Saturday, October 28, 2017


1. On the one hand, freewill theists are hostile to predestination. On the other hand, many people are intrigued by coincidences, especially when these don't seem to be random, but genuinely connected at some deeper level. Carl Jung and Wolfgang Pauli collaborated on synchronicity: a "theory" of meaningful coincidences. For them, coincidental incidents occurred too often, and in ways too striking, to be sheerly coincidental. They dubbed these events to be "meaningful coincidences." 

A world in which meaningful coincidences occur is a world in which events are coordinated behind the scenes. And every so often, that generally hidden coordination surfaces if an observer happens to be at the right place and the right time. The metaphysical chassis to underpin this kind of world would be predestination. But because the outlook of Jung and Pauli was essentially secular, they had to resort to an acausal principle. Coordinating events at this level requires a single overarching mind to plan and execute what happens. God is the obvious explanation. But their secular outlook had no room for that explanation, so they had to fall back on their "theory" of a cosmic acausal principle. I put "theory" in scare quotes because it's just a disguised description masquerading as an explanation. 

2. Chris Carter's Harsh Realm came out the same year as The Matrix. Both deal with minds trapped inside a digital universe. For this reason, Carter was asked if Harsh Realm was influenced by The Matrix. But he says:

I didn’t know about “The Matrix” until our show was shot, so — I saw it and there were elements that I think you’re going to find in any kind of parallel world idea. So I think there were some similarities. I was impressed by a lot of what they did in that movie. I was super impressed by the special effects in that movie. I think that “Harsh Realm,” even though it is a virtual reality idea, I think it is much different than “The Matrix.” And I think that what we’ve done, too, is we’ve set the stage for many episodes of this show, where a show like “The Matrix” I think might have to change its concept a little bit in order to do the same thing.

He goes on to say:

Yes, you’ll see different worlds within the world but they will all be based around the world that you saw, which is a world where there is no government besides the government that Santiago is creating, and there is no morality or no God. These people don’t know of the real world. They may be hearing about it but they were created — they are concepts in this world who see themselves disappear. When someone dies, they evaporate, so there is no reverence for the dead, if you will.

There are tricks and devices. One of the things that interests me is a kind of Greek approach to this storytelling that you’ve got the Gods above in the real world, if you will, manipulating the characters down below and so I think you can plant visions in Hobbes’ head through computer programming, phantoms. You could, perhaps, bring Sophie back to that world as a phantom. Flashbacks, dreams, all these things present opportunities and devices to tell stories with them together. But I think the distance is what creates part of the power of the series.

Unlike The Matrix, Harsh Realm exhibits synchronicity. There are meaningful coincidences between events in the real world and corresponding events in the parallel world of the digital universe. And not just because the virtual world of Harsh Realm is a copy of the real world. The digital universe takes on a life of its own. It has the same past, but the present forks off into a different future. An alternate world history.

Yet despite that, events in the digital sometimes mirror events in the real world. Likewise, some events in the digital universe mirror other events in digital universe. 

Take the "Reunion" episode. In the real world, Hodge's mother is dying of cancer. In the digital universe, Hodge goes looking for his mother.

That's natural. If you found yourself trapped in a virtual world, wouldn't finding your family be your first priority? That's what anchors you. Even if, in the digital universe, your family members are just virtual characters who were copied from the real world, that's still better than nothing.

So Hodge goes back to his boyhood home. He doesn't find his mother, but he does find a snowglobe. The snowglobe is a duplicate of a childhood toy he had in the real world. Then he's captured by the enemy. In the labor camp he discovers his mother. She's dying of cancer. 

In one sense, that's not unexpected. The virtual world was copied from the real world. If his mother had cancer in the real world, it's not surprising that she'd have cancer in the virtual world. On the other hand, the digital universe has an alternate history with an independent timeline. So it's unnatural for events to be synchronized. An unaccountable coincidence.

And at the end of the episode, it begins snowing in the digital universe. So the plot comes full circle. Events in the virtual world sometimes mirror events in the real world. In addition, the snowglobe is a metaphor for characters from the real world who find themselves imprisoned in the digital universe. 

So some events are coordinated in ways that indicate the hidden hand a providence. An invisible, external agent planning and guiding events. To that degree, the worldview of Harsh Realm is predestinarian. And Carter admits that he's using science fiction to provide a secular alternative to divine providence. Moreover, planting visions in the head of a character parallels divine revelation. 

As Carter also explains, the digital universe has two kinds of inhabitants. On the one hand, most inhabitants are merely virtual characters. They are copied from the real world, but they lack "consciousness" in the full sense. Like higher animals that have consciousness without self-consciousness. They are fillers for their counterparts in the real world. As a result, they are atheists. Ignorant of a larger reality beyond the digital universe. There is no afterlife. If you die in the digital universe, you're erased. 

