Saturday, September 28, 2019

Are naturalistic explanations the default assumption?

1. Some Christian philosophers take the position that naturalistic explanations are the default assumption, so that extra evidence is required to acknowledge a miracle. Hume and his followers take that a step further to say the presumption of a naturalistic explanation is so strong that there will never be enough evidence to overcome that presumption. But let's go back to the weaker claim. Certainly it's easy to come up with examples where Christians regard a naturalistic explanation as the first explanation to reach for. So does that concede that there is, indeed, a standing presumption against recognition of a miracle? 

2. I'll make the preliminary point that drawing a firm line between naturalistic and supernatural explanations is more important to atheists that Christians. Atheists require that dichotomy to eliminate the supernatural side of the dichotomy while Christians don't require the same distinction since they don't eliminate the natural side. So these are asymmetrical concerns. 

3. Let's take a comparison. Suppose I'm walking on a trail, and up ahead I see a fallen tree. In principle, there are basically two possible causes for the fallen tree. 

i) A natural cause made it fall. Perhaps it was blown over in a wind storm because it had a shallow root system; or rain eroded the topsoil–exposing the root system; or it was hollowed out by Ambrosia beetles or heart rot.  

ii) It was cut down. Felled by logger with a chainsaw.

In the debate over miracles, (i) illustrates a naturalistic explanation while (ii) is a nonnatural explanation–akin to a supernatural explanation. The result of intervention by an agent outside the normal lifecycle of trees using "artificial" means.  

Now, viewing the tree at a distance, where all I see is the effect, before I'm in a position to see the tree up close, is there a default explanation? Is it antecedently more likely that it was felled by natural processes rather than a logger? At that stage, we don't have enough information to justify a default explanation. Whether it was felled by natural or artificial means is a contextual question whose answer crucially relies on specific evidence one way or the other. There is no explanatory presumption in a vacuum. 

Faith and science

What Rauser really means is that we should just admit that the Bible is full of scientific mistakes. When we defend inerrancy, that creates "unnecessary stumbling blocks". 

i) Churchgoing teenagers should be taught the limitations of science. 

ii) While their questions shouldn't go unanswered, teenagers should acquire the sophistication to look for answers in the right places. The fact that most Christians in church can't answer their questions doesn't cast doubt on Christianity. It's not their area of specialization.

iii) According to Rauser's "progressive" theology, whenever there's a conflict between Christianity and "science", we should always defer to "science". Think about that for a moment:

• Science says there is no world to come. Planet earth will become uninhabitable, and that's the end of life on earth. 

• Science says humans have no immortal soul. When you die your mind and memories are lost forever.

• Science says people who've been dead for days never come back to life. 

Is Noah's flood a legend?

Some people view Noah's flood as sheer fiction. Others view Noah's flood as a reflection of a dim historical memory that's undergone legendary embellishment. 

One of the striking things about the flood account is how it presents the flood as a natural event. The account as a supernatural framework. It gives God's motivation for sending the flood. God repeatedly speaks to Noah. And God "shuts" them in. Those are the most explicitly supernatural elements. 

It also says the animals "came" to Noah, which might suggest God sent them. And there's a reference to God sending a "wind" (which may be a Hebrew pun). 

But the flood itself is depicted as an event caused by natural mechanisms. In that respect it's not different in kind from other floods. If you were an outside observer, you wouldn't notice anything about this particular deluge to distinguish it from other floods in terms of what caused it.  

Put another way, the flood account has far fewer supernatural elements than the Exodus. In that regard, the flood account is conspicuously unembellished. 

If you think any supernaturalism is a mark of mythology or legendary embellishment, so that we must strip away all the supernatural elements to arrive at the historical core, then the flood account reflects legendary embellishment. But that says everything about secular prejudice and nothing about the realism of the account. Reported miracles are only ipso facto evidence of pious fiction or legendary embellishment on the assumption that naturalism is true. 

Friday, September 27, 2019

The Dems reject America's premise . . .

The left has rejected America's premise: you win some, you lose some.

This premise has helped make America the land of the free. Not many countries in human history can claim this premise.

So what has changed is that the wingnuts have taken over the Democratic party. There are—can't—be any moderates in that party.

Since the Democratic party has rejected America's premise, their recourse has been to use Soviet tactics: make up criminal allegations of treason against your political opponents.

They reject prosperity, freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, and freedom of religion. Sound familiar? 

Their inner Leninism is coming out, which means all of this will not end well.

Window or mural?

