Saturday, May 11, 2019

Parental guidelines for dating

Multiverse narration

As an amateur fiction writer, something I find confining about conventional narration is the need to have a single plot. By that I mean, you may start with an idea for a story involving a set of core characters, but that can be developed in more than one direction. There are different directions in which to take the plot. For instance, suppose you begin with two guys and a girl. The guys are best friends. Both guys love the same girl. Let's call them Buck, Brett, and Amber. That kernel of the story generates potential conflict between friendship and romance. On the one hand there's the platonic love between two straight men. On the other hand, there's the romantic love that each guy has for the same girl. And there's the question of how she reciprocates their affection. Here are some alternate plots based on that kernel of a story:

1. Buck is dating Amber–although they're not committed to each other. And this point it's for fun, but the possibility of marriage hovers in the back of their minds. Buck is aware of the fact that Brett loves Amber too, and he senses that she has feelings for him–yet he doesn't know how strong. He gives Brett permission to date Amber. Even though he wouldn't like to lose her to Brett, he'd rather take the risk than have Brett resent him or Amber harbor nagging regrets about what she might have missed out on. He wants her to choose him because she'd prefer to be with him.

2. Buck and Amber are engaged. But in the heat of the moment, Amber hits on Brett, who reciprocates. They have a fling behind Buck's back. Although Buck doesn't know about it, Brett is wracked with grief for betraying his friend. He's torn in two directions. He wants to confess to Buck because he doesn't deserve Buck's friendship when Buck is in the dark about how his best friend double-crossed him. But he's afraid that if he comes clean, it will destroy the friendship. With trepidation, he confesses to Buck. His worst fear comes true. Buck never speaks to him again. In addition, Buck breaks up with Amber. 

3. Same as (2) up to a point, but on this plot variation, Buck forgives Brett. He appreciates the temptation Brett was under, and respects him for taking the risk of coming clean. Nevertheless, Buck breaks up with Amber. 

4. Same as (2) up to a point, but on this plot variation, Brett is too worried to confess. Buck finds out on his own that Brett and Amber had an affair. Buck breaks up with Amber. Because Brett didn't confess to Buck (3), Brett doesn't get the credit he would have had he leveled with Buck (3). 

5. Brett impregnates Amber. To conceal the affair, she initiates an abortion. 

6. Same as (5) up to a point, but on this plot variation, she wants to keep the child yet Brett pressures her into getting an abortion to conceal the illicit affair.

7. Same as (5) up to a point, but on this plot variation, they seek an abortion by mutual agreement. In (5-7), the abortion causes them to drift apart. 

8. Amber has a miscarriage before the pregnancy becomes evident.

9. Brett confesses to Buck before Amber has a miscarriage. He could have gotten away with it. 

10. Amber has an open relationship with both guys. Each father a child by Amber. 

11. Amber dies in childbirth, leaving Buck and Brett to pick up the pieces. 

12. Brett never confesses to Buck and Buck never discovers the affair. But they drift apart become Brett's unconfessed guilt eats away at the friendship. In (2), the friendship ends from Buck's side; in (12), the friendship ends from Brett's side. 

13. After dating Buck, Amber goes off to college and marries up. 

The dilemma which these plot variations pose is that each plot variation could make a good story. They all have dramatic interest. They explore ethical issues. Classic themes of friendship, betrayal, and romance. Each plot variation might be worth developing. But in conventional narration, a novelist or screenwriter must opt for one to the exclusion of the others.

Suppose, though, a creative writer uses the plot device of the multiverse. In that case, he doesn't have to choose. He could have a story with alternate intersecting plots that play out in a parallel universe ensemble. That could work for a novel or a dramatic TV miniseries. The action would cut back and forth between intertwined, alternate storylines. 

In addition, it could be cast in a theological framework, where God is the fictional Creator of the multiverse in which these counterfactual scenarios play out. Moreover, by having the same characters take the road not taken at every fork in the road, that would illustrate the consequences of different choices in life. Both good and bad consequences. 

Annotated prooftexts update

Patrick Chan and I have updated this post:

It's something we periodically update (adding new material), but this is the latest update.

