Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Letter to a young philosopher


I thought it might be helpful to share some of my (layman's) notes on the cursus honorum (primarily). How a Roman becomes a senator. Of course, the Senate was the body of men that ruled the Roman republic.

A few preliminaries:

  • The context for my notes is the Republican period.
  • Rome was a militaristic society and culture (e.g. Romans believed military aptitude meant political aptitude and vice versa, and their highest offices combined political and military roles e.g. a consul or praetor leading legions to battle).
  • One gained lifetime admission to the Senate after serving as a magistrate for one year. A magistrate wasn't a judge like we might think today but an elected official. I suppose we'd simply say a politician.
  • The Senate originally had 100 members, which kept increasing over time. The Senate was 300 up to Sulla, then 600 shortly before the time of Spartacus, then 900 under Julius Caesar, then over 1000 under Augustus Caesar. However, Augustus Caesar eventually reduced the number to 600.
  • Although estimates can vary widely, at its height (i.e. during the Roman Empire) I believe the total population was around 75 million, and the city of Rome around 1 million, with the contemporary world population around 300 million. I've heard (but never verified) that no city in the world ever rivaled the population of Rome until the Industrial Age.
  • Order of speaking in the Senate: first, the current consul who called the Senate to meet; then the princeps senatus; then current consuls; then ex-consuls; then current praetors; then ex-praetors; then current aediles; then ex-aediles; then current quaestors; then ex-quaestors. In general the Senate met from sun up till sun down. It would be rare for those below the praetor level to ever speak.

Now the path to the Senate:

  1. Tribune (military). 24 positions per year. Tribune was often (though not always) the first step for a young man aspiring to the Roman Senate to take.

  2. Quaestor. 20 positions per year: 14 to provincial governors to serve as their deputies, 2 to consuls, and 4 to Rome's treasury. Quaestors were usually lowly bureaucrats with limited political power and no military power.

  3. Aedile. 4 positions per year in Rome: 2 plebeian aediles and 2 curule aediles. Their role was public works such as ensuring "temple" upkeep where "temple" included religious and social institutions. For example, the Temple of Castor and Pollux was the Senate house, the Temple of Saturn was the treasury, public baths were like modern shopping malls, etc. Aediles also helped maintain aqueducts and thus the water supplies to Rome, they stored and distributed grain, they maintained roads, among others. However, the most prominent role of the aedile was festivals and holidays such as the gladiatorial games. If done well, aediles could win over the commoners or plebeians. That's what Julius Caesar, for one, did.

  4. Praetor. 8 positions per year. Praetors were essentially judges. But not merely judges as in our modern conception of judges. Since the Romans united military and political into a single role, praetors had vested in them military powers (e.g. commanding a legion) as well as judicial powers. Imperium.

  5. Consul. 2 positions per year. Traditionally each consul would alternate between their roles and responsibilities every other month (i.e. "holding fasces"). Consuls had the power to open debate in the Senate, propose laws, veto, call the public assembly, oversee elections, wage war, implement martial law, read or interpret omens. Consuls were the height of Roman political achievement.

  6. Proconsul (or propraetor). Basically a governor of a Roman province. It was what praetors and consuls usually wished to do after serving as praetors or consuls. Some provinces were more desirable than others. In general due to how lucrative it would be for the proconsul to govern the province. Judea was not a province at this time. It held no promise of wealth. It had too many rabble rousers to control. Its main value was it lay at the crossroads between the eastern trade routes as well as Syria and Egypt, two affluent provinces.

  7. There were other magistrates or political positions (e.g. censor, tribune of the plebs, pontifex maximus), but they aren't officially part of the cursus honorum, as far as I'm aware.

All this said, I'm no ancient Roman historian or classicist so I'm open to correction.

Gaius Julius Paulus?

Excerpted from Colin Hemer's paper "The Name of Paul" (1985):

It is generally recognised that Paul, as a Roman citizen, must have possessed a full Roman name, in fact the tria nomina (three names). 'Paulus' was his cognomen, but his praenomen and nomen are quite unknown to us. When a provincial was enfranchised, as when a slave was freed, he automatically assumed the praenomen and nomen of his patron and transmitted it to his descendants...

