Saturday, May 27, 2017

Richard Muller’s Divine Will and Human Choice: First Impressions

Islam and atrocities

Can an atheist believe in miracles?

A striking example of a medical scientist who believes in miracles despite the fact that she was and remains an atheist. Hostile testimony to miracles. Compartmentalized thinking. The evidence compels her to conclude that some medical miracles happen, and yet she continues to be an atheist!

Some readers might be disturbed by the focus on Catholic miracles. Since, however, I don't think the sole function of miracles is to attest doctrine, I don't think that's a problem in general. 

The Handmaid's Tale

I haven't watched The Handmaid's Tale or read the book, but to judge by reviews, this is a liberal fantasy about Christians. Here's a good review:

I'd like to make a few additional points: 

i) Apparently, the dramatic premise of the story is that an ecological disaster has rendered most women of child-bearing age infertile, so that procreation has fallen far below the replacement rate necessary to sustain the human race. As a result, the remaining fertile women are commandeered to be breeding stock. 

Consequentialism is a standard position in secular ethics. If the human race was on the verge of extinction, forcibly impregnating women would be entirely justifiable from a secular standpoint. Which takes precedence: consent or the survival of the human race? 

Likewise, evolutionary ethics is a standard position in secular ethics. Well, procreation confers a survival advantage. Transmitting your smart genes to the next generation.

There's nothing distinctively Christian about the scenario in The Handmaid's Tale. To the contrary, that would be a far more realistic eventuality under a totalitarian secular regime. 

ii) Ironically, many secular couples are childless by choice. If atheism became prevalent, procreation would drop below replacement levels. That's already happened in secularized nations.

iii) From the standpoint of Christian ethics, it's an interesting hypothetical question whether an infertility pandemic would justify the reinstitution of something like Levirate marriage. 

Moreover, it doesn't require sexual intercourse. A more efficient alternative under that dystopian scenario might be sperm banks and in vitro fertilization. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Looking for God in the wrong places

TBlog was asked to comment on this:

Cowen is an academic economist. To his credit, he's even-handed. He concedes that his reservations about theism apply to atheism as well. So he's undecided. 

1. He says he doesn't think "God" or "theism" is well-defined. It's unclear what that means. Systematic theologies define God. Likewise, philosophical theology delves into detailed expositions and analysis of the divine attributes. 

So his statement may mean he hasn't read the relevant literature. He doesn't know where to look.

But it's possible that he doesn't think the definitions are intelligible. Or maybe he thinks the definitions seem to imaginary. Cowen may share a materials bias where anything that isn't physical is nonsense. However, that issue isn't confined to theology. In metaphysics, you have the issue of abstract objects (e.g. numbers, possible worlds). 

2. He comments on the heritable aspect of religious belief. The implication is that religious faith is due to social conditioning. 

But isn't that consistent with the truth of theism? Humans are social creatures. If God exists, why wouldn't religion have a heritable aspect? 

In the case of Christianity, which is grounded in historical redemption and revelation, the Christian faith is something you must learn about. It's not just something you can intuit. It requires historical knowledge. And it's natural for that to be handed down from one generation to the next.

That said, Cowen has a point. Clearly, there are people whose religious faith is just a historical accident. If they were born at a different time or place, they'd espouse a different religion or no religion. 

3. He says "I am frustrated by the lack of Bayesianism in most of the religious belief I observe."

i) What I think he means by this is that he uses Bayesianism in economics, and he applies that yardstick to religion. One danger with that is making your area of specialization the standard of comparison, even though it may be inappropriate to a different discipline. 

ii) There are, of course, Christians who do use Bayesianism (e.g. Swinburne, Lydia and Timothy McGrew).

iii) For reasons I've stated on more than one occasion, I'm dubious about the use of Bayesianism in Christian apologetics.

4. There's more than one way to approach the issue. Many intellectuals are massively ignorant of what Christianity is. In some cases, a starting-point is to acquire rudimentary, firsthand knowledge of the Christian faith. Nowadays, there are intellectuals who haven't even read the four Gospels. That's a place to start.

One could follow up with a theological introduction to the Bible, like Tom Schreiner's The King in His Beauty (Baker, 2013). That will give a novice the plot of the Bible. 

That could be combined with a simple introduction to Christian theology, like J. I. Packer's Concise Theology: A Guide to Historical Christian Beliefs (Tyndale 2001).

5. Moreover, we shouldn't underestimate the power of attending a good church, where the faithful gather to worship and pray. 

6. Another way to approach the issue is by process of elimination. Instead of proving Christian theism, we can disprove atheism. That's a useful first step. 

The standard paradigm of naturalism (among modern Western thinkers) involves commitment to physicalism and causal closure (i.e. the world as a closed-system). 

Many ontological naturalists thus adopt a physicalist attitude to mental, biological and other such “special” subject matters. They hold that there is nothing more to the mental, biological and social realms than arrangements of physical entities. 

In the final twentieth-century phase, the acceptance of the casual closure of the physical led to full-fledged physicalism. The causal closure thesis implied that, if mental and other special causes are to produce physical effects, they must themselves be physically constituted. It thus gave rise to the strong physicalist doctrine that anything that has physical effects must itself be physical. 

