Saturday, August 30, 2008

Limbaugh and Hannity on the Palin choice

Rush Limbaugh said that McCain's choice of Sarah Palin shows him to be a true maverick. That is just before he made the ludicrously sexist comment "We got the babe on our ticket." (So much for shattering any glass ceilings.) Sean Hannity interviews Karl Rove as the "architect" of the Palin selection. Both can't be right. Rove is the Republican party establisment, tied to George W. Bush. Doing what Rove wants is precisely not to be a maverick in today's Republican party. It is kowtowing to the "architect" of the dirty anti-McCain attacks that derailed his own bid for the Presidency in 2000.

If Palin was Rove's choice, then this shows that McCain is under the thumb of the Bush-Cheney wing of the party. His maverick status is forfeited.

Nor would the ascendancy of Palin to the Vice-Presidency shatter any glass ceilings. Palin didn't get the votes necessary to be nominated, the way Hillary Clinton nearly did. She got hand-picked by the Republican establishment. The Vice-President has as much of a job as the president permits him or her to have. John Garner, FDR's VP, said that job was worth a cup of warm spit. Only he didn't say spit, he said something else.

Comparing Palin's qualifications to Obama's is also absurd, at least at this point. Obama has executed a primary campaign, taken on formidable opponents within his own party, won the support of the Clintons for his general election campaign, and developed policy positions on the issues facing the President. He has also selected a running-mate. So we've seen him in action making presidential-type decisions.

In the coming weeks we shall see if Palin is capable of developing policy positions on the major issues of our time. Obama has chosen Biden, someone who is not only capable of assuming the presidency should Obama's heart stop beating, but someone capable of posing tough questions concerning the President's policies. Someone who will not be a rubber-stamp and a yes-man. The ability to choose people is the best sign of qualification for the presidency.

Palin may prove me wrong. She may prove that she is able to think seriously and independently about national issues. But I think the chances of the are about the chances of my mastering the nuances of string theory in the next week or so.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Doctor Logic's Humean Objection

You can also criticize the argument by maintaining, in a broadly Humean way, that the claim that Jesus is God is an extraordinary claim that requires extraordinary evidence. Hence if you have some evidence that Jesus claimed to be God, and that Jesus possessed the character of a great moral teacher, and that it is highly improbable that Jesus could have had the character of a great moral teacher while at the same time falsely claiming to be God, you still can't get to the conclusion that Jesus was God if the claim that Jesus is God is so antecedently improbable that the evidence for the other propostions can't get the claim anywhere near probability .5. I can lay this all out with Bayes'theorem:

p (h/e) (The consequent probability of the claim Jesus is God after the evidence concerning Jesus' claim to be God and his being a great moral teacher is considered) = P (h) (the antecedent probability that Jesus is God) X P (e/h), (how probable the evidence would be if Jesus were God) over P (e) (how probable the evidence would be whether or not Jesus is God.

Doctor Logic's claim is that the claim "Jesus is God" is so antecedently improbable that the even if historical evidence provides some confirmation of the claim, and if all the naturalistic scenarios have plausibility problems, the argument still fails.

I addressed this issue in my essay replying to Hume on miracles, and C. S. Lewis addressed in in chapter 13 of Miracles. I link to my own essay here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Does Scripture Support the Right to Life?

J. P. Holding says that it does, and that pro-chioce interpretations are unreasonable.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Now I've seen everything

Here's something I expected to see about the time hell freezes over. A Republican commercial extolling one of the Clintons because she "told the truth." Politics makes strange bedfellows!

A new Mere Christianity??

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Davis, Beversluis, and the higher critical objection to the MBG argument

There are two general lines of objection to Lewis's argument. One of them is the Higher Critical objection and the other the Sincere Mistake objection.

Stephen Davis's challenge to the higher critical objection is that even if you go as far with higher criticism as the Jesus Seminar goes, (which means, for example, things like "Before Abraham was, I am (YHWH) would be excluded as products of the early church), there are passages rated at least pink (Jesus probably said something like this) like

"But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you." (Luke 11: 20)

This clearly means that Jesus actually thought he was exercising God's eschatological power in exorcisms.

OR "Listen to me all of you, and understand, there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. (Mk 7: 14-15).

So Jesus claims the authority to say that we are not defiled by eating the wrong foods? And he's telling this to observant Jews? Who does he think he is?

or "The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is Lord even of the sabbath." Mk 2: 27-28.,

Lord over the Sabbath?? Is he saying he made the Sabbath the Sabbath, and can set it aside if necessary? Again, who does he think he is?

These sayings are rated as likely to have actually been said by the Jesus Seminar.

