Saturday, December 13, 2014

Bible "contradictions" and missing evidence

I'm going to quote from this article:

The Warren Report concluded that Oswald had fired all three shots from a window on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, where he worked.*But the case was far from closed. A man named Abraham Zapruder, one of thousands of people standing along the motorcade route that day in Dallas, captured the shootings on his 8mm home-movie camera. At 26 seconds and 486 frames, it would come to be the most thoroughly examined snuff film in history—and a prime piece of evidence for the Warren Commission and the subsequent “conspiracy buffs.”
At first, it was assumed that Kennedy and Connally had been hit by separate bullets. But the Zapruder film threw a wrench in that notion. The Warren Commission’s analysts concluded that JFK was shot sometime between Frames 210 and 225 (a street billboard blocked Zapruder’s view at the crucial moment), while Connally was hit no later than Frame 240. In other words, the two men were hit no more than 30 frames apart. However, FBI tests revealed that Oswald’s rifle could be fired no faster than once every 2.25 seconds—which, on Zapruder’s camera, translated, to 40 or 41 frames. In short, there wasn’t enough time for Oswald to fire one bullet at Kennedy, then another at Connally.
The inference was inescapable. Either there were at least two gunmen—or Kennedy and Connally were hit by the same bullet. The Warren Report argued the latter. The “single-bullet theory,” as it was called, set off a controversy even among the commissioners. Three of them didn’t buy it.
That section of the Warren Report drew the most biting attacks. Critics drew diagrams tracing the absurd path that a bullet would have had to travel—a midair turn to the right, followed by a squiggly one to the left—in order to rip through Kennedy’s neck, then into Connally’s ribs and wrist.
Before proceeding, let's pause to consider this. It appears to be a mathematical impossibility that a single gunman was responsible for shooting both men. The rifle can only fire so fast. And there's only so much time between frames. Plus the trajectory of a bullet from a 6th floor perch. It wasn't mathematically possible for one shooter to get off three rounds in that interval. 

So the evidence seems to contradict the lone gunman theory. And not just any kind of evidence, but evidence of a very stringent kind. Mathematical rigor. 


Then, in November 2003, on the murder’s 40th anniversary, I watched an ABC News documentary called The Kennedy Assassination: Beyond Conspiracy. In one segment, the producers showed the actual car in which the president and the others had been riding that day. One feature of the car, which I’d never heard or read about before, made my jaw literally drop. The back seat, where JFK rode, was three inches higher than the front seat, where Connally rode. Once that adjustment was made, the line from Oswald’s rifle to Kennedy’s upper back to Connally’s ribcage and wrist appeared absolutely straight. There was no need for a magic bullet.
Notice how that one additional piece of evidence might suddenly resolve what appeared to be an incontrovertible contradiction. Turns out that one bullet could do the work of two.
Now, I'm not vouching for this explanation. I"m not a JFK conspiracy buff. For all I know, there may be criticisms of this explanation.
I just use this to illustrate a point. Consider in principle how a single piece of missing evidence can resolve what seems to be an irrefutable contradiction. And think about that when unbelievers confidently allege a contradiction in Scripture. 

Structural realism

I'm posting some email exchanges I had with a couple of friends regarding the philosophy of science:

Recently I saw a jogger with a hydration belt. That's something I've seen before. But this time I noticed that the bottled water in her belt was yellow. 

That got me thinking. From a distance, you can't tell if it's yellow fluid in a clear bottle, or clear fluid in a yellow bottle. One of the ambiguities of sensory perception. 

Of course, there are ways of finding out. Empty the bottle. That way you can see if it's the fluid or the bottle that's yellow.

But suppose sensory perception itself (i.e. what we perceive with) is like that? To vary the illustration: when I see color, is that because the world is colorful, or because my lens is tinted (as it were)? 

Ultimately, it's hard to know how we'd detect the difference, since we have no independent standard of comparison. We can't perceive the world apart from our senses, so we can't contrast a sensed world with an unsensed world. 

I agree with you that what we perceive is probably a combination of what our brain/sensory perceptual system contributes along with some objective properties of the external stimulus.

However, the problem I'm discussing is runs deeper. For instance, when I peer through a telescope or microscope, that artificially enhances my natural visual acuity. However, the enhanced data is still filtered back through my eyes, and interpreted by my brain.

Hence, I don't think there's an independent way to tell how much of what I perceive is objective and how much is subjective. 

Even my description of brains and sense organs is deceptively circular, for we use brains to study brains, we use sense organs to study sense organs. But in that event, we never have direct knowledge of we're using to perceive the physical world. Since we always perceive the world with something, we can't say what the prism is like without it. 

And I think that conundrum presents a more serious problem for atheism, with its "blind safecracker," and its lack of divine revelation to correct or corroborate our perceptions. 

i) Science is ultimately based on our sensory perception of the physical world. Depending on the branch of science, this may involve direct observation, or it may be more inferential. 

But the conundrum involves the gap between the sensed object and the unsensed object. All we can ever know about is the sensed object. The unsensed object remains out of reach. We never know what the object is like apart from our sensory perception. 

Some people might say that's a Kantian distinction, but there's nothing uniquely Kantian about it. The distinction between appearance and reality goes back to the Pre-Socratics.

Hence, science can never tell us what the world is really like. 

ii) Secondly, In a way, I agree with Richard Lewontin that once you allow a divine foot in the door, it's hard to draw the line on what might happen. I simply derive a different conclusion. He confuses disapproving with disproving. Because he doesn't like the consequences of a divine foot in the door, he rejects it. But, of course, that doesn't mean there is no divine foot in the door! 

To take an example, critics of mature creation say this would mean we see an image of a supernova that never existed. We see the effect of an illusory cause.

However, I don't find that antecedently objectionable. What if the universe is like a movie set? Take Tombstone. The story begins in 1881. Logically, there's a backstory. But in the world of the movie, you can't go back in time to a period before October 1881. In the world of the movie, nothing happens before October 1881. Everything starts at that point, and continues from that point. 

