Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Nate Shannon's one-trick pony show

Nate Shannon recently published an article ("The epistemology of divine conceptualism") which I will comment on:

The principle concern I have has to do with the incomprehensibility of God.

What a surprise! Yet another rerun of Shannon's one-trick pony show.

One problem is that he doesn't bother to define what he means by the incomprehensibility of God, even though he uses that as a theological criterion. Indeed, trying to define it would entangle him a dilemma. If you can specify in what respect God is incomprehensible, then haven't you dispelled the mystery? But if you can't, then isn't your statement reducible to theological noncognitivism?

If propositions are essentially about something, as they must be in order to do the philosophical work we need them to do (bear truth, for one thing), they must be about something other than themselves or other abstracta; they must be about real, concrete particulars.

That's such an odd criticism coming from a self-styled Calvinist. Isn't this parallel to the decree? 

One way to preclude this encroachment has been to say that God eternally has in his mind an exhaustive (probably infinite) library of complete sets of logically consistent propositions, called possible worlds. This is thought to help because before God creates (or ‘actualizes’ one of them), all possible worlds are merely possible; no single world enjoys modal or ontological privilege (no possible world is actual or more real than any other).

Once again, how else would a Reformed philosophical theologian unpack the notion of predestination? God has a complete concept of the world he intends to create. That stands in contrast to other concepts he has of other worlds he refrains from making. How can you cash out predestination without appeal to possible worlds? Isn't a master plan for world history (or a world) a possible world? 

Thus, in my view, this is more or less a leading concern for divine conceptualism, at least for the traditional theist: do we have epistemic rights to put these laws of logic in the mind of God? As no doubt the reader will have noticed, I harbor an openness to the possibility that the laws of logic as we know them do not exist necessarily, in the strong sense in which this is usually taken, but only given a few things (whichever things get us from God’s being uncompelled to create all the way to the actual world). Put more precisely, I think there is rather too much confidence (exaggerated epistemic license, we might say) in the claim that the laws of logic as we know them do in fact exist necessarily, even for God, in the very mind of God.

He seems to be flirting with universal possibilism. 

According to our lonely but courageous traditional theist, exegesis of Scripture gives us a God who is one essence in three persons. The Son, the second person, is God of himself as to essence, but as Son (as to his person) he is derivative of the Father.

i) To begin with, I don't agree with that particular formulation. I prefer the position of Warfield, Helm, and Frame.

ii) More to the point, how is his claim not prying into the inner life of the godhead, but what Greg and James say is prying into the inner life of the godhead?

iii) How is that formulation consistent with his appeal to divine incomprehensibility? Shannon plays both sides of that fence, jumping back and forth. When it concerns something he wants to affirm or deny, then we can know what God is like. But when it's about theistic conceptual realism, that violates divine incomprehensibility! 

His procedure is so arbitrary. There's no consistent principle at work. 

iv) Finally, if you flirt with universal possibilism, you forfeit the right to parse the Trinity. Anything goes. 

Minimally, the creator/creature distinction is the idea that God is the original, incomprehensible but fully self-comprehended, self-sufficient I AM, and the creation is dependent upon him, derivative of him, and utterly comprehended by him.

He can't maintain the creator/creature distinction and simultaneously toy with universal possibilism. 

A ‘mind’ then is whatever a necessary truth requires; but this is no more than we knew from the outset about necessary truths. In this case, when we say ‘G/god’ we are re-naming an aspect of a necessarily true proposition, and, as they say, promoting it to incompetence.

Whether necessary truth requires a mind is disputed. So that's not just renaming necessary truth. 

Moreover, it involves a relation between a mind and necessary truth. 

To prove the existence of God from the necessity of such propositions is to produce a kind of ontological argument with an appendix. 

What's wrong with that? 

I might take divine incomprehensibility to be the fact that God as he is to himself (ad intra) defies explanation. 

That's reminiscent of the radical apophaticism of Maimonides and al-Ghazali. It sounds very pious, but it's barely distinguishable from atheism. If you can't know what God is like in himself, then you can't know that God even exists. 

We may point specifically to the essence of God subsisting in three persons, or to the equal ultimacy of three and one, or to the irreducibility of relative personal distinctions and essential unity in the Godhead, or perhaps to the self-existence (aseity) of each distinct triune person in the unity of God.23 Any of these will do for now.

Is that or is that not what God is like in himself? Is the Trinity what God is like in himself, or other than what God is like in himself? 

"I shall be like that tree, I shall die at the top"

NT scholars typically think "Jesus traditions" were initially transmitted orally. More liberal scholars think this was creative oral tradition; more conservative scholars think this was oral history, based on retentive living memory. Oral cultures foster a retentive memory.

Occasionally, you have a maverick scholar like Alan Millard who thinks writing in the time of Jesus has been neglected. Millard has done original research on the subject, sifting primary sources regarding 1C literacy–especially in Jewish circles. And I think that's a very good angle to take.

I myself espouse the plenary verbal inspiration of Scripture. In addition, I think God enhanced the memories of the disciples (cf. Jn 14:26).

