Saturday, November 05, 2016

Hillary, Trump, and double effect

Although this is often cast in terms of the lesser-evil principle, we can recast the issue by invoking another principle, namely the double effect principle. In the "canonical" for (a la Catholic moral theology), you cannot use a bad means to a good end. Since I'm not Roman Catholic, I'm not bound by that caveat. So, to reformulate it a bit:

There are situations where causing harming is unavoidable regardless of what you do or refrain from doing. Either you will cause harm or you will permit someone else to cause harm, because you refuse to intervene. Given that forced option, it may be permissible to cause harm to minimize harm. 

Put another way, there are situations where an agent performs an action that has two effects: one good and one bad. Moreover, inaction on the agent's part will have a bad effect, without the compensatory good effect.

The action may still be licit provided that the intended effect desired by the agent is good while the bad effect is merely foreseen, and not intended.

An advantage of causing harm yourself, rather than leaving it to someone else to cause harm, is that you have more control over how, when, where, and/or to whom the harm is inflicted. You can be more discriminating, and thereby mitigate the degree of harm. 

That, of itself, doesn't settle the question of voting in the 2016 presidential election. But it does provide another moral framework for weighing the pros and cons, both ethical and practical. 

What's the point of the atonement?

In his debate with John Lennox, Christopher Hitchens said that for the first 98,000 years of human suffering, God watches this with perfect insouciance. Finally, God says we have to intervene now. We have to do something about this. What would be the best way to intervene to redeem this rather bleak picture? What about having someone tortured to death in an obscure part of the Middle East? That ought to cure it. 

Likewise, in his debate with John Lennox, Richard Dawkins said it's "petty and small-minded" to think the creator of the cosmos (if he existed) would come to this speck of dust to rid the world of sin. That fails to do justice to the grandeur of the universe. 

Several problems:

i) I wonder what Christian theologians, if any, Hitchens and Dawkins ever read. What's their source of information regarding the purpose of the atonement? Or is this just an applause line? 

ii) The purpose of the atonement is not to rid the world of sin or suffering. If you're going to cast the issue in terms of ridding the world of something, the purpose of the atonement is to rid the world of guilt, not sin or suffering. The point is not to eradicate sin or suffering. That's the purpose of Judgment Day. Rather, the point of the atonement is to satisfy divine justice so that God can justly forgive sinners. So, yes, you have sin and suffering both before and after the atonement. That's not a failure of the atonement. The atonement accomplished precisely what it was aiming at. In particular, to make atonement for the sins of the elect. 

God will indeed eradicate the world of sin and suffering. More precisely, God will glorify believers and separate them from the wicked. But that's a different action than the atonement. 

iii) I'd add that 1C Jerusalem was hardly an "obscure part of the Middle East". Again, maybe that's just another applause line, but it's rhetorical rather than factual. 

iv) Finally, Dawkins stresses how supposed incongruous it would be for God to come to our little planet to rid the universe of sin. But that's like saying it's "petty and small-minded" for physicians to go where there's an outbreak. Of all the awesome and scenic parts of the world to choose from, why would they go to some Third World hellhole? The answer, as Jesus said, is that physicians tend to the sick, not the heathy. You go where there's a need. 

Suppose we're the only intelligent creatures in the universe. Or suppose we're the only fallen creatures in the universe. Naturally, God would zero in on our planet. If sinners are earthlings, wouldn't we expect God to intervene on planet earth? 

For that matter, even if there were other fallen creatures in the universe whom God redeemed, why assume we'd know about it? Indeed, that would be distracting information. 

Out of Africa

The Out of Africa theory of human origins would be more impressive if simians were confined to Africa. But, of course, there are New World simians as well as Old World simians. And even Old World simians aren't confined to Africa. You have various species in East Asia and South Asia. Given the diverse geographical distribution of simians, it's harder to argue that they all originated in Africa, or man in particular. 

Understanding Prayer for the Dead

In his foreword, to James B. Gould's, Understanding Prayer for the Dead: Its Foundation in History and Logic (Cascade Books, 2016), Jerry Walls says:

The author distinguishes four kinds of prayers for the dead, and notes that the main Christian traditions have differed on the matter of which of these kinds of prayer are appropriate. The four kinds of prayer are for consummation, growth, purification, and salvation. While the first kind of prayer is most widely accepted and practiced, by many Protestants as well as Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics, the second and third types of prayer are accepted less commonly by Protestants, but are practiced by the Orthodox and Catholics. However, the fourth kind of prayer, for salvation, is generally rejected by all three traditions, on the ground that postmortem repentance and salvation are impossible. 
As a Protestant who has written a book defending a doctrine of purgatory, including postmortem repentance, I am both intrigued by Gould's argument as well as attracted to it. Indeed, the early practice of prayer for the dead, particularly prayer for purification, was one of the factors that led to the eventual development of the doctrine of purgatory. The traditional doctrine of purgatory however, pertains only to persons who died in a state of grace, so postmortem salvation is excluded…As Jairus and his friends learned, death may not be the insurmountable barrier we think it is. 

