Saturday, September 24, 2016

A Critical Appraisal of a Non-Realist Philosophy of Religion: An Asian Perspective

By a Chinese Baptist philosophy prof:

Missionary and martyr

McGrew on Van Til

Timothy McGrew recently raised some fundamental objections to Cornelius Van Til:

In his Christian Theistic Evidences, Van Til spends several chapters critiquing a broadly evidentialist methodology of the kind I endorse, using Butler's Analogy of Religion as a foil:

Hume's empiricism was far more critical and consistent than that of Butler. We proceed to see what happens to the conception of probability on the basis of Hume's empiricism. If all knowledge is based upon experience, and experience is interpreted without the presupposition of the "Author of nature" as Hume claims it is, we cannot expect that one thing rather than another will happen in the future. From the point of view of logic, one thing as well as another might take place in the future.
As for reported miracles, Van Til claims that Hume undermined the credibility of miracle reports chiefly by showing that, on empiricist grounds, "there is no reason to think that a God who could work miracles can be proved to exist." In particular, according to Van Til, Hume demolished the empirical arguments–cosmological and teleological–for the existence of God in his Dialogues concerning Natural Religion…For anyone who, like Van Til, has fallen under the spell of the great Scottish skeptic and acquiesced in these melancholy conclusions, I have good news. Hume was wrong. He was wrong about inductive inference and his critique of induction, influential as it was, displays the poverty of his own understanding of probable inference. He was wrong in the objections he raised against the credibility of reported miracles and was resoundingly refuted on this subject by his own contemporaries, as even some modern agnostics have realized…[Hume] is mired in a deductivist framework... Four Views on Christianity and Philosophy, 108-09.

i) I agree with McGrew that Hume was wrong. However, it seems to me that in this instance, his objection to Van Til rests on a misinterpretation of Van Til. At least to judge by what he quoted, Van Til isn't making a statement about empiricism in general or empiricism per se, but naturalistic empiricism, which reduces everything to contingency. Van Til is remarking on what happens when you take empiricism to a logical extreme after denying the Creator. 

ii) In addition, although I myself affirm sense knowledge, it's dubious whether sensory perception alone is an adequate basis of knowledge. I think sense knowledge has to be supplemented. 

McGrew continues:

When someone starts out on the wrong foot, as I believe Van Til has done by his concessions to Hume, it is not surprising that problems tend to resurface throughout his philosophical system. To pick just one illustration, Oliphint quotes with apparent approval Van Tils' criticism of the non-Christian for whom
the law of contradiction is, like all other laws, something that does not find its ultimate source in the creative activity of God.
I find this sort of radical logical positivism unintelligible. I have no idea what it would even mean for what is logically possible and impossible to be the result of a creative act of God; the very notion of action seems to presuppose distinctions between actor and action that are intelligible only in terms of fundamental principles of logic. Ibid. 109-110.

Here McGrew seems to be on firmer ground. Van Til's statement about logic, in the passage quoted, does indeed appear to be nonsensical. 

McGrew goes on to say:

It is painful to have to point out things like this, since Van Til has inspired so many ardent and loyal disciples. But in my view, deep problems pervade almost every aspect of Van Til's thought–his epistemology, his history of philosophy, his description of the position of non-Christians, and his exegesis of Scripture. It is my considered opinion that there is no point in trying to correct his system pice by piece. One must simply start over on very different principles. Ibid. 110. 

Whether that's true or false would depend on McGrew successfully elaborating his allegations. I myself use different philosophers for different spare parts.

McGrew has his own package. I don't think we have to take it or leave it. We can disassemble the package and select some choice spare parts which we combine with spare parts from other thinkers. 

Dearly departed

1. I'd like to discuss something I've never seen anyone else discuss. I expect one reason some Christians frequent cemeteries is to commune with the dead. To speak to the dearly departed. Whether or not public cemeteries, private cemeteries, or church graveyards were designed with that in mind, I suspect that's how many people use them. That's why some people visit the cemetery. It's an occasion to speak to their departed love ones.

That's not something Christians talk about. That's not something I hear preachers or theologians discuss. But I'm figure it's something that's common among Christians, as well as some unbelievers. And for that reason, I think we should assess this practice. Is it innocent? Permissible? Rational? Orthodox? Or is this forbidden? Superstitious? Occultic?

2. Admittedly, I don't have any statistical evidence for this practice. It's based on my anecdotal observations. So I might be mistaken. But given human nature, I surmise that it's quite widespread. A coping mechanism. 

Death is so abrupt. What happens when there's that one person you can't afford to lose, but you lose them anyway? Suddenly they are gone–all the time. You miss them–all the time. You won't see them again for the rest of your life. 

For some people, a cemetery is a way of maintaining some sense of connection. A pitiful substitute, to be sure, but death is pitiful. 

Since I don't have any polling data, I can only guess, but I assume most folks who talk to the dearly departed when they visit the cemetery do so, not because they think their loved one is lingering around the gravesite, like an invisible ghost. And I hope they don't think the soul of their loved one is consciously trapped in a coffin, six feet under. Rather, I assume they visit the cemetery to screen out distractions, visit because they associate the grave with their loved one, visit as a way to direct their thoughts and words. 

As cemeteries become less popular, and more people become secularized, that practice may be declining. However, it's not confined to cemeteries. In principle, a person could do the same thing at home, by talking to a picture of the dearly departed. They talk to their loved one by talking to the picture. That's a stand-in. I'm not saying they successfully communicate with the dead. At the moment I'm just describing the action and intention. 

3. I suppose one reason Christians don't talk about it is because they fear associations with the cult of the saints or holding a seance. I'll discuss that comparison shortly. But for the moment, is there anything else we can compare it to? Let's take two examples:

Consider a friend or relative who's fairly senile. Maybe they live with you, or you visit them in the nursing home. You don't know how much they understand. You don't know how much is getting through. Maybe their facial expression shows recognition when they see you–or maybe not. At best they respond to touch, or a warm, friendly tone of voice. 

In other cases the dementia is more advanced. They are outwardly unresponsive. There's no indication that they are even aware of your presence. 

An analogous case is a comatose patient. Maybe they can hear you. But a "coma" can be a euphemism for brain death or a persistent vegetative state.

