Saturday, August 08, 2015

Clark and Gödel

In my experience, Clarkians like to describe Scripturalism as an axiomatic system. For instance:
(A) There is an axiom, called “The Axiom of Revelation,” from which, by itself, there can be validly deduced an important set of theorems.
(B) These theorems belong to a number of fields, such as theology, history, logic, ethics, politics, etc., and they constitute the Christian doctrine on these subjects.
(C) This axiomatic set of propositions is available to human beings as certain knowledge.
(D) This set contains the only certain knowledge, as perhaps opposed to opinion, available to human beings. (This is to be contrasted with the failure of other methods of obtaining knowledge.)
(E) The Axiom of Revelation is “The Bible is the Word of God.” - See more at:

The general reason for this is that Scripturalism is a variant on modern classical foundationism, which lends itself to an axiomatic model. 
In addition, this has specific philosophical precedents. For instance:
Given Spinoza’s devaluation of sense perception as a means of acquiring knowledge, his description of a purely intellectual form of cognition, and his idealization of geometry as a model for philosophy… 
Upon opening Spinoza's masterpiece, the Ethics, one is immediately struck by its form. It is written in the style of a geometrical treatise, much like Euclid's Elements, with each book comprising a set of definitions, axioms, propositions, scholia, and other features that make up the formal apparatus of geometry.  
Some of this is explained by the fact that the seventeenth century was a time in which geometry was enjoying a resurgence of interest and was held in extraordinarily high esteem, especially within the intellectual circles in which Spinoza moved. We may add to this the fact that Spinoza, though not a Cartesian, was an avid student of Descartes's works. As is well known, Descartes was the leading advocate of the use of geometric method within philosophy, and his Meditations was written more geometrico, in the geometrical style. In this respect the Ethics can be said to be Cartesian in inspiration.
Axiomatization was carried forward by Hilbert: 

In the early 1920s, the German mathematician David Hilbert (1862–1943) put forward a new proposal for the foundation of classical mathematics which has come to be known as Hilbert's Program. It calls for a formalization of all of mathematics in axiomatic form, together with a proof that this axiomatization of mathematics is consistent.
But that proved to be a blind alley: 
The first incompleteness theorem states that in any consistent formal system F within which a certain amount of arithmetic can be carried out, there are statements of the language of F which can neither be proved nor disproved in F. According to the second incompleteness theorem, such a formal system cannot prove that the system itself is consistent (assuming it is indeed consistent).  
In order to understand Gödel's theorems, one must first explain the key concepts essential to it, such as “formal system”, “consistency”, and “completeness”. Roughly, a formal system is a system of axioms equipped with rules of inference, which allow one to generate new theorems. The set of axioms is required to be finite or at least decidable. 
A formal system is complete if for every statement of the language of the system, either the statement or its negation can be derived (i.e., proved) in the system. A formal system is consistent if there is no statement such that the statement itself and its negation are both derivable in the system. 
One can also give more general epistemological interpretations of Gödel's theorems. Quine and Ullian (1978), for example, consider the traditional philosophical picture that all truths could be proved by self-evident steps from self-evident truths and observation. They then point out that even the truths of elementary number theory are presumably not in general derivable by self-evident steps from self-evident truths.
This, however, generates a dilemma for Scripturalism:
If, on the one hand, Scripturalism is an axiomatic system, then it cannot be shown to be consistent, or proven true, within the system itself. To prove it, you would have to go outside the system. But inasmuch as Scripture is said to be the only source and standard of truth, that would mean referring the validation of Scripturalism to an authority over and above Scripture. 
If, on the other hand, Scripturalists elude the problem by admitting that the comparison with an axiomatic system is just a vague metaphor, then Scripturalism relinquishes the claim to be a logically tight-knit epistemology or belief-system.  

Planned Godfatherhood

The Godfather - Murders are 3% of what we do There's 50% small business loans, 35% "lottery" & 12% pharmaceutical investments

Jesus and the prophets

There are different ways of broaching the deity of Christ, but here's a simple, neglected tack: what's the difference between the Son of God and a prophet of God? Here's one crucial difference:

i) Prophet: believe me

ii) Jesus: believe in me

We should believe a prophet of God because he speaks for God. We should believe his message. 

But we don't believe in him. He's just a messenger. Indeed, it would be idolatrous to believe in him, as if a prophet is an end in itself, or object of faith.

Of course, we ought to believe Jesus, but it goes beyond that. We should believe in Jesus. Take the classic "Believe in God; believe also in me" (Jn 14:1). 

Notice the symmetry. Like Father, like Son. 

In popular American parlance we sometimes say "I believe in you," which means "I trust you" or "I have faith in your potential." 

And certainly the trust element is part of how Scripture defines saving faith. 

But that's not what Jn 14:1 means. Rather, Jesus is the object of faith, the object of worship. Not a means to an end, but the destination. 

Why does Elizabeth Warren defend violence against women?

Elizabeth Warren is often treated as the ideological leader of the Democrat Party. A few days ago she made a speech on the Senate floor attacking "rightwing" efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. A few quick comments:

She asked Republicans if they knew what year it is. Did they wake up in 1950 or 1890s?

It's unclear what's special about those dates. What does that allude to? Before Roe v. Wade? Before the 19th Amendment? 

She referred to a "highly edited video."

To begin with, the same organization released the unedited video. In addition, it has released 5 videos (and counting). So her statement is misleading, uninformed, and out-of-date.

She asked why so many people use Planned Parenthood?

Of course, that's a circular appeal. They use it because Planned Parenthood receives so much Federal funding. If that funding was diverted to different healthcare clinics, people would switch to other clinics instead. 

