Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Josephus on portents and prodigies

We have comparable examples even within the very same century that saw the development of the Gospels. Josephus wrote the Jewish War between 75 and 79 CE, in which he relates the following obvious legends, which "occurred" only ten to fifteen years previous (in or around 66 CE): it was a bright as midday for half an hour around the Altar and Sanctuary of the Jerusalem Temple–at three in the morning!; during the usual sacrifices a cow gave birth to a lamb "in the middle of the Temple courts"; a bronze gate, requiring twenty men to move, unbolted, unlocked, and opened itself at midnight–right in front of the temple guards!" and last but not least, chariots and armies were seen marching through the skies and encircling all the towns of Judaea. Josephus finally remarks, "I would have dismissed it as an invention, had it not be vouched for by eyewitnesses, and followed by disasters that bore out the signs." R. Carrier, "The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb," R. Price & J. Lowder, eds. The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (Prometheus 2005), 173-174.

For Carrier, this is proof positive that Josephus was a credulous and superstitious man. And since he moved in the same thought-world as the Gospel writers, we should lend their accounts no greater credence. There are, however, some basic problems with Carrier's comparison:

i) To begin with, the logic is circular. He presumes that since the miraculous portents in Josephus are incredible, then by parity of argument, so are the Gospels. 

However, I, for one, don't automatically discount miracle reports outside the Bible. The fall of Jerusalem was a turning point in Jewish history. It wouldn't surprise me if there were some authentic marvels that portended that fateful event.

That doesn't mean I give equal weight to every item on his list. Assuming this is actually based on independent information, there's no reason to think that if one report is true, all are true; if one report is false, all are false. These come from different sources. Different reporters. 

ii) But I'd also like to consider a different approach. Ironically, it may not be Josephus, but Carrier's who's gullible. Carrier takes it for granted that Josephus believes what he's saying in this regard. But surely that's naive.

To begin with, accounts of portents and prodigies were a stock feature of Roman historiography. This was typically associated with major events and major political figures in Roman history. So Josephus, in writing to and for a Roman audience, may be adapting himself to that contrivance.

That consideration is reinforced by the fact that Josephus is writing as a Jewish apologist to his Roman overlords. As such, he's motivated to wow them with his own account of portents and prodigies. In other words, it's highly possible that he's regaling them with tall tales to impress his pagan Roman patrons regarding the reality of Yahweh–the one true God. 

Indeed, his ingenuous profession that "I would have dismissed it as an invention, had it not be vouched for by eyewitnesses, and followed by disasters that bore out the signs," is the kind of calculated protestation that you'd expect from an author who's endeavoring to pull the wool over the eyes of the reader. "I'd scarcely believe it myself, were it not for the fact that…"

That's a familiar rhetorical gambit to win the confidence of the audience. "See, I'm just as skeptical as you are! I believe this against my will!"

I'm not saying that interpretation is necessarily correct. But I think it's quite plausible that Josephus is pandering to Roman sensibilities at this juncture. And he may well have hoodwinked an unsuspecting atheist in the process! 

Parents–check your privilege!

The demands of social justice require parents to deprive their kids:

Has the Left peaked?


Is heaven a society of solipsistic consciousnesses?


Methodological moral relativism

It's my impression that by its fanaticism, utopianism, and scorched-earth rhetoric (in characterizing prolifers), AHA has alienated people who were initially sympathetic to its methods and aims. One example is the use of sloppy, thoughtless, polemical terminology. This isn't just carelessness, but willful indifference.

Take the elementary failure to distinguish between the ordinary sense of words and technical jargon. For instance:

The modern person often thinks in a consequentialistic manner, rather than a deontological manner. Indeed, such is the case of the pro-women, pro-life community. 
Indeed, many in the former group seem to focus primarily or even only on the consequences suffered by women such as guilt, depression, and higher risk of suicide. While such consequences are not to be ignored, they are treated as the reasons in and of themselves as to why abortion should be fought against. As such, it detracts from the real core issue as to why abortion should be resisted – because it is murder. Full stop. 
If an act, whatever it may be, were to be fought against because its consequences makes it distasteful, one would be logical to argue that where such consequences can be mitigated or resolved, the act would not be wrong, and perhaps even good. 
The pro-life movement does not address the root of the evils of abortion – the love of money by people who knowingly contribute to the abortion of a human being. It must also be noted that merely because a person was involved in the conception of the child does not mean that they support abortion or encourage abortion as many in the pro-life movement seem to assume. Instead, it looks only at the effects of abortion on women, without addressing the heart of the matter which is really the matter of the heart. 

JoJo fails to distinguish between the ordinary sense of "consequences" and "consequentialism"–which is a technical designation for a philosophical position. Here are two academic definitions:
Consequentialism is the view that morality is all about producing the right kinds of overall consequences.  
Consequentialism, as its name suggests, is the view that normative properties depend only on consequences. This general approach can be applied at different levels to different normative properties of different kinds of things, but the most prominent example is consequentialism about the moral rightness of acts, which holds that whether an act is morally right depends only on the consequences of that act or of something related to that act, such as the motive behind the act or a general rule requiring acts of the same kind. 
i) In the ordinary sense of the term, a "consequence" is synonymous with an outcome, effect, end-result, fallout, aftermath. Taking the predictable or foreseeable results of an action into account in decision-making is by no means equivalent to consequentialism, where the morality of an action is "all about" the consequences or "depends only on the consequences."
I don't see JoJo provide any documentation that representative prolife leaders (e.g. Robert George, Scott Klusendorf, Francis Beckwith) are consequentialists in the philosophical sense of the term. And if that's not their philosophical frame of reference, then it's deceptive to label their position that way.
ii) Moreover, JoJo's examples fail to bear out the claim.  To "focus on the consequences suffered by women such as guilt, depression, and higher risk of suicide" is a prolife strategy. Its not the basis of their opposition to abortion. 
iii) Furthermore, it's responding to abortion apologists on their own grounds. Abortion apologists repackage abortion as a "women's health" issue. About protecting the health, including mental health, of woman.
But prolifers point that that abortion is often damaging to the mental health of women. 
iv) I'd add that this isn't purely strategic. Prolifers care about women as well as babies. That's a point worth making. 
v) Keep in mind, too, that this is just one of many prolife strategies. 

