Saturday, November 25, 2017

Is unitarian theism impossible?

McTaggart was a brilliant metaphysician. An atheist and an absolute idealist. His theories on time sparked enduring philosophical interest and analysis. In some Dogmas of Religion, John McTaggart has an intriguing objection to God's existence. 

Another point must be considered in reference to omnipotent personality. Human personality is never found to exist without the recognition of the existence of something not itself. (We may follow Hegel's example in calling this the Other of the person. Other is a better term than Non-ego, since that may suggest that what is recognized by one person as not himself must not be any other person, but something impersonal, and this suggestion would be wrong, for what I recognize as not myself may quite well be another person.) We only realize our personality insofar as our consciousness has a content — a manifold to which the centre is formed by that I, awareness of which constitutes personality. And this content of consciousness involves for us the recognition of an Other. This may be direct, as when I know something other than myself, or have some volition regarding it, or some emotion towards it. But even when the Other is not involved directly, it is involved indirectly. It may be that that which directly occupies my consciousness is some part of my own nature, as when I think of past events in my life, or will to correct a fault in my disposition. But when we inquire into the nature of those events, or of that fault, we find that they include, or in the long run involve, the recognition of the existence of an Other.  
Nor is this recognition, for finite personality, a limitation or imperfection, which it is impossible to remove altogether, but which hampers the fullness of self-consciousness. On the contrary, the more vivid, definite, and extensive is our recognition of the Other, the more vivid and definite becomes our self-consciousness. As consciousness of an Other becomes vague and indefinite, consciousness of self becomes vague and indefinite too. 

I take the gist of his argument to be that self-awareness entails a corollary awareness of what is not oneself. To be self-aware implies a point of contrast. A subject/object dichotomy. To be me in distinction to what is not me. 

However, this argument, if sound, is not an argument against theism in general. Rather, it constitutes an argument against unitarian theism. That may not be McTaggart's intention, but that's the principle. Trinitarian theism easily eludes the force of this argument, for the Trinity provides the very point of contrast that McTaggart's argument implicitly finds wanting in unitarian theism. In Trinitarian theism, there's the correlative comparison between self-awareness and otherly-awareness, as mutually defining requirements. 

Yesterday, today, and forever

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Heb 13:8).

I'd like to comment on a neglected prooftext for the deity of Christ (Heb 13:8). In Hebrews, "today" is a leading word or word-motif (leitwort). A repeated key word is a literary technique linking material by a common verbal theme. In Hebrews, this clusters around Ps 2 and especially Ps 95:

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice,

But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

To an attentive reader (or listener) of Hebrews, 13:8 would ring a bell. To say Jesus is the same "today" echoes the divine speaker in Ps 95. In that Psalm, Yahweh is addressing Israel. And by the leitwort technique, the author of Hebrews now connects that to Jesus. 

In Hebrews, the word of God is living (4:12) because it's the word of the living God. That dovetails with the stress in Hebrews on God's word as divine speech. The spoken word requires a living speaker.  

According to the author of Hebrews, the speaker in Ps 95 not only is addressing the original audience for that particular Psalm on that particular occasion, but God is still speaking that word–in this case, to the congregation to whom the letter is directed. That's because it's the word of the living God. He didn't cease to exist between Ps 95 and Hebrews. 

Not only is Jesus the same "today," but the same "yesterday and forever". Past and future as well as present. That, in turn, reverberates with Ps 102, which extols the preexistent and everlasting Creator:

But you are the same, and your years will have no end (1:12)

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (13:8)

And the author of Hebrews assigns that description to the Son:

“You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands;
11 they will perish, but you remain;
    they will all wear out like a garment,
12 like a robe you will roll them up,
    like a garment they will be changed.
But you are the same,
    and your years will have no end.”

Jesus is the same yesterday and forever because he has no beginning or ending, and he has no beginning or ending because he's the Creator God. That's a part of what makes God God, in contrast to creation. 

Like "today", the "same" is another leading-word: in this case connecting 1:12 to 13:8. Indeed, that forms an inclusio between the opening and the closing of the letter. 

Mill on miracles

J. S. Mill was a brilliant atheist who wrote a sustained attack on Christianity (Three Essays on Religion). I'd like to comment on his attempted attack on miracles. 