Several issues:

i) One question concerns the boundaries of Arminianism. Walls keeps moving the border stone. Does Arminianism have definable boundaries? What is out of bounds? How far can you redefine traditional Arminianism before it ceases to be Arminian? Jerry has a bunch of groupies who rubber-stamp whatever their guru says. Whenever he has forthcoming book or interview, they say "I can't wait!" They agree with him in advance of whatever he says. Nowadays, Arminianism seems to be harmonious with just about anything besides Calvinism. 

ii) The appeal to Jairus is a bait-n-switch. His daughter wasn't even dead at the time Jairus dispatched his servants to solicit Christ's intervention. And even if she was, that would be a "prayer for the dead" is the sense of petitioning God to restore a decedent to life. That's completely different from a "prayer for the dead" in terms of purgatorial sanctification or postmortem salvation. Jerry's comparison is criminally equivocal.

iii) Whether prayer for the dead, in Jerry's sense, is permissible depends in part on your theology. It's not so much a question of directly challenging prayer for the dead, but challenging the underlying theology.

iv) In addition, there are disanalogies between intercessory prayer for the living and intercessory prayer for the dead. Much intercessory prayer presumes the liabilities of life in a fallen world. The kinds of harms and deprivations to which we're vulnerable in the here-and-now. Disease, poverty, suffering. Life in a fallen world is hazardous and precarious. Picking your way through a minefield. 

But in classic Protestant theology, when Christians die, that takes them out of harm's way. They no longer have the same needs. They can no longer be hurt. They've put all that behind them. They leave the world of pain, danger, and suffering behind. That's very liberating. A huge relief. They are safe and secure in heaven. They no longer need intercessory prayer. 

But for people like Jerry, the afterlife is an extension of the fallen world. Logically, if the lost can be saved in the afterlife, then the saved can be lost in the afterlife. If the psychological dynamic is fluid in one direction, why not the other? 

v) If our prayers can facilitate postmortem salvation, why does the Bible never once command us to pray for the dead? Prayer is a huge part of Biblical piety. Both Old and New Testaments are chockfull of prayers and commands to prayer. If postmortem salvation is possible, if that actually happens, if prayer for the dead makes a necessary contribution to the salvation of decedents who wouldn't otherwise be saved, then there's nothing more important that you can pray for. So why the silence of Scripture? 

vi) There's a major point of tension between belief in God's universal love and belief that death is the cutoff for salvation. But one can relieve a point of tension in either one of two different directions. Because Walls regards the universality of God's love as nonnegotiable, he makes whatever adjustments are necessary (e.g. postmortem purgatory, postmortem salvation, prayer for the dead) to relieve the tension.

Problem is, there's no evidence that his postulates are true. It's a third story conjecture resting on a second story conjecture resting on a first story conjecture. A skyscraper of wishful thinking. 

vii) In addition, there's at least prima facie evidence that his position is contradicted by some passages of Scripture. And that's not confined to Calvinism. That includes Jansenism, Thomism, and Augustinianism. 

Roll the dice

I've seen some Christians use a gambling metaphor for the 2016 election. It's a sure bet that we have lots to lose if Hillary wins. By contrast, Trump is a roll of the dice. You may win the bet or lose the bet, but given the choice, it's more reasonable to roll the dice, which gives you the chance of a better outcome. Neither candidate is a safe bet, but one is undoubtedly threatening in a way the other is not.

I think that's a useful analogy. I don't object in principle. The question, though, is whether the choice is really that clear-cut. Trump can do a different kind of damage than Hillary. BTW, there's an outside possibility that McMullin will be the next president. 

The faith of an atheist

JMac on Trump

JMac recently made a comment that's getting some buzz:

He's an old man speaking off the cuff, so I wouldn't parse his comment to death. He was responding to a question. Moreover, he was implicitly responding to how some people characterize a vote for Trump.

Some of what he said was perfectly reasonable. The major weakness in his response was the claim that he's not voting for Trump, per se. Rather, he's voting for a worldview, voting for an ideology.

The obvious problem with that justification is that Trump doesn't have anything resembling a consistent worldview or ideology. Trump is not a thinker in any sense. He speaks and acts on the moment to gain a tactical advantage. 

JMac also indicated that Trump has better advisors than Hillary. But there's no evidence that Trump listens to anyone, much less conservative advisors. 

A better way to say what JMac was attempting to say is that a candidate with a malevolent agenda (Hillary) is more dangerous than a candidate with no discernible political philosophy. 

Mind you, the issue is more complex. Even if Hillary is more dangerous in the short-term, it's possible that Trump is more dangerous in the long-term if he co-ops the conservative movement. In fairness, Hillary will do great long-term damage as well. 

Peter Singer on Christianity and atheism

I was watching Peter Singer's debate with John Lennox:

1. In one respect his presentation was what you'd expect from a philosopher. It was well-organized. He gave one positive reason and two negative reasons for not believing in God. He reviewed three traditional theistic proofs. He then gave two arguments against belief in biblical theism. To that extent his presentation was logical and methodical. However, for a philosopher of his prominence and influence, I found his presentation to be frankly incompetent. It is, however, a useful foil. 

