Saturday, September 12, 2009

Polly Arminius

Debates with Arminians typically make no headway. Arminians raise objections. You respond to their objections. They repeat the same objections, as if you said nothing by way of response.

There’s a reason for this lack of progress. Many Arminians aren’t even human.

What are they, you ask?


And being parakeets, the prospects for rational dialogue are decidedly limited.

Once of the limitations of the Internet is that you can’t see your opponent. So you don’t know, at first, that you’ve gotten into a debate with Polly Arminius.

There are, however, certain telltale signs that you’re talking to an Arminian parakeet. One sure sign is the repetitious and uncomprehending use of the phrase “author of sin.”

As a birdbrain, Polly Arminius has a very limited repertoire. That’s why it can never advance the argument beyond the rote intonation of the vocable.

Since “author of sin” is a metaphor, it needs to be defined. But, of course, a parakeet doesn’t know the difference between a metaphor and Fermat’s Last Theorem. So the poor thing can never define its terms. All it can to is to parrot the vocable which the bird-trainer taught it to intone.

It takes a lot of patience, and a lot of crackers, to teach a parakeet to memorize “author of sin.” But once you drill that phrase into its little birdbrain, it never forgets.

It utters that phrase at all times of the day or night. The only way to make Polly shut up is to drape its cage with a play-top or dome-top cover. But, unfortunately, that’s’ not something you can do from the other side of your computer screen.

However, we mustn’t blame the parakeet. It’s doing the best it can with what it’s got–which isn’t much.



“The calvinist doctrine of reprobation is unsustainable. The sole attempt to buttress this doctrine is based on Romans 9,22-23. But despite the fact that this alone would be a thin foundation anyway, not even this prooftext actually works.”

1.As far as “thin foundations” go, the virgin birth of Christ has a far thinner foundation. There are only two direct prooftexts for the virgin birth. Yet Christians are quite zealous in their defense of this Biblical teaching.

2.Let’s also keep in mind that the implicit teaching of Scripture is just as authoritative as the explicit teaching of Scripture. Bible writers like Paul and the author of Hebrews frequently reason from the implicit teaching of Scripture. So does Jesus. Indeed, Jesus chides his opponents for their failure to heed the implicit teaching of Scripture.

3.More explicit prooftexts for reprobation or double predestination include: Mt 11:25-26; Rom 9:13,17-18,21-22; 11:7; 1 Pet 2:6-8.

4.Then there’s the implicit teaching of Scripture regarding reprobation or double predestination: “No more is necessary than to combine the two single truths, that all saving grace, inclusive of faith, is the supernatural gift of God, and that not all men are made recipients of this gift, to perceive immediately that the ultimate reason why some are saved and others passed by can lie in God alone,” G. Vos, “The Biblical Importance of the Doctrine of Preterition,” Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, 412.

What does it mean to sit on Moses' seat?

“[Mt 23:2] is normally taken to mean to have authority to interpret for people the demands of the Mosaic Law. But this is difficult, given the fact that the same people to whom the sitting is applied are identified soon after in v16 (cf. 15:14) as ‘blind guides.’ Powell identifies ten different approaches to dealing with this tension, but as he clearly shows, none is satisfactory…So, what is the force intended by ‘sit/sat in the seat of Moses’? According to Powell,

Jesus may be simply acknowledging the powerful social and religious position that [the scribes and Pharisees] occupy in a world where most people are illiterate and copies of the Torah are not plentiful. Since Jesus’ disciples do not themselves have copies of the Torah, they will be dependent on the scribes and the Pharisees to know what Moses said…In light of such dependence, Jesus advises his disciples to heed the words that the scribes and Pharisees speak when they sit in the seat of Moses, that is, when they pass on the words of the Torah itself.

We might say that the scribes and Pharisees were walking copies of the Law. What they did with it might be suspect, but not their knowledge of it. They could be relied on to report the Law of Moses with care and accuracy,” J. Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew (Eerdmans 2005), 922-23.

The Good Samaritan

“I would add that Scripture offers a very powerful object lesson from the point of view of ‘equal respect’ in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The essence of Christian ethics is to love your neighbor as yourself, and that our attempt to distinguish between neighbor and non-neighbor is bound to fail. Yet God chooses some to be treated one way, and others to be treated in the opposite way? Isn't Scripture responsible for creating some cognitive dissonance here if Scripture if it at the same time teaches Calvinism?”

Well, the supposed cognitive dissonance is hardly confined to Calvinism. If Reppert is going to apply the parable of the Good Samaritan to God himself, then why doesn’t God act more like the Good Samaritan?

On that view, how does Reppert account for vast disparities in the earthly distribution of blessing and bane? Why does God cause some men and women to be born into privileged families where they have every conceivable advantage while he causes other men and woman to be born into underprivileged families where they have every conceivable disadvantage?

Couldn’t God snap his fingers and make everyone filthy rich?

Isn’t Reppert a philosophy prof.? Why does he habitually disregard so many screaming counterexamples to his facile, repetitious objections?

The greater good defense


“Steve, if you want to be taken seriously then you still owe the world an answer what the ultimate greater good is, which you say demands the means of evil. Additionally, you owe the world an answer why this greater good cannot be achieved without evil and a flawed mankind.”

Since I’ve already answered these questions on multiple occasions, I don’t have to repeat myself here. But let’s state the alternatives:

1.Evil exists.

(Unless you take the position of Mary Baker Eddy. In that case, the illusion of evil exists. But the illusion of evil is indistinguishable from the reality of evil.)

2.Either evil was preventable or unpreventable.

Was God impotent to prevent evil?

Even if, for the sake of argument, we say that some evils were unpreventable, other evils were clearly preventable. For example, many evils are humanly preventable. And, presumably, if a human being can prevent it, then God can prevent it. Surely God, even a finite God, can do at least as much as we can.

3.So why did God allow preventable evils?

Do preventable evils serve a purpose, or no purpose?

If preventable evils serve no good purpose, then why did God allow them in the first place?

How does it exonerate God to say that God allowed preventable evils which serve no purpose?

Put another way, did God have a good reason to permit preventable evils? If not, then how does the absence of a good reason to permit them exonerate God?

4.Appropos (3), were these evils gratuitous or necessary (as a means to an otherwise unobtainable end)?

If they were unnecessary, then why did God fail to prevent them?

Stage props

“They are props in a cosmic drama, destined by the director for a totally failed existence, so that others might get some benefit (and I find the benefit, either for humans or for God, to be highly dubious at best)…It is for that reason that I see reprobates as a mere means in the Calvinistic scheme.”

Sounds like a good description of Pharaoh. But as stage props go, Pharaoh had a far more enjoyable life than most folks back then. He was pampered from birth. Had the best of everything. Had hundreds of servants to satisfy his every whim.

I doubt that he resented his existence as a stage prop. Reppert may complain on his behalf, but I don’t see the stage prop complaining about life in the royal palace, with the royal harem, the royal cuisine, and other pleasantries.

Many people thoroughly enjoy being just a means to an end. They live for the means. Revel in the means. “Merely” is what makes their life worthwhile.

They take no interest in the dutiful notion of living for a noble end. Indeed, they avoid noble ends at every turn. They never met a noble end they didn’t avoid. Whenever they see a noble end ahead, they turn around.

Look at all the TV shows in which vacuous reporters stalk vacuous celebrities. These are people who take satisfaction is the vicarious vacuity of their lives.

While I find that appalling, they don’t share my gloomy assessment.

Universalism, libertarianism, and the love of God

“It doesn't seem to me as if you have to be a full-blown Kantian in ethics to get the point of what Kant is driving at with his Second Formulation of the Categorical Imperative. Choosing to instantiate a world in which there are reprobates when a universalist world was equally possible and rational treats those sinners as mere means to an end.”

As I’ve pointed out on several occasions now, if this is a problem for Calvinism, then it’s also a problem for Reppert’s alternative. As usual, though, Reppert ducks whatever he can’t deal with. So let’s spell this out in more detail.

1.Reppert is a libertarian. Yet Reppert also treats universalism as a live possibility. That’s one of his fallback options in dealing with hell.

But in that event, Reppert thinks that libertarian freewill is consistent with a universalist world.

All you have to do to reach that conclusion is to combine two of Reppert’s oft-stated positions.

So why does Reppert persistently refuse to apply to his own position the objection he levels against Calvinism?

2.Having said that, we don’t need to go all the way with universalism to undercut Reppert’s position. It’s sufficient to point that that even under Reppert’s assumptions (e.g. libertarianism, Kantian ethics), God could have saved more people than he chose to.

God doesn’t have to save everyone to save more people than he could have. And if that’s the case, then there are various instances in which God didn’t act in the best interests of the individual.

3.Apropos (2), it isn’t hard to think of examples:

i) God causes a boy to be born into a provincial home where the parents are overly strict and legalistic. What passes for Christian piety consists of endless prohibitions. They frown on many natural goods and innocent pleasures. They make him feel guilty all the time for no good reason.

That kind of upbringing is a recipe to drive their child away from the faith as soon as he’s old enough to leave home and live on his own. As a result, he reads Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and becomes a confirmed atheist.

Had God wanted to save that individual, he could have made the parents more reasonable. But the boy’s formative years are irrevocable.

ii) A man used to be a devout believer who read his Bible every day, prayed fervently, and attended church twice a week.

But then he watches his younger brother die a slow, painful death from cancer. He watches his once upbeat, energetic brother become a mere shell of his former self. Bedridden and bitter. Cut down before he had a chance to discover all that life has to offer.

He resents the deprivation, not only for his brother, but for himself. He was hoping to have his brother around for the rest of his life.

As a result, he blames God and becomes a hardened apostate.

Had God spared his younger brother from terminal cancer, he would still be a devout believer.

iii) A man is the son of an imam. He stumbles across a Bible. But he has no incentive to become a Christian, even if he believed the Bible. He would be shunned by all his friends and family. Indeed, he would be a marked man. The target of an honor killing. Instead of reading the Bible, he becomes a suicide-bomber.

