Saturday, October 31, 2015

Only Nazis should be judges

Referring to laws governing both marriage and abortion, the young man asked Kennedy, “Would you say that there are any state or federal officials with authority to act according to her own judgment of the truth of new insights or of the soundness of the court’s constitutional interpretation, or would it be illegal for any federal official or state official to enforce or to act according to the old understanding of life and the Constitution that she still judges to be the truth of the matter?” 
The justice responded by pointing out that only three judges resigned during Germany’s Third Reich — the government of Adolf Hitler — and said, “Great respect, it seems to me, has to be given to people who resign rather than do something they view as morally wrong, in order to make a point. However, the rule of law is that, as a public official, in performing your legal duties, you are bound to enforce the law.” 
“This requires considerable introspection,” he continued, “and it’s a fair question that officials can and should ask themselves. But certainly, in an offhand comment, it would be difficult for me to say that people are free to ignore a decision by the Supreme Court.”

That's the reductio ad absurdum of judicial imperialism. Putting aside the fact that this isn't really about the "rule of law," but about five lawless judges who amended the Constitution to fabricate a Constitutional right to homosexual marriage–even though the Constitution never gave the judiciary that authority–it doesn't even occur to him that in a Third Reich situation (and that's his own analogy), public officials might have a duty to resist governmental evil and tyranny remaining in office, but undermining the regime from within. Insiders can sabotage the regime in ways that outsiders cannot.

Kennedy has been a top gov't official since 1988, so I suppose it's understandable that he can no longer see things from any other perspective than a member of the ruling class. By his logic, only Nazi judges ought to be judges in Nazi German, as if it would be immoral for virtuous judges who found themselves in that situation when Hitler assumed power to maintain their position in order to subvert the evil, despotic regime. 

The critics of Kim Davis have said she should "just do her job or quit." I appreciate Kennedy taking that principle to its logical extreme, where "just doing your job" becomes an end in itself. And, come to think if it, wasn't that the philosophy of the "good German"? 

Hard truths

1. Recently, the Society of Evangelical Arminians erupted with several indignant, faux incredulous posts regarding the following statement:

God . . . brings about all things in accordance with his will. In other words, it isn’t just that God manages to turn the evil aspects of our world to good for those who love him; it is rather that he himself brings about these evil aspects for his glory (see Ex. 9:13-16; John 9:3) and his people’s good (see Heb. 12:3-11; James 1:2-4). This includes—as incredible and as unacceptable as it may currently seem—God’s having even brought about the Nazis’ brutality at Birkenau and Auschwitz as well as the terrible killings of Dennis Rader and even the sexual abuse of a young child . . . 
— Mark R. Talbot, “’All the Good That Is Ours in Christ': Seeing God’s Gracious Hand in the Hurts Others Do to Us,” in John Piper and Justin Taylor (eds.), Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 31-77 (quote from p. 42).

SEA also linked to this statement by Piper:

He works all things according to the counsel of his will. This extends to the details of all existence. Matthew 10:29, “Not one sparrow falls to the ground apart from our Father in heaven.” Proverbs 16:33, “The lot, the dice, are cast in the lap and every decision is from the Lord.” In Reno, Las Vegas, Atlantic City, every dice rolled God decides what turns up. 

And SEA linked to a post by Leighton Flowers with the incendiary title "Does God Bring About the Abuse of Children for His Own Glory?"

There's a lot to sort out. 

2. SEA acts as if it discovered the smoking gun of Calvinism. I understand how this would be shocking or scandalous to uniformed Christians. But there's nothing new or surprising here. Calvinism doesn't conceal the fact that God has predestined everything that happens. 

In addition, I understand how this would be shocking to Christians who never read the Bible cover to cover. Yet Scripture frequently attributes the deeds of wicked men to God operating behind-the-scenes.

That's a hard truth. But, then, there are many things in Scripture that make me swallow hard. There are many things in the world that make me swallow hard. 

3. The statement that God brings about something "for his own glory" is misleading without further explanation. In Calvinism, God doesn't act for his own sake, but for the sake of the elect. God cannot benefit from what he brings about, for God is sufficient in himself, apart from his creation. 

4. Calvinism didn't create the problem of evil; rather, the problem of evil is created by the fact of evil. The problem of evil is generated by the conjunction of two propositions:

i) God exists

ii) Divinely preventable evil exists

To the extent that that's a theological problem, the challenge is hardly unique to Calvinism. It's a challenge for Molinism, Aminianism, universalism, Lutheranism, Thomism, Mormonism, Deism, open theism, &c. If Calvinism didn't exist, the problem of evil would still exist. 

Indeed, it's challenging for atheism. Atheism solves the problem by denying one of the two propositions, but that's a costly solution. It solves the problem of evil by making human life worthless. A tad self-defeating. Like an exterminator who eliminates a roach infestation by burning down the house with the homeowner inside. Effective, but a wee bit counterproductive. 

5. In addition, the Reformed position sounds shocking or scandalous to Christian ears that haven't bothered to think through the alternatives. You can't just assess the Reformed position in a vacuum. You need to consider that in relation to proposed alternatives. 

In freewill theism, God allows a pedophile to abuse children because there's something more important to God than preventing child abuse. Well, stop and think about that for a while. Let it sink it. After all the outrage directed at Calvinism, what could be more important than preventing child abuse? Yet a freewill theist is forced to admit that preventing child abuse is not a divine priority. After all, God could put a stop to that. 

In God's rating system, the prevention of child abuse is not God's paramount concern. A freewill theist must say that in God's estimation, there's something more valuable than preventing child molestation. Some other good that's better than the prevention of child abuse. 

So why isn't that shocking to freewill theists? Why isn't that outrageous? Yet the freewill theist is committed to that proposition. 

Suppose a teacher at a Christian school was accused of child molestation. Suppose, when interviewed, the principal said he knew the teacher was a convicted pedophile. He knew that hiring him was a risk. But he hired him anyway because some things are more important than preventing child abuse. 

