Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Abortion is wrong even if the fetus is not a person

Voodoo zombies

i) One argument for human evolution is encephalization: the development of larger brains over time. That's also used to date the emergence of humans. Skulls with a braincase large enough to accommodate a human-sized brain. 

ii) Now, it may indeed be legitimate to infer brain size from cranial size, although oftentimes we only have skull fragments. Indeed, there's a difference between brain size and internal complexity.

iii) But suppose, for the sake of argument, that we discovered a perfectly preserved hominid corpse in a peat bog. Suppose conventional dating techniques indicate that the specimen is 200K years old. Suppose it had an intact brain the size of a human brain. And it had the same internal complexity of a human brain. And suppose the specimen was bipedal with opposable thumbs. 

A theistic evolutionist or old-earth creationist might conclude that dates to at least 200K BC. But is that a valid inference?

iv) The reservation I have with that inference is the assumed correlation between mind and brain. This raises the perennial issue of the mind/body problem. There's some evidence that's consistent with the proposition that the brain produces the mind. Stock examples include how alcohol, hallucinogens, traumatic head trauma, brain cancer, brain atrophy, and Alzheimer's temporarily or permanently impair cognition. 

v) However, even that's consistent with the receiver/filter model of the mind/body problem propounded by thinkers like William James, Aldous Huxley, and Mario Beauregard.

vi) In addition, there's multiple lines of philosophical and empirical evidence indicating that the mind is essentially independent of the brain (e.g. terminal lucidity, apparitions of the dead, veridical near-death or out-of-body experiences, demonic possession, psi, the hard problem of consciousness). 

vii) If true, this means the correlation between a human brain and human intelligence is contingent rather than necessary. Suppose, for the same of argument, that a human mind requires a brain of sufficient complexity to express itself. (Even that is questionable. John Lorber's hydrocephalic patients seem to present a counterexample.)

Even on that assumption, there's an asymmetry between minds and brains. In principle, you could have a living human body with a functioning human brain without human intelligence. Unless the body has a soul, it will lack human intelligence, regardless of the condition of the brain. Like a voodoo zombie. 

At best, the brain is a necessary but insufficient condition for the presence or expression of human intelligence. And that's an overstatement. There can be mindless brains and brainless minds. 

For a body to possess or express human intelligence requires ensoulment. A body must be paired with a soul. The mind uses the brain. 

Unlike some theistic evolutionists, I'm not suggesting that God produced humans by the ensoulment of preexisting primates. My point, rather, is that even as a matter of principle, you can't date the origin of the human species based on fossil skulls. You couldn't even do that if you had an intact brain, as per my hypothetical peat bog specimen. 

viii) Some people might complain that my objection is special pleading. I'm raising an objection that renders my position unfalsifiable. 

But it's not ad hoc. To begin with, the inference is simply fallacious inasmuch as the evidence for physicalism is equally consistent with substance dualism (v). In addition, we have positive evidence that the mind is not reducible to the brain. Indeed, situations in which the mind functions independent of the brain (vi).

The ballot box, the jury box, and the cartridge box

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Inflationary cosmology

André Marie Ampère: A Fascinating Genius and Devout Christian

Creationist biology

Why I'm still a creationist

Why did God allow the Fall?

How does God get the world he chose?

One description I've read of Molinism is that God can't directly instantiate the choices of free agents, for that causes their choices, which God cannot do if they are to be the free choices of the agents in question. Rather, God indirectly instantiates their choices by instantiating the circumstances in which they make their choices.

Two problems:

i) On a stock definition of libertarian freedom, the agent could choose differently under the very same circumstances. But in that case, how does God get the world he chose? Instantiating the circumstances has no predictive value, since the same circumstances are consistent with divergent choices. The choices are independent of the circumstances. 

It's like choosing between five different Christmas presents, only you're choosing blind because you don't know what's inside each box until you choose one, remove the wrappings, and open the box.

ii) Except for the initial conditions, circumstances are often the product of choices that agents make. So how can God even instantiate the circumstances? 

Character witness for the Devil

1. One thing I found striking about the White/Spencer debate was the spectacle of White defending Yasir Qadhi. And he's not alone in that. Because White defends Qadhi, White supporters feel compelled to defend Qadhi. If White defends Qadhi, then defending White commits you to defending who or what he defends. That's a corrupting development. 

I don't have a problem with a church hosting a Muslim/Christian debate or dialogue (so long as that's an apologetic debate/dialogue rather than an ecumenical debate/dialogue).

