Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Bible, Protestantism, and the Rise of Natural Science

Negotiating Darwin: The Vatican Confronts Evolution

If you didn't know better, you'd almost suspect the One True Church® was devising and revising her policies on the fly:

The Darwinian Dilemma

Here are two articles by Sharon Street which make the case that naturalistic evolution undermines moral realism:

Go to her academic page for downloadable versions:

  1. "A Darwinian Dilemma for Realist Theories of Value," Philosophical Studies 127, no. 1 (January 2006):  109-166.
  2.  "Reply to Copp:  Naturalism, Normativity, and the Varieties of Realism Worth Worrying About," Philosophical Issues (a supplement to Noûs), vol. 18 on "Interdisciplinary Core Philosophy," ed. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, 2008.  

The Donum Superadditum, Aquinas, Pseudo-Dionysius, and the false and empty nature of Roman Catholic Tradition

WSC professor of historical theology Scott Clark has put up a post that I think gets to the heart of the disagreement between the Reformers and Rome.

To begin to come to some understanding consider these passages from an essay by Herman Bavinck, “Calvin and Common Grace,” trans. Geerhardus Vos The Princeton Theological Review 7 (1909): 437–65, in which he gave an account of his understanding of the differences between the medieval and Reformation churches on the relations between nature and grace. In the medieval period,

The Church, however, is not merely the possessor of supernatural truth; in the second plea it is also the depository and dispenser of supernatural grace. As the Church doctrine is infinitely exalted above all human knowledge and science, so the grace kept and distributed by the Church far transcends nature. It is true this grace is, among other things, gratia medicinal is, but this is an accidental and adventitious quality. Before all else it is gratia elevans, something added to and elevating above nature. As such it entered into the image of God given to Adam before the Fall, and as such it again appears in the restoration to that original state. In view of its adding to exalted nature a supernatural element, it is conceived as something material, enclosed in the sacrament, and as such dispensed by the priest. Thus every man becomes, for his knowledge of supernatural truth and for his reception of supernatural grace, that is, for his heavenly salvation, absolutely dependent on the Church, the priest and the sacrament. Extra ecclesiam null salus.

The most important thing to observe here is that, in this conception, grace elevates nature. Thomas (Aquinas) taught that grace “perfects” nature, that creation is inherently imperfect. It is not that, as the Reformed would say later, creation was created awaiting glorification. It was, rather, that creation was inherently corrupt. As Bavinck wrote,

The world, the state, natural life, marriage and culture are not sinful in themselves; only they are of a lower order, of a secular nature, and unless consecrated by the Church, easily become an occasion for sinning.

Again, the thing to notice is the hierarchical conception of existence. Gradually, through the medieval period, the Western church came to think of the relations between God and man as an ontologically hierarchy with man at the bottom and God at the top.

The whole hierarchical idea is built on the sharp distinction between nature and grace.

This gets at the crux of the issue: “the sharp distinction between nature and grace.” Which, distinction, according to Bavinck, was repudiated by the Reformation.

…the Reformation of the sixteenth century differed from all these attempts in that it not merely opposed the Roman system in its excresences but attacked it internally in the foundations on which it rested and in the principles out of which it had been developed. The Reformation rejected the entire system, and substituted for it a totally different conception of veritias, gratia, and bona opera.

This is an under appreciated element of the Reformation, the reassertion of the distinction between the Creator and the creature. That distinction destroyed the hierarchy and asserted a strict analogy between God and man. According to the Reformation, salvation was no longer to be considered deification, participating in the divine being, or “elevation” but deliverance from wrath, free acceptance by God on the basis of Christ’s righteousness imputed and received through faith (trusting in Christ). Sanctification, conformity to Christ, became the consequence of justification.

This account of the difference between the medieval and Reformation is consistent with the way the Reformed saw the issue.

Thus, for Bavinck, the issue seems to have been two things: a hierarchical ontology (view of being) and the “sharp distinction” (dualism) between nature and grace.

The key difference is this: in the Protestant scheme, the Biblical statement (Gen 1:31) is authoritative: that “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good”. Man, as created, was “very good”.

But in the Roman Catholic scheme, created man was not “good enough”, and a “donum superadditum” (“superadded grace”) needed to be “added”. In the Roman Catholic scheme, in the fall, man only lost this “donum superadditum”. But in the Protestant scheme, there was no “superadded grace” to lose. Man simply became dead in sin.

This “ontological” distinction had some history in the early church.

Another egregious difference, more importantly, that Clark points out, is “the hierarchical conception of existence”. As he says, “gradually, through the medieval period, the Western church came to think of the relations between God and man as an ontologically hierarchy with man at the bottom and God at the top.”

Aquinas relies heavily on this “hierarchy”, which is a neo-Platonic concept, which Aquinas got from a sixth century theologian named “Pseudo-Dionysius”. He is “pseudo” because he tried to portray himself as the first-century Dionysius, a companion of Paul, from Acts 17:34.

Aquinas believed that Pseudo-Dionysius was the real thing, and he relied on him as a source almost as authoritative as Scripture. Such is the vacuous nature of Roman Catholic “Tradition” that it relies so heavily on an imposter, and they didn’t even know it.

I suspect more of this sort of thing will follow.

[Bryan Cross’s name inserted here so it comes up on a Google Alert, and he can try to respond to this one.]

Friday, October 12, 2012

Disproving Carrier

What an atheist with advanced training in math and science thinks of Carrier's new book:

Dennett contra Weinberg

Ethics, atheism, and the Euthyphro dilemma

I’m going to discuss the Euthyphro dilemma by comparing and contrasting two different atheists on morality. Let’s begin by outlining the nature of the so-called dilemma.

If, on the one hand, God commands or forbids something because it’s right or wrong, then it’s right and wrong apart God. God is not the ultimate source of morality. Rather, God himself is subject to a more ultimate standard.

If, on the other hand, God’s bare command or prohibition is what makes something right or wrong, then good and evil are arbitrary and vacuous. Arbitrary because there’s no underlying rationale for the command or prohibition. And that, in turn, renders good and evil meaningless, for they are consistent with any command or opposing command.

Here is how a prominent atheist states the alleged dilemma, with special emphasis on one horn of the alleged dilemma:

Translated into contemporary terms, the question Socrates is asking is this: Are morally good actions morally good simply in virtue of God’s favoring them? Or does God favor them because they are–independently of his favoring them–morally good?

Divine command theory says that what is good is good only because God has commanded it; there is nothing more to an act’s being good than that God command it.

[According to] divine independence theory, the goodness of an action is a feature that is independent of, and antecedent to God’s willing it.

The two theories differ on what accounts for this congruence. DCT says that it is God’s command that explains why the good acts are good, while DIT says that it is the goodness of the acts that explains why God commanded them.

The way to bring out the difference is to consider a case of an act that we’d all antecedently agree is morally wrong–say, torturing an innocent child. If DCT is correct, then the following counterfactual is true: If God had commanded us to torture innocent children, then it would have been morally right to do so. DIT, however, entails the following: If God had commanded us to torture innocent children, then God would not have been perfectly good.

Only the theorist who believes that right and wrong are independent of God’s commands could have any basis for thinking she or he knows in advance what God would or would not command. If, as DCT says, an act’s being good just consists in its being chosen by God, then there’s nothing about the action in advance of its being chosen or rejected that would enable us to determine what attitude God would take toward it in some other possible world. “Good” for the divine command theorist is synonymous with “commanded by God.” …there is nothing that is inherently good or bad, and thus nothing that explains God’s choosing which acts to endorse and which acts to prohibit.

