Saturday, October 15, 2016

Can Hillary succeed?

Conservatives rightly fear that Hillary will continue Obama's secularization of American society. No doubt she will try. How successful she will be is harder to say. Both Obama and Bill Clinton are natural politicians. By that I mean that for a certain kind of voter, they are charming and charismatic. They don't have that effect on me, they are popular with many Americans. And that enables them to promote divisive policies without appearing to be divisive. 

Hillary, by contrast, is divisive in style as well as substance. Because she's naturally strident, she will provoke opposition to a degree that Bill and Obama do not. So she may face much tougher sledding. 

Now I don't know what the breaking point of the American public is. I don't know if the American public has a breaking point. Even if it does, I don't know if the percentages will be sufficient halt or reverse course. That remains to be seen. But when you combine Hillary's heavy-handed agenda with her disagreeable personality, that's the best prescription for a popular backlash. The only question is the scale of the backlash. Will it be enough to unhorse the SJWs? This will be an all-out conflict. 

Trump and the gender gap

On Facebook, Robert Gagnon got into some impromptu debates with a few high-minded women when he argued that voting for Trump may be justifiable as the lesser of two evils. Because Trump is a male chauvinist pig, I think some women find it incomprehensible and unconscionable how any decent may could vote for Trump. If you vote for a male chauvinist pig, what kind of man does that make you? Because they disapprove of Trump, they disapprove of men who consider voting for Trump.

To some extent I think this may reflect stereotypical differences between men and women. I'm not talking about Alt-Right men. I'm talking about decent men. How can a respectable man consider voting for someone as disreputable as Trump?

I'm guessing this is how some men view it. As president, Hillary threatens the job security of millions of Americans. How so? Due to homosexual/transgender lobbyists. SJWs are utterly intolerant of dissent.

If you don't use transgender pronouns, you man well be fired. Or your business will be boycotted. Or fined.

Or suppose there's a "gay couple" in your office who decide to get married. Suppose the boss throws an office party to celebrate. Woe to you if you absent yourself from the party. Even if you don't verbally express your disapproval, nothing short of affirming them will save your job.

And it's not just at work. SJWs surveil social media for people who make politically incorrect statements. Likewise, they bait people into making politically incorrect statements.

There are probably men who consider voting for Trump to protect their family. They can't protect their family unless they can protect their livelihood. 

My point at the moment is not to debate whether that's a sufficient reason to vote for Trump. I'm a NeverTrumper. My point is simply that honorable men can have honorable reasons to vote for a dishonorable candidate–given the alternative. It's not that hard to fathom. 

Unisex toys

Eschatological restoration

One intriguing question is the nature of eschatological restoration for the developmentally disabled. This is, of course, speculative. On the other hand, Christian theology opens of vistas of possibility that secularism cannot. So it's useful to explore. 

You have the physically disabled. Say, a person who can't walk or can't run or can't use his hands. 

Then you have sensory disabilities, like the deaf and the blind. That has both a physical and psychological dimension. It affects how people perceive and adapt to the world. How they mentally model the world, based on the sensory input available to them. 

It can also create an inbuilt sense of community. There are blind and deaf subcultures. In a sense that makes you special. And it confers automatic social membership in a preexisting community. 

In that respect, the notion of having your sight or hearing restored can be threatening. Will you be excommunicated from your social circle? Suddenly, you're just another ordinary person. You no longer have that kinship group. 

Of course, that refers to the here-and-now, not the hereafter. In the world to come, that shouldn't be a deprivation. There will be additional compensations. 

Then you have psychological abnormalities like Down Syndrome, autism, and savant syndrome. In that event, eschatological restoration raises questions of personal identity. Will you be the same person if your condition is normalized? 

It's hard to generalize. For instance, savants are less intelligent in most respects, but geniuses in another respect. Would restoration mean they retain their distinctive aptitude, but other faculties are leveled up to normal? Or would it mean an equalization of their faculties, where their distinctive aptitude is leveled down while their other faculties are leveled up to make them consistently normal? 

What about autistics or people with Down Syndrome? I think the fear that they won't be the same person is misplaced. It's not like eschatological restoration erases what they were. It's not amnesia. 

If they were reborn, and mature normally, then in some respects they'd turn out differently. But there's no reason to think that's how eschatological restoration works. It's not aging them down to the womb and starting over again without the disabilities. Rather, it begins wherever they are, as adults (let us say), and then removes some intellectual impediments. 

Let's take a comparison: some animals have sensory aptitudes that humans lack. It's natural to be curious about how they perceive the world. Even with our five senses, what are we missing? 

In the future, it might be technologically possible through a neurointerface to experience what they experience. To perceive the world through their sensory aptitudes. If that was available, surely some of us would experiment with that, to find out what it was like. That would expand our mental horizons. 

We wouldn't view that sensory enhancement as a threat to our personal identity. It wouldn't remove something that we already have or already are, but give us an additional window onto the world.   

Friday, October 14, 2016

Queen bee of the Borg Collective

In one respect, the debate about whether to vote for Trump is probably moot. According to Larry Sabato's latest Electoral College projections, Trump is trailing Hillary 341 to 197. Hard to see how he can overtake her. 

The reason, however, this is still worth discussing is because of the underlying issues. These are perennial issues. The contest between Hillary and Trump merely illustrates some perennial issues.

It was poor reasoning that got Trump nominated in the first place. Unless poor reasoning is challenged, that's a problem for the future, not just the past. Unless we wish to repeat the same mistakes, a midcourse correction is in order. Ironically, I often see a certain lack of moral clarity in moral objections to voting for Trump. At this point my concern is not about the vicissitudes of the Trump campaign. His defeat is likely a foregone conclusion. My concern is about moral reasoning. Let's begin with this post:

Pox Americana

Anyone Can be Saved: A Defense of “Traditional” Southern Baptist Soteriology

Hmm. I thought traditional SB soteriology subscribes to exclusivism. Putting aside special cases (e.g. those who die before the age of reason), traditional SB soteriology says those who live and die outside the pale of the Gospel cannot be saved. That's a presupposition of traditional SB foreign missions. Faith is Christ is necessary for salvation. So anyone cannot be saved. 