Protestants aren't supposed to be superstitious about religious furniture. The new covenant doesn't have sacred spaces. The fact that the dialogue between White and Qadhi took place within the four walls of a church is of no intrinsic importance.

I don't even object to Christian apologists debating or dialoguing with Muslim spokesmen who are in bed with terrorists. Terrorism is endemic to Islam. That's the nature of the beast. We should be prepared to witness to Muslims with terrorist associations. 

Where White gets into trouble is defending the bona fides of Qadhi. That makes White a tool. And unfortunately, I find his supporters following his lead.

2. One White/Qadhi defender said: "in this case, the specific evidence about Yasir Qadhi is that he is anti-terror, not pro-terror."

That's not the evidence I've seen. The evidence I've seen is that he supports the principle of jihad. Moreover, he has his foot in several jihadi front organizations. For instance:

Qadhi is a sharia scholar and works inside the Muslim Brotherhood’s Movement calling for the implementation of sharia and an Islamic state here in America.

Specifically, Qadhi is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA).  Qadhi is also the Dean of Academic Affairs and an instructor at the al Maghrib Institute, which has produced a large number of jihadis over the years including Tarek Mehanna, Ramy Zam Zam – the leader of the “Virginia 5,” Daniel Maldonado, Nuradin Abdi (founder of the Al Maghrib’s Ohio Chapter), and others.

Yasir Qadhi has been the keynote speaker at numerous prominent Muslim Brotherhood organizations (eg ICNA), works closely with terrorist organizations like Hamas and its leaders and has a long track record of publicly defending known terrorists such as:  convicted terrorist leader Sami al Aria, convicted terrorist Ali al-Timimi, American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh, convicted Al Qaeda terrorist Aafia Siddiqui, Tarek Mehanna, and others.

Yasir Qadhi was a trustee at the Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas’ Islamic Society of Boston founded by Al Qaeda financier Abdurahman Alamoudi. This is the same ISB which nurtured the Boston Marathon bombers.

Maybe White will dispute the accuracy that characterization. The point, though, is why stick your neck out to vouch for Qadhi's bona fides? White can dialogue with Qadhi without taking any public position on the sincerity of Qadhi's disclaimers regarding jihad. At the very least, would it not be more prudent for White and his supporters to withhold judgment? Why in the world are we supposed to give Qadhi the benefit of the doubt?

3. There's a basic principle of risk assessment. One can be mistaken either way. One can be mistaken in believing a Muslim cleric's disclaimers and one can be mistaken in disbelieving his disclaimers. However, the two mistakes don't have equitable consequences. Take the adage that counterterrorists have to get lucky every time whereas terrorists only have to get lucky once.

Suppose a convicted embezzler applies to be church treasurer. Says he's turned over a new leaf. I could be mistaken if I believe him and I could be mistaken if I disbelieve him. But each mistake has different consequences, and one mistake may have graver consequences than the other.

I have no duty to believe the disclaimers of Muslim cleric. To the contrary, I have a duty to be skeptical, given the track record and the mortal danger. 

In addition, generalizations can be a legitimate consideration in formulating public policy. Take recalls for defective products or contaminated food. The defective products or contaminated food may be a fraction of the total, but the recall is broad to make sure the truly dangerous subset doesn't slip through. Or take a rancher who's required to euthanize all his cattle if one steer is discovered with mad cow disease. 

4. One White/Qadhi defender said "Dr. Qadhi and those in the west agree that live in the west, because of visa agreement and contracts (& citizenship is considered a contract/agreement that a Muslim must follow, as is American citizen)"

And White made the same claim during the debate, citing Qadhi's stated position that Muslims are "under contract...covenant...take an oath of loyalty to a nation".

One issue this raises is the credibility of Muslim religious leaders. Should we take their claims at face value? 

That depends. When they make a statement that's consistent with Muslim tradition, that's credible. When, however, they make a statement at variance with Muslim tradition, then that's not credible unless they are taking a personal risk by making that statement. 

In the debate, White defended Qadhi's sincerity on the grounds that he "has to protect his family because ISIS wants him dead". 

And another White/Qadhi defender made the same argument: "Qadhi had 2 death threats from ISIS against him. Dr. Qadhi is an example who has spoken out against it, as did Shabir Ally and other Islamic scholars have written books refuting Isis, Al Qaeda, etc."

But as Spencer pointed out, that does't mean Qadhi's not committed to jihad or spreading sharia; rather, there are rival jihadist groups. He belongs to a different group. Each group wants its own Caliph. So they play a rhetorical shellgame about the Caliphate. They reject ISIS because they want their own Caliphate. 

