Saturday, June 30, 2018

Fight to the death

On social media I've seen conservatives accused of hypocrisy for supporting pre-election confirmation hearings for Trump's nominee to replace Justice Kennedy. A few observations:

i) I agree with them that McConnell's stated rationale to wait until the next election to fill the seat vacated by Scalia's demise was dodgy. 

ii) However, that doesn't make conservative like me hypocritical for supporting McConnell's action. I can support his action without endorsing his rationale. 

iii) There's nothing wrong, in principle, with a president nominating a replacement before a national election. It was Obama's prerogative to do that.

But by the same token, it's the Senate's prerogative to ignore a nominee. There's no Constitutional requirement for the Senate to hold confirmation hearings. It can simply let a nomination die. And I said all that at the time. 

On merely procedural grounds, there's no uniformly right or wrong course of action. It depends on the actual circumstances.

iv) There are different ways of winning and losing. You can have a football team where one team wins, the other team loses, and nothing changes. Players and family go home. Life goes on as usual.

You can have a war where the losers are executed, exiled, imprisoned, enslaved, their property confiscated, &c.

Many Americans have a live-and-let-live attitude. But that only works when both sides have a live-and-let-live attitude. Liberal social engineers are fanatical about ideological conformity. Because their policies lack widespread support, they can only implement their policies through coercion rather than persuasion. They require the punitive force of gov't to impose their will on the masses. 

Increasingly, that's why every national election and every Supreme Court nomination has become a battle to the death. The liberal establishment has made the cost of losing too high.

As a result, freedom-loving Americans can't afford to play nice anymore. Liberals who bitch about Trump or McConnell are like armed house-burglars who complain that it wasn't a fair fight because the homeowner had greater firepower. 

The liberal establishment has become ever more threatening to freedom-loving Americans. Don't be surprised if we oppose the liberal establishment with every legal means at our disposal. If you don't allow us to agree to disagree, the alternative is moral combat. 

Friday, June 29, 2018

Is the SBC drifting?

Recently, the SBC elected a new president with progressive tendencies. In a way, that says more about those who voted for him than the candidate himself. Tells you something about the state of SBC leadership. Those in a position to vote for SBC president. This reflects a typical disconnect between the elites and the rank-and-file.

I suspect a source of the problem is evangelical leaders who spend more time hobnobbing with each other than with the laity. As a result, they become increasingly out of touch with the pulse of the laity. Here's Gagnon's analysis of the new SBC prez:

That said, Rev. Greear does have at least four other positions that are either incorrect or misleading, besides (1) the remarks about “loving our gay neighbor more than we love our position on sexuality” and “more than being right,” making five in total. These could unintentionally produce some slippage in the church’s historic stance, that in turn other Christians who are less firm on this issue than Rev. Greear could use to create still further slippage in the future.

(2) Rev. Greear’s claim that "homosexuality [sic; homosexual practice] is not a 'worse' sin than other sins," implying that all sins are equal. This is a false view even if held with the best of intentions by many Evangelicals. No one could possibly believe in real life the claim that all sins are equally severe in all respects. It is certainly insupportable from a biblical standpoint. The fact that any sin can exclude someone from the Kingdom of God if personal merit is the means of salvation does not mean all sin is equal in all respects. A good health care plan should cover all injuries equally but that doesn't mean that all injuries are equal. Some are clearly more catastrophic than others. I understand the reasons for Rev. Greear contending that "all sins are equal": Lest we become arrogant and graceless, we should remember that we were all under sin and continue to struggle with sin in our inward members. Those who experience and acquiesce to same-sex attractions are not irredeemable moral werewolves. Well and good. Yet these reasons are not justifications for distorting the fact that Scripture treats homosexual practice, like incest, as a particularly severe sexual offense. If it were otherwise, people could rightly argue (as, for example, Jonathan Merritt does) that since the church has given some ground to remarriage after divorce, it should do so as well with committed homosexual "marriages." See my article here:

(3) His contention that we must be “among the chief advocates against … discrimination against [sic] the gay and lesbian community in our society.” Obviously the “LGBTQ” community counts as discrimination many things that Christians classify as support for immorality. Moreover, “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” “non-discrimination” laws are used to discriminate against Christians, as was already obvious back in 2014 and prior. The evidence now is so overwhelming nowadays that any Christian leader who in an unqualified manner says that we should be "the chief advocates against discrimination" of "the gay and lesbian community in society" is exposing the church to great deception. The church should reach out in love to self-affirmed homosexual and "transgender" persons, of course. Yet let's not kid ourselves into thinking (as Rev. Greear seems to do at points) that this will make us great "friends" of the "LGBTQ" community. The true church will always be out-compromised by the false church in pandering to the "LGBTQ" agenda. See my article here:

(4) His claim that “God doesn’t send people to hell for homosexuality,” i.e., for committing homosexual practice in a serial, unrepentant way. He gets this point from Rev. Tim Keller. This view is misleading at best and I attempted to show why here: (point 2). Paul does warn self-professed believers that "men who lie with a male," among others, will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9). Does Rev. Greear disagree?

