Saturday, December 30, 2017

"Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven"

This is a good example of an atheist dilemma:

Atheists flatter themselves on their supposed devotion to the truth. Bravely following the evidence whoever it leads. 

Yet many atheists openly despise Christianity. So what if the evidence pointed them to the truth of Christianity? What if they discovered that Jesus really is God Incarnate? That would put them in quite a bind because they've told us in ahead of time that they can't stand Christian theology. They have no fallback strategy if it turns out to be true. 

But in that event, what exactly is the value of their marshaling arguments against the Christian faith if they'd feel no different in case it were true? Why not drop the pretense and just concede that it makes no difference to them if Christianity is true or false? By their own admission, the evidence is irrelevant to their attitude towards Christianity. "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven" and all that. 

Infinite monkey theorem

I was asked to comment on a post by Matthew Ferguson:

1. Ferguson says he's interested quality rather than quantity. However, we're often warranted in believing something happened or something exists due to the sheer number of independent reports. So why should we have a different standard for miracles? 

2. I generally agree with Ferguson's definition of a miracle. Among other things, he says:

Miracles involve agencies, wills, or intentions, causally working from outside of the physical order, intervening in the physical order to cause events that cannot be explained by physical causes alone...Hence why the molecules of Jesus’ corpse cannot cause him to immortally rise from death. Hence why the water molecules in a jar cannot explain sudden transformation into wine. Instead, an agency, will, or intention working from outside of the physical order is intervening to cause an occurrence that would otherwise not be possible within the physical order...Miracles are not generally understood as unconscious accidents, but happen for intentional reasons. Answers to prayers, healing bodies in very specific ways, and producing very specific effects, such as parting the Red Sea specifically in front of the Judeans, all imply intelligent design.

In other words, the same causes produce the same effects. Christians don't deny that. But this creates no presumption against a different cause producing a different effect. A miracle happens when a new cause (e.g. divine action), outside the causal continuum, produces a new effect. 

3. I agree with his definition of agency-centered teleology, although I disagree with his naturalistic definition of biological teleology. 

4. He cites two putative coincidence miracles:

Don brought up (part 2, 40:40) a girl that lost her pet parakeet, prayed for a new parakeet, and then had another parakeet fly into her yard the next day. Don also brought up a couple that had prayed for a very specific amount of money, and then received that exact sum of money. 

But dismisses them:

these events can still be plausibly explained as coincidences. We live in a world of more than 7 billion people, where extraordinarily rare events are happening everyday.

Yet there are problems with that response:

i) He fails to define a coincidence. Here's one definition:

A coincidence is a surprising concurrence of events, perceived as meaningfully related, with no apparent causal connection. D. Bartholomew, Uncertain Belief (Oxford 2000), 101. 

But in that event, can he justifiably dismiss these examples as merely coincidental unless he can establish that the relation is in fact random? How does he discharge his burden of proof in that regard? 

ii) What's his practical criterion to distinguish a coincidence from an orchestrated event? For instance, consider circumstantial evidence that implicates a suspect in a crime. But given his standard, why can't we say that in a world with more than 7 billion humans, the evidence of criminal activity can always be chalked up to coincidence? 

iii) How often must a certain kind of event occur before we recognize a pattern rather than a coincidence? What's his threshold? 

5. Apropos (4), he quotes Richard Carrier:

the Law of Large Numbers is also used to refer to what causes the Infinite Monkey Theorem to be true … The point is the same: the more occasions for a coincidence to occur, the more such coincidences will occur. And without a mathematical check, we cannot know from our isolated POV whether we are one of those coincidences or not.

Yet how is that a mathematical check in practice? According to the infinite monkey theorem, one monkey with infinite time, or infinite monkeys with finite time, typing keys at random, will eventually produce a particular finite text like Hamlet. 

i) But what's the real-world analogue? An atheist can't appeal to infinite time or infinite random factors to provide a naturalistic explanation for coincidence miracles. 

ii) In addition, consider how the gibberish texts would astronomically outnumber the intelligible texts. But is that ratio comparable to reported miracles? 

