Saturday, June 16, 2012

The "Reasonable Doubts" podcast on presuppositional apologetics: Part 3

We continue our review of the Reasonable Doubts podcast on presuppositional apologetics with a few final posts about the alleged deception of the God of the Bible. Since the Doubtcasters mentioned numerous biblical passages to attempt to substantiate their accusation, it will be best to break the review up into more than one post.

The Doubtcasters attempt to level a contradiction between Titus 1:2 and other passages.
Titus 1:1Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness, 2in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago...

The DCers believe they are showing that God is guilty of deception.
Perhaps my favorite comment of the entire episode is when Justin Schieber says that there's a rather large discussion of the deception of God at the urbanphilosophy site, and that unfortunately the biblical arguments were never brought up. What a laughable surprise - that the discussion there would avoid the Bible. How about that?

The first pericope I would like to deal with is the account of King Ahab, his court "prophets", and the true prophet of Yahweh named Micaiah in 2 Chronicles 18:12-28 and 1 Kings 22.

The Doubtcasters charge God with stepping in to make other prophets of the king lie about the upcoming battle, and assert that it's clear that God is not just letting Ahab believe what he already wants to believe, but rather God is actively engaged in the deception. A demonic agent who is going to go spread lies is volunteering for a job that God initiates.

In response, let us note the relevant things from the text:
-Obviously it's known that Micaiah is a real prophet of Yahweh and not of the false gods whose worship Ahab and his queen Jezebel had invested decades in instituting in Israel. Jehoshaphat recognises this fact when he asks for Micaiah rather than the sycophants in Ahab's court.

-Even the messenger knew that Micaiah was something of a misfit.

-Even Ahab knew it. It would appear that Micaiah's original line was delivered with some amount of sarcasm, for Ahab adjures him to tell him exactly what he saw.

-The true prophet of God Micaiah tells Ahab exactly what he saw.

-Ahab acknowledges that the prophecy communicated to him from Yahweh was not good: “Did I not tell you that he would not prophesy good concerning me, but evil?”

-So, to review: Micaiah does tell Ahab exactly what he saw.
God told Ahab the honest truth.
So, right on the face of it, while the Doubtcasters want us to think that God lied to Ahab, here is the exact opposite information.

Stray shepherds

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops welcomed the action of President Barack Obama today to defer action to all young people eligible under the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, saying that it would permit young people who were brought into the United States undocumented to come out of the shadows and more fully participate in society.

“This important action will provide legal protection, and work authorization, to a vulnerable group of immigrants who are deserving of remaining in our country and contributing their talents to our communities,” said Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration.” These youth are bright, energetic, and eager to pursue their education and reach their full potential.”

Forgive me for asking, but aren’t these propellerheads the very same bishops who are currently suing the Obama administration for unconstitutionally dictating healthcare policy to Catholic institutions in America?

But on the face of it, the Executive action they’re now applauding is equally unconstitutional. Under Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution, doesn’t the president have a duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed”? As such, isn’t Obama legally obligated to enforce Federal immigration laws?

Likewise, isn’t setting conditions of citizenship a prerogative which the Constitution reserves for Congress? Article 1 Section 8: “The Congress shall have Power...To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization.”

How can the bishops support Obama’s extralegal action in reference to illegal immigrants, only to oppose his extralegal action in reference to religious liberties? Lawlessness is a double-edged sword. If Obama has the right to flout the Constitution in reference to illegal immigration, why not religious liberty? At the end of the day, the bishops are just as unscrupulous as Obama.

Love potion

For you lovelorn Reformed dudes–in clinical trials this product has proven to be amazingly effective in attracting members of the fairer sex:

Unfortunately, the success rate drops to 50/50 when applied to single male Lutherans, Arminians, and papists. 

Biblical dualism

A friend asked me some questions recently–mostly about dualism. Here’s the exchange:

Have you looked into Christian Physicalism? I noticed that the ARP is going to be ruling on whether or not it is legitimate to hold the position in their denomination. I've been listening to some stuff by Glenn Peoples and - surprisingly - I find it at least as plausible as Cartesian dualism.

I'm acquainted with it. Your question depends on whether you're considering it from a philosophical standpoint or exegetical standpoint.

Two standard monographs are:

John W. Cooper, Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting: Biblical Anthropology and the Monism-Dualism Debate (Eerdmans, 2000)

Joel B. Green and Stuart L. Palmer (eds.), In Search of the Soul: Four Views of the Mind-Body Problem (IVP, 2005)

As you know, physicalism is subject to familiar philosophical objections, viz. "the hard problem of conscious" (a la Chalmers):

I'll have more to say later. For now, keep in mind that Glenn's physicalism is probably related to his annihilationism or conditional immortality. There is no immaterial, immortal soul. Immortality is tied to the resurrection of the body–or not. So physicalism dovetails with annihilationism.

Two standard monographs are:

And here's a freebie:

Exegetically speaking, some traditional prooftexts for dualism are admittedly weak. The word "soul" in the OT is sometimes just a pronoun for "self."

Likewise, the Hebrew word for "soul" doesn't mean the same thing as the concept of the soul in traditional Christian theology, especially the Augustinian tradition.

The primary exegetical argument for dualism is the intermediate state. This includes standard prooftexts, viz. Lk 23:43; 2 Cor 5:8; Phil 1:23; 1 Thes 5:10; Rev 14:13.

For instance, one purpose of Revelation is to give persecuted Christians encouragement. Even if (or especially if) they are martyred, a better life awaits them the moment they are killed for the faith. What they lose in this life is more than made up for in the afterlife.

If, however, they pass out of existence the moment they die, then that's not very encouraging–even if they will be resurrected at a later date. Temporary nonexistence cuts against the grain of certain Biblical promises.

And apart from specific prooftexts, there is just the gap between when we die and the resurrection of the just. Christians die at different times. If the resurrection of the just lies at the end of the church age, what happens to us during the interim?