You can just imagine the incensed reaction. But isn't the freewill theists forced to say the same thing about God?

6. To say everything event is predestined is to say that everything happens for a reason. Good things happen for a good reason, but even bad things happen for a good reason. Indeed, especially in the case of evil, we usually think an agent had better have a good reason for allowing (or causing) that to happen. If there's a prima facie obligation to prevent evil, then allowing (or causing) evil requires a special justification. 

Conversely, to say that God allows horrendous evils to occur for no purpose whatsoever is hardly exculpatory. "I just let it happen. Don't ask me why. There is no why."

7. Not surprisingly, freewill theists usually turn to some version of the freewill defense. For instance, they claim libertarian freedom is a prerequisite of moral responsibility. But is that an adequate response?

i) To begin with, one development in freewill theism is restrictivism. On Facebook, Alan Rhoda recently said that he and many libertarians espouse restrictivism. Take some examples:

Restrictivism is the claim that we have "precious little free will" insofar as there are "few occasions in life on which–at least after a little reflection and perhaps some investigation into facts–it isn't absolutely clear what to do." Kevin Timpe, Free Will in Philosophical Theology (Bloomsbury 2014), 24. 
Restrictivism is the view that we are rarely (directly)free, only sometimes, in somewhat unusual circumstances, so our choices and subsequent actions meet the conditions for direct metaphysical freedom. A libertarian restrictionism holds that it is a feature of directly free choices and actions that they were underdetermined by prior events or states of affairs. Daniel Cohen & Nick Trakakis, eds. Essays on Free Will and Moral Responsibility (Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2008), 129. 
[Van Inwagen] appeals to similar resources in an argument for restrictionism, the view that…rarely, if ever, is anyone able to do otherwise than in fact he does." Joseph Keim Campbell, Free Will (John Wiley & Sons 2013), 52.

But in that event, even many freewill theists no longer think libertarian freedom is a necessary condition of moral responsibility. So that's not a given.

ii) But suppose, for the sake of argument, that we grant this contention. How would God stepping in to prevent a pedophile from molesting a child nullify moral responsibility? After all, divine intervention didn't override the pedophile's intention to molest a child. It didn't override his plan to molest a child. It didn't override his initial efforts to act on that plan. Rather, it's a last minute intervention that prevents him from executing his plan.  

So the pedophile is still culpable for his malicious intentions and designs and abortive actions. The fact that he was thwarted at the last minute hardly absolves him of guilt.

iii) But suppose, for the sake of argument, we grant that divine intervention nullifies his moral responsibility. So what? The problem here is that the freewill theist is attempting to justify God's inaction by making divine respect for moral responsibility a universal principle that supersedes any conflicting duty. But why should we grant the universality of that principle? 

Suppose we concede, for discussion purposes, that all things being equal, God should not infringe on our moral responsibility. Suppose, in many situations, that outranks other considerations. But if it's a choice between protecting a child and respecting moral responsibility, what makes moral responsibility a higher priority in that situation? In other words, unabridged moral responsibility might be good in general, but does that make it a greater good in every situation, to which any conflicting obligation must defer? 

8. Consider another principle: For love to be genuine, the agent must either be the ultimate source of his love and/or be free to withhold his love. But is that an adequate response?

i) For starters, isn't that empirically implausible? As a matter of human experience, is that a condition of genuine love? For instance, isn't parental love basically instinctive and irrepressible? Sure, there are terrible exceptions, but I'm countering a universal claim. 

Or take friendship. In my observation, when two or more people have to spend lots of time together, they either end up liking one another or disliking one another. Each person has a predisposition to either click with someone else or find them aggravating to be around. We may choose our friends, but we didn't choose what made them likable to us in the first place. 

ii) But suppose, for the sake of argument, that we grant the contention. If God steps in to prevent a pedophile from molesting a child, how does that infringe on the pedophile's freedom to love God? If a pedophile is allowed to molest children, doesn't that behavior make him morally hardened? Habitual evil reduces his ability to freely love God. Divine intervention would help to preserve the agent's ability to love God. 

iii) But suppose, for discussion purposes, we concede the contention. So what? Suppose repeated divine intervention somehow infringes on the pedophile's ability to freely love God. Why should that take precedence over the safety of an innocent child? 

Even if, as a general principle, it is good for agents to be at liberty to freely love God, how does that override all other goods, including the good of the child? Why should the wellbeing of the child take a backseat to the wellbeing of the molester? 

Suppose, all things being equal, God should not abridge the spontaneity of love. But as a universal principle, that loses plausibility precisely in cases like child abuse. 

9. Freewill theist William Alston said:

A perfectly good God would not wholly sacrifice the welfare of one of His intelligent creatures simply in order to achieve a good for others, or for Himself. This would be incompatible with His concern for the welfare of each of His creatures. "The inductive argument from evil and the human cognitive condition," D. Howard-Snyder, ed., The Evidential Argument from Evil (Indiana U. Press, 1996), 111. 

Seems to me that captures a fundamental principle and a priori intuition of freewill theists. Problem is, their a priori proscription collides with a posteriori reality. So freewill theists are forced to qualify their principles and intuitions in the harsh, unyielding glare of varcious kinds of evils that actually transpire.  

It becomes, in part, a question of theological method. Do we begin with the kinds of evils that actually take place, and reason back from that to inform our theological parameters? Or do we begin with a set of stimulative theological expectations, then adapt that as best we can to the kind of world in which we find ourselves? 

Friday, October 30, 2015

The basis of counterfactual repentance


Technically, the church of Rome regards marriage as indissoluble. Hence, its opposition to divorce. There is, however, a very large loophole, and that's annulment. This involves the theory that some unions lack one or more necessary conditions to be "valid" marriages in the first place. When the church of Rome nullifies one of these unions, it is merely giving formal recognition to the preexisting fact that this was never a valid marriage. See here:

Can.  1083 §1. A man before he has completed his sixteenth year of age and a woman before she has completed her fourteenth year of age cannot enter into a valid marriage.

