Saturday, February 09, 2019

What is faith?

In Christian theology, faith is normally considered to be a necessary condition of salvation. I've discussed how, in Reformed theology, regeneration is more fundamental than faith. Regeneration is the source of faith (although faith also requires a mental object). 

One component of faith is belief. But that's ambiguous. Epistemologists distinguish between occurrent belief and dispositional belief. We aren't conscious of everything we know or believe. In that respect, belief is very similar to memory. It's available. On tap. Occurrent beliefs come and go but dispositional belief is relatively constant–although some beliefs undergo change. Even at a dispositional level, you don't believe all the same things throughout life. 

In that respect, belief has a hypothetical dimension. In part a matter of how you'd think and respond in case you found yourself in a particular situation. The situation brings outlook out to the fore. 

So, for instance, does a Christian cease to be a believer when he sleeps? He may have some occurrent beliefs in his dreams, but generally, his beliefs, including his Christian beliefs, are unconscious or subconscious when he sleeps. 

And even when he's awake, he isn't continuously aware of his Christian beliefs. More often, his Christian beliefs lie behind some of his choices and actions rather than in the forefront. They exert a subconscious influence.

This distinctions have some possible bearing on the nature of exclusivism. Insofar as salvation is contingent on orthodox beliefs, that generally operates at the dispositional level rather than occurrently. 

Overwhelming evidence for evolution

In this post I'll interact with Darrel Falk's chapter on "Overwhelming Evidence" for evolution in The Fool and the Heretic (Zondervan 2019). Falk is a leading propagandist for theistic evolution. 

It's now time to return to the question of just how solid the evidence for evolution is. In my narrative, I gave one clear example of evolutionary theory leading to a prediction  [about] animals intermediate between fish and four-legged land animals (135).

I understand how that's consistent with evolution, but how do intermediate forms provide evidence for evolution? How is that distinguishable from animals with hybrid features because it reflects the ecological zone in which they live (e.g. amphibians)?

Rocks that are greater than one billion years old have never revealed a fossil of a multicellular plant or animal…But there is a progression as we move through time to examine rocks that are younger and younger. Fish first appear in rocks of about 500 million years…Amphibians appear beginning in rocks of about 370 million years…Reptiles appear a little later (about 320 million years) and mammals (230) million years) a little later still…The first primates are not found in the fossil record until rocks dated at 55 million years ago…thousands of hominid fossils have now been found, none are found in rocks older than about five million years (pp136-7).

i) What's the point of contrast? I see how that might be a problem for young-earth creationism, although YEC can appeal to mature creation or Omphalism. 

ii) However, I don't see how that's a problem for old-earth creationism. To my knowledge, OEC takes the position that God makes natural kinds ex nihilo, but makes them at different times, phasing them into natural history. The fact that organisms appear at different stages in natural history is consistent with OEC.  

iii) Moreover, that's not just a face-saving explanation to harmonize the natural record with Genesis. Rather, they say the evidence supports OEC. As a matter of fact, organisms with new body plans appear in the fossil record with no evolutionary precursors. 

Rock formations of between two million and five million years of age contain no hominin fossils the world over, except on one continent–Africa. Indeed, no hominin fossils have ever been found in North or South America that are older than about eighteen thousand years…In Asia, hominin fossils are found beginning at about 18 million years and in Europe about one million years. This regional localization is consistent with the hypothesis that hominins were created through a single evolutionary lineage in one area of the world (Africa)…the findings suggest that a group migrated out of African (perhaps over many generations) into Asia a little less than two million years ago, and that some of their descendants in turn eventually made it into Europe. The oceans presented a barrier, of course, to arrival in North and South America… (138).

i) How is that evidence for evolution? Notice that Falk is using an evolutionary narrative and evolutionary categories to interpret the evidence. To classify them as hominins and say hominins appear in the record at particular times takes for granted that these animals are ancestors to modern man. But that's the very question at issue! So his appeal is circular. He hasn't show how that's independent evidence for evolution. To the contrary, he uses the theory of evolution to explain the pattern.

ii) He ignores the multiregional alternative hypothesis. 

iii) Is there evidence that the reputed hominins display recognizably humanoid intelligence, viz. art, music, human problem-solving skills? At what date?

iv) Why would it take them so long to migrate out of Africa? Africa is a fairly inhospitable place to live. There'd be an incentive to explore other regions. 

v) The fact that we find evidence of human occupation in the Old World earlier than evidence for human occupation in the New World is what Genesis would lead us to expect. According to Genesis, man originated in the Old World (Mesopotamia) and fanned out from there.

I've written elsewhere that "the living process of a single cell, and the unfolding and coordination of the plan of a developing embryo, is like a magnificent symphony…Its beauty and process are exactly what we would expect if a loving God…works through time to bring about his purposes. God's initial design and God's providential oversight work through life's processes to bring about creation of new life forms (139). 

Embryology is awesome. How is that comparable to the haphazard evolutionary process, with its many dead-ends?

