Saturday, October 13, 2018

Another Jew for Jesus

The foolish builder

Commenting on my post:

Dale Tuggy said:

Fun fact: Jesus disapproves of this post. Matthew 5:22

The sort of contempt he [Hays] expresses here is exactly the sort of thing Jesus has in mind. 

Here's the passage in question:

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire (Mt 5:22).

i) When it comes to blogging, I'm pretty emotionally detached. Anger wasn't in play.

ii) The statement is not about anger in general, but anger directed at one's "brother". In Matthean usage, "brother" is a synonym for "Christian". 

Rauser has views of Scripture and Christology that would get him excommunicated from any 1C church overseen by the apostles. Rauser has views of Scripture which parallel the views of Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins et al. Rauser is not a Christian by NT standards. He couldn't be a church member in good standing by NT standards. So he's not my "brother".

For his part, Tuggy denies the Incarnation. Tuggy is a Socinian rather than a Christian. So he's not my "brother".

Summing up (i)-(ii), I wasn't angry, but even if I was angry, I wasn't angry at a Christian brother. 

iii) Jesus himself, in the very same Gospel, refers to certain kinds of people as "fools" (7:26; 23:17; 25:2-3,8), and Christians are expected to view them the same way their Lord does. So unless Tuggy thinks that Jesus is hopelessly contradictory, Mt 5:22 can't be a universal condemnation of calling people "fools".  

iv) I wasn't insulting Rauser. Rather, I was making a considered value-judgment about his inept, patronizing, contemptuous dismissal of young-earth creationism. I'm not even committed to young-earth creationism, but it deserves a lot better than Rauser's smarmy tweet. 

v) Rauser promotes a kenotic Christology. He regards Jesus as a fallible teacher. A child of his times. So even if, for argument's sake, we agreed with Tuggy's interpretation of Mt 5:22, Rauser doesn't view the teaching of Jesus as authoritative. 

vi) For that matter, Tuggy thinks Jesus is just a human being. So is Jesus still infallible from Tuggy's viewpoint? Is Mt 5:22 inerrant from Tuggy's unitarian viewpoint? 

vii) In addition, both Rauser and Tuggy reject the inerrancy of Scripture. So do they even think the Gospels preserve an accurate record of what Jesus said on this and other occasions? BTW, do either of them think the Gospel of Matthew was written by an eyewitness? 

Is the pope Catholic?

Communion of the saints

i) Is there any empirical evidence for life after death? Much has been written about near-death experiences. By comparison, postmortem apparitions are neglected in contemporary Christian apologetics–although that was of great interest in Victorian England. For instance, Cambridge Ghost Society (founded in 1851) included the Cambridge Triumvirate (Westcott, Hort, and Lightfoot), as well as future Archbishop of Canterbury Edward Benson.

ii) Unlike near-death experiences, postmortem apparitions can't be explained away by a dying brain hypothesis (not that that's a good explanation for near-death experiences). It's not about the alleged experience of the patient when he was clinically dead, but living observers who say they witnessed a ghost. Some of these reports include corroborative evidence. Some of these reports are premonitions rather than postmortem apparitions. 

iii) A fringe benefit is that this provides empirical disconfirmation of annihilationism. 

iv) There are different kinds of purported apparitions, viz. angelic apparitions, Marian apparitions, and dominical apparitions. As an evangelical, I rule out Marian apparitions. I've discussed that elsewhere. 

In reference to postmortem apparitions, the primary categories are grief apparitions and crisis apparitions. Reports may be further subdivided into visual, auditory, tactile, and olfactory apparitions. Even if you don't believe in ghosts, it's useful to have the terminology for purposes of assessment and analytical clarity. 

The professional literature uses the word "hallucination," but that's prejudicial. 

v) One theological concern might be whether apparitions of the dead imply universalism or postmortem salvation. If there's a reported apparition to someone who's not a Christian, or an apparition of someone who wasn't a Christian at the time of death, does that undermine the spiritual finality of death? 

When we review case-studies of apparitions, there may be no information on the Christian status of the decedent or the observer. I don't think Christian theology rules out apparitions of the damned. What it precludes is a change in one's postmortem destiny. If damned angels can appear to the living, why can't the souls of damned humans? 

vi) In Scripture, God sometimes sends revelatory dreams to pagans. And that's just a sample. What happens to be recorded in Scripture. If dreams, why not apparitions? Indeed, some apparitions take the form of dreams. 

vii) Assuming Christianity is true, I don't think it's surprising that dead Christian friends or relatives might appear to some Christians. If the saints are aware of what's happening to their living loved ones, or sometimes aware that a living loved one is undergoing an ordeal, I don't think there's any antecedent objection to the possibility that they might appear to them to give them some encouragement or warn them of danger–unless God prevents contact between the living and the dead. 

