Saturday, August 01, 2015

Clark on 1 John

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 Jn 1:1-3).

I'm going to comment on Gordon Clark's interpretation of 1 Jn 1:1-3, in Language and Theology. But let's back up:

At any one time a person has impressions of red, smooth, sweet, and dozens of others. To perceive a thing, these “sensations” must be combined. Note that no one ever sees a dog or a tree. A dog is not just black; he is also soft, fuzzy, and perhaps has an odor. But before one perceives a dog, he must choose black, fuzzy, and odor, combine them, and only then has he the perception of his pet. Yet there is nothing in the single qualities that forces him to select these particular ones and discard the dozens of others he also has at the same time. Why does he not select the fuzzy, the sound B-flat, and the taste of Bacardi rum, all of which he senses at the same moment, and combine them into the perceived object? Is there anything in a person’s fifty or more sensations that compels the selection of these few rather than another few? 

That's reminiscent of William James's "one great blooming, buzzing confusion." But Clark's analysis suffers from a fundamental blunder: the observer doesn't need to combine different sensations. For these sensations are already combined in the sensible object. These are structured sensations, not random, disconnected sensations. 

But induction never arrives at universals. And induction is all that empiricism has. By induction a young ornithologist may observe a thousand black crows – not to repeat all the difficulties of seeing even one black crow – and on the basis of these thousand observations he is likely to assert “All crows are black.” Then the thousand and first crow is an albino. Induction never arrives at a universal. If so used, it is always a logical fallacy.

That objection suffers from two basic flaws:

i) Even if induction can't prove a universal, it can, by his own admission, disprove a universal negation. But that's an item of knowledge. 

ii) Clark overlooks the doctrine of creation. God created natural kinds. Therefore, a sample can be representative of the whole. For instance, all humans are of a kind. So you can reason from part to whole. 

As for hearing, one should note that no one can ever hear a piece of music or a line of poetry. Our opponents, who insist on sensation as the origin of knowledge, cannot well object to an instance taken from experience. Augustine pointed out that to “hear” music or poetry, one must at least “perceive” the rhythm. But there is no rhythm in a single sensation. Even beyond perception it is necessary to have memory before a line of poetry can be recognized as poetry. A single sound has no rhythm or meter. The first sounds of a line must be remembered until the last sound occurs; note also that the first sound no longer exists when the last sound sounds. Therefore no one ever senses music or poetry. This Augustinian remark should satisfy any empiricist; but it is not exegesis.

Clark is shadowboxing with empiricists like Locke and Hume, who think the human mind starts out as a blank slate. But disproving empiricism fails to disprove sense-knowledge, unless you assume the possibility of sense knowledge is equivalent to empiricism. But to say sensory perception is a source of knowledge does not entail that sensory perception is the only source of knowledge. Likewise, to say that sensory perception is a source of knowledge does not entail that the mind must start from scratch. The possibility of sense knowledge can make allowance for innate knowledge. Supplement innate knowledge. So Clark's objection erects a false dichotomy. 

Clearly the verb to see does not always, perhaps not even usually, refer to sensation.

Here Clark distinguishes between the literal meaning of sensory verbs and the figurative meaning of sensory verbs. That distinction is unobjectionable in principle. It's hardly a revelation to point out that words like "to see" can either denote physical visual perception or comprehension. Literal sense organs can be used as metaphors to denote understanding.  

It would, however, be heretical to suppose you can substitute a figurative meaning for a literal meaning whenever Scripture uses sensory verbs. That's the hermeneutic of Mary Baker Eddy. 

In Greek the first word of 1 John designates the Word of Life, who in verse 4 is identified as Jesus Christ. Since the Epistle and the Gospel have the same author, it is permissible to connect this Word of Life with the Word of John 1:1. And no one should object if we equate this Word with him whom Paul calls “the Power of God” and “the Wisdom of God.” This second person of the Trinity is the subject of John’s declaration. Can this eternal Wisdom be heard with the ears, seen with the eyes, and handled with the hands? Is the second person of the Trinity an object of sense? The word hearing comes first; seeing comes second.
But now 1 John. As in the Gospel of John 12:40, here, too, there is no reference to empirical sensations. The object, namely, the Word of Life, the Reason and Wisdom of God, is not a physical object and cannot be literally seen and handled. He does not have a color, nor any degree of hardness, wetness, or any quality of touch. Explicitly in 1 John the object is the truth or proposition, “God is light.” This proposition cannot be seen in any literal sense. Therefore, since words are arbitrary signs, whose meaning is fixed by ordinary language, the hundreds of Scriptural verbs to which empirical apologists refer do not support the role of sensation which presumably – though they are never clear on what this role is – those apologists desire to give it. 

i) To begin with, Clark's interpretation is hopelessly equivocal. The object in Jn 1 and 1 Jn 1 isn't the Son qua Son, but the Son qua Incarnate. The Son Incarnate is a sensible object. The Son Incarnation has empirical properties. Sure, you can't physically perceive his Deity, but that's not what John is referring to.

Take the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Batman. If I saw Batman, I saw Bruce Wayne–even though I failed to recognize his true identity behind the disguise. 

ii) John's first description denotes literal sight: "what we saw with our eyes." Not just a sensory verb, but the organs of sight. Likewise, "what our hands have handled" is hardly synonymous with intellection. 

iii) To suggest that John is referring to intellectual apprehension to the exclusion of sensory perception, as if Jesus merely appeared to the disciples in their minds, like a dream, or idea, is heretical.  1 Jn 1 alludes to incidents like the public miracles of Christ (Jn 1:14; cf. 2:11; 11:40ff.), as well as the Resurrection accounts in Jn 20-21.