It's also important to realize that the Jewish leaders reacted just as we would expect them to react to (to their mind) inappropriate divine claim. In response to Jesus' claim to forgive sins, The Jewish leaders don't say "No one can get their sins forgiven except by going to the temple," they say "No one can forgive sins but God alone." These sayings are rated as likely to have actually been said by the Jesus Seminar.

And notice the other problem. Suppose you think that a purely naturalistic Jesus has to be found. The cartoon image I have in my mind is some kind of first-century hippie guru who teaches peace and love, told good stories, and didn't claim any kind of supernatural prerogatives. It was his followers dragged in all the supernatural stuff and made a religion out of this simple leader's teaching (especially that jerk Paul). So everything is inauthentic that can't be fitted in nicely with philosophical naturalism.

But I have no idea how to peel the onion back so that we can get a historical Jesus who fits nicely with naturalism, and then throw the rest out as a product of the early church. Is there anything in the text that actually supports that kind of reading? Second, if we go that way with respect to Jesus, why would anyone bother to crucify him?

Beversluis's effort is a creditable one from the critical side. But Davis's essay from the Oxford Press anthology on the Incarnation, is an extremely important one, and although Beversluis responds Davis at one point in the essay, he doesn't deal at all with Davis's argument against the Higher Critical objection, which I have given only a small part of here.

I'm linking to the book where Davis's essay appears.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Beversluis's critique of Lewis's trilemma argument

John Beverslius, of course, has more than one paragraph devoted to Lewis's trilemma in his book. This is his entire chapter, which appears on Debunking Christianity. It's a good challenge for supporters of the argument, and a substantial improvement over his previous discussion.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

New Blog, Old entries on Mere Christianity

I did a course on Mere Christianity a couple of years back, and blogged my notes. I am transferring those notes to a separate blog, in hopes they will provide a study guide resource for MC.

Monday, August 18, 2008

What my book says about the trilemma

A redated post.

Here's what I wrote about the LLL argument in my book. pp. 13-14.

Perhaps Lewis's most famous argument is what is known as the Lewis trilemma. It is unreasonable, Lewis says, to say that Christ is a great moral teacher but not God, because he claimed, both implicitly and explicitly, to be God. If he wasn't God, he either had to be lying, which would make him wicked, or he had to be deluded, which would make him insane. Since these two alternatives are implausible, Lewis says he must be telling the truth and really be God.

Many others have repeated this argument in their own apologetics. The argument makes four assumptions, however, and critics of the argument have challenged all these assumptions.

1. Jesus' claims in Scripture are best interpreted as not merely as claims to be the Jewish Messiah, but as claims to be God.

2. The Gospels are a reliable historical record of what Jesus said and did.

3. No sane person can form the false belief that he himself is God.

4. The claim "Jesus is God" is more antecedently probable than the admittedly antecedently improbable claiim that Jewus was a great moral teacher but and either a liar or a madman.

Lewis supplies some argumentation in defense of all of these claims in various parts of his writings, and it seems to me that there is a good deal to be said on both sides of each of these claiims before a final assessment can be reached. If all these assumptions are defensible, then the argument is a good one. But rather than debating these assumptions, apologists have simply repeated the mantra "liar, lunatic or Lord," while opponents have cried in response "false dilemma." Neither of these responses, in my estimation, does justice to the complex issues the trilemma raises.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Great Britain is Repossesing the U.S. A.

VR: Even though this isn't really from Cleese, imagine him reading it.

Great Britain is Repossessing the U.S.A. - A Message from John Cleese
To: The citizens of the United States of America:

In light of your failure to nominate competent candidates for President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective immediately.

Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths, and territories (except Kansas, which she does not fancy).

Your new prime minister, Gordon Brown, will appoint a governor for America without the need for further elections. Congress and the Senate will be disbanded.

A questionnaire may be circulated next year to determine whether any of you noticed.

To aid in the transition to a British Crown Dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:

You should look up “revocation” in the Oxford English Dictionary.

1. Then look up aluminium, and check the pronunciation guide. You will be amazed at just how wrongly you have been pronouncing it.

2. The letter ‘U’ will be reinstated in words such as ‘favour’ and ‘neighbour.’ Likewise, you will learn to spell ‘doughnut’ without skipping half the letters, and the suffix -ize will be replaced by the suffix -ise. Generally, you will be expected to raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels. (look up ‘vocabulary’).

3. Using the same twenty-seven words interspersed with filler noises such as “like”, “cool” and “you know” is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication. There is no such thing as US English. We will let Microsoft know on your behalf. The Microsoft spell-checker will be adjusted to take account of the reinstated letter ‘u’ and the elimination of -ize. You will relearn your original national anthem, God Save The Queen.