She accused Republicans of changing the law to let employers deny women's access to birth control.

i) To begin with, that wasn't about female contraceptives, but contraceptives generally. It is sexist for her to single out woman. What about male contraceptives?

ii) Why should employers be forced to take money away from employees who don't buy contraceptives to subsidize employees who do? Why should some employees have less take-home pay to subsidize the recreational activities of other employees? 

iii) No one was denying women access to contraceptives. Rather, the question is whether someone else is supposed to subsidize your sex life. 

iv) She retreated into generic euphemisms like "healthcare." But if she believes in a right to abortion, why is she so afraid to call it what it is: a mother's right to kill her own baby? 

This is not about "healthcare" in general, but abortion in particular. Indeed, it's about human vivisection. Involuntary organ harvesting. Trafficking in baby corpses. 

But, of course, that's harder to defend than vanilla euphemisms like "women's healthcare."

She said only 3% of Planned Parenthood services go to abortion. But even honest liberals admit that's a bogus statistic:

Finally, she said the effort to defund Planned Parenthood represents "attack on women's rights." An attempt to "take away a woman's right to control her own body" or "strip away women's rights to make choices over our own bodies."

i) For starters, this isn't a legal ban on women's behavior. It just means not forcing wage-earners to subsidize abortion, as well as involuntary organ harvesting, through their tax dollars. This isn't a legal dress code for women. It doesn't outlaw women driving cars. It doesn't criminalize anything women currently do. 

ii) Why does Warren imagine women have no control over their own bodies unless somebody else foots the bill for their lifestyle choices? Does she think all women should be kept women? 

Why are there so many unwanted pregnancies in the first place? In the overwhelming number of cases, women become pregnant through consensual activity that's naturally designed to impregnate women. If that results in so many unwanted pregnancies, then the problem is not with Republicans controlling women's bodies, but women who lack self-control. 

iii) And if this is really about a woman's right to control her own body, Warren should defend the right of girls in utero to have control over their own bodies. The right of girls in utero to make choices affecting their own bodies. Why does Warren think people should be entitled to attack girls in the womb? Why does she defend violence against baby girls? 

Scripturalism and foundationalism

My dialogue with Ryan appears to be winding down. Much of this involves an intramural debate between Scripturalists. I'll bypass most of that and zero in on two paragraphs:

I’m not sure if Steve is saying we can’t extract Christian theology from Scripture or if he is implying that the “data base” of indubitable, indisputable truths can’t refer to Scripture. If the former, we can extract Christian doctrines from Scripture: the incarnation and divinity of Christ, the resurrection, a basic outline of Trinitarianism with various possible models, predestination, etc. If the latter, why not?
People can dispute that Scripture is indubitable or indisputable. But people can also dispute laws of logic and so forth. The question is whether in doing so, are they being inconsistent? Are they subverting their own ability to be internally and infallibly justified in believing anything? In the case of disputing Scripture, the Scripturalist says yes, they are. The conversation can then move on to whether we even need that kind of belief (on which, see here).

i) Let's begin with exposition. When I refer to Scripturalism, I'm bracketing Ryan's own position. Ryan is an independent thinker, and his position is a work in progress. I'm referring to Scripturalism in general.

In that regard, Scripturalism is a variation on modern classical foundationalism (e.g. Descartes, Chisholm). Modern classical foundationalism has antecedents in Plato and Socrates.

ii) Plato was on a quest for epistemic certainty. He distinguished between the sensible world, which was deceptive due to its mutability, and the domain of abstract universals. What you perceive with your sensory organs is not a reliable source of knowledge. Only what you can intuit, only archetypal ideas, constitute a source of true knowledge.

iii) In addition, you have what Peter Geach dubbed the Socratic fallacy. The notion that you can only know what you can define. Likewise, that you must begin with criteria. 

The style of mistaken thinking -- as I take it to be -- that comes from accepting these two assumptions may well be called the Socratic fallacy, for its locus classicus is the Socratic dialogues. (371) The assumptions: Let us rather concentrate on two assumptions that Socrates makes: (A) that if you know you are correctly predicating a given term 'T' you must "know what it is to be T," in the sense of being able to give a general criterion for a thing being T; (B) that it is no use to try to arrive at the meaning of 'T' by giving examples of things that are T. (B) in fact follows from (A). (371) Geach goes on to argue that the "Socratic fallacy" is a fallacy: We know heaps of things without being able to define the terms in which we express our knowledge. Formal definitions are only one way of elucidating terms; a set of examples may in a given case be more useful than a formal definition. (371) In addition, Geach seems to suggest that the Socratic fallacy accounts for the fact that the Socratic dialogues usually end up in aporia: We can indeed see in advance why a Socratic dialogue so often ends in complete failure to elucidate the meaning of a term 'T'.... But if there is no initial agreement either on examples of things that certainly are T or on criteria for predicating 'T', then the discussion is bound to be abortive .... (372) How harmful the rejection of examples may be we see from the Theaetetus. Theaetetus, asked what knowledge is, gives some instances of knowledge -- geometry and shoemaking and the various crafts. Socrates objects that these are only examples, and he wants to know just what knowledge is .... But of course any knowledge is t.

iv) This, in turn, is related to what Chisholm dubs the problem of the criterion:

To know whether things really are as they seem to be, we must have a procedure for distinguishing appearances that are true from appearances that are false. But to know whether our procedure is a good procedure, we have to know whether it really succeeds in distinguishing appearances that are true from appearances that are false. And we cannot know whether it does really succeed unless we already know which appearances are true and which ones are false. And so we are caught in a circle.