A quick follow-up to my previous post:

This illustrates a limitation or weakness of many OT scholars. Most of them are trained in the literature and languages of the ancient Near East. As a result, they interpret passages like Gen 2-3 or 6-9 in abstraction from the physical would outside the text, which the narrator and his audience inhabited. This can lead to overly literary and generic interpretations that are cut off from the concrete world to which the text refers. They view the text as a mural rather than a window.

Despite his secular outlook, Montgomery has a realistic eye for the world of Gen 6-9 that's ironically missing in many commentaries on Genesis. That's clearly a problem for liberal scholars, but it can also be a problem for conservative scholars. 

We're scolded by scholars (e.g. Peter Enns, Paul Seeley, John Walton) on how we ought to construe Genesis in light of its ancient Near Eastern setting. That's an undeniably valid principle, yet they themselves suffer from a blinkered view of what it means, due to the tunnel vision of their training and interests. They fail to take their own principle as seriously as they should. 

Flood topography

Around the 19-20 min. mark, secular geologist David Montgomery has an interesting discussion regarding the topography of river deltas and flood patterns. 

In big river deltas you'll find that the high ground is right along the river and the levees of the river, and the land slopes off to the side, [which is] why, when it floods, the coarse sand settles out right by the river and builds the high ground.

The far area though, when the river overtops its banks, as big rivers eventually do in a big enough rain somewhere upstream, basically the surrounding terrain fills up like a bathtub. Well, the delta of the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers were very similar…flooding the valley wall-to-wall at a depth that you couldn't stand in and survive [might] have been the origin of the story of Noah's flood.

That's a model of a catastrophic regional flood. Standing water needn't be terribly deep to make an area uninhabitable.

Social Media Oppression

I posted this earlier on my Facebook, but figure the results should be known wider.

So, about that search engine manipulation that YouTube swears they don't do. I confirmed if you search on YouTube for "Steven Crowder" a video from his verified channel doesn't even show up until the 19th on the list (irrespective of if I'm signed in to YouTube or signed out, but most of this was done in incognito mode). Not only that, but only 6 videos from his verified channel even appeared in the top 100 results.

If you search for "StevenCrowder" (without the space, literally matching his verified channel name of "StevenCrowder") it gives 3 videos from his verified channel in the top 25 results.
Searching for "Steven Crowder Change My Mind" results from his verified channel until the 23rd video.

Only in searching "Louder With Crowder" do you get all but 2 results in the top 25 actually from Steven Crowder's verified channel! Remember, the verified name of his channel, again, is "StevenCrowder", not "Louder with Crowder."

Why do I point out so repeatedly that StevenCrowder (the channel) is a verified channel? Because YouTube swears in it's last update that it tweaked the algorithm to promote verified channels as opposed to non-verified channels, so you would know you're getting the content you're searching for. And it's almost true! If you search for "The Young Turks" for example, the first 11 videos are all from their verified channel. The next two aren't, and from that point on through the top 50 results, about half are from their verified channel.

If you search for Vox, 10 of the first 11 results are from their verified channel.

Even if you search for "Joe Rogan" (a center-left leaning individual), only one video out of the first 50 was NOT from his verified channel of PowerfulJRE!

But search for Red Elephants, a right-leaning channel (official verified name: The Red Elephants Vincent James), and you get 3 results out of the top 10. Search "Vincent James" and you get 0 results in the top 30, even though you get several results for James Vincent McMorrow (yes, "Vincent James" gives you multiple results for a "James Vincent" and NOT for a guy with the name "Vincent James" literally in the verified name of the channel.

Look up "Paul Joseph Watson" and you'll get lots of videos *about* him, but absolutely none *from* him in the top 50, even though his verified channel name is exactly "Paul Joseph Watson".
It's not like YouTube doesn't know who you're actually looking for. They will still give you a link to the *channel* as the first result for "Red Elephants", "Paul Joseph Watson", and even "Steven Crowder"--all right at the top of the list! But they will not return any results for video searches.
Hence why in his last show Steven Crowder mentioned he's begun certain proceedings he's not going into detail over yet. It's not an issue about what *we* want YouTube to be; it's about YouTube lying about what *they* claim they are. False advertising is false advertising. And if you're clearly a publisher refusing to publish a specific worldview you disagree with, you are not a platform. And you deserve to be sued like a publisher can be. Period.