So the book would only make sense if it represents a shift from exclusivism to inclusivism, viz. Jerry Walls, John Sanders, Gabriel Fackre, Clark Pinnock. 

We are both theists

“I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do.”

― Stephen Roberts

“I contend that we are both theists. I just believe in one more God than you do.”

― Stephen Hays

Thursday, October 13, 2016

"Locker room banter"

I've seen two different reactions to Trump's "locker room banter"

Some male commentators say Trump isn't representative of how men talk to other men about women.

Other male commentators say Trump is representative of how men talk to other men about women.

I think some male commentators are speaking defensively.

A problem with the claim is that I doubt we can generalize. Obviously there are men who talk that way and then there are men who don't. Age can also be a factor. 

An older relative once told me something her husband related to her when he was in the service, during WWII. He said there were two kinds of men in his unit: men who wrote letters to their girlfriends back home every day. Then there were men who spoke in the crudest terms about women.

Implication being: some of the men were devoted to a particular woman. That's what they were hoping to come back to after the war. The other men were horndogs. 

Trump's sexual ethics are just what you'd expect from men without Christian restraint or sanctity. And, traditionally, the Christian faith has been a moderating influence on the general culture, even among unbelievers. 

But, of course, the culture is under assault from secularists. So men are reverting. And not just men. 

BTW, I'm not suggesting that Christian men are immune. In a culture where pornography is just a mouse-click away, I daresay precious few men, inside or outside the church, are untainted. 

What should we make of supernatural claims in other religious

A paradox of gigantic proportions

But as soon as one does meet and come to know people or other faiths a paradox of gigantic proportions becomes disturbingly obvious. We say as Christians that God is the God of universal love, that he is the creator and Father of all mankind, and that he wills the ultimate good and salvation of all men. But we also say, traditionally, that the only way to salvation is the Christian way. And yet we know, when we stop to think about it, that the large majority of the human race who have lived and died up to the present moment have lived either before Christ or outside the borders of Christendom. Can we then accept the conclusion that the God of love who seeks to save all mankind has nevertheless ordained that men must be saved in such a way that only a small minority can in fact receive salvation? It is the weight of this moral contradiction that has driven Christian thinkers in modern times to explore other ways of understanding the human religious situation. John Hick, God and the Universe of Faiths (Oneworld Publications, 2nd. ed., 1993), 122-23. 

Rahner, Jerry Walls, John Sanders, Gabriel Fackre, W. L. Craig, religious pluralists, and universalists, all have different strategies to resolve this dilemma. 

So often, freewill theists act as if Calvinism is deeply problematic while freewill theism is unproblematic. But that conceals major tensions in their own position.

What if Hillary wins?

If Hillary wins, as seems highly likely, that's very bad news. But does that mean the future is hopeless? 

Here's a possibility: Hillary's DOJ pushes the transgender agenda. That, in turn, encourages Democrat officials in various states to push the transgender agenda. That, in turn, provokes a tremendous popular backlash on the part of otherwise apathetic citizens or reflexive Democrat voters or independents. 

If Democrat politicians impose transgender policies regarding coed restrooms, locker rooms, and sports teams, will that alienate key voting blocks in the Democrat party?  

Likewise, what if we continue to have an uptick in domestic jihadist massacres that are easily linked to liberal immigration policies. 

We will see if there's a breaking point. To some degree, the Trump nomination in itself represents voter frustration with 8 years of Obama. But they chose a dud.

We also see how immigration policies in Europe are empowering rightwing parties. So it's a mistake to despair and assume the liberal trajectory is unstoppable.  

Here's another potentially, albeit unwittingly, promising development in the culture wars:

Increasingly, liberals are fanatical pet owners. Dogs and cats as a substitute for kids. They feel virtuous about their antinatalism. 

But here we have a powerful special interest group that's targeting the very concept of pets. And it's coming from the Left. If it gains steam, it may antagonize voters who reflexively favor Democrat candidates. It can be wedge issue, just like transgenderism. 

Corporate election

Most simply, corporate election refers to the choice of a group, which entails the choice of its individual members by virtue of their membership in the group. Thus, individuals are not elected as individuals directly, but secondarily as members of the elect group. Nevertheless, corporate election necessarily entails a type of individual election because of the inextricable connection between any group and the individuals who belong to it.6 Individuals are elect as a consequence of their membership in the group.
We have already noted that God’s Old Covenant people were chosen in Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. More specifically, God chose Abraham and his descendants, but limited his election of Abraham’s descendants to only some of them by his choice of Isaac as the head of the covenant through whom Abraham’s covenant descendants were to be reckoned. He then limited his election of the covenant descendants even further by his choice of Jacob as the head of the covenant. At the same time, and as already pointed out above, people not naturally related to Jacob and so not part of the elect people could join the chosen people, becoming part of the elect. On the other hand, individual members of the elect people could be cut off from the covenant people due to violation of the covenant, rendering them non-elect.
 For Israel was chosen in Jacob. That is, the people Israel was chosen as a consequence of the man Israel’s election. When he was chosen, they were chosen. As Gen. 25:23 indicates, it could be said that the nation was in Rebekah’s womb because Jacob was. And as Mal. 1:2-3 affirms, God loved/chose the people Israel by loving/choosing Jacob. 
In the New Covenant, God’s people are chosen corporately as a consequence of their union with Christ, which is effected by faith.12 While this is not quite the traditional Arminian position, it fully supports Arminian theology because it is a conditional election. Most directly, such election is conditioned on being in Christ. But then being in Christ is itself conditioned on faith, meaning that the divine election of God’s people and the election of individuals for salvation is ultimately conditional on faith in Christ.
A critical part of the answer to that is provided by the incorporative, qualifying phrase, “in Christ.” It means that God chose us as a consequence of being in Christ. There is no denial here of the election of human beings, just that the election of human beings is individualistic and unconditional.