For all I know, that's what the history of the universe amounts to. It actually begins within an ongoing cosmic narrative. And that would be indistinguishable from a real prehistory. 

I'm not saying that's how it happened. Rather, I'm saying that in the nature of the case, I have no evidence to the contrary, and I don't have any a priori theological objection to that scenario. 

Moving along, it isn't clear to me (from the article) why structuralism is classified as scientific realism rather than antirealism. When it says things like we can't know what nature is intrinsically like, that has more in common with scientific antirealism than realism. Indeed, that denial dovetails with my own position. 

Another complication is that, at best, this is a family of positions, rather than one clear-cut position. Indeed, even that may well be an overly generous characterization. 

It is widely held that the most powerful argument in favour of scientific realism is the no-miracles argument, according to which the success of science would be miraculous if scientific theories were not at least approximately true descriptions of the world. 

That's not a problem for my position. So long as there's a consistent correlation between the proximal stimulus and the distal stimulus, what we perceive can be very different than what the world is really like, yet our scientific theories would still be successful. They don't need to be true descriptions of the world, but true descriptions of the phenomena. For as long as the phenomena track the world in a systematic correlation, phenomenal descriptions will be scientifically reliable. 

For instance, compare the relationship between music and a music score. A music score isn't music. It doesn't resemble music. It's just notation. A code language for representing music. Yet there's a one-to-one correspondence between music and a music score. That's why you can use the score to reconstruct the music.

Same thing with a CD. The encoded information isn't music. But a CD player will translate the digitized data back into music. 

Let's take a comparison. Suppose a medieval physician notices a pattern. He notes a correlation between outbreaks of Bubonic plague and rat infestation. He also notices that plague outbreaks radiate out from port cities. He hypothesizes that rats cause the plague. That the plague originated elsewhere, and was spread by rats on ships. He further theorizes that pest control measures ought to reduce epidemics of Bubonic plague.

Is this a true theory? Yes and no. Rats don't cause the plague. Not directly. Yet we might say his theory tracks the truth. The truth is two steps removed from rats. Rats are carriers of fleas, and fleas are carriers of the bacterium. Of course, he knows nothing about the existence of bacteria.

Yet he's right to notice a correlation between rats and plague. And, considered as a whole/part relation, there's a sense in which rats cause plague, inasmuch as that coarse-grained explanation includes or covers the actual underlying cause.

Since bacteria are undetectable to a medieval physician, he can only go by appearances. But the appearances reveal a consistent correlation. And the appearances are the effects of an underlying cause, even if the cause is imperceptible. 

Scripture attributes some (but not all) pestilence to specific divine judgments. That's not necessarily miraculous in the classical sense of God bypassing natural processes. In many cases it could be a coincidence miracle, whereby God prearranges natural events to produce pestilential hotspots at the right time and place. 

In that case, God is one of the causes of the pestilence. As David Lewis put it, “We think of a cause as something that makes a difference, and the difference it makes must be a difference from what would have happened without it.” 

So it's not reducible to physical causation alone. It's too targeted to be the outcome of nature's automatic setting. So it's not predictable in that respect.

Can we be sure?

Over at Beggars All I got into a lengthy exchange with a Catholic apologist ("Cletus Van Damme"). I'm posting my side of the exchange:

steve said...
Two quick points:

i) The canon is "ever-provisional" in the hypothetical or counterfactual sense that if God did not intend his people to have a stable position on the canon, then it's fluid.

But, of course, God doesn't promote instability for the sake of instability. If God intends his people to have the correct canon of Scripture, then it isn't "ever-provisional" in practice. It would only be revisable in practice if, say, there was some hidden counterevidence which God preserved for centuries before it was discovered. Say, finding a lost letter of Paul.

ii) Although extrascriptural criteria violate SS, extrascriptural evidence does not. And by "criteria," we mean superior criteria.
"A self-admitted opinion that never changes is still an opinion."

i) If you think all opinions are equal, then your own opinion is self-refuting. You evidently have a favorable "opinion" of the Roman church.

ii) If you're going to frame the issue in terms of opinion, don't you need to distinguish between true and false opinions? "That's just your opinion!" is the slogan of the alethic relativist.

ii) "Opinion" is your word, not mine. Why cast the issue in terms of "opinion" rather than "knowledge."

Is there a correct canon? If so, is that an object of knowledge?

iii) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that it's a matter of opinion, the question at issue is whether God intends his people to have a correct "opinion" on the canon. If their opinion is the result of divine intention, who cares if you call it an "opinion"?

"If the canon and its attendant doctrines are (irreformable) articles of faith and not just opinion, I fail to see how Protestantism can offer it as such without violating its own principles."

One of your problems is a failure to distinguish between ontology and epistemology. An irreformable belief corresponds to an irreformable fact. If there are only so many extant scriptures, then that's fixed–unless God intended continuous public revelation. And unless there's reason to believe that God intended continuous public revelation, then the canon is irreformable in that ontological sense. There's nothing more that could be canonized, and nothing less that should be canonized. We hit bedrock with what there is.

"If God intended SS as the rule of faith, why was the recognition of the full canon amongst his people a centuries-long process (that many still ended up blowing with the OT canon)?"

I don't equate the Orthodox church or the church of Rome with "God's people"–if that's your tacit frame of reference.

There's also a distinction between custom and codification. God's people can have and use the full canon before it's formally recognized.

"Why does the canon now have asterisks on disputed passages? If Scripture is to function as the sole infallible authority, isn't it critical that the recognized extent and scope of it be and remain irreformable from the outset?"

SS doesn't preclude the need for textual criticism. You're talking like Bart Ehrman, as if the Christian faith hinges on constant miraculous intervention to rewind or reset the watch.

"Again, if semper reformanda and 'fallible collection' hold (consistent with Protestant principles), that the opinion never actually changes according to whatever Protestant body I ally myself with does not entail such does not remain ever-provisional opinion."

It would be irrational to change a settled "opinion" unless it was poorly reasoned in the first place or new evidence comes to light which challenges the status quo.

"So the canon is not irreformably closed. It is not an article of faith that it is closed, just an opinion consonant with what we have now."

