Saturday, March 02, 2019

What should apologists do?

The participants in this debate are less intent to win the debate than to promote their own favored version of atheism or theism, for Haldane that being Thomistic Roman Catholicism and for Smart a scientistic species of atheism. The debate would have had more meaning for the students to whom it is supposed to be directed according to the book's cover if the debators had defended a more generic version of their respective theses, thereby freeing them from having to make use of controversial metaphysical doctrines that are not familiar to students and which the debators do not have sufficient space to explain and defend properly. This would have made it more of a real debate. By tying his atheism to a reductive materialistic metaphysics, Smart gives away a significant advantage that the atheist has over the theist in the debate; for whereas theism is committed to a metaphysics that requires the existence of nonembodied spiritual substances, namely God and finite souls, atheism is not committed to any specific metaphysics and thus is less vulnerable than theism. Smart would have done better to base his atheism on the inductive argument from the apparently gratuitous evils of the world rather than the more vulnerable reductive physicalism. 

This manner of refutation seems to violate the principle of minimal ordinance enjoining us to use the weakest premises that are needed to establish a desired conclusion, for there should be a refutation that does not need to commit itself to a highly controversial nonobjectivist theory of ethics. 

And, finally, Haldane gives an account of his particular brand of theism, namely Catholicism. While the account is not unattractive, it is perhaps somewhat out of place in a book where the question is the general one whether there is or is not a God. 

This raises an issue in apologetic methodology. On the one hand it's popular and prudent for apologists to defend less than they believe. To defend the least ambitious position sufficient to prove their immediate point. The tactical advantage of so doing is that defending the least ambitious formulation has the lowest burden of proof. 

On the other hand, a weakness or limitation of that tactic is that when they artificially confine themselves to defending less than they believe, they may never get around to defending their full-orbed position. But if they're not prepared to defend the whole package, because that's more demanding, because that raises the burden of proof, then they've failed to defend their actual position.

It's refreshing that Smart and Haldane go for broke by defending what they actually believe, rather than a safer surrogate position. They don't hold back.

If apologists lack the confidence to defend the whole package, why do they believe the whole package? Presumably they have reasons for believing the entire package, so at least on occasion shouldn't they make a case for their full-orbed position even if it means exposing more of their flank to hostile fire? If they can't argue for the totality of their position, what's their basis for believing more than they are prepared to defend? 

I think there are many situations in which the minimalistic approach is strategically legitimate. But it's a serious deficiency if the apologist never gets beyond that. Ultimately, this isn't a question of strategy but defending what you really believe. At least that should be the ultimate goal. 

Judas and Jesus

In my experience, Judas is a neglected evidence for the historical Jesus. He figures in all four Gospels as the betrayer of Jesus. But why would the Gospel writers invent such a character? Or why would primitive Christian tradition invent such a character, whom the Gospel writers then incorporate into their narratives?

Sure, betrayal is a common theme in fiction. A classic example is the consigliere who has the goods on the crime boss, and turns state's evidence.

Even if, for argument's sake, Gospel writers might invent a fall-guy as a plot device, what would motivate them to make the him a member of Christ's inner circle? Wouldn't that invite the suspicion that Judas knew something damaging about Jesus? 

So Judas is the ultimate example of hostile testimony. He's not somebody the Gospel writers have any incentive to fabricate. Not a fictional character. It satisfies the criterion of embarrassment. 

Is Scripture evidentiary in its own right?

Thus, Robinson Crusoe follows a similar pattern of thought in deciding that he is not alone: it is likely that anyone else on the island will leave some sign of being there, and this apparent footprint would certainly be such an indication if another's presence is possible; it is, therefore it is probable that someone else is about. But unless he has reasons to believe that another's presence on the island is possible, or in the absence of knowing what human footprints are like, this evidence would not count as any proof of Friday. Consequently, the thesis that the Bible on its own is a warrant for the existence of God is mistaken. 

This seems to reflect the methodology of classic apologetics, according to which making a case for Christianity requires a linear, multistage argument in which proving God's existence is a preliminary step. However, the comparison is very odd. Is it necessary to have reasons independent of the footprint to credit the footprint as evidence of human occupation on the island? Why isn't the footprint in itself evidence for the possibility that the island is habitable? Why can't that be direct evidence? What's actual is possible. Isn't a human footprint unmistakable evidence that a human being made it, and made it there? Even if the footprint was faked, it had to be faked by a human being (a la Bigfoot hoaxes). 

Likewise, why can't the fact that the Bible contains so many testimonies by or about different individuals who say they experienced God in unmistakable ways at least be prima facie evidence that God exists? In that respect (among others) it differs from one-man productions by Muhammad, Joseph Smith, and Swedenborg. 

