Saturday, August 17, 2019

Family ten Boom

(The ten Boom family in 1895. Top row: Cor (mother), Casper (father), family friend. Middle row: Aunt Jans, Aunt Bep, Aunt Anna. Bottom row: Willem, Corrie, Nollie, and Betsie. Betsie was the eldest child, Willem second, Nollie third, and Corrie the youngest.)

1. It seems to me the ten Boom family had many faithful Christians (Dutch Reformed) across several generations. At least as far back as the early 1800s. Apparently they were always poor watchmakers but everyone in their community knew and respected them.

Their home was always open. They held Bible studies and prayer meetings in their home. They always welcomed guests. They always contributed to their community (e.g. lending what money they had). Not only to help Jews, but also others like missionaries and their kids (e.g. missionaries from the Dutch East Indies aka modern Indonesia).

In this respect Corrie ten Boom wasn't doing anything out of the ordinary in helping Jews since her family had always been doing the same for generations. In fact, though Corrie was most famous (because she lived to tell the tale), her other immediate family members seemed to have done more than Corrie did during the war. Today Corrie, her sister Betsie, and her father Casper are honored as "the righteous among the nations" by Israel. Yad Vashem is Israel's official Shoah (Holocaust) museum to honor the deceased; Yad Vashem honors the ten Boom family too.

2. However, from what I can tell, World War II effectively wiped out most if not all the ten Boom family (e.g. Corrie's father Casper died 10 days into his imprisonment in Scheveningen prison, Corrie's eldest sister Betsie died in Ravensbrück concentration camp in 1944). The few that survived the war died soon after (e.g. Corrie's brother Wilhem who was a pastor died in 1946 from an infectious disease he contracted in a concentration camp), never married or had kids (e.g. Corrie ten Boom), or their kids were never heard from again (e.g. Corrie's nephew was never seen again and most likely died in a concentration camp).

3. Sometimes Christians can be utterly faithful and committed to God, but it doesn't necessarily end well for them. Their branch is cut off from the tree. Indeed their family ends precisely because they were faithful.

4. That stands in stark contrast to professing Christians today who have a mindset that God is always going to bless them in terms of material success. As if a relationship with God is a quid pro quo relationship.

5. It likewise stands in stark contrast to those who prosper because of their wickedness. Consider Psalm 73.

6. I suppose that's one reason why biblical wisdom literature includes both the book of Proverbs as well as the book of Ecclesiastes. To (over?)simplify, Proverbs is about the general moral norms of life, while Ecclesiastes is about the hard cases in life. It's one thing to walk on a clear and bright day, but it's another to walk when the sunlight has dimmed, when the shadows creep in, when the darkness envelops.

Two doors

I've discussed this before, but I'd like to use a different example to illustrate the point. Freewill theism touts the necessity of having freedom of opportunity. To have "real" freedom or a "real" choice means having alternate courses of action available to you. 

But here's the problem. Say you're standing in front of two doors. You can choose between Door A and Door B. In a sense, that's freedom of opportunity. You have two options to choose from. 

But here's the catch: the doors don't have windows. They're opaque. So you don't know what lies behind each door. You don't know in advance where each door will take you. 

Moreover, whichever door you go through locks behind you. So you're trapped by the choices you make. 

Even though you can pick one or the other, it's a blind choice. You might as well flip a coin. 

What if you go through Door A and find out that as a bad choice. But you couldn't know that before you did it, and once you do it it's too late to try Door B instead. You're stuck with the choice you made even though you couldn't foresee what you were getting into.

In addition, you didn't get to choose what your options are. Rather, you're confronted with options, and you have to make a choice from the options you're given. But what if none of them are the options you wanted? 

And this isn't just a metaphor. This is what happens to us in real life. This is how "choice" actually plays out. Open theism is so shallow in that regard. 

At least in Calvinism, there's the promise that everything happens for a good reason, even if you have to go through hell on earth in this life. But in freewill theism, you make conscientious decisions with catastrophic unintended consequences for yourself or your loved ones, and it may be utterly pointless. Just your hard luck. 

Is Calvinism Manichean?

A popular Arminian trope is to say that Calvinism is based on Augustinian theology, and Augustinian theology is colored by Augustine's residual Manichaeism. 

i) It's absurd to claim that all Calvinists are getting their theology mediated by Augustine. Even if Augustine was a major stimulus for Calvin, it doesn't follow that all or most Calvinists arrive at their position by the same route. You can be a Calvinist without reading a page by Calvin or Augustine. 

