Saturday, October 22, 2016

Another round on "consequentialism"

Yesterday, Christian philosophy prof. Paul Franks posted a critique of Wayne Grudem's recent article:

In some respects I agree with both of them and disagree with both of them. I agree with Grudem's case against Hillary. I disagree with his support for Trump, although I don't think his argument is "deplorable". 

Conversely, I agree with Franks' opposition to Trump, but I disagree with his central objection to Grudem's article. Today, Franks and I had an email exchange. I'm posting my side of the exchange:

I. First reply

Dear Dr. Franks,

Regarding your recent post on Grudem:

As a trained philosopher, I'm surprised to see you mischaracterize Grudem's framework. You repeatedly accuse Grudem of "consequentialism". Yet Grudem denies that consequences are the sole consideration. In responding to the (3) objection that “When faced with the lesser of two evils, choose neither one,” Grudem says:

Answer: I agree with this principle when facing a choice between doing two evil actions. For example, when faced with a choice between stealing and telling a lie, I should choose neither one. But this is not that kind of situation. We are not talking about doing something evil. We are talking about voting.

So Grudem clearly thinks some actions are intrinsically wrong. Consequences alone could never warrant those actions. He just doesn't think voting for Trump is one of those actions. 

Now, what Grudem says in that regard is very brief. It may not be an adequate counterargument to the objection, but he clearly rejects the position that consequences are a sufficient criterion in moral valuation. 

In addition, why do you seem to absolutize "conscience"? Conscience is not infallible. 

II. Second Reply

Thanks for your reply. Actually, I'm operating with standard definitions of consequentialism. For instance:

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. 

But that's clearly not his framework. He cites two examples (stealing, lying) which he considers to be morally wrong regardless of the consequences. Hence, he doesn't think consequences are sufficient to justify every action. 

The question at issue isn't whether his argument is successful, but whether he's a consequentialist. His argument for voting for Trump may be an abject failure. That doesn't make him a consequentialist.

Suppose I'm about to drive home from work. The freeway is congested. At that time of day, a side street will get me home quicker than the freeway, so I choose the side street. Surely that doesn't commit me to consequentialism. 

Moreover, I don't know why you treat following one's conscience as the logical alternative to consequentialism. For instance, deontology isn't based on appeal to conscience. 

III. Third Reply

This is what I take you to be saying. Your position appears to be that although someone may not be a consequentialist, yet if in particular case he only take results into account in making his decision, then he is, in that instance, guilty of "consequentialist-based reasoning". If that's what you are saying, I think that's demonstrably false. 

Consequentialism is the position that, as a matter of principle, "morality is all about producing the right kinds of overall consequences," "whether an act is morally right depends only on the consequences of that act," or "the value of their consequences."

i) Now, to recur to my first example, in choosing which route to take home, I only care about the results (i.e. getting home by the fastest route). That, however, doesn't mean I think that, as a matter of principle, the value of the results is the only consideration in decision-making.

Rather, it means that, all other things being equal, the desired result is the deal-breaker. Put another way, in a choice between two morally neutral options, consequences may be all that matter. That's the decisive consideration. 

Again, though, that's different than saying, as a matter of principle, that consequences are the only consideration. Rather, it just means that in this particular case, there happen to be no other morally salient factors or countervailing factors. So, by process of elimination, preferred results are the only remaining differential factor. 

ii) Take another example: suppose I have a teenage son with cancer. With treatment, he has a 95% of survival. Without treatment, he has a 95% chance of dying. Given those options, I have him undergo cancer therapy. All I care about is effective treatment. That, however, isn't consequentialist-based reasoning. Rather, it means there are no other countervailing factors to consider in this instance. To bring that into relief, let's compare it to some different examples:

iii) Suppose two patients need a heart transplant to survive. One is 15 and the other is 75. Here the age of the patient introduces an additional moral consideration. It's not that the life of the 75-year-old patient is intrinsically less valuable than the life of the 15-year-old patient. And it's certainly not that the elderly are not entitled to good medical care.

But the 75-year-old patient has already had an additional 60 years of life, compared to the 15-year-old patient. And with a heart transplant, suppose that extends his life for another 10 years. It's unfair that he should have an extra 70 years to live at the cost of the teenager dying at 15. 

iv) Suppose I'm a ruthless military dictator. I discover that my teenage son has a congenital heart defect. He needs a heart transplant to survive. Without it he could drop dead at anytime.

I have my goons round up 50 heathy young men. I have them subjected to genetic testing to isolate the most compatible donor. I then have the donor euthanized to harvest his heart to save my son.

Now that truly is consequentialist-based reasoning. That's only concerned with the results–to the exclusion of countervailing moral considerations. 

v) Let's finish with a different kind of example. Suppose I believe that all other things being equal, a candidate's character is a morally germane consideration in choosing who to vote for.

Suppose, however, there are only two viable candidates, and both of them share the same morally disqualifying character. In that event, they cancel out the character criterion. 

It's not that I think character, per se, is irrelevant. But that criterion has been mooted by the two candidates. So I focus on their respective policies. 

Do Democrat social programs lower abortion?

Some people say that if you're truly prolife, you should vote for Hillary because Democrat social programs lower the abortion rate. For a corrective:

Is Lewis's fiction allegorical?