What was wrong with Vatican II

Thin ice Catholicism

A fixture of the Roman Catholic apologetic is the necessity of the Magisterium, in contrast to the (alleged) instability of sola Scripture. The need for a referee. The need for certainty. Avoiding the "30,000" denominations. 

But how committed are Catholic conservatives to the Magisterium? Here's a bellwether: last year the president of Ave Maria U attacked the conservative critics of Pope Francis: 

You can read his original statement here:

Well…actually, you can't read his original statement because he scrubbed it. That's because the backlash was so intense that he immediately began to backpedal:

Evidently, he's one of those elite leaders who's so out of touch with the base that he couldn't anticipate the predicable reaction:

And it looks like his damage control efforts failed: 

Point being: many Catholic conservatives love papal authority in the abstract. They just love papal authority…right up to the moment when they disagree with the pope. They love papal authority so long as the pope is on their side. 

I'm guessing many Catholic conservatives are hoping against hope that the next pope will reverse direction. They are holding out to see what happens at the next conclave. Or they are waiting to see if Pope Francis or the next pope crosses a line of no return–say on homosexuality. 

To some degree their seemingly nonnegotiable commitment to the Magisterium is in reality contingent and fragile. In the past, it wasn't put to the test. But now things are coming to a head. 

Assessing Bible translations:

Wesley Huff:

No photo description available.

Altruistic lies

This is a sort of sequel to my previous post:

In my observation, many apostates leave the faith because they feel God betrayed them. God broke his promises in the Bible. God "lied" to them.

Put another way, they think prayer promises are a lie. The Bible disappointed their expectations. So they conclude that God doesn't exist. 

When someone angrily says, "You lied to me!", that typically involves a sense of betrayal. Not just that you lied to me, but that your lie was a breach of trust. Where the act of lying is tantamount to stabbing me in the back (or equivalent metaphors).

Now, this post isn't based on the assumption that God actually lies to anyone, or that God ever lies to Christians in particular. However, let's consider that scenario for the sake of argument.

It's easy to dream up hypothetical situations in which one person lies to another person for the sake of the other person. That's sometimes called an altruistic lie. 

I'm not discussing the morality of lying. I'm not discussing whether altruistic lies are ever justified. Rather, I'm just discussing whether a lie is ipso facto tantamount to an act of betrayal. As a matter of principle, is that the case? 

And as I say, it's easy to imagine hypothetical situations in which you might lie to someone to protect them. Suppose you have a teenage son who's high on drugs. And he's holding a loaded pistol, which he gestures at his head. Suppose you lie to him to get the pistol away from him. 

Or suppose Muslims convince a 10-year-old boy to wear a suicide jacket. And you talk him out of pulling the string by making him a promise you have no intention of keeping. But you do that to prevent him from killing himself.

Or suppose you have a friend in high school who's vying for a sports scholarship. His heart is set on getting that sports scholarship. There's one other student who's competing for the scholarship. Unbeknownst to your friend, you find out that his rival is the son of a Mafia don. They intend to break your friend's kneecaps the day of the competition. For some reason you can't share that information with your friend. Therefore, you lie to him, so that he shows up too late for the competition. His rival gets the scholarship by default.

Or suppose you know the referee was bribed to throw the game. Your friend doesn't know that. If your friend wins, that will expose him to reprisal, so you tell a lie that messes with his head, causing him to lose concentration and play badly. 

Now suppose, in each case, they find out that you lied to them, but they don't know the reason. They will be furious. At that stage they will feel that you double-crossed them. That will destroy the friendship (or parental bond).

And suppose this is aggravated by the fact that you wish you could explain it to them, but the true explanation would put them at risk. So you have to accept the fact that they will misjudge you. They will think the worst of you. They will hate you. It poses a dilemma: you must lose the friendship to save the friend. 

But suppose at a later date, they discover on their own the true reason you lied to them. That changes everything. Now they realize that you didn't betray them. Just the opposite. You lied to spare them. To save them from terrible harm. You were such a good friend that you were prepared to sacrifice the friendship for their benefit.

At that point they seek you out and reconcile with you. Indeed, the friendship is stronger now than it was before you lied to them. Ironically, they trust you much more than they did before you lied to them, because the friendship was put to a test in a way that proves what a steadfast friend you are. 

Point being: even if, for discussion purposes, we grant that God might lie to his people or lie to one of his people, that, in itself, isn't equivalent to divine betrayal. In a roundabout way, God might be acting in their best interests. It was for their own good, even though it didn't seem that way at the time.

Of course, God doesn't have the same limitations we have. The fact that we might find ourselves in situations where we're tempted to tell an altruistic lie doesn't generally have parallels in divine providence. However, it's a complicated world with a multitude of agents who have competing interests. Not all possibilities are compossible. So there are some restrictions on God's field of action even if everything is planned in advance. 

