Saturday, July 25, 2015

Feser on "the Church."

I'll comment on some of this:

The Turretin-Fulford argument has the same problem.  At best it would show that certain specific writings (such as those associated with Moses and the apostles) are divinely inspired.  It would not tell us whether or not other books are scriptural.  And, crucially, it certainly would not show that scripture itself tells us which books are scriptural.

It's unclear what Feser is trying to say. Does he think Scripture doesn't contain self-referential statements about its contents and inspiration?

Now, sola scriptura tells us that scripture alone suffices to tell us what we need to know in matters of faith and morals.  Well, the question of whether a certain book is scriptural is itself certainly a matter of faith and morals.  

That's just a semantic ploy. 

But the Turretin-Fulford argument, in making use of historical evidence, criteria for evaluating such evidence, general logical principles, etc. -- evidence, criteria, and principles which cannot themselves be found in scripture -- in order to settle this matter, thereby violates sola scriptura in the very act of defending it.  For it uses extra-scriptural information and principles in order to settle a matter of faith and morals.  In other words, it does precisely what the Jesuit point (a) cited by Feyerabend says a defender of sola scriptura implicitly has to do.  So how exactly does the Turretin-Fulford argument constitute even a prima facie answer to point (a), or show that (a) is aimed at a “caricature”?

Feser fails to explain how those criteria cannot themselves be found in scripture. He merely asserts that to be the case. 

Notice that I am not denying that the specific writings the Turretin-Fulford argument makes reference to are divinely inspired.  I think they are divinely inspired.  But I think that in arguing for their divine inspiration, it is a mistake to start with scripture itself.  Rather, what comes first in the order of apologetics is an argument for the necessity of an infallible and authoritative institutional Church.  We know that such-and-such purportedly scriptural writings are in fact infallible and authoritative only if we first know that there is an infallible and authoritative institutional Church, and that this Church has herself judged those writings to be infallible and authoritative.  As St. Augustine wrote, “I would not believe the Gospel unless the authority of the Catholic Church moved me.”

i) How does one establish "necessity of an infallible and authoritative institutional Church" apart from the testimony of Scripture? He doesn't say.

ii) Moreover, that just pushes the same issue back a step. If you can't start with scripture, how can you start with "the Church"? How do we "know that there is an infallible and authoritative institutional Church"? 

Feser redux

Ed Feser attempted to mount a response to Andrew Fulford's rejoinder:

Texts are made up of linguistic symbols, and linguistic symbols are human artifacts.  That the shapes you see on your computer screen as you read this count as linguistic symbols at all is a result of the conventions of English usage.  That they convey the specific meaning they do in this blog post is a result of those conventions together with my intentions in writing the blog post.  Apart from those conventions and intentions, the shapes would be meaningless, mere patterns of light on a screen or (if you printed this post out) patterns of ink on paper.  The linguistic symbols that make up scripture are, of course, like that too.  They bear the meanings they do because of linguistic convention together with the intentions of the authors. 
They aren’t claiming that without an authoritative institutional Church, scripture would be as unintelligible as (say) Esperanto is to most people.

i) True, but counterproductive to Feser's larger point. The linguistic community in which the Bible was produced, and to whom the Bible was addressed, isn't the 21C Roman Magisterium. 

Feser is doing a bait-n-switch. He swamps out the original linguistic community, which was the actual frame of reference, and swamps in the Magisterium, which was not the frame of reference for the Biblical text.

ii) In addition, contemporary Catholic Bible scholars have the same hermeneutical toolkit as their Protestant counterparts. 

Now, does scripture raise exegetical issues which appeal to scripture by itself cannot settle?  The existence of myriad Protestant denominations and sects which agree on sola scriptura but nevertheless somehow disagree deeply on many matters of biblical interpretation is, I submit, pretty good evidence that it does.

Actually, no. That can be due to emotional or sociological commitments. 

To see what is wrong with this response, consider the theological controversies that have arisen over the centuries concerning the Trinity, the Incarnation, justification, transubstantiation, contraception, divorce and remarriage, Sunday observance, infant baptism, slavery, pacifism, the consistency of scripture with scientific claims, sola scriptura itself, and a host of other issues.  Now, either scripture alone can settle these controversies or it cannot.  If Fulford says that it cannot, then he will thereby make of sola scriptura a vacuous doctrine, since if it cannot answer such questions then it cannot tell us whether it is Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic Christians, Lutherans, Calvinists, Anglicans, Mennonites, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Unitarian Universalists, or some other group entirely who has got Christianity right. 
Presumably he would not say this, though.  Presumably he would say that scripture alone can settle such issues, and certainly most sola scriptura proponents have thought so, since they tend to regard the holding of certain specific positions on at least many of these issues as a requirement of Christian orthodoxy.  But in that case Fulford will be saying something false, since scripture alone manifestly cannot settle these issues, for opposite positions on all of them have been defended on scriptural grounds.

i) That's equivocal. By "settle," does he mean ascertain the right answer or does he mean secure consensus? Those are two very different principles. The Roman Magisterium fails to secure consensus even within its own communion.

ii) It's possible to raise questions that Scripture doesn't answer. That may simply mean the answers are not that important. 

iii) He bunches these together as though an evangelical must say that Scripture either settles all these theological controversies or none of them. But there's no reason to treat them all alike. 

iv) In addition, we've see how the church of Rome "settles" controversies. Take insider accounts of Vatican II by Hans Hans Küng and Aloys Grillmeier. It's the kind of horse-trading you see in the legislative process. You give each faction (modernist, traditionalist) enough of what it wants to get the votes and paper over the differences for a show of public solidarity. Church politics. 

