Saturday, December 26, 2015

Star Trek Christology

Image result for talosians

Jesus appeared to me last night in a vision. Well, to be precise, in a tele-vision. But make no mistake–it was Jesus!

Jesus appeared to me as I was watching "the Cage"–the pilot episode of Star Trek. And there he was–right before my eyes! Jesus was Capt. Christopher Pike.

You see, before Jeffrey Hunter played Capt. Pike, he played Jesus in King of Kings. Now there's no doubt that his performance of Jesus refers to Jesus. 

In my benighted philosophical ignorance, I used to think Jesus and Jeffrey Hunter were two different individuals, but then I read philosopher Michael Ray explain say there's exactly one Jesus. This common point of agreement is logically equivalent to the thesis that every Jesus is the same Jesus. In other words, everyone who worships a Jesus worships the very same Jesus, no matter how different their views about Jesus might be.

So it dawned on me that Jeffrey Hunter just is Jesus (transitive law). And it turns out that in the 23C, telepathic aliens with bulging brains will kidnap Jesus. 

Years later (in The Menagerie), Jesus will become the consort of Vina. (This will, of course, requires some adjustments to traditional Christian eschatology.) 

I now plan to wear a bulbous, pulsating head prosthetic to express my religious solidarity with the Talosians, because we worship the same Jesus (aka Jeffrey Hunter). Unfortunately, there are some bigots who refuse to acknowledge that worshipers of Jesus and Jeffrey Hunter worship one and the same being. 

Is annihilation objectively worse?

One argument I've seen deployed in defense of annihilationism is that annihilation is an objectively worse punishment than everlasting misery. I believe Chris Date uses this argument. I think the argument goes something like this: according to annihilationism, the damned have more to lose since the damned lose their very existence. They have everything to lose, in contrast to everlasting misery. And that's an objective difference. Assuming that's the gist of the argument, it suffers from several problems:

i) The general principle seems to be a quantitative difference: more of something or less of something. In particular, something bad. Quantitatively worse. 

But by that same metric, everlasting punishment is objectively more of something (bad) than temporary punishment (annihilationism). In that respect, the damned have more to lose if they face everlasting punishment rather than temporary punishment. Everlasting punishment is longer, indeed, infinitely longer, than temporary punishment. So the quantitative comparison cuts both ways.

ii) In addition, it's nonsensical to act as though the subjective effect of punishment is secondary to the nature of punishment. Take Islam. On the one hand it has a fiery hell. On the other hand, a suicide bomber is instantly transported to the heavenly whorehouse. But if subjective experience is inessential to what makes an experience punitive, then what makes hell hellish and paradise paradisiacal? Why couldn't you trade places? 

Suppose you say what's pleasant or unpleasant is subjective. But if you decouple punishment from pain (whether physical or psychological), then what makes punishment punitive? What makes suffering qualitatively worse than pleasure? If pain and punishment are separable, then punishment could be pleasant. Sensual enjoyment could be punitive. But isn't that absurd?

Totalitarian science

"'Totalitarian Science' in the Age of Obama"

Friday, December 25, 2015

Muhammad and Mars Hill

In the debate over whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God, some people who defend that proposition have cited Acts 17. This is, of course, a locus classicus for natural theology. But the appeal to Acts 17 to prooftext their position raises several issues:

i) I have no objection to natural theology, in the sense of a priori and a posteriori arguments for God's existence. Theistic proofs from reason or empirical evidence. 

Sometimes, however, the appeal is circular. There are traditional schools of natural theology, like Thomism and perfect being theology (Anselm). Some people come to Acts 17 with that package in mind, and interpret Acts 17 in light of that package. In their case, they aren't deriving their concept of natural theology from Acts 17; rather, they filter Acts 17 through their preconception of natural theology.

They act as though Paul is a Thomist. They assume Paul is very straight-laced in his dialogue with the Athenians. That he has a positive view of their piety. Although their piety is deficient, it is true so far as it goes. They begin with the God of natural revelation. It simply needs to be supplemented. 

ii) That, however, is a very anachronistic and naive reading of the text. To begin with, there's more than one audience for this address. There is Paul's audience, and then there's Luke's audience. Paul's audience are pagan philosophers or dilettantes, whereas Luke's audience are Christians. Moreover, Luke expects his readers to understand OT theism. That's the standard of comparison.

In addition, this pericope opens with the programmatic statement about Paul's stern disapproval of Athenian idolatry. That sets the tone for the rest of the presentation. That's something the reader is privy to, but not the Athenians. 

So the discourse reads at two different levels. For Luke's audience, there's a running irony in Paul's statements that would be lost on his pagan listeners. 

iii) This is reflected in Paul's backhanded compliment to their religiosity. Paul uses an ambiguous word (deisidaimon/deisidaimonia) that has both positive ("pious") and negative ("superstitious") connotations. A double entendre that would mean one thing to Paul, but something else to his audience. 

Some commentators reject the negative connotation because they think that would be off-putting to Paul's audience, but that misses the point. English has no word with the same ambiguity, but Paul didn't have to choose between a flattering word or a pejorative word. His audience wouldn't catch on. 

This allows him to preserve a certain distance. Common ground without complicity. 

iv) Along with his appeal to an altar to the "unknown god," this is part of Paul's captatio benevolentiae, in which a speaker curries favor with the audience to gain a hearing. 

In context, the "unknown god" is not the monotheistic Creator. Rather, erecting an altar to an unknown god is a way for fearful pagans to cover their bets. There are many gods they never heard of. Nameless gods who might be offended if there was no altar in their honor. You didn't want to get on the wrong side of a god or godless, so this is placeholder for all the other heathen deities the Athenians haven't heard of. 

Paul cleverly exploits this as a bridge. A tongue-in-cheek way of making a serious point. 

v) V28 contains one or possibly two quotes from pagan authors. Some commentators think the line about how we "live and move and have our being" in God is an allusion to Epimenides, but that's disputed. If it's from Epimedides, the god to whom that's originally addressed is Zeus. In any event, that's certainly the case in reference to the quote from Aratus. 

