Saturday, November 19, 2016

Rev. John Chavis

Confusion at the highest levels of the Roman Catholic Church

I’ve had a number of links open on my desktop for the last week or so, trying to write a story that’s going to be very significant, and yet, I’m not quite sure how to approach it, because it seems to be a story in flux. It’s occurring at the highest levels of the Roman Catholic Church (popes and cardinals), and it’s full of he-said-he-said intrigue that seem to be moving far more quickly than the Roman Catholic Church typically moves.

You may find this a bit surprising (!), but “Pope Francis” is causing some trouble. Of course the New York Times has positioned this as “a race against time”, with the suggestion that, if “Pope Francis” lives long enough, he can replace all of the “conservative” cardinals named by his predecessors with “liberal” cardinals. Of course, the man is 79 years old, and he seems destined to lose that race (by their reckoning). Literally. Can he “appoint enough like-minded cardinals to assure that his vision of the church will endure after he dies?” The ostensible news event to prompt this kind of ghoulish speculation is a “consistory of cardinals” that will be held today, in which another 17 cardinals will be named, from all over the world.

But the deeper intrigue meshes with some of the back story, the not-so-easy-to-follow rumblings that are going on in public, but somewhat behind the scenes. The NY Times subhead is, “Pope Francis Has Appointed About a Third of the Cardinals Eligible to Choose the Next Pope”. That may be true enough – after today he will have appointed 44 of the 121 who are eligible to vote (they become ineligible to vote after age 80).

Back in September,

Is the scientific paper a fraud?

Jonathan Swift and terminal lucidity

I've written about terminal lucidity before:

Some additional cases:

And here's a striking historical example, regarding Jonathan Swift, who suffered from senile dementia as he got older:

By 1732 he was noticing a serious deficient in short-term memory: "I often forget what I did yesterday, or what passed half an hour ago."  
Around 1734 there is a marked change in Swift's correspondence. Depressed, lonely, and sick he was all too aware that his faculties were fading. The number of personal letters diminishes rapidly, partly because many friends were now dead, and partly because the strain of composing them was too great…Swift was finding it difficult even to write accurately, and when he read over his letters, he was appalled at the number of blunders.  
By the fall of 1742, Swift's disability was so advanced that his food had to be cut up for him…At one stage an acute infection, orbital cellulitis, caused an eye to swell alarmingly, and the pain was so great that he had to be forcibly restrained from tearing at it. The episode did provoke a moment of lucidity, as Mrs. Whiteway reported: "What is more to be wondered at, the last day of his illness he knew me perfectly well, took me by the hand, called me by my name, and showed the same pleasure as usual in seeing me. I asked him if he would give me a dinner; he said 'to be sure, my old friend'…But alas! this pleasure to me was but for short duration, for the next day or two it was all over, and proved to be only pain that had roused him." 
By now, according to Faulkner, Swift "forgot all his friends and domestics, could not call any of them by their names, nor for clothes food, or any necessities he wanted." Leo Damrosch, Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World (Yale, 2013), 460, 466

Friday, November 18, 2016

Thinking biblically about transgenderism

Obsessing over whiteness

I'm struck by the obsession with white evangelical voters. Shock, anger, and betrayal is expressed at the fact that "80%" of white evangelicals voted for Trump. 

Why are some "persons of color" so obsessed with whiteness? As a white man, I don't obsess over my whiteness. Why do some "persons of color" attach vastly greater importance to whiteness than many white folks do? 

Why single out whiteness? What makes that special? What makes that significant?

if we're going to cast the issue in racial terms, who did "persons of color" vote for in this election? Who did "evangelicals of color" vote for in this election? What are the percentages? Why is that not equally significant? 

A white evangelical is an evangelical who happens to be white. There are so many ways to define a person. Yes, race is one defining characteristic, but what makes that more important than age, sex, religion, social class, marital status, personal interests, &c?

Consider those body-swap experiments in science fiction. Suppose you must transfer your mind to another body to elude a bounty hunter. But no body is available that corresponds to your sex and race. You can either transfer your mind to a body of the same sex, but different race, or the same race, but different sex. Which will you opt for?

Surely any normal person would opt for a body of the same sex. Our sex is central to our personal identity in a way that our race is not. 

Sure, if I woke up tomorrow morning, looked in the bathroom mirror, and found a different race staring back at me, I'd have to make some adjustments. But that's nothing compared to swapping a male body for a female body, or vice versa.    