Moreover, what even most Protestants regard as the orthodox view on some of these issues was hammered out on grounds that are philosophical, and not merely scriptural.  For instance, it is not merely scripture, but scripture together with considerations about the nature of substance, persons, etc. that leads to the doctrine of the Trinity.

That's an appeal to reason rather than religious authority. That's counterproductive to Feser's argument for the Roman Magisterium. 

Or consider disputes about how to reconcile scripture with the claims of science.  Should we read Genesis in a way that requires us to conclude that the universe is only a few thousand years old?  Or can it legitimately be read in a way consistent with the universe being billions of years old?  Does scripture teach that the earth does not move, so that it conflicts with a heliocentric view of the solar system?  Or should the relevant passages be read another way?  Should we regard Adam as having been made directly from the dust of the ground, or is there wiggle room here to regard Adam’s body as having been made from it indirectly, God having used as raw material a pre-human ancestor whose own ancestors derived remotely from the dust of the ground?  If Fulford were to say that scripture alone can settle these issues, he would be saying something manifestly false, since there is no passage of scripture that tells us which of the competing ways of reading the passages in question here is the correct one. 

You mean, the way the church fathers used to teach the world was only about 6000 years old? You mean how the papacy opposed Galileo? You mean, how anti-modernist popes opposed human evolution? 

I imagine he would not say that, though.  I imagine he would say instead that we have to look outside scripture itself in order to settle these matters.

But that's an appeal to science, not the Roman Magisterium. 

But if it is consistent with sola scriptura to say that the general reliability of scripture, and general principles for interpreting scripture -- matters which in turn affect everything scripture teaches -- can legitimately come from outside scripture, then sola scriptura once again seems vacuous. 

i) He hasn't shown how the general reliability of scripture or general principles for interpreting scripture comes from outside scripture.

ii) Moreover, appealing to natural revelation to supplement special revelation is very different from appealing to the Roman Magisterium. 

What is to the point is that there is, nevertheless, necessarily going to be a degree of indeterminacy in the meaning of any text, considered just by itself, even given knowledge of linguistic conventions, historical context, etc.  This is in the very nature of texts.
The point is that the text cannot by itself rule out all alternative interpretations.
Now, where scripture is concerned, both the Catholic and Protestant sides in the dispute over sola scriptura agree that it has a divine author, who is of course not dead.  But both sides also agree that this divine author works through human instruments.  What they disagree about is whether these human instruments are all dead.  The sola scriptura position is, in effect, that they are all dead.  For it holds that God reveals what we need to know for salvation via scripture alone, and the human authors of scripture are all dead.  The Catholic position, by contrast, is that some of the human instruments in question are dead, but some are not.  For it holds that God reveals what we need to know for salvation in part via scripture but also in part via an ongoing institutional Church which has divine guidance in interpreting scripture.
But precisely because these are literal, living persons, you can literally ask them for further clarification if need be.  You can’t literally ask a text or a computer anything. 
Rather, the Catholic position is that it can’t all be just texts in the first place.  Rather, we have to be able to get outside of texts, to persons who have the authority to tell us what the texts mean.

Problem is, the very purpose of a text is to serve as a surrogate for the living voice of the author. Because the author can't be in every place or every time, the function of the text is to take his place. To speak on his behalf. 

The very thing Feser faults a text for is the very reason it exists in the first place! The apostle writes 1 John because he can't be there in person. But the church is supposed to treat that epistle as if it was John himself. As if it was John in the flesh. And it's supposed to make sense without him offering a running commentary. 

Imagine the heretics whom the apostle condemns in 1 John borrowing a page from Feser: "Due to the indeterminacy of meaning, we can't rule out an interpretation that's consistent with Docetism! Unless John makes himself physically available, unless he presents himself to question in person, we can disregard his letter. His letter doesn't 'settle' anything, even though it was written with that express purpose. We must go outside the text of 1 John to interrogate the author." 

Resetting the clock

I'm reposting some comments I left at Justin Taylor's blog in response to an apostate (on the topic "Just How Sovereign Is God?":

steve hays says:
July 23, 2015 at 12:48 pm

Your objection is patently anthropomorphic. “If I were a moth, how would that feel?” But a moth doesn’t have your human viewpoint. It lacks human awareness.

steve hays says:
July 23, 2015 at 1:41 pm

i) I’ve read accounts of humans who were mauled by lions and bears, or attacked by sharks. They go into shock. It’s surprising how little they feel.

ii) Are you suggesting antelopes are better off not existing? Does that express their viewpoint or yours?