The Reformed tradition points people to Biblical prooftexts for Calvinism. So many (most?) Calvinists are getting their theology from the prooftexts. They find the prooftexts convincing. While an Arminian will say they misinterpret Scripture, the point is that their frame of reference isn't Augustine or Calvin but Scripture. 

To take a comparison, I can use a map to drive to a national park. And I can use the map to find the trails, and the scenic destinations. But once I'm there, I can see it for myself. What I believe about the park no longer relies on the map. 

Likewise, suppose I'm a park ranger, and my kids were born in a cabin for park rangers. What they know about the park isn't dependent on the route I took to become a park ranger and be assigned to that national park. Even though that's where the journey began for me, they begin at a different point. 

2. In addition, the genetic fallacy cuts both ways. We could just as well say that indeterminism is a pagan idea, going back to the role of luck, randomness, and chance in Greek philosophers like Aristotle and Epicurus. Therefore, freewill theism has a heathen pedigree. 

Corrie ten Boom

Below are some random tidbits associated with Corrie ten Boom.

First a disclaimer:

All this is based on what Corrie ten Boom has claimed in interviews and books. However I can't vouch for all her claims. I haven't studied her life in any depth. I've only watched some of her interviews and read some of her material.

As such, it's possible these facts are incorrect. If so, I doubt she was intentionally attempting to deceive or lie, but it's possible she misperceived events or the like.

For example, I think Corrie has often told a story about seeing a Nazi prison guard at a post-war evangelistic meeting. She hated him for how he treated her and her older sister Betsie in their concentration camp. However she ended up forgiving him after he had asked for her forgiveness in light of becoming a Christian. At the same time, starting at approximately 51:30 in this video, Corrie tells what appears to be an almost identical story except it's a female nurse. To be fair, perhaps this truly happened to her with two different people on two different occasions.

Also, though Corrie was Dutch Reformed, she wasn't a theologian. In fact, as far as I know, she wasn't ever formally educated beyond secondary school, though apparently she did become the first female watchmaker in the Netherlands.

And she may have held theological beliefs I don't agree with (e.g. I've read she was premil).

All that said, and in no particular order:

On private judgment

Vicarious martyrdom

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a revered figure for many professed Christians all across the theological spectrum. And that's merited. There is, though, the danger of self-deception in the veneration of figures like Bonhoeffer. It's chic to admire Bonhoeffer. It can become an exercise in self-flattery. If I admire a good person, that makes me good by extension. 

And it can become a form of vicarious martyrdom. It takes no courage to praise his courage. We admire him at a safe distance from the mortal hazards he faced. Venerating figures like Bonhoffer becomes a cost-free substitute for taking the risks he took. It has all the advantages of martyrdom without the price-tag. 

But while we admire him, would he admire us? I'm old enough to remember Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's controversial commencement address at Harvard. The western intelligentsia lionized his moral heroism. Having honored him by inviting him to deliver the commencement address at the most prestigious university in America, they expected him to honor them in return. Instead, he delivered a scorching speech about secular decadence in the west. His speech was prophetic:

In fairness, someone might say the same thing about this very post. I don't face imprisonment, torture, or execution for posting this. Point taken. I don't claim to be a hero. Posting this doesn't make me virtuous. So this is a message for me as well. 

The Davitamon bottle

(Left to right: Betsie ten Boom, Nollie ten Boom, Corrie ten Boom c. 1905.)

Here is an excerpt from Corrie ten Boom's The Hiding Place. The book is in part about her time in a concentration camp during World War II. Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch Reformed Christian who helped hide Jews during the war, but was eventually caught and imprisoned by the Nazis, along with most the rest of her family including her older sister Betsie ten Boom.

Another strange thing was happening. The Davitamon bottle was continuing to produce drops. It scarcely seemed possible, so small a bottle, so many doses a day. Now, in addition to Betsie, a dozen others on our pier were taking it.

My instinct was always to hoard it-Betsie was growing so very weak! But others were ill as well. It was hard to say no to eyes that burned with fever, hands that shook with chill. I tried to save it for the very weakest-but even these soon numbered fifteen, twenty, twenty-five. . . .

