Saturday, October 05, 2019

The best of both worlds

1. I assume much of the appeal of time-travel scenarios and parallel universe scenarios lies in the fact that in reality, we can't go through both doors at once. There are unrealized possibilities we wish we could explore.

There are situations where, with the benefit of hindsight, we'd make a different choice. At least if we could hang onto the good things. One of the principles that time-travel stories illustrate is that when you change even one variable, that has a domino effect. By changing one variable, you change the direction of all the succeeding dominos.

2. In addition, there are situations where, if we had the benefit of hindsight, we wouldn't change anything despite having the benefit of hindsight, even if the consequences are, in some respects, undesirable. Because we know the consequences, we'd repeat the same chain of events in spite of undesirable consequences. 

For instance, suppose I have a younger blind brother. We're about a year and a half apart. Because he's more dependent on me than a sighted brother, I'm closer to him than if he was sighted. If he was sighted, it would be easier to take him for granted. 

Still, there are brotherly things I'd like us to do together that I can't do with him. I can't go hiking with him because he can't see. I mean, I could still go hiking with him, I could take him by the hand. But part of the pleasure of hiking is sightseeing, and that's not something he's in a position to appreciate. So it won't be a shared experience at that level, yet the point of doing things together is for the shared experience. This leaves me with three options:

i) Go hiking with friends, and take him along, even though he won't get much out of it. My friends and I will be talking about things we see on the trail, that he can't see. That's insensitive. 

ii) Go hiking with friends, but leave him behind. Yet that would be mean.

iii) Skip hiking to avoid the dilemma. But in that event we both miss out. 

3. Suppose I have access to the proverbial time machine. I don't know the night on which he was conceived, but I have a rough idea of the time range, and if I travel back into the past several times, I'll be able to disrupt parential activities on the crucial evening. Would I do it? Should I do it?

i) Even from a purely selfish standpoint, that might backfire. I might get a sister instead of a new brother! Not that there's anything wrong with having a sister, but if the problem is that I'm unable to do the usual brotherly stuff with my blind brother, then I can't very well do it with a sister. And it would serve me right. 

ii) Perhaps, moreover, my mother isn't very fertile. She might have a condition like polycystic ovarian syndrome. She only had a few babies on tap. By preempting my blind brother's conception, I don't get a sighted brother in his place–I get nothing. My mother only had two brothers on tap. Once again, it would serve me right.

4. From a Christian standpoint, sacrificial love is a deeper kind of love. Love that's cost-free isn't very loving. That's fair-weather love, which is barely love at all. I don't love you for you, but only for what I might get out of it. 

5. Finally, from a Christian standpoint, if my brother and I die in the faith, then in the world to come we'll be young again, and this time around my brother will be sighted. So we'll be able to do the brotherly stuff we missed out on in this life. We'll have our memories from this life, we'll have the special bond that's a carryover from his disability, but without the disability. Truly the best of both worlds. Two kinds of goods that can't happen in the same world history, but are now combined as two different world histories converge in the eschaton. 

Movies as mirrors

JOKER IS NOT A KID MOVIE and I’m not comfortable saying it’s okay for teens either. I saw both (including a baby) in the theatre last night, despite AMC having signs warning “this is not a superhero movie.”
It is getting RAVE reviews for the acting and storyline, but
it is NOT entertaining. It’s graphic, twisted, and it works very hard to make you sympathetic toward a psychopath and to make his actions 1) justifiable & 2) amusing.
There is no Batman “here I come to save the day” moment...there’s nothing but chaos and people cheering it on. Case in point, after one murder, the crowd I was with laughed hysterically because another very vulnerable character was forced to watch.
It does paint vividly the severe need to care for those with mental illness well, but we shouldn’t need a movie to tell us that. We only need to watch the news. 

The ring of power

RadTrads obsess over Vatican II. They wish to see it repealed. Yet the deeper problem for RadTrads (indeed, for Catholicism generally) isn't Vatican II but Vatican I. That's what gave the papacy an ace in the hole. It represents the culmination of a centuries' old turf war between conciliarism and ultramontanism. When Pius IX succeeded in arm-twisting his bishops into decreeing papal infallibility, it was like God got tired of running the universe and created a regent, whom he gave the ring of power, with the power to annihilate the world, including God, on condition that the regent not abuse his authority. The regent promised not to abuse his authority, but having given the regent the ring of power, God couldn't take it back. The regent could break his promise at any time with impunity. 

There's really no limit on what a pope can do. To be sure, he can act in a way that falsifies Catholicism. Vatican I is a ticking timebomb. 

