Saturday, October 17, 2015

Faith, justification, and salvation

I'd like to make a few more quick points about Lee Irons in regard to John Piper:

1. One source of confusion is due to the fact that there are at least two conditions in play:

i) Faith is a necessary condition of justification

ii) Justification is a necessary condition of salvation

Lee oscillates between these two different, but interrelated, propositions.

2. I think some Calvinists are nervous about the word "condition" because they think it connotes uncertainly. Because "condition" is often used in human transactions, conditionality in that setting may be uncertain because human agents, unlike God, are not omnipotent and omniscient. Therefore, the parties cannot ensure the satisfaction of the conditions.

That, however, is not inherent in the nature of a condition. Rather, that's context-dependent. Incidental to the agent in question. 

For instance, the eternal decree has conditionality. The Resurrection is contingent on the Crucifixion, which is contingent on the Incarnation. Likewise, the death of Christ is contingent on the action of human participants like Judas, Pilate, and the Sanhedrin. 

That, however, doesn't render the outcome uncertain. These are determinate means to determinate ends. There's teleology within the decree, where the occurrence of one event depends on the occurrence of another event. Nested events; nested decrees. Yet the outcome is inevitable, as are the intervening events which facilitate the outcome. 

Free speech apocalypse

Are Molinist Distinctives Found in the Bible?

How Biblical is Molinism?

Prof. James Anderson's first post in the series.

The horserace

On the Democrat side, Hillary's performance in the debate tightened her grip on the nomination. It's hard to see what can dislodge her.

There's the possibility of an FBI indictment. However:

i) DOJ might have to sign off on any indictment, which seems highly unlikely so long as that's in the hands of Democrats.

ii) Even if she is indicted, I doubt most Democrats care.

On the GOP side, Christie and Kasich have tanked at 1% in a new poll, teetering on the brink of asterisk oblivion. Carley has lost points. Jeb is sinking.

At this point I think Rubio, Cruz, and Carson are the most likely nominees.

iii) Carson's odds are hard to handicap. Like Trump, he's a protest candidate. But unlike Trump, he's not off-putting to the base. 

Many Trump supporters don't seem to be registered Republicans or social conservatives. So when it comes to Republican primaries, he doesn't appear to have a lot of actual voters in his corner. Rather, he draws his support from people who are disaffected with both parties. So his hot-air balloon may go the way of the Hindenburg the moment it comes into contact with real voters in real primaries. We'll see.

Carson is acceptable to the base in a way that Trump is not. And lately he's shown good political instincts in public comments that seize the moment.

However, it's hard to see him winning a debate with Hillary. Thus far, he is docile and uninformed. 

On the other hand, his bedside manner makes him hard to demonize. And the liberal establishment has to be careful about Borking a black presidential candidate. Sure, they tried that with Thomas, but only political junkies followed that debate. A national campaign would draw a different audience. 

iv) At the moment, I still think Rubio has the best shot at the nomination. And the best shot in the general election.

In a debate with Hillary, he could hold his own on substance. And his youth might compare well with her age. 

One potential problem is that he has no edge. So this would look like a debate between two reasonable candidates. That favors Hillary.

Rubio doesn't strike me as the kind of candidate who will try to make Hillary look bad. I doubt he'd draw attention to how dangerous she is to the Republic, given her lawlessness and dictatorial mindset. 

v) Cruz can also cash in on the protest candidate persona. And he's been courting the Trumpkins. Positioning himself so that if Trump loses flames out, Cruz can pick up his supporters. 

He's a good fundraiser. Has a strategy for forging a new winning coalition, by targeting neglected voting blocks. Whether he can translate that strategy into reality remains to be seen. 

And he's more likely to expose Hillary's liabilities in a debate. But that poses a dilemma. 

He lacks charm. And there's a feminist double standard, where she's allowed to say whatever she wants, however she wants, but if a male candidate takes her on, he's "mean." He's "disrespectful" to a woman. So I don't know how that would play out in terms of voter perceptions. 

Chaos at the Vatican

This is what happens when benighted Protestants lack the guidance of a living, divine teaching office:

Putting the assurance of salvation in perspective

i) The Reformed emphasis on the assurance of salvation is in reaction to Rome, which denies the assurance of salvation. In traditional Catholic theology, you constantly walk a tightrope between dying in a state of grace and dying in a state of mortal sin. Salvation or damnation becomes a matter of lucky or unlucky timing. 

So Protestant theologians emphasized the assurance of salvation to counter that error. That, however, can lead to an overreaction or overemphasis, as if we're supposed to indulge in morbid introspection. Spiritual hypochondria. 

ii) There's a sense in which the assurance of salvation is overrated. It's important to reject a theological system that denies the possible assurance of salvation. 

But having a sense of assurance doesn't mean you're heavenbound, and not having a sense of assurance doesn't mean you're hellbound.

A sense of assurance doesn't make you saved, lack of assurance doesn't make you unsaved. The presence or absence of assurance doesn't change the reality. 

It's like the possibility that I was born with an undiagnosed genetic defect that will cause me to develop a degenerative illness in my 20s-40s. But I won't know if that's true unless and until it happens.

It would be unreasonable to let that hypothetical possibility haunt me. Rob me of happiness because I fear the dim possibility that I might develop a condition which ruins my life. That becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, where it's my fear of something–which in all probability will never occur–that ruins my life, rather than the thing I fear.

Suppose I never marry or have kids for fear I might possibly have this ticking timebomb in my system. It's not the degenerative condition that makes me miserable, but the nagging fear. I may never develop that condition. Indeed, it is highly unlikely that I will develop that condition. Yet I deny myself the happy life I might have had–with the wife and kids and white picket fence–for fear I might not have a happy life! (in the unlikely event that I develop this imaginary condition). 

If I develop that condition, I will be miserable, and so I avoid a normal social life just in case I develop that condition, but it's my reaction that makes me miserable, and not the specter of the would-be genetic defect. 