Taking the question from the very beginning; it is evidently impossible to maintain that if a supernatural fact really occurs, proof of its occurrence cannot be accessible to the human faculties. The evidence of our senses could prove this as it can prove other things. To put the most extreme case: suppose that I actually saw and heard a Being, either of the human form, or of some form previously unknown to me, commanding a world to exist, and a new world actually starting into existence and commencing a movement through space, at his command. There can be no doubt that this evidence would convert the creation of worlds from a speculation into a fact of experience. It may be said, I could not know that so singular an appearance was anything more than a hallucination of my senses. True; but the same doubt exists at first respecting every unsuspected and surprising fact which comes to light in our physical researches. That our senses have been deceived, is a possibility which has to be met and dealt with, and we do deal with it by several means. If we repeat the experiment, and again with the same result; if at the time of the observation the impressions of our senses are in all other respects the same as usual, rendering the supposition of their being morbidly affected in this one particular, extremely improbable; above all, if other people’s senses confirm the testimony of our own; we conclude, with reason, that we may trust our senses. Indeed our senses are all that we have to trust to. We depend on them for the ultimate premises even of our reasonings. There is no other appeal against their decision than an appeal from the senses without precautions to the senses with all due precautions. When the evidence, on which an opinion rests, is equal to that upon which the whole conduct and safety of our lives is founded, we need ask no further. Objections which apply equally to all evidence are valid against none. They only prove abstract fallibility.

That's well taken. 

But the evidence of miracles, at least to Protestant Christians, is not, in our own day, of this cogent description. It is not the evidence of our senses, but of witnesses, and even this not at firsthand, but resting on the attestation of books and traditions. 

i) Although differentiating between the evidence of our senses and the evidence of witnesses is a valid distinction, his dichotomy between witnesses and attestation of books and traditions is a false anthesis. That's the nature of most recorded testimonial evidence, which has its origin in oral history. 

ii) Moreover, he assumes that 19C Protestants had no firsthand experience of miracles. How would he be in any position to know that? He was raised in an irreligious household. As an adult, he didn't move in evangelical circles. He avoided the settings in which miracles, if they occur, are more likely to occur. There's a circular, self-reinforcing quality to infidelity, where unbelievers associate with other unbelievers, so that their social circle deliberately excludes the company where answered prayer, if it happens, would fall under their purview. 

iii) Nowadays, we also have lab tests and medical scans that show a patient's before and after condition. That's different from either firsthand observation of a miracle or testimony to a miracle. You could pull someone's records and see the results for yourself. 

And even in the case of the original eyewitnesses, the supernatural facts asserted on their alleged testimony, are not of the transcendant character supposed in our example, about the nature of which, or the impossibility of their having had a natural origin, there could be little room for doubt. On the contrary, the recorded miracles are, in the first place, generally such as it would have been extremely difficult to verify as matters of fact, and in the next place, are hardly ever beyond the possibility of having been brought about by human means or by the spontaneous agencies of nature. It is to cases of this kind that Hume’s argument against the credibility of miracles was meant to apply.

That denial is conspicuous for the utter lack of specific examples. He doesn't say what recorded miracles he's alluding to, how they'd have been extremely difficult to verify as matters of fact, or hardly ever beyond the possibility of having been brought about by human means or by the spontaneous agencies of nature. So his denial is a vacuous abstraction. 

His argument is: The evidence of miracles consists of testimony. The ground of our reliance on testimony is our experience that certain conditions being supposed, testimony is generally veracious. But the same experience tells us that even under the best conditions testimony is frequently either intentionally or unintentionally, false. When, therefore, the fact to which testimony is produced is one the happening of which would be more at variance with experience than the falsehood of testimony, we ought not to believe it. And this rule all prudent persons observe in the conduct of life. Those who do not, are sure to suffer for their credulity.

At variance with experience? As in no one's experience? 

Now a miracle (the argument goes on to say) is, in the highest possible degree, contradictory to experience: for if it were not contradictory to experience it would not be a miracle. The very reason for its being regarded as a miracle is that it is a breach of a law of nature, that is, of an otherwise invariable and inviolable uniformity in the succession of natural events. There is, therefore, the very strongest reason for disbelieving it, that experience can give for disbelieving anything. But the mendacity or error of witnesses, even though numerous and of fair character, is quite within the bounds of even common experience. That supposition, therefore, ought to be preferred.

There are two apparently weak points in this argument. One is, that the evidence of experience to which its appeal is made is only negative evidence, which is not so conclusive as positive; since facts of which there had been no previous experience are often discovered, and proved by positive experience to be true. 

That's well-taken. 

The other seemingly vulnerable point is this. The argument has the appearance of assuming that the testimony of experience against miracles is undeviating and indubitable, as it would be if the whole question was about the probability of future miracles, none having taken place in the past; whereas the very thing asserted on the other side is that there have been miracles, and that the testimony of experience is not wholly on the negative side. All the evidence alleged in favour of any miracle ought to be reckoned as counterevidence in refutation of the ground on which it is asserted that miracles ought to be disbelieved. The question can only be stated fairly as depending on a balance of evidence: a certain amount of positive evidence in favour of miracles, and a negative presumption from the general course of human experience against them.

