Saturday, May 13, 2017

Which Mark Wrote The Second Gospel?

In the recent second edition of his Jesus And The Eyewitnesses (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2017), Richard Bauckham addresses a popular objection to the traditional authorship attribution of the second gospel. Supposedly, the name Mark was common in the world of that day, which makes it more difficult for us to identify which Mark was being cited as the author. After presenting some of the evidence against that argument, Bauckham writes:

"So were there 'innumerable Marks' in the first-century Christian movement? If we exclude Roman citizens who had the name Marcus as their praenomen but would never have been known by this name alone, as the Mark to whom the Gospel is attributed clearly was, then there were probably only a few. Jewish Christians of this name would certainly have been very few. Among Jewish Christian leaders or teachers, such as could have written a Gospel or were likely to have a Gospel attributed to them, there may well have been only one Mark. This evidence about the rarity of the name Marcus among Jews also bears on the question whether the New Testament references are to three, two, or only one Mark. It is very likely that they are to only one." (541)

A post I wrote a couple of years ago discusses some of the evidence that the New Testament is referring to only one Mark. That post also discusses some of the evidence that Markan authorship of the gospel wouldn't have been fabricated. See here on gospel authorship more broadly.

Caught up to meet him

16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord (1 Thes 4:16-17).

This is a highly significant, intriguing, and much-debated eschatological passage. I'll just comment on a few items:

i) On the face of it, v17 uses the imagery of levitation. It's naturally impossible for humans to levitate, but this could be miraculous. Many humans wish they could fly. That's a popular fantasy. We sometimes fly in dreams. And hang-gliders have settled for the next best thing. 

ii) What is meant by the "clouds"? In biblical usage, "cloud" often an idiom for the Shekinah. And that's because the Shekinah had a cloudy appearance (like plasma, dust devils, and fire devils). On that interpretation, Jesus is returning in or with the Shekinah.

iii) Yet the passage speaks of "clouds" in the plural. My guess is that it's a double entendre. The imagery is trading on the connotations of clouds overhead or clouds on the horizon to create a word-picture of Jesus descending from the sky. Obviously, we associate clouds with the sky. But the actual referent is probably the Shekinah, and not ordinary clouds (i.e. a visible mass of condensed water vapor floating in the atmosphere). It uses natural atmospheric imagery to depict the return of Jesus, but the same word triggers associations with the Shekinah. 

iv) It might be argued that the imagery is figurative. If, for instance, the trumpet in v16 is figurative, then it seems arbitrary to assume the imagery in v17 is literal. 

v) There's the question of whether v16 refers to three different things (command, voice of archangel, trumpet sound) or one thing under three different depictions. The command of Jesus is like the voice of an archangel or like a military trumpet. Implicit similes. 

vi) In principle, Jesus might well be accompanied by angels and archangels. However, I think this particular passage is using the "voice of an archangel" to describe the command of Jesus, and not a separate speaker. 

vii) The choice between literal and figurative might be a false dichotomy inasmuch as there could be a third option: something analogous to a trumpet sound. Something similar will happen. Something functionally equivalent. 

It wouldn't be surprising if the return of Christ is heralded by spectacular sounds as well as spectacular sights, to grab everyone's attention. Consider the literally earsplitting volume of the Krakatoa explosion:

It was 10:02 a.m. local time when the sound emerged from the island of Krakatoa, which sits between Java and Sumatra in Indonesia. It was heard 1,300 miles away in the Andaman and Nicobar islands (“extraordinary sounds were heard, as of guns firing”); 2,000 miles away in New Guinea and Western Australia (“a series of loud reports, resembling those of artillery in a north-westerly direction”); and even 3,000 miles away in the Indian Ocean island of Rodrigues, near Mauritius (“coming from the eastward, like the distant roar of heavy guns.”)The British ship Norham Castle was 40 miles from Krakatoa at the time of the explosion. The ship’s captain wrote in his log, “So violent are the explosions that the ear-drums of over half my crew have been shattered. My last thoughts are with my dear wife. I am convinced that the Day of Judgement has come.”

viii) in Acts 1:9-11, we have an account of the Ascension, from the viewpoint of earthbound observers. And that says the return of Christ will operate in reverse. Normally, it's hermeneutically illicit to use one writer to interpret another writer.  This, however, is more a case of using the underlying event as a frame of reference. That's a reason to view the description in 1 Thes 4:16-17 as more realistic than figurative. Mind you, even eyewitness accounts sometimes use poetic metaphors for vividness. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

John's Gospel and the Inklings

The [Fourth] Gospel is formally anonymous, which means that its author's name does not appear in the text of the work itself. This does not mean, however, that the text is intentionally anonymous, shielding its author's identity from the readers. From its beginning the Gospel speaks in a first person manner identical to other ancient books that were also formally anonymous but not intentionally anonymous (e.g. Lucian's Life of Demonax). For this reason, then, the Gospel was not intended to be formally anonymous, which almost certainly explains the title added to the Gospel sometime after its completion. Quite simply, book "publishing" in the ancient world was entirely different from today. Authors commonly spoke in the first person in a formally anonymous document because their works would have been circulated in the fist instance among friends or acquaintances of the author, who would know the author personally from the oral context in which the work was first read. Knowledge of authorship would would be passed on when copies were made for other (less familiar) readers, and the name would be noted with a brief title on the outside of the scroll or on a label affixed to the scroll. 
No other title was ever used for any of the Gospels in known literature, a remarkable fact which demands that the titles be viewed as early or even original…To suggest a name other than "John" is to disregard the author-designating title affixed to the Gospel from its earliest stage of origin.  
There are several kinds of ancient literary forms which have appendices as a normative feature. This was especially common in legal documents, for which "to label this…an 'appendix' or a 'supplement' is consequently misleading; it was not a merely postscript, dispensable as such, but rather the crucial means by which the business at hand was made legally binding upon its principals." Chapter 21 bears many resemblances to such legal documents, especially 21:24, which assumed the disposition of eyewitness testimony. This makes the subscription a requirement for the witness to be official, certifying the veracity of the report.  
The Beloved Disciple declares himself to be an eyewitness of the things written in this book and therefore to be personally connected to the people and events themselves [21:24]. Although the character called the "Beloved Disciple" did not explicitly appear until chapter 13, he was almost certainly implicitly (i.e., anonymously) present in 1:40 with Andrew, Peter's brother, as one of the two first disciples of Jesus [cf. 146-47]. The placement of the Beloved Disciple as a witness at both the very beginning and the very end of the Gospel creates a technical literary device common in the ancient world called the inclusio of eyewitness testimony. This technique not only makes clear that this disciple fulfilled the requirements of apostolic testimony ("from the beginning you have been with me" [15:27]), but it also serves to solidify the witness as participating in the reliable practices of historiography. Edward Klink, John (Zondervan, 2016), 42-43; 892; 919.

