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Monday, December 17, 2007

A Solo Adventure?

One of my goals for the holidays is to write and maybe self-publish a doujin solo-adventure for LAME-O, adding a character design matrix like the one I made for "Fairyland Diner", maybe some kind of damage tracking system, and using a cyberpunk setting like "Blade Runner", "Akira", "Ghost in the Shell", or "Armitage". Hopefully it will be something I can share with friends and give at conventions.

It's an experiment. It may not work given the weight put on the reader to imagine so much of how things turn out and the lack of specific mechanisms in the game. We'll see.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Maybe Switching from Fred to Mitt.

Okay, I concede the point, not necessarily reluctantly. But while Fred has been clear and has run an excellent campaign by addressing issues in a substantial way and showing that political conservativism is a defensible position with real consequences for policy (and not a reactionary knee jerk belligerent form of ignorance), he is not the candidate with the greatest amount of relevant experience who holds such views. Fred and Mitt are comprehensive in their appreciation of conservative policy on economic, social, and national security issues. And Mitt's religion speech proves that he gets the relation between faith and politics right as well as being an articulate statement of the view. So that the relevant difference between them is the amount of executive experience. Only Guiliani competes with Mitt here but he is clearly tone deaf to social issues and that will bleed over into his radar for picking judges, no matter what he promises.

One thing that bothers me is RomneyCare, which does not seem to either work or fit with free market or marginally sufficiently sized government solutions and the ink on that is still pretty fresh. I guess it may too much to hope for a Mitt/Fred ticket.

Actually, it looks like Fred may be on his last legs. I will stick with Fred for loyalty's sake and send him some cash and wait and see how he holds up through the Iowa caucus. If Fred is out, I am definitely switching to Mitt and not to Huck.

Monday, December 10, 2007

You can call me "Otaku-sensei"

I finally took the leap and dared to include anime as part of my lecture in my college class. The class is called "Ethics of Technology and Cyberspace". It is basically an introduction to critical thinking applied to ethics. Ethics involving the consumption of technology is a good foil for this because it is not a hot button issue (and thus most students do not have a pre-formed opinion about it) but it is still one that attracts interest and is also a hidden issue in the sense that (I believe) people tend to underestimate the importance of it. I do treat the course as fulfilling an important calling in modern society.

The course is focused on real live questions regarding the use of technology and the Internet. But near the end we introduce questions about possible concerns about the future of technology and its potential to raise ethical challenges. One such challenge is the question concerning whether or not we will have to alter our conception of who/what counts as a stakeholder, particularly in the face of possible progress in artificial intelligence (A.I.) and genetic engineering. At this point in the school's curriculum, most students have been exposed to the metaphysical questions surrounding A.I.

It was at this point that I showed the class Episode 15 of "Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex" titled "Time of the Machines: MACHINES DÉSIRANTES". You can read a summary of this episode at the link in the post title.

Before showing the episode, we had already discussed the relevant points of the issue and I already gave a presentation of material about questions involving expanding the scope of moral concern. Just before showing the episode, I gave a brief sketch of the world and background of the story setting, focusing especially on the provenance of both the nature of the police SWAT unit and its composition and mission, and the provenance of the Tachikoma units used by the team. For class purposes, I explained that, even though this was a work of fiction, I wanted the students to treat is like the other cases we looked at so far in the semester.

The assignment was to look at the situation from the point of view of Major Kusanagi as the responsible agent. The Major confronts the decision of whether or not to decommission the Tachikoma and decides to go ahead and do so. The question to the class was simply whether they thought that Major could have made a better decision than she did. While easily stated, of course, a good answer would require making one's own assessment of what the right thing to do in the situation is and using that account to defend the Major's decision if the student's conclusion was the same as the Major's in the story or arguing why the account properly differs from the Major's choice. Such reflection will have to confront other questions like:

Was the Major faced with at least a prima facie moral dilemma?

What is the moral status of the Tachikoma? Should they be included among the various other stakeholders in the situation?

