Saturday, July 06, 2019

The future of A.I.

I notice some tech execs making casual claims about A.I as if strong A.I is a reality, but to my knowledge that goal remains as elusive as ever. For instance:

Shor: Computer proofs really haven't undermined the concept of traditional mathematical proofs, at least not yet (although in 1993, some mathematicians were certainly afraid that they would). There are at least two reasons mathematicians look for proofs:

a) to ensure that the things they claim are actually true,

b) to gain more understanding into mathematics.

Computer proofs are generally satisfactory for the first reason above, but very few of them, if any, provide us any real understanding. There are certainly lots of computer-aided proofs now, where computers have helped in performing long calculations without error, or with elaborate case analyses.  But coming up with most mathematical proofs requires actual understanding of the underlying mathematics, and computers don't have that today. So computers can help mathematicians who understand the underlying mathematics by performing infeasibly long calculations and case analyses, but although they have been very useful for these purposes, most of the time they cannot come up with proofs by themselves.

It's possible that sometime far in the future, mathematics will be dominated by incomprehensible computer proofs. This might lead to “The End of Mathematics,” or at least of mathematics as carried out by human mathematicians. But we're nowhere near that point.

What do Planned Parenthood and Islam have in common?

Non-Muslim enablers of Islam frequently defend Islam by claiming that most Muslims aren't terrorists. There are problems with that defense. For one thing, many Muslims who aren't terrorists support terrorism. In addition, the social pathologies of Islam are hardly limited to terrorism. Consider honor killings, virulent misogyny, the rape culture, female genital mutilation, pedophilia and pederasty, widespread anal sex, &c.

However, let's draw a comparison. Planned Parenthood defends itself by claiming that only 3% of its services are abortion services. That's a parallel to the defense of Islam. 

Of course, even if we grant that stat, critics of Planned Parenthood don't think the 97% of non-abortion services offsets committing massive moral atrocities every year.  From a Christian perspective, be consistent. Don't use an argument in support of Islam that you'd never use in support of Planned Parenthood. 

Collective hallucination

I recently had an impromptu debate on Facebook about idealism. This seems to be an academic fad in some chic Christian circles. Here's my side of the exchange:

Take people who are horribly burned in a fire. They die after days in indescribable pain. According to idealism, they suffer just as if they were burned in a fire even though there wasn't a real fire to burn real flesh and real nerves. They suffer the unbearable effects of a chemical reaction even though that's an illusion. There was no chemical cause and effect. How is that not utterly gratuitous? Indeed, malevolent?

"Besides that, why should whether the suffering is gratuitous, malevolent, etc. depend on whether the the physical is reducible to the mental or not?"

On a nonidealist view, natural evils are (generally) a necessary but unintended consequence of natural processes. There's a value in a world of physical cause and effect. The same fire that's useful for warmth, illumination, and cooking may also burn living flesh. But the fire doesn't aim to burn living flesh. The fire is unintelligent. 

In idealism, by contrast, the relation between fire and burning alive is arbitrary. The victim suffers as if there's a chemical reaction that burns protoplasm, but there's no natural or intrinsic reason for that result. There's is no chemical reaction, there is no protoplasm in contact with the chemical composition of fire. So it lacks the justification of a natural law theodicy. I'm not saying that's an adequate theodicy all by itself. But there's a fundamental moral difference between the two positions. 

Yes, Leibniz has a theodicy, but I'm not discussing the problem of evil in general. Rather, I'm drawing attention to how natural evil poses a special problem for idealism, over and above the standard objection. Idealism aggravates the problem of natural evil.

Friday, July 05, 2019

Satirical apologetics

The immediate occasion for this post is James White's attack on the Muhammad's Boom-Boom Room video. I've commented on White's professed philosophy of apologetic engagement in detail. I'll try not to repeat myself. 

1. Is it wrong to ridicule something that really is ridiculous? If we treat something that's ridiculous as if it's not ridiculous, we misrepresent it. Truth and honesty require us to treat things the way they are. 

Does White think it's wrong to mock drag queens at public libraries who are grooming little boys? Take White's statement that:

I've sadly spoken to many Muslims. All they knew of the Christian response to their beliefs was either ignorance or mockery. And they were shocked when they discovered there were Christians who knew what they believed and were able to interact with them on a respectful basis and not just simply mock them…I lament the attitude Christians have towards the Muslim people.

Let's swap out Muslims and swap in drag queens:

I've sadly spoken to many drag queens. All they knew of the Christian response to their beliefs was either ignorance or mockery. And they were shocked when they discovered there were Christians who knew what they believed and were able to interact with them on a respectful basis and not just simply mock them…I lament the attitude Christians have towards the predatory drag queens at public libraries and gay pride parades.

Maybe I missed it, but has White every spoken up on behalf of drag queens the way he speaks up on behalf of Muslims? He bandies the word "consistency", but in my experience he carves out an exception for Muslims that's conspicuously absent in his treatment of other groups he disapproves of. He doesn't pander to members of the LGBT "community" the way he panders to Muslims. 

2. There are different kinds of satire, viz. Horatian, Juvenalian, Menippean. Does White regard all forms of satire as unacceptable in Christian apologetics? 

3. People may not realize how absurd their position is until you show them how absurd it is. They must be made to see it. And that can have an impact that dry analysis does not.

UFO sightings

It looks like UFO sightings spike on the 4th of July.

It's tempting to think that's because people mistake fireworks for UFOs. That'd be a hasty conclusion to draw.

