Saturday, December 09, 2017

God's crystal ball

In my personal encounters, freewill theists are so conditioned to the notion that Calvinism is deterministic while freewill theism is the antithesis of determinism that they're incredulous when I point out that freewill theism is deterministic too, just in a different way. 

Say the God of freewill theism gazes into his crystal ball. He seems the future. To be precise, he sees what will happen if he creates the hypothetical world, as shown in the crystal ball. 

Now, there's a philosophical argument that foreknowledge alone makes the future unalterable. I think that's correct. But that's not my argument here.

The point, rather, is that if God goes ahead and makes the world he sees in his crystal ball, then at that stage it's too late in the game for the future to be other that what he saw in his crystal ball. Once he creates the initial conditions which eventuate in that foreseen outcome, the outcome is fixed. 

To take a comparison, suppose I'm scheduled to drive a friend to the airport tomorrow. That night I have a dream. I dream that I drove my friend to the airport. Along the way, I see an accident at a landmark. I'm unable to find parking space on the first two floors of the garage. The first opening I find is on the third floor, C137, between a yellow Karmann Ghia and a red Alpha Romeo. As we approach the terminal, I see airport security speaking to an agitated man. As we walk through the concourse, I see a beautiful woman stride past me. 

I accompany my friend to the gate. After he boards the plane, I catch up on some email and text messages before leaving. I glance up and see the plane explode in midair, killing all aboard. 

Then I wake up. I pick up my friend at his house and commence our ride to the airport. But everything begins to repeat itself, just like the dream.

Suppose I have libertarian freewill. This story has two possible endings. On the one hand, I might choose to do nothing different than what I did in the dream. Although I find the resemblance to the dream spooky, I chalk it up to coincidence. It was just a dream. As a result, my friend dies in the conflagration.

On the other hand, when we arrive at the gate, after everything up to that point happened just like I saw in my dream, I tell my friend about my dream and warn him not to board the plane. He shrugs it off. So I tear his boarding pass into pieces, causing him to miss his flight. 

My friend is furious and yells at me. Airport security intervenes. At that moment the plane explodes just after takeoff. The security guards leave, having more urgent matter to attend to than our little fracas. My friend is dumbfounded. 

Now, up to a critical point, I could "change" the future. It could still go either way. If, however, my friend boards the plane and the plane takes off, then it's too late for me to change the outcome. I can't save him. He crossed a line of no return. My failure to intervene before that juncture renders the foreseen future unalterable thereafter. 

The heavenly chorus

A popular parody of heaven is where the saints spend eternity on a pink cloud singing choruses to harp accompaniment. That's largely based on a literal reading of Revelation. That image of the afterlife is a turnoff for many men. Sounds like it would become very monotonous very soon. 

And I agree that that's a highly inadequate concept of the afterlife for God's people. That said, I'd like to say something in defense of that concept. 

As Advent comes back around each year, I listen to my favorite numbers from Handel's Messiah. I've heard the Messiah all my life. And I've sung the Messiah.

At this point in life, listening to the Messiah is a bittersweet experience. Not as joyful as it used to be. I'm ambivalent.

When I sang the Messiah my father sat next to me. His baritone to my bass. And my mother was ahead of us, in the soprano section, I think. She had the range to either either alto or soprano, but the soprano line is more musically satisfying.

So nowadays, when I hear the Messiah, it takes me back in time to my parents. Reminds me of when the three of us used to sing it together in the choir. 

But by the same token, it reminds me that I can't do that anymore. They're gone. For the rest of my life, I'll never be able to sing the Messiah with my father beside me and my mother ahead of me.

I also remember attending a service one time with my late grandmother. At that age, her voice was very quavery. I believe her favorite song was "Let us break bread together on our knees," although, at her funeral, she had "Work, for the night is coming" sung.

But she passed away about 40 years ago. I also think of another close relative, long gone, with whom I used to attend church. She, too, had a fine soprano voice.

So, although, from my sublunary vantage-point, I don't savor the prospect of spending eternity singing nonstop choruses, and I'm glad that Scripture depicts a more varied afterlife, I do look forward to the day, in the world to come, when, once again, I can sing with some of my dearly departed. 

Thomas Aquinas was the Problem; the Reformation was the Solution

“Where was your Church before Aquinas”

Ever since the Reformation, Roman Catholics have been fond of asking, “Where was your Church before the Reformation”. Protestants have a good reply to that: “Where was your Church before Aquinas”.

Peter Lombard (in his “Sentences”) summarized church teaching up to that point (approximately 1150). Aquinas later opposed Lombard on one key point (“justification extra nos”, or the external righteousness of Christ), and Luther took up Lombard’s side:

In book 1, Distinction 17 of his famed Sentences, Lombard, discussing religious justification, asked: “Is the love by which we are saved a created habit in our soul, or is it the very person of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us?” Is that which heals and saves a person part of his own nature, something he himself has developed as his own possession [inherent righteousness], or is it the indwelling spirit of God, a divine power in him but not of him [alien righteousness]?

Lombard opted for the latter solution, maintaining that the love by which people love God and their fellow man so as to merit salvation [“merit” being a whole ’nother story] was the spirit of God working internally, without their aid or volition. Man is saved by an uncreated, not a created habit, by uncreated, not created, love, by the holy spirit within, not by an acquired talent he can call his very own. When the young Luther wrote hs commentary on the Sentences in 1509/10, he strongly agreed, against the majority of scholastics, with this interpretation by Lombard.

