Saturday, January 20, 2018

Elevator out of order

In this post I'm going to revisit an argument for Catholicism by Bryan Cross and Michael Liccione:

This post will be deceptively long, because much of the raw length is due to verbatim quotes. 

Michael Liccione May 25th, 2010 1:51 am :

Before I go to bed, I just wanted to say that this is excellent. I will take up a few of your arguments at my own blog, where I plan a post on Newman’s doctrine of conscience. Of course, if the Reformed guys at places like Triablogue and Green Baggins takes note of your post, we will end up having some intricate epistemological debates. I say: bring it on!

Challenge accepted!

Are miracles hazardous?

I'm going to comment on this: Yujin Nagasawa, Miracles: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford 2017):

Performing miracles seems to be extremely risky. Nature is uniform and stable because it is regulated by the laws of nature. If the laws of nature did not exist, we should not breathe, sleep, or even exist. Hence, when miracle workers violate the laws of nature they may endanger living things in nature as well as nature as a whole (47). 

We saw in the Preface to this book that, according to recent polls, the majority of people in the USA and the UK today believe in miracles. We also saw in Chapter 2 that reports of miracles can always be found, irrespective of time, geographical location, or religious tradition. How could that be possible? The most straightforward answer to this question is that miracles do really take place everywhere, all the time. However, miracles should not be so prevalent. Recall our definition of a miracle: it is a violation of the laws of nature that is caused by an intentional agent and has religious significance. If miracles take place everywhere, all the time, then the laws of nature are being violated everywhere, all the time. If this is indeed so, then nature is so unstable that, it would seem, we should not be able to live normal lives. Suppose, for example, that water was frequently being turned into wine or that dead people were frequently being brought back to life. If these events took place regularly then water supply companies and funeral directors would not be able to run their businesses smoothly. However, we almost never hear them complaining about miracles taking place. If miracles do take place then they are extremely rare events. So that brings us back to square one: why is belief in miracles so widespread (51).

This objection is unintentionally comical. An example of smart people with dumb ideas. Presumably, Nagasawa is a bright, sophisticated guy, but his objection is blind on several levels:

i) He begins with an a priori definition of miracle which he then imposes on reports. That generates a discrepancy between the definition and the reports. But instead of adjusting his definition to accommodate the reports, he adjusts the reports to accommodate his definition.

ii) It's doubtful that most respondents to the surveys define a miracle the way he does. 

iii) I myself prefer to define a miracle as a type of event that won't happen when nature is allowed to run its course. 

iv) Then there's the equivocal language about "everywhere, all the time". For instance, suppose a miracle happens everyday in every town, city, and suburb across the globe. Yet the relative distribution of miracles would still be an infinitesimal fraction of all the ordinary events that transpired across the globe on any particular day. Miracles could happen every day or every hour without happening constantly in the sense of representing a sizable proportion of what happens. 

To take a comparison, suppose that every day, in every town, city, and suburb across the globe, there are people with green eyes. Yet in relation to seven billion human inhabitants, that might constitute a tiny fraction of the overall population. Widely scattered specks. By the same token, miracles might be widely distributed in time and place without being densely pervasive. 

v) Perhaps the deepest weakness of Nagasawa's analysis is the apparent, unstated assumption that by breaking a law of nature, each miracle temporarily suspends the laws of nature at a cosmic level. Every time a miracle occurs, assuming a miracle ever occurs, the laws of nature momentarily wink out all across the universe. In that case, the disruption would be cataclysmic. 

But even if we define a miracle as an event that defies the laws of nature (a dubious definition), it doesn't seem to even occur to Nagasawa that the violation can be local rather than global. The transgressive effects can be contained. 

vi) One of the problems may be that Nagasawa adopts a religiously pluralistic viewpoint (although he himself is clearly a skeptic). Within a framework of animism, polytheism, or witchcraft, a wonder-worker might not be able to control the effects of his actions. 

But from the standpoint of biblical monotheism or classical theism, miracles are coordinated with general providence. Even if a miracle requires the suspension of natural laws (a dubious definition), that doesn't mean natural laws must be inoperative everywhere to be inoperative at a particular point in time and space. Rather, the effects would be insulated. A closed system within a larger system.

To take a comparison, passengers inside an airplane are immobile (seated) or walking up and down the aisles within the passenger compartment, even though the plane may be traveling at supersonic speeds.  

Friday, January 19, 2018

What makes a miracle?

I'm going to comment on this: Yujin Nagasawa, Miracles: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford 2017):

For an event to qualify as a miracle, an intentional agent must bring it about (13).

That seems like a useful criterion.

Any probabilistically impossible event with more than 0 per cent probability can take place purely by chance. An event that can happen purely by chance cannot be considered a miracle because a miracle has to be an event that is beyond coincidence. 

Jesus's turning water into wine and resurrecting the dead are miracles precisely because they are nomologically impossible events. Given the laws of chemistry there is no way that water alone can turn into wine. Given the laws of biology there is no way that a person who has been dead for days can be resurrected. Yet they are neither probabilistically nor logically impossible. On the one hand it is not merely a matter of probability that water cannot turn into wine and the dead cannot be resurrected. These events cannot occur by chance. On the other hand, it is not a matter of logic that water cannot turn into wine and the dead cannot be resurrected. There is nothing logically contradictory about water turning into wine and the dead being resurrected. They are impossible only given the laws of the nature of this world…What he [Jesus] performed can be deemed miracles because the impossibilities they involve are perfectly fine-tuned: they are stronger than probabilistic impossibilities but weaker than logical impossibilities (17).

