Saturday, May 28, 2016

God and the problem of evil

Has a focus on the soul-making theodicy:

Yesterday's liberal orthodoxy is today's liberal heresy

Because secular ethics is relativistic, it changes on a dime. The instability of secular ethics makes it a threat to everyone. No one is safe.

Owen's dilemma

The Father imposed His wrath due unto, and the Son underwent punishment for, either:
  1. All the sins of all men.
  2. All the sins of some men, or
  3. Some of the sins of all men.
In which case it may be said:
  1. That if the last be true, all men have some sins to answer for, and so, none are saved.
  2. That if the second be true, then Christ, in their stead suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the whole world, and this is the truth.
  3. But if the first be the case, why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their sins?
You answer, "Because of unbelief."
I ask, Is this unbelief a sin, or is it not? If it be, then Christ suffered the punishment due unto it, or He did not. If He did, why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which He died? If He did not, He did not die for all their sins!"

– John Owen

i) Is Owen's dilemma sound? Critics object that Owen makes too much of the debt metaphor in Scripture. By the same token, they say he operates with a "commercial" or quantitative model of the atonement: Jesus atones for specific sins. 

Critics counter this with a qualitative or categorical model of atonement. As one 4-point Calvinist put it: "the way federal headship works is not by imputing specific sins, but by imputing guilt. Jesus paid the penalty for human guilt, which means that his atonement is applicable to any human being in principle."

ii) I don't think the conventional objections to Owen's dilemma succeed. Whether he operates with a commercial theory of the atonement had been disputed. 

iii) More to the point, his dilemma doesn't rely on Owen's theory of the atonement, but the theory of his opponents. So long as his opponents subscribe to penal substitution, the argument goes through. 

iv) Historically, many Arminians reject penal substitution because they concede Owen's dilemma. They admit that if you combine penal substitution with universal atonement, that entails universal salvation. The way to relieve the dilemma is to ditch penal substitution. So the argument does not depend on Owen's theory of the atonement (whatever that may be).

v) I don't see how framing the issue in terms of a qualitative atonement salvages the Arminian/Amyraldin position. It's trivially easy to recast Owen's dilemma in those terms. Is  refusal to believe in Jesus culpable? That's a premise that Arminians and Amyraldians typically grant. Indeed, that's a premise they deploy in attempting to argue for unlimited atonement: how can refusal to believe in Jesus blameworthy if Christ never died for the reprobate?

If, however, Jesus died to make atonement for generic guilt, for human guilt in general, then culpable unbelief is covered by the atonement. So I don't see how a qualitative paradigm circumvents the force of Owen's dilemma. If refusing to believe in Jesus is culpable, and Jesus paid the penalty for human guilt, then culpable unbelief is included in the atonement. The category of guilt includes all instances thereof. 

vi) Speaking for myself, I doubt human guilt is a conglomerate entity that's separable from the specific sins of specific sinners. I don't think Christ atones for guilt in that sense, as if guilt can be detached from guilty agents, to become a free-floating mass of guilt. Guilt is personal. Jesus didn't die for an abstraction. Rather, Jesus died for sinners. He makes atonement for particular sinners. The sinner is prior to the sin. Guilt is just a property of sinners.

The qualitative paradigm reminds me of the treasury of merit, where the supererogatory deeds of the saints produce so many pints of merit, which go into a general reservoir of merit. The pope plunges a big dipper into the reservoir when he needs to dole out so many gallons of merit. I don't think of merit and demerit in such anonymous terms. I don't view one sinner's guilt and another sinner's guilt blending into a generic human guilt, like adding drops of water to a bucket.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Boy-friendly education

Goin' to the dawgs

The latest frontier in social justice and trans [fill in the blank]:

Poisoning the well

A violent pestilence which ravaged Europe between March, 1348, and the spring of 1351, and is said to have carried off nearly half the population. It was brought by sailors to Genoa from south Russia, whither it had come from central Asia. During March and April, 1348, it spread through Italy, Spain, and southern France; and by May of that year it had reached southwest England. Though the Jews appear to have suffered quite as much as their Christian neighbors (Höniger, "Der Schwarze Tod in Deutschland," 1882; Häser, "Lehrbuch der Gesch. der Medizin," iii. 156), a myth arose, especially in Germany, that the spread of the disease was due to a plot of the Jews to destroy Christians by poisoning the wells from which they obtained water for drinking purposes. This absurd theory had been started in 1319 in Franconia (Pertz, "Monumenta Germaniæ," xii. 416). On that occasion punishment had fallen upon the lepers, by whose means the Jews, it was alleged, had poisoned the wells. Two years later, in the Dauphiné, the same charge had been brought against the Jews. In 1348, once the accusation was raised, it was spread with amazing rapidity from town to town.

Although the Jew-baiting was scurrilous, irrational, and hateful, it's revealing in another respect. How many times have you read atheists say Christians traditionally attribute natural events to God's direct action? How often have your read atheists say Christians traditionally attribute plagues to divine judgment? 

Yet these medieval Christians did not attribute the plague to divine judgment or direct divine action. Rather, they suspected the plague had a natural cause. 

