Saturday, February 06, 2016

Wheaton prof. resigns

Takedown of Richard Carrier

Richard Carrier palms himself off as a probability theorist. If you don't mind the technicalities, here's a critique by a Cambridge educated cosmologist and physicist:

HT: Patrick Chan

The Republican Debates Can Be Misleading

I've watched all of the Republican presidential debates so far. There have been more than a dozen, if you include the undercard debates. I've noticed that some issues haven't come up much yet, if at all. We'll see if that continues in tonight's debate and the others to follow. But the fact that these patterns have persisted through more than a dozen debates is significant.

It's a reminder that we need to distinguish between primary debates and debates in the general election campaign. A candidate can be well-suited for one, but do poorly in the other context.

The audiences will be different. There are lines that will get nothing but applause in a Republican primary debate, but would also get a lot of booing in a debate for the general election.

John's Gospel and the Virgin Birth

You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of fornication. We have one Father—even God” (Jn 8:41). 

i) Critics of the virgin birth complain that this event is only reported in two sources: Matthew and Luke. Actually, the fact that we have two independent records of this event is impressive. 

But now I'd like to consider a neglected source. It's possible or probable that Jn 8:41 is an indirect allusion to the virgin birth. If so, that's even more impressive because it represents hostile testimony.

ii) Of course, Jesus' Jewish opponents didn't believe in the virgin birth. The question, rather, is whether, in Jn 8:41, they are alluding to his out-of-wedlock conception. They don't construe that as a virginal conception, but a virginal conception would underlie and account for his out-of-wedlock conception. 

iii) Scholars are divided on whether his opponents are questioning his legitimacy. For instance, Keener says:

Because Jesus' interlocutors in the story would  here, like most of his interlocutors in the Gospel, interpret him too literally, they may take his charge as implying that they do in fact stem from an adulterous union. Alternatively, they could understand "fornication" in its spiritual sense referring to idolatry. C. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Hendrickson 2003), 1:759.

But if they took him literally, then, by parity of argument, we'd expect the charge of illegitimacy to be literal. So it's unclear why Keener raises that in objection to the interpretation in question.

And, of course, the figurative interpretation is incompatible with the literal interpretation, so we need to decide which is preferable. he can't list both options as a cumulative objection to the interpretation in question. 
Keener also says his opponents are on the defensive at this point, and only go on the offensive in v48. But it's not clear what that means. They seem to be responding to Jesus with a counter-allegation. "We are not bastards"–which carries the implicitly invidious comparison to Jesus. 

Indeed, it's a rhetorical trap. By using suggestive language that leaves the comparison implicit, it attempts to create a dilemma for Jesus. If he declines to respond, the slur does its damage by default. It's out there, to injure his reputation.

If, however, he does respond, he must acknowledge the rumor to refute it. In a way, that confirms the rumor–though not the defamatory interpretation. 
Finally, Keener says:

It is not clear that such charges were sufficiently widespread by the end of the first century to be assumed by John's audience or that of his tradition (although this is possible). Ibid. 1:759.

But there are problems with that objection:

i) We need to distinguish between John's audience and the historical audience. Jesus is addressing some Jews, in the early thirties. John repeats this because that's what they said. He's recording this exchange because the larger dialogue is important to establish the person and work of Christ. Even if this particular allusion would escape their ken, that's embedded in a crucial dialogue.

ii) John may well expect his readers to have background information from prior Gospels. He can take for granted their awareness of the virgin birth. Even if every reader didn't know that, it's not his responsibility. The supplementary information is available. 

Meier thinks the reference is figurative, like the reference to Samaritan pedigree in v48. Cf. J. Meier, A Marginal Jew (Doubleday 1991), 1:228-29.

However, the Samaritan comparison is obscure. Commentators struggle with what his accusers had in mind. Moreover, that allegation is combined with the allegation of demonic possession, which may well be literal.

If 7:41 is a literal slur, that that generates a dilemma for the liberal view of John's Gospel. Liberals date this Gospel to the first quarter of the 2C. They think the author had no firsthand knowledge of the historical Jesus. They think he invented speeches whole cloth.

But in that event, why in the world would the narrator fabricate that defamatory innuendo? Why would he plant that idea in the mind of the reader? Why introduce that stigmatizing characterization into his narrative if it had no historical precedent? Why invent a weapon that critics would use against Jesus?

If, however, this is a historically accurate transcript (or summary) of an actual exchange, then it's plausible that Jesus' Jewish opponents would attempt to discredit him by calling him a (literal) bastard. If they had malicious gossip to that effect, they would surely use it at some point or another. And they'd place the least flattering interpretation on rumors that Mary was an unwed mother. I think many scholars are too high-minded to appreciate what enemies will resort to. 

Indeed, the illegitimacy of Jesus became a standard element of the Jewish polemic. Origen responds to that. We find it in the Toledot Yeshua. In fact, that is still a part of the Jewish polemic, right down to our very own day:

My point is not that that these later sources reflect independent traditions. Rather, they represent a hostile interpretation of the virgin birth. 

By the same token, it's easy to see how the virgin birth would give rise to similar allegations by spiteful neighbors–who'd be more than happy to share that with the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. 