Mass shootings

Open theism's blind watchmaker

A friend drew my attention to this post, from two years ago, by an anonymous open theist:

Triablogue does not offer commentary on how the quotes that he does use can be considered supportive or consistent with Reformed theology, so each verse quote is a lesson in guesswork into Triablogue’s thoughts. 

The post isn't just a list of bare prooftexts, but prooftexts with exegesis by scholars. It's true that apart from my initial introduction, I didn't offer any editorial comments on the prooftexts. That was be design. The purpose of the post is twofold: (i) to sample the breadth of exegetical evidence for Calvinism (ii) and also provide exegetical arguments for their legitimacy as Reformed prooftexts, from a variety of scholars. 

A few things of note, just the text of Genesis 45:5-8; 50:20 negates Reformed theology on its own, much less the wording of the associated quote. The main issue is that Calvinists, Reformed, and often Arminians do not tend to talk about God as they actually believe God is. In Reformed theology, God is simple, outside of time, pure actuality. God cannot “do” things, but forever remains immutable. God cannot speak or interact with creation. God cannot be related to creation in any sense, for that would defy is transcendence and simplicity.

1. Here the critic is confounding Calvinism with Reformed Thomism. But Reformed Thomism isn't synonymous with Calvinism. Reformed Thomism is just one school of Calvinism, albeit an influential and well-represented school of thought. But there are Augustinian Calvinists, Cartesian Calvinists, Scottish Common Sense Calvinists, &c. Jonathan Edwards wasn't a Reformed Thomist. Cornelius Van Til wasn't a Reformed Thomist. Vern Poythress isn't a Reformed Thomist. Greg Welty isn't a Reformed Thomist. A Reformed philosopher can be eclectic in his philosophical appropriation. 

2. It's no secret that I'm critical of Thomistic simplicity. As for pure actuality, depending on what that means, I agree that God himself is fully realized. God is not a contingent being.

That said, there's divine potential in the sense that creation doesn't exhaust or coincide with divine omnipotence. Take the classic distinction between God's absolute power and his ordinate power. 

In addition, God assumes contingent relations. God's economic roles are optional rather than necessary. 

Does Genesis talk with this Reformed theology in mind, or does it talk like this Reformed theology is not even a consideration in the minds of the writers. Is God pure actuality or active and dynamic? Is God incomprehensibly transcendent, or does God interact with people? Let the verses speak for themselves.

1. To begin with, there's such a thing as progressive revelation.

2. In addition, inspiration doesn't make Bible writers omniscient. There are lots of things they don't know. But ignorance doesn't contradict truth. 

3. This also goes to the difference between open theist hermeneutics and classical theist hermeneutics. If you take everything Scripture says about God at face-value, you end up with contradictory representations of God. So that leaves certain options:

i) Assume that Scripture really is contradictory. But in that event it would be arbitrary for open theists to privilege their prooftexts–since there'd no reason to think the Bible accurately represents God, assuming there is a God. Likewise, the prooftexts for each side would cancel out the other side's prooftexts.

ii) Leave the tensions as they stand. Make no effort to harmonize them. Again, though, that would be self-defeating for an open theist.

iii) Interpret one set of passages relative to the other.

iv) Apropos (iii), which passages should we take literally? It's much easier understand how the God of classical theism adapts to human understanding than to understand why Scripture would often depict the God of open theism as if he was the God of classical theism. So there's an asymmetry between these two approaches. 

The text of both Genesis and the quote depict God in a vastly different manner than Reformed theology. God “sends” (v 5). God takes precautions (v 7). God actively positions people into preferred places, as opposed to eternal decrees in which free actors are not a concern (v 8). God repurposes other people’s plans (v 20). None of these are actions of an immutable, simple, pure actuality God, not affected by creation and wholly transcendent.

That reflects a very simplistic or uninformed grasp of Reformed theology. Take someone who designs a video game. He exists outside the game. Yet he's responsible for every detail: characters, plot, setting, dialogue. Indirectly, he's totally involved in everything that happens.

At the same time, there's a distinction between the action of the gamer and action within the world of the game. The characters act on each other as well as their environment. 

The mere fact that the authors of Genesis have to point out this specific working of God suggests all listeners in the story do not automatically assume all things are the work of God. If they did, there would be no reason to attribute this specific action to God. Joseph and his audience are not Calvinists, but believe that God works within creation in specific instances to ensure success in His goals.

