Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Christianity in Scotland: New crossings

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

I wonder if the Alabama senate debacle is the beginning of the end for virtue-signalers like David French, Russell Moore et al., when many libertarians/conservatives feel they were cheated out of that senate seat by a fifth column from French/Russ Moore purists.

Roy Moore lost by a fraction, so it didn't take much to tip the scales. It's one thing when the rhetoric of French/Russ Moore is just talk, but this time it was costly. We'll see about the recriminations.

NRO is financially vulnerable due to the lawsuit, which is why they cut ties with Mark Steyn, despite his popularity. Likewise when they fired Derb. More recently, they alienated Trump voters. (I'm not commenting on the merits of the NRO position.)

By the same token, SBC organizations are ultimately funded from the bottom up. So players like Russell Moore and Albert Mohler could be hurt if there's a revolt by the donor base. They weathered that challenge once before, but this may galvanize opposition. Time will tell.  

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Reforming the irreformable

Perils of prayer

Some Christians believe God always answers prayer. That creates a conundrum in face of apparent experience to the contrary. So they propose explanations that harmonize their belief with disappointing reality. 

Their explanations, while pious and well-meaning, amount to special pleading. The problem is that special pleading is only persuasive if you happen to be in the mood to suspend disbelief. But ad hoc explanations make it more likely that a professing Christian will suffer a crisis of faith or lose his faith when events grind him into the dirt. At that point he no longer has the patience to entertain ad hoc explanations.

1. God always answers prayer–yes or no

i) At one level that's a semantic quibble. "Unanswered prayer" is a conventional designation. In customary usage, to say "your prayer went unanswered" is synonymous with "God didn't grant your prayer request". 

If the objection is just rhetorical, that's not a hill to die on. You can put it however you like, but I reserve the right to my own preferred usage. 

ii) But at a deeper level, there's no practical or discernible difference between no answer and a "no" answer. 

2. God hasn't answered your prayer…yet!

i) On this view, it's not yes or no but wait. And there are situations when that's the right explanation. God defers some answers to cultivate faithful patience. Not now but later.

ii) But it's inadequate as a general explanation. For one thing, some prayers have deadlines. And it's not a case of dictating to God when he must answer our prayer. We didn't impose that deadline on God; rather, we find ourselves up against a deadline. 

After the deadline, the prayer request is moot. At that juncture it's too late to make a difference. We passed the last exit. 

iii) Given enough time, some problems automatically resolve themselves. There can be the suspicion that this would have happened anyway, whether or not we prayed. That the outcome was in answer to prayer may be less recognizable. But it depends on the details. 

3. God answered after all…in a different way!

i) There are situations in which that's true. In the nature of the case, we pray for what we think is a good solution, but a better solution may not even occur to us because our imagination is limited, or because, when we're in the thick of things, we lack the detachment to think clearly. 

Sometimes God answers prayer in a way that's unexpected. Different, but richer and better than what we could envision at the time. 

ii) But that's inadequate as a general explanation. For instance, you had people who were sure God was going to heal Nabeel Qureshi. And after he died, they exclaim: "God did heal him. Just a different kind of healing. He went to heaven. All's well that ends well."

But that's equivocal. Nabeel and his intercessors pleaded for physical healing. Prayed that he be spared death by cancer. To pray that he not die, then say his death was an answer to prayer, is a bait-n-switch. That's the polar opposite of was prayed for.

iii) That makeshift explanation is counterproductive because it can make people cynical of prayer in general. It's spiritually hazardous to interpret any outcome as consistent with the original prayer request because that makes a prayer-answering God indistinguishable from no God at all. To say whatever happens is an answer to prayer, to say an outcome that's diametrically contrary to you prayed for is an answer to prayer, makes experience interchangeable with a random universe. Unless there's a recognizable correspondence between the request and the result, there's no practical distinction between praying and not praying. 

Fake news

One of the challenges facing Christian voters is how the mainstream "news" media decides to single out and hype a particular "story". Stock examples include hate crimes, sex scandals, and police shootings.

You then have pundits and outfits that accuse evangelical voters of racism, hypocrisy, homophobia, transphobia &c. because they don't jump on the bandwagon. But that raises two basic issues:

i) Does a Christian voter have a duty to become an instant expert on every controversy du jour? Are we obligated to chase down every rabbit trail the "news" media points us to? 