On the other hand, some inhabitants have minds patched in from the real world. They remember the real world. They have consciousness in the full sense. They are "believers". They know there's more to existence than the digital world. 

In addition, the digital universe has virtual characters like Florence who can perform miracles in the digital world. They can't affect what happens in the real world, but they have some ability to change things in the virtual world. Quasi-angelic figures who intervene to heal the injured. Then there's Inga Fossa, who navigates between both worlds. 

On the face of it, Harsh Realm suffers from some plot holes. If a character in the real world dies, their counterpart in the virtual world is erased. But the relationship should be asymmetrical. If a character who has a counterpart in the real world dies in the digital universe, he should continue to exist in the real world. His mind would no longer be in contact with the virtual world. And he could be revived in the virtual world. If, however, he dies in the real world, his digital counterpart might continue to exist in the virtual world, but cease to be self-aware.  

Likewise, some of the coincidences seem to be artificial. The problem is that Carter wants all the benefits of a predestinarian worldview, with God orchestrating events behind the scenes, but without the theological resources that makes that coherent. He makes eclectic and opportunistic use of Christianity and Homeric mythology, so he's unable to carry out a consistent vision. 

Like Jung and Pauli, he years for transcendence, but secularization collapses the transcendent dimension into the immanent dimension. This does, though, bear witness to a stultified yearning that's dissatisfied with mundane existence, yet antipathetic to Christian theism. They're attracted to providence. It's ironic that while freewill theists are hostile to predestination, unbelievers like Jung, Pauli, and Carter are drawn to a predestinarian worldview, even though they stop short. 

“To be Deep in History is to Affirm Protestant Distinctives”

For the naysayers: “The earlier one goes back the more Protestant they seem”.

Here is the entire quote from Dominic Foo:

The Protestant Consensus of the Fathers, Doctors and Saints

To be honest when I set out on my patristic quote spam, I was merely gathering material for my photo album in preparation for Reformation Day. My goal was a lot more modest: I merely wanted to show that Protestant claims were not unprecedented, that what we teach has always existed even if not enjoying a sort of overwhelming majority or broad consensus.

I have to say that now that I have properly dug into it I am surprised, really surprised. Protestant propositions and claims are not merely isolated one off remarks by the Fathers here and there but enjoys a sort of continuity and universality amongst the Fathers. Even when the essence of Protestant claims started to become obscured by later accretions, which reasoning, based on the immediate context, can be clearly understood and motivations, for contemporary concerns, clearly traced, the Protestant claims remains intact.

Whatever is distinctive about high church denominations, like the role of unwritten customs or adoration of images or even invocation of saints, can be clearly seen to be of later developments which came about as a result of much ecclesiastical struggle. The earlier one goes back the more Protestant they seem. I was honestly surprised to read long extensive iconoclastic arguments from Athanasius, the rejection of excessive veneration of saints from Basil and Chrysostom, and a "me and my Bible" approach from them which even I am uncomfortable with.

Officially my Protestant approach to Church History remains the same. If we believe that the Scriptures are perspicuous and clear, other people before us must have read the Scriptures in the same way as we have. While we cannot be the first to have read it that way, I don't however need to harmonise all that they have said. Now however, I am really a lot more confident of making the claims of a "Protestant Consensus" of the Fathers while being able to identify, explain, and argue against the faulty reasoning and premises invoked by the later Fathers and Doctors in aid of erroneous contemporary high church claims.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Clement of Rome on faith & works

Was Jesus a failed prophet?

Mt 24:34 ("Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place") is a familiar crux. Did Jesus mispredict the future?

There are different explanations. And I've discussed this on numerous occasions. But here's another angle. The question at issue is the relationship between his fall of Jerusalem prediction  and his end-of-the world prediction. These are adjacent, but are they coreferetial? Are they synchronized?  

This verse is embedded in the Olivet Discourse. That's an extended block of text (Mt 24-25). But did Jesus deliver that entire address at one sitting, or is this a composite text? 

Matthew and Luke both have a tendency to group related material together. For instance, the Sermon on the Mount is often thought to a composite text, where Matthew combined things Jesus said at different times and places. 

In that's the case in regard to the Olivet Discourse, then we're dealing with two or more separate oracles of salvation and judgment. Each is prophetic, but may well have different referents. When combined, there are no editorial seams, so we're left with one continuous block of text–which fosters the superficial impression of one continuous chain of events. But the continuity is literary rather than chronological. Like other composite speeches in Matthew and Luke, there may be no explicit textual clues to distinguish the underlying sources, which were delivered at different times and places. It's just run-on. Yet the impression of continuity is an editorial artifact. There's the original setting for each speech, but in writing a biography, the narrator must rearrange some material to produce a linear flow. Writing is a different medium from speaking. Writing about history is different from how history is experienced. 