What would you reasonable want to know before deciding? Are there any other options, not yet considered by the Major, but which would resolve the situation? Can you imagine any technological solutions?

Some other related questions are: What difference would viewing technology as being like experimenting on rational moral agents have made in this case? Do you think it could have mitigated or prevented the issue from arising? Is there some amends that ought to be made? Given that some think we have an obligation to future persons, does that extend to future artificial persons?

The episode depicts the Tachikoma as emergent intelligences with various features in a plausible way. The students tried to make explicit what features of the Tachikoma made the Tachikoma relevant for moral consideration in there own right. They also tried to identify the concerns the Major had in making her decision, the most obvious one being public safety. Students had no trouble finding other considerations that might have slowed the Major's hand, such as saving them for further research into their behavior. But no one was willing to say that they were entitled to certain rights, nor could they bury the impression that "after all, they are just robots" even after I tried to press them a little to explain how the students themselves were different from robots. It was also an uphill fight to get them to make a serious effort since after all it was pure speculation and nothing could really be concluded from it (right?).

But one thing can be concluded from it is that in such surprising cases, the same approaches to ethical reasoning play a role such that even if the future is uncertain, a future situation can be handles with the skills we are learning now. Given that critical reasoning about ethical cases can only take us so far and that in the end we must count on the cultivation of judgment as a virtue, the future of agents like us stands in the same relation to our present as our present did to any of our previous experiences. This seems to be true if we hold to some moral theory or if we reject theory for judgment.

Some advantages to using this approach: An episode is short and left sufficient time to prepare and discuss the case. The episode spends a great deal of time watching the behavior of the Tachikoma, giving plenty of grist for the exercise. Also, this being a Ghost in the Shell: SAC episode, the level of discussion already incorporated in the dialog already raises some of the relevant concerns to guide reflection on it. Further, compared to typical episode of this type in most other sci-fi shows, the status of the Tachikoma was much more ambiguous, (more so than, say, Data in Star Trek: Next Generation), and the students had to decide which contrasts and similarities to humans were relevant and which were not (e.g. appearing human, having similar values to humans, being able to discuss cybertheology. etc.) It is also a story well written to raise important questions, especially in presenting the unintended emergence of individuality in a machine that was programed with A.I. to be an autonomously functioning urban warfare weapon. The contrast between man and machine is made blurrier by the fact that the other principal characters are cyborgs -- humans enhanced with hi-tech components. Also the moral drama is suggested by the tension between the Major and her chief officer, Mr. Batou, who has a much closer relationship to the Tachikoma, and his dismay at the Major's decision suggests the possibility that there is something possibly wrong with it. From the point of view of class time usage, the use of distracting imagery was very slight. This particular episode was very light on action and heavy on content and conversation. Finally, using anime was a surprise and the exercise benefited from the shock of the unexpected. It also contributed to attendance and participation.

On the other hand, there were problems, besides the problem of the speculative nature of the case. One is the shooting. The episode opens with a sniper blowing the head off a hostage-taking terrorist which turns out to be a dummy and not a real human being, in order to test a new sniper computer system. There is also a "hogan's alley" training scene involving guns. Also, the word "crap" is used but no other strong language. Finally, the Major is not very modestly dressed although she is mostly covered up with a bomber jacket and does not appear in full through most of the episode.

I apologized to the class for the comic book orientation with its typical catering to 14 year old male tastes and for the objectification in the Major's outfit. If pressed I would have been able to set the offending details in the context of the story to show that they played an essential role. In the Major's case, it is part of the story that her apparently twenty-something body is a perk made possible by the extent of cyberization the Major underwent. The Major herself is able to occupy any cyber body and her age is significantly older than she appears. How she looks has to be considered the responsible choice of a mature woman and not the shortsighted impulsiveness of a "lolita" type character. Also, this device points back to the vision of the original author of setting of the franchise, Masemune Shirow, by inducing something that jars are moral sensibilities as a feature of the over-all culture shock brought about by the development of technology. So it is not mere fan service (although it is definitely that also) and as far as fan service goes, it is not very gratuitous. In fact, given the point being made, it is quite restrained. But I did not want to take up class time to say this.

