Saturday, May 16, 2020

How to read the Bible's poetry

"Learning the Lyrics of God" (Leland Ryken).

"Distressing Near-Death Experiences: The Basics"

A brief overview of hellish NDEs (2014) from NDE researchers Nancy Bush and Bruce Greyson, MD at the University of Virginia.

Mary as the ark of the covenant

Camus, The Plague, and God

Handicapping the Craig/Oppy debate

I already did one brief post on the Craig/Oppy debate:

I subsequently added a sentence to the first part of my two-part response. 

Now I'm going to comment on the rest of the debate. A few preliminary observations:

1. For a 70-year-old, Craig is remarkably quick on his feet, especially considering the highly abstract, technical subject-matter of the debate.

2. Oppy is a superior mind wasted on atheism. Even if atheism were true–especially if atheism were true–what's the point of mounting such a sophisticated defense of atheism? What's the point of defending atheism at all? What's the point of anything? If atheism is true, then human life is worthless, so why devote so much effort and intelligence to defending a position that renders human life worthless? Maybe Oppy doesn't view it that way, but a number of candid atheists do.

Consider defending a worldview in which it's okay to take a butcher knife and carve your mother up alive. Consider developing sophisticated arguments to defend that proposition. 

3. Moving to the meat of the debate, I think there was some miscommunication regarding Craig's statement that atheists have no explanation for the phenomena he adduces in his argument. I'm sure that's shorthand for the claim, not that atheists have no naturalistic explanations to offer, but that their naturalistic alternatives are explanatory failures. 

4. Due to time-constraints, the debate didn't have a clear-cut winner or loser, because both sides had insufficient time to expound their positions and respond to objections. Sometimes Craig had the better of the exchange, sometimes Oppy had the better of the exchange, but in some cases that's because of how the exchange abruptly ended. If each side had more time to explain their position and develop their replies, they might have a better comeback. That said, I think Craig did better overall. 

5. In the first round they got bogged down on the question of what motivates mathematicians. Here I think Craig commits an unforced error in how he formulates the first premise of his argument. That's because his formulation is overly-realiant at this point on Wigner's essay. But his argument doesn't require him to take a position on what motivates mathematicians. The issues is what's been discovered as a result of their work, regardless of their motivations. Pure math with practical applications they've developed as a result of their work, regardless of their motivations. Craig's fundamental argument is the unreasonable effectiveness of math, however mathematicians were motivated to stumble upon that insight. So Craig could rehabilitate his argument by reformulating the first premise. 

6. Initially, Craig's argument seems to hinge on scientific realism. Oppy gave examples which might support scientific anti-realism. I think Oppy had the better of that exchange. Craig needs to be able to do one of two things: (i) defend scientific realism or (ii) reformulate his argument so that it works on scientific realism and antirealism alike. 

Later in the debate Craig says the argument is about how the world appears to us. The mathematical equations allow us to describe with amazing accuracy in an uncanny number of cases the physical phenomena. Yet that seems inconsistent with earlier argument Craig and Oppy were having. But perhaps we can treat this as a clarification of the argument. 

7. On a related note, Oppy appealed to many failed theories, where the math didn't prove to be uncannily effective. Craig responded by saying the realm of math infinite while the physical world finite, so it's to be expected that in many cases the math fails to match up. I think Craig had the better of that exchange.

8. Apropos (7), I'd make an additional point. The failures that Oppy cited don't disprove the unexpected effectiveness of math (unexpected if atheism is true). Rather, they simply illustrate the fallibility of physicists. 

9. Craig appealed to the causal inertness of mathematic objects. I think Craig had the better of that exchange. 

10. Because Craig's argument appeals to laws of nature, Oppy challenged his argument on that score inasmuch as the concept or status of such laws is contested in the philosophy of science. However, when outlining his alternative to Craig's position, Oppy posting the necessity of the laws of nature. So he's faulting Craig's theistic position for a commitment which his own naturalistic alternative shares in common. Indeed, he stakes out a more ambitious claim than Craig since he regards the laws of nature as necessary whereas Craig regards the laws of nature as contingent. So that objection seems to be contradictory and self-defeating on Oppy's part. 

11. Apropos (10), while Oppy's objection was inconsistent, the lingering issue remains of whether Craig's argument is committed to some version of the laws of nature. If so, that makes his argument vulnerable at that point to disputes in the philosophy of science regarding the concept and status of such laws. It would be better if Craig could reformulate his argument so that it's not dependent on that assumption. 

Offhand, I don't see that it requires that commitment. The basic argument is that pure math has surprising empirical applications. That makes sense if the universe was "constructed on God's mathematical blueprint" (as Craig put it). It doesn't make sense if atheism is true. This might also be a way for Craig to sidestep the scientific realist/antirealist debate.

12. Oppy outlined his alternative:
A theory of modality. Every possible world shares some initial history with the actual world. Diverges from it only because chances play out differently. Those are the only possibilities that there are. The laws are necessary, the boundary conditions are necessary. Doesn't matter if you're thinking about one universe or many universe model. Where contingency comes in is the outplaying of chances. Couldn't possibly have failed not to be the case. No explaining why something is necessary. 
i) It's hard to evaluate his alternative since his presentation was so sketchy. But an acute failing of his alternative (at least as stated in the debate) is the failure to explain where the math comes from. What is Oppy's ontology of mathematics? 

ii) His commitment to nomological necessity shoulders a high burden of proof. 

iii) While it's true that once we reach necessity, that terminates further explanation, that doesn't sidestep the question of whether we rightly identified what's necessary, or what makes it necessary–in contrast to what's contingent. 

iv) What does he mean by chance? Is he alluding to quantum indeterminism? If so, there are deterministic versions of quantum theory, so he must defend his particular interpretation. 

v) Then there's his concept of the possible world. However, as commonly understood, the actual world used to be a possible world. So possible worlds don't derive from the actual world. 