God, evil, and evidence

Nick Trakakis and Graham Oppy raise the same objection:

Firstly, the theist may agree that Rowe’s argument provides some evidence against theism, but she may go on to argue that there is independent evidence in support of theism which outweighs the evidence against theism. In fact, if the theist thinks that the evidence in support of theism is quite strong, she may employ what Rowe (1979: 339) calls "the G.E. Moore shift" (compare Moore 1953: ch.6). This involves turning the opponent’s argument on its head, so that one begins by denying the very conclusion of the opponent’s argument. The theist’s counter-argument would then proceed as follows: 
Although this strategy has been welcomed by many theists as an appropriate way of responding to evidential arguments from evil (for example, Mavrodes 1970: 95-97, Evans 1982: 138-39, Davis 1987: 86-87, Basinger 1996: 100-103) – indeed, it is considered by Rowe to be “the theist’s best response” (1979: 339) – it is deeply problematic in a way that is often overlooked. The G.E. Moore shift, when employed by the theist, will be effective only if the grounds for accepting not-(3) [the existence of the theistic God] are more compelling than the grounds for accepting not-(1) [the existence of gratuitous evil]. The problem here is that the kind of evidence that is typically invoked by theists in order to substantiate the existence of God – for example, the cosmological and design arguments, appeals to religious experience – does not even aim to establish the existence of a perfectly good being, or else, if it does have such an aim, it faces formidable difficulties in fulfilling it. But if this is so, then the theist may well be unable to offer any evidence at all in support of not-(3), or at least any evidence of a sufficiently strong or cogent nature in support of not-(3). The G.E. Moore shift, therefore, is not as straightforward a strategy as it initially seems. 
it becomes clear that the vast majority of considerations that have been offered as reasons for believing in God can be of little assistance to the person who is trying to resist the argument from evil. For most of them provide, at best, very tenuous grounds for any conclusion concerning the moral character of any omnipotent and omniscient being who may happen to exist, and almost none of them provides any support for the hypothesis that there is an omnipotent and omniscient being who is also morally perfect.

I find their objection rather odd:

i) The argument from evil is primarily an argument against God's existence, not God's benevolence. So evidence of God's existence, apart from the question of evil, certainly seems germane to the overall force of the argument from evil.

ii) Perhaps the objection is that in the argument from evil, the concept of God is the concept of a benevolent God. Therefore, the argument targets that particular concept of God. Unless he's benevolent, he doesn't exist.

a) But although that distinction may be useful for analytical clarity, it artificially separates evidence for God's existence from alleged counterevidence based on evil, as if the latter discounts the former. It's not as if atheists believe in God, only they think he's evil. It's not as if they think there's evidence that counts for God's existence, as well as evidence that counts against his benevolence, so they affirm the existence of a malevolent God. Hence, they can't use the alleged evidence of unjustifiable evils to simply cancel out evidence for God's existence. 

b) Assuming that God's existence and benevolence are inseparable, isn't that reversible? If there's evidence for God's existence, then this might indicate that evil, even if it constitutes some prima facie evidence against God's existence, must be counterbalanced by other lines of evidence. Put another way, the incongruity is only apparent.

c) Apropos (a-b), evidence for God's existence could be combined with skepticism theism to circumvent the argument from evil. Even if (ex hypothesi), evil constitutes prima facie evidence against God's benevolence, if there's positive evidence for God's existence, then why not take that to indicate that God is, in fact, benevolent, God has a morally sufficient reason for evil, even if we can't discern it? 

Is God love?

I'd like to make a brief observation about the claim, much belabored by Jerry Walls, that Calvinism really has no room for a loving God. Even when Calvinists affirm God's love, that's despite the logic of Calvinism. 

Part of Jerry's argument is that it's inconsistent, indeed, double-talk, for Calvinists to simultaneously affirm reprobation and God's universal love. Suppose we grant that allegation for the sake of argument.

However, Jerry acts as though, unless the Calvinist God loves everyone, Calvinism has no room for a loving God. But that's a non sequitur. 

The difference is that in Arminianism, God's love is general whereas in Calvinism, God's love is particular. In Arminianism, God's love is indiscriminate and ineffectual whereas in Calvinism, God's love is discriminate and effectual. Divine love is central and integral to Calvinism. But it's God's love for the elect. 

(Of course, there's also the intra-Trinitarian love, which Calvinism affirms.)

Now, that may not be Jerry concept of divine love, he may think that's a deficient concept of divine love, but it's devious for him to act as though Calvinists can't say "God is love" without crossing their fingers. 

One of Jerry's chronic problems is a failure to distinguish between an external critique and an internal critique. Although the Calvinist concept of divine love is inconsistent with the Arminian concept of divine love, it's not internally inconsistent. Jerry can't bring himself to honestly represent the opposing position. Not only is that unethical–it's philosophically inept. 

The Body and Blood of Christ

Thursday, November 17, 2016

"We're not electing a Pastor-in-Chief"

The slogan that we're electing a Commander-in-Chief, not a Pastor-in-Chief, was one of the justifications some evangelicals gave to vote for Trump. Now, this post is not about the 2016 election. I'm discussing the slogan because it happened to crop up during the 2016 election, but the issue it raises is generally significant quite apart from the 2016 election. 

i) What does the slogan mean? That's not entirely clear. In the nature of the case, slogans are apt to be intellectual shortcuts. There's not a lot of thought that stands behind the slogan, so it can be hard to pin down what it means.

However, I think the slogan trades on the stereotype that pious Christians are too otherworldly to make the tough calls that a president must make to protect us from our enemies. The slogan may have varied connotations, depending on who uses it, but that's the connotation I wish to focus on.

