Saturday, April 18, 2015

Low-wattage brites

Atheists on atheists:

Jeffery Jay Lowder:

I’m often told that atheists are really smart when it comes to religion. Then I read their replies to moral arguments for God’s existence and cry out, “WTF?”

Many atheists are so confident in their atheism that they have an extreme case of confirmation bias & don’t even take the argument seriously enough to use their brains and bother understanding it.

I could post numerous examples, but it’s really too depressing to go find them.

The worst offenders tend to be ex-fundamentalists. I think that there are at last two reasons for this:
1) A lifetime of avoiding critical thought is not instantaneously undone by going through a deconversion experience. A lot of newly-minted atheists haven't yet acquired the habit of genuinely critical thought.
2) They have rejected an essentially stupid version of Christianity and they haven't yet appreciated that not all versions of Christianity are as stupid as the version they left.

I find bad responses to cosmological arguments on the forums I post on. There are many confident atheists, like myself, but the difference is that they are not well acquainted with arguments for theism. I find when a theist posts a cosmological argument they find online, most atheists respond by saying "Well what caused God?", despite that missing the whole point of the arguments.

I'm not talking about hypothetical situations. Rather, I'm talking about actual conversations that I have held where atheists miss the point of the arguments.

Hand, foot, and eye

I was asked to comment on this post:
A few years back, a Pew Research poll discovered 79% of white evangelicals thought torturing a suspected terrorist to gain information could be justified while only 30% thought monogamous gay sex was moral. That is, white evangelicals were 3 times more likely to approve of abusing a man to the edge of death than they were of a gay marriage.
And I think I know why.
When thinking about the moral life, many Christians only consider the rules found in the Bible. We like rules. 

Of course, that's an overgeneralization. Some people like rules, but other people chaff at rules. 

Because there are no biblical passages forbidding torture in the legalese we commonly use, Christians can rationalize using enhanced interrogation techniques (they calm our fears, might keep us safe, and are hopefully used only on bad guys). 

That's tendentious because it presumes that defending the coercive interrogation of uncooperative high-value terrorists is a "rationalization." A philosophy prof. like Jeff Cook ought to avoid elementary fallacies like begging the question.

Conversely, the Bible does have six passages that seem to forbid all forms of gay sex.

That's highly deceptive. The Bible begins with the creation of man and woman. With heterosexual sex as the paradigm. That's how God designed humanity. 

"But doesn’t it seem strange that many Christians can quickly argue against a committed gay relationship with chapter and verse, yet have difficulty objecting to locking a man in a small box filled with insects?"

He doesn't bother to explain what's wrong with exploiting a terrorist's phobias to extract information to prevent the massacre of innocent men, women, and children. He simply takes his standard of comparison for granted. Once again, that's shabby from a philosophy prof. 

Doesn’t it seem odd that we can criticize faithful, monogamous lesbians, yet in theory endorse chaining a man to a concrete floor until frozen?

That confuses prisoner abuse with interrogation. Once again, a philosophy prof. should be able to draw rudimentary factual distinctions. 

I am a philosopher specializing in ethics and religion…

Then why does he reason like a hack?

(To be technical, apologists from both sides assume “deontology” as the Biblical normative ethic. Deontology judges how moral a person is by how closely his or her actions follow a set of rules. For deontologists rules, and rules alone, tell us what is right and wrong. 

Where does he come up with that? Some apologists are natural law theorists while other apologists are divine command theorists. And there are variations on divine command theory.

Because Christians often assume that rules are the way God displays his will for human life…

That's not something we "assume." Rather, that's explicitly and pervasively taught in Scripture.

…they argue about monogamous same-sex relationships almost exclusively with those six passages in mind.

Homosexuals are notoriously promiscuous, not monogamous. Even their "marriages" are open marriages. 

Not only is a commitment to a rule-focused ethic a misstep for thinking about gay sex, it is a horrible way to think about moral living in general. When unveiling the best possible life, the New Testament writers rejected a system of morality focused on rules, and it’s easy to see why. As Jesus showed us, those who follow all the divine commands can at the same time be the worst human beings (Mt 5.20). Jesus described one set of meticulous rule followers as “sons of hell” because they neglected the real source of moral goodness—the life of virtue (Mt 23).

i) That confuses man-made regulations with divine laws.

ii) It also fails to distinguish higher obligations from lower obligations.

iii) And Jesus made obedience to his commands a litmus test (Jn 14:15,23).

iv) The NT letters contain commands and prohibitions. Sin lists. "Household codes." You can't eliminate that from Christian piety or ethics.

v) In addition, good behavior can have a morally conditioning effect. 

Given the New Testament’s claims, all the healthiest action-focused laws we could affirm or create must be met if one lives the life of virtue.

Even if we grant that claim for the sake of argument, according to both Testaments the homosexual lifestyle is a life of vice rather than virtue. Aggravated vice.

Nothing about monogamous same-sex relationships by necessity contradicts a life of virtue. Physical relationships between same sex individuals may be enjoyed by faithful, courageous, wise, hopeful, loving, grace-filled, self-controlled people. Those who disagree will need to show how committed homosexuality, by its nature, always keeps a person from reflecting Christ or violates some Christian virtue. If they cannot a decisive argument emerges: Because monogamous gay sex does not violate the demands of Christian virtue, monogamous gay sex cannot be the target of the New Testament’s prohibitions when speaking about vicious sexual behavior.

That's viciously circular. He assumes the very thing he needs to prove–in the teeth of explicit Biblical testimony to the contrary–then deploys that tendentious assertion to claim the Biblical passages can't mean what they say. They must mean something else, anything else, however much gay-friendly reinterpretations cut against the grain of the text. 

Just as some have used the scriptures to advocate slavery, violence, or the silencing of women in church…

That's a popular wedge tactic. But it's only appealing to pacifists and egalitarians. I don't object to what the Bible teaches on those subjects. 