(5) His assertions that (a) we should not “stigmatize sexual sin,” which action he adds “shows extreme ignorance of the gospel," nor (b) should we put “sexual ethics … at the center of Christianity” I understand what Rev. Greear is trying to say here: We need to find a way for the church to reach out to "LGBTQ" persons who view the church's stance against homosexual practice and transgenderism as an obstacle to checking out Jesus. Yet he would never make the same remarks in connection with mistreatment of women, as the sometimes excessive, recent treatment of Paige Patterson indicates. Nor would he make the same remarks about racism. Imagine the (justifiable) uproar that would ensue if he said: "We should not stigmatize clear cases of racism and mistreatment of women because to do so would show extreme ignorance of the gospel; nor should we put concerns about racism and mistreatment of women at the center of Christianity." If he had said such things, then all the people commending him for saying the same things about sexual sin in general and homosexual practice in particular would have worked vigorously against his candidacy as SBC president. The reason would be obvious: He would be undermining the church's resistance to matters of genuine concern in the church and society at large.

Why then say the same thing about sexual ethics when this is even more under siege in society? Add to this the fact that the second thing Paul typically warned converts about, after getting the proscription of idolatry squared away, was abstention from porneia (sexual immorality). And Rev. Greear wants to diminish the significance of that in church discussion? The church should be talking more about sexual ethics, including homosexual practice, not less.

The male-female foundation of marriage is anything but a peripheral matter in Scripture. To seek to remove altogether from the church a stigma associated homosexual acts ends up harming the church in a cultural context mandating full approval. Not even Rev. Greear can consistently maintain the view of not stigmatizing particular sexual sins. Are we to infer that Rev. Greear thinks we should not stigmatize adult-consensual incest and polyamory, to say nothing of pedophilia? Everyone knows that polyamory or polygamy is stigmatized in a manner greater than remarriage after an invalid divorce. This is as it should be since polyamory is a worse offense. Are we saying then that polyamorists are beyond the pale of the gospel. Of course not. The same thing applies to incest of even an adult-consensual sort, which is worse than polyamory or polygamy. Would anyone take seriously the argument that we should.

Again, I wish to reiterate that I am convinced that Rev. Greear does not want to undermine the church’s position on homosexual practice, even if some of his views may unintentionally contribute to slippage. He is stronger on the issue than the OneNewsNow article suggests but not as strong as he could be.


You are here

Eschatology is like a store directory. When you look at a store directory, it orients you to the rest of mall by saying "You are here". But where is here? It keeps shifting according to where you are in relation to the mall. Depends on which entrance you happen to be at. Depending on where inside the mall you happen to be at. There are directories at each entrance of the mall well as inside the mall. And whenever you come to a directory, it says "You are here". So you're always here–yet here is never the same place! Here becomes a circular indexical. Here becomes there and there becomes here as you move from one directory to the next.

Imagine a lost driver. He pulls into a gas station to ask directions. "Where am I?" the driver asks. "You are here" the attendant answers. Well, that's not very helpful. 

The question is how to get from here to there, but you have to know where you are to know where there is. That's the tricky thing about endtime prophecy. Unless I know where I am in relation to the final destination, knowing that I'm here is useless since here can be anywhere. Here keeps changing. 

Molinism, Question-Begging, and Foreknowledge of Indeterminates

I'm going to make some comments on this defense of Molinism: John D. Laing "Molinism, Question-Begging, and Foreknowledge of Indeterminates," Perichoresis 16/2 (2018): 55–76.

Calvinism is ill-equipped to deal with genuine randomness, as should be abundantly clear. Ian Barbour rightly takes issue with William Pollard’s suggestion that God’s providence is located in his control (in a deterministic way) of subatomic and atomic structures/movements. He first objects to the total control afforded God in this model because it leads to predestination, a doctrine Barbour sees as denying human freedom and the reality of evil (Barbour 1990: 117). While Barbour’s interpretation of predestination is questionable, he is still correct that Pollard’s view is inconsistent with the reality of chance/indeterminacy. Barbour goes on to criticize the model for its lopsided view of providence as divine use of unlawful aspects of nature and for its implicit reductionism, but these are of little concern here. What is important is the removal of real indeterminacy under any deterministic model of providence, no matter how much the proponent wishes to engage modern physical theory.

