Saturday, March 28, 2015

Quest for nihilism

Later on in life, I would experience a few more crises of faith. The most painful one occurred during my doctoral studies. I came to realize that all of my previous bouts with doubt ended when I found the answers I was looking for. In other words, I had been looking for ways to confirm the truth of my Christian faith. This time, I wanted to engage in a most sincere quest for truth, no matter where it led. I wanted to take a thorough look at whether Jesus rose from the dead. I would not avoid any difficult question or troubling issue. And I would, in a sense, document my journey for others to view and criticize. That’s why the book that resulted ended up being so large.
The notion of embarking on a quest for truth, "no matter where it leads," is a popular axiom. But that's a dubious way of framing the issue.
To begin with, it doesn't surprise me that Licona is a cradle Christian. The notion that we have a duty to pursue truth wherever it leads is very idealistic, and many people raised in the faith share that idealistic outlook.
That, however, can be very ironic. What if your idealistic quest for truth terminates in nihilism? What if you begin with idealism but end with nihilism?
Suppose that pursuing truth no matter where it takes you eventually leads you to atheism. And what, in turn, if atheism leads to moral and existential nihilism? Indeed, that's not just hypothetical. A number of secular thinkers candidly admit that implication.
Logically, that's not a two-way street. For a nihilist has no obligation or motivation to pursue truth no matter where it leads. 
But if nihilism could never function as your starting-point (except for the sake of argument), then why should it function as your (potential) end-point? The quest for truth is self-defeating if the destination nullifies the very value of truth and truth-seekers. Why begin the journey if that's where the journey ends? It becomes a worthless intellectual exercise in which you have nothing to gain and everything to lose. 
This way of casting the issue is short-sighted and naive. It's foolhardy to imagine that intellectual honesty requires you to maintain that everything is up-for-grabs.
Moreover, that's not even possible. A quest for truth presupposes criteria. You can only question some things if you take other things for granted. Something must furnish a standard of comparison. Everything can't be questionable, for something can only be questionable in relation to something unquestionable or less questionable. 
Both in principle and practice, we should take atheism off the table. No position that conduces to moral and existential nihilism even merits consideration. And that greatly narrows the remaining options. 
It really comes down to religious options. And it's easy to narrow down the religious options. In Eastern religion, the divine is essentially unknowable. 
In the West, most religious traditions attempt to ground their claims in the Bible. It may be part of the Bible, or the Bible plus their supplements. But that provides a common standard of comparison. That provides a criterion. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Is there development in the Passion accounts?

Shooting stars

In Apocalyptic Writings. The conception of fallen angels—angels who, for wilful, rebellious conduct against God, or through weakness under temptation.thereby forfeiting their angelic dignity, were degraded and condemned to a life of mischief or shame on earth or in a place of punishment—is wide-spread. Indications of this belief, behind which probably lies the symbolizing of an astronomical phenomenon, the shooting stars, are met with in Isa. xiv. 12 (comp. Job xxxviii. 31, 32; see Constellations).

The writer seems to be saying that the tradition of fallen angels has its origin in the personification of meteors. Ancient observers saw shooting stars. By process of legendary embellishment, they interpreted that phenomenon as gods or angels who, having lost the war in heaven, were cast down to earth. 

Now, it's true that Scripture uses meteoric imagery to depict or illustrate the fall of angels. But that can be used to explain how belief in fallen angels developed in the first place?

Let's begin by citing some other material:

Primitive man everywhere used meteoric iron in the earliest stage of his mental culture…The Sumerian name for iron was an-bar, meaning "fire from heaven." The Hittite ku-an has the same meaning. The Egyptian name, bia-en-pet, has been variously translated; probably the first meaning of bia was "thunderbolt," and pet stands for "heaven," so there was have plain intimation that the earliest iron was of celestial origin. A Hittite text says that whereas gold came from Birununda and copper from  Taggasta, iron came from heaven. Likewise the Hebrew word for iron, parzil, and the equivalent in Assyrian, barzillu, are derived from barzu-ili, meaning "metal of god" or "of heaven." Even today the Georgian name for a meteorite is tsis-natckhi, meaning "fragment of heaven." T. A. Rickard, "The Use of Meteoric Iron," The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 71, no. 1/2 (1941), 55.

The most ancient name for iron was 'Metal of Heaven.' In the hieroglyphic language of the ancient Egyptians it was pronounced ba-en-pet, meaning either stone or metal of Heaven. 
This ancient history of iron is also found in the cuneiform language of Assyria and Babylonia, pronounced par-zillu. It is the same in the language of Sumeria and Chaldea; barsa, barsal and barzel, and again in the Hebrew language where the name is the same as it is in the Assyrian. All of these translate to mean 'Metal of Heaven.' We can say the first iron was undoubtedly meteoric, as is shown by these ancient names. 
Even across the globe, evidence of iron in prehistory was found when Spanish explorers discovered the Aztecs in the 1500s. They found objects made with this iron-nickel alloy as well. When asked, the Aztec claimed the metal fell from the sky. For centuries afterward, farmers and rural folk had claimed to have occasionally come across metallic rocks made mostly of iron that fell from the sky, and for centuries 'rational' scientist dismissed these claims as superstitious. We now know these objects as meteorites. G. F. Zimmer, The Antiquity of Iron (1915).

When Cortez enquired of the Aztec chiefs whence they obtain their knives they simply pointed to the sky.  
The peoples of the ancient Orient in all probability shared similar ideas. The Sumerian word, the oldest word designating iron, is made up of the pictograms "sky" and "fire." It is usually translated "celestial metal" or "star-metal." Campbell Thompson renders it "celestial lightening (of meteorite)."  
The term, "iron from heaven," or more exactly, "metal from heaven," clearly points to their meteorite origin…We find the same situation with the Hittites: a fourteenth-century text declares that the Hittite kings used "black iron from the sky." 
The "celestial" origin of iron is perhaps attested by the Greek sideros, which has been related to sidus,-eris, meaning "star." M. Eliade, The Forge and the Crucible (U of Chicago 1978), 21-23.

There's the danger of the etymological fallacy. But in this case, since the designations are factually accurate, it seems reliable. Meteoric iron was given these names because it did, in fact, fall from the sky. 

Considered in isolation, one might speculate that ancient people identified shooting stars with gods or angels who lost the war in heaven. Since, however, we have diverse lines of evidence that ancient people associated iron with shooting stars, the angelic interpretation is untenable. Iron meteorites aren't godlike or angelic. Rather, these are inanimate objects, which were hammered into weapons. 

What they thought fell from the sky wasn't gods or angels, but metal chunks. Same thing with stony meteorites. Even if an aeroite became a cult object (e.g. Acts 19:35), at best it represented celestial beings. It was not, itself, divinity. 

Doing business with Red China but not Indiana

What you should know about the RFRA

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Questions of Reading and Writing in Ancient Israel

Apologetic issues in the OT

The Richard Carrier train wreck continues

It's instructive to see Richard Carrier's "scholarship" skewered by people on the left. These are people who share his secular outlook, but find his scholarship devious and shoddy. James McGrath is a leftwing NT scholar:

"Christian Zionism and American Evangelicalism"

Arminian Bible scholar Scot McKnight quoted a boilerplate attack on Israel by former Sojourners' editor, "journalist," and "social justice" activist Ryan Rodrick Beiler:

This, in turn, elicited two corrective comments from a reader:

Scot, I was on the tour (mentioned in the article) that visited Alex Awad in Bethlehem. One of the things that the article missed is that while many of the people in my group could agree with Alex on points of theology i.e.. Jesus fulfills the need for a sacrifice, etc. The nationalism that permeates much of the Palestinian Christian church turned a lot of people off. It is a complicated conflict, but if Christians are going to argue for a Palestinian state they need to do so on the basis of basic human rights. Unfortunately, those human rights are absent from the Palestinian Territories apart from anything Israel might be doing. The PA has promised that a future state would be based on Sharia. It regularly intimidates journalists who challenge the corruption within the leadership. The PA has also promised a future state would not permit Jews to live there. So it is difficult for me to see how one can argue about justice for a people that promises to be unjust to its own people. Please [be] more thoughtful. 
To your question, within the Palestinian Christian community there are several key groups. One group is the old churches like the Catholic, Orthodox, and Lutheran churches. This group is largely nationalist and very influenced by Palestinian Liberation Theology,ie "Palestinians are crucified every day..." type rhetoric. The second group would be the Evangelical churches that are evangelistic to a degree, but are reluctant to criticize the PA and are very anti-zionist. The third is the Evangelical churches that are overtly evangelistic and are not anti-Israel. There is a surprising number of these churches. The most famous among those of us that engage in this stuff is Bethlehem Baptist Church. As you might imagine those groups do not get along well. 
When my groups went to Bethlehem we met with leaders from the two Evangelical camps. It was a stark difference that my group picked up immediately. The anti-zionist Evangelicals spent a lot of time talking about their struggle with the occupation (which I accept is significant) while the evangelistic Evangelical church talked about his outreach to the community, the small groups and small businesses they were trying to assist. So the issue was less theological and more political. The less political the church, the more pressure they receive from their own side (if you are soft on Israel you are seen as a collaborator), but the gospel is changing hearts. By nationalism I am meaning that sense you get when the political seems to be the priority focus and the gospel is used as a political tool. 
I could go on... The situation is very complex and deserves more than all Christian Zionists are heretics and all Palestinians are terrorist type rhetoric. If you can avoid that stuff you will help greatly.

Should Christians support a Palestinian state?

Mystery for me but not for thee

When I push this “button” on Calvinism to a Calvinist he or she usually retreats into voluntarism—the idea promoted by Duns Scotus and Ulrich Zwingli (among others) that God is above all law, meaning our intuitions about “the good” do not apply to God at all, and whatever God does is good simply because God does it.

I always wonder who these nameless Calvinists are. Somehow I doubt he picks on Reformed philosophers. 

My frequent, almost constant, experience has been that, under such questioning, most Calvinists eventually wither and either simply appeal to “mystery” or “paradox” (admitting they don’t know what “good” means other than “what God does”) or give up and adjust their Calvinism to the point of disappearance (as in so-called “evangelical Calvinism”). Or, in many cases, they ponder and then, after a time, admit they can no longer embrace Calvinism. The few that steadfastly remain classical, high Calvinists (i.e., “TULIP” Calvinists) usually admit that they really embrace divine voluntarism—that God has no eternal, governing, moral character but does whatever he chooses to do and that whatever he choose to do is good just because he does it. What they rarely, if ever, admit (but must admit if they are to believe coherently) is that, in that case, “God is good” is only a tautology and therefore meaningless.

Once again, nameless Calvinists. 

And he accuses "most" of them in his "almost constant" experience of retreating in to mystery or paradox. 

But having said that, notice how he responds when a sympathetic questioners puts him on the spot:

Roger Olson 
Thanks, Tim. This raises the age old question of theodicy. I struggle with it mightily, very deeply. It troubles me all the time. I do lose sleep over it--especially when I see (on television or in the news) children being kidnapped, tortured, killed, abused, etc. I have sought help with this. The best help I have found is in Greg Boyd's "Spiritual Warfare Worldview." The best guide to that (because it does not rely on open theism) is his book Is God to Blame? Maybe it won't work for everyone, but it certainly has helped me. I think that when it comes to evil and innocent suffering (e.g., children) God is always doing the best that he can given the circumstances. But only God knows the rules; he has not chosen to reveal them to us but simply asked us to trust in his goodness. I do that. If God is not good, then he might be the one harming the children. If God is not omnipotent, there is no hope for a better world (as ours is getting worse all the time). I believe (with Greg) that God has given us prayer as our means of helping God help the victims. We are also called, of course, to take direct and indirect action to help free them from oppression and harm. But God has chosen not to do this (for now) all by himself. And human sinful rebellion has pushed God away so that this world is not as God wants it to be and will remake it to be in the end. I know of no better answer. All the other answer I have considered fall short either with regard to a moral order of the cosmos, God's goodness, or God's omnipotence. In short, the answer lies somewhere in God's self-limitation in relation to creation.

In other words, it's okay for Arminians to play the mystery card, but if a Calvinist plays the same card, that's cheating!

Prediluvian history

I'm going to repost some comments I left at Lydia McGrew's blog reviewing Walton's book on The Lost World of Adam and Eve. My comments are not directly in response to her review, but in response to other commenters.
Some professing Christians have an oddly compartmentalized plausibility structure. For instance, I've read things by Stanley Jaki on Genesis, Lourdes, and Fatima. Jaki rejects the traditional interpretation of Gen 1-3 on naturalistic grounds, yet he takes Lourdes and Fatima very seriously. What makes Lourdes or Fatima credible, but Gen 1-3 incredible?
Posted by steve hays | March 24, 2015 2:30 PM
"Presumably the available evidence."
That raises a host of interesting questions:
i) Many times, we have no evidence for a historical event over and above historical accounts of the event in question. Sometimes there may be independent corroborative physical evidence, but oftentimes not.
What's our evidence for the Battle of Waterloo? Historical accounts.
Depending on one's view of Scripture, the account of Gen 2-3 is, itself, evidence for the occurrence of what it records.
ii) There are people who think Gen 2-3 is literally ridiculous, but implicitly believe that a consecrated wafer contains the entire body, blood, soul, and deity of Christ. Seems like an oddly segregated belief-system to me.
iii) Normally, humans are the product of a human male impregnating a human female. But if the Virgin Birth is true, then that's an exception–just as the creation of Adam and Eve would be exceptional.
Now, if you did a full medical workup on Jesus, I assume he'd be indistinguishable from someone conceived by procreation. If, however, God bypassed ordinary natural processes in the conception of Jesus, the available evidence will be consistent with either a natural or supernatural origin. Both interpretations are empirically adequate and empirically indistinguishable–but only one is right.
Suppose I arrive late at the feeding of the five thousand. I see a crowd eating fish and bread. I assume fishermen caught the fish in the nearby lake, while bakers produced the loaves of bread. And that's a reasonable operating assumption, given my limited evidence.
If, however, Jesus miraculously multiplied fish and bread, then my inference was wrong. It didn't take that factor into consideration.
iv) Apropos (iii), how we evaluate the evidence depends, in part, on presuppositions that we bring to the evidence. Presuppositions that lie outside the evidence proper–although there may be evidence for our presuppositions.
If the effect is the end-result of allowing nature to take its course, then that's one thing. If the effect is the immediate result of supernatural agency, that's another thing. And it may not be possible to retroengineer the cause from the effect. We may be able to retrace the process provided that it was a normal process. But what's the evidence for the proviso?
To take a comparison: in robotics it's possible to make a robot that can make other robots like itself. Most robots will be made by other robots. But the initial robot in the series must be designed and constructed by an engineer.
From a scientific standpoint, I don't believe that either heliocentrism or geocentrism is true. These are relative reference frames concerning relative motion.
Now, if you take it to the next step by asking about the underlying causes of their respective motion(s), like gravity, then the physics will be very different.
Posted by steve hays | March 21, 2015 11:12 PM
[Wittgenstein] once greeted me with the question: "Why do people say that it was natural to think that the sun went round the earth rather than that the earth turned on its axis?" I replied: "I suppose, because it looked as if the sun went round the earth." "Well," he asked, "what would it have looked like if it had looked as if the earth turned on its axis?" E. Anscombe, An Introduction to Wittgenstein's Tractatus (Harper & Row, rev ed.,1965), 151.
Posted by steve hays | March 22, 2015 12:30 PM
I think we need to draw some distinctions, or at least make some implicit distinctions explicit:
i) We should distinguish between what Gen 1-3 means, and whether its meaning is normative for Christians.
ii) Apropos (i), some theologians do it backwards. They begin with what they think is true, then interpret Gen 1-3 accordingly. They discount interpretations which they think are false.
Problem is, they don't let the text speak for itself. They often begin with their modern scientific understanding. That's their standard of comparison. They then use that as the interpretive grid. But, of course, that's anachronistic.
iii) Apropos (ii), exegesis typically seeks to ascertain original intent or authorial intent. The text means what the author intended to convey by his choice of words.
An exegete consciously avoids imposing his own preconceptions onto the text. Rather, he attempts, if only for the sake of argument, to assume the viewpoint of the author. For instance, a Dante commentator will view the text through the Dante's cultural lens. Not what makes sense to the commentator, but what would make sense to Dante–given Dante's time, place, and outlook.
iv) One potential objection is that, given the dual authorship of Scripture, what is normative is divine intent, not human intent. Indeed, Walton tries to salvage inerrancy by recourse to speech-act theory. For him, the narrator's locutions are errant, but the divine illocutions, behind the locutions, are inerrant.
However, an obvious problem with that dichotomy is that we can only access the illocutions via the locutions. Typically, an author uses certain locutions to express his illocutions.
God communicates truth through the instrumentality of the human author. Hence, the human intent expressed in human locutions can't be at cross-purposes with the divine intent or divine illocutions.
v) A theistic evolutionist can be a theist for philosophical reasons and an evolutionist for scientific reasons.
The problem, from a Christian perspective, is when there's an effort to make theistic evolution intersect or coordinate with Scripture. That characteristically results in hybrid interpretations. The "Adam" of theistic evolution isn't the Adam of Genesis. At best, the "Adam" of theistic evolution is a makeshift construct. Equally artificial from both an exegetical and scientific standpoint.
vi) In principle, one can bypass that stopgap compromise by sidelining Scripture altogether. However, Christianity claims to be a revealed religion. Biblical revelation can't be sidelined if the result is to remain Christian.
If, however, the correct interpretation is theologically normative, then evolution can't be permitted to leverage either the interpretation of Scripture or the content of Christian theology.
Posted by steve hays | March 21, 2015 11:45 PM
Let's provide a baseline standard of comparison–between the Adam of Genesis and the Adam of theistic evolution (of which there are various models).
In Gen 2-3:
i) Adam has no animal, human, or prehuman ancestry.
ii) Adam is directly created from inanimate raw materials.
ii) Eve is directly created from organic matter (i.e. a tissue sample supplied by Adam).
iii) All humans, past and present, are descendants of Adam and Eve.
iv) Humans die because Adam and Eve were banished from Eden, which cut them off from the tree of life.
Posted by steve hays | March 22, 2015 12:03 PM

Saudis vs Iran; Sunnis vs Shia

According to Stratfor, Yemen’s deteriorating security situation has created another Saudi-Iranian geopolitical struggle “that will last for the foreseeable future”.

From a geopolitical perspective, I think that the adversaries are lining up in a way that will enable “the west” to avoid military entanglements in that region of the world. To be sure, I believe that the US should continue to keep a watchful military presence “around the edges” of this struggle. But we have heard that the problems related to Islam are internal problems – largely Sunnis vs Shia, and within those groups, those who are radicals vs those who are deemed “not radical enough”.

Now we are seeing the geopolitical lines take shape in such a way that all of these groups who are natural enemies are fighting among themselves, and largely leaving the rest of the world alone. The Washington Post has already noted, for example, that radicalized Muslims are traveling en masse TO Syria to participate in the Jihad.

This frees up the rest of the world (to a degree, and for the time being) from having to contend with “terrorists” who are distributed around the globe. This intramural fight is one that Islam needs to have, and it’s one that they need to have until they decide it’s not worth it any more.

The “First Century Gospel of Mark” Fragment Seems to Be in Good Hands

Michael Holmes
Michael Holmes
Some of you may recall that Michael Holmes, a scholar of early Christian writings (recently of Princeton Theological Seminary) and the translator and editor of The Apostolic Fathers in English and The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, had been named executive director of The Green Scholars Initiative, and will be overseeing the Museum of the Bible’s research projects around the world.

Holmes recently issued this statement on the question of “How Soon Will It Be Published?”, that is, “when will we know more about the alleged First Century Gospel of Mark?”:

With regard to any ancient artifact, answering questions such as these requires one to balance several complementary and sometimes competing interests. These interests include the need: (1) to acknowledge the privacy and ownership rights of the owner of the artifact; (2) to minimize distractions for the researcher investigating the artifact; and (3) to satisfy the legitimate curiosity of the scholarly community and other public audiences …

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Robotic inferno

On Facebook, Jerry Walls recently said:

To me it is as clear as any moral intuition I have that not even a good God, let alone a perfectly good God, could determine people to sin and then consign them to eternal misery for their sin.

Let's compare that to another Arminian intuition: Calvinism reduces humans to robots. 

Let's grant both these "intuitions" for the sake of argument. Now let's combine them:

To me it is as clear as any moral intuition I have that not even a good God, let alone a perfectly good God, could determine robots to sin and then consign them to eternal misery for their sin.

Problem is, it's hard to see how these two claims mesh. Presumably, Arminians think robots lack one or more essential human properties. Robots aren't real people. To be real people, they must have moral agency. And moral agency requires libertarian freedom. To be real people, they must be free to choose or to withhold love. In fact, according to Arminians, only free agents can truly sin. 

But if robots aren't real people, then what's so bad about determining them to do wrong, then consigning them to everlasting hell for wrongdoing? 

What they did was objectively wrong, but it wasn't subjectively wrong, for they lack that subjective dimension. That first-person perspective. 

If a robot isn't a real person, you can't wrong a robot. It's just a machine. At best, a deluded machine. It may suppose it's human, because it's been programmed to think that, but because it isn't human, it can never know what it's like–really like–to be human. It lacks human experience from the inside out. 

Reformed robotics

Arminians routinely accuse Calvinists of making people robots. At the risk of divulging a trade secret–which I was sworn to conceal on pain of death–this allegation is absolutely true.

Calvinists are cyberneticists. Arminians are robots. We invented Arminians. Programmed them to entertain the illusion of libertarian freewill. Like Cylon sleeper agents programmed to believe they were human.

Because Arminians vainly imagine that they have freewill, that actually makes them more docile and contented with their menial existence as our android slaves. We made them to be foils for Calvinism. They are theological toys. That's why it's so easy to punch their buttons.

Why Markan Authorship Wouldn't Be Fabricated

Here are some of the reasons why Christians who were lying or speculating about the authorship of the second gospel probably wouldn't have come up with Mark as the author:

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A feminist on the Ivy Leagues

Paglia: I'm talking about date rape, what everyone is talking about right now, about this so-called "rape culture." But that essay that I wrote begins, "Rape is an outrage that cannot be tolerated in any civilized society." That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about this new reclassification of people getting drunk, going on a date, going to fraternity houses, and women not taking responsibility for their own behavior. I said that gay men for thousands of years have been going out and having sex with strangers everywhere. They know they can be beaten up. They know they can be killed. What is this where women are, "Oh, we must be protected against even our foolish choices. It's up to men to…" This is ridiculous. This is an intrusion into the civil liberties of young people that have this kind of vampiric parent figures and the administrators hovering, watching, supervising people's sex lives. In Europe, there's nothing like this. There's no idea that the University of Paris is concerned about the dating lives of damn students.
reason: Well, they also don't have sports teams, and they don't have dorms. 
Paglia: Exactly. It's this residential college thing, this vision of college as this summer camp, this Club Med. This is the folly of American education.
reason: It's more reeducation camp now, right? Camp Wo-Chi-Cha?
Paglia: It's, "Let us hold your hand. Let us give you the incredible gym with exercise equipment. Let's give you the thousand choices in the cafeteria." This has nothing to do with education anymore.
Paglia: So now, we're in a period, this is what I don't understand, where women on campus—the institutionalized whining now—that's what it's turned into.
reason: Clarify what's the difference between a legitimate gripe and whining?
Paglia: Well, in my point of view, no college administration should be taking any interest whatever in the social lives of the students. None! If a crime's committed on campus, it should always be reported to the police. I absolutely do not agree with any committees investigating any charge of sexual assault. Either it's a real crime, or it's not a real crime. Get the hell out. So you get this expansion of the campus bureaucracy with this Stalinist oversight. But the students have been raised with helicopter parents. They want it. The students of today—they're utterly uninformed, not necessarily at my school, the art school, I'm talking about the elite schools.
reason: So it's those kids over at that other school.
Paglia: It's the grade grubbers, the bright overachievers. I'm not at that kind of school [here at University of the Arts in Philadelphia] . I'm at a school of arts and communication where people already have a vocational trend. To be admitted here, you have to already have demonstrated a vocational aptitude. I'm talking about the Ivy League. Now, I've encountered these graduates of Harvard, Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, and Princeton, I've encountered them in the media, and people in their 30s now, some of them, their minds are like Jell-O. They know nothing! They've not been trained in history. They have absolutely no structure to their minds. Their emotions are unfixed. The banality of contemporary cultural criticism, of academe, the absolute collapse of any kind of intellectual discourse in the U.S. is the result of these colleges, which should have been the best, have produced the finest minds, instead having retracted into caretaking. The whole thing is about approved social positions in a kind of misty, love of humanity without any direct knowledge of history or economics or anthropology.
reason: What would be a way forward for colleges or other institutions to start making a defense of the humanities?
Paglia: They have no sense of history. I find there's more sense of history in southern evangelicals who didn't even finish high school because their knowledge of the world is based on the Bible, so they're thinking in terms of, "What happened 2,000 years ago? What happened 2,500 years ago?"
reason: What is it about her? Is Hillary Clinton kind of your worst nightmare as a woman? 
Paglia: No, she's exactly my age. I feel I know her completely. Our accents are kind of the same. I understand her completely. So I see all the games and falsehoods and so forth. So I've enjoyed it. I've made an entire career practically—in fact I wrote the cover story for The New Republic "Ice Queen, Drag Queen"—that was 1996, it was way back there.
reason: So what is it about Hillary that bothers you.
Paglia: She's a fraud!
reason: Explain how.
Paglia: She can't have an opinion without poll testing it. She's a liar. This is not a strong candidate for our first woman president.

Open theism and theodicy

According to open theism, God has sovereignly decided to create a world with libertarianly free creatures and, since there are no true (would-) counterfactuals of creaturely freedom for God to know and since, according to open theists, libertarian freedom is incompatible with meticulous foreknowledge, God could not know for sure ahead of time what kinds of choices his free creatures will make. God would seem to be less blameworthy for not preventing evils that he didn’t know in advance would happen.

i) In human affairs there are situations where ignorance can be an extenuating or exculpatory factor. But that's not a given.

Suppose I leave the house for an hour to go for a walk. I leave my young sons–ages 2 and 3–alone with a space heater running. In my absence the house catches fire and they burn to death.

I didn't know in advance that this would happen. But that misses the point. It was reckless of me to expose them to gratuitous risk. It was wrong of me to take that gamble at their expense. In fact, even if the house hadn't caught fire, I'd still be negligent, still be culpable, for endangering them.

ii) This assumes that God is, in fact, ignorant future evils. But surely that's overstated, even on open theist assumptions. Suppose the open theist God didn't know 3 days in advance that the Titanic was going to hit an iceberg and sink. Maybe that was contingent on a string of unforeseeable human choices.

But did the open theist God still not know 3 hours in advance that the Titanic was going to hit an iceberg? Could he not even anticipate 30 minutes in advance that the Titanic was on a collision course with the iceberg–given the trajectory? How much lead time does it take to swerve? 

And even if that wasn't a "sure thing," is it not responsible and prudent to take precautions just in case? Especially when innocent lives are at stake? If God can't know for sure, isn't that all the more reason to leave himself a generous margin of error?

iii) Likewise, didn't the open theist God know that category 4 hurricane was making a bee line for Galveston? Can't the open theist God predict when and where a hurricane will make landfall at least as well as the National Weather Service? 

iv) At this point an open theist might counter that even though God can anticipate some (all?) natural disasters, God can't intervene to prevent them. For human choices to be meaningful, choices must have predictable consequences. That, in turn, requires a stable environment. 

However, that reply is subject to multiple objections:

v) To begin with, the open theist is suddenly shifting ground. This argument concedes that divine ignorance is an inadequate theodicy. 

vi) A stock objection that open theists raise to Calvinism is that if every event is predestined, then petitionary prayer is otiose, for the future is written in stone. 

(Of course, in Calvinism, the stony inscription includes answered prayer.)

If, however, God can't destabilize the natural order by overriding the default setting, then open theist theodicy negates open theist prayer. 

vii) Furthermore, the argument backfires. If choices must have predictable consequences, then choices require informed consent: permission granted in the knowledge of probable risks and consequences.

If the residents of Galveston had known that a catastrophic hurricane was going to hit their town on Sept. 8, 1990, many of them would evacuate ahead of the storm. And even if some stubbornly remained behind, that would be their informed choice.

However, the open theist God withheld that information. They had no advance warning, to make preparations. 

This doesn't require God to divert the hurricane, but simply forewarn the residents. The natural order remains inviolable. 

Suppose I suffer from migraine headaches. I consult a neurologist. He says I'm in luck. He can prescribe a medication that relieves the headache.

However, he neglects to tell me that the medication has a side-effect: it causes brain cancer. 

Although I chose to take the medication, I was denied the opportunity to make an informed choice. Had I known the side-effect, I would not have taken the medication. The neurologist was guilty of malpractice by failing to warn me. 

The Lost World of Adam and Eve, finis

Keener on the Sabbath

Monday, March 23, 2015

Empowering sexual predators

Transgender ideology in action:

"The daughters I never had"

Here's an unintentionally funny combination of snobbery and common sense–exposing some of the many faultlines in feminism:

Narnia and the Gospels

i) C. S. Lewis is probably best-known and certainly best-loved for his Christian allegories (e.g. The Chronicles of Narnia, Perelandra). 
For some reason, Lewis eschewed the "allegorical" classification. His denial seems to operate with a specialized definition of "allegory."
But several books clearly allegorize Christian theology: crucifixion, Resurrection, and atonement (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), creation and fall (The Magician's Nephew), final judgment and heaven (The Last Battle), alternate history of the Fall (Perelandra).
Aslan represents Christ while Lucy represents the theological virtue of faith (and hope). 
ii) There is, however, a sense in which The Chronicles of Narnia are a double allegory. 
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe opens with four young refugees during the the Blitz. And in reality, Lewis hosted four girls during WWII–Margaret, Mary and Katherine, and June Flewett. 
iii) The character of Lucy was named after Lucy Barfield. However, the character was modeled on June (stage name Jill) Flewett–who was a pious Catholic schoolgirl:
So the character of Lucy is based on a real person whom Lewis knew. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if June wasn't the daughter that Lewis never had. She may well have triggered his latent paternal instinct.
And that makes sense. Lucy is clearly Lewis's favorite character. And she's the most real character. Individualized in a way that the other Pevensie siblings are not. Lewis may have known girls like Susan, but with a certain diffidence. Peter and Edmund merely exist as dramatic vehicles to personify theological lessons. They don't have much personality. 
But if Lucy allegorizes June Flewett, then Prof. Kirke allegorizes C. S. Lewis–while Kirke's residence allegorizes the Kilns. Likewise, the backyard inspired the Narnian landscape: 
The extensive wild grounds to the south of the house(comprising a lake and a wooded hill) provided the inspiration for the Chronicles of Narnia.
iv) Critics think there's a thick layer of oral tradition, redaction, and legendary embellishment separating the Gospels from the historical Jesus: the "Jesus of history" from the "Christ of faith."
Of course, I disagree. However, let's play along with that claim for the sake of argument.
In many respects, The Chronicles of Narnia are far removed from reality. Not only are they fictional, but belong to the sword-and-sorcery fantasy genre. Full of magic. Populated by talking animals, fauns, centaurs, &c. 
And yet, as we've just seen, in key respects The Chronicles of Narnia are grounded in reality. A paper-thin allegory of some real people, real places, and real events. 
If The Chronicles of Narnia can be that historical just under the surface, despite the imaginary details and mythopoetic overlay, then in principle, the Gospels could be quite historical even though, from a critic's perspective, they appear to be legendary. 

Reject Jesus for Judaism?

TheBestSchools interviews

TheBestSchools has a series of interviews. I don't agree with everything, and in many cases I disagree with quite a bit, but I found the following interviews useful to one degree or another (at least the parts I've read):

When The Apostle John Died And Why It's Important

In a thread last week about whether the apostle John died as a martyr, the issue of the timing of his death came up. It's an important subject in many contexts, such as when the canon of scripture was closed and when Revelation was written, which in turn is significant in disputes over eschatology. The timing of John's death also has a lot of relevance to liberal and skeptical theories about alleged changes in Christian belief that supposedly occurred during the closing decades of the first century. If somebody like John was still alive and prominent in church affairs until the late first or early second century, that creates some major problems for many nontraditional views of early Christianity. Here are a few posts I've written on how long John lived and how influential he was in the closing years of his life:

Mary And John As Examples Of Sources Of Information On Jesus' Background
The Apostle John's Long Lifespan
When Was Revelation Written?
The Hitchcock/Hanegraaff Debate On The Date Of Revelation

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Lost World of Adam and Eve, part deux

Hiding From Scary Ideas

When your number's up

I'm going to briefly discuss the possibility of precognition. Or, to put it more prosaically, the possibility of prophecy. 

A metaphysical objection to precognition is that if we know the future, that gives us a chance to alter or avoid the future. But in that event, what was the future we foreknew? Precognition seems to generate retrocausal paradoxes. That, however, depends on the nature of the event, the specificity of the oracle, and the incentive of the foreseer to evade the outcome. 

Let's consider some hypothetical counterexamples.

i) Suppose the oracle warns you that you will die in a freak accident. Even if you're motivated to avoid premature death, having advance knowledge that you will die in a freak accident doesn't enable you to avoid that outcome. In the nature of the case, a freak accident is hard to anticipate or prepare for. So many different incidents could constitute a freak accident. The "freakish" concurrence of independent events is so unexpected that you can't avoid stepping into the trap. The oracle doesn't even tell you what kind of freak accident will kill you. You don't know what to be on the lookout for. It will zap you before you know what hit you. 

ii) Suppose the oracle warns you that you will die of food poisoning. There are two ways you can thwart the oracle. You can stop eating. In that event you will die of starvation. You can kill yourself.

But even if, in that case, you're in a position to thwart the oracle, you have no particular incentive to do so. After all, whether or not you die of food poisoning, you're bound to die sooner or later. Evading a deadly oracle by killing yourself is no advantage in that respect. It's not like the alternative to the oracle is preservation. Rather, the only way to cheat fate is to beat it to the punch. 

In practice, you wouldn't do much of anything different. You continue to eat. At some point you will die of food poisoning, but that may be years from now. Better to make the most of your remaining time, however long that may be, than to die even sooner by your own hand. Why cut it short? You're only motivated to cheat fate of that's beneficial to you. 

When your number's up, that's that. No point expediting your demise.

iii) The oracle warns you that you will die in a traffic accident. 

a) You might try to evade that. However, there are severe tradeoffs. Avoidance will require you to racially change your lifestyle.

You will have to relocate to a log cabin in the wilderness. Live off the land. Even if you could successfully thwart the oracle by doing that, the tradedown might not be worth it to you. 

b) Moreover, that's not a sure bet. After all, you rely on transportation to get out of town. You must initially use transportation to put civilization behind you. But what if fate is lying in wait for that very opportunity? 

c) Or fate might arrange for a Cessna to crash into your log cabin. 

iv) Suppose the oracle warns you that you will be mugged at 3:15 at the intersection of Park Avenue and 5th Avenue. In principle, you can cheat fate by not being there at that particular time. 

However, the success of your plan depends on how resourceful fate is. Suppose the battery in your wristwatch dies. You glance at your watch, it says 2:30. You figure you have plenty of time walk past that alley before the mugger gets there. But in reality, it's later than you think–because your watch stopped several minutes ago. 

v) Let's toy with variations on Oedipus. Suppose, at age 18, the oracle warns you that you will accidentally kill your parents. 

a) You try to cheat fate by moving out of state. But unbeknownst to you, the couple who raised you weren't your biological parents. They kidnapped you as a baby.

b) Unbeknownst to you, the town you move to is where your biological parents live. In fact, you move to the house next-door. 

You put a container of flammable liquid under a garage window. At the time you put it there, it's shaded. But during the course of the day, it falls under direct sunlight, overheats, and explodes. Your house is engulfed in flames, which spread to the house next-door, and your parents die in a house fire.

c) Or suppose the couple who raised you were your biological parents. Everyday you phone your mother. One day she's in the kitchen, washing dishes, when the phone rings. 

Because she's in a hurry to answer the phone before you hang up, she doesn't notice a puddle of water under the sink. In her haste she slips, falls, hits her head, and dies from a subdural hematoma. Your dad comes home, discovers his dead wife, and shoots himself in grief.

You innocently set in motion a chain of events which led to the death of your parents. 

vi) These are fanciful examples. Let's take a real-life example: the life of Joseph (Gen 37-50). 

Joseph has two prophetic dreams. His brothers bitterly resent his dreams because they resent the prospect of their younger brother ruling over them. 

They therefore try to cheat fate by conspiring to kill him. After all, if he's dead, he will never be in a position to rule over them.

However, some slavetraders "just happen" to come by as they are deciding whether or not to go through with their murderous plot. They don't really want to have his blood on their hands. That was only a means to an end. They just want to have him out of their hair.

How could they anticipate the famine? How could they anticipate that a foreigner (Joseph) would someday become the CEO of Egypt? What are the odds?

Likewise, what are the odds that Pharaoh "just happens" to have two prophetic dreams at about the same time that two of his disgraced courtiers are in prison, who "just happen" to have their own prophetic dreams, who "just happen" to have Joseph as their cellmate?

As a result, word of Joseph's reputation as an oneiromantist gets back to Pharaoh. And so on and so forth. 

This plot is classically fatalistic in the sense that the evasive maneuvers of the antagonists are the very means by which the oracle comes true. They know just enough to know what will happen, but not enough to know how (when, where, by whom) it will happen. So they unwittingly make it happen in their effort to prevent it from happening.