Saturday, October 26, 2019

"In Christ"

1. "In Christ" is a Pauline catchphrase, but what does it mean? Commentators aren't very helpful. They say things like it means "in union" with Christ, but that just substitutes one spacial metaphor for another. Or they say it means "in the sphere" of Christ," which again, substitutes one spacial metaphor for another. They are paraphrasing the catchphrase rather than defining it.

2. Just considered as a spatial metaphor, the metaphor implies a point of contrast between inside and outside. These are mutually definable. What it means to be inside depends in part on what it means to be outside. Let's consider some generic associations for people in the ancient world:

i) It was dangerous to be outside at night. You could get hopelessly lost. You could be attacked by nocturnal predators (e.g. the Asiatic lion). They can see you but you can't see them. You could step on a venomous snake. Crime was higher at night (that's still the case). 

ii) You didn't want to get caught in a storm (e.g. Ecclesiastes 13). You seek shelter. 

iii) If an army invaded, you needed to take refuge inside a fortified city. You didn't want to be left outside the defensive walls. 

3. Let's consider biblical connotations of the inside/outside dichotomy:

i) Inside the garden of Eden, with the river, fruit trees, tame animals, and tree of life. Expulsion from Eden: an inhospitable wilderness. Thirst, mortality, vulnerability. 

ii) Safe inside Noah's ark, doomed to die in the flood if stranded outside the ark.

iii) Hell as outer darkness

iv) The new Jerusalem. The damned are barred from entering (Rev 21:27). 

ii) The parable of the wise and foolish virgins. The foolish virgins are shut out. Find themselves on the wrong side of the door. 

ii) The plagues of Egypt: 

• The plague of hail. Better dive for cover lest you be struck dead by hailstones. 

• Plague of darkness. Sunlight in Goshen, pitch black outside Goshen. 

• Plague of the firstborn. Israelites inside their huts, with blood on the door jam, are safe from the angel of death. Outside the angel of death strikes the firstborn Egyptians.

4. However, the point of contrast isn't merely negative, where to be inside simply shields you from what lies outside. What lies inside can be good. A home that contain food and drink, a bed, a fireplace, and companionship. 

Take Paul's adoptive metaphor (e.g. Eph 1:5). Consider an orphan who's adopted. Who suddenly has all the benefits of an "instant" family by virtue of his adoption. His condition instantly changes for the better by virtue of his relationship to his adoptive father (in the ancient world) or adoptive mother and father. 

Consider if the most popular student in school befriends a loner. He befriends a low-status student whom other students have shunned. He brings the classmate into his social circle. That instantly elevates the standing of the loner.  The friendship brings perks. He now has access to the same things. So long as he is with his popular benefactor, he can do the same things.The benefactor shares his good fortune with the unfortunate classmate. 

By the same token, to be "in Christ" is to enjoy all the blessings that flow from the atonement. Because the atonement is vicarious, the benefits are made available to the redeemed by means of their relationship with the Redeemer. 

Microevolution and macroevolution

What's the distinction between microevolution and macroevolution?

Traditionally the distinction is supposed to be at the species level. Micrevolution involves evolutionary changes within a species, while macroevolution involves evolutionary changes beyond a species. Such as when one species becomes another species. Or one species becomes two species (speciation).

  1. Yet, today, many scientists disagree with how to define a species. What, precisely, makes a species a species?

  2. Also, why is the focal point of macroevolution at the species level? Why is species where we draw the line between microevolution and macroevolution? After all, isn't evolution supposed to be akin to climbing Mt. Improbable? If so, then evolution is simply a gradual but continuous series of changes in one direction (give or take). Hence, why couldn't the line be drawn elsewhere?

  3. In fact, is it even a line so much as an outline or sketch? A fuzzy boundary?

  4. Moreover, aren't there multiple blurred lines?

  5. As such, the traditional demarcations between microevolution and macroevolution seem to overemphasize the significance and roles of species and speciation.

  6. Yet, if the borders are hazy enough between microevolution and macroevolution, then that could potentially affect the theory of evolution as a whole. After all, of what use are concepts like microevolution and macroevolution if the borders are so hazy? We might as well simply call microevolution "small change" and macroevolution "big change" for all the explanatory power these terms have.

  7. Macroevolution is supposed to be reducible to microevolution. Macroevolution is supposed to be the accumulation of small genetic changes over time (microevolution). Macroevolution is a continuous spectrum of microevolutionary changes.

    All this requires genetic changes. How do genetic changes occur? There are several ways, but the primary driver of these small genetic changes is supposed to be random mutations. In addition, these genetic changes can't be deleterious mutations, or even neutral mutations, but they must be beneficial mutations, in order to drive phenomena like speciation. However, the vast majority of mutations are not beneficial mutations. And according to mathematicians, the problem isn't solved even if given hundreds of millions of years to work with.

Biological information

In this post I'm going to talk about biological information, which in turn is relevant in debates over evolution.

However this post is just an introduction. As such I'm going to simplify a lot of things. I realize I'm sacrificing technical accuracy but I'm doing so in order to get some main ideas across for those who might have zero background in all this but who wish to be able to make a foray into the debate over evolution.

Without further ado:

What lies at the heart of every living thing is not a fire, warm breath, not a 'spark of life'. It is information, words, instructions. If you want a metaphor, don't think of fires and sparks and breath. Think, instead, of a billion discrete digital characters carved in tablets of crystal. If you want to understand life, don't think about vibrant, throbbing gels and oozes, think about information technology.

(Richard Dawkins, "The power and the archives", The Blind Watchmaker)

  1. Let's start with a book, computer code, and DNA:

    A book contains pages and text, but the pages are just paper and the text is just ink. Rather it's the words that convey the story. Not the words as text, but the words as information.