A popular form of the Problem of the Criterion can be raised by asking two seemingly innocent questions: What do we know? How are we to decide in any particular case whether we have knowledge?  One quickly realizes how troubling the Problem of the Criterion is because it seems that before we can answer the first question we must already have an answer to the second question, but it also seems that before we can answer the second question we must already have an answer to the first question.  That is, it seems that before we can determine what we know we must first have a method or criterion for distinguishing cases of knowledge from cases that are not knowledge.  Yet, it seems that before we can determine the appropriate criterion of knowledge we must first know which particular instances are in fact knowledge.  So, we seem to be stuck going around a circle without any way of getting our epistemological theorizing started.
v) In modern classical foundationalism (a la Descartes, Chisholm), you distinguish between immediate and mediate beliefs. Immediate beliefs aren't based on other beliefs, while mediate beliefs are based on immediate beliefs.

Knowledge has a logical structure in which immediate beliefs function as axiomatic first principles. Mediate beliefs are inferred from immediate beliefs, by deductive logic. By contrast, inductive logic is a "fallacy."

To qualify as an immediate belief, it must be self-evidently true, unmistakable, and/or certain. Immediate beliefs share epistemic immunities. They cannot be in error. They cannot be reasonably doubted. 

There are two kinds of immediate beliefs:

a) Simple, abstract necessary truths of math and logic (e.g. 2+2=4, modus ponens; "If Bill is taller than Bob, and Bob is taller than Bud, then Bill is taller than Bud")

b) Self-presenting states (e.g. "there appears to be a tree in my field of vision"). 

The method of arriving at true knowledge is to begin, not with the sensible world, but with your own mind. Intuition and introspection. 

Strictly speaking, only immediate beliefs are certain. In principle, due to the transitive law, a mediate belief that's validly deduced from an immediate belief is just as irrefragable as the immediate belief itself.

But in practice, it lacks the indomitability of an immediate belief because chains of logical inferences may contain subtle fallacies which we fail to detect. Take Andrew Wiles' proof of Fermat's Last Theorem. Only a handful of number theorists can even grasp the technical, complicated argument. Therefore, even if the argument is valid, it is hardly self-evident or indubitable in the sense that 2+2=4. 

vi) The problem all this poses for modern classical foundationism is that if you insist on that stringent definition of knowledge, then belief in other minds, belief in a physical world, belief that you have two hands, belief in the reality of the past, is unjustified and irrational. For instance, you can't disprove Last Thrusdayism: "There is no logical impossibility in the hypothesis that the world sprang into being five minutes ago, exactly as it then was, with a population that "remembered" a wholly unreal past. There is no logically necessary connection between events at different times; therefore nothing that is happening now or will happen in the future can disprove the hypothesis that the world began five minutes ago.

By retooling some theistic proofs, you may be able to salvage belief in a God, but beyond that, along with a residuum of infallible, indubitable beliefs  (self-knowledge, self-presenting states, and simple logical or mathematical relations), nothing else rises to the level of knowledge. Perceptual and memorial beliefs are preemptively disqualified. 

vii) Scripturalism retains the basic criteria and framework of modern classical foundationalism. It tries to replace the set of immediate and mediate beliefs with Biblical propositions and logical inferences from Biblical propositions. The structure of knowledge is formally similar to modern classical foundationalism. An axiomatic system.

However, their criteria go back to Socrates, Plato, and Descartes. But those criteria prohibit internal access to Scripture as an object of knowledge. There's the dilemma of vicious circularity: "the problem of the criterion" (see above). And there's the Cartesian demon. Given that thought-experiment, Scripturalists can't justify their faith in Scripture. They lack direct access to Scripture. They only have direct access to their own mental states, which–for all they know–may be delusive. 

viii) I don't object to using Scripture as a touchstone of knowledge. And I think we can develop and deploy TAGs. But that will be abortive if we adhere to the criteria of classical modern foundationalism and its philosophical antecedents. 


If I had everything but you,
That's not enough;
If I had nothing but you,
That's enough.

Friday, August 07, 2015

If you don't like lion-killing, don't kill one

Anthony, don't pray for me

I'm somewhat hesitant to comment on this post:

It's a sensitive, personal issue. However, Beckwith put it out there for public consumption. And it contains an implicit Catholic apologetic (i.e. a Catholic miracle confirms Roman Catholic theology). Moreover, I've waited three months.

So what are we to make of this?

i) On one interpretation, this is a minor miracle. Too timely and unlikely to be sheer coincidence. And, by implication, this validates the Catholic cult of the saints. 

ii) I have reservations about explaining this naturalistically. That might seem like special pleading. Would I do the same in case of Protestant answered prayer?

iii) That said, there's nothing inherently wrong with evaluating a theological claim by theological criteria. 

iv) And even if we consider this miraculous, does it support Catholic dogma? To begin with, there's a certain irony: Beckwith prays to the patron saint of cancer patients on behalf of a cancer patient, who nevertheless dies shortly thereafter. How does that validate St. Anthony's reputation as a long-distance healer? If the patient was cured, that would be impressive. But since the patient succumbed, that hardly furnishes supporting evidence for Anthony's reputation. 

It's like "evidence" for global warming. If there's a warming trend, that's evidence for global warming–but if there's a cooling trend, that's consistent with global warming. Whether it's wetter or drier, that's evidence for global warming. 

If either outcome is consistent with St. Anthony's reputation, then does anything really count as evidence for or against his reputation? Or is it just random? 

v) Assuming (ex hypothesi) that it's a miracle, what kind of miracle would it be? Not like turning water into wine or the multiplication of food. Rather, this would be a coincidence miracle. A result of God's extraordinary providence.

