Sunday, October 04, 2015

Continuous creation

I'll comment on this post:

As some of you who have been my long-time readers know, Austin Fischer is my protégé even though I can’t take credit for his intelligence or writing skills. He’s a brilliant thinker, teaching pastor (The Vista Community Church, Temple, Texas) and excellent writer.

It's fine with me if Arminians make Fischer their spokesman.

“Monergism: Maybe True, Definitely Unnecessary”
by Austin Fischer (Author of Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed
Monergism (“one work”) is the belief that God works alone in salvation. 

No, that's not what it means. Some (but not all) divine actions in salvation involve God's unilateral action, viz. unconditional election, monergistic regeneration.  

It’s usually set against synergism, which is the belief that while God alone does everything in working for our salvation, 

What does it even mean to say "God alone does everything in working for our salvation" in contrast to synergism? 

Seems like Fischer want to hang on to a sola element, but combine that with a non-sola element. So he simply glues them together. 

humans must cooperate with grace in some form or fashion (the cooperation itself, of course, is possible only because of grace).

Calvinism doesn't deny that salvation has cooperative facets. For instance, sanctification has a cooperative dynamic in Calvinism. 

However, the "cooperation" of the regenerate in their sanctification is the predestined effect of God's efficacious grace. It's not "cooperative" in the libertarian sense. 

But what I would like to point out is that you don’t need monergism to prevent human boasting or protect God’s glory. Nope—all you need is a healthy doctrine of creatio ex nihilo (creation from nothing)…or better yet, creatio continua (continuing creation).

Continuous creation denies human agency. There is no cause and effect connection within the world. Rather, it's a version of occasionalism where God is the sole agent. Human beings don't make anything happen. The future is entirely the result of God's direct fiat. There are no second causes. Just God's primary causality, through-and-through.

So Fischer's Arminian alternative to Calvinism is to replace Calvinism with a metaphysical position that denies human agency!

Fischer's post is incompetent from start to finish. He doesn't begin to know what he's talking about. His analysis is inept and counterproductive even on Arminian grounds. 

This is a good example of how Arminian partisanship suspends critical judgment.  They don't listen for content–they just listen for the label. If you call it "Arminian," it must be right; if you call it "Calvinist," it must be wrong.

It's like those man-on-the-street interviews where a reporter will ask Democrats what they think of a statement. The reporter will quote a statement which he attributes to a Democrat, even though it's actually a statement made by a Republican. Democrats respondents immediately agree with the statement, because they were told a Democrat said it. They stop listening after they hear the partisan label.  

Christian Life As Springtime And Joy

"Our childhood [in Christ] again brings the freshness of morning, and we live in perpetual springtime, always young, always mild, always new, but always growing in maturity. We are the children carried on the shoulders of God. [quoting Clement of Alexandria] 'Our life is a perpetual springtime; because the truth within us cannot be touched by old age, and our whole way of living is saturated by this truth' (paed Our relation to God as children in Christ is one of joy, of divine or mystic sport….For Clement, man is, by definition, a rational laughing animal (8.6.21), Christ has turned all sunsets into sunrises and Christian life is a season of ever-renewed springtime. A fragment of his instructions to the newly baptized exhorts them to cheerfulness: 'show always that you are a partner and partaker of Christ, who shines the light of God from heaven. Let Christ be to you continuous and unceasing joy.'" (Eric Osborn, Clement Of Alexandria [New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008], 245, 276)

Astrological atheism

Over at Debunking Christianity, apostate Hector Avalos says:

One should not let these apocalyptic interpreters forget that it is atheists who have been 100% correct in predicting that those end dates will fail, while it is believers who have been 100% incorrect. In other words, atheists (and other skeptics) have been the best "prophets" when it comes to these end dates.

To simplify, let's use round numbers. Suppose Jesus was going to return before 3000 AD. That means the odds are about 11,000 to 1 that he won't return on any particular day during that interval. Any astrologer with half a brain could safely predict that any given date for his return will be wrong. Mathematically speaking, the odds are overwhelmingly against the accuracy of any date you pull out of the hat. And that will be the case even if Jesus was, in fact, going to return before 3000 AD. 

Predicting when something won't happen can be infinitely easier than predicting when it will happen. If it happens on one day, it won't happen on all the other days. The days when it won't happen outnumber the day when it will happen by many orders of magnitude. Don't pat yourself on the back when you accurately predict a nonevent. In general, it takes no foresight to predict the nonoccurence of an event on any given date. 

Some events are predictable if they fall under human control. Likewise, some events are predicable if the outcome is connected to an observable a chain of causes, like running out of fuel, or the trajectory of a hurricane. 

But in the abstract, a one-time event is unpredictable in the sense that it could happen at any time, yet it won't happen most days, weeks, years, centuries–even millennia (or more). 

For instance, some scientists theorize that a vast asteroid struck the earth about 65 million years ago. Let's grant that for the sake of argument. Consider all the days when it didn't happen, both before and after. Yet impact craters bear witness to such events, however rare or isolated. 

