Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Believe truth! Shun error!

From a recent Facebook debate I had with an atheist:

Your objection is deeply confused. You act as if his credibility is relevant. It's not. Credibility is important in a witness. But he isn't asking anyone to simply take his word for what he says. His personal motives are beside the point. All that's germane is the quality of argumentation and evidence he presents in support of his position, and not whether you trust the purity of his motives.

You are still fixated on motives rather than evidence, which is a red herring. In addition, that objection cuts both ways. What about atheists who say that even if they directly witnessed an apparent miracle, they'd believe that was a hallucination before they accepted that as evidence for God?

What about atheists who say the God of the Bible is evil? Haven't they burned their bridges for believing in God regardless of the evidence?

And I've explained why your obsession with motivations is a decoy. For instance, the general purpose of formal public debates is not for one debater to convince the other, or vice versa. Rather, it's for the benefit of the audience. Both speakers are representatives of certain viewpoints. The point is to engage their arguments, not because the speakers are sincere, but because they are capable exponents of a position you wish to evaluate.  I've seen and read many debates between Christians and atheists. I don't evaluate the performance by speculating on the sincerity of the atheist. I just consider the quality of his arguments.

BTW, from a secular standpoint, why does it even matter what motivates someone's beliefs? From your viewpoint, Christians and atheists share a common oblivion when they die. Nothing they believe makes any ultimate difference to them or the world at large. What difference does, from a secular standpoint, if a Christian's motives were pure or impure? The morgue doesn't differentiate between the corpses of Christians and atheists.

You said "I don't think there's anything that I could read in a book that could convince me that a God exists." That's unqualified skepticism.

Is that your position about history books in general? Sometimes we must sift between conflicting historical sources. Does that mean we should be skeptical about history in general? So you're skeptical about the existence of Lincoln, the Crusades, the Battle of Waterloo, &c.?

Most of what you believe is based on secondhand information. Why do you demand firsthand experience in the case of God's existence? Why do you have a different standard of comparison for the historical Charlemagne than the historical Jesus?

The Gospels are arguably 1C historical accounts of a 1C historical figure, based on eyewitness testimony. Are you suggesting the sources are comparable for the existence of Vishnu?

Is Vishnu empirical in the sense that Jesus is empirical? In addition, not all concepts of the divine have the same explanatory power.

So your claim is that reported miracles are inconsistent with observed reality. But that's circular inasmuch as observers report miracles.

To disbelieve all reported miracles assumes extreme skepticism about testimonial evidence. Yet you admit that you rely on testimonial evidence.

You have yet to address the vicious circularity of your objection. What we know about reality is based mostly on observational claims. Well, that includes reported miracles.

Moreover, this isn't even a case of conflicting observational claims. The fact that some people don't observe miracles doesn't logically contradict other people observing miracles.

if your comment was alluding to the ascension of Elijah, he didn't ascend to heaven on a winged horse. Perhaps, though, you were alluding to Muhammad's night journey. If so, that depends on the credibility (or lack) thereof, of Islam–and Muslim sources generally.

It's funny how often atheists act as if non-Christian miracles are inconsistent with the Christian worldview. Atheists have a bad habit of parroting stock objections by other atheists.

Your question is confused. Verifying a miracle is a separate issue from the patient's conviction that Vishnu performed it. This goes back to your irrational fixation with motives.

You keep conflating two distinct issues. A verified miracle disproves naturalism.

Moreover, you retreat into hypotheticals about the Hindu woman. That becomes another diversion. Instead of addressing actual, well-attested case studies, you retreat into imaginary what-if scenarios. Why don't we begin with reality rather than counterfactuals?

For starters, you need to produce a Hindu with a verifiable miracle before we even address the question of divine attribution. You keep putting the horse before the cart. There's extensive documentation for Christian miracles. This is a problem with atheists who think that can just wing it by resorting to fact-free hypotheticals. There's a place for hypotheticals, but that's not a substitute for evidence.

"Let me ask you this: If you heard a Christian say she experienced something that would fit the definition of a miracle"

You have a bad habit of recasting the issue as a string of vague claims. But I'm not discussing highly ambiguous examples. You need to acquaint yourself with specific evidence for specific examples.

You play the typical game of stipulating an artificial test for miracles. But that reveals a complete misunderstanding of where the onus lies. Naturalism denies miracle in toto. That's a universal negative. All that's required to falsify a universal negative are a few verifiable counterexamples.

The logical and honest approach is to establish that a miracle has occurred. That rules out atheism at one stroke. That's the first step. Anthony evades that by shifting the discussion to hypothetical rival divine candidates. And he keeps harping on that as if it rules out verification of a miracle. A bait-n-switch.

Regarding the Vishnu hypothetical:

i) On the one hand, the Christian God might have occasion to answer the prayer of a Hindu. Suppose a linear ancestor of Ravi Zacharias is deathly ill. Even he dies, Ravi will never exist. The Christian God might answer a Hindu prayer so that further down the line, Ravi will be born.

ii) On the other hand, suppose, for discussion purposes only, that Vishnu is real. Suppose he sometimes answers Christian prayers. Christians are praying to the wrong god, but have no way of knowing that. Not only are they mistaken, but they're in no position to detect and correct their mistake.

Is that thought-experiment supposed to be a defeater for Christianity?