That's a very damaging stereotype. The notion that Christian ethics is too softhearted, too idealistic, to offer practical guidance in protecting the innocent. So at that point we resort to "pragmatism" and "consequentialism". We contract out the dirty work to unbelievers, who, because they don't suffer from Christian scruples, will do whatever is necessary to protect the innocent. 

ii) In fairness, there are examples that play into that stereotype. The papacy, which used to be militaristic to a fault, has become pacifistic to a fault. You also have an influential interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount by Anabaptism. That's been influential, not in terms of how people act, but how people understand NT ethics. Many people agree with that interpretation, then conclude that it's hopelessly Pollyannaish, so they ignore it and do whatever it takes to defeat evil. By the same token, John Piper, who's often very useful, has become increasingly otherworldly. 

iii) Conversely, many pious Christians are soldiers, or former soldiers. Off the top of my head, I can think of Joe Carter, David French, Ron Gleason, Rich Leino, Rick Phillips, Jimmy Li, Tony Perkins, and Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. They don't fit the stereotype of Christians who can't make the tough calls. And they illustrate the false dichotomy between a pastor and a combatant. At one time or another, you can be both. Indeed, some of them have been both. 

iv) In addition, this debate is often connected to deontology. For instance:

The most familiar forms of deontology, and also the forms presenting the greatest contrast to consequentialism, hold that some choices cannot be justified by their effects—that no matter how morally good their consequences, some choices are morally forbidden. On such familiar deontological accounts of morality, agents cannot make certain wrongful choices even if by doing so the number of those exact kinds of wrongful choices will be minimized (because other agents will be prevented from engaging in similar wrongful choices). For such deontologists, what makes a choice right is its conformity with a moral norm. Such norms are to be simply obeyed by each moral agent; such norm-keepings are not to be maximized by each agent. In this sense, for such deontologists, the Right is said to have priority over the Good. If an act is not in accord with the Right, it may not be undertaken, no matter the Good that it might produce (including even a Good consisting of acts in accordance with the Right).
On the other hand, deontological theories have their own weak spots. The most glaring one is the seeming irrationality of our having duties or permissions to make the world morally worse…there are situations—unfortunately not all of them thought experiments—where compliance with deontological norms will bring about disastrous consequences. To take a stock example of much current discussion, suppose that unless A violates the deontological duty not to torture an innocent person (B), ten, or a thousand, or a million other innocent people will die because of a hidden nuclear device. If A is forbidden by deontological morality from torturing B, many would regard that as a reductio ad absurdum of deontology. 
Deontologists have six possible ways of dealing with such “moral catastrophes” (although only two of these are very plausible). First, they can just bite the bullet and declare that sometimes doing what is morally right will have tragic results but that allowing such tragic results to occur is still the right thing to do. Complying with moral norms will surely be difficult on those occasions, but the moral norms apply nonetheless with full force, overriding all other considerations. We might call this the Kantian response, after Kant's famous hyperbole: “Better the whole people should perish,” than that injustice be done (Kant 1780, p.100). One might also call this the absolutist conception of deontology, because such a view maintains that conformity to norms has absolute force and not merely great weight.

Some people, understandably enough, lose patience with ethics at that point. They feel it ties our hands. We become so scrupulous that we can't bring ourselves to stop atrocities. The extremes of strict morality and permissive morality meet. 

v) However, one thing I'd like to point out is that deontology doesn't tell you where to draw the lines. Different deontologists draw different lines. For instance, some deontologists think lying violates an intrinsic duty never to lie, yet the mere theory of deontology doesn't spell out what our duties are. It's hard to say lying is intrinsically wrong unless you're a deontologist, but deontology, per se, doesn't entail a particular position on lying, suicide, abortion, contraception, euthanasia, capital punishment, or nuclear pacifism, &c. To affirm moral absolutes does not automatically select for what examples qualify as moral absolutes. The identification of specific candidates requires specific arguments, and not a general theory of duties. Once identified, the general theory will back that up. But a theory of duties doesn't ipso facto tell you where your duties lie.

My point is not to take a position on these issues, which I've discussed elsewhere, but to show that the impression some people have of deontology, is misleading. 

Second-order theodicies

What may be the two the best theodicies can be consolidated under a single principle: second-order goods.

What are second-order relations? For instance, you can't die unless you were alive. Jacob can't be Abraham's grandson unless he was Isaac's son. 

Even an omnipotent God can't produce a second-order effect directly. For instance, God can create Jacob ex nihilo, but God can't make Jacob Abraham's grandson if Abraham and Isaac never existed. 

Or take a second-order evil. Suppose I embezzle company funds, then lie to cover up my embezzlement. I can't lie about my embezzlement unless I was guilty of embezzlement. 

Take an example of a second-order good. I can't forgive someone unless I've been wronged. I can't be forgiven unless I've wronged someone. 

i) Soul-making

Soul-making virtues are second-order goods. They presume the existence of first-order natural or moral evils. 

