Saturday, January 27, 2018

Morally corrosive

And “morally corrosive” is exactly the term that some critics would apply to the new science of the moral sense. The attempt to dissect our moral intuitions can look like an attempt to debunk them. Evolutionary psychologists seem to want to unmask our noblest motives as ultimately self-interested — to show that our love for children, compassion for the unfortunate and sense of justice are just tactics in a Darwinian struggle to perpetuate our genes. The explanation of how different cultures appeal to different spheres could lead to a spineless relativism, in which we would never have grounds to criticize the practice of another culture, no matter how barbaric, because “we have our kind of morality and they have theirs.” And the whole enterprise seems to be dragging us to an amoral nihilism, in which morality itself would be demoted from a transcendent principle to a figment of our neural circuitry.

Here is the worry. The scientific outlook has taught us that some parts of our subjective experience are products of our biological makeup and have no objective counterpart in the world. The qualitative difference between red and green, the tastiness of fruit and foulness of carrion, the scariness of heights and prettiness of flowers are design features of our common nervous system, and if our species had evolved in a different ecosystem or if we were missing a few genes, our reactions could go the other way. Now, if the distinction between right and wrong is also a product of brain wiring, why should we believe it is any more real than the distinction between red and green? And if it is just a collective hallucination, how could we argue that evils like genocide and slavery are wrong for everyone, rather than just distasteful to us?

Is the canon a fallible list of infallible books?

To put it briefly, Rome believes that the New Testament is an infallible collection of infallible books...The historic Protestant position shared by Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and so on, has been that the canon of Scripture is a fallible collection of infallible books…Also there was the issue of authority, and the principle that emerged among Protestants was that of sola scriptura, which means that Scripture alone has the authority to bind our conscience. Scripture alone is infallible because God is infallible. The church receives the Scripture as God’s Word, and the church is not infallible. That is the view of all Protestant churches.

i) I believe this distinction originated with Sproul's mentor, John Gerstner, which Sproul popularized. But it's unclear what that distinction really means. If each and every book in the collection is infallible, then in what sense is the collection still fallible? Presumably, Gerstner/Sproul don't think the canon is actually in error, for if it mistakenly included one or more fallible books, then it wouldn't be a collection of infallible books. 

ii) Someone might object that I've committed the composition fallacy. But that depends. It's invalid to infer that if every engine part weights less than 50 lbs, then the entire engine weighs less than 50 lbs, but it's valid to infer that if every engine part is metal, then the entire engine is metal. 

iii) In theory, a fallible canon might mistakenly omit one or more infallible books. Every canonical book would be infallible, but not every infallible book would be canonical. Yet that doesn't seem to be what Gerstner/Sproul have in mind.

iv) Rather, they seem to mean it's possible that the canon is in error. But in that event, it's possible that the canon contains one or more fallible books. 

v) I think what they're trying to say that while the canon might be mistaken, there's a high probability that the canon is correct. The canon is possibly in error, but not actually in error. And there's sufficient evidence to be confident about the canon.

vi) It's not uncommon for Protestants to believe that God providentially guided Christians to canonize the right books. But if that's the case, then is the canon still a fallible collection of books?

vii) In addition, the locus of alleged fallibility is ambiguous. Is the canon said to be fallible because the evidence for the canon, while adequate, is less than conclusive or rationally compelling? Or is the canon said to be fallible because any uninspired human judgment is fallible no matter how conclusive the evidence?

viii) Furthermore, does the fallibility of the canon have reference to internal or external attestation? If a canonical book is inspired, and if it contains internal evidence regarding its own inspiration, or if an inspired book cross-attests the inspiration of another book, then is the canonicity of that book merely fallible?  

I think the Gerstner/Sproul formulation is too equivocal to be useful.

Non serviam

I watched the recent dialogue between Craig, Peterson, and Goldstein:

1. It was somewhat disappointing. A lost opportunity. The discussion was too diffuse. Three speakers is one too many. A debate or dialogue is more effective if it's like a tennis match between two players who bounce off each other. 

In addition, Goldstein rambled and filibustered. Running out the clock. 

2. Peterson is the best speaker of the three. Craig has a tinny, creaky voice. Peterson is emotionally compelling in a way that Craig is not. 

But that depends on what you're listening for. When Peterson tries to justify his moral intuitions, it's a mishmash of evolutionary ethics with a gesture at Platonic realism. Very ad hoc.

Peterson has become a folk hero due to his courageous refusal to knuckle under to the SJWs. In addition, he's defended common sense differences between men and women. Good for him. But in a discussion like this, he's out of his element. And he exposes the hollowness of his naturalism. 

3. Peterson's opening speech was very aggressive. He says Craig is giving the wrong answer because Craig is asking the wrong question. Indeed, that Craig has it backwards. The way Craig poses the question creates the problem by generating a sense of futility. 

4. Peterson used two examples. A suffering child and the fall of the Berlin wall. On that occasion, Beethoven's Ode to Joy was performed. Very inspirational. But what if someone objected that the music is ultimately meaningless because it comes to an end? Likewise, if child is in pain, how is telling the child that the universe will cease to exist in 10 billion years the right answer? 

