Monday, December 11, 2017

Why Christ's followers recognized his divinity

One mouth, two sides

French talking out of both sides of his mouth in the span of three weeks:

Do Moore’s defenders not realize the extent to which religious freedom in this nation depends on a host of progressive judges and government officials complying with lawful court orders? For example, the ability to hire and fire pastors according to the dictates of the church and not the federal government was only recently reaffirmed by the Supreme Court. What if some state judge, somewhere, disagrees? If you accept Moore’s behavior on the bench, you must accept that any judge can defy the Supreme Court whenever he sees fit.

The list of political remedies for the worst judicial decisions goes on and on. Statutes and regulations can protect religious liberty and free speech. State constitutions can play a vital role. Protest and activism can render illiberal changes too costly even for hostile lawmakers. Conservatives too often act as if a Supreme Court decision is the end of an argument. In truth, it’s often just the beginning.

Five fingers

Who needs Jesus when we have the pope?


i) One of the disputes between cessationists and charismatics is whether there's such a thing as fallible prophecy. Charismatics cite Agabus (Acts 21:1-14) as an example of fallible prophecy. 

There's a sense in which I think both sides are wrong. I think allegations that Agabus was inaccurate are very wooden, but I'd like to approach the issue from a different angle. In some cases, a prophet can be right even though events didn't turn out as predicted. Is that paradoxical? Not really.

ii) To begin with, some prophecies are conditional. That's common regarding oracles of judgment. A paradigm case is Jer 18:7-11:

7 If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. 9 And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. 11 Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’

In this case, the prediction is not a statement of what will happen without further ado, but what will happen unless sinners repent in response to the fearful warning. 

That in turn goes to a general principle. Some predictions envision a future if the recipient does nothing different. Take a premonition. Suppose I have a premonitory dream. Suppose it has a dire denouement. 

When I wake up, and events begin to repeat themselves, just like I saw in my dream, I take actions to change a key variable, resulting in a different outcome that diverts the stream of causality, with a different end-result. 

Was the premonition false? In one sense, I'll never know, since I deliberately thwarted that trajectory. 

But what if the purpose of the premonition was to forewarn me so that I could take steps to avert that outcome? There were two futures in play: one in which I go with the flow and one in which I divert the flow. Which future is actual and which is counterfactual depends on what I do in response to the premonition. 

BTW, that's consistent with Calvinism and freewill theism alike. This goes to the difference between predestination and fatalism. If I act on the premonition to avoid the future I see in the dream, I'm doing what I was predestined to do. The dream is a stimulus to that end. The premonition, as well as my reaction, was included in God's plan, as a means of advancing the plot to the appointed goal. Although the premonition doesn't contain my reaction to the premonition, that's contained in God's plan, like Russian dolls, where smaller factors are nested in larger factors. 

iii) This, in turn, goes to the distinction between foreknowledge and counterfactual knowledge. If what I see in the dream plays out, then it was foreknowledge. 

But if I heed the premonition by changing a variable in the chain of events leading up to the dire outcome to deflect that outcome, then it was counterfactual knowledge. In a proximate sense, my action determines whether it was foreknowledge or counterfactual knowledge–rather like Schrödinger's cat, although there's another sense in which my action is predetermined by the dream. Having been tipped off, I act differently than if I never had that advance knowledge. 

iv) Returning to the original illustration, because Paul was forearmed by the prophecy of Agabus, he may have handled some situations differently than if he wasn't privy to that foresight. In consequence, even assuming that things didn't unfold in quite the way Agabus envisioned, his prophecy could still be infallible if that was a prediction about an alternate timeline. That's exactly the fate which awaited Paul, if Agabus hadn't shared his vision with Paul. But knowing the prophecy could affect Paul's actions in many subtle ways. He might adjust his plans in ways that had the same general, ultimate outcome, but by a somewhat different route. 

v) However, this only applies to predictions where the recipient has some control over the relevant variables. There are, of course, predictions that are out of our hands, like natural disasters, which we lack the wherewithal to stop. In some cases, a recipient might have the power to redirect the course of events if he only knew all the intervening causes and altered one of them.  

Seers and time-travelers

I've discussed this before, but I'd like to use a different illustration to make the same point. A common objection to the argument from prophecy is that Bible prophecies are said to be too vague. In general, they don't have a name, date, and address. 

But predicting the future poses something of a paradox. It's necessary to strike a balance between to much specificity and too little.

A seer is like a time-traveler who takes a trip into the future, then returns to his own time. He literally meets himself coming and going. 

But he doesn't simply come full circle. He returns with additional information. That's potentially disruptive, because he now knows what he will do before he does it. Yet foreknowledge of his own decisions now threatens to affect the decision-making process. He will make decisions about the future knowing how things turned out. But that advance knowledge is likely to influence his decision-making, resulting in different decisions than if he hadn't witnessed the future. Knowing the future carries the risk of changing the future. 

That's a familiar conundrum in time-travel stories. If you see the future, you act in light of the future you saw, which may in turn change it. Your intrusion replaces the future you initially saw with an alternate future. 

That's why prophecies are, by design, more clearly seen in retrospect. Once fulfilled, it's too late to willfully or inadvertantly frustrate the prediction. 

One safeguard is multiple prophecies. It won't be clear in advance how these synchronize. And so it won't be possible to disrupt the predicted outcome. How they're coordinated can't be discerned ahead of time. But once they converge, the predicted outcome is recognizable, after the fact. 