The class is made up of juniors at a Jesuit college. I did not assign a paper for this (although they have the option of doing a writing exercise discussing this case) but I did say it would be part of what would be covered on the exam. My main objective is to get them to review the basic principles of ethical reasoning in a fresh situation so they can build up the practice of cultivating moral judgment. My secondary objective is to make a connection between reasoning by balancing moral considerations in ethics and the metaphysical issues discussed in their earlier philosophy course work (God, the Mind, Free Will). It seems that there is a moral question that turns on settling on the conception of the status of Artificial Lifeforms but that question cannot be settled except on the basis of decisions making under conditions of uncertainty. So even if we cannot satisfactorily resolve the relevant metaphysical question, it does not necessarily follow that we cannot satisfactorily answer the question on prudential grounds and this applies to the deep questions studied in their previous course work.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

ADHD and Evolution

At this link there is an interesting critical review I came across between an author and one of his graduate students. The student's review amounts to an ad hominem fallacy against the author but it also brings out the difference between this author and a rival theory from another author.

The subject in question is ADHD, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Both authors agree that there is such an issue in one sense, namely that individuals with ADHD are significantly neurophysiologically different from individuals without it. However, Hartman (represented by the the student) is a relativist about the evaluation of the condition and Barkley (represented by his book) is not.

Barkley's book is based on original systematic research as well as a synthesizing of the results of all previous research. It offers a new theory of ADHD which has fruitful suggestions for all sorts of new questions for further research, for reforms of diagnostic criteria, and for therapeutic intervention, both positively and negatively.

A normal human brain has the ability not only to perceive objects but to see them oriented to one another in 3-dimensional space. This ability enables the human subject to move around effectively in the world from place to place and to form successful executive performances with respect to location. By the same token, a normal human brain also has the ability to orient events (including past and hypothetical future events) in time -- it can "see into the fourth dimension". This allows the human subject to navigate effectively and satisfy executive functions with respect to time. The ability to perform both functions is grounded in the structure of the frontal cortex of the brain.

According to Barkley, the person with ADHD is "time blind". They do not have this capacity to orient events in time that normal humans have because they have an abnormal frontal cortex. Consequently, they are forced to live always in the immediate "now" moment. It is this that explains the attention and impulsively problems, which on this view are really secondary to the real problem. It also explains chronic nature of ADHD, why it persists through life, why it can only be directly effected by medication, and why it cannot be cured by cognitive behavioral therapy, although it can be facilitated by constant, continuous behavioral scheduling. People with ADHD are like diabetics with respect to the intractability of their condition. There is no cure for ADHD.

Hartman's theory, on the other hand, suggests that the best way to make sense of ADHD is through evolutionary anthropology. At one time the human race was divided into "hunters" and "farmers". In the course of time, the farmers were more evolutionarily fit and displaced the hunters in the hegemony of society but descendants of the hunters remain in society albeit marginalized. ADHD persons are descendants of the hunters and are equipped differently from them. As hunters, their condition is only "abnormal" in virtue of the poor fit it has with respect to the dominant farmer based society.

It is no doubt the case that both author's hold to the theory of evolution, but Hartman relies on on it more conspicuously than Barkley. Barkley's view is more Aristotelian in suggesting that ADHD persons fail to have a property priorly proper to their type. It is not bad for a goat not to be able to talk since goats don't talk anyway. But it would be bad if a human being couldn't talk since talking is part of the natural powers of a human being. By the same token, it is not good for human beings to be time blind and this is not just true relative to a dominant culture, there is a fact of the matter.