That, however, poses a dilemma for people like Francis Beckwith who say Muslims and Christians worship the same God. For they restrict that to the "Abrahamic religions" (Islam, Judaism, Christianity) in contrast to polytheism. Yet the context of Aratus is not to the monotheistic Creator, but to Zeus. So this either proves too much or too little for people like Beckwith. 

An exception would be Michael Rea, who goes so far as to say:

Christians and Muslims have very different beliefs about God; but they agree on this much: there is exactly one God. This common point of agreement is logically equivalent to thesis that all Gods are the same God. In other words, everyone who worships a God worships the same God, no matter how different their views about God might be.

That, however, cuts agains the grain of Acts 17, which, among other things, continues the OT polemic against pagan idolatry. 

Paul simply disregards the original setting because he's using this passage as a pretext to smuggle in a witness to the God of OT revelation, culminating in the revelation of Christ. 

Perhaps some people resist the ironic reading because they they imagine it would be unethical for Paul to resort to duplicate–as they view it. There is, however, nothing unethical about irony. Moreover, Paul believes what he says. But he's using certain tactics as a point of entree. That's not a foundation to build on, but a way of making people listen to something that will replace it. 

Worshiping nonentities

Not Ashamed To Call Them Brethren

"Christ came to earth as God to take upon Himself the flesh and blood of our human nature. That is a profound statement. The baby in the manger had the same human nature as you and I, only without sin….Because He is like us, Christ also sympathizes with all the pains and miseries that come from living in a sin-afflicted world….As we glimpse at the manger of His birth we can say, 'This is my brother, my flesh and blood.' As He grows and matures and continues to do the will of God, we can say, 'This is my brother, my flesh and blood.' As He goes to the cross and bleeds and dies, we can say, 'This is my brother, my flesh and blood.' When we see Christ seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, we can say, 'This is my brother, my flesh and blood.' And when we see Christ return on clouds of glory to take us home to be with Him we will say 'This is my brother, my flesh and blood.'…'For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren' (Heb. 2:11)." (Joel Beeke and William Boekestein, Why Christ Came [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Reformation Heritage Books, 2013], 13-5)

Armed defense

"John Piper, Guns, and Civic Responsibility" by Steven Wedgeworth.

"Why I Disagree with John Piper on Christians and Concealed Weapons" by Bob Thune.

The challenge for Hillary

Conservative punditry tends of focus on the challenge facing Republicans in retaking the White House. But let's briefly consider the challenges facing Hillary. Seems to me there are at least two significant drag factors on her bid:

i) Although I don't know this for a fact, I suspect that Democrat losses in Congressional and gubernatorial elections during Obama's tenure owe a lot to Obamacare. It's a ball-n-chain for the Democrat party. Tens of millions of Americans have lost their coverage, had to change doctors, had to get reinsured at higher rates, with higher premiums, deductibles, and copays, or face increasing fines. And this hits swing voters. 

Even if Hillary privately had misgivings about Obamacare, she won't distance herself too much from Obama's signature legislation because she seeks his support, or at least wishes to avoid his opposition, during her campaign. 

ii) The Liberal establishment has decreed that it's taboo to even suggest that Islam is a source of terrorism. You have a handful of prominent atheists who do so, but they are constantly on the defensive for saying so. 

Many Americans feel the gov't is willfully out of touch with the public on this issue. Not only does the gov't refuse to protect us from domestic jihadism, but it protects domestic jihadists. Whenever there's an attack, the reflexive impulse of Democrats is to disarm the general public, making us even more vulnerable. Instead of defending us, they wish to make us defenseless. They won't defend us or let us defend ourselves. 

And Hillary can't bring herself to break that taboo. Weakness on this issue will hurt her. 

I don't know how damaging these two issues will be to her presidential aspirations. But these are obstacles to her political ambitions. 

Thus far, she's never had to appeal to anyone outside the Democrat constituency. She ran and won in the blue state of New York. And she's run in Democrat primaries. She's untested when it comes to the general electorate.  

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Media's Thumb On The Scale On Christmas Issues

Here's another misleading Christmas article by Time. We get this sort of thing year after year, from so many media outlets. Liberal sources, like Time, run stories critical of a traditional view of Christmas, while more conservative sources in the media tend to either not respond or respond with a shallow affirmation of traditional beliefs.

Ashley Ross cites Luke's comment about Jesus' approximate age (Luke 3:23) and tries to turn it into something Luke "slightly miscalculated", which is "confusing". Since Luke is giving an approximation, how does that involve miscalculation or confusion?

Much of her article is about extrabiblical traditions, like whether Jesus was born on December 25. She raises the common objection to shepherds tending their flocks in winter and Joseph and Mary traveling at that time of year. She doesn't interact with the counterarguments, like the ones I bring up here.

Regarding Pope Benedict XVI's book on the infancy narratives, she writes:

The light of nature

Pearls of wisdom from Sean Gerety:

