Saturday, February 17, 2018

Nikolas Cruz

A few observations, in no particular order, about the Florida school massacre:

i) Guns take lives, guns save lives. News reports are slanted and one-sided because the liberal media gives the former saturation coverage while the latter is underreported. For instance:

ii) I saw a group on Facebook draw invidious comparisons between Japan and the USA. I hesitate to make international comparisons because I know less about other countries, but from what I've read, Japan has its own problems. For instance:

iii) It's instructive that when the story concerns black-on-black crime or jihadist attacks, sociologists rush in to tell us that we need to consider the "root-cause" of violence, which they blame on the "system", racism, colonialism, &c. but when it's a sniper, they blame guns. 

iv) The FBI has been blamed for dropping the ball in this case. It had at least two tips, but did nothing of consequence. However, I'm not sure what the FBI should do in cases like this. I'm not a child psychologist, but aren't many teenagers prone to emotional volatility, overreaction, exaggerated feelings? They usually outgrow it, but isn't that a common phase that many adolescent boys and girls go through? Are we going to start rounding up millions of teenagers who are exhibit wild mood swings, erratic behavior, &c.? Should they be institutionalized and medicated with psychotropic drugs?

I'd turn the question around. I think the issue isn't so much whether the FBI should intervene in cases like this, but what is the raison d'être for the FBI? Does that agency do more harm than good? Is it maker us safer, or is it a threat to civil liberties? When you trade civil liberties for security, you lose both. 

v) BTW, this is a problem with dragnet surveillance. Our so-called law enforcement agencies have too much information, not too little. When they hoover up information on Americans generally, there's an enormous amount of static to sift through. 

vi) There's a curious analogy between advocates of "sensible gun control" and the reaction of atheists to the latest natural disaster. Atheists always act as if when you have a fresh natural disaster that kills hundreds or thousands of people, this should be the tipping-point. When are you going to stop believing in God? What does it take? How much more do you need? But astute Christians already have theodicies for that. A new natural disaster doesn't change anything in that regard. It doesn't add a new kind of evidence we didn't have before. 

By the same token, Americans who support the 2nd Amendment have principled reasons for their position. That takes abuse of the 2nd Amendment into account. That's a necessary tradeoff for living in a free and open society. And that's true for civil liberties in general. Should we repeal the 1st Amendment because it's abused?

There is no tipping-point. We expect access to guns will sometimes have tragic results. But that's just one side of the story. I believe Cambodia has about 2 million piles of skulls with bullet holes in the back of the head because the Khmer Rouge disarmed the populace before committing genocide. Then there's Mao's Cultural Revolution. When the state has all the firepower, what's to deter it? 

vii) One issue is whether we should seek a general motivation for snipers, or consider the snipers individually. 

In some cases, snipers may be motivated by celebrity. They'd rather be infamous than a nobody. Likewise, it gives them a sense of power. The power of life and death. 

In some cases this may reflect backlash against feminism and the "war on boys". 

In some cases a sniper was bullied, and this is revenge. Moreover, a kid who's bullied dreads going to school, and this puts an end to that prospect. It also reverses the power dynamic by putting them in control. 

There's also a vicious cycle where unpopular kids respond to their unpopularity by becoming more morose and withdrawn, which makes them even more shunned, which aggravates their sense of alienation and resentment. 

Cruz's adoptive mother, Lynda Cruz, reportedly had trouble with his behavior in the past. She would occasionally contact the police to give him behavioral advice at their home, Helen Pasciolla, a former neighbor, told The New York Times.

"I think she wanted to scare them a little bit," Pasciolla said. "Nikolas has behavioral problems, I think, but I never thought he would be violent."

Lynda Cruz died in November, according to Fort Lauderdale's Sun Sentinel. Her husband died years earlier of a heart attack; Cruz and his brother were in the care of a family friend at the time of the shooting, people close to the family told the Associated Press.

I expect the unstable domestic situation, lack of contact with his biological parents–especially his real father–may be the source of his rage. 

Hampster on a wheel

I'll be quoting some passages from David Benatar's The Human Predicament: A Candid Guide to Life's Biggest Questions (Oxford 2016). 

The only consistent atheists are atheists who commit suicide. All other atheists pull their punches. There are several reasons I harp on the nihilistic consequences of atheism:

i) It's useful in evangelism and offensive apologetics. Many atheists are atheists because they don't take atheism seriously enough. They compartmentalize their atheism. They fail to appreciate what's at stake in the debate between Christianity and atheism. They act as if these are symmetrical options. 

ii) It's useful in defensive apologetics. Some professing Christians commit apostasy because they think atheism is a viable alternative. They never had a deep appreciation of what Christianity offers. They never understood the contrast. They never thought through what makes human life worthwhile. 

iii) It's devotional and edifying to have a point of contrast between Christianity and the stark alternative. That's something on which we should meditate regularly. 