That's well-taken. 

“When ‘Catholic’ is not ‘catholic’”

This is my review of Roman but Not Catholic by Jerry Walls and Ken Collins, and it's my first review for the site: “This is a book that I wish had been written in the 1970's, when I was first looking at the question of whether I should remain Roman Catholic.”

Scholasticism for Evangelicals

Skeptics Lose Either Way On Christmas Prophecy Fulfillment

Critics often argue that Old Testament passages that have been taken as prophecies fulfilled by Jesus were actually about Old Testament figures rather than about a messiah or Jesus in particular. But even if Jesus only fulfilled the passages in a secondary or typological sense, the close alignment between Jesus' life and those prophecies offers significant evidence for Christianity. It's highly unlikely that Jesus' life would naturalistically line up with all of the passages in question, which are so unusual and significant. I've made this point before, at Eastertime, with regard to passages like Isaiah's Suffering Servant prophecy. We need to keep the same principles in mind in the context of Christmas.

Even if passages like Isaiah 9 and Micah 5 weren't intended to be messianic, Jesus' alignment with the passages would need to be explained. Skeptics are wrong in what they often argue about the intention of those Old Testament passages. But even if we granted their reading for the sake of argument, Jesus' secondary fulfillment of the passages would provide substantial evidence for Christianity.

Friday, November 24, 2017

McTaggart on miracles

John McTaggart was a brilliant atheist who wrote a sustained attack on Christianity (Some Dogmas of Religion). I'm going to comment on his attempted attack on miracles:

There remains the argument that certain dogmas should be accepted because they have been held by men, or beings incarnate in human bodies, who have worked miracles, including the miracle of predicting the future. 

A miracle is an event which we cannot explain by any natural law known to us, and which is therefore attributed, by the believers in its miraculous character, either to a special divine interference with the course of nature, or to the action of some law, differing in its nature from those which explain non-miraculous events. It is then argued that the occurrence of such events at the will of, or in connexion with, a particular being, is evidence, either that that being is himself divine, or that he enjoys special divine favor, and, in either case, that his teaching on matters of religious dogma is trustworthy. 

Generally, a miracle is not attributed to divine agency simply by default. In addition, it may be in answer to a prayer to the God in question. Or a prophet may predict a miracle in God's name. There are indicators of the source over and above the fact that no natural process can explain it. 

The evidence for the existence of miracles is an inquiry beyond our purpose. But we may remark in passing that, as Hume has pointed out \ if miracles are to be accepted as evidence of the truth of a religion, then whatever evidence there is for the miracles of one religion is evidence against the truth of all incompatible religions. There is perhaps no reason, if there are miracles at all, why they should not occur in connexion with several incompatible systems. There might be reasons why a God should work miracles in connexion with a false religion. Or again the miracles of all the systems except one's own might be ascribed, as they used to be ascribed, to devils. But then miracles would prove nothing about the truth of a religion. If, on the other hand, they can prove anything about it, then none but a true religion can have miracles connected with it Of two religions with incompatible dogmas, one, at least, must be false, and therefore only one, at most, can have miracles connected with it. Thus neither religion can be proved true, without disproving the existence of the miracles of the other religion. And in so far as these latter are at all probable, they render the truth of the first religion improbable.

i) Even if that objection were true, miracles would still contribute to a cumulative case for Christianity by eliminating naturalism from consideration. 

ii) In addition, the objection is overstated. For instance: 

Supposing that miracles were proved to exist, and to exist in connexion with one religion only, should we be entitled to believe that religion to be true? It seems to me, to begin with, that the existence of the miracle would not prove that it was due to the action of God — meaning by God a supreme being. The amount of power required for any miracle, however startling, can never be proved to be more than finite. And in that case it is always possible that it should have been performed by some being whose power, while much greater than human power, might be far below the power of a supreme being. 

i) Even assuming that's so, if miracles take naturalism off the table, then that makes a very significant contribution to the overall case for Christianity.

ii) It's not as if any single argument or line of evidence must prove Christianity at one stroke. It can be a process of elimination. If miracles eliminate naturalism, there are other arguments that eliminate religious alternatives to Christianity. 

iii) McTaggart acts as though it's necessary to conclusively rule out any alternate explanation, yet that sets the bar far too high. Take a crime scene. Homicide detectives conclude the victim was killed by the jealous boyfriend of a woman he slept with. They have incriminating evidence on the boyfriend.

