Saturday, July 11, 2015

"Why I'm not a Baptist"

Scripturalism and knowledge

1. This post is a continuation of the debate over Scripturalism. It will focus on the definition of knowledge. It's my understanding that Scripturalists typically stake out the following position:
i) To count as knowledge, a belief must not only be true, but be infallibly true. 
ii) Apropos (i), beliefs derived from sensory perception don't count as knowledge, for even if a particular belief thus derived is true, it's possible (counterfactually) for that belief to be false. Even if you weren't mistaken in any particular case, you could be mistaken in any particular case.
That's because sensory perception is fallible. Misperception is possible. Likewise, beliefs derived from sensory perception are fallible. For instance, we might form a false or unjustified belief by observing an unrepresentative sample. 
iii) Conversely, the only objects of knowledge are Biblical propositions or propositions deducible from Biblical statements. 
2. Assuming that's an accurate description of Scripturalist epistemology, it presents the following difficulties:
i) Scripture doesn't formally define knowledge. It uses some Greek and Hebrew words for knowledge, but we need to distinguish between the meaning of words and the meaning of concepts. Take the following comparison:
Internalists about justification think that whether a belief is justified depends wholly on states in some sense internal to the subject. According to one common such sense of ‘internal’, only those features of a subject's experience which are directly or introspectively available count as ‘internal’—call this ‘access internalism’. According to another, only intrinsic states of the subject are ‘internal’—call this ‘state internalism’. 
Externalists about justification think that factors external to the subject can be relevant for justification; for example, process reliabilists think that justified beliefs are those which are formed by a cognitive process which tends to produce a high proportion of true beliefs relative to false ones. 
Propositional justification concerns whether a subject has sufficient reason to believe a given proposition; doxastic justification concerns whether a given belief is held appropriately. 
Part of what is problematic about lucky guesses is precisely that they are so lucky: such guesses are formed in a way such that it is unlikely that they should turn out true. According to a certain form of knowledge reliabilism, it is unreliability, not lack of justification, which prevents such beliefs from amounting to knowledge.  
Another move in a similar spirit to K-Reliabilism replaces the justification clause in the JTB [justified true belief] theory with a condition requiring a causal connection between the belief and the fact believed;
The Bible doesn't operate at that level of analysis. It doesn't draw those distinctions. It doesn't unpack the concept of knowledge in detail. Looking up the dictionary definition of words in a Greek or Hebrew lexicon doesn't give you concepts of knowledge.
So Scripturalism generates an internal dilemma: A Scripturalist is working with a model of knowledge that he can't derive from Scripture itself. 
ii) Even at the level of words, many Scripturalists can't read the Bible in the original languages. They read the Bible in translation. But in that event they don't know revealed propositions inasmuch as their beliefs are mediated by a fallible conduit. Their understanding of Scripture is based on their understanding of English, Spanish, Chinese (whatever their mother tongue). They aren't accessing Biblical propositions directly, but indirectly–via a translation in their mother tongue. Suppose your mother tongue is English, and you read the Bible in English. By Scripturalist criteria, that doesn't count as knowledge, since God didn't reveal his word in English. 
iii) Moreover, even if you can read the Bible in Greek and Hebrew, most of us don't learn Greek and Hebrew directly. Most of us didn't grow up in homes and communities where that was the native language. Rather, we use our mother tongue as a bridge in learning Greek and Hebrew. 
iv) Furthermore, even if Greek and Hebrew was your mother tongue, language acquisition is something you pick up by a fallible empirical process. Take feral children who never learn a human language because they didn't hear it spoken during their formative years. So it doesn't count as knowledge, by Scripturalist criteria.
In addition, our understanding of Biblical Greek and Hebrew is based on more than Biblical Greek and Hebrew. Rather, that's supplemented by other sources of Greek and Hebrew–before, during, or sometime after the Bible was written. So, once again, our understanding of Biblical Greek and Hebrew doesn't count as knowledge, by Scripturalist criteria. 
v) I'd add that from a mainstream Calvinist perspective, with its commitment to meticulous providence and special providence, our understanding of the world can properly inform and supplement our understanding of the Bible. It's only a problem on Scripturalist criteria. 
vi) Returning to (i), where does a Scripturalist get his concept of knowledge? Not from Scripture. 
Although Scripture doesn't formally define knowledge, it gives examples of knowledge. And if you deny that these constitute knowledge, that presents a problem for Scripturalism. For instance: 
16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen 2:16-17).
But if, according to Scripturalism, sensory perception is untrustworthy, if beliefs derived from sensory perception never count as knowledge, then Adam and Eve were unable to obey the prohibition. Adam and Eve couldn't know for a fact which fruit free was the forbidden tree, in contrast to the permissible fruit trees. 
But in that event, in what sense did they or even could they disobey the prohibition? If the identity of the forbidden tree wasn't an object of knowledge, given a downgraded view of sensory perception (a la Scripturalism), then Adam or Eve could accidentally consume the forbidden fruit. Their belief regarding which tree was the forbidden tree was a fallible belief, necessarily based in part on observation. Observing the location and appearance of the tree, which God pointed out to them (or Adam in particular).
To take another example:
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus (Jn 1:29-37).
Here we see an striking interplay between revelation and observation. God gives the Baptist a sign to single out the Messiah. This involves a revelatory element. God discloses to the Baptist the significance of this visible clue or sensory manifestation. However, it also requires an empirical element. Something the Baptist must see. 
In addition, the disciples follow Jesus based on the Baptist's witness. But that assumes facial recognition. They rely on their eyesight to tell who the Baptist is referring to or pointing to. 
But by Scripturalist criteria, the Baptist didn't know that Jesus was the Messiah, despite the sign which God gave him. For that depends on sensory perception of the sign. 
Let's take one more example:
5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me (1 Cor 15:5-8).
The post-Resurrection appearances of Christ are empirical phenomena. Tangible and audiovisual phenomena. Seeing Jesus, hearing Jesus, touching Jesus. 
i) But by Scripturalist criteria, that's fallible, and what's fallible falls short of knowledge. So the eyewitness testimony to the Resurrection, which Paul appeals to, is demoted by Scripturalism to an unreliable report. Testimonial evidence based on sensory perception can never rise to the level of knowledge. It's defeasible opinion, at best. 
Yet Scripturalists claim to take the Bible as their starting-point, in developing a theory of knowledge. But if you truly began with the Bible, how would you ever arrive at the conclusion that beliefs derived from sensory perception never count as knowledge?
Or suppose a Scripturalist weakens the original (infallibilist) position by conceding that there can be different kinds of knowledge. He may grudgingly admit the possibility of sense knowledge, but classify that as an infer kind of knowledge. If so, where does Scripture give that rating system for different kinds of knowledge. Where does it indicate that that's an infer kind of knowledge or inferior source of knowledge? Consider the aforesaid examples, which we could easily multiple. 
3. In addition, the infallibilist criterion not only demotes sensory perception, but memory. After all, human memory is fallible. Even when our recollection is correct, it's possible (counterfactually) that we misremembered. On that view, memory is just as untrustworthy as sensory perception.
But don't even Scripturalists rely on their memory of what Scripture teaches? Don't they rely on their recollection of Biblical propositions and logical deductions from Biblical statements? 
But if memory fails the infallibilist condition, if remembered beliefs never count as knowledge, then how can Scripturalists know anything at all? What's left? 
4. For that matter, if the possibility of drawing false inferences from sensory perception disqualifies sensory perception as a source of knowledge, then doesn't the possibility of drawing false inference from Scripture disqualify Scripture as a source of knowledge? If sensory perception is fallible, so is human reason. 
Scripturalism is self-refuting. It reduces to global skepticism. 