According to the standard paradigm, all mental activity occurs in the brain. That rules out mental action at a distance, and the ontological independence of the mind in relation to the body. On that definition, a way to disprove atheism is to disprove physicalism and causal closure. There are various lines of evidence that undercut or falsify naturalism, viz.

i) Miracles

ii) Terminal lucidity

iii) Apparitions of the dead

iv) Near-death experiences

v) Out-of-body experiences

vi) Demonic possession

vii) Precognition

viii) Psychokinesis

ix) The hard problem of consciousness

Although it's necessary to sort and sift, there's some good literature on all these topics. Jason Engwer and I have posted beaucoup material on all this.  

7. Which brings me to the final point. People like Cowan who lack specific knowledge about the topic at hand fall back on general rules of thumb. It can be useful to point them to specific evidence for Christianity, such as the historicity of the Gospels. Useful writers on the subject include Paul Barnett, Richard Bauckham, Darrell Bock, Craig Blomberg, Craig Evans, and Craig Keener.

A response to Cowen's "Why I don’t believe in God"

Sanct asks:

Off-topic, I apologize, but any chance one of you Tbloggers could comment on this?

Cowen doesn't have formal training in philosophy to my knowledge, but is a widely celebrated public intellectual.

First off, I'd like to say I appreciate Prof. Cowen's sincere and inquiring spirit in his post. It's in this sincere and inquiring spirit that I'd like to respond as well. Also, he would probably eschew the label, but it sounds like he's more an agnostic than anything else.

FWIW, if anything, here's my response:

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The man Jesus Christ

Unitarians make much of the fact that Jesus is sometimes called a "man" in Scripture. Scripture uses both generic masculine and gender specific descriptors for Jesus. For instance:

Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man (aner/andros) attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know (Acts 2:22). 

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man (anthropos) Christ Jesus (1 Tim 2:5).

i) Unitarians act as though this proves that Jesus is merely human. Needless to say, the humanity of Christ is entirely consistent with the Incarnation. Indeed, an essential component of the Incarnation. Not only was he human, but male. That in no way contradicts the deity of Christ. 

ii) However, I'd like to make an additional observation. The NT sometimes uses the same (or equivalent) terminology for nonhuman or superhuman figures. In particular, it uses that terminology for angels. For instance: 

4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men (aner/andros) stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5 And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee (Lk 24:4-6).

9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men (aner/andros) stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:9-11).

4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man (neonias) sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6 And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him (Mk 16:4-6).

That's because angels sometimes assume a humanoid appearance. The same linguistic phenomenon occurs in Septuagintal usage. For instance: 

Now God appeared to him near the oak of Mambre,while he was sitting at the door of his tent at midday. And looking up with his eyes he saw, and see, three men (aner/andros) stood over him, And when he saw them, he ran forward from his tent door to meet them and did obeisance upon the ground (Gen 18:1-2, LXX, NETS).

And it happened, when Iesous was at Iericho, that he looked up with his eyes and saw a person (anthropos) standing before him, and his sword was drawn in his hand. And Iesous approached and said to him, "Are you one of us or on the side of our adversaries? Then he said to him, "As commander-in-chief of the force of the Lord I have now come." And Iesous fell facedown onto the earth,and he said to him, "Master, what do you order your domestic?" And the commander-in-chief of the Lord said to Iesous, "Loosen the sandal from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy" (Josh 5:13-15, LXX, NETS).

In these cases, the terminology is applied to angels as well as to the theophanic "angel" (Yahweh).

As such, use of Greek words like aner/andros, anthropos, and neonias doesn't indicate the nature of the referent. It can be uses for numinous beings, including God–so long as they have a humanoid appearance. 

Who speaks for Islam?

Ed And Lorraine Warren's Involvement In The Enfield Case

A movie came out last year that's loosely related to the Enfield Poltergeist, titled The Conjuring 2. The movie, which I haven't seen, apparently portrays Ed and Lorraine Warren as central to the investigation of the case. As a result of the movie and for other reasons, there's been a lot of discussion lately about the Warrens and their involvement in Enfield. A commenter in another thread asked me, about three weeks ago, what I thought of the Warrens. I said, "From what little I've heard about and from the Warrens, their work seems highly problematic. [Guy] Playfair discusses his view of Ed Warren in the MonsterTalk interview I linked earlier (start listening at 26:30). The Warrens' involvement in the Enfield case was negligible." I have no reason to significantly change my view of the Warrens in general, but I have changed my mind about their involvement in the Enfield case.

Since I posted my comments on the Warrens quoted above, I've read an article on the Warrens' involvement in Enfield by Tom Ruffles of the Society for Psychical Research. I've also read Gerald Brittle's coverage of the Enfield case in his book on the Warrens, The Demonologist (Los Angeles and New York: Graymalkin Media, 2013). I've read some comments by the Warrens' son-in-law, Tony Spera, about the Warrens' involvement in the Enfield case. And I've listened to the Warrens' audio recordings of their time in the Hodgson house that have been posted at the web site for The Conjuring 2. (Click on Menu on the left side of the screen, then The Warren Files, then Explore The Case Files.)

I don't understand why these tapes have received so little attention. Brittle refers to them in his book and cites some portions of them, but doesn't discuss the majority of the most important content. (The book doesn't give much coverage to the Enfield case.) I don't recall any other book or any article I've read discussing the tapes in any significant depth. I saw one commenter in one thread, at a web site I don't remember, link to the tapes at the movie's web site, which is how I found out that they were available for the general public to listen to. Spera, the Warrens' son-in-law, refers to the tapes being played publicly prior to the release of The Conjuring 2, but I don't know how extensively the tapes were made available to the general public at that point. The tapes ought to be discussed more than they have been.