A Response from Stephen Hicks

A week or so ago, I posted an article entitled “The Dark Side of Political Philosophy, and How it Led to the Growth and Development of Today’s ‘Political Left’ Movement”. The blog post was largely intended to introduce a book entitled “Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault (Expanded Edition)”.

My intention was to show:

“how Kant (and the thinkers who followed Kant) led, first of all, to the nebulous “postmodernism” that evolved out of various streams of “Continental” philosophies, and to the growth and development of “the political left” as we see it today.… I want to publish selections from Hicks’s work over time, and to comment on them, primarily for the purpose of providing a roadmap for the current political environment, and for discussing ways of addressing this overall environment of postmodernism, from a Christian perspective.”

I also posted a link to a review, which I thought was very thorough. That reviewer said,

Where do we go from here?

A big part of the world has gone crazy. By “big part of the world”, I mean, “lots of people, and lots of institutions”. We know that.

They have rejected God and adopted a form of man-made morality which holds that every person and every culture should be “equal” (a form of morality which is clearly on display in universities and magnified by the media), in such a way that dissenting from this morality can cause you to lose a Facebook or Twitter account, or a job, or a wife and custody of a child, or your life.

How are Christians to deal with this?

Not long ago, Rod Dreher proposed “The Benedict Option”, which he summarized as “communal withdrawal from the mainstream, for the sake of sheltering one’s faith and family from corrosive modernity and cultivating a more traditional way of life”.

I don’t think that is good enough. On the other hand, I’ve long been impressed by Alvin Plantinga’s advice in his “Advice to Christian Philosophers” (from the 1984 essay). While this advice is specific to philosophy students, I think it has broader application for those of us in other situations:

Friday, March 01, 2019

The common good

It's often said that western thinking is more individualistic whereas eastern thinking is more collectivist. Of course, that's a generalization, which is vulnerable to overgeneralization. But assume that's true, has that always been true? Consider Aquinas on capital punishment:

Now every part is directed to the whole, as imperfect to perfect, wherefore every part is naturally for the sake of the whole. For this reason we observe that if the health of the whole body demands the excision of a member, through its being decayed or infectious to the other members, it will be both praiseworthy and advantageous to have it cut away. Now every individual person is compared to the whole community, as part to whole. Therefore if a man be dangerous and infectious to the community, on account of some sin, it is praiseworthy and advantageous that he be killed in order to safeguard the common good, since "a little leaven corrupteth the whole lump" (1 Corinthians 5:6).

As stated above (Article 2), it is lawful to kill an evildoer in so far as it is directed to the welfare of the whole community, so that it belongs to him alone who has charge of the community's welfare. Thus it belongs to a physician to cut off a decayed limb, when he has been entrusted with the care of the health of the whole body.

As it stands, that's a collectivist outlook. The good of the many automatically supersedes the good of the few or the one. 

Normally, Christian ethics places high value on individual wellbeing. Although the common good is important, an individual must do something wrong to forfeit certain rights and immunities. The common good is not sufficient to override the needs of the individual. 

Now, I'm not a scholar of Aquinas, so perhaps what he says here is counterbalanced by things he says elsewhere. Otherwise, his position is starkly utilitarian. It makes me wonder whether his viewpoint is a throwback to an older collectivist outlook that was typical in pre-Christian Europe. One which Christian reflection eventually overcame and supplanted. 

Scripture and commentary

A stock objection to sola Scriptura goes like this: an infallible text demands an infallible interpreter. 

I think some Protestant apologists and theologians overemphasize the perspicuity of Scripture. They think that's necessary to justify the break with Rome. I disagree. There are lots of reasons not to be Roman Catholic.

But going back to the original objection, the basic idea is that Scripture is inadequate without an inspired commentary. Yet that depends in part on God's aims and intentions.

As a rule, an author is the first person you'd ask about the meaning of something he wrote. A director is the first person you'd ask about a scene in his movie. And in fact when directors are interviewed, they're asked questions about what something in one of their movies meant. And readers write living authors about the meaning of something in one of their books.

But what's striking is that directors and fiction writers don't generally volunteer their interpretations of their own work. Directors don't write reviews of their own movies. Fiction writers don't compose commentaries on their novels, short-stories, or plays.

That's despite the fact that they are uniquely qualified to explain what they had in mind. So why don't directors and fiction writers routinely include companion volumes providing a detailed interpretation of their own work?

The obvious reason, I think, is that they don't wish to spoil it for viewers or readers. They want each reader or viewer to form his own unmediated impressions. To discover for himself what he thinks it means.

