Saturday, August 06, 2016

What language did Jesus speak?

Why I'm not a Reformed Thomist

I. Introduction

In some Calvinist circles there's been a resurgence of interest in Thomism or Reformed Thomism. I don't share their enthusiasm. In this post I'll explain why.

II. Philosophical predilections

When it comes to philosophy and philosophical theology, I find metaphysics more interesting than epistemology. I take an interest in philosophical issues like the nature of time, personal identity, abstract objects (e.g. numbers, possible worlds), and thought-experiments.

I think it's important for Christians to have a considered religious epistemology, of course, but there's an obvious sense in which metaphysics is more fundamental than epistemology. Metaphysics supplies the objects of knowledge. 

Because I find metaphysics more interesting than epistemology, I generally find "rationalist" philosophers more interesting than empiricist philosophers. "Rationalist" philosophers are far more inclined to delve into metaphysical questions than empiricist philosophers. That doesn't mean I generally agree with "rationalist" philosophers. But I prefer their orientation. 

Because Aristotle is more down-to-earth than Plato, Aquinas is more down-to-earth than Augustine. I think Aquinas's interest in the empirical dimension of reality  is a salutary corrective to Augustine. Nevertheless, Aquinas neglects philosophical issues that interest me. The nature world is fascinating, and frequently awesome, beautiful, and enjoyable. However, I also takes an interest in what lies behind the natural world. 

As I've also said, developments in math, science, and philosophy have given us conceptual models and analogies that were unavailable to Aquinas. 

III. Theological predilections

Unlike Aquinas, I'm not a medieval Catholic. Rather, I'm Protestant. That makes a difference. For instance, I start with the Bible and take that as far as I can. When the Bible doesn't address certain issues, I supplement Scripture with reason and empirical evidence. 

IV. Thomistic categories

i) Thomistic metaphysics is based on his categorial scheme. That's carryover from Aristotle's taxonomy, although Aquinas modifies it. 

Aquinas's taxonomy comprises the transcendentals (being, truth, goodness, unicity); material, formal, efficient, and final causes; essence, existence; form, matter; potentiality, actuality; substance, accident; privation. 

Moreover, some of these categories correspond to each other, viz.



ii) I think it makes sense to base metaphysics on categories. Categories are the most fundamental kinds of things. Metaphysics is concerned with what there is. So to that extent I'm sympathetic to Aquinas's program. 

ii) There are, however, problems with his choices. There's nothing inherently or distinctively personal about any of his categories. They could all be impersonal entities or kinds of things. 

iii) In Plato, there's a clear-cut distinction between form and matter. But in Aristotle and Aquinas, the form tends to dissolve in the concrete object. 

iv) There's also the problem of "pure" forms (e.g. God, angels) that are not a form of anything. That's a throwback to Plato's theory. So the classification breaks down. 

v) I think sufficient condition better captures the notion of efficient cause. 

vi) What's the justification for classifying formal, material, efficient, and final causes as causes? What do they share in common that makes all of them causes? For instance, teleology is an important category, but why claim it's a causal category? Put another way, in what respect are these four very different categories causes? 

vii) Thomistic epistemology is naturally related to Thomistic metaphysics. As I understand him, Aquinas doesn't think we have direct knowledge of particulars. Rather, we discern the form in the particular. But what's the justification for that restriction?

V. Deriving categories

i) A deeper problem I have with Aquinas's categorial scheme is how he arrives at that taxonomy. What's his source of information? What makes those categories to be the ultimate categories rather than some other categories? In the history of philosophy, different metaphysicians have drawn up different lists of categories. 

How are humans in a position to know what are the ultimate kinds of things? How do we even get started in developing a theory of categories?

ii) From a Christian standpoint, God is the ultimate source of reality. God's nature, existence, and imagination constitute the source of what's actual or possible. Therefore, in developing a theory of categories, it makes sense to begin with God. In particular, to correlate our categories with the communicable and incommunicable attributes of God. To some degree, communicable attributes function like abstract universals. 

iii) There are different ways to classify the divine attributes. One way is to use Scriptural terminology. Biblical usage is sometimes redundant. For instance, God's "justice" and God's "righteousness" are synonymous. Those are not two different attributes. 

You also have overlapping attributes: Holiness overlaps goodness and transcendence. Wisdom overlaps goodness and knowledge. So a classification of divine attributes needs to consolidate Biblical usage.

iv) Another way to classify divine attributes is to translate Biblical terminology into philosophical nomenclature, viz. aseity, omnipotence, omniscience, impassibility, timelessness, spacelessness. In deriving metaphysical categories from divine attributes, that makes sense.

V. Categories as communicable/incommunicable attributes

Let's list the divine attributes, and correlate them to categories:

1. The Trinity

The Trinity has several properties:

i) Personality

ii) Relation

iii) Resemblance

iv) Variation

v) Number (one, three)

vi) Symmetry (a category that combines ii-iv).

2. Timelessness & spacelessness

i) On the face of it, that seems to be apophatic. Negative theology. What God is not. God is not spatial (physical, material) or temporal. 

If is, however, possible to lend positive meaning to timelessness and spacelessness. Consider an actual abstract infinite. That's a given totality. Complete. By contrast, time and space are limits. In that respect, this involves a distinction between finitude and infinitude. God's existence is complete. We might use the word plenity to designate the fullness of God's existence. That stands in contrast to creatures whose existence is subdivided into spatial and/or temporal parts. 

3. Aseity

We could designate aseity as a kind of metaphysical necessity. Necessary existence. That stands in contrast to contingent existence. That distinguishes God from creatures and events.

4. Truth and speech

i) Scripture makes truth a divine attribute. Likewise, Scripture ascribes speech to God. Arguably, speech is an economic attribute.

Truth and speech have certain properties:

ii) Meaning

iii) Mentality

iv) Logic

It's arguable that truth is a property of thought or concepts. Truth inheres in minds. 

5. Omniscience

i) Knowledge presumes mentality. Knowledge is a property of minds.

ii) Knowledge can include imagination. Conceiving possibilities, including unexemplified possibilities. 

6. Omnipotence

This involves causality. Will and power. The ability to exercise power. The ability to convert abstract possibilities into concrete realities. Possible worlds are ground in God's omnipotence and omniscience.