We're allowed to have our own priorities in terms of what's important to us and where to invest our time. 

ii) It's becoming increasingly difficult to get both sides of the story when information gatekeepers like Google censure searches that undercut the liberal narrative. There's a concerted effort to suppress one side of the story. 

As a result, some libertarian/conservative voters now automatically discount whatever the media says as fake news. And there's a lot of justification for that reaction. You can't rely on "news" outlets that have squandered their credibility to advance a social agenda. 

Headline news

Where do I get my news? Because so much news is so ephemeral, in my daily consumption I skim. Often I don't get much beyond the headlines. I just want to keep on top of current developments rather than in-depth analysis since the situation is so fluid. During the campaign season, I'm more likely to get into the weeds. 

Ben Shapiro

Shapiro keeps me up to speed on what's happening now. And he's a corrective to liberal bias. As an Orthodox Jew, he covers culture war issues.

I don't generally read Daily Wire articles due to the irritating popup ads. 

Jay Wesley Richards

Useful for culture war stuff. 

In addition, useful for monitoring the state of the Catholic church. Richards is an evangelical revert to Rome, but critical of Francis and the state of Catholicism under his watch.

Ross Douthat

Often has incisive news analysis. Sometimes highlights useful articles.

As a conservative convert to Rome, Douthat is critical of Francis and documents the capitulation of the the magisterium to political correctness.


A mixed bag. Some of the better contributors include Charles Cooke, David French, Victor Hanson, Kevin Johnson, Andrew McCarthy, Ramesh Ponnuru, Ed Whelan. 

Robert Gagnon

Good on culture war stuff, especially the LGBT agenda.

Michael Barone

Useful for putting current events in historical perspective. Detailed knowledge of demographics and American political history. 

Human Exceptionalism

Good resource on alarming developments in medical ethics, both nationally and internationally.

In the Light of the Law

An erudite critic of the Francis papacy

The Volokh Conspiracy

Sometimes useful for legal analysis. Not a site I read on a regular basis. 

Cross that bridge when we come to it

Brief exchange I had on Facebook:

How do you answer French's alternate challenge: If a lone judge can defy the federal judiciary, how is anything enforceable, ever again? Why can California not just tell SCOTUS to drop dead and ban guns, round up Christians who misgender anyone, and outlaw gas stations? What's stopping them, if it's every local judge for himself? 

The problem is that it's trivially easy to postulate worst-cases scenarios for both sides of the issue. And these may be realistic scenarios. My problem is that French pretends (for the moment) that there's only one worst-case scenario.

We could do reverse "what ifs" with reverse worst-case scenarios. That point/counterpoint quickly stalemates.

I'm not advocating a position. I'm asking where yours leads. If you can't answer some simple questions without pointing to the other side and saying, "what about them?" then frankly your beliefs aren't worth adopting. You haven't earned the right to have anyone adopt them.

There's no good answer because we're discussing different hypothetical scenarios, and every one of them could end in a train wreck. 

You act like there ought to be clear-cut answers to hypothetical questions, but these can lead to different worst-case scenarios. That's not a deficiency for my belief. Rather, that's just the nature of unbridled thought-experiments. 

Ultimately, it's a question of whether God permits current trends and conflicts to follow their natural course into one or another worse-case scenarios. And, if so, which hypothetical worst-case scenario will be actualized. 

And I don't need to "earn the right" to have Shane adopt my position. I'm not your subordinate.

You do have to earn the right to have someone adopt your view. It's called giving an answer. It's called being able to defend your assertions. It's one of the key differences between children and adults.

There's no one-sided burden of proof. And I already explained to you how you've oversimplified the issue of giving answers. Try to engage the argument.

In situations where the outcome is unpredictable, sometimes you gotta roll a hard six. Or sometimes you should focus on the short-term and see what happens next. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Why Christ's followers recognized his divinity

One mouth, two sides

French talking out of both sides of his mouth in the span of three weeks:

Do Moore’s defenders not realize the extent to which religious freedom in this nation depends on a host of progressive judges and government officials complying with lawful court orders? For example, the ability to hire and fire pastors according to the dictates of the church and not the federal government was only recently reaffirmed by the Supreme Court. What if some state judge, somewhere, disagrees? If you accept Moore’s behavior on the bench, you must accept that any judge can defy the Supreme Court whenever he sees fit.

