Saturday, August 15, 2015

Angelic A.I.

AI is a popular theme in SF film and literature. Whether AI is a realistic possibility is hotly contested. Ironically, many secular philosophers of mind don't think it's possible, even in principle, for a physical system to think. 

But for the sake of argument, let's grant that possibility. It can involve computers, robots, androids, or virtual characters. Let's consider the virtual character angle.

A virtual character may be sentient from the outset, or it may evolve sentient. And its sentience may be intended or unintended.

There are degrees of AI. At one level you have unintelligent characters. They can mimic reason. They can answer questions. But they don't understand what they are saying. They have no viewpoint. They are just repeating back what they were programmed to say.

These are like animals. Stimulus-response organisms. 

At a higher level are characters that are self-aware. They are cognizant of their surroundings. Cognizant of fellow characters. They have the detachment to objectify their situation. They have the capacity to think to themselves what it's like to exist, or to be in that situation. They can make plans. Feel emotion. They have a first-person viewpoint. 

At an even higher level are characters who become conscious of the fact that they are virtual characters–albeit sentient. 

In principle, this could be evolutionary. The programmer might design characters to cross the threshold from unintelligent to intelligent, then conscious of their virtual existence. 

They might find out that their world is a simulation because it's incomplete in some respects. Suppose their world is a replica of a modern period in world history. Supercomputers have vast information on that period, which enables them to construct a fairly detailed simulation of the period. Still, there are many gaps in the data-base. 

Keep in mind that unlike you and me, the virtual characters have no standard of comparison. Even so, they may figure out that something is amiss. 

In theological terms, the intelligent characters that are aware of their virtual existence are analogous to the regenerate or Christians, while the characters that are unaware of their virtual existence are analogous to the unregenerate or atheists.

Likewise, the program might contain telltale signs that it's a simulation, not because that's a computer glitch, but because the programmer intended some of his characters to discover his existence. So he scattered clues in the program. 

The realization that they are virtual characters would be both awesome and humbling for some characters. The knowledge that there's a greater reality over and above their simulated world. That they have a personal Creator. 

But for other characters, the discovery that they are just virtual characters–albeit sentient–might drive them insane. Indeed, criminally insane.

I'm reminded of Ted Kaczynski, the wunderkind and gifted mathematician, who not only went mad, but tried to destroy the "system." 

Perhaps Lucifer is like a virtual character who descended into madness after finding out his true identity, then turned against his Creator and creation. 

Finally, I think the notion of virtual characters who become aware of their nature is psychologically like the way people react to predestination. If you think about predestination, you may do a double take. It's like playing a chess game or poker game in which the player knows in advance that every play or move was determined in advance. If you think about it, it makes you acutely self-conscious, almost as if you could step outside of yourself and watch yourself.

For some people, that's heady. For other people, that's claustrophobic. An open theist once told a friend of mine that it gave him 'chills' to think of God knowing Beethoven's 9th Symphony ahead of time from eternity. God mentally composed the symphony before Beethoven did. 

Disproving Carrier's Proving History

Richard Carrier presumes to use Bayesian probability theory to disprove Bible history. One problem is that he's a dilettante. Both Tim and Lydia McGrew have documented what a hack he is–and they were just scratching the surface. But because he's shameless, and he has a sycophantic following, he keeps right on doing it. 

When he first got into this, he made so many mistakes that he had to revise the little treatise he put online. It's just a way to make himself look fancy. I have it on good authority that he has someone who has served as technical backup for him and helped him to catch and correct some of his more egregious blunders.

For those of you who wish to get into the weeds, here's a technical critique of his book Proving History:

And here's a follow-up, in which Hendrix responds to Carrier at length:

The left v. the poor

Affirmative consent

32 Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.” 33 So they made their father drink wine that night. And the firstborn went in and lay with her father. He did not know when she lay down or when she arose.

34 The next day, the firstborn said to the younger, “Behold, I lay last night with my father. Let us make him drink wine tonight also. Then you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.” 35 So they made their father drink wine that night also. And the younger arose and lay with him, and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose. (Gen 19:32-35). 

This passage is striking in light of "affirmative consent" policies on some college campuses. Here two women roofie a man. That's a case of women raping a man (specifically a case of incest). They get him drunk to incapacitate him in order to sexually assault him. 

Somehow I doubt this will become the locus classicus of feminist theology.  

Second language

In her commentary on 1 Peter, Karen Jobes offered an original and astute defense of Petrine authorship against the common charge that its Greek is too refined for a Palestinian Jewish fisherman. 

I recently ran across two examples that are analogous to her argument. There's a Chinese Christian blogger who's currently a student at an American seminary. 

Normally he writes in a very educated English style. As a rule, his English style is more complex and erudite than many native English speakers. 

I chalk that up to the fact that his English is heavily influenced by the kind of reading he does. Reading English-speaking theologians and Bible scholars. Academic prose. 

Recently, however, I read two essays by him that contained a number of grammatical errors. That made me suspect that maybe his command of English is not as good as I supposed. Perhaps his usual routine is to write a draft, then have someone smooth out the grammatical infelicities. But on this occasion, for whatever reason, he didn't have that assistance. 