I'm not saying for a fact that the saints keep tabs on what's happening to their living loved ones. Maybe they're out of the loop. I don't think that can be settled a priori. That's an evidential question. 

Scripture forbids the living from initiating contact with the dead, but that's not the same thing as the dead initiating contact with the living. Whether or not that ever happens is an evidential question. 

viii) Sola Scriptura doesn't mean Scripture has all the answers. The Bible is not an encyclopedia. We depend on extrabiblical sources of information for much of what we know or believe. Scripture rules out certain possibilities, but where Scripture is silent, it's permissible and often necessary to have recourse to extrabiblical sources of information.  

ix) There are hazards in both directions. On the one hand, some people are led astray by the New Age. On the other hand, if Christians have never seriously considered the status of ghosts, if they're theologically unprepared for that eventuality, then that can leave then vulnerable to the New Age in case they have an experience which they can't interpret in terms of their Christian paradigm. If they've be told that's inconsistent with the Christian theology, that leaves them ill-equipped if it does happen. 

x) An alternative explanation for postmortem apparitions is that these are telepathic projections by living agents rather than the dead. But if ostensible apparitions of the dead are really projections by living agents, why do they take the form of the dead or dying rather than the living agents who (allegedly) project them? Moreover, many of the details select for postmortem apparitions rather than telepathy by living agents. 

xi) Here are some criteria for veridical postmortem apparitions:

Either (1) two or more observers might independently witness the apparition; or (2) the apparition might convey information, afterwards confirmed to be true, of something which the observer had never known ; or (3) the apparition might be someone whom the observer himself had never seen, and of whose appearance he was ignorant, and yet his description of it might be sufficiently definite for identification. But though one or more of these conditions would have to be fully satisfied before we could be convinced that any particular apparition of the dead had some cause external to the observer's own mind, there is one more general characteristic of the class which is sufficiently suggestive of such a cause to be worth considering. I mean the disproportionate number of cases which occur shortly after the death of the person represented. Such a time-relation, if frequently enough encountered, might enable us to argue for the objective origin of the apparition. For, according to the law of probabilities, an apparition representing a known person would not by chance present a definite timeframe to a special cognate event-viz., the death of that person—in more than a certain percentage of cases. Cf. Gurney, Edmund & Myers, Frederic. ON APPARITIONS OCCURRING SOON AFTER DEATH, Proceedings 5, 1888-9, 404.

The hallucinations which have prima facie claim to be regarded as veridical may be divided into three classes. The first is the class in which the hallucination coincides in time with an external event in such a way as to suggest a causal connection between them–as when the apparition of a dying person is seen at the time of his death. The second is the class in which some information previously unknown to the percipient is conveyed to him through the hallucination. These two classes often overlap, as when a hallucination coinciding in time with a death distinctly conveys the information that the death has occurred  or when an apparition represents some actual characteristics of the dress or appearance of the dying person which was unknown to the percipient  The third class consists of "collective" hallucinations; that is, hallucinations occurring simultaneously to two or more persons, which cannot be traced to sensory suggestion from the same external cause, and cannot be explained as transferred from one percipient to the other through suggestion by word or gesture. Cf. Sidgwick, Henry et al. REPORT ON THE CENSUS OF HALLUCINATIONS, Proceedings 10, 1894, 207-9.

xii) In assessing reported apparitions, it's useful to have a large sample. That provides a margin for error. It only takes a few veridical cases to falsify naturalism. Likewise, if we have multiple, independent, firsthand accounts of the same kind of phenomena, that's provides cumulative evidence that the phenomena are real. 

xiii) Here's some general statistics:

Kalish and Reynolds (1981) found that 44% of a random sample said they had experienced or felt the presence of someone who had died. The dead appeared and spoke in 73.6% of the experiences, the dead were psychologically felt in 20.3%, and in 6%, there was a sense of touch. Rees (1975) found that 46.7% of the Welsh widows he interviewed had occasional hallucinations for several years. Most common was the sense of the presence (39.2%), followed by visual (14%), auditory (13.3%),and tactile senses (2.7%). Glick, Weiss, and Parkes (1974) found among widows a persistent continuing relationship with the inner representation of the dead husband. They reportIn contrast to most other aspects of the reaction to bereavement, the sense of the persisting presence of the husband did not diminish with time. It seemed to take a few weeks to become established, but thereafter seemed as likely to be reported late in the bereavement as early (p147). "Hallucinations of Widowhood," J Am Geriatr Soc. 1985 Aug;33(8):543-7. Cf. Kalish. R. A. & Reynolds, D. K. (1981). Death and ethnicity: A psychocultural study. Farmingdale, NY: Baywood Publishing Company. Rees, W. D. (1975). The bereaved and their hallucinations. In Bernard Schoenberg et al. (Eds.), Bereavement: Its Psychosocial Aspects. New York: Columbia University Press, 66-71.