That, however, is very predestinarian. That assumes God prearranged ordinary circumstances to converge on this opportune and naturally improbable outcome. If so, that's inconsistent with the libertarian strand of Catholic theology (e.g. Jesuit theologians). 

vi) Assuming (ex hypothesi) that it's a miracle, does it validate the cult of the saints? Not unless you think the only function of a miracle is to attest doctrine. Moreover, that's offset by Protestant miracles.

vii) Assuming (ex hypothesi) that it's a miracle, it could be a case of God's merciful condescension. Giving consolation to the grief-stricken. I don't reject that out of hand. 

viii) But is a naturalistic explanation special pleading in this case? How extraordinary in this incident? 

On the one hand, Anthony of Padua is a very popular saint in Catholic piety. There's nothing unusual about Catholics having medallions of St. Anthony. Odds are, that's pretty common.

If, moreover, a Catholic has been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, that ups the odds that he will turn to St. Anthony–and do so more often. 

On the other hand, the fact that Francis Beckwith singled out St. Anthony requires no special explanation under the circumstances:

When my father first told us that he had cancer, I made it a point to pray for him each morning and each evening from that day forward. Although I wanted to do so by asking for the assistance of one of the great saints of the Church, who that saint would be was not obvious. After a little research, I discovered that St. Anthony of Padua was the patron saint of cancer victims.

There's nothing improbable about that. The only thing that's unusual in this case is the conjunction of these two individuals praying to the same saint. And even in that case, it's not the conjunction of independent causal chains, for the action of Francis was dependent on the condition of patient. 

The combination is unlikely, but not uncanny, or even all that remarkable. It's striking enough to grab your attention, and it invites the possibility that this was miraculous. But it's not naturally inexplicable or even extraordinary. 

Mormons & Evangelicals in Conversation

Richard J. Mouw and Robert L. Millet, ed.  Talking Doctrine: Mormons & Evangelicals in Conversation.  Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015. 

What surprised me somewhat was the wiggle-room that some of the evangelical contributors were willing to grant to Mormonism, regarding the question of whether Mormon beliefs are acceptable or objectionable.  One evangelical contributor questioned whether the Mormon belief that God the Father was corporeal is really that objectionable, since Christians hold that Jesus, as God, was a corporeal human being.  Another evangelical contributor referred to a discussion that she had with a Mormon about whether God the Father ever sinned.  The Mormon was saying that he could have, but that Jesus’ sacrifice would have atoned for it.  The evangelical contributor said that this was when it dawned on her that this Mormon really loved Jesus, just like she does.  I was surprised that she did not regard his view as offensive, as a number of evangelicals probably would.  A number of the evangelical contributors did not seem to regard Mormon beliefs about God as necessarily objectionable, or as something that places Mormons outside of the pale of Christianity.  If there was an area that the evangelicals deemed to be non-negotiable, it would probably be that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, that this is the belief that makes one a Christian.  There were evangelicals and Mormons who insisted that Mormons accepted this, and some evangelicals said that Mormon emphasis on good works can serve as a counter-balance to the tendency of some evangelicals to dismiss the necessity of a holy life.

Shannon's buffer zone

I've going to focus on one aspect of Nate Shannon's recent article "The epistemology of divine conceptualism," Int J Philos Relig (2015) 78:123–130.

As no doubt the reader will have noticed, I harbor an openness to the possibility that the laws of logic as we know them do not exist necessarily, in the strong sense in which this is usually taken, but only given a few things (whichever things get us from God’s being uncompelled to create all the way to the actual world). Put more precisely, I think there is rather too much confidence (exaggerated epistemic license, we might say) in the claim that the laws of logic as we know them do in fact exist necessarily, even for God, in the very mind of God. 
To suppose that the laws of logic as we know them obtain as we know them in the mind of God is to exaggerate by the force of contingent, fallible intuition the continuity between the creator and the creature to such an extent that no discontinuity is recognized. 

i) On one interpretation, Shannon is open to universal possibilism (i.e. there are no necessary truths or necessary falsehoods). If so, there are fundamental problems with that position:

a) It's self-refuting. 

b) Orthodox theology requires logical necessity. If logic is relative, then there's no tenable distinction between orthodoxy and heresy. 

Given universal possibilism, anything could be the case. Once you denial logical necessity, nothing else can be denied. Everything follows from anything. 

ii) On a less radical interpretation, Shannon is distinguishing between human systems of logic and the archetypal logic of divine reason. If so:

a) Welty/Anderson's theistic conceptual realism is referring to logic in general, rather than a specific system. They don't equate a particular human system of logic with the structure of God's mind.

b) At the very least, orthodox theology requires informal logic. Shannon can't avoid that. He can't be noncommittal about logic and retain a commitment to orthodox theology. 

Shannon typically tries to take refuge in a buffer zone. But he himself must periodically emerge from the buffer zone to draw lines. To affirm theological truths. 

iii) There's a sense in which human systems of logic necessarily inhere in God's mind. Given God's natural knowledge, it is necessary that God know all human systems of logic. 

How the Cartesian demon bedevils Scripturalism

I'm going to comment on Ryan's latest post:

To set the stage, by using the Cartesian demon I'm playing devil's advocate. For the sake of argument, I'm assuming a far more skeptical viewpoint than I myself endorse. But I'm doing that because I'm responding to Scripturalists on their own grounds. 

Mind you, I don't mention the Cartesian demon purely for the sake of argument. Thought-experiments like that demonstrate the limitations of proof. But that's only a problem if we equate knowledge with proof. 

I deploy the Cartesian demon as a limiting case to illustrate the consequences of defining knowledge too restrictively. In my experience, Scripturalists draw invidious comparisons between Scripturalism and the alternatives (e.g. empiricism, evidentialism, natural theology, Reformed Epistemology, Van Tilian presuppositionalism, Bayesian probability theory). 

For them, to count as knowledge, belief must include second-order knowledge. You don't know something unless you know how you know it. They equate knowledge with certainty and proof. 