Not the invisible God, but God made visible in the flesh. They saw Jesus. They could touch Jesus with their hands. 

iv) John's discussion combines sensory perception with intellectual perception. They understood what they saw. 

For Clark to suggest these descriptions are reducible to mental events is the hermeneutic of Valentinus, Basilides, and Mary Baker Eddy. That's not remotely Christian.  It's appalling that his antipathy to sense-knowledge betrayed him into such a heterodox interpretation. 

Republicans Should Try Harder To Persuade People On More Issues

Republicans are often told that they should say little or nothing about abortion and other social issues, that they should just focus on a narrow range of issues that are less controversial, etc. Ramesh Ponnuru discusses some evidence to the contrary.

Did God kill Jesus?

A dilemma for Scripturalism

In my experience, Scripturalist epistemology is infallibilist and internalist. I think both have philosophical antecedents in Descartes.

The danger lurking in this brand of epistemology is the specter of self-delusion. Recently, I had this exchange with a Scripturalist. He said: 

If this task can be so performed, how can one verify the reliability of these propositions?  The empiricists usually admit that hallucinations and dreams are unreliable. 

To which I replied:

When Scripturalists appeal to the Bible, how can they verify that they are reading the Bible rather than hallucinating or dreaming about a "Bible" that's not the real Bible?

Doesn't this pose an intractable dilemma for the Scripturalist? His epistemology depends on having intellectual access to the word of God embodied in Scripture.

But given his general skepticism, how can a Scripturalist be internally justified in his belief if he can't exclude the possibility that the "Bible" on which he relies might be a hallucination? And how can he rule that out, given his epistemology?

If he already had access to the Bible, that would be a benchmark. But he can't appeal directly to the Bible to prove that he's not self-deluded about his source of information, for that would be viciously circular. If he were self-deluded, if the "Bible" he relies on is a hallucination, rather than the real Bible, then that can't correct his delusion, for t hat's the very source of his delusion! 

What is race?

Our nation is transfixed by debates over race relations. But what is racial identity in the first place?

i) On one theory, there are no races; race is just an arbitrary social construct.

ii) Some theories view races as natural kinds. They define race biologically, in terms of ancestry or similar genetics.

Some theories define race geographically in terms of country of origin.

Some theories define race culturally, in terms of a people-group with a distinctive culture. 

But these are not clear-cut demarkers. They can overlap in complex ways.

iii) It might be more accurate to speak of racial characteristics rather than races. On the one hand, people-groups can have objective characteristics. 

On the other hand, the characteristics we select for and combine to identify and distinguish one "race" from another is a social construct. 

We might compare that to sports. Pro basketball players are taller than average. Pro football players and pro wrestlers are larger than average. 

How you group people depends on your selection-criteria. Although the defining characteristics may be objective, the selection-criteria are social conventions, based on what is deemed to be relevant for the purpose at hand. Different sports value different physical traits. 

Likewise, racial categories may pick out certain objective characteristics, but why that particular combination is chosen, rather than some other set of commonalities, is a social construct. 

The whole notion of "mixed race" presumes the notion of a pure race as the standard of comparison. But what some people consider a pure race is just the dominant racial status quo–after the dust settles. 

Is there such a thing as a pure race even in principle? To my knowledge there are roughly two or maybe three sources of racial differentiation:

i) Random mutation might be a possible source

ii) Interracial breeding creates a new variety

iii) Environmental adaptation

Consider (ii). Suppose the world was 99% Amerasian. Suppose that had been the case for 10 generations. Would that be mixed race? How could you tell? That would be the norm. 

If, on that scenario, an Amerasian married a member of the 1% (let's say, "Aryan"), that would be an interracial marriage. 

If you didn't already know that Amerasian kids were the result of biracial parentage, if you only had the result to judge by, how could you even tell that was "mixed race"? 

Consider (iii). That's relative to the country of origin. But how could any particular region furnish an absolute standard of comparison? If it's due to environmental adaptation, then it's relative to any given region. To privilege one regional adaptation as "pure" is arbitrarily selective. What makes that purer than any other regional adaptation? 

Is sola scriptura in scripture?

Opponents of sola scriptura seem to think that if it were true, Protestants ought to be able to point to a verse which spells out sola scriptura. But that's a very crude understanding of how the Bible teaches something. The Bible contains implicit as well as explicit teaching.  

For instance, even in the OT there was the fundamental dichotomy between true and false prophets. Those who spoke truly for God and those who spoke falsely for God. Well, that's an incipient sola scriptura principle. It just hadn't been written down at that stage. 

In Protestant theology, Scripture is to true prophecy as an infallible church is to false prophecy.

Evolutionary biogeography

A familiar challenge to flood geology is how the animals surmounted natural barriers to repopulate the post-diluvian planet. That's not a problem for local flood interpreters. 

If, however, this poses a problem for flood geology, it poses a similar problem for evolutionary biogeography. Let's take a concrete case: the coral snake. They belong to the Elapid family. Most species or subspecies inhabit the Old World (e.g. Asia), but we also have them in the New World (the SE and gulf coast).

But if they originated in the Old World, how did they get here? They didn't swim.  