What it means to be “Roman” but “not catholic”

The center of gravity of the "one holy apostolic church" is not in Rome
As part of my ongoing series discussing the work “Roman but Not Catholic” by Jerry Walls and Ken Collins, I’d like to comment on the word “Catholic” and “catholic” with a small “c”. (I’ve discussed the word “Roman” here).

I’m on record as having said that I don’t like the word “catholic” (and its variations “catholicism”, etc.), especially not as it applies, for example, in the phrase “Reformed Catholicism” etc. There are too many different definitions of the word, and there is too much opportunity for confusion. Roman Catholicism, for sure, hangs onto that title “Catholic” – equivocating from when it was used in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed (“one holy, catholic, and apostolic church”) until its use after the Council of Trent. It is supposed to represent “early beliefs”, but the weight of evidence is showing that even those beliefs and practices had changed from the second to the fourth century, much less the 16th century.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Atheist propaganda flicks

Post hoc rationalizations

On  this video:

Josh Rasmussen says:

Here's a problem with theistic belief: the theist believes in God, but they don't believe in God on the basis of following the evidence or reason wherever they lead. Rather, there's some prior convictions…When the theist finds evidence for God, what they're doing is to find evidence to back up something that they already believe not on the basis of evidence. It's almost like the reason and evidence are post hoc rationalizations of prior convictions, and that's a problem. 

But isn't that objection a dramatic overstatement? On the face of it, his objection ignores some pretty major counterexamples. For instance:

There are philosophers who have devoted a great deal of time and care to arguments for conclusions that almost everyone was going to accept in any case. Arguments for the existence of an external world, for other minds, for the mathematical or physical possibility of one runner overtaking another…It is not even, necessarily, to provide a rational basis for things that people had hitherto believed without any rational basis. My wife is one of those people who don't quite see the point, evident as  it is to us philosophers, of discussions of Zeno's paradoxes, and who has, in consequence, never read Salmon or Grünbaum or any other author on this topic. But I very much doubt whether her belief that it is possible for one runner to overtake another–I'm sure she does believe this, although in fact I've never asked her–is a mere prejudice lacking any rational foundation. Peter van Inwagen, The Problem of Evil (Oxford 2006), 40-41.

It's routine for philosophers to formulate arguments to back up something that they already believe apart from their arguments. Are these just post hoc rationalizations for prior convictions? And is that, in fact, a problem?

Obviously there's some merit to his objection. There are many situations in which people cast about for any convenient argument to validate a belief which they didn't form from an evenhanded assessment of the evidence. But his objection is an overgeneralization. Whether or not finding evidence to back up something we already believe is problematic varies from case to case. In some situations, that's entirely justified. It would be irrational in those instances to suspend belief unless and until we discover additional corroboration or construct a sophisticated supporting argument.

Now, someone might object that the examples cited by van Inwagen are evident in ways that God's existence is not, so the comparison is disanalogous. But that's treacherous. For instance, it's not as if the reality of the external world is more evident than if we were trapped in the Matrix. The whole point of that thought-experiment is that the illusion is phenomenologically interchangeable with reality.

One could object to it on philosophical grounds, like the criterion of simplicity. And I think there's something to be said for that. But in that event, a philosopher would be casting about for evidence or "post hoc" arguments to validate his prior conviction regarding the reality of an external world.

Conversely, suppose, as a teenager, a Christian has an unmistakable answer to prayer. He becomes a philosophy major in college, and seeks to develop additional arguments to back up his prior Christian convictions. Is that just a post hoc rationalization? 

However, I have it on good authority that he may make a sequel video in which he includes some clarifications. 

Not for our sins only

1 John is written to a Christian community…Its  concern, as we have seen, is with the sins of Christian believers after their conversion, emphasizing that "the blood of Jesus…purifies us from all sin" (1 Jn 1:7), that "if anybody sins we have an Advocate with the Father" and that he is a propitiation "for our sins" (1 Jn 2:1-2, my italics). But having introduced an explicit theology of atonement to deal with the specific problem of "our" sins now, after conversion and baptism, the author adds, almost as an afterthought, that of course this is God's way of dealing with sin always and everywhere: "and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world". There is not one "propitiation" for us and another for the rest of the world, but Jesus (kai autos) is the only sacrifice, and the only way of salvation for all. The point is not that Jesus died for everyone indiscriminately so that everyone in the world is in principle forgiven, but that all those  forgiven are forgiven on the basis of Christ's sacrificed and in no other way. J. R. Michaels, "Atonement in John's Gospel and Epistles," C. Hill & F. James, eds. The Glory of the Atonement (IVP 2004), 116-17.