Catholic fideism

I'm going to begin by quoting from a standard work on Enlightenment skepticism, then comment on the excerpts:

Chillingworth saw that the Catholics were demanding a type of certainty, infallible knowledge, as the basis of religion, and that such certainty was unattainable not only in this area but in any other as well. But, once this had been recognized, the conclusion was not complete doubt on all matters but, rather, an acceptance of a lesser degree of evidence, moral certainty. Our senses may sometimes deceive, our reasoning may sometimes be faulty, our judgments may not be infallible, and we may not be able to find a demonstrative basis for what we know, but, just the same, we have sufficient assurances so that we can utilize the information that we possess to form reasonable and morally certain judgments.The person who wants more certitude than this is a fool. “For, as he is an unreasonable Master, who requires a stronger assent to his Conclusions than his Arguments deserve; so I conceive him a forward and undisciplin’d Scholar, who desires stronger arguments for a conclusion than the Matter will bear.”Once one has recognized that there is no infallible or mathematical certainty to be found regarding scientific or religious matters, then one does not suspend judgment, but, instead, one proceeds to judge problems according to the degree of assurance that can be obtained.

One finds this style of argumentation, in whole or in part, in various writers trained at, or teaching in, the Jesuit colleges, especially those of Clermont and Bordeaux; such writers as St. François de Sales, Cardinal du Perron, Cardinal Bellarmine, and Fathers Gontery and Veron, for example.

As St. François de Sales put the problem,
The absurdity of absurdities, and the most horrible folly of all, is this, that while holding that the entire Church has erred for a thousand years in the understand- ing of the Word of God, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin can assure themselves of understanding it well; even more that a simple parson, preaching as the Word of God, that the whole visible Church has erred, that Calvin and all men can err, dares to pick and choose among the interpretations of Scripture that one that pleases him, and is sure of it and maintains it as the Word of God; still more, that you others who hearing it said that everyone can err in matters of religion, and even the whole Church, without wishing to search for other views among the thousand sects which boast of understanding well the Word of God and preaching it well, believe so stubbornly in a minister who preaches to you, that you do not want to hear anything different. If everybody can err in the understanding of Scripture, why not you and your minister? I am amazed that you do not always go around trembling and shaking. I am amazed that you can live with so much assurance in the doctrine that you follow, as if you could not [all] err, and yet you hold it as certain that everyone has erred and can err.18

This initial version of this style of argumentation was intended to show that as soon as the Reformers had admitted that the Church could err, thus denying the traditional rule of faith, they could then be reduced to sceptical despair.

The core of Veron’s reduction of Calvinism to total scepticism was an attack on the use of rational procedures and evidence to justify any statement of a religious truth. Veron insisted that he was not claiming that our rational faculties or achievements were doubtful but only that they ought not to serve as the foundation or support of the faith, which is based on “the Word of God alone set forth by the Church.”20

The argument begins by asking the Calvinists, “How do you know, gentlemen, that the books of the Old and New Testament are Holy Scripture?”21 The question of canonicity raises a peculiar difficulty. If the Calvinists hold that Scripture is the rule of faith, then how are we to judge which work is Scripture?

But, even if one could tell which book is Scripture, how could one tell what it says, and what we are supposed to believe? The text, as one of the later Catholic users of Veron’s Victorieuse Méthode said, is just “waxen-naturd words not yet senc’t nor having any certain Interpreter, but fit to be plaid upon diversly by quirks of wit.”23 And so, since the sacred writings are only words, with no instructions for reading them, one needs some rule for interpreting them.

If the Calvinists say, in their own defense, that they are reading Scripture reasonably and drawing the obvious logical inferences from what it says, then they are obviously targets for “the machine of war.” First of all, any alleged reading is uncertain and may be mistaken, unless there is an infallible rule for interpretation. To go beyond the words to draw inferences, as Veron claimed the Calvinists had done in deriving all their articles of faith, is definitely an unscriptural procedure. The Bible does not itself say that it is to be interpreted in this fashion, nor does it give any rules of logic. Nowhere have we any warrant for the assertion that truths of religion are to be based on logical procedures.24 The Reformers cried out that reasoning is a natural capacity given to man and, also, that Jesus as well as the Church Fathers reasoned logically.25 Veron replied that the rules of logic were set down by a pagan, Aristotle, and nobody appointed him judge of religious truth, though he may be the arbiter of valid argumentation. Neither Jesus nor the Church Fathers claimed their views were true because they were derived by logical procedures, but rather they called them true because they were the Word of God.26 

The core of Veron’s case against arriving at religious truth by reasoning from the text of Scripture was summarized into what he called his eight Moyens: (1) Scripture does not contain any of the conclusions reached by the inferences of the Reformers. (2) These inferences are never drawn in Scripture. (3) By drawing inferences, one makes reason, rather than Scripture the judge of religious truths. (4) Our reason can err. (5) Scripture does not teach us that conclusions arrived at by logical procedures are articles of faith. (6) The conclusions reached by the Reformers were unknown to the Church Fathers. (7) The conclusions are, at best, only probable, and are built upon bad philosophy or sophistry. (8) Even a necessarily true conclusion drawn from Scripture is not an article of faith32 (because “nothing is an article of faith which is not revealed by God”).33 

Veron answered by accusing Daillé of having missed the point of the method and of having become Daillé, “Minister of Charenton, new Pyrrhonian, and indifferent in religion.”41 The problem of the application of reason to specific questions does not entail the universal scepticism that Daillé made of it, and Daillé “has fought against his shadow.”42 The issues that Veron had raised were twofold. First of all, since the Calvinists had insisted that the Church erred in reading Scripture, and that all men are fallible, how then could they be sure they had not erred in their own particular interpretations of Scripture? This sort of problem does not extend to scientific and mathematical reasoning, Veron said, because there the principles and inferences “are evident and certain.”43 But to contend that the same is true in regard to the Protestant reading of Scripture: “Is not this to be reduced to desperation? What! So many holy Fathers have not possessed common sense, nor any of our predecessors? and the minister alone and his cobbler will have? and will be sure of it? etc. and on this assurance and folly he will risk his damnation?”44 In this case, it appears the height of presumption and audacity to pretend that only the Protestants, in the last hundred years, have been en bons sens and have interpreted the Bible correctly, while the entire Catholic tradition has been wrong. And so, Veron continued, the same sort of basis for doubt about Scriptural interpretation does not lead to a more general doubt about all our knowledge. 