That naturally generates a two-stage view of the afterlife: intermediate state followed by final state.

The Bible also teaches the existence of discarnate minds. Angels are a case in point.

Allow me to give a few quick readings of these texts that might check out:

Luke 23:43 and Phil 1:23 could be dealt with by an argument based on the experience. Although it could actually be millions of years before Christ returns in the experience of the believers all they will be conscious of is something like falling asleep followed by waking up – they were unconscious during the interim.

i) I’m familiar with that argument. Whatever the independent merits (or lack) of that argument, it’s not to be confused with exegesis.

ii) The time-marker in v43 (“Today”) stands in studied contrast to the time-marker in v42 (“When you come into your kingdom”). The thief petitions Jesus to remember him at the Parousia. Jesus responds by assuring him of something even better than he petitioned. Instead of having to wait until the final Judgment, the thief will enter immediately into heaven, in the company of Christ, at the moment of death.

So v43 doesn’t refer to the Parousia. To the contrary, the timing is set in deliberate contrast to the Parousia.

iii) That’s reinforced by the emphatic position of the time-marker (“Today”) at the beginning of the sentence, to accentuate the temporal contrast.

iv) Moreover, that’s confirmed by the cultural connotations of “Paradise.” In 2nd Temple Judaism, that stood for the postmortem state of the righteous after death but before the resurrection of the just.

Of course, Intertestamental tradition isn’t normative, but that’s how the text would be heard by educated members of Luke’s audience. That’s the default understanding. And that’s what Jesus is trading on.

v) It’s analogous to “Abraham’s bosom” in Lk 16:22. And there’s a similar notion of a present, but hidden “Paradise” in 2 Cor 12:2-3 (cf. Rev 2:7). Of course, Paul isn’t Luke, but both of them are using the same cultural background imagery.

vi) How does physicalism do justice to the tension in Phil 1:23? Is Paul really torn between the duty to continue ministry and the better prospect of passing into oblivion (until the resurrection of the just)? How is passing into temporary oblivion far more appealing than remaining here?

There’s also a grammatical argument for Luke 23:43 where the comma would be placed after ‘today’ rather than before so that the verses would read ‘Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in paradise’. But I couldn’t argue the point because I don’t know Greek. I’m just saying this explanation has been offered. That said, if the grammatical argument doesn’t go through then the other explanation could work.

That explanation is proffered by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Aside from the fact that it disregards the relationship between v42 and 43 (see above), the explanation is absurd. Of course Jesus was speaking to him at the time he was speaking to him. That’s self-evident.

2 Cor 5:8 comes in a section which is clearly referring to the resurrection (being ‘further clothed’). The ‘body’ that he would like to be absent from refers to bodies that are perishable and part of this current evil age. He longs for a time when he will be away from it and be ‘present with the Lord’ in a new glorified bodily on a glorified earth.

i) In 2 Cor 5, there’s a threefold comparison and contrast:

a) Being clothed is to having a mortal body in this life


b) being unclothed is to being disembodied with Christ in the afterlife


c) being reclothed is to having an immortal body at the Resurrection of the just.

That’s how the elements match up in this passage.

ii) It also parallels the three-stage experience of Christ:

(a) He was alive in a mortal body; (b) he died, during which his soul occupied the intermediate state; (c) he was raised from the dead in an immortal body.

iii) This also involves inaugurated eschatology. Because Christians are united with Christ by the Holy Spirit, they participate in the Resurrection even before they die (5:5). A tongue taste and foretaste of things to come.

iv) In Paul’s argument, the intermediate state involves both loss and gain. “Corporate” existence is corporate in more than one sense: (a) It’s embodied; (b) it involves fellowship with other embodied beings in the corporate life of the church.

But there’s gain: he will enter into the presence of Christ. And that’s better than what he left behind.

So that involves another threefold comparison and contrast: the intermediate state is superior to the mortal state, but inferior to the final state. The final state will combine the best of the mortal and intermediate states, without the downsides.

If, on the other hand, Paul denied the intermediate state, then there is no contrast between distinct stages, even though Paul distinguishes them in this very passage.

v) In verse 8, he explicitly describes a Christian’s postmortem existence as an out-of-body (“away from/out of” the “body”) mode of subsistence.

In his figurative analogy, a soul without a body is like a body without attire. Nudity is a metaphor for the intermediate state. Cf. vv3-4. Yet that’s concomitant with being in God’s presence.

Indeed, this may also play on the figurative connotations of guilt and shame. To be naked is to be morally exposed, having nothing to hide behind.  In the direct presence of God, we are stripped bare.

The parallels with 1 Cor 15 strengthen the appeal of this interpretation.

No it doesn’t, for that isn’t concerned with the credibility of the intermediate state (i.e. immortal soul), but the credibility of the resurrection.

1 Thess 5:10 only works as a proof text for dualism if the physicalist position necessitates the non-existence of the person at death but this isn’t obvious. The metaphor of ‘sleep’ could apply to a corpse as well couldn’t it? Wouldn’t it primarily be referring to the appearance of a dead body?

If you’re a physicalist, then death isn’t a state of suspended animation for the mind of the decedent. It isn’t as if the mind survives the death of the body, and continues to subsist at an unconscious level. Rather, your consciousness, your personality ceases to exist when the brain dies.

Rev 14:13, as you know, is a highly symbolic book so we should be careful not to assume that the souls of the martyrs refer to actual disembodied souls. They certainly mean disembodied souls at the symbolic level but it’s not necessarily the case that they are disembodied souls in reality.

i) I already made allowance for symbolism. That’s why I discussed the passage in relation to the purpose of the book. A major aim of the book is to encourage Christians who are facing the prospect of capital punishment for their faith. That naturally triggers fear of death, and the consequent temptation to recant their faith under duress. So God reveals what awaits them if they die.

I’m not just appealing to the surface imagery. Rather, I’m understanding the imagery in light of the book’s occasion and purpose.

ii) Likewise, Revelation distinguishes between the intermediate state and the final state.