Gospel fictionalization

Friday, February 05, 2016

How Darwin lost his faith

As Mitchell Stephens points out in his excellent book Imagine There’s no Heaven: How Atheism Helped Create the Modern World (2014), what undermined Darwin’s faith were the observations he made, as a kind of amateur anthropologist, of the diversity of religions around the world and the sincerity of their devotees, and his reading of the works of Shelley, the philosopher David Hume, and various other skeptical thinkers. Stephens quotes E.O. Wilson: “The great naturalist did not abandon” religion because of his work on natural selection, but rather “The reverse occurred. The shedding of blind faith gave him the intellectual fearlessness to explore human evolution wherever logic and evidence took him.”

Why the Virgin Birth?

Why was Jesus virginally conceived? Admittedly, the question is somewhat speculative. However, I think the Bible expects Christians to reflect on the theological significance of the virgin birth, so this is more than idle speculation.

1. Let's begin with secular explanations. On one version, the virgin birth is based on pagan exemplars. But there are familiar problems with that allegation:

i) The alleged parallels aren't comparable upon closer scrutiny. For instance, the women may not be virgins. Or conception involves copulation between male gods and human women. 

ii) The pagan stories are too far removed in time, place, and genre to be exemplars.

iii) It would be repugnant to Matthew's Jewish audience. That would be counterproductive to his aim. 

2. On another secular explanation, the virgin birth is a cover story of a prenuptial scandal. On one version, Mary and Joseph jumped the gun. But there are problems with that explanation:

i) According to Mosaic Law, premarital sex was not a capital offense. The punishment was a shotgun wedding. 

ii) If, moreover, Mary and Joseph were already betrothed, then fornication is a technicality. After all, it took a formal "divorce" to dissolve a betrothal. From what I've read, there was no consensus on whether it was illicit for betrothed couples to exercise that privilege. 

iii) Although there was no legal double standard, I suspect there was a cultural double standard. How much stigma, if any, would attach to Joseph? Surely a fair number of single Jewish men were sexually active. That's why Proverbs warns against young men frequently with prostitutes. Likewise, what got David into hot water wasn't promiscuity, but adultery, and betrayal (of a soldier under his command). If this was a prenuptial scandal, it would only be scandalous for Mary, not Joseph.

iv) Since there'd been no scientific way to prove paternity, Joseph could simply accuse Mary of sleeping with another man and wash his hands of the matter. 

v) Unwed motherhood was hardly a unique occurrence in 1C Judaism. Why would anyone find the Virgin Birth a plausible cover story? 

vi) A variation on the secular explanation is that Mary was pregnant by a man other than Joseph. If so, it's inexplicable why Joseph would consent to marry her. That would be culturally demeaning to Joseph. 

vii) Since the secular explanation regards the account as fictional, it would be simpler for Matthew to deny Mary's out-of-wedlock pregnancy by narrating that she became pregnant after Mary and Joseph tied the knot. If, according to the secular explanation, Matthew is guilty of fabrication, why not a fabrication that eliminates any grounds for suspicion? 

A possible objection is that Matthew couldn't get away with that because there were witnesses who knew Mary was an unwed mother. If so, that generates a dilemma for the secular explanation. Those who treat the virgin birth narrative as fictional or mythological date Matthew to c. 80-100. They think it was written by an anonymous author with no historical connection to Jesus or his relatives. But in that event, how would anyone in Matthew's audience be in a position to correct his account if he denied her prenuptial pregnancy? Mary and Joseph weren't famous at the time of her pregnancy. Only a handful of people would know when she became pregnant. And on liberal dating, that was about a century (give or take) before the Gospel was written. 

vii) Finally, this isn't the only Biblical example of a miraculous conception. Unless all other examples are cover stories for prenuptial scandals, why assume that must be the explanation in this case? Why single out a prenuptial scandal in this particular instance? 

2. Let's shift to theological explanations. One rationale is that if Jesus had a biological father, then he'd inherit original sin.

One problem with that rationale is that mainstream Reformed theology affirms the immediate rather than mediate imputation of Adam's sin. It's something everyone gets direct from Adam, by divine imputation, and not from your parents, or your father in particular.  

3. On the face of it, a divine Incarnation doesn't necessitate a virginal conception. On the one hand, Jesus doesn't require a human father to have a divine father. Those are separable. They operate on different levels. 

On the other hand, if he can be human without a biological father, he can be human without a biological mother. After all, Adam and Eve were human sans parentage. He could be human with two parents, one parent, or no parent. Different miracles. 

4. Another rationale is that a miraculous conception is a divine sign that there's something very special about this person. And that's undoubtedly true as far as it goes.

5. In addition, although his divine sonship doesn't automatically preclude a biological father, that omission draws attention to his divine sonship. Even though these operate at different levels, yet because it's normally necessary for humans to have biological fathers, if someone doesn't, the follow-up question is to ask who takes up the slack? Who fills that role? 

6. Finally, it might seem initially odd that Christ's claim to Davidic ancestry is merely legal rather than biological. Isn't that rather roundabout? Doesn't that seem to weaken the connection? The claim would appear to be stronger if Joseph was his biological father rather than stepfather. 

But if you think about it, the way God actually arranged it is more subtle and powerful. How does one become a king? One way is through inheritance. Passed down from father to son.

Yet that's not how David became king of Israel. Jesse was not a king. David was a commoner.

Rather, God directly elevated David to the throne. And David's coronation employs adoptive language: "I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son" (2 Sam 7:14). God is like David's stepfather. 

By the same token, Jesus isn't the rightful heir due to his human paternity. Rather, he's enthroned by God himself.