But there are serious problems with Peterson's comparisons:

i) Music ending is not analogous to life ending if we pass into oblivion:

a) Music is memorable. 

b) Music is repeatable.

Even when it ends, we can still hear it in our minds. Even replay it in our minds. And in the age of recordings, we can repeat a performance. Many of us have favorite pieces of music which we like to revisit from time to time. 

Moreover, there's the aftereffect of music. It's mood-altering. 

If, however, humans lack immortality, then that's not analogous to savoring a musical performance. Music is repeatable while life is unrepeatable. Music is memorable but memories die with the brain. Music has an aftereffect, but if there's no afterlife, then the comparison breaks down.

ii) In addition, a piece of music is designed to end. But it doesn't merely end. It usually has a shape and direction. It builds to a climax. The experience and appreciation of music depends on its finitude. That's what makes it possible to absorb. Never-ending music would be impossible to follow. It goes nowhere because it goes everywhere. 

But music appreciation involves a listener who doesn't cease the moment when the music ceases. A listener who can look back on the performance or look forward to a repeat performance.  

Indeed, Peterson himself is recounting an unforgettable event in his own experience. If, however, he ceases to exist, then that retrospective viewpoint will be voided. So his comparison is counterproductive. 

5.  How we view the future is all-important to how we view the present. It just depends on the future in view. Sure, telling a suffering child that the universe will end in 10 billion years is irrelevant to his situation. 

But that misses the point. If this life is all there is, then what happens in the distant future is beside the point since you won't be a part of that future. If, however, this life is not all there is, then what happens in the distant future is germane since you have a personal stake in that future. 

And not just you, but all your loved ones. Parents and grandparents, kids and grandkids. Friends and neighbors. Old classmates and coworkers. As soon as you’re gone, someone will clean out your desk, trade your family photos for his own, and take your place on death row.

It's a cliche that intense suffering here and now is more bearable if we know that the future will be better. If we know there will come a point when the worst is behind us, when nothing worse will befall us. 

iii) The Berlin wall ruined entire lives. People kissed their loves ones good-bye to make a day-trip to the other part of town, only to be cut off. They never saw each other again. They died apart. No reunion in this life, and from Peterson's standpoint, no possibility of reunion in the afterlife. 

6. Peterson's appeal to biological adaptation is self-defeating. If evolution is a stochastic process, then every time you reset the process, you get a different outcome. So what we value is arbitrary, since that's the luck of the draw. Reshuffle the deck and you get different moral instincts. 

Peterson's presentation, while rhetorically effective, is a dodge and a bluff. Although he may be a sincere, there's a willful and prideful evasiveness. At one point he questioned objective truth. But that's self-refuting. 

Like many atheists, he's impatient with questions of ultimate meaning. He resents them. He refuses to take his position to a logical conclusion. He doesn't want to think that far. Perhaps because he's convinced that this life is all there is, so why judge it by a hopeless ideal? Yet he still wants life to have "positive value". 

In addition, I think people like Peterson cling to their autonomy. They bristle at the specter of a God to whom they're answerable. Non serviam.  

Yet according to their own worldview, they are slaves of physical determinism. Toy soldiers wound and bound by the blind toymaker. According to naturalistic evolution, we've been brainwashed to be altruistic. But like false memories, once we realize that the significance we attach to things is conditioned and arbitrary, we know it's a sham. There's no underlying good to back up our sense of good.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Invisible friendship

Richard Dawkins‏Verified account 

Theists: you get comfort in the imaginary embrace of an imaginary friend? Try real warm embrace of a real warm friend. That's real comfort.

It's funny how atheists make boneheaded comments in the same breath as they pride themselves on their intellectual superiority to Christians.

i) Is Dawkins so ignorant that he believes Christians regard God as a replacement for having human friends? Is he that out of touch? He erects a false dichotomy. God is not a substitute for human friends; conversely, human friends are not a substitute for God.

ii) What about friendless shut-ins and nursing home residents? They outlived their friends. God is all they have left. 

iii) Good friends are wonderful, but limited. They can offer sympathy and advice. 

But one reason believers pray to God is to help in situations beyond their control. Situations in which friends are impotent to solve the problem. Sometimes we need changed circumstances, and only God has the power to bring that about. 

The scientific community

I noticed an atheist make the following comments to which I'd like to respond:

The entire scientific community accepts Darwinian evolution (not "intelligent design"), climate change, the complex mental life of animals, and the big bang theory.

1. What's his source that "the entire scientific community accepts Darwinian evolution"? For example, James Shapiro (University of Chicago) argues for natural genetic engineering while Stuart Kauffman (University of Pennsylvania) argues for self-organization and far-from-equilibrium dynamics in evolutionary theory. These concepts would be in tension with natural selection, the role of random mutations in developing novel body plans and structures, among others.

2. If it's true "the entire scientific community accepts...the big bang theory", and presumably this atheist accepts the big bang theory on their authority, then it's possible to argue the big bang theory (as well as other aspects in contemporary cosmological theories) supports creatio ex nihilo which in turn would support an argument for God's existence.