If they think an influential film critic or literary critic is way off base, they may interpose, but usually they keep their own counsel. They may review books and movies by other creative artists, but not their own. 

Here's another way to approach the same issue: I generally read movie reviews after I saw a movie rather than before I saw a movie. If I like a movie, I may be curious about comparing my impressions of the movie with Roger Ebert or Pauline Kael. 

However, I don't want their impressions to prejudge my own impressions. I don't want to filter my experience through their lens. I want to see it first before I see it through their eyes. To see it with fresh eyes, to have the immediacy of that initial experience. To see it for the first time, without any interpretive filter beyond what I bring to the movie or story. Beyond my general background.

It's not primarily a question of plot spoilers and losing the element of surprise because I know what to expect–if I read the review first. Rather, it's about a one-on-one encounter between the observer and the movie or story. There's something special and unrepeatable about that. 

And I think that's a reason why God didn't anoint someone to provide a running commentary on the Bible. That short-circuits the direct encounter between text and reader. This is not to deny the value or necessity of commentaries, but that shouldn't be used to circumvent the act of discovery. To find out for himself what it means. In some cases the reader will misinterpret Scripture, but that's a necessary tradeoff. 

Scripture isn't merely informative but transformative. It has to work on you. Personal struggle is required. Someone else can't do that for you, on your behalf and in your place. That can't be subcontracted to a second-party.  

Immunity of noncombatants

Catholic moral theology teaches the immunity of noncombatants. But in virtue of what are they immune? From my reading, "innocence" is frequently the condition that confers immunity. Noncombatants are immune because they are classified is innocents, and it's wrong to target innocents. Wrong to intentionally take innocent lives. (Although "intention" is a term of art, viz. double effect theory.)

But in what respect are noncombatants deemed to be innocent? Let's consider some possibilities:

1. Morally innocent

It might be a moral category. To be morally faultless or sinless.

i) If so, the principle is too strong. In traditional Christian theology, human beings are sinners. Even children are subject to Adam's sin. Even children have evil impulses. 

ii) Perhaps in the case of children before the age of reason, it might be said that they are inculpably evil because, despite their evil impulses, they lack the intellectual capacity to be consciously evil. 

iii) But even if we grant that distinction for argument's sake, the class of noncombatants in just-war theory is far larger than children before the age of reason (which has fuzzy boundaries in its own right). 

2.  Judicially innocent

It might be a legal category. To be blames or guiltless in relation to criminal wrongdoing. 

i) But it's unclear why that would be the principle. If you have combatants on both sides, where one side is fighting a just cause while the other side is fighting for an unjust cause, you might argue that the unjust combatants forfeit immunity due to their legal complicity in an unjust war, making them liable to death or injury as a just desert. But the same reasoning can't apply to just combatants. By that logic, immunity extends to just combatants. 

ii) By that criterion, moreover, civilian policymakers who wage unjust war ought to forfeit immunity and face the same fate as combatants. Likewise, civilianswho provide necessary support services, viz. munitions factories.

3. Harmless

It might be a pragmatic category. Most civilians don't pose an imminent danger to the opposing nation or troops. They enjoy immunity because they are innocuous or nonthreatening compared to combatants. 

Certainly that captures an intuition regarding the immunity of children (with rare exceptions). However, the principle seems to lean on a rather artificial dichotomy regarding the immediacy of the threat. A military engineer may not pose a direct threat to the opposing nation or troops, but the direct threat may depend on his invention of military technologies. Likewise, take the policymakers who foment war. Or civilians who construct missiles, tanks, bombs, bombers, &c. Although there's a sense in which they are personally innocuous inasmuch as they don't shoot guns, they conscript combatants or supply combatants. 

I think each of these principles has some merit in limiting the scope of legitimate targets, but they're inadequate, either in separation or combination, to justify the absolute immunity of noncombatants across the board. 

Youthful martyrdom

Arminian theologian Randal Rauser is always on the lookout for opportunities to undermine Christian faith by posing hypothetical wedge tactics. Regarding the latest subversive thought-experiment:

i) To be the teenage child of Christian carries no presumption that the child is Christian. The teens are often an intellectually unsettled period in which the teen is developing a degree of emotional independence necessary to be a self-reliant adult. That includes the evaluation of his hereditary religion. In some cases this involves a reactionary, outright rejection of his hereditary religion. In other cases he may simply have unsettled views. In both cases this may be a temporary phase, after which he personally appropriates his hereditary religion. 

