem to regard this as a test of faith. No matter how diabolical it gets, they stand by Rome. That's the acid test of fidelity. Faithful to the bitter end. Like a suicide cult.

That's why the outrage is ultimately so phony. Because nothing alters their unconditional commitment to Rome. 

And it isn't just wicked prelates. Consider all the Catholic consiglieri who've aided the hierarchy in the coverup. 

Meanwhile, the contributors at Called to Communion take refuge in the safety of their snowglobe, where it's always Christmas, with carols and tinsel and twinkling stars. The natural disasters of Roman Catholicism never intrude into the enchanted wonderland of the Catholic snowglobe. They never leave the Catholic snowglobe. 

The scandalous catechism

Ecclesiastical crimes

"Marry your rapist law"

Citing Biblical injunctions (particularly Exodus 22:16–17 and Deuteronomy 22:25–30)...

I've discussed the Deuteronomic passages before:

By contrast, Exod 22:16-17 concerns a shotgun wedding in the case of consensual premarital sex. For instance: 

The primary and secondary rulings in these verses concern a man who entices an unbetrothed girl to have intercourse with him. The inference appears to be that the girl agrees to this; she is not raped as in Deut 22:2-29. J. A. Thompson describes it as "seduction". T. D. Alexander, Exodus (IVP 2017), 498.

Puzzling numbers

A stock objection to the inerrancy of Scripture is the presence of apparently unrealistic numbers as well as numerical discrepancies between different books. In some cases this can be chalked up to scribal error, but there seems to be a more pervasive pattern. Here's an interesting observation:

It is widely recognized that the totals attributed to each tribe in Num 1 ought to be viewed with some caution. At the outset it is remarkable that in this census of all 13 tribes, the total for every tribe is a round number, divisible by 100 in most cases, and 50 in others. In a census of the tribes we would surely have expected some uneven numbers, as reflected for example in the 22,273 firstborn males mentioned in Num 3:43. This latter figure creates another unusual statistic. If the total number of adult makes is 603,550, the total number of all males is likely to be in the region of 800,000, at a conservative estimate. If the total number of firstborn males of all ages is 22,273, this gives a ratio of about one firstborn male for every 36 adult makes. Assuming that there were roughly equal numbers of males and females born within a family, these statistics would imply that on average each married couple had about 72 children. T. D. Alexander, Exodus (IVP 2017), 241.

This is further evidence that modern readers are at a loss to understand how OT numbers work. Presumably, they made sense to the original audience, so there's a numerical idiom that we're missing at this distance.   


1. I believe White is responding to Steve Camp. It's my impression that Camp engages in virtue-signaling rather than serious apologetics or evangelistic outreach. This is just sending a message to other people that he's tough on Islam.

2. In addition, I agree with White that there are many other issues we can bring up besides Aisha. Islam is a target-rich environment.

3. Likewise, leading with Aisha can shut down discussion before discussion ever gets underground. A conversation-stopper rather than an opening.

4. That said, is White suggesting that Muhammed didn't have sexual intercourse with a prepubescent girl? When he makes dismissive comments about "ignorance-laden, bigoted attacks" on Muhammad in reference to Aisha, that seems to be what he means.

5. Moreover, White seems to be suggesting that Christian apologists should never bring up the issue of Muhammad's pederastic marriage. Yet this isn't just ad hominem. Muhammad is the role model for Muslims. And they consider unfitting behavior to discredit prophetic or messianic claimants.

Are we not supposed to talk about child rape in relation to Muhammad? What about cult leaders who practice child rape on the compound? Is that verboten?

White appears to be saying that Muhammad's sex life is offlimits in Christian apologetics and countercult ministry. That there's absolutely no circumstances under which a Christian can legitimately raise that issue. Does White think it's always wrong to "attack" Muhammad's character?

What about the moral credibility of Joseph Smith? Are Christian apologists not allowed to point to evidence that Joseph Smith was a con man? What about Benny Hinn? Does White have a consistent standard in countercult ministry?

What about the subculture of pederasty in the Catholic priesthood and episcopate? Are Christian apologists permitted to raise that issue?


In general, Internet atheists copy each other. Most of them are reading from the same script. They raise the same formulaic objections to Christianity. 

Logically, that means you only need to refute their script one time. If there are 10,000 duplicate scripts, it's only necessary to refute one copy–because they all say the same thing. 