C. S. Lewis denied that his Christian fiction was allegorical. Some people find that puzzling, because, on one definition, some of his fiction is allegorical. Clearly he was operating with a specialized definition of allegory. In a letter to a correspondent, he gives a fairly detailed explanation of what he means:


By an allegory I mean a composition (whether pictorial or literary) in which immaterial realities are represented by feigned physical objects e.g. a pictured Cupid allegorically represents erotic love (which in reality is an experience, not an object occupying a given area of space) or, in Bunyan, a giant that represents Despair.

If Aslan represented the immaterial Deity in the same way in which Giant Despair represents despair, he would be an allegorical figure. In reality however he is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, "What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia, and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?" This is not an allegory at all So in Perelandra. This also works out a supposition. ("Suppose, even now, in some other planet there were a first couple undergoing the same that Adam and Eve underwent here, but successfully.")

Allegory and such supposals differ because they mix the real and the unreal in different ways. Bunyan's picture of Giant Despair does not start from a supposal at all. It is not a supposition but a fact that despair can capture and imprison a human soul. What is unreal or (fictional) is the giant, the castle, and the dungeon. The Incarnation of Christ in another world is mere supposal: but granted the supposition, He would really have been a physical object in that world as He was in Palestine and His death on the Stone Table would have been a physical event no less than his death on Calvary.

Similarly, if the angels (who I believe to be real beings in the actual universe) have that relation to the Pagan gods which they are assumed to have in Perelandra, they might really manifest themselves in real form as they did to Ransom. 

Again, Ransom (to some extent) plays the role of Christ not because he allegorically represents him (as Cupid represents falling in love) but because in reality every real Christian is really called upon in some measure to enact Christ. Of course Ransom does this rather more spectacularly than most. But that does not mean that he does it allegorically. It only means that fiction (at any rate my kind of fiction) choose extreme cases. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume lll: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy 1950-1963 (HarperOne, 2007),1004-05.

Joy Davidman's miraculous remission

In this post I'm going to quote some firsthand accounts concerning the miraculous remission of Joy Davidman's bone cancer. She became Lewis's wife. I'll be quoting from The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume lll: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy 1950-1963 (HarperOne, 2007). I will begin by quoting from the editor's (Walter Hooper) biographical sketch of Peter Bide. Bide was a former student of Lewis's, who became an Anglican priest. I will then quote from some of Lewis's letters. 


During the years of the war Bide had kept up with Lewis, visiting him whenever he passed through Oxford. In the spring of 1954 there was a terrible polio epidemic in the area [of Sussex], and numerous sufferers were moved by ambulances to the "fever hospital" where Bide was chaplain. One young boy named Michael Gallagher was seriously ill of cerebral meningitis and believed to be dying. Bide went on his knees beside the boy's bed, laid his hands on him, and prayed for his recovery. Michael did recover, and after being told about it Lewis was one of those who believed a miracle had been worked. 

Lewis remembered this when, in 1957, Joy was in the Wingfield-Morris Hostpital (now the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre), dying of cancer. He asked Bide to come up and lay hands on her. Although it was not expected that she would recover, Lewis would not consider moving Joy to The Kilns unless they were married in a Christian ceremony in addition to the civil marriage they had already contracted, but when Lewis asked the Bishop of Oxford for permission to marry he was refused on the grounds that her previous marriage was still valid. Bide arrived in Oxford on 20 March. As he later explained:

When Joy was diagnosed as having a sarcoma, Jack wrote to me and asked for me to come up and lay hands on her. I hesitated. The Michael case had mercifully made little or no noise but I had been aware of how easy it would have been for me to assume the role of "a priest with a gift of healing", so I made no attempt to exploit the gift, if gift it was…But Jack was a special case. Not only did I owe a considerable intellectual debt but the ordinary demands of friendship would have made it churlish to say no. So I went, and that was the beginning. 
In the end there seemed only one Court of Appeal. I asked myself what He would have done and that somehow finished the argument. The following morning I married them in the hospital ward with the Ward Sister and Warnie Lewis as witnesses. I laid hands on Joy and she lived for another three years (ibid. 1650-51).


Magdalene College,
November 27, 1957

My dear Arthur,

Our news is all very good. Joy's improvement has gone beyond anything we dared to hope and she can now (limping, of course, and with a stick) get about the house and into the garden.

(ibid. 900) 

Magdalen College,
November 27, 1957

My dear Van Auken,

My own news continues better than we ever dared to hope. The cancerous bones have rebuilt themselves in a way quite unusual and Joy can now walk: on a stick and with a limp, it is true, but it is a walk–and far less than a year ago it took three people to move her in bed and we often hurt her. He general health, and spirits, seem excellent. Of course the sword of Damocles hangs over us. Or should I say that circumstances have opened our eyes to see the sword which really hangs always over everyone.

C. S. Lewis
(ibid. 901)

The Kilns, Kiln Lane,
Headington Quarry,
December 13 1957

My dear Allens,

How every kind of you both to remember us at this season, and how very grateful my wife and I are for your prayers–prayers which have indeed been answered, for my wife is almost miraculously better. She will, alas, always been an invalid, but X-Ray photos show beyond any shadow of doubt that the diseased bone is healing; and now she can walk about the house, and even in the garden, with the aid of a stick. When I remember that this time last year she was under sentence of death, I have indeed much to be thankful for.

Yours ever,
C. S. Lewis
(ibid. 905-06)

Magdalene College,
27th, April, 1959

Dear Sister Madelva,

Thank you for your kind words about my wife. She was given a few weeks to live. A good man laid his hands on her and prayed. Now, two years later, she is walking about our wood pigeon shooting. At her last X-Ray check the doctor used the word "miraculous" -tho' I don't suppose he meant it quite as you or I would.