Moreover, although they were mistaken about the transmission of this particular pathogen, there's nothing irrational about considering the public drinking water supply as a possible source of contagion. Some epidemics have a common point of origin. Indeed, infected drinking water is a source of cholera. It can be reasonable to trace some epidemics back to common source. 

So the notion, popularized by atheists, that prescientific Jews and Christians (as well as pagans) automatically ascribed natural events to direct divine action, or divine judgment, in the case of epidemics, is a simplistic and ignorant urban legend. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Unjustifiable naturalism

Bradley Bowen is a regular, longtime contributor to the Secular Outpost. I'll interact with a recent remark of his:

I am in favor of using a "naturalistic heuristic" in doing historical investigations. But this approach needs to be rationally justified.


Part of justifying this approach is clarifying the difference between a firm belief in naturalism on the one hand and a more provisional skepticism that is open to the possibility of miracles and supernatural events. 

Although that's a valid distinction, it's necessary to justify provisional skepticism as well.

But more is needed than that, since the same sort of qualification could be made in the opposite direction, and one could argue for a provisional theistic approach or provisional supernaturalism in historical investigations.

A striking concession. 

One argument for a naturalistic heuristic is based on the track record of natural vs. supernatural historical claims/hypotheses.

That's a classic uncomprehending objection which atheists repeatedly recite. The assumption is that in the past, people used to attribute more events to direct divine action, but science has replaced that through the ever-expanding discovery of natural mechanisms. Now, it's doubtless true that in the past, more events were mysterious. But Christian theology has always had a category for ordinary providence. The principle of secondary causes was in place all along, even if the examples were less readily identifiable. 

A second argument is the general need for uniformity and stability of natural laws in order for historical reasoning to be possible and successful (if most events were produced by divine or supernatural intervention, then not only would the future be highly unpredictable, but reasoning about the past would be just as dicey).

i) That argument either proves too much or too little. Humans are agents who regularly interfere with nature, resulting in outcomes that wouldn't happen if nature was allowed to take its own course. So how is that different in principle from divine intervention?

ii) His objection is reminiscent of Einstein's objection to quantum physics. There are, of course, competing interpretations of quantum physics. But you can't rule out uncertainly or indeterminism just because you think that has destabilizing consequences. We must deal with reality as it comes to us.

iii) His second argument suffers from the same oversight as the first argument: failure to appreciate the role of ordinary providence in Christian theology.

iv) As a matter of fact, naturalism is unable to justify the problem of induction. The appeal is circular. You can only justify the uniformity and stability of natural laws if, in fact, the future resembles the past. But the past can hardly count as evidence for the future unless natural laws are uniform and stable. Conversely, evidence that natural laws are uniform and stable depends on whether you can project the past into the future. Not to mention that our knowledge of the past is quite piecemeal. Indeed, we reconstruct the past based on interpolations that take for granted the uniformity of nature! That's how we plug the gaps. So there seems to be no way to justify his extrapolation from inside the circle of empirical observation itself.  

You have indicated a third reason, which is logical consistency with our approach to scientific investigations. If we employ a naturalistic heuristic in scientific investigations, then we ought to do the same in historical investigations UNLESS someone can point to a significant difference between history and science that justifies taking a radically different approach to historical investigations.

i) One elementary difference is that science tends to deal with impersonal causes or instinctive behavior whereas history tends to deal with personal agents. Natural causes are mechanical, unintelligent processes–or instinctive behavior. By contrast, rational agents are far more flexible. 

ii) There's no reason to presume a naturalistic heuristic in scientific investigations. In medical science, for instance, there's what normally occurs. But suppose a patient undergoes a naturally inexplicable healing in answer to prayer? The best explanation in any particular case depends on the specific evidence at hand.

A fourth reason for using a naturalistic heuristic is that we don't observe miracles and supernatural events in this century, so that is a good reason for presuming that miracles and supernatural events either did not occur in past centuries or were rather rare in past centuries. If we did observe miracles or supernatural events in this century, then that would provide grounds for making the opposite presumption that miracles or supernatural events have occurred in past centuries.

It's funny how he takes that for granted, as if it's indisputable. Has he even bothered to study the literature on modern miracles? 

Scientific evidence and testimonial evidence

Robert Templeton  
Having studied Physics and science in general for years, being a Skeptical thinker, and knowing about formal systems, I do think that I KNOW what evidence is. 
I have a book, "An Introduction to Scientific Research". There is nothing in there about accepting second, third, or fourth hand stories as evidence.

This is a representative statement of how some atheists approach historical reports. They use a "scientific" standard of evidence to evaluate historical reports. But there are obvious problems with that comparison:

i) Historical events are unrepeatable, whereas science often deals with repeatable kinds of events. 

ii) But even on its own terms, scientists depend on testimonial evidence for most of what they believe. A physicist may have little firsthand knowledge of biology. He relies on the testimony of biologists.

Even within his own field, a scientist is dependent on testimonial evidence. A geologist relies on findings from the fieldwork of other geologists for his understanding of geology. A physicist doesn't personally duplicate every crucial experiment in physics. He relies on physics journals for much of what he believes. And so on and so forth. 