I doubt that there are many people who really believe DCT. If there were, then there would be fewer interpretive difficulties surrounding those stores in the Bible that depict God commanding actions that we would ordinarily take to be moral atrocities.

The Bible is full of accounts of God’s killing, displacing, or otherwise seriously smiting presumably innocent people who had the misfortune of belonging to a tribe whose leaders had threatened to impede his ambitions for the Israelites…Sometimes, there’s not even a pretext that the doomed people are morally at fault: The only “crime” committed by the Canaanites was living in a land God wanted for his people.

The question can be asked, then, Why ought one to obey God? The fact that this question can be asked, that it’s comprehensible, that it makes sense, is sufficient proof that the mere existence of an all-powerful Creator is not enough to generate a realm of moral fact.

Louise Antony, “Atheist as Perfect Piety,” R. Garcia & N. King, Is Goodness Without God Good Enough?: A Debate on Faith, Secularism, and Ethics (Rowman & Littlefield 2009), 71,72,73,79,80.

Before introducing the second atheist, I’m going to comment on these excerpts:

i) She says torturing an innocent child is something “we’d all antecedently agree is morally wrong.” But as an atheist, she’s in no position to posit that claim. For one thing, it seems to be empirically false. After all, there are people who torture innocent children. Do they think what they are doing is morally wrong?

ii) Furthermore, even if we think it’s morally wrong, that doesn’t make it morally wrong. From an atheistic standpoint, we might say natural selection brainwashed us into cherishing children because that sentiment promotes the survival of the species. But once you become aware of the fact that you were brainwashed, you no longer feel obliged to comply with your conditioning.

iii) In addition, there are secular utilitarians who could propose a scenario in which it’s morally permissible or even obligatory to torture a child. Take a variation on the ticking timebomb scenario. A terrorist won’t divulge the information needed to prevent nuking Chicago unless we torture, or threaten to torture, his child. The harm done to one child is offset by the harm done to thousands of children unless we torture his child. 

iv) She also cites biblical commands which she classifies as “moral atrocities.” But Bible writers didn’t think those were moral atrocities.

v) Furthermore, many cultures, both ancient and modern, commit similar “atrocities.” Do the perpetrators think they are committing “moral atrocities?

So it’s hard for her to come up with any cases “we’d all antecedently agree is morally wrong.”

I’m not being pedantic, here. She’s not entitled to systematically beg the question when illustrating her thesis. She needs to discharge her burden of proof.

vi) She says no pretext for executing the Canaanites is even given. But that’s willfully ignorant. The divine command is not a bare command. It supplies a rationale, implicating the Canaanites in idolatry and immorality.

vii) She also says “there’s nothing about the action in advance of its being chosen or rejected that would enable us to determine what attitude God would take toward it in some other possible world.”

But that confuses the epistemology of ethics with the ontology of ethics. Whether something is good or bad, and whether we know ahead of time whether it’s good or bad are separate issues.

viii) Finally, she makes the eccentric claim the mere ability to ask why we ought to obey God is sufficient proof that the mere existence of an all-powerful Creator is not enough to generate a realm of moral fact.

But that’s confused. At one level we can simply accept the morality of a divine command on the authority of a wise and benevolent God. That’s sufficient reason for us to accept it.

But that doesn’t make the command itself groundless. God can have good reason for what he commands. And knowing that God has a good reason is distinct from knowing what reason he has.

ix) There’s also a difference between moral imperatives and a moral obligation to obey a divine command. We can have a moral obligation to obey a divine command even if the command itself is not a moral imperative.

For instance, God commanding Abraham to leave Ur is not, itself a moral absolute. Rather, God commanded Abraham to leave Ur because Abraham leaving Ur is part of God’s long-range plan to redeem the world. His command is purposeful.

Abraham has a duty to obey God’s command, but not because leaving Ur is intrinsically obligatory. Rather, God has a good reason for command Abraham to leave Ur. And Abraham ought to trust God’s wisdom, even if God didn’t reveal his reason to Abraham.

x) Apropos (ix), that type of obligation sidesteps the Euthyphro dilemma. God’s command to Abraham isn’t arbitrary. Rather, God’s command is explicable in reference to God’s overarching plan (whether or not that explanation is available to Abraham). By the same token, it’s not independent of God.

Let’s now quote another atheist:

If value is tied to life, its content will depend on particular forms of life, and the most salient reasons it gives us will depend, even in a realist conception, on our own form of life. This is how a realist account can accommodate one of the things that make subjectivism seem most plausible, namely the fact that what we find self-evidently valuable is overwhelmingly contingent on the biological specifics of our form of life. Human good and bad depend in the first instance on our natural appetites, emotions, capacities, and interpersonal bonds, If we were more like bees or lions, what seems good to us would be very different, a point that Street emphasizes.

[Quoting Street]: “Imagine, for instance, that we had evolved more along the lines of lions, so that males in relatively frequent circumstances had a strong unreflective evaluative tendency to experience the killing of offspring that were not his own as “demanded” by the circumstances, and so that females, in turn, experienced no strong unreflective tendency to “hold it against” a male when he killed her offspring in such circumstances, on the contrary becoming receptive to his advances soon afterwards.”

T. Nagel, Mind and Cosmos (Oxford 2012), 119.

i) Now what’s striking about this argument is that it could easily be retrofitted to account for many Biblical commands and prohibitions. Instead of blind evolution, we have a Creator God who designed different types of creatures with corresponding appetites, emotions, capacities, and interpersonal bonds. Human obligations would be keyed to human nature–the nature with which God endowed us. Our duties would be engineered into us.

That sidesteps the Euthyphro dilemma, for commands and prohibitions of this kind aren’t good “only” because they are commanded. There is “more to it” than the bare command. Rather, you have an inherent obligation that’s inherent in the nature of the agent. Good for the creature because that’s how the creature was made.

Conversely, this isn’t good apart from God. Rather, it’s contingent on how God designed us.

ii) I’d add that this doesn’t exhaust all types of divine commands. For example, Scripture commands us to be holy because God is holy. What grounds that command is the nested relationship between the divine exemplar and its human exemplification. If God is good–indeed, the summum bonum–then it’s good to be an instance of God’s goodness.

That, too, sidesteps the Euthyphro dilemma. On the one hand this isn’t arbitrary or vacuous. It’s grounded in God’s own nature. But by the same token, it’s not something over and above God himself. 

iii) Likewise, we have a standing obligation to worship God–because God is intrinsically worthy of our worship. That also sidesteps the Euthyphro dilemma. It’s not a good command for the command’s sake. Rather, it’s imbedded in something ultimately greater. We should love the good because it’s good. And God’s goodness is exemplary goodness. There is no higher good, be it possible or actual.