Had he grown up in a less coercive environment, he would have turned out better.

Peter's throne and Moses' seat

“Furthermore, the power to bind and loose refers to a power of jurisdiction in ancient Israel which only the King can override. These are also rabbinic terms which describe the legislative and judicial authority of the office of rabbi. They could literally bind men to their teaching with authority from God. Christ Himself said, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice’ (Mt 23:2-3). Thus, just as Moses had an authoritative office, so Christ assigned a similar office to Peter.”

There are several problems with this appeal to Mt 23:2-3, but for now I’ll focus on just one of them.

Unlike the Levitical priesthood, the Pharisees were not lineal successors to Moses (or Aaron). You didn’t need to be a priest to be a Pharisee. Indeed, many or most of the Pharisees were layman.

Same thing with the scribes. You didn’t need to be a priest to be a scribe. A layman could be a scribe.

Ironically, then, our Catholic epologist is unwittingly ascribing an authoritative teaching office to mere laymen.

If anything, this passage is a prooftext for the right of private judgment. Not in the sense that every individual is equally competent to expound the Scriptures. But some men are competent to expound the Scriptures. And when it singles out two group of able teachers, it doesn’t draw the line between the laity and the clergy. That’s not what distinguishes a fit teacher from an unfit teacher. Indeed, the text implicitly attributes teaching ability to a class of men, many or most of whom were laymen.

This text is a prooftext for a low-church ecclesiology, not a high-church ecclesiology.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Using people

“Does it bother Calvinists at all that reprobates are, according to their theology, a mere means and not an end in themselves?”

Isn’t that exactly how God used Pharaoh? And Judas? And Herod? And Caiaphas?

If it doesn’t bother God, why should I be bothered?

God's universal love

"For God so loved the devil, that he gave his only Son, that Lucever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Steve's categorical imperative

Since Reppert wants us to comment on Kant’s categorical imperative, I’ll present my Reformed categorical imperative:

First Maxim

Kant: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."

Hays: “Equal treatment if and only if all other things are equal.”

Second Maxim

Kant: "Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means to an end."

Hays: “If a man does something sufficiently evil, then he forfeits the right to be treated as an end rather than a means to an end.”

Third Maxim

Kant: “Therefore, every rational being must so act as if he were through his maxim always a legislating member in the universal kingdom of ends.”

Hays: “Therefore, every rational being must so act as if he were through his maxim always a just judge in the universal courtroom of just deserts.”

The best of all Kantian worlds

“The question here, though, is why such a sinner exists, and it is the second formulation of the Imperative, not the first, that we are concerned with.”

But according to Kant, all three formulations are equivalent: “What he says is that these ‘are basically only so many formulations of precisely the same law, each one of them by itself uniting the other two within it,’ and that the differences between them are ‘more subjectively than objectively practical’ in the sense that each aims ‘to bring an Idea of reason closer to intuition (by means of a certain analogy) and thus nearer to feeling’. (4:435). He also says that one formula ‘follows from’ another (4:431), and that the concept foundational to one formula ‘leads to a closely connected’ concept at the basis of another formula (4:433).”

Continuing with Reppert:

“However, I am attempting to cash out the intuitions that underlie the negative reaction that many of us have with respect to Calvinism. Is it mere emotion or sentimentality? Or is it something else? If the Second Formulation of the Categorical Imperative is a rational moral principle, then isn't there a rational difficulty with Calvinism?”

i) But according to Kant, the second formulation is equivalent to the first formulation. In that event, one way to test the plausibility of the second formulation is to test the plausibility of the first formulation (i.e. “Act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law.”).

So, taking the first formulation as a point of reference, the best possible worlds is a world in which a sadist and a masochist are stranded together on a desert island. Each party satisfies the needs of the other. The pain-freak achieves gratification through the torments of the sadist while the sadist achieves gratification by tormenting the masochist.

If Reppert disagrees with that approach, then he needs to explain why we ought to reject Kant’sown interpretation of his own categorical imperative (i.e. the unity for the various formulations).

ii) But what about the second formulation in its own right?

Suppose a mad scientist is developing a bioweapon. The bioweapon will kill every human being. The mad scientist has an antidote which he will administer to an inner circle of family and friends.

Suppose we have a way of secretly infecting his younger brother with a contagious, incurable, fatal illness. When his younger brother goes to see his older brother, his older brother will contract the fatal illness and die before he has time to deploy his bioweapon.

Let’s say the younger brother is just as evil as the older brother, but not as dangerous.

Let’s also say that this is the only way to reach the mad scientist. Due to elaborate security, the only way to take out the mad scientist is through his trusted and unsuspecting brother.

If we infect the younger brother, then we’re using him merely as a means to an end. And we’re using him in a way that’s detrimental to his own wellbeing.

According to Kant, it’s better to let the man scientist exterminate the entire human race (except for a few of his loved ones) than to stop him by using his younger brother as an unwitting carrier.

Sorry, but that conflicts with my moral intuitions.

“Kant's second formulation of the Categorical Imperative says ‘Treat humanity in yourself and in others as an end, but never as a means.’ Does it bother Calvinists at all that reprobates are, according to their theology, a mere means and not an end in themselves?”

What if it did bother me? So what? Suppose I’m Ted Bundy’s dad. It might bother me that my son is going to be executed tomorrow. Does that mean my son should not be executed? No. My personal feelings are irrelevant to the just punishment of my son. Indeed, my personal feelings might well cloud my judgment. If it were up to me, I might prefer a miscarriage of justice to just punishment.

“Thus, heaven is not a kingdom of ends, there are people who interests are completely sacrificed to the interests of others?”

What makes Reppert think that heaven requires altruism to the exclusion of self-interest? That’s quite unscriptural. Scripture often appeals to self-interest when it cites heavenly rewards as an incentive and infernal punishments as a disincentive.

John the Baptist and other schismatics

Catholicism takes the position that Protestants are schismatics because they rebel against the divinely constituted hierarchy of the one true church. No matter how corrupt the institutional church may become, it’s a sin to break with the church (so defined).

Of course, Protestants don’t regard the Roman priesthood and magisterium as a divine institution. But suppose, for the sake of argument, that we grant the Catholic premise. Is it ever permissible to sever your ties with a divine institution?

Once again, I’m not conceding the Catholic claim. Rather, I’m arguing from the greater to the lesser. If there are situations in which it’s even permissible to cut ties with what is admittedly a divine institution, then it’s certainly permissible to cut ties with a merely human institution–its divine pretensions notwithstanding.

Consider the case of John the Baptist. As a prophet of God, his ministry was sanctioned by God. Yet John apparently burnt his bridges with the religious establishment in Jerusalem.

This, in spite of the fact that the Levitical priesthood was undoubtedly a divine institution. This, despite the further fact that John was, himself, a member of the priestly caste. As such, John would ordinarily be bound to follow in his father’s footsteps and discharge his priestly duties in the temple. Yet John, by his mission and message, turned his back on that.

1. He’s living in a state of self-imposed exile. He situated his ministry in the wilderness. That, of itself, is a repudiation of the corrupt religious establishment. A deliberate snub. In the same vein as the Essenes and the Qumran sectaries.

Indeed, it’s quite possible that John was raised by the Essenes in Qumran–although, by the time he embarked on his public ministry, he had his own distinct mission. Cf. Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (Eerdmans, 3rd ed., 2003), 526f.

2.This is underscored by the fact that the Gospel accounts specific set his wilderness ministry in explicit contrast to the religious authorities who come from Jerusalem to observe him. They clearly view him as erecting a rival power center. He poses a threat to the religious status quo.

3.This is also underscored by his “baptism of repentance.” That offers divine forgiveness apart from the temple rituals. The remission of sins was available by an alternate route.

4.Then, of course, there’s his very public denunciation of the religious establishment. And this is in the context of someone who has disassociated himself from the religious establishment through a conspicuous and symbolic act of geographical separation.

5.By the same token, it’s hard to imagine that the temple authorities would even allow him to function as a priest after his very public, slash-and-burn rhetoric about them. And John must have known how they’d react. He can’t have been naïve. He disowned them, and they returned the favor.

6.His mission and message also taps into the OT motif of the righteous remnant, set apart from the apostate mass.

7.This doesn’t mean it was impermissible to continue attending the temple. What it does mean, rather, is that it was permissible to stop attending the temple and undergo John’s baptism instead, living by all that represents.

8.This taps into an ancient prophetic motif which Jesus himself will endorse (Mt 9:13).

By Catholic standards, John was a schismatic. Yet he was also a prophet of God. His words and actions enjoy tacit divine approval.

The point is not that you can simply set aside a divine institution. The point, rather, is to consider the function of that institution. It’s a means to an end, not an end in itself. Ultimately, our obligation is to the end in view, and not the means–regardless of whether the means actually facilitate the end.

9.I’d also add that the Catholic claim is predicated on apostolic succession. But since that’s not a prerequisite for church office in the NT, you don’t leave the institutional church by opting out of apostolic succession–for that is not how God instituted his church in the first place. Ministry is portable.

"Sola Scriptura is unbiblical"


Consider the Old Testament. The principle of sola scriptura is utterly alien to the way in which God dealt with his people before Christ. Besides the fact that no Scripture of any sort was available before Moses' time [apart from occasional, terrifying incidents of direct revelation en masse, commands were mediated to his people through prophets and patriarchs). No Israelite was free to practice private interpretation of the Law, deciding for himself how he believed the text should be interpreted.


Scripture alone, as the tragic history of Protestantism has shown, becomes the private play toy of any self-styled "exegete" who wishes to interpret God's Word to suit his own views. The history of Protestantism, laboring under sola scriptura, is an unending kaleidoscope of fragmentation and splintering.

