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Monday, December 12, 2005

The (non-) Emergent (or non-) Church?

D.A. Carson has as good but critical introduction to the emergent church movement as you can find on the web so far.

(Copied from ABC) Here is my own take on this. The assumption that seems to be put forth by the emergent church is that we are shifting from a modernist culture to a post modernist culture and therefore we need to shift from a modernist church to a postmodernist church. The perception of a cultural shift is the main grounds for altering not only the practice of the church but the formulation and presentation of doctrine as part of that practice. But this assumption is open to evaluation.

My own assessment is that the evidence that the culture is shifting from one paradigm to another is largely false and may even be wishful thinking on the part of certain evangelicals. If one is relying on high culture in the USA (the Big City-Big University-Big Media complex) to be the bellweather for cultural change, there is no real evidence for any substantial change in the basic mindset of that high culture since the pre-twentieth century inductrial age. The fact is that such culture has gotten more "conservative" and more effcient in globalizing itself and there is no logical end to its bootstrapping. The new boss is the same as the old boss.

Rather than think of pomo as the response and reaction to mo, I find that it makes better sense to distinguish between what I call "Hard Modernism" (HM) and "Soft Modernism" (SM) and also between "Hard Postmodernism" (HP) and "Soft Postmodernism" (SP). Modernism emphasizes disciplines of research (complexly structured skills with measurable performance, Gessellschaften), such as (paradigmaticly) the natural sciences, ideal frameworks (math and logic), and conventional social structures (social psychology, economics, technology, and contracts). Postmodernism emphasizes fields of research (contiguously related topics of study approached open endedly and more informally, Geimenschaften), such as culture, art, anthropolgy, religion, material culture, subjectivity, etc. "Hard" or "soft" refers to the radicalness of the application of the program and more specificly to the two possible responses to scepticism within and among the disciplines. The Hard approach embraces scepticism and confines meaningful discourse to whatever may be trivially true, incorrigibly known, or empirically verified. The Soft approach, while admittedly indicating that it cannot refute scepticism adopts the policy of rebuting and resisting it and preserves in its discourse what the Hard side discounts. In practice this distinction can be vague but not so much so that it cannot be relevent and useful, I think.

Therefore HM is reductionistic about science and all other disciplines. Only those things that can receive empirically verifiable formulation are true and whatever else is true is only true because it can be exactly paraphrased by something that is verifiable. Consequently except fro some narrow formal principles (if even those) ordinary discourse, morality, first person psychology, and religion are all something like pure fiction. Further, HP is relativistic and diverse, not only in the sense that there are diverse cultures but even in the sense that diversity and intranslatibility are created with every novel point of view anyone anywhere takes so that there is no personal identity over time since all of your current thoughts must be seen as radicaly equivocal to any of your previous thoughts. It also accepts that there is no truth value that can be assigned to these perspectives and that they are mere constructs after all. As you can see, in spite of the squabbles between them HP presupposes HM and is the implication of it to human experience.

On the other hand, SM returns to the phenomena and ordinary language and is aware of all the discrepancies between the naturalistic account of the world and the appearance of the world. While acknowledging the appearance/reality distinction, they also recognize the need for an adequate account of the world to answer all the relevent questions experience raises. SM is not automaticly hostile to experience or ordinary language and finds analogies to scientific ways of knowing to other ways of knowing (like aesthetic, moral, or religious experience) such that they stand or fall together. SP recognizes that there are other functions of reason besides scientific ones and that there are diverse systems of values, but that there is no reason to suppose that this makes all candidates for a function of reason or a system of value acceptible or intranslatable and that cross cultural moral criticism is possible. Further to say that there are a plurality of diverse and legitimate values is not to say that there are no objective values. There is more than one way things could be good. There is nothing necessarily that makes SM at any way incompatible with SP.

So my contention is that the Hard/Soft distinction is more relevnt than the modern/postmodern distinction. And my further contention is that if we have to ask what respect traditional evangelicalism (the evangelical protestant conservative movement of the 19th and 20th centuries in Britian and the USA as well as elsewhere) is a modernist movement, the answer seems clearly to be that by and large it was a movement of SM, both in Jonathan Edwards adoption of a system of thought like Berkeley's, in the dependence on the Old Reformed Scholastics, in Butler's reply to the deists, and the over all commitment of North American theology on the Scottish Common Sense Tradition and its resistance to Humean scepticism, as well as for the reason that a HM "version" of evangelicalism would be an oxymoron. Capitulation to HM gives you the Liberalism of the mainline churches. It's in this light that I think questions of the "modernism" involved in Warfield's doctrine of inerrancy should be understood.

Turning to the emergent church, we can ask a similar question with respect to postmodernism. And the problem is that the movement is so new that we have no clear idea if the attention to the difference between Hard and Soft is being given suffcient weight. Some things some of the leaders say seem to be reasonable adoption of SP such as their embracing of the work of Alistair MacIntyre. But as Basil Mitchell points out, MacIntyre is working out the thesis defended by C.S. Lewis in "the Abolition of Man", not known to be a tract for pomo. So such an enbrace seems hardly a radical shift implied by the word "emergent". On the other hand, where the emergent church seems to be its most "faddish" is in its "using relativism to balance out absolutism" and similar gestures. Here we don't know what is being accepted and what is being rejected.

We can at least say this, either the emergent church movement is an expression of HP or SP (or at least is heading toward the embracing of one or the other). If it enbraces HP, it is truly radical but also something other than evangelical Christianity. Rather than augmenting the ability of Chritianity to have a witness in contemporary society, it winds up embracing the absolute impossibility of such a witness even between members in the association called "church". But if it is moving in an SP direction, then it is embracing what may prove to be worthwhile features of contempory thought to faciliate its witness but these same features hardly put it at odds with traditional evangelicalism. The better view would be to argue how catholic traditional evangelicalism is to be able to enbrace these more reasonable currents of thought without giving up its original features (in the spirit of traditonal evangelical theologian, James Orr). But then its claim to be "radically emergent" is really empty. There is nothing Copernican or Galilean going on here. The emerging church movement has to decide whether its going not be emergent or not be the church.

However, if the emergent church is more tempered that some of the rhetoric, all it could be saying is that the church is having to make a shift in emphasis on some themes (say the SM themes) to an emphasis on other themes (say the SP themes). This is a change of thema which while not a Copernican shift is still fairly consistent with cultural shifts that the church has adopted in the past over time as it carried out its missionary program. But if the church changes its emphasis this way, its more like not because the culture is becoming morepost modern but that our part of western culture is remaining adamantly modernistic, as in HM, and forcing the church to adopt SP themes in order to oppose principle for principle. That is, the church is defending say a pluralistic account of moral values precisely to oppose the view that there is only one way the world is, the reductionist way. It may also be adopting a reasonable person standard of warrant pricely to oppose that restriction of legitmate certainty to either deductive or quantifiable inductive standards. In doing so and in claiming that "we are all postmodernists now" the church is appealing to the authority of an existing but non-expert culture. But against the program of HM, the ordinary average person on the street looks more SP-ish anyway, and this may be what is being construed as a "cultural movement toward postmodernism".

If the emergent church movement were in Europe rather than the USA, one expects that it would lose its motivation altogether, because Europe is adamantly unreconstructed HP, and the church remains looking like SM in contrast to it. Which means that church continues to maintain the image of Victorian Evangelical "fundamentalism". The emergent church may not be a strategy that makes sense in all parts of Western culture, on this less radical and more defensible view of it.

So at best, the emergent church, rather than picking out a Coperincan revoltion may just be marking a fairly typical sea change in the church in light of its history and geography. And these changes are often worthwhile.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Grab your dice!

Its not that hard to find free games on the net (see link). I tend to be fascinated with RPG rules systems so I like to explore the mechanics. But I decided to go ahead and link the free RPGs that I've found with some real street cred (see sidebar), hopefully to make it easier for people to act on the mood of trying to organize a game with few resources. Most of the games can support most any genre and they are all well supported themselves. "Brickquest" is specific but is designed to help use something around the house for miniture gaming. The systems span the continuum of play complexity. Some just require six-sided dice.

Paul Czege's "Nicotine Girls" is highly reviewed and brilliant. Czege's work is valuable for getting you to rethink the possibilities of RPG design. Be sure to look at his other work.

What's your excuse now? Grab some dice and play!

Monday, November 28, 2005

David Hume: Mysterion?

The famous Scottish Skeptic David Hume, starting with the fundamental principles of Brittish Empiricism in the tradition of Locke and Berkeley, seems to undermine many of the motivations for the modern turn in philosophy, one of which is to provide a philosophical rational for science by following science as a model for philosophical justification. He seems to show that rather than succeeding at this, Brittish philosophy in principle cannot provide any warrant for science or common sense. But to relieve ourselves of this, he says "Nature" leads us where wisdom fails us and appeals to "custom" to account for our continued efforts at scientific induction and other things, including morality and religion.

It is hard for me to understand what he is doing here. Surely after sustaining such crititicism on Berkeleyan though for postulating "spirit" as the fundamental substance and saying that this is as unmotivated empirically as Locke's substratum -- his "something I know not what", such an appeal to "nature" is also unmotivated. What could we really say about nature and custom now when we couldn't say anything before?

