Saturday, May 10, 2014

Question authority

On the one hand

Richard Carrier is the renowned author of several books including Sense and Goodness without God and Proving History, as well as numerous articles online and in print. His avid readers span the world from Hong Kong to Poland. With a Ph.D. in ancient history from Columbia University, he specializes in the modern philosophy of naturalism and humanism, the origins of Christianity, and the intellectual history of Greece and Rome, with particular expertise in ancient philosophy, science and technology. 

On the other hand

And yet, it is often enough the case that a consensus of experts is wrong (as proved even by the fact that the scientific consensus has frequently changed, as has the consensus in any other domain of expertise, from history to motorboat repair). And our brains are cognitively biased to over-trust those we accept as authorities (the Asch effect), putting us at significant risk of false belief if we are not sufficiently critical of our relying on an expert. It’s only more complicated when we have warring experts and have to choose between them, even though we are not experts ourselves.

Inerrancy and dispensationalism

The debate over inerrancy is heating up. There's a growing list of scholars on the left. That's entirely predictable.

There is, however, a parallel debate going on with center-right scholars. I notice that two of the critics are Robert Thomas and David Farnell. Both men are affiliated with the Master's Seminary.

Thomas is a staunch critic of progressive dispensationalism. He's a throwback to classical and/or revised dispensationalism. And I wonder if that's driving Farnell's position as well. In addition, Norman Geisler is another critic of progressive dispensationalism. Cf. Conviction without Compromise

It may be that from their viewpoint, inerrancy is inseparable from classical/revised dispensational hermeneutics. Perhaps they view any deviation from classical/revised dispensational hermeneutics as implicitly compromising the literal inerrancy of Scripture. If that's their position, then it's only plausible if you agree with the hermeneutical system which underwrites their eschatological distinctives. 

Pruss on God's knowledge of the past

Commenting on a post of mine, Dr. Pruss draws attention to an interesting symmetry between God's knowledge of the future and the past:

Alexander R Pruss5/09/2014 6:00 PM 
I think it is deeply puzzling how God knows our future free choices. But it is no more puzzling than the deeply puzzling question of how God knows our past free choices. The problem in both cases is this: How can our actions affect the beliefs of a transcendent being? Whether our actions are in the past or in the future makes no difference here. 
(Now, granted, on growing block theories there is a difference, in that past actions and past persons (if there are any persons who don't exist forever) are real and future ones aren't. But on both presentism and eternalism there is ontological symmetry between past actions/persons and future actions/persons. And growing block is false. :-) )
I believe he's alluding to divine impassibility, which Brian Davies defines as "not able to be causally modified by an external agent," "God cannot be altered by anything a creature does." 
To flesh this out, I think Pruss is suggesting a paradoxical trilemma:
i) Humans have libertarian freedom
ii) God is impassible (i.e. can't be affected by the world)
iii) God knows our past and future choices
I say that's a paradoxical trilemma because Pruss presumably affirms the truth of all three propositions.
In reponse:
1. A Calvinist will relieve the trilemma by denying (i). 
From my perspective, it's a false trilemma. 
2. Jerry Walls will relieve the trilemma by denying (ii-iii). 
3. Where revealed truths generate an apparent contradiction, I think appeal to mystery or paradox is legit. That's an argument from authority (revelation), which is legit so long as the authority is legit. 
But I don't think human libertarian freedom is a revealed truth. At best, it's a philosophical construct. So it can't take refuge in an argument from authority. It stands or falls at the bar of reason. 
Worse, I think human libertarian freedom contradicts revealed truths regarding predestination, meticulous providence, divine hardening, &c.

In Calvinism, God knows our past and future choices because he predestined them. That doesn't generate any tension with impassibility, for God is affecting the creature, rather than vice versa. 

Bernard Nathanson’s “The Silent Scream”: ultrasound video of an abortion

In the spirit of showing videos of abortions, here is one that was done some time ago. As I was saying in comments, I'm not sure why this one doesn't get more visiblility. This is an ultrasound video of a live child being aborted. The "procedure" begins around 16:00. Maybe some of our readers who hang out in pro-choice circles could share this video with some of their friends. Caution, this is graphic and disturbing.

Friday, May 09, 2014

"Anti-gay" remarks

"News" outlets are reporting that the Benham brothers have been blacklisted due to "anti-gay" remarks. 

I'd simply point out that to equate opposition to homosexuality with being "anti-gay" is about as logical as equating opposition to drug addiction with being "anti-junkie." 

To the contrary, it's because we care about the wellbeing of drug attics that we oppose drug addiction (including highly addictive and destructive drugs). By the same token, opposition to homosexuality is, among other things, out of concern for the mental health, physical health, and spiritual well-being of individuals trapped in homosexuality. 

Abortion and beheading

Emily Letts is now infamous for filming her abortion. It was due to an "unplanned pregnancy." It doesn't occur to her that this makes her look too intellectually immature to realize the link between sex and sexual reproduction. You'd think a counselor at an abortion clinic might have figured that out by now. 

In one sense, what she did was logical. If you're going to do wrong, you might as well be proud of it. 

Filming her abortion reminds me of jihadis who film beheadings. The jihadis are proud of what they do. Beheading the infidel is something to celebrate. Something to post on the Internet, like catching a prize salmon. 

Emily Letts  and Muslim terrorists both share the same moral blindness. Evil is something to celebrate. Evil is something to take pride in.

