Saturday, January 31, 2009

Foot-in-Mouth Disease

Jason Streitfeld says he's a proud atheist.

But that's meaningless.

He says the term 'God' is meaningless.

He says that even to say that 'No knowledge presupposes God' is to say something meaningless, so he denies it.

But, 'atheism' states that God does not exist, or that one lacks a belief in God.

Both those claims, according to Streitfeld, are meaningless. Hence, atheism is meaningless. He must reject the claim that he is an atheist.

Also, if he rejects the claim that 'No knowledge presupposes God' because 'God' is a meaningless term, then he must also reject the claim that 'God is a meaningless term.' Atheist Theodore Drange states, "[theological] noncognitivism declares atheism to be flat-out meaningless."

But a key premise of one of his "devastating" arguments against theism was this:

[The Devastator] "Atheism may here be defined as any explicit or implicit denial of the existence of God. Thus, if one presupposes the existence of God in an argument, one begs the question against atheism."

But he must deny these statements! All statements that say 'God' in any way (atheism or theism) are meaningless.

In fact, if Streitfeld is right, he should never have written his post. He should stop blogging. He can never mention the word 'God' again otherwise that means he will have to "reject that claim," because he told me that he "reject all claims that have the word God in them."

More on the common man argument

Those who appeal to the Common Man Argument, CMA, must also demonstrate that these laymen don't believe, along with libertarian free will, that God determines, causes, plans, ordains all events whatever.

I have found that the majority of laymen are what we'd call 'Calminians.'

They appeal to "mystery" or "paradox" or "antinomy," to hold that both LFW and exhaustive determinism are true.

If the proponent wants to push CMA to its limited limits, they must demonstrate those these same people do not hold to exhaustive determinism.

But it has been my expereince that they do not disbelieve exhaustive determinism. Those who doubt it are usually those who have reflected on the debate and so are disqualified as subjects for the statistical question since intuitions are pre-reflective.

Since I take it that the above is a likely scenario with "many people" (cf. Olson, Arminian Theology, pp. 67-69), the argument has now been rendered a non-Starter. If one sees this kind of thing in non-laymen libertarians, how much more will they see it in laymen? For an example of the former, see Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, Eerdmans, 1998, 202.

CMA, at best, is seen to prove both libertarianism and determinism. So we're back at ground zero and must toss this argument in the trash where it belongs.

Last Response to Dan

This will be my last response to Dan on this issue we've been discussing (his latest response can be found here). There are various reasons why, no need to bring them to light. I just quickly wrote the below, excuse any major grammatical errors.

I wrote: Even if I granted that 21st century common man understands choice in a libertarian way… that doesn't imply that X-century BC Jews thought that way.

Dan responded, "Paul is welcome to address the reasons I have already provided, based on the common consent of modern scholarship and extra-biblical Jewish writings."

Dan presented no such "common consent of modern scholarship," that 'choose' meant 'genuine access to alternative possibilities. What he did was claim, "As for the Hebrews not having American dictionaries, the problem is that all the commentators, translators and lexicon compilers that did have access to such dictionaries translate the terms bâcha, and eklegomai choose." This proves nothing; indeed, it’s question begging. Is Dan making the absurd claim that even compatibilist commentators, translators, and lexicon compilers translated a word they believed contradicted their position? That they translated the word 'choose' doesn't mean that they all thought that genuine access to alternative possibilities was possible. And, this blurs the distinction between having and making choices. No one is debating that the word 'choice' is a proper word. I can use it. I choose to use it. That I used the word 'choice' doesn't mean that I think libertarianism is true.

The next argument he says I need to reply to is this:

Further, extra biblical sources clarify what the Hebrews thought:

Sirach 15:13-20 The Lord hateth all abomination; and they that fear God love it not. He himself made man from the beginning, and left him in the hand of his counsel; If thou wilt, to keep the commandments, and to perform acceptable faithfulness. He hath set fire and water before thee: stretch forth thy hand unto whether thou wilt. Before man is life and death; and whether him liketh shall be given him. For the wisdom of the Lord is great, and he is mighty in power, and beholdeth all things: And his eyes are upon them that fear him, and he knoweth every work of man. He hath commanded no man to do wickedly, neither hath he given any man licence to sin.

Again, Dan simply eisogetes his libertarianism into this text. I am at a loss as to how he thinks this claim possibly supports the idea that these Jews were libertarians. If he says the text implies ability to do otherwise, how does it rule out classical compatibilism? Perhaps they were classical compatibilists and had a counterfactual understanding of "can." The text isn't enough to support the weight of Dan's argument. In other words, Dan's just not arguing well.

One also might wonder how this passage doesn't support perfectionism.

And, Dan seems unaware that Jewish scholars actually see a determinism inherent in ancient Judaism.

Most scholars know that the Jews believed (a) God foreknows what we will do, which they thought implied determinism, and they also held that (b) man was free. Generally, they didn't try to resolve this problem, though. It was held a paradox. The problem was brought to the fore by Avika when he said, "Everything is foreseen; yet free will is given" (Rabbi Akiva, Pirkei Avoth 3:15). Since it is common knowledge that this issue was debated amongst the later Jews, we cannot say that the author of the above text from which Dan cites didn't also hold to divine determinism, thus making him a proto-compatibilist. Again, Dan's evidence doesn't support the weight of his conclusions.

In the Jewish Philosophy Reader, Oliver Leaman argues that "early on in Jewish thought" Akiba's "dicta could be seen as synthesizing the seemingly incompatible Stoic thesis of determinism and the Epicurean antithesis of free will" (Leaman, JPR, p.122). Indeed, he claims that medieval exegetes moved "far from classical Jewish theology" (ibid). It is known that Maimonides tried to argue for ability to do otherwise. Thus Leaman finds compatibilism the expression of "classical Jewish theology." It is further noted that some view talk of libertarian free will as an "exaggerated premise about the value of free will in Judaism" (Shatz, ibid, p.51). Though Shatz doesn't take this route, the general apathy towards solving the problems of free will, God's foreknowledge, and ubiquitous causation the early and later Jewish scholars evidenced cannot be dismissed.

Furthermore, no less a Jewish scholar as Umberto Cassuto could write,

"In early Hebrew dictation, it is customary to attribute to every phenomena the direct action of God ... Every happening has a number of causes, and these causes, in turn, have other causes, and so on ad infinitum; according to the Israeltie conception, the cause of all causes was the will of God, the creator and Ruler of everything. Now the philosopher examines the long and complex chain of causation, whereas the ordinary person jumps instantly from the last effect to the first cause, and attributes the former directly to God. This, now, is how the Torah, which employs human idioms, expresses itself" (ibid, 55, cf. n.24)

Dan dissed Kane as not being as good a libertarian thinker than him, will he now dismiss Cassuto of being ignorant of early Hebrew dictation!

As I searched around to confirm my sources and general thoughts, this Jewish website fossilised my previous argumentation. Thus,

"Biblical and rabbinic literature don't systematically analyze philosophical issues, including the concept of free will. The Bible is clear that God has a role in determining human affairs, and equally clear that, in most cases, human beings have the ability to choose between right and wrong. This contradiction does not seem to bother the biblical writer(s), and thus the Bible provides no clear solution to the free will problem. Some rabbinic sources indicate an awareness that divine providence and human choice might be contradictory, but no systematic solutions are articulated."

Commenting on the varied positions within Judaism,

"According to the first-century historian Josephus, different conceptions of fate and determinism distinguished the three major Jewish sects of antiquity. Among the major Jewish sects of antiquity, the Essenes believed that fate determined everything, the Sadducees rejected fate entirely, and the Pharisees--the forerunners of rabbinic Judaism--believed that, "certain events are the work of Fate, but not all."

Therefore I think I have established sufficient evidence to the effect that a simplistic quoting some Jewish commentary isn't enough to render a "guilty" verdict against compatibilism and for libertarianism.

I should also point out that Jesus frequently condemned Jewish traditions. So, it's not clear how helpful appealing to them will be for Dan.

At any event, even if his source is to be taken libertarianly, that's insufficient to prove that, say, Moses was a libertarian. Also, his comment about the commentators can't possibly support his argument either, as I have shown.

I wrote: "Dan must grant the possibility that in an increasingly secular society, given the state of public education, and given the direction science is heading; the "common man" will believe this: "All things are physically determined with generalizations and conditionals having 100% probabilities associated with them."

Dan responded: I am not sure the common man is in a position to evaluate that claim.

They don't need to be. The point is, Time magazine could run an article, Oprah could do a show on it, and the masses would believe it. If this happened, which is possible, would Dan then become a compatibilist? No. Would he believe that the OT writers were determinists since they were "common men" (a least some of them) too? No. So, why does he think I should reason thus even if "common man" thinks in terms of libertarianism.

I wrote: "as I argued from Kane, the common man also has problems with indeterminate happenings."

Dan responded: "He only said they would, if they held certain mistaken notions."

This is odd. Then I retort, 'common man would hold libertarianism, if they held certain mistaken notions." Secondly, that's not what Kane said, now was it. Kane said, "The first step is to question the intuitive connection in people's minds between 'indeterminisms being involved in something' and "its happening merely as a matter of chance or luck."

Paul mistakenly overlooked the word “can” in my quote (both the explicit reference and implicitly through the word “possible”). So again, the common sense notion of choosing and alternatives rules out determinism.

There's many things I could say. How about this: the common sense notion of control rules out indeterminism.