    A computer program contains code, but code is fundamentally just a pattern of binary digits: 0s and 1s. Rather it's code as a set of instructions for a computer to execute that makes a program functional. Hence code isn't merely bits but code is information.

    The DNA molecule contains four bases (adenine, cytosine, thymine, guanine), but these bases are ultimately atoms (e.g. carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen), and atoms are just physical particles. Rather DNA (as genes) is biological information which can be transcribed and translated to build an organism.

  2. These aren't mere arguments from analogy (pace Dawkins). I'm not saying text is like code which is like DNA. Rather this is a comparison of information. I'm suggesting the common denominator in all three is information.

  3. Yet information is invisible. We can't sense it, not directly, but it exists. How does that work on atheism/naturalism and evolution/neo-Darwinism?

  4. An atheist like Dawkins might argue information emerges from physical properties. Such as in the arrangement of words, code, or DNA.

    However, even if so, what would cause the information to be arranged in a particular manner? How does inert matter arrange itself? What causes the letters of the English alphabet to form words if left on their own? What causes DNA to arrange itself in a particular genetic sequence if it is merely a non-living molecule? Let alone a molecule which self-organizes and self-perpetuates.

  5. Is it natural selection? Since when did natural selection act at the atomic level? How does natural selection act on subatomic particles?

  6. Moreover, even if a few letters could, somehow, by chance, arrange themselves into words, and words into sentences, and sentences into paragraphs, and paragraphs into chapters, and chapters into a book, each subsequent step would seem to prove increasingly challenging. It's the old question of how long it takes for a monkey to type out the works of Shakespeare.

  7. There may need to be new information at each subsequent step. A phrase like "In the beginning" may have arranged itself randomly, not to mention somehow well enough to convey meaning, but the sentence "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" contains more information. Namely "God created the heavens and the earth".

    Likewise it's one thing to have a single gene, but it's a lot more to have an entire genome. Let alone an entire organism.

    Hence a question which needs to be addressed is from where does this extra information come? Who or what is adding extra words or sentences or paragraphs into our book? Who or what is injecting additional information into each subsequent step?

    Otherwise is the information self-generated somehow, like an artificially intelligent computer writing new code for itself? How so? That seems highly implausible in the earliest lifeforms which surely would have not been anything like an A.I. computer.

  8. Any time information is generated, there needs to be some way to check it for errors. Quality assurance. Yet could one physical entity (an error checking mechanism) have (more or less) co-evolved with another physical entity (e.g. a molecule like RNA or DNA)? How could a complex error-check have evolved roughly simultaneously with a presumably simple molecule in the origin of life?

Luke, the beloved physician

Luke introduces himself as well as the apostle Paul. A quibble is the post might give the impression that the Christian should court suffering.

Is climate change an existential threat?

Save unborn eagles

Knocking In The Enfield Case

Paranormal cases often involve knocking of some sort. But it's unusual to have as much evidence for the paranormality of the knocking as we do with Enfield.

Since the layout of the Hodgsons' house is significant in some of the contexts I'll be addressing below, click here to see a floor plan. I'll be citing Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair's tapes a lot in the discussion that follows. I'll use "MG" to designate a tape from Grosse's collection and "GP" to designate one from Playfair's, so that MG2B refers to tape 2B in Grosse's collection, GP60A refers to 60A in Playfair's, and so on.

If you click here, you can listen to some of the knocking and watch a few witnesses discussing its characteristics. However, the large majority of the knocking on the tapes doesn't sound as unusual as what's played in the clip I just linked, and the knocking didn't always move around the way Grosse describes. It did sometimes have those characteristics, though, as well as other traits I'll be discussing below. I suspect the qualities of the knocking varied for reasons similar to why an individual's speech patterns, diet, dress, and other characteristics vary in everyday life. The poltergeist could have behaved differently on different occasions depending on how much energy it had at the time, its mood, what it was trying to accomplish, and so forth.

Friday, October 25, 2019

In Paradisum


The populist RadTrad insurgency

The Francis pontificate has reignited the RadTrad movement. This is primarily a grass-roots insurgency, with a few impotent, aging prelates on their side. It's made possible by the Internet. The RadTrad movement is a virtual church–or counter-church. The electronic alternative to official Catholicism. It's like the Essenes who broke off from the religious establishment in Jerusalem and formed alternate Jewish communities in the desert. A separatist movement. 

The RadTrad movement has been around, in fits and starts, since Vatican II. These divisions were already represented at Vatican II, in conference rooms as well as floor debates in St. Peter's Basilica. 

Ironically, most RadTrads were born after Vatican II. They're like the first-generation kids of Muslim immigrants who self-radicalize in the host country. 

But here's another thing: the rise of spokesmen like Taylor Marshall is also made possible by the silence of "respectable" conservatives like Bryan Cross. Called to Communion is the nexus of bliss (Trekkies take note) into which converts and apologists like him retreat. The nexus of bliss exists outside the space-time continuum of Catholicism on the ground. It's all about Catholic ideas. Catholicism on gilt-edge vellum. 

The problem is that when "respectable" conservatives like Cross sit out the debate, that creates an opening for spokesmen like Taylor. Francis has plunged his church into civil war. When apologists like Cross refuse to take sides or offer a mediating position, that leaves a vacuum which is filled by Taylor and his ilk. He is giving voice to the concerns of many of the faithful. 

Presumably, the reason Cross says nothing is that, like many converts and apologists, he doesn't know what to say. Surely he finds some of the developments under Francis alarming or dismaying, but he doesn't know for sure where that will end up. 

Many Catholic apologists initially defended Francis. They made excuses for him. But when the direction of his pontificate become unmistakably clear, they fell silent. By vacating the field, RadTrad warriors like Marshall moved in. 

