Saturday, December 03, 2016

Quick: what do Paige Patterson, Fidel Castro, and Marshal Pétain have in common?

Patterson doesn't own the SBC, much as he might like to. It's a big denomination with many different, sometimes rival power centers. And at 74, he's hardly the future of the SBC. 

Some men should quit while they're ahead. Marshal Pétain went from being a war hero in WWI to a Nazi collaborator in WWII. Died in disgrace.

Patterson did some yeoman work during the inerrancy wars back in the 70s, but he had a taste for power. His frequent abuse of authority and mismanagement of SWBTS has sullied his former reputation. 

He's like those revolutionaries who had a good cause, but having toppled a bad regime, replaced it with their own bad regime. A certain Cuban dictator, recently deceased, comes to mind. 

The Trojan horse comparison is inept. In that ruse, the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse to stage a takeover. By contrast, Calvinists in the SBC are out in the open. 

Eschatological compensations

From what I've read, eschatological compensation is a neglected feature in philosophical theodicy. When Christian philosophers formulate responses to the problem of evil, it's usually variations on some standard issue theodicies, viz., the freewill defense, the greater good defense, the need for natural laws, soul-making virtues. By contrast, eschatological compensations are neglected.

That's striking, both because Scripture emphasizes eschatological compensations, and because the promise and prospect of eschatological compensations are something that helps many lay Christians cope with personal tragedy. So there's a disconnect. 

Consider Joseph the patriarch. He had a pretty miserable life. He received two related premonitory dreams. He's excited to share his experience with his family. In his charming naivete, it doesn't occur to him that his brothers will resent the dreams. He's too self-absorbed to anticipate the reaction.

Indeed, resentment is an understatement. His brothers are so incensed that they plot to kill him. Only Reuben's intervention restrains them. 

So Joseph becomes an Egyptian slave. Things seem to be looking up for him slightly until he's falsely accused of rape, resulting in his imprisonment. Finally, due to his oneiromantic reputation, Pharaoh elevates him to the prime ministership. 

While that's certainly an improvement on his status as a slave, then a prisoner, think about how much he's lost. He's been separated from his entire family. He's had to learn a foreign language on the spot. Consider his social isolation. Consider how lonely he must be, cut off from all his relatives. 

Although there's a family reunion, you have to wonder if he can ever look at his brothers the same way. Apart from Reuben, he might well feel permanently estranged from his other brothers. And his father dies. Joseph can't make up for the lost years.

In God's providence, Joseph was made to suffer for the benefit of others. To save his relatives from famine. To illustrate how God knows and controls the future. And for Jews and Christians to learn from his experience.  

You have other notables in Scripture who led pretty miserable lives. Consider Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and St. Paul. 

What can make up for that if not compensations in the world to come? It's too late for them in this life.

The point is not that God owes them anything. It's not a question of what they deserve, but what they need. They need to be made whole. 

Where's God?

As one great Furnace flam'd, yet from those flames No light, but rather darkness visible.(Milton, Paradise Lost) 
By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.(Hebrews 11:27)

"Where's God?" That's a common complaint, by believers and unbelievers alike. 

One time, as I was returning from a walk, it was getting dark. The street lights were on. Cars in the oncoming lane had their headlights on. And I could see cars with glowing taillights in the other lane. 

I was on the sidewalk when, a block or so ahead of me, a minivan pulled out of a parking lot and made a right turn onto the road. Only he didn't have his lights on. 

I dimly saw the side of his van, but once he straightened out, he was essentially invisible. I couldn't see the back of the unlit van in the darkness. 

But here's a paradox: I knew he was there because I couldn't see him! At first blush that doesn't seem to make a lick of sense. Yet I knew he was there because of what I couldn't see. When he pulled out onto the road, he blocked my view of cars of ahead of him. If he hadn't been there, I'd be able to see the last car in line from the glowing taillights. But his car obscured the view, like a black spot where there ought to be light. Like a black spot encircled by light. I knew he was there due to the contrast between what I could and couldn't see. 

By the same token, God can be active when he seems to be inactive. God can be blocking evil, only we can't see it because his intervention renders his intervention indetectable. If God preempts an evil, then there's no record of that nonevent. If God prevents an evil, that preemptive action leaves no trace behind–for the evil never happened. 

"The real reason evangelicals don't baptize babies"

From a sociological standpoint, Morris is probably on to something. Mind you, it's patronizing insofar as you have many Baptists who have thoughtful, principled reasons for opposing paedobaptism. So his analysis borders on a hasty generalization.

But that caveat aside, he's probably right that for many evangelical Americans, opposition to paedobaptism is influenced by a revivalist paradigm. And I share his aversion to decisional evangelism.

However, even though I myself am a tepid paedobaptist, his analysis is one-sided. To begin with, decisional evangelism represents a travesty of conversion. But we shouldn't judge the principle by the travesty.

Moreover, we need to compare and contrast that to the opposite error. The 18C evangelical revival was a heaven-sent reaction to the dead formalism of liturgical churches. If decisional evangelism is bad, so is the presumption that your child is saved because a minister sprinkled water on its head. Many people are only too happy to seek spiritual shortcuts and vest false assurance in religious ceremonies. Ironically, the revivalism of Finney and Graham is just a different kind of ritualism, replacing baptism with the sacrament of the altar call. 

The basic problem is taking a cookie-cutter approach to everyone. But everyone doesn't have the same experience. On the one hand, some people are devout, lifelong Christians. They were Christian for as long as they can remember. For them, there was never a conscious transition. And there couldn't be, since it was real to them as soon as they had the cognitive development to reflect on it.

On the other hand, you have nominal Christians. Some of them lose their hereditary faith. Others assume they are Christian just because they grew up in church. 

A good pastor needs to preach an evangelistic sermon every so often. Take nothing for granted. 

