Saturday, May 03, 2014

Things God can do to reveal Himself

Goodness and greatness

Vikings concluded season two this week. In general, I think the second season was not as good as the first season. (Although Fimmel's acting is stronger in season two.) I think the basic problem is that the raw material is not that promising. I'm reminded of something Bill Vallicella said:
If the aim is to depict reality as it is, why select only the most worthless and uninspiring portions of reality for portrayal? Why waste brilliant actors on worthless roles, Paul Newman in The Color of Money, Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in The War of the Roses, to take two examples off the top of my head from a potential list of thousands. The Grifters is another example. An excellent film in any number of respects. But imagine a film of the same cinematic quality which portrays in a subtle and intelligent manner a way of life — I avoid 'lifestyle' — that has some chance of being worth living.
I'm also reminded of something Dan Henninger once said about The Sopranos. Although it was about as good as it could be given the subject matter, it had limited interest, limited dramatic potential, because, in his words, "these are small people."
He meant morally small. Crooks. 
There's a certain irony about great directors who make great films about crooks. And there's certainly a place for depicting depravity. But, hopefully, we find that tiresome after a while. Would you want these people to be your friends? Are their lives really that intriguing? How great can something be unless it's good?
That's the problem with Vikings. How far can you develop a drama with such unappealing characters? Their outlook on life is so one-dimensional. 
There's a scene in the season finale in which Ragnar asks Athelstan to teach him a Christian prayer. Athelstan kneels, and has Ragnar kneel. That, itself, is probably an unusual experience for a proud pagan warrior. He then teaches Ragnar the Lord's Prayer.
Ragnar's interest in Christianity isn't necessarily pious. He's disappointed with the Norse gods because they haven't given him enough sons. A warrior's lifestyle is hazardous. The heir apparent can die in battle at any time. So Ragnar needs several potential heirs waiting in line so that if the leading candidate is slain, there's always another one right behind him to move up. (Of course, that's a recipe for fratricide, as rival heirs eliminate the competition.)
So Ragnar's interest in Christianity is probably pragmatic. Will the Christian God give him what the Norse gods have failed to supply? In paganism, prayer is not about submitting your will to God, but submitting God's will to you. 
At the same time, it creates an ironic and dramatic point of contrast. If Athelstan's Christian faith is wavering in a heathen direction, Ragnar's heathen faith is wavering in a Christian direction. Will the Viking become more Christian as the monk becomes more heathen? 

"You betrayed the gods–all of them"

Vikings ran its second season finale this week. In one scene, Floki, who likes to taunt Athelstan, accuses Athelstan: "You betrayed the gods–all of them."
Athelstan was a monk before he was abducted by the Vikings when they raided his monastery. Athelstan is something of a social chameleon, who blends with whatever environment he is put in. When he's with Christians, he plays the Christian role. When he's with heathens, he plays a heathen role (although he holds something in reserve).
Floki's point is that, having turned his back on the Christian God when he was living with the Vikings, and having turned his back on the Norse gods when he resumed living with Christians, Athelstan has alienated all the gods. He no longer has a deity to turn to. Athelstan is unnerved by the accusation. Is he doomed? 
From a pagan standpoint, Floki's allegation somewhat misleading. To some degree, pagans believed in local gods. You have your war god and we have our war god. The winners are victorious, either because their war god is stronger, or because the losers were fighting on the turf of the enemy war god, which put them at a disadvantage. 
if you married into a different heathen people-group, you might leave your ancestral gods behind and adopt their gods. Indeed, that was expected. 
Mind you, there was also a certain amount of syncretism in heathen piety. Because some phenomena attributed to the gods was universal, the same god would be responsible for that phenomenon. Presumably, there was only one storm god by different names. One sun god by different names. 
Still, if you keep shifting allegiances, your ancestral gods won't accept you back. Changing sides may be acceptable so long as you remain loyal to your adopted gods. But you will run out of divine patrons if you cross that border too many times.
The heathen gods were not forgiving, even when humans were guiltless. For instance, Zeus would force himself on women. They were in no position to rebuff his unwanted advances. This enraged Hera. But she can't exact revenge on her philandering husband. Zeus is too powerful. So she'd take it out on his hapless victims. 
When he was out hunting, Actaeon accidentally saw Artemis bathing. She changes him into a stag, which provokes his hunting dogs to attack him. 
If that's how the heathen gods treat humans who offend them through no fault of their own, imagine what awaits a human who betrays them! There is no one left to protect you. No where you can go to escape the wrath of the gods. 
Although I'm discussing fiction, paganism is not a dead religion. Folk Hinduism and folk Buddhism are pagan religions. There is also a resurgence of paganism in the West. 
And this is one of the differences between heathenism and Christianity. Peter betrayed Christ. And Peter was not alone. Except for John, all the other disciples abandoned Christ when the authorities took him into custody. They feared collective reprisal. 
Yet betraying the one true God is not an unpardonable offense. The blood of Christ redeemed his betrayer. Peter was contrite. God forgave Peter. 

