Saturday, August 22, 2015

Clark's hammer

I'm going to comment on part of this:

Unlike Van Tilian presuppositionalism, classical presuppositionalism will not argue, “God exists, therefore God exists.” It will not argue, “The Bible is the Word of God, therefore the Bible is the Word of God.”

Can Beisner quote examples of Van Til, Frame, Bahnsen, David Byron, James Anderson et al. who actually argue in that fashion, or is that Beisner's caricature?  

Instead, classical presuppositionalism affirms that logic, or reason (terms it considers synonymous), is simply the structure of God’s thought…

Are reason and logic synonymous? Consider modus ponens:

If P, then Q. P. Therefore, Q.
Is that synonymous with reason? Isn't modus ponens just an abstract rule of logical inference? It's purely general. It has no specific factual content. That, of course, is part of what makes it useful. You can plug so many different things into the formula. 
But isn't there more to divine reason than fact-free laws of logic? For instance, doesn't God know all truths of fact? Particular facts about the actual world–as well as possible worlds? 

1. The Bible claims to be God-breathed.
2. All explanations of the claim other than its truth are untenable.
3. All attempts to refute the claim by pointing to specific errors in the Bible fail.
4. Therefore we are justified in believing that the Bible is true and God-breathed. 
Consider the argument piece by piece. First, the Bible claims to be God-breathed. To note this is not to argue in a circle; it is merely to set aside the hypothetical objection that we are claiming for the Bible what it does not claim for itself. It would after all be rather gratuitous to claim that the Bible was the Word of God if it did not claim to be. “There is no reason for making assertions beyond those that can validly be inferred from the statements of the Bible,” Clark writes. “. . . What the Bible claims about itself is an essential part of the argument. The Christian is well within the boundaries of logic to insist that the first reason for believing in the inspiration of the Bible is that it makes this claim.” Clark cites, among other passages that (explicitly or implicitly) make this claim, 2 Timothy 3:16, John 10:35, 2 Peter 1:20, 21, Romans 3:2, Matthew 11:9-15, Romans 16:25-27, and Ephesians 3:4-5.

i) An obvious gap in Beisner's argument is that books like Matthew, Luke, and Acts don't claim to be inspired. 

ii) Perhaps Beisner would try to close the gap by claiming that they are covered by categorical statements like 2 Tim 3:16. That, however, only pushes the question back a step: if Matthew is Scripture, then Matthew is inspired. But how does Beisner determine that Matthew is Scripture? How does he determine that 2 Tim 3:16 includes Matthew in the scope of its claim?

Provided the Protestant canon of Scripture, suppose Beisner's argument goes through. But how, given Clarkian epistemology, does he determine the canon in the first place? Consider Clarkian demotion of historical evidence and probabilistic reasoning. In making a case for the canon, how does Beisner avoid the methodology of evidentialism? 

Second, all explanations of the claim other than its truth are untenable. Consider three possible alternative explanations. One is that the claim is only occasional and accidental and therefore should not be taken seriously. But a careful inspection of the Biblical data, e.g., as done by Louis Gaussen in his Theopneustia (published in translation as The Divine Inspiration of the Bible) or by Benjamin B. Warfield in The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, demonstrates that the claim is pervasive and crucial to much of the rest of the program of Scripture. It is therefore not accidental and cannot be trivialized or ignored. A second is that the claim is one among many by writers whose other claims provide good grounds for skepticism about their credibility, and therefore the claim lacks a priori credibility. Yet a careful examination of the writings indicates the opposite: that the writers were highly credible on other matters and made this claim in complete awareness of what they were saying, and therefore that the claim’s falsehood is unlikely a priori. A third is that though some other Bible characters might have made the claim, either Jesus did not make it or, if He did, He made it only in accommodation to the prevailing views of his contemporaries, and since Jesus is the most important character in the Bible, His failure to make the claim renders the claim unlikely. But again, careful inspection of the data indicate that Jesus did make the claim, that He did not do it merely as an accommodation to His contemporaries’ prevailing views (Indeed, He was quite in the habit of contradicting prevailing views that He considered wrong!), and that He made the claim in full self-awareness. Therefore, if the claim is false, it becomes an evidence against Jesus’ credibility. Yet Jesus’ credibility is otherwise impeccable. Therefore Jesus’ credibility gives His claim a priori credibility. Perhaps there are other alternative explanations that need examination, and in the appropriate context that could be done. But for the sake of illustrating the method, the consideration of these three is sufficient. If there are four and only four possible explanations of a phenomenon (in this case a claim), and if three of them can be shown untenable, then it follows that the fourth is to be affirmed. Thus, it follows from the failure of alternative explanations of the Bible’s claim to be the Word of God that the Bible is in fact what it claims to be: the Word of God.

Notice the repeated appeal to "credibility." But how is that essentially different from the probabilistic methodology of classical, evidentialist, and cumulative-case apologetics? 

Third, all attempts to refute the claim by pointing to specific errors in the Bible fail. A study of individual examples of alleged contradictions in the Bible, such as John W. Haley’s Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, demonstrates that none of the allegations proves true. Similarly, a study of individual examples of alleged historical inaccuracies in the Bible, such as we find in Gleason Archer’s Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, demonstrates that none of those allegations proves true.

Once again, doesn't that boil down to probabilistic reasoning? Doesn't that appeal to things like archeological corroboration? How does that distinguish his position from classical, evidentialist, and cumulative-case apologetics? 

Fourth, therefore we are justified in believing that the Bible is true and God-breathed. This follows from the first three premises, and the argument is noncircular.

Even if that's the case, isn't that basically inference-to-the-best explanation? But doesn't that fall well below the exacting standards of Clarikian epistemology?