Yet the average atheist hands you his unmarked script, and expects you to do through it page-by-page as if this is the very first time we encountered these objections. As if there aren't preexisting answers.

The average atheist makes no effort to keep up with the opposing side of the argument. They act like Christians are supposed to start all over again every time they talk to yet another overconfident, uninformed atheist. Separately comment on each duplicate script. Start from scratch each time. Respond to the same stale objections. 

If you point them to resources that already address their objections, they're to lazy to check that out. They demand that you comment on their duplicate script. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Runaway plane

For those who find Catholicism appealing, a major source of appeal is the notion of a living oracle. It's a nice idea. No doubt most Bible commentators wish they could interview the Bible writer they strive to interpret.

There are some familiar challenges for Protestants. A few books of the canon are less securely attested than others. The text of the NT is very secure. The text of some OT books less so–although that's more problematic if you're an Orthodox Jew.

The OT contains some passages that make Christian readers queasy. Mind you, we could say the same thing about what happens in the world around us. And it's not as if atheism is in a position to moralize. 

But despite the difficulties of the Protestant faith, which are easy to exaggerate, the Bible doesn't change. There are no surprises. It is what it is. We know exactly what we signed up for. 

By contrast, Catholicism is a runaway plane. The pilot is locked in the cockpit, behind an impenetrable door. The passengers are trapped. They must go wherever the pilot takes them. Francis is like a pilot tripping out on acid.

Just in the last few weeks, there's the ever-enveloping Cardinal McCarrick scandal. Like vampires, queer bishops propagate their own. 

You have the death penalty bombshell dropped by Francis. And now there's the grand jury report in Pennsylvania:

Extrapolate from that to other states and other countries, then just imagine the scale of the contagion.

That's one of the problems with a living oracle. It's destination unknown, and you're along for the ride whether you like it or not. Can't open the door and walk away at 40,000 altitude.  

Over at Called to Communion, they live under a glass dome. A climate-controlled utopia with fawns and flowers, songbirds and butterflies.  

Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report Details Thousands of Abuse Cases by Hundreds of Predator Priests

The attorney general of the state of Pennsylvania has just released a report of an extensive grand jury investigation that names more than 300 priest-abusers across six of eight Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania (encompassing 54 of 67 counties).

Just for the record, the Diocese of Pittsburgh website names about 200 active priests in the six-county area. Here are the findings of the report, just in the Diocese of Pittsburgh (which is my home town):


The report lists 99 priests -- including one individual aspiring to be a priest -- who allegedly sexually abused minors in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

According to the report, the abuse included "grooming and fondling of genitals and/or intimate body parts, as well as penetration of the vagina, mouth, or anus." Some bishops and other diocesan administrators in Pittsburgh, the report said, placed the priests in ministry even though they had knowledge of the conduct.

The report also found that in Pittsburgh, the diocese held discussions with lawyers regarding the sexual conduct of priests with children and made settlements with victims that prevented them from speaking out under the threat of some penalty.

Three cases -- those of Fathers Ernest Paone, George Zirwas and Richard Zula -- were detailed in the report as symbolizing the “wholesale institutional failure that endangered the welfare of children” in the Pittsburgh Diocese.

Father Paone, who served in the late 1950s and 1960s at five separate parishes, was kept in active ministry for 41 years after the Diocese first learned that he was sexually assaulting children.

I have mentioned in the past that two of the four priests that I knew while growing up (and into my early 30s) were removed from the ministry because they had been accused of sexual abuse.

Here is the local (Pittsburgh) newspaper’s account of the overall report:

This latest report, which grew out of the Altoona-Johnstown investigation, covers the remaining six dioceses in the state: Pittsburgh, Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg and Scranton. Together, those six dioceses count more than 1.7 million Catholics — just over half of the state’s Catholic population, according to church estimates.

Over the course of two years, 23 grand jurors met regularly in private to hear testimony from dozens of victims, from perpetrators and, in one instance, from a bishop himself. By the time their work concluded in 2018, the grand jurors — with help from prosecutors — had produced a lengthy report detailing allegations of what Mr. Shapiro has described as widespread abuse and a “systemic cover-up” by church leaders.

The full report identifies 301 “predator priests” and describes efforts by some diocesan administrators to dissuade victims from speaking to police, pressure law enforcement to end investigations or conduct lackluster internal reviews.