Praying for sermons

In my observation, Christians pray different kinds of prayer for sermons.
A pastor may pray during the sermon prep phase that God will quicken and clarify his mind so that he will exegete the passage correctly, and think of suitable applications.
Before the sermon, a pastor may pray for freedom to extemporize. Even if he wrote out his sermon, he may wish to leave himself open to the inspiration of the moment. Composing a sermon in the privacy of your study is different from the dynamic of speaking before a live audience. 
In addition, both pastor and parishioners may pray that God will put the parishioners in a receptive state of mind to heed the sermon. 
Finally, the pastor may pray that his sermon will speak to the situation of his parishioners. Be especially relevant to their circumstances. In many cases he can't know what they went through that week. What challenges they may be facing. But God does. 
Now, I don't think these kinds of prayers single out any particular theological tradition. I think Christians generally pray these kinds of prayer.
However, I'd note that these kinds of prayers make far more sense in Calvinism. They assume that God is in control of our mental states. Our psychological predispositions. Hence, God can make us more receptive to the message.
They assume that God is in control of our circumstances. Hence, God can coordinate, indeed, prearrange, the sermon to dovetail with the individual situation of a particular parishioner. 
For instance, in the course of his sermon the pastor may go off message to make some unprepared remarks. As he's preaching, something crosses his mind. So he interjects an impromptu, parenthetical aside. 
After service, as the congregation is filing out of church, a parishioner may quote that part of the sermon and tell the pastor how timely that was. How that spoke directly to his situation that week. What the pastor didn't plan on saying turns out to be the most crucial thing he said.
We may take that for granted. But it only makes sense if God is providentially guiding events according to his master plan for the world. 

The Savior of all

3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all (1 Tim 2:3-5). 
10 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe (1 Tim 4:10). 
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people (Tit 2:11).
This comprises a set of popular Arminian prooftexts. They accuse Calvinists of tampering with the plain sense of these passes. 
But, of course, the Arminian appeal isn't that straightforward. Because Arminians think human freewill can overrule God's will, they don't think God actually saves everyone, or that God is really the Savior of everyone. So they have to qualify their prooftexts by interjecting "potential" into the passages.
How do Calvinists construe them? Let's consider two interpretive approaches:
i) Tom Schreiner notes that in the Pastorals, Paul is combatting a Jewish heresy which seems to restrict access to salvation to those with the right bloodlines. So Paul would be correcting that heresy by explaining that access to salvation cuts across ethnic and genealogical distinctives. Pedigree can't save you or condemn you. Cf. Paul: Apostle of God's Glory in Christ, 184-85.
ii) Another explanation is that pagans believed in tribal or national gods. Local patron gods. But if there is only one God, then that's the only God you can turn to for salvation. One God is the source of salvation for anyone. That nicely explains Paul's one-to-all correlation, which has its background in OT monotheism. 

Friday, May 02, 2014

Missional Narcissism and Legalism

Euthanasia and capital punishment

One of the ironies in the death penalty debate is that many people who oppose capital punishment also support euthanasia: "death with dignity." In some cases they support voluntary euthanasia on the basis of personal autonomy. But that inevitably shades into involuntary euthanasia for the senile or developmentally disabled. People who can't make life and death decisions for themselves. At first the family makes the decision. But because grown children suffer from a sentimental attachment to their elderly parents, they can't be trusted to make the "right" decision, so that's soon taken out of their hands. Since, moreover, doctors in countries which practice euthanasia may be gov't employees, it will be bureaucrats rather than the patient or family members who ultimately make the decision.
As a result, you have people who think it's immoral to execute a vicious killer, but virtuous to euthanize someone's mother. 