The idea of the souls of the martyrs might act as a poetic device to ensure John’s first century readers, who were undergoing persecution and had lost loved ones in the tribulation, of the justice of God. By using this imagery he would be reminding them that God will punish those who killed their loved ones and who continue to oppress them as living believers.

Punishing their oppressors is one side of the coin, but that doesn’t address what becomes of them after they die. That’s the other side of the coin. Knowing that your oppressor will be punished isn’t sufficient motivation to face martyrdom. That’s about what happens to him, but what about you? What happens to you?

“If, however, they pass out of existence the moment they die, then that's not very encouraging–even if they will be resurrected at a later date. Temporary nonexistence cuts against the grain of certain Biblical promises.“

Again, I think the argument from experience can handle this.

If you press the metaphor of sleep, then we sleep we dream. We’re oblivious to the waking world, but conscious of the dream world. So the argument from experience cuts both ways. Sleepers are dreamers. You could just as well use the metaphor of sleep to illustrate the intermediate state.

“And apart from specific prooftexts, there is just the gap between when we die and the resurrection of the just. Christians die at different times. If the resurrection of the just lies at the end of the church age, what happens to us during the interim?”

This could be the hardest part for the physicalist to answer. They would have to say that we are simply dead corpses. But then they have to face problems like the ‘Christian cannibal’ and the like which are designed to bring the possibility of resurrection under scrutiny. But remember, this is a philosophical argument whereas the Christian physicalists I know are making an exegetical case. They could still be warranted in believing physicalism even if they don’t have a philosophical answer to these problems in the same way that a Calvinist who doesn’t know how God can hold people that have been determined to sin accountable is still warranted in his Calvinism so long as he can make his case exegetically.

There are both philosophical and exegetical objections to physicalism. Keep in mind that I wasn’t presenting a full-blown case for the intermediate state, but there are additional arguments:

i) According to Jesus, the Patriarchs are living with God (Lk 20:37-38). Not merely that they will live again, at a future date, but that they are currently alive with God. Death didn’t sever their fellowship with God. That’s a present, abiding reality. It will be consummated at the resurrection of the just, but it never ceased.

ii) Scripture bears witness to the existence of sainted ghosts (e.g. the shade of Samuel; Moses and Elijah appearing to Christ at the Transfiguration).

iii) There is Stephen’s “deathbed” vision, as he stands on the brink of crossing over, to be with Christ in glory (Acts 7:55-56).

iv) Keep in mind that 2nd Temple Judaism distinguished between the intermediate state and the resurrection of the body. The Bible can override that, but unless the Bible contradicts that cultural given, that’s how the original readers would understand these promises. It would be misleading for NT writers to leave that presumptive eschatology intact if it was wrong.

“The Bible also teaches the existence of discarnate minds. Angels are a case in point.”

I’ve been thinking through this one for a while and I’m not sure if the Bible does teach that Angels are discarnate minds. No Cartesian would be willing to say that an immaterial mind could appear sensibly to people…

Actually, certain parapsychological phenomena (e.g. ectoplasm, apportation, teleportation, bilocation, materialization) seem to be empirically manifest mental projections.

…and yet the Bible speaks of angels as if they had bodies. Perhaps their bodies are somewhat ‘wispier’ than ours but they still seem to be empirically detected, can move around in space, etc. The only clear case of a discarnate mind in Scripture seems to be God.

The Bible distinguishes between angels/ghosts and embodied creatures (e.g. Mt 14:26; Lk 24:37-38; Acts 12:15). Even if we chalk that up to folk belief, it still means people wouldn’t readily confuse the two.

Lost soul

I'd say Enns is succeeding in achieving his goal.

Losing My Religion (At Least That’s the Plan)

June 11, 2012 By peteenns

I have made some hard decision[s] in my life–professionally and ecclesiastically–by asking myself these sorts of questions. I do not want to be around religion. I want to lose my religion.

The hidden menace

Republican politicians are fixated on our S. border, but the real danger emanates from the N. border. Don't let that deceptive charm and politesse fool you! Here's the source of all social woes that afflict the US:

Bryan's Excellent Adventure

Bryan said: "…ideally an adult would come to seek full communion with the Catholic Church only after a careful study of Church history, the Church Fathers, and Scripture. He would start with the Church in the first century at the time of the Apostles, and then trace the Church forward, decade by decade, to the present day. As he traced the Church forward through the centuries, he would encounter schisms from the Church (e.g. Novatians, Donatists). In each case he would note the criteria by which the party in schism was the one in schism from the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church Christ founded, and not the other way around. By such a study, and by the help of the Holy Spirit, he would discover that the Catholic Church is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that Christ founded in the first century, and that has continued to grow throughout the world over the past two millennia."

How does he propose to get there? What does he suppose (imagine, etc.) he would find, regarding the church's leadership, authority structure, etc. Does he want to argue that what he would find back there in any way resembled a gub'ment structure he'd find in a church today?

Degenerate kooks and quacks

And here I thought atheism represented the voice of reason:
Audience Poll: What Questions Would You Like to See Addressed on the Secular Outpost?
Posted by Jeffery Jay Lowder . . at 6/15/2012 09:54:00 AM

If there is a topic you'd like to see authors of The Secular Outpost address, please post a comment below and suggest it.

Hiero5ant said...

    I would very much like to see addressed the return of IIDB.

    With the death of the Richard Dawkins forums and the sad, fragmented degeneracy of the successor communities like FRDB and TalkRational into platforms for a dwindling handful of knowledgable posters vs. an only slightly less small handful of kooks and quacks, there just isn't anywhere to go, and that's a shame.

"Things Which Ought to Be Better Known about the Resurrection of Jesus" notes

For what it's worth, if anything, here are my notes on Peter J. Williams' lecture on the resurrection (which Evan helpfully pointed out in an earlier post).

Since I don't have a lot of time these days, however, I played much of the lecture at a faster than normal rate. So my notes might not be as accurate or as well organized as they should be. Still I hope they're at least helpful in some way.