April 27 at 10:46am · Edited ·
Fruit from the recent debate! 
Scott Klussendorf [sic], Jill Stanek, Mark Harrington, and Gregg Cunningham have all clearly outed themselves as methodological moral relativists who stand on the studies of men and twist scripture to support their own fears and faithlessness in the power and gospel of God. 
They are claiming that Jesus is a pragmatist and that he recommends that we only truly fight against the sins which our culture gives us permission to fight and that we survey the culture and determine whether "we have the votes" before we cease making deals with the devil. 
Get off the sinking ship of the pro-life movement or swear your allegiance to the secular spirit of our age and go to battle against abolition. 

So many falsehoods packed into just a few sentence:
i) I presume the "studies of men" has reference to studies cited by Cunningham which show that abortion restrictions save babies. How does branding that the "studies of men" invalidate the evidence?
ii) Isn't a national ban on abortion the goal of AHA? If so, doesn't that ultimately depend on "having the votes"? Unless you "have the votes," you can't outlaw abortion in toto. It's not as if AHA can bypass that process. 
iii) What's a "methodological moral relativist?" For starters, what's moral relativism? Let's begin with two philosophical definitions:
Moral relativism is the view that moral judgments are true or false only relative to some particular standpoint (for instance, that of a culture or a historical period) and that no standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others.  It has often been associated with other claims about morality: notably, the thesis that different cultures often exhibit radically different moral values; the denial that there are universal moral values shared by every human society; and the insistence that we should refrain from passing moral judgments on beliefs and practices characteristic of cultures other than our own. 
Metaethical Moral Relativism (MMR). The truth or falsity of moral judgments, or their justification, is not absolute or universal, but is relative to the traditions, convictions, or practices of a group of persons. 

Does AHA have any documentation to illustrate that Scott Klusendorf, Jill Stanek, Mark Harrington, and Gregg Cunningham are moral relativists on that definition? 

iv) Or is it a question of how the adjective ("methodological") modifies the phrase "moral relativist." If so, what does that mean? I doubt it means anything. Rather, I suspect AHA is simply words with invidious connotations to tar prolifers, without any regard for the inaccuracy of the usage.  

v) Same thing with the assertion that "They are claiming that Jesus is a pragmatist." Is that an attempt to gloss "methodological moral relativism"? If so, pragmatism and moral relativism are hardly interchangeable.

vi) Does AHA mean "pragmatist" in the philosophical sense of term? Is so, here's two definitions:

Pragmatism is a philosophical movement that includes those who claim that an ideology or proposition is true if it works satisfactorily, that the meaning of a proposition is to be found in the practical consequences of accepting it, and that unpractical ideas are to be rejected. 
Many people assume that means we must look for moral criteria: some list of rules or principles whereby we can distinguish good from bad and right from wrong, or a list of virtues we try to inculcate. 
Pragmatism's core contention that practice is primary in philosophy rules out the hope of logically prior criteria. Any meaningful criteria evolve from our attempt to live morally – in deciding what is the best action in the circumstances. Criteria are not discovered by pure reason, and they are not fixed. As ends of action, they are always revisable. Blackwell Guide to Ethical Theory 
Can AHA supply verbatim quotes from Scott Klusendorf, Jill Stanek, Mark Harrington, and Gregg Cunningham which show that their position on abortion is pragmatic in that sense? 
vii) Or does it mean "pragmatic" in the ordinary sense of the word: "dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations," "dealing with the problems that exist in a specific situation in a reasonable and logical way instead of depending on ideas and theories."
a) If so, that's the opposite of pragmatism. In the nature of the case, the philosophy of pragmatism is theoretical.
b) Clearly, though, the position of somebody like Klusendorf is based on ideas and theoretical considerations. So you can't classify his position as "pragmatic" in either the ordinary or philosophical sense of the term.
c) Does AHA think that abortion opponents should be illogical, unreasonable, unrealistic, or senseless?
viii) What's wrong with prolifers adopting effective tactics and strategies? Would it be preferable for abortion opponents to champion futile or counterproductive tactics and strategies? 
ix) It's risky for AHA to level the charge of "methodological moral relativism," for that's apt to boomerang. AHA mortgages the lives of babies here and now in the hopes of saving every baby's life in the future–except for all the babies they sacrifice in the interim in the furtherance of their long-range goal. What's that if not ruthlessly "pragmatic" and methodologically "relativistic"? 

Why are things so bad if God is good?


Snake Plissken

Shortly have Maul Panata's Facebook thread on pacifism died down, the embers reignited, so I'm now reposting my side of the exchange.

Steve Hays Cody,

The problem with your comparison is that the apostolic church didn't a ready-made position on how much Christian participation in pagan civil religious customs was permissible. That had to be hammered out. Paul thought that was often a matter of indifference in principle, but for prudential reasons, he advised a more tactful policy in practice. Likewise, the Council at Jerusalem staked out a compromise position, based on prudential considerations. 