4. July 4th will no longer be celebrated as a holiday.

5. You will learn to resolve personal issues without using guns, lawyers, or therapists. The fact that you need so many lawyers and therapists shows that you’re not adult enough to be independent. Guns should only be handled by adults. If you’re not adult enough to sort things out without suing someone or speaking to a therapist then you’re not grown up enough to handle a gun.

6. Therefore, you will no longer be allowed to own or carry anything more dangerous than a vegetable peeler. A permit will be required if you wish to carry a vegetable peeler in public.

7. All American cars are hereby banned. They are crap and this is for your own good. When we show you German cars, you will understand what we mean.

8. All intersections will be replaced with roundabouts, and you will start driving on the left with immediate effect. At the same time, you will go metric with immediate effect and without the benefit of conversion tables. Both roundabouts and metrication will help you understand the British sense of humour.

9. The Former USA will adopt UK prices on petrol (which you have been calling gasoline)-roughly $6/US gallon. Get used to it.

10. You will learn to make real chips. Those things you call French fries are not real chips, and those things you insist on calling potato chips are properly called crisps. Real chips are thick cut, fried in animal fat, and dressed not with catsup but with vinegar.

11. The cold tasteless stuff you insist on calling beer is not actually beer at all. Henceforth, only proper British Bitter will be referred to as beer, and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as Lager. South African beer is also acceptable as they are pound for pound the greatest sporting Nation on earth and it can only be due to the beer. They are also part of British Commonwealth - see what it did for them.

12. Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as good guys. Hollywood will also be required to cast English actors to play English characters. Watching Andie McDowell attempt English dialogue in Four Weddings and a Funeral was an experience akin to having one’s ears removed with a cheese grater.

13. You will cease playing American football. There is only one kind of proper football; you call it soccer. Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play rugby (which has some similarities to American football, but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or wearing full kevlar body armour like a bunch of nancies). Don’t try Rugby - the South Africans and Kiwis will thrash you, like they regularly thrash us.

14. Further, you will stop playing baseball. It is not reasonable to host an event called the World Series for a game which is not played outside of America. Since only 2.1% of you are aware that there is a world beyond your borders, your error is understandable. You will learn cricket, and we will let you face the South Africans first to take the sting out of their deliveries.

15. You must tell us who killed JFK. It’s been driving us mad.

16. An internal revenue agent (i.e. tax collector) from Her Majesty’s Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all monies due (backdated to 1776).

17. Daily Tea Time begins promptly at 4 pm with proper cups, never mugs, with cucumber sandwiches, high quality biscuits (cookies) and cakes; strawberries in season.

God save the Queen.

Only He can.

John Cleese

Please pass this message to all members of the former United States of America

UPDATE: According to this Snopes piece, this has been rewritten and reworked by hundreds of people, published through various online and print mediums in several countries and traced back to an internet message board in the year 2000 by a nobody, Alan Baxter in the UK. John Cleese’s name was wrongly attached to it in 2004 and reposted hundreds of times since in this format here. This is just another one of those times. Check out the Snopes page if you’re interested.

To wit, this is not John Cleese. Sorry for the unintentional trickery.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

An old radio interview of me

From 4/25 and 5/9 2006 on the Reasons to Believe broadcast.

Naturalism: A Theory in Crisis?

From Chad MacIntosh.

Unconditional damnation, promise-breaking, and Flew's gardener

Kyle: I love to ask them how they know God loves them. "I am born again, I have God's promises." But if God has no moral problems with damning many (most?) people unconditionally, then I'm certain He would have no moral problems promising things He doesn't follow up on, or giving you a delusory experience, only to damn you later (Calvin's false hope).

VR: This is an issue I have often thought about. At one point in my lengthy exchange with Triablogue I asked what it would be for God not to be good, and Paul said "For God not to keep his promises." But if we were to discover that God had broken a promise, couldn't they just say that it was just my intuitions that God ought not to do that, and that of course God has a good reason for breaking his promise even though we have no idea what it is.

Flew's gardener lurks in the background.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Plantinga on Evolution vs. Naturalism

Calvinism, love, and the biblical jigsaw puzzle

That was the humor. Now for the real argument.

It occurred to me in reading a critique of Walls and Dongell's Why I am not a Calvinist (IVP 2004) that one could argue against Calvinism without appealing to any moral intuitions whatsoever; that indeed what I objected to in Calvinism wasn't just that I found Calvinism morally repugnant. I do, of course. But what I find equally disturbing is the fact that Calvinists use terms in ways which render those terms unrecognizable.