Arminian doyen Roger Olson, that beacon of clarity in a morally gray world, has once again voiced his opposition to the death penalty, using "botched" executions as one justification:
I'll make a few observations:
i) Although I don't think the state should torture murderers to death (not that a "botched" execution qualifies as torture), if the execution accidentally turns out to be painful for a vicious killer, I consider that a bonus point. 
ii) I've often thought the best way to punish a vicious killer is to turn him over to the family of the victim. If he's undoubtedly guilty, let the family of the victim punish him. "He's all yours!"
I suspect the murder rate would drop if prospective murders knew the family of the victim was going to mete out justice. 
iii) I think bleeding-heart opponents of the death penalty should have to stay overnight in the cell of the vicious killers who evoke their empathy.
Death-penalty opponents are just as sociopathic as the sociopathic killers for whom they empathize. For them, the victim or the victim's family is just an abstraction. They have no real compassion for the victim or his family. LIke a classic sociopath, it isn't real to them if it happens to someone else. It's only real to them if someone does it to them. 
iv) The reason we have death by lethal injection in the first place is because death-penalty opponents whined about how cruel other forms of execution were. But there's no pleasing them. If you accede to their demands by replacing other forms of execution with lethal injection, you are conceding to them the principle that there's something inherently cruel and barbaric about execution, so the best we can do is to mitigate that. But at that point you already lost the argument. It's a mistake to appease them in the first place.
v) I suspect many death penalty opponents are cynical. Because they are convinced that capital punishment is evil, they knowingly resort to bad arguments to attack it. They don't care. Because they think capital punishment is immoral, that justifies any argument, any pretext, however lame, you can use against it.
vi) In the case of other opponents, because they think capital punishment is evil, that disarms their critical sense. They have no incentive to stop and consider whether their arguments are any good. 
vii) Incidentally, this reflects a larger trend in contemporary American society. Increasingly, liberals don't even maintain the pretense of applying a uniform standard to everyone. They really think there should be one standard for their kind of people, and a different standard for their opponents.
Take the IRS targeting the Tea Party. That elicited a collective yawn from the Left. They think the Tea Party is evil, so if the IRS targeted the Tea Party, it was getting its comeuppance. Of course, if the tables were turned on them, they'd scream bloody murder, but not because they believe the IRS should be impartial. 
Same thing with the increasing disregard for the Constitution. They don't believe in a uniform standard for everyone concerned. Rather, they believe in one standard for the good guys (themselves), and a different standard for the bad guys (their political or religious opponents). 
For them, freedom of speech (to take one example) should only protect the right kind of speech. Their speech. Not the speech of their ideological adversaries. 
Same thing with "hate crimes" and protected classes. They openly embrace a double standard. 
We're reverting to primitive tribal morality where the only code of conduct is loyalty to members of the in-group. There are no ethical inhibitions in how you treat outsiders. Increasingly, their social mores approximate the Viking code of honor in the History Channel drama. 

The translation of Elijah

19 And Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left (1 Kgs 22:19). 
11 And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. 12 And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more (2 Kgs 2:11-12). 
17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (2 Kgs 6:17).
(1:6) God spends one-sixth of his entire creative effort (the second day) working on a solid firmament. 
(2:11-14) Elijah ascended into heaven in a chariot of fire drawn by horses of fire.
I'm using the SAB as a foil. It nicely illustrates the ineptitude of unbelievers. In this case, Steve Wells (author of the SAB). 
i) If ancient Hebrews thought the sky was a solid dome, how did Elijah ascend to heaven through that impenetrable barrier? Perhaps Wells will say someone opened a window in the sky. But that would release rain, which would extinguish the fiery horse-drawn chariot. 
ii)The account doesn't say he "ascended into heaven in a chariot of fire drawn by horses of fire." Rather, the "whirlwind" was the vehicle. The fiery horse and chariots merely separated Elijah and Elisha. 
iii) Wells doesn't begin to understand the imagery. Biblical theophanies often trade on storm cloud imagery because the Shekinah resembles a storm cloud. The Shekinah has the appearance of luminous plasma or ball lightning. The "whirlwind" is the Shekinah. Elijah was enveloped by the Shekinah, and whisked away. 
The storm cloud imagery becomes a picturesque metaphor for archers on chariots. Thunderbolts resemble fiery spears and arrows. Thunder sounds like chariots and galloping warhorses on a plain. 
iv) This dovetails with the angelology of 1-2 Kings. In addition to the Shekinah, angels fight on behalf of Elijah and Elisha. LIke the Shekinah, angels can project luminosity. 
These are common motifs in the OT and NT alike. All these elements come together in Ezk 1. 

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Only the paranoid survive

I'll use this post as a springboard to discuss conspiracy theories in general:

Gary North is a bright guy, although he's not as smart as he thinks he is. Intellectual pride is the Achilles heel of the conspiracy theorist.

Conspiracy theorists assume that skeptics of conspiracy theorists are simply gullible. We trust what the bureaucrats tell us. We don't question the "official" narrative.

That, however, is not why I have reservations about many conspiracy theories. Moreover, the conspiracy theorist can be just as credulous in a different way.

Which brings me to the next point. This debate tends to be polarized between knee-jerk conspiracy theorists and knee-jerk debunkers. But as we know, bureaucrats do sometimes engage in conspiratorial behavior. Genuine conspiracies have been uncovered from time to time. So we need to stake a middle ground between credulous conspiracy theorists and dismissive debunkers.

One issue is how to interpret official lies. For instance, it wouldn't surprise me if the gov't lied about 9/11. But what does that mean? Does it mean gov't officials were complicit in the attacks?

For the 9/11 Truther, this means bureaucrats lied about their degree of involvement in 9/11. But there's an obvious alternative motivation. They lied about their culpable lack of involvement in 9/11. 9/11 was a huge embarrassment for the gov't because it failed to protect the populace. Moreover, it was a preventable attack in the sense that there was evidence that something was afoot leading up to the attack. Like Arab students taking flight lessons, but only wanting to know how to steer the plane, not land the plane.

So gov't officials are motivated to lie, not to cover their tracks for orchestrating 9/11, but to cover their tracks for failing to "connect the dots." It's funny how Michael Scheuer became a folk hero for some libertarians even though he was clearly trying to shift blame for his own dereliction. 

