Monday, February 08, 2016


A stock objection to Calvinism is that it implicates God in evil because God "causes" or "determines" evil. Let's consider natural evil from the standpoint of freewill theism. Now, I think it's reasonable to claim that physical determinism governs nature at the macro level. 

Depending on your interpretation of quantum physics, subatomic events are either statistical or deterministic. But even if you think they are statistical, that doesn't seem to transfer to the macro world. 

According to Christian theology, there's an interplay between personal agents and natural processes. What the natural order does when left to itself is deterministic, absent outside intervention by a personal agent. (The subatomic order might be an exception.)

In that respect, nature is like a machine. If I create a mantrap, it's the trap that catches or kills the poacher or trespasser. Yet the trap was only doing what I designed it to do. It's not the mantrap, but me, that's responsible for the outcome. 

Every so often we read a news report about someone who put a venomous snake in the mailbox of his enemy. When his enemy reaches into the box to get his mail, he is bitten by the snake. 

Now, it was the snake, and not the culprit, that bit the man. But, of course, we still hold the man who put the snake in the mailbox responsible for the snakebite. 

It isn't even a sure thing that his enemy will die of snakebite. It might be a dry bite. Or he might receive antivenom in time to save his life. Even so, the culprit will be charged with attempted murder. 

Suppose it's the enemy's 10-year-old son who checks the mailbox that day, only to be bitten. The culprit didn't intend to harm or kill his enemy's son. But, of course, that hardly exonerates him. "I'm sorry, your Honor. I didn't mean to kill the boy. That was an accident. His dad was my target!"

It’s time to think about Ash Wednesday and Lent

Christianity Today and Lent
Giving things up for the Kingdom?
Just a reminder: that time of year is upon us: the “liturgically-minded” all want to “give up things for Lent” and such. So you’ll be seeing articles about Ash Wednesday and Lent this week, including those from Christians. The linked article here is from Christianity Today, which ought to know better.

Such suggestions among Christians border on the ridiculous. We should remember Paul’s admonitions, such as:

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? Galatians 3:2-6)


If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh (Colossians 2:20-23).

Instead, Ash Wednesday is a 10th century invention, and not one “Lenten” practice can be traced to the New Testament. The list here, compiled by Yves Congar in his “The Meaning of Tradition”, places many of these rituals well into the fourth century and later:

— The Lenten fast (Irenaeus, Jerome, Leo)

— Certain baptismal rites (Tertullian, Origen, Basil, Jerome, Augustine)

— Certain Eucharistic rites (Origen, Cyprian, Basil)

— Infant baptism (Origen, Augustine)

— Prayer facing the East (Origen, Basil)

— Validity of baptism by heretics (pope Stephen, Augustine)

— Certain rules for the election and consecration of bishops (Cyprian)

— The sign of the cross (Basil, who lived 329-379)

— Prayer for the dead (note, this is not “prayers to the dead) (John Chrysostom)

— Various liturgical fests and rites (Basil, Augustine)

From Yves Congar, in his “The Meaning of Tradition,” (and derived from his scholarly “Tradition and Traditions” and a textbook for Roman Catholic seminarians), (pg. 37).

Again, while such practices as Lenten fasts and the sign of the cross are still practiced, many of these “apostolic traditions” – really those extending earlier than the 4th century – such as prayer facing east, and Cyprian’s rules for electing and consecrating bishops, actually find themselves in the dustbin of history.

Even those for which there is attestation became exaggerated over time. The “Lenten Fast” mentioned with respect to Irenaeus, above, for example, originally only was “40 hours”:

Closer examination of the ancient sources, however, reveals a more gradual historical development. While fasting before Easter seems to have been ancient and widespread, the length of that fast varied significantly from place to place and across generations. In the latter half of the second century, for instance, Irenaeus of Lyons (in Gaul) and Tertullian (in North Africa) tell us that the preparatory fast lasted one or two days, or forty hours—commemorating what was believed to be the exact duration of Christ’s time in the tomb. By the mid-third century, Dionysius of Alexandria speaks of a fast of up to six days practiced by the devout in his see; and the Byzantine historian Socrates relates that the Christians of Rome at some point kept a fast of three weeks. Only following the Council of Nicea in 325 a.d. did the length of Lent become fixed at forty days, and then only nominally. Accordingly, it was assumed that the forty-day Lent that we encounter almost everywhere by the mid-fourth century must have been the result of a gradual lengthening of the pre-Easter fast by adding days and weeks to the original one- or two-day observance. This lengthening, in turn, was thought necessary to make up for the waning zeal of the post-apostolic church and to provide a longer period of instruction for the increasing numbers of former pagans thronging to the font for Easter baptism. Such remained the standard theory for most of the twentieth century.