First of all, we must describe the biblical jigsaw puzzle. What there seems to be, in Scripture, is prima facie support for three claims.

1) God can, and does, sovereignly determine all human destiny. (The usual Calvinist proof-texts for this, Rom 9, Eph 1, John 6:44. etc. etc.

2) God loves all persons, wants them to be saved, and died for all of their sins. (John 3: 16, I Tim 2: 4,2 Cor 5: 15, 2 Pet 3: 9 etc. etc. )

3) God punishes some persons eternally in hell. (Mt 25: 41-46, Rev. 21: 8, 2 Thess 1: 9).

These claims, taken together, are inconsistent with one another. Hence, the claim above that these passages offer prima facie support for the propositions thus stated. Perhaps through a careful study of these passages we can figure out that the support is only apparent and not real. Calvinists either reject 2 or, perhaps, the natural entailments of 2. Universalists think 3 is false. Arminians reject 1.

It seems to me that there are four possible conclusions that can be drawn with respect to the relationship of these claims to special revelation.

1) The detailed study of Scripture adjudicates the issue in favor of Calvinism.
2) The detailed study of Scripture adjudicates the issue in favor of Arminianism.
3) The detailed study of Scripture adjudicates the issue in favor of universalism.
4) The detailed study of Scripture is inconclusive with respect to this issue.

Calvinists claim that they can put the jigsaw puzzle together in their own favor. They maintain the exegesis of the relevant passages leads to one and only one conclusion.

Now, in order for an appeal to special revelation, such as this one, to work, we have to insist on what I call the principle of semantic integrity. First, we must believe that Scripture is not only true, but interpretable and translatable. Otherwise, 4 simply wins by default. Remember too, that the Calvinist thinks that biblical case for Calvinism is sufficiently strong that even if we have strong intuitions that a God who did this would not be good, we ought to set those intuitions aside and accept what God has revealed in his Word.

What this means is that in order for Scripture to have any real authority we have to insist on what I call the Principle of Semantic Integrity. Let's call it PSI for short. Words have to mean what they mean in the language into which the Bible was translated. If we say God loves people, the word "love" has to mean something recognizable as love in English. Otherwise, the translators need to go find another word. If it says he desires all to be saved, then the use of "desires" has to be consistent with normal use of the terms. Of course some deference must be paid to the difference between attributing something to God and attributing it to humans, but this deference can only go so far. Otherwise, the word just stops meaning anything. What is more, if the Calvinist helps himself to deviant meanings for the terms he finds inconvenient, the Arminian, the Universalist, or even the Jehovah's Witness can do the same thing. A postmodern nightmare looms.

Does God love those whom he has not elected? People who are, basically, everlasting toast as a result, ultimately, of a choice by God? My inclination is to say that the only sensible response is to say no. God's love is only for the elect, and the lost are people God hates. But Calvinist D. A. Carson says "Of course I tell the unconverted that God loves them." Why, because, he finds attempt to exegete around passages indicated that God loves everyone to be unconvincing because there are "simply too many texts on the other side of the issue." In short, to deny God's love for all persons runs afoul of too much Scripture to be viable. Jesus loves me and everyone else, the Bible tells me so.

What he proposes is, I think, a mainstream Calvinist response, which is that although God loves everyone, his love for some is not an electing love. That kind of love is restricted to, you guessed it, the elect. But the question is whether someone God destines for perdition when he could have destined them otherwise can sensibly, in any recognizable sense, be considered to be loved by God. I think ordinary usage makes it clear that some conduct toward another person is inconsistent with the idea that God loves them.

Take for example an abusive husband. Ann Coulter once said "Liberals love America like O. J. loved Nicole." At some point abuse becomes so severe that no sensible person can reasonably call it love anymore. Or, consider the humorous lyrics of Weird Al Yankovic's "You don't Love me

We've been together for so very long
But now things are changing, oh I wonder what's wrong?
Seems you don't want me around
The passion is gone and the flames died down

I guess I lost a little bit of self-esteem
That time that you made it with the whole hockey team
You used to think I was nice
Now you tell all your friends that I'm the Antichrist

Oh, why did you disconnect the brakes on my car?
That kind of thing is hard to ignore
Got a funny feeling you don't love me anymore

I knew that we were having problems when
You put those piranhas in my bathtub again
You're still the light of my life
Oh darling, I'm beggin', won't you put down that knife?