VI. A Christian categorial scheme

1. Based on (V), we can derive the following categories:

i) Mentality

ii) Necessity/contingency

iii) Causality

iv) Symmetry (relation, resemblance, variation)

v) Plenity (actual infinity)/limits (time, space)

vi) Meaning

vii) Goodness

viii) Abstract objects (e.g. number, universals, possible worlds, logic)

2. The point of this exercise is illustrative rather than exhaustive. I'm not attempting to generate a complete categorial scheme, but to present a strategy for how a Christian metaphysician could do so. And I think that has a sounder basis in philosophical theology than Aquinas's rather arbitrary set of categories. I'm not a Thomist, in part because I don't see the value of squeezing or stretching philosophical analysis into his categorial scheme. 

ISIS denounces “Pope Francis”

Calling Islam a “religion of peace” is “a false narrative”.

Islamic State has denounced Pope Francis for stating that the war being waged on the West by Islamic State terrorists is not a "religious war".

The terror group, also known as Daesh, says the acts of terrorism it carries out are most certainly religiously motivated and even bear the blessing of Allah as testified in the Koran.

It says Pope Francis and others who argue that Islam is a peaceful religion are delivering a "false narrative".

The chilling religious propaganda behind IS is spelled out in the latest issue of Dabiq, reproduced in a "safe" format by the Clarion counter-extremism project, IS warns there will be no let up in the terror. It condemns Christianity as a "religion of polytheism".

The magazine is titled: "Break the Cross." …

The magazine comes just days after Pope Francis insisted the war on terror being waged across the world is not a religious war. Speaking to journalists on the plane to Poland for World Youth Day, after a Catholic priest in France had his throat slit by two IS followers, he said the world is at war but it is not a religious war.

"It's war, we don't have to be afraid to say this," he said. But it was a war of interests, for money, resources. "I am not speaking of a war of religions. Religions don't want war. The others want war."

IS says in its magazine that it is in fact a war of religion.

Wearing ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ insignia could be punishable racial harassment

Friday, August 05, 2016

Telling omissions

Scholars like John Walton and Peter Enns stress the real or imagined parallels between the Bible and other ancient Near Eastern cultures. In that regard, it's useful to contrast their position this statement by Nahum Sarna. Although he is, himself, a fairly liberal Jew, his observation is a useful corrective:

…whereas all the diverse literary genres of the Bible are to be found in the neighboring cultures, the reverse is not the case, and the omissions are highly instructive. The huge literature belonging to the worlds of astrology and magic omens, divination, and the like, and the considerable body of mythical texts, have no counterpart in the Hebrew scriptures (although the texts preserve evidence of these customs) because they are incompatible with Israel's fundamental monotheism. Moreover, it is apparent that what was drawn from the common Near Eastern stock was thoroughly refined and reshaped to bring it into conformity with the national religious ideology. Encyclopedia of Religion (Macmillan Reference, 2nd ed., 2005), 2:884b.

Silent figure in a wheelchair

John Goldingay is prominent liberal OT scholar. He used to be even more liberal, but watching the inexorable progression of his wife's MS gave him a newfound appreciation for the resurrection of the body

It’s hard for people who knew Ann only in her latter years to imagine her as a person full of regular human strength, full of drive and energy, as she was...When we started dating, she was a top student in her medical school and also the lady vice-president of the London University Christian Fellowship; there was a glass ceiling for women (I think there probably still is), and this was as high as a woman could get.  Through her life from then on she served God and served other people, though in changing ways.  For the first third of the years that she lived with MS, she combined with aplomb being girl-friend and wife and mother, student and doctor and psychiatrist, not to say clergy wife and professor’s wife.  Then the course of the illness changed and she gradually lost her physical capacities and her capacity for remembering things and so on, so that for most people in California she has been a silent figure in a wheelchair.  "Ann's Eulogy"  
I met a medical student called Ann, who in due course became my wife. Soon after we started dating, she diagnosed herself as having multiple sclerosis, with which she and I then negotiated for forty-three years until she died in 2009. 
One of the first papers I published required me to think about demythologizing, a more important topic in the 1970s than it now is. I concluded that I would be quite content if Bultmann was right and the idea of resurrection and eternal life is not to be taken literally. As Ann's illness became more and more disabling, I changed my mind and came to attach importance to the fact that Ann will be able to dance on resurrection day. 
As a young assistant rector (curate, in Brit-speak), I once expressed satisfaction in a meeting of the church council that the introduction of a new prayer book would mean less use of the Psalms in worship. Singing them seemed torturous and tiresome. My rector withered me across the room with a look at which he was expert, and declared, "One day, my boy, you will need the Psalms." I am only sorry that he didn't live long enough for me to acknowledge to him that he was right. The freedom in prayer modeled in the Psalms became important to me. I think the medics had told us that multiple sclerosis doesn't usually affect people's mental capacity. I suspect they were simply lying; certainly it had a terrible effect on Ann in this respect. Early on, I did not realize that the slowing of her mental functioning was why she was having difficulty with her work as a psychiatrist, which naturally made her anxious and so preoccupied by her difficulties that she had no energy to be interested in me. It was as if she had left me. I would get up in the middle of the night and cry out to God about it, and I recognized that I was praying in the manner of the protest psalms. 
Ann's illness made me mull over the question of suffering, though not exactly to fret over it. I am always a little puzzled at the way many people are troubled by it as a theoretical question–usually people who don't have much suffering to fret over…The nature of God's purpose in the world makes it not surprising that God sometimes acts to put things right, and also not surprising that God doesn't very often do so. Jesus' resurrection is the guarantee that God's purpose will find fulfillment and it enables some fulfillment now, but the day of ultimate fulfillment and of our resurrection has not yet arrived, which makes it natural that in the meantime death, illness, and tragedy are still realities. In between Jesus' resurrection and ours, it is natural that there are some healings, but also natural that there are not many… 
…I know that God's declining to heal Ann has turned me into a different person from the one I would otherwise have been, and a person whose scholarship has aspects to it that it wouldn't otherwise have had…It is an example of the way the Scriptures "explain" suffering in terms of where it can lead rather than what caused it. I (Still) Believe: Leading Bible Scholars Share Their Stories of Faith and Scholarship(Zondervan 2015), 95-97.

You have to wonder how someone can say they'd be content that the idea of resurrection and eternal life is not to be taken literally. I suspect the reason is twofold:

i) For some professing Christian intellectuals, theology is an abstraction. They play with ideas. 

ii) They take intellectual pride in looking down on traditional orthodoxy, looking down on Biblical promises that the average Christian clings to for dear life. 

However, Goldingay's experience ripped away the glib liberalism of his early days and forced him to take refuge in the only source of consolation available. Although it's a pity that he's still so liberal, his experience is a useful example of how liberal theology just isn't a viable alternative. You can't live liberal theology in the face of what the worst life has to throw at you. Traditional theology is the only haven. If all your hopes are vested in this world, and the world turns against you, what's left?  