Incidentally, the commentator's distinction between formal and intentional anonymity reminds me of the Inklings. Members of that literary circle (e.g. Tolkien, Lewis, Williams) shared drafts of their literary products with each other. These circulated anonymously, yet the identity of the authors was known to the recipients. 

Clean sweep

I'm a bit puzzled by reaction to Trump firing Comey. I'm not puzzled by the hypocritical reaction on the Left. That's predictable. Rather, I'm puzzled by why some conservative critics are attacking Trump's action.

i) I don't know what Trump's motive was and I really don't care. You can do the right thing for the wrong reason. 

Last year Comey held a press conference in which he systematically explained how Hillary broke the law. He dismantled her lies.

But he then held her to a lower standard than ordinary citizens are held to. He invented a condition (intent) which the statute doesn't require, and used that as an excuse not to recommend prosecution.

Mind you, even if we grant the intent criterion, Hillary's intention was undoubtedly to skirt the law. That was the whole point of the private server evasion. 

Comey's behavior was an example of how those in power protect others in power from the law. 

Moreover, the law in question isn't just some technicality. There are very good reasons for that law:

i) Hillary jeopardized the national security of the USA as well as our allies.

ii) Hillary obstructed the Freedom of Information Act, which is important to ensure a measure of transparency and accountability in gov't.

iii) Arguably, Hillary did this to cover her tracks so that she could solicit bribes as Secretary of State, for the Clinton Foundation.

Comey discredited himself and the FBI. Just another Executive agency politicized and weaponized by the Obama administration. For that reason alone, he richly deserved to be booted out.

I realize he was in a bind. He wanted to keep his job. His superiors were opposed to prosecuting Hillary. But that just goes to show that he's an apparatchik and timeserver. 

In addition, the FBI, during the election, obtained a FISA warrant to surveil the Trump campaign. Once again, the FBI, under Comey, was hopelessly compromised by the politicization and weaponization of Executive agencies during Obama's tenure.

If you wish the FBI to be truly independent, you need to sweep out Obama's cronies and make a fresh start. 

Now, it remains to be seen who will replace Comey. And it remains to be seen how Trump will conduct himself. But on this issue, thus far, I don't object to Trump's action. 

Here's a good article on the subject:

Tuggy's triad and the death of God

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A very present help in trouble

This is a new anecdote I've added to the bottom of a post from 5 years ago:

Even more important is what happened when, a few years after my own accident, another drunk driver plowed into the car of one of my dearest friends. Unlike me, she didn't survive. After a few weeks in a coma, she, along with her unborn child, went away. Less than a week after the funeral, however, she came back. I was awakened in the night to behold Barbara standing at the foot of my bed. She said nothing. She just stood there–beautiful, brightly luminous, intensely real. Her transfigured, triumphant presence, which lasted only a few moments, cheered me greatly.

Then, one afternoon, several weeks after that, I was typing in my study, wholly focused on my work. Suddenly I sensed someone else in the room. The presence seemed to be located up, behind, and to my left. I understood immediately, I know not how, that it was Barbara. Unlike the first time, when I saw her and heard nothing, this time I heard her and saw nothing. She insisted that I visit her distraught husband as soon as possible. Overwhelmed by this urgent communication, I immediately picked up the phone. D. Allison, Night Comes,(Eerdmans, 2016), 14.

Vicarious properties

I've been discussing substance dualism with apostate Dale Tuggy. My immediate concern is not with dualism. I'm just using that as analogy for the two-natures of Christ, to expose the fallacy of Tuggy's "inconsistent triad". 

It's entertaining to witness Tuggy's philosophical ineptitude. Take his latest statement:

No, when a human person dies, we don’t only say that. We also think that the human person himself died, and not only his body. This is obvious, and doesn’t need arguing for. Clearly, a theoretical commitment is getting in the way of his seeing this as obvious. That’s a serious danger of theories!

There is only one who died a human death, e.g. when Lincoln died: the man Abraham Lincoln. On dualism, his body is a different thing, if it is a thing. So on dualism, his body did not also die a human death.