Benatar does take some swipes at Christianity. I may respond to that at some point, although he doesn't say anything original. What's striking is that even though Benatar has nothing to lose and everything to gain by ditching atheism and adopting Christianity, he doesn't appear to have made much effort to study the evidence for Christianity. Why admit that atheism is a worst-case scenario, yet cling to atheism for dear life? 

Even Benatar blinks and balks in the face of his own position. But he comes closer than most before swerving. His basic thesis is that human existence poses a hopeless dilemma: life is a curse and death is a curse. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Am I a presuppositionalist?

1. Am I still a presuppositionalist after all these years? If so, what kind of presuppositionalist, and why?

It's difficult to discuss the question in separation from alternate positions since these are mutually defining to some degree. To be a presuppositionalist is not to be an evidentialist or vice versa. The distinctives of each differentiate it from the other.

But then that pushes the question back a step. What's evidentialism? Who are good representatives of evidentialism? 

For instance, Tim and Lydia McGrew are among the most astute evidentialists of their generation, so that's a useful point of contrast. In this presentation:

Lydia only cites two defining tenets of evidentialism:

i) No dichotomy between faith and reason 

ii) Christianity cannot be known directly, without reasons

I'm somewhat puzzled by why Lydia oversimplifies evidentialism, since that's surely a very incomplete description of evidentialism. Perhaps that's due to time-constraints in combination with the lay audience which causes her to oversimplify. I'm sure she could go several layers deep if need be. 

Do those two tenets demarcate evidentialism from presuppositionalism? 

2. Regarding (i), to some degree I think she's pushing back against the atheist caricature of Christian belief as fideistic. And, of course, many lay Christians are fideistic. 

A presuppositionalism can and should agree with her that there's no ultimate dichotomy between faith and reason. There is, though, the venerable issue of whether there's sometimes prima facie evidence against certain aspects of the Christian faith. One way of modeling that tension is a balance where there's evidence for Christianity as well as some apparent evidence to the contrary, and when you put all that on the scales, the weight of evidence for Christianity tips the scales in favor of Christianity. 

That isn't distinctive to religion. Apart from religion, many of our beliefs are a balancing act, where there may be some apparent counterevidence, and we simply hold that in tension with what we continue to believe. That's somewhat weak, and I'll have more to say about that in due course (see below). 

3. Regarding (ii), I'm unclear on how Lydia distinguishes knowledge from reasons. On the one hand the content of the Christian faith can be known apart from reasons. You can know what Christian theology represents, you can know Christian doctrine, without having any reasons. 

Perhaps Lydia is speaking in shorthand for knowing that it's true. If so, there are two elements: (i) knowing what it stands for, and (ii) supporting evidence.

There's an obvious sense in which most Christians lack direct knowledge of the Christian faith. That's a type of historical knowledge. We rely on historical records (i.e. the Bible). Unlike 1C Palestinian Jews who witnessed the public ministry of Christ, our knowledge is mediated by the Biblical record. Perhaps that's part of what Lydia has in mind. If so, a presuppositionalist can and should agree with that.

4. By "reasons", she cites miraculous signs (e.g. Exod 4). However, the Bible is ambivalent about the role of miraculous signs. Take the classic:

29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn 20:29).

Thomas had a sign. Thomas had reasons to believe in the form of the the Risen Jesus, standing right before him. But that's the kind of evidence most Christians don't have. 

Indeed, it's not coincidental that this is the lead-in to the following conclusion:

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (Jn 20:30-21).

From the narrator perspective, the reader's evidence isn't miraculous signs, but his eyewitness account. It turns on the historical accuracy of his record. 

In fairness, that could be supplemented by Jn 14:12. Although that's hyperbolic, it's the case that some Christians throughout church history do receive miraculous confirmation. So it's not confined to testimonial evidence. Yet I don't believe that Tim and Lydia McGrew have directly witnessed a miracle. So they don't have signs in the Exod 4 sense. 

5. Although she doesn't mention it in the introduction to her presentation, another tenet of evidentialism distinguishing that position from classical apologetics is the evidentialist position that miracles can furnish direct evidence for God's existence or the supernatural. It isn't necessary to first prove God's existence before you can credit a miracle and regard that as evidence for God's activity in the world. As a presuppositionalist, I agree with that. 