Friday, December 02, 2016

Sleep paralysis with awareness

SJW insult generator

Wars of liberation

The American military exists to protect American lives, not foreigners. As a rule, an American president has no moral warrant to sacrifice American troops to save the lives of foreigners.  

Although humanitarian wars are idealistic, I think they're generally unethical. The justification for having a military is national defense. And the justification of national defense is an extension of self-defense. 

I have a duty to protect my dependents. I have a duty to take a bullet for my family. I don't have a prima facie duty to take a bullet for a stranger, or even a neighbor. 

However, self-defense sometimes requires a common defense, where we pool our collective resources. An individual can't do it alone. And that's the rationale for some military alliances. Say my country and your country share a common enemy. My country can't defeat the enemy singlehandedly, and your country can't defeat the enemy singlehandedly, but if we combine forces, then our combined forces can defeat our common enemy. So we're doing each other a favor. 

The principle in that case is that I'm prepared to take a bullet for you if you're prepared to take a bullet for me. I will defend your family if you defend my family. So that's predicated on mutual risk and reciprocity. 

Humanitarian wars violate that principle. It is wrong to get our soldiers killed to prevent foreigners from getting killed. That's because there's no reciprocity. The foreigners don't return the favor. 

It's morally wrong to treat American lives as less valuable than foreign lives. It's morally wrong for a president to send an American soldier to his death, thereby depriving his own relatives, &c., to save a stranger. For his own relatives have a prior claim on his presence in their lives. 

From a surfeit of altruism, you can voluntarily risk your life to save a stranger, but that's not obligatory. And you may have prior obligations to friends and family. Social duties are concentric. 

The justification for foreign wars is to defend vital American interests. Admittedly, that justification can be easily abused by stretching what counts as a vital American interest. 

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Prayer and psychic suggestion

Stephen Braude is a preeminent researcher on the paranormal. Both Jason Engwer and I refer to his work on occasion. The paranormal is antithetical to naturalistic physicalism, so it's a useful foil against mainstream atheism. I've done at least two posts on Braude's book Crimes of Reason:

In this post I'm going to revisit that topic. In chap. 7, he propose a psychic alternative to account for prayer hits and misses. Here's a representative statement:

The potential psychic strategies are obvious enough: (1) Relevant people could come to know our prayers through ESP and respond consciously or otherwise. (2) We might telepathically or psychokinetically influence others to carry out needed actions. 

1. As I mentioned before, I don't know quite what he has in mind. Under psychic suggestion, does a person have an inexplicable and irrepressible urge to carry out the needed actions? They don't know why they are doing it, but they feel compelled to do so? Is it like sleepwalking? Although I think there's credible evidence for telepathy, I don't find Braude's explanation in this case to be credible. 

ii) But I'd also like to revisit the issue of retroactive prayer. Suppose for the sake of argument that some outcomes are consistent, either with answered prayer or psychic suggestion. They overlap insofar as either explanation could account for that outcome. 

Yet are there other kinds of outcomes that can't be explained by psychic explanation, but only by answered prayer? Note, I'm not suggesting that some outcomes are in fact due to psychic suggestion. I'm just discussing what explanations are logically or evidentially consistent with the same outcome. A mistaken explanation could still be logically consistent with the outcome or consistent with the evidence.

I'm exploring the kinds of examples that filter out those cases, so that, by process of elimination, only answered prayer would explain the outcome. And that, in turn, creates a presumption for answered prayer as the correct explanation in the other cases.

Let's consider a hypothetical case. Suppose I wake up one morning, feeling just fine. But mid-afternoon, out of the blue, I suddenly experience a medical crisis. I don't know what's wrong with me, but I'm convinced something is terribly wrong. I dial 911. I'm rushed to the ER. Maybe I have a ruptured aorta, pulmonary embolism. Whatever. The physician informs me that I need emergency surgery. 

But there's a catch: I have a very rare blood type, the hospital doesn't have enough units on hand, and it will take too long to have additional units flown in from out of town. 

So there's a dilemma. If I don't have surgery right away, I will die. If I wait for the hospital to restock, I will die. It will be too late. If I have surgery right away, I will die from blood loss, because they don't have enough units of my esoteric blood type to transfuse me during surgery. At this point I pray that God will do what's necessary to save my life. I have a wife and kids to support. For their sake, I can't afford to die. Not now. 

The physician walks into the waiting room and asks the people sitting there if anyone has that exotic blood type. As luck would have it, three do. They agree to donate, and that's enough to supplement the hospital's supply. So I survive!

Of course, that's a highly artificial hypothetical scenario. Indeed, it might seem outlandish. If, however, we believe in answered prayer, then there will be analogous situations, where wildly improbable things happen due to divine intercession.

Likewise, under Braude's alternative, otherwise outlandish things are possible if telepathy can steer people in the needed direction. So I'm not stacking the deck against Braude. 

However, this example, and other examples in kind, poses a problem for Braude's theory. The examples has two crucial aspects:

i) A conjunction of events too lucky to be coincidental

ii) A retroactive component

Even if Braude's psychic mechanism can explain (i), it can't explain (ii). What I mean is this:

In the hypothetical, I had no warning. No advance knowledge of my medical crisis. Yet for people to be on hand at just the right time and place to donate just the right blood, they had to decide to go there or make arrangements to be there long before my prayer, and long before my crisis. It would be too late for me to telepathically influence them to be at the right time and place. For instance, they might be there because they brought a relative. The appointment was made weeks earlier. 

Likewise, they had to leave home, drive or take the bus, to be there at the moment I needed them there. But they had to do it before I knew I needed them there. Opportune circumstances had to be set in motion before I had any idea that I'd be needing blood donors for emergency surgery. By the same token, even if they became aware of my prayer through ESP, they can't get there in time. Indeed, people with that rare blood type would normally be scattered hither and yon. For them even to be within commuting distance of the hospital requires prearranged events. Ordinarily, three people with that blood type wouldn't be in the same vicinity of each other. 