Suppose it's better to be a redeemed creature than a sinless creature. If so, that's a second-order good. 

ii) Domino effect

To take an example, some folks marry people they've known for years. But in other cases, they meet by chance. Some people meet their future spouse because they just happen to be at a particular place at a particular time. Had they gone to the same place at a different time, or gone to a different place at the same time, they would have missed connections. 

If you were to change a single variable in the past, that could throw it off. And many different individual variables could have the same disruptive effect. Had the recent past been even slightly different, they might end up meeting a different future spouse, and making a life with that person. A different forking path. A different family tree. 

Suppose the weatherman forecast sunny weather, so you didn't dress for rain. But there's a brief rain shower, forcing you to take cover in a bookstore, where you bump into your future spouse. 

It may be little things like that. Or it may be big things. Take the Holocaust. About 6 million European Jews perished in the Holocaust.

However, one side-effect of the Holocaust was to create a new Jewish Diaspora. There are Jews living in Israel or America who wouldn't exist if their parents or grandparents hadn't fled Europe, either in anticipation of the Final Solution, or as blighted survivors.

That's a second-order consequence of the Holocaust. They live because some of their Jewish ancestors died. (Indeed, were murdered.)

So there are tradeoffs. The Holocaust is a paradigm evil, yet there are resultant goods that wouldn't have occurred apart from that paradigm evil. 

There is no best possible world. There is no single world that combines all the goods of different possible worlds. There might be a best possible multiverse, but not a best possible world–in the sense of one actual timeline to the exclusion of others. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Waiting for Jesus

Suppose you knew a loved one was going to fly into town. That much is certain. But there's a catch: you know the gate, but you don't know the date. 

Say that gate has one incoming flight per day. So everyday you go to the airport, wait for the passengers to disembark, one by one, to see if that's the flight your loved one took. You never know from one day to the next, or week, or month, when they'll arrive, yet you know they're scheduled to fly into town, and you know where to find them when that happens. 

You will keep on going back to the airport until they arrive. You will cease going back to the airport once they arrive. 

That's rather like what the Bible says about the return of Jesus. It calls for a degree of preparedness.


1. One of the traditional arguments for evolution is anatomical similarities between organisms. A more recent argument is genetic similarities between organisms. 

But one question is whether these are two independent lines of evidence. To the extent that anatomical similarities are the result of similar genes, you have a cause/effect relationship between genetic similarities and anatomical similarities. Indeed, this suggests the appeal is circular. Organisms are anatomically similar because they are genetically similar. 

I recently said, What's the relationship between greater similarity and sharing more of the same genes? How does genetic affinity and resultant similarity imply evolutionary genealogy? Isn't Singer's inference circular? In such comparisons, you select organisms that have the most in common. Similarity is your selection-criterion. So, by definition, you group organisms according to degrees of similarity or dissimilarity. But the way you arrange them doesn't imply that that's how they developed. Rather, the hierarchy of ascending commonalities is the result of what you selected for. So that relationship is imposed rather than discovered. 

Take a bag of colored marbles that range along the spectrum. I can rearrange the random assortment according to any two marbles that are shades of the same color. The color of one marble is more like or less like the color of another marble. Some marbles are nearest in color, some are farthest, some are in-between. Some range along one side of spectrum, some along the other side. It's not the marbles that single out that particular arrangement, but what I'm looking for. 

Let's expand on that by taking another comparison. In traditional painting, red, yellow, and blue are primary colors while green and orange are secondary colors. You produce green by mixing blue and yellow. You produce orange by mixing red and yellow.

Two shades of green are alike because they share the same or similar amounts of blue and yellow. Lighter green has a higher percentage of yellow and lower percentage of blue. Darker green has a lower percentage of yellow and higher percentage of blue. So two shades of green are more alike or less alike depending on the amount of yellow and green they posses.

That's analogous to organisms that are more similar or dissimilar depending on similar or dissimilar genes. 

However, while that's consistent with evolution, it doesn't imply evolution. To continue with my analogy, a painter mixes colors for variety. What if God likes variety? 

2. A Darwinian might object that that's ad hoc. But actually it goes back to the ancient principle of plenitude. That's a theologically respectable rationale that long antedates Darwinism. So it wasn't concocted to deflect Darwinism. 

There are, moreover, other explanations for similarity. Why do sharks and dolphins have the same torpedo shape? Because that's an efficient shape for their natural element. 

Why do humans and monkeys have forward facing eyes? Because they share a common evolutionary ancestor?

One explanation for forward-facing eyes is that predators need binocular vision. But are fruit-eating monkeys predators?

Another explanation might be that humans need binocular vision for eye/hand coordination. We'd be unable to take full advantage of our hands, with the opposable thumb and fine-motor control, if we had eyes on the side of the head. 

3. It might be objected that I've oversimplified the argument. To the extent that the fossil record is chronological, there's a developmental pattern. 

However, that's difficult to assess. Common ancestry, per se, does not imply macroevolution. For instance, dogs have a common ancestor in wolves. That's consistent with evolution, but that's consistent with the falsity of evolution.

