Saturday, July 02, 2016

Flat-earth cartography

I don't think it's worthwhile to debate flat-earthers. And I didn't initiate this debate. But one thing leads to another, so I will say a bit more. There are folks more qualified than I to discuss this. Since, however, I doubt there are any scientifically qualified flat-earthers, my only disadvantage is that if you spend all your leisure time defending a conspiracy theory, you have prepared answers to stock objections. Likewise, you can cite factoids that ordinary folks haven't investigated. 

1. I Googled some modern flat-earth maps. One thing I notice is that there doesn't seem to be any standardization in flat-earth circles regarding the distribution of oceans and contingents. Flat-earth maps vary. 

That, itself, is problematic for zetetic astronomy. If you can't show us, in detail, what the flat earth looks like, what's your empirical evidence that the earth is, indeed, flat?

2. That said, the maps had something in common. They resemble a projection map of the globe. Reducing a global image to a flat map.

The difference is that flat-earth maps take a topdown approach whereas conventional maps take a sideways view. The flat-earth maps I saw have the north pole at the center, surrounded by the continents. Continents in the northern hemisphere are closer to the center, while continents in the southern hemisphere are closer to the circumference. Flat-earth maps vary somewhat on where to put the oceans. 

3. However, this immediately poses problems for flat-earthers:

i) Since, on their view, the sun shines directly on what would be the northern hemisphere, how does that square with climate zones? 

ii) Likewise, how does that square with time zones? Suppose a flat-earther views the sun like a spotlight that moves incrementally across the terrestrial disk. Even if that would explain longitudinal alternations in day and night, how would that synchronize with latitudinal alternations? Everything above and below the spotlight would be dark. 

iii) Even more problematic, once the sun completes its progression from left to right, it would have to travel under the flat earth to resume the cycle. But that would plunge the entire earth into darkness for however long it takes the sun to pass under the flat earth. 

4. It's demonstrably the case that a pilot can, by flying continuously in a straight line, return to his point of departure. How is that possible on a flat earth? 

Sure, if you fly in a circle on a disk, you can return to your point of departure. But I'm talking about a flight path in a straight line.

It is, of course, possible for a trajectory to be both straight and circular. But that only works on a sphere where you have an extra coordinate. 

5. I should have been more explicit about what I mean regarding satellite photography. 

i) I'm not primarily alluding to the fact that the earth appears to be spherical according to satellite photography. Rather, this is what I mean. Consider a class room globe. You can only see whatever part of the earth is facing the viewer. To see the whole earth, you must either walk around the globe or remain in place and spin the globe. 

ii) We have an equivalent situation with spy satellites and earth observation satellites. They can't photograph the earth all at once. They only display a portion of the earth facing the satellite. 

But as the earth rotates under the satellite, in the course of one rotation period the satellite can photograph the entire earth. That makes perfect sense if the earth is spherical and spinning on its axis. 

iii) If, by contrast, the earth is flat, why can't we see the whole earth from space, all at once, just like we can see a flat map of the earth at a glance?

iv) And even if a flat-earther postulates that a satellite is too close for a wide shot, there's still another problem. Suppose a satellite begins to photograph the earth at the meridian. After an orbital period, the meridian is once again facing the satellite. Continuous photography tracks the continuous counterclockwise rotation of the earth.

If, however, the earth is flat, and the satellite is photographing the earth from left to right or right to left, then it must reverse direction to return to the starting-point. Yet, when photographing the earth from space, there is no break. You see the same portions of the earth coming into view in the same direction. Admittedly, I'm no expert on satellite photography, but do flat-earthers have any hard evidence to the contrary?

6. In addition, zetetic astronomy must rewrite the laws of physics. That's extremely complicated. Has any flat-earther produced detailed alternative physics to make it work? Is there anything comparable to the level of detail and empirical confirmation in standard astrophysics? 

7. Finally, flat-earthers have to prop up their theory by invoking conspiracy theories to discount empirical evidence that runs counter to zetetic astronomy. Now, I don't deny the existence of conspiracies. However, a conspiracy theory loses credibility when the scale of the conspiracy involves too many independent players, sometimes with rival motivations. As well as too many people who must somehow be kept in the dark. 

From the combox:

There's a difference between an abstract actual infinite and a concrete actual infinite. When you mention infinity in relation to geometric inversion, I assume you're discussing mathematical relations as abstract objects. If so, it doesn't follow that physical instances of mathematical abstractions can exemplify the outer limits of mathematical abstractions (e.g. infinitely large, infinitely small). What's possible for spaceless, timeless relations may not be possible for spatiotemporal relations, if matter is granular. Kinda like the Planck length. 

This goes back to ancient debates over the infinite divisibility of time and space. So it's unclear to me that a purely mathematical model will coincide with the physical universe. At best, we may expect it a physical approximation. 

For instance, how can physical objects be infinitely large? Is there not an upper limit to convalent bonding? 

You may say that's why there must be corresponding adjustments in the laws of physics, but is that anything other than a verbal placeholder with little conceptual content?

Dr. Byl's argument reminds me of science fiction stories about miniaturizing humans. No doubt it's possible to produce a mathematically coherent model of a human being who's several orders of magnitude larger or smaller. You can scale it up or down, but preserve the same internal relations. 

Yet it's not physically possible for a viable human being to be several orders of magnitude larger or smaller. A human being can't be as tall as a skyscraper or as small as a molecule. Anything material has in-built physical constraints. (Not that humans are purely physical.)

In fairness, he admits that a flat-earth cosmology requires different laws. But I think that's a token concession. Has any flat-earther ever developed a detailed system of alternative physics to make that work? If not, then flat-earth cosmology isn't competitive with the standard view. 

I don't think it's metaphysically possible for physical space to instantiate actual infinities, whether infinitely large or infinitely small (or wide or deep or long or thin). 

So I guess one question concerns Byl's ontology of math–what he thinks mathematical objects are, and how they interface with the physical world.