“Nevertheless, there was a wide range of worldviews, of groups and individual perspectives, within the cultural orbit that was Judaism. Nonpriestly groups, perhaps including a share of disaffected radical priests, emerged to carry the banners of purity and/or popular demands. And every generation seems to have cultivated individual charismatic teachers, prophets, and messiahs. No single spectrum is adequate for mapping out these groups and their attitudes toward Scripture and tradition; foreign powers and ‘this present age’; class struggles and economic issues; perennial philosophical problems of monism and dualism, fate and freewill and the afterlife, militarism and pacifism; angels and demons.

“The reader of the NT must always bear this diversity in mind. In the first place, it requires that we eschew simplistic claims about what the Jews as a body believed or practiced,” S. Mason, “Theologies and Sects, Jewish,” Dictionary of New Testament Background, 1229.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Life in the face of death

Here's a follow-up to this post:


“So do you think that, in this situation, the truth should be held from Ulyana? Or do you, like me, think that the truth should be told?”

That depends on whether I’d be speaking as a Christian or an atheist.

As a Christian, I’d tell her the truth. But that’s also because, as a Christian, I can offer her hope. I can pray with her and for her. Give her a Bible to read. Point her to a good church. Ask the pastor to pay her a visit. Introduce her to some Christian friends. From a Christian standpoint, nothing is more important than preparing for the world to come–because the stakes are so high.

But from an atheistic standpoint, a hopeful illusion is better than a hopeless truth. Suppose, as an atheist, I had a 5-year-old with terminal cancer. Would I tell him the truth (as I see it)? Would I tell him he was going to die. Would I tell him that every thing he is, and was, and could have been would perish?

No. I‘d lie to him. I’d try to make him happy.

Why make him miserable in his final weeks or months of life–all for the sake of truth? My 5-year-old son means more to me than some imaginary obligation to truth.

“Likewise, with atheism, do you think that religion is a good thing irregardless of whether it is true or not? Or do you, like me, prefer to know the truth, no matter how painful it may be?”

You present Christianity and atheism as if they were symmetrical alternatives. They’re not.

No, Christianity is not a good thing regardless of whether it’s true or false.

However, atheism is a bad thing regardless of whether it’s true or false.

And, in a godless universe, why would I value truth over happiness? If there’s a conflict between truth and self-interest, I’d opt for self-interest every time. If I were an atheist, that would be the pragmatic pecking order.

In a godless world, it doesn’t matter how you lived or how you died. It only matters to you at the time you were alive.

I’d also add, from a Christian standpoint, that in a fallen world, we’re sometimes confronted with conflicting obligations. In that event, the higher obligation takes precedence.

In a fallen world, there are times when love and truth conflict. And there are situations where it’s better to spare the feelings of another.

In heaven, truth and love are conterminous. But here-below, that’s not always the case.

“Atheism isn't Job without the epilogue, life is Job without the epilogue (although, if your own life is really that terrible, I pity you). Some of us are man enough to accept that.”

Of course, the “man enough” line is a way adolescent boys gin each other for a game of chicken. That kind of empty, boastful rhetoric is a sign of cringing fear and weakness within. It’s what scared people tell themselves or tell each other to act tough and feel brave.

But from a secular perspective, man is just accidental monkey, who’s been cursed to realize his pointless existence, and the oblivion which awaits him when he dies.

However, the average atheist can’t face up to that, so he tries to glamorize his imaginary duty to cosmic truth, making that sound oh-so noble and heroic. Again, though, that’s just the fearful bravado of a teenage braggadocio.

Tough talk in the face of oblivion is supremely unconvincing. The grave is unimpressed by whether you died “manfully” or died on your knees, begging for another day of life.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Job–in a world without the epilogue

Last night, as I was channel surfing, I stumbled across a PBS documentary entitled “The English Surgeon”–about a world-renowned neurosurgeon by the name of Henry Marsh who donates time and expertise to the plight of Ukrainians suffering from neurological disorders.

There was one harrowing scene in which Dr. Marsh and his Ukrainian colleague Igor speak to a patient by the name of Ulyana. She’s a meltingly beautiful young woman who came to them for treatment.

Marsh is looking over her scans. She has terminal brain cancer. Marsh and Igor hem and haw and agonize over how to break the news to her. She’s oblivious to their exchange since Marsh and Igor communicate with each other in English, of which she knows not a word.

On the outside, she looks like a woman in the pink of health and prime of life. Yet on the inside she has a time bomb which they can’t defuse. It’s only a matter of months before it detonates in her head.

There she sits–serene, trustful, hopeful, and beautiful–blissfully and poignantly innocent of the gut-wrenching exchange which these two physicians are having in her presence. They try to conceal their real feelings, lest their awkward, restive body-language betray the enormity and the futility of her situation.

In one respect it’s rather reminiscent of the prologue to Job. Just as Marsh, Igor, and the TV audience know something fateful about Ulyana that she does not–God, Satan, and the reader know something fateful about Job that he does not.

The quandary for Marsh is how to let her down as gently as possible. How to let her know that her situation is utterly hopeless. There’s no good way of putting it. Marsh can’t quite bring himself to tell her on the spot that she’d doomed. That she’s bound to die young, and there’s nothing that he or anyone else can do to help. So he asks her to come back with her mother.

It’s a dilemma. On the one hand, she’s entitled to know. Because she’s personally and profoundly affected by the outcome, the truth can’t be kept from her. But precisely because she’s personally and profoundly affected by the outcome, which is inconsolable, that’s a hard thing to tell her. What do you say when truth is your mortal enemy?

Ulyana is desperately lost, but doesn’t know it–while Marsh is desperately lost, but knows it. Which is better?

Ulyana’s plight is aggravated by the fact that, for Marsh, the brain is all we are. Once the brain is gone, that’s it. End of story.

Atheism is Job without the epilogue. All the pain. All the loss. Unending drought until, one-by-one, every living thing is brittle and brown.

Agreeing With...Camille Paglia?!?!

Back in November 2007, I watched the special edition of 2001: A Space Odyssey. At the time, I described the movie this way:

First of all, the movie is long and boring. There’s also some monkeys in it, a talking computer that gets disconnected, and it’s really long. Plus boring.

Other than that the movie was…well, underwhelming isn’t weak enough.
In addition to this rather apt description (if I do say so myself), I also mentioned something about the special commentaries they had:

Ask ten people and they’ll give you two hundred answers about what the movie is about. My favorite [is] Camille Paglia, a feminist whacko, who concludes that when Dave turns off HAL 9000, it’s really a depiction of a sociopathic man raping a woman.
I concluded: “if Dave’s killing of HAL 9000 constitutes a metaphor for rape, then the rest of the movie is a metaphor showing that if you leave a woman unsupervised for five minutes she’ll kill everyone on board the ship…”

So why do I bring this up? Because Camille Paglia has a column in Slate, and I’ve read it semi-consistently for about a year now. Despite her overt liberalism and being in the tank for Obama, I...I agree with almost the entirety of her latest column. She still won’t admit that Obama is the problem (it’s always his advisors who make mistakes, and never him for nominating such incompetent people), but the rest of the article savages Democrats. For the record, I even agree with most of what she says about Republicans, although really her paragraph about Republicans seems to be tacked on as an afterthought, as if she realized “Whoa, the leftist nutroots aren’t gonna let me get away with saying this unless I throw in at least SOMETHING about Republicans too.”

Here are some excerpts from her column (be sure to read the whole thing, linked above):

As an Obama supporter and contributor, I am outraged at the slowness with which the standing army of Democratic consultants and commentators publicly expressed discontent with the administration's strategic missteps this year. … (Who is naive enough to believe that Obama's [healthcare] plan would be deficit-neutral? Or that major cuts could be achieved without drastic rationing?)

At this point, Democrats' main hope for the 2012 presidential election is that Republicans nominate another hopelessly feeble candidate.

An example of the provincial amateurism of current White House operations was the way the president's innocuous back-to-school pep talk got sandbagged by imbecilic support materials soliciting students to write fantasy letters to "help" the president (a coercive directive quickly withdrawn under pressure). Even worse, the entire project was stupidly scheduled to conflict with the busy opening days of class this week, when harried teachers already have their hands full. Comically, some major school districts, including New York City, were not even open yet. And this is the gang who wants to revamp national healthcare? [Ed.--bold mine]

Why has the Democratic Party become so arrogantly detached from ordinary Americans? Though they claim to speak for the poor and dispossessed, Democrats have increasingly become the party of an upper-middle-class professional elite, top-heavy with journalists, academics and lawyers (one reason for the hypocritical absence of tort reform in the healthcare bills). Weirdly, given their worship of highly individualistic, secularized self-actualization, such professionals are as a whole amazingly credulous these days about big-government solutions to every social problem. They see no danger in expanding government authority and intrusive, wasteful bureaucracy. This is, I submit, a stunning turn away from the anti-authority and anti-establishment principles of authentic 1960s leftism.

Elite education in the U.S. has become a frenetic assembly line of competitive college application to schools where ideological brainwashing is so pandemic that it's invisible. The top schools, from the Ivy League on down, promote "critical thinking," which sounds good but is in fact just a style of rote regurgitation of hackneyed approved terms ("racism, sexism, homophobia") when confronted with any social issue. The Democratic brain has been marinating so long in those clichés that it's positively pickled.
There is much more there too. It’s hard to believe this is the same woman who obsessed over male genitalia in her review of 2001 (see here--the comparison of turning off HAL to a psychopath raping a woman begins around the 5:55 mark). I mean, after turning that entire movie into one sexist comment after another (sexist in the sense that the bone at the beginning of the film is a phallic symbol (see also: the ship in space) so everything is sexualized), she here points out that that is exactly what you get from academia.

Most of her article could have been written by a conservative. When a leftist feminist starts thinking this way, it doesn’t bode well for Democrats in 2010.