I'm discussing hypothetical scenarios. "Closed" in relation to what? Closed in relation to what's actually available? Closed in relation to some hypothetical future rediscovery?

"Right, so the only criteria that can be used in establishing the canon consistent with SS principles is self-attestation and inner witness."

Once again, you're blasting past my stated distinction between criteria and evidence. We can include extrabiblical evidence in establishing the canon.

Scripture is not a self-referential fantasy novel. Scripture refers to God's providence in the world. It's hardly at odds with Protestant theology that God sometimes provides "outside" evidence to corroborate Scripture.

Death as usual

Note in the first place that this doesn’t even solve the presenting problem. If Adam and Eve were the first emerging humans from a crowd of primates, what is the sense of telling them that if they violated whatever our replacement was for the Forbidden Tree, they would surely die? “Die?” they might say. “Everybody dies. My parents just died last year.” Why is it a threat to go through something that has been the way of the world for millions of years already? Why didn’t God threaten them with having to eat breakfast tomorrow, just like always?

BioLogos and bad science

Science is based on observed regularities and logical induction to unobserved regularity. The secular scientist assumes that everything works in a regular, reproducible kind of way because that is what science has always found to be the case so far. The scientist who is a Christian agrees, but in addition believes in a rational basis for that order, the creator God who faithfully endows the universe with its regularities and intelligibility. Denis Alexander, Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? (Monarch Books; revised and expanded ed,, 2014), 48. 

There's some truth to this claim. However, it suffers from a strange overstatement. Mind you, that's not surprising considering the fact that he's one of the bigwigs at BioLogos. In particular, consider his claim that:

The secular scientist assumes that everything works in a regular, reproducible kind of way because that is what science has always found to be the case so far.

Really? To take a stock counterexample, what about miraculous healing in answer to prayer? I'm not saying that's commonplace. But how many medically verifiable examples would you need to disprove his universal claim to the contrary? 

Compare his outlook to M. Scott Peck. Peck was a psychiatrist who received his B.A. degree magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1958, and his M.D. degree from the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in 1963. From 1963 until 1972, he served in the United States as Assistant Chief Psychiatry and Neurology Consultant to the Surgeon General of the Army:

I had come to believe in the reality of benign spirit or God, as well as the reality of human goodness. I'd come to believe distinctly in the reality of human evil, and that left me an obvious hole in my thinking. Namely was there such a thing as evil spirit, or the devil specifically? In common with 99.99 percent of psychiatrists and with 80 percent of Catholic priests--as confidentially polled back in 1960, the figure would be much higher now--I did not believe in the devil. 
But I was a scientist, and it didn't seem to me I should conclude there was no devil until I examined the evidence. It occurred to me if I could see one good old-fashioned case of possession, that might change my mind. I did not think that I would see one, but if you believe that something doesn't exist, you can walk right over it without seeing it. 
These cases, in a whole number of ways--the more I studied them, the more they did not fit in a typical psychiatric picture. The second case [Becca], for instance. As she should have been getting better, she got worse. 
And this is what's called diagnoses by exclusion. I'd go through the whole range of psychiatric conditions, whether they could explain the patient's condition. In both of my two cases, they were unexplainable by any kind of traditional psychiatric terms. 
Because I was a scientist I was perhaps more stringent than most people would be in diagnosing these two cases. I wasn't going to try to deal with something I wasn't sure was possession. Particularly as a psychiatrist, I was really sticking my neck out.

Peck doesn't begin with the postulate that "everything works in a regular, reproducible kind of way because that is what science has always found to be the case so far." Peck is more scientific than Alexander. Peck doesn't assume he knows the answer in advance. He examines the evidence. 

If, moreover, some forms of mental illness are the result of possession, then everything doesn't work in a regular, reproducible way. Machines work in a regular, reproducible way. That's in contrast to personal agency. 

What are you prepared to do?

Before commenting on Steven Wedgeworth's latest post, I'll revisit something he said in his prior post:

Legal “vengeance” and retribution must still be just. It also does not follow that if a government has the right to capital punishment then it also has the right to all other physical punishments short of death. 
But that's a category mistake. Interrogation isn't punitive to begin with. 
Now for his sequel:
The so-called “conservative” responses to the Senate torture report are now making their rounds, and they tell us quite a bit about what really matters to certain people. Thus far no one has denied that the most morally repugnant alleged practices actually took place. No one has said, “That’s crazy! We would never use rape as a weapon! We could never forcibly insert food into someone’s rectum! No way!” No. They have not said that. They have attempted to justify the practices by arguing that the practices produced important information, that the proper authorities knew about them, and that our enemies do much worse. But they are not denying those practices.
i) Speaking for myself, I haven't justified that practice.
ii) On the face of it, Wedgeworth's objection is confused. From what I've read, proctoclysis isn't used to obtain intel. Rather, that was used to counteract a hunger strike. 
So the question at issue isn't the ethics of coercive interrogation, but the ethics of force-feeding. The fact that Wedgeworth doesn't even register that simple distinction betrays a lack of intellectual seriousness.
Are you prepared to make that threat within a context where it is credible? Are you prepared to carry through with that threat?
Valid question. Is an empty threat a credible threat? Like a poker game, can you tell when your opponent is bluffing? 
Let’s be clear about this. The “partisan” nature of the Senate report has nothing at all to do with the identification of the “techniques.” The partisan nature has to do with where the blame should be put and the level of functionality and efficiency claimed for the program. But thus far no one disputes the depraved actions used to obtain information. You cannot skip that point. Anyone who does is irresponsibly avoiding the primary moral issue.
Actually, the partisan nature of the Senate report bears on the interpretation of the techniques. Take Wedgeworth's failure to distinguish between interrogation and fluid resuscitation in case of hunger strikes. We can still debate the morality of the practice, but it's a different issue. 
This also isn’t the first time defenders of torture have reserved the right to employ the most barbarous methods if necessary.
What "barbarous" methods is he alluding to? This comes right on the heels of a reference to "weeklong sleep deprivation."Does Wedgeworth deem that to be one of the "most barbarous" methods?
If John Yoo will publicly claim for the US the right to crush the testicles of an innocent child, then it is not at all difficult to believe that the US would threaten to rape someone’s mother. In fact, Yoo’s fiendish imagination almost makes what really happened seem a relief.
i) Once again, this reflects a persistent inability on Wedgeworth's part to draw elementary distinctions. Yoo was addressing a question of legality, not morality
Something might be grossly immoral, but legal–for the simple reason that that's no law against it. A legal opinion is not the same thing as a moral evaluation. Why does Wedgeworth find it so difficult to think clearly about the issues at hand? 
Here's the logical response: "It would be immoral for interrogators to do that, so if it's not against the law, then we ought to pass a law to ban it."