6. Another tenet of evidentialism that crops up in the literature is appeal to common ground. Assumptions that Christian believers and unbelievers share alike. Stock examples include beliefs and criteria like the existence of an external world and other minds, the basic reliability of the senses, the basic reliability of reason, the general uniformity of nature and induction, the correspondence theory of truth, and the role of logic. But as presuppositionalist, I have some reservations about that appeal:

i) There's a problem is when common ground is classified as beliefs or criteria that aren't Christian/theistic on the one hand or naturalistic on the other hand. But that's very artificial. Are the aforesaid assumptions independent of naturalism, theism, and Christianity? Assuming those are true beliefs and good criteria, they either obtain in a world where God exists or where God does not exist. There is no third alternative. They can't very well obtain in a world that isn't Christian or theistic or naturalistic. Reality must match one of those options. So those assumptions can't be truly agnostic. In what kind of world to they actually obtain? 

ii) Apropos (i), a presuppositionalist simultaneously argues from and for his Christian beliefs and criteria. These "common ground" assumptions implicate the Christian worldview.  Naturalism lacks the metaphysical resources to underpin them. That's where transcendental arguments can come into play. Mind you, many presuppositionalists never get beyond question-begging slogans, but thinkers like Greg Welty and James Anderson have been making progress on that front, by formulated detailed arguments. Much work remains to be done. 

iii) Another problem with common ground appeals is that unbelievers range along a spectrum. Some of them are intellectually evasive. Some of them are irrationally skeptical. It isn't always possible to have a constructive dialogue with an atheist. Take methodological atheism. The proper reaction is not to operate within that paradigm but to challenge that paradigm. 

7. Apropos (6), a popular evidentialist slogan is to "follow the evidence wherever it leads". That's often a good rule of thumb, but it has limitations:

i) Everything can't be up for grabs. Our belief-system must have some stability and priorities. 

ii) There's a dialectical relation between evidence and one's priority structure. On the one hand, one's plausibility structure ought to be informed by evidence. On the other hand, one's plausibility structure a ranking system that assigns degrees of plausibility to different kinds of claims. There needs to be some give, some flexibility, in both directions. 

For instance, how should I assess alien abduction stories? That involves conflicting lines of evidence. On the one hand there's testimonial evidence, which has some prima facie value. On the other hand, there's theoretical physics, which provides some prima facie evidence that aliens couldn't surmount the distance in light years. Not to mention other considerations. 

iii) What if there's some prima facie evidence for physicalism, but physicalism entails eliminative materialism, which is arguably self-refuting? If following the evidence wherever it leads ends up leading you to a blind alley, then you need to back up. I refuse to follow the evidence over the cliff, which is what atheism amounts to. I have no epistemic duty to embrace nihilism. That's diabolically idiotic. 

High school gun clubs

Is TAG viable?

I was asked to comment on this article:

I just skimmed his article, so maybe my cursory impressions fail to do it justice. That said:

1. Seems to me that Békefi fails to adequately interact with critics of Stroud, or with Stroud's own reformulations, viz.

2. I find Békefi's treatment too scattershot, abstract, and generic. He tries to cover too much ground. 

Transcendental arguments are a family of arguments. I doubt it's meaningful to try to evaluate them in general. Rather, I think they must be assessed on a case-by-case basis depending on the particular X they claim to be a necessary condition for the possibility of Y. 

3. Since there's nothing in philosophy that goes unchallenged, I think it's unnecessary that a transcendent argument should have a major premise that no philosopher questions or denies. That's just not how philosophy works. And it makes the success of transcendent arguments hostage to opponents who are, by definition, the most unreasonable. Why should that be the standard of comparison?

I think it would be wiser to recast transcendental arguments as dilemmas. They demonstrate the ethical, epistemological, or metaphysical cost of denying certain things. They needn't be rationally coercive in the sense of compelling the opponent to say uncle. If an opponent responds to a dilemma by accepting one horn of the dilemma, and if that commits him to radical skepticism or nihilism, that's a successful dilemma because it's exposed how extreme, irrational and/or nihilistic the non-Christian opponent is. That in itself is a very useful exercise. It demonstrates the starkness of the alternatives. 

4. Although orthodox Christianity requires the existence of a physical universe, some theistic proofs can be adapted to a Matrix-type scenario. 

5. I think it's probably best to use transcendental arguments as part of a cumulative case strategy for proving the Christian faith, rather than a silver bullet. Reality is complex. 

6. The Christian faith is a combination of necessary truths and contingent truths. I don't think historical events can be proven a priori. 