That's because both groups live and move in social circles which affirm their moral depravity. 

When the smoke clears

Jerry Walls is arguably the top Arminian philosopher of his generation. He's been making some striking concessions on Facebook. Dogmatic Arminians often refuse to acknowledge the tension between libertarian freedom and divine foreknowledge, but Walls is more candid about the dilemma:

Jerry Walls Well, that's a complex issue of course, but in brief, I find it utterly mysterious how it is possible to know far off future choices of people who do not yet exist. Even more perplexing is how it is possible to know every choice that would be made by an infinite number of persons in every possible state of affairs, who will NEVER actually exist. Again, not just possible choices, but the actual choices they would make if they were created. And simple foreknowledge I find as perplexing. Calvinism and open theism are both far more intelligible. In fact, I would not be surprised when the smoke clears and the dust settles if those were the two positions left standing as the viable options. But Calvinism is morally intolerable when it is consistent. That leaves open theism. Hard to say how far I lean that way, but I've leaned that way for a while. 
Jerry Walls Yes, God has foreknowledge of many things, just not infallible foreknowledge of undetermined choices. 

Here he touches on a point I don't generally see discussed. It's not just a question of whether God can know discrete libertarian choices. Rather, when dealing with choices in the distant future, that involves knowledge of nested choices. A long chain of choices, not only within the life of an individual, but over generations of individuals, where one thing leads to another, leading up to that decision point in the far-off future. Contingencies contingent on other contingencies. 

Let's assume libertarian freedom. The choices of the older generation create the situation from which the younger generation makes its choices. Even if the situation doesn't determine their choices, it determines their range of choices. To the extent that past choices create future circumstances, that's the pool from which a future generation makes its selection.

If the choices are truly free, then it's not just a question of how God can know an inherently unpredictable choice, but it's compounded by how God can know every link in a chain of contingencies, where each depends on the prior. 

Ironically, Walls cuts the Gordian knot by appealing to divine determinism! 

Jerry Walls God can determine many things, including human choices in order to accomplish his purposes. What he cannot determine is a free choice to love him, worship him, etc. 
Jerry Walls I do not think dispositions allow precise predictions, but more general ones, like the one in Matthew. Dispositions do not allow you to predict the exact people who will repent, the exact date and time of day, the exact words they will use and so on. According to Molinism, God know all those details and more.
And as for open theism, God is never surprised in the sense that he knows all potentialities and possibilities, so none emerge he did not know were possible. And indeed, I think Cyrus and John are explicable in terms of divine orchestration or even determinism. While God can determine actions, he cannot determine the essentially personal choices to love, to worship, to trust, etc. So open theism has a lot of options, as I said before.

So he labors to relieve the dilemma by resorting to an ad hoc alternation between determinism and indeterminism, even though those are intertwined.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Synoptic apologetics

Daniel in Babylon

Replacing "God" with "science"

If you say evolution occurs by natural selection, it looks scientific compared with saying God created everything. Now they say natural selection created everything, but they don’t explain how. If it’s science, you have to explain every step. That’s why I was unhappy. Just a replacement of God with natural selection doesn’t change very much. You have to explain how.

Masatoshi Nei is Evan Pugh Professor of Biology and Director of the Institute of Molecular Evolutionary Genetics at Penn State. 

A hands-on Deity

What can miserable Christians sing?

"What Can Miserable Christians Sing?" by Carl Trueman.

"Reflections on 'What Can Miserable Christians Sing?'" by Carl Trueman.

"Out of Egypt"

I'm going to post a my replies to a commenter on my "Feserettes" post because the issue is worth highlight in its own right:

Matthew 2:15"And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son."

Tell me, what prophecy is this in reference to?

Isaiah 40:3"The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God."

Was Isaiah meaning to reference Elijah?

Matthew 13:35"That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world."

Which prophecy is this in reference to?


i) Matthew is quoting Hos 11:1.

ii) That doesn't contradict Hosea's meaning. Hosea himself has a typological understanding of redemptive history. He recast the threatened Assyrian deportation in terms of second Egyptian bondage followed by a second Exodus. That's in play in the very chapter Matthew quotes (Hos 11:5,11), as well as other passages in Hosea (cf. 2:14-15; 7:16; 8:13; 9:3,6).

Therefore, Hosea already understood that the same past event can foreshadow an analogous future event(s).

Likewise, "divine sonship" in OT usage can have both a collective referent (Israel) and an individual referent (David or David's heir). Furthermore, in covenant theology, an individual can represent others. So the individual and collective aspects can (and often do) merge.

iii) Matthew is operating with the same typological principle as Hosea. A past event (the Exodus) foreshadowed an analogous future event (the childhood of Christ). Likewise, Christ is the Davidic son who embodies Israel.

i) Isaiah didn't intend to pick out any particular individual, be it Elijah, John the Baptist, or both. Isaiah didn't have a specific individual in mind. He didn't know who was going to fulfill that prediction. He lacks detailed knowledge of the future.

In the case of short-term predictions, a prophet might have something more specific in mind, but not in the case of long-term predictions. And a prophet didn't necessarily (or even usually) know if his prediction was short-term or long-term.

ii) Rather, Isaiah is describing a distinctive role which that individual will play. The role itself selects for the referent.

iii) In addition, more than one individual can play or reprise the same role under analogous circumstances.

iv) Keep in mind that, like Hosea, Isaiah also has a typological understanding of redemptive history, as can be seen in his new Exodus motif.

