Friday, October 28, 2016

How evangelicals can help fix the Supreme Court

Michael Shermer v. David Wood

Irreducible complexity

It's been a long time since I read Behe's paradigm-examples of irreducible complexity, so I don't have a considered opinion on the cogency of his examples. Instead, I'd like to comment on this objection:

Keith Parsons 
Behe defines "irreducible complexity" as follows (from Darwin's Black Box):
“By irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning. An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced directly (that is, by by continuously improving the natural function, which continues to work by the same mechanism) by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional.”
The key argument here is this: There are complex systems such that the removal of any one of many interconnected parts renders the whole system nonfunctional. Therefore, no such system could have been built up incrementally by successive modifications of a previously functional system, but had to be created as a functioning whole.
We know, however, that, in general, this conclusion simply does not follow. Electrical grids are instances of systems that meet Behe's definition of irreducible complexity. They are complex systems constituted of interacting parts, each contributing to the function of the whole such that the removal or disabling of one part of that system can render the whole nonfunctional.
Consider the great blackout in the N.E. United States and Canada that occurred on August 14, 2003. At 4:10 PM ET, twenty one power plants shut down in three minutes, affecting fifty million people, and disrupting everything from trains and elevators to cell phones. The cause was traced to a single power plant in Ohio which shut down unexpectedly when overgrown trees contacted power lines.
Using Behe’s reasoning we would have to conclude that the power grid did not come into existence incrementally, but was produced all at once in a stupendous feat of simultaneous creation. This, of course, is absurd.
Perhaps the reply would be that power grids are obvious examples of intelligent design (design, yes, but the “intelligent” part might be questioned) since they are made by us. Intelligent agents can build up such complex systems incrementally, but nature cannot. Ah, but this is a very different kind of argument, and one much harder to support. The whole intuitive appeal of “irreducible complexity” is that it appears to confront us with a stark choice: EITHER complex biological systems are built up slowly and incrementally (i.e. by Darwinian evolution) OR they are made all at once by the activity of an intelligent Creator (God says “Let there be…”).
But to concede that “irreducibly complex” systems are not, after all, irreducible, and can indeed be built up incrementally from functional precursors, means that a much different and much heavier burden of proof is placed on the intelligent design advocate. They can no longer deploy “how possibly” arguments, since they have conceded “yes, possibly.” They can no longer point to instances of alleged irreducible complexity, such as the bacterial flagellum, and embarrass evolutionists by demanding that they show how possibly such systems could gradually develop. They have conceded that such systems could gradually develop, but now have to argue that it could not have been by natural means, and it is not at all clear how they could show this.

Let's consider a simpler illustration: I plug an appliance into the wall. The appliance works!

I move the appliance, requiring me to plug the appliance into an extension cord, which I plug into the wall. The appliance works!

I move the appliance yet again, requiring me to use a second extension cord. (The fire inspector might not approve!).

If I unplug any of the three cords, the appliance won't work. The functionality of the appliance now depends on serial connections. 

Point being: there are cases in which it's possible to incrementally construct something that's functional at each stage that's dysfunctional if you subsequently remove an element. The challenge, though, is considering analogues in nature. It took an external agent to plug the appliance into the first extension cord, then plug the first extension cord into the second extension cord, then plug the second extension cord into the electrical outlet. That's not the result of internal development, but intervention from outside the process. 

Is the final state feasible?

I'd like to consider some potential objections to the Christian doctrine of the final state, then consider how to field those objections. 

Generally stated, are there aspects of the final state that are naturally impossible? There are things that even an omnipotent God can't naturally do. That doesn't mean he can't do them; just that he can't naturally do them. God would have to circumvent natural processes to make it happen. 

Let's take one example: Is biological immortality naturally possible? I don't think we know the answer to that as of yet. To my knowledge, scientists haven't figured out why humans (and other organisms) age. Yet the Bible promises that we will have immortal bodies. 

One question is whether aging is caused by a master switch. Is there one mechanism that triggers a cascade effect. Assuming that's the case, then if that switch were improved, renewed, or replaced, the organism wouldn't age. The human body already has some capacity to regenerate itself. Just not systematically and permanently. 

Perhaps, though, there is no single mechanism of senescence. Perhaps organs and body parts individually age, independent of each other. The whole body wears out, and there's no discrete solution. 

In that event, how would God preserve the body from aging? The answer depends in part on whether senescence is naturally inevitable. If so, then God must supernaturally preserve the body. 

How might God do so? Of course, the answer is speculative, but let's speculate. We might begin by asking what's a body? A body is a specific organization of matter. Of atoms and molecules, in various combinations, combinations in various scales of magnitude. Highly structured patterns of particles and fields of energy. If aging means organs and body parts lose the structural pattern necessary to function, God could repair that by bringing the atoms and molecules back into alignment. 

Another possibility is replacement. God replaces aging parts, organs, body systems. In principle, God could instantly replace the entire body with a duplicate body. 

Suppose aging is naturally inevitable. Suppose your physical prime is between 18-28. Suppose every ten years, God gives you a brand-new, 18-year-old body. God replicates the pattern of atoms and molecules that compose your body. 

That isn't pure speculation. After all, how is the resurrection of the body going to occur? In many cases, there is no extant corpse to work from. Our bodies disintegrated. The body would need to be recreated from scratch. The way to resurrect our bodies is for God to replicate the specific organization of matter that constituted our distinctive bodies. At least, that's my preferred explanation. 

Let's consider another potential objection. The sun will exhaust its fuel. Moreover, to sustain life on earth, the sun must maintain a very specific output. Long before the sun is a spent force, its output will be at the wrong level to sustain life on earth, which has very narrow, very exacting parameters. 

Moreover, the problem isn't confined to the sun. There's the distant specter of cosmic heat death. Stars have natural lifecycles. 

Once again, we might evoke the replacement model. God instantly replaces an aging sun with a new sun the right age to sustain life on earth. 

