Saturday, May 14, 2016

Voter psychology

This post is less about Trump than some of his supporters. It's possible to defend voting for Trump on pragmatic grounds. "Bad as he is, Hillary is probably worse." Put another way, a vote for Trump is a vote against Hillary. Not about supporting Trump, but opposing Hillary. That would be a reasonable way to frame the alternatives. 

But many Trump supporters seem to be uncomfortable with a purely pragmatic justification. Apparently, they feel the need to defend their vote on more idealistic grounds. 

As a result, they make endless excuses for Trump. For whatever he says and does. They put the best face on his every statement. Ironically, they are so idealistic that they resort to morally compromising justifications. 

Part of the problem is when voters personally identify with a candidate. They think voting for the candidate reflects on them, so they try to make him look as good as possible to make themselves look good when the vote for him.

Unfortunately, this reveals the kind of psychology that enables someone like Hitler to rise to power. I know that Trumpkins bristle at that comparison, but at the moment I'm not comparing Trump to Hitler; rather, I'm discussing voter psychology. Voters who deactivate their critical faculties because they feel the need to rationalize their choice by making the candidate better than he is. 

They mirror the candidate. Blindly accept the flattering self-image he projects. 

That's a tremendous mistake. Voters should have far more detachment. It's possible for you to distance yourself from some of a candidate's positions, but still vote for him. It's possible to personally disassociate yourself from the candidate, but justify your vote on the grounds that the alternative is worse. Failure to do so leaves voters open to the rise of Hitlers. 

Gender narcissism

When we start defining ourselves against the physical evidence, against what our bodies tell us, then frankly anything is possible when it comes to self definition. Frankly, the pastoral side of me is deeply worried about self-determination run amuck which leads people to have major psychological problems and distortions about their identity. One could paraphrase C.S. Lewis who once warned, ‘just because someone sincerely thinks of themselves and deeply believes they are a poached egg, doesn’t make them a poached egg.’ There has to be some objective criteria to determine gender identity, not merely self-perception or ‘how I feel about myself’. Why?

The first reason why is because feelings while they can be intense and genuine are a notably bad guide to reality, to truth, to what is good. The other day I watched a program where a black journalist was interviewing a white supremacist. The white man seemed calm, cool, and reasonably rational, and there was no doubting his sincerity when he said “black people are simply not meant to be in law enforcement, they don’t have the constitutional personal discipline to do the job right”. That deserves a wow of course. But the man was utterly convinced and deeply believed he was right. Feelings can be deep, they can come from the innermost part of who a person is, they can be profound, and they can be no reliable guide to what is true about others as well as what is true about one’s self. Self-perception must be balanced with how others perceive us or else our narcissism reigns supreme.

And that brings me to the second poison poured into our current cultural stew— narcissism. It’s not just self-determination that is stirring up things in our cultural drift, it is pure narcissism. Self-centered behavior based in a self-centered worldview.

"Poetic naturalism"

Brandon Addison’s Complete Response to “Called to Communion” regarding “the Nonexistent Early Papacy”

Anyone who reads this site knows that Called to Communion is one the most difficult Roman apologetics sites to deal with because of the lengths they are willing to go to, in order to maintain their dogmatic sophistry.

In the following, stunningly amazing piece of work, Brandon Addison has done a tremendous service for the entire church, squarely addressing the “Called to Communion” argument in favor of an early papacy in Rome, having tracked down and assembled virtually every scholarly writing on the topic of “Bishops in the earliest church” and the “development” of the office of “bishop”, especially in the city of ancient Rome.

In the process, he thoroughly and patiently analyzes the arguments that Called to Communion makes, he finds their weaknesses, he proposes and argues counter-arguments. The result is that the Called to Communion response to his original piece is seen to be as almost totally devoid of merit.

Here is how the whole piece breaks down:

Truth Overruled

The cult of Trump

The Book of Revelation is often understood, in large part, in terms of Christian resistance to the Roman imperial cult. It's striking to see parallels between that and the Trump phenomenon:

In fairness, we could draw some of the same parallels with respect to Obama, although his star has faded.

Elite tyranny

Without an act of Congress, without a ruling from the Supreme Court, and without even going through the motions of the regulatory rule-making process, the administration issued a letter drafting every single public educational institution in the country to implement the extreme edge of the sexual revolution. The Department of Justice and the Department of Education have declared that they now “interpret” federal law to not only support the fantastical notion that boys can become girls but also to impose new legal requirements that impact every aspect of school life. The administration’s letter sweeps far beyond bathrooms — imposing a new speech code on school employees and even students, opening girls’ showers to boys, requiring schools to allow boys to sleep in girls’ rooms on overnight field trips, requiring boys to room with girls even in single-sex dorms, and putting boys on girls’ sports teams.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Understanding Trump: The Deal-Maker as Artist

Hunger strikes

This comment was left on a post by Joe Carter, who's done a number of useful posts on transgender activism. I will use the commenter as a foil:

Neil Pratt Also, there is not "silence" by Christians on the issue. The problem is that what we say is not what the secular world wants to hear. Young people and adults who feel that they do not "identify" with their biological sex need psychological help and healing. 

That's true. They need counseling that helps them come to terms with their biological sex. 

What they don't need is more people telling them that they should live in a state of confusion about how God made them.

Once again, that's true. And people like Neil are fostering confusion about God's design for human nature.

First, psychology and biology are driven by science and evidence…

In theory, but these disciplines can become highly politicized. 

…and it is well documented the very real physical, emotional, and psychological harm that comes from reparative therapy, especially when it is forced on unwilling participants.

I don't have a considered opinion on reparative therapy. But it should be legal. 

Moreover, consider the harm that comes to people whose psychology is out of whack with their biological sex? 