So the NT appeal to this verse doesn't contradict Isaiah's "meaning."

v) Apropos (iv), you need to distinguish between sense and reference. What it "means" and what it "refers" to are not interchangeable concepts.
i) Matthew is quoting Ps 78:2.

ii) Minimally, Matthew is seizing on the introductory formula. What Jesus does at this point is analogous to what Asaph did under similar circumstances, making Jesus a counterpart to Asaph in that respect.

iii) It's also possible that Matthew is making a larger point. Just as, according to Asaph, well-known events in Israel's history can have a latent significance that only becomes evident or more evident with the passage of time, the same principle holds true at this juncture in the life and ministry of Christ–which is an extension (and culmination) of Israel's history.

Matthew's appeal doesn't contradict what the Psalmist "meant."
First of all, let's recall how you originally framed the issue: "the New Testament quotes the Old in a way we know contradicts the original meaning of the OT author."

In your responses to me, you are conflating two distinct issues:

i) What did the author/prophet intend?

ii) What did the author/prophet not intend?

You're acting as though, if the author/prophet did not intend the oracle to have multiple referents, that he intended the oracle not to have multiple referents. But those are not convertible propositions.

An unintended consequence can be consistent with original intent.

Likewise, as I've noted, OT prophets already understood some past creative/redemptive events as paradigmatic models for future events. So the fulfillment was, to that degree, open-ended. The prophetic significance of a paradigmatic event lacks an automatic cutoff. For it sets a precedent for similar divine actions.

By the same token, the significance of a long-range prophecy can't be exhausted by the prospective viewpoint of the author/prophet, for the simple reason that he lacks the detailed foreknowledge to intend a precise set of historical circumstances which fulfill the oracle. To a great extent, the who, when, and how are opaque looking forward. The significance of long-range prophecy has to be completed by a retrospective viewpoint. For it's only by looking back on the outcome that a reader is in a position to fully discern the paired relationship between the prophetic description and the concrete event.

That doesn't contradict original intent, for that's the nature of long-range prophecy (or paradigmatic events which have prophetic value).
A fixture of the GHM is making allowance for differences in genre. In that respect, you're failing to draw another crucial distinction. Original intent has a narrower scope in prophetic literature than, say, epistolary literature or historical narration.

When, say, Paul writes Galatians, authorial intent determines both sense and reference. He chooses words to express what he wants to convey. And he also determines the identity of the referents. And that's because the identity of the referents is under his control.

But in the case of prophecy, that's only about half true. Authorial intent still determines the meaning of prophetic discourse (i.e. the meaning of a sentence).

However, the identity of the referent is independent of the prophet's intent. The referent concerns future events. That's out of his hands. That's up to God. In many cases, a prophet doesn't even know what the referent will be. His knowledge of the future is still quite limited. Compartmentalized.

A prophet is a recipient of knowledge about the future. He is privy to genuine, albeit limited knowledge of the future. He's basically a reporter. Take a seer. He describes what God showed him. Whether the referent lies in the near future or far future, whether the referent denotes one or multiple events, is not something he is even in a position to intend unless God's revelation is more specific on that point.

I didn't suggest "Hosea referencing Egypt makes the argument that Hosea personally expects his prophecy of Assyria to be a 'long-range' prophecy that will also have other referents."

You're repeating the same mistake you made before. Not expecting something to happen isn't equivalent to expecting something not to happen.

Why, moreover, are you assuming that Hosea even had expectations about how often the Exodus would have future analogues? Once an OT prophet accepts the principle that past events may anticipate future events, there's no intrinsic limitation on how repeatable that is. That's something to be discovered.
Gary Black
"If Hosea was intending to establish or use a previous paradigm, Israel still cannot be construed to be the Savior. For both in Egypt and Assyria, it is abundantly clear from the text that Israel refers to the people getting saved, not the savior. Matthew's interpretation cannot be construed to use the same paradigm Hosea is establishing/using. Asking me to think of Israel in a way that contradicts the plain meaning of the text is asking me to think of Israel in an analogical way."

i) That's not how Matthew is using Hosea. You equivocate on "salvation." "Save" can mean to redeem sinners or it can mean to deliver and/or protect from harm. The paradigm connotes divine protection. Just as Yahweh protects his "son" Israel from a murderous ruler (Pharaoh), God protects his Son Jesus from a murderous ruler (Herod). The Father is "saving" the Christchild in that sense, which is consonant with Christ (as an adult) being a Savior.

ii) In addition, you chronically collapse sense and reference. But what a word or sentence means and what it references are two different things.

Take "beagle." That means a particular dog breed. One kind of dog.

But that has multiple referents. All the beagles of the world.

i) One of the factors you fail to appreciate is that both Hos 11:1 and Mat 2:15 are special cases of a general principle. Hosea himself regards the impending Assyrian deportation and subsequent restoration as an exemplification of the Exodus motif.