7. What kinds of things should furnish a major premise for TAG? Candidates include:

i) Abstract objects like possible worlds, laws of logic, and mathematical truths. James Anderson and Greg Welty have been doing yeoman work in that field.

ii) The Trinity

It may not be possible to construct a philosophical argument that specifically demonstrates the Trinity. There are, however, general aspects of the Trinity that may be more amendable to philosophical demonstration:

a) The ontological priority of mind over matter and energy. 

b) Reality as ultimately complex rather than simple

c) Interpersonality

iii) Predestination

It's not coincidental that Van Til was a Calvinist. If everything happens according to the master plan of a benevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent agent, then everything happens for a reason. The alternative is to interject a destabilizing and decoherent principle of cosmic surdity. We have that in freewill theism and secular alternatives. Where events happen either by blind chance or blind necessity.

iv) Divine revelation

Quine has discussed how our scientific description of the world greatly outstrips the meager input from our five senses. Is it enough to have raw input? Or do we require an authoritative interpretation from a source outside ourselves? To take a comparison, it's like the difference between seeing a strange light in the night sky crash, and hearing (or watching) a TV newscast announce that an Air Force jet crashed. If all you had to go by was what you saw (heard, and felt), that would be open to multiple interpretations. Having an authoritative explanation outside the purview of the observer is necessary to arrive at the right interpretation. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Eschatological overcrowding

This is a sequel to my previous post:

1. A prima facie problem with biblical eschatology is the specter of eschatological overcrowding. What's the optimum population for human life on earth? If you total the saints on judgment day, will there be enough room for them on earth? And not just acreage, but paradisiacal conditions. I've discussed this before, but I'll approach it from another angle.

2. A critic would say this just demonstrates that Scripture was written by shortsighted, uninspired authors. But other issues aside, that doesn't work. Supposing Bible writers thought the boundaries of the world approximated the Middle East or the Roman Empire, that would furnish much less space to squeeze all the saints into. It's not as if our modern sense of modern geography aggravates the problem. To the contrary, our modern sense of scale diminishes the problem. 

3. There are basically two kinds of biblical predictions about the final state feeding into this issue:

i) Resurrection passages

These are passages about the general resurrection, resurrection of the just, and/or resurrection of Christ. They imply or presume that the final state will be an embodied or reembodied state. And a physical body requires a physical environment. 

Although a few of these passages have figurative or surreal elements (e.g. Ezk 37), in the main they're representational descriptions. That's reinforced by the fact that the resurrection of Christ is the template for the resurrection of the just. That supplies a very literal frame of reference. 

ii) Golden age passages

These are passages that depict the future world in terms of a new Eden, New Exodus, and/or New Jerusalem. They're specifically terrestrial in orientation. Earthly. 

That said, I think the terms of fulfillment for type-(ii) passages is far more flexible than for type-(i) passages. Just in general, long-range Bible prophecies employ stock, provincial, anachronistic imagery. They depict the future in terms of the past or present. They're adapted to the historical horizon of the original audience.

They depict the future world in terms reminiscent of the ancient Near East or Roman Empire. The geography and technology of that time and place. For instance, take Isaiah's golden age oracles in Isa 11:6-9 or Isa 66:20. That reflects ancient Near Eastern livestock and fauna. If Isaiah was a native of the Amazon river basin or Montana, different fauna would illustrate the age to come.

When I read Bible prophecies about the world to come, I automatically make mental adjustments for the fact that God accommodated the blinkered perspective of the original audience in that regard. Since I don't assume that in the world to come, everybody will live in the Middle East and get around on horses and camels and mules, I don't assume that the physical life in the world to come is necessarily confined to planet earth. 

I think the fulfillment of eschatological prophecies is generally analogous rather than univocal. If it's about future modernity, we need to do some mental updating.

4. I'd add that people vary widely in their idea of paradise. Some people are urbanites by choice. Others prefer a more bucolic existence. Some people love to live on the coast while others prefer mountains or deserts. Some people are very attached to their birthplace. And if you went a forward or backward a hundred years, their birthplace would lose its nostalgia, because it would be so different.

Some people fall in love with a particular place. Some people have wanderlust. They like to travel the world and live in different places. 

Many people have a customized notion of paradise, not a generic, once-size-fits-all notion. Of course, I'm not saying the final state necessarily mirrors the "dream home" of every saint. But it wouldn't surprise me if the final state is more varied than traditional representations. 

Maybe the reality of the final state is grounded in a multiverse. It takes omnipotence no more effort to create a multiverse than planet earth. The multiverse is Hilbert's Hotel in concrete. 

Preexistent future

There's some dispute as to whether the B-theory of time is deterministic. On the face of it, if the future already exists, then that excludes alternate timelines forking off in different directions from the present. That interval has been filled. That slot has been taken. It seems symmetrical with the accidental necessity of the past. If it's now the case that the future is already in place, then that's fixed. A fait accompli. It's already happened–just not in the present. 

That doesn't necessarily mean it's deterministic in the sense that the past causes the future. But however the future eventuated, that's now over and done with. Someone in the present has yet to experience that preexistent future, but it's already played out. 

Paul Helm has championed the B-theory of time, mainly as a model for creation by a timeless God. A fringe benefit might seem to be how it dovetails with Reformed "determinism".