In chimpanzees and humans, many of the genetic elements are in the exact same location. (Functionally, it has been shown that there is no specific reason that they need to be in the same location.) This is consistent with the hypothesis that chimpanzees and humans descend from a common ancestral species that existed about five or six million years ago and that given how slowly the genetic elements jumped to a new location, most are still in the same location in that common ancestry. If one compares the position of these jumping elements in orangutans, there is a higher percentage that don't occupy the same position in the chromosomes. This is consistent with the hypothesis that orangutans and humans share a common ancestral species…but one that existed deeper in the past…If we examine the distribution of the jumping genetic elements in gibbons, many are still in  the exact same positions as in humans but a higher percentage have shifted. This is consistent with the hypothesis that gibbons and humans decend from a common ancestral species even deeper in the past, allowing even greater time for elements to jump (140-41).

I see how that's consistent with evolution, but it is that evidence for evolution? Suppose it's God's intention to create a world that reflects diversity. In that event, creatures will range along a continuum from most similar to most dissimilar. 

To take a comparison, a deck of cards has different possible combinations. In poker, some hands are more similar while others are more dissimilar, viz. royal flesh, straight flush, four of a kind, full house, flush, straight three of a kind, two pair. Given diversity, there's bound to be spectrum where some are more alike while others are less alike. Where some are closer to the middle while others occupy the opposite ends of the spectrum. The fact that hands can be grouped that way is the logical result of diversity. By the same token, species can be sorted by degrees of similarity and dissimilarity. How are such variations evidence for common ancestry rather than the principle of the plenitude or adaptation to habitat? 

Todd and other young-earth creationists cannot bring themselves to make what I consider to be a very small shift in the way they read the early chapters of Genesis (146).

i) Falk acts as though the only reason evolution leads some people to be atheists is perceived conflict with the Bible. But even if Gen 1-3 (or Rom 5/1 Cor 15) never existed, evolution would still drive some people into atheism because they think the evolutionary record in itself is an indication that we inhabit a godless universe. They see no evidence of transcendent intelligence, benevolence, planning, or prevision in the evolutionary record. No evidence of a mind behind the process, guiding the process. William Provine is a good example. 

Indeed, many theistic evolutionists are antagonistic towards intelligent design theory. They read the evolutionary record the same way as secular evolutionary biologists and paleontologists. They reject the idea that we can detect divine intervention or direction in the record of natural history. 

ii) I can see how Falk's evidence for evolution would be devastating to Christians who are exposed to it for the first time. Christians who are intellectually defenseless.

iii) When I invoke mature creation, Omphalism, and/or the principle of plenitude, an evolutionist might object that this has nothing to do with science. That's pseudo-science.

However, the question at issue isn't just a scientific claim but a theological claim. The idea of divine creation. Special creation. Creation ex nihilo. It's not out of place to bring philosophical theology to bear when evaluating a theological claim. Indeed, that's unavoidable. 

So there's a methodological question. What's the starting-point? You can have a bottom-up starting-point. Look at the extant evidence and attempt to reconstruct the past from the surviving trace evidence. Reconstruct the past from lingering effects of past events. And that's a legitimate approach.

But there's a top-down starting-point. If the world is the result of divine creation, then we need to consider the nature of creativity. For human agents, that begins with an idea. We make something that corresponds to our idea. The idea comes first. 

From that perspective, mature creation, Omphalism, and/or the principle of plenitude can't be ruled out. Suppose, in God's imagination, he has the concept of a world-history. How could he not? But the point at which the plot begins is arbitrary, in the sense that the plot could always begin a little sooner or a little later. The plot could end a little sooner or a little later. The challenge for a storyteller or screenwriter is how to begin the story and how to end the story.

Likewise, is there an antecedent metaphysical  presumption that the principle of plenitude is false?

iv) I can see how some people find young-earth creationism ad hoc. And maybe it is ad hoc to some degree. I myself an not committed to YEC. But even if I was, that's not a fatal concession or a damaging concession. That's because I can see how some people find old-earth creationism ad hoc. 

What is more, theistic evolution is ad hoc. The foundation of theistic evolution is naturalistic evolution. Many or most theistic evolutionists think the evolutionary record is indistinguishable from naturalistic evolution. They don't think there's any discernible evidence of God's providential hand in natural history. That's why they attack intelligent design theory with such implacable ferocity. Instead, they appeal to evidence for God from disciplines outside evolutionary biology and paleontology.

So theistic evolution has a theistic tile floor on a foundation of naturalistic evolution. Some Christian theology (often progressive) tacked onto the framework of an empirically godless process. 

Finally, naturalistic evolution is ad hoc. For instance, it spawns a plethora of harmonistic devices, viz. analogy, ancestral homology, convergent evolution, derived homology, evolutionary reversal, exaptation, homoplasy, spandrel. 

Is it the natural record that yields these distinctions and categories? Or do evolutionists devise them to make the theory of evolution consistent with disparate evidence? So every side in this dispute as the appearance of makeshift explanations.  

v) I can see how evolution seems to be a reasonable explanation for the evidence he presents. Mind you, something can seem reasonable in isolation, but unreasonable when we take additional factors into consideration.

One problem is that his presentation is so one-sided. He cites prima facie evidence for evolution, but fails to mention prima facie evidence to the contrary.

vi) Here's another major problem with evolutionary theory: the evolutionary process is a physical process. The effects of the process are physical products. 

But that raises the question of whether human reason can be the result of evolution. Can something physical generate consciousness? Ironically, the hard problem of consciousness has been formulated by secular philosophers. Card-carrying physicalists. But they admit that the problem is inexplicable. As a matter of principle, mental properties are irreducible to physical operations. If so, that's a fundamental defeater for evolution. If it has no room for human minds, then it's drastically flawed.

