Saturday, September 03, 2016

Reviewing Calvinism and the Problem of Evil

James Gibson is producing a systematic analysis of the new book on Calvinism and the Problem of Evil. For the philosophically inclined, it's worth reading the installments as they appear. Here's the introductory installment:

Here's a later installment:


I've going to revisit a topic I frequently discuss. Even though it's an old topic, I'm going to attack it from a fresh angle. It's commonplace in "critical" Bible scholarship to allege that Bible writers thought and taught the world was flat. The three-story universe. Most of us have seen diagrams of this claim. Nowadays, even some so-called evangelicals are pushing this claim. 

1. In Greek mythology, Helios, the sun god, pulls the sun across the sky in a chariot with fireproof horses. One consideration in evaluating this depiction is that no ancient Greek ever saw a celestial chariot pulling the sun across the sky. So we have to ask ourselves how seriously ancient Greeks took that depiction. You can't say Greeks believed it because that's what it looks like to an earthbound, naked-eye observer. 

2. According to the three-story model, which is just a scholarly construct, the sky is a solid dome supported by mountains. Prescientific people believed that because that's what the earth looks like from the standpoint of an earthbound observer. They had no other frame of reference. 

3. Apropos (2), recently I was sitting outside on a partly cloudy day, looking at a hillside. I doubt that's something scholars who impute a three-story cosmography to ancient people bother to do. 

i) According to the three-story model, the sun, moon, and clouds are inside the dome. They move across the face of the firmament. 

However, clouds appear to rise over the hill from behind the hill. But according to the three-story model, clouds would have to be in front of the hillside. 

The same holds true for setting sun (or moon). If, moreover, that was the case, then the setting sun would sometimes cover part of the hillside. But, of course, we never see that happen. Rather, we see the hillside cover the descending sun. To all appearances, when the sun dips below the horizon, it passes behind the hillside or mountain range, not in front of it. 

ii) According to the three-story model, the setting moon would be on top of the hillside (or mountain range), since it has to move on the face of the firmament. If the dome is resting on the hillside or mountain range, then the moon cannot be behind the hillside or mountain range. The moon is inside, not outside, the dome. On a treelined hillside, we should see the moon crushing the trees. As it descends, the trees will bend under the weight of the moon. But, of course, no one ever sees that happen. By the same token, the setting sun ought to set the trees on fire. But no one ever sees that happen.

iii) If, moreover, the sun and moon are in front of or on top of the hills and mountains, how do they descend below the hills and mountains? Is there supposed to be a hole in the hill or mountain? Since, in the course of a year, sunrise and sunset occur at different points along the horizon, it wouldn't just be a bottomless hole, but a bottomless trench. But in that event, what is the solid dome resting on? 

iv) Watching sunset on a hillside has the same appearance as watching sunset on a mountain range. The only difference is that a mountain range is farther away. If, however, the ancients just went by appearances, then it would be a very small world if the neighboring hillside marks the boundary of the world. Suppose you live in a valley. Do you really think the whole world is no bigger than the hills surrounding the valley? Have you never ventured outside the valley?

v) Mountain ranges are often jagged. With slopes. How is the solid dome supposed to rest on such an uneven surface? And, of course, a treelined hillside is even more indented. Trees at different heights. Spaces between branches. How does the dome rest on top of a treelined hillside? Wouldn't the weight of the dome flatten the trees?  

vi) People who live off the land pay attention to their natural surroundings. Here's an example of how Sioux Indian boys used to be raised:

My uncle, who educated me up to the age of fifteen, was a strict disciplinarian and a good teacher. When I left the teepee in the morning, he would say: "Hakadah, look closely to everything you see"; and at evening, on my return, he used often to catechize me for an hour or so.
"On which side of the trees is the lighter-colored bark? On which side do they have most regular branches?"
When I was a little older, that is, about the age of eight or nine years, he would say, for instance:
"How do you know that there are fish in yonder lake?"
"Because they jump out of the water for flies at midday."
He would smile at my prompt but superficial reply.
"What do you think of the little pebbles grouped together under the shallow water? And what made the pretty curved marks in the sandy bottom and the little sandbanks?Where do you find the fish-eating birds? Have the inlet and the outlet of a lake anything to do with the question?" 
"Remember that a moose stays in swampy or low land or between high mountains near a spring or lake, for thirty to sixty days at a time. Most large game moves about continually, except for the doe in the spring." 
M. Fitzgerald, ed. The Essential Charles Eastman (Ohiyesa): Light on the Indian World (World Wisdom, Inc. 2007), 91-92.