Unity without fellowship

Crowds exhibit deceptive unity. Take a crowd at a public fireworks display. The crowd is united in the sense that everyone came to see the fireworks display. However, once the spectacle is over, the patterns of crowd dispersal expose how deeply disunited the crowd ultimately was. When it disperses, the crowd typically breaks up into smaller groups consisting of romantic/married couples, friends, and family. Separate little groups whose members are united with each other through bonds of emotional affinity. But there's no affinity between groups, beyond the temporary affinity of the spectacle they came to see. 

They don't leave as a group. They don't leave as a unit. Rather, the groups comprising the crowd go their separate ways. They may never see each other again. 

And after the crowd has dispersed, there may be one person left, standing alone in the deserted park where the throng was an hour before. A street kid. An orphan or runaway. He belongs to no one. Has no one to go home with because he has no one to go home to. He was briefly part of the crowd but the crowd was never part of him. There were hordes of people around him, but when they vacate the area, he was left behind and left alone. In a deeper sense, he was always by himself, even when he was in the middle of the throng. 

Catholic apologists love to quote Jn 17:21, but Catholic unity is fundamentally external. A structural unity of papacy, episcopate, and priesthood. As well as unity in the sense that observant Catholics take the same sacraments. 

But it's unity without fellowship. Although a subset of Catholics share the same beliefs, that's not a sine qua non of Catholic unity, which is fundamentally impersonal and external. 

It's like the anonymous crowd that gathers to watch a fireworks display. All the crowd has in common is that fleeting interest. The unity of the crowd was just a shell temporarily housing random individuals. 

Temporary infallibility

I agree with Weishaupt that the exclusion of women from priestly ordination was declared infallibly by Pope St. John Paul II in Ordinatio sacerdotalis (1994), that such a ruling must be definitively held by all the faithful as a “secondary object of infallibility” 

In light of Rome's doctrine of development, Catholic theology needs a new category: temporary infallibility. Dogma is temporarily infallible until the next pope whips out his eraser. 

Friday, October 04, 2019

Nature, nurture, body and soul

According to simple dualism, our immaterial souls are the bearers of our mental states and we are these souls. We have bodies, but the bodies are not parts of us. We are wholly immaterial.

I think the relationship between body and soul is analogous to the nature/nurture dynamic. Our nature, both in terms of our generic human nature as well as our individual character traits, constitute our core identity. And that's like the soul. We can survive without the body but we can't survive without the soul. The soul is a synonym for our minds, stocked with memories. 

But although the soul is the bearer or repository of memory, it's not the source of memory. The source of memory is typically embodied experience.

Nurture modifies nature. Although nature isn't a blank slate, there are different ways we might turn out, depending on differing experiences. Although experiences are fed into the soul, they don't originate in the soul. 

Moreover, we are, by design, engineered to function as embodied agents. That's the native medium of the soul.

To take another comparison: memories are a key feature of personal identity, yet that's a matter of degree. Up to a point we can add or lose memories without ceasing to be the same individual. But a memory wipe would reset the kind of person you are. 

By the same token, we can lose our bodies but still exist. Yet the content of the soul is in part the end-result of embodied experience. Of memories and formative influences. 

To take one more illustration: suppose you're a brain in a vat with minimal external stimulus. Say you can perceive the outside world, but you can't interact with the outside world. It goes one way. You're only on the receiving end. That's frustrating–even maddening. More realistically, it's like a severely disabled person whose mind and senses are intact, but they are imprisoned in a dysfunctional body. They can't communicate with others or act on their environment. 

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Hart attack


1. Controversy surrounds the antediluvian genealogies in Genesis. Are the ages realistic? As I've often observed, if professing Christians find it hard to believe that people could live that long, do they believe Christians will live forever after the resurrection of the just? What's a 1000 years compared to eternal life? 

2. But now I'd like to make some different points. The objection has it backwards. The antediluvian genealogies are not about longevity but mortality. What was lost when Adam and Eve were banished from the garden. Loss of immortality. Loss of access to the tree of life for Adam's posterity.

3. In addition, the controversy can blind us to other interesting things about the genealogies. We take birthdays for granted. That's a fixture of our culture. I don't know how widespread it is. 

But because we take birthdays for granted, that may cause us to overlook how far back that extends. It goes all the way back to the history of the antediluvians. 

4. Of course, babies weren't born in hospitals until modern times, and the antediluvians may not have had calendars, so they couldn't date and celebrate birthdays with the same accuracy we can. Maybe they marked one's age in terms of solar years or seasons. If the area had recognizable seasons, and you were born in spring, summer, fall, or winter, you might mark your age by when the same season came around. Likewise, certain constellations have a seasonal position or magnitude. In that regard, the fourth day (esp. Gen 1:14) may, among other things, foreshadow birthdays and genealogies. 

5. Birthdays are more significant in a fallen world characterized by mortality and the lifecycle. The sense that life has a beginning, middle, and end. 