It's hard for Catholic conservatives to criticize the likes of Marshall when they have no constructive alternative. Sure, they can attack his explanation, but that's not a substitute for having their own explanation. Although the nexus of bliss is a comfortable hideout, it fails to answer the pressing question of what it still means to be Catholic when the ground is shifting under their feet. 

Where was God?

As I've explained before, the problem of evil in general, in the stereotypical formulation, has no traction for me. But I find certain kinds of examples personally aggravating. Cases like James Younger are examples where the problem of evil has some emotional pull for me. 

The dilemma is that, in many situations, God doesn't protect the innocent and he doesn't enable others to protect the innocent. God doesn't use his power to intervene, and he doesn't empower others to take up the slack. Now this particular case may eventually get better, but there are other cases like it without any mitigation (in this life).  

But having said all that, it's not as if examples like this drive me into the arms of atheism, or make me even slightly sympathetic to atheism. For one thing, secular progressives are spearheading this atrocity. Evil can't push me into the arms of atheism when atheism is itself a major source of evil. 

It boils down to three options: God, Satan, or atheism. But atheism is diabolical. And it hardly makes sense to switch sides from God to the Devil because of evil–when evil is Satanic. So however vexing the problem of evil can be, God remains the only option, the only ultimate solution. 

Dying illusions

Taylor Marshall is a zealous convert to Catholicism. A founding member of Called to Communion. He's highly educated. And he's having a crisis of faith in Catholicism. The tensions between traditional Catholicism and the Francis pontificate have reached a breaking point. Watch 45-50 min:

He's practically in tears. It's like the disillusionment of a devoted teenage son who worships the ground his father walks on until he covers that his dad has been cheating on mom for years. Consider some of the questions he directs at Francis: 

Do you believe every verse of the Bible as coming from the Holy Ghost? When the Bible recounts miracles of our Lord Jesus Christ, do you believe those are historical miracles? 

Problem is, when was the last pope who believed all that? I think you might have to go all the way back to Pius X. 

In another respect, Taylor is like parents who can't bring themselves to believe that their child is lying to them about a drug habit, despite unmistakable evidence. "No, not our child!"

Marshall has been in denial about Catholicism for years.  He closed his eyes to all the evidence that the Catholicism he fell in love with isn't the same Catholicism as post-Vatican II Catholicism. 

A classic example of wanting too much for something to be true. You keep making excuses until you finally get tired of making excuses. You were loyal to something or someone that didn't reciprocate your loyalty. 

He feels betrayed. I'm sorry, but if you've been a willful sucker, then you're not entitled to feel betrayed. I assume he used to be Anglo-Catholic, and it comes as no surprise when Anglo-Catholics convert to Roman Catholicism. Anglo-Catholics are like a shivering beggar peering through the window of the palace at the dinner hall, with the roaring fire and tables piled with food. 

I'd hasten to add that something like this can happen to anyone. It takes different forms. 

I've been publicly defending Christianity for 15 years. I've been defending inerrancy for 15 years. Someone might accuse me of trying too hard to make it work.

But there's a major difference. On the one hand, there's abundant evidence for Christianity–with nothing remotely comparable for Catholicism in particular. 

On the other hand, there is no feasible alternative to Christianity. Christianity is necessary to ground morality, modality, reason, and meaning. If you don't have that, you don't have anything. There's nothing to work with. 

At the moment Taylor seems to be on the brink of sedevacantism. But where does that road end? Consider the cautionary tale of Gerry Matatics. When was the last time he attended Mass? To have valid sacraments, you must have validly ordained priests, and once sedevacantism starts tugging at the loose strand of yarn, the whole fabric begins to unravel. 

As I've often said, you can't keep patching up a fatally flawed paradigm. You have to admit to yourself that it can't be fixed, and scrap it for a different paradigm. 

How to destroy a child's mind

Dodging a bullet

Atheists make breezy claims about how God could make the world a better place by changing a variable here and there. During this interview, Jonny Somerville illustrates the hairbreadth difference one variable can make to the future:

My great-grandfather was a soldier. He fought in WWI in the Battle of Somme. One of the worst battles of our time. You…if a bullet had gone slightly to the left or right I may not even be here–which is a sobering thought. 

Tweaking variables to improve the future has humanly incalculable consequences. Glib pronouncements to the contrary notwithstanding, we're in no position to judge what changes would be the world a better, worse, or both better and worse in different ways. 

Falling on a grenade

An observation I made today on Facebook:

Calvinism doesn't teach that God created the reprobate for the purpose of their going to hell. 

It's true that God intends the reprobate to end up in hell, but that doesn't mean hell is the goal of reprobation. 

To take a comparison: consider a soldier who throws himself on a grenade to save the lives of his comrades. That kills him. That's the last thing he did. That's the end-result. But that wasn't the goal of his action–"Yea, I wanna get my guts blown out!". Rather, the aim was to shield his comrades by absorbing the explosion. Dying was a side-effect of his intentions. A means to an end. 

God can create the reprobate in large part for what they do in this life. As agents, they make certain things happen. They help to drive the plot of world history. 

How old was Mary?

i) The claim is often made that Mary may have been as young as 12 years old when she got married. It was the custom back then for girls to marry very young.

ii) However, that may be anachronistic. One issue is whether the age of childbearing has changed. This is partly complicated by definitions. From the little I've read, puberty used to be a longer stage in maturation than it is today.

iii) In addition, I've read that a boy's voice used to break later, around 17, than happens today, in the developed world. 

iv) In girls, there's the distinction between the onset of puberty and menarche. 

v) Since, moreover, Jesus was virginally conceived, the issue of Mary's sexual maturity is moot in that regard. 

So there are lots of questions and ambiguities surrounding the issue. 