However, let's consider oral history. It's a truism that we remember events better than words. But how accurately do we remember words? Let's take a comparison:

By 1732 he [Jonathan Swift] was noticing a serious deficit in short-term memory: "I often forget what I did yesterday, or what passed half an hour ago." It was a condition he had long foreseen. As early as 1720, when he was walking with Edward Young, secretary to the lord lieutenant at the time, he made a remark that Young put in print much later: "As I and others were talking with him an evening's walk, about a mile out of Dublin, he stopped short; we passed on; but perceiving that he did not follow us, I went back, and found him fixed as a statue, and earnestly gazing upward at a noble elm, which in its uppermost branches was much withered and decayed. Pointing at it, he said, 'I shall be like that tree, I shall die at the top.'" 
No reason has ever been given to doubt Young's anecdote; he was a highly principled clergyman as well as a moralizing poet.  
…there is corroboration in an independent anecdote from Swift's friend Faulkner: "One time, in a journey from Drogheda to Navan, he rode before his company, made a sudden stop, dismounted his horse, fell on his knees, lifted up his hands, and prayed in the most devout manner. When his friends came up, he desired and insisted on their alighting, which they did, and asked him the meaning. 'Gentlemen,' said he, 'pray join your hearts in fervent prayers with mine, that I may never be like this oak tree, which is decayed and withered at the top, whilst all the other parts are sound.'" Leo Damrosch, Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World (Yale University Press 2013), 460. 

Gospel harmonists are sometimes unsure whether similar passages in the Gospels are variations on the same event or similar events. Here we have the same imagery and sentiment, but the setting is different. The wording is quite similar in each case: the difference is that, in the first case, the "withered and decayed" phrase is used by the narrator, while in the second case, it is attributed to Swift. Is that just coincidental? Or did Young misremember that Swift used that phrase? Or did Young remember, but put those words in the mouth of the narrator to introduce the scene?

In any case, we have two independent accounts that convey the same idea, using the same imagery and many of the same words. It's not just the "gist" of what he said. Both accounts preserve some of the very same wording. It's just that in Young's account, some of what is a direct quote in Faulkner (attributed to Swift) is reassigned to the narrator. Young may well be exercising a bit of editorial license, by describing the scene in Swift's words–or perhaps Swift's statement influenced how Young himself remembered the scene.

Whatever the explanation, we're dealing with uninspired recollection of a one-time event, yet in comparing the two accounts, the recollection is both substantively and verbally accurate. 

Scripturalism's Cartesian deceiver

Ryan Hedrich has written a post that's in part a taxonomy of Scripturalist positions, as well as interacting with my analysis:

Before engaging his post, I'll begin with some definitions:

i) Knowledge:

Traditionally, knowledge was defined as true belief. However, that's inadequate inasmuch as we might accidentally entertain a true belief. So more recent epistemologists think some additional condition must be met for a belief to qualify as knowledge.

Some epistemologists think that if your belief is caused by a reliable process–a process that produces true beliefs, then that suffices to qualify as knowledge.

Other epistemologists think a belief must be "justified." On one view, a belief is justified if you have introspective access to sufficient reasons for your belief.

ii) Cartesian deceiver:

An agent or process that induces delusional beliefs in the human subject. It could be "God"–albeit a mischievous or malicious "God." It could be a creature or process from God that has the same deceptive effect.

It needn't be omniscient or omnipotent. A fallible deceiver could be the source of fallible beliefs, if our beliefs are dependent on that erratic source. 

iii) Although the Cartesian deceiver is a thought-experiment, it has real-world analogues. LSD, brain cancer, brainwashing, and Alzheimer's can all produce delusive beliefs. Likewise, it's been argued that naturalistic evolutionary psychology is a Cartesian deceiver. 

iv) In my experience, Scripturalists typically say there are two kinds of beliefs: unjustified opinion and knowledge. I'm not imputing that position to Ryan, who's more astute.

In my experience, Scripturalists typically stipulate that for a belief to count as knowledge, it must be infallible, incorrigible, or irrefragable. 

v) The Cartesian deceiver poses a distinctive problem for Scripturalism–although Ryan's modified epistemology may avoid it.

I'm not suggesting that non-Scripturalists have a master key that enables them to unlock the trap. In one respect, Scripturalists, externalists, evidentialists, empiricists, Van Tilians et al. all fall prey to the Cartesian deceiver. 

The question is how seriously you take it. Most epistemologists and Christian philosophers don't think that our ability to falsify the Cartesian deceiver should be a condition of knowledge. If we are unable to disprove the hypothetical Cartesian deceiver, that's not a good reason to doubt our beliefs. That doesn't cast reasonable doubt on our beliefs. Indeed, it would be unwarranted to take that thought-experiment too seriously. 

vi) However, Scripturalism sets the bar so high for knowledge that unless it can disprove the Cartesian deceiver, almost nothing will count as knowledge. That's what makes it a distinctive problem of Scripturalism. 