Of course, this isn't a real life example. So that doesn't actually disprove Braude's alternative. My immediate purpose is to describe a type of case that, if it ever occurs, could only be explained by divine agency rather than psychic suggestion. If there are, in fact, real-life cases comparable to that, then Braude's proposal is a failed alternative. 

I'd add that if answered prayer happens, odds are that there will be a subset of cases like that. There will be crisis situations where Christians pray, the outcome is too lucky to be coincidental, yet the outcome depends on an opportune trajectory or convergence of events that precedes the prayer, precedes the crisis, precedes any intimation of the crisis. 

Braude's theory won't work in that scenario, because the people needed to carry out the action can't know about it before I do. Preparations must be in place or underway in advance of the crisis, but without advance knowledge, that can't be in progress ahead of time. 

Did Matthew Derive His Infancy Narrative From His Scripture Citations?

Since some critics still claim that Matthew's accounts in his infancy narrative were made up on the basis of the passages of scripture he cites, I want to quote what Raymond Brown wrote on the subject:

In this matter there have been two general lines of scholarly opinion, namely, that the citations gave rise to the infancy narrative, or that they are appended to a narrative that already existed….

Several factors favor the thesis that in chs. 1-2 Matthew added the citations to an already existing narrative. First, in a section like 2:13-23 it is extremely difficult to imagine how the narrative could ever have been made up by reflection on the three formula citations contained therein, since the citations deal with aspects that are only minor in the story line. The same may be said of the citation of Micah 5:1(2) in Matt 2:5b-6. Reflection on that citation might have caused a Christian to compose a story locating Jesus' birth at Bethlehem, but it could scarcely have led him to the narrative about the magi. Reflection on the LXX of Isa 7:14 (cited in Matt 1:22-23) might have caused a Christian to compose a story about Jesus' mother being a virgin, but it could scarcely have led him to compose a narrative wherein Joseph was the main figure.

Second, four of the five formula citations in the infancy narrative have a definite air of being appended. The reader should make the experiment of reading the stories in 1:18-25 and 2:13-23 omitting four of the formula citations (1:22-23; 2:15b; 2:17-18; 2:23b). The story line not only makes perfect sense without them but even flows more smoothly. The only citation that is woven into the plot is the one that is dubiously a formula citation (2:5b-6). This observation weakens even the more subtle form of the thesis that Matthew composed his narrative on the basis of the citations, for they are too tangentially related to the plot to have served as a nucleus in gathering fragmented traditions into a consecutive story.

Third, we have other instances of Matthew's appending formula citations to stories that already came to him. For instance, Mark 1:14 and Luke 4:14 agree that after his baptism Jesus went to Galilee, but only Matt 4:12-16 comments on this with a formula citation from Isa 8:23-9:1 (=RSV 9:1-2) which speaks of the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, toward the sea, Galilee of the Gentiles. Matthew prepared for the introduction of the citation by reporting not only that Jesus went to Galilee, but also that he went to Capernaum by the sea in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali. The citation could not have caused Matthew to create the story of Jesus' going to Galilee - he had that in Mark - but it did cause him to color and adapt the Marcan narrative, so that the correspondence to the prophecy might be more obvious. We have a good analogy then for arguing that the same process occurred in the infancy narratives where we do not have a control coming from comparative Synoptic material….

We have a partial control in relation to the formula citation: "He will be called a Nazorean" (Matt 2:23). The citation did not cause Matthew to invent the information that Jesus' family dwelt "in a city called Nazareth." Such geographical information was part of the common Gospel tradition.

(The Birth Of The Messiah [New York, New York: Doubleday, 1999], 99-101, n. 8 on 101)

For more about the broader argument that the infancy narratives were derived from the Old Testament and ancient traditions about the Old Testament, see here.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Timeline of jihadist plots

Cuban healthcare

Are there babies in hell?

In a debate with James White, atheist David Silverman posed the question, "Are there babies in hell"? Silverman is using that as a wedge issue to show that when you take Christian theology to a logical extreme, many Christians will blink. When push comes to shove, they don't really believe what they say they believe, because they balk at the awful consequences. So I'd like to take a shot at the question.

1. The question is speculative, so any answers will be speculative. If an atheist is going to pose a question like that, he can't turn around and complain that my answers are speculative. If that's his reaction, then don't ask the question in the first place.

2. You can have sincere belief in something without having to have unflinching belief in something. We live in a world that routinely confronts us with hard truths. Even if an atheist succeeds in making a Christian squirm, that doesn't falsify Christian beliefs. Lots of things make us wince, but they can still be true–and often are.

Moreover, it's counterproductive. After all, many people naturally recoil at the grim worldview of atheism, yet atheists don't think that's a reason to reject it. 

3. The question is deceptively simple, with hidden assumptions lurking in the underbrush. Before we can answer the question, we must interpret the question. What do the key terms mean? How do we visualize the damned? How do we visualize hell?

4. The short answer is that I don't know the answer. I don't have an informed answer to give. 

What could be my source of information? The only reliable source would be divine revelation. But the question is too specialized for Scripture to address. Scripture customarily deals with typical cases. Regarding damnation, Scripture says the damned will by judged by their works. That envisions agents above a certain age. 

I don't think Scripture speaks to the fate of those who die before the age of reason. It doesn't address cases of diminished responsibility. 

An atheist might complain that I'm ducking the question. Not so. I didn't choose my epistemology to evade this particular question. As matter of principle, there are some things we're in no position to know apart from revelation. 

5. Still, my ignorance doesn't rule out the possibility in question. So let's examine that. What is meant by "babies"? 

Presumably, that's a synecdoche for children below the age of reason. Children in a condition of diminished responsibility.

