Saturday, July 04, 2020

Why the 4th of July should matter

"Apparent" theistic evolution

I'm not a young earth creationist (YEC). That said:

Some people criticize YEC on the grounds that it makes God a deceiver if not a liar. He created the world in something like 10,000 years, but he created it with the appearance of age, empirically speaking. Critics say that's deceptive. Some critics even say it makes God a liar.

Some theistic evolutionists may face a similar problem. They say God guided evolution, but they also say we can't detect evidence of design. Such as in entities like DNA, cells, flagella, eyes. Apparently God guided evolution in such a way that his guidance is empirically undetectable. (Otherwise, if design is detectable, why not embrace design like Behe does?) Apparently theistic evolution is empirically indistinguishable from naturalistic evolution. So does this mean theistic evolutionists are making God out to be a deceiver if not a liar?

If theistic evolutionists respond there's nothing necessarily unethical about God's deception, then why couldn't YECs say the same about YEC?

What is evolution?

I've argued against evolution - or more precisely I've argued against certain components of evolution - on many occasions. I use evolution to mean Darwinism or rather neo-Darwinism which is the mainstream theory of evolution today.

That said, oftentimes debates over evolution forget the very basics. They often forget to define what evolution is in the first place. So I'll try to do that now in a hopefully simple manner accessible to most people reading this.

What is evolution? Evolution is the combination of six components:

  1. Genetic change over time. A species undergoes change in their genes or alleles over time. (Alleles are simply variants of the same gene.)
  2. Gradualism. It takes a long time (generations) to produce genetic change.
  3. Speciation. The simple idea is splitting. One or more species can split off from another species.
  4. Common ancestry. This is the flipside of speciation. If species can split off from other species, then we can trace the splitting back in time (via fossils and genetic sequences) to find the shared or common ancestor of two or more species.
  5. Natural selection. Organisms in the same species may have genetic differences among one another. This in turn impacts their ability to reproduce and survive in an environment. The genes that are more conducive to reproduction and survival will more likely be passed on (heredity) to the subsequent generation while the genes that don't will be less likely to be passed on (heredity) to the subsequent generation. That's in essence what natural selection is.
  6. Other mechanisms (besides natural selection). These include genetic drift, gene flow, and random genetic mutations which can cause evolutionary change. The primary mechanism (especially in a large population) is random genetic mutations. Broadly speaking, random genetic mutations are permanent alterations in a gene.

This is a fairly standard definition of evolution. In fact, it's so standard that it's based in large part on Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution Is True!

Now that we have a mainstream working definition, we can begin to voice our concerns and disagreements with evolution (neo-Darwinism). Keeping this in mind, see my earlier post including its comments for many of my own thoughts on evolution.

Friday, July 03, 2020

Flattered To Death

As good as things like capitalism and democracy are, they come with some downsides. One of those is that we're often flattered by people who want our money, our vote, or both. We're surrounded by it. We swim in an ocean of it. And since this is a presidential election year in the United States, the situation is especially bad. We hear a lot about how the problem is with corrupt leaders in Washington (and wherever else), how good the American people are, what hard workers they are, how they deserve this and deserve that, are entitled to this and entitled to that, etc.

It would be simplistic to say that all of this flattery goes to people's heads. But some of it does. And that's added on top of all of the teaching of self-esteem in schools, in books, on television, and elsewhere, all of the popular sayings of a similar nature ("don't let anybody judge you", "don't let anybody put you down", "be yourself", "follow your heart", "you deserve a break today", "the customer is always right"), and so on.

For a partial antidote to all of this, see here. We should ask what we're doing to make the problem worse. Do we accept and repeat claims that most Americans are political conservatives or that most are traditional Christians, for example, despite the lack of evidence for such conclusions and the evidence to the contrary? Do we repeat common false notions of how Americans are such good people, but that a small group of political leaders (or the media, academia, Hollywood, etc.) are holding them back and bringing about most of our problems? How much of your view of America is based on wishful thinking or false notions you've accepted without subjecting them to much analysis?