Thursday, November 03, 2016


In this post I've going to give some examples of what I consider to be credible premonitions or premonitory dreams. Scripture records a number of revelatory or premonitory dreams. Some happen to believers and some to unbelievers. And, of course, we have the programmatic promise in Acts 2:17-18. So it's not surprising if some people have premonitory dreams today. 

Premonitions can happen apart from dreams. In addition, dreams can intersect with crisis apparitions, where a dead relative appears to the dreamer. By the same token, apparitions can happen within dreams or apart from dreams. 

What's the purpose of premonitory dreams? The most direct function is to warn or prepare the dreamer for an impending crisis. But suppose  it doesn't seem to serve any purpose?

Of course, that could be evidence that it's not premonitory. Just coincidence. However, it might still be premonitory. The purpose would simply be to give the dreamer evidence that there's more to reality than meets the eye. That this physical world is not all there is. Uncanny things happen that don't fit into the tight confines of naturalism. That can be an encouragement to Christians. Likewise, it can give unbelievers reason to reconsider their naturalism. 

I'll begin with a few accounts I find plausible, but a bit doubtful:

i) I've read that Loretta Lynn has premonitions. Something she inherited from her mother. It's possible those are tall tales. However, I don't see what she has to gain by it. She didn't make her fame and fortune as a reputed psychic. According to Kurt Koch, mediumistic magic is hereditary. 

ii) Many years ago I heard a UMC minister share a personal anecdote at a Bible study. He said he was a coal miner's son. He said his mother dreamt about a room she'd never seen before. It may have been a college dorm. Later, she went to the place she dreamt about, and it looked exactly like the dream.

What's striking about this anecdote is that he himself is politically and theologically liberal, so he's not predisposed to believe things like that. However, I'm somewhat hesitant about the account. It's not something that happened to him, but something his mother related to him. So he can't vouch for the experience. And I heard it just once, many years ago, so my recollection might be a little off. 

iii) In the late 80s (I think), a friend took me to his church. We didn't go for the service. Instead, We went upstairs to listen to a talk by a retired missionary. It was a small group gathering.

She was an older woman. She was the daughter of missionaries. She grew up on the mission field.

She married a Christian who was gung-ho about going into missions. Ironically, she was far less enthusiastic than he was. She knew from personal experience that foreign missions was very hard. 

But she was dutiful, so she agreed to return to the mission field with her new husband–even though she really didn't want to resume that life.

While they were there, one day her daughter told her that she (her daughter) had a death premonition. And, in fact, her daughter died two weeks later. 

At that point the missionary told us, "What can you say? It's God's will." She kind of shrugged. 

The missionary described how hard it was to get in touch with her relatives back home. The missionaries were in a backwater (in Africa, or maybe Latin America) with poor telephone communications. And when she did get hold of her parents, they were in total shock, since the death of their granddaughter (just a teenager at the time) was completely unexpected.

Aside from the premonition, what came through was her faithful submission to the will of God, despite a very difficult life. A life of hardship and wrenching disappointment.

It's possible that the story of the premonition was something she just made up, but I don't know what would motivate her to do that. She wasn't famous. She was just sharing her life-story with a handful of people in church. Not even in the main sanctuary. 

It wasn't a story about miraculous deliverance. It didn't have a happy ending. It wasn't: "God spoke to me! God gave me a vision! Now send me a 'seed faith' offering to make it happen."

My main hesitation is that I heard it just once, many years ago, so I'm fuzzy on the details. 

Now I'll move on to stronger examples. #1 is a dream I myself had, back in 2010. #'s 2-4 are anecdotes that Christian friends have shared with me (which I reproduce with their permission). These have been anonymized to protect the confidentiality of the source. I hasten to add that none of them is charismatic. #'s 5-9 are already in the public domain. Rauser is a Christian philosopher. Ruskin was a Victorian art critic and social commentator. Crespin was an opera diva. The rest are self-explanatory. 

Jen Hatmaker

I'll make a few observations about Jen Hatmaker. I never heard of her until she became instantly notorious for endorsing the LGBT agenda. 

i) From the little I've read, she's a 44-year-old mother and the wife of a megachurch pastor. She graduated from Oklahoma Baptist U. Don't know what her major was. According to one background story:

The writer and speaker calls their weekends a "crazy chaotic show, from Friday to Monday," as she flies between Christian conferences before joining her husband, Brandon, at their Free Methodist church plant for worship each Sunday. 
Amid quippy asides and Instagram photos of everyone smiling wide, Hatmaker chronicles her family—three kids "the old-fashioned way" and two adopted from Ethiopia in 2011—on her popular blog. Her 2012 book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess (B&H Publishing), remains a bestseller as it follows her family's 30-day fasts to combat excessive consumption.

Apparently, she has quite a following among some women. One question is: why? Why think she has any particular wisdom to impart? Why think she's wiser than your own mother? 

There are some gifted women. There are women who have useful things to say. Take a Bible commentator like Karen Jobes, or Christian philosophers like Elizabeth Anscombe and Lydia McGrew, or a poet and devotional writer like Christina Rossetti. These women write with insight. 

But what does Hatmaker have going for her besides natural charisma? What qualifies her to teach women? What does she know that millions of other wives and mothers don't know? Why would you buy her books or attend a conference where she's the keynote speaker? She lacks the exegetical expertise of Karen Jobes. She's not a deep thinker like Elizabeth Anscombe or Lydia McGrew. She lacks the artistic talent of Christina Rossetti. What do women expect to learn from her? 