Dale down for the count

Apostate Dale Tuggy attempted to respond to me:

Steve seems to understand how this sort of game works. In trying to come up with a purely philosophical argument against unitarianism, what we’re working with, at bottom, is intuitions about what must be and what can’t be, and about what’s consistent with what. It all has to do with impossibility. He should ask himself why trinitarian philosophers like Davis, Swinburne, and Morris are all trying to show it to be impossible that God is unipersonal. His crying about me supposedly changing the rules on him is sad. A humbler man would realize that he’s out of his depth here, that the trinitarian philosophers, the relevant experts here, understand what must be done, to have a philosophical argument from theism to Trinity. This is how you would beat unitarian theology with a philosophical argument – if that can be done. Just asserting that unitarianism has some problem in this regard, without showing how, is just time-wasting bluster.

i) Notice Dale's illicit argument from authority. Problem is, philosophers aren't expert witnesses. We're not supposed to defer to their mere opinion. Of all disciplines, philosophy especially is supposed to be distinguished by appeal to reason. Philosophers ought to be able to defend their positions through rational explanation and argument.  

ii) In addition, there's no general criterion in philosophy that a philosophical argument is only successful if it proves the impossibility of the alternative. Consider Bayesian apologists like Swinburne and the McGrews. They don't attempt to show that Christianity is true, or the factuality of the Resurrection, by demonstrating that naturalistic alternatives are impossible. Rather, it's sufficient for their purposes to show that the naturalistic alternatives are less likely. Same thing with cumulative case arguments. Or the fine-tuning theory. Or apologetic responses to the evidential argument from evil. It's about relative probabilities.

iii) Or take the shift from proof to justified or warranted belief. Plantinga is a case in point. Likewise, consider this observation:

A proper mathematical proof, whatever else it may be, is an argument that should convince anyone who can follow it of the truth of its conclusion. We cannot think of philosophical arguments as being like that…The idea that there are proofs in philosophy as there are proofs in mathematics is ridiculous, or not far short of it…Only one thing can be said against this standard of philosophical success: if it were accepted, almost no argument for any substantive philosophical thesis would count as a success…The account of philosophical success we have been examining sets the bar too high, Peter van Inwagen, The Problem of Evil (Oxford 2006), 37-40.

Inwagen's method is to tell hypothetical stories. A philosophical argument against unitarianism doesn't require the Christian to show that unitarianism is impossible. Dale resorts to special pleading by his insistence on an artificial standard that's utterly exceptional in reference to philosophical argumentation generally. Is he so inept that he doesn't know that? Of does he know, but he's banking on the ineptitude to his sympathetic, gullible groupies to rubber-stamp whatever their hero says?  

In contrast, Steve seems to lack any reason. As far as I can see, he just asks, “How could a God who ‘is love’ never love another?” Of course, a plausible answer is: because that God doesn’t need anything or anyone else, and is plausibly thought to have been free not to create. Against this, our little apologist seems to have nothing.

For Dale, it has yet to sink in that his stock rejoinder backfires. If a unitarian God can be loving or personal without an object because he doesn't need anything or anyone else, then there's no reason for him to have an innate capacity for interpersonal relations or the ability to love another. Dale unwittingly shoots unitarianism in the foot. 

In fact, I explained how such capacity seems to logically implied by other divine attributes, attributes agreed to be essential by most trinitarians and unitarians, such as absolute perfection and aseity. Oddly, he seems to not understand. There’s no circularity in what I said; in other words, I never assume the conclusion in giving plausible reasons for the conclusion.

Yes, it's circular. Look at his explanations:

In my view, intrinsically and essentially, God is able to love another, and he is also essentially all-powerful, all-good, and all-knowing. So necessarily, God possibly has someone to love, someone he makes.

Because then he wouldn’t be absolutely perfect. He’d be greater if he had such a capacity. To not have it would be a terrific disability.

I’ve just answered all of these questions above. Capacity for love of another is plausibly necessary to his being, as it seems essential. But here’s another compatible answer. If a god is supposed to be someone we can personally deal with, personally relate to, who can hear our prayers, intervene, forgive, help – then such a being must be capable of a kind of friendship with humans. So “God” would hardly be a god, in the above sense, if “God” were unable to love another. But the biblical “God” is supposed to be a god, a necessarily unique one. Of course, a unitarian Christian thinks that God is a loving, merciful, covenant-making god because of scripture, tradition, and Christian experience. But yeah, even a full-blooded concept of a deity seems to presuppose a capacity for some kind of interpersonal love.