Imagine Joe Biden As Dick Cheney

Something I wrote in another thread:
To put things in perspective, ask yourself how the mainstream media and Democrats would have reacted if Dick Cheney had behaved the way Joe Biden did. Or what if a Democratic debate opponent had made points against Cheney like the ones Ryan made against Biden? For example, what if unemployment had been as high under the Bush/Cheney administration as it's been under Obama/Biden? And what if Cheney's Democratic opponent had pointed out to Cheney that unemployment was above 10% in Cheney's hometown (as Ryan did with Biden)? I suspect that the media and Democrats would have made it out to be a great moment in presidential debate history, along the lines of Lloyd Bentsen's comment to Dan Quayle about how he's no John Kennedy. Yet, when Ryan makes the point against Biden, it gets so little attention (at least in the debate coverage I've seen so far). Again, to put this debate in perspective, I think it's helpful to ask yourself what the reaction would have been to Dick Cheney if he had behaved the way Biden did.

Vos on Bavinck

In Dutch Reformed theology you have an intramural debate between infras and supras, as well as those, like Bavinck, who try to steer a middle course. It’s interesting in that regard to read Vos comment on Bavinck’s position in his review, which you can access here:

Scroll down to section:


And click on:

Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, Volume II (Herman Bavinck)

Go to pages 4-5.

Naturalizing the paranormal

I’m going to comment on a recent post by JD Walters:

First of all, I agree with JD that Christians should take the academic study of the paranormal seriously. For one thing, this has apologetic value. It supplies counterevidence to the common atheistic contention that there’s no point of contact between the enchanted world of the Bible and the disenchanted world we actually inhabit.

Likewise, the paranormal is part of a Christian worldview. Of course, that acknowledgement doesn’t set aside ethical questions regarding participation certain paranormal activities, viz. the occult.

Aside from the benefit of allowing Christians to study parapsychology and comparative religion without fear of the implications for their faith, it can also help us regain a sense of God's presence in everything that happens, not just 'special' events. There is a danger that, if we only view supernatural events as religious, we lose sight of the sacramental reality of the whole world as God's creation. Ultimately, Christianity is not an otherworldly religion. We are not to focus our attention on some spiritual realm, to the neglect of the earthly one. On the contrary, this is the world God cares about and this is the world in which he became flesh. While special visions and other signs and wonders can be uniquely powerful manifestations of God's presence and can be incredibly encouraging, ultimately they will serve their purpose if they turn us back to our everyday lives and activities with a renewed love of God and increased ability to discern His presence everywhere.

There’s a lot of truth to this statement. However, as stated, this represents an overreaction to an equally reactionary alternative. The biblical outlook is both worldly and otherworldly. JD’s position risks deeschatologizing the Christian outlook.

Divine prophecy "involves communication, not merely representation; interpretation, not narration; integration, not fragmentation; moral direction in the present, not manipulation of the future. It preserves freedom; it does not bind people to a predetermined fate. It builds confidence and hope, not insecurity and despair." (pp. 99-100) Prophecy aims fundamentally at moral transformation and is a call to action, not just an announcement of future news stories.

But that oversimplifies the data. Prophecies are not all of a kind. For instance, oracles of judgment tend to be conditional, where one objective is to motivate repentance. (Of course, oracles of judgment can also inculpate the impenitent.)

On the other hand, we wouldn’t want oracles of salvation to be conditional, if that means the prophecy might let us down just when we need it most.

The paranormal needs to be 'naturalized', and understood to be just as much a part of the 'ordinary' world we live in as rocks falling and plants photosynthesizing. In other words, in addition to distinguishing between 'ordinary' and 'extraordinary' or 'special' divine providence, we also need to distinguish between paranormal happenings and divine miracles, the latter being a subset of the former.

If many phenomena formerly thought to be evidence of God's direct intervention instead turn out to be manifestations of 'natural' abilities…

However, I think she is right to call for the naturalization of the paranormal.

i) I’m game for whatever happens to be the best explanation for any given phenomenon. And there’s a temptation to reduce everything to a common explanation. Ever since Aristotle, we like to systematize. Reduce outward variety to an underlying unifying principle. Present a unified explanation.

But that runs the risk of a prescriptive analysis which prejudges and oversimplifies the world.

ii) If, moreover, we classify “divine miracles” as a “subset” of the paranormal, and if we “naturalize” the paranormal as the expression of natural human abilities, then does a miraculous answer to prayer mean that I answered my own prayer? In that case, God didn’t answer my prayer.

iii) The basic problem with Schwebel’s framework, to judge by JD’s exposition, is a false dichotomy, where every paranormal event must either the result of God’s direct action or else the result or our natural paranormal abilities.

But in the Christian worldview, God and man are not the only agents.

iv) This also goes to the definition of the paranormal. In principle, we could say a paranormal event is either the result of the agent’s own ability or else the ability of a secondary agent who empowers the first agent or simply does something to or for another agent.

v) For that matter, even on a “naturalized” paradigm, it doesn’t follow that all humans either have paranormal abilities or the same paranormal abilities. So if a man has a paranormal experience, that could be the result of another man (or agent) exercising his paranormal ability. In fact, even Schwebel seems to draw that basic distinction:

…telepathically induced visions in which the 'signal' comes from the mind of the departed person while the seer supplies the sensory environment and remembered images of the departed, who often appear as the seer remembered them from a previous time.

vi) In addition, this book appears to be an apologia for Catholic miracles, so we need to take that bias into account. That doesn’t mean we can dismiss it out of hand. But the book is apparently designed to legitimate Catholic miracles, as well as explaining their occurrence consistent with rival miracles, by subsuming both under a kind of covering law.

Again, I haven’t read the book. I’m just bouncing off of JD’s summary.

Who won the debate?

I didn’t watch the Veep debate. Veep debates are a sideshow. To judge by the pundits, conservatives were somewhat disappointed by the debate. They were expecting Ryan to trounce Biden. But Biden apparently dominated the debate. He muscled his way to the front of the line by throwing sharp elbows. At least, that’s what the pundits indicate (not having seen it myself).

In a campaign debate, there are two ways to judge the winner:

i) You can judge the winner on the merits. Which candidate gave the best answers? Had the better of the argument? Had the best command of the facts? Had the facts on his side?

ii) However, campaign debates are just a temporary means to an end. The objective of the debate is to influence voters to elect your candidate.

By that measure it’s hard to say who won the debate, because you’re not judging for yourself, based on the merits, but trying to guess the impression it made on swing voters. In theory, pollsters might be able to tell us who won the debate, but, of course, the polls have been dubious in this election cycle because they oversample Democrats.

It may be that many swing voters found Biden’sboorish antics off-putting. Or it may make no difference. According to conventional wisdom, voters vote for the top of the ticket. 

“Double Predestination”?

I’ve been taking part in a Reformed and Lutheran discussion group that was started by occasional Triablogue commenter Andrew Clover. One of the Lutheran commenters there brought up the question of “double predestination”.

But the concept of “double predestination” does not exist in Reformed doctrine. It is merely a caricature of the Reformed position.

Bavinck on Justification and Adoption and Perseverance and Assurance

Jason Stellman asks (118):

I am asking how you, John Bugay, would reconcile your insistence that Protestants can have assurance without having to “do anything” (unlike with Catholics) with the statements in the NT like “Unless you forgive others, your heavenly Father won’t forgive you,” etc.

Here is the great 19th century Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck on how justification and adoption and perseverance and assurance all work together:

Thursday, October 11, 2012

God, Job, and the Adversary

In both Egyptian and Mesopotamian thinking, the gods were not considered responsible for evil in the world; therefore, the presence or experience of evil did not have to be resolved in reference to the justice of the gods (this in contrast to Israel, where nothing existed totally outside the jurisdiction of God’s sovereignty; i.e., the rest of the gods were contingent, but he was not)…Even in areas where the gods could be held responsible, they, like human judges, may be doing the best to administer justice, but do so imperfectly.