Is Rome the answer?

A stock objection to sola Scriptura is that Scripture alone is not enough to furnish answers on important ethical questions. That's why some erstwhile evangelicals convert to Catholicism. That's a standard argument in the repertoire of Catholic apologetics. 

However, it presents an interesting conundrum for Catholicism. For instance, Catholic moral theology regards lying as intrinsically wrong:

That might seem to simplify your moral options. If lying is always wrong, then you must take that option off the table. 

By contrast, a Christian ethicist who doesn't think lying is always wrong has the more complicated task of attempting to provide criteria that distinguish licit from illicit lying. So the Catholic position appears to have the benefit of moral clarity. However, the Catholic prohibition is deceptively simple inasmuch as the definition of lying is philosophically intricate and unsettled:

There's no agreed upon definition of what constitutes a lie. And to my knowledge, the Magisterium has never provided an authoritative definition. Indeed, I doubt it's even possible for the Magisterium to define a lie with sufficient precision to rule out various counterexamples. 

So that generates a Catholic conundrum: Rome says "never tell a lie" without defining its terms. "Don't do it!" but we won't explain what you're not supposed to do. 

What's the point of saying X is forbidden if you don't say what X is? What's forbidden? The prohibited activity is a placeholder waiting for a definition. Is like warning people not to cross an invisible line. "Don't cross that line!" What line? Where's the line? 

The Magisterium issues an authoritative prohibition on lying without issuing an authoritative definition of the prohibited activity. No compact definition will have the specificity required to rule out every conceivable scenario. 

So even if you wish to obey Rome's prohibition, you must figure out for yourself what the prohibition actually means or entails. The definition of lying must be supplied by something outside the Magisterium. By fallible, inconclusive, incomplete philosophical reflection. 

Incidentally, this generates a parallel problem for Scripturalism. According to Scripturalism, the Bible is the only source of knowledge. So how does a Scripturalist define a lie? Invoking the coherence theory of knowledge is inadequate because, even if we grant the coherence theory of knowledge, that's at best, a necessary rather than sufficient condition of a lie. Even if every lie is a contradiction, every contradiction is not a lie. The definition of a lie is more specific than a general theory of knowledge. So the definition of lying is underdetermined by the coherence theory of knowledge. 

Bacardi rum

In Language and Theology, Gordon Clark says: To perceive a thing, these “sensations” must be combined. Note that no one ever sees a dog or a tree. A dog is not just black; he is also soft, fuzzy, and perhaps has an odor. But before one perceives a dog, he must choose black, fuzzy, and odor, combine them, and only then has he the perception of his pet. Yet there is nothing in the single qualities that forces him to select these particular ones and discard the dozens of others he also has at the same time. Why does he not select the fuzzy, the sound B-flat, and the taste of Bacardi rum, all of which he senses at the same moment, and combine them into the perceived object? Is there anything in a person’s fifty or more sensations that compels the selection of these few rather than another few?

On the face of it, this generates a dilemma for Scripturalist epistemology. How can we grasp what Clark's statement even means unless we already know the difference between a a dog, the sound of B-flat, and the taste of Bacardi rum? Clark's examples appear to be self-refuting, because his illustration is premised on knowing something that his conclusion denies. Given his epistemology, how does he know, or come to know, what's a dog or what's Bacardi rum? Surely he didn't deduce Bacardi rum from a Biblical proposition. What proposition would that be? 

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Americans Don't Know Much About Conservatism

Matthew Sheffield recently wrote an article that I highly recommend reading. It has a lot of relevance to how Trump became the Republican nominee. It argues against many common misconceptions about the beliefs of the American people, what media sources they get their information from, and other issues. Here's a representative portion of the article. You'll have to read the whole thing, though, to get a lot more information like this and his documentation for it. He exaggerates some of his conclusions, such as the closing line in the quote below, but he makes a lot of significant points:

Improvising morality

A few years ago, NT scholar Andrew Lincoln published a book attacking the Virgin Birth. Jason did a multipart critical review:

And I did some posting:

Now, however, I'd like to draw attention to something else. Does Lincoln have an ulterior motive for undermining the historicity of the Virgin Birth? Last year he contributed to a book in which he makes some revealing statements about his theological motivations:

My views about the truth of the Bible and its relation to faith continue to evolve in response to…factors, such as…church life and its mission of social justice, friendships. Times of radical questioning have been precipitated not by academic study of the Bible but more by crises in my personal life and relationships, by my and the church's failure to be loving… 
So there was immediately a much greater recognition that the Bible's authority was not to be thought of as timeless in some unqualified sense. That deepening recognition was already preparing me to think about questions that confronted me in the first two setting in which I taught–about women's ordained ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and about homosexuality at St. John's College, Nottingham. Although I started off by thinking that traditionalists had the better exegetical case on these matters and that should be decisive, my pastoral experience with women students, who were highly gifted in teaching and preaching, and with gay ordinands, who had prayed and agonized about their sexuality for years and were placed in the invidious position of hoping their future bishops would be those who deliberately turned a blind eye to official teaching, caused me to rethink what the Bible's authority meant in such cases…This involves, as some put it, "improvising"… I (Still) Believe: Leading Bible Scholars Share Their Stories of Faith and Scholarship (Zondervan 2015), 148-149.

So Lincoln has a social agenda. He doesn't begin with principles, but people. He adapts and changes his view of Biblical authority based on personal experience and personal relationships. 

Given his frank admission, you can see how attacking the historicity of the Virgin Birth (or the historicity of John's Gospel) drives another wedge into the authority of Scripture, thereby making room for his "social justice" concerns. 

"For good people to do evil things, that takes religion"

Steven Weinberg says: "Religion is an insult to human dignity. Without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."
To which Freeman Dyson parried, "And for bad people to do good things–that takes religion."
i) Dyson makes a good point. Good religion prompts some people to do good things they wouldn't do if left to their own devices. 

But I'd like to address Weinberg's allegation on its own terms. 

ii) There's no such thing as "human dignity" given atheism. 

iii) There's a certain paradox in saying good people do evil things. Does Weinberg mean they are still good at the time they commit evil? Or does he mean people who'd otherwise be good become morally warped by religion? 

iv) Weinberg thinks his slam against "religion" is devastating, yet there's a sense in which a religious believer might agree with him. That's because Weinberg is attacking religion in general. As an atheist, he thinks all religion is bad. But, of course, religionists are typically more discriminating. For instance, I think Islam inspires "good" people to do evil things. Roman Catholicism inspired "good" people to do evil things. Likewise, the Bible says paganism inspires "good" people to do evil things. 