Let's consider another thought-experiment: suppose the devil plants fossils to make people go to hell by losing their faith in Scripture. Atheists mistakenly believe in naturalistic evolution because the devil planted false evidence. Is that hypothetical a defeater for atheism? Can Magnabosco disprove the thought-experiment?

Another basic problem with your tactic is that it cuts both ways. If he's going to cast the issue in terms of case-by-case elimination of rival gods, how does he, as an atheist, propose to dispatch the "330 million" gods of Hinduism, as well as other theisms, polytheisms, pantheisms, and panentheisms?

In my experience, many atheists act as if the worst consequence is to mistakenly believe Christianity. But why is that worse than mistakenly refusing to believe in Christianity or mistakenly believing in atheism?

Suppose, for argument's sake, people mistakenly believe in Christianity. What do they have to lose? If atheism is true, when they die they never find out they were wrong because they instantly pass into oblivion. And when atheists die, they never find out that they were right, because they instantly pass into oblivion. 

By contrast, suppose people mistakenly refuse to believe in Christianity. What do they have to lose? Everything! 

As William James put it, in his classic essay ("The Will to Believe"):

ONE more point, small but important, and our preliminaries are done. There are two ways of looking at our duty in the matter of opinion,--ways entirely different, and yet ways about whose difference the theory of knowledge seems hitherto to have shown very little concern. We must know the truth; and we must avoid error,- -these are our first and great commandments as would-be knowers; but they are not two ways of stating an identical commandment, they are two separable laws. Although it may indeed happen that when we believe the truth A, we escape as an incidental consequence from believing the falsehood B, it hardly ever happens that by merely disbelieving B we necessarily believe A. We may in escaping B fall into believing other falsehoods, C or D, just as bad as B; or we may escape B by not believing anything at all, not even A. Believe truth! Shun error!-these, we see, are two materially different laws; and by choosing between them we may end by coloring differently our whole intellectual life. We may regard the chase for truth as paramount, and the avoidance of error as secondary; or we may, on the other hand, treat the avoidance of error as more imperative, and let truth take its chance. Clifford, in the instructive passage which I have quoted, exhorts us to the latter course. Believe nothing, he tells us, keep your mind in suspense forever, rather than by closing it on insufficient evidence incur the awful risk of believing lies. You, on the other hand, may think that the risk of being in error is a very small matter when compared with the blessings of real knowledge, and be ready to be duped many times in your investigation rather than postpone indefinitely the chance of guessing true. I myself find it impossible to go with Clifford.

In praise of unanswered prayer

Much is written about the "problem of unanswered prayer", but there's a flip side to that. It means we're not ultimately responsible for getting answers to prayer. God answers some prayers while leaving other prayers unanswered, and it's not up to us which is which. If a prayer goes unanswered, it's not necessarily or even generally because we failed in some way, although, as James explains, there can be impediments to prayer (e.g. faithless prayer, ill-motivated prayer). When I pray, I'm not in control. The results are entirely in God's hands. If the prayer goes unanswered, or appears to go unanswered, that may be disappointing, but it's nothing to fret over. We might fret over our circumstances, but there's nothing more we could have done or should have done to ensure an answer. We can't make God gives us what we request. And that's a relief. That takes the weight off my shoulders. It means it's not our fault if the prayer goes unanswered. No one's to blame. Not God. Not the supplicant. It's just that God, in his wisdom, chose not to grant our request–for reasons we may never understand in this life. 

A Brief History of Reality (as it relates to the culture wars of our times)

Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and Rorty. Each proposed a different model of reality.
I’m not trained in philosophy, by any stretch, although I’ve done some reading on the topic. As well, I’m not a sociologist, nor even a close observer of contemporary culture, but I do live here and observe things.

And so I publish this blog post with the idea of starting a discussion that is looking forward to diagnosing some of the cultural difficulties that we face today, and not because I’m not suggesting I have all the answers. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I see myself as more of a journalist, a reporter (but an honest one), collecting information and passing it on, than anything else.

The study of “reality” may be found within the fields of “metaphysics” and “ontology” (with the differences between them viewed as):

Metaphysics is a very broad field, and metaphysicians attempt to answer questions about how the world is. Ontology is a related sub-field, partially within metaphysics, that answers questions of what things exist in the world. An ontology posits which entities exist in the world. So, while a metaphysics may include an implicit ontology (which means, how your theory describes the world may imply specific things in the world), they are not necessary the same field of study.

While there are many complexities within these discussions, in broad outline form, the history of “reality” has kind of followed this trajectory:

Monday, August 21, 2017

"No one is good but God"

17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions (Mk 10:17-22).

This is a sequel to my prior post:

It was clearly not my aim in the original post to expound and defend my own interpretation. However, apostate Dale Tuggy jumped in:

The standard unitarian reading will be like this. We all know that Jesus is good, and extraordinarily so, given his track record of obedience to God and self-sacrifice. But he says only God, only the Father is good. So, he must have in mind some unusual meaning of "good." Perhaps: absolutely good, perfectly good, essentially good, necessarily good. immutably good. Some such distinction makes sense, as the NT explicitly asserts that God can't be tempted, and that Jesus was tempted - you know the texts. One kind or degree or aspect of goodness is untemptability - immunity from the allure of sin. So whatever this other sense is, Jesus is straightforwardly saying that he isn't good in that sense, though God is. 