…the outcome of the transformation (e.g. wine) cannot be obtained merely by processing the original substance (e.g. water)…When Jesus transformed water into wine perhaps he first produced wine out of nowhere and used it to instantly replace the water (23). 

i) It's true that turning water into wine (or bread into fish) is naturally impossible in a way that a coincidence miracle is not. That's a valid distinction. And replacement is one way to model it. 

ii) A "miracle" is a term of art, so Nagasawa is at liberty to offer his own definition. But that's subject to scrutiny.

iii) Could the laws of nature be different? The laws of nature are contingent. If the nature world disappeared, natural laws would disappear. 

However, some people are too quick to claim that there could be a universe with different natural laws. Maybe so. But natural laws are interrelated. If you change one, you may have to change them all, or many or most of them. Each natural law must be consistent with every other natural law. But that raises the question of whether a universe with different natural laws is coherent. How many laws would have to be different for any law to be different? Is there a functional combination of alternative natural laws? 

An omnipotent God is very resourceful. And omnipotent God can often bypass the natural order. But what's natural isn't indefinitely elastic. 

iv) What about his claim that a miracle must be an event that's beyond coincidence? Is that a metaphysical definition of a miracle or an epistemological definition?  

Let's take a comparison. Suppose a man dies in a car crash due to brake failure. That could happen purely by chance. 

But suppose, on further investigation, it turns out that his wife was having an affair with the automechanic who serviced the car the day before. And suppose the husband was a rich man. According to the will, his widow becomes a wealthy heiress in the event of his accidental death.

That could be a coincidence. But is it reasonable to classify the event as accidental death rather than murder? Even if all we have is circumstantial evidence which can't absolutely rule out the statistically possibility that is happened purely by chance, yet from an epistemic standpoint, that's not the most plausible explanation. Shouldn't we classify this event, not according to what's possible or impossible but probable or improbable? 

Suppose, finally, the homicide detective recovers text-messages which explicitly reveal a murder plot between the wife and the boyfriend/automechanic. Metaphysically speaking, it wasn't actually a coincidence even if that kind of thing can (and does) happen by chance. 

Grace under fire

Jordan Peterson's recent interview is getting a lot of buzz:

It's a master class in how to respond to a hostile interviewer who oversimplifies the issue. He did a fantastic job. However, he could have fielded one question differently. Does the right to give offense compete with the right to take offense? As the interviewer put it, does he have the right to offend a transgender person?

i) From an American perspective, there's a Constitutional right to offend others, whereas there's no comparable or superior Constitutional right not to be offended.

ii) To be offended is not self-validating. The fact that someone may take offense doesn't justify their umbrage. Indeed, umbrage is often unwarranted. Mere umbrage has no moral authority over anyone else. 

iii) The transgendered aren't primarily offended by others, but by themselves. They are offended by their own bodies.

iv) There are tradeoffs in a free and open society. That may result in hurt feelings, but the alternative is a totalitarian regime.

Rigging the outsider test

It's been many years since I've debated John Loftus, but I recently tangled with him on Facebook:

"A historian wants to know what happened. The apologist doesn't care what happened. He only wants to defend the Holy Book at all costs, even if it means he must sacrifice his intellect to do so."

i) An apologist for atheism doesn't care what happened. He only wants to defend his naturalism at all costs, even if it means he must sacrifice his intellect (e.g. eliminative materialism) to do so.

ii) Loftus overlooks the obvious fact that becoming a Christian apologist is sometimes the end-result of pursuing the evidence, and not the starting-point. 

iii) What about historians committed to methodological naturalism? They don't care what happened. They will defend a naturalistic explanation even if it means sacrificing the evidence.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

A tale of two cities


Cat fight in heaven

It's common for Catholic apologists to cast Mary in the role of the Queen Mother of Heaven. The unstated inference seems to be that if Jesus is the king, and Mary is his mother, that makes her the Queen Mother of Heaven. 

Some Catholic apologists take this a step further and infer that Mary is the power behind the throne. Jesus must forever honor his mother by submitting to her whims. So Mary dictates cosmic policy. Mary wears the pants in heaven.

There are several problems with this inference:

i) Grown sons are not supposed to be subservient to their mothers.

ii) Christ's relationship to his human mother is significantly different from normal filial relationships. The Son is Mary's Creator, Redeemer, and Judge. 

iii) Catholic apologists also like to emphasize the church as the bride of Christ. But that raises interesting questions regarding the power dynamic.

A marriage in which the mother-in-law overrules the wife is a marriage on the rocks. In marriage, some mothers are valued counselors, but mothers-in-law aren't supposed to outrank wives. 

A marriage establishes a new authority structure. There was the authority structure of your parents' marriage, but when you grow up you should outgrow that. And your own marriage replaces the old authority structure with the new authority structure.

If Catholic theology is true, then heaven is an acrimonious marriage in which Jesus must duck to avoid the flying pots and pans as his mother and his bride vie for dominance. Not a happy marriage, that's for sure. Thankfully, the solid dome provides soundproofing so that we don't hear all the yelling upstairs. 

The Blue Nun

One of the traditional arguments for Catholicism is the argument from miracles. Catholic miracles. 

A problem with that argument is that reported miracles are hardly confined to Catholicism. There are well-documented Protestant miracles (see case studies by Craig Keener and Robert Larmer). 