1. One traditional explanation is vicariance, as Pangea broke up. 

i) However, I believe that would require Elapids to evolve prior to the breakup. Although Darwinians think snakes are ancient, they think venomous snakes are more recent. Constrictors are the most primitive snake. The Ur-snake.  

So does vicariance fit the evolutionary timeframe, according to evolutionary geology and biology? Can that be coordinated?

ii) But another complication is the relationship between the eastern coral snake and the scarlet king snake. Didn't the scarlet king snake have to evolve or adapt after the coral snake in order to mimic its markings? 

So either both originated in the Old World, or the coral snake originated in the Old World while the scarlet king snake is descended from a New World ancestor. That also complicates the evolutionary synchrony, does it not?

2. Another mechanism for biogeography is dispersal. Here's a definition: Either a population can slowly expand from the margins of its geographical range or a small number of individuals can disperse to a new location some distance from the current edge of the species range, or a combination of both of these processes can occur. 
Here's an exposition:
Various dispersal routes might have been followed in the biogeographic history of a species. 
• Corridors 
Two places are joined by a corridor if they are part of the same land mass: Georgia and Texas, for example. Animals can move easily along a corridor and any two place joined by a corridor will have a high degree of faunal similarity. 
• Filter bridges 
A filter bridge is a more selective connexion between two places, and only some kinds of animals will manage to pass over it. For instance, when the Bering Strait was above water, mammals moved from North America to Asia and vice versa, but no South American mammals moved to Asia and no Asian species moved to South America. The reason is presumably that the land bridges at Alaska and Panama were so far apart, so narrow, and so different in ecology that no species managed to disperse across them. 
• Sweepstakes 
Finally, sweepstakes routes are hazardous or accidental dispersal mechanisms by which animals move from place to place. The standard examples are island hopping and natural rafts. Many land vertebrates live in the Caribbean Islands, and (if their biogeography is correctly explained by dispersal) they might have moved from one island to other, perhaps being carried on a log or some other sort of raft.
Applied to the issue at hand, that would involve a horseshoe journey of many thousands of miles from a tropical and/or subtropical zone in the S. hemisphere of the Old World up to the Bearing land bridge, just south of the Arctic Circle, then all the way down to a tropical/sub-tropical zone of the New World. Raises lots of logistical issues:

i) Do snakes cross ecological zones? Aren't they adapted to a particular climate?

ii) Do snake populations migrate thousands of miles?

iii) Would there be enough food along the way?

iv) Apropos (i), is it just incidental that some snake species cluster in the tropics/subtropics while others cluster in the temperate zone? To take a comparison, why are there rattlesnakes in the SW and Eastern Washington, but not in Western Washington? Surely climate is the differential factor.

But if dispersion is a viable mechanism, and they are fairly indifferent to the climatic difference, why aren't there rattlesnakes in Western Washington? 

i) Surely the dispersion of rattlesnakes from the SW to Western Washington would be orders of magnitude easier than the dispersion of coral snakes from, say, India to the SE, a continent away, via a Bering land bridge. 

ii) Also, didn't the postulated Bering land bridge only exist during the last Ice Age, when sea levels were lower? But even if tropical snakes can survive in the temperate zone, how could they survive in the arctic zone? 

iii) Many exotic snake collectors living in the temperate zone. Every so often one of their snakes (native to the desert, tropics or subtropics) escapes. To my knowledge, these have not become established–unlike Florida! 

If, however, objections notwithstanding, dispersal is the mechanism which accounts to the presence of coral snakes in the Americas, that explanation is available to flood geologists as well as Darwinism. 

3. I suppose, if they got sufficiently desperate, Darwinians could postulate convergent evolution.

4. Perhaps a Darwinian could postulate that they got here on downed trees, or something like that. 

5. Or perhaps a Darwinian could postulate that they were introduced into the New World by ancient mariners. Maybe they brought coral snakes along to dip arrow points in the venom. Or maybe they worshipped venomous snakes and brought their "gods" along for the ride.

6. Or maybe the snakes were stowaways. Ships have rats. Where you have rats, that attracts snakes.

However, these explanations (4-6) are available to flood geologists.

7. I suppose one final explanation is that eastern coral snakes derive from seasnakes which reverted to land snakes. Given that contemporary young-earth creationists subscribe to microevolution and adaptation, that explanation is available to flood geologists as well as Darwinians. 

When was Hebrews written?

The book of Hebrews is, among other things, a witness to the historical Jesus. As such, dating the book early can suggest it has more value as a historical witness than dating it later. 

Mind you, I don't think that's intrinsically significant. A second generation Christian could live well past 70 AD. And, in any event, Hebrews is inspired. 

Nevertheless, in terms of Christian apologetics, it's worth considering the date–since we're not necessarily dealing with believers. 

Some scholars think the reference to Timothy in 13:23 means Paul was still alive, although their inference is unclear to me. 

The best argument for a pre-70 date is the author's silence on the destruction of the temple. If the book was written after 70 AD, surely he'd use the destruction of the temple to illustrate his point.

In objection it is said that his argument is structured around the tabernacle rather than the temple. However, that objection is circular:

i) His argument may be structured around the tabernacle in large part because the temple was still standing, so he couldn't use that to make his point. Had it been destroyed by then, it would make sense to use it.

ii) In addition, the tabernacle was inherently temporary, so that was a natural illustration.

There is, however, a neglected argument for the pre-70 date. Scholars typically think what occasioned the book was a church in crisis. Some think it was addressed to a house-church in Rome.