ISIS is getting whomped by Russia (it seems)

I've been seeing articles like this one today:

ISIS left so weakened by airstrikes and desertion it could be wiped out in just HOURS

Maybe that's a bit overly-sensational. But it appears as if the Russian military means business.

The response from the west (the US included) has been more along the lines that "Assad is worse than ISIS":

It seems as if the west is trying to "thread the needle" -- that is, degrade ISIS while not giving Assad any advantages. Russia doesn't feel the west's sense of propriety.

Older (background):

Liberty and Law and Gun Control

Pope Francis: what he gives with one hand he snatches back with the other

Francis seems to have a policy of studied ambiguity where he tries to say or do something to please everyone. One action or statement negates another. A classic politician. At the same time, his papacy is clearly tilting to the left:

Saturday, October 03, 2015

The "root cause" of gun violence

i) Trying to ban/confiscate guns misses the point. That's treating symptoms. Fixating on the weapon of choice fails to address the root cause. Why do some people turn to violent crime in the first place?

There are various reasons, not all of which are soluble. 

One thing we know is that violent crime is overrepresented in certain intersecting demographic groups, by sex, age, and ethnicity. 

Young men from stable two-parents homes are less prone to violent crime. Young men who stay in school are less prone to violent crime.

Conversely, violent crime is fostered by absentee fathers, a culture of dependency, high dropout rates, &c.

Partial solutions include school choice, so that kids aren't chained to failing schools. Plus welfare reform. 

ii) In addition, as society becomes more secularized, it becomes more nihilistic. And that's coming from the top down, not the bottom up.

If kids are taught that there's no afterlife, no final judgment, no heaven or hell, no moral absolutes, that we are just fleeting, fortuitous collections of particles, then it's not surprising if some people act on that nihilistic philosophy. If you want people to behave better, you might begin by giving them something worthwhile to live for. 

Atheism is a recipe for moral and existential nihilism. And we're beginning to see the results. Not just in mass shootings or urban violence, but at Planned Parenthood clinics. Likewise, we're poised for an exponential rise in euthanizing the elderly and developmentally disabled. 

Arguing about guns

An anatomy of apostasy

i) Many apostates make a common mistake. And it's an elementary mistake. 

Typically, they were raised in a Bible-believing church. Then they took high school biology, or college Biology 101, or read a book by Richard Dawkins or Jerry Coyne. That sort of thing. And they lose their faith.

The rudimentary mistake is to compare two things that operate at different levels. They are comparing the Bible to science, or comparing theology to science. But these aren't directly comparable. There's an obvious sense in which a few pages of Scripture are no match for hundreds of pages of textbook evolutionary biology. Scripture wasn't designed to engage the issue at that level. Same thing with systematic theology.

The proper comparison would be to read two or more science books from opposing viewpoints. Those operate on the same plane. They address the same issues, at the same level of detail or technicality. They adduce prima facie scientific evidence for their respective positions. That's the relevant level of direct comparison and contrast. 

ii) It's also striking that apostates like this are often so lop-sided. Having dipped into the evolutionary literature, they refuse to read the opposing literature. They have no intellectual patience for the other side of the argument.

iii) In addition, they cut evolutionary theory lots of slack while they cut creationism no slack. They make many allowances for evolutionary theory. They don't let the difficulties in evolutionary theory faze them. They have faith that if we're just patient, if we wait it out, these challenges will be resolved. Or, if not, that in principle, they must be consistent with evolution. But they don't show the same deference to creationism. 

iv) They ask questions until they arrive at evolution. They come to rest with evolution. At that point they stop asking questions. Evolution is unquestionable. They no longer feel the need to keep posing pesky questions and demanding answers. At best, all questions and answers must now take place within the evolutionary paradigm. Ironically, that's the mirror image of many creationists, whom they disdain. 

The power of paradigms

One objection to creationism is simply the fact that so many scientists subscribe to evolution. Why would they do that? Is there a scientific conspiracy to reject Christian theology? Did they get together and take a vote? 

i) To begin with, a certain percentage of scientists are, in fact, hostile to Christianity, Christian ethics, the idea of God. That's clear from surveys as well as outspoken critics. That's not a hidden agenda. That's upfront. 

ii) But another factor is the power of a paradigm. By "paradigm" I mean an interpretive grid. People who are trained in a particular way of seeing a problem and solving a problem may find it almost impossible to conceive of any other way to analyze problems in their field. To deny the paradigm is a hallmark of irrationality. 

Paradigms have a powerful conditioning effect on how we frame issues, what solutions we consider to be acceptable. Many people find it difficult, even for the sake of argument, to step outside of their paradigm and consider the evidence from a radically different perspective. They've lost the capacity for critical detachment. They are so used to operating with the paradigm that it dominates their thinking. 

Paradigms are appealing or seductive because they seem to offer a unified explanation for complicated phenomena. You're confronted with a range of apparently disparate factors. How do you sort it out? Is there a common thread?

A paradigm offers a unifying principle. A way to simplify the analysis by reducing it to some general explanatory dynamics. 