ii) Moreover, that doesn't reflect Yoo's "fiendish imagination." To my knowledge, Yoo didn't originate that hypothetical. Rather, he was responding to a question by Doug Cassel in a public debate. If anything, it originated in the "fiendish imagination" of Cassel, not Yoo.

iii) From what I can tell, it wasn't a prepared answer, but an off-the-cuff answer to a question which Cassel sprang on him. 
Remember Eric Fair. Or how about those lower-ranking soldiers who were arrested? Remember Lynndie England, Megan AmbuhlCharles Graner, and others. I have no problem saying that they were, at least for a time, moral monsters.
This betrays yet another basic confusion on Wedgeworth's part. He's alluding to the Abu Ghraib scandal. But that fails to distinguish between interrogation and prisoner abuse. He acts as though prisoner abuse is a form of interrogation to extract intel. 
I have no problem saying that they were, at least for a time, moral monsters. But now we have to wonder how it was that they became moral monsters. 
Why would a Reformed pastor make such a theologically defective claim? He needs to brush up on total depravity. 
Are you willing for your daughter to sexually degrade herself in an attempt to obtain information that a detainee may or may not possess? What are you willing to do?
He acts as if they were acting under orders. Even if they were, those would be unlawful orders. Moreover, what does that have to do with interrogation? 
There are some things that are off limits. These things are always evil. They are malum in se.
But what of sexual assault? That’s what I keep coming back to.
Yes, that's what he keeps coming back to. Problem is, he only tells us what he thinks is impermissible rather than permissible. So he skirts the issue.
Does he think coercive interrogation is ever justifiable? If so, what methods does he think are morally licit? 
Conservatives right now who avoid the gravity of such immoral actions are currently pounding the table.
Except that Wedgeworth is the one who's been pounding the table. 
A basic problem is that reactionary critics like Wedgewood foster the very thing they deplore. If a Christian pastor or ethicist tells soldiers or policymakers that they are not allowed to do what's necessary to win a just war, they will simply throw up their hands and exclaim, "Screw morality!" They will still do whatever is necessary. But the Christian critic who takes that approach has emancipated them from having to be morally thoughtful. That invites a Curtis LaMay mentality. If doing what's necessary is evil, then anything goes. That doesn't inhibit them from doing what's necessary. To the contrary, that removes any moral inhibitions whatsoever. The Christian critic has given them no other recourse.

"The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text that Reveals Jesus' Marriage to Mary Magdalene"

From decathlon to silicon

When I was in high school, Bruce Jenner became world-famous, as well as a national hero, by winning the gold medal in the decathlon.
That was then and this is now. 
When I wait in line at the check stand I sometimes notice front page tabloids lampooning his "transformation" from a quintessential jock to an effeminate male. He looks like an aging drag queen. 
In one sense I find the coverage refreshing. It's a throwback to when effeminacy was stigmatized. 
It is, however, surprising that in a political environment where you can instantly lose your job for "transphobic" vibes in the ultrasonic range, tabloids can get way with ridiculing his self-emasculation. 
It says something about the pop culture when tabloids are the last bastion of natural law morality in that regard. But comedy often trumps political correctness. A humorist can still say things the rest of us aren't allowed to. The satirical vein of Jenner is just too rich a mother-lode to resist mining for 24-karat nuggets of comedic ore. He's still a gold medalist, only it's comedic gold, and the joke is on him. 
Even the ever-decadent tabloids are a witness to residual morality in that regard. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Was Ezekiel a false prophet?

The question arises due to conflicts between the Mosaic cultus and Ezk 40-48. Insofar as Mosaic revelation supplies the benchmark to distinguish true from false prophecy (Deut 13:1-5; 18:15-18), discrepancies between the Pentateuch and Ezekiel potentially invalidate Ezekiel's prophetic status.

i) Since liberals don't assume that the Pentateuch antedates Ezekiel, the Pentateuch isn't a benchmark for them in this regard. 

ii) There is, of course, a question concerning the degree to which the Mosaic Covenant is a benchmark. If the Mosaic Covenant is provisional, then at some juncture it would be supplanted by something different. 

iii) However, that's a bit circular. What if a false prophet said his oracle marks the turning-point at which the Mosaic Covenant is defunct? 

One distinction concerns the scope of Deut 13:1-5 & 18:15-18. Ezekiel doesn't have a different doctrine of God than Moses. He's not enticing Israelites to abandon Yahweh and embrace a pagan god or gods. Rather, the differences concern the priestly line, vestments, a new moon offering, and sanctuary furnishings. 

iv) It's not as if Ezekiel is attacking the status quo. For the Mosaic cultus was already inoperative during the Babylonian Exile. There was no extant temple or tabernacle. So Ezekiel is not a revolutionary who is challenging business as usual. 

To the contrary, given the fact that the Mosaic cultus was in abeyance during the exile, the question naturally arose as to whether, at the end of the exile, the situation would revert to the status quo ante. Would past practice resume, or did the Exile mark a definitive break with the past? Was the status quo ante to some degree irretrievable? After God restored them to the land of Israel, were they to pick up where they left off, or begin something new?

v) In addition, it's not as if Ezekiel contravenes the Mosaic cultus. Ezk 40-48 is descriptive, not proscriptive. It is simply a record of his vision. A verbal record of what he saw and heard. It doesn't directly evaluate the Mosaic cultus. 

vi) Of course, this still raises a thorny question concerning the significance of his vision. What is that about? Is it about the future? Is it about something earthly? Is it about something heavenly? 

vii) Although most Jews didn't received the kinds of visions that OT prophets did, there's a sense in which, by recording their visions, OT prophets enabled their audience to individually reexperience the vision, as if it happened to them. They were viewing the same scene through the eyes of the prophet. His picturesque narrative recreates the pilgrimage. 