A theistic evolutionist might posit evolutionary Cartesian dualism, where, once the brain evolved to a certain level of complexity, that furnishes the platform for embodied souls. But what is that if not a stopgap explanation? 

Friday, February 08, 2019

Is the appeal to consequences a fallacy?

For many Christian apologists, a stock argument in their gallery of arguments is the claim that consistent atheism commits the atheist to moral and/or existential nihilism. I myself deploy that argument. Some atheists respond by claiming that's a fallacious appeal to consequences. 

1. Sometimes this involves the angry accusation that Christians are misdefining atheism. Atheism is not a philosophy or worldview but simply disbelief in a god or gods–so we are told. 

i) There's no official definition of atheism. There are multiple definitions of atheism:

ii) In popular usage, atheism is often a synonym for naturalism. And usage drives the meaning of words.

iii) But even in philosophical usage, atheism can be equivalent to naturalism, viz. "naturalism lies at the core of atheism," J. Baggini, Atheism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford 2003), 5. 

iv) I'd add that the word "entail" has a popular definition as well as a philosophical definition. You need to distinguish between ordinary usage and technical usage. Both are legitimate in their respective domains.  

2. There are several sites on the Internet that list and define fallacies. But I can't help noticing that most of them seem to be run by atheists. These sites exist for the specific purpose of attacking Christianity. That's often obvious from the examples they use to illustrate a fallacy (or alleged fallacy).

Another question is how many of these sites are run by professional logicians, or even professional philosophers. Why would I rely on someone who's not a professional logician, or even a professional philosopher, for definitions of a logical or informal fallacy? 

Moreover, I can't help noticing that these sites define fallacies with Christian theism as the target. The obvious danger that presents is a tendentious definition custom-made to single out the opposing position. That's a made-up fallacy masquerading under an impressive-sounding label. A philosophically serious category of logical or informal fallacies doesn't begin with what you oppose, then invent a corresponding fallacy to invalidate the opposing position. 

If you Google "appeal to consequences," and peruse the sites where that's discussed, there's a lack of uniformity as well as a conspicuously amateurish quality to the analysis. It would be more impressive to quote from up-to-date academic textbooks on logical or informal fallacies. Or articles in journals by professional logicians. 

3. It also depends on what precisely the Christian apologist is claiming. Is he claiming that the consequences of atheism disprove atheism? 

Even at that level, there's nothing necessarily fallacious about contending that certain kinds of consequences falsify a position. For instance, it's often said that global skepticism is self-refuting. Related examples include alethic nihilism or epistemic nihilism. These can be formulated in terms of per impossibile counterfactuals. There's nothing fallacious about that kind of argument. 

4. However, even if we grant for discussion purposes that the appeal to consequences is fallacious when employed to show that something is false, it doesn't follow that it's fallacious to take consequences into consideration when we evaluate the merits of a position. After all, atheists routinely appeal to consequences as part of their standard attack on Christianity. They gleefully quote "offensive" passages from the Bible. They rail against Christian ethics. They rail about how Christianity forces believers to commit intellectual suicide. They complain about how Christianity is a war with science. And so on and so forth. 

5. The fact that many atheists are so defensive about the claim that atheism entails moral and/or existential nihilism demonstrates that they do think that's damaging, if true. Otherwise, they'd shrug it of by saying, "What's the big deal?"

6. As I've documented in detail, many atheist thinkers are moral and/or existential nihilists. In my reading, moral nihilism is more common. Some atheists edge right up to existential nihilism, but blink. Is that because their position doesn't commit them to existential nihilism–or because it's too unbearable to go there, so they slam on the brakes artificially short of that outcome? 

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Secular neutrality

On Twitter, Jeff Lowder attempted to respond to my post (unless his tweets are sheer coincidence):

Did you know that “I (the speaker) exist” and “It’s hot on the surface of the sun” are both consistent with nihilism? No one worries about that, so why do some apologists think it’s a big deal that atheism is consistent with nihilism?

For the glaringly obvious reason that logical consistency with the surface temperature of the sun has no bearing on whether human life is important or worthwhile–which is hardly analogous to the logical consistency of atheism with nihilism. 

To take a comparison, suppose I'm a churchgoing member of the Khmer Rouge. Suppose I defend my behavior by saying Christianity is neutral on the Khmer Rouge. It's theologically consistent for a Christian to support or oppose the Khmer Rouge. 

Or suppose I'm a churchgoing Stalinist. I helped Stalin plan the forced famines. Suppose I defend my behavior by saying Christianity is neutral on Stalinism, It's theologically consistent for a Christian to support or oppose policies that starve millions of men, women, and children. 

Would that be "uninteresting"? To the contrary, it would be extremely discrediting. 

While atheism is consistent with nihilism, that fact is uninteresting because an atheist can consistently hold other beliefs which entail that nihilism is false. (Again, atheism doesn’t entail nihilism.)

Aside from the fact that Jeff is begging the question (since it's arguable that atheism does entail nihilism), his response illustrates his persistent blindspot. Is it really uninteresting to say a consistent atheist can be or not be a moral and existential nihilist? 

Suppose we said Buddhism is neutral on nihilism, so that a consistent Buddhist may rape little girls and torture elderly women while other Buddhists may, with equal consistency, disapprove of that behavior. Buddhism is indifferent about raping little girls and torturing elderly women. 

