Saturday, January 14, 2017


Rongorongo -Hieroglyphs written with shark teeth from Easter Island, remain indecipherable

Unfortunately, there are faith heads who insist attributing these markings to intelligent agency. Classic hieroglyphics-of-the-gaps reasoning. Despite the proven track record of science to explain how things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose are, in fact, the product of non-purposive processes, faith heads, with their superstitious belief in skyhooks, refuse to wait for science to discover the natural cause of these random markings. Cryptography is a cop-out. A science stopper!

Spooky atheism

Enforcing Roe v. Wade

During his confirmation hearing, Jeff Sessions took the following position:

During one of the key exchanges of the day, Senator Feinstein pressed the proven pro-lifer about abortion and whether he would deny access to victims of human trafficking, since those funds are all under the purview of the DOJ. Immediately, Sessions drew the line, insisting that his duty wasn't to write the law–but enforce it. "...Ultimately," he replied, "It's a matter for this United States Congress, not so much a matter for the attorney general. We need to put our money out to assist in this activity according to the rules established by the Congress." Feinstein pressed more, asking if he still believed Roe v. Wade was one of the worst Supreme Court rulings of all time. "It is," he answered truthfully. "I believe it violated the Constitution and really attempted to set policy and not follow law." Even so, he went on, "It is the law of the land... and I would respect it and follow it."

It's true that judicial rulings generally have the force of law. That's because judicial rulings are supposed to have a basis in law. There's an underlying law (e.g. the Constitution, statutory law). It's not a legal opinion out of thin air. 

But let's pass on that for now. Let's grant for the sake of argument that Roe v. Wade is the "law of the land". In that event, what would it mean for DOJ for "follow" it or "enforce" it? 

Let's put in this way: what does it mean to break a law? Generally, there are two kinds of laws: laws that mandate particular behavior and laws that prohibit particular behavior. To break a law is either to do what's prohibited or fail to do what's mandated. To enforce the law would be to punish a violator for breaking the law in one of those two respects (prescription or proscription). 

Suppose there's a law mandating car insurance. To enforce the law might be to fine a driver who has no proof of insurance (if that's the prescribed penalty).

Suppose there's a law prohibiting the sale of narcotics. To enforce the law might be to arrest the dealer and charge him with breaking that law. 

Assuming that Roe v. Wade is law, what is there for DOJ to enforce? How does someone break that law?    

Even if abortion is deemed to be a legal right, that doesn't compel anyone to perform abortions–any more than the Second Amendment (which is a bona fide Constitutional right) compels anyone to sell guns. 

Someone blocking the entrance to an abortion clinic might violate the law, but his infraction is already covered under trespassing. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Touring Perelandra

One of the exhilarating things about Christian metaphysics is how it opens up vistas of possibility that atheism can only dream of. Literally, that atheism can only dream of.

For instance, how many readers of Perelandra have yearned to actually visit Perelandra and experience firsthand the exotic world of sensory enhanced sights, sounds, taste, touch, and fragrance. Lewis's intense, visionary descriptions whet the appetite to go there. His novel is a tantalizing appetizer of an imaginary world that's too good to be true. Or is it?

But if the Christian God exists, then there are senses in which it would be possible to visit Perelandra. Lewis's Perelandra existed in God's mind before it ever existed in Lewis's mind. Human imagination is parasitic on God's imagination. There's nothing we think that God hasn't thought before. Indeed, Lewis's Perelandra is a pale imitation of God's minutely detailed idea. 

Given God's omniscience and omnipotence, it's possible for God to create Perelandra in a parallel universe. God can fill in all the practical necessities to make it feasible and hospitable.

Or God could cause us to experience an immersive simulation of Perelandra. Our experience of virtual Perelandra would be phenomenologically indistinguishable from a physical visit to a physical planet. 

I'm by no means suggesting that Perelandra is real. I'm just pointing out that God could make that a reality. Christian metaphysics makes so many things possible that are utterly impossible in a godless universe where only matter and energy exist. A bracing consideration. 

Millennial ethics

The myth of human perfectibility

As conservatism enters a new era, and a new challenge, during the Trump presidency, it's useful to clarify the difference between liberalism and conservativism. There are different ways to draw the line. Here's one way. 

Liberals, secular humanists, and/or secular progressives assume that every human problem has a human solution. For some, that's an explicit article of faith. Others may not have that articulated belief, but they operate as if that's the case. Let's call this the myth of human perfectibility. 

So, if every human problem has a solution, what's the source of the problem and what's the solution? Answers vary. Some liberals think social ills are due to the inequitable distribution of goods and services. That requires the state to step in to redistribute goods and services.  

Some liberals think social ills are due to defective social conditioning. On this view, human nature is a blank slate. That requires the state to step in through compulsory public education, with a centralized curriculum, to indoctrinate students in socially enlightened values. Likewise, the state must step in to legislate speech codes. And so on.

Some liberals are more pessimistic insofar as they think social ills have a hardwired source: a throwback to our animal ancestry. We evolved from predators who had to fight to survive on the African savannas. Men are especially bad. 

However, transhumanists are more optimistic. Perhaps we can rewire the brain through genetic engineering and bioengineering (e.g. neural implants, cyberware) to eliminate antisocial traits that produce social ills. Once again, this requires the state to step in, a la Brave New World.

By contrast, conservatives don't assume that every human problem has a human solution. Indeed, they generally regard some human problems as humanly insoluble. Secular conservatives base this in part on human history. Given man's evident penchant for violence and criminality, social ills are inevitable. Secular conservatives might also augment that by their belief, shared by some liberals, that this is in our genes. An inheritance from our nasty animal ancestors. The "killer ape". For their part, Christian conservatives attribute social ills to original sin. 

To say social ills are inevitable doesn't mean nothing can be done to improve the situation. We need enough government to keep crime from spiraling out of control. But because social ills can't be eliminated, the role of government is limited, since government has limited ability to control crime. Moreover, some social ills are best addressed within the private sphere (e.g. church, family). 