Yours sincerely
C. S. Lewis
(ibid. 1041)

Friday, October 21, 2016

Arminians can't love everybody

So why can't Arminians love everybody? I thought you'd never ask! Here's a simple syllogism:

i) In Johannine usage, kosmos means "everybody"

ii) 1 Jn 2:15 says "Love not the kosmos...If anyone loves the kosmos, the Father's love is not in him"

iii) Hence, Scripture forbids Christians to love everybody

Looks like a valid syllogism to me. The minor premise carries over the definition of kosmos from the major premise. And the conclusion seems to derive by logical implication from the major and minor premises.

What is more, it looks like a sound syllogism from an Arminian standpoint. Arminians routinely define kosmos in Johannine usage as "everybody" (or "everyone" or "all mankind"). 

So Arminians affirm the major premise. And everything follows from that. 

Hence, Arminians can only love everybody on pain for defying this Biblical prohibition. Worse that that: if they love everybody, the means the Father's love is not in them. Consistent Arminians can only love some people. 

Of course, I'm not Arminian, so I reject the major premise. Hence, I can be far more loving than Arminians, what with their heartless, exclusionary, narrow-minded interpretation of 1 Jn 2:15!

Grudem reverts to Trump

Wayne Grudem has published a third post on Donald Trump:

It's easy to make fun of Grudem's careening views, but this is an example of a conscientious man struggling with a difficult choice. Grudem's article is very thorough, although it suffers from overconfidence in Trump's campaign promises. To begin with, Trump's campaign promises are a moving target. And he shows precious little commitment to his campaign promises. 

The best argument for Trump goes like this:

i) Principle: if push comes to shove, a bad man who does good things is better than a good man who does bad things.

ii) We have two vile candidates. One of them (Hillary) will undoubtedly strive to do terrible things. The other (Trump) may do a few good things, or at least not consistently do so many bad things. 

Put another way, Hillary is an ideologue in a way that Trump is not. The very fact that Trump has no considered political philosophy means he doesn't have an agenda in the way Hillary does. 

iii) However, that slight advantage is potentially offset by the additional consideration that Trump warps the conservative movement. We already see many erstwhile conservatives bending their ideology to conform to Trump. 

If Trump is elected, will there be a viable conservative movement to revert to after the dust settles? Will the GOP be a meaningful alternative to the Democrats? Or will we be stuck with two liberal parties? Will a Trump presidency further adulterate the GOP, and marginalize the conservative movement? 

That's what makes it difficult to tally the pros and cons. Fact is, the future is unpredictable. And we don't know for sure if the alternatives would have turned out any better, because we can't run multiple timelines, compare them, then pick the best. 

Medical miracles

HT: James Anderson

Thursday, October 20, 2016

My Dad, the ER, and the Culture of Death in Colorado

"My Dad, the ER, and the Culture of Death in Colorado"

Dreams of Jesus

I'd like to comment on this post by atheist philosophy prof. Eric Sotnak:

To put this in context, Sotnak mentions this claim:

Leventhal, professor of church missions and ministries and director of the graduate school of ministry program at Southern Evangelical Seminary, told those gathered at SES' 23rd annual National Conference on Christian apologetics in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Friday that Jesus even appeared to people during the Holocaust.
As an example, Leventhal shared the testimony of a Jewish man named Joseph who during the Holocaust was forced to work in a Nazi labor camp. 
Joseph had sworn vengeance against his Lutheran neighbors who refused to help him and his family. 
"He made a vow, a vow of only one thing: He would never stop hating his so-called Christian neighbors. He would always hate their Christian God; their Jesus would be his enemy as long as he lived," said Leventhal. 
"His hatred for Christians and their Jesus grew with each passing day until one dark evening in his bunk, a night that would change Joseph's life forever, Jesus appeared to Joseph." 
Quoting from Joseph's testimony, Leventhal recounted that on that night: "Jesus appeared to me. In the darkness of my hatred for Christians and their Jesus, Jesus appeared to me. I recognized Him in a split second, I knew who He was and His first words to me were 'Joseph, I love you. I died for you. You will survive.'"

That's Sotnak's immediate frame of reference. Now for Sotnak's comments.

His claim isn’t that people have dreams in which Jesus figures as part of the dream, but rather that Jesus, himself, appears in the dream. I suspect that Leventhal does not think that every dream involving Jesus counts as an appearance of him, though...Leventhal claims that there have been cases where people have converted to Christianity as a result of dreaming of Jesus. This may be true (though one story he tells of such a conversion has the ring of legend, I think), but it is not clear why Leventhal thinks these are cases of genuine appearance.

Speaking for myself, I find the testimony credible. But I have a different plausibility structure than an atheist like Sotnak. He doesn't bother to explain why he thinks that story has a legendary ring. The Holocaust is a central research interest of Leventhal's, so it's reasonable to think he relies on good sources. Admittedly, it would be helpful to know the source of this particular anecdote. Perhaps he cited his source at the apologetics conference, referenced in the article. 

There is also something very strange about the whole idea of someone appearing in a dream. The whole notion treats dreams as having a real space within which actual existing things and people come and go.

I have no idea why Sotnak conceptualizes the relationship in those terms. Here's a different model: the character in the dream isn't Jesus directly; rather, the character represents or simulates Jesus. If Jesus wishes to communicate with someone in a dream, he produces a character who represents him. 

