Monday, April 24, 2017

Papists or Thomists?

I recently had an impromptu debate with a Catholic on Facebook. Here's the exchange (with minor editing):

To support Jerry's claim from another angle, there's the phenomenon of conservative Catholics who disregard the pacifism of recent popes. They justify their support for capital punishment or a particular military intervention by appealing to Thomism. Many conservative Catholic intellectuals are functional Thomists rather than papists. Their standard of comparison on just war and capital punishment is Thomism rather than the modern Magisterium. You can see the same phenomenon when they disregard the economic views of recent popes and bishops, or their views on illegal immigration.

I forget, did a Pope declare ex cathedra a particular position on any of the issues you just listed?

You forgot that Catholics have a duty to submit to the ordinary magisterium and not merely the extraordinary magisterium. Anything else you'd like me to clear up for you?

892 Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a "definitive manner," they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful "are to adhere to it with religious assent"422 which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.

Yes, actually; what level of doctrine do those things listed fall under?

You mean, recent papal opposition to the death penalty (for instance)?

But nice to see you having to backpedal from your initial criterion.

Well, let me ask it like this, do the teachings you listed above, fall under ordinary, extraordinary, or ordinary universal magisterium teachings? Also, are these teachings considered dogma, definitive doctrine, authoritative doctrine, or prudential admonitions?

They don't need to be dogma or definitive doctrine to obligate assent. That's the point. And if you wish to retreat into uncertainty regarding how recent papal policy on capital punishment or default pacifism should be classified, that's a problem for Catholics, not Protestants. By what authority to does a Catholic layman classify recent papal policy as authoritative or unauthoritative? Your own authority?

Since it's "a problem for Catholics," then probably not a thing for you to concern yourself with here. 

Do you also think Christians are not entitled to concern themselves with problems internal to atheism? Should we just leave that to atheists to hash out among themselves? What a mistake for Plantinga, Swinburne, van Inwagen et al. to bother with atheism.

Also, If the teachings you listed above do indeed fall under the last two categories, one is able to disagree with the magisterium regarding these teachings. See Richard Gaillardetz's By What Authority? on this point.

Your last two categories included "authoritative doctrine" (second to last). So you're saying faithful Catholics are at liberty to disagree with authoritative doctrine.

If you classify recent papal policy on capital punishment and default pacifism as merely "prudential admonitions," what's your criterion? By what authority do you apply your criterion? Same thing with recent papal teaching on economics.

I notice that you cast the issue in conditional terms (if–then). So is the classification uncertain? But isn't a divine teaching office supposed to compensate for the lack of certainty that allegedly besets Protestant theology?

Well, we are back at my above question, how did these teachings come to be ( ordinary, extraordinary, or ordinary universal magisterium)?

Are you claiming there's some sort of quantitative threshold that distinguishes the ordinary universal magisterium? Can you point to an unambiguous criterion or sufficient condition?

Does the Vatican issue labels: "ordinary magisterial teaching," "ordinary universal magisterial teaching"?

Or is that left to the private judgment of individual Catholics to tell which is which?

No, actually, basic Catholic ecclesiology.

Oh, but we're discussing how individuals, including lay Catholics, apply "basic Catholic ecclesiology. Are you saying the classification of papal teaching as merely prudential admonitions is not an exercise in private judgment at the level of application?

Given the development of doctrine, what may prospectively appear to be merely prudential advice may retrospectively be seen as authoritative, as a pattern emerges. Or do you deny that?

Ordinary Magisterium consist of teachings by individual bishops, groups of bishops, or the Pope (non-infallible). 

Extraordinary Magisterium are things taught by the College of Bishops while gathered in Ecumenical Council, or the Pope doing so, as headof the College of Bishops, declared Ex Cathedra. 

Ordinary Universal Magisterium is something made by the bishops while dispersed throughout the world, united in judgment indicating that a teaching is held definitively.

Your definition of the ordinary universal magisterium fails to provide any identifiable event or discernible criterion for when that threshold has been crossed. Care to try again?

Your distinction between "groups of bishops" and bishops "dispersed throughout the world" is fuzzy, especially given the fact that the geographical extension of the Catholic church has varied in the course of church history.

Not to mention weasel words like "united in judgment" and "definitively held". Do you have a noncircular criterion or condition?

Wait, why do you care, again?