And the significance of birthdays would be intensified in the past by high rates of mortality due to the prevalence of fatal illness, famine, untreatable injuries, crime, and war. Unlike modernity, there was no presumption that you'd still be alive from one year to the next. So I expect that lent birthdays a certain suspense, foreboding, and poignancy that is lacking today. 

By the same token, will we still have birthday celebrations in the world to come. We might if we continue to have children in the world to come. At least through childhood. But what about adults? When your sainted mother turns 1 trillion-years-old, do you compliment her: "You don't look a day over 999-billion-years old!"

Can we trust the Gospels (interview)

Can God be wrong?

1. The Bible says God cannot lie. Suppose an atheist challenges you: how do you know that's not a lie? How do you know God isn't lying when he says he can't tell a lie?

Likewise, God makes promises to his people: forgiveness and eternal bliss. But the atheist challenges you: how do you know that isn't a lie?

2. This has its pedigree in the Cartesian demon, as well as Steven Law's recent Evil God knockoff. Suppose Christians can't prove it? Suppose we don't know in advance if God is telling the truth? So what? We'll find out. If it's true, then we had everything to gain and nothing to lose. And if it's false, then there's no advantage in being an atheist. An evil God won't reward an atheist. If you're a dutiful devil-worshiper, that doesn't mean the devil will reciprocate your loyalty. 

3. However, let's take this a step further. The Cartesian demon knows the difference between truth and falsehood. Although he's a deceiver, he isn't self-deceived. 

But is it possible for God to be self-deceived? Is it possible for God to be confused? 

This isn't just hypothetical. In open theism, God entertains false beliefs about the future. If you take open theist prooftexts seriously, God has false expectations about the future. Sometimes things turn out contrary to what he anticipated. That's because the God of open theism is dependent on world events for his knowledge of world events. 

4. However, when we push the question to the limit, it raises the issue of what makes something true or false. What is the source and standard for truth and falsehood? Is that independent of God or dependent on God?

There are different kinds of truth: contingent, logical, counterfactual, mathematical, and modal (i.e. possibility, necessity, impossibility) truths. In Calvinism, these can all be grounded in God. Contingent facts refer back to predestination. Counterfactual truths refer back to God's ability to instantiate alternate possibilities. Logical, mathematical, and modal truths inhere in God's mind, aseity, omnipotence, and omniscience. 

Unless truths and truthmakers can exist apart from God, then even if (ex hypothesi) God deludes others, God cannot be self-deluded. So that establishes a floor for skepticism. It can't go all the way down. 

5. Taking it up a level, the question of whether God can deceive may depend on whether divine deception (if that's even possible) is motivated by malice or benevolence. In other words, inseparable from the question of divine goodness. 

And that, in turn, raises a parallel with (4). What makes something good? What is the source and standard of goodness? If good is dependent on God, then there can't be an evil God–unless goodness is an illusion. And it's unclear how goodness could be an illusion. How could evil be the ultimate reality if evil is asymmetrically dependent on good to provide the necessary point of contrast?

There are debates about whether lying is intrinsically wrong. If you think it's intrinsically wrong, then it's impossible for God ever to lie. If you don't think lying is intrinsically wrong, if there are circumstances under which lying is justifiable, then, in principle, God might sometimes lie, but never maliciously. 

Even if you think lying is sometimes justifiable for humans, there's the question of whether the considerations which make it justifiable for humans extend to God, since God is not under the same constraints as humans. But in any case, God cannot lie about his promises to his people because that would be the act of an evil God, a malicious deity. 

Admittedly, all I've done in this little post is to block out the issues and outline some argumentative strategies. It takes a lot of spadework to turn those into philosophically rigorous arguments. That's a research program for Christian philosophers. I will say that Greg Welty and James Anderson are doing yeoman work in this field, with special reference to modal metaphysics. 

Random safe-cracking

Dawkins posits thirty-nine rendezvous points for common ancestors (concestors) where the human line splits off from other major animal groups. Yet there is no evidence for these concestors. Not one has been found. Not one is alive, and not one fossil remnant exists of any of these supposed concestors. 

Chance is the rate-limiting step of evolution by natural selection. For example, consider a series of three doors in a hall, each door opening to the next, with a digital push-pad, combination lock next to each door. Once you have entered the proper code into the first lock,  natural selection can "fix" that code in place and hold the door open so a whole population can pass through and work on the second door. Clearly, the most time-consuming part here is the random sampling of combinations to find the correct code. Genetic mutations are like random sampling of combination codes.

All the evidence for evolution is for microevolution: rearrangement of what is already present in the genetic pool; no new complexity. Indeed, every example of evolution that Dawkins presents in The Greatest Show on Earth is evidence of microevolution: alteration without innovation. 