This is especially puzzling when he talks about society as being something determined by a kind of evolutionary selection process. He seems to prefer the views of his fellow Scot Adam Smith who gives an evolutionary account based on natural egoism; socially benefiting institutions supervene of self-interested activities by the "invisible hand" of natural economic selection. But what this invisible hand is is not clear. Supposedly we might assume that the process refered to by the phrase 'invisible hand" is a completely socially natural process. On this view, Smith's account is just an extension of Hobbesian materialism and mechanism. We will have to say that apparently altruistic behavior is ultimately to be explained in terms of natural survival and self-regard.

But if that's right, it seems Hume is guilty of a kind of "bait and switch", appealing to skepticism to remove from the table views he does not like such as Berkeleyan Theism, in order to appeal to "nature" to re-introduce views he likes such as Hobbesian social materialism. But then Hume would be guilty of a double standard in his appealing to a skepticism which rules out both equally while supposedly appealing to one account of nature as opposed to another for reasons that skepticism is just not applied to. But if that is the case, Berkeley is at least prima facie legitimate in offering his own reasons for his preferences (a point that I think is not lost on Berkeley and is precisely what he does do in his three dialogues).

But what if Adam Smith is not offering a strictly Hobbesian account (see link) but simply asserting that there are both survival oriented but also genuinely self-disinterested motives in human nature but that both happened products of natural evolution, then human altruism appears mysterious against any sort of Hobbesian account. The view would be that "evolution" is just a name for the "that whatever it is" that produces the various moral affections in humans, some of which are egoistic and some of which are not. If that is the case, then all the method does is document what we do in fact place our affections on withou offering any prefered way of dealing with the paradoxes. But this is just to take such affection with equal seriousness. If this is what Hume is appropriating in his account of nature, Hume seems to be a kind of 18th century counterpart to those "mysterions" in contemporary philosophy that find reductionistic accounts of human nature to materialist sources inadequate but find nothing yet to replace them with.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A Night at the Roddenberry

Not my generation on either source but I know a good joke when I see one. Thanks to Aaron Williams for pointing this out.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Dilbert on ID

I will join the many recommending Scott Adam's comments of Intelligent Design Theory. See the link to his blog.

I think that Mr. Adams restrictions on who should count as a credible authority on ID are too strong. As to the criterion that science must not be based on pre-conceived notions, this seems to elliminate a lot of good science. Crick and Watson (according to Watson's account, "The Double Helix") were lead directly to the DNA model from the data because they had the pre-conceived notion that "nature is beautiful", that it is harmonious, symetrical, resonant, or whatever depending on the aspect of nature you were studying. In general, to the extent that scientists don't know they have only intuitive pre-conceptions to guide them in research and part of being an experienced scientist is aquiring good jusgement about what pre-conceptions to go with. So one can be a good authority in science and be guided by pre-conceptions. Concerning the criterion that a credible authority will not have any career or financial interests involved, it is difficult to imagine that there could be a good scientist in who we would invest trust in her authority if she was not fully employed in the work of science by a professional institution of research. We are not likely to listen to or even hear from the isolated bayou pond researcher who pays for his livelyhood through aligator poaching and does his research on the side, no matter how good he is. Consequently, any prima facie candidate for authoratative opnions is ruled out by his career and financial connections.

One expects that he needs to have such a strong criterion because it has to be strong enough to eliminate attaching credibility to ID scientists who are as much employed research professionals with different but educated pre-conceptions as those scientists who aren't. He says that he does not deny that there is knock down evidence for blind evolution, just that there are reliable competent people who can identify this evidence for him. he might say the same thing about the existence of knockdown evidence for ID theory. One wonders what he would say about Dr. David Berlinski who wrote a very competent and "Dilbert friendly" book, A Tour of the Calculus, and who also, in an article for Commentary magazine, wrote that he could not even find probable evidence for either one much less knockdown evidence.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Yes, Yoko, there is an Armitage!

WARNING! This post contains spoilers for the anime films "Armitage III: Poly-Matrix" and "Armitage: Dual-Matrix". These films contain strong language, some nudity, sexual references, violent images, and continuity problems and are not recommended for everyone.

I am currently going through a phase where it seems to me that there are anime productions that live somewhat up to their promised potential. More specificly, I can't seem to get enough stuff related to the anime hit films in the "Armitage" storyline. I was thrown off of course because of ignorance and picked up "Dual Matrix" first, mostly because it gets a higher profile at my FLGS, but also because "Armitage III" sounds like a sequal. (Of course, I couldn't help but wonder what happened to the availability of "Armitage II".) Both films, and epecially the second film ("Dual Matrix") deserve high praise for the outstanding production values, not only in the art and story development but also in the voice talent casting for Anglophonic audiences (thank you, thank you, thank you) and in the outstanding incidental music in both films.

But more importantly than that, the storyline and depiction were valuable to me both philosophically and religiously, which is what I want to focus on. In general, anime has always fascinated me in its consitent attempt to try to picture the humane and mystical into the space of science and technology -- and here we have a fine example of that conceptually. What I want to do is summarize the plot in both films and then reflect on it from a philosophical point of view.

In the near future, the Earth has carried out a more or less successful colonization of Mars but part of what has made this reasonably possible is the development of robot technology. However, this has led to the formation of new frontiers of crime. Ross Sylabus is a detective from the Chicago police force who transfers to the Mars police department after his partner is killed by an assassin robot. In general the proliferation of robots in society, ones which closely resemble humans and mainly serve in service capacities, are becoming quite controversal in general, and especially so in the case of Earth/Mars political and economic relations. But Sylabus is especially pained by robots because of the death of his partner. Mars PD is less orthodox than Earth police and he is assigned a partner, a feisty, petite, but aggressive women detecteve named Naomi Armitage, who tends to shoot first and ask questions later.

Ross's role in the MPD is to investigate crimes involving technology. No sooner does he get there but he becomes involved neck deep in a series of altercations involving the shooting of robots. But these robots are not standard service robots (called 'Seconds' to indicate the series of robots they are the members of). These robot terminations are of robots that have effectively assimulated themselves into society so as to be indistinguishable from humans. They tend to function with complete autonomy and to occupy creative roles such as artists, writers, and musicians. Apart from the damage of being shot, they were assumed to be normal members of the human race. In fact, the purpose of the shootings seems to be to expose their presence and infiltration into human society. Another disturbing fact is that they seem to be all female. This series of robots (called 'Thirds') is off the books and seems to be an illegal underground production line to the police. Since these altercations involve terminating robots, it is not clear that there is even being a crime committed, even though it seems like the police are hunting a serial killer.

Ross is warned that there is no room for sympathy with robots on Mars, since many Martians are struggling with the loss of jobs due to the availability of robots as cheap labor. Ross is already with them based on his own experience. But he eventually discovers that his partner Armitage is also a Third. At first it seemed that she was a robot rights sympathisizer, but her position becomes more clear after getting shot up going against the assassin. "I feel like some grotesque puppet. I can walk and talk and I can laugh and I can cry. But I'm only a monsterous doll!" Strikingly, Armitage is filled with shame at her true nature, she sees herself as a mere instrument though she tries to hide this from everyone. But the police department is beginning to suspect her connection to the Thirds. Ross finds himself faced with the dilemma of whether to help Armitage solve the mystery of what she is for or to do his duty to help bring her into police custody. When Armitage asks why he has decided to help her and become a rogue cop, Ross becomes angry and frustrated. "'Why? How come? You sound like a child. There is no reason at all!" Ross seems frustrated by his inability to make clear his motivations for risking so much in order to help her.

Armitage discovers that the government of Mars originally designed the Thirds as assassins for military use and that the shootist is actually one of many of these series of robots. But the series agenda was changed to deal with the Martian interest to obtain a political identity distinct from Earth. Since the population of Mars was in remission after colonization, the Thirds were developed to be robots that could bear live human children and consequently were designed to possess artficial intelligence, emotional responsiveness, and creative autonomy as a human woman (a variation of the 'Mars needs women' plotline). But in a change of policy, the Mars government abandoned the repopulation project in order to have a more stable reunion with Earth and in order for this to be acceptible to Earth government, Mars had to terminate its aspirations of autonomy and the project of the thirds. This move is what was in progress when the assassin robots were activated to kill and expose the presence of Thirds in society.

Ross is faced with the further dilemma now of becoming a fugative from Martian justice and defend Armitage's life from the now uniform will on all levels to terminate her. At this point, in the story Ross has been so badly damaged in the line of duty that more and more of his body has been replaced with cybernetic parts so that the line between him and Armitage becomes more and more blurry. He finally decides to give up everything and assaults the Martian military in order to go into hiding with Armitage and the two become husband and wife. According to Ross, "I know a true heart when I've met one."

In the second film, "Dual Matrix", time has passed and the two have successfally altered their identities and assumed a non-descript place in Martian society. In this period, Armitage has given birth to a daughter, now four years old named Roko, but they have labored to keep Armitage's nature as a robot a secret from her so that to her Armitage is like any human mom. Unfortunately, an illegal attempt to ressurrect the project of developing the Thirds brings Armitage back into her investigative work in behalf of new Thirds. Further, a successful attempt to thwart a terrorist attack on the company that Ross is serving as a security guard brings Ross and his family out in the open to interested parties and forces him to serve the cause of robot rights. The villian who is responsible for both reviving and then terminating the new Thirds project is trying to corner the market and discover the secret of producing robots that procreate. He seems to assume that the humans born to such will be human but be complete tools, instances of Aristotle's natural slaves. But all of his attempts to discover the secret of reproduction fail since even though coming to possess full details on both Armitage's hardware and software, he can find nothing in them that will show him how to produce a child. Armitage's explanation of the mystery does nothing to clarify it; "Being able to bear a child takes more than just a female form. The secret is of child bearing is in her heart!" But the villian is unconvinced; "The answer is in the software. I know that's it."