xiv) A question is where we can find reputable collections of case-studies. In this post I'll quote from several different sources. #1 is from a medical journal. #2 is from a neurosurgeon in a medical journal. #3 is from a philosophy prof. at San Francisco State U. It's a firsthand account. In addition, he researched the background of the phenomenon. #'s 4-14 are from Alas, Poor Ghost! (USU Press 1999), based on Gillian Bennett's a doctoral dissertation for the University of Sheffield. Most of the respondents were English Methodist churchgoers. #'s 15-28 are from the Society of Psychical Research. Although SPR investigators accept the paranormal, they have an aversion to orthodox Christian explanations, so that's actually hostile testimony. They record these incidents despite their secular bias. 

I've excluded reports based on seances, mediums, automatic writing, and other occult elements. I've included reports that have veridical elements or reports that strike me as theological fitting. This is just a sample. I left out many additional reports because it becomes repetitious. 

Friday, October 12, 2018

Fun fact: Randal Rauser is a fool

Is Rauser really that dense?

i) To begin with, young-earth creationists typically distinguish between the natural kinds that God originally made and subsequent diversification.

ii) More to the point, Gen 2 is a local rather than global creation account. It's about God making the Garden of Eden, not the universe or the planetary biosphere.

“Resurrection Cults”

Abraham, Lazarus, and Dives

27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead’” (Lk 15:29-31).

In my experience, this is sometimes quoted to rule out the possibility of ghosts and apparitions of the dead. 

i) Since I'm not Roman Catholic, I don't believe that men and women canonized by the church of Rome appear to the living. That's not how I define a "saint".

ii) Jesus is telling a fictional story to make a point (or several points). Although Abraham is a real person who continues to exist in the afterlife, he functions as a fictional character in the story–just like the rich man. So this is a fictional dialogue rather than a heavenly oracle. 

iii) I doubt readers are meant to think Abraham has the authority to send people from heaven to earth, but simply refuses to exercise that authority. Abraham is just one of many saints. 

iv) In the first instance, this is referring to the epistemic situation of Jews. People who have the OT. It doesn't address the epistemic situation of pagans. 

v) V31 is an ironic jibe that foreshadows the Jewish rejection of Jesus. If they disregard the argument from (messianic) prophecy, then they'll disregard the Resurrection. And in fact, that's what often happened.

But even then it's not an absolute or universal claim, but just a generalization. After all, the disciples had to witness the resurrection of Christ to be convinced. Even for the disciples, Moses and the Prophets were not enough to convince them.  

vi) In the parable, the barrier isn't between heaven and earth but heaven and hell (v26). 

Hallmark flowers

It came not long after Lisa and her husband visited Auschwitz, the infamous concentration camp in Poland and were feeling especially aggrieved over the sheer amount of evil in the world.

Did they never read the Book of Judges? Why do they act like encountering evil is surprising? 

The OT is a common target for atheists. But one reason Christians need to read the OT is to disabuse themselves of a Hallmark card version of Christianity. Life is not a Disney Princess movie. 

It's not as if the Bible presents a sanitized view of the world, then there's the shocking contrast when you compare the Bible to what really happens. There's nothing slightly inconsistent about Auschwitz in light of Bible history. That's to be expected. The world is a jarring mix of awesome beauty and horrifying ugliness. 

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Green Hornet

Recently I watched a couple of presentations by Matt Chandler on race and religion:

1. There's a certain paradox in these presentations. If I want to hear a minority perspective, why would I listen to a white guy presume to educate me on the minority experience? There are black American Christians, black African Christians, Latino Christians, East Indian Christians, Chinese Christians, Chinese-American Christians, Korean-American Christians, &c., I can turn to to get a minority perspective or Third World perspective. There are Bible commentary series by Third World contributors.

2. I agree with Chandler that evangelical pastors can preach hard-hitting sermons on safe issues. We saw that failure in the Jim Crow South.

3. Chandler's presentation was basically a feel-good message. That's because it was so lacking in particulars. He gave very few details about how contemporary black Americans are ongoing victims of racism. Perhaps that's because, if he ventured to be more specific, that would make his indictment easier to challenge. Maybe he didn't take the risk of inviting factual refutation.

4. Instead of rational persuasion, he repeatedly dismissed people who don't share his viewpoint as "fools". He said the 300 members of his church who left when he starting preaching these messages were "fools" or "ignorant fools". But that means he's not making a serious effort to convince people.