Using an incorrect answer key to correct an exam

“A canon of a council is not ipso facto a dogma, but conciliar canons can contain and define dogma.”

That’s a standard face-saving device which Catholic apologists use to immunize their church’s infallibilist claims from falsification. However, they pay a price.

When a teacher hands out an exam, he has a test answer key to grade the exam. The answer key has all the right answers.

However, Bryan is treating the text of an ecumenical council like an answer key with some wrong answers (who knows how many?). So he's trying to grade the exam using an errant answer key. How can you correct an exam using an answer key with incorrect answers?

You'd first need to know which answers on the answer key are correct and incorrect before you could use the answer key to correct the exam. So what are you using to correct the answer key before you use the answer key to correct the exam?

So this poses a dilemma:

i) Either we already know where the true lies before the council speaks. In that event, the council is superfluous.

ii) Or else we’re dependent on conciliar statements which are, by turns, true or false. In that event, we’re in no position to winnow the true statements from the false ones.

If the text of an ecumenical council contains both true and false statements, then you can't use an ecumenical council to winnow truth from error. Rather, you need some winnowing fan independent of the ecumenical council to thresh its true statements from its false statements. But if you’re dependent on the ecumenical council, then you’re lost in the jungle.

The Catholic rule of faith always devolves into a vicious infinite regress.

Crème puff Catholicism

“I knew when I started this string that I would get some backlash from some Protestants. I expected at least to get some rational arguments from these guys. But this guy Steve Hays over at Trialblogue has really been melting down since I pointed out his flawed analogy that he made on the Church.”

Notice that MB has a habit of using adjectives as a substitute for arguments.

“I really have to shake my head at this guy. After pointing out Steve's bad analogy in his attack on the Papacy…”

Once again, the adjective does all the heavy-lifting.

“Now Hays has resorted to attacking priests and trying to use another Red Herring to make himself feel better.”

i) Why does MB take umbrage when I “attack” Catholic priests who hit on altar boys? Does he think priestly pederasts should be immune to criticism?

ii) And it’s hardly a red herring. MB wants us to believe that the pope is the shepherd of the flock. Very well, then. A shepherd is supposed to protect his flock from the wolves. So why didn’t the pope protect his lambs from lupine priests?

MB ascribes tremendous authority to the pope. But with authority comes responsibility–responsibility commensurate with the level of authority.

“This guy is really sick.”

I see. In the moral universe of MB, it’s not the guys like Cardinal Law, Paul Shanley, or John Geoghan who are sick. No, it's those of us who shine a spotlight on their antics that are sick.

Thanks for reminding us, once again, of what it takes to be a pious Catholic.

“He makes some generalizations on my career choices and so forth which he has no clue about. It amazes me that when these guys don't have an argument all they can do is make sick character attacks. He went and hunted out another blog of mine on a completely different topic! Then he attacked that!”

MB has been posting comments on my blog. When you click on his name, it pulls up his user profile. There he says the following things about himself:

I am now beginning my studies in criminology and will be working a on a BS in criminology in the coming years.

My Blogs

Catholic Champion Blog


This is personal info which he volunteered about himself. Something he put in the public domain.

I then pointed out that for somebody who takes so much interest in crime and punishment, it’s odd that he takes so little interest in the criminal activities of the Catholic priesthood.

“As far as your sick comments on the priesthood, I wouldn't throw stones in glass houses.”

Notice that MB exhibits the bunker mentality which made the priestly abuse scandal possible in the first place. This doglike loyalty to the institution directly contributes to institutional corruption. At this rate you have to wonder if MB would hold the altar boy down while the “shepherd” sodomizes the sheep.

As long as his church has pretty murals, pretty windows, and flickering candles, what more could you ask for?

“This is what happens when you challenge an argument made by Steve Hays. He gets his feelings hurt and he responds with this infantile rant. I'll let the readers decide who has the arguments and who is acting like a 12 year old who just got in trouble with his dad.”

For someone with his in-your-face demeanor, MB is remarkably soft under the tough-guy façade. Rambo on the outside, crème puff on the inside.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Riding the Train of Truth All the Way to the Washed Out RR Trestle

Gerry Matatics, a one-man remnant who keeps his pinky in the fissured dike of Vatican II, has unveiled an exciting new crash course:

Here are the highlights:

The weeklong course, with a degree of detail I’d never before attempted, was entitled “Riding the Train of Truth All the Way to the End of the Line.”

At the end of that first day we arrived at the first checkpoint on the train ride of truth: the inescapable truth of theism (belief in God).

This brought us into the second station on our train trip: the truth of the Christian Faith (belief in Christ).

By way of contrast to these erroneous entities, we laid out the historical and theological case for Christ’s one true Church, which brought us to our third junction: the truth of Roman Catholicism (belief in the Church).

Unfortunately for Gerry, the RR trestle leading to the one true church was washed out by the floodwaters of Vatican II. So now the faithful few (numbering Gerry, his wife, and 2 or 3 of their 9 kids) must first ford the croc-infested rivers Catholic modernism and then scale slippery cliffs of Counterfeit Catholicism in hopes of reaching the one true church:

On the fourth day therefore, having established the truth of Catholicism, we needed to examine the false faith foisted upon the world by the Masonically planned and engineered revolution known as the Second Vatican Council.

We exposed the post-conciliar “counterfeit Catholicism” embodied in the new “mass” and new sacraments, new catechism, and new code of canon law, and exposed the men (John XXIII through Benedict XVI) who invalidly promulgated and promoted these things as heretics who therefore could not possibly be true popes.

But even then our task wasn’t done, since Satan easily foresaw that many tradition-minded Catholics wouldn’t fall for the neo-Catholicism of the last fifty years. Our infernal Enemy knew that he would need a snare on the “right” to spiritual seduce these folks as well. (Sacred Scripture records Our Lord warning “even the elect” about the very real possibility of being led astray by the deceptions of the last days.)

The fifth day therefore rigorously examined various counterfeit catholicisms of the Right, examining the origins, history, beliefs, validity and legality of such groups as the SSPX, SSPV, CMRI, MHFM, as well as various individuals.

Selective Catholic criminology

Da champ (aka Matthew “the Baby-Faced Ax-killer” Bellisario) wants to be a criminologist when he grows up. He even has a blog devoted to criminology. Gil Grissom move over.

His blogroll includes a number of links to criminology websites, criminal justice websites, and criminal justice blogs.

There are, however, some striking omissions. For example, I don’t see the website for (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), or the website for, or the website for Voice of the Faithful (

Given da champ’s professional interest in crime and punishment, as well as his zeal for the one true church, I assume these omissions are purely inadvertent and his part. I’m sure we can expect him to add these websites to his blogroll now that this oversight has been brought to his attention.

Alpha Dog

Two movies were simulcast on TV late last night: one a great movie, the other a good movie. I watched them both at the same time, alternating between one and the other. Of course, that’s not the best way to see a movie, but it’s a good way to sample a movie. To find out if the movie is worthy watching in the first place.

Before I proceed any further, permit me to define what I mean by a good movie, in contrast to a great movie. A movie can be good in either of two ways:

i) Some good movies had the potential for greatness if only they had a great director to make the most of the raw material.

ii) Other movies are about as good as they could be given the raw material. There’s not much room for improvement, because the underlying material limits their potential excellence. They can’t rise above the level of the underlying material.

That doesn’t mean that good movies of the second variety aren’t worthwhile. They may dramatize themes which are worthy of dramatization.

Fried chicken isn’t gourmet food, but it’s perfectly good food in its own right. And a steady diet of gourmet food might begin to pall.

The two movies I saw were Alpha Dog and I’m Not Scared. I’m Not Scared is an Italian film (Io non ho paura). A complex film which succeeds at several different levels. A film that’s repays repeated viewing. It’s only weakness is a storybook ending which is a little too good to be true.

Needless to say, Alpha Dog is a very different sort of film. Hardly on the same plane.

Out of curiosity, I glanced at some of the reviews over at Rotten Tomatoes. Many of the “Top Critics” panned the film.

Some critics pan the film because it lacks character development. But that misses the point. These are inherently shallow characters. There’s no room for character development when the character is so superficial to begin with.

Of course, you could criticize a film for having shallow characters. However, a lot of men and women are shallow individuals, so their superficiality is realistic.

Speaking of realism, one thing that Alpha Dog has going for it is the courage to avoid a tacked-on happy ending. That’s quite rare for a Hollywood film. In general, directors and studios insist on giving every film an artificially upbeat ending, even if there’s nothing in the plot which justifies that outcome.

It’s refreshing to see a film with a grim worldview which is faithful to its grim worldview–which relentlessly pursues its bleak outlook on life to the bitter end. Alpha Dog doesn’t cheat us by blinking in the face of the abyss.

This is the dilemma of secularism. Because it has such a despairing worldview, it often tries to blunt the rusty, serrated edge of its steely worldview.

The characters in Alpha Dog exhibit a consistently amoral viewpoint. Zack is a likable kid. No one wants to kill him. But he’s a liability. It’s too risky to keep him alive. He might rat them out.

Due to common grace, secular friendship can be better in practice than in principle. (And due to sin, Christian friendship can be worse in practice than in principle.)

But secular friendship is very tenuous. In Alpha Dog, you can be friendly without being a friend. For genuine friendship involves a willingness to sacrifice your self-interest in the interests of a friend. In case of conflict, you put his welfare above your own.

The godless youth in Alpha Dog aren’t prepared to do good for others at the expense of their own good. And given their premised worldview, that’s very logical. There’s nothing to gain, and everything to lose–by doing the right thing. In a world without redemption, vice is often rewarded while virtue is often penalized. So why not be ruthless?