"A simple argument for credobaptism"

I'm going to comment on this post:

Among other things, Bnonn has some interesting things to say about Acts 2:38-39, which is a staple paedobaptist prooftext. However, I prefer to focus on his central argument, which he states thusly:

There are people who have wanted me to write a series on this issue. I’m afraid I am going to disappoint them; I believe the matter of who we should baptize is fundamentally a very simple one; far too many words have been wasted complicating it; thus I am going to focus quite relentlessly on the key question which decides the outcome of all the others. 
Here it is: 
Who is a member of the new covenant? 
This is what it all boils down to, because there is one overriding axiom with which all Christians—or all that I’ve spoken with and read on this matter—agree: 
The sign of a covenant should only be given to members of that covenant. 
If you disagree with this axiom there is little I can say to you; but if you agree with it, then there is little else we need to worry about. The question of what continuities and discontinuities exist between the various old covenants and the new one, between circumcision and baptism, and so on, are all very interesting, but completely beside the point. The question is as simple as determining the qualifications for membership in the new covenant, and giving the sign of that covenant—baptism—to only those people who qualify. 
Is that believers only? Or do infants qualify too? 
[Quotes] Jeremiah 31:31-34

Seems to me that there are two basic problems with his "simple" argument:

1. What kind of membership does baptism signify? He fails to register the following distinction:

i) membership in the new covenant

ii) membership in the new covenant community

His argument requires baptism to signify the (i) former kind of membership. But that, in turn, requires him to either exclude the (ii) second kind of membership from his definition, or show that (i) and (ii) are conterminous. So he needs to resolve that crucial equivocation. 