To take a comparison, when I see someone on TV, is that a real person? Strictly speaking, the electronic image isn't a real person. Rather, the image represents or simulates a real person. As a philosophy prof., Sotnak ought to be able to come up with models like that.  

There is also the question of how I would know that the person appearing was, in fact, Jesus. It won’t do to say, “well, it obviously was Jesus – after all, it looked like him.” 

That's a very good question. It's a question that charismatic Christians need to ponder, since many of them lack critical discernment. 

i) One possible explanation is subliminal telepathic communication. If Jesus is who he says he is, surely he has the ability to plant in the dreamer's subconscious the idea that this is Jesus. 

ii) Or in some cases a dream might be veridical because it contains information that the dreamer didn't know, which he can corroborate after he awakens. 

iii) However, it also depends on the purpose of the dream. Suppose the value of the dream isn't evidentiary. Rather, suppose the dream functions as a stimulus to prompt someone who's indifferent or antipathetic to Christianity to seriously consider it for the first time, and to do so in a receptive frame of mind. Suppose the dreamer undergoes Christian conversion as a result of that process. His warrant for Christian faith isn't the dream itself, but the whole process that precipitating incident set in motion. In that case, it isn't necessary to verify that Jesus appeared to the dreamer. 

iii) There's also the question about why someone would dream about Jesus in the first place. How often does Sotnak dream about Jesus? If that happens out of the blue, with no preparation, then that may require a special explanation. To take Leventhal's example, why would a Jew in a Nazi concentration camp, who hates Christians, have a dream like that?

Am I to think that Jesus didn’t appear to me as he likely would have looked in life, but rather as he is depicted in popular iconography (with strongly Caucasian features – perhaps with blue eyes?

i) To begin with, Sotnak seems to be pretty ignorant regarding artistic representations of Jesus. Sure, you have Aryan depictions. However, the Jesus in El Greco paintings is not a blue-eyed Jesus. Rather, he's a Spanish Jesus. Does the Jesus in Byzantine icons have blue eyes? What about Italian Renaissance paintings of Jesus? Unsurprisingly, they look…Italian! The iconography of Jesus varies from country to country. Artistic depictions of Jesus often take on the ethnic features of the country in question. Doesn't Sotnak know that? If not, shouldn't he bother to inform himself? For instance:

ii) More to the point, what would be the point of Jesus appearing to someone in a dream if he was unrecognizable to the dreamer? If Jesus does appear to people in dreams and visions, we'd expect him to do so in culturally identifiable forms. Sotnak's disdain for Christianity blinds him from considering the implications of the claim on its own terms. Sure, he doesn't believe that Jesus really appears to anyone, but considered as a hypothetical proposition, if Jesus were to appear to someone, it would be counterproductive to look like he did in the 1C–in the event that would be unrecognizable to the dreamer. A philosophy prof. should be able to consider the internal logic of the position, even if he rejects the position. 

Then there is the question of why, if someone wanted to communicate with me, they would choose to attempt doing so in a dream, especially if we have reason to think they could do so in other, much less ambiguous ways. It is too easy to chalk a dream up to imagination. 

It's odd that a philosophy prof. is unable to consider obvious counterexamples. For instance, if a culture puts great stock in oneiromancy, it might make sense of Jesus to exploit that entrée. If dreams are significant to some people, God might use that medium. 

By analogy, if I were to find a note taped to my door that read: “You shall carve exactly six pumpkins this Halloween. Sincerely, Jesus” I would surmise that it had been written by a prankster.

But the problem with that analogy is that a prankster doesn't have access to our minds. That's quite different from the ability to insert yourself into somebody's dream. 

Reforming drug enforcement

Wrestling Jacob

Gen 32 records a very evocative and enigmatic incident. I'd like to scrutinize the liberal interpretation. 

1. On the liberal interpretation (e.g. Gunkel, von Rad, Westermann, Robert Alter, Bill Arnold, H. W. F. Saggs) , Jacob's adversary reflects two different traditions. One tradition concerns trolls that guard crossing-points at rivers. The other tradition concerns nocturnal demons who lose their powers between dawn and dusk. That would explain the riverine setting, as well as why his adversary seeks to break off the attack as dawn approaches. So it has a certain prima facie appeal. There are, however, serious problems with that interpretation:

2. It assumes the redactor combined elements from two different tales or traditions. The troll-motif and the nocturnal demon-motif. Either two different sources or at least two different archetypal characters (trolls and nocturnal demons). These don't normally go together. But the redactor allegedly fused the two characters into one. 

In addition, the redactor expunged the overtly pagan elements. In the redacted version, Jacob's adversary turns out to be a theophanic angelophany. 

That, however, is a very convoluted editorial process. If, moreover, the narrator is writing pious fiction, why bother with such unpromising material in the first place? Why not write something from scratch, rather than engage in this cumbersome scissors-and-paste procedure?

3. Moreover, Jacob's adversary doesn't play the role of a troll. Jacob crosses the river without opposition at least twice: first to lead his caravan across the river, then to recross the river so that his caravan is on one side while he's alone on the other side (22-24). Indeed, he may have to crisscross the river several times to conduct his entire caravan to the other side. There is no trollish agent that blocks his entree. 

As for nocturnal demons, from what I've read (Sarna), the tradition depicts them like Proteus in Ovid's Metamorphosis. But Jacob's adversary is not a shapeshifter. He retains a humanoid form throughout the wrestling match. 