In that regard she reminds me of other women who have a following, like Joyce Meyer and Rachel Held Evans. Apparently, other women feel that they can "relate" to these celebrities. But why would you cling to their every word and let them do your thinking for you? 

ii) Which brings me to a second point. Unless the pastor or televangelist takes precautions to guard against it, televangelism and megachurches can produce a dynamic in which his family are treated like royalty. Simply to be the wife of a televangelist or megachurch pastor makes her the First Lady. Sons and daughters are princes and princesses. Take husband and wife teams like Kenneth and Gloria Copeland (not to mention that both of them are heretical). Queen to the king. 

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying there's anything inherently wrong with a husband-and-wife team. I had an elderly relative who used to listen to Jill Briscoe. She graduated from Cambridge. She seemed to be very intelligent. Maybe more so than her husband. 

My point is that a woman isn't morally or theologically discerning simply in virtue of being married to a televangelist or megachurch pastor. Likewise, the fact that someone's a natural public speaker doesn't mean they have good judgment in theology of ethics. That doesn't qualify them to be spiritual leaders. That applies to men as well as women. 

I'm reminded of Erma Bombeck. She was a columnist who made a lucrative career writing about her experience as a housewife. Women could "relate" to her. That's because Bombeck was a humorist. 

In addition, is Jen Hatmaker even a good wife and mother? That's not a part-time job. How can she do that when she's jetting around the country on the speaking circuit? Likewise, is turning your home into a reality show really good for the kids? Is it good for them to live in a fishbowl? Is she even a good role model at that level? 

ii) Now I'd like to shift to a related point. And that's the role of emotions. Emotions are important. There's a sense in which we all live for our emotions. By that I mean, we all want to be happy. 

There is, though, a crucial difference between living for emotions  and living by emotions. It doesn't occur to many people that we need to educate our emotions. There's a difference between raw emotion and sanctified emotion. In and of themselves, emotions are not a morally or rationally reliable guide to forming beliefs or making decisions. 

Likewise, it doesn't occur to many people that sometimes we have a duty to override our emotions. Mere feelings have no moral authority. It's wrong to let your feelings lead you. Sanctified reason, reason informed by revelation, needs to be in the driver's seat, and not emotion. 

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

How does it differ from no gardener at all?

Anthony Flew famously wrote:

Once upon a time two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. In the clearing were growing many flowers and many weeds. One explorer says, "Some gardener must tend this plot." The other disagrees, "There is no gardener." So they pitch their tents and set a watch. No gardener is ever seen. "But perhaps he is an invisible gardener." So they set up a barbed-wire fence. They electrify it. They patrol with bloodhounds. (For they remember how H. G. Well's The Invisible Man could be both smelt and touched though he could not be seen.) But no shrieks ever suggest that some intruder has received a shock. No movements of the wire ever betray an invisible climber. The bloodhounds never give cry. Yet still the Believer is not convinced. "But there is a gardener, invisible, intangible, insensible, to electric shocks, a gardener who has no scent and makes no sound, a gardener who comes secretly to look after the garden which he loves." At last the Sceptic despairs, "But what remains of your original assertion? Just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?"

i) With whom is Flew shadowboxing? Is this directed at theological noncognitivism? Perhaps he's responding to modernist theologians who say God is ineffable. God is indefinable. He transcends our conceptual categories. There's no analogy between God and human words or concepts. If that's his target, then I think his parable scores a direct hit. 

ii) But at another level, his parable suffers from an egregious blindspot. You don't need to empirically detect a gardener to infer a gardener. You don't motion detectors or spectrometry to smoke out the presence of a gardener. Rather, you infer the gardener from the garden. You infer the gardener from his effects. Flowerbeds don't weed themselves. Orchards don't thin themselves. Trees don't grow in rows, much less even-spaced rows. A well-tended garden implies the existence of a gardener. The garden itself is evidence for the gardener. You don't need direct evidence for the gardener, since the garden furnishes indirect, but unmistakable evidence for the gardener. Moreover, that's analogous to many theistic proofs. So in that respect, his parable is counterproductive. 

Typecasting the culture wars

Although this is about Catholicism, it's easy to keep the same cast of characters (heroes and villains), but shift it to a Protestant setting (evangelicals and "progressive" Christians). All the same parallels:


I usually agree with Paul Helm. Here's a rare exception:

I agree with Helm on the importance of the body in Christian anthropology. But we don't need Thomistic hylomorphism to value the body. Indeed, a dreaded Cartesian dualist can value the body, without the obscurities of hylomorphism. It's a philosophically and theologically problematic position. Consider the view of analytical Thomist, Elizabeth Anscombe:

This is why I call "immaterial substance" a delusive conception…There is no reason whatever for believing in a temporal immortality of the soul apart from the resurrection…I take the Christian doctrine of immortality to be the doctrine of an unending human life, happy or unhappy, after the resurrection, and not the doctrine of an immortal sort of substance, the soul., to which is appended the doctrine of the resurrection because a disembodied soul is not a complete man, "The Immortality of the Soul," Faith in a Hard Ground, 72,77.