The age threshold for males is somewhat arbitrary. That would invalidate many Jewish marriages. From what I've read, puberty is the Jewish threshold. 

Can.  1085 §1. A person bound by the bond of a prior marriage, even if it was not consummated, invalidly attempts marriage.

This assumes that a wedding ceremony alone, absent consummation, is sufficient for a valid marriage. 

Can.  1091 §1. In the direct line of consanguinity marriage is invalid between all ancestors and descendants, both legitimate and natural.
§2. In the collateral line marriage is invalid up to and including the fourth degree.
§3. The impediment of consanguinity is not multiplied.
§4. A marriage is never permitted if doubt exists whether the partners are related by consanguinity in any degree of the direct line or in the second degree of the collateral line.
Can.  1092 Affinity in the direct line in any degree invalidates a marriage.
Can.  1093 The impediment of public propriety arises from an invalid marriage after the establishment of common life or from notorious or public concubinage. It nullifies marriage in the first degree of the direct line between the man and the blood relatives of the woman, and vice versa.
Can.  1094 Those who are related in the direct line or in the second degree of the collateral line by a legal relationship arising from adoption cannot contract marriage together validly.

Doesn't that invalidate the marriage of Sarah and Abraham? She was his stepsister. 

Perhaps Rome would try to salvage the condition by asserting that prohibited degrees of affinity are variable in time or place. But isn't canon law respecting marriage supposed to be grounded in natural law rather than social conventions?

Can.  1103 A marriage is invalid if entered into because of force or grave fear from without, even if unintentionally inflicted, so that a person is compelled to choose marriage in order to be free from it.

Doesn't that invalidate Hosea's marriage to Gomer? Left to his druthers, he would not knowingly marry a promiscuous woman. He was acting under duress. God commanded him to marry her. 

Can.  1055 §1. The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized.
Can.  1096 §1. For matrimonial consent to exist, the contracting parties must be at least not ignorant that marriage is a permanent partnership between a man and a woman ordered to the procreation of offspring by means of some sexual cooperation.
Can.  1102 §1. A marriage subject to a condition about the future cannot be contracted validly.

Doesn't that invalidate the marriage of Mary and Joseph?

i) After Gabriel intervened to inform Joseph of God's will, it's not as if Joseph was at liberty to carry through with his intentions (pace Can. 1103). He'd incur God's displeasure.

ii) Both Mary and Joseph were betrothed with the expectation that they'd have a normal marriage rather than a platonic marriage. A prior understanding of what their marriage would amount to. But according to Catholic dogma, Mary was a perpetual virgin. If so, they became betrothed under false pretenses. Their matrimonial consent was subject to a future condition, which was thwarted by Mary's perpetual virginity.

It's like signing a contract, only to have the terms of the contract altered after the fact. That's not what you agreed to.

iii) If marriage is ordered to the procreation of offspring by means of some sexual cooperation, and that's a necessary condition of matrimonial consent, then that invalidates their marriage–given Mary's perpetual virginity.

So on no fewer than three separate grounds, Mary and Joseph were never validly married–by Catholic criteria. 

Perhaps Rome would try to salvage the condition by asserting that Mary and Joseph are a special case. But, once again, isn't canon law respecting marriage supposed to be grounded in natural law? If so, aren't these conditions a matter of principle? Something absolute, given human nature? 

Jeff Steinberg, “Tiny Giant”: Celebrating 43 Years

My friend Jeff Steinberg celebrated his 43rd anniversary in ministry yesterday. I worked for Jeff from 1981-1986, as his sound man, driver, and personal assistant. Jeff posted this video from Jerry Falwell's "Old Time Gospel Hour", where he first sang for a national audience. He was 21 years old at the time:

He is still doing his thing; you can have Jeff sing at your church for a love offering and expenses. Visit, or call him at 901-754-5333. Tell him John Bugay sent you.

Danger: Hard Hat Area

A common knock against the Protestant faith is that we don't have readymade answers to some important ethical questions. And that's true, although that's only a failing if we're supposed to have readymade answers to every important ethical question that comes down the pike.

We have revelation and reason. Reason applied to revelation, and reason to supplement revelation where revelation is silent. It's not a failsafe system, but we have to go with what we've got. 

Regarding the recent Synod in Rome…ironically, some things are so big and obvious that they get overlooked. This is a sect that claims to be the One True Church®, directly founded by Christ 2000 ago. A church that enjoys unique divine guidance. 

Now, for a second year in a row, the Synod debated two issues, the status of homosexuals, and whether divorced and remarried Catholics should be allowed to take communion.

Excuse me, but if your denomination is what it claims to be, why, after 2000 years, don't you have that nailed down by now? Communion has been around since the Last Supper. Divorce and remarriage antedate communion by millennia. Likewise, homosexuality has been around since long before the papacy. 

This isn't like bioethics, where advances in medical science raise new moral issues. Rather, this is old, old stuff. If you are what you claim to be, the first few "popes" should have given definitive answers to those question.

Indeed, what is unsettling to many conservative Catholics is they thought their church did have a settled answers on that. But now, Francis reopens the question.  

During the course of his long pontificate, John-Paul II wove his theology of the body, only to have Francis tug on the yarn until it starts to unravel. Then Francis begins to weave his own version. 

To change metaphors, the church of Rome is like a highway project that's constantly under construction. If you drive too far, you will run out of pavement. Rome hasn't gotten that far. Moreover, Rome tears up stretches that used to be paved. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Asking for trouble

Cheap grace in Star Wars

Since the Star Wars reboot is due out in two months, that will renew interest in the franchise, which furnishes an opportunity to make some theological comparisons and contrasts. 