Even if he could do one of those two things, that goes beyond his original argument. That necessitates a subsidiary argument. 

2. Apropos (1), if baptism is a sign, then to whom or for whom is it a sign? Presumably, it's not a sign for God's benefit. God knows the status of the individual apart from the sign. 

So it's either a sign to/for the baptized Christian, and/or the religious community to which he belongs. It marks him out as a member of the religious community. One of their own. 

If so, that suggests baptism is a sign of membership in the covenant community (i.e. the church). 

3. Apropos (2), this is reinforced by the nature of the sign. Unlike circumcision, which is a permanent physical sign that's verifiable by visual inspection (if need be), baptism leaves no enduring trace evidence. The sign is the baptismal ceremony, and not the result of a ritual action (unlike circumcision). The only evidence would be the recollection of witnesses to the ceremony. And that, once again, singles out the communal nature of the sign. 

4. On the face of it, membership in the covenant community needn't necessarily be equivalent to membership in the covenant itself. Just in general, there are differing degrees and conditions of social affiliation, depending on the type of society or community under review. In principle, the conditions for membership in the covenant community might be looser than the conditions for membership in the covenant itself. Bnonn has a very strict criterion for new covenant membership: regeneration.

However, God made humans social creatures. It's generally families that attend church. At the very least, church attendance and family religion typically overlap. Although some family members may skip church, a person who attends church is usually related to one or more other people who attend the same church. Even in the case of widows or widowers, they used to attend that church with their spouse. Likewise, they used to take their kids to church, until their kids grew up and moved elsewhere. 

Now, I've said "attendance" rather than membership to avoid prejudicial terminology. But given the familial structure of core human relationships and human behavior, it seems artificial to insist that membership in the covenant community is restricted to membership in the covenant itself. And, in any case, if that's what Bnonn's position requires, then the onus is on him to supply a supporting argument.  

I don't think a paedobaptist has to prove that baptism is not a sign of membership in the covenant. Rather, unless Bnonn can prove that baptism is not a sign of membership in the covenant community (or else prove that membership in the covenant and the covenant community are coextensive), his argument fails.

5. In addition, isn't the relationship between the sign and the significate somewhat loose? On the one hand, some people possess what the sign signifies without possessing the sign; on the other hand, some people possess the sign without possessing what the sign signifies. So it's hard to see why one requires the other–not to mention that membership in the covenant (as Bnonn defines it) is, in any event, an unverifiable condition. 

6. A second basic problem with his argument is that it generates a dilemma. Presumably, Bnonn admits that some children below the age of reason already meet the condition of membership in the covenant. Some of them are elect/regenerate. That means whichever position you take carries tradeoffs:

i) On the one hand, paedobaptists will confer the sign on some individuals who aren't members of the covenant. 

ii) On the other hand, credobaptists will fail to confer the sign on some individuals who are members of the covenant.

Put another way, if you baptize every baby, regenerate and unregenerate (or elect and reprobate) alike, then this ensures that you confer the sign on the subset of babies who are, indeed, members of the covenant. Doing more than's necessary is a way of ensuring that you don't miss those who definitely qualify. 

Conversely, if you decline to baptize anyone under the age of reason, then you miss all those who do qualify. 

Now, it might be argued that that's a case of postponing baptism until they reach the age at which they can give a credible profession of faith.

However, in NT times, as well as most of church history, not to mention parts of the Third World today, where infant mortality is high, baptism delayed is tantamount to baptism denied. In many cases it's now or never.  

I'm not suggesting that's a catastrophic loss to the child. I don't think baptism is a prerequisite for salvation. I don't even think it confers special graces. I'm just considering the logic of Bnonn's position. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Gird up your loins!

Led by the nose

It's striking how many people let themselves be led by the nose. Politicians, academia, and the "news" media jerk their chain, attached to that nose ring. 

Now, I don't think the Confederate flag is a hill to die on. I have no use for Confederate kitsch. We need to defend the right of private citizens to exercise their First Amendment liberties. And it makes sense to allow the Confederate flag to fly at certain historical sites–although that's a back-burner issue.

But where will it end? Gen. Westmoreland was the top officer in the Vietnam War. That's a very controversial war. Should his coffin be removed from Arlington National Cemetery? The Iraq War was very controversial. And that was fought by a volunteer army. Should the coffins of Iraq War veterans be removed from Arlington National Cemetery? 