Denouncing a rival group doesn't by any means imply a renunciation of commitment to jihad or sharia. There's bitter competition for dominance in the Muslim world. Which side has the controlling vision. That doesn't begin to suggest that Qadhi or Shabir Ally are any less militant in their own outlook. It's just that they want their own side to win.

5. One White/Qadhi defender said "Dr. Qadhi and those in the west agree that live in the west, because of visa agreement and contracts, they can only do Jihad of the pen and mouth. (preaching and writing)". 

i) But isn't that a euphemism for incitement to commit terrorism? Laying the groundwork? Recruiting? For years I've been reading reports about "radical clerics" (the stock designation) in England who foment animus towards the host country, while the authorities turn a blind eye. 

ii) Furthermore, once Muslims have a foothold in the USA, why can't they practice "defensive jihad" which doesn't require permission from the Caliph. For years I've read about how Saudi Arabia uses its vast wealth to plant mosques across the USA to seed our land with Wahhabism. Once there are sizable Muslim communities in the USA and other Western countries, can't that beachhead be a pretext to initiate defensive jihad? It doesn't require authorization from the Caliph. Embedded in the host country, they can say they're now surrounding a culture that's hostile to Islam, so they need to do whatever is necessary to protect their values.

Sure, I've heard Muslims denounce the killing of "innocents," but that's a term of art. In defensive and offensive jihad, what counts as a civilian? 

6. White recently said:

James R. White
April 17 · 

OK, folks, warning up front: profanity, strong profanity here. That's what you get when you talk to the Zombies of the Culture of Death. And folks, these people will vote for others who will imprison you and execute you. When you worship death, you care nothing for liberty. You will silence those you hate. Remember. They tried that with Jesus.

And he's right about that. But that's not the only demographic seeking to imprison you and execute you. Guess what–Muslims do that, too! White is acutely aware of the threat posed by secular progressives, yet he soft-pedals the threat posed by Muslims. Why the double standard?

Moreover, the prospect of SJWs imprisoning and executing Christians in America is hypothetical, whereas Muslims in America are actually murdering people in jihadist attacks and honor-killings. 

6. In his debate with Spencer, White defended Qadhi on the grounds that White can't read hearts and minds. He can't divine intentions. yet White's scruples are very selective in that regard. Remember this statement from last year:

There is a more than 70% chance he has never met this father. In all probabilities he has no guidance, has no example. He is filled with arrogance and disrespect for authority. He lives in a land where he is told lies every day—the lie that he cannot, through hard work and discipline, get ahead, get a good education, and succeed at life. He is lied to and told the rest of the world owes him. And the result is predictable: in his generation, that 70% number will only rise. He may well father a number of children—most of which will be murdered in the womb, padding the pockets of Planned Parenthood.

Based on this one-time encounter, lasting about a minute, White produces an instant criminal profile. He has no hesitation to stereotype the teenager, but what about the stats on Muslim terrorism?

Or, a year before that, remember his comment on a public meeting about plans to build a new mosque in Spotsylvania, VA:

Ignorance and bigotry is ugly, no matter who the ignorant bigot is. Here's a video of what happens when you combine ignorance, bigotry, fear, and with one guy it seems, way too many roids…You see, when someone can look at the video I posted and listen to a man who is clearly not interested in anything but rage and anger…you took the identification of plain ignorance (when some fellow is saying, "Muslims is evil," well, the poor fellow can't even speak the English language.

Based on one video snippet, White has the speaker pegged. He assumes the worst about the speaker. Why is he so quick to make snap judgments about some people, when he admonishes us to practice a different standard in reference to Muslims? 

Morality requires a god, whether you’re religious or not

Monday, June 26, 2017

Before the Son of Man comes

Lightly edited exchange I recently had with an unbeliever on Facebook:

When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes (Mt 10:23).

Christians, how might you respond to this? It seems to me there are only two reasonable interpretations.

1) Either those being spoken to at that time would see the son of man come before their own individual death


2) The towns in Israel would not have seen christianity spread to them all long before the son of man comes again.
So obviously, both one and two have been fulfilled for well over 1,700 years and probably more like 1,850 years.

Isn't this hard evidence of a failed prophecy?