Now, it's possible, I suppose, that her position was partially influenced by Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein once made a skeptical comment about dreams, which his student, Norman Malcolm developed. If we conceive the intermediate state as analogous to dreaming, and if, following Wittgenstein, we're dubious about the "folk psychology" of dreaming, then perhaps that has something to due with her skepticism. But I have no actual evidence that was a factor in her thinking. 

It is, of course, possible, that her skepticism isn't specifically Thomistic, although she devotes time to analyzing the Thomistic category of substance. And I'm not suggesting that Helm ought to be persuaded by her arguments. 

But it's no mystery that hylomorphism, even of the Thomistic variety, is hard to square with the intermediate state. As I recall, Peter Geach, another analytical Thomist (and Anscombe's husband) raises similar difficulties in God and the Soul. From what I've read, Thomists must make ad hoc qualifications to adapt hylomorphism to the intermediate state.  And that's from astute Catholic philosophers who are highly sympathetic to Thomism. 

Dembski drops out of the ID movement

I had noticed some odd omissions. He hadn't updated his online bibliography for several years. The Discovery Institute has been feting Behe and Denton, but strangely silent about Dembski's contributions, even though he's one of the founders of the movement. I've also seen Evolution News & Views showcasing newer talent (e.g. Doug Axe, Stephen Meyer). 

One reason might be that as an aging mathematician, he may feel his best work is behind him. To be clear, he hasn't recanted his position. 

There is, though, some bitterness. I think, not without reason, that he suffers from burnout because he's been burned so many times. He was run out of town on a rail at Baylor. Then he got a job at SBTS, only to resign a year later. Then he landed a job at SWBTS, only to get into hot water with Paige Patterson. 

He's been frozen out by naturalistic evolutionists, theistic evolutionists, and young-earth creationists. His statement that "the camaraderie I once experienced with colleagues and friends in the movement has largely dwindled" is striking. He feels pretty alienated. Sad, but understandable. For more background on his motivations:

This speck of dust

I was listening to Richard Dawkins debate John Lennox. Dawkins said it's "petty and small-minded" to think the creator of the cosmos (if he existed) would come to this speck of dust to rid the world of sin. That fails to do justice to the grandeur of the universe. 

That's a revealing window into the mind of Dawkins. It reminds me of a distinction I've drawn between two kinds of painters: there are artists who like to paint people and artists who like to paint landscapes. Evidently, Dawkins is more interested in the spectacle of the natural world than human beings. 

Certainly humans are physically insignificant compared to the scale of the universe, or even mountains, canyons, and the like. It is, however, a false dichotomy for Dawkins to intuit that a God who's big enough to design the universe would take no interest in little creatures like humans. If anything, it's a mark of divine greatness to be mindful of each and every detail. Where everything happens for a reason. No plot holes. Is a God who only cares about the big picture, but can't be bothered with the details, really superior to a God who's cognizant of the fine details as well as the big picture? Isn't that a hallmark of quality craftsmanship? 

You also have creative writers who are fond of certain characters. They have favorite characters. 

I'm not suggesting that's directly analogous to God. I'm just saying there's nothing incongruous about the notion of a creator who takes a personal interest in the people (or characters) he makes. 

What if the House decides the election?

At the moment, the state of the presidential race is in flux, although that could solidify very fast. One possible scenario is that due to third-party candidates, Hillary and Trump will both fail to secure 270 electoral votes, in which case the election will be thrown into the House. I asked a friend who knows more about the mechanics than me what the procedure would be in that event. He said:

Article II, Section 1, Clause 3 of the Constitution lays out the rules in such a scenario. That language is a bit confusing, but the gist is: 

The House gets to elect the President and must choose from the from the 3 nominees who got the most Electoral votes (Trump, Hillary, or McMullin). Each state gets one vote (presumably the party with the most Reps gets to decide) so 26 states are needed to win.  

The Senate would elect the Vice President from the 2 Vice Presidential candidates with the most Electoral votes (Pence or Kaine, but not Finn). Each Senator gets one vote. 

If the House can't decide on a President by Inauguration Day, the Vice-President Elect (Kaine or Pence) serves as acting President until the deadlock is resolved. 

Evolutionary altruism

Darwinians often argue that natural selection fosters altruism. For instance: 

In evolutionary biology, an organism is said to behave altruistically when its behaviour benefits other organisms, at a cost to itself. The costs and benefits are measured in terms of reproductive fitness, or expected number of offspring. So by behaving altruistically, an organism reduces the number of offspring it is likely to produce itself, but boosts the number that other organisms are likely to produce.

On this view, social ethics is based on empathy or compassion, which is based on evolutionary psychology. 

On the face of it, there's a problem with that explanation. It's easy to imagine hominids who cooperate out of perceived self-interest rather than altruism. To take a comparison, consider military alliances. Heads-of-state who despise each other, or neighboring countries whose citizens despise each other, may pool their collective resources to combat a common enemy. That doesn't require a capacity for empathy or compassion. Indeed, they can to right back to killing each other once the more pressing threat has been eliminated. 