It is therefore artificial for you to single out a specific application to the detriment of underlying exemplar which Hosea himself recognizes.

ii) In addition, if Mt 2:15 alludes to Hos 11:1, Hos 11:1 alludes to Pentateuchal passages. The "sonship" motif comes from Exod 4:22-23 while the "out of Egypt" motif comes from Num 23:22 and 24:8. In Num 23:22, the referent is plural (i.e. corporate Israel), but 24:8 is singular, highlighting a future king who will arise to defeat Israel's enemies (symbolized by Agag). So there's already a dialectical interplay between singular and collective referents, with a Messianic motif.

iii) Your final paragraph ignores my discussion of the prophetic genre. Additionally, you create a false dichotomy between the GHM and analogous events, even though Hosea himself relies on that principle.
i) You need to distinguish between analogical "interpretation" and analogical events. It's not that Matthew is interpreting Hosea analogically. Rather, the underlying events (i.e. the Egyptian bondage/Exodus; the Assyrian deportation/restoration; the Holy Family taking refuge in Egypt) are analogous. Hosea is an OT witness to that recurrent pattern.

ii) Moreover, the Exodus established a divine precedent, which–in turn–fosters the expectation God will do similar things in the future.

Anderson responds to Craig on Molinism

"A Brief Response to William Lane Craig on Molinism" by James Anderson.

Exodus from Catholicism

Occupation force

There's a lot of news about Russia invading the Urkraine, and what we should do about it. Well, closer to home...

Several issues:

i) Stories like this pop up every so often. But nothing changes. Like stories about young boys who are suspended from grade school because they made a gun gesture. It's reported, but nothing changes. That's because no one is fired. 

These are issues that GOP candidates could run on. Why don't they? Why do so many GOP candidates lack the popular imagination to run on issues like this? Some of these ought to be winning issues in red states. 

ii) I can't help thinking that some of the appeal of this paramilitary apparatus lies in giving police the chance to play soldier, feeling big and brave and tough, without assuming the same risks a real soldier on the battlefield. I'm not saying police work is a risk-free occupation, obviously. You have police shot and sometimes killed in the line of duty. 

Still, it's not like doing a tour of duty in Fallujah. So I think SWAT teams can foster a mock masculinity. And female officers also have a chance to get in on the act.

iii) Is there any real need for police to have this kind of firepower? Perhaps the excuse is that, in the "war on drugs," combating well-armed gangs, &c., the police will be outgunned unless they have this kind of firepower in reserve. 

If so, I find that excuse dubious. It's not as if the police actually wage all-out war on gangs. My impression is that the police have something of a gentleman's agreement with gangs. "If you don't do anything too provocative, we won't do anything too provocative." 

It's like the unspoken agreement between prisoners and prison guards. Because gang members greatly outnumber police, the police can't afford to get into an all-out confrontation with major gangs. You have occasional shootouts between some police and some gang-bangers, but It's not like police battalions going head-to-head with gang battalions. 

iv) In movies and police dramas, we're treated to bungled bank heists where a teller sets off the silent alarm and the building is surrounded by SWAT teams, choppers, sharpshooters, before the robbers can make their getaway. So they take hostages and make demands. 

But as a practical matter, do the police really need all that fire power in a hostage situation? The bank has only one entrance or exit. If you use too much force, you will kill the hostages as well as the robbers. So isn't that literally overkill?

iv) Another scenario is SWAT teams busting down the doors of "crack houses." But there are often complications. Even if it's a real crack house, there may be children inside.

Sometimes SWAT teams get the address wrong and barge into the wrong house. Or they get an "anonymous tip" from a neighbor. Turns out that was a false lead. But they only find out the hard way. 

Sometimes innocent people are shot to death inside the home because the SWAT team is making snap judgments. Is he pointing a gun or a TV remote? If you hesitate, you may be dead.

v) Apropos (iv), I have to wonder if the number of innocent people killed in botched drug raids isn't underreported. The blue code of silence. If police on the scene are the only witnesses, would it not be tempting to plant a gun on the victim to make it look like a justified homicide? 

I'm not saying police go inside with the intention of killing innocents. But given their hair-trigger reflexes, if they think they may be staring down the barrel of a gun the moment they open a bedroom door, there will be occasions when they make a slit-second decision that's terribly wrong. 

No doubt the usual procedure is to put the officier on administration leave pending an investigation by internal affairs. Even if he's cleared, that's in the record. He may be subject to a civi lawsuit by the family. 

Color me cynical, but I expect there are situations in which it's made to look like a justified homicide after the fact. 

vi) Increasingly, the police are acquiring the mindset and resources of an occupation force. They bully ordinary citizens because ordinary citizens are safer to pick on.

Go for broke

This study is quite premature. For one thing, they haven't done long-term follow-up studies. But suppose, for the sake of argument, that blood transfusions from young donors is the fountain of youth. What would be the social and theological ramifications of that discovery?

i) Would it falsify the Bible? If death is a divine penalty for Adam's sin, and medical science figures out how to circumvent aging, does that falsify the Bible?

Not really. Even if death is a universal penalty for Adam's sin, that doesn't mean dying of old age must be the way in which that penalty is carried out. For instance, in Scripture, God sometimes executes sinners (many sinners) through natural disasters. 

To play along with the hypothetical, suppose humans stopped aging, stopped dying of old age. They lived for centuries. But depending on your eschatology, there'd be mass fatalities when the Lord returns. Just consider the eschatological plagues and battle scenes in Revelation. 

ii) What would be the social repercussions? Well, for one thing, most humans would become extremely risk-averse. Humans often engage in risky behavior because they know that sooner or later, they are going to die anyway. That's also a premise for certain kinds of altruism. I will risk my life for someone else knowing that my own death is inevitable. It's just a question of how and when. 

If, however, death was not unavoidable, then that would raise the stakes immeasurably. I'd have far more to lose. Not just in terms of losing my life, but, say, suffering spinal chord trauma from contact sports. Imagine being a quadriplegic for centuries? 

You'd have a society of hypochondriacs. Like Howard Hughes, Glenn Gould–or Mike Monroe, the "Bubble Man" in Northern Exposure. Ironically, some hypochondriacs are so overprotective of their health that they destroy their health in the process.

iii) But there'd be an even more dire consequence. Most people cling to life. They hang on until the last possible moment. As they age, their grip tightens. Death must pry their fingers loose, one-by-one. 

Even those who undergo voluntary euthanasia usually do so because the aging process has severely diminished their quality of life. 

Due to the fear of death, many people will do anything to stay alive. They will do anything to other humans to stay alive. That comes out in survival situations where you must compete to stay alive. Lifeboat ethics. The Hunger Games

If "vampire therapy" is truly the fountain of youth, young blood donors will be bred, fed, and kept captive to replenish the ruling class. Rather like the Daybreakers film. Secure blood banks where the ruling class receives periodic transfusions.

There won't be enough youthful blood for the entire populace to have a shot at immortality. So you'd have a stark class system, between mortals and immortals. A police state apparatus will be necessary to enforce the class system. And the security forces will demand access to the blood supply for itself and family. 

There'd be a black market for rejuvenating blood. Bribery would be rife. 

The class system would lead to civil war. Given the hope of immortality, the survival instinct is too strong to suppress a restive populace. There'd be a complete breakdown of civil authority. 

iv) This would have a winnowing effect on the church. There's a sense in which God makes it easier to die by making death inevitable. Whether you die serenely or fearfully makes no difference to the outcome. You can shake your fist like Dylan Thomas ("Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light"), but that's ineffectual. Empty bravado.

If, however, people had a choice between dying or indefinite life-extension, "vampire therapy" would be tremendously tempting. It would be easier for some members of the first generation (after the discovery of "vampire therapy") to resist the temptation if they already lost a loved one they can't live without. 

But for most churchgoers, this would be an acid test of faith. Do you choose death, hoping in the afterlife? Or do you choose immortality in this life?  

The Christian faith really does come down to the end of life. That's when it has to be real. What happens to me when I die? What happens to my loved ones? The Christian faith views life from a deathbed perspective. We die as individuals. In that sense, we die alone. 

More than anything else, mortality exposes our creatureliness. Our dependence. Vulnerability. Insecurity. Helplessness.

Christianity is a go-for-broke religion. Do you wager everything on the tangibles or the intangibles? This world or the world to come? Are you pinning all your hopes on heaven? 

In defense of the Bible

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

How To Lose The Dispute Over Same-Sex Marriage

I just listened to Michael Medved discussing same-sex marriage with a guest who wrote an article on a related subject. I think the guest was on for close to half an hour. He kept referring to same-sex marriage as a right, and he referred to opposition to state recognition of same-sex marriage as evil. As far as I recall, he was never asked where that alleged right comes from, whether people have a right to other forms of marriage as well, such as incestuous marriage and polygamy, or on what basis we should conclude that opposition to state recognition of same-sex marriage is evil. Instead of focusing on a universal aspect of opposite-sex marriage that distinguishes it from same-sex marriage, such as how opposite-sex marriage promotes the unity of the sexes in a way that same-sex marriage can't, Medved focused on how opposite-sex marriage can produce children biologically. His guest raised the usual objection that not all opposite-sex couples can or do have children, whether because of sterility or for some other reason. Medved responded that it wouldn't be appropriate for the government to do something like test people for sterility before recognizing a marriage, but he didn't explain why or explain how his original appeal to the biological production of children remains valid in spite of the objection raised against it. A caller referred to how offended he was, as a Christian, by the position of Medved's guest, and he commented on how some black individuals he knows are offended by the comparison between opposition to same-sex marriage and opposition to interracial marriage. He also referred to how old the opposite-sex view of marriage is. But he never explained why he was offended, why the black people he described were offended, why anybody else should agree with their reasoning, or what significance the oldness of opposite-sex marriage has.

When opponents of same-sex marriage so often argue so poorly for their position, is it any wonder their position keeps dropping in popularity? Last year, I wrote a few posts about how to approach this issue in a more effective way: part 1, part 2, part 3.

Irreconcilable similarities

Bishop Gene Robinson is divorcing his "husband." When heterosexual couples divorce, that's often chalked up to "irreconcilable differences." I guess that when homosexual couples divorce, that's due to irreconcilable similarities. 

Jack is back!

24 is back after a four-year hiatus. The series originally got a tremendous head of steam from the 9/11 attacks, and the fact that the first season was daring. But over time it ran out of steam, both because 9/11 began to fade and because political correctness made the producers lose their nerve.

Ironically, America is under greater threat today than it was after 9/11. But the threats are internal rather than external. Not from jihadis, but the gov't and the ruling class. 

It's fun to see Chloe in her new Goth hacktivist persona. It's also nice to see a genuinely strong, interesting female character for a change, rather than a fashion model miscast as a tuff girl.

Sutherland is already looking long of tooth to play an action hero. He's not that old (47), but he looks like a typical Hollywood actor who's lived too hard too fast. This, combined with the fact that he never had the athletic physique of a natural action star, makes the hand-to-hand combat sequences less than convincing.  

The pilot episode has a well-crafted scene of how Jack breaks Chloe out of detention. However, it's unclear (at least to me) why he did that. Is he endangering himself to rescue a valued friend and colleague? That would be an admirable expression of loyalty. Both have risked their necks for each other at various times. 

Or is he rescuing her because he needs her cyber skills and counterintelligence expertise? If so, that's more cynical. He's simply using her as a means to an end. 

The pilot also trades on certain headlines, like predator drones. By the same token, Chloe channels Ed Snowden. Apparently (I've only read reviews), this is something it shares in common with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In a way , it's refreshing to see Hollywood do political allegories which take a swipe at the Obama administration. But thus far, that development is half-hearted at best. 

Unfortunately, the drone/NSA ingredients seem to be plot devices rather than philosophical issues which drive the plot. In the pilot, the controversy centers on an American air force base on English soil, which directs predator drones in Middle Eastern operations. But even if that would be unpopular for many English citizens, it's a clinker for an American audience. 

To make it play better for an American audience, the venue should be changed to American soil, where the issue would involve domestic drones. One way to do this would be to retain the domestic terrorist theme, but have them engineer a drone strike on a Little League game, as a way of galvanizing public opinion against domestic drones. 

I'm not saying that's the best way to rewrite the plot. Just an improvement over the pilot.

But if 24 really wants to exploit the gov't conspiracy angle, a more effective way would be to make an ambitious, Machiavellian president stage an attack on, say, a Superbowl game, pin the blame on domestic terrorists, then use that as a pretext to declare martial law. He could then deploy his domestic drones to neutralize political opponents, investigative reporters, and generally subjugate the populace.

Jack and Chloe could spearhead a resistance movement. That would have a lot more resonance than the current plot, which plays it safe.  

Monday, May 05, 2014

Jason Lisle on Norm Geisler

Norm Geisler is in a bit of a bind. On the one hand he's an ardent opponent of evangelicals whom he deems to have gone soft on inerrancy. He recently targeted Craig Blomberg's Can We Still Believe the Bible?: An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions.

Problem is, Geisler has a chink in his own armor. He came of age before the resurgence of young-earth creationism. Most conservative evangelicals of his generation were old-earth creationists. He's basically a throwback to the Bernard Ramm's classic concordist paradigm: The Christian View of Science and Scripture.

It's more fun to play offense than defense. So it's painful for Geiser to find himself fending off attacks from the right:

Death by guns

Suicides by gun accounted for about six of every 10 firearm deaths in 2010 and just over half of all suicides, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since the CDC began publishing data in 1981, gun suicides have outnumbered gun homicides. But as gun homicides have declined sharply in recent years, suicides have become a greater share of all firearm deaths: the 61% share in 2010 was the highest on record. That year there were 19,392 suicides by firearm compared to 11,078 homicides by gun (35% of all firearm deaths). The rest were accidents, police shootings and unknown causes.

In terms of both raw numbers and population rates, gun suicides have been on the rise in recent years, even as gun homicides have fallen. In 2010, the gun suicide rate was 6.3 per 100,000 people, compared with 3.6 per 100,000 for gun homicides.

At 87%, males are the vast majority of gun suicides. By age group, people 65 and older have the highest firearm suicide rate: 10.6 per 100,000 people.


Pruss on ID theory

It's striking to compare the knee-jerk animosity of some Catholic philosophers and scientists to ID theory with the nuanced assessment of Catholic philosopher Alexander Pruss:

9 things you should know about prayer


It's revealing to see the quality of reasoning on display by Feser groupies. 

Nathanael said...As a young Reformed guy who reads your blog regularly I'd just like to say, keep up the good work. 
Nathanael said...So I went over to Triablogue (my first visit there) and saw that the author recommended getting my theology from Turretin and my philosophy from Plantinga and Swinburne. Because apparently the best way to support Reformed theology is to follow guys who reject divine simplicity, divine aseity, and predestination. Oh, and who have a "social" view of the Trinity. Because I guess he never bothered to actually read Turretin (who was as scholastic as they come).
Compare that with what I actually said:
But because he usually writes at a popular level, there's not a lot of depth or detail. And it lacks technical rigor. Plantinga raised the bar for how to do Christian philosopher. The same holds true, in a different way, for Swinburne. 
I expect many young Calvinists of a philosophical bent may still get their theology from Warfield and Turretin, or Schreiner and Beale, or Frame, but their philosophical role models are more in the vein of Pruss, Plantinga, the McGrews, van Inwagen, &c. 

i) Notice that I didn't "recommend" Plantinga or Swinburne. Is Nathanael unable to distinguish between a description and a recommendation?

ii) Moreover, I was distinguishing between theological content and philosophical method. Is Nathanael unable to draw that elementary distinction? 

iii) Also observe how undiscriminating he is. If, say, Plantinga or Swinburne reject divine simplicity, does that render them useless in other respects?  

Being a regular reader of Feser hasn't done much to hone Nathanael's analytical skills. 

Daniel said...I think it is ridiculous that anyone should say that you ignore Frege when you frequently mention how great an influence his article ‘The Thought’ was in turning you away from any physicalist philosophy of mind.
Except for the awkward little fact that I didn't accuse Feser of ignoring Frege. Where did Daniel come up with that?
Anonymous said...Hmm, I'm betting rockingwithhawking = Steve.
Since that speculation is wrong, where do I go to collect on the bet?

Jacob Steiner said...Dr. Feser. First off, I have to give you a certain gratitude of thanks. During my reversion to Catholicism I too discovered St. Thomas Aquinas. I wanted to learn from the great Saint and his philosophical/theological system. Reading Mortimer books on Aristotle and then your book on Aquinas has really shaped me into a better defending of the faith and ultimately the the truth.
Not exactly surprising that a revert to Roman Catholicism would side with Feser. 

Scott said...@"steve":
Your latest rant is unlikely to draw anything but laughter from those of us who are—unlike (by your own admission) you—"qualified to offer an informed opinion of Feser."
This is a pretty good example of the depths of silliness to which you descend:
"[U]nless you have a vested interest in the truth of Thomism, it's philosophically unenlightening to judge ID theory by that yardstick."
That is utter nonsense on several levels.
First of all, if being rationally persuaded that a particular philosophy is true amounts to having a "vested interest" in it, I must have missed that day of logic class.
Yes, I'd say he skipped logic class that day.

Second, pointing out the incompatibilities between two philosophical outlooks is not the same thing as judging one by the yardstick of the other.

I never said that was generally the case. Rather, I said that's what Feser is doing. I guess Scott missed a week of logic class.

Third, even if Ed's sole purpose were to evaluate ID theory by the yardstick of Thomism, that wouldn't make it philosophically uninteresting to everyone who didn't have a "vested interest" in Thomism.

Unless you think Thomism is true, why is it philosophically informative to use Thomism as the benchmark to evaluate ID theory? 

I'm not going to go through your entire post and pick it apart, but the rest is of similar quality. Not only are you a mouse nipping at the heels of an elephant, but you haven't even got the right elephant.
You mean, like this?

I appreciate Scott's suggestion that I have Feser running scared, although I doubt Feser would be as enthusiastic about the comparison.

Scott said...@Tom:
"@Scott: If you don't mind my asking, what are you, if not Catholic?"
Non-denominational classical theist and mostly Thomist, not terribly far from Mortimer Adler before his final conversion to Catholicism. I won't be the least bit surprised if I end up doing the same.
So it comes as no surprise that he's so defensive of Feser. 

Greg said...It's kind of like how I find Kant's evaluation of Hume to be unenlightening; I am not a Kantian, so anything Kant had to say is clearly valueless to me.
Unless he thinks Kant's evaluation of Hume is true, why would that be valuable?
Jonathan Garcia said...It is hillarious that the post is called "Doubting Thomist", yet he doesn't gives a single reason why we should doubt thomism.
Perhaps it's hilarious that he can't spell hilarious.
The post is called "Doubting Thomist" because that's a pun on Doubting Thomas. Sorry if that's too subtle for Garcia. 

Anonymous said...@Steve:
The first rule of holes is to stop digging. You just dug yourself even deeper, and you now proceed to advertise the fact in this combox.

Since you Triablogers love to quote scripture as though it were some kind of moral weapon, try this one on for size:
Because loving to quote Scripture is such an indictment. 

Mark Thomas said...Well said, Dr. Feser. There's a lot of "bright" fools on the web that dismiss something simply because "others disagree". 
Which wasn't the argument. The point, rather, is that since Feser's views on Thomism and ID theory have been challenged, his views are not a given. 
Further, there are more objection to intelligent design theory that are also independent of your metaphysics. For instance, check out Tim and Lydia McGrew's thoughts on the matter.
My post specifically mentioned that. Is he paying attention?

Greg said...
Perhaps I'm just siding with Feser out of my "Catholic partisanship," but this exchange strikes me as manifestly uncharitable on Steve's part.

Just what I'd expect a Catholic partisan to say. What a coincidence. 

The argument that Feser is making is clearly that ID is incompatible with classical theism. Not just Thomism, which is the subset of classical theism that Feser endorses. The issue with ID from the classical theistic perspective is that it portrays God as an artificer who acts on preexisting matter with its own quasi-mechanistic tendencies. That view of God is incompatible not just with Thomism but with other varieties of classical theism.
i) That's a ridiculous caricature of ID theory, as if ID theory views the Designer as a Demiurge who used preexisting matter to create the universe. 
ii) Why, moreover, is ID theory (allegedly) incompatible with classical theism, but theistic evolution (which most contemporary Catholic intellectuals espouse) not incompatible with classical theism? 
Nick said...Steve forgets apparently that a number of us fans of Feser are Protestants who happen to think Aquinas's metaphysics is right on a number of points. He can argue against Catholicism all day and not touch Feser's arguments. It's a straw man and for his audience, a way of poisoning the well.
Can Nick quote where I argued against Feser by arguing against Catholicism? Where did Nick come up with that? 

Nick said...Well that's amusing. I've been a fan of Feser for sometime, long before Steve went after him. It's why I hope to have him on my show sometime.
Steve's problem was that he kept equating classical theism with Thomism…
Can Nick quote me on that? I focus on Thomism because Feser is…a Thomist. Isn't that self-explanatory? 

 and made too many comments about Catholicism.
I compared Feser to other Catholic philosophers. What's wrong with that? 

 The debate over Catholicism for me is neither here nor there. It's one of the issues I don't look into and have no desire to. My time is limited.
I'd say that's the reductio ad absurdum of Resurrection apologists. Nick has no desire to have correct views on the scope of the canon, Biblical hermeneutics, Pauline justification, the sufficiency of the atonement, salvation by grace, the afterlife (i.e. Purgatory), the cult of the saints, Marian dogmas, &c. 

Ismael said...I think you made "Steve" cry... I hope he does not rust.
Isn't that clever?

Anonymous said...As a scientist and a former staunch Calvinist (now an "almost Catholic") who left the movement in part because of the unavoidable association with young-Earth creationists and ID proponents, I've heard a lot of "Steves" in my day. 
So a "now almost Catholic" sides with Feser. What a surprise.

Everything you've said about "Steve" is true, but unfortunately you are likely spitting into the wind. He and his ilk take "challenges" of their position as confirmation (Jesus said you'd be persecuted, after all), and yet they clearly perceive mere challenges of other positions as tantamount to disproof.

Nothing like armchair psychology as a substitute for reason and evidence.

Gary Black said...--Sorry, I keep moderating myself and have to delete previous comments--
Divine Frenzy,
I found your link very useful. I read the entire exchange and it was one of the things that spurred my first remark. During that exchange it was quite obvious that Steve will interpret Prejean in whatever light is most beneficial for Steve. It casts serious doubt on Steve's ability to do impartial exegesis. [This would be relevant to anyone looking at Steve as any authority on Biblical interpretation.]
Why frame Biblical interpretation in terms of "authorities" rather than who has the best exegetical argument?

My favorite part of the exchange is when Steve says "the purpose and practice of the GHM is widely attested in Scripture itself." Steve's argument is that we should use grammatico-historical method (GHM) and never allegory in our interpretation of Scripture. He states, "Incidentally, there is no such thing as 'moderate' allegorization ... Once you cut the text free from its historical moorings, you’re at sea without a map, compass, or coastline."
I found this hilarious because the New Testament quotes the Old in a way we know contradicts the original meaning of the OT author.

That's a stock allegation which many careful NT scholars have refuted. Gary suffers from self-reinforcing ignorance. 

Greg said...Indeed he does. Take him where TimL quoted him. Feser's critique of the philosophy of nature behind ID does not rely on Thomism. His series of posts on Nagel are themselves a critique of that mechanistic philosophy of nature.
Feser regards the weakness of naturalism (explicit in full-blown naturalism and implicit in ID) as a reason to adopt Thomism, but his critique of it does not rely on Thomism.

It doesn't? Then why is his critique of ID theory couched in explicit reliance on Thomist assumptions? For instance:

Steve knows none of this, having by his own admission not read enough of Feser to know better (though he nevertheless insists that he shouldn't have to read Feser).

Perhaps Greg hasn't read (or remembered or understood) enough of Feser. to know better. 

Charles said...I have to say that after reading Steve's blog, I agree there is little there, other than name dropping and more name dropping. I am sure the guy is well read. So, I think that was the mission, rather than to critically examine Feser. In fact, he falls prey to his own critique of Feser, with regard to being more of a follower than a thinker. Most intellectually driven Reformed thinkers tend to do that. "Is it Van Tillian? Ok. Then I'm for it. Is it Schaefferian presuppositionalism? Then I am against it." That's nice to know how you feel, Mr. Reformed guy...but do us a favor and embellish a bit more on what you're saying.
Can Charles quote me on that? "Is it Van Tilian? Ok." Where do I say that?

Alyosha said...So, let me get this straight. The same guy ("Steve") who said this:
//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. //
...also says that the only reason to be interested in the compatibility of Thomism and ID is "vested interest in Thomism"?
I thought what ultimately mattered in philosophy was the truth or falsity of the idea as opposed to the attribution. Shouldn't anyone interested in ID be interested in the arguments that have been made against it? And, shouldn't any Christian interested in ID be interested in whether it is compatible with Classical Theism (the historically dominant position among Christian thinkers)?
This Steve guy seems like a joke...
It's because what ultimately matters in philosophy is the truth or falsity of the idea that the only reason to judge ID theory by Thomism is if you grant the truth of Thomism. So the joke is on Alyosha. 
Finally, we're treated to an intelligent comment:

Mr. Green said...
Jeremy Taylor: I do think it incorrect though that ID is incompatible with Classical Theism. Maybe this is because I'm not sure what is being referred to as ID.

Since it's not a trademarked term, it is typically abused as much as "evolution" or "creation" in such arguments, and hence many discussions that employ the phrase are worthless from the get-go (well, Internet discussions, certainly... but then Sturgeon's Law surely applies here).

Does ID have to refer to a well-developed and mechanistic philosophical position, or can it just refer to scientific and mathematical critiques of the science of Darwinism?

I'd say neither, if we go by a reasonable definition that takes it primarily to have something to do with "intelligence" and "design". (Also, it depends on what we mean by "darwinism"... did I mention how badly terms get abused in any discussions about special evolution?)

It seems clear to me that the central point of interest in ID is that notion that some things clearly demonstrate their deliberate design (as opposed to being merely accidentally ordered, or showing "as-if" intentionality). And I take it as obvious that this is so: for example, if you found a pile of papers printed with Hamlet on the floor of a printers' shop, it wouldn't violate any law of physics to suppose that tray after tray of type accidentally fell over and marked up some pages, but nobody would actually believe that a complete and accurate copy of Hamlet "just happened" to tip over. And if ID is taken to mean a scientific claim, we can certainly be more precise and calculate how many possible possible positions a tray of type could fall into, etc., and come up with an empirically-based (un)likelihood. All of which is obviously compatible with classical theism. (Questions about biological evolution are of course a particular application of this principle — what the answer turns out to be when we ask ID questions about biology is something for biologists to figure out.)