Sunday, October 23, 2016

"Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday"

I was thinking some more about Bart Ehrman's position on the unreliability of eyewitness memory. I'm referring to his debate with Richard Bauckham. I have seen a library edition of Ehrman's new book, but the preview of his position he gave in the debate was so idiotic that I figure the book must be a waste of time.

At least in the debate, Ehrman thinks memory is either reliable or unreliable. He flattens memory. 

If, however, we reflect on memory, that's grossly simplistic. Take the question, "What were you doing in 9/11?" or "Where were you on 9/11?"

The question takes for granted that Americans of a certain age remember the 9/11 attack. The question isn't "Do you remember what happened on 9/11?"

Rather, the question presumes that because 9/11 was such a memorable event, not only will you remember the event itself, you will remember contextual details in relation to the event. To spell that out, because 9/11 was so memorable, that makes some otherwise forgettable details memorable by association. 

Or let's go back to the title of the post. That's the famous opening line of L’Étranger by Albert Camus. The first line is arresting because the death of your mother is a paradigmatically-memorable event. If you don't remember that, what do you remember?

For those of us who've lost loved ones, we don't merely recall the day they died. Rather, we are apt recall certain things we were doing on that day. The principle is that an intrinsically memorable event makes related incidents extrinsically memorable by association. 

This introduces another distinction. An event can be prospectively insignificant, but retrospectively significant. Take the day before your loved one died. Or the day before you heard about their death. Especially if the death was sudden, if the death was unexpected, you probably don't recollect anything you did on the day before they died. But if you had advance knowledge that they were going to die the next day, then the day before they died becomes instantly significant. That might be the last full day you will ever have with them. The significance of the day they die makes the day before they died significant, with the benefit of hindsight. And if you had the benefit of foresight, you'd be likely to remember what you were doing on both days.

Indeed, suppose the doctor tells you that your loved one probably has only a few days to left. That advance warning can make the days leading up to their death memorable. The foreboding. Spending extra time with them. Your loved one is now on a countdown. So you make the most of the remaining time. 

Suppose we apply that reasoning to the Gospels. Suppose we bracket inspiration. And suppose, for the sake of argument, we say the only historically reliable accounts in the Gospels are accounts centered on naturally memorable events. So what would those be?

For one thing, the miracles of Christ are memorable. In the nature of the case, a miracle is a memorable event. If Christ performed miracles, that's the kind of event we'd expect people to recall, and talk about. 

But it's not just the miracle that's memorable. As my other examples illustrate, a memorable event enhances our recollection of contextual details. We remember, not merely the event itself, in isolation, but we're apt to remember other things that were said and done in relation to the event. Where and when. Who was there. Normally, these contextual details might be utterly forgettable, but a memorable event is like a light that's not only luminous in its own right, but illuminates the surroundings. 

But even if all we had to go by were the accounts of dominical miracles in the Gospels, there's an awful lot of theology in those accounts. If those are historically reliable, because they're so memorable, that's quite a lot to work with.

Consider some other memorable events in the Gospels. The nativity accounts are studded with unforgettable incidents. 

Or Holy Week. That was a harrowing experience for the disciples. They couldn't bring themselves to believe that Jesus would be martyred. And when Jesus was arrested, they lost their protector. They became marked men. They were terrified that the authorities were going to hunt them down. What could be more memorable?

And what about the empty tomb? And the Risen Christ appearing to them? Not only is that unforgettable, but it's even more dramatic in light of their harrowing experience. 

The Gospels are interwoven with reported events that would be indelible to observers. And the events would make many incidental details stick in the mind. 

A Response To Annette Merz On The Infancy Narratives (Part 9)

(Previous parts in the series: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8.)

I want to conclude this series of responses to Merz by discussing how much Matthew and Luke agree about the childhood of Jesus. One of the most common criticisms of the infancy narratives is that they're too different. And critics often cite that objection as one of the most foundational reasons for rejecting the historicity of the accounts.

Merz cites a couple of resources on the agreements between Matthew and Luke:

Instructive lists of the agreements can be found in J.A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX (AB 28; New York: Doubleday, 1981), 307; and P.M. McDonald, S. H. C. J., "Resemblances between Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2," in New Perspectives on the Nativity, 200-01. (n. 34 on 475)

And here are some of her comments on the differences between the two gospels:

Whereas Joseph is a resident of Bethlehem according to Matthew, and the birth seems to have taken place at his house, Mary is forced to give birth in a stable in Luke's account…