But there's another wrinkle. What if Catholic miracles provide evidence that Catholicism is false? That's a paradox, but here's what I mean:

i) Take Fatima. Lucia dos Santos became a threat to the papacy because she accused the papacy of disobeying the Marian command to consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. That puts the papacy in a bind. If Lucia is the mouthpiece of the Mother of God and Queen of Heaven, what pope dare oppose Sister Lucia? 

ii) Or take the claim that Catholic seer and stigmatic Anne Catherine Emmerich foresaw the the apostasy of the Roman church?

iii) Or take Maria de Agreda, the Blue Nun. She could reputedly bilocate, and her corpse is reputedly incorrupt. For instance:

Yet her writings were repeatedly condemned by Catholic authorities:

These examples generate a dilemma for the Catholic argument from miracles. They become rogue power centers. 

Between the devil's advocate and the deep blue computer

1. In chapter 4 of Where the Conflict Really Lies, Alvin Plantinga discusses quantum mechanics. Plantinga's aim is twofold: to show that quantum mechanics is compatible with miracles/special providence–as well as human/divine agents who enjoy libertarian freedom. 

Calvinists face a somewhat different challenge, and that is whether quantum mechanics is compatible with "theistic determinism". 

2. Before proceeding, we need to define our terms and draw some distinctions.

i) There's a sense in which Calvinism is deterministic. The reservation I have with that characterization is that "determinism" is an imprecise way to classify Calvinism. That's because an outcome can be determinate without being predeterminate. And there's more than one sense in which that might be the case.

For instance, if an outcome is directly caused, then it's not the end-result of a chain of events leading up to that outcome. In that regard, the outcome is determinate but not predetermined. 

To take a different kind of example, an outcome can be determinate but unintended. It wasn't predetermined in the sense of premeditation. For instance, chemical reactions are determinate but not predeterminate in that sense. 

Calvinism is deterministic is a more specific sense than generic determinism, because Calvinism has a doctrine of predeterminism in particular rather than a doctrine of determinism in general. 

Predestination is a type of premeditation. Everything happens according to God's master plan for the world. In that regard, "determinism" fails to capture the divinely intentional element of Calvinism.  

ii) Calvinism is neutral on physical determinism. Whether or not all physical events are physically determined is a matter of indifference to Calvinism inasmuch as the fundamental determinant in Calvinism is predestination. But predestination isn't synonymous with physical determinism since the locus of predestination is God's immaterial mind and will. God's blueprint for the world as well as God's resolve to implement his plan. 

iii) In Calvinism, there's more than one causal modality by which God's plan eventuates. There's God's timeless creative fiat. There's an order of second causes. And there are miracles which circumvent a chain of second causes. 

3. In addition, there are two different definitions of libertarian freedom:

There seem to be at least two different fundamental notions of what free will is in the contemporary literature. The first of these, which seems to have garnered the most attention in the last century, works under the assumption that for a person to rightly be said to have free will, she must have the ability to do otherwise than what she does, in fact, do. Under this view I could be said to have freely chosen to drive to work only if I also could have freely chosen, for example, to bike to work or to skip work altogether. This approach to free will is referred to as a ‘leeway-based approach’ (cite my book) or an ‘alternative possibilities approach’ (see Sartorio (2016).)

In contrast, a smaller percentage of the extant literature focuses primarily on the issues of ‘source,’ ‘ultimacy,’ and ‘origination’. This second approach doesn’t focus immediately on the presence or absence of alternative possibilities. On this approach, I freely choose to drive to work only if I am the source of my choice and there is nothing outside of me from which the choice is ultimately derived.

In what follows, we refer to the first of these conceptions—the conception that free will is primarily a matter of having alternative possibilities—as the ‘leeway based’ conception. Similarly, we will refer to the second of these conceptions—that free will is primarily a matter of our being the source of our choices in a particular way—as the ‘sourcehood’ conception. (John Fischer and Carolina Sartorio refers to sourcehood views as ‘actual sequence’ views; see Fischer (2006) and Sartorio (2016)).

Both of these notions can be seen in the following passage taken from Robert Kane:

We believe we have free will when we view ourselves as agents capable of influencing the world in various ways. Open alternatives, or alternative possibilities, seem to lie before us. We reason and deliberate among them and choose. We feel (1) it is ‘up to us’ what we choose and how we act; and this means we could have chosen or acted otherwise. As Aristotle noted: when acting is ‘up to us,’ so is not acting. This ‘up-to-us-ness’ also suggests (2) the ultimate control of our actions lies in us and not outside us in factors beyond our control (Kane (2005), 6). Kevin Timpe, Routledge Companion to Free Will

4. Apropos (3), we need to disambiguate libertarian freedom (as defined above) from Calvinism. 

i) I'd say that the ultimate sourcehood definition is straightforwardly at odds with Calvinism. Human agents can't be free in that sense.

ii) But the leeway definition is equivocal. We need to distinguish between alternate possibilities in the psychological sense in contrast to alternate possibilities in the metaphysical sense. 

By "psychological", I mean human agents can imagine alternate pathways. And when we make a choice, that often involves mentally comparing and contrasting alternate pathways.

That's consistent with Calvinism. According to Calvinism, God has predestined rational agents to make choices by engaging in that type of deliberation.

Likewise, it's consistent with Calvinism that human agents can and do influence the world in various ways. 

iii) That, however, doesn't entail that there are open alternatives in the metaphysical sense because not everything that's conceivable is feasible. Although we can entertain many apparent possibilities, it doesn't follow that we can act on all of them. Indeed, it's a commonplace of human experience that there's often a disappointing shortfall between imaginary pathways to our goal and realistic pathways to our goal. 

Pathways that seem to lie wide open may in fact have washed out bridges along the way. That's in part because human imagination is very shortsighted. When we contemplate a course of action, there are many intervening steps that fall outside our ken. 