The most important similarity between the two types of counterfactuals is that they both lack control from without. That is, both libertarianly free actions and random events, by definition, cannot have an external control directing their specific outcomes, but this is not to say that they cannot have true statements about how they will result. [I am loathe to suggest that creaturely freedom is random, thus adding weight to arguments of determinists who claim that libertarian freedom is incoherent and/or arbitrary. Nevertheless, there are some similarities between libertarianly free actions and random events that allow for an analogy.] Just as Molinism allows God to use counterfactuals of creaturely freedom to (weakly) actualize his desires by means of the free actions of his creatures, so also it allows him to establish order and determinateness at the macro-level while retaining genuine indeterminateness at the micro-level by means of counterfactuals of subatomic particle movement. That is, propositions such as If situation S were to obtain, particle P would randomly move to location L could be used by God to guide and/or govern subatomic particles without causally determining their movements by weakly actualizing situations like S so that the larger picture of the creation is characterized by orderliness. Of course, a few caveats must be noted. First, it could be the case that none of the true counterfactuals of random subatomic particle movement result in the particle being where God wants it (and so God’s options are limited by the true counterfactuals). 

i) It's fascinating to see an SBC theologian take the position that God lacks control over some purely natural, inanimate processes and events. That's a very radical restriction on divine providence. 

ii) In addition, there are deterministic as well as indeterministic interpretations of quantum mechanics. The many-worlds interpretation is deterministic. 

iii) Even if physical determinism is breaks down at the subatomic level, that doesn't mean there can't be immaterial determinants. To take a comparison, in substance dualism an immaterial mind can move the hand. Some material effects may have immaterial causes. Indeed, creation ex nihilo is premised on that distinction. So are miracles that bypass natural media. 

Elsewhere, I have argued that Molinism may prove fruitful in explaining how God could create by means of a process like neo-Darwinism that incorporates random processes (in this case random genetic mutations) by appeal to what I called counterfactuals of random genetic mutation. Truths about how random mutations would in fact result could be used by God to bring about the creatures he desires. At the same time, the limitations Molinism places upon God’s ability to determine the true counterfactuals (of freedom and of random genetic mutation) help explain features like vestigial organs which seem problematic for models of creation and intelligent design that use more deterministic assumptions. The argument relies upon analogies between counterfactuals of creaturely freedom and counterfactuals of random genetic mutation and between the free will defense and a similar defense of intelligent design by progressive creation or evolutionary creation. 

i) That equivocates over the definition of "randomness" in biology. To my knowledge, when evolutionists biologists say the process of evolution is "random", they don't mean it's indeterminate, but that evolutionary developments are independent of what's beneficial to the organism. Mutation may be, and often is, nonadaptive.

Laing is using "random" in a way that precluded guided evolution. Because evolution is (according to him) an indeterministic process, it can't be divinely directed.

Likewise, to my knowledge, vestigiality is defined as a characteristic that used to be functional, but has lost functionality, like blind cave fish. But that doesn't mean the process is indeterminate. 

ii) So Dembski was threatened with termination for espousing old-earth creationism (even though his position was well-known at the time of hiring), but it's permissible for Laing to promote theistic evolution as a SWBTS prof? In fact, he's a contributor to BioLogus, the flag ship of theistic evolution. Yet he teaches at SWBTS!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Time flies

i) Albert Heim was a Swiss scientist and mountaineer who survived a fall when hiking in the Alps. During the fall he saw his entire life pass before his eyes. That intrigued him, so he interviewed other mountain climbers who survived accidents, and they reported the same phenomena. This is technically called life review. Sometimes it's triggered by a near-death or life-threatening experience. 

ii) Life review illustrates the distinction or even the dichotomy between physical time and psychological time. A kind of time-dilation in which the sense of time's passage is radically altered. Where psychological time is uncoupled from physical time. 

iii) How is it possible for someone to see his entire life replayed in a few moments? My guess is that normally, psychological time is calibrated to match physical time so that we can function in a physical world. When our experience is filtered through the five senses, our sense of time's passage is synchronized with physical events. Imagine driving or crossing a road if psychological time was out of synch with physical time. If how you perceive approaching cars didn't correspond to their actual speed. That mismatch would be fatal. But in an altered state of consciousness, the mind is free to operate at its own pace, independent of physical time. Assuming this is a bona fide phenomenon, it may have some theological applications. 

iv) Suppose a Christian has a two-year-old child who dies when the Christian is twenty. Say the child goes to heaven. Then the Christian dies at 80. There's a 60-year separation. At least, there's a 60-year separation on this side of the grave. But is there a 60-year separation on the other side of the grave? 

