Saturday, October 03, 2015

The "root cause" of gun violence

i) Trying to ban/confiscate guns misses the point. That's treating symptoms. Fixating on the weapon of choice fails to address the root cause. Why do some people turn to violent crime in the first place?

There are various reasons, not all of which are soluble. 

One thing we know is that violent crime is overrepresented in certain intersecting demographic groups, by sex, age, and ethnicity. 

Young men from stable two-parents homes are less prone to violent crime. Young men who stay in school are less prone to violent crime.

Conversely, violent crime is fostered by absentee fathers, a culture of dependency, high dropout rates, &c.

Partial solutions include school choice, so that kids aren't chained to failing schools. Plus welfare reform. 

ii) In addition, as society becomes more secularized, it becomes more nihilistic. And that's coming from the top down, not the bottom up.

If kids are taught that there's no afterlife, no final judgment, no heaven or hell, no moral absolutes, that we are just fleeting, fortuitous collections of particles, then it's not surprising if some people act on that nihilistic philosophy. If you want people to behave better, you might begin by giving them something worthwhile to live for. 

Atheism is a recipe for moral and existential nihilism. And we're beginning to see the results. Not just in mass shootings or urban violence, but at Planned Parenthood clinics. Likewise, we're poised for an exponential rise in euthanizing the elderly and developmentally disabled. 

Arguing about guns

An anatomy of apostasy

i) Many apostates make a common mistake. And it's an elementary mistake. 

Typically, they were raised in a Bible-believing church. Then they took high school biology, or college Biology 101, or read a book by Richard Dawkins or Jerry Coyne. That sort of thing. And they lose their faith.

The rudimentary mistake is to compare two things that operate at different levels. They are comparing the Bible to science, or comparing theology to science. But these aren't directly comparable. There's an obvious sense in which a few pages of Scripture are no match for hundreds of pages of textbook evolutionary biology. Scripture wasn't designed to engage the issue at that level. Same thing with systematic theology.

The proper comparison would be to read two or more science books from opposing viewpoints. Those operate on the same plane. They address the same issues, at the same level of detail or technicality. They adduce prima facie scientific evidence for their respective positions. That's the relevant level of direct comparison and contrast. 

ii) It's also striking that apostates like this are often so lop-sided. Having dipped into the evolutionary literature, they refuse to read the opposing literature. They have no intellectual patience for the other side of the argument.

iii) In addition, they cut evolutionary theory lots of slack while they cut creationism no slack. They make many allowances for evolutionary theory. They don't let the difficulties in evolutionary theory faze them. They have faith that if we're just patient, if we wait it out, these challenges will be resolved. Or, if not, that in principle, they must be consistent with evolution. But they don't show the same deference to creationism. 

iv) They ask questions until they arrive at evolution. They come to rest with evolution. At that point they stop asking questions. Evolution is unquestionable. They no longer feel the need to keep posing pesky questions and demanding answers. At best, all questions and answers must now take place within the evolutionary paradigm. Ironically, that's the mirror image of many creationists, whom they disdain. 

The power of paradigms

One objection to creationism is simply the fact that so many scientists subscribe to evolution. Why would they do that? Is there a scientific conspiracy to reject Christian theology? Did they get together and take a vote? 

i) To begin with, a certain percentage of scientists are, in fact, hostile to Christianity, Christian ethics, the idea of God. That's clear from surveys as well as outspoken critics. That's not a hidden agenda. That's upfront. 

ii) But another factor is the power of a paradigm. By "paradigm" I mean an interpretive grid. People who are trained in a particular way of seeing a problem and solving a problem may find it almost impossible to conceive of any other way to analyze problems in their field. To deny the paradigm is a hallmark of irrationality. 

Paradigms have a powerful conditioning effect on how we frame issues, what solutions we consider to be acceptable. Many people find it difficult, even for the sake of argument, to step outside of their paradigm and consider the evidence from a radically different perspective. They've lost the capacity for critical detachment. They are so used to operating with the paradigm that it dominates their thinking. 

Paradigms are appealing or seductive because they seem to offer a unified explanation for complicated phenomena. You're confronted with a range of apparently disparate factors. How do you sort it out? Is there a common thread?

A paradigm offers a unifying principle. A way to simplify the analysis by reducing it to some general explanatory dynamics. 

For instance, some people have compared reading Marx to a religious conversion. Suddenly, all the pieces fell into place. 

This is true for many academic disciplines. Take different approaches to psychology, viz. behaviorism, depth psychology, evolutionary psychology.

Take different theories of mind, viz. functionalism, computationalism. 

Take different theories of historical causation. What's the "root cause"? Is history driven by ideas, individuals, economics, luck? 

Some paradigms have, or seem to have, great explanatory power. An ability to integrate wide swaths of data. They can be very persuasive. 

A breaking point is when a paradigm tries to explain too much. The paradigm no longer explains the evidence; rather, the theorist labors to show how the evidence is consistent with the paradigm. He may introduce makeshift modifications to the paradigm, or speculate on how the total evidence would be consistent with the paradigm if only we had a larger sample. 

A paradigm may explain, or appear to explain, a lot of evidence, but when it becomes strained or overextended, that reveals internal weaknesses in the paradigm. It's like a half-truth. It may capture some truth, approximate the truth in some respects, but it's off the mark. 

When we evaluate a paradigm, we need to take into account, not only what it seems to explain, and so without difficulty, and what it fails to explain. It's a question of starting-points. Do you begin with what the paradigm seems to explain with ease, take that as confirmation that the paradigm is roughly on target, then chalk up difficulties to remaining problems to be resolved, which you have faith are ultimately soluble within the parameters of the paradigm?

Or do you begin with problems it has difficulty assimilating? Do you take that as an indication that the paradigm may be flawed? When you evaluate a paradigm, do you begin with apparent problems or apparent solutions? With what it can it explain or what it can't? Which endpoint is your frame of reference? 