The contradictions between Matthew and Luke on the question of how the family happened to be present in Bethlehem and how the course of events developed after the baby's birth count heavily against historicity. Matthew presupposes Bethlehem as the hometown of Joseph, the son of David, and has the family move to Nazareth only much later, after the magi's visit and clandestine return had provoked Herod's slaughter of the innocents, which in turn caused the family's flight to Egypt, which allowed Matthew to cite another biblical proof text from Hos 11…In Luke, the family lives in Nazareth and comes to Bethlehem, the city of David, in obedience to the decree from Caesar Augustus that they should be enrolled in a world-wide census, and they return to Nazareth very quickly, stopping only to perform the necessary rituals in Jerusalem - the presentation of the child in the temple and the purification of the mother (40 days after birth, according to Lev 12). Within approximately seven weeks, the family was back in their hometown, Nazareth, and on the way back had stayed for several days in Jerusalem, undisturbed by any persecution or threat present there. Of course they never saw a glimpse of Matthew's magi but enjoyed the visit of some shepherds, who had been informed of the birth by many angels instead. Thus we are dealing with two totally different stories, each with a consistent chronology, which are impossible to harmonize. (476-8)

Edge cases

Lydia McGrew is one of the most sophisticated NeverTrumpers, so I'm going to examine some of her arguments. The point of this assessment is not about the 2016 election. Trump's campaign is probably doomed. However, the 2015 election illustrates issues and arguments that will be revisited. Therefore, it's important to sort and sift the good arguments from the bad arguments. Most of her comments are culled from this post:

Although one comment is culled from this post:

BTW, it's striking that a number of prominent conservatives are breaking late for Trump, at a time when his campaign seems to be a lost cause. The timing is a bit odd. Boarding a burning ship while the rats abandon the burning ship. But perhaps, to change metaphors, this is a Hail Mary Pass.

One basic oversight in Lydia's analysis is her myopic fixation on Trump. But a one-sided focus on Trump's many manifest disqualifications will fail to dissuade conservatives who consider voting for him inasmuch as their assessment involves a comparative analysis between two candidates. 

It tries to set women and men against each other, as if it's just or chiefly women who are disgusted. "If decent people are so outraged" wouldn't have started off nearly as well, would it? This furthers the idea that women just "don't understand" that "men are like this" (so it's really no big deal) and hence that women, but not men, are disgusted.

Depends on the speaker is. But conservative pundits bring up 50 Shades of Grey, not to set women against men or promote the notion that women just don't understand men. Just the opposite: that the country is full of trashy women as well as trashy men. 

And that, in turn, documents the duplicity of the outraged directed at Trump. Now, Trumpkins use that to excuse Trump. 

However, it's legitimate to point out that critics on the Left are blind hypocrites. 

It also makes the point that this is a problem for both sexes. This is one of the things that secular progressivism leads to. Slutty women as well as man-sluts or man-whores. 

It makes sweeping, negative, implicit generalizations about women. This, again, is standard manospheric practice. Women in general are sluts. Women in general are bad.

That's true of Alt-Right Trumpkins. However, you can't be a social commentator unless you generalize about groups of people. Social criticism isn't about isolated individuals, but patterns of social behavior. So her objection is self-defeating. Lydia is, herself, a social commentator. 

One thing Lydia conveniently fails to mention is that some of Trump's staunchest cheerleaders are…women! Ann Coulter, Monica Crowley, Laura Ingraham, Peggy Noonan, and Sarah Palin. Even Phyllis Schlafly came under his spell. You can't pin it all on the male chauvinist pigs in the manosphere. You have morally blind women as well as morally blind men. 

I think conservatives by nature have up until now really wanted a president with good character. 

Well, all things being equal, it's preferable to have a president with good character as well as good policies. 

That's one reason why some of them can't handle the cognitive dissonance and either a) downplay Trump's bad character to justify supporting him or even b) go so far as to say that he has good character in order to justify supporting him.

True, I think part of the reason is that some voters feel the candidate they support is a reflection on them (which can be the case). That makes them defensive. 
A Facebook friend of a Facebook friend recently told me that she knows a lot of Christians who literally insist that Trump is "a godly man." The mind boggles, but what I think it shows is that the cynical idea of the "narrow technician President" still doesn't sit well with Americans, especially American conservatives. In their hearts they know that we are supposed to be able to respect the President…


…and that he is, de facto, a role model. 

Just as star athletes are de facto role models. But that should be challenged, not accommodated. 

They know that his name will be in the history books. They know that if he's a slimeball and an embarrassment, this is a real matter of national shame. 

Depends on the available choices. 

They also know that as President he will have tremendous power which of course you wouldn't trust to a moral cretin.

What if both viable candidates are moral cretins? 
So they lie to themselves about his character.

Some Trump supporters are undoubtedly guilty of that. 
However, there's also a lot schizophrenia. In Trump's case, his bad character is so egregiously obvious that a lot more people, including conservatives, can't really deny it. 


But because conservatives are flogged by our two-party system and by the literally religious sense of duty that we have (bizarrely) told people that they have to vote in the Presidential election for one of the two major-party candidates, they feel they must harden their hearts, stifle all of their knowledge that character counts, and justify voting for the Republican candidate. It's an absolutely blatant partisanship: God will be angry at you and you will be responsible for all the evil that the Democrat does if you don't vote for the Republican. 