5. He preemptively discounted conservative blacks. He says they're probably "trying to win approval or position".

6. He pedaled equivocations about African history and church history in reference to Egypt and North Africa. But that doesn't mean church fathers who were Roman colonists were black Africans. He might as well say Francis Nigel Lee was African. For a corrective to some of his equivocations, read Edwin Yamauchi's Egypt and the Bible.

7. He mentioned the Ethiopian church. That has a fascinating history, but the black experience in America is far removed from the history of the Ethiopian church. Weren't most slaves from West Africa rather than Egypt or Ethiopia?

8. He said most Americans are ignorant of African history. True, but then, most Americans are fairly ignorant of world history. And it's not as if most folks outside the USA have in-depth knowledge of American history, so that cuts both ways. Is Matt Chandler an authority on world history?

9. He made sniping remarks about football fans who resent players who refuse to salute the flag. But that goes to the issue of whether the narrative promoted by Black Lives Matters is factually accurate. You can't sidestep that issue. If Chandler's going to use that example, he needs to take a position and back it up.

10. Finally, he discussed "white privilege" in terms of his growing up at a time and place where he was surrounded by people who looked like him. In real life, on TV, in magazines.

i) It isn't clear how that amounts to white privilege. Is it Korean privilege to grow up in a predominately Korean-American enclave? Or Chinese or Japanese or Latino?

ii) Perhaps what he's groping at is that if most people you see on TV or film are white while you're a minority, then you have no role models or heroes with whom you can identify growing up. I suppose there's a grain of truth to that.

But does that mean that only members of your own race can be heroes and role models? I recall watching The Green Hornet as a kid. Bruce Lee as Kato was way cooler than the square Van Williams–titular star of the show. Was a white boy like me unable to relate to a minority actor? No. And I doubt I was exceptional in that regard. Lee is the only reason anyone remembers the short-lived show.

iii) Say you're white and most movie and TV dramas are by and for a white audience. Is that white privilege? But if most of the character are white, that means most of the villains are white. Is that still white privilege?

iv) From my reading, "white privilege" is defined in terms of "unearned advantages and benefits". Suppose, as a white man, I know hardly any minorities, I know little about minority cultures or Third World cultures. But is that an advantage or disadvantage? Isn't there a sense in which I'm disadvantaged if my experience is that provincial and ethnocentric? Wouldn't I benefit from having cross-cultural experience? Aren't I intellectually deprived if all I know is my own ethnic heritage?

v) Hollywood didn't have any significant roles for Asian-Americans until Bruce Lee single-handedly popularized martial arts in the west–as well as popularizing the kung fu film genre. Instead of complaining and waiting for Hollywood to take the initiative, he took the initiative. Not only is he a role model for Asian guys, but for many young men generally. That's not specifically Christian, but it shows the difference one man can make.

What is man?

I recently read What is Man? (Elm Hill, 2018) by Edgar Andrews. It's a witty, erudite, wide-ranging monograph that defends biblical anthropology in light of modern scientific challenges. The book has a scientific emphasis, but that's integrated into a broader philosophical and theological context. 

Ch.1. Who Do You Think You Are? 13
(What is Man? A summary)

Ch.2. The Cheshire Cat Cosmos 33
(Can a universe create itself from nothing?)

Ch.3. Small Flat Bugs 51
(Where is Man?)

Ch.4. The Cosmic Cookbook 75
(A fine-tuned universe)

Ch.5. Deutsch’s Dauntless Dinosaurs 103
(Exploring the mega-multiverse)

Ch.6. Death And Taxes 125
(Human uniqueness)

Ch.7. The Devil In The Details 145
(Digging deeper into genes and genomes)

Ch.8. Dem Dry Bones 169
(What fossils really tell us about the rise of Man)

Ch. 9. Aristotle And The Snowball 193
(On human consciousness)

Ch.10. Worldviews At War 217
(On the nature of reality)

Ch.11. Adam And The Apple 239
(The historicity and fall of Adam and Eve)

Ch.12. The Image Of God 263
(Why Man is unique)

Ch.13. The Second Adam 287
(Jesus Christ, the perfect man)

Ch.14. The Resurrection: Fact Or Fiction? 307
(The claim, the evidence, and the implications)

Sheltering Jews

Revolution in Rome

Francis has a process in place to fast-track his next wave of theological innovations:

Instant official teaching. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

What's the problem of unanswered prayer?

The "problem of unanswered prayer" is often discussed in apologetics. There's really more than one problem:

1. At the most abstract level is the issue of whether unanswered prayer throws doubt on the existence of a prayer-answering God. That's a philosophical and theological issue. I've discussed that objection on multiple occasions.

2. At a more personal level, some professing Christians suffer cognitive dissonance, a crisis of faith, or loss of faith because the NT contains some unqualified prayer promises which don't seem to live up to experience. That's a hermeneutical issue. I've discussed that objection on multiple occasions.