A few points:

i) There's the question of how the narrator (Matthew) understood the prediction. Even if we date the composition of Matthew fairly early, to the 60s, and the original saying was uttered c.30, would it not be easy to visit every town in Israel in the intervening years, with time to spare? Sure 30+ years is more than enough time to do that. All the towns in Israel could be canvassed in far less time than that. 

On that window, if it's a failed prophecy, that would already be evident long before the narrator wrote his Gospel. But how realistic is it that the narrator recorded what he himself believed to be a failed prophecy by Jesus? 

ii) Many readers automatically assume that any reference to Jesus "coming" most be an end-of-the-world prediction. But what about Jesus appearing to people in dreams and visions? That happened to Paul (Acts 9). That happened to John (Rev 1). That's reported throughout church history. We can discount some of those reports, but we don't need to dismiss all of them out of hand.

Especially in the stated context of persecution, Jesus might appear to suffering, threatened Christians to encourage them. Our conceptual resources are too limited if we assume that "Jesus coming" must invariably refer to a one-time, end-of-the-world event. Jesus can come to individuals in need, at different times and places. There's prima facie evidence that happens. Take modern-day Muslim converts to Christianity who say Jesus appeared to them in dreams. Likewise, Anglican bishop Hugh Montefiore was a Jewish teenager when he had a vision of Jesus, which precipitated his conversion to Christianity.

On point 1: Fairly likely actually. All empirical evidence shows that the most common reaction to failed prophecies being realized is MORE passionate preaching and more conviction. Oddly enough, end of times predictors react in this way very consistently.

i) Bad comparison. If there's a record of a "failed" prophecy, then it's too late to deny it, so reinterpretation is the only pious course of action. But here the question at issue is why record it in the first place? Why preserve it for posterity if it's manifestly wrong?

ii) A common reaction to fail prophecy is disillusionment. Many people drop out of the movement.

2) there is little cross textual reasoning to suspect any other meaning than the second coming.

Now you're moving the goal post. Moreover, the other passages you allude to don't have the same specific benchmark, so it's dubious that you can just extrapolate from this passage to others that lack that benchmark.

Jesus appearing in dreams or visions wouldn't require moving towns.

You seem to be conflating two different issues: disciples evangelizing Palestine, and Jesus "coming". Jesus "coming" isn't a substitute for their task and duty. Rather, that can be an encouragement to beleaguered missionaries.

1) I don't see how that is a meaningful difference. The author of mathew could well have already felt it was failed (recognized this) and yet his conviction grew (or hers). Thus the writing is as stands despite a failed prophecy. That's not just unlikely. It's more likely than not if the prophecy was seen as failed."

What would motivate Matthew to perpetuate a failed prophecy in case it would be quickly forgotten otherwise? Remember, this only occurs in one of the Synoptics. 

Ironically, you're the one with an unfalsifiable theory. You've concocted an ad hoc explanation to save face, not for the prediction, but for your theory that it must be a failed prophecy.

There's no benchmark lacking in the others either. That's simply not so.

Sure there is: "You will not have gone through all the towns of Israel…"

The other passages you allude to don't have that benchmark.

His coming is supposed to solve persecution

Based on what?

but the moving is supposed to buy time until then.

They're not simply or primarily on the move to buy time, but to spread the message throughout Palestine. 

Not the leaders. The leaders usually don't fall out.

Once again, you're moving the goal post. You originally said: "All empirical evidence shows that the most common reaction to failed prophecies being realized is MORE passionate preaching and more conviction. Oddly enough, end of times predictors react in this way very consistently."

Now, however, you've drastically scaled back your original claim, yet you act as if that makes no difference. Once more, you're the one who's resorting to ad hoc explanations to patch up your original allegation. Rather ironic, I'd say.

i) Once more, because you can't prove your point using Mt 10:23, even though that was your showcase example, you change the subject to include passages in Luke and Paul. But that just begs the question in reference to those cases. 

ii) The other passages don't have the same benchmarks, so why assume Mt 10:23 must be referring to the same event as they are?

iii) According to v21, some will be martyred before Jesus "comes", so his coming doesn't save them all, or even most of them, from death at the hands of their persecutors. 

iv) Apropos (iii), why infer that "whoever endures to the end will be saved" refers to salvation in this life rather than salvation from this life? Matthew has a doctrine of the afterlife. Indeed, that's the primary encouragement to Christians. Everyone dies sooner or later. The question is what happens to them after they die: "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Inference, method, and history

The History Of Belief In Biblical Inerrancy

Here's something I just posted on the subject on Facebook. It's in response to some recent comments by a New Testament scholar, Richard Burridge. The post cites a lot of resources on the history of the doctrine of inerrancy.