We may rightly read a passage like Romans 1 and say: pederasty, pagan temple prostitution, or using sex to dominate others (arguably what Paul has in the front of his mind when writing about gay sex) are soul-destroying because they cannot arise from love or faithfulness or self-control. 

That's a backdoor admission that he'd lose the exegetical argument if he dared to engage it. Knowing that's a lost cause from the outset, he forfeits that futile line of attack and tries to preempt serious exegesis altogether by declaring that we have the right to impose any interpretation on the text that we please consistent with our gratuitous presupposition. But that's an exercise in make-believe. 

But monogamous same-sex relationships are not soul-destroying; faithful, compassionate, Spirit-empowered, Christ-honoring people can enjoy them.

A committed relationship is morally neutral. Whether it's good or bad depends on the nature of the commitment. Bonnie and Clyde had a committed relationship. They were devoted to each other. Partners in crime. 

Now, perhaps you are unconvinced and continue to see the rules as the foundation of moral living. Perhaps you believe divine commands must be followed to the fullest extent of the law. Question: if you took a quick look at the New Testament, which sexual act would you guess requires the most severe remedy and is tied to the harshest punishment? 
In my reading, the answer is masturbation. In his teaching on lust, Jesus said, “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Mt 5.30). If the problem continues, Jesus the Great Physician insists masturbators gouge out an eye. For those assuming a rule-focused ethic, following Jesus will require many of their friends, children, parishioners, and perhaps they themselves to break out the cleaver. The divine command could not be more clear.

That's so bad it's funny. Where do you even begin to deconstruct such a preposterous interpretation?

i) He'd need to show that Jesus is speaking literally rather than figuratively and hyperbolically.

ii) The Sermon on the Mount wasn't addressed to adolescent boys, but husbands, wives, and children who happened to be in attendance.

iii) Does Cook think masturbation is all that men use their hands for? Is this all that Cook uses his hands for? Consider all the things you use your hands for in the course of a day–or a week. 

iv) Apropos (iii), our hands are the primary natural tools we use to manipulate and interact with the physical world. We use them all the time to do all sorts of things. If you had no hands, imagine how severely that would limit your field of action. 

v) Apropos (iv), sinners use their hands to commit a variety of sins–both sexual and nonsexual. Think of how many crimes in the Mosaic law require the use of hands. 

vi) In Mt 5, the "eye" in v29 refers, not to masturbation but adulterous lust in v28. Frankly, blind people can masturbate. The point of the eye, in context, is sex appeal. 

His interpretation is nonsensical. Even if he thinks right-handed men masturbate with their right hand, do they rely on their right eye. What about the left eye? 

vii) In the Synoptic parallel (Mk 9:43,45,47), the same imagery ("hand…foot…eye") is used generically. It's not specific to sexual sin, much less masturbation in particular. 

ix) Sinners use their eyes to look at or look for the object of forbidden desire, use their feet to go to or go in search of the object of forbidden desire, and use their hands to touch or obtain the object of forbidden desire. It's generic imagery involving the stimulus and logistics of sin. 

x) Carson thinks "hand" is used here as a phallic euphemism in the context of adultery. If, moreover, that identification is correct, it wouldn't mean the hand stimulates the sex organ, but that the hand is the sex organ. So on that interpretation, Cook's interpretation fails on both counts. 

xi) Nolland cites a single, admittedly ambiguous, Mishnaic text that may possibly use the hand to allude to masturbation. There's no evidence that this is representative. And it's often anachronistic to construe the NT in light of the Mishnah. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

"We are all born atheists"

Over at his fine blog (Calvindude), Peter Pike quotes a slogan: "We are all born atheists." 

i) That's quite ironic. Atheists like to compare Christian faith to childish belief in Santa Claus. Something we're supposed to outgrow. 

If, however, everyone is born an atheist, but many people outgrow atheism when they achieve intellectual maturity, then atheism is the mirror image of believing in Santa Claus. 

ii) By parity of argument, we could say babies aren't scientists. They don't believe in evolution. They don't believe in global warming. They don't believe in a woman's right to abortion. They don't believe in gay rights and trans rights.

So the atheist argument undercuts many beliefs dear to politically correct atheists. 

iii) Also, since when do atheists make babies the standard of comparison? Most atheists support abortion. Even "after-birth" abortion.

Inventing Mariology

Erasmus was right!

According to Arminian theologian Roger Olson:

Thank you for providing this nice illustration of the kind of Calvinism I am especially opposed to. Erasmus was generally right vis-à-vis Luther in that debate. Luther just fussed and fumed and called Erasmus names and engaged in ad hominem argumentation. And he completely overlooked Erasmus' insistence of grace assisting free will in salvation. We agree about one thing: Hyper-Calvinism is true (logically consistent) Calvinism.

Undercover journalism

I'm going to give a fuller answer to a question I was asked:

Bill Valicella has elsewhere brought up the point that liberals have no compunction about playing politics dirty. They lie, they misrepresent, they bully, and they try to shut down any view that doesn't comport with theirs. They cheat, in other words. He thinks that if conservatives don't follow suit, they will be buried; what do you think?
i) Christians can't merely respond in kind. We can't simply take our tactics from unbelievers, then do the same thing in reverse.

We must have our own standards. The problem is when some believers frame Christian ethics as an otherworldly ideal that can't offer concrete, constructive guidance or solutions in a fallen, real-world situation.