I have a lot of problems with the Warrens and their handling of the Enfield case in particular. But Ed Warren and his colleagues deserve some credit for traveling to England, getting entrance to the Hodgson home, and arranging these recordings. I didn't notice anything on the tapes that fundamentally changes my view of the Enfield case or adds to the evidence in any major way, but there are a lot of bits and pieces of valuable information on a large variety of topics. I want to use the rest of this post to give some examples.

Calling all Calvinists

The annual Calvinist of the year award is upon us:

Since, by definition, Arminians are baby-faced sissies in rompers, they need not apply.

Whitesplaining white privilege!


On Facebook, I responded to an atheist:

If no one knows who wrote the gospels, then they are anonymous. We know they were not written by illiterate fisherman living decades earlier who spoke a different language and couldn't write in any language.

According to traditional authorship, only one of the four gospels was by a "fisherman" (John). Luke was not a fisherman. He was a gentile convert to Christianity/Judaism. Greek was his native language.

Matthew was not a fisherman, but a gov't official. 

Mark was not a fisherman, but a native of highly literate, cosmopolitan Jerusalem. And his family migrated from Greek-speaking Cyprus (Acts 4:36; Col 4:10).

Mark and Luke are written in very simple Greek. 

There's evidence for bilingualism in 1C Palestine.

Moreover, traditional authorship doesn't require John to directly pen his Gospel. He could dictate his Gospel to a scribe. Transcribing oral history. His scribe could be bilingual. 

"The priority of tradition"

I'm going to comment on an article by Steven Nemes:

Notice what follows from this: if the biblical texts only had human authors who are now long dead, inaccessible as such to those who do not consort with witches, it would follow that the interpretation of the biblical texts is also at best only ever probable and thus subject to the same kind of fundamentally nonreligious hermeneutical pragmatism. 

A glaring problem with this statement is that it's basically self-refuting. Look at all the dead authors that Nemes quotes in his article to support his thesis. A century from now, Nemes will be dead. So his skepticism about the written medium, or dead authors, sabotages his appeal to the writings of dead writers–whose company he himself will join in due time.  

The direction of the dialectic until this point naturally leads to the following question: given the intrinsic uncertainty and danger of reading the biblical texts, what “mechanism” has Christ established for the perpetuation of the true teachings of the Scriptures? What abiding bridge has He constructed for enabling readers to traverse the gap between the biblical text and the Scriptures? 

His answer will be "the Church". But one problem with that appeal is that when Jesus talks about building his ecclesia (Mt 16:18), that word, and traditional translations thereof (e.g. "church"), has acquired connotations that it didn't have at the time Matthew published his Gospel, much less when Jesus originally made his statement. Catholics, Orthodox, and other high-churchmen treat the "church" in NT usage as a cipher for models of ecclesiology that only evolved centuries later. Indeed, in the case of Roman Catholicism, the nature of "the Church" is still undergoing theological development. 

Similar considerations apply to the suggestion of some kind of inward activity of the Holy Spirit: so long as no objective means by which the Spirit leads the interpretation of the Church is specified, anybody with any proposed interpretation can claim the Holy Spirit as her guide. 

The presence of Christ, through the Holy Spirit, as Teacher of the Church, is therefore extended through the apostles to those who would succeed them, who in turn would exercise a particular authority in the presentation and interpretation of that doctrine which is imprinted on their hearts. 

Notice that Nemes is oblivious to the tensions in his own appeal. Indeed, "anybody with any proposed interpretation can claim the Holy Spirit as her guide." But that applies perforce to popes, medieval mystics, and ecumenical councils as well as laymen or modern-day "prophets". That applies perforce to religious movements and institutions as well as individuals. 

Or, as St. Ignatius of Antioch put it, the bishops are the mind of Christ throughout the world, just as Christ is to Christians the mind of the Father (Letter to the Ephesians 3:2).

i) Yet Ignatius is one of those dead writers. So how can Nemes be so confident that he's able to ascertain what Ignatius meant?

ii) What bishops are the mind of Christ? There were Arian bishops. Are they the mind of Christ? Roman Catholic bishops? Eastern Orthodox bishops? Oriental bishops? Anglican bishops? Lutheran bishops? Methodist bishops? John Spong? Cardinal Kasper? 

Rather, Scripture and Tradition are simply the one “deposit of the word of God” (Dei Verbum II, §10) which is approached by different means.

The Christian Tradition is a continuation and further embodiment of the “mind of Christ,” who interprets the Old Testament with a unique authority (Matt 7:28-9).

In all these ways and more, the New Testament is quite obviously an instantiation or embodiment of the antecedently existent Christian Tradition, a “mode of tradition and objectification of tradition.

Notice the equivocal and contradictory use of the term "tradition". If tradition is a "deposit", then it lies in the past. That's a static, one-time deliverance. 

Conversely, if tradition is a "continuation and further embodiment" of the "mind of Christ," then that's a fluid, dynamic, evolving theology.

And if the NT is "an instantiation or embodiment of the antecedently existent Christian Tradition," then tradition is the oral history or living memory of Christ's public ministry. What eyewitnesses saw and recall.

Nemes jumbles together these disparate definitions of tradition, in his incoherent mishmash. 