I suspect the truth is aliens love to party and Earth on the 4th is lit.

In any case, Mulder and Scully will have to investigate.

David Fincher films

For better or worse, I think I've seen most of David Fincher's films. Below are my notes or briefs on Fincher's films (in chronological order).

A few preliminary observations and comments before the main event:

  1. In general, I wouldn't necessarily recommend Christians watch his films. That might risk cultivating the opposite mindset to Phil 4:8. And there are likely better ways to spend your time. However, if you've already seen his films, then this post might be useful.

  2. Philosophically, Fincher's films reek of nihilism. Perhaps anarchism too. At least there seems to be a rebellious "punk" streak.

  3. As a director, I think Fincher's film-making reflects superb technical craftsmanship. However, Fincher's films often come across as cold and impersonal.

  4. A consistent theme in most of Fincher's films is there's more than meets the eye when we look at people. There may be a surface beauty that's rotten to the core. This in turn reflects a biblical truth: "For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart" (1 Sam 16:7).

  5. These are my interpretations. Others might have better interpretations.

Go to the seaside

Martyn Lloyd-Jones (July 1927):

People complain about the dwindling congregations and how the churches are going down. Why are people ceasing to attend places of worship? Why is it, that last Sunday night I noticed that, while the places of worship in Cardiff were only sparsely attended, the trains coming from Porthcawl and other seaside places were packed out. Why did these people spend their day at the seaside and other in places rather than in the house of God worshipping? Well, the answer is perfectly plain. They obviously prefer to be at the seaside and feel that they get more benefit there than in their chapels and churches. Now it is no use our arguing with people like that, it is no use our telling them that they really do not get greater benefit there, because they honestly believe they do.

...What I feel like saying to these trippers is this: If you honestly believe (and remember it is your responsibility) that you derive greater benefit by spending your day in the country than you do by attending a place of worship, well then, go to the country. Don't come here if you honestly feel that you could do better elsewhere. Unless you feel that something is being offered and given to you here which no other institution can offer or equal, well then, in the name of Heaven, go out into the country or to the seaside. The church of Christ is a church of believers, an association of people banded together by a common belief and a common love. You don't believe? Well, above all, do not pretend that you do, go to the country and the seaside. All I ask of you is, be consistent. When someone dies in your family, do not come to ask the church in which you do not believe to come to bury him. Go to the seaside for consolation.

(Murray, Iain H. The Life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones 1899-1981, pp 90-91)

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Experiencing God

Experience of God is impossible. From a philosophical point of view, if God is a transcendent spirit, he can’t be the object of experience in the way other things can be the objects of experience. We experience things by the activity of discriminating — colour changes, the table ends, a sound gets louder, and so on — but, in God, there’s nothing to discriminate: all is everlastingly the same.

That doesn’t mean that nothing can be said about God. People are saying things all the time — but not on the basis of experience. People who see visions are not really seeing God, in my view. A revelation by God is not the same as an experience of God. The Sermon on the Mount was a kind of revelation to the people who heard it, but they experienced Jesus, not the divine Spirit.

1. There's a grain of truth to this, but the comparison is profoundly misleading. It's true that if God is timeless and spaceless, then he can't be experienced directly. 

2. The claim that we experience things by discrimination is interesting. I don't know if that's an accurate generalization. But suppose it is. The fact that God is always the same doesn't mean we always experience God the same way, for we never experience the entirety of God, but only minute samples (as it were). 

3. In addition, we don't experience other minds directly. Rather, we experience other minds via their embodiments. We experience them through the medium of the five senses. But except in cases of telepathy, we never have immediate access to their minds. And even if mind-reading is possible, that seems to be just a sample. Even though human minds, unlike God, exist in time (but not in space), what we experience is at least one step removed from other minds. Personality as expressed through embodiment. 

4. Furthermore, we can experience people through their effects. We experience an artist through his art, a musician through his music, a poet through his poetry, a dramatist through his plays, a novelist through his stories, a moviemaker through his films. In fact, interviewing a creative artist in person may  be a letdown because he already put the best of himself into his artwork. 

5. Finally, we experience the physical world indirectly. That's filtered through an intricate sensory processing system. 

So the roundabout way we experience God is hardly unique to God, but characteristic of human  experience in general.  

Biological relativity

A paper (2011) from Denis Noble, a secular scientist who dissents from neo-Darwinism:

A theory of biological relativity: no privileged level of causation


Must higher level biological processes always be derivable from lower level data and mechanisms, as assumed by the idea that an organism is completely defined by its genome? Or are higher level properties necessarily also causes of lower level behaviour, involving actions and interactions both ways? This article uses modelling of the heart, and its experimental basis, to show that downward causation is necessary and that this form of causation can be represented as the influences of initial and boundary conditions on the solutions of the differential equations used to represent the lower level processes. These insights are then generalized. A priori, there is no privileged level of causation. The relations between this form of ‘biological relativity’ and forms of relativity in physics are discussed. Biological relativity can be seen as an extension of the relativity principle by avoiding the assumption that there is a privileged scale at which biological functions are determined.

Anthony Kenny on the pros and cons of Catholicism

Here's a stimulating lecture by agnostic philosopher and ex-priest Anthony Kenny. I don't agree with everything he says, but he's a much more probing thinker than Bishop Barron, and it's instructive to compare Kenny's analysis with all the lightweight Catholic apologists, converts, and reverts:

N.B. The subtitles are hilariously inaccurate.