In bypassing genetic lineage, the virgin birth creates a partial parallel between the kingship of David and the Davidic kingship of Christ. Jesus is heir to the Davidic throne, not in virtue of his physical pedigree; rather, God directly installs him as king just as God did in David's case. So there's a type/antitype parallel.

7. Moreover, in typological escalation, Jesus is God's Son in a way that David is not. Jesus is God's Son by nature, and not adoption. 

In fact it creates a chiasmic relation:

A. Jesse is David's ontological father
   B. God is David's stepfather
   B. Joseph is Jesus' stepfather
A. God is Jesus' ontological Father

One way to contrast two things is by comparing two things. Their similarities make the dissimilarities stick out.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Is mankind one or many?

Dale Tuggy:
About your claim #3 - You are overlooking that steps 4-9 deal with the "deity" of Christ. I am focusing on the sense of "deity" or "divinity" which implies that the thing is a god. Compare: human. In the primary or basic sense of that, whatever "is human" just is a certain human being, e.g. Steve.

Fine. Let's play along with Tuggy's own example.

i) Is mankind one or many? You can say mankind is only one with respect to the fact that there's only one human genus. That's why it's called mankind or humankind.

ii) But, of course, there can be many representatives of that kind or genus. Indeed, there seems to be no intrinsic upper maxima to the possible number of human representatives.

iii) By analogy, consider God-kind or God as a genus. At that level, there's only one. God is a class by itself (or himself).

Yet there can be more than one representative of God-kind. Indeed, there are three. Unlike humans, that does have an intrinsic upper maxima. 

iv) There are differences, of course. Humans are finite, concrete exemplifications of God's idea for each human individual.

By contrast, the members of the Trinity are more like abstract mirror symmetries. Each one reflects the other two. Contains the other two.

v) However, these refinements are irrelevant to the larger point that there's more than one way to count certain things. In some cases it's possible to count the same thing as one or more than one. 

Challenge met

Dale Tuggy:

The ambiguity of "God" here is a feature, not a bug:

You've misunderstood the difference between "God" (singular referring term) and "god" (common noun). Thus, your argument in this post is simply not mine, and is not parallel to mine. 

i) For starters, that's duplicitous. You begin by telling me the ambiguity is intentional. Likewise, in your sequel post, you say "There is an ambiguity here, but it is deliberate, and is a virtue of the argument."

But you then complain that I allegedly failed to draw a semantic distinction between "God" as a singular referring term and "god" as a common noun. So your ambiguous formulation was deceptive. You're now admitting that the argument only goes through if we give "God" a more specific import. 

ii) It's ironic that you presume to accuse me of failing to distinguish between "God" as a singular referring term and "god" as a common noun when, in fact, I've accused you of ignoring or obscuring that distinction since 2011. 

You can take “God” here to be either the Father (as in the NT) or the Trinity (as in trinitarian traditions) – either way, I claim, you should agree that this is a sound argument.

False dichotomy. There's a third option: I can construe it as a predication of deity. 

See my "Trinity Challenge" argument in the post above. Do you agree that it is sound? (I believe you deny it because you deny its 2 - see below.)

Your reformulation is different than mine. Therefore, your "Trinity Challenge" argument fails to engage my alternative.

Your second argument isn't parallel to anything I'm arguing. It's besides the point. 

i) My second argument unpacked the admitted ambiguity of "God" in a different direction. Since you yourself concede that "God" is ambiguous, it's a legitimate move for me to explore different ways of understanding the descriptor. In this case, it construes the descriptor in qualitative terms (kind, genus, set of attributes) rather than quantitative terms. You offer no counterargument. 

ii) In addition, it exposes ambiguities in how to count the same object. So your syllogism is vitiated by equivocation. And you offer no counterargument to my critique. You simply issue dismissive denials.

About your claim #3 - You are overlooking that steps 4-9 deal with the "deity" of Christ. I am focusing on the sense of "deity" or "divinity" which implies that the thing is a god. Compare: human. In the primary or basic sense of that, whatever "is human" just is a certain human being, e.g. Steve. 

Yes, you're laboring to rig the terms of the debate. I get that. Your syllogism hinges on a false premise. Fatal ambiguity.

"Tuggy's syllogism depends on calling Jesus "God"."
You're not really getting the points of the argument. If 3 is true, it is highly misleading to say that "Jesus is God" because many will hear that as an identification of Jesus and God. And the point of 9 is that "the deity of Christ" is also misleading, as many will think that implies that Jesus is a god. But, he can't be - as there's only one god, and it's something or someone else - take your pick - the Father, or the Trinity. 

i) Your objection is irrelevant. The question at issue is not the connotations which the phrase ("Jesus is God") may have for many, but whether you can generate a sound argument. How "many" hear it is hardly the standard of comparison. We need to distinguish between popular usage and philosophical usage

ii) Apropos (i), it's trivially easy to state the Trinity in formally contradictory terms by using popular language rather than philosophical jargon. But a formal contradiction is linguistic, not conceptual. It's like a verbal paradox. You've been playing this rhetorical ruse for five years.

"ambiguities concerning what it means for something to be "only one"."
Your example does nothing to show that "one" is ambiguous. Are you saying that we should doubt or deny that 6 is true? 

Are you just dense? The Mandelbrot set can be counted in more than one way. I explain that. As usual, you don't refute what I say. Instead, you utter a tendentious denial.

"A final problem with Tuggy's syllogism is that the NT does in fact call Jesus "God" or "Lord" (=Yahweh)"
Not a problem. It's simply a mistake to think that anyone who can properly be called "God" or "Lord" is none other than Yahweh himself. 