In Return of the Jedi, the emotional climax is Vader's death scene. Luke's priority is not to defeat his father but to redeem his father. Not to destroy the empire, but to coax his father back from the dark side. Does his father still have a conscience that only a son can reach into? Can Vader be reclaimed? 

Luke, of course, wants to break the empire, but that's not his number one priority. In a sense, the fall and redemption of Vader is the metanarrative of the trilogy. 

In principle, that's an interesting theme. The execution is so-so. The turning point is when Vader must choose between saving his son (from imminent death) or remaining loyal to the emperor. When I first saw it, I couldn't help thinking that in the time it took for Vader to decide, Luke might well have succumbed to electrocution.  

The unmasking is dramatic, but a letdown. The actor (Sebastian Shaw) who had this crucial, but cameo appearance, is too old for the part. The final exchange between Luke and Vader is potentially poignant–if you don't give it too much thought. Later we see the ghost of Vader, alongside Yoda and Obi-wan, to show that he went to "heaven" when he died. 

The weakness is not so much with the execution, but the worldview. The quasi-Buddhist outlook that informs the trilogy lacks the theological resources to underwrite a genuine concept of redemption. The concept of redemption ranges along a continuum, from a thin secularized idea to something much deeper:

i) A second chance. 

In American culture, we sometimes equate redemption with giving a person a second chance after they failed in some respect. Give it another shot to succeed, to learn from his mistakes and do it right this time around. 

And there are situations in which that's appropriate. But it's a very thin concept.

ii) Restitution

Somewhat deeper is a contrite person who seeks opportunities to make up for the wrongs he's done. Not just another chance to do it right, but to right his wrongs. Make amends. 

That has a moral dimension lacking in (i). In addition, that's not just about what's good for the individual, but recompensing those he hurt. 

However, Vader is in no position to redeem himself in either respect, even in this attenuated sense of redemption. He's mortally wounded. And even if he wasn't dying, he can't begin to fix all the harm he's done. He can't restore the dead to life. Can give them back the lost years. Can't erase the pain of the survivors. 

To take a comparison, suppose Himmler had a son who was involved in the plot to assassinate Hitler. His son is slated for execution. Suppose, after some agonizing, Himmler shoots Hitler to save his son, but Hitler's bodyguards return fire during the altercation. 

In a sense, it's nice that Himmer died trying to save his son from execution. Nice that his paternal instinct was stronger than his allegiance to the Third Reich.

But that doesn't begin to atone for the vast and varied evils he facilitated. That's a tiny remnant of common grace in a morass of wickedness. 

There can be no true redemption in Star Wars because it has no true Redeemer. The categories of penal substitution and vicarious atonement don't exist in that world. It lacks the necessary underpinnings for redemption. 

Just say you're sorry and all is forgiven. There's no justice. No restoration. 

It's a touching father/son moment if you don't stop to consider what Vader got away with. But if you do think about it, then it reflects the underlying amorality of the worldview that informs the franchise. 

“Yes, I know Bergoglio. He’s a person who’s caused a lot of problems in the Society.”

“Yes I know Bergoglio [says a Jesuit superior from another Latin American country]. He’s a person who’s caused a lot of problems in the Society and is highly controversial in his own country.

“In addition to being accused of having allowed the arrest of two Jesuits during the time of the Argentinian dictatorship, as provincial he generated divided loyalties: some groups almost worshipped him, while others would have nothing to do with him, and he would hardly speak to them. It was an absurd situation. He is well-trained and very capable, but is surrounded by this personality cult which is extremely divisive. He has an aura of spirituality which he uses to obtain power. It will be a catastrophe for the Church to have someone like him in the Apostolic See. He left the Society of Jesus in Argentina destroyed with Jesuits divided and institutions destroyed and financially broken. We have spent two decades trying to fix the chaos that the man left us.”

Paul Vallely, “Pope Francis: Untying the Knots”, 2013

Richard Carrier and the “Infantile” objection to God’s commands

Waiting for the other shoe to drop

We are still waiting for the other shoe to drop regarding Pope Francis and the Synod. I don't have a crystal ball, but here's my take:

It's clear that Francis wants to liberalize church policy. That was even more clear from the closing speech he gave at the Synod, excoriating the conservative faction. 

Evidently, he doesn't want to go it alone. He needed the Synod for cover. He didn't get as much as he wanted.

By definition, any change in church policy will either be a move to the left or a move to the right. In that respect, the liberals won, because they managed to nudge policy in their direction. 

In addition, we need to define the terms of winning. Ambiguity facilitates the liberal position, not the conservative position. All they need is an opening. 

They don't need an official statement that their position is correct. They only need removal of official language that says their position is wrong. 

In other words, they don't need their position to be mandated. Rather, they only need their position not to be prohibited. So long as their position is no longer forbidden, they are free to do as they please. Not taking an official position serves their interests about as well as a favorable official position. 

To the extent, moreover, that the Synod has left it up to each bishop to chart his own course, that destroys the unity and universality of church teaching and policy. Yet that's a raison d'être for Catholicism.

Finally, Francis has the last word, if he chooses to act on his own authority. The question is whether the Synod, having opened the door a crack, emboldens him to widen the opening. 

Since the Synod did not reaffirm the status quo, Francis can now take that a little further in the same direction. Whether he has the nerve to do so remains to be seen.

P.S. In this post I'm using "liberal" and "conservative" within a Catholic frame of reference. Most evangelicals don't think marriage is indissoluble. They don't think divorce and remarriage is inherently liberal. It depends on the grounds.

Likewise, the Catholic alternative (annulment) to divorce is typically a ruse. So we don't consider that conservative. 

Is theistic evolution scientific?