In a related example, I was reading a Bayesian probability theorist (Tim Hendrix) commenting on atheist Richard Carrier. English is not Hendrix's native language. On the one hand, his comments contained some very technical vocabulary. On the other hand, they contained conspicuous grammatical errors (usually involving number agreement). 

In both cases we have writers for whom English is a second language. Their vocabulary is more sophisticated than many native English speakers. Yet they commit syntactical blunders that a native English speaker would not. 

The law of superposition

The law of superposition poses a prima facie challenge to young-earth creationism. Here are two definitions:

His [Steno's] principle of superposition of strata states that in a sequence of strata, as originally laid down, any stratum is younger than the one on which it rests and older than the one that rests upon it.
Within a sequence of layers of sedimentary rock, the oldest layer is at the base and that the layers are progressively younger with ascending order in the sequence. This is termed the law of superposition and is one of the great general principles of geology.

All things being equal, the law of superposition is a reasonable, commonsense principle. It is, however, easy to come up with examples in which that principle can literally be turned upside down. 

For instance, suppose I dig a grave. After I'm finished, I have a pile of dirt. Because I was digging down, the layers are now in reverse order. What was originally the bottom-most layer is now the top-most layer. Each layer is now older than the one on which it rests and younger than the one that rests upon it. The layers are progressively younger in descending order. 

Archeology frequently excavates mounds. But what was the order in which layers were heaped on other layers? Does it represent layers of progressive occupation? Or is this the result of digging into the ground to reuse old materials? 

Let's harmonize Genesis with a fake universe

BioLogos has a stable of scientists to defend deistic evolution, viz. Denis Alexander, Louis Ard, Francisco Ayala, Stephen Barr, Sean Carroll, Francis Collins, Darrel Falk, Karl Giberson, Denis Lamoureux, Clarence Menninga, John Polkinghorne, Dennis Venema.

Likewise, it has a stable of Bible scholars to reinterpret the Bible, or simply nix the authority of Scripture, to accommodate the scientific establishment, viz. Peter Enns, Kirk Daniel, Charles Halton, Tremper Longman, Scott McKnight, Kenton Sparks, John Walton, N. T. Wright.

They consider it essential to the survival and credibility of the Christian faith for theology to adapt to mainstream science. 

But when they labor to harmonize Gen 1-9 or Rom 5 with the hard scientific evidence, with the "real world," what's the frame of reference? Consider the following?

I began bemused. The notion that humanity might be living in an artificial reality — a simulated universe — seemed sophomoric, at best science fiction.  
But speaking with scientists and philosophers on "Closer to Truth," I realized that the notion that everything humans see and know is a gigantic computer game of sorts, the creation of supersmart hackers existing somewhere else, is not a joke. 
I asked Marvin Minsky, a legendary founder of artificial intelligence, to distinguish among three kinds of simulations: (i) brains in vats, (ii) universal simulation as pure software and (iii) universal simulation as real physical stuff. 
"It would be very hard to distinguish among those," Minsky said, "unless the programmer has made some slips — if you notice that some laws of physics aren't quite right, if you find rounding-off errors, you might sense some of the grain of the computer showing through." 
If that were the case, he says, it would mean that the universe is easier to understand than scientists had imagined, and that they might even find ways to change it.  
The thought that this level of reality might not be ultimate reality can be unsettling, but not to Minsky: "Wouldn't it be nice to know that we are part of a larger reality?" [Incredible Technology: How Future Space Missions May Hunt for Alien Planets ] 
For a reality check, I visited Martin Rees, U.K. Astronomer Royal, a bold visionary and hard-nosed realist. "Well, it's a bit flaky, but a fascinating idea," he said. "The real question is what are the limits of computing powers." 
Astronomers are already doing simulations of parts of universes. "We can't do experiments on stars and galaxies," Rees explained, "but we can have a virtual universe in our computer, and calculate what happens if you crash galaxies together, evolve stars, etc. So, because we can simulate some cosmic features in a gross sense, we have to ask, 'As computers become vastly more powerful, what more could we simulate?' 
"It's not crazy to believe that some time in the far future," he said, "there could be computers which could simulate a fairly large fraction of a world."

What if they are harmonizing the Bible with a cosmic computer simulation? 

Consider, too, how this theory cuts the ground right out from under historical geology or evolutionary biology. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that genetics and paleontology do indeed point to the evolution of man from microbes. Ah, but that's virtual evidence. The Grand Canyon is Virtual Reality. The population bottleneck is Virtual Reality. And so on and so forth. 

They scoff at mature creation, yet entertain a cosmic computer simulation as a realistic possibility. It's incredible that God would make the world "mature," but a serious scientific conjecture that an advanced alien civilization might simulate earth. 

I don't think it's true. I'm just responding to them on their own ground. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Is Gen 1 merely functional?

John Walton has various strategies to dissolve the conflict between Gen 1 and the scientific establishment. Indeed, he position suffers from overkill. On the one hand, he says God accommodated erroneous depictions of the world. On the other hand, he drives a wedge between functional and material origins. If Gen 1 is merely about functionality rather than materiality, then it can't conflict with mainstream science. If, however, God accommodates error, then why bother with the functional/material dichotomy? 

Be that as it may, let's consider that dichotomy on its own terms. Were ancient worshippers really concerned with the functional value of shrines rather than the material value of shrines?