Still, none of that prevents you from reaching out to them. From holding their hand, stroking their hair, talking to them, maybe kissing them when you enter or leave the room. You do it in part, not because you know that they register your presence or because you know that what you say gets through to them, but because, for all you know, that's possible. You do it just in case that's comforting to them. 

But that's not all. Even if they can no longer reciprocate your love, even if they don't understand, even if they are no longer conscious of touch, or the sound of your voice, that doesn't stop you from continuing to show them affection, because you continue to love them. There are some dramatic examples of terminal lucidity. But that's not a requirement for continuing to treat the demented or the comatose as if they had the presence of mind to appreciate what you are doing with them and for them. You hope that's the case, but that's not the only reason you do it. Indeed, we even show reverence for the corpse of a loved one. You do it because expressions of love are irrepressible. 

4. One question is whether there's any point in talking to the dearly beloved unless you think they can hear you. But how can they hear you? Well, maybe they can't.

To be confident that they hear you is presumptuous wishful thinking. By contrast, the question is whether God might pass that along to the dearly departed. Does God sometimes allow them to overhear you. Does he act as an intermediary? Perhaps–or perhaps not. 

There are people who believe in heaven for the wrong reasons, like New Age universalism. But for orthodox Christians, I think this is probably a harmless and edifying practice that sustains the bereaved during the tunnel period between death and reunion. Something to make bearable an otherwise inconsolable separation. 

5. What about the comparisons I mentioned? In necromancy (e.g. a seance), an attempt is made to summon the dead. To bring them into contact with the living. To establish a two-way conversation. That's very different.

Necromancy attempts to change the status quo. To transgress the boundary between life and death. It refuses to wait. 

6. As for the cult of the saints:

i) Supplicants ask for favors from the dead. Again, that's very different.

ii) In Catholic dogma, this is based on the merit of the saints. That gives them leverage with God. So there's a pernicious theology that underlies that practice.

iii) In addition, there's the dogmatic claim that the Roman knows who's in heaven. Rome knows the saints can hear you. Rome knows that certain people have God's ear. Once again, there's a pernicious theology that underlies that practice. 

Everybody hates a holdout

In light of Cruz endorsing Trump, I'd like to make another point. This is not about the ethics of voting for Trump in the general election. That's a separate issue.

Rather, it's about the social psychology of moral compromise. Moral holdouts are despised because they make everyone else look bad. Suppose you have 20 moral holdouts out of 100. That's tolerable. For one thing, the 20 moral holdouts support each other. They may be a beleaguered minority, but they have each other. And they other 80% feel that their majority status validates their views. 

Now, you might think that as the percentage of moral holdouts declines, they'd be easier to tolerate because they are so increasingly insignificant. Their numbers are too low to wield any power. 

But in reality, the fewer the moral holdouts, the more intolerable the remaining moral holdouts become. They make the defectors to the majority look like cowards. And they make the majority look bad. 

They stick out. As their power diminishes, their moral authority increases. Everybody else looks morally compromised by comparison…because they are.

There is, therefore, extirpative hatred directed at the moral holdout. If only he'd give in, then everyone else could feel good about themselves. But the very existence of that solitary moral holdout is a tacit judgment on everyone else. They can't stand it. So there's crushing pressure on all sides for the moral holdout to knuckle under and join the club. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Cruz cries uncle

Turns out Ted Cruz is a Cylon sleeper agent. You know, the kind that's indistinguishable from humans. That seems to be on our side. Heck, it doesn't even know it's a Cylon until the delay programming switches on. 

In the end, Cruz puts political viability ahead of principle. I never thought he was quite the diehard ideological purist that some of his supporters imagined him to be.

In the end he decided to board Trump's ship before it left port, even though, by waiting until the last minute, he's stuck in third class rather than first class. But I guess he thinks that's better than to be left behind. Presumably this means he thinks Trump now has a good shot at winning. 

In fairness to Cruz, he may have been taken aback by the ferocious reaction of erstwhile supporters when he snubbed Trump at the convention. When you campaign as a conviction politician, and your ostensible supporters turn on you because you really behave like a conviction politician, it's not surprising if what we end up with is politicians who are no better than their supporters. Compromising voters breed compromising politicians. Although we can blame Cruz, blame should be shared with the erstwhile supporters who cut him off at the knees after he snubbed Trump at the convention. 

By refusing to fall in line, Cruz stood on equal footing with Trump. But now that he caved, he's just another one of Trump's many interchangeable underlings. 

By endorsing Trump, it puts himself in the worst of both worlds. I don't think Trump is the forgiving kind. Don't expect Caesar's clemency. Trumpkins will never forgive him. He will lose the respect of those who supported him up until now, on top of those who (wrongly) lost respect when he snubbed Trump at the convention, on top of those who can't stand Cruz in the first place. 

It's like people who apologize for telling the truth. Both sides despise them. They will still be despised by the side that was offended when they initially told the truth. And they will now be despised the other side when they back down after telling the truth.  Turns out that Cruz was a "servile puppy dog" after all. 

An immigration plus

In the past I've been very critical of Muslim immigration. I haven't changed my mind on that. Likewise, I've been very critical of illegal immigration. I haven't changed my mind on that either.

However, I'd like to note some positives of immigration–mainly legal. And that is the extent to which immigration may erode the power of the liberal white establishment. In general, immigrants don't come from cultures that euthanize the elderly. Don't come from cultures that hate children. Don't come from cultures that think coed bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports teams are a moral imperative. Don't come from cultures where you prosecute businesses that refuse to cater homosexual celebrations. Don't come from cultures that deny human exceptionalism. Don't come from cultures where trees are more important than people. Don't come from cultures that deny the right of self-defense. Don't come from cultures that punish success. Or if they do, they are escaping from that kind of culture. 

Disarming the police

I believe Campaign Zero is an arm of Black Lives Matter. 

I agree with some of their proposals. We should have independent investigations of police shootings. A police department has a conflict of interest. We should end for-profit policing. Bodycams are a good idea, though that only works if storage of the footage is contracted out to an independent third-party. Up to a point, I oppose the militarization of the police force, which makes it an occupation force. I oppose stop-and-frisk on civil liberties grounds. 