Anne Georgulas

(Anne Georgulas, above, is James Younger's mother.)

We've already made a few posts on James Younger: first post, second post, third post, fourth post. I believe this is our fifth post on the case.

If you could make your mother sinless...

One Catholic "argument" Mike Winger mentions in his demolition of Marian typology is: "If you could make your mother sinless, wouldn't you?"

Winger doesn't respond to that directly, in part because his focus is exegetical, and because he thinks that's bad theological method. I agree, but it's still good to address it head-on:

1. Ironically, it's a proof for the Immaculate Conception which, if sound, disproves the Immaculate Conception. If the Immaculate Conception is true, then Jesus wasn't the agent of the Immaculate Conception. For one thing, Jesus didn't exist prior to his own conception. Jesus is a product of the Incarnation. 

Of course, the Son is eternally preexistent, so that in principle, the Son could be the agent of the Immaculate Conception, but the Catholic prooftexts single out the Holy Spirit as the agent of the Immaculate Conception. So the argument, even on its own grounds, is self-refuting. 

2. Then there's the argument from analogy: 

i) How could a human son makes his mother sinless before he was conceived?

ii) As a preliminary step, a Catholic apologist would have to demonstrate that retrocausation is possible. That's a very tall order.  

iii) But even if (ex hypothesi), he could retroactively make his mother sinless, at her own conception, yet in that event he wouldn't exist in the first place since his mother would have a different future if she was sinless from the moment of conception. He wouldn't exist in that future. He only exists in the future where his mother isn't sinless. So the attempted parallel, using merely human sons and mothers as a basis of comparison, is incoherent on yet another ground. It's like the Grandfather paradox. If the time-traveler succeeds, he erases the future he came from. So he never existed! 

iv) In Catholic theology, Jesus and Mary are both sinless. Yet in the comparison with merely human mothers and sons, the mother would be sinless but the son would not be. That, however, would be a very strange mother/son relationship. How exactly is that supposed to work?

v) Everyone who dies in the faith will be sinless. So what's the hurry? I don't need to make my mother sinless. That will happen in due time. There's a reason why God doesn't make humans sinless in this life. Faith is waiting. 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

How Catholic apologists abuse typology to teach Mariology

Does a masterful job dismantling faux Marian typology:

James Younger update

I'm less sanguine about this development. It may well be that the judge was caught off-guard by the scale of the backlash, both popular and by other segments of the TX political establishment. But the judge has the final say, and to my knowledge the judge has consistently sided with the mother.

My suspicion is that the judge's action is a ruse to preempt the state investigation (by the TX Attorney General's office and the Texas dept. of Family & Protective Services). It takes some pressure off the judge. The story dies down. The judge might then side with the mother on puberty blocks and cross-hormone "therapy". While that would instigate a new campaign and might launch a new state investigation, it buys the mother time to press ahead with her plans to chemically castrate the boy. 

Keep in mind, too, that you can't count on having social conservatives in the TX political establishment in years to come. The balance of power might shift. 

BTW, the judge is up for reelection. Hopefully voters will turn her out of office.  

So I'm inclined to be cynical about the judge's latest ruling. The only outcome that matters is what actually happens to the boy. It would be fatally naive for social conservatives to assume we "won", that's safely behind us, and it's time to move on to other issues. Don't take your eyes of this case. Keep monitoring developments. 

Refuting Catholic authority

This is a generally skillful presentation:

A few quibbles:

i) The contemporary Catholic church doesn't affirm the inerrancy of Scripture. It gave up on that at Vatican II. The council was about to reaffirm the traditional Catholic position on biblical inerrancy when Franz Cardinal König, a well-known progressive, gave a speech convincing enough bishops that the Bible contained errors, that the Council declined to reaffirm the traditional position.

And this is borne out by the way Scripture is handled nowadays among Catholic Bible scholars. The hierarchy has no problem with Catholic theologians and Bible scholars who deny the inerrancy of Scripture. So this is not common ground between Catholics and evangelicals. 

ii) Although he only says so in passing, he seems to think that the alternative to a living teaching office is the indwelling of th Holy Spirit. If we need a makeweight to interpret Scripture, that's it.

But that appeal doesn't work since Spirit-filled Christians disagree on how to interpret Scripture. I've detailed what I regard as the alternative to the Roman Magisterium.

iii) Although his discussion of Mt 16 is quite good in many respects, it would benefit from the added insight of scholars like Michael Heiser:

Waking up from wokeness

Transgenderism is breaking up some traditional Democrat voting blocks.

Slavery and sodomy

That's a standard wedge tactic which atheists and "progressive Christians" deploy. "If you stand by what the Bible says about homosexuality, then you must stand by what Paul says about women, or what the OT says about juvenile delinquents, or warbrides, or shellfish and polyester". 

A pressure point to use against theological moderates or Christians who don't know how to deal with "embarrassing" passages. Make them squirm. 

It doesn't work for Christians committed to Biblical inerrancy and/or Christians with the hermeneutical sophistication to draw relevant distinctions. 

Kenny on Noble

Anthony Kenny on Denis Noble:

When I was a bachelor don at Balliol I shared a staircase with Denis Noble, who was a physiology tutor: my rooms were on one side of the staircase and his on the other. We were both courting at the time, and so would also meet each other's fiancées on the stairs. We shared students as well as premises. There was an honour school called PPP: Psychology, Philosophy and Physiology. Denis taught the students physiology and I taught them philosophy. At meals in college we often discussed topics of common interest: Denis was not only a physiologist but as competent a philosopher as any of my colleagues.

In those days, there was a broad consensus that the sciences formed a hierarchy in which each level was to be explained in terms of the one below it: psychology was to be explained by physiology, physiology by chemistry, and chemistry by physics. This scientific strategy was called 'reductionism', since all sciences were ultimately to be reduced to physics. The idea was pithily expressed by Jim Watson, one of the discoverers of DNA: 'There are only molecules – everything else is sociology.'

Reductionist science chalked up victory after victory, as more and more lower-level mechanisms were discovered to explain higher-level processes. One such discovery was made in 1984 by the young Denis. He explained the pacemaker rhythm of the heart in terms of the flow of ions of potassium and calcium through protein channels. This achievement established his credentials as a reductionist biologist. However, he did not long continue to be a card-carrying member of the fraternity. He soon realized that in the heartbeat there was not only upward causation from the molecular level to the cellular level, but also downward causation from the cell influencing the molecules. Denis chaired the meeting at which I challenged Dawkins on the explanatory power of genes, and he took my side in the argument.

After I became Master of the college I ceased to share students with Denis, and so we had less opportunity for scientific discussion. However, our paths remained entwined at an administrative level. For two years, Denis served as my vice Master. This period included the year in which Mrs Thatcher was proposed, and then rejected, for an honorary Oxford degree. Denis was a founder of the Save British Science campaign which protested against the Thatcher government's cuts to the science budget, and he took a leading part in the campaign against the proposal. After the proposal was rejected, 200 alumni wrote separate letters to Balliol, either to applaud or to condemn the decision of Congregation. Denis and I divided between us the burden of replying. I, who had voted in Council in favour of the degree, wrote to the pro-Thatcher correspondents, while Denis wrote to the rest.

In retirement, I have been delighted to resume philosophical and scientific discussions with Denis. He has now come a long way from his reductionist beginnings. In his latest book, Dance to the Tune of Life, he enunciates a principle that he calls 'biological relativity'. This states that in biology there is no privileged level of causation: living organisms are multilevel open systems in which the behaviour at any level depends on higher and lower levels, and cannot be fully understood in isolation. Levels are distinguished from each other by their degree of complexity. If we start with atoms, we move upward through the levels of molecules, networks, organelles, cells, tissues, organs, whole-body systems and whole organisms.

One of the goals of reductionism was to eliminate from science all teleology or goal-directedness. In fact, Noble argues, teleology is ubiquitous in nature. However, it operates in different ways at different levels. At the purely molecular level, the protein-membrane network that sustains cardiac rhythm has no goal: its function only becomes clear at the level of cells. In its turn, the cellular activity serves a purpose that only emerges at the still higher level of the cardiovascular system.

While he remains a thoroughgoing Darwinist, Denis challenges the neo-Darwinism of Dawkins. He rejects the assumption that natural selection working on chance variations in genetic material is entirely sufficient to explain all evolutionary change, and has followed up the critique of The Selfish Gene that we began in his Holywell Manor drawing room years ago. In Dance to the Tune of Life, he argues that genes are not agents – selfish or unselfish: they are only templates – mere organs of the living cell:

There is nothing alive in the DNA molecule alone. If I could completely isolate a whole genome, put it in a Petri dish with as many nutrients as we may wish, I could keep it for 10,000 years and it would do absolutely nothing other than to slowly degrade.

Moreover, DNA is not sealed off from the outside world: it is subject to modification from within the organism and from the environment. Human beings and other animals are not lumbering robots but autonomous agents who can affect not only their environment but also the make-up of their own genome.

In 2017, Denis organized a joint conference between the Royal Society and the British Academy on the new trends in evolutionary biology. Despite attempts made to block it by outraged neo-Darwinists, the conference was well attended and excited all the participants. I am proud to have had a hand in the early stages of its organization. Its proceedings have recently been published by the Royal Society in its journal Interface Focus.

To this day, Denis and I continue our discussions on the relationship between philosophy and science. We both agree that the notion that science is necessarily and uniquely reductionist is not an empirical discovery, but a philosophical postulate. We both agree that teleology is undeniable and ubiquitous, but that we do not know, and perhaps cannot know, whether this is simply a fundamental feature of nature, or whether there is some supreme level at which it has an explanation. Certainly science cannot tell us whence the universe originated, and whether it has an ultimate goal. In his latest book, Denis suggests that even in asking these questions we have reached a boundary across which we cannot go.

(Brief Encounters: Notes from a Philosopher's Diary, pp 185-188.)

Kenny on Dawkins

Anthony Kenny on Richard Dawkins:

Richard Dawkins and I have been Oxford colleagues for most of our lives, and have been sparring with each other for many years. We agree with each other that most of what religious people believe is false, but unlike Richard I accept that religious beliefs may be quite reasonable, even if untrue. While I am not competent to challenge any of Richard's scientific statements, and while I regard his The Extended Phenotype as one of the last century's finest books of popular science, I believe that he greatly exaggerates the power of genetics to explain human life and thought. We first clashed in a seminar at Holywell Manor, chaired by Denis Noble, shortly after The Selfish Gene appeared. Richard thought that now the DNA code had been cracked, we would be able to understand the book of life. 'Do you think that a knowledge of the English alphabet is all you need to understand Shakespeare?', I asked him.

When I read The God Delusion I found I agreed with about 90 per cent of what it said, but that the area of disagreement meant that the two of us came to quite different positions about the rationality of religious belief. I will mention just one example. I am an agnostic about the existence of God, whereas Richard is an atheist and believes that he can prove that God certainly does not exist. A designer God, he maintains, cannot be used to explain the organized complexity we observe in living beings, because any God capable of designing anything would have to be complex enough to demand the same kind of explanation in his own right. He calls this argument 'The Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit', in tribute to Fred Hoyle, who once said that the probability of life originating on earth is no greater than the chance that a hurricane, sweeping through a scrapyard, would have the luck to assemble a Boeing 747. God, according to Dawkins, is the ultimate 747.

A traditional theist would say that Dawkins' argument misrepresented the notion of God in two ways. First of all, God is as much outside the series complexity/simplicity as he is outside the series mover/moved. He is not complex as a protein is; nor, for that matter, is he simple as an elementary particle is. He has neither the simplicity nor the complexity of material objects. Second, he is not one of a series of temporal contingents, each requiring explanation in terms of a previous state of the universe: unchanging and everlasting, he is outside the temporal series. What calls for explanation is the origin of organized complexity: but God had no origin, and is neither complex nor organized.

I made this point in a lecture to the Royal Institute of Philosophy in 2007. A few years later I was asked to take part in a debate, in Oxford's Sheldonian Theatre, between Richard and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. The topic of the debate was 'the nature of human beings and their ultimate origin'. As an agnostic, I was supposed to be a neutral chair holding the balance between the Christian and an atheist. But as the debate proceeded I began to think that the kindly archbishop was letting Richard get away with some pretty feeble arguments, and so I began to intervene on the other side. When Richard again produced his Boeing 747 argument, I protested that he was confusing two kinds of complexity – complexity of structure and complexity of function. A cut-throat razor was a much simpler structure than an electric shaver, but unlike the shaver it could also function as a cut-throat as well as a razor. The archbishop, fingering his beard, said that he did not feel competent to adjudicate between us.

Richard and I have always got on amicably face to face, but have not been afraid to be rude to each other in absence or in print. At dinner, after the Sheldonian debate, I remarked to Richard that moving from The Extended Phenotype to The God Delusion was like moving from the Financial Times to The Sun. This did not go down well, and led to a frosty exchange of emails. Later, Richard took part in a debate in Sydney with Cardinal Pell. At some point in the debate, I am told, the cardinal referred to my critique of the argument for atheism: 'Ah, Kenny', Richard said. 'He is a qualified obscurantist.' Well, I do have a doctorate in theology, which I suppose from Richard's point of view is a professional qualification in obscurantism.

(Brief Encounters: Notes from a Philosopher's Diary, pp 183-185.)

Catholic exodus

Many theories have been proposed for the demographic decline of Catholicism, and no doubt there are multiple factors, but I wonder if one factor is that many Catholics can't take aspects of traditional Catholic ethics seriously, because some of them are so arbitrary. The official policy on contraception is routinely flouted. Couples find it gratuitously onerous, and the rationale was always ad hoc. 

Likewise, how many Catholic boys ever took the masturbation taboo seriously? There may have been a fraction of very devout Catholic boys who tried to abide by the strictures, but I suspect most Catholic boys ignored it. 

Same thing with mandatory priestly celibacy. It was never realistic. These are policies that cut too much against the grain of human nature. 

By the same token, divorce used to be illegal in Catholic countries, which created many unnecessary hardships. Admittedly, many couples divorce from the wrong reasons, but there are justifiable reasons as well. I read about an Irish Catholic family back when divorce was illegal. The husband/father/breadwinner deserted the family. That plunged the family into grinding poverty because his wife couldn't legally divorce him and remarry. 

The bottom line is that when the Catholic church has ethical policies that are arbitrary, many Catholics ignore the policies.  But that means they can't take the authority of their denomination seriously. Yet once that happens, there's no stopping the drift.

A reason for the hope that is in you

John Lennox gives an encouraging talk with (mostly) good advice and helpful examples on how to talk to people about Christianity:

Lennox notes the #1 reason people leave the church (in England) is because they don't believe their questions have been addressed. In that vein, Lennox mentions he sometimes simply does a Q&A on whatever questions a congregation wants to ask instead of preaching a sermon to them. Here's the video:

Lennox writes more on these issues in his little book Have No Fear: Being Salt and Light Even When It's Costly.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Sign petition to protect James Younger

Can I get a witness?

Dillion Achord Sr. had a dramatic conversion experience as a teenager when his best friend took him to a revival. After that he become more zealous than the friend who took him to the revival. 

He became a Baptist lay preacher. Spent lots of time witnessing. Some people figured it was just a phase, but he remained fervent–until the wheels started falling off his life. 

Despite his zeal, he never wanted to become a pastor. His dream was be a high school football coach. After that, he rarely went by "Dillon". Everybody called him "Coach". He liked that.  

Mentoring the next generation, that was his goal post–more than the goal post on the field. Mind you, he had a passion for football. He knew what was going on in the lives of his players. He prayed with them and for them. He had voluntary home Bible studies for players. The football field was his mission field. They respected and revered him. He was a role model of manliness. For many, he was the only father-figure they had to look up to.  

Then his wife left him for another man, abandoning their teenage son. Life without a wife was a physical and emotional hardship. 

His son might have been a huge consolation were it not for the fact that Dillion Jr., or "Junior", as he was always called, was hard into teenage rebellion. That originated in rage over his mother's desertion. Made worse because Junior started hanging out with juvenile delinquents. So he started getting into trouble with the law.

As a result, his father's grief over the breakup of the marriage was compounded by grief over the stormy relationship with his son. With just the two of them living together, it was an ideal time for them for father and son to deepen their bond, but instead, forces were tearing them apart. 

Coach used to go to the football field to pray, walking round and round the track after school when the field was deserted. His prayer life use to be full of praise, contrition, and thanksgiving, but now he was yelling at God. 

After he picked up his son at the police station for–he lost count–they got into a shouting match at home, and Junior ran away from home. That led to more yelling at God.

To make matters worse, he lost his job. Although he loved the players and they loved him, the town loving winning, and the team lost more games than it won. 

That's in part because Coach didn't always pick the best players. He didn't pick boys from well-to-do families. He picked working-class guys. Many came from troubled homes. Football was his ministry. He recruited boys who desperately needed someone to befriend them. Coach cared about sinners, not winners. They put their heart and soul into the game because they adored their coach, but they never had the talent to beat the best teams. Most parents didn't appreciate his priorities. They wanted winners, not losers. 

When he was fired, the team was furious. It was a tearful farewell. But turnover is rapid in intramural football. 

After that he yelled less at God because he prayed less. He lost his wife, his son, and his dream job. 

He took a job at the local used car dealership. In a small town he had to be nice to customers who got him fired. 

A few months later he began to feel stabbing abdominal pain and back pain. He went to the doctor. After a battery of tests, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The prognosis was dire. 

At that point Coach dropped out of church. And his prayer life, already at low ebb, dried up entirely. He might as well die. He had nothing left to live for. 

A few weeks later, his estranged son found out through the grapevine that his dad was dying of cancer. At first, Junior was dumbfounded by the news. Then he drove back to his dad. All that time, Junior was living just one town up the road. He wept all the way back. 

When Coach came to the door, Junior was shocked to see how gaunt he was. He dad was always buff. But now he was wasted. 

Junior moved back in. Fixed all the meals. Bathed his father. Helped him use the bathroom. Gave him morphine injections. 

As Coach became increasingly bed-ridden, he asked his son to read the Bible to him. Mainly from the Psalms and the Gospel of John. 

One evening, Junior cradled his dad in his arms while recounted happy memories of stuff they used to do together when he was younger. Hiking, hunting, rafting, horseback riding. His dad would nod or smile at each anecdote. It all came flooding back in Junior's mind's eye–which is why he didn't notice when Coach became unresponsive. He craned his neck around and saw that Coach's pupils were dilated. His dad died in his arms. Junior got out of bed, closed his father's eyes, kissed him good-bye, and pulled the sheet over his face.

Junior used to visit his father's grave every day, weather-permitting. Later he brought his little boy along. Then he drove to high school football practice. His son played around the bleachers while Junior coached the team. 

What's the strongest argument for God's existence?

Final words to leave the next generation

Dad tries to save son from transgenderism

And to piggyback on Steve's post as well:

1. If all the reports are accurate, then I couldn't agree more. It's maddening, infuriating, lamentable. The kid has no more hope for a happy childhood.

2. Not to mention by all accounts I've read the 7 year old boy doesn't want to be a girl but his mother is forcing her choice onto the boy. Does this set a precedence for parents to transition their children into a different sex against their children's wills? At this point, it looks like progressives are arguing women should be able to abort their child even as newborns no longer in the womb and women should be able to turn their children into whatever sex they wish their children to be despite biological realities. Is there anything women can't do to their children according to progressives?

3. The mother is a pediatrician who should know better. However she's a terrible and evil person. Indeed, it seems to me there are many women like her.

4. Women have had a loud and clear voice for generations, but who will speak on behalf of men? Men seem to be increasingly unfairly discriminated against in our society. Boys and men are increasingly tyrannized by third wave feminists and progressives in general. For example, Christina Hoff Sommers has documented a lot of this.

5. I don't know if there's any more hope for the father to win a court case. I don't know if he can appeal. Or even take it to the Supreme Court.

6. However, if there are no more legal options open to the father, and assuming most people bow to the evil judicial decision, then if it were me I think I'd consider trying to "kidnap" my son (in fact both of my sons since they're twins) and fleeing to another state or even another nation. I realize this is desperate, but I don't know what else the father can do. It seems he's only left with hard choices for his sons: a choice between state-sponsored child abuse under an evil mother in the US vs. a more normal childhood under a good father but living life on the run. But I think this kind of "kidnapping" is arguably justifiable on Christian ethics.

7. Remember this case whenever you hear liberals and progressives say things like "transgenderism doesn't harm anyone", "transgenderism is not a mental illness", "everyone should get a choice", "it's their choice, not yours", "you're bigoted against transgendered peoples", etc. The truth is liberals and progressives are always pushing their abnormal values onto normal people, but acting like they're the victims when normal people dissent.

What is death?

The following is an excerpt from Louis Pojman's book Life and Death (1992), pp 158-164. It discusses criteria for death as well as organ transplantation. I strongly disagree with Pojman on these matters. However, he gives a decent enough summary of the main categories for death and related issues that I'll quote it here. In addition, Pojman's argument (which was made in 1992) doesn't seem substantially different from how progressive ethicists argue today. I'll have to interact with Pojman at a later time.

Venial sin

i) The Bible doesn't have an exhaustive list of sins.

ii) Catholicism has made-up sins.

iii) The gravity of sin ranges along a continuum. While it's easy to spot the extremes, it's blurry in the middle. So sin doesn't neatly bifurcate into two kinds of sin: mortal and venial. 

iv) Even the same sin can vary in culpability.

v) Outside of Christ every sin is a mortal (i.e. damnable) sin. 

Overturning human wisdom

Halloween's creation and recreation

The Chosen

Praetorius was sitting alone on the front deck of the ferry, taking in the ocean view and sea breeze, when an agitated young boy came outside and sat next to him. Concerned about his state of mind, Praetorius asked the boy what was wrong. The boy said he was being pursued by two men who intended to abduct him. 

Praetorius wasn't quite sure what to make of this. Kids have a lively imagination. But the boy's fear was palpable. He asked him if this was the first time. The boy said, no, he was constantly shadowed and hunted by the two men. He was always able to give them the slip, but now they had him cornered. There was no escape. Nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. 

Praetorius introduced himself to the boy and asked his name. The boy said his name was Michael Angelus. Praetorius sensed something else about the boy, but couldn't quite place it. 

Then two men came out onto the deck and fixed their eyes on Michael. Praetorius had his arm around the boy, so the men stood there, mulling over what to do next. 