Among other things, the whole fuss over the Confederate flag is pretty insulting to blacks. These are people whose forebears survived the Middle Passage, survived slavery, survived the Civil War, survived the KKK, survived segregation, survived Bull Connor. Will they melt in a pool of warm jello at the sight of a Confederate flag? Were Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Tom Skinner, John M. Perkins (still alive), &c. hothouse flowers? 

The true body and blood of Christ

1. Historically, various denominations espouse some version of the real presence. Some denominations (Lutheranism, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy) are committed to it while others (Anglicanism) allow for it.  

Some theological traditions attempt to be more specific about how and what is. In Catholicism, Aquinas gave the classic formulation, which was codified at Trent. However, some 20C Catholic theologians (e.g. Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeeckx) proposed alternatives. 

Although traditional Catholics regard them as heretical, their alternative views on the eucharist were never officially censured (to my knowledge).  

In Lutheranism, Martin Chemnitz provided the classic formulation in his monograph on The Lord's Supper. For a more up-to-date summary, see  David P. Scaer's contribution to Understanding Four Views on the Lord's Supper (Counterpoints: Church Life).

You also have theologians who take a more eclectic, mediating position, viz. Myk Habets, Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance.

Conversely, there are Christians who affirm the real presence, but resist detailing the mechanics. They relegate that to mystery and miracle. 

Whether that's successful I'll address momentarily. 

In this post I'm not going to evaluate historical positions. I just mention them for background. 

2. Just as a matter of logical options, it seems to me that the real presence reduces to one of two different claims: 

i) The (consecrated0 communion elements are the body of Jesus

ii) The (consecrated) communion elements contain the body of Jesus

Put another way:

i) The (consecrated) communion elements are other than bread and wine

ii) The (consecrated) communion elements are more than bread and wine

According to (i), the communion elements cease to be bread and wine. According to (ii), the communion elements remain intact, but there is now something over and above the communion elements.

I think models of the real presence come down to variations on either of these two claims.

3. There are roughly two components to the real presence:

i) A dichotomy between appearance and reality

ii) The underlying reality

According to the real presence, the appearance of the bread and wine is illusory, in part or in whole. By "appearance," I don't merely mean visually, or what we can see with the naked eye. 

I mean in reference to the primary and secondary properties generally. The true body is empirically indetectable, whether by sight, taste, chemical analysis, &c. 

As such, the theory of the real presence requires God to create an illusion. In principle, there are different ways this could be produced. Take science fiction scenarios about telepathic aliens who make people imagine things that aren't there, or fail to perceive things that are there.

BTW, I'm not being facetious. I'm taking the implications of the real presence seriously. This is what an adherent is committed to. It has an illusory dimension. 

I think this component of the real presence is coherent. It's possible for God to do that. That's because this aspect of the real presence concerns perception rather than reality. The more challenging aspect of the real presence concerns the stipulated reality. Which brings me to:

4. In reference to the real presence, what is the "true body" of Jesus? What do the communion elements either become or contain? 

Since the real presence stands in contrast to symbolic interpretations, since proponents accentuate literality, I think this must have reference to the physical body of Jesus. A complete human body. 

This means that when a communicant consumes the wafer or sips the wine, he's ingesting the brain, teeth, eyes, ribs, liver, bladder, intestines, penis, hair, toenails, &c., of Jesus.

I'm not being sarcastic when I say that. That's what their theory requires of them. There's not much wiggle room. It boils down to two alternatives: either a "true body" or symbolism. Since proponents deny that Jesus is "spiritually" present, since they reject the symbolic interpretation, the "true body" must be the physical body of Jesus. A complete human body. What else could it be–given the demands of the theory?

I think some proponents make the real presence more palatable (pardon the pun) by studied vagueness. 

5. This, in turn, determines what must happen at communion. What the theory amounts to. There are at least two metaphysical components:

i) Miniaturization

How can a wafer be the body of Jesus, or contain the body of Jesus? If we take the claim seriously (it's a true body), then that suggests a process of miniaturization. After all, the dimensions of a wafer are far smaller than a human body. And the shape is completely different. A wafer is a small, flat, round object. 

How can the wafer be the body of Jesus, or contain his body, unless his body is miniaturized?

In a way, it's even more daunting to ask how a liquid (communion wine in the chalice) can be, or contain, the body of Jesus. Are bodies of Jesus, in miniature, in the wine–like complex molecules? 

I'm not making fun of the claim. I'm unpacking the claim. If it doesn't mean that, then in what respect is it the true body of Jesus?