But then the second issue arises again. The fact that our reasonings may be “evidents & certains” in some matters, does not mean that what is evident and certain is an article of faith. “This ignoramus [Daillé] confuses not being an article of faith with being dubious knowledge.”45 Lots of things, scientific knowledge, evidences of the Christian religion, and so on, are not doubtful, according to Veron, but, at the same time, they also are not articles of faith and will not be such unless revealed by God.46

Since Veron refused to admit that his knowledge of the true religious propositions was based on any evidence, interpretation of documents, or experiences but was contained only in the revealed word of God, he could observe that Daillé’s ways of arguing “would introduce the sect of the Pyrrhonians, and indifference in religion.”48

Veron brushed aside this defense of rationality by saying, “Who doubts it? but none of this suffices to establish an article of faith, for none of this is the Word of God, and to believe is nothing but to hold something as true because God has said it.”51 The defense of reason is not the point at issue, but only whether an article of faith can be established by reason. People like Ferry, in glorifying our rational abilities, come close to adopting what Bayle called the Socinian heresy, that reason is the rule of faith.52 For Veron, reason may be perfectly sound and unquestionable, but this does not overcome a scepticism with regard to its use in establishing the articles of faith. Even theological reasoning, which Veron admitted could be “necessary and certain,” does not make its conclusions religious truths, unless they have also been revealed by God.53

The Protestants, however, saw that the same sceptical approach could be used on its inventor, with the same effective results. The “new machine of war” appeared to have a peculiar recoil mechanism that had the odd effect of engulfing the target and the gunner in a common catastrophe. If the Reformers could not determine infallibly true articles of faith from the text of Scripture by rational means, neither could the Catholics discover any religious truths, since they would be confronted with the same difficulties with regard to ascertaining the meaning and truth of what popes, councils, and Church Fathers had said. As far as the Reformers could see, Veron had developed a complete scepticism to defeat them but was just as defeated as they were by this argument.55

The Catholics could not be harmed by the sceptical bombardment issuing from their own guns, since they had no position to defend. Their view was grounded in no rational or factual claim but in an accepted, and unquestioned, faith in the Catholic tradition. They saw, as Maldonado had suggested, that if they once doubted this faith by traditional acceptance, they, too, would be pulled down into the same quicksand in which they were trying to sink the Reformers.58 And so one finds an implicit fideism in many of the French Counter-Reformers that can be, and probably was, best justified by the explicit fideism of the nouveaux pyrrhoniens. 

Many of the other Counter-Reformers offer no rational defense of their position, but a fideistic view is suggested by those theologians and philosophers they admire. The Cardinal du Perron, perhaps the greatest of the French Counter-Reformers,61 and himself a convert to Catholicism, spent practically no time in his controversial writings presenting evidence for his cause but devoted himself primarily to pointing out the inadequacy of the Calvinist theory of religious knowledge. The cardinal, however, was a friend of Montaigne’s adopted daughter, Marie de Gournay, and a great admirer of the fideistic writings of Montaigne’s adopted son, Pierre Charron.62 A story about du Perron indicates his evaluation of the merits of human reason in theological matters. He was once invited to dinner by Henri III and, at the table, presented a discourse against atheism, offering proofs of the existence of God. When the king expressed his pleasure at this and praised du Perron, he answered, “Sire, today I have proved by strong and evident reasons that there is a God. Tomorrow, if it pleases Your Majesty to grant me another audience, I will show you and prove by as strong and evident reasons that there is no God at all.” R. Popkin, The History of Scepticism (Oxford 2003), chap. 4.

The Historicity Of The Two Years Of Matthew 2:16

Bernard Robinson makes a good point about Matthew 2:16:

"Are we to suppose that the journey took the magi two years; or that their departure was delayed? George M. Soares Prabhu…argues that the reference to the two years suggests 'a reminiscence of some actual event (it is hard to explain it otherwise)'" (in Jeremy Corley, ed., New Perspectives On The Nativity [New York, New York: T&T Clark, 2009], n. 44 on 123)

The magi's journey should have taken much less than two years, and Matthew probably knew that. The reference to two years is unnecessary, incidental, unusual, and distracting. It's best explained by historicity.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The tortoise and the hare

The race is not to the swift, Nor the battle to the strong, Nor bread to the wise, Nor riches to men of understanding, Nor favor to men of skill; But time and chance happen to them all (Eccl 9:11).

20Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe…27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence (1 Cor 1:21,27-29).

Some brilliant men who were raised in evangelical churches become apostates. Some become secular philosophers or secular scientists. Some redeploy their talents to attack the faith in which they were raised. In a sense, their apostasy is a loss to the Christian faith. Why doesn't God preserve them?

One reason is to demonstrate that salvation isn't based on natural aptitude. High IQ is not a ticket to heaven. Salvation is by grace alone. God doesn't favor intellectuals. It shouldn't unsettle us that many of the best in the brightest in every generation, including some who grew up in Gospel-affirming churches, disdain the Christian faith. For that is by divine design. In the economy of salvation, the tortoise often overtakes the hare. 

Reverse Freudianism

Ironic thing about this Freudian trope is that refusing to take Christianity seriously for fear of incurring the disapproval of one's peers is in itself treating one's peer-group as a father-figure. 