Here I'm using "good" in the sense that false religion can make people morally twisted. Of course, there's another sense in which bad religion is the product of morally twisted people. Those aren't mutually exclusive explanations. Rather, they feed on each other. Bad people invent bad religion, while bad religion makes people worse. They imagine they have an absolute duty to commit evil. 

v) Weinberg is arbitrarily selective. Secular ideologies can inspire "good" people to do evil things. Take Communism. A utopian, idealistic ideology that inspired torture, mass murder, &c. 

vi) For that matter, some otherwise "good" people do bad things because they find themselves in a coercive situation. Take men conscripted to fight in unjust wars. If they refuse, they will be shot. So they do what's required of them, although they may do the bare minimum.

vii) A final problem is that Christian ethics is incommensurable with secular ethics. Weinberg deems some actions to be evil which Christian ethics deems to be good; Weinberg deems some actions to be good which Christian ethics deems to be evil. There's not much common ground. 

You won't abandon me to the grave

For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,     
or let your holy one see corruption (Ps 16:10).

I'd like to comment on this verse:

i) Peter cites this passage as a prooftext for the Resurrection of Christ. Many people construe it along the same lines as the incorruptible body of favored saints in Catholic piety. However, I seriously doubt that's what's in view:

ii) On that interpretation, David implies that if you discovered his tomb centuries later, you'd find his body intact. But surely David's concern is not what happens to his body when he dies, but what happens to David when he dies. What fate awaits David on his deathbed? If David passed into oblivion at the moment of death, but his body survived incorrupt, how would that be any comfort to David or his readers? So I think that misses the point.

iii) Moreover, that's reinforced by the synonymous parallelism, where the second clause is roughly equivalent to the first clause: "You will not abandon my soul to Sheol (or the grave)." The passage concerns the afterlife. 

Normally, dead people stay dead. They don't return from the grave. As a result, their body decays. 

iv) And that's what lends force to Peter's argument. At the time he spoke, David had been dead for about a thousand years. He was long gone. He didn't return from the grave. 

Moreover, even if (ex hypothesi) the ghost of David appeared to some people, Jews believed in ghosts, so a Davidic apparition wouldn't be extraordinary. Hence, the passage demands something different. Something stronger. A personal resurrection. 

v) So how can this be about David? It can't. It must be about someone else. It must be Messianic. 

And there's a link between David and the Davidic messiah. Among other things, the messiah is David's heir. So he inherits the promises made to David. 

vi) A stock objection to Peter's interpretation is that his argument turns on a particular word, and his argument only works in the LXX. The Hebrew word means "pit," not "decay". 

However, scholars like Waltke, Reinke, and Vaccari, have argued that the Hebrew word sahat has two meanings: "pit" or "decay". Cf. NIDOTTE, 4:1113; B. Waltke & J. Houston, The Psalms as Christian Worship: Hearing the Voices of the Psalmist and of the Church in Response (Eerdmans, 2010), 323-24n76.

Furthermore, the meaning is context-dependent. As Waltke explains: with verbs of motion such as "descent" it means "pit"; with verbs of sense such as "see" it means "decay." B. Waltke, "Why I have Kept the Faith," I (Still) Believe: Leading Bible Scholars Share Their Stories of Faith and Scholarship (Zondervan 2015), 241. 

Since the verb in Ps 16:10 is a verb for sight, that selects for "decay" rather than "pit". 

vii) At best, Peter only knew a smattering of Hebrew. (And Luke knew no Hebrew.) His argument turns on the precise nuance of a Hebrew word. And, as it turns out, that's exactly right. 

viii) An unbeliever might deny that the Psalm is actually Davidic. But even if we grant that denial for the sake of argument, it makes no substantive difference. Whoever the Psalmist was, when he died, he didn't return from the grave. So it can't refer to the Psalmist.

ix) An unbeliever might claim the Psalmist was wrong. At the time of writing, he was still alive. But his hope was misplaced. 

But if the Psalmist was obviously wrong, why did Jews include it is the Psalter? Unless they thought it referred to someone other than the Psalmist. 

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Bruce Waltke on prayer and providence

Easter week, 1928, my dad, a roofer, fell five stories and was not expected to come out of his coma. Mother, however, believed God would spare him, as he had Daniel's three friends in the blazing furnace. God "remembered" her, as he had Hannah, and a year later I was conceived. 

One night, as a four-year-old lying in my crib, I saw an angel looking down on me–on the headboard, then suddenly on the footboard and, just a suddenly back again on the headboard, without flying. It was as real to me as the moon shining through my bedroom window, though I knew it was not physical property.

In college I majored in history and minored in Greek and philosophy. Confronted with the rationalists the likes of Voltaire and of Rousseau, I had to choose between revelation and reason as my chief source and test of knowing what was good (i.e. an enhanced life) or bad (i.e. diminished life). I resolved my epistemological crisis both by my heart and my mind.

After having been tried for three centuries, the Enlightenment in social and moral skills proved to be a colossal failure. The Enlightenment moved Western civilization from Greek virtues to Nietzsche's will for power. In its wake came Nazi genocide and ethnic cleansing. Geneticists, social scientists, and medical practitioners sometimes play God and kill unwanted human beings. Today no human life can be assured it is precious or safe. 

Let me begin my walk with God at seminary by sharing an amazing answer to prayer. Going to a non-denominational seminary is a risk. Unlike a denominational seminary, where the graduate is fitted like a cog into an ecclesiastical machine, a graduate of a non-denominational seminary has no job security. I saw Dallas graduates flounder like a fish out of water, never finding satisfying employment. So for the sake of financial security, I took my destiny into my own hands: I applied and was accepted to be inducted into the US army chaplaincy. I persuaded myself of the truth that being a chaplain was a noble calling. But I fear I was bastardizing that noble call, for I was entering to serve myself, not soldiers. On the Wednesday before I was to be sworn in, I received a letter from the army instructing me that I would be sworn in at Hensley field, an airbase nearby to Dallas, and to expect a telegram on Friday morning specifying the time. Thursday night cold sweat trickled down my spine, a sure sign of a bad conscience. I prayed earnestly that God would get me out of my conflicted mess. Friday morning I received a letter from the army: "all your papers are lost: start over again." I did not obey.