Obviously people should listen or watch Williams' excellent lecture for themselves. (Although I found his third part weak.)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Christians of Egypt

Who are the Copts?

"Nice nihilism"

 If you don't believe in God, what's left? 

Most people think of atheism as one big negative. But there is much more to atheism than knockdown arguments that there is no God.There is the whole rest of the worldview that comes along with atheism.

So why aren’t scientists more up-front about these answers that we can read right off of science?  Mainly because the answers are bad PR for science in a nation of churchgoers.

Here is a list of most of these questions and their short answers. Given what we know, they are all pretty obvious. The interesting thing is to recognize how totally unavoidable these answers really are. The book explains them in more detail.

Is there a God?


What is the nature of reality?

What physics says it is.

What is the purpose of the universe?

There is none.

What is the meaning of life?


Why am I here?

Just dumb luck.

Does prayer work?

Of course not.

Is there a soul? Is it immortal?

Are you kidding?

Is there free will?

Not a chance!

What happens when we die?

Everything pretty much goes on as before, except us.

What is the difference between right and wrong, good and bad?

There is no moral difference between them.

Why should I be moral?

Because it makes you feel better than being immoral.

Is abortion, euthanasia, suicide, paying taxes, foreign aid, or anything else you don’t like forbidden, permissible, or sometimes obligatory?

Anything goes.

What is love, and how can I find it?

Love is the solution to a strategic interaction problem. Don’t look for it; it will find you when you need it.

Does history have any meaning or purpose?

It’s full of sound and fury, but signifies nothing.

Does the human past have any lessons for our future?

Fewer and fewer, if it ever had any to begin with.

After all, the trouble most people have with atheism is that if they really thought there were no God, human life would lose its value. They wouldn’t have much reason to go on living, and even less reason to be decent people. The questions theists always ask atheists are these two: In a world you think is devoid of purpose, why do you bother getting up in the morning? And in such a world, what stops you from cutting all the moral corners you can?

Religious people especially argue that atheists cannot really have any values—things we stand up for just because they are right—and that we are not to be trusted to be good when we can get away with something. They complain that our worldview has no moral compass. These charges get redoubled once theists see how big a role Darwinian natural selection plays in science’s view of reality. Many of the most vocal people who have taken sides against this scientific theory have frankly done so because they think it’s morally dangerous, not because it lacks evidence. If Darwinism is true, then anything goes! “Anything goes” is nihilism, and nihilism has a bad name.

As the chapters about ethics suggest, there is good news and bad news. The bad news first: We need to face the fact that nihilism is true: science can’t justify the core morality that almost all of us accept. And any other supposed justification would conflict with science. So, if we are going to be really consistent, nihilism is the only option.

I hope and I also believe that nice nihilism is enough to forestall atheists’ worries. Because when it comes to morality, it’s all we’ve got.

The most important thing to know about reality is that science understands it well enough to rule out god, and almost everything else that provides wiggle room for theism and mystery mongering. That includes all kinds of purposes, including even ones that conscious introspection suggests we ourselves have. Conscious introspection was shaped by natural selection into tricking us about the nature of reality.

For reasons just mentioned, we were shaped to be suckers for a good story, a narrative with a plot driven by motives—peoples’, god’s, nature’s. By making us think that our own behaviour is directly understandable to us as the product of our (usually conscious) will, introspection effectively prevents us from discovering its true sources in non-conscious brain processes.

To use some philosophical jargon, I am an eliminativist about the propositional attitudes. That is, I believe that the brain acquires, stores, and uses information, but that it does not do so in the form of sentences, statements or propositions. The illusion that it does so is another one of those mistakes foisted on us by conscious awareness.

Nihilism—even my “nice nihilism” is a public relations nightmare. Most of my fellow travellers think that if the scientific worldview saps morality of its truth, correctness, justification, then there is no chance it will be widely adopted and every chance the scientific worldview will be marginalized, to the obvious detriment of human welfare. They might be right. It’s an empirical matter.

The four most difficult chapters of The Atheist’s Guide are devoted to this task, and most reviewers have avoided even discussing them. They are too hard for people who have never heard of the problem of intentionality or content or ‘aboutness.’ Once we take on board eliminativism about content, and Darwinism about every other instance of apparent purposiveness in the universe and in our brains, it’s easy to see that what consciousness tells us about ourselves, our motives, our plans, our purposes, is a tissue of illusions. This, not morality, is the part of our understanding of ourselves that requires radical reconstruction, at least for scientific purposes, if not for everyday life.

Risen indeed!

I’m going to comment on some of Bradley Bowen’s objections to the Resurrection. It’s a rambling, multipart series that lacks smooth transitions or consistent labels, so I’ll simply give a general link.

1. General Problems with the Gospels – including the Fourth Gospel
a. It was written by a Christian believer with the purpose of promoting Christian beliefs.
b. It was probably not written by an eyewitness.
c. It was composed decades after the crucifixion of Jesus.
d. It provides no attribution of specific stories or details to named and known eyewitnesses or sources.
e. It was written in Greek rather than Aramaic (the language Jesus and his disciples used).
f. It appears that the words and sayings of Jesus were preserved in oral traditions that failed to reliably preserve the original situations or contexts of those words and sayings, thus opening the door to misunderstanding, distortion, and corruption of the original meaning of Jesus’ words and teachings.

If a primary purpose of an author of an account of the life of Jesus is to promote Christian beliefs, such as the belief that Jesus was the divine Son of God, and the Savior of humankind, then that purpose introduces certain biases into the account.  Such an account will tend to select events that support this point of view and tend to exclude or downplay events that undermine or dis-confirm that point of view.  An author with such biases will tend to accept without question stories and details that support these beliefs, while tending to reject without good reason other stories and details that dis-confirm or cast doubt on those beliefs.

i) There’s nothing inherently suspect about people promoting what they believe. Bowen is promoting his own beliefs.

ii) If I make a wonderful discovery, I should share it with others. If John’s belief that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world is based on his personal discovery, he doesn’t begin with selective bias; rather, he begins with a direct encounter.

iii) Bowen is assuming that the author was choosing from hearsay traditions about Jesus. But that’s an assumption Bowan needs to defend, not assert. The narrator describes himself as an eyewitness. Bowen may deny that claim, but he needs to make some effort to understand the Fourth Gospel on its own terms.