Let's compare that to the exposition and analysis of a real philosopher:

The dualist believes that human persons have a "dual" nature…The dualist will concede that we frequently make assertions by which we appear to ascribe physical properties to human persons, assertions like, "John weights 90 kilograms" or "Alice is 165 centimeters tall." But according to the dualist, it is not strictly true that John weights 90 kilograms or has any other weight, and it is not strictly true that Alice is 165 centimeters tall or has any other height. John and Alice, rather, possess such properties only vicariously; strictly speaking, it is not they but their bodies that have weights and heights. This does not mean there is anything wrong with saying "John weighs 90 kilograms" in ordinary contexts; this statement is to be understood as a kind of shorthand expression of the assertion that John's body weighs 90 kilograms, just as Alice's statement "I'm carrying 1,400 tons of pig iron" is a shorthand expression of the assertion that the ship of which she is the cargo officer is carrying 1,4000 tons of pig iron. Peter  van Inwagen, Metaphysics (Westview Press, 4th ed., 2015), 225-26. 

By parity of argument, there's nothing logically inconsistent about statement like "the Immortal dies" or "God the might Maker died". "God died" or the "Immortal died" in the vicarious sense that the body of God Incarnate died. That's entirely consonant with the essential immortality of Christ, by virtue of his deity. 

The ghost in the cellphone

Gilbert Ryle is famous for a catchy, quotable phrase he used to caricature Cartesian dualism: "the ghost in the machine". 

The connotation of that metaphor is that if substance dualism is true, the soul is located somewhere in the body. If the soul exists, you ought to be able to find it by poking around inside the body. 

My point isn't to do an exposition of Ryle's philosophy, but to use a different metaphor to illustrate substance dualism. Nowadays, not only do people have cellphones that enable to them to talk to other people, but cellphones can function as miniature TV screens which enable them to see the person they are talking to. 

To take a cliche situation, suppose anthropologists discovered a tribe in the rain forest. The natives have no idea what a cellphone is or how it works. When they see faces and hear voices emanating from the cellphone, they imagine the cellphone took possession of the speaker's soul. His soul is trapped inside that little box. 

But as we know, the speaker isn't actually in the device. Rather, the device is just an interactive medium to project himself. 

That's analogous to the mind-body relation.  

Why I Am an Atheist: A Conversation with Dr. Stephen Law

Jonathan McLatchie recently did a webinar with militant atheist philosopher Stephen Law

Some comments I made about Law's conversation:

In his presentation, Law compared theistic explanations to gremlins. That, however, reduces the discussion to hypothetical entities and hypothetical comparisons. It presumes that God is analogous to gremlins. And that's a diversion from having to study or investigate actual, specific evidence for Christianity in particular. 

Out of curiosity, what literature, if any, has Law read on miracles? For instance, Craig Keener has compiled many case-studies in his two-volume monograph on miracles (Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts). Likewise, Robert Larmer has written two recent books on miracles that contain case studies in the appendices (cf. The Legitimacy of Miracle; Dialogues on Miracle).

How, if at all, does Law propose to address that ostensible evidence for divine action in the world?

Law appealed to the evidential problem of evil as one reason he's an atheist. In particular, he cited human suffering (and animal suffering) on an "industrial scale". 

However, his alternative seems to be that those humans (or animals) would be better off if they never existed in the first place. Better not to live at all then have a short, poor, nasty brutish life. 

After all, in a nicer world, you won't have the same set of people. Different people will be born into a nicer world than would be born into a harsher world. A world with high infant mortality will have a different history than a world with low infant mortality. 

If that's what he means, what's his frame of reference? Is he saying they'd be better off if they never had a chance to live from their perspective or his perspective?

One issue that came up towards the end of the presentation was whether Law can justify objective morality, given atheism. Law said he didn't need to present a secular justification. He could appeal to intuition. He could "feel in his bones" that torturing children for fun is morally wrong. 

One problem with his response is that it's not merely a question of not having a secular justification, but whether atheism (or naturalism) generates undercutters or defeaters for belief in objective morality. And that isn't just a Christian view of atheism. Many atheist thinkers reject moral realism. 

Another problem is that early in the presentation, Law expressed distain for Christians who say they cannot or need not provide arguments for their position. They simply know in their heart that it's true.

But isn't that the same appeal to intuition that Law is resorting to? Why is it legitimate for Law to fall back on intuition rather than argumentation in defense of his belief in secular ethics, but illegitimate for some Christians to fall back on intuition rather than argumentation in defense of their faith? Law seems to be operating with a double standard?

Blake Giunta, who was pressed for time, used the following argument. (He has ten theodicies at his fingertips). He said suffering induces humans to seek God while having it too easy breeds religious apathy and indifference. 

Parenthetically, that might be why Christian miracles are reported more often in Third World countries. For one thing, places like Africa are very hazardous. Worn-torn areas, famine, tropical disease, many dangerous animals, limited access to good medical care. That's an incentive to prayer!

Law's appeal to the argument from evil appears to be circular. At the outset, he said, first of all, that he doesn't think the theistic proofs are good evidence for God's existence. And he said, secondly, that the problem of evil is good evidence against God's existence. 

But towards the end of the presentation, when he was challenged to justify his belief in moral realism from a secular standpoint, he said he didn't need to provide a justification because he'd already ruled out a theistic grounding for ethics, and you don't need to be able to provide an alternative explanation to know that the opposing position is false. 

But the only positive reason he's given for disbelieving in God is the problem of evil. If he excuses his failure to justify moral realism on secular grounds because he's ruled out a theistic alternative, and if his rationale for ruling out the theistic alternative is the problem of evil, then his argument appears to be viciously circular. The existence of evil disproves God, and God's nonexistence relieves him of the onus to show that evil really exists!

To take another stab at Law's apparently circular argument: the positive reason he gives for his belief in God's nonexistence is contingent on the problem of evil. And the reason he gives for why he has no burden to prove moral realism on secular grounds is contingent on having ruled out the existence of God, which is, in turn, contingent on the problem of evil, which is, in turn, contingent on the reality of evil, which is, in turn, contingent on moral realism…

So his positive reason for disbelief in God is dependent on the problem of evil, while his reason for not having to justify moral realism on secular grounds is dependent on God's nonexistence, given the problem of evil. So he's spinning in a circle. 