But suppose the victim was actually killed by the CIA because he discovered a sensitive military secret or because he had embarrassing information on a high-ranking government official. The CIA framed the boyfriend for the crime, planting false evidence. Or maybe the victim was killed by a race of sadistic extraterrestrials who like to toy with humans.

Suppose we can't disprove these alternate explanations? So what? There are many things we can't absolutely prove or disprove. The question is who is the best candidate to explain the phenomenon. It isn't necessary or reasonable to demand that we rule out every conceivable explanation. McTaggart has a double standard when it comes to Christianity. He has a highly artificial and inhuman standard for proving Christianity which no one reasonably applies to host of other issues. Admitted, McTaggart's own position (metaphysical idealism) was pretty esoteric. But that's a weakness. 

If then a miracle were due to the action of such a superhuman but non-divine being, would it give any reason to suppose the religion to be true ? I see no reason to believe that a being who can raise the dead, or prophesy the future, or assist a man to do these things, would be a specially trustworthy guide on matters of religious dogma. The power of influencing the course of events, and the power of apprehending religious truth, are not always closely connected. Napoleon greatly excelled the average English clergyman in the first, but it would be a rash inference that he excelled him in the second. 

Once again, it narrows the range of options to supernatural explanations. 

Waiving this difficulty, and assuming that the miracle could prove the special interference of the supreme being, so that the religion connected with it could be accepted as his revelation, should we then be safe in accepting it as true ? We should not be justified, I submit, unless we had previously proved that the supreme being was good. For we have no reason to suppose that he will tell us the truth except that it would not be a good act to deceive us. If he is indifferent to the good, or if he is positively malignant, he may well tell us lies, either from caprice or in order to gratify his malignancy. 

It is obviously impossible to trust to the revelation to tell us that he is good, since we have no reason to trust the revelation at all unless we know that he is good. This goodness must be proved independently. And thus one of the most important of dogmas cannot be proved by a miracle-based revelation. 

If, however, this dogma has been independently proved, are we then entitled to accept the divine revelation as true ? Even then I do not think that we can do this. A God — that is, a good supreme being — will doubtless regard deceit as an evil. But there is, beyond doubt, much evil in the universe, and, if we are satisfied that there is a God, we must regard that evil as in some way compatible with his goodness. And then why not that further evil of a misleading divine revelation? If, for example, we attribute the existence of evil to God's limited power, and say that cancer and plague exist because they are the best that God can do for us under the circumstances, how can we be sure that the best thing he can do for us under the circumstances is not to deceive us about religious dogma? How can we be sure, for example, if God tells us we are immortal, that it is not a deceit — bad in itself, but good as the means of avoiding some greater evil? 

i) These are variations on the Cartesian demon. If, however, a malevolent or universally deceptive deity exists, that's no less a problem for atheists than it is for Christians. That would be a defeater for both. Why does McTaggart imagine the onus lies on Christians to disprove this thought-experiment? His own position falls prey to the same hypothetical. 

ii) How seriously should we take thought-experiments designed to establish global skepticism? The fact that human imagination can dream up hypothetical traps from which we can't escape may be an entertaining intellectual diversion, but no reasonable person bases his belief or behavior on such fanciful scenarios. These are mental tricks. Their main value is to demonstrate the limits of what can be proven or disproven. But proof and knowledge are not equivalent. 

iii) What's the point of asking whether we might be hopelessly deluded? If we are hopelessly deluded, then posing such questions won't lead to enlightenment. Indeed, on that view, skeptical thought-experiments are one of the ways in which the Cartesian demon toys with us. It's just another blind alley in the nautilus shell of the global illusion. 

Christmas Resources 2017

Here are my previous posts on resources for the Christmas season:


You can go here to find an archive of our posts with the Christmas label. Scroll all the way down and click on Older Posts to see more.

I've written a couple of posts that provide the text of the infancy narratives with links to relevant posts added to the text. See here for Matthew and here for Luke.

Here's a collection of our reviews of Christmas books.

You can find a collection of responses to skeptical myths about the church fathers, including on issues related to Christmas, here.

And here are examples of our posts on Christmas issues, among many others you can find in our archives:

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Miracles and modern infidelity

The Christchild

Modern readers are often skeptical about the nativity account in Matthew. In the first part of this clip, Dr. McGrew discusses how the timing of a particular event in the nativity account synchronizes with external historical collaboration: 

Why don't miracles happen whenever somebody needs them?

Is it up to us?