Thomas Aquinas opposed Lombard in this issue, arguing that saving charity [“charity” being “love” in the Roman Catholic schema] must be a voluntary act arising from a disposition man could call his own.

Roman Catholics claim that Martin Luther was the innovator, but in reality, Thomas Aquinas was a far more extensive innovator than Luther ever was. The problem was, “The Church of Rome” liked what Aquinas had to say, and they canonized it.

The Reformers sought to roll back many of the changes that Aquinas put into place. And in doing so, they relied on earlier traditions than did Aquinas.

It was Aquinas who not only introduced Aristotle to the Roman church, but he wrapped Aristotelian philosophy around Christian doctrine and handed it to “the Church” as a complete package. One that supported the Roman Church’s view of its own authority and necessity.

Two Messiahs?

Friday, December 08, 2017

Ear to the ground

I heard the first two minutes of an interview with Peter Hitchens. 

I stopped listening because Eric Metaxas is so obnoxious. There are two kinds of interviewers: those who showcase the guest and those who showcase themselves. 

Anyway, Hitchens said he spends lots of time in London because:

It's the capital city, I'm a national newspaper journalist. If I don't work in the capital I lose touch with events very quickly. You can pick up gossip and rumor and feelings about things... 

The reason I mention this is that critics of Bible history generally and the Gospels in particular constantly impugn the historicity of Scripture as if they know what really happened. Yet as Hitchens noted, there's a lot of information you can only pick up on site. You must be at that time and place or speak to people from that time and place, to fill in the gaps. 

Even though Hitchens lives in the age of the Internet, where there's such an abundance of real-time information his fingertips, that's still not enough to keep on top of national events. He must be at the epicenter of the events he covers to have the behind-the-scenes viewpoint that provides a connecting thread. 

Imagine how much less critics writing 2000+ years after the fact are in a position to correct the Bible. There's so much information that was never written down. Even if we had more surviving writings from that time and place, there's so much they'd leave out. So much linking material. So much contextual background information. Bible history gives us a synopsis. Many events are inexplicable in isolation. 


Artificial planets

David Hume famously defined a miracle as “a violation of the laws of nature.”... Richard Swinburne (1970) has suggested that a miracle might be defined as a non-repeatable counter-instance to a law of nature. If a putative law has broad scope, great explanatory power, and appealing simplicity, it may be more reasonable, Swinburne argues, to retain the law (defined as a regularity that virtually invariably holds) and to accept that the event in question is a non-repeatable counter-instance of that law than to throw out the law and create a vastly more complex law that accommodates the event.

What these definitions share in common is the principle that a miracle is a relational concept. A miracle stands in contrast to regular, law-like phenomena. That's what makes a miracle miraculous rather than natural. Put another way, something can only be extraordinary in comparison to what is ordinary. That's the gist of the idea.

Let's put that to the test. Among the furniture of science fiction are artificial planets. If you were living on an artificial planet, how could you detect its artificiality? Or could you?

That depends. In some cases it might be clearly unnatural in one or more respects. But in other cases, the difference might be subtle or perhaps indistinguishable. 

Suppose a planet had climate control. It rains once a day between 2-4 AM. That's ideal because it keeps everything well-watered and lush, yet it doesn't interfere with human activity. It's always sunny and dry in the daytime. 

The rainfall would be utterly regular, as if it was scheduled to rain between 2-4 AM once a day. As if there was a timer. 

Suppose there's nothing manifestly artificial about the climate control. There's no machinery that produces that phenomena. To all appearances, the planet has a natural water cycle. The nightly rainfall violates no physical laws. 

Ironically, what's suspiciously unnatural about the rainfall is the mechanical regularity of the rainfall. The very thing that defines what is not miraculous, on the conventional definition I'm using, is the same thing that in this case points to the fact that the planet must have been engineered. Not only is the  pattern repeatable, but exactly repeatable. Yet there's no tangible explanation beyond its convenience for the inhabitants. 

Setting traps

Democrats have temporarily discovered that sexual harassment is intolerable. They are cleaning house to regain the appearance of moral high ground against the GOP. Put another way, the ouster of some Democrats lays a trap for Republicans. If Democrats oust their harassers, while Republicans protect their harrassers, the comparison is invidious. 

However, Democrats might be setting a trap for themselves. Suppose Republicans call their bluff? Assuming that Moore wins, suppose–barely after he's sworn in–McConnell begins proceedings to have him kicked out. I believe it takes a supermajority to expel a sitting Senator. That would require a bipartisan coalition.

Democrats would be better off with Moore in the Senate. They could use him in attack ads. But if McConnell forces a vote, that puts them in a dilemma of their own making. They can't simultaneously accuse the GOP of refusing to clean house if they refuse to cooperate with the GOP when it endeavors to do so. 

Plaster saints

Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit, and lost without deserving. 
Reputation, reputation, reputation! Oh, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. 

In contrast to Roy Moore, Bush 43 didn't run on a squeaky clean image. As I recall, Bush 43 had a frat boy reputation prior to his marriage and conversion. In addition, his behavior was quite normal for an irreligious male. Ironically, the bad boy image, followed by conversion, left him fairly invulnerable to the line of attack that Moore is experiencing. No informed voter would be shocked or scandalized if a reporter discovered some "youthful indiscretions" in Bush 43's closet. His reputation, which preceded his candidacy, preemptively neutralized that angle. Plaster saints have more to lose. 