Clement Of Alexandria On Christian Intellectual Neglect

"Pagans had to find the treasure which was in Christ. Christians had to explore it, to advance beyond the mediocrity in which they slumbered. Tertullian spoke at this time of 'nostra mediocritas'. Faith must grow into knowledge. Clement showed more sympathy with Gnostic sects than did his contemporaries; at least Gnostics saw the need to move on. His own ideal, the true gnostic or man of knowledge, was within the reach of all believers….his chief concern was to join Athens and Jerusalem….The farmer needs to learn different skills if he wants to cultivate, just as the doctor and hunter need to learn many things if they are to heal or hunt. And so must he who wishes to gain from the scripture and from Christ learn all rational and logical skills. He must go to geometry, music, grammar and philosophy itself and take from them what is useful, in order to defend his faith against those who plot to destroy it. If he does not do this, he is, as Plato says, like the athlete who turns up unprepared for the games (Rep. 3.404ac)….'How can it not be necessary, for him who wishes to lay hold of the power of God, to philosophise and to grasp with comprehension intellectual concepts?' ( He who reads the bible must know how to detect ambiguities and multiple meanings in the biblical text; this is where philosophy helps….There is no doubt that the joining of Athens and Jerusalem in Philo and Clement provided a major element of western culture." (Eric Osborn, Clement Of Alexandria [New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008], 24-5, n. 84 on 25, 63-4, 104)

Homo naledi

The internet has been abuzz regarding a new fossil find, named Homo naledi. What do I make of that?

i) Let's begin with deja vu. Every so often we're treated to the discovery of the missing link. Lots of fanfare. Upon closer examination, it turns out there was far less to the story than meets the eye. It's like fake hate crimes. 

ii) Darwinians know that showing the public skeletal remains isn't very impressive. So what they do is give us a hypothetical reconstruction of what the creature allegedly looked like.

Now, I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with that. Forensic anthropologists do that sort of thing.

Nevertheless, it's just an "artistic rendering." And it's bound to be prejudicial. You aren't seeing what the creature actually looked like, because we don't know what the creature actually looked like. 

Take the face. Obviously, a skull has no face. So that gives tremendous play to facial reconstruction. It can be made to look more human, protohuman, or apish. 
We've all grown up with imaginative mock-ups of "early man". So when we see a hypothetical reconstruction, that subconsciously conditions us to perceive evidence for human evolution. The fossil is depicted in a way that makes it appear to be an intermediate form: more than a monkey but less than a man.

Again, though, that's prejudicial. Salting the mine. We're not viewing the actual fossil. We're not seeing the raw evidence. Rather, we're seeing a face that's, at best, imaginative guesswork. How much of the transitional appearance is due to artistic imagination? 

For instance, if all we had was the skull of Nefertiti, could we go from that to the famous bust? 

Moreover, the skull was pieced together from fragments of four different skulls. And it's unclear if these even come from the same species. 

iii) Then there's the reconstructed body. That raises the question of what makes a body recognizably human. 

Even in modern-day humans, there's a wide rage of body shapes and sizes. That often reflects environmental adaptations. Likewise, some sports, like pro football and pro basketball, select for extreme body shapes and sizes. 

As I boy I used to read Road & Track and Car & Driver. When commenting on Italian cars, reviewers would quip that Italian cars were made for drivers with long arms and short legs!

More seriously, I once read an interview with a costume designer for The Highlander. She said it was hard to costume Adrian Paul because he didn't have a typical 17C body. Rather, he had a typical mid-20C body. His body shape wasn't suited to period attire. They had to fudge it. 

iv) What did Adam and Eve look like? We don't have much to go on. Assuming that Eden was located in a hot river valley, it would make sense if they had tan skin and dark eyes.  

Friday, October 02, 2015

Through African eyes

It takes a gun to stop a gunman

Every time we have a massacre, Democrats demand new gun control laws. A few observations:

i) What causes a gunman to stop shooting? In my observation, it's generally one of two things:

a) He runs out of ammo

b) Someone shoots him

So it takes a gun to stop a gunman. Having a gun gives the shooter a nearly unbeatable advantage over unarmed targets. It's hard for unarmed men and women to stop or disarm a gunman.

Occasionally, a gunman will shoot himself to elude capture. That's after he's completed his shooting spree. 

ii) What's the alternative? That only police have guns? If so, there are obvious problems with that:

a) It's my observation that most folks who lobby for gun control are often very critical of police shootings. 

b) If only the police (and military) have guns, doesn't that put the general public at a tremendous disadvantage with respect to gov't? What's to prevent gov't from acting like a bully? You can't fight back. Gov't has all the firepower. 

c) Suppose a gunman begins to shoot up a school or office or whatever. Suppose someone inside manages to call the police.

It takes the police however long to arrive at the scene of the crime. Moreover, they don't rush right in. They take time to position themselves. Study exits and floor plans.

That gives the gunman lots of extra time to keep killing people inside.

iii) Are gun-control advocates proposing gun confiscation? After all, if you think gun ownership should be restricted to law enforcement officers (and the military), how do you make sure that only the police are armed? How do you get all those guns off the street? How do you make sure guns are in the "right hands"? 

So does that mean gun-control advocates think police should ransack every house, warehouse, car, truck, boat, business, &c. in America in search of guns? 

iv) Even if you outlaw gun stores and gun shows, won't that simply create a lucrative black market for gunrunners? You will replace legal arms dealers with illegal arms dealers. 

Pharaoh’s Magicians Redivivus

Patronizing evil

One of the striking things about life in a fallen world is the spectacle of evil or dangerous people with powerful friends who protect and promote them. So often, evildoers have patrons who excuse them and empower them. 

In response to yesterday's college massacre, Democrats immediately called for gun control, ignoring the fact that the shooter was (reportedly) targeting Christians. Ignore the real motivation. 

Consider Obama's policy towards Muslims. His plan is to effectively subsidize the Iranian nuclear weapons program by dropping sanctions while simultaneously sending them a huge foreign aid package. 

Likewise, consider his domestic policy. Under his watch, we've had a string of jihadist attacks on American soil. This includes Muslims in uniform. His response is to blame everything and everyone else except Islam. And he has a plan to import tens of thousands of "Syrian refuees" (euphemism alert) into the US.  

Or take the promotion of Muslim Rep. André Carson to sensitive national security positions. Why take the risk? Why invite disaster? 

On a related front is Obama's nomination of an open homosexual to be the next Army secretary. Likewise, giving homosexuals access to underage kids (e.g. homosexual Scout leaders). And we now have an incipient movement to mainstream pedophilia. 

The pattern is to promote the most subversive elements of society to positions of power and influence. Once motivation is to prove how tolerant we are. The onus is not on Muslims (or homosexuals) to prove that they are trustworthy. Rather, the onus is on us to trust them. To give them every benefit of the doubt. Put others at risk. 

This is nothing new. Last year there was a hagiographic film (The Imitation Game) about Alan Turing. His security clearance was revoked, which many people find unfair. Keep in mind, though, that Turing was a member of the same Cambridge circle that produced the infamous spy ring (e.g. Philby, Burgess, Blunt). 

And that's not coincidental.You had the intersection of the Cambridge Apostles with the Bloomsbury circle. A common denominator was atheism. In addition, many members were avid homosexuals. No doubt this was fueled by the boarding school system. 

Between homosexuality, atheism, and academia, they represented a countercultural outlook that was contemptuous of normal men and women who get married and have children. In the nature of the case, homosexuality cultivates a carpe diem philosophy. They don't think in terms of posterity. It's a childless youth culture.