It's a mistake for people to fret over the assurance of salvation. Just avoid doing things that are damnable! 

ii) In addition, some people are prone to depression, which makes them more susceptible to spiritual self-doubt, because that's just a reflection of their general self-doubt. And that can be a vicious cycle. It's depressing to be depressed! And there's the fatalistic sense that even if you shake off depression, it's waiting for you just around the corner. You can't put it behind you, because it lies in wait to jump you when you round the corner. 

Depression intensifies foreboding about the assurance of salvation, and vice versa. 

But as I say, the assurance of salvation is often overblown. Like fearing the possibility that you're born with an undiagnosed genetic defect. You keep looking for symptoms. When you're not feeling well, you wonder if this is the onset of the dreaded degenerative condition–even though there's no evidence that you have a genetic defect. Even though that's statistically improbable. 

iii) There's a certain paradox about spiritual self-examination. The people who need it don't do it and the people who do it don't need it.

By that I mean, there are spiritually self-confident people who are overly confident. And that's obvious to bystanders. There are spiritually self-confident people who are poised for a downfall. Ironically, their excessive self-assurance is the catalyst for their downfall. Others can see it coming, but they can't.

They are the high-risk group. And they are the very people who don't feel the need to examine themselves. 

I think concern over assurance of salvation is mainly of value to people who are spiritually complacent. A check on one extreme. 

But for normal Christians, I don't think it's necessary or beneficial to be too self-conscious. 

Trinitarian salvation

Lee Irons has responded to a post by Mark Jones:

Most of this doesn't interest me. I'm just going to comment on two or three of his statements:

For if we are accounted and accepted as righteous for Christ’s sake alone, then we are righteous, and being righteous means we are legally entitled to the reward of righteousness, namely, eternal life. To say that we need to add other conditions or qualifications would be to deny the sufficiency of Christ’s righteousness. It is to imply that Christ’s righteousness is not sufficient to qualify us to attain heaven. I am confident that Piper would disavow that implication with vehemence. 

i) "Qualify" is Lee's word, not Piper's. 

There's more to salvation than the forensic dimension. Salvation is not reducible to justification. Salvation is not reducible to the Cross. 

ii) Traditionally, the sufficiency of Christ's righteousness stands in contrast to the Roman system of human merit. And there's no doubt that Christ's righteousness is sufficient. 

But in Reformed theology, salvation is tightly Trinitarian. The work of Christ is not self-sufficient in isolation to the Father's work and the Spirit's work. These are integrated. The work of Christ is not independently sufficient. Rather, the work of the Father, Son, and Spirit in our salvation is interdependent. Reformed soteriology is Christocentric, not Christomonistic. 

One wonders if this doesn't reflect "the Escondido Theology", with its quasi-Lutheran orientation. It's striking that D. G. Hart sides with Irons rather than Jones in this dispute. Moreover, Lutheran apologist Jordan Cooper wrote a supportive post, which Lee said was "excellent." 

All of that is to say, the best of the Reformed tradition generally thinks it is better and safer to define faith as the instrument of justification rather than as the condition of justification. 
But I would urge people, if they use it, to immediately clarify the sense in which they are using it. Preferably, we should not use it at all. It’s too ambiguous, as Owen said. We should use instrument instead—just as the Westminster Confession does. Besides, if faith is an instrument, then it is in some sense a condition. But not every condition is a mere instrument. So “instrument” is better because it is more precise.

Sure, you can define faith as an "instrument." But if you do that you, then have to define "instrument." What do most people think when they hear the word "instrument"? An electric guitar? Both "condition" and "instrument" need to be defined.  

Moreover, I don't think "instrument" is "better and safer" than stating that faith is a necessary condition of justification. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Living with vampires

In the evolving vampire mythos, there's the trope of the vampire with a conscience. The vampire with a heart of gold. He doesn't want to kill people. Indeed, he may restrain himself. Drink animal blood instead of human blood. 

Mind you, there's always that pent up urge to drink the real thing. He must constantly suppress the urge to feed on humans. And sometimes, despite his best efforts, the caving is irresistible, so he falls off the wagon. 

Living around atheists is like living with vampires. Some atheists are proudly, avowedly Nietzschean. But other atheists are like the friendly neighborhood vampire. Conscience-stricken nihilists. Reluctant monsters. 

They suppress the sociopathic implications of atheism. Seal that away in a dark corner of their minds. Pretend it isn't there. 

But like the friendly neighborhood vampire, atheists are dangerous. There's that gnawing urge to be themselves. Inside every nice guy atheist is a psychopath clawing to get out. 

Eventually, nihilism gets the upper hand, and begins to warp public policy. They can only be recovering nihilists for so long, before their true nature becomes overpowering, and they go for the jugular. Despite his best intentions, a vampire can't help viewing you as an ice-cream cone on a hot summer day.  

Notice the trend-line: first abortion, then voluntary euthanasia, then involuntary euthanasia, along with "afterbirth" abortion, pedophilia as an alternative sexual "orientation," antinatalism, &c. 

When atheists gain political power, they are no longer safe to be around. They endanger everyone, including themselves. Politicized atheism is legalized sociopathology. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Deskbound exegesis