"Assault rifles" and self-defense

What Brexit and impeachment have in common

There's a striking parallel between our situation and Brexit. The electorate voted in favor of Brexit, but the Parliamentary and judicial elites want to vacate their vote. They despise popular sovereignty. Likewise, Executive agencies under Obama tried to throw the election to Hillary. When that failed, they tried to have Trump removed on a 25th Amendment pretext. When that failed, they moved to impeachment, even though the next election is just 13 months out. Once again, they despise popular sovereignty.

The card you draw

Debates over Calvinism and freewill theism often revolve around the allegation that Calvinism is committed to "causal determinism". In my experience, freewill theists rarely if ever define either term. 

It's interesting to compare determinism to causation. What does it mean to cause something? Suppose I'm in a poker game. If the deck is randomly shuffled one way, I'll draw a particular card, and if it's randomly shuffled another way, I'll draw a different card. If we keep all the other variables the same, there's a sense in which changing that one variable makes the difference. Depending on the card I draw, I will bet, bluff, call, raise, or fold. 

But in a larger sense, that's not the only thing that causes me to play my hand a particular way. Depends on the other cards in my hand. Depends on how I read the other players, which in turn depends on the composition of the players. Depends on whether I'm in a good mood because I'm savoring a nice bourbon, or whether I'm in a bad mood because I just broke up with my girlfriends. Depends on how much money I can afford to lose. 

We might say they don't make the difference in the sense that if we just change one variable, then that's what makes the difference. But we could change one of those variables, instead.

So there's no one variable that causes the outcome, but the combination. They all make a difference to the outcome.

Men in tights

One of the quirks of human nature is that humans will do weird or unseemly things that feel natural or wonderful so long as everyone around you is doing the same thing. Take eucharistic adoration. For many devout Catholics, that's a central feature of their piety.

But take a step back and consider the spectacle of a grown man who thinks sitting in front of an ornate storage box containing wafers, for hours at a time, is a way to experience Jesus, commune with Jesus, feel the presence of Jesus beaming from the box. That may seem like the most natural thing in the world if you're in a social setting where there's group reinforcement, but if you think about it, isn't that a very artificial act of devotion?

To take a comparison, a few years ago a PCA church had three male ballet dancers perform on stage in the worship service:

To the ballet dancers, that seemed like a perfectly normal, reverent thing to do. In the social context of urban elites and the ballet subculture, there was nothing jarring about that.

But to a disinterested outside observer, the performance was a giggle fest. A normal man can't watch it with a straight face.

What's striking is the contrast between the self-image of the dancers and the image they're actually projecting. It never occurred to them that this performance would go viral. They couldn't foresee how this would make their church a laughingstock. 

Consider kings and noblemen who used to dress up in slippers, silk stockings, and powered wigs. When we see those paintings we think how foppish and decadent they are, but that wasn't the impression they had. If everyone's a fop then nobody's a fop. 

Catholicism provides many other examples. The Sistine choir used to have castrati. Popes sincerely thought that was better than having–heaven forbid!–women in the choir. Within the bubble of old-fashioned Catholicism, that seemed to be reverent. Here's one of the Sistine choir castrati:

To a disinterested outside observer, that's an utterly cringey performance. Unintended comic relief. 

By the same token, the traditional wardrobe of popes would be a drag queen's dream come true. Yet until recently, Catholics reveled in that. It doesn't go over as well in the television age, which is why a media savvy pontiff like Pope Francis has mothballed that tradition. 

The upshot is that almost nothing is too ludicrous which may not seem natural or praiseworthy so long as everyone in your peer group is doing it. 

From Samuel Clemens to Mark Twain

Some men get depressed because they failed to reach their goal. Success and failure can be deceptive and paradoxical. Because we can't go through both doors at once, we don't know how things would have turned out had we succeeded.

Mark Twain is a failed Samuel Clemens. The original ambition of Samuel Clemens was to be a riverboat captain. That's what he trained for and had some rookie experience, but the Civil War destroyed that goal, so he had to settle for "second-best" by becoming a fiction writer under the pen name Mark Twain. Had he succeeded in achieving his dream, he might have have had a fulfilling career as a riverboat captain. Been happy with his choice in life. But he'd disappear from history without a trace. No one remembers Samuel Clemens–they remember Mark Twain. 

Because he failed, that forced him to tap into an unsuspected talent. Think of all the successful people who never develop their full potential because they succeeded at something beneath their ability. Conversely, think of all the "failures" who achieve distinction at something they didn't plan on doing, and fell back on as a last-ditch compromise. Samuel Clements' bad luck was Mark Twain's good luck.