Kruger vs Ratzinger 4: Four different kinds of “tradition”

From a historical perspective I’ve shown, through a number of writings by Oscar Cullmann, how the historically accepted process of “oral tradition” or “paradosis”, (a word used by Paul) gave way to a more secure emphasis on the written word:

Papias was therefore deluding himself when he considered viva vox as more valuable than the written books. The oral tradition had a normative value in the period of the apostles, who were eye-witnesses, but it had it no longer in 150 after passing mouth to mouth (Cullmann, 88-89).

Over time, the “oral tradition” degraded to the point that it was not only not useful, but harmful.

For Paul, there was an “Apostolic Tradition” which came directly from the Lord to the Apostles. This is outlined by Michael Kruger in his work Canon Revisited, in the chapter “The Apostolic Origins of the Canon”:

It is clear from our earliest Christian documents—the New Testament itself—that the apostolic message would have borne the authority of Christ and therefore would have been seen as a divine message with the same authority as (if not more than) the Old Testament Scriptures. Jesus had commissioned his apostles “so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons” (Mark 3:14-15). Thus, the apostles were his mouthpieces to the nations, his authoritative witnesses. In John 20:21, Jesus declares to the apostles, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” Peter testifies to the fact that the apostles were “chosen by God as witnesses…to preach to the people and to testify that [Christ] is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:41-42). The book of 2 Peter makes it clear that the words of the apostles are the words of Jesus and are on par with the authority given to the Old Testament prophets: “You should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles” (2 Peter 3:2). Likewise, the author of Hebrews argues that the message of the apostles is the same message of salvation that was announced by the Lord Jesus himself and thus bears his full authority and weight—more weight even than the old testament borne by angels (Hebrews 2:2-3), [emphasis added].

This is what Paul has in mind when he uses the word “paradosis”. Roman Catholics often throw around that word as if what Paul was teaching is actually what the Roman Catholic Church today is teaching. However, nothing could be further from the truth. As we’ll see, the word “tradition” actually has about four different meanings. That Roman Catholics are able to equivocate among these four meanings is a testimony to the weakness of their doctrine on this matter … it’s why the Roman Catholic has to “check his brain at the door” when entering the Roman Catholic Church. It’s why virtually every statement that Rome makes must be qualified with phrases like “the problem is not with the truth of the church’s teaching but with our understanding of the Church’s full teaching”.

Kruger continues:

This apostolic message—which is really the authoritative message of Jesus Christ himself—was originally transmitted orally. Such oral tradition is evident within the New Testament itself when Paul speaks to the Thessalonians about “the tradition [παράδοσιν] you have received from us” (2 Thess 3:6). In 1 Corinthians 11:23 Paul also refers to the institution of the Lord’s Supper as tradition” “I received [παρέλαβον] from the Lord what I also delivered [παρέδωκα] to you.” By saying that this tradition is “from the Lord,” Paul is not suggesting that he received it by direct revelation, but is likely referring to the fact that the Lord spoke in (and behind) the apostolic tradition and thus that tradition is really from him. Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 15:3 Paul states “For I delivered [παρέδωκα] to you as of first importance what I also received [παρέλαβον]: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” The structure of this verse suggests that Paul is passing along a standardized apostolic tradition about the resurrection of Jesus. Other passages speak of this same phenomenon (Luke 1:1-4; Rom 6:17; Gal 1:9; Phil 4:9; Col 2:6-8; 1 Thess 2:13-15; 1 Tim 6:20; 2 Tim 1:14; 2 Pet 2:21; Jude 1:3).

Of course, the term oral tradition can have a variety of negative connotations. After all, Christ rebuked the Pharisees for relying on the “traditions of men,” which are unreliable and often change (Mark 7:8; cf. Matt 5:21; Col 2:8). In addition, modern versions of form criticism have continued to highlight how traditions of Jesus were orally transmitted in various early Christian communities and were subsequently modified and adapted for each new Sitz im Leben. It is important to recognize, however, that the New Testament passages above are speaking not of human tradition or even of ecclesiastical tradition, but of apostolic tradition. Luke tells us that his tradition was “handed down” (παρέδοσαν) to him by “those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” (Luke 1:2), a clear reference to the apostles. This type of tradition was not passed down over long periods of time through anonymous communities, but was passed down by those who were eyewitnesses of Jesus’s redemptive activities and were given an authoritative commission by Christ to guard and preserve these traditions by the help of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13). In their role as guardians of the oral tradition, not only would the apostles have passed it along themselves in their own preaching and teaching, but, as Bauckham has argued, they would have entrusted that oral tradition to key leaders and disciples “with the skills and gifts necessary for preserving that tradition.” No doubt there were other streams of oral tradition about Jesus that were being promulgated during this early time period—some of which were more reliable than others. But the apostolic stream of tradition was viewed as unique because Christ himself was speaking through it (Kruger, 175-178).

This is why, as I’ve written before, Cullmann noted that the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, for example, were “at a considerable distance from New Testament thought”, and that church fathers who wrote after 150, especially Irenaeus and Tertullian, understood “infinitely better” the essence of the gospel.

This “improvement” was certainly anchored in “the codification of the apostolic tradition in a canon“ [Kruger: a “canonical core”] that became the superior norm of oral tradition. (For a further analysis of the reliability of Papias in general, see Jason Engwer’s comments here).