Moore's the pity

On the one hand, we can’t know for certain that Moore’s denials are themselves lies. It is not impossible given his subsequent behavior for decades that he is telling the truth. On the other hand, if he is lying, this doesn’t mean that he hasn’t repented at all. He appears to have been a sexually faithful, gentle, and thoughtful husband for years. He considers the behavior of which he is accused to be very wrong, which, if he committed the behavior decades ago, shows some change of mind. If he committed the behavior, should he tell the truth about it, whatever the cost to his reputation? Yes, certainly. At the same time, one could readily understand his human weakness at this point (if he is lying): Having already confessed his sins to God decades ago and considering himself a changed man ever since, he would not want to be subjected to national disgrace, viewed by others as the monster whom he no longer considers himself to be, and possibly put in peril of civil litigation. 
If he is lying, which for me can’t be known beyond a reasonable doubt (based on current evidence and not ruling out future allegations), in a context where he has exhibited a changed life in his sexual behavior for decades, how much weight should be given to the lying? Should it dominate all other considerations even though the politician that has never lied to his or her constituency is at best a rare species and at worse a cultural figment of our imagination (with apologies to George Washington)?

I posted part 1 of Gagnon's response to Carter. I thought he made a number of good observations. However, here's where his argument goes astray:

i) I'm struck by Christian pundits who fail to distinguish between defending the cause and defending the candidate. Fact is, Christians should always maintain some distance in relation to politicians. It's a mistake to become so personally invested in a candidate that you become a character witness. If you chain yourself to a candidate, then he takes you down with him if it turns out that he was a scoundrel. 

Some Christians need to practice more detachment. Politicians are temporary expedients. Just a means to an end. A better way to frame the issue is that tens of millions of innocent men, women, and children will be harmed if the secular progressives retake control. At the moment, Moore is a useful pawn. If he's a scoundrel, we should sacrifice the pawn after outliving its usefulness. That's poetic justice. If he's a scoundrel, it serves him right to dump him once he served his purpose. The cause is bigger than individuals who facilitate the cause. And scoundrels don't deserve our loyalty. 

I'm not saying for a fact that Moore's a scoundrel. I'm saying the case to vote for him doesn't depend on vouching for his sterling character. 

ii) There are limits to this. If after the nomination but before the election, it was discovered that he was a serial killer, then that would be a bridge to far. Vastly so.

By the same token, suppose there were credible rumors, not that he as hitting on teenage girls, but teenage boys. I'd say that crosses a line. 

iii) The bar for assessing candidates isn't certainties but probabilities. To say "it's not impossible that he's telling the truth" is a ridiculous standard of evidence. It's important that we not subvert basic standards of evidence. 

iv) To say "He considers the behavior of which he is accused to be very wrong, which, if he committed the behavior decades ago, shows some change of mind" is gullible What Gagnon evidently means is that Moore says he considers the behavior of which he's accused to be very wrong. Bu that doesn't show some change of mind. If guilty, we'd expect a candidate to say that. What's the alternative? To say, during the campaign, that he doesn't think such behavior is very wrong? 

If he's a scoundrel, that's part of the pose. I'm not saying for a fact that he's guilty of all or any of the more sensational charges. I'm just struck by Gagnon's credulity on this point. Moore is running for high office. That's what you'd expect him to say to preserve his political viability. He's committed to a certain script in order to win. If he didn't think it was wrong, and he did it, you'd expect him to say behavior like that is very wrong, then indignantly deny the allegations. That's entirely consistent with the modus operandi of an amorally ambitious man. 

v) Yes, it's psychologically understandable that he'd lie about his past conduct, if he did it. That, however, is inconsistent with true contrition. Assuming he did it, if he was truly penitent, he wouldn't run for high office in the first place, and if he was caught, he'd drop out. 

vi) I agree that telling a lie doesn't ipso facto disqualify a candidate. But that's very abstract. Depends on what you're lying about. If he's defaming people who have a genuine grievance to preserve a bogus reputation, then that's inexcusable. 

That said, there are many considerations that should go into voting. But since Gagnon is focussed on the character issue, I object to all the special pleading.  

"Cruciform accommodation"

“The Principle of Cruciform Accommodation” (chs. 13–14) states that, just as Jesus lowered himself to the point of appearing guilty and reflecting the ugliness of sin on the cross, God at times accommodated his self-revelation to Israel’s sinful, culturally conditioned capacities and expectations.

An obvious problem with Boyd's comparison is that Jesus doesn't appear to be guilty in the NT. He doesn't appear to be guilty from the viewpoint of the Gospel narrators–or the other NT writers. 

He doesn't appear to be guilty from the viewpoint of gentiles like Pilate and the Centurion. 

He doesn't appear to be guilty from the viewpoint of Jews like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. 

There's even a sense in which he doesn't appear to be guilty from the viewpoint of his detractors, since they oppose him in spite of miraculous evidence that he's a divinely accredited messenger. 

From just about every viewpoint in the NT, whether the writers or figures within the narratives, he appears to be innocent and righteous. 

Moreover, he consistently presents himself as innocent and righteous. 

"Beginner-level mistakes"

Responding to Craig's "Does God Have both Necessary and Contingent Properties?", Mark Jones, on Facebook, exclaimed: "Wow, does he even do theology? Like those are beginner-level mistakes."

Here's what Craig said:

Basically, what your question asks is whether God can have some of His properties necessarily and some of them contingently.  It seems to me that He can and does.  Those who deny this would typically appeal to the doctrine of divine simplicity, which in its strongest form asserts the identity of God with His properties. But so strong a version of the doctrine has no biblical basis, is unintelligible, and has no compelling arguments in its favor. Given that God is not in this radical sense a simple being, he can have a plurality of properties, some of which He has necessarily and some contingently.