In addition, our pathway may be blocked by other agents. What seems to be an unobstructed pathway in the mind often hits a wall when we attempt to act on our choice. 

iv) Finally, Calvinism affirms that unlike human agents, God does have leeway freedom. God can access alternate possibilities. God does have open alternatives at his disposal. 

5. One of the complications with assessing the relationship between freedom and determinism vis-a-vis quantum mechanics is the absence of an agreed-upon interpretation of quantum mechanics. There are deterministic as well as indeterministic interpretations of quantum mechanics. There's insufficient evidence to ascertain which is correct. At least according to the current state of the evidence, some deterministic and indeterministic interpretations are empirically equivalent. And it may be that even in principle, there can never be sufficient evidence to settle that dispute. It's striking the degree to which debates over the proper interpretation of quantum mechanics resorts to thought-experiments.

6. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that quantum mechanics is actually deterministic. That would amount to physical determinism at a subatomic level. If true, then that doesn't generate even a prima facie tension between predestination and quantum mechanics.

7. But suppose, for the sake of argument, that quantum mechanics is actually indeterministic. If some physical events or outcomes are physically uncaused or indeterminate, is that consistent with universal predestination?

Let's consider an analogy. At present, I believe there are computer chess players that can beat the very best human players. 

Suppose,for discussion purposes, we grant that human chess players have libertarian freedom. Suppose choosing which move to make originates with the player. 

Likewise, there's a sense in which a player has leeway freedom. As he scans the board, the pieces, and their position, many alternate pathways lie open to him. That's not just imaginary. It correspond to objective reality in terms of empty spaces on the board and different ways in which different kinds of pieces can move. There are multiple opportunities for action. In that respect, there's more than one way ahead. 

Ah, but here's the catch. Because the computer is unbeatable, every pathway leads to defeat. Every alternate course of action leads to checkmate.

It follows that a determinate outcome is consistent with indeterminate choices. Although it might seem that determinism and indeterminism are antithetical, they can be combined. Even if every pathway is indeterministic, the denouement is the same in each case. 

8. I'm not suggesting, from a Calvinistic perspective, that chess players have libertarian freedom. Rather, I'm using an a fortiori argument (a maiore ad minus). If even in the greater case, where indeterminate choices are nevertheless consistent with determinate outcomes, then mutatis mutandis, that holds true in the lesser case where leeway freedom (and ultimate sourcehood) is false. And that's an analogy for quantum mechanics, even on indeterministic interpretations, where causal determinism is false at the subatomic level. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Inklings and the Synoptic problem

The two source hypothesis goes basically like this: Matthew and Luke made use of Mark, which they supplemented with additional sources. 

There's certainly some truth to that, but it can be misleading. It's frequently presented as a vertical model of literary or conceptual information-sharing, based on order of publication. If Mark was published first, while Matthew and Luke show familiarity with Mark, then they were literarily or conceptually dependent on Mark.

But the question of literary or conceptual dependence can be more intricate and intractable. Consider the Inklings. Tolkien and Lewis both took a keen interest in Nordic/Teutonic mythology. Likewise, Lewis, Tolkien, Williams, and Barfield all took a keen interest in the Arthurian mythos. And there were primary sources from which they drew. 

Conversely, there was horizontal information-sharing as they bounced ideas off each other, and shared drafts with each other. They influenced one another.

But that raises a tricky question: when you find Arthurian or Nordic/Teutonic motifs in their writings, what's the source? It is primary source material? Or did one Inkling get this from another Inkling? If two Inklings have the same motif, what's the direction of borrowing?

The order of publication is inconclusive. One Inkling might be the first to publish a story using that motif, followed by another Inkling publishing a story with a parallel motif. But even if we find "synoptic parallels" in writings of the Inklings, publication order faults to demonstrate that the author of the later writing borrowed from the author of the earlier writing. On the one hand, there's the possibility that both used a common source. On the other hand, there's the possibility that the author who published first borrowed the idea from an unpublished source. That is to say, that might reflect horizontal information-sharing rather than vertical information-sharing if he originally got the idea from a fellow Inkling during informal conversation. In some cases there may be letters or diaries that enable us to retrace the genesis of the idea, but in many cases, it isn't possible to reconstruct the creative process. 

In application to the Synoptic problem, in some cases it could be due to independent access to a common source. In other cases, an earlier publication might be indebted to the author of a later publication. 

Although Matthew's writing can't be a source for Mark, Matthew the writer might possibly be a source. A writer preexists his writings. The writer of a later writing can be a source of information for an earlier writing by a different author. 

Again, consider the Inklings. Even where there's evidence of borrowing, publication dates are not a reliable indicator of the direction in which that took place. 

Shooting a werewolf

I recently watched a dialogue between Bishop Barron and W. L. Craig:

It was moderated by two philosophers. It was all very chummy. Nowadays, most Catholic apologists are laymen, usually evangelical converts to Rome, so Barron is quite exceptional in that regard. 

1. I don't object to Catholics and Protestants sharing the same stage. The problem is that Craig only agreed to participate with the understanding that this wasn't a debate over Catholicism/Protestantism. Instead, Craig and Barron both gave answers to the same questions, as if they share the same basic theological vision. For instance, they answered questions about evangelism, but Catholicism and evangelicalism have divergent views regarding the nature of salvation. So it gave the misimpression that they were sharing different tips on how to evangelize, as if it's just a question of technique, while disregarding the fact that in some fundamental ways, Roman Catholicism and evangelicalism are two different religions. There was a running equivocation throughout most of the dialogue as though Craig and Barron are spokesmen for the same basic position.  