They really were a security risk. And spies like Blunt evidently had friends in high places who protected him. Why might that be? One reason is the possibility of blackmail. People like Blunt were in a position to out high-ranking officials. 

But above and beyond that, atheism and homosexuality sap a capacity for genuine moral disapproval. Loyalty was defined by allegiance to the cult of homosexuality. Likewise, atheism fosters moral relativism–or nihilism. 

Its a subculture that doesn't identify with normal human social life. It has contempt for Christian morality. Contempt for the common lumpen.  Alienated from all that's natural, normal, good, and decent. 

A Response to Jerry Walls on Christian Compatibilism

Francis Turretin: “Papacy is AntiChrist”

Following up on the wild popularity of “Pope Francis” to the United States, Leonardo de Chirico looks at the question of whether “the pope is AntiChrist” in his occasional “Vatican Files” email this morning. In it, he cites Turretin’s “7th Disputation on the AntiChrist” which was part of a larger work entitled “Concerning our Necessary Secession from the Church of Rome and the Impossibility of Cooperation with Her” (1661) (published as F. Turretin, “Whether It Can be Proven the Pope of Rome is the Antichrist”, ed. by R. Winburn, Forestville, CA: Protestant Reformation Publications, 1999).

Here is a selection: Turretin: “Papacy is AntiChrist”:

Clement Of Alexandria And Roman Catholicism

Here are some comments from Eric Osborn, a patristic scholar who specialized in the study of Clement:

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Manning up for women's sports

Measuring prior probability

Robin LePoidevin has written sympathetically about atheism and agnosticism. But a few years ago he made an interesting observation. He begins by stating a stock objection to theism:

The default position in any debate is whichever view is less likely to be true. The more improbable the hypothesis, the greater the need for justification. Theism is intrinsically less likely than atheism, so it stands in greater need of justification.

To which he responds (in part):

We need some means of establishing the likelihood of a hypothesis…perhaps we can measure the prior probability of a hypothesis by how much it rules out. The more it rules out, the lower the prior probability. The less it rules out, the greater the prior probability. Robin LePoidevin, Agnosticism: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2010), 49-50.

But assuming that's a sound principle, doesn't physicalism rule out much more than Christian theism? It precludes abstract objects (i.e. numbers). It precludes immaterial minds. Indeed, some physicalists deny consciousness altogether. Likewise, the denial of miracles is a universal negative. 

But by LePoidevin's logic, that means Christian theism has a higher prior probability than physicalism and/or atheism. And that's even before we add all the specific evidence for Christian theism.

Is imputation a legal fiction?

The stock objection to imputation (or vicarious atonement/penal substitution generally) is that you can't detach the merit/demerit of a deed from the agent who performed it and reattach it to a second party.

There's no knockdown argument for that. It's just the intuitive sense that imputation artificially separates what's inseparable.

One counterarguement I've used in the past goes like this: A defining element of friendship is favoritism. We do things for friends we don't do for strangers. Any particular favor is gratuitous; however, that's grounded having earned someone's friendship, and vice versa.

But there's an extension to that principle:

Bud is Bubba's friend
Bubba is Buster's friend
Buster isn't Bud's friend
(They don't dislike each other, but they don't happen to be friends.)

Bud asks Bubba to do a favor for Buster. Bubba complies, but he's really doing the favor for Bud. He is treating Buster as if Buster is Bud; he is treating Buster as if Buster is his friend, in virtue of his friendship (and their mutual friendship) with Bud. So there's a transferable dynamic. 

Now for a different kind of argument. In criminal law and theological ethics, it's typical to distinguish intent from the objective character of the deed. Not only are they distinct, but separable.

For instance, if a 4-year-old shoots his 5-year-old brother to death, we don't charge the 4-year-old with murder. Although the deed is objectively wrong (i.e. his brother's death is an evil), and even though action may have been deliberate rather than accidental, we make allowance for the fact that at that age he's incapable of forming criminal intent. Even if he was mad at his brother and wanted him dead, he didn't appreciate the significance of the act. He didn't want his brother to stay dead. He didn't expect his brother to stay dead. He doesn't think long-term. At that age he can't.

Consider to other examples: 

Jim and John are bunkmates on a military base. Jim works in military intelligence. Jim is a patriot. Jim and John are best friends.

Unbeknownst to Jim, John is actually a spy. Because he thinks John is trustworthy, Jim sometimes shares things is casual confidence regarding military secrets. Indeed, because John is bit of a math genius, Jim sometimes asks John to help him out on decryption/encryption.

As a result, Jim unwittingly compromises national security. His action is objectively wrong, but because he did not intend to compromise national security, the absence of malicious intent is either exculpatory or a mitigating factor . He had no reason to suspect John's bona fides. That's an extenuating circumstance.

In addition, friendship is praiseworthy. Although John betrayed his trust, it's the kind of betrayal that can only take place in the context of friendship (or apparent friendship), and friendship is virtuous. 

A final example: Drake is driving on a country road during a rainstorm. He spots a pedestrian who's getting drenched. He offers him a ride into town. Unbeknownst to Drake, the pedestrian is a serial killer, on the run from the law. 

A squad car passes them and continues on its way. The policeman is on the lookout for a man matching the description of the suspect. But because Drake gave the suspct a ride, the policeman misses him. Had Drake driven past him, the serial killer would have been apprehended by the policeman.

As a result, Drake unwittingly facilitates serial murder. Thanks to Drake, the sociopath eludes capture and continues his killing spree.

Drake's action is objectively wrong. Objectively blameworthy. But because he intended no wrong, the absence of malicious intent is exculpatory. 

Moreover, it was admirable for him to pick up a stranger in the rain. 

Technically, we might say agents are blameworthy rather than their actions, unless we view the action as an extension of the agent.

A final example is an organ donor. In general, organ donation is morally commendable. However, donors usually have no control over who the organ(s) go to. That liver might go to a patient who will commit murder a decade later. 

These examples illustrate the principle that the elements of moral action, the elements which make an action moral or immoral, are detachable. The intent may be inculpable or praiseworthy even though the deed is objectively blameworthy or culpable. 

That's not necessarily the same as transferable, but it's hard to claim that what's detachable can't be transferable. 

This is a less direct parallel than the friendship/favoritism example. It about a more general principle. 

Frequency, probability, and miracles

A stock objection to miracles is that, "by definition," miracles are improbable. That depends, in part, on how you define improbability.

Many people who object to miracles treat improbability as a synonym for infrequency. Suppose we grant that definition for the sake of argument.

Can something be both frequent and improbable? That would seem to be a contradiction in terms, but is it?