So now you're trying to deflect.

No, I'm just noting above you said this was a Catholic problem. I explained that there are different types of Church teachings.

Also, are you trying to learn about Catholic ecclesiology, or just being a troll?

So exposing the incoherence of Catholic claims is trollish. Well, if that's the best you can do.

So because the process isn't neat, somehow it is incoherent?

The process isn't "neat". What a lovely euphemism. So that's your backdoor admission that you don't really have any objective way to differentiate ordinary magisterial teaching from ordinary universal magisterial teaching.

Why can't evangelicals say the process of Protestant theology isn't "neat".

1) There are some "objective" criteria, as I stated above, how were the teachings stated? Ecumenical council? Ex Cathedra? Statements made by the Pope in a homily? 

2) It isn't exactly a neat process. Takes time, as the first few hundred years of christological debates should show. 

3)I am not exactly sure what it means to have a process of Protestant theology.

To repeat, what's the threshold for knowing when or if ordinary magisterial teaching has passed or will pass into ordinary universal magisterial teaching? At best, that can only be known in hindsight, which leaves much Catholic teaching uncertain or practically unauthoritative since the future is out of sight. And this isn't just a question of development or reiteration, but dramatic reversals in the status quo ante, for centuries.

To my knowledge, no papal statements are labeled "ex cathedra".

BTW, is there an infallible list of ecumenical councils? Clearly Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox have different lists.

The threshold is when the bishops, as members of the college of bishops even though they are dispersed globally, are united in a judgment that a teaching should be considered definitive doctrine. In other words, a judgment made by only the USCCB, cannot be anything more than ordinary magisterium (therefore not infallible).

Once again, how do you know if or when that threshold has been crossed? Does the Vatican stage a fireworks display? 

Since the Catholic church wasn't global for most of its history, does that mean ordinary universal magisterial teaching only became possible since the 19C (give or take)? How do you determine that the bishops are "united in judgment"? That doesn't even occur during so-called ecumenical councils. If, in some or many cases, the distinction between ordinary and ordinary universal magisterial teaching can only be seen after the fact, then how do you achieve any certainty in distinguishing the two in advance of the fact?

The statement about bishops being global isn't meant to imply that there must be a bishop on every continent. Rather, it is meant to reference the bishops dispersed to their diocese, wherever they might be found, rather than together at a council.

But you'd have to determine (taking a poll?) that the bishops are united in judgment. Presumably, moreover, that must be diachronic as well as synchronic. Bishops over a span of time. What's the minimal sample group in space and time? Presumably you don't think "united in judgment" means unanimity since, as I pointed out, that's not even a necessary condition for an ecumenical council. So it's a fuzzy criterion, too. A matter of degree. What's the threshold?

How do you determine, before the Council of Nicaea, whether or not Nicaea should be considered authoritative?

I don't consider church councils to be intrinsically authoritative. That's not my paradigm. If, for argument's sake, we wish to cast the issue in authoritarian terms, then the product of a council is "authoritative" insofar as it happens to be true.

What's not the question here?: your paradigm or what you think is authoritative in these matters. Rather the question is whether or not your initial comment that sparked this is back and forth makes a worthwhile contribution and criticism within the Catholic paradigm. It doesn't. Whether the catholic paradigm is complicated, or satisfies your emotive self isn't too interesting, since you aren't a Catholic, and is to be expected beforehand.However, what is interesting is that you continually pontificate about Catholic authority, and yet did not seem to know about the distinctions within the magisterium....

You were the one who asked for my personal opinion. My objection wasn't that the Catholic paradigm is "complicated" or that it fails to satisfies an "emotive self". And what's interesting is your persistent inability to show how the abstract distinctions are tenable in practice.

What's the difference between Peter Enns and William Lane Craig?

I'm reposting some comments I made on Facebook:

How is Craig's position different from Peter Enns? Is it just a difference of degree? What's the difference between evangelicalism and progressive Christianity, if any?

How is the comparison with Peter Enns a red herring? Peter Enns also jettisons OT stories. Is there a line to be drawn between Craig and Enns? Is one acceptable while the other is unacceptable? If so, what's the principle?

Craig said, "Questions about the historical reliability of these ancient Jewish texts just has [sic] no direct bearing on whether God exists…"

What God? The God of the Kalam cosmological argument? I don't object to philosophical and scientific arguments for God's existence, but these should be a supplement to the record of revelation and redemption, not a substitute.