Todd Wood responded to some feedback regarding his recent naledi posts:

That included a response to my post:

i) I'll comment on his response to me, but before I get to that I'd like to back up a bit. I don't object in principle to the human identification of nailed. For instance, given the vast variety of dog breeds, some of which are scarcely recognizable in relation to each other or the wild canines from which they derive, by the same token you could have considerable variation in humans.

ii) In addition, I'm not challenging a burial hypothesis.

iii) That said, Todd himself says naledi had a brain the size of an orange. That, of course, raises the question of whether a creature with a brain that size could have human intelligence. Admittedly, the correlation between mind and brain is complex. I'm a substance dualist. Young children have simpler, smaller brains than adults, yet they have cognitive abilities that adults typically lose. Young kids can sponge up languages. They have retentive rote memory. So perhaps a creature with a brain the size of an orange could have human intelligence. But that demands more discussion. 

Over on Triablogue, we find these questions:

is it possible that the floor of the cave is higher than it used to be, due to cumulative debris building up over the intervening time? In other words, was there originally more space between the ceiling and the floor?
Yes, definitely.

What about the possibility of flooding? Would that deposit debris in the back of the cave?
No, there is no evidence of any of that in the Dinaledi chamber.  That point has been emphasized more than once.  These bones did not wash into the back of the cave.

I'm afraid Todd misunderstood the thrust of my question. I wasn't suggesting the fossils were deposited in the cave by flooding. Rather, my second question was piggybacking on my first question. Would repeated flooding be a possible source of debris which, over time, effectively lowered the ceiling of the cave–by raising the floor, through cumulative layers of debris? 

The tacit assumption is that the agents who buried the remains were the same kind of creature as what was buried. However, humans sometimes bury animals.
That's true.  I thought of that myself, but I'm not sure it gets us anything.  As hard as it is to believe someone would crawl that far underground to bury their own child, I'm not sure it's any easier to believe they would do that for a beloved pet.  The only thing it would get you is the ability to affirm the burial hypothesis while saying that Homo naledi isn't human.

I find that response unsatisfactory in several respects:

i) Todd's objection is predicated in part on the inaccessibility of the location. Yet he conceded that originally, the site might have been more accessible. There may have been more space between the floor and the ceiling at the time of burial. But that concession weakens the premise of his objection, does it not?

ii) I'm puzzled by his saying "I'm not sure it gets us anything…The only thing it would get you is the ability to affirm the burial hypothesis while saying that Homo naledi isn't human."

But surely that's a consequential alternative explanation. There's the hypothesis that it wasn't human and wasn't buried. There's the hypothesis that it was human and was buried. Then there's a third hypothesis that I proposed, which splits the difference. 

iii) Moreover, he doesn't seriously engage my argument. My counterexamples weren't confined to pet animals. I gave two examples of ancient burial customs involving animals. The first involves donkeys. As Kenneth Way documents, in the monograph I cited, donkeys had symbolic/ceremonial significance in the ancient Near East, which is why they were sometimes buried.  Among other things, Way mentions ancient cultural associations between donkeys and socioeconomic status, scapegoat rituals, sacrificial rites, death, divination, and donkey deities.  These associations wouldn't even occur to a modern reader. It's so far removed from our worldview. 

Likewise, I mentioned the ancient Egyptian practice of mummifying animals. That's in part because Egyptian mythology has theriomorphic deities. (Hinduism is another example in kind.) Surely it takes as much effort to mummify animals as it did to bury naledi.

In certain pagan cultures, animals aren't merely animals. Animals were vested with religious, numinous, or preternatural significance. They could represent deities. You have this in various American Indian cultures as well as indigenous African religions, in addition to Hindu and Egyptian mythology. From what I've read, theriolatry, theriomancy, and theriomorphism were widespread in paganism. 

We need to make allowance for the mindset of ancient humans when we interpret burial rituals. It may take a special effort for modern people, even Christians, to assume that viewpoint, because it's often so alien to our own view of animals. The heathen outlook differs both from Christianity and secularism with respect to the animal world. 

As I understand it, Todd thinks a local naledi community used the cave as a family crypt or cemetery for its own dead. That's possible.

But I'm questioning a non sequitur in the argument. The inference that if burial presumes human intelligence, and the remains are naledi, then they were buried by naledi–in which case nailed were human. Naledi buried their own kind. 

I'm documenting the fact that ancient humans sometimes bury animals. Some ancient humans have a cult of animals. Theriolatry. They attack sacral significance to some animals. As a result, they go to some trouble in disposing of the remains (e.g. burial, mummification). So it's possible that the naledi remains are extinct apes.

And that might be more consistent with the subhuman brain size. That's not what we normally associate with an adult human brain.

A New Feature

For those who haven't noticed, we now have a Featured Post section at the top of our sidebar on the right. The post highlighted there will be changed periodically. If you haven't looked much at the sidebar in general, you might want to do so. We have a lot of material there, including links to e-books we've written. We also have a few resources linked in the bar near the top of the screen, below the Triablogue graphic.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The melting pot

1. Perhaps the central plank of the Trump campaign is that our open border policy is turning America into a Third World country. There's some truth to that, but it's a very indiscriminate way of casting the issue. There are roughly two different models regarding immigration policy: multiculturalism and assimilation. 