Many years ago, I heard Alistair Begg tell a story from his childhood on his radio program. Listen at 17:18 here. A worker in a candy shop, apparently after hearing somebody compliment Begg about something, told him, "Sonny, flattery is like perfume. Sniff it. Don't swallow it."

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Some comments on theistic evolution

For what it's worth, here are some comments (revised) on intelligent design and theistic evolution that I recently left in a previous post in a friendly conversation with Eric:

1. I'll use evolution as shorthand for neo-Darwinism. And I'll use ID for intelligent design.

2. To my knowledge, ID is relatively "new" in the sense that Dembski describes it in his chapter "How does intelligent design differ from the design argument?" in his book The Design Revolution. An excerpt is available here. However, ID is "old" in the sense that it's in the same or similar vein as teleological arguments in general (aka arguments from design, which might be more clearly termed arguments for design). This stretches back as far as Thomas Aquinas' Five Ways if not earlier.

3. I'm very sympathetic and greatly appreciate the work of the ID guys. At the same time, I think I'm persuaded by Alvin Plantinga (e.g. "design discourse") and Del Ratzsch (e.g. "the persistence of design thinking") when it comes to assessing their work.

4. My impression is, relatively speaking, secular physicists (cosmology) seem more open-minded about arguments for design (e.g. fine-tuning) than secular biologists. I mean, there are plenty of close-minded cosmologists, but I'm speaking in comparison to secular biologists. Secular biologists seem like the dwarves in the stable in C. S. Lewis' The Last Battle, imprisoned in their own minds, and "so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out". They stick their fingers in their ears and refuse so much as to entertain the possibility of anything other than a strictly material world. I guess most of them take after Lewontin: "materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a divine foot in the door". Regarding fine-tuning, see the works of Robin Collins and Luke Barnes.

5. An interesting question to explore is whether evolution itself requires design to operate. By contrast, if the universe and all it contains including life is not designed, then would evolution even be able to get off the ground?

For starters, evolution appears to be goal-directed, that is, it appears to be teleological. It appears to be able to adapt means to ends. However, if the universe and all it contains is not designed, then how would evolution come to be goal-directed? How would it come to be able to adapt means to ends? For example, if all is undesigned, without teleological purpose, then how did the heart come to exist to pump blood to the body? A happy accident? Not to mention all the other functions in every organism on this planet. Multiply all this together and the chances of all these serendipitous events occurring seem improbable to say the least.

Stepping back, what are the chances of the origin of life? Next, of the origin of the first cell? Next, of the origin of the first multicellular organism? Next, of the origin of the first warm-blooded animal? Next, of the origin of intelligence or consciousness? And so on. Each step is not one small step, but a giant leap. A leap as giant as a human being becoming a star-child à la 2001: A Space Odyssey.

And all this is in addition to the chances of finely-turned laws to drive all this, but what are the chances of a law like natural selection in an undesigned universe?

A Tribute To Maurice Grosse

(I'll be citing Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair's Enfield tapes. "MG" will refer to tapes from Grosse's collection, and "GP" will refer to those from Playfair's. MG28A is Grosse's tape 28A, GP11A is Playfair's tape 11A, etc.)

In the mid 1990s, Maurice Grosse appeared on a BBC television program, Video Diaries, to tell his life story. You can watch the program here and here. He discusses his background as an artist, his military service in World War II, meeting his wife, his Judaism, how the premature death of his daughter led to his work on paranormal issues, and his work as an inventor and businessman. But I know him mainly from his work on the Enfield Poltergeist. I want to say more about him from that perspective.

Hugh Pincott, who was Honorary Secretary of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) at the time when Grosse started on the Enfield case, was one of the contributors to Melvyn Willin's recent book on Enfield. Pincott recalls how Grosse became involved in the case and comments on the controversy surrounding his involvement. Grosse was a new member of the SPR and had been asking them to assign him to a case. After the Daily Mirror started going to the Hodgsons' house to report on the poltergeist that was occurring there, one of their reporters contacted the SPR to send somebody out to help the family:

Dehumanizing humans

I suspect one reason some people think like this meme depicts above is because they don't have children. See declining birth rates in the US and other western nations. It's as if a baby is something "other" to them. I guess more like knowledge by description than knowledge by acquaintance. Anyway, to these people it may seem like it's an abstract debate, without significant personal stakes. That is, it's a debate between "a person with rights" vs. "a woman's right to bodily autonomy" as if "rights" is the sole or central concern, while our "humanness" is something incidental or secondary. As if "rights" are conferred by one group of human beings to another group of human beings, so it's ultimately human beings who decide which "rights" are more fundamental. They can't seem to appreciate that we're dealing with human beings who, simply by virtue of being human, have inherent or innate rights.