And, indeed, it's inherently difficult to draw the line in terms of how much complicity is too much complicity give the fact that some complicity in evil is unavoidable in a fallen world. It's question of degree, with many borderline cases. Easier to draw the line in more extreme cases.

By contrast, the pacifists I've read think the apostolic church did have a ready-made position on nonviolence: one that went right back to Jesus. 

Moreover, pacifists think that issue is pretty clear cut. Much easier to draw the line.

Steve Hays Cody,

To "participate in pagan rituals" is a matter of degree in a heathen culture where civil religion is pagan and pervasive. That's part of the warp and woof of the socioeconomic and political system. 

In Judaism, it was easier to draw the line because you have various categories of forbidden contact with ritually impure people, food, customs, &c.

But the new covenant didn't retain those detailed purity codes. It wasn't separatistic to the same degree as Judaism. Not even close. 

Indeed, that was one of the early controversies. Where to draw lines. Certain things were verboten, like sexual immorality or direct participation in the imperial cult. But there were many gray areas. Outright idolatry was forbidden, but invidious associations are not so clear-cut. As a missionary to the Gentiles, Paul had to finesse the difficult issue of how much Christians can function in a pagan society. Some involvement is necessary. Too much is compromising.
Steve Hays 

Cody Cook: "And functioning as a pagan priest would have been considered a gray area?"

i) What are you referring to? Does St. Paul talk about that? Or is this just a hypothetical that you are floating?

ii) The tricky thing about the ethics of participation in pagan civic religious events or customs is that we're basically dealing with symbolism: symbolic gestures.

Likewise, the religious element may be fairly incidental. So it's ambiguous to say that's religious. Some ceremonies are specifically and centrally religious. But in a pagan culture, there's a lot of spillover. For instance, the days of the week are named after pagan gods. 

As a rule, symbolism isn't intrinsically right or wrong, good or evil. What it stands for may be good or evil, but the symbol itself isn't good or evil. Rather, it has a socially assigned meaning. So this comes down to evaluating intentions, motivations, and the "message."

Whether that's compromising or innocent is something we'd have to assess on a case-by-case basis. I don't think there's a uniform value-judgment. Indeed, that's why Paul's discussion is so nuanced. 

iii) Let's take a comparison: many Indian and Asian restaurants have idols. Now a lot of customers barely notice them. And if they do notice them, they view them as purely decorative statuary. But that's not necessarily how the proprietors view them.

Are you participating in paganism when you eat at an Indian or Asian restaurant?

BTW, Cody, here's a pertinent verse:
18 In this matter may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon your servant in this matter.” 19 He said to him, “Go in peace” (2 Kgs 5:18-19).

Steve Hays Cody,

Regarding the "argument from silence":

i) Cornelius isn't my first line of defense. I'm simply responding to you on your own terms. 

ii) As you should know, the argument from silence can be strong or weak depending on the expectation, or lack thereof. Just to dismissively label it an "argument from silence," as if that has no evidential value, is inaccurate as a general principle. Take "the dog that didn't bark" in Sherlock Holmes.

iii) The self-defensive impulse is deeply engrained in human nature. I daresay that's a cultural universal. Pacifists I've read admit that pacifism cuts against the grain of human nature. Self-defense is the norm.

So in that event, if self-defense is incompatible with new covenant ethics, we'd expect NT writers to harp on that. 

To take a comparison: idolatry was pervasive in the ANE. That's why there's a sustained polemic against idolatry in the OT. It takes relentless vigilance to root out something that popular.

By the same token, if self-defense is sinful, there ought to be more than a couple of highly debatable prooftexts which pacifists constantly resort to. 

Now there are other arguments against pacifism. Some of these are on display in this very thread.

Steve Hays Cody, 

i) I was responding to your statement about 1C Christian participation in the state functions.

ii) I don't know how you think the Wikipedia entry supports your side of the argument. Given the ubiquity of pagan religious customs in the Roman Empire, Christians could not consistently avoid activities associated with paganism if they were to continue living in a pagan society.

iii) Likewise, when you bring up "participation in pagan rituals" in reference to alleged 1C Christian pacifism, that appeal backfires. If, say, 1C Christians avoided military service to avoid the imperial cult, or related pagan rituals, then their objection to military service wasn't motivated by opposition to violence, but opposition to idolatry. 

In that case, even if we grant that 1C Christians disdained military service, that's not a testimony to Christian pacifism. That connection is adventitious. The real reason was to circumvent participation in idolatrous activity, not participation in violent activity. So your argument is counterproductive to your position. 

iv) Finally, I've read David Hunter contend that early Christian views on military service were not monolithic.

Steve Hays 

Cody Cook:
Even so, as Preston Sprinkle noted:"serving in Rome’s military entails partaking in various idolatrous practices, and yet Peter doesn’t address the issue of idolatry when Cornelius gets converted. And as a centurion, Cornelius (as well as the centurion in Matt. 8) would not only be pressured to worship foreign gods, but also be responsible for leading various ceremonies on behalf of his cohort. As a centurion, Cornelius would essentially function as a pagan priest!"

i) And as I just pointed out, that appeal actually boomerangs against the pacifist, for in that event the underlying objection was not to involvement in violent activity but involvement in idolatrous activity. 

ii) Keep in mind, too, that even before Cornelius was a Christian, he was a Godfearer. He was a worshiper of Yahweh. He prayed Jewish prayers. 

