Saturday, July 30, 2016

Patsies for Trump

I'm going to comment on an op-ed by Wayne Grudem:

I like Grudem. He's a good man who's done a lot of good. 

There are roughly two different ways to defend voting for Trump in the general election. One is simply about the odds. Hillary is probably worse than Trump. As Dennis Prager put it, behind Door #1 is a man-eating lion. Behind Door 2 there might be a beautiful princess or a man-eating lion. Given those alternatives, it's rational to opt for Door #2. 

Mind you, I think that's simplistic, but it's a reasonable position. 

But then you have people who indulge in willful self-delusion to justify voting for Trump. I think Grudem's problem is that he's guileless, and so he projects his guilelessness onto Trump. Some people are too good to understand evil people. Their virtue blinds them to evil people. They can't relate to evil people. They can't see past the mask. They can't work themselves into that devious mindset. Ironically, Grudem is too ingenuous to recognize what a conman Trump is. That's too alien to Grudem's own character. Unfortunately, that makes him a easy mark for imposters like Trump. 

I agree with most of Grudem's principles. Problem is, Trump is a mismatch for the principles. 

Friday, July 29, 2016

Literary Greek

Bart Ehrman repeatedly says the traditional authorship of the canonical Gospels must be false because they are written in sophisticated literary Greek whereas the disciples of Jesus were Aramaic-speaking peasants. He also judges 1 Peter to be pseudonymous for the same reason.

The way Ehrman frames the argument is false on the face of it.

i) According to traditional authorship, only one of the four Evangelists would even be a candidate for "an Aramaic-speaking peasant": John. Certainly that description doesn't fit Matthew, Mark, or Luke. 

ii) It's simplistic to say John was an Aramaic-speaking peasant. For one thing, he had entree with the high priest. That suggests he moved in higher social circles. He was well-connected. 

The next question is whether the Gospels are even written in sophisticated literary Greek. Keep in mind that this is only germane to Jewish authors. Since Luke was gentile, there's be no incongruity in his writing in literary Greek. 

I'm going to quote the analysis of Nigel Turner in A Grammar of the New Testament Greek; Volume IV: Style (T&T Clark, 1980). I'm just giving samples of his detailed analysis. 

Unlike Ehrman, Turner is a Greek scholar by specialization. That's his area of expertise. 



Howard concurred with Lagrange that the Greek was translation Greek (11).

There is considerable evidence favoring influence of an exclusively Aramaic kind upon the style of Mark, but the case for the translation of documents is somewhat weakened by the fact that here in the same gospel are instances both of exclusive Aramaisms and exclusive Hebraisms side by side (15). 

Mark's style is conspicuously different from the Ptolemaic Papyri and closer to the LXX, following the order: article>noun>article>genitive (54 times). He never has the position which is common in non-Biblical Greek: article>article>genitive>noun (17). 

Some features of Markan style recall Latin constructions and vocabulary. That they are probably more frequent in Mark than in other NT texts, except the Pastoral epistles, may raise the question whether Mark was written in Italy in a kind of Greek that was influenced by Latin. However, supposing that his language is influenced in that way, we presume that it could have happened as well in the Roman provinces (29).


On the whole, Matthew is not as Septuagintal in style as Luke (36).

It is sometimes assumed that Matthew writes Greek of a less Aramaic quality than Mark, and that he tends to soften the Semiticisms in general. That is not always true: we have found already many Semiticisms which may be attributed to Matthew independently of Mark.

If we examine the Markan sections of Matthew we shall find the contrary evidence, suggesting that Matthew has altered Mark to something more Semitic, conforming what we have already found…It would seem then that there is very little to choose between the relative Semitism of Mark's and Matthew's style (37).


Hebrew influence: This is far more extensive, and is not confined to the Infancy narrative (46).

The literal translation of Hebrew infinitive absolute comes into Biblical Greek from the LXX (47).