This isn't an isolated example. There are many examples in Scripture where the writer pulls back the veil to show the audience how God is directing events behind-the-scenes. 

Likewise, the associated quote by Mathews is not a Calvinistic concept. God specifically acting in one instance to assure success is antithetical to Calvinism, which believes all things (no matter how minute) are the eternal decree of God.

That's a fallacy. Showing God acting in one particular instance doesn't imply that God only acted in that one instance. 

Triablogue might not understand the logical fallacy of Composition, assuming something true of a part can be extrapolated to the whole. Yes, a car window is made out of glass, but this doesn’t suggest the entire car is made out of glass. Pointing out a car window is made of glass even suggests the entire car is NOT made out of glass or else it would be easier to just explain that the entire car is glass.

i) Sorry, but that's just obtuse. The post presents a cumulative case for Calvinism, citing a battery of prooftexts and exegesis. 

ii) Moreover, the Bible also has passages about God's universal predestination and meticulous providence. Individual examples serve to illustrate that general principle. 

Yes, God might work a specific purpose in one instance, but that doesn’t mean God works every instance no matter how remote for some secretive purpose. God working to save Joseph from his brothers to make him powerful does not mean God gives children cancer for some sort of goal in mind. That is a terrible stretch of logic. The context does not even assume God controlled the intentions of Joseph’s brothers, much less most the actions in the story that worked counter to God’s plans. The point is that God overcame obstacles and used them to His advantage, and interesting action for a supposedly “immutable, impassible” God.

i) The Joseph cycle begins with the protagonist receiving two prophetic dreams. This implies that the future was already set. The reader knows in advance how the story will end. In a sense, everything that happens in-between is working back from that fait accompli, like running a motion picture in reverse. 

ii) God had no obstacles to overcome. Joseph had obstacles to overome. 

iii) The actions of his brothers don't work counter to God's plan–any more than the actions of a storybook villain work counter to the intentions of the storyteller. 

iv) What's the open theist justification for children with cancer? Even if you subscribe to libertarian freewill, cancer is not a rational agent. So why doesn't the God of open theism cure cancer in children? It wouldn't violate the (nonexistent) freewill of cancer, and it wouldn't violate the freewill of the young cancer patient, who'd rather not die of cancer. 

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Is Trump our Sharon?

A parallel occurred to me between Israeli and American politics. To my knowledge, the Israeli electorate is generally quite liberal (although the demographics may be changing since pious Jews have bigger families than secular Jews.) In the past, Jewish voters used to alternate between hawkish prime ministers and dovish prime ministers. However, every time a dovish prime minister bent over backwards to make peace with Muslims, his efforts were rewarded by Muslims attacking Israel. As a result, liberal Israelis have been voting for very hawkish prime ministers like Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu. If Israelis felt safe, if it wasn't for the security issues, figures like Netanyahu and Sharon wouldn't be viable candidates. A lot of voters dislike them. But militant Muslims have forced the Israeli electorate to move to the right for national self-preservation. Even otherwise liberal Israelis aren't suicidal.

We have an analogous situation in the US. Progressives made Donald Trump possible. And they may ensure his reelection. There are voters who wouldn't vote for Trump in normal times, but they will vote for him because he's the buffer between them and the progressive lynch mobs. 

English Catholic Church Surrenders

Dispatches from the One True Church®.

Blaspheming St. Rachel Held Evans

What makes Trump tick?

1. I've been pleasantly surprised by how conservative the Trump administration is. I don't have an explanation for that. Clearly he has some good advisors, but that doesn't account for why he listens to them. There was nothing in his pre-presidential track-record to predict for such a conservative presidency. We got very lucky. Rolled a hard six and won–thus far. That wasn't foreseeable. 

2. Substance aside, part of what makes him tick seems to be the stereotypical New Yorker pugilism. Mind you, I'm not qualified to comment on how representative that stereotype actually is.

3. Another factor, which I remarked on during the primaries, is that he's a rich man and the son of a rich man. That may account for his independent streak. His wealth insulates him from the vulnerabilities to which most folk are liable. He isn't answerable to the boss. He's the boss. 

