Saturday, April 11, 2015

The archetypal liar

Our hands are too pure to save babies

AHA is too pure to allow itself to be stained by contact with crisis pregnancy centers:

It is not our goal to establish “make-a-better-choice” pregnancy help centers that attempt to stem the tide of child sacrifice on demand, while tacitly accepting the continued practice as an unfortunate but permanent societal fixture. While we are dissidents in this culture of death, our primary aim is not to shut down grimy abortion mills through protest and while we actively seek to rescue children being carried into these mills by the thousands we do not consider “clinic ministry” to be the front lines of the battle against the evil of our age.

The lowdown on the census of Quirinius

The material on the Quirinius census should change forever the way this topic is dealt with by scholars. The problem is well known: Luke presumably made a mistake when he stated that Quirinius (Cyrenius) was governor of Judea when a census was taken that brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. However, it is “known” from Josephus that Quirinius did not come to Judea until A.D. 6. The approach of FATP is once again to start by examining the text. Luke does not strictly say that Quirinius was governor; the verb used means that he had governmental authority, not necessarily that he was the official governor of the province. After establishing the proper understanding of the text, Roman records are cited that are consistent with an empire-wide census taking place in 3 B.C. More significantly, Josephus gives contradictory information regarding Quirinius. He dates the coming of Quirinius to Judea just after the exile of Archelaus (A.D. 6) in Antiquities 18.1,2 (18.1.1) and 18.26 (18.2.1), but these passages also say that one of the acts after his coming was to depose the high priest Joazar from office. Joazar was installed by Herod the Great a few weeks before his (Herod’s) death in response to the golden eagle crisis, because Joazar cooperated with authorities in the matter of a census, and with Herod regarding his handling of the golden eagle incident. This made Joazar extremely unpopular with the people, and after the death of Herod they demanded that Joazar be removed from the high priesthood. This was done within a few months of Herod’s death, which means that Joazar, Quirinius, and the census are all associated together in the time shortly before the death of Herod and the time immediately thereafter, contradicting the A.D. 6 date for the coming of Quirinius to Judea. The internal contradictions of Josephus in these matters were pointed out years ago by Zahn, Lodder and other scholars, but new insights that help in unraveling the contradictory accounts of Josephus have been given by Dr. Steinmann’s colleague John Rhoads. FATP devotes 11 pages to sorting out the correct order of events and explaining why Josephus made the mistakes that he did in dating Quirinius and the census. These pages may require several readings to understand all the issues, but once this is done it is clear that the preponderance of evidence favors the enrollment associated with Quirinius to have been in 3 B.C., and perhaps continuing into early 2 B.C.

Dating the Crucifixion

Friday, April 10, 2015

Issues in Hermeneutical Foundations

Issues in Hermeneutical Foundations: Selected articles on hermeneutics and biblical interpretation by Vern Poythress.

In order of original publication, the articles are as follows:

1986. "Divine Meaning of Scripture," Westminster Theological Journal 48:241-279.

1988. "God's Lordship in Interpretation," Westminster Theological Journal 50/1: 27-64.

1988. "Christ the Only Savior of Interpretation," Westminster Theological Journal 50/2: 305-321.

2007. "The Presence of God Qualifying Our Notions of Grammatical-Historical Interpretation: Genesis 3:15 as a Test Case," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 50/1: 87-103.

2014. "Dispensing with Merely Human Meaning: Gains and Losses from Focusing on the Human Author, Illustrated by Zephaniah 1:2-3," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 57/3: 481-499.

The Word of God For Abraham and Today

Bible dates

i) One stock objection to the historicity and inerrancy of Scripture is the allegation that Biblical chronology is erroneous. This can involve the allegation of internal contradictions in Biblical chronology, or the allegation that Biblical chronology contradicts extrabiblical dates for the same events.

If Bible writers were eyewitnesses to the events they recount, they wouldn't make these mistakes. Such blunders indicate that the account were written decades or centuries after the event by someone who didn't know any better. So goes the argument.

ii) This allegation contains dubious, unspoken assumptions. To begin with, we need to distinguish between wrong dates and imprecise chronology. A writer may present an imprecise chronology of events. He just doesn't give any dates. So a reader can't tell how much earlier or later one incident was in relation to another. However, not giving the date is different from giving the wrong date.

iii) In terms of chronology, there is often a paradoxical relationship between biographies and autobiographies. One task of a scholar who's writing a critical biography of a famous figure is to work out a consistent chronology of events in the life of his subject. To date various incidents. 

That's important because what the subject did at a later time may be dependent on something that happened to him at an earlier time. To explain his motivations and choices, you need to know when and where something happened in relation to something else. That's the nature of historical causation. 

What's frustrating for a biographer is how often autobiographers are very inattentive to dates. And there's a reason for that.

If I learn about an event by looking it up in a history book or encyclopedia, the source will give the same. If, however, I observe the event in question, or if it happens to me, then I don't necessarily register the calendar day on which it occurred. 

An autobiographer is generally writing from memory. Writing from experience. He knows what happened to him, and he knows the relative sequence of events without having the dates at his fingertips. That's unnecessary. 

Certain days, or parts of days, stand out in our recollection. I remember hundreds, maybe thousands, of days in my life, but I rarely recall the date. I didn't have occasion to make a mental note of the date.

When I was a boy, my parents got me a dog. I remember the day, but not the date. Likewise, I remember the day when we had to put her to sleep. But I don't remember the date. Although the days were significant to me, the dates were not. 

I remember when Richard Nixon fired Archibald Cox, but I don't recall the date. In the age of the Internet, it would be easy for me to check the date. But before the advent of the internet, that would require a trip to the library. 

Another reason why autobiographers are often indifferent about dates is that it can be very difficult and time-consuming to pin down the date for some incident in their lives. Usually, there's no public record of events that are personally significant to you and me. The only way to get a fix on the date is to associate it with some public event that happened around the same time. Something in the newspaper. 

But there are large gaps in our recollection. I remember a particular day, but I don't remember many of the preceding or succeeding days. That's because nothing memorable happened to me weeks or months before or after the memorable day. So I may lack the continuous context to reconstruct the date. I lack a larger frame of reference. There are no chronological landmarks. 