So a primary role of gov't is to keep crime at manageable levels. When gov't aims at something more utopian, gov't becomes dangerous. That's in part because bureaucrats aren't morally superior to the general public. If there's no check on the power of gov't, then who polices the police?

In addition, when the state is too powerful, it becomes a magnet for the criminal class. That's where the action is. That's the greatest racket in town. Totalitarian regimes are notoriously corrupt and crime-ridden. 

From a conservative perspective, the state is on a knife-edge. Too little gov't, and you have rampant crime. Too much gov't and the state becomes arbitrary, unjust, suffocating, or a criminal syndicate in its own right. 

Is the Son autotheos?

On Facebook, a Catholic apologist objected to the belief that each person of the Trinity is autotheos. Before addressing his objections directly, I'd like to take a few steps back:

i) I don't have a problem with church councils. There's nothing wrong with Christian representatives getting together to produce a joint declaring that not only expresses their individual beliefs, but their shared beliefs. A public statement of common faith can be very useful in various ways. But from a consistent Protestant perspective, a council doesn't make doctrine true; rather, true doctrine makes a council true. In the classic words of the Westminster Confession:

The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture (WCF 1.10).

ii) Some Protestants pay lip-service to sola scripture, but when that's put to the test, they seem to be insecure about their ultimate commitments. Some Protestants act as though God made a temporary exception to sola Scriptura by inspiring "ecumenical councils" for the first 500 years of church history. But if you can't make allowance for the possibility, in principle, that these councils could be mistaken in some particular, then you're not operating with a consistent Protestant epistemology. Rather, you're straddling the fence.  

Objecting to my position, the Catholic apologist said:

He has constantly ascribed "aseity" to each of the persons of the Trinity in their personal capacity, rather than properly limiting it to the Trinity as a whole and/or the unbegotten, unspirated person of the Father. It seems clear that he wants to apply the concept of aseity to the Son as to the Father. So, what we are left with is separate persons who are gods or separate gods, i.e., polytheism. 
Clearly there cannot be separate infinite, perfect, omnipotent gods as a logical proposition; there can only be one infinite, perfect, omnipotent God. The existence of a second such being would mean that one or the other, or both, is not perfect, infinite or omnipotent. 
The Trinity is one God; the persons of the Trinity are identical and equal, except in origin, since the Son is begotten and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, and the Father is neither unbegotten and proceeds from nothing. Thus, they share the same nature and the same substance and are one God. There cannot be two different Gods having different origins with a different nature.

His objection is a bundle of confusions:

i) He doesn't actually present an argument. But he seems to have two intuitive arguments that he lacks the competence to articulate. So we have to begin by making his arguments for him before we can dispose of them. The first argument he's groping at seems to be this: If all three Trinitarian persons are autotheos, that means they have different origins. If they have different origins, that makes them separate Gods. 

And I agree with him that if the Father, Son, and Spirit each has different origins, that makes them separate Gods. But the problem with his argument is this: to be autotheos is to be unoriginate. Likewise, aseity means having no origin. 

Therefore, to say each Trinitarian person is autotheos, or to ascribe aseity to each person of the Godhead, is the polar opposite of saying each person has a different origin. Rather, it means none of the persons of the Godhead has a source of origin. So his argument is utterly confused. He has things exactly backwards.

ii) The second argument he's groping at is based on the alleged impossibility of two (or more) "infinite" beings. He doesn't turn that into an actual argument. He merely asserts the impossibility of two (or more) "infinite" beings. I'm guessing that in his inchoate intuition, he's getting carried away with a spatial metaphor. 

This seems to be what he has in mind: there can only be one infinitely large object. That's because it takes up all the available space. So there's no extra room for a second infinitely large object. One infinitely large object squeezes out the possibility of more than one infinitely large object. And perhaps he thinks that's analogous to monotheism. Assuming that's an accurate reconstruction of what he's gesturing at, it's beset by a host of problems:

iii) It presumes a theory of absolute space, where space is considered to be an empty container. That's the Newtonian view. And that was eclipsed by Einstein's relational view of space.

iv) What does he mean by "infinite"? If he means a potential infinite, then you could have two (or more) infinitely large objects inasmuch as a potential infinite is an actual finite.

v) Perhaps, though, he means an actual infinite. If so, why think the notion of an actually infinite physical object is even coherent, intelligible, or realistic? Try to imagine an infinitely large steel ball or an infinitely large cube. Is that even conceivable, much less physically possible? To be a physical object is to have boundaries, right? To have boundaries is to be finite rather than infinite.  

vi) A deeper problem is that God is not a physical object, so spatial infinitude is inapplicable to God. That's a category mistake. God doesn't literally fill the universe. But if the objection is that God is analogous to a physically infinite object, I have no idea where the point of comparison lies. 

vii) Perhaps he means God is "infinite" in the sense of unlimited. Yet there are things that God can't be and things that God can't do. God can't be ignorant. God can't scratch his head (since God has no head or hands). 

Likewise, for the argument to go through, God would have to be unlimited in a sense that precludes two unlimited beings. But that's just too vague. 

viii) The coexistence of abstract actual infinities is not only possible, but bedrock reality. Just combine mathematical realism with infinite sets. 

ix) Furthermore, if we choose to stick with the language of infinitude, there is a sense in which the Trinity does consist of three "infinite" individuals. For instance, if you define omnipotence as infinite (i.e. unlimited) power, and each person is omnipotent, then each person is infinite. Mind you, I don't think that's the best way to define omnipotence. 