3. But at the most existential level is the ordeal of professing Christians who pray in vain for something they desperately need. They pray their heart out but nothing changes. 

i) I do think there are reasons why two Christians can offer equally needy, equally legitimate prayers, yet God answers the prayer of one rather than the other. This intersects with theodicy. For instance:

ii) Unanswered prayer can be spiritually damaging if you ask for the same thing day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. Every day your request is rebuffed. Every day you leave yourself open to disappointment. That has a cumulative effect. 

If you pray for something that never happens, the outcome is the same as if you never prayed at all. You'd get the exact same outcome by not praying. In that situation it doesn't make a dime's worth of difference whether or not you prayed. So that can erode confidence.

In that respect, giving it a rest may be a way to protect yourself from cynicism. You might revisit the prayer request at a later time, but it's not necessarily a bad thing to take a break. Otherwise, the exercise becomes too punishing. 

That said, there are different kinds of prayer, viz. confession, thanksgiving, intercession, petition (for yourself). If petitionary prayer for yourself becomes too disillusioning, you might take a break from that but not from, say, intercessory prayer. 

iii) If you pray for something and it happens in a timely fashion, it's easier to identify that outcome as an answer to prayer. If, however, you eventually get what you pray for years later, that fosters the suspicion that it happened naturally. It was going to happen anyway. Given enough time, odds are what you ask for will happen every now and then. 

That may be another reason to give it a break. In the interim you might forget about the prayer request. If what you prayed for then comes to pass, it's a pleasant surprise. Indeed, an unexpected answer to prayer may be more encouraging than praying daily for the same thing. 

The correspondence theory of truth

Thielman on Rom 9

I was recently reading Frank Thielman's new commentary on Romans. His analysis of Rom 9 is a mess. I'll quote some representative statements, then comment:

Before the plagues descended on the Egyptians, God told Moses twice that he would "harden" Pharaoh's hear and that as a result Pharaoh would not grant Moses's request to let Israel go into the wilderness to sacrifice to God (Exod 4:21; 7:3). Throughout the subsequent narrative, we read either that Pharaoh "hardened" his heart (8:15,32; 9:34), that Pharaoh's heart "was hardened" (7:13; 8:19; 9:7,35), or that "the Lord hardened" the heart of Pharaoh (9:12; 10:20,27; 11:10; 14:8; cf. 10:1; 14:4). 

The interplay in Exod 4:14 between God's initiative and Pharaoh's initiative is helpful in understanding what Paul meant when he said that God "hardens' certain people such as Pharaoh. Paul believed that God punishes people for their own sin, not that God forced people to sin and then punished them for it. Otherwise, God would be acting nonsensically when he endured the rebellions of the wicked "with much patience" and stretched out his hands in appeal to disobedient Israel (Rom 9:22: 10:21). No patience is necessary for enduring the behavior of people doing what one wants them to do, and a lengthy appeal to people not to do what one has designed them to do is obviously fruitless.

When Paul says here, then, that God "hardens" people he must mean that God justly punishes people who, like Pharaoh (Exod 8:15,32; 9:34) and everyone else (Rom 1:18-3:20; 5:12-19), are already in rebellion against him. God punishes them by calcifying this rebellion, or, to put it another way, he further hardens resistant hearts. This second level of resistance, which God himself initiates, is Paul's concern here, and it corresponds exactly to God's judgment in 1:24,26, and 28 when he hands people over to their lust, dishonorable passion, and worthless thoughts [457-58].

Interpreters of this passage [9:21] often explain the image of God as a potter shaping clay as a reference to God's creation of human beings and his determination of their eternal destinies at creation…Paul does not, therefore, picture God as creating people in order to destroy them but as dealing sovereignly with a body of human beings who, without exception, are sinful. He mercifully saves some but justly punishes others [460]. 

One can describe the idea that God decides who will believe the gospel in a way that makes God not only responsible for the salvation of human beings but also for evil since he seemingly creates certain human beings in order that they might sin and that he might then destroy them for his glory. A variation on this idea depicts God as within his rights even to destroy innocent human beings, if any existed, simply because he created them. 

To read Rom 9:7-23 in these ways, however, is to read the passages in a one-sided way, without the balance provided by the context…The idea that this passage teaches God created people in order to destroy them, moreover, attributes conduct to God that God himself finds sinful in human beings. It depicts God as forcing people to sin and then condemning them for it or, worse, condemning the innocent…But he [Paul] tempers the entire concept with the notion that God endured the vessels of wrath that he made with much patience and by speaking of the fitting out of these vessels in the passive voice (9:22). By doing this, he indicates that one must not misread the illustrations to make God the author of evil and sin. 