4. Furthermore, even though trolls are mythological agents, they may have a basis in fact. Historically, people do guard fords and bridges to collect tolls from travelers. Likewise, fords and bridges would be natural settings for bandits to lie in wait. Travelers on foot bottleneck at that juncture, because that's the only crossing-point within miles up or down the river. So that's an opportune location for bandits to lurk. As such, the mythology of trolls may represent the legendary embellishment of bandits or toll collectors at fords and bridges. 

Likewise, traditions of night hags may have a basis in fact. Occultic entities do exist. I don't think that figures in Gen 32. I'm just challenging secular assumptions. 

5. If, however, we reject the nocturnal demon identification, then why is Jacob's adversary eager to leave before the break of dawn? Maimonides construed the account as a "prophetic vision" (Guide for the Perplexed, Part 2, chap 62). I assume he means a supernatural dream. It can't merely be a night vision, because the experience is interactive. A tangible as well as visual experience. 

Up to a point, that's an appealing interpretation. It's not the first time Jacob had a supernatural dream. Moreover, his first supernatural dream, about angels, took place when he was leaving Palestine (Gen 29). So it would form a nice inclusio if he had another dream, about angels, upon reentering Palestine. It would also explain the urgent distinction between night and day. If his adversary is a character in a dream, it would vanish the moment he awoke.

However, an impediment to that interpretation is the fact that Jacob is injured during is wrestling match. While it's possible to experience pain while dreaming, or have a simulated injury while dreaming, that only exists in the dream. It disappears when you awaken. Yet Jacob was objective injured. 

Mind you, it's possible to injure yourself while you sleep, if you thrash about. And it's possible that hurting yourself when you're in bed prompts you to dream about hurting yourself. But as far as Gen 32 is concerned, that's backwards. 

6. There's a bit of playacting on the part of Jacob's adversary. He pretends that Jacob is a well-matched opponent. He lets him feel that Jacob has the upper hand. But then, with a mere touch, he injures Jacob, demonstrating that in reality he was just toying with Jacob. All along, he could effortlessly overpower Jacob if he wanted to. 

7. It may well be that Jacob's adversary chose a night-time setting to conceal his true identity under cover of darkness. The initial anonymity creates suspense, preparing for the last-minute recognition scene.

8. In addition, you have the familiar theme that seeing God face-to-face is potentially fatal to humans. The night-time setting would prevent that lethal exposure. 

To be sure, that's a somewhat puzzling or paradoxical hazard, since the Pentateuch does have examples of men who "see" God and survive to tell the tale. I think that tension trades on degrees of exposure. In this case, the divine encounter is mediated by the Angel of the Lord. To see God in the person of the theophanic angel.  

In what sense is it potentially fatal to see God? Two possibilities suggest themselves. One is cultic holiness, like touching a ritually pure object (e.g. the ark of the covenant). It's not that the object is intrinsically toxic. Rather, God strikes the person dead as a warning. The other possibility involves a vision so terrifying that it triggers a heart attack. It's possible to be literally scared to death. 

Society of Biblical Literature

The SBL is essentially taking the position that you can only belong to the SBL if you don't believe in the Bible. Only secular scholars are allowed to be members. If, by contrast, you believe the Bible to be what it claims to be, then you can't belong to the SBL. If you believe the Bible and act on its teachings, you will be expelled from the SBL. That's the logic of their position. We'll see how far they take it.

Respecting IVP and IVCF, views held employees of a religious organization regarding homosexuality will naturally impact the editorial viewpoint of that organization in publishing, campus ministry, &c. It's quite germane to their mission.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Liberalism poisons everything

Correction Of My Response To Annette Merz

I want to correct something I was wrong about in my latest response to Merz. I've come to the conclusion that I misunderstood her argument about which Herod Jesus was born under. Instead of questioning which Herod Matthew is referring to, Merz seems to be questioning which Herod a possible pre-Matthean source was referring to, a source she thinks may have been behind both Matthew and Luke. I apologize for the error. I've revised the post. The section on Luke's census remains the same, but I've rewritten the section on which Herod Jesus was born under. If anybody wants to see my original text, which is now removed from the post, I've added it to the comments section of the thread.


I'm going to discuss a subset of reported NDEs and OBEs. Let's put this in context. According to physicalism, mental events are neurological events, so all cognition is located inside the skull. Hence, the brain can't perceive the external world apart from the five senses. If so, then knowledge of our physical environment must be mediated by one or more of the five senses. If, however, there's evidence that some people born blind have near-death or out-of-body experiences in which they perceive their concrete surroundings, then that falsifies physicalism. 

And that's significant because atheism typically rejects dualism in favor of physicalism. I think that's because, if physicalism is true, then at one stroke that rules out the existence of minds that are, or can be, independent of brains. In other words, it rules out God, angels, demons, and immortal souls. A very economical way to disprove Christianity.

Although some atheists make allowance for platonic realism, they generally labor to avoid that. Moreover, even if platonic realism were true, that's a different kind of dualism than brain-independent minds. So it lacks the same polemical value for atheism. 

I have read efforts to explain this away. For instance:

[These cases] may be inspired by accounts of other people's NDEs that have been widely disseminated in various forms of the media. That is, might a blind person have heard that people see certain things in a near-death encounter and unconsciously generated a fantasy that conformed to this belief?
Light enhances brain activity during a cognitive task even in some people who are totally blind, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Montreal and Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital. The findings contribute to scientists' understanding of everyone's brains, as they also revealed how quickly light impacts on cognition. "We were stunned to discover that the brain still respond significantly to light in these rare three completely blind patients despite having absolutely no conscious vision at all," said senior co-author Steven Lockley.