To suppose that the texts of the New Testament themselves serve this purpose is an obvious nonstarter, since they are as much subject to interpretation as the Old Testament texts.

i) Yet there was no divinely-appointed "mechanism" to adjudicate theological disputes in Judaism. So why is that indispensable in the church age? 

ii) Moreover, OT texts must be sufficiently clear to attest the messiahship of Jesus to establish "the Church" in the first place. So you can't invoke the interpretive authority of "the Church" at that stage of the argument on pain of vicious circularity. 

Thus He can say that the acceptance or rejection of His apostles is altogether equal to the acceptance or rejection of Christ and of God the Father Himself (Matt 10:40; Luke 10:16; John 13:20). A person consequently cannot become a disciple of Christ except by becoming a disciple of the apostles and welcoming them into her life, a lesson which the first generation of Christians appreciated well: upon conversion and baptism, they devoted themselves to the teaching and fellowship of the apostles (Acts 2:42), being taught by them and spending time with them. 

But in context, those passages refer to living apostles. Apostolic missionaries. Face-to-face communication. After they die, all we have left is whatever they wrote for posterity. 

This point was well made by St. Vincent of Lérins, who appealed to Tradition as a proper authority for controlling the interpretation of various passages:

But here some one perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church’s interpretation? For this reason—because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation (Commonitorium §5).

i) Another appeal to another dead writer. Notice his arbitrarily selective skepticism about dead writers. We're supposed to be skeptical about how to interpret Bible writers, but we can confidently interpret church fathers, medieval theologians, Catholic mystics, &c. 

ii) What criterion does Nemes propose to determine that Origen, Isaac the Syrian, and Catherine of Siena channel the mind of Christ while Donatus and Novatian are illegitimate representatives? 

ii) So what does Nemes mean by "the Church"? Christians en masse? The laity? Popes? Bishops? Greek Fathers? Latin Fathers? "Saints"? Nemes is highly eclectic about the religious authorities he invokes. About the only thing he excludes from from his list of ecclesiastical witnesses are Protestants, except for ecumenical Protestants like Torrance. 

iii) On his blog, Nemes tells us that:

My favorite theologians, by whom I have been the most influenced, are Joseph Ratzinger, Isaac the Syrian, Catherine of Siena, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, John of Damascus, Dumitru Stăniloae, Thomas Aquinas, T.F. Torrance, and Athanasius. Notice, no Augustine or John Calvin.

So what makes the figures in the first sentence the authentic voice of the church, but Calvin and Augustine don't speak for the "the Church"? What makes Aquinas or Origen spokesmen for the church, but Cranmer, Roger Nicole, Don Carson, F. F. Bruce, Tom Schreiner, and Darrell Bock don't make the cut? 

I don't see any consistent principle or selection criteria. Rather, it just seems to be the case that some writers resonate with Nemes while others don't. 

Consciousness as a temporal filter

Betting on Dead Papal Politics

Which pope’s agenda will win? 
One of the things about having to maintain an “unbroken succession” of popes is that you know that there is always going to be a “next guy” to come around. And you can entertain the hope that the “next guy” won’t be as bad as “this guy” has been. (I’m recalling an early “Pope Francis”-era interview with Cardinal Timothy Dolan talking about “this guy” – the new “Pope Francis”).

In his article “Burying Benedict”, First Things “Literary Editor” Matthew Schmitz seems to have that very hope – that the “next guy” or some subsequent “guy” will be a better pope than “Pope Francis”. A “guy” with a better “interpretation”. He makes the bold claim that indeed, it won’t be the “Francis” agenda “Burying Benedict”, but “Benedict” will in effect be “burying the Francis agenda”.

Which will ultimately survive?

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Roman Catholicism today

Reaching Muslims in the Middle East through Media

Is Calvinism synonymous with fatalism?

I've posted most of the definitions at one time or another, but it's useful to collate them in one place. 

Is Calvinism fatalistic? Is determinism synonymous with fatalism?

Critics of Calvinism use "fatalism" as an inaccurate term of abuse, because it has invidious connotations that a neutral term does not. Here are some standard definitions and explanations of fatalism. Calvinism is not fatalistic:

Fatalism, in its most usual sense, should not be confused with predestination. Fatalism asserts an abstract necessity without regard to causal antecedents and thus is diametrically opposed to predestination, in which causes and effects, ends and means, are determined in relation to one another. The use of means is rendered futile by fatalism, but not by predestination. The Encyclopedia of Christianity, 4:180.
Another misconception of the determinist position is that, according to determinism, "our choices don't make any difference." This suggests an image of a determinist as one who drives widely on dangerous mountain roads, because "whatever will be will be". Now it may be that there are a few determinists who think and behave like this, but this approach to life is certainly not implied by determinism. A determinist, to be sure, believes in a sense that whatever happens is inevitable. But it does not follow from this, that whatever happens is inevitable, regardless of what I do. For this to be true my own choices and actions would have to be entirely disconnected from the rest of what goes on, so that they make no difference to anything else that happens. But this, far from being implied by determinism, is actually inconsistent with it. So a determinist, if he understands his own position, will be as concerned as anyone to avoid known dangers and to work hard for desired outcomes… W. Hasker, Metaphysics (IVP 1983), 37-38. 
According to this view, then, determinism is the thesis that everything that occurs, including our deliberations and decisions, are causally necessitated by antecedent conditions. Fatalism, by contrast, is the doctrine that our deliberations and decisions are causally ineffective and make no difference to the course of events. In circumstances of fatalism what happens does not depend on how the agent deliberates. The relevant outcome will occur no matter what the agent decides.