We have suggested above that the gods in the ancient Near East were somewhat relieved of responsibility because their role in the origin of evil was limited, and because they were often only indirectly considered the cause of suffering…In Israel the absence of any source of divine authority other than Yahweh limited the philosophical possibilities regarding the origin of evil and the source of suffering (1 Sam 2:6; Isa 45:7 Job 2:10; Eccl 7:14). There existed no supernatural power alongside Yahweh or outside of Yahweh’s sphere of power. At the same time Yahweh was considered powerful, good, and just.

The scene in heaven shows that, despite the role of the Challenger, God both initiated the discussion and approved the course of action. This again avoids the easy solution that insulates God by inserting an independently wicked intermediary power.

Numerous verses clearly indicate that God is the cause of Job’s suffering:

1:11; 2:5–The Challenger says that God must stretch out his hand to strike Job.
2:3–God indicates that he is the one who has brought Job’s ruin without cause.
16:9–God assails him.
19:21–The hand of God has struck him.
42:11–Job is consoled over all the trouble that Yahweh brought upon him.

No one in the book ever suggests any other agent as the cause of Job’s suffering. When God places Job in the Challenger’s hands (power, 1:12; 2:6), he is not absolving himself of responsibility but delegating authority to the Challenger…he is a subordinate functionary, not an independent power for evil or the ruin of humanity. Anything approaching dualism would let God off the hook too easily; the book does not provide this option. It is trying to give a deeper understanding of God, not to somehow absolve him of responsibility.

J. Walton, The NIV Application Commentary: Job (Zondervan 2012), 39-41, 73, 109.

Mainline Churches vs. Israel

Foodie Pilgrims

Take up your cross

What makes the journey of a pacifist long and hard is because of course you are swimming upstream in America, and sometimes you are swimming against a torrential flood in the other direction… Some days I feel like moving to Switzerland, but then I remember, I am the loyal American opposition, and even if my voice is drowned out I still have a vote and a right to be heard…Some days I feel like John the Baptizer— a voice crying in a brutal wilderness.

I can barely express my boundless admiration for BW3’s high-minded pacifism. Such is the depth of his self-sacrificial conviction that, if push came to shove, he’d be prepared to leave the comforts of home far behind and move to the outback of Switzerland. Truly the cost of discipleship rarely exacts a higher price. Wasn’t Switzerland where Brezhnev would banish dissidents, to send a blood-curdling message to other would-be dissidents? Imagine BW3, in his hairshirt, having to tough it out in a chalet overlooking Lake Lucerne, on a diet of chocolate-covered locusts and wild honey-peach cake with sugared pistachios. What a cross to bear! Would that more Christians had his humbling spirit of self-denial. His example reduces me to tears.

Perception & transcendental theism

Thomas Nagel is a leading secular philosopher. He even admits to having a strong emotional aversion to God’s existence. He doesn’t want God to exist.

However, unlike many atheists, Nagel is a fairly independent thinker who frankly admits the inadequacies of the standard secular paradigm. For instance:

For the most creatures, however, objectivity extends no farther than this. Their lives are lived in the world of appearances, and the idea of a more objective reality has no meaning.

But once we come to recognize the distinction between appearance and reality and the existence of objective factual or practical truth that goes beyond what perception, appetite and emotion tell us, the ability of creatures like us to arrive at such truth, or even to think about it, requires explanation.

The problem has two aspects. The first concerns the likelihood that the process of natural selection should have generated creatures with the capacity to discover by reason the truth about a reality that extends vastly beyond initial appearances–as we take ourselves to have done and to continue to do collectively in science…The second problem is the difficulty of understanding naturalistically the faculty of reason that is the essence of these activities.

But whenever we take such a reasonable detached attitude toward our innate dispositions, we are implicitly engaged in a form of thought to which we do not at the same time take that detached attitude. When we rely on systems of measurement to correct perception, or probability calculations to correct intuitive expectations, or moral or prudential reasoning to correct instinctive impulses, we take ourselves to be responding to systematic reasons which in themselves justify our conclusions, and which do not get their authority from their biological organisms. They could not be backed up in that way.

In the perceptual case I can recognize that I might be mistaken, but on reflection, even if I think of myself as the product of Darwinian natural selection, I am nevertheless justified in believing the evidence of my senses for the most part, because this is consistent with the hypothesis that an accurate representation of the world around me results from senses shaped by evolution to serve that function. That is not a refutation of radical skepticism, since evolutionary theory, like all of science, depends on the evidence of the senses.

This is the second problem: What is the faculty that enables us to escape from the world of appearance presented by our prereflective innate dispositions, into the world of objective reality? And what, besides consciousness, do we have to add to the biological story to make sense of such a faculty?

Perception connects us with the truth only indirectly. When I see a tree, I see it because it is there, but not just because it is there. Perception is not a form of insight: I do not grasp the presence of the tree immediately, even though it may seems so prior to reflection. Rather I am aware of it because the tree causes a mental effect in me in virtue of the character of my visual system, which we may suppose has been shaped by natural selection to react in this way to light reflected from physical objects. Having such a system together with other perceptual and motivational dispositions enables me to survive in the world. So it is only in a complicated and indirect sense that when I see a tree, I see it because it is there

Mind and Cosmos (Oxford 2012), 73-74,79-80, 82.

i) Nagel is rehearsing an ancient philosophical conundrum: the hiatus between appearance and reality. And even though he’s aware of the difficulty, he understates the difficulty. Having said “I am nevertheless justified in believing the evidence of my senses for the most part, because this is consistent with the hypothesis that an accurate representation of the world around me results from senses shaped by evolution to serve that function,” he admits that this “is not a refutation of radical skepticism, since evolutionary theory, like all of science, depends on the evidence of the senses.” So his appeal is circular.

ii) In addition, when he appeals to “senses shaped by evolution to serve that function,” that is contrary to naturalistic evolution. He’s offering a teleological description, but if naturalistic evolution is true, then evolution didn’t shape our senses to serve any function.

Quine has made similar observations. For instance:

It would address the question of how we, physical denizens of the physical world, can have projected our scientific theory of that whole world from our meager contacts with it; from the mere impacts of rays and particles on our surfaces and a few odds and ends such as the strain of walking uphill. From Stimulus to Science (Harvard 1999), ibid. 16.

There is a puzzle here. Global stimuli are private: each is a temporally ordered set of some one individual’s receptors. Their perceptual similarity, in part innate and in part modeled by experience, is private as well. Whence then this coordination of behavior across the tribe? ibid. 20.

The sensory atomist was motivated, I say, by his appreciation that any information about the world is channeled to us through the sensory surfaces of our bodies; but this motivation remained obscure to him. It was obscured by his concern to justify our knowledge of the external world. The justification would be vitiated by circularity if sensory surfaces and external impacts on nerve endings had to be appealed to at the outset of the justification. Confessions of a Confirmed Extensionist and Other Essays (Harvard 2008), 328.