You presume to speak on their behalf, but where’s the evidence that they share your perspective?

Most animals seem content with their existence most of the time. Do you think the way they die cancels out the way the live?

If a human dies of cancer, does that negate the value of his life?

Are you suggesting a world without predators would be a better world? Better for whom? Not better for the predators.

steve hays says:
July 23, 2015 at 1:45 pm

If you sincerely wish to know how young-earth creationists explain that, why don’t you read them? For instance, Jonathan Sarfati has published a new book on The Genesis Account.

steve hays says:
July 23, 2015 at 2:08 pm

i) So your question was insincere. You don’t know how they specifically answer that specific question.

ii) What makes you think the Fall caused misery throughout the universe? That presumes life on other planets. And even if that’s the case, the fall of mankind doesn’t ipso facto cause misery for unfallen aliens lightyears away.

iii) A sinless world is a world where sinners like you and I don’t exist. Do you think that’s a better world? Better for whom? Do you regret the fact that you exist? Do you wish the nonexistence of all your fellow humans on this timeline?

Bart Ehrman Is Very Wrong About Gospel Authorship

Bart Ehrman was on the July 18 and July 25 editions of the Unbelievable? radio program with Tim McGrew. They were discussing the reliability of the gospels. During the first program, Ehrman cited Irenaeus as the earliest source to attribute the four gospels to the individuals traditionally thought to have written them. He also said that the gospels are anonymous, that they don't claim to have been written by eyewitnesses, and that the early sources who make authorship attributions for the gospels are Christians who therefore had a Christian bias that makes their attributions suspicious.

There are a lot of problems with Ehrman's claims. I want to provide several examples.

Temporal anomalies

Lots of folks like time-travel stories. They like time-travel paradoxes. Even if the scenario is implausible, they suspend disbelief if the story is enjoyable.

The classic time-travel paradox is the grandfather paradox. That's a genuine antinomy. An impossible state of affairs. Internally contradictory.

If a man travels back into the past and kills his granddad (before he begets his dad), then the future he came from never existed. He never existed in that future in the first place. The scenario negates a necessary precondition for him to exist at all. 

At least if there's only one past or future. If, on the other hand, you have an Everett universe, then these may represent forking paths. But I don't wish to pursue that line of thought. It's just a backdrop to discuss something else. 

In The Voyage Home, there's this exchange between Spock and  Kirk:

Spock: [in response to Kirk pawning his antique spectacles from The Wrath of Khan] Excuse me, Admiral. But weren't those a birthday gift from Dr. McCoy? 
Kirk: And they will be again, that's the beauty of it.

This, too, is paradox, but a different kind of paradox. A bootstrap paradox. Unlike the grandfather paradox, this temporal anomaly isn't internally contradictory. It doesn't negate a necessary condition for the scenario to be possible. 

Rather, it poses a different dilemma: a causal loop. A circular chain of cause and effect. The problem is, how does that get ever started?

Kirk having the glasses to sell in the past is the result of Bones giving him the glasses in the future, while Bones giving him the glasses in the future is the result of Kirk selling them in the past. It's a mutually dependent relation, where each is caused by the other and each causes the other. But that can't be. 

Yet unlike the grandfather paradox, this temporal anomaly doesn't seem to be contradictory. What is required is for something outside the causal loop to originate the causal loop as a whole. To originate the relation en bloc. 

That can't happen from within the causal loop itself. But can something independent of the loop, external to the loop, make that happen? 

Suppose the B-theory of time is true. Suppose God actualizes the entire timeline–past, present, and future–at once. In that case, history is a given totality–although we don't experience it all at once. We only experience the part of time we occupy.

On that model, it seems possible for the timeline to include causal loops. They can't be phased in incrementally, but if both the past and future ends of the relation, as well as intervening events, are instantiated at one stroke, then it seems to be metaphysically possible.

Mind you, if the Star Trek scenario wasn't fictional, if we could take it seriously, it would be unnerving. For it would mean they always do that. 

There's a sense in which a self-fulfilling prophecy is a causal loop. Where information about the future affects the past–and vice versa. Both rely on an agent that's outside the framework. Same thing with the predestination paradox. 

As a matter of fact, prophecy does affect the past. It has an influence on the choices and actions of people in the past who believe it. And that, in turn, impacts the future. Their choices and actions in response to prophecy contribute to the conditions of its eventuation.

If the world was a closed system, that wouldn't be possible, because knowledge of the future would have no independent source. Within the system, that can't happen. But since Biblical prophecy involves an open system, where God reveals the future to the prophet or seer, that's the point of origin.  Incidentally, this could be the case given either the A theory or the B theory of time. 