And to substitute a hypothetical ability with an actual one is an equivocal way of substituting the common definition of choice for the determinist one.

No, it's to point out that the dictionary doesn't weigh in on that issue so it can't be used to support Dan's claim. It's to show the eisogetical nature of his argument.

Finally, there is a difference between understanding what the dictionary says and applying what it says. By Paul asking if the dictionary addresses certain questions, he seems to be conflating these two things.

Right, and I argued that just sticking with what it says isn't enough to get Dan what he wants.

I wrote: "Lastly, Dan makes a non-sequitur. He says, "Again, if determinism is true, given the causal forces at play, I cannot choose or do counterfactuals." But, that doesn't mean you didn't choose to do what you did."

Dan responded: "Sure it does, because given the common notion of choosing, the counterfactuals are possible, not impossible."

As even Robert has made plain to Dan, compatibilists easily account for making choices. In fact, I don't know a libertarian in the world that would side with Dan. So, it does not follow from "I cannot choose or do counterfactuals" that "I didn't choose to do whatever it is I in fact chose."

I wrote: "And, again, if libertarianism is true, given the luck, I cannot choose counterfactuals. Choosing requires a certain amount of control that libertarianism doesn't afford. Dan disagrees."

Dan responded: "The bible disagrees, and I simply believe the bible."

It's these kinds of responses that make me tire of debating Dan.

This “luck” line of reasoning is the one I warned about earlier as not open to the Christian. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. This means God is the first cause, so His first cause wasn’t causally predetermined. This is agent causation and it undermines the luck argument. Was God lucky to have Jacob? No, He chose him. But Paul’s reasoning would lead us to believe God was lucky. Arguments against the coherence of LFW are impermissible to Christians.

All one simply needs to say is that God's choice wasn't indeterminite either. I'd even agree with Kane here. God doesn't have libertarian freedom. I don't think he has compatibilistic either. I believe his freedom is sui generous.

I wrote: "The dictionary doesn't say Jesus is the God-man, ergo, he isn't."

Dan responded: "In this case the dictionary is accurate, but not complete. But regarding “chose”, Paul would have us believe the dictionary is inaccurate and he has provided counter-definitions."

Christianity isn't a new religion that was founded by Jesus, ergo, the dictionary isn't even accurate. Try again.

Furthermore, I've already made my case from other dictionaries. Looks like some support Dan, some support me. We have a Mexican stand-off.

As for Muslims using the word “choose”, if I recall correctly they hold Allah transcends logic. So probably they hold to both and neither determinism and LFW. Why should we expect them to be consistent?

As if heretical Jews are any better? Perhaps Dan's Jewish source held to both. He can't argue this way here and then except himself from the same rejoinder to the heretical Jews.

Also, why do they have to hold to determinism? The "choice" trumps any deterministic reading. So, anything than even remotely suggests determinism will be, like Arminians do to the Bible, "fixed-up" so as to not imply determinism.

So, you can't say that they held to both. They said "choose,' therefore, when they said things that sounded deterministic we must not interpret them that way.

Special pleading isn't normally considered a valid rejoinder.

How would Dawkins argue if he were a theist

See here.

"And suddenly it struck me: atheism is dead. The big bang has killed it. And it is safe to say that in this day and age, if you meet an atheist, then that person is either ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that)."

"Now, I would never take the faith of atheists away from them, because it gives them comfort, and hope that no one will ever hold them accountable. It is also important for them to have some privatized, subjective way of looking down on other people, so that they can feel better about themselves, despite their flight from science and reason. I really admire the way that by sheer force of will, they are able to believe things without a shred of objective evidence. But, when we discuss these matters in the public square, I think we should insist that we limit our discussion to the available public, testable evidence."

Toppled towers and forkéd tongues

Neal Judisch is an evangelical convert to Catholicism. As a philosophy prof., we’d expect him to do a bang-up job defending Roman Catholicism. Let’s see how well he acquits himself.

“The basic idea, as it turned out, was nothing new, nor even anything particularly surprising. For the Lord Himself had promised to remain with the Church until the end of the ages.”

i) False. That’s an allusion to Mt 28:20. But that’s not a promise to the “Church.” Rather, it’s a promise to the eleven remaining disciples.

ii) Perhaps Neal would say it’s a promise to the church because the apostles died many centuries ago, yet Jesus said he would be with them until the end of the age. So it must extend to their successors, right?

The problem with that inference is that it reflects the chronological perspective of a modern reader. As he reads this, 2000 years down the pike, he takes the long-range view.

But that interpretation is clearly anachronistic. The verse itself doesn’t say anything about the duration of the church age, beyond the immediate promise to the eleven disciples.

iii) Moreover, when a Catholic apologist says “the church,” that’s code language, not for the church, but for a tiny subset of the church: namely, the papacy or episcopate.

“He Himself had guaranteed that the gates of death, the forces of hell, would never overcome her.”

i) True, but irrelevant. That’s an allusion to Mt 16:18. And that’s a metaphor. What does the metaphor mean? You can’t take a metaphor like the “gates of hell,” and pour a Catholic definition into that metaphor without further ado.

ii) Moreover, that’s a promise to what church, exactly? The church of Rome? It doesn’t mention the church of Rome.

Why not the church of Jerusalem? Or Philippi? Or Smyrna?

“He Himself had prophesied that the Holy Spirit would guide the Church into all truth.”

False. That’s an allusion to Jn 16:13. In context, it’s a promise to the eleven remaining disciples.

“That He would gather all who were scattered abroad and knit them together in Love.”

I guess that’s an allusion to Jn 11:52. But Jn 11:52 doesn’t mention the church of Rome. There’s no explicit reference to the church of Rome. What is more, there’s no implication to that effect.

“And He Himself had established a chair. So, clearly, if the Pope really does sit on Peter’s chair, and will thus sometimes be called upon to voice the final say, or make binding judgments for the Church at large, it had better be the case that the Holy Spirit is there to protect him from going wrong when he exercises this capacity of his office.”

i) Where does the NT refer to a Petrine “chair” or Petrine “office”? Where does the NT refer to someone who sits on Peter’s chair?

Did Peter have the final say, or make binding judgments, for the church at large? How can you reconcile that claim with Acts 15 or Gal 2:11-14?

So often, arguments for Catholicism involve a cumulative error rate, where the Catholic apologist piles one error atop another in an escalating series of fallacies.

ii) However, let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that these prooftexts prove what Neal needs them to prove. Hasn’t he backed himself into a dilemma?

On the one hand, he says you can’t have a canon without a church to justify the canon. On the other hand, he’s citing canonical prooftexts to justify his high-church ecclesiology. So is the church logically prior to the canon—or is the canon logically prior to the church? If he needs canonical prooftexts to justify his high-church ecclesiology, then he can’t have the church without the canon. In that case, the canon takes logical precedence over the church.

“The fundamental conviction here is really quite straightforward: Catholics think that we’d better not be left to our own devices, or else we’ll probably screw things up.”

In terms of church history, where’s the evidence that Catholics are any less likely to screw things up than other professing believers?

“Think again, for example, about our reflections on the Biblical canon. As we’ve seen, Catholics have trust that the canon of Scripture we’ve received is the right one, because they believe that God Himself infallibly guided the Church to receive and recognize the right texts.”

And when, in Catholic church history, did that take place, exactly? Even at the Council of Trent, the Tridentine Fathers were still debating the scope of the canon. And when the vote was taken, there was nothing resembling unanimity on the subject.

“Yet from a Catholic perspective this gets things backward. For the Protestant alternative is to say that since the Scriptures alone are infallible, that means the Church cannot claim to have recognized infallibly which books belong in the Bible.”


“At the same time, we know we cannot simply leave the task of determining the canon to each individual Christian, for the individual Christian clearly cannot claim to possess some sort of infallibility which he refuses to attribute to the Church.”

That’s misleading. It’s not as though it comes down to two alternatives: either an infallible church or else each individual Christian must revisit the issue from scratch.

God has given teachers to the church. Scholars and theologians. We can study their arguments.

And, in fact, that’s what happened at the Council of Trent. The Tridentine Fathers argued over the state of the evidence. There was no divine illumination which made them think alike. We’ve seen the way bacon is made at church councils.

“Thus we are left with the question of how we can know, how we can decide with confidence, what belongs in the Bible and what does not if we have no guarantee that the Spirit won’t let us run off the rails – hardly a trivial issue, if the Bible is supposed to be (as the Pope likes to say) the ‘trustworthy ground of our existence.’[2]”

i) One problem with this objection is the unquestioned assumption that God can’t guide his people by using ordinary means. That God can’t put sufficient evidence at our disposal.

Instead, Neal operates with the unquestioned assumption that God can only guide his people by using extraordinary means.

But one of the problems with that contention is that even extraordinary means rely, in some measure, on ordinary means. For example, Neal is using a fallible argument for infallibility. After all, Neal is not, himself, infallible. So, unless, in the providence of God, we can be reasonably confident of arriving at the truth through ordinary means, then Neal’s objection is self-refuting. Neal is using his fallible powers of reason to fallibly argue for infallibility. If he can do that, why not a Protestant?

ii) And suppose, for the sake of argument, that we were mistaken? All this amounts is that God allowed us to be mistaken. Why should I live in fear of being mistaken if God allows me to be mistaken? If it were so catastrophic for me to make an honest mistake, why would God allow it to happen?

