Saturday, March 16, 2019

The pedophile project

Global warming in the cosmic simulation

Isn't this the same guy who thinks the universe is a cosmic simulation? How do we combat global warming in a cosmic video game? If humans are just artificially intelligent virtual characters, we can't rewrite the program from the inside. Is that up to the aliens who designed the video game we inhabit? 

Moral Responsibility and the Wrongness of Abortion

Bernstein, C & Manata, P. "Moral Responsibility and the Wrongness of Abortion" in The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy: A Forum for Bioethics and Philosophy of Medicine, Volume 44, Issue 2, 16 March 2019, pp 243–262.

The Age of Terrorism Meets the Era of the Troll

Debating the sacraments

On the question of the sacraments, Baptists are at a tactical disadvantage. There will always be people who are drawn to sacramental realism because they like the idea that infant baptism creates the presumption that their child is now heavenbound. Or that weekly communion is a quick fix. Spiritual shortcuts have a psychological appeal for many people. We see that in Baptists circles, too, where the "sacrament" of the altar call is functionally equivalent to Catholic sacraments. The primary exception is Reformed Baptists, who are more consistent. This is one reason why debates over credo/paedobaptism make so little headway. It's not just an exegetical question but a psychological question. In that respect, the Baptist position is an uphill climb. Sacramental realism has perennial appeal for many people.

Notice that what I've said is irrelevant to truth and evidence. I'm just making a sociological observation. Theological debates often stall because the underlying motivations are psychological. And there's not much that can be done about that. 

It's like ecumenists who have a deep yearning for "unity". They seem to be temperamentally wired to long for "unity", or a sense of continuity with the past. That's why some of them convert to Catholicism–drawn by the mystique of Christian unity and continuity (even though Catholic reality is something else entirely). 

I'm not saying this is a reason to forego debates over the sacraments. But we should have low expectations about achieving progress in that direction. It's more a case of peeling away occasional individuals. 

Paradigm shift

The doctrine of creation runs deeply through Scripture and Christian theology. It may not be the gospel itself, but creation is entangled with the gospel through Paul’s teaching on Adam. How we understand creation is also intertwined with how we understand the rest of Scripture, from which we Protestants gain most of our theology. Changing my view on creation requires a reconfiguration of a large part of my understanding of theology, which is not something I take lightly.

You might argue that the science of evolution is entangled with the very foundation of biology and geology and that science cannot be science without evolution. Obviously, I don’t agree with that at all. I see a great deal of flexibility in science, which you do not. Over the centuries, many theories that seemed so obviously true were abandoned for better models, and I have no doubt that trend will continue. Humanity has barely begun to explore God’s creation. We can hardly imagine what discoveries are coming right around the corner.

I also won’t change my mind because I have lingering doubts about this or that issue. I don’t want to adopt a position merely as a way to escape intellectual anxiety. That’s not faith at all. That’s acting in doubt. Every position has unanswered questions. No one gets to understand it all here and now.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Censorship provokes vigilantism

If you don't give citizens a peaceful outlet for political grievances, the alternative is vigilantism:

David Wood and Robert Spencer on Christchurch Mosque Massacre

Parenting tips from Richard Dawkins

"The universe doesn't owe us condolence or consolation; it doesn't owe us a nice warm feeling inside" 

"I was driving through the English countryside with my daughter Juliet, then aged six, and she pointed out some flowers by the wayside. I asked her what she thought wildflowers were for. She gave a rather thoughtful answer. 'Two things,' she said. 'To make the world pretty, and to help the bees make honey for us'. I was touched by this and sorry I had to tell her that it wasn't true…What are flowers and bees, wasps and figs, elephants and bristlecone pines–what are all living things really for?…The answer is DNA," Richard Dawkins, Climbing Mount Improbable (W.W. Norton 1997), 256,268.

Speaking at the Cheltenham Science Festival, Dawkins, a prominent atheist, said that it was ‘pernicious’ to teach children about facts that were ‘statistically improbable’ such as a frog turning into a prince.

Speaking about his early childhood he said: “Is it a good thing to go along with the fantasies of childhood, magical as they are? Or should we be fostering a spirit of scepticism?’

“I think it's rather pernicious to inculcate into a child a view of the world which includes supernaturalism – we get enough of that anyway,’ the 73-year-old said. “Even fairy tales, the ones we all love, with wizards or princesses turning into frogs or whatever it was. There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable.”

Responding to domestic terrorism

Predictably, progressives are exploiting the NZ mosque massacre as a pretext to score political points about "Islamophobia", "racism", "hate," and gun control. For instance: 

I see the mass murder of 49 innocent people at their place of worship is not being called a terrorist attack by a host of mainstream outlets. They’re also asking how this sort of crime can be stopped. About time they took some responsibility for peddling hate and misinformation.