He captures Yoko and holds her hostage, forcing her parents to attempt to rescue her from his own high tech weapons and robots. The family makes an attempt to escape but not before the damage done to Armitage exposes to her daughter her robotic systems through her flesh. At that point the daughter (at four) is put in the same position Ross Sylabus was in years earlier, faced with the dilemma of whether to accept her mother knowing that she is a robot. At this point the little girl clings to her father and refuses to talk to her mother/that robot, confused and frightened. In her eyes, Armitage rediscovers the sense of shame of what she is again, this time not in the eyes of society in general but in the eyes of her precious daughter and fears that she has lost her forever even if they escape. It takes a long time but Armitage's defense of her family to the point of near self-sacrifice and self-destruction finally draws out the child who begs her mommy to stop because if she keeps going on she will die. In the end, the villian is exposed and the family escapes back to Mars, to a planet seeing a brand new day. The family is now fully intergrated and fully established in Martian society like a typical human family but with the full consent and understanding of all of its members. Armitage is now completely identified as human and free. (But we are not allowed to just leave things there without being further disturbed. Be sure to catch the redivus at the end of the credits.)

In the movie-world, the characters including Armitage herself, are faced with the dilemma of deiciding what Armitage is. Everyone who looks at her sees to things simultaneously; (1) a creative and autonomous agent with concerns and values and the feelings and emotions that go with them and with the capacity to reason, to be aware, and form intentions to think about things and more particularly about people, and (2) a machine whose componantry can be completely described and analyzed with precision, an artifical apparatus, an instrument or tool. The movies make it clear that the assumption that Armitage is nothing but a machine is not safe no matter how well we understand her make-up. Is Armitage just the machine or is she a soul within the machine? This point is underscored in several ways, in the larger debate about robot rights that forms the cultural backdrop, in the personal dilemmas that confront the human characters who know her personally, and in the symbol of childbearing as an evidence of life that cannot be cashed out from the software. The basic dilemma that all face is whether Armitage should be treated as a mere means as the Seconds are and as we take it that any robot would and should be or should Armitage be treated as an end in herself. She especially needs to know that Ross will perfect in his own attitude and with full awareness the vision of Naomi as an end in the relation of covenantal partner love. What will the man do when he hears, "Oh Ross, I love you so much!"?

The basic problem is, even given what we know about Armitage in the hard science, we are confronted with a conflict of metaphysical visions about her, that these visions underlie the moral dilemma about how to treat her, and that this choice is not one that can be made abstractly since she herself plays a role in the decision by our characters always being in communication and relationship with her. Once the decision is made and one makes a commitment, one can begin to cultivate the relationship; the commitment opens up communication and interaction, especially in the case of Yoko for whom the decision to accept her mother as her mother is simutaneously expressed in her resuming commincation with her to plead with her to stop. Were Ross and Yoko (especially Ross of course) rational in the fictional future world to wholey commit 'heart and soul' to the autonomous agency and personal devotion of Armitage, which is to ask if they were rational to accept the existence of Armitage as something other than a mere machine? The decision called for was one of total commitment on metaphysically desputable premises and yet the decision carried with it finally kind of intelligible certainty as to what to do. Is it really the cas that no explicit reason counts as having "no reason at all"?

But this dilemma in the Armitage world is directly analogous to our real situation with each other. It is not possible for us to take each other seriously as mere machines but that is the picture that science puts forward as most credible -- that there is waiting some complete description of human nature along Hobbesian materialist lines. But if we must pause at the idea of a robot being nothing but a machine when exhibiting such characteristic traits of personal agency we must also pause at the same phenomena with regard to each other. The question Ross faces as to whether to take Armitage to wife is faced in a similar way to any of us taking anyone as our spouse. This is made much weaker if the typical understanding of marriage is of the no-fault divorce type of contract, but this model fails to capture the profound need for personal devotion in the case of Ross and Armitage. The decison is as to whether we treat each other as ends (humans) rather than mere means (robots). I think that we have demonstrated that we have faced the dilemma and are committed to the existence of a world of 'non-natural' persons by our actions. Armitage is a way into metaphysics.

Finally, this not only applies to the issue of personhood but to the universe as a whole. Through an evolutionary account we seem to have a completely full potential description of the universe as a lucky machine. But the phenomenology of the universe may suggest something more if anything strikes us about its design and complex functionality or even the commitment to the existence of rational relational agents. If evolution were true there could be no geneuinely altruistic conduct by any person and we would have to treat appearances to the contrary as needing further explanation of their true selfish roots. But we are in no better position to deny the existence of love as we are to deny the existence of the lover. The question remains open and the sKeptical and suspicious appraoch remains rebuttable even though not refutable. We may make as deep a commitment to the existence of an agapistic theism if we were to discover one in history as we are to one another in marriage with full communication practices fully in place, such as prayer and worship. Thus, there is a philsophical approach to legitmate faith to which Armitage points, a way which shows that religious belief and practice need not be motivated by mere sentiment or convenience, a kind of "existential rationalism".

Friday, November 11, 2005

Troubles with Comments

A friend of mine indicated IRL with me that he was having a hard time leaving comments on the comment system. If you are finding it impossible to leave a comment, please leave a comment. Thanks.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

New Articles linked

Check out some of the added links to articles. Since I am working on a review of Namcy Pearcey's book, Total Truth, which in part tries to revive the presuppositionalist (in the inclusivistic and inductivistic sense of Dooyeweerd, Carnell, Henry, and Schaeffer, and not Van Til) approach to theology and apologetics that was characteristic of much of early to middle twentieth century British-American Evangelical thought, it is good to find some links trying to forward the neglected discussion (see the David Naugle links). It shows that evangelicals, departing from the supernaturalis vulgaris of 19th century Evangelical theology (and also demonstrating some of our typical "Johnny-come-a-generation-too-lately" behavior toward academic fads -- in this case Neo-Kantianism), had a prior claim to be contributing to the interest in Post-modernism of the non-hardcore and somewhat constructive sort.

Because of the great personal debt I owe to the life and ministry to the late Francis Schaeffer on the plus side, and because such an approach proved to be almost totally unworkable in an actual professional university enviroment of academic philosophy and religion on the minus side, I have a special interest in Pearcey's work. However, it seems to me that it's a case of many soldiers trying to siege a castle with an impressive looking wooden battering ram against a solid metal door, failing to make a dent and knocking themselves senseless in the process, staggereing around dazed for a significant length of time, and then finally coming to themselves asking "What was it that we were doing? Oh yes, we were taking this castle with this battering ram" completely oblivious to the results of their first try, and thus trying again.

Christians tend to miscalculate the current fashion for post-modernity as lightening of the standards of scepticism and a return to the situatedness of knowledge, and thus expect that since they also have a perspective, the Christian scholar will finally get a place at the table. But academic post-modernity is not essentially different from modernity in its foundational premises (dispite all the talk about "anti-foundationalism". One can see this in Neitzche's three senses of truth (1) "truth" means that everyone is necessarily commited to reductionistic and naturalistic account of the world, (2) therefore "truth" means that there is no truth about persons, art, morals,God, anything of the huamities sort, (3) therefore "truth" is only what we will with absolute intrepidity to be true in the areas just mentioned. Modernity focuses on (1), post-modernity on (3). They get into fights but it is fraternal warfare. There really is no dawning tolerance of a plurality of views. Post-modernity is as materialistic as modernity is. The gate-keepers remain vigilent against Christian softness on worldviews.

This is not completly true. People were suprised to find a genuinely Kierkegaardian element in Derrida (just as in the case of Wittgenstein's Tractatus 7) but he died before his membership in good standing could be revoked. But it is generally true enough that alert Christians graduating college are already being wisely made leary by experienced advisors to avoid no-win situations in higher academics. This is true enough that Alister McGraith is starting to suggest that Christians invest more in "organic scholarship", scholarship outside the usual institutions and accreditations. This works for Nancy Pearcy whose main educational institutions are Christian hot houses, to be sure very nice and prestigous ones in Christian circles, but hot houses all the same.

I want to give everyone another chance and not give up yet. There is always something I missed.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The 'Quirk' Problem

In my "keeping it real" post below, I raised some objections to a standard presentation of the sort of kalam cosmological argument at someone else's site. The argument has as a crucial premise that an actual infinite in time cannot exist. The premise is supported by refering to some standard paradoxes of infinity. But since we have a well worked out system of transfinite mathemetics, it seemed ridiculous now to say that we cannot conceive of such an actual infinite consistently.

However, at Peter Suber's educational site, he makes reference to a problem for transfinite math which he calls the 'quirk' problem. His presentation is so clear I won't add anything to it. Just see the link. This problem is a problem which suggests that transfinite math is inconsistent. So it seems that defenders of the kalam argument are not on bad ground by resisting objections based on the conceivability of an actual infinite.

If he's right, at least I'll be able to rebut demands to eat an aleph-null amount of crow.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Welcome to international visitors.