However, we need to be careful about that. Reformed predestination and providence isn't based on a particular theory of time. And that might actually be inconsistent with what makes the future determinate according to Calvinism.

Assuming that there's a sense in which the B-theory of time makes the future determinate (see above), that's based on the metaphysics of time rather than a divine plan. It could be random. 

In Calvinism, the future is determinate in the way a movie plot is determinate. The director has scripted the story in his mind. It has dramatic logic. 

But that doesn't mean things had to happen in that particular sequence. Indeed, it's quite flexible. In God's imagination, the present could fork off in different directions. It's just that God picks one of those hypothetical trajectories to actualize. What makes it determinate isn't that a particular series of events had to go together, but that God chose to instantiate that particular plot. God can imagine alternate endings, but he didn't reify those counterfactuals. 

Prince Ali, fabulous he, Ali Ababwa!

Steve pointed me to this excerpt from The Cambridge Companion to Miracles (pp 194-195):

There are many examples of such 'marvellous' happenings. Perhaps the most famous contemporary guru associated with the miraculous is Sathya Sai Baba. Sai Baba was born in 1926 to a poor family in Andhra Pradesh and his life is surrounded by devotees bearing witness to his miraculous powers. He claims to be a reincarnation of the saint Sai Baba of Shirdi (d. 1918) and also to be an incarnation (avatara) of Shiva and Shakti. His career has been of increasing claims to divinity supported by a large organization and thousands of devoted followers. At the heart of his teachings is the idea that we are all God and that the difference between him and others is that he has realized this. He advocates what he regards as the universal human values of truth (satya), right conduct (dharma), non-violence (ahimsa), love of God and world (prema) and peace (santi). He also teaches the unity of world religions and service to humanity.31 These teachings, which are typical of Hinduism after the nineteenth century, are accompanied by miraculous events and Sai Baba demonstrating miraculous powers. The most important of these is materializations of objects such as watches, necklaces, rings and gold ornaments. Of particular importance is the manifestation of ash (vibhuti) from his finger tips, although other substances are also said to be produced such as red powder for tilak marks, turmeric powder, sweets, fruit, holy water and Siva lingas. Ash is sacred to Siva and, significantly, the term vibhuti is used synonymously with siddhi. He is also attributed with powers of clairvoyance, levitation and appearing in two places at once, or bilocation. One of the most recent claims to a miracle by Sai Baba was in 2006 when he told his devotees that he would appear in the moon. The large crowd that gathered were disappointed because of the overcast weather.32 Sai Baba does not appear to perform healing miracles.

The important point is that Sai Baba is said to perform miracles as a sign of his divinity. These manifestations are taken to be evidence for his claims by devotees and evidence of his fraudulence by his critics and rationalists. There is much controversy surrounding Sai Baba. On the one hand there is good work funded bythe Sai Baba centre or ashram and many positive claims have been made about the transformative effect of the guru on people's lives; yet on the other he has borne the brunt of negative criticism that his 'miracles' are in fact sleight-of-hand33 and accusations of sexual abuse and even complicity in murder.34 With Sai Baba we have a curious mix of a traditional yogic understanding of powers, as attested in yoga literature, in a very modern context with a Western understanding of miracles. Sai Baba himself would seem to be aware of this context and speaks to both Hindu tradition and Western belief in miracles as the disruption of material causation.


31See Lawrence A. Babb, ‘Sathya Sai Baba’s Magic’, Anthropological Quarterly 56 (1983), 116–24. Also idem, Redemptive Encounters: Three Modern Styles in the Hindu Tradition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986). For a general survey of his life see


33Erlendur Haraldsson, Modern Miracles: An Investigative Report on Psychic Phenomena Associated with Sathya Sai Baba (New York: Fawcett, 1997).

34David Bailey, A Journey to Love (Prasanthi Nilayam: Sri Sathya Sai Towers Hotels Pvt. Ltd, 1997).

Just a few brief comments for now:

1. Sai Baba claims to be a kind of savior. An enlightened one. Of course, it's quite possible he's a fraud, per above.

2. However, if Sai Baba is truly performing "miracles", then (from the Bible's perspective) he's a false prophet or an antichrist. The Bible warned us against false prophets and false messiahs (e.g. Deut 13:1-5, Mk 13:21-23).

3. Sai Baba's "signs and wonders" are more reminiscent of Jannes and Jambres and Simon Magus (e.g. ash from his fingertips, materializations of objects) than biblical miracles performed by true prophets like Moses, Joshua, Elijah, Elisha, etc. In a sense, Sai Baba's miracles are cheap parlor tricks or small potatoes compared to parting the Red Sea or the walls of Jericho falling down or even creating a gnat. Maybe a better way to put it is: I suspect there's a point at which Sai Baba would have to say "this is the finger of God".

