Saturday, November 27, 2010

Te Deum

Reformation Anglicanism has posted several wonderful music videos on their weblog. I've re-posted a few of them below.

HT: Steve.

Handel's Messiah Canadian Mob

Since this video is going viral on the net, I figured I'd increase the e-virulence factor:

As I watched these talented people sing this glorious song, I couldn't help but get a little choked up. I then wondered how many of them really believed what they were singing.
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11
HT: SermonAudio

Help me! Help me!

Triablogue Caught in a Web of Deception
By Dr. Hector Avalos at 11/26/2010
How to Fight Cyber-Bullies and Win

“Caught in a web” of deception? Sounds like Hector has been watching too many old B horror films:

Delusion is standard fare at Triablogue, but this time even they have a difficult time explaining away a post that was so flagrant in its ethical violations that it had to be removed on August 6, 2010. Their embarrassing ethical fiasco left only a dead link here: Triablogue’s Dead Link.

But Avalos is, by his own admission, a moral relativist. So what would “flagrant ethical violations” amount to?

The post was written by Paul Manata, and it purported to show that renowned ethicists had demolished claims I had made about ethics and metaethics.

Which it certainly accomplished. Avalos is scared stiff.

In a very ill-conceived prank, Manata contacted a number of academic philosophers to ask their opinions about my stance on the circularity of many ethical premises, and those philosophers supposedly all refuted my position. But within a few hours of being published, the post was gone.

Manata’s post was like a snakebite from a Black Mamba. Without antivenom, one bite will suffice. No need to keep biting the victim. Just let nature do the rest.

What happened? If the refutation was so compelling and ethically proper, then why remove the post at all? And why have they kept it so quiet until now (and after I mentioned it) if they were so proud of what they did? Indeed, nothing could be a greater defeat for Triablogue than having to take a post down.

Who are the they?

On their website, Triablogue admits taking down the post and it offers these reasons for the ignominious defeat they suffered. See Triablogue’s Non-Explanation

i) How can Avalos ascribe “flagrant ethical violations” to a post when he’s a moral relativist?

ii) It wasn’t taken down due to ethical problems. It was taken down because Avalos, acting like a little pansy, contacted some of the individuals who panned his incompetent argument as a pressure tactic to censure Manata’s post.

The first one is easy to refute because Triablogue just doesn’t seem to understand even the basics of relativist ethics. Moral relativism does not deny that logic operates once you have accepted the basic premises of your ethics.

Moral relativism affirms that while the initial premises of any ethical system cannot be established by absolute rationales, one can still evaluate whether an ethical system is logically following the initial premises one affirms.

If that’s how he defines moral relativism, then why does he disapprove of the “genocidal passages” in the OT? After all, as long as OT holy war is logically consistent with the initial premises of the narrators or warriors, then there is no ethical lapse.

Likewise, why is Avalos so defensive about the Dinesh D’Sousa’s effort to link the Holocaust to atheism and Darwinism? Once again, as long as the Nazis were logically consistent with the basic premises of their value system, there would be no ethical violation even if atheism and/or Darwinism were the culprits.

Triabloggers affirm to live by truth and honesty, and they were shown not to be doing so.

Avalos hasn’t shown that we were shown to be unethical. He hasn’t shown that Manata’s conduct was logically inconsistent with the initial premises of Manata’s ethical system. Nor mine.

The second reason Triablogue offers is where a blatant untruth or lie is found. I can thoroughly document this untruth if they force the issue and they seem to assume that I don’t have at least some of the relevant e-mails from these philosophers that Triablogue has. Since I do not want to add to the time or trouble caused by Triablogue to these professional colleagues, I have decided not to identify them.

Once again, what’s the “blatant untruth or lie”?

For now, I can say the following:

1. Manata was unable to refute my arguments on his own, and so he sought to use an appeal to authority to refute me.

i) That’s a false dichotomy. Manata refuted them on his own as well as garnering the refutation of others.

ii) Since Avalos is the one who constantly appeals to authority by playing the credentials card, that’s simply a case of calling his bluff.

iii) Avalos said Paul Tobin consulted him before Tobin posted his initial reply to me.

Therefore, by Hector’s own yardstick, Paul Tobin comes up short. “Unable to refute” my arguments “on his own,” he turned to Avalos for help.

2. The philosophers contacted by Manata were given a version of my arguments filtered through Manata, and so they did not evaluate my arguments from my own writings. What Manata gave them were already tainted and distorted versions. Thus, these philosophers were not really evaluating my arguments at all.

As I recall, what Manta gave them were direct quotes from Hector’s chapter in TCD.

3. When I contacted these philosophers to warn them of what Manata had done, one of them responded and reported the following:

A. Manata represented himself only as a student working on something Avalos had written in connection with a course Manata was taking.

B. The philosopher contacted by Manata was not even told about Triablogue and was not asked to say something for publication on that website.

i) Wrong! Manata was not doing this for a course on ethics.

ii) But notice the point-blank contradiction. On #3, Avalos quotes the professor without any indication that he sought or received permission to quote his private email statement in public.

Yet then, on #4, Avalos faults Manata for doing the very thing which Avalos just did on #3! So did Avalos just commit a “flagrant ethical violation?”

C. That philosopher subsequently asked that his comments be removed, and Manata agreed to remove all of the others, too.

And how is it “flagrantly unethical” for Manata to comply with their request?

D. Triablogue, not I, censored the post when Manata realized that his juvenile prank had boomeranged on him. After all, Triablogue controls the website, and so how could I censor it?

Now Avalos is playing dumb. Yet he just admitted that he was the one who tried to get the post taken down by contacting the quoted sources.

Indeed, it’s a backdoor admission on his part that Manata’s post was so devastating to Hector’s fragile reputation that he had to use strong-arm tactics to try to get it removed from the public domain.

So, either Manata lied to these philosophers about his intentions, or he was not telling them the whole truth about his intentions. Manata used their work for a purpose at least some of them did not intend.

Well that’s rather silly. To take a really obvious example, historians and biographers routinely quote from or publish the private letters or diaries of famous individuals from the past. They didn’t obtain the permission of the decedent before they made this information public. Is that a “flagrant ethical violation”?

If one looks at the comments section of the relevant thread (Triablogue’s Non-Explanation), one also sees another blatant contradiction in the following exchange:

Sorry, are we able to know why the post was taken down?
11/16/2010 6:16 AM
Well, I didn't take it down, so that's not for me to say.
11/16/2010 8:18 AM

So, on the one hand, Steve Hays tells us he knows that ethical violations were not the reason the post was removed. On the other hand, when asked by Michael why it was taken down, he can only meekly retort that “I didn’t take it down, so that’s not for me to say.” A pusillanimous answer if I’ve ever read one. After all---Couldn’t he even ask Manata?

i) Where’s the “blatant contradiction”? For that matter, he hasn’t even established a previous “blatant contradiction,” much less “another blatant contradiction.”

ii) Assuming my response was “pusillanimous,” what’s so bad about pusillanimity to a moral relativist like Avalos?

iii) Avalos is fallaciously assuming I didn’t know the reason. However, I didn’t say one way or the other. That’s the point.

Why did Triablobue not issue an explanation about their dead link that was only up for a few hours? Didn’t their own readers deserve an explanation? If Hays was willing to say that it was not taken down because of ethical reasons, why couldn’t he tell us the reason it was taken down?

No, they don’t deserve an explanation. I don’t owe them an explanation for what I do, and they don’t owe me an explanation for what they do.

This isn’t like an annual meeting with stockholders on how we invested their money or used the company car.

In any case, it really does not matter whether I am a moral relativist or not.

When an accuser hurls the charge of “flagrant ethical violations,” it certainly matters if the accuser turns out to be a moral relativist.

What matters is that at least one of the moral authorities that Triablogue consulted thought Triablogue was violating HIS ethical standards, not just mine.

i) To begin with, we only have Hector’s word to go by. Why should we credit the hearsay testimony of an avowed moral relativist?

ii) Moreover, even if that were true, so what? Remember how Hector just defined moral relativism?

The first one is easy to refute because Triablogue just doesn’t seem to understand even the basics of relativist ethics. Moral relativism does not deny that logic operates once you have accepted the basic premises of your ethics.

Moral relativism affirms that while the initial premises of any ethical system cannot be established by absolute rationales, one can still evaluate whether an ethical system is logically following the initial premises one affirms.