In that respect, he doesn't care what people think of him. In one respect, he does care. He resents criticism. But he doesn't care in the sense that criticism won't stop him from doing whatever he wants to do. Despite disapproval, he goes right ahead. Which infuriates the critics because they're so impotent. They have no leverage.

4. Apropos (3), he clearly takes gleeful pleasure in getting under the skin of critics. And the critics keep giving him an opening. 

Progressive Christianity

Two recent events have drawn attention to progressive Christianity: the presidential campaign of Pete Buttigieg and the death of Rachel Held Evans. A fundamental problem with progressive Christianity is that it's just plain dumb. So-called progressive Christians recite the same dog-earned script as atheists. They recycle all the same hackneyed objections to the Bible that they copied from atheists. In that respect, I have nothing to say to a progressive Christian that I haven't said to their atheist mentors and soulmates. 

The only different thing I have to say to them is why not come clean? Why not become a Buddhist or secular humanist? If you believe all those objections to the Bible, that's not a reason to reject the Bible but cling to the title of Christian, but to reject Christianity outright. Make a clean break. Christianity is founded on historic revelation. If you reject that principle, if you think the Bible is so erroneous, then the Christian paradigm is fatally flawed. The source is too polluted to be salvageable. Progressive Christians want to keep the "nice" parts of Christianity while rejecting the "bad" parts. But you end up with an ad hoc pastiche. 

In principle, you can be religious without being Christian. Like the French and English Deists as well as the Socinians, you can adopt mere theism, based on natural theology. That would be more consistent.

What are the motivations for progressive Christianity? 

i) For some, it's a sentimental, sociological, and aesthetic attachment. Many of them were raised in conservative churches, and they have a lingering emotional investment. 

ii) They are very immature. Swept up in playacting. They imagine reality should cater to their feelings.

iii) For some, it's a strategy to destroy Christianity from within by infiltrating the church and replacing it with a counterfeit theology.

iv) Many people need a cause to live for. Many apostates retain a residual idealism from their Christian background but transfer that zeal to progressive causes. It's like a car that rockets off a cliff. It continues moving forward as it simultaneously moves downward. Even though the foundation is gone, the initial momentum keeps it moving forward before crash-landing. A descending arc as it loses altitude. 

v) Finally, some of them appreciate the nihilistic cost of atheism. They draw back from the abyss. They don't want to go that far. 

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

I.Q. and paradox

Unlike many Christians, I don't find the Trinity or Incarnation paradoxical, although they are inevitably mysterious to some degree. Some Christians are too quick to resort to mystery or paradox to justify their positions. Transubstantiation is a textbook example. 

But having said all that, there's nothing essentially suspect about the idea of mystery or paradox in Christian theology. To begin with, human intelligence ranges along a continuum. As a result, things that are incomprehensible to some humans are comprehensible to other humans.

However, it's more complex than that, and in an interesting way. There are different kinds of intelligence, so you can have equally smart people who aren't equally smart about the same things. Roger Penrose and Edward Witten are far greater mathematicians than Einstein, yet they haven't made a breakthrough at all comparable to Einstein. Moreover, the basis for his breakthrough was picturesque thought-experiments. He had a knack for visualizing problems in physics. He could translate them into graphic analogies.

Great chess players can intuit a winning strategy in a way that average chess players cannot. Some humans have a particular insight that others lack. Some humans have a knack for solving intellectual puzzles.  Some mathematicians specialize in number theory while others specialize in geometry. According to The Cambridge Companion to Newton, Leibniz was an algebraist while Newton was a geometer.

Let's assume for argument's sake that the Trinity and Incarnation are paradoxical. But as I just demonstrated, and the demonstration could be easily expanded by citing additional examples, it's quite reasonable to suppose that if humans were more intelligent, or not even more intelligent, but had a different kind of intelligence, they wouldn't find the Trinity or Incarnation paradoxical. There are many examples in human experience where what's baffling to one thinker is obvious to another thinker. And it's not necessarily a difference in IQ. Even at genius level intelligence, there are different intellectual aptitudes. There's musical genius and artistic genius. What's impenetrable to one kind of intelligence may be transparent to another. As such, there are many analogies in human experience to warrant the contention that, even assuming the Trinity and Incarnation to be paradoxical, that's because we either lack sufficient intelligence or the right kind of intelligence to discern it. That's not invoking a special kind of justification for Christian doctrine, because that's easily paralleled in human experience. 