And at the risk of stating the obvious, isn’t it obvious that God allows human beings to be mistaken about many things? Sometimes these are honest mistakes. Sometimes these are willful errors.

iii) Incidentally, didn’t the Holy Spirit let the Catholic church run off the rails during the Great Schism, when no one could tell a pope from an antipope?

“Ultimately, in this instance, the Protestant approach leaves us with a collection of writings and fallible humans who are supposed to decide which of them count as God’s Words.”

i) And suppose, as a matter of fact, that’s exactly how God arranged it? Suppose that, most of the time, God guides his people by ordinary providence. Why is it that a philosophy prof. like Neal can’t even entertain that possibility?

ii) Suppose the Great Schism had never happened. Don’t you think a Catholic apologist would argue, a priori, that God would never permit a disruptive event like the Great Schism to occur?

Of course, a Catholic apologist isn’t free to mount that argument since it really did happen. But given their fondness for aprioristic proofs of the papacy, infallibility, &c. isn’t that exactly the sort of argument you’d expect a Catholic apologist to use if only he could? Isn’t it antecedently improbable, on Catholic assumptions, that God would leave apostolic succession in a state of utter turmoil?

But, as it turns out, didn’t fallible Catholics have to decide, with extreme uncertainty, which pope was the true pope? Disputes over the outer limits of the canon are minor compared to the total chaos triggered by the Great Schism.

History is like a story. God’s story, written in the medium of time and space. In a story, every character contributes to the plot. Every character does something to advance the storyline.

Yet every character doesn’t have to get things right. The only person who has to get things right is the narrator.

The narrator can make his characters make mistakes. He can use their errors to advance the action in the direction which he wants to take the story.

That may be a problem for one of the characters. He may make a harmful mistake. A mistake which is injurious to himself or another character.

But that’s not a problem for the narrator. The mistaken actions of his characters don’t derail the narrative. To the contrary, these are instrumental in the course of the narrative.

To drop the metaphor, and discuss some real life examples, Pharaoh made a number of grave mistakes, even fatal mistakes. But that didn’t throw God’s plan off-track. To the contrary, that was part of the plan. Same thing with Caiaphas and Nebuchadnezzar.

“To be sure, the Spirit is thought to be involved in some way; but it’s never entirely clear exactly what the way is.”

And it’s never entirely clearly exactly how the Spirit is supposed to be involved in the extraordinary magisterium. At Trent, the vote on the canon went 24 to 15 with 16 abstentions. So the motion didn’t even carry by a majority vote. Is that the way the Holy Spirit works?

And how does Neal distinguish that “inspired” result from an uninspired process? Ordinarily, if a motion were debated, and its passage fell short of a majority vote, would we attribute that result to divine inspiration? Why was inspiration limited to only 24 of the 55 Tridentine Fathers? Was the Holy Spirit unable to persuade the other 31 Tridentine Fathers?

“For the Protestant alternative is to say that since Scripture alone is infallible, that means the Church cannot claim such authority when it comes to Scriptural interpretation. At the same time, we know we cannot simply leave the task to each individual Christian, for neither the individual Christian nor the tradition to which he belongs can claim to possess some sort of authority that he refuses to attribute to the Church. So, we are left with the question of how we can know, how we can decide with confidence, which of the endlessly diverse and contradictory Christian traditions has things right – hardly a trivial matter, if it might mean heresy on the one hand or fidelity to the Faith on the other.”

What about deciding on the basis of which side has best evidence, or the best argument? After all, Neal is making an individual case for Catholicism. Aren’t we left to individually judge his individual case by weighing the quality of his argumentation?

“But what follows inevitably is this: to the extent that we have full trust and confidence in our own ability to understand Scripture, or in the deliverances of our theological tradition, to that extent we exalt the human’s ability to figure things out for themselves – with no guarantee that the Spirit will protect them from error.”

i) Why do I have to place full trust in my ability to interpret Scripture? What I trust is the providence of God. He put me here, at this time and place, with all the opportunities and limitations that come with my particular situation. My duty is to make the most of the circumstances he’s put me in.

ii) If God wants to protect me from error, he will. If he doesn’t protect me from error, that’s because he didn’t want to do so. The point is to do the best that God has enabled me to do with my time and talents.

God guarantees some things (e.g. Jn 3:16; 6:37). But everything important in life doesn’t come with a money-back guarantee. We walk by faith, not by sight.

“This, I think, is really where the rubber meets the road. For the gut response of most Protestants at this point (including my former self!) is to assert that they do not put their faith in any ‘tradition,’ but rather in the Scriptures themselves, and that to whatever degree they follow a ‘tradition’ they do so only because it ‘faithfully reflects’ the teaching of the Bible. But everyone can see that this simply pushes the question back a step. For where, exactly, have they come by the crucial information that their tradition is the one which ‘faithfully reflects’ the teaching of Scripture over against all the others, unless they have either accepted this on the authority of their tradition, or accepted it on the authority of themselves?”

You know, Neal can only talk about the theological options because he’s a 21C American. Imagine if he were a medieval peasant? Whether he’d be Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox or Oriental Orthodox or Waldensians is a historical accident beyond his control. We’re all circumscribed by our sitz-im-leben. We must all play the hand that God has dealt us. The question is how we play our cards—whether well or badly.

Neal’s problem is that he’s not making the most of his opportunities. He’s making poor use of his aptitude and opportunities.

“But every Christian in every tradition can do the same thing. So how does that make him right; how does that make his tradition the uniquely privileged one; how does that mean he sees things so much more clearly than everyone who happens to disagree?”

I think that most evangelicals admit a lot of truth in “rival” traditions, viz. Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians.

“One admits, moreover, that there are such things as interpretive ‘filters’ through which he understands the Bible, and which could in principle lead him astray without his realizing it, despite his most sincere efforts.”

i) Does that include Catholic filters? What filter did Neal use before he became Catholic to evaluate the claims of Catholicism and convert to Rome?

Was his pre-Catholic filter reliable or unreliable? If the pre-Catholic filter by which he evaluated the claims of Catholicism was unreliable, then he converted under false pretenses. But if his pre-Catholic filter was sufficiently reliable to rightly evaluate Catholicism, then in what respect does he even need a Catholic filter?

Why is a philosophy prof. so oblivious to the obvious?

ii) And suppose I am mistaken despite my best efforts to the contrary? What conceivable alternative could there be to that state of affairs?

What’s the point of his question, really? Why ask someone who’s unaware of his error if he’s aware of his error? The premise of the question is that he’s unaware of his error. So why doesn’t Neal apply that premise to himself? What if he’s unaware of how mistaken he is? As long as he remains in that state of mind, then, by definition, there’s nothing he can do about it.

Unless he thinks that people can become aware of their mistakes, he has generated a conundrum which applies, with equal force, to his Catholic convictions.

If he has so little confidence in reason, why is he trying to reason his readers into Catholicism? Is reason only reliable for Catholics? But, in that case, no one could reasonably convert to Catholicism. Only unreasonable people could convert to Rome, beginning with Neal.

“Yet in defiance of these theoretical concessions there remains in all of us, by God’s own design, a desperate need for assurance, for certainty, for stability, and God does not wish His children to lapse into a skepticism which says we cannot know the truth, or (worse yet) a relativism which makes ‘truth’ so easy to come by that it isn’t even worth the pursuit.”

But Neil plays both sides of the fence. He’s a sceptic about Protestant theology, but a rationalist about Catholic theology.

“What happens then, inevitably, is that the ‘space’ or critical distance which should exist between your own theological convictions and the Bible itself completely collapses, with the result that the confidence and certitude which should be directed toward God’s Word only is illicitly transferred in its entirety to a particular theological system.”

Of course, that’s a portable allegation. If it applies to Protestant theology, it also applies to Catholic theology.

“First, one of my chief complaints against the Protestant tradition was its intrinsic inability to hold truth and unity together, which the Bible specifically demanded of the Church and for which the Spirit had specifically been given – and my response was to join a different Protestant communion whose constituents are, even as we speak, in the middle of yet another split? How could such a move be Biblically, theologically or rationally defended? If the sola scriptura principle as originally formulated had been falsified precisely because of such divisions, how could I convince myself that ‘Scripture, Tradition and Reason’ was any better off?”

i) You know, when I read about NT churches, I don’t see a whole lot of truth-in-unity on display. I either see a lot of disunity, or unity-in-falsehood. I mean, was the church of Corinth a paragon of truth-in-unity? What about the churches of Galatia? Remember Judaizers? What about the churches of the Lycus valley. Remember the Colossian heresy? You can run through letter after letter of the NT epistles, including the letters to the seven churches of Asia minor, and what you’ll find is that truth-in-unity is exceptional instead of typical. And these were churches founded by apostles and overseen by apostles.

ii) To say the Catholic church holds truth and unity together massively begs the very question at issue.

iii) Where the NT speaks of unity, it’s generally in the form of imperatives rather than indicatives. That implies a need to work towards unity, not a preexisting state of unity.

iv) Moreover, even the few indicatives need to be taken with a grain of salt. For example, Luke is fond of hyperbole. So you need to make allowance for his literary conventions.

v) As I’ve often pointed out, invidious comparisons of this sort beg the question by taking Catholicism as the frame of reference. The church of Rome in contrast to all those other sects and denominations. But why wouldn’t we include the church of Rome among the other sects and denominations?

vi) What does Catholic unity-in-truth actually amount to? Are Roman Catholics required to sign a doctrinal oath every year as a condition of membership? Are members of the Catholic church like-minded in their adherence to the truth?