4. Although Jesus and the prophets of the Bible performed signs and wonders, they didn't rely solely on signs and wonders to verify their claims (e.g. John 4:48).

5. If Sai Baba is performing bona fide miracles, albeit false miracles from the vantage point of Christianity, then that undermines atheist claims that miracles are impossible, that there's nothing more than the physical or natural realm. These atheists posit a universal negative against miracles and the supernatural, but if Sai Baba isn't some charlatan, then these atheists are felled at one stroke.

Atheists like Stephen Braude might argue "miracles" are possible within the natural realm. Perhaps humans have seldomly tapped abilities which may seem preternatural, but which are entirely explicable on naturalistic grounds. If so, that depends on their specific arguments and whether Sai Baba's miraculous powers can be accounted for given their specific arguments. For instance, telekinesis could explain levitation, but how could it explain materialization or bilocation?

Here I opened wide the door, darkness there and nothing more

A militant atheist writes:

AND it is also vital that Christians are educated on the evidence-based reasons why non-Christians are confident that Christianity isn't true. The real question about faith is, does the Christian have markers in place that would let them know that their faith has been misplaced.

Steve responded:

And what would lower [your] confidence level that Christianity isn't true? On a scale of 1-100...

Back to the militant atheist:

Steve Hays thank you for asking. I get asked this question a lot and my answer is always that if someone prayed for my paralyzed sister in the name of Jesus (can only move her eyes and mouth, she's on a feeding tube due to MS) and I see her immediately jumped up and was healed (with the accompanying regaining of muscles mass). My confidence that Christianity is true would rise from below 1% to over 90%. I still wouldn't be certain but my confidence would be very high. What would lower your confidence Christianity is true Steve?

To which I said:

Why does it have to be your sister? Why not someone else's sister? Or brother? Or mother or father? And so on. It's not as if your family is the only family in the entire world let alone throughout history.

Militant atheist:

Because I know the situation with my sister first hand, have see the deterioration first hand over many many years. I have seen the feeding tube with my own eyes. I have tested the fact that she is completely paralyzed myself. I've seen the 50 lbs of muscle mass disappear. Now if you Patrick, were to pray for my sister in Jesus' name and she jumped out of bed and ran around ... I don't care how big a skeptic one is, this would increase my confidence. Wouldn't that be an absolutely amazing thing to see?


all this proves is you have an unreasonably high standard. That's fine, I suppose, you're allowed to have whatever standards you want for yourself. However, let's not pretend that's a reasonable standard in general.

Militant atheist redux:

Patrick Chan yes you are right, I do have high standards. I disagree with unreasonable however. I think your standards to believe in Hinduism would be as high as mine for Christianity.

Me part deux:

Why not just have the same standard for everything? Why not just use reason, logic, evidence, and so on to evaluate any claim (whether about Hinduism or Christianity or whatever else)?

I say you have unreasonably high standards because you will only accept a "miracle" if it's your sister. Even though I'm sure you've met a lot of other sick people. Even though I'm sure you have at least heard of other sick people and have no good reason to doubt these stories (say) from your friends, from doctors, etc. That's your prerogative to be so picky about the evidence that you will only grant the evidence if your sister is healed. But that's not a reasonable standard.

Hi, it's me again:

As far as documented miracle claims (attested by physicians), here are a couple of examples posted on a weblog:

Militant atheist at the gates:

thanks for this. I'm reading it now, but can you do me a favor? You read it as well, but picture this couple as East Indian and Hindu. Then let's read it together with out collective skeptical hats.

ok I finished reading the article. Now Patrick, if you can imagine this couple as East Indian, and both them and the doctor Hindus, what doubts would you have about this article?


I don't see what their race has anything to do with it.

Anyway, these are real world examples. I'd be happy to read an "East Indian and Hindu" example that's attested by physicians too.

El ateo militante:

One of the best ways to lower bias is to remove one's desire for it to be true. This is why I am asking for Patrick to imagine this same scenario but for a Hindu couple.

Right back at me:

1. This shows your own bias toward me because you assume I have a "desire for it to be true". However, what makes you think I have a "desire for it to be true"? I never said or implied I did.

2. Besides, my desire for something to be true or false is immaterial to the evidence for the case itself.

3. Also, this cuts both ways. What if you have a "desire" for it to be false?

4. Finally, why pretend like this is a different case than the case presented before us? Why not just take the case as it is? There's no need for hypotheticals or imagings when there's a real actual case before us. If you have a similar case from an "East Indian" and "Hindu" that's attested by physicians, then go ahead and post it, and I'll read it and evaluate it. Just evaluate it on a case by case basis. That's normally how reasonable people operate.

Old atheist is new atheist:

ok. I just wanted to make sure there was no bias from either side. Now are you willing to express any doubts about the article you posted?