More generally, they think it was addressed to a Messianic congregation, or at least a church with significant Jewish-Christian representation. Members were tempted to commit apostasy by reverting to Judaism because Christians were facing persecution from the Roman authorities, and Judaism was a religio licta. They figured they could enjoy the political and religious advantages of Judaism without the disadvantages of Christianity.

If, however, Hebrews was written after 70 AD, it's hard to see how that would remain an attractive option. Some Roman authorities always viewed Jews as troublemakers. And surely the Jewish revolt hardened Roman attitudes towards the Jews. So it's unclear how reverting to Judaism would afford them special protection, considering the official and unofficial hostility that would be directed at Jews on the heels of the Jewish revolt. And that consideration is intensified in this congregation was located in the capital city of the Roman Empire. 

If, however, the temple had been destroyed, then there's a sense in which they couldn't go back. To be sure, the Babylonian exile might furnish a precedent, but that's an inauspicious precedent. 

The "Wars of Religion"

The so-called Wars of Religion (1618-48) in Central Europe are often the touchstone for arguments in favour of keeping religion out of politics because of religion’s alleged ability to render politics violent. Yet, these wars are better understood as a series of disputes between rival princes seeking greater autonomy from the Holy Roman Emperor.
For long periods, Catholic France and the Catholic Hapsburgs were vehement enemies. Popes sometimes withdrew support for the Catholic Hapsburgs despite the common Protestant threat. Lutheran princes never attacked Calvinist princes despite heaps of rivalry, while Catholic/Protestant alliances flourished by the dozen. At one point, Catholic Spain supported the French (Protestant) Huguenots against France while Cardinal Richelieu himself would sign a treaty with Lutheran Sweden in 1631.
So, even at the height of these wars, religion was a background inconvenience, not the sole predictor of who would fight whom. And even where religion plays a more decisive role, it is not uniquely violent. The secularism of the French Revolution and the Christian support for the crusades are equally bloodthirsty. Envy and greed necessitate whatever ideological excuse along the road to plunder.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Feser fizzles

Ed Feser attempted a final refutation of Andrew Fulford's defense of sola scripture. Feser's post is clogged by a repeated, lengthy comparison with empiricism. I'll try to cut the dead wood and address the key contentions:

First, why on earth should anyone take seriously the sola scriptura criterion in the first place?  Why should we affirm “scripture alone” as opposed to “Paul’s epistles alone” or “John 3:16 alone” or “the Gospels alone” or “scripture plus the Church Fathers alone” or “scripture plus the first seven ecumenical councils alone” or “scripture plus the councils plus the teachings of the first ten popes alone” or “scripture plus the letters of Ignatius alone” -- or any of a number of other possible ways of gerrymandering the various sources of authority that the Church had traditionally recognized prior to Luther?  And even if we did affirm “scripture alone,” why confine ourselves to the list of scriptural texts as Protestants would draw it up, rather than the canonical list as Catholics would draw it up?  Just as Humean empiricists have no non-question-begging way of explaining why we should confine ourselves to “relations of ideas” and “matters of fact,” sola scriptura advocates have no non-question begging way of explaining why we should confine ourselves to exactly the texts they say are “scriptural,” rather than to more texts or fewer texts or other texts entirely. 

One obvious problem with this objection is that boomerangs on Feser. What's his noncircular defense of the Roman Magisterium? Why should we affirm the pope alone rather than the pope and laity? Or the laity alone? 

Second, just as the Humean empiricist makes use of knowledge for which his principle cannot account (namely the truths of logic and metaphysics), so too does the sola scriptura advocate make use of knowledge for which his principle cannot account.  For example, scripture alone does not give you a list of exactly which books count as scripture. 

This illustrates the motto that he who frames the debate wins the debate. Feser asserts that a Protestant must make use of knowledge which his principle (sola scriptura) cannot account for. And he cites the canon as an example.

But suppose, for the sake of argument, that a Protestant can't generate a (complete) list of canonical books using Scripture alone. How does that violate his principle? Feser doesn't bother to explain. He just takes that as self-evident. How does the principle of sola scripture imply that you can't use any extrabiblical evidence to attest which books count as scripture? From what I can tell, Feser's argument is purely semantic. It's based on a verbal slogan, a two-word phrase "scripture only" or "scripture alone." Therefore, if you can't generate that list from scripture alone, the principle is self-refuting.

i) If that's his unspoken argument, then it's fallacious, because you can't infer the principle from a label. "Sola scriptura" is simply a label to designate a position or principle. But you can't extract the conceptual content of the position from a two-word verbal label.   

ii) Another one of his unspoken assumptions seems to be that you need revelation to identify revelation. There's the initial revelation itself. Then there's the additional revelation to identify or verify what counts as revelation. Say, there's a prophet who reveals the word of God. But over and above the prophet it is necessary to have yet another revelation to identify the speaker as a prophet. 

If that's what Feser has in the back of his mind, it generates an infinite regress. You need a second revelation to attest the first revelation, a third revelation to attest the second revelation, and so forth. You need a revelation to attest the revealer, going back ad infinitum. 