Barkley is an expert researcher. I've looked at Hartman's book and it does not have the same evidential standards as Barkley. But aside from the evidential question, there is the specter of a political side to this debate. A motive you could possibly have for accepting Hartman's relativistic account is that, in a sense, in "normalizes" ADHD. "I'm a hunter and you're a farmer. We're just different." Since ADHD is often attended with morbid affect and low-self esteem, you can see how a morbid person would prefer this justification of his character. On Barkley's account, it seems like there is something necessarily inferior about the ADHD person (which seems to be Barkley's own view if the students remarks about his classroom behavior are to be believed). It may suggest that the best thing might be to round up all the ADHD people and lock them away.

But in Barkley's own book, ADHD is a condition that the person could not choose to not have and cannot help but place the burden that he does on society. Thus, such a person should be treated with compassion rather than derision. Given how "we" could not have developed as much as we have without the faculty of time sight, the lack of such a faculty must be a grievous burden on the well intended person with ADHD both for his own sake and also for the good he would do in society. Such a picture inspires our pity and mercy. There is no occasion for mercy if Hartman is right.

As a person who takes himself to have ADHD and who is also a Christian, my inclination is to side with Barkley. For starters, Barkley's work amounts to an argument in behalf of the objectivity of human nature and an objective order of natural based values, which is consistent with a teleological argument for God's existence from the existence of natural objective "design plans" such as humans and final causes. That is, he gives us reasons for believing in a teleological universe. From the prudential side, however, I think the student should consider that in this case if everything is normal, nothing is. If one were to embrace Hartman's view because it gives an account where there is no abnormal condition and thus no reason to feel bad about oneself, then one would be throwing out a very important baby with the bath water, the idea that there is such a thing as true value and a meaning to life. The attractiveness of the hunter/farmer distinction looks appealing because it seems to describe the ADHD person's place in the Great Human Republic as "hunter", but the view actually denies the existence of the Great Human Republic altogether.

It is admittedly painful for an ADHD person to confront all the implications of the Barkley view, with the realization that he is much more like an animal than a person in this respect and that the fulfillment of human potential is something outside of his power altogether. He is bound to experience that as if it were a kind of loss of something he never really had in the first place. It would be better to by literally blind but still have time sight then it would be to have ADHD and see, it seems to me. Still, I think Barkley is the best explanation and the one that it would be the most wise to accept.

It would take a real miracle to heal ADHD, just like the man born blind, the sort of thing I don't expect to see until Jesus returns. In the mean time, Paul's remarks about the thorn in his side seem to apply. It certainly also effects my judgment of sin and responsibility.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Good Opportunity.

I still have to work on the tensions in between my political views so the 2008 campaign looks like a good opportunity to do so.

A basic summary, for starters. In Isaiah Berlin's famous distinction between two notions of liberty, I don't accept his strong rejection, in the name of rejecting fascism, any positive assessment of that notion of liberty which he calls positive liberty.

I guess you could call my view imperfect perfectionism, which I would think is the classical political view of Plato and Aristotle. I definitely believe that their are certain liberty or negative rights that are implied by clear and perfect duties (e.g. that it is wrong to still implies a right to property). And certainly there are other rights which are justified rationally be the consequences of securing them, such as academic freedom.

But it is clear to me that the imperative force of moral norms is simply the natural imperative force of reason to rule over the non-rational, which we first encounter in our own individual selves but which we can also apply to communities by a sufficiently clear analogy such that as proper moral functioning in the individual where reason dictates and character implements, so proper functioning in society has elites who are intrinsically qualified to lead give a shepherding guidance to those citizens who are better suited to ends other than government.

If people were as good as they could conceivably be, and were absolutely diversely gifted, this system would be perfect and not fascistic. But given that all people have the same powers to some degree, and given the fragile character of goodness and the profound character of corruption, consequential reasoning requires us to allow the extension of political rights up and down the functional order of society as a check and balance by extending the rights to freedom of speech, of religion, of markets, of gun ownership, etc. to all citizens at least prima face.

I tend to favor then Locke's attempted synthesis between a natural law outlook for communities and families, with a democratic constitution of a procedural state.