There are, however, problems with that appeal to discount reported NDEs and OBEs of people born blind (or the functional equivalent). It is, of course, true, that the brain (or mind) can play tricks on us. And the brain (or mind) may have the capacity to simulate abstract images like migraine auras. 

But how could the brain simulate representational images that correspond to the sensible world? I've read that congenitally blind people dream, but their dreams are auditory or tactile rather than visual. That's because the imagery of dreams derives from sensory perception. Because our memory is stocked with mental representations of what we've seen, that supplies raw material for the imagination. The mind can reproduce or modify that information. But imagination needs something to work with. It can't operate in a vacuum. 

Finally, a last-ditch response is to dismiss the reliability of testimonial evidence. That, however, commits the atheist to a devouring skepticism that atheism cannot afford inasmuch as atheists depend on the general reliability of testimonial evidence for much of what they believe. 

I'm going to quote from an article that gives some case-studies. It would be useful if researchers were to investigate additional cases. I'm a bit wary about the the risk of overreliance on a single study. In fairness, it isn't easy to isolate and identify people born blind (or the functional equivalent) who've had NDEs and OBEs. That's a subset of a subset of a very select group to begin with.

An antidote to shame-faced Protestants

Fact-Checking “Francis”, the Fallible Pope

“Who said ‘popes are infallible’?”
Francis likes his talk freewheeling, with all the risks that go with it. Here is a review of his latest blunders, a dozen in four months. The most sensational with Sandro Magister:

So Many Errors, Your Holiness. And Some Marked With Red.

Of course, popes are “infallible” “under certain conditions”, and in fact, no one has ever defined what those “certain conditions” are, nor what “ex cathedra” truly means. According to Brian Tierney:

Since Vatican Council I Catholic theologians have felt obliged to defend some form of papal infallibility. Real infallibility has regrettable implications. In the years since 1870, therefore, theologians have devoted much ingenuity to devising a sort of pseudo-infallibility for the pope, a kind of Pickwickian infallibility.

Their usual technique has been to raise endless, teasing, really unanswerable questions about the meaning of the term ex cathedra as used in the decree of Vatican Council I and about the phrases “ordinary magisterium” and “extraordinary magisterium” that came to be associated with it in discussions on papal infallibility.

Already in 1874, Gladstone could write, “… There is no established or accepted definition of the phrase ex cathedra and (the Catholic) has no power to obtain one, and no guide to direct him in his choice among some twelve theories on the subject, which, it is said, are bandied to and fro among Roman theologians, except the despised and discarded agencies of his private judgment.

Things have not improved since. To be sure, modern apologists often insist that the conditions needed to guarantee the infallibility of a papal pronouncement were set out, once and for all, simply and clearly, in the decree of Vatican Council I. But then they find it impossible to agree as to which particular papal pronouncements actually satisfy these supposedly simple and clear requirements (Brian Tierney, “Origins of Papal Infallibility, 1150-1350”, A Study on the Concepts of Infallibility, Sovereignty and Tradition in the Middle Ages”, Netherlands, E.J. Brill [Originally published in 1972, with new postscript (1988)], pg. 3)

For further reading:

Hans Küng to “Pope Francis”: “Re-open discussion on ‘Infallibility’”.

“Papal Infallibility” dogma to be up for open discussion.

Power, personhood, and pulling the plug

A stock argument for abortion centers on the criterion of personhood. Aborting the baby is justified because the baby is not yet a person. 

For discussion purposes, let's grant that the baby is not yet a person. Now let's take some comparisons. There are operations which, in a sense, require the medical team to kill the patient. That sounds paradoxical. What I'm referring to are operations where the patient's body temperature is lowered to the point where he has no vital signs. Technically, he meets the criteria of clinical death. He's indistinguishable from a corpse–albeit a very fresh corpse!

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that we say a patient in that condition is no longer a person. Would it be murder to pull the plug? In a sense, he's already dead! So you're not even killing him.

But, of course, if he's reheated, he will come back to life. So, is it murder to pull the plug? 

Take another comparison: some comatose patients are declared to be in a persistent vegetative state. Yet some comatose patients in that condition regain consciousness. They are normal again. Or even if they suffer some lingering physical or cognitive impairment, they are still persons.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that we say that someone in a persistent vegetative state is no longer a person. But suppose we foreknew that in a week or month or year, our comatose patient would regain consciousness and be normal, or nearly normal. Would it be murder to pull the plug? Indeed, there are medically-induced comas. But the point is to bring them back out of the coma. 

Well, if a baby is allowed to come to term, that's what happens. He becomes a person–even if (ex hypothesi) we deny his prenatal personhood.

Now perhaps someone would object that my comparisons oversimplify the issue. The comparisons are disanalogous, for the baby is dependent on its mother. To be analogous, the patient would have to be dependent on a second party. But is the second party obligated to be at the patient's disposal? Does he have that claim on a second party? To that I'd say to things:

i) That complication is a backdoor admission that the (alleged) absence of personhood is an insufficient criterion to justify abortion. There must be an additional warrant, such as an "undue burden". 

ii) Apropos (ii), suppose your mother requires weekly blood transfusions to stay alive. Suppose she has a rare blood type. As luck would have it, you have the same blood type. Do you have an obligation to make yourself available to keep your mother alive? 