The list of political remedies for the worst judicial decisions goes on and on. Statutes and regulations can protect religious liberty and free speech. State constitutions can play a vital role. Protest and activism can render illiberal changes too costly even for hostile lawmakers. Conservatives too often act as if a Supreme Court decision is the end of an argument. In truth, it’s often just the beginning.

Five fingers

Who needs Jesus when we have the pope?


i) One of the disputes between cessationists and charismatics is whether there's such a thing as fallible prophecy. Charismatics cite Agabus (Acts 21:1-14) as an example of fallible prophecy. 

There's a sense in which I think both sides are wrong. I think allegations that Agabus was inaccurate are very wooden, but I'd like to approach the issue from a different angle. In some cases, a prophet can be right even though events didn't turn out as predicted. Is that paradoxical? Not really.

ii) To begin with, some prophecies are conditional. That's common regarding oracles of judgment. A paradigm case is Jer 18:7-11:

7 If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. 9 And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. 11 Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’

In this case, the prediction is not a statement of what will happen without further ado, but what will happen unless sinners repent in response to the fearful warning. 

That in turn goes to a general principle. Some predictions envision a future if the recipient does nothing different. Take a premonition. Suppose I have a premonitory dream. Suppose it has a dire denouement. 

When I wake up, and events begin to repeat themselves, just like I saw in my dream, I take actions to change a key variable, resulting in a different outcome that diverts the stream of causality, with a different end-result. 

Was the premonition false? In one sense, I'll never know, since I deliberately thwarted that trajectory. 

But what if the purpose of the premonition was to forewarn me so that I could take steps to avert that outcome? There were two futures in play: one in which I go with the flow and one in which I divert the flow. Which future is actual and which is counterfactual depends on what I do in response to the premonition. 

BTW, that's consistent with Calvinism and freewill theism alike. This goes to the difference between predestination and fatalism. If I act on the premonition to avoid the future I see in the dream, I'm doing what I was predestined to do. The dream is a stimulus to that end. The premonition, as well as my reaction, was included in God's plan, as a means of advancing the plot to the appointed goal. Although the premonition doesn't contain my reaction to the premonition, that's contained in God's plan, like Russian dolls, where smaller factors are nested in larger factors. 

iii) This, in turn, goes to the distinction between foreknowledge and counterfactual knowledge. If what I see in the dream plays out, then it was foreknowledge. 

But if I heed the premonition by changing a variable in the chain of events leading up to the dire outcome to deflect that outcome, then it was counterfactual knowledge. In a proximate sense, my action determines whether it was foreknowledge or counterfactual knowledge–rather like Schrödinger's cat, although there's another sense in which my action is predetermined by the dream. Having been tipped off, I act differently than if I never had that advance knowledge. 

iv) Returning to the original illustration, because Paul was forearmed by the prophecy of Agabus, he may have handled some situations differently than if he wasn't privy to that foresight. In consequence, even assuming that things didn't unfold in quite the way Agabus envisioned, his prophecy could still be infallible if that was a prediction about an alternate timeline. That's exactly the fate which awaited Paul, if Agabus hadn't shared his vision with Paul. But knowing the prophecy could affect Paul's actions in many subtle ways. He might adjust his plans in ways that had the same general, ultimate outcome, but by a somewhat different route. 

v) However, this only applies to predictions where the recipient has some control over the relevant variables. There are, of course, predictions that are out of our hands, like natural disasters, which we lack the wherewithal to stop. In some cases, a recipient might have the power to redirect the course of events if he only knew all the intervening causes and altered one of them.  

Seers and time-travelers

I've discussed this before, but I'd like to use a different illustration to make the same point. A common objection to the argument from prophecy is that Bible prophecies are said to be too vague. In general, they don't have a name, date, and address. 

But predicting the future poses something of a paradox. It's necessary to strike a balance between to much specificity and too little.

A seer is like a time-traveler who takes a trip into the future, then returns to his own time. He literally meets himself coming and going. 

But he doesn't simply come full circle. He returns with additional information. That's potentially disruptive, because he now knows what he will do before he does it. Yet foreknowledge of his own decisions now threatens to affect the decision-making process. He will make decisions about the future knowing how things turned out. But that advance knowledge is likely to influence his decision-making, resulting in different decisions than if he hadn't witnessed the future. Knowing the future carries the risk of changing the future. 

That's a familiar conundrum in time-travel stories. If you see the future, you act in light of the future you saw, which may in turn change it. Your intrusion replaces the future you initially saw with an alternate future. 