Several issues:

1. Abasciano admits right up front that corporate election entails individual election. It's just an indirect result. The question at issue is how individuals become party to the collective. 

2. Before commenting on that, let's illustrate the general principle:

i) For the (temporary) duration of the Mosaic covenant, every lineal descendent of Jacob was obligated to abide by the terms of the Mosaic covenant by virtue of being a descendent of Jacob. The covenant applied to an entire class of individuals. 

The fact that covenant-breakers could be excommunicated is no exception, for that, in itself, was a covenant sanction. You already had to be a member of the covenant to be liable to that sanction. 

The further fact that foreigners could be incorporated into the covenant community is no exception, for the terms of the covenant make provision for that possibility. 

ii) To take a few secular examples, a citizen is someone who satisfies the conditions of citizenship. All and only those individuals who satisfy the conditions of citizenship are citizens. The conditions of citizenship select in advance for who can and can't be a citizen. That can include birthright citizenship, where an individual is a citizen, not by choice, but by virtue of where they were born or to whom they were born. 

Another example would be draft registration. Suppose the government stipulates that all males must register for the draft when the reach age 18. Yet another example might be an Indian treaty. It allocates land to members of a particular tribe. It stipulates the borders. It stipulates who counts as a member of the tribe. Say, an individual must have one grandparent from that tribe. 

Although it doesn't directly pick any particular individual, it designates a class of individuals. All and only those individuals who are covered are included. 

3. In the secular examples, the government doesn't know in advance who will be included. But apart from open theists, other freewill theists must concede that God had the affected individuals in mind. God knew who the concerned parties would be. Moreover, the terms of corporate election select for who the concerned parties will be. The terms of corporate election determine who can be a concerned party. Their status is a result of the stipulations. God knows the affected individuals, the specific individuals whom he's including or excluding, by how he defines the terms of corporate membership. His prior knowledge of that outcome is the logical consequence of his prior action, effecting that outcome. 

4. It's true that this, in itself, doesn't make election unconditional. However, the fact that God is said to choose Christians before the foundation of the world, or to choose them beforehand, or to predestine a chain of events resulting in their ultimate salvation, implies unconditionality. God is acting on behalf of people who did not exist. He is making decisions for them before they were conceived, or their parents were conceived, or their grandparents were conceived. That, in itself, implies a unilateral action. It depends on God, not on them. 

I don't mean "imply" in the sense of logical necessity, but implicature. What are the connotations of "predestination," "chosen beforehand," "chosen before the foundation of the world"? How would Paul expect his readers to register that terminology? I think they'd naturally take it to mean that they are beneficiaries of a choice they had nothing to do with. 

To take a comparison: suppose a man strikes it rich at age 20. He draws up a will. At the time he is childless. His will stipulates that if he has a grandson, the grandson will inherit a lump-sum (exact amount specified in the will). At the time of the will, his grandson doesn't exist. Indeed, his son or daughter doesn't exist. They have no say-so. 

By the same token, Paul's predestinarian language implies that Christians are impacted by a divine decision over which they had no control, since they were in no position at the time to say, think, or do anything about it one way or the other. They are entirely on the receiving-end of that transaction, just as children don't consent to their conception. 

In theory, union with Christ might be effected by faith. But Paul's antemundane framework removes that from consideration. Rather, individuals are in union with Christ by virtue of the Father's predestinarian choice. Faith happens in time rather than timeless eternity–before they even existed, except as divine ideas. 

5. Abasciano is arbitrarily selective about his emphasis on the "collectivist mentality" of Scripture. Making membership contingent on faith is individualistic. 

6. To say that salvation is contingent on faith is no alternative to Calvinism. That merely pushes the question back a step. Why do some people have faith while others do not? For that matter, why does God make salvation contingent on faith in Christ when that preemptively excludes many people who lived and died outside the pale of the Gospel? 

A Response To Annette Merz On The Infancy Narratives (Part 8)

(Previous parts in the series: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7.)

There's a section in Merz's chapter about the date of Jesus' birth. She suggests that an early tradition may have placed his birth under a Herod other than Herod the Great. And she argues against the historicity of Luke's census account. I'll begin with her claims about which Herod Jesus was born under.

After saying that there are "serious doubts" about placing Jesus' birth at the time of Herod the Great (478), Merz tells us that Matthew wanted to parallel Jesus to Moses by having a figure like the Pharaoh of Exodus 1-2 in Jesus' childhood. Therefore, Matthew may have had unhistorical, typological motives for placing Jesus' birth at the time of Herod the Great. I've addressed that argument in a previous response to Merz. See my quotation of Mark Smith and my response to that quotation about halfway through the post here.

Merz then writes:

From a historical point of view, the slaughter of the innocents most certainly must be regarded as a legend mirroring Pharaoh's order to kill the sons of Israel (Ex 1-2) and echoing Herod's infamous cruelty towards his own family and subjects. (479)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Penultimate thoughts on Trump

This may be my final post on Trump. 

1. There are conscientious conservatives like Dennis Prager, Robert George, Robert Gagnon, Bill Vallicalla, Victor Hanson, Thomas Sowell, Scott Klusendorf, Andrew McCarthy, Tony Perkins, and E. Calvin Beisner who've argued that it's reasonable to vote for Trump to block Hillary. We must choose from the available options. 

What I've seen in some quarters is an effort say it's out of bounds even to make a case for that. I disagree. Their arguments merit a respectful hearing. I won't vote for Trump, but we face a real dilemma. It's understandable that some people fall on the other side of the dilemma. You can disagree with them while granting that their position is ethical and rational.