And still, every time I tilted the little bottle, a drop appeared at the top of the glass stopper. It just couldn’t be! I held it up to the light, trying to see how much was left, but the dark brown glass was too thick to see through.

"There was a woman in the Bible," Betsie said, "whose oil jar was never empty." She turned to it in the Book of Kings, the story of the poor widow of Zarephath who gave Elijah a room in her home: "The jar of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of Jehovah which he spoke by Elijah."

Well-but-wonderful things happened all through the Bible. It was one thing to believe that such things were possible thousands of years ago, another to have it happen now, to us, this very day. And yet it happened, this day, and the next, and the next, until an awed little group of spectators stood around watching the drops fall onto the daily rations of bread.

Many nights I lay awake in the shower of straw dust from the mattress above, trying to fathom the marvel of supply lavished upon us. "Maybe," I whispered to Betsie, "only a molecule or two really gets through that little pinhole-and then in the air it expands!"

I heard her soft laughter in the dark. "Don’t try too hard to explain it, Corrie. Just accept it as a surprise from a Father who loves you."

And then one day Mien pushed her way to us in the evening food line. "Look what I’ve got for you!"

Mien was a pretty young Dutch woman we had met in Vught. She was assigned to the hospital and often managed to bring to Barracks 28 some stolen treasure from the staff room-a sheet of newspaper to stuff in a broken window, a slice of bread left untouched on a nurse’s plate. Now we peered into the small cloth sack she carried.

"Vitamins!" I cried, and then cast an apprehensive glance at a camp policeman nearby. "Yeast compound!" I whispered.

"Yes!" she hissed back. "There were several huge jars. I emptied each just the same amount."

We gulped the thin turnip water, marveling at our sudden riches. Back at the bunk I took the bottle from the straw. "We’ll finish the drops first," I decided.

But that night, no matter how long I held it upside down, or how hard I shook it, not another drop appeared.

Friday, August 16, 2019

The God of Peter

The following is an excerpt from The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun by Paul Hattaway. Brother Yun recounted his testimony and ministry in China to Hattaway which Hattaway turned into the book.

Hattaway is the founder of Asia Harvest. The most recent edition of Themelios positively reviewed another book Hattaway wrote called Shandong: The Revival Province. For what it's worth, the review calls Hattaway "an authority on the history of the Chinese church" (among other things).

That said, there's some skepticism about the miracles in Brother Yun's life. The miracle that seems to receive the most criticism is the one I've excerpted below (along with Brother Yun's 74 day fast). At least from what I can tell, it seems many of the criticisms against Brother Yun can primarily be traced back to another Chinese Christian living in Germany named Titus Pan. Pan's pseudonym is Lin Mushe.

However, some people are skeptical about Pan too (e.g. here, here).

Epstein and assisted suicide

If it was "suicide," he had a lot of help :-)

Erasing Catholic teaching

The teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (here after CCC) has undergone substantive since its initial publication. I wonder how many Catholics compare different editions to register the changes. In addition, there's a distinction between print editions and electronic revisions. Nowadays the CCC can be revised or updated without formally issuing or announcing a third edition, fourth edition, &c.. 

The official edition is at the Vatican website. While it's convenient to be able to read the CCC online, a downside of the electronic version is that whenever it's revised, that erases the prior history of the CCC's teaching. 

It's also becoming harder to check the online version against print editions because libraries are eliminating print books. They take up space and fewer borrowers check them out. 

Another complication is that the "canonical" text is in Latin, so the wording of English translations may vary a bit. Likewise, when the Latin text is revised, there might be lag time to revise translations. All these factors make it harder to compare different editions of the CCC back-to-back. Unless you happen to own a print copies of the first and second editions, it's hard to make a direct comparison from the primary sources. Sometimes you can get the text from secondary sources that discuss changes to the CCC. 

I see some Catholic apologists offer the face-saving explanation that the first edition was "provisional". But the first edition wasn't a draft copy. It was approved for publication by Pope John-Paul II and Cardinal Ratziger, then Prefect for the CDF and chairman of the CCC committee. It contains the foreword ("Apostolic Constitution") by John-Paul II, where he declares is "declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith":

Let's compare two examples where the teaching of the CCC has undergone substantive alteration. 