Animal cunning

An interesting fact that's emerged about Trump, from his campaign up until now, is that he never quite steps into the trap. He walks right up to a trap, then walks around it. He comes so close, but doesn't take the final fateful step. Others are ensnared, but he walks away. Apparently, there were some shady meetings at Trump Tower during the campaign, but they didn't cross the line. The Mueller report cleared him of collusion even though it was written by Mueller's hyperpartisan aides, using a backwards burden of proof. Likewise, the transcript of Trump's conversation is fatally ambiguous regarding a quid pro quo. It's like animal traps that are put out  every evening; in the morning they are tripped, but empty. 

This pattern is hugely frustrating and infuriating to those hellbent on taking him down. What they get from Trump are teasers. Maybe he's just lucky, or maybe he has the animal cunning not to take that extra step. 

“My Kind of Hero”

I have a chance to write for Reformation21. Here is my first piece for them.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Pray to Mary

Marian prayer is central to Catholic piety. If it's God's will that Christians pray to Mary, why didn't God simply tell us to pray to Mary? Why not a single verse in Scripture commanding Christians to pray to Mary? 

Since we don't have that, Catholic apologists cobble together a Jack-that-house-built argument for Marian prayer. A chain of inferences like:

i) Jesus is God

ii) Mary is his mother

iii) That makes Mary the Mother of God

iv) Jesus is the king

v) That makes Mary the Queen Mother

vi) Honor your father and mother

vii) King Solomon genuflected to Bathsheba

viii) Therefore, Mary has Jesus on a leash. He comes running whenever she yanks the leash.

That argument is full of holes, but more to the point, it would make things so much simpler if there was at least one verse in Scripture which said: "Pray to Mary!" 

Fishing expedition for impeachment

Theological speculation

Is there a place for speculation in theology? On the one hand, some people are more entranced by theological speculation than knowing or caring about what biblical revelation actually teaches. Indeed, that might preclude things they want to believe in. 

On the other hand, Christian theism opens up vistas of possibilities that are foreclosed in atheism. God is infinitely greater than we can imagine, so it's hard to exaggerate what might be the case. Our imagination will always fall incomparably short of God's imagination. So long as our speculation has a foothold in Scripture, and we don't confuse speculation with revelation, there's value in stretching our horizons. The opposite danger is to make our humdrum experience the yardstick. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Catholic camouflage

Recently I saw some interior shots of a modern Presbyterian church. It was studiously Spartan. Imagine the impact on someone used to that who goes inside a Gothic cathedral or Byzantine basilica for the first time. The contrast is overwhelming. 

They may feel cheated. This is what they've been missing all those years. That's one reason it's a mistake for evangelicals to be gratuitously Spartan when it comes to worship. That defiantly invites defection.

I myself basically have a high-church aesthetic along with a low-church ecclesiology and sacramentology. Mind you, I'm selective about high-church aesthetics. I don't care for ostentation. That's not even good art but bad taste masquerading as piety. 

But here's a different point: impressive art is a great way to camouflage vacuity. If you have nothing, you make it look like something through externals. If the wine is just wine, that's offset by using a fancy chalice. If the wafer is just a dry piece of bread, you conceal that by putting it inside a fancy tabernacle, on a fancy altar, with lots of other glittery trappings. If the priest doesn't actually have transformative powers, but is just a bloke like you and me, you mask that by swathing him with fancy vestments. The less you have, the more you compensate. 

The externals, the sensory overload, deflect attention away from the fact that there's nothing there. Layers upon layers to hide the vacuity at the core. Overpowering the senses is a savvy tactic to disarm the critical faculties. 

Or to put this in reverse, if there really was something there, something manifestly supernatural, then all the showy art, architecture, music, gilt and brocade, would be unnecessary. Indeed, if there really was something to it, all the wrappings would obscure it.  

Separated at parallel birth

Peyton attended church all his life. At first he went with his parents. He'd been going to church for as long as he could remember. 

He heard many sermons about heaven and the world to come. Some preachers said it was a city made of gold and gemstones, with a big choir. Others said it was like a tropical island. He once tried reading Dante's Paradiso, but couldn't make heads or tails of the imagery. 

Although Peyton enjoyed scenic parks and sunny beaches, a flashy paradise wasn't what he had his heart set on. All his life he wanted to have a brother. As a young boy he wanted a brother. He pestered his parents, but for whatever reason, they never gave him a brother. He grew up and they grew old. It was too late. 

He envied other boys who had brothers. All the same, he saw that some brothers hated each other or took each other for granted. If he had a brother, he'd make the most of it, but he never got the chance. That was a hole in his life. There's not a lot he wanted. Not something big or showily, but something small and ordinary. He was easy to please. 