And according to NT Christology, Jesus is none other than Yahweh himself.

In terms of the argument, here you are just insisting that 3 is false. But 3 follows from 1 and 2. So, which of those do you deny? I think you must be just going against reason and denying 2, unlike just about all Christians trained in philosophy.

No, the question at issue is whether your syllogism, if sound, disproves NT Christology.

Are the NT authors *identifying* the one God and this man? You should say not.

Of course, they don't view Jesus as simply "this man". 

*You* think God is a Trinity, and that Jesus isn't. And that's just one of many differences: e.g. God has a Son, and Jesus doesn't. 

i) This is how you always load the dice. You are too unethical to state the Trinitarian position as a Trinitarian would state it. The Father has a Son, but the Son has no Son. 

ii) And of course there are differences. The Trinity presupposes personal differentiation. 

So the only way you can attribute the identification of Jesus and God to Paul or John (etc.) is to suppose that they're so stupid that they don't know: Things which differ are two (i.e. are not numerically identical) [premise 2 in my argument]. In other words, you're supposing that they think that one and the same thing can, at one time, be and not be some way. But that is *very* uncharitable. That's like supposing that they don't know that 3+3=6, or that "bigger than" is a transitive relation.

i) I've corrected you on this for years no. The Apostles have no control over what God is like. Their role is reportorial.

I would doubt that you fail to believe 2, as you seem to have adult-range intelligence, and would surly employ 2 in reasoning about non-theological matters. But I understand that you *say* you're denying 2 here - your theory demands it. This is a price you must pay in order to deny 3, given that you see that it's ridiculous for any Christian to deny 1.

What you need to see though is that it's ridiculous for any person, Christian or not, to deny 2. It's epistemic status is at least equal to 1.

Your syllogism is equivocal. 

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Shadow of Oz review

Odin 2.0

My final reply to a village atheist over at Victor Reppert's blog. 

steve said...
Cal Metzger said...

"Odin's a person, he's immortal, he has supernatural powers, he is the most powerful supernatural being, etc. If you can't see how Odin could be analogous (which doesn't mean "identical") to Yahweh then I don't know what else to say."

i) Odin is not immortal.

ii) Moreover, even if he were immortal, it wouldn't be in the same sense that Yahweh is immortal. Physical immortality is hardly equivalent to the timeless eternality of an incorporeal being.

iii) And what makes him a "supernatural" being in the worldview of Nordic/Teutonic mythology?

"steve's response talked brought up the standard apologist talking points but didn't answer my hypothetical question about miracles and Odin -- steve's response basically says "Yawheh is different than Odin in these ways." Um, I know they're not identical -- why should that prohibit responding to my hypothetical?"

Either Cal is intellectually dishonest or intellectually challenged:

i) Yahweh and Odin are categorically different kinds of beings. Therefore, Cal's attempted analogy is vitiated by fundamental disanalogies.

ii) I also pointed out the difference in sources. Cal ignores that.

iii) I further pointed out evidence for Yahweh's existence that's wholly absent in the case of Odin.

Cal is either unable or unwilling to argue in good faith.

iv) And keep in mind that his question had nothing to do with the actual topic of the post.

steve said...
i) One of Cal's many intellectual impediments is that he doesn't know the right questions to ask. He's attempting to plant trick questions to trap Christians.

Suppose Cal walks into a department store, walks down an aisle, and stares at a row of spoons. A sales clerk asks Cal if he's finding what he's looking for. Cal asks for advice on the best spoon to open a tin can.

The clerk politely explains to Cal that a spoon is the wrong tool to open a tin can. If that's what Cal wants, then he needs a can opener. The clerk points him to a row of manual and electric can openers, and offers to make recommendations.

But Cal becomes suspicious. Why is the clerk avoiding his question? Must be the clerk is "afraid" to answer his question about the best spoon to open a tin can.

ii) Apropos (i), what Cal hasn't figured out yet is that when he postulates Odin, and asks what evidence we'd accept for Odin, there are in-built restrictions on what would count as evidence for Odin's existence or divinity. That's because Nordic/Teutonic mythology defines Odin as a certain kind of being with particular attributes. Hence, Odin cannot, by definition, do anything that exceeds the abilities of his design specifications.

According to Nordic/Teutonic mythology, Odin is a mortal being. A physical being. A humanoid "god" who came into existence. At a later date he will be killed by Fenrir the wolf.

iii) It's like asking, what evidence I'd accept that Superman is made of rubber. Short answer: none.

Cal then exclaims that I have a double standard. I have fallen into his trap!

But, no, the reason I say that is because Superman wouldn't be Superman if he were made of rubber. What Superman can do or be is limited by the Superman canon. He has a core identity, core attributes.

It's not about evidential truth, but analytical truth. Like asking what evidence would convince me that a bachelor is married. That's a contradiction in terms.

It's up to Cal to explain what kind of evidence he thinks Odin would be capable of offering for his nature and existence.

iv) Finally, Cal has no sense of what's important. He fritters away his life trying to bait Christians into arguments about unicorns, magical bean stalks and Nordic gods, rather than examining the evidence for something truly important and consequential like God's existence, the historical Jesus, and the occurrence of miracles.

steve said...
Cal Metzger said...

"Many times I hear apologists declare that non-believers close their minds to the possibility of miracles (a concept that, like the term "supernatural", I still find to be incoherent)."