To take a better example, if you define omniscience as knowing an actual infinitude of necessary truths, contingent truths, and counterfactual or hypothetical truths, and each person is omniscient, then each person is infinite. So either our Catholic apologist must deny that the Son is omniscient, or he must deny that his knowledge is actually infinite. Otherwise, he must be prepared to admit that, in this sense, monotheism is consistent with three "infinite" individuals.   

x) Indeed, it's always been a challenge for Christian philosophers and theologians to formulate the Trinity in a way that avoids modalism while avoiding the appearance of tritheism. But that's the hand we've been dealt. Those are the cards we must play. We can't burn a card to avoid the charge of "polytheism". We are duty-bound to work with what we've got. 

xi) Finally, to say the Son's existence is absolute and inderivative is a higher Christology than to say the Son's existence is derivative. (ditto: the Spirit.) It's ironic when, in the name of orthodoxy, Catholics accuse you of heresy for defending higher Christology than their own. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Does every religion have its own Superman?

Argument from Superman: Every religion has its own Superman argument. Moroni, Jesus, Mohammed, Moses, Buddha, even Lao Tzu, are all claimed to have proved their religious teachings supernaturally true by miraculous demonstrations of their power. “Our Superman exists; therefore our God exists.”

This is Richard Carrier's attempt to "destroy" an argument for God. But so many things go awry in his comparison:

i) In the same post, he accusing Christians of cherry-picking the evidence, yet he himself is cherry-picking the evidence. There are founders of notable cults or religious movements who aren't' claimed to have proven their teachings supernaturally true by miraculous demonstrations, viz. Anthroposophy, Aum Shinrikyo, British Israelism, Chabad, Jehovah's Witnesses, Moonies, Nation of Islam, Raëlism, Scientology.

ii) Carrier seems to be listing founders of religious movements. If that's his intention, then it's unclear why he includes Moroni on the list. Obviously, that's an allusion to Mormonism. However, the founder of Mormonism is Joseph Smith, or perhaps more accurately, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were the cofounders of Mormonism. As for reputed miracles, it would be necessary to sift the documentary evidence. Keep in mind that Smith was a classic conman. His reputation precedes him. You'd must also consider whether his cronies had a financial stake in vouching for him.  

Maroni is reputedly the angel who appeared to Joseph Smith. But if, by Carrier's logic, that makes Moroni the founder of Mormonism, does that make the Angel of the Lord who appeared to Moses (Exod 3) the founder of Judaism? It's hard to see that Carrier is using a consistent principle when he includes Moroni on his list. Perhaps Carrier is simply confused. Maybe he meant to say Joseph Smith, but because he associates Moroni with Mormonism, he confounded Smith with Moroni. 

iii) If his intention is to list founders of religious movements, it's questionable to classify Moses as the founder of Judaism. Assuming Judaism has a founder, Abraham is as much a founder of Judaism as Moses. Perhaps we might classify Abraham and Moses as cofounders of Judaism. But Abraham didn't perform miracles. David is another central figure in Judaism, but David didn't perform miracles. It would really be more accurate to say Yahweh was the founder of Judaism. 

iv) There are no miracles attributed to Muhammed in the Koran. It's only in later Muslim tradition that Muhammad undergoes legendary embellishment as a miracle worker. 

v) "Superman" suggests an agent with innate superhuman abilities. By contrast, Moses is empowered to perform miracles. Moses is not a "Superman" in his own right. He's just an ordinary human being. 

vi) By contrast, Jesus does haven't innate superhuman abilities. That's because Jesus is God Incarnate. But that makes Jesus unique compared to the other founders on the list. So that example is disanalogous rather than analogous.

vii) Moreover, Jesus performed many public miracles. There were multiple witnesses. Furthermore, Jesus was a 1C figure, for which we have multiple 1C sources. Carrier needs to show comparable evidence in the case of Buddha and Lao Tzu. 

viii) It's true that miracles are attributed to Buddha. Buddha undergoes legendary embellishment. That's true in part because the sources for the historical Buddha are so far removed from his own time. They aren't reliably connected to the historical Buddha. As such, they can take on a life of their own.

In addition, Buddhism is mainly a religion of ideas rather than events, in contrast to the Judeo-Christian faith, which is primarily a religion of events rather than ideas. Buddhism was never essentially rooted in a historical figure. In principle, Buddhism could still exist even if Buddha never existed, for Buddhism is based on Buddha's "insight" regarding the problem of suffering. He's the founder of that religious movement because he's the first person to have that particular take on the problem of suffering (the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path). But, in principle, anyone could independently hit upon that idea. By contrast, Christianity is subject to historical controls. 

ix) I don't rule out the possibility that some Buddhist or Taoist adepts might exhibit paranormal phenomena. The occult is a potential source of paranormal phenomena. That wouldn't disprove Christianity, for Christian makes allowance for supernatural agents other than God, including evil spirits. 

Roman Catholicism: “simply making up things to justify pet doctrines and practices”

St Thomas the Train Wreck Aquinas
St Thomas the Train Wreck Aquinas
While our culture is talking about “fake” things, such as “fake news”, why not talk about “fake religion”?

R. Scott Clark, a professor of Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary, California, published an original piece of work dealing with Aquinas’s inability to find biblical evidence in favor of “images”. Perhaps he is still feeling the sting of a WSCal grad like Jason Stellman having turned “Drunk”, or maybe there is a “Reformed Thomist” somewhere in his life. Whatever the reason, in this blog post, Clark, who reads Aquinas in the original Latin, unloads with both barrels:

The Allure Of Unwritten Tradition:
The earliest post-apostolic Christians (some of whom are denominated the Apostolic Fathers) knew of an apostolic tradition but they did not know about a secret and unwritten apostolic tradition on the authority of which the church could justify virtually anything it wanted. Remarkably, however, over time this is just what happened in the life of the church. In preparation for the annual [“Is the Reformation Over?” conference] this Friday and Saturday (January 13–14, 2017) I have been looking at Thomas Aquinas’ appeal to an unwritten tradition to justify practices that he freely admits are not biblical. In Summa Theologica 1a2ae 25.3, where he was defending the veneration of the cross, he faced a very sensible and eminently biblical objection:

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Why I'm not Catholic

This isn't meant to be exhaustive. There are so many reasons not to be Catholic, and I've written so much about it. But with that disclaimer out of the way, I'm going to summarize some of the primary reasons I'm not Roman Catholic:

1. Perhaps the primary rationale to be Catholic is the belief that God has singled out the Roman church for special guidance and protection from serious error, in contrast to the plight of Protestants, who lack that guidance and protection. With that in mind, consider the following: historically, popes, Roman bishops, church fathers, and church doctors, among other leaders in the Catholic church, believed in the historicity of Biblical narratives, believed in the traditional authorship of Scripture, believed that Biblical oracles (e.g. Isaiah, Daniel, messianic Psalms) were genuinely predictive. That held true up through the anti-modernist popes (e.g. Pius IX, Leo XIII) and the BPC under Leo XIII.