For instance, the Battle of Gettysburg was a famous turning-point in the Civil War. It happened between July 1–3, 1863. 

If, however, you were to ask soldiers on July 2 what day it was, I wouldn't be surprised if they couldn't tell you. Knowing the date was probably the farthest thing from their minds. They were preoccupied with just trying to stay alive. Keep your head down! Look around! They weren't reading the daily newspaper. 

So there's the paradox: people closest to the events, active participants, may only have a sketchy sense of when it happened, in calendar time. The difference between clock time and event time. 

By contrast, in part because he's writing years after the fact, safely detached from the fog of war, a historian may have a more accurate sense of timing. In addition, a historian has more chronological clues. He has so many sources. Reports from every day of the conflict. That gives him a larger framework, a continuous context, to work out a relative chronology and absolute chronology. 

You can only experience events at one time and place at a time, whereas a historian enjoys an aerial view (as if were). Because he wasn't there, he can, in effect, be everywhere. He is collating reports from many witnesses at different times and places. 

So the truth of the matter is nearly the opposite of what Bible critics allege. Observers can have a very accurate recollection of what happened–where and how, by whom, and to whom–but fuzzy recollection of when it happened. That doesn't mean their recollection of when it happened was faulty. Just that they didn't glance at a calendar at the time, or they can't place it at a particular point in time because the preceding and succeeding days were so forgettable. It's not because he was far removed from the event, but was–to the contrary–immersed in the event. 

It's a snapshot, not a motion picture. At most, individual frames in sequence, with many missing frames. 

False rape allegations as a political weapon

Although this article is 14 years old, the mindset is at least as current as ever, if not more so:

A more extreme form of that view comes from activists who see rape as a metaphor, its definition swelling to cover any kind of oppression of women. Rape, seen in this light, can occur not only on a date but also in a marriage, not only by violent assault but also by psychological pressure. A Swarthmore College training pamphlet once explained that acquaintance rape "spans a spectrum of incidents and behaviors, ranging from crimes legally defined as rape to verbal harassment and inappropriate innuendo." 
Out of this contention was born a set of arguments that have become politically correct wisdom on campus and in academic circles. This view holds that rape is a symbol of women's vulnerability to male institutions and attitudes. "It's sociopolitical," insists Gina Rayfield, a New Jersey psychologist. "In our culture men hold the power, politically, economically. They're socialized not to see women as equals." 
This line of reasoning has led some women, especially radicalized victims, to justify flinging around the term rape as a political weapon, referring to everything from violent sexual assaults to inappropriate innuendos. Ginny, a college senior who was really raped when she was 16, suggests that false accusations of rape can serve a useful purpose. "Penetration is not the only form of violation," she explains. In her view, rape is a subjective term, one that women must use to draw attention to other, nonviolent, even nonsexual forms of oppression. "If a woman did falsely accuse a man of rape, she may have had reasons to," Ginny says. "Maybe she wasn't raped, but he clearly violated her in some way." 
Catherine Comins, assistant dean of student life at Vassar, also sees some value in this loose use of "rape." She says angry victims of various forms of sexual intimidation cry rape to regain their sense of power. "To use the word carefully would be to be careful for the sake of the violator, and the survivors don't care a hoot about him." Comins argues that men who are unjustly accused can sometimes gain from the experience. "They have a lot of pain, but it is not a pain that I would necessarily have spared them. I think it ideally initiates a process of self-exploration. 'How do I see women?' 'If I didn't violate her, could I have?' 'Do I have the potential to do to her what they say I did?' Those are good questions." 
Taken to extremes, there is an ugly element of vengeance at work here. Rape , is an abuse of power. But so are false accusations of rape, and to suggest that men whose reputations are destroyed might benefit because it will make them more sensitive is an attitude that is sure to backfire on women who are seeking justice for all victims. On campuses where the issue is most inflamed, male students are outraged that their names can be scrawled on a bathroom-wall list of rapists and they have no chance to tell their side of the story…Those who view rape through a political lens tend to place all responsibility on men to make sure that their partners are consenting at every point of a sexual encounter. 
It would be easy to accuse feminists of being too quick to classify sex as rape, but feminists are to be found on all sides of the debate, and many protest the idea that all the onus is on the man. It demeans women to suggest that they are so vulnerable to coercion or emotional manipulation that they must always be escorted by the strong arm of the law. "You can't solve society's ills by making everything a crime," says Albuquerque attorney Nancy Hollander. "That comes out of the sense of overprotection of women, and in the long run that is going to be harmful to us.",8816,157165,00.html

Poythress on the big questions

An Interview with Vern Poythress on the "Big Questions"

Thursday, April 09, 2015

1 Corinthians 15 Suggests Paul Had A Lot Of Evidence

Here's something I just added to the comments section of my thread on the Miller/Cavin resurrection debate:

In the debate (1:27-30), Cavin makes much of the fact that we don't know where Paul got the information he discusses in the opening verses of 1 Corinthians 15. But, like so many of Cavin's other arguments, his evaluation of 1 Corinthians 15 is focused in the wrong place. The origin of Paul's information is less significant than his maintaining it. Cavin briefly refers to Galatians 1-2 and speculates that Paul might not have made much of an effort to look into the information he had on the resurrection, even though he met with individuals like Peter and James. But most of Cavin's attention is focused on the origins of Paul's material in 1 Corinthians. What about how that information was maintained after it originated?

For roughly two decades leading up to the writing of 1 Corinthians, Paul believed what he outlines in the opening of 1 Corinthians 15. During that time, he repeatedly, and in a wide variety of circumstances, interacted with individuals like Peter and James and churches like those in Jerusalem, Antioch, and Rome. He kept up with developments enough to know that most of the more than five hundred resurrection witnesses were still alive, though some had died (15:6). He knew enough about the other apostles' backgrounds to contrast his history to theirs (15:9). He knew enough about the other apostles' labors to comment on how his efforts compared to theirs (15:10). He knew enough about the other apostles' teachings to affirm that all of them were in agreement about the gospel message Paul had just summarized (15:11). Not only were Paul and the other apostles maintaining the information described in 1 Corinthians 15, but so were Christian communities like the one Paul was writing to in Corinth.