Take chess. It's unlikely that a chess player will win all the time or even most of the time. In fact, it becomes more unlikely as he moves up the ladder because he is pitting himself against ever more talented opponents. The competition becomes increasingly tougher. 

Yet some chess players dominate the game. In their prime they are nearly invincible. 

Although a chess genius is improbable or infrequent, once you have a chess genius, he may win games with great frequency. The same holds true in other sports, viz. golf, tennis. 

Or we might take music. It's improbable that music of Mozartean quality would be a frequent occurrence. Yet Mozart was a very prolific composer, despite dying at a young age.

A musical genius is improbable or infrequent, but once you have a musical genius, he may compose top quality music with great frequency.

So we should perhaps distinguish between the frequency of the source and the frequency of the product given the source. Even if the existence of the producer is highly improbable, assuming the producer exists, the product may then be highly probable.

A Response to “Cletus Van Damme” on Justification

The Sacramental Treadmill
The Sacramental Treadmill Begins
AFTER Roman Catholic “Justification”
I’m following up on a comment from another thread:

Part of restoration includes the desire to go to confession in the first place, so no it's not a semi-pelagian process as you imply. Works of mercy are not optional - one can commit mortal sin via omission as well as commission.

My interlocutor goes by the handle Cletus Van Damme. I want everyone to see how this individual’s method of argumentation works. It is not to provide clear and direct responses, but as is customary for Roman Catholics who are doing apologetics, his method is rather deflection and obfuscation (starting with his own pen name).

Keep in mind that you started off by saying that Roman Catholicism agrees with this statement: “if you rely on works of the law you are under a curse, because they have to be perfect.”

Where is perfection found in Roman Catholicism? Maybe at the moment of baptism. But again, Here you are now, with a bait-and-switch, making a case for “the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace.” (from CCC 1446). This terminology comes from the point in time after baptism, and Roman Catholics MUST, ARE REQUIRED TO, submit to a particular set of “works of the law”. The real name for this in real Roman Catholic Doctrine is called “The Precepts of the Church” (define: “precept”: “A precept (from the Latin: præcipere, to teach) is a commandment, instruction, or order intended as an authoritative rule of action”) – this is the very thing that I said constituted a “bait and switch”.

Craig on the Fall

On the one hand:

...lies in your mistaken conviction that “the main core” of the Christian worldview is “the fall of man,” where the fall of man is apparently understood to imply, not only the doctrine of original sin, but also the origin of human disease and death as a result of human sinfulness. 
This is a horribly distorted view of Christianity. Not even the doctrine of original sin is essential to Christianity, as the example of Eastern Orthodoxy plainly shows, since Orthodoxy does not accept the Catholic doctrine of original sin and yet is one of the major branches of Christendom. You protest, “If there was no fall of man, what sin is there to save us from?” That’s easy to answer: every man’s own sin. You hardly need to believe in the doctrine of original sin in order to recognize that all men have sinned and are therefore in need of God’s forgiveness. Indeed, this is the message that is emphasized throughout the Bible, not the doctrine of original sin. 
Moreover, the idea that human physical death and disease is the result of sin or the fall, though championed by Young Earth Creationists, cannot be found in the biblical text and is widely rejected by many committed Christians (including me). 
Read more:

On the other hand:

21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Cor 15:21-22). 
12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come…17 For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man… (Rom 5:12-13,17).

Bill Nye the drive-by guy

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Episode guide to Planned Parenthood videos

The Terminator

A stock objection to Calvinism is that it would be unjust (or "monstrous") for God to condemn evildoers whom he predestined to commit evil in the first place. They were never a chance to do otherwise. 

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that determinism (or predeterminism) is incompatible with moral responsibility. Now let's recast the argument by making a comparison.

In the Terminator franchise, a Terminator is a robotic assassin. An artificially intelligent android that's programmed to kill a particular individual. 

(For some reason they are called cyborgs, but from what I can tell, they don't have any human parts. They merely have a human appearance.)

Terminators are like glorified cruise missiles or smart bombs. They don't necessarily need full-blown consciousness. They just need enough (artificial) intelligence to identify the target, ascertain information on the ground, and adapt to varied situations. 

They don't need "consciousness" in the sense of the internal dimension, viz. first-person viewpoint. They don't need to know "what it's like to be me." 

But since this is all hypothetical, we could endow them with consciousness. That's surplus. 

Terminators are fearful in two respects:

i) They have superhuman strength. They are tireless, relentless, and resourceful. Virtually unstoppable. Humans on the run have to sleep. They don't. Even if you get a head start, they will catch up. 

ii) But, if anything, they are even more fearful in another respect: they are utterly pitiless. They's because they are inhuman. Machines. As such, they are incapable of feeling compassion for another human being. They can't project themselves into our mindset. They don't know what it feels like to be human. You can't appeal to their empathy. There's no hook. 

Now, suppose a Terminator is programmed to kill a child, to preempt what he will become. To change the future.

And to make sure they kill the child, they allow themselves a margin of error by planning to wipe out an entire classroom full of second-graders. 

According to the hypothetical under consideration, the Terminator is amoral. Because its actions are programmed, it isn't blameworthy. 

But even if we grant that for the sake of argument, it would be morally imperative to stop the Terminator by any means necessary. Destroy the Terminator before it kills innocent children. 

That's despite the fact (ex hypothesi) that the Terminator isn't a morally responsible agent. Even though it's not culpable, it has no right to endanger the kids.

Neutralizing the Terminator isn't punitive. Rather, it's protecting the innocent. 

BTW, this isn't just hypothetical. There are some real-world analogues. For instance, people on a psychotic drug-high can be dangerous. 

Someone might say that, given a choice, it would be preferable to reprogram the Terminator rather than destroy it. Perhaps so.

However, we don't owe it to the Terminator. A Terminator can, indeed, be reprogrammed. It can be programmed to be a nanny, gardner, chef, quarterback, ballet instructor, or violinist. It can be programed to be masculine or feminine. 

That's because a Terminator is a blank slate. It has raw intelligence. It has great potential. But it has no innate personality or character traits. Its memory is wiped after each mission. 

It isn't supposed to be any particular way. Its identity is essentially indefinite. Whatever the programer wants it to be. 

So it wouldn't be wrong to destroy it rather than reprogram it. You wouldn't be wronging the Terminator. It's not as though it deserves better treatment. For its character is supplied by the programer.  

Hypothetically speaking

i) Hypothetical scenarios are a fixture in ethics. But some Christians are leery of hypotheticals. They think these are used to confound or derange our moral intuitions. And hypotheticals can sometimes be misused in that respect.

ii) However, hypotheticals are both useful and indispensable. The Mosaic law contains many hypothetical cases. The parables of Jesus often present hypothetical situations.