If Craig thinks the God of Adam and Eve may be a fictional character, and if he thinks the God of Noah may be a fictional character, at what stage in OT narrative does Yahweh denote a real individual who says and does what the narratives attribute to him?

Does the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph exist? Or is that a fictional character? What about the God of Moses? 

Liberal scholars say the Exodus never happened. So what about the God of the wilderness wandering? What about the God of Joshua and Judges? What about the God of David or Daniel? At what juncture does the real God step into the picture?

Is the God whom Christians worship the same individual as the God of Abraham, David, Asaph, and Isaiah? Or is that a literary construct? 

I don't just mean a common object of belief, but whether there's a God who said and did the things that OT narratives attribute to Yahweh in reference to Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Jeremiah, &c. Is there a real continuous referent from OT times to NT times to modern times? Is the God whom Christians pray to the same God who spoke to Noah, Abraham, Moses, &c.? Or is that pious fiction?

Let's briefly review: in my last comment, I asked, given Craig's answer, to what degree OT theism corresponds to the God Craig believes in. After all, when the questioner pointed out how Jesus appeals to certain OT episodes, one of Craig's outs is to compare that to explicitly fictional literature. Where a hypothetical speaker was referring to an incident in Robinson Crusoe. 

I didn't infer that Craig is prepared to compare "these ancient Jewish texts" to pious fiction. Craig himself specifically presented that as one of his viable options. 

But if Gen 2-3 is fictional, then presumably Adam, Eve, and the Tempter are fictional characters. And in that event, Yahweh is necessarily a fictional character in the same story. You can't have a real speaker talking to fictional characters, who respond to a real speaker. Both speakers must either be real or fictional. You can't have a fictional dialogue with a real interlocutor, or a real dialogue with a fictional interlocutor. So it must be consistently fictional or historical. Same thing with the flood account.

So at what point does Yahweh cease to be an imaginary artifact of the narrator? Is there a sudden shift when we get to the patriarchal narratives? Of the life of Moses? Of the life of David? Where does Craig draw the line? Does he have a principled distinction? 

Moreover, on Craig's view, we can't use the example of Jesus to corroborate the historical genre of OT narratives, because another one of Craig's outs is the live possibility that Jesus was a fallible teacher. And that would apply a fortiori to other NT speakers or writers like Paul. 

Is there any historical and metaphysical continuity between the God Craig affirms and the God of St. Paul, St. Luke, St. John, Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Psalmists, Joseph, Abraham, &c? 

What The Enfield Poltergeist Tells Us About Skeptics

Near the end of a November 23, 1977 broadcast, a BBC reporter commented that the events he was covering could be "the best-documented ghost story of all time". He was referring to the Enfield Poltergeist.

This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the beginning of the case, so it's getting additional attention this year because of that. MonsterTalk, a podcast of Skeptic magazine, recently ran a two-part series on the poltergeist. The first part is an interview with Guy Playfair, one of the chief investigators of the case, and the second part looks at the case more broadly from a skeptical perspective.

What I want to do in this post is recommend some resources and discuss some of the evidence pertaining to the case. In the posts that follow, I'll interact with some skeptical attempts to explain what happened. The first few of those posts will address skepticism in general. The four posts that follow will each address an individual skeptic: Chris French, Deborah Hyde, Joe Nickell, and Anita Gregory. I expect to be posting one segment in the series every two days.

The principles involved in analyzing the Enfield case are applicable to other cases as well. And it's useful to see how skeptics handle a case that's so recent and so well evidenced, involving so many events and so many witnesses.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

McGrew interview

The rightful heir

Commentators and theologians struggle with a perceived tension in John's Christology. On the one hand, John has high Christology, stressing the full divinity of Christ. On the other hand, there's the apparent "subordination" in John. Recently, I was reading an article by Richard Bauckham. After exegeting some passages in the Fourth Gospel that demonstrate the full divinity of Christ, Bauckham goes on to observe:

In the much-debated statement "the Father is greater than I" (14:28) the reference is probably to the Son's dependence on the Father's giving, not to the Son's obedience to the Father, which is not relevant to the context. The use of the term "subordination", which implies a hierarchy of rank, may therefore not be very helpful. The Johannine account implies not that the Son ranks below the Father, but that the Son owes everything to the Father. Since everything is given, there is both asymmetry (14:28) and complete commonality (16:15; 17:10). “The Trinity and the Gospel of John,” in The Essential Trinity: New Testament Foundations and Practical Relevance, ed. by Brandon D. Crowe and Carl R. Trueman (London: Inter-Varsity Press [Apollos] 2016), 110. 
We should be careful to follow the outlines of the way the Gospel actually depicts the Father-Son relationship, which does not conform in every respect to the relationship of human fathers and sons in the ancient world. A key difference is the fact that both Father and Son are eternal. In a restricted sense the Son's position resembles that of a son who has inherited his father's status and estate at the latter's death. Ibid. 110n55.

The theological metaphor of the messiah as David's heir and God's heir is a common motif in OT prophecy, viz. Pss 2; 72; 89; 110; 132; Isa 9; Dan 7. 

This metaphor is picked up in the NT, viz. Mt 21:33-46, Eph 1; Phil 2:9-11; Col 1:15-20; Heb 1, Revelation. 

Let's begin with the human analogue. A grown son is his father's natural equal. They are both adult men, with comparable natural abilities. 

In reference to royal succession, a prince is "subordinate" to the king, his father's legal inferior, unless and until the son assumes the throne. At that point he may be his father's legal peer (in a cogency), or his father's legal superior (if the king abdicates the throne in favor of his son).

The reason for royal succession is human mortality. Sometimes the prince inherits his father's throne when the king dies in office. Sometimes the king abdicates the throne to ensure a peaceful transfer of power. To insure that his designated heir will ascend to the throne–rather than a usurper. Sometimes the king makes his son coregent.

In this human legal context, if a son is an heir, then he receives something from his late father–and if he's the sole beneficiary, then he receives everything from his late father. All his royal prerogatives pass on to the son.

Another aspect of this metaphor is that only a loyal, faithful, obedient son is his father's chosen heir. A father, and especially a king, won't ordinarily leave his estate or his throne to a disloyal son. 

It's easy to see how much of this framework carries over into OT messianism and NT Christology. We see an interplay between the Son's natural status as the Father's equal, and his legal status as the Father's temporary inferior. Yet as the rightful heir, he will take his place as the Father's legal peer. 

We might also ask how much of this is literal and how much is anthropomorphic:

i) When the Son returns to the Father (Jn 17:5), this isn't just a resumption of the status quo ante, for he returns as the Incarnate Son. Something has changed. The Incarnation elevates the humanity of Christ. In addition, the Son's successful mission, and "reward," is conferred on the attached humanity.

ii) Clearly divine succession isn't dependent on the usual vicissitudes of human mortality. Just as we shouldn't think of the Father as an aging, failing monarch, it's a mistake to press the "subordination" of the Son. We need to be consistent. It's ad hoc to exempt the Father from the anthropomorphic connotations of the metaphor, but not the Son. 

iii) I think God created a world with fathers and sons, kings, princes, and heirs, as preparation for redemption. That creates a reservoir of theological metaphors which the Bible taps into.

iv) I think there's a degree of divine accommodation, where Father and Son assume roles familiar to human social relations and social conventions. That makes the nature of redemption comprehensible to human readers. 

On the one hand, it's not just a literary depiction. On the other hand, this is playacting for the benefit of the redeemed. The Trinitarian division of labor in the economy of salvation is real, but not because there's eternal, metaphysical subordination in the immanent Trinity. Rather, this is an example of divine condescension. God makes himself more accessible by coming down to our level, since we can't rise to his level.  


A while back, William Lane Craig said:

It seems you’re not familiar with my proposed neo-Apollinarian Christology in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. It was crafted precisely because I think the usual model tends to Nestorianism for the reasons you mention. On the traditional model the human soul of Christ is not a person, which I find baffling. On my model the Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity, is the soul of Jesus Christ. By taking on a human body the Logos completed the human nature of Christ, making him a body/soul composite. So Christ has two complete natures, divine and human.

i) Craig's priorities are strange. Why does he suppose Nestorianism is worse than Apollinarianism? I think Apollinarianism is just as bad as Arianism (or Tuggy's "humanitarian unitarianism"). Nestorianism at least has the merit of preserving the two essential ingredients of the Incarnation. A Christological model that preserves both relata (divine nature, human nature) that comprise the relation, but has a deficient view of how they are interrelated, is significantly better than a Christological model that denies one relatum or the other relatum that jointly comprise the relation. Arianism and Apollinarianism represent opposing extremes. Both deny the Incarnation in opposite ways. One denies the true humanity while the other denies the true divinity.