I confess I thought the Van Tillian belief in biblical paradox and their systematic rejection of WCF 1 was about as destructive and as bad as it gets.
Here's how WCF 1 begins: 
Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable…
Notice that that's an appeal to natural revelation, including empirical evidence for God's existence. So it's actually a Clarkian like Sean who rejects WCF 1. But Sean is too dim to realize that he just contradicted himself. 
You can read Hays’ musings on the existence of the magic lizard people here and here.
I assume "magic lizard people" is an allusion to M. Scott Peck's report about two of his demonically possessed patients who manifested a serpentine or reptilian appearance during exorcism. 
So what is Sean making fun of? The existence of demoniacs? How is the dismissive, pejorative use of "magic" on his lips any different than a village atheist? Or is he dismissing the notion that demoniacs might have metamorphic abilities? 
Yet, according to the person who pointed me to Hays’ defense of the magic lizard people; “He’s not kidding. Hays believes that all paranormal claims must be accepted at face value unless proven otherwise…"
Sean provides no textual evidence that I believe all paranormal claims must be accepted at face value unless proven otherwise. 
One would think Hays and the other contributors to Triablogue (are there any others left?)…
Yes, there are other active contributors.  
…would have learned their lesson after Michael Sudduth renounced his once feigned belief in Jesus Christ for his new found faith in his demonic Lord Krishna. 
How does a Clarkian like Sean distinguish real belief in Jesus from feigned belief in Jesus? Didn't Sean's idol, Gordon Clark say "Assent can never be hypocritical, for it is the voluntary act of according belief to a given proposition" (Today’s Evangelism: Counterfeit or Genuine?), 69.
Now we see Hays favorably quoting Sudduth’s fascination with the occult and his belief in poltergeists and haunted houses. 
I quote Sudduth's experience of living in a haunted house. 
I suspect Hays thinks the Amityville Horror is real too.  But the weirdness doesn’t stop there.
There's a difference between the horror film and the alleged experience on which it was loosely based. I haven't studied that in-depth. But why does Sean react to reports of occult entities with the same knee-jerk derision and disbelief as an atheist? Evil spirits are part of the biblical worldview. Therefore, it wouldn't be surprising if some people encounter evil spirits. Sean is a functional atheist.
Hays goes on to quote a series of tales from his unidentified “friend” who claims to have been on a bus traveling at 85mph while being chased by a “skinwalker.” 
I didn't identify that person as my friend. Rather, I said a friend shared that material with me from Reddit. 
According to Hays these stories, along with Sudduth’s dive into spiritual darkness, all provide “extrabiblical evidence for shapeshifters.” 
No, I wouldn't say Sudduth's experience provides evidence of shapeshifters. Rather, that provides evidence for the existence of occult entities (of which shapeshifters might be a subset). 
It seems to me that once you accept extra-biblical evidence for anything, then anything is what you’ll believe in. 
Once again, Sean is too dense to realize how he contradicts himself. He begins his post by referring to the WCF. But how does he know the WCF even exists? Based on "extrabiblical evidence".  
He repeatedly mentions Michael Sudduth, including incidents in Sudduth's life. How does Sean know about that? Based on what Sudduth says about himself. Testimonial evidence. So Sean relies on "extrabiblical evidence" in the same breath as he mocks "extrabiblical evidence." He's such a dimwit. 
Sean treats Sudduth's autobiographical claims as trustworthy when Sean wishes to discredit Sudduth, but when I cite Sudduth's autobiographical claims, Sean does an about-face and acts like these are utterly untrustworthy. Sean is such a knucklehead. 
I don't have a firm position on the existence of shapeshifters. I didn't vouch for the anecdotes from Reddit. I keep my interpretive options open on that score. 
However, why does Sean act as though that's antecedently preposterous? Supposedly, Sean believes in the supernatural, although you wouldn't know it from how he acts and reacts. 
Historically, the Navajo were heathen. They used to practice witchcraft and necromancy. Given that background, why would the presence of shapeshifters or "desert demons" on Navajo land be incredible? Why is Sean's reaction indistinguishable from James Randi or Michael Shermer? If an environment has been saturated by centuries of black magic, trafficking with evil spirits, &c., isn't that where you'd expect occult entities to concentrate? 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


Caligula was reviled by film critics even before it hit the screen. It had a checked production history. Here's a representative review by Roger Ebert:

Ebert was an atheist. A lapsed Catholic. Very worldly. Had no problem with X-rated movies or heavy-duty violence. Yet despite all that, he and other equally worldly film critics were morally repelled by the film.

Why do I bring it up? Because, as I read this old review, it's my impression that a lot of current film fare and HBO fare has the same content that film critics a generation ago found too abhorrent even for their jaded tastes. The coarsening of the general culture is far advanced. 

On God, Tina Fey, and Sarah Palin

Here's my side of an email exchange I had with some philosopher friends. This is in relation to whether Muslims and Christians worship/believe the same God. 

When Sarah Palin ran for Veep, she was parodied by Tina Fey on SNL. Fey's impersonation referred to Palin.

Some confused voters attributed to Palin things that Fey actually said. (I've read this is true.)

Did voter impressions of Palin based entirely on Fey refer to Palin? Did they believe in the same Palin by believing in Fey's impersonation? 

The relation seems to be indirect at best. Fey is clearly referring to Palin. Consciously targeting Palin. 

But the voters in question don't have that frame of reference. For them, the referent of Palin is Fey's parody. Their beliefs are about FeyPalin, rather than Sarah Palin.

Sure, their beliefs about Sarah Palin are wrong, yet that's not based on their viewpoint, but the viewpoint of someone who can compare and contrast FeyPalin with Sarah Palin. It's very roundabout. 

The belief of the voters in question is a crucial step removed from Sarah Palin. It's filtered through political satire. A deliberate misrepresentation of the object. Yet that's all they have to go by. So is it still about Sarah Palin? 

If they knew that Tina Fey was lampooning Palin, that would be different. 

What does it mean to be about something? On a standard definition, it means to represent or stand for something. 

Fey's parody is about Sarah Palin. But the belief of the voters is about Fey's parody. Is a belief about a parody about Sarah Palin a belief about Sarah Palin, or is that just a belief about the parody? Does it stop with the parody, or does it carry all the way through to what Fey had in mind? But the voters in question don't have access to what Fey had in mind. They don't realize this is political satire. And the parody is intentionally different from the subject. A caricature. 

A voter's belief about a spoof about Sarah Palin. A double about. Is it the same referent from start to finish? 

If the voter knew this was a satirical impersonation, then I'd say yes. If the voter had an independent basis of comparison, then I'd say yes. 

But it's not clear to me that the referent keeps on going as we shift from Fey to clueless SNL viewers. Can we switch out the perspective but maintain the referent? 

Regarding the confused voters, what makes it the case that their belief regarding FeyPalin is transitive with respect to Sarah Palin? In virtue of what is their belief about FeyPalin a belief about Sarah Palin? 

In the case of Tina Fey herself, I presume it's because she knows who Sarah Palin is, what Sarah Palin really said (or didn't say), and her intention to impersonate Sarah Palin. But those grounding conditions are absent in the case of voters whose information about "Sarah Palin" derives from an SNL skit. 

Gabriel appears to the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)

Their God and our God

Those who say Allah refers to the same God as Christian theism sometimes use this argument: Muhammad had some knowledge of Jews and Christians. He may have gotten his information from members of the Jewish community as well as his Christian uncle (Waraqa Ibn Nawfal). So he intended to refer to their God. 