He chose poorly

For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself (1 Cor 11:29).

There are churches that fence the table because this is supposed to protect reckless communicants who deny the real presence. But if their interpretation is correct, shouldn't there be empirical consequences for communicants who deny the real presence? Why doesn't this ever happen?

If true, some interpretations will have observable effects. Some interpretations predict for certain results. If that doesn't happen, it ought to call the interpretation into question. 

This isn't melodramatic. Consider what happens to some sinners in the OT, viz. Gen 19:26; Num 12:10; 16:32; 26:10; 2 Sam 6:7. Or Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). Or the fate of Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:23).

Out of Egypt I called my Son

What's it like to live under sharia?

Anecdotes from people who have lived in Muslim nations (warning: some bad language):

"[Serious] People who have lived under Sharia law, what was it really like?"

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Am I dying?


Choosing is paradoxical. In the nature of the case, choices are future-oriented. It's too late to make choices about the past. So we deliberate and decide with a view to the future.

However, our actions in striving to achieve the goal impact the very future we aim for. We're reaching for a goal, yet the act of reaching for the goal disturbs the goal. Like apple-bobbing, where the very effort to pick an apple pushes the apple way.  

So the future becomes a moving target. By perturbing the future, the future we end up with isn't the same future we began with. 

A tale of two journeys

Nicene subordinationism and unitarian subordinationism

The core of Clarke's subordinationism is as follows. Certain names or titles in the Bible, including “God”, always are nearly always refer to the Father, giving him a kind of primacy among the three. The word “God” is used in higher and lower senses, and in his view the former always refer to the Father. The God of Israel, the one true God, just is the Father of Jesus. Further, he is the main and the primary and ultimate object of Christian worship and prayer, and as the sole recipient of the highest kind of worship. In his view, the Son of God has all the divine attributes but one, that of existing a se that is, existing and not being in any sense derivative of or dependent on anything else. To the contrary, “The Father Alone is Self-existent, Underived, Unoriginated, Independent” (Clarke, Scripture, 123). It is contradictory to suppose that something has this property in any sense because of another thing. In his view the Son and the Holy Spirit (like the Son, a personal agent or self distinct from the Father) exist and have their perfections because of the Father. Both are functionally and ontologically subordinate to him, and in the Spirit is at least functionally subordinate to the Son. What sort of dependence relations are these? The Son and Spirit derive their being from the Father as from a “Supreme Cause”, but we are not to infer from this that the Father existed before them. The Bible doesn't enlighten us on the nature of this dependence relationship, but seems to presuppose that it always was (i.e., that infinitely back in time, the Son and Spirit existed in dependence on the Father). Thus, “Arian” subordinationists (see section 3.1 above) are speculating groundlessly when they say there was a time when the Son didn't exist. And if a “creature” must at some time begin to exist, then neither Son nor Spirit are creatures. Still, Clarke thinks that we should affirm with some of the early church fathers that this derivation of the Son from the Father is “not by mere Necessity of Nature, (which would be in reality Self-existence, not Filiation;) But by an Act of the Father's incomprehensible Power and Will” (141, original emphases). Clarke argues that the New Testament teaches the eternal existence of the Son, and that he is (co-) creator of the world.

1. What's striking about Clarke's position is how Nicene subordinationism and unitarian subordinationism (a la Clarke) share a common platform. There's not much difference. In both cases, the Father is the fons deitas. The Father is unoriginate while the Son is originate. The Son has divine attributes derivatively. 

We might say unitarian subordinationism is a modification of Nicene subordinationism or Nicene subordinationism is a modification of unitarian subordinationism. I'm referring to their logical relationship, not chronological relationship. 

That's one reason I reject Nicene subordinationism, The scheme is inherently unstable. A gateway drug to unitarianism. By contrast, I take the same position is B. B. Warfield, John Frame, John Feinberg, and Paul Helm (among others).

2. On a related note, it's common for Catholic apologists to claim that you can't derive the Trinity from Scripture alone. Orthodox Christology and Orthodox Trinitarianism are postbiblical developments. Only the authority of the church can bridge the gap.

It wouldn't surprise me if some modern-day unitarians are lapsed Catholics. They agree with Catholic apologists that the Trinity can only be warranted by the makeweight of the magisterium, but having lost confidence in "the Church", they lost confidence in the Trinity. So Catholic apologetics is another gateway drug to unitarianism. 

Don't Extraordinary Claims Need Extraordinary Evidence?