For instance, some people have compared reading Marx to a religious conversion. Suddenly, all the pieces fell into place. 

This is true for many academic disciplines. Take different approaches to psychology, viz. behaviorism, depth psychology, evolutionary psychology.

Take different theories of mind, viz. functionalism, computationalism. 

Take different theories of historical causation. What's the "root cause"? Is history driven by ideas, individuals, economics, luck? 

Some paradigms have, or seem to have, great explanatory power. An ability to integrate wide swaths of data. They can be very persuasive. 

A breaking point is when a paradigm tries to explain too much. The paradigm no longer explains the evidence; rather, the theorist labors to show how the evidence is consistent with the paradigm. He may introduce makeshift modifications to the paradigm, or speculate on how the total evidence would be consistent with the paradigm if only we had a larger sample. 

A paradigm may explain, or appear to explain, a lot of evidence, but when it becomes strained or overextended, that reveals internal weaknesses in the paradigm. It's like a half-truth. It may capture some truth, approximate the truth in some respects, but it's off the mark. 

When we evaluate a paradigm, we need to take into account, not only what it seems to explain, and so without difficulty, and what it fails to explain. It's a question of starting-points. Do you begin with what the paradigm seems to explain with ease, take that as confirmation that the paradigm is roughly on target, then chalk up difficulties to remaining problems to be resolved, which you have faith are ultimately soluble within the parameters of the paradigm?

Or do you begin with problems it has difficulty assimilating? Do you take that as an indication that the paradigm may be flawed? When you evaluate a paradigm, do you begin with apparent problems or apparent solutions? With what it can it explain or what it can't? Which endpoint is your frame of reference? 



Clement Of Alexandria On Christian Intellectual Neglect

"Pagans had to find the treasure which was in Christ. Christians had to explore it, to advance beyond the mediocrity in which they slumbered. Tertullian spoke at this time of 'nostra mediocritas'. Faith must grow into knowledge. Clement showed more sympathy with Gnostic sects than did his contemporaries; at least Gnostics saw the need to move on. His own ideal, the true gnostic or man of knowledge, was within the reach of all believers….his chief concern was to join Athens and Jerusalem….The farmer needs to learn different skills if he wants to cultivate, just as the doctor and hunter need to learn many things if they are to heal or hunt. And so must he who wishes to gain from the scripture and from Christ learn all rational and logical skills. He must go to geometry, music, grammar and philosophy itself and take from them what is useful, in order to defend his faith against those who plot to destroy it. If he does not do this, he is, as Plato says, like the athlete who turns up unprepared for the games (Rep. 3.404ac)….'How can it not be necessary, for him who wishes to lay hold of the power of God, to philosophise and to grasp with comprehension intellectual concepts?' ( He who reads the bible must know how to detect ambiguities and multiple meanings in the biblical text; this is where philosophy helps….There is no doubt that the joining of Athens and Jerusalem in Philo and Clement provided a major element of western culture." (Eric Osborn, Clement Of Alexandria [New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008], 24-5, n. 84 on 25, 63-4, 104)

Homo naledi

The internet has been abuzz regarding a new fossil find, named Homo naledi. What do I make of that?

i) Let's begin with deja vu. Every so often we're treated to the discovery of the missing link. Lots of fanfare. Upon closer examination, it turns out there was far less to the story than meets the eye. It's like fake hate crimes. 

ii) Darwinians know that showing the public skeletal remains isn't very impressive. So what they do is give us a hypothetical reconstruction of what the creature allegedly looked like.

Now, I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with that. Forensic anthropologists do that sort of thing.

Nevertheless, it's just an "artistic rendering." And it's bound to be prejudicial. You aren't seeing what the creature actually looked like, because we don't know what the creature actually looked like. 

Take the face. Obviously, a skull has no face. So that gives tremendous play to facial reconstruction. It can be made to look more human, protohuman, or apish. 
We've all grown up with imaginative mock-ups of "early man". So when we see a hypothetical reconstruction, that subconsciously conditions us to perceive evidence for human evolution. The fossil is depicted in a way that makes it appear to be an intermediate form: more than a monkey but less than a man.

Again, though, that's prejudicial. Salting the mine. We're not viewing the actual fossil. We're not seeing the raw evidence. Rather, we're seeing a face that's, at best, imaginative guesswork. How much of the transitional appearance is due to artistic imagination? 

For instance, if all we had was the skull of Nefertiti, could we go from that to the famous bust? 

Moreover, the skull was pieced together from fragments of four different skulls. And it's unclear if these even come from the same species. 

iii) Then there's the reconstructed body. That raises the question of what makes a body recognizably human. 

Even in modern-day humans, there's a wide rage of body shapes and sizes. That often reflects environmental adaptations. Likewise, some sports, like pro football and pro basketball, select for extreme body shapes and sizes. 

As I boy I used to read Road & Track and Car & Driver. When commenting on Italian cars, reviewers would quip that Italian cars were made for drivers with long arms and short legs!