We simply should not adopt fourth century practices as if it enables us to repent better than or more sincerely than simply to bow our heads and “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Rubio and Cruz

1. Some voters act as though supporting a candidate means defending everything they say and do. I notice that some Cruz supporters excuse everything he every said or did, or unquestioningly accept his ex post facto explanations. That's very credulous.

Rational voters can separate out defending someone's candidacy from blanket support for whatever they say or do. It's possible to support someone's candidacy despite disagreement with one or more of their positions or policies. 

Indeed, it's important to reserve the right to criticize positions/policies of a candidate you otherwise support. I don't issue any candidate a blank check. 

For instance, I might support a candidate even though I disagree with some of his policies. That doesn't necessarily mean I give up those issues. If he becomes president, it's still possible to block those particular policies at a legislative or judicial level. It becomes a question of when and where to fight.

2. Some voters raise fake, frivolous objections to a rival candidate. This is where they are reaching for anything they can use against the rival candidate. These are not objections they consistently raise. If their favorite candidate did the same thing, they'd give him a pass. Or if it were a different election cycle, they might swap those out for different objections. For instance, opponents of Rubio complain about his missed votes. They say he's not doing the job he was paid to do. But there are several problems with that complaint:

i) There's more to the job of a legislator than showing up to vote. His job includes meeting with constituents. Serving on committees and subcommittees. Intercede with other gov't agencies on behalf of his constituents. 

ii) Many votes are just symbolic votes. Unless his vote is required for passage of a bill, or for the bill to pass by a veto-proof majority, missing a vote is not intrinsically significant. 

iii) Let's compare Rubio's missed votes to Cruz:



So Rubio misses votes 0.3% more often than Cruz. Clearly that's a frivolous objection.

3. Another phony issue is that he's too scripted in debates. But when you are limited to 30-60 second answers, you need to have compact, prepared answers. 

4. A basic problem with raising phony objections is that it gives equal weight to frivolous objections and serious objections. But that's a way of saying serious issues don't matter. If you treat frivolous objections and serious objections equally, then you really don't care about the issues. You really don't care about ideology. But I do. 

Here are some serious, substantive criticisms Rubio:

If you wish to find fault with Rubio, talk about something like that

5. There are roughly two considerations:

i) Is Republican candidate A better or worse than Republican candidate B?

ii) Is Republican candidate A (B, C) better than the Democrat candidate?

You could have two Republican candidates who are both better than the Democrat; one Republican candidate is better than another, but the better candidate is less electable. So you have a twofold comparison; two considerations you need to balance: Which is worse? for the Democrat to win, or for a Republican to win, who's better than the Democrat, but worse than one (or more) of his Republican rivals (who have little chance of winning)? 

I know some Christians bristle at those comparisons, but reality constrains our field of action. Suppose I said that if you wish to draw water from a well, you should use a bucket rather than a pasta strainer. Some Christians would respond by saying "That's pragmatic! That's worldly wisdom!"

6. Oftentimes, the debate is cast in terms of Cruz as the intrinsically better candidate, but we must settle for Rubio because Cruz is unelectable. An unfortunate, but necessary compromise. One problem I have with that way of framing the issue is that I not only have some genuine reservations about Rubio, but I have some genuine reservations about Cruz. I doubt he's quite the knight in shining armor that some of his supporters imagine him to be. 

i) Take his position on SSM. In an interview, shortly after Obergefell, he said gov't officials should simply ignore the ruling:

I like that. But I can't help noticing that his initial reaction to Obergefell wasn't that hardline. Initially, he proposed a Constitutional amendment: 

I have a default suspicion about Republicans who propose Constitutional amendments in the culture wars. I think that's often a decoy. It's a lengthy process that usually goes nowhere. So it's a proposal that doesn't cost the politician anything. A diversionary tactic creating the pretense that a politician has taken meaningful action, when it deflects attention away from meaningful action. Placating social conservatives with symbolism.