A group of Lego bricks can be rearranged, but can it create more Legos?…You might be able to make something "new" by removing Lego pieces (deleting/harming genetic materials–a frequent strategy in antibiotic resistance), but destroying does not help with the problem of creating. What if a friend gives you new Lego pieces. Well, this still does not solve the problem, because now we need to know where he got his pieces, and, in addition, studies show that natural selection tends to throw away duplicate pieces. 

In reality, we have oversimplified the whole situation for the purpose of clarity. Anyone playing with Legos knows that you can take the whole thing apart and put it back together however you wish. Biologically, though, there are rules about how the Lego pieces can be altered. For example, every single alteration or change has to result in a functional Lego model. Biologically speaking, functionless models are discarded. As you can imagine, this would severely limit the kinds of variation that could occur. There are many ways to arrange five Lego pieces, but only a handful of configurations make something useful. The useless ones are not preserved and cannot be used as intermediates on the way to building a useful model. This is sometimes known as the "sampling" problem. 

Even the first step of generating an innovative protein fold in an existing protein (something which must have been done at least 1,200 times in history) seems increasingly unlikely, if not impossible. 

Changing gene expression merely means changing the amounts of already existing proteins, but a new ability sounds like innovation. However, genetic analysis revealed that the bacteria already had the ability to eat citrate, but it was normally suppressed. So, in the end, "No new genetic information (novel gene function) evolved". Furthermore, many of the changes observed in Lenski's bacteria result from loss-of-function or decrease-in-function mutations, which is the exact opposite of complexity creation. And so, after 45,000 generations, still nothing new. R. Poythress, Richard Dawkins (P&R 2018), chap. 5. 

Trump hysteria

Trump hysteria is like watching the classic Twilight Zone episode, "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street." It's both disturbing and amusing to see how easily so many people allow themselves to be manipulated by only exposing themselves to one side of the argument. They reflexively follow the trail of breadcrumbs laid out by the NYT, CNN, MSNBC. Then they're furious and dumbfounded that the rest of us don't share their apocalyptic panic. But they're products of their conditioning. 

Trump says lots of goofy things. It never occurs to Democrats that maybe, just maybe, he doesn't always mean what he says. They think he's crazy enough to believe the crazy things he says (or crazy statements attributed to him by anonymous sources). And they think he's crazy because he says crazy things (or crazy statements attributed to him by anonymous sources). Circular confirmation bias on full display. 

Yet it seems to me that Trump's rhetoric is often tactical. What's entertaining is how Democrats let themselves be played. It reminds me of how Jeb Bush was blindsided during the debates. He never caught on. He said Trump can't insult his way to the presidency. But Trump did insult his way to the nomination. That's because, for Trump, the primary debates were not about winning arguments but about establishing where candidates stood in the dominance hierarchy. He was alpha male to Jeb's beta male. Jeb never knew what hit him. 

Give your life to Christ

An off-duty police officer named Amber Guyger shot and killed Botham Jean in his own apartment which she claimed she mistook for her apartment. Brandt Jean, Botham's brother, addresses Guyger shortly after her sentencing:

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Dawkins debunked

God doesn't exist–and I'm mad at him!


Pumpkinhead (1988) is a horror film. I saw some of it years ago on TV. I didn't see the beginning or ending, but I later read the plot. 

It has elements of a B slasher film. But it has a mythic quality that transcends the execution. As Lewis observed:

The pleasure of myth depends hardly at all on such usual narrative attractions as suspense or surprise…Sometimes, even from the first, there is hardly any narrative e element…The Hesperides, with their apple-tree and dragon, are already a potent myth, without bringing in Herakles to steal the apples.   
A man who first learns what is to him a great myth through a verbal account which is baldly or vulgarly or cacophonously written, discounts and ignores the bad writing and attends solely to the myth. He hardly minds about the writing. He is glad to have the myth on any terms…The value of myth is not a specifically literary value, or the appreciation of myth a specifically literary experience. He does not approach the words with the expectation or belief that they are good reading matter; they are merely information. their literary merits or faults do not count (for his main purpose) much more than those of a timetable or a cookery book. C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism (Canto 1992), 43-44,46.

In addition, it has a moral complexity that's rare in the genre of pop Hollywood horror flicks. 

• A supernatural avenger

It's ironic that while progressive theologians expunge hell and OT holy war from Christian theology, secular directors reintroduce hell and retribution. This reflects a common grace instinct or haunted conscience. Humans can't shake the idea of just deserts, including supernatural recompense. 

• Devil's pact

Creating a monster you can't control. In the story, the outraged father cuts a deal with the dark side to exact revenge for the wrongful death of his son. But there's collateral damage. Once evil is unleashed, it can't be contained. The avenger is unstoppable by means. That makes him an effective avenger, but indiscriminate. Good Samaritans are marked for death.