Even people who express suspicion about hypothetical scenarios resort to hypothetical reasoning all the time. They deliberate on alternate courses of action. They speculate on the consequences of different choices. Mentally compare and contrast each outcome. Predict what's likely to happen in each case. That's a basic part of planning and decision-making. So it's unavoidable.

iii) One purpose of hypotheticals is to test moral consistency. Are you prepared to take your position to a logical extreme? Are there exceptions to your principle? If so, are those ad hoc exceptions?

iv) Although that's often a valid exercise, we need to be careful. Precisely because hypotheticals may be unrealistic, because they are not constrained by what's possible or probable, it is easy to generate false moral dilemmas. 

But that's not necessarily a reason to question your principle. It depends on your view of divine providence. As one philosopher recently put it:

I think we should, however, take seriously the possibility that as we depart far enough from the normal operating conditions of human beings, some of the questions (a) have no answer or at least (b) have no answer available to us. This possibility undercuts some arguments. 
For instance, one can argue that utilitarianism gives deeply implausible answers (e.g., that every action is equally permissible) in cases where there are infinitely many people. But suppose that there aren't in fact infinitely many people, and the situation of there being infinitely many people is far beyond humans' normal operating conditions. Then the fact that utilitarianism predicts something that seems implausible to us beyond those conditions is not a problem for the utilitarian--as long as she is willing to modestly limit the scope of ethics to humans in or near their normal operating conditions (if she's not, the argument is fair game). 
Or consider this argument against deontology: It seems permissible to kill one innocent person to save a billion. But circumstances where we choose between one life and a billion lives might well be so far beyond our normal operating conditions that they fall beyond the scope of ethics. 
The last case is interesting. For it raises this question: Might we not actually find ourselves in circumstances so far beyond our normal operating conditions that ethics doesn't apply…? After all, it is sadly all too easy to imagine how someone might end up choosing whether to kill one innocent to save a billion...It seems deeply troubling to suppose that some people end up in circumstances that go beyond the presuppositions in the moral law. 
I think Christians have reason based on revelation to think this doesn't actually ever happen. The moral law is also embodied in revelation, and revelation presents itself as a guide to us in all the vicissitudes of life. But note that even if nobody ends up in circumstances that go beyond the presuppositions of the moral law, going beyond these presuppositions could be physically possible but for God's providential protection. A case of choosing whether to kill one innocent to save a billion may be like that: God makes sure we're not tried beyond the edge of ethics.

But is that pious hope consistent with freewill theism? Seems more consistent to say a person might find himself caught in an intractable moral dilemma–since God doesn't control whatever happens–in which case God will excuse him. 

v) Finally, hypotheticals can be valuable in part because they may be far removed from what we've experienced thus far. And we may never experience something like that.

Thing is, you never know ahead of time what life may throw at you. Consider American soldiers who wound up on German or Japanese POW camps. Or consider wrenching medical decisions which may confront us some day. 

A value of hypotheticals is to formulate a position before you find yourself in that position. You have the leisure to think about it, to weigh the evidence. To developed a considered position without the duress of a real life crisis. 

If you wait until you find yourself in a dire situation which requires a snap judgment, that can be the very worst time to think about it for the first (and last) time. You have to make a momentous decision. You don't get a second chance. 

Hypotheticals help us to work out some positions in advance, when our judgment isn't clouded by emotion. When we can consider the issue with a degree of detachment. When we have time to become informed. When no one is pressuring us to act in a certain way. 

vi) Mind you, armchair analysis has its limitations. Because it's abstract, we may fail to anticipate some important considerations. Because there's no urgency, we may not give it in-depth consideration. It's just not that relevant at the time. 

Experience can inform, refine, revise, or sometimes reverse our answers to hypothetical questions. But it's better to go into the situation with some intellectual preparation.

Bill Nye the stupid guy

"Bill Nye the Junk Science Guy" by Wesley J. Smith.

Artificial reality

Some theologians use the authorial metaphor to model God's relationship to the world. God is like a novelist, the world is like a novel. Humans are like storybook characters. The physical environment is like the setting. History is like the plot. 

It's a useful metaphor–but a bit quaint. It could easily be updated to make it more flexible and realistic. I'm alluding to science fiction involving virtual reality and artificial intelligence. 

I don't mean that's realistic in the sense that it's possible. I just mean that for illustrative purposes, it is more lifelike.  

So let's play along with that scenario. God is like a video game designer who creates self-aware virtual characters. Unlike storybook characters, these characters are endowed with consciousness. They have an actual mental life. They can feel simulated physical pain or pleasure. They can experience the gamut of human emotions. They can reason. Deliberate. Suffer psychological pain. 

They are aware of their surroundings. Aware of fellow characters, with whom they interact. They make plans. Experience disappointment, and so on. 

Unlike a novelistic plot, which is static, events unfold in the video game in real time. A real past, present, and future. Stream of consciousness. 

This can illustrate different aspects of God's economic relationship:

i) The designer exists apart from the game. The designer planned the game. Created the characters. At that level, he caused everything to happen. 

ii) Yet the AI virtual characters aren't merely projections of the designer. They have actual, individual mental states that are ontologically distinct from the designer. They experience their world from the inside out. 

Each AI virtual character has its own first-person viewpoint, that's not equivalent to God's first-person viewpoint, or God's third-person viewpoint of the characters. These are irreducible perspectives. Each character knows what it's like to be himself (or herself). 

iii) They might cause things to happen the way we cause things to happen in dreams, by willing them to happen. Psychokinetic agents. And from their vantage-point, that might be indistinguishable from physical causation. 

iv) They could become aware of their designer's existence. Be cognizant of a larger reality, outside the world in which they exist. 

v) We can explore both determinist and indeterminist models. 

On an indeterminist model, the designer creates the initial conditions, but after that the game may take on a life of its own. Within certain parameters, the outcome is wide-open. 

On a determinist (or predeterminist model), the designer plans everything that happens. Every thought, word, feeling, and action. Everything unfolds according to plan.

In principle, characters might become aware of the fact that their actions are predetermined. That wouldn't have much impact on their action, because they don't know in advance what they are predetermined to do. They just do whatever they were going to do. Do whatever they were motivated to do, which turns out to be what they were predetermined to do. To the extent that knowledge of predeterminism affects their action by making them self-conscious about their next move, that is, itself, a predetermined reaction. So it doesn't change the outcome.

This, of course, raises familiar theodical issues. Are they still responsible for their actions?

A stock objection is that they can't be responsible unless they were able to do otherwise. Suppose we grant that contention for the sake of argument.

There are stories with alternate endings. There are stories in which the character did both. In that event, is he blameworthy if, in one case, he does something immoral?