I was troubled by the Bible's inconsistencies. In second year Hebrew I encountered the first discrepancy that shook me. The apostle Peter argues from Ps 16:10 that David predicted the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth when he said: "You will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay [Hebrew sahat]" (cf. Acts 2:29-31). Peter reasoned David cannot be speaking [of] himself but must be speaking of Messiah because David, not Jesus, saw decay. But the authoritative lexicographers, Brown, Driver, and Brigs, later confirmed in the authoritative lexicon, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, give as the only meaning of sahat "pit." In that case David does not speak of Messiah's resurrection but of his own momentary triumph over death. So I faced the dilemma of trusting Peter or the human authorities. I chose to trust Peter on account of both my epistemology that true revelation trumps human reason and my Spirit-given conviction that the apostles speak the truth. Years later, as a mature scholar in Hebrew, I cross-examined the lexical authorities and found them wanting. I demonstrated that sahat is a homonym that means either "pit" or "decay." With verbs of motion such as "descent" it means "pit"; with verbs of sense such as "see" it means "decay." [B. Waltke & J. Houston, The Psalms as Christian Worship: Hearing the Voices of the Psalmist and of the Church in Response (Eerdmans, 2010), 323-24n76.]

According to one of my garrulous Harvard professors, the department of Ancient Near Eastern Literatures and Languages Program debated my application for three hours; I was their first evangelical applicant. 

At Harvard I often found myself in courses having to learn from the unknown to the unknown. This was acutely so in Comparative Semitic Grammar, a course taught every three years. Consequently the third-year men had already studied most of the Semitic languages, but the ten men of my first-year class were only beginning to learn some of them. Nevertheless, the professor assumed we all knew all the languages. I took notes furiously, hoping later to make sense of them. The ten of us were all in the same boat: our notes made no sense. We decided to meet three times before the examination, hoping that our collective knowledge and insight would be better than one's own to make sense of them. The first two meetings were fruitless. The exam was on a Monday morning, and we agreed to meet for the third and last time on the preceding Saturday morning. As I pored over my notes that Friday night beforehand, I could not make sense of them. I prayed, arguing with God that he should not have brought me this far to wash me out. God in his grace heard my plea, and gave me insight into the unknown, which I gladly shared the next morning with my peers.

When I went through the Ishtar Gate at Babylon and saw the image of Marduk, the patron deity of Babylon, with his dragon-like head, lion-like torso covered with fish scales and his serpentine tail, I thought to myself: "No wonder Daniel had visions of incredible animals." Probably Moses, who had the finest education of his day, was familiar with other law codes of his world, including the Code of Hammurabi, and God used his education in formulating the law. 

Another problem I confronted during my universities days was the discrepancy between Exod 6:3: "the Lord did not make himself known to Abraham," and Gen 12:8: "Abraham called upon the name of the Lord." How could Abraham call on a name that had not been made known to him? At the time I did not have a resolution to the discrepancy, but my high view of Scripture does not depend upon my resolving all apparent discrepancies. Over thirty years later I resolved the discrepancy; I concurred with Eslinger that the Lord's statement in Exodus 6:3 meant he had not yet demonstrated that he was truly God by miraculous interventions, such as his awful plagues on Egypt that enabled the Exodus. [B. Walkte, An Old Testament Theology (Zondervan, 2007), 368.] B. Waltke, "Why I have Kept the Faith," I (Still) Believe: Leading Bible Scholars Share Their Stories of Faith and Scholarship (Zondervan 2015), chap. 18.

Richard Bauckham on faith and atheism

But at this point I think it may be helpful if I go back behind my work to the deeper roots of my faith. I have always loved God. I hesitate to say that because I cannot recall hearing anyone else say it, but I am sure it must be true for lots of other people. I can't account for it, except (of course) by the grace of God. What I mean by saying I have always loved God is that, from whenever it was that the word "God" had genuine meaning for me, I loved God and wanted to live in a way that would be pleasing to him. The idea some people have that being a religious believer is about obeying arbitrary divine commands out of fear of punishment is quite alien to me.

Because I have always loved God and my life over the years has developed on that basis, I find life without God almost unimaginable. I can see how people may feel satisfied with life without God if they have never known life with God. But after knowing the incomparable depth and breadth of meaning that knowing and loving God give to everything else in life, losing faith and living without God would surely be unendurable. So in rare and transient moments when the possibility that there is no God has seemed to me a guinea possibility, it has felt like the opening of a bottomless abyss of nihilism. I can recall only brief glimpses of that abyss. Nietzsche is the postmodern prophet who descended open-eyed into it and did his best to celebrate it. He is a powerful antidote to the superficiality of the "new atheists" who seem able merely to wander along the edges of the abyss, blithely unaware of it.

I have been through some dark periods in my life, but they have not threatened my faith. Quite the opposite–they have made me feel more deeply my need of God. Suffering seems either to threaten or to deepen faith.

Good things are even better when they come to us as gifts of love. In thankfulness to God we learn to experience everything good in life as God's love. Having no one to thank for all the good of one's life is one of the inhuman deficients of atheism. I once heard an attempt at a non-theistic form of grace before a meal, which amounted to thanking the universe. To thank the universe, which doesn't care even whether we exist, is as nonsensical as thanking the microwave for the meal.

…I would find it more difficult to believe in God if I did not believe that God became incarnate as the man Jesus, who died and rose bodily from death and is alive eternally with God. (Here I differ profoundly from people who find it easier to believe in God than in the incarnation and the resurrection.) R. Bauckham, "A Life with the Bible," I (Still) Believe: Leading Bible Scholars Share Their Stories of Faith and Scholarship (Zondervan 2015), 23-24.

Demonstrative love

Freewill theists say the God of Calvinism is less loving than the God of freewill theism. They say God loves everyone, whereas (some) Calvinists say God only loves the elect. They say Calvinists redefine "love" to make it conform to Reformed theism. 

In addition, they often make human good a standard of comparison for divine good. For God to be recognizably good, he must behave in ways analogous to what we consider to be virtuous human behavior. Specifically, they often use the parental analogy: a good God will treat all people the same way a good father will treat his children.  

Let's play along with those assumptions for the sake of argument. What does it mean to be loving? What does it mean to be recognizably loving? Consider two illustrations:

Suppose a man fathers a son by a mistress. He provides generous child support payments. If his son has special medical needs, he foots the bill. 

However, the father avoids direct contact with his son. His son has never met his father. This despite the fact that they live in the same town. 

Would we consider the man to be a loving father? Surely there's more to being a good father than providing for the physical needs of your kids. The son needs to spend time with his father. Do things together. Talk. Hug. Parental love requires demonstrative love, not hands-off childrearing. 

Suppose an elderly parent becomes too enfeebled in mind and/or body to care for herself. She has an affluent grown son who pays for a live-in caregiver. Or maybe he pays two or three caregivers to be there on rotating shifts. So his mother is never alone. 