Would that be an uninteresting fact about Buddhism? Or would that be a revealing and disreputable fact about Buddhism?

Iconoclastic science

1. Recently I read The Fool and the Heretic (Zondervan 2019). It's a dialogue between young-earth creationist Todd Wood and theistic evolutionist Darrel Falk. I haven't read the sections by Falk. I bought the book for Wood's contributions. I think the book would be better without the patronizing, handholding interludes by Rob Barrett. And that would free up more space for Wood. 

To judge by what he said in a post:

I was expecting Wood's side of the dialogue to be rather concessive. Instead, he was quite confrontational–which is refreshing.

2. I find Todd's hermeneutic rather roughhewn. However, he's right about the big picture issues. He stresses the ad hoc way theistic evolutionists treat Gen 1-9 as pious fiction or allegory–while they don't treat other narratives in Scripture the same way, even though other narratives in the Pentateuch or Gospels have the same supernaturalism. 

3. Theistic evolutionists complain that young-earth creationists drive people away from the faith by positing a false dichotomy. And there's certainly a danger of alienating people from the Christian faith if we make a particular interpretation of Scripture identical to what Scripture means–assuming that's just one possible, and possibly mistaken, interpretation.

At the same time, we can't be Christian unless we commit to certain interpretations. Moreover, the danger cuts both ways. Belief in evolution drives many people away from Christianity, even if young-earth creationism didn't exist. 

4. A common objection to young-earth creationists is that they only believe it because they believe the Bible. They don't begin with the scientific evidence but the Bible. They don't have any positive evidence for their alternative. They are just poking holes in the standard paradigm. 

Even if that rather jaundiced characterization were true, science benefits from having sharp, rigorous, relentless critics who spot weaknesses in the prevailing scientific orthodoxies. 

In addition, scientific progress is strategically driven by gifted mavericks. Sometimes their theories are blind alleys, but sometimes they make midcourse corrections or original, fundamental contributions to science as an ongoing research program. 

Compare Todd Wood to Dennis Venema. As a probing, intellectually dissatisfied scientist, Wood has the potential to make original, fundamental contributions to science that a company man like Venema lacks. Science requires balance between creative iconoclasm and stability. It's useful to work within a paradigm. Exhaust the paradigm. But it's sometimes necessary to question the paradigm. 

It's easy for scientists to become prematurely settled in their ways. They stop asking questions because they think they know the answers. Sometimes they discount evidence to the contrary as anomalous. But the mavericks keep extending the frontiers. Ironically, some scientists lack intellectual curiosity. They are satisfied with the received answers. 

Wood objects that commitment to evolution results in losing an amazingly fruitful and exciting avenue of scientific research that goes deeper than Darwin (36).

5. Some of what Wood writes might foster the impression that he isn't only a creationist because he believes the Bible, and not because he thinks there's any evidence for creationism. But based on cluster analysis, he thinks there are patterns in nature that evolution can't explain (154, 200). 

Likewise, he thinks the evolutionary explanation for the PAM matrix (i.e. protein similarities between disparate species) has it upside down (60-62). He wouldn't be motivated to consider the issue from a different angle unless he was motivated by creationism. Scientists who lack that motivation neglect to consider what might be a superior alternative explanation. 

6. It's also important to emphasize that this isn't just about raw natural evidence. The debate over methodological atheism demonstrates a key philosophical component. The mainstream scientific paradigms treat nature as a closed system, a machine. They interpolate and extrapolate, reconstruct the past, fill in the evidential gaps, based on that secular philosophical postuate. 

And it's true that nature is machine-like. But what if creation is dualistic rather than materialistic? What if there's interaction between mind and matter? What if there are discarnate agents who sometimes intervene, who sometimes contribute to the outcome? Incidentally, there's empirical evidence for that.

In that event, secular science isn't simply following the evidence wherever it leads, but disregarding inconvenient evidence and superimposing an artificial filter on what science is allowed to discover. So it's simplistic to frame the issue in terms of one side having the evidence while the other side has dogma. 

There's a certain tension in science because scientists like things to be predictable. They like to be in control. But what if there are uncontrollable variables due to factors like mental causation, discarnate agents, miracles, the efficacy of prayer, and paranormal phenomena (for which there's tremendous evidence). What if that's actually a part of reality? Then, like it or not, that imposes certain limitations the ability of science to achieve mastery over the material world. It will be frustrated in its godlike quest to know and manipulate the world around us.

And that's beneficial. Science is marvelous and dangerous. It has enormous potential for good and evil. We should be grateful for barriers that curb the power of science. 

7. Suppose Gen 1-9 was obviously true. Suppose there was abundant evidence for Gen 1-9 (or the Exodus, to take another example).  

That would make it easy to believe. And that wouldn't leave room for faith. Conversely, that would make it much tougher to be an atheist.

But what if God made a world that's ambiguous in some respects? Where Gen 1-9 isn't obviously true or obviously false? 

Now a critic might object that I'm guilty of special pleading. Yet that's not unique to Genesis. In Scripture, faith is hard. Faith is meant to be hard. That's a principle which antedates the "conflict" between science and Scripture by centuries or millennia. 

On the one hand there's overwhelming evidence for Christianity. On the other hand, there are perennial emotional, physical, and intellectual obstacles along the walk of faith. That's always been the case. It didn't begin with the advent of modern science.