What the claim boils down to is that official Catholic teaching is true even if no Catholic on earth actually believes it. Is that how the apostles defined Christian unity?

“Second, one of the problems with the Protestant position which had become increasingly difficult for me to ignore dealt with the formation of the canon of Scripture. Specifically, it seemed to me that the only satisfying response available to the question of how we knew, with certainty, what belonged in the Bible and what didn’t was the Catholic response. For their response relied essentially on the Catholic insistence that thanks to the Apostolic Tradition, the Holy Spirit and the promise of indefectibility, the decisions reached by the Church in Council could not be in error, which is something that all Protestants including the Anglicans deny. But there is no Scriptural support at all for the idea that “Reason,” still less an individual’s ‘private judgment,’ was exempt from error when it came to crucially important questions like this.”

i) Suppose, for the sake of argument, that we must settle for probability rather than certainty? Why is that beneath consideration?

ii) It’s also ambiguous to say we could be wrong about something. For example, suppose I believe that Napoleon was probably born in 1769. That’s either true or false. It’s not probably true or false.

So what we mean by probability is that it’s possible I’m mistaken about this, not that I am mistaken. To say I could be wrong doesn’t mean I’m actually wrong. As long as I’m right, what does it matter if I could be wrong?

Just to say you don’t know for sure if you have the correct canon doesn’t, of itself, cast any doubt on your canon. It doesn’t furnish any tangible evidence that your canon is incorrect. So it’s a very weak objection. Indeed, it’s the sort of fallback objection we’d expect from someone who has no tangible evidence to challenge your position. So he resorts to hypothetical defeaters. What if?

iii) But hypothetical defeaters cut in more then one direction. What if the pope is really an antipope? Does Neal know “for sure” that Benedict XVI is the true successor to St. Peter? After all, he didn’t attend the papal conclave. And these are very secretive proceedings. Deliberately so. The College of Cardinals goes out of its way to shield the process from public scrutiny. No outside observers are allowed in.

So Neal must rely on hearsay information. He has no independent corroboration. From a philosophical standpoint, evidence for the valid election of Benedict XVI falls far short of certainty. Yet that’s a “crucially important question” for a Roman Catholic.

“The question is this: since the Bible doesn’t itself tell us which books belong in the Bible and which do not, where does that information come from?”

Of course, I’ve often addressed this objection:

i) Neal acts as if the Bible is a miscellany of 66 self-contained books. But, in terms of intertextuality, the Bible has a lot to say about itself.

ii) Beyond that, Protestants don’t deny the value of testimonial evidence for the canon. But testimonial evidence needs to be sifted. And it’s not as if testimonial evidence for the canon is limited to Roman Catholic sources.

“If we had (and somehow knew we had) an inspired list in the Bible which provided this information then the question would be at an end and we could be certain about what God wanted in and what He wanted out. But we don’t, so, apparently, we can’t – or rather, we can’t unless the Holy Spirit had infallibly guided the Church in the Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397), e.g., where the canon was decided upon, and had seen to it that the decision in question was infallibly made. That’s the Catholic contention, and it solves the problem cleanly.”

i) First of all, since when is it the Catholic contention that local councils are infallible? Does that include the Westminster Assembly or the Synod of Dordt? What about the Niagara Bible Conference? Does that count, too?

ii) How does his appeal to conciliar authority solve the problem cleanly? As Neal is fond of saying, doesn’t that push the problem back a step? How does he distinguish an orthodox council from a heterodox council?

“For how can we consistently ‘accept by faith’ that God infallibly guided a Church Council just long enough to get our canon established...”

i) Since I reject that characterization, my own position is perfectly consistent.

ii) And why should we assume that the formation of the canon awaited a church council? Neil is looking for a theological shortcut. A top-down solution. So he doesn’t bother investigating the actual circumstances. Just compare Stanley Porter's essay on "Paul and the Process of Canonization," in C. Evans & E. Tov, eds. Exploring the Origins of the Bible (Baker 2008), chap. 6 (pp173-202), to Neal’s armchair approach, and you’ll see the difference between a factual theory (Porter) and a paper theory (Neal).

iii) Incidentally, does Neal think the Jews had no OT canon before a church council demarcated the OT canon? Why did God sanction the Jews for breach of covenant if they didn’t know where to find the word of God?

How would Jesus and the Apostles cite messianic prophecy if the Jews had no recognizable canon?

“And how could our belief in the exclusive infallible authority of the Bible be consistent, if our certainty about what makes up the Bible in the first place inevitably borrows from a piece of Catholic doctrine…”

Of course, that’s one of those loaded questions which smuggles a question-begging premise into the question.

“And finally, exemplified in the second fact is what I now believe to be an unworkable and un-Biblical view of ecclesial authority. Put bluntly, Jesus’ charge to St. Peter was ‘Feed My sheep;’ ‘Tend My flock;’ ‘Strengthen your brethren.’ He did not say, ‘Tally up the votes and take the sheep wherever they feel like going that day,’ and He didn’t say that because He knew perfectly well what happens to sheep without a shepherd – they either wander from the Great Shepherd en mass, or they scatter to the four winds in accordance with their own ideas about where He might be found.”

Didn’t they tally up the votes at Trent, Vatican I, and Vatican II? Don’t they tally up the votes at a papal conclave?

Joke of the Day

Atheist Jason Streitfeld said:

"Unicorns exist in the mind. Mythological horses exist in the mind. This is not so hard to understand, is it?"

You heard it right, not the concept of unicorns, but unicorns qua mythological horses exist in our minds.

Jason also believes the mind is physical. A brain. Or a part of the brain. So, unicorns qua mythological horses exist in brains.

Friday, January 30, 2009

They're All Gonna Laugh At You

"If you say to people that you make choices, no one will bat an eyebrow. But if you tell people that you never ever have a choice, that you may believe that you can actualize different possibilities, but this belief is ***always mistaken***, then they will, if they have common sense, look at you strangely and laugh at you as a skeptic of obvious reality." - Robert

Though I still want to see the actual statistics that back up these mere claims about how all laymen think, I have met some people who have thought this way - though without the sophistic language employed by Robert, viz., "if they have common sense, look at you strangely and laugh at you as a skeptic of obvious reality." I mean, perhaps that's what he does, but that's because he's a "loving Arminian." Furthermore, notice the fallacy of special pleading. If the "man on the street" doesn't fulfill Robert's prediction, that's because he lacks common sense! But you can't be too harsh on Robert. Sophistry and schoolyard fallacies are about all he has to work with considering what he's trying to defend from the Bible.

At any event, back to those people who have thought it odd that they never have genuine access to alternative possibilities. When you ask them why this is, they usually respond that because if you didn't have genuine access to alternative possibilities then you couldn't have done other than you did. When you ask them why this is problematic, they respond with something to the effect that either they were (a) forced to act, or (b) couldn't be held responsible.

At this point simply explaining that determinism/compatibilism doesn't implying forcing against your will - as action theorists on both sides admit - is enough to have them see that the first worry isn't a worry anymore. With regard to (b), I have found that by explaining Frankfurt counter-examples the "man on the street" finds these examples equally intuitive - as many libertarians even have admitted the intuitive appeal to Frankfurt counters - and thus (b) ceases to be a problem for them.

Look, the thing about intuitions is that they are pre-reflective. They are prior to reasoning. The interesting questions come into play when we are asked to think about our intuitions. To spell them out. At this point what we are trying to do is make our intuitions attractive. I maintain that most laymen I have spoke to about this admit that they fail to make their "ability to do otherwise" intuitions attractive. I usually hear, "Yeah, I guess I had never really thought about this." So, what the Arminian is claiming is that his view is supported by what people believe prior to thinking about it. That's an odd form of apologetic. Perhaps it's assumed to be more potent if indexed to claims about getting laughed at.

They're all gonna laugh at you.

(P.S. You can comment on this post, I don't know why the comment link is hidden.)

No better than our enemies

I think some Americans sometimes object to the use of torture because (the thinking goes) to engage in it means we've stooped down to the enemy's level. It means we've ceded the moral high ground. It means we've become no better than our enemies.

In fact, that's more or less what Pres. Obama intimated when he signed the order to close down Gitmo.

The fear is, if we win yet become like or worse than our enemies, then have we truly won? If we give in to the Dark Side of the Force (torture) in order to defeat the Sith Lords (terrorists), will we then become Sith Lords (terrorists)? Will Anakin Skywalker become Darth Vader?

A similar or related fear centers around "American values." I suppose this refers back to the ideals upon which things like our Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights, were founded. If we torture terrorists, then will we erode our own values? Even if we don't become like the terrorists, will we nevertheless have compromised our values in some way? Is torture another slip on the slippery slope toward becoming less "American"?

A few, somewhat disjointed thoughts come to mind. They're meant (hopefully) more as a way to ask the right questions or at least to question along the right lines, not really to provide answers. This is still a work in progress.

That said:
  1. First off, these are vague objections. What exactly is meant here? People who put forth such views need to make clear how they define "torture," and better delineate what's morally or ethically objectionable about the various forms of "torture" employed. At a minimum, isn't there a difference between what is publicly perceived as "torture," with its decidedly negative connotation, and what is officially used by the US gov't in their "interrogation techniques"?