In general, what happens to people who die at that age? After they pass into the afterlife, do they stay that age? Do they remain psychologically immature? 

I surmise that they continue their cognitive development until they have adult intelligence. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that some people who die at that age go to hell, they don't suffer as children. Rather, they suffer as adults. Give them sufficient time. 

6. Since the intermediate state is a discarnate state, it's inaccurate to visualize the afterlife containing physical babies, much less naked babies writhing in fire. When a child dies, the child's soul passes into the afterlife. 

I view the intermediate state as analogous to a stable dream or collective dream. A state of mind–or minds. 

7. Let's take some paradigm cases of evil men, viz. Ted Bundy, Joseph Mengele, Charles Manson, Stalin, Tamerlane, Genghis Khan. I'm citing extreme examples to establish a point of principle. 

Suppose one of them died at five. Would he go to hell? The answer may depend on how we answer another question. What made him so sadistic or heartless? 

Suppose he turned out so badly due to crucial experiences during his formative years. If so, then his premature death will interrupt that baleful trajectory. His untimely demise may mean he will turn out quite differently in the afterlife. If he's not evil in the afterlife, then I don't assume he'd go to hell when he died. 

8. But suppose he was always twisted. It may not have been evident at first, but even as a young child it began to manifest itself in ominous ways.

In that event, he will mature into the same evil person in the afterlife that he became in this life, had he not died so young. If so, then I'd expect him to go to hell when he dies. 

9. What do we mean by hell? Suppose, the moment after Hugh Hefner dies, he awakens in a harem. And he's young again. Paradise!

Only there's a catch: when he looks down he sees to his chagrin that he's missing the one organ he needs to take advantage of his newfound opportunities. For Hefner, that would be hell.

Yet that doesn't require demons with pitchforks plunging him into vats of boiling oil. What makes it hellish is deprivation combined with desire. 

A state of mind can be hellish. Take inconsolable loneliness. 

From what I can tell, psychopaths and sociopaths are miserable. Their sadistic mindset makes them miserable. 

Hell can be continuous existence in mental torment. And that needn't be caused by the surroundings of the damned. Even if the surroundings were idyllic, the damned would still be miserable because it's in their character, in their attitude. And I don't think it's unjust for a person in that condition to remain in that condition. 

The luckless gambler

Here's a problem for versions of freewill theism that affirm God's omniscience (i.e. foreknowledge, counterfactual knowledge):

At this point we may picture God as an unlucky gambler. He confronted a range of options. Some were mediocre: no free creatures, or at least no significant freedom. Others offered Him a gamble on how His creatures would use their freedom. If He gambled, He might lose. Or He might win: His free creatures might freely shun all evil, and that would be very good indeed. Wisely weighing the prospects of winning and losing, He chose to gamble. He lost. Lost rather badly, to judge by the newspapers; but we don’t really know quite how much worse it could have been. Tough luck, God! 
(Our commiseration for God’s bad luck seems scarcely consonant with worship of Him as a Supreme Being. However, the mysteries of the Trinity may go some way to reconcile dissonant stances toward one and the same God.) 
Be that as it may, the picture of God as an unlucky gambler is wrong. Or anyway it is heterodox, which is the same for present purposes. For it overlooks God’s foreknowledge. An ordinary gambler makes a decision under uncertainty; he doesn’t know how any of the gambles on offer would turnout. When he finds out he has lost, it’s too late to change his mind. He can only regret having gambled as he did. God, however, does know the outcome of at least one of His options: namely, the one that He will in fact actualize. He knows all along just what He will and won’t do, and just how His free creatures will respond. So if He gambles and loses, He knows all along that He will lose. If He regrets His gamble, His regret does not come too late - it comes as early as early can be. Then nothing forces Him to go ahead with it. He has the power, and it is not too late, to actualize some other option instead. 
You may well protest: if He did switch to some other option, how would He gain the foreknowledge that made Him regret His original choice? - Fair enough. My point should be put as a reductio against the supposition that God is an unlucky gambler who regrets His gamble. Suppose for reductio that God actualizes a certain option 0 ; and 0 turns out badly; and the prospect for some other option is better than 0 is when 0 turns out badly. Then God knows by foreknowledge that 0 turns out badly, so He prefers some other option to 0. Then He actualizes another option instead of 0 .Contradiction. 
God is not, we may conclude, an unlucky gambler who regrets His gamble. He may yet be an unlucky gambler who does not regret His gamble, even though He lost. How might that be? 
God might know that the gamble He lost still, even when lost, surpasses the expected valueI5of all the other gambles He might have tried instead, as well as the mediocre options in which He doesn’t gamble at all. That could be so if He lost, but much less badly than He might have done. He would have no cause for regret if He took one of the gambles with the best expected value (or near enoughI6)and the actual outcome was no worse than the expected value. But on this hypothesis gambling on significant freedom is a much more dangerous game than we would have suspected just on the basis of the evil-doing that actually happens. That makes it all the harder to believe that freedom is worth the risk. 
Or instead, God might not regret the gamble He lost because, somehow, He knows that if He had tried any other gamble, He would still have lost, and lost at least as badly as He actually did.

Can God stop evil?

Christianity teaches that whenever evil is done, God had ample warning. He could have prevented it, but He didn’t. He could have stopped it midway, but He didn’t. He could have rescued the victims of the evil, but - at least in many cases - He didn’t. In short, God is an accessory before, during, and after the fact to countless evil deeds, great and small.

There's a difference between preventing an event and stopping an event in progress. In predestinarian traditions (e.g. Thomism, Augustinianism, Jansenism, Calvinism), there's a sense in which God cannot stop evil midway. In predestinarian traditions, everything happens according to plan. Once God implements a particular plan for the world, the series of events is unstoppable. 