Although there are many lines of evidence for Christianity, it's difficult to be a Christian. God could make it a lot easier. He doesn't. 

So the creation/evolution debate is just one more test of faith. That's nothing new. Generations of Jews and Christians before us had obstacles to overcome, and generations to come will face their own obstacles. The Christian pilgrimage is demanding. A winnowing process. Some pilgrims drop out before the finish line. 

Reviewing Mike Licona’s Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?

Killing newborns

To some extent, infanticide is a wedge issue. I suspect early term abortion is easier to rationalize emotionally and psychologically because, at that stage of gestation, the baby looks less human, less like you and me. That makes it easier to treat the baby as subhuman. 

But when the issue turns to a newborn, it's undeniable that we're killing a human child. That can't be masked. "The blob of tissue" just doesn't jive. And that makes some people who support abortion balk. It's like the difference between bombing villages at 30,000 feet and hand-to-hand combat. 

But the logic is regressive. Is any point where you draw the line before birth arbitrary? 

Many people are so selfish and morally hardened that they just don't care. The sociopath next door. More common than you imagine. But it puts Democrats on the defensive, because it's so hard to rationalize without exposing their viciousness. 

Raising the saints

Dodo bird Catholicism

1. I'm going to comment on key sections in Robert Bellarmine's Disputationes de Controversiis Christianae Fidei adversus hujus temporis hereticos (1586–93). I'll quote/refer to this edition: Kenneth Barker (trans), Controversies of the Christian Faith (Keep The Faith, Inc; 2016).

Bellarmine has quite a Catholic résumé, as a saint, Cardinal, and Doctor of the Church. His Disputationes is the classic exposition and defense of Counter-Reformation theology. It became the foil for many Protestant theologians. 

Nowadays, the value of his work lies in documenting the hiatus between Counter-Reformation theology and post-Vatican II theology. Bellarmine is the staunch defender of an organization that no longer exists. The Roman Catholic church he passionately defends became an endangered species during the papacy of Pius XII and went extinct after Vatican II. If successful, his arguments falsify the modern Catholic church. 

2. I'll be very selective about what I comment on. I'll ignore his section on translations of the Bible because that's terribly dated. He has a 100-page section on whether the pope is the Antichrist, which is historically interesting, but peripheral to my concerns. He has a very long historical defense of Roman/papal primacy which I'll ignore because it's very dated. I'm going to skip the section on Christology. 

I'm going to focus on the sections about canonics and sola scripture (necessity, sufficiency, perspicuity of Scripture). I'm not sure how much I wish to say about his exegetical case for the papacy. For one thing, I have a post on Catholic prooftexts. In addition, some of his arguments are so ludicrous that they really don't require comment: to quote them is to refute them. 

3. Some of his arguments are circular. For instance, he often quotes from church fathers or even popes to establish his position. But that begs the question when engaging the Protestant position since we don't regard the church fathers as authority figures–much less the pope. So that's an illicit argument from authority.

However, he may include this material because he's writing for the benefit of Catholic missionaries, so the supporting material from popes and church fathers is for their own benefit. They consider that authoritative even though Protestants do not. 

4. Bellarmine was responding to 16C Protestants like Calvin, Luther, and Chemnitz. As a 21C Protestant, I have my own ways of defending Protestant theology. I think there are times when he has the better of the argument. That doesn't mean he's right. That just means there's a better argument for the position he's opposing. In the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, both sides had to think on the fly. Protestant apologists can defend classic Protestant theology without repristinating all the apologetic strategies of 16C Protestant theologians. Sometimes we can improve on the arguments. There a difference between traditional positions and traditional arguments for traditional positions. 

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Retroactive abortion

By Clark Kent
Daily Planet staff reporter

Having legalized infanticide for 5-year-olds and euthanasia for men and women on their 30th birthday (inspired by Logan's Run), secular progressives were stymied. There wasn't much room left over to carry out their misanthropic policies in a forward direction. So it was more efficient to go backward by mandating retroactive abortion. This utilized time-travel technology. All citizens were ordered to report to abortifacient time-machines. This enabled secular progressives to implement a consistent policy. It was so successful that a week later, the human race was scrubbed from the space-time continuum. That timeline never happened. Earth instantly reverted to the Cretaceous age. 

Infallibility and authority

1. A common Catholic objection to the Protestant faith is that evangelicals lack certainty for their beliefs. Which presumes that Catholicism provides the remedy, but of course, Catholicism doesn't actually provide certainty–as I've often explained. But I'd like to make another couple of points:

2. There's a sense in which an evangelical can have beliefs that aren't merely true, but infallible. Although inspiration entails infallibility, infallibility doesn't require inspiration. It's possible for uninspired beliefs to be infallible.

This is what I mean. We typically say what's inerrant is without error but what's infallible is without possibility of error. 

Suppose the Protestant canon is true (to take one example). Suppose God cultivates belief in the Protestant canon by providentially arranging that many Christians are raised in evangelical churches. By virtue of their religious conditioning, they not only have a true belief about the canon, but they cannot fail to have a true belief about the canon. God intends for them to believe in the Protestant canon, and he's caused that belief through selective indoctrination. Even if some of they are exposed to the Catholic argument, let's say they are unable to overcome their engrained belief in the Protestant canon. Not only do they have a true belief in that regard, but it's not psychologically possible for them to change their true belief to a false belief. 