That's why prophecies are, by design, more clearly seen in retrospect. Once fulfilled, it's too late to willfully or inadvertantly frustrate the prediction. 

One safeguard is multiple prophecies. It won't be clear in advance how these synchronize. And so it won't be possible to disrupt the predicted outcome. How they're coordinated can't be discerned ahead of time. But once they converge, the predicted outcome is recognizable, after the fact. 

Catholic fideism

I'm going to begin by quoting from a standard work on Enlightenment skepticism, then comment on the excerpts:

Chillingworth saw that the Catholics were demanding a type of certainty, infallible knowledge, as the basis of religion, and that such certainty was unattainable not only in this area but in any other as well. But, once this had been recognized, the conclusion was not complete doubt on all matters but, rather, an acceptance of a lesser degree of evidence, moral certainty. Our senses may sometimes deceive, our reasoning may sometimes be faulty, our judgments may not be infallible, and we may not be able to find a demonstrative basis for what we know, but, just the same, we have sufficient assurances so that we can utilize the information that we possess to form reasonable and morally certain judgments.The person who wants more certitude than this is a fool. “For, as he is an unreasonable Master, who requires a stronger assent to his Conclusions than his Arguments deserve; so I conceive him a forward and undisciplin’d Scholar, who desires stronger arguments for a conclusion than the Matter will bear.”Once one has recognized that there is no infallible or mathematical certainty to be found regarding scientific or religious matters, then one does not suspend judgment, but, instead, one proceeds to judge problems according to the degree of assurance that can be obtained.

One finds this style of argumentation, in whole or in part, in various writers trained at, or teaching in, the Jesuit colleges, especially those of Clermont and Bordeaux; such writers as St. François de Sales, Cardinal du Perron, Cardinal Bellarmine, and Fathers Gontery and Veron, for example.

As St. François de Sales put the problem,
The absurdity of absurdities, and the most horrible folly of all, is this, that while holding that the entire Church has erred for a thousand years in the understand- ing of the Word of God, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin can assure themselves of understanding it well; even more that a simple parson, preaching as the Word of God, that the whole visible Church has erred, that Calvin and all men can err, dares to pick and choose among the interpretations of Scripture that one that pleases him, and is sure of it and maintains it as the Word of God; still more, that you others who hearing it said that everyone can err in matters of religion, and even the whole Church, without wishing to search for other views among the thousand sects which boast of understanding well the Word of God and preaching it well, believe so stubbornly in a minister who preaches to you, that you do not want to hear anything different. If everybody can err in the understanding of Scripture, why not you and your minister? I am amazed that you do not always go around trembling and shaking. I am amazed that you can live with so much assurance in the doctrine that you follow, as if you could not [all] err, and yet you hold it as certain that everyone has erred and can err.18

This initial version of this style of argumentation was intended to show that as soon as the Reformers had admitted that the Church could err, thus denying the traditional rule of faith, they could then be reduced to sceptical despair.

The core of Veron’s reduction of Calvinism to total scepticism was an attack on the use of rational procedures and evidence to justify any statement of a religious truth. Veron insisted that he was not claiming that our rational faculties or achievements were doubtful but only that they ought not to serve as the foundation or support of the faith, which is based on “the Word of God alone set forth by the Church.”20

The argument begins by asking the Calvinists, “How do you know, gentlemen, that the books of the Old and New Testament are Holy Scripture?”21 The question of canonicity raises a peculiar difficulty. If the Calvinists hold that Scripture is the rule of faith, then how are we to judge which work is Scripture?

But, even if one could tell which book is Scripture, how could one tell what it says, and what we are supposed to believe? The text, as one of the later Catholic users of Veron’s Victorieuse Méthode said, is just “waxen-naturd words not yet senc’t nor having any certain Interpreter, but fit to be plaid upon diversly by quirks of wit.”23 And so, since the sacred writings are only words, with no instructions for reading them, one needs some rule for interpreting them.