I daresay ancient people were far more attentive to the natural world than armchair scholars. Should we really presume they'd be oblivous to detectable incongruities in the three-story cosmography? 

Rightly Considered

Here's a new blog that might be worth reading:

Friday, September 02, 2016

God of death

I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades (Rev 1:18).

There's probably a connotation to this verse that's lost on modern readers. We think of "death" as an abstract term for the cessation of life. The physical condition of the decedent. A corpse–which undergoes rapid disintegration. And that's it. 

However, for ancient readers, I suspect "death" would have an added connotation. In ancient polytheism, you have gods of death, viz. Osiris, Hades, Pluto, Dis Pater, Thanatos. In part, these personify the end of life. The notion of death as a personal agent who takes life. 

But in addition, gods of death ruled the netherworld. In pagan folklore and mythology, when you died, that wasn't necessarily the end. Rather (depending on the tradition), your soul descends to the underworld. There the god of death rules over you, for the duration. When you die, you transition from the domain of one god or gods to the domain of another god. You are now under the thrall of the king of the the underworld. Death is your god. And a very dismal god at that.

On that view, Rev 1:18 demythologizes the gods of death. Imagine how liberating that message would be to gentile Christians raised in paganism. There is no god of death who controls the afterlife. Rather, there is only one God for everything. Your postmortem fate is in the hands of Jesus.

I'd add that paganism is not a dead religion (pardon the pun). It's entrenched in parts of the third world and the indigenous folk religion. Moreover, immigrants from those traditions bring it with them. From a modern missionary standpoint, as well as evangelizing immigrants, this message can be as liberating as it was in the 1C.  

Something wicked this way comes

What's the image of God?

The image of God in man (Gen 1:26-27) is an important concept. In some way it distinguishes man from the animals. It grounds the prohibition against murder, and singles out the fitting punishment. Yet because the narrator doesn't define this category, it has spawned a vast theological literature of competing interpretations. In historical theology, it becomes a cipher for whatever theologians happen to to think distinguishes man from the animals, viz. rationality. More recently, you have functional as well as ontological interpretations. 

Some scholars distinguish between "image" and "likeness", but I suspect that here they are synonymous. A pleonastic expression for emphasis. 

On the face of it, the image of God presents a paradox: given Israel's aniconic piety, how can man be an image of an invisible deity? The very fact that the category is undefined suggests the narrator expected the target audience to be able to figure out what it means. There are two ways that could be. It could play on extrabiblical associations that were familiar to the target audience. Or it could play on intertextual associations. Genesis is part of a literary unit: the Pentateuch. 

Nowadays, one popular scholarly interpretation is that in the ancient Near East, the statue of a king or statue of a god stood for him. It represents his presence. It doesn't necessarily reflect his physical appearance, but his prerogatives. By analogy, man is a representative of God on earth, acting in his stead. 

This may be a perfectly adequate interpretation. I would, however, like to explore an alternative interpretation. In the Pentateuch you have angels. There are different kinds of angels, or angels under different aspects.

With one notable exception, angels are a class of creatures. They vary in appearance. Cherubim (and seraphim) may have multiple wings and multiple faces.

By contrast, you have humanoid angels. Outwardly, their appearance is indistinguishable from humans. In addition, angels can become luminous. 

Finally, you have a theophanic angel: the angel of the Lord. That's not a creature, but a local manifestation of Yahweh. 

The theophanic angel has a humanoid appearance (e.g. Gen 18), but it can also become luminous (e.g. Exod 3). The "burning bush" is something of a misnomer. The bush was never on fire. It seemed to be on fire due to a montage between the bush and the luminous angel.

Here's my point: human males resemble God insofar as the theophanic angel resembles human males. In that respect, the image of God could have a visual counterpart. It isn't necessarily just symbolic. To be made in the image of God could mean (at least in part) to resemble God insofar as humans look like the angel of the Lord. In that respect, there could be physical correspondence insofar as the theophanic angel assumes, or simulates, audiovisual and tactile properties. 