I'm also curious about the timing. Between his initial, weaker response, and his later, tougher response, Cruz's mentor, Robert George, came out with a public statement saying officials should disregard the ruling. 

Right after that, Cruz came out with a public statement saying officials should disregard the ruling. Hmm. Is that just coincidental? Or was Cruz waiting to see how other conservative opinion makers-would respond, then struck a more confrontational rhetorical pose after they did? Is this putting a wet finger to the wind? Did he sense that his first response might be perceived as too weak?

But that's not all. The Lawrence decision laid the groundwork for Obergefell. If you wanted to oppose SSM, it would be more strategic to draw the battle lines sooner, before the homosexual lobby got so much momentum. And Cruz had an ideal opportunity to do so. The Lawrence decision involved a Texas anti-sodomy law, and Cruz was Texas attorney general at the time. He was uniquely positioned to right that battle. Yet he didn't get involved, and there's prima facie evidence that his inaction might be related to his courting gay donors. 

7. Then there's his position on illegal immigration. There's prima facie evidence that he's shifted position for political expediency:

At one point Cruz proposed an amendment to legalize immigrants, but deny them citizenship, although he now claims that was a poison pill. 

However, one can easily see legalization as part of a long-range strategy. If it's too controversial to begin with outright naturalization, you break it down into increments. You lead with legalization as a first step, to gain a foothold. Having achieved that, you then complain about how arbitrary and unfair it is for immigrants who are here legally to be denied a chance to become citizens.

8. Recently, Cruz opposed draft registration for women:

Although I agree with him on the merits, his statement misses the point. Liberals say women can do anything a man can do. So this is calling their bluff. Right now we have a double standard. This is a way of forcing liberals to be consistent–and make them pay a political price for consistency. 

9. Finally, some conservatives seem to be schizophrenic about the value of an Ivy League education. They usually say political correctness has ruined the humanities at Ivy League institutions. Students are indoctrinated in sheer propaganda. Liberal ideology is at war with history and science. You'd get a much better education at a Christian college like Patrick Henry. 

But then some of them drool over Cruz's Ivy League resume. That suggests a conservative inferiority complex. Is a candidate who attended Harvard and Princeton presumptively better than a candidate (Rubio) who attended a state college on a football scholarship? 

Sunday, February 07, 2016

The Overreaction To Rubio's Debate Stumble

Jim Geraghty has a good assessment of Rubio's poor handling of an exchange with Christie in last night's debate. Rubio hurt himself, but not much. His critics are exaggerating the significance of it.

He's performed well in every debate, including the large majority of last night's debate. Trump and Carson frequently commit mistakes far worse than Rubio's. Trump loses every debate, in the sense of being the worst performer of all, and he repeats himself far more than Rubio does and with far less substance. But Trump is often judged by a different standard. He's expected to cross a low bar, while somebody like Rubio is expected to cross one that's much higher. If Trump's irrational supporters are thought to be likely to keep supporting him after his performance in a debate, then his performance is treated like a success. As if Trump's irrational supporters set the standard for him, while somebody like Rubio has to meet a standard far higher. What we ought to be doing is judging all of these candidates by the same standard. Trump has flunked out every time, whereas Rubio has had some occasional bad moments (with last night's being the worst) while usually performing at the level of something like a B or B+. There were multiple segments in last night's debate in which Trump performed worse than Rubio did in his exchange with Christie (e.g., the segment on eminent domain, Trump's comments on healthcare), but Rubio gets a more negative response from analysts and worse media coverage. Similarly, Rubio can have more good moments than other candidates (e.g., his comments on abortion) and a better debate overall, yet get less of a positive response.

I think Cruz had the best performance last night. He'd be a significantly better candidate if he would always conduct himself that way.

Presidential debates

Presidential debates can be useful in some respects. Take the current cycle. Early on, Ben Carson and Donald Trump demonstrated that they are woefully uninformed in many domestic and foreign policy issues. 

Christie has shown that he's an ardent proponent of the surveillance state. Kasich has shown that he's not up to the challenge of the culture wars. 

However, presidential debates have serious limitations. Apart from immigration, I think Rick Perry would have made a good president. But because he went into the debates unprepared four years ago, he blew his chance. He thought he could wing it. He was wrong. 

Jimmy Carter was smarter than Ronald Reagan. Yet Carter was one of our worst presidents while Reagan was one of our best presidents.