What about the libertarian version? Unlike storybook characters, the virtual characters can suffer actual harm. One character can make another character feel simulated physical pain. Or induce anguish. 

Or "murder" the character. Erase him from the game. All his memories and aspirations are extinguished by another, malevolent character. 

But that raises questions about the designer's benevolence. Is it proper for him to permit one character to wield that kind of power over another? Is it proper for him to permit one character to harm another? Much less to cause him irreparable harm?

The value of an analogy depends on sufficient similarity to the thing it illustrates to be truly comparable, but sufficient dissimilarity to enable us to see the issue from a fresh perspective. If it's too much like the thing it illustrates, it lacks a point of contrast to contribute any distinctive insight into the original issue. 

5 facts about PP's congressional testimony

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Cradle-to-grave dossiers on every American

We have a gov't that's addicted to snooping on private citizens. And why not? Unless and until there's serious reprisal, gov't has no disincentive to stop. So the surveillance becomes every more expansive and intrusive:

I found the sections on “big data” particularly helpful. I confess that despite my considerable interest in Common Core, I hadn’t much followed the data-mining issue. Boy was that a mistake. It strikes me that the potential for abuse of personal data is substantially greater in the case of Common Core than in the matter of national security surveillance. With Common Core we are talking about databases capable of tracking every American individual from kindergarten through adulthood, and tremendous potential for the sharing of data with not only government but private groups (balanced against assurances of privacy that seem decidedly weak and unreliable).  
There are those who have declared an interest, not only in tracking information like students’ addresses, economic status, race, immigration and disciplinary records, free lunch status, religious affiliation, parents’ political affiliation, as well as every test you’ve ever taken, special education status, and other academic data, but even positively creepy indicators like facial expressions, eye tracking, and “smile intensity scores.” Furious parental opposition has already blocked some of this nonsense in some places. But there is still a very real possibility that Common Core will usher in cradle-to-grave dossiers on every American. At a minimum, we ought to be debating this issue. I doubt that most of the millennials exercised by NSA surveillance have even heard about Common Core data-mining. 
Read more at:

Upcoming Ehrman/Licona Debate On New Testament Reliability

Bart Ehrman and Mike Licona will be participating in a written debate on the historical reliability of the New Testament early next year. You can find links to our reviews of their oral debates, as well as other oral debates Ehrman has participated in, here. My review of Ehrman's debate with James White on the New Testament's textual transmission can be found here. And here's an archive of our posts with the Bart Ehrman label. Be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom and click on Older Posts to find more.

Purple out today

"Purple Out Today" by Peter Pike.

Governance without representation

michael9/27/2015 4:01 PM 
There was a time and I know you know this well that the Constitution was purposefully written with exclusions in mind and quite frankly purposefully in my view. Women and blacks and Indians were probably foremost in their reasoning. These framers faced with the reality of their time were highly intelligent men whose lives were at stake. 

That raises many significant issues:

i) To my knowledge, the original Constitution+10 bill of rights does not exclude women. It uses generic language like "persons" and "citizens." So women were covered by the bill of rights. 

Indeed, there's nothing in the wording of the Constitution to exclude women from running for national office. That might have been inconceivable to the founding fathers, but for that very reason, it didn't occur to them to forbid it. By the same token, the wording of the Constitution doesn't prohibit blacks from running for national office. That's even before the 14th & 19th amendments.

ii) It's true that the original Constitution makes some minimal, grudging concessions to slavery. But even in Colonial times, there was a distinction between black slaves and black freemen. 

iii) The legal/Constitutional status of American Indians is the most historically complex. 

a) One point of tension was whether Indians were viewed as American citizens or tribal citizens. Were they viewed as citizens of a colony/state, and/or United States, or were Indian tribes viewed as sovereign states, to which Indians belonged?

Nowadays, I believe American Indians have the equivalent of dual citizenship: both American citizens and citizens of their own "nation" (i.e. tribe).

b) From what I've read, during Colonial American history, white settlers treated Indian tribes like sovereign states. White officials entered into formal diplomatic negotiations with Indian tribes, often resulting in treaties. And that's codified in the original Constitution, under the Commerce Clause ( Article I, Section 8, Clause 3).

In Colonial America, the balance of power between Indians and white settlers was more egalitarian inasmuch as some Indian tribes were militarily formidable. At that time they could bargain from a position of strength. However, as the US army began to achieve military dominate, the balance of power shifted. 

You still had treaties, but these were signed at gunpoint. Given the futility of military engagement, it was a kind of preemptive surrender to sue for terms of peace under terms more favorable to Indians than if they fought and lost. These are coercive treaties. 

c) From what I've read, the 14th amendment excluded most Indians from US citizenship. 

d) There was always tension between the Christian view of Indians and competition for land and natural resources.

Christian missionaries viewed the Indians as sons of Adam. Although they were heathen, the ancestors of the white settlers were no less heathen until missionaries evangelized their white forebears. Hence, you had organizations like The Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians (1787), as well as noted individuals like Daniel Brainerd. Some white missionaries even sided with the Indians in territorial disputes (e.g. Samuel Austin Worcester, Elizur Butler). 

In addition, some children of white settlers grew up around Indians, and learned to speak Indian languages. You had whites like Davy Crocket who opposed the Indian Removal Act. 

e) You also had a distinction between Indians who lived with members of their own tribe, maintaining their ancestral customs, and Indians who were more assimilated. Some Indians were bicultural. They could move back and forth between white society and Indian society. 

Samson Occom is a prominent example. He was graduate of Eleazar Wheelock's Latin School and/or Indian Charity School. 

I doubt that even bicultural Indians were ever accepted as equals in "polite society" back then. However, polite society was generally snobbish. Very class conscious. 

iv) Their ambiguous legal status led to governance without representation. As Justice Harlan said, in Elk v. Wilkins:

Born, therefore, in the territory, under the dominion and within the jurisdictional limits of the United States…There is still in this country a despised and rejected class of persons with no nationality whatever, who, born in our territory, owing no allegiance to any foreign power, and subject, as residents of the states, to all the burdens of government, are yet not members of any political community, nor entitled to any of the rights, privileges, or immunities of citizens of the United States.

Constitutional rights

i) I'd like to expand on why Obergefell is an illegitimate ruling. Five justices decreed a Constitution right of homosexual marriage. 