This blog has a device which indicates the parts of the world which recent visitors may hail from. At this time among the last 100 visits we have had guests from China, the Phillipines, Cyprus, Austria, Hungary, Brazil, Argentina, Britian, Jamaica, Australia, and the Carribean Islands. All though no doubt many of these are just "passing through" for all I know, it excites me to have any contact at all with folks from around the world. I honestly hope you find something useful to you here.

At this time, I am leading an adult study group on the history of the Christian Missionary Movement in the world. We are about to finish up the 19th century, the great missionary century for Protestant missions. We have already looked at the 16th century, the great missionary century of Jesuit missions and the day of great missionary expansion through Russia and into North America by the Orthodox church. We are taking a friendly approach to all the great Christian traditions and trying to learn from the mistakes of the past in order to form equitable mission strategy and practices. As a part of a congregation of a local church, we are trying to do our part as a sending organization to learn to think critically but act faithfully.

It is difficult on a format like this to demonstrate one's willingness to appreciate the local culture and positive goods each tribe of humanity has to offer. And I am especially handicaped by the usual American arrogance of knowing only English (I do know a little Spanish and Hebrew, but otherwise only Koine Greek). At least, anyone who has the skill to play on the internet partakes somewhat of its common salad bar style culture and that the skill requirement to enter into the Internet world is relatively low. Still, with the arrival of the Internet, the world is digitally divided into the "haves" and "have nots" -- large portions of the population of the world are without access to educational and employment opportunities. To reach out and form contacts with internationals via the Internet amounts still to a default "silk strategy". (I teach a course on the ethics of technology and cyberspace which is exceedingly helpful in raising moral sensetivity to the ethical concerns of the Internet as well as the ethical concerns of missions.)

Another problem with missions via internet is that true missionary activity and non-violent evangelism depends on being able to identify and stand shoulder to shoulder with the host culture in their own struggles as far as it is ethically possible to do so. Through patience and friendship and common cause, the host culture is in a position to appreciate a point of view through appreciating those who hold it. However, the Internet makes such identification systematically dificult. On the one hand, it involves constant tradeoffs between intimacy on the one hand and security on the other. One cannot risk disclosing oneself to another without simultaneously disclosing oneself to a million faceless and some even hostile contacts. A Christian's faith may lead him to make extraordinary risks but such risks should still be carefully calculated. One of the proven dangers of blogging is that one comes to know too much too fast about a person. Therefore, the important first step is to secure anonymity in the begining and release from that gradually through prudent disclosures.

But on the other hand, since it is so easy to inadvertantly or intentionally misrepresent oneself on the Internet, no one can think that they have a reliable picture of the character of the poster or blogger from their Internet presence. According to Aristotle, true friendship is based on the ability of each person to perceive the character and virtue of the other, but the remoteness of the representation of ourselves and the fact that such a representation is so much under our control rather than secured by fixed and reliable associations, makes all such presentations significantly ineffective. So even setting aside the common occurance of hypocracy by Christians, it may just as well be the case that you don't ever really get to meet true Christians on the 'net.

Still, it is possible to make too much of this. We feel confident in other print media that we can glean something of the character of the source. For example, we would not likely want to say that we know nothing of the real Dickens or the real Doestyevsky from reading their works. In a certain sense we are confronted with a dilemma of faith whenever we face the internet, the great disinformazia highway. It is a risk whether or not and to what extent we put any credit in material on the 'net. The dilemma of faith a 'net source is analogous to the dilemma of faith in Christ. Walker Percy described the gospel as being like a message in a bottle. By this he meant the Christianity was not knowledge in the scientific sense but more like news (evangelion = good news), more specificly like someone stranded on an island getting a message in a bottle that a ship is coming to rescue him. If a stranded person were to receive such a message, he would be faced with the dilemma of beliving it and getting his hopes up which would do him a lot of good by increasing his chances for survival, but at the same time risking the possibility that he might be wrong, that he might be believing something false, and that he will be disapointed later, or not believe the message, and thus not risk being in error but also remaining unhealthily discouraged about his prospects.

The Internet with all of its information/disinformation is one huge message in a bottle. The same medium brings us both treasures of useful information as well as piles of unmitigated rubbish. We make decisions almost tacitly about what to accept and what to reject on the internet. It would be interesting to compare our belief policies on different occasions to see if they are all consistent and whether there isn't a general set of criteria thatwe rely on to decide whether to accept what we read. How would reading the New Testament say be affected by that criteria?

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Gnu keeping it real on the web.

Dr. Steven Cowan, fellow Mississipian, was kind enough to reply to my objections to the Craig Kalam Argument's denial of an actual infinite in time. (It's my fondness for Leibniz, I promise.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Syracuse Comic Book Expo: Remarks

Your beloved Gnu was at our first really successful comic book convention in Syracuse NY. Syracuse has been trying to have such a gathering for a long time but this one finally pulled it off. Our town has become a real center for comic book and game hobbies especiall for upstate NY. A new store opened up just in time to participate in the weekends festivities. This convention was held in the newly restored local landmark, the Palace.

I proved to be a real comic addict and wound up staying until the closing of the tables. Unfortunately, I talked my friend into coming with me and it turned out to be a real waste of time and money for him. The fee was ten bucks which is not to terrible for a convention except that your basicly paying for the priviledge of spending more money. (Oh the money I spent!) But it was my birthday week so there's your rationale, right?

The best thing about the con was just being a trip down memory lane. I was more interested in recovering issues from past days about comic storylines that I really cared about at the time. I found some cheap old Marvel Amazing Adventures, featuring Killraven, a kind futuristic Sparticus who seeks to free human kind from the evil tyranny of the Martians. There was a run in recent history trying to ressurect the Kilraven line but seemed toi me to fail to get the vibe right. I also picked up Starlin's "Dreadstar and Company" run from the newbie Epic comics, even though I've already read that years ago. Also some "Howard the Duck" from Steve "born out of time comics-wise" Gerber. And also some Mike Baron titles; "Magnus", "Nexus", and the Badger story line where we finally meet "Larry".

I also got my money's worth in celebrity conversations. I got to speak with Scott Beatty ("Nightwing Year One") which was interesting since I manged to fit Kurt Busiek into the conversation. But the highlight was certainly getting to shake the hand of Russell Streiner and meet John Russo who both have producer and screenwriter credit for Romero's "Night of the Living Dead". Mr. Streiner also played "Johnny" the first casuality of the zombie attack at the begining of the movie but who still manages to return to take his girlfriend out for dinner. Finally, I met a guy who claimed that he knew Mike Baron before he began to write comics. he told me that one day they were both in an office together and Mike said, "The comics they put out these days are crap. They should put out something that is more intelligent." And the guy said, "If that's what you think, then you should go out there and write your own comics". And Mike said, "Alright, I will!". I shook the guy's hand. Just in case he was telling the truth, we owe him a huge debt.

I also spoke with the wife of the individual who arranged the whole thing. They were not a local shop owner, just a couple with a huge stack of comic books in their garage that her husband faithfully collected over the years and who do most of their comic trade on-line. Thank you for your support of the hobby in Syracuse.

Finally, I got to talk with the owner and operator of the local SRS (formerly Sub Rosa) productions, a local film company that does trade in the distribution of tons of B-movie hack and slash films but also makes some of his own original movies through the company right here in town. A lot of this work is not necessarily of any redeeming value, some of it was straight up porn, but I was interested in local enterprises and he cast a very useful perspective on the scene. I picked up a disc for one of his original pictures that he filmed here and told me was aimed at a higher standard of entertainment than some of his other works.

Except for the new store, every shop with which I was already aquainted with had a stand at the con, and also just some people dealing outr of their garage. There were suprisingly few costumes. I wore my "Dr. Doom" tie. I also picked up some very cheap copies of Gary Gygax material.

Was it fun? Well, it was nostalgic, enticing, and distracting, but not necessarily the full joi de vie. It was a lot of beat up old guys like me with fond ten-year old memories we rarely take out and l;ook at. I think it was more the male fellowship over our geekyness that was working for me.

The role of personal commitments in moral dilemmas

I was explaining my cirriculum to my good friend and supervisor and was suprised by his apparently alarmed reaction. In turns he was wondering out loud whether I was advocating something like relativism, dogmatizing my students, or not teaching only possibilities without subtlty. I was suprised at his reaction which forced me to want to say more clearly what I wanted to say. He must of thought I turned into Richard Rorty. I was at a loss to know why he had such a bad take on my presentation.

Here goes. There are cases where we seem to confront situations where our moral convictions come into conflict forcing us to reflect more deeply on our moral reasoning and beliefs. One direction that often proves helpful when there does not appear to be a false dilemma or a lack of information relevent to the case is to examine and clarify our moral concepts. It is helpful here to have an understanding of various moral theories -- utilitarianism, deontology, justics as fairness, virtue ethics -- in order to understands better the moral terms and their possible exsception cases.

Now suppose that even after doing all that you still have conflicts remaining. This is probably because the competing alternatives represent incommensurable goods that cannot be both satisfied under the conditions of the choice being made. In such a case the choice is going to come down to us or even me and what we or I think is personally important. This presupposes that we or I have a set of personal commitments -- to self, certain others, certain communities, or ideals, or religious commentments -- that guide me in my choices. But then here is an argument, in order to be fully equiped to deal with situation of moral dilemmas, we ought to have some personal commitments, some vision of the good life.