Abuse of papal altar boys

Goes from bad to worse:

Growing As A Christian

I want to expand on something Steve recently wrote about preventing the diminishing of our faith over time. I'll mention some of the things I've been doing, which may be helpful to other people.

You ought to start with your relationship with God (Matthew 22:37-38). How you view God will shape the rest of your life. I don't know of anybody who's done better work on these issues in our generation than John Piper. I've often recommended his work, especially his book Desiring God.

Several years ago, I began reading a couple of pages from the church fathers each day. I got the idea from William Lane Craig. I'd been reading the church fathers for many years before that, but sporadically rather than as a daily pattern. You don't have to read the church fathers. You could read some other source, but I'd recommend reading sources prior to our generation (more on that below).

Around the same time, I began keeping a record of God's providence in my life, a practice I heard Gary Habermas recommend. The record I keep includes answered prayers, coincidence miracles, and other events that seem to be paranormal. I don't keep a record of everything, but I try to at least write down many examples of what I experience in these contexts.

Set significant objectives, not just trivial things like losing weight or getting a promotion at a trivial job you work. Instead of waiting for other people to do something that's been neglected in apologetics, evangelism, missions, the local church, or some other important context, do it yourself. If there's an issue in philosophy, history, science, or some other field that you've struggled with or have seen other people have problems with, do the work yourself rather than looking for somebody else to do it. Even if you're just working at one portion of a multifaceted problem, that's better than doing nothing. There should be contexts in your life in which you're breaking important new ground or doing significant work to popularize things that are in desperate need of popularizing. Take the time, money, imagination, and other resources that people typically waste on the American Dream or some equivalent and use them to pursue a Christian dream instead. Read Ephesians 3, with its references to "the unfathomable riches of Christ" (verse 8) and how God does "far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think" (verse 20). Then consider the implications of what Ephesians 4:1 says about walking in a manner worthy of your calling.

The last three recommendations above address the past (reading the church fathers or other sources of past generations), present (keeping a record of God's providence in your life), and future (setting objectives). And there's some overlap among them. They also cover a large variety of groups and contexts (people in the past, what's happening in your life, future generations). If you do things like what I've recommended above, you'll be covering a lot of ground. It expands your view of and appreciation of life. It gives you additional motivation to persevere, for the benefit of other people. The next recommendation I'll make here is one that connects these things. Don't limit your prayers to what people typically recommend. Pray for past generations. Pray for future generations. Pray about apologetic issues. Set aside time to pray for particular individuals, groups, issues, and situations beyond what you're typically told to pray for. There are Biblical parameters that our prayers need to stay within. But people often retain an immature view of prayer that they received early in their Christian life, without developing it much over time, and that's one of the reasons why they don't mature much as Christians.

And you need to grow intellectually. Here's a post I wrote about the subject earlier this year, which discusses the importance of apologetics and addresses a lot of misconceptions and objections related to the role of the mind in the Christian life.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Van Til on common ground

In this post I'm going to outline my understanding of Van Til on common ground. This is occasioned by Fesko's new book, which I haven't read. I have been reading Dr. Anderson's serial review. I won't document my interpretation by quoting Van Til. I'm not that invested. I'm going to rely on memory. I will also be adding some of my own refinements. 

1. Antithesis/common ground

In Van Til's analysis, there's a tension between antithesis and common ground. The tension isn't internal to Van Til's analysis. Rather, it reflects the instability of non-Christian thought. 

2. Metaphysical common ground

If Christianity is true, then reality is Christian. The non-Christian exists in a Christian reality. Not a Christian culture, but reality in toto. His physical environment as well as his mind. 

At the metaphysical level, the degree of common ground between Christian and non-Christian is total. The non-Christian cannot escape reality. He can deny elements of reality, but since there's no alternative to reality, his flight from reality will always be parasitic on the very reality he labors to overthrow. There is no metaphysical antithesis whatsoever.  

3. Hypothetical antithesis

i) To the extent that the non-Christian is epistemologically self-conscious, his goal will be to provide a systematic alternative to the Christian worldview. The aim will be zero common ground between Christianity and the non-Christian alternative. His position will be developed in conscious opposition to Christian theism. However, that's subject to various caveats. 

ii) Because there's only one reality, if that reality is Christian, then it's impossible for the non-Christian, however ingenious and indefatigable, to develop a thoroughgoing alternative to reality. So the effort to devise a consistent alternative to Christian theism is doomed to fail. It will always fall short of the goal. 

To cast it this in Calvinistic terms, the non-Christian lives in a divinely-defined reality. There are no random events. By virtue of predestination and providence, everything has a purpose. Everything happens for a reason. Moreover, God is the source of possibilities and necessities as well as actualities. There can be no wholesale point of contrast. 

So there's a certain paradox or dilemma in the antithetical relationship between Christian theism and non-Christian alternatives. The non-Christian program cannot succeed. There is no other reality to fall back on. The construction materials derive from Christian reality. All the resources at the disposal of the non-Christian are ultimately Christian in origin. I don't mean historically, but metaphysically. 

iii) We need to distinguish between non-Christian views that originated independently of Christianity (e.g. ancient Greco-Roman atheism, Buddhist atheism) and non-Christian views that evolved in reaction to Christianity (e.g. Renaissance/Enlightenment atheism). 

On the one hand, the antithesis between Christianity and modern Western atheism may be more extreme because Christian theism is the default foil. 