Physiognomical expressions: The large proportion of its occurrences are not in the Koine, but in Biblical literature, and the papyri instances are relatively slight when compared line by line with the LXX, Testament of Abraham, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, Greek Enoch, Psalms of Solomon, and other works of this kind. There are 34 instances in Luke Acts, 31 in Revelation. In view of its place in Luke's own composition, it is not only a word of translation Greek but belongs to Jewish Greek (49).  

Semitic influence: This is vast, enabling the respective advocates of Aramaic and Hebraic sources to claim the features as Aramaic or Hebrew to suit their purpose (50).

And (or for) behold! An exclusively Biblical Septuagintal phrase, perhaps also from Aramaic, it is frequent in the LXX, and Luke and Paul probably obtained the expression from here. As it occurs in the possibly "free" Greek of the Testament of Solomon (seven times) and Testament of Abraham (ten times) it may be a feature of free Jewish Greek, derived perhaps from the translated books. It is scattered throughout Luke-Acts… (53).


The Shepherd of Hermas [has] the same kind of Greek, influenced by Jewish idiom and marked by an over-use of asyndeton, though to a less extent than John (70).

The place of the verb is important: in Luke and John it is so often in the primary position that it is no longer secular Greek (72). 

The Gospel vocabulary is limited to 1011 words, only 112 which are NT hapax. Many of these words are repeated, so that the vocabulary is only 6 1/2 percent of total word-use, almost the lowest in the NT (76).

We conclude that John's language throughout is characteristic of Jewish Greek, syntactically very simple, dignified but without the flexibility of the secular language, pointlessly varied in syntax and vocabulary… (78).

[Jewish Greek] appears in some free-Greek books of the LXX (e.g. Tobit), and some Jewish works as far away in time as the Testament of Abraham and the Testament of Solomon, which cannot be shown to be translations of Semitic originals. Ignorance of Greek as a cause of Jewish Greek, is altogether less probably than the influence of the Greek Bible through widely scattered synagogues, forming a new community language (78).

We must conclude that 1 Peter wears a veneer of good stylistic revision upon a basic draft of the same kind of Greek that is found elsewhere in the NT. It is tempting to ascribe the veneer to an amanuensis, not necessarily Silvanus (130). 

The Superiority Of Jesus' Miracles

"No other man has ever remotely approximated the abundance of faith cures worked by Christ. No faith-healer, shrine, or medical experiment has ever even begun to cure many entire towns or many large groups of all kinds of disease….The lavishness of the cures of Christ points to the hand of God….Even two thousand years after the events, the signs of Christ retain to us living today indicative force approached by no other non-Christian prodigies. The words of Christ still apply: 'If you are not willing to believe me, believe the works' (Jn 10:38)….still, after nineteen centuries, the light from his works makes that of all others seem as darkness. His works shine as a beacon guiding all men to look again at his words, the first and last source of peace." (Robert Smith, Comparative Miracles [St. Louis, Missouri: B. Herder Book Co., 1965], 176-8)

Later miracle workers were inferior to Christ, but there were ongoing Christian miracles. In the patristic era, for example:

"Ramsey MacMullen reviews testimonies of people [in the earliest centuries of Christianity] believing because they had seen miraculous events…He gives many instances of Christian persuasion through exorcism, healing, and other strange deeds with reference to figures such as Gregory the Wonderworker…MacMullen also gives instances of conversion in paganism through wondrous deeds…MacMullen remarks that the church grew in historically significant numbers through demonstrations of miraculous power….He [Celsus] charges (1.6 [59,8-10 Koet.]) that 'Christians are powerful because of the names and invocations of certain demons.'" (John Cook, The Interpretation Of The New Testament In Greco-Roman Paganism [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002], n. 78 on 34, 39)

For more about topics like the preeminence of Jesus' miracles, the evidence for the miracles of Christianity, and their superiority over non-Christian ones, see here and here. On prophecy fulfillment in particular, see here. And here on Jesus' resurrection.

Dick Morris on Hillary

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Beat the devil

William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) was a Victorian painter best-known for his famous Light of the World. To my knowledge, he was the most pious member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. He made four trips to the Holy Land, which he used to lend verisimilitude to his paintings. For instance, his painting of The Scapegoat was set on the shores of the Dead Sea. The unforgiving landscape is authentic.