According to Acts 22:28 Paul was born a Roman citizen. If his family bore the names of a Roman benefactor, the origin must be sought in a previous generation, presumably in the person of a famous Roman who had favoured Tarsus, and bestowed citizenship on some of its leading citizens. If we cannot explain Paul's citizenship in this way, we can only confess our total ignorance of the circumstances.

The three eminent Romans associated with the East and with Tarsus in particular in the preceding period were Pompey, Caesar and Antony, the two latter especially being linked favourably with Tarsus. There is then the possibility - we can say no more - that Paul might have been Cn. Pompeiu Paulus, C. Julius Paulus or M. Antonius Paulus.

The purpose of this note is to draw attention to an inscription from Naples which illustrates the question of Paul's name and identity at three separate points...

'To the spirits of the dead. L. Antonius Leo, also called Neon, son of Zoilus, by nation a Cilician, a soldier of the praetorian fleet at Misenum, from the century the trireme "Asclepius", lived 27 years, served 9 years. C. Julius Paulus his heir undertook the work [of his burial]'...

Paul was both Hebrew and Roman by birth, and operated under either name (Saul or Paul) according to context. It is a neat example of the 'undesigned coincidences' of Acts and Epistles that Paul's Hebrew name is known only from Acts, and his tribe (Benjamin) only from an acknowledged epistle (Phil. 3:5): he was named after the most famous member of his tribe...

Leo's heir bears exactly the name which may possibly have been Paul's own. If he was Leo's near kinsman he may also have been a Cilician, and Tarsus was the capital and dominant city of Cilicia. The form of his name makes it probable that he or his ancestor was enfranchised by Caesar...

The name 'Paulus' itself was a common cognomen, occurring also in the variants Paullus, Polus and Pollus, and meaning 'small', whether in origin pejorative or affectionate. It may sometimes have been confused with an obsolete rare praenomen, usually spelt 'Paullus', which was occasionally revived as an archaizing fashion, as in the names of Paullus Aemilius Lepidus (consul suffectus in 34 B.C.) or Paullus Fabius Maximus (consul in 11 B.C., proconsul of Asia in 9 B.C.; IGRR 4.438, etc.). In Paul' case, as in that of enfranchised provincials generally, the cognomen will have been his ordinary personal name in the Gentile world, his formal designation by praenomen, nomen, father's praenomen, Roman tribe and cognomen being reserved for official documents and remaining unknown to us.

Narrative order

A friend asked me to comment on this:

[The amillennial] approach does not fit the literary movement of Revelation. John pictures the period between Christ’s exaltation and return as the time of Satan’s banishment from heaven to earth, where he deceives the nations and persecutes the saints (Rev 12:1–17). By way of contrast, in 20:1–3 Satan is confined in the abyss, which means that he cannot deceive the nations “anymore” (eti), just as defeat in heaven meant that he had no place there “any longer” (12:8) and Babylon’s fall mean that life was not found there “anymore” (18:21–23). Satan does not deceive anyone during the millennium (20:4–6), but deception resumes afterwards (20:7–8; Mounce; Osborne). If the vision of Satan persecuting the faithful in 12:1–17 shows the present character of earthly life, the vision of Satan’s binding assures people that the present situation is not the final one. Evil will be defeated in ways that are not now evident (Boring; Giesen; Murphy) [Craig R. Koester, Revelation: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, 785.]

1. Recapitulatory parallelism

Warfield is the earliest writer I've seen appeal to this. It was, of course, popularized by Hendrickson, and later picked up by Beale and Poythress. Metzger defends it as well.

I think there's some truth to it. When I first read Revelation through several times as a young Christian, I was struck by how the narrative structure was cyclical to some degree. That's before I read any commentaries advocating recapitulatory parallelism.

That said, there are limitations to that analysis:

i) While I think Revelation has a degree of periodicity, efforts to subdivide it into 7 sections strike me as artificial. Also, I doubt the book is that literary. This isn't Dante or T. S. Eliot. I don't expect Revelation to be that symmetrical. I don't think it's that kind of work.

ii) Although Revelation has a degree of periodicity, it's both linear and cyclical. There's progression towards a definitive climax. So it's not endless repetition circling back on itself like Finnegans Wake. 