To me, his position is like confusing what's possible in a dream with what's possible in reality. Surreal things can happen in dreams because dreams are imaginary. Dreamscapes aren't subject to physical constraints. Dreams are visualized ideas. 

But I think energy and matter are intrinsically finite states. It may be a convenient simplification or idealization in physics to speak of infinities or infinitesimals, but I don't take that literally.

Horndog ethics

Thus far I haven't make any personal observations about Richard Carrier's downfall. A few random thoughts:

i) Obviously, it's easy to compile a long list of sexual misconduct by Christians or professing Christians. Christians and atheists are wired the same way. 

ii) Carrier's behavior poses a dilemma for atheists, because–unlike Christian ethics–it raises the question of whether certain kinds of sexual conduct are blameworthy. To begin with, you have atheists who reject moral realism. And even among atheists who affirm some form of moral realism, they often make a point of ridiculing Christian sexual ethics. They have a far more expansive list of sexually licit practices. 

For instance, the Cynics were named after dogs, in part because they had public sex and promiscuous sex just like dogs. They thought humans were just animals, so why not? That's a consistent position.

Christians can say certain kinds of sexual conduct are morally illicit. That can be grounded in natural law theory or divine command theory. Hence, Christians have a basis for condemning the sexual misconduct, including their own. 

iii) Mind you, Carrier has his own version of moral realism, so he can't excuse himself by appeal to moral relativism, fictionalism, or nihilism. 

iv) In many ways, Carrier brought this on himself. To begin with, he didn't keep his private life private. If he kept his sex life private, he'd be less vulnerable to the allegations. But he turned his blog into a tabloid commercial in which he cultivated a Casanova image, bragged about his Jovian exploits, and inviting women to meet him for hookups when he was in the area. By shamelessly projecting a horndog image, he scripted the very narrative that made the allegations all too plausible. 

v) He assumes the role of moral crusader, attacking fellow atheists (e.g. Michael Shermer) for alleged sexual misconduct. That, of course, left him with few sympathizers when he found himself on the receiving end of similar accusations. 

vi) He has loudly proclaimed himself a feminist. But that means he should be judged by feminist criteria. Feminism has a very broad definition sexual harassment. In feminism, moreover, men accused of sexual misconduct are presumptively guilty. It is, therefore, entirely fitting to hold Carrier to his own stated standards. Having endorsed feminism, he chose to wade into the shark-infested waters of affirmative consent.  

vii) I'd add that there's prima facie plausibility to the allegations. I never took seriously his braggadocio talk about about how many girlfriends he has. Is Carrier chickbait? He isn't a hunk. He isn't rich. He's not a CEO who can promote women in exchange for sexual favors. He's a middle-aged nerd without a regular job. So it doesn't surprise me if he's hitting on women rather than women hitting on him. 

viii) Finally, Carrier has been spinning out of control for years. He suffers from what I call aging atheist syndrome. His best years are behind him. As time goes on, he has ever less to look forward to. It's not surprising that many atheists become increasingly bitter and angry as they get older. 

What's striking is the public silence of long-time friends like Jeff Lowder as Carrier became ever more unhinged. Is that their blue code of silence? 

Keep your hands off my body!

This is a follow-up to my previous post:

A commenter left the following question:

I've talked to some pro-choicers recently who have relied very heavily on the inside-the-mother's-body argument. They dismiss all counter-examples to bodily autonomy because they don't involve another human being being *inside* of the other person.  
How would you respond a person who kept pushing the fact that a fetus is inside of another human and says that in no other instances would we allow another person to remain inside of someone else against their will?

The answer deserves a separate post, so I'll respond here:

i) Let's begin with a preliminary observation. Many abortionists are fanatics. There's no example you can give that will make them blink.

However, that can be useful to expose their fanaticism and misanthropy. When they take a totally selfish position, they reveal the fact that they don't have what it takes to be a good friend. They're not friendship material. They can't be trusted. They will always put themselves first.

Now let's consider some examples:

ii) We could begin by asking them how the fact that a person or baby is inside the body rather than outside the body a morally relevant difference. What's the principle? Is the principle that no one ever has the right to depend on us for their survival? 

iii) Does the abortionist take the position that we never have a duty to hazard our own life or health to protect another? 

Most pregnancies aren't hazarous. I'm just using a more extreme example to establish a principle. If we sometimes have a duty to endanger our own life or heath to protect another, surely we sometimes have a duty to provide for the needs of another in less extreme cases.

iv) Apropos (iii), suppose a mother and her teenage son are at home when a violent intruder breaks into the home. Does the son have a duty to fight the intruder to protect his mother, or should the son try to escape, leaving his mother in the hands of the intruder?

Suppose, in this scenario, the teenager and the intruder are fairly evenly matched. Or maybe the intruder is physically stronger. There's a high risk that the son may be killed if he tries to defend his mother. Does he have a duty to assume that risk, or should he save his own skin at the expense of his mother?

v) Consider a variation on the same scenario: instead of a mother and son, it's a husband and wife. Does the husband have a duty to protect his wife, perhaps if only to buy her time to get away, or should he throw her into the arms of the intruder to buy himself time to get away?

vi) Suppose a superbug kindles a raging pandemic that threatens to kill 90% of the world's population. Suppose there's a man who due to a genetic mutation, carries an antibody in his bloodstream that can be used to produce an effective antibiotic. 

Suppose he refuses to donate his blood. He himself is immune to the superbug. He doesn't care about the fate of the human race in general.

Should he be forced to donate his blood, to save the human race? 

vii) Suppose a man wakes up in a strange motel room. He doesn't remember how he got there. He has a bandaid on his arm.

A cellphone rings. He is told that a computer chip was implanted in his arm. It contains a recipe for producing an antidote to a catastrophic bioweapon. He is instructed to board a plane to the USA. Once he arrives, he will be taken into custody, and the computer chip will be removed. His patriotic action will prevent the human race from exposure to a catastrophic bioweapon.