At best, they might see kids around them. However, they may see kids, but do they truly see kids? I know too many people or couples who "can't stand kids". Who don't wish to be around kids let alone have kids. People who are more career-minded than family-minded. (I'm referring to childless couples by choice, not childless couples who longed for children, but sadly never could have children due to infertility or other reasons.)

At the same time, it's easier to kill someone if the killer doesn't consider their victim a human being. Or considers them a lesser kind of human being. Like when Germans began to see the Jews as rats or vermin (cf. Kafka's Metamorphosis, Spiegelman's Maus). Like masters seeing slaves as their inferiors. Or like considering babies (at the embryonic or fetal stage of life) mere "clumps of cells".

People can de-God God by failing to esteem God as he ought to be esteemed, but people can also de-humanize humans by failing to esteem humans as we ought to be esteemed. Human beings aren't God, of course, but we're not a chunk of randomly assembled molecules in an aqueous solution either.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

"Why Derek Chauvin May Get Off His Murder Charge"

Here are six reasons why Derek Chauvin and the other three police officers involved in George Floyd's death may get off a murder charge:

  1. George Floyd was experiencing cardiopulmonary and psychological distress minutes before he was placed on the ground, let alone had a knee to his neck.
  2. The Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) allows the use of neck restraint on suspects who actively resist arrest, and George Floyd actively resisted arrest on two occasions, including immediately prior to neck restraint being used.
  3. The officers were recorded on their body cams assessing George Floyd as suffering from “excited delirium syndrome” (ExDS), a condition which the MPD considers an extreme threat to both the officers and the suspect. A white paper used by the MPD acknowledges that ExDS suspects may die irrespective of force involved. The officers’ response to this situation was in line with MPD guidelines for ExDS.
  4. Restraining the suspect on his or her abdomen (prone restraint) is a common tactic in ExDS situations, and the white paper used by the MPD instructs the officers to control the suspect until paramedics arrive.
  5. Floyd’s autopsy revealed a potentially lethal concoction of drugs — not just a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl, but also methamphetamine. Together with his history of drug abuse and two serious heart conditions, Floyd’s condition was exceptionally and unusually fragile.
  6. Chauvin’s neck restraint is unlikely to have exerted a dangerous amount of force to Floyd’s neck. Floyd is shown on video able to lift his head and neck, and a robust study on double-knee restraints showed a median force exertion of approximately approximately 105lbs.

Let’s be clear: the actions of Chauvin and the other officers were absolutely wrong. But they were also in line with MPD rules and procedures for the condition which they determined was George Floyd was suffering from. An act that would normally be considered a clear and heinous abuse of force, such as a knee-to-neck restraint on a suspect suffering from pulmonary distress, can be legitimatized if there are overriding concerns not known to bystanders but known to the officers. In the case of George Floyd, the overriding concern was that he was suffering from ExDS, given a number of relevant facts known to the officers. This was not known to the bystanders, who only saw a man with pulmonary distress pinned down with a knee on his neck. While the officers may still be found guilty of manslaughter, the probability of a guilty verdict for the murder charge is low, and the public should be aware of this well in advance of the verdict.

I don't know how reliable these statements are. However, if these statements are true, and Chauvin et al aren't found guilty of murder for one or more of these reasons (though they may be found guilty of manslaughter), then this makes me wonder about something the left often argues. The left often argues it's better for ten guilty persons to go free than it is for one innocent person to be convicted. Will the left argue the same to keep the lynch mobs at bay?