Perfect being theology. Self-sufficiency seems to be a perfection. It is implied, I think, by aseity – that God neither exists nor has his perfections because of any other.

All he's done is to build a capacity for interpersonal relations or the ability to love another into his stipulative definition of a perfect God. He posits that that's a necessary component of perfect God. So his appeal is circular. He fails to provide an underlying reason for why a perfect God must have that attribute. He simply paraphrases his oft-repeated assertion that perfect being theology entails that. 

In his latest response to me, he attempts to sketch an argument:

But here’s another argument, this time, for his convenience, in numbered steps, and in all small words:

1. By his essence, God is perfect in power.

2. By his essence, God is able to love another.

This ability should be included in omnipotence, in divine power, right? So, it seems that 2 follow from 1. This seems to be a sound argument, and Steve has not lifted a finger to cast any doubt on the truth of 1, or on 1’s implying 2. Moreover he agrees with 1! So his only option, logically, is to try to argue that 2 doesn’t follow from 1 – in other words, that it is possible for 1 to be true while 2 is false. Good luck with that!

Unfortunately, his argument impales itself on a category error. Omnipotence has reference to God's creative power. An ability to perform any logically possible task or bring about any logically possible/compossible state of affairs. 

However, a capacity for interpersonal relations or ability to love isn't an ability in that sense. Rather, it's a divine predisposition or attribute (or "character trait", according to Dale). But a divine  predisposition or attribute (or character trait) is not an object of divine power or omnipotence. God can't have that predisposition in virtue of his omnipotence. The object of omnipotence concerns contingent states. Things which might not be. Omnipotence is not a self-referential attribute, as if God takes himself as the object of his creative power. So Dale cannot derive that predisposition for God's omnipotence. 

Now, I think we’ll have to draw the line, and demand reasons why we should think that (1) the peerhood required for the best kind of love must be peerhood of essence.

Since my argument was never predicated on the contention that peer love is the best kind of love, it's not incumbent on me to provide supporting reasons for a claim that's irrelevant to my actual argument.  

Steve-o asserts that on his Trinity theory, God must have F. Okey-dokey. 

No, I didn't merely "assert" that. Rather, that follows from the nature of a Trinitarian deity. You can deny the existence of a Trinitarian deity, but if he exists, then the very concept of a Trinitarian deity entails an intrinsic capacity for interpersonal love or the ability to love another. If God is essentially and eternally Triune, then he must be interpersonal and able to love another or others. 

Piper on sola fide

1. Last month John Piper did a post which some self-identified Calvinists view as an attack on sola fide:

However, it's the critics who seem to be confused about Reformed theology. 

2. In Calvinism, sin has two basic dimensions:

i) An objective dimension, viz. guilt, culpability. 

That's the forensic dimension of sin.

ii) A subjective dimension: moral corruption. A predisposition to commit sin. Sinful attitudes. Sinful inclinations.

That's the psychological dimension of sin.

3. It follows that in Calvinism, salvation has two basic, corresponding dimensions:

i) An objective dimension, viz. justification, imputation.

That's the forensic dimension of salvation. That's concerns our legal or spiritual status or standing before God. Something God does for (elect) sinners. 

ii) A subjective dimension, viz. regeneration, sanctification.

That concerns our moral and spiritual transformation. Our subjective state or psychological condition, as rational, moral agents. That's something God does in (elect) sinners.

4. In addition, Reformed soteriology has a Trinitarian division of labor. The work of Christ rectifies the objective dimension of sin. His death on the cross redeems (elect) sinners.

Likewise, the work of the Spirit rectifies the subjective dimension of sin. Spiritual renewal. 

5. Reformed theology says we are justified by faith alone, not that we are saved by faith alone. There's more to salvation than justification. There's no salvation without sanctification. The work of Christ alone doesn't save you. The Spirit's work is necessary, too. 

Critics of Piper's statement are eerily reminiscent of antinomians and Sandemanians like Charles Ryrie, Zane Hodges, Charles Stanley, and R. T. Kendall.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Why did new atheism fail so miserably?

New Atheism has lost its battle for the cultural high ground. r/atheism will shamble on as some sort of undead abomination, chanting “BRAAAAAAIIINSSSS…are what fundies don’t have” as the living run away shrieking. But everyone else has long since passed them by.