2 He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ 3 And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times (Mt 16:2-3).
The notion that Scripture reflects a three-story cosmography has been around for generations. The main development is that more recently, this has been popularized by "evangelical" scholars like John Walton, Peter Enns, and Kyle Greenwood. 
This is what I call deskbound exegesis. It's only plausible to scholars who don't spend much time out of doors, unlike the original author and audience. Only plausible to scholars who are out of touch with the natural world, unlike the original author and audience. I'd add that there are modern people who spend time out of doors, but they are inattentive to their surroundings, unlike the original author and audience.
I've often discussed this. Let's take another example: consider fishermen. Say they live in a coastal village. Suppose these are “primitive,” prescientific fishermen.
Even so, don’t they pay attention to the weather before they set sail? Do they go fishing when the skies are full of dark lowering clouds? Or do they go fishing on a clear sunny day?
If they thought the sky was a dam that kept water back, except when sluice-gates were opened, rain would be utterly unpredictable. It could rain at any moment, on a clear sunny day. If rain was thought to come from the sky rather than the clouds, then it both could and would rain on cloudless days. A downpour could occur literally out of the blue.
But, of course, fishermen know from experience that that isn’t the case. Their life depends on it. It’s dangerous to venture miles into the open sea with stormclouds on the horizon, much less right overhead. It’s completely unrealistic to imagine that ancient people didn’t notice these things.
I grew up on the shore of a lake, in a heavily wooded area. I spent lots of time out of doors as a kid.
As a result, I became attuned to certain natural cues. I could predict when it was going to rain, before rainclouds appeared on the horizon.
I could sense an atmospheric change. A shift in the air. A light onshore breeze (as I recall), would be a precursor to a weather front.
That's not something I read in a book. That's not something I consciously observed. Rather, it's something I simply acquired by osmosis through regular exposure to the natural world. 

Is faith a condition of justification?

The debate over Piper's foreword to Schreiner's monograph of justification has reignited:

Justification is simply the forgiveness of sins (negative removal of guilt) and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness (positive reckoning as righteous). 

That's an accurate, compact definition.

Entering into a right relationship with God is not part of it. Entering into a right relationship with God is a consequence of being forgiven and reckoned as righteous. In traditional terminology, we would speak of this right relationship as our adoption as God’s children and reconciliation with God (or peace with God). Justification is a purely forensic verdict in which we are freed from guilt and are reckoned as righteous before God. 

Up to a point, that's true. That's God's side of the transaction.

However, justification is, in part, a result of a human mental act: justifying faith. So justification is a consequence of divine and human acts alike. Hence, there's a theologically accurate sense in which a sinner can enter into a right relationship with God (Piper's colloquial synonym for justification) by exercising faith in Christ. Justifying faith is a part of it. A human part of it.

Of course, from a Reformed standpoint, faith is, itself, a result of monergistic regeneration. So it's not an independent human contribution to the transaction. 

The second confusing terminology is his use of the word “conditions.” He wants to say that faith is the sole condition of entering into a right relationship with God. But if we replace “entering into a right relationship with God” with “being justified,” then it is not true that faith is the sole condition, since faith is related to justification not as a condition but as a means. Faith has never been viewed as a condition of justification in Reformed theology or in the Reformed confessions.

Evidently, "condition" evokes certain connotations for Lee. One problem is a failure to define the term.

"Condition" is a standard term in philosophical usage. As I define it, a condition involves a dependence relation. Take a necessary condition: a sinner is justified if and only if he exercises justifying faith. Faith is an antecedent condition that must be met for justification to obtain. 

Put another way, if A is the case, then B is the case. If justifying faith obtains, then justification obtains. 

Conversely, unless justifying faith obtains, justification will not obtain. 

Lee says faith is a "means" rather than a "condition." But that's a false dichotomy. If faith is a necessary means to an end (=justification), then that's equivalent to a necessary condition. If the end cannot obtain apart from that particular means, then it's a necessary means–which is equivalent a necessary condition. 

Faith is not the ground of justification, but the means by which we are justified…

Which suggests that for Lee, "condition" denotes "a ground." But Piper said "condition," not "ground." Moreover, although a ground might be a condition, it doesn't follow that a condition is a ground. Sometimes they overlap, but "condition" is a broader concept, a more general category, than a "ground" 

Faith is a purely passive and receptive instrument. 

Hovering in the background of that nomenclature is the conflict with Rome. The traditional jargon is fairly opaque unless you contrast it with the opposing viewpoint. One objective is to preclude the notion that faith is meritorious. Preclude the notion that faith merits justification. Without that background, the significance of the terminology is obscured. 

In addition, Catholicism has a different concept of justification. Infused righteousness rather than imputed righteousness. 

Although these crucial distinctions, and it's important to educate people on what they mean, Piper's paragraph is consistent with all that. 

It's also a mistake to think we must repeat traditional formulations. There's nothing wrong with introducing newer words to denote older concepts. For one thing, we sometimes need to update our language to communicate to the current generation. Language changes.

In addition, the newer terminology may, in fact, be an improvement over the older terminology. Using philosophical jargon for theological concepts can lend greater precision to the formulation. 

Faith is an open hand that receives the gift…receiving and resting on him and his righteousness, by faith.

"Resting…the open hand" is picturesque imaginary. Dear to people who were raised on that. Nothing wrong with that. But metaphorical language is loose and illustrative. So I don't see why that's superior to a technical term like "condition." 

To say the justified "rest" in the righteousness of Christ is not self-explanatory. That's something you have to unpack. So I don't see how that's an improvement over faith as a necessary condition for justification.

It's beneficial to use both kinds of language. Philosophical jargon is more precise while figurative terminology can enable to the reader to "visualize" the concept. They work best in combination.

Piper goes on to say, “There are other conditions for attaining heaven, but no others for entering a right relationship to God. In fact, one must already be in a right relationship with God by faith alone in order to meet the other conditions.” 
This is terribly confusing. If we have been justified by faith, we are righteous in God’s sight and therefore entitled to heaven. Christ’s righteousness is sufficient. We do not need to meet any other conditions for attaining heaven. If we have the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, then we are legally righteous in the eyes of God and qualified to attain heaven.

Actually, I think Lee's objection is confused. In Calvinism, the various conditions of salvation are coordinated: all and only the elect are redeemed, regenerated, justified, adopted, sanctified, glorified, &c. So it's true that if anyone condition obtains, all the other conditions will obtain.

If you were justified, then that ensures your salvation. But the same could be said with respect to the other conditions. If you were regenerated, that ensures your salvation. If you are redeemed, that ensures your salvation. If you were elected, that ensures your salvation. 

Likewise, if you were justified, that ensures that you were regenerated. If you were regenerated, that ensures that you will be justified. And so on. Each condition entails salvation. Each condition entails every other condition. 