But I think that argument misses the target. Non-Christians can certainly refer to the Christian God. No doubt non-Christian theists like Maimonides, Al-Ghazâlî, Dale Tuggy, and Seyyed Hossein Nasr (to name a few) can and do refer to the Christian God. (For that matter, atheists can refer to the Christian God.) They talk about the Christian God when they attempt to critique Christian theism.

That, however, is not to be confused with the question of whether their God refers to our God. Indeed, they typically contrast their God with the Christian God.

Why I don't love Muslims

From what I've read, "progressive Christians" and evangelical leaders often make these two claims:

i) Jesus commands us to love our enemies

ii) Muslims aren't the enemy

In reference to (ii), they say calling Muslims the enemy is bigoted. The vast majority of Muslims are peaceniks. Only an infinitesimal fraction of Muslims are terrorists. Moreover, these are merely Muslims who happen to be terrorists. There's nothing intrinsically violent about Islam.

But if I put these two claims together, the natural conclusion is that I'm under no obligation to love Muslims. 

(i) Love your enemies

(ii) Muslims aren't your enemies 

(iii) Ergo, you don't have to love Muslims

Now, someone might interject that that's fallacious. The fact that scripture commands us to love our enemies doesn't mean Scripture commands us to love only our enemies. We are likewise commanded to love our neighbors.

Okay, but that's not the original contention. People like you keep quoting the command to love our enemies in the context of…Muslims! You say it's wrong to "discriminate" against Muslims because Jesus commands us to love our enemies (even though you turn right around and tell us that Muslims are not the enemy).

The title of my post is a trick title. The point is to draw attention to an inconsistent dyad. 

Dual consciousness

A stock objection to the Incarnation is how Jesus could be one person if he has two rational natures. Now, the warrant for believing in the Incarnation doesn't depend on our ability to get to the bottom of how the two natures interrelate. However, here's an example of how different ranges of consciousness are consistent with unity of consciousness. When I dream, I'm aware of some things I'm unaware of when I'm awake, and when I'm awake I'm aware of some things I'm unaware of when I sleep. 

Likewise, dreams are to some degree based on memory. Memories of things I experience when I'm awake. Dreams combine memory with imagination. 

Conversely, I remember some of my dreams. When I'm awake, I can recall some of my dreams. So these two ranges of consciousness are interconnected.

Yet these are two very different mental states, with different mental content. But the same person can be the subject of both. 

Piper's false dichotomy

I'd like to make another observation about Piper's pacifism:
Take these two related statements:
4. Jesus set the stage for a life of sojourning in this world where we bear witness that this world is not our home, and not our kingdom, by renouncing the establishment or the advancement of our Christian cause with the sword.
5. Jesus strikes the note that the dominant (not the only) way Christians will show the supreme value of our treasure in heaven is by being so freed from the love of this world and so satisfied with the hope of glory that we are able to love our enemies and not return evil for evil, even as we expect to be wronged in this world... [8] Our primary aim in life is to show that Christ is more precious than life.
Several problems:
i) There's the implicit assumption that love is divisible. It's as if he thinks love is quantitative, so that if you love my wife, then you love Jesus less. The more people you love, or the more you love one person in particular, the less you can love each person individually. There's only so much love to go around. A finite commodity. If you have two kids, you love each kid half as much as if you only had one kid. If you love my wife, mother, son, kid brother, and best friend, then you must divvy up your love five ways, and there's not much love left over for Jesus. 
Loving Jesus is in competition with loving your mother, or your kid brother, or your best friend. The more you love them, the less you love Jesus.  
Likewise, you can't love Jesus as much if you love hiking. Loving one thing subtracts from loving another thing.
This is very muddled thinking. For one thing, it fails to appreciate than love is qualitative rather than quantitative. 
In addition, it fails to appreciate the fact that there are different kinds of love. Romantic love is different than parental love. So even if love was divisible or quantitative (which is not the case), one kind of love can't subtract from a different kind of love. 
ii) Related to this is Piper's failure to appreciate that we can love God by giving and receiving love from people other than God. God can express his love to us through natural goods.  
As a rule, we don't experience God directly. Rather, we experience God through a natural medium. It creates a false dichotomy between the gift and the giver, as though, if you love the gift, you can't love the giver. But natural blessings are a source of gratitude and praise. God isn't normally available to us apart from the world he put us in. 
iii) To some extent, Piper's view seems to be a throwback to the ascetic view, where loving God requires self-denial. All the things you must give up to love God. Pure, disinterested devotion. 
A problem with that is that, as creatures, we have natural physical and emotional needs. God made us that way. That's not worldly. That's a part of God's design for humanity. That's no more worldly than my need to breathe oxygen. 
iv) In fairness to Piper, there are situations in which allegiance to God can be in competition with other things. Take people who grow up in church, then go to college, where indulge in premarital sex. 
Mind you, that's an artificial choice. Normally, you don't have to choose between sex and Jesus. You can have both. The problem is sex outside of marriage.
Likewise, there are persecution situations when you are forced to choose between Jesus and friends or family. But once again, that's an unnatural choice. That's imposed on you. 
iv) Piper's view generates a false dichotomy. And if people took it seriously, it would drive them to apostasy. In general, these are complementary goods rather than competing goods. For instance, a happy family life is a source of thanksgiving. That makes Christians more grateful, more worshipful, not less so. 

A Christmas Implication

We are about to celebrate the birth of Christ. Christ is interesting in that he was fully God and fully man. For the purposes of this post, I want to focus on the humanity of Christ, and an implication that comes about if we accept certain Arminian principles of how God interacts with human beings.

The human lineage of Christ is obviously a big deal. It’s why the book of Matthew begins by listing it and why it’s also included in the book of Luke. And while it is plain that before the 20th century no one understood how DNA worked to pass on genetic material to new generations, it was obvious to even an “uneducated” shepherd long before the birth of Christ that something passed on from father and mother to the child. In other words, they understood that heredity was a legitimate thing, with children picking up certain traits from their parents, including physical appearance and aptitudes. And not just with humans, but also with animals.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, there have been some rather interesting events in the lineage of Christ. For example, Ruth is in there, and Ruth was a Moabite, and we remember that Moabites came about because of the events at Sodom, when Lot slept with his daughters after his wife had been turned to a pillar of salt.