There's also an argument to be made that the theophanic angel is a Christophany. If so, it foreshadows the Incarnation. If so, it represents the culmination of this theological motif. On the one hand, Jesus and the theophanic angel are both divine. On the other hand, Jesus and man are both human. If the image of God is defined (at least in part) by reference to the theophanic angel, then Christ unites the twofold significance of that category in his own person. 

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Thinking outside the box

Inconsolable grief

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep (1 Thes 4:13-14).

People find the idea of heaven appealing for several reasons. Belief in the afterlife is a comforting alternative to fear of oblivion. In addition, the notion that you will go to a better place when you die. Even at its best, this life is stressful. And some people lead very difficult lives.

Certainly, though, a major reason people find the idea of heaven appealing is the hope of reunion with departed loved ones. I deliberately say "people" and "idea" because it's not just appealing to Christians. Of course, unbelievers may have mistaken notions of what heaven is like, as well as unjustified confidence in what happens to them after they die, but for the moment I'm discussing culturally universal fears and desires. And that's useful in evangelism. 

Now, it's striking that the Bible doesn't have much to say directly on the prospect of reunion with departed loved ones. We could speculate on why that's the case. Perhaps it's just so obvious that the Bible takes that longing for granted. Or perhaps it's just so obvious that the Bible redirects our attention to neglected aspects of the afterlife. Finally, unless universalism is true, the Bible can't promise reunion with departed loves ones. So Scripture can only offer guarded assurances in that respect. 

Be that as it may, 1 Thes 4:13-14 probably comes closest to acknowledging and affirming this aspect of the afterlife. So this is a very important passage. However, because Paul's statement is so terse, we must tease out what-all he had in mind. 

i) "Sleep" is a picturesque, euphemistic metaphor for death. 

ii) The Psalms sometimes describe the Psalmist's distress over the prospect of his own untimely demise. However, this passage is not about feelings regarding our own demise, but the death of others. The fact that their death is a source of grief presumes that the decedents are friends and family–the "dearly departed" (although this could include compassion for the loss of others). 

iii) Paul doesn't say why their death leaves the survivors grief-stricken, but as a matter of human experience, the reason we grieve the death of a loved-one is separation. At best, you won't see them again for the rest of your life. At worst, you will never seem them again. How the separation is viewed varies according to a person's outlook, whether that's considered a temporary separation or a permanent separation. 

iv) Paul is drawing a contrast between Christians and unbelievers. Mainly pagans. In context, it's synonymous with "outsiders" (v12) or those who "don't know God" (v5). 

v) In what sense were unbelievers without hope? Does that refer to their objectively hopeless condition or their subjective attitude towards death? In theory, Paul might be saying the fate of the lost is hopeless. When they die they go to hell. 

But while that's theologically true, it doesn't fit this particular context. For Paul is describing what motivates pagan grief. That, therefore, reflects the viewpoint of the heathen mourner rather than Paul's viewpoint. 

vi) Apropos (v), pagan views regarding death weren't monolithic. Platonism and Pythagoreanism affirmed the immorality of the soul. That, though, took the form of reincarnation. It was pretty esoteric. Stoics and Epicureans were physicalists, so they denied the afterlife. They cultivated a stiff upper life, feigning indifference to death. And that lent them a sense of moral superiority to the hoi polloi. But what they profess probably masked how they really felt.

A more popular belief affirmed a dismal, ghostly afterlife. The dead were disembodied spirits who exist underground. This was probably an extension of empirical realities. The dead are buried (or cremated). They no longer live on the surface of the earth. Cut off from physical pleasures and visual beauties. The Netherworld doesn't have trees and sunlight. You can't hug a ghost.  

Ancient people believed in ghosts, including restless spirits who roamed the earth. Not having a body, they were reduced to spectators. Even if they haunted their old stomping grounds, they could not longer participate in life on earth. 

Finally, heathen views of death may have been influenced, in some cases, by actual experience with poltergeists and haunted vicinities. In a world full of witchcraft, that's to be expected. Moreover, necromancy feeds on itself. On the one hand, it's premised on the possibility of contacting the death. On the other hand, it may sometimes succeed, which reinforces the presupposition. However, the experience of encountering the dead in that context will be depressing, to say the least. 

Many pagans in the Roman Empire believed in astral fatalism. For better or worse, your destiny is written in the stars. That rendered prayer futile. 