An ordinary death

No one remembered him


Thus far I haven't made any direct comments on the life, death, and legacy of Rachel Held Evans:

1. It's a family tragedy that she died at 37, leaving behind two young kids and a bereaved husband. 

2. Some of her defenders are striving to have it both ways. On the one hand they treat her as a fearless theological shieldmaiden. On the other hand, they treat her as untouchable. Take the Christianity Today article that was pulled a few hours after publication because, apparently, it was insufficiently adulatory. 

I don't bow to their double standard. RHE was an outspoken critic of conservative evangelical theology. She was a public figure by choice. Some folks are dragged into the limelight against their will, but she courted publicity. 

When Hans Küng dies, that will be an occasion for lots of commentary, from supporters and critics alike, about his theology and legacy. There's nothing hateful about that.

3. Both on Twitter and on his blog, progressive theologian Randal Rauser has been hunting for reactions to be offended by. Essentially daring or baiting anyone to say something he can offended by. On the lookout for something outrageous, he moused over to Pulpit & Pen. In my deliberately limited experience of Pulpit and Pen, it's like an internet version of the Westboro cult. That's a reliable source of spite. Mission accomplished! 

4. Over the years I've posted almost nothing about RHE. Up until now, I haven't made any public comments about her theology, "apostasy" or eternal destiny for a couple of reasons:

i) My understanding of her theology is almost entirely secondhand. I know her by reputation. But I have almost no direct knowledge of her theology, so I'm not qualified to offer a detailed assessment. 

ii) It'a my impression that she was a popularizer. From what I can tell, her following was personality-driven. I doubt that will have a lasting impact. In critiquing progressive theology, I aim higher up the food chain, viz. Randal Rauser Gregory Boyd, Peter Enns, Marilyn McCord Adams. 

When Christians were Jews

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Rachel Held Evans

Here's an article that was posted at Christianity Today, then withdrawn a few hours later. It strikes me as a very balanced article. It's not a hit-piece.

Operation Noah's Ark

As I've remarked on more than one occasion, long-range Bible prophecies picture the future in terms of the past. They use imagery that would be intelligible to the original audience. If we take futuristic Bible prophecy seriously, we have to mentally update it. 

With that in mind, consider the stock objections to a global flood: On the one hand, it isn't big enough to accommodate a representative sample of every animal. On the other hand, a wooden ship that large already lacks structural integrity. 

How would animals cross natural barriers before and after the flood? How could such a tiny crew care for so many animals? What about specialized diets? What about specialized habitats? What about waste disposal? What about dinosaurs? 

What about aquatic animals? Are they on the ark? If not, how do they survive the blending of fresh water and salt water? What about flora? 

Since I incline to the local flood interpretation, my own position sidesteps most of the stock objections to the global flood. Mind you, most of the stock objections make anachronistic assumptions by reading things into the text that aren't there. 

Suppose, just for fun, we do a futuristic take on Noah's flood. In the 23C AD, God dispatches the angel Gabriel to recruit Noah. Noah is sent back in time to build the ark and save the planet. He brings a tech team. 

The ark is a floating storage facility for DNA samples. The ark is powered by a fusion factor. Aerial drones and underwater drones collect DNA samples from all terrestrial, marine, and fresh-water species–including insects. Samples are stored in onboard freezers at –80°C. After the flood, faunal and floral species are recreated from stem cells, using advanced robotics. 

I could go into more details about engineering and terraforming but that would disrupt the timeline by giving Triablogue a preview of future technology. I had to sign a nondisclosure agreement and run a draft past the Archangel Gabriel (head of celestial security) to redact classified information. In fact, there's the possibility that we're actually caught in a time-loop, having done all this before, because the timeline was already disrupted by the initial temporal incursion.  


In our oversexed, X-rated age, this scene illustrates the sensual power of touch:

A G-rated gesture. Yet it carries such a charge.

Touch is so important in human relationships. There's platonic touch. A mother caressing a child. A father holding the hand of his young son. Friends and brothers hugging each other.

Then there's erotic touch. In this scene, the gesture of a very pretty women putting her hand on his hand. It's like the difference between potential energy and kinetic energy. A boulder on a hilltop doesn't look very energetic. Indeed, it looks decidedly unenergetic. But if it rolls down the hill, by the time it hits the chalet at the bottom of the hill, it has obliterating force.