Paul's illustration of the potter in 9:19-23, then, is not about God predestining certain people to sin, nor is it about the relationship between the entry of sin into God's creation and God's predestining will. It is instead about God's response to already sinful human beings. 

This does not mean that human sin took God by surprise and was somehow outside the scope of God's original design for the universe. It simply means that the answer to such questions lies beyond human understanding.

[Quoting Bavinck] Sin and its punishment can never as such, and for their own sake, have been willed by God…They can therefore have been willed by God only as a means to a different, better, and greater good…Sin is not itself a good. It only becomes a good inasmuch as, contrary to its own nature, it is compelled by God's omnipotence to advance his honor. It is a good indirectly because, being subdued, constrained, and overcome, it brings out God's greatness, power, and justice. 

God is not willing "that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (2 Pet 3:9) [468-70]. 

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Who's the speaker in Rom 7?

A perennial crux in the interpretation of Rom 7 is the identify of the speaker. Is this rhetorical fiction, autobiographical, or something else (e.g. the history of Adam, the history of Israel)? I don't have a definitive answer, but I have a few suggestions:

i) We should make allowance for the possibility that Paul uses hyperbole in this passage.

ii) It may be a fictional persona. That doesn't mean it can't be realistic. A fictional persona may represent real people or real experiences. But it's more flexible than one actual individual.

iii) There are different potential readers in Paul's target audience. Jewish converts to Christianity. Gentile converts to Christianity. Jews and gentiles who haven't converted, but might be susceptible to Paul's argument. 

So it's possible that the persona in Rom 7 represents a composite persona. An anonymous fictional character who functions as a mirror. By holding up a mirror to the reader, different readers see different things. Depending on their individual experience, different readers may recognize themselves in some of what Paul says, just like moviegoers may identify with a particular character. 

We shouldn't necessarily expect the persona in Rom 7 to be consistent if the function is to sketch composite character with varied experiences in whom different readers may see themselves. Paul might well incorporate elements of his own experience in the composite persona. No reader has to check every box. Rather, it's sufficient broad to cover a range of readers without matching every reader's particular experience across the board. The persona may intersect with a reader's experience without coinciding with their experience. There's something there for every reader. 

Inside and outside

Thomistic simplicity, as I understand it, isn't a single claim but a set of claims. It includes the claim that God's attributes are mutually identical. 

We might begin by asking what it means for something to be a composite object. What makes it composite? What are parts? 

Suppose we begin with this example. Take a block of cheese. It has an inside and outside. Cut it in half. The halves have an inside and outside. Cut the halves in half. The quarters have an inside and outside. Up to a point, the process is repeatable, although cheese isn't indefinitely divisible. There's no subatomic cheese! To be cheese, it must exist at a certain scale and complexity. There are no quarks or atoms made of cheese. 

The point, though, is that we can think of a composite object as an object with an inside and outside. Objects with surface boundaries. These can be taken apart. And the parts have surface boundaries. So the process of disassembling a composite object into its components is a progressive miniaturization, where the inside/outside relation continues at ever lower scales of magnitude. Where does it end–or does it? In physics, the Plank length is the lowest bound, although that's an artificial stipulation. 

That raises the question of whether every object, however small, has an inside. That's a philosophically and scientifically important, interesting, and difficult question. However, I don't have to answer that question since I'm merely using this illustration as an opening gambit. 

I began with an example of a physical object or solid object. But proponents of Thomistic simplicity subscribe to classical theism. In classical theism, God is akin to an abstract object. Timeless and spaceless or illocal. 

Suppose that God's attributes are distinct. Not mutually identical. Does that make God a composite being? Are attributes parts? 

It doesn't make much sense to say God has an inside and outside. It doesn't make much sense to say the divine attributes, even if distinct, have an inside and outside. So they can't be parts in that sense. So in what respect is an object a composite object if it lacks an inside and outside? In what respect can parts be parts if they lack an inside and outside?

If we view God as a discarnate mind, then you might say minds are insides without outsides. It's all on the inside (so to speak). Minds are essentially internal or interior. Self-referential. They have no surface boundaries. That's not what individuates and differentiates one mind from another. 

Admittedly, I'm using a spatial metaphor. If we drop the metaphor, then the inside/outside relation is literally inapplicable to minds. 

Likewise, if God is a discarnate mind, then divine attributes are mental properties. But even if distinct, mental attributes aren't parts of a composite entity. Mental properties have no inside and outside. 

This is also germane to the Trinity. In the case of concrete individuals or particulars, one individual is external to another individual. So the inside/outside relation reasserts itself in that context. 

But the Father isn't literally external to the Son and Spirit. In fact, there's a sense in which (albeit figurative or analogical) each member of the Trinity is "inside" the other two persons, and vice versa. 