So, by his own definition, even if (arguendo) Manata violated the moral code of the unnamed professor, that wouldn’t make Manata guilty of a flagrant ethical violation–for what’s ethical or unethical is internal to each individual’s moral code. Unless Manata has the same moral code as the unnamed professor, a moral relativist like Avalos can’t judge Manata’s morality by an outsider’s standard of conduct. In moral relativism, as Avalos defines it, these are incommensurable. What matters is consistency with your own moral premises, not consistency with a second party’s moral premises.

From there, Triablogue’s attempt to whitewash their ethical lapses just gets worse.

Notice how Avalos steadily builds on a series of false premises.

Indeed, the main thing they have left is to assail my supposed “social inferiority” complex due to my economic and ethnic background. Actually, I am not ashamed at all of my background, and I have written on my background quite frequently.

To the contrary, he clearly looks down on his folk Pentecostal roots.

The removal of the post suggest that he is not a fighter, but rather a cowardly cyber-bully who runs when challenged. He may have been the hapless fellow cowering in the alleys when the big boys came looking for him. After all, he was the first to run to these philosophers when he could not handle the argument on his own. Why is that not described as being a “little pansy”?

Notice that Avalos is resorting to emotive appeals to shame Manata. But remember that Avalos is a moral relativist. So his coercive rhetoric is toothless.

The rest of the comments by Parsival38 (aka Steve Hays?) on the thread are simply rehash. This person, by his own definition (peer reviewed journal articles), has no standing in epistemology or ethics, and so he is not even able to judge whether I am competent in those fields. Hays is not in a position to say who is or is not an epistemologist.

i) That’s ironic. Avalos is a “minimalist” in archeology, yet he identifies me as the pseudonymous commenter, even though he offers absolutely no evidence to substantiate his identification.

ii) One doesn’t need to be an epistemologist to know the Avalos is not an epistemologist.

The idea that Prometheus is not a scholarly press is also simply nonsense. The books by Prometheus are reviewed by recognized scholars in recognized scholarly venues (e.g., Review of Biblical Literature), and so it shows that other scholars do recognize their books as scholarly.

When I turn to the Prometheus catalogue, here are some of the “scholarly” titles I find:

The Government vs. Erotica: The Siege of Adam & Eve
Philip D. Harvey
Foreword by Nadine Strossen, president, ACLU

Eight Keys to Greatness: How to Unlock Your Hidden Potential
Gene N. Landrum, PhD

Chocolate— A Healthy Passion
Shara Aaron and Monica Bearden

Lessons of the Locker Room: The Myth of School Sports
Andrew W. Miracle Jr. and C. Roger Rees

Simpsonology: There’s a Little Bit of Springfield in All of Us
Tim Delaney

Seinology: The Sociology of Seinfeld
Tim Delaney

Infiltrating Red-State, White-Ass, and Blue-Suit America
Harmon Leon

A Solstice Tree for Jenny
Karen Shragg

Hooking Up: A Girl’s All-Out Guide to Sex and Sexuality
Amber Madison

S & M: Studies in Dominance and Submission
Edited by Thomas S. Weinberg

Armed Robbery Orgasm: A Lovemap Autobiography of Masochism
Ronald W. Keyes and John Money

The Breathless Orgasm: A Lovemap Biography of Asphyxiophilia
John Money, Gordon Wainwright, and David Hingsburger

Transvestites: The Erotic Drive to Cross-Dress
Magnus Hirschfeld, MD

Dirty Talk
Diary of a Phone Sex “Mistress”
Gary Anthony with Rocky Bennett

Raw Talent: The Adult Film Industry as Seen by Its Most Popular Male Star
Jerry Butler, as told to Robert H. Rimmer and Catherine Tavel

However, I’ll happily grant that Hector’s Prometheus’ titles are fully the equal of these.

Moving along:

August 6, 2010 should be remembered as the date when Triablogue saw its own work as so inane, juvenile, and ethically incoherent that it had to erase it from the world.

How is Manata quoting some professional ethicists on the quality (or lack thereof) of Hector’s argument for moral relativism inane, juvenile, and ethically incompetent?

Manata, who usually trumpets even the slightest supposed victory, has kept quiet this long about it because he knows his defeat was as definitive as it gets in the blogosphere.

To the contrary, Avalos, by his own admission, was so afraid of Manata’s post that he tried to silence his critics. And the fact that he’s still running scared from a deleted post is a self-witness to his professional and intellectual insecurity.

Finally, it will not matter even if Triablogue does post responses purported to come private communications with philosophers. With Triablogue’s credibility with at least some academic ethicists now in tatters, it is clear that supposed quotes and refutations from philosophers posted on Triablogue cannot be taken at face value.

The accuracy of the quotes is evident from the fact that Avalos felt so threatened by them that he went to such lengths to suppress them.

Unless those philosophers post it on their own websites or write it in their own publications, nothing on Triablogue said to come from private communications with philosophers should be trusted to be what Triablogue claims it to be.

Only somebody as panic-stricken as Avalos would resort to these transparent disclaimers.

1. Given Triablogue’s professed adherence to high ethical standards, did Hays ever request that Manata show him the correspondence he sent to these professional philosophers?

As far as that goes, I’d take Manata’s word for it.

2. If he Manata did share such correspondence, did Hays ensure that Manata represented himself and his intentions truthfully to these philosophers?

Manata’s declared intentions were to ask them to evaluate Hector’s argument for moral relativism. Which they did, much to Hector’s acute embarrassment.

3. If Manata did not represent himself truthfully, will he be censured, reprimanded, or forced to issue some sort of apology? Will Triablogue issue an apology or explanation for this sort of misrepresentation?

Since there was no misrepresentation, no apology is even in order.

I actually did not respond to this prank publicly until Parsival38 (aka Steve Hays) trolled the DC site with further personal attacks in the thread to a November 10 post on DC (Avalos Profile).

I await Hector’s evidence that I’m Parsival38.

The problem with the Triabloggers is that they sometimes become inconsiderate of the time professional colleagues have to expend undoing their pranks. Triabloggers think that universities and professors are in the business of settling every argument that they cannot handle themselves. Thus, when it becomes clear that they have no respect for taking the time of colleagues, then it is time to expose them for what they are.

i) By that standard, Paul Tobin can’t handle the arguments on his own.

ii) To judge by some student reviews of Hector’s job performance, the more time we divert from his work, the better for all parties concerned:

Hector Avalos

Name: Hector Avalos
School: Iowa State University
Location: Ames, IA
Department: Religion


Dr. Avalos is very biased and intelligent. He does provide more than one viewpoint, however he seems to miss or mistake obvious possible explanations about the materials (Bible.) Whether he does this intentionally, or on purpose it is hard to say. I feel he is a good person, but I feel bad for him because he seems to harbor a great anger towards some things that happened during his childhood church experience. Told us stories that confirmed his bitter recall of those times. Has a good heart tho.


Claims to be valid because he is "impartial" to subject material, yet clearly, and vocally, is against or unfavorable toward material presented. Professor Avalos has a distinct presuppostion that orders his manner of teaching, yet refuses to recognize his own bias.


His broken English does nothing to strengthen his typically convoluted arguments. Class is ridiculously easy, however, if one has been exposed to works such as Atheism for Dummies.


He is EXTREMELY biased against all religion, but if you know that going in, he makes you think.


He has all the wrong answers to all the right questions.

In the bleak midwinter

Featuring Kiri Te Kanawa, Michael George (not to be confused with George Michael!), and the choirs of Coventry Cathedral and Lichfield Cathedral:

Featuring the choir of King's College Chapel, Cambridge:

1. In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

2. Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

3. Enough for him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

4. Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But his mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshiped the beloved with a kiss.

5. What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him: give my heart.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Hitchens/Dembski debate

William Dembski debated Christopher Hitchens on the topic "Does a Good God Exist?" on Nov. 18, 2010. (MP3 here.)

Dembski has posted his prepared remarks as well.

Schism in the church of godlessness

A house divided.

Sarfati contra Dawkins

Some readers may be interested in these videos featuring Dr. Jonathan Sarfati talking a bit about his book The Greatest Hoax on Earth? Refuting Dawkins on Evolution (among other things). FWIW, if anything, I think the interview starts off a bit slowly but picks up in the second half.

HT: Dusman.

"Josephus on Alexander the Great and the Book of Daniel"

Jim Hamilton comments on the date of the book of Daniel.

Material On Christmas Apologetics

I put together a collection of resources related to Christmas apologetic issues in a 2008 post. And here's a 2009 post that supplements the earlier one.