I have a more charitable interpretation. As Alexander Pruss points out:

There is, nonetheless, still a serious problem for the common method of cases as used in analytic moral philosophy. Even when a reliable process is properly functioning, its reliability and proper function only yield the expectation of correct results in normal cases. A process can be reliable and properly functioning and still quite unreliable in edge cases…This wouldn't matter much if ethical inquiry restricted itself to considering normal cases. But often ethical inquiry proceeds by thinking through hypothetical cases. These cases are carefully crafted to separate one relevant feature from others, and this crafting makes the cases abnormal. For instance, when arguing against utilitarianism, one considers such cases as that of the transplant doctor who is able to murder a patient and use her organs to save three others, and we carefully craft the case to rule out the normal utilitarian arguments against this action: nobody can find out about the murder, the doctor's moral sensibilities are not damaged by this, etc.

The choice between Trump, Hillary, or a third-party candidate presents conservatives with conflicting intuitions, because it's an edge case. 
It is in that context that they turn to the myth of the narrow technician President and to the further myth that a man like Trump can be in any degree trusted to do something effective even about the one or two policy things they are most concerned about.

That's not the right way to frame the issue. The issue, rather, is a choice between a candidate (Trump) who can't be trusted to do the right thing over against a candidate (Hillary) who can be trusted to do the wrong thing.
I saw someone yesterday refer to Trump's "promises" on a laundry list of things some of which he hasn't even _bothered_ to make promises about. (Religious liberty, for example.) So people are literally hallucinating promises from Trump so as to fix in their minds this false picture of his being bound to some kind of contract with them as "his base" to do what they want on certain crucial issues if elected even though he's a bad man.


It's all an illusion.

No, it's not "all" an illusion. 

Now, given that that is what is meant, the intended sharp distinction between his "private life" and what he will "do" from his "public office" if elected really breaks down…It will bring justified embarrassment and reproach to the country. And it will make him vulnerable in various ways related even to matters such as national security. A man who cannot control his passions is hardly to be trusted with the nuclear football and with high security clearance!

i) If Lydia is alluding to Trump, I agree. However, the reason Trump is dangerous is not due to his roving eye, but because he's so rash, petty, and proudly uninformed. 

ii) When she says it will bring embarrassment and reproach to the country, I don't know her frame of reference. Europe and Great Britain have had philandering heads-of-state for centuries. And the same could be said for many other countries. 

iii) I thought she may be loathe to admit it, successful men can be promiscuous. Promiscuous men can lead very disciplined lives, in which they compartmentalize their sex life. They are able to be promiscuous and still be highly proficient at their job. 

iv) Life would be simpler if Lydia's correlation held true. But by the same token, life would be unlivable if her correlation held true. Although moral consistency is better than moral inconsistency, moral inconsistency is better than immoral consistency. In his common grace, God often causes unbelievers to be morally inconsistent rather than immorally consist for the survival of the elect. In a fallen world, you can't expect widespread moral consistency. 

I don't say that as a recommendation. And Trump is just a showman. But Lydia is overplaying her hand. 

For reasons I've given, I remain a NeverTrumper. I agree with Lydia's ultimate position, but not the reasons by which she arrives at her position. 

Hillary and the UMC

"Progressive Christians" predictably attack Trump but don't attack Hillary. To a great extent, there's been a similar asymmetry among evangelicals and conservatives. That's because evangelicals/conservatives take Trump's candidacy personally in a way they don't take Hillary's candidacy.  No one's liable to mistake Hillary for a representative of the conservative movement. So evangelicals/conservatives don't feel the need to explicitly disassociate themselves from Hillary, since that's taken for granted. Likewise, the conservative movement has had a voice in the GOP, whereas it has no voice in the Democrat Party. So, once again, evangelicals/conservatives are more alarmed by what is happening under their own roof (relatively speaking). For evangelicals/conservatives, Trump's candidacy ignites an in-house debate in a way that Hillary's does not. Trump's candidacy triggers an identity crisis regarding the future of the GOP and the future of the conservative movement, in a way that Hillary's does not. That's one reason many conservative pundits have neglected to make the case against Hillary.

There is, however, an interesting parallel. Hillary is a United Methodist. So is Ben Witherington and Bill Arnold. They represent the conservative wing (by Methodist standards) of the UMC. 

To my knowledge, conservative spokesmen for the UMC like Witherington and Arnold haven't distanced themselves from Hillary in the way that many evangelicals have distanced themselves from Trump. Why is that? Witherington has distanced himself from Trump, so why not Hillary? Why not publicly repudiate her as an authentic representative of the Methodist tradition? 


I got into an impromptu Facebook debate over this quote:

To vote for Trump as the lesser of two evils is as much to say as there are circumstances under which you would vote for Hillary. She is an utterly corrupt politician, true enough, but anyone who thinks we couldn’t get a worse set of choices hasn’t read very much history. How about Hillary vs. Vlad the Impaler? We have gotten down to this atrocious choice because we have been following the “lesser of two evils” strategy for more than a generation.