2. Visionary genre

Poythress makes the point that Revelation originates in a vision. So the question is whether the sequence is chronological or psychological. Michaels raises the same basic issues. And I think that's a legitimate query.  

To be sure, that's more of a question rather than an answer. In principle, that could be a false dichotomy. Maybe the sequence in which God revealed these scenes to John are chronological. Or maybe John edited his visionary experience into a chronological sequence–assuming he'd know the actual order of events.

3. The nature of narrative sequence

i) To my knowledge, there are roughly three types of literary genres that use plotlines: historical narratives, fictional narratives, and historical fiction. The whole issue of narrative sequence is interesting and perhaps underexplored. 

Take intervals. Our preference is to group intervals by longer or shorter units of time: we group minutes with minutes, hours with hours, days with days, weeks with weeks, months with months, years with years, decades with decades, centuries with centuries, millennia with millennia.

By the same token, our preference is to group sequential intervals by common type: a day follows a day, a week follows a week, a month follows a month, &c.

One consequence is the natural tendency to group intervals in concentric temporal relationships. For instance, we group months within a year, weeks within a month, days within a week.

So there's concentricity as well as linearity. Sequences within sequences. 

As a rule, we prefer to add days to days, weeks to weeks, years to years, &c. We prefer to say a day is sooner or later than another day, rather than a week is sooner or later than a day. We have an ordinal numerical sequence of days that begins with each new month and terminates with that particular month, then starts all over again with the new month. Self-contained intervals that are expansive when linked with other self-contained intervals. 

Of course, there are times when that breaks down. Is May later than April? Depends. If the same year, yes. But April 1941 is later than May 1940, while May 1939 is sooner than April 1940. 

So context is crucial. Are there temporal markers that clarify relative sequence? Are we comparing days to days? Years to years? A month in one year to a month in another year?

ii) Or take autobiographies. These are wildly disproportionate in terms of how much detail is lavished on particular intervals of time. That's because a human life consists of some personally significant events, along with many average days, weeks, and months. An autobiography will focus on events significant to the writer. He will write a lot about shorter significant intervals and only write a little about longer average intervals. So there's a certain paradox, where more time is given to less time and less time is given to more time. 

If he didn't make explicit that he was discussing what happened to him in the course of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it might be impossible to gauge the length of the intervals comprising the sequence. Whether he was skipping over extensive intervals. 

We also have this in Scripture. Luke and Acts are about the same length, but Acts covers a much longer span of time. Although Genesis is just one book, it covers a far longer span of time than Exodus-Deuteronomy combined (even if we omit the legal material). 

iii) And that's historical narrative. In fictional narrative or historical fiction, the chronology of the plot follows dramatic logic rather than an actual historical order of events. 

iv) Allegory is a subgenre. The plot that may in some sense parallel reality, but the correspondence isn't a mirror image of reality. 

v) Back to historical narrative, consider what's involved in writing a history of WWII. You have to write about developing events in England, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Japan, North Africa, the USA, &c. So a historian will have to write about a certain interval of time in one country, then back up and write about an interval of time in another country, because there are so many parallel as well as intersecting events and developments. A historian sometimes has to back up to go forward. To pick up where he left off as he narrates the evolution and intersection of events in each major country that figured in the war. 

And if we think Revelation is about world history, will it be any less complex?

Neo-Apollinarian Christology

I'd like to comment in more detail on the neo-Apollinarian Christology of J. P. Moreland and W. L. Craig, which they present in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (IVP, 2003).

A few preliminary comments:

i) When I classify a position as "heretical," I'm not using ancient church councils as my standard of comparison. I'm Protestant. 

I don't object in principle to church bodies declaring certain propositions to be heretical. Indeed, that's a duty of the church. However, it's not an official declaration that makes it heretical. Rather, it's because certain propositions are heretical that a corporate declaration is merited.

A basic problem with making the heretical classification contingent on an "official" declaration is that, by that logic, Arianism wouldn't be heretical unless, say, an ancient church council condemned it as heretical. 

ii) Regarding orthodox Christology, the basic duty of Christians is to affirm the constituent elements of Christology presented in the NT, and avoid beliefs or formulations that explicitly or implicitly deny one or more constituent elements. Basically, to affirm the full humanity and the full divinity of Jesus.