6. Two problems with his comment on the argument from prophecy:

i) A prophecy might be ambiguous in advance respecting the process by which it will be fulfilled, yet unambiguous after the fact.

ii) The argument from prophecy doesn't turn on the probability of prophetic fulfillment considered in isolation, but the combined probability of many convergent prophecies. 

7. He says:

If a miracle worker could perform miracles on demand in modern times, then he could do it when doctors and scientists are present. This would provide perhaps the strongest evidence there is of a miracle.

But that's an artificial bar because it assumes a miracle worker has the ability to perform miracles at will. While that was true of Jesus, given his divinity, that's not a given with respect to miracle workers in general.

8. He says:

Nevertheless, a genuine miracle worker, who could repeat miracles, could provide empirical evidence of miracles to scientists and doctors in a controlled setting. 

That piggybacks on the same dubious assumption noted under (7). In addition, unless there's a presumption that God wants to prove his existence to everyone, there's no reason to think miracles will routinely occur in a controlled setting. On some occasions, God's intention to heal someone in particular might take place in a controlled setting (e.g. a hospital). 

9. He says:

Miracles such as raising the dead, walking on water, or turning water into wine likewise would involve demonstrable, empirical change. If such miracles existed, science could find them.

“[W. L. Craig] Natural laws have implicit ceteris paribus conditions … In other words, natural laws assume that no other natural or supernatural factors are interfering with the operation that the law describes.”

Ceteris paribus is a Latin term meaning “all other things being equal.” Science can tell us, for example, that a human being’s weight placed on the surface of liquid water will be too great for the surface friction on top of the water to support, causing the person to sink. This pattern can be demonstrated again and again through empirical testing. We know from science, therefore, that a human being walking on water would defy ordinary physical causality. If such an action were performed, therefore, especially by someone reputed to be a miracle worker, this would provide prima facie evidence of a miraculous event.

Science can also distinguish intelligently-driven behavior from natural occurrences, due to the goal orientation, design, and intentionality reflected in intelligent behavior. Empirical science, therefore, provides us with all of the tools that we need to study the existence of miracles.

That's a useful corrective to methodological naturalism.

10. He says:

What naturalists maintain, however, is that, no miracle events will be able to be supported by verifiable empirical evidence. Only a single example of such verifiable evidence, even if no others occurred for all of history, would be enough to disprove this view.

That's very significant to the burden of proof. Naturalism is a universal negative in reference to miracles. In principle, it only takes one counterexample to falsify naturalism. 

Therefore, the Christian has a trivially low burden of proof while the atheist has an insurmountably high burden of proof. An atheist must be able to discount every reported miracle.

11. He says:

“extraordinary” does not mean that the type of evidence itself has to be remarkable. Video tapes, x-rays, medical records, and so on are all part of ordinary life experience. What is meant by “extraordinary” in this case is that the evidence in question cannot be equally explained by a wide range of causes, but is only rendered probable under a very specific hypothesis. The problem with miracle reports is that they can be explained by a wide range of non-miraculous causes–such as misinterpretations of one’s senses, misdiagnosed medical conditions, remarkable coincidences, constructed memories, hearsay, and plain old lies. 

While I appreciate the definition, his escape clauses amount to special pleading. 

12. He says:

We can assess the likelihood of such events based on empirical evidence and simple statistics. As Cavin explains, a low prior probability for miracles can be shown by a simple statistical syllogism (slide 110):

99%+ of Xs are Ys
A is an X
Therefore, A is probably a Y

In the case of a miracle such as Jesus rising from the dead, the question is not whether God wants to raise Jesus from the dead, but simply the question of how often these kinds of events empirically take place in the world. 