But surely that principle wreaks havoc with Feser's alternative. You need a revelation to attest the pope. And another revelation to confirm the first revelation attesting the pope. And so on and so forth.

iii) Why assume it requires revelation to identify or verify revelation? Why assume it must be the same kind of thing in both cases? For one thing, doesn't that confuse the order of being (what revelation is) with the order of knowing (how we identify or verify revelation)? Why must those two activities be subsumed under the same principle? 

iv) Let's consider some ways in which revelation might be attested:

a) A prophetic claimant performs a miracle. A miracle is a different category than a revelation. 

b) A prophetic claimant exhibits verifiable supernatural knowledge. Suppose he tells you something that happened to you in private. Something which no one else would naturally be privy to. Although his supernatural knowledge is revelatory, it doesn't require revelation on your part to confirm what he said. Natural knowledge will suffice. Your memory of what happened to you. 

c) Suppose a contemporary of the apostles testifies that John was a disciple of Jesus. That's testimonial evidence. Eyewitness testimony. 

These are ways of attesting revelation that are not, themselves, revelatory. Do they violate sola scriptura? If so, how so?

Polycarp As A Witness To New Testament Authorship

The idea that the gospels initially circulated anonymously is popular in skeptical circles, as illustrated by the recent exchange between Bart Ehrman and Tim McGrew. However, it's an idea that's heavily contradicted by the evidence. Even moderates and liberals have been voicing doubts about it. As I documented in an earlier post, non-Christian, heretical, and Christian sources were naming the gospel authors or describing them with terms like "apostle" and "disciple" (in the highest sense) before Irenaeus commented on the subject in Against Heresies. Those sources go back as early as the first century.

What I want to do in this post is use Polycarp as an example of somebody who probably named the gospel authors (and other New Testament authors) and thereby influenced later authorship attributions, even though he doesn't name the gospel authors in any of his extant material. In other words, we have good reason to think the authorship of the gospels and other New Testament documents was widely discussed prior to Irenaeus, even among sources who don't name or describe the authors in our extant literature. Polycarp is an example.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

First World v. Third World

The zebra courage award


On the heels of the Arthur Ashe courage award, the ZUF (Zebra United Front) made Walter Palmer this year's recipient of its annual Zebra courage award. ZooNews caught up with a spokeszebra for ZUF, to conduct a brief interview:

ZooNews: Why did you award Palmer?

ZUF: Because the only good lion is a dead lion. Ask any zebra. The zebras are for the zebras. 

ZooNews: PETA says Palmer should be extradited, charged, and hanged. 

ZUF: That's so very human. PETA doesn't speak for zebras, that's for sure. No zebras were consulted before PETA issued that partisan statement. 

ZooNews: Randal Rauser joined in the condemnation of Palmer.

ZUF: That's just one more reason no self-respecting zebra would ever be an Arminian. Rauser is such a bigoted speciesist. How typical that he'd side with the lion. Humans love a glamourpuss.  

ZooNews: Some groups condemn the shooting because Cecil had a collar. 

ZUF: That just illustrates how paternalistic you humans are. Humans don't respect wild animals. They treat lions like pet kitty cats. Putting a collar on it makes it special

ZooNews: Late night talkshow host Jimmy Kimmel delivered a tearful eulogy for Cecil. 

ZUF: Unlike zebras, Kimmel has never met a wild lion up close and personal. He should be put in a cage with a lion overnight to get acquainted. These bleeding-heart humans have never been on the receiving end of a lion.

Know-nothing nature lovers

I used walk along a paved trail where I was living at the time. Lots of folks walked their dogs there, too. As temperatures rose, some of them tried to hydrate their dogs.

Depending on how far I walked, there are four drinking fountains along the way. The one at the far end actually had a ground-level drinking fountain for dogs. But the others did not. 

Some dog owners bring a little water bowl along. Some fill a cap with water. Some let the dog drink directly from their water bottle. Great idea having dog germs on the water bottle you drink from.

One time I saw the owner of a toy dog lift the animal so that it could drink from the (human) water fountain. Get dog germs on that, while you're at it.

Now, why do I mention this? Because I left something out. The trail was right alongside a river. That's why it's popular. It's scenic.

It doesn't even occur to these dog owners that on a hot day, the logical way to hydrate your dog is to walk it down to the river–just a few yards a way. You know, the way people water their horse in Westerns? Or nature shows where wild animals frequent the local watering hole. 

Not only could the dog drink, but on a hot day it could cool off in the river. Jump in. Get wet all over.

But somehow, these dog owners can't make the connection between a river and a thirsty dog. How do they think animals hydrate in the wild? Do they think wild animals drink tap water?

No, wild animals drink from rivers, lakes, ponds–even mud puddles. 

I'm sure most of these dutiful dog-owners pride themselves on being animal lovers and environmentalists, yet they don't know the first thing about nature or animals. Even when nature is right under their nose, they can't make the connection.

I suspect their problem is that when the look at their dear pet dog, they don't see a canine–they see a furry human. And since they (the dog-owner) wouldn't drink river water, they subconsciously imagine that's unsanitary for a dog.

Of course, dogs have a tougher digestive system than humans. For that matter, our forebears had a tougher digestive system than we do. 

Snack food

Years ago I saw a special on Darwin, Australia. When settlers first moved into the area, it was infested with crocodiles. Saltwater crocodiles–along with the Nile crocodile–are the most dangerous crocodilian species. That made Darwin a hazardous place for humans to inhabit.

But back then, settlers did what settlers normally do: eliminate the major natural predators that pose a threat to man and livestock. They decimated the crocodile population, which made Darwin a much safer place to live. 