So what I want to focus on is the Arminian view that God does not determine all events, but rather He permits them to occur. Let us view the existence of Moab within the lineage of Christ in that light. If we say that God did not determine that Lot’s wife look back followed by Lot’s daughters getting their father drunk so they could sleep with him because they were afraid they’d never get husbands, then the fact that Ruth was a Moabite who would be the grandmother of King David who would later have the Messiah Himself as part of his lineage is an accidental fact of history. (Now, just to be clear, what I mean by “accidental” here is that it was not necessary, that it didn’t have to be that way, that it could have been otherwise, etc. In short, I’m using “accidental” to counter the concept of logical “necessity”, not “accidental” like in the sense of a vehicle collision.)

In other words, if we say that God did not determine Lot’s wife’s decision to “kick off” the chain of events, but rather that she decided to do that completely on her own and God “merely allowed” it to happen, then what we are left with is the following. Before Lot’s wife made her decision (and I speak of “before” in a logical sense, not a temporal sense here), the universe could have gone two different ways. It could have gone the branch that would have led to the events described in the Bible, or it could have taken a different path.

Obviously, since Christ was foretold even as early as Genesis 3, God knew which path would come about. According to a common Arminian view I’ve read, this isn’t contradictory with free will because had Lot’s wife made a different decision then God would have known that that decision would have been different and He would have known how the universe would have come about so that His prophecies about the Messiah would have always remained true. Let us grant that idea for the moment and consider the branching option once again.

At the point where Lot’s wife determined her own action and God allowed it to happen, the universe could have been one way or another way. The path that it did take included the existence of the people of Moab, which thus included the existence of Ruth with all her physical attributes based on the DNA she had; David, with all his DNA-derived attributes; the rest of his lineage; and finally, Christ with that impact of the existence of Moabite DNA.

The other path would have resulted in something drastically different. No Ruth, no David, none of David’s sons. Yet of course God would have known that this lineage would have been the one established, and therefore we can say that somewhere down the line the Messiah still would have come. We just don’t know what path that would have taken.

Here’s the implication of that belief, however: Christ’s humanity is not unique. What I mean by that is that if we take the above concept of God allowing something rather than determining it to be true, then Christ’s human attributes derived from his lineage via DNA are irrelevant. Clearly, lineage was a big deal because the Jews paid attention to it and wrote it down so meticulously; but just as clearly that stands at odds with the fact that Christ’s DNA would have been different were it not for a completely non-determined (by God) choice that Lot’s wife made (and God “permitted”) to look back at Sodom.

What someone who holds to that view inadvertently does is to imply that Christ’s humanity is not essential to who Christ is, that He could literally have been any person (so long as He was human) and that would not have affected His being. In short, it is to drive a wedge between the divine nature of Christ and the human nature of Christ.

Under the Calvinist view that God has foreordained whatever comes to pass, Jesus determined exactly what His physical body would be. His human nature was unique, planned, and intended exactly for Him. It is not less important than His spirit. But under the view that God does not determine all actions but “allows” some things that He doesn’t really want, Christ’s humanity is plastic. Christ’s human body is seen not as something intrinsic to who He is but simply as a vessel that the Spirit of God can inhabit, interchangeable with countless other possible human vessels in other universes that were not instantiated because humans did not determine of themselves to do actions that God could have permitted them to do to achieve that result.

This seems to flirt dangerously close to the Gnostic view that the Spirit is real, good, and holy while the body is false, evil, and unrighteous. Even if it doesn’t go so far as to say the body is bad, this view still mitigates the body to something hardly different than the “clothes” a spirit wears. So on one timeline, Lot’s wife doesn’t look back and the Messiah has body X. On another timeline, she does look back and the Messiah has the body Y. Doesn’t matter: the Messiah is still the Messiah.

And therefore, His humanity becomes trivialized.

Piper, pacifism, and complementarianism

Today, John Piper came out of the closet as a pacifist:

I don't really have anything new to say about pacifism that I haven't already said. I would mention in passing that it's muddleheaded for him to equate protecting the weak and innocent with "love of this world" (#5).  

But I'd rather focus on a different point: There's an ironic tension between Piper's pacifism and his complementarianism. I believe Piper is a founding member of the CBMW. 

As he himself admits, men have a natural protective instinct. An instinct to protect women and children–especially (but not exclusively) their own.

Yet his pacifism requires Christian men to suppress that male instinct. To suppress that male virtue. His pacifism saps masculinity. It generates intense friction between an effeminate pacifist ethic and manly complementarianism. 

Look at the impotent handwringing that his position leads to:

A natural instinct is to boil this issue down to the question, “Can I shoot my wife’s assailant?”
I live in the inner city of Minneapolis, and I would personally counsel a Christian not to have a firearm available for such circumstances.
I do not know what I would do before this situation presents itself with all its innumerable variations of factors. 

That moral paralysis in the face of the obvious course of action is effete and decadent. There's nothing to agonize over in that situation. A man's duty is clear. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Lukess Skywalker

Can God make time travel possible?

Time travel scenarios are both wildly popular and physically or metaphysically impossible. Usually, though, this is in a secular context of what's naturally possible. But could divine agency make time travel feasible?

I don't think so. I think that's a pseudotask. 

However, let's vary the question: Could God make something like time travel possible? A scenario that might be indistinguishable to the participants? 

On that scenario, it's not about traveling back in time or changing the past, but making the present resemble the past. Take the present rather than the past as the starting-point. Miraculously antique the setting to make the present physically indistinguishable from the past. Give present-day participants anterograde amnesia, so that their memories regress to, say, a day in high school. Age them down. Miraculously restore their youth. 

Reset the chess board to an early state of play in the same game. Then take it from there. That's the stage at which the new outcome diverges from the first time around. 