Reagan was manifestly over-the-hill in his first debate with Mondale. It was painful to see him struggling to maintain his train of thought and grope for words. Yet Reagan past his prime was vastly superior to Mondale in his prime.

Donald Trump has a very long paper trail. You don't need to watch him in a single debate to have an informed position on his qualifications–or lack thereof. His reputation precedes him. And, in fact, the things he's said and done before he decided to run for president are a more reliable guide.

The debate format lends itself to simplistic answers. Canned answers. Take the coed the military. For a Republican candidate to give a defensible answer in opposition to women in combat, or women in the Navy, he has to lay the groundwork. The general culture will instantly demonize him as a sexist bigot. It takes a lengthy explanation to put the correct answer in context. And that's not possible in debates with one-minute answers or 30-second responses. 

Same thing with abortion. It's basically impossible to give an intelligent answer to that question in 60 seconds or less. 

Debate preparation makes debaters sound scripted because that's what the format demands. A better metric is how candidates respond when they have more time to collect their thoughts and give detailed explanations. 

Police videos and Gospel harmonization

The issue of Gospel harmonization is sometimes cast in terms of photographic realism. In that regard, videos of police shootings are a useful way to illustrate the strengths and limitations of that paradigm.

Sometimes a police video shows you all you need to know about the shooting. It shows you enough to judge whether the policeman was in the right or in the wrong. Whether the suspect was offending party or the offended party.

But police videos can be misleading. They may not show enough. Take an off-duty cop shooting an armed civilian. All the camera depicts is two armed men in plain clothes. You can't tell from that who's the good guy and who's the bad guy. The civilian might be a schoolyard sniper. 

Sometimes this is a spatial limitation. They may show the action of the policeman rather than the suspect, or the action of the suspect rather than the policeman, rather than showing their interaction. They may show the incident from the policeman's angle, or from the suspect's angle, but not both.

Was the suspect charging the policeman when he was shot, or did the policeman shoot him in the back? And what was the alleged crime? 

Sometimes this is a temporal limitation. The video begins too late to give context. It fails to show what led up to the shooting. What did the suspect do or what did the policeman do before the cameras started rolling? A traffic violation? A mugging? 

Take a car chase. The police are in hot pursuit. Is this a joy ride? A child abduction? A fleeing bank robber? 

Moreover, even if you have complete footage, there are things a camera can't show that may be crucial to the interpretation of the actions.

Did the suspect have a rap sheet? If so, what were his priors? Was he a violent career criminal? What did the dispatcher tell the police? Did they know what they were walking into? Sometimes police walk into an ambush. 

Conversely, does the policeman have history of complaints? Formal reprimands in his file? Out of court settlements? Did the police dept. cover up for past wrongdoing? Was a policeman a juvenile offender whose court records were sealed? Some police are crooks with badges (a la Serpico). 

Suppose the suspect brandishes a gun. What's his mental state? Is he psychotic? Is he high on drugs? Even if he's in a state of diminished responsibility, he's just as dangerous to the general public or the police. 

Suppose the suspect brandishes a toy gun. But the police can't tell the difference from that distance. So they must make a snap judgment.

Did the suspect reach into his pocket? You can't tell if he has a gun in his pocket. And he can shoot straight through the pocket. 

Situations like that are like pulling the ring of a grenade. Once you do that, the remaining options are limited.

The point of this extended illustration is that a verbal eyewitness be ambiguous or misleading without sufficient context. An account that simply describes what an observer could see or hear may be unintentionally deceptive, for the correct interpretation of the event requires additional information. 

An interpretive account can be more accurate than a barebones description, because the reader may need supplementary information to understand what happened. 

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Wheaton prof. resigns

Takedown of Richard Carrier

Richard Carrier palms himself off as a probability theorist. If you don't mind the technicalities, here's a critique by a Cambridge educated cosmologist and physicist:

HT: Patrick Chan

The Republican Debates Can Be Misleading

I've watched all of the Republican presidential debates so far. There have been more than a dozen, if you include the undercard debates. I've noticed that some issues haven't come up much yet, if at all. We'll see if that continues in tonight's debate and the others to follow. But the fact that these patterns have persisted through more than a dozen debates is significant.

It's a reminder that we need to distinguish between primary debates and debates in the general election campaign. A candidate can be well-suited for one, but do poorly in the other context.

The audiences will be different. There are lines that will get nothing but applause in a Republican primary debate, but would also get a lot of booing in a debate for the general election.