More seriously, I once read an interview with a costume designer for The Highlander. She said it was hard to costume Adrian Paul because he didn't have a typical 17C body. Rather, he had a typical mid-20C body. His body shape wasn't suited to period attire. They had to fudge it. 

iv) What did Adam and Eve look like? We don't have much to go on. Assuming that Eden was located in a hot river valley, it would make sense if they had tan skin and dark eyes.  

Friday, October 02, 2015

Through African eyes

It takes a gun to stop a gunman

Every time we have a massacre, Democrats demand new gun control laws. A few observations:

i) What causes a gunman to stop shooting? In my observation, it's generally one of two things:

a) He runs out of ammo

b) Someone shoots him

So it takes a gun to stop a gunman. Having a gun gives the shooter a nearly unbeatable advantage over unarmed targets. It's hard for unarmed men and women to stop or disarm a gunman.

Occasionally, a gunman will shoot himself to elude capture. That's after he's completed his shooting spree. 

ii) What's the alternative? That only police have guns? If so, there are obvious problems with that:

a) It's my observation that most folks who lobby for gun control are often very critical of police shootings. 

b) If only the police (and military) have guns, doesn't that put the general public at a tremendous disadvantage with respect to gov't? What's to prevent gov't from acting like a bully? You can't fight back. Gov't has all the firepower. 

c) Suppose a gunman begins to shoot up a school or office or whatever. Suppose someone inside manages to call the police.

It takes the police however long to arrive at the scene of the crime. Moreover, they don't rush right in. They take time to position themselves. Study exits and floor plans.

That gives the gunman lots of extra time to keep killing people inside.

iii) Are gun-control advocates proposing gun confiscation? After all, if you think gun ownership should be restricted to law enforcement officers (and the military), how do you make sure that only the police are armed? How do you get all those guns off the street? How do you make sure guns are in the "right hands"? 

So does that mean gun-control advocates think police should ransack every house, warehouse, car, truck, boat, business, &c. in America in search of guns? 

iv) Even if you outlaw gun stores and gun shows, won't that simply create a lucrative black market for gunrunners? You will replace legal arms dealers with illegal arms dealers. 

Pharaoh’s Magicians Redivivus

Patronizing evil

One of the striking things about life in a fallen world is the spectacle of evil or dangerous people with powerful friends who protect and promote them. So often, evildoers have patrons who excuse them and empower them. 

In response to yesterday's college massacre, Democrats immediately called for gun control, ignoring the fact that the shooter was (reportedly) targeting Christians. Ignore the real motivation. 

Consider Obama's policy towards Muslims. His plan is to effectively subsidize the Iranian nuclear weapons program by dropping sanctions while simultaneously sending them a huge foreign aid package. 

Likewise, consider his domestic policy. Under his watch, we've had a string of jihadist attacks on American soil. This includes Muslims in uniform. His response is to blame everything and everyone else except Islam. And he has a plan to import tens of thousands of "Syrian refuees" (euphemism alert) into the US.  

Or take the promotion of Muslim Rep. André Carson to sensitive national security positions. Why take the risk? Why invite disaster? 

On a related front is Obama's nomination of an open homosexual to be the next Army secretary. Likewise, giving homosexuals access to underage kids (e.g. homosexual Scout leaders). And we now have an incipient movement to mainstream pedophilia. 

The pattern is to promote the most subversive elements of society to positions of power and influence. Once motivation is to prove how tolerant we are. The onus is not on Muslims (or homosexuals) to prove that they are trustworthy. Rather, the onus is on us to trust them. To give them every benefit of the doubt. Put others at risk. 

This is nothing new. Last year there was a hagiographic film (The Imitation Game) about Alan Turing. His security clearance was revoked, which many people find unfair. Keep in mind, though, that Turing was a member of the same Cambridge circle that produced the infamous spy ring (e.g. Philby, Burgess, Blunt). 

And that's not coincidental.You had the intersection of the Cambridge Apostles with the Bloomsbury circle. A common denominator was atheism. In addition, many members were avid homosexuals. No doubt this was fueled by the boarding school system. 

Between homosexuality, atheism, and academia, they represented a countercultural outlook that was contemptuous of normal men and women who get married and have children. In the nature of the case, homosexuality cultivates a carpe diem philosophy. They don't think in terms of posterity. It's a childless youth culture.

They really were a security risk. And spies like Blunt evidently had friends in high places who protected him. Why might that be? One reason is the possibility of blackmail. People like Blunt were in a position to out high-ranking officials. 

But above and beyond that, atheism and homosexuality sap a capacity for genuine moral disapproval. Loyalty was defined by allegiance to the cult of homosexuality. Likewise, atheism fosters moral relativism–or nihilism. 

Its a subculture that doesn't identify with normal human social life. It has contempt for Christian morality. Contempt for the common lumpen.  Alienated from all that's natural, normal, good, and decent. 