To some degree, pagan views were summed up by epitaphs. One epitaph said: "We are nothing. See, reader, how quickly we mortals return from nothing to nothing." Another common epitaph said: "I was not, I was, I am not, I care not". Latin poet Catullus wrote, "The sun can set and rise again, but once our brief light sets, we must sleep a never-ending night". Another epitaph even states the classic lament that's it's better never to be born: "Happy are those who saw not the sunlight after the birthpangs". These were widespread sentiments. 

Despite their variety, what made pagan views of the afterlife so hopeless and doleful was the inevitable element of speculation and wishful thinking. Short of revelation, how would you know? 

vii) A few scholars think Paul means Christians shouldn't grieve at all, but that's implausible. Paul himself was a very emotional, high-strung individual. Paul's point, rather, is that Christian grief isn't despairing, unlike heathen grief. That's because Christian have a firm basis for hope, not simply in the afterlife, but some specific, encouraging content. 

viii) When Paul says unbelievers are without hope, is he defining hope in pagan terms or Christian terms? Both. From their own viewpoint, the heathen outlook on death was generally quite pessimistic at best. And that, moreover, stands in contrast to the nature of the Christian hope, which Paul turns to in v14.

ix) Since there's evidence that Paul affirmed the intermediate state (e.g. 2 Cor 5:1-10), we might wonder why he skips over the intermediate state and goes straight to the resurrection of the just. Since some pagans already believed in a disembodied afterlife, perhaps he wants to contrast that with what's distinctive to the Gospel. Otherwise, Paul's audience might assimilate the Christian intermediate state with their cultural notions of the Netherworld, which would be syncretistic. Paul avoids getting entangled in the need to distinguish the two by instead discussing the resurrection of the body.

Or perhaps Paul cuts to the Resurrection because that's a demonstrable, historical event. Unlike philosophical speculations, Homeric mythology, the pipe dreams of mystery religions, or indefinite and uncertain aspirations about the hereafter, Paul could point to real evidence. The Christian hope was grounded in a public, verifiable event. That lays a solid basis for expectations regarding the afterlife. Christians could enjoy a robust hope in the afterlife because they had better reasons and a better prospect.   


For background information concerning heathen views of death in the ancient Near East and Roman Empire:

Jeffrey Weima, 1-2 Thessalonians (Baker, 2014), 315-16.

Gene Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians (Eerdmans, 2002), 217-219.

N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress, 2003), chap. 2.

Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (Eerdmans, 3rd. ed., 2003), 243-50. 

Peter Bolt, "Life, Death, and the Afterlife in the Greco-Roman World," R. Longenecker, ed. Life in the Face of Death (Eerdmans, 1998), chap. 3.

Edwin Yamauchi, "Life, Death, and the Afterlife in the Ancient Near East," R. Longenecker, ed. Life in the Face of Death (Eerdmans, 1998), chap. 2.  

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Genie in a bottle

The so-called problem of unanswered prayer is a perennial issue in apologetics and pastoral theology, which is why I revisit this topic every so often. I've offered a number of explanations for why God doesn't always (or even regularly) answer prayer. Let's consider two more explanations:

i) If God always answered prayer, that would include answering prayers for things we can do on our own. But that would trivialize prayer.

ii) If God always answered prayer, or if there is just an overwhelming correlation, even if it wasn't invariable, the church would be flooded with people who were attracted to Christianity for the wrong reason. They's simply be motivated to get whatever they ask for. God as a bottled genie. 

But that's not a proper motivation to be a Christian. No repentance. No heavenly-mindedness. If God answers prayer somewhat sparingly, that prunes away people like Simon Magus. That shakes off fair-weather believers. 

I'm not suggesting that's a complete explanation for unanswered prayer. But there's probably no one explanation. 

Trigger warnings

Conservatives are praising Chicago U for its opposition to safe spaces and trigger warnings:

Once here you will discover that one of the University of Chicago’s defining characteristics is our commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression. This is captured in the University’s faculty report on freedom of expression. Members of our community are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn, without fear of censorship. Civility and mutual respect are vital to all of us, and freedom of expression does not mean the freedom to harass or threaten others. You will find that we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion, and even disagreement. At times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort. Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called “trigger warnings,” we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual “safe spaces” where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own. Fostering the free exchange of ideas reinforces a related University priority — building a campus that welcomes people of all backgrounds. Diversity of opinion and background is a fundamental strength of our community. The members of our community must have the freedom to espouse and explore a wide range of ideas.