Should he comply? He was kidnapped. His body was commandeered. He didn't agree to this. But now that he finds himself in this situation, does he have a duty to cooperate? 

viii) Suppose a man and wife are trapped in a dystopian society. Suppose the husband has a chance to smuggle his wife to freedom. Does he have a duty to do so?

Assuming the answer is yes, let's give the scenario a science fiction twist. Suppose the husband can smuggle his wife to freedom by digitizing his wife, uploading his digitized wife onto a computer chip, which he implants in his arm. If he makes it to the other side, he will reverse the process. 

His wife is now in his body. Does that change his duty? 

Friday, July 01, 2016

Nabeel Qureshi // Why I stopped believing Islam is a religion of peace

What is Nicene orthodoxy?

As a psychiatrist, I diagnose mental illness. And, sometimes, demonic possession.

Theological networking

The current controversy over eternal submission of the Son raises the issue of how different branches of theology are interrelated. For instance, critics of eternal submission make historical theology the standard of comparison (e.g. creeds, confessions, tradition). 

There are different branches of theology. For purposes of this post, I'll discuss the interrelationship between exegetical theology, historical theology, systematic theology, and philosophical theology. 

1. Exegetical theology

Since Christianity is a revealed religion, revealed truths, revealed propositions, lay the foundation. By the same token, exegetical theology is the starting-point. It attempts to ascertain the meaning of primary source material from which Christian theology derives. When successful, exegetical theology enjoys priority or ultimacy. In principle, if there's a conflict between exegetical theology and historical, philosophical, or systematic theology, exegetical theology trumps the others. In practice, it isn't quite that clear-cut.

2. Systematic theology

Some exegetes make a virtue of compartmentalized interpretations. They deliberately isolate their interpretations of a given Bible writer from the Bible in general. If, however, the Bible is inspired, then exegesis should aim for interpretations that are consistent with the overall theology of Scripture. Interpret the part in relation to the whole. 

Systematic theology considers the implicit as well as explicit teaching of Scripture. The logical implications of Biblical propositions, both individually and in their relation to other propositions. And with harmonizing the various propositions of Scripture. To some degree, that's something an exegete must consider on a smaller scale when expounding the "theology of Paul", the "theology of John", the "theology of Hebrews", and so on.

3. Historical theology

Ideally, historical theology codifies received interpretations of Scripture that are true interpretations of Scripture. After exegetical theology has done its job, historical theology codifies the conclusions. 

There are situations in which creeds and confessions can be treated as settled doctrine. But from a Protestant perspective, that can't be absolute. For one thing, you have a diversity of theological traditions. They can't all be right. So sifting is necessary.

Even if a creedal statement is true, there are still situations in which it's necessary to scrutinize the claim. Although the Christian faith is true, the Christian faith is new to each new generation. Whether you grew up in the church or were unchurched, it is necessary for you to ascertain the truth of Christianity. So at that stage of the process you are treating these truth-claims as open questions. Even if a theological tradition got it right, assent should be more than an accident of birth or coin flip. Creeds and confessions must be intellectually defensible. 

That doesn't mean every generation must start from scratch. Theological traditions represent large-scale interpretations of Scripture. That gives the younger generation some preexisting options to consider. We don't have to reinvent the questions and answers. It is, however, still incumbent on us to assess the received answers.

Moreover, tradition may condition us to only ask traditional questions. But sometimes we need to reexamine old issues from a fresh perspective. Otherwise, we may be stuck in a theological rut. The way an issue is framed can prejudge the answers and artificially exclude a larger range of potential answers. But sometimes we need to think outside the box rather than filtering the discussion through a venerable paradigm. 

4. Philosophical theology

There's more to Christian theology than just quoting Scripture. It is necessary to understand what Scripture means. The ability to explain Scriptural propositions in your own words. Define terms. The ability to expound and summarize revealed concepts. Philosophical theology can help to articulate the meaning of Scripture by providing vocabulary and categories. 

Exegetes sometimes commit logical fallacies because they lack philosophical training. Exegetes sometimes overlook alternative explanations because they lack conceptual resources. In that respect, philosophical theology can supplement exegetical theology.

Then there's the whole issue of hermeneutics. What is the task of the exegete? 

Where is the locus of meaning? Original intent? Should an exegete focus on the original audience or the history of reception? What is the intended audience? Is that the original audience? Or is that the community of faith? Then there's the sense/reference distinction.

These are philosophical questions. In that respect, philosophical theology can supplement exegetical theology. 

Philosophical theology can also play a role in defending divine revelation. Likewise, philosophical theology supplies historical and systematic theology with models and metaphors. Traditionally, historical theology borrows distinctions and categories from Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy. But there's no reason that can't be updated by recourse to more recent philosophical developments.

Risky or rulebound?

According to atheist philosopher Keith Parsons:
Here are four rules I think that most unbelievers would endorse: 
1) Sex should be between consenting adults. 
2) Use effective contraception. 
3) Practice safe sex. 
4) Respect marital commitments. 
That pretty much sums it up. Simple, effective, and moral.

But he later said:

Come on. Much of the joy of sex resides in spontaneity.  
We do things everyday that have some degree of risk of bad things. If I applied the same degree of caution you recommend for sex, could I even drive? Living is dangerous. You make a rational estimate of benefits vs. risks and live your life. This should be as true for sex as for anything else.

His appeal to spontaneity undermines his appeal to safe sex and respecting marital commitments. Acting in the heat of the moment. Likewise, his appeal to risk undermines his appeal to safe sex. 

What are creeds and confessions?

Entering the darkness

"Rules for sex"

I'll comment on the four rules for sex by atheist philosopher Keith Parsons:

Hey, all God's children got rules. I think that most nonbelievers follow the same sort of rule with sex that Budweiser recommends with beer: Enjoy responsibly.
Here are four rules I think that most unbelievers would endorse:
1) Sex should be between consenting adults.
2) Use effective contraception.
3) Practice safe sex.
4) Respect marital commitments.
That pretty much sums it up. Simple, effective, and moral.
By contrast, over its history, here are just some of the sex practices the Christian Church has forbidden or at least disapproved, even when practiced in private by consenting adults:
oral sex
anal sex
vaginal sex for any purpose other than procreation.
sex between males
sex between females
sex between unmarried persons, even adults ("fornication").
even "impure" thoughts
Wow. Is this the "tradition" you defend?