Are fossil "hominids" ancestral to man, or just extinct apes? 

It can be misleading to judge what animals are good at from their anatomy. For instance, goats are surprisingly good tree climbers. They climb fruit trees. On the face of it, goats are poorly designed to climb trees. 

Likewise, snakes don't seem to be well designed to climb trees, yet they do so with ease. If we didn't know from experience that snakes were good tree-climbers, could we tell from fossilized snake skeletons? Same thing with goats.  

4. It also depends on possible alternatives. Consider old-earth creationism. Suppose God phases in life on earth. Introduces different natural kinds at different stages of natural history. If we view the fossil record with that reference frame, is it consistent with fiat creation?

Perhaps a Darwinian would object that that's ad hoc. But is it?

Suppose dinosaurs aren't compatible with modern mammals. They require a different climate. Moreover, the dominance of dinosaurs is antithetical to the dominance of mammals, or vice versa. If they can't coexist, then they can only exist in sequential epochs, allowing for some transitional overlap. 

Young-earthers have their own explanation, based on the disruptive effects of a global flood. 

If, moreover, incremental evolution just doesn't have the internal resources to account for the origin of life, or bridge over incompatible body plans, then that invites theistic alternatives. 

Calvinism and the God of love

Jerry Walls did a lecture several weeks ago on "Calvinism and the God of Love":

He and I then had an impromptu Facebook debate about his lecture. 

Steve Hays 
Jerry, you quoted the WSC, and noted that it omits to mention the attribute of divine love. Why didn't you quote the WCF, which, among other things, says God is "most loving" (as well as "gracious" and "merciful," "abundant in goodness")? I hope you weren't attempting to deceive your audience by selectively quoting from Reformed documents. So how can we account for your conspicuous oversight? 

There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal, most just, and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty (WCF 2:1).

I'm struck by Jerry's insinuation that Calvin can't bring himself to affirm God's love. Certainly that's the impression that Jerry fosters through his selection quotations. Jerry makes a big deal about the fact that Calvin doesn't quote 1 Jn 4:8,16 in the Institutes. Keep in mind that there are about 55,000 verses in the Bible, so it's hardly surprising or suspect if even a systematic theology omits many verses. But in addition, consider what Calvin does say, which Jerry conveniently leaves out:

Thus he is moved by pure and freely given love of us to receive us into grace…Therefore, by his love God the Father goes before and anticipates our reconciliation in Christ. Indeed, 'because he first loved us' (1 Jn 4:19), he afterward reconciles us to himself.  
For this reason, Paul says that the love with which God embraced us "before the creation of the world" was established and grounded in Christ [Eph 1:4-5]…God declared his love toward us in giving his only begotten-Son to die [Jn 3:16]…I shall quote a passage of Augustine where the very thing is taught: ''God's love," says he, "is incomprehensible and unchangeable. For it was not after we were reconciled to him through the blood of his Son that he began to love us. Rather, he has loved us before the world was created"…"God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" [Rom 5:8]" Institutes 16.2.3-4 [Ford Lewis Battles trans.].

Jerry Walls 
It is not a comprehensive list of all Reformed sources, and I said it is only suggestive. The fact that love did not make the short list is suggestive since the NT explicitly says "God is love," unlike some of the other things that made the list. My claim that it is suggestive of Calvinist priorities is a modest claim, and my case hardly hinges on it.

Steve Hays 
Jerry, you said a consistent Calvinist may only deny #1 or #3 of your six-point argument. But that's not the case. A consistent Calvinist may also deny #5. According to that proposition, "God could (properly) give all persons irresistible grace and thereby determine all persons to be saved."

Problem with that proposition is that "all persons" is indefinite. A world in which everyone has irresistible grace will not have the same set of people as a world in which only some people have irresistible grace. I can spell that out if you need me to. 

In that event, "all persons" is an ambiguous or shifting referent. The Calvinist God cannot determine all the same persons to be saved. 

So you're implicitly comparing and contrasting two different possible worlds with different sets of people in each. It's not a case of God either saving all the same people or God only saving some of the same people. For if God gives everyone in the past irresistible grace, that will produce a different future than if God refrains from giving everyone in the past irresistible grace.

Jerry Walls 
Did you not listen to the whole lecture before criticizing? I discussed at length the Calvinist option to deny #5.

Steve Hays 
Jerry, the shoe is on the other foot. Note that I'm raising a different objection to #5 that you discussed at length. You discussed Piper's position. I'm not using Piper's argument. The difference isn't hard to see.

Jerry Walls 
I also discussed Hart,who says: "In short, if Calvinism is true, it seems perfectly easy for God to create a world in which universalism is true--a world in which everyone accepts God's offer of salvation and goes to heaven." Indeed, many Calvinists think that is the actual world, that all will be saved, that in the long run God will break the resistance of all persons. No reason God could not give postmortem irresistible grace to those who did not receive it in this life.

Steve Hays 
Jerry's you're still not following the argument. I didn't deny that God could save "everybody". But it's not the same "everybody". 