So, according to Cal, when atheists classify themselves as naturalists, they have no clear idea of what naturalism means. After all, naturalism is defined in relation to supernaturalism, and vice versa: these are correlative concepts. If the concept of "supernatural" is incoherent, where does that leave the concept of "natural"?

It's essential to atheism to be able to demarcate what's natural from what's supernatural.

Likewise, if the concept of miracle is incoherent, does that mean atheist have no clear conception of what it means to deny the occurrence of miracles?

Cal's statements are counterproductive to his own cause. Is he operating with some old version of logical positivism?

steve said...
Cal Metzger said...

"But when asked how it is that the gallery here would behave differently from the close-minded atheists you mention in your OP, we see that (surprise!) none of the Christians here are open-minded enough to imagine what evidence would convince them that Odin (and not Yahweh) is real and supreme among Gods, etc."

That was the trap Cal set. I didn't step into the trap. I stepped around the trap. And I'm not the only one.

We've explained to Cal in some detail why his comparison is equivocal. Not surprisingly, he can't refute the explanation. So he simply pushes the rewind button on his prerecorded apologetic, and repeats himself. He's incapable of thinking through an issue. He's just a tape recorder.

steve said...
Cal Metzger said...

"By natural, I understand people to mean that knowledge of the external (intersubjective) world is only possible those things that are examinable. I don't see any correlation to supernaturalism, because no one has been able to coherently explain what supernatural is supposed to mean, let alone how it should relate to those things that are examinable."

Poor Cal never misses a chance to miss the point:

i) "Natural" and "supernatural" are antonyms. Mutually definable. Contraries. If you know what one means, you should know what the other means. If you don't know what one means, then you don't know what the other means. If you don't know what natural is not, if you don't what's inconsistent with natural, then you don't know what natural is.

ii) Cal doesn't care about "examinable" things. He goes out of his way to avoid examinable evidence for miracles.

iii) Notice that he dodged the question of how he can deny the occurrence of miracles unless he has a clear concept of what they are.

iv) Many metaphysicians believe in "unexaminable" things like abstract objects (e.g. numbers, possible worlds).

v) How does Cal know there's an external, intersubjectival reality? Presumably, he's a physicalist. In that case, he can have no direct knowledge of the world. Rather, his information about the world is filtered through sensory perception and how the brain interprets sensory input. He can't compare that to what the world is really like, apart from sensory perception and interpretation.

If (according to Cal) the preexisting mythology about Odin is unimportant, then what would make this evidence about Odin? Seems like quite a dilemma for Cal.

steve said...
Cal Metzger said...

"I didn't dodge it. I told you it didn't make any sense to me, and I didn't see a question in it. "

Cal has yet to explain what it means to deny a miracle. How can he deny what he can't define?

"Metaphysicians believe in things. And this is supposed to affect me how? (Note, I think the reality of number is an interesting question, but it appears to be a meaningless one."

Cal is unable to follow his own argument. I was responding to him on his own grounds, by citing examples of things we can't directly examine, yet there's good reason to believe they exist. Many metaphysicians believe in abstract objects (e.g. numbers, possible words) due to their indispensable explanatory power.

"Also, whatever pre-existing mythology you know around Odin is unimportant…"

Odin was Cal's own example. Who is Odin? Odin is a character in Nordic/Teutonic mythology. That's the referent of Odin.

Cal's example depends on the identity of Odin. If the preexisting mythology of Odin is "unimportant," then "Odin" has no identifiable referent.

"-- maybe the early mythology got some of it wrong, the Norsemen weren't ready for all the information about Odin yet and now new information can be revealed, etc. Surely you've heard arguments like this?"

Odin is just a character in Nordic/Teutonic mythology. That's all he ever was. It's not like King Arthur.

And why should we play along with Cal's silly revision? He starts with a dumb example. When his example fails, he tries to retrofit his dumb example. It's such a waste of time. He can't bring himself to discuss anything serious. It's like debating the color of Russell's celestial teapot.

"Odin is contingent. Odin will always be contingent. / No contingency is worthy of the appellation 'God.' Therefore Odin is not worthy to be God and God is."

That's not what I actually said, but as a summary, that will suffice.

"That's just a mess. So, it's not enough for me to ask questions and respond to questions, you also want me to re-form babbling assertions into questions so that I can follow up on something that I can't even make sense of? Okay, that's what you think."

It's true that Cal is chronically unable to keep up with the argument. He can't even follow his own argument. He originally said:

"What could Odin do that you can't explain as being better assigned to Yahweh, and that would make you change your mind about Odin existing?"

A contingent being can only do what a contingent being is capable of doing. By definition, Odin is a contingent being. Some actions are inherently impossible for a contingent being. He has finite abilities.

And by definition, everything is contingent on Yahweh while Yahweh is contingent on nothing. Therefore, Yahweh could do things that Odin can't. That simply follows from the respective concepts of Odin and Yahweh.

"I have just been trying to see if anyone here can show us what someone who hasn't closed their mind to the possibility of miracles should expect to see in order to believe that Odin is real."

Cal is never able to understand any correction even when it's patiently explained to him. This isn't a question of being closed-minded. Cal gave the example of Odin. Well, Odin is a mythological character with specific attributes. He has a backstory. By definition, there can't be any evidence for Odin's ability that contradicts the concept of Odin. Just as there can't be any evidence that H2O is lead. By definition, H2O can't be lead.