Here's another potential objection: 

Large moon with right planetary rotation period (which stabilizes a planet’s tilt and contributes to tides). In the case of the Earth, the gravitational pull of its moon stabilizes the angle of its axis at a nearly constant 23.5 degrees. This ensures relatively temperate seasonal changes, and the only climate in the solar system mild enough to sustain complex living organisms. 
A few, large Jupiter-mass planetary neighbors in large circular orbits (which protects the habitable zone from too many comet bombardments). If the Earth were not protected by the gravitational pulls of Jupiter and Saturn, it would be far more susceptible to collisions with devastating comets that would cause mass extinctions. As it is, the larger planets in our solar system provide significant protection to the Earth from the most dangerous comets.

Problem is that over time the relative position of planets and satellites in the solar system changes. For instance, due to tidal friction, the moon is moving incrementally away from the earth. A solution would be for God to restore the configuration necessary to maintain life on earth. 

Now let's consider an objection from Leibniz:

Newton and his followers also have a very odd opinion regarding God’s workmanship. According to them, God’s watch—the universe—would stop working if he didn’t rewind it from time to time! He didn’t have enough foresight to give it perpetual motion. This machine that he has made is so imperfect that from time to time he has to clean it by a miraculous intervention, and even has to mend it, as a clockmaker mends his work. 
The oftener a clockmaker has to adjust his machine and set it right, the clumsier he must be as a clockmaker! In my view, the world always contains the same amount of force and energy, which changes only by passing from one material thing to another in accordance with the laws of nature and the beautiful order that God has preestablished. And I hold that when God works miracles, he does it not to meet the needs of nature but to meet the needs of grace. Anyone who thinks differently must have a very mean notion of the wisdom and power of God. 
A final point: If God has to mend the course of nature from time to time, he must do it either supernaturally or naturally. If supernaturally, this is appealing to miracles in order to explain natural things; and that amounts to a reductio ad absurdum of this hypothesis, for once you let in miracles anything can be ‘explained’ with no trouble at all. And if God’s mending is done naturally, then rather than being intelligentia supramundana he is included in the nature of things—i.e. is the soul of the world.

His objection has some merit. Newton postulated divine intervention to shore up gaps in his theory. That's ad hoc. 

However, the Leibnizian objection is overstated. It's not a design flaw that when nature is left to take its course, stars burn out and planetary configurations shift. That's what's supposed to happen. That's the natural outcome of a natural process. The Leibnizian objection has less to do with his philosophy of miracle than his philosophy of nature. Perpetual motion is an artificial abstraction. 

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with the lifecycle of stars or the realignment of planets and satellites in the solar system. (In fairness, Leibniz wasn't commenting on these specific examples). Rather, it's only a problem relative to the conditions necessary to sustain life on earth. A particular configuration of the planets and satellites isn't absolutely required, but only required for life on earth. 

In addition, divine intervention needn't mean God is jumping in to make last-minute adjustments. Rather, those midcourse corrections were foreseen. They were part of God's master plan for the world all along. If God makes a world that normally operates according to second causes, but in addition, certain desirable events exceed the productive power of nature to effect their eventuation, it's not makeshift to invoke supernatural agency in such cases. 

Ironically, the proposed alternative of preestablished harmony is just as ad hoc as Newton's stopgap invocation of miracles to salvage his theory. There's a difference between invoking miracles to make a scientific theory hang together, and invoking miracles to account for an outcome that isn't naturally feasible. 

The argument from consciousness

Yahoo in bed with FBI, NSA

Three cheers for Dante's Inferno!

I've often said I think the torture chamber model of hell is an overgeneralization. I doubt hell is uniform. I expect the punishments are customized. 

That said, there are situations in which an eternal torture chamber would be poetic justice. Assuming this report is true,

I don't have any problem with God consigning the killers to an eternal torture chamber. It's something to keep in mind when sentimentalists object in principle to everlasting "torture". 

The evil-Santa challenge

Peter Millican has a version of the evil-god argument, subsequently popularized by Stephen Law. In Millican's version, the two candidates are dubbed God and Antigod. 

Let's consider a variant on the evil-god argument: namely, the evil-Santa argument. Daniel Dennett looks just like Father Christmas. Right out of Norman Rockwell. Yet Dennett is the Antisanta. While Santa is a generous soul who gives gifts, the Antisanta is a misanthrope who steals gifts by robbing people of Gospel hope. Dennett is the evil Santa!


1. I'd like to say a bit more about the "evil-god" challenge. It's been popularized by Stephen Law, but he didn't originate the argument. Other atheists like Peter Millican, Christopher New, Edward Stein, and Charles Daniels have toyed with that argument. 

The basic idea is for an atheist to concoct a thought-experiment in which he postulates an evil god that has the same explanatory power as the Christian God (or the equivalent). Millican dubs the two candidates God and Antigod respectively. 

If successful, the idea is to neutralize theistic proofs, for even if theistic proofs are otherwise strong arguments for God's existence, because Antigod mimics God, the theistic proofs are equally consistent with the existence of an evil God. An atheist doesn't even have to directly evaluate or critique theistic proofs. He can concede, for discussion purposes, that these are good arguments. But unless they can discriminate between God and Antigod, they don't count as arguments for God.

2. There are two ways of responding to the evil-god challenge. One way is to demonstrate a flaw in the argument. To show that the evil-god hypothetical doesn't have the same explanatory value as Christian theism. The two positions are not systematically symmetrical. 

3. However, I don't think the onus is on Christians to disprove the hypothetical. We can just shrug it off. 

i) For one thing, there's a difference between paper doubts and real doubts. Just because you can imagine a delusive scenario isn't a rational basis to be skeptical. Humans have the ability to devise mind-traps. Concoct imaginative scenarios in which an illusion is indistinguishable from reality. But other than illustrating the limits of what's provable or disprovable, I don't see the point of thought-experiments which propose scenarios in which we cant know what reality is like. Suppose the thought-experiment is successful? What does that accomplish?

ii) In addition, global skeptical hypotheticals are paradoxical. An atheist is implicated in the same hypothetical. If Antigod exists, then the atheist is just as deluded as the Christian. Indeed, the evil-god argument is, in itself, part of the global illusion, foisted upon us by Antigod. It keeps us off-balance. Keeps us guessing. 

iii) If reality is unknowable, what are we supposed to do about it? What purpose does the hypothetical serve? It has no affect on anything one way or the other. What you believe or disbelieve makes no difference. It's a kind of epistemic fatalism. 