2. Multiculturalism

In theory, multiculturalism is a policy for protecting and preserving cultural diversity, with a focus on accommodating minorities. Multiculturalism goes hand-in-hand with identity politics. In this paradigm, people have special rights conferred by membership in a given group. The social ontology is communitarian rather than individualistic. 

In reality, multiculturalism is anti-Christian, anti-white, anti-male, anti-heteronormative, anti-Western civilization. Certain "protected classes" are singled out for special treatment, viz. Muslims, women, homosexuals, transgendered, blacks, Latinos. 

There are some basic tensions in multiculturalism. It's a euphemism for a discriminatory agenda. In practice, multiculturalism is generally hostile to cultural diversity inasmuch as most cultures are traditionally patriarchal, religious, gender binary, and heteronormative. Likewise, most cultures traditionally espouse human exceptionalism (in contrast to animal rights). 

In practice, multiculturalists begin with their ideological priorities and preferences, then define multiculturalism to mirror their ideological priorities and preferences. In case of conflict, Muslim rights trump women's rights, homosexual/transgender rights trump black rights, &c.

Toleration of cultural groups sanctions intolerance within cultural groups. In-group hierarchies. Internal discrimination against vulnerable members of the group. Protecting minority group rights at the expense of disadvantaged individuals who may be minorities in contrast to the group. That's because the majority/minority distinction operates at different scales. 

The collective orientation tramples on individual rights. Tramples on free association. The right to leave your hereditary social group or join a new social group. 

3. Assimilation

According to the melting pot paradigm, immigrants should assimilate to the dominant, majority culture. Learn the official language. Everyone should have the same general human rights and civil rights. 

4. Ironically, both assimilationist and multiculturalist models use culture as the benchmark, but culture is inherently fluid. Immigration itself is a catalyst for cultural change. Likewise, you have internal cultural evolution, even in fairly homogenous societies. For instance, there's great cultural diversity within Islam. Multiculturalism codifies ethnic stereotypes. 

When they have the freedom to do so, individuals frequently mix-and-match different cultural options. Likewise, what about members of different ethnic groups who belong to the same socioeconomic class? Identity politics is in tension with cross-cultural commonalities (e.g. social class).

Sometimes assimilation goes in the opposite direction. For instance, some caucasians become fascinated by Chinese civilization. They study it. Immerse themselves in Chinese culture. Essentially adopt Chinese culture. 

4. Cultural integration

In what sense are our current immigration policies turning the nation into a Third World country? That charge could mean the combination of virtually unrestricted immigration with the welfare state is dragging the country down to the economic level of many Third World countries. It could also mean introducing ideological values that are alien to our system of government, viz. sharia. 

In two qualified respects, assimilation is good:

i) Political assimilation

Immigrants should assimilate to our political system, viz. limited government, consent of the governed, the Bill of Rights. Indeed, it's pointless for immigrations to come here in order to escape the conditions they left behind if they were going to transplant the same dysfunctional values into American soil. Islam is the best example. 

ii) Christian assimilation

Ideally, immigrants should assimilate to Christianity. That provides a common basis for social ethics and public policy. Of course, that can't be imposed–only encouraged. 

Apart from those two examples, I don't see any particular value in cultural assimilation. Within those two parameters, I like cultural diversity. Much would be lost in the melting pot if we blended everybody into the dominant cultural fondue. By that I don't mean cultural blending is wrong; rather, it's wrong as a matter of policy.

To take one example, it's interesting to observe the synergism between ethnicity and Christianity. How ethnic groups who've been evangelized adapt their culture to Christian norms. Each is Christian in a different way, as the Gospel is cross-contextualized. If people are properly discipled, their culture will take care of itself. 

To take another example, when I watch contemporary English movies and TV dramas, I notice that black English actors have assimilated to the accent and affect of white English actors. I think that's unfortunate. 

It's striking to contrast that with black Americans, who've retained a distinctive subculture. I think that's worthwhile. That's a cultural good. Biracial, South African comedian Trevor Noah does an amusing, but admiring impersonation of black Americans. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A naturalistic heuristic

What standards guide this questioning process? Will not those very standards be brought into question when the historical investigation abuts the grounds for religious belief? For instance, we doubt Herodotus’ stories about divine interventions at the Battle of Salamis precisely because historical inquiry is guided by a naturalistic heuristic just as much as natural science is. But won’t religious apologists complain that such reliance on “post-Enlightenment” historiographic standards bias the case against them? 
This complaint conflates a default assumption with an invincible conviction. Initial skepticism, even very deep skepticism, about miraculous events, is not a problem unless the skepticism becomes dogmatism that refuses to consider the evidence. Apologists have no grounds for complaining that the job of convincing the rational skeptic is hard and that they have a lot of work to do. They willingly took on a tough job and they cannot reasonably complain that it is tough. It is not reasonable to ask historians to suspend the rules that they apply to all other inquiries as soon as the investigation turns to Christian claims. To do so would be a gross case of special pleading on the part of the apologists.