Monday, October 08, 2018

Nazis and SJWs

In the past I've noted the ironic fact that Jewishness was more important to Nazis that it was to many Jews. For many European Jews were nominal Jews, assimilated Jews, secular Jews–interchangeable with their Aryan neighbors. But for Nazis, Jewish identity was all-important. It was the target.

The same irony holds true in identity politics. Whiteness is far more important to SJWs than it is to many whites. For many whites, what's central to their personal identity is their biological sex, heterosexual orientation, religion, family, and nationality. Their biological race is peripheral compared to those other indicia. But for SJWs, white identity is all-important, because that's the target. 

Redefining rape

It's important that conservatives force liberals to be consistent. During the Kavanaugh hearings, liberals were reading from an old script. According to that script, biological men rape biological women. 

But according to transgenderism, those categories are defunct. According to the new script, a "transgender woman" (i.e. biological male who self-identifies as female) can rape a biological woman. But if you're supposed to believe women, which woman are you supposed to believe–the biological woman or the "transgender woman"? 

Or suppose, before "she" transitioned, the "transgender woman" was convicted of raping a biological woman. But according to GLAAD, transgender identity is retroactive:

So the rapist was never a man. But in that event, which "woman" are you supposed to believe? 

Or suppose a "transgender woman" rapes a gay adolescent boy. Who are you supposed to believe–the "woman" or the homosexual? 

Brains in a vat

By the same argument, ‘vat’ refers to vats in the image in vat-English, or something related (electronic impulses or program features), but certainly not to real vats, since the use of ‘vat’ in vat-English has no causal connection to real vats (apart from the connection that the brains in a vat wouldn’t be able to use the word ‘vat’, if it were not for the presence of one particular vat — the vat they are in; but this connection obtains between the use of every word in vat-English and that one particular vat; it is not a special connection between the use of the particular word ‘vat’ and vats). Similarly, ‘nutrient fluid’ refers to a liquid in the image in vat-English, or something related (electronic impulses or program features). It follows that if their ‘possible world’ is really the actual one, and we are really the brains in a vat, then what we now mean by ‘we are brains in a vat’ is that we are brains in a vat in the image or something of that kind (if we mean anything at all). But part of the hypothesis that we are brains in a vat is that we aren’t brains in a vat in the image (i.e. what we are ‘hallucinating’ isn’t that we are brains in a vat). So, if we are brains in a vat, then the sentence ‘We are brains in a vat’ says something false (if it says anything). In short, if we are brains in a vat, then ‘We are brains in a vat’ is false. So it is (necessarily) false.  Hilary Putnam, ‘Brains in a vat,’ Reason, Truth and History, (Cambridge 1981), 14-15. 

i) Even though this is a famous science fiction scenario, in the future it may be a realistic scenario:

ii) As an anti-skeptical argument, I don't think Putnam's argument succeeds. The argument, if successful, is counterproductive. It would mean that even if you are a brain in a vat, you won't be in a position to recognize your predicament because you lack the language and concepts to entertain that possibility. But surely that's the non plus ultra of global skepticism. 

iii) However, I don't think his argument works at another level. It's true that to recognize your predicament as a brain in a vat, you need an external frame of reference. However, the lab could have a camera trained on the transparent vat, with tubes and wires. That information could be fed into the brain so that a disembodied brain could see itself in the vat, with the neurointerface. 

iv) From a Christian standpoint, the source of consciousness is the soul, not the brain. And even if (ex hypothesi) brains were harvested in the womb and deposited in the vat, spending their entire lives in the vat, God could reveal himself directly to the embrained but disembodied soul–just as God intervenes in human history. Take revelatory dreams, where God gets right inside the mind of the dreamer. If need be, God could enter the mind of the embrained but disembodied soul. Bypass the neurointerface. Make himself known from within.  

Qualia and creationism

The stock objection to mature creation is that mature creation implicates God in a scheme of deception. I've often discussed that objection from various angles. Here's another approach: take the distinction between primary and secondary qualities, or physical properties and phenomenal qualia. The point is not that secondary qualities are merely psychological impressions. But these require a relation between the percipient and the sensible object. It isn't just the object in itself that generates these properties, but in combination with the mind or senses of the observer. (In addition, that's an argument for indirect realism). 

Yet for prescientific observers, these properties seem to be external to the observer. Seem to inhere in the sensible object. 

And this isn't an exceptional experience, but a systematic feature of how we perceive the physical world. Does that implicate God in a scheme of deception? 