Q: Why don't you believe in God's existence?
A: The problem of evil.
Q: How does an atheist justify moral realism?
A: It's not incumbent on me to do so because I've ruled out God's existence.
Q: How did you rule out God's existence?
A: The problem of evil.

He hasn't provided any independent reason to establish moral realism. Yet his appeal to the problem of evil presumes moral realism. He says "It's wrong to make people suffer". 

In addition, his argument is a false dichotomy. Even if (ex hypothesi) you can't ground moral realism in God, the logical alternative isn't secular moral realism. The alternative might be nihilism. Indeed, many secular thinkers deny moral realism.

Technically, it's possible for someone who denies moral realism to present the argument from evil. The strategy is to show that Christian theism is internally inconsistent. That the triad of divine attributes (omniscience, omnipotence, benevolence) is mutually inconsistent.

But when he was questioned on his own position, Law said he inclined to moral realism (although there are days when he has serious doubts). He used the example of torturing children for fun. 

Mind you, there's a price atheists pay if they go that route. Many atheists derive great satisfaction from indulging in moralistic tirades about Biblical theism. Adopting the viewpoint of moral realism merely for the sake of argument deprives them of that satisfaction. 

Generally, atheists want to be able to say that their position is morally superior to Christianity. They have a lot to lose if they ditch moral realism. 

Indeed, if an atheist is a moral nihilist, what's the motivation for attacking Christianity? Why would you can what anyone does or believes? Why the passion?

My point is that it's illogical for someone who denies moral realism to attack Christianity. Even though they think Christianity is false, they don't believe people have a duty to believe what is true and disbelieve what is false. So why are they on a mission to dissuade folks from believing in Christianity? It can't be because they disapprove of Christian ethics, for if they deny moral realism, why would they care?


From an Eastern Orthodox perspective. Makes a point about how classical Protestant theology and Eastern Orthodox theology often operate with incommensurable paradigms. You can't just mix-n-match. Towards the end,  makes a point about Hanegraaff's lifestyle:

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Goin' to the dawgs

It's alarming to see the rapidity with which some trends take over. One example is cellphone addiction. But another is the epidemic of dog owners. Especially singles or childless couples. A few random observations:

i) I wonder how many single women with dogs remain single because single guys take one look at an otherwise appealing woman with her one or two or three or four dogs and think to themselves, "Why in heck would I play second fiddle to that?" Does it even occur to some lonely single women that their dogs make them ineligible? That's the first (and last) impression they make on single men. A guy sees a girl out walking her dogs and says to himself, "No thanks!". He automatically strikes a woman with dogs off the list because he's looking for...a woman! He doesn't wish to compete with her dogs for her affection and attention.

Is this a vicious cycle? She has dogs because she's single and lonely, but she's single and lonely because she has dogs–which is a turnoff for single men. Unwittingly, she's sending out signals that deter eligible men from ever considering her. I don't know how common that is, precisely because it's one of those unspoken motivations. 

I'm not talking about what's fair, or single men with dogs. I just discussing priorities. Given a choice, would they rather be single with dogs or married without dogs? 

ii) Some of this is driven by a misanthropic philosophy of radical environmentalism and antinatalism. You have secular progressives who think it's morally wrong to have children. That it's virtuous to "adopt" pets rather than having kids. They think they're "saving the planet".

iii) I'm struck by how many people take their dogs with them when they drive somewhere. How many dogs like to sit in a parked car? That's no fun for the dog. 

iv) Unless you at least have a house with a fenced in frontyard or backyard, should you own a big dog? Is it fair to a medium to large dog to be stuck inside a condo or apartment most of the day? 

I once saw a video clip of restless dogs at home while the owner was at work. No doubt the dogs are waiting for the owner to come home. But why? Is it because they miss the owner? Is it because they're lonely? Or is it because they can't stand to be pent up inside that stuffy house, apartment, or condo all day long? 

I don't deny that dogs are eager to be reunited with the owner. But that's not the only reason or even the primary reason they are restless when the owner is away. Good sized dogs hate to be cooped up like that. They want to roam free.

It maybe different with insecure toy dogs. 

v) I've resided in both the frostbelt and the sunbelt. I've seen people with huskies and malamutes in the sunbelt, walking their dog on a hot summer day. Isn't there something cruel about having that dog breed in the sunbelt? It has a fur coat designed for Alaskan winters, not tropical summers. 

Fur babies

Fear of death

1. When Christians are diagnosed with a life-threatening condition, they generally seek medical treatment. Some atheists mock their apparent fear of death. 

It's a mark of how mindlessly spiteful some atheists are that they gloat over Christians who, in their minds, are inconsistent about death. "You're in the same sinking boat, with the sharks circling. Woo Hoo!"

Is that something to be gleeful about?

2. The insinuation is that fearful Christians are inconsistent because faith means pretending to know something you don't or belief without evidence, so when make-believe and wishful thinking collide with reality, inconsistencies emerge. 

Let's unpack this allegation in relation to fear of death:

i) Some professing Christians are guilty of wishful thinking. The charismatic movement often fosters that mentality. 

ii) There are theological traditions that cultivate fear of death. Old-fashioned Catholicism. Decisional evangelism. 

iii) There are nominal Christians who don't believe in the afterlife. 

iv) There are genuine Christians who haven't given much thought to death. In the past, death was pervasive, so you couldn't avoid contemplating your own demise. But with the advent of modern medicine and nursing homes, it's much easier to keep death in the back of our minds. We don't see nearly as much death as our forebears did. It's rare for our friends and loved ones to die young. Increasingly rare for the elderly to die in the homes of grown children. We don't have that chronic reminder.

v) There's a difference between intellectual preparation for death and emotional preparation for death. 

vi) Some Christians resist death because they enjoy life. That's not necessarily an ungodly attitude. Life is a gift, to be cherished and made the most of.

vii) Death is supposed to be naturally fearful. That's what makes it punitive. 

viii) Some Christians resist death because they have duties to dependents. They don't wish to desert their dependents. That's a godly motive. 

ix) Some Christians look forward to death. 