So you agree there is no place for God in explaining complex life? Good, that puts you in good company with the 98% NAS members.

1. Methodological naturalism quite arguably limits rather than expands scientific investigation and discovery. It defines what's allowable and disallowable in advance of actually performing science. That potentially excludes the exploration of legitimate phenomena.

2. The National Academy of Sciences consists of maybe 2500-3000 members. That's only a percentage of all the scientists in the world let alone throughout history.

3. The vast majority of the members are American. Is it any surprise a secular country has a lot of secular scientists in their scientific academies? To say nothing of a secular country that has it in for scientists and other scholars who are theists (e.g. intelligent design theorists). For instance, watch Ben Stein's Expelled.

4. Membership to the National Academy of Sciences may be prestigious, but what does prestige have to do with truth?

5. In my view, the National Academy of Sciences amounts to an inflated social club. Like any social club, there are politics involved in who is accepted or rejected as a member. I'd hope the politics don't ever become biased or prejudiced, but I doubt it.

On a related note, Richard Feynman once had some choice words about honors and suchlike:

When I was in high school, one of the first honors I got was to be a member of the Arista, which is a group of kids who got good grades. Everybody wanted to be a member of the Arista. When I got into the Arista, I discovered that what they did in their meetings was to sit around and discuss who else was worthy to join this wonderful group that we are. Okay, so we sat around trying to decide who it was who would get to be allowed into this Arista. This kind of thing bothers me, psychologically, for one or another reason. I don't understand myself. Honors, from that day to this, always bothered me. I had trouble when I became a member of the National Academy of Sciences and I had ultimately to resign because there was another organization most of whose time was spent in choosing who was illustrious enough to be allowed to join us in our organization, including such questions as "we physicists have to stick together because there's a very good chemist that they're trying to get in and we haven't got enough room". What's a matter with chemists? The whole thing was rotten, because the purpose was mostly to decide who could have this honor. Okay, I don't like honors.

6. There are good scientists doing good scientific work who aren't members of the National Academy of the Sciences. Not to mention there have been good scientists doing good scientific work who have resigned from the National Academy of Sciences.

7. If this is more about scientists being atheists, there are many scientists today as well as in the past who aren't atheists but who do believe in God. In the present, some examples are Francis Collins, James Tour, Henry Schaefer, Don Page, and Juan Maldacena. In addition, the Pew Research Center (2009) finds 51% of scientists believe in God or a similar higher power.

8. At the risk of stating the obvious, the National Academy of Sciences consists primarily of scientists. Scientists qua scientists have no special knowledge or expertise when it comes to arguing for or against God's existence. (Nor arguing for or against methodological naturalism.) It'd be better to turn to philosophers of religion if he wants the best arguments for or against God's existence.

Let me introduce you to my invisible friend

Richard Dawkins‏Verified account 

Theists: you get comfort in the imaginary embrace of an imaginary friend? Try real warm embrace of a real warm friend. That's real comfort.

Unfortunately, there's an epidemic of men and women who embrace their invisible friend. I constantly see joggers and pedestrians with earbuds talking to their invisible friend. I see people on park benches using the keypad of their cellphone to type messengers to their invisible friend.

Sometimes, in blind faith or desperation, these people leave messages for their invisible friend, hoping their invisible friend will respond. They get very agitated when they leave multiple messages with no reply. They actually believe that their invisible friend occasionally responds, even though that's a classic example of sample selection bias. They only remember the hits and conveniently forget all the misses. So what they take to be replies are sheer coincidence.

What can we do to stamp out this pernicious and pervasive Bronze Age superstition? 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Psychological time-travelers

Few things condition human existence as powerfully or pervasively as the experience of time. Metaphysically, we live in the present, but psychologically we are time-travelers who visit past (memory) and future (imagination, expectation). 

A happy childhood makes it more likely that you will have a happy life. On the other hand, if things go downhill after childhood, then a happy childhood can exacerbate a sense of loss. You mentally compare your happy childhood (if you had one) with your current situation.

Conversely, some people never overcome an unhappy childhood. That dogs them throughout life. 

Some people are very nostalgic about the past. They lament or resent how the passage of time robs them of the things they cherish. Forcing them to say good-bye. 

Some people cling to the past, not because they cling to this life, but because, as long as they're alive, the past was better. Their best years are behind them. incrementally, they've been losing the things that make life enjoyable or undoable. Helplessly they watch it slip away right before their eyes. 

At first they resent having to put those things behind them. And they cling to the past because memories are all they have left. But there can come a tipping-point where, having lost everything they most care about, they now wish to put everything remaining behind them. Get it over with. If they can let go of life, they are eager to let go of the past. 

Although the past colors the present, I think the future colors the present more forcefully. If you had to choose between an unhappy past and a happy future, or an unhappy future but a happy past, the future takes precedence over the past. For the past is behind us. We won't have to experience that again.  

If the future is dark, that casts a backward shadow which darkens the present–but if the future is bright, that scatters the shadows which otherwise darken the present. Whether or not we have something to look forward to conditions our sense of the present. Our view of the present is inseparable from our view of the future. Hope or foreboding? Dread or deliverance? 