When preachers rhapsodized about heaven, he found it disappointing. Maybe that was their idea of heaven–and that was fine for them–but it left him on the outs. 

The moment after he died, he found himself standing in his boyhood bedroom. He was young again. He went into the living room, then went outside. Everything looked just the same–only it was like walking through a mirror. Everything was the same but in reverse–kinda. It was hard to put his finger on the difference. But it still had the woods and creeks, ravines and meadows he used to roam as a boy. Where he used to pray and sing to himself. 

Because he didn't have a real brother, he had an imaginary brother. He called him Chase. He used to talk to Chase as if he was really there. He took him along when he went hiking on the trails. A pretend brother made him feel both less lonely and more lonely. 

But this much was real. He died. He was rejuvenated. It was bracing just to be young again. He'd forgotten what that felt like. The spring in the step. The crisp vision at a distance. The sharp hearing. In fact, there was something extra. Better than before. More vigorous.  

As he rounded a bend in the trail, he saw another boy in the distance about his age. As they came towards each other, there was a look of mutual astonishment. It as Chase! The brother he always wanted but never had. 

He couldn't believe his eyes! He didn't dare believe it was true. It took days for the reality to sink in. This wasn't a dream. No, this was for keeps. 

As it turned out, he was in a parallel world. In this world, Chase was the only brother, and Peyton was the brother Chase always wanted but never had. God made them apart to reunite them in the world to come. Now they had a chance to do all the brotherly stuff they always longed to do but never had a chance to do in their former lives. Peyton was satisfied. 

Did Christ give up a weekend?

I agree with Craig that infernal suffering is finite in the sense that the damned experience it in finite increments. However, I don't agree that the suffering of the damned was compressed, and that's why Christ experienced. Guilt is qualitative, not quantitative, hence the atonement is qualitative, not quantitative.

Global warming hysteria

Confronting death in childhood

Apostate swimmers

Stolen dreams

You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I'm one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction…The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.

So we're facing mass extinction, yet nonexistent future generations will never forgive my indolent generation.

Her childhood was squandered on activism. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Epistemology and historical arguments

We are all philosophers

Raising Christian children

1. A friend asked how I'd raise a child in the Christian faith. This post will have an emphasis on catechesis. In addition, because I naturally have a more direct understanding of how a boy's mind works, it will have a masculine bias. At the end of the post I'll paste some material from Lydia McGrew which will offset the masculine bias with a complementary feminine perspective. 

There are whole books written about raising boys from a Christian or traditional perspective, viz. Douglas Wilson: Future Men; Anthony Esolen, Defending Boyhood; Iggulden, The Dangerous Book for Boys.

Due to ever-evolving technology, my technological references may quickly become dated, but they can be translated into their next-generation technological counterparts. By the same token, discussions of science or biblical archeology need to be updated periodically. 

My recommendations depend on a child's cognitive aptitude. A precocious child can absorb things at an earlier age than a normal child. Assigned reading varies with the stages of cognitive development.

When it comes to assigned reading, parents shouldn't simply assign a reading, but be able to discuss it with their kids after the kids read it. What did it mean to the child? What did they understand or not understand? 

2. Nowadays it's important for parents not to let Smartphones and the Internet devour their children's lives. I wouldn't give my kid a cellphone unless it was a very primitive phone for emergencies. And I'd probably banish the TV from home. That doesn't mean they couldn't watch any TV fare, but it would be very selective, DVD/Netflix shows selected by their parents. They'd have computers and Internet access, but with restrictions on both time and content. Same thing with video games. 

3. One of the most important things a Christian parent can do is to give their child a happy childhood. That may give them a livelong momentum.

In addition, as Vern Poythress has noted, parents are placeholders for God in the lives of young kids, so at that age the Christian faith is instilled by showing more than telling. 

Ransom Poythress on Richard Dawkins

James Anderson on David Hume

Treble tradeoffs

I assume most boys naturally look forward to coming of age. At least normal boys who haven't been brainwashed by LGBT propaganda or disoriented by broken homes and separated from their fathers. Partly the desire for adult independence–although that has corresponding responsibilities they may not appreciate at that age. Partly the instinctive yearning to achieve one's natural telos. Although boyhood is a natural good, precious in its own right, it is tending towards a goal. To take a particular example, I assume most boys look forward to the day when their voice breaks and they develop an adult male voice. That's part of manhood. 

However, choirboys can be exceptions. I watched a special about the choirboys at King's College Chapel choir. Some of them were apprehensive about their voice breaking. That's because their treble voice makes them special. They get extra attention. It sets them apart. 