* * *                                                                                                                                                                        

In his “Laymen’s Guide to the Thirty-Nine Articles”, ARTICLE XX, “Of the Authority of the Church”, the Continuing Anglican Fr. Robert Hart talked about “tradition” (or “paradosis”) in these same terms. He notes that there are three kinds of tradition, which correspond with Cullmann’s:

First, there is tradition that is simply the handing down of [Apostolic] revelation. “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions (παράδοσις, paradosis) which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle (II Thes. 2:15).”

As with Kruger above, Cullmann argued that these are Apostolic traditions, given by the Lord. Hart says, “These things are inflexible, no matter how they are expressed. And as has been noted, these “inflexible”, revealed truths, were “written down” in the writings of the New Testament (Luke 1:2).

Second is manmade tradition that is good, wise and reasonable. This corresponds with Cullmann’s category of “ecclesiastical” tradition. Because it is manmade tradition, it is flexible. “But, because it is good, wise and reasonable it is foolish to cast it aside or to alter it carelessly. That is why Richard Hooker wrote about reason and ‘the church with her ecclesiastical authority’ so closely together”.

Some developments in doctrine fall into this category. Hart suggests that “wisdom and reason are not really altogether separate from this category of tradition. Indeed, it is also wise to consider the possibility if not likelihood that the Holy Spirit showed the way and gave light to the minds of our fathers who came before us, so that what any church finds itself compelled to change in any given generation (and for the sake of posterity) is changed only with the greatest care”. And, he says that change should be limited to what the Article mentions specifically: “…rites or ceremonies,” and corrections to false teaching with “authority in controversies of faith.”

I’d place “the development of the episcopate” (and contemporary RC scholars - like Sullivan) put it into this second category. It was useful at the time. But was not foundational with the church. And hence, with “the greatest care”, the Reformers were able to step out from under a corrupt episcopal system. It was not to be “forever”. It is not a dogma from the lips of Christ or the Apostles.

The third kind (Hart’s second kind) is manmade tradition that contradicts the first:

“Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?... Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition (Matt. 15:1-3, 6).” The reader should place his emphasis on the words “God” and “your” to get the point across.

Very much in Roman Catholicism, both before the Reformation and after it, fits this category. And, as Hart suggested, many of the critical statements in the Thirty-Nine Articles were aimed at errors that fit this second category perfectly, such as “the Romish doctrine of Purgatory,” and other things we have discussed.

I’d suggest, also, that there is a fourth category of “tradition”, one adopted at Vatican II – it is the “Living Voice”, the notion that “what we say, goes”. Within this “Tradition”, such very old traditions as “no salvation outside of the church” may be “reformulated positively” to say such things as “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation”.

But that’s a discussion for another day. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Mind over matter

Blue Devil Knight said...

   Hayes [sic] was right to focus on E1.4 because the terms aren't very well defined, so it is weak.

   [Quoting Lowder] I am not a biologist, but I doubt that any biologist thinks that the intelligence of social insects is even in the same league as that of chimpanzees.

    Most of us would avoid answering a question like that before the terms were nailed down very precisely. Many would say, 'Intelligent in what way?' And if you said 'Ability to build hives' we would have to say that the bee was more intelligent.

    Regardless of these ultimately moot questions like whether bee hive shows more intelligence than a bonobo masturbating, we should note that all the behaviors of the bee depend on the nervous system of the bee. Nobody in the conversation is a substance dualist about the bee dance.

    Hayes [sic] has pointed out a case of a simple cognitive life, with memory and a communication system, in a patently naturalistic system, and we should thank him for pointing out this nice example that, while casting doubt on one of your pieces of evidence, ultimately is very helpful for the naturalist. Indeed, bees are now one of my favorite examples for the study of intelligent biorepresentational systems (it used to be birdsong learning, until I posted this).

    Back to your argument: in general, inferences from neural complexity to "mental complexity" (and vice-versa) are tough.

    I would just say that the neural activity we observe is what we would expect if brains were solely responsible for the mental capacities of animals, and that given everything we know about brains, it isn't clear what is left for these nonphysical substances to do. That's why most of the antinaturalists about consciousness are merely property dualists for whom experiences literally do nothing but dangle there attached to the meat doing the real work, dangling there "feeling" or "experiencing" or whatever, doing nothing.

    There is no magic synapse that has to take in inputs from some additional ingredient (psychons (Eccles)). Rather, everywhere we look, we find neurotransmitters and voltage fields pushing around other neurons (and ultimately muscles) all the way through, without any metaphysical gaps. Given that, and the other evidence you pointed out, and the lack of any plausible dualistic theory that has ever offered any help to any neuroscientist ever, substance dualism is dead except to the religiously biased (and perhaps new-age credulous saps). So we end up with property dualists that serve as the end-point epiphenomenalist reductio of the dualist enterprise.

Several problems:

i) There’s a fundamental difference between BDK’s methodology and mine. What’s the starting point?  He begins with the assumption that a biological organism is purely physical, so its behavior must be explainable on purely physical terms.

By contrast, I begin with the phenomena to be explained, then postulate whatever is necessary to account for the phenomena. I don’t reason back from the assumed nature of the organism, but from the phenomenon demanding an explanation. And that, in turn, may help to pin down the nature of the organism.

Presumptive physicalism is really a science-stopper, for it prejudges what will count as an acceptable answer. It doesn’t follow the evidence wherever the evidence leads.

ii) Why assume that honeybees (and other biological organisms) are purely physical organisms? Because we can only observe their physical properties. Our senses only allow us to empirically discern or detect physical properties.

If biological organisms had both material and immaterial properties, we’d be unable to perceive their immaterial properties. But that doesn’t their composition is limited to what our senses can discern. Rather, that’s a potential limitation of our senses. Physicalism confuses epistemology with ontology. What we can perceive is not the measure of what is.

I’m not saying honeybees are more than merely physical entities. I’m not saying one way or the other. I’m just pointing out the flawed methodology of physicalism.

iii) Let’s take a few examples. Consider cheating at cards. Is that reducible to a physical description? At one level, you could analyze a stacked deck in terms of its physical components. The number of cards. Their physical composition. Their mathematical sequence. You could also analyze the physiological process of shuffling the deck.