I'm the moment I'm not discussing how that's possible. Rather, I'm discussing what is said to happen.

ii) Replication

If a priest distributes communion to 200 worshipers, doesn't that entail 200 bodies of Jesus? Each wafer is (or contains) the body of Jesus. 

Likewise, if one communicant after another sips the wine, is a body Jesus replicated anew each time the next communicant sips the wine? Are there an infinite number of true bodies swimming around inside the chalice? Might you inadvertently imbibe more than one? 

Or is the true body duplicated one at a time for each communicant? 

Once again, I'm not being flippant. The theory of the real presence simultaneously affirms something and denies something. What is the claim?

It seems as though the real presence entails the reincarnation of Christ. The repeated reincarnation of Christ. His body is multiplied every time the Eucharist is celebrated. If two communicants receive his body, then it can't be the numerically same body in each case, can it? Rather, it has to be copies. 

6. From what I've read, adherents of the real presence ground it in one of two events:

i) Made possible by virtue of the Incarnation

ii) Made possible by virtue of the Resurrection

According to (i), the human nature acquires the divine attribute of ubiquity via the hypostatic union.

That's subject to two objections:

a) Divine omniscience doesn't mean God has literal spatial extension. It doesn't mean he's diffused through space. That he exists in every part of space. Rather, it's a picturesque metaphor for divine omniscience and omnipotence. 

b) To say divine attributes are transferrable to the human nature is pantheistic. It erases the categorical distinction between the creature and the Creator. 

According to (ii), the glorified body of Christ is hyperdimensional. 

That's subject to three objections:

i) It rests on exegetically dubious inferences

ii) Adding spacial dimensions fails to solve the problem it posed for itself. The problem is not that his body has too few dimensions, but too many. It's a problem of scale. A 3D human body is too big for another human to swallow whole. To say the glorified body has even more dimensions aggravates rather than alleviates the problem.

iii) A hyperdimensional body isn't recognizably human. That's not what Scripture means by a human body. 

7. At this point, adherents retreat into pious appeals to mystery and miracle. And that appeal has a legitimate place in Christian theology. But it's not unqualified.

i) On a classic definition of miracle, God can produce naturally impossible results by circumventing nature. If, however, God is working through a natural medium, then that limits the divine field of action. If God uses a natural medium, then he can only do what's naturally possible. He can do what's naturally impossible by simply bypassing the natural medium. But so long as the natural medium is instrumental to the result, that imposes a restriction on what he can do with it. Nature is finite. It has in-built constraints. 

ii) According to the real presence, the communicant is receiving something essentially natural. The body of Jesus is a natural object. A physical organism. If it were supernatural, it wouldn't be a true body. 

So you can't invoke a miracle to make the real presence go through.

iii) In theory, you could invoke a miracle of replication (see above). But that wouldn't solve the problem of scale.

In theory, you could invoke a miracle of miniaturization. But that's problematic on several grounds:

a) Consuming tiny bodies of Jesus is cannibalistic. Adherents of the real presence deny that communion is cannibalism.

b) To miniaturize a human body, you must shrink everything down. Everything must be scaled up or down to match everything else, viz. the heart in relation to cells, &c. You'd have to miniaturize cells.  

But body systems designed to function at one scale can't naturally function at a very different scale. Consider the difference between insects and humans. Because insects are so much smaller, they have systems which work at their scale that couldn't work for a much larger organism, or vice versa. Take the circulatory system or oxygenation. The scale of an organism affects what is feasible, from an engineering standpoint. 

You end up with a makeshift explanation that isn't consistently natural or supernatural. 

The Rising of the Beast in America?

Fisking the chieftain of the atheist village

Secular ambition

Ambitious mathematicians and scientists are goal-oriented. They want to leave their mark. Solve a classic math problem. Found a new branch of mathematics. Make a great scientific discovery. Trigger a paradigm-shift. Dream up a new deep scientific theory.

More often then not, they fail. They die unfulfilled. 

The lucky or talented few succeed. But then comes the big letdown. Having reached the goal, what do they do with the rest of their life? They lose their sense of purpose. Become eccentric. Become self-appointed pundits. 

Whether you succeed or fail, secularism offers no real personal fulfillment. 

Rogue state

Three more examples of how the ruling class, in the Obama era, is spiraling out of control:

Thursday, July 09, 2015


As I recently noted ("What legitimates the state?"), gov't is ultimately an honor system. It only works if people agree to follow orders. If they stop taking orders from others, it breaks down.