For example, God is essentially existent, omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, good, and so on, and so has such properties in every possible world. But God has only contingently the properties of being the Creator of the universe, knowing what time it now is, being incarnate in Jesus Christ, being my Redeemer, and so on, since He has these properties only in possible worlds in which He wills to create a universe, which is the free and contingent choice of His will. Jews as well as Christians will recognize that God may have both sorts of properties. 

According to Jones, Craig committed "beginner-level mistakes". Jones didn't bother to explain or correct Craig's alleged mistakes. He treats that as self-evident. Let's compare Craig's objection to this statement:

But it is very difficult to understand how a simple being could be free in the unconditional 'could have done otherwise' sense. If God is simple, then he is pure act in which case he is devoid of unrealized powers, potentialities or possibilities.  To act freely, however is to act in such a way that one (unconditionally) could have done otherwise, which implies unrealized possibilities. 

Vallicella is raising the same basic objection as Craig. Does Jones think Vallicella is making beginner-level mistakes? Vallicella authored the entry on divine simplicity for the prestigious Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 

And here's yet another example:

But if His essence is identical with what he does, then He would become a different being as He did different things…It seems that there are all sorts of contingent truths about God. If he created freely, then He might not have done so, and that God is a creator is a contingent truth….But if God's power and His knowledge are identical to the eternal act of being which is his nature, how could He do and know other than He does and know without being other than God?

"There are possible worlds in which God wills not to create…" But it is very difficult to see how God in the actual world could be the same being as God in some other possible world, if (1) God in the actual world is identical to His eternal and immutable act in this world, (2) God in a different possible world is identical to His act in that world, and (3) God's act in the actual world is not identical to His act in the other possible world."

A second possibility is to deny contingency in God…Given God's nature He could not do other than He does. There is no contingency in God, so there are no other possible worlds, whatever we may be able to imagine." Kathrin Rogers, Perfect Being Theology (Edinburgh U, 2000), 32,34.

Once again, that's the same basic argument as Craig. Does Jones think Rogers is making beginner-level mistakes? 

Ironically, her proposal to relieve the tension preserves simplicity by ditching impassibility:

Any systematic philosophy of God which incorporates free choice on the part of creatures would have to hold that God is somehow affected by and responsive to something outside Himself (37-38). 

So she resolves the dilemma by sacrificing one fixture of classical theism (impassibility) to salvage another fixture of classical theism (simplicity). Given a choice between simplicity and impassibility, she opts for simplicity. Given those alternatives, I'd opt for impassibility. 

Pruss on God's simplicity

Some modern-day Calvinists are touting Thomistic simplicity. I'd like to partially interact with a sophisticated defense of divine simplicity:

The Fourth Lateran Council teaches that God is a “substantia seu natura simplex omnino”—an “altogether simple substance or nature”—and the First Vatican Council reiterated the teaching. 

So faithful Catholics have to defend divine simplicity. Good thing Protestants aren't saddled with that precommitment.  

The doctrine of divine simplicity had better not say that mercy and justice, in general, are one and the same property. For that would make meaningless a claim that a friend of ours had exhibited more mercy than justice in some situation.  

i) I agree. However, it's hard to see how Pruss's denial in this regard differentiates his position from critics of simplicity like Frame, Craig, Plantinga, and Feinberg. Although he's defending simplicity, what he says here is consistent with what critics say.

ii) His position seems to be different from how simplicity is typically formulated by exponents. From what I've read, it's, in part, an inference. They infer that if God is identical with his attributes, then his attributes are mutually identical. The inference seems to be that if B is identical with A, and C is identical with A, then B is identical with C. 

Pruss is at liberty to dissent from that inference or formulation and strike out on his own, but in that respect he appears to be defending simplicity by taking issue with how that's typically expounded.  

Rather, the claim is that God’s mercy and God’s justice are the same ontologically. What makes it be true that Socrates is just? Surely it is something about Socrates, something that we might reasonably denote by “Socrates’ justice”, id est “that in virtue of which Socrates is just”. Socrates’ justice is not the same as Plato’s justice, because if they were the same, then the same thing would make it be true that Socrates is just as would make it be true that Plato is just. But if that were so, then it would follow that, necessarily, if Socrates is just, then that in virtue of which Plato is just exists, and hence Plato is just. 

The claim that God’s being merciful and God’s being just are identical is, I take it, the claim that the ontological basis of God’s being merciful is identical with the ontological basis of God’s being just. Or, in the above terminology, it is simply the claim that God’s justice is identical with God’s mercy. This does not entail that Cato’s justice is identical with Mother Teresa’s mercy, or even that Mother Teresa’s justice is identical with Mother Teresa’s mercy.

i) That's a coherent distinction. However, critics of simplicity could draw the same distinction. So I don't see how his distinction differentiates his position from those who deny simplicity. His explanation appears to be equally consonant with denying simplicity. 

ii) In fact, I don't see how his distinction is even related to the claim that "there is no ontological composition in God of any sort, whether of matter and form, or of essence and accident, or of this attribute and that attribute considered as ontologically distinct."

Even if his distinction is consistent with divine simplicity, how is that relevant to the question at hand? After all, his own analogy involves comparing attribute-agreement in and between composite beings: Plato and Socrates, Cato and Mother Teresa. How does his distinction demarcate an incomposite God from a composite God like Zeus? Couldn't a Greek polytheist say Zeus's justice is not the same as Cato's justice? 