Some NeverTrumpers are making the same mistake as Trumpkins in reverse. Just as Trumpkins redefine principles to support Trump, some NeverTrumpers are now at risk of redefining principles to oppose Trump.  

It's one thing to argue that choosing Trump over Hillary represents a misapplication of the lesser-evil principle, another thing to reject the principle altogether. To repudiate the lesser of two evils in principle leads to moral paralysis. Leads to positions like pacifism.

Steve Hays Actually, Vlad the Impaler saved his country from Muslim conquest and subjugation.

Christopher Wood That's like saying Dubya saved America from Muslim terrorists.

Steve Hays Your reply is an argument from analogy minus the supporting argument. What do you actually know about the history of Rumania in relation to Islam? Do you deny that Vlad repelled the Muslim invaders?

In what sense did Vlad "stir" them up? He didn't provoke them to invade Rumania. The Ottoman Turks were aggressors. Anyway, you're using my comment as a pretext to attack Bush's foreign policy, That has precisely nothing to do with my original comment. And, no, I don't agree that America stirs up terrorism. I do think the Iraq war was a miscalculation, and while the Afghanistan war was just reprisal, the nation-building component was a boondoggle. Again, though, that's all irrelevant to my original comment.

"It's not irrelevant, it reveals your position. You seem to think that 'they started it' is a reasonable defense."

A reasonable defense of what? If Ottoman Turks attack Europe, Europeans have the right to counterattack. Yes, it does matter who started an unprovoked war of aggression. 

If an armed burglar breaks into my house, I have the right to kill him. Yes, it makes a difference who started it. Sorry if that rudimentary moral distinction eludes you.

Perhaps you think the Ottoman Turks were peacenik vegans who wore love beads and Nehru jackets until Europeans "stirred them up."

"'Miscalculation' is a great euphemism for something that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians."

Since I'm not defending the Iraq war, I have no need for euphemisms. Of course, prior to the Iraq war, there were constant complaints about how the UN sanctions were killing innocent Iraqis. 

From what I've read, most of the civilian causalities in Iraq were inflicted by the "insurgents," not Coalition forces.

Speaking of which, it wasn't just an American operation. For instance, British forces made significant contributions to the war effort. Is it chauvinism that prevents you from making Tony Blair share some of the blame?

"And I suppose you think the regular drone bombings with their associated 'collateral damage' are also justified?"

That's obtuse. Since I said at the outset that I don't support the Iraq war, it follows that I don't think drone bombings in relation to the Iraq war are justified. 

Or were you referring to drone attacks in general? Just about every war has collateral damage. Drone attacks didn't create collateral damage for the first time in military history. So unless your a pacifist, what precisely is your objection? 

Collateral damage is justified if the war is justified, and collateral damage is a necessary side-effect of prosecuting a justifiable war. So the real issue take us a step back to whether the war in question is justifiable, and not the incidental, but inevitable consequences of said war.

"I'm sorry if the rudimentary moral distinction between self-defence and war eludes you."

That's simple-minded. Try to wrap your head around the principle of a common defense. Self-defense often requires people to pool their resources. So to posit a disjunction between war and self-defense is a false dichotomy. Any other logical fallacies I can help you with?

"Yes drone attacks in general, the US has been striking many countries in addition to Iraq."

So you're actually not talking about drone attacks in general, but US drone attacks in particular. 

"but so far as I know, bombing civilian targets has never been shown to be an effective strategy."

Tell that to the Japanese.

Moreover, you somehow treat collateral damage as synonymous with targeting civilians. Thanks for illustrating your basic conceptual confusions.

"Bombing military installations, airfields, and production is quite different to assassinating families or bombing schools and hospitals."

That overlooks the use of schools and hospitals as human shields. Something Muslims in Israel routinely do (to take one example).

"Are you really saying Vlad's violence was all justified, incidental and inevitable?"

If that's what I was really saying, you could simply quote me saying that. If you have to ask, then the question answers itself.

"War is simply common self-defence only in ideals, not the real world."

Except that you deny that you're a pacifist. So where does your dichotomy between self-defense and common defense leave you? Are you saying self-defense is moral, but common defense is immoral? Yet you apparently grant the necessity of common defense in some situations.

"US is just the most prolific example (by far)."

You still don't get it. The question at issue is whether you reject drone attacks in principle. 

"There is little doubt that Japan was going to surrender even without the city bombing."

What was the incentive to surrender? Fear of invasion from the US or Russia? That would have resulted in massive civilian casualties.

"Granted it may have taken slightly longer, but that doesn't justify the massive loss of life."

You suffer from persistent inability to keep track of the argument. I didn't comment on the morality of nuking Japan one way or the other. Rather, I responded to your allegation that "so far as I know, bombing civilian targets has never been shown to be an effective strategy."

Whether or not nuking Japan was justifiable is a separate question from whether that was an effective strategy. You need to acquire the mental discipline to follow the argument and stick with one issue at a time. 