This is why regicide is so destabilizing. Consider how many Roman emperors were assassinated. The first assassination is the hardest. After that it's easy. Once the Roman army crosses that line, once the Praetorian guard discovers that it can knock off the emperor with impunity, then all inhibition is lost. The assassin wasn't struck dead by a thunderbolt. 

Of course, promotion by assassination is a two-edged sword. He who ascends the throne by killing the incumbent must forever watch his own back. There will be a line of equally ambitious, equally ruthless men who are eager to emulate his example. 

By the same token, that's why mutiny is so destabilizing. That's why, historically, mutineers were severely punished. It exposes the arbitrary character of the honor system. As soon as a few soldiers or sailors feel free to disobey orders or overthrow their superior officers, that has a domino effect. 

Likewise, that's why the Soviet Empire imploded so fast. It had no popular legitimacy. Only fear kept the regime in power. 

An illegitimate regime cannot survive indefinitely. There comes a point when people refuse to follow orders. 

Cyber Pearl Harbor

i) A basic source of the problem is our government's refusal to profile Muslims. The alternative becomes dragnet surveillance.

I realize that top officials in the military, CIA, and NSA can't publicly challenge the political orthodoxy. That would be a career killer. But when someone like Michael Hayden retires (as he has), they no longer have that excuse. 

ii) But there's also the outrageous notion that the gov't should have access to everyone's computer files. It's like the NSA setting up an office in every postal dept. to read everyone's mail before the addressee gets to see it. As if they have a right to eavesdrop whenever they are curious. The police state mentality has become part of the NSA culture. 

iii) And it becomes a reductio ad absurdum. In the name of national security, they compromise the security of everyone's electronic communications. 

iv) In addition, this is from the gov't that can't protect its own files from Chinese hackers:

Is this worse than queer marriage?

According to Arminian theologian Randal Rauser:

Over the last couple days evangelical Christians (at least the ones I’ve been hearing) have expressed a lot of outrage over the US Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage. With that in mind, I thought I’d offer a short list of ten things that seem to me to be more disturbing than gay marriage. Here they are in no particular order:

Let's run through the list:

1. Presently there are between 21-36 million people enslaved around the world. 22% are sex slaves. (Source)

i) He doesn't bother to explain why that's more disturbing than homosexual marriage. He doesn't explain what his moral metric is for rating some things worse than homosexual marriage. 

Why couldn't that be just as bad? Why must it be worse

ii) The comparison is misleading. More disturbing in reference to what? Even if we think that's intrinsically worse, that doesn't make it more disturbing in terms of policy. 

American Christians have more influence over domestic events than foreign events. One reason to make domestic policy a priority is that there's more we can do about it. And we're more responsible for our own dependents. So what impacts our dependents take precedence. 

What does Rauser think American Christians should do about human trafficking around the world? Should the US invade those countries? Impose martial law?
2. We are currently in the six mass extinction of earth history, the greatest loss of biodiversity in tens of millions of years. And it’s human caused. (Source)

i) To begin with, that contention is hotly contested. Read some articles at Uncommon Descent.

ii) And even if that was a factual claim, what makes that more disturbing than homosexual marriage? What is Rauser's standard of comparison? Clearly not Biblical ethics. 

3. Over the next several decades, human-induced climate change will produce hundreds of millions of climate refugees. (Source)

i) His source is an economist, not a climatologist. 

ii)The evidence for global warming is disputed. Climatolgists cooked the books. 

What's even worse, they "lost" the original records. That means we can't go back and check their extrapolations against the records.

In addition, they've "adjusted" past records to insert a warning trend. 

ii) Even if we assume global warming is a real trend, climate change is a natural cyclical process. Consider the ice ages.

iii) Although global warming might be bad for some people in some parts of the world, it might be beneficial for others. Some farmers might welcome longer agricultural seasons. 

4. The total value of global military arms trading in 2011 was in excess of $43 billion. (Source)

Even if we think that's worse (based on what?), what can be done about it? Pass unenforcible international laws?

5. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean (consisting of human debris like plastics, chemicals, and other garbage) could be twice as large as the continental United States. (Source)

This says a lot about Rauser's moral priorities, which bear no relationship to Christian ethics. 

6. North Korea is presently facing a famine that could kill tens of thousands. (Source)

Even if that's worse (based on what?), how does that indict the priorities of American evangelicals? We have more influence on national policy than international events. Does he think the CIA should topple the N. Korean regime, like we used to do during the Cold War? Should we then install a puppet regime? 

7. Approximately 15,000 child slaves work in the Ivory Coast. (Source)

i) Even assuming that's worse, how is that relevant to the policy priorities of American evangelicals? Is Randal proposing neocolonialism? Should we annex the Irony Coast to crack down on human trafficking? 