A Response to Jerry Walls on Christian Compatibilism

Francis Turretin: “Papacy is AntiChrist”

Following up on the wild popularity of “Pope Francis” to the United States, Leonardo de Chirico looks at the question of whether “the pope is AntiChrist” in his occasional “Vatican Files” email this morning. In it, he cites Turretin’s “7th Disputation on the AntiChrist” which was part of a larger work entitled “Concerning our Necessary Secession from the Church of Rome and the Impossibility of Cooperation with Her” (1661) (published as F. Turretin, “Whether It Can be Proven the Pope of Rome is the Antichrist”, ed. by R. Winburn, Forestville, CA: Protestant Reformation Publications, 1999).

Here is a selection: Turretin: “Papacy is AntiChrist”:

Clement Of Alexandria And Roman Catholicism

Here are some comments from Eric Osborn, a patristic scholar who specialized in the study of Clement:

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Manning up for women's sports

Measuring prior probability

Robin LePoidevin has written sympathetically about atheism and agnosticism. But a few years ago he made an interesting observation. He begins by stating a stock objection to theism:

The default position in any debate is whichever view is less likely to be true. The more improbable the hypothesis, the greater the need for justification. Theism is intrinsically less likely than atheism, so it stands in greater need of justification.

To which he responds (in part):

We need some means of establishing the likelihood of a hypothesis…perhaps we can measure the prior probability of a hypothesis by how much it rules out. The more it rules out, the lower the prior probability. The less it rules out, the greater the prior probability. Robin LePoidevin, Agnosticism: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2010), 49-50.

But assuming that's a sound principle, doesn't physicalism rule out much more than Christian theism? It precludes abstract objects (i.e. numbers). It precludes immaterial minds. Indeed, some physicalists deny consciousness altogether. Likewise, the denial of miracles is a universal negative. 

But by LePoidevin's logic, that means Christian theism has a higher prior probability than physicalism and/or atheism. And that's even before we add all the specific evidence for Christian theism.

Is imputation a legal fiction?

The stock objection to imputation (or vicarious atonement/penal substitution generally) is that you can't detach the merit/demerit of a deed from the agent who performed it and reattach it to a second party.

There's no knockdown argument for that. It's just the intuitive sense that imputation artificially separates what's inseparable.

One counterarguement I've used in the past goes like this: A defining element of friendship is favoritism. We do things for friends we don't do for strangers. Any particular favor is gratuitous; however, that's grounded having earned someone's friendship, and vice versa.

But there's an extension to that principle:

Bud is Bubba's friend
Bubba is Buster's friend
Buster isn't Bud's friend
(They don't dislike each other, but they don't happen to be friends.)

Bud asks Bubba to do a favor for Buster. Bubba complies, but he's really doing the favor for Bud. He is treating Buster as if Buster is Bud; he is treating Buster as if Buster is his friend, in virtue of his friendship (and their mutual friendship) with Bud. So there's a transferable dynamic. 

Now for a different kind of argument. In criminal law and theological ethics, it's typical to distinguish intent from the objective character of the deed. Not only are they distinct, but separable.

For instance, if a 4-year-old shoots his 5-year-old brother to death, we don't charge the 4-year-old with murder. Although the deed is objectively wrong (i.e. his brother's death is an evil), and even though action may have been deliberate rather than accidental, we make allowance for the fact that at that age he's incapable of forming criminal intent. Even if he was mad at his brother and wanted him dead, he didn't appreciate the significance of the act. He didn't want his brother to stay dead. He didn't expect his brother to stay dead. He doesn't think long-term. At that age he can't.

Consider to other examples: 

Jim and John are bunkmates on a military base. Jim works in military intelligence. Jim is a patriot. Jim and John are best friends.

Unbeknownst to Jim, John is actually a spy. Because he thinks John is trustworthy, Jim sometimes shares things is casual confidence regarding military secrets. Indeed, because John is bit of a math genius, Jim sometimes asks John to help him out on decryption/encryption.

As a result, Jim unwittingly compromises national security. His action is objectively wrong, but because he did not intend to compromise national security, the absence of malicious intent is either exculpatory or a mitigating factor . He had no reason to suspect John's bona fides. That's an extenuating circumstance.

In addition, friendship is praiseworthy. Although John betrayed his trust, it's the kind of betrayal that can only take place in the context of friendship (or apparent friendship), and friendship is virtuous. 

A final example: Drake is driving on a country road during a rainstorm. He spots a pedestrian who's getting drenched. He offers him a ride into town. Unbeknownst to Drake, the pedestrian is a serial killer, on the run from the law. 

A squad car passes them and continues on its way. The policeman is on the lookout for a man matching the description of the suspect. But because Drake gave the suspct a ride, the policeman misses him. Had Drake driven past him, the serial killer would have been apprehended by the policeman.

As a result, Drake unwittingly facilitates serial murder. Thanks to Drake, the sociopath eludes capture and continues his killing spree.

Drake's action is objectively wrong. Objectively blameworthy. But because he intended no wrong, the absence of malicious intent is exculpatory. 

Moreover, it was admirable for him to pick up a stranger in the rain. 

Technically, we might say agents are blameworthy rather than their actions, unless we view the action as an extension of the agent.