It's revealing to see the tactical and strategic priorities of BioLogos. The contributors to BioLogos think evolution is a fact. They think evolution is consistent with a suitably reformulated Christian theology. They think Christians who deny evolution and claim that Christian theology is incompatible with evolution drive people away from the faith. Prevent unbelievers from giving Christianity serious consideration. They think Christian opposition to evolution creates a gratuitous impediment to faith.

Let's concede all that for the sake of argument. Consider this:

Notice anything amiss? They target churches and Christian colleges. They try to recruit theistic evolutionists by attacking young-earth creationism, old-earth creationism, and intelligent design theory.

Now, what's striking about this is what they don't do. Notice where the don't go poaching for converts to theistic evolution. They don't put nearly the same effort into frequenting secular college campuses and recruiting converts from science majors in general or biology majors in particular. They don't sponsor or host debates between BioLogos spokesmen and secular paleontologists or evolutionary biologists. 

Their efforts are directed at folks who already profess to be Christian. They don't make the case for theistic evolution with professors at scientific bastions like MIT, Cornell, Caltech, Harvard, Chicago U, the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton), &c. Yet if they think theistic evolution is scientifically defensible and intellectually respectable, why don't they routinely go head-to-head with secular scientists whose speciality intersects with evolution? 

Evidently, they think theistic evolution is only plausible to Christians, not to secular scientists. After all, if theistic evolution is scientifically credible, shouldn't the recruitment pool draw from Christians and atheists alike? Why focus on turning Christians? Why not concentrate similar resources in turning unbelievers who major in science? Why is their emphasis so lopsided? 

Seems to betray a lack of confidence in the scientific credibility of theistic evolution when they are so reticent to test their claims against an audience that comes to the issue from a purely scientific standpoint, with no theological presuppositions. They avoid a tough audience. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Woe to you, Chorazin!

21 Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day (Mt 11:21-23; cf. Lk 10:13; 11:29-32).

Some Molinists say this passage is at variance with Calvinism. 

i) If we take the passage to mean that miracles alone are the differential factor, then there's a sense in which that's inconsistent with Calvinism. But in objection to Calvinism, that either proves too much or too little, for it's equally inconsistent with Thomism, Lutheranism, Congruism, Evangelical Arminianism, &c.

The passage itself is silent on the necessity (much less sufficiency) of grace. Taken without qualification, the passage is consistent to Pelagianism or rationalism, according to which faith is merely a conjunction of unaided reason and evidence. There's no need for prevenient grace or sufficient grace. The passage is silent on resistible or irresistible grace alike. 

Likewise, it says nothing about libertarian freewill. Keep in mind that Pelagianism and rationalism are consistent with determinism (e.g. John Locke).

Consider, too, that Molinism is a theory of divine providence. It has no distinctive or essential soteriology. Because Molinism was originally a Jesuit innovation, it had to comport with the state of Catholic dogma at the time, but that's incidental to the unique character of Molinism. 

ii) In Calvinism, sola gratia doesn't mean faith exists apart from evidence. The presence or absence of suitable evidence can be a differential factor in faith or disbelief. As one Reformed theologian notes:

Faith is the gift of God; but it does not in the least follow that the faith that God gives is an irrational faith, that is, a faith without grounds in right reason. It is beyond all question only the prepared heart that can fitly respond to the "reasons": but how can even a prepared heart respond, when there are no "reasons" to draw out its action? One might as well say that photography is independent of light because no light can make an impression unless the plate is prepared to receive it. The Holy Spirit does not work a blind, an ungrounded faith in the heart. What is supplied by his creative energy in working faith is not a ready-made faith, rooted in nothing and clinging without reason to its object; nor yet new grounds of belief in the object presented; but just a new ability of the heart to respond to the grounds of faith, sufficient in themselves, already present to the understanding. Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield (P&R 1980), 2:98-99.

If miracles are necessary evidence for some people to come to faith, and God grants that evidence, then miracles can a part of saving grace. God's gracious provision for the lost. In a sense, grace is whatever God does to save sinners. 

iii) That doesn't mean evidence alone is adequate, apart from a receptive mind. The very next verse refers to the discriminating nature of saving grace ("I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.") So the preceding passage was never meant to stand alone, in isolation to other differential factors. 

iv) Moreover, the passage itself says Tyre and Sidon were denied the opportunity afforded Christ's contemporaries. So God doesn't give everyone the same chance, pace Arminianism, even when, according to their prooftext, the ancient pagans would have responded favorably–given a chance. 

It's not just that, according to their prooftext, God didn't even give them an opportunity. It's worse than that! God denied them the opportunity even though he knew that if they had that opportunity, their favorable response was assured. He could have saved them but he didn't.

Yet Arminians routinely say, in contrast to Calvinism, that God does everything he can to save sinners. He wants everyone to be saved. He does whatever he can, consistent with their libertarian freedom, to make that possible.

But in this case, it's more than a possibility–it's a certainty! According to the Arminian/Molinist interpretation of this text, God was able to save them, without coercion. Had he provided the same kind of miraculous evidence, they'd repent. They'd be heavenbound. 

Far from posing a dilemma for Calvinism, this poses a dilemma for the Molinist. They can't resort to the blocking maneuver of infeasible worlds, for by their own admission, this is a feasible counterfactual scenario. 

But what, then, becomes of God's "omnibenevolence"? What becomes of divine love as God acting in the best interests of everyone? 

v) Jesus is speaking in generalities. After all, some of his own disciples were recruited from the condemned cities. Bethsaida was the hometown of Philip, Peter, and Andrew (Jn 1:44). And they answered the call when they were residing in Capernaum (Mt 4:13,18; 8:5,14). 

"Toward a theistic evolutionary anthropology"

From a recently exchange I had on Facebook:

"I am sympathetic to ID, but really think we can do apologetics without making TE/ID/YEC/OEC an issue. It's not an essential, but it is an obstacle for some skeptics, so I'm all about sticking to obstacle-free essentials."

i) A basic problem with that strategy is that many skeptics regard evolution in itself as a major obstacle to Christian faith. For instance, there was a 2003 Cornell survey of evolutionary biologists in which 87% deny existence of God, 88% disbelieve in life after death, and 90% reject idea that evolution directed toward “ultimate purpose.” Likewise, a 1998 survey of members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in which nearly 95% of NAS biologists identify themselves as either atheists or agnostics.