Why do I bring this up? Lots of people who like science fiction wish some temporal anomalies were feasible. That would be fun. And if a physicist proposed a realistic mechanism, they'd be more than happy to accept it.

When, however, it comes to divine prophecy, many will reject that out of hand, due to their antipathy towards God. Likewise, they ridicule mature creation, even though the metaphysics behind a temporal paradox are at least as exotic as mature creation.  

Friday, July 24, 2015

Broxanne Lesnar

Sports Illustrated

It was just 4 months ago that Broxanne Lesnar announced that he was a she. After her transition, Broxanne joined the Unified Woman's MMA. 

Cynics suggested this was a pretext after diverticulitis sidelined her career in the UFC. But Broxanne insisted that from the time she hit puberty, she fantasized about gazing at herself in the mirror in a tutu. 

Last night, Broxanne made her debut against Michelle "Karate Hottie" Waterson. In the first round, Broxanne suffered a wardrobe malfunction when her silicon falsies repeatedly slipped out of her bra and bounced around the octagon. Sometimes they bounced out of the octagon into the stands. Thankfully, Broxanne had extras.

Broxanne nearly lost the second round until her stilettos caused her to lose balance and fall on top of Waterson. By the time the forklift removed Broxanne, Waterson was flat as a possum on the LA freeway.

After the match, fans lined up to have Broxanne autograph falsies that bounced out of the octagon.

In other news, the National Enquirer leaked photos of Broxanne posing for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, with a platinum blond wig and bikini. Dana White hailed Broxanne as the Anna Nicole Smith of Ultimate Fighters.

Companies that donate to Planned Parenthood

Snowflake students

The NEA is raising a generation of snowflake students. They can only survive in a climate-controlled environment, with a politically correct thermostat. Microaggressions cause them to die of pneumonia. 

Now bullying can be a genuine problem. I don't deny that. Some students are mercilessly bullied by other students. Some boys are physically abused by other boys. Some girls are verbally abused by other girls. 

Every so often a bullied boy finally strikes back by returning to school with a rifle to even the score. And there are mitigating factors. 

Mind you, those aren't the cases that the education establishment cares about. Rather, it only cares about "protected classes." The social mascot du jour. 

It's striking to compare the current educational regime with the past. I have a relative, now retired, to began her teaching career in a small-town farming community. Students had a hazing ritual. When a new student, a boy, came to school, a local boy would pick a fight with him. The new student didn't have to win. He just had to show that he could take a punch and fight back. That earned the respect of his peers. 

It was a one-time rite of initiation. He wasn't bullied everyday or every week. To the contrary, the other male students accepted him so long as he passed the rite of initiation.

I knew a coworker, an immigrant, who attended a big inner city school. It had the same hazing ritual.

I expect that's fairly widespread. My point is not to evaluate that practice. I'm not commending that. Yet it's useful to contrast what today's generation takes for granted with what former generations took for granted.

I had an older relative who began his teaching career in the 50s. At that time you still had corporal punishment in the public schools. This was in junior high. I don't know if it extended to high school. And it wasn't the principal who meted out the punishment. Teachers were expected to do so.

Another relative of the same generation told me that in her day, if you got paddled at school, you got paddled at home. The two systems reinforced each other. 

She told me one more anecdote about a teacher she knew. I'm guessing this was during the first quarter of the 20C.

A new teacher began his first day of class. The male students were rowdy. The teacher was athletic. So he grabbed one student by the collar, lifted him out of the chair, with his feet dangling in the air, shook him like a rag doll, then dropped him back into the chair, where the chastened student slumped in his seat. Not surprisingly, things quieted down after that display.

However, that evening, when he glanced out the window, he saw a motorcade approaching his house. He assumed the worst. The boy's father had come, with his buddies, to rough up the teacher.

They exited their vehicles, climbed the porch, and knocked in the door.

When, with trepidation, he answered the door, they shook hands and invited him down to the bar. He was their kind of teacher. 

Now someone might say that was in the bad old days when society was more violent. But was it? As I've mentioned on more than one occasion, when I was a public school student, back in the 60-70s, we had an open campus–K-12. No security guards. No police on the premises. No student ID badges. No metal detectors. No random searches. No gunfights. No knifefights. Even fistfights were rare. No driveway shootings. And that's not just my anecdotal experience. For instance:

It’s no coincidence that, much like the number of fatherless children, the number of mass shootings has exploded since the 1960s. Throughout the entire 1960s, six mass shootings took place. That number doubled in 1970. Heck, 2012 alone saw more mass shootings than the sixties did.
When I was a kid, school was simultaneously far freer and far safer. What changed? 

Would you rather be on the wrong side of history or the wrong side of Christ?

Quick question: what do an Arminian theologian, a "progressive" OT scholar, and a "devout gay Christian" share in common? Answer: kenotic Christology:

i) This isn't new. Some professing Christians in Warfield's day who likewise denied the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture made the same move. There's a certain refreshing candor and consistency about "progressive Christians" who defend homosexuality by admitting that their view is contrary, not only to Paul, but to Jesus. Having lost the exegetical argument, they not only repudiate the authority of Scripture, but the authority of Christ. That's more honest than reinterpreting the Bible. But it also exposes their ultimate commitments. They will sacrifice anything and everything else, including the authority of Christ, to maintain what is more important to them. Shows you their core identity. They'd rather be on the wrong side of Christ than the wrong side of history. 