I'm referring to the good guys. We need to separate the good guys from the bad guys. For instance, Ralph Reed is a snake. 

2. Another problem is that NeverTrumpers need to be more evenhanded. It was a mistake for NeverTrumpers to direct nearly all their fire at Trump, to the neglect of Hillary. It's not enough to document how bad Trump is. You need to document how bad Hillary is. 

From time to time I've thought about doing a post in which I make the case against Hillary. But for several reasons I never did. For one thing, I doubt most Tblog readers are inclined to vote for Hillary. And the few that are would not be swayed by what I say. 

In addition, I haven't attempted to keep track of all the wacky things Hillary has said in speeches, debates, and interviews since she threw her hat into the ring. Not to mention the revelations from Wikileaks. But the case against Hillary would be incomplete without that additional supporting material.

But that's really not my responsibility. Unlike National Review or The Weekly Standard, I'm not a paid political junkie. I write about many other things. And they have a different audience. 

3. Regarding Trump's "locker room banter," both liberals and conservatives have accused the other side of hypocrisy. Ironically, they sometimes use the very same example! Liberals exclaim: "You said 'character counts during the Lewinsky scandal. But once Trump becomes the nominee, you change your tune!"

Conservatives exclaim: "You feign outrage at Trump's sexual ethics, but you turned a blind eye to Bill Clinton, or even defended his shenanigans!" 

What are we to make of this?

4. Some Trump supporters are hypocrites. They are blind partisans whose principles change with the candidate. And the same holds true for Democrats. In my observation, that's more true for Democrats. 

This is the difference between an ideologue and a partisan. An ideologue is consistent (for better or worse). 

5. That said, remember that the Lewinsky scandal was almost 20 years ago. I don't mean by that that because it's an old story, it doesn't matter. What I mean, rather, is that there's been lots of turnover in the GOP and the religious right since that scandal broke. Therefore, it's inaccurate for liberal critics to simply scream "hypocrisy!" It would only be hypocritical if the same people who took one position on Bill Clinton have pivoted when it comes to Trump. But you can't just assume that people who take a position on Trump even had a position on Bill Clinton back then. 

6. Someone might object that if I'm going to make that allowance for conservatives, I should make the same allowance for liberals. And I agree. The reason I think it's legitimate to counter liberal fulminations about Trump's sexual ethics by reminding Democrats of JFK, Teddy Kennedy, Bill Clinton et al. is not necessarily to say they've changed their tune. Some have. But I'm using these as test cases. Even if you had no position on them at the time, do you, in retrospect, hold them to the same standard that you now hold Trump to? 

7. And, of course, this isn't just about the past. The pop culture routinely celebrates sexual debauchery. And the women are just as debauched as the men. For instance, Jersey Shore ran for six seasons. At its peak, it was the top-rated MTV show. And to some extent that was just a teaser for even more explicit DVDs. Beyoncé is another example:

So it's hard to take the outrage seriously.

8. Someone might object that I'm excusing Trump by saying "you're just as bad!" But that's not what I'm saying. Rather, I'm using a tu quoque argument. I'm responding to liberal critics on their own grounds. I'm challenging them to be morally and logically consistent. Liberals live in such an echo chamber that it doesn't even occur to them that they chronically contradict themselves.

When I parry their moralistic denunciations of Trump by drawing attention to moral degenerates that the pop culture and the liberal media (often indistinguishable) glorifies, that doesn't represent my own viewpoint. There's no point in having two political parties if the GOP is just as bad as the Democrat party. That's the problem with the Trump nomination. So I do think it's important for the GOP to be a better alternative. Otherwise, it has no raison d'être.

BTW, assertions to the contrary notwithstanding, the tu quoque is a perfectly legitimate counterargument:

P.S, I never thought the Lewinsky scandal was the worst thing you could say about Bill Clinton. As I've said, it was like getting Al Capone on tax evasion. 

9. Finally, there's nothing necessary hypocritical about changing your mind. We can't anticipate every eventuality. We sometimes take positions that make sense at the time. But when times change, that may force us to become cognizant of additional considerations that didn't occur to us before. As finite creatures, we make shortsighted statements. 

Bible background

1. I was asked to comment on the idea of knowing culture background to better understand the Bible. It's hard to give a general answer to that question. On the one hand, there are certainly many instances where background knowledge aids the reader in understanding the text. For instance, books like Isaiah, Ezekiel, and 1-2 Kings are full of references to the international politics of the day. Much of this is obscure or opaque to a modern reader. So it's useful to fill in the background.

Likewise, knowing about the nature of Egyptian religion can help the reader understand how the miracles in Exodus are sometimes an attack on the pretensions of Egyptian religion. The cult of Pharaoh. The sun god Ra. The role of the cobra. The "divine" Nile river, as a personification of the god Hapi. 

By the same token, knowing that ancient Israel had an agrarian economy, common property, tribal social structure, knowing about the climate and topography, can help explain the function of some of OT laws. 

In addition, this can sometimes be useful in terms of genre criticism and literary conventions. 

I'd add that the OT is often countercultural. It doesn't just mirror the ANE, but often provides a corrective. 

2. However, when scholars like John Walton, Peter Enns, Kenton Sparks, Kyle Greenwood, Bill Arnold, Charles Halton et al. talk about the need to read the OT in the original context, they have something additional in mind. They mean Bible writers rely on obsolete conceptual categories. Bible writers unwittingly posit as true what we now know to be false. Carried to a logical extreme, this leads to atheism. The view that the whole notion of external divine intervention from a God (or angels) who exists beyond the earth is part of this (allegedly) antiquated cosmography.

They think they are viewing the OT through ancient Near Eastern eyes. Up to a point, that's a good objective. We should attempt to read the OT as the original audience understood it. However, I don't think the scholars in question are actually viewing it through ANE eyes. Rather, they are viewing it through the eyes of Western high-tech urbanites who are out of touch with the experience of ancient Near Easterners.  