The main bar to faith was rather the Freudian idea that religious faith is a wish fulfillment–more specifically, an attempt to cling to childish modes of relating to the world, with the omnipotent daddy there presiding over everything. A powerful case can be made for the view, which is not necessarily tied to the complete Freudian package, that the most important psychological root of religious belief is the need that everyone has for such a childish relationship with a father figure. Be that as it may, I had been psyched into feeling that I was chickening out, was betraying my adult status, if I sought God in Christ, or sought to relate myself to an ultimate source and disposer of things in any way whatever. The crucial moment in my return to the faith came quite early in that year’s leave, before I had reexposed myself to the church or the Bible, or even thought seriously about the possibility of becoming a Christian. I was walking one afternoon in the country outside Oxford, wrestling with the problem, when I suddenly said to myself, "Why should I allow myself to be cribbed, cabined, and confined by these Freudian ghosts? Why should I be so afraid of not being adult? What am I trying to prove? Whom am I trying to impress?

Whose approval am I trying to secure? What is more important: to struggle to conform my life to the tenets of some highly speculative system of psychology or to recognize and come to terms with my own real needs? Why should I hold back from opening myself to a transcendent dimension of reality, if such there be, just from fear of being branded as childish in some quarters?" (Or words to that effect.) These questions answered themselves as soon as they were squarely posed. I had, by the grace of God, finally found the courage to look the specter in the face and tell him to go away. I had been given the courage to face the human situation, with its radical need for a proper relation to the source of all being. William P. Alston, "A Philosophers Way Back to the Faith." God and the Philosophers: The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason, ed. T.V. Morris (New York: Oxford, 1994).

"Our national dialogue on race"

There's a poisonous quality to "our national dialogue on race". On the one hand, whites are vilified. White guilt, white privilege, check your privilege, systemic/institutional racism. Implicit racism.

Predictably, that puts whites on the defense. So they respond by pointing to black-on-black crime, high rates of black criminality among young black men. That puts blacks on the defensive. 

Each side resents how the other side frames the issue. It's a vicious cycle. The way to break the cycle is to avoid stereotyping people by race, which ends up putting everybody on the defensive, causing endless, gratuitous acrimony. 

The last thing SJWs want is racial harmony. They need to constantly stoke the fires of division to get political capital out of the resultant polarization. 

Stats or individuals?

One of the paradoxes of identity politics is that it backfires. Identity politics treats people as statistics rather than individuals. It consigns you to a larger class. You have the aggregate characteristics of the class to which you're assigned. 

But consider what that means if applied consistently. The crime stats for young black men are hugely out of proportion to their percentage in relation to other ethnic groups. By the logic of identity politics, the first association I should make when I seen a teen or twenty-something black male is violent criminality. Yet that would be the definition of prejudice. That would be grossly unfair and harmful to hard-working, law-abiding black males. 

According to identity politics, we should treat young black men as statistics rather than individuals. Yet that means the frame of reference will be the crime stats. But why should responsible young black men be saddled with that invidious and adventitious association? 

I've lived in different parts of the country. I often see young black men working at supermarkets and fast-food joints. It takes a sense of duty and dedication to work a job with low pay, low prestige, lousy hours. That's very admirable. 

I judge blacks as individuals, on a case-by-case basis, the same way I judge whites, Asians, Latinos, &c. I have no opinion about blacks in general, any more than I have an opinion about whites in general. When we meet a stranger, it's best not to make assumptions one way or the other, but to make a preliminary judgement based on the evidence right before our eyes, rather than a narrative. 

Saturday, December 09, 2017

God's crystal ball

In my personal encounters, freewill theists are so conditioned to the notion that Calvinism is deterministic while freewill theism is the antithesis of determinism that they're incredulous when I point out that freewill theism is deterministic too, just in a different way. 

Say the God of freewill theism gazes into his crystal ball. He seems the future. To be precise, he sees what will happen if he creates the hypothetical world, as shown in the crystal ball. 

Now, there's a philosophical argument that foreknowledge alone makes the future unalterable. I think that's correct. But that's not my argument here.

The point, rather, is that if God goes ahead and makes the world he sees in his crystal ball, then at that stage it's too late in the game for the future to be other that what he saw in his crystal ball. Once he creates the initial conditions which eventuate in that foreseen outcome, the outcome is fixed. 

To take a comparison, suppose I'm scheduled to drive a friend to the airport tomorrow. That night I have a dream. I dream that I drove my friend to the airport. Along the way, I see an accident at a landmark. I'm unable to find parking space on the first two floors of the garage. The first opening I find is on the third floor, C137, between a yellow Karmann Ghia and a red Alpha Romeo. As we approach the terminal, I see airport security speaking to an agitated man. As we walk through the concourse, I see a beautiful woman stride past me. 

I accompany my friend to the gate. After he boards the plane, I catch up on some email and text messages before leaving. I glance up and see the plane explode in midair, killing all aboard. 

Then I wake up. I pick up my friend at his house and commence our ride to the airport. But everything begins to repeat itself, just like the dream.

Suppose I have libertarian freewill. This story has two possible endings. On the one hand, I might choose to do nothing different than what I did in the dream. Although I find the resemblance to the dream spooky, I chalk it up to coincidence. It was just a dream. As a result, my friend dies in the conflagration.

On the other hand, when we arrive at the gate, after everything up to that point happened just like I saw in my dream, I tell my friend about my dream and warn him not to board the plane. He shrugs it off. So I tear his boarding pass into pieces, causing him to miss his flight. 

My friend is furious and yells at me. Airport security intervenes. At that moment the plane explodes just after takeoff. The security guards leave, having more urgent matter to attend to than our little fracas. My friend is dumbfounded. 

Now, up to a critical point, I could "change" the future. It could still go either way. If, however, my friend boards the plane and the plane takes off, then it's too late for me to change the outcome. I can't save him. He crossed a line of no return. My failure to intervene before that juncture renders the foreseen future unalterable thereafter. 