There's the question of what Christian ethics prescribes, proscribes, or permits. That's what I've been exploring.
ii) Undercover journalism is a good illustration. And I think Lila Rose and James O’Keefe are fine examples. For instance:
My point is not to issue them a blank check, but to commend the kinds of things they investigate. 
Undercover journalists misrepresent their background or true intentions. Is that unethical? Depends.
a) Is this information that can only be obtained by subterfuge? 
b) Is this information which the public is entitled to have
Offhand, I'd say those are two necessary conditions which jointly constituted a sufficient condition. Mind you, I'm not attempting to provide an exhaustive set of criteria. There may be exceptions or other criteria.
iii) Some ethicists treat undercover journalism is a last resort. But that's ambiguous. It's not like you can go to the same shady outfit twice, where the first time you are upfront about your intentions, then failing that, you return with the same questions, only this time you resort to subterfuge. 
You won't have that fallback, because you blew your cover the first time. The shady outfit will be on guard the next time around. So you only get one shot. Better aim well to make it hit the mark. 
iv) Among other things, the ethics of undercover journalism involves the question of reasonable expectations. I just did a general post on that subject:
Is there a reasonable expectation that the people who question you don't have a hidden agenda? In some cases, yes. For instance, in Beltway journalism you have a cozy relationship involving bureaucrats who leak information to trusted reporters at the Washington Post or NYT. 
This has less to do with the ethics of journalism than the pragmatics of journalism. If a reporter had a reputation for burning anonymous sources, all his sources would dry up overnight. So he must protect the confidentiality of his informations to have informants.
v) However, undercover journalism is known to exist. So there's no automatic presumption that you might not be the target of a journalist who misrepresents his background or intentions. 
vi) Likewise, undercover journalists "trick" the respondent into telling the truth. The respondent thinks that he has a sympathetic audience. It's safe to drop guard down and say what his outfit really does.
But as a rule, you aren't wronging someone by getting them to tell the truth. There's a prima facie duty to tell the truth, absent countervailing duties.
In addition, this is getting them to tell the truth about wrongdoing committed at or by their establishment. It isn't wrong to expose wrongdoing or wrongdoers.
And this isn't confined to interviewing participants. It may involve observing misconduct, by taking a job at the establishment. Infiltrating the organization to become an eyewitness. 
Let's give some examples of undercover journalism: the Walter Reed scandal, elder abuse in nursing homes. Patient abuse at psychiatric facilities. Voter fraud. Medicaid fraud. Welfare queens. The refusal of Planned Parenthood to report statutory rape. The seduction of minors by homosexual predators. Child prostitution. Redating expired meat. Lax airport security. Police corruption. 
These are things which gov't ought to investigate and prosecute, but is frequently negligent because gov't is itself complicit in wrongdoing. 

Reasonable expectations

I'm going to discuss an aspect of deception that I haven't seen discussed in the literature on Christian ethics. Of course, it's quite possible that that's been discussed before, and I just missed it.

i) Deception involves two parties. It often involves the deceiver and the deceived.

There is, however, the phenomenon of self-deception. People can be deceived even when there was no intention to deceive. They misperceive, misremember, or misinterpret what they saw, hear, or read. 

ii) In American law, there's the "reasonable expectation of privacy." That's based on fourth amendment protections. It involves a distinction between public and private space, or public and private communications. For instance, there's a reasonable expectation of privacy in your home, but not in a public park.

Likewise, it's illegal for the police to intercept email, text messages, or cellphone conversations without a warrant. On the other hand, a public or private employee using a gov't computer or company computer doesn't enjoy the same expectation of privacy. 

I'm not a lawyer, so I merely mention this to illustrate a principle. 

iii) This principle has an analogue in the ethics of deception. Is the onus on the speaker or the listener? That depends, in part, on whether there's a reasonable expectation that the speaker's statements will be truthful. Let's take a few examples:

a) TSA agents who ask passengers if they are smuggling a bomb onboard in their luggage. But if a terrorist did have a bomb in his luggage, he'd deny it. 

b) During the Cold War, American employees often had to take loyalty oaths. If, however, you were a KGB spy, you would have no hesitation about taking the oath to maintain your cover.

c) Some jobs involve a security clearance or criminal background check. As such, the application will ask prying questions. But surely there's no presumption that an applicant will truthfully answer self-incriminating questions. 

Now I'm not assessing the moral issue of what you should say in those situations. Right now I'm discussing a separate issue.

Is there a reasonable expectation that if you put people in those situations, they will give honest answers? Clearly not. You'd have to be gullible to believe their answers.

That doesn't mean all or most of them will lie. Rather, only those who have something to hide, something to lose by telling the truth, will be motivated to lie. The point, though, is that the questions themselves fail to sort out who's who. 

There's no presumption that people will give credible answers to questions like that. Indeed, the very people whom the questions are intended to root out will give false or evasive answers. 

To that extent, if you are deceived, that's because you allowed yourself to be deceived. Your credulity left you wide open to deception. It's not so much the deceiver who deceived you, but your willingness to be duped. 

It is foolish to ask certain questions in the first place. Questions like that are not a reliable way to gain information. 

iv) In addition to these special situations, there's no general expectation that you will never be lied to. In a fallen world, some people are chronic liars. Likewise, I suspect most people lie some of the time. Therefore, you have to be on your guard.

This includes high-minded Christians who think it's always wrong to lie. And they take that position as a matter of principle. Some of them have never lied, never will, and never would.

There are, however, some Christians who sincerely take that position, they genuinely mean it at the time they say it, but they only maintain that position because they never found themselves in a situation where the stakes were high enough to reconsider their position. It was something they believed in the abstract. 

Again, my immediate point is not to assess whether this is right or wrong, but whether there's a reasonable expectation that you won't be lied to. You'd have to be naive to think that when you put people to the test, in situations that generate moral dilemmas involving the welfare of loved ones, that you will get truthful answers if those answers conflict with the best interests of their loved ones.