Many Christians, including theologians, have a muddled view of the hypostatic union. That's because there's a mysterious element to the Incarnation. The real problem is when people deny the raw ingredients which feed into a biblical Christology. 

ii) In addition, I think that just as an orthodox Triadology will have a somewhat tritheistic appearance, an orthodox Christology will have a somewhat Nestorian appearance.

iii) In a sense, a Christian physicalist could make Apollinarianism orthodox since, on that view, the brain produces the mind, so that would combine a full divine nature with a divine human nature. A human body includes a brain that produces a human mind. And that would be in combination with the divine Son.

Of course, that simply relocates and parallels the complications of a substance dualistic Christology: 

human body+human (incorporeal) soul+divine Son

What's presuppositionalism?

For years there's been controversy over the correct interpretation of Van Tilian apologetics. I don't comment on this very often because I think it's usually a blind alley. 

What accounts for persistent disagreement regarding the interpretation of Van Tilian apologetics? I'm reminded of what the SEP entry on the double effect principle says: "It is not at all clear that all of the examples that double effect has been invoked to justify can be explained by a single principle."

And that may be a large part of the difficulty in pinning down Van Tilian apologetics. Perhaps it's not the outgrowth of a single overarching principle, but a family of related positions. Or maybe they're not all closely related. Maybe some elements are adventitious.

1. TAG

Considered in isolation, even though it's associated with Van Tilian apologetics, and sponsored by Van Tilian apologetics, as if that's a distinctive of Van Tilian apologetics, there's no reason why TAG couldn't be just one among a range of a priori and a posteriori theistic proofs. No reason, at this discrete level, that it couldn't be incorporated into classical  apologetics or figure in a cumulative case approach. 

2. The necessity of TAG

If, however, we take a step back and ask why TAG is said to be necessary, or why transcendental arguments generally are important or indispensable, then at that underlying level it's not just one of many theistic proofs. Rather, Van Til's contention is that we naturally take many fundamental truths for granted that are groundless unless God exists. And not mere theism, but Reformed theism. 

On that broader and deeper level, the claim is that TAG reflects a distinctive, all-embracing, and unifying orientation regarding the justification of knowledge. Without that theistic grounding, global skepticism looms large.  Even if TAG is compatible with classical theism, or a commutative case metrology, the rationale for TAG is more foundational. As the IEP entry puts it, "Transcendental arguments are partly non-empirical, often anti-skeptical arguments focusing on necessary enabling conditions either of coherent experience or the possession or employment of some kind of knowledge or cognitive ability, where the opponent is not in a position to question the fact of this experience, knowledge, or cognitive ability, and where the revealed preconditions include what the opponent questions. Such arguments take as a premise some obvious fact about our mental life—such as some aspect of our knowledge, our experience, our beliefs, or our cognitive abilities—and add a claim that some other state of affairs is a necessary condition of the first one."

On this view, even if there's nothing distinctively presuppositional about TAG, there is something distinctive about transcendental theism.

3. Reductio ad absurdum 

In addition, Van Til had a two-prong strategy for apologetic dialogue or analysis: assume their viewpoint for the sake of argument and take it to a logical extreme; have them assume the Christian (i.e. Reformed) viewpoint for the sake of argument and take it to a logical extreme. Compare and contrast their respective explanatory power or reductionism. A reductio ad absurdum or argument ad impossibile. 

(3) is related to (2). As a Calvinist, Van Til thought that for experience to be coherent, everything must happen for a reason. Every event must be coordinated in a part/whole, means/ends relation, according to a wise and benevolent master plan for the world (predestination, meticulous providence). By contrast, theological indeterminism leads to loss of ultimate coherence. Uncontrolled, uncoordinated events that are individually pointless, going nowhere. 

4. Divine incomprehensibility 

Due to his interpretation of divine incomprehensibility, Van Til didn't think it was possible to prove God directly. His intuition seems to be that if God is paradoxical, then he defies straightforward proof. 