Indeed, you don't really know anything unless you can define knowledge. Unless you have a full-blown theory of knowledge in your back pocket.

Likewise, unless a process yields true beliefs 100% of the time, that process is deemed to be untrustworthy. That process only yields unjustified opinion rather than knowledge. 

That's my target. To a great extent I think Ryan's argument is less with me than his fellow Scripturalists.  

I agree with Steve here no matter which contemporary definition of “knowledge” is being used. Whether “knowledge” refers to “true beliefs,” “externally justified beliefs,” or “internally justified beliefs,” there is no need to disprove or falsify a Cartesian demon to “know” something. In the first place, proof or falsification pertains to internalist justification. And even on internalism – whether fallibilist or infallibilist – proof and falsification per se aren’t requirements for knowledge, let alone with reference to something like a Cartesian demon. Not all knowledge is inferentially justified, and not all inferentially justified beliefs need be thought of as the result of deductive reasoning. A Cartesian demon hypothesis needn’t cast doubt on knowledge; it just depends on what one’s theory of knowledge is. I don’t think it’s just my modified epistemology that can avoid this “distinctive problem.” It seems to me garden-variety Scripturalism can avoid it as well.

I appreciate the concession, but in my experience, that's not garden-variety Scripturalism. Not even close. Unless Scripturalism can falsify the Cartesian demon, how can they prove that most of what they deem to be knowledge isn't delusive belief? How can they be certain? How do they know there's no Cartesian deceiver who's messing with their minds? Unless they can rule that out, precious little of what they believe rises to the level of the indubitable or indisputable. And if they can't, how is their position any signal improvement over the alternatives which they disdain? To say they that know it even though they don't know how that's the case is quite a comedown from the Scripturalism I'm acquainted with–past and present. 

Where disproving a Cartesian demon would be more relevant is in the realm of apologetics. It’s one thing for me to know there is no Cartesian demon, it’s another to be able to show to someone else how I can rule that out. Do I need to be able to show there is no Cartesian demon to know it? No. But if I can show it, and if I can further make arguments which select for theism in general and Christianity in particular, that’s beneficial. There’s use for that. And in any case, while there are limits to what we can show, this only exhibits the limitations of apologetics, not knowledge.
Scripturalism is a theory of knowledge. More specifically, I’ve argued it ought to be formulated as a theory about a specific kind of knowledge: “any knowledge which is both internally justified and infallible must be founded on divine revelation which, in our case, is coextensive with Scripture” (link). With reference to apologetics, however (which I view as a more pragmatic enterprise), Scripturalists should feel free to utilize all sorts of arguments, not merely those which would constrain all knowledge to refer to internally and infallibly justified beliefs. Frankly, I admit many Scripturalists seem to be a ways off from understanding that.
For starters, a hypothesis of “deception” necessitates a distinction between truth and error. There is something about which we are being deceived; that is, we are deceived into erroneous rather than true beliefs. This idea in turn necessitates certain categories of logic and language. What is truth such that we can be said to be deceived with respect to it? This line of thought leads to further interesting questions. “Deception” also necessitates there being at least one thinking entity, and in the case of the Cartesian demon, two. 
Steve at least in principle agrees TAGs are good (link). The initial point, then, is that the Cartesian demon cannot be as omnipotent as many skeptics would frame it. There are some things about which a Cartesian demon can’t deceive us. But then is the Cartesian demon the same as the sort Descartes had in mind? In his outlining of the hypothesis, Steve similarly notes: “[The deceiver] needn't be omniscient or omnipotent. A fallible deceiver could be the source of fallible beliefs, if our beliefs are dependent on that erratic source.”
Okay, but if there are necessary truths which we can recognize as such and show others, then in what sense is this sort of Cartesian demon a problem? We would seem to have internally and infallible justified beliefs after all. 

i) Short answer: yes, I think I am discussing the same thought-experiment that Descartes proposed. For instance:

Many readers of Descartes assume that the Evil Genius Doubt draws its sceptical force from the “utmost power” attributed to the deceiver. This is to misunderstand Descartes. He contends that an equally powerful doubt may be generated on the opposite supposition — namely, the supposition that I am not the creature of an all-powerful being:
Perhaps there may be some who would prefer to deny the existence of so powerful a God rather than believe that everything else is uncertain. … yet since deception and error seem to be imperfections, the less powerful they make my original cause, the more likely it is that I am so imperfect as to be deceived all the time. (Med. 1, AT 7:21).
Descartes makes essentially the same point in a parallel passage of the Principles:
[W]e have been told that there is an omnipotent God who created us. Now we do not know whether he may have wished to make us beings of the sort who are always deceived even in those matters which seem to us supremely evident … We may of course suppose that our existence derives not from a supremely powerful God but either from ourselves or from some other source; but in that case, the less powerful we make the author of our coming into being, the more likely it will be that we are so imperfect as to be deceived all the time. (Prin. 1:5, AT 8a:6)

ii) Ryan in countering something I already granted in my initial reply. I didn't suggest that if the Cartesian deceiver exists, then everything we believe is false. You can still salvage bits and pieces of knowledge even on that scenario.

a) But this goes to a familiar problem. Scripturalism is a form of foundationalism. It views knowledge as an axiomatic system. You isolate and identify certain indubitable, irrefragable truths. You then draw logical inferences on the basis of these first truths. You relate them to other truths in a system of mutual entailments.

Problem is, the data-base for indubitable, indisputable truths is very thin. Abstract "laws of logic." Abstract mathematical formulas. Self-presenting states like "I feel pain." Psychology and modal metaphysics. 