That said, I'd like to focus on this objective:

We can live in an America where the police do not kill people. Police in England, Germany, Australia, Japan, and even cities like Buffalo, NY, and Richmond, CA, demonstrate that public safety can be ensured without killing civilians. By implementing the right policy changes, we can end police killings and other forms of police violence in the United States.

i) It's hard to take that seriously. Is BLM really that Polyannaish? Maybe so. Radicals can be softheaded utopians.

Perhaps, though, there's an anarchist contingent in BLM. Maybe chaos is their goal. Anarchism is another form of utopianism. 

In addition, you have self-hating Americans who want to burn it down. A fifth column. 

There are political factions that profit from pandemonium. The white liberal establishment benefits by fomenting a free-for-all, as a pretext to crack down. That's a way to expand its grip on power. 

ii) Let's take an example of what happens when you disarm police. I don't necessarily mean literal disarmament. If police fear that they will be indicted if they do their job, then that's the functional equivalent of disarmament.

Take Muslim rape gangs in Europe. Their tactic is to form a phalanx around the victim. That both blocks the view of what's going on, as well as blocking police from rescuing the victim. 

The solution is for police to draw their guns, order the phalanx to disperse, and if they refuse, start shooting. Shoot their way through a crowd that's shielding the rapist. That's the only way to rescue women from Muslim rape-gangs who use that tactic.

But European police don't do that because they know the political establishment won't back them up. As a result, you have marauding Muslim rape gangs that act with impunity. 

Incidentally, that's also what happens when you disarm civilians. The consequences are only too predictable. For instance, Muslims attack Jews in Paris. If, however, Parisian Jews were armed, that would be a deterrent.  

Cut the strings

I'll make a few observations about the recent rioting in Charlotte in response to a police shooting. 

i) Let's begin with the "black lives matter" slogan. The insinuation is that police don't think black lives matter. Some conservatives have responded with counter slogans like "all lives matter" or "blue lives matter". In a sense, that's appropriate. It responds to the slogan on its own level. 

However, proponents of the "black lives matter" slogan object that this response misses the point. The point of the slogan is not that other lives don't matter, but that black lives matter too. 

A problem I have with this whole dialectic is issuing blanket generalities about a whole group of people. That conditions an outlook which lacks moral discernment. But the fact is, some lives matter more than others. What I mean by that is that a person can forfeit his prima facie right to life by certain kinds of misconduct. For instance, the lives of innocent school children matter more than the life of the suicide bomber who will murder them unless he's stopped by a bullet. In that sense, not all lives are equal. 

ii) Then we have the instant reaction to police shooting a black person. There's the presumption that whenever police shoot a black person, that must be racially motivated. I'd simply note that people who react that way are bigots. They are stereotyping all police. To assume, absent specific evidence, that when a policeman shoots a black person, that must be a racist shooting, is textbook prejudice. It's especially ironic in the case of the Charlotte incident where the policeman was black. 

iii) In my observation, black Americans are the only ethnic group in this country that routinely resorts to rioting as a form of political protest. They seem to think that being black gives them a special right to riot. Keep in mind that rioting isn't the same thing as peaceful protest or demonstration. Rioting involves arson, looting, and other forms of violence. 

iv) Apropos (iii), I'm struck by how a segment of the black community regards rioting, or even peaceful demonstrations, as its first recourse. An especially striking example is Ferguson. From what I've read, protestors complained that even though the city is 67 percent black, the local government is almost completely white. White mayor. Five out of six councilmen are white. White police chief. Nearly all-white police department. 

Now, I do think it's a problem when a majority population is governed by a minority government. I think it's a problem when the municipal population is drastically underrepresented in municipal government.

But I'm struck by the passivity of the population. If you represent 67% of the population, then you already have the political clout, if you choose to use it, to change the racial representation in city government. So why do the protesters act so powerless and disenfranchised? Why resort demonstrations or rioting as the first recourse when you already have the political wherewithal to change the status quo through legal means? Some blacks have become conditioned to a victimhood mentality that ignores a reality that's staring them in the face. If legal remedies are readily available, that should be your first resort. 

The composition of the police department is more complicated. Because black men have rap sheets out of proportion to other racial groups, that lowers the recruitment pool for black policemen. 

Now, Ferguson may be somewhat exceptional in that regard, but then we have the opposite irony in a city like Baltimore, where you had a black major, black police chief, black district attorney, majority black police department, majority black city council, black school superintendent, yet you still have the same knee-jerk reaction, as if black citizens are powerless and disenfranchised. 

v) There's a certain percentage of blacks who allow themselves to be manipulated. The only people who benefit from rioting are Democrat politicians and the white liberal establishment. It's not a good thing to let political puppet masters pull your strings. You need to cut the strings.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Miracles and urban legends

I'd like to focus on two or three related objections that Graham Oppy raises to Christianity (or theism) in Four Views on Christianity and Philosophy (Zondervan, 2016). 

1. Both here and in his monograph on The Best Argument Against God (Palgrave-Macmillian), Oppy makes simplicity a criterion for judging atheism to be preferable to Christianity. But there are basic problems with that appeal:

i) There's no doubt that simplicity can sometimes be a useful criterion to adjudicate between completing explanations. However, it's hard to justify simplicity as a general criterion. For instance, occasionalism is infinitely simpler than secondary causation. Just consider the gazillions of individual causes in the universe. Not just the sheer number, but different kinds of causes for different kinds of events, as well as elaborate causal chains, or intersecting causal chains. Secondary causality in the universe is fiendishly complex. By contrast, occasionalism posits a single agent for everything that happens. But obviously, Oppy rejects occasionalism, despite the fact that it's an immensely more parsimonious explanation.

Occam's razor isn't plausible purely in the abstract. Rather, that's something we can only judge on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes simplicity is a methodological virtue, but that's context-dependent. 

ii) Simplicity isn't just one principle. There's the distinction between a simpler ontology and a simpler explanation. These can be in tension. Postulating more entities can simplify an explanation. For instance, physicists postulate subatomic particles to account for higher-level interactions. 

iii) There's a metaphysical tradition that rejects the presumption of parsimony: the principle of plenitude. Leibniz is the best-known champion of that alternative. But it has a modern counterpart in theories of a multiverse. The principle is that anything that can happen will happen. It's a controversial claim, but hard to rule out a priori–or even a posteriori.  

iv) Another basic problem with invoking Occam's razor is this: suppose we agree with Oppy that a world without God is simpler than a world with God. How does that contrast create any presumption that God doesn't exist? 