Since the intermediate state is a disembodied state, it seems reasonable to conclude that the intermediate state operates according to psychological time rather than physical time. Perhaps years here may be minutes in heaven. Perhaps, when the parent finally dies, 60 years after the child died, it's like the child only had to wait a few moments to be reunited with his father or mother. He may still be a two-year-old. And the parent is young again, in a simulated, dream-like body. They might pick up right where they left off, only in a better situation. Of course, this is speculation, but if the rate of psychological time is independent of the rate of physical time, then that's possible. 

v) There's a prima facie tension between young-earth creationism and the fall of angels. Within the chronology of Gen 1-3, when did angels have time to be created and rebel, in order to tempt Adam and Eve? 

Genesis doesn't say how long after they were created that Adam and Eve were tempted. Was it days? Weeks? Months? Longer? Perhaps there's time enough on YEC chronology Or perhaps that's a reason to doubt YEC chronology.  

vi) But this also raises the question of how angels experience time. As discarnate spirits, angels presumably experience psychological time rather than physical time. 

Gunslinger rematch

I'm going to comment on some statements in this article: Kenneth D. Keathley, "Molinist Gunslingers Redux: A Friendly Response to Greg Welty," Perichoresis 16/2 (2018), 31–44. 

One weakness in his article is a failure to distinguish between popularizers (Gerstner, Sproul Jr.) and high-level thinkers. In addition, he misclassifies Bruce Ware as a Calvinist, but Ware's position is quite eclectic. He's an Amyraldian Molinist who rejects classical theism. 

Initially, in response to the historical challenge of fatalism as espoused by the Greek Stoics and later by Islam, the primary concern of Molinism was to establish the contingency of future conditionals in the light of God’s exhaustive foreknowledge (Craig 1988).

i) I don't know what that means. Is Keathley alleging that Molinism was developed in response to Greek Stoicism? Was that a major rival in the 16-17C?

ii) Likewise, Islam had been around for nearly a millennium by the time of de Molina. Is Molinism a belated response to Islam? Wasn't Molinism an alternative to Thomism? 

iii) Mutazilite Islam is the Muslim version of freewill theism.

iv) Is Asharite Islam "fatalistic"? Asharite Islam subscribes to occasionalism. 

How is Keathley defining "fatalism"? On a classic definition of fatalism, an agent can be the ultimate source of his own actions as well as having multiple courses of action open to him. The catch is that every route and alternate route have the same detonation. 

As many Calvinists followed Edwards in embracing determinism (particularly in America)...

Throughout his article, Keathley seems to adopt the view of Muller and Crisp that Calvinism was originally indeterministic, and only took a deterministic turn under the influence of Edwards. But what's distinctive to Edwards has more to do with occasionalism and idealism, not determinism. That traditional Calvinism is antithetical to libertarian freedom had been defended by James Anderson and Paul Manata:

My short answer to his second claim is that I do not think Welty has made his case. And it seems that his argument, if successful, would succeed too well. All theological systems that uphold the traditional view of God’s omniscience would be open to this charge (Welty may contend that that’s exactly his point). 

Indeed, that's his point. Welty is presenting a tu quoque argument, viz.:

But what does this say about the efforts of apophatic Calvinists to distance themselves from the implications of causal determinism? Most Calvinists distinguish between primary and secondary causation, and embrace infralapsarianism over supralapsarianism. This is why Welty takes an apophatic approach while leaving determinists to fend for themselves. (‘If they are subject to critique, so be it.’) Many of our Reformed brethren recognize the moral difficulties posed by an adherence to causal determinism.

1. Keathley seems to be uninformed about Welty's own position. For instance, he seems to be unaware of the detailed response that Welty and Cohen offered to Walls:

2. Because the Calvinist/Molinist debate can spin off in so many different directions, Welty is bracketing certain issues.

3. A weakness running through his article is Keathley's failure to define his terms:

i) What does he mean by X causes Y?

ii) What does he mean by X determines Y?

iii) Is "causal determinism" something over and above causation or determinism? What does causation add to determinism? What does determinism add to causation?

iv) Take David Lewis's definition: "We think of a cause as something that makes a difference, and the difference it makes must be a difference from what would have happened without it."

On that definition, the Molinist God causes sin and evil by actualizing a possible world containing sin and evil. 