If, at the time he's confronted by the sniper, he is not a Christian believer, then he shouldn't profess Christian belief. That wouldn't be an honest answer. Admittedly, this is a situation where cowardice conveniently dovetails with honesty. But if he's not a Christian, that would be a very bad time to die.

ii) Even if their child is a Christian, there's no inconsistency in Christian parents feeling conflicted. This is not the sort of question they can give a dispassionate answer to. 

iii) If the teenager is a Christian, then he should be prepared to die for his faith. In one respect, that's the answer his parents should give, but it's inevitable and forgivable for them to be deeply ambivalent about the dilemma. This involves legitimately competing duties, although not all obligations are equally obligatory.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Never Trump now, never Trump tomorrow, never Trump forever

There are several ways to evaluate Trump. One way is comparing him to his political competitors when he first ran. That included the primaries and the general election. That's out-of-date. That's refighting the last war. 

And in regards to 2020 (assuming he runs for reelection), that includes comparison with potential Democrat nominees, viz. Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren,  Beto O'Rourke, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Antonio MayorJulian Castro, Kirsten Gillibrand, Joe Beiden, and Michael Bloomberg. 

Another way is to evaluate the policies of the Trump administration.

I like David French, but his current position is irrational. It's like the Amish.

Silence in church

The Story of Creation

Has a transcript

Mass shootings

Can God lie?

In my experience, Calvinists typically contend that while God can and sometimes does deceive certain people through secondary means (e.g.1 Kgs 20:23), God cannot lie directly. He can deceive through the instrumentality of others (e.g. Ezk 14:9-10) but he can't personally lie. 

On the face of it, that's a makeshift distinction, but in fairness, they simply attempting to adhere to biblical distinctions. And freewill theists are in the same boat. Take stock prooftexts that God cannot lie:

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? (Numbers 23:19).

The Glory of Israel will not lie (1 Samuel 15:29).

in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time (Tit 1:2).

God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie (Heb 6:18).

I'll revisit these momentarily, but let's consider a different passage:

Then God said, Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you (Gen 22:2).

1. On the face of it, didn't God lie to Abraham? No point getting bent out of shape by my asking the question. This is not a minor passage. It's from a famous, major incident in Scripture. And it's just as inspired as the contrary prooftexts. 

2. Perhaps someone will object that it's not a lie because it's just a command, whereas a lie must be a declarative sentence. Commands can't be lies because they don't assert or deny anything. Only propositions can be lies. But there are problems with that deflection:

3. It's a hairsplitting distinction that appeals to modern philosophy of language, but why assume Bible writers were operating with that dichotomy? Why assume they confined lies to propositions rather than other kinds of verbal deception? (Or even nonverbal deception?) We can't just impose that stipulation on Scripture.  

4. For that matter, the concept or definition of lying didn't fall from the sky. Even from a philosophical standpoint, it's not a given that lying must be propositional. For instance:

Against the statement condition of L1 it has been objected that the making of a statement is not necessary for lying. Lying to others may be defined as “any form of behavior the function of which is to provide others with false information or to deprive them of true information” (Smith 2004, 14), or as “a successful or unsuccessful deliberate attempt, without forewarning, to create in another a belief which the communicator considers to be untrue” (Vrij 2000, 6). Importantly, this entails that lying can consist of simply withholding information with the intent to deceive, without making any statement at all (Ekman 1985, 28; Scott 2006, 4). Those who make this objection would make lying the same as intentionally deceiving (Ekman 1985, 26).

1. According to Gen 22:2, God issued a command that's verbally deceptive. On a related note, Scripture contains divine predictions of judgment, yet God sometimes relents. Did he keep his word or go back on his word? 

2. This is, in part, an issue about theological method. Assuming inerrancy, when we have apparently discrepant statements in Scripture, what statements function as the benchmark in relation to which we harmonize the other statements? Is Gen 22:2 paradigmatic–or Num 23:19? 

3. One principle is that when Scripture has passages of the same kind, where some are qualified while others are unqualified, we treat the unqualified passages as implicitly qualified by the qualified passages. So, for instance, some oracles of doom are formally unconditional while others are contingent on contrition, so we treat unqualified oracles of doom that don't come to pass, not as false prophecies or failed predictions, but implicitly conditional threats. And that's something to keep in mind when it comes to passages about divine veracity and deception. 

4. A problem with simply quoting 1 Sam 15:29 to settle the issue is that 1 Sam 15:11 says the opposite:

I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions (1 Sam 15:11).

If we take both statements at face value, that generates a contradiction. The standard orthodox explanation is that 1 Sam 15:11 is anthropomorphic. And I agree with that. 

5. Heb 6:18, as formulated, is not an absolute statement, but a specific claim about two unchangeable things: God's promise and oath. That's consistent with either of two positions:

i) It's intrinsically impossible for God to lie, and these two examples are special cases of that general principle. 

ii) It's impossible for God to lie about these two kinds of things, but the statement doesn't address the larger issue of whether God cannot lie under any circumstance whatsoever. 