Fact is, it takes very little to discharge the functional value of a shrine. Consider numerous references to impromptu shrines in the OT, many forbidden, Take the Asherah pole. That's pretty modest. Or a particular tree under which to perform human sacrifice. 

For that matter, compare the tabernacle to the temple. They were functionally equivalent. If functionality is the ultimate consideration, why the lavish outlay for the Solomonic temple? 

Moreover, pagan civilizations build physically imposing shrines. Take Mesopotamian ziggurats and Mesoamerican pyramids. Or sprawling Egyptian temples–with their forest of columns. Take the Parthenon. The Temple of Artemis. The Pantheon. Vast Hindu and Buddhist temples. 

These are designed to impress the viewer. A statement of wealth and power. If anything, functionality takes a backseat to materiality. 

Racial Targeting and Population Control

Liberals routinely whine about "racial profiling," viz. people who fit the profile of likely terrorists (young single Muslim men). However, they turn a blind eye to real racial profiling:

Lost in Genesis

In some respects, Averbeck is sympathetic to Walton. And in a way, that makes his key disagreements all the more striking:

Did God Really Command Genocide? Coming to Terms with the Justice of God

‘Dreams and Visions’

Living in the last days

One stock objection to the inerrancy of Scripture is the claim that Bible writers thought the world would end soon. I've addressed specific passages. But I'd like to address a general source of confusion.

Scripture often refers to the "last days" or "latter days." Christians are said to be living in the "last days." Taken out of context, that might suggest they taught the end of the world was just around the corner.

The "latter days" stands in implicit contrast to the "former days." Roughly speaking, the "former days" denotes the epoch between creation and the Messianic age, while the "latter days" (or last days) denotes the inter-adventual age. 

The "last days" represents the final stage of redemptive history. There's nothing beyond that vis-a-vis redemptive history. This is where it ends. What lies beyond that is the palingenesis. Something very different. 

It's like going on a journey, where you must change roads from time to time–from one highway or interstate to another. But you get to the point where you make your final turn. That's the last road. The final leg of the journey. 

But to say we're in the final stage of redemptive history doesn't indicate how long that will be. It's not a statement of duration, but an epochal contrast between what came before (the former days) and what comes after (the consummation).

To take a comparison, suppose you were living in the former days. Suppose a prophet told you that you were living in the former days. That, by itself, would give you no hint as to the duration of that period. Even on a young-earth-creationist timeframe, that was at least 4000 years in duration, and on an old-earth-creationist duration, far longer.

In addition, even if the end of the journey may still be far away for the church, it is close by for every Christian–given our mortality. 

Donald Trump Is Planned Parenthood’s Favorite Republican

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Jesus Was a Giant Killer

So long as you can mentally screen out his Nephilim hobbyhorse, there's some good material here on the Angel of the Lord as an OT Christophany:

The deity of Christ in Hebrews 1

To oversimplify, we might say that in Heb 1, the author makes his case for the deity of Christ while in Heb 2 he makes his case for the humanity of Christ. Although few doctrines have wider and deeper Biblical attestation than the deity of Christ, no chapter of Scripture has such a concentrated argument for his deity. The author deploys a wide range of literary strategies to prove the deity of Christ.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…

What makes Jesus the culmination of that historical process? What makes him so special? If he's just another creature, that would be an arbitrary culmination. What makes it different in the case of Jesus is that he's different in kind. Not just more of the same. 

whom he appointed the heir of all things…

In Heb 1, there's an interplay between the divine sonship of Christ and the Davidic sonship of Christ. Jesus is heir to the Davidic kingship. But he's so much more than that. Ultimately, he's heir to the Father's kingship. In principle, a human could be David's heir, but only a divinity could be the Father's heir. 

To some extent, this trades on an anthropomorphic narrative: the transition of power from an aging monarch to his successor. In human affairs, this can take different forms.

The king may have a son who's the heir apparent. In theory, he will ascend the throne upon his father's death (cf. Heb 9:16-17). 

However, that's not a sure thing. As the king weakens with age, he becomes vulnerable, both to palace coups from within and deposition from without–by invaders who conquer his realm.

To secure transition to the rightful heir, a king will sometimes appoint his son to be coregent or abdicate the throne in favor of his son. That way, when he still has power, he can ensure the succession.

Heb 1 plays on the second scenario. The scepter passes from the Father to the Son. 

Although this is somewhat anthropomorphic, it has a corresponding reality. The divine messiah does become the cosmic ruler.

But one might ask, if the Son is truly divine, then in what sense was he ever waiting in the wings? Although the Son was always royalty, the Son Incarnate wasn't always royalty. Although the Son qua Son cannot be promoted, since he begins at the top, the Son qua Incarnate can be promoted.

through whom also he created the world.

The Son is the agent of creation. That's a distinctive divine prerogative. And that sets him apart from the creation. The Creator of the world is not a creature. And the Son stands to inherit what he himself made in the first place. 

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature

Here we have three interrelated images:

i) The "glory of God" alludes to the Shekinah in the wilderness. A manifestation of God's holy presence. 

ii) "the exact imprint of his nature" connotes exact resemblance and representation. A figurative facsimile that's indistinguishable from the original. 