John's Gospel and the Virgin Birth

You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of fornication. We have one Father—even God” (Jn 8:41). 

i) Critics of the virgin birth complain that this event is only reported in two sources: Matthew and Luke. Actually, the fact that we have two independent records of this event is impressive. 

But now I'd like to consider a neglected source. It's possible or probable that Jn 8:41 is an indirect allusion to the virgin birth. If so, that's even more impressive because it represents hostile testimony.

ii) Of course, Jesus' Jewish opponents didn't believe in the virgin birth. The question, rather, is whether, in Jn 8:41, they are alluding to his out-of-wedlock conception. They don't construe that as a virginal conception, but a virginal conception would underlie and account for his out-of-wedlock conception. 

iii) Scholars are divided on whether his opponents are questioning his legitimacy. For instance, Keener says:

Because Jesus' interlocutors in the story would  here, like most of his interlocutors in the Gospel, interpret him too literally, they may take his charge as implying that they do in fact stem from an adulterous union. Alternatively, they could understand "fornication" in its spiritual sense referring to idolatry. C. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Hendrickson 2003), 1:759.

But if they took him literally, then, by parity of argument, we'd expect the charge of illegitimacy to be literal. So it's unclear why Keener raises that in objection to the interpretation in question.

And, of course, the figurative interpretation is incompatible with the literal interpretation, so we need to decide which is preferable. he can't list both options as a cumulative objection to the interpretation in question. 
Keener also says his opponents are on the defensive at this point, and only go on the offensive in v48. But it's not clear what that means. They seem to be responding to Jesus with a counter-allegation. "We are not bastards"–which carries the implicitly invidious comparison to Jesus. 

Indeed, it's a rhetorical trap. By using suggestive language that leaves the comparison implicit, it attempts to create a dilemma for Jesus. If he declines to respond, the slur does its damage by default. It's out there, to injure his reputation.

If, however, he does respond, he must acknowledge the rumor to refute it. In a way, that confirms the rumor–though not the defamatory interpretation. 
Finally, Keener says:

It is not clear that such charges were sufficiently widespread by the end of the first century to be assumed by John's audience or that of his tradition (although this is possible). Ibid. 1:759.

But there are problems with that objection:

i) We need to distinguish between John's audience and the historical audience. Jesus is addressing some Jews, in the early thirties. John repeats this because that's what they said. He's recording this exchange because the larger dialogue is important to establish the person and work of Christ. Even if this particular allusion would escape their ken, that's embedded in a crucial dialogue.

ii) John may well expect his readers to have background information from prior Gospels. He can take for granted their awareness of the virgin birth. Even if every reader didn't know that, it's not his responsibility. The supplementary information is available. 

Meier thinks the reference is figurative, like the reference to Samaritan pedigree in v48. Cf. J. Meier, A Marginal Jew (Doubleday 1991), 1:228-29.

However, the Samaritan comparison is obscure. Commentators struggle with what his accusers had in mind. Moreover, that allegation is combined with the allegation of demonic possession, which may well be literal.

If 7:41 is a literal slur, that that generates a dilemma for the liberal view of John's Gospel. Liberals date this Gospel to the first quarter of the 2C. They think the author had no firsthand knowledge of the historical Jesus. They think he invented speeches whole cloth.

But in that event, why in the world would the narrator fabricate that defamatory innuendo? Why would he plant that idea in the mind of the reader? Why introduce that stigmatizing characterization into his narrative if it had no historical precedent? Why invent a weapon that critics would use against Jesus?

If, however, this is a historically accurate transcript (or summary) of an actual exchange, then it's plausible that Jesus' Jewish opponents would attempt to discredit him by calling him a (literal) bastard. If they had malicious gossip to that effect, they would surely use it at some point or another. And they'd place the least flattering interpretation on rumors that Mary was an unwed mother. I think many scholars are too high-minded to appreciate what enemies will resort to. 

Indeed, the illegitimacy of Jesus became a standard element of the Jewish polemic. Origen responds to that. We find it in the Toledot Yeshua. In fact, that is still a part of the Jewish polemic, right down to our very own day:

My point is not that that these later sources reflect independent traditions. Rather, they represent a hostile interpretation of the virgin birth. 

By the same token, it's easy to see how the virgin birth would give rise to similar allegations by spiteful neighbors–who'd be more than happy to share that with the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. 

Gospel fictionalization

Friday, February 05, 2016

How Darwin lost his faith

As Mitchell Stephens points out in his excellent book Imagine There’s no Heaven: How Atheism Helped Create the Modern World (2014), what undermined Darwin’s faith were the observations he made, as a kind of amateur anthropologist, of the diversity of religions around the world and the sincerity of their devotees, and his reading of the works of Shelley, the philosopher David Hume, and various other skeptical thinkers. Stephens quotes E.O. Wilson: “The great naturalist did not abandon” religion because of his work on natural selection, but rather “The reverse occurred. The shedding of blind faith gave him the intellectual fearlessness to explore human evolution wherever logic and evidence took him.”

Why the Virgin Birth?

Why was Jesus virginally conceived? Admittedly, the question is somewhat speculative. However, I think the Bible expects Christians to reflect on the theological significance of the virgin birth, so this is more than idle speculation.

1. Let's begin with secular explanations. On one version, the virgin birth is based on pagan exemplars. But there are familiar problems with that allegation:

i) The alleged parallels aren't comparable upon closer scrutiny. For instance, the women may not be virgins. Or conception involves copulation between male gods and human women. 

ii) The pagan stories are too far removed in time, place, and genre to be exemplars.

iii) It would be repugnant to Matthew's Jewish audience. That would be counterproductive to his aim. 

2. On another secular explanation, the virgin birth is a cover story of a prenuptial scandal. On one version, Mary and Joseph jumped the gun. But there are problems with that explanation:

i) According to Mosaic Law, premarital sex was not a capital offense. The punishment was a shotgun wedding. 

ii) If, moreover, Mary and Joseph were already betrothed, then fornication is a technicality. After all, it took a formal "divorce" to dissolve a betrothal. From what I've read, there was no consensus on whether it was illicit for betrothed couples to exercise that privilege. 

iii) Although there was no legal double standard, I suspect there was a cultural double standard. How much stigma, if any, would attach to Joseph? Surely a fair number of single Jewish men were sexually active. That's why Proverbs warns against young men frequently with prostitutes. Likewise, what got David into hot water wasn't promiscuity, but adultery, and betrayal (of a soldier under his command). If this was a prenuptial scandal, it would only be scandalous for Mary, not Joseph.

iv) Since there'd been no scientific way to prove paternity, Joseph could simply accuse Mary of sleeping with another man and wash his hands of the matter. 

v) Unwed motherhood was hardly a unique occurrence in 1C Judaism. Why would anyone find the Virgin Birth a plausible cover story? 

vi) A variation on the secular explanation is that Mary was pregnant by a man other than Joseph. If so, it's inexplicable why Joseph would consent to marry her. That would be culturally demeaning to Joseph. 

vii) Since the secular explanation regards the account as fictional, it would be simpler for Matthew to deny Mary's out-of-wedlock pregnancy by narrating that she became pregnant after Mary and Joseph tied the knot. If, according to the secular explanation, Matthew is guilty of fabrication, why not a fabrication that eliminates any grounds for suspicion? 

A possible objection is that Matthew couldn't get away with that because there were witnesses who knew Mary was an unwed mother. If so, that generates a dilemma for the secular explanation. Those who treat the virgin birth narrative as fictional or mythological date Matthew to c. 80-100. They think it was written by an anonymous author with no historical connection to Jesus or his relatives. But in that event, how would anyone in Matthew's audience be in a position to correct his account if he denied her prenuptial pregnancy? Mary and Joseph weren't famous at the time of her pregnancy. Only a handful of people would know when she became pregnant. And on liberal dating, that was about a century (give or take) before the Gospel was written. 

vii) Finally, this isn't the only Biblical example of a miraculous conception. Unless all other examples are cover stories for prenuptial scandals, why assume that must be the explanation in this case? Why single out a prenuptial scandal in this particular instance? 

2. Let's shift to theological explanations. One rationale is that if Jesus had a biological father, then he'd inherit original sin.

One problem with that rationale is that mainstream Reformed theology affirms the immediate rather than mediate imputation of Adam's sin. It's something everyone gets direct from Adam, by divine imputation, and not from your parents, or your father in particular.  

3. On the face of it, a divine Incarnation doesn't necessitate a virginal conception. On the one hand, Jesus doesn't require a human father to have a divine father. Those are separable. They operate on different levels. 

On the other hand, if he can be human without a biological father, he can be human without a biological mother. After all, Adam and Eve were human sans parentage. He could be human with two parents, one parent, or no parent. Different miracles. 

4. Another rationale is that a miraculous conception is a divine sign that there's something very special about this person. And that's undoubtedly true as far as it goes.

5. In addition, although his divine sonship doesn't automatically preclude a biological father, that omission draws attention to his divine sonship. Even though these operate at different levels, yet because it's normally necessary for humans to have biological fathers, if someone doesn't, the follow-up question is to ask who takes up the slack? Who fills that role? 

6. Finally, it might seem initially odd that Christ's claim to Davidic ancestry is merely legal rather than biological. Isn't that rather roundabout? Doesn't that seem to weaken the connection? The claim would appear to be stronger if Joseph was his biological father rather than stepfather. 

But if you think about it, the way God actually arranged it is more subtle and powerful. How does one become a king? One way is through inheritance. Passed down from father to son.

Yet that's not how David became king of Israel. Jesse was not a king. David was a commoner.

Rather, God directly elevated David to the throne. And David's coronation employs adoptive language: "I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son" (2 Sam 7:14). God is like David's stepfather. 

By the same token, Jesus isn't the rightful heir due to his human paternity. Rather, he's enthroned by God himself.

In bypassing genetic lineage, the virgin birth creates a partial parallel between the kingship of David and the Davidic kingship of Christ. Jesus is heir to the Davidic throne, not in virtue of his physical pedigree; rather, God directly installs him as king just as God did in David's case. So there's a type/antitype parallel.

7. Moreover, in typological escalation, Jesus is God's Son in a way that David is not. Jesus is God's Son by nature, and not adoption. 

In fact it creates a chiasmic relation:

A. Jesse is David's ontological father
   B. God is David's stepfather
   B. Joseph is Jesus' stepfather
A. God is Jesus' ontological Father

One way to contrast two things is by comparing two things. Their similarities make the dissimilarities stick out.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Is mankind one or many?

Dale Tuggy:
About your claim #3 - You are overlooking that steps 4-9 deal with the "deity" of Christ. I am focusing on the sense of "deity" or "divinity" which implies that the thing is a god. Compare: human. In the primary or basic sense of that, whatever "is human" just is a certain human being, e.g. Steve.

Fine. Let's play along with Tuggy's own example.

i) Is mankind one or many? You can say mankind is only one with respect to the fact that there's only one human genus. That's why it's called mankind or humankind.

ii) But, of course, there can be many representatives of that kind or genus. Indeed, there seems to be no intrinsic upper maxima to the possible number of human representatives.

iii) By analogy, consider God-kind or God as a genus. At that level, there's only one. God is a class by itself (or himself).

Yet there can be more than one representative of God-kind. Indeed, there are three. Unlike humans, that does have an intrinsic upper maxima. 

iv) There are differences, of course. Humans are finite, concrete exemplifications of God's idea for each human individual.

By contrast, the members of the Trinity are more like abstract mirror symmetries. Each one reflects the other two. Contains the other two.

v) However, these refinements are irrelevant to the larger point that there's more than one way to count certain things. In some cases it's possible to count the same thing as one or more than one. 

Challenge met

Dale Tuggy:

The ambiguity of "God" here is a feature, not a bug:

You've misunderstood the difference between "God" (singular referring term) and "god" (common noun). Thus, your argument in this post is simply not mine, and is not parallel to mine. 

i) For starters, that's duplicitous. You begin by telling me the ambiguity is intentional. Likewise, in your sequel post, you say "There is an ambiguity here, but it is deliberate, and is a virtue of the argument."

But you then complain that I allegedly failed to draw a semantic distinction between "God" as a singular referring term and "god" as a common noun. So your ambiguous formulation was deceptive. You're now admitting that the argument only goes through if we give "God" a more specific import. 

ii) It's ironic that you presume to accuse me of failing to distinguish between "God" as a singular referring term and "god" as a common noun when, in fact, I've accused you of ignoring or obscuring that distinction since 2011. 

You can take “God” here to be either the Father (as in the NT) or the Trinity (as in trinitarian traditions) – either way, I claim, you should agree that this is a sound argument.

False dichotomy. There's a third option: I can construe it as a predication of deity. 

See my "Trinity Challenge" argument in the post above. Do you agree that it is sound? (I believe you deny it because you deny its 2 - see below.)

Your reformulation is different than mine. Therefore, your "Trinity Challenge" argument fails to engage my alternative.

Your second argument isn't parallel to anything I'm arguing. It's besides the point. 

i) My second argument unpacked the admitted ambiguity of "God" in a different direction. Since you yourself concede that "God" is ambiguous, it's a legitimate move for me to explore different ways of understanding the descriptor. In this case, it construes the descriptor in qualitative terms (kind, genus, set of attributes) rather than quantitative terms. You offer no counterargument. 

ii) In addition, it exposes ambiguities in how to count the same object. So your syllogism is vitiated by equivocation. And you offer no counterargument to my critique. You simply issue dismissive denials.

About your claim #3 - You are overlooking that steps 4-9 deal with the "deity" of Christ. I am focusing on the sense of "deity" or "divinity" which implies that the thing is a god. Compare: human. In the primary or basic sense of that, whatever "is human" just is a certain human being, e.g. Steve. 

Yes, you're laboring to rig the terms of the debate. I get that. Your syllogism hinges on a false premise. Fatal ambiguity.

"Tuggy's syllogism depends on calling Jesus "God"."
You're not really getting the points of the argument. If 3 is true, it is highly misleading to say that "Jesus is God" because many will hear that as an identification of Jesus and God. And the point of 9 is that "the deity of Christ" is also misleading, as many will think that implies that Jesus is a god. But, he can't be - as there's only one god, and it's something or someone else - take your pick - the Father, or the Trinity. 

i) Your objection is irrelevant. The question at issue is not the connotations which the phrase ("Jesus is God") may have for many, but whether you can generate a sound argument. How "many" hear it is hardly the standard of comparison. We need to distinguish between popular usage and philosophical usage

ii) Apropos (i), it's trivially easy to state the Trinity in formally contradictory terms by using popular language rather than philosophical jargon. But a formal contradiction is linguistic, not conceptual. It's like a verbal paradox. You've been playing this rhetorical ruse for five years.

"ambiguities concerning what it means for something to be "only one"."
Your example does nothing to show that "one" is ambiguous. Are you saying that we should doubt or deny that 6 is true? 

Are you just dense? The Mandelbrot set can be counted in more than one way. I explain that. As usual, you don't refute what I say. Instead, you utter a tendentious denial.

"A final problem with Tuggy's syllogism is that the NT does in fact call Jesus "God" or "Lord" (=Yahweh)"
Not a problem. It's simply a mistake to think that anyone who can properly be called "God" or "Lord" is none other than Yahweh himself. 

And according to NT Christology, Jesus is none other than Yahweh himself.

In terms of the argument, here you are just insisting that 3 is false. But 3 follows from 1 and 2. So, which of those do you deny? I think you must be just going against reason and denying 2, unlike just about all Christians trained in philosophy.

No, the question at issue is whether your syllogism, if sound, disproves NT Christology.

Are the NT authors *identifying* the one God and this man? You should say not.

Of course, they don't view Jesus as simply "this man". 

*You* think God is a Trinity, and that Jesus isn't. And that's just one of many differences: e.g. God has a Son, and Jesus doesn't. 

i) This is how you always load the dice. You are too unethical to state the Trinitarian position as a Trinitarian would state it. The Father has a Son, but the Son has no Son. 

ii) And of course there are differences. The Trinity presupposes personal differentiation. 

So the only way you can attribute the identification of Jesus and God to Paul or John (etc.) is to suppose that they're so stupid that they don't know: Things which differ are two (i.e. are not numerically identical) [premise 2 in my argument]. In other words, you're supposing that they think that one and the same thing can, at one time, be and not be some way. But that is *very* uncharitable. That's like supposing that they don't know that 3+3=6, or that "bigger than" is a transitive relation.

i) I've corrected you on this for years no. The Apostles have no control over what God is like. Their role is reportorial.

I would doubt that you fail to believe 2, as you seem to have adult-range intelligence, and would surly employ 2 in reasoning about non-theological matters. But I understand that you *say* you're denying 2 here - your theory demands it. This is a price you must pay in order to deny 3, given that you see that it's ridiculous for any Christian to deny 1.

What you need to see though is that it's ridiculous for any person, Christian or not, to deny 2. It's epistemic status is at least equal to 1.

Your syllogism is equivocal.