If Curley freely chooses to take the bribe, then there is some time at which it was causally possible that he not take the bribe if offered it. Moreover, there is a time after which this is no longer causally possible—the choice has been made. Let t be the earliest time with the property that after t it is no longer causally possible that Curley take the bribe.  There is such a time. Before this time, Curley’s rejection of the bribe is causally open and after this time it is causally closed. Moreover, I will assume that this time t is associated with Curley’s decision to take the bribe. The decision happens at t. This is an assumption that might not hold, for it might be that at t Curley made some earlier libertarian-free decision, for example a decision to do whatever it takes to get ahead financially, which causally necessitated that he eventually make a causally determined decision to take the bribe.  In that case, the bribe-taking arguably inherits its freedom from the freedom of that earlier decision. But if we are to avoid a vicious regress, we will come to some decision with the property that the decision is made precisely at a time t such that after that time some deed is causally determined as far as Curley is concerned and before it it was not. This might not in fact be the decision to accept the bribe, but for simplicity I will assume it is.

Thus, at t there was a branching. Before t it was possible for Curley still to reject the bribe and after t this was no longer possible. There are now two models of free will. On the first model, one accepted by Nuel Belnap among others, at t the branching has not yet happened: it is still causally possible for Curley to reject the bribe.  It is only at t+d (for any d>0) that this is no longer possible. The time t is the last time at which matters are still open. On the second model, at t the branching has already happened: t is the first time at which matters are no longer open. I could give the argument for both cases, but that would make this talk unduly long. Instead, I will assume the first version to be correct, and for the purposes of making the talk self contained, I will say that for aught that we know, the first version is correct, and that should be all I need for my conclusions.  Anyway, similar arguments apply in the second case, but are more complicated.

Thus, at t Curley is deciding, but it is not yet true that he has decided. Let S be Curley’s state at t, i.e., the conjunction of all of Curley’s purely intrinsic properties at t (or, if we wish, the conjunction of all purely intrinsic properties occurrent up to and including time t). This state S occurs both in the actual world where Curley takes the bribe and in a possible world where he refuses it—I will call such a world “the alternate world”. Now, at any moment of time after t, the actual and the alternate worlds have already diverged.  Curley has already done something: something he is morally responsible for. Perhaps his hand has not yet reached out for the money; maybe his enraged voice has not begun to refuse the bribe. But he is now in a state such that he is set to take or is set to refuse the bribe. (I am simplifying of course by assuming he can’t also temporize.)  A deed has been done: his will has set into motion a causal chain leading up to the taking or the refusing of the bribe. Now the important thing to note is that the cause of the two different causal chains, the one in the actual world and the one in the alternate world, is the same as concerns intrinsic properties. Or the cause is Curley at t in state S.  Since this state contains all of Curley’s intrinsic properties at t, and these are the same in the actual and the alternate world, it follows that we have one and the same person in one and the same intrinsic state being in one world responsible for setting into motion one causal chain and in another, another.

But this seems to severely undercut the objection to divine simplicity based on the contingency of what God chooses. For we now see that one and the same person in one the same state could be in a position to initiate either of two incompatible causal chains. Moreover, note that Curley’s actual deciding was at t.  During the deciding itself there was no difference in his intrinsic properties between the actual and the alternate worlds. The difference only appeared extrinsically to the decision, though as a result of the decision.

While his analysis is interesting in its own right, I don't see how that solves the problem. Doesn't a different result require a differential will? So we have to take the explanation back a step. 

Thursday, December 07, 2017

This land is mine

i) The late great Jewish tenor Richard Tucker make a stirring recording of "The Exodus Song":

Depending on your viewpoint, that's political propaganda. Since I'm not Jewish, and I wasn't raised in the Middle East, I can't identify with the song at a personal level. I don't have that emotional attachment to the geography.  

Although Trump's decision to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem is mainly of geopolitical significance, it reignites familiar hermeneutical debates about the future status of Israel in Bible prophecy. Gary Burge wrote a predictable complaint about Trump's decision in The Atlantic. 

ii) This is a perennial issue in theology. It raises deep and difficult questions about the hermeneutics of prophecy, continuities and discontinuities between the old covenant and  new covenants, God's fidelity to his promises, &c. 

I'm not a Zionist, but I'm not opposed to Zionism. I'm noncommittal. That's because I think long-range prophecies are often rather obscure ahead of time. We only see how the pieces fall into place in retrospect. I consider Zionism to be a viable option. Time will tell. 

iii) It's been a while since I've read standard expositions of Dispensationalism. And I'm not sure what the current state of Dispensationalism is. For instance, it's odd that Dallas Theological Seminary hasn't published any next-generation commentaries on Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation. In fairness, Buist Fanning is slated to publish a commentary on Revelation, while Eugene Merrill did publish a fine commentary on Zechariah several years ago.

As I recall, one of the lynchpins of classical Dispensationalism goes like this: the OT is chockfull of prophecies about Israel. These are about Israel in the sense that they are worded in terms of Palestinian sites and a Jewish people-group. And the prophecies are often tied to Yahweh's past dealings with that people and place. 

By contrast, OT prophecies have far less to say about the future of the gentiles. There are some striking oracles and promises, but few compared to what-all is said about Israel. 

That raises something of a conundrum: where is the church in OT prophecy? How could the OT be silent on something as important and definitive as the church? That's a "mystery".