Take internalism. Suppose you have introspective access to your reasons. They seem to be good reasons. But how is that a check against self-delusion? Like LSD, the Cartesian deceiver is persuading you to mistake bad reasons for good reasons. You can't help but find these reasons to be convincing, even though they are deceptive reasons. 

vii) Scripturalists who deny self-knowledge are thereby implicated in a position that's even more skeptical that Descartes. He at least allowed for self-knowledge ("Cogito, ergo sum"). And from that solipsistic starting-point, it's possible to invoke some theistic proofs. That takes you beyond solipsism. But Scripturalists who deny self-knowledge can't even get that far. 

viii) Let's consider Ryan's classifications:

"Subscribe to a purely externalist view on which, say, divine occasionalism or illumination infallibly causes true beliefs, though from a first person perspective we can't know when this occurs."

But that's impotent against the Cartesian deceiver objection, for it uses occasionalism or illumination to infallibly cause false beliefs. The Cartesian deceiver is the source of the delusive illumination or primary caused delusions. 

"Scripturalist: The Bible isn't ink marks on a page. It's the meaning of the physical text, if there even is a physical text."

Once again, that's impotent against the Cartesian deceiver objection. What if the Bible or the "word of God" I perceive is just a hallucination? A Matrix-like simulation that bears no resemblance to the real word of God?

The Cartesian demon is the news feed: planting false memories. What I take to be the "word of God" is whatever the Cartesian deceiver input directly into my mind. 

"Sensations are neither true nor false and so cannot function as premises by which our beliefs are inferentially justified."

I think that's too crude or overstated. There are different kinds of sensory information. The sound of breakers isn't true or false. But the spoken word (a sentence) can be true or false. 

a) The spoken word is structured sensation that uses sound waves to encode and communicate ideas or propositions. 

b) Likewise, although sensations alone are neither true nor false, sensory input, in combination with ideas, can generate true or false beliefs.

If I see a red rose, I can rightly infer that I saw a colored object. If every red object is a colored object, then that's a valid deduction. 

Now, it may not be possible to derive the principle that every red object is a colored object from sensory perception or induction. That principle may be intuitive or innate. That must already be in mind for me to draw inferences about the rose. But seeing the rose, in combination with that a priori truism or analytical truth, yields a new and true belief. As one philosopher notes:

I have stated the basic claims of rationalism and empiricism so that each is relative to a particular subject area. Rationalism and empiricism, so relativized, need not conflict. We can be rationalists in mathematics or a particular area of mathematics and empiricists in all or some of the physical sciences. Rationalism and empiricism only conflict when formulated to cover the same subject.  
c) Likewise, seeing one albino crow is enough to disprove the universal negative that all crows are black. 

"Steve said he believed that some beliefs are infallible. I'm not sure that he meant this in the context of internally justified beliefs."

I meant it in a conditional sense: If we define an infallible belief as a true belief that could not be mistaken, and if God predestines all beliefs (including the subset of true beliefs), then there's a sense in which all true beliefs are infallible, inasmuch as they could not be other than what God foreordained.

But that's conditional: given predestination.  If someone raises the Cartesian deceiver objection, I may not be able to disprove that objection. Mind you, I don't think that's a debilitating concession. It's just a thought-experiment. 

But because Scripturalism sets the bar higher than I do for knowledge, what works for me won't work for Scripturalism. 

"Our senses can cause numerous false beliefs. Sense knowledge is fallible."

True, but the same can be said for reason and memory. Scripturalists need to get down from their high horse and join the rest of us at ground level. They stipulate an inhumane standard of knowledge. Finite creatures can't satisfy those godlike conditions. But why should we? 

Monday, August 03, 2015

Evidence for the historical Jesus

Gary Habermas recently updated his book Evidence for the Historical Jesus, and has a free PDF copy of it as well:

HT: Patrick Chan

The rocky road to papal infallibility


Feline Cheshire ecclesiology


Is sola scriptura ad hoc?

Naturally, the sola scriptura advocate will deny all this.  But the problem is that even the purportedly more modest, non-simplistic version of sola scriptura has no non-question-begging reason for denying it.  The position is entirely ad hoc, having no motivation at all other than as a way of trying to maintain rejection of the various Catholic doctrines the sola scriptura advocate doesn’t like, without falling into the self-refutation problem facing the more simplistic version of sola scriptura.  It is nothing more than an expression of one’s rejection of those Catholic doctrines, and in no way provides a rational justification for rejecting them.  

I commented on this once before, but now I'd like to expand on my analysis:

i) Suppose there are ad hoc elements in the traditional formulation of sola scriptura. That, of itself, doesn't imply that sola scriptura is wrong. It may only mean we need to refine sola scriptura.

ii) You aren't required to have an alternative on hand to know that the status quo is wrong. Take Newtonian physics. That was a very powerful theory. But increasingly, there were discrepancies between Newtonian predictions and empirical evidence. At first that might be chalked up to inaccuracies in measurement. To the imprecision of telescopes, &c. But as technology advanced, and discrepancies multiplied, that fell outside the margin of error. Moreover, because Newtonian physics was such a tight-knit theory, it couldn't be tweaked with little fixes. 

A 19C scientist could see that something was wrong with Newtonian physics, but not have a replacement theory waiting in the wings. For instance, Einstein's theory requires Riemannian geometry. But that wasn't available before Riemann. 

Oftentimes, scientists don't begin with an alternative theory. Rather, what motivates them to explore alternatives is when the dominant paradigm becomes unsatisfactory. 