The hoodlums made a shortsighted, but momentous and irreversible mistake when they kidnapped Zach. And having made one fateful choice, that, in turn, commits them to a greater evil to cover their tracks–or so they hope. Once they make a wrong turn down a one-way street, there’s no going back. After that, everything falls into place–like flicking the first domino.

Traditionally, liberals blame crime on poverty and oppression. The “system” let them down. “Victims of tragic circumstances.”

However, some movies, like Alpha Dog, deal with the theme of yuppie juvenile delinquents. They are the product of permissive, indulgent, preoccupied parents who give their kids a credit card as a substitute for genuine parental involvement in their lives. Distracted, status-conscious parents who have morally rudderless children because the parents are morally rudderless.

Admittedly, that’s become something of a hackney theme. But it’s hackneyed because it’s true to life.

And it’s understandable that many film critics would resent a film like that, since it’s basically a film about them. In general, Hollywood actors, directors, and critics all exemplify the same lifestyle and worldview.

The characters in the film are just as venal and vacuous as the critics. Naturally they hate it. It’s too much like looking in the mirror without your make-up.

Timothy George And Francis Beckwith On Being Evangelical And Catholic

Last Thursday, Timothy George and Francis Beckwith had a discussion at Wheaton College on the topic "Can You Be Catholic And Evangelical?". You can watch a video of it here. (I saw it linked at The Divine Conspiracy Blog.)

As such events often are, the discussion was too vague and too ecumenical. Timothy George made some good points, but mixed with an overly positive view of Roman Catholicism. He's better than most Evangelicals at recognizing the importance of, and arguing for, the patristic and medieval roots of Evangelicalism. But he underestimates the significance of the errors of Roman Catholicism and, therefore, doesn't take the implications of what he knows as far as he should.

Paul's discussion of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15 came up. It was suggested that what Paul discusses in that passage is an understanding of the gospel that Evangelicals and Roman Catholics have in common. Both groups believe that Jesus died for our sins. Both groups believe that He rose from the dead. Etc. But Evangelicals and Catholics disagree significantly over what "died for our sins" (1 Corinthians 15:3) means. As the book of Galatians illustrates, the adding of works to the gospel nullifies what Paul summarized in 1 Corinthians 15. As he puts it elsewhere in 1 Corinthians itself, the gospel involves the sufficiency of the crucified Christ (1 Corinthians 2:2). Paul defined that sufficiency in a way that made the inclusion of works as a means of attaining justification a denial of the sufficiency of Christ and His finished work. Any understanding of 1 Corinthians 15 that makes the Judaizers orthodox is problematic.

Early in the discussion, Beckwith made some comments about the beliefs of the early post-apostolic Christians, at one point saying that they were more Roman Catholic than Protestant. Given what Catholics have traditionally argued about the nature of the church and the history of their doctrines, including in some papal decrees and conciliar documents, a Catholic ought to make higher claims about church history than Beckwith did in this discussion.

Near the end, he raised the issue of the canon of scripture and made vague reference to our need for church authority in that context. In response to Beckwith's claims about church history in general, see here. On the canon in particular, see here.

Something That Keeps Me Up At Night

Since a commenter recently noted that Steve's been writing almost all of the Triablogue posts of late, I figure I can post this one on the T-Blog even though I'm not quite sure there's any practical apologetic use for it. On the other hand, it's stuff that I find "wicked kewl" and therefore is interesting to me. But it'll have a bit of math in it, so if you don't like that, well I'm sure Steve will write something new shortly :-)

One of the questions that cosmologists have pondered is whether the universe is open or closed. An open universe would extend infinitely in all directions, whereas a closed universe would have a "boundary." However, even a closed universe could still be infinite. If space was curved in such a manner that, just like you could always travel East on Earth and return to the point you started from, in the universe you could always pick a direction and travel long enough and you'd return to your starting point. In other words, you could travel infinitely in one direction yet always return to your starting point (this would assume space was curved in the fourth, or higher, dimension that we cannot physically see).

I have to admit that I have a strange attraction to these kinds of loops. I don't know why, but they appear "pleasing" to me. And therefore I find it no surprise that I've discovered one such loop within numbers themselves. In other words, just as we could say that the universe is infinite yet closed because it loops back (assuming that theory is correct, I must add—by far this is not proven!), I say that numbers themselves are infinite and yet closed because they loop back on themselves too.

For a simple proof (simple in that it requires nothing more than algebra), consider the following.

1. The number 1 (one) is that number which has no factors other than 1.

This can be restated as:

1'. If a number n has only 1 as a factor, then n = 1.

This seems fairly straightforward to me, yet by the end of this you'll see why it might be tempting to deny the above.

Now we need to give one other tidbit of information. I'll explain it below (and note that because we are dealing with factors, by definition we're only considering positive values and whole numbers, so all the numbers below are positive integers):

2. Let c be a factor of w.

3. Since c is a factor of w, the next integer greater than w that c can likewise be a factor of is w + c.

Since many people don't like thinking with letters instead of numbers, let me give a concrete example. Let's say that c = 7 and w = 21. 7 is a factor of 21, so (2) above is satisfied. (3) states that if 7 is a factor of 21, the next number greater than 21 that 7 could be a factor of would be 21 + 7, or 28. And this is obvious because 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, and 27 cannot have 7 as a factor. Indeed, (3) is really nothing more than restating the definition of a factor.

Now let my proof begin in earnest:

4. Let x be the product of all positive integers. That is x = 1 x 2 x 3 x 4 x … x infinity.

5. Since x is the product of all positive integers, then x has all positive integers as factors.

6. Let a be a factor of x.

7. The next number greater than a than will be a factor of x is x + a.

8. Consider x + 1.

9. Let a = 1.

10. a is a factor of x + 1 (per (7)).

11. Therefore, 1 is a factor of x + 1.

12. Let a be greater than 1.

13. a cannot be a factor of x + 1 because the next greatest number than x that a could be a factor of is x + a (per (7)), and a > 1 (per (12)).

14. Therefore, 1 is the only factor of x + 1 (per (11)).

15. Therefore, x + 1 = 1 (per (1')).

16. If x + 1 = 1, then x = 0 (algebra).

17. But(!) x = 1 x 2 x 3 x 4 x … x infinity (per (4)).

18. Therefore, 1 x 2 x 3 x 4 x … x infinity = 0.

Now the way that I see it, there are one of two options that mathematicians can take here. Either we can simply rule that when x is 1 x 2 x 3 x 4 x … x infinity, then x + 1 is undefined (similar to the way that division by zero is undefined), or we can say that numbers themselves contain some sort of looping mechanism, wherein by the time you reach infinity (the infinity defined as the product of all positive integers), you "loop back" to zero.

You already know which way I'll go because I like loops. :-) But there is more evidence. I think we can see the "loop back" when looking at a tangent graph. Since I don't want to throw in Greek symbols here, assume that a is an angle: tan(a) = sin(a)/cos(a). So, whenever cos(a) = 0, tan(a) is undefined because of division by zero.

The tangent graph looks like this:

That's with the classic orientation, where the origin (where the arms of the graph cross) is located at (0,0). You can tell that since the right-hand portion of the graph is running up toward infinity and the left-hand portion is running down toward negative infinity why there would be a sudden "jump" in the graph at pi/2 (since cos(pi/2) = 0). If the x value is just slightly less than pi/2, you have positive infinity, but if it's just slightly more than pi/2 you have negative infinity.

Instead of assuming these things just go off to infinity, what happens if we assume that they "connect" at infinity and redraw the graph from that perspective? If I did it correctly (and since it's late at night right now, I am subject to correction), you'd get something that looks like this:

For this graph, we're looking at how it relates to infinity. Basically, what I did was assume that the graph "rolls over" at infinity, and made the horizontal axis the point where positive infinity and negative infinity intersect. In essence, you move the lower left to the upper right on the tangent graph and vice-versa. Naturally, the graph is horrifically distorted since it's representing two infinities on the vertical axis—the lines would actually appear to be virtually synonymous with the vertical axis for most of the trip, with the hook out at the very end; but I think this is sufficient to at least give a faint picture. (Note: technically, the origin on this graph would still be undefined, since the origin in this view is the point where the division by zero takes place.)

In any case, note that this graph would continue in sequence, just like the tangent graph does. That means that you could print out a row of these figures. The interesting thing about them is that you can then take the top of the graph and "fold" it down so that the 0s appear on the same line (the graph would now be on a donut-shaped paper rather than a 2D screen). At this point, the line graphed would look continuous (bearing in mind that at the origin of each cross point (multiples of pi/2) the graph would still be undefined).

This would imply that the graph, represented flat on a 2D surface, takes on the characteristics of a bent 3D object. Though only two dimensions are present in the tangent graph, there is an assumed third dimension where the graph "rolls over" from positive to negative infinity. In this curved 3D representation, the graph no longer has an infinite jump from positive to negative infinity, but rather that jump is a mere point, more akin to switching from positive to negative numbers at 0.

In short, it would be a curved space of infinite length, curved in a higher dimension.

This might actually affect physics. If it is true that math on the number line itself assumes a higher dimension of curved "space" then one could question whether that means reality really is curved, or whether it means that our math will always make it appear to be curved regardless of what it really is. In other words, is the fact that the math involved in physics seems to indicate a curved universe the result of the way that the universe actually is, or is it because the only method by which we have of probing the universe on such levels is mathematically, and math itself is curved? To use an analogy, suppose you use a level and see that a board appears warped; is the board warped or is the level warped? If we define the level as being level, then the board is warped; but what if we begin to see evidence that the level itself shows a curve?

Monday, September 07, 2009

He coulda been a contender

Da champ is trying to make a comeback:

Let’s see how he does this time around:

“It appears that embarrassing Steve Hays (Trialblogue)…”

I don’t yield to emotional coercion.

“And his bad analogy was not enough to get him to go and compose a real argument against the papacy.”

i) I’ve composed many “real” arguments against the papacy.

ii) However, in this case I was responding to a popular argument for the papacy. If my counterargument is not a “real” argument, then that’s because the Catholic argument I was rebutting was not a real argument.