However, around the middle of the 20C, modernism began to gain the upper hand in church circles. I think it's safe to say that nowadays, most Catholic Bible scholars, priests, and upper clergy deny the traditional authorship of Scripture, regard biblical narratives as frequently erroneous or fictional, and consider Biblical oracles to be prophecy after the fact. 

So the institutional and intellectual leadership of the contemporary Roman church doesn't think God protected Bible writers from error, and doesn't think God protected popes, bishops, church fathers, and church doctors for about the last 1900 years from mistaken belief in the historicity of biblical narratives, the traditional authorship of Scripture, and predictive prophecy. But in that event, what possible reason is there to believe that God singled out the church of Rome for special guidance and protection from error, if, by their own admission, he failed to do that for the authors of Scripture, and he failed to do that for popes, bishops, church fathers, and church doctors concerning their view of Scripture? 

2. Rome redefined tradition. This began with Newman. It was formally adopted at Vatican II. Here's an illustration:

Before Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven was defined, all theological faculties in the world were consulted for their opinion. Our teachers’ answer was emphatically negative... ’Tradition’ was identified with what could be proved on the basis of texts. Altaner, the patrologist from Würzburg...had proven in a scientifically persuasive manner that the doctrine of Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven was unknown before the fifth century; this doctrine, therefore, he argued, could not belong to the ‘apostolic tradition.’ And this was his conclusion, which my teachers at Munich shared. This argument is compelling if you understand ‘tradition’ strictly as the handling down of fixed formulas and texts...But if you conceive of ‘tradition’ as a living process whereby the Holy Spirit introduces us to the fullness of truth and teaches us how to understand what previously we could still not grasp (cf. Jn 16:12-13), then subsequent ‘remembering’ (cf. Jn 16:4, for instance) can come to recognize what it had not caught sight of previously and yet w as handed down in the original Word," Milestones (Ignatius, 1998), 58-59.

When you see that you're losing by your own rules, you snatch victory from the jaws of defeat by changing the rules during the game. That's cheating. By redefining tradition, by contradicting how tradition was understood for the last 19 hundred years, Rome falsified itself by her own standards. 

3. Rome has reversed herself on some major doctrinal issues. Take the possibility of salvation outside the church:

That's exactly what you'd expect from an organization that's not divinely guided. That doesn't enjoy divine protection from significant error.

That's exactly what you'd expect from a merely human organization that lacks foresight, making things up as it goes along, and having to abrogate established positions due to unforeseen circumstances, and replace established positions with new positions that were improvised on the spot. 

Another example is how the Roman church is reversing itself on the death penalty. 

4. Catholic apologists contend that human reason is too unreliable to interpret Scripture on its own. We require an infallible interpreter. 

That, however, generates a dilemma for Catholicism. How do you determine that Rome is the infallible interpreter? Do you evaluate the documentary evidence for Rome? If the case for Rome depends in part on Biblical prooftexts and patristic protects, those must be interpreted. If, however, unaided human reason can't be trusted to arrive at the correct interpretation of the documentary evidence, then you can't establish the Roman Magisterium in the first place. You can only turn to the authority of Rome to interpret the Bible if you are able to ascertain that Rome has that authority. But at that stage of the argument, you can't rely on Rome's authority to establish Rome's authority, for Rome's authority must be a conclusion you derive from the evidence. As a preliminary step, you must be able to prove that by means independent of the Magisterium, for the (alleged) authority of the Magisterium can only come into play after that's been established. If, however, unaided human reason is too undependable to properly assess the documentary evidence, then there's no way to get from your starting-point to the authority of Rome. 

In your fallible opinion, Rome is infallible. So opinion undergirds the Magisterium, rather than the Magisterium undergirding opinion. How can the superstructure be firmer than the foundation? The Catholic appeal is like a balloon of certainty sitting on a spike bed of uncertainty. Under slight pressure, it will pop. 

5. To my knowledge, apostolic succession depends on valid ordination. And valid ordination depends on right intention by both the officiant and the ordinand. But intention is a private mental state. Only the officiant and the ordinate are privy to their intentions. So valid ordination is unverifiable. Any broken link in the chain will invalidate everything after the break. 

6. In many respects, the Catholic church is already indistinguishable from the liberal mainline denominations. Modernism has infected the Roman church from top to bottom. There's some residual conservativism (conservative by traditional Catholic standards), but even that's eroding, like a sandbar at high tide. 

7. The Biblical prooftexts for Catholicism are anachronistic or fanciful. Catholic apologists recontextualize their prooftexts by swapping out the original context and swapping in the context of Catholic dogma. 

"Ten arguments for God destroyed!"

I'll comment on Richard Carrier's latest screed:

Just a general observation. I'm struck by Carrier's unquestioned self-confidence when he opines about technical fields in which he has no expertise. He doesn't have a doctorate in cosmology or astrophysics or biology or any cognate disciplines. Like most of us, he has a layman's understanding of science. 

Likewise, if chance produced this universe, we should expect it to be only barely conducive to life, not almost entirely lethal to it (as in fact it is), since there are vastly more ways to get those universes by chance selection, than to get a universe perfectly suited to life throughout...