Second, I fully agree that transgender people should be told about the way God made them, and I will happily quote to them Jesus's words in Matthew 19:12, "For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others--and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it."

Apparently, Neil is using this as a prooftext to show that gender dysphoria is natural and normal. If so, he fails to explain how he derives that from the text. 

i) "born eunuchs" is is a metaphor for people who are impotent and/or born with genital deformities. An involuntary condition or birth defect. 

(An analogous category would be people who become impotent or suffer from damaged genitalia due to accident, exposure to certain chemicals, radiation, &c.) 

Is Neil saying the transgendered correspond to that category? If so, that would mean they suffer from a genetic defect or brain damage. Is that his position?  

Intersex individuals fit this category. But most transgenders aren't intersex.

ii) "made eunuchs" is a literal designation for castrated men. Sometimes that was voluntary.

That is, indeed, analogous to sex-change operations. However, that's something normative Judaism would frown on. Jesus isn't commending that. 

iii) "eunuch by choice" is a metaphor for Christians who voluntarily choose celibacy over marriage. 

That's not obviously analogous to the transgendered. Is Neil suggesting transgender people should be celibate? 

In addition, the framework of Mt 19:12 is gender-binary. 

For detailed exegesis, consult John Nolland's commentary on the Greek text. 

Finally, that response (again) does nothing to protect transgender people from the massive amount of discrimination and violence that they face. I understand that we will not agree on the above point I made regarding God's plan for them, and I will happily continue to discuss our various understandings of what the Bible says on this issue. However, to put it bluntly, transgender people are dying. They are being forced into sex work, beaten, harassed, raped, and killed. It doesn't matter if I am reaching out to them with my affirming view or if you are reaching out to them with your non-affirming view if their basic safety isn't being protected. This kind of heartlessness to the suffering of others has left both our witnesses to the Gospel in tatters in America. While we can continue to passionately disagree on this issue, can we not work together to ensure the safety of all people to ensure our witness to the Gospel seems genuine?

i) There are already laws against assault, battery, and rape. 

ii) His complaint reminds me of activists like Dick Gregory and Randall Robison who used to stage hunger strikes. "If we don't get our way, we will starve ourselves to death, and it will be your fault!" Aside from the fact that their threat was a bluff, if you play a game of chicken and you lose, that's your responsibility, not mine. Society can't cave into this kind of emotional manipulation. For one thing, you could have pressure groups with opposing agendas play the same suicide card. But you can't very well accommodate the demands of both. 

Moreover, it's not an appeal to reason, but manufactured guilt-tripping. That's not a proper way to set public policy. Suppose someone thinks cars contribute to global warming, so they threaten to kill themselves unless all of us stop driving cars. It's unfortunate for them if they carry through with their threat, but that's not a basis for social policy. 

Same thing with people who form a human shield to blockage a train to Trident submarine base, because they disapprove of nuclear weapons. Well, you should do so at your own risk. You're not entitled to endanger the national security. Same thing with protesters who chain themselves to fences or climb trees and refuse to come down. Fine. We'll leave you there. 

iii) Neil is disregarding the harm to children when they become guinea pigs for transgender "couples" in adoption or foster care. 

iv) Neil is disregarding the harm that transgender people do to themselves through hormone therapy and sex-change operations. 

v) Unless they do something to artificially modify their appearance, transgender people appear to be normal men and women. They can only be subject to harassment or discriminating if they act out. No one requires you to be a cross-dresser. You do that to yourself. If you behave inappropriately, you may be stigmatized. You brought that on yourself. 

Schools and businesses typically have dress codes. A lifeguard may wear a bikini to work, but an investment banker should not. 

vi) Consider the demand that insurance companies cover hormone therapy, plastic surgery, and sex-change operations for transgender people who wish to "transition". That will raise insurance premiums for everyone. 

vii) What about a husband or wife whose spouse comes out as transgender? What if the spouse takes the next step and "transitions" to the opposite sex. This is no longer the person they married. The husband married a women who was a physiologically normal woman. The wife married a man who was a physiologically normal man. Are they now required to remain married to that person? Will they be unable to obtain a legal divorce because that would be "discriminatory"? Indeed, will they be subject to prosecution for "harassment" or "discrimination" against a spouse who went transgender on them? If they lose friends, will the friends be prosecuted for "discrimination"? 

viii) Will Orthodox Jewish and Christian institutions be prosecuted if they refuse to accommodate the transgendered? 

ix) Will police be forbidden from issuing an APB that describes the suspect in gender-specific terms? Will gynecologists be forbidden from describing patients in gender-specific terms?

The “Francis effect” is growing among Roman Catholic seminarians

Assuming that “The Francis Effect” is adequately described in my blog post from this morning, don’t just think about what it’s doing among the Kaspers and the Schönborns and the Müllers of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Consider too the effect it’s having on the next generation of Roman Catholic clerics.

Sulpician Fr. Phillip J. Brown, rector of the Theological College, the national diocesan seminary of the Catholic University of America in Washington, said the Francis effect is alive and well, and growing, at least among seminarians. It's been a sudden development… The numbers [of Seminarians] have remained steady, but the attitudes of newer arrivals has begun to transform the place, he said. That transformation will be felt soon at a parish near you.

That is, near you Roman Catholic Converts who believe you’ve found “the One True Church”.

The newer seminarians have a more Francis-like, some would say Vatican II, view that the church should engage the culture and not see itself as a community set apart. Previously, seminarians were keenly aware that they were different from their peers in the wider culture of the millennial generation. They are now more likely to see themselves as very much like their peers in the wider world, with the goal of transforming the culture with the message of the Gospel….