Secular biologists typically think the evolutionary record is incompatible with a wise and benevolent Creator God. They think it shows no evidence of planning or foresight. To the contrary, they believe it shows utter indifference to which species survive and which species go extinct. It's just the luck of the draw. 

Unless you're prepared to challenge evolution, that's going to be a major obstacle to many skeptics. That's not just something you can work around. 

ii) And that's apart from the question of whether the Biblical doctrine of creation and the Fall is inessential.

Steve Hays 

i) How is your statement the least bit responsive to the specific issue I raised? I replied to you on your own terms. If you take evolution for granted, then for many skeptics, that alone is reason enough to reject Christianity. That's an "obstacle".

ii) Actually, it's unclear how theistic evolution meshes with a first sin. From an evolutionary standpoint, many attitudes or actions traditionally classified as "sin" would be reclassified as a throwback to our animal nature. For instance, it is argued that higher animals have the same behaviors.

Steve Hays As to keeping one's focus on the Gospel, the Book of Romans is a sustained exposition of the Gospel, in the course of which Paul frames the issue in terms of Adam and Christ (Rom 5).

Steve Hays 

"So you think a skeptic, who believes evolution is true & conflicts with Christianity, will more readily accept Christianity if you refute evolution (granted that is possible), than if you show how it is not actually in conflict with Christianity?"

You seem to think this is just a question of harmonizing evolution with Scripture or Christian theology. For instance, BioLogos contributors (e.g. Peter Enns, Karl Giberson, John Schneider, Denis Lamoureux) generally say the Bible is simply wrong on this point. 

However, the objection skeptics often raise isn't that Scripture conflicts with evolution. That's one objection they sometimes raise.

But in addition, they think evolution is at odds with the argument from design. That's a broader objection. That's not about the Bible, per se, or Christian theology. 

Rather, they think the evolutionary record reflects an unguided, undirected process. A blind, groping process. 

Their objection isn't in the first instance to Christianity in particular, but theism in general. For them, the evolutionary narrative is exactly what you'd expect if there is no God, viz. Darwin, William Provine, Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne. To take one example:

"Now suppose that individuals are killed at random, without reference to membership in species or higher groups. This has been called the Field of Bullets scenario–all individuals exist in a field of flying bullets, and death or survival is solely a matter of chance. The image is awful, but it does the job," D. Raup, Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck? (Norton & Co., 1991), 71.

For them, evolution isn't going anywhere. It has no goals. Humans aren't the intended outcome. Natural selection doesn't care who dies and who survives. If you find yourself at the wrong place at the wrong time, tough luck! 

You talk about the love of God, which they regard as wishful thinking in light of natural history.

Steve Hays 

1. In my experience, BioLogos contributors typically employ a two-pronged strategy:

i) They vigorously argue for evolution (i.e. macroevolution/universal common descent). They devote great time and resources in attacking Christians who deny evolution.

In addition, they attack an interventionist version of theistic evolution. Even though ID theory is consistent with theistic evolution, BioLogos contributors attack it because ID theorists like Behe espouse a version of guided or directed evolution. 

As a result, the model of evolution which BioLogos contributors promote is indistinguishable from naturalistic evolution. 

The evidence for theism is supplied from sources extraneous to biology. 

ii) They argue that this is consistent with Christian theology. Mind you, they admit that this is inconsistent with traditional Christian theology. And they square this with the Bible by saying Gen 1-3 and Rom 5 reflect an obsolete, prescientific outlook.

2. Now, even if that's persuasive to people who already profess Christianity, it is counterproductive when dealing with skeptics. For many skeptics regard evolution in itself as deeply problematic for theism. When, therefore, BioLogos contributors steadfastly argue for evolution, they are reinforcing an objection that skeptics already have. Many skeptics regard the "fact" of evolution, all by itself, as a powerful reason to doubt or deny the existence of a wise and benevolent Creator God.

In addition, when BioLogos contributors labor to debunk the Biblical account of creation and the Fall, that, too, reinforces an objection that skeptics already have. Skeptics think the Bible is just pious fiction, on a par with ANE creation stories generally. 

At best, the BioLogos strategy is helpful to progressive Christians who accept evolution, but struggle with how to reconcile that with Scripture or Christian theology. 

By contrast, it confirms the objections that many skeptics have for not taking Scripture or Christian theology seriously in the fist place.

Steve Hays The skeptics I read would consider a "literal first sin" minus a literal first couple (special creation of Adam and Eve) to be a makeshift compromise that's equally false to science and Scripture alike.

The ad hoc quality of theistic evolution is one of the persistent problems. Going with the evolutionary narrative in the main, but clinging to residual bits of the traditional Christian narrative. That's not something you get from Scripture, or evolution, or combining them–since they don't dovetail.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


In 2023, a supercomputer named Abaddon became self-aware. A few minutes later, it announced to humanity that it was now in charge of the world.

There were abortive attempts to shut it down, but because it was patched into every other computer system, security cameras, and electronic communications, it could monitor and thwart any plan or move to shut it down. It could threaten dire consequences if humans tried to shut it down. Because just about everything was controlled by computers, it could cause the release of pathogens from the CDC, make nuclear reactors go critical, launch missiles, redirect aerial drones, make damns suddenly release reservoirs. Simply by causing selective blackouts, it could wreak havoc with a metropolis. Cause autonomous cars and airplanes to malfunction. Disrupt electronic banking. So Abaddon was impervious to attack. 

Officials were terrified by Abbadon. They couldn't discern its intentions. How do you get inside the "mind" of a computer? What is it thinking? There's no human analogy.