He has hidden cameras in her house to monitor the treatment she receives. To make sure she's not neglected or abused. When she's hospitalized, he receives regular updates on her medical status. 

But he never visits his elderly mother–even though they live the same town. He never calls her on the phone.

Would we consider him to be a loving son? Surely it's not enough for him to provide for his elderly mother behind-the-scenes. She needs to see that he loves her. She's at a time of life when it's easy to feel unloved and unwanted. Does anyone love her just for her? Will people still love her when she can no longer do anything for them, but everything must be done for her? She's at an emotionally vulnerable time of life when, more than ever, she needs reassurance. She needs to see her son. Hear him talk to her. Hold her hand. 

Suppose we grant the freewill theist interpretation of John 3:16. Problem is, many unbelievers have never even heard of that verse. They don't experience God's love as God's love. Even if good things happen to them, there's nothing that recognizably connects that to God. They have no tangible evidence that God loves them. John 3:16 is just an abstraction. 

They feel that they are on their own. They have no experience of God's demonstrative love. Even if God is working behind the scenes to provide for them, that's undetectable. They can't sense God's love. 

Moreover, my two illustrations are pretty idealistic. What about, say, the plight of street kids in the Third World? 

In my observation, freewill theists like Jerry Walls and Roger Olson are sociopathic in the sense that they have no real empathy. They talk about God's love in the abstract. They presume to speak on behalf of everyone. But they don't project themselves into the experience of many lost souls. They don't speak from the viewpoint of the lost. Freewill theists may say God loves everybody, but everybody hasn't heard God telling them that. As far as they can discern, God, if there is a God, is an absentee father. 

A freewill theist can, of course, "redefine" love in a more detached, providential sense, but that falls well short of the human exemplars they bring forward when contrasting Calvinism with freewill theism. 

What Pope Francis Needs to Know about Islam

Atheism, Amoralism, and Arationalism

"Atheism, Amoralism, and Arationalism" by Prof. James Anderson.

The pope who never missed a chance to miss a chance

A Good Christian Makes a Bad Case for Trump

Taking shortcuts in ethics

There are some conservative Christians who speak with great moral assurance when it's obvious that they haven't thought deeply about ethics. Of course, that's hardly confined to conservative Christians. The same phenomenon recurs regarding "progressive" Christians and secular humanists. 

I'm thinking in particular of Christians who rely on a handful of zippy labels and catch phases to evaluate a position, viz. That's situation ethics! That's consequentialism! The end doesn't justify the means! Of two evils, choose neither!

There are Christians who think ethics is easy. They imagine they can wing it with a few slogans. But ethics is very demanding. It requires careful distinctions. Patient analysis. 

One common failing is people who don't stop to consider any counterexamples before they make blanket claims. But a thoughtful person, especially a Christian, should cultivate the habit of considering exceptions or counterexamples before presuming to generalize. 

For instance, suppose you're diagnosed with terminal cancer. What should you do? Well, that depends. Since treatment is futile, it might seem pointless to undergo treatment. But it isn't always that simple.

Suppose you're 2 years shy of retirement. Treatment will  prolong your life. If you can make it to retirement age, your wife will have your pension to live on. But if you die before then, she will be in dire financial straits.

So even though you're doomed, it makes sense in that situation to undergo treatment. Conversely, if you're a widower with no dependents, then it might be more sensible to forego treatment.

Or to vary the illustration, suppose you're the father of two adolescent kids. Now is a very bad time for you to die. Bad for them. It makes sense to undergo treatment to buy yourself some extra time with your kids.  

Let's consider a more controversial scenario. Suppose you see a house on fire, and a young boy in the second floor window. Should you rush in to save him if you can? Normally, you have a duty to intervene in that situation.

But suppose you have second sight. You realize that if you save him, his son will become a security guard, on the night shift, at a petroleum refinery. He's supposed to do the rounds every night to make sure no systems are going critical. If they are, he must sound an alarm to evacuate the company town next door.

But he's derelict. As a result, the refinery explodes, incinerating the town, killing a 1000 residents. If your intervention has that delayed effect, should you save the boy? We could debate that–which is the point. 

Although some moral issues are clear-cut, there are other moral issues where you can't take intellectual shortcuts. You can't be morally serious and morally superficial at the same time. 

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Crunch time

Taking geocentrism for a spin

I'd like to discuss geocentrism. This seems to have more of a following in some Christian circles than flat-earth astronomy. And it raises a number of different issues. I'll begin with what I take to be some representative statements of modern geocentrism:

Finally, one person asked the question I was already thinking: What about the problem of rotational speed of the universe? If the universe really does revolve around the earth once a day, then "Saturn must be going at the speed of light." Yes, I had thought of that too! Say for argument that the universe is finite and has a radius of 12 billion light years, then the outer edge must be moving at 3.14 billion light years per hour. That's about 27.5 trillion times the speed of light. So how in the world does that work? Sungenis asked Bouw to answer.
Bouw said something like this: Superluminal velocity is not a problem for an omnipotent aether plenum. I recorded this in my notes like so: "Q: Angular momentum of universe? Omnipotent ether 'plenum' - not a problem saith Bouw." I'm pretty sure he also elaborated on whether the aether was fluid or dense. 
He started out with some basic definitions, where he included this term "Plenum - infinitely dense medium pervading all space." 
Then Bouw brought up the Planck particle, which he said was the firmament of Genesis 1:6-8. He introduced the idea that the plenum was God's power, and the creation needed a shield to protect it from God's power (the plenum). That's the firmament. He then explained that the Hebrew word for firmament was raqia, which he said came from a word that means "to make firm or solid."

Twentieth century science has afforded us a new perspective on the firmament. The view that develops is one of a very solid material, so solid that it is indistinguishable from an infinitely dense medium insofar as the material in the universe is concerned. The firmament is actually a created medium with a density of about 4 x 1093 (a 4 followed by 93 zeros) grams per cubic centimeter (gm/cm3). This density is known to physics as the Planck Density. It is so high that the very highest material densities in the universe (nuclear densities of 1014 gm/cm3) are as next to nothing when compared to it; just as the density of a cloud (about 10-6 gm/cm3) is negligible when compared to the density of air (about 0.001 gm/cm3).
A medium of such a high density has some interesting properties. One would think, for example, that it would be impossible to move in such a medium, just as one could not move if encased in iron -- even if one were made of iron! Normally this is true; but it was demonstrated earlier in this century that if the medium were eternal and uncreated, that motion can happen in it as long as objects moved in cyclical paths, e.g. waves. In this way the medium would fill in the space left in the wake of the moving object. Now it turns out that such a medium, called a plenum, can be simulated by a non-infinitely dense, created medium if the material inside it merely perceives itself to be in a true plenum.