But even if you furnished a complete physical description of cheating at cards, that would fail to capture a key element: the mind behind the stacked deck. The intention of the cardsharp.

Why is the deck stacked? That’s not something exhaustive physical analysis will yield. The intelligence of the cardsharp accounts for the physical arrangement of the cards.

Or take a musical composition. Is that reducible to the physical properties of the score? To which notes occur in what order?

But that analysis omits a key ingredient: the mind of the composer. The notes on the score reflect the composer’s choice of notes.

Even though you can’t directly perceive the composer’s mind or the cardsharp’s intent, that’s something you can infer or indirectly detect. As personal agents, we are used to inferring personal agency.

iv) Apropos (iii), when I go to a park and see a model plane flying overhead, or see a model car zoom by, I look around for a boy with a remote control device. Same thing with aerial drones or unmanned space probes. These are invisibly guided by remote control signaling.

v) Do humans have more complex minds because they have more complex brains, or do they have more complex brains because they have more complex minds? Does a more complex mind need a more complex brain to carry out its wishes in the physical world?

For instance, you might give a child a simpler computer chess program, and a teenager a harder computer chess program. As the child’s cognitive development increases, he needs a more challenging program to express himself. The complexity of the program reflects the complexity of the user, not vice versa.

vi) BDK’s physicalism has no explanatory power. He doesn’t explain how the nervous system of a honeybee can perform such intricate tasks. His physicalism amounts of faith: it must be so.

And we can move further down the ladder. Scientists try to outwit inanimate diseases. The pathogens seem to be smarter than the scientists. Do I think bacteria are personally intelligent? No.

But consider bioweapons. Weaponized bacteria or viruses. We don’t impute intelligence to the pathogen itself, but we infer a mind behind the pathogen. An external mind. The person who engineered the pathogen. Why assume disease in nature is fundamentally different?

Physicalism is like a throwback to the clockwork universe of Newtonian physics. To a purely mechanistic universe. But what if the universe is ultimately personalistic rather than mechanistic?

The Flannery O’Connor Summer Reading Club

Jonathan Rogers is hosting a Flannery O'Connor summer reading club on his blog. Here is his introductory post, and here is a portion from one of his posts on "A Good Man is Hard to Find":
A good Southern lady, the grandmother would never dream of taking the Lord’s name in vain. But, as it turns out, she has been taking the Lord’s name in vain all her life. Her telling the Misfit to pray, that Jesus would help him, was simply another way of manipulating to get her way. Here at this moment of extremity, she is about to come to terms with the ultimate truths that she has been mouthing about. “Jesus, Jesus,” she says, in what might as well be a kind of profanity. And yet Jesus intervenes anyway. By invoking the name of Jesus, the grandmother elicits a speech from the Misfit in which, ironically, he tells the truth about Jesus: “He thrown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but throw everything away and follow Him, and if He didn’t, then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can.”
And now, finally, the grandmother says the first honest thing she has said the whole story. She expresses an honest doubt:
"'Maybe He didn’t raise the dead,' the old lady mumbled, not knowing what she was saying and feeling so dizzy that she sank down in the ditch with her legs twisted under her."
That honest doubt cracks open the door for an honest acceptance of truths to which the grandmother had only given lip-service before. Just before her death, she finally realizes that she is a sinner herself, more kin to the Misfit than she would have ever been able to acknowledge. In an instant of clear-headedness she tells the Misfit, “Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children!” She has finally pushed through the cliches that have preserved her self-righteousness and is ready to meet her Maker–and not a second too soon.

Things Which Ought to Be Better Known about the Resurrection of Jesus

In case you haven't already seen this:

Obama listens to rich liberals at his peril

An atheist reply to "Christians" who support homosexual rights

Minds and brains

Jeff Lower has attempted to respond to my criticisms of his original post.

Reply: Like the previous objection, this objection is not of obvious relevance to APM and for the same reason. The existence of mental states is included within the background information for APM.

Jeff is not entitled to treat the existence of mental states as a given within the framework of naturalism, if that background information is inconsistent with naturalism. He’s artificially isolating his argument from evidence to the contrary. Moreover, the counterevidence is internal to naturalism (i.e. eliminative materialism).

Reply: If human minds were independent of the physical brain, then brain injuries should not have much, if any, impact on mental activity since, ex hypothesi, mental activity does not occur in the brain to begin with. Thus, E1.2 is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that E is true than on the assumption that E is false, i.e., Pr(E1.2 | E) >! Pr(E1.2 | ~E).

The objector’s computer analogy does not explain E1.2. If my computer were stolen, no amount of fiddling with it would enable the burglar to affect my ability to speak, recognize faces, feel pain. In contrast, brain injuries can produce exactly these kinds of results.

Jeff is committing a level-confusion. According to my computer analogy, the soul is to the user as the computer is to the brain. On this analogy, the brain and soul are ontologically distinct or separable, but epistemologically indistinguishable or inseparable inasmuch as we lack direct or independent access to the soul. Our knowledge of the soul is mediated by the conduit of the brain.

To say damage to the computer doesn’t damage the user misses the point, for the analogy presupposes that very distinction. Because the soul or user is metaphysically distinct or separable from the brain or computer, damaging the medium doesn’t damage the soul or user. That’s not inconsistent with my argument; rather, that’s a presupposition of my argument.

However, you can’t get around the medium to find out what the soul is really like, apart from the medium. Damaging the computer does affect Jeff’s ability to communicate via the computer. It prevents him from sending or receiving information via the computer. So you have a correlation analogous to the correlation that Jeff stipulated between mental events and brain events. And if that were his only conduit to the outside world, a computer malfunction would be epistemically equivalent to neurological impairment.

Reply: Regarding E1.4, when we compare different classes within the animal kingdom (e.g., fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals), we find that more intelligent classes always have more complex brains.

Really? For instance, I’ve seen lots of nature shows about crocodiles. Crocs have a small “primitive” reptilian brain. Less “advanced” than the mammalian brain. Yet folks who study crocs say they are very cunning–especially older crocs with years of experience.