If the Calvinists say, in their own defense, that they are reading Scripture reasonably and drawing the obvious logical inferences from what it says, then they are obviously targets for “the machine of war.” First of all, any alleged reading is uncertain and may be mistaken, unless there is an infallible rule for interpretation. To go beyond the words to draw inferences, as Veron claimed the Calvinists had done in deriving all their articles of faith, is definitely an unscriptural procedure. The Bible does not itself say that it is to be interpreted in this fashion, nor does it give any rules of logic. Nowhere have we any warrant for the assertion that truths of religion are to be based on logical procedures.24 The Reformers cried out that reasoning is a natural capacity given to man and, also, that Jesus as well as the Church Fathers reasoned logically.25 Veron replied that the rules of logic were set down by a pagan, Aristotle, and nobody appointed him judge of religious truth, though he may be the arbiter of valid argumentation. Neither Jesus nor the Church Fathers claimed their views were true because they were derived by logical procedures, but rather they called them true because they were the Word of God.26 

The core of Veron’s case against arriving at religious truth by reasoning from the text of Scripture was summarized into what he called his eight Moyens: (1) Scripture does not contain any of the conclusions reached by the inferences of the Reformers. (2) These inferences are never drawn in Scripture. (3) By drawing inferences, one makes reason, rather than Scripture the judge of religious truths. (4) Our reason can err. (5) Scripture does not teach us that conclusions arrived at by logical procedures are articles of faith. (6) The conclusions reached by the Reformers were unknown to the Church Fathers. (7) The conclusions are, at best, only probable, and are built upon bad philosophy or sophistry. (8) Even a necessarily true conclusion drawn from Scripture is not an article of faith32 (because “nothing is an article of faith which is not revealed by God”).33 

Veron answered by accusing Daillé of having missed the point of the method and of having become Daillé, “Minister of Charenton, new Pyrrhonian, and indifferent in religion.”41 The problem of the application of reason to specific questions does not entail the universal scepticism that Daillé made of it, and Daillé “has fought against his shadow.”42 The issues that Veron had raised were twofold. First of all, since the Calvinists had insisted that the Church erred in reading Scripture, and that all men are fallible, how then could they be sure they had not erred in their own particular interpretations of Scripture? This sort of problem does not extend to scientific and mathematical reasoning, Veron said, because there the principles and inferences “are evident and certain.”43 But to contend that the same is true in regard to the Protestant reading of Scripture: “Is not this to be reduced to desperation? What! So many holy Fathers have not possessed common sense, nor any of our predecessors? and the minister alone and his cobbler will have? and will be sure of it? etc. and on this assurance and folly he will risk his damnation?”44 In this case, it appears the height of presumption and audacity to pretend that only the Protestants, in the last hundred years, have been en bons sens and have interpreted the Bible correctly, while the entire Catholic tradition has been wrong. And so, Veron continued, the same sort of basis for doubt about Scriptural interpretation does not lead to a more general doubt about all our knowledge. 

But then the second issue arises again. The fact that our reasonings may be “evidents & certains” in some matters, does not mean that what is evident and certain is an article of faith. “This ignoramus [Daillé] confuses not being an article of faith with being dubious knowledge.”45 Lots of things, scientific knowledge, evidences of the Christian religion, and so on, are not doubtful, according to Veron, but, at the same time, they also are not articles of faith and will not be such unless revealed by God.46

Since Veron refused to admit that his knowledge of the true religious propositions was based on any evidence, interpretation of documents, or experiences but was contained only in the revealed word of God, he could observe that Daillé’s ways of arguing “would introduce the sect of the Pyrrhonians, and indifference in religion.”48

Veron brushed aside this defense of rationality by saying, “Who doubts it? but none of this suffices to establish an article of faith, for none of this is the Word of God, and to believe is nothing but to hold something as true because God has said it.”51 The defense of reason is not the point at issue, but only whether an article of faith can be established by reason. People like Ferry, in glorifying our rational abilities, come close to adopting what Bayle called the Socinian heresy, that reason is the rule of faith.52 For Veron, reason may be perfectly sound and unquestionable, but this does not overcome a scepticism with regard to its use in establishing the articles of faith. Even theological reasoning, which Veron admitted could be “necessary and certain,” does not make its conclusions religious truths, unless they have also been revealed by God.53

The Protestants, however, saw that the same sceptical approach could be used on its inventor, with the same effective results. The “new machine of war” appeared to have a peculiar recoil mechanism that had the odd effect of engulfing the target and the gunner in a common catastrophe. If the Reformers could not determine infallibly true articles of faith from the text of Scripture by rational means, neither could the Catholics discover any religious truths, since they would be confronted with the same difficulties with regard to ascertaining the meaning and truth of what popes, councils, and Church Fathers had said. As far as the Reformers could see, Veron had developed a complete scepticism to defeat them but was just as defeated as they were by this argument.55

The Catholics could not be harmed by the sceptical bombardment issuing from their own guns, since they had no position to defend. Their view was grounded in no rational or factual claim but in an accepted, and unquestioned, faith in the Catholic tradition. They saw, as Maldonado had suggested, that if they once doubted this faith by traditional acceptance, they, too, would be pulled down into the same quicksand in which they were trying to sink the Reformers.58 And so one finds an implicit fideism in many of the French Counter-Reformers that can be, and probably was, best justified by the explicit fideism of the nouveaux pyrrhoniens. 