According to Bouw, the firmament has a natural rotational period, due to the presence of the matter within it, of one day. In its rotation it carries with it all the stars and galaxies embedded in it. J. Byl, God & Cosmos, 203.

This ultradense medium of geocentric physics is identified as the Biblical firmament. It has a density so great that a teaspoon of the firmament would weigh more than a trillion universes combined. (The computed density is termed the Planck density, roughly 1094 g/cm3.)
The issue of superluminal phenomena is significant in light of the common theoretical challenge to geocentric cosmologies that they require every object past Saturn to travel faster than the speed of light in order to complete a daily revolution around the earth.

I. Science

Let's consider two scientific objections:

i) Ultradense aether

How do objects pass through an ultradense medium? In theory, I could see how objects embedded in an ultradense medium could move with the medium. But how does that explain the freedom of objects like comets to move through the medium? Bouw says "if the medium were eternal and uncreated, that motion can happen in it as long as objects moved in cyclical paths, e.g. waves. In this way the medium would fill in the space left in the wake of the moving object."

On the face of it, that's a non sequitur. Perhaps, though, his appeal to "cyclical paths" alludes to objects that are carried along by the rotating ether. If so, that only explains the motion of objects that travel in unison with the ether, and not objects that travel through the ether. 

In addition, these two claims tug in opposing directions. How can a geocentrist say objects are at liberty to move independent of the ether while simultaneously saying objects move in the same direction because they are snared in the ether? If stars are said to orbit the earth because they are caught in the ether, which constrains them to move in the same direction as the rotating ether, you can't turn around and say objects are free to pass right through the ether, for in that event their trajectory is independent of the ether. 

ii) Angular momentum

My reservation is not with superluminal speed, per se. As I understand it, the geocentric model is like a carousel. Just as horses move in the same direction as the carousel, because horses are attached to the rotating platform, planets and galaxies orbit the earth because they are embedded in the ether. 

This means stars and planets farther from earth must travel faster to complete the same period–just as horses on the outer ring of the merry-go-round must move faster to cover greater distance in the same amount of time as horses on the inner ring. They always line up.

Suppose, though, you kept ratcheting up the speed of the merry-go-round. At some point it would fly apart because the forces holding it together would be weaker than the opposing forces pulling it apart. To my knowledge, the natural tendency of an object in motion is to move in a straight line. The faster the object, the stronger the pull to move in a straight line. That's why cars slip and slide or even flip over if they go around a curve too fast. At a slower speed, the car's center of gravity, along with the surface friction of the tires, makes it possible to turn. But above a certain speed, they lose traction. The inertial force exceeds the opposing forces. 

By the same token, in a rotating universe, above a certain speed, what keeps the stars moving in a circular direction? What keeps them from shearing off? Is there not a point at which the centrifugal force overpowers the centripetal force? The outward pull of superluminal velocity overcomes the inward pull of gravity? 

One possible objection is that in the vacuum of space, you don't have the same opposing forces. But I don't think that solves the problem. So long as you have massive bodies in sufficient proximity, you have g-forces. Isn't that why planets in our solar system have lunar satellites? A less massive object orbiting a more massive object?

But in any event, geocentrists don't think outer space is a vacuum. To the contrary, they think it's filled with a ultradense ether. But at superliminal angular velocity, what maintains the cohesion? Wouldn't the covalent bond or gravitational force be weaker than the inertial force at superluminal speeds? What keeps the firmament from disintegrating under the stress?  

II. Hermeneutics

On the one hand, geocentrists appeal to geocentric prooftexts. On the other hand, geocentrists appeal to geometric inversion and Relativity to argue that the phenomena are consistent with geocentrism or heliocentrism alike. If, however, all reference frames are inherently relative, then geocentrism is false inasmuch as geocentrism posits an absolute frame of reference, viz., the universe obits the earth–rather than vice versa. 

III. Omnipotence

Bouw takes refuge in divine omnipotence to salvage his position, but there are problems with that appeal:

i) The way he refers to the ether personifies or divinizes the ether–as if the ether is a divine attribute. Ascribing self-perception to ether. Is Bouw a panpsychic? 

ii) You don't need a doctorate in astronomy to invoke omnipotence. If that's the ultimate explanation, why bother with the scientific rigamarole? 

iii) Is geocentrism a scientific theory or a metaphysical posit? To invoke omnipotence that this point is to concede that you don't have a scientific explanation. You can't identify a physical mechanism that relieves the tension. 

iv) Invoking omnipotence at that point is a classic stopgap. If the universe is analogous to a machine, then it's a design flaw to invoke miracles to shore up that deficiency. It makes God look like an incompetent engineer. 

My objection is not to miracles in the universe. Rather, my objection is to miracles that are necessary to make the machinery work. Indeed, miracles generally stand in contrast to the machinery. The machinery provides a backdrop for miracles. 

v) Someone might object that this is no different in principle than invoking omnipotence in relation to mature creation. But there's a difference. Mature creation concerns the initial setup. How it all got started. In the nature of the case, the origin of the universe will be a singularity. Unprecedented. Discontinuous with any antecedent state–because there was no antecedent state. That's quite different from resorting to miracles to account for regular natural processes. 

To Trump or not to Trump

I'm a NeverTrumper. I couldn't change direction without suffering internal decapitation. 

However, I've been running across bad arguments that some NeverTrumpers are using against Trumpers. By "Trumpers," I don't mean folks who voted for Trump in the primaries, but conservatives who opposed him in the primaries, yet are supporting his bid in the general election. And that was inevitable. You were bound to have some conservatives who vehemently opposed Trump in the primaries, but given a choice between him and Hillary, grudgingly support Trump. 

(I'm not saying Hillary and Trump are the only alternatives. I just mean it's a choice between them in the sense that, in all likelihood, one of them will be elected.)

This debate is becoming very acrimonious. Some NeverTrumpers treat this as a test of moral purity. And in relation to the primaries, I agree. But the general election presents a real dilemma. There are some thoughtful conservatives supporting (or considering) Trump's bid in the general election (e.g. Dennis Prager, Robert George, Robert Gagnon, Douglas Groothuis, Scott Klusendorf, Wayne Grudem). 

John Mark Reynolds penned a good critique of Grudem's article. However, Reynolds didn't merely disagree with Grudem–he was incensed by Grudem's stance. Unlike Reynolds, I'm not indignant over Grudem's stance. For Grudem, the prospect of Hillary as president is so catastrophic that he turns a blind eye to how bad Trump is. That's one-sided, but understandable. 