In that sense, although God can't stop a chain of events in midstream, God can prevent the outcome by implementing a different master plan. But once that plan is in place, everything happens like falling dominoes. (The same holds true for Molinism.)

This doesn't rule out petitionary prayer, for that, too, figures in the master plan. 


Dealing with the Genre of Genesis and its Opening Chapters

"Dealing with the Genre of Genesis and its Opening Chapters" by Vern Poythress.

Biographies and Jesus

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Private interpretation

I recently had an informal debate with two Catholics on Facebook. Here are the highlights, which I've consolidated:

Several problems with prooftexting apostolic succession:

i) There's a semantic fallacy, which equates the meaning of Greek words, with the concept of episcopacy in Roman Catholic theology. That's reading later theological developments back into ordinary 1C Greek usage. 

ii) "Succession" in the sense of church office is not equivalent to succession in the sense of apostolic succession. Apostles had very specific prerogatives. The fact that they appointed church officers to carry on their work hardly carries the implication that their specific apostolic prerogatives are perpetual. It just means that having planted churches, other people need to maintain what they started. Like the difference between an architect and a custodian. 

iii) The argument either proves too much or too little. In Catholicism, apostolic succession is funneled through the papacy, but there's nothing distinctively Petrine about these examples. 

iv) If Catholic bishops possess apostolic prerogatives, why don't they perform miracles the way Peter and Paul did?

v) If Catholic bishops possess apostolic prerogatives, why is the era of public revelation over? It's ad hoc to claim apostolic succession, on the one hand, then say the era of public revelation is over, on the other hand.

vi) Timothy and Titus weren't bishops. So there's this studied equivocation when you claim that Timothy and Titus were "bishops". That's a loaded word with connotations based on centuries of theological development. 

There is no fixed definition of "bishop" in church history, even in reference to Roman Catholicism. And it's ridiculous to quote early church fathers, as if they are prospectively vouching for subsequent developments in Roman ecclesiology, many centuries later. The church fathers weren't prophets. They were men of their times, adapting to the challenges of their day.

The episcopal office has been under continuous evolution in Roman Catholicism. In fact, you have two competing theories of the episcopate in Vatican II, one given by the majority of the bishops, and one given by Pope Paul VI. And currently, Pope Francis is attempting to decentralize the church of Rome.

vii) In the pastorals, elders aren't "bishops" in the Catholic sense. They don't oversee a diocese. At most, they are pastors or troubleshooters for one local church at a time.

viii) For that matter, notice that the qualifications for elders in the Pastoral epistles omit to say anything about sacerdotal functions. There's no priesthood in the Pastorals. 

ix) The fact that apostles appointed elders doesn't entail apostolic succession in the sense of how Roman Catholic theology defines the role of the episcopate. The Pastorals don't ascribe distinctive episcopal functions to church officers. Indeed, they don't even ascribe sacerdotal functions to church officers. Rather, it's just pastoral duties.

You can't develop the concept of the Roman episcopate and priesthood from the Pastorals, for the distinctive concepts aren't present to develop.

x) The imposition of hands has various functions in Scripture. That doesn't imply "succession" in the technical sense that you are using it. 

xi) There's an equivocation over the meaning of "tradition". Naturally some Christians were orally taught by Apostles when Apostles were still alive. That hardly justifies appeal to Sacred Tradition centuries after their demise.

A commenter appealed to oral apostolic teaching. You're now indulging in a bait-n-switch, where you redefine the nature of tradition. An example of 1C Christians learning theology in person from a living apostle is hardly analogous precedent for continuing revelations of "Holy Tradition".

You appeal to your denomination to prove your denomination. Same viciously circular argument. 

You conveniently exempt the Protestant faith from your self-serving definition of "the Church", which preemptively discounts evidence contrary to your thesis. The whole exercise begs the question. You need some evidence independent of your denominational claims to establish that your denomination has the authority you impute to it. 

Robert Price, down for the count

On Facebook I had a brief exchange with Robert Price. But he ran away. Price is ambidextrous. He can simultaneously shoot himself in the foot while inserting the other foot in his mouth. 

To repost what I said:

It's just a fact that Price represents the lunatic fringe of Bible scholarship.

Fellow mythicist Richard Carrier thinks Price bombed in his recent debate with Bart Ehrman over the historicity of Jesus.

Robert Price is a throwback to the quaint, oft-discredited notion that Jesus is an iteration of the dying-and-rising god mythotype. For a few correctives:

Or take the entries on "Mystery Religions," and "Dying and Rising Gods" in The Encyclopedia of Religion (2nd ed., 2005), which debunk James Frazer and the whole category of dying-and-rising gods. 

The fact that Price thinks only "apologists" take that position goes to show how uniformed and out-of-date his information is.

Notice Price's sophistical tactic of attempting to preemptively discredit scholars who debunk parallelomania by labeling them as "apologists". 

As far as that goes, observe the double standard. Price is an "apologist" as well. An apologist for misotheism. Someone who's devoted his career to attacking the historical Jesus is just as much an "apologist" as someone who defends the historical Jesus.

In The Historical Jesus: Five Views (Beilby & Eddy, eds.), Price summaries his approach. Let's consider two pillars of his approach:

i) The principle of analogy (a la Troeltsch). He uses that to justify a methodological atheism. Historians go by probabilities. We must assess past claims by what we know. We know the present. Since we don't experience miracles, we must discount reported miracles in the Gospels. 

But even if, for argument's sake, we accept the principle of analogy, it cuts both ways. If there's credible evidence for modern miracles, then that debunks methodological atheism.

As a many of fact, modern miracles are well-documented. Take Craig Keener's two volume collection, or case-studies in the appendices to Robert Larmer's The Legitimacy of Miracle (Lexington 2014) and Dialogues on Miracle (WIPF & Stock 2015).