Clearly, however, determinism does not imply fatalism. While there are some circumstances in which deliberation is futile (i.e. 'local fatalism'), deliberation is nevertheless generally effective in a deterministic world. Paul Russell, "Compatibilist Fatalism: Finitude, Pessimism and the Limits of Free Will," Ton van den Beld, ed., Moral Responsibility and Ontology (Kluwer: Dordrecht, 2000), 199-218.

This is one of the most common confusions in free will debates. Fatalism is the view that whatever is going to happen, is going to happen, no matter what we do. Determinism alone does not imply such a consequence. What we decide and what we do would make a difference in how things turn out–often an enormous difference–even if determinism should be true. Robert Kane, A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will (Oxford 2005), 19.

An event is naturalistically fated just in case it occurs in every physically possible world. If there are such fated events, then in one clear sense somethings are going to happen no matter what–vary the initial conditions as much as you like (within the bounds of physical possibility) and the fated event will nonetheless eventuate. Naturalistic fatalism in this sense neither entails nor is entailed by determinism. John Earman, A Primer on Determinism (D. Reidel, 1986), 18.

Others hold to fatalism, the ancient (but still popular) idea that future events happen regardless of what we do. Fiction is full of eerie, fatalistic tales, usually about people who try hard to prevent a dire prophecy about them from coming true–but end up right where the prophecy says they will. Oedipus was fated to kill his father and marry his mother–which he did, even though he went to great lengths to try to prevent such a tragedy.

Are you fated to read this entire book? If so, then you will read it no matter what you do to avoid reading it, such as throwing the book in the trash. It is the view that all future events will happen no matter what anyone does. The future is fixed and will be a certain way regardless of our deliberations and actions. In modern times, fatalism seems to be an enormously popular idea. Soldiers have been known to say something like “If there’s a bullet with my name on it, I’ll get it. If there’s no bullet with my name on it, I won’t get it. Either way, I can’t change it, so worrying is a waste of time.” Some people express fatalistic sentiments with the old cliché, “Que sera, sera–whatever will be will be.”

Fatalism, however, is not the same thing as causal determinism. Causal determinism says that future events happen as a result of preceding events. That preceding events include things that we do, so many future events happen because of what we do. Fatalism says tht future events happen regardless of what we do. Causal determinists reject fatalism because they believe that people’s actions play a role in events that are determined. Lewis Vaughn & Austin Dacey, The Case for Humanism: An Introduction (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003), 68, 78-79. [Foreword by Evan Fales.]

It is sometimes supposed that the doctrine of Determinism–in the form of a belief in the causal interconnectedness of all events, from past to present and thence to the future–also has fatalistic implications. But this has got to be wrong. A determinist can well believe that just as our present actions are the effects of past events, so our present actions have their own effects and so can play a role in determining future events. That is to say, a causal determinist can consistently say that our wills are causally efficacious, at least some of the time. Since fatalism denies that our choices can have any effect on what the future is to be, a fatalist cannot consistently say this. Hence determinism does not imply fatalism.

Oedipus was fated to kill his father and marry his mother. What do we mean when we say that? Certainly it must have been true that Oedipus would kill his father and marry his mother. But at least on one understanding, the claim seems to involve more than that: it involves the thought that nothing that Oedipus could have done would have stopped him from killing his father and marrying his mother. Somehow, no matter what he chose to do, no matter what actions he performed, circumstances would conspire to guarantee those outcomes. Fatalism, understood this way, thus amounts to powerlessness to avoid a given outcome.

We can put the point in terms of a counterfactual: There are some outcomes such that whatever action Oedipus were to perform, they would come about.

This is a very specific fatalism: two specific outcomes are fated. There is no implication that Oedipus could not effectively choose to do other things: he was free to choose where he went, what he said, what immediate bodily actions he performed.

Fatalism is the thesis that all events (or in some versions, at least some events) are destined to occur no matter what we do. The source of the guarantee that those events will happen is located in the will of the gods, or their divine foreknowledge, or some intrinsic teleological aspect of the universe, rather than in the unfolding of events under the sway of natural laws or cause-effect relations. Fatalism is therefore clearly separable from determinism…

But to this day Yahweh hasn't given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.

I recently debated a Molinist on Facebook. Here's part of the exchange:

Toward the end of the book of Deuteronomy, God is speaking through Moses to every individual of Israel, and he says that the commandment is *not* too difficult for them to observe. They have a choice between alternatives, or else these passages are in error. It is impossible for God to lie, so those who want to affirm causal determinism would have to deny inerrancy to maintain their theology in light of these passages. Deut 29:4,10-15; 30:11-20.

i) You need to get beyond buzzwords like "causally determine" and define your nomenclature. How do you define causation? Do you employ a philosophical definition. How do you define determinism? 

ii) Your appeal to Deuteronomy is counterproductive to your thesis. In Deut 29:4, the text explicitly denies that the Israelites have the psychological aptitude to obey God. They are hard-hearted, spiritually deaf and blind. That's because, according to the text, God hasn't opened their hearts and eyes and ears. Their motivation to keep God's law depends on a spiritual condition that God hasn't granted them.

iii) Deut 30:11-14 refers, not to the ability to keep God's law, but the accessibility and intelligibility of God's law.

In order for God's words to each individual Israelite in Deuteronomy 30:11-20 to be true, then God must provide grace for them to be able to do it. Otherwise, either God is lying or inerrancy is false with regard to this text.