It would be puzzling why (on your assumption of "the deity of Christ") why he also directs the man's attention away from Jesus, with the implied rebuke for his calling Jesus good.

Both, of course, make sense on a unitarian reading. 

Once you're done calling strikes, perhaps then you should admit that your dilemma is easy for any unitarian reader to address. Looking forward to that.

i) A basic failing of Tuggy's explanation is the fact that the ruler didn't think Jesus was good in a divine sense inasmuch as the ruler presumably didn't think Jesus was the Deity. Tuggy's explanation is especially ironic from a unitarian perspective, since unitarians don't believe Mark's Gospel (or the Synoptics generally, who reproduce this exchange) teach the deity of Christ. 

ii) But even from a theologically orthodox standpoint, there's no reason to suppose the ruler thought Jesus was God. Most folks in the Gospels, at least initially, don't suspect that Jesus is Yahweh Incarnate. That doesn't lie on the surface. And it's unexpected.

It's only when Jesus says and does certain things that it dawns on them. Like stories about kings who disguise themselves as paupers to test their royal subjects. 

If the ruler doesn't think Jesus is God, then his mode of address never suggested that Jesus is good in that sense. Even from a unitarian perspective, the ruler's not confused in that regard, so there's nothing to correct in that regard.

iii) As we know from other conversations in the Gospels, sometimes Jesus refuses to answer a question directly. That's because people don't always ask the right question. So sometimes Jesus answers the question they should have asked. Or he deflects the question to focus on what's really at stake, because their priorities are askew.

That's what he's doing here. In this passage, Jesus isn't talking about himself. He's not affirming or disaffirming that he is God or he is good. 

That's because the rich young ruler suffers from an impediment that prevents him from valuing what Jesus has to offer. The ruler is self-righteous and his piety lacks total devotion. So long as he suffers from spiritual pride, so long as his priorities are misplaced, he will fail to recognize his need for what Jesus has to give, viz. "but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful" (Mk 4:19). 

iv) Nevertheless, Christ's response carries the implication that if he is good, then he is God. That's left hanging out there, but other passages confirm the deity of Christ. 


When reading the creation account, I often try to appreciate the significance of celestial luminaries to people who lived before the advent of electrical lighting. One category would be celestial portents and prodigies, viz. supernova, comets, meteors, eclipses. In Scripture, these figure in stock apocalyptic imagery.

But even in the scientific age, when such phenomena are natural explicable, they still evoke popular fascination. Take today's solar eclipse, which I just witnessed. I went to an abandoned parking lot to have an unobstructed view. Other people had the same idea. Although the parking lot is right beside a busy arterial, the arterial was nearly deserted in anticipation of the eclipse. Despite secularization, striking celestial phenomena retain numinous connotations in the popular imagination. Psychologically, we aren't that far removed from our prescientific forebears.

Due to overcast skies, the sunlight was filtered through fine cloud cover, which gave the corona ringing the moon an ethereal bluish tint. It was very pretty. And, of course, the lighting in general was unusual.

What would it take to abandon your faith?

Recently I watched a video clip by Andy Bannister:

Before I comment on the specifics, I don't wish to be too critical. I'm sure he's doing far more good than I ever will. And I think the situation for Christians in England is tougher than the situation for Christians in the USA. Finally, this is an intentionally a brief reply, pitched at a popular level. That said, I wouldn't answer the question the way he does, and I think there's a serious problem with the tack he takes. 

i) Suppose a Christian were to answer the question by saying that nothing could make him abandon his faith? Atheists would exclaim how his admission goes to show that Christians are fideists. Their faith isn't factually motivated or grounded.

I think Christians like Lennox and Bannister are defensive about that stereotypy, which is why they counter by stressing the factual basis of Christian faith. They have evidence for what they believe. 

And that's an important corrective to the atheist stereotype. Many atheists are completely ignorant regarding the arguments for Christianity. They reside in a secular echo chamber where all their friends and acquaintances agree with each other than there couldn't possible be any good reasons to believe in Christianity. 

There is, though, the danger of overreacting to the stereotype. In particular, there's the danger of intellectual elitism. As Leibniz noted:

If you [John Locke] take faith to be only what rests on rational grounds for belief, and separate it from the inward grace which immediately endows the mind with faith, everything you say, sir, is beyond dispute. For it must be acknowledge that many judgments are more evident than the ones which depend on these rational grounds. Some people have advanced further towards the latter than others have; and indeed, plenty of people, far from having weighed up such reasons, have never known them and consequently do not even have what could count as grounds for probability. But the inward grace of the Holy Spirit makes up for this immediately and supernaturally, and it is this that creates what theologians strictly call "divine faith". God, it is true, never bestows this faith unless what he is making one believe in grounded in reason–otherwise he would subvert our capacity to recognize truth, and open the door to enthusiasm–but it is not necessary that all who possess this divine faith should know those reasons, and still less that they should have them perpetually before their eyes. Otherwise none of the unsophisticated or of the feeble-minded–now at least–would have the true faith, and the most enlightened people might not have it when they most needed it, since no one can always remember his reasons for believing. G. Leibniz, New Essays on Human Understanding(Cambridge, 2nd ed., 1996), 498.

Most Christians lack the aptitude to make a philosophically sophisticated case for their faith. And that limitations is not confined to Christians. Most atheists are not intellectuals.