His Christian paintings harmonize realism with religious symbolism by evoking traditional typology. He encountered technical barriers in attempting to paint The Triumph of the Innocents. This painting blends elements of the Flight into Egypt with the Massacre of the Innocents. In this painting, the souls of the martyred children accompany the Holy Family into Egypt. There's an interplay between natural lighting (moonlight) with supernatural lightning (the nimbic aura of the sainted children). 

In a letter, Hunt recounts an uncanny experience he had, when he felt he suddenly achieved a psychological and technical breakthrough. His experience reminds me of how Daniel's prayer was impeded by demonic opposition (Dan 10). 

The story about the unaccountable noise, you will remember, I gave as an illustration of the degree to which the difficulty with my picture has distressed me. For four years this torment has been going on, wasting my life, and health, and powers, just when I believe they should be at the best, all through a stupid bit of temper on the part of a good friend. I don't like to hold him responsible, although his agency caused the beginning of my difficulties, but I have got into the way of thinking that it is one of many troubles during these seven years (balanced by much joy of my last four years) which the Father of Mischief himself only could contrive. What I told you is only a good story, as my impressions give the experience. It is not evidence, remember, one way or the other, although I give the exact truth. I was on Christmas Day induced to go and work at the studio because I had prepared a new plan of curing the twisted surface, and, till I could find it to be a practicable one, it was useless to turn to work which I had engagements to take up on the following days. When I arrived it was so dark that it was possible to do nothing, except with a candle held in my hand along with the palette. I laboured thus from about eleven. On getting to work I noticed the unusual quietness of the whole establishment, and I accounted for it by the fact that all other artists were with their families and friends. I alone was there at the group of studios because of this terrible and doubtful struggle with the devil, which, one year before, had brought me to the very portals of death ; indeed, almost, I may say, beyond these, during my delirium. Many days and nights too, till past midnight, at times in my large, dark studio in Jerusalem, had I stood with a candle, hoping to surmount the evil each hour, and the next day I had found all had fallen into disorder again, as though I had been vainly striving against destiny. The plan I was trying this Christmas morning I had never thought of before the current week, but it might be that even this also would fail. As I groaned over the thoughts of my pains, which were interwoven with my calculations of the result of the coming work over my fresh preparation of the ground, I gradually saw reason to think that it promised better, and I bent all my energies to advance my work to see what the later crucial touches would do. I hung back to look at my picture. I felt assured that I should succeed. I said to myself half aloud, "I think I have beaten the devil!" and stepped down, when the whole building shook with a convulsion, seemingly immediately behind my easel, as if a great creature were shaking itself and running between me and the door, I called out, "What is it?" but there was no answer, and the noise ceased. I then looked about ; it was between half-past one and two, and perfectly like night, only darker ; for ordinarily the lamps in the square show themselves after sunset, and on this occasion the fog hid everything. I went to the door, which was locked as I had left it, and I noticed that there was no sign of human or other creature being about. I went back to my work really rather cheered by the grotesque suggestion that came into my mind that the commotion was the evil one departing, and it was for this I told you the circumstance on the day of your visit. I do not pretend that this experience could be taken as evidence to support the doctrine of supernatural dealings with man. There might have been some disturbance of the building at that moment that caused the noise which I could not trace ; indeed, I did not take pains to do this. Half an hour afterwards I heard an artist, who works two studios past mine, come up the stair, and before he arrived by my door he said to some one with him, " It is no use going in, it is as dark as pitch," and they went down again. This was the only being that came to my floor during my whole stay, which was till 3.30. I perhaps should have taken more pains to explain the riddle, but while I quite accept the theory of gradual development in creation, I believe that there is a " divinity that shapes our ends " every day and every hour. So the question to me is not whether there was a devil or not, but whether that noise was opportune, for I still hope that the wicked one was defeated on Christmas morning about half-past one. Thus, you see what a child I am ! — Yours truly, W. Holman Hunt. William Minto, ed., Autobiographical notes of the life of William Bell Scott : and notices of his artistic and poetic circle of friends, 1830 to 1882 (New York: Harper Brothers, 1892), 2:229-31.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Tell me what's true