I'm mean, the thrust of these hypotheticals is not, "How can you know that you're not a brain-in-a-vat, trapped in the Matrix, or deluded by the Cartesian demon?" but, "You can't know that you're not a brain-in-a-vat, trapped in the Matrix, or deluded by the Cartesian demon!"

Suppose we dream up a radically skeptical thought-experiment that we can't disprove. Where do we go from there? Nowhere! 

It's like being told that you're caught in a time warp. But if you are caught in a time warp, there's nothing you can do to break the vicious cycle. You don't remember the last time warp, so you can't do anything different this time around to break out. Indeed, each time the cycle repeats itself, you're told that you're caught in a time warp. That, in itself, is factored into the time warp. 

iv) What does Law think his challenge is supposed to achieve? He's generated a self-dilemma. If his argument is successful, then there's nothing we can do in response to his argument since we can't outwit Antigod. 

On the face of it, the purpose of his argument is to make people doubt Christian theism. He deploys the argument to influence belief. To change what people believe about Christian theism. To dissuade them from believing Christian theism. 

But his argument is self-defeating. If his argument is flawed, it proves nothing. If his argument is sound, it changes nothing. For it puts us at the mercy of Antigod. There's nothing we can do to overcome the illusion. We can't even recognize the illusion. 

An atheist believes there is no deity, but if the argument propounded by the atheist is sound, the atheist is hopelessly deluded! Both he and the Christian are in the same boat to nowhere.  

Paul’s Preaching and Postmodern Skepticism

Paul’s Preaching and Postmodern Skepticism by Vern Poythress

Mass surveillance

Thursday, October 27, 2016

What's a Trumpkin?

I'd like to make a brief point about my own usage. I sometimes use the term "Trumpkin". And I used that as a term of disparagement. That's intentional.

However, I don't use "Trumpkin" as a synonym for Trump voters in general. I don't use it for people who opposed Trump during the primaries, but reluctantly support him in the general election.

There are conservatives who will vote for Trump to block Hillary. It's not so much a vote for Trump as a vote against Hillary. I don't call them Trumpkins. 

Rather, I reserve that epithet for Trump primary voters, or for general election voters who minimize his faults, or praise his imaginary virtues. Who make delusional claims about his campaign promises. Things like that. 

Not voting for Trump is a vote for Hillary

i) Trump supporters routinely say not voting for Trump is a vote for Hillary. I've seen a lot of NeverTrumpers rankle at that charge. As a NeverTrumper myself, I'm not bothered by the charge.

Given certain assumptions, there's an obvious sense in which the equation is true. It doesn't mean NeverTrumpers are voting for Hillary in the sense of going into the voting booth and pushing the button next to Hillary's name. They're not casting a vote for Hillary in that direct sense. Rather, the point of the claim is that by declining to vote for the only candidate who can defeat Hillary, the side-effect is to help elect Hillary. And up to a point, that's a logical inference. 

ii) Mind you, that depends on certain conditions. It presumes that Trump is competitive with Hillary. If he's too far behind, then not voting for Trump doesn't make a difference. 

Likewise, if you live in a blue state, then even if you vote for Trump, that will be swamped by Democrat voters. 

iii) I think NeverTrumpers are too defensive on this point. It sounds bad to say not voting for Trump is a vote for Hillary because it's taken out of context. Considered in isolation, it sounds culpable to do anything that would contribute to Hillary's election. But there's more to it than that. The problem is that Trump primary voters backed the rest of us into a corner. 

To take a comparison, it's normally wrong to embezzle bank funds. But suppose bank robbers kidnap the family of the CEO or CFO of Citicorp, using the hostages as leverage to coerce the CEO or CFO to set up a Cayman account just for them, then transfer $10 billion from the City Corp account into the Cayman account, to secure release of the hostages. 

Indeed, you have movies with a dramatic premise like that. Take Harrison Ford's Firewall. (I haven't seen it, just read reviews.)

That puts embezzlement in a different light. The audience is supposed to be sympathetic to the CEO or CFO because the robbers put a gun to his head. That forces him to do things he wouldn't ordinarily do. There are attenuating circumstances that exculpate his actions. 

By the same token, NeverTrumpers feel they've been maneuvered into a situation where the acceptable options were taken away from them. It's not their fault that they refuse to choose between the remaining, unacceptable options. The chance for a good outcome was already nixed during the primaries. They aren't responsible for the dire consequences which irresponsible voters set in motion. The results of the NeverTrump position is mitigated by the situation into which they've been thrust, against their will. 

It's like someone pulling the pin on a grenade. Once he does that, it may be too late to prevent the ensuing damage. The only way to prevent the damage would be by not pulling the pin in the first place. But if that happens, there's no going back to the options you had before he pulled the pin. 

Blaming the GOP Are they a symptom or the cause of the mess we’re in?

Apologist for evil

I'm going to comment on this:

I'm primarily commenting on the article. Sometimes I supplement the article by listening to his lecture (available on YouTube).  

It was through relatives, students and former students who were gay, as well as people in committed, same-sex relationships, that Wolterstorff was drawn to more closely consider the traditional views he’d grown up believing.

i) That's such a cliche. 

ii) "Committed, sex-same relationships". Even many homosexuals admit that they are wildly promiscuous. 

iii) Naturally, the way they present themselves in public often puts the best face on homosexuality. It's gullible to presume that's representative of what happens behind closed doors. Not only rampant promiscuity but the high incidence of domestic abuse.

To take a comparison, consider straight couples whose marriage is on the rocks, yet they appear to be the happy married couple in social settings. No one suspects that they are on the verge of divorce. 

iv) However, that's really beside the point. Even if they were committed to each other, that's an immoral commitment. Take a committed incestuous couple, or a committed adulterous couple. From what I can tell, Eva Braun was deeply committed to the Führer. Members of the Mafia may be deeply committed to each other. Absolute family loyalty. A committed relationship is morally neutral. It can be virtuous or vicious, depending on the nature of the commitment. 

I’ve listened to these people. To their agony. To their feelings of exclusion and oppression. To their longings. To their expressions of love. To their commitments. To their faith. So listening has changed me.

i) "Feelings" of exclusion and oppression. Not reality, but "feelings".

ii) Moreover, this completely overlooks how empowering homosexuals leads to the oppression and exclusion of normal people. Indoctrinating school kids. Teachers and administrators who bully normal kids to affirm perversion. It overlooks how homosexuals exploit and oppress other homosexuals. 

iii) Not doubt homosexuals generally have the same emotional needs as everyone else. But that isn't satisfied by a drastic deviation from the natural sources in which we were made to find emotional fulfillment. 

iv) I say "generally," because homosexuals can become extremely hardened and sadistic or masochistic. 

He first established the commonplace view that sexuality is a continuum, and people may fall anywhere between homosexual and heterosexual in their sexual orientation. 

That's very misleading.

i) To begin with, it might be taken to imply that sexuality is essentially fluid. There is no normal, much less normative, frame of reference. 

ii) In addition, although there's a "continuum" of sorts from homosexuality through bisexuality to heterosexuality, the general public is overwhelmingly heterosexual. Even the politically correct CDC acknowledges that fact. The homosexual and bisexual part of the "continuum" represents the fringe end of the spectrum. 

He says homosexual "orientation" isn't chosen. That's simplistic. Even if the inclination is involuntary, the deveopment can be an acquired taste, Or an appetite that can become addictive and insatiable. For instance, some people don't choose to enjoy alcohol. They just do. For other people, it's an acquired taste. And for some people, it becomes addictive. 

He says there's no therapy. Of course, that piggybacks on his assumption that it's not chosen. Indeed, it's a "creational variance". So his conclusion is no better than the underlying assumptions. 

He cited the Classis Grand Rapids East study report on “Biblical and Theological Support Currently Offered by Christian Proponents of Same-Sex Marriage,” in which a non-heterosexual identity on the sexuality continuum is considered a creational variance, an aspect of one’s nature.

The CRC has been on the skids for decades. Wolterstorff is building on a false premise. An illicit argument from authority. 

Almost everybody agrees that no one is to be blamed for being on the homosexual end of that continuum. 

Well, that says a lot about the social circles in which he moves. Like the quip attributed to Pauline Kael: "I can't believe Nixon won! I don't know anyone who voted for him."

Homosexual attraction is blameworthy. That doesn't mean it's ipso facto damnable. But Wolterstorff is talking about proudly, defiantly impenitent sinners. Sinners who flaunt their sin. Who call evil good. 

For the homosexual person it matters a great deal — a very great deal — whether you say to him or her that their orientation is a disorder, a mark of the fallenness of creation, or whether you say that their location on that spectrum is a creational variance, like any other location on that spectrum.

You could say the same thing about a pedophile or psychopath. 

This stance veers away from the 1973 report of Synod on homosexuality, which defines same-sex orientation as a disorder.

Should have stuck with that. 

Wolterstorff then observed that a same-sex orientation does not break the love command, thus is not morally blameable. 

Does a consensual incestuous relationship between a mother and her teenage son, or father and his teenage daughter break the love command? Even if there's genuine affection, the fact (if it is a fact) that it's loving doesn't make it virtuous. People can be in love with evil. That takes many forms. 

Having established that same-sex orientation is neither a disorder nor morally blameable, he asked, “If accordingly members of the church are to accept such people as they are, then why is it wrong for people with that orientation to act on their desires?

There's a certain logic to that conclusion. But it's predicated on a false premise.

Wolterstorff minimizes the Biblical condemnation by commenting how rarely it's discussed. One problem that overlooks is how something is rarely discussed because it's rightness or wrongness is taken for granted. How often does Scripture forbid matricide or patricide? 

Likewise, the issue arises in occasional documents. Most of the time it isn't necessary to discuss it because there's a standing presumption against it. 

But what does Scripture say? Wolterstorff briefly examined each of the seven Biblical passages which concern homosexual activity. He stressed above all that these passages should be interpreted in context.
He quickly dismissed passages in Genesis 19 and Judges 19, which are about gang rape and, he argued, therefore irrelevant to a discussion of committed, covenantal same-sex relationships. 

i) Those aren't the first passages I'd turn to. However, they're not just about gay rape, but homosexual attraction. The original audience is supposed to be horrified by their homosexual attraction. To find that unnatural and repellent. In Scripture, homosexual activity is a hallmark of pagan immorality.  

ii) In addition, Wolterstorff skips over the paradigmatic case of Gen 1-2, which establishes the heteronormative standard of comparison. 

iii) "covenantal same-sex relationships" is a euphemism for covenantal anal sex, covenantal fisting, covenantal rimming, covenantal scat, covenantal golden showers.  

He similarly put aside Leviticus 18 and 20, where the holiness code has been cherry-picked and it would be “unfair to universalize that condemnation while ignoring everything else that’s forbidden.

i) That's contemptibly superficial. The relationship between Christian theology and OT theology is complex. At one heretical extreme is Marcion. That's the backstop against which orthodox alternatives operate. Any orthodox view of the relationship between Christian theology and the OT will acknowledge both continuity and discontinuity. Different theological traditions parse that differently. But it's not "cherry-picking". Much painstaking theological analysis goes into considering how the OT is fulfilled in the NT. 

And not just broad-based theological traditions. We also have closely-reasoned monographs on OT ethics by meticulous Christian scholars like Gordon Wenham, Richard Bauckham, James Hoffmeier, and Christopher Wright. Not to mention the definitive studies by Robert Gagnon. 

ii) The Mosaic code contains different kinds of laws. Some laws concern ritual purity. Those are somewhat artificial. They aren't grounded in nature. Rather, they're concerned with symbolic holiness. And from a NT standpoint, they've been superseded. 

You also have some laws that are tied to the socioeconomic structures of ancient Israel. An agrarian economy. Common property belonging to one's clan.

But you also have laws regarding social duties and social offenses that are grounded in our God-given nature. Does Wolterstorff really think it's just "cherry-picking" to treat murder as a different kind of law than the cultic sanctity of tabernacle furniture?

iii) Furthermore, Wolterstorff is the one who's guilty of artificially isolating the Levitical prohibitions from Biblical anthropology in general. These aren't atomistic data-points. Rather, there's a continuity of witness throughout the OT and the NT. 

iv) Finally, Judaism is not a dead religion. There are Orthodox Jews who take the kosher laws and other purity codes quite seriously. If it was politically feasible, they'd rebuild the temple and restore animal sacrifice. Now, I think that's defunct, but my point is that Wolterstorff's dismissive treatment acts as though the Mosaic code is obviously passé. Yet there are modern-day Jews who don't relegate that to the past. If Wolterstorff was speaking in an Orthodox synagogue, instead of playing to a sympathetic audience, would he be so flippant and cavalier? 

Wolterstorff quoted Levitical prohibitions about "uncovering nakedness" as if that's obsolete. He seems oblivious to the fact that, in context, that's a euphemism for incest. 

As for 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, he claimed that translational disagreements make the passages too ambiguous for an authoritative claim about same-sex relationships.

It's demonstrable that the terminology is a Greek counterpart to the Levitical terminology. So that represents carryover from  OT sexual ethics to NT sexual ethics in this respect. 

He spent the most time dissecting Romans 1:24–31, which describes a “truly, appallingly wicked group” from which we cannot generalize. “There is night and day difference between the people that Paul describes and the committed same-sex couples that I know.

Wolterstorff refuses to permit Rom 1 to apply to his homosexual students and relatives. He filters Rom 1 through his homosexual students and relatives, uses that to screen out the sweeping indictment of Rom 1 on homosexual attraction and homosexual activity. 

Wolterstorff denies that homosexual "orientation" is unnatural. But that begs the question. And it flies in the face of Paul's argument. Moreover, Rom 1 alludes to Gen 1. So Rom 1 is grounded in God's design for human nature. 

Wolterstorff appeals to Paul's statement that it's unnatural for men to wear long hair. But Paul's argument in Rom 1 doesn't turn on one word, just as Paul's argument in 1 Cor 11 doesn't turn on one word. 

Once one says that a homosexual orientation is no more culpable or disordered than a heterosexual orientation, and once one observes that Scripture does not teach that God says that homosexual activity is always wrong, I think we’ve left to conclude that justice requires that the church offer the great good of marriage both to heterosexual couples committed to a loving, covenantal relationship, and to homosexual couples so committed.

The conclusion of cumulative errors every step of the way. He's a sweet, softheaded old duffer who's easily manipulated and conned. 

Wolterstorff extrapolates from Biblical concerns about widows, orphans, and the poor to homosexuals. Homosexuals are analogous to the most vulnerable members of ancient Israel. They have been treated unjustly and dishonorably. So goes the argument. 

But the homosexual lobby is far from weak and defenseless. To the contrary, the homosexual lobby is powerful and punitive. The homosexual lobby is oppressive. These aren't victims, but aggressors. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Does Jesus know more than science?

I'll comment on this doozy by Peter Enns:

I believe that evolution explains human origins, even if there is always more to learn. I believe this for the same reason I believe the earth is round and billions of years old, the universe is immense and billions of years older, that there are atoms and subatomic particles, that galaxies number in the billions with billions of stars in each, that it takes light from the sun 8.3 minutes to reach us. And so on.

Even supposing that evolution is true, the evidence for evolution is quite different from the evidence for the rotundity of the earth, the existence of subatomic particles, or the speed of light. The direct reasons for believing these things are independent of each other. So they can't be the same reason. Not in terms of reasons for the claim itself. 

I believe that evolution is one of the things that science has gotten right, along with many other things we take for granted every day, because this is the resounding conclusion of the scientific community, including Christians trained in the sciences.

There's nothing inherently wrong with appeal to expert witnesses and the argument from authority. But secular science preemptively discounts divine agency as a legitimate explanation, even if that's the right explanation. So, by process of elimination, only naturalistic explanations are even considered. That's like proving all marbles are white by first removing all the black and blue marbles. Sure, that's what you end up with, by discarding evidence to the contrary. 

The stories of origins in Genesis (Chapter 1 and chapter 2) are not competing “data sets” to scientific models of cosmic and human origins. These stories were written somewhere between 2500 and 3000 years ago, and clearly reflect cultural categories older still. I don’t expect Genesis or any other Bronze or Iron Age text to answer the kinds of questions we can answer today through calculus, optical and radio telescopes, genomics, or biological and cultural anthropology.

That's very logical…if you're an atheist. If you deny the existence of a revelatory God. If you operate with a closed-system worldview. 

If, on the other hand, Gen 1-2 were revealed by a timeless God, then it doesn't matter how long ago it was written. What difference does the first or second millennium BC make to God? If God is outside time, and God is the source of Gen 1-2, then the antiquity of Gen 1-2 is irrelevant to its veracity. If God disclosed the origin of the world to a Bronze Age narrator, the narrator's time-frame is secondary to God's timeless perspective. 

However we define these terms, the Bible is not something dropped out of the sky. Rather these writings unambiguously reflect the various cultural moments of the writers. The Bible speaks the “language” of ancient people grappling with things in ancient ways, and therefore what the Bible records about creation or the dawn of humanity needs to be understood against the cultural backdrop of the biblical writers. Any viable notion of the Bible as inspired or revealed needs to address the implications of a culturally situated Bible.

That's such a canard. For instance, Warfield didn't think the Bible dropped out of the sky. He articulated the organic theory of inspiration. 

True, Jesus alludes to the Adam and Eve story (Genesis 2:24; see Matthew 19:5), and in doing so seems to take that story literally—at least some would argue that. I do not think this allusion establishes anything of the sort, but even if it did, Jesus’s words still do not trump (forgive the poor word choice 2 weeks before election day) evolution as being true.

i) Really? He honestly doesn't believe Jesus thought Gen 1-2 was historical? Christ's argument against lax divorce laws is based on a contrast between the Mosaic Law, which represents a postlapsarian concession–and the creation of Adam and Eve, which represents a prelapsarian standard of comparison. If, however, there was no first couple, then that cuts the ground out from under his argument. Christ is contrasting the status quo with the prototype. But if the prototype never existence, there's no basis of comparison. 

ii) Moreover, how can you argue for monogamy from evolution? Does Enns think hominids were monogamous? If evolution is true, surely our protohuman ancestors were promiscuous. Indeed, Darwinians are wont to say that men are naturally promiscuous while women are naturally monogamous. Men are programmed to mate with many women to up the chances that at least some of their offspring will survive to sexual maturity and repeat the cycle. Women are programmed to seek a dependable mate who will stick around to protect and provide for the mother and kids, as well as to helping raising them. So you have this tug of war between competing instincts. 

Expecting the words of Jesus to settle the evolution issue shows an insufficient grappling with the implications of the incarnation. Actually, it betrays how uncomfortable and “irreverent” (to borrow C. S. Lewis’s description) a doctrine the incarnation is—ironically, including for Christians.
For Jesus to be fully human means not abstractly “human” but a human of a particular sort, fully participating in the Judaism of the 1st century. The incarnation leaves no room whatsoever for the idea that Jesus in any way kept his distance from participating in that particular humanity. That means, among other things, that Jesus was limited in knowledge along with everyone else at the time.

i) I don't know if this is just tactical, or if Enns is really that dense. On the one hand, he may just be saying that to put faithful Christians on the defensive. Turning tables on them by pretending that they are the ones whose orthodoxy is suspect. It's a transparent ploy, but it's the best he can do.

On the other hand, maybe he's really that superficial and uncomprehending. It's funny how, when people like Enns talk about the Incarnation, they always talk about it in this one-sided fashion. But the Incarnation doesn't accentuate the humanity of Christ. According to the Incarnation, Christ is equally divine and human. So there's no differential stress one way or the other. The Incarnation doesn't emphasize the humanity of Christ while deemphasizing the divinity of Christ. It's not as if Jesus is two parts human to one part divine. 

The Incarnation doesn't mean Jesus has finite knowledge rather than infinite knowledge. Rather, it means both are true. Yes, in one respect the Incarnation means Jesus doesn't know everything, but in another respect it means Jesus does know everything! This is, after all, a divine incarnation. Enns singles out the human side of the Incarnation while blanking out the divine side of the Incarnation. But who or what became Incarnate? The divine Son. It isn't simply God Incarnate, but God Incarnate. God united to a body and a rational soul. The Incarnation entails something that's distinctively divine as well as something that's distinctively human. The result of the Incarnation will have properties of both. 

Is Enns so theologically inept that he doesn't grasp the rudiments of orthodox Christology? Even if he doesn't believe it, he should be able to accurately state the idea. 

ii) In addition, although the divine and human natures are metaphysically separate and compartmentalized, the two natures are not epistemically separate and compartmentalized. On the one hand the divine nature knows everything the human nature does. On the other hand, the divine nature shares some of its supernatural knowledge with the human nature. In the Gospels, Jesus sometimes exhibits superhuman knowledge. He has natural human knowledge, but even in his humanity he also has a degree of supernatural divine knowledge. He knows some things that only God would be in a position to know–even in reference to the human mind of Christ. That's because the divine mind imparts some of its supernatural knowledge to the human mind. (For convenience, I'm casting this in terms of a two-minds Christology. I've offered more detailed analogies elsewhere.)

So in that respect, they're not equally balanced. Rather, it tilts in a divine direction. 

iii) Incidentally, I'm not convinced that Enns even believes in the Incarnation or Resurrection. To begin with, why would he still believe in greater miracles when he rejects lesser miracles? How can greater miracles be believable when lesser miracles are unbelievable? If, moreover, he ceased to believe in the Incarnation and Resurrection, he'd have a lot to lose if he said so in public. 

That may sound irreverent or offensive, but it is an implication of the incarnation. Jesus wasn’t an omniscient being giving the final word on the size of mustard seeds…

It's striking how many people trip over that little mustard seed. Yet as Gundry noted in his commentary, "The mustard seed was the smallest seed of Palestinian seeds that could be seen with the naked eye and had become proverbial for smallness" (267). In his commentary, Keener supplies documentation from Jewish and Greco-Roman sources (387-88).

Does Enns think Jesus should reference an invisible seed to illustrate his point? How would a seed so tiny that no one could see it illustrate his point? They wouldn't know what he's talking about! 

Enns has no categories for hyperbole or proverbial expressions in his conceptual toolkit. Does he bring the same exquisite sensitivity to other comparative idioms like "light as a feather," "flat as a pancake," "a stone's throw," "a day late and a dollar short"?  

…mental illness

That's an allusion to Gospel accounts of Jesus as an exorcist. Enns insinuates Jesus was mistaken in believing that they were possessed. Yet the Gospels treat the exorcisms of Jesus as evidence of his messiahship. 

…or cosmic and biological evolution. He was a 1st century Jew and he therefore thought like one.

According to the Incarnation, although Jesus was a 1C Jew, he wasn't just a 1C Jew. He remained the antemundane Creator of the world. In one respect he thought like a 1C Jew. In another respect, he thought like God. 

Who does SBL Think It Is? Get Real and Get a Life SBL!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Stephen Law on animal suffering

Recently, Stephen Law and I mixed it up on Facebook. Doug Groothuis posted a video about a rescued dog. The dog was neglected and abused. Law used that as a pretext to launch into the problem of animal pain. I've rearranged some statements to improve the flow of argument. I've done a bit of additional editing for clarification or stylistic improvements. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

"Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday"

I was thinking some more about Bart Ehrman's position on the unreliability of eyewitness memory. I'm referring to his debate with Richard Bauckham. I have seen a library edition of Ehrman's new book, but the preview of his position he gave in the debate was so idiotic that I figure the book must be a waste of time.

At least in the debate, Ehrman thinks memory is either reliable or unreliable. He flattens memory. 

If, however, we reflect on memory, that's grossly simplistic. Take the question, "What were you doing in 9/11?" or "Where were you on 9/11?"

The question takes for granted that Americans of a certain age remember the 9/11 attack. The question isn't "Do you remember what happened on 9/11?"

Rather, the question presumes that because 9/11 was such a memorable event, not only will you remember the event itself, you will remember contextual details in relation to the event. To spell that out, because 9/11 was so memorable, that makes some otherwise forgettable details memorable by association. 

Or let's go back to the title of the post. That's the famous opening line of L’Étranger by Albert Camus. The first line is arresting because the death of your mother is a paradigmatically-memorable event. If you don't remember that, what do you remember?

For those of us who've lost loved ones, we don't merely recall the day they died. Rather, we are apt recall certain things we were doing on that day. The principle is that an intrinsically memorable event makes related incidents extrinsically memorable by association. 

This introduces another distinction. An event can be prospectively insignificant, but retrospectively significant. Take the day before your loved one died. Or the day before you heard about their death. Especially if the death was sudden, if the death was unexpected, you probably don't recollect anything you did on the day before they died. But if you had advance knowledge that they were going to die the next day, then the day before they died becomes instantly significant. That might be the last full day you will ever have with them. The significance of the day they die makes the day before they died significant, with the benefit of hindsight. And if you had the benefit of foresight, you'd be likely to remember what you were doing on both days.

Indeed, suppose the doctor tells you that your loved one probably has only a few days to left. That advance warning can make the days leading up to their death memorable. The foreboding. Spending extra time with them. Your loved one is now on a countdown. So you make the most of the remaining time. 

Suppose we apply that reasoning to the Gospels. Suppose we bracket inspiration. And suppose, for the sake of argument, we say the only historically reliable accounts in the Gospels are accounts centered on naturally memorable events. So what would those be?

For one thing, the miracles of Christ are memorable. In the nature of the case, a miracle is a memorable event. If Christ performed miracles, that's the kind of event we'd expect people to recall, and talk about. 

But it's not just the miracle that's memorable. As my other examples illustrate, a memorable event enhances our recollection of contextual details. We remember, not merely the event itself, in isolation, but we're apt to remember other things that were said and done in relation to the event. Where and when. Who was there. Normally, these contextual details might be utterly forgettable, but a memorable event is like a light that's not only luminous in its own right, but illuminates the surroundings. 

But even if all we had to go by were the accounts of dominical miracles in the Gospels, there's an awful lot of theology in those accounts. If those are historically reliable, because they're so memorable, that's quite a lot to work with.

Consider some other memorable events in the Gospels. The nativity accounts are studded with unforgettable incidents. 

Or Holy Week. That was a harrowing experience for the disciples. They couldn't bring themselves to believe that Jesus would be martyred. And when Jesus was arrested, they lost their protector. They became marked men. They were terrified that the authorities were going to hunt them down. What could be more memorable?

And what about the empty tomb? And the Risen Christ appearing to them? Not only is that unforgettable, but it's even more dramatic in light of their harrowing experience. 

The Gospels are interwoven with reported events that would be indelible to observers. And the events would make many incidental details stick in the mind. 

A Response To Annette Merz On The Infancy Narratives (Part 9)

(Previous parts in the series: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8.)

I want to conclude this series of responses to Merz by discussing how much Matthew and Luke agree about the childhood of Jesus. One of the most common criticisms of the infancy narratives is that they're too different. And critics often cite that objection as one of the most foundational reasons for rejecting the historicity of the accounts.

Merz cites a couple of resources on the agreements between Matthew and Luke:

Instructive lists of the agreements can be found in J.A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX (AB 28; New York: Doubleday, 1981), 307; and P.M. McDonald, S. H. C. J., "Resemblances between Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2," in New Perspectives on the Nativity, 200-01. (n. 34 on 475)

And here are some of her comments on the differences between the two gospels:

Whereas Joseph is a resident of Bethlehem according to Matthew, and the birth seems to have taken place at his house, Mary is forced to give birth in a stable in Luke's account…

The contradictions between Matthew and Luke on the question of how the family happened to be present in Bethlehem and how the course of events developed after the baby's birth count heavily against historicity. Matthew presupposes Bethlehem as the hometown of Joseph, the son of David, and has the family move to Nazareth only much later, after the magi's visit and clandestine return had provoked Herod's slaughter of the innocents, which in turn caused the family's flight to Egypt, which allowed Matthew to cite another biblical proof text from Hos 11…In Luke, the family lives in Nazareth and comes to Bethlehem, the city of David, in obedience to the decree from Caesar Augustus that they should be enrolled in a world-wide census, and they return to Nazareth very quickly, stopping only to perform the necessary rituals in Jerusalem - the presentation of the child in the temple and the purification of the mother (40 days after birth, according to Lev 12). Within approximately seven weeks, the family was back in their hometown, Nazareth, and on the way back had stayed for several days in Jerusalem, undisturbed by any persecution or threat present there. Of course they never saw a glimpse of Matthew's magi but enjoyed the visit of some shepherds, who had been informed of the birth by many angels instead. Thus we are dealing with two totally different stories, each with a consistent chronology, which are impossible to harmonize. (476-8)

Edge cases

Lydia McGrew is one of the most sophisticated NeverTrumpers, so I'm going to examine some of her arguments. The point of this assessment is not about the 2016 election. Trump's campaign is probably doomed. However, the 2015 election illustrates issues and arguments that will be revisited. Therefore, it's important to sort and sift the good arguments from the bad arguments. Most of her comments are culled from this post:

Although one comment is culled from this post:

BTW, it's striking that a number of prominent conservatives are breaking late for Trump, at a time when his campaign seems to be a lost cause. The timing is a bit odd. Boarding a burning ship while the rats abandon the burning ship. But perhaps, to change metaphors, this is a Hail Mary Pass.

One basic oversight in Lydia's analysis is her myopic fixation on Trump. But a one-sided focus on Trump's many manifest disqualifications will fail to dissuade conservatives who consider voting for him inasmuch as their assessment involves a comparative analysis between two candidates. 

It tries to set women and men against each other, as if it's just or chiefly women who are disgusted. "If decent people are so outraged" wouldn't have started off nearly as well, would it? This furthers the idea that women just "don't understand" that "men are like this" (so it's really no big deal) and hence that women, but not men, are disgusted.

Depends on the speaker is. But conservative pundits bring up 50 Shades of Grey, not to set women against men or promote the notion that women just don't understand men. Just the opposite: that the country is full of trashy women as well as trashy men. 

And that, in turn, documents the duplicity of the outraged directed at Trump. Now, Trumpkins use that to excuse Trump. 

However, it's legitimate to point out that critics on the Left are blind hypocrites. 

It also makes the point that this is a problem for both sexes. This is one of the things that secular progressivism leads to. Slutty women as well as man-sluts or man-whores. 

It makes sweeping, negative, implicit generalizations about women. This, again, is standard manospheric practice. Women in general are sluts. Women in general are bad.

That's true of Alt-Right Trumpkins. However, you can't be a social commentator unless you generalize about groups of people. Social criticism isn't about isolated individuals, but patterns of social behavior. So her objection is self-defeating. Lydia is, herself, a social commentator. 

One thing Lydia conveniently fails to mention is that some of Trump's staunchest cheerleaders are…women! Ann Coulter, Monica Crowley, Laura Ingraham, Peggy Noonan, and Sarah Palin. Even Phyllis Schlafly came under his spell. You can't pin it all on the male chauvinist pigs in the manosphere. You have morally blind women as well as morally blind men. 

I think conservatives by nature have up until now really wanted a president with good character. 

Well, all things being equal, it's preferable to have a president with good character as well as good policies. 

That's one reason why some of them can't handle the cognitive dissonance and either a) downplay Trump's bad character to justify supporting him or even b) go so far as to say that he has good character in order to justify supporting him.

True, I think part of the reason is that some voters feel the candidate they support is a reflection on them (which can be the case). That makes them defensive. 
A Facebook friend of a Facebook friend recently told me that she knows a lot of Christians who literally insist that Trump is "a godly man." The mind boggles, but what I think it shows is that the cynical idea of the "narrow technician President" still doesn't sit well with Americans, especially American conservatives. In their hearts they know that we are supposed to be able to respect the President…


…and that he is, de facto, a role model. 

Just as star athletes are de facto role models. But that should be challenged, not accommodated. 

They know that his name will be in the history books. They know that if he's a slimeball and an embarrassment, this is a real matter of national shame. 

Depends on the available choices. 

They also know that as President he will have tremendous power which of course you wouldn't trust to a moral cretin.

What if both viable candidates are moral cretins? 
So they lie to themselves about his character.

Some Trump supporters are undoubtedly guilty of that. 
However, there's also a lot schizophrenia. In Trump's case, his bad character is so egregiously obvious that a lot more people, including conservatives, can't really deny it. 


But because conservatives are flogged by our two-party system and by the literally religious sense of duty that we have (bizarrely) told people that they have to vote in the Presidential election for one of the two major-party candidates, they feel they must harden their hearts, stifle all of their knowledge that character counts, and justify voting for the Republican candidate. It's an absolutely blatant partisanship: God will be angry at you and you will be responsible for all the evil that the Democrat does if you don't vote for the Republican. 

I have a more charitable interpretation. As Alexander Pruss points out:

There is, nonetheless, still a serious problem for the common method of cases as used in analytic moral philosophy. Even when a reliable process is properly functioning, its reliability and proper function only yield the expectation of correct results in normal cases. A process can be reliable and properly functioning and still quite unreliable in edge cases…This wouldn't matter much if ethical inquiry restricted itself to considering normal cases. But often ethical inquiry proceeds by thinking through hypothetical cases. These cases are carefully crafted to separate one relevant feature from others, and this crafting makes the cases abnormal. For instance, when arguing against utilitarianism, one considers such cases as that of the transplant doctor who is able to murder a patient and use her organs to save three others, and we carefully craft the case to rule out the normal utilitarian arguments against this action: nobody can find out about the murder, the doctor's moral sensibilities are not damaged by this, etc.

The choice between Trump, Hillary, or a third-party candidate presents conservatives with conflicting intuitions, because it's an edge case. 
It is in that context that they turn to the myth of the narrow technician President and to the further myth that a man like Trump can be in any degree trusted to do something effective even about the one or two policy things they are most concerned about.

That's not the right way to frame the issue. The issue, rather, is a choice between a candidate (Trump) who can't be trusted to do the right thing over against a candidate (Hillary) who can be trusted to do the wrong thing.
I saw someone yesterday refer to Trump's "promises" on a laundry list of things some of which he hasn't even _bothered_ to make promises about. (Religious liberty, for example.) So people are literally hallucinating promises from Trump so as to fix in their minds this false picture of his being bound to some kind of contract with them as "his base" to do what they want on certain crucial issues if elected even though he's a bad man.


It's all an illusion.

No, it's not "all" an illusion. 

Now, given that that is what is meant, the intended sharp distinction between his "private life" and what he will "do" from his "public office" if elected really breaks down…It will bring justified embarrassment and reproach to the country. And it will make him vulnerable in various ways related even to matters such as national security. A man who cannot control his passions is hardly to be trusted with the nuclear football and with high security clearance!

i) If Lydia is alluding to Trump, I agree. However, the reason Trump is dangerous is not due to his roving eye, but because he's so rash, petty, and proudly uninformed. 

ii) When she says it will bring embarrassment and reproach to the country, I don't know her frame of reference. Europe and Great Britain have had philandering heads-of-state for centuries. And the same could be said for many other countries. 

iii) I thought she may be loathe to admit it, successful men can be promiscuous. Promiscuous men can lead very disciplined lives, in which they compartmentalize their sex life. They are able to be promiscuous and still be highly proficient at their job. 

iv) Life would be simpler if Lydia's correlation held true. But by the same token, life would be unlivable if her correlation held true. Although moral consistency is better than moral inconsistency, moral inconsistency is better than immoral consistency. In his common grace, God often causes unbelievers to be morally inconsistent rather than immorally consist for the survival of the elect. In a fallen world, you can't expect widespread moral consistency. 

I don't say that as a recommendation. And Trump is just a showman. But Lydia is overplaying her hand. 

For reasons I've given, I remain a NeverTrumper. I agree with Lydia's ultimate position, but not the reasons by which she arrives at her position.