Robert Kane is a leading defender of libertarian freewill, so it's to examine how he frames the issue:

Doctrines of determinism have taken many historical forms. People have wondered at various times whether their actions might be determined by Fate or by God, by the laws of physics or the laws of logic, by heredity or environment, by unconscious motives or hidden controllers, psychological or social conditioning, and so on. But there is a core idea running through all historical doctrines of determinism that shows why they are all a threat to free will. All doctrines of determinism–whether they are fatalistic, theological, physical, biological, psychological or social–imply that, given the past and the laws of nature at any given time, there is only one possible future. Whatever happens is therefore inevitable or necessary (it cannot but occur), given the past and the law. Four Views on Free Will (Blackwell 2007), 5. 

i) That overlooks an obvious counterexample. The occurrence of miracles is consistent with predestinarian traditions, yet some miracles are causally discontinuous with the past. You couldn't predict a miracle from the chain of events leading up to the miracle, because the miracle wasn't caused by natural processes. That kind of miracle is like a closed system within a closed system. The result of factors within that smaller closed system. Miracles like that are self-enclosed in relation to the past, but affect the future. 

ii) Likewise, according to predestinarian traditions, there's only one actual future, but not because the future is the inexorable product of the past and laws of nature. Predestination doesn't require that mechanism to implement the plan. 

To see why many persons have believed there is a conflict between freewill and determinism, so conceived, consider what free will requires. We believe we have free will when we view ourselves as agents capable of influencing the world in various ways. Open alternatives seem to lie before us. We reason and deliberate among them and choose. We feel (1) that it is "up to us" what we choose and how we act; and this means we could have chosen or acted otherwise. As Aristotle said, "When acting is 'up to us,' so is not acting." this "up-to-us-ness" also suggests that (2) the ultimate source of our actions lie in us and not outside us in factors beyond our control (5). 

That roughly corresponds to the phenomenology of human experience, which is what makes it appealing. Moreover, Calvinism affirms that we are agents capable of impacting the world in various ways. Likewise, the ability to contemplate hypothetical alternatives is consistent with predestination. That said:

i) The feeling that it's "up to us" could be illusory. For instance, memories are central to personal identity. Memories shape our character, our outlook, and our choices. Memories make a formative contribution to our psychological makeup. But suppose, like Dark City, it was possible to implant false memories. Unbeknownst to myself, my self-image derives from a fictionally personal history. My choices may seem to be "up to me," but they're conditioned by outside factors beyond my ken or control. 

By the same token, the feeling that it's "up to us" could be the effect of something that's not up to us. But that lies behind our experience, so we'd be unaware of what causes our feeling inasmuch as our feeling is the effect of that anterior dynamic. Take the creative process, where a novelist taps into the unconscious. Where do those ideas come from? He can't say, because that lies back of where consciousness takes over. Consciousness is at the receiving end of that subliminal process. The source is a step before that. So Kane's conclusion is underdetermined by the evidence. 

ii) Another problem is how his appeal artificially isolates one agent from another. If I'm the only driver as I approach an intersection, I have multiple options. I can go forward, backward, change lanes, turn right, or turn left. But once we add other cars, then that increasingly curtails my options. I can't change lanes if another car occupies that lane. I can't reverse course if there's a car behind me. I can't go forward if there's a car stopped in front of me. I can't go straight if a car in the opposing lane is turning right in front of me. I can't turn if cars in the opposing lane are turning in front of me. I may be hemmed in on all sides.  

If we lived in a world where every agent can access alternate courses of action, why wouldn't that generate gridlock, where my preferred alternative impedes your preferred alternative? Admittedly, we live in a  world where we aren't mutually hemmed in by each other's choices (although that certainly happens from time to time). But how is that possible if we each have libertarian freedom? Or is it possible because libertarian freedom is false, and there's a traffic light control system (predestination, providence) coordinating our respective choices so that we don't jam up? 

Was Jesus impeccable?

i) It's intuitively appealing to say that temptation requires an ability to succumb to temptation. But we could turn that around. Temptation is most unbearable when the opportunity presents itself, but you know that you cannot give in. 

Suppose my kid brother and I live in West Berlin c. 1961. We're both teenagers. We make a short trip to East Berlin. But that's when the Russians close the border. So we're trapped in East Berlin. We're cut off from the rest of our friends and family.

Suppose I have an opportunity to bribe a guard at Checkpoint Charlie. He'll let me escape, but not my brother. I'd never see him again. 

It's very tempting for me to return to W. Berlin. I desperately want to return. Yet it's utterly unthinkable that I'd abandon my brother. In that case, what makes the temptation so galling is that I have the opportunity to do so, but as a practical matter, I have no real choice. Morally and psychologically, I could never bring myself to betray my kid brother.