Much of African is dysfunctional. Should we make Africa an American protectorate? 

ii) Consider the track-record of American national-building endeavors in Haiti, Iraq, and Afghanistan. 

8. Saudi Arabia has publicly beheaded 84 people so far in 2015. (Source)

Besides wringing his hands, what is Rauser's solution, if any? 

9. In their quest to privatize water supplies, corporate giant Nestlé argues that water is not a fundamental human right (Source)

Assuming that's accurate, how is that more disturbing that homosexual marriage? Rauser acts as if homosexual marriage is simply a private arrangement between two consenting adults.

But the bigger problem is how the state enforces that alleged right. It quashes freedom of religion, freedom of association, freedom of expression, parental rights, the consent of the governed, &c. It turns teachers into thugs who bully normal students. It becomes a pretext for creating a police state. 

10. While pigs are among the most intelligent non-human creatures on earth, millions of breeding pigs spend almost their entire lives in gestation crates which render them virtually immobilized. (Source)

i) What's his evidence that pigs are among the most intelligent animals?

ii) What makes that more disturbing than how God views homosexuality? 

More Reason To Reject The Argument That God Doesn't Heal Amputees

We've repeatedly addressed the objection that God doesn't heal amputees, such as here. The Bible includes such healing, and Craig Keener alone has come across dozens of such cases in post-Biblical sources.

Robert Smith gives us more reason to reject the objection that God supposedly doesn't heal amputees. He's discussing healings at Lourdes, but the principles he lays out are more widely applicable as well:

What legitimates the state?

When you think about it, gov't is a very counterintuitive institution. Indeed, it only works because most people don't give it much thought. Since most of us were born into the system, we're conditioned to take the status quo for granted. 

Like fiat money, gov't is ultimately an honor system. It works so long as enough people don't question the rules. 

Gov't only works because the many obey the few. Gov't works because most people agree to do what a few people tell them to do.

But that raises an obvious question: why? What gives one adult the right to order other adults to do something? Why should I do what you tell me to do just because you tell me to do it? Even if you have the brute power to coerce compliance, what gives you the moral authority to obligate compliance? 

There are different historical and theoretical justifications for legitimating the state:

I. Theological legitimation

i) Divine law

In the Mosaic theocracy, no one was above the law of God. Everybody, including the ruler, was answerable to the law. What legitimated the ruler was not so much how he became ruler, but whether he enforced the law of God. Moreover, the legitimacy of the ruler depended, in part, on the ruler's personal obedience. Everyone from the top down was accountable to the same standard. 

At most, this amounted to a Constitutional monarchy or oligarchy (i.e. tribal elders). 

But, ultimately the effectiveness of this system depended on divine enforcements. Credible threats of divine judgment in case of official disobedience or popular disobedience. 

ii) Divine rulers

In paganism, you sometimes had the pretense of divine rulers. Rulers who were demigods, incarnations of a god, or descendants of a god. This made the ruler a superior being. Greater than mere mortals. 

Although that made sense in principle, there were obvious practical difficulties. Those closest to the ruler, such as nannies and courtiers, could see firsthand that the ruler was all too human.

However, they played along with the ruse because they benefited from the system. It was not in their interest to blow the whistle on the ruler.

By the same token, this system required the ruler to be insulated from the masses Too much public exposure would give the lie to his divine pedigree. 

Another vulnerability is that divine affectations raise expectations. If you claim to be a deity, you should be able to rise to the occasion. That's what was so devastating about the ten plagues of Egypt. What kind of god can't ward of natural disasters? 

Likewise, a god who is defeated on the battlefield can't be much of a god. In that event, you were backing the wrong horse.

iii) Divine right of rulers

On this view, although the ruler is human, he is God's appointed vice regent. He is divinely authorized to speak and act on God's behalf. To oppose him is to oppose God. This was an underpinning for absolute monarchy. 

In addition, it was often allied with a state church or state relation. The church legitimated the state while the state legitimated the church. 

But it only works so long as the rulers don't render the theological presupposition implausible. 

When the papacy becomes too corrupt or manifestly errant, the honor system breaks down. That's a problem with pope Francis. Does he speak and act like someone who enjoys special divine guidance? Isn't his behavior is indistinguishable from someone who lacks divine guidance?

Either the pope is divinely guided or not. How can you tell which proposition is true? How would Pope Francis conduct himself any differently if he wasn't divinely guided? 