The heavenly chorus

A popular parody of heaven is where the saints spend eternity on a pink cloud singing choruses to harp accompaniment. That's largely based on a literal reading of Revelation. That image of the afterlife is a turnoff for many men. Sounds like it would become very monotonous very soon. 

And I agree that that's a highly inadequate concept of the afterlife for God's people. That said, I'd like to say something in defense of that concept. 

As Advent comes back around each year, I listen to my favorite numbers from Handel's Messiah. I've heard the Messiah all my life. And I've sung the Messiah.

At this point in life, listening to the Messiah is a bittersweet experience. Not as joyful as it used to be. I'm ambivalent.

When I sang the Messiah my father sat next to me. His baritone to my bass. And my mother was ahead of us, in the soprano section, I think. She had the range to either either alto or soprano, but the soprano line is more musically satisfying.

So nowadays, when I hear the Messiah, it takes me back in time to my parents. Reminds me of when the three of us used to sing it together in the choir. 

But by the same token, it reminds me that I can't do that anymore. They're gone. For the rest of my life, I'll never be able to sing the Messiah with my father beside me and my mother ahead of me.

I also remember attending a service one time with my late grandmother. At that age, her voice was very quavery. I believe her favorite song was "Let us break bread together on our knees," although, at her funeral, she had "Work, for the night is coming" sung.

But she passed away about 40 years ago. I also think of another close relative, long gone, with whom I used to attend church. She, too, had a fine soprano voice.

So, although, from my sublunary vantage-point, I don't savor the prospect of spending eternity singing nonstop choruses, and I'm glad that Scripture depicts a more varied afterlife, I do look forward to the day, in the world to come, when, once again, I can sing with some of my dearly departed. 

Thomas Aquinas was the Problem; the Reformation was the Solution

“Where was your Church before Aquinas”

Ever since the Reformation, Roman Catholics have been fond of asking, “Where was your Church before the Reformation”. Protestants have a good reply to that: “Where was your Church before Aquinas”.

Peter Lombard (in his “Sentences”) summarized church teaching up to that point (approximately 1150). Aquinas later opposed Lombard on one key point (“justification extra nos”, or the external righteousness of Christ), and Luther took up Lombard’s side:

In book 1, Distinction 17 of his famed Sentences, Lombard, discussing religious justification, asked: “Is the love by which we are saved a created habit in our soul, or is it the very person of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us?” Is that which heals and saves a person part of his own nature, something he himself has developed as his own possession [inherent righteousness], or is it the indwelling spirit of God, a divine power in him but not of him [alien righteousness]?

Lombard opted for the latter solution, maintaining that the love by which people love God and their fellow man so as to merit salvation [“merit” being a whole ’nother story] was the spirit of God working internally, without their aid or volition. Man is saved by an uncreated, not a created habit, by uncreated, not created, love, by the holy spirit within, not by an acquired talent he can call his very own. When the young Luther wrote hs commentary on the Sentences in 1509/10, he strongly agreed, against the majority of scholastics, with this interpretation by Lombard.

Thomas Aquinas opposed Lombard in this issue, arguing that saving charity [“charity” being “love” in the Roman Catholic schema] must be a voluntary act arising from a disposition man could call his own.

Roman Catholics claim that Martin Luther was the innovator, but in reality, Thomas Aquinas was a far more extensive innovator than Luther ever was. The problem was, “The Church of Rome” liked what Aquinas had to say, and they canonized it.

The Reformers sought to roll back many of the changes that Aquinas put into place. And in doing so, they relied on earlier traditions than did Aquinas.

It was Aquinas who not only introduced Aristotle to the Roman church, but he wrapped Aristotelian philosophy around Christian doctrine and handed it to “the Church” as a complete package. One that supported the Roman Church’s view of its own authority and necessity.

Two Messiahs?

Friday, December 08, 2017

Ear to the ground

I heard the first two minutes of an interview with Peter Hitchens. 

I stopped listening because Eric Metaxas is so obnoxious. There are two kinds of interviewers: those who showcase the guest and those who showcase themselves. 

Anyway, Hitchens said he spends lots of time in London because:

It's the capital city, I'm a national newspaper journalist. If I don't work in the capital I lose touch with events very quickly. You can pick up gossip and rumor and feelings about things... 

The reason I mention this is that critics of Bible history generally and the Gospels in particular constantly impugn the historicity of Scripture as if they know what really happened. Yet as Hitchens noted, there's a lot of information you can only pick up on site. You must be at that time and place or speak to people from that time and place, to fill in the gaps. 

Even though Hitchens lives in the age of the Internet, where there's such an abundance of real-time information his fingertips, that's still not enough to keep on top of national events. He must be at the epicenter of the events he covers to have the behind-the-scenes viewpoint that provides a connecting thread. 

Imagine how much less critics writing 2000+ years after the fact are in a position to correct the Bible. There's so much information that was never written down. Even if we had more surviving writings from that time and place, there's so much they'd leave out. So much linking material. So much contextual background information. Bible history gives us a synopsis. Many events are inexplicable in isolation. 


Artificial planets

David Hume famously defined a miracle as “a violation of the laws of nature.”... Richard Swinburne (1970) has suggested that a miracle might be defined as a non-repeatable counter-instance to a law of nature. If a putative law has broad scope, great explanatory power, and appealing simplicity, it may be more reasonable, Swinburne argues, to retain the law (defined as a regularity that virtually invariably holds) and to accept that the event in question is a non-repeatable counter-instance of that law than to throw out the law and create a vastly more complex law that accommodates the event.

What these definitions share in common is the principle that a miracle is a relational concept. A miracle stands in contrast to regular, law-like phenomena. That's what makes a miracle miraculous rather than natural. Put another way, something can only be extraordinary in comparison to what is ordinary. That's the gist of the idea.