Frame's presuppositionalism

I'm going to comment on part of this:

In general, Beisner's analysis suffers from the hermeneutic of suspicion. He is so hostile to Van Tilian apologetics that he always assumes the worst interpretation of Frame's statement.

One wonders why Frame capitulates to epistemological relativism with the qualifier “for Christians, faith governs reasoning.” Does faith not govern reasoning for non-Christians? Or, is it true for Christians that faith governs everyone’s reasoning, but not true for non- Christians? Certainly Frame believes neither of these. Yet his statement implies one or the other. But presumably this is to be explained as a careless expression.

I take Frame to mean Christians acknowledge the authority of revelation whereas unbelievers do not. For Christians, revelation consciously governs their reasoning, whereas unbelievers consciously reject revelation, or they are simply ignorant of revelation. 

Frame has an aggravating habit of qualifying what he says but not defining the qualifiers. For instance, he writes over and over again (not only in this essay but also elsewhere) of “human reason” and “human logic”–a habit that he shares with Van Til. “The content of faith, Scripture,” Frame tells us, “may transcend reason in these two senses: (1) it cannot be proved by human reason alone; (2) it contains mysteries, even apparent contradictions, that cannot be fully resolved by human logic. . . .”20 But what purpose does that modifier, human, serve in these statements? Is there some other reason or logic that is not human? Perhaps Frame means not reason or logic in the abstract but the attempt at reasoning by particular persons–though if that is what he means, we might plead with him to say so. But what is reason or logic other than the way God’s mind thinks? The logic humans use includes the law of contradiction; does Frame have in mind some logic that excludes it, a logic that he would describe as “nonhuman logic”? Would that even be logic? Until Frame specifies the axioms of a nonhuman logic, or of a nonhuman reason, his qualifying reason and logic with human is meaningless. 

Yes, there is some other reason that is not human. For instance, there is angelic reason. More to the point, there's divine reason. God's reason is timeless, infinite, and infallible. Man's reason is temporal, finite, and fallible. 

Likewise, there's a difference between "the way God's mind thinks" and human systems of logic. Human systems of logic reflect the human understanding of logic, and that evolves. Consider developments in logic in the 19C and 20C. 

Does Beisner believe Skolem's Paradox is the way God's mind thinks?

I suspect Beisner's antipathy to Frame's distinctions and qualifications goes back to the Clark Controversy. Is it possible for the human understanding of logic to correspond to God's understanding of logic to a degree sufficient that human's can distinguish truth from falsehood? I guess that's what Beisner is getting at. He thinks distinguishing human reason or human logic from divine reason results in skepticism. That may be a legitimate objection to how Van Til formulated his opposition to Clark. However, Beisner is not getting that from Frame's statement. 

Consider Frame’s statement that “[We] should present the biblical God, not merely as the conclusion to an argument, but as the one who makes argument possible.” The apodosis (second half) of the sentence is not properly parallel to the protasis (first half). After reading that we should present God not merely as the conclusion to an argument, we expect to read that we should present Him as the axiom (starting point) of an argument. That is, the first clause focuses on the parts of an argument, not the conditions for one. But Frame tacitly turns from the parts of an argument to a statement about the conditions under which argument can occur. God is not merely the conclusion of an argument, but “the one who makes argument possible.” Now of course the classical or evidential or cumulative case apologist will agree that had God not existed, or had God existed but never created anything, or had God created only nonrational things or only rational things that never erred, no argument could have taken place (unless of course God argued with Himself–in which case the god that existed would not be the God of the Bible). But that is surely not the point Frame wants to make…we might also wonder why, instead of writing the nonparallel sentence “[We] should present the biblical God, not merely as the conclusion to an argument, but as the one who makes argument possible” Frame did not write, “We should present the biblical God, not merely as the conclusion to an argument, but as the major premise as well.” That would balance protasis and apodosis, and it would be precisely what Frame believes. It would be unfair to assume that Frame avoided that clarity because it made the absurdity of his position too obvious, but it is not unfair to notice that the imprecision has the effect of hiding the position’s absurdity, regardless of intent.

I think Beisner misses Frame's point. Frame isn't trying to create a symmetry between the protasis and the apodosis. Rather, he's making the deeper point that if God didn't exist, there'd be no basis for rational argumentation in the first place. God is the source of human rationality. God is the source of necessary truths as well as contingent truths. God's nature is the foundation of logic. This would stand in contrast, to, say, secular Platonic realism. 

It is precisely these challenges that apologetics must answer, and merely reasserting the opposite is no answer, it is again a petitio principi, an argument in a circle. There are more logic problems in them, but my primary purpose in citing these paragraphs was to point out the ambiguity of Frame’s conceding that “There is a kind of circularity here, but the circularity is not vicious.” The careless reader might think that Frame then goes on to define the “kind of circularity” he has in mind. But aside from denying that it is vicious (that is, that it is logically fallacious)–in which he is simply mistaken–Frame never does say what this “kind of circularity” actually is or how an argument can be circular but not vicious. He descends to the same ambiguity when he writes, as I cited once already, “But are we not still forced to say, ‘God exists (presupposition), therefore God exists (conclusion),’ and isn’t that argument clearly circular? Yes, in a way. But that is unavoidable for any system, any worldview” and “One cannot argue for an ultimate standard by appealing to a different standard. That would be inconsistent. [para] So there is a kind of circle here. But even this circle, as I indicated earlier, is linear in a sense.” 

i) To begin with, there's a sense in which circular reasoning is a necessary condition of a valid argument. To be valid, the conclusion must be implicit or contained in the premises. 