Seminarians are more inclined to move from what Brown called a Calvinistic, rule-based view of moral theology, to a more nuanced understanding of the role of church teaching in people's lives. They are less likely to view psychological counseling with suspicion. The Francis message on the environment is also catching on, he said.

The Teaching of “Pope Francis”: “Typical of a Jesuit”

Yes, No, I Don’t Know, You Figure It Out. The Fluid Magisterium of Pope Francis

This is worth quoting in its entirety. Bold emphasis added:

He never says all that he has in mind, he just leaves it to guesswork. He allows everything to be brought up again for discussion. Thus everything becomes a matter of opinion, in a Church where everyone does what he wants

by Sandro Magister

ROME, May 13, 2016 – How the magisterium of Pope Francis works was explained a few days ago by one of his pupils, Archbishop Bruno Forte. He recounted that during the synod on the family, for which he was special secretary, the pope said to him:

Transgenderism: A Pathogenic Meme

From Agender to Ze

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The transgender loyalty oath

In a totalitarian state, citizens are not entitled to have any opinions of their own. They are not allowed to judge issues by using independent reason and evidence. They are only permitted to have state-approved opinions. 

In essence, citizens are supposed to be blank slates. The ruling class will inscribe what you are permitted to say and believe.

A good way of testing loyal citizens is to mandate that they affirm something utterly preposterous. This is nothing they'd believe on their own. To the contrary, this is something they'd disbelieve on their own. So, to test the purity of their allegiance to the unconditional authority of the state, demand that they swear by something ludicrous. 

Trangenderism functions as a perfect loyalty oath for totalitarian statists. Pick a fundamental issue. Take manhood and womanhood. Can't get more elemental or elementary than that. It's obvious. It's the basis of human society.

Then negate that fact. Drive a wedge between biological sex and gender identity. Stipulate that gender is either purely psychological or socially constructed. (Seems like mutually exclusive definitions to me.)

Stipulate that gender binaries are arbitrary. People can "naturally" be transgender, pangender, or agenda. 

Make that official dogma. Punish anyone who refuses to blindly affirm that dogma. 

It's a perfect test of totalitarian statism. You are never entitled to think for yourselves. The ruling class dictates what you are allowed to think, say, and so. And we will insist, by force of law, that you affirm something utterly absurd to demonstrate your unquestioned fidelity as a loyal citizen of the almighty state. 

Licona, genre, and reliability

Matching parts

Transgenderism is beyond parody. An unintentional tragicomedy. 

We have people who are so deluded and self-deluded that they are incapable of forming realistic expectations. It's like they think we inhabit a fairy tale world where reality bends to your will. Some of them undergo irreversible sex change operations in their futile quest. They lose what they really are without becoming what they wish to be: 

Lord of the Flies

1. Lord of the Flies is a classic novel about some civilized kids stranded on a desert island. In the absence of adult supervision, social life degenerates into savagery. The treatment is the antithesis of nostalgic novels about boys separated from civilization like Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

The story is fictional, but realistic. Many readers find that a plausible scenario of what would happen in that situation. 

The novel has lost some of its original shock value in an age when kids the same age shoot each other on the mean streets of the hood. 

Tracing the literary allusions in a fictional writer can be tricky because the creative process has both conscious and unconscious dynamics. There's what the author intends, and then there's what may subliminally inform his work. So some of the connections I suggest may be coincidental. But it makes it more interesting to read with those connections in mind (see below). 

The novel is, in some measure, a retailing of paradise lost. "Lord of the Flies" (Beelzebub) is a traditional, derogatory epithet for Satan. The "beast from the water" evokes Rev 13, while the "snake-thing" evokes Gen 3, Rev 12 & 20. The "beast from the air" might evoke the outcast, downcast dragon or serpent in Rev 12. In Revelation, the Beast is a Satanic surrogate. An Antichrist figure. 

In addition, you have the possession motif. The beast "in us". Idolatry, blood sacrifice, human sacrifice, and a devil's pact with Lord of the Flies (i.e. pig head). 

Simon evokes St. Peter. Simon is a seer. A visionary–like St. Peter (Acts 10) The closest thing to a Christian character in the novel. And like St. Peter (Jn 21), he is martyred. 

By contrast, Piggy is the rationalist. Some literary critics classify him as a secular humanist. But he's literally a near-sighted rationalist. And figuratively, his rationalism blinds him to the enveloping evil. Piggy's nickname is ironic because his alter-ego is the diabolical pig head which some of the boys worship. 

As Golding explains in an interview, the boys are "innocent" in the sense that they are ignorant of their own natures. As a result, they have little resistance to evil. They eventually come to understand themselves, but that's "tragic knowledge". 

The topical island is Edenic. The arrival of the boys interjects a seminal evil into this Edenic setting. The lack of external restraint results in moral freefall. However, the story also has Bacchanalian elements. Golding was a fan of Euripides. That's compatible with a Christian interpretation, inasmuch as pagan nihilism is the opposite of Christian grace. 

The violence on the island is, of course, a microcosm of world war. Golding's novel was heavily influenced by his experience in WWII. 

2. Freewill theists like Jerry Walls attack the "harsh" God of Calvinism, which they contrast with the loving, omnibenevolent God of freewill theism. A God who acts in the best interest of each and every human being.

Yet in reality, our world looks far more like Lord of the Flies. Humans marooned on planet earth, left to their own devices. No significant outside intervention. This is our desert island. Sure doesn't look like the kind of world that the theology of Jerry Walls et al. predicts for. Indeed, Walls is very aware of the disconnect between his utopian narrative and the dystopian reality, which is why, like John Hick, he stipulates an eschatological payoff. 