In one sense it's nice to see Chicago U stare down the SJW lynch mob and not blink. SJWs only have power because people empower them. They only have power over others because others say uncle to their insatiable, despotic demands.

But at another level I think they perform a useful service. Cliches about academic freedom, exposing incoming students to challenging ideas, &c., are typically code language for a one-sided transaction in which professors indoctrinate conservative students in liberal ideology. It's not about a free exchange of ideas or vigorous debate. It's only about challenging students who have conservative values. About deprogramming students who come from conservative families.

The delicious irony of SJW death squads patrolling college campuses in the degree to which they are turning on the liberal establishment. Liberal academics created SJWs. They brainwashed students into believing politically correct claptrap. They made a Frankenstein monster that turned on its creator. In that regard, it's good to see liberal professors and college administrators on the receiving end of political correctness. The Chicago U statement is really about protecting the liberal establishment from the consequences of its own politically correct propaganda. Liberals are used to making others pay the price for their social agenda. It's a salutary turn of events when liberals are held to the same standards. 

Redaction criticism

The poison garden

What is hell like? In theory, hell could resemble a garden paradise. Hell could seem heavenly, at first glance. Appearances are deceptive! 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Methodological atheism is viciously circular

Imagine the following conversation between a theist (T) and a metaphysical naturalist (MN) who justifies metaphysical naturalism on the basis of the evidential form of the problem of evil and who then attempts to justify methodological naturalism on the basis of metaphysical naturalism.

MN: If one is a metaphysical naturalist then one should be a methodological naturalist, i.e., refuse ever to postulate nonphysical entities as the cause of physical events. One should not believe in nonnatural entities without good evidence. There is no good evidence for nonnatural entities. Indeed, in the case of God, the chief candidate for a nonnatural entity, the existence of evil constitutes positive evidence against His existence. Therefore one should accept metaphysical naturalism and, by logical extension, methodological naturalism.

T: I disagree that there is no good evidence for nonnatural entities. I propose to show you that there is evidence that God causes some physical events and that this positive evidence for God outweighs any presumed negative evidence based on the existence of evil.

MN: Such positive evidence cannot exist.

T: Why not?

MN: Because any investigation of the causes of physical events must employ methodological naturalism, i.e., must assume that it is never, even in principle, legitimate to posit a nonnatural cause for a physical event.

T: Why should one accept methodological naturalism?

MN: Because there is good reason to think metaphysical naturalism is true, and methodological naturalism follows logically from the truth of metaphysical naturalism.

T: Remind me once more of your good reason for thinking metaphysical naturalism is true.

MN: The good reason for thinking that metaphysical naturalism is true is that there is no good evidence that nonnatural entities exist. Further, given that evil constitutes evidence against the existence of God, the primary candidate for a nonnatural entity, it seems clear that metaphysical naturalism is justified.

T: Would methodological naturalism ever permit one to posit a nonnatural entity as the cause of a physical event.

MN: No. I have already made that clear.

T: Let me get this right. Your acceptance of metaphysical naturalism is based on the fact that there exists no evidence that nonnatural entities ever cause physical events?

MN: Yes. That along with the evidence provided by the existence of evil.

T: And your endorsement of methodological naturalism follows from your acceptance of metaphysical naturalism?

MN: Yes.

T: This seems question-begging. You endorse metaphysical naturalism on the basis that there exists no evidence that nonnatural entities ever cause physical events, yet adopt a methodology which rules out the possibility of ever recognizing evidence of nonnatural causes. You are using your metaphysic to justify your acceptance of methodological naturalism, but your acceptance of methodological naturalism serves to guarantee that even if evidence for the existence of nonphysical causes exists it can never be recognized as such.

MN: Are you not forgetting that evil constitutes positive evidence against God’s existence?