Of course, this argument assumes that such cases are possible in the first place but it seems to me that one might be impressed about how common such cases really are even though most cases can be handled without resorting to personal commitments just by appealing to whatever other moral framework is most appropriate. Consider the following textbook case:

An engineer is invited to work with a company that is developing groundbreaking surface to ground automated tracking. It is a great opportunity for the engineer to be on the ground floor of cutting edge research, not to mention the extra money will make it more easy to meet his financial obligations. However, the technology is being developed for a missle guidance system. What should the engineer do? It is not clear that other moral theories will be of enough help to him once one goes into the details.

If the engineer is a pacifist, he certainly will refuse the option. But if the engineer is a "political realist" who favors developing the best national defence, he may be inclined to accept the offer. But neither decision seems to be right while the other is wrong. The realist cannot complain that the pacifist is morally warped for desiring a world without war and advocating universal disarmament, nor can the pacifist complain that realist is wrong to want the means of self-defense from possible attacks from others. They both express morally approbationary views. But one is going to have to decide based on their own beliefs and values.

Both options respect the libertarian rights and actual liberty duties of society. Both views have a pro-attitude to respect for their obligations to society whether properly moral, legal, or contractual. Both have varios virtues characteristicly related to them. But they both cannot be co-realized.

Such personal commitments are not mere desires but intelligible and sustained choices. They are not mere private sentiment but serve as a basis for the formation of communities or at least parties. And they both express good will and appeal to objective goods. So my view is not saying that all personal commitments are acceptible, only those that exhibit certain good making features: they have to be rational preferences that express a systematicly ordered set of values that are consistent with basic duties, rights, and fairness to others and with respect for keeping promises, etc.

Such a personal commitment is necessary in order for moral people to act as autonomous rational agents in cases of moral indecision where common frameworks prove insufficient. Rather than ceasing to be moral because it goes out of bounds of the legitmate demands of society on us, not only does it motivate action in accord with those moral demands (because ex hypothesi all availble options are consistent with keeping such demands) but it assures that such demands will be met no matter what. Consequently, we have a moral imperitive to stand for something.

This view is not relativistic but admits the possibility of an objective plurality of goods that cannot all be realized. One way to say it is that there is more than one legitmate version of a good life and we have to decide which one is most appropriate for us. Nor then does tis view advocate dogmatic absolutism, the claim that there is one and only one way of living or doing well.

Finally I am not doing anything more than stating the view. Perhaps there is good reason not to expect exception cases for the sake of holding a good theory or perhaps the idea of incomensurable goods is somehow incoherent. But by making such a view available to my students, it seems to me that I am fulfilling a public trust not just by informing my students of all the possibilities but also going the extra step to make sure my students are exposed to all the resources available to them to make sure they have all they need to make good moral decisions in real life.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Datrina and the Liche Lord explained (finally)

Some were a bit mystified as to the point of the "Datrina and the Liche Lord" story experiment (see link). After giving a more than adequate amount of time for everyone to puzzle over it and then lose interest, I now offer an explanation.

Here's the point. Many people think that the case for intellegent design is inconclusive. The reason is that there are evolutionary stories that explain the phenonema picked out for design as well as the design inference and since that is true there is no basis for prefering one view over the other.

More specificly, the necessary conditions for any kind of life on any planet in the universe are extremely narrow; life contains vastly more information in it than is constained in the universe itself. Accordingly, it seems that life is a significant outcome and thus the best explanation is that it came about by intelligent design. However, it may be that this universe is but one of an infinite many universes expressing all the possible original conditions. Consequently most of them have no life in them and we happen to be in the one that does. Of course by hypothesis we have no contact with other such universes experimentally but we cannot rule out the possibility that such is the case.

Or can we? Can we at least come up with some reason or another that gives us a rational basis for prefering the intelligent design scenario to the multiple universe scenario?

Some philosophers think that we can based on the following analogy. Suppose an all powerful god exists. This god calls into his presence two angels, call them Gabe and Mike. To both angels he says the following: "I'm going to flip a coin. If it lands on heads, I will create one world. Then I will roll a ten-sided die and if it lands on a '1', then I will create life on that world. However, if the coin lands on tails, I will create ten worlds. Then I will roll a ten-sided die once for each world until I roll a '1' and for that world and no other of the ten I will create life." Then he sends Gabe and Mike away to go about their business telling them nothing more. The two go their seperate ways.

Later, a reliable messenger comes to Gabe and tells him, "There is a world with life on it." Suppose Gabe asks himself whether the coin toss came out heads or tails. He will reasonably conclude that it is more likely that it came out to be tails since the tails procedure was more likely to produce a world with life on it then the heads procedure.

However, instead of being told anything, Mike is put to sleep. When Mike comes to, he wakes up on the surface of a world with life on it. Suppose Mike asks himself whether the coin landed heads or tails. He will reasonably conclude that it is more likely that it came out to be heads since if it were tails, it is more likely that Mike would have come to on a planet without life on it.

Of course, the heads result is analogous to the intelligent design hypothesis and the tails result is analogous to the multiple universe hypothesis. The a priori plausibility of both hypotheses is analogous to the condition of being informed of two possibilities equally likely (that is, having no other evidence besides conceivability for their plausibility). The critic assumes that all we have to work with is the mere fact of life and thus thinks that our situation is most similar to Gabe's in the story and thus concludes that the the multiple worlds hypothesis is more reasonable to hold. But the intelligent design theorist responds that it is just as important how we come to the fact that life exists as the fact itself. And the fact is something we discover by being there to discover it. So our situation is more analogous to Mike's situation in the story than it is to Gabe's. Consequently, we ought to think that the intelligent design hypothesis is more reasonable. So in spite of belief otherwise, we do have a reason to prefer intelligent design to the multiple worlds hypothesis.

What the story does is it gives us an analogy like the Mike and Gabe analogy and seeks to pump people's intuitions about this. If there are several fights going on, its no suprise if one of them has a fighter with a bad ticker and thus no reason to think that there was any design behind it. But if there is only one contest and the fighter collapses from a heart attack, it is more reasonable to think there had been some design in bringing that about. But the dwarf's only evidence was that she was there when it happened. If you thank then that this is a reason for thinking that there was to be only one contest and that thus the Liche Lord assisted in the escape, you would also think that this is a reason to think that the sword had been taken in payment by the Liche Lord and further that the sword that appeared in the grotto was not really the Sword of Shanana but most likely the Liche Lord himself up to his old polymorhing tricks. Thus, Datrina shouldn't take the sword.

(Of course, one could not mistake the reference to the "Invisible Gardner", a classic case in the literature on intelligent design and verifiability.)

I don't have an original bone in my body. Thanks to Dr. Dean Zimmerman for introducing and explaining this to me though the errors in presentation are mine.

What is lacking in Presuppositionalism

Philosophaster, a sincerely inquiring non-Christian, asked me (the Gnu) why I didn't accept the Protestant form of apologetics known as Van Tillianism or presuppositionalism. Since I amaze myself so easily I thought that others might be interested in this response. One can find the full context and a presuppositonalists reply at the link in the title.

Here are some things I find lacking in presuppositional apologetics. I have some historical objections such as that I don't think presuppositionalist expositions of either the Bible or the history of theology in general of of the Reformation era in particular avoids special pleading. But setting those sorts of objections aside, I think that I can defer to your post for some of the main ones.

Presuppositionalism is meant to be understood as a substantive ideology of how to argue, rather than just an introduction of perhaps new or underconsidered types of arguments. You are not merely logically or evidentially mistaken if you neglect the presuppositionalist argument (also known as the Transcendental Argument for the existence of God, or TAG for short), you are morally wrong (you are starting a tleast tacitly with an affirmation of your self-sufficiency without God) and it is not clear why this is so. Presuppostionalists claim that previous approaches to theistic proofs (such as Aquinas, Descartes, or Paley) reflect this moral error and the TAG does not, but is seems clear that TAG is not really different from arguments like the cosmological argument. (E.g A frequent illustration that Van Til uses to illustrate the difference between TAGs and traditonal arguments is this: The presuppositonalist does not argue for the existence of floorboards under the floor by compiling facts about furniture in the room. The presupposionalist notes that the very existence of furniture in the room presupposes the existence of floorboards in the floor. But this exactly illustrates a causal argument as one finds in traditional proofs.) If it were just about identifying another type of argument such as TAG, there would be no in principle debate between presuppositonalists and evidentialists. Any good argument is a good argument.

Another set of problems are the claims that there is no nuetrality between the believer and the unbeliever and that all reasoning is circular reasoning. This thesis is typically understood in terms of a strong holism about the meanings of concepts in propositions, a kind of uber-Quineanism. Another example from Van Til's writing is his claim that the non-believer takes the evidences offered by the theist and throws them on top of his own presupposition of the ultimacy of chance and concludes that evidence for the ressurection only shows that wierd things happen from time to time. If this claim is to be sufficiently weighty and merely trivially obvious, there must be some strong basis for asserting that itr leads to the claim that there is no nuetrality. Since claims are thrown back upon different presupposed worldviews, their interpretation in one worldview is incomensurable with the interpretation of the same clain in another worldview and so the appearance of identical claims being made is false. This incomensuarbility extends even to claims about the canons of logic and evidence so that what counts as logical and evident to one does not count as such to another. Consequently, there is no common ground whatsoever between the believer and the unbeliever.

This creates a problem for presentations of TAG which assume a common agreement about the premises and the validity of the conclusion that comes from them. The sincere offering of TAG as an argument is just as problematic as offering a deductive cosmological or Baysean argument. So it seems that the approach itself contradicts its supposed foundations.