There is much clarity to be gained by dropping the project of justifying our knowledge of the external world but continuing to investigate the relation of that knowledge to its sensory evidence. Obscurity about the nature of the given, or epistemic priority, is then dissipated by talking frankly of the triggering of nerve endings. We then find ourselves engaged in an internal question within the framework of natural science. There are these impacts of molecules and light rays upon our sensory receptors, and there is all this output on our part of scientific discourse about sticks, stones, planets, numbers, molecules, light rays, and, indeed, sensory receptors; and then we pose the problem of linking that input causally and logically to that output, ibid. 328.

Much as I admire [David] Lewis’s reduction, however, it is not for me. My own line is a yet more sweeping structuralism, applying to concrete and abstract objects indiscriminately. I base it, paradoxically as this may seem, on a naturalistic approach to epistemology. Natural science tells us that our ongoing cognitive access to the world around us is limited to meager channels. There is the triggering of our sensory receptors by the impact of molecules and light rays. Also there is the difference in muscular effort sensed in walking up or down hill. What more? Even the notion of a cat, let alone a class or number, is a human artifact, rooted in innate predisposition and cultural tradition. The very notion of an object at all, concrete or abstract, is a human contribution, a feature of our inherited apparatus for organizing the amorphous welter of neural input, ibid. 402-03.

The conclusion is that there can be no evidence for one ontology as over against another, so long anyway as we can express a one-to-one correlation between them. Save the structure and you save all. Certainly we are dependent on a familiar ontology of middle-sized bodies for the inception of reification, on the part both of the individual and of the race; but once we have an ontology, we can change it with impunity, ibid, 405.

This global ontological structuralism may seem abruptly at odds with realism, let alone naturalism. It would seem even to undermine the ground on which I rested it: my talk of impacts of light rays and molecules on nerve endings. Are these rays, molecules, and nerve endings themselves not disqualified now as mere figments of an empty structure? ibid. 405.

Naturalism itself is what saves the situation. Naturalism looks only to natural science, however, fallible, for an account of what there is and what what there is does. Science ventures its tentative answers in man-made concepts, perforce, couched in man-made language, but we can ask no better. The very notion of object, or of one and many, is indeed as parochially human as the parts of speech; to ask what reality is really like, however, apart from human categories, is self-stultifying. It is like asking how long the Nile really is, apart from parochial matters of miles or meters. Positivists were right in branding such metaphysics as meaningless, ibid. 405.

So far as evidence goes, then, our ontology is neutral. Nor let us imagine beyond it some inaccessible reality. The very terms ‘thing’ and ‘exist’ and ‘real,’ after all, make no sense apart from human conceptualization. Asking after the thing in itself apart from human conceptualization, is like asking how long the Nile really is, apart from our parochial miles or kilometers. ibid, 416.

So it seems best for present purposes to construe the subject’s stimulus on a given occasion simply as his global neural intake on that occasion. But I shall refer to it only as neural intake, not stimulus, for other notions of stimulus are wanted in other studies, particularly where different subjects are to get the same stimulus. Neural intake is private, for subjects do not share receptors, ibid. 463-64.

But in contrast to the privacy of neural intakes, and the privacy of their perceptual similarity, observation sentences and their semantics are a public matter, since the child has to learn these from her elders. Her learning then depends indeed both on the public currency of the observation sentences and on a preestablished harmony of people’s private scales of perceptual similarity, ibid. 464.

These reflections on ontology are a salutary reminder that the ultimate data of science are limited to our neural intake, and that the very notion of object, concrete or abstract, is of our own making, along with the rest of natural science and mathematics, ibid. 471.

i) That’s the dilemma. How does the mind escape the world of appearances to come into contact with objective reality? How does appearance map onto reality?

ii) Science tries to present an objective, third-person description of the world. But science must rely on the subjective, first-person viewpoint of the human observer. How can science bootstrap an objective understanding from the “meager input” of our sensory receptors? How can science reliably extrapolate from “impacts of light rays and molecules on our sensory surfaces or nerve endings” to a global depiction of the outside world? Indeed, even talk of nerve endings and sensory receptors depends on the realm of appearance. On how our body appears to us. For instance, we have to use our eyes to see our eyes. If we see our eyes through our eyes, what are we really looking at? So the appeal is circular.

At this level we can’t directly appeal to other observers to corroborate our own perceptions, for they are in the same boat–and, in any case, our knowledge of other observers is filtered through our own perceptions.

iii) Here is where transcendental theism can break into the circle. Let’s begin by defining a transcendental argument:

As standardly conceived, transcendental arguments are taken to be distinctive in involving a certain sort of claim, namely that X is a necessary condition for the possibility of Y—where then, given that Y is the case, it logically follows that X must be the case too.

iv) So, for instance, if God designed our sensory perceptual system, and if that’s preadapted to our physical environment, which God also designed, then our senses are generally reliable to perform what they were designed to do.

v) That, itself, is a fairly modest claim. It doesn’t tell you in advance what they were designed to do. It doesn’t specify the scope of their reliability. In principle, this is consistent with anything from direct realism through indirect realism and phenomenalism to idealism.

vi) It does, however, ground the reliability of sensory perception in a way that atheism cannot. The senses are trustworthy when we use them to do whatever they were designed to do.

vii) That’s an argument from creation and providence. But there’s also an argument from revelation. If the Bible is divine revelation, then there’s a sense in which the Bible gives us a second pair of eyes. A God’s-eye view of the world. God’s knowledge of the world doesn’t arise from the world of the senses.

We can’t get outside ourselves. We can’t access the world behind the senses. But God’s viewpoint is truly external.

viii) Of course, God speaks to us in sensory language. Revealed truths assume an analogy between appearance and reality. They overlap at the relevant point of comparison. Even if our mental representation of the world were a metaphor, metaphors convey knowledge.

Indeed, God created that analogical correspondence. That’s why he can use this medium to reveal truths about the physical world, truths about history, truths about the past and the future. 

ix) Now this kind of argument admittedly has a limitation. Transcendental arguments must begin from some starting-point or another. If an atheist rejects the starting-point, then the argument will be ineffective. If we grant Y, and X is a necessary condition of Y, then that commits us to X–but what if we don’t grant the premise?

x) So this has the limitations of any conditional or hypothetical argument. But that doesn’t make it a flawed argument. Persuasion is not the only aim of argumentation. We may use an argument to expose the cost of atheism. What price is the atheist prepared to pay to maintain his atheism? Will he commit intellectual suicide?

We’re pushing the atheist. Pushing him to the ledge. We can’t stop him from jumping, but that will betray the defiant irrationality of the atheist. In order to deny God, he must deny himself. The price of hating God is self-hatred. 

xi) This also has implications for the relationship between philosophy and theology, general and special revelation. On one model, special revelation is subordinate to general revelation. You must begin with general revelation. And that, in turn, will adjudicate special revelatory claimants.

But on the model I’m proposing, we need special revelation to ratify our knowledge of the external world. Appeal to general revelation assumes the reliability of sensory perception (as well as reason and memory). But unless God vouches for sense knowledge, unless we have that external check on our private perceptions, there’s no overriding reason to trust our senses.

So the relationship between general and special revelation is dialectical. Mutually validating. Without general revelation, special revelation is blind; without special revelation, general revelation is lost.

Consider psychotics. They may have acute hearing and 20/20 vision. But it makes no difference, for they are trapped in the prison of the mind.

To be lost inside your own mind is far more terrifying than if you lose your way in the woods. In a godless world, that’s our fate.