• Revenge

The avenger is a surrogate for the father. The father sees the mayhem which the avenger wreaks through the eyes of the avenger, as if they have merged at a certain level. The avenger is a projection of the father's thirst for vengeance. The avenger empowers the impotent father's rage.

• Self-sacrifice

The only way to destroy the avenger is for the father, on whose behalf the monster was resurrected, to sacrifice his own life. Only that will break the cycle.

The film also benefits from the great Lance Henriksen in the lead.  

There's a lot of coded theology in this film. It's striking that as mainline denominations become secularized and abandon "offensive" biblical theology, secular filmmakers keep returning to archetypal biblical themes. Even though they reject Christian theology, they are irresistibly drawn back to the symbolism of Christian theology. That's a bridge for Christian apologists and evangelists. 

What's good for the Gosse is good for the gander

On Twitter, progressive theologian Randal Rauser labored to mount a rejoinder to a post of mine responding to a post of his.

Just to put things in context, part of Rauser's schtick is to say we shouldn't create unnecessary stumbling blocks that drive people away from Christianity or deter them from considering it in the first place. And it just so happens that the list of unnecessary stumbling blocks always lines up with what progressive theologian Randal Rauser doesn't believe in. What a coincidence! And by yet another amazing coincidence, he never classifies his progressive theology or ideology as an unnecessary stumbling block, even though progressive theology and ideology constitute a turnoff for many people.  

Science doesn't deal with eschatology. It simply projects the future of the universe based on current conditions. And based on current conditions, the universe will suffer a heat death. When Christians offer a different future, they do so based on divine intervention, and science has nothing to say about that.

I was wondering if Rauser would take the bait, and what do you know–he stepped right into the trap. It doesn't occur to him that a young-earth creationist can take the very same principle and apply to the past what Rauser applies to the future. 

Science also doesn't disprove "immortal souls". 

I agree, but for the sake of argument I was alluding to neuroscientists who routinely appeal to evidence they think shows that mind events are brain events. The brain generates the mind. 

But neither do you need to believe in such things to be a Christian.

Of course, Rauser has a long list of biblical teachings that you don't need to believe in to be a Christian. Indeed, considering the many examples he's given of biblical teachings he disdains, if he was to draw up two lists, the list of biblical teachings he rejects would be appreciably longer than the list which he accepts. 

Triablogue should place their eschatological hope in the bodily resurrection, not an immortal soul. 

i) Enter a false dichotomy. The biblical eschatological hope includes both the intermediate state and the final state. 

ii) That's a fixture of pastoral grief counseling and funeral services. The hope that your loved one didn't pass into oblivion when they died. 

iii) In addition, physicalism raises problems for personal identity. If you cease to exist, and after a chronological gap God resurrects you, is it you that God resurrects if that's just a copy of you? For instance, is a copy of your memories transferred to a new brain the same you? 

This is why "Christian physicalist" Peter van Inwagen once proposed that the body that's buried isn't the actual corpse of the deceased Christian but a simulacrum. God preserves the actual corpse in stasis. That is what is resurrected. He was driven to that outlandish proposal because, as a physicalist, there's no immortal soul to maintain personal continuity between death and resurrection. Rauser skates over the metaphysical difficulties of his position. 

And science doesn't address divinely wrought resurrections. Which brings me to the last nonsense point. Science says dead people stay dead in the natural course of events. But Christ's resurrection is not part of the natural course of events so science has nothing to say about it.

Rauser still hasn't caught on to the fact that he's trapped in the same dilemma (see above). Once again, a young-earth creationist or–even Philip Henry Gosse–can invoke the same principle to defend mature creation or Omphalism. What's good for the Gosse is good for the gander. 

Progressive math

Mythicism and the Public Jesus of History

Science as a candle in the dark

Thankfully, science is a cure for superstitious nonsense:

The film has a web-site, and there is a long article in Salon explaining that the whole thing is really the production of a cult based in the Pacific Northwest that believes that a woman named JZ Knight is able to channel a 35,000 year old mystic named Ramtha. She does play a large role in the movie and you can read all about her nonsense here.
The whole thing is really moronic beyond belief. One of the scientists interviewed is John Hagelin who, besides being part of the TM cult surrounding Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, presidential candidate of the Natural Law Party, and “Minister of Science and Technology of the Global Country of World Peace” is a rather prominent particle theorist. Prominent if you go by citations that is. His 73 papers are mostly about supersymmetric GUTs and considered quite respectable, with a total of over 5000 citations, including 641 citations for one of them alone.
Hagelin was a grad student at Harvard when I was an undergrad and I met him when we were in the same quantum field theory class. A roommate of mine was interested in TM and I think it was he who introduced us. I remember Hagelin wanting to discuss how quantum field theory could explain how TM’ers were able to levitate, something about how they did this by changing the position of the pole in the propagator. The fact that someone who spouts such utter nonsense can get a Ph.D. from Harvard and be one of the most widely cited authors on supersymmetric models is pretty remarkable.