I always love these armchair comparisons. Is a universe "perfectly suited to life throughout" even a coherent concept? Is it physically possible for every solar system in the universe to have the biofriendly configuration of ours? Can every solar system have the same number of planets and satellites with the same spacing? Given gravity, wouldn't there be a cosmic butterfly effect? if the number and position of cosmic objects changed? 

Don't regions hospitable to life require regions inhospitable to life? Carrier fails to distinguish the conditions necessary for life from the conditions sufficient for life. For instance, the Ozone is a necessary condition for life on earth. That doesn't mean you can life in the Ozone. That doesn't mean the Ozone itself is hospitable to life. 

The Moral Argument: If atheism is true, it is still true that: (a) we all want to live in a just and kind and honest world, which desire is sufficient reason for us to try and create one...

i) I thought atheism was simply nonbelief in God or gods. So how does it follow that if atheism is true, we all want to live in a just and kind and honest world? How is that supposed to be an implication of atheism? 

ii) Is that how we all want to live? Do military dictators, Latin American drug cartels, the Russian Mafia, &c. want to  live in a just and kind and honest world? 

We are social animals, and social animals need to be just and kind and honest to work together well, and they need to work together well to optimize survival and realize their goals.

Wolves are social animals. Do members of wolf packs need to be just and kind and honest to practice teamwork? 

Argument from Meaning of Life: “It would be better if I had a million dollars; therefore I have a million dollars” is not even a logically valid argument to start with.

The Moral Argument: If atheism is true, it is still true that: (a) we all want to live in a just and kind and honest world, which desire is sufficient reason for us to try and create one...

Umm, doesn't his justification for secular morality commit the same fallacy him imputes to the argument from the meaning of life? It would be better if secular morality is true, therefore secular morality is true.

Argument from Reason: I also cover this in TEC (ibid.), and elsewhere I have exhaustively refuted every version of it. But it all reduces to a simple Bayesian case against God: if God did not design us, our innate reasoning abilities should be shoddy and ad hoc and only ever improved upon by what are in essence culturally (not biologically) installed software patches (like the scientific method, logic and mathematics, and so on), which corrected our reasoning abilities only after thousands of years of humans trying out different fixes, fixes that were only discovered through human trial and error, and not communicated in any divine revelation or scripture. But if God did design us, our brains should have worked properly from the start and required no software patches, much less software patches that took thousands of years to figure out, and are completely missing from all supposed communications from God.

So humans have no pretheoretical grasp of logic or math. That's just cultural. 

Unclear how we'd discover logic through trial and error. How could we recognize error if we had no instinctive sense of logic? 

Apparently, no one used logic before Aristotle. No shepherd numbered their sheep before Greek mathematicians. 

We don’t know if time is the sort of thing that can even have a cause; the notion is not even intelligible. If it began, time in fact seems necessarily causeless, since a cause is by definition what precedes an effect in time.

Assuming, for argument's stake, that his objection is true, it's inapplicable to the agency of a timeless God, for in that case, there's no temporal gap because cause and effect. It wouldn't be a case in which God did something, then a moment later you had the effect of his action. If God is timeless, then there is no instant separating the cause from the effect. Indeed, there was never a time when God didn't cause that outcome.

Because if God exists, disembodied minds can exist, and are the best minds to have, therefore we should also have disembodied minds.

Which assumes, without benefit of argument, that creatures could have minds like God's. 

Therefore, the fact that thought is dependent on complex evolved brains, which are physical machines, and which also inefficiently exhaust oxygen and energy, and place us in needless risk of injury and death, and intellectual malfunction, due to their delicate vulnerability and badly organized structure, is exactly what we expect if there is no God…

Among other things, that overlooks the benefits of embodied existence. Take the science fiction trope of extraterrestrials who in their nature state lack human senses. To colonize earth, they acquire human bodies, which exposes them for the first time to the five senses. Suddenly they realize the sensory deprivation they suffered when they didn't have our sense organs. It opens up an unimaginable world of experience. 

All the evidence of history and science weighs heavily for the conclusion that we are mortal, and that we actually value our lives because of that, and not because we are immortal—which would actually render this life cheap as dirt (since death would cost us nothing, and life is better and vastly longer on the other side of it).

i) Immortality doesn't entail that the afterlife is better. Take the doctrine of hell. 

ii) Carrier's evaluation is very atomistic. He ignores the pain of separation. 

Argument from Miracles: This works the same way, too. Atheism predicts random good luck and bad luck will be observed, and therefore anything we can confirm happened that seems miraculous will be physically explicable (because, not really miraculous) and rare (because, random). 

i) Aren't we incessantly told that atheism is just nonbelief in God or gods? If so, how does that make predictions?

ii) Would he apply the same reasoning to apparent cheating at cards? 

iii) If good luck and bad luck alike are random, why would good luck be rare? If both are random, wouldn't good luck and bad luck happen about 50/50? 

Without a parade of excuses, theism predicts miracles will be commonplace and physically inexplicable (e.g. Christian healing wings in hospitals would exist where amputees have their limbs restored by prayer, or anything like that; yet we observe not a single thing like that). 

i) He presents no argument for why theism predicts that. His assertion is so illogical. An atheist might argue, as indeed they're wont to argue, that a good God wouldn't permit illness and injury in the first place. If, however, God does permit illness and injury, then there's no presumption or expectation that healing miracles would be commonplace. For if God has a good reason to permit illness and injury in the first place, then, for the very same reason, he might rarely perform healing miracles inasmuch as doing so routinely would be at cross-purposes with whatever purpose is served by allowing them to occur in the first place. Why permit them all to heal them all? It would be more efficient to prevent them. 

At best, Carrier's objection is misplaced. The line of attack should be why God doesn't prevent illness and injury. If there's an opening, that's where it would be. But there are, of course, various theodicies which field that objection. 

ii) Moreover, his objection is sleight-of-hand. Naturalism can't tolerate a single bona fide miracle. 