So he already had some way of finessing the "idolatry" issue. And he was not alone in that respect. Lk 7:1-10 is analogous. And not coincidentally, both occur in the Lukan corpus.

Steve Hays I'd also like to touch on property rights. Some people act as though, even if it's permissible to use lethal force to protect human life, it's immoral to use lethal force to protect property. And certainly there are many isolated situations where it would be immoral to use lethal force to protect property.

However, that dichotomy is far too facile. Sustaining human life depends on provision for certain physical necessities, like food and shelter. Protecting a farm or supermarket protects property, but it likewise protects a necessary food source. Protecting a water plant protects property, but it likewise protects a necessary source of public drinking water. Protecting an apartment complex from arson protects property, but it likewise protects humans from the elements. Same thing with a gas station, power station, bank, &c. 

Although society can absorb a certain amount of theft and vandalism, it that was allowed to go unchecked, society would become unlivable.

Steve Hays I'd like to make an additional point about property crimes in relation to pacifism. Not all businesses sell essential goods and services. Therefore, it's easy for pacifists to mock the notion that we should use violent force (if needed) to repel looters, hackers, robbers, arsonists, &c. 

And, indeed, many products are mock-worthy. Keep in mind, however, that even though the company may not be providing an essential service to its customers, it is proving an essential service to the community: jobs.

Just by employing members of the community, the company is providing an essential service, over and above its products. People need wages to pay for food, shelter, &c. It takes money to stay alive and provide for your dependents.

To be sure, businesses come and go. A community may be able to absorb this or that company going bankrupt, although that leaves some people jobless and unable to pay their bills.

Some companies that go out of business are replaced by new companies that move in. On the other hand, you sometimes have a community that's economically dependent on one major employer. If it goes belly up, the community becomes a ghost town. 

You can seek work elsewhere by moving. If, however, pacifism were the norm, then no business would be safe. There'd be no place to start over again. It would be impossible to retain private property holdings. If the good guys renounce violence, then the bad guys can take whatever they want with impunity. 

To paraphrase Bertrand Russell: a community in which everybody is violent is inconvenient for everybody, and it's obvious that most people can get more of what they want out of life if they live in a community where violence is rare. But in the absence of deterrence a difficulty arises: for each individual, the ideal community would be one in which everybody else is a pacifist and he alone is violent.

Elvis sightings

A common atheist trope is to compare the Resurrection to postmortem Elvis sightings. There are multiple problems with that comparison:

i) In my reading, atheists who use that comparison never document their claim. We're just treated to unsourced reports. They don't tell us where they got their information. Is this a newspaper story? 

They don't cite named witnesses. They don't say when and where it occurred. No date. No address.

They don't quote what the witness said. They don't quote "Elvis" saying anything.

Note how different this is from NT accounts of the post-Resurrection appearances which name witnesses, say where it happened, when it happened. What Jesus said and did. What the witnesses said.

Atheists mention Elvis sightings as an example of how legends can develop, but ironically, the atheist meme is helping to popularize an urban legend. Atheists rely on thirdhand rumors of Elvish sightings, which, in turn, contributes to the legend. A circular process. 

ii) Given the proliferation of Elvis impersonators, there's nothing incredible about reports of observers who say that saw a man matching the description of the late pop star. To the contrary, that's to be expected. Indeed, that's inevitable. 

iii) Given how populous America is, what might seem like a large number of reports can be statistically insignificant. 

iv) How many reported Elvis sightings are simply jokes? Because atheists don't cite actual reports, don't interview (alleged) witnesses, there's no telling.

v) Some atheists compare the Elvis cult to devotion to Jesus. Problem is, even if there are studied parallels, that would be a case of fans aping Christian piety. The fact that some fans, influenced by Christianity, turn Elvis into a travesty of Christ, does absolutely nothing to cast doubt on the original source of inspiration. 

vi) The comparison begs the question. It only works because most folks believe that Elvis is dead. But to say that's analogous to Jesus assumes the very issue in dispute.  

The Violent Anarchists


Monday, May 04, 2015

Slavery and abortion

AHA touts the parallel between abortion and slavery. If slavery could be abolished, so can abortion. But even though there are moral similarities, there are crucial differences.

Most folks didn't own slaves. It was basically an upper class thing. So most folks didn't have a direct stake in slavery. Just the ruling class, which was a tiny minority of the overall population. And in America (by the 19C), it was regionally confined.

In principle, it's a lot easier to abolish something that most folks never had or never use. You're not taking anything away from them. That's cost-free. 

To the extent that there was a perceived stake in slavery, that's because an agrarian economic is labor intensive, and slave labor is a source of cheap labor.

Mind you, even from an economic standpoint, that's unnecessary. To begin with, slaves need to be fed and sheltered. So it's not free. Moreover, slaves are motivated to do the least they can get away with. So even apart from moral considerations, there are more efficient alternatives. 

By contrast, there's a huge demand for abortion–national wide, from top-to-bottom. Many people want access to abortion at all social strata. And that includes a significant voting block. 

That makes it far harder to abolish abortion. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try. But the facile parallel between slavery and abortion is politically disanalogous. 

A better comparison would be Prohibition. That failed because popular demand was too great. Same thing with hard drugs. We can't eradicate substance abuse. The best we can do is to minimize it as much as possible. 

An overview of ID

"Should Christians Accept Intelligent Design?" by William Lane Craig.