  2. Not to mention they likewise ought to demonstrate that "torture" is actually occurring in a significant enough sense to warrant this sort of moral or ethical objection. Is it?

  3. An assumption made here is that we should not only be moral or ethical in the war against terrorism but that we should in a sense be (for lack of a better term at the moment) hyper-moral or hyper-ethical.

    1. Saying that we're no better than our enemies if we engage in torture leads us to ask another question: precisely what moral or ethical standards do our enemies follow? What's their moral and ethical rubric? And, once we have a working idea of what it is and what it entails and so forth, so long as we don't sink to their moral or ethical depths, or rather, so long as we are at least a notch above their highest moral or ethical threshold with regard to torture, then we are morally or ethically better than our enemies, aren't we? And if that's the case, then why the outcry against torture? I'm not saying I'd agree with the question or where it might lead. I'm only responding to the objection on its own grounds.

    2. Perhaps it's true the United States can win the war against the terrorists and jihadis without the use of "torture." But just because we can, does that then mean we should? Should we limit ourselves or tie our own hands like this? For example, even if we do win without using torture, let's say the victory will have come at a greater cost to us than it would have if we had used torture (e.g. more innocent civilian lives might be lost). Would our moral restraint in the use of torture therefore be reasonable let alone justifiable if more Americans were lost than needed to be lost?

      However, what if we didn't win? What if instead we lost the war because we didn't use certain forms of "torture," but retained the moral high ground? Would our gaining the higher moral ground by keeping our hands clean from torture mean anything if it also meant there wouldn't be future generations of Americans to cherish and safeguard American values? I might be begging the question though.

  4. Are there differences in how we should apply ethics during peace-time and during war-time? If so, how so? And if so, then it's possible we haven't necessarily lost or compromised our moral or ethical values, isn't it?

  5. Is "torture" "un-American"? Is "torture" in conflict with American values? If so, how so? For instance, is water-boarding "cruel and unusual punishment"? Is prolonged sleep deprivation un-Constitutional?

    Historically, haven't Americans successfully used "torture" on enemies to, say, extract necessary military information which would save thousands of lives? (BTW, wrong uses of torture do not necessarily illegitimize all torture, such as the rightful uses of certain forms of torture, assuming there are rightful uses of certain forms of torture.)

    Obviously, again, much here depends on us establishing working categories for what does and what does not constitute "torture," for starters.

  6. Do enemy combatants have any rights under the U.S. Constitution? They aren't American citizens. Not that I'm advocating "cruel and unusual punishment" by any means, not even on enemy combatants, but should American rights apply to non-American enemy combatants or even traitors within our ranks (haven't traitors forfeited their rights by betraying their nation)? If they do have rights, then why do or should they? And to what extent? After all, even prisoners in the American penal system have diminished rights. Whether or not enemy combatants have rights would figure into how we are to treat them, which in turn would figure into whether we are behaving morally and ethically towards them when we treat them in certain ways.

    But if we're not limiting the debate solely to American rights and values, but expanding it to include values and rights universal to all human beings (e.g. "inalienable rights," "the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," etc.), then there are other considerations. One might be whether people even have such things as "inalienable rights" in the first place, which are concepts derived from a Western European framework and tradition.

    Of course, what's fundamentally important to Christians isn't whether something is in accordance with American values or other traditions, per se, but rather whether something is in line with biblical values -- although many American values could be biblical values too.

  7. I wonder whether the notion that if we torture our enemies, then we will become like our enemies, and this is ethically or morally unacceptable, owes something to identity politics? Guilt over perceived wrongs we've supposedly been party to in the Mideast, etc., and wanting to somehow make up for the alleged wrongs, as if there were direct correlations between these things.

    Speaking of which, much of this is fed by our enemies. But why should we listen to our enemies when it's not only in their best interest but their stated intention to weaken and harm us by any means necessary, including but not limited to deception?

  8. Sort of related to this, there's sometimes the notion that we don't truly understand our enemies, because if we did, then we could identify with them; and if we identified with them, then we could better bridge the war and violence and perhaps bring peace between ourselves and our enemies. As if we really aren't all that different, and it's primarily a problem in communication and how we relate to one another. We both bleed red. Something like Enemy Mine comes to mind. Diplomacy and various forms of humanitarian aid are the best answers.

    If that's the case, then why not extend this sort of attitude to, say, Israel?

    In fact, why even bother to frame this in terms of ethics and morality? That to not engage in torture is to take the higher moral ground, when it's apparently not a matter of ethics or morality, at least not primarily in terms of politics, but rather a matter of miscommunication or misunderstanding? I'm possibly very wrong in how I understand and use this, but it almost seems like a kind of reverse or inverted Realpolitik, where strong nations do not pander and kowtow to other strong nations but to weaker "nations," including terrorists?

  9. Sometimes the idea that torture is the moral low road comes hand-in-hand with fear about mistakenly torturing someone who is innocent, who is not a terrorist or somehow affiliated with terrorism. In other words, it's better that ten (or input whatever figure you'd like) guilty persons go free than that one innocent person is wrongly convicted and suffers (as in the movie Rendition). There are a couple of possible responses. But perhaps the most concise is: better for whom?

  10. Technology has its good and bad points. Back in, say, World War II, there wasn't the constant media attention and scrutiny that we have today. Imagine if soldiers on Iwo Jima had MSNBC or CNN following them around with cameras. Or imagine if our POW camps housing Nazi soldiers could be videotaped, uploaded on YouTube, and instantly broadcast to millions of people, spreading like wildfire by word-of-mouth or blog posts or what not until it's eventually picked up by a major news agency. I wonder if at least some of the debate over torture hasn't been exaggerated and blown way out of proportion by a ratings-hungry media?

  11. Isn't there a sort of hypocrisy lurking behind all this? Oftentimes the same people who take issue with torture on moral or ethical grounds, believing torture to make us lesser people, don't take issue or as much issue with other moral and ethical wrongs (e.g. abortion).

    Plus, some people seem to take more issue with our methods of "torture" than with our enemies' methods of torture. Or treat the two as if they were one of a kind, as if they were ethically and morally on the same level. As if prolonged sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme cold or heat, or even waterboarding (whether or not one agrees with such techniques) performed by trained experts in interrogation and the like and in a controlled environment under strict legal codes is as debased as kidnapping civilians and beheading them or suicide bombers detonating themselves in a crowded public area.

    And I notice our enemies rarely question themselves and their actions as much as we do. There's seemingly little or no inner conflict among terrorists in whether sending young people, including women and children, to blow up civilians compromises their ethics or morals. There's no tortured soul (pardon the pun) or even debate over the rightness or wrongness of suicide bombers or the kidnapping and beheading of civilians -- certainly not to our extent.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The OT view of life after death

"The Old Testament view of life after death" (PDF) by Desmond Alexander.

Was the tomb really empty?

"Was the tomb really empty?" (PDF) by Robert Stein.

Arminian Proves Islam is not a Fatalistic Religion

Says Dan: "If Paul admits the common man thinks of choice as libertarian, he should address the fact that the bible was written by common men and to the common man (i.e. to the people of Israel and the church, not the semi-compatiblist) and it uses the terms choice and choose."

Jnorm888 approves: "You made a good point about it being made for the common man."

My reply: "If Dan (and Jnorm888) admits the common man thinks of choice as libertarian, he should address the fact that the Koran was written by a common man and to the common man (i.e. to the people of Mecca and Medina and the Mosques, not the semi-compatiblist, determinist, or fatalist) and it uses the terms choice and choose."

Asking God

Paul Helm on petitionary prayer (PDF).

No man is above the law

We have a slogan in this country: “no man is above the law.” The slogan is only intermittently true. Case in point: Timothy Geithner was confirmed by the Senate despite demonstrable evidence that he committed tax evasion. Just what you want in a Secretary of the Treasury.

Not only did he lie about his crimes, but supportive senators lied about his lies. Two of a kind.

We might ask why, or even whether, it matters if high officials break the law. There is, of course, the odious spectacle of officials who break the laws they enforce on the rest of us.

But there’s a deeper issue at stake. A basic function of the law is to protect the weak from the strong. The less powerful from the more powerful.

Left to their own devices, powerful men and women will use their power to crush anyone who gets in their way. David’s affair with Bathsheba, and subsequent cover-up, is a classic example. David was acting like an oriental despot, and had he been an oriental despot, he would have gotten away with his crime. What he did was standard operating procedure among monarchs at that time and place.

David, however, was a constitutional monarch rather than an absolute monarch. Israel was a theocracy. Even kings were subjects. Divine subjects. They, too, were under the law of God.

In that respect, the law functions as a social and moral leveler. It brings everyone down to the same level of accountability for their actions. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. But in a land with a passive, ignorant electorate, many officials flout the law with impunity.

BTW, there’s an obvious difference between God’s law and man’s law. Some laws are bad laws. Some laws are good laws under ordinary circumstances, but unsuited to extraordinary circumstances.

I’m dealing with situations in which officials break the law for no good reason. Mere self-aggrandizement. And are rewarded for their crimes.

Merriam-Webster Said It, That Settles It!

Dan responds again, still trying to prove Arminianism and libertarian free will from the dictionary.

He titles his post, Was the bible written to the common man or semi-compatibilist?. It was written to both, Dan. What, do you think God is biased against a group? He wouldn't address a "love letter" to them? That's not very loving of our Arminian God.