Likewise, atheism predicts the only miracle claims that will “survive scrutiny,” are claims that are never reliably investigated; and that every time a miracle claim gets proper scrutiny, it dissolves. And lo and behold, that is also what we see. Thus, again, what we observe is exactly what is expected on atheism, not at all what we expect on theism. So even the evidence of miracles refutes theism and confirms atheism.

There's no evidence that he's bothered to read the best available literature on case studies. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Exposition of Daniel

The Unseen Realm

The wedding at Cana

Catholics cite the marriage at Cana (Jn 2) to justify the intercession of Mary. Not very promising material, to be sure, but the NT doesn't give them much to work with, so they have to squeeze blood from stones.

Catholics treat the Holy Family as plaster saints. Not only was Jesus sinless, but Mary was sinless, too! Yet what we see in the wedding at Cana is a real family. Real families have real friction, real misunderstandings. 

Paradoxically, family members, especially blood relatives (parent/child, brothers/sisters), sometimes say blunt things to each other that they wouldn't say to anyone else because the natural bond is nearly unbreakable. They wouldn't say that to a friend or football coach or the boss. 

You might expect people who are especially close to be more gentle in how they address each other, but it can be the opposite: because they are so close, they take liberties they wouldn't take with someone whose commitment is not a given. They know they can get away with saying things they wouldn't dare say to someone who's not within that charmed circle. In the Gospels, the natural dynamic between Jesus and his relatives is very realistic. Not hagiographic. 

Jesus is chronically misunderstood, even by those who ought to know him best, because he's a very unique individual. Human, but so much more. How do you relate to God Incarnate? It can be aggravating to be constantly misunderstood. 

Jesus appears to respond to his mother's implied request with a mild rebuke for imposing on him. She doesn't ask him directly, but intimates speak in shorthand. They know each other so well that they don't need to spell out what they mean. Like standing at the refrigerator, with the door open, exclaiming, "There's no milk!" That's understood to be a demand for someone in charge to go to the store and stock up on milk. 

Maybe she knows that Jesus is naturally resourceful. As a widow, she's come to depend on him. He's the eldest son. The man of the house. Or maybe she knows the "family secret". Her son is more than naturally resourceful. Even if this is his first public miracle, perhaps he's done miraculous things behind-closed-doors.

Be that as it may, he addresses her as "woman". Although there's nothing inherently disrespectful about that mode of address, it's normally the way a man would address a woman he's not related to, and not how he'd address his own mother. A cue that Mary needs to observe boundaries. Give Jesus some space, especially as he's about to embark on the mission for which he was born. 

In addition, saying "what does this have to do with me" sounds like a politer way of saying, "Mind your own business!" 

Now, Catholics have a fanciful theory that "woman" is really a subtle allusion to Mary as the New Eve. Of course, there's nothing in the text or context to justify that inference. 

Although he accedes to her request, he resents the arm-twisting. He may end up doing it as a special favor for her, but he signals to her that her implicit demand is presumptuous. 

Moreover, there's a request-rebuke–assistance pattern in the Fourth Gospel, so even if Jesus makes an exception for her, he doesn't only make exceptions for her. 

So the very passage in question appears to rebuff her for acting as though she has the inside track. He puts some distance between himself and his earthly mother. She has limited claims on him. And that's becoming more limited. 

There is, though, the interesting question of how her request apparently makes him take premature action. In context, the thrust of it seems to be as follows: solving the problem takes a miracle. In this setting, with so many witnesses, that will be a public miracle. Indeed, acting now will be his first public miracle. Once he garners a reputation as a miracle-worker, it's like setting a timer. When it starts ticking predetermines when it stops ticking. The first public miracle initiates the countdown to Calvary. She fails to anticipate the long-range consequences of her request, but he is ever-mindful of his destiny. 

Does God hate the reprobate?

Jerry Walls says Calvinists think the divine hatred passages are clearer and Calvinists have to explain away the divine love passages he brings up. 

i) As I recall, there's only one divine "hatred" passage that's a major prooftext for reprobation, and that's Mal 1:2-3 filtered through Rom 9:13. 

ii) Although there are some direct prooftexts for reprobation or double predestination, there's also indirect evidence based on the relationship between doctrine. As Vos puts it,

"It is true that the Bible also teaches the principle of preterition, by way of implication, as a corollary of certain other fundamental doctrines. No more is necessary than to combine the two single truths, that all saving grace, inclusive of faith, is the supernatural gift of God, and that not all men are made recipients of this gift, to perceive immediately that the ultimate reason why some are saved and others passed by can lie in God alone. In so far every confession which adheres to these two primary facts—and no Calvinistic confession could for a moment hesitate to do so—is also bound to imply the doctrine of preterition."

Vos gives some additional general evidence in the same article:

iii) And here's another fine article by Vos that's directly on point:

iv) Then there's the question of how to construe emotive ascriptions for God. In general, I take these to be anthropopathisms. I think divine "hatred" for sin/sinners means divine disapprobation for sin/sinners. 

v) I don't think it's reasonable that God would literally get angry. Even apart from Calvinism, if God is omniscient and omnipotent, how can he get angry about events he sees coming a mile away, which he can prevent?

Or, even if he's not omniscient (open theism), he knows that he's setting in motion a chain reaction that may have disastrous consequences. It would be self-incriminating for God to be angry about a situation he had a hand in causing. 