In classical Dispensationalism, when the OT talks about Israel, that's what it means. Israel (i.e. that place and people-group) is the intended referent. The language is what it appears to be. 

And there's certainly nothing outlandish about that assumption. However, it may not be quite that simple.

iv) Israel was always a mixed multitude. Abraham's household included circumcised foreigners. And the Exodus generation included many individuals who weren't direct descendants of Jacob (Exod 12:38). So the core identity was never purely or merely ethnic.

v) An obvious reason the OT has so much to say about Israel and comparatively little about gentiles is because it is generally written to Jews. It talks about them because so much of what it says is addressed to and for that particular audience. It says less about outsiders, in part because that's not the regular audience. The only gentiles who'd even be privy to OT prophecy were gentiles in the geographical ambit of ancient Israel. So the sample audience selects for the sample content. 

vi) In addition, OT prophecy may focus on the Mideast because that was the known-world to the original audience. You're not going to have prophecies about places and people-groups in far-flung regions of the globe because that would be unintelligible to the original audience. 

But that raises the question of whether the geographical locus is to some degree a stand-in for future developments, which might be far more expansive. 

vii) Apropos (iii), on one view, OT prophecies ostensibly about Israel are exclusively to Israel. They are only about Israel. 

At the opposite extreme is the view that Israel is a placeholder for the church. On that view, prophecies ostensively about Israel are exclusively about the church. They are only about the church–in contrast to Israel.

One problem with that identification is the Exodus, where God delivers a people-group in covenant fidelity to promises he made to Abraham and the patriarchs. That's based on generational continuity. So you can't just swap that out and swap in a different people-group.

viii) Another interpretation is to view Israel as inclusive of Israel, but not exclusive to Israel. It might be inclusive of believing gentiles. Gentiles who share the messianic faith of Abraham, David, and the prophets. 

And that's a throwback to the multi-ethnic composition of Abraham's household, as well as the multi-ethnic composition of Exodus-generation (iv)–who had a shared faith and history with the patriarchs. 

ix) Apropos (viii), Israel, in OT prophecy, may refer, not to Jews in general, but to believing Jews. Messianic Jews. A Jewish remnant throughout the course of sacred history. 

Their lives may be intertwined with other Jews, just as Christian congregations generally consist of families, not all of whom are believers. 

x) I once had a conversation with Meredith Kline. Even though he had a Jewish background, he was an ardent opponent of Zionism. His objection to me on that day is that God couldn't give the Jews that land in perpetuity because geological cycles change the complexion of the land over time. Eventually, the landmarks are gone. 

Moore's the pity, pt. 1
Can an evangelical or conservative Christian in good faith and with good reason vote for Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for the Alabama Senate, and thus against Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate?
Many answer with the strongest denial possible, accusing those who support Moore’s candidacy with betraying the values of the faith. Joe Carter, a respected editor and writer for The Gospel Coalition, a thoughtful Christian whom I personally appreciate even in cases of disagreement, attempts to make this case. My guess is that he speaks for all, or virtually all, of the members of TGC. How convincing is his case?
Joe’s case boils down to this: For him nothing “justifies voting for a sexual predator simply because the molester opposes abortion.” The problem with this way of thinking is that it presupposes that 70-year-old Roy Moore is, and has been for the past 35 years, a sexual predator. Whatever happened 38 and 40 years ago (the serious allegations of Leigh Corfman and Beverly Young Nelson, respectively), that way of formulating a vote for Moore today bears false testimony. It is slander. Does Joe really believe, contrary to all the evidence, that Moore is, and has been for decades, a danger to teenagers? A man whom, so far as we know, has never had sexual intercourse with anyone other than his one and only wife?
Because Joe presupposes that voting for Moore is inherently evil, Joe claims that any evangelical Christian who does vote for him is a “consequentialist,” allegedly thinking to make an intrinsically evil action (voting for Moore) good solely through achieving a good result (defeating Democrat Doug Jones who is pro-abortion, pro-LGBT-agenda, and anti-religious-liberty). Yet in presupposing that a vote for Moore is an inherently evil action, Joe presumes what must be proven.
In the first instance, the position of never voting for a person who is morally tainted in some way or who holds one or more positions that compromises at some level with an immorality cannot be maintained absolutely in all circumstances and cases. For example, on a runoff between Adolph Hitler redivivus and any other candidate with some immoral behavior and/or positions (including Bill or Hillary Clinton), it would be immoral to sit out the election and vote for neither candidate. You vote against a Hitler-like candidate at any cost. In other words, everyone can imagine an alternative so bad as to warrant a vote for a candidate with a significant moral downside.
Even as great a person as Abraham Lincoln held some views about African Americans that today would be considered so racist as to disqualify him for public office, certainly in his senatorial campaign against Stephen Douglas in 1858 and even in his presidential campaign against Douglas, John C. Breckinridge, and John Bell in 1860. Indeed, some abolitionists (including William Lloyd Garrison, stalwart editor of The Liberator) sat out the election of 1860 rather than vote for a candidate (even Lincoln) who had made major compromises with the grotesque evil of slavery. I would submit, however, that not to have voted for Lincoln, however residually racist he was as a candidate, was an immoral act, simply on the basis that he was by far the best of the available options.
One could easily retort, “Well, Jones is not a Hitler and Moore is not a Lincoln.” Granted. I am not arguing equivalence here. I am merely making the point that the absolute, one-size-fits-all approach taken by Joe Carter and others isn’t morally reasonable. This doesn’t mean that there are no cases where the choices are so equally bad that one should sit out the election. Nor does it mean that a politician’s moral life could never be so abysmal as to mandate voter abstinence even when espousing congenial policies. It just means that facile charges of Christians hypocritically abandoning their moral values have to be assessed on a case by case basis.
If voting for anyone but Hitler, or voting for a somewhat racist Lincoln to prevent far greater racists from gaining office, turns someone into a “consequentialist,” then we should all be consequentialists at some level. Yet that is not really what is going on in the electoral process. This brings me to my second point.
In voting it sometimes comes down to the lowest common denominator of choosing the candidate who will do the least harm. Choosing someone who has a questionable moral past four decades ago and who will beat you with a rod once per month over someone else who will beat you and your family with metal-spiked whips daily doesn’t make you a “consequentialist.” To abstain from choosing altogether may make you foolish. Choosing the former is not a validation of everything that the former does or is, so there is no claiming to turn an evil into a good by its supposed good consequences. There is no ends-justifying-the-means approach here. You are simply asserting that you are not a masochist and prefer the one who will do the least harm for the greatest number.
Yes, personal moral life counts in politics. Nevertheless, it can’t always be the only factor that is considered because personal moral failings vary in severity, timing, and level of proof, just as policy platforms range in number and severity. How one compares one element to another is not always easy. Elections are often complex because they bring into play many different variables. That is true of this week's election for Alabama Senator.
Joe Carter thinks the Alabama Senate election between Moore and Jones is simple: Moore is a sexual predator and Jones is pro-abortion so the moral Christian cannot vote for either. He calls this approach “convictional inaction.” He claims that to do otherwise would violate 1 Thessalonians 5:22: “Abstain from every form of evil.” Yet again Joe presumes what must be demonstrated: namely, that choosing between two candidates, each with significant (but not necessarily equivalent) moral deficiencies (one allegedly as regards personal life, the other certainly as regards policy), involves one in evil. In the immediate context of 1 Thess 5:22 Paul has in mind testing revelatory prophetic utterances in the church, not elections. While a more general application is also appropriate, there is no way that Joe or anyone else can conclude from this verse that voting for Roy Moore as an alternative to Doug Jones is a “form of evil.” That application is foisted on the text by Joe Carter as though it were supporting evidence for his position.
Joe claims that voting for Moore is no different from supporting for the Ohio state legislature a family-values Republican (Wesley Goodman) who a year or two before had attempted to unzip the pants of an unwilling 18-year-old male college student and who this year was caught having adulterous, homosexual sex with man in his office, as well as “sexting” college-age male conservatives (homosexual or not) and self-identified “gay” men. He also advertised for male companions on Craigslist and allegedly had sex with one or more other men. However, this case differs from Moore’s at several points: It involves recent events, indisputable events, and actual sexual intercourse (not to mention the compounding high biblical offenses of homosexual practice and adultery).
[To be continued]