Compare that to say, sexual temptation where there's no sense of moral restraint. That's temptation without resistance. Cheap temptation. 

ii) Unless one believes that the saints in heaven can still commit apostasy, a capacity to sin is not intrinsic to human nature.

iii) Unless the human nature/will can operate independent of the divine nature/will, Jesus cannot succumb to temptation. 

iv) Incidentally, that would make for a perpetually unstable Jesus. After all, he still exists! The Incarnation is permanent. He will live in that state forever.

So it isn't just a question about could he sin during his 33 years (give or take) life on earth, 2000 years ago. If he has the capacity to give into temptation, then that's a constant possibility. 

Calvinism and hard determinism

I'm going to comment on an article by self-styled Calvinist Theodore Zachariades

I have not met an Arminian that concedes this compatibilist view of freedom. To them only libertarian freedom is real.

Why should Calvinists use Arminian views as the standard of comparison? 

What is the point of using Arminian arguments about supposed freedom to plead for Calvinist conclusions?

Since, by his own admission, Arminians reject compatibilism, appealing to compatibilism is inimical using Arminian arguments about supposed freedom to plead for Calvinist conclusions.

God is a planning Agent.

Free will is thereby an illusion, as our lives have been scripted and planned before by God. 

At the end of the day, we live out a script that God has decreed. He asked no counsel or took anything into consideration but His own will in this eternal decree. Meticulous providence rules out free will. Calvinists that affirm their truncated version of free will do so to maintain human responsibility. But the Bible does not use free will as an explanatory category to sustain human responsibility. We are responsible or accountable because we are created beings. God’s character, as indicated in His prescriptive law for humans, is the standard by which human behavior will be judged. 

If predestination is true, and it cannot be doubted in face of so much evidence, it must follow that free will is false. There is no free will in a universe directed and upheld by the Lord God Almighty. There are those who wish to maintain a semi-Calvinist or hypo-Calvinist view that asserts that free will is compatible with determinism. That still leaves one as a determinist, an inconsistent one, however. I prefer to stress theological hard determinism.4 Take the fall of Adam. Was it a free action or was it determined? I believe you cannot have it both ways. If determined, then was Adam truly free? This problem has a long history. I side with God’s decree including the fall of Adam; indeed, even the fall of Lucifer! Free will in a compatibilist-determinist worldview is only free in name. 

Libertarians, of all stripes, renounce these arguments by compatibilists, and thereby they win the argument by the definition. If free will is compatible with determinism, why not claim that libertarian free will is compatible with determinism? The reason one cannot is that the determinism side weighs too heavily and truly precludes libertarianism or true free will. Compatibilists like to use the language of free will without having the substance.

i) Let's begin with some standard definitions of hard determinism (or theological hard determinism) from the philosophical literature:

Hard determinists (William James’s term) are also incompatibilists, but they accept determinism and deny that we have the sort of free will required for moral responsibility. Derk Pereboom, Living Without Free Will (Cambridge 2003), xiv.

Hard determinists are incompatibilists who take a harder line: since determinism is true, free will does not exist in the sense required for genuine responsibility, accountability, blameworthiness, or desert. Robert Kane, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Free Will (Oxford 2002), 27. 

But another option, typically only hinted at, is to endorse theological hard determinism, according to which theological determinism is true, but as a result we are not morally responsible in the basic desert sense for our actions. Derk Pereboom, "Libertarianism and Theological Determinism," Kevin Timpe & Daniel Speak, eds. Free Will and Theism: Connections, Contingencies, and Concerns (Oxford 2016), 116.

On that definition, Calvinism is antithetical to hard determinism. That humans are morally responsible agents whose actions are potentially blameworthy or liable to just desert is a Reformed essential. Zachariades is operating with an idiosyncratic definition of hard determinism that doesn't correspond to standard usage. He doesn't seem to know what he's talking about. Certainly his claim is uninformed. 

ii) When compatibilists say that human agents are "free" in some respects, what does that mean? The definition of "freedom" in the compatibilist sense depends on the point of contrast. "Free" compared to what? To take one representative example:

We typically make distinctions in the law and in morality between individuals who have been coerced and those who have not. Indeed, we distinguish between agents who have been manipulated (in certain ways), brainwashed, deceived, subject to clandestine subliminal advertising, and so forth, and those who are morally responsible. John Martin Fischer, "Semicompatibilism", Kevin Timpe, Meghan Griffith, & Neil Levy, eds. The Routledge Companion to Free Will (Routledge 2016), 5. 

On that definition, compatibilist freedom means freedom from certain types of manipulation, coercion, deception, brainwashing. So a compatibilist can specify the sense in which determinism is consistent with freedom. Does Zachariades deny that human agents are free in that sense? 


Semicompatibilism is the view that even though some freedoms–for instance, the ability to do otherwise–are incompatible with determinism, moral responsibility is compatible with determinism J. Campbell, Free Will (Polity 2011), 29-30.