3. On a related note is the question of whether the use of reason to assess revelatory claimants makes reason more authoritative than revelation. However, evangelicals, unlike Rome, don't claim that their assessments have divine authority. So reason is not a rival to the divine authority of Scripture. Ironically, the alleged weakness of the Protestant position is a strength. We don't claim to be divinely authoritative arbiters of the canon or divinely authoritative interpreters of Scripture. We don't deify reason in the way Rome deifies the Magisterium, by ascribing divine authority to Magisterial judgments. So we, unlike Rome, remain subordinate to the authority of Scripture. 

Brexit and the papacy

What do Brexit and the papacy have in common? I'm so glad you asked. 

Even when Catholicism was strong in Europe, there was always a power struggle between the papacy and Catholic monarchs. On the one hand, the papacy had its own foreign policy. The papacy is an institution with international ambitions. So the papacy championed domestic and foreign policies that enlarged the scope and power of the papacy. On the other hand, a French monarch championed domestic and foreign policies that benefited France, a Spanish monarch championed domestic and foreign policies that benefited Spain.

So there was always a divergence between national self-interest and papal self-interest. By the same token, it's my impression that people who voted for Brexit were fed up with a supranational bureaucracy imposing policies on England that were not in England's self-interest. Many English voters are naturally partial to domestic and foreign policies that benefit the English.  

Sadism and atheism

i) Jeff doesn't bother to study what his own side is saying. This isn't just a Christian interpretation of atheism, but what many atheist thinkers admit. That's something I've documented in detail.

ii) In addition, I've presented arguments for how atheism entails moral and existential nihilism.

iii) Perhaps Jeff is using "atheism" in the artificial sense of nonbelief in the divine. 

iv) But suppose for discussion purposes that we agree with Jeff. Is it "uninteresting" that atheism is consistent with nihilism? If someone tells me to my face that as an atheist, his viewpoint is consistent with raping little girls or torturing elderly women for fun, that's a very revealing statement. 

Atheists complain that many Americans don't trust atheists. But if atheism is consistent with nihilism, what better reason not to trust an atheist. Would you feel safe sleeping in the same room with someone whose viewpoint is consistent with vivisecting human beings?

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Does the Resurrection entail the deity of Christ?

1. As I recall, John Warwick Montgomery used to mount the following argument for the inspiration of Scripture: 

i) Bracket inspiration. Treat NT documents as 1C primary sources

ii) Sufficient to establish Resurrection

iii) Resurrection proves deity of Christ

iv) Testimony of divine Christ validates the historicity/inspiration of Scripture.

2. A potential weak link in that syllogism is (iii). Some scholars point out that the usual NT formula is that God raised Jesus from dead, not that Jesus raised himself. 

i) A partial exception is Jn 10:18, but even that depends on the Father's authorization.

ii) A more intriguing example is Heb 7:16, which attributes the immortality of Christ to the "power of an indestructible life". That suggests Jesus had the intrinsic ability to raise himself from the dead by virtue of his divine life. He is the "living God" (Heb 3:12; 9:14; 10:31; 12:22) Incarnate (Heb 1-2).

3. In addition, there's the ambiguity of "God". In the NT that's typically used as a proper name for the Father. 

To say the Father did X isn't equivalent to only the Father did X. To say Peter preached the Gospel doesn't mean Paul didn't preach the Gospel. 

An affirmation that someone did X isn't by itself a denial that someone else did X as well. To say someone did X is not an exclusive claim. To say Tom Brady won the Super Bowl doesn't mean no one else ever won the Super Bowl. 

4. The Resurrection may not entail the deity of Christ. There are more direct arguments for the deity of Christ. I think premise (iii) is too weak to yield Montgomery's conclusion. However, premise (iii) isn't demonstrably false–contrary to what some scholars say. It's a defensible claim. 

Death–the great leveler

Faithful to the end

Robert Mounce, best known for his commentary on Revelation, recently passed away. Over and above his scholarship, he cared for his elderly wife in their old age:

In heav'n the bells are ringing

This night my dear, 99 year old grandmother passed away peacefully after a long time of lying in her deathbed. In the hour of her death, my wife suddenly woke up in her bed and heard the melody of this song quite clearly. (We are living in Germany, so we are not familiar with "Ding Dong" and we found out on youtube, which one it was but now) Anyway, I can absolutely comprehend that they popped the corks and celebrated her arrival in heaven.

Trinitarian analogies

I hope there's more context to White's statement. If God's absolute uniqueness means we can't use analogies, then that commits us to apophaticism. If nothing in creation, nothing in human experience, is analogous to God, then we no comparative frame of reference to know what God is like or unlike. Yet Scripture itself is chockfull of theological metaphors for God, drawn from the natural world or social world of human beings. 

Civil resistance

i) As a complementarian, I disagree with Keener's overall position, although I do agree with him that wives are under no obligation to endure domestic violence (or husbands, for that matter).

ii) Some well-meaning Christians robotically obey biblical commands and prohibitions, but as we learn from the Sabbath controversies between Jesus and his opponents, we have a duty to consider the purpose of biblical injunctions. Paradoxically, you can disobey God by unthinking obedience to biblical injunctions. To be truly obedient we must take the rationale into account. Sometimes higher obligations supersede lower obligations.

iii) A case in point is how Catholic apologists quote 2 Thes 2:15 out of context. Of course if Paul gave me a private tutorial, I'd be obligated to uphold it. But that hardly means Paul is retroactively endorsing later ecclesiastical legends that fly under the banner of dominical or apostolic "tradition". 

iv) If 1 Peter's instructions about submission are absolute, that contradicts Acts 5:29. They can't both be absolute. 