But that's simplistic:

i) Suppose I drive my friend to the airport. My car is just one of a thousand other cars in the parking garage. Does this mean there's only a one in a thousand chance that I will drive my own car home? 

The other 999 cars are irrelevant to the odds that I will drive my own car home, because my selection isn't random. In fact, it's not a question of mathematical odds at all. 

ii) What are the odds that I will be dealt a royal flush? Depends. Is the deck fair or stacked. If the deck is stacked, then it may be inevitable that I will be dealt a royal flush.

iii) What are the odds that the deck will be stacked? I don't think that's quantifiable. Rather, it's a question of whether the dealer and I are in cahoots. The probability that he and I conspired isn't a question of mathematical odds.

13. He says:

First, miracles are events that people look and hope for. People pray everyday for miracles to occur, and they look for their prayers to be answered. This will not only cause people to see miracles in places where they may very well have not occurred, but it will also cause people to believe in miracles when they are told about them by others.

Although that's sometimes true, it's an overgeneralization. Reported miracles also happen to people who weren't looking for them. Some Christian miracles that happen to atheists, Jews, and Muslims, despite their predisposition to reject Christian miracles due to the social cost of conversion.

14. He says:

Human psychology is likewise wired to often see agencies in places where there are none. Early humans lived on a planet teeming with life, much of which was hostile and dangerous. Accordingly, early humans had to compete with other animals (and sometimes other humans) to survive, which selected our minds to detect agency and to seek out intelligence that threatened us. An accidental side effect of this, however, was that our minds became programmed for agency over-detection.

i) That combines a tendentious Just-So story with a tendentious psychological mechanism. 

ii) Moreover, we could just as well or better say that atheists suffer from an agency under-detection strategy. 

15. He says:

Simply documenting a multitude of such reports, therefore, does not mean that one has provided a compelling case for their actual occurrence.

That fails to distinguish between a multiple derivative reports of the same event, multiple independent reports of the same event, and multiple independent reports of different events.

16. He says:

Merely documenting anecdotal evidence and miraculous reports is not enough.

Finally, any researcher who seeks to make a persuasive case for the existence of miracles will need to research miracles in every possible context that they can. This means looking for evidence of miracles occurring in a Hindu context, a Muslim context, a Catholic context, a Native American context, a Pagan context, and others, besides a solely a Protestant and Pentecostal context, for example.

i) Yet that's in tension with his prior admission that:

Only a single example of such verifiable evidence, even if no others occurred for all of history, would be enough to disprove this view.

Anecdotal evidence can be quite sufficient to overturn a universal negative. 

The weakness of anecdotal evidence is when one attempts generalize from a few examples, since that may not be a representative sample. But disproving a universal negative doesn't require extrapolation. 

ii) In addition, he seems to think the occurrence of non-Christian miracles poses a problem for Christianity, although he fails to explain why. Perhaps his unstated objection is that if the argument from miracles is used to prove Christianity, then non-Christian miracles cancel out that line of evidence. If that's what he has in mind, I'd say the following:

iii) Even if the argument from miracles is insufficient to prove Christianity, it can be sufficient to disprove naturalism. And that can figure in a cumulative case argument for Christianity, by eliminating a major contender. 

iv) Likewise, even if the argument from miracles is insufficient to single out Christianity, it can figure in a cumulative case argument for Christianity. The case for Christianity doesn't hinge on a crucial piece of evidence, but multiple lines of evidence. 

v) If miracles cluster around Christianity, then they point to Christianity.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Last Jedi and toxic masculinity

Presented without comment:

Are Evolution and Christianity Compatible?

Santa apostates

Mock dialogue:

Apostate: I don't believe in God because my Christian parents lied to me about Santa. How can I trust them about Jesus when I can't trust them about Santa?

Christian: If your parents taught you that the Empire State Building is located in NYC, would you say you don't believe it even exists because your parents lied to you about Santa? I mean, how can you trust them about the Empire State Building when you can't trust them about Santa?