And just in general, most of us, including most philosophers, have fundamental beliefs which are very hard to defend in a philosophically rigorous fashion, yet we are right to believe them. 

ii) There is a sense in which we need to say that there are things which would make us abandon our Christian faith. The classic example is Paul's statement that if the Resurrection never happened, that falsifies the Christian faith (1 Cor 15:14,17).

The basic principle is that for Christianity to be true, some other things must be false. Christian propositions as well as propositions that contradict Christianity can't both be true. 

To deny this renders the Christian faith vacuous. Christian theology can't affirm anything to be the case unless it implicitly disaffirms the contradictories of whatever it affirms. Falsifiability, in this hypothetical sense, is necessary to preserve the intellectual integrity of the Christian faith, in contrast to theological noncognitivism.

iii) However, it's misleading to leave it at that with no further qualifications. For one thing, Paul's statement is a counterfactual claim. He doesn't offer that as a live possibility. To the contrary, Paul is using the Resurrection as a wedge issue. He regards the Resurrection as an unquestionable benchmark. If the beliefs or behavior of the Corinthians is at odds with the Resurrection, then they need to bring their beliefs or behavior in line with the Resurrection. 

iv) In addition, the status of counterfactuals is metaphysically demanding. What makes counterfactual statements true? They can't be true in or about the actual world, because counterfactuals statements are claims about what might have been. What didn't happen. 

Typically, counterfactual statements are grounded in possible worlds. But what are possible worlds? What must reality be like to accommodate possible worlds? 

A Christian might say a possible world is a world plot in God's mind. God imagines alternate histories, and God is able to instantiate these scenarios in real space and real time. On that view, possible worlds are divine ideas. They inhere in God's omniscience and omnipotence.

But if physicalism is true, and if the universe is all there is, then there's no room for possible worlds. Not at least if we define possible worlds as abstract objects. 

Paradoxically, Paul's counterfactual only makes sense given a theistic worldview. It's an argument per impossibile. If (per impossibile) Christ didn't rise from the dead, then our faith is in vain. 

v) And that line of reasoning can be extended much farther. In asking what it would take to make you abandon your faith, you should also ask what other beliefs you'd need to abandon to abandon your faith. What does it take to be a consistent atheist? Loss of faith isn't the only intellectual casualty. Carried to a logical extreme, what other beliefs are swept away by apostasy? 

It might be wholly irrational to abandon your faith. In that event, to say nothing would make you abandon your faith is not a fideistic admission, but just the opposite. To abandon your faith you'd have to abandon basic epistemic norms. 

vi) It might be objected that I've oversimplified the alternatives. It's not a stark choice between atheism and Christian theism, but a continuum. And in theory that's true. It's important to eliminate other candidates, like Platonic realism and rival religions. And the analysis could take it to the next step. 

What evidentialism isn't


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sky High reunion

Christians often attend a variety of churches over the course of a lifetime. One reason is our mobile society. If they move out of town or out of state, they find a new church.

I've attended a number of different denominations over the years. Partly this is due to curiosity, in terms of exploring different worship styles. Although I'm a stickler for theology, I'm quite flexible about church attendance, within basic boundaries of orthodoxy. 

For a time I attended in Anglican church. One time I was sitting in church, watching the priests, altar boys, and acolytes prepare for communion. The altar boys were cute elementary school age kids. The acolyte was an older teenager. Made me reflect on me when I was his age, some 40 years ago. I will predecease the acolyte and altar boys by decades. 

It also made me think of all the Christians we encounter, inside and outside of church, in the course of a lifetime. Some of them we may briefly meet, while others we come to know for months or years. But as we move around and they move around, they pass out of our lives. And in some cases they die, which is why we don't see them anymore. And we don't normally think about them.

Occasionally and unexpectedly we bump into people we knew years ago. Suddenly, from out of the past, our paths cross once again. All the dormant memories awaken. 

All of this prompted me to think of what it will be like, after we die, to see all these people again. Christians we met in this world, at one time or another, whom we will see again in the world to come (or intermediate state). Many of whom we lost track of.

Some of them will be waiting for us when we die, while we'll be waiting for some of them when they die–which ever comes first. Like an everlasting high school reunion for Christians!   

"Why call me good"?

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone (Mk 10:18; par. Mt 19:17; Lk 18:19). 

That's a unitarian prooftext. The typical evangelical explanation is that Christ's response is ad hominem. The young man suffers from an exaggerated opinion of his virtue, so Christ is redirecting his attention to the absolute standard of comparison.

I think that's correct, but I'd like to make another point. This text poses a dilemma for unitarians, for Jesus links God and good. If the statement denies that Jesus is God, then by parity of reasoning, the statement denies that Jesus is good. Jesus makes these parallel claims. You can't affirm one and deny the other; either affirm both or deny both.

Faith journeys

Here's the testimony of a Christian med student:

Around the 6 min. mark he recounts a miracle. He says he overheard a phone conversation that was too far away to naturally hear, not to mention all the noise from passengers mulling around. In addition to hearing God's voice. If it happened, it must be telepathic. 

This is veridical in the sense that his impression was corroborated, both by what happened when he spoke to the man and the message on the video, by the guy recounting his side of the exchange. 

There are only four logical explanations:

i) He's mistaken

How could he misperceive what he thought he heard? How could that accidentally correspond to what was actually said? 

ii) It's a coincidence

What are the odds?