Islamophobia is not just tolerated, it is actually encouraged by many. It has, disgracefully, become an acceptable form of racism and hate. Solidarity to my Muslim brothers and sisters today. And all my strength to those who have lost those that they love #Christchurch

A few quick observations:

i) I don't mind calling the attack an act of domestic terrorism. I don't shy away from the word "terrorism" in this situation. 

ii) From a Christian perspective, we should practice friendship evangelism with Muslims. 

iii) Liam Young is one of many dupes who turns a blind eye to the obvious. Is he equally incensed by Muslim atrocities? For instance: 

iv) The primary threat to Muslims comes from fellow Muslims. 

v) Notice that when Muslims are attacked by some angry, alienated loner, that's immediately connected to rightwing ideology, but the mainstream media never connects Muslim atrocities to the theology of Islam. 

Mosque massacre

Microcosmic judgments

Christ states that John is to write ἃ εἶδες καὶ ἃ εἰσὶν καὶ ἃ μέλλει |γενέσθαι| μετὰ ταῦτα “that which you see [Aorist as a perfective aspect, not past tense], that which is and what is destined to take place” in v. 19.  “That which is” is typically understood as referring to the present judgment of Christ concerning the churches in the letters and then “that which is destined to take place after these things” refers to the future. This is not completely false, but may need some nuancing. What is likely being said is that the microcosmic events occurring now and the macrocosmic events occurring in the future are what John is seeing and writing about throughout the book. They are combined and one is being placed in the context of the other rather than seen as two separate events that don’t have much to do with one another. The judgment Christ renders of the churches now is part of the judgment to come. The salvation He gives to the churches now is part of the salvation that is to come. Hence, John is told to write in the typical framework of the apocalyptic genre. What is now is placed in the context of what is to come as though what is to come is, to a smaller degree, taking place now through the microcosmic event occurring in the present. This is made clearer by understanding that John has split the scene in Daniel, where the Ancient of Days opens the books to render judgment. The Son comes to render judgment upon the churches and receive His kingdom in the present, but will ultimately not receive it from the Ancient of Days until the final judgment (i.e, John's "already-not yet" framework is on display in Revelation as it is in his Gospel).

This interpretation has potential relevance for the debate between preterists and futurists. Two kinds of judgment are both in play: microcosmic judgments stand for macrocosmic judgments, and in Revelation, these are blended. Those who say Revelation reflects a failed prediction about the timing of the Parousia fail to appreciate the distinction. Past judgments are microcosmic reflections of the macrocosmic judgment to come. In Revelation, the judgments blur, both because one kind mirrors the other, and because this is a visionary medium about what the prophet sees. Like a dream in which the imagery is fluid. 

The police can't protect you

Reports of the NZ mosque massacre are still preliminary, but there seems to be one perennial lesson: the police can't protect you. Snipers target gun-free zones. A bit of background:

Boys will be boys

Sequel to this post:

So my wife invited another stay-at-home mom and her 4 year old boy over today while I was at work.
The women are drinking coffee, the boys are dressed up to play fight (the neighbour as a ninja, my kid as a knight in armour), and apparently my kid says to the other kid -- in earshot of both moms -- "Come! I will feed your flesh to the birds".
I wish I could have seen the look on that poor woman's face.
P.S. The bedtime story being read right now as I type this is Absalom charming Israel and declaring himself king -- I bet the kids will love the ending.

Freddoso on open theism

On the risk-taking account of providence, God lacks exact and infallible knowledge of the contingent future. Yet given His thorough familiarity with present causal tendencies and His clear grasp of His own providential designs, He is almost sure about how the future will tum out. In fact, He is even pretty sure about whether or not we human beings (including, presumably, Jesus Christ) will do freely what He intends us to do; but He is strong enough to make us do it anyway, if it suits Him. As Hasker puts it, "God is perfectly capable of making someone an 'offer he can't refuse'" (p. 196). So even if the world begins to go really badly, God, though disappointed, is fully capable of controlling the damage. What's more, His prophecies about future free actions-including sinful ones, such as Peter's denial of Christ-are almost sure to be fulfilled; and, once again, even if the improbable happens and God turns out to have been mistaken in so prophesying, He is powerful enough to put things back on track. Likewise, even allowing that some of His ends (e.g., the triumph of grace over sin) depend crucially on specific free actions being performed by specific human beings (e.g., Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah, Mary the Mother of God, Peter, Paul, etc.), He can be almost sure, given His unusually high degree of knowledge and power, that those ends will be realized. And if all this strikes you as excessively anthropomorphic and as coming dangerously close to turning God the Father into the Godfather, then according to Hasker you have not been sufficiently dehellenized. 