The comparison is accentuated by freewill theists who subscribe to theistic evolution. In that event, there was no historic fall from an original state of rectitude. Rather, our "sins" are really animal instincts. We're direct descendants of animals that had to tough it out in sub-Saharan Africa, long ago. The law of the jungle rather than the law of God was our ordinance. That's even more like Lord of the Flies. They revert to state of nature because they really are little beasts. 

3. Now, there are various ways a freewill theist might respond to the comparison:

i) He might agree. He might say libertarian freedom results in a Lord of the Flies world. In order for humans to have morally significant freedom, God can only interfere on rare occasion. But there are problems with that response:

i) Freewill theists don't typically use Lord of the Flies as an illustration to showcase God's omnibenevolence. Jerry Walls, for one, alleges that Calvinists resorting to deceptive rhetoric to conceal the malevolent character of Calvinism. Yet if freewill theism predicts for a world like Lord of the Flies, then we could rightly accuse freewill theists like Jerry Walls of using deceptive rhetoric to conceal the malevoent character of freewill theism. 

There's a generally deistic quality to that scenario. Most of the time, we're on our own. We must fend for ourselves. God doesn't protect the faithful from harm. 

That's exacerbated by the fact that freewill theists like Walls are fond of depicting humans as immature kids in relation to God. In attacking Calvinism, they ask how a good parent could treat their young kids that way.

But, of course, we could say the same thing about Lord of the Flies as an allegory for freewill theism. How could a loving, omnibenevolent parent drop their kids into that survival situation. Leave them unattended. Isn't that the definition of child neglect? Is the God of freewill theism a negligent parent?

2. Conversely, a freewill theist might say the comparison is misleading. God is not detached. Consider his redemptive acts in Scripture. Consider answered prayer or modern miracles.

There are, however, problems with that response:

i) It fails to distinguish freewill theism from Calvinism. Presumably, a freewill theist doesn't suppose God answers the prayers of freewill theists at a higher rate than Calvinists (or Thomists or Augustinians). Calvinists have as much or little experience of divine intervention as freewill theists.

Likewise, Reformed theology affirms Biblical miracles and makes allowance for modern miracles, answered prayer, special providence. 

ii) The freewill defense is predicated on minimal divine intervention. That's inconsistent with stressing God's regular intercession in answer to prayer, miraculous deliverance from terrible ordeals, &c. 

iii) Moreover, this involves, not just Scripture, but a theological interpretation of Scripture, and whether that interpretation is borne out in reality. What's the empirical evidence that God is omnibenevolent? What's the empirical evidence that God is acting in the best interests of each and every person? Does the state of the world correspond to that claim? Or does reality clash with that theological expectation? 

iv) One problem is the tension in freewill theism between divine love and human freedom. A loving parent will step in to shield his child from harm, even if that infringes on the child's freedom. 

3. A freewill theist might attempt a tu quoque argument. Is the Calvinists saying we're in a Lord of the Flies kind of world? Does he think God takes such a hands-off approach to human interactions? Where we're left to our wisdom and resources? 

i) However, a difficulty with that maneuver is that even assuming that's a problem for Calvinism, drawing a parallel doesn't cease to make it a problem for freewill theism. Is freewill theism defensible on its own grounds? 

ii) If, moreover, Calvinism has an admittedly "harsher" view of providence, then that scenario is more consistent with Calvinism than freewill theism.

Studying “Theology Proper” As a Means of Avoiding Chaos In Our Thinking

People have asked me, “why do you focus only on Roman Catholicism?” My wife used to ask me, for example, “why don’t you talk about Islam the way that you talk about Roman Catholicism?”

I’ve been thinking about the best ways to answer those questions. I’d have to say that, because of my own personal struggles in leaving Roman Catholicism, I came to research it with a thoroughness that few people get into. And further to that, I’ve always believed that Christ is the only hope for our world.

But recently, Van Til has provided me with the words to understand why I feel as strongly as I do about Roman Catholicism. I’ve frequently said that Roman Catholicism is a bastardized form of Christianity. But more specifically, it introduced a kind of chaos (Van Til’s word) into Christianity, beginning with some of its appropriations (plural) of Greek philosophy – most profoundly, with the additions of Aristotle via Aquinas, but also by placing its own “Tradition” (largely “Thomism”) alongside of Scripture, and even, for practical purposes, ahead of Scripture.

It’s that Roman Catholic chaos, which Luther and the first Protestants understood, through its “authoritative” anathematization of the Gospel at Trent, but continuing today in the recent pronouncements of crazy “Pope Francis” that’s causing a major hindrance in the ability of Christianity to be “good news” for the world in the way that its Founder intended.

Philosophy: A History of Wrong Turns

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Convincing Trump To Drop Out

Efforts to prevent Trump from becoming the nominee, or defeat him with a better candidate if he becomes the nominee, usually focus on a couple of scenarios. One would be to deny him the nomination by means of something like a rule change at the convention in July. Another is to run a third-party candidate against him, with the hope of preventing both Trump and Clinton from getting the 270 electoral college votes they'd need. That would place the decision in the hands of the House of Representatives.

Both scenarios are highly unlikely to occur. The Republican party has the ability to deny Trump the nomination in a variety of ways, but the people in a position to do it (e.g., the delegates going to the convention) don't seem to have the will to carry it out. And a third-party candidate would have a hard time beating both Trump and Clinton in enough places to prevent both from getting to 270.

Christianity at ground level

A while back, atheist philosopher Keith Parsons had a lengthy exchange with Thomist Ed Feser. But Parsons is still an atheist!

Atheists like Parsons don't really care about the mere theism or classical theism of people like Feser. Parsons had a Christian upbringing, and that's his frame of reference. 