When Peter calls on slaves to submit even to harsh treatment (2:18), even beatings (2:20), is he endorsing slavery? Is he at least suggesting that we should embrace harsh treatment even when we can avoid it?

For the sake of honoring the Lord (2:12-13), Peter urges compliance when possible with “every human institution” (2:13). This exhortation not endorse all these human institutions, such as slavery (2:18-25), monarchy (2:13, 18), or wives calling their husbands “lord” (3:6), as universal and eternal. It is not claiming that all these human institutions are permanent divine institutions. It is just calling on those in these settings to make the best of their circumstances.

Unless they earned enough money on the side to buy their freedom, slaves did not have much say concerning their slave status. Slaveholders often did eventually free slaves (though sometimes to preclude having to support them in their old age). A minority of slaves in the Roman empire achieved status and even wealth—even as slaves. But the legal authority to emancipate slaves lay solely with the slaveholders. Peter thus provides advice for how to bear up under a difficult situation that his addressees could not control, not how to address a situation that they could not control. This is the same approach taken by many ancient moral teachers, such as Stoic philosophers, who focused on what is in our power to control, rather than on what is not.

Is it ethical to flee abuse? Scripture provides numerous examples. David fled from Saul, and Jesus’s family fled to Egypt to escape Herod. Even in cases of persecution for the name of Christ, Jesus allows fleeing (Matt 10:23), and his disciples normally did so when possible (Acts 14:6).

Monday, February 04, 2019

The Super Bowl in prophecy

Tampering with the Electoral College

Sovereign Nations has republished a story that originally appeared in the Colorado Peak Politics blog (“Colorado’s Conservative Bully Pulpit”):

FAREWELL ELECTORAL COLLEGE: State Senate Gives Away Our Presidential Votes:
Democrats have only had control of the state Senate for a few weeks, and already they’ve voted to give away Colorado’s vote in future presidential elections.

Instead of our nine electoral votes going to the candidate we vote for, the winner of the national popular vote would instead be handed all of Colorado’s votes.

There’s a reason only large or Democratic-controlled states are moving in this direction — Hillary Clinton would be president now under this system.

It gives all the power to elect presidents to heavily populated states, and silences the voice of flyover country overwhelmingly populated by Republicans.

In order for it to take effect, states with at least 270 electoral votes must pass a law — California, New York and New Jersey are already on board.

Republican State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling says this bill would abdicate Colorado’s voice in presidential elections, and he’s right.

“Why would we want to cede any of our power to what the national popular vote says, to what California says, to what New York says?” Sonnenberg said.

Republicans tried to drive home their point by jokingly suggesting language stating Colorado would just be surrendering their vote to California. It would be funnier if it weren’t actually true.

Sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Mike Foote of Lafayette, the bill passed the Senate Monday and will soon be voted on in the House for final passage.

We fully expect Gov. Polis will gleefully sign it into law.

Passage in the state house and a governor’s signature would still be required, but their state house is comprised of 41 Democrats and 24 Republicans. Even if this doesn’t make it into law, it is a chilling sign of the lengths that Democrats will go to, in order to win a presidential election.

Film noir hell

Dante's detailed, claustrophobic depiction of hell captured popular imagination, although I'm not sure how many people have actually read The Inferno. For many believers and unbelievers alike, I think their mental image of hell is influenced, at least indirectly, by Dante. That includes comic books and video games. 

From a different angle, secular totalitarianism is hellish. Kafka's tormented mind provides a precursor in the The Trial, followed by 1984 and Darkness at Noon

If I were making a movie about hell, film noir would be an apt genre. Classic examples include The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep. But due to the Production Code, these are more like black comedies. 

Because neo-noir films don't labor under the same inhibitions, they're more realistic. Examples include Chinatown; Farewell, My Lovely (both of which I saw as a teenager), and L.A. Confidential. When I saw it for the first and only time, I hated Chinatown, not because it was a bad film–it's a great film of its kind–but because I was repelled by the wanton amorality of its characters. A world where you can't trust anyone. Everybody cheats. Everybody betrays everyone else. 

In the noir genre, the detective functions as the eyes of the audience. We see the world through the resignation of the detective. In a better world he might be a better man, but the noirish world is engulfed in suffocating mediocrity. There's nothing to believe in. No one to admire. No one to look up to. Everyone is trapped on the inside–not because they can't get out, but because there's no outside. They drink, philander, and gamble away their abject lives in desperate resignation, interspersed with studied cruelty to break the pitiless monotony. Sadistic comic relief. That's a hellish existence. 

Circumstantial luck

On a number of occasions I've proposed counterfactual guilt as a justification for eternal punishment. Here's a striking illustration:

What we do is also limited by the opportunities and choices with which we are faced, and these are largely determined by factors beyond our control. Someone who was an officer in a concentration camp might have led a quiet and harmless life if the Nazis had never come to power in Germany. And someone who led a quiet and harmless life in Argentina might have become an officer in a concentration camp if he had not left Germany for business reasons in 1930. 