i) Parsons is less than clear about what he means. Apparently he's alleging that Christian apologists operate with a "naturalistic heuristic" for everything except Christian miracles. If so, on what basis does he say that? Does he think all Christian apologists automatically discount reported miracles in non-Christian settings? What about Christian apologists who believe in occult powers? Pagan witchcraft? 

ii) The reason to doubt Herodotus’ stories about divine interventions at the Battle of Salamis needn't be based on a general, default naturalistic heuristic. Rather, we can doubt (or deny it) for the specific rationale that we have no reason to believe the gods of the Greek pantheon ever existed. Indeed, we have reason to believe they don't exist. Never did. It's not about "divine intervention" in general, but intervention attributed to the gods and goddesses of Greek mythology. If we have good reason to believe they do not exist–indeed, that entities like that cannot exist–then that's a specific rationale for doubting (or denying) Herodotus’ stories about divine interventions at the Battle of Salamis, which has nothing to do with methodological atheism. 

iii) And, yes, "initial, or even very deep skepticism" about miraculous events is a problem because it's prejudicial. That can't be justified on a "naturalistic heuristic". That can only be justified if there's a solid argument for metaphysical naturalism. For unless you already know, or have good reason to believe we live in a kind of world where divine interventions don't happen, initial skepticism, much less very keep skepticism, is question-begging. 

What are possible worlds?

Both Calvinism and freewill theism affirm possible worlds. But what are possible worlds? What is the source of possible worlds? How are they constituted?

In Calvinism, I'd say a possible world is an alternate world history. God can and does imagine different scenarios. World histories with a plot, setting, characters. God's mind or imagination is the ultimate source or originator of these alternate scenarios. 

It's less clear what possible worlds are in freewill theism. Let's approach it from a different angle. In freewill theism, what constitutes the future? Roughly speaking, the future is constituted by a combination of what God causes (directly or indirectly) and what creaturely free agents cause. 

For instance, the physical world consists of many things that are not free agents. Natural processes. Rocks, trees, rivers, atoms, chemical reactions, lower animals. Presumable, a freewill theist will say God generally causes their existence or related events.

In addition are events caused by creaturely free agents, viz. humans, angels, demons. Let's use "free agent" as shorthand for human free agents. And let's define "free" in terms of libertarian freewill. 

Finally, free agents interact with their physical environment, so some things that are not free agents in their own right might be caused by free agents. For instance, God caused the raw materials for a watch to exist, but metallurgy is a human activity. Glass production is a human activity. And it takes a watchmaker to design or build a watch. A watch is not a free agent, but the product of free agency. Selective breeding would be another example. 

On a related note are the "counterfactuals of creaturely freedom". These are unexemplified choices by free agents. So we might say a possible world is, in part, a cluster of events effected by free choices. Volitions are events–mental events. And volitions can produce extramental events. A possible world is partly constituted by volitions and the effects of volitions. 

On this view, a possible world is not so much where we'd do it, but what we'd do. Not so much that we'd do it in a possible world, but a possible world is what we'd do. 

One complication is that, being merely possible, the agents don't actually exist. So what's the ontological status of possible worlds? What undergirds them?

We might suggest they are ontologically dependent on God's mind. God's mind is the repository of possible worlds.

God either knows what free agents would do or at least he knows all their possible courses of action. Those unexemplified agents and their choices subsist or inhere in God's mind.

But unlike Calvinism, they are still independent of God in the sense that choices have their ultimate source in the agent rather than God. Free choices are caused by the agent, not by God. God is the agent's originator while the agent is the originator of his own volitions.

If a free agent exists, it has that autonomous ability. That's an axiom of libertarian freedom. 

This might explain why some possible worlds are infeasible. As Craig puts it:

The hypothesis is that God has done the very best He can, given the true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom which confront Him…God doesn’t create such a choice for Himself. The counterfactuals of creaturely freedom which confront Him are outside His control. He has to play with the hand He has been dealt.

Craig goes on to say:

But now you raise a quite different objection aimed specifically at (3). “Before God sticks Fred in second century Tibet wouldn't He have to ascertain that Fred would freely reject the Gospel in all circumstances, not just some of them?” Well, He wouldn’t have to, but that’s my hypothesis. Clearly, God could place a person anywhere He wants in human history, regardless of how that person might freely behave in different circumstances. But my suggestion is that God, being so merciful and not wanting anyone to be damned, so providentially orders the world that anyone who would embrace the Gospel if he were to hear it will not be placed in circumstances in which he fails to hear it and is lost. Only in the case of someone who would be saved through his response to general revelation would a person who would freely respond to special revelation, if he heard it, find himself in circumstances where he doesn’t hear it.

But there are problems with that explanation, even on its own terms:

i) If, by Craig's own admission, God can only play the hand he was dealt, what is Craig's justification for assuming the deck includes a feasible hand in which all the unreached people would refuse to believe the Gospel if given a chance? God lacks that magisterial control over the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. That may not be in the cards. That option may not be available. At best, Craig can only hope it's true.

ii) It's also odd, on Craig's view, that historically, ethnic Jews and Europeans are far more likely to respond to general and special revelation than most Asians, East Indians, American Indians, sub-Saharan Africans, &c. How does Craig's theory account for the ethnic and geographical disparities? 

iii) More fundamentally, is a possible world a place where agents make alternate choices? Or do free agents create their own circumstances? To the degree that circumstances are the result of free choices, how can God put a person anywhere he wants in human history, regardless of how that person might freely behave in different circumstances?