On the other hand, the antithesis between Christianity and modern Western atheism may be less pronounced in some respects than pre-Christian atheism because modern Western atheism is ironically influenced by Christianity in a way that pre-Christian atheism wasn't. For instance, Buddhism didn't target Christianity but Hinduism. 

In a sense, the outlook of Buddhist atheism is more foreign to Christianity than modern Western atheism inasmuch as Buddhist atheism originated without any reference to Christianity. 

iv) It's my impression that Roman Catholicism is the default foil for Renaissance/Enlightenment atheism. That's the primary target. But if, like Van Til, you regard Roman Catholicism as a highly defective representative of Christianity, then that adulterates the antithesis. In a sense, atheists were right to oppose Catholicism, although they opposed the good as well as the bad in Roman Catholicism. And their alternative was bad.

By the same token, the foil for Buddhism and Greco-Roman atheism is pagan polytheism. Once again, that adulterates the antithesis. They were right to oppose pagan polytheism. The problem lies with their alternative. 

4. Practical epistemological antithesis

i) Most non-Christians are pretty thoughtless. They're not attempting to construct a wholesale alternative to Christianity. 

ii) Due to common grace, non-Christians often retain some common ground with Christians. That varies from one individual to the next as well as from one society to the next. 

Fisking Fesko

White makes right

I just watched the section of James White's Dividing Line where he talks about David Wood and Vocab Malone's satirical series "Muhammad's Boom Boom Room". White begins his remarks about Wood and Vocab's series shortly after 1 hour 16 minutes and ends around 1 hour 24 minutes. Respectfully:

The Libertarian/Conservative Argument for Breaking up Big Tech

Muhammed meets Satan


A friend quoted the following from P. Andrew Sandlin:

One of the great spiritual errors of our time is to conflate love with approval. We can (and must) deeply love deeply sinful friends and relatives without approving of their sinful life. For one to demand approval of all who love him shows how little one knows of true love.

In my experience, I think many if not most people today are afraid of being seen as unloving or something along those lines. "Tolerance" is the banner streaming across the spirit of the age.

Of course, truth is, it's often tolerance for our group, not for your group. Liberals and progressives have especially become tribal.

What this means is there's nothing brave about "loving" people and trying not to "offend" others. By "others" I have in mind LGBTQs, Muslims, feminists, and most other minorities except perhaps Asian-Americans (e.g. the Harvard admissions scandals). That's simply going along with what most already think and feel in our society and culture. Nothing special about that.

However, in the context of our society and culture, it does take bravery to say (generally speaking) we "love" individuals who are LGBTQ, Muslim, immigrants, and so on, but what they're doing is immoral. That they need to turn away from their unethical thoughts and behaviors. That they need to stop committing their many infidelities and betrayals against others as well as themselves in their own lives, and ultimately against God himself. And that they need to embrace forgiveness for their wrongs by embracing the only one who can forgive them, the only one whom God sent for this express purpose, God in the flesh, the Messiah, Jesus Christ himself.

(I sometimes use the language of faithfulness and unfaithfulness, betrayal or adultery, because that's the language that often seems to resonate with secular people.)

How reason leads to God

Josh Rasmussen may be the most gifted up-and-coming philosophical theologian. In my experience, he's a better philosopher than theologian. I'm not sure that he has an evangelical center. But some of his stuff can be incorporated into a Christian apologetic. There's a presuppositional quality to his work.

When faith fades

Wesley Huff:

A number of years ago I was participating in an event at a church. It was a beautiful July evening and after my talk in the cool of the foyer as I watched the sun descend into vivid oranges and reds through the window, a man approached me. He shared with me that he didn't necessarily consider himself a believer any longer. He attended the church off and on with his wife, and although he would have identified as a Christian at one point, his fervor for the belief had diminished over the years.

"What would you recommend for me? What advice would you give to someone in my situation?" he asked.

I'd like to take a stab at this:

1. Sometimes faith fades because their initial fervor or conversion experience was primarily social or emotional. Their reasons were very thin, and over the years they made no effort to bolster their reasons. For instance, they didn't no serious reading in Christian apologetics. They were skating until the ice melted under their feet.

2. I'd ask the individual what Christianity meant to him when back when he was fervent. There are churchgoers whose think Christianity is just about avoiding hell when you die, or getting to heaven when you die. They don't stop to consider how many other things are riding on the truth or falsity of the Christian worldview. They act like the good, the true, and the beautiful is detachable from Christianity. They haven't considered how everything of value patches into the Christian outlook. For them, Christianity is or was just an accessory, an add on. They take far too much for granted. 

3. There are churchgoers who plateau early on. They master the rudiments of Christian theology. They listen to shallow, repetitious sermons. They think that's all there is, and it's not enough. They don't go deeper into theology. They don't read good theologians. They don't invest in quality commentaries or exegetical monographs. They stop learning. They stop growing. 

4. Christians need to feed the imagination. Read good Christian poetry. Study great Christian art. Listen to great Christian music. Read good Christian fiction writers. Expand your aesthetic horizons. 

5. There are Christians who fail to integrate their Christian beliefs with other things they care about. They have a compartmentalized faith. There's the explicitly Christian stuff, then there's all the other interests and activities. They fail to see the world through Christian eyes. They fail to interpret their own life through a theological prism. The high-points, low-points, tragedies, disappointments. Things to be thankful for. 