Let's put that to the test. Among the furniture of science fiction are artificial planets. If you were living on an artificial planet, how could you detect its artificiality? Or could you?

That depends. In some cases it might be clearly unnatural in one or more respects. But in other cases, the difference might be subtle or perhaps indistinguishable. 

Suppose a planet had climate control. It rains once a day between 2-4 AM. That's ideal because it keeps everything well-watered and lush, yet it doesn't interfere with human activity. It's always sunny and dry in the daytime. 

The rainfall would be utterly regular, as if it was scheduled to rain between 2-4 AM once a day. As if there was a timer. 

Suppose there's nothing manifestly artificial about the climate control. There's no machinery that produces that phenomena. To all appearances, the planet has a natural water cycle. The nightly rainfall violates no physical laws. 

Ironically, what's suspiciously unnatural about the rainfall is the mechanical regularity of the rainfall. The very thing that defines what is not miraculous, on the conventional definition I'm using, is the same thing that in this case points to the fact that the planet must have been engineered. Not only is the  pattern repeatable, but exactly repeatable. Yet there's no tangible explanation beyond its convenience for the inhabitants. 

Setting traps

Democrats have temporarily discovered that sexual harassment is intolerable. They are cleaning house to regain the appearance of moral high ground against the GOP. Put another way, the ouster of some Democrats lays a trap for Republicans. If Democrats oust their harassers, while Republicans protect their harrassers, the comparison is invidious. 

However, Democrats might be setting a trap for themselves. Suppose Republicans call their bluff? Assuming that Moore wins, suppose–barely after he's sworn in–McConnell begins proceedings to have him kicked out. I believe it takes a supermajority to expel a sitting Senator. That would require a bipartisan coalition.

Democrats would be better off with Moore in the Senate. They could use him in attack ads. But if McConnell forces a vote, that puts them in a dilemma of their own making. They can't simultaneously accuse the GOP of refusing to clean house if they refuse to cooperate with the GOP when it endeavors to do so. 

Plaster saints

Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit, and lost without deserving. 
Reputation, reputation, reputation! Oh, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. 

In contrast to Roy Moore, Bush 43 didn't run on a squeaky clean image. As I recall, Bush 43 had a frat boy reputation prior to his marriage and conversion. In addition, his behavior was quite normal for an irreligious male. Ironically, the bad boy image, followed by conversion, left him fairly invulnerable to the line of attack that Moore is experiencing. No informed voter would be shocked or scandalized if a reporter discovered some "youthful indiscretions" in Bush 43's closet. His reputation, which preceded his candidacy, preemptively neutralized that angle. Plaster saints have more to lose. 

Moore's the pity

On the one hand, we can’t know for certain that Moore’s denials are themselves lies. It is not impossible given his subsequent behavior for decades that he is telling the truth. On the other hand, if he is lying, this doesn’t mean that he hasn’t repented at all. He appears to have been a sexually faithful, gentle, and thoughtful husband for years. He considers the behavior of which he is accused to be very wrong, which, if he committed the behavior decades ago, shows some change of mind. If he committed the behavior, should he tell the truth about it, whatever the cost to his reputation? Yes, certainly. At the same time, one could readily understand his human weakness at this point (if he is lying): Having already confessed his sins to God decades ago and considering himself a changed man ever since, he would not want to be subjected to national disgrace, viewed by others as the monster whom he no longer considers himself to be, and possibly put in peril of civil litigation. 
If he is lying, which for me can’t be known beyond a reasonable doubt (based on current evidence and not ruling out future allegations), in a context where he has exhibited a changed life in his sexual behavior for decades, how much weight should be given to the lying? Should it dominate all other considerations even though the politician that has never lied to his or her constituency is at best a rare species and at worse a cultural figment of our imagination (with apologies to George Washington)?

I posted part 1 of Gagnon's response to Carter. I thought he made a number of good observations. However, here's where his argument goes astray:

i) I'm struck by Christian pundits who fail to distinguish between defending the cause and defending the candidate. Fact is, Christians should always maintain some distance in relation to politicians. It's a mistake to become so personally invested in a candidate that you become a character witness. If you chain yourself to a candidate, then he takes you down with him if it turns out that he was a scoundrel. 

Some Christians need to practice more detachment. Politicians are temporary expedients. Just a means to an end. A better way to frame the issue is that tens of millions of innocent men, women, and children will be harmed if the secular progressives retake control. At the moment, Moore is a useful pawn. If he's a scoundrel, we should sacrifice the pawn after outliving its usefulness. That's poetic justice. If he's a scoundrel, it serves him right to dump him once he served his purpose. The cause is bigger than individuals who facilitate the cause. And scoundrels don't deserve our loyalty. 

I'm not saying for a fact that Moore's a scoundrel. I'm saying the case to vote for him doesn't depend on vouching for his sterling character. 

ii) There are limits to this. If after the nomination but before the election, it was discovered that he was a serial killer, then that would be a bridge to far. Vastly so.

By the same token, suppose there were credible rumors, not that he as hitting on teenage girls, but teenage boys. I'd say that crosses a line. 

iii) The bar for assessing candidates isn't certainties but probabilities. To say "it's not impossible that he's telling the truth" is a ridiculous standard of evidence. It's important that we not subvert basic standards of evidence. 

iv) To say "He considers the behavior of which he is accused to be very wrong, which, if he committed the behavior decades ago, shows some change of mind" is gullible What Gagnon evidently means is that Moore says he considers the behavior of which he's accused to be very wrong. Bu that doesn't show some change of mind. If guilty, we'd expect a candidate to say that. What's the alternative? To say, during the campaign, that he doesn't think such behavior is very wrong? 