Suppose God gives everyone in the world irresistible grace. That will affect how they behave. For instance, there will be far less promiscuity, fornication, adultery, war, murder. 

Giving everyone irresistible grace begins in the past. That affects who will be conceived. Conception is about who mates with whom. Conception is about timing. A different day or hour, and a different person is conceived. If everyone in the past had irresistible grace, that would impact mating patterns, among other things. 

Moreover, little changes in the past generate big changes in the future. Changing past variables has a snowball effect.

Therefore, it's inaccurate to suggest a comparison in which you have two possible worlds with the same set of people, where God saves only some in one possible world but everyone in the other possible world. That's incompossible.

Jerry Walls 
My only concern is the actual world, and in the actual world, a God who determines all things and has infinite power and creative resources could eventually determine the salvation of all, in something like the way Talbott or Marilyn Adams have argued. Or if not that, he could have determined a different set of people, all to be saved in the course of this life. Those in this world who are not included in that world would have been none the poorer since they would ever have existed.

Steve Hays 
You say your only concern is the actual world, but you're comparing alternate outcomes: one in which everybody is saved in contrast to one in which only some are saved. That's not just about the actual world, but which possible world will become actual.

Steve Hays 
So you take the Epicurean position that nonexistence is not a deprivation?

Jerry Walls 
It is not a deprivation for those who have never existed at all.

Steve Hays 
If nonexistence is not a deprivation, does that mean a world in which a billion people exist, all of whom are saved, is no better than a world in which only 10 people exist, all of whom are saved?

Given Jerry's Epicurean view of nonexistence, I wonder how, if at all, he'd be able to argue against the antinatalistic position of David Benatar.

Jerry Walls
Those in this world who are not included in that world would have been none the poorer since they would ever have existed.

Steve Hays
i) Once again, Jerry, you seem to have a bad habit of failing to distinguish between an external critique and an internal critique. When you say the Calvinist God could save everyone, that implies that you're attempting to assess Calvinism on its own terms. 

But when you turn around and say "it is not a deprivation for those who have never existed at all," or "those in this world who are not included in that world would have been none the poorer since they would ever have existed," you suddenly shift gears to assessing the issue by your own standards. Yet that's confused. 

If you going to say the Calvinist God could save everyone, the question at issue isn't, in the first instance, whether you think nonexistence is a deprivation, but whether you've made an accurate statement about the implications of Calvinism. 

ii) Apropos (i), let's revert to my illustration. The time-traveler wants to save his contemporaries from disaster, but try as he might, he can't, since changing the past erases the future in which they exist. He can never save just those people. At best, he can takes actions that will replace them. A future without that disaster. A future without those particular people. 

By the same token, the Calvinist God can't save everyone is the sense of saving the very same people. Rather, in order for the Calvinist God to save everyone, he must cancel out the world in which he only saves some people, and substitute a different world with different people. For if God grants everyone irresistible grace, that produces a different alternate future. At the very least, you need to introduce that distinction into your argument. 

iii) That said, let's consider the issue from your own perspective. Your dismissive attitude regarding nonexistence is odd coming from a proud granddad. Are you prepared to look your granddaughters in the eye and say to them, "If the world didn't include you, if you never existed, you'd be none the poorer!" Are you prepared to tell your mother that? 

iv) Likewise, your dismissive attitude is odd for someone who treats divine love as God's most important attribute. Suppose God knows that if he creates this or that possible person, they will enjoy eternal bliss. (And that's a supposition of classical theism.) And no overriding good will be lost if he does so.

Is it not more loving for God to create them so that they will experience eternal bliss that not to create them? If you don't think that's an expression of divine love, why do you think God created heavenbound humans in the first place?

v) One problem with your Epicurean view of nonexistence is your failure to distinguish between the perspective of a nonentity and the perspective of an outside observer. Even though the nonentity has no viewpoint at the time, an outside observer can have a viewpoint regarding what would be beneficial for the nonentity if it were to exist. 

To take a comparison: a patient in a coma may have no viewpoint, no awareness of what's good for him, but an outside observer can act in the patient's best interest. Conversely, a rock exists, but lacks even a potential viewpoint. So existence, per se, is not the salient differential factor.

Surely you appreciate the fact that lost opportunities can be a deprivation. Not just losing what you had, but what you might have had. 

Jerry Walls 
Yes, lost opportunities for actual people is a deprivation, which is why it makes no sense to be indifferent to the hope of heaven as a future possibility on the ground that there were goods you missed out on before you ever existed. But those who never exist at all cannot regret either missing out on future goods or past ones. Actual people could, in a sense, have regrets on their behalf I suppose, like a married couple without children might mourn children who "might have been." But those possible children themselves suffer no loss because merely possible people suffer nothing.

Steve Hays 
Jerry, a comatose patient may have no regrets. He lacks the presence of mind to entertain regrets. A person with senile dementia may have no regrets for the same reason. 

You're confusing subjective awareness of missing out on future goods with the objective fact of missing out on future goods. Those are separate issues. You can't collapse one into the other. 