In addition, from a Christian perspective, both possible worlds and the actual world derive from God. God stands behind both as their common source.

Carnival mirror

If atheism is true, then there's no guiding, overarching intelligence to coordinate what happens or how we perceive reality. So for all we know, it's like each of us was born in a coma. The world we perceive is a comatose delirium. Indeed, each of us was born into a separate comatose delirium. 

Or, to vary the metaphor, it's like each of us was born standing in front of a mirror. All we perceive is the world reflected in the mirror. And for all we know, it's a carnival mirror. Indeed, each of us was born standing in front of a different carnival mirror. And the other people we see, the "us", aren't real people but belong to the "world", the distortions, of the carnival mirror. 

Consider the horror of that scenario. Stop and think about that nightmarish scenario. (Indeed, a never-ending nightmare is yet another illustration.) Let the horror of that scenario seize you. 

Most atheists (in the West) don't think that way because they operate as if atheism's false and there is a guiding, overarching intelligence to coordinate what happens and how we perceive reality. Buddhism is a prominent exception. Certain strains of Hinduism share the same skepticism because, even though they aren't atheistic, the kind of God they believe in isn't the ultimate reality.

Delaying herd immunity is costing lives

Friday, May 15, 2020

Was the nuclear family a mistake?

Does Anyone Need to Recover from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood?

Wesley Huff Q&A

Do the bread and wine turn into the body and blood of Christ?

I recently read a high-level exchange about the metaphysics of transubstantiation. On one side was a Protestant philosophy prof. (Kyle Blanchette). I mention that because his argument is the stimulus for this post. I'm not trying to develop his argument. Perhaps the argument in this post is different from how he'd understand his own argument. That's not the purpose of my post. My objective isn't to reproduce his argument. It simply gave me an idea to think about and run with. But I wish to credit the stimulus. 

Transubstantiation is often challenged on philosophical grounds. Philosophy isn't for everyone, but this isn't just an academic issue. Transubstantiation is Catholic dogma. If a single Catholic dogma is false, that falsifies Catholicism at one stroke. 

According to Trent, by the consecration of the bread and of the wine, a conversion is made of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His blood; which conversion is, by the holy Catholic Church, suitably and properly called Transubstantiation.

And the catechism says 1375 It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ's body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament. 

So the dogma of transubstantiation seems to require that the bread and wine turn into or change into the body and blood of Christ. The unconsecrated communion elements become the body and blood of Christ. That, however, raises the issue of what's required for one thing to become something else. 

Suppose on Monday I see a mouse. Suppose on Tuesday I see a Porsche. Suppose you tell me that the Porsche used to be the mouse. The mouse turned into a Porsche.

A problem with that claim is that, at the level of a mouse and a Porsche, they have nothing in common. They have some constitutive elements in common, like atoms and molecules, but in no respect is a mouse a Porsche. There's complete discontinuity at that higher level. A difference in kind, not degree. 

The Catholic position is actually more radical than my illustration. On the Catholic position, the two substances don't even share any constitutive elements in common (see below). 

Put another way, it's consistent that a Porsche was never a mouse. It was always a Porsche. It didn't originate as a mouse. Consistent for each to have separate origins. 

What really happened is that the mouse ceased to exist, and (let's say) a Porsche suddenly sprang into existence. The mouse didn't become a Porsche. Rather, the mouse existed, then it ceased to exist. The Porsche didn't exist, then a day later it came into being. There's succession but no continuity. No continuum between what was the case on Monday and what was the case on Tuesday. 

But this generates a contradiction between what transubstantiation claims and what it implies. The claim is that the bread and wine turn into the body and blood. But the implication of the dogma is that the body and blood replace the bread and wine. The bread and wine cease to exist. Something else takes their place. So there's no continuity between the two things. 

Given the claim, there's no reason a priest has to start with bread and wine to get the same result. Since the end-result replaces the bread and wine, you could, in principle, have the replacement directly, without the bread and wine as a starting-point, just as you don't to start with a mouse to produce a Porsche. There's no essential relationship between the bread and wine and the replacement. It isn't necessary for a Porsche to be the end-product of a mouse. Indeed, that would be very strange way to create a Porsche.

At this point a Catholic might object that they do share something in common: the secondary properties of bread and wine. The phenomenal/sensory properties of bread and wine.

But that won't do. According to the metaphysics of transubstantiation, those are accidental properties. But at the substantive level, the body and blood share nothing in common with the bread and wine. One substance didn't become or change into another substance. Rather, one substance replaces another substance, but it has the same accidental properties. So the fundamental dichotomy remains. 

I won!

There's an odd quality to debates with unbelievers. They "succeed" in shielding themselves from Christianity. They put up enough barriers that they "succeed" in walling themselves off from the evidence. They "won". Christians failed to persuade them. 

But it's like someone diagnosed with curable cancer who convinces himself that homeopathic therapy is the way to go. His doctor futilely pleads with him to undergo conventional cancer therapy. But the patient thinks he "won" the argument. 

Yet it's not the doctor who has a personal stake in the outcome. He's not the one with cancer. 

Don't play fetch the ball

Recently I saw a site that lists 2431 objections to Christianity. Of course, nobody has time to respond to 2431 objections. Indeed, that's the point of the site.  

Instead of fielding a hugely padded list of objections, why not focus on the evidence for Christianity? If you have sufficient evidence that something is true, you don't need to answer any objections.

It's not a Christian responsibility to perform an impossible task. We can't play fetch the ball with an unbeliever–where we have to chase the ball wherever he throws it. If you have sufficient evidence that something is true, you can leave puzzling objections unexplained. 

If unbelievers refuse to appreciate that fact, then that's their problem. There's no reason to feel desperate because they make unreasonable demands on us. There are limits to what Christians can do. The Christian is safe in the boat while the unbeliever is drowning. If he refuses to take your hand, he's the one who has everything to lose. It's a pity, but he created that predicament for himself. We can't help those who refuse help because the insist that we only provide a certain kind of help which isn't reasonable or feasible.