Sacré bleu:

I don't grant there's no bias on either side. You're obviously a militant atheist.

Springtime for Facebook and atheism:

do you have any doubts at all about that article?

Ma va:

Here's a better point as the person noted in the weblog post: "The Vanderhoofs and the physicians are presently alive so presumably anyone can contact the parties for more information if they are interested."

Harald Hefter, February 2005
Prof. Dr. med. Dr. rer. nat. Harald Hefter
Medical Director, Department of Neurology,
University Hospital Düsseldorf, Germany

Devin Zimmerman, M.D., February 2005
South Bend Neurology, South Bend, Indiana

The atheist strikes back:

Patrick Chan hopefully I can express my doubt in a way that you won't become defensive. He was diagnosed with Myoclonus, extreme fatigue and poor short-term memory. He was treated with Dival Sodium. He got better. The dosage was reduced. He still suffered from a major lack of memory of the time of his stay in the clinic.

Return of the me:

Actually, that's completely mistaken. Both physicians state he was diagnosed with Creutzfeld Jakob Disease (CJD). For all intents and purposes CJD is a fatal disease.

Don't believe me? Just Google. For example:–Jakob_disease

In addition, myoclonus is a symptom of CJD. Mycolonus is not the disease itself.

Atheist misadventures in debating:

you could be right, but in the article you posted, no where does it say he was diagnosed with CJD. It just says the existence of the new version of the Creutzfeld-Jakob-Disease was very likely.

Quoth the doctor, evermore:

"Our American colleagues joined our suspected diagnosis [of CJD] and also waived on brain biopsy probably due to the clear clinical picture and the very poor prognosis."

Atheism: into darkness:

Patrick Chan correct, it says suspected diagnosis.

Sense and sensibility:

It also says "due to the clear clinical picture". In other words, the neurologists were quite certain it was CJD based on the clinical picture. A brain biopsy would've been overkill. In any case, I cited the contact information of the physicians above. You could contact them and ask them yourself.

In addition, a brain biopsy at that point would've arguably lacked compassion given how rapidly the patient was deteriorating.

This atheist's logic has become ill:

yes, and it got better with a simple drug.

Requiem for an atheistic dream:

There's no curative treatment for CJD. The drug (Depakote aka valproic acid) is an anticonvulsant. It's meant for symptomatic relief of his myoclonus or muscle spasms (myoclonus is a symptom or sign of CJD). It's to palliate the patient as he deteriorates so that he doesn't suffer as much as he dies.

If you don't believe me, read this from Harvard Med:

"CJD cannot be cured, but some of the symptoms can be treated. Narcotics may be used to relieve pain, and anticonvulsant drugs, such as clonazepam (Klonopin) and valproic acid (Depacon, Depakene, Depakote), may be used for muscle spasms. Research studies are looking into other drugs that may be helpful."

Retorted atheism:

ok. But you're assuming he had CJD to being with. Like I said, that is not clear from the article, and misdiagnosis happen all the time. What we do know, is he got better at the same time he took a simple drug. Now it could be god that worked slowly over 1.5 years, or maybe it was the drug. Which is more likely to you?

Me, finis:

As I said, you're free to contact the neurologists yourself if you doubt their clinical acumen and judgment and ask them for their rationale and reasoning for why they "misdiagnosed" CJD in this patient.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Hilbert's Hotel

Supralapsarian Calvinism is sometimes classified as a felix culpa theology. Conversely, you have atheists who say, Why did God create Satan, knowing what would happen? 

Suppose Adam and Eve never fell. What would the world be like? Would it be better, worse, or both better and worse?

Minimally, Adam's posterity wouldn't die of old age. Perhaps, if Adam and Eve ate from the tree of life, their immortality would be transmitted to their posterity. Or perhaps their posterity would need to eat from the tree of life. Or perhaps, as they colonized the earth, they'd take seeds from the tree of life and plant it elsewhere. 

Or maybe God would simply confer immortality on Adam's posterity, apart from the tree of life. It's unlikely that fruit from the tree of life had chemical properties that conveyed biological immortality. How is that naturally possible? Rather, it's more likely that God simply attached a blessing to that object. 

In theory, Adam's posterity might still be vulnerable to death by causes other than senescence. Perhaps God might providentially protect them from death by other causes. Or perhaps God would let them die, but miraculously restore them to life.

It seems unlikely that an intermediate state would exist in an unfallen world. In a fallen world, the intermediate state exists because people die at different times over the millennia, but at the Parousia, death will cease, and all the dead will restored to life all at once. (According to amil eschatology. Premil eschatology is more complex, but the net effect will be the same.)

But in an unfallen world, there wouldn't be that cutoff. So there wouldn't be any point in people dying, then passing into an intermediate state. 