But its a tenuous buisness and I don't know that it survives scrutiny.

Joining the Fred blog role.

I, the Gnu, am committing the existential leap of supporting a candidate with my blog. That is, it's my project, not the rajmeister's.

Why Fred? Let me say, with William James that I am deciding this passionally rather that intellectually. That is my reasons become exhausted at not caring for the democratic candidates and thinking that it is better to be involved per se than not involved. It would be reasonable to elect any of the Republican front runners to me but to be suspended over this and wait until after the primaries would be detrimental to the republican chances next year which are already slim. And Iraq is too important to not take a view on.

So why Fred? He is certainly scores high on social conservative values without being closed minded to policy or politically savvy judgment. He is a National Review type conservative and the one of the batch that is most like that. I hope he wins but even if he doesn't he could still keep the public debate focused on the right issues.

So; Go, Fred, go!!

Monday, October 01, 2007

LAME-O (2nd Edition)

Update: This post is no longer canon for LAME-O, but since it tells some of the history of development I'll leave it up. I have revised the rules and changed the name of the game to Pulp in a Cup.

Note: A couple of friends actually took an interest in this game, so I finally got to playtest

LAME-O, the Ludicrously Attenuated 'Magination Engine Optator!

Based on that experience, I am suggesting the following revisions. One concepts that LAME-O seems to work well with is movie franchises like Peter Jackson's "LOTR", the X-men movies, the Matrix movies, etc, since everyone who has seen them has a common idea of the world and characters already in mind. This fits nicely with the "beer & pretzels pick up" quality of the game. The link in the post title takes you to the original LAME-O game.

LAME-O ("2nd ed.")

  • Rule 1: All players creatively conceive and communicate their characters and their specific actions in the game narrative and the Game Master conceives and communicates the world setting and specific situations in enough detail such that the resolution of player actions is clearly indicated by the logic of the story.

  • Rule 2: If there is no clear outcome even after detailed exposition, this means that the opposing forces in the story are fairly evenly matched. If so, use the following die mechanic. Every time it comes down to a dice role, the roll is either a standard roll or an attack roll.
  • With a standard roll, the player rolls 1d20 and 3d6. The 3d6 represents the difficulty of the task and the d20 represents the degree of success. Then the GM adapts the narrative of the action (with the players' input) to justify the results of the roll. Also the d20 roll is open ended. If the d20 results in "20", roll the d20 again, treating another result of "20" as zero, and add it to 20 as a total result. If the d20 results in "1", roll the d20 again, treating another result of "20" as zero, and subtract it from 1 as a total result. By this means results are possible from -18 to +39. Compare the d20 result with the 3d6 result. The difference (d20 - 3d6) determines the degree of success based on the following scale (Example: deactivating a time bomb);
  1. (+11 or more)----"Divine intervention", "Terrorists give up and turn themselves in."
  2. (+8 - +10)------- Spectacular success (substantial collateral benefits), "Bomb deactivated and source for terrorist technology discovered."
  3. (+5 - +7) --------Great success (marginal collateral benefits), "Bomb deactivated and components salvaged."
  4. (+2 - +4) --------Sufficient success (no collateral benefits), "Bomb deactivated."
  5. (-1 - +1) ---------Partial, insufficient success (may roll again), "Bomb still active but timer pauses."
  6. (-4 - -2) ---------Sufficient failure (no collateral costs), "Bomb still active. Run away."
  7. (-7 - -5) ---------Great failure (marginal collateral costs), "Bomb active and timer speeds up."
  8. (-10 - -8) --------Spectacular failure (substantial collateral costs), "Ka-boom! The player's character is dead."
  9. (-11 or less) ------"Divine retribution", "Player's character dead, family loses NSA pension, and her favorite candidate loses re-election."
  • An attack roll works just like a standard roll except that the attacking character rolls the d20 and the defending character rolls the 3d6. The roll is made by whoever controls the attacker or defender (the GM rolls for non-player characters). If the roll is a success for the attacker, the degree of success determines the amount of damage which is handled narratively. If the role is a great failure or more there may be self-inflicted damage. (Other possible penalties could include losing place in the initiative order (the original initiative order in a combat situation can be established by having each character roll 1d6, rolling off tie results, and having everyone go from highest result to lowest), losing the next attack, or the defender getting a free attack on the attacker.) It is up to the GM whether an attack roll or a standard roll is used. Attack rolls are expected for combat situations but some contests of skill can be resolved by by attack rolls also (like trying to sneak up on a very perceptive guard). Other competitions between characters can be resolved by comparing the degree of success of the results of two standard rolls (like a footrace). Also surprise attacks and attacks of opportunity could be resolved as a standard roll.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