The idea that Paul and these other people would have gone through these experiences I've just described for so many years, but without any significant reason for believing that the information in 1 Corinthians 15 was true, doesn't make sense. You can't write a passage like 1 Corinthians 15 without having a lot of knowledge about a lot of highly significant evidential issues pertaining to the resurrection. To suggest that the appearance to more than five hundred was just a rumor Paul heard one time, that he'd never had any discussions with Peter about the resurrection, or that those discussions always just happened to avoid all significant evidential issues, for example, is implausible. Why would Paul follow the lives of the more than five hundred resurrection witnesses enough to know approximately how many were still alive, at a particular point in time about twenty years after Paul's conversion, if he was unconcerned about the details or hadn't looked into these matters in a long time, for example? Or how would Paul have known that the other apostles were teaching the same message he was if he'd never heard from them about these subjects? These are the kinds of issues critics like Cavin ought to be addressing. To focus, instead, on issues like where the information in 1 Corinthians 15 originated, while ignoring matters like the ones mentioned above, is an exercise in misdirection.

Messianic Judaism and the Hebrew Roots Movement

I haven't studied the Hebrew Roots Movement in detail. These may be useful resources on Messianic Judaism, which sometimes interact with the Hebrew Roots Movement.

A number of these links I copied from a post by Michael Heiser. I'm not vouching for all these links. But they ought to sift the field and illustrate some sounder examples of Messianic Judaism. 

Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?

In his recent interview with apostate Dale Tuggy, Oliver Crisp suggests that St. Paul ducks a tough question in Rom 9:19 with a rhetorical riposte in v20. But that's somewhat misleading:

i) To begin with, Paul's audience consists of Christians and Messianic Jews. So an argument from authority is not out of place in that context. 

ii) Paul doesn't merely leave it at that. He sketches an answer in vv21-22 which give an overarching reason. So it's not arbitrary.

iii) But ultimately a question like that is unanswerable within the confines of a pastoral letter. It gets into very intricate issues of morality, modality, and metaphysics. Any detailed answer would be much too technical and time-consuming. 

There's a difference between answers and explanations, in the sense that it's possible to give short answers, but not always possible to give short explanations–such as explaining your answer. It's hard to see how Paul could give a short explanation to that challenge. The issues are too involved. He couldn't give an adequate explanation even if he had one. That would be a treatise unto itself.

iv) Of course, if Paul was a freewill theist, he could easily parry the accusation by stating that we are able to resist God's will. 

v) Moreover, there's no presumption that Paul had even an adequate explanation up his sleeve. Like many other Bible writers, he can only share what's been revealed to him. 

vi) Finally, as a friend of mine commented: how one answers a question will depend in part on what one takes to be the motives behind the question . At a superficial level, Jesus himself 'ducks' some of the questions posed to him.

Oliver Crisp on universalism

In his interview with apostate Dale Tuggy, Oliver Crisp says there are NT passages that seem to press in the direction of universal salvation and other passages that seem to press in the other direction. So there's a kind of tension in the NT concerning which set of data you use to privilege the other.  Do you use the universalistic passages as your control to understand particularistic passages or vice versa? What hermeneutical decision is a work there?

That raises a legitimate question of systematic theological method. What's the proper starting-point? By way of response:

i) The way he frames the alternatives is too generic. If you had some passages which prima facie affirm that all will be saved and other passages which prima facie affirm that some will be saved, you could fold the latter into the former. If all are saved, then that includes some. The whole includes the part. 

ii) However, the Biblical descriptions are more specific. They don't merely say that some will be saved, but that some will not be saved. They don't merely affirm the salvation of some, but disaffirm the salvation of others. So that precludes a facile harmonization in which you simply make the universalistic passages as the frame of reference. For Scripture frames the relation in antithetical terms. 

iii) In addition, although passages which specify the eternal damnation of the lost are not especially numerous, there are many more passages which simply deny that everyone will be saved. Even if a universalist could somehow neutralize the passages which explicitly say the lost will suffer eternal damnation, that wouldn't clear the field for universalism–for you still have all the other passages which deny that everyone will be saved–even if they don't use certain adjectives (e.g. "eternal"). 

iv) Finally, universalism poses a much greater threat or challenge to Arminianism (and variations thereof) than Calvinism. Arminians and universalists quote the same passages to prooftext their respective positions. As such, Calvinists don't have to devise new arguments or new interpretations to refute universalism. Rather, they have ready-made arguments. They can redeploy the preexisting arguments they use in response to Arminians.

Calvinists are used to fielding appeals to universalistic passages. Arminians do that to prooftext universal atonement, universal provision, God's universal redemptive desire. So that's part and parcel of the traditional Calvinist/Arminian debate. 

By contrast, Arminians can't very well deploy the universalistic passages to counter a universalist, for a universalist lays claim to the very same turf. Indeed, a universalist enjoys a certain advantage over an Arminian in that regard, for he can accept the universalistic passages as is, whereas the Arminian must introduce some qualifications. 

Arminians can try to parry the universalist appeal by quoting passages about eschatological judgment. But Calvinists occupy the same ground in that respect. So it's very hard for Arminians to find any prooftexts they don't share with one opposing side or another. 

Liberal analogies

I'm going to comment on two leftwing cartoons about the religious liberty debate. Both of these are supposed to be devastating analogies which leave Christians stumped. "Secular progresses" pride themselves on their superior reasoning ability–in contrast to knuckle-dragging Christians. So it's always revealing to witness the actual quality of their arguments:

If selling a gay couple a wedding cake means a "christian" baker participated in their marriage, does selling a gun to a murderer mean a "christian" gun store owner participated in the murder?

i) Why put Christian in scare quotes? Does the cartoonist imagine that opposition to queer marriage is unchristian? 

ii) Guns can be used to save lives as well as take lives. Guns are defensive as well as offensive weapons. Hence, there's nothing ipso facto wrong about selling guns. Wedding cakes don't save lives. 

iii) Apropos (ii), a gun shop doesn't normally know in advance how a gun will be used. 

iv) There are, however, situations in which the seller would be complicit in murder. Take an arms-dealer who sells guns to a drug cartel. 

v) The right to bear arms is Constitutionally protected, whereas queer marriage is not. 

vi) There are no "gay couples." Homosexuals–especially homosexual men–don't pair off. Even their marriages are open marriages. "Gay couple" is fictitious propaganda. 