You know I, even think it's kinda cute the way
You poison my coffee just a little each day
I still remember the way that you laughed
When you pushed me down the elevator shaft

Oh, if you don't mind me asking, what's this poisonous cobra
Doing in my underwear drawer?
Sometimes I get to thinking you don't love me anymore

You slammed my face down on the barbecue grill
Now my scars are all healing, but my heart never will
You set my house on fire
You pulled out my chest hairs with an old pair of pliers

Oh, you think I'm ugly and you say I'm cheap
You shaved off my eyebrows while I was asleep
You drilled a hole in my head
Then you dumped me in a drainage ditch and left me for dead

Oh, you know this really isn't like you at all
You never acted this way before
Honey, something tells me you don't love me anymore, oh no no
Got a funny feeling you don't love me anymore

Now, the Calvinist might respond "Ah, but these people in hell are getting their just deserts. God loves them, but is giving them what they deserve." But does this make sense? A family member of a victim who wants nothing more than to see the murderer get his just deserts doesn't love the murderer. The murderer's family member may accept that the murderer ought to receive just deserts and may desire that, but cannot be said to love that murderer unless he desires that that murderer cease to perform those actions that result in the murderer's receiving further punishment. Without a redemptive goal, love is just plain empty.

Or imagine this. Suppose someone, from the beginning of your life, made you miserable. The person ruined your relationships, destroyed your finances, undermined your reputation at every turn, and alienated you from everyone you held dear. You do not forgive this person. There is not the slightest hint of forgiveness in your soul for this person, and you spend your life plotting revenge. Then, by some magical happenstance, you have complete power of that person's existence for all eternity. If you haven't forgiven him, you make his existence, forever and ever, a guess it, hell. You do to that person what the loving God of Calvinism effectually plans from the foundation of the world to do to the damned.

So the attempt to preserve the content of Scripture by saying that even though God predestines some to hell he nonetheless loves them strikes me as a violation of PSI. Now, if you notice, I have in no way appealed to moral intuition. I have not argued that if God is good God will not reprobate anyone before the foundation of the world. I am simply leaving the Calvinist with a choice. Either deny that God loves the non-elect, and call "Jesus Loves Me" sung by anyone who does not know himself elect an expression of false doctrine, or reject Calvinism.

Please note also that Calvinists cannot escape this with a tu quoque. This is an argument that 1) above is false. Similar objections against 2) and 3) only support 4, not 1.

"Jesus Loves Me" in Calvinist Perspective

Jesus loves me this I know

Really? Who gave you a sneak peek at the Lamb’s Book of Life? Or is this just some intuition of yours? According to Calvinism, there’s a good chance that God’s attitude toward you is better described by Jonathan Edwards: “The God who holds you over the pit of hell much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the flame abhors you and is dreadfully provoked.” Calvinism teaches that God has either chosen to save you, or not to save you, in which case you’re going to hell.

For the Bible tells me so.

Ah, the Bible. What passages from the Bible, and where is your exegesis for those passages? We Calvinists base our position on the Bible, but as we see it, the Bible teaches that God may or may not have elected you. As Rom 9:18 says, “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and whom he wants to he hardens.”

Little ones to him belong.

Ever hear of Jacob and Esau? Rom 9:11 says “Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad, --in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” So even when Esau was a “little one,” he did not “to him belong;” quite the contrary God hated him. The Bible tells me so.

They are weak but he is strong.

Finally a true statement, but it comes a little late in the song, don’t you think? I mean what do they teach in the (Sunday) schools. Instead of teaching the Five Points of Calvinism like they are supposed to, they are teaching sentimental songs like this with blatantly Arminian implications. No wonder so many people end up becoming Arminians or something even worse, like open theists, universalists, process theologians, deniers of the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection, and ultimately secular humanists.

OK, OK, don't go ballistic and hit me over the head with that book by D. A. Carson. I am misrepresenting what Calvinists say about this. They don't deny that God loves those who are not elected for salvation. Most Calvinists aren't nearly this consistent. (Or so I think).

I do have a fresh insight into the debate about Calvinism toward which I am moving rather indirectly, but this, so far is not an attack.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Does philosophy need bumper stickers?

John Beversluis told me he once considered marketing some philosophy bumper stickers, such as the following:

Concepts without percepts are blind.
Everything is water.
Asses prefer straw to gold.
You can't step into the same river twice.
Monads are windowless.
Are synthetic a priori judgments possible?
Existence precedes essence.
"X (Hegel, Plato, Hume) said it, I believe it, and that settles it."

I suggest this one:

The unexamined life is not worth living.

Any more ideas?

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Old (former) Atheism versus the New Atheism

Antony Flew calls Dawkins a secular bigot.

Yes yes I know. He's 13 years older than John McCain. He's being manipulated by his Christian handlers. His memory is gone. He doesn't know anything about science. We discussed all the charges and countercharges last year.

But, for my part, his charge of secular bigotry against Dawkins is on target.