I do not believe one can hold that God accomplishes his will via causal determinism and then appeal to mystery. Where, exactly, is mystery to be located? There seem to be three options. One place possibly could be the question as to why God created this particular world knowing that evil would occur. To my knowledge, both Molinists and Calvinists confess this type of mystery. There’s no dispute here. A second possible location could be the mystery of how God accomplishes his will through other causal agents. Molinists contend that God, with precision and success, perfectly accomplishes his will through genuinely free creatures primarily by means of his omniscience. 

In addition, the Molinist God accomplishes his will by instantiating a particular timeline.  

If, concerning God’s concurrent actions with other agents, apophatic Calvinists wish to appeal to mystery on this point, then this would not seem necessarily to be an item of conflict between Molinists and Calvinists. Molinists provide a possible model while apophatic Calvinists do not, but both affirm that God can and does perfectly accomplish his will. Again, this creates no problem between apophatic Calvinists and Molinists.

It’s one thing to say that it is a mystery how God concurrently accomplishes his will through other agents. It’s another thing to say that it’s a mystery as to why he is not accountable when he causally determines their sins. If this is what is meant when Calvinists appeal to mystery, then indeed Molinists and Calvinists are at odds at this point.

While that's an important issue in its own right, it's irrelevant to the topic of Welty's essay, which was a tu quoque argument. 

But we are created in the divine image, so we reflect God’s ability to make moral choices. 

Many freewill theists have a bad habit of using the divine image as a cipher. They attribute certain things to the divine image. They don't bother to exegete the concept of the divine image from Scripture, but begin with their concept of God (a la freewill theism), then read that back into the divine image. 

We all agree that the man who hires a hit man is also guilty of the hit man’s crime.

And that's in part because the hit man is instrumental to the Don's malicious intentions. On the other hand, using one person to kill another person isn't inherently blameworthy. Generals give orders to foot soldiers in a just-war situation. 

God indeed works through the evil done by wicked agents (Genesis 50; Isaiah 10; Acts 2). All Christians affirm this. But it really does matter whether or not those agents were the origins of their respective choices, and that at significant points they possessed the genuine ability to make those choices.

From the viewpoint of a freewill theist. But that's the very issue in dispute. Keathley fails to argue for his key assumptions. He takes them for granted. And he fails to counter arguments to the contrary. So his objection begs the question. 

In moral arguments, intentions matter. Even a strongly Reformed voice such as Paul Helm emphasizes this: ‘In the case of evil, whatever the difficulties may be of accounting for the fact, God ordains evil but he does not intend evil as evil, as the human agent intends it... There are other ends or purposes which God has in view’ (Helm 1994: 190). God’s intentions and purposes are different from the evil intentions and purposes of the wicked through whom he works or of those he permits to do evil. Molinism understands these evil persons to be the causal agents of their deeds. Thus, Molinism is not ‘sufficiently analogous’ to those versions of Calvinism that affirm causal determinism. 

But their acting in a particular way is determined by the Molinist God instantiating the possible timeline in which they act one way rather than another. God is a necessary cause of that outcome. 

God can permit or allow an evil for just reasons. Consider the following analogy. During World War II, the Allies broke the secret codes of the Germans. According to some historians, the British knew beforehand of German plans to carpet bomb the city of Coventry. It was determined that if special actions were taken to defend the city, then that would tip off the Nazis that the Allies were intercepting their messages. Churchill reportedly made the difficult decision to allow the bombing to occur. Most would agree that Churchill’s responsibility is not ‘sufficiently analogous’ to that of the Axis forces. Similarly, God permits evil but is not culpable for it. God can accomplish righteous purposes through agents that have evil intentions.

Again, consider the following analogy. Imagine the execution of a heinous criminal. Imagine also that the executioner carrying out the death sentence secretly delights in killing other humans, and he enjoys legally performing an act that otherwise would be considered murder. The executioner’s evil intent does not impugn the state’s just cause. The intent of both is not ‘sufficiently analogous’. Similarly, God uses evil people, but he is not culpable for their evil deeds.

And a Calvinist can help himself to Keathley's examples.

Those of us opposed to causal determinism are not simply shadow boxing. The challenges posed by determinism to morality become very clear in the writings of Darwinists. For example, in his The Moral Animal: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology, Robert Wright (a former Southern Baptist) argues for genetic causal determinism. He does not hesitate to describe humans as ‘puppets’ and ‘robots’. He disposes of notions such as free will and moral responsibility. Evil does not exist. He laments that humans are ‘robots’ held ‘responsible for their malfunctions’ (Wright 1994: 355). The primary advocates of determinism are not Calvinists, but atheists and Muslims.

i) That's an inept comparison because if fails to consider what lies behind the determinate outcome. Are these rational determinants? 

ii) Moreover, in the AI literature, there's the issue of whether robots are moral agents. Mere automata aren't moral agents, but what about artificially intelligent robots? What about robots that pass the Turing test? 