And in Calvinism, why would God be angry about something he predestined. It's like a novelist getting angry at one of his characters. If he doesn't like the character, don't include it in the novel!

vi) I view love/hate passages as rhetorical antithetical parallelism. And I think in that context, "love" is a legal synonym for choosing while "hate" is a legal synonym for rejecting (or an antonym for choosing). 

vii) I don't think these reflect divine emotion. I think it's more about divine policies. 

viii) Now, it maybe that from a freewill theist standpoint, they think reprobation is tantamount to divine hatred. If God doesn't elect someone, that's a hateful way for God to treat a human being. That, however, wouldn't be interpreting Reformed theology on its own terms, but imputing connotations to Reformed usage from a frame of reference extrinsic to Calvinism and hostile to Calvinism. So that's very confused on their part.

ix) I don't think God has to hate someone to reprobate them. 

x) Love is frequently defined as acting in the best interests of another. But that's a very problematic definition for freewill theism. In freewill theism, God doesn't act in the best interests of individuals. Rather, he acts for the common good, which is often at the expense of individuals. 

In freewill theism, God doesn't intervene to protect individuals from harm, because, according to freewill theism, too much divine meddling would be detrimental to the common good. But even if we grant that contention for argument's sake, it means that unfortunate individuals get the short end of the stick. 

Jerry tries to offset that with his theory of postmortem damage control. But that shows strains in freewill theism. 

xi) Let's take the science fiction trope of ETs from a dying planet. They discover that earth has the natural resources they need to survive. 

Suppose, because they're inhuman, they have no natural rapport with humans. Emotionally speaking, they have no more empathy for human suffering than a lion has for a gazelle. 

It isn't evil. They aren't malevolent. They don't wish us ill. But they don't care about humans at an emotional level. They don't desire "union". They don't seek reciprocity. 

However, let's say the aliens are very ethical. Even though it would be simpler for them to conquer us, colonize the planet, and exterminate humans, they believe that would be morally wrong. 

Despite their overwhelming technological superiority, which gives them total leverage, they work out a compromise with humans. They will share the planet with us. And they will use their technology to improve human quality of life. 

What they lack in emotional compassion they make up for in intellectual or ethical compassion. 

That may not be definable as love, but it's an analogy worth exploring (perhaps). 

Another comparison would be angelic love. Are angels capable of loving humans, in the emotional sense, desire for union, reciprocity? If not, they might still be like the ETs. 

xii) Regarding love, freewill theists use human analogies. For instance, they're fond of the parental analogy. But that creates problems for their position.

If it lay within his power, a good human parent would intervene to prevent harm to his children. Freewill theists may say good parents have to let children make their own mistakes. But that's a facile overgeneralization. Sure, there's the specter of helicopter parents. That goes too far. 

But there are other cases where a parent would be negligent not to step in. So that analogy cuts both ways. Some parents are overprotective while other parents are negligent. It isn't all-or-nothing.

xiii) In addition, human parents love their own children far more than they love the children of strangers. So parental love isn't equitable, but partial.

xiv) A freewill theist might object that I've misconstrued the analogy. God is everyone's parent. So he loves all his children.

However, even if we grant that contention for discussion purposes, it isn't that simple. As far as human analogies go, parents of growing children should be studiously impartial. Even if they have a favorite child, they should conceal their bias.

But the situation with grown children is different. Adults have adult responsibilities. Some grown children are admirable while some grown children are appalling. I don't think grown children are entitled to the same "unconditional love" as growing children. There's nothing inherently wrong with a parent having a favorite grown child if, in fact, one grown child is caring and considerate while the other grown child is selfish and indifferent. 

Of course, in Calvinism, God doesn't elect or reprobate people in reaction to their behavior. But I'm just dealing with theological analogies that freewill theists are wont to use. 

xv) Then you have romantic love, which is exclusive. Even promiscuous men and women may have one person who's the love of their life. One person who holds a special place in their heart. Unrivaled affection.

In both the OT and NT, the Bible uses marital metaphors for God. Yet it doesn't use those for God's relationship with the world, but his relationship with Israel or the Church. 

xvi) In Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea, God casts himself in the role of a jilted lover or cuckold husband. I think that's blatantly anthropomorphic. However, freewill theists often takes those sentiments at face value. But that creates a problem for their position, because romantic love is discriminating–the antithesis of indiscriminate love.  

Monday, January 09, 2017

Some Lives Matter

A recent Arminian meme, riffing off of Black Lives Matter, is to say that according to Calvinism, Some Lives Matter, based on reprobation and limited atonement. It's a cutesy applause line for T-shirts. 

One problem with the invidious slogan is that you have socially conservative freewill theists who believe in the right of self-defense. So they think, when push comes to shove, that some lives matter more than others. 

But here's another issue. Years ago I saw a medical show in about a teenager who suffered a concussion during a baseball game. A flying ball struck him in the head and knocked him out. He was rushed to the ER. Testing revealed a skull fracture. Doctors found that puzzling because the impact of a baseball shouldn't fracture a normal skull. Additional testing revealed the fact that he had osteoporosis. Doctors found that even more puzzling. How can a teenager suffer from osteoporosis? Additional testing revealed the fact that he had acute kidney disease. His osteoporosis was a side-effect of that underlying medical condition. So he needed a kidney transplant. His father volunteered to donate a kidney. Testing determined that his father was a compatible donor. 

People die from renal failure because there aren't enough kidney donors. Yet freewill theist supposedly love everyone. So why don't they line up to donate a kidney? Evidently, they don't love their neighbor as themselves. Rather, they love themselves more than their neighbor. Even if they love everyone (which is pretty implausible), they don't love everyone equally. 

I'm no expert, but to my knowledge, kidney donation isn't risk-free. Although you can survive on one kidney, I think that puts you at high risk of renal failure, because just one kidney is having to do the work of two. And if your remaining kidney fails, you don't have a back up, because you donated your spare kidney. 

For that reason alone, it's not surprising that most folks, including freewill theists who brag about universal love, don't go around donating their kidneys to perfect strangers. 

However, it's natural to make an exception for your best friend or close family. Indeed, it's expected that you will do things for loved ones that you won't do for a passing acquaintance or perfect stranger. You don't take the same risks for everyone. 

In my true story, the father donated a kidney to his ailing son. That's predictable. And, of course, his son was very grateful. It strengthened their bond.