After that 2009 post, I wrote an article about what sources other than Matthew and Luke report concerning Jesus' birthplace. And here's a post on the nature of prophecy fulfillment in the infancy narratives. Here's a post related to the December 25 date and its alleged pagan origins. Here's one on the supposed anti-Semitic associations of the holiday. I replied to some of Robert Stovold's arguments against the infancy narratives here. Steve Hays replies to Paul Tobin on the infancy narratives here. And here's documentation of Paul Tobin and Richard Carrier contradicting each other regarding Luke's census. Here's a post I did on the historicity of the Slaughter of the Innocents. Lastly, here's one that summarizes the state of the evidence related to the census of Luke 2.

In addition to the posts mentioned above, we published an ebook titled The Infidel Delusion, which addresses some issues relevant to the infancy narratives.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Musical popery

Papist Bryan Cross has a shtick about "interpretive authority." Without the papacy, we sadly lack the "interpretive authority" to rightly interpret Scripture.

Of course, that’s an old chestnut, and Protestant apologists have hammered it mercilessly by making the elementary observation that it only pushes the question back a step. By what “interpretive authority” does one interpret the “authoritative interpretations” of the pope?

Now Called to Communion has done us the unwitting service of illustrating that very conundrum. Benedict XVI was recently quoted as making some controversial remarks about the use of condoms.

Tim Troutman did a post in which he offered the first clarification of the pope really meant:

“Dr. Janet Smith has written an excellent rebuttal to the irresponsible treatment of this story by the media.”

But her clarification was insufficiently clarificatory, for we find, on comment #4, that “Academic Editor” Bryan Cross offers the second clarification of what the pope really really meant:

“In addition to Janet Smith’s article, Jimmy Akin has posted a helpful clarification here.”

Yet this additional clarification was insufficiently clarificatory, for that’s actually the first of five different clarifications (and counting) which Akin has issued:

November 23, 2010 BY JIMMY AKIN
New Developments on the Pope and Condoms

November 23, 2010 BY JOHN BURGER
Cardinal Burke: What the Pope Really Meant
Freshly minted Cardinal Raymond Burke discusses the controversy regarding 'Light of the World,' and what it’s like to work in Ratzinger’s Rome.
November 21, 2010 BY JIMMY AKIN
Understanding the Pope's Dilemma on Condoms

November 21, 2010 BY EDWARD PENTIN
Vatican Clarification on AIDS and Condoms

November 20, 2010 BY JIMMY AKIN
The Pope Said WHAT about Condoms???

Moreover, Akin’s clarification doesn’t seem to be all that helpful, for Bryan’s remark is follow by a series of comments in which Joe Palmer and Nathan B. present conflicting interpretations of what the pope really honest-to-goodness meant.

Then on comment #26, “Blog Editor” Sean Patrick offers the third clarification (not counting Akin’s five clarifications) of what the pope really really really meant:

it “appears to be an official response to the comment” by “Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman.”

Yet this “official clarification” doesn’t clarify the pope’s comment to the satisfaction of mateo, Johannes, K. Doran, Ray Stamper, Tim Troutman, and Nathan B., who continue to present conflicting interpretations of what the pope really and truly meant until Michael Liccione pipes in on comment #37.

However, that doesn’t resolve the issue the satisfaction of all parties concerned, for Johannes, mateo, Ray Stamper, David Pell, Paul Rodde, K. Doran, Tim Troutman, Nathan B., and GNW, continue to present conflicting interpretations of what the pope really for real meant until comment #91, when Bryan Cross offers a fourth clarification of what the pope really really really really meant:

“Fr. Fessio’s ‘Did the Pope ‘justify’ condom use in some circumstances?” is helpful.”

Okay, so what are some of the “helpful” observations that he makes? Well, among other things, he says,

“It is important to note that there are two very serious mistranslations in the Italian version of the Pope’s remarks, upon which many early reports were based, since the embargo was broken by the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. (That’s another story.) First, the German speak of “ein Prostituierter”, which can only be a male prostitute. The normal German word for prostitute is “ [eine] Prostituierte”, which is feminine and refers only to a woman. The Italian translation “una prostituta” simply reverses what the Pope says.”

And how does that square with the “official clarification” which Sean highlighted on comment #26? Among other things, Fr. Lombardi said:

"I asked the pope personally if there was a serious or important problem in the choice of the masculine gender rather than the feminine, and he said no, that is, the main point ... is the first step of responsibility in taking into account the risk to the life of another person with whom one has relations," Father Lombardi said.” Whether a man or a woman or a transsexual does this, we're at the same point.”

But in that event, Fr. Fessio’s “helpful” distinction between callboys and callgirls is moot.

Anyway, Fr. Fessio’s helpful clarification doesn’t seem to be all that helpful, for Jae, mateo, Tim Troutman, Nathan B., and GNW continue to present conflicting interpretations of what the pope meant to mean to intend to say until comment #102, when Bryan Cross offers a fifth clarification of what (take a deep breath) the pope really really really really really meant:

“Steven Long of Ave Maria University has a helpful article on this subject titled “Remarks of Benedict XVI Regarding Condoms.”

So what does his “helpful” article say? Well, among other things he says,

“Further, his [the pope’s] words appear far better than Lombardi's explanation of them, which tries to render the entire matter a function of moral theology, whereas part of the Holy Father's treatment is simply and purely epistemic, something that the media probably will never be able to grasp… Lombardi then goes on to speak of "numerous moral theologians and authoritative ecclesiastical figures" who "have maintained and still maintain similar positions". He is, in other words, reading the Holy Father as providing a casuistry of an exceptional case, and then pointing toward unnamed but authoritative figures whose ineffable nimbus of authority seconds the papal motion. This seems to me neither close to the meaning of what the Holy Father actually wrote, nor in the least helpful.”

So Long’s “helpful” clarification contradicts the “official clarification” (of the Vatican spokesman, Fr. Lombardi) touted by Sean Patrick.

And that’s as of tonight. So we have a scene of musical popery, where various interpreters continually vie with each other to gloss the true blue meaning of the pope’s statement.

It’s comforting to know that in a world hopelessly lost in moral confusion, the papacy is a beacon in the darkness.

The village idiot...I mean...atheist

Bozinski in the house, Haze. Steve Haze imagines there is a contradiction between citing Scripture and citing appearances.

Smokey the Strawman.

There is no contradiction. The appearance of the sun's movement was recognized first -- as can be elucidated by plenty of examples from ANE writings prior to ancient Hebrew writings.

No one denies the appearance of solar motion to a ground-based observer.

Based on the appearance of the sun's movement (and the earth as stationary) some general cosmological ideas arose, including the idea that the sun was created after the earth, to light it, and that it moved above the earth daily.

Really? How does one infer from apparent motion that the earth was made before the sun? What's the logical or even causal connection?

ANE writings (including the Bible) explicitly mention the sun moving and also hastening to return from when it first arose.

How does one infer that the earth is flat because the sun rises in the east and sets in the west? If the earth were flat, wouldn't we expect solar motion to alternate between one side and the other? If it sets in the west because it stops when it hits solid ground (like a meteor), then the only direction it can go is to reverse course.

Hume and the burden of proof

Hume famously made this influential, programmatic claim:

A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined.

Many critics have pointed out the blatantly circular character of his argument. However, I’d like to make a different point.

Hume’s objection is based on experience. Especially his claim that we don’t experience miracles. That miracles are absent from human experience, or at least the overwhelming preponderance of human experience.

For him, this creates a presumption against reported miracles. Indeed, it creates a daunting presumption against reported miracles.

But that raises the question: if miracles occur, to what extent will we experience their occurrence?

Let’s take a paradigm-case:

1Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years. And the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things. 2And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he had, "Put your hand under my thigh, 3that I may make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, 4 but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac." 5The servant said to him, "Perhaps the woman may not be willing to follow me to this land. Must I then take your son back to the land from which you came?" 6Abraham said to him, "See to it that you do not take my son back there. 7The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my kindred, and who spoke to me and swore to me, 'To your offspring I will give this land,' he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there. 8But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this oath of mine; only you must not take my son back there." 9So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master and swore to him concerning this matter.
10Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and departed, taking all sorts of choice gifts from his master; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia to the city of Nahor. 11And he made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at the time of evening, the time when women go out to draw water. 12And he said, "O LORD, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. 13Behold, I am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. 14Let the young woman to whom I shall say, 'Please let down your jar that I may drink,' and who shall say, 'Drink, and I will water your camels'—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master."

15Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, came out with her water jar on her shoulder. 16The young woman was very attractive in appearance, a maiden whom no man had known. She went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up. 17Then the servant ran to meet her and said, "Please give me a little water to drink from your jar." 18She said, "Drink, my lord." And she quickly let down her jar upon her hand and gave him a drink. 19When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, "I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking." 20So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough and ran again to the well to draw water, and she drew for all his camels. 21The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether the LORD had prospered his journey or not
(Gen 24:1-21).