Not content simply to promote his own watered-down account of providence, Hasker heaps scorn upon the traditional account, according to which "our most ennobling achievements are just the expected printouts from the divine programming" (p. 199). In his zeal, he even resorts to the "Hitler" defense. (One can imagine a medieval Hasker conjuring up the "Genghis Khan" defense.) After running roughshod over hundreds of pages of the best scholastic theology by declaring ex cathedra that those who adhere to the traditional account cannot distinguish what God intends from what He merely permits, Hasker concludes that they "cannot avoid saying ... that God specifically chose Hitler to become leader of the Third Reich and instigator of the Holocaust" (pp. 199-200). Really now. More to the point, ask yourself whether Hasker's risk-taking account fares any better with regard to Hitler. Once Hitler accedes to power and gets the Holocaust rolling on its grisly way, even the risk-taking God, who is after all pretty knowledgeable, should have a crystal-clear idea of the further specific evils that are almost certain to occur. So if He does not intervene early on to stop Hitler, this can only be because of some worthy (though very hidden) purposes He has in mind. In that case, would it not be just as true on the risk-taking account as on the traditional account that "God has deliberately and with full knowledge chosen that these good purposes shall be fulfilled through a plan that entails the actual occurrence (not just the possibility) of specific evils" (p. 200)? Let's face it. Hitler is a problem for everyone. Finally, after implicitly saddling the traditionalist with Eleonore Stump's incredibly strong suggestion that the sufferings of each human person are outweighed by a greater good which those very sufferings produce for that same person, Hasker endorses Michael Peterson's more congenial 'risk-taking' theodicy, according to which a world created by God might be literally teeming with genuinely gratuitous evils. I would have thought-with, say, Aquinas-that the most plausible theodicies lie somewhere between Stump's and Peterson's. 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The ethics of having kids in a warming world

Prima Donna

A friend drew my attention to the DL today. White spent a few minutes near the start attempting to refute my "hit piece": 

He's reacting to this post:

On the DL, he suggested that I didn't have anything else to post on that day, so I went for the low low road. Unfortunately, his counting leaves something to be desired since there were no fewer than 7 posts that day. 

This is a problem with White. He makes snide off-the-cuff comments that come back to bite him. 

Let's comment on something he said earlier on Facebook, which he copy/pasted onto my post:

I really have no idea why Steve has to run over to spit at me about every six months or so, but I guess I was due my spittle today. Absurd out-of-context argument. Maybe Steve doesn't understand Twitter? This was the beginning of what is called a thread. There was more---much more. And, of course, I have sort of said a great deal about this topic over the past year, inclusive of hours of material on the Dividing Line, editing the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel, and speaking at the G3 PreConference on the topic as well. So, isolating a single tweet, ignoring the rest of the thread it was a part of, and the entire context of what I've said---well, good job, Steve. Really helps polish up the ol' credibility as they say! For those who do not have a regularly scheduled "spit at James White" thing going on, nothing in what I said for a moment is an argument against pursuing righteousness in God's creation. It does, however, argue against a worldview that does not begin with the divine decree---i.e., intersectionality, that random, chaotic thought process that sees us all as victims of impersonal forces that shape us RATHER THAN image bearers who are called to faithfulness no matter what God's providence sends our way. If Steve can't see that, I feel sorry for him. But I think he can. Only problem is, when you keep spitting in the wind, it ends up in your eyes.

1. Notice how emotional White gets over intellectual criticism: "Steve has to run over to spit at me about every six months or so, but I guess I was due my spittle today…For those who do not have a regularly scheduled 'spit at James White' thing going on…Only problem is, when you keep spitting in the wind, it ends up in your eyes."

For the life of me I'll never understand why some grown men act like Prima Donnas. White is reacting like John Loftus, Richard Carrier, and Dave Armstrong. If you're that thin-skinned, you shouldn't be a Christian apologist. Intellectual criticism comes with the territory. And if you're that self-important, you need to take a break and reset your priorities. The more seriously we take ourselves, the less seriously we take the Gospel. 

2. It's hypocritical to use Twitter, then whine about people judging what they say on Twitter. And yes, I read the entire Twitter thread before I wrote the post. And no, the rest of the thread didn't "completely change" what I said in the post. 

3. I'm very selective about viewing podcasts generally. I dislike the medium. And White's DL marathons are really bad. He rambles incessantly, veers off into chronic digressions, like a random association test. He's ad libbing the whole time. It's a very lazy, inefficient form of analysis. He should rediscover the art of writing. How to express himself in compact, organized fashion. 

Moreover, his complaint is an exercise in misdirection because I wasn't evaluating his overall position on social justice and intersectionality. So that's neither here nor there. 

4. Let's go back to what he originally said:

Let me put this simply.

Intersectionality is utterly incompatible with a belief in the sovereign kingship of God and His divine decree.