You're beginning with a preconceived notion, then using that as the yardstick. However, as I explained, the text doesn't say that God granted the Israelites enabling grace to keep his law. Indeed, the text says exactly the opposite! "But to this day Yahweh has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear."

So your chosen prooftext doesn't illustrate your claim. To the contrary, it states the very thing you deny. 

You impugn God's word because it doesn't jive with your preconceived notion of what God ought to do. 

Certainly the text refers to the accessibility and intelligibility of God's law. But, I find it utterly implausible in the context for this passage not to also refer to the choice to keep God's law. There is no other way the Israelites could have understood God's words in this passage other than that they each actually can choose to obey the commandment. The very reason why God argues so forcefully through Moses that they can understand the commandment is to add to fact that each Israelite can also choose to obey it. No one in the audience can be excused for disobeying by claiming that they didn't understand.

You're not deriving your conclusion from the text. You haven't shown where the text itself says that or implies that. 

Rather, your conclusion is based on your assumption, extrinsic to the text, that it must include ability to comply. You merely stipulate that the Israelites must view matters the same way you do. That's not exegesis. 

Deuteronomy lays out consequences for obedience and disobedience. If you do A, then B will happen–but if you do C, then D will happen.

People can understand that without having the slightest inclination to act accordingly. 

Actually, you are reading too much into Deut. 29:4. This verse does not mean that in that moment God is not giving the Israelites a heart to understand. Instead, the portion translated as "to this day" in Deut. 29:4 means the same as "until this day".

Minimally, that involves a contrast between past and present. By "present," I mean at the time Moses is addressing Israel. That's at the end of the 40-year sojourn in the wilderness. Israel is about to embark on the conquest of the promised land.

So that stands in contrast to the last 40 years or so. Indeed, it could include the chilly reception which the Israelites gave to Moses when he returned to Egypt to deliver them.

So, according to that temporal marker, God hadn't granted them a heart and eyes and ears to comply for the last 40 years, in the wilderness. 

And, of course, God didn't originally give them the law on the eve of their entrance into the promised land. Rather, God gave them the law on their entrance to the Sinai desert, 40 years before. So, for the past 40 years, they've been lacking the divine enablement necessary to keep his law.

Yet according to you, that would either make God a liar or falsify Deuteronomy. So even if we concede, for the sake of argument, that moving forward, God will now grant them the grace they need to keep his law, that stands in contrast to God withholding such grace for the prior 40 years or so. Therefore, even if we accept your chronological distinction, for discussion purposes, it doesn't salvage your case. Rather, it simply relocates the problem, as you define the problem. 

Furthermore, the Deut 29:4 doesn't promise that God will open their hearts and eyes and ears in the future. It doesn't speak to that issue one way or the other. 

But, of course, the OT doesn't end with Deuteronomy. Is Israel more faithful in Joshua, Judges, Kings, Chronicles, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, &c.? 

Isn't Israel at least a faithless in the promised land as was the case in the wilderness? But if, according to you, Deut 29-30 marks a turning point, why is there no appreciable difference? Why is Israel just as bad or worse during the Conquest and occupation? 

Obviously, God is 'today' giving the Israelites hearts to understand as he says in Deut. 30:11-14.

That can't be obvious when Deut 3:11-14 doesn't actually say that.

Not at all. It seems obvious from the text that God means the Israelites can in fact comply and do what is commanded. Otherwise, how do you interpret the following verse?

That's fleshed out in the intervening verses. The law is not a secret law code. The law is not inscrutable. Rather, the law is available and comprehensible.

So they have the intellectual ability to keep the law, but that doesn't mean they have a heart to keep it. 

They are explicitly told to choose life…

They are told where their duty lies. They are told the divergent consequences of obedience and disobedience. 

But, you claim that God intends to [for?] them to understand that that they cannot possibly choose life.

No, I never claimed that God intends to communicate or intends for them to understand that they can't possibly choose life. Rather, I've said your prooftexts don't imply what you claim for them. And, indeed, Deut 29:4 says that right up until the present day, God withheld the enablement to do so. 

Incidentally, it's not an all-or-nothing proposition. It's not as if God must deal with Israel as an undifferentiated collective. God can open the hears and eyes and ears of some Israelites. It's not as though the only options are for God to either open no one's heart or open everyone's heart.

Why jihadis target concert-goers

Like angels

23 The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, 24 saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. 26 So too the second and third, down to the seventh. 27 After them all, the woman died. 28 In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.”29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching (Mt 22:23-33).

i) I've discussed this before, but I have some additional things to say. V30, and its counterpart in Mark and Luke, became the basis for the traditional view that the world to come is sexless. That interpretation may be correct, but a huge theological edifice has been erected over a tiny foundation. It's generally considered dubious to put much doctrinal weight on a single verse of Scripture. Multiple-attestation gives us greater context. 

ii) Apropos (i), the flow of argument in this exchange is rather enigmatic. That may be in part because the Synoptics don't give us a full transcript of what was said, but only the gift. So some connections are missing. We must fill in the gaps.

In addition, real conversations and real debates are often choppy as they can abruptly veer off in different directions. The account may preserve that.

iii) However you construe it, the passage raises questions about life in the world to come. To a great extent, that's speculative. Within certain boundaries, there's nothing wrong with theological speculation. It's natural for Christians to be curious. And Christian metaphysics opens up many possibilities that naturalism lacks. So long as we stay within the parameters of what Scripture allows and disallows, and keep in mind that this is conjecture.

iv) Apparently, the Sadducees thought this life is all there is. They were physicalists. They denied the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body. As such, they deny both the intermediate state and the final state. Therefore, Jesus may touch on both in his response.