Let's go back through the list:

1. Why would most unbelievers endorse #1? 

i) Is Parsons appealing to moral intuition? If so, historically, many cultures have sex slaves. That's not consensual. Presumably, cultures that have sex slaves don't think it's morally wrong to have sex slaves. For instance, it's traditional for armies to take women as booty. The "spoils of war". If Parsons thinks that's wrong, he needs to explain why so many other cultures don't share his moral intuitions in that regard. 

ii) Peter Singer defends bestiality:

Is bestiality consensual? 

iii) Does Parsons think consent is a sufficient condition for morally licit actions? Take teenage boys who dare each other to perform dangerous stunts. That's consensual. But does that make it morally licit for me to encourage someone to perform a stunt that might leave him dead, disabled, or brain-damaged?

(If you think teenagers are too young to consent, I could easily substitute college students.) 

Suppose I offer a recovering junkie very pure cocaine or heroine (or the drug of choice). He finds the offer irresistible. Was it wrong of me to get him hooked all over again? After all, his acceptance was consensual. 

Suppose an older brother (17) is a drug user. His younger brother (15) wants to know what it feels like to trip out. The older brother lets the younger brother experiment with his drugs. Is that morally licit? It's consensual drug use.

iv) What about college students who go to parties with the intention of drinking to lower sexual inhibitions, and hooking up. If the strategy succeeds, is that still consensual? If not, why is that wrong from a secular perspective? 

2. #2 is odd. Why is contraception a rule for having sex? Is Parsons an antinatalist?

3. He says practice safe sex, yet he defends oral sex, anal sex, and sex between men. But those are examples of risky sex. Consider the many health hazards.  

4. It's unclear what he means by respecting marital commitments. 

i) Is he alluding to adultery? But what if consenting adults decide to have an open marriage. Marriage gives them reliable companionship. A reliable sexual partner. Someone to fall back on. But if this life is all there is, why pass up opportunities for extramarital sex? Just do what comes naturally in the heat of the moment. You won't get a second chance. 

ii) Furthermore, adultery is between consenting adults. So how does the rule #1 relate to rule #4?

iii) Or what if a couple commits to monogamy, but after a few years of marriage, and the passion wears off, one or both spouses want supplement their staid sex life with extramarital exploits.  

iv) Or what about polygamy?  

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Justification and judgment

Scripture teaches both justification by faith and judgement according to works. That seems prima facie inconsistent. If the sins of Christians have been forgiven by grace alone, what's the basis for judgment according to works? 

Because Scripture itself does not detail how to harmonize these two facts, theologians are left to speculate. 

i) The word "judgment" is ambiguous. It can't mean those who've been justified will be condemned. 

ii) Here's my own suggestion: As sinners, we suffer from moral blindspots. Sin itself renders us oblivious to some of our sins. One possible purpose for judgment according to works might be to make us cognizant of wrongdoing in cases where we were unaware of our own wrongdoing. 

iii) On a related note, to be conscious of your sins makes you more appreciative of God's gracious forgiveness. 

Did Christianity Spread by the Sword?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Ehrman on memory studies

Abortion and bodily autonomy

A stock argument for abortion rights is that outlawing abortion violates a woman's bodily integrity. There are, however, problems with that argument:

i) By that logic, an abortion violates the bodily integrity of the baby. So the argument is self-refuting.

ii) Is bodily autonomy absolute? If a depressed teenager is about to commit suicide, and I'm in a position to stop it, should I intervene, or does that violate his (or her) freedom to do whatever he wants with his own body?

iii) Do I have a right to get high or get drunk, then get behind the wheel of a car? That's what I want to do with my body. Is it wrong for government to infringe on my bodily integrity in that situation?

iv) Historically, governments haven't hesitated to draft men to fight wars. What about the bodily autonomy of men? What if they don't want their bodies to be used in war? Tough luck!

Suppose you oppose conscription. But what if it's a war of national survival, like England was facing in WWII? 

v) Traditionally, women were exempt from the draft. So the charge of sexism backfires. In this case, men were having to assume a burden that women were not. The risk of death or injury in battle. The risk of capture and torture by the enemy. 

Is Wayne Grudem a heretic?

Keep in mind that I oppose the eternal functional subordination of the Son. That said, 

1. I see critics of EFS raising two contradictory allegations:

i) EFS is an theological innovation

ii) The Nicene creed condemns EFS 

But both allegations can't very well be true. You can't simultaneously contend that EFS was developed by a subset of complementarians in the late 20C, but stands condemned by the Nicene Fathers in the 4C. These two allegations cancel each other out. I'll revisit this contradiction further down. 

2. Debate over EFS has been conflated with debate over eternal generation of the Son. 

i) That's in part because some people who support EFS oppose eternal generation. However, some people who support EFS also support eternal generation. So even if you consider rejection of eternal generation to be heretical, that would only apply to the subset of EFS proponents who reject it.

ii) One issue concerns the definition of heresy. To my knowledge, a traditional condition of heresy is denial of a formally promulgated article of faith. The denial isn't heretical unless and until a duly constituted ecclesiastical authority defines the doctrine in question. 

Content along is not a sufficient condition. Rather, there must be a prior exercise of the Church. That's what makes the denial heretical. 

But unless you think the judgment of the church is constitutive of heresy, rather than the content of the denial itself, then you're not operating with a traditional definition of heresy, as I understand it. 

Keep in mind that this requires an ecclesiology that strikes me as inconsistent with the Protestant faith. From a Protestant perspective, declaring something to be heretical is not what makes it so; rather, we declare it to be heretical because the content is heretical. Truth is prior to the declaration. The declaration isn't a constitutive act. 