I am not a neuroscientist or biologist, but I suspect that there is some margin of error with the correlation between brain size and mental capacities, e.g., an animal with a 500cc brain is always going to be more intelligent than an animal with a 5cc brain, but there may be instances within the same species of an animal with a 450cc brain that is more intelligent than an animal with a 500cc brain.

But do we actually have any hard data comparing the brains of smart little dogs with big dumb dogs? Or neurological data comparing smarter dog breeds with dumber dog breeds? 

Reply: Again, I am not a biologist, but I doubt that any biologist thinks that the intelligence of social insects is even in the same league as that of chimpanzees.

Well, let’s get more specific. For instance:

Honeybees build nests with hexagonal combs for brood raising and food storage. All of them use dance language as their primary means of recruiting nest mates to valuable resources.

Apis floreata and A. adreniformis the smallest species build small cones hanging from tree branches, because the support for the comb supplies a flat surface on the top of the branch they can indicate direction directly by doing their dance on this part of the comb. The other species all do their dance on the vertical plane of the comb and thus indicate direction by transposing the direction of the sun to the direction relevant to gravity using a straight upwards direction to be equivalent to flying towards the sun. In all species the vigor with which the bee dances is directly correlated with the richness of the resource indicated, while the length of the straight run, or its omission are indications of the distance to be traveled to the resource, this need not be a straight line but may involve flying around some natural obstacle such as a small mountain.

The Honey Bee dance comes in three forms; A) the reversing circle or round dance used to indicate a resource close to the hive, B) the sickle dance, only used by the Italian race of Apis mellifera to indicate a slightly more distant resource, and C) the waggle dance, which is basically the circle dance with the addition of bisecting line down the middle during which the bee waggles her abdomen. The more intense the waggling the closer the food source. Different species and races use the round dance to indicate resources at different distances, thus A. floreata, A. dorsata and A. cerana only use the round dance for distances less than 50 meters while Apis mellifera (race) ligustica uses it for distances up to 200 meters and A. mellifera cornica for resources up to 1000 meters distant.

Chimpanzees don’t construct geodesic homes. And they don’t have this sophisticated signaling system. On the face of it, honeybee behavior is more advanced than chimp behavior in this respect. If chimps built geodesic homes or employed complex sign language to give directions, wouldn’t we be tempted to attribute that to their superior brainpower? Conversely, if honeybees were as big as chimps, wouldn’t we be inclined to attribute their behavior to their superior brainpower?

Or take slavemaker ants:

The young slavemaking queen will wait outside of the colony she is leaving and follow a group of raiding slave makers into her new colony. As the worker slavemakers raid this colony for eggs, the queen takes advantage of the battle by using it to sneak into the colony. Once it finds the queen, it kills her and takes her place. The new queen mimics the old queen by consuming pheromones from her body and releasing them to the attending ants. This new queen having mated with a slavemaking male earlier begins to produce new slave makers. Other variations on these hostile takeovers include one South American species whose workers secrete a chemical on a host colony that causes the ants of the host colony to evacuate the nest. In their haste to leave, pupae will be left behind. These developing ants are then taken back to the slave maker nest. Another variation is in a European species that attacks ants that are significantly larger in size. The queen invades a nest by clinging on the rightful queen and slowly chokes her to death.

That’s pretty clever. If higher animals did that, it would be tempting to ascribe that to their mammalian brainpower. Or if ants were as big as midsized mammals, wouldn’t we be inclined to attribute that behavior to their brain capacity?

Reply: Yes, but (I'm told) predatory insects are much more limited in their behavioral responses than social mammals like wolves, lions, leopards, and dogs. The latter are much more versatile in their behavioral responses because of their greater complexity. I could be wrong, but I believe this point is uncontroversial among entomologists and ethologists.

Take the trapdoor spider. If a monkey constructed a tunnel with a hinged, camouflaged lid, to ambush prey–wouldn’t we be inclined to chalk that up to the monkey’s superior brain development?

Reply: Given that my argument is an evidential argument, this is false. Here considerations like the explanatory virtues come into play. What is the most parsimonious, scientifically conservative, successfully predictive explanation that accounts for the widest range of facts? Judged like any other empirical hypothesis, E is the best explanation, hands down.

There are several difficulties with that glib appeal:

i) One problem with Occam’s razor is that it’s prejudicial and premature. Occam’s razor is really an admission of ignorance. If we already knew how simple or complex the world is, we wouldn’t resort to Occam’s razor in the first place. So we’re getting ahead of ourselves at that juncture.

ii) Apropos (i), a simpler theory is better than a complex theory–assuming that reality is simple. But why assume (at the outset) that reality is simple? That’s something you can't predict ahead of time.

A simpler explanation is better–provided that the world is as simple as your explanation. But that’s the very question at issue. You don’t want a theory that’s more complicated than reality, but by the same token you don’t want a theory that oversimplifies reality. Rather, you want a theory that matches reality.

And Occam’s razor is misleading, because you can’t say in advance what the world is like. That’s something we must discover.

iii) There’s a tradeoff between ontological simplicity and theoretical simplicity. More entities can simplify the explanation. Fewer entities can complicate the theory.

Most philosophers believe that, other things being equal, simpler theories are better. But what exactly does theoretical simplicity amount to? Syntactic simplicity, or elegance, measures the number and conciseness of the theory's basic principles. Ontological simplicity, or parsimony, measures the number of kinds of entities postulated by the theory. One issue concerns how these two forms of simplicity relate to one another.

 A distinction is often made between two fundamentally distinct senses of simplicity: syntactic simplicity (roughly, the number and complexity of hypotheses), and ontological simplicity (roughly, the number and complexity of things postulated).[3] These two facets of simplicity are often referred to as elegance and parsimony respectively.

For instance, Jeff is disregarding familiar, intractable problems confronting physicalism, viz. qualia, intentionality.