A lower doctrine of Scripture carries with it a lower doctrine of Christ. They begin by demoting Scripture and end by demoting Christ. 

ii) It is, of course, true, that Jesus qua man is not omniscient. Jesus qua man would be fallible, absent something to protect him from error. One dynamic that can protect a human from error is divine inspiration. The Holy Spirit can protect a human from error. 

However, Jesus has something even stronger than that. Jesus is divine in his own right. Although, considered in isolation, his humanity is fallible, his humanity doesn't exist in isolation. Rather, his humanity subsists in union with his divinity. If inspiration can protect from error, divinity is an even stronger principle. In the case of inspiration, a divine agent external to the human agent protects the human mind from error. But in the case of the divine Incarnation, divinity is integral to the (complex) person. 

iii) BTW, Rauser's appeal to Phil 2 is uninformed. As commentators like O'Brien, Fee, and Silva explain, the passage doesn't mean the Son divested himself of divine attributes. 

If, moreover, God could cease to be God, he'd be a contingent being. 

iv) The Incarnation admittedly has some mysterious aspects. That's not something you and I can directly experience, from the inside out. 

Last month I explored an analogy:

An actor knows more about the character than the character he plays or portrays. The character is a timebound agent. He only knows about events as they unfold. 

By contrast, the actor has read the script. He knows the future. 

But there's a paradoxical quality to acting. Even though he memorized his lines, even though he knows what questions will be asked, he must recite his lines as if this is the first time and only time he said it. He must act as if he thought about it just now. It hadn't entered his mind before then. He must feign surprise. Take a comparison:

16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true” (Jn 4:16-18).
Jesus affects ignorance of her marital state to draw her out, then reveals uncanny knowledge of her personal life, even though they never met before. He steers the conversation in the desired direction based on his omniscience. Yet that may sometimes involve concealing his omniscience. Here's another example:
5 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do (Jn 6:5-6). 

Is inerrancy an Enlightenment construct?

Critics of inerrancy often claim that inerrancy is an "Enlightenment" construct. Supposedly, Christians before the Enlightenment didn't espouse the inerrancy of Scripture.

I've never see critics who make this historical claim bother to document their claim. Rather, it seems to be a postmodernist trope. Inerrancy is associated with a modernist view of truth. Modernism is equated with the Enlightenment. That's the slack reasoning. 

It's striking to compare their claim with this recent book:

Matthias Henze (ed.)
A Companion to Biblical Interpretation in Early Judaism
Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012.
This is a very useful volume about Jewish interpretation of the Hebrew and Greek Bibles. The introductory chapter by James Kugel describes the origins of biblical interpretation in post-exilic Israel. Interestingly enough he points out that all biblical interpreters, despite their diversity, shared four basic tenets: (1) The Bible is a cryptic document that needs to be explained; (2) The Bible is a book of  instruction; (3) The Bible is perfectly consistent and free of error or contradiction; and (4) Every word of Scripture comes from God. 

Freedom to victimize?

I remember once pointing out in a debate with some Arminians that there was nothing that required God to allow someone to commit evil on another person, even under the auspices of the necessity of free will. God could always make a murderer’s bullet disappear mid-flight. He didn’t have to allow the killer to succeed.

I tried to find the conversation, but was unable to locate it given how frequently those subjects are talked about over here. But as I recall, the person I was debating with responded along the lines that if God stopped us every time there would be a victim to our sin, then we wouldn’t really be “free” because we’d never face the consequences of our evil, and we’d have to be free in order to have genuine love toward God.

Whether this summary of that argument is completely accurate or not, similar arguments have been put forth by other Arminians and non-Calvinists. That is, that somehow it is necessary for God to allow bad things to happen if He wants us to have freedom to choose Him. For instance, this blog post says:
On this proposal, God values free will--and the quality of the choices that flow from it (e.g., real love)--and thus tolerates the bad choices that can also result from it (i.e., sin and the suffering it causes).

He couldn't wipe out the latter without wiping out the former as well.

He thus tolerates evil for the sake of allowing good to be freely chosen.
For an even more “respectable” source, C.S. Lewis in The Case for Christianity wrote:
If a thing is free to be good it's also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.
Careful readers will see that this does not answer the problem I put forth. Suppose for the sake of argument that all of what Lewis and the other Arminians argue is true: God needs to allow the possibility of evil to exist in order for there to be “genuine” love, as defined by Arminians. This still does not mean that God is required to allow victims of sin to be victimized. Sin occurs the moment someone intends to engage in sin. This is why Christ said, “I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28, ESV). God does not need to actually allow the adultery to occur in order to permit men the option to be good or evil. If they intend evil, they have already made their choice.