‘Tis Better to Lie than to Deceive

“Pope Francis” reins in his tongue; issues no controversial statements in meeting with Lutherans in “Reformation Day” commemorations

“Pope Francis” with Lutheran Rev. Martin Junge,
the general secretary of the World Lutheran Federation,
and “Archbishop” Antje Jackelen,
Lutheran Archbishop of Uppsala and
“the Primate of the Church of Sweden”
Over the last few days, there have been several articles regarding the “Pope Francis” trip to Lund, Sweden, to meet with the female Lutheran bishop. Uncharacteristically for him, there doesn’t seem to be any controversial statements that came out of the trip.

LUND AND MALMO, SWEDEN -- At a first-of-its-kind ecumenical event marking 500 years of separation between Lutherans and Catholics after the Protestant Reformation, Pope Francis on Monday urged members of the two faith communities to "mend a critical moment of our history" by forging new common paths together.

Speaking in a 12th-century cathedral here that was once Catholic and is now Lutheran, the pontiff also praised some of the reforms called for by Martin Luther, whose famous writing of 95 theses led to a fracturing of Christianity across Western Europe.

"We have a new opportunity to accept a common path," Francis told Lutherans and Catholics during a joint ecumenical prayer service at Lund's cathedral with representatives of the Church of Sweden and the Lutheran World Federation.

"We have the opportunity to mend a critical moment of our history by moving beyond the controversies and disagreements that have often prevented us from understanding one another," he continued.

The pope later added that the half a millennia of separation between the two faith groups has "enabled us to understand better some aspects of our faith," noting specifically: "With gratitude we acknowledge that the Reformation helped give greater centrality to sacred Scripture in the church's life."

Mystery lady

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

British scientists dislike Dawkins

Burned by the Bern

Unmasking civic totalism

Child mortality

Childhood morality is a difficult issue, both in theodicy and pastoral ministry. Why doesn't God stop it? A few quick observations:

i) Sometimes kids turn out badly. Their life ends in disaster. Suppose a child goes to haven when he dies. Then he doesn't go offtrack. 

ii) Some kids turn out well, but their life may adversely impact other lives through no fault of their own. Let's say Stalin's mother was a wonderful person. But indirectly, her life caused untold suffering for tens of millions of Russians under Stalinism. 

iii) It might seem like a child who dies in infancy (or by miscarriage) is a wasted life. There is, however, an all-important difference between existence and nonexistence. Once conceived, the person will live forever. In relation to this life, they were snuffed out tragically early, but in relation to eternity, that's infinitesimal. What ruler are we using: this life or the afterlife?  

iv) Child mortality makes room for other children. Additional lives. Although that may sound like a cruel way to put it, they aren't simply squeezed out to free up a slot. For death is not the end, but a new beginning. 

Spontaneous remission

Pets aren't your kids

Assisted suicide

Why is there such a push for assisted suicide? Why the urgency? You can be sure that Democrats will spearhead this fundamental "right". Let's grant for the sake of argument that suicide is a right. Let's further grant that some people need to commit suicide. Let's be very lax and say that if you don't think your life is worth living, that's sufficient reason to kill yourself.

Even if we grant all those assumptions for discussion purposes, what makes assisted suicided a cause to lobby for? The reason I frame the issue this way is because most people already have the ability to kill themselves if they wish to. So why is it necessary to make provision for someone else to kill you when you can do it yourself? After all, how-to tips on suicide are readily available. You can find them on the internet. You can find them at your public library. Moreover, people do kill themselves with some frequency. So why the demand that someone else kill you?

Perhaps the argument is that you have cases where people are incapacitated due to accident or dementia. Mind you, if you're diagnosed with mild dementia or a degenerative illness, you still have the presence of mind and physical wherewithal to kill yourself before you become incapacitated. If you procrastinate until it's too late to do it yourself, why think you're entitled to force someone else do it? And make no mistake, it's about requiring "health professionals" to do it.

Even if, for the sake of argument, we grant the legitimacy of assisted suicide, that's only "necessary" in a fraction of cases (i.e. incapacitating accidents). Yet euthanasia is applied far more broadly. And notice how quickly it goes from voluntary to involuntary euthanasia. 

The real reason is that assisted suicide is a pretext for government to expand its authority to kill people. It uses the guise of "compassion" and "death with dignity" and "mercy killing" as an excuse to assume the role of public executioner, become the arbiter of life and death. It's really about the absolute power of the state. And not coincidentally, this dovetails with nationalized healthcare. The apotheosis of the state. Physicians as public employees who kill at the behest of the state.

There's also something undeniably diabolical behind it all. The devil hates humans. The devil is a murderer for the beginning (Jn 8:44). The devil is the unseen architect of genocide. How else do we account for self-loathing humanism?  