It is God who makes men to differ, God who makes the lame and the blind and the rich and the poor.

i) To "put it simply" is to summarize his position. That's his position in a nutshell. Needless to say, if you think your position can be succinctly stated in two sentences, then that moots the claim that no one can understand your position unless they listen to hours of your exposition. Conversely, if you think a two-sentence summary is too simple, too liable to misunderstanding, then don't put it simply. What you're not entitled to do is to put it simply, then complain that readers oversimplify your position. Isn't that obvious? 

ii) And notice how the two sentence are juxtaposed, so that the second sentence illustrates the principle enunciated in the first sentence. The problem is that his formulation is classically fatalistic. He makes it sound like you can't do anything, and shouldn't try, to change the status quo since God decreed the status quo. If God decreed who is rich and poor, then who are we to try and help the poor out of poverty?

But if that's not what he intended to convey, if belief in the sovereign kingship of God and His divine decree is compatible with improving the status quo for the lame, the blind, and the poor (to take his examples), then where does that leave his original antithesis? 

Put another way, if that's not what he intended to convey, then he should be able to reword what he said to avoid the fatalistic formulation. Just rewrite it. Present an alternative formulation that avoids the fatalistic dichotomy which his original statement erected. 

Worshiping a Bronze Age sky fairy

1. I'd like to comment on two contradictory objections to Christianity. Before I do that, a preliminary observation: There's a certain dilemma in Christian apologetics. Do we respond to the sophisticated atheists or the village atheists? Normally, you want to take on the toughest opponents of your position. If you focus on the most naive objections to Christianity, that's too easy. It looks like you're ducking the more formidable objections. However, village atheists outnumber sophisticated atheists by a million to one, so there's a problem with ignoring all the dumb objections, if that's the level at which most atheists operate. If we're too elitist, we're ignoring most atheists. Mind you, when atheists start talking about sky fairies and invisible pink unicorns, intelligent dialogue is futile. 

2. Back to the main point: on the one hand, Christopher Hitchens used to recycle an argument as part of his stump speech when debating Christians. It went something like this: modern man is said to be about 100,000-200,000 years old. Yet according to the Bible, God only revealed himself to Abraham 4,000 years ago and Moses 3200 years ago, while the climax of redemption occurred 2000 ago. For 99% of human history, God said and did nothing. 

So his argument is that Biblical theism is too late. If God existed, we'd expect him to intervene far earlier in human history. He wouldn't let humans suffer in darkness for such a long time. 

3. However, it's more common for atheists to raise this objection: why should we believe the stories of Bronze Age goatherds? 

That argument, if you can call it an argument, is just the opposite. The objection is that Biblical theism is too early. Too primitive. Too archaic. If God existed, he'd wait until the era of modern science to reveal himself. 

Of course, both these arguments can't be true. It can't be the case that biblical theism lacks credibility both because it's too early and too late. 

4. In addition to the contradiction, we might assess the objections individually, on their own terms. Genesis is a very truncated history. It skips over many intervening events and periods. We need to be cautious about inferring what God didn't say or do from what he's recorded as having said and done. The fact that Genesis is silent on many fronts doesn't mean God was silent. The fact that most things go unreported doesn't mean God was in absentia. 

5. Is there any antecedent reason to presume God wouldn't reveal himself to Bronze Age goatherds? Does the message of salvation require a grasp of modern physics, set theory, and fractal geometry? Does redemption require a space-age setting?

How future is modern enough? Suppose the Incarnation took place in the 20C, and the Second Coming takes place in the 26C. Imagine a 25C atheist complaining about those primitive people back in 20C Europe and North America.  

Two brothers

Logan's younger brother Nolan was a really nice kid, but he struggled with depression. Despite psychological counseling, nothing helped. He could never put his finger on why he felt that-he just did. He couldn't control it. He couldn't make it go away. Like trying to shake his own shadow. Much of the time he was borderline suicidal.

The only thing that kept him from going over the edge was Logan's constant companionship. He really needed his brother's emotional support.

But depression feeds on itself. He kept comparing himself to his big brother. Logan was so strong and confident. Nolan felt he was a drag factor, holding him back. Logan could go so much further in life if he wasn't tethered to his chronically depressed, suicidal brother. At least that's what Nolan thought.

One day they had a conversation. Logan said that was the wrong way to view it. For one thing, Nolan's depression made them so much closer. If Nolan was more independent, they might take each other for granted. Logan would rather have a depressed brother he was close to than a normal brother who was distant. That was a precious tradeoff.

What's more, the dynamic was paradoxical. Logan was stronger, but he was stronger because he was happy, and he was happy because he had a brother to love, and love him back. So Nolan's weakness was a hidden source of Logan's strength. Logan was happier than Nolan because he had Nolan in his life. They were linked by an unseen lifeline. If Nolan ever killed himself, Logan would begin to die inside.

That was a revelation to Nolan. It never occurred to him. After that, he was still depressed, but no longer as depressed.

A question about evolution

According to the theory, as I understand it, humans evolved from critters like tarsiers. Is there an upper limit on the degree to which an organism can be scaled up given the original information base? For instance, would any amount of selective breeding produce mice the size of horses? Or would that require the infusion of new genetic information? Just in terms of the difference in scale between humans and tarsiers, is it possible for humans to evolve from tarsier-like critters without the infusion of new information?