Keep in mind that as a universal negative, methodological atheism can't afford a single miracle. Therefore, if even just a fraction of reported miracles are authentic, that debunks Price's secular historiography.

ii) Price devotes a lot of time to documenting alleged parallels between Jesus, OT incidents, and even the Homeric epics. Of course, the notion that the life of Christ has many OT precedents is hardly novel. 

More to the point, Price is oblivious to the fact that his literary analysis contradicts his principle of analogy. For if the supernatural is real, then, given the principle of analogy, we'd expect the same kinds of supernatural events to recur in the life of Christ that happened in OT times. 

Ironically, Price's principle of analogy falsifies his literary analysis. If the present resembles the past, then NT history ought to be comparable to OT history. That's to be expected, given the principle of analogy.

Perceiving God

I'm going to comment on some objections to the argument from religious experience by atheist philosopher Richard Gale. His foil is Alston's Perceiving God. I won't be using Alston's monograph as my own frame of reference. I'm just exploitting Gale's criticisms as a launchpad:

Necessarily, any cognitive perception is a veridical perception of an objective reality. It now will be argued that it is conceptually impossible for there to be a veridical perception of God…from which it follows by modus tollens that it is impossible that there be a cognitive religious experience. My argument for this is an analogical one that, like those for the cognitively of religious experiences, takes sense experience to be the paradigmatic member of the analogy. A veridical sense perception must have an object that is able to exist when not actually perceived and be the common object of different sense perceptions. For this to be possible, the object must be housed in a space and time that includes both the object and the perceiver. It is then shown that there is no religious experience analogue to this concept of objective existence, there being no analogous dimensions to space and time in which God, along with the perceiver, is housed and which can be invoked to make sense of God existing when not actually perceived and being the common object of different religious experiences. Because of this big disanalogy, God is categorically unsuited to serve as the object of veridical perception, whether sensory or nonsensory. 
In arguing that it is impossible for there to be a veridical religious experience of an objective reality, I am not engaging in an objectionable form of chauvinism by requiring that the sort of objective existence enjoyed by the objects of veridical sense experiences, physical objects, hold for all objective existents. I am happy to grant that there are objective realities that do not occupy space and/or time nor any analogous dimensions, such as the denizens of Plato's nonspatiotemporal heaven; and God might very well be among these objectively existent abstract entities. What is impossible is that there be any veridical perception of one of them, even of the intellectual sort describe by Plato in the Phaedrus, according to which we "see" them with our mind's eye… R. Gale, On the Nature and Existence of God (Cambridge, 1996), 326-27.

i) God is essentially imperceptible. By that I mean, God exists outside space and time. In that respect, it isn't possible to perceive God in himself using the five senses. The question is whether we can perceive an effect of God. By the same token, whether we can perceive a self-representation of God. The effect or representation can occupy our visual field, or be heard, even if God in himself remains imperceptible. That isn't just analogous to sensory perception–that is sensory perception (of the divine).

Paradigm-cases include theophanies (e.g. Ezekiel 1) and God's audible voice. Let's say a theophany is an audiovisual (and perhaps tactile) representation of God. There's a genuine external stimulus which the observer perceives. It ccould be photographed. It's physical in the sense that lightwaves and sound waves are physical. 

God doesn't have a natural voice. But God can simulate vocalization. The auditor would hear sentences, although no speaker was visible. The sound would originate outside his mind. Stimulate his eardrums. 

ii) The divine object (e.g. source of theophanies) can exist when not actually be perceived. The effect or representation can be the common object of different sense perceptions. 

iii) Since, however, the mode of perception needn't be sensory, but only be analogous to sensory perception, it needn't satisfy all the conditions of sensory perception. In that regard, take revelatory dreams. Dreams simulate physical space. Dreams simulate sensory perception. 

Normally, dreams are the product of the dreamer's imagination, but in principle a dream can originate outside the dreamer's mind. Suppose telepathy exists. Suppose another agent causes someone to have a particular dream.  

iv) We need to distinguish between perception and perceptual inferences. Suppose I'm driving toward the ocean. There comes a point when I notice that trees on the hillside are permanently bent. They face away from the coast. They grew bent due to the chronic onshore breeze. I therefore conclude that I must be approaching the ocean. This is two steps removed from the percept. I infer that an onshore breeze caused the trees to grow bent, and I infer that the ocean generated the onshore breeze. How different is that from an unmistakable answer to prayer? 

Because these objects are nondimensional, they will be disanalogous to empirical particulars in several important respects. First, they will have radically different grounds of individuation. Whereas empirical particulars are individuated by their position in nonempirical dimensions, they are not.  
Another invidious consequence of their nondimensionality is that no analogous explanation can be given for how they can exist unperceived and be common objects of different perceptions to that which was previously given for empirical particulars. Whereas we could explain our failure to perceive an empirical particular, as well as our perceiving numerically one and the same empirical particular, in terms of our relationship to it in some nonempirical dimension, no such analogous explanation can be offered for our  failure to perceive God and the like, or our perceiving numerically one and the same God. This means that it is impossible in principle to distinguish between, for example, mystical experiences that are numerically one and the same undifferentiated unity and the like and those that are merely qualitatively similar ones. Ibid. 341.

i) I don't now what he means when he says "empirical particulars are individuated by their position in nonempirical dimensions." Wouldn't physical objects be individuated in physical space?

ii) Consider how objects are individuated in dreams. Even though the grounds of individuation are different, the result is the same. We see distinct objects against a contrastive background when we dream. We can hear dream characters speak to us. 

iii) We perceive God when God produces a symbolic self-representation–or an effect which we infer to signify God. We don't perceive God when he doesn't produce that emblematic external stimulus. 

iv) In the case of revelatory dreams, we perceive God when God inspires a revelatory dream, and we don't perceive him when we have ordinary dreams. A revelatory dream needn't be a common object of perception, although God is able to inspire two or more people to have the same dream. 

v) As to whether it's impossible in principle to distinguish between perceptions of one and the same God and merely similar impressions, which may not be numerically the same, that depends, in part, on how stringently Gale defines veridicality. It's easy to concoct Matrix-like undercutters in which no perception is veridical. Where you can never distinguish reliable perception from illusion. Presumably, Gale doesn't wish to set the bar that high. 

vi) Perhaps the question is how do we verify that these prima facie perceptions of God are in fact about God? The answer depends on the nature of the perception. For instance, a revelatory dream might disclose verifiable information that the dream didn't initially have at his disposal. It had to come from an outside source. Same thing with an audible voice. 