But once their voice breaks, they aren't special anymore. They revert to being ordinary boys. The garden-variety adolescent boy. 

So there's a tradeoff. They are becoming men, but they lose what makes them special in the process.

In the past, some outstanding trebles became castrati. I once read a woman defending the practice. She treated it as a business decision. She felt some boys had the maturity to make that decision. To preserve their gift.

Of course, castrati have no idea what they're giving up until it's too late. And even then, because they don't experience normal manhood, they still lack a full appreciation of what they lost in the process. That's why responsible adults need to act on behalf of children to prevent them from making shortsighted, irreversible, catastrophic choices. But the transgender lobby is doing the opposite. 

That invites comparison with other things. There's some correlation between high IQ or artistic talent and depression. Very smart or talented people are less likely to be happy. That's the price they pay for their gift. If they had a choice between happiness and talent, which would they opt for? For instance:

[Jonathan] Winters says he often drew on his Ohio childhood for characters. He says he was often lonely and his parents either ignored him or belittled him, even after his success...At the height of his success, in his early 30s, Jonathan Winters voluntarily committed himself to a private psychiatric hospital...Now he knows his diagnosis was bipolar disorder, but there were no effective medications for it back then. Winters says he declined the electroshock treatment that doctors said would erase some of the pain he was feeling. "I need that pain — whatever it is — to call upon it from time to time, no matter how bad it was," he says.

I mention these examples because they illustrate the principle of tradeoffs in theodicy, between incompatible goods. 

Utopian preterism

(Sister Mary Prudence Allen) I was born in 1940 in Oneida, New York where some descendants of the utopian Oneida Community (1848-1881) lived in the Mansion House and in homes nearby. Both of my father's parents were born as stirpiculture children while the Oneida Community was still active. My mother was a southern Baptist from Kentucky. Because the Oneida Community was a fundamentalist Protestant Utopian community which believed that Christ has returned in AD 70, they thought that the goal of life was to live in the spirit of Christian perfection. My father was not baptized until shortly before his death. My mother, who is descended from a line of ministers and Christian Cherokees, had a deep Christian faith, Robert George & R. J. Snell, eds., Mind, Heart, and Soul: Intellectuals and the Path to Rome (2018), 29-30.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Satan casting out Satan

1. Reports like this raise questions regarding the status of non-Christian or occult exorcism:

This issue crops up, not only in reference to Catholic exorcists, but also cult members and witchdoctors. (By non-Christian, I'm not necessarily including Jewish exorcists. God might well honor exorcisms performed by Jews in OT and Second Temple Judaism.)  

2. I assume the standard Christian objection to the possibility of non-Christian/occult exorcism is this:

25 Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? 27 If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. 29 Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property, without first tying up the strong man? Then indeed the house can be plundered (Mt 12:25-29). 

3. Although I haven't done a survey, I presume many readers think what he says precludes occult exorcism. If their interpretation is correct, then we must summarily discount all reported cases of occult exorcism, however well-documented. 

4. Consider a different interpretation: Christ is using a tu quoque argument. Posing a dilemma for his accusers. Whichever way they answer they will lose the argument. Reinforcing this interpretation is the fact that v27 takes the explicit form of a tu quoque argument. On that interpretation, Jesus isn't ruling out occult exorcism, but responding to his accusers on their own grounds and putting them on the defensive–without endorsing the assumptions of the argument. A tu quoque argument is a kind of ad hominem argument or argument from analogy–where the speaker temporarily adopts the opposing viewpoint for the sake of argument. 

5. Assuming that leaves open the possibility of (successful) occult exorcism, what might be the motivation? One can imagine the dark side using occult exorcism as a tactic to delude the masses into following a false religion. The demon cooperates with the exorcist because that lends credibility to the false religion. So that wouldn't be a case of the dark side working at cross purposes. Rather, it collaborates with human representatives of a false religion to lead people astray. 

6. Here's another possible motivation. I guessing that many Christians think the dark side has a militaristic command structure with Satan at the top. Demons take orders from Satan and his lieutenants. The dark side is a unified "army of darkness". 

Perhaps, though, the dark side is more like rival crime families. The fact that they all hate God doesn't mean they like each other. Indeed, given the psychology of evil, demons may well detest each other. They hate everything. Maybe the dark side is riven with turf wars and competing power centers. 

Or it might be like a military dictatorship where betrayal is the mechanism of promotion. Subordinates collude to frag their commanding officers and take their place.  On both comparisons, the dark side is both united and disunited. United in common opposition to God and the good, but disunited insofar as they jockey for dominance among each other. 