In a sense he's right. Christianity is a Bible-based religion. You can't just pole-vault over that to classical theism. Classical theism is about the attributes of God rather than the acts of God (other than God as Creator). It's a common denominator view of God shared by some Christians, Muslims, and Jews (e.g. Aquinas, Maimonides, Al-Ghazâlî).

In the nature of the case, it doesn't include the acts of God (beyond creation), because Christians, Muslims, and Jews differ on what God has done in human history. Christians agree with Jews regarding OT history, but Jews disagree with Christians regarding NT history. Both Jews and Christians disagree with Muslims regarding Koranic history, and Muslims return the favor. 

By the same token, you have many Christian apologists who defend particular events in Scripture rather than defending Scripture itself. 

These approaches are naturally unsatisfactory to many atheists because it's too abstract. At some point the debate has to touch ground. Come down to the level of the God depicted in the Bible. What he does as well as what he is. 

The godless deus ex machina

The easily-offended Jeff Lowder is offended again! 

i) Jeff is terribly self-conscious about his dignity. Hypersensitive to any perceived slight against his dignity. 

The funny thing about Jeff is that, after all these years in the trenches of atheism, after all these years attacking the Christian view of man, it has yet to dawn on him that in a godless universe, humans have no dignity. 

ii) A basic problem with the twin hypothesis is that it's an ad hoc alternative to the Resurrection. Many atheists think that dreaming up ad hoc alternatives to the Resurrection is a reason to disbelieve it. 

Yet atheists are very critical of what they deem to be ad hoc arguments that Christians use to defend the Bible. Invoking divine intervention in a pinch. 

But some of the very same atheists turn right around and invoke secular versions of the deus ex machina to salvage their own position. They concoct these makeshift explanations to deflect the NT accounts of the Resurrection. Well, that's the secular equivalent of a deus ex machina. Naturalistic, stopgap explanations that conveniently intervene to deflect the Resurrection accounts. 

iii) One of Jeff's tactics is to float an argument without defending the argument. That gives him plausible deniability. When the trial balloon is shot down, he can then exclaim: "I never defended the argument. I just mentioned it!" 

But that's part of the problem. He wants his trial balloons to do the work of arguments without having to present actual arguments. He wants all the benefits of an argument without the intellectual labor and attendant vulnerabilities of turning the trial balloon into an argument. For if he did that, it would expose the argument to examination. 

He was using the twin hypothesis as a counterexample to Reppert's claim. But unless he's prepared to defend it, unless he lays out Cavin's case, then how does that count as an exception to Reppert's claim? What does it really prove? Why should reasonable people take it seriously? 

iv) From what I can tell, the twin hypothesis is an attempt to ambush Christians. If we say the twin hypothesis is ludicrous, Cavin (or his epigones) can say they trapped us. 

Sure, the twin hypothesis is ludicrous. But at least that scenario is naturally possible, however improbable. By contrast, you Christians would have us believe in something that's naturally impossible! If you admit the twin hypothesis is absurd, then the Resurrection is even more absurd!

The twin hypothesis is extraordinarily improbable, but by definition, the Resurrection is even more extraordinary, even more improbable! If you dare to attack the twin hypothesis, then you're caught in a vice!

But if that's the argument, it misses the point. The Resurrection is supposed to be naturally improbable to the point of physical impossibility. Mere resuscitation would be physical possible. So Jesus had to be good and dead. Nothing short of a resurrection will account for his returning to life after he was dead for about 18 hours. That's a presupposition of the Resurrection.

And it's not a question of what's naturally probable. Rather, the Resurrection is premised on divine intervention. 

Trump's Evasiveness About His Tax Returns

John Fund has a good article on how Trump's handling of his tax returns is a major problem, for a variety of reasons. What Trump is doing tells us a lot about his character, his alleged business success, and his electability, for example. Read the whole article. It includes quotes of what Trump himself and some people close to him have said about the subject.

The philosophy of superheroes

Was the Resurrection extraordinary?

Jeff Lower and Victor Reppert had an interesting exchange recently:

Jeffery Jay Lowder 
Robert Price nailed it when he asked, "If miracles are possible, are legends impossible?" If the resurrection hypothesis isn't "silly" then it seems rather one-sided to say that denials of the Resurrection are silly.
Sometimes Christian apologists work so hard to deny the intrinsic or prior improbability of the Resurrection that they almost come across as suggesting that the Resurrection wasn't a miracle after all.

Victor Reppert 
Well, you could argue this way.
Was the resurrection an extraordinary event? Not really. Look at the life of Jesus. He feed the five thousand, healed the sick, raised Lazarus, walked on water, etc. Clearly the molecules in Jesus' body didn't operate by the same laws that govern the molecules in mine. The real extraordinary claim would be if, after all that, the guy stayed in his grave. You'd need extraordinary evidence for that, not the resurrection.
I wouldn't rest on such an argument, but it seems a little odd sometimes to find that people discuss the Resurrection as if it were Jesus' only miracle. No one thinks that it is.

Jeffery Jay Lowder 
Sure, someone (not necessarily you) could argue that way, but with who? Christians who already believe in all of the other miracles? Atheists who don't believe any of them? Someone else?
If you're already including in your background information the historicity of Jesus' other miracles, then I agree that the resurrection (or, at the very least, the revivification) of Jesus has a higher intrinsic probability than it would have had otherwise. But that is of very little philosophical interest, since anyone who believes the other miracles probably already believes Jesus rose from the dead, while those who are skeptical of the resurrection are equally likely to be skeptical of those miracles. For such skeptics, what is "clearly" the case is this: the molecules in Jesus' body did operate by the same laws that govern the molecules in ours, and any stories which suggest otherwise are wrong (whether because of legend, myth, fiction, hallucination, etc is almost beside the point).