A final example is an organ donor. In general, organ donation is morally commendable. However, donors usually have no control over who the organ(s) go to. That liver might go to a patient who will commit murder a decade later. 

These examples illustrate the principle that the elements of moral action, the elements which make an action moral or immoral, are detachable. The intent may be inculpable or praiseworthy even though the deed is objectively blameworthy or culpable. 

That's not necessarily the same as transferable, but it's hard to claim that what's detachable can't be transferable. 

This is a less direct parallel than the friendship/favoritism example. It about a more general principle. 

Frequency, probability, and miracles

A stock objection to miracles is that, "by definition," miracles are improbable. That depends, in part, on how you define improbability.

Many people who object to miracles treat improbability as a synonym for infrequency. Suppose we grant that definition for the sake of argument.

Can something be both frequent and improbable? That would seem to be a contradiction in terms, but is it?

Take chess. It's unlikely that a chess player will win all the time or even most of the time. In fact, it becomes more unlikely as he moves up the ladder because he is pitting himself against ever more talented opponents. The competition becomes increasingly tougher. 

Yet some chess players dominate the game. In their prime they are nearly invincible. 

Although a chess genius is improbable or infrequent, once you have a chess genius, he may win games with great frequency. The same holds true in other sports, viz. golf, tennis. 

Or we might take music. It's improbable that music of Mozartean quality would be a frequent occurrence. Yet Mozart was a very prolific composer, despite dying at a young age.

A musical genius is improbable or infrequent, but once you have a musical genius, he may compose top quality music with great frequency.

So we should perhaps distinguish between the frequency of the source and the frequency of the product given the source. Even if the existence of the producer is highly improbable, assuming the producer exists, the product may then be highly probable.

A Response to “Cletus Van Damme” on Justification

The Sacramental Treadmill
The Sacramental Treadmill Begins
AFTER Roman Catholic “Justification”
I’m following up on a comment from another thread:

Part of restoration includes the desire to go to confession in the first place, so no it's not a semi-pelagian process as you imply. Works of mercy are not optional - one can commit mortal sin via omission as well as commission.

My interlocutor goes by the handle Cletus Van Damme. I want everyone to see how this individual’s method of argumentation works. It is not to provide clear and direct responses, but as is customary for Roman Catholics who are doing apologetics, his method is rather deflection and obfuscation (starting with his own pen name).

Keep in mind that you started off by saying that Roman Catholicism agrees with this statement: “if you rely on works of the law you are under a curse, because they have to be perfect.”

Where is perfection found in Roman Catholicism? Maybe at the moment of baptism. But again, Here you are now, with a bait-and-switch, making a case for “the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace.” (from CCC 1446). This terminology comes from the point in time after baptism, and Roman Catholics MUST, ARE REQUIRED TO, submit to a particular set of “works of the law”. The real name for this in real Roman Catholic Doctrine is called “The Precepts of the Church” (define: “precept”: “A precept (from the Latin: præcipere, to teach) is a commandment, instruction, or order intended as an authoritative rule of action”) – this is the very thing that I said constituted a “bait and switch”.

Craig on the Fall

On the one hand:

...lies in your mistaken conviction that “the main core” of the Christian worldview is “the fall of man,” where the fall of man is apparently understood to imply, not only the doctrine of original sin, but also the origin of human disease and death as a result of human sinfulness. 
This is a horribly distorted view of Christianity. Not even the doctrine of original sin is essential to Christianity, as the example of Eastern Orthodoxy plainly shows, since Orthodoxy does not accept the Catholic doctrine of original sin and yet is one of the major branches of Christendom. You protest, “If there was no fall of man, what sin is there to save us from?” That’s easy to answer: every man’s own sin. You hardly need to believe in the doctrine of original sin in order to recognize that all men have sinned and are therefore in need of God’s forgiveness. Indeed, this is the message that is emphasized throughout the Bible, not the doctrine of original sin. 
Moreover, the idea that human physical death and disease is the result of sin or the fall, though championed by Young Earth Creationists, cannot be found in the biblical text and is widely rejected by many committed Christians (including me). 
Read more:

On the other hand:

21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Cor 15:21-22). 
12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come…17 For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man… (Rom 5:12-13,17).

Bill Nye the drive-by guy

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Episode guide to Planned Parenthood videos

The Terminator

A stock objection to Calvinism is that it would be unjust (or "monstrous") for God to condemn evildoers whom he predestined to commit evil in the first place. They were never a chance to do otherwise. 

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that determinism (or predeterminism) is incompatible with moral responsibility. Now let's recast the argument by making a comparison.

In the Terminator franchise, a Terminator is a robotic assassin. An artificially intelligent android that's programmed to kill a particular individual. 

(For some reason they are called cyborgs, but from what I can tell, they don't have any human parts. They merely have a human appearance.)

Terminators are like glorified cruise missiles or smart bombs. They don't necessarily need full-blown consciousness. They just need enough (artificial) intelligence to identify the target, ascertain information on the ground, and adapt to varied situations. 