There are other components to his overall thinking, but those are crucial features, I'd say. Is this a tight package? If you accept (2), then that commits you to (1). On the other hand, you could see the value of (1) without strong commitment to (2). 

Likewise, belief in (4) commits you to (1), and perhaps to (2), but you can see the value of (1) and or (2) without a strong commitment to (4). 

(3) is a practical strategy rather than a principle, although (3) may be a way of illustrating the contrasting alternatives implicit in (2). 

Another issue is whether transcendental arguments are, in fact, a unique kind of argument. According to the SEP entry, 

As standardly conceived, transcendental arguments are taken to be distinctive in involving a certain sort of claim, namely that X is a necessary condition for the possibility of Y—where then, given that Y is the case, it logically follows that X must be the case too. Moreover, because these arguments are generally used to respond to skeptics who take our knowledge claims to be problematic, the Y in question is then normally taken to be some fact about us or our mental life which the skeptic can be expected to accept without question (e.g., that we have experiences, or make certain judgements, or perform certain actions, or have certain capacities, and so on), where X is then something the skeptic doubts or denies (e.g., the existence of the external world, or of the necessary causal relation between events, or of other minds, or the force of moral reasons).

But couldn't some other theistic proofs be framed in similar terms? They take some generally uncontested fact like the existence of the physical world, or thinking beings, then give reasons for supposing that God supplies a necessary condition for their existence. Cosmological arguments give reasons for why God supplies a necessary condition for the possible and actual existence of the universe. Teleological arguments give reasons for why God supplies a necessary condition for certain types of natural organization. The moral argument gives reasons for why God supplies a necessary condition for moral realism. The argument from reason and argument from consciousness give reasons for why God supplies a necessary condition for consciousness and the reliability of reason.

To be sure, some people deny moral realism, &c., but then you just recast it in hypothetical terms: If moral realism is true, then that it must be grounded in God. If mathematical realism is true, then it must be grounded in God. If modal realism is true, then it must be grounded in God. The existence of something necessary is a prerequisite for the existence of something contingent. And so on and so forth. 

Perhaps they are treated as distinctive because, as originally conceived, they are epistemological theistic arguments. But is the epistemological application an exclusive kind of argument or a specific application of a more general principle? 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Medieval science fiction

Chucking the OT

I'm going to comment on a recent response that Craig gave to a questioner:

When people ask me what unanswered questions I still have, I tell them, “I don’t know what to do with these Old Testament stories about Noah and the ark, the Tower of Babel, and so on.” So I find myself in the same boat as you, Jon. I don’t have any good answer how to resolve these problems. Yet these unanswered difficulties have not kept me from Christian faith or from abandoning Christian faith. Why not?

In one sense there's not much to say by way of response because Craig doesn't specify what in particular he finds problematic about these OT "stories". There is, though, a self-reinforcing factor in his attitude. Because he doesn't feel the need to take them seriously, because they're expendable for him, he hasn't made much effort to work through the perceived problems. 

Well, a large part of the reason, as you note, is that the truth of what C. S. Lewis called “mere Christianity” doesn’t stand or fall with such questions. “Mere Christianity” denotes those central truths of a Christian worldview. 

Although I think there might be some value in "mere Christianity" as a preliminary apologetic overture, mere Christianity is an artificial construct. A man-made sample. It's like the Jesus of scholars who presume to give us their reconstruction of what Jesus was "really" like. Christianity is not in the first instance a set of central truths but a set of central events. Events freighted with theological significance. Events leading up to Jesus, including OT history, as well as the conception and calling of John the Baptist. Then the life, death, resurrection, and Ascension of Christ. As well as apostles and prophets whom he and the Holy Spirit raised up to interpret the events and disseminate the Gospel. It doesn't begin with ideas, but with divine action in history. The truths need to track the events. Truths grounded in events. Events that include divine revelation. That's Christianity in real space and time, as God reveals it through people and events. Not a freeze-dried abstract. 

When God the mighty Maker died

Apostate Dale Tuggy attempted to respond to my analysis of his presentation:

Here's my original post:

Funny thing about Dale is that he imagines that he's really onto something. A few quick observations:

1. We need to be clear on the burden of proof. When someone posits an inconsistent triad, that's like the logical problem of evil. In disproving an inconsistent triad, it isn't necessary to defend the truth of your assumptions or definitions. The only question is whether the three propositions, as you define them, are logically mutually consistent.