1. Lying

Original edition

2483 To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead into error someone who has a right to know the truth. 


2483 To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error.

2. Capital Punishment

Original edition:

2266 Preserving the common good of society requires rendering the aggressor unable to inflict harm. For this reason the traditional teaching of the Church has acknowledged as well-founded the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty. 

First revision (John-Paul II)

2266 The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people's rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and the duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. 

Second revision (Pope Francis)

2267. Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”,[1] and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide. 

3. Taking stock

In the case of lying, the revision eliminates the proviso: someone who has a right to know the truth

In the case of capital punishment, the first revision eliminates the proviso: not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty. 

While the second revision rules out capital punishment in principle. 

These are fundamental issues in Catholic moral theology, so it's striking to see the teaching of the CCC undergo substantive change or reversal in the course of a few years. 

4. For further reference:

Catechism of the Catholic Church (1995 print edition)

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Worm food

Do not love the world

An excerpt from Karen Jobes' 1, 2, and 3 John (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series):

2:15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them (Μὴ ἀγαπᾶτε τὸν κόσμον μηδὲ τὰ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ. ἐάν τις ἀγαπᾷ τὸν κόσμον, οὐκ ἔστιν ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ πατρὸς ἐν αὐτῷ). After affirming his confidence in the genuine Christian faith of his readers, John here issues the first of ten imperatives in the letter (also in 2:24, 27, 28; 3:1, 7, 13; 4:1 [2x]; 5:21). He has previously said that the one who loves a brother or sister abides in the light (2:10), so this command stands in sharp contrast, creating a new category in the Johannine duality, the "world" (κόσμος). Living in the light means a life of love for God and for fellow believers; love for the world is excluded from living in the light. In fact, love for the world as John defines it is mutually exclusive with love for the Father (see "In Depth: The ‘World’ in John’s Letters" at 2:16).

Because love for the world is syntactically parallel with "love for the Father" (ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ πατρός), the genitive is most likely objective, referring primarily to the believer’s love for the Father, which is expressed by loving others according to the will of God. This expression of love for God achieves the goal of God’s redemptive love for his people (see comments on 2:5a-b). Therefore, those who love God must not love "the world," for by John’s definition the world is all that is in rebellion against God. Clearly "love" for the world is of a qualitatively different kind than the love one is to have for a brother or sister, which is an expression of care and concern. Here, "love" refers to an attraction to something that one wishes to enjoy, an indulgence in things that are not in the light. It is to want to participate in what is set in rebellion against God.

Feser on simplicity redux

I commented on Ed Feser's reply to Ryan Mullins one before:

In his reply, Feser says he defends Thomistic simplicity at greater length in his book on Five Proofs of the Existence of God. So I'll turn to that. What he says on pp186-96 adds nothing of consequence to his response to Mullins. So I'll begin by sampling the argument in chap. 2: 

The things of our experience are made up of parts…There is a sense in which, in each of these cases, the parts are less fundamental than the whole…Still, there is obviously also another sense in which each of these wholes is less fundamental than its parts. For the whole cannot exist unless the parts exist and are combined in the right way. 

So, the things of our experience are composite, or composed of parts. And a composite is less fundamental than its parts in the sense that its existence presupposes that its parts are put together in the right way…Composite things have causes (chap. 2).


"Protestantism is not a church"

I'm going to comment on something by an Eastern Orthodox apologist:

The EO/evangelical debate is underdeveloped on both sides compared to traditional debates like the Catholic/Protestant debate, the Calvinist/Arminian debate, &c., because evangelicalism wasn't a contender in the East while EO wasn't a contender in the west. So it's useful to engage EO arguments from time to since since that's the trail less taken. I won't comment on everything he says because some of his objections are identical to Catholic objections, and I've discussed those ad nauseam. 

He's interacting with a document called “Reforming Catholic Confession”. I might agree with some of his criticisms, but that just means I disagree with how the “Reforming Catholic Confession” frames certain issues. I can disagree with both of them: Eastern Orthodoxy and the “Reforming Catholic Confession” alike. 

Christian infographics

That's a hard question to answer

Today, I had an extended back and forth with atheist video blogger (and actor) Scott Clifton. I wanted to post one bit of the exchange here because I address a very common type of question about the problem of evil.

Clifton: Can you name a good—any good—that can’t be brought about by an omnipotent being without millions of children being raped?