Is there no evidence for God's existence?

Recently, there was a dialogue between Christian philosopher Josh Rasmussen and atheist Tom Jump:

It's a long slog. For the philosophically-inclined. It illustrates the ultimately presuppositional nature of debate between naturalism and Christian theism:

1. Jump often defaults to a kind of linguistic positivism (a la Carnap, Quine, protocol sentences) in which logic and reason are reducible to language and linguistic tokens.

2. It's ironic how Jump dismisses Josh's position as ad hoc while, in the same breath, he demotes value, mind, and logic to emergent properties or projections. It doesn't occur to him that his own position is ad hoc because it forces him to relegate things like value, mind, and logic to the realm of secondary effects or imaginary things we project onto the world. 

3. He defines simplicity, or a parsimonious explanation, as a finite thing causing another finite thing. He thinks inferring God is a more complicated explanation because God is more complex. He fails to appreciate how God can be a unifying principle. 

To take a comparison, consider the explanatory power of abstract objects like the Mandelbrot set. Even thought it's infinitely internally complex, yet just one abstract object (Mandelbrot set) can ground an indefinite number of finite simulations of the Mandelbrot set. That's simpler than an atomistic explanation where every simulation of the Mandelbrot set is caused by another concrete particular (whatever that would be). It's more economical to explain how one complex thing grounds many individual instances rather than requiring a separate explanation for each and every particular. 

4. On a related note, he fails to distinguish between a one-to-one explanation and a one-to-many explanation. The indefinite multiplication of one-to-one explanations is far more cumbersome and inefficient than a one-to-many explanation. If one thing can be the ultimate source of many things, even if the source is complex, that's a more elegant explanation than individual things causing other individual things at infinitum. 

5. In the same vein, he defines simplicity as the least thing required to account for the result ("most simple…exactly what is required"). But that's very nearsighted. Take artistic creativity. Take da Vinci's Adoration of the Magi (or Handel's Messiah). Not doubt a painting requires a painter at least as complex as the painting. But the Adoration of the Magi is just a sample of da Vinci's creative abilities. It's not a one-to-one match where that's all da Vinci is capable of doing. Da Vinci had a lot more in reserve. In general, a creator is greater than what he creates. He can't be less that what he creates. He must have enough imagination and skill to do it. But a creator brings more to the task than the task requires. That's typically the case even for human agents. 

6. To take another example: suppose a guy plays roulette once a month at the local casino. Nothing flashy, yet he consistently performs just a little better than the odds. As a result, he wins more often than he loses. Coincidentally, he makes enough each time to cover his monthly living expenses. 

By Jump's criterion, the gambler got lucky. We assess each dice throw in isolation, since that's the simplest explanation, if by simple we mean "exactly what is required" to explain each throw of the dice. 

The other explanation is that he has a subtle way of cheating. Although there's no direct evidence of cheating, the fact that he consistently beats the odds, albeit by a small margin, is indirect evidence. We're not restricting ourselves to "exactly what is required" to explain each individual throw of the dice, but how to explain the overall pattern. 

Catholic membership cratering

Calvinism undefeated

A "Christian" argument for antinatalism

To begin with, this isn't an original argument. Antinatalists have been using variations on that argument as a pressure point against Christians. 

Let's consider the first premise:

(1) The belief that there is a reasonable chance (e.g. more than 20%) that your future child would be born with a horrifying and untreatable disease like Stevens-Johnson syndrome would provide a good reason to avoid having children.

i) Really? That's hardly self-evident. That consideration must be counterbalanced by the good of having other children. To avoid having a child with Stevens-Johnson syndrome by avoiding procreation in toto deprives other future children of the opportunity to have a good life. So this is not a question that can be answered in isolation to what may be countervailing considerations. Acting for the sake of more than one party. Rauser oversimplifies the issue.

ii) In addition, this life is not all there is. This life is just a nanosecond in relation to everlasting life. So the real choice would be between the nonexistence of a child with Stevens-Johnson syndrome or the existence of a child who temporarily suffers from that disease, but may have the opportunity to enjoy eternal happiness. Suffering at the front end is the only way to find happiness at the back end. So, once more, Rauser oversimplifies the issue. 

Since Rauser isn't stupid, he's probably aware of the fact that his formulation is devious. He deliberately suppresses relevant factors. Moving along:

(3) Therefore, if the belief that there is a reasonable chance that your future child would be born with Stevens-Johnson syndrome would provide a good reason to avoid having children, then the belief that there is a reasonable chance that your future child would ultimately experience eternal conscious torment provides a good reason to avoid having children.

In addition to building on a false premise (see above), this seems to operate from the general principle that no one should be allowed to be happy unless everyone is happy. No one should go to heaven if anyone goes to hell. Better for no one to exist than for some to be happy if anyone is miserable. 