2. Much of Tuggy's discussion revolves around the definition of death. 

i) There are roughly four or five different ways to define death: medical, theological, philosophical, or a popular and/or prescientific definition.

ii) When the Bible says Jesus died, or when the Bible says anyone dies, it's usually operating with a popular, prescientific definition. How people in the ancient world understood what it means for a human (or in many cases, an animal) to die. To some degree that would be a phenomenological assessment. The person stops breathing. Becomes unresponsive. You can't wake them up. 

That's a few minutes after death. With the passage of time, the body begins to decay. A stench is initial evidence. With additional passage of time the body undergoes visible decomposition. It may be infested with maggots. Eventually the body is reduced to skeletal remains.

A hot climate accelerates the process of decay, which is one reason Jews expedited burial. Another reason was ritual impurity. 

When the NT says Jesus died, it's uses the term that way.

iii) With advances in medical science, we have technical definitions of death. More methods to determine death, viz. EEG readings. 

iv) But that cuts both ways. Ironically, although medical science has more precise ways of defining death, it's complicated the concept of death. In some situations, medical science has extended the window between life and death. Some patients without "vital signs" can be resuscitated. Some patients who drown in a frozen lake can be resuscitated more than 30 minutes after they "expire". 

Some surgical techniques temporarily suspend the heart beat or brain waves. Although the patient has no "vital signs," they can be "brought back to life". That's because machinery keeps blood flowing and the body oxygenated. There's no necrosis. 

There's also the familiar phenomenon of reported near-death-experiences, including veridical examples. 

However, even with medical advances, death is often irreversible. And the corpse begins to undergo necrosis. There's a point beyond which the patient cannot be resuscitated, although it may take a while before that's evident.

v) There are theological definitions. The Bible sometimes uses "death" metaphorically for a dire moral or spiritual condition. The Apocalypse uses the "second death" as a synonym for damnation. But those are irrelevant to the issue at hand.

vi) Another theological definition uses "death" to denote the postmortem condition of the decedent. Not the process of death, or the effect on the body, but what happens to the decedent after they expire. The intermediate state. 

That involves a biblical anthropology. 

vii) Then you have philosophical definitions of death. These involve a philosophical anthropology, like physicalism or substance dualism. 

Tuggy attempted a more general definition which can be extended to immaterial beings (angels). He's at liberty to define death however he sees fit. But for purposes of an inconsistent triad, different people may define the key terms differently. His preferred definition won't be normative for them. 

And all they need is a definition that escapes logical inconsistency. They onus is not on them to show that it's true.

3. A related issue, and this is where Tuggy equivocates, is over the question of what dies. In popular usage, we typically employ identity terms. We simply say Ruth Graham died. She died. We may even say a person died. 

The identity statement isn't meant to be philosophically or anthropologically precise. Rather, we use that language for ease of reference. Ordinary language is philosophically crude.  

Now, if you happen to be a physicalist, then the identity statement is precise, because that's all there is. There's nothing more to a human individual or person than their body. On that view, the identity statement univocal. No need for further qualification. 

However, I don't think the linguistic convention intends that degree of precision. It's just a way of referring to an object, and things that happen to an object. 

When a Christian substance dualist uses the convention of identity language to say someone died, they don't mean to imply there's nothing more to the person than their body. They don't think the individual or person is constituted by their body alone. To the contrary, they think there's something essential to the person, over and above their body, that survives. 

Although it's customdary to say that when Ruth Graham's body expired, she died or Ruth Graham died, the usage doesn't imply strictly identity between Ruth Graham and her body, as if Ruth Graham just is her body, for better or worse. There is more to who or what she is than her body.

And in that qualified sense, the person or individual never died. The soul can't die. The soul is incapable of death. 

A person or individual didn't die in the sense that death is applicable to everything that constitutes a human individual or person. Rather, it only pertains to the physical component. 

4. Apropos (3), another way to define death is to say that a body is normally essential to be a part of the physical world and to interface with the physical world. To die is to be cut off from the physical world. To no longer have access to the physical world. To be unable to physically interact with other embodied agents. 

On this definition, at death, something happens to the individual or person. Something radical. In this respect, you could even say death happens to the entire individual or the whole person in the sense that death affects the condition in which they find themselves. Death has a direct impact on the body, and thereby an indirect impact on the body's possessor. 