Apostate: I believe in the Empire State Building, not because I trust my parents, but because I have evidence that it exists. 

Christian: So you admit that whether or not your parents lied is irrelevant. Trusting your parents is beside the point. You believe in the Empire State Building because you have evidence that's independent of what your parents taught you.

Apostate: Right!

Christian: By the same token, there's evidence for Jesus that's independent of what your parents taught you.

Scandinavian hell

I'd like to make a brief observation about hell. There are Christians, apostates, and atheists who get carried away with the poetic imagery. 

If, however, the Bible was originally revealed in, say, Iceland, the Yukon, or Scandinavia, rather than a hot dry climate like Palestine, the hellish imagery might instead draw on snow and ice, arctic temperatures, a polar vortex, and a continuous polar night. 

The "geography" of hell is based on the Middle East. The "geography" of hell would vary if originally revealed in regions with different landscape and climate. The metaphors are to some degree culturebound. A tropical depiction of hell might be characterized by an abundance of nasty reptiles and stinging insects.

Causing evil

A stock objection to Calvinism goes something like this: it is evil to cause evil. But the God of Calvinism causes evil (or determines evil, which amounts to the same thing). Indeed, the God of Calvinism causes human agents to commit evil. Yet making someone else do evil is at least as bad if not worse than doing it yourself.

Let's examine that objection. Take the ticking timebomb scenario. Many people think torturing a terrorist to find out where the bomb is hidden, to save innocent lives, is immoral. 

Why is that immoral? Presumably, they think torture is wrong because they think excruciating pain is evil. If so, then it's evil to cause excruciating pain. 

If they don't think excruciating pain is evil, then it's unclear why they think torture is wrong. They might not think that's the only reason torture is wrong. They might think torture is wrong in part because coercion is wrong. But presumably they think the evil of excruciating pain is a necessary condition of what makes torture wrong, in cases where torture utilizes pain. Indeed, pain is coercive. The two are inseparable in that scenario. 

The justification for torturing the terrorist is to save innocent lives. But since they regard torture as intrinsically wrong, the goal, however noble, can't justify that expedient. So goes the argument. 

But let's vary the illustration. Take a field medic during the Civil War who operates without anesthetic, because none is available. If excruciating pain is evil, then it's evil for the medic to inflict excruciating pain on his patients. Yet most of us think his action is justified. He must amputate the arms and legs of gunshot victims to prevent the greater evil of death by gangrene. Yet in that event, there are situations in which causing evil isn't evil. 

In addition, suppose there's a patient he's loathe to save. It may be the enemy. But the field commander orders him to operate on that patient because the field commander wants to pump the enemy soldier for information. He may force the unwilling medic to operate at gunpoint if need be.

That would mean he's causing an agent to commit evil, assuming that pain is evil. If, on the other hand, we grant that it's not inherently evil to cause the evil of inflicting pain, then it's not evil to cause an agent to cause evil, in that respect. At least, that seems to break the chain of inference.

Although that's a hypothetical comparison, it has a real-world counterpart. We experience physical pain because God designed the human body to have that sensitivity. But if excruciating pain is evil, then that means God causes evil by designing and making bodies with sensitivity. 

Let's consider some objections to my argument:

i) Pain isn't good or bad in itself. Rather, it's context-dependent. For instance, pain can be a warning sign to avert or avoid greater harm. The painful sensation of burning deters us from taking chances with fire. Temporary pain protects us from greater harm. 

One potential problem with that reply is that it makes it harder to oppose torture in the ticking timebomb scenario. In both cases, you have an ends-means justification. If the deterrent value of pain to avoid death or serious injury by fire justifies pain, then why not torturing a terrorist to save innocent lives? Both utilize temporary pain. Both justify harm for a greater good. 

ii) We absolve the field medic because he lacked access to anesthetics. But the analogy breaks down in application to God, who doesn't suffer from analogous limitations.