If he's a scoundrel, that's part of the pose. I'm not saying for a fact that he's guilty of all or any of the more sensational charges. I'm just struck by Gagnon's credulity on this point. Moore is running for high office. That's what you'd expect him to say to preserve his political viability. He's committed to a certain script in order to win. If he didn't think it was wrong, and he did it, you'd expect him to say behavior like that is very wrong, then indignantly deny the allegations. That's entirely consistent with the modus operandi of an amorally ambitious man. 

v) Yes, it's psychologically understandable that he'd lie about his past conduct, if he did it. That, however, is inconsistent with true contrition. Assuming he did it, if he was truly penitent, he wouldn't run for high office in the first place, and if he was caught, he'd drop out. 

vi) I agree that telling a lie doesn't ipso facto disqualify a candidate. But that's very abstract. Depends on what you're lying about. If he's defaming people who have a genuine grievance to preserve a bogus reputation, then that's inexcusable. 

That said, there are many considerations that should go into voting. But since Gagnon is focussed on the character issue, I object to all the special pleading.  

"Cruciform accommodation"

“The Principle of Cruciform Accommodation” (chs. 13–14) states that, just as Jesus lowered himself to the point of appearing guilty and reflecting the ugliness of sin on the cross, God at times accommodated his self-revelation to Israel’s sinful, culturally conditioned capacities and expectations.

An obvious problem with Boyd's comparison is that Jesus doesn't appear to be guilty in the NT. He doesn't appear to be guilty from the viewpoint of the Gospel narrators–or the other NT writers. 

He doesn't appear to be guilty from the viewpoint of gentiles like Pilate and the Centurion. 

He doesn't appear to be guilty from the viewpoint of Jews like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. 

There's even a sense in which he doesn't appear to be guilty from the viewpoint of his detractors, since they oppose him in spite of miraculous evidence that he's a divinely accredited messenger. 

From just about every viewpoint in the NT, whether the writers or figures within the narratives, he appears to be innocent and righteous. 

Moreover, he consistently presents himself as innocent and righteous. 

"Beginner-level mistakes"

Responding to Craig's "Does God Have both Necessary and Contingent Properties?", Mark Jones, on Facebook, exclaimed: "Wow, does he even do theology? Like those are beginner-level mistakes."

Here's what Craig said:

Basically, what your question asks is whether God can have some of His properties necessarily and some of them contingently.  It seems to me that He can and does.  Those who deny this would typically appeal to the doctrine of divine simplicity, which in its strongest form asserts the identity of God with His properties. But so strong a version of the doctrine has no biblical basis, is unintelligible, and has no compelling arguments in its favor. Given that God is not in this radical sense a simple being, he can have a plurality of properties, some of which He has necessarily and some contingently.

For example, God is essentially existent, omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, good, and so on, and so has such properties in every possible world. But God has only contingently the properties of being the Creator of the universe, knowing what time it now is, being incarnate in Jesus Christ, being my Redeemer, and so on, since He has these properties only in possible worlds in which He wills to create a universe, which is the free and contingent choice of His will. Jews as well as Christians will recognize that God may have both sorts of properties. 

According to Jones, Craig committed "beginner-level mistakes". Jones didn't bother to explain or correct Craig's alleged mistakes. He treats that as self-evident. Let's compare Craig's objection to this statement:

But it is very difficult to understand how a simple being could be free in the unconditional 'could have done otherwise' sense. If God is simple, then he is pure act in which case he is devoid of unrealized powers, potentialities or possibilities.  To act freely, however is to act in such a way that one (unconditionally) could have done otherwise, which implies unrealized possibilities. 

Vallicella is raising the same basic objection as Craig. Does Jones think Vallicella is making beginner-level mistakes? Vallicella authored the entry on divine simplicity for the prestigious Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 

And here's yet another example:

But if His essence is identical with what he does, then He would become a different being as He did different things…It seems that there are all sorts of contingent truths about God. If he created freely, then He might not have done so, and that God is a creator is a contingent truth….But if God's power and His knowledge are identical to the eternal act of being which is his nature, how could He do and know other than He does and know without being other than God?

"There are possible worlds in which God wills not to create…" But it is very difficult to see how God in the actual world could be the same being as God in some other possible world, if (1) God in the actual world is identical to His eternal and immutable act in this world, (2) God in a different possible world is identical to His act in that world, and (3) God's act in the actual world is not identical to His act in the other possible world."

A second possibility is to deny contingency in God…Given God's nature He could not do other than He does. There is no contingency in God, so there are no other possible worlds, whatever we may be able to imagine." Kathrin Rogers, Perfect Being Theology (Edinburgh U, 2000), 32,34.

Once again, that's the same basic argument as Craig. Does Jones think Rogers is making beginner-level mistakes? 

Ironically, her proposal to relieve the tension preserves simplicity by ditching impassibility:

Any systematic philosophy of God which incorporates free choice on the part of creatures would have to hold that God is somehow affected by and responsive to something outside Himself (37-38). 

So she resolves the dilemma by sacrificing one fixture of classical theism (impassibility) to salvage another fixture of classical theism (simplicity). Given a choice between simplicity and impassibility, she opts for simplicity. Given those alternatives, I'd opt for impassibility. 

Pruss on God's simplicity

Some modern-day Calvinists are touting Thomistic simplicity. I'd like to partially interact with a sophisticated defense of divine simplicity:

The Fourth Lateran Council teaches that God is a “substantia seu natura simplex omnino”—an “altogether simple substance or nature”—and the First Vatican Council reiterated the teaching. 

So faithful Catholics have to defend divine simplicity. Good thing Protestants aren't saddled with that precommitment.  