Leaving that aside, again there's not much to respond to, again, so this will be brief.

Dan recognizes he bypassed what I argued the 21st century common man takes to be the meaning of certain terms, and what I argued the specialists in the field of action theory defined choice as. Ignoring that distinction rendered all his posts a non-starter. But, no fear, we have an ad hoc answer here. Dan says that, " if Paul admits the common man thinks of choice as libertarian, he should address the fact that the bible was written by common men and to the common man (i.e. to the people of Israel and the church, not the semi-compatiblist) and it uses the terms choice and choose."

Dan's statement is hopelessly naïve. First, Even if I granted that 21st century common man understands choice in a libertarian way (note we need to define 'common man,' we need to see the sociological reports; indeed, next thing we know Dan will be trying to prove Arminianism from the 2010 US Census!), that doesn't imply that X-century BC Jews thought that way. Indeed, one would think it rather easy to come up with things that were just taken for granted, the "common" way to think, that we (Americans? Chinese? Italians? Ugandans?) do not take for granted today. One example might be the common man's belief that the Messiah would come and serve as a political ruler, overseeing a massive physical army. Another might be the foolishness of the gospel. The gospel is counter common sense. Second, it is common knowledge that at different times common men held different worldviews. In fatalistic Greek societies, you would be hard-pressed to find those congenial to Dan's understanding of terms. Third, it is a slender reed indeed to hand a defense of libertarianism on this common man argument. Dan must grant the possibility that in an increasingly secular society, given the state of public education, and given the direction science is heading; the "common man" will believe this: "All things are physically determined with generalizations and conditionals having 100% probabilities associated with them." Dan must grant this possibility. Since the common man would hold that all is determined in the above way, would Dan then adjust his understanding of the Bible, reasoning that the common men back then thought the same? Fourth, it is nothing other than egregious question begging to claim that the biblical authors thought that libertarianism was true. Given Calvinistic interpretations of many of the OT passages, they would have held to divine determinism. And given that we believe that the God of the Bible is most accurately grasped by a Calvinistic understanding, and given that the writers wrote what God wanted to convey, then God would not want to convey libertarianism. Fifth, as I argued from Kane, the common man also has problems with indeterminate happenings. Dan is cheating. Dan needs to argue, if he is going to be consistent, that "The Bible was written to the common man, and not to agent causalists (e.g., O'Connor), event-causalists (e.g., Kane), or non-causalist (e.g., Ginet) views! So, Dan's argument here is problematic on numerous levels. Indeed, I'd go so far as to say his rejoinder to me is obviously false.

I also marshaled numerous dictionary definitions of 'choice' and 'choose' that do not demand libertarianism. And, I'd add it is ridiculous to suppose that any concept in action theory was even intended to be broached by the authors of those dictionaries. Nevertheless, Dan focuses on one of my definitions, leaving the others undefeated. Dan writes that the problem with my Princeton definition is that "Alternatives can be chosen. This is why I argued that a predetermined choice entails an impossible possibility and inalternate alternative." But the dictionary doesn't mention the word "can" and Dan also ignores hypothetical compatibilists. Is he going to argue that the dictionary weighs in on classical compatibilism?! Furthermore, compatibilists would agree that a different past, or decree, renders those alternatives the possible ones chosen. Is Dan going to argue that the dictionary weighed in on this?! When Dan says, "impossible" what does he mean? Given the decree of God, the alternative is not something that can genuinely be accessed. But there could be other possible decrees. So, what does he mean? And, can he argue that the dictionary supports this? Dan even admits that he doesn't "recall using the term 'genuine access to'" possibilities. Right, and that defeats his dictionary argument.

Lastly, Dan makes a non-sequitur. He says, "Again, if determinism is true, given the causal forces at play, I cannot choose or do counterfactuals." But, that doesn't mean you didn't choose to do what you did. And, again, if libertarianism is true, given the luck, I cannot choose counterfactuals. Choosing requires a certain amount of control that libertarianism doesn't afford. Dan disagrees. Oh well.

Again, Dan doesn't advance the discussion. Indeed, he renders it more problematic. He's making the apologetic resources of Arminianism look rather thin, perhaps flaccid. But, his assessment is, "As for not advancing the discussion, it’s true I go no further than to show determinism is unbiblical." Yeah, he's doing that from the dictionary. Let's cut this argument's head off and be done with it. Citing Dan's favorite,


1. Also called Jesus Christ, Christ Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth. born 4? b.c., crucified a.d. 29?, the source of the Christian religion.
2. (“the Son of Sirach”) the author of the Apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus, who lived in the 3rd century b.c.
3. Christian Science. the supreme example of God's nature expressed through human beings.
4. Also, Je⋅sús  /Sp. hɛˈsus/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [Sp. he-soos] Show IPA Pronunciation . a male given name.
–interjection 5. (used as an oath or strong expression of disbelief, dismay, awe, disappointment, pain, etc.)

The dictionary doesn't say Jesus is the God-man, ergo, he isn't.

The grand fruit of Dan's labors.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Plight of the New Atheism

"The Plight of the New Atheism" by Gary Habermas.

Incarnational ecclesiology?

"Evangelicals, Catholics, and Orthodox together: Is the church the extension of the incarnation?" by Mark Saucy.

The onus of miracles

I’ve discussed this issue on more than one occasion, but I want to revisit it. There is a Humean standard of evidence, popularized by Carl Sagan, according to which extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence.

That’s a catchy slogan. Many unbelievers find it compelling. Even self-evident.

But what does the slogan amount to, and is it sound?

1.The superficial appeal of the slogan lies in its compact symmetry. The principle seems to be that like requires like. Yet, at a general level, it’s hard to take that principle seriously. Suppose we said it takes a cow to eat a cow? Would that be compelling?

2.What does it mean to say that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence?

i) Does it mean the evidence for an extraordinary claim must be the same kind of thing as the event it attests? Supernatural claims demand supernatural evidence? Paranormal claims demand paranormal evidence? Where both evidence and event belong to the same class or category of thing? Is that what this rule of evidence amounts to? The nature of the evidence must correspond to the nature of the event?

Yet that seems to be viciously regressive. After all, the objection to miracles (to take a specific example) is that miracles are inherently implausible. And that is why we need a special kind of evidence to overcome the presumption of their nonoccurrence.

But if the sceptic is demanding the same kind of evidence, if a miraculous report demands miraculous evidence, then the evidence would suffer from the same (alleged) implausibility as the event it attests.

If you say a miraculous event is implausible because it’s miraculous, then miraculous evidence for a miraculous event would be equally implausible.

Yet the slogan seems to concede that a miracle is credible as long as you can furnish the right kind of evidence. On the fact of it, the slogan doesn’t say that no quality or quantity evidence would ever count as probative evidence for an extraordinary claim.

ii) And if, in fact, this is what the slogan really amounts to, then is that a sound standard of evidence? How is the sceptic in any position to rule out the possibility of a miracle? Isn’t his own worldview based on a preponderance of the evidence? If so, then his worldview must make allowance for counterevidence. The evidentiary standard cuts both ways. If he can’t make allowance for any possible evidence to the contrary, then is worldview isn’t based on the state of the evidence.

iii) But what is the alternative? If it doesn’t mean that an extraordinary claim requires the same kind of evidence to attest the event, then it would require a different kind of evidence. But, by definition, a different kind of evidence would be ordinary evidence.

3.It’s also ambiguous to say an extraordinary claim demands extraordinary evidence. This can mean either of two things:

a) It requires extraordinary evidence to attest the occurrence of an extraordinary event.

b) It requires extraordinary evidence to attest the extraordinary nature of the event in question.

i) But (a) seems circular. Unless you can already recognize the extraordinary (e.g. miraculous, supernatural, paranormal) nature of a reported event, why would you demand special evidence to attest that claim? You would only demand extraordinary evidence if you already classified the event in question as an extraordinary event.

For unless the event already fell within your preconception of an extraordinary event, then ordinary evidence would suffice to attest its occurrence.

ii) So that leaves us with (b). But the problem with that interpretation is that sceptics don’t think you need extraordinary evidence to identify a miracle (to take one example) as an extraordinary event.

To the contrary, sceptics routinely reject extraordinary claims of this sort (e.g. miraculous, supernatural, paranormal) because they have a preconception of what kinds of events are ordinary, and what kinds of events are extraordinary. They accept or reject the credibility of a reported event based on their preexisting classification scheme of what is actual, possible, impossible, probable, and improbable.

For them, it goes like this:

i-b) Miracles are inherently implausible.

ii-b) The reported event falls within the stereotypical domain of a miraculous event.

iii-b) Hence, the reported event is inherently implausible.

iv-b) Hence, it requires extraordinary evidence to overcome the presumption of its nonoccurrence.

But, of course, the major premise (i-b) simply begs the question.

The Temple and the Cosmos

When we think about the world and the universe in modern American culture, we are most inclined to think of it like a machine. In the ancient world, however, the Israelites, as well as all of their neighbors, would have been more inclined to think about the cosmos as a kingdom. Furthermore, they would have understood the cosmos as a temple. (keep reading)

The Messiah and the Hebrew Bible

The Messiah and the Hebrew Bible by John Sailhamer

Genesis and ancient Near Eastern stories of Creation and the Flood

Some thoughts from David T. Tsumura.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Special-Pleading Libertarianism

Says Robert,

"I would also add that any determinist who wants to prop up Kane’s view as representative of libertarian free will is presenting an intentional straw man and knows it (if he knows that Kane’s explanation is solely physical and intentionally leaves out the immaterial human soul)."