Likewise, Barron said Catholics and evangelicals should join forces to oppose the primary threat: the secular progressive agenda. Yet contemporary Catholicism has undergone extensive secularization, and that process continues apace. Likewise, the contemporary church of Rome is sometimes on the wrong side of the culture wars these days. In many respects, it's view of "social justice" overlaps with the Democrat platform. 

What is Catholic evangelism winning them to? What does Catholicism stand for anymore? Hard to say. It's clear what Tridentine Catholicism represents. It's clear what the anti-modernism of Pius IX and Leo XIII represents. But post-Vatican II theology is like a scene in a horror flick where a lycanthrope is shot in the process of transitioning from human to werewolf. Because it dies at that point, it's frozen in a transitional stage: half human and half werewolf. 

Likewise, contemporary Catholicism increasingly resembles a mainline denomination. Contemporary Catholicism is highly eclectic and pluralistic. At present, what does it even mean to be Catholic? 

2. Craig's apathy or even hostility towards Catholic/Protestant debate is odd. He's a professional Christian apologist. Well, what does a Christian apologist defend? Presumably, he defends his own understanding of the Christian faith. Christian apologetics should defend the content of systematic theology. And that varies depending on your theological tradition. A Christian apologist can't avoid defending his own viewpoint. And that viewpoint will conflict with opposing theological perspectives. 

Even C. S. Lewis wasn't really defending "mere Christianity". Rather, he was defending his low Anglican theology. Making a case for what he believed to be essential.  

3. Barron made some telling observations about the state of Catholicism in America. Six lapsed Catholics for every one convert. Likewise, 55% of cradle Catholics now identify as Nones. 

4. Around the 44-47 min. mark, Craig said there are textual indications that Gen 1 was not intended to be "a literal consecutive 24-hour day week." From this he inferred that Gen 1 "really doesn't tell you anything about how God created lifeforms on this planet." Once you reject a literal 24-hour day creation week, then "all bets are off on how God brought about biological complexity". His reservations about evolution are scientific rather than theological.

i) That certainly explains his nonchalance regarding the creation/evolution debate. Nevertheless:

ii) He blurs chronology with literality, as if these are equivalent or mutually inclusive. But how does it follow that an account which isn't "consecutive" isn't literal? Those are two different things. 

iii) Apropos (ii), I'm struck by Craig's non sequitur. How does his conclusion derive from the premise? How would it follow from the assumption that Gen 1 isn't strictly sequential that it really doesn't tell you anything about how God created lifeforms on this planet?

To take a comparison, the narratives of Matthew and Luke aren't strictly sequential. For instance, they clump some of Christ's teaching material topically rather than chronologically. Does it follow that since their narratives aren't consistently sequential, they really don't tell you anything about the historical Jesus? Does it follow that if Gospel pericopes aren't necessarily in consecutive order, the Gospels aren't to be taken literally? How does Craig's premise yield his conclusion? 

iv) And what about Gen 2? Does he think that has any bearing on the debate about human evolution? Evidently not, although he doesn't explain why.

v) In addition, he fails to even register prima facie tensions between evolution and Christian theism. One point of conflict, which crops up in David Raup, William Provine, Stephen Jay Gould et al., is the aimless nature of the evolutionary process. The existence of man is an unintended byproduct of biological evolution. And the fortuity of man's existence is reinforced by the phenomenon of mass extinction, due to haphazard conditions. 

On this interpretation, the existence of the human race is not the goal of the evolutionary process, but an unplanned outcome of hit-or-miss developments. Every time you roll the dice, you're likely to get a different result. Natural selection is utterly indifferent to the human existence, survival, and flourishing. 

Perhaps Craig has a response, but as it stands, he acts as though he's completely unaware of the theological problems which evolution poses. 

Moreover, even if the development of humans was inevitable (a la Simon Conway-Morris), that doesn't mean the end-result was divinely intended. If you experiment with enough combinations, you can open a safe through dumb luck. Given sufficient time, you will randomly hit on the right combination. But that process didn't have man in mind. 

5. In fairness, Craig did make a number of good points along the way. Even Barron made some good points along the way. But the dialogue exposes Craig's tunnel vision. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Trumpian axis mundi

I don't know what the end-game will be, but as it stands, when Trump's enemies freak out over everything he says and does, when "news" coverage is all about Trump all the time, they unwittingly empower him by making him set the agenda. He acts, they react. 

Now, perhaps the negative coverage of Trump will damage the Republican name-brand in the long run. That remains to be seen. But it's a risky strategy for Trump's enemies in the liberal establishment to make him the centerpiece of every news cycle, because that means he dictates the issues and the terms of debate. They make him the center of the universe. They are satellites, whizzing around him. 


The lack of conflict between science and religion arises from a lack of overlap between their respective domains of professional expertise—science in the empirical constitution of the universe, and religion in the search for proper ethical values and the spiritual meaning of our lives. The attainment of wisdom in a full life requires extensive attention to both domains—for a great book tells us that the truth can make us free and that we will live in optimal harmony with our fellows when we learn to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. 
Religion is too important to too many people for any dismissal or denigration of the comfort still sought by many folks from theology. I may, for example, privately suspect that papal insistence on divine infusion of the soul represents a sop to our fears, a device for maintaining a belief in human superiority within an evolutionary world offering no privileged position to any creature. But I also know that souls represent a subject outside the magisterium of science. My world cannot prove or disprove such a notion, and the concept of souls cannot threaten or impact my domain. Moreover, while I cannot personally accept the Catholic view of souls, I surely honor the metaphorical value of such a concept both for grounding moral discussion and for expressing what we most value about human potentiality: our decency, care, and all the ethical and intellectual struggles that the evolution of consciousness imposed upon us.