As we pass through the lifecycle, we undergo chronic psychological adjustments. Our view of time changes because time changes our circumstances. How we view past, present, and future shifts with the shifting phases of life. 

Is an Incarnation alien to Judaism?

1. There's often thought to be an awkward hiatus between OT messianism and NT Christology. The deity of Christ is broadly attested in the NT, which is Jewish, yet it's often felt that the deity of the messiah is thinly attested in the OT. 

2. Elucidating the divine messiah from the OT generally involves a few key prooftexts as well as the Angel of the Lord. In addition, it's commonly argued that the revelation of the Trinity was a two-stage process. To stamp out polytheism, it was initially necessary to accentuate monotheism before it was safe to more explicitly reveal the Trinity.

3. I think all those explanations are good up to a point, although it's too limited. In the past, I've argued that there are two additional strategies that provide broader platforms:

i) There's a pervasive Yahweh-is-coming motif in the OT. The question that raises is whether Yahweh ever actually comes. Does Yahweh always only come in the indirect sense that his coming is mediated through agents and events? Or are these intermediaries preparatory for a personal advent of Yahweh himself?

ii) In addition, there's a royal sonship motif where messiah is the heir of God's kingdom. But typically, the crown prince is on the same level as the king. In what sense is a human being the successor or coregent of God himself? 

4. However, now I'd like to approach this from another angle. There's no disjunction between OT and NT theism. To the contrary, Yahweh is the only kind of Deity who could become Incarnate. OT monotheism is a necessary precondition for the possibility of divine incarnation.

In philosophical theology, much is written about the possibility or impossibility of a divine incarnation. What needs to receive greater attention is that certain kinds of beings cannot become incarnate, even in principle. 

The foil for OT monotheism is pagan polytheism. However, even if heathen deities existed, it would not be possible for them to become incarnate. The reason is twofold: 

i) Heathen deities are physical to begin with.

ii) Heathen deities are already humanoid.

The possibility of a divine incarnation requires a point of contrast. If a deity is too similar to creatures, too similar to human beings, then it cannot assume that nature or relation.

For instance, how could Zeus become incarnate? He's already a physical being. And he already has a humanoid mind, humanoid passions. 

The Incarnation is often thought to be difficult or paradoxical because divine and human natures are so different from each other. Yet that objection has it backwards. Their dissimilarity is what makes a union meaningful. For union involves distinction. If two things are already the same kind of thing, or highly analogous, then there's no real change in the sense of what differentiates union from the absence of union.

Take science fiction stories about intelligent aliens who engage in body-swapping. They transfer their minds to human bodies.

But that's not an incarnation. That's possession. An alien mind takes the place of a human mind. And the alien trades its indigenous body for a human body. Yet the alien, in its natural state, was already humanoid. It has humanoid intelligence and a physical body. 

Compare that to Christology, which involves the person of the Son in union with a human body and rational soul. It's because the two natures are unlike that there's a qualitative difference between an incarnation and no incarnation. 

In the case of Yahweh, there's a difference of kind rather than degree. Yahweh is not a physical being. And he doesn't have the psychological makeup of a human being. Just compare him to Zeus. 

It's because OT theism clearly distinguishes the true nature of deity from humanity and pagan divinity alike that it provides the necessary backdrop for a divine incarnation. An incarnation is impossible if there's already too much preexisting continuity between the Deity and what he assumes. 

The difference between Zeus and Odysseus is quantitative rather than quantitative. As such, they are too alike at the outset for a union to represent something fundamentally different from what they are apart from union. 

On Jordan's bank

A traditional crux is why Jesus underwent baptism. John's baptism symbolized repentance, yet Jesus had nothing to be penitent about.

1. There's an aspect of mutual attestation. Jesus is vouching for John's vocation, and John returns the favor. By the same token, it gives John a very public opportunity to bear witness to Christ.

2. Mt 2-4 is crisscrossed with new Exodus typology, so the baptism and temptation of Christ probably play on that theme. To some degree, he's recapitulating the history of Israel, only he succeeds where Israel fails.

3. In that regard, the location of the baptism is emblematic. Not just any body of water, but the Jordan river. That was a border of ancient Israel. Joshua and the Israelites had to cross the Jordan river to enter the promised land. By undergoing baptism, Jesus is situated on that evocative border–between Israel and the wilderness.

4. That's reinforced by the temptation, where he enters the wilderness. That triggers associations with the experience of the Exodus generation. The fact that Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy, three times in a row, bolsters allusions to the history of Israel in the Sinai desert. 

5. In addition, Christians must face trials and temptations, so Jesus is setting an example to emulate. 

6. The vicarious symbolism of his actions at the outset of his public ministry preps the reader for the vicarious atonement to come. Jesus is already acting in a representative capacity, by reprising the role of Israel. This involves the same general principle as vicarious atonement. Acting on behalf of and in lieu of another or others.  

7. Why did Satan tempt him?

i) For one thing, this indicates that Jesus got the attention of the dark side–like radar and satellite surveillance to detect inbound ICBMs. Jesus poses a threat to the dark side. His public baptism alerts the enemy to a mortal foe. 

ii) Apropos (i), the dark side sends its top gun to confront Jesus. Not a demon but the leader of the cosmic rebellion. The dark side can't afford to ignore Jesus. 