6. When you look at the prooftexts, there's a common theme. God cannot lie about certain kinds of promises. God cannot lie about his commitment to the ultimate welfare of his people. Here's another example:

What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written,

“That you may be justified in your words,
    and prevail when you are judged.”
(Rom 3:3-4)

That unpacks lying in terms of infidelity. For God to lie, in this context, would mean God was unfaithful to his covenantal obligations. 

Minimally, what the biblical data indicates is that God can't be deceptive about promises of salvation (or damnation). Paradoxically, even in the paradigmatic case of Gen 22, the deceptive command facilitates the covenant with Abraham and other parties to the covenant (future Jews and Gentiles). So the verbal deception is benevolent rather than malevolent. That's like the proverbial white lie, which has a beneficial aim or intent. Telling a necessary lie to do someone good.

Is damnation a process crime?

I'll comment on Craig:

The question of the extent of the atonement is one that I would rather avoid, as it seems so secondary an issue when it comes to the atonement. I want to focus on the really central questions raised by the doctrine of the atonement. Nevertheless, one can’t help running into this issue when one reads widely on the subject of the atonement, so I’ll share here some tentative thoughts on the matter.

At face value, it seems incredible to think that Christ died only for the elect. You couldn’t get a much clearer repudiation of this view than I John 2.2: “he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” Reformed thinkers are forced into exegetical acrobatics in order to explain away the prima facie meaning of such scriptural statements.

i) Open theists would say the same thing about how Craig interprets many passages of Scripture.

ii) The "acrobatics" metaphor is such a shopworn cliche. 

iii) I've discussed the usual Arminian prooftexts:

So what in the world would compel someone to re-interpret such passages in order to make them compatible with the view that Christ died only for the sins of the elect and not for the sins of every human being? The reason is a theological inference that forces one into such contrived exegesis. One is forced into this position by a theological argument that implies the limited extent of the atonement.

The argument is this: at the cross Christ by his death wins our actual redemption. For he satisfies the demands of God’s retributive justice, which had condemned us for our sins. The demands of justice having been met, there no longer remains any punishment for our sins to be exacted. Christ did not win for us merely potential redemption; rather he secured our actual redemption at the cross. Therefore, if Christ died for all people, everyone would be saved, which we know from Scripture to be false.

I think you’ll agree that this is a pretty powerful argument. Nevertheless, it remains an inference, and if it leads to a conclusion that flies in the face of scriptural teaching, then we need to question whether this is a sound inference. Rather than embrace universalism or limited atonement—both of which seem clearly unscriptural—we need to call this theological inference into question.

It's interesting to see him concede that the Reformed position is a "pretty powerful argument". 

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Believing God exists because the Bible says so

State of emergency

Thus far I haven't said anything about Trump declaring a state of emergency to build the wall.

1. There's the question of whether that's illegal. Ironically, I've seen the legality of the action defended from unexpected quarters:

2. Another objection is that it sets a terrible precedent. That may be true, but it's not as if Democrats exercise restraint so long as Republicans exercise restraint.

Also, just declaring something a national emergency isn't equivalent to declaring martial law. It doesn't mean a chief executive can do whatever he (or she) pleases from thereon out. For instance, there are judicial hurdles to clear.

3. I don't know how this will play politically. Depends in part on the follow-through. It does indicate that Trump is serious about keeping his campaign promises. And if he succeeds, it proves him to be someone who can get things done.

4. Since protecting the country from foreign maunders is surely part of his mandate as commander-in-chief, I can't get too worked up about whether this is executive overreach. For decades, illegal immigration has been a bipartisan failure. It's refreshing to have a president who making a determined effort to stop the raiding parties.

5. I'm also reminded of how Reagan defied the Boland Amendment. As an old Cold Warrior, Reagan was protecting the country from a Communist beachhead in Latin America. Good for him. That's his job.

Communal reading

A stock objection to the Protestant faith is that Scripture should be read in community. But what does that even mean? Reading in community is a euphemism for reading the text according to a particular theological and hermeneutical tradition. 

I read the Bible in community when I consult Bible commentaries (and exegetical monographs). Not only do the commentators reflect a theological perspective, but they often summarize a variety of interpretations from different viewpoints. For those of us who can, it's important to compare our own impressions of what a Bible passage means with the impressions of other readers. That alerts us to interpretations we might overlook. That helps to undercut bias. 

Ironically, Catholic apologists mean just the opposite. By communal reading, they mean filtering the text through the exclusive tinted lens of Roman Catholic tradition. 