From what I've read, Nagaskii was a secondary target. The primary target was Kokura, which had greater military significance. However, it was cloudy over Kokura when the bomber arrived at the site, so they fell back on Nagasaki.

"No, targeting civilians is often called 'collateral damage'"

Often called by whom? By people who don't know the conceptual distinction? 

"Whether a case of 'we bombed these houses because we thought a target was in them' or rules of engagement that encourage firing on non-combatants."

Typically, an ethical distinction is drawn between intended harm and foreseen harm as an indirect, but unavoidable effect of doing good. 

"So if someone uses your family as human shields, you think it's simply justified to kill them?"

Try to keep more than one idea in your mind at a time. The answer depends in part on which side of the conflict is in the wrong.

"Then you should take back your statement about 'the incidental, but inevitable consequences of said war."

Which, once again, illustrates your failure to grasp the distinction between targeting civilians and collateral damage. "Targeting" civilians is a term of art. Pay attention to the ethical distinction I drew a few sentences above.

Just war theory maintains a distinction between combatants and non-combatants. I was talking about the loss of life of Japanese civilians."

i) I haven't framed the issue in terms of just-war theory. I haven't used just-war terminology. Rather, I've talked about what's "justified" or "justifiable". 

ii) Since I'm not Roman Catholic, I don't regard just-war theory as morally authoritative. It makes sense for Catholics like Elizabeth Anscombe and Germain Grisez to espouse nuclear pacifism because they treat just-war theory as dogma, but that's not my framework. I'm Protestant. 

iii) The distinction between combatants and noncombatants is often ad hoc. Is the guy who flies bombers fair game, but they guy who builds bombers off-limits? Just defaulting to the combatant/non-combatant false dichotomy is morally frivolous. We need a more fine-grained analysis.

On the face of it, your position is morally incoherent. On the one hand you deny that your'e a pacifist. On the other hand, you seem to repudiate the permissibility of collateral damage.

i) There are situations where harming the innocent is unavoidable regardless of what you do or refrain from doing. Either you will harm them or you will permit the enemy to harm them, because you refuse to intervene.

ii) Given that forced option, it is permissible to harm some innocents with a view to saving other innocents. 

iii) You should minimize the harm done consistent with doing good. 

Put another way, There are situations where an agent performs an action that has two effects: one good and one bad. Moreover, inaction on the agent's part will have a bad effect, without the compensatory good effect.

The action may still be licit provided that the intended effect desired by the agent is good while the bad effect is merely foreseen, and not intended.

An advantage of inflicting harm yourself, rather than leaving it to the enemy to inflict harm, is that you have more control over how, where, when, and to whom the harm is inflicted. You can be more discriminating than the enemy, and minimize the harm, or mitigate the harm the enemy would do.

If you reject that principle, you need to explain why you're not a pacifist.

Is “Pope Francis” going to Celebrate St. Martin Luther?

“Pope Francis” in the shadow of Martin Luther
Is “Pope Francis” using the power of “the papacy” to dismantle “the papacy”?

The traditionalist Roman Catholic website Rorate-Caeli recently asked the question, “To which Church does Pope Bergoglio belong?

Already on the books for “Pope Francis” is a scheduled trip to Lund, Sweden, to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation (October 31, 2017).

Two anniversaries overlap each other in 2017: the 100 years of the Fatima apparitions, occurring between May 13th and October 13th 1917, and the 500 years of Luther’s revolt, beginning in Wittenberg, Germany, October 31st 1517….

The start of the centenary of the Fatima apparitions on October 13th 2016 was buried under a blanket of silence. That same day, Pope Francis received in the Paul VI Audience Hall, a thousand Lutheran “pilgrims” and in the Vatican a statue of Martin Luther was honoured, as appears in the images Antonio Socci published on his Facebook page. Next October 31st, moreover, Pope Francis will go to Lund in Sweden, where he will take part in a joint Catholic-Lutheran ceremony commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. As can be read in the communiqué drawn up by the World Lutheran Federation and the Papal Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, the aim of the event is “to express the gifts of the Reform and ask forgiveness for the division perpetuated by Christians of the two traditions.

The Valdese theologian and pastor, Paolo Ricca, involved for decades in ecumenical dialogue, voiced his satisfaction “seeing as it is the first time a Pope commemorates the Reform … By taking part in the commemoration, as the highest representative of the Catholic Church is prepared to do, means, in my view, to consider the Reform as a positive event in the history of the Church which also did some good for Catholicism...

Earlier I’ve noticed that “Pope Francis” intends to be cleaning house. In that article, I noted that “it seems, at the very least, that this pope is going to move in the direction of conciliarism, and as he indicated once before, in the direction of the the Ravenna document,” an unofficial document prepared in conjunction with some Eastern Orthodox writers that suggests possible ways for a return to the “conciliarity” of the first nine centuries of church history.