All religions are one.

One of the arguments of the emerging church is that structurally we have to recognize the fragmentation of society after globalization, which means that ideologically we cannot believe otherwise than by adopting the postmodernism's (a word which is always to be distinguished from "postmodernity's") conception of truth as constructed and pluralistic. A common source for this argument is the plurality of religious beliefs which seem so diverse and incompatible that they could have no common ground at all.

I was reading about Amida Buddhism, which is still one of the most popular forms of Buddhism in Japan. We don't know much about it in the West because the experts who provide the curriculum for our comparative religions courses find it too similar to Protestantism to be of any interest without seeing that it is precisely its great similarity to Western Protestantism that makes it so interesting.

A summary of my research: Amidism (also known as Jodo Shin or "Pure Land" Buddhism) may find its roots in the third and fourth century after Christ in the area of northwestern India. Amidism is oart of the larger tradition of Mahayana Buddhism and embraces Mahayana distinctives as opposed to the more philosophical Theravada school of Buddhism, which include the belief that Sidhartha was only one of many enlightened ones and that all of them participate in a universal Buddha Nature which is absolutely prior to all of them.

According to Amidism, the Buddha Amida (Amida Butsu) is one of such. The story about him is that he made a vow not to enter into enlightenment until he had accrued enough merit through ascetic discipline to obtain enlightenment not only for himself but for others. According to the story, Amida did obtain enlightenment under such a vow and so the observant who is not able to aspire to enlightment on his own ability may still obtain it just by conscientiously reaffirming in faith ten times "Namu Amida Butsu" -- "Glory to Amida Buddha!". By doing so the observant receives the excess merit accrued by Amida and is able to enter enlightenment based on that.

The basic insight is that the rigorous path to enlightenment is only possible for the few. According to most peoples' own self-assessments, they do not have what it takes to achieve the denial of the ego that is necessary for it. If that is all there is they have no reasonable hope except to rely on the merit of another. Further, Amida is cast in a personal way (supposedly borrowed from some Chinese Taoist sects) and enlightenment is depicted as a "pure land", greatest conceivable land where the water is always clean and the fruit is always fresh and abundant, etc. The idea is that with the use of such imagery, the concept of enlightenment is easier to grasp and the poor, having set aside the insecurity of ever acheiving Nirvana, may make whatever efforts they may toward it rather than despair. Many of the Mahayana buddhas are "bodhifications" of regional deities. It is thought that Amida is the buddha counterpart to Ahura Mazda from Zoroastrianism, having come from that region of the world. In other words, the roots of Amidism are thought to be from the apocalyptic religious traditions peculiar to the Middle East.