3. Assuming for the sake of argument that we use the Nicene creed as an arbiter of orthodoxy, is it heretical to deny eternal generation? Let's begin by quoting the relevant article of the creed:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of
God, begotten of the Father before all ages;
Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten,
not created, of one essence with the Father
through Whom all things were made.

I quoted two English versions, which say pretty much the same thing. 

Is it heretical to deny what the Nicene creed affirms on this point? Not necessary. You have to ask, what is the implied point of contrast? 

To my knowledge, the article opposes Arianism. It opposes the view that the Son was a creature who came into being. 

By contrast, men like Grudem affirm the full divinity and eternal preexistence of the Son. They don't formulate it in the same terms as the Nicene Fathers, but they oppose the same Arian Christology that the Nicene Fathers oppose. 

4. If anything, isn't a Christology that says the Son derives his existence from the Father closer to Arianism than a Christology that affirms the aseity of the Son? 

5. We might also ask whether rejecting eternal generation is a theological innovation. From what I've read, this goes back at least as far as Moses Stuart's 1822 Letters on the Eternal Generation of the Son of God. Is a position that's been kicking around for two centuries a theological innovation? Innovative in relation to what? What's the cuff-off? 

Keep in mind that Stuart was defending the Trinity against Unitarians. 

6. However, the primary target for the charge of heresy is EFS. But even if we grant that the Nicene creed is an arbiter of orthodoxy (which is certainly disputable), the Nicene creed doesn't speak to the issue of EFS one way or the other. It looks like critics of EFS are hijacking the Nicene creed to make it condemn something that the Nicene Fathers never contemplated. 

Indeed, when critics of EFS attack it as a theological innovation, isn't that a direct admission that the Nicene Fathers did not and could not intend to condemn EFS? It wasn't even possible for them to have that in mind. So citing the Nicene creed to anathematize EFS is a bait-n-switch tactic. Even if denial of eternal generation is heretical (disputable in itself), you can't swap out eternal generation, swap in EFS, then say that's what the Nicene creed refers to. 

7. Perhaps critics would say that while the Nicene Fathers didn't intend to anathematize EFS, that's a logical implication of their Triadology. But there are several problems with that argument:

i) When someone makes a statement that has unintended implications, we normally consider that to be an ill-considered or short-sighted statement. He didn't anticipate the ramifications of his statement.

So we wouldn't ordinarily hold someone to the unintended implications of his statement. Rather, we'd say he misspoke. He spoke hastily, without due consideration for what that statement would lead to, if carried to its logical conclusion. 

ii) This isn't based on what the Nicene Fathers meant, but inferences which 21C critics are drawing in reference to an admitted theological innovation. It isn't the Nicene Fathers who are drawing this inference. 

But, then, isn't there something fishy about invoking the authority of dead bishops to retroactively condemn something that never occurred to them? They didn't have that in mind. They couldn't have that in mind. 

8. The allegation is that EFS posits two distinct wills in the Godhead, and that entails heretical subordinationism. 

i) To begin with, it's hard to see how that's a legitimate inference from anything the Nicene creed says. Indeed, Mark Jones resorts to Thomistic metaphysics (e.g. divine simplicity, God as pure act) to make his case. But it's grossly anachronistic to accuse Grudem et al. of denying the Nicene creed because their position may be at odds with Thomism. 4C Greek Fathers and Greek bishops weren't Thomists. Even if you think Thomism is the greatest thing since lava lamps, the metaphysical underpinnings of the Nicene creed aren't based on that paradigm. 

ii) Take the covenant of redemption. The Father wills to send the Son and the Son wills to be sent. Surely these are distinct volitions. One party wills to send while another party is willingly sent. That's not reducible to a single will, even though these are harmonious volitions. To send and to be sent are not equivalent actions. These involve distinct agents. The Son didn't will to send himself. 

9. Trueman talks about a breach over the very identity of God, as if that's a shocking developing. But there are long-standing disputes over the "very identity of God" in historical theology, viz. Reformed theism v. freewill theism, Latin Trinitarianism v. Eastern Trinitarianism, classical theism v. theistic personalism, apophaticism v. kataphaticism, Thomism v. Scotism. 

10. Finally, I'm puzzled by why the gatekeepers of Reformed orthodoxy have so much to say about EFS, but so little to say about libertarian Calvinism. To my knowledge, Scott Clark hasn't issued a critique of Oliver Crisp's defense of libertarian Calvinism in his 2014 monograph: Deviant Calvinism. And even though Mark Jones faulted certain aspects of the book, it's striking that he had nothing critical to say about libertarian Calvinism. Here we have a block of plastique planted at the base of Calvinism, yet the gatekeepers of Reformed orthodoxy are silent on that issue, while they obsess over EFS.  

Likewise, Trueman's campaign is driven by his vendetta against TGC, parachurch organizations, &c. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Zetetic astronomy

I got into an impromptu debate with a flat-earther. Yes, they really exist. 

A lot of Drake's biblical prooftexts conflate the issue of geocentrism with a flat earth. Those are separate issues. He seriously needs to upgrade his exegetical resources. For instance:

A few questions for Drake:

i) If the earth is flat, how is it possible, if I board a plane in San Diego and fly continuously in the same direction (east) to arrive back at San Diego? How can east turn into west on a flat earth?

ii) If the earth is flat, and I travel far enough in the same direction, can I fall off the edge of the earth? Is that like a waterfall where the oceans empty into outer space? If I scale a mountain at the end of the earth, will I fall off the edge of the earth into outer space? 

iii) What shape does Drake think the flat earth is? A square? Rectangle? Disk? Cylinder?

iv) What does Drake make of satellite photography of the spherical earth?

v) What does Drake make of the earth viewed from outer space (e.g. Apollo 11)? 

vi) If Drake thinks the earth is square (e.g. "corners" of the earth), why is the shadow of the earth circular during a lunar eclipse?

vii) If the earth is flat, why is it day at some longitudes while it's night at other longitudes? 

Shrinking Sun proves Sun is moving away during a sunset not the Alleged spin of the Earth.