But by the same token, we do not attain heaven apart from the other conditions. Each and every condition must be met to attain heaven.

That doesn't mean we do it on our own steam. This is all the result of saving grace. But that's the point: salvation by grace is a package deal. All or nothing.

For instance, you can't be justified unless Christ died for you. The atonement is a necessary condition of justification. Justification is grounded in the merit of Christ's sacrificial death. Penal substitution.

I suspect that Piper is shadowboxing with antinomianism. 

In this sense, it is true to say that no one who enters heaven will be devoid of good works and evangelical obedience. But these things have no role to play as means or conditions of attaining heaven. They are the fruit and evidence of saving faith. We do not attain heaven by means of or on the condition of producing the fruit of faith. 

Once again, the problem here is that Lee is working with an undefined notion of "condition." That word triggers certain connotations for him.  He doesn't indicate where he derives his operating definition.  

Sanctification is a condition of attaining heaven. A necessary condition. 

We are saved by the work of the Spirit (in regeneration and sanctification) as well as the work of the Father (in election and justification) and the Son (in redemption). 

Is justification a sufficient condition to "attain heaven"? Sufficient insofar as justification entails the satisfaction of the other conditions. But insufficient in itself

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Richard Carrier on the rampage

I'm going to comment on a screed by Richard Carrier:
You have to wonder if Carrier had to much to drink when he wrote it. It's an attack on Matt Flanagan's Divine Command Theory. In commenting on Carrier's post, I'm not going to get into the weeds of DCT. That's Flanagan's specialty, so I will leave that to him. He can more than hold his own against the likes of Carrier. But much of what Carrier says isn't tied to DCT, per se. 
Before delving into the details, I'd like to make a general observation. Carrier evidently regards atheism as synonymous with secular humanism. His attack on DCT goes way beyond the negative, minimalistic definition of atheism as "nonbelief in God or gods." Rather, he proceeds as though atheism entails social obligations. 
Theology has no salvageable theory of morality. Theists complain atheists have no reason to be moral. But in fact theists have no reason to actually be moral, as in: to elevate compassion, honesty, and reasonableness above all authority, even the authority of their own gods. 
There's nothing inherently wrong with the argument from authority if the appeal is to someone who is, in fact, a legitimate authority figure. 
Unless they covertly adopt a naturalistic moral theory (and most do), they are not actually moral people. They are minions. Theists are essentially the unquestioning gestapo of whatever monster manufactured the universe. Or rather, whatever monster some men made up and duped them into thinking it made the universe. Which means, they are essentially the gestapo of whatever random ignorant madmen wrote their scriptures and now thumps their pulpits with sufficiently fiery claims of special divine communications at bedtime.
Atheists are not actually moral people. They are minions. Atheists are essentially the unquestioning gestapo of amoral physical determinism, which duped them into thinking their beliefs are rational. Which means, they are essentially the gestapo of whatever mindless, random natural process wired their brains and pushes their buttons. 
I’m sorry to say, but that’s the truth. Theism actually has no moral theory.
I’m sorry to say, but that’s the truth. Atheism actually has no moral theory.
This is why.
Hannibal Lecter created the universe? He escaped from a future holodeck simulation and then used a stolen TARDIS to Make the Universe after evaporating God by discovering the Babel Fish? Oh crap. Well, I guess we better get down with murder and elegant cannibalism or else he’ll be angry with us and send us to hell. Because he is now eternal and the supreme being and made the universe. So we can’t deny, his will and character is now the ground of all morality. And, oh yeah. This all totally makes sense.Is that any more sensible than…?
That's an argument from analogy minus the supporting argument. Carrier needs to demonstrate that this is, in fact, parallel to Christianity. All he's done is to stipulate an invidious comparison. 
A cosmic Jewish zombie named Jesus who telekinetically fathered himself by a virgin and now resides in outer space, is possessed by the spirit of a supernal ghost that is in some sort of parallel-dimensioning identical with but distinct from himself and an ancient Canaanite storm god, and promises to make you live forever in an alternate dimension if you symbolically eat his flesh and drink his blood, and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that has eternally tainted our mammalian flesh ever since a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree. So you better do what he says.

Carrier has strung together a series of caricatures. What does that accomplish? Since it's not an accurate description of Christian theology, how does ridiculing a caricature disprove Christian theology? Let's run through some of these descriptors:


No. The Son is not a part of the cosmos. Rather, he essentially exists outside the physical universe. 


No, Jesus is not an ambulatory, cannibalistic corpse with minimal brain function. Rather, he died, then was not only restored to life, but glorified, so that he now has an ageless, youthful, immortal, disease-free body. His mental faculties are fully intact. 

"telekinetically, telepathically"

Carrier uses this terminology because he thinks telepathy and telekinesis are ridiculous. Yet these are well-attested phenomena.

"fathered himself"

I take it that Carrier is suggesting that's an oxymoron. But that ignores the preexistence of the Son. 

"by a virgin"

A miracle, which functions a sign.

"now resides in outer space"

Where did Carrier come up with that? The Bible doesn't say that. Does Carrier equate the Biblical concept of "heaven" with "outer space"?

"is possessed by the spirit of a supernal ghost"

A ghost is the soul of a dead human being. The Holy Spirit isn't human, and never died. Indeed, the Holy Spirit isn't "alive" in the biological sense. 

"That is in some sort of parallel-dimensioning identical with but distinct from himself"

Carrier's attempt to parody the Trinity. A more accurate analogy would be a mirror symmetry. 

"and promises to make you live forever in an alternate dimension"

If that's an allusion to the intermediate state, then it's not a physical dimension. Discarnate souls don't exist in space. 

If that's an allusion to the final state, then that's not an alternate dimension, but the renewed earth.

"if you symbolically eat his flesh and drink his blood"

Most evangelicals don't think you acquire eternal life by celebrating the Lord's Supper. 