Fall from orthodoxy

Locked doors

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”...26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” (Jn 20:19,26). 

This is often thought to mean Jesus walked through solid walls. While that's a possible inference, there are problems with that inference:

i) The narrator doesn't mention the locked doors to prep the reader for a miracle. Rather, the reason he provides is to draw attention to the disciples' state of mind: they were terrified that the authorities would arrest them. Since the authorities executed their leader, were they next? They were distraught and demoralized. That's the explicit reason for mentioning the locked doors. 

While that's all consistent with a miracle, the locked doors require no further explanation. That's their narrative purpose: not a setup for a miracle, but a symptom of the disciples' panic. 

ii) In this chapter and the next, the narrator records several scenes, including this scene, to emphasize the physicality of the Resurrection. If, however, Jesus could dematerialize and dematerialize at will, then that subverts the narrator's aim. That means Jesus is intermittently embodied. Sometimes he has a body, sometimes he's wraithlike. Not consistently physical or ghostly but alternating between those two different states. 

iii) This is not to deny the possibility or implication of a miracle. But it reflects a very limitation imagination on the part of the reader to assume he gained access by passing through walls. An inviting parallel is Peter's jailbreak (Acts 12). While that involves Peter miraculously overcoming physical restraints and barriers, it's not because his body dematerializes. Nothing happens to his body. Rather, supernatural things happen to the physical restraints and barriers–as well as the guards. 

Another example is Paul's jailbreak (Acts 16). In a sense, nothing supernatural happens. But the timing is providential. A coincidence miracle. 

John's Gospel is generally explicit about the miracles of Christ. They showcase his divine power. It would be odd if the narrator was recording another miracle, but in such ambiguous and understated terms. And the primary miracle in Jn 20-21 is the Resurrection itself. 

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Desolate in this world

Wesley Huff:

A number of years ago I was participating in an event at a church. It was a beautiful July evening and after my talk in the cool of the foyer as I watched the sun descend into vivid oranges and reds through the window, a man approached me. He shared with me that he didn't necessarily consider himself a believer any longer. He attended the church off and on with his wife, and although he would have identified as a Christian at one point, his fervor for the belief had diminished over the years.

"What would you recommend for me? What advice would you give to someone in my situation?" he asked.

Whether it is an idle season, or someone who is struggling to believe what they thought was previously true, it can be a legitimate challenge to maintain vibrancy regarding gospel truths on a day-to-day basis.

St. Augustine, in a writing simply called Letters (130.30), in a particular correspondence with a woman in the fifth century, gave the council that: "You must account yourself desolate in this world, however great the prosperity of your lot may be."

What Augustine meant by that statement is that to be "'desolate' in this world" is to realize that despite our possessions or circumstances, the reality is that it is all temporary. Likewise, to be "desolate in this world" is to see our dependence on God's guidance and direction and that despite our best efforts, we still fall short of both the world and His standards. Only when this truth permeates our whole life do we see how little we truly have. How little we mentally, spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, and physically possess. At that point then we can realize the beauty, necessity, and wonder of God's provision for us in the image of a man on a cross.

Paul writes to the community of believers in Rome and states that, "God demonstrates His own love for us in this: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8).

There is no "magic answer" to starting, maintaining, or jump-starting a life of spiritual freshness. There will be days where we thrive on the validity of the Christian worldview, the truths we read in God's Word, and the presence we feel in and through particular instances. But the vibrancy of the gospel in our life is not found in pledging anew to commit to spiritual disciples (although those are certainly important). Spiritual vigor comes from a fresh realization of the impermanence of our lives and the brokenness of our hearts that tunes our souls to long for the grace and faithfulness our God whose "steadfast love never ceases, mercies [that] never come to an end; they are new every morning; [and] great is [His] faithfulness" (Lamentations 3:22-23)

Feminist double standards

i) There's a stereotypical difference between men and women. If a pretty girl grabbed the butt of a young guy, or slapped him on the butt, or kissed him, or put her hands up his shirt, or walked up to him on the beach and ran her hands up and down his chest, a normal guy (especially if he's single) wouldn't be offended by that.  He'd find that flattering and amusing. And those are mild examples. A pretty woman could push the envelop further without repercussion (e.g. grab his crotch or yank his jams down). 

At the moment I'm not discussed what's morally proper. I'm just making the obvious point that what might constitute sexual harassment or assault if a guy does it to a girl isn't sexual harassment or assault if a girl does it to a guy. Men and women are wired differently.

ii) Up to a point I don't mind a double standard. The problem is with an arbitrary double standard where we simultaneously pretend that men and women are interchangeable, should be treated the same in every respect. Intolerance for male spaces (e.g. the Boy Scouts) or male-only occupations (e.g. combat). 

We need to have a consistent policy. Either admit that men and women are different in some fundamental respects, in which case we allow for male-only spaces and male-only occupations, or have a uniform policy in treating male and female alike (not my recommendation).  

Secular progressives try to have it both ways. Another example is affirmative consent policies on college campuses which discriminate against male students, begin with the presumption that the male is always the guilty party in a male/female sexual transaction. 

iii) It's also a fact that some women are attracted to certain kinds of men. Handsome guys can get away with things homely guys wouldn't dare do. Bad boys get away with things that square boys wouldn't dare do. Some women are attracted to rich/powerful men, even though they know the men are promiscuous. 

McGrew/Gilson on the Gospels

Informed consent

1. Glad to see a pro-life victory.

2. As a possible aid for pro-lifers in general, let me mention two words: informed consent.

Here I'll emphasize the "informed" in informed consent.