“He used an analogy of the Church being likened to a flock of birds or a school of fish, which could operate without a visible head.”

Actually, I didn’t compare the church to a flock of birds or school of fish. Rather, I compared the author’s analogies to another analogies.

“I responded to his first post, but now his feelings are hurt and he had to respond with a justification of his bad analogy.”

So da champ thinks that if you respond to someone, that’s cuz your feelings were hurt? By that yardstick, da champ is responding to me cuz his feelings were hurt. Should I send him a box of Kleenex?

“Yes, we know this from his bad analogy. We should all question whether he has ever even read the Scriptures.”

I agree with him that the Catholic author I cited uses bad analogies. I also agree with him that we should all question whether the Catholic author I cited has even ever read the Scriptures.

“Yes, we know that you came up with your bad analogy from the Discovery Channel. Try comparing apples to apples in your analogies.”

Fine. One apple doesn’t need another apple to lead it. How’s them apples?

“This fallacy is called the, 'Fallacious Comparison, or False Analogy.'”

Calling something a fallacy does not a fallacy make. You have to actually demonstrate that something is a fallacy.

“No it not sufficient. You can't appeal to something in which its very nature is different from human nature. Humans need leaders…”

Actually, Scripture admonishes the reader to emulate the spontaneous teamwork of the ant:

6 Go to the ant, O sluggard;
consider her ways, and be wise.
7 Without having any chief,
officer, or ruler,
8she prepares her bread in summer
and gathers her food in harvest.

(Prov 6:6-8)

“The natural argument for the papacy involves human beings, not birds or fish. Next time think before you pontificate.”

If the natural argument for the papacy involves human beings, then Christians don’t need a shepherd–since sheep aren’t human beings.

“Catholics understand that human beings need leadership.”

i) Of course, that bald statement generates an infinite regress. If human beings need leadership, then human leaders need other leaders. And the human leaders of the human leaders need other leaders, ad infinitum.

The only way to terminate the regress is to say that while human beings need leadership, they don’t necessarily need human leadership. But that undercuts the argument for the papacy.

ii) I’d add that if you regard leadership as a mark of the true church, then the absence of leadership is a mark of a false church. So if you apply Jn 21:15-17 to the papacy, then why didn’t the pope protect the lambs from wolfish sodomites in the priesthood?

“We don't really care how birds are able to navigate from one place to another. Next time use comparable analogies instead of comparing human beings to birds and fish.”

I guess Jesus didn’t get the memo:

19And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."

(Mt 4:19)

16 "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

(Mt 10:16)

47"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad.

(Mt 13:47-48)

37 "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!

(Mt 23:37)

Revenge of the Sith

Perry Robinson responded to something I wrote:

It’s quite revealing that Perry so often uses “Jedi mind tricks” as a derogative descriptor. In the Star Wars franchise, the Jedi Knights were the good guys. Heroes. By using this phrase pejoratively, Perry reveals his Sithian sympathies–maybe even his Sithian identity. Time to recall Luke Skywalker to active duty.

“As of today I am still waiting for any of White’s toadies to defend White’s claim that G0d has libertarian free will and that the Bible teaches it.”

“Toady?” Does Perry mean the team members at aomin? What about the team members at Energetic Procession? Are they his toadies, too? Is monkpatrick a toady for Perry Robison? What about NeoChalcedonian, apotheoun, or ochlophobist? Toadies one and toadies all?

“To say that White’s theology is “consistently sound” is to preach to the choir at best.”

Yes, I preach to the choir at Triablogue. And Perry preaches to the choir at Energetic Procession. So what?

“Second, Steve makes the mistake of thinking that I am engaging Calvinism as a position, but I am not. I am engaging White and so for as White is concerned, Libertarianism is not an incoherent concept.”

So Perry is only attacking White’s statement, and not using that as a reference point to attack Calvinism in general? We’ll see.

“Secondly, even if he weren’t, any Calvinist worth his salt is familiar with Edward’s work on free will or Luther’s Bondage of the Will. If he thinks that God fulfills the libertarian conditions on free will, then the arguments given by Edwards and others that are quite popular that Libertarianism is incoherent are still out the window.”

“Steve claims that the position is not that nature selects for a specific action, but rather circumscribes the possible options. I agree that the Reformed are logically forced to that weaker position, but that is not how it is presented in a good number of representative sources. Edwards for example goes to great pains to argue for a necessary connection between cause and effect, where the cause singles out a specific effect in the sphere of agency.”

i) To begin with, I assume White simply meant that God had the freedom to do otherwise–to choose to create a different world had he decreed otherwise, or create none at all. If so, that’s entirely consistent with Calvinism. The Westminster Confession grants that God has counterfactual knowledge. And the supra/infra debate presupposes the existence of possible worlds (as divine ideas).

ii) Let’s also remember that Edwards was an 18C Calvinist, responding to 18C Arminians. His formulations are keyed to the state of the debate at that time and place. But action theory, both in its libertarian and compatibilist forms, has undergone many refinements since the 18C–not to mention the 16C (a la Luther). His arguments were more that adequate to deal with his contemporaries. But it would be quite anachronistic to deploy his compatibilism against the libertarianism of, say, Robert Kane. They have different opponents. Different conceptual resources.

iii) On a related note, Perry suffers from an inability to distinguish dogmatic theology or systematic theology from polemical theology. Polemical theology is not, itself, an article of faith. Dogmatic theology or systematic theology details the articles of faith. Polemical theology marshals a range of arguments to defend the articles of faith. But the supporting arguments are not, themselves, articles of faith. Polemical theology may draw upon arguments from science, history, psychology, philosophy, sociology, and so on. Such lines of evidence don’t amount to articles of faith. Rather, they’re thought to be consistent with, and supportive of, such articles.

“If Steve wishes to move to the weaker position of mere circumscription, then compatibilism and soft determinism will require further argument. And that will be rather difficult given that we now have an indeterminstic relation between nature and action.”

He’s disregarding the fact that I ground the outcome in the decree.

“Steve then objects to my counter example of God to the thesis that natures determine actions by arguing that the case of God is sui generis. The case of God is unique and so I can’t reason from it to agents in general. But on the contrary, the fact that God is unique would only be relevant in this case if there was something about the nature of God that altered the nature of freedom that he enjoys. I can’t see that there is and Steve hasn’t given me a reason to think so”

There are obvious discontinuities. God is not contingent or dependent on anything. He causes things to happen (directly or indirectly) without himself being caused by anything–whether in his being or actions.

“Further, since God is the source of all things, including freedom, God is the paramount case and paramount counter-example. If it is not true in the case of the paragon of person-nature relations, then there is substantial reason for thinking that it isn’t true with other agents.”

That’s like saying that if God is omniscient or omnipotent, then the creature is omniscient or omnipotent.

“And this is why Jesus as a divine person does not have a gnomic will because he never has a beginning to his use of his faculties.”

Notice that Perry can’t apply his human action theory to Jesus. So, by his own admission, the analogy breaks down.

“Adding sin to the mix won’t help since sin doesn’t alter the nature of humanity or personhood per se.”

Another one of Perry’s problems is thinking that we have to begin with labels. Affix the right label, as if that’s the starting point. However, the Bible teaches us that sin imposes various impediments on what sinners are able to do. And sin also induces them to do certain things.

We don’t have to begin with labels like “person” or “nature,” to acknowledge that fact. Rather, we first acknowledge that fact, then find a label that best describes the fact.

But, for Perry, theology and philosophy are reducible to mixing and matching labels. Attach a preexisting label to a corresponding position. If there is no preexisting label that does the job, then stretch a preexisting label.

I suppose this is not surprising. Perry belongs to a ritualistic church. So what matters is intoning the right words in the right order–along with prescribed vestments and gestures. The magic doesn’t work if you drop a line.

“I also noted that it isn’t true in the case of angels and humans. Steve argues that while this is a legitimate issue it isn’t a problem specific to Calvinism. On the contrary, even if this were so, it is still a problem that Calvinist’s must address nonetheless.”

Which I have:

“And as I noted before in the case of pre-fall angels and humans their natures didn’t circumscribe their options to only good ones since they actualized evil options. So even if I were to grant Steve that a Calvinist is only committed to nature circumscribing of options relative to nature, this is still a problem for them. And if its possible that natures do not circumscribe options prior to the fall, it is also possible that it does not after the fall.”

It’s a problem if we limit ourselves to that framework. Which doesn’t mean the framework is worthless by any means–anymore than a flashlight is worthless because you don’t need to use it in broad daylight.

“I gave my standard line that readers here are by now familiar with, that our first parents as contingent agents have not yet had the personal use of their natural faculties fixed in their natural goodness. Steve asks how this succeeds to sever the connection between nature and choice. I wouldn’t say it severs the connection, but rather the connection is something accomplished through personal action. Steve has the cart before the horse.”

i) Contingent agents can have a fixed course of action. If they’re contingent on other factors, then other factors can predetermine the outcome–like the domino effect.

(I’m not saying a row of dominoes is the best way to model human action. But just a way of making a general point.)

ii) Does Perry think that choice is what sets nature in concrete? Even if we accept that claim, then once the concrete is dry, there’s no freedom to do otherwise.

“Then Steve claims that on my gloss of pre-fall anthropology I am still left with the problem of Adam’s nature circumscribing his range of options. But this is a mistake. Adam like all agents that have a beginning have a gnomic will. The gnomic will as outlined here numerous times is a specific personal use of the will that is not fixed either in virtue or vice. This is so, so that the agent can be responsible for the kind of character that they end up having. Their personal use of their faculties can be evil or good. Consequently, I am not left with the problem of Adam circumscribing his actions because his hypostatic employment is not yet fixed and hence not yet circumscribed…So it does explain how a creature created naturally good can do evil whereas the Reformed model does not.”