There can be such potency in small, subtle, mundane gestures. That's lost on so many modern directors.


Doubt is a fork in the road. Making a wrong turn can lead down a dark path where the traveler becomes increasingly disoriented and lost. 

But sometimes doubt is the right turn. For instance, if you were born Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Mormon, Catholic, or atheist, doubting your childhood indoctrination is a necessary step to discovering something better. You didn't start out on the right path and lose your way. You started out lost. In that situation, doubt can be a pathway out of your lost condition.

Or even if you had a good Christian upbringing, you can't leech off the faith of your parents indefinitely. You need to develop a personal conviction. In that case, doubt can be a dark path that opens out onto a sunny glen. 

If, when you come to a fork in the road, you choose the wrong road, that isn't fatal. Life is a series of forks in the road. If you take a wrong turn, there's usually a fork in the road further down the street where you can resume going in the right direction. 

Emergency kit for the vampire apocalypse

During the vampire apocalypse, you better have a cache of wafers to stave off the bloodsuckers!

Is there a gift of celibacy?

1. There's an entrenched tradition that I assume originates in Roman Catholicism and carries over into Protestant theology, according to which some Christian men and women have a "gift of celibacy". The prooftext is 1 Cor 7:7. Perhaps that's correct, but there's the danger that when we think we know what a passage means, we stop asking questions. Or rather, we think there are no questions to ask. 

Indeed, it's customary to posit a gift of celibacy and leave it at that, with very little explanation of what a gift of celibacy actually amounts to. They don't bother to delve into that. Has anyone ever actually met a Christian with the "gift of celibacy"? Or is that an idealized abstraction based on the received interpretation? 

One thing a gift of celibacy might mean is that some Christian men (and women) lack any heterosexual libido. Or, if not quite devoid, have a very low libido. As if the man suffered from a severe testosterone deficit. 

Is that what Paul means? Possibly. That, however, would be highly abnormal, and I wonder if Paul is saying that physical abnormality qualifies some men for full-time ministry. Seems odd that something that unnatural and anomalous would be a prerequisite for full-time ministry. 

Is it the supernatural equivalent of chemical castration? Possibly. However, Scripture doesn't generally treat an unnatural misfortune as a necessary qualification for serving God. 

In addition, the human sex drive isn't just physical but psychological. It includes memory, imagination, anticipation, and longing for a special kind of companionship (spouse and kids). Is there a gift of celibacy that erases all that from the psychological makeup of some Christians? Did Paul think he was a freak? 

2. The traditional interpretation hinges on a single word–charisma–which is usually rendered "gift". Is that reliable? In 1 Corinthians, Paul uses charisma as an umbrella term to cover a variety of phenomena. Are such disparate examples reducible to a one core idea? Is he using the same word for stylistic unity? Should we define the examples by the word or define the word by the examples?

3. Rom 11:29 provides an instructive comparison. When Paul refers to "gifts" and "calling", are those meant to be distinct concepts, or do they function as rough synonyms? That passage is assumed to refer back to Rom 9:4-5. What's the allocation? Are some of those items gifts while other items are vocations? Are all those items both gifts and vocations? 

If we distinguish between the meaning of words and the meaning of concepts, the concept of a divinely impose duty captures the basic idea. Israel had (has?) a divine calling, with corresponding obligations. The ideas of gift and calling merge in mission or commission. 

4. Rather than approaching the question from a philological standpoint, suppose we approach it from a biographical standpoint. We know from Acts and Galatians that God singled out Paul to perform a particular mission. A mission which will entail great personal hardship and sacrifice. Similar in that respect to the vocation of OT prophets who had a thankless ministry. 

5. In addition, Paul discusses the Christian obligation, as circumstances demand, to forswear what's in your best self-interest for the benefit and common good of others. All told, I'm inclined to think that what Paul is talking about is not a "gift of celibacy" but the fact that on occasion, celibacy is an onerous necessity. Sexually, they are wired the same way as normal men and women, but God has put them in a situation where they are obligated to tough it out, despite the personal strain. Again, that's comparable to the sacrificial mission of some OT prophets. 