That's a classic statement of the no-conflict thesis regarding the relationship between science and religion. They cannot directly compete with each other because they make claims about different domains. The scope of science is the physical real whereas the scope of religion is moral and spiritual realm–assuming such a realm exists.

Not surprisingly, Gould's position has been attacked as an ad hoc compromise by Christians and atheists alike. But ironically, Gould is taking the same position as proponents of methodological atheism, who insist on the same compartmentalization. They typically defend methodological atheism on three grounds: by definition, scientific method disallows supernatural or teleological explanations; supernatural are explanations are untestable; and making room for supernatural explanations would bring science to a grinding halt.

Atheists invoke the same strictures in reference to historiography. It's not that reported miracles are false; rather, reported miracles aren't even false. They fall outside the purview of what historians can take into consideration. So historians and scientists must be neutral on the supernatural. That's not something they're in a position to affirm or deny, for supernatural claims are both unverifiable and unfalsifiable–at least by scientific and historiographical criteria. 

But that generates an acute dilemma for atheists. Methodological naturalism commits them to the no-conflict thesis. 

In addition, W. V. Quine, high priest of scientism, had some radical concessions regarding the limitations of scientific knowledge:

It would address the question of how we, physical denizens of the physical world, can have projected our scientific theory of that whole world from our meager contacts with it; from the mere impacts of rays and particles on our surfaces and a few odds and ends such as the strain of walking uphill, From Stimulus to Science(Harvard 1999), 16. 
There is a puzzle here. Global stimuli are private: each is a temporally ordered set of some one individual’s receptors. Their perceptual similarity, in part innate and in part modeled by experience, is private as well. Whence then this coordination of behavior across the tribe? (20). 
The sensory atomist was motivated, I say, by his appreciation that any information about the world is channeled to us through the sensory surfaces of our bodies; but this motivation remained obscure to him. It was obscured by his concern to justify our knowledge of the external world. The justification would be vitiated by circularity if sensory surfaces and external impacts on nerve endings had to be appealed to at the outset of the justification,”Confessions of a Confirmed Extensionist and Other Essays (Harvard 2008), 328. 
There is much clarity to be gained by dropping the project of justifying our knowledge of the external world but continuing to investigate the relation of that knowledge to its sensory evidence. Obscurity about the nature of the given, or epistemic priority, is then dissipated by talking frankly of the triggering of nerve endings. We then find ourselves engaged in an internal question within the framework of natural science. There are these impacts of molecules and light rays upon our sensory receptors, and there is all this output on our part of scientific discourse about sticks, stones, planets, numbers, molecules, light rays, and, indeed, sensory receptors; and then we pose the problem of linking that input causally and logically to that output (328).  
Much as I admire [David] Lewis’s reduction, however, it is not for me. My own line is a yet more sweeping structuralism, applying to concrete and abstract objects indiscriminately. I base it, paradoxically as this may seem, on a naturalistic approach to epistemology. Natural science tells us that our ongoing cognitive access to the world around us is limited to meager channels. There is the triggering of our sensory receptors by the impact of molecules and light rays. Also there is the difference in muscular effort sensed in walking up or down hill. What more? Even the notion of a cat, let alone a class or number, is a human artifact, rooted in innate predisposition and cultural tradition. The very notion of an object at all, concrete or abstract, is a human contribution, a feature of our inherited apparatus for organizing the amorphous welter of neural input (402-03). 
The conclusion is that there can be no evidence for one ontology as over against another, so long anyway as we can express a one-to-one correlation between them. Save the structure and you save all. Certainly we are dependent on a familiar ontology of middle-sized bodies for the inception of reification, on the part both of the individual and of the race; but once we have an ontology, we can change it with impunity (405). 
This global ontological structuralism may seem abruptly at odds with realism, let alone naturalism. It would seem even to undermine the ground on which I rested it: my talk of impacts of light rays and molecules on nerve endings. Are these rays, molecules, and nerve endings themselves not disqualified now as mere figments of an empty structure? (405). 
Naturalism itself is what saves the situation. Naturalism looks only to natural science, however, fallible, for an account of what there is and what what there is does. Science ventures its tentative answers in man-made concepts, perforce, couched in man-made language, but we can ask no better. The very notion of object, or of one and many, is indeed as parochially human as the parts of speech; to ask what reality is really like, however, apart from human categories, is self-stultifying. It is like asking how long the Nile really is, apart from parochial matters of miles or meters. Positivists were right in branding such metaphysics as meaningless (405). 
So far as evidence goes, then, our ontology is neutral. Nor let us imagine beyond it some inaccessible reality. The very terms ‘thing’ and ‘exist’ and ‘real,’ after all, make no sense apart from human conceptualization. Asking after the thing in itself apart from human conceptualization, is like asking how long the Nile really is, apart from our parochial miles or kilometers (416). 
So it seems best for present purposes to construe the subject’s stimulus on a given occasion simply as his global neural intake on that occasion. But I shall refer to it only as neural intake, not stimulus, for other notions of stimulus are wanted in other studies, particularly where different subjects are to get the same stimulus. Neural intake is private, for subjects do not share receptors (463-64). 
But in contrast to the privacy of neural intakes, and the privacy of their perceptual similarity, observation sentences and their semantics are a public matter, since the child has to learn these from her elders. Her learning then depends indeed both on the public currency of the observation sentences and on a preestablished harmony of people’s private scales of perceptual similarity (464). 
These reflections on ontology are a salutary reminder that the ultimate data of science are limited to our neural intake, and that the very notion of object, concrete or abstract, is of our own making, along with the rest of natural science and mathematics (471).