When someone says I won't believe unless you refute 2431 objections, that's a stalling tactic. What he's really saying is that he will never believe, by erecting an endless set of barriers. Even if you answered 2431 objections, he next move would be to challenge each answer. So it constantly multiplies.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Does math point to God?

Today there was a brainiac debate between Graham Oppy and William Lane Craig:

I may or may not comment on other parts of the debate in a future post, but of now I'd like to zero in on a dilemma posed by Oppy:

Could God have freely chosen to make a physical world in which it was not the case that mathematical theories apply to the physical world because the structure of the physical world is an instantiation of mathematical structures described by those mathematical theories? There are two options: if not, then it seems that what you're going to end up saying is that it's necessary, that if there's a physical world, mathematical theories apply–which means you just end up with what the naturalist says. That will be the explanation. On the other hand, if it's as though it's just a brute contingency that mathematical theories apply to the physical world…because it's brutally contingent that God chose to make this world rather that other worlds that he could have made instead. When you get to free choice and you think why this rather than that, there's no explanation to be given why you ended up with one rather than the other. So it looks as though either you're going to accept the necessity or you're going to end up with ultimately it's a brute contingency. 

The answer depends on how we answer either either one of two prior questions:

i) Are mathematical structures grounded in the structure/substructure of God's mind? Does the existence of mathematical structures depend on God's existence?

ii) Is there a naturalistic mechanism to explain how the physical structure of the universe is an instantiation of mathematical structures?

The Plague, by Camus

Camus wrote a novel about a plague. In the novel Camus poses a dilemma: if a plague is sent by God, is it impious to fight the plague? Are we fighting God by fighting a heaven-sent plague? 

Since the world is currently experiencing a pandemic, this is a good time to revisit the proposed dilemma. 

1. God sends adversity to change people. It can be designed to change them in different ways. 

Historically, for instance, plagues were an opportunity for Christians to practice sacrificial compassion. The pagan response to plagues was to cast the sick outside and leave them to fend for themselves. As a result, the fatality rate was extremely high for plagues, because in many cases, the sick would have been able to survive if someone cared for them and nursed them through the illness. 

By contrast, Christians, emboldened by the hope of heaven, practiced heroic compassion by taking in the sick and nursing them. Christians took the risk of contracting a fatal infection. Not only did this save many lives, but it was also a powerful witness to the pagan world. Todd Wood discussed this in a recent video:

2. Sometimes God sends adversity for adversity to be overcome. Opposing the adversity isn't contrary God's will; to the contrary, the purpose of adversity, in such cases, is to pose a challenge to be surmounted. Take the cultivation of soul-building virtues. 

3. Sometimes God sends adversity to overcome us. For instance, God striking Nebuchadnezzar with lycanthropy to humble him.

4. What these examples of different kinds of change share in common is that God doesn't send adversity for us to do nothing in response. We're not to passively submit to adversity in the sense that we don't allow it to make any difference, but just sit there and take it without letting it have any effect on us. No, we're supposed to interact with the adversity. We're supposed to grapple with the adversity. So the dilemma posed by Camus is a false dilemma. 

Gospel Accuracy and Reliability with Dr. Lydia McGrew

Pope squared

Recently there was a satirical Catholic/Protestant meme war on Facebook. That generated feedback in the combox. Here's one of the exchanges on one of the memes:

Daniel Vecchio 
If only Jesus could have anticipated that some of his sayings would appear obscure to us, and could have established, in a solid, granite-like way, a teaching authority who would help us to "be of one mind".

Raymond Blaine Stewart 
If only Jesus could have anticipated that his teaching authority would not be accepted by all people and could have established in a solid granite like way a meta teaching authority who would help us "be of one mind."

Daniel Vecchio 
Meta teaching authority?

Raymond Blaine Stewart 
Yeah a teaching authority that would help us accept know which teaching authority to accept. That would have been nice.

Did you have something in mind?, because my point is that Jesus did anticipate such things.

Yeah I'm thinking we could call him the Pope squared, or maybe the straight dope.

My point is this: division happened. So if you're saying that Jesus gave us this rock solid granite teaching authority to prevent division. Well then what Jesus gave us to prevent division failed.

Daniel Vecchio 
Well, the only meta-teacher I think we have is the reductio of rejecting the teaching authority we have.

Raymond Blaine Stewart 
The meta teacher thing was a joke. The whole point was the teaching authority didn't do its job. So if Jesus was interested in preventing this kind of division he should have left us a teaching authority about the teaching authority.

Daniel Vecchio 
So I am saying that Jesus did enough... you, a Protestant, are complaining that Jesus didn't do enough. ;-)

Raymond Blaine Stewart 
Do you understand how jokes work?

Daniel Vecchio 
When we get to heaven (and you may have to wait 10,000 years for when they release me from Purgatory), I am going to remind Jesus how you wanted a meta-teacher, and were complaining.

The "if only" joke is funny because he did, not because he didn't.

Raymond Blaine Stewart 
No I wasn't. Like I'm not sure whether you're joking or really don't understand the point. The whole point–as with all parody arguments–is that if your reasoning were correct, something obviously false would be true. The joke was that we would have a meta-pope. We don't do your reasoning is bad. I wasn't actually suggesting that we should have a metapope any more been Swift was actually suggesting that the Irish should eat babies.

Saving thousands to kill millions

Heiser's methodology

I'm going to venture some observations about Michael Heiser's methodology in reference to the nephilim. I say "venture" because I'm not deeply read on his position. 

1. In fairness to Heiser, his interpretation of Gen 6 is certainly the mainstream view in OT scholarship. And it's a traditional Jewish interpretation. It might be the dominant Jewish interpretation, although that depends on how representative the Intertestamental literature which survived happens to be. 