If I discriminate against or criticize you, it's called "Religious Freedom"
If you return the favor, it's called "Persecution"

i) Free speech, freedom of association, and the free exercise of religion are Constitutionally protected. By contrast, sodomy was a criminal offense at common law and was forbidden by the laws of the original 13 States when they ratified the Bill of Rights. 

ii) There's an elementary difference between government punishing Christian businesses (e.g. fines, confiscation of property) and private citizens who boycott a business they disapprove of. There's a basic difference between government persecution and customers who choose where to take their business.

iii) Apropos (ii), there's an elementary difference between "criticism" or "discrimination" and gov't prosecuting Christian businessmen when they exercise their Constitutional freedom of association and free exercise of religion.  

iv) Apropos (iii), refusing to sell a wedding cake damages no one. Putting a Christian baker out of business destroys their livelihood. 

v) The homosexual lobby does not allow mutual criticism. Criticism of homosexuality is classified as hate speech. It's not a two-way street.

vi) Keep in mind, too, that the cartoon is comparing the incomparable. Homosexuality is a moral perversion. For instance, the liberal media went to great lengths to expose sexual abuse in the church of Rome, yet that's an essentially homosexual scandal. 

Watch the world burn

According to Matt. 4:8-10:

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." Then Jesus said to him, "Be gone, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'"

Imagine if Christ had bent his knee to the devil. Imagine if our Lord had bowed his heart to Satan, pledging an oath of fealty, not to his Father but now to the Adversary.

Nothing would have delighted Old Scratch more than to see Christ strike out on his own path, the autonomous God-man, away from the love of his Father, in rebellion against his Father.

Moreover, Christ would've ultimately paid homage to Lucifer, for how can one take up arms against God without at the same time acknowledging the Archfiend in his insurrection against God was "right" (exchanging the truth for a lie)? Or perhaps, would it not have been logical for the defiant insurrectionists to join arms and forces under a single leader (e.g. to avoid divide and conquer)? In any case, I expect the Father of lies, the first apostate, would welcome all other subsequent liars and apostates as their Prince of Darkness and the god of this world.

However, if this had actually happened, what would've transpired next? The Godhead would have been divided. As such, I imagine the whole of creation would've collapsed. Surely "he [who] upholds the universe by the word of his power" (Heb. 1:3) would do so no more.

If this had occurred, would Satan have won? Yet he would've "won" by destroying all...including himself. It would've been worse than a Pyrrhic victory.

Nevertheless, I suspect this is what he most wants, this is his end-game: the destruction of all things even if it means his own destruction. Some just want to watch the world burn.

Of course, we thank our Lord he never succumbed to sin and rebellion. We thank our Savior who defeated and triumphed over the devil and evil. Still, I don't doubt the deceiver and thief of souls would be more than willing to take a consolation prize or two in destroying the souls of those who turn away from God. Therefore: "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Pet. 5:8).

The Modern University Is Failing Students in Every Respect

From Victor Davis Hanson:

Modern American universities used to assume four goals.

First, their general education core taught students how to reason inductively and imparted an aesthetic sense through acquiring knowledge of Michelangelo, the Battle of Gettysburg, "Medea" and "King Lear," Beethoven's "Ode to Joy," and astronomy and Euclidean geometry.

Second, campuses encouraged edgy speech and raucous expression — and exposure to all sorts of weird ideas and mostly unpopular thoughts. College talk was never envisioned as boring, politically correct megaphones echoing orthodox pieties.

Third, four years of college trained students for productive careers. Implicit was the university's assurance that its degree was a wise career investment.

Finally, universities were not monopolistic price gougers. They sought affordability to allow access to a broad middle class that had neither federal subsidies nor lots of money.

The American undergraduate university is now failing on all four counts.

Read the rest here.

Initial Thoughts On The Miller/Cavin Resurrection Debate

Calum Miller and R. Greg Cavin debated Jesus' resurrection this past Tuesday. I've watched a YouTube video of the main portion of the debate. Only the beginning of the question and answer segment at the end is included in the video, so I won't be commenting on that part. Far too much came up in the debate for me to comment on everything, but I'll make several points. The reference numbers in parentheses below are citations of the relevant minutes in the YouTube video.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Is homosexual orientation sinful?

God's not dead

High-risk parenting

Apostate Dale Tuggy recently interviewed Oliver Crisp on Deviant Calvinism. Towards the end of the interview, Tuggy alluded to a thought-experiment by open theist William Hasker. Tuggy recast this in terms of a magic potion or love pill. 

I will quote and then comment on Hasker's hypothetical:

Imagine yourself, then, as a prospective parent shortly before the birth of your first child. And suppose that someone has offered you the following choice. On the one hand, the child will be one that, without any effort on your part, will always and automatically do and be exactly what you want it to do and be, no more and no less. The child will have no feeling of being constrained or controlled; nevertheless, it will spontaneously carry out your wishes on any and every occasion. Or, on the other hand, you can choose to have a child in the normal fashion, a child that is fully capable of having a will of its own and of resisting your wishes for it, and even of acting against its own best interest. You will have to invest a great deal of effort in the child's education, with good hopes to be sure, but without any advance guarantee of success. And there is the risk, indeed the near-certainty, that the child will inflict on your considerable pain and suffering, as you strive to help the child become all that he or she can be and ought to be. Which would you choose? 
It is my hope that many readers–perhaps even a strong majority–will agree with me in saying that it is far better to accept the challenge of parenting a child with a will of its own, even at the price of pain and possible heartbreak, than to opt for an arrangement in which the child's choices will all really be my choices made for it, its life a pale reflection of mine lived through the child. Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Religion, M. Peterson & R. VanArragon, eds. (Blackwell 2004), 222-23. 

i) To a great extent, the intuitive appeal of that illustration depends on how we cash out the dire alternative. To say "possible heartbreak" or "acting against its own best interests" is very vague. A safe abstraction.  