Another thing which makes some conspiracy theories more plausible is the observable link between a national disaster and appeal to that event as a justification (or pretext?) to pass new laws and create new agencies to allegedly protect the populace from another attack. But in retrospect that looks suspiciously like a staged event which contributes incrementally to a police state. 

Taken by itself, this is the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. But whether or not that's the intent, that's the effect. 

Mind you, this development doesn't require a conspiracy theory. It's only natural for politicians who were caught off-guard to deflect attention away from their own negligence by saying, "We need to do something so that something like this will never happen again! (famous last words)." That's the typical bureaucratic reflex to a typical bureaucratic failure.

Likewise, gov't officials may lie about an event to forestall mass "panic." But the official lie gives rise to urban legends. So it takes on a life of its own. They may fuel the very thing they were attempting to extinguish. 

Speaking for myself, what are some factors I consider in assessing a conspiracy theory? In assessing a conspiracy theory, I don't assume that gov't officials are honorable or honest. Indeed, I tend to assume the worst about gov't officials, then ask myself how a dishonorable gov't official would weigh the alternatives.

i) I think a corrupt regime like the Obama administration will do whatever it thinks it can get away with. So the question is, how much does it think it can get away with? That becomes a cost/benefit analysis.

ii) What is the political payoff if the conspiracy succeeds? Does that outweigh the risk if it fails?

iii) What is the risk of exposure? How likely is it that the conspiracy can be kept under wraps? How many people are in the loop? Are mission details "highly compartmented"? Depending on the complexity of the operation, is that even feasible? 

iv) What is the legal or political fallout if it leaks? Does the potential damage in case it backfires significantly exceed the potential benefit? Will the president lose public support? Will the ruling party be voted out of power? Will operatives be prosecuted? Will they flip to implicate higher-ups? 

A calculating politician will consider these factors. 

v) Moral restraint. Even a corrupt politician may have moral inhibitions about doing certain things, not because he's virtuous, but because even conventional morality can act as a restraint on some actions. 

Ironically, a misguided conspiracy theory can throw us off the scent, thereby letting the real political culprits escape into the brush. 

Homosexual converts

Recently, a med student and I corresponded on the issue of how the church should counsel homosexual converts to Christianity. He's now edited our correspondence into a post:

Christians and alternative medicine

Bavinck and Berkhof

"Bavinck and Berkhof" by Paul Helm.

Drowning, Death, and "Dehumanization"

HT: Alan Kurschner

Brandon Addison’s “Called to Communion” article available in .PDF

Brandon Addison’s “Called to Communion” article, “The Quest for the Historical Church: A Protestant Assessment”, is now available in .PDF format:

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Youtube theology

Home invasion

Classical theism and ID theory

One of the oddities of Feser's response to me is the following claim:
Now, to take the second point first, lots of classical theists are not Thomists.  And I imagine there are lots of people who might find it worthwhile inquiring whether classical theism and ID theory are compatible whether or not they are classical theists, or Thomists, or ID theorists for that matter.  For knowing how various ideas cohere or fail to cohere with one another is part of the philosophical task.  So, surely it can be “philosophically enlightening” to consider the arguments of those who hold that classical theism and ID theory are incompatible, no? 

But why imagine that ID theory is incompatible with classical theism? Although ID theory by no means entails classical theism, ID theory is compatible with a range a theisms. It's even compatible with panspermia. About the only thing that's not compatible with ID theory is deism or evolutionary deism. 

What is there about ID theory that prevents an ID theorist from subscribing to classical theism, viz. divine aseity, timelessness,  impassibility, simplicity, or creation ex nihilo?

For instance, ID-theorist Jay Richards published a monograph defending classical theism: The Untamed God: A Philosophical Exploration of Divine Perfection, Simplicity, and Immutability (IVP 2003).