But why should we accept that principle? And it's not as if the happy group are happy at the expense of the miserable group. Rauser acts like the wicked should be able to deny everyone else a joyful existence. Why should the wicked by granted ultimate power over the fate of everyone else? What kind of perverted logic is Rauser appealing to?

Sneak attack

As a progressive theologian, Randal Rauser is in a bit of a bind. That's because there's not much of a constituency for his brand of theology. It's still too religious for atheists but too secular for Christians. Christians don't take it seriously and atheists don't take it seriously. Both sides view progressive theology as specie pleading. 

He worms himself into the good graces of certain atheists, as their favorite theologian, because he's a useful tool. They both attack Biblical theism. They both attack biblical morality. But they don't take his alternative seriously. He schmoozes with heretics like Dale Tuggy. He ingratiates himself with enemies of the faith, because he has nowhere else to go. 

Rauser is like the cheerleader's swishy gay male friend. He's amusing company. He's safe. A limp, non-threatening figure. But she doesn't mistake him for a real man. As soon as they graduate, she will leave him in the dust. He's just a toy. Okay for temporary entertainment, but not to be confused with manhood material. 

Because it's hard for Rauser to find a niche, his modus operandi is hypothetical dilemmas, which he uses as a wedge tactic. He postulates impossible dilemmas for conservative Christians. Choose between these two intolerable options. If you balk, that creates room for his third option, his progressive alternative.

But it only works if you play his game by his rules. Anyone can dream up hypothetical dilemmas for which there's no good answer. That's what makes thought-experiments so convenient: because they're artificial, you can stipulate anything you wish. You delimit the parameters. 

And there's nothing intrinsically wrong with thought-experiments. Indeed, they can be very useful.

But there's something wrong when they are used to subvert divine revelation. The solution is not to step into the trap. The fact that Rauser tries to control the terms of the debate creates no obligation to submit to his false dilemmas.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Posthumous punishment

Historically, the most widely held theory of posthumous punishment within Christianity has been eternal conscious torment (ECT), the doctrine that people will be resurrected to face a punishment of unimaginable anguish that will never end. When assessing this idea, we must be accurate with our descriptions. And the first thing to recognize is that this is properly described as torture. After all, torture is, by definition, the infliction of severe mental and/or physical torment as a form of punishment. That's ECT. Thus, when a person says that ECT involves God torturing people forever, they are not indulging in a rhetorical uncharity. Rather, they are accurately describing the view. So the question is whether one ought to think that God would torture people forever. Is that the best view of posthumous punishment?

That's a slipshod characterization:

1. You can believe the damned experience unending punishment without supposing all the damned experience "torture". There can be gradations of misery or punitive suffering. 

2. For argument's sake, let's play along with "torment". Rauser fails to distinguish between three different propositions:

i) God torments the damned

ii) The damned torment each other

iii) The damned torment themselves

Suppose God puts all the brutal dictators on an island. They might well torture each other. That's different from God torturing them. 

Or, to take a less extreme example, suppose God puts mean people on an island. They will be mean to each other. But that's different from an external agent imposing misery on them. Rather, he simply puts some nasty people in a group, and they do the rest. That's collective self-inflicted misery.

In addition, we all know individuals who make themselves miserable. Hateful people are miserable. They aren't miserable because of how they are treated by others. Rather, their hateful disposition makes them miserable. That's individual self-inflicted misery. 

Switching sides

In my experience, when evangelicals convert to Catholicism, or Calvinists convert to Arminianism (or Lutheranism), or professing Christians convert to a heresy like unitarianism, or deconvert to atheism, the converts/deconverts act like our side loses every time that happens while their side wins one. 

But as a rule, that doesn't bother me personally since it's about their relationship to God, not their relationship to me. If this was a close friend or family member, that would be different, but when it comes to strangers, I have no stake in what they do with their life. If they change teams, especially for the worse, I don't lose–they lose. 

"Mere" symbolism

To my knowledge, the standard Baptist position takes a Zwinglian view of the Lord's Supper. This is often characterized as "mere" symbolism. 

"Mere" is an interesting adjective because, depending on context, it can either have a neutral or pejorative connotation. On the one hand, it can simply be used to establish a point of contrast between opposing views. On the other hand, consider some synonyms for "mere": "trifling, meager, bare, trivial, paltry, basic, scant, scanty, skimpy…"

Suppose I said "elected officials are merely public servants, not dictators". That's a good thing, right? We don't want elected officials to be dictators, do we? (Admittedly, secular progressives are dictatorial.)

"Mere" can be used in a slighting way, as if that indicates something defective. Suppose I have pictures of my kids on my office desk. Suppose a client said, "Those are merely photographs!"

That would be a strange thing to say. The adjective would be gratuitous. Yes, they're just photos. What else are they supposed to be? That's all they're supposed to be. That's the purpose they serve. 