It doesn't describe a process or product. Rather, it's the effect of a metaphorical process. The Son is identical to the Father. That can't be said of mere creatures.

iii) Apaugasma is a double entendre. It can either mean "radiance" or "reflection." The author probably trades on both senses to make it a linking image connecting the two other images. In common with the Shekinah, it shares the "radiant" connotation. In common with the "exact imprint," it shares the representational connotation (i.e. mirror image). 

and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.

Not only is the Son the agent of creation, but providence. The emphasis on his "powerful word" hearkens back to the creative word if God in Gen 1. 

You are my Son,    today I have begotten you

That's from a coronation Psalm, using an adoptive metaphor to symbolize the enthronement ceremony. 

And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says

That uses primogeniture as a figurative honorific title to designate the Son's preeminent rank in the celestial hierarchy. 

Let all God's angels worship him

The angels do obeisance to the Son because he is the new king. They function as royal courtiers in the divine throne room. It's the same principle as Isa 6 and Dan 7. 

Angels are the highest creatures. For angels to worship the Son implies the divinity of the Son. He is above the angels, just as the Father is above the angels. He is on the divine side of the creature/Creator divide.

But of the Son he says,“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,    the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.

Here the Father directly addressed the Son as "God."

This is originally from a wedding Psalm for the Davidic king, but in typological escalation, the application of the divine title to Jesus is taken literally. 

10 And,“You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning,    and the heavens are the work of your hands;11 they will perish, but you remain;    they will all wear out like a garment,12 like a robe you will roll them up,    like a garment they will be changed.But you are the same,    and your years will have no end.”

This depicts the Son as the Creator God, without beginning or ending. Unoriginate and everlasting. 

For further reading:

Luke T. Johnson, Hebrews: A Commentary (WJK 2006)
Craig Koester, Hebrews (Doubleday 2001)

Peter T. O'Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews (Eerdmans 2010)

J. Ramsey Michaels, Hebrews (Tyndale 2009)

Thomas Schreiner, Commentary On Hebrews (B&H 2015)

Richard Bauckham, “The Divinity of Jesus Christ in the Epistle to the Hebrews,” in Richard Bauckham, Daniel R. Driver, Trevor A. Hart and Nathan MacDonald eds., The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009) 15-36.

BW3 on marriage

 There is an irreducible biological or gender component to being a man or a woman.
One does not get to choose one’s biology, one’s XY chromosomes. The creation story in Gen. 1-2 makes perfectly clear that the only ‘suitable companion’ for the man was a woman, and this is because God created us male and female in his image. Only so could we perpetuate the human race. Only so could we be mini-creators of more human beings, so mirroring one aspect of God the Creator.
At the end of the day either we realize that gender matters, and gender difference is essential to a real Christian marriage, or we totally change the definition of what counts as marriage, what counts as husband and wife, what counts as mother and father Biblically speaking. 
I agree with Ben on the merits. However, that's a problematic argument coming from a Wesleyan Arminian. Since "one doesn't get to choose one's biology, one's chromosomes," isn't it unfair, according to stock Arminian ethics, to discriminate against LGBT people?

Don't be a Trump chump

I'll make some general observations about how I evaluate presidential candidates, as well as some specific observations about Trump.

i) Credibility

Does a candidate mean what he says? If a candidate says all the right things, but only says it to get elected, then you can discount whatever he says. It may check all the right boxes, but if he lacks credibility, what he says is worthless. 

Many voters are rightly cynical of candidates because they have a habit of breaking campaign promises. However, we can draw reasonable distinctions:

a) Has the candidate taken consistent positions over the years? Or did he used to take more liberal positions, but suddenly moved to the right now that he's running for president? Does the "evolution" of his views coincide with the timing of his presidential bid?

b) When he's been in a position to act on his stated policies, has he done, or tried to do, what he said he'd do?

ii) Reading between the lines

If elected, I'm unsure how many campaign promises a candidate like Rubio or Walker will keep or try to keep. There's an element of uncertainty regarding their sincerity. 

However, I'm quite sure that anyone Democrat candidate for president will be worse. There's no certain about where they stand on the major issues. 

So we're comparing the uncertainty of how good or not so good the GOP candidate will be with the certainty that the Democrat will be very bad. On the one hand, there's better or worse. And the other hand, there's bad or worse. 

That should be an easy choice to make. You're comparing certainties to uncertainties. If you can be sure the Democrat will be bad or worse, and you're unsure about the Republican, the choice ought to be clear.

iii) Ironically, even though nearly everything Hillary says is a lie, there's not much ambiguity about the direction in which she'd take the country. That's because you can reveal your position by trying to conceal your position. If you feel the need to hide what you really believe, and what you really intend to do, and if it's obvious that you are prevaricating, then that points to your real agenda. 

iv) It isn't entirely clear to me why some conservatives are supporting Trump. Perhaps that's because it isn't very clear to them either. From what I can tell, they are supporting Trump for one or two reasons: 

a) They think he'd make a better president than either a Republican candidate or the Democrat candidate. Apparently, they think that because of what he currently says. 

If that's the reason, that's terribly gullible. There's no evidence that Trump cares about anyone besides himself. He's lived a life of wanton self-indulgence. His default political views mirror the social mores of the NYC cultural elite to which he belongs. He's a card-carrying member of the liberal establishment. 