Some years ago a student came to me in anguish, confessing that he intended to convert from his Protestantism to Roman Catholicism. He was in anguish because, of course, this would cause some consternation, if not disruption, within his family and among his friends. I asked him why he planned to convert and he said “Because I need someone else to tell me what is true.” He clearly meant (and said) he wanted the pope to decide truth for him. First, with tongue in cheek, I offered to be his desired arbiter, decider, of truth. He declined my offer. Second, I pointed out to him that by deciding to convert he was deciding for himself what to believe about truth. He had not thought of that.

Although this stands on its own two feet, it's worth making some additional points:

i) What's the goal? Is it to avoid believing falsehoods? But suppose the institution you choose to tell you what's true is unreliable? If the Roman Magisterium or Eastern Orthodox tradition is not a reliable arbiter of truth, then there's certainly no presumption that you will believe fewer falsehoods. If you rely on someone else to tell you what's true, and you pick the wrong horse, you can easily end up believing more falsehoods that if you use your own judgment. 

ii) What makes some people think they have the right to contract out their beliefs to a second party? What if you are directly answerable to God for what you believe? What if God takes a dim view of people who give a religious institution a blank check? What if God didn't authorize you to delegate those decisions to someone else? 

iii) Joining the church of Rome or the Orthodox church is not an alternative to denominationalism. Rather, you've decided to join the Roman Catholic denomination or the Eastern Orthodox denomination. 

iv) Even if, hypothetically, the idea of a magisterium sounds preferable, if the actual candidate is demonstrably unreliable, then that's a nonstarter. 

v) Does God hold you accountable for having false beliefs, or does God hold you accountable for why you believe it? Suppose you make a good faith effort to believe what's true. Will God condemn you if you made an innocent mistake? If you made the most of your limited opportunities, but failed to get it right, is that culpable? Is that what God cares about? Or was the fact that you were conscientious, that you did the best you could given your natural aptitude and the available evidence, praiseworthy even if you happen to be in error? How does Scripture prioritize our duties? For instance: Love God with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices (Mk 12:33). Here the key consideration is the motivation.

The end of freedom

I can't forecast the future with assurance, but here's a plausible trajectory, based on what we see happening in Europe and the UK. Muslim immigration will destroy a free and open society. 

When Muslims immigrate to a Western country, they bring their social pathologies with them. Once the percentage of Muslims reaches a certain threshold, authorities confront a painful dilemma:

i) Take for granted that a certain incidence of Muslim-related rape, gang-rape, honor-killing, sex trafficking, and domestic jihadist attacks, &c., are now an ineradicable fixture of life in the host country. That's something the general public needs to get used to. 

ii) Expel the Muslims. 

The problem with (ii) is that if you wait until you have millions of Muslims in your country, expelling them will be very violent. Because (ii) is such a drastic options, authorities settle for (i). 

Even if you restrict Muslim immigration, because they generally have higher birthrates than the locals, their percentage of the population will expand over time. 

Having opted for (ii), this leads to certain policies:

1. At best, it becomes an exercise in keeping Muslim criminality at manageable levels. That includes no-go zones where police have simply written off certain areas. 

2. Police will surveil Muslim communities. This, however, will give police a pretext to engage in dragnet surveillance of the general public. Everyone's communications and activities will be monitored.

3. Police won't protect you or your dependents from Muslim crime. Police won't allow you to protect yourself or your dependents from Muslim crime. Rather, the policy will be to appease Muslims to stave off rioting. 

4. Speech and actions which Muslims deem to be provocative will be illegal. Muslims won't be punished for responding to (alleged) provocative speech and actions. Rather, the (alleged) provocateur will be punished. 