It turns out then that the real approach of presuppostionalism is to push each divergent system of thought to its fullest logical implication, and then ask each reasoner to adopt all of them as holistic webs of belief for the sake of argument, and argue that only the Christian web of belief does not run into self-defeat. Now this proposal seems to assume that there is a higher order neutrality; we cannot be neutral about beliefs within webs but we can be neutral about the webs. But this seems arbirary to me, why is there not a higher order web about webs of belief and if so does not that mean that the nuetrality problem reiterate itself? Secondly, the approach is not in principle unavailable to traditional ways of understanding Christian argument. The impossibility of the contrary argument, if sound, is yet another available candidate to the traditional theist, so the approach does not add to the case for presuppositionalism as an argumentative ideology. This is bolstered by the many instances of non-presuppositonalists employing this kind of reasoning, like CS Lewis in his book on miracles. Thirdly, the task seems infinite, since besides looking at the the concretely available worldviews, we need also to look at all the logically possible worldviews and that seems to be an unfinishable task for people who need to argue today for the Christian worldview claim. Christians will have to be happy for a "Christianity is true as far as we can tell but the inquiry remains open" result, which may not be such a bad thing (e.g. Nuerath's ship). But finally, I think we already know enough to realize that the argument is not sound. The main rival that this argument attacks is philosophical naturalism but as Elizibeth Anscombe demonstrated in her debate with CS Lewis about the afore mentioned book, the claim that naturalism is self-defeating is false, and therefore the impossibility of the contrary argument is unsound (in spite of whatever existential difficulties naturalists might run into in ordinary life, such us worries that they might be making love to a zombie).

Finally, the final metaphysical view of presuppositonalism is a version of objective Idealism, which in itself I am not too uncomfortable with. But it seems to me that the presuppositionalist position is logically unstable between the metaphysical objective idealism that Van Til really wants and a kind of ontological relativism that some of his followers have drifted into. My theory is that the development of presuppositonalism from Van Til on parallels the development of 19th century German Idealism from Hegel into both right wing uber-reichtists and left wing relativists in history, which may point to a concrete expression of that instability. This also raises the question of whether or not Van Til qua ontological relativist who insists on his own version of ontology isn't just a fideist after all.

Perhaps a more charitiable way of thinking of the claim that all reasoning is circular reasoning is to say that this is drawing attention to commonly observed philosophical problem, namely it seems that in questioning about the issues that seem most important to us, the best we have been able to do is come up with deductive arguments that are valid and may be sound but which remain unconvincing since eventhough they are not explicitly circular they still beg the question by posing a premise which is just as controverted by the opponant as the conclusion is, or with inductive arguments where one of the canons of "best explanation" or "relevant analogy" or "prior probability" is just as controverted by the opponant as the conclusion is. In fact, this seems to be the actual reason qua philosophy that some people give for being attracted to Van Til as offering a way to negotiate this deadlock. Unfortunately, Van Til explains this deadlock as being due to sin, but none of the features described seem to have much to do with morality and seem to have more to do with the common features of thought whether of the believer or of the unbeliever. One possible way of relating the two is to say that it is precisely our morally qualified dispositions that make us reject the premises or canons because we refuse to accept the conclusion and reasoning permits this. For example, Thomas Nagel suggests in his book "The Last Word" that one reason philosophers generally reason as the do is that they succumb to much to a fear of religion and he admits that he too is afraid and even troubled by his brilliant colleagues who remian faithful to some religious tradition or another. He says its not just that he thinks that theistic proofs are unconvincing, the thought that there exists an absolute being that may legitimately dictate to him what he must and must not do is postively abhorent to him. So moral dispositions may explain utlimately why some people embrace some pictures or the world and not others and why it remains true that some are wrong and some are right. So rather than being a gateway to metaphysical relativism it might be the only alternative to it. But this suggestion works for unbeliever as well as the believer since it could well be the willful ignorance and self-imposed blindness of the beliver or his fear that life is ultimately meaningless without God that makes him resist the truth. As a Christian, I may accept such a radical view as consistent with my account of depravity and to preserve the metaphysical realism my view needs, but I admit that it is not philosophically satisfying. So I keep looking for more.

So my conclusion is that presuppostionalism claims way too much for itself and may in fact prove too much for itself. I tend to think of it in the same way as the comment a professor might make on a student's paper; "What you have written is both good and original, but what is good is not original and what is original is not good."

Friday, September 02, 2005

Eschatology and Thanatology

In a sermon series I gave a message in recently, I was assigned to preach on "life" and the other on "death". His sermon was outstanding (based on the texts Ecclesiates 12 and Psalm 90). One of the things that was very clear in it was that the Bible has a rich and clear view of death, that is, there is a biblical thanatology.

Just as man has a basic dignity being made in the image of God, it is precisely that dignity which obliges his final end, since he has failed the duty to image God from the very begining (the Fall) and consequently has made his own death just.

In the case of individuals, that mean that each individual is not just going to die but that each individual is divinely appointed to die. What this means of course for end-of-life situations is that one thing we cannot do is resist death at any cost as if to defeat God's divine appointment. So when it is clear that the patient is dying (a matter of judgement), one is in no position to try to resist it.

Not even Christians are delivered from this appointment in every sense. As Romans 8 makes clear, our bodies are dead because of sin and we must experince death in order to be free and must receive new bodies to be saved. Even if we are not dead when Christ appears, we must "die" right then, that it, we must be transformed in a twinkling of an eye so that the perishable will put on the imperishable.

One can see a little bit then how thanatology relates to individual eschatology. But this judgement false not just on individuals but on the race as a whole. Man must die because man sinned. There is thus an appointment with death for the whole race. That means that in some sense mankind is appointed to extinction. And this suggests the view that just as individuals (Eccles. 12) will face a rime when death is progressively taking hold of them draining them of their youthful powers and cognitive abilities until it finally becomes irresistable, so to the human race faces a collective malaise of death to which it will ultimately succumb.

Certain deathlike symptoms already may be apparent in the autistic character of the western worldview since the Enlightenment. Also the demands on human responsibility created by the rapid development of technology have radically increased and require a huge investment in creative attention in order to cope. But the shriviling up of moral understanding secures a multiplcataion of means and an Alzheimer's symptoms about ends. Mankind seems on the verge of pushing the button that activates the dynamite it's sitting on.

I suspect that the deterioration toward death will be coordinate to "Satan's little season", when humanity is running amok with impatience with God and rampant hubris. The manifestation of end of life features will be prevelant throughout existing humanity when Jesus returns. The Christian Church will appear to be in eclipse in a sense just as the best features of a human life are hard to see in someone who is close to death. So even when Christ claims the whole world substantially the light of this will fade from view as death makes its appointed approach to all humanity.

It would be difficult to call such a view pessimistic, since death serves God's appointed purpose, and its success in time means God's will is being accomplished. it also effects are attitude toward the difficulties we must face in the future as Christians by understanding why these things must take place and why there taking place will keep us from being afraid or fealing as if God has been defeated.

So based on the analogy between individual and universal eschatoogy already present in systematic theology, it seems reasonable to conclude that the analogy also extends to include an analogy between the death of individuals and the death of the race. The value of this conclusion is that it seems to makes sense of and to intergrate the various "amil" and "postmil" features of realized eschatology. God's will is going to succeed on both fronts, both on the front of seeing the judgement of death served on all humanity and on the front of all of humanity being redeemed representatively by Christ.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Fourth of July and Christian Apologetics

Moosebugs and I were discussing the Declaration of Independence over a couple of Yuenglings. ("He was killing off Yuenglings!") I don't know if many actually read this document but I want to argue that Jefferson's argument for independence for the American British colonies as free and independent states is a model example of a cummulative case approach to Christian apologetics.

Jefferson argues:

(1) The Crown has denied to American British citizens there basic human rights endowed to them by their Creator (God) and thus have failed to fulfil its purpose in governing and its contracted mandate to its citizens.

(2) Such violations of rights are frequent enough, egregious enough, and regular enough such that no population can both be prudent and continue to tolerate them without response.

(3) All other peaceful attempts to preserve the bond of citizenship (such as appealing to the crown and the British citizens in England) have been attempted and have not rectified the situation.

(4) Therefore, the American Colonists have the tright and duty to desolve the bond of citizenship and declare themselves to be free and independent states (possessing to themselves the right of states to wage war in their own defense).

Various objections can be raised to this argument (e.g. Divine Right Theorists will reject (1) and political conservatives will reject the social contract element of (1) is illegitimate but unnecessary since the Crown's failure to fulfil its purpose is sufficient to meet the condition that (1) claims to satisfy. Also, the argument assumes that it addresses all the necessary and suffcient conditions to legitimate independence and that there are contrary to argument other such conditions), but let us go ahead and grant that it is at least a valid argument, that is that if the premises were true the conclusion must be also.

I want to focus on the way Jefferson argues for premise (2). This takes up most of the Declaration. Jefferson proceeds by itemizing a long list of abuses, increasing in severity as the list goes on, to justify the claim that even a prudent person would not tolerate all this without action. Jefferson makes explicit that, even though a violation of any one natural right would constitute a failure of a government to live up to its natural and contractual mandate, to react to any one violation and throw off a government rather than tolerate the violation and preserve the bond would be imprudent. A decent population will not be hasty in trying to get rod of government since such governments are important to us and none of them are perfect in fulfilling their duties.