The exercise is potentially circular, for unless you know how ancient people viewed the world directly, you can't say how literary or pictorial depictions of the world were meant to reflect the world. Let's take a few comparisons, moving back in time. 

3. Suppose a scholar inferred from Holman Hunt's The Light of the World that Victorian Christians thought Jesus knocks on everybody's front door. Of course, that's a fallacious inference. 

4. Suppose a scholar wrote a monograph on Verne's cosmography. He cited Journey to the Center of the Earth to demonstrate what 19C Europeans thought about the earth's interior. But, of course, Verne's story is fictional. 

Perhaps someone would object that that's an equivocal comparison. We classify his work as fiction because a scientifically educated man of his era would know that's not what the earth's interior is like. By contrast, the same thing can't be said for ancient Near Easterners. 

However, I doubt that at the time of writing (1864), Europeans knew that much about the earth's interior. Not to mention that Verne wasn't even a geologist. Moreover, he's writing in a genre that had been around for a while. There were literary precedents. Consider earlier examples like Casanova's Icosaméron (1788) and Niels Klim's Underground Travels (1741). How much did 18C literati know about the earth's interior? 

5. Suppose scholars inferred from spirituals that black slaves thought that at the moment of death your soul was transported to Palestine, where you had to ford the river Jordan to enter Beulah land?  

6. Suppose a scholar wrote a monograph on Buyanesque cosmography. He cited The Pilgrim's Progress to demonstrate that 17C Englishmen thought heaven was a place on earth. Heaven lay just beyond the Delectable Mountains. You could walk to heaven on the King's Highway, although you had to ford the Thames to reach the Celestial City. The scholar produces a roadmap with landmarks and place names to document the state of 17C English cosmography. 

But, of course, that's a fallacious inference. Bunyan's work is fictional. 

7. Suppose a scholar wrote a monograph on Dantean cosmography. This seems like a more promising example. Dante's Comedy is cobbled together from Aristotelian physics, Ptolemaic astronomy, and Greco-Roman depictions of the Netherworld. Dante believed the underlying science was true. And you can certainly map out the world of the Comedy. 

That said, did Dante really think Purgatory a mountain? Moreover, even if he thought the scientific underpinnings of the story were true, he knew that he was inventing the details every step of the way. The landscape of hell, and the climate of hell, with boiling rivers of blood, sleet, brimstone, deserts of burning coals, bleeding trees, &c., is a figment of his imagination. 

Furthermore, there's a major plothole running through the entire story. The character of Dante is still alive. He has a physical body. But most of hell's denizens are discarnate spirits: ghosts and demons. If hell is physical, how can it contain and confine discarnate spirits? If hell is physical, how can the sleet, brimstone, boiling rivers, &c., have any affect on them? 

In theory, it could be like a psychological simulation. A stable, collective nightmare. But in that event, the character of Dante would be outside the dreamscape, not inside the dreamscape. 

So there's this constant paradox. If the character of Dante can interface with hell, then most of the inhabitants cannot. If most of the inhabitants can interface with hell, then his character cannot. It requires the willing suspension of disbelief. 

8. Suppose a scholar wrote a monograph on Homer's oceanography. He cited The Odyssey to demonstrate what ancient Greeks believed about the nature of their world. 

But there are problems with that inference. In The Odyssey, the action is set around the Mediterranean, Aegean sea, Ionian sea, Strait of Messina. Sicily, Ithaca, the Peloponnese, &c. The travelogue of Odysseus includes encounters with the Calypso, Circe, Sirens, Cyclops, Laestrygonians, &c.

Surely, though, ancient Greek mariners who were familiar with the harbors and islands along his route. Yet they never encountered anything like he relates. Wouldn't Greek sailors be skeptical about these tales?  

I can't give a firm answer. My point is that it doesn't even occur to scholars like John Walton, Peter Enns et al. to ask questions like that when they make assumptions about ancient Near Easterners. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Gut reactions

I'm going take another swipe at Collin Hansen's recent article, but before I do so I'd like to put the issue in a larger context. Ethicists often use hypotheticals to illustrate or undercut certain moral intuitions. Since these thought-experiments are abstract and artificial, no one really gets hurt. By the same token, I see lots of Christians who have bad rules of thumb for making ethical evaluations. Now, in normal times, society has enough padding that you can get away with illogical reasoning. Society is so big and diffuse that it can absorb many mistakes. 

However, in more extreme times, due to the cumulative impact of codified falsehoods and detrimental social policies, we no longer have that buffer. At that juncture, additional illogical justifications become exponentially more costly. 

I'd add that even before we get to that point, having bad rules of thumb for making ethical evaluations can still be very harmful at an individual level. Take medical decisions involving an elderly relative–or a family member who was wheeled into the ER after a terrible traffic accident. 

Christians need to have the right tools in their ethical toolbox for personal ethics and social ethics. The cummulative consequences of poor reasoning can be calamitous. That's why I did a recent post on some popular terminological fallacies:

Keep in mind that voters using bad rules of thumb are what got Trump nominated in the first place. When enough people shirk reason and evidence, that's the dire result. 

Back to Hansen:

To the older evangelicals planning to vote for Trump: You can try to explain the difference in electing a president and hiring a 23-year-old college graduate to evangelize students. You can say we’re electing a commander in chief and not a Sunday school teacher. You can say that God often raises up pagan leaders to deliver his people from their enemies. But no one is fooled by your arguments. 
They can see you will apparently excuse anything in a Republican nominee so long as the alternative is a manifestly unqualified Clinton. And they will conclude that they don’t really need to listen to you when it comes to “traditional, biblical ethics.”

i) Notice how Hansen frames the issue. What he's done, no doubt unintentionally, is insidiously evil. He's cast the issue in a way that subverts rational persuasion. He preemptively discredits any explanation or justification in this case as "hypocritical". You'd be a "fool" to accept those arguments. Stop listening. 