But portions of the report also remain blocked from public view, because they are under a protective court seal. A group of roughly two dozen current and former clergy members have asked the state Supreme Court to shield the portions pertaining to them. They argue that those sections are inaccurate or unfairly tarnish their reputations, which are protected under the state constitution.

The high court agreed to release a redacted report while it weighs arguments about whether those sections of the report should eventually be released — or should remain forever shrouded in secrecy. Arguments in that case are scheduled for late September.

Mr. Shapiro has promised to continue to advocate for the release of the full report. He said last week, “Real justice will come about when the full report is released.”

We will be hearing more about this as the hearings are held to determine whether the full unredacted report can be released.

We can only hope that more such investigations are forthcoming.

Parachurch ministry

1. Are parachurch ministries biblically warranted? To begin with, what are parachurch ministries? Examples include apologetic/countercult organizations, publishing, campus ministry, athletic outreach, evangelistic organizations, Christian media, hospital chaplains, educational institutions, and Bible translators. We might include Christian blogging. 

2. Sola scriptura doesn't mean we need direct biblical authorization for everything we do. We don't need a special right to do what's right. We have a standing right to do the right thing. If I see a kid drowning, I don't need to text-message my elders for permission to rescue him. I don't need to thumb through the Bible for a specific command. 

3. We need to examine the unspoken assumptions that underlie this question. Is parachurch ministry supposed to be answerable to "the church". That raises a number of subsidiary questions. What authority do elders have over laymen? 

Unlike highly regulated religions such as Islam, Second Temple Judaism, and Hassidic Judaism, the responsibilities and activities of evangelical laymen are largely unregulated. If you're a Muslim or Hassidic Jew, there's a social blueprint that regiments your daily life in prying, excruciating detail. That, in turn, gives the clergy tremendous authority over laymen because the clergy are the experts on halakha or sharia, and laymen must consult the clergy to know what's commanded or forbidden. Their interpretations are binding. And they adjudicate ethical and religious disputes. To some extent, traditional Catholicism was fairly regulated.

By contrast, evangelical elders don't have anything like the same authority over laymen because there is no evangelical counterpart to halakha or sharia–although Puritans like Baxter and Ames produced textbooks on Protestant casuistry. In general, the ethical issues confronting the average evangelical laymen boil down to a few basic categories: deception, abortion, premarital sex, divorce and remarriage, military service, civil disobedience, capital punishment, end-of-life care, contraception, homosexuality. There's not as much occasion for laymen to consult their pastor. Moreover, there are books on evangelical ethics which laymen can read for themselves. 

Evangelical laymen don't submit a daily itinerary to the pastor for his prior approval. They don't generally seek the advice, much less the consent, of the pastor or elders, in making most of their decisions. In fact, they don't think that's anyone's business but their own. 

4. Assuming that a parachurch ministry should be subject to ecclesiastical oversight, what's the unit of supervision? The local church? Presbytery? Denomination? Interdenominational coalition? 

Take Bible translators. No denomination, much less a local church, has a monopoly on Christian linguists. Moreover, Bible translation committees are deliberately interdenominational to curtail sectarian versions. 

5. Some critics of parachurch ministry complain that it usurps the role of the church. But that reflects an envious attitude. Christians shouldn't be keeping score. Is my side winning? A competitive spirit is out of place. If someone is doing God's work, we should be thankful rather than resentful. 

Monday, August 13, 2018

Is Jesus a copycat?

An apologetic shortcut

A popular atheist trope is to act as though Christians must run through a long list of pagan gods and disprove them one-by-one. 

i) To begin with, it isn't always necessary to directly disprove something in order to disprove it. It's unnecessary to send probes to Mercury or Pluto to disprove the existence of carbon-based lifeforms on those planets. Rather, that can be demonstrated indirectly by the fact that those planets lack the conditions necessary for carbon-based lifeforms to survive.

ii) It isn't necessary to individually disprove every pagan deity. If Christianity is demonstrably true, due to an abundance of evidence, then that indirectly falsifies every alternative position that contradicts Christianity. And pagan alternatives don't remotely have the same amount of evidence.

From Atheist to Christian at Yale

I confess

Confessions, in the 17th century, were not seen as candy-store-like documents from which a person could take some from one, some from the other, and still some from another, and formulate their own theology in isolation from a historical church tradition. That way of thinking is relatively innovative from the perspective of ecclesiastical history. Surely, fringe individuals have existed at all times throughout church history, but the scope and fervor of their subjective choosiness has never been so explosive until now. 