At this point an atheist might say, sure (i-ii) are astronomically improbable, but they're more probable than the alternative of something that crazy actually happening. 

Yes and no. (i-ii), however wildly improbable, might still be more plausible than the alternative naturally happening. But that's not the comparison. The comparison is whether God made it happen.

iii) He's lying

That's something we should make allowance for. If, however, there are many stories like this from prima facie credible witnesses, then what's the tipping point to overturn naturalism (i.e. physicalism, causal closure)? It's circular for an atheist to discount all these reports as unbelievable because we don't live in a world where things like that happen. But how do we know what kind of world we live it? What's the benchmark? If enough witnesses report incidents like that, then we do live in that kind of world!

The atheist is appealing to experience, yet he's using one set of reported experiences as the benchmark to evaluate other reported experiences. But what's his justification of appealing to naturalistic experiences to set the standard of comparison? Why not the other way around?

Moreover, there's not even a prima facie conflict. Not experiencing the supernatural isn't positive evidence to the contrary, that counters evidence for the supernatural. If I've never seen something, that doesn't count as evidence against your reported sighting. 

iv) He's telling the truth

Permission to die

Sometimes we need to give people permission to die. They don't have a duty to fight death right up to the last minute. They don't have a duty to soldier on. 

It's a balancing act. On the one hand it seems right to hope for the best, pray for the best, hope for a miracle.

On the other hand, that drumbeat makes it hard for someone to be a peace with the prospect of dying.  To prepare themselves for death, which denies them a peaceful death, because they feel they have an obligation to resist death. And that can be cruel. Sometimes it's okay to let go–especially as a Christian. 

From a Christian standpoint, it's okay to say good-bye to this life and leave this world behind. In our efforts to "encourage" the terminally ill, I think some well-meaning believers have contributed to their ordeal and mounting sense of panic because they think we have a duty to always say something "hopeful" in the sense of waiting for a last-minute miracle. The terminally ill are never allowed to resign themselves to the probability of death and make the emotional and psychological adjustment. It's always, hang on to the last dying breath–just in case.

Death is easy for some Christians and hard for others. The danger is to make dying harder than it needs to be. If the terminally ill are made to feel that they are letting down the cause by "giving up", that makes dying harder. They aren't allowed to mentally prepare themselves for death. For release from this life. Release from pain. Release from unnecessary anxieties. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Pornographic imagination

Many evangelical pastors and parachurch organizations refer to the perils of porn addiction. The unexamined assumption is that porn is primarily a masculine vice. However, Jordan Peterson has discussed the neglected fact that many women are avid consumers of pornography. Peterson differentiates between visual pornography, which appeals to men, and literary pornography, which appeals to women. Men are attracted to direct imagery whereas women are attracted to graphic verbal descriptions or tales of seduction. For instance:

A pornographic imagination isn't distinctive to men. Both men and women are susceptible. The difference is the medium. 

Profiles in courage


A radical on radicals


Roman Catholicism needs a procedure for a pope who “teaches error”

Fr Aidan Nichols wants a procedure to discipline a pope who “teaches error”
Fr Aidan Nichols wants a procedure to discipline a pope who “teaches error”
Many Roman Catholics are willing to whisk away the current teaching of "Pope Francis" as if it were a continuation or a "development". But here is one leading Roman Catholic priest, intellectual, and theologian, who thinks that's not the case.

Link: Fr Aidan Nichols said that Pope Francis's teaching had led to an 'extremely grave' situation

Fr Aidan Nichols, a prolific author who has lectured at Oxford and Cambridge as well as the Angelicum in Rome, said that Pope Francis’s exhortation Amoris Laetitia had led to an “extremely grave” situation.

Fr Nichols proposed that, given the Pope’s statements on issues including marriage and the moral law, the Church may need “a procedure for calling to order a pope who teaches error”....

Solution Sunday


Friday, August 18, 2017

Just one god separating atheism from Hinduism

Here's an oft-quoted definition of atheism:

I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.

I wonder how that would work in dialogue with a Hindu:

Atheist: I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do.

Hindu: I believe in 333 million gods. When you understand why I believe in all 329,999,999 of your gods, you will understand why I add one more.

Saturday debate on Islam


Why Evangelicals are Drawn to the Alt-Right


Aids to prayer

A friend recently asked, "What ideas or practices have helped you grow in prayer?"

i) I think it varies depending on what you're going through at any particular point in life. What may be helpful when life is going well may be inadequate during a crisis or dry spells.

ii) Some Christians find it useful to keep a prayer journal. That way they have a record of answered prayer. More generally, it's easy to forget all the things we've been through once they're past. But reviewing that periodically can provide a sense of providential care. 

iii) Another thing: it's good to alternate between praying for our own needs and praying for others. Intercessory prayer keeps us from becoming too depressingly focussed our own problems. And taking a break by praying for others enables us to come back to our own problems somewhat refreshed.

iv) Can be good to read/watch (credible) testimonies of answered prayer. Even if your own prayer life seems to be spinning its wheels, evidence of God at work in the lives of others can be inspirational. Reminds one of God's reality, even if he doesn't seem to be palpable in your own life at the time. Two examples:

v) In my experience, there's value to looking back on evil. Looking back on a particular ordeal in one's life and say to yourself, "Well, at least I've put that much behind me! At least I'll never have to go through that again! Maybe the worst is behind me." 