But suppose his father told his son, "That's nothing special. I'd to the same thing for anyone. You just happened to be first in line."

First of all, there's the question of whether you have an obligation to reserve a kidney for a friend or family member, rather than giving it away to strangers. Do you have a higher obligation to loved ones? Do they have a prior claim on you? 

But even assuming it's admirable that the father would do that for everyone, the value of the gift loses something significant in that event. After all, his son has a right to believe that this isn't something Dad would do for anyone. Rather, he does it for his son because his son is special to him. Indeed, uniquely spacial. 

There are situations in human relationships where we want to hear: "I did it for you because you have a special place in my heart. If it was anyone else, I wouldn't do it!"

And that's appropriate. That's the essence of friendship and familial love. Although it's good to care about most people, it's not a human virtue to care about everyone equally. Indeed, that's inhuman. Love is typically selective. 

Now, I'm not suggesting that this proves Calvinism. There are important disanalogies between God and human social dynamics. The point, though, is that there's nothing inherently wrong with favoritism. Freewill theists practice favoritism all the time. Like everyone else, they are partial to friends and family. They don't treat their loved ones as interchangeable with everyone else.

Yet their argument for God's universal love is based on human analogies. But when they are forced to say divine ideal love is different from human ideal love, that vitiates their facile comparisons. 

What do Catholics and anti-vaxxers have in common?

Some comments I made on Facebook (Jerry Walls):

According to her defenders, the church of Rome is a communion of laypersons who aren't real Catholics, pastored by priests who aren't real Catholics, educated at Catholic colleges and seminaries by professors who aren't real Catholics, overseen by bishops who aren't real Catholics, under the divine authority of a pope who isn't a real Catholic. But it's still the One True Church®. The only real Catholics are dead church fathers and lay Catholic pop apologists who converted to Rome from evangelicalism.

It's funny how Rome's apologists are ignorant of Catholic Bible scholarship. Maybe Bradley should consult the standard Catholic commentaries on John, by Raymond Brown and Rudolf Schnackenburg, to see how mainstream Catholic scholarship interprets monogenes.

Steve, again, you need to understand how biblical scholarship functions within Catholic theology. You seem to approach Catholic theology as you approach your own theological method. If true, this explains why you act as if the Catholic position is completely dependent upon monogenes.

Oh, I didn't suggest that Catholic theology is dependent on accurate exegesis. And that's the problem. Catholic theology is often dependent on traditional interpretations of Scripture that are mistaken. But being traditional, that gets locked in. The development of Catholic theology builds on that false premise.

Even after the original mistake is corrected by Bible scholars, including Catholic Bible scholars, it makes no difference because dogma takes on a life of its own, detached from revelation. 

The same is true for church history. Take the traditional Catholic notion of a 1C monoepiscopate. Even though modern Catholic church historians correct that faulty assumption, it makes no difference because the church of Rome isn't really based on history.

Ironically, one Reformed attempt at being 'catholic' would disagree with Hays' christology and refusal to answer the question: they do answer the question. See,Michael Allen and Scott R. Swain's Christian Dogmatics: Reformed Theology for the Church Catholic.

If that's supposed to be an allusion to the eternal generation of the Son, there is no consensus among Reformed theologians on that issue. You have prominent Reformed theologians who don't affirm it or disaffirm it (e.g. Warfield, John Murray, John Frame, John Feinberg, Paul Helm, Robert Reymond). 

That's because Reformed theology is committed to revealed truth. When traditional interpretations are corrected, Reformed theology may be revised accordingly.

In his commentary on John, Ben Witherington construes monogenes as "only" or "unique". Cf. John's Wisdom, 376n25. I. H. Marshall takes a similar position in his commentary on 1 John. Cf. The Epistles of John, 214n8. So does Craig Keener (who, alongside BW3, teaches at the flagship of Arminian seminaries), in his commentary on John. Cf. The Gospel of John: A Commentary, 1:412-416.

These are three of the most prominent Arminian NT scholars. Presumably, Jerry doesn't think they are heretical for questioning the traditional prooftexts for eternal generation. 

There's nothing idiosyncratic about my position. Rather, that's the mainstream position in modern NT scholarship and Greek lexical semantics. This is only shocking to lay Catholic pop apologists who are deaf to the wider world of scholarship outside the padded walls of their internet echo chamber.

A few basic issues:

i) A question people should ask is how you know something is true. What's your source of information? Is that a reliable source of information? 

ii) Christianity is a revealed religion, so the question is whether a doctrine is properly grounded in revelation.

iii) Yes, Catholic theology evolves. Problem is, the deposit of faith does not evolve. That's supposed to be a once-for-all-time deliverance. Therefore, Catholic theology can't legitimately develop beyond what can be known from the deposit of faith.

iv) I don't pretend that church fathers knew things they were in no position to know. I don't view church fathers as Illuminati, with access to esoteric insight denied the rest of us. I don't have Robinson's capacity for make-believe.

v) A problem in Catholic theological method is frozen accidents. Factual errors that get frozen into place. These become the unquestioned foundation for subsequent developments. 

Robinson is like an anti-vaxxer. Some anti-vaxxers oppose vaccination based on a purported link between vaccination and autism. 

When it's pointed out that the purported linkage has been repeatedly discredited, the rational response would be to withdraw their opposition, since the underlying premise turned out to be faulty. But for anti-vaxxers, that premise has become dogma. It lives on as an indefeasible urban legend. 

Robinson is like an anti-vaxxer who responds by saying, You keep raising problems that just aren't problems for anti-vaxxer methodology. You don't understand how bogus evidence functions in anti-vaxxer methodology. You need to read monographs on the development of the autistic premise in anti-vaxxer tradition.

BTW, notice a tactic by some Catholic apologists. On this post and a previous post, Catholic apologists have resorted to thread-jacking to deflect attention away from the actual topic at hand. Jerry's posts have nothing to do with eternal generation. That's just a decoy.