The body is like a vehicle for the soul. Even if the engine is destroyed, the driver survives. The driver exits the nonfunctioning car. 

It's funny how often Tuggy trips over identity statements. He suffers from a persistent mental block on that issue. His inconsistent triad fails to make allowance for the elementary distinction that the same claim can both be true and false in reference to the same person, but in different respects. 

Even though Tuggy rejects the two-natures of Christ, a competent philosopher is able to acknowledge a conceptual distinction for the sake of argument. 

For instance, the same individual can both be a son and not be a son. That can even be simultaneously true. He is a son to his father, but he is not a son to his own son. It's easy to formulate specious inconsistent triads by using simplistic phrases that omit key qualifications or essential background information. 

5. Tuggy says my position contradicts how some church fathers define the human nature of Christ. But that's a red herring. 

Likewise, he brought up the tradition of an anhypostatic union in reference to the communication of attributes. But while that debate is interesting from the standpoint of historical theology and philosophical theology, it's another red herring inasmuch as I didn't frame the Incarnation in those terms. I didn't say the "one person" of God Incarnate "just is" the eternal Son or divine nature. Indeed, I reject that reductionism. 

6. Tuggy asks how I think the NT generally uses the word "God". Short answer: I think the extension of "God" is indefinite in reference to the Trinity or any particular person of the Godhead unless the context uses "God" with a more specific extension, to distinguish one divine referent from another divine referent. (I'm using "extension" in the sense of intensional logic, a la Frege and Quine, where "extension" is a synonym for reference, in contrast with meaning)

Tuggy seems to think that "God" has a default referent, synonymous with the Father, unless the context makes clear that it has a different referent. But that's circular. Our only clue that "God" denotes the Father is in passages where the context singles out the Father as the intended referent. 

There can be no evidence for a default referent, for unless the context supplies further specification, we have no additional information to justify a more definite or determinate referent. 

BTW, it's nonsensical for unitarians to refer to God as the Father. The paternal designation implies a filial designation, and vice versa. These are symmetrical, correlative designations. 

7. Tuggy recycles stock unitarian objections I've repeatedly addressed. 

The Incarnation

Consider an analogy. Take a video game designer. Suppose, for discussion purposes, that artificial intelligence is possible. Suppose the virtual characters he creates have minds of their own. 

What is more, suppose he writes himself into his own program. He creates a character that corresponds to himself. On the one hand, the character who represents the gamer has the attributes of other ordinary video characters. He's a dynamic character. He acts in real time. He interacts with the environment of the virtual world.

Likewise, the character who represents the gamer can be as intelligent as the gamer. Has the same mind as the gamer. Can know as much as the gamer. 

Conversely, the gamer can limit how much the character knows. Compartmentalize the character's knowledge. 

The gamer can confer superhero powers on the character who represents the gamer. The character may have special abilities that ordinary virtual characters lack. He can work miracles.

On the other hand, the gamer is ontologically distinct from the character who represents him. The gamer exists outside of the simulation. The gamer is not, in himself, a video character. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Making a case for the Resurrection

Over the years I've read a number of prominent Christian apologists make their case for the Resurrection. Notable examples include John Warwick Montgomery, C.E.B. Cranfield, William Lane Craig, Timothy and Lydia McGrew, Richard Swinburne, Gary Habermas, N. T. Wright, and Mike Licona. Craig in particular has been influential in making a stereotypical case for the Resurrection, based on his minimal facts strategy, that's widely copied. 

So I was thinking recently about how I'd make a case for the Resurrection if I was asked to give a presentation at church or college. 

Does science make it impossible that Jesus rose from the dead?

As a side note:

Some may find it ironic no scientists are included. However, this should be weighed against the fact that scientists aren't experts when it comes to historical or philosophical matters.

Also, given how many people today laud science and/or belittle philosophy or history, it might be worth considering a different perspective such as one from mathematician and physicist Freeman Dyson:

When I grew up in the '30s, science was really unpopular. Science was responsible for the horrors of World War I, especially chemical warfare. That was so horrible and was very much on people's minds. When I was in high school, only the dumb kids would take science. If you were really capable, you'd do Latin and Greek. If you were second-rate, you would do French and German. If you were third-rate, you would do science.