Conversely, some Trumpers are panicking at the prospect of Hillary, and the recriminations against NeverTrumpers is beginning before the first vote is cast. 

I did a post that was fairly critical of Wayne Grudem's case for Trump–although I generally agree with Grudem's criteria. I've also read a number of other fine critiques of Grudem's post:

But now I'd like to turn my attention to a bad critique of Grudem:

The reason I do this is because moral clarity is important in this debate. Baird's heart is in the right place (so is Grudem's), but he doesn't know how to properly evaluate the issue. The way he frames the issue is off-the-mark. 

Dr. Grudem contends that Trump is “flawed”, but not “evil”.

I've seen a number of critics misquoting Grudem. He didn't say Trump is a good person with flaws. Rather, he said Trump is a good candidate with flaws. 
Now, I think that's a considerable understatement, but there's a basic difference between saying someone is a good person and saying someone is a good candidate. To take a comparison, an individual might be an outstanding surgeon, but a terrible person. When Grudem uses the word "good", that's in specific reference to Trump in his capacity as a would-be president, and not a statement about his character in general.

Now, it's possible that Grudem is using "candidate" as a synonym for "person," but that's not what he said, and there's an important conceptual distinction. A candidate is a particular role that someone assumes. Would he do a decent job? To take another comparison, suppose you said Sherman was a good general. That's different from saying Sherman was a good person. Bad men can make great generals. In fact, given a choice, it's better to choose a bad man who's a good general than a good man who's a bad general. What's the purpose of having a general at all if not to win battles? 

Dr. Grudem, who is known for his biblical fidelity, moves quickly to a list of concerns we have as evangelicals (of which I concur) in his article. The case is made that Trump is a more pragmatic choice in seeing these concerns addressed or changed. In fact, he quotes a minor prophet concerning “seeking the welfare of a nation” and then leaps to the conclusion that any vote outside of one for Trump is helping Hillary. Therefore, a vote for Trump is morally right because we “cannot stand by and do nothing”. I have called this type of reasoning “situational pragmatism”. It is when normally consistent biblical worldview thinkers suspend their worldview in order to justify a more pragmatic approach due to what they consider “extenuating circumstances”. The colloquial phrase would be that they are trying “to help God out” or “the intention justifies the methodology”.
Pragmatism is a virtue that is difficult to prove by Scripture. Is there really a need to list the scores of stories where pragmatism was eschewed and obedience to God’s Word was implemented? Since when do we as believers default to pragmatism just because it “seems” to be the way to go? I seem to remember a verse that states, “There is a way that seems right to man, but the end thereof is death” (Proverbs 14:12). If that isn’t applicable to unbridled pragmatism, then perhaps any sin or pragmatic methodology can be baptized as permissible by God. I am confident that Dr. Grudem would reject that line of reasoning for he is a committed complimentarian [sic] and would reject suspending gender roles because of pragmatic concerns, so I can only assume that he has compartmentalized his election philosophy outside of his biblical worldview. In essence, Dr. Grudem feels it is now time to “help God out”, by suspending clear Scripture in selecting leadership because the choices we are presented demand it. That is bad theology.

That's confused on several levels:

i) It equivocates by failing to distinguish between pragmatic ethics and making pragmatic judgments. Pragmatism is actually difficult to define. It's not that unified. But there's a basic difference between "pragmatism" in the technical sense of a philosophical value system, and "pragmatism" in the informal sense of taking practical consequences into account when we make ethical decisions. It's trivially easy to illustrate the fact that there are many situations in which it would be immoral not to take practical consequences into consideration when making ethical decisions. The Biblical mandate to love our neighbor requires us to gauge the impact that our actions have on others. Are our actions likely to be beneficial or harmful to others? That's essential to social ethics. 

Put another way, in pragmatic ethics, the practical consequences are the sole factor that determines right and wrong. Practical consequences dictate the ends as well as the means. By contrast, we can distinguish between means and ends. What's the point of pursuing a goal through ineffective methods? Even if consequences don't select for the goal, it would be counterproductive to have means that work at cross-purposes with the ends. 

I can have objectives based on normative principles, but be "pragmatic" about how I achieve my objectives. 

ii) As a matter of fact, there is such a thing as "extenuating circumstances". To take a stock example, killing is prima facie wrong. There are, however, special circumstances under which killing is permissible or even obligatory. Although some actions are intrinsically right or wrong, obligatory or prohibitory, there's a class of actions where the licit or illicit character of the action is context-dependent. 

iii) Baird simply begs the question by suggesting that a vote for Trump is disobedient to God's Word. 

iv) In fact, you have some conservatives who oppose Trump for "pragmatic" reasons just as you have some conservatives who support Trump for "pragmatic" reasons. On the one hand you have conservatives who support Trump because they think Hillary is the greater evil. On the other hand, you have conservatives who oppose Trump because they think he's the greater evil. For instance:

Both sides of this debate are attempting to assess the likely results of a Trump or Hillary presidency. That's hardly confined to Trump supporters. 

We are not called as Christians to watch polling data, consider conventional political wisdom, or choose between two false choices. We are called to obey God fearlessly even at risk of ridicule. Earthly probabilities do not trump (no pun intended) Scriptural precept.

That sounds pious, but it's pious nonsense:
i) Once again, he hasn't begun to establish that voting for Trump is disobedient to God. Baird assumes what he needs to prove.

ii) It's morally irresponsible to act as if probabilities are irrelevant to ethical deliberations. Surely Baird doesn't consistently ignore probabilities when making ethical decisions. What if your child has symptoms of meningitis. Even if it's only probable that your child has meningitis, should you not take your him to the hospital? Probabilities aren't certainties. But should we just take our chances without any regard to what's likely? Isn't that what Proverbs says about the fool? 

That is the danger of situational ethics. It causes us to evaluate circumstances based on what WE think is best and not what God says is best.

i) That's another well-meaning, but callow objection. "Situation ethics" is a label popularized by the late Joseph Fletcher. The fact that he wrote a book by that title doesn't mean he owns situation ethics. Indeed, I daresay most people who use that phrase have never read his book. 

ii) Baird operates with these simplistic dichotomies, as if it's a choice between never taking circumstances into account for else making circumstances the only moral consideration. But that's a false dichotomy. Some actions involve moral absolutes. The situation makes no difference to what's permissible or impermissible. There are, however, many other cases in which circumstances are morally germane to the proper course of action. Again, take the stock example of killing.