So Jefferson wants to show that the pattern of abuses by the crown is not a drop in the bucket but significant enough to make a prudent person act to declare his independence. But how many of what sort of rights violations should count as enough reason to break the bond of citizenship? The question suggests that there is a definite line that must be crossed before such action is considered prudent. But therein lies the rub -- there is no such definite line that can be specified independently of the issue and verifibly determined when it is crossed. However, Jeffeson need not rely on the ability to specify what the line is. He can at least attempt to show to a watching world that the amount and natures off the abuses are such as constitute a paradigm case of a situation where the line has definitely been crossed. In other words, where the list of the crown's abuses leads judgenment is well beyond the murky shadowland of what is not clearly prudent or imprudent but is well within the area of clearly prudent to disolve the bond. We may well wonder if Don Johnson on 'Miami Vice' had a beard but it is clear that Charles Darwin had a beard.

All this is tacit in Jefferson's argument. He simply proves his point by listing the abuses of the crown, confident that tthe world will judge that so many of such abuses are a clear case of an unjust government. Consequently, Jefferson is confident that he has provided an adequate account to justify the action of the Declaration.

What I want to say is that Jefferson's support for (2) is a good example of what we (or at least I) mean by a cummulative case argument. A cummulative case argument is not a demonstration that independently absolutely proves that a claim is true. It is rather an accumulation of evidences the combined weight of which provides sufficient warrant to justify acting in a specific way rather than another from the point of view of some agent. How much weight is necessary cannot be specified beforehand. But that does not mean that there is no fact of the matter about whether or not a certain amount of weight is sufficient to justify an action for an agent. Further, cummulative case arguments are not immune to sceptical doubts. The sceptic can give philosophically interesting reasons for the view that what a person does on the basis a cummulative case is based on an illusion. However, in the practical sphere, these sceptical reasons have no point. (A person can philosophically doubt whether he really sees a door in front of him but he will still open the door before he leaves the room.) Further, sceptical reasons do not show that we do not or cannot know.

The way I have characterized cummulative case arguments, they are clearly arguments in the sphere of practical reason, not theoretical reason -- the give sufficient weight for actions, not theories. But Christianity is at least necessarily a belief in a set of doctrines. So how does a cummulative case argument help it? The answer is that Christianity requires that it's doctrines are to be accepted on the by faith in a credible testimony. This shows that the idea of 'belief' in Christianity is such a notion that believing is subject to choice. We are commended to believe the gospel, which is to say that we are required to commit ourselves to a lifetime of acting on the basis of the gospel being held true. The evidence for such a belief is the evidence that supports the credibility and authority of those who attest to it for us and such evidence is the sort that it might be a satisfactory incidence of a cummulative case argument.

Now I want to go further and argue that this is not only the case in a reasonable faith in special revelation but also in natural revelation. The evidences that are called upon to support a cummulative case argument for the authority of the gospel message may in turn depend in part for their credibility on other propositons held to be true or 'believed' in the same sense that the gospel is to be believed. More specificly, the plausibility if miracle accounts may depend on the prior plausibility of a theistic interpretation of life. The usual response to this sensed need is to appeal to natural theology and theistic arguments. But often these arguments are appealed to as philosophical and theoretical demonstrations. But as such they fail to demostrate that God exists and leave the question moot. We wind up with a scepticism about the God question that is more philosophically interesting and philosophically satisfying than the arguments for God's existence.

But the tradition that introduces us to theistic arguments, introduces them as vias or ways to God. They are formalized recipes that reconstruct the natural ways our intellegence is led to think about God and show that we can and do think about him. While as proofs, the theitic arguments can be abstracted to form absolute metaphysical hypothesis of merit (although inconclusive), as vias they bear on the personal commitments an agent makes from an agent's point of view. They show how from the point of view of what is subjectively intelligent to us, nature has wired us necessarily to think of God. Granting that we are such creatures as essentially cannot know if God exists by philosophical demonstration (and therefore God is not to faulted, pace Russell, for not providing such evidence as He cannot provide) God may provide such evidence to an agent making personal commitments to warrant "Christian style" belief in Him, even to the point that should the agent refuse such evidence, he is thus held accountable. This conceives the theistic arguments not as theoretical demonstrations of the claim "God exists" but as cummulative case practical arguments that conclude that God is making Himself known to me, the agent, in nature and in my mind (and thus I must suppose that He exists).

This seems to be supported by Paul's account in Romans 1, that the eternal power and divine nature a clearly known through the things that are made so that they are without excuse. This cannot mean that all men are accountable for failing to be sophisticated enough philosophers to complete a formal demonstration, since clearly only a few meet that description, but rather that humans failed to believe in God based on the "testimony" of nature and as a result of choosing not to believe God (aknowledging Him) they were given up to immorality. In this sense, their sin is similar to the sin of the first couple, whose disobedience was a form of unbelief in what God told them (both about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil but also about the tree of life). The sin of humanity is their rejection of the goodness of God by their unbelief, first in natural revelation, then in special revelation. This is also illustrated repeatedly in the Psalms, "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God'". That is the fool -- the vain and futile person, from the center of his agency and self-consciousness as an agent -- his heart -- chooses to believe that God does not exist rather than to believ e that He does. The fool could be either an atheist, an agnostic, or a professing theist and still satisfy this discription. He does this in the face of the fact that everyday the heavens pour forth speech of the goodness and glory of God. Natural revelation supports the faith in the joint conjunction that God exists and is the rewarder of those who seek Him, even if it cannot tell us if God has in fact so rewarded that search.

Another comment to make is that we see this emphasis on the agent's point of view clearly implied in just about any formulation of classical apologetics you can think of. In the old Princeton method, it is called "common sense", in Gerstner, it is called "self-consciousness", in Geisler it is called the (non-analytically) undeniable and the (non-analytically) unaffirmable. While not denying the role of logic and philosophy, all thes approaches make the agent's point of view an essential starting point and precisely because the arguments for God's existence are inconclusive and without grip without this. The starting point of classical apologetics essentially intergrates the obligation of personal commitment, the agent's point of view, logical consistency, and the necessary features of thought as the testimony of nature.

Consequently, natural theology is continuous with sacred theology and provide converging lines of evidence within a cummulative case for Christian Theism, when so conceived as guiding the personally commited agent to faith. This makes faith and reason less distinct (if reason is construed as resorting to good cummulative case arguments). Christian faith is an instance of practical reasoning. It also argues that our "must" in being a Christian is the "must" of being obliged to be personally commited in life in a practical enviroment and confronted with theistic and Christian evidences. This also makes clear that Christian apologetics is apologetics and not philosophy but also not bad. And it shows in what sense we can have a "positive" as well as a negative apologetic.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Datrina and the Return of the Liche Lord

After the mysterious disappearance of her intrepid cousin, Thurvan, the call to retrieve the sword of his clan of dwarves, the singing sword of Shanana, has fallen on the thick shoulders of Datrina, the she-warrior of the hill clans. Following a reliable lead that the sword had been removed to the Grotto of Gambari'ith, Datrina makes her journey through the plains of the City-States of the Seafaring Men.

While passing through the capital city of Lorinthania, she observes the display of the royal crown and scepter of his majesty, Regent Billiar, on public display to commemorate the Holiday of Champions. The sight of the fine craftmanship of such precious jewels and minerals has overwhelmed Datrina's mission and inflamed the natural greediness of her tribe. However, it proves to be too much of a risk as her late night heist attempt is foiled by the City Watch. Given the vanity of the City Dwellers, their general disaffection with dwarves, and the special occasion, the verdict is swift and without appeal -- death by mortal combat.

In the city gaols, Datrina is brought before the Commander in charge of the dungeons and pits. "You look hardy enough to be entertained by your fate, sow. Apparently, the Regent is particularly upset with any attempt at touching the royal emblems, so much so that he wants to have your combat staged as the only show of the day. We normally finish off riff raff like you en masse, holding combat in all fifty pits at once and clearing out as many prisoners as possible. As far as the Captain of the Watch is concerned, you would just be slain along with many, many other prisoners on that schedule, given the inconvenience of staging shows and keeping prisoners alive longer than necessary. But as I understand it, both being sporting and callous men, they settled the issue on the mere toss of a coin."

"And then what was the outcome?", Datrina clipped, letting the 'sow' comment bounce of her beard.

"Not your concern really," the officer replied listlessly, "your end is the same either way. Only I am obliged to tell you that you have a chance" (and here the man snickered) "to go free by defeating your opponent. Just know that the match ups for prisoners tend to be severely disproportionate."

Back in her stinking cell and shackled, Datrina had been cursing herself and her goddess for letting her nature up-end her mission, when the room became even more dark than it was and a cold chill and sulfuric stench filled the air. Before her amazed eyes appeared the the visage of Abinidaz, the terrible Liche Lord, as if woven out of the very fumes of dust in the air and his laugh was terrible and made her beard bristle.

"So your greed has ensnared yet another of the dwarven clan," laughed the undead nightmare, "and yet again provided me with entertainment to quench my eternal boredom. For all my power, I cannot produce on my own any relief from my ennui, nor resist the sweet amusement when it inadvertently comes my way. Your clan is my grave enemy (as well as my nourishment), and yet how can I fail to provide the means for more of such folly."