A theophany might utilize religious symbolism. And unless you're open to ufology, there'd be no naturalistic alternative explanation. 

vii) Take the case of recurring dreams. These are nonempirical, yet we remember seeing that dreamscape before. 

viii) Perhaps Gale would ask how we distinguish a theophany from a psychotic hallucination. But is that a question for the observer? If the observer is in fact psychotic, then he's in no condition to diagnose himself, no matter how good the criteria. And that's true for mental illness in general. It's not confined to visions. Crazy people can't test their perception of reality since their distorted perceptions would extend to the test. If that's grounds of skepticism, the skepticism infects perception in general. So that objection either proves too much or too little.  

ix) I'm not suggesting these paradigm-examples (theophany, audible voice, revelatory dream) are ways in which people typically perceive or experience God. I simply use them to establish a principle. 

Unconscious souls

There are a lot of problems with substance dualism, but for me one of the most compelling is also one that has received less attention than it deserves. It is an objection that confronted the poster-boy for substance dualism, the French philosopher Rene Descartes. It can be summed up in a question: If dualism is true, then how is unconsciousness possible? 
...there is still something odd about about the soul carrying out unconscious processes, especially where these processes are presumably at least largely independent of what is going on in the brain. And it is still the supposed independence of the soul from the brain that creates problems for the dualist, since it looks very much like the properties that the soul is being invoked to explain are determined by the state of the brain.

This strikes me as a pretty unintelligent critique of dualism:

i) Although the notion of unconscious thought might seem to be self-contradictory, we know for a fact that reasoning can operate at a subliminal level. Consider scientists and mathematicians who struggle to solve a problem, fail, sleep on the problem, and awaken with a solution. 

Likewise, consider the creative process. When a novelist writes a story, where are these ideas coming from? Although writing is a conscious activity, the ideas well up from the subconscious.

ii) To my knowledge, we generally forget what we dream about unless we wake up during or right after the dream. There may be a lot of mental activity going on when we sleep, but we just don't remember it.

iii) In substance dualism, the soul is independent of the brain in the sense that it can survive apart from the brain. The soul is ontologically independent of the brain. But when a soul is coupled with a brain, mental awareness may be dependent on the brain. 

iv) To take another comparison: words and sentences are concrete. They can be visible or audible. Yet meaning is abstract. Meaning is not reducible to sound waves or the chemical composition of paper and ink. That symbolizes meaning. That encodes meaning in physical carriers. If you destroy the carrier, there's loss of information. The listener or reader can no longer access the information. But it's the conduit that's destroyed–not what it conveys. 

v) Take the position of Rupert Sheldrake, which he develops from Henri Bergson:

“Where?” is the wrong question. Memory is a relationship in time, not in space. The idea that a memory has to be somewhere when it’s not being remembered is a theoretical inference, not an observation of reality. When I met you this morning, I recognized you from yesterday. There’s no photographic representation of you in my brain. I just recognize you. What I suggest is that memory depends on a direct relationship across time between past experiences and present ones. The brain is more like a television receiver. The television doesn’t store all the images and programs you watch on it; it tunes in to them invisibly.

I don't necessarily agree with that. But it represents a paradigm-shift, and it's worth exploring from that perspective. 

Revenge killings

I'm going to comment on an article by David Lewis:

I believe Lewis was often regarded as the most brilliant philosopher of his generation. In addition, he was an atheist. In this article he's both critical of penal substitution and ambivalent about it. I'd like to make a few observations:

1. I think penal substitution and vicarious atonement confront us with conflicting intuitions. It's easy to come up with illustrations in which it seems to be unjust. But it's equally easy to come up with illustrations in which it seems to be fitting. Our reaction depends on the illustration

2. It can be difficult to untangle moral intuition from social conditioning. How widespread is the intuition that penal substitution is unjust? How representative is that sentiment? 

It doesn't seem to be by any means a universal moral intuition. Take revenge killings. In particular, there are cultures where, if a member of your clan murders a member of a rival clan, the rival clan will feel warranted in killing any member of your clan as just reprisal. They don't feel the need to execute the member of your clan who's actually guilty of the murder. Rather, they view the murder not so much as an attack on an individual, but an attack on their clan. So, by the same token, killing a member of your clan balances the scales of justice. Their moral perception operates at the level of the clan, not the individual. Or an individual in virtue of his relation to the clan. To attack a member of the rival clan dishonors their clan. They will avenge the murder of their clansman by killing an available representative of your clan, as the opportunity presents itself. A hapless individual who's unlucky enough to be the first representative they encounter. 

Now, my point is not to condone that perspective. I'm simply pointing out that what one society deems to be intuitively wrong another society may deem to be intuitively right. Again, I don't offer that as evidence for cultural relativism in the sense of moral relativism. Rather, I used that to depict the limitations of intuitive appeals. An appeal to moral "intuition" treats intuition as a moral authority. A source of innate insight or instinctive recognition of moral truths.

And I think that's sometimes the case. The problem, though, is how to separate genuine moral intuition from cultural prejudice. When is that really intuitive, and when is that just social conditioning masquerading as the lofty notion of moral intuition? 