Faith in "A World Without God"

I recently did a five-part class for my church interacting with three typical objections to Christianity that arise from our secular culture:

Debate Between Gregg Cunningham and T. Russell Hunter


Retooling TAG

i) I'm going to take another stab at TAG. It's not my objective in this post to expound Van Til or be faithful to Van Til. If what I say is consistent with his original vision, fine. But this shouldn't be a personality cult. 

Likewise, I don't care whether I ended up defending what is technically a transcendental argument, or merely something like a transcendental argument. All I care about is whether there's a good argument to be had–and not the pedigree of the argument.

ii) One preliminary issue is whether TAG is worth salvaging. This has been kicking around for decades. It was controversial at the time. It's still controversial. Not much progress has been made in turning Van Til's programatic claims into a full-blown apologetic. 

So we should be open to the possibility that this is a failed idea. It seemed to be promising, but the more it's scrutinized, the less is has going for it. Frankly, there's a certain amount of Reformed chauvinism that's responsible for clinging to this argument no matter what.

That said, I will, in fact, be defending TAG, or a variation thereon.

iii) One difficulty is the interpretation of TAG. In this respect, TAG is like the ontological argument. One of the things that makes the ontological argument difficult to evaluate is attempting to understand what Anselm's claim amounts to. Did he offer one or two different versions of his own argument? What do they mean? You can't even assess the argument unless and until you interpret the argument, although it's possible to give alternative interpretations, then handicap each one.

Of course, Leibniz, Gödel, and Plantinga have all offered their own versions of the ontological argument, so it's possible to bypass Anselm. 

iv) A limitation of transcendental argumentation is that this is essentially concerned with epistemology rather than ontology. Here's one definition:

Transcendental arguments are partly non-empirical, often anti-skeptical arguments focusing on necessary enabling conditions either of coherent experience or the possession or employment of some kind of knowledge or cognitive ability, where the opponent is not in a position to question the fact of this experience, knowledge, or cognitive ability, and where the revealed preconditions include what the opponent questions. Such arguments take as a premise some obvious fact about our mental life—such as some aspect of our knowledge, our experience, our beliefs, or our cognitive abilities—and add a claim that some other state of affairs is a necessary condition of the first one. Transcendental arguments most commonly have been deployed against a position denying the knowability of some extra-mental proposition, such as the existence of other minds or a material world. Thus these arguments characteristically center on a claim that, for some extra-mental proposition P, the indisputable truth of some general proposition Q about our mental life requires that P. 

I don't think that definition is necessarily a problem for TAG. However, if the pretension of TAG is to present the only adequate argument for God's existence, then this limitation is a serious problem. Surely arguments for God's existence should include metaphysical evidence, and not merely what is needed to ground our mental life. Epistemological arguments shouldn't be the only arguments for God's existence. 

v) What is TAG trying to get at? In my view, TAG is not so much a direct or positive argument for God's existence as it is an explication of the consequences which follow from denying God's existence. Depending on the consequences, that, in turn, becomes an indirect argument for God's existence.

Technically, this may not be a transcendental argument, but I'm not a purist. 

What have you got to lose by denying God? What's at stake? What's the cost? Once you deny God, what else must you deny? What does that commit you to? After the dust settles, what's left?

The force of TAG depends on how damaging the repercussions are of denying God's existence. After making some minor adjustments, can we leave everything important still intact? Or is the denial of God's existence a universal acid that dissolves everything of consequence? 

vi) In that respect, TAG is not one argument, but a family of arguments. Arguments of a kind.

Put another way, TAG is not in itself an argument, but an argumentative strategy. It selects for or develops arguments that share that particular orientation. In that respect, we could regard TAG as a research program. 

By the same token, this means there may be some good theistic arguments that don't pertain to that strategy or family of arguments. 

vii) If successful, this approach has number of advantages:

a) There are preexisting arguments that dovetail with TAG. Take the "argument from reason" (Lewis/Reppert) or Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism. Take the moral argument for God's existence. And so on and so forth. 

Even if these aren't specifically "transcendental," the approach I'm suggesting can point them in that direction. What's there to lose by denying God? 

b) Conversely, consistent secular philosophers make damaging concessions. 

c) It puts the unbeliever on the defensive. 

d) It supplies a unifying principle for a number of otherwise disparate theistic arguments. 

viii) But to succeed, it is necessary to develop detailed arguments. For instance, what's the status of abstract objects in a Godless universe?

An unbeliever may say abstract objects are explanatorily necessary, but offer a secular alternative for grounding them. Platonic realism. If so, a Christian philosopher or apologist must show the inadequacy of that alternative.

Or an unbeliever may say abstract objects are explanatorily unnecessary. He may propose secular alternatives which do the same work at a lower metaphysical cost. Fictionalism or structural realism. If so, a Christian philosopher or apologist must show the inadequacy of those alternatives. 

And, of course, a Christian must propose a positive model for how God grounds abstract objects. 

ix) A casualty of this approach is that TAG ceases to be a silver bullet. It's no longer a snappy comeback to stop the mouth of the unbeliever. For the real work has just begun. Formulating the arguments is painstaking work.

However, the silver bullet was always a blank. The simplicity was illusory. To seriously engage secularism, TAG has to become very sophisticated, to operate at the same level as the best of the secular competition. 

x) Finally, whether someone is an evidential or presuppositional apologist can often have less to do with the merits of the respective positions than the aptitude of the apologist. Some people have a knack for sifting historical evidence, but no great philosophical aptitude. Take Kenneth Kitchen or Richard Bauckham. They operate at a very concrete level. Historical particulars. 

Others have greater aptitude for abstract reasoning. Take Alvin Plantinga.