Currently, he's running agains the Establishment. To take that seriously is to be duped by his histrionics. Trump is a shameless opportunist. Don't confuse acting with conviction.

In fact, support for Trump is contradictory. On the one hand they say they support him because the GOP is so corrupt and compromised. On the other hand, Trump is running as a…Republican! But, then, doesn't that mean he's just as corrupt and compromised as the party whose nomination he seeks? 

b) They don't care if he'd make a good president or bad president. They don't care if a Democrat wins. 

For them, the real enemy is the GOP. That must be destroyed by any means necessary, whatever the cost. 

One problem is what happens in the meantime. Suppose Hillary wins. That's the likely outcome.

She will get to nominate replacements on the Supreme Court for the next 4-8 years. She will get to nominate replacements on the Federal bench for the next 4-8. 

The Obama administration already weaponized the Federal bureaucracies against conservatives and libertarians. No one has been prosecuted because Democrats control the DOJ. A Hillary presidency will solidify and escalate that totalitarian policy.   

What will be the state of the nation after 12-16 years of Democrat presidential rule has consolidated the judiciary and Federal bureaucracies to trample dissent?  

v) Suppose Trump either wins the GOP nomination or runs as a third-party candidate. There are two possible outcomes: (a) either Trump will win (b) or the Democrat will win. Both outcomes are worst-case scenarios.

Trump is a stealth Democrat. He will revert to his liberal establishment positions. And Hillary will be a vengeful, oppressive despot. 

How is there a happy ending to that story? 

Is Trump a stealth liberal?

Reasoning With Trump Supporters

When you do it, try to address the larger underlying problems, not just the problems with Trump. Otherwise, there's a good chance they'll just move over to some other bad candidate, like Ben Carson.

A lot of Republicans have too low a view of the Republican leadership and too high a view of the American people, for example. They don't know much about electability. They think voters are more conservative than they actually are, and they underestimate how much physical appearance, communication skills, reputation, and other such factors determine how people vote. Something that needs to be emphasized is that we don't vote alone. We vote with other people, and those other people limit our options. At this stage in history, the corruption of the American people limits our options much more than some Republicans realize or want to admit.

Deadly environmentalism

According to Arminian scholar Ben Witherington:

BenW3 My problem with this whole sort of maybe approach to climate change, is that if there is even just a very good chance it is happening, we ought to be scrambling to do all we can, with the things we can control, like air pollution from burning fossil fuels, to slow down the process. I'm tired of the stalling and lies by the coal and oil industries on this front. Bw3

Because global warming alarmists never lie (e.g. Climategate).

And what about all the poor Third-World residents who die as a consequence of First-World environmentalists? 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Is the Incarnation possible?

The Trinity and the Incarnation are two central Christian doctrines. Moreover, these are interrelated. One particular member of the Trinity becomes Incarnate.

Unitarians attack both doctrines. There are different kinds of unitarians. Muslims and Jews. They attack these Christian doctrines from a different religious framework. You also have heretics who present unitarianism as the true Christian position. And you have religious pluralists like John Hick who attack the Incarnation because it's "intolerant." 

The Incarnation, if true, is a contingent truth. It happened by the will of God. In principle, God might have refrained from willing the Incarnation.

The Trinity, if true, is a necessary truth. It figures in the essential nature of God. 

At least, that's the case if you regard God as a necessary being–or espouse classical theism. If, on the other hand, you espouse process theology, then the question of whether God has an essential nature is disputable. 

Christianity is a historical religion. By that I mean, it's an actual religion, practiced by billions of adherents past and present. It's not a thought-experiment or philosophical idea, like monadology or the brain-in-the-vat. 

As such, if you (the unitarian) see fit to attack the Incarnation or the Trinity, then it seems natural to attack the specifically Christian versions. There are different approaches. Jews and Muslims contend that the NT is false. Heretics content that the NT has been misinterpreted. 

However, unitarians often raises supposedly logical or  metaphysical objections to the Incarnation and the Trinity. But in that event, are their objections to the Christian doctrines in particular, or to the possibility of an Incarnation, and the possibility of the Trinity?

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that unitarianism is true. That rules out the Incarnation of the Son, inasmuch as that requires a Trinitarian presupposition. That, however, doesn't ipso facto rule out the possibility of a divine Incarnation. Even if you deny that God is Trinitarian, it doesn't follow that the Incarnation of God is impossible. Even if you deny the reality of a divine Incarnation, it doesn't follow that the very idea of a divine Incarnation is logically or metaphysically impossible.   

To contend that a divine Incarnation is not even possible is a very philosophically demanding claim. Yet unless unitarians can show that an Incarnation is impossible in general or in principle, they can't show that it's impossible in particular (i.e. Christology). 

If they were intellectually honest, they'd recast the debate. Rather than beginning with the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation as their target, they'd try to prove that a divine Incarnation, even in the abstract, is essentially incoherent. But that's a tall order. It turns on different models of a divine incarnation. 