I think Jeff's response misses the point Victor was making. To say the Resurrect is intrinsically or prior improbable because it's extraordinary (or miraculous) presumes a standard of comparison. But is that extraordinary in relation to Jesus? 

Sure, unbelievers deny the miracles attributed to Jesus, but then they need to clarify that they are arguing against the Resurrection on their own grounds. In philosophy, when you critique a position, one way is to assume the viewpoint of the opposing position for the sake of argument, then try to critique it on its own grounds. Taken by itself, to say the Resurrection is improbable because it's extraordinary begs the question. Is it extraordinary that God intended to raise Jesus from the dead? 

Put another way, are atheists operating on the assumption that there's a neutral definition of extraordinary events that believers and unbelievers agree upon? Or is that, in itself, a concept that's relative to your worldview? 

If so, then both sides have a burden of proof to discharge. Atheists are not entitled to simply presume their concept of what's extraordinary, as if that's a given. For if that implicitly operates within a secular framework concerning how the world works, then that requires a separate argument on their part. They have no philosophical warrant to stipulate that their frame of reference is normative for believers and unbelievers alike. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The twin hypothesis

Jeff Lowder: 
A second alternative explanation is the twin hypothesis, according to which Jesus had an unknown identical twin brother who faked the Resurrection by walking around pretending to be Jesus, after the real Jesus had died. This possibility was identified by Christian historian Paul Maier — note I said “identified” not “defended” — and then defended by Robert Greg Cavin in his Ph.D. dissertation. Unlike the Resurrection hypothesis, the Twin hypothesis entails all of the data to be explained. It has an overall higher balance of prior probability and explanatory power. According to Bayes Theorem, that’s all one needs to show that the Resurrection is not the best explanation.

i) There's no evidence whatsoever that Jesus had a twin brother, while there is prima facie evidence that Jesus rose from the dead.

ii) How does the postulate that Jesus had an unknown identical twin brother have a higher prior probability and explanatory power than the Resurrection? How would that be kept secret for 30+ years? In order for his twin brother to show up about 18 hours after the Crucifixion, to impersonate Jesus, where was he hiding all that time? 

After Jesus became a local celebrity in Palestine, wouldn't people begin to notice his identical twin brother? If you look like a famous person, people take notice. 

Why do atheists resort to such a cockamamie conspiracy theory? How is that supposed to be rational? If Christians resorted to theories like that, how would atheists react? The twin hypothesis is a backdoor admission of secular desperation. 

iii) How would that explain the empty tomb? On the twin-theory, there'd still be a body in the tomb. So Lowder and Cavin require an extra, add-on, auxiliary hypothesis. 

iv) Is Jeff saying the postulate of an unknown identical twin has higher probability than God raising Jesus from the dead? If so, how does Jeff quantify the probability that God had no reason for raising Jesus from the dead? 

Or is Jeff assuming it's less probable because there is no God to raise Jesus from the dead? If so, then his argument is contingent on an extra, add-on, auxiliary hypothesis regarding God's nonexistence. 

v) The twin-hypothesis contradicts other alternative theories. 

Keith Parsons:

It is pretty easy to show that any "alternative" scenario, such as a "Passover Plot" scheme or a twin hypothesis has improbable and implausible features. So, the apologist goes through each such alternative and concludes that each was unlikely. His conclusion? The only "reasonable" account is that a dead man was miraculously resurrected--not resuscitated, resurrected. That is, he was given an entirely new, supernatural body that could do magical things like pass through locked doors a la Marley's ghost, but was still material enough to eat a piece of fish. Uh huh.

i) It's true that Jesus was dead too long to be resuscitated. However, Keith is posing a false dichotomy. The alternative is not "an entirely new body". According to the Gospels, Jesus was only dead for about 18 hours. Even if his body underwent necrosis, it didn't disintegrate. What would be required is miraculous restoration, not wholesale replacement. 

ii) According to the Gospels, Jesus could do "magical" things before he died. Jesus could do "magical" things when he had a normal body. In that event, he didn't need a "supernatural body" to do "magical" things after he rose from the dead. 

No doubt Keith denies that Jesus was a bona fide miracle-worker. But my immediate point is that he's drawing false inferences from the source material. 

I do not know how Caesar crossed the Rubicon. Maybe he swam, or rode his horse, or maybe he paddled a raft. I am pretty sure that he did not sprout wings and fly across. The apologists' modus operandi is to throw cold water on every naturalistic explanation and then offer, as the only "reasonable" explanation, the explanation that, to the skeptic anyway, looks like the most implausible of all.

i) Caesar didn't need to sprout wings and fly to cross the Rubicon.

ii) Caesar was just an ordinary human being.

Keith's analogy is disanalogous with the nature of the Christian claim. He fails to engage the argument on its own terms. Jesus and Caesar are not comparable propositions. He's attacking the Christian claim by drawing a parallel that's not not analogous to the issue at hand. That's a straw man comparison. 

To be a skeptic about the resurrection, you do not need the hallucination theory or any theory at all. You simply note that what we have is a farrago of scenarios of varying degrees of implausibility, with the orthodox Christian answer as the most implausible scenario of all. We will NEVER know what happened. It was too long ago in circumstances that were too obscure and recorded only in records written years after the event by parties with a strongly vested interest. Maybe we can infer to the best explanation, but even the best explanation will not be very good.

Yet in this very same comment thread, Keith testifies that:

Growing up in the Deep South as a Christian and regular church attendee I never heard of the "resurrection apologetic" until I was an adult and an atheist. In church we used to sing a hymn with the following rather corny lines: 
He lives! Salvation to impart!You ask me how I know He lives?He lives within my heart!

According to his HuffPo bio, Parsons was born in 1952. That makes him about 64, as of 2016. Notice his confidence in recalling events that happened to him in childhood, some 50-60 years ago. We have no independent corroboration for his testimony. And he has a strongly vested interest in what he says. 