Me, myself, and I

A common way to unpack the notion that you have a counterpart in a parallel universe is that you and your counterpart had the same past up to a moment when a variable changes, resulting in you splitting into two of you with different life histories after that moment. 

In my admittedly limited experience with parallel universe fiction, you make contact with your counterpart, or the reader/audience observes your counterpart, some time after the split. A cliche example is that you're a hero in one universe but a villain in a parallel universe, yet we aren't shown what caused the difference. The story doesn't go back to the split. Parallel universe fiction frequently neglects the dramatic potential of retracing the two forking paths to the moment they split off. Two exceptions are The Butterfly Effect (2004) and Mr. Nobody (2009). 

In addition, there are two different ways to model forking paths. One is serial forking paths, where an individual goes through both doors at once, emerging as two copies in parallel worlds. Then that process continues at successive stages. Every so often he and his counterparts go through another set of doors up ahead. That generates exponential copies: 2, 4, 8, 16…

That would be difficult to write about or film because it quickly becomes unmanageably complex with too many diverging plots. 

Another is parallel forking paths, where it forks off at the same point in life. He comes to multiple sets of two doors at the same stage.

Say, there's the door where his parents divorce, and the door where they stay together. The door where the mother has custody and the door where the father has custody. The door where his brother commits suicide and the door where his brother doesn't commit suicide. The door where he marries his high school crush and the door where he misses out. The door where he wins the football scholarship and the door where he loses. The door where his blinded in a baseball accident and the door where he's not. The door where he becomes an atheist and the door where he becomes a Christian. In the latter scenario, that breaks the cycle. 

Although these are fictional alternatives in human imagination, they have a grounding in God's imagination. We never imagine anything God didn't imagine first. 

Hell is what you live for

Some years ago I did a post on biblical metaphors for hell:

The point of the post is that conventional views of hell generally neglect the range of metaphors used to illustrate the condition of the damned. 

Recently I did a short story on hell ("Journey out of hell"). As fiction, it wasn't necessarily meant to be theologically accurate. The hell which the characters experienced was a hell of their own imagination.

That, however, raises an interesting question which I've touched on in the past. There may well be a sense in which hell is a theme park furnished by the imagination of the damned–like the Dark Island in Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

If so, hell is self-inflicted punishment because the source of suffering is the externalized imagination of the damned. The more evil the damned, the darker their minds.

The damned can't reasonable complain about their punishment because they are being punished by their own wicked imagination. This may mean hell is worse for some of the damned than others, because the imagination of some unbelievers is soaked in evil. Hell is only as bad as you are. The worse you are, the worse hell will be because it mirrors your heart.  

This might also mean that for some of the damned, hell is like a horror flick or gangster flick, because that's the mental world they inhabit even before they die. Hell is what you live for–even before you get there. Some moviegoers revel in vicarious sadism.

Ironically, while progressive theologians eliminate hell, secular directors reintroduce hell. For some of the damned, hell might be forever warring crime families. For some of the damned, hell might contain monsters like werewolves, zombies, vampires, Terminators, Xenomorphs, &c. Monsters animated by the lurid minds of the damned. In that respect, hell may be compartmentalized. 

By the same token, we might describe heaven (or the world to come) as what you live for. The difference is that the saints live for something different than the damned. 

I'm not suggesting that horror flicks are necessarily evil or evil to watch. Monsters in horror flicks can be powerful personified emblems of archetypal dread, malevolence, and retribution. Paradoxically, showing evil can be good. But it's a question of balance. The Bible sometimes describes evil in shockingly graphic terms (e.g. Judges, Lamentations, Revelation, Ezk 18 & 23). But that provides a contrastive background for good.  

Are superheroes false gods?

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Happy Chinese National Day!

(The very moment a Hong Kong police officer shoots a Hong Kong pro-democracy protester in the chest. You can see the flash in the barrel of the gun. This happened earlier today.)

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the People's Republic of China. The People's Republic of China was officially established on October 1, 1949. National Day is basically China's equivalent to our 4th of July. Independence Day.


Worth watching the whole video (all 7 minutes):

Among other things:

If it's human, what's it doing way down in Africa at such an early radiometric date (around 300,000 years ago)? That's considerably before the earliest signs of civilization that we see in the Middle East…What does this mean for dispersal after the flood.

On a YEC or OEC paradigm, humans originate in the Middle East. Regarding how Kabwe-type humans migrated to African and how that antedates civilization in the Middle East by however long, perhaps there is no good YEC explanation.

However, depending on where we put the last ice age in relation to man, that would have a highly disruptive effect on civilization so that after the thaw, humans might have to start from scratch. Pre-ice age civilization would be largely lost and forgotten. That might fit into an OEC timetable, don't know about a YEC timetable. 