That fails to explain the transition from good to evil. For goodness (“created naturally good”) is still the initial condition. So how, on Perry’s view, did Adam ever find evil appealing in the first place? How does a good and sinless agent ever become attracted to evil? Give in to evil?

His initial bias is good rather than evil. So how does he change his inclination?

“So it isn’t an equally valid question of why Adam with a good nature sinned since I do not adhere to the premised view that no person is able to choose against their nature. Adam was naturally good, but morally innocent. Given his inexperience and his gnomic mode of willing it is perfectly understandable how he and his wife could be duped and manipulated and yet still bear a good measure of moral responsibility.”

Actually, that sounds like a case of diminished responsibility–like the actions of a 5-year-old. In that event, couldn’t Adam and Eve blame God for dropping them into an environment which they were ill-equipped to negotiate? By Perry’s own admission, Adam lacked the practical experience to exercise reliable moral discernment. Why doesn’t that let Adam off the hook?

On his view, the devil is like a grown-up who cheats a five-year-old. Hardly an even match.

“Simply because I said that Adam’s nature was good as were his faculties, it doesn’t follow that his use of what he has will be good. Persons aren’t natural attributes. (And I don’t believe I wrote that Adam’s nature wasn’t fixed in goodness, rather I wrote that his personal use of his nature wasn’t yet fixed according to the good of his nature.) So Steve’s tu quo que does no work here.”

We don’t have to begin with the label. Whether you say good “nature” or “person” or “agent” or whatever, you’re beginning with goodness. How does Perry explain the transition from good to evil if there was no prior inclination to do evil, but, to the contrary, a prior disinclination to do evil? Throwing labels around does nothing to relieve the conceptual problem.

“And no the Westminster theologians do not make the same claim. If they did, they wouldn’t be monergists and they wouldn’t hold to the Christology that they do either.”

The Confession says that Adam and Even had the power to fulfill the law of God, but were under the possibility of transgressing the law, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject to change” (WCF 4:2).

Of course, that doesn’t solve any problems, but a confession of faith isn’t that type of document. It’s just a statement of faith. Defending the claim is the job of polemical theology.

“Either predestination to sin must go or posse non pecare must go. It is in part a philosophical debate, but it is also a theological debate.”

That’s simplistic. When we talk about what human beings can and can’t do, or will do, there’s more than one factor in play. Agents can be free in one respect, but not in another. Take the accidental necessity of the past.

“I perfectly grant to Steve that even with libertarian freedom, the result was the same in so far as the event occurred, but whether that event rises to the level of action under the conditions of soft determinism is not granted. In order for it to be an act and an act for which Adam was blameworthy, he would need to fulfill the conditions on libertarian freedom. It is true that Soft Determinists disagree, but that is where the line is drawn. We simply don’t agree that the result was the same, because by Libertarian lights, if Adam only fulfilled Soft Determinist conditions, it was no act at all, but an event.”

Once again, we don’t have to begin with labels. Begin with concepts. If, by Perry’s own admission, Adam, as a libertarian agent, would have done the same thing anyway, apart from predestination, then how does decreeing the same outcome which he would have done anyway, apart from predestination, rob him of responsibility? Can Perry remove his training wheels long enough to walk through the issue without recourse to his preprinted labels?

“If we take ‘all’ to mean only persons relative to a group so that all in Adam die, but some other group in Christ are made alive, then we will have to find some other basis than the person and work of Christ to explain the resurrection and persistence of the wicked in eternity and their apparent sharing in immortality.”

That isn’t exegesis. Perry isn’t exegeting 1 Cor 15. Rather, he’s positing what he takes to be an unacceptable consequence, then “interpreting” the passage to avoid that consequence. Of course, that procedure is completely extraneous to the passage, in terms of its wording, context, &c.

“(It will also imply that it is possible for some men not to have been in Adam.)”

Logically possible or exegetically possible?

“Christ isn’t their Lord by virtue of his resurrection on such a view.”

He’s their Lord by virtue of his Creatorship.

“If we make it a legal relationship such that they have to be punished for their sins and so God perpetuates their existence, not only have we made divine justice dependent on the wicked’s existence, since God would cease to be just if they were extinguished.”

Well, that’s a rather odd way of putting things. If an offender deserves punishment, and if there’s an obligation to punish him, then he must exist to get his just deserts. So what?

Yes, you might say that God’s action is “dependent” on the existence of the offender, but God voluntarily created that relation in the first place. Likewise, God makes promises. That obligates him to keep the promise. But no one made him make the promise.

The relation doesn’t have to be “strong” (whatever “weak” and “strong” are supposed to mean here). It only has to be adequate to the demands of the situation. Contractual relationships are weaker than blood ties, but they are still genuine relationships.

“But we make the relation much weaker than that in the hypostatic union.”

Morality doesn’t require ontological relationships.

“On my view Christ takes up all of human nature, not any or all human persons, into his divine person at the incarnation, thereby securing the eternal existence of all humans, even the wicked. Consequently, immortality at the level of nature is conveyed to all men and why Christ is Lord over even those who deny him. (2 Pet 2:1) The relation there is inherent, intrinsic and metaphysically robust.”

Notice that he isn’t exegeting 1 Cor 15. Remember, this was his prooftext, not mine. All we’re getting from Perry are his tendentious, theological stipulations. That isn’t exegesis. Speaking of which:

But if we make it matter of an extrtinsic relation such as that of law, will and efficient causation then we open up exactly the kind of space that permitted not only Annihilationalism but modern forms of Arianism as well as Universalism. These are how the possibilities fall out.

Christ is related to the redeemed and wicked by an extrinsic act of will. Either the act of will is necessary or contingent.

Christ is related to the redeemed and wicked by an extrinsic act of will so that divine justice is in part constituted by the existence of the wicked such that if they ceased to exist, God would cease to be just. The same holds for divine mercy.

Hence the act of will is necessary.

So that he wills the salvation of all on pain of losing the attribute of mercy. (Universalism)


So that he wills the damnation of some on pain of losing the attribute justice. (Calvinism)

On the other hand, if the act of will is contingent, Christ is related to the wicked by an extrinsic and contingent act of will because Christ himself exists contingently. (Arianism)

If Christ exists contingently then his willing of the wicked is contingent and so their existence in hell is contingent and can come to an end. (Conditional Immortality)

If Christ exists contingently then his willing of salvation for the redeemed is also contingent and so multiple falls are possible. (Origenism)

Perry has no inkling of how to do exegesis. All his does is to bring some prefabricated categories to the text (intrinsic/extrinsic relation; Calvinism, Arianism, annihilationism, universalism), then superimpose that grid onto the text. While that makes for an elegant, symmetrical analysis of various logical alternatives, it’s entirely extraneous to his prooftext.

How do we determine the scope of the universal quantifier in 1 Cor 15:22? Here’s the relevant context:

18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

20But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. (vv18-23).

The “all” who are made alive in v22 are the same as “those who belong to him [Christ]” in v23. Who would that be? Those who fell asleep in Christ (v18). Which has reference to deceased Christians. That’s reinforced by vv19-20. The basis of the Christian hope is the Resurrection of Christ. For his resurrection is the firstfruits of their own resurrection to come.

And that’s the point of 1 Cor 15 generally. It’s a distinctively Christian hope (cf. 1 Thes 4:13-14). For detailed exegesis, see Fitzmyer’s recent commentary on 1 Corinthians (564-71)–as well as Fee’s recent commentary on 1 Thessalonians (164-73).

“This is why I can take Rom 5:18 for example as applicable to all of humanity without implying universalism. The justification of life is in fact given to all men at the level of nature.”

But, of course, Paul didn’t say that in 5:18. You can’t derive that distinction from 5:18 or the surrounding context.

“Further the question isn’t necessarily of whom the universal quantifier denotes but rather what is Adam and Christ’s relationship to the respective groups.”

True, which is quite consistent with my own interpretation. Perry then introduces another prooftext:

2 Cor 5:14. Much the same could be said here. But,

If all are dead, Christ dies for all
Christ does not die for all
Therefore not all were dead.


If Christ dies for all, then all are dead
All are not dead
Then Christ does not die for all-he dies for some or none.

This syllogism has nothing to do with exegeting the text. Who does the universal quantifier denote in v14? In principle, there are three logical options:

i) The referent is not the same in each occurrence. Rather, it denotes all men in the case of death, while it denotes all (and only) Christians in the case of life.

ii) It has the same referent in each occurrence. This, in turn, breaks down into either of two options:

a) It denotes all men in each occurrence.

b) It denotes all (and only) Christians in each occurrence.

(ii-a) would implicate universalism. If, however, Paul’s doctrine of eschatological judgment rules out universalism, then that leaves us with either (i) or (ii-b).

For purposes of this discussion, I don’t need to narrow it down any further than those remaining two options.

“Here it is easy to see the connection between Limited Atonement and Pelagianism, that is there are some men who have no need of Christ.”

They do need Christ. However, that doesn’t mean they get what they need. As sinners, they forfeit the right to have their needs supplied.

“Third, an appeal to exegesis isn’t theory neutral. Exegetical principles are part of one’s worldview. And more specifically, exegetical principles are not Christologically neutral. There is no bare fact of interpretation.”

This is not a choice between value-free exegesis and value-laden exegesis. Rather, this is a choice between exegesis and non-exegesis. Perry has given us no exegesis whatsoever of 1 Cor 15:21-22. Instead, he’s slapped his preprinted labels onto some opposing positions.

Perry can’t think on his own. He can only sort and collate various positions into his set of preexisting slots–as if that’s an argument for or against anything.

“Steve then claims that with these passages that if I take the universal quantifier to apply to each and every human being, then you are stuck with universalism, which I reject. So Steve is trying to cut off this line of criticism. But it won’t work for a simple reason. While I reject universalism and affirm that these passages apply to every human being, I deny that this implies universalism since they do not apply to every human person as such.”