Let’s examine some features of this miracle:

i) This miracle is an answer to prayer. It’s what we call a coincidence miracle. Outwardly speaking, it seems to be a perfectly natural event. Yet it’s actually a miracle of timing.

ii) Abraham’s servant is the only direct witness to this miracle. Others could witness the event, but only he could perceive the special providential character of the event.

That’s because it involves a private understanding between just two parties: God and Abraham’s servant.

Abraham’s servant asked for a sign. And, outwardly speaking, there’s nothing “extraordinary” about the sign. What makes it miraculous is the conjunction between the petition and the answer.

iii) Abraham’s servant shared his prayer with others, but that’s after the fact. That’s dependent on his testimony.

Likewise, you and I only know about it because it was recorded for posterity in Scripture. It’s not the type of miracle that leaves any trace evidence of its miraculous character.

iv) In a way, the resultant births of Jacob and Esau are just as miraculous as the birth of Isaac. Yet Isaac’s birth was overtly miraculous whereas their birth was covertly miraculous.

There was nothing miraculous about the immediate circumstances their conception. Yet their conception was contingent on a miraculous answer to prayer–further back. If God hadn’t guided Abraham’s servant to find Rebekah, Jacob and Esau wouldn’t be born.

v) In addition, there’s a chain of events leading up to Rebekah’s arrival the well that day. For instance, unless her parents were born, unless they married each other, unless they happened to be living there or move to that area, where she was born and bred, she wouldn’t be there to come to the well that day. So there’s a series of seemingly ordinary events leading up to that particular event. Rhe miracle of timing wasn’t confined to coordinating her arrival with the arrival of Abraham’s servant on that particular day, at that particular time of day.

Behind that lay a carefully coordinated series of events stretching back for centuries, so that all the salient variables would line up to yield the desired result. Many prior events had to occur, and occur just so, for that one event to occur. So many other things had to happen at a particular time and place for this event to happen at a particular time and place. God’s hand is behind the entire process. Not just one “coincidence,” but an interconnected sequence of opportune “coincidences.” Yet to a human observer, there was nothing special about any of this.

vi) Not only does this miraculous answer to prayer presuppose an orchestrated past, but it also has long-range future repercussions. For one thing, it contributes to a genealogy. Because Isaac and Rebekah married, they had Jacob and Esau. And, of course, as a delayed effect of that event, Jacob and Esau also found wives, by whom they had kids one, and grandkids, and great-grandkids, &c. So you have a family tree that branches out in a very different direction than if that prayer went unanswered.

vii) And, of course, this isn’t just anyone’s family. This event has worldwide consequences. It’s a link in the lineage of the Messiah. Moreover, it’s a conduit of the Abrahamic promise.

Billions of human beings experience the effect of that answered prayer. And yet the miraculous character of the precipitating event is indiscernible. Unless we had a record of the event, including an interpretation of the event, we’d have no idea that this was a miracle.

Mere experience is blind to the ulterior significance of this event. It looks like any other “natural” event. Yet that’s just one answer to prayer.

In terms of antecedent probabilities, the evidence doesn’t point in one direction or another.

Christian Thanksgiving

"As no truth is more clearly taught in the Volume of Inspiration, nor any more fully demonstrated by the experience of all ages, than that a deep sense and a due acknowledgment of the governing providence of a Supreme Being and of the accountableness of men to Him as the searcher of hearts and righteous distributer of rewards and punishments are conducive equally to the happiness and rectitude of individuals and to the well-being of communities...For these reasons I have thought proper to recommend, and I do hereby recommend accordingly, that Thursday, the 25th day of April next, be observed throughout the United States of America as a day of solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer; that the citizens on that day abstain as far as may be from their secular occupations, devote the time to the sacred duties of religion in public and in private; that they call to mind our numerous offenses against the Most High God, confess them before Him with the sincerest penitence, implore His pardoning mercy, through the Great Mediator and Redeemer, for our past transgressions, and that through the grace of His Holy Spirit we may be disposed and enabled to yield a more suitable obedience to His righteous requisitions in time to come; that He would interpose to arrest the progress of that impiety and licentiousness in principle and practice so offensive to Himself and so ruinous to mankind; that He would make us deeply sensible that 'righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people'...And I do also recommend that with these acts of humiliation, penitence, and prayer, fervent thanksgiving to the Author of All Good be united for the countless favors which He is still continuing to the people of the United States, and which render their condition as a nation eminently happy when compared with the lot of others." (John Adams)

"In this year of liberation, which has seen so many millions freed from tyrannical rule, it is fitting that we give thanks with special fervor to our Heavenly Father for the mercies we have received individually and as a nation and for the blessings He has restored, through the victories of our arms and those of our allies, to His children in other lands....To the end that we may bear more earnest witness to our gratitude to Almighty God, I suggest a nationwide reading of the Holy Scriptures during the period from Thanksgiving Day to Christmas. Let every man of every creed go to his own version of the Scriptures for a renewed and strengthening contact with those eternal truths and majestic principles which have inspired such measure of true greatness as this nation has achieved." (Franklin D. Roosevelt)

"Although the time and date of the first American thanksgiving observance may be uncertain, there is no question but that this treasured custom derives from our Judeo-Christian heritage. 'Unto Thee, O God, do we give thanks,' the Psalmist sang, praising God not only for the 'wondrous works' of His creation, but for loving guidance and deliverance from dangers....Let us thank God for our families, friends, and neighbors, and for the joy of this very festival we celebrate in His name." (Ronald Reagan)

For a large collection of thanksgiving proclamations from the Continental Congress and American presidents down to our own time, see here. See, also, here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Papal Infallibility Yields Certainty

God gave us an infallible authority on Earth so we can know the truth, and that authority is the pope, who is always right. Except when he's not. And you can tell which he is because a later pope or church council informs you of which he was. Unless an even later church council says that particular church council is wrong, usually after an even later pope says the previous later pope erred. And we know the later-later pope is actually correct because there isn't yet a later-later-later pope than this current-later pope who corrected the later pope that verified/refuted the original pope. And there is no later-later-later council to dispute either current-pope or current-council, since the later-later-council hasn't been formed yet either.

How could anyone get more certainty than from this process?

On the primerose path to perdition

As a sad, but predictable instance of what happens when sheep stray from the Roman fold, Jeremy Pierce has just revealed his shocking extracurricular activities. I try my best to restore this lost sheep. Pray for him:

steve hays
November 24th, 2010 | 8:48 am | #43
Jeremy Pierce

“I don’t have all that much patience for the view that we should always have every natural purpose for an action or an organ with a natural purpose or else it’s immoral. I don’t really have a problem using my tongue to lick a stamp.”

I’m not so sure about that, Jeremy. Stamp-licking strikes me as a paradigm-case of morally disordered behavior. At the very least, stamp-lickers are on the slippery slope to mortal sin.

Perhaps stamp-licking is licit if certain mitigating circumstances are in play, like the double-effect principle. I guess it all depends on whether stamp-licking is the primary intention of the stamp-licker, or an unintended side-effect of his real goal (i.e. communication via snail mail). I do hope a Vatican spokesman will step forward to clarity this thorny moral conundrum before you cross the line of no return in your philatelic activities.

steve hays
November 24th, 2010 | 9:15 am | #44
Jeremy Pierce

“I don’t have all that much patience for the view that we should always have every natural purpose for an action or an organ with a natural purpose or else it’s immoral. I don’t really have a problem using my tongue to lick a stamp.”

But Jeremy, that overlooks the morally crucial distinction between philatelic intent per se, and philatelic intent per accidens!

Divine personhood

Among other things, Trinitarian debates swirl around the definition of personhood. How do we go about defining the term? Is it even proper to apply that term to the Godhead?

Typically, definitions of personhood (whether divine or human) begin with psychological models and philosophical analysis. There is, however, another way to approach the issue.

The Bible ascribes certain mental and moral attributes to God, viz. knowledge, love, mercy, patience, righteousness, volition, wisdom, wrath.

These are personal attributes. So we could define a divine person as the property-bearer of such attributes.

Of course, this is still open to psychological analogies and philosophical analysis–to further explicit the properties in view. But it’s a different way of approaching the issue. And it has more direct revelatory input.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Vatican draft document would approve condoms for married couples with AIDS

From Steve:

This article helps to place the pope's recent comment on condom use in the context of recent deliberations in the hierarchy.