Monday, October 31, 2016

Little green men of the gaps

1. I recently linked to the debate between Michael Shermer and David Wood. Now I will comment on the debate. 

i) A mistake many people make in evaluating a debate is to award winners and losers based on which position they agree with. For them, it's not about the actual performance. It's not about who made the best case in the course of the debate. Rather, it's about prior agreement or disagreement. What side the viewer is on coming into the debate frequently dictates who they perceive to be the winner or loser. Their own position affects what they hear. Often, they are poor listeners. They don't analyze arguments. They perceive the winner or loser, not based on the quality of the intellectual performance, but prior agreement or disagreement with the position under debate. Of course, that's the wrong way to assess a debate. Your side could be right, but still do a bad job of arguing for its position. 

ii) There are roughly two kinds of spokesmen for a position: popularizers and high-level thinkers. Ideally, when assessing a position, we should judge it by the high-level thinkers and scholars. Indeed, good philosophers go the extra mile by improving on the arguments of the opposing position. That way, when they attack the opposing position, they attack the strongest case that can be made for the opposing position.

iii) However, there's value in attacking popularizers. In general, they have a much wider audience then the high-level thinkers and scholars. They are more directly influential. Their followers find their bad arguments convincing. Their follows fail to recognize what bad arguments these are.

iv) Wood won the debate hands down. He won on points. He's very focussed. Very analytical. Although he has a wicked sense of humor which he deploys in his satirical videos about Islam, in this debate he was pretty matter-of-fact. 

Shermer is a practiced debater. He has his spiel. In this debate he seems to have mellowed since he debated John Lennox 6 years ago. Maybe he was just in a different mood that night. In this debate he often adopts a folksy, avuncular tone. However, that's a facade, because that's punctured by snide or bitter comments. Although his demeanor is initially somewhat winsome, it gets to be tiresome. In addition, he meanders. Jumps back and forth.

BTW, in comparing his debate with Wood to his debate with Lennox, I notice that Shermer recycles the same bad arguments, even after he's been corrected. 

Italic text will be me quoting Shermer or summarizing Shermer. 

The “Protestant” Reformation

Today, October 31, 2016, is the 499th anniversary of the start of what is known as “the Protestant Reformation”. As Alister McGrath explains, however, the use of the word “Protestant” regarding the events of October 31, 1517 is anachronistic:

The term “Protestant” … requires comment. It derives from the aftermath of the Second Diet of Speyer (February 1529), which voted to end the toleration of Lutheranism in Germany. In April of the same year, six German princes and 14 cities protested against this oppressive measure, defending freedom of conscience and the rights of religious minorities. The term “Protestant” derives from this protest.

It is therefore not strictly correct to apply the term “Protestant” to individuals prior to April 1529 or to speak of events prior to that date as constituting “the Protestant Reformation.” The term “evangelical” is often used in the literature to refer to the reforming factions at Wittenberg and elsewhere (e.g., in France and Switzerland) prior to this date. Although the word “Protestant” is often used to refer to this earlier period, this use is, strictly speaking, an anachronism.

McGrath, Alister E.. Reformation Thought: An Introduction (p. 6). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Self-hating atheism

In the pecking order of spokesmen for atheism, or secular philosophers in particular, Paul Draper is one of the better representatives. So this is a window into the mind of a prominent atheist thinker:

More importantly, if theism is true, then God is not only morally perfect, he is omnipotent and so could make many different sorts of intelligent life, probably infinitely many, including intelligent beings that are much more impressive than human beings. On single-universe naturalism, by contrast, one would expect that, if there is intelligent life, it will be relatively unimpressive. I want to emphasize the word "relatively" here, because I am not denying that human beings are impressive in many ways. But examined from the perspective of what is possible for an omnipotent being, we are, in terms of intelligence, a hair's breadth away from monkeys. Again, one would expect this on single-universe naturalism because the more intelligent the life, the less likely it is that naturalistic processes would produce it. Of course, if one believes in God and, looking around, finds nothing more impressive than human beings, one will be forced to conclude that God wanted to make beings with very limited intelligence. But surely one would not have predicted this beforehand. There are indefinitely many different kinds of creatures that an omnipotent being would have the power to create and that, other things being equal, would be more valuable to create than humans. Antecedently, a God would be more likely to create these more impressive creatures than to create us.
One might object, however, that a good God would not be obligated to create the best and that a loving God might very well want to create and love inferior beings like us, especially since that doesn't preclude his also creating other more impressive beings. I don't deny that a God might create beings like us--that is certainly possible. Similarly, Collins admits that fine-tuning is possible even if single-universe naturalism is true. The issue, however, is what is antecedently likely--what a reasonable person would expect beforehand. And human beings have many features that make them an unlikely choice, no matter how many other sorts of beings God creates. This is especially true, if we take the term "human" not merely in the biological sense but in a fuller sense that implies some of our most notable and notorious characteristics. In this sense of the term "human," the sense intended when someone says "I'm only human," being human implies being naturally selfish (not to mention territorial and aggressive), which greatly limits our potential for developing morally, especially given our limited life span. It also includes the fact that we are profoundly ignorant beings, especially when it comes to moral and religious matters, as is obvious from the fact that we disagree or are uncertain about many important moral and religious issues. We also naturally identify with others that we perceive to be like ourselves, leading, if not always to prejudice and intolerance, at least to isolation for those different from the norm. (I could go on and on, but it's too depressing.)

i) Draper is like a grown child who complains that his parents wronged him by conceiving him. He didn't consent to exist. He didn't give his parents permission to conceive him! Draper is a self-hating atheist. The existence of unimpressive humans like Draper is evidence that God doesn't exist. 