5. The ruling class will find this arrangement preferable. A surveillance state and security state empowers the ruling class. In gives the ruling class the pretext and apparatus (e.g. security forces) to engage in social engineering to promote its utopian agenda. Members of the ruling class live in posh gated communities where they don't suffer the consequences of social policies they inflict on the general public. The ruling class will rarely encounter Muslims. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Stalling on Stalin

Choosing between Trump and Hillary

It's often said that choosing between Hillary and Trump is a choice between the lesser of two evils. But in actuality, we could argue that choosing between Hillary and Trump is a choice between two greater evils. 

Treating people as means

I'll respond to a statement by a commenter on my blog:

A related objection that you (and others) might want to respond to is the claim that Christianity (and especially Calvinism) is evil because its God accepts the principle that "the ends justify the means" and that therefore the Christian God apparently practices a consequentialist morality. Finally, it seems to me that as Calvinists we can't evade the conclusion that God purposes to ultimately bless the elect at the expense of the non-elect/reprobate…How can we Calvinists respond to the charge made by atheists and Arminians (et al.) that that's immoral for God to do that?

i) Since many atheists subscribe to consequentialism, it's hard to see how an atheist is in any position to say Calvinism is evil because it (allegedly) operates with a consequentialist ethic. Consequentialism is compatible with atheism. Those are not opposing positions. Peter Singer is a secular consequentialist. Indeed, the most influential secular bioethicist of his generation. Even if an atheist rejects consequentialism, that's independent of atheism. So that goes to an intramural debate within atheism.

ii) Consider some standard definitions of consequentialism:

Consequentialism is the view that morality is all about producing the right kinds of overall consequences [IEP].  
Whether an act is morally right depends only on consequences (as opposed to the circumstances or the intrinsic nature of the act or anything that happens before the act) [SEP].

A critic has to show that according to Calvinism, God's actions are solely justified by the consequences. The fact that Calvinism has a teleological component doesn't make that the only consideration in Reformed theodicy. 

iii) The onus is on the critic to defend Kantian deontologism. We can reject the proposition that the end always justifies the means without taking the polar opposite position that the end never justifies the means. That's a false dichotomy. Surely we can stake out a mediating position between those two extremes, viz. some ends justify some means.

For instance, suppose I'm morbidly obese. That's detrimental to my health, so I go on a diet. Doesn't the goal of lowering the risk to my health justify dieting as a means to that end? 

iv) Perhaps, though, a critic will say he's not objecting to the principle in general, but to the specific case of using people as means rather than ends. But even on that restriction, is there something inherently wrong with using people as means? If I break my ankle skateboarding and go to the doctor for medical treatment, my aim is to repair the damage and receive painkillers, and I'm using the physician as a means to that end. But surely that's not immoral. So the critic will have to present a much narrower objection. 

v) Perhaps his objection is that we should refrain from using people merely as means. Or we shouldn't use people without their consent. 

If so, why should I accept that claim? For instance, even if (ex hypothesi) it's wrong to use innocent people as a means to an end, what about evil people? What if, by their evil, they have forfeited their prima facie immunity from harm? For instance, suppose a terror master uses couriers to send and receive messages. Suppose, unbeknownst to the courier, a counterterrorist organization plants a remote-control bomb on the courier so that when he visits the terror master, the bomb is detonated, killing the terrorist and thereby saving hundreds or thousands of innocent lives. That's using the courier as a means to an end, but so what? The courier is culpable for working with the notorious terrorist. 

Likewise, what if a country is dominated by two drug cartels. The authorities lack the wherewithal to defeat the cartels directly. Instead, they stage a hit on one cartel to make it look like it was attacked by the other cartel. That foments a war between the two cartels. They destroy each other. Although that's a ruthless tactic, since both cartels are evil, what's wrong with using them against each other to destroy each other?

vi) Finally, freewill theists like Jerry Walls and William Lane Craig resort to an end-justifies-the-means theodicy, in which God creates a minority of hellbound humans as a means of producing a majority of heavenbound humans. The salvation of the many comes on the backs of the damned. So they're in no position to attack Calvinism for utilizing a principle which they themselves utilize: 