Several things strike the evangelical reader when hearing the story of Amida Butsu. First, the tendency of the religion to raise to Augustinian degrees about the individuals ability to deny self. The number of the poor tends to expand to include all people, no matter who much some may protest there self-sufficiency. Second, the need for grace in order to be delivered from this condition. Third that this grace is the result of another's sacrifice and the transfer of there accomplished observance to the believer's credit. Fourth, that the this can only be accomplished be faith -- the nambutsu formula cannot be recited to effective, it must be prayed. Fifth, the provider of this merit is one who is a man but also the universal Buddha. Sixth, that the basis for the transfer of this merit is a vow (a covenant) made by the one in question in behalf of others. Seventh, that unlike Buddhism in general, the basis of this story is not reason reasoning from its own resources. We need to told that this vow was made by the testimony of tradition. (In other words, Amidism is an apocalyptic faith.) Eighth, Amidism promises a personal future after death in the figure of a Pure Land to which the enlightened will go -- a land not so corrupted that enlightenment is only possible for the few if possible at all. In other words, Amidism is an eschatological faith. Finally, a characteristic internal foe of Amidism in the household of Mahayana Buddhism is Zen, which promises nothing but what a person may discover for themselves through their own hard work and rejects the "over-mythologizing" of the Pure Land school. (Think of the debate between Augustinianism and Pelagianism in Christianity.)

It seems clear that the logic and rational motivations for the doctrines of Amidism is essentially the same as that for the doctrines of Protestantism. One might suspect that at least the truth conditions for both are different. But one remembers that religious language is often language not about the essence of the religious object (which being infinite is beyond our ability to comprehend much less state in an essential definition) but about the various roles fulfilled by the religious object. "Creator", "Father", "Son", "Redeemer", "Christ", "Lord", "Savior", etc. are all role-realizer words. "The Creator of the world" is "The X such that X creates the world", which is something we can know to true based on revelation and/or reason, but which tells us nothing about what X is.

In the case of the OT saints, they put their faith in the promise of a future Messiah and they did so successfully without knowing that the Messiah would be Jesus. They believed in an X such that X would bring about the Kingdom of God, a function depicted and characterized by the revealed rituals of the OT economy. We now know that the Messiah, that the X in question is Jesus.

If Amida is defined as "The name we give to the X such that X performs the role characterized by fulfilling the pure land vow legend with sufficient proximity", then for all we know "Amida" is just another name for Jesus and the faith of the Amidist is faith in Jesus in a similar sense to the OT saint's faith in Jesus. It remains an empirical question whether a teacher in good standing with the Amidist community would understand his doctrine in this way. Without being able to say for certain whether this is the case, it seems the right attitude about the sufficiency of Amida faith on the part of the Christian must be agnosticism. On the best view, it seems that Amidism is a kind of proto-evangelion. However, the likely response of an Amidist to the Christian Gospel is not to see it as the fulfillment of Amidism but rather as something that the Amidist has no felt need to adopt. This may partially explain why after so many centuries of witness, Christianity has had no significant following in Japan where the Pure Land School has such a great following. As Christian missionaries, we would most fairly expect to win them by saying "We see that you are very religious" and "What you worship in ignorance we want to make plain to you". The most likely response is "We would like to hear more of this matter" rather than scoffing or believing. If we trace this dialectic through to this result we certainly would have accomplished the kerygmatic dimension of mission.

As this example suggests, in the case of Amidism, here we have a religion well within the larger tradition of a great world religion that is significantly similar in content to our chosen faith. Further, in that larger tradition, Amidism has rival sects that answer the fundamental questions differently than Amidism (like Zen about the importance of help from others vs. only helping yourself). Finally, while evangelicals tend to only identify Christianity with Protestantism, Protestantism makes sense only in a broader sphere of distinctive religious discourse that includes alternatives like Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Eastern Orthodoxy is more overtly Pelagian than the Augustinian Protestant (and not surprisingly more invested in spiritual exercises and meditation). So it sounds like you have something like this analogy:

Protestantism : Eastern Orthodoxy :: Amidism : Zen

Now it seems that what's true in this case about the relation between these views on the question of grace and responsibility is true actually or potentially of all religions and divisions of religions about all issues. All religions are one in that they wrestle with a certain set of particularly religious aporias even though they make alternative judgments about how to answer them. For any religious debate in any religious tradition, there is actually or potentially (that is, all the concepts are available in the religion to express the question not yet considered) counterpart debates in any other religious tradition. Given that the counterpart relation is one content, this means that every religion has a potential access point for making sense of any other religion, at least doctrinally.