Imagine seeing what Ezekiel saw, as it unfolded. The layout has a climactic design. You mount seven steps to an outer gate. Then you mount eight steps to the inner court. Then you mount ten steps to the temple porch. Then you mount several steps to the altar. In addition, the hallway narrows from fourteen cubits upon entering the porch, to ten cubits upon entering the great hall, to six cubits upon entering the inner sanctum. Cf. D. Block, Beyond the River Chebar (Cascade Books, 2013), chap. 9. 

So you keep rising to reach your destination. And the hallway keeps narrowing. A change in both vertical and horizontal space. That heightens the suspense. 

The Solomonic temple was long gone, yet there was still a temple–"wherever" this was. Evidently, there had always been a temple. A temple far more spectacular than Solomon's. Moreover, the Solomonic temple was destructible, but this temple is indestructible insofar as it appears to occupy an unearthly space or timeless realm in Ezekiel's vision. A "place" untouched by the ravages of terrestrial time and space. An otherworldly exemplar. "Not made by human hands."

The exiles were living in Babylon, far from home. In a heathen land. The Solomonic temple was a thing of the past. And yet here's a temple! "Somewhere," this temple exists (or maybe subsists). In the Spirit, Ezekiel is taken to this temple. A surreal temple. Unimaginably greater than Solomon's. The Solomonic temple was forever lost, yet what they lost was a pale imitation of this greater reality. And they could retrace Ezekiel's pilgrimate. In effect, they could see it for themselves by visualizing his description. 

A generation that was born in exile, who never knew the Solomonic temple, had imaginative access to this greater temple, through the mediation of Ezekiel's revelation. 

Some commentators assume this must a blueprint, given the level of detail. They think it would be pointless otherwise. But that fails to enter into the recorded experience. 

Supose if you had an extended dream. Suppose you had an accurate recollection of the dream. If you wrote out what you saw, it would be a lengthy, detailed description. 

viii) Ezekiel is a transitional book. It has one foot in the old covenant and one foot in the new covenant. Indeed, it has one foot in the world to come. Sometimes the Shekinah emerges from the world to come, to enter Ezekiel's world. Sometimes Ezekiel is drawn (at least imaginatively) into the world to come. Ezekiel stands at a crossroads between two covenants, two epochs, and two worlds. 

Josephus about Jesus

Go To The Bible Before The Pope On Animals In Heaven

There have been a lot of news stories recently, like this one, about comments the Pope has made regarding animals in heaven. The stories I've seen have been largely misguided, inordinately focusing on issues like what the Popes have believed over the years and whether animals have souls. The history of papal opinions is far less significant than what the Bible teaches. And since the afterlife isn't limited to the spiritual (resurrection of bodies, a new earth, etc.), animals wouldn't need to have souls in order to be included in the afterlife in some way. They also wouldn't need to experience any sort of saving of their souls as humans need.

We've written some posts on these issues over the years. See here, for example.

Skeptical Embellishments About Christmas

A few days ago, I wrote a response to an article by Valarie Tarico about the events surrounding Jesus' birth. Let's take a look at a recent exchange in the comments section of Tarico's thread. A poster there, archaeopteryx1, wrote:

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Immoral moral equivalence

Christmas for Calvinists

Some Calvinists are bearded. Some Calvinists frown on Christmas. But here's the golden mean:

Psychopathy or nihilism?

Wood was convinced that right and wrong were fictions to be discarded at will and that the apathetic universe couldn’t care less how anyone acts. 
The absence of empathy that Wood seemed to exhibit as a young boy is often indicative of psychopathy or sociopathy.
Perhaps. Or perhaps he was just a consistent, albeit precocious, atheist. In other words, why diagnose this as a developmental disorder rather than a nihilistic philosophy? Why classify it as a psychiatric condition or psychopathology rather than a secular worldview? The only difference is that most atheists are inconsistent in theory or practice.

The gerbil wheel of American atheism:

Lots of motion without locomotion:

Grabbed by the throat

Police accountability

It's striking that the three states (Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland) which try to ban citizens from photographing police are all traditional Democrat strongholds:

False hope

I'm going to comment on some recent remarks by Jerry Walls:

If one freely rejects the truth, it is a fitting form of punishment to be given over to deception. But in that case, the person has rejected God and does not affirm Christian truth. God is not causing him to believe Christian truth as a form of punishment. Rather, he is allowing him to be deceived in believing lies. The case in the false hope is altogether different. The victim of the false hope "believes" the truth, has a sense of faith, is believing what seems true to him precisely because God is causing him to have these beliefs. The person in this situation has no ability at all to discern that it is a false hope, and indeed, it appears to be the "real thing" until God withdraws it. The possibility of such a scenario does indeed undermine assurance precisely because the person involved would be in a state of "faith" caused by God, that appears both to the person, and to others as the real thing. This is quite different than the Arminian counterpart. An Arminian who believes the truth has every reason to think his faith is real, and no parallel reason to think his "faith" is a false hope caused by God. I'm not aware of any Arminian who thinks God punishes unbelief with a false faith in the truth. In short, the problem for the Calvinist is the phenomenological similarity, if not indistinguishability, between real faith and the "false hope." 

Several problems:

i) It's like saying, because crazy people can't tell the difference between reality and illusion (delusion, hallucination), how do I know that I'm not crazy? 

And I'm sure there are philosophers in the skeptical tradition who press that conundrum. 