Up to a point that's true, but I'm testing the principle. The objection makes blanket statement: it is evil to cause evil. Or it is evil to cause another agent to cause evil.

If, however, there are exceptions, then that isn't wrong in principle. It depends on the situation. If something is intrinsically wrong, that precludes exceptions. But if in fact it's permissible in some cases, then the objection can't be a special case of a universal principle. 

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Sarfati on the flat-earth movement

From New Age to New Birth


I'll quote, then comment on some tweets by Anthony Bradley and his entourage:

Anthony Bradley Retweeted mezmcconnell
Here’s the problem(and this will be hard): from a black church perspective, evangelicals have never had the gospel. Ever. Read the book “Doctrine and Race.” Here then is the actual Q: When will evangelicals embrace the gospel for the first time ever? #BlackChurchAnthony Bradley added,

When you’re in power you have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.  

Anthony Bradley Retweeted Dr. Eric Mason

Replying to @drantbradley
It made sense from the beginning! My issue is now with blind evangelical blacks who cow tow at the altar of white evangelicalism trying to make us who are done seem a-theological or near apostate!Our bro Lecrae is a major public figure but many unknowns have been there for a min!

Anthony Bradley Retweeted Dr. Eric Mason
I think it’s fair to say that we (black folks) are all tired. Lecrae’s distancing makes more sense everyday..... #TiredAnthony 

If you are critiquing woke ideology but you aren’t serving the black & African diaspora needs based on Titus 3:14, I can’t hear you! If you critique this from a white space I can’t hear you at all! More to come on this! #wokechurch

Anthony Bradley Retweeted Danté Stewart (Stew)
This is why I’m telling more brothers to stay in the black church. Yeah, go to RTS, etc. & then go back home. The evangelical church space has proven (repeatedly) that it’s not worth it. Expecting change is a fools errand.

Replying to @drantbradley
It’s bad out here. The worse part is that this is not fringe thinking; this is pervasive thinking. The amount of widespread ignorance + active animosity/justification is unbelievable. It’s extremely tiring and frustrating and hurts Christ’s church and our witness in the world.

Anthony Bradley Retweeted Wayne Larson
Everyone in the PCA should feel this way. Drop “evangelicalism” altogether. We have a confession and we’re a connectional church. And people don’t think “Presbyterians” are simple-minded so we don’t need an “e” to define us. #DropTheEAnthony Bradley added,

Anthony Bradley Retweeted Danté Stewart (Stew)
Book title: “Once We Speak Up: Why Lecrae, Jemar Tisby, & Others Distanced Themselves From White Evangelicalism” #NotWorthIt #BurntOut #TiredAnthony Bradley added,

Anthony Bradley
The same monistic impulse that believe desegregation would end racism in America is the same impulse that believes “multi-ethnic churches” are the solution to evangelicalism’s race problem, making them both idols (Allport warned us). 

Anthony Bradley Retweeted

Replying to @drantbradley
I’ve stopped talking and spent my energy working outside of the “evangelical papacy” that never cared for us collectively from the start. It takes a hard shake for some magic negros or “darlings” to see they are being tokenized.

Anthony Bradley Retweeted

Replying to @arielbovat @drantbradley
Evangelical for many of us = white.
So we aren’t embracing the title “black evangelicals”. We are simply Christians. The idea is that Evangelicalism has been and continues to be shaped without concern for people of color.

Anthony Bradley Retweeted Dr. Eric Mason

Believers aren’t truly awakened if we are held hostage by evangelicals captivity to western culture. Being woke is rooted for me in Eph 5:14 & understanding the history of Christianity in North Africa. If you critique Woke ideology w/o engaging black dignity you are cooning.

i) This doesn't bother me personally because I don't take people who talk like this seriously. 

ii) What, if anything, are they trying to accomplish? This isn't going to change the views of the white evangelicals they demonize. There's no effort at rational persuasion. They don't give white evangelicals a reason to see things their way. There's no intellectual engagement. It's pure antipathy and seething resentment. 