Indeed, God did not have to create and in doing so he clearly thought it was “worth it.” So if my view entails that God did not do all he could have done to prevent the damnation of the lost simply because he did not refrain from creating at all, I plead guilty…Given that God does not control the counterfactuals of freedom, perhaps there are no actualizable worlds in which he can save all free persons. Indeed, if part of our freedom includes the freedom to choose whom to marry, and with whom to procreate, perhaps we play a significant role in determining which persons will be born, and thus which persons God can actualize. In that case, God actualizes the world in which he can save many people while minimizing the number of the damned. Perhaps God was faced with the choice between this sort of world and none at all, and he judged it “worth it” to create. I think this is not merely possible, but plausible. 
Moreover, it is far from obvious that God's being all-loving compels Him to prefer a world in which no one goes to hell over a world in which some people do. Suppose that God could create a world in which everyone is freely saved, but there is only one problem: all such worlds have only one person in them! Does God's being all-loving compel Him to prefer one of these underpopulated worlds over a world in which multitudes are saved, even though some people freely go to hell? I don't think so. God's being all-loving implies that in any world He creates He desires and strives for the salvation of every person in that world. But people who would freely reject God's every effort to save them shouldn't be allowed to have some sort of veto power over what worlds God is free to create. Why should the joy and the blessedness of those who would freely accept God's salvation be precluded because of those who would stubbornly and freely reject it? It seems to me that God's being all-loving would at the very most require Him to create a world having an optimal balance between saved and lost, a world where as many as possible freely accept salvation and as few as possible freely reject it. 
Read more:

Monday, July 25, 2016

Prelapsarian predation

Sen. Tim Scott on race, police, and upward mobility

Is God exempt?

I'll respond to a statement that a commenter left on my blog:

I'm not sure how to answer the atheist objection that it's special pleading and ad hoc to appeal to God's special prerogatives (as God) to get out of the dilemma that the types of evils God allows/permits (and ordains in the case of Calvinism) would be evil on our part if we allowed or planned them but somehow not evil for God if He allows or plans/ordains them.
I believe that by faith, but I'm not sure how to rationally defend that to an atheist (though, it's much easier against an Arminian who accepts Biblical authority). Especially if I include in the problem of evil the uniquely Calvinistic view of reprobation (and pre-damnation as some Calvinists make a distinction).
The atheist question is "How does appealing to God's superior ontology and status as Creator, the most perfect and supreme being and who is allegedly the standard of goodness exempt Him from being guilty of evil for allowing and ordaining such things when of all beings in existence He's the most capable of preventing them?" It's not merely that God is supposed to be guilty, but especially guilty because God, in His omnipotence, can prevent them from occurring. 
And in the case of Calvinism, God doesn't passively permit, but actively ordains evils and reprobation. As I've been asked, "How can Calvinists claim God is good with a straight face?" Allegedly, there's cognitive dissonance involved.

Ryan Hedrich already gave a good response. Now for me:

i) It's true that some Calvinists are too quick to invoke divine authority as a solution. Although that response is true at a certain level, it's not an explanation, and it's only persuasive for someone who already agrees with the theological framework–yet that's the very issue in dispute. 

In fairness, I've seen Arminians stipulate that God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting inscrutable evils. But, of course, that appeal has no explanatory value, and begs the question. Likewise, Marilyn McCord Adams contends that divine and human goods are ontologically incommensurate. So these maneuvers are hardly confined to Calvinists. 

ii) Suppose you have a fictional character in a story who enjoys foresight regarding the future. To be precise, he foresees two possible futures: what will transpire if he intervenes and what will transpire if he doesn't intervene. He often finds himself in situations where he could prevent some tragedy, yet he refrains from doing so. For instance, he sees a house fire. He's in a position to rescue one of the children who's trapped inside. Yet he does nothing. To outside observers, his inaction appears to be reprehensible. 