Different people fear death for different reasons:

Fear of dying

For some people, it's not what happens after death that they fear, but the process of dying. Some Christians look forward to the aftermath, but fear the process. 

Fear of oblivion 

People who deny the afterlife fear death because they fear the prospect of oblivion. For some people, that's more terrifying than hell. 

Fear of punishment

Some people fear death because they fear hell. Although classic Protestant theology has diminished Christian fear of hell, there are theological traditions that cultivate fear of death, even for believers, viz. Islam, old-fashioned Catholicism, folk fundamentalism. 

Fear of dismal afterlife

Historically, some heathens feared death because they viewed the afterlife as a state of deprivation. A shadow of life on earth. 

Fear of the unknown

There's a difference between knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by description. Unless you've had a near-death experience (I haven't), you have no direct knowledge of what it's like to die or what awaits you on the other side. And even NDEs are limited in that regard. 

Moreover, the stakes in dying are uniquely high. You have everything to lose if you're wrong.

It is only natural to be afraid of something that potentially threatening if you lack firsthand experience that there's nothing to fear. 

This can be true even if you have good evidence for what you believe. Beliefs based on personal experience have a sense of psychological certainty that secondhand knowledge lacks. That's despite the fact that secondhand knowledge can be more reliable than fallible memories about personal experience. Yet they lack that sense of certitude.

Finally, there are situations that make it easier for die. The simple fact that death is unavoidable makes it easier for Christians to face the prospect of death. 

For Christians who've lost loved ones, the prospect of reunion sweetens the prospect of death. There's less here to keep them here. Much of what they value has gone over to the other side.

Disappearing act

13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him...30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight (Lk 24:13-16,30-31).

36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them (Lk 24:36-43)

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” (Jn 20:26-27).

Christian readers puzzle over descriptions of the Risen Lord. Three preliminary points:

i) Any explanation will be speculative. Any explanation will go beyond the immediate account, to fill in gaps. 

ii) I prefer explanations that have some Biblical parallel or precedent.

iii) Both Luke and John go out of their way to accentuate the indisputable physicality of the Resurrection. Hence, I'm leery of any explanations that make that equivocal. For instance, if you say Jesus was able to materialize and dematerialize at will, then that casts doubt on the physicality of the Resurrection. After all, if he could materialize and dematerialize, then what is his natural state? Is he normally incorporeal except when he assumes corporal form to appear to people and interact with people? That kind of explanation sabotages the emphasis in Luke and John. 

Let's take a comparison:

6 Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. 7 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. 8 And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9 And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him (Acts 12:6-10).

A couple of features may be parallel to the Resurrection appearances:

i) Chains and locked gates miraculously unlock.

ii) God apparently makes the guard hallucinate. They see things that aren't there and they fail to see things that are there. (Although it's possible that God made them all fall asleep).

(ii) is reminiscent of an episode in Kings, where God makes the Syrian army hallucinate:

14 So he sent there horses and chariots and a great army, and they came by night and surrounded the city. 15 When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” 16 He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 18 And when the Syrians came down against him, Elisha prayed to the Lord and said, “Please strike this people with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness in accordance with the prayer of Elisha. 19 And Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” And he led them to Samaria. 20 As soon as they entered Samaria, Elisha said, “O Lord, open the eyes of these men, that they may see.” So the Lord opened their eyes and they saw, and behold, they were in the midst of Samaria (2 Kgs 6:14-20).

Returning to the Resurrection appearances with that background material as a possible frame of reference:

i) In what sense did Jesus vanish from their sight (Lk 24:31)? According to Lk 24:16, God caused them to hallucinate by failing to recognize Jesus. They mistook him for a stranger.

In a sense, that's a mass hallucination, but not in the way that "skeptics" suppose:

a) This was a miraculous hallucination. So, far from being a naturalistic alternative, it's a supernatural explanation.

b) They didn't imagine they saw Jesus when they saw no one or saw a stranger. To the contrary, they imagined seeing a stranger when, in fact, they were looking at Jesus.

And when they came to recognize Jesus (Lk 20:31), that was the opposite of hallucination. That was God breaking the spell. They were hallucinating when they misperceived him as somebody other than Jesus. They finally saw him for who he was when God stopped causing them to hallucinate.

This may also explain the sense in which he vanished from view. Given that the account already has an element of psychological manipulation, this may well mean, not that Jesus physically disappeared–much less dematerialized–but that he became invisible to them because he caused them to hallucinate that he was no longer there.

It's like science fiction stories about telepathic aliens who can make humans see things that aren't there or fail to see things that are there. 

ii) Here's another possibility: At the Ascension, Jesus disappears from view when he disappears into the Shekinah (Acts 1:9). Likewise, Moses entered the Shekinah (Exod 24:18) and, at the Transfiguration, the three disciples entered the Shekinah (Lk 9:34). 

Entering the Shekinah renders a person invisible to outside observers. In Biblical narratives, the Shekinah is visible, but presumably that's a divine convention. If the Shekinah were invisible, and someone entered it, it would appear as though he walked into an invisible room and shut the invisible door behind him. Like those science fiction stories about portals to a parallel universe or time portals to the past and future. Or characters stepping through mirrors in Jean Cocteau's Orpheus.  

iii) In what sense did Jesus enter the Upper Room? Perhaps he miraculously caused the doors to unlock and swing open. (Although it's also possible that he miraculously made a door or wall temporarily pervious, by changing its molecular structure.)