Of course, legally sophisticated leftists may be able to argue against the relevance of Blackstone's ratio in this case, but I'm referring to popular sentiments from the left about Blackstone's ratio. That's primarily because it's typically the sentiments that are used to incite mobs and the like. Yet if leftists incite mobs to protest and even riot (like they already are doing well before a trial has even occurred) if Chauvin et al aren't found guilty of murder, then whatever leftists may think about the theoretical arguments pertaining to Blackstone's ratio, the theoretical evidently doesn't trump the pragmatic.

NB. I myself am not agreeing or disagreeing with Blackstone's ratio. However, in case anyone is interested, Alexander Volokh's piece offers some helpful background information.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Omnipotence isn't what you think it is

I frequent a couple of apologetics groups on Facebook, and in one of them there was a recent discussion on the old atheist’s question, “If God is all powerful, can He make a rock too heavy for Him to lift?”  Now most Christians have been asked this question at some point if they’ve ever talked to atheists, and the majority of apologetically-minded Christians probably learned an answer along the lines of, “When we say God is all powerful, we don’t mean that He can do everything, but that He can do everything that is logically possible to do.  Everyone agrees that God cannot make a square circle, because that would be logically impossible to do.  Asking for an all powerful being to do something that would make Him no longer all powerful is, on the face of it, a logical absurdity.”

There is a problem with this argument.  The problem is not immediately obvious, however. After all, contained in the meaning of “all powerful” is the necessity of certain inabilities, which are in fact required in order to make something “all powerful”.  For example, if something is “all powerful” then that thing is incapable of being defeated.  So if God is all powerful, that means He cannot be defeated, say if I were to play Him in a game of chess.  Note, this doesn’t mean God cannot lose, for it is certainly still possible that God could throw a game and let me win. What I’m saying is that it is impossible for God to want to win and not be able to do so.  Thus, contained in the concept of “all powerful” is the notion that certain things are impossible to do.  God cannot want to win and still lose if He is all powerful.

So the logic checks out in the argument.  Because the concept of “all powerful” contains aspects which necessitate the inability to do certain things, it’s logically absurd to hold that something cannot be “all powerful” if it cannot do those things which are necessarily impossible to do given one is “all powerful.” 

What, then, is the flaw in this response to the atheist?  The flaw comes from the Christian maintaining that the definition of omnipotence is “the ability to do all that is logically possible to do.”

For normal theism, this claim is certainly something that is obtainable.  That’s why the argument has worked in philosophy for centuries.  But for the Christian who holds to the inspiration of Scripture, we cannot agree that it is possible for God to do all that is logically possible to do.   The Bible, in fact, gives us a specific example where this is refuted.  It’s found in a clause in the middle of Hebrews 6:18:

“It is impossible for God to lie.”

That’s correct.  God cannot lie.  The passage does not say God will not lie even though He could.  It says it is impossible for God to lie.  (We can also add in Titus 1:2, which contains the clause “God, who never lies”, but the fact that Hebrews literally uses the word “impossible” makes it all the clearer.)

Now here’s the rub.  Is it logically possible to lie?  Clearly, yes.  Humans lie all the time.  No one can make a square circle, so square circles are logically impossible.  But anyone can say they made a square circle, which would be a lie.  It is therefore obvious that lying is logically possible to do.

Furthermore, we know that God can speak.  He spoke the entire creation into existence, and the Bible records Him speaking directly to many individuals.  So the impossibility of God to lie is not because God cannot form words.

Given all that, we are left with the following:

1) God can do anything that is logically possible (per definition).
2) God can speak.
3) Speaking lies is logically possible.
4) Therefore, God can speak lies.
5) But, Hebrews 6:18 says it is impossible for God to speak lies.

(5) contradicts (4). Since there’s a contradiction, then (at least one of) 1, 2, 3 or 5 must be wrong.  But the only one that seems to be capable of being wrong is the first.

And there is good news for the Christian on that front.  Nowhere in the Bible does it ever say that God is able to do anything that is logically possible to be done.  In fact, if we let the Bible define God’s power, we see it in passages such as these:

Daniel 4:35 –  “…he does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’”

Isaiah 14:27 – “For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?”