A lost opportunity is a loss. A counterfactual loss. Not to exist in the first place, if existence resulted in eternal bliss, is total loss. Not just a particular missed opportunity, but missing out on any and all opportunities for future goods. 

Your position is at war with your claim that God was justified in creating people he knew were hellbound for the benefit of people he knew were heavenbound. Your cost/benefit analysis is based on possible persons and hypothetical outcomes.

Jerry Walls 
Not all possible, all feasible, or creatible....which worlds are feasible depends on which free choices we would make if the world was actualized.

Steve Hays
You say it as if that's an established fact. But wasn't the notion of infeasible worlds just a postulate that Plantinga floated to deflect the logical problem of evil? The fact that his postulate is conceivable doesn't make it true or even plausible. It's not entailed by freewill theism. 

Jerry Walls
If Calvinism is true, it seems perfectly easy for God to create a world in which universalism is true."

Steve Hays
Jerry, even if (ex hypothesi) some possible worlds are infeasible, yet given the infinite number of possible worlds, it seems antecedently improbable in the extreme that there's not a single feasible world in which everyone freely goes to heaven. So why doesn't your own position suffer from the same objection you raise to Calvinism?

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Trump picks National Security Advisor

My informant inside Trump's entourage tells me this is his pick for Natural Security Advisor:

Was Jesus bisexual?

In fact, if you take literally the statement that Jesus was tempted in all things just as we are, (Heb: 4:15), then we have to conclude that the Bible teaches that Jesus was bisexual. He experienced temptation both to hetersexual sin and to homosexual sin, so he had to have been bisexual. QED.

That poses an intriguing dilemma for Arminian hermeneutics. They keep telling us that "all means all". So this becomes a reductio ad absurdum of their hermeneutical stance. 

How many evangelicals voted for Trump?

Monday, November 14, 2016

Why does anyone become a Christian?

"Why does anyone become a Christian?" by Tim Keller.

Erasmus and the “Catholic Reformation”
...he was the bastard son of a priest, by a washerwoman. This was the common fate of a vast number of people at the time. It testified to the unwillingness of the Church to sanction clerical marriage and its inability to stamp out concubinage. Probably as many as half the men in orders had ‘wives’ and families. Behind all the New Learning and the theological debates, clerical celibacy was, in its own way, the biggest single issue at the time of the Reformation. It was a great social problem and, other factors being equal, it tended to tip the balance in favour of reform. As a rule, the only hope for a child of a priest was to go into the Church himself, thus unwillingly or with no great enthusiasm, taking vows which he might subsequently regret: the evil tended to perpetuate itself. Paul Johnson, “A History of Christianity” (©1976, pgs 269-270).

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Three women in a vision

The following is a transcribed testimony from a female Iranian Christian named Nastaran Farahani. It's taken from a TGC panel discussion on the persecuted church titled "On the Persecuted Church: Panel with Nancy Guthrie, Mindy Belz, Don Carson, K. A. Ellis, Nastaran Farahani". Her testimony starts at about the 7 min 20 sec mark.

One day, while I was taking a shower, I heard someone was talking to me, telling me "repent!"

The voice told me "I'm going to wash you of your sin".

At that time I didn't know what that voice was, and what was the meaning of those words.

But after a while, my sister, she came to Iran from Holland, for visiting. I realized that she has a Bible for me.

One lady she came to her [Nastaran's sister] and she told her that God gave her a vision that she saw three women sitting on a bed and all trust in Christ. So she told her, "you have to go to Iran and visit them".

Another woman came to her and gave her a ticket.

So she came to Iran for a visit. And when she got home to our family, she opened her bag and brought out a Bible, and said "I believe in Jesus".

And all my family started to cry.

And I told her "I believe in Jesus! I know Jesus! I do not know how, but I know him. I do not have any question".

[Nancy Guthrie:] "...How did they [the rest of Nastaran's family] respond to this word of Jesus?"

They just cried.

Within one month, my mom converted.

And within two months, my father had a dream or vision, and he converted to Christ.

We started to go to the church. At that time the building church was open in Iran. But after persecution coming to the church, we decided to gather at home and start the house churches.

There's more to her testimony. Indeed, the entire panel discussion is worth listening to.

Social mascot du jour

There are various reasons why Hillary lost. I'd like to mention two:

i) Although this reason is blindingly obvious, Democrats were blind to the obvious. Increasingly, Democrats have focused on the "rights" of fringe constituencies. By that I mean, constituencies that comprise a minuscule fraction of the electorate. Most recently, homosexuals–followed by the even more statistically infinitesimal transgendered. 

Conversely, Democrats keep antagonizing large voting blocks. For instance, they just can't leave gun rights alone. Yet, as a voting block, gun owners vastly outnumber homosexuals and transgenders (although, in theory, these groups could overlap to some small degree). 

So voters see the tail wagging the dog. Democrats demand that 99% of the population adapt to 1% of the population. The whole nation must use transgender pronouns, accept coed public restrooms, locker rooms, sports teams, and women's shelters, force Orthodox Jews and Christians to cater queer marriages, &c. 