T: Assuming that evil does in fact constitute evidence against God’s existence, it only makes God’s existence improbable if there is not a body of positive evidence that outweighs the body of negative evidence. By adopting methodological naturalism you guarantee that such a body of positive evidence will not be recognized, even if it exists. You use your metaphysical naturalism to justify methodological naturalism and you use methodological naturalism to justify your metaphysical naturalism. Your metaphysical naturalism supposedly justifies your methodological naturalism, but your methodological naturalism serves to insulate your metaphysical naturalism from any possible challenge. This is viciously circular. It begs the important question of whether there exists sufficient evidence to justify belief in nonnatural entities and thus disbelief in metaphysical naturalism.

Return of the God Hypothesis - Stephen C. Meyer, PhD

A Response To Annette Merz On The Infancy Narratives (Part 2)

(Part 1 can be read here.)

She writes:

As a general rule, we encounter more legendary material in ancient biographical texts in those parts of the narrative that are devoted to the hero's nativity and youth….

When Jesus was born - far more probably in Nazareth than in Bethlehem, though his place of birth ultimately remains uncertain - no one among his family or fellow villagers expected anything special from him, and thus nobody paid any special attention to him. No historically reliable traditions of Jesus' childhood have survived, nor would one expect that an ordinary craftsman's family in a collectivist society (even if it claimed Davidic provenance, which is doubtful) would engage in collecting memories of a family member's individual development….We must not confuse the world of high-ranking persons who documented their important lives with the world of nobodies from which Jesus originated. Of course, things changed when Jesus' career as a prophet of the kingdom of God and a successful healer unfolded….In the first decades after the resurrection, several concepts coexisted in the Christ-believing communities. Memories were refracted, and where no memory was extant - as was probably the case with the birth of the one who was now believed to be the Messiah and thus the Son of David - traditions were invented to meet the requirements of the beliefs that had developed. (466, 491-2)

Dreaming and dual consciousness

It's interesting to consider illustrations for the Incarnation. Let me say at the outset that I don't use "mystery" and "paradox" as synonyms. A paradox is a particular kind of relation: an apparent contradiction. I often mention things that are paradoxical at first glance, but consistent if you think about it more deeply. 

Although a paradox may be mysterious, a mystery needn't be paradoxical. Something can be mysterious without seeming to be contradictory. I think the Trinity and the Incarnation are mysterious, but not paradoxical. 

Unitarians scoff at "mystery". And from their standpoint, that makes sense. For instance, the unitarian gosling of Dale Tuggy is basically a human being with superhero powers. A very anthropomorphic god like Zeus. A god of finite knowledge. A god who exists in time. Naturally there's nothing mysterious about a god like that! It's all too human. A difference of degree rather than kind. 

By contrast, the God of Christian theism has a mind of infinite complexity. By the same token, his intentions are nearly infinite, when you consider the number of intended events, and how one event is coordinated with another. 

Any God worthy of the name is going to be mysterious. The average adult can understand a math problem that the average child cannot. A math teacher can understand a math problem that the average adult cannot. A math genius can understand a math problem that the average math teacher cannot. Yet even those are finite differences. 

Because the Incarnation is unique, there are no direct parallels in human experience. But we can explore analogies. Here's one I thought about recently. Consider a lucid dream. Dreams are the product of the subconscious. When dreaming, the dreamer is normally unaware of the fact that it's a dream. But on rare occasions, the dreamer becomes lucid. 

At that point the same person has two different, interrelated, and simultaneous mental states. The dreamer becomes conscious, or self-conscious, of the fact that the setting is just a dream. At the same time, his subconscious is still producing the dreamscape.

Once he becomes lucid, it's possible for him to take charge of the dream. To consciously direct the dream. But lucid dreams are unstable because the dreamer is on the cusp of wakefulness. It's hard for him to both be lucid and remain asleep.

But I'm concentrating on the initial moment of lucidity. The sudden realization that it's a dream. That's one mental state, yet that takes place in tandem with another mental state: the ongoing subliminal production of the dreamscape. Both mental states belong to the same person at the same time. The dreamer becomes the conscious observer of his unconscious imagination. The conscious mind knows far less than the subconscious mind. Conversely, the subconscious mind is unaware of what it knows. 

If even a finite human thinker can have two different, interrelated, and simultaneous mental states, what justification is there to rule out dual psychology in the greater case of Christ?