The Puritan Writer William Perkins on Roman Catholicism

Not long ago I listened to a lecture series by J.I. Packer (through RTS) entitled the “The English Puritans”. Packer spent a great deal of time discussing the works of William Perkins, whom he called one of the earliest, most prolific, and most influential of the English Puritan writers.

Yesterday, Scott Clark posted a selection from one Perkins’s works entitled “Who Are the True Catholics? (1)”. The following selection is from his work “A Reformed Catholic” subtitled “Or a Declaration Showing How Near We may Come to the Present Church of Rome in Sundry Points of Religion and Wherein We Must Forever Depart From Them”. Clark notes, “This treatise is an interesting and useful example of the way the Reformed responded to the Roman response (the “Counter Reformation” or the “Catholic Reformation”). Perkins responded by challenging a central Romanist assumption: that the Roman communion is the “Catholic Church.” Yet while they call themselves “The Church”,

… consider, how they of the Roman Church have razed the foundation.

For though in words they honor Christ, yet in deed they turn him to a Pseudo-Christ, and an idol of their own brain. They call him our Lord, but with this condition, that the Servant of Servants of this Lord, may change and add to his commandments: having so great power, that he may open and shut heaven to whom he will; and bind the very conscience with his own laws, and consequently be partaker of the spiritual kingdom of Christ.

Again, they call him a Savior, but yet in us: in that he gives this grace unto us, that by our merits, we may partake in the merits of the saints. And they acknowledge, that he died and suffered for us, but with this caveat, that the fault being pardoned, we must satisfy for the temporal punishment, either in this world, or in purgatory. In a word, they make him our Mediator of Intercession unto God: but withal, his Mother must be the Queen of Heaven, and by the right of a Mother command him there.

Thus, in word, they cry Hosanna, but indeed they crucify Christ. Therefore we have good cause to bless the name of God, that hath freed us from the yoke of this Roman bondage, and hath brought us to the true light and liberty of the Gospel. And it should be a great height of unthankfulness in us, not to stand out against the present Church of Rome, but to yield our selves to plots of reconciliation.

Clark summarizes, “Perkins was concerned about a false ecumenism then and we have just as much right to be concerned about it now. As Rome begins its year-long celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Vatican II it is well to remember that Vatican II changed none of the doctrines against which the Reformation reacted. The issues remain.”

Luther and the Roman Sacramental System

This is short, but this goes into the difficulty that Luther had trying to achieve his own salvation by living the Roman system as a monk.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Carson on Peter's Denials

Earlier Steve referenced D.A. Carson on Peter's denial.  Below is the full text of Carson's comments.  (I apologize in advance for any errors in transcription.)


The four gospel accounts, though brief (cf. Mk 14:66-72; Lk 22:54-62: Jn 18:15-18,25-27; see comments at v.34 on two cock crowings [Mark]), contain substantial differences, and a variety of solutions have been proposed. Matthew and Mark are in close agreement and list three denials: (1) before a servant girl, in the courtyard; (2) before another girl, but out by the gateway; (3) before bystanders apparently in the court. Luke also lists three: (1) before a servant girl, apparently near the fire; (2) before another person, place not specified; (3) before yet another person, still in the courtyard (22:60-61). The three denials recorded by John are (1) before a servant girl, at the door; then, after a break in the narrative, (2) before some people— the verb is plural but may he a generalizing one—(3) before one of the high priest's servants, a relative of Malchus.

Several things may be said.

1. Some attempts to harmonize the texts have resulted in Jesus' predicting three denials at each of my different times, making six denials (cf. H. Lindsell, Battle for the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976], 174-76). This is not only intrinsically unlikely but introduces major source-critical problems never addressed and handled.

2. It may help us to look at the location of the relevant pericopes in the four gospels. If our treatment of the trial sequence is correct (see Overview, 26:57-68), Matthew and Mark do not record the examination before Annas but simply say that Peter followed Jesus into the courtyard. Then they place Peter's three denials after the preliminary trial before the Sanhedrin. Luke records neither the examination before Annas nor the preliminary trial before the Sanhedrin and therefore places Peter's three denials before recording the Sanhedrin trial at dawn. John has nothing about the Jewish trial (though it may be hinted at in 19:24) except Jesus' examination before Alums. If Peter's first denial took place about the time of that examination, it is understandable that John separates it front the other two, which he describes after Jesus has been led before Caiaphas.

3. The order of the first two denials may be reversed between John and the Synoptics (cf. the order of the temptations; sec comments at 4:1-11), but which gospel has the historical order cannot easily be determined. John has "the girl at the gate" asking the first question and implies, but does not state, that this occurs on Peter's way in. Matthew and Mark have Jesus move back out to the gate as the setting for their second denial. Several possibilities come to mind, but no adequate way of testing them.

4. Remaining differences are minor and are capable of many solutions. Problems arise from the brevity of the accounts. In a setting around a fire, two or three may speak up at once (see comments at vv.69-70 ); or, more probably, the plural in the second denial (in John's order) is generalizing (as in Mt. 2:20). The differences in the reports of the denial adequately be accounted for on redactional grounds.

69Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. "You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said.
70But he denied it before them all. "l don't know what you're talking about,” he said.
71"Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth."
72He denied it again, with an oath: "I don't know the man!"
73After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, "Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away."
74Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, "I don't know the man!"
Immediately a rooster crowed. 75Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.


69-70 The article "a" in "a servant girl" masks an idiomatic use of "one" (mia. v.69; see comments at 8:19; 21:19; cf. Moule, Idiom Book, 125). Her remark to Peter reflects both an accusation and her curiosity. "Jesus of Galilee" (Mk 14:67: "that Nazarene, Jesus") is the kind of derogatory remark one might expect from a Jerusalemite convinced of her geographical and cultural superiority. Peter denies her words “before them all” (v.70), implying that several people were listening and that some may have joined in the questioning. The form of Peter's denial is akin to a formal, legal oath (cf. m. Sebu. 8:3).

71-72 Peter "went out" to the gateway. apparently retiring from the brighter light of the fire into the darkness of the forecourt. Again he denies the accusation, this time with an oath. "Oath" here (v.72) does not refer to"swearing" as we know it in profanity; rather, Peter invokes a solemn curse on himself if he is lying and professes his "truthfulness” appealing to something sacred (see comments at 5:33-34; 23:16-22).

73-75 A little more rime elapses. Luke says "about an hour later” (22:59). In any age, accent in speaking varies with geography (e.g. Jdg 12:5-6), and Peter's speech shows him to be a Galilean (cf. Hoehner, Herod Antipas, 61- 64). That one of those present at Peter's denial said that his accent proved him to be a disciple of Jesus shows how much Jesus' ministry had been in Galilee and how relatively few of his disciples were from Judea. Having lied twice, Peter finds himself forced to lie again, this time with more oaths (v.74). Immediately the rooster crows, a bitter reminder (v.75) of Jesus' words (v.34). He who thought he could stand has fallen terribly (cf. 1Co 10:12). Luke tells us that Jesus looked at Peter—perhaps through a window or as he was being led across the courtyard. If we cannot credit the legend that after this Peter never heard a cock crow without weeping, we may justifiably assume that Peter's bitter tears led to his being "poorer in spirit" (5:3) the remainder of his days than he had ever been before.

From this point on, Matthew does not mention Peter again.