Perhaps a critic of mature creation would say that's not deceptive in the same sense or relevant sense. If so, an objection based on divine deception will need to be considerable refined. Below is an illustration of the distinction at hand:

The distinction between ‘primary qualities’ and ‘secondary qualities’ was developed during the rise of modern science. In the first instance, we can think of this as a distinction between properties that science says objects have – size, shape, motion; and properties that depend upon particular ways of perceiving objects...But these theories – that colour is frequency of electromagnetic radiation, that smell and taste are chemical compounds – suggest that the world as we experience it through our senses and the world as science describes it are quite different. We experience all the wonderful properties of the senses; the world ‘as it is in itself’, as described by science, is ‘particles in motion’ and empty space.

Do secondary properties exist ‘in the object’ or ‘in the mind’ of the perceiver?...We could reply that physical objects aren’t ‘really’ coloured or don’t ‘really’ have a smell, because physical objects are made of molecules without colour or smell. But this misinterprets what it means to say that something is coloured or smells. To say that the table is brown is not to say that it must be composed of microscopic particles which are also brown. It is to say that the table looks brown to normal observers under normal conditions. The subatomic particles that make up a table don’t have to be brown for the table to be brown! 

Take another example: solidity. Science tells us that solid objects are, in fact, mostly empty space; the distances between atoms are huge compared to the size of the subatomic particles themselves. Does this mean that a table, because it is mostly empty space, is not solid? Of course not; atoms forming this rigid pattern, even with a great deal of empty space, comprise a solid. This is what the word ‘solid’ means.

Special providences

I often write about coincidence miracles. In an earlier age these went by the name of special providences. Here's a nice compact definition:

What used to be called "special providences," in which the extraordinary element lies not in any obvious violation of the causal closure of the physical world but rather in the auspicious timing of apparently independent events. Timothy McGrew, "Arguments from Providence and from Miracles: The State of the Art and the Uses of History," J.Walls & T. Dougherty, eds. Two Dozen (of so) Arguments for God (Oxford 2018), 345.

Crisis of doubt

There's an extensive literature on deconversion. Indeed, narratives of apostasy tend to occupy a stereotypical genre. A formulaic plot. I believe this got started in Victorian literature.

There is, however, the neglected phenomenon of reverts. Just as there can be a crisis of faith, there can be a crisis of doubt. The traffic goes both ways. Converts, reverts, and deconverts:

Apostates and androids

Apostates and atheists are like androids in science fiction stories who don't initially know that they're androids. They've been programmed with false memories so that when they're switched on, it's like waking up from the day before. 

Then they discover that they're androids. They have a built-in expiration date. Their programming is arbitrary. They can be reprogrammed. There's no one way they ought to be. Nothing they're supposed to be. A blank slate that can be anything. Programmed to fall in love or programmed to kill. 

Is there a correlation between homosexuality, pedophilia, and/or hebephilia/ephebophilia?

Somewhat dated, but scroll down to 

¶IV. The Problem of Pedophilia

Dark night of the soul

It's sometimes said that failure to experience the presence of God is normal because even saints and mystics like Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and Mother Theresa sometimes (or oftentimes) suffered from the same sense of divine absence or abandonment. 

However, that's an artificial standard of comparison. To my knowledge, Catholic mystics aspire to having a continuous sense of communion with God, and practice spiritual techniques to cultivate that experience. But that doesn't represent normal biblical sanctity. It's more like Tibetan monks and whirling Dervishes who use psychosomatic techniques to trigger an altered state of consciousness. Likewise, psychedelic drugs. 

If successful, is that communion with God…or self-induced psychosis? 

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Greek in Palestine

Pertinent to Ehrman's claim about the rarity of Greek-speaking Palestinian Jews:

Scroll down to p110. 

Credible testimony


Although Kavanaugh has been sworn in, there are some ethical reverberations that continue to merit discussion. Here's the viewpoint of Arminian theologian Randal Rauser (see above). By way of comment:

1. It's silly to use Susan Collins to frame the issue. She's not my standard of comparison.  

2. Risk assessment involves two factors: (i) how likely it is to happen; (ii) how harmful if it happens. We counterbalance these factors in risk assessment. 

3. Given Rauser's soft views on homosexuality, what's his position on known homosexuals as kindergarten teachers?

4. Of course, little kids are especially vulnerable, but that's not equally analogous to every other group.

5. Where does Rauser drawn the line on banning people from jobs based on uncorroborated allegations of sexual assault? To what extent are they still employable at all, given his position? 

6. What about ex-wives who accuse the husband of child molestation in a custody battle. Given the potential for harm, if true, would Rauser say a father should be denied custody or even visitation rights based on unsubstantiated allegations of child molestation? That would mean every ex-wife and mother would automatically win a custody battle by merely alleging child molestation. Is that Rauser's standard?

7. Should Rauser be terminated as a seminary prof. if an uncorroborated charge of sexual misconduct with a student is lodged?