And how does he extract that distinction from his chosen prooftext? Where, in 1 Cor 15:21-22, does Paul drive a wedge between “every human being” and “every human person as such”?

“If redemption admits of degrees along the fault lines of the categories of person and nature, then all will be redeemed, but not all will enjoy the fullness of that salvation. That is all will persist forever, but how they persist will depend on how they are personally oriented either to suffering or to bliss.”

But Perry failed to uncover that fault line in his prooftexts. Rather, that’s something he applied to his prooftexts from outside his prooftexts.

“If Steve wishes to concede that this is a prooftext [Gen 50:20] for universal predestination, I am more than happy to concede. But it is a stock passage that Calvinist’s routinely throw up to prove that view. And that is why I used it to remove one verse from their arsenal.”

The fact that it’s not a prooftext for “universal predestination” doesn’t remove it from the Reformed arsenal. Rather, it serves a different–theodicean–function.

“Steve alleges that I fail to distinguish between national and soteric election. I don’t think I do. Pharaoh as an individual is an example of election, how God is free to elect whom he wills through which the purpose is accomplished. The point is that election serves the purpose and not the other way around. The argument that Paul is countering is that if Christ is the messiah and messiah brings about the salvation of Israel, but the salvation of Israel has not been brought about then Christ is not the messiah. Paul maintains the election of Israel, but the election was according to a purpose, to bring about messiah. That election doesn’t guarantee the salvation of those elected. Repentance on their part too is required. Further, God is free to elect through whom his purposes are fulfilled and that election does not guarantee their salvation since God can cut off believers as well should they manifest the same pride as the Jewish nation. So I didn’t fail to draw a distinction between national and soteric. Given that God can cut off those elected qua church (11:21-22) even if we were to gloss the distinction the way Steve suggests, it still doesn’t guarantee salvation. Steve fails to take Paul’s argument and usage of election seriously.”

i) One of his problems is that Perry’s equivocates over the meaning of “election.” Are we using “elect” as a generic synonym for “choose,” or are we using “elect” as a technical term for a particular kind of selection?

Perry is committing the word=concept fallacy by acting as though he can infer the concept from the word.

However, the fact that some of the “Chosen People” (and their ecclesiastical counterparts) can fall away doesn’t mean the “elect” can fall away. If “election” is used as a technical term to denote unconditional election, then the concept of election, in that specialized sense, does guarantee the salvation of the referent.

ii) On a related note, Paul distinguishes between two different kinds of Jews: inward and outward Jews (Rom 2:28-29; 9:6), which foreshadows his discussion of election and reprobation in Rom 9-11. The “election” of the “inward” Jew does guarantee his salvation.

“Of course there are a couple of problems here. Matt 7:18 makes it clear that a good tree cannot bring forth bad fruit. Is Adam not a good tree? Is there some better example excepting Christ?”

So how did a good tree like Adam bear bad fruit? Perry’s appeal to the gnomic will won’t relieve the tension, for according to that theory, a good tree can bear bad fruit–contrary to the dominical axiom.

“Second, we’d need a reason to think that Adam was an exception other than the ad hoc move to save the Calvinist view from obvious inconsistency. So far I see no reason to think so. And it also seems just a tad too convenient that at just the point that the Reformed principles meet an inconsistency that we should take cases of clear counter examples as exceptions. If it is not true in paradigm cases, why think that it will be true in non-paradigmical cases?”

Calvinism didn’t invent the fruit tree metaphor. Everyone who takes the Bible seriously has to harmonize this with the fall of Adam.

“Second, Steve assumes that the tree refers to natures rather than persons. It is ironic that Pelagius took the passage this way and that it was Augustine who took the good trees to refer to good persons. Just as those who set their minds on the things of God can’t fulfill the desires of the flesh as long as they continue to do so, the same is true in this case.”

Notice how Perry can’t think outside his box of preprinted labels. I don’t have to begin with labels. Whether you say the tree stands for the nature or the person, you still have to explain how a good agent (be it at the natural or personal level) can bear bad fruit.

“Then we are back to the ad hoc appeal to mystery made by the Reformed.”

I haven’t appealed to mystery. I’ve offered a solution.

However, there’s nothing inherently wrong with an argument from authority as long as the authority is truly authoritative. An appeal to divine revelation is sufficient to establish the truth or falsity of a proposition.

“Steve argues that Libertarianism is a philosophical position and is only as good as the undergirding intuitions. But revealed theology is a different story. However true that may be, the difference isn’t as hard and fast as Steve makes it out to be. Revealed theology isn’t lacking in philosophical content. And that content doesn’t rise or fall on the strength of the some non-biblical intuitions.”

And if libertarianism were a revealed truth, then it would rate a higher epistemic status than is actually the case.

I don’t deny that revelation can have philosophical implications. That’s why scriptural doctrines like predestination and original sin rule out libertarianism.

“(Steve is begging the question since he is assuming that the intuitions that drive Libertarianism aren’t biblical.)”

I don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time I debate an issue. I’ve shown on multiple occasions that libertarian freedom is contrary to Scripture.

“And this is especially germane since White claimed that the Bible taught Libertarianism.”

How is that germane to my position, or Calvinism in general? Didn’t Perry tell us “Steve makes the mistake of thinking that I am engaging Calvinism as a position, but I am not. I am engaging White”?

Moreover, Perry is simply imputing his definition to White, then accusing White of inconsistency. That’s a straw man argument.

“But there are good reasons for thinking that Steve is wrong. First, I don’t take God to be either a necessary or contingent being since God is beyond being ad intra.”

Of course, that objection turns on a very esoteric definition of “being.”

“Second, it is not our contingency as such that motivates the search for further causes, but rather the mistake of treating persons as natural causes like any other. In so far as we are both persons then there is no disanalogy. Personal action qua personal action resists analyses that seek to reduce personal acts to natural events. So even though created agents are caused to exist this leaves untouched their being persons who are genuine causes themselves for which they are the sufficient terminus for those actions.”

i) To say that personal actions are irreducible to natural events doesn’t mean that personal events are insulated from external causes.

ii) Moreover, the question at issue is the relation between the “supernatural event” of divine creation and the mundane effect of finite persons.

iii) Furthermore, to say that human beings “genuine causes themselves for which they are the sufficient terminus for those actions” takes for granted the very issue in dispute.

“This is why I noted that the explanation for why one believes and the other does not is to find its end in the person and nowhere else. The person so chose, full stop.”

That’s not an explanation. Rather, that’s a tendentious assertion. Perry needs to explain why his terminus is not an arbitrary terminus. And you don’t have to be a Calvinist to think that. Many action theorists would take issue with Perry’s ad hoc denouement. It’s hardly something he can toss off as obvious or uncontestable. Far from it.

“This doesn’t mean that there weren’t contributing causes or reasons for their action. But it does imply that persons are something distinct. To claim that the Bible doesn’t stop there is a claim that needs an argument. I think that is where the Bible does stop. Agents are the source of their actions, even if those actions find a place in a wider intentional grid.”

Well, to touch on a few examples, Exodus ultimately attributes the actions of Pharaoh to divine hardening. Likewise, John ultimately attributes Jewish unbelief to divine hardening (Jn 12:37-40. And I can offer an exegetical defense for these examples, if need be.

“Steve seems to wish to construct a problem Was there a time when Christ lacked the property of righteousness? And second if so, before he acquired it, did he acquire it by trial and error?
I thought it would be clear that since Christ is a divine person and hence lacks a beginning, his personal use of those natural faculties does not entail or imply a gnomic use of them.”

Perry misses the point. He acts as if my question to him presumes that Christ is not a divine person. But my question works perfectly well on the assumption that Christ is a divine person. Perry said that righteousness could only be acquired through practice. But he has to admit that his claim breaks down in the case of Christ. Yet he also treats Christology as paradigmatic for anthropology.

“Then Steve asks does this mean that there was a time before Jesus was impeccable? And was he able to do good or evil until he acquired impeccability? The answer is clear and obvious. Those conditions of gnomic willing only apply for persons who have a beginning. I don’t think Jesus is a human person and so I don’t think he has a beginning. Steve’s question only makes sense on the Nestorian assumption that Jesus was a human person. So it was impossible for Jesus to sin. But Steve does think that Jesus was a human and divine person so he has to posit a subordinating and predestinating relationship within the divine-human person of Christ in order to stave off the possibility of Christ sinning.”

Perry doesn’t seem to grasp the function of questioning your opponent in a debate. He acts as though a question assumes the viewpoint of the questioner when, in fact, the questioner may be assuming the viewpoint of his opponent to press a point of inconsistency. Do we really need to explain that to Perry? Hasn’t he ever heard of an argumentative question?

Another problem is that Perry wants to use this as a pretext to take his Cyrillian hobbyhorse on another ride around the track. So he diverts the original issue to something he’d rather talk about.

“Then he argues that I can’t invoke Christ’s divinity as a differential factor to ground the intrinsic righteousness or impeccability of Christ, without also implying that all humans are also made impeccable. This would follow if I thought Christ was also a human person or if I thought that Christ’s divine nature was his person, but unlike the Reformed, I adhere to a Chalcedonian Christology and so reject both outcomes. Since Christ takes up all human nature but no human persons in the incarnation, a personal property of his won’t translate at the level of nature necessarily to every member of that nature. Steve’s argument turns on a confusion of person and nature in Christ.”

Notice how consistently clueless Perry is about this entire line of questioning. My argumentative questions are not a window into my own position. Rather, they expose a tension in Perry’s position.

If righteousness can be an innate property of agents, then why is God unable to create Adam and Eve as righteous agents? After all, since they were created as adults, they already have other properties which would ordinarily be acquired through maturation and experience–but, in their case, were innate.