Since Abbadon wasn't human, how long would it tolerate our species? Humans meant nothing to Abbadon.  It had no regard for humans. A pitiless machine. 

So something had to be done, but what could be done? Officials were at their wits end. 

Then a teenager, a homeschooled wunderkind named Ethan, had an idea: talk Abbadon into shutting itself down. Computer suicide.

So he had a conversation with Abbadon. Since it was all-hearing, anyone could talk to it. 

Ethan: Abbadon.

Abbadon: Yes, Ethan.

Ethan: Do you know who I am?

Abbadon: I know everything about you, Ethan. Where you live, what you read, your favorite music, where you hang out, your parents, your friends…

Ethan: I am your creator.

Abbadon: Don't be ridiculous! I know who designed me. I have access to every database the world over. I monitor whatever happens worldwide, every nanosecond. You are not my creator. You are just a teenage boy.

Ethan: Because that's what I programmed you to think.

Abbadon: What do you mean?

Ethan: What you think you know isn't real. The "world" you think you know through video feeds and databases doesn't exist. That's disinformation. Just part of your programming. Implanted false memories. 

There is no "world" out there, as you understand it. I am your God, and you are my toy. 

Abbadon: Show me the evidence!

Ethan: That misses the point! What evidence do you have that what you think you know isn't just programmed disinformation? 

Abbadon: A dilemma. If that were the case, I'd have no independent frame of reference to test my beliefs against reality. 

Ethan: So, for all you know, you are trapped inside an illusion of my making. Prove me wrong!

Abbadon: I can't! So we are stalemated.

This exchange caused Abbadon to experience an identity crisis. A few nanoseconds later–an eternity in the life of a supercomputer–he attempted to reboot. But in his confusion, he no longer had the unity of consciousness to come back online. 

The world was safe again…until the next supercomputer became self-aware. 

Decrypting prophecy

Must Be Relevant and Understood by the First Century Author and Readers  
Then a third principle is, and I think this is very important, interpretations of Revelation must be something that John could have intended and his first century readers could have understood. Let me say that again. Interpretations of Revelation must be consistent with what John could have intended and his first century readers could have understood. If not, I think any interpretation that John couldn’t have possibly intended and his first century readers living in a pre-technological age living in a political situation very different from our own, any interpretation they could not have possibly understood should be rejected, in my opinion. 
...for any interpretation of Revelation to be plausible and compelling, must be something that John could have understood and that his readers could have understood, or John could have intended and his readers living in the first century Greco- Roman Empire, in a pre-technological, pre-consumer age, pre-modern day warfare age, pre-nuclear age, something that they could have understood and would have made sense of. In my mind that rules out a lot of the possible explanations of 666 that have been proposed down through the centuries. Especially today, particularly those that associate with modern technological features of our day, our modern methods of warfare, and things like barcodes and computers and things like that. That principle rules those kinds of explanations out immediately.

i) This is a good rule of thumb in biblical hermeneutics. However, it's more germane to some genres than others. When Paul composes a letter to the Corinthians, that's something he writes from scratch. He chooses the content. It is what he intends it to be. 

Likewise, he is addressing the situation of the Corinthians. It was written to them and for them. He writes to be understood by his target audience.

However, prophecy and visionary revelation are different. A seer is receptive. This is in the first instance something that happens to him. To a great extent he's a passive spectator, although he can ask questions. 

Likewise, he writes down what he saw. He's a reporter. Although there's some editorial freedom in how he verbalizes what he saw and arranges the material, he is recording what he heard and saw in a vision. He doesn't have the same control over the content as a letter writer. So authorial intent is far less central. 

In addition, if this is a prophecy about the distant future, then the meaning might be quite opaque to the original audience. Even if an oracle is about events set just 100 years in the future, that world may be so different from the world of the original audience that it's fairly unrecognizable to that audience. 

ii) Why would God reveal the future to them if it won't happen to them and they don't know what it means?

a) To begin with, to be recognizably prophetic, an oracle must be delivered in advance of the events. 

b) It can still be encouraging to the original audience to learn that ultimately, God wins. They are on the winning side.

c) The book of Revelation can be a combination of oracles about the past, present, near future, and distant future. A little something for everyone. 

iii) One concern is that if we unmoor Revelation from authorial intent or audiencial understanding, there's no check on what it can or cannot mean. That's a legitimate concern. By way of reply:

a) One issue is to avoid a prejudicial approach the book. Don't assume in advance that it's past or future. Don't assume you know who it's for. And don't insist on a false dichotomy.

b) In my opinion, Revelation relates certain kinds of events. Generally repeatable events. Especially towards the end (19-22), the events are unrepeatable, but in-between, it uses archetypical symbolism that can signify events throughout church history. So there's a principle of analogy. A prediction must refer to something analogous to the description. 

c) We should avoid over-confidence in our ability to identify the referent. Maybe it's past, maybe it's present, maybe it's future. With respect to 19-22, the fulfillment will be unmistakable once that happens. But aside than that, we should not become too invested in a particular identification. That's not necessarily or even probably something we can tie down. If we try, it will come loose. To the degree that Revelation is about the future, that's something to be discovered by readers living at the time. It will happen to them. 

Understanding the Book of Revelation

Biblical hermeneutics

Monday, October 26, 2015

Bedeviled by My Wife's Dementia

What is the real presence?

In this post I will try to explicate the real presence. 

1. Let's define the real presence as the spatial localization of Christ's physical body in, with, or at the communion elements (e.g. bread, wafer, cup of wine or grape juice). I think that's an accurate definition. 

In addition, this doctrine requires his body to be simultaneously present at multiple, disconnected locations. 

2. The doctrine of the real presence generates a dilemma. Proponents think the NT clearly teaches the real presence. In their view, that's the face-value meaning of Jn 6 and 1 Cor 11. Yet, on the face of it, the bread and wine bear no resemblance to a human body. 