The problem with the Catholic slogan is that when it comes to reading Scripture in community, there's no one community. Communal reading is just as Protestant as it is Catholic. When I read commentaries or other exegetical works by Arminians, Calvinists, Lutherans, Baptists, Anabaptists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Dispensationalists, charismatics, et al., I'm reading the Bible in community. This gives me a chance to compare and contrast sometimes competing interpretations. 

A danger of communal reading is the development of ingrown interpretations that become detached from the original meaning, and take on a life of their own. And when a particular community is absolutized, there's no way to challenge entrenched tradition, even if that represents a misreading of Scripture. 

In addition, Protestant exegesis is communal. It considers what the sacred text meant to the original audience. To read the text through the eyes of the original audience. And that's also how modern-day Catholic Bible scholars operate. 

In Catholicism, moreover, it isn't truly communal. Rather, it's the Magisterium dictating to the laity what the text means. Their role is to listen and obey.

Michael Cohen's Congressional testimony

Born-alive bill

Robert P. George

Some good people are legitimately wondering why we need the new born-alive survivors of abortion act that the Democrats just killed, when there is already a law on the books that was enacted in 2002. Is the push for new legislation just political theatre?
The answer to that question is no. We do need the new act. I can tell you about the 2002 act from my own personal experience in advocating for the legislation.
The idea of a born-alive act was originally proposed by the great Hadley Arkes, a professor at Amherst College and a pro-life hero. He was and is a super dear friend of mine. He asked for my help in promoting the idea to potentially sympathetic members of Congress. Together, we testified in the House of Representatives in support of the legislation when, after years of effort, it was finally introduced.
To our chagrin, the Republican leadership, in the hope of attracting Democratic votes, removed from Hadley's bill the penalties for failing to care for the child who survived an abortion. The final version of the bill also failed to specify adequately the required standards of care. The bill passed (with Democratic votes) but it was toothless--merely symbolic, really.
In the years since, Hadley and I have pressed and lobbied for a meaningful born-alive bill. Many of the Republicans we've talked to have declined to do anything, on the ground that the Democrats--in their pro-abortion zealotry and their fealty to, and financial dependence on, Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and the like--would kill any truly meaningful legal protections for children marked for abortion who somehow managed to be born alive. Our mantra in response was: "Make them vote! Let them show their true colors."
Finally, the Republicans--no doubt emboldened by developments in New York, Virginia, and elsewhere that have revealed to the public the Democrats' abortion extremism--are willing to move. Ben Sasse, whom Hadley had long pressed for action (becoming quite frustrated, by the way), stepped forward to lead. Even Susan Collins got aboard--infanticide being a bridge too far even for her. The vote in the Senate finally came, and the Democrats are now on the record.

Varieties of nihilism

There are different kinds of nihilism. Not coincidentally, these are all associated with atheism (or naturalism, to be pedantic). 

Don't imagine this is a merely academic discussion. These ideas catch on. They translate into law and public policy, when secular progressives become politically dominant. 

I'll be quoting verbatim from scholarly resources. In some cases the writer may disagree with the position he summarizes.  But these are philosophical definitions. It's not something I made up. 

Moral nihilism

A broader definition of “nihilism” would be “the view that there are no moral facts.” “Moral nihilism” is also often associated—though somewhat vaguely—with thoughts about how we should act in the more everyday sphere: as advocating a policy of “anything goes,” as holding that with the removal of the moral framework restrictions on our behavior are lifted. It is true that if the error theorist is correct then there are no moral restrictions on our behavior...Camus writes: “If one believes in nothing, if nothing makes sense, if we can assert no value whatsoever, everything is permissible and nothing is important.” And Sartre declared that “everything is permissible if God does not exist, and as a result man is forlorn, because neither within him nor without does he find anything to cling to” (1945/1973). Richard Joyce, “Nihilism,” International Encyclopedia of Ethics (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013) 

Existential nihilism

This nihilism is associated with the idea that “life has no meaning or purpose”—a realization that may sometimes lead to a loss of motivation and even depression and despair. Existential nihilism crystallized as an intellectual movement in France in the post-war period, associated especially with the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. For Camus, the absurdity of the human predicament emerges from the tension between our realization that we live in a purposeless and indifferent universe and our ceaseless propensity to continue as if our lives and decisions were meaningful. Richard Joyce, “Nihilism,” International Encyclopedia of Ethics (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013).

One straightforward rationale for nihilism is the combination of supernaturalism about what makes life meaningful and atheism about whether God exists. If you believe that God or a soul is necessary for meaning in life, and if you believe that neither exists, then you are a nihilist, someone who denies that life has meaning. Albert Camus is famous for expressing this kind of perspective, suggesting that the lack of an afterlife and of a rational, divinely ordered universe undercuts the possibility of meaning (Camus 1955; cf. Ecclesiastes).