Plantinga and Kitchen simply have different skill sets. They couldn't do what they other does even if they tried. 

So a certain degree of pluralism in apologetic methodology is to be commended. We need people who excel in different things.

The Ultimate Roman Catholic Apologetic

To those of who want to advocate “catholicity” or “reformed catholicity” of any kind – look at what you are getting yourself into:

The many grave disturbances which the Church experienced in the Middle Ages were not true crises since through them all the Church was never in danger of changing its nature or dissolving itself into something else. Low moral standards among the clergy and lust for riches and power disfigure the face of the Church, but do not attack its essence by attempting to alter its foundations.

This is “catholicity”. This is why things like murderer popes, Inquisitions, sex scandals and sex abuse scandals of all types, when brought up to committed Roman apologists, just flow like water off a duck’s back.

It is appropriate here to formulate the law of the historical conservation of the Church [the Roman Catholic Church and especially its hierarchy], a law which also constitutes her ultimate apologetic criterion. The [Roman Catholic] Church is founded on the Word Incarnate, that is, on a divinely revealed truth. She is also given sufficient energies to conform her own life to that truth: it is a dogma of faith that virtue is always possible.

Nonetheless, the Church is only in danger of perishing if she loses the truth, not if she fails to live up to it. The pilgrim Church is, as it were, simultaneously condemned to imperfection in her activity, and to repentance: in the modern phrase, the Church is in a continual state of conversion. She is not destroyed when human weakness conflicts with her own teaching (that contradiction is inherent in the Church’s pilgrim condition); but she is destroyed when corruption reaches the level of corroding dogma, and of preaching in theory the corruptions which exist in practice.

From: Romano Amerio, “Iota Unum: A Study of Changes in the Catholic Church in the XXth Century”, translated from the Second Italian Edition by Rev. Fr. John P. Parsons, Kansas City, MO: Sarto House ©1996 Rev Fr. John P. Parsons, pg. 18.

It is “the teaching”, the doctrine of the Roman Church, that is all-important. This is why the corruptions of the Medieval Church were no sweat. It’s the “Alias Smith and Jones” defense: “For all the trains and banks they robbed, they never taught anyone”.

Thus, “The great eastern schism left the whole structure of the Catholic faith untouched. The Byzantines did not even directly deny the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, and an act of reunion could be signed at Florence in 1439” (pg 19).

The only thing that matters to Rome is that Rome gets to be in charge. That is the “ontological reality” of the Roman Catholic Church: Christ made Peter “the first pope”; Peter was martyred in Rome, and his blood there sealed this ontological “divine institution”. Everything else can always be explained away to the satisfaction of the true Roman Catholic believer. Nothing else matters.

The heretical movements, which aimed at purging the Church of its worldly accretions, were powerless to put the Church in danger by causing it to change from one kind of thing to another. The real crisis came from Luther, who changed doctrine from top to bottom by repudiating the principle on which it rested (pg 19)

I have problems with this author’s accounting of history, but he does represent everything I dislike about the pugnacious, in-your-face Roman apologetic. Of course, “the principle on which it rested” was nothing less than the total, divine authority of the Roman Catholic Church.

It is therefore a question of seeing how Luther’s doctrine could not be included in the broad ambit of the Catholic system, and how his attack called into question the principle of the whole system, rather than this or that corollary. Inasmuch as it is a rejection of Catholic first principles, Lutheranism is theologically irrefutable. When confronted with Lutheranism, Catholic apologetic finds itself in the position neatly outlined by St. Thomas (ST 1,q.1,1,8): it can solve the opponent’s objections but not to the opponent’s satisfaction, since he rejects the principle on which the argument refuting him is based. For Luther was not merely rejecting this or that article within the body of Catholic doctrine (although he did do that as well) but rather rejecting the principle underlying them all, which is the divine authority of the Church.

Bible and tradition are only authorities for the believer because the Church possesses them; and possesses them not simply materially or philosophically, but possesses the meaning of them, which she historically unveils little by little (pgs 22-23).

Watch how the caricature, the straw man unfolds. Where have we seen this before?

Luther, on the other hand, places both the Bible and its meaning in the hands of the individual believer, rejects any mediating role for the Church, entrusts everything to the individual’s private lights and replaces the authority of an institution by an immediacy of feeling which prevails over all else.

Yes, Luther rejected “the divine authority” of the Roman Church of his day, but not “any mediating role” for what is truly a church. On the other hand, he in no way “placed both the Bible and its meaning in the hands of every individual believer”. Not even the most hearty biblicists of that day or ours believed what this Roman Apologist attributes to Protestants.

There is a line from a Keith Green song, from the perspective of the Devil: “I put a little truth in every lie to tickle itching ears”. This is most certainly what the Roman apologist needs to do in order to function.

Still, the Roman Catholic view of “the Church” itself is the constant:

… the soul of the Lutheran secession was not a question of indulgences, the Mass, the sacraments, the Papacy, priestly celibacy or the predestination and justification of the sinner: it was an intolerance that the human race carries about fixed fast in its heart and which Luther had the daring to manifest openly: the intolerance of authority. Because the [Roman Catholic] Church is the collective historical body of the God-Man, it draws its organic unity from a divine principle. In such a context, what could man be, but a part, living by unity with that principle and by obedience to it? The man who breaks that link loses the forming principle of the Christian religion (pg 25).

Paul gave the criteria for the qualifications of a leader in the church: “an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”

On the other hand, the Roman Apologetic feels free to dismiss these criteria completely:

Once the crisis is seen in these terms (“the intolerance of [Roman] authority”), the consideration of the moral faults of the clergy and the institutional corruption that followed from it become a secondary question, even though it remains important as the historical cause that touched off the assertion of the principle of private judgment.