If they have a muddled view of how those interrelate, that's understandable.

iii) Some Christians have a higher responsibility to avoid basic doctrinal error (Cf. Lk 12:36; Heb 13:17). I'm not suggesting that Craig and Moreland are hellbound. But their position is a pretty straightforward denial of the Incarnation, despite their efforts to finesse it. 

iv) To briefly state my own position, I think the Incarnation has an ineluctable element of mystery. That's in part because God is somewhat mysterious. God's mind is infinite, our minds are finite. God's mode of subsistence is categorically different from ours.

This doesn't mean we can have no true understanding of God, but God surpasses complete understanding.

By the same token, a divine incarnation is unparalleled in human experience. That's not something we can grasp from the inside out. So there's an element of mystery to that as well.

However, we have some understanding of the constituent elements. We have some understanding of the divine nature. Divine attributes. That's knowledge by description. And we understand human nature firsthand. That's knowledge by acquaintance.  

Moreover, we can also use analogies to gain some understanding of the hypostatic union. 

v) To be truly divine, Jesus must have all the divine attributes. To be truly human, Jesus must have a human body as well as human psychology. Of course, his mindset isn't confined to human psychology. It's more complex. His mindset includes divine psychology.

vi) I don't view the hypostatic union as a pipeline that pipes divine properties into the human nature or human properties into the divine nature. The Incarnation doesn't humanize God or divinize human nature. These remain what they are, in their distinct integrity. There's no intermingling of divine and human properties. They don't leak into each other and blend into each other, like mixing red and yellow to produce orange. The Incarnation doesn't change God. 

There's an asymmetry in the relation. In the hypostatic union, the divine nature affects the human nature, but the human nature does not affect the divine nature. The divine nature remains in control. 

Craig and Moreland say:

In the Incarnation–at least during his state of humiliation–the Logos allowed only those facets of his person to be part of Christ's waking consciousness which were compatible with typical human experience, while the bulk of his knowledge and other cognitive perfections like an iceberg beneath the water's surface, lay submerged in his subconsciousness (ibid. 611).

A basic problem with that model is that many times in the Gospels, Jesus exhibits a distinctly divine awareness. Indeed, that's one line of evidence for the deity of Christ. 

…the Logos contained perfect human personhood archetypically in his own nature. The result was that in assuming a hominid body the Logos brought to Christ's animal nature just those properties that would serve to make it a complete human nature…Such an interpretation of the Incarnation draws strong support from the doctrine of man created in the image of God…in being persons, [humans] uniquely reflect God's nature. God himself is personal, and inasmuch as we are persons we resemble him. Thus God already possesses the properties sufficient for human personhood even prior to the Incarnation, lacking only corporality. The Logos already possessed in his reincarnate state all the properties necessary for being a human self (ibid. 608-09).

Several basic problems with their argument:

i) There's the use of Aristotelian and evolutionary categories (animal nature, hominid body). That's not something they can validly prooftexts from the Biblical imago Dei. 

ii) But more deeply problematic is how they define the imago Dei. They just assume that the imago Dei stands for the psychological properties that make humans human. But Craig and Moreland don't even attempt to offer any exegetical justification for that crucial assumption. And this is in the tradition of Christian philosophers and theologians who use the imago Dei as a cipher for whatever they deem distinguishes humans from animals, such as reason. But that's not an exegetical conclusion. 

Likewise, to say God is personal and we are personal, therefore the imago Dei mirros divine personhood is not a valid inference from what Scripture says about the imago Dei. Rather, they begin by stipulating some communicable attributes, then ascribe that to the imago Dei. But they haven't begun to demonstrate that that's the concept of the imago Dei in the context of Scripture. 

iii) The closest thing to that is Eph 4:24 & Col 3:10. But it isn't clear that Eph 4:24 denotes moral properties rather than moral ascriptions (i.e. imputed righteousness). And even if Eph 4:24 refers to actual virtues, those aren't innate moral properties, but acquired moral properties, via sanctification. 

Regarding Col 3:10, although knowledge is an intellectual property, that's hardly exhaustive of human psychology. What about emotions?