The Little Horn


And yet, he has NOT answered directly! He presents a French translation of Rev. 13...

I present a standard Roman Catholic translation of Rev 13.

...which speaks of "La Bête" but there is no mention of "Pope" (English) here nor even "Pape La Bête" (which would be French, and not proper grammar). So all he has done is altered Scripture and improperly mixed languages while doing so.

There's no mention of "Pope" in Roman Catholic prooftexts for the papacy like Mt 16:18-19. Yet that doesn't prevent them from talking about Pope Peter.

Could "The Beast" be a pope? Doubtful. It would be an anachronism to assign something or someone coming from Vatican Hill as coming from Rome.

And it would be anachronistic to prooftext the papacy from Mt 16:18-19 or John 21:15-17. If Catholics can prooftext the papacy, so can Protestants. We just have a rather different set of prooftexts (Dan 7, Dan 11; 2 Thes 2; Rev 13).

Van Til's Trinitarian formulation

Paul Manata has done a post on Van Til’s controversial one-liner about the Trinity. I’m going to piggyback on his post.

Critics of Van Til come to the issue with their operating definition of “person,” subconsciously attribute their definition of “person” to Van Til, then conclude that Van Til was a heretic.

However, the word “person” is really a cipher. It’s not a self-defining word. And in historical theology, the term “person” has been subject to evolving or conflicting definitions.

This is also complicated by the fact that English theology is using loanwords from Greek and Latin. But loanwords in English usage can lose their original sense, and come to mean whatever they mean in idiomatic English parlance.

There is also a distinction between ordinary language and technical language. What “person” means in ordinary language may differ from what it means in technical language.

For instance, Van Til’s fiercest critics are the Clarkians. However, Clark had a very idiosyncratic definition of “person.” He defined a “person” as a set of propositions.

Now, for the moment, I’m not going to evaluate his definition. I’d simply make the rather obvious point, which is oddly overlooked in these debates, that it’s quite anachronistic for a Clarkian to claim that Van Til’s statement is heretical when the Clarkian is tacitly redefining the key term in a novel way that certainly doesn’t reflect the original meaning of its Greek and Latin counterparts in historical theology.

When, for instance, the Athanasian creed talks about the persons of the Godhead, surely the framers weren’t using Clark’s eccentric definition of personhood. Indeed, Clark was highly critical of the traditional Trinitarian jargon.

Likewise, I don’t know how Van Til was defining the term. For instance, it’s possible that his operating definition of “person” was influenced by certain currents of British and German idealism.

My point is not to defend Van Til’s statement. I don't know enough to say one way or the other, in terms of what he meant. My point, rather, is that critics are skipping over some necessary preliminaries.

The Origin Of The Four-Gospel Canon

I recently finished reading C.E. Hill's Who Chose The Gospels? (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), which Steve Hays posted about earlier this year. It's a very good book that argues for tracing the four-gospel collection found in modern Bibles back to at least the time of Papias (late first and early second centuries). He refutes a lot of popular, false claims made by scholars like Lee McDonald and Bart Ehrman. Much of the evidence he cites is seldom discussed. The book is somewhat reminiscent of, though better than, Martin Hengel's The Four Gospels And The One Gospel Of Jesus Christ (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 2000). Hill's material has some overlap with what I discussed here. But he addresses some evidence that I didn't discuss, and some of my evidence isn't mentioned by Hill.

I want to make two observations that Hill either doesn't bring up or doesn't emphasize enough in his book:

- Hill establishes that there was a widespread consensus on the gospels among sources of the second half of the second century (Tatian, Irenaeus, Theophilus of Antioch, Clement of Alexandria, etc.). Once that point has been established, there are implications that go back further than the late second century. Men like Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria were born decades earlier than the time when they wrote. When they claim that their view of the gospels is what was handed down since the time of the apostles, it's highly unlikely that all of these sources were honestly mistaken or lying when they date their view of the gospels significantly earlier than the time when they were writing. If Irenaeus writes in, say, the year 180, it's not as though his comments only have implications for that year. The implications go back much further. While it's helpful for Hill to document agreement with Irenaeus' view of the gospels in earlier writings, Hill's conclusion that the four-gospel collection goes back at least to the time of Papias is implied already by what he documents about later sources.

- Where's the external evidence for the alternatives? Critics look for ways to dismiss the external testimony supporting a traditional view of the gospels, but they can't cite any external testimony in support of their own view. A scholar advocating the traditional view, like Hill, will cite dozens of external sources in support of his conclusion and defend his interpretations of those sources. But a critic of the traditional view often can't cite even a single external source to support his own position. If the fourth gospel was initially written by some sort of Johannine community rather than John himself, circulated anonymously for several decades, was initially rejected by what we today would call orthodox Christianity, etc., then why are such critical views of the fourth gospel not mentioned by any of the ancient sources who comment on that gospel's origins? I know that liberals and other critics of traditional Christianity are accustomed to neglecting external evidence and largely getting away with it in the circles where they're prominent. But the widespread absence of external evidence for so many of their theories is pathetic.

Monday, November 22, 2010

"Condomistic sex"

In my observation, one of the primary appeals of Rome to converts and reverts is the promise that Rome offers a shortcut for dealing with complicated issues. This is abetted by popularizers like Jimmy Akin and Dave Armstrong who mask the actual complexities and ambiguities of the situation. It’s so much easier for the laity to read Akin or Armstrong than wade through the logic-chopping analysis of pointy-headed philosophers like Alexander Pruss. But if you want to get a glimpse of what Catholic ethics looks like when one actually works through the nitty-gritty details, you will see how many loose-ends the Vatican has left untied, indeed, how Magisterial teaching multiplies the uncertainties, ambiguities, and contradictions. Let’s take a few examples in the hot-bottom issue of contraception. The analysis resembles a 5-level stack interchange after a megathrust earthquake:


Barrier methods like condoms are a somewhat different case from hormonal contraception. As far as I know, the majority of orthodox Catholic thinkers think that either an actual deposit of seminal material or an intention for such a deposit is a necessary condition for a sexual act to count as sexual intercourse. Hence, while sex with the Pill is immoral, it can nonetheless consummate a marriage. However a condom between husband and wife is not only immoral, but according to a standard commentary on canon law, does not even consummate a marriage.

The use of the condom, on this view, changes the act from the category "contracepted intercourse" to the category "unnatural act" (which category includes coitus interruptus, masturbation, sodomy, etc.). Hence the act you describe is wrong not because of the contraceptive intention, but for other reasons.

If, on the other hand, the couple deliberately make a hole in the condom, the act will probably be just fine, since the transmission can still happen. Punctured condoms are one method of collecting sperm for fertility testing.

This is a very important issue, because on this issue rests the question whether it is licit for condoms to be used by a married couple one member of which is HIV positive. Basically, those Catholic ethicists who accept the above analysis think that the use of condoms in such a case is wrong, e.g., because it is incompatible with marital union--it turns marital union into a completely different kind of act. But there are some respected and otherwise orthodox Catholic ethicists who do not accept this analysis, and who think that the only thing wrong with use of condoms is a contraceptive intention, and hence the use of condoms to prevent HIV transmission is licit.

Like Cardinals Barragan and Martini, who cite it as one in which "the lesser evil" could be justified, I am not willing to say that every act of condomistic sex is an inherently immoral sort of act aside from any considerations of prudence, intention, or anything else. I am unwilling to say that because it would rule out even the self-defense intended in the test case. But even that little bit of "give" gets me into trouble with the other end of the spectrum.

Privately in 2006, I was told by a prominent, scholarly absolutist at that end that the Barragan-Martini view ('BMV' for short), and thus my own, is flatly incompatible with the entire logical structure of the Church's teaching about sex and marriage. In the combox of my most recent post pertinent to this topic, it has even been suggested that my defense of said view is incompatible with the very idea of certain sorts of act being intrinsically evil, and thus with a pivotal, irreformable principle of Catholic moral teaching: evil may never be done so that good might come of it.