These explanations have three advantages:

i) They preserve the unequivocal physicality of the Resurrection.

ii) They are miraculous rather than rationalistic. 

iii) They have Biblical parallels or Biblical precedent.

Continuing Questions about Iraq War ‘Burn Pits’

For anyone who is interested, I was featured in a local news story, which was very well done, concerning the possibility that my wife's leukemia has a link to the military's practice of burning trash and human waste with diesel fuel:

KDKA Investigates: New Major Health Crisis Facing America's Military, Some Say: Some are calling it this generation's 'Agent Orange' -- a new, major health crisis facing America's military.

The Enfield Poltergeist And Skepticism

Here's a link to each part in the series, followed by a description of some of what's contained in each part:

What The Enfield Poltergeist Tells Us About Skeptics
(Introduction. Recommended resources. The origins of the poltergeist. How long it lasted.)

The Enfield Poltergeist: General Skepticism (Part 1)
(Analysis of the fraud hypothesis. Whether paranormal phenomena only occurred when the Hodgson girls were around. How credulous or skeptical the witnesses were.)

The Enfield Poltergeist: General Skepticism (Part 2)
(Explanatory options for a poltergeist. Objections to the voice phenomena. Evidence for the voice. Objections to the concealment of some of the phenomena. Potential reasons for concealment.)

The Enfield Poltergeist: General Skepticism (Part 3)
(Why the family stayed in the house after the poltergeist began. Whether the phenomena developed in a suspicious way. Lack of video evidence. Janet Hodgson's alleged "It's not haunted." confession. Janet's alleged confession under hypnosis. Objections that the Hodgson girls weren't as upset as they should have been if a poltergeist was occurring. Objections to the alleged throwing of Janet while she was on Valium.)

The Enfield Poltergeist: Chris French's Skepticism
(The witnesses may have misled each other. The power of suggestion. Eyewitness testimony can be unreliable. The events of December 15, 1977.)

The Enfield Poltergeist: Deborah Hyde's Skepticism
(Hyde's appearance on a television program with Janet Hodgson and Guy Playfair in 2012. Hyde's follow-up piece in her magazine. Responses to Hyde by Playfair and Mary Rose Barrington. Whether the phenomena didn't occur around skeptics. Whether skeptics weren't allowed back in the house. Hyde's attempts to explain some of the phenomena. Milbourne Christopher's involvement in the Enfield case.)

The Enfield Poltergeist: Joe Nickell's Skepticism
(Nickell's attempts to explain some of the phenomena. The significance of events happening outside the presence of witnesses. Ray Alan's involvement in the Enfield case. Margaret Hodgson's alleged confession to Alan and the Daily Mirror. Whether we can accept some of the phenomena while rejecting others. The alleged photographic evidence for paranormal phenomena. Melvin Harris' objections to the photos.)

The Enfield Poltergeist: Anita Gregory's Skepticism
(The Hodgson girls' involvement in joking and faking phenomena. The videos of their trickery. How long video cameras were being used in the house and the implications that follow. Gregory's review of Playfair's book. Gregory's discussions with some of the Enfield witnesses. The testimony of Carolyn Heeps. The significance of the police officer who was with Heeps. Gregory's doctoral thesis. John Beloff's objections. Maurice Grosse's claims about Gregory's character and behavior. Conclusion.)

After the series linked above, I wrote a post about a March 29, 1978 presentation on the Enfield Poltergeist by Grosse and Playfair. It was delivered during a meeting of the Society for Psychical Research. The post discusses the skeptical response to the presentation.

I also wrote a post about Ed and Lorraine Warren's involvement in the Enfield case.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Bundy haunted house report

"Eerie things going on at serial killer's childhood home in Tacoma"

Should we say good-bye?

Some things count for more because they endure, just as some things count for less because they don't endure. Paper plates destined for the trash have little value…As often as not, we pay less heed to things that quickly come and go and more heed to things that last.

Isn't it the same people people?…Time has always augmented the value and significance of friendship…Given this, isn't it altogether natural for me to want that relationship to extend into the indefinite future? And wouldn't it be truly peculiar if instead, in deference to the supposed principle that we prize things more when they're impermanent, I didn't lament the eventual termination of my lifelong friendship?

It's worth candidly asking what happens to us when our loved ones leave. We mourn them for a while, and then we get on with our business. Memories fade and emotions recover. The ripples of their influence dissipate. As our companions are buried, they sink not just below the sod but also below our daily awareness. We visit their grave less often. When the phone rings, our minds cease to hope, as they once did, if only for an instant, that Mom or Dad is calling. Year after year, thoughts turn to our departed loved ones with reduced frequency. Absence makes the heart grow harder.

I've wondered about another possible factor. It has to do with modern mobility. There was a time when most people died and were buried near their place of birth, so they lived out their lives not far from the graves of their beloved. In such a setting, attachment to physical remains was possible. One could, and people often did, reminisce and weep above the bones. What's happened, however, as more and more of us have failed to stay put for long? Today we often bury our dead, move away, then mourn and remember them from afar. In such a context, continuing ties must be unrelated to burial plots and tombstones. If we recall the dead, it's because we carry them around in our hearts and minds, not because we visit their remains. Graves and bones are irrelevant. Might this not be another circumstance that has nudged us away from finding religious meaning in corpses?

This much unsettles me. I'm distress that I now go days without thinking of my late parents or weeks without thinking of my departed friends. They're receding into the past and disappearing from the present. The common wisdom may be that we need to let go; yet it seems wrong that these people are becoming less real, less distinct, and that they matter less and less to all of us who once knew them. Soon they will be altogether forgotten. 