Hail Mary pass

An interesting Hail Mary pass:

What was once feared most by the Republican establishment -- a third party candidate for President -- may represent the only slim chance for saving this country from a catastrophic administration in an age of proliferating nuclear weapons. 
If a third party candidate could divide the vote enough to prevent anyone from getting an electoral college majority, that would throw the election into the House of Representatives, where any semblance of sanity could produce a better president than these two.

Pity they can't both lose

This may be my last post on Trump between now and November. Although it's possible that I'll have some afterthoughts, it's my intention to tie up the loose ends in this post.

1. There's a sense in which the NeverTrump movement has come to a dead end. Once he became the presumptive nominee, there's not much farther the NeverTrump movement can go. 

I don't say that as a criticism. At this point it can be sufficient just to dissociate yourself from Trump. Say, "He doesn't speak for me". "He doesn't represent what I represent". It can be good just to stand apart. 

2. Some members of the NeverTrump movement want to float a temporary third-party candidacy to thwart him. One problem with that desire is that any such candidacy will be severely underfunded. The donor-class isn't going to throw money at an ill-fated third-party protest candidate. In addition, it would split the anti-Hillary vote between Trumpkins and anti-Trumpkins. If the intention is to defeat Hillary, that's an exercise in futility.

3. Of course, if Trump gets shellacked in November, Trumpkins will try to pin the blame on conservatives who failed to support the nominee. If so, I'd say the following:

i) The fact that you support a particular candidate hardly obliges me to support your preferred candidate. You can vote for whoever you please. But you can't compel me to endorse your choice. That's not how voting works. 

Indeed, it's self-refuting. If I'm obliged to support your choice, why aren't you obliged to support my choice? 

ii) If defeating Hillary was your priority, then it was a monumental blunder on your part to foist on the rest of us a candidate who's repellent to most Republicans, and repellent to even more conservatives–not to mention repellent to many swing voters. If defeating Hillary was your number one objective, then you should have backed a consensus candidate.

In reality, you had two incompatible priorities: (a) defeat Hillary; (b) nominate Trump.

Take your pick, because it's unlikely that you can do both. 

iii) You can't box me into supporting your candidate by eliminating every decent alternative. You don't get to dictate my choices to that degree. If your priority is to defeat Hillary, don't try to corner me by making it a choice between Hillary or Trump. That's counterproductive. Either defeating Hillary was never your number one objective, or else you're hopelessly incompetent in knowing how best to achieve your objective.

4. Some people think it's okay to criticize Trump, but unfair to criticize his supporters. I demur. 

i) Trumpkins have created an untenable dilemma for conservative voters. If some of them opposed him in the primaries, but grudgingly vote for him in the general election, I don't blame them. That's not what I'd do, but I understand. They consider Trump to be the second-worst choice in a worst-case scenario. 

Rather, I blame the people who created that gratuitous predicament in the first place: Trump voters in the primaries.

This was a critical election. This comes on the heels of 8 disastrous years of Democrat rule in the White House. The Supreme Court is in the balance. The Constitution is in the balance. 

On the one hand, Hillary is an exceptionally weak candidate. On the other hand, we had an exceptionally deep bench of good conservative candidates this election cycle. It was a sterling opportunity. 

The Trumpkins ruined that. They chose the worst of the worst. They're like vandals. They deserve our condemnation. 

ii) From what I've read, many Trumpkins are working class voters. I'm very sympathetic to the plight of the working class. Many of my relatives are/were members of the working class.

However, that's not an excuse to be gullible, uninformed, or indifferent to social issues, the Bill of Rights, &c. 

If they wanted someone who was good on working class issues, why not pick Rick Santorum or Scott Walker? But instead they went for the glitzy TV personality. They are just as frivolous as Trump. 

5. Apropos (4), oddly enough, even though Trump is a closet Democrat, even though Trump got the nomination because Democrats invaded the GOP primaries, and even though Hillary may well be the worst Democrat nominee in the history of her party–which is impressively bad given the fierce competition for that dubious distinction–despite all that, some conservatives actually think the GOP is the enemy. The GOP ought to be destroyed.

To the contrary, doesn't all that point to the fact that it's the Democrat party that ought to be destroyed? 

6. Apropos (5), some conservative critics have a bad habit of comparing Democrats to the worst Republicans. Of course, if that's the basis of comparison, then there's no appreciable difference between the two parties.

But that's very one-sided. Shouldn't we also compare Democrats to the best Republicans? 

In fact, if we constantly lump all Republicans together, and judge them by the worst representatives, then there's no incentive for any Republican to be a principled conservative. 

7. At the moment, the GOP is split between Trump supporters, Trump opponents, and undecideds. It's not split in the sense of having broken apart. We don't have two or three splinter groups in its place. 

For now, it's split in terms of endorsing, supporting, or opposing, the presumptive nominee. How that ultimately evolves depends on what happens in November. 

Monday, May 09, 2016

John Calvin as a Greek Father

Trump toadies

Palin said the problem with Paul Ryan and "his ilk" was that "they have become so disconnected from the people whom they are elected to represent, as evidenced by Paul Ryan's refusal to support the GOP frontrunner who we just said is our man." 
She suggested Ryan's political career was over "because he has so disrespected the will of the people."

Excuse me, but Ryan wasn't elected by Trump voters. He was elected by Wisconsin voters. And Wisconsin primary voters went for Cruz, not Trump. He beat Trump by 13 points. 

The will of which people? I, for one, didn't vote for Trump in the primaries. I won't vote for Trump in the general. He doesn't represent my will. Yet I'm one of the people. 