What about the Trinity? Suppose we didn't know that much about what God was like. What if we were left to speculate, not knowing one way or the other. Are unitarians entitled to claim, a priori, that God could not be Trinitarian? Unitarians like Dale Tuggy invoke " the law of identity." Here are some examples of the law:

The Identity of Indiscernibles (hereafter called the Principle) is usually formulated as follows: if, for every property F, object x has F if and only if object y has F, then x is identical to y. 
The Indiscernibility of Identicals (Roughly, if a = b, then whatever is true of a is true of b, and vice versa.) 
The principle of the identity of indiscernibles, which states that any entities which are indiscernible with respect to their properties are identical. Leibniz is fond of using leaves as an example. Two leaves often look absolutely identical. But, Leibniz argues, if "two" things are alike in every respect, then they are the same object, and not two things at all. So, it must be the case that no two leaves are ever exactly alike.

Problem is, most philosophers think personal identity is consistent with diachronic identity and/or counterfactual identity. But they didn't get that from applying the "law of identity" to diachronic identity or counterfactual identity. Rather, they make allowance for diachronic identity and counterfactual identity despite the "law of identity." For instance:

There may seem to be an obvious objection to the employment of transworld identity to interpret or paraphrase statements such as ‘Bertrand Russell might have been a playwright’. A fundamental principle about (numerical) identity is Leibniz's Law: the principle that if A is identical with B, then any property of A is a property of B, and vice versa. In other words, according to Leibniz's Law, identity requires the sharing of all properties; thus any difference between the properties of A and B is sufficient to show that A and B are numerically distinct. (The principle here referred to as ‘Leibniz's Law’ is also known as the Indiscernibility of Identicals. It must be distinguished from another (more controversial) Leibnizian principle, the Identity of Indiscernibles, which says that if A and B share all their properties then A is identical with B.) However, the whole point of asserting a transworld identity is to represent the fact that an individual could have had somewhat different properties from its actual properties. Yet does not (for example) the claim that a philosopher in the actual world is identical with a non-philosopher in some other possible world conflict with Leibniz's Law? 
It is generally agreed that this objection can be answered, and the appearance of conflict with Leibniz's Law eliminated. We can note that the objection, if sound, would apparently prove too much, since a parallel objection would imply that there can be no such thing as genuine (numerical) identity through change of properties over time. But it is generally accepted that no correct interpretation of Leibniz's Law should rule this out.

Two problems:

i) To say it "proves too much" because that would apply perforce to diachronic identity begs the question.

ii) Likewise, to say it "proves too much" doesn't entail that the interpretation of the law is wrong. The law itself may be too stringent. 

The law of identity, as commonly formulated (see above) doesn't have any give. It doesn't permit change or identity across possible worlds. To make allowance for diachronic identity or transworld identity is to reduce "identity" to a matter of degree. 

This is a case of conflicting intuitions. On the one hand, there's an intuition about numerical identity. On the other hand, there's an intuition about personal identity. Since these are in tension, philosophers propose ad hoc modifications of the "law of identity" to make room for common sense exceptions. Sometimes the tradeoff is made explicit. For instance:

Endurantism seems able to accommodate our prephilosophical belief that Henry persists through the change only at the expense of rejecting the Indiscernibility of Identicals. M. Loux, Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction (Routledge, 3rd ed. 2006), 244. 

Now, I don't object to the common sense exceptions. But if you must weaken or relax the "law of identity," then there's a problem with how numerical identity is formulated in the first place. If you can only accommodate personal identity in spite of how the law is formulated, then that needs to be revised. They didn't begin with the law of identity, then use that as a criterion to determine the nature of personal identity. Rather, they begin with their experience of personal identity, including their hypothetical deliberations, and adjust the law of identity accordingly, as necessary, to conform to experience or common sense. But the whole point of having a law of identity is to distinguish identity from nonidentity. If, however, identity is consistent with difference, then what demarcates identity from nonidentity? 

Is it a particular kind (or kinds) of difference that's incompatible with identity? Perhaps. But that's not how the law of identity is formulated. And if it were reformulated to take that into account, it would be less rigorous. The point of a law is to make a general or preferably universal statement. Everything on one side is identity, everything on the other side is nonidentity.

Two For the Price of One: A Conservative President and an Extinct Republican Party!

If a republican (preferably a conservative) was smart and perceptive they would recognize that the third party is ripe for the picking. Now.

A perfect storm.

They would recognize that no one wants to vote for a Republican next election. Why should they? Voters gave Republicans a historic victory and what do they get in return? A Republican party that promotes the Democrats' agenda.

No one wants to vote for Democrats either. Why should they? Simple: Obama's eight years.

If a Republican wants to distinguish themselves from the pack of sixteen, they should declare third party. Soon.

It is irrelevant that third parties in the past have not done well. But the perfect-storm present conditions will challenge that status quo.

My favorite candidate is Bobby Jindal. I would like him to run third party. Trump will probably run third party but I want him to continue to ruffle the Republican party.

If a conservative runs third party, I believe we will get two for the price of one: a conservative president and an extinct Republican party.

Understanding and Evaluating the Appeal of Roman Catholicism - Leonardo de Chirico

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Say your daddy is rich. Say you're smart. What next?

Both Donald Trump and William F. Buckley came from privileged backgrounds. But while Trump used his advantages to promote self-aggrandizement, Buckley used his advantages to improve the world:

B. B. Warfield, Oswalt T. Allis, Gresham Machen, and John Frame all came from very affluent families. After using their hereditary wealth to get a first-class education, all of them devoted their lives to Christian service. 