6. Mark mentions that Jesus was with wild animals. Some scholars think this foreshadows the experience of Christians who were martyred in the Colosseum. Torn apart by vicious beasts. 

How did Pharisees commit an unforgivable sin?

Discussions of the unforgivable sin typically cluster around a few issues. What exactly is the unforgivable sin? What makes it unforgivable? Why is speaking against Jesus forgivable, but speaking against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable? Is this sin uniquely tied  to the setting of Christ's public ministry, or can it be committed today? And that in turn raises the pastoral issue. How should you counsel someone who fears or despairs of having committed this sin?

Not surprisingly, the unforgivable sin is usually discussed from a Christian viewpoint. From our side. 

But I'd like to discuss this from the Jewish side. Suppose an Orthodox Jew was reading this account. From the Jewish side, what was sinful about the allegation, much less unpardonable? 

After all, Deut 13 alerts Jews to be on guard against false prophets. Even if they perform supernatural feats, they must be disregarded if they tempt Israel to commit apostasy. 

But given the specter of an unforgivable sin, how can any man dare to question a messianic pretender with that threat hanging over his head? Doesn't the possibility of a false prophet who can perform supernatural feats imply demonic or diabolical empowerment? What else is the source of his uncanny ability?

And from their viewpoint, Jesus was leading Jews astray by flouting Mosaic commands and prohibitions. Suggesting that he was the replacement of the Mosaic covenant. And even claiming to be Yahweh. What could be more blasphemous than that? 

So doesn't the terrifying threat of the unforgivable sin generate a hopeless dilemma when assessing a religious claimant? 

I've never seen the unforgivable sin discussed from that angle. I'll take a stab at some answers:

i) The Pharisees don't simply raise the possibility that dominical exorcisms are diabolical. They don't merely express reservations on that account. Rather, they confidently present that as the true explanation. 

Perhaps if someone merely made allowance for that consideration as a possible explanation, it would be less culpable.

ii) The Gospels present the Pharisees as having malicious motives. Full of mock piety and hypocrisy. Flaunting religiosity as a cover for personal venality. Perhaps their malevolence is an aggravating factor which renders them inexcusable. 

iii) The specific context isn't miracles in general but exorcism in particular. The OT has no record of prophets casting out demons. So perhaps that's one kind of miracle which a false prophet can't successfully perform. 

Indeed, Jesus says their accusation generates an antinomy. Satan working at cross-purposes with himself. 

iv) Evidence for the messiahship of Christ isn't confined to the argument from miracles, but includes the argument from prophecy and typology. That goes beyond what the false prophet in Deut 13 is said to be able to perform. 

Although the false prophet in Deut 13 can make true predictions, he can't inspire other prophets to make predictions about him. But if Jesus is fulfilling OT prophecy, then that's different.  

v) In the Gospels, Jesus challenges their interpretation of the OT. Perhaps that, too, renders them inexcusable. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Alleged historical errors in the Gospels

Should women teach in seminaries?

Recently, John Piper took an utterly unsurprising position on women teaching in seminaries:
Funny to see the shocked reaction, as if he doesn't have a mile long paper trail on these issues. Here was the funniest reaction I've seen:

As if the Patriarchy is a white Western invention. As if non-white, traditional Third-World cultures are egalitarian and non-heteronormative.
On this issue I agree with Piper in some respects, but not in others. Before getting to the main point, I'll make some ancillary observations:
i) I don't think it's coincidental that Piper is an older generation Southerner. I expect his complementarianism is largely a continuation of a traditional Southern chivalric code. I don't say that as a criticism.
ii) He somewhat overstates the purpose of seminaries. Although they basically exist to train pastors, they offer MAR degrees as well as MDiv degrees.
iii) Although he bases his position on a complementarian reading of 1 Tim 2:12, he doesn't seem to object to women wielding authority over men in principle or women teaching men in principle. He doesn't seem to object to female professors at a Christian college. Rather, his argument is geared to the nature of pastoral formation.
iv) I agree with him on complementarianism.
v) I agree with him that it's ad hoc to say women can teach men to teach parishioners, but women can't teach parishioners directly.
vi) He oversimplifies pastoral ministry. A pastor of a small church does everything. By contrast, megachurches have compartmentalized ministries. Due to the size of the congregation, the ratio of pastor to parishioner, and the financial resources of a megachurch, what one man must do singlehandedly when pastoring a small church gets delegated to several different ministers at a megachurch.
That complicates his complementarianism. Take visitation ministry or a woman's Bible study.
vii) Does Piper think it's permissible for a pastor to read a commentary by Karen Jobes, but not to attend a class by Karen Jobes? If so, what's the essential difference?
viii) A good pastor doesn't necessarily have the same skill set as a good seminary prof, or vice versa. Seminary professors can outstanding scholars or thinkers, but abysmal communicators. Likewise, great scholars and thinkers may be sorely deficient in social skills.
ix) Now I'd like to get to the main point. I disagree with Piper's position on this particular issue. The rationale Piper gives for his position is unwittingly at odds with complementarian anthropology. Sophisticated complementarians aren't voluntarists. They don't think Biblical gender roles are arbitrary social constructs. Rather, they think these mirror stereotypical physical and psychological differences between men and women.
Yet Piper unintentionally acts as if these roles are interchangeable. He thinks that if male seminarians view male seminary profs. as pastoral role models, and if you put a woman in the same slot, then male seminarians will view women as pastoral role models.
Which ironically assumes that men relate to women the same way they relate to men when women occupy the same social role or institutional position. But I find that highly dubious and contrary to complementarian anthropology.
In my observation, men measure themselves by other men while women measure themselves by other women. Men don't measure themselves by women and women don't measure themselves by men. The psychological dynamic between men and women is different even when the social roles or institutional positions are artificially the same.
That's one reason we defend heterosexual marriage. Mothers can't take the place of fathers while fathers can't take the place of mothers. Kids need both. One person can't successfully play both roles.
The father/son dynamic, mother/son dynamic, father/daughter dynamic, mother/daughter dynamic, brother/brother dynamic, brother/sister dynamic, and sister/sister dynamic are all different.
Suppose the military put a woman in charge of a Navy SEAL team. Would the male members of that team relate to her the same way they relate to a male comrade just because she was given the same position? Are you kidding me?
Another example is the difference between male and female hymnodists. Male hymnodists have a different sensibility than female hymnodists.
I think it's wholly unrealistic to suppose that if a normal man has a female seminary professor, he will view her the same way he'd view a male seminary professor, as though male-on-male psychology is transferable to male-on-female psychology. This is not to deny that men can look up to women, and women can look up to men–but it doesn't mean they're consciously or subconsciously thinking that a member of the opposite sex embodies what they aspire to be like. That's just not how human nature is wired. Women are not an example of how to be a man. Men are not an example of how to be a woman.
There are, of course, some generic virtues they can share in common. Some Christian women exhibit perseverance in adversity or even moral heroism. We can admire that in members of either sex. But by the same token, that's not a lay/clerical distinction.

Reading the Gospels as history

Motives of credibility

I'd like to examine another argument by Bryan Cross. These are comments he made on his Tu Quoque post:

The motives of credibility establish with moral certainty the divine origin and divine authority of the Catholic Church [314]

Here again you’re conflating the period of inquiry and the life of faith, as if what one in the period of inquiry would do entails epistemic equivalence between Protestants on the one hand, and on the other, Catholics living the life of Catholic faith. But a person in the period of inquiry is not in the epistemically equivalent state of the Catholic living the life of faith. Moreover, what would hypothetically serve as a motive of discredibility in the period of inquiry would not be even possible for that entity in which, through the motives of credibility, one may come to divine faith... The Catholic in the life of faith knows that the Church through God’s divine protection cannot teach false doctrine, and is therefore not subjecting the Church’s doctrine to the judgment of his own interpretation of Scripture, but instead allowing the Church to guide and form his interpretation of Scripture.

Again, this conflates the period of inquiry into the motives of credibility, with the life of faith. The person in the stage of inquiry into the motives of credibility is, like the Protestant, not in an epistemic position of acknowledging and submitting to a divinely authorized magisterium. But that does not mean or entail that the Catholic living the life of faith, and thus having come to know and believe in the divine authority of the Church Christ founded, is in the same epistemic condition as the inquirer, or as the Protestant [#324]

i) The issue is whether Bryan's unconditional commitment to Roman Catholicism reflects the mindset of a cult member, where nothing can ever disprove the cult leader. And this isn't just hypothetical. After all, there are lots of religious claimants out there. They can't all be true. 

ii) Bryan endeavors to distinguish between the preconversion stage of inquiry and the postconversion "life of faith" (or "divine faith"). Once an individual converts to Catholicism, he's made an irreversible commitment. Crossed a line of no-return. At that juncture the convert relinquishes his own judgment to the superior judgment of the magisterium. 

iii) One problem with Bryan's position is his claim that "the Catholic in the life of faith knows that the Church through God’s divine protection cannot teach false doctrine." Does a convert to Rome actually know that to be the case–or does he merely believe that to be the case?

Bryan says "the motives of credibility establish with moral certainty the divine origin and divine authority of the Catholic Church."

That's a tremendously strong claim. What does Bryan mean by the "motives of credibility"? Here's out he defines it in another post:

God makes known His voice by way of marks that are unmistakable, i.e. something that only God can do (i.e. miracles). These are what are called the motives of credibility, by which we recognize God’s word as God’s word. (2′)

Motives of credibility allow us to make the transition from human faith to divine faith. (3′)

The motives of credibility allow the act of faith to be reasonable, and make the act of disbelief unreasonable; without them the act of faith would be unreasonable, and would lay us open to superstition. (3′)

Four categories of signs serving as motives of credibility:

(1) miracles, (5′)
(2) prophecies (6′)
(3) the Church (7′)
(4) the wisdom and beauty of revelation itself, and Christ Himself (7′)

The Catechism on the motives of credibility (8′)

Thus the miracles of Christ and the saints, prophecies, the Church’s growth and holiness, and her fruitfulness and stability “are the most certain signs of divine Revelation, adapted to the intelligence of all”; they are “motives of credibility” (motiva credibilitatis), which show that the assent of faith is “by no means a blind impulse of the mind.” (CCC 156)

iv) But how do the motives of credibility, thus defined, single out the church of Rome? Keep in mind that at the stage of inquiry, there's no prior assumption that the motives of credibility point to Rome. Why would an inquirer suppose the argument from miracles or argument from prophecy selects for Roman Catholicism in particular rather than Christianity in general? 