"a rib-woman"

Is there something antecedently false about the idea that God made the first woman from a tissue sample of the first man?

"by a talking snake" 

The Hebrew designation is probably a pun that trades on the multiple senses and connotations of the word (snake, diviner, shining one).

"to eat from a magical tree"

The text doesn't indicate that the tree of knowledge is a magical tree. That's like saying the ark of the covenant is a magical box, or that Moses' staff is a magical stick. Rather, what we have is a divinely assigned correlation. These are ordinary objects. They have no special power. The result comes from God, not the object. 

Is Carrier deliberately misrepresenting Christian theology, or is he actually that ignorant? 

And lest we forget, that’s the Jesus who has nothing to say against slavery or the subjugation and disenfranchisement of women
Argument from silence. For that matter, Jesus said nothing against the disenfranchisement of men. It's not as if Roman rule was democratic. Most men had not vote. 
or the execution of homosexuals, other than, at best,
It's striking to see contemporary atheists jump on the bandwagon of "gay rights." I don't recall atheists in the past spearheading the campaign for "gay rights." Were Antony Flew, A. J. Ayer, J. L. Mackie, Bertrand Russell, Clarence Darrow, Charles Bradlaugh, Robert Ingersoll, Thomas Huxley, Thomas Paine, and Alexander White in the vanguard of the "gay rights" movement? Did I miss that? How did this suddenly become a self-evident moral maxim when so many prominent atheists of yore failed to discern it? 
Rather, atheists waited until it was safe to champion "gay rights." Waited until they felt the wind behind their backs. 
 that you shouldn’t invite sluts and homos to legally murder the sluts and homos because that would be hypocritical (John 7:52-8:11, a forgery). 
The fact that the Pericope Adulterae is a scribal interpolation is hardly news. Any standard edition of the Bible will footnote that familar fact. 
Oh no, you are supposed to wait for Jesus to murder them (Matthew 3:12). 
i) To begin with, that text does't single out "sluts and homos."
ii) How does Carrier infer "murder" from that text? It's about eschatological judgment. It doesn't even say God kills them. Rather, that might well be postmortem punishment. Not to mention the figurative imagery. 
And even if God did kill then, killing isn't synonymous with murder.  
if the conditions he imagines existed, rape would be ethical—namely, if it was the loving and just thing to do (and we can imagine scenarios, though Flannagan wisely avoids attempting it: like, maybe, being forced to rape someone lest, the coercer informs you, the victim will be killed instead.
Carrier fails to explain why, from the standpoint of secular ethics, it would be unethical to rape someone if the alternative is the victim's death. If that's a forced option, isn't allowing the victim to be murdered worse than saving the victim's life, even if that entails rape? What is the secular basis for Carrier's disapproval? In fact, Carrier later says:
To successfully argue that “loving and just” decisions are moral requires (i) appealing to the consequences of “loving and just” decisions and the consequences of “unloving or unjust” decisions, and then (ii) appealing to which of those consequences the moral agent prefers. But DCT can accomplish neither, except in exactly the same way ethical naturalism does. Therefore, DCT reduces to ethical naturalism in practical fact. It therefore cannot be an improvement on it.

So he himself stipulates that taking the consequences into account are a necessary element in ethical decision-making. According to his own hypothetical, the end-result of one choice is the death of the victim, while the end-result of the other choice is saving the victim's life–albeit by rape. If ethical decision-making comes down to weighing the respective consequences, then on what secular basis does Carrier conclude that rape would be wrong in that situation?

DCT produces “infantile” moral reasoning, not only by reducing it to obeying what someone else says God wants, rather than applying one’s own critical reasoning to ascertain what is right, but also by eliminating any stable adult motivation to be moral. As atheists well know, from all the theists who terrifyingly admit they would murder and rape everyone but for their fear of hell, this is profoundly immature moral reasoning. 
Where are all the theists who allegedly admit that "they would murder and rape everyone but for their fear of hell"? I haven't encountered them. To begin with, there's no reason to suppose theists in general even want to rape or murder everyone. 
The actual argument is this: if a person would like to commit rape or murder, would he refrain even though he could do so with impunity? It doesn't imply that he in fact desires to rape or murder anyone, much less everyone. Rather, it's a conditional or hypothetical scenario. If someone happens to feel that way about someone else, would he act on his impulse if he could get away with it? It doesn't mean he normally has that impulse. He may never have that impulse. 
Adults reason differently: they won’t murder and rape anyone because they care about them
There's no empirical evidence that atheists care about everyone. Indeed, there's abundant empirical evidence that atheists don't care about everyone. 
In Christian ethics, by contrast, you should treat people justly even if you don't care about them personally. You treat them justly because that's the right thing to do, and not because you care about their wellbeing. You may treat them justly in spite of what you think of them. 
on DCT, you can’t decide God is “evil” and thus to be defied, not obeyed…no matter how evil God is
If an atheist came to believe in the existence of an evil God, would he defy him? That would be pretty foolhardy. 
He never responds to Sinnott-Armstrong’s actual point: which is that either moral facts are wholly unknowable on DCT (and therefore DCT entails we can know nothing about morality, and therefore by definition cannot ground any morality), or they are knowable by virtue of observable properties apart from DCT. But if they are knowable by virtue of observable properties apart from DCT, then they are already sufficiently moral by virtue of those properties. So we don’t need DCT.
In what sense are "moral facts" "observable properties"? In ethics, we apply moral norms to concrete situations. Moral norms or ethical standards are not observable properties. Rather, they are ethical criteria by which we evaluate events or contemplated courses of action. 
Even if God exists, indeed even if a loving God exists, this is of no use to us in ascertaining what is and is not moral. Because He simply isn’t consistently or reliably telling anyone.
Which begs the question. 
So all we have left is the ethical naturalist’s best alternative: an increasingly well-informed moral agent who cares about herself, and a body of advisors who care about her (crowdsourced knowledge, tested and accumulated from past to present). That’s the best you get. You don’t have access to an omniscient advisor. So you have to make do. And that means caring about whether you have enough information (about yourself and the world), and caring how to make the information you get more reliable, and caring whether you are reasoning from that information without logical fallacy or cognitive error. That’s the only way to get closer to the truth in matters of morality. Phoning God simply isn’t an option.