The 3 Percenters

Donald Trump: man of the people!

Vote for Donald Trump. He's a man of the people. He's running against the Establishment. He will fight for you! He's not like those hoity-toity One Percenters. He loves all the little people in flyover country. He will put your interests first. 

Gay teens aren't so gay after all

I guess gay teens need constant reminders about what it means to be gay. Otherwise, they automatically revert to heterosexual behavior:

Cybernetic theology

How does God know the future–or does he? Some Christians might consider the question presumptuous. That's a mystery!

However, Isa 46:10-11 indicates that God knows the future by willing the future.

Conversely, freewill theism posits a condition (man's libertarian freedom) that poses an impediment to divine foreknowledge. And philosophical theologians of all stripes concede the dilemma. Some freewill theists labor to reconcile divine foreknowledge with libertarian freedom. But that shows they are acutely aware of the tension. 

1. To take an illustration, suppose we compare God to a cyberneticist. Suppose a cyberneticist creates 100 robots. Each one has different programming. The cyberneticist knows what each one will do if he activates it.

Likewise, he knows how they will interact with each other. Depending on which robots he activates, the results will be different. 

The unactivated robots are like possible worlds. And the cyberneticist is the source of all these alternate scenarios. 

That's analogous to Reformed theism. 

i) This has significant upsides. It clearly grounds divine foreknowledge and counterfactual knowledge. 

ii) It preserves the sovereignty of God, as the absolute Creator. 

iii) A potential downside is the complaint that determinism implicates God in evil while robbing man of moral responsibility. Of course, that's an ancient, perennial debate. If we stick with the robotic metaphor, that raises to the question of whether androids are personal moral agents. That's a popular topic in science fiction literature, going back to Asimov's  I, Robot. To insist that a robot can't be a person or moral agent simply begs the question. 

2. Contrast that with freewill theism. The cyberneticist dies. Years later, an investigator discovers his secret laboratory.

In Molinism and Arminianism, the investigator knows, by consulting the notes of the cyberneticist, what the robots will do, individually or in combination, if activated. 

However, he doesn't know it because he made them. He doesn't know it because he programmed the robots. He is not the source of what they will do, if activated. Rather, what they will do is the source of his foreknowledge or counterfactual knowledge.

i) A potential upside is that it seems to diminish the tension between divine agency and sin. However, it has many downsides:

ii) With respect to (i), there are roughly two aspects to the problem of evil: (a) How can God be blameless? (b) How can man be blameworthy? Even if this model explains how man can be blameworthy, it fails to exonerate God from complicity in evil. The outcome is still dependent on something God did. In that respect it's no improvement over the perceived problem of (1). 

iii) It fails to explain how God can know the future. Indeed, it seems to remove a necessary condition for divine foreknowledge. 

iv) In fact, it fails to explain how God can know all possibilities. He's not the source of these possibilities. On this view, what humans would do is a given. Autonomous possibilities. God must adapt to that framework.  

v) If human choices are ultimately uncaused, then how are we responsible for them? In what respect are they our choices if they are ultimately uncaused? If, on the other hand, they are ultimately caused, then isn't that deterministic?

vi) It reduces God to a Demiurge. There's a realm of abstract possibilities independent of God. Equally ultimate. God simply chooses which ones to switch on. 

3. In open theism, he doesn't even know for sure what they will do. Their programming is adaptive and stochastic. Once activated, it takes on a life of its own. The end-game is unpredictable from a distance. 

i) One upside is that denial of divine foreknowledge is more consistent with man's libertarian freedom–assuming man has libertarian freedom.

ii) A downside is that it makes God a mad scientist who activates robots to find out what they will do. 

A freewill theist might exclaim that by comparing God to a cyberneticist, I've just conceded that Calvinism reduces men to robots! But aside from the fact that that my illustration is metaphorical, I'm using variations on the same robotic metaphor for Calvinism and freewill theism alike. 

Mature Anger

We can be angry without sinning (Ephesians 4:26). The anger needs to be kept under control and be rightly directed.

One of the many problems with the current movement in support of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate is that it seems to be motivated largely by immature anger. I've given some examples in previous threads. What I want to focus on here is how misdirected the anger is.

Is Trump the Antichrist?

Short answer: no. I don't think Trump is the Antichrist. But I have a reason for raising the question, which I will get back to after a backgrounder. 

Prophecy teachers are always on the lookout for the Antichrist–and related events. Prophecy teachers write books and serve as keynote speakers at prophecy conferences. There's an insatiable appetite for this sort of thing.

Now, I don't necessarily say that as a criticism. The Bible contains a number of prophecies which remain outstanding: mainly centered on the return of Christ and related events. Christians should take an interest in future prophecies. We are exhorted in Scripture to be watchful. 

I think it's safe to say that John Walvoord was the most prominent prophecy teacher of his time. Among other things, he wrote Armageddon, Oil and the Middle East Crisis. That was first published in 1974. 16 years later, he published a revised edition. Then 17 years later, he published another revised edition, under a new title: Armageddon, Oil, and Terror.

Notice the pattern: He sticks to the same basic script, but changes names and dates to make it more contemporary. 