I realize it's too soon for Christians undergoing a crisis to be able to have that detached perspective. But if you get beyond point, it will be a relief to consign that to the past. And even if you're not at that point as of yet, and it's nowhere in sight, even so, it is good to anticipate a time of life when you can view your current ordeal in retrospect. It's an outlook I've been cultivating lately. Remembering events I'm happy now lie in the past.

Death and flooding

I suspect that when many people read about Noah's flood, they assume the victims died by drowning. And that has some implications of the depth of the flood, since you can only drown in water that's over your head (or above your neck).

Now, I'm no expert, but it seems obvious to me that there are various ways to die in a flood short of drowning. Suppose there's standing water at waist-level or chest-level for just a month. You can still breathe. You won't die by suffocation. However:

i) You can't sleep because you can't lie down. But there comes a point when the urge to sleep is irrepressible. So you can only keep your head above water for so long.

ii) Other than fruit trees (which are seasonal), you have nothing to eat. You can't even see where food is, because it's submerged. 

Stored dry foods will be spoiled by the flood waters. Wineskins suffer the same fate. No waterproof containers. No tupperware in the ancient world. 

You can't hunt game. Standing water impedes mobility. Even if you could catch game or livestock, you can't cook it. And the flood will drown the low-slung livestock.

iii) You don't have drinking water. The flood waters are polluted. So you either drink contaminated water or die of thirst.

iv) Depending on the temperature, you can die of hypothermia. 

v) Depending on the rapidity of the deluge, Noah's neighbors might not have time to evacuate to high ground, assuming they lived in the vicinity of high ground. 

It also depends on the direction of the floodwaters. If torrential floodwaters are rushing downstream, that will impede ability to reach high ground. You'd either be heading into the floodwaters or be overtaken by the floodwaters.

And even if coastal flooding was the primary source, causing rivers to back up, you could still be overtaken by the deluge, and swept away by strong currents. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Effacing the past

Predictably, SJWs lobby to tear down offensive monuments. A few observations:

I'm not an absolutist about this. I don't think it's intrinsically wrong to tear down some monuments. But in general I'm opposed to it:

i) If and when we're going to tear down monuments, that should enjoy broad-based public support. That shouldn't be decided by an unrepresentative faction of malcontents.

ii) As a rule, we shouldn't efface history. Rather, we should learn from history. 

I oppose the erection of Confederate monuments. But once it's there, has been there for decades, that becomes integrated into the history of a place, and it's a good thing to see visible layers of the past.

iii) SJWs are insatiable. They don't stop when you capitulate to their incessant demands. To the contrary, that emboldens them to demand more. 

Where does it end? If some people find churches and synagogues offensive, should they be torn down? If a private homeowner has a crèche on his front yard during the Christmas season, should that be removed because some atheists are offended? Should yarmulkas be banned if Muslims are offended? Should bikinis be outlawed if Muslims are offended? 

iv) It reflects the obsession with empty symbolism. Tearing down Confederate monuments doesn't do anything to improve the lives of Black Americans. That's a cheap substitute and decoy that deflects attention away from real problems and real solutions.

v) So often it's whites who presume to speak on behalf of minorities. That's very paternalistic. 

Kinists and libertarians

There's an intriguing relationship between libertarianism and white racism, viz. Kinists, neo-Confederates. By that I mean, these groups overlap. So what's the nature of the relationship?

The relationship is asymmetrical. Libertarianism doesn't logically entail white racism (or racism generally). And it's not a domino effect, where one thing automatically leads to another.

But while you can be a libertarian but not be a white racist (indeed, many or most are not), at least in my anecdotal experience, Kinists and neo-Confederates are typically libertarians. So what's the connection? The very fact that there's some correlation despite the lack of logical continuity invites a special explanation to account for the overlap.

What's the entry point? Do they start with libertarianism, then migrate to Kinism/Southern nationalism? Do they start with Kinism/Southern nationalism and migrate to libertarianism? Do they start with theonomy and migrate to Kinism/Southern nationalism? Do they start with Kinism/Southern nationalism and migrate to theonomy? Is there a one-stop shopping site where they get the whole package?

We might begin by distinguishing between reasonable libertarians and the lunatic fringe. I asked a couple of libertarian (or libertarian-leaning) friends about who they thought were the best representatives of libertarian ideology. The combined list was Bastiat, David Boaz, Isaiah Berlin, Friedman, Haywek, Nozick, Rothbard, and von Mises–along with thinkers whose work underpins libertarianism, viz., Locke, Mill, Paine.  

Let's cite those as a benchmark for reasonable libertarians. Presumably, there's no logical trajectory from their socioeconomic and political views to white racism. BTW, although I'm not a libertarian, I'm sympathetic to some libertarian principles. 

On the other hand, there's what I'll dub the LewRockwell.com wing of the libertarian movement. Other examples include Michael Butler and Timothy Harris. 

A malarial swamp of conspiracy theories. 9/11 Truthers. JKF conspiracy buffs. The usual suspects, viz. Trilateral Commission, Skull & Bones. A whole alternate narrative about American foreign policy. 

There've been many debacles in American foreign policy. But the pundits I've referencing invariably impute the most underhanded motives to American foreign policymakers. Fiascos can't be explained by anything as mundane as human folly and foibles. No, the motives must be more nefarious–like the invisible omnipresent Jewish lobby. This fosters a mindset which makes Kinism and Southern nationalism more plausible by placing that within an overarching historical narrative. 