"Would the revealing of a previously secret Norse sect, sworn to secrecy until now, and with ancient documents, describing how Odin once walked the earth then flew back to heaven do it?"

Not unless there was evidence that the ancient Nordic documents were true.

"Here's what I think: I think that you believe this discussion is about trying to one-up me, to try and catch me, to try and assert some imagined superiority on your part."

That's ironic given Cal's repeated admission that he's trying to catch Christians in hypocrisy.

"And that is why your comments are so predictable, and long, and kind of boring. Which is a shame, because at its heart I do think the question of what it would take for any of us to change our minds is a very interesting and important question."

Aside from the fact that in this thread, Cal repeatedly confuses me with another commenter, if atheism were true, then what it would take for any of us to change our minds is unimportant. If atheism were true, then whatever we believe or disbelieve, do or not do, is utterly unimportant in the great scheme of things.

Tuggy's "challenge"

I'm going to comment on Tuggy's "challenge":

1. A basic problem with his 9-point syllogism is the undefined term "God". What is meant by "God"? What does that denote? What does that word stand for?

Here's one way of unpacking the usage. In Christian theology, "God" denotes the Trinity. Suppose we substitute "the Trinity" for "God" in Tuggy's syllogism:

  1. Jesus and the Trinity differ.
  2. Things which differ are two (i.e. are not numerically identical)
  3. Therefore, Jesus and the Trinity are two (not numerically identical). (1, 2)
  4. For any x and y, x and y are the same only if x and y are not two (i.e. are numerically identical).
  5. Therefore, Jesus and the Trinity are not the same. (3,4)
  6. There is only one Trinity.
  7. Therefore, either God is not the Trinity, or Jesus is not the Trinity. (5, 6)
  8. God is the Trinity.
  9. Therefore, Jesus is not the Trinity. (7,8)

Notice how Tuggy's syllogism instantly unravels. It's true that Jesus is not the Trinity. But that does nothing to obviate the deity of Christ. 

2. Another approach is to define God by his attributes (e.g. omnipotence, omniscience, aseity, impassibility, timelessness, spacelessness) and actions (e.g. creator of the world). 

There is only one kind of being with that set of attributes (and actions). However, that allows for the following distinction:

i) One kind

ii) One or more individuals of the same kind

A kind (or genus) may be singular or unique, but allow for two or more individuals in kind. Putting it another way, to define God as a set of attributes is to define God as a genus (with due apologies to Aquinas). 

Even if there's only one divine genus, that doesn't mean there cannot be two or more individuals that share the same genus. Suppose we plug that into Tuggy's syllogism:

  1. God-kind and Jesus differ.
  2. Things which differ are two (i.e. are not numerically identical)
  3. Therefore, God-kind and Jesus are two (not numerically identical). (1, 2)
  4. For any x and y, x and y are the same only if x and y are not two (i.e. are numerically identical).
  5. Therefore, God-kind and Jesus are not the same. (3,4)
  6. There is only one God-kind.

But at that point the syllogism begins to unravel. Jesus can belong to the divine genus or God-kind, but differ from God-kind inasmuch as the genus is a broader or more inclusive category. God-kind and the Father differ. 

3. Tuggy's syllogism depends on calling Jesus "God". If, however, we we were to recast the question in terms of "Jesus is divine," or the "deity of Christ", then his syllogism would fall apart. It's a semantic ruse. 

4. In addition, the way he frames the issue conceals ambiguities concerning what it means for something to be "only one". 

Consider the Mandelbrot set. Suppose there is only one Mandelbrot set. Yet the Mandelbrot set is recursive, by having the property of self-similarity. It contains "copies" of itself.

So is it one or many? Both. It presents a set/subset relation.

By the same token, there is only one God, yet the one God is recursive, by the property of self-similarity. God is a Trinity. 

5. A final problem with Tuggy's syllogism is that the NT does in fact call Jesus "God" or "Lord" (=Yahweh). For instance:

i) There's Jn 1:1. That's a paraphrase of Gen 1:1. That's a foundational statement regarding the identity of the one true God. That's how God introduced himself to readers in the history of canonical revelation. It's not "God" in a secondary sense. Rather, it uses "God" in the most fundamental sense of the word. 

ii) Another example is Heb 1:10-12. According to the author of Hebrews, in Ps 102 the Father is addressing the Son as the preexistent, immutable, and everlasting Creator-God. It's a classic statement about Yahweh's unique identity.

If Tuggy's syllogism were sound, it would falsify NT Christology. So he's created a dilemma, not for Trinitarians, but for unitarians.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

10 lessons from Iowa

"A Brief Response to Tuggy’s Challenge"

James Anderson responds to Dale Tuggy's latest challenge.

Witness to the Exodus

i) Unbelievers say there's no evidence for the Exodus. Of course, the fact that we have a detailed account of the Exodus in the Pentateuch is prima facie evidence for the Exodus, even if you don't presume the inspiration of Scripture. Most of what we believe about historical events is based on historical testimony. 

ii) But here's another consideration: on the face of it, we have multiple attestation for the Exodus. It isn't just the Pentateuch. The OT contains numerous references to the Exodus, viz. Jdg 6:8-9,13; 1 Sam 12:6,8; 1 Kgs 8:51; 2 Chron 7:22; Neh 9:9ff; Pss 77:14-20; 78:12-55; 80:8; 106:7-12; 114; Hos 11:1; Jer 7:21-24; 11:1-3; Dan 9:15. 

iii) Now, unbelievers might try to argue that these are all secondary references. All literarily dependent on the Pentateuch. But there are problems with that claim:

a) It generates a dilemma: liberal scholars don't think the Pentateuch was written first.

b) If the Exodus happened, then that would be a part of family lore for descendants of the Exodus generation. 

c) In addition, due to its religious significance, you'd have collective memory. There'd be a motivation to perpetuate those anecdotes.

d) Consider the Mormon Trek. Misguided followers of Brigham Young who accompanied him to the Salt Lake Valley. It wouldn't surprise me if anecdotes of that journey were passed down from one generation to the next. 