Many of the other Counter-Reformers offer no rational defense of their position, but a fideistic view is suggested by those theologians and philosophers they admire. The Cardinal du Perron, perhaps the greatest of the French Counter-Reformers,61 and himself a convert to Catholicism, spent practically no time in his controversial writings presenting evidence for his cause but devoted himself primarily to pointing out the inadequacy of the Calvinist theory of religious knowledge. The cardinal, however, was a friend of Montaigne’s adopted daughter, Marie de Gournay, and a great admirer of the fideistic writings of Montaigne’s adopted son, Pierre Charron.62 A story about du Perron indicates his evaluation of the merits of human reason in theological matters. He was once invited to dinner by Henri III and, at the table, presented a discourse against atheism, offering proofs of the existence of God. When the king expressed his pleasure at this and praised du Perron, he answered, “Sire, today I have proved by strong and evident reasons that there is a God. Tomorrow, if it pleases Your Majesty to grant me another audience, I will show you and prove by as strong and evident reasons that there is no God at all.” R. Popkin, The History of Scepticism (Oxford 2003), chap. 4.

The Historicity Of The Two Years Of Matthew 2:16

Bernard Robinson makes a good point about Matthew 2:16:

"Are we to suppose that the journey took the magi two years; or that their departure was delayed? George M. Soares Prabhu…argues that the reference to the two years suggests 'a reminiscence of some actual event (it is hard to explain it otherwise)'" (in Jeremy Corley, ed., New Perspectives On The Nativity [New York, New York: T&T Clark, 2009], n. 44 on 123)

The magi's journey should have taken much less than two years, and Matthew probably knew that. The reference to two years is unnecessary, incidental, unusual, and distracting. It's best explained by historicity.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The tortoise and the hare

The race is not to the swift, Nor the battle to the strong, Nor bread to the wise, Nor riches to men of understanding, Nor favor to men of skill; But time and chance happen to them all (Eccl 9:11).

20Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe…27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence (1 Cor 1:21,27-29).

Some brilliant men who were raised in evangelical churches become apostates. Some become secular philosophers or secular scientists. Some redeploy their talents to attack the faith in which they were raised. In a sense, their apostasy is a loss to the Christian faith. Why doesn't God preserve them?

One reason is to demonstrate that salvation isn't based on natural aptitude. High IQ is not a ticket to heaven. Salvation is by grace alone. God doesn't favor intellectuals. It shouldn't unsettle us that many of the best in the brightest in every generation, including some who grew up in Gospel-affirming churches, disdain the Christian faith. For that is by divine design. In the economy of salvation, the tortoise often overtakes the hare. 

Reverse Freudianism

Ironic thing about this Freudian trope is that refusing to take Christianity seriously for fear of incurring the disapproval of one's peers is in itself treating one's peer-group as a father-figure. 

The main bar to faith was rather the Freudian idea that religious faith is a wish fulfillment–more specifically, an attempt to cling to childish modes of relating to the world, with the omnipotent daddy there presiding over everything. A powerful case can be made for the view, which is not necessarily tied to the complete Freudian package, that the most important psychological root of religious belief is the need that everyone has for such a childish relationship with a father figure. Be that as it may, I had been psyched into feeling that I was chickening out, was betraying my adult status, if I sought God in Christ, or sought to relate myself to an ultimate source and disposer of things in any way whatever. The crucial moment in my return to the faith came quite early in that year’s leave, before I had reexposed myself to the church or the Bible, or even thought seriously about the possibility of becoming a Christian. I was walking one afternoon in the country outside Oxford, wrestling with the problem, when I suddenly said to myself, "Why should I allow myself to be cribbed, cabined, and confined by these Freudian ghosts? Why should I be so afraid of not being adult? What am I trying to prove? Whom am I trying to impress?