This was all brought back to mind as last night I re-read the passage in Exodus 16, when God gave manna to His people. If you recall, God gave a command regarding manna: they were to only gather a single day’s use at a time, except for the sixth day (when they were to gather double the amount, since they would not be permitted to gather any manna on the Sabbath). Sure enough, people being who they are, we read: “On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none” (Exodus 16:27, ESV). And what was God’s response? “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws?’” (Exodus 16:28, ESV).

Now the “you” in the passage refers to those who went out to gather manna, not Moses (God was speaking to Moses as the representative of Israel). But note what we have here.

1) It is unlawful for the Hebrews to gather manna on the Sabbath.
2) God does not give any manna on the Sabbath.
3) Some people still went looking for manna.

Now, because God had not given any manna, it was impossible for them to gather any manna. Indeed, it says “they found none.” Yet:

4) God says they broke His commandments and laws.

The people did not need to gather any manna to break the command not to gather manna on the Sabbath. In fact, they did not even need to be able to gather the manna—it was literally impossible for them to gather manna!—yet they intended to do so, and thus were lawbreakers.

This stands as clear evidence that it is not necessary that there actually be victims to a sinful act in order for the sinner to have a) made the choice to sin, and b) to be justly labeled a lawbreaker. After all, none of God’s manna was “stolen” or kept from someone by these people collecting it early. They literally harmed no one, as it was impossible for them to harm others since God withheld the manna that day. Yet they intended evil, and that was sufficient for God to label them as lawbreakers.

Given this, the “free will defense” against the problem of evil is shown to be the hollow shell that it is. For even if we fully grant the premises that writers like Lewis have put forth, the free will defense fails to account for this obvious rejoinder. Even if a free choice is needed in order for one to be able to “genuinely” love God, when an evil person chooses to harm another, that choice does not need to be allowed to be enacted. The intention alone is sufficient to establish the free relationship, ensuring that we are not “robots” under that scenario. Adding a victim to the process does not help anything.

Because we can accept for the sake of argument that God needed to give free will in order for Him to have loving followers, but we see that does not require God to allow any man to be murdered or woman to be raped or child to be starved, then clearly this view is insufficient to resolve the problem of evil (and this doesn't even begin to touch why "natural evils" like famines and earthquakes would need to exist lest we have no genuine love toward God). Ultimately, the freedom to choose does not require the freedom to act on those choices. And we can see that even in our own daily lives: If you see a man raise a weapon to strike another person, you are justly allowed to intervene—even using lethal force, if required. We do not first have to allow the victim to be struck before we can intervene.

How Widely Was Matthean Authorship Accepted In Antiquity?

Below are some of Augustine's comments on how widely Matthew's authorship of the first gospel was accepted during the earliest generations of church history and the lack of any competing authorship claim. Much more could be said in support of Matthew's authorship, but Augustine makes some good points as far as he goes:

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Shedding dead skin

Arminian theologian Randal Rauser did a post entitled "Is American Religious Conservatism driving people away from the church?"

i) Why is this Canadian obsessed with American evangelicalism and American politics? Does Rauser think his native land is too unimportant to discuss? 

What about Canadian religious conservatives? What doesn't he talk about them?

The cultural wars in the US are paralleled in Canada. So why does he fixate on the US to the exclusion of his native land?

One explanation is that he's a coward. If he were to attack his fellow Canadian Christians, that would provoke a backlash, so he uses American evangelicalism as a stalking horse.

ii) I also notice that he's more charitable to atheists than members of the religious right. That shows you that his sympathies are closer to atheism than conservative evangelicalism. 

iii) He pounces on Sarah Palin, even though she's a marginal figure. Moreover, her baptism=waterboarding quip received scathing criticism from members of the religious right. So it's not as though that's representative.

And yet, one constantly hears rhetoric about shrinking government coupled with a pathological aversion to new taxes, as if that’s the way to “starve the beast” (thanks, Grover Norquist).

I oppose the default assumption that all our money belongs to the gov't, and it's just a question of how much money the gov't is willing to give us. That's the philosophy of a totalitarian state. All property belongs to the gov't. It's then a question of how much the gov't will share with the public. 

While every other developed nation in the world has socialized health care for its population, time and again I’ve heard American religious conservatives strongly oppose it.

Because the quality of healthcare deteriorates under socialized medicine.

Despite all this fear of big government, I hear not a whisper of concern among American religious conservatives about big military, despite the fact that by some estimates the military sucks up more than half of all government spending. 

i) Not from what I've read:

ii) American military power has been seriously degraded during the Obama administration. 

iii) More to the point, if you have the second best military in the world, that puts you at the mercy of the nation with the best military in the world. The country with the most powerful military is in a position to dictate to militarily weaker nations. Would you rather to be vulnerable Russia, China, Iran, &c? 

iv) I expect Canada benefited from being adjacent to a military superpower. During the Cold War, Russian didn't dare invade Canada. The US wouldn't tolerate a Soviet occupation force sitting on our border. 