Inerrancy and illocution

I'm going to quote, then comment on Walton's theory of inspiration. I believe he initially discussed this in Reading Genesis 1-2, but has a more detailed discussion in the new book he coauthored with Sandy.
The communicator uses locutions (words, sentences, rhetorical structures, genres) to embody an illocution (the intention to do something with those locutions–bless, promise, instruct, assert) with a perlocution that anticipates a certain sort of response from the audience (obedience, trust, belief).
The implied audience refers to the audience as the communicator perceives it. In the same way, the implied author refers to what the audience can infer about the "author" and his or her meaning from the communicative act. That is the audience cannot cross-examine or psychoanalyze the "author." HIs/Her meaning is determined by unpacking the communication that has been offered by means available in the language, culture, and context in which it took place.
By applying the tenets of speech-act theory, evangelical interpreters are able to associate the authoritative communicative act (God's illocution) specifically with the illocution of the human communicator. God's authority in Scripture is therefore accessible through the illocution of the human communicator–that is how God chose to do it.
Accommodation on the part of the divine communicator resides primarily in the locution, in which genre and rhetorical devices are included. These involve the form of communication. Yet our conviction is that even though God accommodates the communicator and his audience in the trappings and framework of locution, he will not accommodate an erroneous illocution on the part of the human communicator.
God may well accommodate the human communicator's view that the earth is the center of the cosmos. But if God's intention is not to communicate truth about cosmic geography, that accommodation is simply part of the shape of the locution–it is incidental, not part of God's illocution. In contrast, God will not accommodate a communicator's belief that there was an exodus from Egypt and speak of it as a reality if it never happened. God will accommodate limited understanding for the sake of communication–that is simply part of accommodation in the locution. But we would maintain that he will not communicate about how he worked in events (e.g., the exodus) or through people (e.g., Abraham) if those events never took place and those people never existed. Such accommodation would falsify his illocution and invalidate its reliability. Authority is linked to the illocution. Consequently there is a higher incidence of accommodation in the locutions; indeed that is entirely normal and expected. Authority is not vested independently in the locutions, and communication could not take place without such accommodation. In contrast, that which comes with authority (illocution) may involve accommodation to language and culture, but will not affirm that which is patently false.
We can distinguish "high context" communication as pertaining to situations in which the communicator and audience share much in common and less accommodation is necessary for effective communication to take place; this is communication between insiders.
In the contrasting "low context" communication, high levels of accommodation are necessary because one is communicating to outsiders.
We  believe that God has inspired the locutions (words, whether spoken or written) that the communicator has used to accomplish with God their joint illocutions (which lead to an understanding of intentions, claims, affirmations and, ultimately, meaning), but that those locutions are tied to the communicator's world. That is, God has made accommodation to the high context communication between the implied communicator and implied audience so as to optimize and facilitate the transmission of meaning by means of an authoritative illocution. Inspiration is tied to locutions (they have their source in God); illocutions define the necessary path to meaning, which is characterized by authority and inerrancy.
Even though people in Israel believed there were waters above the earth held back by a solid sky, or that cognitive processes took place in the heart or kidneys, the illocution of the texts is not affirming those beliefs as revealed truth.
We propose instead that our doctrinal affirmations about Scripture (authority, inerrancy, infallibility, etc.) attach to the illocution of the human communicator. This is not to say that we therefore believe everything he believed (he did believe that the sun moved across the sky), but we express our commitment to his communicative act. Since his locutionary framework is grounded in his language and culture, it is important to differentiate between what the communicator can be inferred to believe and his illocutionary focus. So, for example, it is not surprise that ancient Israel believed in a solid sky, and God accommodated his locution to that model in his communication to them. But since the illocution is not to assert the true shape of cosmic geography, we can safely set those details aside as incidental without jeopardizing authority or inerrancy. Such cosmic geography is in the belief set of the communicators but it employed in their locutions; it is not the context of their illocutions.
In conclusion then, God accommodates human culture and limitations in the locutions that he inspired in the human communicator, but he does not accommodate erroneous illocution or meaning. The authority of Scripture is vested in the meaning intended by the human communicator and given to him by the Holy Spirit, which is guided by an understanding of his illocutions.  
J. Walton & D. B. Sandy, The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture and Biblical Authority (IVP 2013), 42-47.
This analysis suffers from multiple problems:

i) Walton fails to explain how communication necessitates accommodation. This is not to deny that a communicator must sometimes accommodate his audience. But Walton lays this down as a universal principle.

ii) Even in cases where communication requires accommodation, it doesn't follow that communication, even at the locutionary level, requires erroneous accommodation. 

Suppose a child asks his parents where babies come from. The parent might accommodate the child by using an illustration. The parent might use the illustration of planting a seed in the ground. Indeed, the parent might actually do that, or have the child to that. Or, to be a bit more graphic, the parent might use a turkey baster to illustrate insemination. 

These accommodations employ analogies. But there's nothing inherently erroneous about using an analogy to illustrate insemination. Even though the parent is coming down to the child's level of understanding, the comparison can still be accurate.

iii) Walton fails to explain why divine communication necessitates accommodation. Perhaps the unspoken assumption is that since God is so different from man, divine revelation must resort to accommodation.

If so, that fails to distinguish what any particular revelation is about. For instance, an incorporeal God might use picturesque metaphors to disclose something about himself, viz. eyes, ears, arm. 

However, a statement about God causing something to happen in the world needn't be accommodated. Take this statement:

"So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind" (Gen 1:21). 

That's a statement about the world. A statement about God making avian and aquatic life. But does that require accommodation? 

iv) Apropos (iii), if the communicator's world is the real world, why is accommodation required to describe the real world? If locutions are tied to the communicator's world, and that's the real world, why is accommodation even necessary at that level? 

v) Assuming for the sake of argument that ancient Jews believed in a solid sky, this is not just a question of what the Genesis narrator believed

Rather, according to Walton, he is using locutions to express his belief. He is committing his belief to writing. 