How does that rise to the level of moral realism? 

Notice that this is Flannagan’s moral theory, minus the primitive hocum about sky spirits. 
In classical theism, God is not a "sky spirit." In classical theism, God subsists outside the physical universe. 
DCT is therefore unlivable, even if it were correct. It puts moral truth inside an inaccessible black box, the mind of one particular God, whom we cannot identify or communicate with in any globally or historically reliable or consistent way. We therefore cannot know what is moral, even if DCT were true. 
Which assumes, without benefit of argument, that we don't have access to divine revelation. 
The supernaturalist is stuck in the exact same position as the ethical naturalist: attempting to ascertain from observable facts what the best way is to live. 
It's not the same position if the theist relies on moral intuitions which have their source in natural revelation whereas the atheist relies on moral sentiments that have their source in social conditioning and amoral evolutionary psychology. 
But we cannot demonstrate that the “God” (or “ideal agent”) we have thus modeled in our mind or intuition is the “one true” God or not, except by appeal to natural facts that require no actual God to exist. 
Which disregards theistic proofs that appeal to "natural facts."
Otherwise, we cannot know the God informing the intuition of Islamic suicide bombers is the incorrect God. 
If Muhammad appeals to the Bible to vouch his own prophetic credentials, when, in fact, his message contracts the Bible, then he's falsified his own claims. 
And the most important turning point here, is where theists simply can’t defeat Plato’s Euthyphro dilemma from 2400 years ago. 
i) Even a secular ethicist like Richard Joyce has argued that the Euthyphro dilemma is a failure:
ii) Likewise, in a book which Flannagan recently coauthored with Paul Copan (Did God Really Command Genocide?), they devote two full chapters (chaps 13-14) to the Euthyphro dilemma. 
So Carrier has his work cut out for him. He can't win the argument by taking intellectual shortcuts. 
Because for DCT to be true, what Flannagan needs to say is, “we should obey whatever character God happens to have,” which would mean, we should all be the mass murderers that the God of the Old Testament actually wants us to be.
Which begs the question of whether Yahweh is a mass murderer. 
Or admit the Old Testament God is a demon the worthy of any horror film villain himself, and somehow convince everyone that we are lucky enough that that God just happens not to exist. (Oh wait. Atheists are already doing that.) 
How do you disprove the existence of a Being who, if there is such a God, exists outside the physical universe? What would count as evidence for his nonexistence? 
The commands of a loving and just person is a conceptual category that does not require that person to exist for their commands to be loving and just. If it is good to obey such commands, it is good regardless of whether they are fictional or real.
To the contrary, good commands involve social obligations. We have no social obligations to fictional characters. Nonentities cannot oblige us. 
or not punishing rapists by legally ordering them to continue raping their victims (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). 
That's an inept misinterpretation of the passage. It is dealing with a hypothetical situation in which sex could either be coercive or consensual. There are no witnesses. A Jewish judge has no independent evidence to determine if the sex was coercive or consensual. 
In that culture, loss of virginity made a single woman far less eligible for marriage. So the law represents a practical compromise: either a shotgun wedding or financial compensation in lieu of marriage. 
As I commented for Loftus in The Christian Delusion (p. 101), “any rational would-be rapist who acquired full and correct information about how raped women feel, and what sort of person he becomes if he ignores a person’s feelings and welfare, and all of the actual consequences of such behavior to himself and his society, then he would agree that raping such a woman is wrong.”
That's willfully naive. Serial rapists know how raped women feel, which is precisely why they rape them. They hate women. The psychological damage is intentional. How women feel is a presupposition of the serial rapist. He aims to inflict maximal harm. 

To every nation and tribe and language and people

Thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ there's no doubt many Bible-believing Christians (including myself) can happily describe their church in the same or similar ways:

"The Most Happily Multi-Ethnic Church I Know" by Tim Challies.

Reactions To The Democrats' First Presidential Debate

Here are some thoughts before I go to bed.

The biggest theme of the debate was class warfare, unsurprisingly. Given how popular that theme is, and not just among liberals (as we saw in the 2012 presidential campaign), Republicans should be cautious about choosing another candidate who's highly susceptible to the typical class warfare approach the Democrats take. Among the current frontrunners, Trump, Bush, and Fiorina are the most vulnerable. Somebody like Rubio or Carson would be far better. We need to argue against the Democrats on class warfare issues, and we shouldn't reject a candidate just because he's wealthy or comes from a wealthy background. But it's better to have a messenger who isn't as susceptible to the class warfare demagoguery as Romney was.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Is mass extinction consistent with divine planning?

I'd like to revisit the common atheist contention that mass extinction is incompatible with divine planning. 

i) For starters, suppose we approach this from the standpoint of theistic evolution. I'm decidedly antipathetic towards theistic evolution, but for the sake of argument, let's explore how a theistic evolutionist might field this objection. Consider this an a fortiori argument: if even theistic evolution can field this objection, how much more so a better position.

Suppose you're a theistic evolutionist of the atom-to-Adam variety. Adam is the goal. In order to reach the goal, God employs evolution as the means. It is therefore necessary to run through all the prior stages to get to the desired result. 

Now, an atheist would complain that that's a terribly convoluted way to get there. Suppose, though, our theistic evolutionist would appeal to the principle of redundancy in nature. A maple tree produces many seeds. "Helicopters." Most of these fail to germinate. But that doesn't mean they're superfluous. To the contrary, producing so many seeds ups the chances that one or more will germinate. 