"So I am undecided about what to do, to either watch as you greet your inescapable doom or release you to possibly entertain me another day. But to sweeten my enjoyment, I will let the controllers of the games fix my decision. If they decide to have a special show featuring just you, I will let you escape. But if they have several executions as they normally do, I will not interfere with what happens. I will also tell you that if I do decide to facilitate your escape, my price will be the sword of Shanana. If I assist you, you will not find the sword in the Grotto of Gambari'ith." And with that and a final laugh, the Liche Lord melts into the brick walls of the cell.

As Datrina pondered her evening visit, she thought, "Whether he assists me or I escape on my own, I cannot turn away any opportunity to recover the clan-sword. I must do it if I can, both to redeem my foolishness and to free our clan from dishonor."

Soon enough, the day came when Datrina was to face her sentence. Since each cell was individually linked to its out arena by a tunnel, Datrina could in no way tell if many were to face death that day or just herself. She was no further helped to tell from the features of the open arena itself or from manner of dress and customs of the spectators. Being no aficionado of human culture, there might as well be princes or paupers in that audience. The only thing that she could see all too clearly was a giant half-ogre, four times tall as she, and armed like a full gladiator, with a clean battle axe in one hand and a 'cat-o'-nine tails' in the other, while she had been 'armed' with nothing but papyrus armor and a piece of dowelling. No sooner had she a chance to take in the situation when the gong blared indicating the commencing of the 'contest'.

Twirling the whips over his head and swinging the axe skillfully, the gladiator-beast howled, "Bother not to think of the non-existent chance of getting by me to that narrow exit portal behind me and freedom. Better to just surrender yourself to me and receive a quick and painless death!" With that, the wickedly grinning creature shouted out his bone chilling battle cry -- "Hoody Hooooooo!" -- and lunged forward toward the helpless Datrina.

But as the creature came to her, his cry was cut off in mid "Hoo" and his face suddenly went sour. His skin began to pale (as much as an ogre's skin can pale) and he stopped in his tracks. He immediately dropped his weapons and tried to grab his chest under his breast plate. The creature was in clear pain as his heart clearly seized up on him. In another moment, the creature fell forward, writhing on the ground, and became for all practical purposes paralyzed. As suddenly, the crowd was on its feet, boo-ing, catcalling, and stomping their boots. But Datrina did not bother to wait or respond. She immediately leaped over the ill-fated gladiator's body, ran through the exit portal, and escaped the city through its underground sewer lines. She was not about to give the Watch the opportunity to back away from their promise when her 'victory' might be a matter of interpretation.

After assuring herself that she was not being pursued by the constabulary, Datrina returned to her original course. Following the way into the ancient ruins in the woods on the far side of the City-States, she eventually came to a pavilion of magnificent and mysterious beauty. No one knew how it was that the arrangement flowers and shrubs were so well maintained since no gardener was ever detected, yet the rosetta design left the strong impression some invisible intelligence maintained the wonderful site. And surely enough on the edge of the garden where it meet the hillside, an ivory and mahogany structure, carved with the symbols of the Forgotten Lords of the Earth, was inset into the terrain. Surely, this was the Grotto of Gambari'ith. And looking inside, resting on top of a raised ivory tablet, was what could only be the sword of Shanana!

Question: Should Datrina take the sword?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Support our "Support our troops" troops!

I am starting to hear more and more of my friends in the academy expressing suspicions and reservations about the exhortation emblemed on every bumper that they should support our troops. Their argument is something like this. The bumper sticker makes a moralistic appeal to all citizens to support our troops in Iraq. But that could only mean that we should support our troops doing what they are doing in Iraq. But we have conscientious objections to what our soldiers are doing in Iraq and we cannot conscientiously support them. We have arguably good reasons for our objections. Therefore posting the injunction to support our troops is just a way short circuit the debate and bring an unjustified and sophistic sense of disapprobation on dissenters of our Iraq policy. However, this conclusion is not necessary and uncharitable.

"You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good." This texts illustrates that there are level distinctions to be made when evaluating the acts of agents which are in behalf of other agents. In this case, Joseph's brothers intended something evil by selling Joseph into slavery, But while God intended that Joseph's brothers sell Joseph into slavery, His intention was for good and not evil. Jonathan Edwards distinguishes here between intending sin as sin and intending sin but not as sin.

By the same token, a soldier may intend his own actions for good but his king may intend the soldier's actions for evil. Therefore, faulting the king is compatible with praising the soldier. Consequently, treating the soldier as one who is blameless and worthy of praise is independent of the evaluation of the King's policy. If someone is worthy of praise and gratitude, we ought to support them, to encourage their morale and show them respect, especially since it helps them to act with integrity, prudence, and justice in the face of life threatening situations.

It is especially necessary of the office of soldier, that one put a strong basic faith in one's own command and place the burden of proof on making a case against the legitimacy of his orders, if the military is to function with sufficient efficiency, obtaining effective goals with the fewest casualties. Because this is true the command is especially responsible to not take advantage of the basic trust of the troops not just with their lives but also with the moral legitimacy of their combat. Soldiers cannot defer action until they are completely satisfied about the mission and this is understood as belonging to the necessary function of the military.

Therefore, being encouraged to support our troops does not entail being encouraged to support the president's Iraq policy. No one is being exhorted to Neoconservative Republicanism in virtue of being encouraged to support the troops. Of course, one could be a pacifist and think that nothing a soldier could do as a soldier in morally acceptable. In such a case, "support our troops" is objecting to pacifism necessarily. But no one has a problem with straightforwardly objecting both intellectually and morally to pacifism being basically illegitimate except unreasonable pacifists. At any rate, I don't assume that everyone who makes the original objection is a pacifist or against the use of the military per se.

If that is right, what is the point of so many bumper stickers? In a way, this question reminds me of the cold husband who complains that he doesn't understand why his wife insists on hearing him say "I love you" often when he told her that twenty years ago and she should just know it. The husband just assumes that there is nothing more to an assertion than whether or not its true but this is evidently false. While the distinction between levels of description of acts among different agents is clear to thought, life does not just follow the intellect and we are not merely logical processors. Seeing the distinction is intellectually smart but letting that be sufficient is emotionally stupid. Soldiers are effected by assurances of support, respect, and appreciation and this makes a big difference in there character and performance. Furthermore, humans show a distinct proclivity to judge themselves by their intentions while judging others by their actions. Being satisfied that they meant well and that they feel that they do respect a soldier's sacrifice will not encourage them to act to show their support and appreciation. But a soldier will take the absence of action as a sign that they are not appreciated after all. Consequently, as humans, we need to be exhorted to do the right thing in spite of already knowing what the right thing to do is and that applies with special urgency to supporting our troops who in harm's way need to know now that their fellow citizens are supporting them as far as their own work is concerned.

People who oppose our presence in Iraq on policy grounds are especially to be exhorted to support our troops since their is a bit of cognitive-like dissonance for them in their attitude toward the troops which may make it difficult for them to follow through. Even when this is not the case, the opponent of the policy who must necessarily raise objections to it must also be careful to make clear that raising such objections does not mean that they do not support the troops, precisely because it is likely that the troops and their families will misconstrue them in this and effectively be discouraged. The fact that it comes much more easily to those who do support the president's policy to exhort others to support the troops takes nothing away from the appropriateness of the exhortation itself. But in fact, given this one should actually be impressed that people generally have been careful not to identify supporting the troops with supporting Bush or his policies. It is just this absence that has provoked the suspicions of my colleagues that they are advocating support for the troops as a kind of cryptic way of raising doubts about ones lack of support for Bush. But why this instead of the more charitable and natural supposition that people are being careful not to identify supporting the troops with support for Bush.

But isn't there something to the perception that most people who do have a support our troops sign also elected Bush? We have to distinguish the policy wonking and sophisticated versions of Bush's neoconservative theoreticians from the run of the mill, non-reflective, commonsense intuition based conservatism of the the average voter. As an episode of "Law and Order" observed, the majority of those who respond to the call to jury duty, also respond to the call of active duty. The common conservative is such in part because he thinks that significant civil duties are not to be avoided but to be duly observed and appreciated. It is out of that basic appreciation and respect for national service that leads most ordinary conservatives to respect service persons and advocate public support for them. It is not really surprising that such grass roots conservatives prefer ed Bush to Kerry, in spite of the fact that Bush never served in action but Kerry did because while Bush never served he openly and convincingly communicated a positive attitude toward military service, while Kerry threw away "his" medals. In their eyes, when Kerry appeared saying he was reporting for duty, he was still breaking the "funny hat" rule.

Now of course such conservatives could be said to only support Bush naively, not really taking the time to consider his policies and no doubt this is likely to have been the case. It is also likely that they naively perceive criticism of the administration's Iraq policy as necessarily failing to support our troops. But what isn't surprising is that such a conservative who has a basic zeal for national duties would also prefer Bush and that this does not involve a conscious agreement with Bush's Iraq policy as such but does agree with a basic insistence on supporting our troops.

While suspicious motives are not absolutely ruled out, I think the cost of removing all those signs and bumper stickers is higher than letting people have them and use them. While it is a source of suspicion for the president's opponents, it means a lot to all of us and our troops who see it as being for them. It would be a kind of cruelty to take them down.

In conclusion, support our troops! Send them cookies. Send them letters. Pray for them and let them know it. Thank you, troops, for your labor and sacrifice on behalf of our country and Iraq.