Perhaps part of this involves the distinction between first-order and second-order belief or knowledge. If I'm sane, then I'm not deluded about reality–even if I can't prove it. 

ii) The Wesley brothers spent a lot of time trying to shake churchgoers out of their complacency. According to evangelical Arminianism, there are lots of churchgoers who think they're heavenbound, but they self-deluded. They haven't been born again. Yet they have false hope. 

iii) Arminians routinely allege that according to Calvinism, only a chosen few are saved.  

When I challenge them to document where the fewness of the elect is official Reformed theology, or mainstream Reformed theology, or a logical entailment of unconditional election and/or reprobation, they can't. So they make a different move. They apply Mt 7:14 to Calvinism. 

However, this means that according to Arminianism, only a fraction of humanity will be saved. But if that's the case, then surely many professing Christians entertain false hope. That's not just a statistical anomaly or isolated incident, but commonplace. 

iv) In Calvinism, the unregenerate don't have the same experience as the regenerate. 

v) Walls acts as though, in Calvinism, those who have false hope have a different psychological experience than their counterparts in Arminianism. We might start by asking why some people have false hope? Well, there can be different reasons or grounds, but let's take one example: suppose someone espouses baptismal regeneration. He believes he's saved because he can show you his baptismal certificate. 

Now that could be the case if either Arminianism or Calvinism is true. 

vi) Then there's the fundamental illogicality of his position. One thing Calvinism and universalism share in common is the correlation between who God loves and who God saves. 

But in Arminianism, those don't match up. So if anything would be a reason to question your salvation, would it not be the nagging doubt that even though God loves me, that carries no presumption that I'm heavenbound.  

And I believe William Cowper's struggles with fears of not being elect were among the factors that led to his suicide.

Cowper didn't commit suicide, although he attempted suicide. 

Moreover, does Walls have any evidence that Cooper lost his mind because he doubted his salvation? As I recall, Cooper doubted his salvation because he lost his mind. It was mental illness that triggered spiritual doubts, not vice versa.

It is a well known fact that believers in both traditions sometimes struggle with their faith and wonder about the status of their relationship with God, sometimes doubting whether they are even saved.
The worst case scenario for the Arminian is that he has in fact lost his faith and broken his relationship with God.

One problem with Jerry's comparison is that it's one-sided. He concentrates on professing Christians who doubt their salvation. But what about professing Christians who don't doubt their salvation, but ought to? What about professing Christians who entertain false hope because their faith is wrongly grounded? Isn't that a worst-case scenario? Their lack of doubt is a problem. They're like somebody with a life-threatening illness who can't feel pain. As such, they don't seek medical intervention until it's too late. They never knew what hit them. 

In Arminian theology, some professing Christians suffer from false assurance. Their problem is just the opposite. Indeed, John and Charles Wesley thought churches were full of people in that self-deluded condition. 

Now given that none of us can be in a position to know whether or not another person is truly elect, a Calvinist pastor cannot with good conscience assure a struggling person that Christ died for him or her without claiming to know more than his theology permits. What a struggling believer most needs to be assured of is that God loves him, that Christ died for him, that God truly desires his salvation, and that God’s grace is at work in his life.

Actually, what a struggling believer most needs is not to feel saved, but to be saved. In Calvinism, the elect are heavenbound whether or not they have the assurance of salvation. And that's a great relief. Your salvation isn't dependent on your assurance of salvation.

What ultimately matters is not to know that you are saved, but to be saved. The ontology is more important than the epistemology. What ultimately matters is what ultimately happens to you, not what you believe will happen to you. 

I also think this conditional is true:If Wesleyan theology is true, those who are in Christ can know that they are among the elect who are finally saved. They too can have both subjective certainty and a warranted belief in their election that will be vindicated on judgment day. 

How can that possibly be true given the Wesleyan Arminian contention that born-again Christians can lose their salvation? As a friend of mine remarked: 

On Calvinism, if S has saving faith now then S will have saving faith to the end; thus any evidence S has for believing that he has saving faith now is necessarily evidence that he will be finally saved. But on Wesleyan Arminianism, even if S has saving faith now, S might not have saving faith to the end; thus any evidence S has for believing that he has saving faith now (which will be the same kinds of evidence as on Calvinism) isn't necessarily evidence that he will be finally saved. The evidential tie is broken.

When Christians forfeit moral debates

I'm going to comment on this post:

One of the ways in which the papacy discredits itself is when modern-day popes automatically condemn both sides of an armed conflict. They condemn the "cycle of violence." They don't distinguish between unprovoked aggression and self-defense. 

The result is the few people, including many conservative Catholics, take the pope seriously when he condemns "violence." For modern-day popes make no effort to explain how men of good will should be able to defend themselves.

Unfortunately, I see the same knee-jerk reaction among some evangelicals. They render themselves irrelevant because they refuse to offer serious ground-level advice. They retreat into gauzy pieties. This makes Christians look morally ineffectual. 

Take a maxim like "Do good, avoid evil." However, that's easier said than done. Doing good may have harmful consequences. Doing nothing may have harmful consequences. It's not possible to avoid evil at all costs even if we try. We lack the necessary foresight or control over the future. Although we can avoid doing evil, we can't avoid causing evil.  

One problem with this article is the way Draycott stereotypes his opponents. He imputes a simplistic and monolithic mentality to his opponents. 

So the government authorizes, or the apparatus of the state undertakes, torture. So what? We live in a fallen world and we are not surprised that criminal activity insidiously seeps into the highest reaches of public authority and command. 

i) To begin with, to stipulate that the actions of the CIA or American military were "criminal" begs the question.

ii) In addition, legality and morality are two different, and sometimes contrary, principles. Something can be legal, but immoral. Something can be moral, but illegal. Ironically, Draycott lacks the moral clarity to draw that moral distinction.  

Exposed to the discourse of the 'war on terror', from news to TV shows and movies, it is likely that we live as citizens in fear. 

So it's just a matter of "discourse"? What about actually witnessing the behavior of ISIS–to take one example? 

Surveillance, security, screening, and suspicion are the guarantors of our fragile peace. 

Notice how he lumps these together. But one can be more discriminating. One can support terrorist profiling but oppose dragnet surveillance or dragnet screening. 

That revelation is to be attained, so the torture justification goes, at any cost. 