A charitable reading: New Atheists weren’t reaching their intellectual opponents. They were coming into educated urban liberal spaces, saying things that educated urban liberals already believed, and demanding social credit for it. Even though 46% of America is creationist, zero percent of my hundred-or-so friends are. If New Atheists were preaching evolution in social circles like mine, they were wasting their time.

While the atheists were going around saying there was no God, the environmentalists were going around saying climate change was real. The feminists were going around saying sexism was bad. And the Democrats were going around saying Donald Trump was an awful person. All of these statements might be controversial somewhere, but meet basically zero resistance in educated urban liberal spaces. All get repeated day-in and day-out by groups of people who make entire careers out of repeating them. And all get said in the same condescending way, a sort of society-wide plague of Voxsplaining.

This is 90% of popular intellectual culture these days: progressives regurgitating progressivism to other progressives for nothing but the warm glow of being told “Yup, that was some good progressiving there”. Conservatives make fun of this incessantly, and they are right to do so. But for some reason, in the case of New Atheism and only in the case of New Atheism, Progressivism itself suddenly turned and said “Hey, you’re just repeating our own platitudes back to us!” And New Atheism, caught flat-footed, mouth open wide: “But…but..we thought we were supposed to…we thought…”.

Think of one of those corrupt kleptocracies where the dictator takes bribes, all his ministers take bribes, all their assistants take bribes, the anti-corruption task force takes bribes, etc. Then one day some shmuck manages to get on the dictator’s bad side and – bam – the secret police nab him for taking bribes. The look on his face the moment before the firing squad shoots – that’s how I imagine New Atheists feeling too.

Kids? Just say no

An atheist who makes a valiant effort to be consistent:

Why the “oral tradition” of the Apostles had to be written down

I’m continuing to address the question of why the “oral tradition” mentioned by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 had to be written down. This is used as a Roman Catholic proof text for its own version of “Tradition”. But there is a huge difference between what Paul is saying and the “Tradition” that Roman Catholic doctrine talks about.

Here is that verse:

So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter

In previous articles, I’ve gone to some length describing how Jewish “oral tradition” worked (with reference to the the different kinds of Jewish oral tradition were (Mishnah, the Halakah, midrash, the Gemara, etc.), what Jesus thought about Jewish “oral tradition”, and the fact that the various forms of Jewish “oral tradition” was actually written down at some point.

The notion is that in the earliest church, there was a parallel situation. For example, there was not simply “oral tradition”; this was comprised in part of “apostolic tradition” and, for the sake of simplicity, “non-apostolic traditions” or if you prefer, “ecclesiastical", or “church-originated” traditions.

Oscar Cullmann is very careful to articulate this difference In his work “The Tradition: The Exegetical, Historical and Theological Problem” in “The Early Church”, London: UK, SCM Publishing, 1958.

I-Thou relationships

Recently I wrote a reply to apostate Dale Tuggy:

He attempted to respond:

Let's focus on a few key claims:

Steve, you’re the one trying to make a problem here; it is incumbent on you to show some impossibility. 

No, it's not incumbent on me to show some "impossibility". Rather, I only need to show that there are philosophical reasons to doubt unitarianism. There's no general principle that philosophical objections must show the "impossibility" of the alternative. Dale is rigging the game. 

Our understanding of God requires us to analogize from human experience. That’s our frame of reference.

Again, revelation, not just experience.

Misses the point. Divine self-revelation would be inapprehensible if there was nothing similar in human experience to compare it to. 

That is why the scriptural king-subjects and husband-wife metaphors are appropriate for the God-creatures relation.

Which proves my point. Theological metaphors presume that God and man are similar in some respects. Hence, theological arguments from analogy. 

But let’s not lose where we are in the argument. Suppose that divine-person to divine-person love would be qualitatively better than divine-person-human love. But, why must a divine person enjoy that better kind of love? Because he’s “perfectly loving.” That’s a clear non sequitur, though. One can be perfectly loving without actually loving another. To have the perfectly loving character trait does not imply engaging in the best kind of love. 

Dale is consistently unable or unwilling to adapt to the actual state of the argument. As I've repeatedly explained to him, my argument isn't dependent on "perfect" love. Dale keeps substituting an easier target to attack. His intellectual evasiveness is revealing. 

On the one hand, he denies that God has to make creatures to provide I-Thou relationships. On the other hand, he regards divine self-love as sufficient. So where is there room in God’s essential nature for this intrinsic capacity?  

Self-love is sufficient for what?

In my view, intrinsically and essentially, God is able to love another, and he is also essentially all-powerful, all-good, and all-knowing. So necessarily, God possibly has someone to love, someone he makes.

From a unitarian perspective, why would God be less than “essentially absolutely perfect” if he didn’t have an innate capacity for interpersonal relationships?