If you take their answers at face value, you were deceived, not so much because they tried to deceive you, but because you had an unreasonable expectation. There's an onus on you not to play the chump. 

v) On a related issue, the ethics of deception is typically framed in terms of the deceiver wronging the deceived. But sometimes it's the deceived, or self-deceived, who wrong the deceiver. By that I mean, it can be wrong to ask questions that put people on the spot. That force them into a moral dilemma. Where there is no good answer.

By "moral dilemma," I don't mean a choice between two wrong actions, but a choice between conflicting prima facie duties. 

a) For instance, suppose a married couple attended the same high school at the same time. Knew all the same classmates.

Suppose the wife asks her husband who he thinks was the prettiest girl in school. Or asks him what he thought of this or that female classmate.

If he gives an honest answer, it may make her resentful or jealous. So don't ask questions like that if you don't want to hear the answer. Don't pose a question where you will resent any reply, whether it's a truthful answer or a diplomatic lie. That's unfair to the respondent. You're putting the respondent in an awkward position where anything he says may get him into trouble through no fault of his own. 

b) I once lived in a house where the next-door-neighbor had a barking dog. A dog that would bark day and night. Finally, another neighbor called animal control. The dog was removed. The neighbor was fined.

Well, the dog-owner went around the neighborhood, knocking on doors, asking who reported the dog. It's a stupid question, since obviously the person who called the animal cops is unlikely to fess up. She had no right to ask that question in the first place.

The neighbor who called animal control was within his (or her) rights to do so. It's not incumbent on the neighbor to defend his actions in that regard. He doesn't owe the irresponsible dog-owner an explanation or justification.

And since he doesn't want the dog-owner to make trouble for him or his family, it's unlikely that he will admit to doing it. When you ask a question like that, under those circumstances,  it's an invitation to be lied to. 

vi) The upshot is that when we evaluate the ethics of deception, we need to take into account whether there's a reasonable expectation that you won't be lied to (or the equivalent). The moral onus isn't invariably and primarily on the would-be deceiver, but sometimes on the would-be deceived. 

Of course, these distinctions are irrelevant to deontologists who think deception is intrinsically evil, but that's not the audience for this post. I'm not attempting to persuade them. 

God and complexity

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Olson on hyper-Calvinism

I will comment on this post:

I know, I know. I will be accused of being “uncharitable” simply for deconstructing Calvinism.

I don't accuse him of being uncharitable. I accuse him of being a hack. 

Knowing full well that many Calvinists who visit my blog will wrongly take offense, I forge ahead anyway. 

I don't take offense at Olson's hatchet jobs. To the contrary, he invariably performs an unwitting service to the cause of Calvinism by illustrating the weakness of Arminian objections. 

There are many folks out there who are confused about Calvinism and have not considered it from every angle. Before they commit to it, they should consider it from every angle.

i) Not coincidentally, those are the folks who are predisposed to leave Calvinism for freewill theism. They never understood Calvinism in the first place.

ii) If you want to understand Calvinism, you need to begin with some good Reformed expositors. For instance:

iii) After that, it's good to read the critics. 

Some years ago, in one particular episode of intra-Calvinist controversy over this issue, the Christian Reformed Church officially affirmed that the gospel message proclaimed to sinners, including the non-elect (!), is a “well meant offer” of God’s grace unto salvation. The denomination affirmed that even from God’s perspective it is a well meant offer to the non-elect. Most Calvinists agree with this; those that do not and therefore avoid indiscriminate evangelism rightly deserve the label “hyper-Calvinist.” The pastor-theologian at the center of that particular controversy was Herman Hoeksema…Hoeksema left the CRC over this issue, believing that the gospel message cannot be a well meant offer to the non-elect and that therefore indiscriminate evangelism should be avoided, and founded his own Reformed denomination.

i) If Olson were an honest critic, he'd engage the clarifications of David Engelsma in Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel and Common Grace Revisited.

ii) Moreover, Olson oversimplifies the issues, and reflects ignorance over the breadth of the historical debate. For a corrective:

iii) On the Dutch-Reformed side, the debate was bound up with the theory of common grace. Hoeksema was reacting to Kuyper's formulation of common grace.

I think Hoeksema was wrong to reject common grace. However, that doesn't mean Kuyper's formulation is above criticism. There's arguably tension between Kuyperian common grace and the Kuyperian principle of antithesis. 

The non-elect have no real chance of being saved. God will not extend to them the “inward call” which is the basis for regeneration.

That's not what an evangelist is "offering." He's in no position to extend to them the inward call. He doesn't have the power to regenerate people. 

And we can easily construct a parallel argument for freewill theism. An Arminian evangelist can't make people accept the message. He can't make people believe the Gospel. He can only tell them what they ought to believe.

The results are out of his hands, whether you think divine agency is the decisive factor (Calvinism) or human freewill is the decisive factor (Arminianism).

The issue at the center of the hyper-Calvinism controversy is this: Is the “outward call”only, by itself, without the inward call, a well-meant offer to the non-elect? The answer should be obvious. And yet…non-hyper-Calvinists do not see the obvious. Only hyper-Calvinists see it.

i) Notice how often he uses adjectives ("obvious") as a substitute for arguments. He can't actually show how his conclusion is true. 

ii) Notice, too, how Olson's objection applies to anything whatsoever. Arminians fail to see the obvious problems with Arminianism. Only non-Arminians see it.

The objection is essentially circular, for you always have this insider/outsider dichotom between adherents and non-adherents, whatever the theological, philosophical, ideological position. In the nature of the case, insiders don't view their position the same way outsiders do. Otherwise, outsiders would become insiders and insiders would become outsiders. So Olson's objection is self-refuting. 

The argument that Calvinist belief in unconditional particular election of individuals to salvation leads inexorably, logically, to hyper-Calvinism (a la Hoeksema) should be transparent to any thinking person.

In that event, nothing should be simpler or easier than for Olson to explicate how he arrives at his conclusion. Give us a stepwise argument. 