The third category to consider is luck in one's circumstances. I shall mention it briefly. The things we are called upon to do, the moral tests we face, are importantly determined by factors beyond our control. It may be true of someone that in a dangerous situation he would behave in a cowardly or heroic fashion, but if the situation never arises, he will never have the chance to distinguish or disgrace himself in this way, and his moral record will be different.

A conspicuous example of this is political. Ordinary citizens of Nazi Germany had an opportunity to behave heroically by opposing the regime. They also had an opportunity to behave badly, and most of them are culpable for having failed this test. But it is a test to which the citizens of other countries were not subjected, with the result that even if they, or some of them, would have behaved as badly as the Germans in like circumstances, they simply did not and therefore are not similarly culpable. Here again one is morally at the mercy of fate, and it may seem irrational upon reflection, but our ordinary moral attitudes would be unrecognizable without it. We judge people for what they actually do or fail to do, not just for what they would have done if circumstances had been different. Thomas Nagel, "Moral Luck," Moral Questions (Cambridge 1991). chap. 3.

i) It's a matter of "circumstantial luck" that some people commit atrocities while others lead decent lives. If their situations were reversed, their conduct would be reversed. 

ii) In addition, this often involves circumstances beyond their control. The situation in which they find themselves. They didn't create the situation. 

iii) I don't quite agree with Nagel's conclusion. As a matter of penology, we punish people for what they actually do or fail to do, not for what they would have done if circumstances had been different. That's in part because, unlike God, we lack counterfactual knowledge. In addition, penology is largely practical. About social incentives and disincentives rather than ultimate justice. 

iv) But from the standpoint of eschatological justice, which concerns itself with meting out what people deserve, the considerations are different. It's not so much that they are directly judged by what they might have done or failed to do, but what counterfactual scenarios expose about their character defects. 

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Guiltless feelings of guilt

A stock objection to Calvinism is that if our actions are predestined, there's no basis for blame or regret. However, that intuition depends on the illustration. Here's a counterexample:

In “Moral Luck”, Williams famously argues that it makes sense for a faultless lorry driver to experience a kind and intensity of regret about the death of the child who runs in front of the vehicle that it would not be open to a mere bystander to experience. This is not remorse about some voluntary lapse on the part of the lorry driver (since by hypothesis he has done nothing wrong), but regret about an event, the death of the child, that stands in a causal relationship to his exercise of agency in driving the lorry. 

Both the bystander and the driver deeply regret the child's death, but for the driver, the regret is more personal even though the accident was beyond his control to avert. Unlike the bystander, the driver is in the causal chain of events that kills the child. He couldn't stop the trolly in time. The accident was inevitable, given the confluence of factors.

Although he's blameless, he's haunted by the child's death because he was operating the trolly. In a sense, he killed the child. If he hadn't been the driver, he wouldn't feel the same way. 

Thereafter, the child's death is always in the back of his mind. He feels some responsibility for the tragedy, even though he's inculpable. But from the standpoint of freewill theism, how can blame and regret be detached? Why feel guilty if you're guiltless? 

The limits of regret

R. Jay Wallace, The View from Here: On Affirmation, Attachment, and the Limits of Regret (Oxford 2013).

The central thesis of R. Jay Wallace's fascinating essay in moral psychology is that it is easy, when reflecting on our lives from our current temporal standpoint, to make a mistake in how we think about the past events that have shaped it. Assume that your current life is one that you would affirm as worth living. Suppose also that you look back on certain past events with a degree of ambivalence. They were, you believe, wrong at the time. Yet, they have formed a necessary part of a chain of events that has led to the constitution of your current outlook. You affirm the events in the sense that you do not want them to have been otherwise. This thought excludes the possibility of regretting them, as that is to wish that they had been otherwise. Nevertheless, you also believe that your actions were, at the time, rationally unjustified. Can this combination of attitudes be consistent?

Wallace thinks that it can. He diagnoses a tempting mistake, namely, to think that an inability to regret is, itself, a form of affirmation in a way that excludes the thought that the past action was unjustified. However, for Wallace, affirmation means that while you cannot regret the past action, you can still believe it was unjustified at the time. The standpoint of retrospective assessment is constrained by this fact, such that "we can find ourselves unable to regret actions of ours that were unjustifiable at the time" and "committed to affirming features of our lives and of the world we inhabit that are objectively lamentable".

That idea -- that our appraisal is situated in a perspective dependent on a range of presupposed contingencies in the past...Wallace's general thesis is illustrated by a range of cases: in the first imagined example -- made famous by Derek Parfit -- a teenager conceives a child for reasons that, at that time, made the decision unjustified given her situation. However, the experience of being a parent "shifts" the woman's standpoint of appraisal so that she experiences the past decision as unjustified, but not as one that she can regret. She can affirm a past decision that was rationally unjustifiable. Wallace believes that, hitherto, attempts to resolve this paradox have involved different frameworks of evaluation or different ways of conceptualizing the same values. So his buck passing approach focuses instead on the relevant "reasons for action and response" on the part of the young mother. (p. 94) Her changed situation means that she has new reasons to love and care for her child that she can affirm while acknowledging the good reasons that she had in the past not to conceive a child so early in her life. For Wallace, if there is an air of paradox about such a case, it is generated by the idea of the impersonal evaluation of an outcome. By focusing, instead, on the reasons grounded on evaluative attitudes, the asymmetry between the reasons at the time of decision and those that feature in retrospective assessment no longer generates a paradox.

Another reviewer extends the analysis to his own example: