Saturday, May 02, 2020

High Christology

Some Bible scholars have a low Christology. That's becomes somescholars are highly secularized, so they don't believe we live in the kind of world that the Bible describes. They think that's fictional. So it's really less about interpreting the NT witness to the Trinity or the Incarnation but their belief that the world is a kind of snowglobe. There is no afterlife. There is no divine involvement in the world. There's no room in their worldview for a divine Incarnation. 

Given their worldview, they don't think it's possible for the NT to have a high Christology that's true. They don't think we live in that kind of world. So their low Christology isn't really about what the NT teaches, but their understanding of reality. Given their closed-system worldview, they are bound to view NT Christology as legendary/mythological pious fiction. Even if the NT has a high Christology, that doesn't map onto reality

So a lot of this is driven, not by exegesis but by their view of historicity and reality. Although Hurtado was something of a theological moderate, he wasn't an inerrantist, he was heavy into redaction criticism, and I don't think he had a strong view of divine revelation, so for him there's bound to be an evolutionary Christology in the NT which has antecedents in speculative theological developments in 2nd Temple Judaism. He doesn't think the Enochian literature is historical. It's just pious fiction. I agree. Point, though, is he doesn't draw a categorical line between that and Scripture. It all has an element of legendary embellishment. It ranges along a continuum. So that's less about exegesis than his view of Scripture and the history of ideas. 

This is even more pronounced in the case of James McGrath. I believe he used to be evangelical, but lost his faith in grad school and is now a progressive. It isn't possible for McGrath to have a high Christology because he doesn't believe we live in that kind of world. He's basically a secularist. His closed-system worldview precludes the possibility that the NT presents a realistic Christology. So this isn't about exegesis but his worldview. For him, NT Christology has to be pious fiction. There's a mismatch between the Bible and reality. The Bible tells stories about divine intervention, angels, life after death, God, Incarnation, the Resurrection, &c., but these don't correspond with what really happens. 

So it's important when reading monographs about the historical supernatural Jesus to keep in mind that the conclusions are often predetermined, not by exegesis, but by the scholar's view of the supernatural and the historicity of Scripture. 

Digitized communion

I'm not familiar with Steve's argument as to why we must physically meet in the same room, but if he has summarized it above as a distinction between corporate and private/family worship then he did not read my post carefully, as I am not arguing for family or private worship. I am arguing for corporate worship through the means of online media.
But is online media a permanent alternative to corporate worship? Is that what's meant by corporate worship?
If he is arguing that something supernatural happens from us being physically in a room together then he also didn't read it carefully because I argue that this is not why we meet from a biblical standpoint. He can believe that physicality is sacramental, but that isn't biblical.
i) I haven't referred to the sacraments or sacramental grace. I'm Zwinglian. I haven't suggested that physicality is sacramental. 

ii) However, human beings aren't angels. We're embodied agents. Embodied souls. Even the intermediate state is a temporary stopgap.

We are physical beings by design. Physical interaction is a natural component of corporate worship. In person fellowship. The role of touch in human relations. Face-to-face conversation. Singing together. Praying together.

iii) It's not necessarily about meeting in the same room, but meeting together. Weather permitting, it could be an out-door event, although buildings provide shelter from the inclement elements. 

iv) By Hodge's logic, to assemble in public worship was never a normative feature of Christian (or Jewish?) worship? There's no obligation or necessity for Christians to ever meet together in physical worship. There are no supernatural blessings that God reserves for public worship. It could all be cubical and disembodied. 

There are situations where representatives communicated through letter rather than in person. In some cases that's a practical necessity. And it can have the advantage of a permanent verbal record for posterity. But worship and instruction are distinct, if often related. 

v) Hodge has an oddly ghostly view of Christian worship, as if embodied agency is generally expendable or superfluous. Simulated physical fellowship. Spectral worship. Digitized communion. 
My argument has little to do with what people do with work and the economy because it is strictly an argument about the nature of the church and whether it is a necessity to meet physically due to whether an inherent component of physical presence exists in the practice of corporate worship. I wasn't arguing why everyone should stay at home and be unemployed. The cost-risk assessment when it comes to church is an issue for each church to think about independently of the economic issue in the larger culture.
Indefinite lockdowns will cause churches to go broke. They will never reopen. Moreover, Tech Giants are cracking down on the electronic church.
It's simply foolish to speak as though one is an expert who understands how the data should be read, or that he or she even has the right data.
Expert opinion isn't monolithic. At the same time, expert opinion can become insular and ingrown.

I don't trust "experts" on the co-ed military or indoctrinating students about trangenderism or obliterating the distinction between boys' teams and girls' teams. I don't delegate that to the "experts". Credulity is not intellectual or theological virtue for Christians to cultivate. That's not something we're entitled to delegate to unaccountable experts driven by a secular social agenda. 

Tunnel vision

From a Facebook exchange

I've been skimming your posts on the pandemic, so there's no doubt much that I've missed. Issues you already addressed.

i) On the one hand there's the danger of knee-jerk suspicion and popular rejection of expert opinion. A conspiratorial mentality.

ii) On the other hand are some opposite extremes. An occupational hazard of expertise is tunnel vision. For instance, I used to watch an ER special about patients with urgent life-threatening conditions, but they were dangerous misdiagnosed because the specialization of the physician blinded him to possibilities outside his field of expertise. It was only when the patient was referred to different specialist that his life was saved through a correct diagnosis.

iii) By the same token, a professional mindset can disarm critical judgment as experts in one field of specialization automatically defer to experts in a different field of specialization. 

iv) In the USA, the dominant paradigm for dealing with the pandemic is containment. Minimizing the infection rate. Shutting down infection vectors.

Experts who operate with that paradigm may pay lip-service to concerns about the economic collateral damage or indefinite suspension of civil liberties, but so long as they regard the pandemic as an existential threat, their acknowledgement of other harms is a throwaway concession. They think the pandemic must be contained by any means necessary, whatever the cost in terms of economic collapse and the abridgment of civil liberties.

v) I'm also struck by the fact that we have two competing paradigms: Containment policies aim to minimize the transmission rate while herd immunity policies aim to maximize the transmission rate. My point is not to assess their respective merits. It's premature to judge their comparitive success, failure, or tradeoffs. 

But it's very strange to have two competing paradigms championed by experts that mandate opposite social policies. 

vi) We also know that the same policies have disparate impact in different localities depending on other variables like population density, mean age of population, bad health habits (e.g. chain smoking). 

vii) It doesn't help their credibility that public health experts have drastically downgraded their doomsday scenarios.

The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil

1. I don't think word-studies provide the answer.

2. It's an interesting question who God's dialogue partner is in Gen 3:22. "Become like us". Perhaps it's the Spirit of God, who seems to be God's dialogue partner in Gen 1.

3. In my post I suggested that knowledge of good and evil refer to obedience or disobedience to God's command/prohibition:

 Adam and Eve learn what evil is by simply doing what's forbidden. And it's a disappointing experience. There's no payoff. The only insight or enlightenment they gain is what it feels like to do what's forbidden. That's a very empty experience. They were hoping to get something out of it, but it's big letdown.

4. There has to be some kind of analogy between their experience and Gen 3:22. I'd say God already knows the consequences of obedience and disobedience, because he knows the future. He knows the aftermath of what Adam and Eve set in motion. 

5. A feature of human contentment or discontent is that we can be blissfully happy and contented so long as someone doesn't propose that there's something better we're missing out on. Simply planting that idea in the mind, that comparison with something hypothetically better, can foster discontent. The imagination does the rest. 

The mere suggestion that there's something better can foster the suspicion that we've been cheated. It isn't based on any actual tangible good they're aware of. It isn't based on any perceived good that's been withheld. Just the bare idea,

6. An example might be illicit teenage sex. The boy and girl are curious about what sex is like. They've been conditioned to believe there's nothing more enjoyable than sex, So they're in a big hurry to find out. They rush through it. As a result, they find sex is a big letdown. Natural goods can lose value if we approach them with false expectations. 

7. An example from classic literature would be Othello. Initially Othello and Desdemona are blissfully in love, but Iago seeks revenge. He knows that Desdemona is Otello's vulnerability. He plants in Othello's mind that Desdemona is having an affair with another man or simply in love with another man. Even though there's no evidence, the mere idea gnaws away at Othello. The groundless suspicion drives him insane jealousy.

The Tempter uses the tree of knowledge that way. Adam and Eve are happy until the Tempter suggests that God is holding back on them. They are getting second best. 

The mere idea is sufficient to make them dissatisfied with what they've got. They violate the prohibition to find out what they're missing. But all they discover is what it feels like to disobey. So now they have nothing to show for their transgression. They lost what they had without gaining anything in return, much less something better. 

Are Magicians Misleading You About The Paranormal?

Yesterday, I posted an article about what skeptics of the Enfield Poltergeist actually experienced when they visited the house where the poltergeist was centered. Part of that post addressed the experiences of Milbourne Christopher, a famous magician who visited the house. Prior to visiting, he had researched paranormal cases for decades and had been a skeptic of the paranormal, and he was a skeptic of Enfield. The evidence suggests that he experienced paranormal events at the house, some occurring right in front of him, his arguments against the case are bad, and he never even attempted to explain (publicly, at least) the best evidence for the case. Yet, skeptics have been citing Christopher's comments on Enfield for decades.

We've discussed other examples of magicians who have behaved similarly. See here, here, and here regarding James Randi. And here on Joe Nickell. Go here for something on Richard Wiseman. And see the section of the post here on the Gold Leaf Lady and a magician who appeared on a television show about that case.

There's some value to the debunking work magicians have done on paranormal issues. But we need to keep in mind that magicians have biases and other weaknesses of their own. It makes sense to apply scrutiny to paranormal claims. Magicians can be, and often are, helpful in that process. But scrutiny needs to be applied to them and their work as well.

Friday, May 01, 2020

Interpreting Eden: A Guide to Faithfully Reading and Understanding Genesis 1–3

Guillaume part deux

What Enfield Skeptics Actually Experienced At The Hodgsons' House

Some of the most prominent critics of the Enfield case are individuals who visited the house where most of the poltergeist phenomena occurred. People like Milbourne Christopher, John Beloff, and Anita Gregory claimed to have not experienced anything at the house, and their skepticism has been cited against the case for decades. Because I've now listened to Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair's audio cassettes and because of some other information that's recently come to light, I want to revisit the subject of what these skeptics actually experienced when they were at the house. As we'll see, their experiences have often been misrepresented, and they do more to support than to undermine the authenticity of the case.

It's useful to know the layout of the house, so go here to see a floor plan. I'll use "MG" to designate a tape from Grosse's collection and "GP" to designate one from Playfair's. MG8A is Grosse's tape 8A, GP21A is Playfair's 21A, etc.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Who is the Devil Incarnate?

1. Maybe this isn't worth writing about, but when so many Americans get their theology from Hollywood movies, perhaps some clarification is in order. 

2. The Bible has an Antichrist figure. He's not the devil, but a high-ranking human agent of the devil. Preterists tend to view the Antichrist as a personification for oppressive pagan or secular regimes. 

Futurists regard the Antichrist as an individual whose advent is a precursor to the return of Christ. He has a twofold role: as a sorcerer and a world leader. In Rev 13, these are split up. 

The "Antichrist" is a Johannine title, but it's used to designate a parallel figure in Paul (2 Thes 2:1-4). Same figure, different nomenclature. The Antichrist has OT motifs. 

3. Hollywood has developed its own legend of the Antichrist. In the mythology of Hollywood movies, the Antichrist is in some sense the Devil Incarnate. The Devil Incarnate is a fictional character, not a biblical figure. 

In that respect the Antichrist is a diabolical parody or travesty of the Christian Incarnation. Christ and the Antichrist are both symmetrical and diametrical figures. 

4. The two best examples are Rosemary's Baby and The Omen. In Rosemary's Baby, the devil impregnates a woman, thereby spawning a human/diabolical hybrid. He's not the Devil Incarnate but the devil's son. 

5. The origin of the Damien in The Omen is somewhat murkier. He isn't born to Katherine. Her child is said to be stillborn (actually the victim of infanticide), and there's a switch at birth. Damien's "mother" is a jackal, a surrogate mother. But Damiel certainly as a diabolical pedigree. 

6. In terms of Hollywood genetics and Antichristology, the Antichrist could be the Devil Incarnate in the Apollinarian sense that the Antichrist is the Devil with a human body. The Devil is a rational spirit and his mind takes the place of the human soul. That would be a dualistic model: two natures: a human body possessed by Satan. 

In vampire lore there's the question of whether the victim loses its soul, or if this is case of possession or multiple personality disorder where one personality is dominant while the other is suppressed. This this is fiction, there is no right answer. 

7. Of course, the Devil Incarnate is often used as a facetious metaphor. 

A Catholic-Protestant meme war

A Catholic-Protestant meme war kicked off on Facebook when a couple of Catholics initiated it. Paul Manata had glorious responses, as did several other Protestants. In fact, I'd say Paul single-handedly won the war. Cameron Bertuzzi thought Protestants had lost the war...until he saw Paul's responses, then he completely reversed judgment. My contributions are below. NB: This kind of humor won't suit those who are easily offended. So of course I'll start with (probably) the most offensive one.

If it saves just one life

Hovering in the background of church closures is the view that I have no right to put you at risk. Related to this is the ethical assumption that restrictions are justified "if they save just one life".

But as a matter of public policy and private behavior, no one actually operates with the principle that a restriction is justified or morally mandatory if it saves just one life. To begin with, that's hopelessly unrealistic. Life contains inevitable tradeoffs. Overprotective policies that save some lives do so at the expense of taking other lives. Policies have unintended consequences. There are no cost-free solutions. 

So what we're really dealing with is the sorites paradox or little-by-little arguments. There is no intrinsic cutoff. So it's a question of degree. How much risk is acceptable? How much is too much? How much is too little? There is no ideal answer. But we need to avoid certain extremes that lead to moral and practical paralysis of action.  

A Catholic perspective

Questions of duration will be important in this matter, no matter how things evolve. Obviously the Church cannot inhibit the public celebration of the sacraments indefinitely, and no one in the Church wants this. But whatever the particular parameters of a given culture and its safety or threat from the virus, the Church’s suspension of public sacramental practice cannot be of indefinite duration. At some point, life will have to go on for everyone with some degree of risk, however marginal. This is true for the Church as well. Widespread sacramental life cannot be reinitiated only when every risk is eliminated, especially if it becomes increasingly apparent that that time will never arrive. 

It pertains to the bishops who govern the Church to judge the level of acceptable risk. Doing so responsibly requires consultation with civil authorities, public health officials, their own priests, and each other. The very real health risks posed by the current pandemic must be carefully weighted in this process. Here Church leadership is well within its rights to avoid two very different kinds of pressure. One comes primarily from within, and is constituted by those who would minimize the threat of the pandemic or the legitimate role of public government. The reopening of public sacramental life needs to take account of safety concerns. Another form of pressure, however, will come primarily from outside. In predominant secular regions of the world, some political leaders wish to maintain closure for excessively prolonged periods based on a public atmosphere of anxiety. This could wrongly impede a return to full sacramental life. In such cases, the leadership of the Church is well within its rights to challenge the instincts of civic authorities. (This is happening currently in some parts of Europe, where higher-risk businesses like restaurants and piazzas are being reopened, but churches are asked to remain closed.) 
Just as we must guard against a misguided zeal that imprudently and even unjustly allows public masses during times of contagion, so also must we beware of the risks of excessive precaution. The safe and responsible restoration of mass attendance cannot wait for absolutely risk-free conditions, but it should be enacted in a way that is reasonably safe, in light of diverse regional conditions and in conversation with civic authorities. 

Dying young and old

1. Cultural warrior Ben Shapiro got into hot water recently by suggesting that death of the elderly from COVID19 isn't equivalent to the death of  30-something from COVID19. Shapirio is not a bioethicist, so his assessment is intuitive. There are lots of critics who wish to indulge in moral grandstanding and lobe accusations of hypocrisy rather than have a serious ethical discussion. 

2. One issue is whether it's more tragic to die young or have a natural lifespan. For instance, Mickey Mantle died shortly after a liver transplant. The question was whether the donor liver was wasted on a poor candidate. Should that have gone to a patient in a better prospect of survival? 

Dick Cheney's heart transplant at 71 was criticized. Should that go to someone with more life ahead of him? 

Not life threatening, but criticisms were raised about Prince Philip receiving a hip replacement at 96. 

3. Returning to (2), there's a sense in which the elderly have both more to lose and less to lose. On the one hand they have a cumulative lifetime of memories. A lifetime of experience.

On the other hand, the young miss out on their future. They never had those experiences. 

4. There's also the issue of squandering the gift of life. Blowing opportunities. Can you forfeit the right to demand a second chance when your second chance denies someone else a first chance? Someone who through no fault of their own never had the opportunity you abused?

5. Then there's the question of a normal lifespan. Surgery, medication, and good diet can extend life beyond what would be a natural lifespan. Is that an entitlement or a windfall? Is that something we should get used to? Should we feel cheated if we don't have a normal lifespan? Or is that a boom?

6. Artificially prolonging life carries the risk of increasing exposure to raving diseases like Parkinson's and senile dementia. So there are tradeoffs. It's tempting fate. 

7. From what I've read, the death toll for COVIN-19 is inflated by classifying the cause of death as COVIN-19 even when comorbidities were necessary contributors to death. It was the coronvirus in combination with preexisting or underlying conditions that pushed them over the edge.

8. From what I've read, we have the opposite of quarantine measures for the elderly. Rather, we round them up in retirement ohms and nursing homes which are infection vectors. They die at high rates because they infect each other and have low resistance. So if this was really about protecting the elderly, they wouldn't be concentrated in nursing homes and retirement homes where the density of exposure and low resistance guarantees high fatalities 

9. Death is inevitable. We can sometimes postpone the inevitable, but the ultimate issue is the significance of human life. Is this life all there is? What ultimately matters is not how long you live but what's in store for you when you die. 

10. Theologically, it's an interesting question what constitutes a normal or natural lifespan. As I read Genesis, humans were naturally mortal, naturally subject to the aging process, but they were created with the unrealized capacity for immortality. They'd naturally age and died, perhaps at a slower rate, but the potential for immortality wasn't automatic. Rather, that's a gift conferred by the tree of life. And for the dead in Christ, that's reversed by the resurrection of the just. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Hollywood ETs

Regarding the true identity of UFO and ET sightings, one question I have, which I haven't bothered to research, is the extent, if any, that their resemblance coincides with the advent of Hollywood movies from the 1950s about alien invaders. 

I'm not suggested that reports of ETs and UFOs date from that period. For all I know, they may go back centuries or millennia. Rather, the specific question is whether the appearance of ETs and their spacecraft have evolved in ways that that correspond to Hollywood movies. If that's the case, then it seems unlikely that these are genuine ETs. We shouldn't expect their physical appearance or their technology to mimic Hollywood movies. At least, that wouldn't be realistic. I suppose you could salvage that explanation by claiming that they are playing to human expectations. But it certainly invites the explanation that whatever else they are, these aren't really intelligent biological organisms from another galaxy.

However, I admit that I haven't studied the issue. I have a limited interest in ufology because it doesn't threaten my theology. Moreover, ufology is a vast trackless swamp, so you can easily lose your bearings as you get drawn deeper into the many layers of ufology. 

Grieving atheists

@AtheistRepublicWhat is the best thing to say to an atheist who is grieving the loss of a loved one?  
That's a tricky question, and there's more than one way to broach the answer:

i) Is this one atheist taking to another atheist, or a Christian talking to an atheist?

ii) Are the Christian and the atheist on friendly terms?

iii) Is the atheist expecting a word of comfort from the Christian?

iv) There's the danger that the atheist will view the Christian as exploiting the situation. But there are ways to guide the discussion. 

v) It depends on the mood the atheist is in. 

vi) What if atheism has no comforting answer to give in that situation? What if there's no comfort answer to give the atheist? What if the honest answer will be hopeless and depressing? Are you forbidden to give a frank answer if that's depressing and despairing? If you're not allowed to give an atheist honest atheist answers to existential questions, what does that say about atheism when it comes to the issues in life that ultimately matter? 

vii) Instead of attempting to encourage the atheist, supposed a Christian begins with questions. Sometimes it's more effective to asking probing, leading questions rather than spoonfeed him the right answers. That enables him to think it through for himself. Asked him how he feels about the situation. What did the person mean to him? How is his death a personal loss? 

From there the conversation might gravitate to what, if anything, makes the life of the dearly departed important. Was his life important because it was important to decedent or important to others? 

What, if anything, makes human lives important? What if the dearly departed never existed? What difference would that ultimately make? Are we just dandelion puffs blown by the wind? Most never germinate, and those that do merely produce a new generation of dandelion puffs, swaying in the breeze on a dry grassy, forgettable hillside? Repetition for repetition's sake. 

viii) Depending on how the conversation goes, a Christian can ask the atheist if there's a point of unresolvable tension between how the bereaved misses and values his lost loved one and the intrinsic significance of his lost loved one if atheism is true. And if there's a point of unresolvable tension, what gives? Should we cling to the nihilistic consequences  of atheism, or cling to the significance of human lives? If both can't be true, which outlook should take precedence? What's our staring-point? 

If naturalistic evolution is true, then we cherish certain experiences, not because they have intrinsic value, but because natural selection brainwashed us to project illusory value on things with no inherent value inasmuch as that confers a survival advantage on the species. We're the product of mindless, amoral psychological conditioning. 

ix) A standard atheist response is that they continue to live in our hearts and memories. But that's a cheat. They no longer consciously participate in life and love and memory. Your fond memories can't be a substitute for their personal experience. They're gone. 

x) I'm not suggesting Christians always have happy answers. Unless you're a universalist, some stories have bad endings. There is, though, a fundamental difference between hope for some and hope for none. 

In addition, a world of universal oblivion, where all choices good or ill are erased at high tide, is far worse than a moral universe in which some choices have enduring consequences. 

Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary explanations

Carl Sagan famously asserted that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. That's Hume in a nutshell. Sagan wasn't a philosopher, so his criterion is vague and dubious. And the maxim targeted miracles, among other things.

But suppose we turn his criterion around. Suppose we've verified an extraordinary claim. An implication is that extraordinary claims, if true, demand extraordinary explanations. We don't demand extraordinary explanations for ordinary claims. Ordinary explanations will suffice for ordinary claims. If, however, an extraordinary claim has been verified, then that calls for a special explanation for why it is the case. Explanations that are too unnatural, too implausible, too farfetched to be reasonable explanations for ordinarily claims may be warranted or rationally necessary in the case of verified extraordinary claims. The ironic upshot of Sagan's maxim is that it points to a supernatural cause if the claim has been established. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Inoculated from skeptical arguments

Atheist Jason Long writes: “religious followers have been inoculated from skeptical arguments because they have been forewarned that skeptics are not trustworthy people. This poisoning of the well...

It's funny how some people view themselves as well as how they imagine others view them. 

i) To begin with, I haven't been forewarned about atheists–as if my knowledge of atheists (whom Long euphemistically dubs "skeptics") is secondhand. I read a lot of atheists. I go straight to the source.

ii) It's true that I regard a consistent atheist as untrustworthy. That's because a consistent atheist is a moral and existential nihilist. Of course, many atheists are inconsistent in that regard.

iii) That's not my Christian impression of atheists. Intellectually candid atheists admit that their position commits them to moral and/or existential nihilism. Some even brag about it.

iv) More to the point, it's usually irrelevant. In general, we don't evaluate arguments based on whether the proponent is trustworthy. Trust is germane to testimonial evidence. And it's germane to expert witnesses. But in general the way to evaluate an argument is whether it's logical, and not whether the proponent is a trustworthy person. An element of trust can be a salient consideration if his argument depends on evidence, and he's not a reliable source of evidence. But many atheistic objections to Christianity aren't based on evidence, or not on specialized evidence, but how an atheist construes the evidence. Atheists aren't privy to evidence unavailable to Christians. 

Do UFOs demand extraordinary evidence?

Carl Sagan famously stipulated that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. Many unbelievers treat his axiom as unquestionable. Recently declassified military footage of UFOs has caused quite a buzz. And these are't completely isolated incidents. Here's another I read about:

During training exercises, a carrier fleet monitored multiple objects over a period of days. The objects not only hovered for days at a time, but were tracked moving from 80,000 feet to just above sea level in .74 seconds—an impossible feat by all physical standards. They were witnessed by eye as well as on multiple imaging systems.

An acceleration rate that's impossible by all physical standards surely meets the definition of an extraordinary event. Indeed, it's almost the definition of a miracle, except that if it happened in this situation it was the result of highly advanced technology. 

What I'd like to point out as is that secular skeptics and debunkers who discount reported miracles but believe in reported UFOs of this kind don't apply Sagan's standard of evidence to UFOs. On the one hand, the UFO reports involve extraordinary claims. On the other hand, the evidence is ordinary. Imaging systems and eyewitness testimony. 

In fairness, I don't think Reddit is the most reliable outlet for information, and I haven't been able to track down the original source of the quote. However, the same incident has been reported in mainstream sources:

My immediate point is not to vouch for the report but to note that many unbelievers have contradictory rules of evidence. They apply Sagan's criterion to reported miracles but ditch his criterion when it comes to UFOs and ETs. 

Not Aliens Or Demons

Since UFOs are in the news, I'll post some comments I made in an email exchange earlier this year:

I've read the book on UFOs by Ross, et al., and I've occasionally looked into the subject briefly in other contexts, but I haven't studied it much. One of the general parameters I would set down is that, as with other paranormal phenomena, it's important to include some explanatory options that Christians often neglect. I mentioned some of those options briefly in the fourth paragraph of my recent post about miracles on video ( The demonic hypothesis shouldn't be taken off the table, but it should be accompanied by a much larger number and variety of other options than Christians typically consider. When UFOs accommodate current human expectations regarding how aliens would behave, for example, that could be because demons are accommodating those expectations, but it could also be because the phenomena are coming from human psi and are being shaped by the human imagination (consciously or unconsciously). The problem isn't that Christians lack explanatory options for UFO phenomena. It's that we have so many options to choose from and not much to go by in choosing among the options. That could and should change over time as more research is done.

Something I keep coming back to in thinking about UFO phenomena is how events of a similar nature are known to occur on a smaller scale, such as in poltergeist cases (e.g., objects much smaller than a UFO moving around a house in "impossible maneuvers", as you put it). If something like human psi or the spirit of a deceased human could do that in a context like a poltergeist, why not also in a UFO context with a larger object? (I think it was Guy Playfair I heard talking about a poltergeist case in Brazil that involved the throwing of an automobile across a long distance. The objects that are moved aren't always small, though they usually are.) Demons exist, and it would be surprising if they didn't sometimes manifest themselves in the modern world, but the demonic hypothesis is just one option among others. And there could be all sorts of creatures we don't know about or don't know much about, like the unusual creatures referred to in some portions of scripture (e.g., Revelation).

A good first step would be to explain to people why an alien hypothesis for UFOs is highly unlikely, for reasons like the ones you've referred to. Then, we can explain what other options are available and cite examples, like poltergeist phenomena that are similar to UFO phenomena, though on a smaller scale. Once people realize how unlikely the alien hypothesis is, how many other options there are, and how similar UFO phenomena are to other kinds of phenomena, that should significantly change their perspective. It's good to get people less focused on aliens and more focused on more likely explanations….

UFO phenomena are different than poltergeist phenomena and more impressive in some ways, but there are significant similarities as well. In the Enfield case, the large majority of the apports occurred in the house, such as rocks or coins appearing near a ceiling and dropping down. There was a series of outdoor apports on May 30, 1978, however, involving objects like rocks, bottles, and clumps of earth moving around outside, including objects falling from the sky. You could say that the May 30 events were a sort of escalation of the previous events inside the house. If such events could move from within the house to the immediate atmosphere outside the house, why couldn't they occur further away as well, where UFO phenomena usually happen?

As far as I recall, almost every apport object I'm familiar with that's been tested has produced normal results in terms of the composition of the object. It seems like the sort of material we encounter under normal circumstances. The rocks, coins, and such seem normal. But they're abnormal in other ways, such as where and how they first appear, how they move, and their temperature (e.g.,

Monday, April 27, 2020

ET religion

This post will be speculative.

1. Confirmed military footage of UFOs heightens longstanding questions about the status of UFOs:

2. On the one hand it's odd that the Pentagon would confirm the existence of military technology superior to our own. That's an admission that we're vulnerable to military conquest. Some regime or entity has technology that could defeat us. Render us defenseless. Perhaps it's not specifically military technology, but it seems to have a military application that could neutralize our own technology.

3. This also raises the source. Is it terrestrial or extraterrestrial? Naturalistic or supernatural/paranormal?

Is it terrestrial technology produced by another country or corporation? If so, you'd expect the Pentagon to know the identity. 

4. Obama let our national security assets slide. He allowed Chinese agents to hack American assets with impunity. He redirected NASA to focus on global warming. He tried to sabotage Israeli national security while enabling Iran to develop nuclear weapons. So it's possible that we're behind.

5. There are now corporations richer than many countries that might have the R&D resources to develop next-generation military technology, either independently or in collaboration with a nation state

6. Another naturalistic explanation, albeit more farfetched, is intervention from ETs. A stock objection to ETs is that the distance is prohibitive. But perhaps 20C physics is mistaken about the cosmic speed limit. 

Yet from what I've read, even if superliminal travel as possible, that results in backward time travel. A traveler moving faster than light is moving into the past. Assuming that's correct, it's unclear how ETs could get here that way.

7. Another issue is that if these are ETs, why are they so elusive? If they wish to conceal their existence from humans, their behavior is very careless. But if they wish for us to be aware of their existence, why is the evidence so ambiguous? Why not make their existence unmistakable? 

8. There's nothing in Christian theology that rules out the existence of ETs. The question would be the confusing and disruptive impact that would have on human history and religion. But arguably, that's not different in principle from demonic interference.

9. Human technology is getting out of control, with experiments in animal/human and machine/human hybrids, as well as general eugenics and genetic reengineering. 

10. In theory, there are supernatural/paranormal ways to simulate advanced technology. Agents with telepathic powers could make humans hallucinate anything. Simulate convincing illusions.

However, that wouldn't explain photographic evidence inasmuch as cameras can't hallucinate. On the other hand, the UFOs seem to leave no physical trace evidence. No permanent after-effects. So in that respect it's spectral. Rather like ectoplasm, that materializes and dematerializes. 

11. Another supernatural/paranormal explanation would be psychokinesis. The ability of certain minds to directly generate or manipulate states of matter and energy to create objective physical phenomena. If, say, the source was ETs, they wouldn't have to be here to do that. They could be living millions of light years away. The effects we witness on earth would be the mental projections of their psychokinetic abilities. Mental action at a distance. 

12. Mind you, assuming that some agents have psychokinetic abilities, they don't have to be ETs. That might include angels, demons, psychic living human beings, human beings in league with demons, or damned human souls. 

13. There's also the question of whether the hypothetical ETs are benevolent or malevolent. If malevolent, they'd have the power to conquer and subjugate the human race, although they might introduce themselves as beneficent saviors of humanity. It's easy to imagine an ET religion that becomes the dominant religion, co-opting historical religions. In terms of biblical eschatology, that would be consistent with Mt 24:24 (2 Thes 2:9; Rev 13:13-14).  

14. The evidence for Christianity is copious, diverse, ancient, and modern. But it might be necessary for God and his agents to intervene to counteract their influence. If this represents an invasion force, we're no match for it, but God's agents could keep it in check. 

15. Thus far, the current pandemic doesn't seem to pose a threat to the survival of the human race. The larger threat is coming from public officials and Big Tech who use the crisis as a pretext to abrogate civil liberties and instigate a global depression. Will we end up with a worldwide Venezuela? Global social unrest would be an opportunity for the powerbrokers to take over.

16. We also see the suppression of Christianity under the guise to combatting the pandemic. Not only is public worship illegal, but depending on how long the lockdowns and mass house arrest continue, many churches will never reopen because they went broke. 

The discrimination extends to prosecuting churches that practice drive-in services as well as Tech Giants that block electronic services if they disapprove of the sermon content. 

17. Perhaps it's just coincidental that the coronavirus, which originates in a Chinese lab, from which it "escaped," is happening at about the same time that Red China has been purging Christianity in China–with the collaboration of the Vatican, I might add. 

I'm not suggesting this is a human plot. Humans aren't that smart or organized. But it could be diabolical. I don't have any firm opinion about how this episode will end. Perhaps the economy will come roaring back. 

But many churches have capitulated to a very dangerous precedent. And some churches won't recover because they were unable to bring in enough revenue to cover the overhead. Pastors will have to quit the ministry and take jobs in the private sector. 

A history of depression

Calvin has a reputation as a mean-spirited individual. However, this raises questions about the history of depression. I'm no expert, but it's my impression that depression must have been very widespread during much of human history. Many children were orphaned. Many mothers died in childbirth. Many fathers died young. Due to high infant mortality, many siblings watched their brothers and sisters die. Os Guinness watched his two younger brothers starve to death.

Some of the survivors were farmed out to older relatives. Among poorer families was the custom of apprenticing a young child to a stranger to teach him a trade. You can imagine the emotional alienation that caused. Even among the royalty and aristocracy, you had emotionally distant indifferent parents who used nannies until the boy was banished to boarding school at an early age. So many men must have been maladjusted due to deficient socialization.

Both Calvin's parents died when he was young. Descartes' mother died when he was two months old, and he had an absentee father. John Knox's mother died when he was young.

Racine was orphaned after both parents died when he was young. Pascal's mother died when he was three. Leibniz's father died when he was young. Swift's father died before his son was born. Isaac Newton's father died before his son was born. He had a checkered relationship with his own mother. Thomas Aquinas was farmed off to Monte Casino Abbey at the age of 5.

Dante was an orphan. His mother died when he was young. The father of Albert Camus died when he was young. Tolkien was an orphan. Catholic philosophers Peter Geach and Anthony Kenny were neglected children.

It's striking that although Newton, Leibniz, and Swift were very eligible bachelors, they never married. This despite the fact that Swift, for one, was very enamored with two women ("Stella", "Vanessa").

This is just skimming the surface. A random sample of famous men. When we assess the acerbic character of some famous men from the past, what this fails to take into account is that many famous individuals had emotionally deprived childhoods due to the death of one or both parents at an early age, not to mention watching their siblings die young. They were emotionally neglected, with lifelong insecurities. That's not to mention other factors like the gin craze, to cope with depression.

It's an interesting historical question to consider what percentage of the human race has suffered from clinical depression. A precarious, neglected childhood doesn't naturally foster generosity, but ruthless competition to survive and succeed. How many men and women stagger through life due to a miserable childhood.

Softball interview

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Has presuppositionalism evolved?

Has presuppositionalism evolved? By presuppositionalism I mean the Van Tilian tradition, not the Clarkian tradition–which is a different animal.

Van Til championed the transcendental argument. And think that's due in large part do his eccentric view of divine incomprehensibility (which builds paradox into his definition of divine incomprehensibility). If God is incomprehensible in Van Til's sense, then you can't argue directly for his existence. Rather, you argue that God's existence is a necessary condition for everything else. Van Til's view is similar in that respect to transcendental Thomism. 

So Van Til's argument was essentially an epistemological argument for God's existence. Transcendental arguments are epistemological arguments, to refute skepticism.

However, in the hands of Greg Welty and James Anderson, the argument has shifted to modal metaphysics. So there's been some evolution and reorientation in the argument. 

It may be the case that Kant's argument is more epistemological, in part because he doesn't have a robust theology to ground it. Kant might even be a closet atheist. And he's skeptical regarding our knowledge of the external world. So he can't say much of anything to back it up in terms of bedrock ontology. 

Although Van Til's version is partly epistemological, he tries to ground it in the metaphysics of Reformed theism. Greg Welty and James Anderson develop that neglected potential in more detail. This is also because there's been a lot of work done on modal metaphysics which wasn't on the horizon in Van Til's time. In addition, Welty was never a champion of theological paradox. And that's conspicuously missing from Bahnsen as well. 

On the Beach

On the Beach (1959) is a memorable film. A movie that's better for the parts than the whole. A heavy-handed unilateral disarmament film by the terminally sappy-headed Stanley Kramer. But if you can bracket the polyannaish propaganda, it's a useful political allegory. 

In the film, the human race in the northern hemisphere was instantly annihilated by a thermonuclear exchange between Russia and the USA. Humans in the southern hemisphere temporally survived, but they know they are doomed by the delayed reaction of fallout as it drifts down to the southern hemisphere, so that human life on earth will become extinct. 

The question raised by the coronavirus is whether it will plunge the globe into a worldwide Venezuela. The irony is that this a catastrophe, not caused directly or primarily by the pathogen, but by bureaucratic countermeasures to contain the pathogen. By heads-of-state, governors, mayors, and public health officials, supported by citizens who are either sheepishly subservient or blindly regard cooperation as their patriotic duty. How dire it gets remains to be seen. But there's certainly reason for foreboding. 

The limits of apologetic dialogue

A common limitation or deadlock in apologetic dialogue is that one or both sides think the other side has nothing worth saying. Take debates between Christians and atheists. Many atheists think Christianity is indefensibly false. Christians only believe in Christianity due to childhood indoctrination. So when a Christian provides a rational defense his faith, the atheist isn't listening. He tunes out the explanation. He just waits for the Christian to stop talking, then the atheist launches into his prepared objections. 

The atheist has no intellectual patience for a sophisticated defense of Christianity. He assumes that's just a snow job. The more intelligent the Christian, the more sophisticated the explanation, the greater the suspicion of the atheist that he's been snowed by a blizzard of technicalities. 

The same holds true for many debates between Catholics and evangelicals, or Arminians and Protestants. It's funny how many Arminians act like compatibilism must be special pleading. An ad hoc explanation which Calvinists concocted just to defend Calvinism, even though compatibility is a philosophical position about the relationship between determinism and moral responsibility that's philosophically independent of Calvinism. But many Arminianism screen it out without bothering to understand the position. They don't think there could possibly anything worth understanding. 

The more erudite or intellectual the defense, the more preemptive the dismissal. That must be smoke and mirrors. Same thing happens in debates between Christians and unitarians.