And while American Christian conservatives rage against Obamacare, on the whole they are bizarrely silent on government surveillance of the civilian population.

Rauser offers no evidence for that claim. How does he distinguish Christian conservative opposition from political conservative opposition to government surveillance of the civilian population? Not only are libertarians critical of that, but several contributors to National Review are critical of that. How does Rauser know that's unrepresentative of how many conservative Christians view the issue? He routinely shoots from the hip.

And while we’re talking about corrupt banks, how about the fact that British bank HSBC laundered hundreds of millions of dollars for the Sinaloa drug cartel? Why don’t American evangelicals get angry about that? Why haven’t they even heard about it?

Why should American evangelicals be mad about the shenanigans of a British bank? It's it the duty of the British authorities to deal with that.

Consider the case of the approximately half a million Iraqi children who died in the mid-nineties as a result of the Clinton administration imposing strict sanctions to punish Sadam Hussein.

i) No, those were UN sanctions. 

ii) And in any event, he cites no evidence that American evangelicals supported the sanctions regime. 

Regardless, time and again I have found conservative Christians distressingly cavalier when it comes to government policies and military actions (e.g. drone strikes) that lead to the death of foreign civilians.

Every war has civilian casualties. Is Rauser a pacifist? If so, then he objects to combat casualties as well. 

When people think Christianity is about support for big military, opposition to socialized medicine and immigrants, and callous indifference to the poor and the environment, it’s no surprise they are leaving the church.

i) How many Latin American immigrants does Rauser have living in his home at any given time? I'm sure he demonstrates his superior charity by opening his doors to them. 

ii) How does he define "callous indifference to the poor"?

iii) Environmentalism is callous towards the Third-World poor. 

iv) If this causes folks like Rauser to leave the church, then that's a promising trend. The church is better off without them. Like shedding dead skin.

Anesthesiology and the soul

I was asked to comment on two posts by a secular anesthesiologist "disproving" the soul:

He's also written books on the subject. 

His post on OBEs fails because it disregards literature on veridical OBEs. 

Concerning the second post:

Memory is an absolutely essential property of the human soul, yet even though the soul is supposedly the vehicle of the conscious mind, is unaffected by things affecting the physical body, and is continually conscious, and controls the physical body to act and to speak. Yet this amnesia is observed daily, all over the world wherever midazolam is employed for both its conscious sedation and amnesic effects. It is the daily reality of myself, and all other physicians administering midazolam to the patients we treat. The only explanation for all these repeatedly observed facts is that the soul is not the repository of memories, but that the physical brain forms and retains all memories.

i) This is a problem with experts in one field who don't think they need to inform themselves about another field on which they presume to opine. He hasn't bothered to acquaint himself with the position he's attacking. That's an inaccurate description of interactionist dualism. 

If the soul is coupled with the brain, then the awareness of the soul is conditioned by the state of the brain.  So long is the soul is coupled with the brain, it is not independent of the brain with respect to consciousness. 

The soul is independent of the brain in the sense that it can exist and function apart from the brain. But so long as we're dealing with embodied agents, the brain is the conduit. 

ii) Physicalism and dualism are empirically equivalent in that regard. The evidence is consistent with either insofar as the anesthetized state is concerned. At best, a physicalist could argue that physicalism is the simpler explanation.

If, however, there's additional evidence that better fits with dualism than physicalism, then dualism has more explanatory power. This includes the hard problem of consciousness, psi, apparitional evidence, veridical NDEs, veridical OBEs, terminal lucidity, and John Lorber's hydrocephalic patients. 

iii) Another flaw in his reasoning is the inference that unless we can explain why a phenomenon isn't more prevalent, then the fact that it doesn't happen at one time or place cancels out the evidence that it happened at another time or place.

Of course, that's irrational. For instance, due to plate tectonics, we now know why earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are more frequent and severe in some parts of the world than other parts. But before we knew why that was the case, would it be reasonable to deny that earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur along the Ring of Fire? If they don't occur with the same frequency and intensity elsewhere, and we can't say why, should we therefore say they don't occur anywhere? They don't occur at all? Even if their nonoccurrence at one place is puzzling, that hardly cancels out the evidence of their occurrence elsewhere.

iv) I don't see that anesthesiology adds anything distinctive to our experience. How's that essentially different from periods of dreamless sleep? 

I think he trots out anesthesiology because that's scientific, so it makes it sound as if his objection to the soul is scientific. 

v) His claim that anesthetized patients have no recollection is odd considering reported cases of anesthesia awareness. 

vi) I think Scripture teaches dualism (e.g. the intermediate state), but Scripture likewise acknowledges that inebriation can impair judgment. That's interactionist dualism. By the same token, Bible writers were aware of dreamless sleep. 