To a great extent, the situation in which we find ourselves was created by prior free agents. So how can God rearrange the order of cause and effect? 

Libertarian freedom is typically defined as the ability to choose otherwise or do otherwise in the very same situation. You hold everything else in fixed position except for changing this one variable. Everything else is just the same leading up to this moment, this turning point. Everyone else does exactly the same thing. There's just this one discrete change–which produces other changes going forward. 

There are possible worlds in which the past is identical up until that one alternate course of action. From a Calvinistic perspective, I can see how that would be. It's God imagining different outcomes. All this originates in God's mind. And most or maybe all but one possible world on exist as divine ideas. 

But from a freewill theist perspective, why would there be gazillions of static world histories where you just have a single variation apiece? Consider a 4-way intersection. Each driver can turn left, right, or go straight. There's a possible world matching each potential choice by each driver. Where the other three drivers do exactly the same thing while the fourth driver does something different, or vice versa. 

But why do the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom entail that a free agent would ring the changes on every logically possible alternative? Why would an agent want to? Just for the sake of sheer variation? 

Put another way, if free choices in the past largely generate present circumstances, why would you have possible worlds in which the past is identical? Wouldn't the past be more fluid? Why is every other agent doing the same thing, and it's just one agent who does one thing differently?

Temporal determinism

I'm posting my side of an email exchange I recently had:

It's conventional to argue that if God knows the future, then the outcome is certain. But is there a sense in which we could argue the same thing in reverse? 

Past and future are relative in the sense that, say, Archduke Ferdinand's present or future lies in my past, while my present lies in his future. If I know he was assassinated on June 28, 1914, was it possible for him not to be assassinated? 

An obvious response would be that if he hadn't been assassinated, then that's what I'd now know. The future is in some measure the result of what people do in the present. If they do something differently, the future will turn out differently.

But is it that simple? It tacitly assumes that my future doesn't already exist when Ferdinand is assassinated. Clearly it doesn't exist for him. 1914 isn't 2016. 

Yet according to the B-theory, past, present, and future all exist. They don't exist at the same times. 2016 didn't exist in 1914. Rather, 2016 exists in 2016! A later time isn't simultaneous with an earlier time.

But the entire timeline exists. Because the whole exists, each part exists. 

If, therefore, 2016 existed at the time Ferdinand was assassinated (as well as before), even though it didn't exist in 1914 (i.e. a later time does not exist as an earlier time), and if, in 2016, I know that he was assassinated in 1914, then isn't his assassination inevitable? 

Perhaps one would say that's not about knowledge but a theory of time. Yet it shows a relationship between knowledge and a theory of time. An implication between the two. 

Seems to me that Craig's explanation is inadequate. (In fairness, he wasn't responding to me.)

The question is whether, given the B-theory, future knowledge of a past event entails the past event. Does that carry an entailment relation?

It's not just at as of now, I know that Ferdinand was assassinated way back then. Rather, even as of then, the future in which I know that Ferdinand was assassinated existed–or coexisted with past event (although they are not concomitant, obviously). And if cause and effect coexist, then I should think it's too late for the precipitating event to be other than it was. 

In addition, it seems to be that Craig fails to distinguish between logical relations and what's metaphysically possible. Sure, he can recast the issue in terms of a conditional proposition, viz. If Ferdinand hadn't been assassinated, then my future knowledge of the past would be different–since the past itself would be different. No doubt. That's a tautology.

But just because we can recast the relationship in conditional terms doesn't ipso facto mean the conditional proposition or counterfactual scenario is metaphysically possible. 

For instance, suppose we say that if Steve Hays was born in 18C China, he'd speak Mandarin. 

Well, considered in isolation, that self-contained proposition might be true. But it's not possible for me to be born in the 18C. It's not possible for me to be born before my parents were born, or born to other parents.

And one can't just push my parents back two centuries, since their ancestors were the product of various developments in European history. It's all interwoven. 

In the B-theory, the timeline is a set of internal relations. You can't change one variable without changing everything (or nearly everything) beforehand or afterwards.

Of course, people like Craig can (and does) attack the B-theory directly. But for now I'm just considering a possible implication of the B-theory. Combining the B-theory with knowledge of a past event.

The Koran is just another book

On Facebook, I got into an impromptu debate about this story:

Steve Hays No, they're not all Abrahamic religions. The notion that Muslims descent from Abraham is an Islamic legend. The notion that Ishmael was the son of promise (rather than Isaac) is theological fiction.

Steve Hays This is just standard Christian theology. I appreciate the message. People who are offended by the sign don't take any religion seriously. Every religion can't be right. In the name of tolerance, critics treat all religions as false by pretending that they are all equivalent, which is demonstrably not the case.

Steve Hays Coptic Christians are often martyred by Muslims.

Steve Hays How is singling out one group inconsistent with the message of the Bible? There's nothing wrong with prioritizing. "Singling" out a much bigger, more influential, more dangerous group. Especially a group that gets special treatment from the establishment. That's just countering how the establishment singles out Muslims for special treatment.