That's a very dangerous tactic, because the liberal establishment will be only too happy to apply that to any Christian argument for Christian ethics. No one is fooled by arguments against abortion. That's just a cover to control women's bodies. No one is fooled by arguments for religious liberty. That's just a cover for homophobia, transphobia, bigotry, and intolerance. And so on and so forth.

How we frame a moral issue can be just as important as the issue itself, for if we get into the habit of miscasting issues, that sets a bad precedent. People build on that false premise to derive harmful conclusions. Notice how liberals routinely turn outrageous assumptions into unquestionable assumptions, then build on that rotten foundation. 

ii) Another problem with Hansen's contention is that he simply posits an analogy between voting for president and hiring criteria at a Christian organization. Notice that he doesn't provide an actual supporting argument to show how those are, in fact, relevantly analogous. He acts as if he should have the benefit of that analogy without having to argue for the analogy. But that begs the question. He seems to be really ticked off by the "religious right," and he's getting something off his chest. He has an inarticulate feeling that there's something deeply wrong. A gut reaction. 

iii) There is, however, nothing disreputable about taking the position that if you're confronted with only two viable candidates, both of whom are equally decadent, but one of whom is likely to promote and impose far more harmful social policies than the other, to vote for the less damaging candidate. That's a morally and intellectually respectable principle in voting. The way to attack the argument is not to attack the principle, but to attack the comparison. And that's a different objection. For instance, one objection to Trump is that, if elected, he will co-opt the conservative movement. He will corrupt the conservative moment from within. That's a legitimate consideration. And that involves a comparison between the overall consequences of each candidate–long-term and well a short-term. But as a matter of principle, there's nothing dishonorable about making choices that mitigate evil, if that's the best you can do. Both candidates have said and done things that ought to disqualify them from holding public office. What if both candidates fail minimal standards? 

iv) Finally, if I were arguing for Trump, I wouldn't say things like "we're electing a commander-in-chief, not a pastor-in-chief". The problem with that comparison is that it acts as if there should be no standards for president. An amoral Realpolitik philosophy. 

However, even that comparison does have a grain of truth. Gen. Patton would make a poor pastor. John Piper would make a poor president. (For one thing, Piper's a pacifist.) There are things that disqualify someone for pastoral ministry that don't disqualify someone from military command. What we want in a general is a guy with a good head for strategy and tactics. Adaptable intelligence. Situational awareness. If you're in a war for national survival, and your best general is a personal creep, you use your best general. 

Now, someone might object that my own analogy begs the question. Is Trump comparable to Patton? I agree. My analogy was deliberately weak at that point. I think it's a valid analogy to illustrate a point of principle. But whether the principle applies to Trump is a different question. I'm not making a case for Trump. But I am making a case for certain principles in decision-making. 

These are principles we need to keep in mind moving forward. This is important over and above the current race for president. Irrespective of who wins, and the consequences of that election, we need to frame ethical issues properly for the battles ahead.

Why Walls is still wrong

This has become a stock objection to Calvinism:

God could give all persons “irresistable grace” and thereby determine all persons to freely accept a right relationship with himself and be saved.

But that proves too much since even the freewill theist God could give everyone irresistible grace. 

Or the freewill theist God could redefine the terms of salvation. Broaden the terms of salvation sufficiently to save everyone. That wouldn't infringe on libertarian freedom. Even the psychopaths could be consigned to an eternal tropical paradise. Kinda like those Swedish "prisons" that resemble resort hotels. 

In addition, as James Anderson points out:

It appears to me that your symbolization of Jerry’s premise 5 is incorrect. As you have it, the mere fact that God can give irresistible grace to S entails that S will be saved. But that’s not what premise 5 states or implies, nor is it something that the Calvinist ought to grant.

Rich Davis concedes that objection, but adds: 

Here’s another possibility. My symbolization of (5) is what Jerry intends, but there is a supporting argument for (5)–running in the background, as it were–which employs certain bridging premises.

Problem is, Walls and Davis want the benefit of a bridging premise without having to supply a bridging premise. If they have a supporting argument, let's see it! Freewill theists keep giving us I.O.U.s. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Why a Virgin Birth?

Divine Sovereignty & Human Freedom

Atheism, trust, and friendship

Atheists complain that they are distrusted. Being atheists, they think that's unfair. Sheer prejudice.

But here's the problem: it's not directly about morality. There are atheists who inconsistently believe in morality. So it's not that they can't be trusted because they are immoral or amoral–although some certainly are. And, indeed, atheists are far more likely to deny moral realism than Christians. So the odds are that they are less trustworthy in that respect.

But that's not the main thing. It's less about morality than mortality. If you think this life is all there is, then are you going to do the right thing even if that puts you at personal risk? I'm not saying you don't have brave atheists, but from the standpoint of mortality, isn't that foolhardy? 

To take a cliche example, suppose you're gentile and your best friend is Jewish. But then the Nazis come to power. You still want to be his friend. But there's now a conflict between self-interest and altruism. Are you prepared to risk your life or freedom to remain his friend?

From a secular standpoint, isn't that irrational? So that has an indirect effect on your commitment to morality. In a pinch, can your Jewish friend trust you to watch his back? Or is the price too high? In normal times, your friendship isn't costly. Indeed, your friendship is mutually agreeable. But now that friendship is politically dangerous. If this life is all there is, will you hazard your life or freedom to protect him? Or will you protect yourself? 

The acid test of friendship is taking a risk–even a grave risk–for your friends. That's a gamble. And if you can't afford to lose the bet, you can't be a real friend, you can't be a friend when it matters most. When the stakes are high, that's why he needs a friend–and that's when the stakes are too high for you to be his friend. It isn't safe to be around him. 