What is informed consent? At a basic level, my understanding is informed consent is the idea that the patient ought to be given the choice to accept or decline medical treatment based on the physician (or other health care providers) providing the patient comprehensible and sufficient information to make this choice (e.g. relevant knowledge of risks and benefits of medical treatment).

In short, patients need to know what medical treatment they're receiving with their eyes as wide open as possible.

Of course, there may be exceptions (e.g. an unconscious patient with life-threatening trauma that requires immediate action), but I'm speaking in general.

At least this is my working definition, but I presume a lawyer, ethicist, and/or philosopher could improve upon it. I'd be glad to have an improved definition.

3. In any case, showing a woman seeking an abortion an ultrasound of her baby, explaining what everything means to her, and fielding any questions she has in order to obtain consent for abortion seems to me to be part and parcel of informed consent. It seems to me it's what a physician is obligated to do with respect to informed consent.

4. At the same time, intentionally withholding this same information seems to me the physician is failing to obtain adequate informed consent. As such, it seems to me the physician could be liable to a charge of negligence.

5. Suppose someone is seeking quadruple bypass heart surgery. Suppose the cardiothoracic surgeon intentionally withholds relevant information about what the surgery will involve. This could open the cardiothoracic surgeon to a malpractice suit.

I'm no lawyer, ethicist, or philosopher, but perhaps a case could be made that it should be the same for physicians and other health care providers who refuse to provide information to women seeking an abortion like ultrasounds and hearing their baby's heart beat. If so, then we can take the fight to pro-abortionists.

Monday, July 01, 2019

Toilet water

1. AOC and Judy Chu are alleging "refugees" are being forced to drink toilet water.

a. On the contrary, I've read these "refugees" are drinking potable water from sinks attached to toilets. That's different from drinking directly from the toilet itself. Apparently this how many US public facilities (e.g. prisons) are set up as well.

b. In addition: "So this is what happened with the migrant and drinking water from toilet: she wanted water, didn’t know how to use the faucet in the cell, and drank from the toilet. She never told AOC that we made her drink from the toilet."

c. Regardless, the water in the US is generally cleaner and safer to drink than water in Mexico and other Latin American nations. (And arguably this includes toilet water in many cases.)

d. Americans are generously providing "refugees" with shelter, food, water, and so forth when in truth "refugees" aren't entitled to shelter, food, water, and other goods from Americans. Granted, what's provided is anything but glamorous, but why should it be glamorous? AOC and Chu act like "refugees" deserve a presidential suite at the Palms Resort in Vegas, a five course meal prepared by Gordon Ramsay, and a bottle of Beverly Hills 9OH2O. Why is their standard the standard that "refugees" should be accorded?

2. Progressives are condemning CBP for "illegally" refusing to process applications in a timely fashion when "refugees" are legally allowed to apply for asylum at the border.

a. I don't know the legal situation, but what's legal isn't necessarily what's ethical. In any case, I'm far more concerned with the ethics.

b. Not all of them are genuine "refugees". Perhaps not even the majority of them. Lots of miscreants in the pack.

c. No one is entitled to camp out on someone's front yard and demand the person has so many days to process their application to enter their house. That's absurd. Why would it be wrong if CBP simply rejected most "refugees" at the border? It's not as if CBP have infinite personnel and resources to expend on processing any and all comers.

d. However, even if they were genuine refugees, it would take a considerable amount of time to vet each of them (e.g. medical checks, re-settlement).

e. How are there suddenly thousands of "refugees" at our border? Isn't this rather suspicious in and of itself?

3. What about AOC's own behavior? She screamed at border patrol in a threatening manner the moment she arrived and didn't even bother touring the facilities. This suggests she doesn't care about what's really happening or not happening at the border. She doesn't care about finding the truth. She's already made up her mind. She's already got her agenda. She's just grinding an axe and preparing to hack away at anyone who disagrees with her.

When is a baby a baby?

Christian family values

Randal Rauser
James Dobson says media is not 'truthful' in reporting on migrant detention centers. Conservative Christian family values on display...

I’m questioning his family values. Dobson is silent on Trump’s policy of child separation and delaying of refugee claimants and incredibly suggests the government should “just deny these refugees access to this nation. Can’t we just send them back to their places of origin?”

That’s a violation of the UN Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. It’s also a violation of basic humanity and compassion, not to mention the ethic of Jesus (Matthew 25:31-46). Dobson is a propagandist for an administration engaging in unChristian actions.

True family values would denounce the policy instituted by Jeff Sessions to separate children and demoralize parents. Shutting the border to refugees? Unbelievable.