Now maybe they feel that further debate is futile because they've tried that and white evangelicals won't listen. Maybe they define not listening in the sense that many white evangelicals don't buy into the Black Lives Matters narrative. Or they don't think there's anything to debate because that implies a two-sided exchange of views between equal conversation-partners, and they don't think white evangelicals have anything to contribute to the dialogue. 

iii) The purpose of slash-n-burn rhetoric is not to reach out, not to expand your base, but to differentiate yourself from the enemy. Consolidate your base. Announce your presence, thereby summoning other like-minded men and women to join the club. The result, though, is that Bradley and his ilk self-marginalize. 

iv) I'm intrigued and bemused by their mania with white evangelicals. Why are some blacks obsessed with whiteness when I don't share their obsession with my own whiteness? Why is whiteness more important to some blacks than it is to a white guy like me? Indeed, that's an understatement. Ironically, there are black Americans as fixated with white identity as neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates, and Klansmen.

v) They have this bizarre notion that white Christians like me have a duty to be extremely self-conscious about my race. They think I have an obligation to constantly remind myself that I'm white, as if that should be my central frame of reference. It's comical that they take whiteness far more seriously than white guys like I do. 

vi) Is there such a thing as the black church? In fact, it would be prejudicial for me to stereotype black Americans or black Christians by assuming that there's a monolithic black viewpoint. 

vii) I don't regard any one ethnic group as the standard of comparison for the church. Why should the experience of "the black church" be the benchmark? Why does that outrank the experience of, say, Korean-American Christians or Singaporean Christians or the underground church in mainland China or Latin American evangelicals, or Christians in Uganda? 

To the extent that there's a black experience, we should listen to that story and incorporate what's good into the evangelical church. But that holds true for other racial and ethnic groups. 

Likewise, there's a generational experience. Growing up at a particular time. There's a social class experience. Take a coal miner from West Virginia. There's a regional experience. Rural or small-town America compared to the big city. Then there's the global church.

All these stories enrich the church. But the only story that's normative for everyone is the Biblical story. 

viii) Their reminds me of the NAACA, which was useful when it was founded, but has long since outlived its purpose. Yet instead of disbanding, it casts about from some excuse to still be around. Something new to complain about.

ix) An unintended consequence of racial and religious discrimination is that it unifies the group that's the object of discrimination. In a sense, it produces the very group it oppresses. It generates a sense of group identity. 

And the ironic consequence of abolishing racial and religious discrimination is to trigger an identity crisis, because the group no longer has that artificial, externally imposed common ground to rally around. They can no longer define themselves by discrimination, because official discrimination is gone. And removing that extrinisic unifying force exposes the lack of organic affinity. 

Members of the formally oppressed group begin to drift apart because the only thing they shared in common was oppression. They had no other bond. 

Bradley and his ilk are like aging hippies who wax nostalgic for the Sixties. They go in search of a new cause to keep the flame alive. These are First World problems. Compare it to the persecution which Christians in India and Muslims countries suffer. That's real oppression! 

x) Imagine if I were to relocate to Singapore, Hong Kong, or Nigeria, then complain about the dominance of Chinese or black Africans? Historically, Caucasians have been the majority race in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere. As a result, Protestant Christianity in the Anglosphere is predominantly caucasian. That's a side-effect of racial demographics.

If you happen to be white, you ought to be Christian. You ought to be a Bible-believing Protestant. You ought form Christian institutions that propagate the faith once delivered. 

Due to immigration, other ethnic groups are moving into these preexisting institutions, although they have their own parallel institutions. Eventually, they may displace caucasians as the dominant group. There's a natural transition, due to shifting demographics. So long as we share the same Savior, the same Spirit, that's a wonderful fluid dynamic. 