Likewise, even if the Protestant Reformers didn't have an off-the-shelf alternative to Roman Catholicism, they'd still be able to see that Roman Catholicism was fundamentally flawed.  

iii) Even if the Protestant Reformers had to improvise, the church of Rome has been improvising from the get-go. The church of Rome has been resorting to quick fixes and big fixes for centuries. Newman's theory of development retrofitted Catholicism. Vatican II retrofitted Catholicism. It's all about "saving the phenomena."

iv) That said, the Protestant Reformers didn't have to start from scratch. They had the whole Bible at their disposal. Likewise, there were pioneering theologians like Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas whom the Protestant Reformers could cannibalize for spare parts.

v) Protestant theology didn't fall out of the sky with Luther. There were precursors like Wycliffe and Hus. 

Luther's 95 theses weren't especially revolutionary. In his time, these were open questions in theology. It's Trent that locked Catholicism into certain positions. 

vi) Papal supremacy has always been controversial. It was still controversial in the 19C, when Ignaz von Döllinger, greatest Catholic church historian of the day, opposed it. More significant was the number of Roman Catholic bishops who opposed the formal declaration of papal infallibility. 

Papal infallibility was always controversial. Indeed, there are persistent allegations of heretical popes, viz. Liberius, Vigilius. This goes back to the patristic era. 

Of course, papal apologists labor to extricate these popes from the charge of heresy, but that's irrelevant. My point is not whether they were, in fact, heretical, but the fact that misgivings about papal claims antedate the Reformation by centuries.

Same with respect to papal primacy. Consider the Quartodeciman controversy, or the dispute between Cyprian and Pope Stephen. Protestant Reformers didn't invent the wheel when they denied papal claims.

vii) Moreover, this isn't confined to outsiders or opponents of Rome. There's medieval conciliarism, according to which a general council outranks a pope. That was supported by Catholic theologians like Jean Quidort, Jean Gerson, and William of Ockham, as well as Cardinal Pierre d'Ailly.

viii) Furthermore, it wasn't just hypothetical. The Great Schism made that a practical necessity. The Roman church could hardly tolerate two or more competing, independent lines of apostolic succession, with each "pope" creating bishops. That had to be put to a stop. 

The problem wasn't, in the first instance, that none of the claimants was the true pope. The problem, rather, was that even if one of them was the true pope, if it was impossible to tell which was which, then not knowing which one was the true pope was worse than having no pope at all. There was no way of knowing who to follow. What if you disobeyed the true pope by unwittingly yielding to an anti-pope? 

To end the chaos, it was necessary to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch by deposing the claimants, if need be, then holding a new election with an undisputed winner.

That expedient succeeded, but at a cost. It was a stopgap measure. How can the pope be head of the church if his fellow bishops can depose him, even if he's the legitimate successor to Peter?   

Typically, to be authoritative, a general council must be convened by the pope and confirmed by the pope. But, of course, that remedy was unavailable during the Great Schism, so the Council of Constance had to do it backwards. It was up to the council to ratify the pope, not vice versa. 

ix) And the theoretical dilemma continued into the Counter-Reformation, with Catholic theologians like Suarez and Cardinal Bellarmine debating what recourse there'd be in the event of a heretical pope. They viewed a general council or the college of cardinals as the fallback. 

This is emanating from doctrinaire supporters of the papacy. Papal loyalists. At the time, the raison d'être of the Jesuit order was to defend the papacy. But even so, they were forced to revisit the intractable conundra generated by the papacy. 

Human worth

Some people are valued for their intellect. Claude Shannon was the finest mathematical engineer of his generation. Gleason Archer knew about 30 languages. 

They shared something else in common: both became senile in old age. Even if it's understandable why God doesn't protect unbelievers from senility, why does he allow believers like Gleason Archer, John Sailhamer, and Elizabeth Elliot to be ravaged by dementia? 

If you're valued for your mind, and you begin to lose your mind, what's left? Will you be discarded? 

Elizabeth Elliot was a great Christian communicator, but when she began to lose her faculties, she didn't cease to be loved. She was treasured in her decline.

The tragedy of senile dementia is an opportunity to demonstrate the difference between Christianity and atheism. In a Christian family, a mother or father who's a shell of their former self is still cherished. 

By contrast, euthanasia goes hand-in-hand with secularization:

Skeptical Myths About The Church Fathers

I want to provide a collection of links to articles I've written over the years addressing common skeptical objections to the patristic evidence for Christianity. In some cases, I agree with the objection to some extent, but reject the degree to which skeptics apply it or some other aspect of how they use it. The titles below are just brief summaries. You'll have to read the material I'm linking for a fuller explanation. Some of the titles are worded awkwardly, since I was trying to keep them in alphabetical order and make them easier to navigate. And you can use the Ctrl F feature on your keyboard to find what you're looking for.

I'll probably add to this list over time, so you may want to check back for updates. I'll try to remember to add a comment to the comments section below to notify readers each time I update the list.

For some suggestions on how to go about studying the church fathers, see here.