This interview with Ricca also suggests that there may be some radical changes afoot:

According to Ricca, the main contribution offered by Pope Francis is “his effort to reinvent the papacy, that is, the search for a new and different way of understanding and living the ministry of the Bishop of Rome. This search – presuming my interpretation somewhat hits the mark - might take us a long way, since the papacy – because of the way it has been understood and lived over the last 1000 years – is one of the great obstacles to Christian Unity. It seems to me Pope Francis is moving towards a model of the papacy different to the traditional one, with respect to which the other Christian Churches might take on new positions. If it were so, this theme might be completely reconsidered in ecumenical circles.

The fact that this interview was published on October 9th by Vatican Insider, considered a semi-official Vatican site, makes one think that this interpretation of the Lund trip as well as the papal intentions, have been authorized and are agreeable to Pope Francis [italics in original, bold emphasis is mine].

In his “cleaning house”, just how far does pope Bergoglio intend to go?

Tossing virgins into the volcano

Arminian Randal Rauser recently posed an attack on penal substitution: 

Some Christians (advocates of penal substitution) believe that Jesus’ atoning death satisfies the wrath of the Father against sin, and thus that Jesus’ death provides the culmination and completion of the temple sacrificial system.

The difference can be illustrated with the standard story of the South Pacific islanders who believe an innocent virgin must be tossed into the mouth of the volcano to satisfy the Volcano God so that he will not erupt and thereby smite the people for their sins.

The advocate of penal substitution offers a view of divine wrath and justice which is in continuity with the framework of divine/human relations that is assumed by the South Pacific islanders. To be sure, the advocate of penal substitution does not commend the act, but he does share the logic: God is wrathful against sin and that wrath can be satisfied by an appropriate substitutionary sacrifice.

i) Tossing virgins into a volcano is a scurrilous comparison. Now, Rauser may feign that he's not directly comparing penal substitution to tossing virgins into a volcano, but he's clearly trading on the lurid connotations of pagan sacrifice to tarnish penal substitution by association. 

ii) Penal substitution doesn't mean the Father's "wrath" is satisfied. Even if we operate with the "wrathful" framework, it's not as if the Father is wrathful about sin, while the Son (and Spirit) are not wrathful about sin. It's not as if an unwrathful Son placates the Father's wrath. Rather, it would be a case of placating divine wrath. It's not as if one member of the Trinity can be wrathful while the other two are not. If there is such a thing as divine wrath, the Trinity would be wrathful. 

iii) Divine wrath is not a presupposition of penal substitution. Penal substitution concerns the satisfaction (through vicarious atonement) of divine justice, not divine wrath. Even if God wasn't wrathful, that wouldn't eliminate penal substitution. In fact, wrath cannot be satisfied. That's a category mistake. Wrath is not a forensic category. By contrast, justice can be satisfied. Justice and satisfaction are both forensic categories. 

iv) I don't think God is literally enraged by sin. I think that's a colorful, anthropomorphic way of depicting God's disapprobation regarding sin. 

Perhaps Rauser would say he's commenting on popular presentations of penal substitution. If so, that hardly disproves more precise formulations. 

v) The OT, which provides the typology of penal substitution or vicarious atonement, forbad human sacrifice. 

vi) Mere human sacrifice cannot atone for sin. Putting a sinner to death would fail to atone for even his own sin.

vii) Jesus is innocent in a way that no sinner is. Moreover, Jesus isn't merely human.  

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Another round on "consequentialism"

Yesterday, Christian philosophy prof. Paul Franks posted a critique of Wayne Grudem's recent article:

In some respects I agree with both of them and disagree with both of them. I agree with Grudem's case against Hillary. I disagree with his support for Trump, although I don't think his argument is "deplorable". 

Conversely, I agree with Franks' opposition to Trump, but I disagree with his central objection to Grudem's article. Today, Franks and I had an email exchange. I'm posting my side of the exchange:

I. First reply

Dear Dr. Franks,

Regarding your recent post on Grudem:

As a trained philosopher, I'm surprised to see you mischaracterize Grudem's framework. You repeatedly accuse Grudem of "consequentialism". Yet Grudem denies that consequences are the sole consideration. In responding to the (3) objection that “When faced with the lesser of two evils, choose neither one,” Grudem says:

Answer: I agree with this principle when facing a choice between doing two evil actions. For example, when faced with a choice between stealing and telling a lie, I should choose neither one. But this is not that kind of situation. We are not talking about doing something evil. We are talking about voting.

So Grudem clearly thinks some actions are intrinsically wrong. Consequences alone could never warrant those actions. He just doesn't think voting for Trump is one of those actions. 

Now, what Grudem says in that regard is very brief. It may not be an adequate counterargument to the objection, but he clearly rejects the position that consequences are a sufficient criterion in moral valuation. 

In addition, why do you seem to absolutize "conscience"? Conscience is not infallible. 

II. Second Reply

Thanks for your reply. Actually, I'm operating with standard definitions of consequentialism. For instance:

Consequentialism is the view that morality is all about producing the right kinds of overall consequences.   