There's a stone age, bronze age, iron age, age of writing timetable that's post-ice age. But humans are capable of independently developing the same technology. So Gen 4 doesn't have to be intercalated into that timetable. 

Conversion testimony (Peter Williams)

Author of Can We Trust the Gospels?

Monday, September 30, 2019

The Catholic feminine

Over at Called to Confusion, Tim Troutman did a 4-part series. It's basically a pretext for Marian dogma. I'll comment on part 3: 

I agree with Troutman that there are stereotypical physical and psychological differences between men and women. That's to be celebrated. However, he indulges in some sweeping claims of dubious factuality. There's nothing wrong with generalizations, per se. That's unavoidable. The problem is not exceptions to generalizations. The problem is when the claims aren't even true in general. 

He makes very confident statements, but I don't know where he's getting his information. He's getting some of his information from Alice von Hildebrand's The Privilege of Being a Woman. Perhaps that's the uncredited source for most of his sweeping claims.
Touch and taste are the most material of the senses...The natural gaze of the woman tends towards the family, towards the earth. The gaze of the father, as a natural priest of the family, tends towards the heavens, towards God...In music, higher notes are more inclined to signify heavenly beauty, and the lower notes signify the mundane, the earthen. 

This reflects a classic dehumanized piety in Catholic theology, where true holiness is ethereal and otherworldly. Yet humans are creatures. Humans are earthy. We're not angels. 

And the power of sight most strongly corresponds with the power of reason. Thus, we often use the act of sight as a metaphor to describe the act of grasping a concept by reason.

The problem with that claim is that we often use the act of hearing as a metaphor to describe the act of grasping a concept by reason. 

Women are more oriented towards the touch which is more mundane...

Is that true? Are baby boys less responsive to caress than baby girls? Are young boys less responsive to hugs than girls? There are basically two kinds of touch: platonic and erotic. Men are quite sensitive to both. Because humans are nearly hairless, we have a huge expanse of bare skin. That makes us acutely sensitive to touch–even if it's covered by a thin shirt or blouse. In addition to the fact that we don't have a fur, our skin is probably more sensitive than wild animals, which have a higher pain threshold and pain tolerance. 

Women are more beautiful than men, and beauty per se is not mundane. Beauty itself is by no means superficial. As regards the possession of beauty, women have the greater share in dignity. In her book, The Privilege of Being a Woman, Alice von Hildebrand noted that otherwise in nature, it is the male in the species that is more beautiful (e.g. the peacock, the lion, etc.) This inversion of natural beauty is undoubtedly meaningful. Von Hildebrand suggests that it signifies that sexuality is something different, something higher for man than for animals.  She is correct.

Women are more beautiful than men from the viewpoint of normal men. But women have an eye for handsome men. 

Higher things, physical or abstract, always signify more noble things. Thus a king’s chair is always above the people, never in a pit. Moses ascends the mountain to meet God; Jesus ascends a mountain to pray and to appoint His Apostles. The heavens are above the earth, not below. 

So skyscrapers signify something more noble than lily ponds. A barren volcano signifies something more noble than a lush river valley. A bomber in flight signifies something more noble than an alpine meadow. 

In music, higher notes are more inclined to signify heavenly beauty, and the lower notes signify the mundane, the earthen. Modern music tends to be heavy with bass and drums – the lower, more primitive and mundane tones.  Most popular music is inherently ordered to draw man to earth – to incline man to look at himself – to draw him away from heaven. Sacred music is just the opposite; it tends to be played on instruments that excel in the upper ranges, and the voices tend towards higher notes (not exclusively of course). 

i) I wonder how many cellists share his intuition. What about all the great solo parts for alto and bass in the sacred music of Bach and Handel?

ii) His generalization is ironic in light of Catholic music, with the tradition of Gregorian chant sung in unison by monks. Male voices singing in the chest register. With a basically baritone range, along with some excursions into the tenor range. 

iii) It's true that there's something special about the soprano line in choral music. However, Troutman is glossing over complications. Consider the difference in timbre between boy sopranos and opera divas. Many opera divas have a sensual, womanly timbre. 

Women have a higher pitch in their voice than men. This again signifies a greater share in beauty.  The higher pitch in their voice not only signifies a greater inner beauty, but also a vocation — their voice is physically more adept to elevate than to bring down and their vocation mirrors this. Hence they are natural encouragers, nurturers, comforters. The physical characteristics of their voice are symbols signifying that women are ordained5 to lift up, to turn our attention to the heavens. How many male saints would without the briefest hesitance credit their mother or grandmother with pointing them towards God? I am no saint, but I owe what little saintliness I have to women in my life and above all to the blessed virgin Mary.  