I rejoice that mysterian Calvinists such as Welty also reject causal determinism. 

i) He's misinterpreting Welty. Welty's strategy in his essay is to zero in on a particular issue.

ii) As Welty points out in his recent book on the problem of evil, there's no philosophical consensus on the concept of causation. 

It may have been helpful if Welty had spelled out clearly what models of human agency he believes to be compatible with apophatic Calvinism. Does he believe that libertarian freedom is a live option for the apophatic Calvinist? He doesn’t say. The mysterian Calvinist seems to be noncommittal on whether or not God causes sin. If God causally determines sins, then the Calvinist position is indeed more problematic than the Molinist position, regardless of a claim to mystery. 

i) Yes, there's a sense in which the Calvinist God causes sin. That's not unique to Calvinism. The same holds true for Thomism, Molinism, open theism, Lutheranism, and simple-foreknowledge Arminiansim. 

ii) Yes, there's a sense in which the Calvinist God determines sin. The same holds true for Thomism, Molinism, open theism, Lutheranism, and simple-foreknowledge Arminianism.

For instance, in a cause/effect world, if a suicide bomber pulls the pin on a hand grenade, it's too late to change his mind. At that point, detonation is inevitable. He crossed a line of no return. Even if we grant for the sake of argument that the outcome was indeterminate up to that tipping-point, once he pulls the cap, the outcome is now determinate. Likewise, if the Molinist God instantiates a particular timeline in full knowledge of the outcome, then his creative fiat locks in that particular course of events. 

And it seems that if one denies that God causally determines sinful actions, then one needs Molinism to get the robust sense of God’s sovereign control of all things. For the Christian, the options are divine determinism (either of an occasionalist variety or of an Edwardsian strongest desire variety) or (some form of) libertarianism. What other option is there?

Circumstances also limit one's field of action. If one exit is locked while the other exit is unlocked, I can only use the exit with the unlocked door. That's different from either occasionalism or strongest desire psychology. I don't offer that as an all-purpose alternative, but simply to illustrate Keathley's blinkered imagination. 

For the reasons given above, Molinists believe that preserving libertarian freedom makes a significant difference in distinguishing between the just and pure decisions by God either to permit or work through the wicked and impure actions of humans. 

If that was Keathley's aim, then he needed to write a different article. As it stands, he's claiming the benefits of his preferred conclusions without providing the supporting arguments. There are no intellectual shortcuts in this debate. It's philosophically demanding trench warfare. 

According to determinism, humans are not agents but rather are mere instruments. 

That's his opinion, but he hasn't laid the groundwork for that conclusion. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Interview with Welty on the problem of evil

God and fairy godmothers

This is a sequel to my previous post:

While fairies are typically considered to be small, the most often cited reasons why most of us fail to encounter them is that they are both shy and intuitive: they do not like to be seen, and they are very good at noticing that someone might be about to observe them. While they will, on occasion, reveal themselves, almost always they do so only to those who are not likely to be widely regarded as credible witnesses – e.g. ‘pure’ young children.

Most rational, educated adults believe that there are no fairies. It is not merely that most rational, educated adults suspend judgement on the questions whether, say, they have fairies at the bottom of their gardens. And it is not merely that most rational, educated adults suspend judgement on the question whether there are shy, intuitive fairies at the bottom of their gardens, i.e. fairies of a kind that they would not detect even if they looked for them. Just as you can rationally believe that there are no milk cartons in your fridge, so, too, you can rationally believe that there are no fairies at the bottom of your garden. And it is not merely that most rational educated adults rationally believe that there are no fairies at the bottom of their gardens – most rational educated adults also rationally believe that there are no fairies anywhere at all.

Atheists think that what goes for fairies also goes for gods: they think that they have good enough reasons to believe that there are no gods. While the details of atheists’ cases against gods are different from the details of cases against fairies, the outcome is the same: atheists take themselves not to have any first-order reasons to believe that there are gods, and they take it that the second-order reasons that they have are not strong enough even to give them reason to suspend judgement on the question.

The comparison between God and fairies is vitiated by disanalogy, inasmuch as Christians think there are multiple lines of evidence for God's existence. And they provide ostensible evidence. 

4.7 Anomaly

The case for the claim that considerations about miracles do not favour best theistic big pictures over best naturalistic big pictures was based on consideration of the range of reports of anomalous entities and events within and without religions. However, even if you accept that the range of reports of anomalous entities and events within and without religions casts doubt on the suggestion that miracle reports favour best theistic big pictures over best naturalistic big pictures, you might still wonder whether other considerations about miracles favour best theistic big pictures over best naturalistic big pictures.