3. Let's take another example. Suppose I murder your son. There are cultures in which you retaliate by killing my son. That actually has a tighter logic to it than the first example. It operates at two related levels:

i) Son-for-son. If you murder my son, you will suffer an equivalent loss. Executing the murderer is not equivalent.

ii) The avenger wants to make me feel the same pain I made him feel. Executing me would let me off too easy. He wants me to live so that I will experience what if feels like to lose a son. Putting me through what I put the avenger through.

It resembles poetic justice. We might say it's twisted logic, but it's not arbitrary. 

Again, my point is not to endorse it, but to demonstrate the superficiality of some putative intuitive objections. We may rightly look down on these examples as reflections of a primitive honor code, but members of those cultures don't see it that way, so facile appeals to moral intuition are inadequate to adjudicate the issue. 

4. Christians defend some Biblical teachings out of duty. But penal substitution and vicarious atonement are naturally compelling to many people who are not already Christian. It cuts across ethnicities and social classes. So it can't be dismissed as simply counterintuitive or morally repugnant. To say "Jesus died for my sins" has immense cross-cultural resonance. A critic might claim it's wrong, but simplistic appeals to intuition will be highly selective, inasmuch as many people don't see it that way at all. 

5. Sometimes we feel pulled in opposing directions. Take a teenager who commits a really serious crime. On the one hand it's too serious to be dismissed as a youthful indiscretion. On the other hand, a part of us would like to give him a second chance. We hate to see him ruin his life so soon. What a waste!

So what's the solution? Is there a solution? He had his whole life ahead of him, but if he's made to pay for his crime–which would be just punishment–his life is shot. What if someone volunteered to take his place?

It won't do just to say that's wrong, because we're pulled in two different directions. Although it's right that he should be punished, we also wish to salvage his future. 

6. Suppose I deserve to spend the next 30 years making restitution for my crime. Say that's a crime I committed as a teenager. By the time I make restitution, I will be middle-aged. I can't make up for the lost years. The lost opportunities. I can't start over again. It's too late for me. 

Now, that may be just deserts, but suppose there's an alternative. Suppose a friend takes my place. But there's a catch: after making restitution in my stead for 30 years, he's rejuvenated. He reverts to the same age he was when he began.

That's different. In that case, he didn't suffer irreparable loss. So we might not feel the same way about punishing him in lieu of the actual perpetrator. The 30 years of restitution are a genuine imposition, genuine hardship, and gratuitous hardship (since he's innocent), but we haven't taken something from him that he can't get back. 

Likewise, Jesus was tortured to death, but he came back to life. 

7. Another consideration which Lewis overlooks is that Jesus isn't just a our peer. Rather, he's God Incarnate.

To take a comparison, suppose a general's army is captured by the enemy. The general offers himself as ransom in exchange for the POWs to secure their release. Like chess, where some pieces are more valuable than others,  he's a greater prize than pawns. One general can take the place of many foot-soldiers.  

Monday, November 28, 2016

Agent of chaos

Pope Francis has instigated a crisis of authority in the Roman Catholic church. I'm guessing that from his vantage-point, he's attempting to do what Vatican II attempted to do. In this case, bring the Roman church into the 21C. He may feel that some venerable positions are unsustainable. They alienate too many people. For the Roman church to survive or thrive, it must adapt to modern challenges. It's losing too many members. Just look at how it's been decimated in the west. 

The specific issues may be obscure to outsiders (e.g. evangelicals) because they hinges on assumptions that evangelicals don't generally share. Most evangelicals think there are two explicit grounds for divorce in the NT: infidelity and desertion.

Some evangelicals also contend that NT teaching on divorce is occasional. Not meant to cover every conceivable situation. So there may be additional legitimate grounds.

Moreover, most evangelicals believe that divorce and remarriage dissolve the previous marriage. Even if the new marriage was originally sinful, it's not continuously sinful. 

Finally, most evangelicals believe that even if the new marriage was originally sinful, that's forgivable–like other sins. If, say, the couple were unbelievers at the time, but become believers, their sin is forgiven. What's past is past. Like having a child out of wedlock. That's sinful, but not continuously sinful. 

My immediate point is not to defend evangelical positions, but to compare and contrast them to the traditional Catholic position. That has a different framework. As I understand it, this is why the new policy of Pope Francis is so controversial:

i) According to "irreformable" principles (Catholic dogma), marriage is indissoluble. 

ii) To be divorced and remarried means living in mortal sin.

iii) 1415 Anyone who desires to receive Christ in Eucharistic communion must be in the state of grace. Anyone aware of having sinned mortally must not receive communion without having received absolution in the sacrament of penance.

iv) Hence, to intentionally open communion to recipients in a state of mortal sin facilitates evil.

So the controversy is generated by a clash between two "irreformable" principles: (i) the indissolubility of marriage and (ii) reception of communion in a state of grace. 

This is a bomb inside the church of Rome. Unless defused, it will blow the church to smithereens. 

The intentions of Francis are clear, but his words are unclear. His words are unclear because he wants to change "irreformable" principles, but he can't come out and say that directly without dynamiting the authority of the Magisterium. The best he can do is to send signals. That's his dilemma. That's why he refuses to clarify his remarks. 

I'd add that this is not the only potential flashpoint. Francis also wants to liberalize church policy on homosexuals. He tipped his hand at the original synod. However, that's less rancorous at present because he communicated his intentions through intermediaries. He himself has yet to make that official policy.

At the moment he has his hands full with the current crisis. But if he prevails, he might revisit the issue of homosexuality in the church. 

Francis has certain advantages. As pope, he holds most of the high cards. In addition, many professing Catholics are sympathetic to his initiatives. They consider that an overdue improvement. They don't care whether it contradics "irreformable" principles.