Saturday, February 15, 2020

Caught on camera

In reaction to Francis Chan's recently claim that he healed some people, it's striking to see cessationists like Justin Peters and Fred Butler invent a new standard for accepting a reported miracle: it must be caught on camera! If we take that seriously, as if plain old eyewitness testimony is untrustworthy, that instantly impugns the credibility of all biblical miracles. 

I'd add, at the risk of stating the obvious, that not all medical conditions are visible to a cellphone camera. Deafness is invisible. Many diseases are invisible, or only detectable via scanning internal anatomy, or lab work. 

Furthermore, unless they were expecting a miracle, there's no reason they'd have cameras running in advance to capture the event as it happened. 

Finally, if you're going to be that skeptical, it's also possible to fabricate photographic evidence. 

George Herbert

Herbert was a major Anglican poet and devotional writer. His work is edifying for contemporary Christians:

Parasite review

(No significant spoilers except in the very last paragraph.)

The film Parasite won the Oscar for Best Picture. It was the first foreign film to have ever done so. It's a South Korean film.

The premise is a poor and unemployed family consisting of a father, a mother, a teenage son, and a teenage daughter end up conning and weaseling themselves into working for a rich family. The father serves as their limo driver, the mother as their house maid, the son as an English tutor for the rich family's daughter, and the daughter as the rich family's youngest son's art therapist. They forged documents to pretend like they have college degrees and work experiences they don't. The rest of the film unfolds from this setup.

I think one could evaluate the film on at least three different levels: a thriller with some dark comedic elements, a critique of "crazy rich" Asian culture, and social commentary (if not metaphor) about contemporary class warfare. Let's consider each of these.

The world's smallest violin

I am so angered by Trump supporters who simply cannot be bothered to look at the credible accounts of his 25 accusers. Do they have any clue about the trauma of experiencing sexual assault or sexual harassment? @DrMichaelLBrown you cannot keep ignoring this.
There's no doubt that Rauser has an anger-management problem. He's like a pampered only-child who's used to getting his way from doting parents. So it's aggravating when he finds out that he has so little influence. He conducts ineffectual tirades against his favorite targets, but nothing changes. He's not a player. It's humiliating for someone that judgmental and egoistical to discover how impotent he is. The world doesn't share his overweening sense of self-importance. He's not the cosmic moral arbiter. 

Speaking for myself, one reason I haven't investigated the allegations is that I've heard Trump admit, in a roundabout way, that he's guilty of sexual harassment. But here's the thing:

Even if ail the allegations are true, Trump isn't dangerous to women in general. Basically, he's boorish. 

Far and away the greatest danger to women is coming from secular progressives. That includes all the baby girls who die from abortion and after-birth abortion. Euthanizing elderly women. Hormone blockers and mutilation for adolescent girls who experience temporary gender dysphoria. "Trangender girls/women" decimating women's sports. "Transgender women" invading shelters for battered women, or lockerrooms, or prisons. As well as a nihilistic worldview which fosters depression, substance  abuse, and suicide.  

It's not Trump but the Democrat party, abetted by Silicon Valley, that poses the overwhelming threat to the life and well-being of women and girls. 

But because Rauser is a social and theological progressive, he doesn't perceive a threat from the left. He's largely on board with the social progressive agenda. So he suffers from a myopic outlook, as if the real threat is emanating from the Trump administration. That's why he's so blindly and fanatically one-sided. That's why his indignation is so glaringly selective. 

Friday, February 14, 2020

Credulous Christians and knee-jerk skeptics

Recently I posted a report about Francis Chan healing the sick:

I didn't vouch for his claims, but I think they merit respectful consideration. On Twitter, JMac's righthand man, Phil Johnson, chimed in on the same report:

The miracles of Jesus and the apostles were routinely public, undeniable, & well-attested by multiple eyewitnesses. Even Jesus’ most determined adversaries couldn’t argue that the miracles were faked. They therefore raised doubts about the source of his power (Mt. 12:24).

Miracles such as those done by Jesus and the apostles are NOT occurring in charismatic circles today. Simple honesty SHOULD compel even the most doctrinaire continuationists to admit that no one today is doing what the apostles did in Acts 5:12; 9:33-42; 19:11-12; etc.

Yet unverified and unverifiable claims are routinely made by charismatics. Tales are regularly told that, when investigated, turn out to be false.

That’s why spiritually sane people don’t automatically swallow stories like the one Francis Chan told last week at Moody.

When someone tells a fantastic tale like “Everyone I touched was healed!”—asking for evidence is NOT sinful unbelief. (Especially when the person telling the tale is a theological drifter.)

Jesus commanded us to have that flavor of skepticism. Mt 24:24; Lk 21:8.

Yes, I saw it: Francis Chan going full faith healer at Moody Bible Institute’s Founder’s Week—on the platform of Moody Church.

I used to live in that part of Chicago. There’s a hospital close by with a full ward of terminally ill children. Do you think he’ll pay them a visit?

Several issues:

1. There's some history between Francis Chan and JMac's outfit. Francis is their most famous and popular graduate. But he's become a disappointment and embarrassment to them, so they disassociate themselves from his ministry

2. I agree with Phil that there's lots of chicanery in the charismatic movement.

3. I agree with him that we should ask for evidence and not "automatically swallow" every report. 

4. Speaking for myself, I find Francis's recent testimony credible. That doesn't necessarily mean I believe it. There's a difference between saying something is believable and saying you believe it. I think it's more than possibly true. Plausible or probable without its being compelling or altogether convincing. I'm very open to what he said. 

I'd like to have more background information about the folks he allegedly healed. Where these persistent, clearly-identified conditions? What about follow-up studies?

5. That said, Francis's testimony is evidence. Prima facie evidence in its own right. And there were multiple reported witnesses. To be sure, that's different than have separate accounts by different witnesses. It would be useful to hear from other members of his team. It would be useful to interview the folks who were said to be healed. Or their friends and relatives. 

6. Francis is somewhat lacking in theological judgment. That doesn't disqualify him as an eyewitness. There is the danger of gullibility. Maybe he's too eager to see divine signs. But that doesn't mean we should dismiss his firsthand report out of hand. 

7. As William James classically stated, there are two opposite errors to avoid:

“Believe truth!” “Shun error!”—these, we see, are two materially different laws; and by choosing between them we may color differently our whole intellectual life. We may regard the chase for truth as paramount, and the avoidance of error as secondary; or we may, on the other hand, treat the avoidance of error as more imperative, and let truth take its chance. Clifford, in the instructive passage which I have quoted, exhorts us to the latter course. Believe nothing, he tells us, keep your mind in suspense for ever, rather than by closing it on insufficient evidence incur the awful risk of believing lies. You, on the other hand, may think that the risk of being in error is a very small matter when compared with the blessings of real knowledge, and be ready to be duped many times in your investigation rather than postpone indefinitely the chance of guessing true...For my own part, I have also a horror of being duped. But I can believe that worse things than being duped may happen to a man in this world...

8. Although Francis may be credulous to a fault, Phil and Jmac are incredulous to a fault. Phil isn't consistently skeptical. He's oblivious to his own double standard. Debunkers like Michael Shermer, Martin Gardner, Carl Sagan, James Randi, and Paul Kurtz (to name a few) don't think NT miracles are undeniable. It's not as if we can use modern scanning technology to diagnose the preexisting medical conditions of individuals in the Gospels and Acts. We don't have case-histories, or before and after scans. We don't have identifiable skeletal remains to examine. 

Many dominical healings involve possession and exorcisms, but certainly possession and exorcism can sometimes be faked or misdiagnosed. And that's even assuming the Gospels and Acts are trustworthy accounts,     which skeptics deny. Phil is playing with a double-bladed sword.

9. Did Jesus visit leper colonies and cure all the lepers? For that matter, isn't Jesus still alive? But he doesn't pop into cancer wards to heal everyone in sight. It's reckless when cessationists like Phil raise objections which, if taken seriously, discredit biblical miracles.

Indeed, well-documented modern miracles lend credibility to biblical miracles. They don't only happen in old stories. 

10. Phil's objection is circular: "Miracles such as those done by Jesus and the apostles are NOT occurring in charismatic circles today…When someone tells a fantastic tale like “Everyone I touched was healed!”

On the one hand, Phil seems to be saying that when Jesus and the apostles healed people, everyone they touched was healed–yet that's a "fantastic tale" if someone today makes the same claim. What makes that a fantastic tale now but not back then?

And how does he know that "Miracles such as those done by Jesus and the apostles are NOT occurring in charismatic circles today"? His denial seems to amount to the claim that they can't be happening today because miracles like that don't happen today. I don't believe it because I know that sort of thing doesn't happen anymore, and I know that sort of thing doesn't happen anymore because it only happened in the past. 

But that's circular. It begs the question. What would count as evidence that it still happens? If it still happens, we'd expect to hear reports of it happening. Which is, in fact, what's going on. 

Phil's attitude is like saying we know a species went extinct because there are no contemporary sightings of the species. As such, we should discount all contemporary sightings because we know the species went extinct. All contemporary reports must be false. 

I'm by no means suggesting that we accept every reported miracle. But I do object to Phil's blanket preemptive dismissal. To reject every report is just as mindless as accepting every report. 

11. I believe Phil's paradigm of a healer is that God delegates the ability to heal. That's an autonomous ability which a healer can perform on anyone at any time at any place. Hence the taunt about failing to clear out a cancer ward.

But that's a very mechanical view of healing. What if God occasionally empowers a Christian to lay on hands and heal. It's not a permanent or even regular endowment, but  temporary endowment. It might only be once or twice in the lifetime of the Christian. BTW, we have examples of that in the OT, where the Spirit of God temporarily enables someone to do something extraordinary or supernatural. 

Proof of miraculous healing doesn't require a 100% success rate. The only proof necessary is a patient with a naturally incurable condition who is cured by the intervention of a Christian who, let us say, prays over them. 

Mayor Pete's LGBTQ agenda if elected president

Robert Gagnon:

In case you thought that President Buttigieg wasn't going to compel embrace of the entire "LGBTQ" agenda on the nation "just because" he has a "husband," this 17-page list (!) of executive, legislative, and judicial goals will divest you of your naivete. It will be "All Gay" and "All Trans" 24/7 with his administration. Of course, top of the list is the passing of the Get-the-Transphobic-and-Homophobic-Bigots "Equality Act." And oh so much more.

Prepare to lose your free speech and free exercise of religion in every venue of human existence, including in your home with your own children. The White House and Executive Branch will become the main propaganda outlet and enforcer arm for the SPLC and HRC -- as if the MSM, academia, and the entertainment industry is not already enough. Even apart from draconian policy commitments, every SOTU address (and nearly all other speeches), indeed, every public appearance of the President with his "husband" will become an occasion for attacking your views as virulent bigotry that must be stamped out as the moral equivalent of extreme racism.

I suppose that we should thank Buttigieg for disclosing in detail all the terrible things that a Dem President could do to us, our spouses, and most of all our children, grandchildren, and all future generations. But remember, boys and girls, zes and zirs and everything in between, the reelection of Trump poses the greatest danger to the country and to the church (kindly remove tongue from cheek).

I'm in the process of going through the list but here are some starters:

(1) "End 'conversion therapy' nationwide." No one will be able to provide counseling for "trans"-identified or "gay"-identified persons that affirms the client's wish not to live a trans- or homosexually active life.

Remember that draconian California bill that was at the last moment withdrawn, that would put at risk even pastors who counseled people out of a "gay" or "trans" life, if an exchange of funds was involved, including the sale of literature? Well, Buttigieg wants such a law to be passed nationally. "Pete will work to pass the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act, which will require the Federal Trade Commission to . . . prohibit, 'conversion therapy' as consumer fraud, and end the dangerous practice across the country."

Be aware that in the California bill, "conversion therapy" included any attempt to change the behavior (not just impulses and feelings) associated with the "gay" or "transgender" life. Publishers will not be able to sell books critical of "LGBTQ+" thinking and behavior because, by the definition of such a bill, any attempt to "change" this mantra will be treated as an act of "consumer fraud." The same applies to any conference that charges a fee for attending, church-related or otherwise.

(2) Regarding "LGBTQ" students:

(a) "Empower the Office of Civil Rights at the federal Department of Education to . . . investigate complaints of discrimination by LGBTQ+ students and families. . . . Reverse the backsliding under the Trump administration, and make sure LGBTQ+ civil rights cases, and in particular, increase efforts to protect transgender students." Translation: Have the federal government breathing down the necks of every school in the country to promote celebration of the "trans" and "gay" life. Any criticism or even questioning will lead to the full weight of the federal government dropping on the alleged offender.

(b) "Support the Student Nondiscrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act, and correctly interpret Title IX to include protection of transgender students." No teacher in the country will be able to stop a male from entering female bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, and sports program. All he has to do is say, "I currently identify as a woman."

(c) Provide federal funding for (i) all states to impose "training programs" on all teachers, who will be held responsible for stopping any "lack of acceptance" of "LGBTQ+" students; (ii) for school mental and physical "health centers" and staffing to promote full acceptance of the trans and gay life (since any criticism would damage their mental health); (iii) developing "LGBTQ+ inclusive" curricula "such as including LGBTQ+ people in history curricula."

(d) "Require every school across the country to teach [pro-LGBTQ+] Mental Health First Aid courses."

More to come as time permits.

In addition, consider what has happened in other nations with regard to the LGBTQ agenda. For example, see the following article: "Switzerland votes to make ‘homophobia’ a crime punishable by up to THREE years in prison". Could something like this ever happen in the US? Ultimately it's up to voters to decide. Ultimately it's up to voters to vote for people they want to represent them.

And keep in mind all of the above (as well as consider articles like "Understanding why religious conservatives would vote for Trump") whenever liberals criticize conservative Christians for voting for Trump even though Trump has a blunderbuss for a personality and even though he's an immoral person in many ways. There's far more at stake than just Trump as a person: the bigger picture is it's about stopping the liberal-progressive juggernaut that's attempting to steamroll our political and religious liberties.

The "angry Calvinist" trope

Context: Michael Brown plugged Steve's post "Straining Trumpian gnats while swallowing Democrat camels", in which Steve defends Michael Brown against Randal Rauser's criticisms, then out of the blue someone named Stephen J. Graham decided to call Steve an "angry Calvinist". See here: or

I'd add:

Suppose my "normal description" of Graham, who is Irish, is that he's a drunken Irishman, simply because "it's the most fitting", even though there's no reason for me to think Graham is drunk. Suppose I just assumed Graham is a drunken Irishman whenever I read a tweet from Graham, even though there's zero evidence his tweet was sent in a state of inebriation. That would be unfair of me to do, to say the very least! Yet that's evidently how Graham treats Steve: Graham's default setting is that Steve is an "angry Calvinist" even in writings or works which have nothing to do with Calvinism.

Also, ironically, many freewill theists call for universal love, but they defame and malign Calvinists for no good reason.

Power evangelism

Interesting if true:

Defeating evil

The book of Revelation is chockfull of violence and warfare. Once issue is how literally take this imagery. At one end of the continuum, a reader may believe events will unfold as described, as if this is film footage of the future.

At the other hand of the spectrum is the view that this is symbolic imagery for a bloodless psychological struggle between good and evil. Spiritual warfare. Fighting for the soul. 

There's a gain of truth to that, but there was real warfare in the 1C Roman Empire. Christians suffered physical persecution and martyrdom. And that continues throughout church history.

I remember as a boy reading Perelandra for the first time. I was blown away by the sensuous sceny of the floating islands on the copper seas.  

However, I found the fight scene towards the end jarring and unsatisfactory. Ransom is gradually losing the debate with the Un-Man. He isn't necessarily losing the argument. He has truth on his side. But the Uh-Man, as a mouthpiece for Satan, is his intellectual superior. He's been around since creation. He tells the Queen beguiling lies. Incrementally, her resistance weakens. 

And that point Ransom gives up on debate and resorts to violence. On the face of it, reading it for the first time, that seems like an artistic co-out. A cheat. As  if Lewis took the action in one direction but was unable to resolve it on its own terms, so he abruptly changes course.

But coming back to it years later, there's wisdom in his denouement. Lewis was a WWI vet. And he lived through WWII. He was depressed by the prospect of another war. I once watched an interview with Freeman Dyson describing what it was like to be a college student in England on the eve of the war. The atmosphere was claustrophobic and fatalistic. The English could foresee that the Wehrmacht was coming for them. Coming to their shores. It was unstoppable. So you had to wait for the inevitable. Were you doomed? Was resistance futile?

It's best to resolve conflict through reason, but sometimes people choose evil over reason. They can't be reasoned with. They put themselves beyond the reach of reason. So they can only be defeated through superior force, not superior argument. Having goodness and truth on your side are not enough if that's the very thing evil loathes. Although Revelation uses stock martial imagery, although the imagery is stylized, it may portend real warfare. 

The argument from beauty

The Existence of God (2nd ed.) by Richard Swinburne, pp 190-1.

The strength of the argument from the universe and its spatial and temporal order to God is increased when we take into account the beauty of that universe. As we have noted, the universe is beautiful in the plants, rocks, and rivers, and animal and human bodies on Earth, and also in the swirl of the galaxies and the birth and death of stars. Mark Wynn comments that nature is ‘uniformly beautiful whereas the products of human beings are rarely beautiful in the absence of artistic intent’. I argued in Chapter 6 that, if God creates a universe, as a good workman he will create a beautiful universe. On the other hand, if the universe came into existence without being created by God, there is no reason to suppose that it would be a beautiful universe. The argument has force on the assumption with which I am happy and commend to my readers that beauty is an objective matter, that there are truths about what is beautiful and what is not. If this is denied and beauty is regarded as something that we project onto nature or artefacts, then the argument could be rephrased as an argument from human beings having aesthetic sensibilities that allow them to see the universe as beautiful. In the latter case, there is certainly no particular reason why, if the universe originated uncaused, psycho-physical laws (of the kind that I shall consider in the next chapter) would bring about aesthetic sensibilities in human beings. But, good though it is that humans should have these sensibilities, it would need to be shown that it would be involved in the equal best kind of act that constituted the creation of humanly free agents to endow them with aesthetic sensibilities.

For not to do would not deprive the universe of a kind of sensibility, since God could himself have it whereas the ability to make significant choices between good and evil is not a kind of goodness that God himself could have. Because the argument from beauty needs, I suspect, an objectivist understanding of the aesthetic value of the universe, in order to have significant strength, and the establishment of such an understanding would require very considerable argument, I shall omit further discussion for reasons of space.32 I should add that this point does not undermine the earlier point that the beauty of the physical universe (whether objective, or subjective in its perception by persons) provides a good reason for God to produce human bodies by the evolutionary route; my point here is simply that it needs much further discussion to show that the beauty of the physical universe provides a positive argument of significant strength for the existence of God.


32 An argument to God from the beauty of the world was presented by F. R. Tennant in his Philosophical Theory, vol. 2, The World, the Soul, and God (Cambridge University Press, 1930). There is a good short presentation of this argument and response to objections to it in Mark Wynn, God and Goodness (Routledge, 1999), ch 1. For the quotation from Wynn, see ibid. p. 20.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Zombie preparedness in real life

Horror stories about werewolves, vampires, and zombies allegorize epidemics and pandemics. Werewolves, vampires, and zombies are contagious. Each individual can infect a number of healthy humans. These in turn can infect a number of healthy human beings, so that the initial outbreak can spread at an exponential rate and quickly spiral out of control, leading to the collapse of civilization. 

Werewolves are asymptomatic carriers except during a full moon. Vampires are largely asymptomatic carriers although there are telltale signs if you know what to look for (fangs, aversion to light, lack of vital signs), so they must take precautions to avoid detection. 

Quarantine is a classic response to infectious disease. The success of quarantine depends in part on the incubation period. In some cases you have asymptomatic carriers who unwittingly infect others. By the time they become symptomatic, the disease has spread. It's too late to round them up. 

STDs can be another example of asymptomatic carriers. In some cases the carrier may be aware of the STD, but conceals his condition and continues to infect others.

In scifi lore, werewolves, vampires, and zombies are killed without compunction in part because they are dangerous to humans and in part because they are inhuman or subhuman. Vampires are lucid serial killers. Werewolves have lupine psychology at the time they kill, while zombies operate at an instinctual level.  

Some zombie flicks are comedies while others use the genre for social commentay. Zombie preparedness alerts and kits are humorous. The zombie apocalypse is a humorous trope. 

This is all fictional (except for STDs) but it has real-world counterparts. As I write, we are witnessing the Coronavirus. It remains to be seen how damaging that outbreak will be. 

Because we're social creatures, many humans have compassion for the sick and injured. That, however, depends on whether the sick and injured are perceived as posing a threat to healthy members of the population. 

Quarantine is a classic response to outbreak but quarantine isn't risk free because it requires some contact between the sick and the healthy. The OT has quarantine laws. It was humanitarian.

A more ruthless impulse is to contain an outbreak by killing the infected. And since carriers may be asymptotic, to kill everyone within a designated zone to provide a margin for error. A fictional example is 28 Weeks Later.

In an atheist regime like Red China, we see real-world analogies. The idea of risking your life to nurse the sick is a very Christian impulse. It taps into moral heroism. And it makes sense if you can afford to die because this life is not all there is. 

But atheists don't have that luxury. So the gov't is welding residential buildings closed. Sealing all the residents inside, sick and healthy alike, to die en masse from disease or starvation, dehydration, and lack of sanitation. 

How Reason Leads to God's Existence

Can Men Speak on Abortion?

Unexpected Evidence that the Bible is Historically

The potter and the clay

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" (Rom 9:20)

Some poorly formed musings on a few separable topics which (hopefully) become more closely tied together at the end:

I think a fundamental issue at stake in the debate over LGBTQ issues is whether humans have a nature. Specifically a male and female nature. Is there some fixed core essential(s) that makes us human? Is there some fixed core essential(s) that makes us male and female? Or is human nature malleable or changeable?

If, let us say, atheism and neo-Darwinism are true, then it appears we have no fundamental human nature. Indeed, it appears neither does any other animal. Rather it would seem all living things are on a single ever-evolving spectrum of life.

Take whales and hippos. These are considered by neo-Darwinists to be close living relatives to one another. Yet they appear to be starkly different from one another. How can there be a fundamental whale nature or a fundamental hippo nature in such disparate animals which evolved from a common ancestor, which in turn evolved from another common ancestor, and so on?

Indeed, if we push it back far enough, all life on this planet shares a universal common ancestor. How could each organism's nature be fundamental to the organism when life presumably originated in a single kind of organism? Is the whole panoply of life of the same kind, only differing by degrees? Or is it different kinds - which, if so, how do different kinds differ at a fundamental level when they all originated from a universal common ancestor?

In addition, how could a fundamental nature exist before its corpus existed? We humans didn't exist at the beginning of life on Earth, according to neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory. So how could our natures have existed at this point in time?

Rather it would seem more likely there is no fixed point in terms of a whale or hippo or any other creature's fundamental nature. An organism's fundamental nature itself seems subject to evolutionary forces.

If it's true, though, that humans have no fundamental nature, then it would seem anything goes. Males and females may as well be interchangeable. Transgenderism wins.

In general, many if not most homosexuals oppose this, because they believe we have a fixed or fundamental nature, but a non-fixed sexual orientation. The former is immutable, but the latter is mutable. However, if the homosexual accepts atheism and neo-Darwinism, then on what basis would they argue we have fundamental male and female natures?

What's more, if we have no fundamental human nature, then why can't we mold humans into whatever we wish? Why shouldn't we mold humans into whatever we wish? Indeed, in atheistic totalitarian regimes, that's precisely what they do to their citizens. The state decides what people will be. The clay has become its own potter; the molded its own molder.

How monogamous is Mayor Pete?

Why did Adam fall?

1. A few days ago, Catholic apologist Trent Horn posed this question:

Can any Calvinists tell me why Adam sinned (previous conversations didn't yield much answers). If Adam chose to disobey God, then that seems to contradict Calvinism's view of God's sovereignty. But if God caused Adam to disobey him, then that seems to make God the author of sin.

I'v been of two minds about answering his question. One reason is that it's much easier to ask some questions than answer them. You can pose a deceptively simply question that demands a long qualified answer. 

2. A short answer is that Adam sinned  because God predestined him to sin. At this stage of the creative process, Adam only exists in God's imagination. God's imagination includes a plot. Adam actually sins (in history) because God reified the imaginary plot. God transferred his idea into a real counterpart in time and space. At that point, Adam is no longer just a character in God's mind, but a conscious agent. 

3. Trent then introduces the categories of choice, causality, and authorship. One of the complications in this debate is the stereotypical way of framing the issue. In that respect it's noteworthy that Peter van Inwagen thinks we should scrap that and go back to the drawing board. For instance:

The most salient change I would make, although perhaps not the philosophically most important one, is that I would not now use the phrase ‘free will’. In fact, I would not use even the adjective ‘free’—I would not speak of free actions, free agents, or free choices. Nor would I use the adverb ‘freely’ and the noun ‘freedom’. In my view, these words have little meaning beyond that which the philosopher who uses them explicitly gives them, and yet philosophers persist in arguing about what they do or should mean. They enter into disputes about what “free will” and “free choices” and “acting freely” and “freedom” really are. These philosophers have fallen prey to what I may call verbal essentialism. That is to say, it is essential to their discussions that they involve certain words: ‘free’, ‘freely’, ‘freedom’… It would be impossible to translate their discussions into language that did not involve those words...I would, moreover, not use the phrase ‘could have’—and I would be particularly careful to avoid the phrase ‘could have done otherwise’. ‘Could have’ is grammatically ambiguous, and this has caused a great deal of confusion in discussions of the free-will problem in English...In the revised book, I would not use the phrase ‘moral responsibility’—for, in my view, this phrase is used in current philosophy without any clear sense. 

I quote him because Inwagen is a premier freewill theist. So if he thinks that both sides need to reframe the issue, then that calls into question the conventional way the issues and alternatives are cast. We're dealing with philosophical concepts. These didn't fall from the sky fully formed. We have coarse-grained intuitions and examples to illustrate our intuitions, but this demands a lot of fine-tuning. And it's possible that we will be unable to get to the bottom of these issues due to finite human intelligence and the fact that we're too immersed in the experience to have the necessary detachment. We can't crawl out of our own skin to see ourselves from the standpoint of a detached observer. There are limitations to the analysis when the subject tries to make himself the object of analysis. 

4. Horn uses the word "choice". So what does it mean to choose? According to Robert Kane, another premier freewill theist:

A choice is the formation of an intention or purpose to do something. It resolves uncertainty and indecision in the mind about what to do. Four Views of Free Will (Blackwell 2007), 33.

That's a psychological definition of choice, and it's neural on the libertarian/determinist/compatibilist/incompatibilist sides of the debate. Consistent with either side you take.

5. However, libertarians often define choice is two different ways:

i) To be the ultimate source of your own choice

ii)  To have the ability to choose otherwise under the same circumstances. And the second definition is typically cashed out in terms of access to possible worlds or alternate possibilities. That's called leeway freedom. 

Unlike Kane's psychologicl definition, these are more metaphysical. 

William Lane Craig is a prominent freewill theist, but he doesn't think leeway freedom is necessary man to be blameworthy. 

6. That by itself doesn't distinguish Calvinism from freewill theism, for Calvinism can also make room for possible worlds. Calvinism can say there's a possible world in which Adam obeys God as well as another possible world where Adam disobeys God. 

The real question is what agent makes one of those outcomes actual? Is it the divine agent or the human agent? 

So there's a sense in which a Calvinist can say Adam could have done otherwise. Indeed, there's a possible world in which Adam did otherwise. 

These, however, don't refer to Adam's independent actions, but God's ability to imagine alternate plot endings. 

If, moreover, God has predestined Adam to disobey, then Adam can't act contrary to what he was predestined to do. In principle, God might create a parallel universe in which Adam's counterpart obeys God. But that's because he was predestined to obey God in the parallel universe. 

7. Horn trots out the authorship of sin. I don't think that's a useful analytical term. It's an intellectual shortcut and blind alley. 

The meaning of the phrase is opaque. It's possible to arbitrarily define "authorship of sin" in such a way that Calvinism is implicated while your own position is excepted. But that's just manipulating a definition. 

One question is what the phrase meant historically. For instance: 

In terms of historical theological usage, Calvinism doesn't make God the author of sin. 

8. Suppose for argument's sake we grant that Calvinism makes God the author of sin. Is that a fatal concession? Does that disqualify Calvinism from further consideration? But even if (ex hypothesi), Calvinism makes God the author of sin, that doesn't automatically exempt other positions from the same. To say Calvinism makes God the author of sin doesn't establish a point of contrast. There's no implication that Molinism or Classical Thomism don't make God the author of sin. They, too, may make God the author of sin in the same or similar ways. 

9. You don't have to be a Calvinist to use a divine authorship framework. Take the statement by Catholic Thomist Ed Feser:

God as primary cause is like the author of the novel. God’s effects are therefore not to be sought merely in otherwise unexplained natural phenomena, any more than an author’s influence extends only to unusual plot points. Just as a novelist is responsible for every aspect of the story, God is the source of all causality, including ordinary, everyday causes for which we already have good scientific descriptions. 

According to Feser's Thomism, God is the author of sin. Of course, in this case, authorship is metaphorical. But Feser recasts the metaphor in literal terms: "God is the source of all causality…"

10. This in turn goes to the concept of causality–which Horn mentions. Here's a standard definition: 

The basic idea of counterfactual theories of causation is that the meaning of causal claims can be explained in terms of counterfactual conditionals of the form “If A had not occurred, C would not have occurred”.

In terms of counterfactuals, Lewis defines a notion of causal dependence between events, which plays a central role in his theory (1973b).

(2) Where c and e are two distinct possible events, e causally depends on c if and only if, if c were to occur e would occur; and if c were not to occur e would not occur.

This condition states that whether e occurs or not depends on whether c occurs or not. Where c and e are actual occurrent events, this truth condition can be simplified somewhat. For in this case it follows from the second formal condition on the comparative similarity relation that the counterfactual “If c were to occur e would occur” is automatically true: this formal condition implies that a counterfactual with true antecedent and true consequent is itself true. Consequently, the truth condition for causal dependence becomes:

(3) Where c and e are two distinct actual events, e causally depends on c if and only if, if c were not to occur e would not occur.

On that definition, God caused Adam to sin. But that doesn't single out Calvinism. On that definition, the God of Molinism and Thomism caused Adam to sin. 

11. We can also distinguish between positive and negative causation. For instance:

Negative causation occurs when an absence serves as cause, effect, or causal intermediary…So what is causation? What is it that positive and negative causation shares, and that misconnection lacks? The moral I would draw is that causation involves at least some aspect of difference making. In both positive and negative causations, whether or not the cause occurs makes a difference as to whether or not the effect will occur…causation has a counterfactual aspect, involving a comparative notion of difference making, J. Schaffer, “Causes need not be Physically Connected to their Effects: The Case for Negative Causation,” C. Hitchcock, ed.Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Science (Blackwell 2004), 197-214.

The debate quickly devolves into intractable issues with no clear winners or losers. Although freewill theists recycle stock objections to Calvinism, the issues run very deep and resist decisive debunking. For instance: 

Guillaume Bignon, Excusing Sinners and Blaming God: A Calvinist Assessment of Determinism, Moral Responsibility, and Divine Involvement in Evil (Pickwick 2017)

Heath White, Fate and Free Will A Defense of Theological Determinism (Notre Dame 2019)

John D. Laing, Kirk R. MacGregor, and Greg Welty (eds.), Calvinism and Middle Knowledge: A Conversation (Wipf and Stock Publishers, February 2019)

Brown isn't a bigoted homophobe

Some (lightly edited) comments I left on Randal Rauser's post "Is Michael Brown a Bigoted Homophobe? You Decide.":

Rauser is so myopic. He misses the forest for the trees. He can't see beyond the personal character contests or grudge matches to see there are far bigger stakes involved. Heterosexual sexual sins violate the moral standard, but homosexuality seeks to destroy the moral standard itself and raise up an entirely new standard. Homosexuality is fundamentally worse in that respect. It's never solely been about Trump and Mayor Pete as persons but their policies as well.

[The Atheist Missionary:] Homosexuality is pervasive throughout the animal kingdom and I submit that science will soon allow us to predict a child's sexual orientation with a remarkable degree of accuracy while a child is in the womb.

1. This runs into the is-ought problem on atheism and neo-Darwinism.

2. However my reply wasn't predicated on atheism, or even a debate between atheism and Christianity, but it was predicated on conservative Christianity inasmuch as Rauser is attempting to call the conservative Christian Michael Brown a hypocrite given Brown's beliefs. I'm responding as a like-minded conservative Christian as Brown. Rauser needs to put himself into the conservative Christian's shoes if he wants to understand our beliefs and values rather than constantly imputing his own beliefs and values onto Brown and acting like Brown violated his own beliefs and values when at worst Brown violated Rauser's beliefs and values.

Understanding why religious conservatives would vote for Trump

"Understanding Why Religious Conservatives Would Vote for Trump" by Andrew T. Walker.

Walker is a Southern Baptist professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

I don't necessarily agree with everything, but it's a more nuanced reply than someone like Randal Rauser is willing to give conservative Christians like Michael Brown credit for.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Behold the beauty of atheism

See how an atheist regime deals with an epidemic:

Traditionally, Christians founded the hospitals. Caring for the sick was very hazardous before the advent of antibiotics and antivirals since the caretaker could easily become infected and die from the same contagious disease. It takes faith and courage to care for patients with a life-threatening disease if that's life-threatening to the caregiver. Whether you're prepared to risk your own life to nurse others back to health depends in part on whether you think this life is all there is. This is an acid test of atheism. 

Due to sin, there are cowardly Christians. Due to common grace, there are courageous atheists. But I'm remarking on the logical outworking of competing worldviews. This is the same regime that engages in involuntary organ harvesting. 

The Wonderful Visit

1. Temptation and the Fall are recurrent themes in the fiction of C. S. Lewis. Demonic temptation is a pervasive theme in The Screwtape Letters. Satanic Temptation and a Fall averted is a pervasive theme of Perelandra. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe narrates the temptation, downfall, and redemption of Edmund. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader narrates the temptation, downfall, and redemption of Eustace. In The Magicians Nephew, Lewis synchronizes creation with The fall when Jadis invades Narnia at the moment of creation. The same novel narrates the temptation of Digory in an Edenic/Hesperidian garden, only he successfully resists the temptation. For whatever reason, Lewis seems to be fascinated with these themes. 

2. There's a related, potential theme in Out of the Silent Planet, only Lewis doesn't develop it in that direction. Mars underwent Satanic attack which left it physically damaged, but the three intelligent species remain unfallen. Ransom, a fallen agent, is interjected into that world. That generates contact between unfallen agents and a fallen agent. Yet Ransom, though fallen agent, is benign. He's not a malevolent agent like Jadis, or the Un-man in Perelandra

Even so, this raises an interesting idea, although it's not developed in the novel. Although Ransom has no malicious intentions, yet because he is fallen, he can inadvertently seed the unfallen species with evil notions. He's not wicked, but he's like a soldier fresh from the war zone, where you have to watch your back all the time. The kind of precautions and suspicions necessary to survive in a fallen world are foreign to the agents of an unfallen world. Simply by talking about his own experience, by comparing and contrasting his world with the their world, he can unwittingly plant sinister ideas in their imagination that never occurred to them. Like a species with no resistance, much less immunity, to exotic diseases, a well-meaning fallen agent might infect unfallen agents. His presence could prove contagious even though he's not a tempter. That's assuming the aliens, while sinless, are not impeccable.  

3. However, we can also develop the same idea in reverse: the effect of interjecting an unfallen agent into a fallen world. What would be the reaction? John Ruskin once remarked that if an angel was spotted in England, he'd be shot on sight. That prompted H. G. Wells to write The Wonderful Visit. Since Wells was an atheist, and the novel is social satire, the protagonist is not a conventional angel by orthodox standards. Rather, he represents a truly innocent, guileless being. He has no understanding of humans and they have no understanding of him. He provokes hostility by compassionate but clueless actions like freeing farm animals. Eventually, he returns to wherever he came from because his presence is intolerable. 

Although that's fictional, it has realistic analogies. Take the persecution of Christians. The virtuous are hated in a world where the normal is vice. The supreme example is the homicidal hostility to Jesus. Darkness fears and despises the light. 

Straining Trumpian gnats while swallowing Democrat camels

But surely, Brown cannot be surprised about this: after all, nothing riles evangelicals like gays and gay marriage. As Jeff Lowder said on Twitter, “If only [evangelicals] thought gay sex caused global warming, then they might care about global warming.”

Rauser's MO is to impute his own viewpoint to evangelicals like Brown, then accuse Brown of hypocrisy for failing to act in consistency with his imputation. Many evangelicals don't believe global warming. Or they don't believe in anthropogenic global warming. Or they may believe it, but think the threat is wildly exaggerated. Or believe nothing can be don't about it because developing countries like India and China are the main polluters, and they won't agree to cut back on carbon emissions. So the comparison is fallacious. 

I am not criticizing Brown’s critique of Pete Buttigieg simpliciter but rather his censure of Buttigieg while supporting Trump. The issue is moral consistency.

i) But he never demonstrates that Brown is morally inconsistent. All he ever does is to impute moral inconsistency to Brown and like-minded evangelicals. 

ii) It's not necessarily or even presumptively morally inconsistent to support Trump's reelection and oppose Buttigieg. That's because not all moral norms are equally normative. For instance, Christian can believe that lying is generally wrong, but also believe it's permissible or even obligatory to lie to save innocent lives. You can grant that some of Trump's behavior is immoral, but the policies of Buttigieg, if elected, will be far worse, so you support the reelection of Trump. There's nothing morally inconsistent about that.

This is the time where Brown should really consider some of Jesus’ other words on religious hypocrisy, as when he called hypocritical religious leaders whitewashed tombs, blind guides, vipers, and even children of the devil. 

Again, he keeps making pejorative assertions without proving the point. Also, a person can be morally inconsistent without being hypocritical. To be hypocritical a person must be willfully morally inconsistent. 

But let’s be clear on what a lie is: to lie, one must believe that-p and communicate to others that not-p with the intention that they come to believe that not-p. Thus, for me to be lying here, I must first believe that it is false that Brown falls over himself to excuse Trump’s gross immorality. But I don’t believe that is false. I believe it is true. So by definition, I am not lying. It’s a false charge.

Rauser's intent is to deceive his readers about Brown. 

Thus, we see that Brown has falsely accused me, a fellow disciple, of lying. 

Once more, he imputes his own viewpoint to Brown, as if it's a given that Brown regards  him as a fellow disciple. 

Even more troubling, what about Trump’s ongoing attempt to subvert the rule of law? 

i) Notice how he chronically imputes his own viewpoint to Brown (and like-minded evangelicals), then accuses him of hypocrisy, as if Brown agrees with his viewpoint but makes excuses for Trump in spite of that. Yet Rauser hasn't documented that Brown shares his interpretation of Trump's actions regarding the rule of law. 

Hypocrisy hinges on the viewpoint of the accused, not the accuser. Rauser keeps blurring that key distinction.

ii) Moreover, even if you did think Trump sometimes bends or breaks the rule or law, Brown also believes the Democrat nominee, if elected, will be far more lawless.

iii) For that matter, there's nothing sacrosanct about the rule of law. Consider the Nuremberg laws or Jim Crow. I'm sure one of your concerns is that if Democrats control the executive and legislative branches (not to mention the judiciary), they will promulgate evil laws and regulations, or "reinterpret" the law to coerce evil. 
If ever there were a case of straining gnats and swallowing camels, this is it.

Actually, Trump is the gnat compared to secular progressive camels in the Democrat party. 

if that double-standard is not evidence of bigotry and homophobia, then what is?

But he caricatured Brown's opposition. As Brown details in his response to Rauser, his primary objection is to the punitive agenda of politicians like Buttigieg. It's about public policy, backed by the force of gov't. (Not to mention the alliance between Democrat politicians and Big Tech.)