And here are the skeptical myths:

Sunday, August 02, 2015

One great blooming, buzzing confusion

I'll comment on some statements by Gordon Clark in Language and Theology

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

i) Clark's description is barely coherent. Indeed, it seems to be flat contradictory. He acts as though the percipient begins with a flurry of random sensory impressions. He must then select for certain impressions to see his dog. But that's backwards.

According to his own illustration, visual, tactile, and olfactory impressions are already combined in the dog. The dog itself is a package of secondary qualities. It isn't the percipient, but the sensory object, that selects for these impressions. Prepackaged qualia. The dog embodies this particular set of secondary qualities. They cluster in the dog. 

ii) In addition, even if these secondary qualities are unrelated to each other, they are causally related to primary qualities. It is because the fur has a certain composition that it's soft, fuzzy, and colored. This is not a miscellaneous combination of secondary qualities. They are indirectly interconnecting to each other by being directly connected to the composition of fur. 

iii) Now, that's somewhat oversimplified. The sensory organs may also contribute to our perception of color or oder. Different animals have different sensory acuities.

But that also involves a causal chain linking the stimulus to the sensory organ. These aren't arbitrary collections of sensory impressions. Rather, these are linked by causal chains, from primary to secondary qualities, phenomenal properties, and sensory relays. 

Usually people say that they combine the sensations emanating from the same place. Well, aside from the difficulty of locating the particular spot from which an odor, or sound, emanates, this answer presupposes a knowledge of space in general. Where, then, did the knowledge of space come from? Has anyone seen, smelled, or touched it? Kant tried to defend a knowledge of space against Hume; but he could not remain an empiricist to do so. He had to have a priori forms of the mind.

i) What about locating a dead rat in your house by scent? Did Clark never have that experience?

ii) Moreover, the olfactory sense is weak in humans, but does Clark imagine that dogs can't locate an odoriferous object by scent? 

iii) Apropos (ii), does he imagine that a dog must have an idea or definition of space to zero in on an odoriferous object? 

iv) Apropos (iii), Clark fails to distinguish between theoretical and pre-theoretical concepts. Does he suppose I can't find my car in a parking garage unless I first determine whether physical space is Euclidean or Riemannian? 

v) He commits the elementary blunder of confusing space with what space contains. Space itself needn't be fuzzy to contain a fuzzy object. What is Clark unable to draw that rudimentary distinction? Must a cookie jar have the same secondary qualities as the cookies? If the jar is metal, must the cookies be metal?

vi) Clark may well be right that our concepts of space and number can't originate in sensory perception alone. But that's not an argument against sense-knowledge. At best, that demonstrates the limitations of sensory perception. 

Why do these objections even seem to be reasonable to Clark? He's so eccentric. It's as if he was a bubble boy as a child.

The sensible world may be one great blooming, buzzing confusion to an infant, but that's because the infant lacks the cognitive development to sort it out, and not because it's inherently chaotic. 

Roman Catholicism hasn't got a clue about its origins

This is just simply excellent in every way.


Roman Catholicism, as a religion, is a novelty of the late fourth century, but in order to be taken seriously she must at every opportunity claim Nicæan and ante-Nicæan origins for her novelties. Yet at the same time, there is nothing so foreign to Roman Catholicism as the Nicæan and ante-Nicæan Church. For this reason, while Roman Catholicism constantly attempts to lay claim to apostolicity, she must always at the same time distance herself from the practices and beliefs of the Church of the apostles. It is a love-hate relationship. Rome strives diligently to identify herself with the apostolic era, and then exhausts herself explaining why the Church of that era was so different from Roman Catholicism. What we find as we examine Rome’s vain striving for antiquity and continuity is an uncomfortable truth that lies beneath the surface of all of her posturing, a truth that can never be uttered aloud: She does not know whence she came. ...

To summarize, we simply recall that Rome’s attempts to find Papal Primacy in the 6th Canon of Nicæa is founded upon a gross anachronism. Pope Leo’s attempts to find impute Roman judicial primacy to Nicæa was wholly fraudulent. Bryan Cross’s attempts to place the primacy of the Three Petrine sees in Ignatius of Antioch and Canon 6 of Nicæa required that he impute a late-fourth century teaching retroactively upon the Early Church. Rome’s attempts to find Pontifex Maximus used in the Early Church is based upon Tertullian’s use of the title as an insult. The attempt to place the exhumation and veneration of martyr’s relics before Nicæa required that a late-fourth century practice be incorrectly placed in 312 A.D.. Pius IX’s attempts to impute the Immaculate Conception to the Early Church was found to be a terrible historical inaccuracy. Roman Catholic attempts to prove an ante-Nicæan belief in Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant required a misrepresentation of Hippolytus, and relied upon other documents known to be fraudulent and spurious. Roman Catholic criticism of the allegedly “anti-incarnational” worship of Protestants required evidence from the late fourth century and beyond, because the Early Church was apparently “anti-incarnational” in its worship, too, by Roman Catholic standards. The Sacrifice of the Mass cannot be found at Nicæa, and does not finally find an advocate until Gregory of Nyssa in 382 A.D.. Early proof of the perpetual virginity of Mary required a later modification to the Nicæan creed, and relied upon the words of Athanasius, 35 years removed from the Council. The allegation of the “continuity” of kneeling on the Lord’s Day since the first century required that a thousand years of explicit prohibitions of the practice be ignored, including Nicæa’s outright prohibition of the practice.