Now, there's nothing wrong, in principle, with the notion of a new Constitutional right. There is, however, a proper mechanism for creating new Constitutional rights, and that's the process of Constitutional amendment. Obergefell short-circuits that process. But that, in itself, delegitimates the ruling. Obergefell is an extralegal abuse of power. The only legal way to create a new Constitutional right is by amending the Constitution.

ii) In addition, the Federal judiciary lacks the jurisdiction to invent civil rights. According to the 9th and 10th amendments, that's an Unconstitutional of authority that violates Federalism: 

The Ninth Amendment clarifies that the people retain all rights beyond those expressly listed in the Bill of Rights. The Tenth Amendment clarifies that the branches of the federal government may exercise only the powers constitutionally granted to it. Thus, any powers not constitutionally granted to the federal government (or prohibited from state exercise) are reserved to the states or the people. The Framers had two main purposes for the Tenth Amendment: It was a necessary rule of construction to explain how the Bill of Rights is to be understood, and it reaffirmed the nature of the federal system.
The Tenth Amendment explains how the Bill of Rights should be understood. 
Bills of rights were common in state constitutions because states exercised general legislative powers. Because the Constitution granted Congress limited powers, a bill of rights would be unnecessary and possibly dangerous. A bill of rights could imply federal legislative powers that are broader than those granted in the Constitution. Therefore, the Tenth Amendment creates a rule of construction that warns against interpreting the amendments to grant additional powers beyond those granted in the Constitution. For instance, the First Amendment directs that “Congress shall make no law...abridging freedom of speech, or of the press.” Article I never granted any power to Congress over speech or the press in the first place; the Tenth Amendment clarifies that the Bill of Rights does not grant any additional powers beyond those granted in Articles of the Constitution. 
The Tenth Amendment reinforces the federal system created by the Constitution and acts as a bulwark against federal intrusion on state authority and individual liberty. The Constitution establishes a novel system of government and a unique relationship between the states and the federal government. Each government possesses direct authority over citizens. Yet, as James Madison emphasized in The Federalist No. 45, the powers of the federal government were limited and as- signed, while the powers of state governments were quite numerous and general. The concept of enumerated powers is central to the Constitution’s creation of a partly federal, partly national government. The Tenth Amendment is a concise summation of the very idea and structure of a government of limited powers.

iii) Finally, efforts to short-circuit the legislative branches and/or the amendment process subvert representative gov't. As the late Chief Justice Rehnquist observes: 

Judges then are no longer the keepers of the covenant; instead they are a small group of fortunately situated people with a roving commission to second-guess Congress, state legislatures, and state and federal administrative officers concerning what is best for the country. Surely there is no justification for a third legislative branch in the federal government, and there is even less justification for a federal legislative branch’s reviewing on a policy basis the laws enacted by the legislatures of the fifty states.  
At least three serious difficulties flaw the brief writer’s version of the living Constitution. First, it misconceives the nature of the Constitution, which was designed to enable the popularly elected branches of government, not the judicial branch, to keep the country abreast of the times. 
Representative government is predicated upon the idea that one who feels deeply upon a question as a matter of conscience will seek out others of like view or will attempt to persuade others who do not initially share that view. When adherents to the belief become sufficiently numerous, he will have the necessary armaments required in a democratic society to press his views upon the elected representatives of the people, and to have them embodied into positive law. 
Should a person fail to persuade the legislature, or should he feel that a legislative victory would be insufficient because of its potential for future reversal, he may seek to run the more difficult gauntlet of amending the Constitution to embody the view that he espouses. Success in amending the Constitution would, of course, preclude succeeding transient majorities in the legislature from tampering with the principle formerly added to the Constitution. 
I know of no other method compatible with political theory basic to democratic society by which one’s own conscientious belief may be translated into positive law and thereby obtain the only general moral imprimatur permissible in a pluralistic, democratic society. It is always time consuming, frequently difficult, and not infrequently impossible to run successfully the legislative gauntlet and have enacted some facet of one’s own deeply felt value judgments. It is even more difficult for either a single individual or indeed for a large group of individuals to succeed in having such a value judgment embodied in the Constitution. All of these burdens and difficulties are entirely consistent with the notion of a democratic society. It should not be easy for any one individual or group of individuals to impose by law their value judgments upon fellow citizens who may disagree with those judgments. Indeed, it should not be easier just because the individual in question is a judge. We all have a propensity to want to do it, but there are very good reasons for making it difficult to do. The great English political philosopher John Stuart Mill observed:
The disposition of mankind, whether as rulers or as fellow-citizens, to impose their own opinions and inclinations as a rule of conduct on others, is so energetically supported by some of the best and by some of the worst feeling incident to human nature, that it is hardly ever kept under restraint by anything but want of power. . . .34 
The brief writer’s version of the living Constitution, in the last analysis, is a formula for an end run around popular government. To the extent that it makes possible an individual’s persuading one or more appointed federal judges to impose on other individuals a rule of conduct that the popularly elected branches of government would not have enacted and the voters have not and would not have embodied in the Constitution, the brief writer’s version of the living Constitution is genuinely corrosive of the fundamental values of our democratic society.

Evangelicals hate Jesus?

Bill Nye, science gone awry

"Back to Science Class for the Science Guy" by Robert P. George and Patrick Lee.

News you can use

And now for an important public service announcement:

Monday, September 28, 2015

On the Beach

I'm going to comment on a post by apostate Jeff Lowder. It's a mock dialogue between an atheist and Christian on the argument from evil, interspersed with Jeff's running commentary. Let's cut the dead wood and sample the core argument:

Natty: Let’s take the hypothesis of indifference (HI), which says that nothing in our universe is the result of good or evil supernatural beings acting from outside our universe. Either there are no supernatural beings or, if they do exist, they are indifferent to our suffering.

Christi: Why does HI explain facts about evil and suffering much better than theism does?

Natty: To be precise, HI doesn’t predict facts about evil and suffering, in part because HI doesn’t even predict the existence of conscious or sentient beings capable of suffering. But HI also doesn’t predict the non-existence of evil and suffering. That’s just the kind of hypothesis HI is.

In contrast, theism predicts the non-existence of at least certain kinds of evil and suffering. So you could say that HI ‘negative explains’ facts about those kinds of evil and suffering much better than theism, in the sense that theism predicts the non-existence of those facts whereas HI makes no such prediction at all.

Christi: I’m not so sure I would agree with you about what you call “facts about those kinds of evil and suffering,” but let’s ignore that for now. Your argument presupposes that evil and suffering are, well, evil. But you’re a naturalist. How can you call anything “evil”? And if you can’t call anything “evil,” then how could facts about evil and suffering be any evidence against God’s existence?

Natty: By itself, naturalism doesn’t say that certain things like rape, murder, and theft are evil. (Notice also, however, that it doesn’t say that those things are good.) That’s just not what naturalism is about. All naturalism says is that there are no supernatural beings.