Keep in mind, too, that in church history, up to the present, Roman Catholicism has no monopoly on reported miracles and prophecies. That's paralleled in Protestant circles. 

Likewise, how does (4) select for Roman Catholicism?

At the stage of inquiry, the Catholic identification of (3) is not a given, but something to be established. 

v) Bryan never allows for the possibility that a Catholic convert is sometimes justified in reexamining his conversion. Yet converts have more experience after conversion, and therefore have additional information they didn't have during the preliminary investigation. In that respect, a convert is sometimes in a better position to reconsider his conversion than an inquirer. A convert can make a more informed evaluation by virtue of his postconversion experience. This applies to conversion in general, where converts sometimes have second thoughts after they become better acquainted with the movement/institution/tradition they converted to. 

How it looks from the inside may be dramatically different than how it looks from the outside. With that additional insight, why is he not in a better position than before to judge that he made a mistake? 

To begin with, he may continue his studies upon conversion. And that may lead him to encounter objections he didn't consider beforehand.

In addition, there's a difference between knowledge by description and knowledge by acquaintance. Prior to conversion, he studied an abstract, idealized version of Roman Catholicism. A construct of Roman Catholic theologians and apologists.

But now, based on his firsthand experience, as an insider, he may discover a mismatch between the propaganda and the reality. There's nothing in principle that rules that out. To the contrary, that's assessing Catholicism on the basis of evidence he didn't have at his disposal prior to conversion. He now has a comparative frame of reference. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Self-identify as fit for communion

Like transgenderism, as the revisionist policy of Pope Francis shakes out, it comes down to how communicants self-identify:

I'll do for you if you do for me

It's funny to see how liberals impute hypocrisy to Trump supporters. They still don't have a clue: 

i) The relationship between Trump and his supporters is like a military alliance: If you defend us, we'll defend you.

Insofar as the Trump administration is acting in the interests of freedom-loving Americans, insofar as the Trump administration is protecting their Constitutional rights, they will support him. So long as his administration is sticking up for them, they stick up for him. It's a reasonable, predictable reaction.

ii) Everyone ought to be personally virtuous. Everyone ought to be virtuous in their private life.

However, what sets a politician apart from a private citizen is their role as public policymakers. (In some cases, the same could be said for some Fortune 500 CEOs.)

At that level, the question at issue is not what choices a politician makes in his own life, but how his policies determine my choices in life. I'm not responsible for what he does in his private life–for good or ill. I don't make those decisions for him. The issue is what decisions he makes for me and my dependents. 

In terms of laws and regulations, what does he permit, prohibit, or mandate? The primary question isn't how he lives his own life, but whether he lets me live me do the same.  

As a rule, what a politician does in his personal life is his own business. But does he mind his own business where I'm concerned? Does he accord to others the same prerogative he accords to himself? 

In both (i) & (ii), there's a principle of reciprocity. 

Is Christianity dying in America?

Facts don't care about your feelings

Ironically, gay propagandist Andrew Sullivan pens a commonsense piece attacking the transgender component of the LGBT alliance by defending gender binaries:

Jesus Is All the World to Me

Do we believe the hymns we sing? Here's somebody who took the lyrics to heart:

Blinker hood

Protestantism itself has no visible catholic Church. It has only denominations, congregations, believers and their children. Within Protestantism there is not some one additional entity to which the term “visible catholic Church” refers, consisting of these denominations, congregations, believers and their children...What allowed the authors of the Westminster Confession to believe sincerely that there was a “visible catholic Church” other than the Catholic Church headed by the Pope, was a philosophical error. This was the error of assuming that unity of type is sufficient for unity of composition. In actuality, things of the same type do not by that very fact compose a unified whole. For example, all the crosses that presently exist all have something in common; they are each the same type of thing, i.e. a cross. But they do not form a unified whole composed of each individual cross around the world. This crucifix, for example, in the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica, is not a part of a unified whole consisting of all the crucifixes in the world. All crucifixes are things of the same specific type, but that does not in itself make them parts that compose a unified whole spread out around the world...One way to determine whether something is an actual whole or merely a plurality of things...