In that event, how can Walton drive a wedge between the narrator's locution and his illocution? He chooses those words with the intention of expressing what he thought the world was like. "Asserting" or "instructing."

vi) By Walton's own admission, the reader has no direct access to the narrator's illocution. Rather, the reader must access the narrator's illocution via his locutions. He choses those words and sentences to express himself. Yet according to Walton, that's erroneous. 

vii) In addition, Walton thinks the original (implied) audience believed in a solid sky. So another entry point would be what the statement meant to them. Yet according to Walton, that's erroneous as well. 

How can Walton distinguish the narrator's (allegedly) inerrant illocution from his errant locution? All a modern reader has to go by is the narrator's locutions, as well as the scientific understanding of the implied audience.  Those are the two reference points we have at our disposal. 

We can't bypass the narrator's locutions to directly access his illocution. Our interpretive clues are confined to the locutions as well as the epistemic situation of the implied audience. Yet according to Walton, both the locution and the understanding of the implied audience is erroneous.

So how is a modern reader suppose to discern God's illocution regarding the historicity (or not) of the Exodus? 

viii) If God is accommodating the misconception of the narrator and the implied audience, then the narrator intended his locution to purport a solid sky. That is what he meant to convey.

ix) Moreover, that is what he meant it to mean to his audience. That's the correct interpretation. That's how his audience is supposed to understand his locution. The narrator wrote with a view to be understood.

x) Not only does this make it hard to see how Walton can distinguish the narrator's errant locution from his (allegedly) inerrant illocution, but how he can distinguish God's inerrant illocution from the narrator's illocution. How can he distinguish what the narrator communicates from what God truthfully communicates through the narrator–if the narrator's locutions and illocutions are erroneous? 

God knows what the narrator intends to convey. God knows how the implied audience will construe the locution. 

According to Walton, the locution is false. So God inspired the narrator to use locutions which will mislead the implied audience into believing falsehood. 

According to Walton, the locution describes (or implies or alludes to) a solid sky. That's what the implied audience would take it to mean. And that interpretation would be right. 

Even though God knows the sky not to be solid, the narrator and the implied audience aren't privy to God's correct understanding. 

Not only is it impossible to see how Walton's illocutionary model can salvage inerrancy, but it makes God an inept communicator. 

Walls on divine determinism

On Facebook, Arminian philosopher Jerry Walls makes a startling admission (or concession):
April 28 · Edited

This past Sunday when I preached in Myrtle Beach, the first person to greet me after the first service was a total surprise, namely, Reid Walker, a former student and good friend who lives in Indiana. Reid and his wife were in town for the weekend, and "just happened" to attend Beach Church. He had no idea at all that I was there or preaching that Sunday. I have no clue how you would gauge the probability of something like that, but the odds seem pretty low to me. He came back after the second service and handed me an Ale-8, a little taste of Kentucky, where we first became friends!

Sandy Mimi Pierce Providence? God's hand? My theology if providence, I admit is sorely lacking. Jerry, how do you define Divine providence so that it does not entail determinism?
April 28 at 2:50pm

Jerry Walls Well, I suspect there are lots of ways God can prompt, even orchestrate things that fall far short of determining. However, I have no problem with God determining certain decisions. The one decision I think he cannot determine is the decision to love; either him or other people.

Is Olson a double agent?

Which says more about Edward Feser?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Noah and Real Estate

Helping Feser think

Ed Feser is miffed by a post I did:

Strangely, he spends most of his time faulting me for failing to hit a target I was never aiming at in the first place. 

Another funny thing is how he initially takes umbrage at what I said about him, then in a roundabout way admits that what I said was true. Take this:

Now, he’s right that I’m a critic of ID theory.  But his philosophy-by-power-browsing method has failed him badly if he thinks that my criticisms boil down to: “Well, it isn’t Thomism, ergo…”  First of all, as I have emphasized many times, I have two main problems with ID theory.  First, I hold that it presupposes, even if just for methodological purposes, a seriously problematic philosophy of nature. 

And what, pray tell, is the corrective? Wanna bet it's Thomism?

Second, I hold that it tends to lead to a dangerously anthropomorphic conception of God that is incompatible with classical theism.  

And the version of classical theism he espouses is…Thomism!

Now, to take the second point first, lots of classical theists are not Thomists. 

A red herring, inasmuch as that's the kind of classical theist he is.

And I imagine there are lots of people who might find it worthwhile inquiring whether classical theism and ID theory are compatible whether or not they are classical theists, or Thomists, or ID theorists for that matter. 

Unless you have a vested interest in the truth of Thomism, why would you find it worthwhile to make Thomism the frame of reference in evaluating ID theory? 

To come to my other line of criticism of ID, it is true that my reasons for rejecting the philosophy of nature that underlies ID theory are Aristotelian reasons, and Thomists are Aristotelians.

A backdoor admission conceding my original point.

However, this in no way entails that these reasons should be regarded as “philosophically unenlightening” to those who happen not to be Thomists. 