Yet what this means is that his original projections were wrong–repeatedly. That, however, doesn't cause him to go back to the drawing board. Instead, he just updates the plot. The actors change, but the play remains the same. Same characters, different names. 

Surely, though, that goes to a deeper problem which requires more than superficial revisions to rectify. Why did he keep missing the target? Because he entertained false expectations. Yet he doesn't question his expectations, which is why he repeats the same mistakes. 

Suppose the Antichrist is not what we expect him to be? Indeed, it would hardly be surprising if the Antichrist had a hidden agenda. If he concealed his true intentions. 

In other words, there might well be a difference between how the Antichrist presents himself in his rise to power, and what happens once he achieves power.

Due to false expectations, many Christians could be blindsided. The Antichrist didn't fit their profile. If they suppose the Antichrist will resemble a villain in a James Bond movie, they may be surprised. Ironically, this means some pious Christians could unwittingly be political supporters of the Antichrist in his rise to power.

Let's take a few comparisons. Consider Lutheran NT scholar Adolf Schlatter. He was theologically very conservative by German standards. And he was quite philosemitic by German standards. Nevertheless, his views on Nazism and the plight of German Jews are highly ambivalent. Cf. Anders Gerdmar, "Adolf Schlatter and Judaism," Roots of Theological Anti-Semitism: German Biblical Interpretation and the Jews, from Herder and Semler to Kittel and Bultmann (Brill Academic Pub, 2008).

In our own day, evangelicals like Craig Blomberg and Darrell Bock both voted for Obama. In principle, some Christian conservatives might unintentionally throw their support behind the Antichrist, in his ascendancy, because he's not what they anticipated. By the time they catch on, it's too late. 

Likewise, there might be prophecy teachers who support Donald Trump, even though he has the piety of a Borgia pope, because they think his candidacy is a bludgeon to the Republican establishment. In theory, they could be backing the Antichrist, but fail to recognize his true character and agenda, because they have a mistaken preconception of what the Antichrist will be like. 

Never underestimate the power of an orator. Hitler was a great orator. Many voters were swept away by Obama's oratory. And it's disturbing to see how Trump has cast a spell over some conservative voters and pundits through his oratorical posturing. For whatever reason, some people just don't know a showman when they see one. They allow themselves to be manipulated by a flimflammer. This can happen to good people who ought to know better. It's not the first time–and unfortunately, it won't be the last time.  

Monday, August 10, 2015


I've seen Trump supporters complain about the gotcha questions at the first GOP presidential debate. In addition, they've said Fox News does the bidding of the GOP establishment. I'll venture a few observations.

To begin with a few disclaimers: it's been quite a while since I watched Fox News. And I didn't watch the debate. I get my news and news analysis from the Internet. And I don't pick presidential candidates based on their debate performance. 

i) I have watched Bret Baier, Chris Wallace, and Megyn Kelly on occasion. 

There are two kinds of interviewers: those who are interested in what the guest has to say, who ask questions to draw him out, who ask questions the interviewer doesn't know the answers to, because they are genuinely curious to find out more about the guest–and interviewers who use the interview as a pretext to make themselves look smart rather than the guest, who only pose questions they think they already know the answer to. 

From the few times I've heard her, Kelly strikes me as the second kind of interviewer. She wants to impress the audience with her intelligence and command of the issues.

Generally speaking, I watch an interview to hear the guest, not the interviewer. However, that depends on the guest. 

ii) That said, when Trump supporters say this was a set-up, what do they imagine really happened behind the scenes?  Do they think Reince Priebus phoned Roger Ailes and ordered Ailes to tell the moderators to make Trump look bad? Really? Why would Ailes, Murdoch, or whoever the Fox management in question, accede to that demand? What do they get in return? Kickbacks? Is money wired from the RNC to one of Murdoch's Cayman accounts? What reason is there to think Fox News is in the pocket of the RNC or the Republican establishment? What's the quid pro quo? 

iii) I can think of many more plausible reasons why the moderators picked on Trump. 

a) To begin with, he is, or was, the frontrunner. The frontrunner always gets more scrutiny.

b) "News" is driven by ratings. Trump is good for ratings. Trying to get under his skin on national TV is good for ratings. 

c) Trump is not a likable man. He goes out of his way to be disagreeable. That makes him a magnet for hostile coverage. 

d) To call Trump a publicity hound is an understatement. He loves to be the center of attention. That's why he says provocative or outrageous things. And when you work so hard at making yourself the center of attention, sometimes you succeed. But that cuts both ways.

iv) One objection to gotcha questions is that they aren't substantive. They are just an attempt to embarrass the candidate. 

That's often true. However, there are times when gotcha questions can be more useful than substantive questions. Gotcha questions go to the credibility of a candidate. Is he sincere? Or does he have a history of flip-flops?

If a candidate lacks credibility, then substantive questions are moot inasmuch as his answers are no indication of what he'd actually do if elected. Substantive questions can be a waste of time if the candidate doesn't believe what he says, if he has no intention of keeping his campaign promises.

So even if gotcha questions are ill-motivated, exposing the checkered track-record of a candidate is a useful exercise. You can eliminate him in from serious consideration in the first round. 

Likewise, gotcha questions can also expose a candidate's incompetence, if he lacks the knowledge of domestic and foreign affairs to be a capable Chief Executive.