At best, all it does is to note a consequence of a world with or without God. But how does noting that consequence make it more likely that one consequence is true while the other is false? It's just a logical relation between two things. 

Suppose it's true that if God exists, the world will be more complex than if he doesn't exist. Assuming that's the case, how does that indicate that in fact we're living in a world where God does not exist? For if we were living in a world where God exists, then our world would be more complex. If God is real, then that consequences follows from his existence. Assuming that's the case, how does that observation provide any evidence that God isn't real? 

2. Oppy says that alongside the miraculous birth of Jesus:

we can set reports of the miraculous births of Buddha, Krishna, Karna, Kabir, Zoroaster, Marduk, Horus, Romulus, Asclepius, Oedipus, Augustus Caesar, Qi, Lao-tse, and others. 
…the many similarities between Christian miraculous births and miraculous births in other religions and traditions. Four Views on Christianity and Philosophy, 37-38.

There are several problems with his comparison:

i) It fails to distinguish between fictional characters, mythological gods, and historical figures. It stipulates parallels to the virgin birth rather than documenting parallels. But we'd need to see the details. And it fails to consider the genre of the accounts, or the date of the source in relation to the date of the individual. It's deceptive to call these "reports". That connotes an account which, at least in principle, had its basis in observation. 

ii) More to the point, a basic way of assessing a claim is to ask yourself what would follow if the claim were true. If Jesus was virginally conceived, would that prevent other religions and traditions from having tales of gods, heroes, and founders whose conception was extraordinary? Since there'd be tales like this whether or not Jesus was virginally conceived, the existence of such tales doesn't tell against his virginal conception. The existence of such tales makes no difference one way or the other on whether Jesus was virginally conceived. In that respect, the situation would be just the same if he were virginally conceived. The virginal conception of Christ would be a fact regardless of what other stories might exist. 

3. In the same book, Oppy automatically discounts testimonial evidence for miracles by appealing to the rapid development of urban legends (pp36-37,68-69). But that suffers from the same problem. Once again, ask yourself what would follow if the claim were true. If miracles do occur, then some miracles will be witnessed. And if miracles do occur, there will still have the phenomenon of urban legends. A world in which miracles occur won't eradicate urban legends. Urban legends would develop whether or not miracles actually happen. So how does the existence of urban legends discredit any and all reported miracles? 

Testimonial evidence for miracles is just a subset of testimonial evidence in general. If urban legends create a presumption against reported miracles, do urban legends create a presumption against reported events generally? If not, why single out miracles as if the existence of urban legends only casts doubt on them?

4. Finally, his appeal to urban legends cuts both ways. You can have urban legends that attempt to explain away miracles. Take the cover story of the stolen body (Mt 28:11-15). 

A Response To Annette Merz On The Infancy Narratives (Part 4)

(Previous parts in the series: part 1, part 2, part 3.)

One of the most foundational criticisms of the infancy narratives is that they're inconsistent with the accounts we have of Jesus' adulthood. Merz appeals to that objection:

The huge discrepancies between the Matthean and Lucan accounts notwithstanding, both nativity stories agree that after Jesus was born in Bethlehem, he was recognized as the future king and Messiah/Christ (Matthew 2:2,4,11) and as savior, Messiah/Christ, and bringer of peace (Luke 2:11,14), respectively. Both agree that in addition to heavenly agents (the Matthean star, the Lucan angel and multitude of the heavenly host), human witnesses (the magi and the shepherds) were involved, interacting with the newborn's parents and making known to them the greatness of the moment and the predicted future significance of their son. As historians, we have to ask whether this picture is best explained as a retrospect projection of messianic beliefs into the youth of the hero or as a refraction of memory. If the latter is the case, the rest of the Jesus traditions should concur with this picture to a certain extent. Thus, the last part of this chapter is dedicated to the question of whether the Jesus tradition as a whole allows for an early anticipation, acceptance, or celebration of the king-/messiahship of the newborn Jesus, as it is depicted in the birth stories of Matthew and Luke....

In this light, it is noteworthy that we have several traditions that leave no doubt about the fact that the family of Jesus and his fellow villagers in Nazareth were not among the first followers of Jesus; indeed, on the contrary, we know that they resisted him and tried to bring his mission to an end....

Luke and Matthew have considerably mitigated this tradition [found in Mark 3:20-34], especially leaving out the family's comment declaring Jesus mentally ill. But a comparable picture emerges from other texts: John 7:5 states that "even his brothers did not believe in him," and we have indications that it was only after an appearance of the risen Jesus that James came to believe that Jesus indeed had a divine mandate. The villagers of Nazareth did not even believe that Jesus was a prophet, let alone the Messiah, as we see in Mark 6:1-6....All of those traditions are very hard to explain had there been some early ascertainment of Jesus' significance in the plan of God. To his fellow villagers, Jesus was, according to Mark 6:3, "the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon," as well as several unnamed sisters, not some famous child who had been predestined for future greatness by a perceived heavenly sign. (487-8)

Does God create the reprobate to damn them?

A popular objection to reprobation is that God creates the reprobate for the purpose of damning them. I don't recall ever seeing an Arminian explain the process of reasoning by which he arrives at that conclusion. It's just one of many village Arminian objections to Calvinism. However, I'm guessing the unstated argument goes something like this:

i) According to Calvinism, everyone in hell was predestined to go there.

ii) The final state of a creature or artifact is the purpose for which it was made.

iii) When a person ends up in hell, then according to Calvinism, God made him for the purpose of damning him.

Assuming that's the argument, is that a valid inference? (i) is correct. But the wheels come off with (ii) the minor premise. That confounds a temporal end with a teleological ends. To take a few examples:

It's like saying: if broken coffeemakers wind up in the junkyard, then they were made for the purpose of going to the junkyard. 

But, of course, that's a ridiculous inference. They were designed to make coffee.

Likewise, if the final destination of an automobile is the junkyard, that doesn't mean it was made for that reason.