Now in Veritatis Splendor, John Paul II spoke of the "object" of an action thus: "The primary and decisive element for moral judgment is the object of the human act, which establishes whether it is capable of being ordered to the good and to the ultimate end, which is God." (§80). By the "object" of an action I took and take him to mean the intention embodied in the action, where embodiment is to be understood as I have just explained it. So if the object, so understood, is of such a sort that it is a disorder of the will to intend it, then the intentional action itself is of an intrinsically evil sort, irrespective of the further intention with which somebody might do it. That principle is essential for upholding the still more basic principle that evil may never be done so that good might come of it, which rules out "proportionalism," "utilitarianism," or indeed any variety of what is now called (to use another term Anscombe coined) "consequentialism." I am as opposed to consequentialism as any of my conservative critics. So if anybody wants to say that BMV is consequentialist, they would have to show that it either assumes or entails consequentialism even if its proponents do not intend as much. That is not easy to do. And that's mainly because the conservative critics of BMV do not have a cogent way of specifying just what object of action in prophylactic condom use is of a sort that it is a disorder of the will to intend, thus making a sexual act involving such use an intrinsically evil sort of act irrespective of the further end of defending the health of the uninfected partner.

To appreciate the difficulty, consider first that it is agreed on all sides that, if and when a given sexual act A intentionally culminates in male ejaculation, A is morally acceptable only if A is a "conjugal act" between spouses. Thus, if A is not a conjugal act, then A is of a intrinsically evil sort, and thus morally unacceptable regardless of its further or ultimate intention. So, the question under dispute may be framed thus: Can an otherwise "conjugal" act of sexual intercourse still be conjugal if a couple, one of whose members has AIDS, use a condom for the sole purpose of preventing the virus' transmission to the uninfected partner? The critics of course say no. Obviously, the cogency of their position depends on that of their definition of a conjugal act. It is on this point that the discussion needs to focus.

The critics take their cue from magisterial documents. Thus Andrew McCarthy:

Church teaching on this subject appears to be settled by Pope Paul VI’s official confirmation on 28th January 1978 of a CDF declaration dated 13th May 1977 which dealt with the question of what is required in order for a sexual act to be capable of consummating a marriage. See Sacra Congregatio pro Doctrina Fidei, Decretum circa impotentiam quae matrimonium dirimet, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 69 (1977), p426, Pope Paul VI, Allocutio ad Tribunalis Sacrae Romanae Rotae Decanum, Praelatos Auditores Officiales et Advocates, ineunte anno iudiciali, die 28 ianuarii 1978, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 70 (1977), pp183-184. For more on this whole debate see McGrath Aidan O.F.M, "A Controversy Concerning Male Impotence," Editrice Pontifica Universita Gregorina Roma (1988). The basis for understanding what is and is not correct behaviour in sexual ethics is a correct understanding of the conjugal act. The conjugal act must be, minimally, an act capable of consummating a marriage. Deliberately ejaculating outside of a woman's vagina cannot constitute a consummatory act of a marriage and therefore cannot be a conjugal act. An ejaculatory act that is not a conjugal act is grave matter. The traditional teaching of the Church has always condemned ejaculatory acts deliberately aimed at places other than a spouse's vagina. The 1978 confirmation of Pope Paul VI clears up this matter and shows that a condom affects the act per se, not per accidens.

But as it stands, that does not suffice to rebut BMV. For in the sort of case we're considering, the man does indeed ejaculate within the woman's vagina. Of course it is replied that that doesn't count, because the man does not actually deposit seminal fluid in the woman's vagina. So the key question then becomes: is it a necessary condition for a sexual act to count as a conjugal act that seminal fluid actually and intentionally be deposited in the vagina, not merely ejaculated within it? If the answer is yes, then no act of condomistic sex can count as a conjugal act, regardless of the purpose of the condom's use. If so, and given premises already shared, then any act of condomistic sex embodies an intention to do something that, objectively speaking, it is a disorder of the will to intend. Therefore, any such act would be of an intrinsically evil sort, and thus evil regardless of how laudable the ultimate intention might be.

Even so, to the question why deposition of semen is thus necessary, the answer is by no means obvious. Following McCarthy, one might think that such deposition is a necessary condition of a sexual act A's being procreative per se, and that A's being procreative per se is itself a necessary condition for A's being a conjugal act. But it is simply not the teaching of the Church that, for a sexual act A to count as a "conjugal act," A must be procreative per se. In what is perhaps its most widely quoted sentence, Paul VI's Humanae Vitae (§11) asserted that "...each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life." (The original Latin of HV's assertion reads quilibet matrimonii usus ad vitam humanam procreandam per se destinatus permaneat; the Vatican translation I've used, though not literal, is superior to the better-known one using the phrase "open to the transmission of life," but I mention that only to minimize confusion about which passage I'm discussing.) That means that the act must be procreative per se even if it happens to be non-procreative per accidens (which, incidentally, is how it is possible for NFP to be sometimes right even though contraception is always wrong). Now if a given sexual act is a "marital act," a matrimonii usus, then it is a conjugal act, i.e., an act of a kind that would count as consummating a marriage. That can and often does hold even if the couple are contracepting, which is why it is possible to consummate a marriage even if, say, the wife is taking birth-control pills. Yet according to HV, contraception is wrong because it severs the conjugal act's "intrinsic relationship to the procreation of life." If contraception does that, then contraceptive intercourse between spouses of a kind that nonetheless involves deposition of semen in the vagina fails to qualify as procreative per se, but is still a conjugal act. Therefore, being procreative per se is not a necessary condition of a sexual act's being a conjugal act. Being procreative per se is a necessary condition only for the conjugal act's being morally licit. And so, if condomistic sex fails to qualify as a conjugal act inasmuch as it embodies the intention to avoid depositing semen in the vagina, that cannot be because its embodying such an intention prevents the sex from being procreative per se.

Alexander Pruss, a philosopher at Baylor, has suggested what one might view as a way round that objection. According to him, a "positive intention to transmit genetic material" from husband to wife is a necessary condition for an act to be "marital" and thus conjugal. If that were so, then no act of condomistic sex could be a conjugal act. But Pruss' answer can't be right either. Suppose a widower who had undergone a vasectomy during his marriage goes on to marry a woman who is well past her childbearing years. As a Catholic of newly invigorated orthodoxy, he now regrets his vasectomy and would have it reversed if he were marrying somebody capable of bearing children. But given his wife's perfectly natural infertility, he sees no point in going to the trouble and expense of reversing his vasectomy. So he doesn't. Accordingly, no sexual act of his could embody the positive intention to transmit his genetic material. For he knows he cannot transmit the sperm that carry such material, and nobody can be said to positively intend to do something he knows he cannot do. Does that mean that this man and his new wife are incapable of performing a conjugal act and thus of consummating their marriage? Of course not. But if a "positive intention to transmit genetic material" were a necessary condition for a conjugal act, that obviously true answer would be false.

One might still maintain, however, that even if condomistic sex can sometimes qualify as a conjugal act, it is intrinsically evil inasmuch as condom use that is purely prophylactic and without contraceptive intent still precludes the sexual act's being procreative per se. From this point of view, condomistic sex is morally no different from ejaculating within a human orifice other than the vagina: even if there is no intent to block procreation, neither is there an action bearing any "intrinsic relationship" to procreation. But I don't think that will do either. Vaginal intercourse just is the sort of act that is procreative per se, and condomistic sex is vaginal intercourse; that is precisely why conception can occur when condoms fail, even when one's intent is contraceptive, whereas ejaculating within some human orifice other than the vagina cannot lead to conception even if one wishes, perversely, that it could. It would be more sensible to say that condomistic sex fails to qualify as procreative per se, and is thus immoral, when it embodies the intent to contracept. But ex hypothesi, condom use for purely prophylactic purposes embodies no such intent; so if such use is intrinsically wrong, it must be so for some other reason.

The only specific such reason I've seen suggested is that of Luke Gormally and Hugh Henry: deposition of semen in the vagina is a necessary condition for the conjugal act to retain its unitive significance, even aside from the question whether condomistic sex is procreative per se or not. Relying on JP2's theology of the body, they argue that each and every conjugal act must embody the intention of complete "self-donation," and that no sexual act which is incomplete, in virtue of withholding from one's partner something natural to the act, could embody the intention of complete self-donation. Of course it is important to remember here that condom use for purely prophylactic purposes does not prevent semen deposition as a mere sexual preference or as a way of withholding love. Semen retention by the condom is intended only a means to the end of prophylaxis. But the point being made by LG and HH is that regardless of the further end in view, the intended means deprives the conjugal act of the unitive significance it must retain in order to be morally licit.

Now one must certainly concede that condomistic sex is truncated sex. I've never met anybody who claims to prefer it to, or even to like it as much as, purely natural sex. Something is indeed missing. But provided that the intent is purely prophylactic, I confess being unable to follow the argument that what's missing in condomistic sex is something essential for complete spiritual self-donation. Perhaps others can find something in the argument that I've missed. But I find myself unpersuaded that condom use in the sort of case under consideration is intrinsically evil qua anti-unitive, as distinct from a lesser but still tolerable evil, physically truncated and thus less satisfying than purely natural sex.