It's striking to see how Trumpkins are striving to arm-twist the rest of us into backing their idol. Their intolerance for dissent mirrors the Left. 

Get right with Donald!

I'm winding down on my Trump posts. Whoever wins in November, the election is a lost cause–thanks to the Trumpkins. The Supreme Court is probably doomed for a generation. I am, however, struck by how some Trumpkins are framing the campaign. 

Keith Burgess-Jackson is a Trump flack. He has a revealing way of expressing how people ought to relate to Trump: "Get right with Donald. It's not too late." "If you're really lucky, you will be forgiven." 

KBJ is oddly oblivious to the connotations of his advice. It's like saying, Get right with Sulla before it's too late!

It's the way you talk about political tyrants who liquidate their political opponents unless they hasten to throw themselves on the mercy of the tyrant. There's a chance the Dear Leader will show them clemency. But there's a very narrow window of opportunity to recant and abase yourself. 

Recently, Speaker Ryan said:

I think conservatives want to know, does he share our values and our principles on limited government, the proper role of the executive, adherence to the Constitution? There are lots of questions that conservatives, I think, are gonna want answers to, myself included. 

Trump flacks like Sarah Palin (and KBJ) immediately pounced on his effrontery. How dare he refuse to endorse the Donald!

Let's get something straight: Ryan is not a cabinet official. He's not a political appointee. He holds a top position in a coequal branch of gov't. He doesn't serve at the pleasure of the president. Rather, he's an elected official in his own right. He serves at the pleasure of Wisconsin voters. 

Sunday, May 08, 2016


This is a continuation of my previous post:

I'm drawing a parallel between gender dysphoria and phobias. Now, I doubt most folks who claim to be transgender really suffer from gender dysphoria. In many cases, I think it's just a hip chic thing affect. You become a member of a protected class. Instantly raise your social status. Get sympathy and special treatment. 

In other cases, you have kids who find adolescence disorienting. Combine that with cultural brainwashing, and they may be sincerely deluded into thinking they are transgender.

However, let's grant gender dysphoria for the sake of argument. And let's compare that to phobias. If we should accommodate people with gender dysphoria, surely people who suffer from phobias have at least as much if not more reason to demand accommodations. Phobias undoubtedly exist. In the nature of the case, people who suffer from phobias have no direct control over their feelings. And phobias can be a real nuisance. But does that mean society is obligated to accommodate people with phobias? 

Take agoraphobia. Do we build cities and suburbs to accommodate their phobia? Do we outlaw supermarkets, shopping centers, multilane freeways, and airport terminals? 

And even if we could accommodate agoraphobes, there are folks who suffer from the opposite fear: claustrophobia. How do we accommodate both groups? How do we strike a balance between agoraphobes and claustrophobes? Folks who suffer panic attacks from opposite settings? That's completely unworkable. 

Likewise, you have people who love dogs and people who fear dogs. Government can't effectively accommodate both. It can't very well segregate the cynophiles from the cynophobes. People walking their dogs are bound to cross paths with people who fear dogs. 

Imagine a society that took radical measures to accommodate everyone who has a phobia. To accommodate all the different phobias of different people. Imagine that scenario in the workplace or retail businesses. The end-result would be gridlock. 

I'm not making fun of people with phobias. For all you know, I myself might have a phobia. I'm just talking about what's realistic. For the most part, individuals must adapt to society, not the reverse. 

Even if there some people are "uncomfortable" using restrooms and locker rooms that match their biological sex, so what? There's no reason society should bend itself into a pretzel to make you feel comfortable all the time–especially when your feelings are abnormal and unhealthy. 

I'm mounting an a fortiori argument (a maiore ad minus). If it's not incumbent on society to accommodate people in the greater case of phobias, then it's not incumbent on society to accommodate people in the lesser case of gender dysphoria–even assuming that's for real. 

The voters have spoken!

Mike Huckabee had become a Trump flack. I'll comment on two statements he recently made. 

"The voters have spoken"; "You’re either on the team, or you’re not on the team". 

i) In one sense you can't very well disagree. These are truisms. 

But he's turning indicatives into imperatives. Moreover, the application is off the mark.

ii) Some voters have spoken. And that has consequences–unfortunately. 

If Hillary is nominated, you can say the voters have spoken. If Hillary is elected, you can say the voters have spoken.

But even though we have a winner-take-all system, that has never meant the opposition instantly falls in line behind the winner. Winning the presidency has never meant issuing the winner a blank check. In a two-party system, the opposition continues regardless of which side wins. Likewise, with Federalism and separation of powers, you have a power-sharing arrangement, with rival power centers. 

iii) A President isn't the team. A national party is vastly larger than a President. A national party is composed of elected officials, party activists, registered voters, &c. Likewise, parties outlive presidents. Presidents come and go while parties endure.

To continue with Huckabee's sports analogy, even if a President is the quarterback, even if he happens to be the most powerful player on the team, he can't win games single-handedly. Other teammates must cooperate. 

A president doesn't own the party. It's more like the party owns him. For better or worse–depending on the candidate–the party sponsors him.

iv) Huckabee sure is eager to be a player. Is he jockeying for a position in a Trump administration? Will he settle for being Trump's "spiritual advisor"–like Tony Campolo to Bill Clinton? The new court preacher?

Shows how power-hungry Huckabee is. How desperate to have a piece of the action.

v) Sometimes we have a duty to quit the team–like the Confessing Church did in Germany. Sometimes we have a duty to form a new team if the old team has hopelessly lost its way.  

I'm not saying we're at that point. I'm not predicting that we will be at that point. But there are higher priorities than being on the team. 

vi) Trump is a cross between Tonya Harding and P. T. Barnum. Trump will drag any team players down to his own level.