But here's the dilemma: what if by preventing a short-term evil he causes a long-term evil or preempts a second-order good? Whenever he intervenes, there are tradeoffs. By preventing harm to some people, his action has the side-effect of harming others, or eliminating some resultant good. 

What if he knows that the child, had he survived, would have a tenth-generation descendent who's a serial killer? Or what if he knows that if the child dies, the parents will procreate another child to take the place of the child they lost in the house fire. If he intervenes, he deprives the replacement child of existence. So which life takes precedence? On either scenario, someone loses out. Someone will benefit from his action or be harmed by his action. There's no timeline that secures all the same goods while eliminating every evil. In each alternate timeline, some evils are offset by some goods while some goods come at the cost of some evils. 

A fallen world is a network of good and evil. Some evils cause some goods. Some goods cause some evils. Some goods preempt other goods. 

iii) Or suppose you had a video game with artificially intelligent characters. Should the gamer forestall harm to his characters? Well, that depends. The game has a plot. One thing leads to another. Some characters come into existence as a result of what other characters do, including the actions of villainous characters. You might even have the heroic son of a villainous father. By preventing certain harms to certain characters, the gamer is robbing some potential characters of existence. Likewise, by eliminating all the villains, he eliminates some of the heroes, whose existence is contingent on the prior actions of the bad guys. Some good guys wouldn't exist if some bad guys didn't exist. Suppose a bad guy kills the boyfriend of a female character. As a result, she marries someone else, and has a son by him, who turns out to be a hero. (Or has a daughter who turns out to be a heroine.) In this case, preventing one murder takes another life. So eliminating some evils must be balanced off the resultant goods that you thereby eliminate, or alternative evils that take their place. 

iv) The fact that humans are related to other humans, whereas God is inhuman, can in some measure justify differential treatment. To take a few examples, suppose a grown son commits a heinous murder. He is sentenced to death. It would be cruel to require his family to carry out the sentence. It's better to delegate execution to a disinterested third-party.

Likewise, suppose you're given a choice between saving your mother's life and saving the lives of fifty innocent people. Objectively speaking, it could be argued that saving fifty innocent lives is better, or more obligatory, than saving one life. But it would be unbearable for a son to sacrifice his own mother to save fifty strangers. Moreover, it's not even clear that his duty to the common good overrides his filial duty. 

There are situations in which in would be right for an angel or an alien from Alpha Centuri to do something which would be wrong for a human to do, precisely because the alien or angel isn't human. He doesn't have the same social obligations or emotional investments where humans are concerned. He can act with greater moral detachment. 

v) Finally, everyone who suffers evil is evil in some degree. Take a mob family. Mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, husbands, wives, siblings, cousins. Some members of the mob family may be much more evil than others. Still, there's a sense in which none of them deserves to be immune from harm. And some of them richly deserved to be harmed. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Calvinism and the Problem of Evil

Now available for preorder:

"This book contains a vigorous challenge to the widespread belief that Calvinist views on human freedom and divine sovereignty make the problem of evil insoluble. Written by a diverse group of first-rate thinkers, the book also shows that 'Calvinism' itself is not monolithic, but a diverse movement with the resources for creative rethinking of old questions. Highly recommended."
--C. Stephen Evans, University Professor of Philosophy and Humanities, Baylor University; Professorial Fellow, Australian Catholic University

"In recent years, advocates of libertarian freedom, or Molinism, have dominated the discussion of the problem of evil in Christianity, creating a consensus that traditional Calvinism is unacceptable. The present volume counteracts that consensus by sophisticated and detailed philosophical argument of a high order. I strongly recommend it."
--John Frame, Professor of Systematic Theology & Philosophy, Reformed Theological Seminary