7. Apropos (6), maybe some demons are more powerful than others. Maybe some angels are more powerful than others, by divine creation, and when they fall they retain the power disparity. If so, perhaps the most powerful demons are bullies who like to push around weaker demons. In that respect, a stronger demon might overpower a weaker demon and expel him from a demoniac just to throw his weight around. 

This is all speculation, but it's consistent with the phenomenon of occult exorcism. It proposes different backstories to explain the phenomenon. Although they go beyond revelation, they have a starting-point in revelation. A possible inference. 

8. What Christ says has specific reference to the demonic realm, but it may be the case that humans can be possessed by the souls of the damned as well as demons. If so, that falls outside the immediate purview of Christ's statement. 

9. Another issue is whether there are follow-up studies on occult exorcism. Is it permanent? Witchcraft can be effective, but there's a catch. It replaces one thing with something worse. Occult healing or exorcism is a curse in disguise.  

10. A possible objection to the alternate interpretation (4) is that if Christ's riposte is merely a tu quoque argument, then he failed to directly refute the allegation. So where does that leave the allegation?

Assuming the alternate explanation is true, perhaps he resorted to a tu quoque argument because a direct refutation would be too complex to articulate in that setting. But if his answer leaves the allegation hanging out there, is there a way to refute it?

i) From a tactical or strategic standpoint, one can understand how the dark side might play along with exorcism if that promotes an evil religion, steering people away from God and redirecting them into the hands of Satan. If, however, the Christian faith has the opposite effect, then the Jewish allegation is counterproductive. The Christian faith is liberating people from depravity and occult bondage.

ii) That allows us to differentiate purer forms of Christianity (e.g. evangelicalism) from more adulterated forms (e.g. Catholicism) or cults (e.g. Mormonism) or paganism (e.g. witchdoctors). So the success of exorcism in divergent religious contexts has different, but consistent explanations.   

iii) In addition, Christianity has a special relationship to Judaism that's lacking in paganism or even Islam. If Christianity is false, then God has allowed a false religion to completely obscure the true alternative (rabbinic Judaism), as the perceived successor to Judaism. In that case, rabbinic Judaism is like a candle at high noon. You can barely see it because the overwhelming brightness of the alternative all but drowns it out. Moreover, Muhammad wasn't an exorcist or wonder-worker, so there's no comparison at that level. 

Dawkins on the Flood

The gingerbread house-part 8

This is the final installment in my series on Robert George & R. J. Snell, eds., Mind, Heart, and Soul: Intellectuals and the Path to Rome (2018).

(Thomas Joseph White) the next semester I took a class on Early Christianity, thinking that if I studied the historical genesis of Christianity, I would figure out what it was at the beginning. In that class, we were exposed to authors like Ignatius of Antioch and Irenaeus and Augustine and Athanasius, including his important book On the Incarnation, and figures like John Chrysostom. As I read them, I had a rising instinct that whatever these authors were articulating, it was something very like Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism, like what Newman means when he says that to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant (66).

What's striking about this is how, for him, the historical genesis of Christianity is subsequent to NT times. What it was like "at the beginning" means after it changed hands from the apostles and contemporaries of Jesus to the church fathers. He doesn't begin with the NT, or the OT, to see how NT faith is rooted in the OT. 

(Matthew Schmitz) My faith is not shaken by what the pope [Francis] is doing, though I have a very negative view of it. Many would say the pope isn't compromising the Church's teaching on marriage. I don't think that. I think the pope's doing it, and that if he fully and finally succeeded, the Church would be shattered. The Catholic faith would be falsified…If one were prepared to become Catholic before but not after the regrettable events of  2016, one should have given up on the Church much earlier (127). 

A convert with a tipping-point. We'll see if he follows through on that. 

The gingerbread house-7

Continuing my series on Robert George & R. J. Snell, eds., Mind, Heart, and Soul: Intellectuals and the Path to Rome (2018).

(Arkes) The question was, "Do you believe in the Church as a truth-telling institution?" And I thought at once, "I do, I really do…"

Cardinal Law became a good friend, and he never relented in  his interest in bringing me into the Church (152-53). 

Arkes is a Jewish convert to Catholicism. He did yeoman work for the prolife movement. He seems like a good guy.

That said, it's striking how blind he is to the irony of these two statements, which he makes back-to-back in the interview. Was Cardinal Law a truth-teller about the clerical abuse scandal? Has the Catholic church been a truth-teller about the clerical abuse scandal? What about the False Decretals? 