Is one allowed to take any exception and still be considered confessional? Are we really not confessional if we fail to believe the Pope is the antichrist, as some confessional documents have stated (including the 1689)? Admittedly, the answer to this question is not always easy, and there are many dear brothers who would consider themselves confessional while at the same time not holding to every jot and tittle of any one document (though, I would disagree with their approach).

i) I have no a problem with creeds and confessions. That's a legitimate and even necessary expression of the church's teaching mandate. 

ii) That said, is there something intrinsically wrong with creedal eclecticism? Is the objective fidelity to a creed or fidelity to revelation? 

iii) Is there any presumption that lengthy creedal statements like the WCF and LBCF will be inerrant? If anything, is there not a presumption that any inspired human document of sufficient size is likely to make mistakes? The longer the document, the greater opportunities for error.  

In fairness, 17C creeds have more shakedown time than primitive creeds. They distill centuries of theological reflection. In that respect a long later creed might be more accurate than a brief primitive creed.

Nevertheless, creeds and confessions are consensus documents. It comes down to which side has the most votes. That's a very fallible process. So we can't reasonably treat creeds as unquestionably true. Indeed, that isn't even possible since different creeds represent divergent theological traditions. Hence, you have to evaluate creeds on a case-by-case basis. 

iv) Moreover, some creeds are predetermined to be radically wrong. Given the theological agenda of the framers, the Racovian catechism is inevitably heretical. Tridentine theology is another example. So creeds can't be the ultimate benchmark. 

Defer to your husband

13 Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

3 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.

7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered (1 Pet 2:13-25-3:1-7). 

1. 1 Pet 3:1-6 is a complementation prooftext. Unlike some Pauline prooftexts (1 Cor 11:8-9; 1 Tim 2:13), 1 Pet 3:1-6 doesn't ground uxorial deference in the natural order, so I think it's a weaker complementarian prooftext than the Pauline examples–although it's certainly consistent with complementarianism. Eph 5:22-33 is another one of the stronger complementarian texts, grounded in a Christological analogy.

2. Because this is paired with Peter's discussion of slavery, some egalitarians use this as a wedge tactic: if complementarianism is the norm, so is slavery. In 1 Pet 2-3, they rise and fall together. 

3. That's an interesting argument, but the issue is more complex. To begin with, biblical regulations don't necessarily indicate approval. Biblical codes of conduct aren't utopian. Biblical codes of conduct are sometimes pragmatic, given the vicissitudes of life in a fallen world. It's important to consider the underlying rationale for biblical regulations. 

4. Imagine how dangerous it would be to a slave to be insolent to his master. Imagine how dangerous it would be to a 1C wife to be insolent to her husband. At a minimum, this is prudential guidance. 

5. Although Peter counsels wives to be deferential to their husbands, that's only half the story. It has a subtext. The implied context is Christian wives married to pagan husbands. Presumably, both were heathen at the time of marriage, but the wife is now a convert to Christianity. But as one commentator notes:

Peter's advice to women married to [pagan] husbands "should be understood against the social background in which a wife was expect to accept the customs and religious rites of her husband…In society's eyes these women were already highly insubordinate just by virtue of their Christian commitment. J. Ramsey Michaels, 1 Peter (Thomas Nelson 1988), 157. 

So Christian wives are expected to be both submissive and independent. They are bucking the system by refusing to accede to their husband's religion. So it's not just about assuming a subordinate role. For the backdrop is assuming an insubordinate role. Those are balanced. 

6. In addition, Karen Jobes says Greco-Roman wives were not supposed to have any friends outside her husband's social circle, but as a Christian she will develop friendships within the Christian community. K. Jobes, 1 Peter (Baker 2005), 203. So there's a maverick element to the role of a Christian wife. In a mixed marriage, her duties include uxorial independence as well as uxorial deference. 

7. Peter's counsel includes the duties of a husband as well as a wife. His should be an understanding husband who honors his wife. 

What does Peter mean when he says the wife is the weaker vessel? Since he doesn't explain his terminology, we can only speculate:

i) Presumably it includes the fact that women in general are physically weaker than men.

ii) In addition, Jobes quotes Aristotle and Xenophon who say women are not as psychologically hardy as men. They are less aggressive than men (Aristotle, Xenophon). In addition, a man's mind and body have greater stamina to endure heat and cold, outdoor tasks, journeys, and military campaigns (Xenophon).