2. As I've noted before, while this is the mainstream view in OT scholarship, that's somewhat misleading. Many OT scholars think Gen 6 reflects a mythological outlook. They don't think the Bible is divine revelation. They think it's merely ancient religious literature, on the same level as ancient Near Eastern mythology or Greco-Roman mythology. 

They don't think their interpretation of Gen 6 has to be realistic. But Christians do think our interpretations of Scripture need to be realistic, albeit in the sense of supernatural realism. 

3. I consider the Intertestamental literature on the nephilim to be exegetically worthless. Gen 6:1-4 is very intriguing. Part of what makes it so intriguing is that it's terse and enigmatic. So that fuels pious speculation. An urge to fill in the gaps.

The Enochian literature, and other suchlike, reflects the same mentality as the apocryphal infancy Gospels. And it has the same exegetical value as the apocryphal infancy Gospels. It's just a load of pious nonsense. No reputable scholar would use the apocryphal infancy Gospels to interpret the canonical Gospels. They wouldn't use that later, fanciful material to interpret the canonical Gospels. But the Enochian stuff operates at the same level. Fictional filler. Thriller filler. 

The only way to legitimately justify the angelic interpretation of Gen 6 is either by direct exegesis of Gen 6 or via the NT. If you can do it that way, then you've got a case. But the Enochian stuff isn't suitable background material, any more than the apocryphal infancy Gospels are suitable background material for the canonical Gospels. 

4. Heiser also appeals to linguistic usage in the Intertestamental literature and Dead Sea Scrolls. There he's on firmer ground, as a general principle. NT usage draws from a well of preexisting usage, where words and phrases have established associations and connotations that may carry over into NT usage. But that needs to be isolated from the wholesale usage grand Enochian narratives as a frame of reference. 

Craig on eternal sonship

A sequel to this post:

Craig seems to think that in order to reject eternal generation, he must reject ontological sonship. If so, that's confused. These are theological metaphors. Metaphors are open-textured. Metaphors have multiple connotations. As such, most authors don't intend for every connotation of a metaphor to be in play. So the interpretive question is to identify the intended connotation.

Consider some of the connotations of fatherhood and sonship: fathers preexist sons, fathers age, fathers die, fathers and sons are embodied agents, sons undergo a maturation process, sons result from sex between a father and a mother.

When the NT uses father/son language for two persons of the Trinity, these connotations are clearly off the table. They reflect sheerly human things incompatible with deity. So the intended connotation(s) of the father/son terminology in NT Trinitarian usage is narrow. 

One connotation of the metaphor is derivation. Since that's incompatible with his position (I agree), he demotes the father/son terminology to the economic Trinity. It doesn't seem to occur to him that another connotation of the father/son metaphor is representation. A son resembles his father (like father/like son) and a son is especially qualified to act on behalf of his father, as his father's agent. Both are grounded in ontological sonship. 

Is God the Son Begotten in His Divine Nature?

Regarding this article:

1. I agree with Craig's critique of eternal generation.

2. I'm not going to comment on his general alternative (pp25-26). I don't care to get into the weeds of exegeting and assessing it. 

I've articulated my own model of the Trinity on numerous occasions. I'll stick with that.

3. However, a basic problem with Craig's position in this article is reducing the Father/Son distinction to the economic Trinity. That's mistaken because, on occasion, the NT clearly uses "Son of God" (or "Son" for short) as a divine title. His identity as the ontological Son of God figures in his deity. If he's the Son of God, then by implication he's divine. Reducing the Father/Son distinction to the economic Trinity can't explain that entailment in NT usage. And it's not a minor point. 

What are demons?

Recently I watched a Michael Heiser interview about his new book on demons:

I haven't read his book, so that may contains answers to my questions which are left hanging in the air by the interview. In this post I'll just respond to issues raised by the interview. This is less about evaluating the position than clarifying the position by posing questions or considering the implications of the position. 

1. If I understand his position, he classifies demons as nephilic souls. The damned souls of nephilim. The rest of my post will proceed on that assumption. 

2. As a Protestant, I have no antecedent objection to alternative readings that reject traditional interpretations of Biblical passages. 

3. On the face of it, there's nothing heretical about his identification. And it's certainly not liberal. One question is what shifts would his interpretation entail in traditional Christian theology.

4. The NT doesn't really say anything directly about the origin of demons. The fallen angel identification is a default explanation. Fallen angels are obvious candidates. 

5. Does Heiser classify the Nephilim as inhuman? Are they demiangels? Do they have minds that aren't angelic or human but hybrid minds?

If that's the claim, it raises the question of whether it's metaphysically possible for a creature having an angelic mind, mating with a creature having a human mind, to produce an agent having a hybrid mind. That angelic minds and human minds are able to combine to generate a kind of mind that isn't one or the other. 

6. Assuming (5), God is not the Creator of every kind of being. Some creatures have the natural ability to produce new kinds of beings. In traditional Christian theology, God creates each kind, then creatures procreate after their kind. They procreate examples of their kind. New examples of the same kind, not new kinds of beings. That's why it's called reproduction. But on this view, every kind of being doesn't have its origin in divine creativity. On this view, there are second-order creatures. That's a radical principle. 

7. One reason fallen angels are a default identification for fallen angels is that it gives them something to do. After all, they didn't cease to exist. So what have they up to all this time?

8. Apropos (7), what does Heiser think happened to the fallen angels? Are they all in hell (i.e. the realm of the dead)? Or do some of them have access to our world? 

9. On this view, the dark side has three classes of beings: fallen angels, nephilim, and damned humans. How do they interact? Are fallen angels and nephilic souls both active in our world? That's more to sort out. Can we tell which is which in terms of phenomena we encounter on earth (i.e. the realm of the living)?

10. Apropos (9), is the power of witchcraft angelic or nephilic? Does it have its source in fallen angels or nephilim empowering sorcerers and witchdoctors? 

11. Although the NT is very sketchy about the origin of demons, it clearly associates Satan with demons. So on this view, Satan isn't merely the leader of fallen angels, but the leader of nephilic souls as well. But what if Satan is associated with demons because both he and they are fallen angels? 