Isaiah 43:13 – “Also henceforth I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?”

Job 42:2 – “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”

It’s also implicit in the fact that God created all things and indeed maintains all that exists. Romans 1:20 declares “his eternal power” is seen “in the things that have been made”, and Hebrews 1:3 says “He upholds the universe by the word of his power.”  Indeed, Colossians 1:17 even declares: “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

There are many more passages that could be quoted on that topic, but I think the one that is most succinct for Christians to use is found in Psalm 135:6.  “Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.”  I maintain that for a Christian apologist, this should be the definition of omnipotence that we use.

In fact, I would maintain that using this passage, we can also see why it is impossible for God to lie. God does whatever He pleases.  It does not please God to tell a lie.  It is impossible for Him lying to please Him, and therefore it is impossible for Him to lie.

So would there be any downsides to using this type of argumentation?  Some may think that God’s omnipotence may be cheapened if we don’t assert He is capable of doing anything that is logically possible to do.  As if saying that God can do whatever He wants to do, instead of saying God can do every single logically possible thing, somehow lessens His abilities!  I suppose someone could argue, “So if God wants to do nothing, then Him doing only nothing would make him ‘omnipotent’?  That seems absurd.”  And it would seem absurd until you realized that if God can always do what He wants, then if He wants to do nothing there is absolutely no power strong enough to force Him to do anything.  That means He would need quite a bit of power in order to maintain His ability to do nothing, should He so desire.  None can thwart Him and force Him to do anything if He wants to do nothing!

If God wants to do something, He does it; if He does not, none can make Him do it.  This seems to be a perfectly fine definition of omnipotence.

In fact, not only do I not think this definition lessens God’s omnipotence at all, I think it gives us the ability to argue for omnipotence in the context of a personal God.  If we stick with the language of “anything that is logically possible to do”, then God can be viewed as an impersonal force. But if, instead, we maintain that God does whatever He chooses to do, then we necessarily have a personal being who is interacting with His creation.  If God does whatever He desires, and there are certain things we know He will never desire, then we have confidence that there are certain things that are impossible to occur.  Thus, we can rest in knowing that it is impossible for God to lie, and that impossibility is because of His omnipotence. Nothing can ever force God to lie.

That definition of omnipotence tells me something about the nature and character of God.  And that, in my mind, is required in apologetics even more than simply making a logical argument that could be satisfied by an impersonal Deistic god.

Arguing For Jesus' Self-Perception

Hawk recently started a thread that was partly about how to argue for and from Jesus' self-perception. Did he view himself as God? If so, what are the implications? How should we go about arguing for and from our answers to these questions? And so on.

One of the issues that came up was the validity of arguing for the historicity of Jesus' identity claims based on the general reliability of the documents that report the identity claims. And that is a valid approach and one that's sometimes neglected.

But we can, and sometimes should, appeal to more than the general reliability of the documents. We should be open to using every argument we have, though there's no need to use every argument on every occasion. It often makes sense to be selective, even highly selective (e.g., because of time constraints).

One question to ask, then, is what lines of evidence we have for Jesus' self-perception that meet multiple standards of evidence simultaneously. The more, the better. There's no need for the evidence we cite to meet multiple standards, but it is helpful.

I discussed an example in a post late last year. We have many, often significantly independent, lines of evidence that Jesus viewed himself as the messianic figure of Isaiah 9. And I've argued elsewhere (linked in the article cited above) that the figure in Isaiah 9 is God. The evidence for Jesus' identifying himself as that figure comes from all four gospels, both from Jesus' words and his deeds, in both subtle and explicit forms, with partial corroboration from early non-Christian sources, with partial corroboration from non-conservative modern New Testament scholarship, etc. I've written a lot about Isaiah 9 over the years, and I'll be discussing it further during the upcoming Christmas season. But even if we just take into account what I've already posted, I think there's a strong case that the figure of Isaiah 9 is God and that we have many, highly varied, and highly reliable lines of evidence that Jesus identified himself as that figure.