Suppose someone told me "your girlfriend is merely a woman". That would be an odd thing to say. What else is she supposed to be? Is there something deficient about having a female girlfriend? As opposed to what? In fact, in the age of transgender propaganda, that needs to be accentuated, not minimized. 

Suppose you told a carpenter that his screwdriver is merely a screwdriver. But isn't that the function of a screwdriver? Is it a design flaw if a screwdriver is a poor tool for pounding nails? 

Suppose we said circumcision is merely a covenant sign. Yeah. So what? 

The use of "mere" or "merely" can be prejudicial, by gratuitously recasting the Zwinglian view as if that's a weakness. But that's a tendentious way to frame the alternatives. 

Communion wafers

Down Syndrome parenting

Has transcript

Cracker Jack® Mass

“It would be entirely improper for the Synod on the Amazon to discuss the change of the matter of the Holy Eucharist,” Cardinal Burke told LifeSite. “To depart from the use of what has always been the matter of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist has the gravest of implications,” he said.

“This is completely impossible because it is against the divine law which God has given us,” Bishop Athanasius Schneider, auxiliary of Astana, responded to the proposed change. “To celebrate the Eucharist with yuca would mean introducing a kind of a new religion.”

Fr. John Saward, senior research fellow at Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford, said that replacing wheaten bread with yuca would contravene the witness of Tradition, St. Thomas Aquinas, and the Code of Canon Law. 

And one prominent theologian, speaking on condition of anonymity, told LifeSite: 

If the Pope were to press ahead with this permission on the grounds of “development of doctrine,” thereby aiding and abetting the heterodox theologians in Rome (or Brazil or Germany or wherever) who proposed it, then he will be authorizing a change of the substance of the Sacrament as determined by the action of Christ our Lord at the Last Supper. “Masses” celebrated with “yuca” bread would not be Masses; there would be no Real Presence, no Sacrifice. 

Here's what canon law presently says:

A few quick observations:

i) As a rule, I think the communion elements should be bread and (red) wine. 

ii) Many evangelical churches use bread and grape juice while liturgical churches use wafers and wine. Both traditions fail to correspond consistently to the Last Supper.

iii) There is no "divine law" about the communion elements. The Last Supper accounts are descriptive, not prescriptive. Mind you, it would be flippant to substitute communion elements without good reason. 

iv) This is an issue for communicants with food allergies. Consider the debate over gluten-free wafers. 

v) I've never seen the rationale for communion wafers. I assume one reason is that it makes it look more official. It may be related to the tradition of the "reserved sacrament"–which is, in turn, related to eucharistic adoration. Communion wafers last longer than fresh bread, 

vi) However, the Catholic reaction to the trial balloon about changing the "matter of communion" illustrates the fanatical inconsistency of Catholic sacramentology. Since, according to transubstantiation, the communion elements are not, in fact, wheat bread and wine, what difference does it make? How would substituting different communion elements invalidate the eucharist if the empirical properties of bread and wine are illusory while the substance is the "true body and blood together with the soul and divinity" of Jesus? According to transubstantiation, the appearance of the consecrated bread and wine is just an optical (tangible, gustatory) illusion. By that reckoning, what difference would it make if the priest used Cracker Jack® instead of bread?  

Puberty blockers


Another potential rumpus in Catholicism: 

Because Catholic piety centers on externals (rites and rituals), this is all-important. (According to the latest news, that proposal has been shelved.)

I actually don't think there's a problem with substituting cornbread, yucca bread, or rice cakes/crackers in countries that don't grow wheat. Likewise, substituting an indigenous drink for wine if they don't produce wine. Yet this would be the last straw for some Catholics, who idolize the Eucharist. 

The "evangelical book club"

A friend drew my attention to this discussion, they draw an invidious contrast between the "evangelical Bible club" and the Mass, around the 1:11-13 min. mark:

i) On the one hand you can know a lot about a person from a book (e.g. biographies, autobiographies, letters, diaries). In fact, you can know a lot more about a person through those sources than a direct encounter, because we have a public persona that conceals a great deal about ourselves. 

ii) On the other hand, transubstantiation is just a Catholic projecting belief onto bread and wine. It's all in his imagination. They can't tell the difference between consecrated and unconsecrated communion elements. 

iii) And even if transubstantiation was true, how is eating someone a form of fellowship? If we're going to put it in these terms, don't I have a more dynamic relationship with my pet dog by walking my dog rather than eating my dog?

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Desecration of the Host

687. – After showing the dignity of this sacrament, the Apostle now rouses the faithful to receive it reverently. First, he outlines the peril threatening those who receive unworthily; secondly, he applies a saving remedy (v. 28).