They may have felt the closest thing to immortality is to "live on" through your children. 

v) In context, the immediate topic of consideration isn't marriage in general but Levirate marriage in particular. So it's possible that "marriage" in this passage is shorthand for Levirate marriage throughout the exchange. 

That would make sense. Procreation was sole rationale for Levirate marriage. If, in the world to come, there will be no death, then Levirate marriage is moot. 

vi) One problem with the traditional interpretation is lack of consistency. On the traditional interpretation, the most logical explanation is not that saints will be like angels because they won't marry or die; rather, saints won't marry or die because they will be like angels. That's a more direct explanation. If the saints are discarnate souls, then that's why they won't died or get married. They won't because they can't. The soul can't die. And conjugal relations require bodies. 

That grounds the new order in nature. Their future existence is fundamentally different because their nature will be fundamentally different. 

By contrast, the traditional interpretation says humans will be essentially the same. They will have bodies very similar to their original bodies, only their glorified bodies will be immortal. 

vii) But there are problems with that straightforward explanation. It sabotages what Jesus says about the "resurrection". If saints are like heavenly angels in the incorporeal sense, then there is no resurrection of the body. Yet it's highly unlikely that that's what Jesus means, even though it would simplify the inference. 

viii) In principle, the logic could operate in reverse. There is no intermediate state. When the patriarchs died, they passed into oblivion. They will live again when the resurrection of the just takes place. 

But in context it would be very jarring for Jesus to indicate that death terminated the existence of the patriarchs. He seems to imply continuity of existence. Not future existence, but present existence, at the very time Jesus is responding to the Sadducees. 

ix) On the traditional interpretation, the saints will still have gendered bodies. Christian men and women will be resurrected as men and women. As what they were, with some improvements! But their relationships will be Platonic. 

Yet you have to ask how realistic the traditional interpretation is. If they have bodies with sex organs and sex hormones, then the sex drive will be intact. 

x) An advantage of making allowance for marriage in the world to come is that it would compensate for childless couples in this life, or eunuchs (Isa 53:6; Acts 8) who never had a chance. And analogous situations.

xi) A potential objection to the alternative interpretation I'm floating is that procreation in the world to come would eventually result in overpopulation. However, infertile couples can be sexually active. That's a natural contraceptive. Procreation might be confined to saints who never hand the opportunity in this life. So it might plateau. 

xii) Another potential objection to the alternative interpretation is that it leaves the Sadducean dilemma in place. There are, however, answers consistent with the alternative interpretation. Maybe death, or remarriage, or both, or either one, dissolves a preexisting marriage. On any one of these explanations, the deceased wife of seven husbands is either single or married to her last husband.

Killing Pope Francis

“Killing Pope Francis” (or at least, killing his agenda) is the unstated theme in a similarly named article in First Things, the self-annointed America’s Most Influential Journal of Religion and Public Life, “Burying Benedict”. Of course, in today’s terror-soaked world, no one in his right mind would suggest killing a pope in public. Or would they? But now, Matthew Schmitz, “literary editor of First Things”, is certainly implying that “Pope Francis” wants to kill off “Pope Benedict”. Or at least to kill off his agenda:

Though Benedict is still living, Francis is trying to bury him. Upon his election in 2013, Francis began to pursue an agenda that Joseph Ratzinger had opposed throughout his career. A stress on the pastoral over against the doctrinal, a promotion of diverse disciplinary and doctrinal approaches in local churches, the opening of communion to the divorced and remarried—all these proposals were weighed and rejected by Ratzinger more than ten years ago in a heated debate with Walter Kasper. For better or worse, Francis now seeks to reverse Ratzinger.

Or kill him and bury him.

This article reminded me of something that Jason Engwer first posted some years ago. It was bad news being a pope in the 900’s. Eamon Duffy, writing in his History of the Popes, “Saints and Sinners”, describes one of the most sordid periods in papal history:

Deprived of the support of empire (of Charlemagne), the papacy became the possession of the great Roman families, a ticket to local dominance for which men were prepared to rape, murder and steal. A third of the popes elected between 872 and 1012 died in suspicious circumstances – John VII (872–82) bludgeoned to death by his own entourage, Stephen VI (896–7) strangled, Leo V (903) murdered by his successor Sergius III (904–11), John X (914–28) suffocated, Stephen VIII horribly mutilated, a fate shared by the Greek antipope John XVI (997–8) who, unfortunately for him, did not die from the removal of his eyes, nose, lips, tongue, and hands (Saints and Sinners, Second Edition, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, © 1997, 2001, and likely others, pg 104).

At least the succession remained unbroken. The world needs a “Successor of Peter” to be a visible sign of unity in the church.

And Schmitz is now noticing that same theme – yes, popes are in the habit of killing off other popes – and Schmitz himself seems to want to kill off Bergoglio the Kasper fan (and by extension, the evil thug Hans Küng, of whom Kasper is a student). He does not say that outright, but the intention is there.

By the way, this opposition between Bergoglio and Ratzinger is something that I detailed in the blog article I entitled Bergoglio’s Gig, Part 3: Opposing Ratzinger. Yours truly was saying just four days after Bergoglio was named pope that he was “Opposing Ratzinger” and supporting Kasper. It has taken Schmitz some four years to get up to speed.