A revealing window into the mind of a progressive theologian:

i) It's not my objective to exegete Dobson's statements. He's not my spokesman. I'm more interested in Rauser's reaction.

ii) For Rauser, the UN is the moral and theological arbiter of what constitutes Christian family values. For Rauser, the Bible isn't the Christian moral authority but the UN. 

iii) Typically, Rauser cites Mt 25:31-46 out of context. But as standard commentaries explain, that has reference to persecuted Christians.

iv) Even if, for argument's sake, we grant Rauser's (mis-)interpretation, Jesus isn't Rauser's moral authority. Rauser is quite prepared to dismiss dominical teachings. He defends a Kenotic Christology where Jesus was a fallible child of his times. 

v) Whether the individuals are refugees is hardly a given. Many illegal immigrants (or even terrorists) game the system by pretending to be refugees or asylum-seekers.

vi) Christian family values are concentric. You have a greater duty to protect and provide for your own dependents.

vii) The policy antedates the Trump administration. 

viii) Is Rauser unaware of how much child-trafficking goes on under the guise of "refugees"? 


i) How does Mayor Buttboy define a "cage"? Is a chain-link enclosure a cage? If so, does that mean parents with fenced-in backyards are putting their kids in cages? Are fenced-in playgrounds cages? 

ii) Children are separated from parents when a parent is jailed or imprisoned for breaking the law. Are Democrats taking the position that having a child should literally be a get-out-of-jail-free card for parental felons? 

iii) In addition, there's no presumption that the adults are their parents. There's lots of child-trafficking at the border. Are these parents or smugglers? 

iv) The kids are being used a political prop for emotional blackmail. I feel sorry for the kids, but national policy can't be based on emotional blackmail. And we didn't create the crisis. People don't have a right to just show up at your house and demand to be cared for. 

Heroes and anti-heroes

Some thoughts on heroes and villains and storytelling. This involves some literary and film criticism. And there are tons of spoilers about The Dark Knight, Logan, and the much older film Seven. It's a bit of a jumble if not a haphazard mess, and I don't have the time I'd like to have to better organize and finesse it, but I figured it's better raw than not at all.

  1. Many people are fascinated with crime stories, film noir, vigilantes, outlaws, and the like.

    Take the hard-boiled private investigator. I think the main attraction of the P.I. is that he has legal authority to investigate and arrest criminals, and he's fighting to solve crime, but he can operate outside the law. He can rough up people in a way the police can't, he can sneak into places the police need a warrant to search, he can fake the evidence for the greater good of getting rid of the bad guy, and so on. He's a just individual, but he isn't beholden to the judicial and legal system.

    Similar things could be said for the vigilante and the outlaw.

    In short, these are stories about a certain type of character - the anti-hero. Characters who are at heart good but who operate on the (legal and/or ethical) fringes of society. In D&D parlance, the police or sheriff would be lawful good characters, while the P.I. or outlaw would be chaotic good characters.

  2. A good story needs a good enemy. The antagonist mirrors the protagonist.

Make the most of...nothing

A popular atheist trope is that since this life is all there is, you better make the most of it. One problem with the trope is that without immortality, even life at its most pleasant is worthless. However, I won't argue that point here. I've done that elsewhere.

But another problem is how elitist the trope is. Many people never have a chance to live it up, live life to the max. On the one hand there's a fraction of human beings who are young, healthy, wealthy, and gorgeous. They have the best of everything. Mind you, that's a very thin existence. 

But for most folks, life isn't so charmed. Many people work jobs they hate. The only jobs available to them are jobs they hate. And home is no escape. Some men come home to a frigid, nagging wife. Some women come home to a drunk. Their kids may be juvenile delinquents. Or drug addicts. Or prone to self-harm. 

Many people never have financial security. They're always behind. They may have a ratty house in a ratty neighborhood. Between a loveless marriage, a job they hate, a slummy neighborhood or disappointing kids, they can't get much out of life. They never had the breaks. Behind the chain-link fence they gaze longingly at "the good life"–but it lies forever out of reach. They can see it but they can't have it. 

For many people, this life is pinched: like wearing shoes two sizes too small. If there's no hope beyond the grave, then it's cruel to tell them they should take full advantage of the only life they'll ever get. Like telling a boy in a wheelchair, "Come hiking with us!" 

Andy Ngo

1. The above tweet is from Andy Ngo's lawyer and is in light of what Antifa did to Andy. What happened to Andy was bad. He deserves justice. His Antifa assailants should be punished. I don't have any problem with them being "sued into oblivion" either. I'd be fine with seeing Antifa wiped off the face of the earth. As many have said, Antifa is a terrorist organization or becoming like a terrorist organization (though they're probably less well organized and less well funded than major terrorist organizations but I'm referring to what they are in principle).

2. I don't know Andy and I don't (and shouldn't) have access to Andy's medical records. That said, based on what's in the media and social media including Andy's own Twitter feed, it looks to me like Andy's injuries are relatively mild or at worst moderate from a medical perspective. For example, he was never unconscious and he was discharged after only one night in the hospital. And I suspect the "hemorrhaging" was exaggerated. In short, it seems to me Andy might possibly be exaggerating or overselling what happened to him, either intentionally or unintentionally.

3. In any case, suppose (arguendo) this is what's happening. Suppose Andy is exaggerating what's happened to him. If so, this raises an ethical dilemma. Is it wrong to exaggerate what happened in cases like Andy's?

Speaking for myself, I don't think so. That is, I don't have a problem with Andy exaggerating or overselling what happened to him (again assuming that's what he's doing). That's because not to do so would let Antifa, the liberal mainstream media, and progressives in general win. Furthermore, this battle is a battle in the larger war for the fundamentals of what it means to be an American (e.g. free speech). That's something our Chief Justice seems to miss - one can be so legally scrupulous that justice isn't carried out. Besides, progressives and the like-minded are attempting to downplay what happened to Andy. Not to mention it could very well have been Antifa's intention to do far more harm to Andy than they were able to do to him.