They don't need "consciousness" in the sense of the internal dimension, viz. first-person viewpoint. They don't need to know "what it's like to be me." 

But since this is all hypothetical, we could endow them with consciousness. That's surplus. 

Terminators are fearful in two respects:

i) They have superhuman strength. They are tireless, relentless, and resourceful. Virtually unstoppable. Humans on the run have to sleep. They don't. Even if you get a head start, they will catch up. 

ii) But, if anything, they are even more fearful in another respect: they are utterly pitiless. They's because they are inhuman. Machines. As such, they are incapable of feeling compassion for another human being. They can't project themselves into our mindset. They don't know what it feels like to be human. You can't appeal to their empathy. There's no hook. 

Now, suppose a Terminator is programmed to kill a child, to preempt what he will become. To change the future.

And to make sure they kill the child, they allow themselves a margin of error by planning to wipe out an entire classroom full of second-graders. 

According to the hypothetical under consideration, the Terminator is amoral. Because its actions are programmed, it isn't blameworthy. 

But even if we grant that for the sake of argument, it would be morally imperative to stop the Terminator by any means necessary. Destroy the Terminator before it kills innocent children. 

That's despite the fact (ex hypothesi) that the Terminator isn't a morally responsible agent. Even though it's not culpable, it has no right to endanger the kids.

Neutralizing the Terminator isn't punitive. Rather, it's protecting the innocent. 

BTW, this isn't just hypothetical. There are some real-world analogues. For instance, people on a psychotic drug-high can be dangerous. 

Someone might say that, given a choice, it would be preferable to reprogram the Terminator rather than destroy it. Perhaps so.

However, we don't owe it to the Terminator. A Terminator can, indeed, be reprogrammed. It can be programmed to be a nanny, gardner, chef, quarterback, ballet instructor, or violinist. It can be programed to be masculine or feminine. 

That's because a Terminator is a blank slate. It has raw intelligence. It has great potential. But it has no innate personality or character traits. Its memory is wiped after each mission. 

It isn't supposed to be any particular way. Its identity is essentially indefinite. Whatever the programer wants it to be. 

So it wouldn't be wrong to destroy it rather than reprogram it. You wouldn't be wronging the Terminator. It's not as though it deserves better treatment. For its character is supplied by the programer.  

Hypothetically speaking

i) Hypothetical scenarios are a fixture in ethics. But some Christians are leery of hypotheticals. They think these are used to confound or derange our moral intuitions. And hypotheticals can sometimes be misused in that respect.

ii) However, hypotheticals are both useful and indispensable. The Mosaic law contains many hypothetical cases. The parables of Jesus often present hypothetical situations.

Even people who express suspicion about hypothetical scenarios resort to hypothetical reasoning all the time. They deliberate on alternate courses of action. They speculate on the consequences of different choices. Mentally compare and contrast each outcome. Predict what's likely to happen in each case. That's a basic part of planning and decision-making. So it's unavoidable.

iii) One purpose of hypotheticals is to test moral consistency. Are you prepared to take your position to a logical extreme? Are there exceptions to your principle? If so, are those ad hoc exceptions?

iv) Although that's often a valid exercise, we need to be careful. Precisely because hypotheticals may be unrealistic, because they are not constrained by what's possible or probable, it is easy to generate false moral dilemmas. 

But that's not necessarily a reason to question your principle. It depends on your view of divine providence. As one philosopher recently put it:

I think we should, however, take seriously the possibility that as we depart far enough from the normal operating conditions of human beings, some of the questions (a) have no answer or at least (b) have no answer available to us. This possibility undercuts some arguments. 
For instance, one can argue that utilitarianism gives deeply implausible answers (e.g., that every action is equally permissible) in cases where there are infinitely many people. But suppose that there aren't in fact infinitely many people, and the situation of there being infinitely many people is far beyond humans' normal operating conditions. Then the fact that utilitarianism predicts something that seems implausible to us beyond those conditions is not a problem for the utilitarian--as long as she is willing to modestly limit the scope of ethics to humans in or near their normal operating conditions (if she's not, the argument is fair game). 
Or consider this argument against deontology: It seems permissible to kill one innocent person to save a billion. But circumstances where we choose between one life and a billion lives might well be so far beyond our normal operating conditions that they fall beyond the scope of ethics. 
The last case is interesting. For it raises this question: Might we not actually find ourselves in circumstances so far beyond our normal operating conditions that ethics doesn't apply…? After all, it is sadly all too easy to imagine how someone might end up choosing whether to kill one innocent to save a billion...It seems deeply troubling to suppose that some people end up in circumstances that go beyond the presuppositions in the moral law. 
I think Christians have reason based on revelation to think this doesn't actually ever happen. The moral law is also embodied in revelation, and revelation presents itself as a guide to us in all the vicissitudes of life. But note that even if nobody ends up in circumstances that go beyond the presuppositions of the moral law, going beyond these presuppositions could be physically possible but for God's providential protection. A case of choosing whether to kill one innocent to save a billion may be like that: God makes sure we're not tried beyond the edge of ethics.