Whose approval am I trying to secure? What is more important: to struggle to conform my life to the tenets of some highly speculative system of psychology or to recognize and come to terms with my own real needs? Why should I hold back from opening myself to a transcendent dimension of reality, if such there be, just from fear of being branded as childish in some quarters?" (Or words to that effect.) These questions answered themselves as soon as they were squarely posed. I had, by the grace of God, finally found the courage to look the specter in the face and tell him to go away. I had been given the courage to face the human situation, with its radical need for a proper relation to the source of all being. William P. Alston, "A Philosophers Way Back to the Faith." God and the Philosophers: The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason, ed. T.V. Morris (New York: Oxford, 1994).

"Our national dialogue on race"

There's a poisonous quality to "our national dialogue on race". On the one hand, whites are vilified. White guilt, white privilege, check your privilege, systemic/institutional racism. Implicit racism.

Predictably, that puts whites on the defense. So they respond by pointing to black-on-black crime, high rates of black criminality among young black men. That puts blacks on the defensive. 

Each side resents how the other side frames the issue. It's a vicious cycle. The way to break the cycle is to avoid stereotyping people by race, which ends up putting everybody on the defensive, causing endless, gratuitous acrimony. 

The last thing SJWs want is racial harmony. They need to constantly stoke the fires of division to get political capital out of the resultant polarization. 

Stats or individuals?

One of the paradoxes of identity politics is that it backfires. Identity politics treats people as statistics rather than individuals. It consigns you to a larger class. You have the aggregate characteristics of the class to which you're assigned. 

But consider what that means if applied consistently. The crime stats for young black men are hugely out of proportion to their percentage in relation to other ethnic groups. By the logic of identity politics, the first association I should make when I seen a teen or twenty-something black male is violent criminality. Yet that would be the definition of prejudice. That would be grossly unfair and harmful to hard-working, law-abiding black males. 

According to identity politics, we should treat young black men as statistics rather than individuals. Yet that means the frame of reference will be the crime stats. But why should responsible young black men be saddled with that invidious and adventitious association? 

I've lived in different parts of the country. I often see young black men working at supermarkets and fast-food joints. It takes a sense of duty and dedication to work a job with low pay, low prestige, lousy hours. That's very admirable. 

I judge blacks as individuals, on a case-by-case basis, the same way I judge whites, Asians, Latinos, &c. I have no opinion about blacks in general, any more than I have an opinion about whites in general. When we meet a stranger, it's best not to make assumptions one way or the other, but to make a preliminary judgement based on the evidence right before our eyes, rather than a narrative. 

Saturday, December 09, 2017

God's crystal ball

In my personal encounters, freewill theists are so conditioned to the notion that Calvinism is deterministic while freewill theism is the antithesis of determinism that they're incredulous when I point out that freewill theism is deterministic too, just in a different way. 

Say the God of freewill theism gazes into his crystal ball. He seems the future. To be precise, he sees what will happen if he creates the hypothetical world, as shown in the crystal ball. 

Now, there's a philosophical argument that foreknowledge alone makes the future unalterable. I think that's correct. But that's not my argument here.

The point, rather, is that if God goes ahead and makes the world he sees in his crystal ball, then at that stage it's too late in the game for the future to be other that what he saw in his crystal ball. Once he creates the initial conditions which eventuate in that foreseen outcome, the outcome is fixed. 

To take a comparison, suppose I'm scheduled to drive a friend to the airport tomorrow. That night I have a dream. I dream that I drove my friend to the airport. Along the way, I see an accident at a landmark. I'm unable to find parking space on the first two floors of the garage. The first opening I find is on the third floor, C137, between a yellow Karmann Ghia and a red Alpha Romeo. As we approach the terminal, I see airport security speaking to an agitated man. As we walk through the concourse, I see a beautiful woman stride past me. 

I accompany my friend to the gate. After he boards the plane, I catch up on some email and text messages before leaving. I glance up and see the plane explode in midair, killing all aboard. 

Then I wake up. I pick up my friend at his house and commence our ride to the airport. But everything begins to repeat itself, just like the dream.

Suppose I have libertarian freewill. This story has two possible endings. On the one hand, I might choose to do nothing different than what I did in the dream. Although I find the resemblance to the dream spooky, I chalk it up to coincidence. It was just a dream. As a result, my friend dies in the conflagration.