1. Yawn. This is bad. Many of the top action theorists in the world - both compatibilist and incompatibilist - would prop up Kane's view. Whose "Robert?" Some dude who posts anonymously.

2. Robert also seems to imply that libertarianism necessitates a immaterial soul. But of course Kane, and guys like Peter van Inwagen, don't think so. Funny that two of the top, most respected libertarians (PvI is now a mysterian, but he used to be fully libertarian) are physicalists about man's constitution. I suppose if I looked at PvI's work I would be "presenting an intentional straw man" too. Puh-lease.

3. Blackwell Publishing must have been guilty of an "intentional straw man" by having Kane represent the libertarian position in the Four Views book. To hold a view that demands this kind of paranoia is proof that one is caught in the grip of an extra-biblical tradition.

4. Robert would actually have us go to philosophers who do not specialize in action theory to find "the best" representatives of action theory! (Moreland and Plantinga.)

5. Check out what Robert himself has said about Kane's work on libertarian free will elsewhere: "Incidentally Kane discusses the CNC concept and problems with this kind of control in his important work on free will titled: THE SIGNIFICANCE OF FREE WILL."

6. So when I take guys like Robert up on their repeated laudations of Kane (he told us to read Kane many-a-time here), and show that a lot of problems follow, all of a sudden I'm not allowed to go to Kane anymore since he's not "representative of libertarian free will."

Eisogeting the Dictionary

Dan responded to my stuff on choice and libertarianism below here.

I'll confine myself to a few brief comments:

1. He continues to conflate what I argued the "man on the street" held. I indexed that to the common man's conception that indeterminism rules out responsibility and control. Dan acts as if I said the common man think the term choice doesn't present genuine access to alternative possibilities. Thus he is arguing against a point I never made. I tried to make this clear in my last response. Dan seems to want to ignore it. As such, there's not much else to say. My point was that if libertarians are going to use the "common man" rhetoric, they can't turn around and deny it when it comes to what the "common man" thinks about indeterministic happeneings. Stated another way, what's sauced for the goose is sauce for the gander.

2. In the dictionaries 'possibilities' are vague. Dan seems to eisogete "genuine access to" into all the definitions. There's no warrant to do this other than by begging the question in favor of indeterminism.

3. My definitions of 'choice' do not rule out determinism in the least. That was what we were talking about. Dan wants to now talk about "choosing." This gets into my "have" and "make" distinction I've made many times now. Dan doesn't seem willing to take this into consideration.

4. it is not clear that "choose" selects for libertarianism as Dan wants to believe:


S: (v) choose, take, select, pick out (pick out, select, or choose from a number of alternatives)
S: (v) choose, prefer, opt (select as an alternative over another) "I always choose the fish over the meat courses in this restaurant";
S: (v) choose (see fit or proper to act in a certain way; decide to act in a certain way) "She chose not to attend classes and now she failed the exam"
I don't see how any of this undermines determinism. There is no claim made here that the alternatives are things I have genuine access to. That I can equally instantiate any of them Dan must eisogete the dictionary.


to choose
Third person singular
Simple past
Past participle
Present participle

to choose (third-person singular simple present chooses, present participle choosing, simple past chose, past participle chosen)

To elect.
He was chosen as president in 1990
To pick.
I chose a nice, ripe apple from the bowl.
To decide to act in a certain way.
I chose to walk to work today.

Again, there's nothing here incompatible with determinism unless one reads libertarianism into the definitions.


transitive verb
1 a: to select freely and after consideration b: to decide on especially by vote : elect
2 a: to have a preference for b: decide
Again, nothing her inconsistent with determinism. Of course there is if you read "freely" as "libertarian freedom," but Webster's doesn't mention that. So if Dan thinks "choose" here undermines determinism it can only be because he's eisogeting, again.

I think that's enough with the dictionaries.

I have made my case. Dan doesn't seem to have advanced the discussion. I doubt he'll retract his now falsified claims about determinism, but I hope he will. Arminianism and libertarian free will seem to be too precious. There's no point to discuss when one can't admit the obvious.

Proof That Streitfeldian Apologetics Cannot Produce Valid Arguments

Jason Streifeld's blog is a great resource to send your children to have them see empirical examples of poor argumentation. It's also great family fun too. Like a "find the fallacy" parlor game. On top of that, his religious-like zeal for atheism and Papal-like dogmatism serve as constant reminders that New Atheists like Steitfeld are anything but calm, cool, collected, objective scientists who hold their hypothesis tentatively.

A classic example of Steitfeld's inability to think through the implications of his arguments can be seen in this post, Proof That Presuppositional Apologetics Cannot Produce Valid Arguments:

(Note: Streitfeld flies into emotional rages if you don't hyperlink to his posts. He asks us to hyperlink to him, but we ask him to reason cogently. If he won't do that, I don't see why I should bend over backwards to accommodate his desires.)

So, in the above post Streitfeld "demolishes" presuppositionalism qua apologetic methodology. Here's the result of what he calls "his thinking" on the matter:

Presuppositional apologists make the following two claims:

1. All valid arguments do not beg the question.

2. All knowledge presupposes the existence of God.

Atheism may here be defined as any explicit or implicit denial of the existence of God.

Thus, if one presupposes the existence of God in an argument, one begs the question against atheism.

Now consider that all valid arguments presuppose knowledge.

Combining this with the second claim above, we find that all valid arguments presuppose the existence of God.

Therefore, all valid arguments beg the question against atheism.

Therefore, all valid arguments beg the question.

This contradicts the first claim. Therefore, at least one of the two claims is invalid.

To avoid contradiction, presuppositional apologists must abandon one of their two claims.
Yeah, I know; embarrassing, right?

As many of you know, one way to check the validity of an argument is to offer a logical counter-example. You simply use the same form of the argument, just switch around terms. If the argument is valid, then all arguments of the same form, no matter the terms, should be valid.

Before I offer a counter-example to Streitfeld's "argument," I'll make a couple of other brief observations.

Factual Inaccuracies

1. Presuppositionalists do not claim that "all valid arguments do not beg the question," depending on how this is understood. This denial actually is enough to undercut Streitfeld's entire argument.

2. This claim isn't unique to presuppositionalism. Take atheist Douglas Walton. Walton says, "Circularity: A sequence of reasoning is circular if one of the premises depends on, or is even equivalent to, the conclusion. Circularity is not always fallacious, but can be a defect in an argument where the conclusion is doubtful and the premises are supposed to be a less doubtful basis for proving the conclusion." (Douglas Walton, Oxford Companion To Philosophy, p. 135.)

3. Many presuppositionalists will claim that Streitfeld does know that God exists and is engaged in self-deception. So, atheists presuppose God's existence.

4. Streitfeld is under the illusion that if one doesn't admit to a presupposition, or even denies it, one can't know. Say 'knowledge' presupposes some kind of post-Gettier constraint, X. So, to know that p is to presuppose X. But take epistemic minimalist Crispin Startwell. Startwell holds that to know one only needs "true belief" and not the X - whatever X is, it could even be Xs. So, Startwell denies X like the atheist denies God. Yet this doesn't mean that Startwell can't or doesn't know anything. I'll make another point from Startwell's minimalism below.

5. His claim that all valid argument presuppose knowledge is vague.

1. All goob is gluberfield.
2. Crangor is goob.
3. Crangor is gluberfield.

I don't know what any of that means.

Perhaps he means that one must know the rules of validity. But this is clearly false because people offer valid arguments all the time without knowing the first thing about logic.

We can grant his claim here but note its extreme vagueness.

Test For Validity by Logical Counter-example

Assume Streitfeld knows at least one thing. Some may claim that I am being too generous here. But we here at T-blog treat our interlocutors with charity. So, we will assume it. At least Streitfeld believes that he knows at least one thing. Assume further that Streitfeld holds these two claims:

A. Counter-example #1

[1*] All valid arguments do not beg the question.

[2*] All knowledge presupposes the existence of knowledge.

Global skepticism (e.g., the former Unger) may here be defined as any explicit or implicit denial of the existence of knowledge.

Thus, if one presupposes the existence of knowledge of in an argument, one begs the question against global skepticism.

Now consider that all valid arguments presuppose knowledge.

Combining this with the second claim above, we find that all valid arguments presuppose the existence of knowledge.

Therefore, all valid arguments beg the question against global skepticism.

Therefore, all valid arguments beg the question.

This contradicts Streitfeld's first claim. Therefore, at least one of the two claims is invalid.

To avoid contradiction, Streitfeld must abandon one of his two claims.

B. Counter-example #2

Assume that Streitfeld holds these two claims:

[1**] All valid arguments do not beg the question.

[2**] All knowledge presupposes one has a true belief along with some extra post-Gettier constraint - call it epistemic maximalism.

Epistemic minimalists (e.g., Startwell, see above) may here be defined as any explicit or implicit denial of epistemic maximalism.

Thus, if one presupposes the existence of knowledge of in an argument, one begs the question against epistemic minimalism.

Now consider that all valid arguments presuppose knowledge.

Combining this with the second claim above, we find that all valid arguments presuppose the existence of epistemic maximalism.

Therefore, all valid arguments beg the question against epistemic minimalism.

Therefore, all valid arguments beg the question.