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Gender dysphoria and practical application

Loving evil people

On Facebook (early June), Jerry Walls said:

Does everyone realize that if Calvinists would just forthrightly, consistently affirm that God loves EVERYONE, (which I think most know in their hearts), that He does not need eternal hell to be fully glorified (if any are lost forever, it because they have freely, persistently rejected God's love), that it could save us all a lot of arguments?

For Jerry, it's just inconceivable that Calvinists don't really believe God loves everyone. In their hearts, they know that God must love everyone, but their theological overlay forces them to deny what deep down know to be true.

It's unclear to me why he treats that claim as indubitable. One reason he gives is that God is that love is an essential divine attribute. And Calvinists agree.

But Jerry acts as though that makes God a love machine. If love is essential to God, then God automatically loves everyone.

But surely that inference is too strong. By that logic, God must love evil.  

According to Walls, God would not be good unless he loved Josef Mengele. Why does Jerry think that's self-evidently true? 

(To be clear, that's my example, not Jerry's. But it follows from his belief that God loves absolutely everyone.)

Notice, I'm not necessarily saying God can't love Josef Mengele. But why does Jerry insist that God must love Josef Mengele? What makes it antithetical to divine goodness if God didn't love Josef Mengele? 

That's not a universal moral intuition, is it? Is it intuitively obvious to most folks that God wouldn't be good unless he loved Josef Mengele? Is it intuitively obvious to most theists that God wouldn't be good unless he loved Josef Mengele? Supposed you were to poll orthodox Jews? 

I'm not discussing garden-variety sinners, but moral monsters. Psychopaths. People with no conscience. 

One argument might be that, according to the Bible, no one is too evil for God to save. Let's consider that. 

First of all, if God doesn't intend to save somebody, he may let them become more evil that if he intended to save them. The reason some people are so evil is because God had no intention of saving them. So he allows them to sink into depths of depravity. 

From a Calvinist perspective, God's love is transformative. If God loves a deeply evil person, his love is a means of transforming an evil person into a good person. It's not just a divine attitude, but a divine action: irresistible grace. 

Freewill theists might also wish to say that God's love is transformative, but that's qualified. For them, God loves people who will never be transformed by his love. 

There is a difference between saying I will love an evil person in order to redeem him, and saying I will love an evil person despite his evil, irrespective of whether he will ever change. Those are not morally equivalent. 

Is it intuitively obvious that a good person will love an evil person? Even if we think it's commendable to love an evil person in case we know that by loving them them will be transformed into a good person, is it self-evident that a good person will love an evil person for love's sake, even though he knows that his love will have no effect on the evil person?

Isn't there a prima facie tension between goodness and loving someone who embodies evil? If anything, doesn't our reflexive moral intuition find it wrong to love someone who embodies evil, absent some overriding consideration? Isn't there something evil about empathizing with evil people? Take women who become pen pals with convicted serial killers. They fall in love with them and marry them. Or take Charles Manson's groupies. Isn't there something morally twisted about that? 

Let's take another example: A feature of friendship is that to be one person's friend sometimes means you can't be a another person's friend. You can't be friends to both of them. You have to choose. There's an element of loyalty in friendship. Sometimes you have to take sides.

Suppose you befriended Sharon Tate's mother. Suppose, at a later date, you tell her that you befriended Charles Manson. Surely she'd find that intolerable. If you love the man who murdered her daughter, then you can't be friends with her mother. From her perspective, for you to even be sympathetic to Manson would be unconscionable.

Now, Jerry might counter that my objections are subchristian. The Gospel teaches us to love our enemies. We must overcome our instinctive revulsion to certain people. 

That, however, wreaks havoc with Jerry's overall position. That's not morally intuitive, but morally counterintuitive. Yet in the book he coauthored with David Baggett (Good God: The Theistic Foundations or Morality), Jerry says divine goodness must be analogous to human goodness to be recognizably good. Otherwise, "good" is equivocal, if it has one sense for God, and a divergent sense for man. That's essential to their case against Calvinism. 

If, however, Jerry is going to say that we ought to love everyone because God loves everyone; if he's going to say that we must learn to emulate God's universal love, despite our natural inclination to be discriminatory, despite our natural inclination to hate someone like Charles Manson or Josef Mengele, then Jerry is conceding that divine goodness is unrecognizable. Divine goodness is radically disanalogous to our moral intuitions. God's universal love violates our intuitions. We must suppress our moral intuitions in order to bring our sensibilities in line with God.