Excuse me, but as any observer can see, the sun appears to be larger, not smaller, on the horizon (at sunrise and sunset). Same thing with the moon.

Polaris and the Constellations have never changed their position.

Depends on your latitude. Also, they could change their positions, but if everything in the Milky Way is moving in the same direction, that wouldn't be noticeable. 

If the Heliocentric explanation of the sphericity of the planets be correct, namely Gravity, the Earth should be a perfectly smooth sphere as should the moon, yet we have massive topographical variation including massive mountains and there are massive craters on the moon.

Gravity is not the only force, Take covalent bonds.

Scripture denotes our location as being under the Sun not orbiting around the Sun. (The Entire book of Ecclesiastes)

If the earth is always under the sun (and the sun is never under the earth), then sunrise and sunset should alternate every other day from east to west to west to east.

Solar eclipses display the sun and moon as the exact same size.

As if there's no relation between distance and apparent size. Does Drake think mountains are actually smaller at a distance? Do they grow as we approach them? 

I have taken numerous flights from Kentucky to California and back and both trips took the same time. If the earth was spinning hundreds of miles an hour Eastward it should have taken much less time to fly from Kentucky to California and how the California to Kentucky flight happened remains a mystery.

Drake acts as though gravity ceases the moment you get off the ground. By that logic, passengers should be floating inside the cabin. Why does he think people fall when they jump from skyscrapers if there is no gravitational pull in the air?

It's like saying if I walk along the deck of a passenger ship, it should take me less time to go in the direction the ship is headed (stem to bow) than in reverse (bow to stern).  

Here's a scientific explanation:

The chariot of the sun

The question, however, arises in the modern mind, schooled as it is in the almost infinite nature of sky and space: Did scientifically naive peoples really believe in a solid sky, or were they just employing a mythological or poetic concept? Or were they, perhaps, just using phenomenal language with no attending belief that the sky actually was a solid object? That is, were they referring to the mere appearance of the sky as a solid dome but able to distinguish between that appearance and the reality?
The answer to these questions, as we shall see more clearly below, is that scientifically naive peoples employed their concept of a solid sky in their mythology, but that they nevertheless thought of the solid sky as an integral part of their physical universe. And it is precisely because ancient peoples were scientifically naive that they did not distinguish between the appearance of the sky and their scientific concept of the sky. They had no reason to doubt what their eyes told them was true, namely, that the stars above them were fixed in a solid dome and that the sky literally touched the earth at the horizon. So, they equated appearance with reality and concluded that the sky must be a solid physical part of the universe just as much as the earth itself.

There are several problems with Seely's argument, but I'll focus on two:

i) One obvious problem with his argument is that many ancient people had occasion to travel to, and past, the horizon. Suppose there are hills in the distance where you live. That's your horizon. That appears to be where the sky meets the earth. But of course, many people traveled over the hills or through a slope between two hills. So they knew, as a matter of common experience, that there was no solid dome which literally touched the earth at the horizon.

ii) As a boy I engaged in a certain amount of stargazing. You can see the moon and stars travel across the night sky. However, you can't tell by sight whether the stars are moving with the sky or through the sky.  

On one model, the stars are embedded in a solid, rotating dome. On another model, the stars move through empty space. 

Consider the Greek myth about the horse-drawn chariot of the sun. On that view, the sun is not embedded in a solid firmament. It's not the firmament that moves. Rather, the sun moves through the air. 

iii) However, one observation that's inconsistent with the firmament model is retrograde motion. If the celestial luminaries are embedded in a solid dome, they must move in the same speed in the same direction. It's the rotating dome that moves them. They must move in tandem with the rotating dome.

If, however, stars move through empty space, then they are free to reverse course. Keep in mind, too, that according to some ancient mythologies, the celestial luminaries were gods or living beings. On that assumption, there's no reason they couldn't change course of their own accord. 

Naked-eye astronomy doesn't select for a solid dome. Even if you go by appearances, mere appearances don't distinguish the stars moving with the sky from the stars moving through the sky. 

I'm struck by how often "scholars" like Seely, Enns, and Walton presume to speak for how the ancients viewed the natural world, when it's evident that "scholars" like Seely, Enns, and Walton are utterly out of touch with nature. Clearly they don't spend much time out of doors. They don't observe the workings of the natural world. 

iv) As I understand it, the scientific explanation for retrograde motion is that the solar system is like a race track. Planets on inner lanes have less distance to cover, so they can overtake planets on outer lanes. In the time it takes a planet on an outer lane to make it around the track just once, a planet on an inner lane can do it twice. Like passing a car: It's ahead of you until you pass it, after which it's behind you. But on a circular path, you may once again catch up to it. 

The extreme improbability of one's own life

Monday, June 27, 2016

Carthago delendum est

Baptist Press

After an impassioned speech by Russell Moore, by turns tearful and fiery, the SBC passed a resolution exhorting corporate repentance for the Punic Wars, summoning Italian-Americans to do penance for the Third Punic War, and banning the use of salt in cafeterias at SBC seminaries and colleges. 

(Michael L. Brown pleaded with the convention to make an exception for kosher salt.) 

WHEREAS, In 146 BC, the Romans, led by Scipio the Younger, besieged Carthage

WHEREAS, They turned North Africa into a Roman colony 

WHEREAS, They plowed the city under with salt 

RESOLVED, That we repent in sackcloth and ashes for the imperial aggressions of our palefaced forebears

RESOLVED, That we call on all Italian-Americans to bewail the imperial aggressions of their Roman ancestors

RESOLVED, That we forbid the use of salt in cafeterias at SBC seminaries and colleges, to bring forth fruits meet for repentance 

Nominal Protestants

i) The present controversy over the Nicene creed, eternal generation, and eternal submission of the Son, reminds me of how the Anglican Communion began to break up after the ECUSA ordained a sodomite priest to the episcopate. The Anglican Communion has roughly three factions: liberals, evangelicals, and Anglo-Catholics. When the ECUSA made Vicky Gene Robinson a bishop, that exposed the fault lines. The direction in which members of the ECUSA broke over this issue depended on which side of the fault lines they occupied. Liberals stayed in the ECUSA because they felt right at home with the ordination of homosexuals. 