Consequentialism, as its name suggests, is the view that normative properties depend only on consequences. This general approach can be applied at different levels to different normative properties of different kinds of things, but the most prominent example is consequentialism about the moral rightness of acts, which holds that whether an act is morally right depends only on the consequences of that act or of something related to that act, such as the motive behind the act or a general rule requiring acts of the same kind.  

Consequentialism assesses the rightness or wrongness of actions in terms of the value of their consequences. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (1998), 2:603. 

But that's clearly not his framework. He cites two examples (stealing, lying) which he considers to be morally wrong regardless of the consequences. Hence, he doesn't think consequences are sufficient to justify every action. 

The question at issue isn't whether his argument is successful, but whether he's a consequentialist. His argument for voting for Trump may be an abject failure. That doesn't make him a consequentialist.

Suppose I'm about to drive home from work. The freeway is congested. At that time of day, a side street will get me home quicker than the freeway, so I choose the side street. Surely that doesn't commit me to consequentialism. 

Moreover, I don't know why you treat following one's conscience as the logical alternative to consequentialism. For instance, deontology isn't based on appeal to conscience. 

III. Third Reply

This is what I take you to be saying. Your position appears to be that although someone may not be a consequentialist, yet if in particular case he only take results into account in making his decision, then he is, in that instance, guilty of "consequentialist-based reasoning". If that's what you are saying, I think that's demonstrably false. 

Consequentialism is the position that, as a matter of principle, "morality is all about producing the right kinds of overall consequences," "whether an act is morally right depends only on the consequences of that act," or "the value of their consequences."

i) Now, to recur to my first example, in choosing which route to take home, I only care about the results (i.e. getting home by the fastest route). That, however, doesn't mean I think that, as a matter of principle, the value of the results is the only consideration in decision-making.

Rather, it means that, all other things being equal, the desired result is the deal-breaker. Put another way, in a choice between two morally neutral options, consequences may be all that matter. That's the decisive consideration. 

Again, though, that's different than saying, as a matter of principle, that consequences are the only consideration. Rather, it just means that in this particular case, there happen to be no other morally salient factors or countervailing factors. So, by process of elimination, preferred results are the only remaining differential factor. 

ii) Take another example: suppose I have a teenage son with cancer. With treatment, he has a 95% of survival. Without treatment, he has a 95% chance of dying. Given those options, I have him undergo cancer therapy. All I care about is effective treatment. That, however, isn't consequentialist-based reasoning. Rather, it means there are no other countervailing factors to consider in this instance. To bring that into relief, let's compare it to some different examples:

iii) Suppose two patients need a heart transplant to survive. One is 15 and the other is 75. Here the age of the patient introduces an additional moral consideration. It's not that the life of the 75-year-old patient is intrinsically less valuable than the life of the 15-year-old patient. And it's certainly not that the elderly are not entitled to good medical care.

But the 75-year-old patient has already had an additional 60 years of life, compared to the 15-year-old patient. And with a heart transplant, suppose that extends his life for another 10 years. It's unfair that he should have an extra 70 years to live at the cost of the teenager dying at 15. 

iv) Suppose I'm a ruthless military dictator. I discover that my teenage son has a congenital heart defect. He needs a heart transplant to survive. Without it he could drop dead at anytime.

I have my goons round up 50 heathy young men. I have them subjected to genetic testing to isolate the most compatible donor. I then have the donor euthanized to harvest his heart to save my son.

Now that truly is consequentialist-based reasoning. That's only concerned with the results–to the exclusion of countervailing moral considerations. 

v) Let's finish with a different kind of example. Suppose I believe that all other things being equal, a candidate's character is a morally germane consideration in choosing who to vote for.

Suppose, however, there are only two viable candidates, and both of them share the same morally disqualifying character. In that event, they cancel out the character criterion. 

It's not that I think character, per se, is irrelevant. But that criterion has been mooted by the two candidates. So I focus on their respective policies. 

Do Democrat social programs lower abortion?

Some people say that if you're truly prolife, you should vote for Hillary because Democrat social programs lower the abortion rate. For a corrective:

Is Lewis's fiction allegorical?

C. S. Lewis denied that his Christian fiction was allegorical. Some people find that puzzling, because, on one definition, some of his fiction is allegorical. Clearly he was operating with a specialized definition of allegory. In a letter to a correspondent, he gives a fairly detailed explanation of what he means:


By an allegory I mean a composition (whether pictorial or literary) in which immaterial realities are represented by feigned physical objects e.g. a pictured Cupid allegorically represents erotic love (which in reality is an experience, not an object occupying a given area of space) or, in Bunyan, a giant that represents Despair.

If Aslan represented the immaterial Deity in the same way in which Giant Despair represents despair, he would be an allegorical figure. In reality however he is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, "What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia, and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?" This is not an allegory at all So in Perelandra. This also works out a supposition. ("Suppose, even now, in some other planet there were a first couple undergoing the same that Adam and Eve underwent here, but successfully.")