Here he caricatures the opposing side. But it's not monolithic. Some people take a utilitarian position, but others are more discriminating. 

Of course, at the heart of Scripture's apocalypse stands not the security of the CIA, but the peace of the Lamb who was slain. The Christian response to torture in our midst must turn not first to a vision from our position of vulnerable wealth in a geopolitical age of terror, but to one in which Christ is the key.  The tactic that secures the future is not in our hands, not for lack of security technology or intelligence, but because it never has been. Christ really is able to open the scroll where all others cannot. 

So what does that mean at a policy level? Pacifism? Unilateral disarmament? 

Peace rather than technology and control. 

How does the abdication of national defense result in peace?

Torture is always wrong in light of who Christ is.  

Is sleep deprivation always wrong? If so, how so? 

Human life is not expendable, or degradable, or manipulable for intelligence. Human personhood, in the light of the gospel, cannot be subject to dehumanization. Christians are confident that the dehumanizing reality of sin is dealt with once and for all on the cross. Christians will not dehumanize the enemy, but rather love the enemy, because of Christ's humanizing representative authority. Love drives out fear. 

What makes it wrong to "manipulate" a terrorist for actionable intelligence? If it's wrong for a terrorist network to plot the destruction of innocent lives, it is wrong for a captured terrorist to withhold that information. 

How is sleep deprivation "dehumanizing"? Does Draycott have anything beyond the magic buzzwords to back up his strictures? 

Treating a person's human physical, psychological and emotional integrity as so much expendable or disposable material in the procuring of intelligence is to sell Jesus into the hands of his persecutors. 

Why should a terrorist's physical, psychological, and even "emotional" integrity be sacrosanct? Is it wrong to hurt his feelings? How does that outweigh the duty to protect innocent life? 

The extent to which there has been extortion of confession by force is just the extent to which there has been a denial of the conviction and transformation that is the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
But today we are not talking about arcane practices of an ecclesiastical judiciary. Of course we would be up in arms if torture were going on in our church basements. But must we be so troubled by torture by our military, security and intelligence services? 

That assumes coerced intel is morally equivalent to a coerced confession of sin. But Draycott offers no supporting argument to establish his analogy.

Can we expect these officers of the secular state to practice their profession according to the richness of Christian moral principles?

Unfortunately, guys like Draycott make it impossible for officers of the state to consider Christian ethics, for he presents an interpretation of Christian ethics that has no relevance to counterterrorism. In effect, he's telling them: "Hey, don't look to Christians for moral guidance. We have nothing concrete to offer. So you're on your own." 

What if the dilemma at issue is one where the intelligence is overwhelming that a person is stubbornly withholding information vital to eliminate an imminent horrific threat to innocent civilians. This is a ticking bomb scenario, so beloved of television drama. Do not theological niceties stand down at just this point? Surely here, in extremis, the end justifies the means. 

i) To begin with, sometimes the end does justify the means. That's not a universal principle. But there are special situations in which some actions which are ordinarily impermissible are permissible or even obligatory. 

ii) The problem is that Draycott's theological niceties are theologically unsound. Bad theology should stand down.  

iii) It is Draycott's strictures which are generating the gratuitous dilemma. 

But what is the extreme that has been reached? It seems it is the situation where our own security technology has not secured us invulnerability or full control over our fears. Yet this is not so much the exception but the very logic of security all along. If fear drives our security the enemy is already less then human. The enemy is a monster. Monsters cannot be dehumanized, torture is a misapplied category.

i) This is another one of his belittling caricatures. There's no assumption that our technology will render us "invulnerable." Our countermeasures may fail. It's a question of taking reasonable precautions. 

ii) There's such a thing as rational fear. Don't walk in tall grass where venomous snakes reside. Keep a safe distance from the river that's infested with crocodiles. Don't go hiking in bear country without a high-powered rifle. Don't go jogging at night in a public park with a reputation for muggers. Prudence is a theological virtue. 

Should I not address the finding that torture does not yield good intelligence? 

Which disregards evidence to the contrary. 

Or that its use damages the moral authority of the country in the eyes of the international community.

It's always ironic when people who engage in moral posturing invoke the "international community" as their last resort. Is the UN a moral authority? 

Reigniting the debate on "torture"

The release of the partisan, lameduck Senate report on CIA interrogation has fanned the smoldering embers of the "torture" debate. So often, this goes awry at the outset by asking the wrong questions. Here are two good discussions that draw necessary distinctions:

Calvinism and Cartesian demons

David Houston Maul, I know I’m a bit late to the party but I’d like to know what you think of this argument: Suppose you thought a Cartesian demon exists who is bent on deceiving you. If you believed such a being existed then you would have an undercutting defeater for a large subset of your beliefs. Now, suppose you’re a Calvinist who believes that God sometimes (unculpably) deceives people by determining them to believe that they are elect. In a way analogous to the Cartesian demon scenario, it seems that you would then have an undercutting defeater for your belief that you are elect. You know that he doesn’t always do this so it may not be enough to completely defeat your belief but I think it makes your belief less warranted.

The situation is getting desperate when Arminians resort to Cartesian demons to defeat Calvinism.  

i) To begin with, once you let the Cartesian demon out of the cage, it will bedevil every belief-system. It isn't partial to Calvinism. It's a universally delusive imp. No getting it back into the cage once it's released. How is Arminianism immune? 

You can't just sic the Cartesian demon on Calvinism. The Cartesian demon is a wild animal. It hasn't been to obedience school. It doesn't follow orders. 