Imagine any hypothetical but realistic scenario in which I “offer” a great gift to a group of people or an unknown individual indiscriminately all the while knowing that some of them are ineligible from the outset for the gift. There are only a hundred gifts but I offer it to a thousand people. Even if I somehow know that only a hundred will ask to receive the gift, my indiscriminate offer to the thousand cannot be called a well-meant offer. It was deceptive.

That's equivocal. You don't offer it to everyone. Rather, you offer it to everyone who will take it. That's easy to formulate:

If you repent of your sins and trust in Christ for salvation, God will save you. 

Here's a related treatment:

I suppose now that someone will argue that I have misrepresented hyper-Calvinism. It is an essentially contested concept; there is no “official” definition.

Actually, I think hyper-Calvinism should be retired from the theological lexicon. It's become an umbrella term to cover a number of disparate positions. And it's often defined by critics.

Demon-haunted world

One curious question is why the Synoptic Gospels have so much to say about demons, in contrast to the paucity of references in the OT, or the rest of the NT. 

The short answer is that we don't know the answer. We can only speculate.

i) I suppose the liberal explanation would be evolving belief in demons. However, that's implausible–even on liberal assumptions. Belief in evil spirits is very common in primitive societies. 

At best, what would evolve is an explanation for their existence. A backstory. An organizational chart. 

Moreover, the evolutionary explanation fails to explain the paucity of references outside the Synoptic Gospels. Take John's Gospel–or Acts. 

ii) There's a pattern. Demons are typically mentioned in reference to exorcism. Absent the context of possession and exorcism, there's little occasion, from the viewpoint of Bible writers, to mention demons. That's their basic selection-criterion. The existence and presence of demons is a topic that normally crops up in that particular context. 

iii) That's true in extrabiblical Jewish literature, viz. Tobit, Josephus (i.e. Eleazar), the Genesis Apocryphon, Qumran lit. (hymn 11Q5/11QPs-a). 

We also have the Jewish exorcists in Acts 19:13-19). That's an incidental witness to the practice. Luke happens to mention that only in connection with Paul's ministry. 

So belief in demonic activity was more widespread than the relative silence of Scripture would indicate. The fact that references concentrate in the Synoptic Gospels doesn't mean this is novel or exceptional in the general culture. 

iv) I doubt it's incidental that in all three Synoptic Gospels, Christ's encounter with Satan precedes accounts of exorcism. That's the first skirmish in an ongoing series of spiritual battles. Having lost the first round, Satan delegates subsequent engagements to his lieutenants, although he makes a strategic reappearance to recruit Judas.

v) The fallen angels were expelled from God's abode. Now God enters their abode. His presence behind enemy lines, in the person of the Incarnate Son, naturally draws them out of the shadows. He invades their sphere of influence. 

This, in turn, generates situations of mutual recognition. Both Jesus and demons are outwardly human. Both Jesus and demons can discern what lies within. Hidden divinity and hidden possession.

vi) Jesus had inherent authority to expel demons. And he authorized his disciples to expel demons. Due to his reputation as a powerful, successful exorcist, many people brought possessed friends or relatives to him (or people they deemed to be possessed), to be delivered. 

The reason the OT has so little to say about this may be because, as a rule, OT Jews had no special ability to recognize possession or expel demons. Possession isn't evident unless the demon chooses to manifest itself. 

Moreover, there's no presumption that Jews or Christians have specific authority to command demons. That doesn't mean Christians can't perform exorcisms. But there's no guarantee that their efforts will be successful. So we wouldn't expect the same emphasis outside the Gospels. 

vii) Likewise, the Gospel has a preemptive effect, by  suppressing the occurrence of possession. By driving the dark side back into the shadows. 

What do Christians really think about homosexuals?

“Pope Francis” is Coming to Town

One of the challenges that we face in dealing with the papacy today is the aura of celebrity that accompanies modern popes in the era of mass media. “Pope Francis” may be diminished, but he’ll still get lots of media coverage.

That’s why it’s so important to help out here. When “Pope Francis” visits the US later this year, he’ll be greeted by some true brothers in the “city of brotherly love”, Philadelphia, who will be informing the awe-struck Roman Catholics there of the true nature of the papacy and what the Gospel really is.

Geoff Robinson is coordinating the activities, which he’s named “Operation St. Cyprian”. The idea, of course, is to promote a time in the church when claims of papal authority were rejected in the early church. Cyprian was a bishop of Carthage from 250-258 AD; he rejected the notion of a papacy, or a “bishop of bishops”, or compulsion by “tyrannical terror” (in this he accuses the bishop of the Rome at the time, “Pope Stephen”). This is from The Seventh Council of Carthage under Cyprian:

It remains, that upon this same matter each of us should bring forward what we think, judging no man, nor rejecting any one from the right of communion, if he should think differently from us. For neither does any of us set himself up as a bishop of bishops, nor by tyrannical terror does any compel his colleague to the necessity of obedience; since every bishop, according to the allowance of his liberty and power, has his own proper right of judgment, and can no more be judged by another than he himself can judge another. But let us all wait for the judgment of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only one that has the power both of preferring us in the government of His Church, and of judging us in our conduct there.

Geoff has set up a “GoFundMe” site to help raise money for incidental expenses related to the event:

We will be stressing the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and the necessity of trusting Jesus alone to be declared righteous before God and to have peace between God and man.

We need to raise funds to cover miscellaneous expenses ranging from the printing of materials to share to t-shirts for our volunteers to fees and SEPTA tokens. We also want to provide some food and drink to our volunteers in their downtime so they can focus on sharing the gospel.

We are [also] attempting to establish a debate between a Roman Catholic and a Protestant apologist. The expenses, including airfare, of the two will need to be paid along with costs for the venue. Any funds above the $2500 will be used to establish a debate or an event to invite contacts to discuss matters pertaining to the gospel.