Reclaiming the initiative in the culture wars

I'm going to comment on an article by Ryan Anderson:

Ryan makes a number of good points along the way, but he also has some missteps: 

But do we really want to live in a country where acting on a belief about marriage that people have held throughout all of recorded history — that it’s a union of male and female — is treated as the functional and legal equivalent of racism?

i) Yes, that's exactly what secular progressives want. Many Democrats fervently believe that. So we need to address the invidious comparison head-on. 

This doesn't mean that refuting the fallacious analogy will convince committed radicals. However, many Americans are soft on this issue. They are persuadable in either direction. They've never heard the conservative side of the argument. 

ii) In addition, the argument has to be better than an appeal to tradition. Falling back on "a belief about marriage that people have held throughout all of recorded history" is a weak argument. "We've always done it that way" isn't very convincing to the younger generation. That just invites the retort, "And that's the problem!" After all, slavery used to be a cultural universal (or nearly so). There are much better arguments than bare appeals to tradition.

Opposition to interracial marriage developed as one aspect of a larger system of racism and white supremacy, as part of an effort to hold a race of people in a condition of economic and political inferiority and servitude. It was based on the idea that contact with African Americans on an equal plane is wrong. That idea, and its premise of the supposed inferiority of African Americans, is the essence of bigotry. Bakers who declined to bake cakes for interracial weddings also declined to treat African Americans equally in a host of circumstances. Racists did not simply object to interracial marriage; they objected to contact with African Americans on an equal footing.

I think that's largely correct, but two caveats:

i) Opposition to interracial marriage wasn't necessarily premised on the inferiority of black Americans. It's gullible to take white supremacist rhetoric at face value. Although some white supremacists may have felt that way, the motivation for Jim Crow laws could be far more cynical than the official rationale. It's about the balance of power and loss of power. The ruling class can admit, in private, that they don't think they are innately superior to the underclass, but cling to their hegemony for selfish reasons. They don't wish to sacrifice their dominant position. 

ii) More to the point, Ryan's argument is too convoluted. Basically, he's trying to argue on the merits. And there's a place for that. One thing Christian pundits definitely need to do more of is to argue on the merits.

iii) However, that's a diversion. This is not first and foremost a question of right and wrong. It's not a question of whether Christians, Orthodox Jews, libertarians et al. deserve to have Constitutional rights. 

Constitutional rights aren't selectively conferred based on your goodness or purity of motives. It's a serious strategic blunder to shift the issue from the fact that citizens have First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights to whether Christians, Orthodox Jews, libertarians et al. are worthy in the eyes of the court or public opinion. 

Truth is, even bigots have Constitutional rights. That's the point. That's a given. That's why we have the Bill of Rights in the first place. We should be arguing from that presupposition, and not towards it. 