1. It's not uncommon in Q/A sessions where a Christian apologist is speaking to a college audience (or something like that) to be asked the kind of question where he prefaces his resonse by saying, "That's a hard question to answer." 

Now there are different motivations for an atheist to pose a question like that. Sometimes the atheist feels genuine moral outrage. I'd just say that atheists like that are intellectually shallow fools. They have no justification for their outrage.

Sometimes the question is designed to make the Christian apologist squirm. It's a wedge tactic. The objective is to expose cracks in the foundation of his faith. Push an apologist to the point where you show that he's conflicted about his theology.

2. It's important to draw a distinction between two different ways in which a question is hard to answer:

i) A question that's intellectually hard to answer

ii) A question that's emotionally hard to answer

Take someone who feels funny. Something's off. He goes to the doctor. Describes his symptoms. The doctor runs some tests and comes back with the results. The patient asks the doctor, "So what's wrong with me?" What did the tests reveal? Suppose the patient has a condition with a terrifying prognosis, viz. brain cancer, MS, ALS, Parkinson's, senile dementia. 

The question is easy to answer intellectually but hard to answer emotionally. The question has a correct answer. And it's not hard to find out what that is. 

But from the standpoint of human compassion and empathy, it's painful to break that news to the patient. His condition is hopeless and terrifying. 

3. Apropos (2), Clifton's question isn't a tough question to answer intellectually. A (theistic) universe with child-rape contains second-order goods that a universe without child-rape would not and could not contain. And not even an omnipotent being can produce a second-order good directly. In the nature of the case, some second-order goods necessarily require evil as a prior condition. Now, we could debate whether the value of certain second-order goods is sufficient to justify horrific evils required for their production, but that wasn't the question.  

The dilemma for a Christian apologist is that it may seem heartless to give an affirmative answer to that question. It may seem cold-blooded to offer an explanation. But that's like the dilemma of a physician who has heartbreaking news for his patient. And, frankly, if you're going to ask a Christian apologist a tough question, it's hypocritical to take offense if he gives you a tough answer.

4. In addition, it's important to draw another distinction:

i) A question that's hard to answer

ii) A question that's impossible to answer

Clifton's question has absolutely no impact on my Christian faith. That's because, while the problem of evil may be a hard question for the Christian to answer (whether intellectually or emotionally), it's an impossible question for the atheist to answer–and given a choice between hard answers and impossible answers, I have no difficulty preferring a position that's able to give answers, however painful, to a position that has no answers. Hard beats impossible every time.

In naturalism, nothing is morally good or bad. Some people have brains that tell them child rape is heinous while others have brains that tell them child rape is okay. It never rises above a human level. In naturalism, what makes the brain of a child rapist mistaken? Nature isn't normative. And secularists assure us that atypical natural variations (like homosexuality) are just as legit. That logic includes sociopaths.  

For that matter, we're just temporary, replaceable, interchangeable organisms. Like the fact that most baby animals don't survive to adulthood. They are eaten by predators. The universe is amoral. There's no way anything is suppose to be. Whether it's one way or another way is arbitrary.   

5. Finally, it's ultimately not my responsibility to answer for God. I just play the hand I was dealt. I don't need to feel defensive about angry, accusatory questions from knee-jerk atheists who don't think three steps deep. In my judgment, there are adequate answers to the problem of evil. And the secular alternative is sheer nihilism. But even if I was at a loss, at the end of the day it's up to God to explain his own actions. I'm just a pinch-hitter. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Coming out Christian

Family restaurant

i) Since I wouldn't be offended by the straight couple at all, it's not a question of whether I'd be more offended. 

ii) I wouldn't be offended by the queer "couple".  Rather, their behavior is pitiful and repellent. These aren't comparative situations. 

All glory, laud, and honor

God's audible voice

Having done a general commentary on Craig's treatment of Gen 1-3, I'd like to zoom in on one detail:

The anthropomorphic nature of God, which is merely hinted at in chap. 2, becomes inescapable in chap 3, where God is described as walking in the garden in the cool of the day, calling audibly to Adam...many features of these stories are fantastic. That is to say, they are palpably false if taken literally.

1. Is Craig suggesting that if Gen 2-3 attributes an audible voice to God, that's palpably false if taken literally? In his overall treatment of the account, that's one of the "fantastic" features he singles out as metaphorical. 