The doctrine of divine simplicity had better not say that mercy and justice, in general, are one and the same property. For that would make meaningless a claim that a friend of ours had exhibited more mercy than justice in some situation.  

i) I agree. However, it's hard to see how Pruss's denial in this regard differentiates his position from critics of simplicity like Frame, Craig, Plantinga, and Feinberg. Although he's defending simplicity, what he says here is consistent with what critics say.

ii) His position seems to be different from how simplicity is typically formulated by exponents. From what I've read, it's, in part, an inference. They infer that if God is identical with his attributes, then his attributes are mutually identical. The inference seems to be that if B is identical with A, and C is identical with A, then B is identical with C. 

Pruss is at liberty to dissent from that inference or formulation and strike out on his own, but in that respect he appears to be defending simplicity by taking issue with how that's typically expounded.  

Rather, the claim is that God’s mercy and God’s justice are the same ontologically. What makes it be true that Socrates is just? Surely it is something about Socrates, something that we might reasonably denote by “Socrates’ justice”, id est “that in virtue of which Socrates is just”. Socrates’ justice is not the same as Plato’s justice, because if they were the same, then the same thing would make it be true that Socrates is just as would make it be true that Plato is just. But if that were so, then it would follow that, necessarily, if Socrates is just, then that in virtue of which Plato is just exists, and hence Plato is just. 

The claim that God’s being merciful and God’s being just are identical is, I take it, the claim that the ontological basis of God’s being merciful is identical with the ontological basis of God’s being just. Or, in the above terminology, it is simply the claim that God’s justice is identical with God’s mercy. This does not entail that Cato’s justice is identical with Mother Teresa’s mercy, or even that Mother Teresa’s justice is identical with Mother Teresa’s mercy.

i) That's a coherent distinction. However, critics of simplicity could draw the same distinction. So I don't see how his distinction differentiates his position from those who deny simplicity. His explanation appears to be equally consonant with denying simplicity. 

ii) In fact, I don't see how his distinction is even related to the claim that "there is no ontological composition in God of any sort, whether of matter and form, or of essence and accident, or of this attribute and that attribute considered as ontologically distinct."

Even if his distinction is consistent with divine simplicity, how is that relevant to the question at hand? After all, his own analogy involves comparing attribute-agreement in and between composite beings: Plato and Socrates, Cato and Mother Teresa. How does his distinction demarcate an incomposite God from a composite God like Zeus? Couldn't a Greek polytheist say Zeus's justice is not the same as Cato's justice? 

If Curley freely chooses to take the bribe, then there is some time at which it was causally possible that he not take the bribe if offered it. Moreover, there is a time after which this is no longer causally possible—the choice has been made. Let t be the earliest time with the property that after t it is no longer causally possible that Curley take the bribe.  There is such a time. Before this time, Curley’s rejection of the bribe is causally open and after this time it is causally closed. Moreover, I will assume that this time t is associated with Curley’s decision to take the bribe. The decision happens at t. This is an assumption that might not hold, for it might be that at t Curley made some earlier libertarian-free decision, for example a decision to do whatever it takes to get ahead financially, which causally necessitated that he eventually make a causally determined decision to take the bribe.  In that case, the bribe-taking arguably inherits its freedom from the freedom of that earlier decision. But if we are to avoid a vicious regress, we will come to some decision with the property that the decision is made precisely at a time t such that after that time some deed is causally determined as far as Curley is concerned and before it it was not. This might not in fact be the decision to accept the bribe, but for simplicity I will assume it is.

Thus, at t there was a branching. Before t it was possible for Curley still to reject the bribe and after t this was no longer possible. There are now two models of free will. On the first model, one accepted by Nuel Belnap among others, at t the branching has not yet happened: it is still causally possible for Curley to reject the bribe.  It is only at t+d (for any d>0) that this is no longer possible. The time t is the last time at which matters are still open. On the second model, at t the branching has already happened: t is the first time at which matters are no longer open. I could give the argument for both cases, but that would make this talk unduly long. Instead, I will assume the first version to be correct, and for the purposes of making the talk self contained, I will say that for aught that we know, the first version is correct, and that should be all I need for my conclusions.  Anyway, similar arguments apply in the second case, but are more complicated.

Thus, at t Curley is deciding, but it is not yet true that he has decided. Let S be Curley’s state at t, i.e., the conjunction of all of Curley’s purely intrinsic properties at t (or, if we wish, the conjunction of all purely intrinsic properties occurrent up to and including time t). This state S occurs both in the actual world where Curley takes the bribe and in a possible world where he refuses it—I will call such a world “the alternate world”. Now, at any moment of time after t, the actual and the alternate worlds have already diverged.  Curley has already done something: something he is morally responsible for. Perhaps his hand has not yet reached out for the money; maybe his enraged voice has not begun to refuse the bribe. But he is now in a state such that he is set to take or is set to refuse the bribe. (I am simplifying of course by assuming he can’t also temporize.)  A deed has been done: his will has set into motion a causal chain leading up to the taking or the refusing of the bribe. Now the important thing to note is that the cause of the two different causal chains, the one in the actual world and the one in the alternate world, is the same as concerns intrinsic properties. Or the cause is Curley at t in state S.  Since this state contains all of Curley’s intrinsic properties at t, and these are the same in the actual and the alternate world, it follows that we have one and the same person in one and the same intrinsic state being in one world responsible for setting into motion one causal chain and in another, another.

But this seems to severely undercut the objection to divine simplicity based on the contingency of what God chooses. For we now see that one and the same person in one the same state could be in a position to initiate either of two incompatible causal chains. Moreover, note that Curley’s actual deciding was at t.  During the deciding itself there was no difference in his intrinsic properties between the actual and the alternate worlds. The difference only appeared extrinsically to the decision, though as a result of the decision.

While his analysis is interesting in its own right, I don't see how that solves the problem. Doesn't a different result require a differential will? So we have to take the explanation back a step.