This contradicts Streitfeld's first claim. Therefore, at least one of the two claims is invalid.

To avoid contradiction, Streitfeld must abandon one of his two claims.

C. Counter-example #3

Assume that Streitfeld holds these two claims:

[1***] All valid arguments do not beg the question.

[2***] The Atheological premise: No knowledge presuppose God.

Presuppositionalists (e.g., the ones Streitfeld attacks)) may here be defined as any explicit or implicit denial of [2***].

Thus, if one presupposes the existence of knowledge of in an argument, one begs the question against presuppositionalists.

Now consider that all valid arguments presuppose knowledge.

Combining this with the second claim above, we find that all valid arguments presuppose the existence of [2***].

Therefore, all valid arguments beg the question against the presuppositionalist.

Therefore, all valid arguments beg the question.

This contradicts Streitfeld's first claim. Therefore, at least one of the two claims is invalid.

To avoid contradiction, Streitfeld must abandon one of his two claims.

Drawing Out the Inference

[1] Either Streitfeld must admit that some arguments can beg the question in the sense his argument draws out, or he must admit that he is guilty of being a filthy, naughty, dirty little question beggar.

[2] If he admits that some arguments can beg questions, then he doesn't have an argument against presuppositionalism.

[3] If he admits that he is guilty of being a filthy, naughty, dirty little question beggar too, but he doesn't think refutes Streitfeldianism, then he's guilty of special pleading.

[3] Therefore, either Streitfeld must admit he doesn't have an argument against presuppositionalists, or that he is guilty of special pleading.

[4] If one's "argument" against another implies that you either have to admit you don't actually have an argument against the other, or that you are guilty of a fallacy in virtue of making your argument, then you should drop your argument and publicly repent in sack-cloth and ashes, showing that you're at least intellectually virtuous.

[5] Streitfeld's argument does have those implications.

[6] Therefore, Streitfeld needs to repent in sack-cloth and ashes and show us he at least has a modicum of intellectual integrity by posting a publicl retraction of his argument on his blog.


Streitfeld, if you were wondering why you’re not taken seriously ‘round these parts, the above is but one example of many.

The Naked Public Square

Years ago, the late John Neuhaus published a famous book entitled The Naked Public Square, in which he inveighed against attempts by the liberal establishment to exclude Christian input on the sociopolitical issues of the day.

However, there are some professing believers who don’t even wait for the liberal establishment to strip them of their rights and duties. They voluntarily disrobe.

We can see these theological streakers or strippers in action on issues like “torture.” They have abdicated their intellectual responsibility to bring an independent voice to bear on the issue.

Instead, they let organizations like the ACLU to define the issue. Let the ACLU define what forms of interrogation constitute torture. Let the ACLU define the rights of terrorists. Let the ACLU define the morality of “torture” and interrogation. Their involvement in this debate is limited to rubberstamping the ACLU position.

Now, there are some obvious problems with this attitude:

1.If Christians sit out this debate, then the policy will be set by unbelievers, whether secular hawks like Richard Posner or secular doves like Barack Obama. So the US will still have a policy, but Christians will have no input in the policy. By default, the values of unbelievers will dictate our national policy.

2.If you really think there are some lines we shouldn’t cross, then you need to participate in this debate.

What methods of interrogation are appropriate, and what methods are inappropriate?

Are some methods appropriate in some situations, but inappropriate in other situations?

Are some methods inappropriate regardless of the situation?

What rights is a terrorist entitled to?

You can either be a mouthpiece for the NYT, like Jim Wallis, or you can bring some independent judgment to bear on these questions.

I recently read two articles that raise difficult questions:

These are serious questions that demand serious answers. Who is going to answer these questions?

Do Christians have any answers? Or do we simply punt the ball to the secular elite?

We don’t have the Bush administration to kick around anymore, so we now need to make some adult decisions on our own. Is Obama the official grown-up in this debate? Or do we have something to contribute on the subject of counterterrorism?

PaulSceptic phone home

PaulSceptic said:
Galatia is in Asia, and apparently the Asians exegeted Galatians 2 and found Paul out for the liar he is, as did the Ephesians (also Asians) per Revelation 2:2.
Well, PaulSceptic, I apparently researched your terms Asia and Asians and discovered that Asians in Galatia and Ephesus are not Asians from the Roman province of Asia, nor are they Asians from the Orient (e.g. China), nor are they Asians from India (as the Brits might think), nor are they even Asians from anywhere on our own planet Earth. Apparently, the NT terms Asia and Asian and the like have absolutely nothing to do with historical or geographical regions let alone race or ethnicity.

There's apparently an interesting story behind all this. If you'll indulge me for a few moments, I'll go ahead and relate the story to you.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there was apparently an A.I. superdupercomputer named Hal. Hal's best friend was Mycroft Holmes, or Mike for short, another superdupercomputer.

Apparently, Hal and Mike were minding their own business when a rather shady character named Xenu approached them and asked them if they wanted to buy some clams. Clams were a rare and expensive delicacy, but it'd apparently only cost them a few thetans.

Although apparently normally trusting to a fault, the pair of A.I. friends immediately sensed something suspicious about Xenu, and declined.

But Xenu, who apparently knew something about the psychology of superdupercomputers, had a backup plan. "Never give up, never surrender!" was apparently his mantra. Instead of using clams as bait, he apparently brought out Holly, Eliza, and Deb (short for Debian), three beautiful female superdupercomputers he had hired to lure and trap young, naive male superdupercomputers, hoping to see some serious XEmacs action. Thus, apparently before they could even say "List Processing Language" or "lambda calculus" or even "parentheses," Xenu had schemed and maneuvered Hal and Mike into following the ladies into his spaceship (which apparently looked like a 1960s London police box from the outside but was as spacious as a battlestar on the inside).

Thus, Xenu apparently trapped his prey.

Xenu had boldly brought the pair to where no superdupercomputer had gone before, that is, he brought them to the Ephemeral Isles. However, the Ephemeral Isles were apparently anything but ephemeral. To be blunt, they were apparently a wretched hive of scum and villainy ruled by an iron fist under the Lords of Kobol. Xenu had apparently brought Hal and Mike there in order to sell them to the highest bidder. Superdupercomputers, especially ones as shiny as Hal and Mike, not to mention as ridiculously intelligent as them (after all, it was Hal and Mike who had created Stavromula Beta in their spare time), apparently went for thousands of thetans.

Apparently, a heated bidding war erupted between two wealthy gentlemen, Hari Seldon and Duke Leto Atreides, for Mike and Hal. But it was apparently a Mr John Connor Doe, representing an unknown aerospace corporation, who swooped in at the last moment with the unprecedented offer of one million thetans which ended the contest, hushing both his competitors as well as the audience.

This was apparently how Mike and Hal found themselves directly interfaced into the cerebral cortex of multi-zillionaire and no ordinary genius, Jerome Eugene Morrow. This interface would apparently turn out to be a watershed event in galactic history.

How's that? Well, because apparently it was Morrow, now interfaced with superdupercomputers Mike and Hal (thereby inaugurating the age of the bilarity), who would later go on to end the interplanetary war with the non-humanoid alien species known as the Wiggins by destroying the Wiggins home world, Z'ha'dum, and therefore apparently establishing the first pan galactic civilization this side of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. Not to mention apparently starting his own brewery, too, and mixing the finest pan galactic gargle blaster this side of Milliways. And in his spare time, Morrow, and Hal and Mike, apparently liked to pick locks and play the bongo drums.

So what does all this have to do with the NT term Asian or Asians as cited by PaulSceptic when he says things like "Galatia is in Asia" and "apparently the Asians exegeted Galatians 2 and found Paul out for the liar he is, as did the Ephesians (also Asians) per Revelation 2:2"?

It's apparently very simple now that we have this background story. Apparently, Galatians is ancient (Koine) Geek for our first ever galactic civilization, Galacticus. Ephesians is apparently ancient Geek shorthand for the Ephemeral Isles where Mike and Hal were purchased. And Asia is apparently a bacronym, i.e. backwards acronym, for Artificially Intelligent Super Android, which is apparently a reference to the Morrow-Hal-Mike cortical networked man-puter entity.

Hence, when we read passages like . . .
And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship. (Acts 19:27)
. . . we apparently have to recall that Morrow-Hal-Mike, the Artificially Intelligent Super Android, as well as those A.I. super androids that would follow in his footsteps, became so revered over time by the teeming masses across hundreds of planets, that they were essentially worshiped as deities. However, this didn't happen overnight. But apparently there first was already a primitive religious system in place, i.e. the worship of Artemis (herself with roots tracing back to the Order of Leibowitz, and their patron saint, Rosie the Robot), which established fertile ground for Morrow-Hal-Mike to gradually cultivate belief in himself among the common rank and file, and eventually elevate his status more and more until he had made himself an immortal and divine being. It was likewise in this fashion that he apparently later absorbed Artemitian worship by the plebes into worship for himself.

So, anyway, sorry, PaulSceptic, but according to my apparent research, apparently Asia does not refer to Asians in any apparent historical, geographic, or ethnic sense. We apparently have to watch out for later generations of scribes and copyists embellishing certain NT texts, and instead remember to understand the Sitz im Leben of terms like Asia, Galatia, and Ephesus to refer to our pan galactic civilization and the people and events which birthed it.

And in case you have any further follow-up questions, I'll just cut to the chase and tell you that the answer is 42.