On Quine's view, it's appearances all the way down. Not in the metaphysical sense that there's no bedrock reality which underlies appearances, but in the epistemological sense that bedrock reality is undetectable. Scientific observation, experimentation, and theorizing can never get behind perception to describe what the world is really like apart from perception. 

This, however, might have the ironic consequence that theological explanations, unlike scientific explanations, do have the potential to describe ultimate reality. In principle, there are two ways that could be the case:

i) Some theological explanations appeal to modal intuitions. They aren't filtered through sensory perception.

ii) If Scripture is divine revelation, then God's knowledge circumvents appearances. He doesn't know the world via sensory perception. Rather, he knows the world because it corresponds to his plan or idea for the world. And he can share his creative ideas with humans. 

It's analogous to the difference between seeing a movie and hearing to a director explain what he had in mind. That enables the viewer to get in back of the film. To access it from the privileged viewpoint of the film's creator. 

This upends the way many people relate faith and science: instead of science getting to the bottom of things while theology is about airy-fairy stuff and wishful thinking, it's theology that gets to the bottom of things.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Hart failure

Catholic tropes

I was reading a critic of a recent book on Roman Catholicism. He recycled standard Catholic tropes. 

I think the problem mostly exists and subsists in the more individualist...forms of Protestantism to be frank.

i) Individualism is neutral. Individualism isn't inherently good or bad. Depends on the example. For instance, I remember reading an anecdote by David Marshall, a Christian apologist. He was teaching Chinese students English when the issue of a potential war between China and some other country came up. The students automatically sided with China. Marshall then asked, "What if China is wrong?"

It never occurred to his students to question the wisdom of their government officials. If China went to war, then China must be right. 

Yet that kind of unquestioning groupthink is dangerous. It gets you killed. Sometimes individualism is a good thing. Sometimes it's important to question orders.

Take someone born into a Protestant denomination. Catholic apologists think they should convert to Rome. But it takes an individualistic mindset to question your religious upbringing. 

It is not proper for Christians to be able to say mutually conflicting concepts (i.e. whether or not infants should be baptised and whether or not baptism is salvific or not) be allowed to "agree to disagree". Christians cannot say X is Christian and also Y is Christian when Y is contradictory, not supplementary, to X.

Even if that's improper, Catholicism is just one more opinion. You still have two sides on these issues. Catholicism lines up behind one side. Catholicism doesn't eliminate conflicting opinions. Rather, it represents one side of the conflict. 

A Catholic apologist will say that's different! Catholicism is on the right side!

But everyone says their side is the right side to be on. 

A Catholic apologist will say that if we just agreed with Rome, we wouldn't have these conflicts. Of course, that's true in the circular, tautological sense that if everyone takes the same side, then there won't be any conflict. But that doesn't tell you which side you should take.

And if you side with Rome, you're still part of the same competitive dynamic. You just picked the Catholic team to root for.  

But is it true that the Church is infallible? Yes. One cannot state that the Church purports to tell the Truth when the authenticity of the Church is in question. This is why a staunchly "inclusivist" ecumenism is outright utter heresy to be repudiated, not celebrated. For this strongly contends the image that there is a divided body of Christians. So in as much as the Church purports to tell the Truth, I do not see any way someone can be claiming the name of Christ while coming up short of the glorious image that the Church is his Body on Earth which he has instituted to speak the Truth to the nations. Does it do it imperfectly? Yes. Jesus is one body, he is not a severed body nor a body with two heads, two arms, and two legs which contradict each other.

i) This illustrates the blinding power of a selective metaphor. But one question we have to ask is what the metaphor is intended to illustrate. 

In addition, Scripture uses multiple metaphors for the church. Take the metaphor of the vine (Jn 10). But in that metaphor, branches can be severed from the vine. It's a pruning process. That's what the metaphor is all about.

Or take the metaphor of the flock (Jn 10; 21:15-17; Acts 2:28-29). But in that metaphor, individual sheep are separable from the flock or the shepherd. Some sheep stray. Some sheep are picked off by wolves. 

Moreover, sheep are notoriously wayward. So two or more sheep might go in opposite directions. 

Or take the image of Jesus removing lamps from churches (Rev 1-3). 

ii) But suppose we stay with the body metaphor. Even if that's a "glorious image" of the church, that doesn't mean Rome matches the image. You can't just take a theological metaphor for the church, then assume that it must correspond to Rome. 

Catholics don't begin with theological metaphors as their standard of comparison, then ask if Rome matches up. Rather, they begin with Rome as their standard of comparison, then adjust the metaphors to apply to Rome. They trim the metaphor as necessary to make it fit over their own denomination.  

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Umbilicus terrae

From what I've read, the basic contention of Christian Zionism is that OT promises ostensibly made to and for Israelites are just what they appear to be. They are, in fact, about the stated referent rather than a cipher for the church (i.e. Jewish and gentile Christians). On that view, Israel continues to have a special future, distinct from the gentiles. 

We might compare this to Augustinian amillennialism,  where OT prophecies and promises ostensibly about Israelites and Eretz Israel are stripped away and transferred to the church. 