I, at least, did not posit that one pope would be killing another one.

Regarding Duffy, I have an older version, and so if you have or purchase a newer version, the pagination may be different. Duffy has continued to update the work as new popes come and go. Perhaps if Schmitz gets his way, Duffy will have to update yet again.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Wheat and tares

A recent exchange I had with an unbeliever on Facebook:

Its impossible to explain away unnecessary suffering like child cancer without appealing to unsatisfying answers like 'its a mystery' or 'child cancer is part of God's plan'. We can all imagine a world in which unnecessary suffering like child cancer does not exist yet freewill does. Thus such suffering is gratuitous and unnecessary.

I don't subscribe to the freewill defense. That said, your objection is superficial. Sure, we can all imagine a world without children dying of cancer. The problem is that people who imagine a better world mentally eliminate the evils while leaving everything else in place, including the goods. But removing some evils removes second-order goods that are contingent on the existence of the underlying evils. So that's the dilemma. 

To take your own example, childhood cancer is an opportunity to develop certain virtues which would never exist in an idyllic world. 

Likewise, if a couple had a child who dies of cancer, they may have a replacement child to compensate. And the replacement child may have kids of his own, and grandkids.

That compensatory good would not exist if the older child hadn't died. So it's a tradeoff between one life and another, or one set of lives and another. Moreover, the cancer created the opportunity for two children to exist instead of one.

How is it NECESSARY that we need unnecessary suffering to have goodness?

That's a loaded question since you smuggled your own assumption into the formulation of the question. Sure, it's tautology to say unnecessary suffering is unnecessary, but that simply begs the question regarding the existence of gratuitous suffering.

but i'm saying CUT OUT THE MIDDLE MAN. Have the good without the tragedy.

But it wouldn't be the same good. Evil is gratuitous if God could prevent it without losing some distinctive good or permitting some equally grave or greater evil. 

Once again, the cancer analogy. You are saying we shouldn't eliminate cancer or polio because of all the secondary good it has. Why can't that good happen without the cancer or polio?

i) The argument from evil is not about what humans should do but about what God (allegedly) should do. God and humans don't have the same responsibilities. God has foreknowledge and counterfactual knowledge. We don't. Therefore–unlike God–we're in no position to consider long-term outcomes. 

Likewise, as social creatures, we have emotional investments that God does not. 

There's some overlap between divine goodness and human goodness, but they don't overlap. 

ii) Would a world in which children never die be a better world? Better in some respects. But better for whom?

If humans were immortal from the outset, then humans would have to stop reproducing after a few generations. That means most humans who exist in a world with infant morality wouldn't exist. Is it better for them never to have the opportunity to enjoy the gift of life?

It may be better for the children who don't die, but it's hardly better for the children whose existence is edged out under that alternate scenario. 

Every child is unique. Those are incommensurable goods. 

iii) Moreover, a world in which no one died from illness or senescence would be a world chockfull of selfish people who'd never risk their life or health to save someone else from, say, a house fire. There'd be too much to lose. 

iv) A future without childhood cancer might be better, but a past without childhood cancer wouldn't be better for the people you care about, since they wouldn't exist. Better relative to whom? It is better for your loved ones if the past is the same up to their birth and maturity, then diverges after they have their prime of life. 

v) Unfortunately, there's a human tendency to take friends and family for granted. We act as though they will always be available. There are so many lost opportunities.

When, however, a friend or family member gets cancer, we make up for lost time. That intensifies the remaining time we have with them. 

vi) Regarding polio, many healthy people squander the gift of life. To be disabled can prompt people to make the most of fewer opportunities. 

vii) Suppose one teenage boy has polio while another teenage boy from the same general vicinity is a football star. He comes from a dirty poor family. He's counting on a football scholarship to pay his way through college and make a better life for himself.

Now let's change a variable. Suppose the other boy doesn't have polio, and he's a better athlete. The boy from the poor family who was banking on a football scholarship loses that opportunity. 

In each of these scenarios, there are tradeoffs. Each scenario has second-order goods. By eliminating the evil, you eliminate a distinctive good. Evil can be both beneficial and harmful. 

vii) In general, it's good for humans to work to eradicate polio. But there are situations where we wouldn't eliminate a short-term evil if we knew the end-result. Normal people will avoid actions that harm their loves ones. Yet what is good for my beloved may be bad for your beloved, or vice versa.

I have greater responsibilities for my family than I have for your family. By contrast, God doesn't have greater responsibilities for any particular family.

How God balances out good and evil is different from how a conscientious human might.

You've got a hidden assumption in there. Its like the old cliche of you can't have joy without suffering. Well yes, yes you can.

Since I didn't use that in my argument, you're objection misses the target.

but must appeal to a mystery (God knows all counterfactuals but we don't so it must be hiding in that knowledge!) and have no reason to believe it besides the fact that rejecting it is really damaging to your view on God.

Responsible humans would sometimes make difference choices if they knew the long-terms consequences of their actions. There's nothing mysterious about that principle. Naturally, God has a different perspective. The proverbial God's-eye view.

Well I can easily imagine a world identical to ours WITHOUT child cancer.

Actually, you can't. A world without childhood cancer would not be identical to ours. A world without childhood cancer with have different genealogies. 

It's like the parable of the wheat and the tares (Mt 13:24-30,36-43). Human lives are mutually entangled. It isn't possible to uproot the tares without uprooting some of the wheat. Pull out the evil and you pull out some of the good that's intertwined with the evil.