But that was then and this is now. Thanks to the environmentalists, Darwin has reverted to its crocodile infested state of nature. In the meantime, the human population has greeted expanded from when the area was originally settled. And the situation is aggravated by period flooding, which brings crocodiles directly into populated areas.

How do the local authorities respond? "Be careful!" 

No doubt that's good advice, but it takes the status quo for granted. It treats the massive crocodile population as a given. The issue, then, is not about crocodile control, but human control. Human behavior management. 

Not surprisingly, there are Darwin residents who don't think the lives of crocodiles rate higher than human lives, but they complain in vain. This is an example of how a culture elite imposes its views on everyone else to the detriment of everyone else. 

Set theory and omniscience

Grim's essay, in particular, reads like a veritable tour de force. He marshals a battery of arguments, appealing to the divine liar paradox, the paradox of the knower, Cantor's power set theorem, and essential indexicals to argue that it is impossible for there to be a known collection of literally all truths.

i) But aren't there tensions in Cantorian set theory? Even set theoretical paradoxes? So I don't see that one can safely absolutize Cantorian set theory as the standard of comparison. Any appeal will have to be selective, given the paradoxes.

ii) What about competing versions of set theory:

There are a number of different versions of set theory, each with its own rules and axioms. In order of increasingconsistency strength, several versions of set theory include Peano arithmetic (ordinary algebra), second-order arithmetic (analysis), Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory, Mahlo, weakly compact, hyper-Mahlo, ineffable, measurable, Ramsey, supercompact, huge, and Inline1.gif-huge set theory.

Does Grimm's set-theoretical objection to divine omniscience hold for all versions of set theory, or just for Cantor's?

iii) Likewise, given set-theoretical paradoxes, musn't Grimm privilege one side of the paradox to the detriment of the other? If so, on what basis? He can't apply set theory as a whole in objection to omniscience, can he? 

iv) Apropos (iii), isn't there a prima facie tension between the Cartesian product (which has no upper maxima) and the absolute infinite (which does)? 

v) Apropos (iv), doesn't modern set theory distinguish between sets and proper classes? The later is not a set (or universal set), as I understand it. For instance:

[1] On the iterative conception, the set-theoretic universe is stratified into a (well-ordered) sequence of "levels." Sets at lower levels are logically prior to sets at higher levels, and sets at higher levels depend on those sets from lower levels which serve as their members. Although the historical origins of this conception are somewhat obscure—Potter provides a nice discussion of the relevant issues in sections 3.2 and 3.9—the iterative conception has now become the standard picture for working set-theorists. Among other things, it provides a well-motivated way of avoiding the classical set-theoretic paradoxes. Since collections like "the class of all sets" or "the class of all ordinals" include sets from all levels of the hierarchy, they don't themselves form sets at any level of the hierarchy; on the iterative conception, therefore, they don't form sets at all.

vi) Most importantly, doesn't his objection crucially depend on treating truths as relevantly analogous to numbers? But since truths and numbers are disanalogous in some respects, how does he isolate the relevant commonality?

For instance, mathematical relations are necessary truths, but necessary truths are just a subset of all truths. What about contingent truths? 

Why assume that truths should be classified as mathematical sets in the first place? Isn't a numerical set a very specialized concept? Take Cantor's diagonal proof. Can you really extend that type of reasoning to a set of truths? Or is that vitiated by an equivocation, where he's using "set" in a rigorous technical sense, then applying that to a "set of truths," where it has a looser, more popular meaning? 

Many truths have a richer conceptual content than numbers. Are they really comparable? 

On the philosophical side, this section is where Potter pays the most sustained attention to the notion of dependence which underlies the iterative conception of sets. The problems with this notion are really quite severe. Although mathematicians have a well-used stock of metaphors—temporal metaphors, modal metaphors, etc.—for explaining this notion, it's not at all clear that we can cash these metaphors out into (reasonably) respectable metaphysics.

Just one of several things that should caution us against using set theory as a Procrustean bed to measure divine omniscience.

Signs and seasons

I will comment on this post:

Today, I came across this article on  Is Scripturalism Unscriptural?  This is a good example of a typical first reaction to scripturalism and to the study of philosophy in general. 

Ah, yes, a "first reaction." Couldn't be that I've been studying scripturalism and philosophy in general for probably longer than Luke Miner has been alive.

One line of argument says that knowledge consists in sensation or perceiving the facts.  One of the challenges that this faces is in extracting propositions from sensation.  How can a mass of sensations:  reds, greens, softs, hards, sweets, sours, highs, and lows, be turned into propositions? 

Let's take some examples:

i) I see what appears to be a red rose. I conclude that it's a colored object. After all, every red object is a colored object. 

Incidentally, this inference would be valid even if I misperceived the true color of the rose–assuming it has a true color.

ii) On my daily walk I stroll past an ER. Sometimes when I'm walking I hear a siren approaching. I conclude that it might well be an ambulance taking a patient to the ER.

iii) On my daily walk, for 400 days straight, I see flocks of crows. All of them are black. On day 401, I see an albino crow. I conclude that not all crows are black. It only takes one counterexample to disprove a universal negative.

If this task can be so performed, how can one verify the reliability of these propositions?  The empiricists usually admit that hallucinations and dreams are unreliable. 

When Scripturalists appeal to the Bible, how can they verify that they are reading the Bible rather than hallucinating or dreaming about a "Bible" that's not the real Bible?

BTW, Miner's appeal to dreams and hallucinations is an appeal to inductive experience. How can a Scripturalist get away with that?