2. If so, that's a remarkable position for a Christian apologist to take. It would be understandable from John Spong or Rudolf Bultmann. If he's stating a general principle, then it can't be confined to Gen 2-3 or Gen 1-11. The same principle extends to the patriarchal narratives, Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, the Historical Books, the Prophets, the Gospels, Acts, &c. 

3. Over and above Scripture, many Christians claim that God spoke to them in an audible. I'm not suggesting that we should credit every reported voice of God. But if enough Christians say God spoke to them in an audible voice, that's evidence that it happens some of the time. Not all of them are wackos or charlatans. 

4. Perhaps, though, what Craig means by an "audible" voice is not a voice you hear in your mind, not God communicating telepathically, but a physical external voice. If God spoke to someone in an audible voice, and someone else was standing next to him, they'd both hear the voice. An objective sound. Maybe that's what Craig deems to be "fantastic" and "palpably false". 

If so, what is the basis of Craig's objection? Surely God can miraculously structure sound waves to create a disembodied, but external voice. I'd at that even on the telepathic interpretation, God is able to communicate the same message to two or more people at the same time. 

5. But maybe what Craig has in mind is not a disembodied voice, but an embodied voice. If God is an incorporeal being, then he can't use an audible voice in that sense.

But consider the Angel of the Lord. Consider the "mechanics" of the Angel of the Lord. In the OT, angels sometimes have physicality. They can materialize and dematerialize. In principle, the Angel of the Lord might have one of two modalities:

i) God takes possession of an actual angel. A preexistent angelic being–like Michael or Gabriel. He uses the angel as a vehicle to express himself–akin to how God sometimes takes possession of a human seer.  

ii) God creates a temporary body every time the Angel of the Lord appears. A temporary material vehicle to speak to humans and interact with the physical surroundings. And it ceases to exist after it serves the immediate purpose. It might be a humanoid body, or a luminous body, depending on how God wants to present himself. 

6. But maybe Craig's point is not that God's audible voice is "palpably false" considered in isolation, but as one more contribution to the overall scene in Gen 2-3. One of several cumulative, telltale signs that "these stories are fantastic (i.e. palpably false if taken literally)". 

Yet the "fantastic" details are a fixture of biblical supernaturalism. Unfortunately, Craig's treatment of Gen 1-3 is a gift to infidels. He argues that Gen 1-3 is pious fiction. While he avoids the term, that's what his position amounts to. And to judge by his treatment of Gen 1-3, we can expect him to treat the flood account as fictional, too. 

The zombie snail

Kinda like the relationship between Democrat politicians and voters who elect them:

Is Genesis "mytho-history"?

After completing his research program on penal substitution, Craig moved on to his next research program regarding the historical status of Genesis. This seems to be an interim report, but I'm guessing it's a forecast of his final views:

No one was expecting Craig to emerge from his studies a young-earth creationist. I wonder if he even bothered to read the best of the young-earth creationists. The question was whether he'd land on the side of old-earth creationists like Vern Poythress and John Collins or the BioLogos crowd. Now we know.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

No second amendment in heaven?

Heaven is a gated community with armed security guards (cherubim). The archetype of border control with strict immigration protocols (e.g. no Muslims allowed). Nice to see Rauser is a Trumper at heart. 

Ich bin ein Hongkonger

A Hong Kong businessman named Jimmy Lai hopes our political leaders will support Hong Kong. He even suggests politicians consider flying to Hong Kong. Like JFK flew to Berlin during the Cold War, calling himself a Berliner.

  1. I suppose Trump could fly to Hong Kong and do the same. That would be a bold move if Trump did that. Politically speaking, it'd be a big gamble. He could win big or lose big.

    If Trump did that, he might sway a lot of Asian-Americans to vote for him. In fact, he might sway a lot of moderates in general.

    Not to mention Trump might sway other nations if he took the lead in supporting a democratic movement in Hong Kong. He might be able to move a lot of the international community to take action as well.

    On the negative side, it could end up igniting an international crisis or something along those lines. This in turn could impact his political fortunes.

  2. Of course, it would sorely anger China. However, why would Trump care about angering China? For one thing, he's already angered China with the trade war. Yet the trade war has brought China to the table to discuss fairer trade practices and so on. That's because the trade war hits China where it hurts most, i.e., their economy. Otherwise the next decades could see the Chinese economy overtake ours and all that that would entail. At least to my knowledge, even a majority of Democrats support Trump attempting to stem China's global ascendancy.