God's "secret" will

It is the secret will which really embodies what God wants to have happen in the universe. If one knew that God's revealed will conflicted with His secret will, wouldn't it be better to obey the more fundamental will which actually expressed the divine sovereignty? Katherin A. Rogers, "Does God Cause Sin?: Anselm of Canterbury Versus Jonathan Edwards on Human Freedom and Divine Sovereignty," Faith and Philosophy 20/3 (2003), 375.

i) Freewill theists act as though a "secret" divine will has sinister connotations. Yet that's hardly exclusive to Calvinism. In the varieties of freewill theism, God has a secret will inasmuch as he has countless specific intentions that he never discloses to humans. 

ii) It's not a choice between obedience to his secret will or obedience to his revealed will, for it's impossible to disobey God's secret will (i.e. what God has predestined). It's not like an agent can obey God's secret will rather than his revealed will–as if the alternative is to obey his revealed will rather than his secret will. Whether or not he obeys God's revealed will, he is bound to obey God's secret will.

iii) If someone disobeys God's revealed will, that's because God "secretly" willed them to disobey his revealed will. Although obedience to God's secret will often conflicts with obedience to God's revealed will, obedience or disobedience to God's revealed will never conflicts with God's secret will, in any particular case. For there are many situations in which God's plan is realized through disobedience to his revealed will. Conversely, there are many situations in which God's plan is realized through obedience to his revealed will. Both obedience and disobedience to his revealed will are instrumental to the furtherance his eternal plan. Obedience and disobedience have different results. God intends the respective results in each case, as they drive the plot to its appointed ends. So her objection is a false dichotomy. 

iv) We're not dealing with two different wills. That's just a confusing linguistic convention. The distinction, or contrast, is between what God has predestined and what God has commanded or forbidden. 

Shooting themselves in the foot

Here is another way of putting my point. The reply I have been considering, which skeptical theists might make in response to the charge that their skeptical theses undermine ordinary moral deliberation and action, is that “what is wrong for a person depends only on what… she knows” (McBreyer 2010)—or at least, what she thinks she knows. But the divine determinist thinks she knows something that those not committed to divine determinism do not think they know: and that is, that God has determined every event that occurs in the world. But then, this additional knowledge must factor into the divine determinist’s moral deliberation. The divine determinist must reason that if some horrific evil was divinely determined, then it was necessary for some greater good. But then, it must have been good, all things considered, that such an evil occurred. And so it would have been bad, all things considered, if someone had prevented its occurrence. So, no one should have prevented its occurrence. Leigh C. Vicens, Divine Determinism: A Critical Consideration. PhD. diss. University of Wisconsin-Madison (2012), 240-41.

What's ironic about this objection is how it overlooks a parallel objection: 

The freewill theist must reason that if some horrific evil was divinely permitted, then it was necessary for some greater good. But then, it must have been good, all things considered, that such an evil occurred. And so it would have been bad, all things considered, if someone had prevented its occurrence. So, no one should have prevented its occurrence.

IQ, abortion, and euthanasia

Peter Singer's argument for infanticide and euthanizing the senile and developmentally disabled is that IQ ranges along a continuum according to maturity and species. According to him, some higher animals are smarter than newborn babies, the senile, or developmentally disabled. Of course, that's a horrendous justification for infanticide and euthanasia, even if it were true. But in addition, here's a challenge to his operating assumption:

And what is rationality? Let us begin to try to answer this question by considering another question asked by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein: "We say that a dog is afraid his master will beat him; but not, he is affraid his master will beat him tomorrow. Why not?" The beginning of the answer to this question is that the idea expressed by the word "tomorrow" is wholly foreign to the mental world of the dog.

This idea…is well expressed by a bit of verse by W. V. Quine:

The unrefined and sluggish mind
Of Homo javanensis
Could only treat of things concrete
And present to the senses.