Another potential entry point is the intersection between Calvinism and Southern Presbyterianism, a la Thornwell, Dabney. That's an adventitious association or historical accident. A temporary confluence and a particular place and time. A counterpart would be Francis Nigel Lee. I dissected that a few years ago:

I think the upshot is that libertarianism and white racism sometimes overlap, not because those ideas logically group together, but because people group certain ideas, and when certain people form groups, especially like-minded people, there's a synergistic effect. 

Don't like Confederate statues? Don't make one

Remember the "Don't like abortion, don't have one" line? Why do SJWs apply the same logic to Confederate statues? Or statues of Washington, Jefferson et al. Don't like it? Don't make it! Don't look at it!

Tearing down statues


Wednesday, August 16, 2017


From a blue-ribbon liberal:


Is corporate confession vicarious repentance?

We've seen a recent fad in which evangelical "leaders" think white Christians have a duty to exercise vicarious repentance for the sins of their racist forebears. This is defended on the grounds that Scripture contains corporate confessions (e.g. Dan 9, Ezra 9, Neh 9; 2 Chron 34). Is that analogous?

i) Let's begins with a comparison. Suppose you attend a church in which the pastor, elder, or lector recites a corporate confession. Is that vicarious repentance? No.

It uses the third-person plural, not because one person is confessing on behalf of and in place of another person, but because it's about more than one person. It's about each and everybody in attendance. When the speaker recites the corporate confession, he mentally includes himself. The confession is distributively collective. 

The corporate confession is about the living, not the dead. As the congregation listens, individuals are supposed to apply that to themselves. Agree in prayer with the words of the confession. Mentally assent to the words.

Although the pastor (elder, lector) is speaking on their behalf and in their stead, he's not repenting on their behalf and in their stead. It's no different in principle that a confession which the congregation recites in unison. It's just a different mode. Instead of everyone confessing the same prayer out loud, there's one speaker while everyone else listens along, in a contrite spirit, and silently assents to the confession.  

The corporate confessions in Scripture are like that.

ii) Apropos (i), it's meaningless to repent on behalf of and in place of, say, James Thornwell, Robert Lewis Dabney, Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis et al. because they never shared the penitent attitude of the living supplicant. They didn't think they had anything to repent of in that regard. They thought their attitudes, and actions were justified. So vicarious repentance, in this context, involves the counterintuitive notion of repenting for another despite their impenitent attitude. That's diametrically opposed to my first example, where the principle of corporate confession is predicated on shared contrition. 

iii) When you read corporate confessions in Scripture, the reason they bring up the sins of their forbears is not to repent for what former generations did, but to acknowledge a chain of events leading up to the current situation. The living find themselves in this situation, not only for their own sins, but because the iniquity of former generations brought down divine judgment in the form of the Assyrian deportation, Babylonian Exile, and the like. It's not the living confessing for the dead, but the living remembering how God warned Israel that he would punish covenant-breakers. 

iv) Finally, it's about the horrified realization that some of the living are now repeating the sins of their wayward ancestors. They have yet to learn the lesson.  

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

When exorcists need help, they call him


Does the Quran promote peace?


Debate: Does the Quran Promote Peace?

 · Hosted by Imam Mahdi Center - IMC

Even atheists are more likely to distrust fellow atheists (takes one to know one)


False apology syndrome–I'm sorry for your sins


The Alt-Reich

I don't know if this is even worth remarking on, but I'll comment on a few statements by two alt-right spokesmen, just to sample alt-right ideology:

We don't hate conservative Christians, we simply reject them as potential allies because they are useless failures inclined to do more harm than good to the nations. Their Christianity is cucked, and therefore dying; it won't be long before they embrace female pastors and honoring loving relationships between consenting adults of any of the 57 genders. 

I wonder if Theodore Beale really believes that, or if this is just hyperbolic polemical rhetoric. 

i) To begin with, there's nothing necessarily liberal about the ordination of women. That's practiced by the Assemblies of God, not because it's a liberal denomination, but due to its charismatic theology. You also had restorationist denominations in the 19C, coming out of the holiness movement, that ordained women. Once again, that wasn't due to liberal theology. 

To be sure, in the 20C, the ordination of women is typically associated with mainline denominations that are in a secularizing death spiral. 

ii) More to the point, the ordination of women is usually a litmus test differentiating conservative denominations from liberal or liberalizing denominations. Does Beale have any hard evidence that conservative denominations are trending towards the ordination of women?

iii) The efforts of the power elite to strong-arm acceptance of homosexuality and transgenderism has stiffened resistance on the part of conservative evangelicals. It's has a winnowing effect, by splitting nominal evangelicals from Bible-believing Christians. 

iv) In the case of the Catholic church, there has been a nearly wholesale embrace of the "social justice" agenda. And that's been accelerated by the pontificate of Francis. So Beale's strictures are applicable to the Catholic church.

v) In addition, there are evangelical "leaders" and spokesmen who are panting to catch up with the parade when it comes to vicarious repentance for the sins of our ancestors, profuse apologies for the alleged mistreatment of homosexuals by the church, opposition to efforts to rein in Muslim immigration and illegal immigration. Critical race theory making inroads into the SBC. Opposition to reparative therapy.