By the same token, suppose the CIA plants a bomb on a terrorist courier, then detonates the bomb by remote control when the courier enters terrorist headquarters, thereby killing the upper echelon of the terrorist organization. Although getting blown up is the last thing that happens to the courier, the CIA didn't' plant a bomb on the courier in order to kill him, but to kill the upper echelon of the terrorist organization. Killing the courier wasn't the goal, but the means to that end. (Of course, as a terrorist courier, he got his comeuppance.)

The reprobate have a purpose to serve before they die. 

Inerrancy and general historical reliability

In Andy Stanley's now notorious sermon in which he said Christians should stop basing their faith on the Bible, I think he gives mixed signals on the inerrancy of Scripture. Here's my working hypothesis:

It's not necessarily that Andy denies the inerrancy of Scripture; rather, he considers inerrancy to be expendable. 

For him, what ultimately matters is the Resurrection, and he thinks you can prove the Resurrection by treating the Gospels as generally historically reliable. And if you can prove the Resurrection, that proves Christianity. 

Assuming that's his position, I suspect he's basically indifferent to inerrancy because he doesn't think he has any ultimate stake in the inerrancy of Scripture. 

However, assuming that's his position, he can't avoid defending the Bible:

i) Unbelievers like Bart Erhman have compiled a long list of alleged contradictions and historical mistakes in the Gospels. Andy cannot establish even the general reliability of the Gospels without rebutting most of those objections. For if the Gospels really have all those contradictions and historical mistakes, then the Gospels are generally unreliable rather than generally reliable. Hence, Andy must cut the list down to size to show that even if the Gospels aren't inerrant, the mistakes and discrepancies are few and inconsequential. 

ii) In addition, Andy can't put all his chips on the Resurrection and then duck factual objections to the Gospels, for unbelievers also allege that the Resurrection accounts are riddled with discrepancies. That makes Andy's position very vulnerable.

The upshot is that Andy can't take shortcuts. He must rebut objections to the accuracy of the Gospels, one-by-one, as if he were defending the inerrancy of Scripture (at least the Gospels). 

iii) Of course, that doesn't he must be able to explain every single objection. Ancient literature is bound to have some obscurities. But he has to respond to as many objections as he can to demonstrate that the Gospels are generally historically reliable. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Do black lives matter?

I like to make a simple observation: there's a common equivocation of terms in this debate. "Black lives matter" can have an ordinary language sense, where "matters" is synonymous with "important, valuable, worthwhile"–or it can have the specialized sense of an ideological checklist that a special interest group with that name promotes:

Apologetic methodology revisited

I. For several reasons, I don't normally discuss apologetic methodology. I think it's often a cul-de-sac. Both sides repeat their talking points. Round and round. There's no progress. It's often a substitute for doing apologetics. In particular, presuppositionalists have a bad habit of never getting around to doing apologetics. To their credit, evidentialists produce a lot more apologetics. Finally, I have my own apologetic philosophy. I don't normally talk about it because it's something that informs my apologetics. 

However, I was recently reading two books that prompt me to revisit the issue of apologetic methodology: Why Should I Believe Christianity?, by James Anderson, and Four Views On Christianity and Philosophy, P. Gould &. R. Davies, eds. 

1. Let's begin with a standard evidentialist approach to making a case for Christianity. Some evidentialists attempt to cut to the chase with the "minimal facts" argument for the Resurrection

2. Other evidentialists mount a cumulative case. This may include some or all of the following elements:

i) List criteria for assessing worldviews, viz. consistency, simplicity, explanatory scope, evidence, correspondence to known facts, a theory of justified belief.  

ii) List criteria for assessing testimonial evidence, viz. prior expectations; incentive to be truthful or untruthful; firsthand/secondhand information; proximity in time and/or place to the ostensible event; independent, multiple-attestation; corroboration from non-Christian sources.

3. Present arguments for the existence of God. 

4. Field objections to the existence of God, viz. the problem of evil. 

5. Present arguments for the possibility and credibility of miracles.

6. Present evidence for the general historical reliability of the Gospels. 

7. There are variations on the cumulative case. An apologist might include more or fewer steps. In case you're wondering, I have in mind apologists like Gary Habermas, Timothy & Lydia McGrew, John & Paul Feinberg, Michael Licona, Richard Swinburne, and John Warwick Montgomery. 

II. I think this approach has definite merits. But I also have reservations or criticisms, so let's run back through the list:

1. A "minimal facts" argument is vulnerable from different angles. There's an over-reliance on "scholarly consensus". Likewise, an atheist may say any naturalistic explanation, however unlikely, is more likely than a supernatural explanation. 


i) If we're attempting to demonstrate that something is true or false, then we have to use criteria as a standard of comparison. Sometimes these are unstated or taken for granted. 

ii) However, the identification and justification of criteria are presuppositional issues. So here's one point at which evidentialism and presuppositionalism intersect. Take the relationship between consistency and explanatory scope. There are tradeoffs. A simpler explanation may have less explanatory scope. 

Unbelievers typically favor atheism because it's simpler. But that begs the question. An explanation ought not be simpler than reality. Simplicity and explanatory scope go to deep, contested issues regarding what there is to be explained, viz, abstract objects, values, consciousness.

So the identification and justification of criteria becomes somewhat circular inasmuch as it makes key assumptions about the kind of world we live in. Moreover, it's somewhat circular inasmuch as the nature and existence or nonexistence of God is fundamental to the kind of world we live in. So this gets very complicated very fast. 

3. Both evidentialists and presuppositionalists can present arguments for God. Some of these are quite theory-laden. For instance, the moral argument for God presumes moral realism. That has no traction for an atheist who rejects moral realism.

The kalam cosmological argument presumes the A-theory of time. It denies the possibility of an actual infinite past. By contrast, the B-theory of time allows for an actual concrete infinite. Both theories may deny the possibility of "traversing" an actual concrete infinite. But so long as an actual infinite timeline comes into being all at once, that's possible on the B-theory. So a proponent of the kalam cosmological argument needs to supplement his argument by making a case for the A-theory of time. 

4. The problem of evil has a presuppositional aspect. If you deny moral realism, then there is no problem of evil in the sense of moral evil, although there will still be a problem of deprivation and suffering. 