There were certainly enormous abuses of the sacred on the part of the Church’s ministers: one could cite the monstrous example of [“Pope”] Alexander VI threatening his concubine with excommunication unless she returned ad vomitum [“to her old sins”]. Nonetheless, quite apart from the fact that an abuse does not justify rejecting the thing abused, there is also the fact that the reform of the Church could only happen, and in the event did happen, in an orthodox way, thanks to men who were always convinced that Catholics could not be acting rightly unless they had the seal of approval of those same churchmen whose vices they continued to castigate, even while recognizing their authority …

The reason why the corruption of shepherds caused only a dispersal of sheep, rather than a true crisis, was that malpractice was not erected into a dogmatic theory as it was by Luther. A theory is unlimited, since it contains in its universality a potential infinity of acts, whereas acts themselves are always limited.

Thus if the theoretical dogma is preserved, the health-giving principle [“the ultimate authority of the Roman church”] remains undamaged, and through it the whole of practical action is saved (pg 26).

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Yeoman Rand

Part of an interview with late Grace Lee Whitney, of Star Trek fame (as Yeoman Rand):


Whitney: Well, being written out of Star Trek kicked in the emotional trauma of having been told when I was seven years old that I was adopted and that my parents were not my parents. I said, “Well, who are they?” They said, “We don’t know who your father is. We know that your mother gave you up for adoption because your father would not marry her.” And so I had rejection from the time I was seven years old, when my adoptive mother sat me on her lap and told me I was adopted. She thought she was doing the right thing. Later, a shrink told me that she’d (actually) set me adrift. What happened from the age of seven up to getting written out of Star Trek, I was able to function. But then being rejected from Star Trek and being thrown out of the show, it set me off. Of course, that was my perception. That was how I looked at it. And my perception was not correct. I was written out because of the show, because of the character, not because of me. I started drinking heavily after that. I used to go for a lot of counseling, and the counselors tried to get me to differentiate between the character of Janice Rand and Grace Lee Whitney, and I could not do it. I could not not be Janice Rand. It was Grace Lee Whitney that got fired. Janice Rand was just the character. It was me they didn’t like. They threw me out. Blah, blah, blah.
And I just about killed myself over that reject. And when I would go on interviews, I would smell of alcohol. I was very Lindsay Lohan-ish, very Charlie Sheen. I was lost. I was lost and I began to bottom out. It took me about 10 years after getting written out to come to my senses when I bottomed out. And bottoming out means I was sick and tired of being sick and tired and I had to get help. What happened was that I was down on Skid Row, on 6th and Main in L.A., looking for my lower companions to get some kind of help, when I was 12-stepped down there by a man from the Midnight Mission named Clancy, who is a guru in the 12-step program. His sponsee helped me get to my first 12-step meeting where God absolutely delivered me. There was no question. I could not not drink. I was using a lot of drugs from Dr. Feelgood. A lot of actors used the amphetamines from Dr. Feelgood to stay skinny, to function. It’s just insidious. Once you get into the drinking and using, it’s almost impossible to get out without the grace of God, which is what I give my credit to. Leonard Nimoy (who is also a recovering alcoholic) was so moved that he (later) wrote the forward to my book. But that’s how I began my recovery and my trek back to the studio to make amends, to do everything I’ve had to do there.
You wrote your memoir, The Longest Trek: My Tour of the Galaxy, in 1998. What did you learn about yourself from putting pen to paper like that?
Whitney: I learned what my own part was in all of the pain I’d suffered as a child and growing up. What was my part in all of this rejection? What was my part in getting written out of Trek? What was my part in ending up at downtown 6th and Main? It was my total admission of my part in everything. It was totally amazing. It was the grace of God, and I was able to write about where I turned left when I should have turned right. This is what every sober alcoholic has to learn, or we repeat the addiction. And I have to tell you, I went to 46 conventions in that one year. People loved the book.  

Mother's Day: Holiday Of Hate

You probably celebrate Mother's Day. And you probably get your mother flowers and other things you don't give your father on Father's Day. Bigot.

Social justice in a nutshell

Here's the win/win formula: 

If a white cop shoots a black suspect, blame whites. 

If a white cop shoots a white suspect, blame whites. 

If an Asian or Latino cop shoots a black suspect, blame whites. 

If a black cop shoots a white suspect, blame whites. 

If a black cop shoots a black suspect, blame whites. 

Repeat as necessary.

Consent: the last taboo

From what I've read, people who support alternative lifestyles (e.g. the homosexual/transgender cause) usually make consent a criterion to distinguish acceptable from unacceptable activities. We could examine that from various angles, but let's consider the issue of consistency.

In my observation, the same kinds of people who support the homosexual/transgender movement oppose smokers. Yet tobacco smoking is a consensual activity. More generally, you have the food Nazis. 

Perhaps they'd say that's different because that involves dangerous consensual activity. So they'd add another criterion.

Problem is, they defend homosexual activity, which is dangerous. Consider all the health-risks associated with homosexual activity, viz. AIDS, STDs, colon cancer, colectomies. Believe it or not, anal sex, rimming, fisting, scat, &c. just isn't very healthy. Who knew? In fact, bloodletting parties are the chic new thing in S&M circles:

Likewise, it's my impression that the same kinds of people who support the homosexual/transgender movement oppose high school football because they think it's hazardous (i.e. risk of brain damage, spinal cord injury). Yet that's a consensual activity.