The moral clarity of Rome

As all right-minded people know, benighted Protestants, because of their blinkered commitment to sola Scriptura, lack proper moral guidance. They’ve been cast adrift. By contrast, the children of Rome have the inestimable direction of the Magisterium to point the way.

Case in point: apparently, the Vatican currently takes the following position on using or abusing prophylactics:

i) If an HIV+ callboy is servicing another man, then he may justifiably don a condom to reduce the risk of infecting his male client.

ii) If, on the other hand, an HIV+ callboy is servicing a woman, then it would be morally disordered if he donned a condom to reduce the risk of infecting his female client (since, by wearing a condom, the sex act would not longer be open to the possibility of conceiving new life).

iii) Likewise, while an HIV+ callboy can justifiably don a condom when servicing his john (to protect the john from infection), an HIV+ husband can’t justifiably don a condom when making love to his wife (to protect his wife from infection.)

It’s lucid examples like these that illustrate, as clearly as anything, the moral superiority of Roman Catholic ethics.

Blast from the past

Sounds vaguely familiar. But no doubt it's just a bad translation.


After decades of opposition, Vatican view on condoms begins to shift

John Hooper in Rome
The Guardian, Thursday 23 November 2006

The Roman Catholic church has taken the first step towards what could be a historic shift away from its total ban on the use of condoms.

Pope Benedict XVI's "health minister" is understood to be urging him to accept that in restricted circumstances - specifically the prevention of Aids - barrier contraception is the lesser of two evils.

The rethink, commissioned by Pope Benedict following his election last year, could save millions of lives around the world.

The Mexican cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, who heads the papal department responsible for health issues, revealed on Tuesday that he had completed the first stage of the review. A 200-page report, reflecting opinion within the church, had been sent to the Pope and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican's "theology ministry", he said.

He did not reveal its conclusions. But Cardinal Barragán is known to favour reform and Vatican sources said it was highly likely that he had come out in support of using condoms in marriages where one of the partners was HIV-positive.

The Italian newspaper La Repubblica, which broke the news of the policy review earlier this year, reported yesterday that the Vatican would "go from prohibition to the definition of exceptional cases in which it would be possible for the faithful to use prophylactics to avert fatal risks".

Cardinal Barragán noted a passage from a 1981 document issued by the late Pope John Paul II. This said that "every conjugal act must be open to life".

Until now, this has been interpreted as an injunction against contraception. But it could also be used to support an argument in favour of the preservation of life by the use of barrier methods.

The cardinal said some 40 million people were reckoned to be HIV positive and Aids was claiming around 8,000 lives a day. "The disease is not retreating. On the contrary, its aggressiveness seems to be increasing, even though in the more developed countries the strength of the increase is noticed less," he said.

The first-hand experience of Roman Catholic missionaries and pastors in the developing world has been the driving force behind the current rethink. But it is also noted in the Vatican that the Pope, when he was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, left open the possibility of a change in the church's stance.

The 1987 document Donum Vitae, which he signed together with the late Pope, declared that the Roman Catholic church could never agree to the use of contraceptives in homosexual relationships or by men and women who were not married. However, it omitted to mention married couples. In recent years, the case for condoms as a defence against Aids has been taken up publicly by several Roman Catholic leaders. The Belgian cardinal Godfried Daneels broke the taboo in 2004 when he said it was morally different from using a condom for birth control.

The following year, the Pope's own theologian, Cardinal Georges Cottier signalled doubts within the papal household and argued that the Roman Catholic "theology of life" could be used to justify a lifting of the ban. "The virus is transmitted during a sexual act; so at the same time as [bringing] life there is also a risk of transmitting death," he said. "And that is where the commandment 'thou shalt not kill' is valid."

Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, a former archbishop of Milan who was considered a candidate for the papacy, said earlier this year that a married person with HIV was "obliged" to protect his or her partner from the disease.


"In 'The Practice of American History: A Special Issue' The Journal of American History 81.3 (1994), 'A Statistical Summary of Survey Results' provided data, some of which are germane to our present discussion. Of particular interest is the response of historians to the question of 'allegiances or identities as important to them as historians.' The leading answer was 'Ideological commitments' (41 percent), followed by 'Education' (38.7 percent), then 'Nationality' (31.3 percent). 'Religion' (14.8 percent) placed seventh (1193). Biases and agendas come in many forms....[quoting Dale Allison] 'It is, furthermore, evident that some we might think of as having no theological agenda are partly motivated by an animus against traditional Christian doctrine, which is in reality just another sort of theological agenda. The trite truth is that none of us is without philosophical bias or theological interest when we sit down to study Christian origins, so the alleged lack thereof seems a dubious criterion for classifying scholars who quest for Jesus'...He [Wolfhart Pannenberg] later adds that an a priori attitude against miracles 'continues to dominate the [scholarly] scene....Desire for emancipation from a conservative or fundamentalist background is often more influential in biblical exegesis than is commitment to sound historical judgment'...In a study conducted by the Institute for Jewish and Community Research, Tobin and Weinberg (2007) were alarmed to discover that faculty in American universities had largely negative feelings toward evangelical Christians - 53 percent (81). So prevalent and deep was this animosity that they ask, 'One begins to wonder if faculty indeed harbor prejudices that affect the classroom environment and/or their research' (80)" (Michael Licona, The Resurrection Of Jesus [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2010], n. 38 on p. 39, n. 55 on pp. 42-43)

Was Acts Written By A Companion Of Paul?

Craig Keener recently completed a commentary on Acts that's several thousand pages long. It's not out yet, but Keener can be considered highly knowledgeable about Acts and scholarship on the book, given the work he's recently done while producing such a large commentary. Michael Licona mentions a significant piece of information about the authorship of Acts, which Keener gave him:

"Perhaps one half or more of modern English-speaking commentators on Acts maintain that Luke was a traveling companion of Paul." (The Resurrection Of Jesus [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2010], p. 382)

Given how non-conservative modern scholarship is, and given how skeptics often react to the suggestion of authorship of Acts by a companion of Paul, I think a scholarly acceptance of 50% or more is significantly good.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Called to Hypocrisy

Recently, Called to Confusion leveled some allegations against unnamed Reformed blogs, as well as Triablogue in particular. Let’s run through the allegations.

[Troutman] Several main-stream media outlets are running a story with headlines like “Pope says condoms acceptable ‘in certain cases’.” One does not even need to read the quotation in context to know that this is false. The reason one can know this is because the pope does not have the authority to do such a thing. The Catholic Church does not have the authority to overturn natural law. That is why she can never condone artificial contraception.

Two problems:

i) At best, we’d only know the report is false under the assumption that a pope can’t contradict natural law. But, at best, that’s only persuasive to fellow Catholics. For non-Catholics don’t assume that a pope will be, or must be, consistent with natural law. Put another way, non-Catholics don’t assume that popes are consistent. So if even a reported statement of the pope contradicted natural law, non-Catholics don’t presuppose that’s a reason to discount the report as false.

ii) Furthermore, Troutman contradicts himself. For in a later comment he says,

As Jimmy Akin explained above, even if the pope had actually said what the media is misrepresenting him as having said, it wouldn’t change a thing. A casual interview is by no means an official teaching of the Church and cannot act as one. Furthermore, the private opinion of the pope is not infallible or officially binding.

But in that event, why insist the report must be false? If the statement doesn’t represent the pope’s official, infallible utterance, but is just a “causal,” offhand remark, then why insist that he was immune to contradicting natural law?

Unsurprisingly, many Protestant blogs (including some well known Reformed blogs), dissenting Catholic blogs, liberal blogs (and some conservative ones) are all running this story without the slightest attempt to read what was actually said – much less to understand it within the context of Catholic moral teaching.

Several problems:

i) Notice the McCarthyite smear, in which he makes sweeping allegations without naming the culprits or documenting the accusation.

ii) He is also attributing motives to the offending blogs, even though the CTC guidelines forbid the imputation of motives.

Perhaps, though, the CTC guidelines merely forbid commenters from imputing motives to CTC contributors like Troutman and Sean Patrick, while it allows CTC contributors to impute motives to their theological opponents. Is that it?

iii) To my knowledge, this all got started when l’Osservatore Romano printed excerpts of the pope’s forthcoming interview. But perhaps l’Osservatore Romano is one of those “dissenting Catholic” media outlets.

How quick the world is, including separated Christians, to jump on any opportunity to disgrace the bride of Christ!