It's really not a different future. But for all intents and purposes, it's functionally equivalent to a different future. It's as if they traveled back in time to high school, then took a different fork in the road. The psychological and phenomenological effects are indiscernibly akin to time travel. 

Limits on prayer

The NT contains several prayer promises of the "you will get whatever you ask for" variety. Since that doesn't happen, that's caused some professing Christians to lose their faith. 

These prayer promises don't state any exceptions. Does that make them deceptive? Is it special pleading to say they take implicit exceptions for granted?

Let's consider some examples:

i) Suppose I'm a high school student. There's a really obnoxious classmate I wish would just go away. So I pray that God zap him out of existence. 

Will God answer that prayer? No. That's a wicked prayer request. 

Suppose a man has a gorgeous wife. I'd like her to leave him for me. So I pray that God will make that happen. 

Is God going to answer my prayer? No. That's a wicked prayer request. 

So there's a whole class of entreaties that are exempted from these prayer promises. 

ii) Suppose I have a wife and kids. I find the demands of family life increasingly burdensome, physically and emotionally. So I ask God to end my life and take me straight to heaven. 

Will God answer that prayer? No. Because that prayer request is in conflict with my Christian duties. I have a prior obligation to care for my family. God won't just zero that out. If I have standing duties, I can't pray for something that contravenes my duty. 

So there's another class of entreaties that are exempted from these prayer promises. 

iii) Suppose I ask God to make me the richest man in the world. Will God answer that prayer?

Aside from the question of whether that's even a suitable prayer, what if someone else asks God to make him the richest man in the world? But there can't be two richest men on earth. To be the richest is to be richer than the next richest. 

God can't answer contradictory prayers even if he wanted to. Not all possibilities are compossible. 

So there's another class of entreaties that are exempted from these prayer promises. 

iv) Suppose I'm on vacation during the Christmas season. I'd like it to snow. A snowy landscape is pretty. A postcard Christmas. A "winter wonderland."

Will God answer that prayer? If I were the only person on earth, God might answer that prayer. But what about people who have to go to work that day? For them, snow might be a big nuisance. Answers to prayer must take competing interests into account. That has to be balanced out. What is good for me may be bad for someone else. 

Likewise, suppose I'm running late for the bus. So I pray that the bus will be delayed for a few minutes to that I won't miss my bus. Will God answer that prayer? 

Not necessarily. If the bus is late, that has a chain reaction. Pushes everything else down a step. That might make someone else late for a job interview. That makes a bad first impression on his prospective employer. If he arrived on time for his appointment, he'd get the job, but now he won't. 

By the same token, suppose I'd like to have a second chance to make up for some lost opportunities. Maybe there was a girl in school I had a crush on, but I let the opportunity slip away. She married another classmate, and had kids by him.

I ask God to send me back in time to that I can fix my mistake. Will God answer that prayer?

No. Even assuming that scenario is metaphysically feasible, my prayer request will impact other people. Do I have the right to change their lives for my personal benefit? She will now be my wife at the expense of the husband in the other timeline. 

Likewise, their kids will never exist. Their kids will miss out. My gain is their loss. In this case, my prayer comes at a cost to others. And they pay a high price. 

So that's another class of entreaties that are exempted from these prayer promises. 

v) Suppose I love my grandmother. I don't want her to die of old age. I pray to God to make her immortal. Will he answer that prayer?

No. God has a preexisting policy on human mortality. God won't answer a prayer that contradicts his own policy. 

So that's another class of entreaties that are exempted from these prayer promises.

I could keep on giving examples, but I think that should suffice to illustrate the point. In some cases, we ought to know in advance that the prayer is inappropriate. In other cases, we don't know what the exceptions are until we pray. 

Prayer promises don't mean the universe revolves around any particular individual. 

Maverick Philosopher on worshiping the same God

Jesus v. Peter Enns

Andrew Wilson reviews The Bible Tells Me So.
Yet the book is also fundamentally imbalanced. Enns is so eager to show how “messy” and “weird” the Bible is that he frequently exaggerates difficulties, presents a one-sided picture, or neglects obvious resolutions to the "contradictions" he puts forward. So, for instance, he shows us differences between sacrificial laws in Exodus and Deuteronomy and calls them contradictions, without acknowledging that the former are given for life in the wilderness, and the latter for life in the Promised Land. He finds confusion about how many “gods” there were in the Old Testament, without pointing out that biblical writers are able both to affirm many “gods” and only one God in the same text, because of their theology of idols and demons (e.g. Isa. 44:6-20; 1 Cor. 8:4-6). His paraphrases sometimes create discrepancies out of thin air. Nobody but Enns, surely, could read Leviticus 17:15-16 as saying “sure, you can eat mauled animal carcasses,” and hence conflicting with instructions elsewhere. Many more examples could be given.
Or take his portrait of Jesus. Enns is keen to show that Jesus was not a “modern” reader of the Bible, so he draws attention to various stories in which Jesus handles texts in surprising ways (like, famously, Psalm 110 in Matthew 22). But he largely ignores the dozens of texts in which Jesus speaks about Scripture as authoritative, unbreakable, true, unchangeable: Think of sayings like it is written, the Scriptures must be fulfilled, the word of God cannot be broken, not a dot will disappear from the law, and so on. This creates a substantial imbalance, especially since most evangelicals would appeal to Jesus to support their high view of biblical truthfulness. Enns never reconciles his inaccuracy-strewn view of the Old Testament (his most striking example being the implication that the plagues on Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea never actually happened) with the reverent way Jesus spoke about it.
Even more problematic, Enns describes stories where God kills people, like the Flood, as “hard to defend as the Word of God in civil adult conversation.” He spends many pages stressing what a problem divine violence is. Yet he never mentions that Jesus himself not only quoted events like this—all-destroying floods, fire and sulphur from heaven, pillars of salt, the whole caboodle—but used them to explain what his own coming would be like (Luke 17:22-37). Jesus even tells stories about people being handed over to torturers (Matt. 18:34) and eternal punishment (Matt. 25:41-46).
But [the picture of Jesus painted in the Gospels] should also unsettle progressives, peaceniks, and professors—especially those who think that Jesus would join them in rejecting the accuracy of the Bible's violent narratives.
Overriding all of these problems, however, is a larger one. Enns begins with a description of the “stress” that sometimes comes from struggling to believe the Bible, with its talking serpents, peculiar food laws, bloody wars, vindictive floods, and other anachronistic oddities. He takes swipes at all sorts of biblical stories (“magical trees” being an especially unfair example), typically the ones which most puzzle self-consciously “modern” readers. Like Rob Bell, Enns concludes that the Bible is ultimately about “mystery” and a “spiritual journey” and “the thoughts and meditations of ancient pilgrims.”
But aside from vague phrases like these, it is never clear what it actually means for the Bible to be the Word of God. How might the Scriptures call us to repent, to die to ourselves, to change, or to do anything other than listen to a spiritual conversation? Enns doesn’t say. There is no account of how doctrine should be formed, no discussion of what biblical authority really looks like, no real engagement with the teachings of the church (which has often read the Bible rather differently than Enns), and no examples of biblical ethics beyond what The New York Times would freely endorse. In short, if I were trying to write a book about the Bible that allowed progressive moderns to ditch all the bits they don’t like, this is exactly how I would have done it.