Dandelion seed dispersal exemplifies the same principle. So does the ratio of sperm to fertilized ova. It's a shotgun approach. Throw enough buckshot at the target in the hopes of hitting the target. A theistic evolutionist might say all those offshoots on the the human evolutionary tree reflect the same principle. 

ii) Now let's shift to old-earth creationism (a minore ad maius). It's routinely said that 99+% of all species went extinct. I don't know where that figure comes from. I believe it was popularized by David Raup. Given the fragmentary state of the fossil record, it's hard to see how they could extrapolate to an even approximate estimate. But suppose we play along with that for the sake of argument.

iii) I doubt hardly any scientist who believes mass extinction is incompatible with divine planning believes that all extant and extinct species could coexist. Presumably, they don't think it's possible for all those species to exist side-by-side, at the same time and place. For one thing, wouldn't the competition for food and resources be too great given the sheer density and diversity of species under that scenario?

In addition, species are adapted to their environment, but according to conventional geology, that has undergone great variations in the past. The atmosphere was different at different times. The ratio of oxygen to carbon dioxide and methane fluctuated widely or wildly, due to volcanic activity, photosynthesis, &c. 

What is breathable air for one species might be toxic for another. Same thing with the chemistry of the ancient ocean. 

On a related note, you have the complex symbiosis between fauna and flora. Certain kinds of animals need certain kinds of plants while certain kinds of plants need certain kinds of animals. Likewise, atmospheric conditions affect plants while plants affect atmospheric conditions. A changing albedo changes conditions under which plants thrive, which, in turn, changes albedo.

Every species couldn't simultaneously exist with every other species, for the existence of a particular species depends on a suitable environment. And you don't simply have different species, but different ecosystems that host different species. They go together.

Suppose God desires a world that exemplifies the principle of plenitude. Maximal diversity. Maximal variation.

But if they can't exist all at once, then some species must be phased out before other species can be phased in. To make room for new species, indeed, to clear the decks for a new ecosystem, mass extinction may be necessary. So God instantiates new species diachronically rather than synchronically. Like elevator stage sets where the old set moves back while the new set moves up.

That scenario is consistent with either theistic evolution or old-earth creationism. 

Young-earth creationism rejects the way in which the issue is framed. It attributes mass extinction to the flood and post-diluvial climate change. 

The Goldilocks Zone

I'd like to make an observation about the atheist trope that the Copernican revolution demoted human beings. The position of the stars and planets in traditional geocentric system is partly based on naked-eye stargazing, and partly on aesthetics. The distance between one star or planet and another is pretty arbitrary on that scheme. The concentric circles are more a matter of artistic symmetry than anything else. It's prettier if they are evenly spaced. But they could be closer or farther apart at random. In that (Medieval/Ptolemaic) system, it has no physical effects. 

Contrary to the atheist trope, the relative position of the earth is far more significant in modern astronomy. The earth is in the Goldilocks Zone. 

And that figures in the fine-tuning argument. There's a very narrow tolerance for life. Many variables must line up just so for life to be possible. 

At a functional, substantive level, the relative position of the earth is far more important, far more "privileged" in modern astronomy than Ptolemaic astronomy or Dante. 

Findings from experimental science that allegedly disconfirm theism

I'm going to comment on some statements that Keith Parsons left at this post:

Parsons grew up in church but left the faith. He's a philosophy prof. with two earned doctorates. He's debated William Lane Craig. So these represent top-of-the-line objections to Christianity: These are "findings of experimental science" that allegedly "disconfirm theism."

Before commenting on the specifics, I'd like to make a general observation:

It depends on your initial frame of reference. If you were raised to believe in geocentrism or Ptolemaic astronomy, then encountering prima facie evidence that that's false might be intellectually traumatic. 

If, however, you were raised in heliocentrism, then you don't have to make any intellectual (or theological) adjustments, since that's what you believed all along. 

Likewise, if you were raised in young-earth creationism, then exposure to prima facie evidence to the contrary might be intellectually traumatic. 

If, however, you were raised in old-earth creationism, then you don't have to make any intellectual adjustments, inasmuch as young-earth creationism was never your frame of reference. Same thing if you were raised with theistic evolution.

My point at the moment is not to say which position is correct. I'm simply noting at that this is only an intellectual or psychological crisis for people who began with one paradigm, only to be confronted with a contrary paradigm. 

But for later generations, that crisis lies in the past. That may have been intellectually traumatic for their forebears, who had to make the transition, but for people who were raised in the new paradigm, the necessary adjustments were already made on their behalf, before they came on the scene. If they didn't read history books, they might not sense a point of tension. 

Each generation doesn't have to adapt to the status quo. For if it was born into the status quo, that seems natural. That's their starting-point. It's only a crisis of faith for people who are going through a transition period. 

Parsons acts as if each generation recapitulates the intellectual turmoil of a former generation, but after the dust settles, that's not the case. It depends on your position in history. It depends on when and where you were born. 

1) The earth is not the center of the cosmos. The theistic religions are anthropocentric and this makes them geocentric, literally in former centuries and in spirit now. All theistic religions see humans as THE purpose of creation, or at least a major part of that purpose. If humanity is the main point of creation, then the complete displacement of the earth, the home of humanity, from the center undermines the notion of human centrality. Indeed, cosmologists assure us that there is no absolute center.

i) To begin with, he equivocates between humans as the singular or primary purpose of creation, and humans as a major part of that purpose. But those are two very different propositions. 

ii) The physical location of the earth is a non sequitur. Suppose you visit young parents. You notice that the nursery is on the side of the house, where the other bedrooms are situated. Would you be right to infer that unless the nursery is in the middle of the house, their affections can't center on their baby? 

iii) In classical theism, God doesn't inhabit the physical universe. God's relationship to humanity has nothing to do with his physical proximity. Nothing to do with where we are in relation to where God is. And this antedates the Copernican revolution. 

iv) In the cosmography of Scripture, the "spatial" relationship between God and man isn't represented in terms of man at the center and God at the circumference, but heaven as "up" and earth as "down."  