Objectifying women

One complaints about Donald Trump is that he "objectifies" women. Now, Trump is a certified creep, but that doesn't mean we should allow feminists to define morality. To my knowledge, the complaint about "objectifying" women originates with feminist sociologists. If fact, I've seen feminists complain that calling a woman "pretty" or "beautiful" is "sexist". 

Let's be honest for a moment. Human beings are sexual creatures. It's only natural and normal to view at least some members of the opposite sex from a sexual standpoint. If you wish, to view them as sexual "objects". 

In that regard, there are both similarities and differences between men and women. On the one hand, you will never hear a normal man complain that a woman "objectified" him or viewed him as a sex object. "You only love me for my body–not my mind!"

Likewise, if a pretty women were to slap a man on the butt–even a stranger–he wouldn't be offended. For the moment, I'm not discussing what's appropriate, but just making a descriptive observation. In that respect, I think there's some difference between men and women. Insofar as we admit men and women have different reactions, that undercuts feminism. 

Conversely, let's not pretend that women never "objectify" men. For decades, Hollywood has not only showcased actresses who are physically appealing to male viewers, but actors who are physically appealing to female. Women are quite capable of viewing men as sex objects. And some men would be disappointed if they didn't. 

Likewise, not a few women deliberately dress in ways that invite sexual objectification. They know exactly what they are up to. Again, I'm not discussing what's appropriate at the moment, but just making a descriptive observation. 

So I find the politically correct double standard rather tiresome. The only men who never "objectify" women are homosexual men. It's a two-way street.

From a Christian standpoint, it's wrong to prioritize appearances. And it's wrong to only judge a member of the opposite sex by their looks. 

Glossary of terminological fallacies

This is a glossary of terminological fallacies that Christian pundits frequently commit. I often see Christian pundits use terms and categories that they clearly don't understand. They just wing it when it comes to ethical analysis. They don't seem to have even a rudimentary grasp of ethical categories and distinctions. They think they can fly by the seat-of-their-pants. 

One problem is people using dictionary definitions for philosophical concepts. They fail to distinguish between the ordinary meaning of words and technical terms that designate philosophical positions or idiosyncratic positions. It's like the difference between "home," "run," and "home run," or "slam," "dunk," and "slam-dunk". What these words mean individually is different from what they mean as technical jargon. 

Ethics requires precision thought. I've discussed these terms and categories before, but I'd like to collate them in a single post for ready reference. 

1. Lesser-evil principle

Many people are confused about the word "evil" in "the lesser of two evils." But that doesn't mean choosing between a lesser wrong and a greater wrong. Rather, that's choosing between bad and worse.

If I can't saving everyone in a nursing home that's on fire, I have a choice between bad (letting some die) and worse (letting all die). It's not immoral for me to rescue those I can. It's not a lesser "evil" in that sense.

The "lesser evil" does mean a moral evil. It doesn't mean doing wrong. Rather, it's a contrast between a bad outcome and a worse outcome.

Take amputating a gangrenous limb to save a patient. Amputation is a bad solution. Letting the patient die is worse. 

Indeed, letting the patient die when you could save his life through radical surgery is morally evil. In a fallen world, we're often confronted with situations where we don't have ideal options. The best we can do is to limit evil. 

2. Consequentialism

It fails to distinguish between the ordinary sense of "consequences" and "consequentialism"–which is a technical designation for a philosophical position. Here are three academic definitions:

Consequentialism is the view that morality is all about producing the right kinds of overall consequences.
Consequentialism, as its name suggests, is the view that normative properties depend only on consequences. This general approach can be applied at different levels to different normative properties of different kinds of things, but the most prominent example is consequentialism about the moral rightness of acts, which holds that whether an act is morally right depends only on the consequences of that act or of something related to that act, such as the motive behind the act or a general rule requiring acts of the same kind.
Consequentialism assesses the rightness or wrongness of actions in terms of the value of their consequences. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (1998), 2:603. 

i) In the ordinary sense of the term, a "consequence" is synonymous with an outcome, effect, end-result, fallout, aftermath. Taking the predictable or foreseeable results of an action into account in decision-making is by no means equivalent to consequentialism, where the morality of an action is "all about" the consequences or "depends only on the consequences."

"Situation ethics" is a label popularized by the late Joseph Fletcher. The fact that he wrote a book by that title doesn't mean he owns situation ethics. Indeed, I daresay most people who use that phrase have never read his book. 

3. Pragmatism

i) It equivocates by failing to distinguish between pragmatic ethics and making pragmatic judgments. Pragmatism is actually difficult to define. It's not that unified. But there's a basic difference between "pragmatism" in the technical sense of a philosophical value system, and "pragmatism" in the informal sense of taking practical consequences into account when we make ethical decisions. It's trivially easy to illustrate the fact that there are many situations in which it would be immoral not to take practical consequences into consideration when making ethical decisions. The Biblical mandate to love our neighbor requires us to gauge the impact that our actions have on others. Are our actions likely to be beneficial or harmful to others? That's essential to social ethics. 

Put another way, in pragmatic ethics, the practical consequences are the sole factor that determines right and wrong. Practical consequences dictate the ends as well as the means. By contrast, we can distinguish between means and ends. What's the point of pursuing a goal through ineffective methods? Even if consequences don't select for the goal, it would be counterproductive to have means that work at cross-purposes with the ends. 

I can have objectives based on normative principles, but be "pragmatic" about how I achieve my objectives. 

ii) As a matter of fact, there is such a thing as "extenuating circumstances". To take a stock example, killing is prima facie wrong. There are, however, special circumstances under which killing is permissible or even obligatory. Although some actions are intrinsically right or wrong, obligatory or prohibitory, there's a class of actions where the licit or illicit character of the action is context-dependent. 