A rational being is a being that can do the following:

Represent to itself complex states of affairs, including non-actual states of affairs, that are strikingly remote from its present sense-perceptions. For instance…finding new ways to dispose of the refuse that feeds the rats that carry the flees that are infected with the bacterium that cause the plague. It can believe that certain states of affairs are actual and that others are non-actual. It can desire that certain states of affairs be actual and others non-actual…("I am trying to imagine what our life will be like if we really go ahead and have a child")…It can sort states of affairs into the categories of "probable" and "improbable"…It can devise plans of action that draw on its beliefs about which states of affairs are actual and non-actual and probable and improbable…It is capable of recognizing other beings as having all these capacities, and it is capable of communicating to those that do facts and orders and questions related to states of affairs it represents to itself…

Rationality marks a great divide, a discontinuity between humanity and the beasts. It is wrong to suppose that there is something apes and elephants and beavers have a little of, and we have more of, and that as a consequence, we are rational and they are not. 

It is not that we are "more intelligent" than, say, apes, and that that is why we are rational and apes are not–as Alice is able to solve word-analogy problems and spatial-relation problems faster than Alfred because she is more intelligent…We may indeed be more intelligent than apes; indeed I suppose we are. But if so, that is not why we are rational and apes are not. If there is a connection, it goes the other way: we are more intelligent than apes because we are rational and therefore have more use for intelligence-for intelligence, if it is anything, is the ability to manipulate mental representations of states of affairs in various useful ways, and we have a lot more, and a lot more complex, representations to manipulate than apes do….Human beings who are of subnormal intelligence owing to injuries or generic defects do not have minds at all like the minds of apes, any more than apes of subnormal intelligence have minds like the minds of elephants or beavers. Rather, they have human minds that are of diminished capacity in respect of dealing with the demands of life in a human community. P. van Inwagen, Metaphysics (Westview Press, 4th ed., 2015), 184-86.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Marian apparitions and heaven tourism

There's a striking parallel between Fatima, Lourdes, Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, and The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven: A True Story

I've detailed my views on heaven-and-back stories about children before, so I won't repeat myself in this post:

What all these accounts share in common is stories about children (e.g. Todd Burpo, Alex Malarkey, Bernadette Soubirous, Lucia dos Santos, Jacinta and Francisco Marto) who claim to have numinous encounters. The Catholic and Protestant accounts are strikingly similar in that regard. I'd add that a common theme in the case of the Catholic stories is the Immaculate Conception. 

Let's sketch a skeptical explanation. Although children are quite capable of lying, it's not always that simple. Children indulge in innocent make-believe. 

Suppose they initially spin a tall tale which they don't expect anyone to believe. And much of the time, adults discount stories like this. 

But sometimes, for whatever reason, they are taken seriously. The stories take on a life of their own as adults report what the children said. 

That puts a child in a situation he didn't anticipate, and which he lacks the maturity to handle. Suddenly he (or she) is the center of attention. That makes it psychologically much more difficult for the child to voluntarily retract the story if it was a lark. Adults have now put the child in a position where he (or she) is under pressure to live up to their expectations. It's exhilarating to have all that favorable attention showered on them. At that point the kids don't wish to let anyone down. Eventually, Alex Malarkey screwed up the courage to recant his sensational claims. But it's really hard to back down at that point. 

I'd add that this can dramatically advance their social standing. For instance, Lucia dos Santos was venerated as the mouthpiece of Mary. She had the ear of popes. Indeed, she had leverage over popes. That's heady for someone who started out as nobody.  

This is not to deny that some kids may have heavenly NDEs, see angelic or dominical apparitions, &c. But unless there's corroborative evidence, outside observers can't differentiate fantasy from reality in the regard. 

I'd also add that this goes to the distinction between public  and private revelation. Absent corroborative evidence, there's no obligation for a second party to credit the purported experience of the alleged witness. It's generally prudent to withhold judgment, unless you personally know the witness and can vouch for their bona fides.