We have a presumptive duty to desist from bringing into existence new members of species that cause vast amounts of harm. Extensive evidence is provided to show that human nature has a dark side that leads humans to cause vast amounts of pain, suffering, and death to other humans and to non-human animals. Some of this harm is mediated by destruction of the environment. The resultant presumptive duty we have not to create new humans is very rarely if ever defeated. Not all misanthropy is about humans’ moral failings. David Benatar, "The Misanthropic Argument for Anti-natalism," S. Hannan, S. Brennan, & R. Vernon, eds. Permissible Progeny?: The Morality of Procreation and Parenting (Oxford 2015), chap. 1. 

Another fresh argument for nihilism is forthcoming from certain defenses of anti-natalism, the view that it is immoral to bring new people into existence because doing so would be a harm to them. There are now a variety of rationales for anti-natalism, but most relevant to debates about whether life is meaningful is probably the following argument from David Benatar (2006, 18–59). 

As an evaluative view in the philosophy of life, nihilism maintains that no lives are, all things considered, worth living. Prominent defenders of the view hold that, even so, it can be all-things-considered better for us to continue living than for us to cease living, thus endorsing a ‘soft’ nihilism that appears more palatable than its ‘hard’ counterpart. In support of an intuitive assumption about what nihilism implies, I argue that soft nihilism is incoherent. David Matheson, "The incoherence of soft nihilism," Think 16 (47):127-135 (2017).

Epistemic nihilism

Epistemic antirealism/nihilism, as it is termed, is committed to the claim that there are no epistemic facts. Terence Cuneo, The Normative Web: An Argument for Moral Realism (Oxford 2007), chap. 4. Cf. Allan Hazlett "Anti-Realism about Epistemic Normativity," A Luxury of the Understanding: On the Value of True Belief (Oxford 2013), chap. 9; Alvin Plantinga, "The Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism," Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism (Oxford 2011), chap. 10. 

Virtual hell

Hell has fallen on hard times. There are "evangelical universalists" and "evangelical annihilationists". 

As interactive video games and virtual reality become increasingly sophisticated, it will be possible to be the "god" of your own virtual world. Design a virtual world that mirrors your values. You devise the plot, setting, and characters. Unlike the real world, where you're subject to legal and social restrictions, in the virtual world you can be totally uninhibited. You can act with absolute impunity. You can do whatever you wish to your virtual characters, without fear of consequences. The perfect double life. 

How many of these customized virtual worlds will be psychopathic utopias? A bacchanalian orgy of exploitation and unbridled cruelty? A sociopathic dream come true?

Hell doesn't brutalize the damned. Rather, hell exposes the unrepressed brutality of the damned. 

Heaven and hell are reciprocal conditions. There's a sense in which hell is what makes heaven heavenly and heaven is what makes hell hellish. Which is not to deny that heaven has a positive identity, but in a moral universe there are two divergent paths. Evil reveals what goodness is not while goodness reveals what evil is not. Although good would still be good without evil, good and evil are mutually interpretive conditions. 

In principle, each human life might have the same starting-point, but fork off in opposite directions. Heaven and hell represent divergent paths taken to consistent extremes. The saints in glory can look back and say, "That's why I might have been!" Every saint had an alter-ego.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019


A problem with hierarchical organizations, whether secular or ecclesiastical, is that you're promoted based on how well you get along with those above you, not those below you. You can be completely out of touch with the rank-and-file, but rise through the ranks so long as you please your superiors. 

I used to be struck by how the icy and aloof Edward Egan could become Cardinal Archbishop of New York. He was entirely lacking in the common touch. How did such a cold fish get jobs requiring social skills?

Cardinal Cupich is another example of a Catholic church leader who exhibits a total disconnect between the impression he tries to convey and the impression he actually convenes. He's too self-centered to realize the hiatus. 

But both of them rose to power because they were loyal team-players. That's the ticket to success in hierarchical organizations. 

Resources on Islam

St. What's'isname, pray for us!

One of the things I notice when I surf Catholic websites are solicitations to this or that saint to "pray for us". Some Catholic websites are dedicated to one or more patron saints. 

It looks pretty robotic. The mechanical invocation of a saint to "pray for us". And it raises a practical question: even on Catholic grounds, how could you tell the difference if the saints aren't praying for you? 

The question becomes more acute given the rapid proliferation of Catholic saints:

That should mean there are many more saints praying for us, than used to be the case. But does that have any measurable impact? How is this any different than Buddhist prayer wheels?

For instance, shouldn't traditionally Catholic countries be getting better with so many additional saints interceding for the faithful? What's the discernible correlation between the ever-expanding roster of canonized intercessors and the moral condition of traditionally Catholic countries?