What if you knew that by not administering the love potion, your daughter would grow up to be a hopeless drug addict? Or that your teenage son would shoot another teenager in the head, causing irreparable brain damage and disability. Not only is there your own heartbreak, but the other set of heartbroken parents–based on what your son did to their son. 

Likewise, if you foreknew that by conceiving a child at that particular moment, you child would become a hopeless drug addict, would you contracept on that occasion? If you foreknew that this is how your son was going to turn out, by ravaging the future of someone else's son, would you even conceive him in the first place? 

ii) Admittedly, Hasker is an open theist. He doesn't believe God knows the future. That, however, complicates the hypothetical. It's not a straightforward comparison between two different outcomes, because in one (crucial) case the outcome is unknown. You can't make a risk assessment. Maybe it will turn out for the best, but maybe it will turn out for the worst. If, with the benefit of hindsight, you could do it all over again, would you? Clearly that depends on how the scenario plays out.  

Parents assume the risk because they don't know how things will work out. For them, it's a choice between parenting or not parenting. If, however, they could foresaw the catastrophic consequences of having that particular child, I expect most of them would opt out. So Hasker's hypothetical is misleading.

iii) Another problem with the comparison, which Crisp touches upon, is the radical disanalogy between the Creator/creature relation and the human parent/child relation. The later distinction is relative and temporary. Human children are supposed to become their parents' equal. Grow up. Become adults. Become physically and psychologically independent of their parents. Human children are, in a significant sense, expected to outgrow their parents. That's a necessary part of the maturation process.

I agree with Hasker that your (grown) child's choices shouldn't really be the choices you made for him. His life shouldn't be a pale reflection of yours lived through him. But that's in large part because a parent's plan for his child's life isn't ipso facto superior to a grown child's plan for his own life. Parents aren't necessarily or even probably wiser than grown children. Their priorities may be askew. At that point we're comparing adults to adults. In both cases, these are short-sighted creatures. 

That's completely different from Calvinism, where God's plan for your life is for the best. Infallibly wise and good.

Admittedly, God doesn't act in the best interests of the reprobate. But in freewill theism (or open theism in particular), a free agent may make the same disastrous choices as the reprobate.  

iv) The theological analogue would be paganism, viz. Apollo the son of Zeus and Leto. Gods begetting gods. 

Mind you, it might be prudent for mother and father gods to give their kids a love pill. That forestalls the danger of their grown children deposing them! No battle of the Titans!  

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Humean Inconsistency

Michael Tooley on the freewill defense

7.2 Free Will
A second important approach to theodicy involves the following ideas: first, that libertarian free will is of great value; secondly, that because it is part of the definition of libertarian free will that an action that is free in that sense cannot be caused by anything outside of the agent, not even God can cause a person to freely do what is right; and thirdly, that because of the great value of libertarian free will, it is better that God create a world in which agents possess libertarian free will, even though they may misuse it, and do what is wrong, than that God create a world where agents lack libertarian free will.
One problem with an appeal to libertarian free will is that no satisfactory account of the concept of libertarian free will is yet available. Thus, while the requirement that, in order to be free in the libertarian sense, an action not have any cause that lies outside the agent is unproblematic, this is obviously not a sufficient condition, since this condition would be satisfied if the behavior in question were caused by random events within the agent. So one needs to add that the agent is, in some sense, the cause of the action. But how is the causation in question to be understood? Present accounts of the metaphysics of causation typically treat causes as states of affairs. If, however, one adopts such an approach, then it seems that all that one has when an action is freely done, in the libertarian sense, is that there is some uncaused mental state of the agent that causally gives rise to the relevant behavior, and why freedom, thus understood, should be thought valuable, is far from clear.
The alternative is to shift from event-causation to what is referred to as ‘agent-causation’. But then the question is whether there is any satisfactory account of causation where causation is not a relation between states of affairs. Some philosophers, such as Timothy O’Connor (1995, 1996, 2000a, 2000b, and 2002) and Randolph Clarke (1993, 1996, and 2003) have claimed that such an account can be given, but their suggestions have not been widely accepted.
But even if the difficulty concerning the nature of libertarian free will is set aside, there are still very strong objections to the free-will approach. First, and most important, the fact that libertarian free will is valuable does not entail that one should never intervene in the exercise of libertarian free will. Indeed, very few people think that one should not intervene to prevent someone from committing rape or murder. On the contrary, almost everyone would hold that a failure to prevent heinously evil actions when one can do so would be seriously wrong.
Secondly, the proposition that libertarian free will is valuable does not entail that it is a good thing for people to have the power to inflict great harm upon others. So individuals could, for example, have libertarian free will, but not have the power to torture and murder others.
Thirdly, many evils are caused by natural processes, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and other weather conditions, and by a wide variety of diseases. Such evils certainly do not appear to result from morally wrong actions. If that is right, then an appeal to free will provides no answer to an argument from evil that focuses upon such evils.
Some writers, such as C. S. Lewis and Alvin Plantinga, have suggested that such evils may ultimately be due to the immoral actions of supernatural beings (Lewis, 1957, 122–3; Plantinga, 1974a, 58). If that were so, then the first two objections mentioned above would apply: one would have many more cases where individuals were being given the power—much greater than the power that any human has—to inflict great harm on others, and then were being allowed by God to use that power to perform horrendously evil actions leading to enormous suffering and many deaths. In addition, however, it can plausibly be argued that, though it is possible that earthquakes, hurricanes, cancer, and the predation of animals are all caused by malevolent supernatural beings, the probability that this is so is extremely low.