Monday, May 06, 2019

Theological Interpretation of Scripture


A friend drew my attention to this:

Has a percentage of the population always suffered from this deficit? I wonder if the younger generation's exposure to so much artificial sensory stimulation prevents the brain or mind/brain interface from developing the capacity to form mental images without an external stimulus, or retain imagery without continuous reinforcement. 

I recall reading something about Gordon Clark which indicates that he may have suffered from aphantasia. If so, that might be one reason he preferred abstractions and propositions to sense knowledge. He didn't have a normal experience of mental imagery. 

Womanist hymnody

Rev. Larry E. Schultz conducts the Chancel Choir of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Raleigh, North Carolina, in singing "Womb of All Creation Flowing" to a familiar hymn tune, with pictures from various artists.

This hymn draws from the biblical image of the Divine as a Womb, giving birth to all creation. In the Hebrew Scriptures the word "rahum" is literally translated "womb-love," and is used to convey divine compassion, graciousness, and mercy. "Rahum" ("womb-love") pictures a Creator who continually loves and nurtures us. This Creator, also called "Shaddai" in Hebrew, gives us Her "blessings of the breasts and of the womb" (Genesis 49:25). This hymn symbolizes Darkness as a sacred power, giving birth to all creation and giving birth to our creative gifts. "Womb of All Creation Flowing" celebrates the "treasures of darkness" (Isaiah 45:3). Thus this hymn contributes to racial justice by changing the traditional symbolism of darkness as evil or ominous to darkness as creative power and beauty, affirming the sacred value of people of color through these positive images. Reclaiming this dark female Creator inspires women of all races to embrace our creative power, inspires men of all races to embrace aspects of their creativity that have been traditionally labeled and disparaged as "feminine," and reinforces the biblical truth that we are all created in the divine image. The Divine is embodied in everyone—all genders, races, cultures, and religions. 

This video comes with the prayer that it will inspire us to join the holy labor, to co-create a world of beauty, justice, and peace.

"Womb of all Creation flowing with your blessings everywhere,
bring to birth in us deep caring that your fullness all may share.
Fill us with your gentle power that new ventures we may dare.

Holy Darkness deep within us, nurture our creative seeds;
bring our dreams to glorious flower as your peace our spirits feed.
In your center we find wholeness as your grace fills all our needs.

Loving Womb, your sacred darkness brings forth treasures night and day,
nourishing our deepest longings, casting all our fears away.
May we join your holy labor, giving Earth new hope, we pray."

Words © Jann Aldredge-Clanton 
from Inclusive Hymns for Liberating Christians (Eakin Press, 2006).

Life in the compound

A stock objection to Christianity is that it's unreasonable for God to punish people simply because they refuse to believe in him. Indeed, the accusation is often harsher: God must be an emotionally insecure, egotistical bully if he cares that much what human think of him. 

As a matter of fact, I don't think God's self-esteem is indexed to what humans think of him–although freewill theists often act like that's the case. Rather, the problem is what it says about us. 

The problem runs much deeper than belief. To revisit an illustration I've used in the past, it's like people are born in a concentration camp. It's not a question of losing their freedom. Rather, captivity is their situation from the outset. The question is what, if anything, they will do to get out.

The camp is rumored to have a hidden tunnel which some prisoners use as an escape route. However, most prisoners make no effort to confirm the existence of the tunnel. They are content to live out their days in the concentration camp. 

Indeed, they are very protective about their captivity. If they overhear a prisoner plotting to escape, they rat him out to the prison guards. They cheer when he's shot. 

Many unbelievers don't make any serious effort to find out if Christianity is true. They know that death is inevitable. Although they may not believe in the afterlife, they haven't seriously investigated the question. Instead, they piss away their life in utter indifference. There might be a tunnel right under their feet, but they don't bother to look for the entrance. They plant flowers in the graveyard. Decorate the barracks. Compose patriotic songs about the concentration camp. Snitch on disloyal prisoners. 

Sunday, May 05, 2019

God and physics

1. There is often thought to be a point of tension between exegetical theology and philosophical theology. And the Protestant faith exacerbates that tension because, in Protestant epistemology and theological method, Biblical revelation takes precedence over philosophy. In traditional Catholic theology, the tension was suppressed, but nowadays there's a stark dichotomy between, say, Thomistic hermeneutics and grammatico-historical hermeneutics. Say, the way Ed Feser interprets the Bible and a Catholic Bible scholar.