In the ancient world, full of bandits, burglars, rustlers, wild animals, feral dogs, and warfare, men are wired to protect and provide for women, not just physically, but by virtue of their natural psychological makeup. And that has modern counterparts. 

iii) Jobes thinks it may also refer to lower social status. Ibid. 209. 

Make men masculine again

"In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful." - C.S. Lewis.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Betting on a dark horse

There are different approaches to Christian apologetics. One approach is evidential. I don't mean in the brand name sense of evidential apologetics. I just mean in the generic sense of stressing the evidence for Christianity in contrast to the evidence against atheism or other religious options. And that's a that's a very important approach. There's much more direct and indirect evidence for Christianity than the average Christian (much less the average atheist) is aware of.

But suppose we turned that around. Suppose for argument's sake that Christianity appeared to be false while atheism appeared to be true. Suppose the apparent evidence for atheism was overwhelming. In that case, would it not be irrational to continue to preach, pray, go to church, sing hymns, read the Bible, and so on?

Consider an analogy: Suppose the odds are 30-1 that if I bet on Secretariat, I will win. The more money I put on Secretariat, the larger my winnings. Would it not be irrational for me to bet on a dark horse rather than a proven winner? 

All things being equal, that would be irrational. If it's just a comparison between the odds of Secretariat winning in contrast to a dark horse, I'd be crazy not to bet on Secretariat.

But here's a wrinkle. The owner of the race track loses money if I bet on Secretariat. The payout isn't cost effective for the owner of the race track. So he abducts my kid brother and threatens to cut his toes off if I bet on Secretariat. If, on the other hand, I bet on a losing horse, he will release my brother unharmed. 

Is it still crazy for me to bet on a dark horse? If I'm really pissed off at my kid brother, that might be a dilemma. But seriously, I'd put my money on the long shot because the basis comparison isn't the odds of me losing but the odds of my kid brother losing his toes. Let's shift to a real life example:

I had a disease I had never heard of before: myelodysplasia. Its origin is unknown. If I did nothing, I was astonished to learn, my chances were zero. I’d be dead in six months...There was only one known means of treatment that might generate a cure: a bone-marrow transplant...Even with the perfect compatibility, my overall chances of a cure were something like 30 percent. That’s like playing Russian Roulette with four cartridges instead of one in the cylinder. But it was by far the best chance that I had, and I had faced longer odds in the past...One after another, I popped 72 of these pills. It was a lethal amount. If I was not to have a bone-marrow transplant soon after, this immune-suppression therapy by itself would have killed me. It was like taking a fatal dose of arsenic or cyanide, hoping that the right antidote would be supplied in time. Carl Sagan, “In the Valley of the Shadow,” Parade Magazine (March 10 1996).

Sagan bet on the dark horse. On the one hand, if he let nature take its course, he'd be dead in six months. Even even if he underwent aggressive cancer therapy, he might die from immunosuppressant drugs, and the bone marrow transplant only had a 30% chance of success. Not to mention the excruciating pain of the medical procedures.

Was it not irrational for Sagan to gamble on the long shot? Was it not irrational for him to undergo what was in all probability a futile course of treatment? But of course, that wasn't the basis of Sagan's comparison. Sagan wasn't making an abstract comparison between the chances of cancer treatment succeeding or failing. Rather, he was making an existential comparison between life and oblivion. He didn't believe in life beyond the grave. For him, this life is all you get. For Sagan, the existential criterion overrode the evidential criterion. 

By the same token, the choice between Christianity and atheism isn't a disinterested choice between different alternatives. For these have drastically different consequences, if true. Even if atheism was the odds-on favorite, it would still be irrational–supremely irrational–to be personally invested in that alternative. Sometimes it's foolish to bet on a winning horse. You're better off if you bet on a dark horse. If there's a slight chance that the underdog will win, there are situations in which the long shot is far the shrewder bet. 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Modal collapse

I'm going to comment on a post by Joshua Sommer:

. . . if God is identical with his essence, then God cannot know or do anything different from what he knows and does. He can have no contingent knowledge or action, for everything about him is essential to him. But in that case all modal distinctions collapse and everything becomes necessary. Since God knows that p is logically equivalent to p is true, the necessity of the former entails the necessity of the latter. J. P. Moreland & William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2003), 525.