That's a surefire formulate for alienating voters en masse.  

(BTW, I don't object to protecting the rights of minorities. But a group isn't entitled to special treatment just because it whines.) 

This is in large part because the Democrat party is on a never-ending quest for some new cause, some new social mascot, and so the latest protected classes become ever more esoteric and artificial.  

ii) Another reason is that leftwing academics have become (in effect) the speechwriters for Democrat candidates. There are different sources of policy. Sometimes policy has a bottomup source. An exigent crisis that demands a policy solution.

But oftentimes, policy has a topdown source. Pointy-headed academics with bold new ideas. These can be liberals, libertarians, conservatives, whatever.

Yet even when it originates with pointy-headed academics, historically there's been a vetting process. Academics don't set the agenda directly. Rather, new ideas take time to percolate. There's an effort to create a constituency for the ideas. Op-ed columnists popularize and promote the ideas. Aspiring political candidates float new ideas as trial balloons. 

The intent is to get voters behind new ideas by gradually exposing them to new ideas, until they become accustomed to them. If successful, that lays the groundwork for the political agenda. Of course, some policy initiatives never catch on. The public just doesn't like them. 

But more recently, Democrats have bypassed that filter. Radical ideas by leftwing academics immediately set the political agenda of Democrat politicians. Voters are informed in no uncertain terms that these are moral imperatives. The lightning speed with which transgenderism captured the Democrat party and became an instant necessity is a case in point. Even faster than the two-step from gay domestic partnerships through gay civil unions to gay marriage. 

But of course, normal Americans don't share these outre priorities. That doesn't speak to their needs. 

Is Trump God's anointed?

I'm going to comment on a post by Michael Brown:

I’m aware, of course, that some people believe that everything happens by the will of God, which means that whoever wins the presidency wins by God’s express will.

In the predestinarian sense, yes. Of course, that's different from the notion of special divine intervention. 

I believe Trump has been elected president by divine intervention.

I don't. 

Yet there are times when there are so many odds against something happening, when it so greatly defies logic, that it is easier to recognize God’s involvement.

I agree with the principle, but not his application. 

Just think of the obstacles Trump overcame, including: 1) The massive baggage of his past, including the release of a vulgar video with his tremendously offensive sexual comments along with numerous women accusing him of sexual assault (as reported by no less than the New York Times); 2) his myriad campaign errors, with enough misstatements and inappropriate remarks to sink several candidates; 3) a very strong Republican field, including governors like Bush, Christie, Kasich, Huckabee and Walker, senators like Cruz, Rubio and Santorum, and outsiders like Carson and Fiorina; 4) the massive power of the Clinton political machine; and 5) the overwhelming collusion of the mainstream media.

1. I agree that Trump's upset victory was remarkable. As Gene Veith noted on his own blog, "He raised little money, ran few ads, had no ground game to get out supporters, dispensed with the high-tech lists and analysis that was supposed to be the hallmark of a 21st century political campaign."

That said, I don't attribute Trump's victory to God parachuting in at the last moment to save his bacon. 

i) Trump was able to bypass some of the ordinary prerequisites due to the power of celebrity. Free media. Near universal name-recognition even before he threw his hat into the ring. 

ii) His reputation preceded him. There are voters who actually like the bad boy pose. And because he's infamously venal and crass, there wasn't much the media or the Hillary campaign could throw against him that wasn't already known by many voters. 

iii) To a great extent, Hillary's odiousness canceled out Trump's odiousness. 

iv) Trump tapped into a neglected demographic niche.

v) Many voters were fed up with 8 years of Obama's heavy-handed social engineering, mirrored in blue states.  

vi) Many voters rightly felt Hillary posed dire threat to their liberty and livelihood.  

vii) Although Trump's ground game was weak, the RNC had a ground game for Congressional candidates and local races that may have benefited Trump by getting out the vote for Republicans in general. 

2. If Trump is the best that divine interposition can muster, omnipotence doesn't seem to be all it's cracked up to be. Or perhaps the Almighty's timing is off. If only that had happened during the primaries, to elevate a better candidate. 

Yeah, the way I say that sounds a mite sacrilegious, but Brown's appeal invites that response. 

3. However, here's what most interests me. Brown is a freewill theist. So in what sense, consistent with the libertarian freedom of human agents, does he think God was able to throw the campaign for Trump? Did God override the will of voters? Did God engage in subliminal messaging? Did God plant a subconscious, irrepressible urge to vote for Trump? Did God take control of their bodies and make their hand involuntarily push the button for Trump, then cause them to experience amnesia? Did God make voting machines switch votes? Did Hillary really win, but God caused an optical illusion so that we perceive tallies that aren't really there?  

If God has raised Trump up for certain divine purposes, it behooves us to ask what those purposes are — and to pray for divine restraint on his life.

How does Brown propose that we discern God's purposes in that respect? Indeed, if Trump is our leader by divine interposition, isn't opposing Trump tantamount to opposing God? I'm afraid Brown's position on this issue reflects the excesses of his charismatic theology.