Dorothy Jean Weaver (Matthew's Missionary Discourse: A Literary Critical Analysis [JSNTSup 38; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1990], 149) offers a more optimistic reading of this paragraph. At least Peter followed Jesus to the high priest's house, she observes, and then he remembered Jesus' prediction—and together these facts demonstrate that "Peter is still active as a disciple.” But oh, the betrayal and the tears!

The witness of the Spirit

Arminian theologian Roger Olson is appealing to the witness of the Spirit as a safety net, which makes it okay to deny the inerrancy of Scripture. But that’s incoherent:

i) Our direct knowledge regarding the person and work of the Holy Spirit comes from the Bible. So you can’t cite the witness of the Spirit to salvage your denial of Biblical inerrancy, for your understanding of the Spirit is, itself, contingent on the veracity of Scripture. So the witness of the Spirit can’t protect you against an errant Bible.

ii) The Holy Spirit is the primary author of Scripture. To invoke the witness of the Spirit to rationalize an attack on the plenary, verbal inspiration of Scripture is an attack on the work of the Spirit.

iii) Scripture forewarns us to distinguish between competing spirits:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 Jn 4:1).

You can’t invoke the Spirit to justify an attack on the Bible, for Word and Spirit don’t function independently. It’s a mutual witness. You can’t set them at odds. Without the one you lack the other. 

Olson’s position reveals the state of modern Arminian theology, and it isn’t pretty.

Are the Differing Narratives of Peter's Denials Reconcilable?

Since Arminian theologian Roger Olson cites variant accounts of Peter's denial to impugn the inerrancy of Scripture, here's a harmonization by an evangelical NT scholar:

HT: Annoyed Pinoy

Demon Test®

I guess we can file this under the category of unintentional comedy:

Of course, I'm waiting for the movie. Perhaps Christopher Walken will play Bob Larson.

Keener interview on Miracles

Check out this interview with Craig Keener (many thanks to Brian Auten).

Resisting Hitler

Why did some Christians support Hitler? And what informed the ones who opposed him?

What those Christians and churches who maintained this [Barmen] confession – and their opposition to the Nazi regime – seemed to recognize, in contrast to many of those Christians who supported Hitler, was that the allegiance of Christians and of the church to Christ is preeminent in every area of life, and that therefore the authority of Scripture must always be the ultimate judge in matters of justice, political ideology, or politics. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer argued so carefully, versions of the two kingdoms doctrine that divide life into distinct realms, one of which is outside the authority of Christ, are denials of the Christ in whom all things exist. To conceive of any action or authority apart from Christ is to conceive of an abstraction.

Christians who held to the two kingdoms doctrine but who lacked this Christocentric perspective had little with which to resist the claims of a state that masterfully channeled the spirit of the times. Given our contemporary debates, that something we need to take seriously.

Debunking Jurassic Park

It turns out that DNA only has a half-life of 521 years.

The team predicts that even in a bone at an ideal preservation temperature of −5 ºC, effectively every bond would be destroyed after a maximum of 6.8 million years. The DNA would cease to be readable much earlier — perhaps after roughly 1.5 million years, when the remaining strands would be too short to give meaningful information.

“This confirms the widely held suspicion that claims of DNA from dinosaurs and ancient insects trapped in amber are incorrect,” says Simon Ho, a computational evolutionary biologist at the University of Sydney in Australia. However, although 6.8 million years is nowhere near the age of a dinosaur bone — which would be at least 65 million years old — “We might be able to break the record for the oldest authentic DNA sequence, which currently stands at about half a million years,” says Ho.

Islam throughout the world

We need to deal with the world as it is, not as we imagine it to be.

[Aside from the fact that they are Roman Catholic, this is one of my biggest qualms with the Called to Communion gang. They do not present Roman Catholicism as it is; rather, they present a Roman Catholicism that is merely imagined.]

As Christians, in possession of God’s revealed Word, we have a greater access to “the world as it is” than anyone else we know. It is a big and daunting world; but our hope and expectation is that the Lord and Creator of the world is far more involved with things than we can ever imagine.

With that said, we still need to deal with the world, in all of its manifold parts, and Islam is one of those parts.

I’ll be honest. There are only so many hours in a day. In addition to what I do here, I have a full-time job, and a very active family (which is becoming much more engaged in our church than we ever have been, for which I am very thankful). And we do have to prioritize.

So I don’t really focus on Islam all that much. I’m just a beginner when it comes to Islam. Rather, I choose to focus on Roman Catholicism, because I know a lot about it. My own personal struggles with it have led me to read deeply, and I can write about it in a way that I think will be of benefit to a lot of people. On the other hand, men like James White, Ken from Beggars All, and my fellow Triablogger Rhology, for example, have taken a profound interest in dialog with Islam. I do think these individuals are doing us a tremendous service.

The Wall Street Journal this morning features an article on the phenomenon of “moderate Islam”:

Moderate Islamic Preachers Gain Followers in Indonesia

The map nearby shows the extent of Islam in the world (the eastern hemisphere, at least).

As conservative Christians, and especially as conservative Presbyterians and Baptists, we are not great in numbers, and I think it behooves us to look for allies in the world where we can find them. I’ve written about my friendships with conservative Anglicans, for example. And conservative Lutherans are also natural allies in the cause of the Gospel.

While I don’t think that the phenomenon of “moderate Islam” is anything near to being a “natural ally” for Christianity, in the global scheme of things, I believe they may be a group that we can trust rather than not trust to have an understanding of Islam as it is, rather than as they imagine it to be.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Corduan on Carrier

Blood pact

rogereolson says:

What is your answer to the dilemma about rooster and Peter’s denial (and David’s census as either inspired by God or Satan)?

i) Before I get to that, I’d like to make a general observation about the dog that didn’t bark. Why aren’t Arminian bloggers defending the Bible against Olson’s repeated aspersions? Why don’t they circulate a petition to have him booted off the SEA? Why so quiescent? Why so acquiescent? In post after post, Olson tears down the Bible. Tries to rationalize his impious attack on God’s word. Yet Arminian bloggers continue to push the snooze button. Sleeping dogs that loll around as the burglar ransacks the house.

Is it because the defining motivation for Arminians isn’t devotion to Scripture, but hatred of Calvinism?

It’s as if many Arminians entered into a devil’s pact with Roger Olson. As long as he’s attacking Calvinism, they give him a pass for attacking Scripture. Even if they don’t like it when he attacks the Bible (although I haven’t seen much evidence to that effect), bashing the Bible is the price they pay to have him bash Calvinism. Openly opposing him on the inerrancy of Scripture would violate the terms of their Faustian bargain. Roger keeps the originals, signed in blood, on file. If they renege on the deal, he’ll swing by to collect their indentured souls. Dispatch the hellhounds.

ii) I already addressed his challenge regarding Peter’s denial in another post. What about David’s census?

iii) Why does Olson think the variant accounts of David’s census pose a “dilemma”? On the face of it, there’s a pretty straightforward way of harmonizing the two accounts: we simply distinguish between primary and secondary causes. In Samuel, God is the ulterior cause–while in Chronicles, Satan is the instrumental cause.