Does Zachariades imagine that Calvinism is inconsistent with compatibililism (or semicompatibilism) in that sense? On the face of it, Zachariades appears to be ignorant of what hard determinism and compatibilism (or semicompatibilism) even mean. Yet these are terms of art. These are philosophical concepts. He needs to show some understanding of what they represent before he's in any position to assess them. As it stands, his discussion is incompetent. 

iii) Finally, determinism does not entail premeditation. For instance, the sequence of a randomly shuffled card deck is determinate, but unplanned. If you take a deck of cards, which has a preexisting sequence, bisect the deck, then randomly shuffle the cards so that a card from one half alternates with a card from the other half, the recombined deck has a determinate sequence even though the order of the cards is random rather than planned. 

Determinism is equally consistent with intended and unintended outcomes. Although determinism may be a necessary condition for premeditated events, it's not a sufficient condition. Zachariades needs a more discriminating category than determinism to articulate how everything happens according to a master plan. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Pagan miracles

The argument from miracles is a traditional evidence for Christianity. That goes all the way back to the Bible. In modern apologetics, I think that's often neglected compared to archeology and philosophical arguments. 

One prima facie objection to the argument from miracles are non-Christian miracles. If these occur, doesn't that cancel out Christian miracles?

i) In Exodus, there are pagan miracles, but they are trumped by Yahweh, who empowers his servant, Moses. 

Likewise, Christ's reputation as an exorcist involved his authority to overpower the kingdom of darkness. On the mission field, especially in Third World countries, Christian exorcism can be a witness to the true God, trumping animism, polytheism, and the occult.

ii) If miracles overwhelmingly cluster around Christianity, then the rarity of non-Christian miracles is easier to explain given the truth of Christianity, but much harder to explain otherwise. 

Judean succession

One of the oddities of Catholic apologetics is the appeal to Matthias to replace Judas. That's their major prooftext for apostolic success. But did Judas ordain bishops? Are contemporary Catholic bishops lineal successors to Judas? Did they inherit his teaching authority? If so, that would explain their character and behavior. They received the charism of Judas. 

For that matter, is there any evidence (besides etiological legends) that Thaddeus or Bartholomew ordained bishops? Are some contemporary Catholic bishops lineal successors to Thaddeus and Bartholomew? 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Crying wolf

 A basic problem with Black Lives Matter is that its approach is counterproductive. In principle, "institutional racism" could exist on different scales. There might be pockets of institutional racism in the country. For instance, a particular police department or precinct might discriminate against blacks. 

However, BLM insists on promoting the narrative of nationwide institutional racism. And the message drowns out what might be actual incidents which don't corroborate that overarching narrative. If you cry wolf all the time, people tune out. If you exaggerate racism, people stop listening. We know that BLM will default to that explanation before it even hears the details. It already knows in advance of the evidence in any particular case what the true explanation is, which is always the same explanation. That's so predictable and disconnected from any specific case that people cease to pay attention. We know ahead of time what BLM will say, no matter the circumstances, no matter the race or ethnicity of the cop, or the racial composition of the police force, or the mayor or city council or DA's office or judges. 

As a result, there may be bona fide cases of racially motivated police abuse, but that's too provincial to play into the overarching narrative. 

In addition, if someone has a reputation as a liar, then no one believes him even when he happens to tell the truth. That same dynamic can operate at an organizational level. They've blow their credibility, so even when there's a legitimate grievance, that's lost in the shuffle. There's little incentive to sift through all the false alarms to isolate the true stories from the spin and propaganda.

That's a problem with the cottage industry of fake hate crimes. After a while, the reflexive outrage becomes collective exhaustion. The result is to unfairly impugn the credibility of real victims, because their own side chronically overplays its hand. 

The "campus rape culture" generates the same problem. So do exaggerated claims of child abuse. 

Because one side wants to use this as leverage, and is ruthless about doing whatever it takes to achieve its aims, the people who have the most to lose are real victims. Their grievance has been co-opted by a machine. 

And that's because the movement is about power rather than justice. "Social justice" is merely the sales pitch. 

In addition, the agenda and demeanor of BLM and other SJWs is to put whites in their place. Their assigned role is to obsequiously submit to the judgment of the self-appointed SJWs. As a result, many whites who'd otherwise be sympathetic to a credible witness or well-documented grievance have become hardened to the nonstop character assassination of white folks and especially white males, or white straight males, or worst of all, white straight Christian males! Anyone who disagrees is labeled a Nazi. That tactic is a recipe for political oblivion. 