Of course, that's a bit of a paradox. If God made more impressive creatures instead of humans, then humans like Draper would be in no position to complain about how unimpressive they are, since they wouldn't exist in the first place.  

ii) Then there's the standard of comparison. Impressive to whom? Valuable to whom? Since any creature God made, however great, would be infinitely inferior to God's surpassing greatness, God can't be impressed by any creature. It's nonsensical to say a creature could be impressive in relation to God. 

Valuable to whom? Well, most humans value their own existence. Most humans value other humans. 

iii) Apparently, Draper means impressive relative to some hypothetically greater creature. Even so, why should God care about that? Since any creature will be unimpressive by God's standards, we're talking about a pecking order of unimpressive creatures, where, at best, one unimpressive creature is more unimpressive or less unimpressive than another. Hard to see how degrees of unimpressiveness would single out any candidate for existence. "Sure, I'm unimpressive, but you're even more unimpressive!"

iv) Draper's objection is equivocal. A creature can be more impressive in one or more respects than another creature, but less impressive in one or more respects. In some respects, many major predators are more impressive than humans, but they lack our intelligence. Likewise, many creatures have sensory aptitudes or acuities that we lack, but we're far smarter than they are. How disadvantages in one respect are offset by advantages in another respect is part of what makes animals interesting. Humans are very weak creatures compared to so many other animals, yet we're the dominant species. 

v) This also goes to the issue of tradeoffs. No one creature can combine every superlative excellence. Some abilities exclude other abilities. Take the ability to fly. 

Or consider the human brain. It's already so big that it makes childbirth difficult. Moreover, the size of the brain must be balanced out by other physical requirements, like blood supply. If we had larger lungs, we could run faster for longer, but that would require other compensatory adjustments. And so on and so forth.

Moreover, humans are a package. To do what we do requires a combination of brainpower, bipedalism to free up hands with fine-motor abilities, and front-facing eyes to coordinate eye-to-hand calibration. If we were quadrupeds, we'd be faster, but our superior intelligence would be frustrated by a body ill-suited to our intellectual abilities. 

vi) In addition, humans are earthlings. We share a planet with many other creatures. It would be incongruous to have a world in which one species is incomparably more impressive than all the others. 

vii) Draper's criterion is atomistic. The standard of impressiveness isn't simply individual organisms, considered in isolation, but the sheer variety of creative strategies on display. 

viii) Draper fails to distinguish between creation and the Fall. 

ix) Draper commits a common mistake with respect to omnipotence. If an omnipotent God uses natural means, then that limits what he can do. That doesn't mean he's limited to natural means. He can often bypass natural processes to produce a particular result directly (although even that's not true in the case of second-order effects), but if he's making physical organisms, if he's making a physical world in which things usually operate by a natural process of cause and effect, then that's a self-imposed restriction on his field of action. 

x) It's possible that our far-flung universe does contain more impressive creatures than humans. 

Rogue cops

The Mind of God

10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? (1 Cor 2:10-11).

i) The word "spirit" and "spiritual" are conventional theological jargon in English usage. Problem is, in popular English usage, these words have vague or opaque connotations. What does "spirit" mean? What does "spiritual" mean? I assume this convention comes to us via Latin theology or the Vulgate in particular. "Spiritus". 

ii) In 1 Cor 2:11, Paul uses an implicit body/soul analogy. The Spirit's relationship to God is analogous to the soul's relationship to the body. Outsiders can't read your mind. Only you have direct access to your own mind. According to the analogy, the God's Spirit is akin to God's soul (if God had a soul). 

There's the additional principle that "like knows like" (a point made by Fitzmyer). Only God can truly reveal God. 

In this passage, Paul uses "spirit" for both the divine and human referents for linguistic continuity in the comparison. In addition, the "Spirit [pneuma] of God" is a conventional designation, via the LXX. 

But conventional designations aside, it's clear that he's comparing the human mind to the divine mind. He's using "spirit" as a synonym for "mind" (or intellect). 

iii) If, instead of the "Spirit of God," we used the "Mind of God" to designate the third person of the Trinity, that would instantly dissolve the ambiguity of the linguistic convention. There's no doubt that the "mind of God" must be both personal and divine. 

iv) But how can the third person of the Trinity be the mind of God? Surely the Father and the Son aren't mindless individuals. 

To some degree, we need to make allowance of the limitations of Paul's analogy. However, even though it sounds paradoxical, a mind can engage in self-reflection. Paul is trading on the human experience of introspection. A mind can be the object of its own consideration. A mind can be both subject and object. Like when we search our memories. And Paul is saying God is like that.

v) The thought in v11 underscores the thought in v10. Because only God can know his own mind, so only God can reveal what's on his mind. 

vi) On this analysis, "spiritual" means, at least in part, "mental" (or psychological), in contrast to physical or material. In biblical usage, I'd also say it has connotations of sanctity or holiness. "Spiritual" stands in contrast to sinful.

Indeed, the two go together inasmuch as the mind is the primary theater for sin. Sin begins with sinful thoughts and impulses. In some cases the sinner acts on his thoughts and impulses. In that event, the action takes place in the world of space.