On the other hand, when we arrive at the gate, after everything up to that point happened just like I saw in my dream, I tell my friend about my dream and warn him not to board the plane. He shrugs it off. So I tear his boarding pass into pieces, causing him to miss his flight. 

My friend is furious and yells at me. Airport security intervenes. At that moment the plane explodes just after takeoff. The security guards leave, having more urgent matter to attend to than our little fracas. My friend is dumbfounded. 

Now, up to a critical point, I could "change" the future. It could still go either way. If, however, my friend boards the plane and the plane takes off, then it's too late for me to change the outcome. I can't save him. He crossed a line of no return. My failure to intervene before that juncture renders the foreseen future unalterable thereafter. 

The heavenly chorus

A popular parody of heaven is where the saints spend eternity on a pink cloud singing choruses to harp accompaniment. That's largely based on a literal reading of Revelation. That image of the afterlife is a turnoff for many men. Sounds like it would become very monotonous very soon. 

And I agree that that's a highly inadequate concept of the afterlife for God's people. That said, I'd like to say something in defense of that concept. 

As Advent comes back around each year, I listen to my favorite numbers from Handel's Messiah. I've heard the Messiah all my life. And I've sung the Messiah.

At this point in life, listening to the Messiah is a bittersweet experience. Not as joyful as it used to be. I'm ambivalent.

When I sang the Messiah my father sat next to me. His baritone to my bass. And my mother was ahead of us, in the soprano section, I think. She had the range to either either alto or soprano, but the soprano line is more musically satisfying.

So nowadays, when I hear the Messiah, it takes me back in time to my parents. Reminds me of when the three of us used to sing it together in the choir. 

But by the same token, it reminds me that I can't do that anymore. They're gone. For the rest of my life, I'll never be able to sing the Messiah with my father beside me and my mother ahead of me.

I also remember attending a service one time with my late grandmother. At that age, her voice was very quavery. I believe her favorite song was "Let us break bread together on our knees," although, at her funeral, she had "Work, for the night is coming" sung.

But she passed away about 40 years ago. I also think of another close relative, long gone, with whom I used to attend church. She, too, had a fine soprano voice.

So, although, from my sublunary vantage-point, I don't savor the prospect of spending eternity singing nonstop choruses, and I'm glad that Scripture depicts a more varied afterlife, I do look forward to the day, in the world to come, when, once again, I can sing with some of my dearly departed. 

Thomas Aquinas was the Problem; the Reformation was the Solution

“Where was your Church before Aquinas”

Ever since the Reformation, Roman Catholics have been fond of asking, “Where was your Church before the Reformation”. Protestants have a good reply to that: “Where was your Church before Aquinas”.

Peter Lombard (in his “Sentences”) summarized church teaching up to that point (approximately 1150). Aquinas later opposed Lombard on one key point (“justification extra nos”, or the external righteousness of Christ), and Luther took up Lombard’s side:

In book 1, Distinction 17 of his famed Sentences, Lombard, discussing religious justification, asked: “Is the love by which we are saved a created habit in our soul, or is it the very person of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us?” Is that which heals and saves a person part of his own nature, something he himself has developed as his own possession [inherent righteousness], or is it the indwelling spirit of God, a divine power in him but not of him [alien righteousness]?

Lombard opted for the latter solution, maintaining that the love by which people love God and their fellow man so as to merit salvation [“merit” being a whole ’nother story] was the spirit of God working internally, without their aid or volition. Man is saved by an uncreated, not a created habit, by uncreated, not created, love, by the holy spirit within, not by an acquired talent he can call his very own. When the young Luther wrote hs commentary on the Sentences in 1509/10, he strongly agreed, against the majority of scholastics, with this interpretation by Lombard.

Thomas Aquinas opposed Lombard in this issue, arguing that saving charity [“charity” being “love” in the Roman Catholic schema] must be a voluntary act arising from a disposition man could call his own.

Roman Catholics claim that Martin Luther was the innovator, but in reality, Thomas Aquinas was a far more extensive innovator than Luther ever was. The problem was, “The Church of Rome” liked what Aquinas had to say, and they canonized it.

The Reformers sought to roll back many of the changes that Aquinas put into place. And in doing so, they relied on earlier traditions than did Aquinas.

It was Aquinas who not only introduced Aristotle to the Roman church, but he wrapped Aristotelian philosophy around Christian doctrine and handed it to “the Church” as a complete package. One that supported the Roman Church’s view of its own authority and necessity.

Two Messiahs?