...when Matthew records Jesus saying to Peter in Matthew 16:18, “upon this rock I will build My Church”, and then saying, in Matthew 18:17, “tell it to the Church”, and “listen to the Church”, the most natural way of understanding these passages is that the term ‘ekklesia’ (‘Church’) is being used in the same way in all three places. And it is clear in the Matthew 18 passages that ‘ekklesia’ there refers to the visible Church, not a merely spiritual entity. 

i) Catholic convert Bryan Cross is unintentionally comical because he wears a blinker hood. All he's done here is to invent his own definition of visibility, then proclaim that the Protestant faith fails to measure up to his idiosyncratic definition. But Bryan's tendentious yardstick was never our standard of comparison.

ii) Actually, it's unlikely that Matthew is using ekklesia in quite the same way in Mt 16 & 18. Mt 16 is a statement about the church in general while Mt 18 is a statement about local church discipline.

iii) To play along with Bryan's illustration, individual crucifixes aren't "merely a plurality of things". Bryan must know that's a false description. A "mere plurality of things" would be disparate things that share nothing essential in common. By contrast, individual crucifixes are samples or instances of the same kind of thing. They all have the same basic design. Similar shape. As well as the same symbolic purpose and significance. 

Bryan says that's insufficient for unity of composition. Suppose he's right. So what? Why should unity of composition in his specialized sense be the criterion for visibility? That's a highly idiosyncratic definition of visibility. 

iv) Variation on a theme are an interesting phenomenon. Take snowflakes. Pachelbel's canon. The Mandelbrot set. Are they "merely a plurality of things"? No. They share essential unity. 

Take da Vinci's Virgin of the Rocks. Da Vinci painted two versions of the same scene. Are they one painting or two? In a certain respect they're two different paintings, but there are degrees of difference. You can have two paintings on a different subject or two paintings on the same subject. Two paintings by different painters or two paintings by the same painter. In this case, they exemplify the one idea. Whether we count them as one or two depends on the level of abstraction.  

v) Both in principle and practice, the concept of the church is not univocal. It can stand for different things. The church has some perennial elements, like church office and sacraments. These continue from one generation to the next. 

Christianity has a corporate dimension because humans are social creatures. Moreover, humans who are otherwise unrelated can share the same experience of saving grace. That makes them a spiritual family.

But there's an interplay and overlay between the natural family and the spiritual family. In this life, natural and spiritual affinities intersect but they don't coincide. Three overlapping circles. And there's a sorting process after death. 

Helicopter parents

Perhaps the number one objection to the Protestant faith is doctrinal diversity. The "scandal" of denominations. Catholics contrast that to Mother Church, who guides the faithful into the fullness of truth.

The maternal metaphor is revealing. Scripture never uses a maternal metaphor for the church. 

It's a cliche of child-rearing that, for better or worse, parents make the major decisions for kids when their kids are below a certain age, but as they hit adolescence or thereabouts, kids need to be given increasing independence to wean them off parental dependence. That's because kids are supposed to grow up and be able to make it on their own in life. That includes the necessary freedom to make their own mistakes.

The lifecycle is new to every generation. Each generation discovers life anew. Although grown children can sometimes benefit from parental experience and advice, parents are fallible. There's a first time for everything. Adulthood was a novel experience for your parents. They had to learn from experience just like the rest of us. They made mistakes, too!

Protestants make mistakes. That's part of growing up. Like learning to ride a bike. Fall down, get up, try again. 

Living in your mother's basement, being spoonfed, having helicopter parents on speed dial, never having to assume adult responsibilities, is arrested development. That's Catholicism. 

Not only does it keep Catholics in a state of immaturity, but it fosters a false sense of security. Although some people find it easier to let other people make the major decisions for them, those to whom they delegate the decision-making process aren't necessarily any wiser. Some parents are foolish. Some mothers are overprotective. 

Yes, there are too many denominations (including the church of Rome). Yes, there's too much doctrinal diversity (including Catholic factions). But that's the price you pay for growing up. Having to think for yourself. 

Catholics need to vacate mom's basement, cast off the training wheels, and face the challenges of adulthood without helicopter parents. 

Monday, January 22, 2018


20 And he ordered some of the mighty men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. 21 Then these men were bound in their cloaks, their tunics,[e] their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the burning fiery furnace. 22 Because the king's order was urgent and the furnace overheated, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 23 And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace.

24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” 25 He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.”

26 Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the burning fiery furnace; he declared, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. 27 And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king's counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men. The hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them (Dan 3:20-27).

There are readers who find this unbelievable or hard to believe. In that regard, the description of Polycarp as fireproof presents a striking parallel to Daniel's friends in the furnace:

Polycarp 15:2
The fire, making the appearance of a vault, like the sail of a vessel filled by the wind, made a wall round about the body of the martyr; and it was there in the midst, not like flesh burning, but like [a loaf in the oven or like] gold and silver refined in a furnace. For we perceived such a fragrant smell, as if it were the wafted odor of frankincense or some other precious spice.

Polycarp 16:1
So at length the lawless men, seeing that his body could not be consumed by the fire, ordered an executioner to go up to him and stab him with a dagger. And when he had done this, there came forth [a dove and] a quantity of blood, so that it extinguished the fire; and all the multitude marvelled that there should be so great a difference between the unbelievers and the elect.

The martyrdom of Polycarp is presented as an eyewitness account. To my knowledge, it's generally considered to be authentic. 

The account includes a premonition (5:2), and audible divine voice (9:1). Although an unbeliever will dismiss that as legendary embellishment, it helps to explain Polycarp's indomitable courage in the face to death by torture.