ii) Likewise, there's a sense in which many sound arguments beg the question. That's because a sound argument presumes the truth of the premises. A sound argument is not an argument for the truth of the premises, but for the truth of the conclusion. It takes the truth of the premises for granted. That's an unproven presupposition of the syllogism. In that respect, a sound argument assumes what it needs to prove. Given the truth of the premises, the conclusion is true–but unless you grant the truth of the premise, to claim the argument is sound begs the question. 

iii) So what makes some arguments viciously circular and other arguments virtuously circular? There are at least two possible considerations:

a) If the truth of the premise is not in dispute, then the argument doesn't beg the question. Keep in mind that's person-variable. 

b) In a deductive syllogism, the premises are reasons in support of the conclusion. They are intended to warrant the conclusion. So there's supposed to be some logical progression from premises to conclusion. If, however, the conclusion is essentially a restatement of the premises, then all it's done is to reassert the same claim. A disguised, repeated, unjustified assertion.

iv) Truth claims are ultimately circular. An appeal to reason presumes the reliability of reason. An appeal to memory presumes the reliability of memory. An appeal to testimony presumes the reliability of testimony. An appeal to observation presumes the reliability of observation. An appeal to Scripture presumes the reliability of Scripture.

Circular reasoning in that sense doesn't ipso facto mean the appeal is arbitrary. These may be necessary preconditions of knowledge. The alternative is global skepticism–which is self-refuting. Mind you, that, in itself, is a tacit appeal to reason.  

Friday, August 21, 2015

Christian tatts

23 “When you come into the land and plant any kind of tree for food, then you shall regard its fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden to you; it must not be eaten. 24 And in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, an offering of praise to the Lord. 25 But in the fifth year you may eat of its fruit, to increase its yield for you: I am the Lord your God.26 “You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes. 27 You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. 28 You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord (Lev 19:23-28).

Based on Lev 19:28, some Christians are opposed to tattoos and body-piercing. 

However, as you can see from the larger context, Lev 19 contains a number of commands and prohibitions which Christians ignore. This goes to the perennial issue of how much OT law carries over into the new covenant. 

One facile solution is to say that all this is mooted by the new covenant. But that's too simple and radical. Take the prohibition against divination in v26b. 

Because Leviticus is a part of the Mosaic covenant, and has a particular emphasis on cultic holiness, there's no presumption that Levitical commands and prohibitions extend into the new covenant. But that doesn't mean we're free to dismiss any and all Levitical injunctions without due consideration. 

It isn't necessary inconsistent to obey some Levitical injunctions and disregard others. For it depends on whether there are different principles connecting various injunctions, and whether some of those principles were temporary while other principles are permanent. Consistency would be measured, not by consistently obeying or ignoring all the injunctions, but consistency with the principle that some share in common. 

Why are some of these activities forbidden in the first place? In the case of body-piercing, it's not a general prohibition. Rather, it specifies the motivation: body-piercing as a mourning ceremony for the dead (cf. Deut 14:16). That's also the principle which underlies the prohibition about cutting hair and beards (cf. Deut 14:1).  

Strictly speaking, the prohibition against body-piercing contradicts the prohibition against Exod 21:6 & Deut 15:17. So the prohibition is not absolute, even according to the Mosaic covenant. 

At the same time, because God made the body (Gen 1:26-28), OT ethics would be opposed to mutilation. That would violate the integrity of the body. We should avoid disfiguring the body through dramatic body-modification. It is, in part, a question of degree. 

The fact that some of these forbidden activities are associated with pagan rites suggests that that's why tattooing (or body-painting) is forbidden in v28. Indeed, one commentator says:

Porter reports that in pagan societies in the ANE worshippers bore marks on their bodies as a sign of being devotees of a particular deity. J. Currid, Leviticus, 260-61. 

If so, the prohibition is not general or absolute, but in reference to tattooing your body as a sign that you belong to the cult of a pagan deity. He (or she) is your patron god (or goddess). It is not tattooing, per se, but the intent, that's forbidden.

In addition, some of these activities are forbidden, not merely because they are adventitiously associated with pagan practice. Rather, due to syncretism among ancient Israelites, these activities indicate conscious participation in heathen rites. They are deliberately imitating their pagan neighbors. The action is meant to be an act of religious devotion to a heathen deity. Apart from that illicit motivation, it might be innocent.

Finally, there can be the danger of emulating unbelievers just to fit in. To be with it. To be accepted. 

But with these caveats in mind, I don't think Lev 19:18 represents a timeless prohibition against tattoos. Indeed, tattoos can sometimes be countercultural, rather than a mark of cultural assimilation. Christian tattoos can be both a witness and a statement of separation from the prevailing social mores.  

The illegal immigration dilemma

Ben Shapiro has a useful summary and analysis of Trump's immigration plan:

I'll make a few ancillary observations:

i) There's a basic difference between a serious plan and a serious man. The plan merits serious consideration. That doesn't mean Trump is serious about the plan. So we need to separate the man from the plan. 

ii) Apparently, the plan was basically ghostwritten by Jeff Sessions. Unlike Trump, Sessions takes the issue seriously. 

iii) At this juncture in American history, immigration reform presents a dilemma. If, one the one hand, you allow a growing voting block to go unchallenged, it will become too powerful to oppose. If, on the other hand, the voting block already has that much clout, then a direct challenge will consign you to political oblivion for the foreseeable future.

One question is whether we've already passed that tipping point. It is too late to roll back the status quo? Can a national candidate win if he snubs that voting block?

iv) Even if that's the case, one partial solution would be to delegate major aspects of the issue to the states. Some red states could take a hardline position on illegal immigration. Blue states which pandered to illegal immigrants would decline economically, while red states would become economically stronger. 