Once again, unless you have a vested interest in the truth of Thomism, it's philosophically unenlightening to judge ID theory by that yardstick.

For one thing, you don’t need to be a Thomist to find it of interest whether ID theory is compatible with Aristotelianism.  Not all Aristotelians are Thomists -- for example, many contemporary neo-Aristotelian metaphysicians and philosophers of science are not Thomists -- so that if ID theory is incompatible with Aristotelianism, it isn’t just Thomists who will reject ID’s underlying philosophy of nature.

Is "Ed" suggesting that Aquinas didn't modify Aristotelianism? So it's not like we're comparing pure Aristotelianism to ID theory. Aquinas has a very different concept of God than Aristotle. Does "Ed" think one's philosophy of nature is unrelated to one's concept of the Creator?

And as with the relationship between classical theism and ID theory, the relationship between Thomism and ID theory should be of philosophical interest in itself. 

Unless you think Thomism is true, why is that relationship philosophically interesting? Showing us that ID theory isn't Thomism doesn't show us that ID theory is false, unless we assume that Thomism is true. It's understandable why "Ed" makes Thomism the standard of comparison. But unless you're invested in the truth of Thomism, that's a tendentious criterion. 

(For example, if it turns out that Thomism and ID theory really are incompatible, surely this can be “philosophically enlightening” for those who are drawn to Thomism…

"Drawn to Thomism." Proves my point. 

…but don’t know what to make of ID theory, or who are drawn to ID theory but don’t know what to make of Thomism.) 

If they don't know what to make of ID theory, then the analysis should begin with an exposition of ID theory, not an exposition of Thomism. Showing how ID theory is unlike Thomism is a poor way of evaluating ID theory, just as showing how a dog is unlike a chair isn't terribly informative about the nature of dogs. 

Finally, I have, of course, given arguments -- at length, in depth, and in various books and articles -- for the various aspects of the Aristotelian philosophy of nature.  I don’t say: “If you just happen by arbitrary preference to be a Thomist like me, then you should reject ID theory.”  I say:  “Here are the arguments for why you should accept the Aristotelian position vis-à-vis act and potency, substantial form, final causality, etc.; and since ID theory is incompatible with all that, you should reject ID theory.” 

Notice how he keeps conceding my point. Unless you already share his Thomistic starting-point, why would you think comparing ID theory to Thomism is an enlightening way to evaluate ID theory?

“Steve,” despite his touching concern for the sound formation of “aspiring Reformed philosophers,” does not answer, or indeed even seem to be aware of, any of these philosophical arguments.

In my younger days I read many Thomists expounding Aquinas. But it was never the stated aim of my post to assess Thomism. 

But when a Thomist [or a Leibnizian, or a naturalist, or whatever] offers arguments for a position, it is no good for an “aspiring philosopher” to say: “Well, I’m not a Thomist [or a Leibnizian, or a naturalist, or whatever], so I don’t find all that ‘philosophically enlightening.’”  An “aspiring philosopher” should respond to the damn arguments.  Awful luck for those who would prefer to limit their philosophical investigations to the “admittedly cursory” kind, but there it is. 

Which misses the point. HIs critique of ID theory is only cogent if you already agree with his arguments for Thomism. 

BTW, he's rather conceited to act as if, unless you've read his arguments for Thomism, you're not qualified to judge the merits of Thomism. What if you've formed your opinion of Thomism based on other Thomists who are frankly far more eminent in the field than "Ed"?  

Finally, every aspiring philosopher must severely limit his philosophical investigations. Feser is a specialist on Thomism, and related philosophers. He's investigated Thomism far more deeply than many other philosophical traditions. 

As a practical necessity, philosophers, including aspiring philosophers, must make cursory judgments about where to invest their time. "Ed" is just being silly.

That’s it.  That’s all he says about the matter.  Do you hear that, “aspiring Reformed philosophers”?  Feser’s views have been challenged!  That never happens to serious philosophers.

No. That's not all I said. In fact, he quotes me saying more than that. I went on to say, as he himself quotes me saying:

Consider the running debates between his blog and Uncommon Descent.

Anyone with Internet access can mouse over to Uncommon Descent or Evolution News, input "Feser" or "Thomism" in the search box, and pull up extensive responses to his "damn arguments." It's not incumbent on me to do that for them. They can do their own research. 

The funny thing is that “Steve” never actually cites a case where I claim that something is true merely because Aquinas or some prominent Thomist like Cajetan said it…

Another funny thing is that "Ed" never actually quotes me attributing that claim to him.

...or where I have rejected a claim merely because it deviates from Aquinas or from the Thomist tradition…

By his own admission, he's judging ID theory by Thomism. 