Any extra funds that are not spent will be given to one or more organizations that engage in evangelism, which will aid us in our efforts.

Let’s help take care of this request: Please donate if you can; if you can’t, please share this link on Twitter or Facebook or other places where you might share things.

If you can help, contact Geoff at:

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Smearing sexual orientation change

Secular totalitarianism

Brown makes a number of good points in this article:

However, I'd like to make two additional, related points:

i) This reflects the totalitarian mindset of contemporary Democrats. It represents yet another attack on parental rights. It denies the right of parents to seek professional counseling for an adolescent child who isn't developing a natural, normal sexual psychological makeup. 

ii) But over and above that, it denies the right of adults to seek psychological counseling for their condition. Adult men and women are not permitted to decide for themselves if they need psychological counseling for this particular condition.

The secular totalitarian state reduces adults to the status of perpetual minors. Adult men and women are not allowed to make decisions for themselves. 

Is coercive interrogation ethical?


i) Is it cheating to cheat a cheater? Suppose I'm in a poker game. My opponent has bribed the dealer to stack the deck in his favor. If I cheat just enough to compensate for the cardsharp, is that dishonest? 

I'm not cheating to secure unfair advantage. To the contrary, I'm taking countermeasures to restore the balance. Make an unfair situation fair again. Call that counter-cheating, to rectify the disparity. 

Indeed, the very concept of cheating presumes a situation in which most folks play by the rules. If nobody plays by the rules, then there are no de facto rules.  

In fact, even if I cheated more than necessary, there's a sense in which my opponent would have it coming. Like double restitution for theft (cf. Exod 22; Lev 6). If a thief only has to repay what he stole, he has no incentive to refrain from stealing. He's only returning stolen property because he got caught on that occasion. Consider all the other times he got away with it. So unless there's an additional sanction to deter him, he has nothing to lose and everything to gain by continuing to steal.

ii) Many Christians avoid these dicey issues. They cast themselves as "absolutists." They think that simplifies matters. Just do the right thing and let God sort out the results. 

Now, I myself am an absolutist in the sense that I believe in moral absolutes. Some actions are intrinsically right or wrong, obligatory or prohibitory. However, belief in moral absolutes doesn't entail that every action is reducible to absolute duties, without regard to circumstances or consequences. 

Moreover, "absolutism" is deceptively simple. For instance, if I do nothing to offset the actions of an evildoer, doesn't that make me complicit in his evil? If nothing is done to overcome his evil actions, then I'm passively facilitating his evil. So that doesn't ipso facto get me off the hook. 

Now the point of this post is not to assess the ethics of counter-cheating at poker. Poker is just a game. A social convention. I merely use that as a convenient example to illustrate morally serious situations (unlike poker) where prima facie obligations may overridden by higher obligations.

The age of accountability

Vicarious responsibility

i) One of the stock objections to Calvinism is original sin–especially the imputation of Adam's sin. How is it fair for us to be held responsible for the actions of another? We weren't party to his actions. We didn't consent to his actions.  

Strictly speaking, this isn't a problem for Calvinism. Assuming, for argument's sake, that it's problematic, this is a problem for Scripture. It's only a problem for Calvinism inasmuch as Calvinism is one of the few remaining live theological traditions that still takes seriously what Scripture says about original sin. So this is less about Calvinism than the inspiration and authority of Scripture.

ii) That said, let's consider the objection on its own terms. For ease of reference, let's call this the principle of vicarious responsibility 

Certainly there are many situations, or kinds of situations, where vicarious responsibility would be unjust. In fact, the Bible itself regards vicarious responsibility as unjust in some situations (e.g. Deut 24:16). 

iii) But is that a universal principle? Let's consider a hypothetical case. A wife has a child by another man in the course of an illicit affair. There is, however, no immediate reason for her husband to suspect that the child isn't his. 

10 years later, the boy falls ill and undergoes some tests which incidentally disclose the fact that the boy isn't the husband's biological child. 

The wife, realizing that her husband will never view her the same way, leaves her husband for the man the truly loves. And she leaves her son behind in the care and custody of her ex-husband. She never wanted the child. 

Although this is hypothetical, there are real-life examples that correspond to this type of situation. 

What are the responsibilities of the husband in this situation? One option is leave the boy with his biological mother and father. Drive the boy to wherever they are living, and hand him off to them. 

Surely, though, it's too late for that. For 10 years, the husband has been the only father the boy has known. His biological father doesn't know him or care about him. And his mother doesn't care about him. 

So the boy needs the husband to continue to be a father to him. It would be detrimental to his psychological development to rip him out of that relationship and thrust him into the hands of two uncaring adults. 

Here's a case where an individual becomes responsible for the consequences of someone else's misdeed. And this is despite the fact that the individual was wronged. 

We could cite analogous examples. Take a foundling. A desperate mother places her newborn on the doorstep of a well-to-do family, hoping they will care for the child. That shouldn't be their responsibility. But now that it's been thrust upon them, it is their duty to rise to the challenge.

As such, I don't think vicarious responsibility is unjust in principle. It's easy enough to come up with counterexample in which it seems to be a moral obligation.

Of course, these examples appeal to intuition. Some people might reject the intuition. However, that cuts both ways. For the objection to original sin is intuitive too. 

Making fun of Jesus (and of others)

"Making fun of Jesus (and of others)" by Paul Helm.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Freewill theism as Neopaganism

It's striking how freewill theism repristinates pagan principles. Before making comparisons, let's expound what I mean. The pagan worldview oscillated between chance and fate. That's because paganism has no single, omnipotent, omniscient Creator God. No creation ex nihilo. 

In paganism, the world is a patchwork of independent power centers: personified natural forces. Stronger gods and weaker gods. Ancestral spirits. Gods with different spheres of influence. Some gods know more than others. But all the gods are finite in knowledge and power. 