Even if it's not viable for a national candidate to take a hardline position on illegal immigration (and I'm not saying that for a fact), candidates in some red states could still run and win on that issue.

v) In addition, illegal immigration is such a multifaceted issue that even if a comprehensive hardline national policy is politically infeasible, some national provisions would still be feasible. It's not as if it must either be wholly up to the Federal gov't or wholly up to the discretion of state and local gov'ts. 

vi) Finally, Democrat social policies hurt minorities. Conservatives need to engage minority communities on the fact that Democrat policies are harmful to the long-term interests of minority communities.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Donald Trump and the Führerprinzip


This is in response to Alan Kurschner's post about the myth that Trump is unelectable. It's unclear to me what kind of Trump opponent Alan is responding to.

i) My objection to Trump is not that he's unelectable. Now, one objection to Trump is that if he either ran as an independent or the GOP nominee, he'd make it more likely that Hillary would win.

That, however, is not the only objection. What's objectionable is not merely the specter of Hillary winning, but the specter of Trump winning. 

There's no evidence that Trump is any better than Hillary, or Bernie, or Al Gore–or whoever the Democrats ultimately run. Indeed, that's an understatement. There's abundant evidence that Trump is just as bad as Hillary. He's is like the Roman Emperor in Satyricon

I'm struck by the number of credulous conservatives who let themselves be led by the nose when Trump yanks their chain. Alan says "this is 30,000 people who are concerned that our country is being invaded, and view Trump as someone who will actually do something about it."

Because Trump bought 30,000 gold-plated nose rings for gullible voters who don't know a scam artist when they see it.

ii) I'm also struck by alleged conservatives who are so indignant about the GOP that they throw their weight behind a candidate like Trump. In the name of morality, they pick the most venal candidate in the GOP lineup. Their high-sounding idealism becomes indistinguishable from amoral cynicism. In the name of ideological purity, they pick the debauchee. 

It's like saying Marco Rubio is weak on illegal immigration, so let's nominate Pablo Escobar for president! Let's go from bad to worse. 

iii) And from a Christian standpoint, what makes illegal immigration the top issue? 

Atheism has no brakes

The 7th Planned Parenthood sting video has been released. Here's a summary:

Thus far I haven't posted much about the PP scandal. That's in part because it's a developing story, and–relatedly–people get tired of the story if you talk about it too often. Their eyes begin to glaze over and they turn the page. 

i) In a way, it's hard to know what's left to say about evil when it reaches a certain nadir. The video depicts the vivisection of a premature baby born alive. This is straight out of human experimentation by Nazis on Jews and Japanese on POWs. It's not coincidental that after Josef Mengele skipped the country, he made his living as an abortionist in South America. 

ii) In attempting to reason with people on moral issues, there are various strategies. We use analogies. But PP is already a worst-case scenario. If some people are too morally hardened to see the problem, what can you say? It's like trying to appeal to Ted Bundy's conscience. There's nothing there to work with. You have no moral leverage. The lever is broken. 

We compare certain modern atrocities to the Nazis. But, of course, some people were Nazis. Devoted Nazis. So that comparison wouldn't work for them.

Imagine the outcry if PP vivisected puppies for spare parts? But many people have already crossed that line. By that I mean, many people care more about puppies than babies. When you describe the video, they just shrug.

We appeal to a sense of empathy. How would you like it if someone did that to you? And, indeed, they wouldn't like it if someone did it to them. But that's only because it happened to them instead of somebody else. In their philosophy, nothing is good or bad in general; it is only good or bad for me

You might reply that if everybody, or even most folks, had the same attitude, that would not be good for me. But they shrug. That's hypothetical. They don't respond to abstractions. Unless and until it hurts them, they just don't care. 

They say the "fetus" is "just a clump of cells." You counter that by that logic, an adult is "just a clump of cells." A bigger clump of cells. 

How do they respond? They shrug. Yes, I'm a clump of cells and you're a clump of cells, but the clump of cells you are isn't the clump of cells I am, and I only care about me. I care about a clump of cells if, and only if, that happens to be me. If that happens to be you, then you're out of luck!

In their minds, if not their actions, many Americans have already crossed the same line as the PP employees. How can people commit or countenance such evil? 

i) Some people have no conscience. Never did. What they do or refrain from doing is based on what they think they can get away with as well as the approval or disapproval of their peer group. 

ii) Some people are initially disturbed, but they get use to it. They become callous. Morally and emotionally inured. 

iii) Some people believe the propaganda, just like some Nazis really did view themselves as the master race. 

iv) Ultimately I think many Americans have internalized the secular outlook. There is no afterlife. No heaven or hell. So it comes down to getting as much as I can while the getting is good. There is no right and wrong, just winning and losing. 

Atheism is a car on a hilltop without a parking brake. The only thing that keeps it from rolling down the hill is the wheel chock of Christian culture. Remove that, and watch what happens. Atheism has no moral brakes. Remove the Christian wheel chock, and unstoppable nihilism ensues.

The myth that Trump is 'unelectable'

I don't see any "electable" RINOs filling stadiums.

This is not your grandaddy's election.

Is Fiorina a reliable conservative?