In the face of such deterioration, I'm not comforted by the proposition that finitude begets value. My only solace is that things aren't as they seem to be, that our loved ones aren't machines with built-in obsolescence. 

If death is the end, then we're all snow: we arrive, we melt, we are no more. Eschatology is a way of saying that we're more. It's a way of resisting the diminishing value of the dead. D. Allision, Night Comes (Eerdmans, 2016), 32,86-88. 

Drawing straws

Although I've spent a lot of time over the years critiquing freewill theists like Roger Olson and Jerry Walls, because they have a popular following, they're hardly the most able exponents of that position. Far higher on the food chain is Peter van Inwagen. Let's consider his argument. 

When I myself look at contemplated future courses of action in the way I have described above, I discover an irresistible tendency to believe that each of them is "open" to me…I find myself with the belief that sometimes more than one course of action is open to me, and I cannot give it up…I don't find the least plausibility in the hypothesis that this belief is illusory. Peter van Inwagen, Metaphysics (Westview Press, 4th ed., 2015), 282-83.

In a sense I agree with PVI, but not with the conclusion that he draws from his experience:

i) He's describing a psychological impression, but psychology isn't conterminous with ontology. Our psychological impressions don't necessarily map onto the extramental world.

ii) Apropos (i), surely it's possible to imagine future courses of action that seem to be open to us, but are in fact infeasible. For one thing, when we contemplate alternate courses of action, that's very sketchy. We don't entertain of all the intervening links that chart a pathway from the present to the future outcome. We don't know enough. There are too many variables. Rather, we take our current situation as the frame of reference. We contemplate different outcomes. But in many cases, those imaginary trajectories may not be open to us, because they depend on many independent variables lining up in one particular direction, and we don't control most of the variables. Sometimes we can manipulate circumstances to achieve our goals, but in many cases our goals are stymied. In fact, after writing this paragraph, I read the following observation:
We all use our imaginations to foresee the future, whether we're planning the rest of the day or the rest of our lives; and despite our best efforts, nothing guarantees that what we imagine will come to pass. Indeed, rarely does the future heed our plans. Each morning I plot the coming hours, and seldom to my designs unfold without a hitch. On most days, unforeseen circumstance interrupt, and I end up improving, deferring activities, changing course. The same is even more true of my long-term planning: the further into the future my imagination has projected itself, the less prescient it's been. Indeed, only rarely have I seen the far future approximately as it's come to pass. My life illustrates chaos theory: I can't predict or control things because there are always too many variables. The result is that most of my personal goals have turned out to be useful fictions. They've given me something to shoot for, but they've rarely been realized, at least in the forms I'd first imagined them. D. Allison, Night Comes (Eerdmans, 2016), 81.

Suppose C is my objective, yet I can't achieve C unless and until I do B, and I can't do B unless and until I first do A. But that means the effort to achieve the goal may break down somewhere in the process. 

So there is, in fact, an illusory quality to many of these future courses of action. In some cases they aren't coherent, because they depend on a chain of events that is in conflict with actual and inexorable causal chains that are already in place. 

Perhaps what he means, as he expresses himself elsewhere, 

It is at least very plausible to suppose that Jack is not, during the course of his deliberations, able to hit the right-hand side and is not able to hit the left-hand side. But such cases are not decisive, since they involve the concept of success or at least the concept of result: they are cases in which in which an agent is now faced with a choice between doing A and doing B, and in which, if the agent should endeavor to do A or should endeavor to do B, whether the agent would succeed in either endeavor is now undetermined. The Oxford Handbook of Free Will, 2nd ed. (Kane, ed.).

This would also dovetail with his denial that access to alternate possibilities is a necessary condition of libertarian freewill. If, however, freedom of choice reduces to mental acts of choosing between one contemplated future course of action and another, without corresponding, extramental forking pathways, then it's unclear what is meant by the claim that future courses of action are open to the agent. If his position boils down to the psychology of choosing, with no matching ontology of doing, then the "courses of action" are imaginary. Figments of the imagination. If you can't act on your decision, then the whole framework of forking paths and future course of action seems to be a rhetorical flourish.  

iii) From a Calvinistic or compatibilist standpoint, these aren't illusory in a deceptive or useless sense. The process of deliberation is how we settle on a course of action. By comparing and contrasting hypothetical alternatives and considering the respective consequences, contemplating of the alternatives is what induces us not to opt for any of the alternatives. Their practical value is to make us see that the course of action we actually settle on is preferable. 

iv) In addition, there are many situations in which we don't deliberate, either because we don't have a range of options to consider, or because the alternatives are so unappealing. Only one option is viable or attractive.  

The way he defends freewill theism seems counterproductive. On the one hand he raises a familiar moralistic objection to determinism. On the other hand, he seems to concede that on his view, indeterminism takes the decision out of the hands of the agent:

If it goes to the left, that just happens. If it goes to the right, that just happens…There is no way to make it go one way rather than the other…It is a plausible idea that it is up to an agent what the outcome of a process will be only if the agent is able to arrange things in a way that would make the occurrence of this outcome inevitable and arable to arrange things in a way that would make the occurrence of that outcome inevitable. If this plausible idea is right, there would seem to be no possibility of its being [up to the agent] what the outcome of an indeterministic process would be (278).

But how is the agent responsible for such choices? He toys with agent-causation, but finds that opaque.  