You can't extract Christian theology from that data-base. You can't extract Bible history from that data base. It doesn't yield contingent truths. Yet that eliminates the concrete created order. 

b) Even the Cogito is essentially confined to the specious present. So long as I'm awake, I know that I exist. But I can't disprove the suspicion that I came into existence 5 minutes ago, or that I will cease to exist 5 minutes from now. 

c) In addition, a person whose cognitive faculties are impaired can have a very distorted perception of logic or self-identity. For instance, things may seem logical in a dream that are clearly illogical once we awaken and reflect on the dream. 

Naturally, this would be limited to a subset of our beliefs, and being able to show which of these beliefs qualify may further depend on a TAG or TAGs showing that it would be inconsistent to deny, say, a good, omniscient, self-authenticating communicator, but I think this is possible (linklinklink).

I think TAGs are worth developing. But I don't think Ryan developed his TAGs with a view to the Cartesian deceiver. Given the Cartesian deceiver hypothesis, how does he demonstrate the existence of a good God? Our understanding of divine benevolence is based on historical revelation and providence. Empirical contingencies. But that's very different from abstractions like the laws of logic and pure math, or mental states. Likewise, given the Cartesian deceiver hypothesis, the only communication is interior monologue. 

Now, Cartesian skeptics could reply that the demon could be deceiving us as to the necessity of all of these conclusions. But skeptics can say or ask a lot of things. Who cares? 

I agree. But I'm not a Scripturalist. Given how high Scripturalists set the bar for knowledge, and how they disdain the alternatives, they must take this thought-experiment seriously. The Cartesian demon is the radical counterpart to their radical epistemology. 

I'm not trying to saddle Ryan with what other Scripturalists believe. I appreciate his reasonableness. But he ends up with a highly qualified claim that shares the intellectual modesty of rival claims, viz.  natural theology, Reformed Epistemology, Bayesian probability theory.  

Cartesian skeptics want to get away with climbing the ladder they hope to throw over. They can’t even ask questions without contradicting methodological doubt.

Cartesian skepticism isn't synonymous with global skepticism. Global skepticism is self-refuting. But you can't get much mileage out of that. Although it doesn't take much to refute global skepticism, the exercise doesn't leave you with much to build on. It simply eliminates the utmost extreme. 

Our senses were designed to be secondary causes by which we form true beliefs. This causative process isn't arbitrary. It's not as if any old belief would normally be caused by a given sensation. Rather, sensations themselves are the product of interaction with our surrounding environment. That stimulus and our physical, divinely-created processing equipment yield non-arbitrary beliefs. 

I like that description. I wish Ryan success in convincing other Scripturalists. 

I’m not sure what else “godlike conditions” could refer to. 

The conditions that Scripturalists typically stipulate as prerequisites for knowledge. 

Furthermore, I think there’s a relevant disanalogy between the fallibility of sensation and the fallibility of reason and memory...To expand on this, how is it that our reasoning and memory could be, in every case, fallible? I can see how we could have two different sense experiences, or how we could have a different sense experience from someone else, which yield contradictory beliefs and therefore leave us unable to ascertain which of the two beliefs is true.
But I don’t see how this could apply to reason or memory across the board. If any beliefs we have are in some sense memorial insofar as our thoughts either reference memories or themselves occur over a span of time rather than an instant, and if our thoughts in every case depend on our implicitly, if not explicitly, following certain logical structures, then I think there is a path to internally and infallibly justified beliefs which isn’t logically founded on sense knowledge.

Once again, I appreciate Ryan's reasonableness, but that's the polar opposite of how Scripturalists (in my experience) frame the issue. For them, a fundamental problem with sensory perception is not that it's misleading in every instance, but that it fails to be dependable in every instance. For them, sensory perception is unreliable unless it's uniformly reliable. By the same token, reason and memory can't be trusted, not because they are uniformly unreliable, but because they fail to be uniformly reliable.

The implicit objection seems to be that if a process yields the right result most of the time, but yields the wrong result on other occasions, then how can you tell which is which? The process itself can't distinguish true results from false results. 

Ryan is welcome to take issue with where his fellow Scripturalists characteristically assign the burden of proof. He's reversing the onus. When the dust settles, I don't see that Ryan's position is different in kind from non-Scripturalist alternatives. Rather, it seems to be an eclectic synthesis of the best that the alternative positions have to offer. I don't say that as a criticism. I'm not the audience he needs to persuade. Perhaps he'll have more success with the up-and-coming generation of Scripturalists. 

Alabama Voters Approved Constitutional Amendment to Ban Sharia Law

This one is more current (November 2014): Alabama voters added an amendment to their constitution "that specifically bans the consideration of foreign codes of law, most notably Islamic Sharia Law".

Statewide Amendment 1: Called “The American and Alabama Laws for Alabama Courts Amendment,” Amendment 1 relates to the application of foreign law during the legal process involving an Alabama citizen. Foreign law refers to the laws of other countries or cultures. Currently, judges or other legal authorities discern whether foreign law is applied. Amendment 1 would create constitutional protection that foreign law is not applied if it violates the guaranteed rights of Alabama citizens.

Il Duce

I think many pundits are making a tactical mistake in how they attack Trump. They spend a lot of time making fun of him. 

Now, Trump is very mockworthy. He richly deserves the mockery that's heaped upon him. However, too much of that plays into his hands. It enables him to cast his critics in the role of elitists. The Republican establishment. Folks who support Jeb or Kasich. The Brie and Chablis crowd. Trump can then contrast himself as the tough guy who takes no guff, who stands up to the Establishment–unlike those effete snobs. 

Problem is, the only thing Trump stands for is Trump. His only interest is self-interest. Promoting his company and his one-man personality cult. 

Critics should focus on his flip-flops and his business failures. Trump is a classic flimflam man. There's nothing there. 