Religious theodicies

I'm going to comment on Michael Tooley's analysis:

I'll begin by making two preliminary observations:
i) Who should write the entry on the problem of evil? An atheist or a theist? If a theist, would that be a Christian, Jew, Muslim?
Tooley is a prominent atheist. So we know going in what his conclusion will be. In the nature of the case, he will deem all available theodicies to be a failures. At best, then, a Christian would read this entry to find out how an atheist views the problem of evil. That can be a useful exercise. But it will be one-sided. 
ii) For some odd reason, Tooley picks a religious theodicy based on Gen 1-3. Nothing wrong with that except that it's misleading. A religious theodicy or Christian theodicy can operate at a higher level of abstraction than that particular narrative. Take a supralapsarian theodicy:
That operates on more general principles than the specific details of Gen 1-3.  
The four types of theodicies considered so far all appeal to beliefs and evaluative claims that the theodicist thinks should be acceptable, upon careful reflection, to anyone, including those who are not religious. But if one thinks that one’s religious beliefs are ones that it is reasonable to accept, what is wrong with a theodicy that appeals to some of one’s religious beliefs? Of course, if the religious beliefs to which one appeals, taken together, entail the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect person, such a theodicy would be question-begging. 
i) We need to distinguish between defensive and offensive apologetics. It's true that a theodicy which appeals to the theological assumptions of the Christian won't be persuasive to an atheist. But what if that's not the aim? What if the aim is to show that the problem of evil is consistent with Christian theology? 
ii) Moreover, every argument takes some things for granted. But it's often possible to provide independent arguments for the theological assumptions feeding into a religious theodicy. 
The religious theodicy in question is as follows. First, human beings, rather than having arisen through a process of natural evolution, were brought into existence by the creator of the universe. He placed the first two human beings in a perfect world, free of suffering and death. Those human beings, however, freely chose to disobey a command of the creator, and the result was the Fall of mankind, which meant not only that the first two humans became subject to suffering and death, but that all of their descendants did so as well. The creator, however, lovingly engaged, several generations later, in a rescue operation, in which he, in the person of his son, became incarnated as a human being, and by undergoing a sacrificial death, made it possible for the creator to forgive every human who accepted this sacrifice, and who would then enjoy eternal beatitude living in the presence of the creator.
i) There are some problems with that summary. It seems to be cast in terms of libertarian freewill, but, of course, predestinarians (e.g. Thomists, Calvinists, Augustinians) can invoke the same narrative.
ii) It isn't necessary that God placed the first two human beings in a "perfect word, free of suffering and death." The frame of reference isn't the world at large, but the garden of Eden in particular. Likewise, the pristine world needn't be free of suffering and death generally, but human suffering and death in particular. 
It is not, of course, a full theodicy, since it does not account for the suffering of non-human animals, at least before the Fall.
That presumes that animal suffering is a problem for Christian theology. But that's not something which an atheist is entitled to take for granted. Minimally, both sides have a burden of proof to discharge. 
So let us focus on it simply as offering an account of God’s justification for allowing human suffering. Thus viewed, how successful is it? To be successful, a theodicy must appeal only to beliefs that it is reasonable to accept.
This goes to the problem of common ground. Is there a set of universally acceptable "reasonable" beliefs? And this isn't just between Christians and atheists. Atheists range along a wide continuum of philosophical beliefs. So is it even meaningful to say that "a theodicy must appeal only to beliefs that it is reasonable to accept" if that's an empty abstraction? Does that standard of comparison even exist? 
Do the beliefs involved in the above story qualify? It would seem not. First of all, among the crucial beliefs is the belief that human beings, rather than coming into being via a natural process of evolution, were specially created. In setting out the story, I have not specified how that was done. Traditionally Christians believed, either that Adam and Eve were created ex nihilo, as the story of creation in Genesis 1 seems to say, or else, as the creation story in Genesis 2 says, that Adam was created out of the dust of the earth, and then Eve was formed, sometime later, out of one of Adam’s ribs.
Again, though, this raises the question of reasonable to whom? Clearly this was reasonable to the narrator and his target audience. This was reasonable to ancient Jews. This was reasonable to Christians throughout church history at least until the advent of Darwinism. So what supplies the frame of reference for what's reasonable? 
There are very good reasons for rejecting both of these accounts, since the evidence that humans are descended from earlier primates is extremely strong indeed. Especially impressive is the evidence provided by DNA studies, described by Daniel J. Fairbanks his book Relics of Eden, and which includes such as things as the evidence that human chromosome number two resulted by fusion from two primate chromosomes, together with facts about (1) transposable elements, including retroelements, (2) pseudogenes, and (3) mitochondrial DNA.
The account is certainly at odds with the theory of human evolution. There are, however, many scientists and mathematicians who consider the theory of evolution to be unreasonable:
In the light of such evidence, it is not surprising that many Christian philosophers have accepted the hypothesis of common descent, and have adopted some form of theistic evolution, in which the creator intervened at some point to transform some earlier primates into members of a new species, Homo sapiens. But while this version of special creation is an improvement, given the very close relations between human and chimpanzee DNA, and the fact that known mechanisms of chromosome rearrangement render the transition from some non-human species to Homo sapiens not at all improbable, the postulation of divine intervention at that particular point does not seem plausible.
I agree with him that theistic evolution is ad hoc. 
It would be a different matter, of course, if humans had immaterial minds, but there is very strong empirical evidence against that view, including such things as the effects of a blow to the head and brain damage of different sorts, the effects of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, the decline of mental capacities with aging, the relations between the mental development of children and the growth of neural circuitry, the inheritance of personality traits, the different correlations in the case of identical twins versus fraternal twins with regard to such traits as intelligence, the effects of psychotropic drugs, such as Prozac, and so on (Tooley, 2012, 42–4).
Honestly, it's hard to take that seriously. He acts as if dualists aren't used to fielding stock objections. Moreover, he ignores evidence to the contrary. There's the hard problem of consciousness. There's evidence for the ontological independence of the mind (e.g. veridical NDEs, OBEs, apparitions). 
Secondly, the story postulates not just a special creation, but also a special creation in which humans, initially, were not subject to suffering or death. Given, among other things, that that period was a very short one, one cannot offer positive historical evidence again the existence of such a short period that involved only two humans. But the belief is surely a remarkable one that can be viewed as likely only if it is supported by evidence. The evidence that can be offered, however, consists entirely of the creation story in Genesis, so that question is, how reliable is such evidence? To answer that question, one can see what other stories one finds in Genesis. One striking story is that of Noah—who apparently lived around 4500 years ago—according to which there was a worldwide flood that killed all animals on Earth, except for those that were on the ark. But there are excellent reasons for believing that such a story is very unlikely to be true, both in the light of the number of animal species that currently exist, and in the light of the evidence—attempts by authors such as Whitcomb and Morris in their book The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and its Scientific Implications (1966) to argue otherwise notwithstanding—that there has not been any world-wide flood in the past 5000 years.
i) To begin with, The Genesis Flood was published in 1961, not 1966. That hardly represents state-of-the art flood geology. At the very least, Tooley needs to engage more recent proponents, viz. Steve Austin, Kurt Wise, Andrew Snelling, Jonathan Sarfati.   
ii) He ignores exegetical arguments for a local flood, viz. Arthur Custance, Ronald Youngblood, and John Walton. And he ignores scientific models of a local flood, viz. Carol A. Hill ("The Noachian Flood: Universal or Local?").
It's easy for a modern reader to subconsciously project his sense of world geography onto the topographical descriptions in the ancient text. But the original audience didn't operate that frame of reference. There's an illicit substitution at work. 
In addition, those who view Genesis as a source of important truths do so because it is part of the Bible. So one can also ask about the reliability of the Bible when it testifies to remarkable events. In many cases, of course, there is no way of checking whether those remarkable events actually took place, but when there is, one finds that there is good reason to believe that the event in question did not take place. Thus, for example, there is the story of the sun’s standing still for about a day during Joshua’s battle at Jericho, the story of the slaughter of all of the Egyptian first-born children, and the story of the graves being opened and the dead walking around the city at the time of Jesus’s death (Matthew 27: 52–53). One would surely expect non-Biblical records of such events if they had really taken place, but there are none.
i) Whether we should expect extrabiblical records of Joshua's Long Day depends, in part, on how we interpret that event. It was a miracle of sunlight, but it may have been fairly localized. Keep in mind that day and night depend on where you live. Only people living on the part of the globe facing the sun during the hours in question would even be in a position to observe a miracle of sunlight. People facing away from the sun during the hours in question would be oblivious to the miracle of sunlight. 
Keep in mind, too, that many primitive societies are preliterate. What records would they leave? They don't keep records in the first place. And due to the ravages of time, ancient records are typically lost. 
ii) Why would we expect extrabiblical records of the plague of the firstborn? What papyri records of any kind have survived from Pharaonic times? Scripture doesn't identify the Pharaoh of the Oppression. We wouldn't know whose tomb it was even if we discovered it. And many Pharaonic tombs have never been excavated.
And even if they were, the records they contain are propagandistic, extolling the fabled exploits of the late Pharaoh. They would never record a humiliating national defeat. 
iii) Why would we expect extrabiblical records of OT saints raised on Good Friday? Only those who died within living memory would even be recognizable to remaining friends or family. Moreover, the Romans burned Jerusalem to the ground in 70 AD. Most records were obliterated in the conflagration. And oral history died with the victims of the massacre. 
Finally, the religious theodicy that we are considering also involves a number of very problematic moral claims. First, we are asked to believe that there is nothing morally problematic about a morally good deity making it the case that if one of the first two humans disobeys some command, all of the many billions of descendants of that human will, as a consequence, be subject to suffering and death to which they would not otherwise be exposed. Secondly, we are also asked to believe that a morally good deity is unable to forgive people their misdeeds unless he becomes incarnate in the form of his son and suffers a sacrificial death. Thirdly, while, according to this story, those who accept the sacrifice made on their behalf have all their tears wiped away and enjoy eternal happiness in the presence of God, those who do not accept the sacrifice fare considerably less well, and suffer eternal torment in hell. So we are being asked to believe that such eternal punishment is not morally problematic.
i) Once more, this goes to the presumption of what's reasonable. Those weren't "very problematic moral claims" to the Bible writers and their audience. So Tooley's objection is ethnocentric. It reflects a very modern, Western, secular perspective. But what makes that the yardstick? 
ii) Christian philosophers and apologists have, of course, defended these claims. It's not as if arguments are lacking. But why is the onus on the Christian? At the very least, a secular critic must shoulder his own burden of proof. 
iii) If secular ethics is unable to justify moral realism, his ethical objections are stillborn.