4. Situation ethics

"Situation ethics" was the title of a book by Joseph Fletcher. He used that phrase to designate his particular ethical system. It's a brand name.

That hardly implies that if you take the situation into account in decision-making, you are a situation ethicist in Fletcher's idiosyncratic sense. That confuses one man's position with a much broader concept. The fact that Fletcher used the word "situation" doesn't mean his usage defines the concept. The fact that words are used as brand names doesn't mean they only or primarily denote that specialized sense. 

This is just a guilt-by-association tactic. "Situation" in "situation ethics" is a technical term for a particular system of ethics. But taking circumstances into account in decision-making is by no means equivalent to "situation ethics" according to Fletcher's position. For a proper definition:

Proponents of situation ethics…reject [Augustine's] stipulation that there are certain things that are always wrong…Situation ethics is thus a movement that protests generally against the imposition of unchanging moral absolutes that prohibit everywhere certain classes of actions. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (1998), 8:798. 

5. Moral relativism

Radical relativists hold that any morality is as true or justified as any other. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (1998), 6:540. 
Metaethical Moral Relativism (MMR). The truth or falsity of moral judgments, or their justification, is not absolute or universal, but is relative to the traditions, convictions, or practices of a group of persons.
Moral relativism is the view that moral judgments are true or false only relative to some particular standpoint (for instance, that of a culture or a historical period) and that no standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others.  
Ethical non-realism is the view that there is no objective moral order that makes our moral beliefs true or false and our actions right or wrong. 
Ethical non-realism is typically presupposed by moral relativists, but it is not the whole of moral relativism…merely denying that morality has an objective foundation of this sort does not make one a relativist; for moral relativism also asserts that moral claims may be true or false relative to some particular standpoint such as that of a specific culture or historical period. 
Saying that the truth of a moral claim is relative to some standpoint should not be confused with the idea that it is relative to the situation in which it is made.  Only the most extreme rigorists would deny that in assessing a moral judgment we should take the particular circumstances into account.  Most people would agree that lying in court to avoid a fine is wrong, while lying to a madman to protect his intended victim is justified. The particular circumstances surrounding the action alter its character and hence our appraisal of it.

6. The end doesn't justify the means!

It's a false dichotomy to assert that either the end always justifies the means or else the end never justifies the means. That overlooks a third alternative: some ends justify some means.

Take "the end justifies the means". That's ambiguous. As a universal principle, the claim is false. In that respect, it's an unreliable moral yardstick. 

However, we all use ends-means justifications all the time. If I have a duty to support my dependents, then I have a duty to get a job. That end justifies that means.

Normally it's wrong to chop off someone's arm or leg. If, however, he has gangrene and that's the only way to save his life, then that end justifies that means.

Cancer is life-threatening and some cancer treatments are life-threatening. So it's a calculated risk. If the risk of death by cancer is greater than the risk of death by complications from cancer therapy, then that end justifies that means.

Making the best of a bad poker hand

These evangelical leaders have said that, for the sake of the “lesser of two evils,” one should stand with someone who not only characterizes sexual decadence and misogyny, brokers in cruelty and nativism, and displays a crazed public and private temperament — but who glories in these things. Some of the very people who warned us about moral relativism and situational ethics now ask us to become moral relativists for the sake of an election.

I doubt Russell Moore has the slightest idea what "moral relativism" and "situational ethics" really mean. So often, those labels are bandied as terms of abuse, without any effort to properly define what they mean. 

The 2016 presidential election will be remembered as the last spasm of energy from the Religious Right before its overdue death. 
To the older evangelicals planning to vote for Trump: You can try to explain the difference in electing a president and hiring a 23-year-old college graduate to evangelize students. 
But woe to the hypocrites who hold the most powerful leader in the world to a lower standard than they do the searching young believer who desires to serve God and neighbor.

Look, I'm a NeverTrumper. I've repeatedly explained why I won't vote for him. But there are good arguments and bad arguments. Russell Moore and Collin Hansen are using bad arguments that obscure moral discrimination, and reinforce simplistic approaches to ethical evaluations and moral comparisons:

i) Certainly the Trump candidacy brought some Evangelical leaders into disrepute. It is, however, invalid and unjust to extrapolate from their conspicuous failures to smear the entire religious right. The religious right isn't any one thing. It's a huge social movement with millions of players. Many of them have done wonderful work. 

ii) There's a distinction between the primaries and the general election. Does Hansen have any reliable polling data to show that most members of the religious right supported Trump during the primaries? 

iii) The general election is a different dynamic. Once you force voters into a binary choice between the only two variable candidates, then it's natural for them, however, grudgingly, to select the candidate whom they perceive to be the least worst option. We can question their evaluation, but the system itself has narrowed the options at that juncture, so that's what prospective voters are considering. We have conscientious conservatives who are struggling to make the best of a bad poker hand. They didn't ask for that. They resent that. 

iii) Hansen's comparison is muddleheaded. A Christian organization has many job applicants to choose from. And a Christian organization naturally has Christian standards for its employees. If it didn't, it wouldn't be a Christian organization.

That's hardly comparable to the general election in which we are struck with a binary choice between two viable candidates. And unlike a private Christian association, we don't have the same power in hiring and firing. 

iii) In a choice between two morally atrocious candidates, it's not "hypocritical" to vote for the candidate you guess will have less harmful policies. Now, that can be criticized on other grounds. We can debate whether one candidate really is a lesser evil. We can debate whether the lesser-evil principle has a threshold below which we shouldn't go. But that's not an issue of "hypocrisy". That's the wrong category. You can't be morally serious if you refuse to use intellectually serious arguments. 

iv) It's a problem when spokesmen like Hansen and Moore allow themselves to become tools of the liberal media. 

v) Notice that in their Washington Post op-eds, Hansen and Moore denounce Trump, but have nothing to say about Hillary. Why the selective, one-sided disapproval?