Iowa results in review

Craig on the same God controversy

And here's a post that helpfully classifies a number of pertinent distinctions:

Monday, February 01, 2016

Cruz control

This is a more impressive win for Cruz than it would have been a month ago because, in the intervening weeks:

i) Trump played the Birther card on Cruz

ii) Palin endorsed Trump, as did Jerry Falwell, Jr. 

iii) The Iowa governor endorsed Trump

iv) Members of the GOP "establishment" made it known that they were backing Trump rather than Cruz

v) Cruz took a big risk by opposing farm subsidies (i.e. ethanol) in a farm state 

vi) It was a come from behind victory. Polls had Trump with a big lead, while Cruz won by a comfortable margin.

Yet Cruz pulled through despite those additional obstacles. 

In addition, Rubio surged. It was a great night for Cruz, good night for Rubio, and bad night for everyone else. Both Cruz and Rubio performed above expectations while Trump performed below expectations. Rubio almost overtook Trump. Still, a win is a win, especially in the first primary of the season.

The remaining candidates had a disastrous showing. They need to get out. It's now a 3-man race.  

To make sure Trump is good n dead, Trump still needs to lose a few more primaries to drive a stake through his heart. But this is a good start.

According to Nate Silver:

One thing we’ll be thinking about over the next several days is how much Donald Trump’s inferior ground game harmed him tonight in Iowa. 
An argument against the ground game having been the sole cause of his defeat: Republican turnout tonight now projects to be around 180,000, well ahead of 2012’s total of around 120,000 voters and somewhat ahead of where most political watchers expected it to be. Given how poorly Trump performed among the late-deciders in tonight’s entrance poll, it’s possible he had a different problem: trouble expanding his coalition beyond his intense but relatively narrow base of support.

Blonds have more fun

This post is about the transgender movement, but I'm going to back into that issue by using a different example.

Recently, as I was sitting at a park bench, I noticed a young Asian male jogger whizz by. Normally, I wouldn't pay attention, but what caught my attention is that he had blond hair. Garish blond. The tint reminded me of the gay bloodsucker in The Fearless Vampire Killers and the S.S. officer in Where Eagles Dare. Conspicuously Aryan. 

Now, I don't know why he dyed his hair blond. Maybe that's just one of the goofy things that young people do these days. I've seen some young Caucasians with blue, green, or clown red hair. 

(Of course, women do all sorts of creative things with their hair. That's to be expected.)

But maybe he did it to look more Caucasian. If so, that's a problem.

Now, he could change it back overnight. But let's take a more drastic example: some Asians undergo blepharoplasty to obliterate the epicanthic fold and give their eyes a more Caucasian appearance.

Since I'm not Asian, I don't take that personally. But I imagine that if Vanity Fair did a spread celebrating blepharoplasty the way it did celebrating Bruce Jenner's "transition," many Asians would resent that. Because it's a snub. To undergo that operation is to act ashamed of your ethnicity. To disown the ethnic group to which you belong. 

And from my viewpoint, as an outside observer, I think an Asian who does that suffers from a lack of self-respect. He is disrespecting who he is.

I think it's wrong for Asians to elevate Caucasians to the standard of comparison, then undergo body modification to approximate a more Caucasian appearance, as if their natural appearance is inferior. This isn't corrective plastic surgery. There's nothing to correct. 

And I suspect it's counterproductive. They won't be accepted by either ethnic group. If you try too hard to fit in, if people only accept you on their terms rather than your terms, then they don't really accept you for who you are. I'm speaking now of natural, inborn differences. 

Let's shift from the lesser to the greater. Blepharoplasty is trivial compared to hormone therapy, radical makeover surgery, and/or sex-change operations which transvestites like Jenner undergo. If it's dubious for an Asian to undergo blepharoplasty, if that's something we should discourage rather than applaud, then denying your manhood or womanhood is far worse.  

The divine mind-reader

1. Freewill theism has a generic theodicy: the freewill defense. (That can be supplemented by other theodicies, like the soul-making theodicy.)

According to the argument from evil, an omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent God is blameworthy for failing to preempt any preventable evil–especially gratuitous evil.

The freewill defense denies this key premise. God is not blameworthy for preempting every preventable evil, because the price of eliminating evil is to eliminate goods that are inseparable from libertarian freedom. 

Open theism takes a different tack: God is not to blame because God lacks advance knowledge of evil actions. God didn't see it coming down the pike. That's what is distinctive to an open theist theodicy. 

That, however, means that open theism implicitly concedes a key premise of the argument from evil, and thereby rejects the freewill defense: if evil were foreseeable, then God would be blameworthy for failing to prevent it. 

2. However, that makes the open theist theodicy implausible. To begin with, the open theist God is like a man in a security room. The world is blanketed by surveillance cameras. Inside the security room are wall-to-wall screens which display what everyone is doing everywhere, at every moment. 

So, for instance, God can see Ted Bundy incapacitate a hooker or coed, dump her in the trunk, and drive her to his hideout. Now even if God doesn't know for sure how that will end, isn't it enough to for him to see Bundy put a woman in the trunk? How much more do you need to see to intervene?

If a human observer saw that, and he was in a position to intervene, would he not be culpable for failing to rescue the woman? (And keep in mind that freewill theists use human analogies in objection to Calvinism.) 

3. But it gets worse. Some open theists are more philosophically inclined while others are more exegetically inclined. The latter pride themselves on their fidelity to Scripture. They consider their interpretations to be more faithful, more straightforward, than classical theism.

Yet Scripture frequently says God is a mindreader. That tends to crop up in reference to God's qualifications as the eschatological judge. 

God doesn't simply know what people do, but what they intend to do. But that means God's knowledge of human affairs isn't confined to what he can observe. In addition, God is right inside the mind of the serial killer or the suicide bomber. 

Now, according to open theism, God can't know what we are thinking before we think it. God doesn't know what our next thought will be.

But he does know what people are planning to do. He doesn't have to wait and see what Bundy is going to do to that women. He has direct access to Bundy's mind. 

Yet that makes it much harder for open theists to claim that moral evils are unforeseeable. Although there may be a bit of lag time in the sense that God doesn't know what evildoers are plotting ahead of time, his knowledge of their intentions is simultaneous with their intentions. He knows as much as the agent himself. Real time, up to the moment, intel. God is eavesdropping on their thoughts. He knows what they intend as soon as they intend it. 

Surely that puts God in a position to head off ever so many moral evils in the making. He needn't wait until the last moment. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Rubio, Cruz, and Trump

A few parting thoughts or parting shots on the eve of the Iowa caucus.

1. Here's one potential way the wheels might fly off the Trump bandwagon:
Thus far he's been able to coast on free air time. But successful campaigns are about more than media coverage. You need a field operation in the "battleground states." And a turnout machine takes money. You must hire staff. Have campaign offices, &c.

From what I've read, Trump doesn't have a turnout machine in Iowa. If so, that's probably because he isn't prepared to invest his own money in the campaign.

Trump supporters say he's not beholden to the donor class. But is he willing to sink his own fortune into a presidential bid? Indeed, does he even have a legal way of doing that already set up? He can't write a company check. His conglomerate isn't his private piggybank. Corporate assets are sequestered from personal assets.

If he doesn't have a field operation in Iowa, that may be a harbinger that he has no intention of self-financing his campaign. If so, can he win primaries without spending money? Can he win the nomination without spending money? It's not enough to have air time. You need a ground game. If the wheels come off soon enough, a rival candidate might have time to overtake him.

But what if Trump gets the nomination? If he's unwilling to bet his personal fortune on his own campaign, then he will either limp along on free airtime or else he will need to rattle tin cup for the donor class to pitch in. If they do, he's beholden to the donor class, and if he doesn't, I don't see how he wins the general election on a shoestring. Increasingly, it takes a huge war chest to mount a competitive presidential campaign.

2. Rubio seems to have two basic problems:

i) He damaged himself with the Gang of Eight. However, I'm not sure how important the immigration issue is this election cycle. To some degree, I think the issue of Muslim immigration has eclipsed the issue of illegal Hispanic immigration. In addition, the looming threat of Hillary raises so many larger issues.

ii) Rubio is the ill-fated heir to the cumulative resentment of many GOP voters who are fed up with candidates like Dole, McCain, and Romney. (Some of them include Bush 41 and Bush 43 in their list of RINOs.) And they're taking out their pent up rage on Rubio.

He's at the wrong place at the wrong time. That's ironic because, from what I can tell, he's way to the right of Dole, McCain, and Romney. Why draw the line with Rubio, when he's so much better than Dole, McCain, and Romney? Why swallow hard and vote for them but not for him?

In my experience, Rubio detractors (in effect) tell Rubio supporters: "How low are you prepared to stoop to win"?

But Rubio is a pretty good candidate. Even Ben Shapiro says that immigration excepted, Rubio is a bona fide conservative.

So it's not a choice between bad and worse. This doesn't trigger the lesser evil principle.

That doesn't mean he's above criticism. He's been guilty of some serious misjudgments.

3. The Cruz conundrum

Cruz suffers from a dilemma: the very thing that conservative voters find appealing about him is the same thing that less conservative voters find off-putting. So he has a low ceiling. Rightwingers love him because he's so far right. But that's not enough to get elected. How does he make up the difference? What's his appeal to voters who aren't hard right? It's unclear to me how he expands his base of support.

2011 Japan tsunami

i) It's sometimes said that in the age of photography, we're no longer dependent on testimonial evidence the way our forebears were. But that's deceptive. Take the 2011 Japan tsunami. That was a televised event. You can see it for yourself, with your very own eyes, right?

Well,  it's not that simple. You can see footage of a natural disaster. Yet you can't tell, just by seeing the pictures, when it happened or where it happened. And you don't know what caused it. 

You're still dependent on news reports and eyewitnesses for many key contextual details. If you didn't have that to frame the event and fill in the details with respect to time, place, and cause, you'd be at a loss to know what you were looking at. 

ii) Moreover, technology cuts both ways. In the age of CGI, photographic evidence of an event can be faked. So you still depend on testimonial evidence to vouch for the authenticity of the photographic record.