Perhaps they'd say that involves minors, so we have a right to tell minors what to do. Yet these are the same people who ridicule abstinence-only programs as unrealistic. Teenagers are going to have sex anyway, so might as well supply them with free contraceptives (and abortion access). But, of course, teenagers are going to practice unsafe sex, too. 

What it comes down to is that people who support alternative lifestyles don't begin with criteria, then determine what alternatives lifestyles are acceptable according to their criteria. Rather, they begin with whatever lifestyle liberal opinion-makers champion at the moment, then determine the criteria according to the lifestyle.   

For instance, there's a push to mainstream pedophilia.

Of course, once pedophilia is reclassified as just another "sexual orientation," you can guess what the next step will be. The age of consent will be revisited. 

Reparative therapy

Unsurprisingly, reparative therapy has been denounced by the usual suspects. Its mere existence poses a threat to narrative of the homosexual lobby. 

However, it's also been attacked by Baptist leaders like Albert Mohler, Russell Moore, and Denny Burk. I don't have an informed opinion to offer about reparative therapy. But here's the first two installments of a 5-part series, which might prove to be informative:

The white power structure

Was Freddie Gray the latest victim of a white power structure? Let's look at the racial makeup of Baltimore gov't. Doesn't seem like the deck is stacked against blacks:

The mayor

The police chief

The city council

The school superintendent

The state attorney

The indicted cops

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord

2 The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
    and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go the law,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
    and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war anymore.
O house of Jacob,
    come, let us walk
    in the light of the Lord.
(Isaiah 2:1-5).

Should we interpret this oracle? Before we can begin to answer that question, we need to define literality. For the term is used in different senses, and that's often not distinguished in debates over Biblical interpretation:

i) Oftentimes, Christians use "literal" as a synonym for "factual" (or historical). To say you read Gen 1-3 "literally" is to say it really happened. It describes real people, real places, real time and real space. To say Jesus "literally" rose from the dead means he actually rose from the dead. 

Put another way, literal is an antonym for fictional. 

ii) On a related, but different note, literal is often used as a synonym for "representational." That the narrative describes an event the way it happened. A prosaic, matter of fact depiction. 

iii) This, in turn, segues to another sense, where literal is an antonym for figurative or allegorical. But in this sense, a description could be both literal and fictional. In addition, although it's fictional, it may have realistic analogues. 

Consider some illustrations. Bunyan's Pilgrim's Regress is fictional, but non-literal because the places and characters stand for something else. Same thing with Lewis's Perelandra, where the planet represents Eden, Random represents Christ, the Queen represents Eve, and Weston represents the Satanic Tempter. 

Likewise, Woolf's To the Light House and Bradbury's Dandelion Wine are both autobiographical insofar as they draw heavily on the childhood of the respective authors. In a sense, they allegorize their childhood. Even though both are fictional, they have a factual basis. 

In Linebarger's Norstrilia, by contrast, you have a self-contained fictional world. The world of the story is all there is. The narrative has no referential dimension. In that sense, C'mell is a literal character. She doesn't stand for anyone else. 

i) From a Christian standpoint, it's tempting to recognize the Second Coming of Christ in Isa 2:1-5. Strictly speaking, that's not what it means. Isaiah didn't have anything that specific in mind. It's a more generic Day of the Lord motif. But arguably, it has reference to the return of Christ, even if Isaiah's understanding of that event was less distinct than ours.

ii) On one definition of literality, even if we interpret the passage, literally, there are degrees of literality. The most literal interpretation might be taking Isaiah to mean that God will raise the elevation of Mt. Zion. Make Jerusalem a mountaintop city, higher than Everest. 

And, of course, it's possible for an omnipotent God to do that. However, that doesn't seem very practical. The air would be pretty thin up there. And frigid. Residents of Jerusalem would need to don oxygen tanks and arctic clothing. So this is arguably figurative. 

iii) In addition, the original audience knew nothing about the Himalayan range. So that could hardly be their standard of comparison. Therefore, one might dispute whether that's even the most literal interpretation. Presumably, the highest Middle Eastern peak would be a better frame of reference.

iv) Assuming this oracle refers to the Parousia, a literal interpretation would mean that Jesus will govern from Jerusalem. Jerusalem will be the world capital. And I think that's a live interpretive option. 

v) But suppose, for the sake of argument, that the center of gravity will shift to the New World. Suppose Jesus will govern from San Diego. If that were the case, would Isaiah say: 

For out of Coronado shall go the law,
    and the word of the Lord from San Diego.

a) Problem is, even if were true, it would be unintelligible to Isaiah's audience. San Diego didn't exist in the 8C BC. No ancient (or Medieval reader) would have any inkling what he was talking about. The names would be opaque. 

b) In addition, if Isaiah had named San Diego as the world capital in his oracle, that would probably sabotage the fulfillment, for many pioneers in the New World would name their settlement San Diego. If that place-name was used in Scripture, in a prominent prophecy, then in all likelihood the Californian city would have a different name because San Diego would have already been used to designate a number of other towns. 

So even if, at the Second Coming, Jesus was going to govern from Peking, San Diego, or Rio de Janeiro, it would still make sense for an ancient Jewish prophet to use "Zion" and "Jerusalem" as placeholders.   

vi) In addition, many commentators think this plays on the mythopoetic imagery of a cosmic mountain. But in that event, it isn't about Jesus ruling from one particular locality, but his global reign. "Jerusalem" is a synecdoche for the earth. Jesus will rule everywhere. His dominion will be world-wide.