The judgment that you shouldn't have done X implies that you should have done something else instead; that you should have done something else instead implies that there was something else for you to do; that there was something else for you to do implies that you were able to do something else; that you were able to do something else implies that you have free will. To make a negative moral judgment about one of your acts is to evaluate your taking one of the forks in the road of time, to characterize that fork as a worse choice than at least one of the other forks open to you. (Note that if you had made a choice by taking one of the works in what is literally a road, no one would say you should have taken one of the other forks if all the other forks were blocked.) A negative moral evaluation of what someone has done requires two or more alternative possibilities of action for that person, just a surely as a context requires two or more contestants (268).

i) That sounds plausible. Indeed, it's the primary argument for libertarian freewill. However, it fails to draw an elementary and fundamental distinction between psychology and ontology. Even if, metaphysically speaking, alternate courses of action are available, that doesn't mean an agent is able to access those alternatives if he's psychologically ill-disposed to avail himself of the opportunities. Take a psychopathic killer. He's too morally hardened to do the right thing. He's lost the capacity for virtuous action. If we view freedom as a relation between deliberation and opportunity, there are two sides to the relation. Even if (ex hypothesi) freedom of opportunity were a necessary condition of freedom, it's not a sufficient condition unless the agent is open to the pathways that are open to him. That's why we say some people are in a state of diminished responsibility. Take a person with senile dementia. They may have the same objective opportunities, but they've lost the capacity to make rational decisions. Or take someone acting at gunpoint. 

ii) Predestination or determinism doesn't imply that if (ad impossibile) you were to attempt do something contrary to what you were predestined to do, a mysterious invisible force would block you or impede you. Hypotheticals and counterfactuals aren't illusory in that sense. 

In some cases, there are hypothetical pathways that have no obstacles. There is a coherent alternate plot or alternate timeline. But that's represented in a possible world rather than the actual world. Or, if something like the multiverse is true, in an actual parallel universe. 

Ask yourself a question. What would happen if some supernatural agency–God, say–were to "roll history back" to some point in the past and then "let things go forward again"? Suppose the agency were to cause things to be once more just as they were at high noon, Greenwich mean solar time, on 11 Marsh 1893 and were thereafter to let things to on their own accord. Would history literally repeat itself? Would there be two world words, each the same in every detail as the wars that occurred the "first time around"? Would a president of the United states call "John F. Kennedy" be assassinated in Dallas on the date that in the new reckoning is called "22 November 1963"? Would you, or at least someone exactly like you, exist? If the answer to any of these question is No, determinism is false. Equivalently, if determinism is true, the answer to all these questions is Yes. If determinism is true, then, if the universe were "rolled back" to a previous state by a miracle (and there were no further miracles), the history of the world would repeat itself. If the universe were rolled back to a previous state thousands of times exactly the same events would follow each of these thousands of "reversions" (270).

i) I think that's generally a good way to expound the distinction between generic determinism and generic indeterminism. However, I'd point out that it can be misleading. There are varieties of determinism. In his essay on "How to Think about Free Will," PVI says "Determinism is the thesis that the past and the laws of nature together determine, at every moment, a unique future" (Journal of Ethics 12: 330). I'd just point out that this definition not only doesn't coincide with theological determinism (i.e. Reformed predestination), it doesn't even intersect with theological determinism. By that I mean, a Calvinist subscribes to exhaustive predestination and providence, yet that's not how he defines theological determinism. 

In Calvinism, for instance, predestination doesn't imply that all future events are caused by past events. No doubt many future events are caused by past events. But what makes predestination deterministic isn't physical determinism or nomic necessity. One thing doesn't follow another because there must be an unbroken causal continuum between antecedent states and subsequent states. Rather, it's more like screen play where every event is scripted. Or, to take a related comparison, it's like Alfred Hitchcock who said he filmed what he visualized. 

In fairness, his argument isn't directed at theological determinism (e.g. Calvinism). So it's not a flaw, in that respect, if his definition fails to map onto theological determinism. Even so, that's a huge omission. How would he need to change his argument if he were targeting Calvinism? 

ii) Notice an implication of indeterminism. On this view, you don't exist because you were a part of God's plan. If history was reset, you wouldn't exist. You don't have God to thank for your existence. If you're healthy, if you have a happy marriage, you don't have God to thank for your circumstances. Everything that happens to you is just the roll of the dice. If the dice were rolled a second time, you wouldn't even be here. Whatever happens to you is a matter of sheer luck. Good luck or bad luck, as the case may be. If indeterminism is true, there's no basis for pious gratitude.

iii) Apropos (ii), his view is that it puts future agents at the mercy of past agents. The options available to future agents, or whether some future agents will even exist, depends on which course of action past agents take. So the fortunes of future agents are enslaved to the often ignorant, capricious, or malevolent actions of past agents. To evoke an illustration he uses in chap. 9, freewill theism is like a situation in which your life depends on drawing the shortest straw, only the drawing in rigged in favor of past agents, because their choices impact the fortunes of future agents.  

Mind you, I think there's a sense in which this is true. The problem is if it's just up to human agents. If, by contrast, they are acting in accordance with a divine plan, then there's an ultimate wisdom and justice to how things turn out. 

PVI draws a distinction between touchable and untouchable facts. Paradigm examples of untouchable facts include the necessity of the past and the fact that 317 is a prime number (273-76). He compares that to other situations, like whether he has the freedom to stop writing a book (272). If determinism is true, then "all facts are untouchable facts" (276). This is the "hidden mystery" that "lies behind the facade of bluff common sense compatibilism presents to the world" (276). 

That, however, is a deceptive comparison. Determinism in general, and predestination in particular, doesn't mean all facts are necessary in the sense that mathematic truths are necessary truths or the necessity of the past is metaphysically necessary. In predestination, everything must unfold due to conditional necessity, not absolute necessity. In principle, God could predestine alternate outcomes. For all we know, God has predestined alternate outcomes–a multiverse. So these are not the same kinds of facts.