Moreover, Col 3:10 isn't referring to innate psychological properties, but acquired knowledge via the historical revelation of the Gospel (cf. 2:2). That's not given in the imago Dei. Rather, that's historical knowledge. 

iv) There's more to human psychology than possession of certain psychological properties. There's vulnerability to psychological harm. How we experience those properties in a real-world setting. Take fear. Or pain. Or depression.

Or something as simple as taste. When Jesus eats fish, does the divine nature taste fish? No. The brain or soul tastes fish. The embodied soul tastes fish. 

The divine nature can't experience human sensation via human sensation. That would change and humanize God. Even if God knows what pain feels like, that's not in virtue of the hypostatic union. God has a divine mode of knowledge. 

Even if (ex hypothesi) the divine nature of Christ had human psychological properties, that's hardly enough to confer a human viewpoint or mindset. If the divine nature of Christ can't be affected by his surroundings, if hurting the body doesn't hurt his divine mind, then he doesn't have a comparable psychological experience. It isn't just a question of having certain psychological properties, but what one is able to experience through those properties. Take televised warfare. You can see the carnage, but you can't be harmed by what you see. It poses no threat to you. You don't feel the gunshot wound. 

v) Another problem is how Craig and Moreland are able to partition the psychology of Jesus from the Father and the Spirit if his "soul" just is the Son. If it's his divine nature that experiences human emotion, the divine nature is common property of the three persons. So how is that compartmentalized? How do Craig and Moreland avoid patripassianism?. They can't just invoke mystery willy nilly. There are certain conditions that warrant mystery. If they withdraw a necessary condition, then they're stuck with the straightforward implications of their position. 

The Enfield Poltergeist: General Skepticism (Part 1)

(You can read the first part of this series here.)

On a May 28, 1999 BBC radio program, Richard Wiseman remarked that most criticism of the Enfield case boils down to saying that the girls in the home where the poltergeist activity occurred, Janet and Margaret Hodgson, were playing tricks. (Start listening around 11:30 in the audio here.) In the time since Wiseman made those comments, Enfield skepticism hasn't changed much. For some recent examples of skeptics attributing the phenomena to cheating by the Hodgson girls, see here, here, and here.

There were five people in the Hodgson family, a mother, Peggy, and her four children: Margaret (age 13), Janet (age 11), Johnny (age 10), and Billy (age 7). Why do skeptics focus on the two girls?

Billy was too young, doesn't seem to have been the sort of person who would do what skeptics are alleging, and was never caught faking anything, as far as I know. Johnny was a few years older, but he also doesn't seem like somebody who would have done the faking in question, he was often away at boarding school when the events occurred, I don't think he was ever caught playing any tricks, and he died of cancer in 1981 without ever renouncing the family's claims about what they experienced. Peggy, the mother, died in 2003, and she never retracted her claims about the poltergeist. (You can watch a video of Maurice Grosse interviewing Peggy and Margaret Hodgson several years before Peggy's death here.) In one of the documentaries I linked in my first post, the SPR's Mary Rose Barrington refers to how impressed she was by Peggy (see here until 1:04:50). Guy Playfair writes:

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Legitimacy of Miracles

I. Exposition

I'm going to review Robert Larmer's The Legitimacy of Miracles (Lexington Books, 2014). Larmer is a Canadian Christian philosopher whose area of specialization includes the philosophy of miracles. He's published books and articles on the subject since 1983. The Legitimacy of Miracle is the culmination of 40+ years of research and reflection. This may be his magnum opus on the topic. Incidentally, Larmer has forthcoming book entitled Hume's Muddled Mess. Larmer is also developed a website. Stay tuned!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Papists or Thomists?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, actually, basic Catholic ecclesiology.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait, why do you care, again?

So now you're trying to deflect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm reposting some comments I made on Facebook:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What The Enfield Poltergeist Tells Us About Skeptics

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 20, 2017

McGrew interview

The rightful heir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A while back, William Lane Craig said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

human body+human (incorporeal) soul+divine Son

What's presuppositionalism?

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

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

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

1. TAG

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

2. The necessity of TAG

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

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

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

3. Reductio ad absurdum 

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

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

4. Divine incomprehensibility 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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