Likewise, when the French church, French monarchy, and French aristocracy became pervasively decadent, or when the Czar and the Russian Orthodox Church became pervasively decadent, the honor system broke down. 

II. Anthropological legitimation

i) Warrior rulers

You can have a system in which the best warrior becomes chieftain. He defeats a challenger is mortal combat. Of course, that gives him a tenuous grip on power. 

Similarly, a king who leads his armies into battle. He gains the respect of those who serve under him. 

But, of course, that's very precarious. It makes him an easy and very inviting target. Instead of having to defeat an entire army, you just pick off the king, and his army will scatter or surrender. 

ii) Elected rulers

Here the principle is: I will obey you because I granted you authority to act on my behalf, and that's revocable authority. You have authority over me because I ceded authority to you. And that's conditional. If you don't act in my interests, I will replace you with a different representative.

However, this begins to break down when you have judicial supremacy. What is there to legitimate the prerogative of judges who subvert the consent of the governed? Absent legitimation, why obey them? 

Of course, the executive branch has the power to compel compliance to judicial rulings. But that just pushes the question back a step: Why should soldiers and policemen obey  executive officials whose orders are illegitimate? If a judicial ruling is illegitimate, doesn't that delegitimate executive enforcement of said ruling?  

There's the Hobbisean view that anarchy is worse than tyranny. Certainly anarchy is a worse-case scenario. But tyranny can be a worse-case scenario as well, viz. Stalinism, Maoism, &c. 

If it comes down to force, why should the many defer to the few? The many can overpower the few. 

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

The pogrom is underway

A Warning from Canada: Same-Sex Marriage Erodes Fundamental Rights

I'm generally averse to making comparisons between the US and Canada. However, some Canadians, commenting on the recent SCOTUS ruling on SSM, can't resist making invidious comparisons. They tut-tut the idea that SSM poses any threat to civil liberties. I can only say that's not what I've seen. For instance:

Is Scripturalism unscriptural?

Scripturalism has an unscriptural epistemology. Ironic. Take this definition:
A consistent Christian worldview avers that the epistemological starting point is that the Bible…has a monopoly on truth…Since all knowledge must come through propositions (which are either true or false), since the senses in interacting with creation yield no propositions, knowledge cannot be conveyed by sensation. - See more at:

Let's compare this claim to…Scripture. One function of the celestial luminaries is to enable humans to keep track of time:

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years (Gen 1:14).

If, however, you deny the general reliability of the senses, then how can the celestial luminaries perform their divinely-assigned function? 

Likewise, you have the quarantine laws in the Mosaic code, where (to take one example) the priest is to perform periodic physical examinations on a patient with a skin condition, to see if it has cleared up.

13 The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 2 “When a person has on the skin of his body a swelling or an eruption or a spot, and it turns into a case of leprous disease on the skin of his body, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests, 3 and the priest shall examine the diseased area on the skin of his body. And if the hair in the diseased area has turned white and the disease appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is a case of leprous disease. When the priest has examined him, he shall pronounce him unclean. 4 But if the spot is white in the skin of his body and appears no deeper than the skin, and the hair in it has not turned white, the priest shall shut up the diseased person for seven days. 5 And the priest shall examine him on the seventh day, and if in his eyes the disease is checked and the disease has not spread in the skin, then the priest shall shut him up for another seven days. 6 And the priest shall examine him again on the seventh day, and if the diseased area has faded and the disease has not spread in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him clean; it is only an eruption. And he shall wash his clothes and be clean. 7 But if the eruption spreads in the skin, after he has shown himself to the priest for his cleansing, he shall appear again before the priest. 8 And the priest shall look, and if the eruption has spread in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean; it is a leprous disease (Lev 13:1-8).
If, however, you deny the reliability of the senses, then a priest can't trust his eyesight. 

Here's another example:

9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was (Mt 2:9).
The star was a sensible object that was divinely tasked to guide the Magi to the home of the Holy Family.
Scripture isn't the epistemological starting-point for Scripturalism. No one who took passages like Gen 1:14, Lev 13, or Mt 2:9 as their epistemological point of departure would conclude that knowledge can't be conveyed by sensory perception. No one who began with passages like this would deny the general reliability of the senses. 
Rather, Scripturalist epistemology originates in extrabiblical philosophical objections to sense knowledge. 
You must wonder why Scripturalists think we have five different senses in the first place. Why are eyes different than ears, why did God endow us with both, if sense knowledge is impossible? 
BTW, I don't think all knowledge derives from the senses. I don't subscribe to blank slate empiricism. Take Poincaré's withering critique of logicism. But my immediate point is the witness of Scripture to sense knowledge.