The gingerbread house-part 6

Continuing my series on Robert George & R. J. Snell, eds., Mind, Heart, and Soul: Intellectuals and the Path to Rome (2018).

Pecknold attended a magnet humanities school in Seattle, where a teacher introduced him to existentialist like Camus and behaviorists like B. F. Skinner. From Camus's Myth of Sisyphus he took away the message that life "is all meaningless, all I have is my friendships here, and that is it." And so one day in his teens, after a relationship with a girlfriend had broken up, he was suddenly struck, while driving somewhere, with the insignificance of our lives "on this tiny blue planet," and he had to pull the car over, simply shaking with the despair of it. 

It was shortly after that, in the darkness of his bedroom in his family's home, that Pecknold literally had a vision. "The room was illuminated, and the face of Christ came to me and said 'give me your life'…I think the face of Christ was very much like Eastern Orthodox icons (215).

i) I don't object in principle to modern-day visions of Jesus. But it's odd that a Christophany would have the appearance of a Byzantine icon. That's a stylized, unrealistic image of Jesus. If Jesus really appeared to Chad, why would he look like a work of art?

At Seattle Pacific University he encountered the countercultural side of evangelical Christianity, reading Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon's Resident Aliens...A NT professor at SPU named William Lane become a kind of mentor… (216).

After chapel, we'd meet to talk, get some breakfast, then go hear Earl Palmer, who was a Presbyterian pastor at the University [Presbyterian] church [near the University of Washington campus]….then we'd go for a big long hike, or do something big in the afternoon, and then we'd go to St. Mark's [Episcopal] Cathedral for Compline (216).

Those Earl Palmer sermons at University presbyterian Church, often invoking Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and C. S. Lewis, had their effect as well (217). 

i) There's a twinge of nostalgia as I read these descriptions because his life crisscrosses mine. We were both students of Bill Lane. I used to attend concerts at UPres. A performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion lingers in memory. I used to listen to the compline service on radio, and I once attended the service. It was entertaining to hear Peter Hallock's florid recitation of 1 Pet 5:8. I drove past St. Marks hundreds of times. 

ii) But with the partial exception of Bill Lane, Chad's Protestant experience was mainly progressive. Reading trendy theologians like Hauerwas, and sitting under PCUSA pastor Edwin Palmer, with his chic references to Barth, Bonhoeffer, Tolkien, and Lewis to impress university students. 

But Chad kept coming back to the question of ecclesiology as primary, and with it the apostolic succession, which "mattered as something that God established to guard the deposit," something he did not see the Church of England doing. If the Church was indefectible, he increasingly thought, then somehow the papacy was too. "Papal claims are just extensions of ecclesial claims…If we want a really coherent Church, it has to have recourse to transcendent claims that govern it, and that has to be Scripture and Tradition, and they have to be juridically enshrined and protected, and that has to be through councils and it has to be through popes, because those are the divine vehicles through which God governs" (220). 

i) The church can be indefectible even though denominations are defectible, because the church is instantiated in different denominations at different times and places. When they outlive their usefulness, the church is then instantiated in newer denominations. There's a constant process of turnover–like the human body, which loses old cells and gains new cells. The body, the structure, remains, but the composition undergoes continuous change. 

ii) Like many converts to Rome, Chad doesn't begin with the historical phenomena of the church but with an abstract, Platonic ideal. It has to be this way, even though there's a glaring mismatch between the paper theory and obstreperous reality. 

Yet when we went into Memorial Chapel and approached the shrine to Mary to pray about the two jobs, suddenly he felt that the eyes of the icon of Mary were on him, staying with him as he moved (223).

It's hard to take that seriously. The impression that the eyes of a painting (or icon) follow the viewer is a common optical illusion. Nothing miraculous. It has a scientific explanation:

And even if we didn't have a scientific explanation, it's still a naturally occurring phenomenon. 

She stared me right in the eye, pierced me with her eye, and said, "I want you to go to Catholic University." (223).

How should we interpret his claim?

i) It could be a tall tale. That's not the first explanation I'd reach for.

ii) It could be a hallucination. I don't know enough about his state of mind at the time to have an informed opinion one way or the other. 

iii) It could be supernatural but occultic. Notice the striking parallel between his purported experience and this:

14 Because of the signs it was given power to perform on behalf of the first beast, it deceived the inhabitants of the earth. It ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed (Rev 13:14-15).

From a Protestant perspective, an icon of Mary is equivalent to a pagan idol.