5. The possibility and credibility of miracles are presuppositional issues. It goes to the kind of world we live in. What is possible or impossible in our world. And that, in turn, bookends the question of what is probable or improbable.  

And, once again, this raises the specter of circularity. How do we balance the evidence for miracles against the alleged evidence for the uniformity of nature? How do we know what kind of world we live in? Atheists typically think the alleged evidence for the uniformity of nature overwhelms any ostensible evidence for miracles. But, of course, that's circular. So we need to distinguish between vicious and virtuous circularity. 


i) Up to a point, I don't object to this as an apologetic strategy. However, one difficulty is how to make the jump from the general historical reliability of the Gospels to the inspiration of Scripture. To the Bible as the word of God.

Some scholars, like Craig Evans and Richard Bauckham, never seem to make that jump. They don't seem to operate with a doctrine of inspiration. For them, general historical reliability is sufficient.

Yet that's theologically deficient. The God of Judeo-Christian theology is a God who speaks as well as acts. Who speaks to and through people. 

Montgomery attempted to bridge the gap by claiming that if you can prove the Resurrection, based on the general reliability of the Gospels, then the Resurrection proves the deity of Christ. And once you prove the deity of Christ, then Christ can vouch for the inspiration of the OT–and by analogy, the prospective NT. But a problem with his argument is that Christ's resurrection doesn't imply Christ's deity. 

ii) Apropos (i), evidentialists typically avoid defending the inerrancy of Scripture. In some cases they think that's a distraction. In some cases they either deny the inerrancy of Scripture or regard that as expendable. 

However, you can't simply decouple the general historical reliability of the Gospels from challenges to inerrancy, for while the general reliability of the Gospels is compatible with some contradictions or historical mistakes, when a critic like Bart Ehrman produces a long list of alleged contradictions and historical mistakes, if that list is demonstrative, then you end up with the general unreliability of the Gospels. 

So even the evidentialist can't avoid responding to objections to the inerrancy of the Gospels. At the very least, he has to cut it down to something consistent with the general reliability of the Gospels. 

7. Finally, the schematic nature of the cumulative case may foster the misimpression that a person can't know Christianity is true, or be warranted in believing that it's true, unless he checks each box in that order. However, the logical order in which we prove something may be very different from how we come to know it. Likewise, there can be different kinds of evidence for knowing something and proving something. I know that I went to high school…because I went to high school. I remember attending high school. That's an argument from experience. If, however, I was proving to you that I went to high school, that would involve showing you the school I attended, showing you school records, showing you my picture in the yearbook. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The culture of the smug white liberal

Is the Bible foundational to Christianity?

Poison apples

I recently got into an impromptu debate on Facebook regarding the historicity of the OT. 

Steve Hays At best, anything by Peter Enns is like a poison apple. Shiny on the outside. Pretty color. Some people find it tasty. But then there's the toxic after-effect.

Steve Hays To begin with, "progressive Christians" are at least as "tribalistic" and doctrinaire as Bible-believing Christians. 

In addition, notice Sharad's tactic. Peter Enns resorts to the same tactic. This involves imputing "fear" to the other side. The only reason Christians might be critical of people like Enns is due to "fear". 

That's part of a calculated tactic to shame critics into silence or submission through rhetorical intimidation. Sharad is so conditioned by this rhetorical tactic that he's oblivious to the hypocrisy of his own rhetoric. This is language he blindly copies from his masters. 

There was plenty of "reasonable discourse" in response to Enns. Enns operates with an essentially secular historiography, with a few residual, ad hoc elements of theism tacked on. His "Christotelic" hermeneutic is an arbitrary imposition on the text, given that he denies the kind of inspiration required for the OT to have any directionality, much less a "Christotelic" goal.

Given his skepticism regarding the historicity of the Bible and Biblical miracles, the way he clings to an "incarnational" category arbitrarily privileges one miracle while he jettisons most others. What does he really believe about the historicity of the Gospels or St. Paul's view of the historical Jesus? 

If you apply his view of OT narratives to NT narratives, what is left? Isn't his "incarnational" schtick just a shopworn metaphor at this point?

It's a mock pious way of maintaining appearances, by cloaking his general denial of Bible history, supernaturalism, and inspiration under the cover of the Incarnation," but that's an artificial relic, given his overall viewpoint. If Enns was consistent, he'd demythologize the Incarnation the same way he's demythologized Bible history in general. 

Moreover, there's no justification for using an incarnational analogy to deny the inerrancy of Scripture. To begin with, Enns simply asserts an analogy; he doesn't present any argument for why we should believe that's actually analogous.

Furthermore, if we were to press the analogy, that entails a parallel between Kenotic Christology and Scripture.

Steve Hays Consider this review, by a fellow liberal, who discusses the arbitrarily selective nature of what Enns affirms and denies:


It's customary for unbelievers to contend that Bible writers share the same mythological outlook as their pagan neighbors. This includes critical Bible scholars who write monographs and commentaries about Scripture. The assumption is that since pagan mythology is fictional, if Bible writers (allegedly) operate with a similar mythological framework, then Bible stories are fictional as well. 

There is, however, evidence that critical Bible scholars don't really understand mythology. For there's evidence that folklore sometimes employ mythopoetic categories to encode real phenomena. This is studied in geomythology and archaeoastronomy

I'm going to quote some examples from a geomorphologist. Although his own perspective is naturalistic, he demonstrates that some of these legends, despite the mythological imagery, record actual events. When you compare the legends to the underlying events, they are actually quite accurate, once you make allowance for the fact that the mythopoetic garb is an analogy for the event. 

My point in quoting this material is to present an a fortiori argument. If even heathen myths and legends can analogize historical events, Scripture can be historically accurate, even if, to some modern readers, the description appears to be mythological. The quotes begin after the break:


John Calvin and the Love of God in 1 John

Monday, September 19, 2016

Love and goodness

I'd like to make yet another observation about the recent interview with Jerry Walls:

Observe how Jerry slides back and forth between God's goodness and God's universal love as synonymous concepts.  For instance, he says:

Is God perfectly good? Is God perfectly loving? So the issue is, is this compatible with the goodness of God, the love of God? And Calvinists simply have no intelligible way of making sense of how God loves everybody (34-36 min. mark). 