Of course, this assumes the point at issue.  It does nothing to explain how disjointed sensations can act as signs for seasons.  It just assumes they do.

Notice that Miner point-blank refuses to believe what Gen 1:14 says about the function God assigned to the sun, moon, and stars–because it conflicts with his armchair epistemology. How is his attitude any different than an infidel who rejects what Scripture says about homosexuality? 

No, I didn't just "assume" it does. I got that from the testimony of Scripture. Scripturalists like Minor pay lip-service to Scripture, but they don't really take Scripture as their epistemological starting-point. 

Secondly, it is hard to see why God making the stars for signs implies that man’s senses are reliable.  Could not God have made signs and also cursed man at some point so that he sometimes misinterprets them?  Indeed this is closer to the biblical teaching.  Maybe this is why the weasel word “general” is used in the quotation above.

i) How is that hard to see? For instance, the Mosaic law mandates a number of festivals (e.g. Sabbath, Passover, Pentecost, Yom Kippur, Feast of Tabernacles) that must be observed on a particular date, for a particular duration. And the celestial luminaries were given in Gen 1 in part to enable man to tell the time. How does Miner think you can be a Sabbath-keeper if you can't tell when a day begins or ends–based on sunrise and sunset? How does Miner think ancient Jews were supposed to obey these injunctions without using the sun, moon, or stars to keep track of time? 

ii) Or take the distinction between clean and unclean animals. The Mosaic law not only distinguishes them, but contains empirical descriptions which enable the observer to identify them and differentiate them. But if, according to Miner, eyesight can't be trusted, how were ancient Jews supposed to obey those injunctions? 

iii) While we're on the subject, there's an interplay between general and special revelation in Gen 1. Gen 1 contains a taxonomy. However, it doesn't contain definitions of the animals. Or illustrations. It therefore relies on extrabiblical information to connect the textual designators with corresponding categories. It doesn't define the word "bird" or "flying" or "sky." It doesn't show a picture of birds. So that needs to be supplemented by extrabiblical information. Acquaintance with what names were used to designate what animals. And that's inductive.   

iv) Although Scripturalists claim to be Calvinists, they don't operate with a Reformed doctrine of creation and providence. The reason induction can be a source of knowledge is that God created natural kinds. So a sample can be representative. 

Moreover, don’t the Scriptures provide many examples where people were deceived by their perceptions?
But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. (Matt 14:26)

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” (John 20:15)

i) That's confused. The observers weren't deceived by their senses. Their senses didn't malfunction. The disciples didn't hallucinate Jesus walking on water. Mary Magdalen didn't mistake a fig tree for a man.

Rather, reason deceived them. They misinterpreted what they saw. An intellectual error, not a sensory error.

But where does that leave Miner's position? It is his position that something is an unreliable source of knowledge if it ever deceives you? But by that yardstick, he can't trust his own mind or memory. Consider how much of his post depends on his ability to recall what he's read. 

Does he think something is an unreliable source of information unless it's infallible? Unless it is uniformly reliable? Unless it can never be mistaken? But his mind and memory are no less fallible than his senses. So how can he know anything at all?

ii) In addition, Miner's appeal to Jn 20 is deceptive. He only cites the first part. Although it begins with Mary disorientation, it ends with a recognition scene. When she hears him speak, she realizes who it is. But hearing is just as empirical as seeing. 

To my knowledge, the Bible nowhere affirms that things are always as we perceive them and we need not affirm such a counterintuitive conclusion. 

i) What makes him think my argument was based on that? In fact, let's take a personal example: in my mid-30s I was diagnosed with partial color-blindness. But I never suspected that because, despite my visual defect or abnormality, I function just fine in my visual environment. I recognize traffic lights. Even if I don't perceive what normal people perceive, I've make a subconscious adjustment or substitution that's functionally equivalent. 

ii) Suppose Miner lived in an area frequented by the eastern coral snake. Would he teach his sons how to distinguish between the markings of the coral snake and the scarlet king snake? Or would he throw his hands up in the air and exclaim, "the senses deceive, so don't even try to tell the difference!" 

Ehrman-McGrew debate, part deux


i) I'm going to venture some comments on hunting. I myself am not a hunter, much less a trophy hunter, so I have no vested interest in this debate. I do have male relatives who are hunters, but that's just not something I grew up doing. 

I did grow up with nature shows and TV dramas like Daktari and Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. I've watched nature shows all my life. I had a normal boy's interest in animals. Read many reference works on zoology. Read a book by a big-game hunter in Africa. Another book by a wolf-trapper. And a book by Joy Adamson. That's my background, such as it is.

ii) Some people distinguish between hunting and poaching. I think that's a valid distinction in principle. There are some problems in practice:

a) In poor countries, poaching is so lucrative that I doubt it's realistic to hope we can save animals by law. I like the idea of a wildlife refuge or sanctuary. But where a prize kill can fetch so much money in a poor country where money goes a long ways, I doubt we can successfully protect animals that way. Given the economic situation, laws are an ineffective deterrent. The potential reward outweighs the potential risk. 

I've read many naturalists admit that zoos are probably the only way to save some animals from extinction. But some animal rights activists are so fanatical that they'd rather see animals go extinct than be kept in zoos. 

b) Although it's valid to regulate hunting to prevent overhunting, this is a highly politicized issue. Animals rights activists, who oppose hunting and trapping in principle, will lobby gov't to declare a species "endangered" as a pretext to further their radical agenda. It's naive to unquestioningly accept a gov't classification. 

iii) Feminism and animal rights activism intersect. Many men enjoy hunting. There's a concerted effort to shame men for enjoying things that come naturally to men. 