Do Muslims and Pastafarians worship the same God?

The Cat Bible

In light of current debate about whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God, I think the really pressing question is whether cats and Muslims worship the same God:

Monday, December 21, 2015

Demons galore

One-way mirror

Dale Tuggy:
Briefly, focus on the ignorance point. *Someone* doesn't know the day or hour. Who? Obviously Jesus. But wait, doesn't he, as divine, know all? If the natures are the sorts of things that can't know anything at all, well it can't be one of those which knows many things, but not the day or hour. Like many ancients, Steve wants to say that "natures" here are not properties, but the kinds of things that can have properties, and moreover, the kind which can know. One knows all, the other not quite so much.
Yes, this look like Nestorianism. But forget about that label and the ancient disputes. It is just a terrible reading of the NT to say that in the Son of Mary there are two selves, one who does divine sorts of things, and another who does merely human things. Jesus is in all the NT writings one character - all the relevant terms, messiah, Son of God, Son of Man, Jesus, the Nazarene, etc. refer to him, to one and the same human man. This apparent one person is never unveiled as actually being two within a single body.
The two-minds theories are quite clever, and are adopted my many recent Christian philosophers. I think in the end though, they mis-fit the ancient catholic tradition, and don't actually solve the problems they're supposed to. 

That's in response to this post: 

A few quick observations: 

i) It may well be that a two-minds Christology is a misfit for the ancient catholic tradition. Since, however, I'm a low-church Protestant, that's not my concern.

ii) The Gospels sometimes say things about Jesus that are true for humans, but false for God, and sometimes says things about Jesus that are true for God, but false for humans. That's the irreducible data. A faithful reading of the NT will take both into account, do full justice to both. 

iii) I'd point out in passing that there's nothing even prima facie contradictory about saying a person both knows and doesn't know the same thing. For instance, I may not know French when I'm 5 years old, I may know French when I'm 25 years of (if I studied French in school), and I may not know French when I'm 85 years old if I become senile. I'm not saying that's the correct explanation for the psychology of Christ. I just use it to illustrate the facile way Dale can generate a specious contradiction by simplistically framing an issue.

iv) It's very crude to suggest that according to a two-minds Christology, Jesus is "two selves within a single body." Let's sketch one version of two-minds Christology:

a) Neither mind occupies the brain. The Son is timeless, illocal, and immaterial. The soul is illocal and immaterial. The Son uses a human body, and a soul uses a body (if you prefer, the mind uses the brain). The soul is coupled with a body. The Son is coupled with a human body and soul. 

b) The relationship between the two minds is asymmetrical. These aren't two compartmentalized minds. Rather, there's a one-way interrelationship. The divine mind has complete access to the human mind, but the divine mind is inaccessible to the human mind. However, the divine mind can share information with the human mind. In addition to what the human mind can naturally know, it can acquire supernatural knowledge if the divine mind shares some information. 

c) Compare it to two rooms with a speaker and a one-way mirror. A person in room A can see into room B, but a person in room B can't see into room A. However, the person in room A can communicate with the person in room B via the speaker. 

Is fear of terrorism overblown?

In the United States, an individual’s likelihood of being hurt or killed by a terrorist (whether an Islamist radical or some other variety) is negligible. 
Consider, for instance, that since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Americans have been no more likely to die at the hands of terrorists than being crushed to death by unstable televisions and furniture…And by the time you turn the lights off to sleep this evening, somewhere around 100 Americans will have died throughout the day in vehicular accidents – the equivalent of “a plane full of people crashing, killing everyone on board, every single day.”

That's something liberals often say. However, it's something they only say when the killer is a Muslim. When, however, the proverbial "angry young white male" shoots up a school or firebombs an abortion clinic, I don't hear liberals say the risk of being killed at school or at an abortion clinic is statistically insignificant compared to traffic accidents, or no greater than the risk of being crushed to death by unstable furniture and TV sets. No, when that happens, that's a crisis, that's intolerable, that demands gov't intervention. 

The coming dystopia

It isn't just the stuff of dystopian science fiction plots anymore. Thanks to a gov't that thinks the real threat comes from Tea Partiers, we're teetering on the verge of catastrophic cyberattacks from foreign enemies:

God is what God does

One objection to the claim that Muslims and Christians worship or believe in the same God is the statement that the Christianity Deity is the Trinity, and that Christians worship Jesus as God–contrary to Muslims. 

Without revisiting the issue of linguistic reference, I'd just point out that this understates the difference between Christian theism and Muslim theism. This approach defines the difference in terms of what God is or the attributes of God. God as Trinity. God as Incarnate.

And that's certainly valid as far as it goes. But there's more to it than that. In the Bible, there's a sense in which God is what God does. By that I mean, God's actions often mirror his nature or character. Actions correspond to attributes. 

To reject the Incarnation is to reject what God does as well as what God is. Why do Muslims repudiate the Incarnation? It's not like dying that George Washington cut down a cherry tree. Even if that's an apocryphal story, it's possible that he did that. For Muslims, it's not just a case that God didn't become incarnate, but that he couldn't become incarnate. Allah is not that kind of God. To Muslims, it wouldn't be fitting for God to become incarnate. That's an inherently improper thing for God to do. 