Praetorius could see that they were unrelated to Michael, so they might well be kidnappers or human traffickers. But there was something even more sinister about the men. Praetorius instantly sensed that they were demoniacs. 

Praetorius wasn't an ordinary man. His grandparents were witches. And they acquired occult abilities through sorcery. But that came at a terrible cost. A family history of insanity, nightmares, depression, suicide, and violence. For that reason, Praetorius shunned Satanism. Indeed, he wore a cross and went to church. Nevertheless, he inherited the occult abilities of his grandparents. But he figured he could use his powers for good. Ultimately, all supernatural power derives from God. 

Not only could he sense their true identity, but the demoniacs could sense something uncanny about him. Praetorius and the demoniacs both had antennae for the realm of spirits. So there was a standoff until the ferry made port, at which point Praetorius got up to chaperon Michael off the ship and protect him from the trackers from hell. The demoniacs immediately blocked the doorway. 

Then, with a wave of his hand, Praetorius immobilized them and threw them overboard. Michael was shocked, but pleasantly surprised by his wizardry. 

Praetorius drove Michael home with him. He found out that Michael had been in and out of foster care after his parents died in a freak accident. As a very young boy, Michael frequently sensed something malevolent watching him, lurking in the shadows. But it was only as his coming of age became imminent that he was seen to be a looming threat. That's when they began to stalk him in earnest. But by seeming miracles, he was able to elude them whenever they were about to close in on him. 

Praetorius always wondered if he'd ever have a chance to use his hereditary powers for good. It couldn't be a coincidence that he as on the ferry at the same time Michael and the infernal trackers boarded the ferry. Some invisible benefactor must have guided Michael to the ferry. From now on, Praetorius became his bodyguard and guardian. 

Drowning the demoniacs bought Michael and Praetorius some time. Of course, that didn't obliterate the evil spirits. But the trail went cold as they had to rustle up new human hosts. Praetorius had misgivings about drowning the demoniacs, since that killed the human host. It was a snap decision under duress, to protect an innocent boy. But as it turns out, the trackers only possessed humans who dabbled in the occult. 

Praetorius was able to generate a field around Michael and himself which made them indetectable to infernal surveillance. But Praetorius wasn't omniscient or omnipotent. His powers faded over distance. And his conscious powers waned when he slept. Through lucid dreaming and telepathy, he was able to draw Michael's mind into his own when he slept, and shield him from surveillance outside the dreamworld. But Praetorius could only direct or concentrate his powers when he was awake or lucid. It was draining to be in a state of high alert all the time, and sometimes his concentration flagged, which gave the trackers a chance to catch up. 

One time the demoniacs were able to track down his house. But as they got closer, Praetorius sensed them and woke up. He and Michael got dressed. As they were about to leave, Praetorius saw the trackers in the driveway. He went outside, then encircled them in a ring of fire. That posed a dilemma for the trackers. If they tried to escape through the fire, the human host would burn to death. The demons would survive, but they'd be impotent to interface with Michael or Praetorius until they commandeered two new hosts. That gave Michael and Praetorius a window to skip town. By the time the trackers took possession of new hosts, they lost the scent.

After that they had to live on the run, moving from place to place. One time, when Michael and Praetorius were working at a tavern, and Praetorius became distracted, the trackers zeroed in. But Praetorius could always sense their approach. When the trackers arrived at the bar, they were confronted by Hell's Angels. This was, however, the first time Hell's Angels came face-to-face with real angels from hell. They were outmatched because the demoniacs had superhuman strength. But the diversion enabled Michael and Praetorius a chance to flee the scene. 

Praetorius could never discern what was special about Michael. Then one day, Praetorius accidentally spilled boiling water on his hand in the kitchen. Praetorius required medical attention. But Michael instinctively pricked his finger with a needle and smeared a few drops of blood over the scalded hand. It healed within minutes. 

Praetorius then realized that Michael was a golden child. A healer. His blood had therapeutic properties. Yet he still didn't understand why the dark side felt so threatened by Michael. But a year and a half-later, a well-funded group of antinatalists, bioterrorisits, and ecoterrorists developed an airborne, mutant strain of leukemia. People began to die by the millions. The human race was on the verge of extinction. 

Evidently, the dark side foresaw this event. Indeed, the dark side engineered this event behind-the-scenes. Michael was immune to the contagion. He was a carrier, but a therapeutic carrier. He offered his blood. Of course, there was only one of him. How could a single blood donor save the human race? Yet a transfusion from his blood not only cured the patient but changed their blood, so that each cured person could cure others by becoming blood donors. The rate of healing was as exponential.

Yet millions continued to die. Children were cured, and Christians were cured, although not all churchgoers were cured.  But the blood didn't cure people who persecuted Christians. The disparity didn't go unnoticed, leading to Christian revival around the world. 

Praetorius was seriously injured in a traffic accident. Comatose for days, the trackers were able to detect Michael. By that time it was too late change the outcome. The contagion was broken. But that made the dark side all the more vindictive. They infected Michael with a scratch. A mutant strain of bubonic plague. He died hours later, hugging his Bible. Having healed millions, he couldn't heal himself. 

When Praetorius regained consciousness, he was enraged and grief-stricken. He couldn't fathom why heaven let Michael die. But after watching coverage of world-wide mourning, he changed his mind and concluded that perhaps it was better for Michael to die young, lest he become an object of worship, and all the adoration go to his head.

Still in his twenties, Praetorius hadn't married, in part because he was guarding Michael, and in part because he feared transmitted his occult powers to his own children. But now that he no longer had Michael to protect, he renounced his hereditary abilities, got married, and became an exorcist–using ordinary means of grace like prayer, Scripture, and hymn-singing to combat the dark side.