 I hear Carly Fiorina performed well, which I don’t doubt. She seems to be sharp and articulate, but she’s also a sharp and articulate former Sen. John McCain aid and Jesse Jackson fan, who has sharply and articulately endorsed embryonic stem cell research, the DREAM act granting in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, President Barack Obama’sstimulus, and the Wall Street bailout. She was likewise quite sharp and articulate when she called abortion a “decided issue,” and explained that she would have voted to confirm Sonia Sotomayor, a radical pro-abortion Supreme Court Justice, because she doesn’t believe in imposing a pro-life litmus test on Supreme Court nominees.
So, yes, she is very good at arguing, but the problem is what she’s arguing for, and whether you can trust her to argue for the same thing from one day to the next. Also, there’s the matter of her business record, which includes being the CEO of Hewlett Packard, overseeing it for five years as the company fell apart and lost half of its value and thousands of its employees. She might have a plausible explanation for this unfortunate stain on her resume, but the fact remains that it was very successfully used against her when she was handily beaten during her failed bid for Senate in California.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Intersex kids

One issue in bioethics and pastoral ministry is what, if anything, to do about intersex kids. I'm going to repost some comments I recently made, which started out as a Facebook discussion. I'm combining some comments from Facebook and email. 

The wrongness of routine pediatric sex reassignment surgery is one of those areas on which the left and right are starting to converge into complete agreement, but by and large neither recognizes the other as doing so.

BioEdge: Parents sue over intersex surgery
They allege that their adopted child was unable to give consent to genital reconstruction.

i) What about the genetic sex of the child? What would be the child's "orientation" once the sex hormones kick in?

I mean that depending on their genetic makeup, when they hit adolescence their system will be flooded with sex hormones of a particular gender, and that would be a natural consideration for the direction to take in genital reconstruction. 

Do intersex individuals begin to produce male or female hormones around the time they hit puberty? If so, can that be known in advance? If so, won't they have a corresponding male or female sex drive? Wouldn't it not make sense to reconstruct their ambiguous genitalia to match their sex drive? 

Seems to me it would be better to subdivide the issue. Given the genetic makeup of a given intersex baby, can we predict whether male or female sex hormones will naturally kick in when they reach puberty? If so, then it would not be unconscionable to reconstruct their genitalia consistent with that complementary development. If, however, that's not predictable, then surgery should be postponed.

ii) To call it "sex reassignment surgery" is misleading. That implies going from one clearly identifiable biological gender to another. Genital reconstruction of intersex individuals presupposes ambiguous genitalia, right? It would be more accurate to call it "sex assignment surgery." Assigning a definite sex for the first time.

iii) I assume there are limitations to reconstructive genital surgery. For instance, I assume that medical science cannot, as of yet, make a clitoris from generic tissue. 

iv) Another issue which goes to the question of timing is if parents enroll an intersex child in a group athletic activity (e.g. swimming class) where the child will disrobe in front of other kids the same age (e.g. suiting up in the locker room). That would be a humiliating experience. Normal kids would taunt a child with ambiguous genitalia. 

And if some of them are neighborhood kids or kids who attend the same school as the intesex child, then that's not a one-time humiliation. It will go straight into the rumor mill. The intersex child won't be able to live that down. All the other kids will know about his condition. And they don't be kind. Kids are very cruel about that sort of thing. That will make the intersex kid prone to self-loathing and self-harm.

"Bag of Tricks"

Humans and persons

When life begins

Bauckham's Hellenization Thesis

Christians Evangelizing For Secularism

There's a growing list of contexts in which many people think we should say little or nothing about God. Think of the radical redefining of separation of church and state and religious liberty in recent decades and the reaction to the intelligent design movement, for example. It's often considered too divisive, embarrassing, or whatever to bring up religious matters in school, in the workplace, in the media, or at family gatherings. The more that mindset is adopted in some settings, the more it tends to grow in others.

I recently heard somebody commenting on how Christians often use Facebook, Twitter, and other media to do things like post photographs of their children and discuss sporting events, yet say nothing about subjects like God and the Bible. I've been astonished by how many people's Facebook accounts are a form of evangelization for secularism. And that occurs even in nations where the large majority of people claim to be Christian. They have so much to say about their children and grandchildren, friends, music, movies, television, sports, their jobs, politics, travel, food, etc., but so little to say, if anything, about matters like God, theology, and apologetics. When people see something like your Facebook account, blog, or Twitter page, do they see a secular, or nearly secular, lifestyle?

You don't always know who your audience is or how much you're influencing people. If you live well, such as by speaking up about issues you ought to be speaking up about, that will influence other people to do the same. You don't know how much joy or encouragement you might bring some relative, former coworker, or somebody else who comes across your Facebook account or blog and sees you identifying yourself as a Christian or giving some indication of how much you've matured as a Christian. There are people who are looking for that sort of evidence where they want to find it, but aren't seeing it. I doubt that most people realize how damaging it is when so much of their life, including their online presence, is so secular.

"I am constantly astonished at people who say they believe in God but live as though happiness were to be found by giving him 2 percent of their attention." (John Piper, Desiring God [Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Books, 1996], 268)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Unitarian Truthers

Dale Tuggy has been leaving belated comments on an archived post of mine. Since readers may be unaware of that exchange, I'm going to repost my responses here:

"When we add in the claim, which I'm sure you'll agree to, that the Bible teaches monotheism, we get a perfectly clear apparent contradiction."

No, not a clear contradiction. Not even a prima facie contradiction. The Bible describes monotheism by contrasting the one true God with paganism, not by contrasting the one true God with Jesus.

"Steve, please find me one usage of 'God' or any other term in any language, before Nicea, which in the original context of that place and time, was meant to refer to a tripersonal god."

Nice exercise in misdirection, but patristic usage isn't my standard of comparison.

In addition, you're committing the word=concept fallacy. The Trinity is a theological construct based on many lines of Biblical evidence. It doesn't depend on use of the word "God" to specify the Trinity.

"Perhaps "doing exegetical theology" here means quoting authors with whom Steve agrees."

Dale, that's one of your dumb, uninformed responses:

i) To begin with, I don't just quote authors I agree with. I mount my own exegetical arguments. I've done so in detail in many posts responding to you. Is your memories a sieve?

ii) In addition, there's a difference between quoting scholarly opinion and quoting scholarly arguments.