In Greco-Roman mythology, the Fates represented fatalism. The Fates were sisters and goddesses. They were the daughters of night–an ominous pedigree.

They are classically represented as spinning thread, measuring thread, and cutting thread. That represents the lifespan of each individual. That predetermines the time of death. 

The specter of fatalism is also represented by dire oracles (e.g. Croesus, Oedipus). 

Likewise, the development of astrological fatalism. Your destiny was written in the stars. 

This generates a familiar dilemma: if the future is known, it must be settled in advance. But if you know your future, does that not give you an opportunity to change it?

Conversely, chance or luck was represented by the goddess Tyche or Fortuna. 

On the face of it, chance and fate are opposing principles. However, they may consistently coexist if both are less than universal in scope and sway. 

Classicists debate whether the Fates were absolute autonomous powers whom even the gods could not overrule. I have no reason to think Greco-Roman mythology was consistent in this regard. As the mythology evolved, it was natural to unify more phenomena under Zeus, but it didn't start out that way. You had varied traditions which originated independently in place in time. Later, there's an effort at synthesis. Zeus becomes a unifying principle. And you have philosophical conceptions, like Aristotelian theism.

One might ask what it was in pagan experience that gave rise to their beliefs about fate and fortune. For now I will content myself with speculation.

On the one hand, some events, like death, are inevitable. Ultimately inescapable. 

On the other hand, some people seem to be lucky while others seem to be unlucky. There's a certain apparent randomness to weal and woe. 

So even though these principles tug in different directions, they both appear to be true some of the time. 

And we see both principle vying for dominance in freewill theism. For instance, the chance element in open theism is its radical commitment to libertarian freedom. The ultimate contingency of the future. Uncaused events (i.e. free choices). 

But to curtail the destabilizing consequences of this principle, open theists invoke the classic deus ex machina of the cosmic chess master. No matter what move you make, he will beat you every time. Yet that's just like inexorable fate. 

Likewise, in Molinism:

The counterfactuals of creaturely freedom which confront Him are outside His control. He has to play with the hand He has been dealt. 

Just like the Fates. Even the gods can't overrule them. 

There are feasible and infeasible possible worlds. God can only choose from among the live options. The rest are out of his hands. That's classically fatalistic in positing ultimate autonomous entities to which even God must defer. 

By the same token, Craig says:

This event was the result of an incomprehensible multitude of free human choices which God did not determine. If her parents had decided not to travel on this flight because of a dream, then God’s plan would have taken a different course. His providential planning would have to have taken into account that free choice instead of the choices He did have to work with. God’s providential plan does not override human free.

It's as if once the ill-fated parents board the plane, God must allow the natural consequences of their free choices to run their course unimpeded. Their doom was sealed the moment the cabin was sealed. God mustn't override the results of our free choices. Que sera sera. Once he flicks the first domino, his hands are tied thereafter. He just watches them fall. 

What is religious freedom?

It’s time for Christians to tell the truth about abortion politics

From ape to Adam

Tue April 14, 2015

(Christianity Today) - Peter Enns and John Walton recently returned from an expedition to Armenia to find out what really happened in the Garden of Eden. Their archeological excavation unearthed a cuneiform DVD. This records the very moment when Yahweh conferred the imago Dei on a hominid by process of ensoulment. 

After a private viewing, Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama, Darrel Falk, and the Archbishop of Canterbury hailed their discovery as the long-sought reconciliation of science and religion. 

[skip ad]

Monday, April 13, 2015

Lecture on miracles at Asbury

The incredible shrinking papacy

I'm struck by what a small religious and media phenomenon Francis is compared to JP2. I was 19 when JP2 became pope, so I lived through his entire. pontificate. Saw all the coverage as an adult. He was a rock star. Drew vast crowds. Even when he became incapacitated, there were huge Catholic youth gatherings for Masses he celebrated. He was a major player on the international stage. 

Even though Francis has people skills that Benedict lacked, it's striking to see how small the papacy has become in contrast to JP2, in terms of popular excitement which JP2 generated. It's a very shrunken institution in the pop culture as well as Catholic circles these days. And that's just from two popes ago. It's a very diminished institution. (Actually, the bottom began falling out in the late 60s.) 

Make Worshiping God With Your Mind A Higher Priority

"As a result, however, I get to see how many of my Christian brothers and sisters are interested in the evidence supporting their faith. I must tell you, the interest in Christian case making is thin, at best. In a typical church, about ten percent of the congregation is usually concerned enough about 'apologetics' to attend a training session or conference. My fellow speakers and traveling case makers report the same interest wherever they go, and if you are among the few Christians who are actively studying or making the case, you know what I am talking about first-hand. Why are so few Christians willing to be Christian case makers?...if you want to be prepared to defend the truth, you’ll need to work hard and do whatever it takes to succeed. This may sound daunting, but I’m not asking you to do something you don’t already do. I bet there’s some aspect of your life where you are willing to invest time and energy for a much less important cause. How many hours a week do you spend catching up on our favorite television dramas? How much time do you spend watching sports, or reading about your favorite hobby? Few of us are so busy we have absolutely no time to spend studying what we believe about God. It’s really all a matter of priorities. Most of us are willing to spend time on the things that interest us most. Are our metaphysical beliefs about the existence of God important enough for us to invest the time necessary to become successful case makers?... If Christianity is an accurate description of reality, it ought to inspire us to commit our time and effort. It ought to cause us to do whatever necessary to become the best Christian case makers possible. The reason why few of us are willing to become case makers is simply because case making requires work. Hard work. But it’s worth it, because this kind of work is actually a form of worship. When we dedicate ourselves to understanding and defending what we believe, we are worshiping God with our minds." (J. Warner Wallace)

Paul Moser

On Facebook I got into an impromptu debate with Paul Moser, philosophy prof. at Loyola U.