688. – First, therefore, he says, Therefore, from the fact that this which is received sacramentally is the body of Christ and what is drunk is the blood of Christ, whoever eats this bread or drinks the cup in an unworthy manner will by guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. In these words must be considered, first, how someone eats or drinks unworthily. According to a Gloss this happens in three ways: first, as to the celebration of this sacrament, namely, because someone celebrates the sacrament in a manner different from that handed down by Christ; for example, if he offers in this sacrament a bread other than wheaten or some liquid other than wine from the grape of the vine. Hence it says in Lev (10:1) that Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, offered before the Lord “unholy fire, such as he had not commanded them. And fire came forth from the presence of the Lord and devoured them.”

689. – Secondly, from the fact that someone approached the Eucharist with a mind not devout. This lack of devotion is sometimes venial, as when someone with his mind distracted by worldly affairs approaches this sacrament habitually retaining due reverence toward it; and such lack of devotion, although it impedes the fruit of this sacrament, which is spiritual refreshment, does not make one guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, as the Apostle says here. But a certain lack of devotion is a mortal sin, i.e., when it involves contempt of this sacrament, as it says in Mal (1:12): “But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted and its food may be despised.” It is of such lack of devotion that the Gloss speaks.

690. – In a third way someone is said to be unworthy, because he approaches the Eucharist with the intention of sinning mortally. For it says in Lev (21:23): “He shall not approach the altar, because he has a blemish.” Someone is understood to have a blemish as long as he persists in the intention of sinning, which, however, is taken away through penitence. By contrition, indeed, which takes away the will to sin with the intention of confession and making satisfaction, as to the remission of guilt and eternal punishment; by confession and satisfaction as to the total remission of punishment and reconciliation with the members of the Church. Therefore, in cases of necessity, as when someone does not have an abundance of confessors, contrition is enough for receiving this sacrament. But as a general rule, confession with some satisfaction should precede. Hence in the book on Church Dogmas it says: “One who desires to go to communion should make satisfaction with tears and prayers, and trusting in the Lord approach the Eucharist clean, free from care, and secure. But I say this of the person not burdened with capital and mortal sins. For the one whom mortal sins committed after baptism press down, I advise to make satisfaction with public penance, and so be joined to communion by the judgment of the priest, if he does not wish to receive the condemnation of the Church.”

i) A basic problem with his interpretation is that, in context, the sin resulting in mortal illness isn't desecration of the Host but dishonoring fellow Christians at the agape feast. 

ii) That doesn't mean it's impossible to commit sacrilege. If you immerse a crucifix in urine, that's sacrilegious, not because a crucifix is intrinsically holy, but because there's the intent to express contempt for Christianity by using a symbol that represents the Christian faith. 

Conversely, when priests trample on the crucifix (or icon of Christ) in Silence (2016) to spare Japanese Christians from torture, that's not sacrilegious because it's just a symbol, and their intention is not to profane the faith, but to save the innocent from brutalization. 

iii) We might also draw a distinction between sacrilege and desecration. If Crusaders use a mosque as a latrine, that's a deliberate act of desecration, but unless Islam is true, it's not sacrilegious–for it doesn't profane the true God. 

To heaven and back?

I don't normally put much stock in NDEs about young children. No doubt some children have NDEs. And it wouldn't surprise me if some have a heaven-and-back episode during the interval when they are clinically dead, prior to resuscitation. But for various reasons, I don't think those accounts are reliable. 

However, this might be an exception. In his recent Biola presentation on NDEs, J. P. Moreland mentioned the case of a boy who died, went to heaven, met his late brother, came back, and told his shocked parents. The mother had aborted that son. Not only is that a veridical detail, but it's not the sort of detail parents would invent if they were hawking a heaven-n-back book. Moreland gives a thumbnail sketch around the 25 min mark of this presentation:

Unfortunately, he doesn't cite the source, so it's not possible to follow up on his summary, to assess the specifics for credibility. 

Light and darkness

A striking feature of life in a fallen world is how some of the same kinds of experiences range along a continuum of extremes. Some marriages are enormously fulfilling. They sustain each spouse emotionally throughout the course of life. They undergo adversity, but emerge stronger than ever. Faithful the last. Other marriages are merely functional. And still other marriages are miserable for both spouses. Better if they stayed single.

Some people have a wonderful childhood. Not only do they wax nostalgic about their youth and childhood, but all the happy memories create a lifelong momentum. They coast on their happy childhood for the rest of their lives.

Other people have a wretched childhood. They can't wait to put it behind them. And they never get out from under the oppressive shadow of their wretched childhood.

For some people, parenting is a source of renewable joy and perennial satisfaction. Gives them a sense of completion. For others, parenting is a source of heartache. Disappointment. Thankless children. Kids who become hopelessly addicted to drugs. Commit suicide. 

For some, sex is a highpoint in life. A source of elation and equilibrium. For others it becomes routine, mechanical. For others, sex is degraded or horrific (e.g. prostitution, child trafficking).

Life in a fallen world gives us a foretaste of how good things can be and how bad things can be. A foretaste of heaven and hell.