Introduction, by David E. Alexander and Daniel M. Johnson
1: Calvinism and the Problem of Evil: A Map of the Territory -- Daniel M. Johnson
2: Molinist Gunslingers: God and the Authorship of Sin -- Greg Welty
3: Theological Determinism and the "Authoring Sin" Objection -- Heath White
4: Not the Author of Evil: A Question of Providence, Not a Problem for Calvinism -- James E. Bruce
5: Orthodoxy, Theological Determinism, and the Problem of Evil -- David E. Alexander
6: Discrimination: Aspects of God's Causal Activity -- Paul Helm
7: On Grace and Free Will -- Hugh J. McCann
8: The First Sin: A Dilemma for Christian Determinists -- Alexander R. Pruss
9: Calvinism and the First Sin -- James N. Anderson
10: A Compatibicalvinist Demonstrative-Goods Defense -- Christopher R. Green
11: Calvinism and the Problem of Hell -- Matthew J. Hart
12: Calvinism, Self-Attestation, and Apathy Toward Arguments From Evil -- Anthony Bryson

Cruz courageous for not endorsing Trump

Does the Godhead have three centers of consciousness?

This is a sequel to my previous post:

1. It's common to read Christians who describe the Trinity by saying the Godhead has three centers of consciousness. For instance:

The problem with these analogies, of course, is that they do not account for the New Testament data, in which the persons of the Trinity are actual centers of consciousness, entering into various transactions with one another: the Father sends the Son, the Son prays to the Father, the Father answers the prayers of the Son, the Father and Son together send the Spirit. Indeed, the Augustinian/Aquinas type of model veers toward Sabellianism, a heresy which began in the western, Latin-speaking church, and which has historically posed a particular danger to the Latin tradition of theology.

Likewise, Thomas Morris and Trenton Merricks describe the Trinity in terms of three distinct centers of consciousness. There are, however, theologians like Rahner and Barth who consider that tritheistic. 

2. It's a seminal mistake to begin with a preconception of tritheism, then use that as a filter to preemptively screen out certain models of the Trinity. Rather, we need to begin with God's self-revelation. Our description should model his self-revelation. It's improper to trim God down to fit into our preconceived notion of what God ought to be like. 

3. In addition, "tritheism" is ambiguous. That doesn't have a uniform meaning. It would vary according to what is meant by theism. The gods of pagan polytheism are very different than the god of unitarian thinkers like Maimonides and Al-Ghazâlî. If you had just three pagan gods. that would be tritheistic. If you were to triplicate the Deity of Maimonides or Al-Ghazâlî, that would be tritheistic. But they'd have very different attributes. 

It's been said that Richard Swinburne's model of the Trinity is tritheistic. If so, it's tritheistic in a very different way than a hypothetical heathen tritheism or hypothetical triplication of the Deity which Maimonides or Al-Ghazâlî espouse.

Point being: we don't have an a prior conception of tritheism. The label tends to be circular and question-begging because it presumes a standard of comparison: what God is really like, in contrast to tritheism. Yet what God is really like is the very question at issue when we consider how to properly formulate the Trinity. 

4. Aquinas famously said the members of the Trinity are subsistent relations, viz. substances in their own right rather than accidents contingent on the substances in which they inhere. But that's a very problematic definition. 

i) To begin with, there's nothing inherently personal about a substance or relation.

ii) Moreover, it's hard to see how the members of the Trinity can just be relations. Be reducible to relations. For a relation presupposes things that are interrelated. What obtains between two (or more) things. You can't have relations apart from relata. 

5. I said Alastair's formulation is modalistic because he views the members of the Godhead as modes of the divine nature. The nature is the source of the personal properties. The nature underlies the exempla. So the nature enjoys ultimacy, like an abstract universal is prior to concrete particulars.

6. On a Trinitarian interpretation of the Bible, it's hard to avoid saying the Godhead has three centers of consciousness or self-consciousness. The Son is conscious of his status as the Son, in contrast to the Father, who is conscious of his status as the Father, in contrast to the Son (ditto: the Spirit). Each member is conscious of what he is and what he is not

Perhaps, though, it might be objected that that's equivocal. There's more to consciousness than self-awareness. Consciousness is defined by additional properties like intentionality.

But even though that's a valid distinction, the Bible depicts the members of the Godhead as having consciousness in that fuller sense as well. So I don't think we can eliminate distinct centers of consciousness, or three first-person viewpoints, without lapsing into modalism.