It's like letting a tiger out of the cage, pointing to your enemy, and saying, "Attack!" Well, the tiger stares at you and sees you as a menu item, too. The Cartesian demon is omnivorous. All-devouring. It won't stop with Calvinism. 

ii) If you can't help but be deceived, then aren't your justified in maintaining delusive beliefs? To take a comparison:

The first objection to reliabilism, lodged by several different authors, is the evil-demon counterexample (Cohen, 1984; Pollock, 1984; Feldman, 1985; Foley, 1985). In a possible world inhabited by an evil demon (or permute this, if you wish, into a brain-in-a-vat case), the demon creates non-veridical perceptions of physical objects in people's minds. All of their perceptual beliefs, which are stipulated to be qualitatively identical to ours, are therefore false. Hence, perceptual belief-forming processes in that world are unreliable. Nonetheless, since their perceptual experiences – and hence evidence – are identical to ours, and we surely have justified perceptual beliefs, the beliefs of the people in the demon world must also be justified. So reliabilism gets the case wrong. The intended moral of the example is that reliability isn't necessary for justification; a justified belief can be caused by a process that is unreliable (in the subject's world).

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Is sleep deprivation immoral?

I'm going to comment on a post by Steven Wedgeworth:
Unfortunately, his post represents the kind of half-baked reasoning that's used to shame Christians into accepting that position. 
However, in the wake of the recent Senate Intelligence Committee’s report, there are no longer relevant reasons to prevent us from concluding that the United States did participate in torture and that many of the specific forms were unjust and abhorrent. They were evil.
i) To begin with, the Senate report was a partisan hatchet-job. And it isn't just right-wingers like me who think that:
ii) I, for one, don't deny that some methods like sleep deprivation might be classified as "torture." But that just goes to show how morally elastic the definition is. 
As John McCain has ably argued, America has compromised its integrity with the use of enhanced interrogation and thereby weakened the health of the people.
That's an illicit argument from authority. Who made John McCain to be a moral authority on "torture." 
This issue also highlights a more basic one. If you have ever defended an evil action because it satisfied personal revenge or gave you a limited opportunity to indulge violent and bloodthirsty passions, then you must repent. This is not a trifling matter. The torture revelations are but a macro-level version of what goes on in every human heart. Only, in this case, the hateful desires were not suppressed or denied but rather fed. Murder begins with unchecked anger in the heart. Torture comes from elevating hatred, or a false sense of moral entitlement, over the inherent dignity of the image of God. 
That's a scurrilous hasty generalization. Wedgeworth presumes to impute base motives to everyone who defends "torture" of any kind under any circumstance. That's not an appeal to reason. That's not persuasion. It's browbeating people into submission. 
Ask yourselves if you really can and should be defending “rectal hydration.” Why are you not morally shaken by such a practice, or, if you are, why are you still able to overcome that moral compunction?
Why does defending "torture" require me to defend everything that might be classified as torture? Why does defending, say, sleep deprivation require me to defend "rectal hydration"? 
Wedgeworth doesn't bother to explain how one entails the other. He doesn't bother to explain why you can't condemn any form of "torture" unless you condemn every form of "torture." What's the logical or moral basis for lumping all these disparate methods into one package–take it or leave it? It's like saying that unless you're a pacifist, anything goes in warfare. Does Wedgeworth have anything to offer besides disapproving rhetoric? 
In an ethics class with Dr. Derek Thomas, a few students defended the use of torture as a necessary means to an end, and Dr. Thomas rebuked them sternly, stating that he held torture to be an offense against the image of God.
i) How is sleep deprivation an offense against the image of God?
ii) As I've said on other occasions, one problem I have with this ultimatum is that it's counterproductive. If a Christian ethicist tells people that sleep deprivation is never morally permissible, regardless of how many innocent lives that will save, then many people will reacting by saying so much the worse for Christian ethics. That's a reason not to take Christianity seriously. 
Far from acting as a moral restraint, if you tell people that under no circumstances is sleep deprivation ever permissible, they just give up trying to be conscientious. At that point there are no brakes on what they are prepared to do. They become morally thoughtless because you give them no better option. 
…there is a definitive moral line along the spectrum (even if we argue where it precisely is), and utilitarian defenses can never justify crossing that line. It does not matter if an action or policy “works” if it is truly evil. It does not matter if an action or policy “promotes American interests” if it is truly evil. It does not matter if an action or policy is associated with a particular political party or patriotic sentiment if it is truly evil. It is never right to do wrong. 
I agree with him that some lines cannot be crossed. However, to say that consequences are only morally relevant in utilitarianism  is philosophically uniformed. 
Moreover, Wedgeworth doesn't bother to explain why consequences should never be a factor in moral deliberations. 
The use of sexual assault and threats of sexual assault (and murder!) against family members are the kind of enormities which make rational men go mute in shock and moral disbelief...Surely sexual assault and threats against a suspect’s family cross the moral line and are wholly out of the question for reasonable people to consider.
i) Critics like Wedgeworth lack the patience to draw important ethical distinctions. But their intellectual impatience betrays a lack of moral seriousness. If you take right and wrong seriously, if you take moral deliberation seriously, then you can't allow yourself these intellectual shortcuts. I'm struck by how often those who invoke moral rigorism skimp on analytical rigor. 
ii) Notice how he lumps two distinct cases into one, as if physical harm and threatening harm are morally equivalent. Is there no moral difference between actually harming someone and threatening to harm someone? Why should anyone accept Wedgeworth's glib equivalence?
iii) Moreover, who is being verbally threatened? Is this directed at the terrorist, or a family member? Are they telling the terrorist that unless he cooperates, they will harm a family member? Or are they holding a family member hostage, whom they threaten to harm unless the terrorist cooperates? Are those morally equivalent situations?
iv) Is there a moral difference between a threat which the interrogator intends to carry in case the terrorist refuses to comply, and an empty threat which is credible to the terrorist, even though–unbeknownst to him–the interrogator has no intention of making good on? Seems very different to me.
v) As a rule, I think family members are off-limits, but it's easy to think of exceptions. What if terrorism is the family business. What if his father or twenty-something brother is a terrorist, too? Would it be wrong to "torture" them to make him break? 
Or, to take a tougher case, is it intrinsically wrong to scare the child of a terrorist to make him break, if that will save the thousands of innocent lives? 
Sometimes parents deliberately scare their children as a deterrent. They warn them about how dangerous or painful a particular activity is. Suppose you live in Darwin, Australia. That's infested with saltwater crocodiles. Surely it would be prudent to tell your kids scary stories about saltwater crocodiles to make them cautious.