"1. There is only one divine being. 2. Jesus is divine, and the Father is divine. 3. - (Jesus = Father) [it is not the case that f and s are numerically identical] Assuming any two, you'll see that the third must be false. I urge you to try out all the combos."

i) That's just you playing little word games. We could easily recast it as:

There is only one God. The Trinity is God.

The Father, Son, and Spirit share all the same divine attributes.

No contradiction in that formulation.

ii) In addition, I view the Trinity as a symmetry of persons who mirror each other. Are three mutual reflections one or three? They are both, considered from different viewpoints.

iii) Likewise, we need to resist the temptation of visualizing Trinitarian distinctions as if these were spatial boundaries or surfaces, like separate physical objects. If, a la classical theism, we're dealing with timeless, spaceless entities, then they aren't distinct in that sense.

"This is a perfect illustration of why I think your reading is uncharitable to the authors at hand, and that it takes a lot of chutzpah to put it out there are the correct reading. It's *apparently contradictory*, which we usually take as a very, very tough problem to overcome, unless we're willing to just say that the author is confused. The normal response is to carefully re-examine the various readings that imply the contradiction."

Dale, God is not an ordinary object of knowledge, like a tree or a game of checkers. God is the most complex being in all reality. We'd expect God to be baffling in some respects. God is not a merely man-sized object of knowledge.

This isn't like harmonizing historical accounts, where we're dealing with mundane events which we could fully grasp if we were there to see it unfold in real time and space. It's not like reconstructing questions from answers, when we only have one side of the correspondence (e.g. Pauline letters.).

You don't even open your mind to the possibility that God is bigger than your mind. But unless God is bigger than your mind, what kind of "God" is he?

Like a 9/11 Truther, you've developed a conspiratorial narrative that's become plausible to you. Hence, you dismiss any appeal to "mystery" as special pleading. But that doesn't take seriously the transcendent nature of God.

"No. Rather, the point is that if some community lacks any term meant to express some concept, then it is likely that they have no such concept."

That's like saying if anthropologists discover an Amazonian tribe with no word for jealousy, then they have no concept of jealousy. That's a ridiculous inference.

"It needn't be a patristic example. Could be NT too. But we both know that there is no such word or phrase."

Dale, complex concepts are not reducible to single words or phrases. At best, there can be technical words or jargon that stand for the concept, but you wouldn't know that from the word or phrase in isolation.

The question at issue isn't the use of a word or phrase, but the logical implications of the Biblical data.

Bullheaded unitarian

One of Dale Tuggy's dilemmas is his unsuccessful attempt to compartmentalize numerical identity. He makes allowances for personal identity which he disallows in the case of numerical identity. He's too bullheaded to appreciate that personal identity is just a special case of numerical identity. Numerical identity is the general principle, of which personal identity is one example.

For instance, Tuggy himself seems to think personal identity requires numerical identity. Tuggy the militant unitarian is numerically the same person as Tuggy the social Trinitarian. Yet Tuggy is a methodist about numerical identity, but a particularist about personal identity. Where numerical identity is concerned, he begins with criteria: Leibniz's Law! A necessary truth! Or his a priori stipulation that "numerical identity doesn't come in degrees."

But where personal identity is concerned, he begins with examples: "Don’t things change? e.g. Last year you weighed 200, and now you weight 210 lbs. But does this mean that the you of 2010 is not numerically the same as the you of 2011? Ridiculous! Things can qualitatively change while remaining numerically the same. That’s just common sense."

Here he just stipulates that qualitative change is consistent with numerical identity because "that's just common sense." So he has two contrary standards for defining identity. And yet he tries to merge the two when it serves his purpose. 

Consider two hypotheticals: 

i) What would I be like if my mother had died when I was five?

ii) What would I be like if I were a giraffe?

The first hypothetical is realistic. We may not know enough to answer that question, but that was possible, and if it happened, I would turn out differently.

But the second hypothetical is basically nonsense. A giraffe is so different from a human that it wouldn't be the same individual in any appreciable sense.

That's why a standard move in discussions of transworld identity is to take the nearest possible world as the frame of reference. A possible world most like the real world. But that means counterfactual identity is based on similarity rather than sameness. And similarity is a matter of degree. Degrees of similarity and dissimilarity.

That's why the first hypothetical is realistic. It posits that I and my counterpart have the same personal history up to the age of 5, at which point, due to a family tragedy, our paths begin to diverge. But because we were the same person with the same history up to that point, and because we remain human, have the same surviving parent, and so forth, there's a meaningful basis of comparison. Those could be alternate outcomes for the same individual. 

By contrast, a giraffe is so unlike a human that a giraffe can't be your counterpart in a possible world. There is no sense in which you could be identical to a giraffe. 

But if counterfactual identity is a matter of degree, then why not diachronic identity? Suppose we recast the counterfactual scenario in chronological terms: What would I be like if I turned into a giraffe tomorrow? Here issues of diachronic and transworld identity intersect. It's about past and future identity, as well as counterfactual identity. And the comparison fails for the same reason. Lack of adequate, salient similarity. 

Tuggy's objection to the Trinity is especially ironic considering the fact that he maintains a temporalist view of God. So for Tuggy, personal identity and diachronic identity intersect in God's case no less than man's case. Tuggy's God undergoes change. And change is a kind of difference. Clearly, then, there's a sense in which Tuggy's God is not uniformly the same God from t1 to t2. 

Likewise, Tuggy is a freewill theist. Tuggy's God has counterparts in possible worlds, where God said or did something different. Where God's experience is different. Clearly, then, there's a sense in which Tuggy's God is not uniformly the same from w1 to w2.