But there's no reason men should be made to feel defensive about that, any more than women should be made to feel defensive about activities that many women naturally enjoy. This is anti-male bigotry. 

I'd add that there are natural Tomboys who enjoy stereotypically masculine activities. Likewise, there are women who've grown up in wilderness areas where it's normal to be around guns. Where it's normal to hunt with their father or brothers.  

Men enjoy hunting for the same reasons they enjoy sports, paintball, or archery tag. Competition. Comeradarie. Testing yourself. 

A hunter has to be very alert to his natural surroundings. Use his eyes and ears. Notice clues. Give the situation his undivided attention.

When stalking dangerous quarry, there's a heightened sense of alertness to the hunter's surroundings. His life depends on it. That's primal. Instinctual. Confronting life without a safety net. Just you and nature in direct contact. 

Takes us back to an earlier time, not so very long ago, when we didn't have the suffocating technological bubblewrap. Our culture has become insanely risk-averse. I see lots of skaters with elaborate safety gear, on a straight level paved trail. They don't dare use a skateboard or roller skates without suiting up in full-body armor. What's next–human hamster balls for joggers? 

There's nothing wrong with men being men–just as there's nothing wrong with women being women. Moreover, it's a salutary way of channeling male aggression. 

iv) Is bowhunting more or less ethical than hunting with a rifle? On the one hand, in bowhunting, you're more likely to injure the animal rather than kill it outright. Some people think that's cruel. Mind you, it's no more cruel than how most animals naturally die in the wild.

On the other hand, lots of folks who object to hunting complain that it isn't fair; the animal didn't have a fighting chance against a high-powered rifle. By that standard, it's far riskier to the hunter to shoot some animals with an bow and arrow than a high-powered rifle

Likewise, it's very hazardous to track a wounded predator. So, from the standpoint of "sportsmanship," one could argue that bowhunting is "fairer" than using a gun. As a friend of mine said:

Bowhunting predators is a risky business:

1. You have to get significantly closer.

2. You have to make sure you hit him exactly in the sweet spot so he'll bleed out rather than become enraged.

3. You don't get a second shot.

Sometimes It’s Just Easier To Care About Dead Lions Than Dead People

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Bart Ehrman's Baal Shem Tov Parallel

In his recent discussion with Tim McGrew about the reliability of the gospels, Bart Ehrman drew a parallel between the gospels and some accounts of Baal Shem Tov. David Marshall has posted a lengthy critique of the parallel. You can read my briefer and more generalized response to Ehrman's argument in the comments section of Marshall's thread here. And since Marshall occasionally refers to skeptical objections to Matthew 27:52-3, here's an article I wrote on the subject several years ago. Another post, here, discusses how the earliest Christian and non-Christian sources interpreted the events in Matthew 27 and their surrounding context.

Cecil the lion

The PC police are always on the lookout for the latest faux outrage. They are never content unless they find something new to wax indigent about. It happens with such regularity that you could set your watch by it. The current "outrage" is a hunter who shot a lion. And this isn't the first time. Remember the Rebecca Francis kerfuffle? 

The hunter has issued a futile apology. Futile, because his critics will never forgive him. It's too late. Can't bring Cecil back to life. 

The hunter is now persona non grata for life. Forever banished from the charmed circle of the politically correct. 

Now, I'm not into big game hunting, but how do these critics think lions die in the wild? Do they think lions naturally die a peaceful death? I bet you most of them don't stop to think about it at all. That would interfere with their knee-jerk emoting.

So many professed animal lovers know nothing about animals. I'm not an expert on African wildlife, but I think I can safely say a few things about the lifecycle of lions.

Although male lions are capable hunters, they are not as capable as a lioness or tiger. A lion is designed to fight other lions. That makes it a bit musclebound. 

And, of course, lionesses are often successful in hunting due to teamwork. By contrast, the primary function of a lion is to protect the pride. 

Once a lion passes his prime, he is doomed. He will be ousted by a younger rival. 

There are different ways he may die. He may bleed to death from his wounds. He may die of infection. If he's injured, he will begin to starve. 

Even if he isn't seriously harmed, an aging lion lacks the speed and agility to be a successful solitary hunter. So he will begin to starve.

Any sign of weakness is deadly on the savannah. Herd animals can sometimes compensate by protecting weaker members. To some extent a pride will protect an aging lioness. 

No such luck for the lion. A lone aging lion doesn't have that backup system. Hyenas or Cape hunting dogs will probably kill him. A bite here, a bite there. He will be too weak to fight back.

I once saw a nature show about a lioness bitten by a cobra, which left her almost incapacitated. It didn't take long for other predators to view her as their next meal. 

And it's not as if lions are exactly nice animals. To be sympathetic to the plight of a lion is to be unsympathetic to the plight of a zebra. If you could poll zebras on the death of Cecil, what do you think the results would be? 

I daresay many people who are outraged by the death of Cecil are the same kind of people who say they don't believe in God due to the problem of pain in the animal kingdom. But death by a bullet is a lot quicker than death by "natural causes" on the savannah. Logically, they should classify big game hunting as mercy killing. 

In addition, many men naturally enjoy hunting. That's instinctual. So even on secular or evolutionary grounds, what's wrong with big game hunting?