Because then he wouldn’t be absolutely perfect. He’d be greater if he had such a capacity. To not have it would be a terrific disability.

Would God be incomplete if he lacked that capacity? But why would he be incomplete if he lacked a capacity for something that’s unnecessary to his being and well-being? If the unitarian God is complete without interpersonal relationships, and if self-love is sufficient, why is it necessary for him to have that capacity in the first place? Isn’t that superfluous rather than essential?  

I’ve just answered all of these questions above. Capacity for love of another is plausibly necessary to his being, as it seems essential. But here’s another compatible answer. If a god is supposed to be someone we can personally deal with, personally relate to, who can hear our prayers, intervene, forgive, help – then such a being must be capable of a kind of friendship with humans. So “God” would hardly be a god, in the above sense, if “God” were unable to love another. But the biblical “God” is supposed to be a god, a necessarily unique one. Of course, a unitarian Christian thinks that God is a loving, merciful, covenant-making god because of scripture, tradition, and Christian experience. But yeah, even a full-blooded concept of a deity seems to presuppose a capacity for some kind of interpersonal love.

Whether the unitarian God is self-sufficient is not a given. That’s the very question at issue. What’s the basis for presuming that a unitarian God who experiences the (physiological) passage of time is immune to loneliness? 

Perfect being theology. Self-sufficiency seems to be a perfection. It is implied, I think, by aseity – that God neither exists nor has his perfections because of any other.

i) Notice that Dale can never provide an actual explanation for why a unitarian God necessarily has a capacity for interpersonal relationships or loving another. All he does is to repeat the same circular appeal. But the appeal is groundless. 

Compare that to Trinitarian theism. That provides an underlying reason. God has an intrinsic capacity for interpersonal relationships because God is intrinsically interpersonal. God essentially has the potential to love creatures because that's an extension of the intra-Trinitarian fellowship. 

ii) Moreover, even granting the paradigm of perfect being theology, it doesn't follow that perfect being theology is consistent with open theism or a God who subsists and time and through time. That may add restrictive conditions which interfere with perfect being theology. 

“Rome”, “Roman”, and the source of “anti-Catholic bigotry”

Walls, Collins charged with anti-Catholic bigotry

Walls, Collins, and “Rome”

The charge has been raised that because Walls and Collins use the abbreviations “Rome” and “Roman” for “the Roman Catholic Church” (instead of simply calling it “the Catholic Church” all the time), that some kind of “anti-Catholic bigotry is behind it.

In titling their work “Roman but Not Catholic”, authors Ken Collins and Jerry Walls have staked out some property amidst two different and competing concepts, that are not altogether accepted (it seems) by Roman Catholics. I’ve already mentioned Turretin and his complaint that by claiming the title of “The Church”, he said, “[Roman Catholics] think they can, as with one blow, beat down and settle the controversy waged against them …” by simply “hiding themselves under the specious title of the antiquity and infallibility of the Catholic church” (Turretin, “Institutes”, Vol 3. pgs 2-3).

This is how the Roman Catholic Church seeks to win arguments: by co-opting the meanings of words. And for sure, both of the words, “Roman” and “Catholic” (the latter also being available with a small “c”) have generated their fair share of contention. So defining them is going to be very important.

Suppose the church gave us the Bible?

A common Catholic objection against evangelicalism goes like this: Why do you trust the Church to give you the Bible when you don't trust the Church go interpret the Bible?

Of course, that's a loaded question:

i) The church didn't give us the OT–Jews gave us the OT.

ii) We don't accept the Tridentine canon of the OT.

iii) The ancient church disagreed on the scope of the OT canon.

iv) Which church gave us the Bible? The Catholic church? The Orthodox church? These can't both be the One True Church®

v) It would be more accurate to say Jewish and Christian scribes gave us the Bible.

That said, I'd like to consider the claim for the sake of argument. Suppose "the Church" did give us the Bible. Would it be arbitrary for evangelicals to trust "the Church" in that regard but not in regard to the interpretation of Scripture? Put another way, assuming (ex hypothesi) that God infallibly guided the ancient church to canonize the right books, is it arbitrary to deny that God infallibly guides the church in other respects?

It's customary to distinguish between miracle and providence. The fact that God performs miracles is not an all-or-nothing proposition. It's not a binary choice between believing that God always performs miracles or never performs miracles. In general, God performs miracles less often than not. Events typically occur according to ordinary providence rather than miraculously.