Steve Hays "True Christian": your objection is ridiculous. No one can be an expert about everything. Therefore, it's necessary to specialize to some degree. One Christian apologist might focus on Islam, another on Mormonism, another on Judaism, another on atheism, &c.

Steve Hays Again, your statement is absurd on the face of it. It takes knowledge to critique what's wrong with a particular religion, cult, heresy, theological tradition, or ideology.

Steve Hays No, talking about an "Islamic God" doesn't recognize the existence of other gods. It's simply a way of referring to what Muslims profess. Your objection is terribly naive. If we refer to Zeus as a Greek god, that hardly implies that we believe in his existence.

Steve Hays There's nothing hypocritical about "singling out" a group that really is different. As has been documented in Europe and Great Britain, Muslim immigrants create a hotbed for domestic terrorism. They import a rape culture. They practice honor killings and female genital circumcision. They demand Sharia law. And we see the same pattern emerging in American communities in the US (e.g. Michigan, Minnesota). Other immigrant groups don't have these social pathologies.

The political left and the religious left promote a false image of Islam. The church sign is merely a corrective.

Steve Hays We're not Jesus. Jesus is omnipotent. He has nothing to fear. By contrast, we have a duty to protect our dependents. And they are vulnerable to harm. Paul was required to suffer in part because he'd been a persecutor of the faith.

Steve Hays Caitlin, that's utterly confused. Just because Muslims and Arab Christians use the same word for God (Allah) doesn't imply that they refer to the same thing. Does "Caitlin Pratt" and "Caitlin Jenner" refer to the same person? Muslims have a different concept of God.

Steve Hays 

i) Yes, you're confused. Many different people have the same name. Sometimes the same first name, sometimes the same last names, sometimes both the same first and last names.

The fact that the same name is used hardly implies the same individual is designated. That's just elementary. 

ii) For you to say the Baptist concept of God is as different from another Christian "sect" as it is to Islam is absurd. Islam has a voluntaristic view of God. Allah's actions aren't characterized by an essential moral character. By contrast, the Biblical God is essential just, holy, righteous, &c. 

The Bible affirms the deity of Christ, which Islam denies. The Bible affirms the Incarnation, which Islam denies. The Bible affirms the Resurrection of Christ, which Islam denies. The Bible affirms penal substitution, which Islam denies.

Steve Hays Caitlin,

i) You're disregarding context. In context, the sign is referring to the Islamic deity. 

Since the sign is written in English, "God" is the word that English-speaking Christians normally use to designate the Christian deity. If it was written in French or Spanish or Chinese, it would use different words. 

Who is Jane Seymour? Among other candidates, an English actress, and the third wife of Henry VIII. Same name, different referents.Who is Graham Greene? Among other candidates, a British novelist, and a Canadian Indian actor. Same name, different referents. Who is Phil Johnson? Among other candidates, a founder of the Intelligent Design movement, and the Executive Director of Grace to You. Same name, different referents.

The same name has different referents depending on the context. That's not a hard distinction to grasp.

To take another example, theos can denote Zeus or Yahweh (in the LXX) or Jesus or God the Father. It's a question of context. The fact that the same Greek name can be used to denote Zeus or Yahweh hardly makes them the same deity. 

ii) In Islam, atonement is not a precondition of divine forgiveness. Divine forgiveness is an arbitrary fiat.

iii) No, "Islam" doesn't mean "peace" in Arabic. Rather, it means "submission". 

iv) Yes, Islamic jurisprudence. What's your opinion of female genital mutilation? 

v) Islam denies that Jesus is divine. Islam denies that the Son is coeternal with the Father. Islam denies the Incarnation, the death of Jesus, and the Resurrection of Jesus. 

In Islam, he's just a human prophet, inferior to Muhammad, who's the seal of the prophets.

vi) You don't speak for Arab Christians in general. Why aren't you more concerned about Muslims martyring Arab Christians as of 2016?

Steve Hays Caitin,

According to both the OT and the NT, humans are sinners. According to both the OT and the NT, homosexual activity is sinful. (Indeed, according to Rom 1, homosexual attraction is sinful.)

That's not a "sectarian" teaching. That's the consistent view of the Bible.

Steve Hays I'm not talking about "preachers". I'm talking about scholarly exegesis of the OT and NT regarding homosexuality. For instance, Robert Gagnon.

You can't find Jesus in a non-Christian. You can find common grace virtues in non-Christians.

I also notice that you're comparing what you consider to be the worst Christians with the best Muslim. Why don't you compare the best Christians with the worst Muslims?

Steve Hays Caitlin,

Asharite voluntarism is mainstream Islamic theology (a la Sunni orthodoxy).

Steve Hays You're equivocating on "divine messenger". That could either mean a messenger who's a representative of God or a messenger who is God.

Steve Hays Caitlin, it's funny how you presume to speak on behalf of Muslims and Christians alike. You have no authority to speak for Muslims. You're not a recognized religious authority in the Muslim world. Indeed, that's an understatement. Your representations of Islam have zero cachet in the Muslim world. 