In some ways he reminds me of Il Duce. It's just a put-on. Strutting about like a rooster. King of the barnyard. 

Netherlands moves to abandon multiculturalism
Famously progressive and permissive Holland has tried multiculturalism and decided that it just doesn’t work. In a historic reversal, the Dutch are abandoning government policies in support of multiculturalism and demanding intregration and acceptance of Dutch values from immigrants, mostly Muslims, who now constitute 6 percent of their population.

The Gatestone Institute reports:

A new integration bill (…), which Dutch Interior Minister Piet Hein Donner presented to parliament on June 16, reads: "The government shares the social dissatisfaction over the multicultural society model and plans to shift priority to the values of the Dutch people. In the new integration system, the values of the Dutch society play a central role. With this change, the government steps away from the model of a multicultural society."

The letter continues: "A more obligatory integration is justified because the government also demands that from its own citizens. It is necessary because otherwise the society gradually grows apart and eventually no one feels at home anymore in the Netherlands. The integration will not be tailored to different groups."

Immigrants will be required to learn the Dutch language and no exceptions to obedience to Dutch law will be allowed for followers of sharia. In addition, the government will stop subsidizing Muslims and making special criteria for their employment...and will ban the burqa:

The government will also stop offering special subsidies for Muslim immigrants because, according to Donner, "it is not the government's job to integrate immigrants." The government will introduce new legislation that outlaws forced marriages and will also impose tougher measures against Muslim immigrants who lower their chances of employment by the way they dress. More specifically, the government will impose a ban on face-covering Islamic burqas as of January 1, 2013.

If necessary, the government will introduce extra measures to allow the removal of residence permits from immigrants who fail their integration course.

The Dutch have tasted the fruits of importing Islamic culture and have decided they don’t want any more. …

Read more ...

HT: Christopher Little.

I might have been a Planned Parenthood victim

A liberal academic on the queer marriage ruling

Thursday, August 06, 2015

The Ethics of Fetal Tissue Transplantation

An oldie but goodie, that's very timely in light of the Planned Parenthood house of horrors:

Reactions To The Republican Debates

I want to post some initial impressions of the first Republican debate. And the comments section below will be open to anybody who wants to offer any thoughts about that debate or the one coming up later tonight.

In illo tempore

I first saw The Garden of the Finzi Continis when I was about 12. It made an indelible impression on my youthful mind. C. S. Lewis discussed the value of rereading good books, and Leland Ryken has discussed the inexhaustibility of good literature. As you age, you change. When you reread a good book, it has newer significance, not because the book has changed, but because you have changed. There's a dialectical relationship, where literature can influence your outlook on life while life can influence your outlook on the literature. Same is true for great movies. 

The Garden of the Finzi Continis isn't for everyone, but it struck a chord with me. Several features account for its power:

i) The film is a cinematic adaptation of the book. A great director directing a great novel. A masterpiece of a masterpiece. 

ii) Although it's fictional, it is semiautobiographical. That lends the film a particular poignancy, because the film commemorates a genuine tragedy. The characters represent Bassani's ill-fated friends and relatives, who perished in the Shoah. 

iii) Both film and novel benefit from the central, master metaphor of a garden. That's a unifying principle. And it supplies a tacit commentary on the significance of the action. 

The garden exists outside history, in illo tempore. A timeless world. A world within a world. Time's passage inside and outside the garden doesn't synchronize. It's more like stepping into a parallel universe. Has affinities with Eliade's myth of eternal return. Time is cyclical inside the garden, but linear outside the garden. 

The story begins with two times, but converges. The action moves towards the merging of two times, as the inexorable march of time outside the garden finally breaches the walled garden, whisking its occupants away to the death camps. The garden lulls its occupants into a sense of false security. 

Although the story is set in Bassani's hometown, if you visit Ferrara you don't find a garden of the Finzi-Continis. Not even in ruins. It's a place that only existed in Bassani's imagination. Given how much of Bassani's fiction has concrete counterparts in reality, we might ask why he invented the garden. 

But perhaps that's the point. Because the garden never existed, it represents an illusion. The illusion of Bassani's fellow Jews, who refused to acknowledge the existential threat that was bearing down on them. A fatal state of mind. 

iv) Since there was no garden of the Finzi-Continis in Ferrara, what was Bassani's source of inspiration? Bassani's garden naturally evokes associations with the primeval garden of Eden. And there seem to be studied similarities with the paradise lost motif. When Micol expels him from the garden, when the Finzi-Continis are themselves expelled, that's reminiscent of man's banishment from paradise. 

Yet the comparison invites contrast. Bassani's garden doesn't represent life before the fall. Giorgio's pursuit and passion for Micol has has affinities with another Biblical garden: the erotic garden of Canticles. It may also be indebted to the courtly, chivalric tradition of The Roman de la Rose

Perhaps the closest parallel is with Tasso, Bassani's fellow Ferrarese poet, in his Gerusalemme liberata. Micol is like Armida, the seductress and sorceress who takes crusaders captive in her enchanted garden. A femme fatal. 

So Bassani's garden is a false Eden. Expulsion from Bassani's garden signifies the expulsion of Italian Jews from society, and ultimately from life itself. 

v) Which brings us to the enigmatic figure of Micol. Both film critics and literary critics puzzle over Micol. Pauline Kael faulted the movie on two grounds: She found Micol's behavior inscrutable, as well as the passivity of the Finzi-Continis in the face of mortal danger. 

As a fictional character, it's possible that there is no one correct interpretation of Micol. Perhaps the characterization is inconsistent. An artistic failure–albeit compelling. However, I think we can offer a more charitable and coherent interpretation. 