Even in reference to divine personal identity, Tuggy makes allowance for differentia concerning that individual. So why does he refuse to make allowance for differentia concering the Trinity? Why does he measure the Trinity by the yardstick of strict identity, but use a rubber ruler for his own God when it comes to transworld identity or identity over time? Flexible theories of identity for unitarian open theism, but inflexible theories of identity for Trinitarian theism. 

Sure, Tuggy can dictate that certain kinds of change or difference are somehow consistent with numerical identity; sure, he can dictate that certain kinds of change or difference are consistent with his denial that numerical identity admits degrees of identity, but is there anything beyond his arbitrary stipulation to show how that's consistent? 

He can attempt to distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic properties, but that presumes rather that proves consistency with numerical identity. For unless you can already establish that the intrinsic/extrinsic distinction is compatible with numerical identity, you can't invoke that distinction to salvage numerical identity. Whether distinctions like that are consonant with strict identity is the very issue in dispute. And if that's consistent with numerical identical, why not other kinds of differentia? 

This is a central tension in his position. He doesn't begin with Leibniz's law when he clears space for personal identity. When push comes to shove, he makes ad hoc modifications to Leibniz's law to accommodate whatever personal identity demands. His unyielding definition of numerical identity in relation to the Trinity becomes very yielding when he turns to the ambiguities of personal identity. He regards the "law of identity" as a necessary truth, but contingent truths shape his view of personal identity. As a result, you notice the gearbox smoke and grind when he tries to mesh the two. 

There are philosophers like McTaggart who are far more uncompromising when it comes to strict identity. McTaggart is a consistent methodist. Tuggy, by contrast, has a makeshift position. He's a methodist when attacking the Trinity, but a particularist on personal identity. Yet his views on personal identity infect his views on numerical identity. By introducing fudge factors into personal identity, his theory of numerical identity becomes chocolate-coated in the process. There's no uniform principle driving his theories of identity. 

Swapping used cars

You have people who convert from Christianity to atheism, or (what often amounts to the same thing) from creationism to evolution, or Calvinism to freewill theism, or Evangelicalism to Catholicism, or inerrancy to "progressive Christianity."  Supposedly they do this because they discover difficulties in their original position.

However, the result of their conversation is to exchange one set of difficulties for another. They are very impatient with their former position. They cut it no slack. 

They make excuses and allowances for their newfound position that they refuse to make for their former position. They emphasize or overemphasize the difficulties of their former position while they underemphasize or deemphasize the difficulties of their new position. The psychology is peculiar. 

Part of the reason is that they know–or think they know–the old better than they new. So they underestimate the difficulties of the new position. They were drawn to its superficial advantages. Only after they get deeper into it do the disadvantages become more prominent. But that then they're committed. It becomes a face-saving issue. 

Positions like atheism, evolution, freewill theism, Catholicism, and "progressive Christianity" have enormous preexisting baggage, It's not like the convert has shed all the intellectual challenges by leaving his old position behind.Rather, he's inherited intellectual challenges that come with his new position. Yet, for some odd reason, the convert regards these difficulties as acceptable difficulties. 

Although it seems counterintuitive, both true and false positions have intellectual difficulties. You might suppose, a priori, that the true position would avoid that. But due to human ignorance and the complexity of reality, even the true position can have significant (apparent) difficulties. 

Given a choice, you might as well stick with the true position and defend the true position, for whatever position you take will be intellectually challenging. 

How can you read the church fathers if you can't read the Bible?

A stock argument for Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox is that it's arrogant and naive to think you can read the Bible directly. An ancient book like Scripture is so far removed from the modern reader in space and time that we need the church fathers to interpret Scripture for us. 

The irony of this claim is that the same objection can be raised, perforce, to the church fathers. That, too, is ancient literature. They too are far removed from us in space and time. Different time, culture, and language. So that argument backfires. 

“Your manuscript has now gone safe to the printer”

From “A Severe Mercy”, by Sheldon Vanauken

“Then her breathing slowed. My face was close to hers. Then each of three breaths was lighter than the one before. There were no more. I knew on the instant of her dying that she was dead ... Then I kissed her lightly and stood up. As I stood there in that suddenly empty room, I was suddenly swept with a tide of absolute knowing that [she] still was ...” (From pg 177 in the 1979 paperback edition).

[After that, I was surprised to find that] “I could smile, too. And I was conscious of a sort of amazement that the sky was still blue and a steak still tasted good. How could things go on when the world had come to an end? How could things--how could I--go on in this void? How could one person, not very big, leave an emptiness that was galaxy-wide? Everything--every object--was pervaded by the void ... There were, though, thousands of other things and memories, each of which must be seen in that piercingly blind emptiness” (pg 180).

“Along with the emptiness, which is what I mean by loss, and along with the grief--loss and grief are not the same thing--I kept wanting to tell her about it. We always told each other--that’s what sharing was--and now this huge thing was happening to me, and I couldn’t tell her. Someone speaking of the pain of stopping smoking remarked: If only I could have a cigarette while I suffer! I sometimes thought I could bear the loss and grief if only I could tell her about it” (pg 181).

“The tears came freely, and I did not attempt to refrain from them when I was alone. Indeed, for over a year, there was no day that I did not weep, and I did not find that the tears cut me off from her. It was the tearless void that severed us at times” (pg 182).

From a letter from C.S. Lewis within the text:

“And how you reassure me when, to describe your own state, you use the simple, obvious, yet now so rare, word ‘sad’. Neither more nor less nor other than sad. It suggests a clean wound--much here for tears, but ‘nothing but good and fair’. And I am sure it is never sadness--[which is] a proper, straight natural response to loss--that does people harm, but all the other things, all the resentment, dismay, doubt and self-pity with which it is usually complicated” (pg 184).