So even assuming, for discussion purposes, that God supernaturally guided the ancient church to give Christians the right Bible, this carries no presumption that God supernaturally guides the church in other respects, or that God continuously guides the church. In principle, it wouldn't be arbitrary for evangelicals to grant that God supernaturally guided the ancient church to give us the Bible, but doesn't supernaturally guide the church in general. For we routinely distinguish between miracle and providence. The fact that God sometimes performs miracles carries no presumption that God constantly performs miracles. The fact that God inspires some writers and speakers doesn't presume or imply that he inspires every writer and speaker. Most folks are uninspired. 

Suppose for the sake of argument that it was necessary for God to supernaturally guide the ancient church concerning the canon. That doesn't entail that it's necessary for God to supernaturally guide the church in other respects, or to supernaturally guide the church on a regular basis. The ordinary course of nature is the default modus operandi. Miracles are rather exceptional. 

Even on its own terms, Catholic theology is very selective about when the church speaks infallibly. It doesn't treat inspiration as an all-or-nothing proposition. It allows popes, bishops, and priests to be in error in much of what they say. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Armstrong's goofy claim that Mary is the ark of the covenant

Get on board

There are different metaphors for the church. Some Biblical and some traditional. One traditional metaphor is a passenger ship. This may go back to viewing Noah's ark as a symbol for the church. 

Let's play along with that metaphor. A passenger ship is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. It has a destination. In the lifetime of a passenger ship, it repeatedly undergoes a complete turnover of passengers and crew. As a passenger ship goes from one port of call to another, some passengers disembark while new passengers come on board. That's like Christians who go to heaven when they die, while the church takes on new members. 

Some people are born into the church because they are born to church members. Others join a church as adults. By the same token, babies are sometimes born aboard a passenger ship. Conversely, some passengers die on board. They never make their destination–like nominal Christians. Some passengers commit suicide by jumping overboard, like apostates. Some ships sink when they collide with a submerged coral reef, like denominations overrun by heresy. Some ships weather storms, like persecution. 

In church attendance, there were passengers who precede us, as well as passengers who succeed us. We passengers on a transgenerational ship where some passengers are on the way out while others are on the way in. The faithful will leave the church behind when they die. It served its purpose. They made it to safe harbor. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Did We Need The Government To End Private Segregation?

Hart failure

Unitarian solipsism

Recently I did another post on Dale Tuggy:

He attempted to respond: 

He's like a barfly who's too bleary-eyed to make his punches land on the target.   

At Triablogue apologist Steve Hays has posted on my critiques of purely philosophical arguments from theism to the Trinity. It is worth saying at the outset that most trinitarians don’t put any stock in such arguments. By far most have never so much as heard of them. 

Well, I don't know about that. For instance, Bruce Metzger deploys those arguments in his classic 1953 article on "The Jehovah's Witnesses and Jesus Christ: A Biblical and Theological Appraisal" (Theology Today). And even though Metzger was a preeminent scholar, he wasn't a philosopher or original thinker, so he got those arguments from reading someone else. Hence, I doubt these arguments are as esoteric as Dale imagines. 

And among trinitarians with some philosophical education, enough to understand how such arguments are supposed to work, the wiser among them see how tenuous they are.

Yet he admits that Swinburne and Davis mount arguments like this. He's saying they lack wisdom? Davis teaches at Claremont, where Dale studied. Seems likely that Dale was a student of Davis. Does he think Davis is a hack? 

A very proper and reasonable skepticsm kicks in. In my view, which is also the view of many trinitarian philosophers and theologians, we should think that whether any Trinity theory is viable should depend on whether or not it best explains scripture, and not on any argument like this.

Dale talks out of both sides of his mouth. He explicitly attacks the Trinity on philosophical grounds, alleging that it violates the indiscernibility of identicals. He preemptively disallows Biblical testimony to the Trinity on philosophical grounds. 

B. Let’s reframe the issue. Instead of considering a priori arguments for Trinitarianism, suppose we consider a priori undercutters for unitarianism. These don’t propose to directly prove the Trinity. Rather, if successful, they provide indirect support for the Trinity by undermining unitarianism.

A sensible move, given the failure of philosophical Trinity arguments. We failed to get a touchtown. So, let’s re-describe the situation; actually, we were trying to merely gain five yards. But wait… did we even do that?

This is the second example of Tuggy's well-poisoning tactics. Twice in a row as he introduces the issue. 

It's not as if I'm retreating from my original position. I can't fail to hit a target I was never aiming for in the first place. I didn't fall short since that was never my goalpost. 

In addition, it's standard procedure that when philosophers have a choice between a more ambitious and a less ambitious claim to opt for the less ambitious claim. That's less demanding. That has a lower burden of proof. First-rate philosophers like Alvin Plantinga and Peter van Inwagen routinely do that. It's a perfectly legitimate move.