“Equality” and Social Hierarchy in Calvin’s “Two Kingdoms”

Calvin’s Social Agenda:
Calvin’s two-kingdom theology, though affirming spiritual equality in the (spiritual) kingdom of God, does not support the “flattening” of social distinctions (that is, the reforming of social hierarchy into social egalitarianism) in the civil realm; nor does it have much room for what we today call “equal opportunity.” At the same time, it does call for what today would be a rather radical social agenda….

According to Calvin, the spiritual, inward kingdom of God does not “disturb civil order or honorary distinctions.” … For Calvin, consistent with others in the Christian tradition, the hierarchical social order is natural and “it is not without reason that he has been pleased to join us together in this way.”

“Servants must also be cognizant of their rank and station; and everyone must apply himself in the thing which he has been called. It certainly accords well with Christianity that the rich man should enjoy his wealth (provided, of course, that he not devour everything without attending to the needs of his neighbors), and that the poor man should endure his station patiently, and beseech God, not desiring more than is proper.”

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Lost opportunities

I'm reposting two comments I left on this post:

The commenter I replied to instantly retreated in response to my comments. 

steve hays says:
July 22, 2015 at 12:40 pm
i) It’s true that even if the baby were not a person, killing it could still be wrong. The example of the dog makes that point.

That said, Philmonomer’s argument turns on the assumption that personhood is a necessary presupposition of according the baby all the same protections as an adult. He doesn’t defend that assumption. Let’s consider some problems with that assumption:

Does personhood range along the same continuum as intelligence? Are there degrees of personhood, matching degrees of reason?

If so, does that mean a universal genius like Da Vinci is more of a person than Philmonomer? Is Da Vinci entitled to fuller protections than Philmonomer?

ii) What about an adult who begins to lose their mind due to dementia or brain cancer? It’s in the early stages. They haven’t lost their mind. But their cognitive faculties are now diminished. And they’ve become more forgetful. Does that makes them less of a person? If they were killed by a mugger or houseburglar, would that be less than murder?

iii) Does someone cease to be a person when they are anesthetized or put in a medical coma?

iv) Philmonomer seems to view the baby as a potential person. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that’s true. There’s more than one kind of potentiality.

For instance, dating and engagement are both behaviors which carry the potential for marriage. As a rule, there’s nothing wrong with not becoming engaged. However, there are situations in which breaking off an engagement is wrong. That can be very harmful. Even though engagement is merely a potential marriage, it can be emotionally destructive to break off an engagement without due cause, in a way that’s not the case if the couple was never engaged in the first place.

So we need to distinguish between at least two kinds of potentiality:

a) A hypothetical or counterfactual that never got started

b) The initiation of a trend or process that will eventuate unless it’s disrupted

These are not morally equivalent. Once something is underway, it can be wrong to halt it. Depends on what we’re talking about.

To take another illustration, suppose a young athlete is counting on a sports scholarship to pay for college. If he’s cheated out of that, he was wronged–even though at this stage it was just a potential outcome. Robbing people of future opportunities can sometimes be gravely wrong, even if those were just potential futures.

v) There are parents who grieve over a miscarriage. They grieve a lost future, both for themselves and their child.

Same thing with parents who grieve the death of a child who dies from leukemia or cystic fibrosis. They lament what will never happen.

There are different kinds of deprivations. There’s losing what you had, then there’s losing what might have been. A missed opportunity can be as great a deprivation as losing something you actually had.

Suppose your heart is set on wedding a particular woman, but she’s killed by a drunk driver. You lost a potential lifetime of happiness.

vi) Let’s go back to the personhood argument. Philmonomer doesn’t explain why he denies personhood to unborn babies. Perhaps his unspoken argument is that the brain produces the mind. Personhood is dependent on brain development. That presumes physicalism.

But suppose dualism is true. Suppose the mind is grounded in the soul. The soul uses the brain. The brain is like a receiver.

The soul has some innate character traits. Some innate tacit knowledge. In addition, the soul acquires knowledge through experience.

Its ability to learn or express itself is dependent on the condition of the receiver. It can do more with a more developed receiver. A damaged receiver will impair its ability to express itself.

Should we risk murdering a person based on a physicalist theory of mind? What if that’s mistaken?

vii) Philmonomer refers to “a woman’s right to her own bodily autonomy.” But in context, we’re not talking about women in general, but a mother in particular.A pregnant woman is a mother. It’s not like a relationship between two perfect strangers. Rather, family members have social obligations.

viii) Moreover, we have duties to perfect strangers. If a child falls into a river, do I not have an obligation to dive in and attempt to rescue the child, even if it’s not my own child, and I risk drowning in the process?

steve hays says:
July 22, 2015 at 1:24 pm
There’s also the question of how you ground women’s rights or abortion rights. If women are just animals, if women are simply the byproduct of naturalistic evolution, then what makes a women entitled to bodily autonomy?

How is a fleeting and fortuitous organization of matter a property-bearer of rights? According to naturalism, women come into existence and pass over of existence all the time–like all other temporary organisms. There’s a 100% turnover rate. Every human being is essentially replaceable and interchangeable in the cosmic junkyard.