Paul K Moser I had hoped that the Dover decision would change the landscape, but no such luck.

Paul K Moser I doubt that the apostle Paul would offer himself as a divinely inspired historian of the earliest human times. He even makes a historical mistake in 1 Cor. 1:14 (part of the Bible) and then tries to correct it.

Paul K Moser Wrong, and it isn't about 'gut feeling' for me. Where's the evidence or even the claim that 'Paul got *the* story of redemptive history wrong'? It isn't a matter of all-or-nothing here as the fundamentalists and fundaevangelicals suggest. Those crowds want a pristine book (aka sledgehammer) that God has not given us. We need candor here, not fear that distorts.

Paul K Moser John, Suppose one says that the author(s) of Gen. 1-3 made some mistakes, in the areas you suggest. Why would that be the end of the world? We don't have to subject our theology to what we perceive to be mistakes; nor do we have to ask science to conform to those mistakes. What am I missing? NOMA still seems alive in this case.

Steve Hays Why assume Paul made a mistake in 1 Cor 1:14. Why not view that as a rhetorical device: an underestimate to minimize the significance of baptism, in relation to those (with whom Paul is shadowboxing) who overestimate it's importance? An understatement would fit Paul's rhetorical strategy at this stage of the argument.

Steve Hays Moser fails to appreciate the status of Christianity as a revealed religion. It's about a God who speaks as well as acts. A God who speaks to and through people.

Steve Hays I'm curious as to why a philosopher (Moser) thinks a judicial ruling (the Dover decision), ghostwritten by the ACLU, should "change the landscape" of a scientific, philosophical, and theological debate. Does he think judges should also adjudicate the divine hiddenness argument?

Paul K Moser Well, for starters, Kenneth Miller and other expert witnesses destroyed the case of the Discovery Institute.

Steve Hays Of course, that's a one-sided analysis. The claim is easily reversible:

Paul K Moser As for 1 Cor. 1:14, we really don't have to stand on our heads when interpreting Paul. He isn't playing rhetorical games here, despite the demands of some far-fetched theories, such as inerrancy.

Steve Hays 

i) I'm struck by your tactic of attempting to preemptively discredit criticism by dismissing it in advance as the work of "fundamentalists" protecting inerrancy. For a philosophy prof., you resort to anti-intellectual gimmicks and tactics. That sets a poor example for your students. 

ii) If you imagine that ancient letter writers composing public epistles didn't employ rhetorical devices like understatement, I wonder if how much you've bothered to study the genre, if at all. 

iii) Actually, Richard B. Hays offers the very interpretation I'm proposing. He's not a "fundamentalist" or "fundaevanagelical." 

"The 'afterthought' of v. 16 functions rhetorically to emphasize the relative triviality of the issue of who baptized whom: 'Well, all right, so I did baptize the household of Stephanas, but beyond that I don't even know whether I baptized anyone else!'…Perhaps this is merely an elaborate rhetorical flourish on Paul's part, a reductio ad absurdum of the Corinthians' tendency to magnify the messengers and miss the message." 1 Corinthians (WJK, 2011), 23-24.

Paul K Moser Yes, inerrancy is an ideological fiction of fundamentalists and fundaevangelicals -- no doubt about it. It doesn't take much study to see this. Paul included a false statement in the letter that became part of the Bible, in 1 Cor. 1:14. There's no reason to think that he started with the intention to include a false statement -- none whatever. You don't need to go ad hominem here; just focus on evidence to prop up your dubious theory of inerrancy. Good luck.

i) It's ironic that you accuse me of going "ad hominem" when your own responses are littered with ad hominem dismissals. You resort to prejudicial labels. Don't you think a philosophy prof. should cultivate a capacity for self-criticism? Isn't that a professional as well as personal responsibility? 

Likewise, taking philosophical shortcuts like prejudicial labeling is not an intellectual virtue. 

ii) Once again, R. B. Hays is not a "fundamentalist" or inerrantist. You've become wedded to a tendentious narrative which you impose on the discussion in spite of the facts. It's not commendable for a philosophy prof. to take intellectual shortcuts and retreat into an unfalsifiable characterization of the opposing side. 

iii) To say an understatement is a "false statement" is a philosophically and literarily crude mischaracterization of a rhetorical device. It's especially ironic when you attack the "literal" interpretation of Genesis. 

What makes you think it wouldn't fit with Paul's rhetorical strategy to use irony and indirection to critique the Corinthians? Raymond Collins, who's certainly no "fundaevangelical" inerrantist, discusses Paul's use of Classical rhetoric in chapter 1 (and 1 Cor generally), and says his omission of Stephanas in v14 may have been "disingenuous." Sacra Pagina: First Corinthians, 75-76,84. 

Paul K Moser Why do I have so little patience with your self-serving epicycles? Your bad ideology of inerrancy turns many people away from Christian faith, and even faith in God. I have seen this firsthand among educated people.

i) Because intellectual patience is an intellectual virtue and philosophical prerequisite. Flinging angry epithets around is the way village atheists behave. 

ii) Is it your position that verbal revelation is not a fixture of the Judeo-Christian faith? 

iii) What's wrong with people turning away from something they no longer believe in? If the Christian faith must stand for certain things, and some people cease to believe in what it represents, should they not opt out? 

Isn't that necessarily a part of taking the Christian faith seriously? The intellectual integrity of the Christian faith depends, among other things, on being inconsistent with contrary beliefs. 

Put another way, what about the danger of living in a fool's paradise? If you just keep modifying "Christian faith" to make it amendable to your unquestionable prejudices, didn't you already leave it far behind in principle? If it's not worth losing, it's not worth having.

Paul K Moser Oh please, now you're going to resort to moral scolding? Have a good day. I'm done here.