Notice how that interjects a systematic equivocation into his argument. For him, to deny God's universal love is equivalent to denying God's goodness. Hence, if Calvinists have no intelligible way to make sense of how God loves everyone, they have no intelligible way to make sense of God's goodness. 

But the problem with casting his argument in those terms is that it confounds an internal critique of Calvinism with an external critique of Calvinism. From what I can tell, Jerry is attempting to show that Calvinism is inconsistent. Reformed theology can't consistently affirm the universal love of God. 

When, however, Jerry treats universal love and goodness as interchangeable or mutually inclusive, he is tacitly switching from an internal critique to an external critique. According to Jerry's theological frame of reference, universal love and goodness are synonymous or inseparable. But it doesn't follow that they are equivalent or mutually inclusive in Calvinism. 

Hence, this would not be an inconsistency that's internal to Calvinism, but an inconsistency between Calvinism and Jerry's brand of freewill theism. Jerry is manufacturing a point of tension in Calvinism by imputing to Calvinism an assumption that's not a Reformed assumption, but rather an assumption imported from Jerry's theological frame of reference. 

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Calvinism has no intelligible way to affirm God's universal love. That, however, wouldn't begin to demonstrate that a denial of God's universal love entails a corresponding denial of God's goodness on Calvinist grounds. Rather, Jerry is implicitly judging Calvinism by his own theological yardstick at this juncture.

Presumably, Jerry commits this blunder because, for him, equating divine goodness with universal love is so engrained that he can't separate the two in his own thinking. When, however, a philosopher evaluates an opposing viewpoint, it's incumbent on the philosopher to practice critical detachment. He must be able to grasp and describe the opposing viewpoint on its own terms before he's in a position to evaluate it. It's a two-step process. First you expound the opposing viewpoint, then you assess the opposing viewpoint. 

There's nothing inherently wrong with judging the other side by your own standards–although, if you take that approach, you assume a burden of proof to justify your standard of comparison. But you can't allow your own viewpoint to infect your interpretation of the opposing viewpoint. Interpretation and evaluation are distinct steps. And if you attempt to mount an internal critique of the opposing viewpoint, if your aim is to expose a point of internal tension in the opposing viewpoint, you must at all cost avoid smuggling your own normative assumptions into the exposition. Otherwise, you see your own face at the bottom of the well. This is typical of Jerry's slipshod analysis when it comes to Calvinism. He conflates his normative assumptions with the preliminary step of exposition, which results in begging the question.

The longevity of oral history

One reason unbelievers claim Biblical accounts are unreliable is because they were (allegedly) written so long after the fact. For instance, Bart Ehrman recently published a book on the subject. Yet there are two preliminary problems with this claim:

i) It presumes a late date for the documents or the underlying sources.

ii) It disregards the possibility of revelation and inspiration.

That said, the claim suffers from another problem. For there's evidence that under the right conditions, oral history can be reliable across centuries or even millennia. For instance:

One time when the Chief of the Below World was on the earth he saw Loha, the daughter of the tribal chief. Loha was a beautiful maiden, tall and straight as the arrowwood. The Chief of the Below World saw her and fell in love with her. He told her of his love and asked her to return with him to his lodge inside the mountain. But Loha refused to go with him. The Chief of the Below World was very angry. He swore he would have revenge on the people of Loha, that he would destroy them with the Curse of Fire. Raging and thundering on the top of his mountain, he saw the face of the Chief of the Above World on the top of Mount Shasta. From their mountaintops the two spirit chiefs began a furious battle. Mountains shook and crumbled. Red-hot rocks as large as the hills hurtled through the skies. Burning ashes fell like rain. The Chief of the Below World spewed fire from his mouth. Like an ocean of flame it devoured the forests on the mountains and the valleys. The Curse of Fire reached the homes of the people. Fleeing in terror before it, they found refuge in Klamath Lake. This time the Chief Below the World was driven into his home, and the mountain fell upon him. When the morning sun rose, the high mountain was gone. The mountain which the Chief Below the World had called his own no longer towered near Mount Shasta. For many years the rain fell in torrents and filled the great hole that was made when the mountain fell upon the Chief of the Below World. Now you understand why my people do not visit the lake. From father to son has come the warning “Do not look upon this place.” – Klamath story, recorded 1865 [Clark 1953, 53-55]
Who can doubt that we have here a vocalic eruption, with its river of fire, quakes, ash-fall, and lava bombs? Certainly no one who has followed the recent eruptions of Etna, Pinatubo, and Shasta's neighbor Mt. St. Helens.  
Is transmission of oral information across centuries even possible? We read in the newspaper about how unreliable the witnesses to accidents and crimes can be a month later. What hope is there that verbal information could survive so long intact?  
The Klamath story quoted above refers specifically to the place we know as Crater Lake–in fact, the story was related as answer to a young soldier at Fort Klamath when he inquired why the native people never went to that breathtakingly beautiful spot.  
After emptying its magma chamber of lava in a catastrophic eruption, [Mt.] Mazama collapsed to form a crater 4,000 feet deep which, as the narrative relates, never erupted violently again and gradually filled with water to form today's magnificent Crater Lake. That eruption, so accurately described and vehemently warned against in the tale, has been ice-dated to 7,675 years ago. So, yes, real information can reach us intact across more than seven millennia of retelling. Even if we might not agree with their explanation of why these things occurred, the Klamath tribe in the 1860s still knew in considerable detail of events observed millennia earlier.  
Vine Deloria Jr. came to the same conclusion about the Klamath myth of Crater Lake in his book Red Earth, White Lives [1995, 194-98]. We find Deloria also interprets much the way we do the Bridge of the Gods (the Dalles), the disappearance of Spokane Lake, and various other Pacific Northwest myths–all as recording specific geologically reconstructible events. And he too has collected massive evidence for the extreme longevity of these myths. Both we and Deloria are also indebted to Dorothy Vitaliano's book Legends of the Earth [1973], which appeared not long before we began collecting our Myth Principles. 
Evidence abounds from several continents, in fact, that properly encoded information has passed unscathed through the oral pipeline for one to ten thousand years and more–for example, in Australia [Dixon 1984, 153-55,295]. But the conditions must be right for this to happen. 
First of all, the information must be viewed as important, as in the Klamath warning about innocent-looking Crater Lake. 
Second, the information must continue to correspond to something still visible to the hearers, such as Crater Lake to the Klamath. If tellers of volcano myths migrate away from all volcanos, the original meaning of those myths is sure to become clouded or lost. 
The third condition for intact transmission is that it be encoded in a highly memorable way…An unbroken chain of good memories is part of the condition. But that chain is more likely to stay intact if the information is embedded vividly (so as to be more memorable) or encoded into the story multiple times (so there is a back-up)…The latter strategy is called redundancy. E. Barber & P. Barber, When They Severed Earth from Sky: How the Human Mind Shapes Myth (Princeton University Press, 2006), 6-10.