That's literal nonsense. Pitch isn't actually higher or lower. Maybe that's a metaphor, or more likely, that's based on conventions of musical notion. But pitch is literally or actually about faster or slower frequencies. 

Women are less inclined to be attracted to merely external beauty than men. Again, in this respect, they have a greater share in human dignity by their nature. The gaze of man tends towards that which is most beautiful according to the mode of apprehension. 

I'd like to see more evidence for that claim. What about sunsets and flower gardens or wildflowers in meadows? What about the paintings of Georgia O'Keeffe?

Where does figure skating belong in Troutman's classification scheme? What about women as poets, novelists, and short story writers?

My impression is that Troutman's comparisons don't begin from a study of men and women. Rather, he's shoehorning cherry-picked examples into a preconceived theological grid. Casting about for examples to illustrate the feminine side of Catholicism. There's a grain of truth to some of what he says, but he needs to be far more discriminating. 


One not uncommon example of the bulverism fallacy is the argument (either made implicitly or explicitly) by Protestants that the reason the Catholic Church teaches what she teaches about justification, in contrast to the Reformed conception of sola fide, is that we (humans) have this desire for self-justification, and that at some point in the past we (Catholics) distorted the Gospel in order to make Catholic teaching concerning the Gospel conform to that desire. Bulverism is a kind of ad hominem (see #18 here). What is needed instead, to avoid the bulverism fallacy, is some actual historical evidence showing that the Gospel was distorted (and not developed) from sola fide in the early Church, to what the Council of Trent taught, rather than the just-so story that begs the question by presupposing that the Catholic Church distorted the Gospel in this way, and that she did so in order to gratify a human desire for self-justification.

In 2011 I addressed here a very similar criticism raised by H. Wayne House in his article titled “Returning to Rome: Should Evangelicals Abandon the Reformation.” House was himself drawing from Ralph MacKenzie, who like Scot Mcknight, had proposed three reasons why Evangelicals become Catholic, none of which were love for truth above all else. Those three reasons were: Catholicism is older, Evangelicalism lacks tradition, the Catholic liturgy has an aesthetic appeal, and House added a fourth reason: there is a security in the magisterial authority of the Catholic Church.

Now in 2019, Protestants Chris Castaldo and Brad Littlejohn of The Davenant Institute have engaged in this same sort of bulverism. They have done so in three essays: “Why Protestants Convert, Pt. 1: Conversionitis,” “Why Protestants Convert, Pt. 2: The Psychology of Conversion,” and “Why Protestants Convert, Pt. 3: The Theology of Conversion.” In these three essays they claim that Protestants become Catholic because of a desire for authority, a desire for a sense of holiness, a desire to belong to something big and influential, a desire for certainty, a desire to be connected to history, and a desire for tangible grace. All these treat converts as operating within the paradigm of “ecclesial consumerism,” rather than loving the truth above all else, even if doing so requires sacrifice of many things they would otherwise desire.

1. To begin with, does Bryan distinguish between the abusive ad hominem and circumstantial ad hominem? Does he consider both of them fallacies? Does he think the circumstantial ad hominem is necessarily fallacious?

2. Bryan is half-right in this sense: it's fallacious to discredit a claim by drawing attention to what motivates the claim. 

3. That said, if an hominems are necessarily fallacious, then that invalidates the genre of Catholic conversion stories at one stroke. There's a cottage industry of Catholic conversion stories, viz. Surprised by Truth, 1-3. Recent examples include Robert George & R. J. Snell, eds., Mind, Heart, and Soul: Intellectuals and the Path to Rome (2018) & Brian Besong, ed. Faith and Reason: Philosophers Explain Their Turn to Catholicism (Ignatius Press 2019). 

The Called to Communion site is a repository of conversion testimonies. They host conversion testimonies. All or most-all of the contributors have posted their conversion testimony. 

At the risk of stating the obvious, conversion testimonies (as well as deconversion testimonies) are ad hominem. It's not just arguments for Catholicism and against evangelicalism, but an autobiographical narrative about their personal experience. They go into their personal motivations from converting from their original position (usually a variation on evangelicalism) to Catholicism. Bryan Cross did that himself in his contribution to Faith and Reason: Philosophers Explain Their Turn to Catholicism (Ignatius Press 2019). If ad hominem is bulverism, then the whole genre of Catholic conversion stories is bulverism.

This isn't primarily a Protestants characterization of what makes Catholic converts and reverts tick. This isn't a case of Protestant apologists imputing motives to Catholic converts and reverts. To the contrary, it's Catholic converts and reverts who showcase their personal motivations as justification for their switch to Catholicism. 

So Bryan is telling us, with a straight face, that it's warrantable for Catholics to say what motivated their conversion, but it's unwarranted for Protestant apologists who evaluate the motivations which Catholics themselves advance to legitimate their conversion? Where's any semblance of consistency in his overall position?