But the evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics had to make a choice. Some of them realigned with "flying" bishops or primates outside their normal geographical jurisdiction. Some Anglo-Catholics became Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox. 

ii) The current Trinitarian controversy has exposed similar fault lines. You have nominal Protestants who were never at ease with Protestant identity. Their gravitational center is catholic Christianity. That's the direction they break in. 

iii) One symptom of this outlook is the charge of "biblicism". Although they often act as though that has an assumed meaning which everyone grants, they seem to use it in the sense of Protestants who interpret the Bible without recourse to the hermeneutical filter of the catholic tradition, or traditional creeds and confessions. 

They accuse "biblicists" of succumbing to the illusion that you can interpret the Bible without presuppositions. They compare "biblicists" to Arians and Socinians. Heretics take refuge in sola Scriptura. 

They say the Bible is the church's book. It must be interpreted within the community of faith, and not individualistically. 

In response, several things need to be said:

iv) This is exactly the argument that Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists use in objection to the Protestant faith. We have Protestants who try to ride two different horses. Pick one or the other. When you try to straddle two horses, you fall in between. 

v) The critics are committed to the primacy of historical theology. But that's ironic because there's an obvious sense in which you must study Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, the Westminster Confession, &c. in the same way you study St. Paul or the Gospels. Take Richard Muller's The Unaccommodated Calvin, or God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius.

Church historians employ the same basic methodology as Bible scholars. Men like Richard Muller, Mark Jones, Scott Clark, and Carl Trueman strive to interpret Luther, Calvin et al. in relation to their intellectual background and sociopolitical context. Parallel questions that Bible scholars consider regarding the provenance of a Biblical book. What occasioned the book. Its purpose. Genre. Target audience. Original intent. Literary conventions. The locus of meaning.  

These men are "biblicists" when it comes to their own field of study. The only difference is the period. 

vi) The main difference is that when Bible scholars exegete an author of Scripture, for them the relevant frame of reference concerns hermeneutical factors that are past and present in relation to the author, whereas the critics of "biblicism" wish to make the reception history of the Bible their interpretive frame of reference. Rather than endeavoring to recover the original meaning of biblical texts, reception history is about the history of interpretation. How readers responded to the Bible. The subsequent influence of the Bible on theology. New meanings that readers confer on the ancient text, as the text interacts with their own situation, their own priorities. 

By contrast, a Bible scholar typically tries to bracket his personal beliefs and consider the text of Scripture on its own terms.  

vii) Moreover, appeal to tradition repeats the same ambiguities and competing interpretations with regard to the meaning of tradition, whether that's patristic theology, the canons of Dort, the Westminster Confession, &c. 

"Pervasive interpretive pluralism"

Alexander the Great in Bible prophecy

This is a continuation of my post on examples of fulfilled non-Messianic prophecies.

In the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar a vision appeared to me, Daniel, after that which appeared to me at the first. And I saw in the vision; and when I saw, I was in Susa the citadel, which is in the province of Elam. And I saw in the vision, and I was at the Ulai canal. I raised my eyes and saw, and behold, a ram standing on the bank of the canal. It had two horns, and both horns were high, but one was higher than the other, and the higher one came up last. I saw the ram charging westward and northward and southward. No beast could stand before him, and there was no one who could rescue from his power. He did as he pleased and became great.As I was considering, behold, a male goat came from the west across the face of the whole earth, without touching the ground. And the goat had a conspicuous horn between his eyes. He came to the ram with the two horns, which I had seen standing on the bank of the canal, and he ran at him in his powerful wrath. I saw him come close to the ram, and he was enraged against him and struck the ram and broke his two horns. And the ram had no power to stand before him, but he cast him down to the ground and trampled on him. And there was no one who could rescue the ram from his power. Then the goat became exceedingly great, but when he was strong, the great horn was broken, and instead of it there came up four conspicuous horns toward the four winds of heaven (Dan 8:1-8). 
“And now I will show you the truth. Behold, three more kings shall arise in Persia, and a fourth shall be far richer than all of them. And when he has become strong through his riches, he shall stir up all against the kingdom of Greece. Then a mighty king shall arise, who shall rule with great dominion and do as he wills. And as soon as he has arisen, his kingdom shall be broken and divided toward the four winds of heaven, but not to his posterity, nor according to the authority with which he ruled, for his kingdom shall be plucked up and go to others besides these (Dan 11:2-4).

Now I'll quote two liberal commentators on these Danielic passages:

[Dan 8:5-8] The imperial leadership more powerful than that of Persia will be Alexander's…The description of Alexander's flying advance recalls that of Cyrus in Isa 41:3 and the winged leopard in Dan 7:6 (cf. 1 Macc 1:1-4). Over a period of four years between 344 and 331 BC, Alexander quite demolished the Persian empire and established an empire of his own extending from Europe to India. On the breakup of his empire, see 11:4. J. Goldingay, Daniel (Word, 1989), 209.  
[Dan 11:3-4] "Then a warrior king…will rule a great realm." Alexander the Great came to the throne of Macedon in 336 BC; he invaded and conquered the territory from Turkey to India and thus came to rule the largest empire the world had yet known. "But as soon as he arises, his empire will break up…": Alexander reigned over this empire for less than a decade. He died of fever in 332 BC and his empire shattered. Ibid. 295. 
[Dan 8:5] a he-goat came from the west: Jerome and the Peshitta take the goat as Alexander, but it is clear from vv 8 and 21 that he is not the goat but the great horn. 
a conspicuous horn: The singularity of the horn [i.e. unicorn] reflects the singular importance of Alexander the Great. 
[Dan 8:8] The great horn was broken: The transparent reference to the death of Alexander has been recognized from Josephus on.
Four grew in its place: These are Alexander's generals who succeeded him, the Diadochi,: Ptolemy Lagus, Philip Aridaeus, Antigonus, and Seleucus Nicanor. J. Collins, Daniel (Fortress, 1993), 331. 
[Dan 11:2b] The "stirring up" refers rather to the campaign of Alexander. 
[Dan 11:3] A warrior king will arise: This figure represents Alexander.  
[Dan 11:4] his kingdom will be broken: Alexander's sudden death is also recorded in Dan 8:8. Ibid. 377. 