Allegory and such supposals differ because they mix the real and the unreal in different ways. Bunyan's picture of Giant Despair does not start from a supposal at all. It is not a supposition but a fact that despair can capture and imprison a human soul. What is unreal or (fictional) is the giant, the castle, and the dungeon. The Incarnation of Christ in another world is mere supposal: but granted the supposition, He would really have been a physical object in that world as He was in Palestine and His death on the Stone Table would have been a physical event no less than his death on Calvary.

Similarly, if the angels (who I believe to be real beings in the actual universe) have that relation to the Pagan gods which they are assumed to have in Perelandra, they might really manifest themselves in real form as they did to Ransom. 

Again, Ransom (to some extent) plays the role of Christ not because he allegorically represents him (as Cupid represents falling in love) but because in reality every real Christian is really called upon in some measure to enact Christ. Of course Ransom does this rather more spectacularly than most. But that does not mean that he does it allegorically. It only means that fiction (at any rate my kind of fiction) choose extreme cases. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume lll: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy 1950-1963 (HarperOne, 2007),1004-05.

Joy Davidman's miraculous remission

In this post I'm going to quote some firsthand accounts concerning the miraculous remission of Joy Davidman's breast cancer and bone cancer. She became Lewis's wife. I'll be quoting from The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume lll: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy 1950-1963 (HarperOne, 2007). I will begin by quoting from the editor's (Walter Hooper) biographical sketch of Peter Bide. Bide was a former student of Lewis's, who became an Anglican priest. I will then quote from some of Lewis's letters. 


During the years of the war Bide had kept up with Lewis, visiting him whenever he passed through Oxford. In the spring of 1954 there was a terrible polio epidemic in the area [of Sussex], and numerous sufferers were moved by ambulances to the "fever hospital" where Bide was chaplain. One young boy named Michael Gallagher was seriously ill of cerebral meningitis and believed to be dying. Bide went on his knees beside the boy's bed, laid his hands on him, and prayed for his recovery. Michael did recover, and after being told about it Lewis was one of those who believed a miracle had been worked. 

Lewis remembered this when, in 1957, Joy was in the Wingfield-Morris Hostpital (now the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre), dying of cancer. He asked Bide to come up and lay hands on her. Although it was not expected that she would recover, Lewis would not consider moving Joy to The Kilns unless they were married in a Christian ceremony in addition to the civil marriage they had already contracted, but when Lewis asked the Bishop of Oxford for permission to marry he was refused on the grounds that her previous marriage was still valid. Bide arrived in Oxford on 20 March. As he later explained:

When Joy was diagnosed as having a sarcoma, Jack wrote to me and asked for me to come up and lay hands on her. I hesitated. The Michael case had mercifully made little or no noise but I had been aware of how easy it would have been for me to assume the role of "a priest with a gift of healing", so I made no attempt to exploit the gift, if gift it was…But Jack was a special case. Not only did I owe a considerable intellectual debt but the ordinary demands of friendship would have made it churlish to say no. So I went, and that was the beginning. 
In the end there seemed only one Court of Appeal. I asked myself what He would have done and that somehow finished the argument. The following morning I married them in the hospital ward with the Ward Sister and Warnie Lewis as witnesses. I laid hands on Joy and she lived for another three years (ibid. 1650-51).


Magdalene College,
November 27, 1957

My dear Arthur,

Our news is all very good. Joy's improvement has gone beyond anything we dared to hope and she can now (limping, of course, and with a stick) get about the house and into the garden.

(ibid. 900) 

Magdalen College,
November 27, 1957

My dear Van Auken,

My own news continues better than we ever dared to hope. The cancerous bones have rebuilt themselves in a way quite unusual and Joy can now walk: on a stick and with a limp, it is true, but it is a walk–and far less than a year ago it took three people to move her in bed and we often hurt her. He general health, and spirits, seem excellent. Of course the sword of Damocles hangs over us. Or should I say that circumstances have opened our eyes to see the sword which really hangs always over everyone.

C. S. Lewis
(ibid. 901)

The Kilns, Kiln Lane,
Headington Quarry,
December 13 1957

My dear Allens,

How every kind of you both to remember us at this season, and how very grateful my wife and I are for your prayers–prayers which have indeed been answered, for my wife is almost miraculously better. She will, alas, always ben an invalid, but X-Ray photos show beyond any shadow of doubt that the diseased bone is healing; and now she can walk about the house, and even in the garden, with the aid of a stick. When I remember that this time last year she was under sentence of death, I have indeed much to be thankful for.

Yours ever,
C. S. Lewis
(ibid. 905-06)

Magdalene College,
27th, April, 1959

Dear Sister Madelva,

Thank you for your kind words about my wife. She was given a few weeks to live. A good man laid his hands on her and prayed. Now, two years later, she is walking about our wood pigeon shooting. At her last X-Ray check the doctor used the word "miraculous" -tho' I don't suppose he meant it quite as you or I would.

Yours sincerely
C. S. Lewis
(ibid. 1041)