In other words, there is at least a 300-year gap between the apostolic era and Rome’s novelties. And importantly, that does not leave a lot of time for doctrines to develop. Rather, they seemed instead to emerge spontaneously. We noted above, in reference to Cardinal Newman’s “Development of Doctrine,” that he attributed the later emergence of Roman Catholic teachings to an unbroken, continuous process of doctrinal development since the apostolic era. But what we find when we examine the historical origins of Roman Catholicism is not a gradual, continuous emergence of the doctrines since the age of the apostles, but rather a sudden, step-wise emergence of error at the end of the fourth century.

And to cover up her later origins, Rome consistently, perpetually, instinctively and relentlessly lavishes her affections upon the Council of Nicæa.

But Nicæa stubbornly refuses to requite them.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Clark on 1 John

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 Jn 1:1-3).

I'm going to comment on Gordon Clark's interpretation of 1 Jn 1:1-3, in Language and Theology. But let's back up:

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

That's reminiscent of William James's "one great blooming, buzzing confusion." But Clark's analysis suffers from a fundamental blunder: the observer doesn't need to combine different sensations. For these sensations are already combined in the sensible object. These are structured sensations, not random, disconnected sensations. 

But induction never arrives at universals. And induction is all that empiricism has. By induction a young ornithologist may observe a thousand black crows – not to repeat all the difficulties of seeing even one black crow – and on the basis of these thousand observations he is likely to assert “All crows are black.” Then the thousand and first crow is an albino. Induction never arrives at a universal. If so used, it is always a logical fallacy.

That objection suffers from two basic flaws:

i) Even if induction can't prove a universal, it can, by his own admission, disprove a universal negation. But that's an item of knowledge. 

ii) Clark overlooks the doctrine of creation. God created natural kinds. Therefore, a sample can be representative of the whole. For instance, all humans are of a kind. So you can reason from part to whole. 

As for hearing, one should note that no one can ever hear a piece of music or a line of poetry. Our opponents, who insist on sensation as the origin of knowledge, cannot well object to an instance taken from experience. Augustine pointed out that to “hear” music or poetry, one must at least “perceive” the rhythm. But there is no rhythm in a single sensation. Even beyond perception it is necessary to have memory before a line of poetry can be recognized as poetry. A single sound has no rhythm or meter. The first sounds of a line must be remembered until the last sound occurs; note also that the first sound no longer exists when the last sound sounds. Therefore no one ever senses music or poetry. This Augustinian remark should satisfy any empiricist; but it is not exegesis.

Clark is shadowboxing with empiricists like Locke and Hume, who think the human mind starts out as a blank slate. But disproving empiricism fails to disprove sense-knowledge, unless you assume the possibility of sense knowledge is equivalent to empiricism. But to say sensory perception is a source of knowledge does not entail that sensory perception is the only source of knowledge. Likewise, to say that sensory perception is a source of knowledge does not entail that the mind must start from scratch. The possibility of sense knowledge can make allowance for innate knowledge. Supplement innate knowledge. So Clark's objection erects a false dichotomy. 

Clearly the verb to see does not always, perhaps not even usually, refer to sensation.

Here Clark distinguishes between the literal meaning of sensory verbs and the figurative meaning of sensory verbs. That distinction is unobjectionable in principle. It's hardly a revelation to point out that words like "to see" can either denote physical visual perception or comprehension. Literal sense organs can be used as metaphors to denote understanding.  

It would, however, be heretical to suppose you can substitute a figurative meaning for a literal meaning whenever Scripture uses sensory verbs. That's the hermeneutic of Mary Baker Eddy. 

In Greek the first word of 1 John designates the Word of Life, who in verse 4 is identified as Jesus Christ. Since the Epistle and the Gospel have the same author, it is permissible to connect this Word of Life with the Word of John 1:1. And no one should object if we equate this Word with him whom Paul calls “the Power of God” and “the Wisdom of God.” This second person of the Trinity is the subject of John’s declaration. Can this eternal Wisdom be heard with the ears, seen with the eyes, and handled with the hands? Is the second person of the Trinity an object of sense? The word hearing comes first; seeing comes second.
But now 1 John. As in the Gospel of John 12:40, here, too, there is no reference to empirical sensations. The object, namely, the Word of Life, the Reason and Wisdom of God, is not a physical object and cannot be literally seen and handled. He does not have a color, nor any degree of hardness, wetness, or any quality of touch. Explicitly in 1 John the object is the truth or proposition, “God is light.” This proposition cannot be seen in any literal sense. Therefore, since words are arbitrary signs, whose meaning is fixed by ordinary language, the hundreds of Scriptural verbs to which empirical apologists refer do not support the role of sensation which presumably – though they are never clear on what this role is – those apologists desire to give it. 

i) To begin with, Clark's interpretation is hopelessly equivocal. The object in Jn 1 and 1 Jn 1 isn't the Son qua Son, but the Son qua Incarnate. The Son Incarnate is a sensible object. The Son Incarnation has empirical properties. Sure, you can't physically perceive his Deity, but that's not what John is referring to.