“I feel very strongly what you say about the ‘curious consolation’ that ‘nothing can now mar’ your joint lives. I sometimes wonder whether bereavement is not, at bottom, the easiest and least perilous of the ways in which men lose the happiness of youthful love. For I believe [youthful love] must always be lost in some way: every merely natural love has to be crucified before it can achieve resurrection and the happy old couples have come through a difficult death and re-birth. But far more have missed the re-birth. Your [manuscript], as you well say, has now gone safe to the Printer” (pg 185).

Grading the candidates

Should you marry sooner or later? The tradeoffs

Waiting for your one true soulmate

Monday, August 17, 2015

"I'm a changed man!"

The conundrum of personal identity is one of the perennial issues in philosophy. Even though you change over the course of a lifetime, changing in a multitude of little ways and big ways, are you the same person throughout it all?

It's difficult to give a clearcut answer to this question because it boils down to degrees of continuity, similarity, and dissimilarity. To questions of what is intrinsic or extrinsic to what, if anything, makes you the unique individual that you are.

Let's take some concrete examples. On his deathbed, there's a sense in which Paul was the same man responsible for the death of many Christians. Paul did it in a way that, say, Matthew Henry did not. And, indeed, Paul himself was always haunted by his preconversion misconduct. 

On the other hand, there's a sense in which Paul could honestly say, "I'm a changed man. I'm not the same man who did those terrible things 30 years ago."

In a way, that's true. If Paul could go back in time, knowing then what he knew now, he wouldn't do the same things. He couldn't do the same things. His beliefs changed. His attitude changed.

If you put him in a time machine and sent him back, if he met his younger self, and they met face-to-face talk, there's a very real sense in which the man who returned from the future is not the same man as his younger counterpart in the past. It's inconceivable that Paul, as an old man, would do what he did as a young man. As an old man, he was a gracious, saintly, long-suffering Christian. He would never persecute Christians. He would never arrange for their death. There's be no meeting of minds between his younger and older self. 

Now let's take a very different example: suppose a Nazi official escapes to South America. He was responsible for the death of thousands of Jews. And not just because he was following orders. He was a Nazi enthusiast. He took pride in his work. 

Decades later, Mossad agents discover him in a nursing home. Normally, they'd smuggle him out of the country to face trial in Israel. But he's senile. He no longer remembers his crimes. Is he now the same man who sent innocent Jews to the gas chambers?

It's a quandary. On the one hand it's unjust that he eluded justice all these years. On the other hand, it seems unjust to try him now that his mind is gone. They caught up with him too late. Yet that, in itself, is unfair. He got away with it. At least in this life. Of course, even if he had all his marbles, they can't really punish him adequately for the evil he did.

At the same time, this goes to ambiguities regarding personal identity. From a dualistic standpoint, his mind is still intact, but smothered by a deteriorating brain. Once he dies, once the soul is decoupled from the brain, his mind and memories will resurface. 

Take pain. If you're in excruciating pain, you can't think. It blocks reason. It consumes consciousness. But once the pain is relieved, reason returns. 

It's like saying I lost my keys. There are roughly two different ways in which I might "lose" them:

i) I can lose my keys even though they are still in my possession. I might absent-mindedly put them in a drawer, then forget where I put them. In a sense I still have them, but I can't access them because I don't remember where I mislaid them. Even if I remembered putting them in a drawer, I don't recall which piece of furniture.  

But just as I accidentally misplaced my keys, I might accidentally discover them if I happen to be rifling through that drawer for an unrelated reason.

ii) I can lose my keys if they fall out of my pocket. Or I take them out, put them on the counter while I'm trying to locate something in my pocket, and neglect to put them back.

That might happen in a public place. When I go back to the car, or walk back to the house, and reach for my keys, I suddenly realize they're gone! I run through my mind where I've been. Where might I have left them?

But even if I go back to the right place, they may be gone. Someone took them. They are lot forever. I will never see them again.

Eschatological justice is more like (i) than (ii). Even if, due to senility, the Nazi fugitive isn't the same man at the time of his death, he will be restored–to stand trial before the bar of God.  

But for Paul, his sins were forgiven.   


There's an argument for atheism that goes something like this: some animals have nonfunctional parts, proteins, DNA, &c. That's what we'd expect if naturalistic evolution is true. Although that doesn't falsify God's existence, it makes theism less probable than atheism. 

There are different ways of responding to this argument. I'd like to focus on just one. Recently, as I was strolling through a public park, I noticed that someone left a spade behind. I assume it belonged to the groundskeeper. 

I don't normally pay much attention to garden tools, but one thing happened to catch my eye: the tip of the handle had a square hole or aperture. Now that's a nonfunctional feature. That doesn't made the spade a more efficient digging tool. It doesn't improve the functionality of the spade.

If we were examining the spade from the standpoint of a secular evolutionary biologist, we'd conclude that this nonfunctional feature was the byproduct of an undirected process. 

Now, since I don't design spades, I can't say with authority why the tip of the handle had a square hole. However, having been inside my fair share of hardware stores, I will make a wild guess: that's a built-in feature so that you can hang the spade on a wall or rack. It's a convenience.

Although that feature doesn't contribute anything to the functionality of a spade as such, it is useful in relation to something else: it makes the product easier to display or to store. Of course, if you were unaware of that larger context, you might draw the false inference that this was a pointless feature. 

In regard to biology, it's possible that some features which seem to be nonfunctional in relation to the organism itself may be functional in relation of the environment, of which the organism is a part. There's a sense in which the ecosystem is one big symbiotic network.