Likewise, Islam as a doctrine of revelation rather than inspiration. That's why Muslims are confused when Christians say the Gospels are the word of God. For Muslims, that's contradictory inasmuch as the Gospels were written by men. They dichotomize divine and human action. God can speak to people, but he can't speak through people. They don't have that framework. Human action picks up where divine action leaves off, or vice versa. If God did it, man didn't, and if man did it, God didn't. Allah does not and cannot interact with humans. 

By the same token, Islam is a religion of revelation and duties rather than a religion of redemption. A religion of prophets rather than redeemers. 

God sends prophets to inform humans of their social and spiritual duties. Allah remits sin apart from atonement. Islam is voluntaristic. 

Allah isn't the kind of God with whom you can be in a right or wrong relationship. In many ways, Allah is more like the ground of being. You can't have a right or wrong relationship with the ground of being. It's simply something you depend on. Something that makes other things possible.

In Christianity, by contrast, for sin to be forgiven, sin must be atoned. That's why Christianity, unlike Islam, has a theology of vicarious atonement and penal substitution. 

It involves a different kind of God. Justice is a divine attribute. Injustice must be satisfied. In addition, sin changes the relationship between God and man. Conversely, justification changes the relationship between God and man.  

Baptized Hinduism

Some arguments I've seen in defense of the claim that Muslims and Christians worship the same God remind me of Hinduism. In particular, the Hindu doctrine of avatars, where the many gods of the Hindu pantheon are really just projections of one God, of one otherwise ineffable, unknowable Deity. On that view, Hindu polytheists all worship the same God, even when they worship different gods. 

God is like an actor who wears many masks. You don't know what he looks like without the mask. If you caught sight of him without the mask, he'd be faceless.

Indeed, there are character actors like Peter Sellers who admit that their offscreen persona lacks personality. That's why they can disappear into different roles.

The way some folks defend the claim that Muslims and Christians worship the same God is eerily similar to saying Allah, Yahweh, Jesus, and the Trinity are avatars of the same ulterior Deity.   

What does Jesus know?

Apostate Dale Tuggy recently interviewed Lee Irons, who defended traditional Christology:

Lee is a Bible scholar, Dale is a philosopher. For the most part, Lee can argue circles around Dale when it comes to exegetical theology. 

There were a couple of points at which Dale tripped him up. There's the tension between Lee's commitment to the eternal generation of the Son and his commitment to the aseity of the Son. Lee tried to finesse that as well as he could, given his prior commitment to both propositions, but the tension remains.

Finally, near the end of the program, Dale said [slight paraphrase]:

On the two natures reply, it's not clear to us [unitarians] how it really answers the objection. Take the case of knowing everything v. not knowing everything. So the traditional answer is that he knows everything as God but he doesn't know everything as man.
Yet it's not natures that know, but the man, the person that knows or not. So if you know something through your divine nature, it looks like it follows that you know it, the one with the nature, if you're somewhat ignorant insofar as you're human…it's the man, the person which is the subject of the ignorance. But if you accept that then you just have he knows everything and he doesn't know everything. That's an apparent contradiction. 

It's hard to make sense of Dale's argument. Admittedly, he's speaking off the cuff. However, this is hardly the first time he's raised this objection, so he ought to have his formulation down pat. 

i) Is he really that simple-minded, or is he attempting to confuse Christians? The orthodox argument is that Jesus is omniscience in one respect, but not omniscient in another respect. That's not contradictory. That's not even an apparent contradiction. It would only be contradictory to say Jesus is omniscient and not omniscient in the same respect. So the two-natures response is hardly reducible to "he knows everything and he doesn't know everything." That ignores key qualifications. Is Dale really that uncomprehending? Is he playing dumb, or is he truly that dim? 

ii) The closest Dale comes to an explanation is to distinguish nature and person. But the "two-natures" phrase is shorthand. It doesn't mean Jesus has two impersonal natures. 

To begin with, the divine nature is a personalized nature. The Son of God is a person. A rational agent. 

Likewise, Jesus had/has a brain and a rational soul. Therefore, his human nature is personalized. 

These aren't abstract natures, but individualized natures. Although nature and person are distinct, they are not dichotomous. And even though there's a sense in which person and nature are separable for humans, they are inseparable for God. 

iii) Perhaps, hovering in the background of the objection, is the traditional formula that Jesus is one person with two natures. If so, then you don't have a one-to-one correspondence between person and nature. So maybe Dale is hinting at a contradiction from that angle. It's hard to say, because his objection is so sloppy.  

Maybe his implicit objection is that Jesus can't be one person if he has two minds (human and divine). If person and nature pair off, then two natures entail two persons. If that's his objection, I'd say the following:

a) There's the question of what "person" means in Latin patrology, Greek patrology, and modern theology. 

b) The meaning of the Incarnation can't be captured by single words like "nature" and "person". That's shorthand. That's not a substitute for a more detailed model. What "nature" and "person" mean in that context must be unpacked with definitions and explanations. You can't produce a contradiction by simply opposing one word ("nature") to another word ("person").

c) High-church Christians are committed to the theological settlement of the ecumenical councils, so they must try to operate within that framework. For better or worse, they are saddled with the limitations of their received tradition. 

But if push came to shove, many evangelicals don't think every strand in that position is equally central in the web of belief. In terms of their priorities, I think many evangelicals begin with the full humanity and full divinity of Christ. Those are nonnegotiable. If something has to give, it's not the two natures but the one person. Not what's related, but how it's related. 

d) Jesus won't be "one person" in the same sense that a merely human individual is "one person". We might say Jesus is a "complex person".

In the nature of the case, this is a unique situation, without parallel among merely human individuals. 

e) However, that's not special pleading. For instance, what do dogs dream about? I don't know. I'm not a dog. A canine mind is different from a human mind, and since I can't experience both, I have no direct basis of comparison. Just as I don't know what it's like to be God Incarnate, I don't know what it's like to be a dog. Human psychology is the only frame of reference.