Natty: True, but the relevant issue is not whether a universal consensus exists, but (1) whether naturalists can consistently believe in objective moral good and evil, and (2) whether the answer to (1) even matters. I do believe there is objective moral good and evil and I think that’s consistent with my naturalism. It’s hard to see how a belief about morality could be inconsistent with another belief (naturalism) which says nothing about morality. But let that pass. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that naturalism entails there is no objective moral good and evil. Even then, you haven’t given a good reason to reject the argument from evil, since that argument compares theism and HI, not theism and naturalism. But to be charitable, let’s pretend that HI says there is no objective moral good or evil. (It doesn’t say that, but let’s pretend it does.)

Christi: Okay.

Natty: The argument from evil attempts to show that some fact about ‘evil’ (whether it be literal evil or some non-normative concept like pain or suffering) somehow undermines a theistic worldview. We’re assuming, for the sake of argument, that HI entails there is no objective moral good and evil (“nihilism”). How, then, is that supposed to affect the argument?

Natty: Agreed. But this isn’t relevant to evidential arguments from evil, since such arguments don’t require that “bad stuff” be bad in an objective moral sense. All such arguments require is that “bad stuff” happens, which it does. The upshot, then, is that even if HI did entail nihilism, that would do nothing to undermine evidential arguments from evil. 

When an atheist constructs a mock dialogue between an atheist and a Christian, there's not much suspense concerning which side will win the argument. I wasn't holding my breath. Even so, Jeff's argument is a conspicuous failure:

i) A key premise of the argument is that "theism predicts the nonexistence of at least certain kinds of evil and suffering."

a) To begin with, mere theism doesn't predict for the nonexistence of evil. In principle, mere theism is consistent with a malevolent god. So Jeff is tacitly defining "theism" to include divine benevolence.

Jeff has an odd habit of using generic "theism" when he really means Christian theism, or something analogous.

b) But even with that caveat, notice that he simply asserts that "theism predicts the nonexistence of at least certain kinds of evil and suffering." He offers no supporting argument for that claim, even though it's a key premise of the argument.

c) In addition, the claim is vitiated by equivocation. On his own definition, his argument must show that the world contains the kinds of evil whose nonexistence theism (alleged) predicts. The fact (if it is a fact) that the world contains evil is insufficient to prove his point, for his claim is more specific. It is not enough for the world to contain evil; rather, it must contain "certain kinds of evil and suffering" whose nonexistence theism (allegedly) predicts. So he needs a supporting argument to show that the world contains the pertinent kinds of evil. Not just any kind of evil (or evils) will do. 

So his argument fails on two counts: 

d) He fails to show that theism predicts for the nonexistence of certain kinds of evils

e) Even assuming (d), he fails to show that the world contains the kinds of evils in question. 

ii) In addition, he says evidential arguments from evil don’t require that “bad stuff” be bad in an objective moral sense. All such arguments require is that “bad stuff” happens, which it does.  

That, however, is yet another assertion in search of an argument. He is, in effect, claiming that theism predicts the nonexistence of "bad stuff" that isn't bad in an objective moral sense. But what reason is there to accept that claim?

iii) Then he says "All naturalism says is that there are no supernatural beings…It’s hard to see how a belief about morality could be inconsistent with another belief (naturalism) which says nothing about morality."

At the risk of stating the obvious, the question is whether God's nonexistence has implications for moral realism. In fact, many prominent secular philosophers admit that atheism leads to moral relativism, nihilism, or fictionalism.

To claim that naturalism says nothing about morality is intellectually nearsighted. A proposition which explicitly negates one thing may implicitly negate another. 

iv) Finally, he says nihilism is irrelevant to the argument from evil. 

That's a typical blindspot on the part of atheists. They treat moral and existential nihilism as a throwaway concession. "Let's grant that atheism entails nihilism. But that doesn't undermine the argument from evil. So having granted the nihilistic implications of atheism, let's get back to the business of constructing Bayesian arguments from evil.  

Atheists like Jeff act as if nihilism is a red herring. But that misses the point. Atheism generates a dilemma: it's a losing proposition if false, but it's a losing proposition if true. 

Suppose I'm 25. I go to the doctor complaining of back pain. He runs some tests and schedules me to return in a seek. We then have the following conversation:

Physician: Well, Steve, I have good news and bad news. Which would you like to hear first?

Steve: I guess the good news.

Physician: On average, men your age have another 50 years ahead of you. Statistically, you have a high likelihood of living past 70. 

Steve: That's great, Doc! So what's the bad news.

Physician: You have lymphatic cancer, so you will be dead in six months.

Now, the fact that this patient has lymphatic cancer doesn't invalidate the actuarial charts. It does, however, moot their relevance for him

To take another comparison, consider the film On the Beach. In that movie, life in the northern hemisphere was annihilated by thermonuclear strikes and counterstrikes between Russia and the US. But the Aussies temporarily survived, because their country didn't take a direct hit. 

However, they are doomed, for radioactive fallout will overtake Australia is about 5 months. The question, then, is what do you do with your remaining time when you know you soon will be dead? Does that make life more meaningful or less meaningful? Does civil order break down? Or do people continue going to work because they have nothing better to do with their time, and that structures their lives?

Jeff is like one of the doomed Aussies. He's a global warming activist. He won't let the impending demise of the human race deflect attention away from the cause. That's a distraction.

You see, the imminent extinction the human race does nothing to falsify the evidence for global warming. Therefore, Jeff cycles to work every day to finalize his 10-year plan to counteract global warming. If you hope to have world to leave our kids and grandkids, you need to get ahead of this environmental crisis.

Likewise, he waters the lawn every day when he returns home. Trims the shrubs and pulls the dandelions. 

Now, in a sense his position is strictly logical. The evidence for global warming is logically independent of evidence that the human race will cease to exist in 5 months. 

However, the fate of the human race has a direct bearing on the relevance of his project. By the same token, why continue watering grass when the arrival of radioactive dust-clouds will permanently deaden the flora? 

Atheists like Jeff suffer from such tunnel vision. If atheism entails moral and existential nihilism, then that's a lost cause–even if it were true. 

The point is not that nihilism necessarily falsifies the argument from evil. You might be able to rehabilitate an internal argument from evil, assuming nihilism is true.

But even if it's not logically germane, it is existentially germane. If, according to atheism, human life has no objective value, then why keep smashing your car into that blind alley? Why hit the wall, reverse, then hit it again and again?

Would it not be more reasonable to say it's a position that disqualifies itself, and pursue the prospects of an alternative which, if true, is more promising? Why give atheism any further consideration once you realize it leads to moral and existential nihilism? 

Apostates like Jeff have this lingering sense of duty. He's like a civil engineer who keeps the traffic lights operational after the city was abandoned decades ago. The streets are deserted, but the traffic lights still work. Most atheists suffer from terminal silliness. The value of their efforts is mooted by their conclusion. If they were reasonable, they'd begin with their conclusion, then give up, or explore something worthwhile instead.