Was Jesus a Sabbath-breaker?

For ease of formatting, and to bypass the word-limit, I'm going to lift this out of the combox and address it in a separate post:

i.) I remain convinced by Scripture and conscience that lying is always sinful, and thus is always impermissible for Christians.
ii.) Scripture does not approve of lying.
iii.) Christ didn't lie, and Christians are called to imitate Him.
iv.) Christ never broke any of God's commands, and since He was "in every respect tempted as we are, yet without sin", it's not possible for Heb. 4:15 to be true if Christians will face situations where they are forced to disobey one of God's commands (a "lesser" command) in order to obey another (a "greater" command), or else Jesus would have been faced with such a situation too.

Multiple problems:

i) A biting irony of the "absolutist" position is that absolutists are forced to concoct hairsplitting distinctions between the permissibility of deception and the impermissibility of lying. They draw makeshift distinctions between lying and deception, or between verbal and nonverbal deception. They allow for military deception. They allow for half-truths, equivocations, &c. They allow for deceptive communication so long as that's not technically "lying." 

And this, of course, depends on their stimulative definition of "lying." The Bible doesn't define lying. It never draws those finespun distinctions. Absolutists impose that on the text. 

ii) As I pointed out before, which CR ignores, Scripture sometimes presents God as a deceiver (of unbelievers). We see this in both Testaments. If Jesus is divine, then he sometimes engages in divine deception.

iii) CR is rehashing some objections that I already addressed in response to another commenter. For instance:

a) If I were Jesus, I wouldn't box myself into that predicament in the first place. If I can predestine history, I won't put myself in a bind.

But since I'm not God or God Incarnate, I must play the hand I was dealt. I'm not the dealer. I didn't shuffle the deck.

b) Likewise, if I had the miraculous powers of Jesus, there'd always be alternatives to lying since I'd be able to supernaturally override the circumstances.
c) In large part, God can be trusted to keep his promises because God has the unilateral ability to ensure their realization. Nothing and no one has the power to prevent him from doing what he said he'd do.