12. On this view it seems to be the case that nephilim are evil and damned by virtue of their parentage. Evil and damned simply because they are hybrids. Because they were conceived by sexual intercourse between fallen angels and women. Their process of origin makes them evil and dooms them to damnation. They were created evil, though not by God.

Does this mean there's no salvation for a single member of the nephilim? Or does it make allowance for the salvation of some nephilim?

13. On this view, is the fall of angels a single event, or does it happen in phases? There's the fall of Lucifer, followed in Gen 6 by the fall of the other angels. Were the angels in Gen 6 already fallen some time prior to the timeframe of Gen 6, or was that when they fell? In addition, he seems to say the principalities and powers fell during the Tower of Babel timeframe. 

Is inerrancy a house of cards?

A fairly recent development in what passes for evangelicalism is the now-stock objection that inerrancy is a house of cards. There's more than one thing we could say in response, but for now I'll make one observation:

Given inerrancy, is far simpler to know what to believe as a Christian. There's a twofold criterion:

i) Your reason(s) for believing it's taught in Scripture

ii) Your reason(s) for believing Scripture

If, however, you reject inerrancy, then believing it's taught in Scripture is insufficient reason for believing it's true. That only makes it a candidate for belief. If you deny inerrancy, then the fact that something is taught in Scripture fails to ensure its truth and even fails to carry a presumption regarding its truth. 

In addition, you must have an individual justification, independent of Scripture, for each and everything you believe. Separate extrabiblical justifications for everything 

Theism As A Rival To Christianity

William Lane Craig recently concluded a podcast with the following comments:

It really surprises me, honestly, that here's a fellow who is willing to admit that the arguments for theism are stronger than the evidences for Jesus and for the resurrection! He thinks that's the weak link. Well, he's really put himself in a difficult position because if you argue for theism successfully, you're more than halfway there to getting Christianity. If you've got theism then your choices are going to be Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or maybe deism of some sort. And of those I think Christianity is clearly the most plausible. I think the arguments for the resurrection of Jesus and the historical reliability of the Gospels are such that Christianity is very defensible against this fellow’s sort of skeptical attacks. So he has really adopted a losing strategy, I think, here. You give up on theism – yield on theism – then just try to fight the remaining parapets to prevent Christianity from being established. The problem is it is going to be much, much easier to establish Christianity if you’ve already got theism in place.

It's true that Christianity is easier to argue for with theism in place. But he doesn't mention one of the major rivals to Christianity.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Can a Christian be demon-possessed?

1. If you're a freewill theist, then that commits you to the proposition that a Christian can be demon-possessed. And that's because a freewill theism believes a Christian can lose his salvation. If, a fortiori, a Christian can lose his salvation, then he can be demonically possessed. It's an argument from the greater to the lesser. If loss of salvation is possible, that's a greater case than possession. If something is possible in the greater case, then that includes the possibility of lesser cases.

Isn't subjection to demons a less radical condition than reversion to an unsaved condition? For a Christian to be possessed would be a horrific degree of subjection, yet lack or loss of salvation isn't a matter of degree but having nothing to counterbalance possession. If a believer can be possessed, that generates enormous tension between two opposing forces, but in the case of lack or loss of salvation, there is no tension because there's nothing on the other side (the Holy Spirit) to counteract the evil. 

Indeed, to be unsaved makes unbelievers liable to demonic possession. Conversion is sometimes an exorcism which liberates unbelievers from possession. So a reversal in your spiritual status, by losing you salvation, would render you vulnerable to the possession all over again. 

Now a freewill theist might object by saying that's not a case of  believer being possessed, but a former believer. But that takes us back to the a fortiori argument. 

2. So the upshot is that I think we have a clearcut answer to the question where freewill theism is concern. The answer is less clear in the case of Calvinism due to ambiguities in the concept of possession, including degrees of sin. Christians are sinners. What degree of sin is compatible with being a sinner? That's one of those sorites paradox questions. 

Fine-tuning the herd immunity strategy

Encountering Messianic Judaism

Includes transcript. 

The difference a miracle makes

One of the striking things about the difference between Christians and atheists regarding the Resurrection is the difference, in principle, a single miracle would make to the outlook of an atheist. Atheists think defending the Resurrection is an extended exercise in special pleading, yet that's all predicated on their naturalism. It would only take a single miracle to revolutionize their plausibility structure (assuming they were consistent). A single miracle, any miracle, ancient or modern, would suddenly make the Resurrection credible. So their position is extremely fragile. 

God doesn't force anyone to love him

In this clip, 

Frank Turek offers some wise advice, but the falls back on the Arminian trope that "God doesn't force anyone to love him". Of course, that's a cliche swipe at Calvinism. 

Problem is, the objection is nonsense. You can't be forced to do what you were predestined to do. If you were predestined to do it, then it's not like you were going to do something else before God stepped in to override your plans. If you were predestined to do something, then there never was anything else you were going to do. It's not like you chose to go in one direction until God thwarted your choice.

Now, you can disagree with Calvinism for other reasons, but the "forced" trope that Arminians mechanically bandy about is simply thoughtless.

I, Robot

A few observations about the Arminian trope that Calvinism reduces human beings to robots.

1. To begin with, a metaphor is not an argument. While metaphors can be useful ways to illustrate an argument, they are no a substitute for having an argument. 

2. In addition, the problem with the comparison is that if we're supposed to take it seriously, then the analogy has to posit artificially intelligent robots, but once robots are endowed with consciousness, the invidious comparison between robotic minds and human minds breaks down.

Where's the point of contrast? That robotic minds are programed while human minds are free? But presumably the claim isn't that it's possible to program robotic minds but impossible to program robotic minds? If that's the claim, why should we grant it? If they're both minds, what makes robotic minds programmable while human minds are unprogrammable? The difference isn't at the level of minds. So what makes the difference, if any? 