The One True Puppet Church

Conversion testimonies

So-called Street Epistemologists (i.e. militant atheists who ape A Manual for Creating Atheists) like to interrogate Christians about their conversion experience, then attempt to poke holes in their conversion experience. Same thing with cradle Christians who were raised in church, and never questioned their faith.

Here's one of the problems with that tactic: It's possible for somebody to have a belief that's unwarranted insofar as the immediate evidence or cause of that belief is insufficient or unreliable to pick out that explanation to the exclusion of other tenable explanations. And yet the belief could well be true. And there could be lots of confirmatory evidence for that belief, over and above whatever caused a person to form that belief in the first place. 

Suppose I see someone breaking into a house. I notify the police on the assumption that it's a houseburglar. Yet it's possible that the homeowner locked himself out of his own house. Likewise, before the days of powerlocks, drivers might inadvertently leave their keys in the car, then use a coathanger to unlock the car. Yet to a passerby, that looks like auto theft. 

In that respect, my initial belief might be unwarranted. Yet I might be still right. In addition, I might read a report in the newspaper that corroborates my initial impression. 

Most people assume their ostensible parents are their biological parents. It's possible that they were kidnapped as babies. Or the maternity ward mislabeled the babies. Or adoptive parents never told their adoptive kids. 

In that respect, my belief that my ostensible parents are my biological parents might be unjustified. For the preliminary evidence on which I base my belief is consistent with other scenarios. Yet my belief could still be true. Moreover, subsequent evidence like a DNA test might confirm my prior belief. 

Or suppose, as an atheist, I witness what I take to be a healing miracle in answer to Christian prayer. As a result, I become a Christian.

Now let's say I made a snap judgment without knowing enough about the diagnosis or prognosis to rule out a natural explanation. Yet my initial impression could still be correct. And the naturally inexplicable nature of the healing might be subject to medical verification. Suppose I have an opportunity to research the healing and discover that it's naturally impossible. Even though my initial conclusion was hasty, it turned out to be right. 

When Street Epistemologists query conversion testimonies, that's an exercise in misdirection. For even if the original experience a convert appeals to is less than probative, the real issue is whether his belief can be verified by reason and evidence after the fact. 

Mind you, it can be a good thing to scrutinize our beliefs, whether religious or secular beliefs–as the case may be. Some people convert to a false belief-system. Some people deconvert due to false or fallacious reasons. 

But Street Epistemologists deliberately ask the wrong questions. The important question isn't necessarily how you formed a belief in the first place, but whether that belief is justifiable–all things considered. In some instances, the precipitating cause might be sufficient. In other cases, the initial belief might have been underdetermined by the evidence, yet a true belief may be demonstrable by additional lines of evidence, which were not available or under consideration when the belief was first formed. 

Hope for the world

I just received the following note from Richard Pratt at Third Millennium ministries. I know it's a form letter, but items such as the one shown in the image above give me an incredible amount of hope for the Gospel in the world.

Here is the whole text of the letter:

Dear Friends,

This year marks the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The invention of the movable-type printing press and the Reformers’ commitment to translating the Scriptures into every language has given access to God’s Word to more and more believers around the world.

At Third Millennium Ministries we continue in the Spirit of the Reformation. We believe that Christians everywhere in the world have a right to well-taught leaders. God has blessed us this year as we continue to pursue our goal: Biblical Education. For the World. For Free.

We give God all the glory for what he has achieved through Third Millennium. The following are just a few of his accomplishments in 2017:
• Our production team completed 10 new series across our five core languages, and we are accelerating Hindi translations.

• With the addition of new partners like The Gospel Coalition and YouVersion’s Bible App, we now have partnerships with 102 ministries.

• We are producing a free Study Bible available in the public domain, translated in multiple languages, and distributed worldwide.

• This year we fulfilled requests for 1,051 USBs loaded with our curriculum in five languages to church leaders around the world.

• We currently have 687,464 verified supervised students studying our curriculum through one of our partners or on our eLearning website.
In 2018 we are celebrating 20 years of service to Christ. Will you pray for God’s blessing as he continues to expand our ministry over the next 20 years so that every Christian has a well-trained pastor? Your continued support – both spiritually and financially – are absolutely critical to our success.

As you decide how to best steward your resources this year, I ask you to consider partnering with us. If God’s Spirit leads you to join with us, click here to make a donation online.

I pray you will know the joy and peace that only Christ can give as you celebrate His birth this special Christmas season.

In Christ,

Richard Pratt
Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr.
President of Third Millennium Ministries

P.S. - You can also set up a recurring donation. A monthly donation of just $25 is enough to send a USB filled with our entire curriculum to a different pastor each month. Thank you so much.

Progressive Christians>atheists