But is that pious hope consistent with freewill theism? Seems more consistent to say a person might find himself caught in an intractable moral dilemma–since God doesn't control whatever happens–in which case God will excuse him. 

v) Finally, hypotheticals can be valuable in part because they may be far removed from what we've experienced thus far. And we may never experience something like that.

Thing is, you never know ahead of time what life may throw at you. Consider American soldiers who wound up on German or Japanese POW camps. Or consider wrenching medical decisions which may confront us some day. 

A value of hypotheticals is to formulate a position before you find yourself in that position. You have the leisure to think about it, to weigh the evidence. To developed a considered position without the duress of a real life crisis. 

If you wait until you find yourself in a dire situation which requires a snap judgment, that can be the very worst time to think about it for the first (and last) time. You have to make a momentous decision. You don't get a second chance. 

Hypotheticals help us to work out some positions in advance, when our judgment isn't clouded by emotion. When we can consider the issue with a degree of detachment. When we have time to become informed. When no one is pressuring us to act in a certain way. 

vi) Mind you, armchair analysis has its limitations. Because it's abstract, we may fail to anticipate some important considerations. Because there's no urgency, we may not give it in-depth consideration. It's just not that relevant at the time. 

Experience can inform, refine, revise, or sometimes reverse our answers to hypothetical questions. But it's better to go into the situation with some intellectual preparation.

Bill Nye the stupid guy

"Bill Nye the Junk Science Guy" by Wesley J. Smith.

Artificial reality

Some theologians use the authorial metaphor to model God's relationship to the world. God is like a novelist, the world is like a novel. Humans are like storybook characters. The physical environment is like the setting. History is like the plot. 

It's a useful metaphor–but a bit quaint. It could easily be updated to make it more flexible and realistic. I'm alluding to science fiction involving virtual reality and artificial intelligence. 

I don't mean that's realistic in the sense that it's possible. I just mean that for illustrative purposes, it is more lifelike.  

So let's play along with that scenario. God is like a video game designer who creates self-aware virtual characters. Unlike storybook characters, these characters are endowed with consciousness. They have an actual mental life. They can feel simulated physical pain or pleasure. They can experience the gamut of human emotions. They can reason. Deliberate. Suffer psychological pain. 

They are aware of their surroundings. Aware of fellow characters, with whom they interact. They make plans. Experience disappointment, and so on. 

Unlike a novelistic plot, which is static, events unfold in the video game in real time. A real past, present, and future. Stream of consciousness. 

This can illustrate different aspects of God's economic relationship:

i) The designer exists apart from the game. The designer planned the game. Created the characters. At that level, he caused everything to happen. 

ii) Yet the AI virtual characters aren't merely projections of the designer. They have actual, individual mental states that are ontologically distinct from the designer. They experience their world from the inside out. 

Each AI virtual character has its own first-person viewpoint, that's not equivalent to God's first-person viewpoint, or God's third-person viewpoint of the characters. These are irreducible perspectives. Each character knows what it's like to be himself (or herself). 

iii) They might cause things to happen the way we cause things to happen in dreams, by willing them to happen. Psychokinetic agents. And from their vantage-point, that might be indistinguishable from physical causation. 

iv) They could become aware of their designer's existence. Be cognizant of a larger reality, outside the world in which they exist. 

v) We can explore both determinist and indeterminist models. 

On an indeterminist model, the designer creates the initial conditions, but after that the game may take on a life of its own. Within certain parameters, the outcome is wide-open. 

On a determinist (or predeterminist model), the designer plans everything that happens. Every thought, word, feeling, and action. Everything unfolds according to plan.

In principle, characters might become aware of the fact that their actions are predetermined. That wouldn't have much impact on their action, because they don't know in advance what they are predetermined to do. They just do whatever they were going to do. Do whatever they were motivated to do, which turns out to be what they were predetermined to do. To the extent that knowledge of predeterminism affects their action by making them self-conscious about their next move, that is, itself, a predetermined reaction. So it doesn't change the outcome.

This, of course, raises familiar theodical issues. Are they still responsible for their actions?

A stock objection is that they can't be responsible unless they were able to do otherwise. Suppose we grant that contention for the sake of argument.

There are stories with alternate endings. There are stories in which the character did both. In that event, is he blameworthy if, in one case, he does something immoral?

What about the libertarian version? Unlike storybook characters, the virtual characters can suffer actual harm. One character can make another character feel simulated physical pain. Or induce anguish. 

Or "murder" the character. Erase him from the game. All his memories and aspirations are extinguished by another, malevolent character. 

But that raises questions about the designer's benevolence. Is it proper for him to permit one character to wield that kind of power over another? Is it proper for him to permit one character to harm another? Much less to cause him irreparable harm?

The value of an analogy depends on sufficient similarity to the thing it illustrates to be truly comparable, but sufficient dissimilarity to enable us to see the issue from a fresh perspective. If it's too much like the thing it illustrates, it lacks a point of contrast to contribute any distinctive insight into the original issue. 

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