Moreover, the usual objection to Calvinism isn't that God can't program human minds, but that doing so would have unacceptable consequences. 

If the Arminian is comparing human beings to artificially intelligent robots, how is that comparison presumptively problematic for Calvinism? The objection can't be to robots, per se (see above), but to predestination. But in that event, the comparison is a distraction. Present a direct argument against predestination,  if you have one. 

I'll believe in God if...

1. In his recent interview with Eli Ayala, Gary Habermas was asked the following question. 
My sister died 2 weeks [ago]. Pray for he in the name of Jesus, if she rises from the dead (like Lazarus) I will believe. 
The questioner was. Douglas Letkeman. Doug is YouTuber and Street Epismologist, using the tactics of Peter Boghossian's A Manual for Creating Atheists. The basic tactic is to focus on the psychology of belief and lower the confidence of a Christian by asking if they're 100% Christianity is true, 85% true, &c., and then throwing a lot of hypothetical defeaters at Christianity. As I recall, Doug has a Christian sister with MS.

Normally I wouldn't comment on something like this, but Doug chose to raise this in public. , and do so in a polemical context, 

1. Here's a preliminary question: Is he seeking a straight answer or is he setting a trap? Is he using this as a cynical tactic to intimate Christians? "I dare you to give an answer that sounds uncaring!"

While we should sympathize with his loss, that doesn't mean we should sympathize with using that as emotional leverage. 

Moreover, it's not as if he has a monopoly on family tragedy. Many Christians experience family tragedy. 

2. Another issue is using that as a chip to drive a hard bargain with God.  But God has nothing to prove to him. God doesn't need Doug to believe in God. What's that to God? God has nothing to lose. Some atheists have the odd notion that they can use their belief or disbelief as leverage with God. As if that puts them in a superior negotiating position. God is having to negotiate from a position of weakness. But God can't be manipulated. 

I've been blunt, but you're not entitled to pose tough questions, then take umbrage if you get tough answers. The challenger determines the level of the challenge. (Technically, his statement was a challenge rather than a question, but my point doesn't turn on that distinction.)

the Covid-19 epidemic was never exponential

My Lord and my God

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

How early are the New Testament books?

The Resurrection narratives are overrated

There's a sense in which Christian apologists overemphasize the importance of the Resurrection accounts. They can get so deep into the weeds of what each one says and defending them that they overlook the value of the argument from silence. 

The Resurrection is a presupposition of NT Christianity. In NT Christology, one theological function of the Resurrection is to vindicate the divine mission of Christ. One reason the Father raises Jesus is to provide a public demonstration of his approval for the claims and ministry of Jesus. If he left him in the grave, that would imply that Jesus was a false messiah. 

Even if a NT writer doesn't mention the Resurrection, he takes that for granted. He wouldn't be a Christian otherwise. He wouldn't be worshiping a dead messiah. So even NT writings that don't mention the Resurrection are still indirect evidence for the Resurrection because the writer wouldn't be a Christian in the first place unless he believed in the Resurrection. 

Me on herd immunity

I've done a number of posts where I plug articles that promote the herd immunity strategy, but that might foster a misimpression of my position, or the reasoning behind my position, so perhaps I owe readers a more detailed explanation. 

1. My preference for the herd immunity strategy doesn't presume that that's more effective than the social distancing strategy. For one thing, I'm not scientifically qualified to assess their comparative effectiveness. And the experts disagree.

2. At this stage of the pandemic, social distancing has been more widely tested that herd immunity. From what I've read, its effectiveness is dramatically disparate from one locality to another.

Also, from what I've read, many of the fatalities are chalked up to the virus when in fact there were multiple causes of death.

Although herd immunity hasn't been as widely tested during the pandemic, it doesn't seem to be less effective than social distancing (from what I've read). Likewise, based on what I've read, countries that implement the herd immunity strategy don't appear to be clearly or consistently worse off than localities that implement social distancing. Rather, countries opting for herd immunity seem to be worse off than some social distancing localities but better off then other social distancing localities. 

From what I've read, the social distancing strategy isn't demonstrably more effective or significantly more effective than the herd immunity strategy. Indeed, it may be less effective. 

3. In addition, the hope is that we'll develop a vaccine. But what if we're unable to develop a vaccine? Or what if we develop a vaccine, but the virus mutates to a strain that outwits the vaccine? In that event, isn't herd immunity our only fallback?

4. So my position isn't based on the comparative effectiveness of the two alternatives. That's not my rationale or justification. My position doesn't require me to have a firm opinion on that question. Rather, my position is that if you have two alternatives, you should opt for the one that does the least overall damage. If one alternative has harmful side-effects which the other one lacks, you opt for the alternative without the collateral damage. So there's more than one consideration in play. And that's exacerbated by unanswered questions regarding the comparative effectiveness of the two alternatives. 

5. Apropos (4), lockdowns and stay at home orders are having catastrophic economic side-effects. They seem to be plunging the world into an economic death spiral. 

In addition, they've led to the suspension of Constitutional rights. Indeed, to say that's a side-effect is rather euphemistic since Democrat officials are using the pandemic as a pretext to flex their progressive muscles. 

I'm contrasting the knowns with the unknowns. And overall cost/benefit analysis. So that's my actual position, or the reasoning behind my position. 

A sidenote on Marian apparitions

In one of the places I used to live, I observed the following phenomenon. There was a building with a brick facade. On some days, approaching sunset, the filtered light of the declining sun projected an image of the cross on the side of the building. It took the form of contrast between the sunbeam, and the darker facade. The sunlight cast an image of a cross, surround by the shaded facade. The cross was centered in the facade. The image was well-defined.

This wasn't a figment of the observer's imagination. That shape really appeared on the side of the building.

However, the religious significance of the image was a psychological projection. To recognize the religious significance of the image, you had to be familiar with elementary Christian iconography.