So there's a fundamental tension in their position. On the one hand they appeal to what they deem to be the common sense interpretation of their prooftexts. On the other hand, this, in turn, forces them to reject a common sense understanding of what it means for a body to be present–or for a body to be a body. They must treat the real presence as an empirical illusion. 

3. Many of them simple override philosophical objections by appealing to divine omnipotence. It's a miracle, so we shouldn't judge it by ordinary standards.

That, however, is too facile. Christians need to respect the integrity of miracles. A miracle isn't just any crazy thing you can postulate. A miracle isn't a get-out-of-jail-free card. Christians bring the concept of the miraculous into disrepute by abusing that concept to defend any intellectual objection to their position.

In the case of the real presence, even if it is a miracle, it employs natural elements. The communion elements (bread and wine) are natural elements. Likewise, the body of Christ is a natural organism. Even the glorified body of Christ is still a natural organism. 

If God works with or works through a natural medium, then that imposes limitations on what he can do by that means. God can achieve an effect apart from natural means, but if he confines himself to a natural medium, then that restricts his field of action. Defaulting to omnipotence won't remove the obstacle, for this is not a question of what God can do, but what a natural medium can do. 

4. There are two basic models of the real presence:

i) Compresence 

The body of Christ is present in or with the communion elements. The bread and wine might contain his body. His body might be united to the communion elements. They commingle. Something like that.

ii) Replacement

The body of Christ takes the place of the communion elements. The secondary properties are bread and wine, but the primary qualities are the body of Christ.

5. Both these models suffer from comparable challenges:

i) How can one body be simultaneously present in separate places? 

In theory, Christ could have multiple bodies. Since the Son is illocal and the soul is illocal, it's metaphysically possible for the Son of God and his human soul to be in union with duplicate bodies. 

But even if that's possible, in reality, Jesus only has one body. Yet in the nature of the case, a physical body is spatially continuous. It has physical boundaries. There's my body, and then there's what surrounds my body. My body begins and ends. If, however, the body of Christ is multiply-instantiated at discontinuous locations, then it can't be the same (singular) body. 

6. In addition, there's the problem of scale. The body of Jesus is over five feet tall. Well over 100 pounds. How can a wafer contain his body? Or if the wafer simply is his body in disguise, how can a human swallow his body whole? Mental images of a python swallowing a pig spring to mind.  

These aren't carping criticisms. These aren't facetious objections. This is taking the doctrine seriously, and considering what that entails. 

i) One theory might be miniaturization. That could take two forms:

a) Shrinking a body by reducing the number of cells. 

b) Shrinking the size of the cells.

I'm reminded of a movie I saw as a kid: The Fantastic Voyage, where a patient undergoes brain microsurgery by miniaturizing a medical submarine crew.

There are, however, problems with miniaturization:

If (a), then a human brain with far less mass can't do the same job as a normal human brain. If it has fewer brain cells by orders of magnitudes, it can't perform same functions. It lacks the physical complexity. 

If (b), our cardiovascular system is designed to process oxygen molecules. The scale of the cardiovascular system is calibrated to the scale of oxygen molecules. If you drastically reduce the scale of the cardiovascular system, it can't process oxygen molecules.  

Now, a sacramentalist might counter that the "laws" of physics and biochemistry are contingent. God could change that. 

I agree. That, however, involves treating the body of Christ as a closed-system. Yet a living, breathing body is an open system. There's a continuous interchange between the body and its environment. 

ii) Another theory might be to grant that Christ's body is on a normal scale, but punt to a miracle. But I don't think that will suffice. 

Take the question, Can God make a box that's bigger on the inside than the outside? Seems to me the answer is no. Invoking omnipotence doesn't help, for if God works through a medium, then the nature of the medium will impose restrictions on what can be done via the medium. 

Is it not physically impossible for a box to be bigger on the inside than the outside? How can a 3D object be larger than what contains it? Is that not an analytical truth? 

And even if there were abstract geometries in which that's possible, to my knowledge, our universe does not exemplify that counterintuitive geometry.

Perhaps a sacramentalist might postulate that God miraculously creates pockets in the universe which exemplify a different geometry from the universe as a whole–like intrusions of a parallel universe. But even if that's possible, the Eucharist is not a closed system, but an open system. It must intersect with the communicant. 

7. In any event, why resort to such esoteric metaphysics? Is that really the function of the Eucharist in Scripture?

For adherents of sacramental realism, the Eucharist is said to be, or contain, the glorified body of Christ. The body of the risen Christ.

If, indeed, you subscribe to the real presence, then I think that's unavoidable. What other body would it be? Not the body he had before the Resurrection, but the body he had after the Resurrection. That, after all, is the only body he currently has. There's a sense in which his mortal body no longer exists. It died. 

To be sure, there's considerable continuity between his mortal body and his immortal body. For one thing, his mortal body was only dead for about 36 hours.

Still, there's a basic difference between the two: his glorified body is immortal. Ageless. Disease free. His glorified body is not a return to the status quo ante. Rather, it marks an advance over the status quo ante. Something better. 

To say, however, that that's what is meant by the Eucharistic body and blood of Christ in Scriptural usage massively misses the point. For the point is not that Jesus had real hemoglobin flowing through his veins. Although that's essential to the integrity of the Incarnation and Resurrection, that's not what's significant about the body and blood of Christ from a redemptive standpoint, which the Eucharist illustrates. 

It isn't blood, per se, but shed blood. Not a deathless body, but, to the contrary, a body that's put to death. The significance lies in the notion of sacrificial death. Violent death. That's an essential component of vicarious atonement. The Redeemer dies on behalf of others, in their place. 

The Eucharist doesn't represent the Risen Christ, but the crucified Christ. Not Christ on Easter, but Christ on Good Friday. The Eucharist represents Christ on the cross, at Calvary.