2) The earth and the universe are extremely old. A straightforward reading of the chronology of Genesis indicates that the earth and the entire universe are only a few thousand years old. Archbishop Ussher was no fool in putting creation at 4004 BCE. His methods were completely sound, given a literal reading of the Genesis accounts. Young earth creationists are right to see a threat here. If Scripture can be that wrong about plain matters of dates, what else has it gotten wrong?

Young-earth creationists have well-rehearsed responses to that objection, while old-earth creationists reject his exegesis and inferences. 

3) The discovery of exoplanets. Theistic religions tend to be hostile to the idea of extraterrestrials. I once asked some creationists why, and they could only say that they did not like the idea. I think the reason is this: For Christians, the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ has to be THE central event in the history of the cosmos. If there are ETs, this raises the difficult question of whether Christ died for them too. The idea that God might have been incarnated many times on many different worlds for the salvation of alien species would seem to create deep theological problems: The savior must be conceived as not only fully God and fully human, but as fully God and fully Rigelian or fully God and fully Arcturan, or whatever.

i) The Incarnation is the central event in human history. A central redemptive event. How would aliens be fallen in Adam? Aliens, if they exist, have a separate planetary history. 

ii) Theologically speaking, it's the Incarnation of God as man that's unrepeatable. But in theory, that doesn't preclude God from incarnating himself as an alien species. 

Technically, the Son is timeless and space. It is not as if the Son can only pair off with one body or soul at a time. The divine nature is illocal. In theory, the Son could be in multiple hypostatic unions with different rational species. Although that's speculative, it's not incoherent. 

4) 99% of all the organisms that have ever existed are extinct. When Baron Cuvier introduced the idea of extinction in the early 19th Century, the orthodox were offended. To them it seemed that the permanent loss of a whole species must indicate a flaw in God's plan. Some therefore suspected that mastodons and mammoths were still alive somewhere in the wilds of Siberia. Whatever the purpose of creation, it is hard to see that it required a plan that would lead to so many dead ends.

If we regard extinct species as the outtakes of a trial and error process in which evolution is a means of achieving a goal, then that is, indeed, inconsistent with planning by an omnipotent, omniscient Creator. That's a groping way to reach the goal. Like shooting arrows blindfolded until you accidentally hit the bull's-eye. 

That, however, assumes that extinct species were transitional to something else. That assumes natural history is progressive. That man was the intended end-point, and extinct hominids were evolutionary pathways aimed at man, but these turned out to be detours or dead ends.

If, though, you view extinct species as ends in themselves, then they aren't dead ends. The process wasn't aiming for something else, but undershot the mark. Rather, it was aiming for each of those species, and hit the mark each time. Variety is good in its own right. The principle of plenitude. 

It would be like saying a Byzantine basilica is a dead end because it fell short of bridging to a Gothic cathedral. But it didn't fall short. There is no intermediate between Byzantine and Gothic church architecture. These represent incommensurable aesthetic designs. You develop each as far as it will go. That's where it ends, because you've exhausted that idiom. 

To switch illustrations, it's like comparing the Bach's B Minor Mass to Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande. They have no successors because each represents the culmination of a particular musical idiom. 

5) Organic variation is apparently random with respect to the needs of the organism and with respect to the history of life. Darwin's theistic allies like Asa Gray still wanted to see design in natural selection. The only way to do this was to see organic variation as occasionally planned by God so that the "right" variation would arise in a population at the propitious time. 

It's true that natural history is indifferent to the survival of any particular organism, or even species. But that's like saying a novel was random because the author killed off some characters. Take a war novel in which some characters die in combat. That may be tragic, but that's consistent with the genre. And the death of a particular character has a dramatic function. It may affect the plot. It may affect the way remaining relate to each other. 

Darwin replied that in his extensive observation of both domestic and wild creatures he could find no instance of such designed variation. Rather, the idea seemed absurd to him, like thinking that the shapes of rocks used in building a rock wall must have been planned by some designing intelligence. Of course, he recognized that theists would say that there could still be a plan even though it looked to us as though there were no plan. Darwin sagely observed that to say that there is a plan that looks just like no plan at all is to say something utterly vacuous. This sage observation could be extended to all theistic efforts to see the apparently unplanned as planned.

I don't know what it means to say there's no designed variation in domestic animals. What is domestication if not designed variation? Selective breeding? 

The scale of the universe matters, but I think the loss of centrality is the real issue. I think that Copernicus still rankles. ETs might bother orthodox Jews and Muslims as well. Saying that the Jews are the chosen people would be even harder to maintain if humans are just one of many species of intelligent beings. 

The Chosen People has reference to earth history. A contrast between Jews and Gentiles. And even that's temporary. Gentiles are included in the new covenant. 

Did God choose a particular group on each inhabited planet? Muslims would have to ask whether the Koran was revealed to other beings on other worlds and what it would mean to them. The same would go for the Torah.

To play along with the hypothetical, each alien species would have its own "Bible," reflecting the unique history of God's dealings with them

Monday, October 12, 2015

Computer impersonator

One traditional test of whether artificial intelligence is successful is if computers can emulate some human mental aptitude. A classic example is chess, especially at a grand master level.

Mind you, that's controversial. Problem-solving isn't the same as consciousness. And there's a sense in which computers like Deep Blue mirror what they were programmed to do. 

But let's take another example:

Psychopaths, on the other hand, are unable to form emotional attachments or feel real empathy with others, although they often have disarming or even charming personalities. Psychopaths are very manipulative and can easily gain people’s trust. They learn to mimic emotions, despite their inability to actually feel them, and will appear normal to unsuspecting people. Psychopaths are often well educated and hold steady jobs. Some are so good at manipulation and mimicry that they have families and other long-term relationships without those around them ever suspecting their true nature.

Assuming that's accurate, you could, in principle, have a computer that mimics emotion, mimics empathy. Imitates something it does not in fact possess.

So even if it could pass that test, that wouldn't mean it actually has real feelings. That's an illusion, just as a psychopath can convincingly pretend to reciprocate the feelings of others, even though he doesn't possess their emotional makeup.