Moreover, the significance wasn't intentional, unlike a cross in a church. Rather, it was a random occurrence, based on a combination of natural variables which sometimes lined up in a particular way: the position of the building, the angle and level of the sunlight, and the position of certain trees nearby. A combination that was bound to happen every so often. So even though the image reminded a Christian observer of the Christian cross, that association was completely incidental to the image. 

What many lay Catholics take to be Marian apparitions commit the same fallacy. I'm not suggesting that all purported apparitions can be explained that way. I'd add that while purported apparition at Knock is approved for widespread liturgical veneration, that example is analogous to my comparison. 

What makes some women glorious?

but woman is the glory of man (1 Cor 11:7).

1. In this post I'm not exegeting 1 Cor 11:7. I'm just using that verse as a launchpad to offer my personal interpretation of what makes some women glorious. Men think a lot about women, and there are many different ways to appreciate women. In a secular culture that degrades womanhood, as well as some religious cultures (e.g. Islam), I think it's useful to unpack the notion. 

2. Some women are iconic. They project a feminine ideal even though they aren't virtuous women. 

3. The cliche example of a feminine ideal is a visually beautiful woman. An optimal example of the female form. 

It's interesting that Paul uses hair to illustrate the glory of women (1 Cor 11:15). He uses an aesthetic criterion rather than a spiritual criterion. That's because he trades on alternating literal and figurative connotations of headship, but it's still striking that he doesn't focus on sanctity to illustrate the glory of women, even though he undoubtedly rates that higher than hair. 

4. Another example of feminine beauty is a vocal beauty. A woman with a beautiful singing voice. Men and boys can also have great singing voices, but a fine female voice has a an unmistakably feminine timbre. So that's another uniquely feminine ideal. 

5. Some women are gifted writers. They write with eloquence and psychological insight. And they write with a uniquely feminine sensibility. 

This may also be true of female directors. I haven't done a systematic comparison. And this may also be true of some female musicians (e.g. Alicia de Larrocha).

6. Some women embody natural character virtues that make them good wives and mothers. 

7. Some women embody moral heroism. Ironically, it's possible for a woman to be morally heroic even though she's not a virtuous woman. Marlene Dietrich is a case in point. She turned down Hitler's offer to be the queen of the Nazi cinema. She sided with the Allies. And she entertained the troops on the frontlines, at risk of being killed or–even worse–captured alive. Imagine what the Nazis would have done to her if they caught up with her!

Yet she wasn't a good woman. She was a quintessentially decadent woman.

8. Some women embody spiritual virtues. They are saintly. Holy. Far advanced in sanctification.

Why do Mark and John appear to differ on the time of the crucifixion?

But some doubted

And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted (Mt 28:17).

Why did some observers harbor doubts about the Risen Jesus? Short answer is that I don't know the answer because Matthew doesn't say, but I'll venture a few observations:

i) It's a credit to Matthew's intellectual honesty that he mentions that some observers were unconvinced by what they saw. And that tells you something important about the reliability of his Gospel in general. This could easily be taken as a damaging admission, yet Matthew volunteers the information despite that. 

ii) In biblical theology, the resurrection of the body isn't just a reversion to the status quo ante. It isn't returning to what you were like before you died. 

The resurrection confers immortality. The individual is youthful and ageless. 

Assuming that Jesus was about 33 when he died, a result of the resurrection would be to rejuvenate him. He'd look younger than when he died. And he wouldn't have a weathered appearance. He'd look like a younger twin brother. So that would be a bit confusing.

iii) In addition, not all observers had the same proximity to Jesus. Some were closer while others were further away. 

The Arbery case

I haven't followed the Arbery case closely, so this post is discussing the issues more from a hypothetical standpoint: 

1. It's a problem when pundits default to a racial motive. This assumes, and pundits are usually explicit about this assumption, that nearly all whites are racist to some degree or another. Ironically, that's a bigoted assumption. It stereotypes whites as a class. A paradigm example of prejudice. 

In addition, it can be a self-fulling prophecy. If you constantly blame whites for racism without specific evidence for specific individuals, that foments racial animus. That foments racial resentment.

Since white folks kill other white folks and black folks kill other black folks, I don't think there's a presumptive racial motive when the assailant is white and the victim is black, or vice versa. 

It's like, suppose I bet on sports teams. If I normally bet on one team, then there's a pattern or bias. If, however, I normally bet on two different teams, if I alternate, then there's no discernible pattern or bias. 

2. Different people have different motives for inspecting a house under construction. In some cases they are looking to buy a house, and they want to see if this is a house they'd consider buying. 

In other cases, they're just curious. For instance, a house might be way outside their price range, and they like to see how the other half lives. This is their chance to see the kind of mansion rich folks live in. 

And in other cases, they're up to no good. 

3. This also raises the question of when we should be prepared to kill someone. We have a right to protect our life and livelihood. We have a right to protect our home and business. And just in general, if someone pulls a gun on you, that justifies killing them. They've threatened your life.

If someone commits armed robbery or armed burglary, I think they forfeit the right to life in relation to the victim because they forfeit the presumption that they won't murder the victim. They forfeit the presumption that they won't carry out their threat. Armed robbery or armed burglary carries the explicit or implicit threat to murder the victim. 

But to kill someone because they may be trespassing on someone else's property or robbing someone else's business is hardly justification to kill them. That's both literally and figuratively none of our business. You might report them to the police, but that's it. Same thing with merely suspicious activity. 