To that extent, some evangelical "leaders" are guilty as charged. However, that exposes a rift between evangelical elites and the rank-and-file. I daresay most evangelical laymen won't follow suit.

vi) However, it's my impression that alt-right opposition to Christianity runs deeper. It seems to mirror the Nietzschean contempt for Christianity as a "slave religion". And, in a sense, Nietzsche was right. Christianity has a nonnegotiable commitment to protecting the innocent; protecting the most vulnerable members of society. Extending mercy to those who are needy through no fault of their own. Defending victims of injustice. Insofar as the alt-right is Nietzschean, the alt-right is inimical to fundamental Christian values. 

First, God Himself divided humanity at the Tower of Babel and pushed humans into different nationalities, so there is nothing “ungodly” about doing so...Third, the alt-right does not have an idol of ‘whiteness’; rather, it recognizes the simple fact that whites, or whites of different ethnicities, have the right to exist in their own nation-states unmolested by other groups—which is precisely the same right that other groups currently enjoy around the world. 

i) Damien disregards the fact that God confused their language as punishment for their hubris. That action inhibited them from colluding in evil. But that's hardly a human ideal.

ii) There's a basic difference between forced integration and freedom of association. The alt-right makes an idol of whiteness by acting as if racial purity is intrinsically superior to interracial associations. In addition, there is no pure Aryan culture, and even if there were, that's not superior to combining the best that every culture has to offer. 

"Blood and soil"

I'll make a few more comments on the rally in Charlottesville:

i) The "news" media has a habit of arbitrarily singling out particular incidents as if they have special significance. This feeds on itself, because other people treat the incident as significant because the media did. So there's a boot-strapping process in which an incident which had no intrinsic significance acquires ascribed significance because many people begin to confer artificial significance on that otherwise insignificant incident. 

ii) I'd like to say something about terminology. Labels like "white nationalists" and "white supremacists" are common designations. I think "white segregationist" is more accurate than "white nationalist". 

I've read some alt-right folks deny that they are white supremacists. However, there doesn't seem to be much point in promoting segregation unless you think your race or culture is superior. Are they going to say, "whites are inferior, white culture is inferior, that's why we need to preserve it!"?

iii) SJWs think we have a duty to monitor and denounce every real or perceived manifestation of white racism. Now, there are situations where we should comment on bona fide racism. However, I'm not going to come running every time you yank my chain. That gives you control over the agenda. But I have my own priorities. You don't get to dictate the agenda to me.

iv) There's the question of what's accomplished by the obligatory denunciations. The alt-right thrives on denunciations. It reinforces their self-image as the persecuted righteous remnant. 

If you're going to respond at all, sometimes the best response is ridicule. Take Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp With Eva and Adolf at Berchtesgaden. To the extent that anything is effective with these groups, mockery is more effective than taking them seriously. 

v) To freak out over every manifestation of real or perceived white racism takes them more seriously than they deserve. Should we reward publicity hounds with the publicity they crave? There's an fundamental difference between Nazism in the sense of an ideology enabled by the Wehrmacht, and Nazism in the sense of ragtag bands of teen and twenty-something losers dolling up in costumes, shouting slogans, and making ineffectual hand gestures.

This has been around for a long time. Back in 1998 you had American History X

In the 70s, Richard G. Butler garnered disproportionate attention from his compound in Idaho. Something to pad out the paper on a slow news day. Likewise, you had the widely publicized march in Skokie back in 1978.

Generally, white supremacists are a fringe group with no influence. That's why it usually makes sense to ignore them.

Take the notion of a white homeland. Within the foreseeable future, there's no realistic possibility that white segregationists will be able to secede from the union and withdraw into caucasian enclaves. So why even bother to critique a position that's futile? It's a purely academic debate. That prospect is simply not in the cards.  

vi) I'd add that denunciations of white racism tend to have a self-congratulatory vibe. But it doesn't take any courage to denounce an obvious, but politically impotent evil. Unlike members of the French and Italian resistance, you're not putting your life on the line. Isn't there something terribly banal about reviling an evil that every reasonable person already agrees is evil? So the shrill moral preening and back-patting is misplaced. 

I'm struck by the alacrity with which "evangelical leaders" rushed in to disassociate themselves from the white supremacist rally. But no rational person would associate them with that event in the first place. And for SJWs who are quick to tar evangelicalism with sexism, racism, "homophobia," "transphobia" and the like, no disclaimers, however emphatic, will remove the indelible stain imputed to them.  

vii) Why do SJWs have this obsessive need to play the thought police? Ironically, that's symptomatic of their moral insecurity. Because secular progressives have no basis for objective moral norms, they suffer from the compulsive need to remind elite opinion-makers of their unconditional loyalty to the liberal orthodoxy du jour. Secular morality can and does change overnight. It's easy to fall out of favor with the king. When that happens, off with your head! So there's this compulsive, frenzied need to constantly demonstrate their undying allegiance to the party line as a condition of social acceptance within their subculture.  

viii) In fairness, it might be said that a significant percentage of Trump voters are alt-right. That raises the question of whether this is a social movement which the election of Trump empowers. And that's a legitimate concern. 

But thus far I don't see much evidence that the Trump presidency has empowered the alt-right. It looks like he pandered to that demographic for cynical reasons. Having gotten elected, he no longer needs their votes.