Indeed, there are numerous biblical passages in which we see that alternation. God is the ultimate source of whatever happens, but God typically works through intermediate agents or agencies, viz., men, angels, demons, and natural forces.

iv) And this isn’t just an extraneous harmonization which the dreaded “inerrantist” is imposing on the text. The Chronicler himself is glossing the text in Samuel. This is an intertextual commentary on the earlier account.

v) Incidentally, this may also be the way to harmonize Jas 1:13 with various Biblical examples in which God incites people to evil. James may be saying God never “tempts” anyone directly. Rather, he uses intermediaries.

vi) But an Arminian might say that doesn’t solve the problem. For in that event, God would still be morally complicit.

Indeed, there’s a striking parallel between Arminian objections to predestination and 2 Sam 24. Just as Arminians say, how can God condemn what he ordains?–we might just as well ask, how can God condemn David and punish Israel when God himself incited David to conduct the census?

The text itself doesn’t answer that question. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be inconsistent for God to do that. For the cycle of temptation and punishment advances the narrative to the next stage. God is moving the action forward, to his appointed end.

vii) Of course, that doesn’t resolve the moral question of how God can justly condemn something which he himself incited–whether directly or indirectly. And that, in turn, is parallel to what Arminians find so abhorrent about Calvinism. Yet the Biblical narrator doesn’t share their concern.

We can explore philosophical models of freedom, determinism, and responsibility, but that’s after the fact. 

Peter's denials

In his impious attack on Biblical inerrancy, Arminian theologian Roger Olson keeps dusting off the old chestnut of Peter denying Christ. And this isn’t just Olson. The Society of Evangelical Arminians continues to plug Olson’s material even though his position on inerrancy is in flagrant violation of the SEA’s statement of faith. Another example of Arminian ethics in action.

But back to the issue at hand.

Go to this link:

Click on “search inside this book.”

Input “denial” in the box.

Click on pp623-24.

There D. A. Carson shows how to harmonize these accounts.

Arminian mysterians

If a Calvinist invokes mystery, that’s evasive and euphemistic:
The second major objection to Calvinism is a recurring pattern of euphemism we find among Calvinist writers…they typically try to evade the force of the problem by characterizing it as a mystery, paradox, antinomy, or “biblical tension” J. Walls & D. Baggett, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality (Oxford 2011), 72.
But if an Arminian invokes mystery, that’s hunky-dory:
These passages are difficult, and no matter what we might say about them, we don’t dispel the mystery of them. J. Walls & D. Baggett, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality (Oxford 2011), 136.
I am very much in sympathy with arguments that defend libertarian freedom, but I feel the force of objections by critics who think the whole notion is mysterious, and at times even seems to be incoherent. J. Walls, “Why No Classical Theist, Let Alone Orthodox Christian, Should Ever Be a Compatibilist,” Philosophia Christi 13/1 (Summer 2011), 77.

Union with Christ

Scott Clark has posted a very helpful series on the doctrine of “Union with Christ”.

Semi-Pelagianism and Faith as the Instrument of Existential-Mystical Union with Christ (Pt 1)

Semi-Pelagianism and Faith as the Instrument of Existential-Mystical Union with Christ (Pt 2)

Semi-Pelagianism and Faith as the Instrument of Existential-Mystical Union with Christ (Pt 3)

Semi-Pelagianism and Faith as the Instrument of Existential-Mystical Union with Christ (Pt 4)

Semi-Pelagianism and Faith as the Instrument of Existential-Mystical Union with Christ (Pt 5)

Monday, October 08, 2012

The bad Samaritan

Arminians insist that there’s a crucial moral difference between “causing” or “determining” evil on the one hand, and permitting evil, on the other hand.

Here’s a famous case:

He was just an innocent bystander, he says. A bystander who peered over the top of a toilet stall and discovered–in the women’s rest room of a casino on the California-Nevada border–his best friend Jeremy Strohmeyer, 18, struggling with a seven-year-old girl. He tapped his friend’s head, he says, knocking off his hat, but couldn’t get him to stop. So David Cash Jr. decided to take a walk.

The scene in front of him could not have been any clearer: a nearly 6-ft.-tall teenager and a little girl who didn’t yet weigh 50 lbs. locked in the stall of the Primadonna Resort casino at 3:47 in the morning. And yet Cash goes for a walk. He says nothing to the security guards. Less than half an hour later, Strohmeyer emerges and tells Cash he has molested and murdered the child.

David Cash was branded a “bad Samaritan” for his failure to intervene. By the same token, isn’t the Arminian God a bad Samarian? From an Arminian standpoint, why is David Cash’s noninterference  blameworthy while God’s noninterference praiseworthy?

Methodological naturalism in historical Christian scholarship

Scroll down to chapter 10 in the preview.

Blueprint predestination

Arminians have become increasingly brazen in attacking predestination and providence. They say Calvinism makes God a “moral monster.” “Worse than Hitler.” “Worse than Satan.” They’ve taken the infidel position that if Scripture actually taught Calvinism, then Arminians ought to deny the faith. Turn their back on Christ.

Although that’s extreme, that’s a logical extreme. If you really think Calvinism makes God a “moral monster” who’s worse than Satan, and if you became convinced that Scripture teaches Calvinism, then you haven’t left yourself an out. Apostasy would be the logical fallback position, given the premise.

Now I hope that Arminians who say this (e.g. David Baggett, Jerry Walls, Randal Rauser, Roger Olson) are simply indulging in rhetorical bravado. They are so caught up in the momentum of the debate that they issue intemperate threats which, after a cooling off period, they’d realize are foolhardy. That’s the most charitable interpretation, although it may be charitable to a fault.

Why do Calvinists keep bringing the issue back to Scripture? Because Christianity is a revealed religion. Because only God knows his own mind. We lack direct access to the mind of God. Intentions are hidden. We don’t know God’s intentions unless he tells us. That’s not something we can intuit or infer from the natural order.

Some Arminians seem to think the case for predestination comes down to a handful of prooftexts like Rom 9. In this post I’m going to quote a range of passages that bear on predestination and providence. Of course, just quoting the Bible doesn’t necessarily settle the issue, since the Bible is subject to interpretation. But I get the impression that some Arminians have never read the Bible from cover-to-cover. They don’t know what all is there.

It’s useful to present some of the prima facie evidence for predestination and providence in Scripture, so that Arminians have a better idea of why Calvinists believe what they do. We can debate the best interpretation of any given passage, but let’s begin by getting some of the raw evidence on the table. Keep in mind that this is just a sampling of the available evidence.

Arminians typically recast the issue in philosophical categories like “causation,” “determinism,” or “causal determinism,” then proceed to attack these categories. Although there’s a place for framing the issue philosophically, that’s not where we should begin. It makes the debate too abstract, as if this is just a debate over competing ideas or philosophical models. It’s important to start with revealed truths.

Likewise, they say Calvinism “makes God the author of sin” (whenever that means). But even if we accept that framework for the sake of argument, the deeper question is whether the Bible makes God the “author of sin.” Suppose the word of God makes God the “author of sin”? Then what? Where does that leave the Arminian? 

One final point concerns the defining interrelationship between predestination and providence. As Warfield put it:

Providence and predestination are ideas which run into one another. Providence is but predestination in its execution; predestination is but providence in its intention. When we say the one, we say the other, and the common idea which gives its content to both is control.

It is purely this idea of control which people object to when they say they object to predestination; not the idea of previousness, but purely the idea of control. They would object just as much if the control was supposed to be exercised without any previous intention at all.

“Some Thoughts on Predestination,” Shorter Writings 1:106.