Sparing people such as Phillips from the sword does not undermine the valid purposes of anti-discrimination law — eliminating the public effects of anti-gay bigotry — because support for conjugal marriage isn’t anti-gay. Protecting freedom here sends no message about the supposed inferiority of those identifying as gay; it sends no message about sexual orientation at all. 

i) Once again, that's a self-defeating strategy. It puts citizens like Phillips on the defensive–as if they must obsequiously ask permission to exercise their Constitutional rights. But that has it backwards. Phillips is automatically entitled to Constitutionally protected civil liberties like freedom of speech, religion, and association. That's where the argument needs to be engaged. 

This isn't a matter of granting Phillips an exemption, at the discretion and indulgence of the court. Rather, secular progressives want to take away our Constitutionally guaranteed civil rights. 

At this cycle in the culture wars, that may be an uphill battle, but that's where the battle must be met. And while it may be an uphill battle, the left had to fight many uphill battles to achieve its current position. 

To robustly and unapologetically defend the Bill of Rights is more likely to succeed than Ryan's retreatist, defeatist alternative, because it's a far more inspiring cause, with a greater payback. Is the Benedict Option a hill to die on? 

ii) LGBT Americans have the same Constitutional rights as other Americans, viz. freedom of speech, religion, association, the right to bear arm, immunity from self-incrimination.

iii) They don't fictitious Constitutional rights, viz. a Constitution right to homosexual marriage.

iv) And they don't have statutory rights that overrule Constitutional rights. A state, municipality, regulatory agency, human rights commission, or Federal court doesn't have the authority to make LGBT people a protected class with special rights that supersede the Bill of Rights. 

v) I don't know what Ryan means by "anti-gay bigotry". He's a Catholic conservative. According to the current position of his own denomination:

2357 Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered."142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

vi) How is it a valid purpose of anti-discrimination law to eliminate the public effects of so-called anti-gay bigotry? Consider what an open-ended agenda that is. To eliminate the public effects of alleged anti-gay bigotry? Where does that putative ripple effect end? Who determines when the public effects of "anti-gay bigotry" have run their course?

vii) In addition, the LGBT "community" c. 2018 is far from a victim class. Indeed, as this very case demonstrates, as well as like cases, the LGBT lobby can't be trusted with power. They abuse power. They use political power to suppress dissent. 

Culture warriors need to be far more aggressive about reframing the argument. To take another example, consider how the LGBT "community" fosters a predatory culture towards minors. For instance:

According to the John Jay report, "The largest group of alleged victims (50.9%) was between the ages of 11 and 14, 27.3% were 15-17, 16% were 8-10 and nearly 6% were under age 7. Overall, 81% of victims were male."

When the male to male ratio between the perp and the victim is 8-1, that's a specifically homosexual correlation. And you can't chalk it up to the fact that the Catholic priesthood is male. One out of eight men in general aren't homosexual. More like about 99% of men in general are straight. 

Far from needing anti-discrimination laws to protect homosexuals, we need laws to protect minors from homosexuals in positions of power over minors. 

Forty Examples Of Matthew And Luke Agreeing On Jesus' Childhood

A few years ago, I posted thirty examples of agreements between Matthew and Luke about Jesus' childhood. Earlier this year, I added ten more to the post, so that it now provides forty examples. If you've already read the original edition of the post, you can go to the comments section of the thread to see what's been added since then.

Gee, Dr. Carrier, You’re Really Upset!

Not bearing the sword in vain

for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer (Rom 13:4).

This is a classic prooftext for capital punishment, but is that what it means? According to Ben Witherington:

But does "the sword" refer to the general functions of government, or is Paul already thinking more particularly about the tax police? I believe the reference to taxes in vv6-7 is just a pertinent illustration of the general principle that officials do have the right to use force. But it is unlikely that Paul has capital punishment in view, for which the weapon mentioned was not used. Romans practiced crucifixion, or beheading by a much more lethal weapon. B. Witherington, Paul's Letter to the Romans (Eerdmans 2004), 314.

Several issues:

i) Witherington is a pacifist, so that may bias his interpretation.  In fairness, proponents of the death penalty can have a bias in reverse. 

ii) The context involves the Roman magistrate punishing malefactors. The "sword" as a reference to capital punishment would be fitting in that setting.

iii) In addition, Paul already mentioned the sword in 8:35. There, the implied context is martyrdom, where Christians may face execution for their faith. Since it refers to capital punishment in that previous passage, this makes it more likely that it refers to capital punishment in 13:4.

iv) It may include capital punishment without singling out capital punishment. It may be a symbol or synecdoche for lethal force generally, such as how Rome forcibly responded to uprisings. 

v) Commenting on Rom 8:35, where the same Greek word is used Jewett says:

The climatic tribulation in Paul's catalogue is capital punishment, referred to here as machaira, the short sword or dagger opposed to the long sword. In Rev 13:10; Mt 10:34,38f.; Acts 12:2; Heb 11:34,37, this word refers to execution by the sword, the ultimate punishment of the state…And that the sword was regularly employed in Rome in the enforcement of its decreers, such as the Edict of Claudius, hardly needs to be recalled. R. Jewett, Romans (Fortress Press 2007), 547.

Whether or not the Greek word was the technical term for the kind of sword used to decapitate offenders, Jewett documents NT usage, where the word is employed in capital cases. 

vi) In sum, I think 13:4 probably covers capital punishment, although the sword may be applied more widely.