Then we're treated to "Ed's" deliciously bungled refutation:

“Steve” piously avers, as if he were saying something I would disagree with: 
From an intellectual standpoint, a misinterpretation can be more useful than a correct interpretation. Suppose you improve on Aquinas by unintentionally imputing to him a better theory than he held. That's bad exegesis, but good philosophy. 
Yet compare this passage from my book Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction: 
No great philosopher, no matter how brilliant and systematic, ever uncovers all the implications of his position, foresees every possible objection, or imagines what rival systems might come into being centuries in the future.  His work is never finished, and if it is worth finishing, others will come along to do the job.  Since their work is, naturally, never finished either, a tradition of thought develops, committed to working out the implications of the founder’s system, applying it to new circumstances and challenges, and so forth.  Thus Plato had Plotinus, Aristotle had Aquinas, and Aquinas had Cajetan – to name just three famous representatives of Platonism, Aristotelianism, and Thomism, respectively.  And thus you cannot fully understand Plato unless you understand Platonism, you cannot fully understand Aristotle unless you understand Aristotelianism, you cannot fully understand Thomas unless you understand Thomism, and so on.  True, writers in the traditions in question often disagree with one another and sometimes simply get things wrong.  But that is all the more reason to study them if one wants to understand the founders of these traditions.

Except that "Ed" does disagree with what I said, because when "Ed" proceeds to quote himself, he's makes the opposite claim. Compare my statement:

A misinterpretation can be more useful than a correct interpretation. Suppose you improve on Aquinas by unintentionally imputing to him a better theory than he held.

with his:

True, writers in the traditions in question often disagree with one another and sometimes simply get things wrong.  But that is all the more reason to study them if one wants to understand the founders of these traditions.

"Ed" is stressing the importance of correctly understanding the philosopher in question. I said just the opposite. A misunderstanding can be more philosophically fruitful than a correct understanding (of a philosopher's actual position). For what ultimately matters in philosophy is the truth or falsity of the idea, not the truth or falsity of the attribution. 

Is "Ed's" judgment so clouded by personal pique that he can't tell the difference between black and white? 

But to be fair, “Steve” can’t have been expected to see passages like that, since it would require actually bothering to read someone’s work before criticizing it; and that, it seems, is not an approach to research he would commend to “aspiring Reformed philosophers.” 

Except for the awkward little fact that in the very passage where "Ed" is quoting himself, in application to my statement, he botches his attempted refutation. Evidently, "Ed" can't be bothered to understand what he himself has written. 

Then there’s all that non-existent work of mine synthesizing Aristotelian and Kripkean insights; synthesizing Aristotelian insights and insights drawn from Karl Popper; defending the principle of sufficient reason, despite its origins in Leibnizian-Wolffian rationalism, against Gilsonian Thomists who reject it as a foreign import (Scholastic Metaphysics pp. 138-40)...

Except for the awkward little fact that I quote him verbatim on his purity as a classical Thomist. It's up to him, not me, to square that with extraneous influences to the contrary.

Tom McCall on NDEs

On Facebook, Tom McCall, who's a seminary prof. at TEDS, draws some neglected distinctions on assessing NDE claims:

A rough guide to spotting bad science

(Click image to expand)



Monday, April 28, 2014

Subtle bias

Olson's confirmation bias

I probably was and am inclined to take this one more seriously just because the boy seems not to have been coached (unless his parents are simply lying) and his parents are Wesleyan Church pastors. I like the Wesleyan Church. (If I wasn’t a Baptist and lived near a Wesleyan Church I’d probably attend it. Or if there wasn’t a “good” Baptist church I’d probably attend the Wesleyan Church. I digress.)

So a Wesleyan witness is more credible than…what? What's the implicit contrast? What if his parents were–heaven forbid!–Calvinists? Would Olson assume they were congenital liars? What if they were Lutheran? Is he less inclined to believe Lutheran witnesses, but more inclined to be Wesleyan witnesses? 

This becomes a self-reinforcing rule of evidence. 

"Baptizing terrorists"

I see that some conservative and/or Christian pundits are hyperventilating over Sarah Palin's recent quip that “If I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.”

I think they're overreacting. Now, I'm not a big fan of Palin. I think she's a lightweight. And in this statement she seems to be channeling Ann Coulter. It strains to be clever and faux tough. 

Some people are naturally clever. Take Chesterton. Although even he became overly enamored with his own wit. But unless you're naturally clever, it's best not to try too hard. 

Moreover, the tough pose is just that…a rhetorical pose. Terrorists will be unimpressed. It's like dressing up as a Klingon warrior princess at a Star Trek convention. Comical rather than fearful. 

That said, she was giving a red meat speech to a sympathetic audience. The comparison was satirical. Political satire. 

In addition, the critics are confounding their own view of waterboarding with hers. They equate waterboarding with "torture." They think "torture" is inexcusable under any and all circumstances. So they find her comparison morally repressible. 

But their interpretation of her comment is premised on a moral analogy which she obviously rejects. So the objection is equivocal. 

This is aggravated by the fact that some pundits have a Roman Catholic view of baptism. But she doesn't espouse their theology. 

I don't care for her punchline, but it's not that big a deal. Really.