One-trick pony show

I got into a marathon debate about the Resurrection on Facebook:

The Resurrection argument fails its own burden of proof.
The only evidence for the resurrection that actually matters are the claimed "post-mortem appearances" since there would be no other way to confirm that an actual resurrection had taken place. So the claim solely relies on if these people really saw Jesus alive again after his death. Everything else is just a distraction. Appealing to things like the empty tomb, so called "prophecy fulfillment" and alleged martyrdom stories, etc are all irrelevant red herrings since they do not directly support the hypothesis that a dead man became alive again. Thus, the burden of proof is on the one who claims Jesus' resurrection actually happened, or put simply, they need to show these people really saw Jesus alive again after his death.
Well, according to the earliest evidence, since Paul uses a "vision" (Gal. 1:12-16, Acts 26:19) as a "resurrection appearance" (1 Cor 15:8) then it necessarily follows that claims of "visions" (experiences that don't necessarily have anything to do with reality) were accepted as evidence of Jesus "appearing." Paul makes no distinction in regards to the nature, quality, or type of appearances. He uses the same verb φθη (ōphthē) for each one as if to equate them and makes no reference to a separate and distinct Ascension between the appearances. This calls into question the veracity of the "appearances" because it totally changes the meaning of "appeared." Even though Jesus wasn't physically present on the earth, one could still claim that they just "experienced his presence" and that counted as "seeing Jesus." Based on the earliest evidence in Paul's letters, claiming Jesus "appeared" could be nothing more than feeling like you communicated with him from heaven in a vision or a dream!
It's only later, after the gospels are written that we see the appearances grow more physical/corporeal but scholars have long recognized that the gospels don't actually go back to eyewitnesses and the data they contain evolves more fantastic as if a legend is growing. Since Paul is the only verified firsthand source by someone who claimed to "see" Jesus in the first person, and the "appearance" to him was a vision, (not a physical encounter with a revived corpse) which he does not distinguish from the "appearances" to the others in 1 Cor 15:5-8, then the earliest evidence suggests these were originally subjective spiritual experiences. Thus, the resurrection argument fails to meet the burden of proof - "they really saw Jesus alive again after his death."
Common apologetic response:
But Paul believed in a physical resurrection, doesn't that mean the appearances would have been physical as well?
Response: Non-sequitur. This is simply conflating Paul's "belief in the resurrection" with the "resurrection appearances" when those aren't the same thing. Even if the earliest Christians believed in a physical resurrection, it does not therefore follow that "they really saw Jesus alive again." Notice how the belief in a physical resurrection is just a belief, not an empirical observation because no one actually witnessed the resurrection itself. Rather, these people are only said to have experienced post-resurrection appearances, the nature of which is the exact point of contention. Apologists who use the red herring of appealing to the physical resurrection are making the further assumption that the physical resurrection necessarily entailed Jesus remained on the earth in order to be physically seen and touched like the later gospels describe. This doesn't follow and it is a separate claim not actually found in Paul's letters, the earliest evidence. As I've argued elsewhere, the earliest belief seems to be that Jesus went straight to heaven simultaneous with or immediately after the resurrection (regardless if it was physical/spiritual), leaving no room for any physical/earthly interactions. Thus, all of the "appearances" mentioned in 1 Cor 15:5-8 were originally understood to be of the already Exalted Lord in heaven and the gospel portrayals of a physical/earthly Jesus are necessarily false.

Strachan reviews 1917

Owen Strachan reviews the film 1917: "Keep Your Eyes on the Trees: An Essay on 1917, the Most Profound Film Since Tree of Life".

I also reviewed 1917 back in February.

Ahmaud Arbery

I haven't paid close attention to this story, so I could be mistaken, but here's my opinion at this point:

1. Thanks to Steve for sending along what I think is a helpful analysis. I agree with what Laurie Higgins says here.

2. Many people are alleging it's racism (it seems) primarily because it took such a long time to investigate, bring charges, and make arrests. However, I don't know that's necessarily the case. For example, I've read the father was an ex-cop. If so, then that might be the main reason it took such a long time, i.e., the blue wall of silence. This in turn could imply corruption among the police, but not necessarily racism.

3. Of course, it's possible it could have been both racism and the blue wall. However, at least from what I've read, I don't see anything that points to racism as the main or sole motivation. Other than the fact that Arbery happens to be black and this happened in Georgia where there are supposedly a lot of racists. At best, wouldn't that just be circumstantial and guilt by association?

4. I'm no lawyer, so what do I know, but I guess the McMichaels' best defense is they were attempting to make a citizen's arrest in light of witnessing Arbery come to a home (under construction) multiple times in the past, Arbery grabbed hold of their gun, there was a struggle, then they either shot their gun in self-defense or it accidentally went off during the struggle.

I doubt this would hold up. It looks like they were chasing down a man and picking a fight. They could have been acting like vigilantes. As far as I know, Arbery wasn't actively committing a crime when the McMichaels' approached him. Maybe the McMichaels thought they had reasonable cause that Arbery had committed crimes in the past, but even if so Arbery's crime would have been trespassing, but does that justify a citizen's arrest? Or why not just call the actual cops in that case? And Arbery could have been scared for his life and acting in self-defense too.

"Ask China"

1. It's obvious the reporter was asking Trump a loaded question. Baiting Trump. Of course, the mainstream media doesn't focus on her loaded question. Just Trump's response.

2. I bet Trump would have said "ask China" regardless of the reporter's race/ethnicity.

3. Liberals are saying this isn't an isolated incident. They're saying Trump has a "pattern". However, even if (arguendo) that were true, that doesn't mean it's true in this case.

Also, if we want to talk about "patterns", then what about the "pattern" of liberals always getting so easily triggered and playing the victim?

4. Many people are saying Trump is thin-skinned. That he shouldn't have walked out on the press conference. Sure, Trump is thin-skinned. However, it's also true much of the media is out to get Trump. Gotcha journalism and the like. It's hardly a mystery why Trump would walk out. And I wouldn't blame him for walking out on these kind of people.

Likewise, what about the reporter and mainstream media being thin-skinned too? They're so touchy by assuming the president saying "ask China" to an Asian-American reporter must be due to racism.

5. Not to mention the reporter's virtue signaling by asking the question she asked. However, if she and other reporters are just going to go around self-righteously or sanctimoniously congratulating one another for asking these sorts of lame questions, then what's the point of the press conference? The press conference is a waste of time for Trump. Why shouldn't he walk out? He has more important things to do as the president.