Steve Hays 

i) The difference between Christianity and post-Christian Judaism is smaller than the difference between Christianity and Islam. Even so, there are fundamental differences between Christianity and post-Christian Judaism.

ii) I'm not defending Roman Catholicism. However, you did a bait-n-switch when you went from Baptists to Roman Catholics.

iii) There's nothing wrong with saying "Allah" is not our God when "Allah" is used in the context of Islam. The sign was clear regarding the intended theological referent. 

iv) You come across as a religious pluralist with strong sympathies for Islam. 

iv) It's funny when you deny that Islam means "submission" even though that's precisely how many Muslim websites define Islam. 

But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that Islam means "peace"? So what. That doesn't make it a peaceful religion. The Islam of the Quran, Sunnah, and Hadith is a violent religion. Consider Al-Wāqidī's classic work on the military campaigns of Muhamamd: Kitāb al-maghāzī.

This, in turn, lays the foundation for the jihadist tradition in Islam. Islam is a religion of peace in the sense that Islam is a religion of conquest. There is peace once the infidel has been subjugated and reduced to a state of dhimmitude.

Steve Hays Your Egyptian Christian friend has no reason to feel "otherized" by the sign inasmuch as the sign wasn't about Middle-Eastern Christians, but Muslims. It was using "Allah" in the context of Islamic theism, not the Christian theism of Arabic-speaking Christians. 

"If you were a linguist you'd understand the difference between aslam, islam, and tasleem."

And if you were a linguist, you wouldn't commit the etymological fallacy of supposing a word means what the "root" means. You need to bone up on lexical semantics. 

Violence is original to Islam. 

Funny you say I must be getting my info from an "ignorant Christian source group or Fox news" when I specifically cited Al-Wāqidī's work on the military campaigns of Muhamamd: Kitāb al-maghāzī.

Is that an ignorant Christian source?

What about Ibn Khaldun statement that:

In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and (the obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force...It is (for them to choose between) conversion to Islam, payment of the poll tax, or death. (Muqaddimah, chapter 3.31). 

Is that an ignorant Christian source? 

Among others, Michael Nazir-Ali frequently warns about jihadist hotbeds in England. He knows Islam firsthand as a Pakistani native. In addition, he studied Islamic history at the University of Karachi. 

Is that an ignorant Christian source? 

Or consider The Early Development of Mohammedanism, a classic monograph by D. S. Margoliouth, Laudian Professor of Arabic at Oxford University. 

Is that an ignorant Christian source? 

Steve Hays You're equivocating. Religious violence is not original to Christianity, unlike Islam. That reflects a later development. Indeed, you're giving examples from the Middle Ages–about a thousand years later. 

No point saying "jihad means so many things" when I gave a specific example from a leading Muslim authority.

You're ignoring the fact that the Quran says contradictory things depending on the period of the surahs. As Muhammad gains power, he becomes more bellicose. 

I cite Ibn Khaldun because he's a representative Muslim spokesman. You yourself admit that's a legitimate source. So is Al-Wāqidī. 

There's no inconsistency in me citing things of which I'm critical, since the point is to document mainstream Islam–of which I'm critical.

Did I suggest he was criticizing Islam? No.

Steve Hays 

"muslims didn't kill you they simply taxed you if you didn't convert."

There's far more to Dhimmitude than paying the jizya. For instance, dhimmis can't testify against Muslims. So dhimmis invariably lose. 

Likewise, dhimmis can, and often are, executed if accused of disrespecting Islam in some way or another. 

BTW, you act like you're responding to statements I made about ISIS even though I haven't said anything about ISIS. You need to keep track of who said what instead of just lashing out. 

"attempts to further a political agenda that aims to deconstruct Islam above all other religions simply because our nation has a current inclination to hate Arabs and North African communities."

It's natural to focus on Islam when that's far and away the leading source of international terrorism in the world today. That's not "hatred". That's enlightened self-preservation. 

"Yes, you use legitimate sources- one of which doesn't actually criticize Islam as you use it as proof that Islam is violent but rather aims to explain how all religion is corrupted by man."

You willfully misrepresent Ibn Khaldun. He's explicit on the fact that spreading Islam by any means necessary is a religious duty. If that demands conversion by the sword, so be it. I cite him because he's a paradigm Muslim thinker. 

"political agenda of the war on Muslims and therefore the war on our national enemies."

You're enamored with the phrase "political agenda". Actually, this is an ethical agenda. There's a moral duty to protect innocent life. Pity you're so indifferent to the victims of Islam.

We're not at war with Muslims–Muslims are at war with us. We are forced to counterattack in self-defense. 

"But to slander those of another faith using inaccurate statements."

I haven't used inaccurate statements. Rather, I've cited Muslim primary sources.

Trump's Mob Connections

If you haven't read Politico's recent story on the subject, do so. (There are two pages to the story. Make sure you click on the link for the second page when you're done reading the first one.) Notice all of Trump's alleged memory lapses, close associations with corrupt individuals and groups, decisions to irresponsibly associate with people who were convicted of major crimes, etc. Choosing Trump as the Republican nominee is irrational, irresponsible, and inexcusable.