In addition, God is never in a position where he must choose between protecting the innocent and telling the truth.

The same, however, can't be said for feeble creatures in a fallen world.

iv) My argument was never that there are situations where we must commit a lesser wrong to avoid a greater wrong.

v) The implication of CR's position is that it would be sinful for God Incarnate to disobey any of God's laws. Likewise, he puts lesser commands and greater commands in scare quotes, as if that distinction has no basis in fact.

By that logic, it would be sinful for God Incarnate to disregard any of the ceremonial laws, even though these are not moral laws, but symbolic illustrations of holiness and unholiness.

vi) By that logic, the new covenant entices Christians to commit sin inasmuch as the new covenant abrogates many of the Mosaic laws, viz. the Mosaic cultus (priesthood and sacrifice), purity codes. 

vii) To assert that it's always sinful to break a law of God begs the question. To assert that Christ never broke a law of God begs the question.

Moreover, it's demonstrable that Jesus sometimes violated the purity codes by fraternizing with ritually impure persons. 

viii) But let's focus on the Sabbath. In Jn 5:17-18, Jesus admits that he works on the Sabbath, in direct contravention to what the Mosaic law prohibits. He justifies that on the grounds that God works on the Sabbath–and by implication–that he is divine. A spine-tingling comparison for a Jewish audience. 

According to Jn 5:17-18, Jesus breaks the Sabbath all the time. Not just in exceptional circumstances, but in his divine capacity (e.g. ordinary providence). Jn 9 is another Johannine healing on the Sabbath. 

ix) In the synoptic Gospels (Mt 12: 1-14; Mk 2:23-28; 3:1-6; Lk 6:1-11; 13:10-17; 14:1-6), the argument isn't predicated on the necessary assumption that Jesus and his disciples actually are Sabbath-breakers. Rather, the argument is that even if they were Sabbath-breakers, their infraction would be justifiable under the circumstances. 

x) Jesus doesn't accuse the Pharisees of misinterpreting the Sabbath prohibition. He doesn't deny their allegation that he was working on the Sabbath or breaking the command.  Jesus pleads no contest. He grants the allegation for the sake of argument. Whether or not he was guilty as charged misses the point. 

Rather, he accuses them of failing to distinguish between lesser and greater obligations. Even if he was guilty as charged, his behavior was justified by a higher duty. 

Jesus doesn't correct their interpretation of the Sabbath command. Rather, he corrects their flat view of legal and moral obligations. All obligations aren't equally obligatory. For instance, ethical obligations outrank ritual obligations. 

xi) He deploys a fortiori arguments. For instance, he says David's soldiers broke the Levitical law by consuming the showbread, which was reserved for priests. Yet he says that was warranted under the circumstances.

By analogy, his disciples are at liberty to glean the fields on the Sabbath. Although gleaning the fields was permissible on most days, doing so on the Sabbath would conflict with the prohibition against Sabbath labor.

Keep in mind that the disciples weren't starving to death. They were simply hungry. But this wasn't a work of "necessity." They could forgo food for a day.

xii) Moreover, he cites Hos 6:6 to underscore the principle that higher obligations override lower obligations in case of conflict. 

xiii) Furthermore, he appeals to his divine authority as Lord of the Sabbath to suspend that command–in another hair-raising claim for a Jewish audience.

xiv) Likewise, he reasons, a fortiori, that if the temple (tabernacle) is greater than the Sabbath, then he is greater than the temple (tabernacle). If it was permissible for priests to work on the Sabbath, in violation of the general prohibition, it's permissible for him to work on the Sabbath–inasmuch as he is greater than the temple and the Sabbath alike. 

xv) In another a fortiori argument, he says that if it's permissible to aid livestock on the Sabbath, it is all the more permissible to aid the sick. In case of conflict, higher obligations supersede lower obligations. 

This is despite the fact that the sick could wait another day. It isn't necessary to heal them on the Sabbath. Many were sick for years. One more day wouldn't be a big deal. 

The livestock weren't in mortal danger. The patients weren't in mortal danger. But mercy takes precedence.

The Body Argument, the Problem of Evil, and Panentheism

"The Body Argument, the Problem of Evil, and Panentheism"

Involuntary human experimentation

A chilling example of secular medical ethics. Josef Mengele would be proud:
PT: One of the aspects of your philosophy that is most galling to some people is that you don't view human life as sacred. According to you, since a person in a vegetative coma is a being without self-awareness, he or she should be accorded fewer rights than a fully-aware chimpanzee. Needless to say, you've enraged a bunch of religious and disabled folk.
PS: But you really have to question human superiority What justifies the things we do to animals? What justifies keeping a person in a vegetative coma alive? There are two basic views that support cruelty to animals: either you accept the Aristotelian view that the universe has a purpose and the less rational are here to serve the more rational, or you believe the Judeo-Christian view that God has given us dominion over the world. But once you get away from those two worldviews, there just isn't a basis for drawing a sharp moral boundary between us and them.
PT: But you are still drawing a boundary. Why draw one at all? Aren't you still guilty of human arrogance in saying apes deserve human rights, when other animals don't? Who are we to decide?
PS: That's absolutely true, and what we really have is an infinite range of gradations of awareness. But if you are trying to shape policy, you need to draw lines somewhere.
PT: Let's take a specific case. Research on chimpanzees led to the hepatitis B vaccine, which has saved many human lives. Let's pretend it's the moment before that research is to begin. Would you stop it?
PS: I'm not comfortable with any invasive research on chimps. I would ask, Is there no other way? And I think there are other ways. I would say, What about getting the consent of relatives of people in vegetative states?
PT: That would cause a riot!
PS: Well, if you could really confidently determine that this person will never recover consciousness, it's a lot better to use them than a chimp. I agree, it doesn't go over well, and people throw up their hands in shock and horror. But I'd like them to explain why it's better to lock a fully-conscious, self-aware chimp in a seven-foot cage in solitary confinement than to experiment with someone lying unconscious in a hospital ward.