Suppose that you have undergone an anomalous experience of a kind that some others are disposed to interpret as evidence for the occurrence of a miracle. Perhaps, for example, while walking alone in a field, you hear a voice telling you to become a Rastafarian, despite the fact that there is no one around who could be speaking to you. If this kind of thing happens to you only once, you might – eventually – dismiss it as some kind of hallucination. And if this kind of thing happens to you frequently, you will likely end up undergoing extensive medical tests to try to determine the nature of the psychological disorder from which you evidently suffer. But if this kind of thing happens to you more than once, with suitable infrequency – say, no more than once every five or six years – then you might come to have some doubts about whether you’d do best to dismiss the idea that you are receiving a message from the gods. True enough, lots of people who hear voices have psychological disorders; true enough, we have very good reason to think that almost everyone who hears voices would do best not to believe what the voices tell them (unless they already and independently have sufficient reason to believe those things). But, if our case is special in the right kinds of ways, then maybe – maybe – we have some reason to suspend judgement on the question whether we have evidence that there are gods.

i) What about an audible voice that tells you something you didn't know and couldn't know prior to the audible voice, but which is confirmable now that you have that lead to follow up on?  

This isn't just hypothetical. Consider surveys and interviews by the Society for Psychical Research in which hundreds of respondents report having premonitory, veridical dreams? They dream about a loved one who dies (or a loved one in mortal danger). Next morning they tell friends and family members about their dream. Later, they receive confirmation that they're loved one died the same day as the dream. 

ii) Also, this isn't confined to individual experience, but repeated kinds of experience which many witnesses report. 

It is not uncommon for non-believers to be asked what it would take to convince them to adopt particular religious beliefs. While it is hard to know what to say in response to this question – other than to say that those who already believe are likely better placed to answer it, drawing upon their own experience – it happens not infrequently that non-believers suggest some variant of the example that I have been discussing. One way to strengthen the example is to have multitudes undergo the same experience at the same time; rather than have me walking alone in a field, make it that I am with a large group who are walking together in the field, and let the voice boom down from the sky (so that trickery on the part of some members of the group is plainly ruled out). Perhaps it is plausible to suppose that this kind of case would provide reason to suspend judgement on the question whether there are gods, or even to believe that there are gods, for those who are part of the group. (Of course, it is a separate question – already covered in our previous discussion – whether anyone who has not actually been part of such a group has any reason to believe that there have been episodes like this.)

It needn't be simultaneously collective. It can be distributively collective. Different people at different times and places independently reporting the same kind of experience. 

Public and private revelation

One of the dividing lines between cessationism and continuationism is the distinction between public and private revelation. However, I don't find standard definitions of these terms in Protestant theology, so I'll take a stab at providing my own definition:

Public revelation: 

i) Directives to and for the church, the Jews, or humanity in general. 

ii) Revelation that obligates second parties to believe and act accordingly.

Private revelation:

i) Directives to and for particular individuals. Topical, one-time guidance, for a particular date at a particular place. 

ii) Not obligatory for second parties. 

In some cases, a private revelation might be veridical for the recipient or even some second parties. Suppose the recipient has a premonition that comes true. Suppose he shared his premonition with some friends or family before it happened. In that case they'd have evidence it was true. That would make it convincing or highly credible.

But in other cases they just have his word for it. There's no corroborative evidence. A second party didn't have his purported experience. It can't be verified, so there's no compelling reason to believe it. Mind you, if this comes from a trusted individual, they might believe him. 

By contrast, public revelation is obligatory for all concerned parties. In some cases there's corroborative evidence, viz. miracles, fulfilled prophecy. 

In a roundabout sense, private revelations become public revelations when recorded in Scripture, for the benefit of posterity. But there's still a difference inasmuch as posterity is not to emulate these directives–unlike the original recipients. 

Although the Bible is public revelation, containing many examples of public revelation, the Bible contains many examples of private revelation as well. For instance:

But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man's wife” (Gen 20:3).

Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me” (Gen 37:9).

9 So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph and said to him, “In my dream there was a vine before me, 10 and on the vine there were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms shot forth, and the clusters ripened into grapes (Gen 40:9-10).

2 And the word of the Lord came to him: 3 “Depart from here and turn eastward and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 4 You shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there” (1 Kgs 17:2-4).