To put it another way, if we lived in a time and a place where we had a right and honorable legal system, where those who assaulted Andy would be justly punished, where most people were generally fair and reasonable-minded, and where the court of public opinion didn't matter so much, then Andy wouldn't need to exaggerate what happened to him. He would be given a fair hearing and justice would be fairly meted out, both against his assailants and for him. However, we don't live in such a time or place. Liberals and progressives have changed and are constantly continuing to change the rules of the game, as it were. All the more in a progressive town like Portland, in a progressive state like Oregon, where Andy is from and where this happened to him.

4. By the way, if I recall, Andy's family escaped Vietnam to settle in the US. They did so to escape communism. I wonder if his family sees parallels with groups like Antifa and the rise of communism in Vietnam. Such as the use of intimidation, bullying, and physical violence to shut down dissenting voices.

Norman Geisler

Norm Geisler passed away today at 86. Geisler was an influential popularizer. He spread himself much too thin, so the quality of his work suffered accordingly. I regard his commitment to Thomism as a weakness, although one can appropriate and incorporate elements of Thomism into an overall apologetic or worldview. An outspoken champion of biblical inerrancy, he was rather better on offense than providing a sophisticated model of inerrancy. He mentored a number of younger apologists. To some extent he was overtaken by William Lane Craig. 

The Ripping Out Of The Fireplace In The Enfield Case

A paranormal researcher who's skeptical of Enfield nevertheless acknowledged that "there were reports of activity that I'm not willing to dismiss a priori as childish trickery, such as a wrought iron fireplace being wrenched out of a wall". Mary Rose Barrington, in the committee report on the Enfield case for the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), referred to the fireplace incident as "an item of poltergeistery of the first order" (cited here). See here for a brief overview of the incident in a documentary, which includes comments from a few people who were in the house at the time, most of them in the room where the fireplace was. The event was recorded on audio tape (8B in Guy Playfair's collection). This post is largely about that recording.

When I cite the Enfield tapes, I'll use "MG" to refer to a tape from Maurice Grosse's collection and "GP" to refer to one from Playfair's. So, MG28B is tape 28B in Grosse's collection, and GP93A is tape 93A in Playfair's.

Before getting to the contents of the tape of the fireplace incident, I'll quote an overview from Playfair's book. On the morning of October 26, 1977:

There was a sudden violent shaking sound, and it was immediately followed by total panic.

'Oh Lord!' cried [Peggy Hodgson]. 'That does it. All that power! I'm getting out.'…

The entire iron frame of the gas fire had been wrenched out of the wall, and was standing at an angle on the floor, still attached to the half-inch diameter brass pipe that connected it to the mains. The pipe had been bent through an angle of 32 degrees. This was a major demolition job, for the thing was cemented into the brickwork, and it was out of the question to suggest that one of the children could have wrenched it out. When we finally dismantled the whole apparatus, we found it quite a job even to move. It must have weighed at least fifty pounds. (This House Is Haunted [United States: White Crow Books, 2011], 60)

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Free fire zone

In the past I've discussed how freewill theism generates moral dilemmas. Here's a definition:

What is common to the two well-known cases is conflict. In each case, an agent regards herself as having moral reasons to do each of two actions, but doing both actions is not possible. Ethicists have called situations like these moral dilemmas. The crucial features of a moral dilemma are these: the agent is required to do each of two (or more) actions; the agent can do each of the actions; but the agent cannot do both (or all) of the actions. The agent thus seems condemned to moral failure; no matter what she does, she will do something wrong (or fail to do something that she ought to do).

I've quoted Roger Olson as a freewill theist who concedes the reality of moral dilemmas. BW3 is another example:

BW3 uses moral dilemmas as a wedge issue to justify abortion in cases of rape, incest, or the life of the mother. It isn't clear if by the life of the mother he means situations where one must die for the other to survive or where both will die unless one is killed. If moral dilemmas are a fixture of your worldview, then the world becomes a free fire zone where anything is permissible under dire circumstances. Freewill theists rail against the morality of Calvinism but it's ironic what their own position commits them to. 

Nurse Ratched for president

Ever notice that the women running for president on the Democrat ticket are running to be Mommy-in-Chief. Feminism is Momism:

The movie's simplistic approach to mental illness is not really a fault of the movie, because it has no interest in being about insanity. It is about a free spirit in a closed system. Nurse Ratched, who is so inflexible, so unseeing, so blandly sure she is right, represents Momism at its radical extreme, and McMurphy is the Huck Finn who wants to break loose from her version of civilization...If his performance is justly celebrated, Louise Fletcher's, despite the Oscar, is not enough appreciated. This may be because her Nurse Ratched is so thoroughly contemptible, and because she embodies so completely the qualities we all (men and women) have been taught to fear in a certain kind of female authority figure--a woman who has subsumed sexuality and humanity into duty and righteousness. Dressed in her quasi-military nurse's costume, with its little hat and its Civil War-style cape, she is dominatrix and warden, followed everywhere by the small, unspeaking nurse who is her acolyte.

Christ in the House of his Parents

Here's an interesting painting:

This was a revolutionary, landmark painting at the time, breaking free from iconographic conventions. If you look closely, it's rich with symbolism. The sheep in the background are Christian emblems. The dove on the ladder and boyish John the Baptist with a bowl of water foreshadow the baptism of Christ, while the wood, nails, and bleeding hand wound foreshadow the crucifixion. 

It was, however, controversial at the time because it offended Victorian sensibilities. They found the depiction of the Holy Family irreverent and indecorous. Too down-to-earth. That's a good example of how religious piety can become far removed from the original reality.