I encourage people to research the issues surrounding Jesus' self-perception, and develop arguments about the subject, in ways that take the multifaceted nature of the evidence into account. Don't just look at Jesus' words. Look at his deeds as well. Think about the Old Testament backdrop of his life and other relevant contexts. Look at the subtle assumptions and allusions in his other comments, not just his comments you're most focused on. Ask yourself if there are some ways in which the evidence is corroborated by ancient non-Christian sources or modern non-conservative scholars, for example. There will be different degrees of evidence for different conclusions, and you'll have different degrees of confidence accordingly. But it's important to gather a large amount of evidence, even if the levels of probability vary a lot.

Part of what's so significant about approaching the issues in this manner is that the cumulative effect adds to the credibility of the argument. If Jesus perceived himself in a certain way, especially if that self-identification was of a more central nature, there's a better chance accordingly that his identifying himself that way will be reflected in more places and more often. It doesn't follow that we can dismiss a claim about his self-image if there's only one line of evidence for it, it's only reflected in a couple of places, or something like that. For a variety of reasons, even the features of Jesus' alleged self-perception that are less evidenced can be credible (people aren't equally revealing of every aspect of their self-perception; our historical records are so partial; etc.). But there's especially good reason for accepting and arguing on the basis of portions of Jesus' self-perception that are evidenced in the sort of multifaceted manner I'm focused on here.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The one thing I vehemently disagreed with Steve Hays on

Steve thought Randal Rauser was a useful foil to engage with.

I don't.

Christless Calvinism

An interesting take from John Ehrett on Stephen King's oeuvre: "The Dark Theology of Stephen King".

What is systemic racism?

What is systemic racism?

1. One definition is that institutions are racist. There's racial discrimination in housing, healthcare, education, employment, the justice system, politics, and so on. If this definition is the case, then I presume most conservatives would have no problem fighting against it. Show us where there's racial discrimination in this or that policy or law, and we'll fight against racism. For example, take the Asian-American Harvard law suit. It seems arguable there is institutionalized racial discrimination against Asian-Americans at Harvard in terms of their admissions policy (and likely other Ivy League institutions too). Why isn't this getting as much coverage as BLM?

2. Another definition is social inequalities are primarily or solely due to racial discrimination. If this definition is the case, then does that really explain most or all our social inequalities? For instance, is it the case that black students aren't admitted to prestigious institutions primarily or solely because there's racial discrimination against blacks? Is it the case that blacks are incarcerated at higher rates primarily or solely because there's racial discrimination against blacks? What about other factors such as the fact that a majority of blacks come from broken homes (e.g. single mothers, absentee fathers)? What about the fact that there's a culture of black students shaming other black students if they want to focus on academic achievement (and interestingly Asian culture is kind of the opposite where there's shaming of Asians by other Asians if they don't wish to focus on academic achievement)?

3. There's a third definition regarding systemic racism: unconscious or implicit bias. People unconsciously having attitudes or stereotypes toward others based on their race. If this definition is the case, can one fight against implicit bias? How so? Fundamentally speaking I presume it would have to be by changing people's minds or attitudes. And there are various ways to change people's minds or attitudes toward others. Some may be licit, while others illicit (e.g. coercion, brainwashing). Yet the problem is it's usually white people who are expected to change their minds about their attitudes towards black people. Why shouldn't it be the case that blacks need to change their attitudes about whites too? And what about other races/ethnicities? Should Italians seek to change people's minds about their people due to how they're depicted in mafia movies by rioting, demanding mafia shows are canceled, Scorsese to issue a public apology for his movies, and so on? Another issue is it usually takes time to change people's minds, but leftists don't seem very patient. They don't want to play the long game. This makes it more tempting for them to coerce change in people's minds and attitudes if they have the ability to do so. And this in turn threatens to spill over into Orwellian machinations and designs.

4. Of course, these definitions aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, and there may be other definitions. Indeed, a significant problem is leftists often use two or more of these definitions in the very same conversation or debate. Moreover, it seems leftists engage in this behavior because it suits them to move back and forth between one definition or the other (equivocation). Rather than because it's what's factually accurate. The mainstream media is rife with examples.