Some people might bite the bullet and say, no, even your own mother doesn't have that claim on your freedom. You have the right to let her die, even though it was within your power to keep her alive by donating your blood.  

If so, that illustrates the moral consequences of the abortion ethic. It boils down to radical autonomy and power. But if that's the bottom line, then whoever has more power has the right to kill whoever has less power in the pursuit of absolute freedom. 

That's why laws are necessary. Some people have no conscience.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Social justice mobocracy

A follow-up to a previous article:

"The problem of whiteness"

I already posted two articles on this, but I'll make a few comments of my own:

i) I don't know how Kirk defines whiteness. Historically, the traditional paradigms of Christian orthodoxy were laid down by Middle-Eastern Christians as well as Western Christians. 

ii) It's true that Western theologians and Bible scholars have been dominant compared to most other people-groups. That's due to the fact that in God's providence, Christianity has predominated in the West and the Middle East. Are we supposed to apologize for the pattern of divine providence?

iii) Keep in mind that Western Christians have made strenuous, often heroic efforts, to evangelize the Third World. Our efforts have been stymied by Islam and other hostile regimes. Western seminaries are open to Third-World students. And you have Third-World seminaries. The complaint is reminiscent of people who complain that Jews are overrepresented in certain fields. But no one is excluding gentiles from the same fields. 

iv) There are currently commentary series that seek out Third-World perspectives, viz. The South Asia Bible Commentary and The Africa Bible Commentary. Likewise, you have notable minority Bible scholars like Nijay Gupta, Moisés Silva, David, Pao, David Tsumura, and Seyoon Kim. 

That said, editors can't conjure up Third-World theologians and Bible scholars out of thin air. They are confined to what's currently available.

vi) Kirk indulges in cheap virtue-signaling. He's a white male NT scholar. It costs him nothing to bewail whiteness. It's not like he's stepping aside to let a minority take his place. 

vii) Kirk's radical chic embrace of LGBT ideology is the epitome of Western ethnocentric elitism. A major reason the Anglican Communion split is because African evangelicals reject the apostasy of their Anglican counterparts in the West.

You have the same divide in Roman Catholicism, pitting African traditionalists against German liberals like Cardinal Kasper. Kirk imperialistically lumps together feminists, LGBT activists, Asians, Latinos, and African-Americans (why no black Africans or East Indians?) under the rubric of marginalized minorities. But of course, many Asians, Latinos, African-Americans, and black Africans resent a white liberal commandeering them to his cause. 

viii) Kirk is shadowboxing with NT scholars like Richard Bauckham, Larry Hurtado, Gordon Fee, Simon Gathercole, Murray J. Harris, and Sigurd Grindheim. It's mendacious to insinuate that their findings are controlled by ecclesiastical dogma. They offer painstaking exegetical arguments for their conclusion.

ix) As the Christian center of gravity shifts from West to East and South, traditional paradigms of theological orthodoxy may come in for renewed scrutiny. That's fine. Either there are good reasons to reaffirm those paradigms or not. If so, they can withstand the scrutiny. If not, they ought to be refined or replaced. 

x) It's instructive to compare Kirk's fake multiculturalism with the Christian perspective of Michael Nazir-Ali, the Pakistani-born Anglican bishop:

SBL bans IVP

Ironically, the SBL ban illustrates what happens when you attempt to straddle the fence. You make enemies on both sides:

Honky hermeneutics

Revelation of the divine name

To Abraham, Isaac and Jacob I appeared as El Shaddai, but I did not make my name Yahweh known to them (Exod 6:3, NJB).

Exod 6:3 is a notorious crux. On the conventional translation, it generates a formal contradiction. In Genesis, the narrator repeatedly designates God as Yahweh. Moreover, characters in Genesis, including patriarchs, refer to God as Yahweh. So how do we resolve this formal contradiction? Various harmonizations have been proposed:

1. On the liberal view, this is evidence of divergent traditions. The final redactor of the Pentateuch failed to synthesize these traditions. 

But even if we deny the inspiration or historicity of the Bible, that's a highly implausible explanation. This isn't an incidental reference, but occurs at a conspicuous and strategic point in the narrative. It would be incredibly clumsy for the alleged redactor to preserve such a glaring contradiction. 

2. Some scholars (e.g. Driver, Garrett, Hamilton, Martin, Stuart), challenge the conventional translation. They render the second clause as an interrogative rather than an indicative: "And by my name Yahweh, did I not make myself known to them?" 

In his commentary, Duane Garrett presents the most sophisticated argument for that rendering. He regards the passage as a poetic strophe. He discusses the parallelism. He denies that the preposition means "by my name" rather than "and my name." 

He stresses that Exod 6 is about continuity, not novelty. The same God who made a covenant with Abraham, who spoke to the patriarchs, and guided them, has returned to fulfill his promises. Sarna makes a similar point. 

But while that explanation merits a respectful hearing, I'm unconvinced:

i) A basic problem with rendering the second clause as a rhetorical question is that we still have an implied contrast between God appearing to the patriarchs as El Shaddai and his identity as Yahweh. If the second clause is a rhetorical question, what's the function of El Shaddai in this passage? 

ii) That's reinforced by v7:

I shall take you as my people and I shall be your God. And you will know that I am Yahweh your God, who have freed you from the forced labour of the Egyptians (Exod 6:7, NJB).

Once again, knowing God as Yahweh seems to serve as a foil, in implied contrast to past experience. 

iii) We should resist a false dichotomy between continuity and discontinuity. It can be the same in one respect, but different in another. The same in terms of who God is, but different in terms of what he does. The God of the Exodus is the same God as the God of the patriarchs. There you have continuity–indeed, identity. Yet this may be something new in terms of what he is now doing. 

3. A third explanation harmonizes the formal contradiction by supposing the use of Yahweh in Genesis is anachronistic. It reflects the viewpoint of the narrator rather than the viewpoint of the characters. The retrospective timeframe of the narrator rather than the timeframe of the people he quotes.

In general, I think that explanation is unobjectionable. When writing about the past, we sometimes update usage for ease of reference. If, say, we describe the migration of Indians to the New World, we write about how they (allegedly) crossed the Bering land bridge during the last ice age, then came down through Canada. Some of them settled in the Mississippi river valley. Some settled in New Mexico. Some settled in Mexico. And so on.

Of course, those place-names didn't exist at the time of the migration. We're using modern designations for the distant past. 

Likewise, the NT records Jesus referring to God as theos and kurios. But Jesus usually spoke in Aramaic. So that's a Greek translation of what Jesus said.

By the same token, did Abraham speak Classical Hebrew? Presumably, his mother tongue was Akkadian. When Genesis quotes Abraham, or conversations between Abraham and God, that's probably a Hebrew translation. 

Going back even further, Eve is quoting referring to God as Yahweh (Gen 4:1). But did Eve speak Classical Hebrew?

Yet while I think that explanation is has considerable merit in its own right, I don't think that's sufficient to harmonize Exod 6:3 with Genesis. For one thing, it's too subtle to expect the average reader or listener to draw that distinction.

If, moreover, the narrator uses Yahweh in Genesis in part to stress the continuity of the divine referent, it would be really jarring to record a statement in Exod 6:3 that seems to dramatically contradicts that usage. So while I think the appeal to anachronistic usage is probably correct on its own terms, that's not enough to resolve the tension. 

4. I think (3) needs to be complemented by an additional consideration. As scholars like Waltke point out, "to know" in Hebrew can have connotations over and above propositional knowledge. Rather, it can be a synonym for "experience". Not just knowledge by description, but knowledge by acquaintance. 

The distinction, then, is that the patriarchs didn't know God as the God of the Exodus. They didn't live to witness God returning to carry out his promises by miraculously delivering the seed of Abraham from Egyptian bondage. They didn't experience God's covenantal fidelity in that respect. 

5. And here I think it maybe useful to make an additional observation. In paganism, there's no presumption that gods are immortal. Gods come into existence. Gods can be killed by other gods. 

The notion of a God who always existed, a God who always will exist, is fairly alien to paganism. That's a result of revelation.

In that respect, the fact that Yahweh was still around centuries later to keep his promise is more impressive than how he provided for the patriarchs during their lifetime. It's easy for modern readers to lose sight of that, because we take the eternity of God for granted. There was never a time when God did not exist. There will never be a time when God does not exist. But the fact that Yahweh came back would, in itself, be impressive to ancient readers.

Not only were heathen gods limited in time, but limited in space. They had geographically restricted jurisdictions. But Yahweh invades Egypt. He beats the gods of Egypt on their own turf. 

Bergoglio’s Gig: “Reformation Reconsidered”

Get ready. Please.

Reformation's anniversary brings commemorations, reconsiderations.

When Pope Francis visits Sweden at the end of October for the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, it will herald fresh debates on the greatest rift in Western Christianity.

The Roman Catholic message will likely be some variation of this:

“I hope Protestants will appreciate the effort Catholics are making for this event."

That is: “Be thankful for the Roman Catholic Church”.

The Roman Catholic Church is the source of all grace in the world

But really, the Roman Catholic Church wants to sweep its own past under the rug and have you forget about it. Yes, we see a lot of that today. But Rome was the first, and is still the oldest practitioner of this type of head fake. Keep in mind this one example of Roman Catholic repression of knowledge:

In 1543 a little book was published in Venice with the title Trattato utilissimo del beneficio di Giesu Christo crocifisso i cristiani (A Most Useful Treatise on the Merits of Jesus Christ Crucified for Christians), written by an elusive Benedictine monk called Benedetto da Mantova (dates of birth and death unknown, but his surname seems to have been fontanino) with some help from the humanist and poet Marcantonio Flaminio (1498-1550), a popular work of piety that was translated into several languages including Croat.

At first sight this may appear to be a piece of native Italian Christocentrism, part of a Pauline and Augustinian renaissance known to have been nourished by a Spanish humanist and biblicist, Juan de Valdes (1500-1541), whose pious circle in Naples had included Flaminio. But the Beneficio can be read in more than one way. It proves to have been made up from a number of transalpine Protestant texts, and especially the 1539 edition of Calvin's Institutes. Whether or not Benedetto had come across Calvin in his monastery on the slopes of Mount Etna, which seems unlikely, the Institutes was known to Flaminio.

It is hard to distinguish between the theology of the Beneficio and Protestantism. "Man can never do good works unless he first know himself to be justified by faith." Other scholars insist, however, that the Beneficio is an expression of Evangelism, a movement that was not generated by Protestantism and should be distinguished from it. What is certain is that the Beneficio was placed on the Index and so successfully repressed by the Roman Inquisition that of the many thousands of copies of the Italian edition that were once in existence only one is known to survive, discovered in the library of a Cambridge college in the nineteenth century. That sort of successful repression was the Counter-Reformation. (The Reformation, a History, Patrick Collinson, (c)2003, pgs 105-106.)