8 Then the word of the Lord came to him, 9 “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you” (1 Kgs 17:8-9).

“And you, son of man, take a brick and lay it before you, and engrave on it a city, even Jerusalem. 2 And put siegeworks against it, and build a siege wall against it, and cast up a mound against it. Set camps also against it, and plant battering rams against it all around. 3 And you, take an iron griddle, and place it as an iron wall between you and the city; and set your face toward it, and let it be in a state of siege, and press the siege against it. This is a sign for the house of Israel.

4 “Then lie on your left side, and place the punishment[a] of the house of Israel upon it. For the number of the days that you lie on it, you shall bear their punishment. 5 For I assign to you a number of days, 390 days, equal to the number of the years of their punishment. So long shall you bear the punishment of the house of Israel (Ezk 4:1-5).

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” (Jonah 1).

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law (Lk 2:25-27).

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place (Acts 8:26).

10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight” (Acts 9:10-12).

3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” 4 And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5 And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea” (Acts 10:3-6). 

19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them” (Acts 10:19-20).

And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:19).

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Schreiner on Romans

Schreiner has updated his classic commentary on Romans:

Is utility the ultimate good?

From a recent Facebook debate:

There are second-order goods that require evil. Many goods are possible apart from evil, but there are goods which a world devoid of evil cannot capture. A world devoid of evil will have a different world history, including a different set of people. Most, perhaps all people, who exist in our world, would not exist in a world without evil, due to the nature of historical causation. If you change variables, you change outcomes down the line. And the change increases. So there are countless people who'd miss out in a world without evil since they'd never get a chance to exist in the first place. You can take a hardline Epicurean position on that, but that's highly disputable. Nonexistence is arguably a deprivation.

Yes, there's a superficial sense in which soul-making virtues are unnecessary is a world devoid of evil. But that doesn't mean agents lacking soul-building virtues are as good, or even good at all. Take fair-weather friends. Even if their friendship is never put to the test, even if their lack of sacrificial love is never exposed, there was something profoundly deficient all along.

Content police

Who’s Really to Blame at the Border?

Catholicism in the dock, part 4

Continuing my episodic review of Thomas Joseph White's In the Light of Christ:

We should note that none of this entails that Christ suffers the wrath of God the Father, or that he is punished as one deemed guilty on our behalf. This is a theory of penal substitution that was popularized especially by John Calvin, and that some Catholics have held, but which ciphers from traditional Catholic teaching about the atonement. it is true to say that Jesus takes upon himself our punishments, in the sense that he endures consequences of original sin that are collective punishments for man sin (suffering and death). He also confronts the horror of our moral iniquity with unique insight, due to his understanding of the damage done by human evil, and he mourns for our human guilt with intense suffering of contrition of heart, due to the perfection of his charity. Fundamentally, though, Christ's mystery is in no way one of his own guilt, but of his infinite innocence in the face of our sinfulness. The passion is not a mystery of divine wrath and vengeance but of divine justice, mercy, and reparation. There is no problem with the use of the language of "substitutionary atonement," but there is a question of what this language connotes. Jesus' substitutionary atonement for our sins is above all something positive, not something negative. He substitutes his love, his justice, and his obedience there where the human race has lacked love, justice, and obedience. He "remakes" our condition from within, "justifying us," presenting us anew to the Father as authentic "children of God" by grace, grace merited for us by the only-begotten Son, in and through his passion (170).

i) I agree with White that Christ doesn't suffer the Father's wrath. The atonement concerns the satisfaction of divine justice. It's not satisfaction made by one person of the Trinity to another person. Divine justice is common property of the Trinity, not a distinguishing property of one Trinitarian person in particular. In redemption, the Son doesn't make atonement to the Father. Rather, God, in the person of the Son, satisfies divine justice. From God, by God, to God.

ii) However, the wrath of God is a central theme in Scripture. The atonement of Christ averts the wrath of God. White erects a false dichotomy between divine wrath and divine justice, but divine wrath is a colorful, anthropomorphic description of divine justice and judgment. 

iii) Jesus suffers "contrition of heart"? Since Jesus is sinless (indeed, impeccable), he can't be penitent. There can be no vicarious contrition in the atonement. 

iv) The Reformed doctrine of penal substitution is positive rather than negative. Not merely acquittal, but the imputation of Christ's righteousness to the elect.

v) Justification doesn't remake us from within. Justification is an ascribed status. Regeneration and sanctification remake us from within. The Holy Spirit remakes us from within. 

vi) There's an exegetical case for penal substitution. Cf. Simon Gathercole, Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul (Baker 2015); S. Jeffery, M. Ovey, & A. Sach, Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution (Crossway 2007); Thomas Schreiner, “Penal Substitution View,” J. Beilby & P. Eddy, eds. The Nature of the Atonement (IVP 2006).