Micol is the central character. The hub, in relation to which other characters are the spokes. Gorgeous, spoiled, proud, imperious, and mercurial. A tease. Her treatment of Giorgio betrays a cruel streak, as she leads him on, only to rebuff him. An unattainable woman.

There may be an element of contempt for his indecision. Sometimes she gives him an opening, but Giorgio is so spellbound that he takes too long in responding to her overtures. He lets the moment slip away. And having missed the opportunity, he rarely gets a second chance. By contrast, Malnate has none of Giorgio's hesitation. 

Micol is too worldly for Giorgio. He's a romantic to her cynic. She spurns him because he loves her, and she wants to avoid emotional entanglements. Remain independent. Be a woman, but not a wife or mother. So she has a fling with Malnate instead. That preserves her detachment. A purely physical relationship, with no strings attached. That's symbolized by the fact that he's Gentile and she's Jewish. Due to the race laws, they can't marry. Not that she'd ever marry somebody like him. Malnate is her social interior, and culturally Philistine. But he serves his purpose. The fact, moreover, that men of draft age will be conscripted ensures the impermanence of the liaison. 

The Finzi-Continis are paradoxical. Unlike many Jews, they refuse to assimilate. Yet their aloofness isn't due to religious scruples. They seem to be Pharisees without faith, like Santayana's The Last Puritan. A secularized parody of ritual cleanliness. 

Ironically, their Jewishness is more important to the Nazi gentiles than it is to these nominal Jews. In another irony, Micol and Alberto are the epitome of blond, blue-eyed, ivory Aryan perfection. So close to the Nazi ideal. 

Another reason she may make no effort to save herself is that any other life would be a comedown from what she has known. She's the goddess of her enchanted garden. But her youthful beautiful will fade. To marry and bear children would demote her. Make her intolerably ordinary. 

There's a hint of incest between Micol and Alberto. It seems to be psychological rather than physical. But it reflects the fact that no one else is good enough for her. Only a god is fit to be the consort of a goddess. Yet by having an affair with her brother's best friend, there's a sense in which she snubs Alberto as much as Giorgio. 

When they're finally rounded up, that's a leveling experience–as they suddenly share captivity as Giorgio's father. It humanizes her. 

But there may be yet another reason for her erratic behavior. A sense of foreboding and futility. She has no future in this world. Her generation is doomed. Alberto's degenerative illness symbolizes the loss of hope. Her frustration may also account, in part, for her mean treatment of Giorgio. 

Yet, in a way she may feel that she's sparing his feelings in the long run. He can't have her because she's doomed. They are not allowed to have a life together. Circumstances conspire against them, even if the feeling was mutual. She drove him away to save him. Nearly vicarious. She takes his place. 

This may, however, reflect a difference between Bassani's understanding of Micol and de Sica's. De Sica's interpretation may soften the character. 

Ultimately, though, I think Micol is a conflicted character because she's an emblematic character. She represents the excruciating paralysis of action that Bassani witnessed firsthand, as Italian Jews allowed events to overtake them. Their passivity, their denial, sealed their fate–in a self-fulfilling destiny.

Bassani himself had an opportunity to escape, but he, along with his brother Paolo, stayed behind to participate in the resistance. He was able to rescue his sister and parents, but the remainder of his relatives and Jewish neighbors perished in the death camps. That haunted him for the rest of his life, and Micol is the projection of that fatal indecision. 

They had different survival strategies. Giorgio's father (who was modeled on Bassani's own father) tries to shield his family by playing the role of the loyal fascist and patriot. But in the end, that's not enough. 

Italian Jews were blindsided because Nazism was foreign. A witch's brew of German philosophy and mythology. Traditional Italian anti-Semitism was theological rather than racial, and it was far less threatening. But Mussolini's pact with Hitler interjected that alien ideology onto Italian soil. 

vi) Because the viewpoint of the characters is prospective, while the viewpoint of the audience is retrospective, that generates dramatic tension. The audience knows the cataclysm that awaits the characters before they do. By the time it catches up with them, it's too late to escape.  

vii) To my knowledge, Bassani was a secular Jew. The Holocaust left him shattered. Had it not been for the Holocaust, he would have been a minor writer, but that event lent tragic weight and moral focus to his writing. Yet all he could do, from within his worldly vantage-point, was to commemorate and document the cataclysm. He felt it should be meaningful, but he had no transcendent frame of reference. Even if his friends and relatives hadn't died in the Holocaust, they'd all be dead by now. Death by "natural causes."

Like an anthill struck by lightning. The ants scurry about, surveying the devastation. Collecting the dead. Repairing the damage. Starting over again. But the cosmos is sublimely indifferent to their plight. It's their little tragedy. But in due time, all things pass. People come and go. They take their place in the vast invisible cemetery of time's forgotten lives. There is no moral urgency. In the end, everyone who cared about the dead is dead. Time erases everything. 

There is no hope in this world. Like an empty nautilus shell, it curves in on itself, leading to a dead-end. Hope can only come from the outside, breaking into the cycle of despair.  

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Psychiatric Explanations Of The Resurrection Appearances Still Fail

Gary Habermas recently published an article with Joseph Bergeron on psychiatric hypotheses that attempt to naturalistically explain Jesus' resurrection appearances.

A Piper paradox?

Latinos just don't make the cut

The 2015 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America will be most remembered for how we responded to a personal resolution asking that the PCA acknowledge and repent of past sins during the Civil Rights era.  
One of the first major speeches made was by a Hispanic member of the Committee who wondered why we were only addressing African Americans in the resolution.
In the name of racial reconciliation, Anglo Presbyterians snub Latinos. They are so busy repenting of past injustice that they commit a present injustice. Go to the back of the bus while we fixate on one ethnic group to the exclusion of another. 
That's the problem with people are more concerned with appearing to do right than really doing right.