The upshot is that in an unfallen world, the human race would continue to reproduce until it reached an optimum population level. In theory, that might be confined to the garden of Eden. If so, that would be a small population.

Or perhaps Adam's posterity would outgrow the garden and proceed to colonize the more hospitable regions of the globe. But to avoid the detrimental effects of overpopulation (e.g. famine, starvation), it would have to plateau. Suppose at that point God made the women infertile. 

Reproduction would terminate with a stable, unchanging population. However many generations of Adam's posterity until it hit the optimum population threshold. That would be the last generation. Frozen in place. Further procreation would be unnecessary to maintain a replacement rate, since no one would die–or if they died, they'd be restored to life. 

That would be a good world. Better in some respects than a fallen world. However, the overall population would be far smaller. An absolutely static, invariant population.

One fringe benefit of mortality is that it frees up time and space for far more humans to exist. Some of them are hellbound but some of them are heavenbound. Yet the heavenbound humans wouldn't exist in a world where there's a final generation once reproduction reaches the optimum population size. There's no more room for additional generations. The cutoff comes early in human history.

In one respect, a fallen world is worse because it contains hellbound individuals. But that's offset by the greater number of heavenbound individuals, since they don't have to coexist at the same time and place. Because they exist diachronically rather than synchronically in the same place, procreation can continue indefinitely. 

God might still decree a terminus, but it will be very far out compared to an unfallen world. The cumulative population will be vastly larger. Eventually, they all exist simultaneously, but not at the same location. 

Heaven is more capacious than Hilbert's Hotel. Never runs out of guest rooms. Always a vacancy! 

Hanky panky express

Luke's nativity account

1. At the bottom of this post I'm going to reproduce an essay about Richard Bauckham. He's unduly skeptical, but still has some useful info. If we date Luke's Gospel to the late 50s or thereabouts, then I don't see why Mary couldn't be a direct source, since she may well have been a teenager when she bore Jesus. Barring that, Luke might well have access to informant like James and Jude, who'd have family lore at their fingertips.

2. An objection to Mary as one of Luke's informants is that Luke doesn't mention the flight to Egypt. Also, Lk 2:39 is pretty abrupt if Luke was aware of the intervening events. There are three potential explanations for the omission:

i) Luke doesn't report the flight to Egypt because Mary wasn't an informant

ii) Luke doesn't report the flight to Egypt even though Mary was an informant because she didn't tell him about it

iii) Even though Mary told him about it, Luke had some reason not to include it

Let's run back through these:

(i) is possible. However, assuming the historicity of the Lucan nativity anecdotes, Mary is naturally the ultimate source of information. However, this could be mediated through the siblings of Jesus. But if so, that still doesn't explain the omission of this particular incident, given the other nativity anecdotes.

(ii) When I look back on my late relatives, it's striking how little they said about their past. It usually came down to a handful of stock anecdotes which they periodically repeated. Although they had detailed recollections of their life, they rarely talked about most of what happened to them, including important things. You could get more information if you questioned them, but it takes some background information to know what to ask. 

Or they might volunteer something if a conversation happened to prompt them to relate an incident from their past. One time when we took my grandmother to church, they had a period where parishioners could mention something that happened to them that week. My grandmother seized the occasion to discuss her conversion experience. Not only was that the first time I ever heard her tell that story, even though I knew her well, that was the first time my mother heard her tell that story. My grandmother was in her mid-80s at the time, yet this is the first time she had occasion to mention that in my mother's presence. People can keep very significant things to themselves most of the time. 

In addition, as one Synoptic scholar said to me, one has to be careful on insisting what events a person might raise. Since Luke had already made clear that the family was from Galilee, there was little reason to mention the flight to Egypt. They just eventually ended up living in their homeland.

(iii) Perhaps Luke didn't include it because the flight into Egypt is politically sensitive. It raises questions about the Roman administration of Palestine. That's not a problem for Matthew's Jewish audience, but if Luke's Gospel is addressed to a Roman official, then Luke might wish to avoid opening that can of worms. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

How biblical is Molinism, finis

Not in my backyard

The Catholic contraceptive taboo

I'm going to comment on a longish defense of Rome's position on contraception by a Catholic philosophy prof. (Christopher M. Brown) at UT Martin:

One of the problems with natural law arguments against "artificial" contraception is that such arguments don't originate in natural law principles, but in Catholic dogma. Natural law appeals are then scrambled after the fact to retroactively justify Rome's position. 

There are striking parallels between arguments for transgenderism and arguments for the Catholic ban on contraception. Both resort to artificial distinctions and dichotomies. 

Given the hand he dealt himself, I think Brown plays that hand about as well as can be done, but there's only so much you can do with a losing hand.