Take the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Batman. If I saw Batman, I saw Bruce Wayne–even though I failed to recognize his true identity behind the disguise. 

ii) John's first description denotes literal sight: "what we saw with our eyes." Not just a sensory verb, but the organs of sight. Likewise, "what our hands have handled" is hardly synonymous with intellection. 

iii) To suggest that John is referring to intellectual apprehension to the exclusion of sensory perception, as if Jesus merely appeared to the disciples in their minds, like a dream, or idea, is heretical.  1 Jn 1 alludes to incidents like the public miracles of Christ (Jn 1:14; cf. 2:11; 11:40ff.), as well as the Resurrection accounts in Jn 20-21.

Not the invisible God, but God made visible in the flesh. They saw Jesus. They could touch Jesus with their hands. 

iv) John's discussion combines sensory perception with intellectual perception. They understood what they saw. 

For Clark to suggest these descriptions are reducible to mental events is the hermeneutic of Valentinus, Basilides, and Mary Baker Eddy. That's not remotely Christian.  It's appalling that his antipathy to sense-knowledge betrayed him into such a heterodox interpretation. 

Republicans Should Try Harder To Persuade People On More Issues

Republicans are often told that they should say little or nothing about abortion and other social issues, that they should just focus on a narrow range of issues that are less controversial, etc. Ramesh Ponnuru discusses some evidence to the contrary.

Did God kill Jesus?


A dilemma for Scripturalism

In my experience, Scripturalist epistemology is infallibilist and internalist. I think both have philosophical antecedents in Descartes.

The danger lurking in this brand of epistemology is the specter of self-delusion. Recently, I had this exchange with a Scripturalist. He said: 

If this task can be so performed, how can one verify the reliability of these propositions?  The empiricists usually admit that hallucinations and dreams are unreliable. 

To which I replied:

When Scripturalists appeal to the Bible, how can they verify that they are reading the Bible rather than hallucinating or dreaming about a "Bible" that's not the real Bible?

Doesn't this pose an intractable dilemma for the Scripturalist? His epistemology depends on having intellectual access to the word of God embodied in Scripture.

But given his general skepticism, how can a Scripturalist be internally justified in his belief if he can't exclude the possibility that the "Bible" on which he relies might be a hallucination? And how can he rule that out, given his epistemology?

If he already had access to the Bible, that would be a benchmark. But he can't appeal directly to the Bible to prove that he's not self-deluded about his source of information, for that would be viciously circular. If he were self-deluded, if the "Bible" he relies on is a hallucination, rather than the real Bible, then that can't correct his delusion, for t hat's the very source of his delusion! 

What is race?

Our nation is transfixed by debates over race relations. But what is racial identity in the first place?

i) On one theory, there are no races; race is just an arbitrary social construct.

ii) Some theories view races as natural kinds. They define race biologically, in terms of ancestry or similar genetics.

Some theories define race geographically in terms of country of origin.

Some theories define race culturally, in terms of a people-group with a distinctive culture. 

But these are not clear-cut demarkers. They can overlap in complex ways.

iii) It might be more accurate to speak of racial characteristics rather than races. On the one hand, people-groups can have objective characteristics. 

On the other hand, the characteristics we select for and combine to identify and distinguish one "race" from another is a social construct. 

We might compare that to sports. Pro basketball players are taller than average. Pro football players and pro wrestlers are larger than average. 

How you group people depends on your selection-criteria. Although the defining characteristics may be objective, the selection-criteria are social conventions, based on what is deemed to be relevant for the purpose at hand. Different sports value different physical traits. 

Likewise, racial categories may pick out certain objective characteristics, but why that particular combination is chosen, rather than some other set of commonalities, is a social construct. 

The whole notion of "mixed race" presumes the notion of a pure race as the standard of comparison. But what some people consider a pure race is just the dominant racial status quo–after the dust settles. 

Is there such a thing as a pure race even in principle? To my knowledge there are roughly two or maybe three sources of racial differentiation:

i) Random mutation might be a possible source

ii) Interracial breeding creates a new variety

iii) Environmental adaptation

Consider (ii). Suppose the world was 99% Amerasian. Suppose that had been the case for 10 generations. Would that be mixed race? How could you tell? That would be the norm. 

If, on that scenario, an Amerasian married a member of the 1% (let's say, "Aryan"), that would be an interracial marriage. 

If you didn't already know that Amerasian kids were the result of biracial parentage, if you only had the result to judge by, how could you even tell that was "mixed race"? 

Consider (iii). That's relative to the country of origin. But how could any particular region furnish an absolute standard of comparison? If it's due to environmental adaptation, then it's relative to any given region. To privilege one regional adaptation as "pure" is arbitrarily selective. What makes that purer than any other regional adaptation? 

Is sola scriptura in scripture?

Opponents of sola scriptura seem to think that if it were true, Protestants ought to be able to point to a verse which spells out sola scriptura. But that's a very crude understanding of how the Bible teaches something. The Bible contains implicit as well as explicit teaching.  