Of course, that’s predicted on his tendentious equation between the Roman church with the bride of Christ. You know, for a blog with such ecumenical pretensions, Troutman is making no effort to see the issue from a non-Catholic perspective.

Well, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me [Christ] before it hated you.” (John 15:18)

So Troutman has now classified Reformed bloggers and Protestant bloggers as Christ-haters. Once again, it’s nice to know that CTC prides itself on ecumenicity.

If you want to find the Church that Christ founded, you don’t need to read through all of the articles on Called to Communion. You don’t even need to read the early fathers. Just find the Church that the world hates the most.

Well, if being hated is a mark of the one true church, then Reformed churches score high since it’s easy to Google reams of hatred directed at Reformed theology.

Peter – you saying that the libelous article to which you linked doesn’t need commentary implies that what was already said in the article speaks for itself and adequately represents the truth. What you are doing is deliberately spreading (and implicitly endorsing) false propaganda against the pope. I can understand that you disagree with the Church teaching on sexuality. But at least have the decency not to join in with the secular world in deliberate misrepresentation of the Church. No one at Called to Communion would ever do that to one of your leaders. Please return us the common courtesy.

Several problems:

i) This assumes that Peter Pike, or Triablogue, regards Troutman’s denomination as “the Church.” I, for one, do not.

ii) Peter posted a link to the Fox News website, which carries an AP article. Does Troutman think that Fox News has an anti-Catholic agenda? What about Bill O’Reilly? Isn’t he the big kahuna at Fox News? And isn’t he an Irish-American Catholic? Or is he just a front-man for deliberate propaganda campaign against the pope?

iii) In what sense is the offending story “libelous?” To be libelous,” the story would have to meet three criteria:

a) The story is false.

b) The story is willfully false.

c) The story is defamatory.

It isn’t clear to me that the story even meets the first criterion.

iv) One issue is the translation. We’re working with English translations of a German interview. Let’s compare the lead sentence of the AP report with some statements attributed to the pope:

AP/Fox News:

“Pope Benedict XVI says in a new book that the use of condoms can be justified in some cases, such as for male prostitutes seeking to prevent the spread of HIV.”

Benedict XVI (attributed):

“In certain cases, where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection…There may be justified individual cases, for example when a male prostitute uses a condom…”

On the face of it, the wording of the AP report is a nearly verbatim paraphrase of a direct quote. So it’s far from clear that the AP report is even false, much less “deliberately” false.

v) But even if, arguendo, the position which Fox News/AP attributed to the pope were both false and deliberately so, how would that be defamatory?

If you think that using a condom is “morally disordered,” then it might be “libelous” to willfully misattribute that position to the pope. But why assume the AP reporter regards condom use as “morally disordered”?

Indeed, assuming that AP reporters are generally to the left of the Vatican on social issues, wouldn’t the AP reporter regard the pope’s concession as a significant improvement over the status quo ante? Don’t “mainstream media outlets” and/or the “secular world” want the Vatican to lift its ban on artificial birth control? How is it “libelous” to ascribe to the pope a position which the liberal media would regard as a commendable change?

vi) Finally, Troutman furnishes no evidence that he himself understands what the pope meant.

Troutman lacks any capacity for critical detachment. If anyone is guilty of “libel,” that would be Troutman, as well as Sean Patrick, for libeling Peter Pike.

Let’s see if the other editors at CTC have the integrity to actually enforce their posting guidelines on their own rogue contributors.

Called to Duplicity

I'll have more to say about the substantive claims in another post. For a moment I'd just like to draw attention to startling contrast between the posting guidelines at CTC and their actual conduct:

Posting Guidelines

If you wish to comment here, please follow these guidelines. Since truth and love go together, make sure that your comments arise from a genuine love for the persons about whom (or to whom) you are speaking. It is a good habit to pray for the person you are writing to (or about) both before and after you write your comment. Pray that you will be united with this person in the Body of Christ. If you are criticizing another participant’s claim or position, address your criticism to that person in the second-person; don’t speak about that person in the third-person. Speaking about another participant as though that person is not present is impolite, and suggests that you wish only to criticize a person, and not to be reconciled with that person in the truth.

This is to be a forum wherein unity is pursued in the context of humility, charity, respect and prayer. For that reason, ad hominems are not allowed. That means that you may not criticize or insult or belittle or judge or mock any person, his character, intelligence, education, background, or motivations. Attacking persons is fallacious and uncharitable and will not be permitted here. If you are wondering why your comment was not posted, the most likely reason is that it contained some ad hominem.

Another common fallacy related to the ad hominem fallacy is the genetic fallacy, wherein a person’s argument or claim is dismissed because of its source. An argument is not refuted, nor is a position falsified, merely by its source. One common form of this fallacy is labeling a position (or its source), and then dismissing it on account of its label, instead of its own merits. An argument or position is not refuted by a label. In order to evaluate what is under the label, we have to evaluate the positions and arguments underlying such terms. Also, please avoid imperatives and other patronizing or disrespectful forms of address.

Did the Pope Condone Condoms in Certain Cases?

Nov 20th, 2010 | By Tim A. Troutman | Category: Blog Posts
Several main-stream media outlets are running a story with headlines like “Pope says condoms acceptable ‘in certain cases’.” One does not even need to read the quotation in context to know that this is false. The reason one can know this is because the pope does not have the authority to do such a thing. The Catholic Church does not have the authority to overturn natural law. That is why she can never condone artificial contraception.

Unsurprisingly, many Protestant blogs (including some well known Reformed blogs), dissenting Catholic blogs, liberal blogs (and some conservative ones) are all running this story without the slightest attempt to read what was actually said – much less to understand it within the context of Catholic moral teaching. (I recommend reading Matt Yonke’s “Contraception and the Reformed Faith” to better understand Catholic moral teaching on this subject.) How quick the world is, including separated Christians, to jump on any opportunity to disgrace the bride of Christ! Well, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me [Christ] before it hated you.” (John 15:18) If you want to find the Church that Christ founded, you don’t need to read through all of the articles on Called to Communion. You don’t even need to read the early fathers. Just find the Church that the world hates the most.

Sean Patrick November 20th, 2010 7:24 pm :
Thank you Tim. Telling that certain Reformed blogs (the bad ones) are running with this like it’s a shut case. The desire to score points against the Church trumps reality. The same folks know better about the media when it comes to their issues but the gloves come off when the media misreports the Holy Father. In a word: Pathetic.

Tim A. Troutman November 20th, 2010 10:39 pm :
TurretinFan –

As for an example of Reformed blogs handling this just as poorly as the liberal media, Triablogue is one. I think that one’s pretty well known. Did you find their treatment of it adequate and fair?

Sean Patrick November 20th, 2010 10:40 pm :
TurretinFan -

I refuse to link it on account of the refuse spewing comments and invective vomit but you can look at the other reformed blog that starts with a ‘T’ for starters which features comments from other usual suspect Reformed bloggers that make their way around the internet. It is absolutely and utterly reprehensible.

Sean Patrick November 21st, 2010 1:54 pm :
If anything the Pope is frankly too trusting with the media and a little naive to think that a comment like that would not be played up and grossly misinterpreted by the media in a matter of minutes. And after the media spreads the lie the enemies of the Church are all to eager to use it against Her even when they know it is a false characterization; such as the aforementioned ‘bloggers.’

This is not the first time that the media has taken a comment from a cleric and twisted the words to mean something unintended. The media does it all the time with Conservative politicians. Many of these Reformed bloggers are eager to come to the defense of their Republicans when it happens to them but the Pope? No such luck. All of a sudden the media is just an honest reporter. This is all so transparent.

Tim A. Troutman November 21st, 2010 2:53 pm :
Peter – you saying that the libelous article to which you linked doesn’t need commentary implies that what was already said in the article speaks for itself and adequately represents the truth. What you are doing is deliberately spreading (and implicitly endorsing) false propaganda against the pope. I can understand that you disagree with the Church teaching on sexuality. But at least have the decency not to join in with the secular world in deliberate misrepresentation of the Church. No one at Called to Communion would ever do that to one of your leaders. Please return us the common courtesy.

This reaction is both typical and predictable. On the one hand, CTC has a set of self-flattering guidelines to advertise how well they intend to treat their theological opponents. An exercise in making themselves look good.

On the other hand, when that’s put to the test, the guidelines instantly become inoperative. That’s because it’s so much easier to be nice to the people you like. To like like-minded people. The acid test of their sincerity is whether they apply their guidelines to the people they dislike. And what we immediately see is the classic contrast between how they treat the in-group and how they treat the out-group. So much for ecumenical outreach.