  3. I suppose the major problem would be this would signal to Hong Kong that we support them, but if push comes to shove I'm not sure what we could do to support Hong Kong against China. After all, if China did invade Hong Kong, then I don't know what we could actually do about it short of going to war which of course no one wants.

    At least as far as I can see, the best option is if we can convince other nations China is currently doing business with to stop doing business with China, then that would hurt China's economy. If the threat of this is viable, then it might dissuade China from touching Hong Kong. However, this doesn't necessitate Trump flying to Hong Kong. It could be accomplished behind the scenes, as it were.

  4. The issue for China is that they regard Hong Kong as theirs, along with other places like Taiwan, which China argues European colonial powers took away from them. Of course, China likes to push this narrative because they know it often works on guilt-ridden Westerners.

    However, above and beyond politics, and in terms of "moral authority", it comes down to democracy vs. communism. If we believe in democratic ideals, then why not support democratic movements (though that's not to imply we should always do so)? Indeed, China supports spreading communism abroad.

Fisking Fesko (Aquinas)

"You just don't understand!"

Every so often you see someone compile a list of things not to tell those who is suffering or grieving. At or near the top of the list is "I know just how you feel".

The problem, though, is that many suffering or grieving people have a schizophrenic attitude toward sympathy. On the one hand, they want people to sympathize with their ordeal. On the other hand, if you express sympathy, they may be offended. "How dare you–you haven't gone through what I'm going through!" 

By that logic, it's safer to say nothing. Do they really not want people to care about their situation? A problem here is a failure to differentiate two kinds of sympathy. Consider these two statements:

i) I understand what you're feeling

ii) I feel what you're feeling

The first statement is an expression of intellectual sympathy or compassion. At a conceptual level, they grasp the situation. 

That's a necessary condition of compassion. Say you see news footage of a natural disaster than leaves survivors in terrible distress. Now the viewer, didn't experience the natural disaster, but they have the intellectual ability to project themselves into the situation: "What would it be like if I went through that ordeal?"

If we didn't have the ability to imagine what someone else is going through, there'd be little basis for compassion in general. Compassion would be limited to those having the same personal experience. "If it doesn't happen to me, it isn't real. It doesn't register." That's the mindset of the sociopath. 

It's a great mistake to dismiss intellectual sympathy. Social life depends in large part on the ability to relate to someone else's situation even if you don't share their experience. Moreover, a degree of emotional detachment can be essential to assess a situation and offer a solution (if any). 

At the risk of sounding paradoxical, consider the dispassionate compassion of a good physician. Although he cares about his patience, his medical judgment isn't clouded by emotion. 

The second statement is an expression of emotional or existential sympathy. They've had the same kind of experience or a similar kind of experience. So they can relate to the suffering individual on the same emotional level. That kind of sympathy or empathy is especially valuable in consoling grief-stricken individuals. 

Both kinds of sympathy are necessary and valuable. One is not a substitute for another. 

What is the creation model?

Never ascribe to malice what may be explained by stupidity

There's a raging debate about how Jeffrey Epstein died: was he killed or did he kill himself? 

1. One explanation appeals to Hanlon's razor ("Never ascribe to malice what may be explained by stupidity"). Given overworked, underpaid prison guards with a low-prestige job, there's not much incentive to give it their best effort. And if they belong to public sector unions, which makes it virtually impossible to fire them, there's even less incentive to do a good job. All things being equal, incompetence is the default explanation. And I think that may well be the right explanation in the case of Epstein.

2. There are, however, other considerations:

• He was a sex-trafficker for the power elite. He had many powerful, well-connected clients who stood to benefit from silencing him before he could finger them. If you're doomed, you might as well take some others with you on the way down. You have nothing to lose. Let them share your fate. 

• A bombshell document was released the day before, naming some of his clients, with teasers about another anonymous clients. Naturally there was curiosity about the next names to drop. 

• I imagine it's not hard to put a hit on someone in prison. Heck, we read about drug lords who continue to run their operation behind bars. Prison guards are easily bribed.

3. So the timing of his death was very suspicious. But perhaps that was a coincidence. Coincidences happen in real life. 

4. Ordering a hit on a witness is risky. There's the danger that the hit will be traced by to the culprit. However, that's a comparative risk assessment. There's the opposite danger that the witness will implicate the culprit. So despite the risk, some witnesses are in fact bumped off. 