There is, for instance, a prima facie tension between classical theism and narrative theology. Open theism represents one extreme, taking its cue from narrative theology. 

I think there are cases where there's a genuine contradiction. For instance, it's really hard to square the Thomistic theory of the soul with the intermediate state. Likewise, I think it's really hard to square Thomistic simplicity with divine freedom, the Trinity, and theologically crucial distinctions between, say, justice and mercy. 

To take another example: the argument from evil is routinely cast in terms of perfect being theology rather than biblical theism. The argument from evil would dissolve if you plug Yahweh into the formulation because Yahweh coexists with evil. There's no contradiction in narrative theology between Yahweh's existence and the existence of evil. Those exist side-by-side. 

2. However, it doesn't follow that there's necessarily a dichotomy between exegetical theology and philosophical theology, although some modifications are required (see above). 

To take a comparison, there's often thought to be a point of tension between physics and common sense. What the world is really like is different from how we perceive it. Physics gives us an "objective" description of the world which falsifies common sense. How we experience time, color, and "solid" objects is said to be something of a psychological illusion. 

Now, there may be a grain of truth to that, but the alleged bifurcation between what the physical world is really like, independent of human perception, and how it appears to us is often misleading. For one thing, there are competing theories of time and color. 

More to the point, a scientific explanation doesn't necessarily undermine common sense, but provides a more complex and complete picture, including how what stands in back of common sense generates our common sense perception. The impression that some objects are solid to the touch isn't by any means an arbitrary postulate or tactile illusion. Rather, physical objects have relative density, so that two objects of similar density are solid in relation to each other. A door is solid to me because my body and the door have similar density, compared to my body and a swimming pool. Particle physics is consistent with the world of touch. 

Likewise, color is a relation between the composition of a physical object, the quality of light, and how the eyes of an organism are tuned to sample certain wavelengths. Although there's a percipient-relative element to color perception, insofar as our visual processing system makes a contribution to the total effect, that's not a sheer projection. When human observers with normal color vision see a stop light, the top light is consistently reddish, the middle light is consistently yellowish, while the bottom light is consistently greenish. It's not as if some drivers see the top light as yellow or green while other drivers see the bottom light as red or yellow. No, there's constancy in how drivers with normal vision perceive what shade colored objects are. And that's because there's something about the composition of the object that makes it one color rather than another. That can't be switched around. While a common sense theory of color is simplistic, it has an element of truth. Although a scientific explanation will be far more intricate, it will supplement and account for the common sense impression rather than disprove it.  

3. By the same token, there are ways of modeling how a God who exists beyond time and space is compatible with narrative theology or the Incarnation. If the model is successful, philosophical theology doesn't correct narrative theology and narrative theology doesn't correct philosophical theology. Rather, philosophical theology can sometimes provide a deeper explanation for what lies behind events, and how that causes events. 

By way of illustration, suppose we were artificially intelligent virtual characters in a video game. Initially, we don't know that there's any larger reality. Suppose we then discover that we're virtual characters. Reality extends beyond the game. Indeed, an external reality produces the game. That doesn't mean our experience is false. The virtual characters really exist. There really is a video game. That's not an illusion. But our experience within the game is an incomplete sample of reality as a whole. 

Ersatz heroines

It's often remarked that many young people today lack good role models. It's not that role models are actually lacking. Rather, many people are so ignorant of history that they don't know where to look. As a result, the void is filled by pop icons and media starlets. In the case of women, that cheapens the example of authentic feminine virtue. Just off the top of my head, here's a list of genuine heroines, some of them devout Christians. If young women are looking for inspirational role models, here's a good place to start:

• Anne Bradstreet

• Fanny Crosby

• Jeanne d'Albret

• Elizabeth Elliot

• Jane Haining

• Selina Hastings

• Médine Moussounga Keener

• Lottie Moon

• Irene Opdyke

• Rosa Parks

• Helen Roseveare

• Christina Rossetti

• Mary Rowlandson

• Sophie Scholl

• Irena Sendler

• Cori ten Boom

• Sojourner Truth

• Harriet Tubman

• Susanna Wesley