A basic problem with the Augustinian interpretation is that we have many OT passages which distinguish Israel from the gentiles ("nations", "peoples", "coastlands", "ends of the earth"), predicting/promising that the gentiles will some day share Israel's faith in Yahweh and the Davidic Messiah, the gentiles will bring tribute to Israel, viz. Gen 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4,24; 27:29; 28:14; 1 Kgs 8:43,60; 1 Chron 16:8,24,26,28,31; Pss 2:8; 22:27; 45:17; 47:1,9; 67:2-5; 72:11,17; 86:9; 102:15; 117:1; Isa 2:2-4; 5:26; 9:1; 11:10-12; 19:18-25; 24:15; 25:6-7; 42:1-12; 45:22-25; 49:1,6,22; 51:4-5; 52:10,15; 56:1-8; 60:1-16; 66:18-20; Jer 1:5; 3:17; 4:2; Ezk 37:28; 38:23; 39:7; Hos 2:23; Amos 9:12; Micah 4:2-3; Zeph 3:8-9; Haggai 2:7; Zech 2:11; 8:20-23; 9:10; 14:16; Mal 1:11.

But on that view, Israel and the Church, or Jews and gentiles, can't be blended into a single entity. A point of contrast remains. 

Assuming that's correct, does it prove Christian Zionism? That's consistent with Christian Zionism, but is it consistent with other schemes as well?

For instance, when OT prophecies address the future of Israel, that's future at the time of writing, when the oracle was delivered. Future in relation to OT prophecy. But in what future will they be fulfilled? The Intertestamental period? The church age? During a temporary millennium at the tail-end of the church age? During the final state (new Eden/new Jerusalem) after Christ returns? 

In addition to when they will be fulfilled, there's the question of how and where. Does this mean Messiah will literally reign in and from Jerusalem? Does this mean gentile Christians will literally bring tribute (or the equivalent) to Jerusalem? That gentile Christians will make pilgrimages to Jerusalem, under Jewish control?

That's one interpretive option. Here's another possibility. There's a substantive sense in which a Bible-centered faith is centered on Israel. Not in terms of physical geography, but in terms of gentiles who frame their life and thought according to a Jewish Messiah, revealed in a Jewish revelation. When, throughout the globe, gentiles make Bible history the focal point of their lives, they are tributary to Israel. Indebted to God's redemptive and revelatory activities in Palestine. 

It's striking to see gentile churches all around the world whose guiding orientation is a Jewish book about Jewish history and a Jewish Messiah. It's striking to see gentile OT and NT scholars master Greek and Hebrew to study a Jewish revelation in the original languages. It's striking to see gentile OT and NT textual critics labor to establish the most authentic text of a Jewish revelation. It's striking to see gentile archeologists labor in the Middle East to recover background information about a Jewish revelation. It's striking to see gentile philosophers and theologians expound the theology and ethics of a Jewish revelation. It's striking to see gentile hymnodists compose music and lyrics about a Jewish Messiah. 

In that sense, gentile Christians pay tribute to Israel. In that sense, gentile Christians make a daily pilgrimage to Israel. We are intellectual pilgrims and tributaries to Israel because the Bible is our frame of reference for what we think and do. For how we live and what we hope for. We worship a Jewish Messiah. He rules in the Jerusalem of our hearts and minds (as it were). 

On the face of it, this is more realistic in the sense that it's hard to isolate "ethnic Israel", when so many professing Jews are not lineal decedents of Abraham. Do OT promises to Israel only apply to a core group who can trace their lineage back to Abraham? Even on Jewish terms, is Abrahamic pedigree essential to Jewish identity? What about gentile converts to Judaism? On a Zionist scheme, will they live in Israel? 

Moreover, it would be a core of a core. Within the core group of "ethnic Jews" is a subset of messianic Jews. And not messianic Jews in general, but only those with a genealogical connection to Abraham. 

In sum:

i) One possibility is that the modern state of Israel represents a stage in OT prophetic fulfillment. While that can't be ruled out, it's too early to make that identification. Clearly the modern state of Israel, c. 2018, doesn't correspond to those golden age oracles.

ii) Another possibility is a millennial fulfillment. A problem with that identification is that the only explicit text on the millennium (Rev 20) doesn't quote or allude to Zionist oracles.

iii) Yet another possibility is that in the world to come, ethnic Jews will have an everlasting homeland in territorial Israel. If so, that prospect doesn't bother me. I don't have a personal stake in that. I'm not Jewish. None of my relatives are Jewish. I have no emotional attachment to the Middle East. There are more scenic parts of the world. I wouldn't feel cheated if that's the case. 

However, that identification raises some puzzling questions. If ethnic purity is a necessary criterion to live there, that disqualifies many messianic Jews, who lack Abrahamic ancestry. 

Also, wouldn't living in one part of the world for all eternity get to be tedious? Don't we need some variety?

iv) Finally, it could mean Israel is instrumental to the salvation of the gentiles. That's our lodestar. Figuratively speaking, we worship facing Jerusalem because, in God's providence, Palestine is the historical source of our theology. In that sense, Christians are spiritual Zionists whether or not Zionism is literally true. Jerusalem remains the "navel of the earth" (umbilicus terrae). 

In the OT, there are salvific prophecies and promises about the gentiles, distinct from prophecies and promises about the house of Israel and Judah. These extend salvation to every ethnic group without merging them into a single unified referent. 

By the same token, gentiles don't need to appropriate promises to Israel given many OT prophecies specific to gentiles that extend salvation to gentiles. I'd add that just because so many OT passages have Israel as the immediate referent doesn't make them irrelevant to gentile Christians. The challenges facing gentile Christians are often analogous to the challenges facing OT Jews.