5. The ways to kill yourself in a prison cell must be quite limited. Since these are so limited and so well-known, they are easily eliminated. Don't architects  take that into account when designing prison cells? 

6. Thus far the official story is bureaucratic bungling. If, however, it was an inside job, then it's not surprising that culprits have a cover story. 

Mind you, that illustrates a danger of conspiracy theories, since almost anything can be made consistent with a conspiracy theory. So we need more than consistency to make it plausible. 

7. In addition, there are different ways a hit might be carried out. In the case of a suicidal witness who already has the motive to off himself, you just provide him with the means, and opportunity (unsupervised time). That's easy to cover up. If he doesn't take the bait, you might have a backup plan: bribe a prisoner serving a life sentence to kill him, in exchange for certain favors.

Was his death the result of foul play? Not having firm opinion one way or the other, I suspend judgment. 

Monday, August 12, 2019

Social sadism

Mathematical challenges to Darwin's theory of evolution

1. Computer scientist David Gelernter is a great mind. The interview is based on Gelernter's earlier piece. That said, see Steve's post "Giving up Darwin" for valid criticisms of Gelernter's article. Likewise David Berlinski and Stephen Meyer are highly intelligent and also make good criticisms against neo-Darwinism. Indeed, it was largely Meyer's Darwin's Doubt and Berlinski's Deniable Darwin that persuaded Gelernter on Darwinism. It's good to have all three men in dialogue like this, though I wish the interview had been longer since they covered a lot of topics that merited more time.

2. The discussion turned to intelligent design around 30 minutes or so. I think many people might find the second half of the discussion more interesting than the first half since the first half is mainly about the mathematical challenges but many people understandably find mathematics dry. In particular, it's interesting to hear two secular Jewish intellectuals, i.e., Berlinski and Gelernter, doubt intelligent design and the existence of God. The interview touched on dysteleology, theodicy, shades of anti-natalism, the argument from reason, the argument from consciousness. I think Meyer offered good if brief responses. Robinson, who is Catholic, takes on a privation theory of evil. I suspect Gelernter has in the back of mind what the unabomber did to him. I might respond to what Gelernter has said in a future post.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Is open-mindedness a virtue?

Theists: when you read something by an atheist (about God's non-existence), do you genuinely try to read with an open mind, or do you read it with an intention of finding ways to refute it?

John Mark N Reynolds
I don’t think one can ready any text or adequately without first trying to agree with it or see/feel the perspective of the writer as charitably as possible.

Fellow atheists: when you read something by a theist (about God's existence), do you genuinely try to read with an open mind, or do you read it with an intention of finding ways to refute it?

Martin Gentles
I look to refute it. But I do the same with naturalistic arguments.

I applaud your consistency.

1. The problem with this comment thread is how it takes a principle with some legitimacy, then overextends it. Open-mindedness can be, and often is, an epistemic virtue, but elevating this to a universal absolute is far too abstract. Part of rationality is having a filter to screen out certain ideas. Is it incumbent on me to read about Ramtha, Raëlians, Dianetics, Tarot cards, Hare Krishnas, or Aleister Crowley with an open mind? Can I not read it adequately unless I try to agree with those examples? 

Consistency is a virtue when treating like things alike. But every idea doesn't merit the same consideration. It's rationally and morally subversive to be in a chronic state of open-mindedness. That's a euphemism for indecision. 

2. Open-mindedness can be a virtue when you study an issue for the first time. But it's not a virtue to be perpetually open-minded. There ought to be a process of elimination. 

3. There's the danger of being prematurely closed-minded. However, even closed-minded people can change their mind. There are people who read the opposing position with the intention of finding ways to refute it, but end up being convinced by what they read. 

4. Suppose, for argument's sake, that atheism appears to be true. But even on that hypothetical, my impression might be mistaken. And if, in addition, I conclude that atheism leads to moral, existential, and/or epistemic nihilism, then I'd be justified in discounting atheism. Although I perceive it to be true, open-mindedness includes the possibility that I might be wrong. And when you combine that with the radically skeptical consequences of atheism for meaning, morality, and reason, a closed-minded attitude towards atheism is not only warranted but necessary.  

5. A Christian can be critical of bad arguments for Christianity. We can be open-minded in that respect.