Consider how many Biblical narratives meet these conditions. Biblical narratives often record intrinsically memorable events. 

Bible writers often live in the vicinity of the reported events, where natural landmarks are visible. In addition, God sometimes commands the Israelites to construct memorials. 

Moreover, the event is often encoded in ritual. Religious ritual can function as a mnemonic device, where perennial repetition of the rite prompts collective memory of the event it commemorates (e.g. Passover; Eucharist). Furthermore, the event is often recorded in dramatic imagery. Finally, the event is often recorded in multiple sources. 

Was God sovereign before he made the world?

I'd like to make another observation about this interview with Jerry Walls:

Here I'm expanding on a comment I ran across on Jerry's Facebook wall. 

Beginning around the 62 min. mark, Jerry said God was already love before the world existed. By contrast, God wasn't exercising sovereignty from all eternity because there was no creation, no world over which he was Lord. 

What that claim overlooks is that God's antemundane decision to create or not create is, in itself, an exercise in divine sovereignty. By the same token, God's antemundane selection of which world to create is, in itself, an exercise in divine sovereignty. And unless Jerry thinks there was a time when God was undecided, it was always the case (or timelessly the case) that God exercised his sovereign will by choosing to make the whorl–as well as choosing which world to make. 

It's especially obtuse for Jerry to say God wasn't sovereign before creation as an objection to Calvinism when Calvinism regards predestination as a paradigm-case of divine sovereignty. Needless to say, predestination concerns God's antemundane plan for the world. Although Jerry can reject that, he can hardly say, as a matter of principle, that God was unable to exercise his sovereignty prior to creation. For that's clearly possible.

Moreover, for some theists, God's sovereignty consists in front-loading creation, so that everything unfolds accordingly. Take Leibniz's reestablished harmony, adherents of planned evolution, or the Thomism of Ed Feser:

God as primary cause is like the author of the novel. God’s effects are therefore not to be sought merely in otherwise unexplained natural phenomena, any more than an author’s influence extends only to unusual plot points. Just as a novelist is responsible for every aspect of the story, God is the source of all causality, including ordinary, everyday causes for which we already have good scientific descriptions.

In the same vein, William Dembski says:

"All things are created twice. There's a mental or first creation, and a physical or second creation of all things." Creation always starts with an idea and ends with a thing. Anything achieved must first be conceived. Creation is thus a process bounded by conception at one end and realization at the other. The End of Creation (B&H, 2009), 107.

Finally, Walls made the defamatory allegation that "Calvinists are intoxicated by power" (40-41 min. mark). Of course, that's oxymoronic. To be intoxicated by power is to crave power for yourself, or be drunk on the power you have at your own disposal. That's the polar opposite of disclaiming your own power and confessing yourself to be at the disposal of another. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

God and football

Around the 60 min. mark, Jerry Walls labors to muster a biblical defense for his claim that God loves everyone. 

He then argues that God is essentially loving because God is a Trinity, and the members of the Trinity love each other.

Several problems:

i) Calvinists don't deny that love is an essential divine attribute. So why does Jerry imagine that's a fatal concession to Arminian theology? 

ii) By the same token, omnipotence is an essential divine attribute. That, however, doesn't mean God does everything he's capable of doing. 

iii) God isn't human. Therefore, to infer that if the persons of the Trinity love each other, it follows that God loves every human being is clearly fallacious. God's essential self-love doesn't entail God's love for something (or someone) other than God himself. 

Notice, I'm not saying God cannot or does not love anything or anyone other than himself. I'm simply pointing out that Jerry's inference is invalid. He's jumping categories from intra-Trinitarian love to love for creation. But even if God loves creation, that doesn't follow as a logical implication from God's intra-Trinitarian love, for God and creation are categorically distinct. 

To take a comparison, suppose you have an intelligent alien species. Suppose they necessarily love members of their own species. It doesn't follow from this that they will love members of every other species, or any species other than their own. They may love all and only members of their own species. They love their own kind. Intra-species love doesn't imply extra-species love. 

iv) He also has a bad habit of repeating bad arguments he's been corrected on. Take his objection that according to Calvinism, we can be more loving than God is. He just acts as though that's self-evidently false or reprehensible. But is it? Is Jerry stipulating a general proposition about God? What's wrong with saying we can love some things more than God does? If I love football, does that mean God must love football even more than I do? 

v) He says if Calvinists would forthrightly admit that God doesn't love everyone, Calvinism would be undermined and discredited fairly shortly. What's his evidence for that claim?

If you conducted an opinion poll asking whether God must love Charles Manson, would every respondent share Jerry's outlook? Would most respondents share Jerry's outlook? Would the mother of Sharon Tate share Jerry's outlook?

I'm not saying God can't love a psychopathic killer. I'm just remarking on Jerry's unquestioned intuition. He acts as though it's self-evident that if you deny that God loves everyone, most people would find that discreditable. But that's like opinion polls where the answer depends on the specificity of the question. If you ask people whether God loves everyone, maybe most people would say yes.

If, however, you get specific, if you plug in particular names, you may well get different answers. Lots of people might say God loves the Dalai Lama or Mother Teresa. But if you were to ask whether God loves Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, Josef Mengele et al., you might get a very different answer. 

Jerry's mental world exists in a bubble. He's used to talking to like-minded people. It's like the famous quote attributed to Pauline Kael: “I can’t believe Nixon won. I don’t know anyone who voted for him.”