For instance, even in the OT there was the fundamental dichotomy between true and false prophets. Those who spoke truly for God and those who spoke falsely for God. Well, that's an incipient sola scriptura principle. It just hadn't been written down at that stage. 

In Protestant theology, Scripture is to true prophecy as an infallible church is to false prophecy.

Evolutionary biogeography

A familiar challenge to flood geology is how the animals surmounted natural barriers to repopulate the post-diluvian planet. That's not a problem for local flood interpreters. 

If, however, this poses a problem for flood geology, it poses a similar problem for evolutionary biogeography. Let's take a concrete case: the coral snake. They belong to the Elapid family. Most species or subspecies inhabit the Old World (e.g. Asia), but we also have them in the New World (the SE and gulf coast).

But if they originated in the Old World, how did they get here? They didn't swim.  

1. One traditional explanation is vicariance, as Pangea broke up. 

i) However, I believe that would require Elapids to evolve prior to the breakup. Although Darwinians think snakes are ancient, they think venomous snakes are more recent. Constrictors are the most primitive snake. The Ur-snake.  

So does vicariance fit the evolutionary timeframe, according to evolutionary geology and biology? Can that be coordinated?

ii) But another complication is the relationship between the eastern coral snake and the scarlet king snake. Didn't the scarlet king snake have to evolve or adapt after the coral snake in order to mimic its markings? 

So either both originated in the Old World, or the coral snake originated in the Old World while the scarlet king snake is descended from a New World ancestor. That also complicates the evolutionary synchrony, does it not?

2. Another mechanism for biogeography is dispersal. Here's a definition: Either a population can slowly expand from the margins of its geographical range or a small number of individuals can disperse to a new location some distance from the current edge of the species range, or a combination of both of these processes can occur. 
Here's an exposition:
Various dispersal routes might have been followed in the biogeographic history of a species. 
• Corridors 
Two places are joined by a corridor if they are part of the same land mass: Georgia and Texas, for example. Animals can move easily along a corridor and any two place joined by a corridor will have a high degree of faunal similarity. 
• Filter bridges 
A filter bridge is a more selective connexion between two places, and only some kinds of animals will manage to pass over it. For instance, when the Bering Strait was above water, mammals moved from North America to Asia and vice versa, but no South American mammals moved to Asia and no Asian species moved to South America. The reason is presumably that the land bridges at Alaska and Panama were so far apart, so narrow, and so different in ecology that no species managed to disperse across them. 
• Sweepstakes 
Finally, sweepstakes routes are hazardous or accidental dispersal mechanisms by which animals move from place to place. The standard examples are island hopping and natural rafts. Many land vertebrates live in the Caribbean Islands, and (if their biogeography is correctly explained by dispersal) they might have moved from one island to other, perhaps being carried on a log or some other sort of raft. 
Applied to the issue at hand, that would involve a horseshoe journey of many thousands of miles from a tropical and/or subtropical zone in the S. hemisphere of the Old World up to the Bearing land bridge, just south of the Arctic Circle, then all the way down to a tropical/sub-tropical zone of the New World. Raises lots of logistical issues:

i) Do snakes cross ecological zones? Aren't they adapted to a particular climate?

ii) Do snake populations migrate thousands of miles?

iii) Would there be enough food along the way?

iv) Apropos (i), is it just incidental that some snake species cluster in the tropics/subtropics while others cluster in the temperate zone? To take a comparison, why are there rattlesnakes in the SW and Eastern Washington, but not in Western Washington? Surely climate is the differential factor.

But if dispersion is a viable mechanism, and they are fairly indifferent to the climatic difference, why aren't there rattlesnakes in Western Washington? 

i) Surely the dispersion of rattlesnakes from the SW to Western Washington would be orders of magnitude easier than the dispersion of coral snakes from, say, India to the SE, a continent away, via a Bering land bridge. 

ii) Also, didn't the postulated Bering land bridge only exist during the last Ice Age, when sea levels were lower? But even if tropical snakes can survive in the temperate zone, how could they survive in the arctic zone? 

iii) Many exotic snake collectors living in the temperate zone. Every so often one of their snakes (native to the desert, tropics or subtropics) escapes. To my knowledge, these have not become established–unlike Florida! 

If, however, objections notwithstanding, dispersal is the mechanism which accounts to the presence of coral snakes in the Americas, that explanation is available to flood geologists as well as Darwinism. 

3. I suppose, if they got sufficiently desperate, Darwinians could postulate convergent evolution.

4. Perhaps a Darwinian could postulate that they got here on downed trees, or something like that. 

5. Or perhaps a Darwinian could postulate that they were introduced into the New World by ancient mariners. Maybe they brought coral snakes along to dip arrow points in the venom. Or maybe they worshipped venomous snakes and brought their "gods" along for the ride.

6. Or maybe the snakes were stowaways. Ships have rats. Where you have rats, that attracts snakes.

However, these explanations (4-6) are available to flood geologists.

7. I suppose one final explanation is that eastern coral snakes derive from seasnakes which reverted to land snakes. Given that contemporary young-earth creationists subscribe to microevolution and adaptation, that explanation is available to flood geologists as well as Darwinians.