These are from the two standard commentaries on Daniel by liberal scholars. Both commentators identify Alexander the Great as a figure alluded to in Daniel's oracles. Conservative commentators share that identification. My preliminary point is that you don't have to be a conservative Christian to think Daniel is talking about Alexander the Great in these passages. 

If the oracles of Daniel were written down before the rise of Alexander, that would mean Daniel accurately forecast his career and demise. But that's naturally impossible. Alexander was an exceptional figure. And the geographical pattern of his conquests was fortuitous. Such historical contingencies are naturally unpredictable. 

Ironically, liberals scholars take the very accuracy of the descriptions to mean they were written subsequent to the events in question. "Prophecy" after the fact. History written in the guise of prophecy.

However, that explanation runs into obstacles with the history of reception. Let's quote a few scholars who illustrate the problem of a Maccabean date given the reception history of Daniel:

The book of Daniel was accepted as canonical by the community of Qumran (who produced the Dead Sea Scrolls). This is telling because this group emerged as a separate party in Judaism between 171 and 167 BC, before the proposed late date. They would not have accepted the book if it had appeared after the split. I. Duguid, “Daniel”, ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 1581-1582. 
Daniel is not an apocalypse of Essene origin. How, then, can its enormous influence on the Essenes be explained, and their acceptance of it as canonical, unless it had been known before Maccabean times? The Essenes seem to have dated their own definite emergence as a party between 171 and 167 BC, and any apocalypse produced from then on, if it had not come from the Essenes, would have come from their rivals, and would therefore not have secured Essene acceptance. R. Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church (Eerdmans, 1986), 415n75. 
One of the eight manuscripts of Daniel from Qumran, 4QDan, is among the oldest biblical manuscripts discovered there, and is commonly dated to 120-115 BC. Cross who assumes the standard critical dating for Daniel, states that this copy of Daniel is "no more than about a half century younger than the autograph. This would mean that this manuscript is a copy of Daniel produced no later than about 115 BC.  
There can be no doubt that Daniel was considered a genuine prophetic book by the Qumran sectarians…To account for the widespread evidence for the acceptance of Daniel as canonical, the supposition that Daniel was only composed in about 165 BC would require it to have gained very rapid acceptance as a genuine prophecy by virtually all known Jewish sects in the late Hellenistic and early Herodian periods. The probability of this rapid and widespread acceptance of a recent composition is extremely remote. It is made even more remote by the fact that critical scholars often claim that the end of Dan 11 and the end of Dan 12 were attempts at genuine prophecy by the author of Daniel, but they proved to be inaccurate. If they were recent and inaccurate (false) prophecies, it is almost impossible to imagine that there has survived no record of controversy among Jewish sects about the prophets status of Daniel. Surely some would have objected that Daniel was a false prophet (cf. Deut 18:20-22 and that the book was only a recent work and a forgery attributed to a much earlier figure from the Babylonian and Persian periods. A. Steinmann, Daniel (Concordia, 2008 ), 17-18.
Finally, we may look at that section of the book which more than all others raises the question of its dating. It is the majority view that the long, detailed prophecy of chapters 10-12 must be, and is, largely a vaticinium ex eventu. By creating the impression that all these historical events, which his readers would know had actually taken place, had in fact been predicted in detail and fulfilled inexorably to the letter, the author aimed, on this view, to produce in his readers overwhelming confidence in his few, but major, real predictions. These were that Antiochus would make a third invasion of Egypt, this time very successfully, but that on his return journey he would suddenly meet his end, when encamped between Jerusalem and the sea; that there would then follow a time of unprecedented trouble for Israel, out of which nonetheless they would be delivered; that then the resurrection of the dead would take place, and thus the End would have arrived; and that all this would take place within a period of about 3 1⁄2 years measured from Antiochus' setting up of the abomination of desolation. But this last event, according to the majority view, must have already taken place before the book was written and published (for had the book been published before that event, the prediction of it would have been a genuine predictive prophecy). How long after the setting up of the abomination of desolation it took our author to compile this book with its remarkably complex structure the majority view does not tell us; nor how long it took to get it published and into circulation. Practical sense suggests that by the time it was written and published, a considerable part of the 3 1⁄2 years must have gone by. The book would now be promising that the End would occur within an even shorter time than 3 1⁄2 years. Fortunately, when the book was published, Daniel's reading public, close-knit though they must have been, never realized who the author was - the publisher never spilt the beans - and took the book for an ancient book without wondering why they had never heard of it before. They believed its vaticinium ex eventu to have been a genuine prophecy, and put their faith in the author's prediction, were very encouraged by it, and prepared to meet the End. Unfortunately, of course, nothing happened. Antiochus did not invade Egypt again. He did not encamp between Jerusalem and the sea. He died, but not there: he died in fact far away out east. There was trouble for Israel as always, but nothing unprecedented. And the resurrection of the dead did not take place. The other things which other chapters in Daniel had promised would happen at the End, did not take place either: all Gentile imperial power was not everywhere removed, and universal dominion was not given to Israel.26 The only thing that took place within the time was the deliverance and cleansing of the sanctuary. Nevertheless the faithful having discovered the predictions to be false were not discouraged. They still accepted the predictions as genuine predictions and the whole book as authoritative; and they carefully preserved it and quoted it (e.g. 1 Macc. 2:60). Later they canonized it. At this point the majority view, based as it is on the alleged incredibility of predictive prophecy, becomes itself so incredible… B. Gooding, "The Literary Structure of the Book of Daniel and Its Implications," TynBul 32 (1981), 73-74.