Thus all religions have a unity that makes them potentially accessible to each other and which makes there religious claims evaluable by one another in terms of what is finally considered to be the best answer to each of the aporias all religions face (Some examples of such aporias; sovereignty vs responsibility, law vs grace, infinite vs personal, transcendence vs immanence, faith vs. works, one vs. many, atonement vs holiness, Being vs. Becoming, eternal vs. temporal, etc.) This contradicts the postmodernist account that sees all religious traditions as incommensurable and thus not available to rational discussion. As I hope to have illustrated, this view does not do justice to the phenomenology of religion.

One possible objection to this is the fact that in spite of the similarities between Amida and Protestantism, Amidism is still presupposing a general Buddhist metaphysic of Nothingness and the "no-self" which is clearly incompatible with Christianity. The reply is yes but this does not refute the possibility of internalizing the debate between Infinite Perfect Being vs. Nothingness within both Christianity and Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhism already contains theistic elements and in the west we did see at least one theologian, Thomas Altizer, defend what he called "Christian Atheism". We would not necessarily accept such innovations but that does not mean we cannot discuss them.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Quasi-public Comic Books.

A couple of events this week forced me to come to grips with a dilemma. One was the casual observation from a fellow professor that all pop culture must be avoided because it dumbs down the mind and undoes progress. Another was discovering a book on the current scene in comic books by an author who didn't quite get his doctorate. i won't say anything more about that since i only glanced through the work and cannot meaningfully discuss it.

Both event though helped me diagnose a condition I was suffering from. I was reintroduced late in life to comic books by a successful doctoral student who disclosed some the the high minded themes in today's current writers. That being the case, although I could clearly recognize the sophistication in current comic writers, I eventually became weary or the apparent retreading of views and opinions subtly expressed in them that just did not resonate with me. For me the popularity of Japanese manga was a great alternative because their comics were actually fun to read. However, it was palpable that they were not doing much for me intellectually and that the reiteration of the same old devices was making the novelty wear off fast. I liked manga when it reflected on the unique features of Japanese culture. Now I can see that even the Japanese have a criticism of their own culture which shows that it is toxic. so it is hard to be excited about it anymore.

Now I see the problem. Japanese comics are pop culture and American comics are not. Let the generalization pass for the moment. More importantly, what's going on in most American comics that are made by 'Big Comics' (as in 'Big Business', 'Big Media', and 'Big Science') are featuring a certain elite body of writers (setting aside the artists for the time being) who are all very distinguished not only in comics but also in publishing, screen writing, and/or television writing, Hollywood in four color print. These writers are also involved in an ongoing conversation with one another, a conversation that has its roots in reflecting on stories and traditional and contemporary thought. The coterie of comic writers is not unlike the coterie of professors within a discipline, including the aspect of speaking mainly to each other. You might not think so since comics are "for the masses". But the fact is that comics are packaged in way such that they finally result in graphic novels which will only be purchased by the self-styled and sophisticated consumer, one that sees themselves as part of an elite, all geekiness aside.

Much of what comics mainly do in this circle is to affirm, modify, challenge, etc. what the author sees other authors doing and so most comics are really about the state of comics itself, and the development of the direction of comics fits in a rewarding way with the categories and theories of modern literary studies. The comic industry functions like an extension of the literature department of a public university, whether intentionally so or not. Consequently, it is likely to be analyzable in terms of a Kuhnian account of paradigm change or a rhetoric of culture.

Which explains what I don't like about these comics -- their dogmatism and the corresponding discounting of rival comic projects (like Astro City). Gertrude Himmelfarb uses the phrase "quasi-public" to characterize ostensibly private institutions that develop bureaucracies remarkably similar to public institutions due to there dependence on the public sector for resources. Whoever has the gold makes the rules.

Are Big Comics quasi-public? Big Comics are not dependent on the public treasury for financing. But they are not banking their livelihood on Joe Fanboy's $2.95+ per issue either. They do significantly depend on other things which are quasi-public; Big Universities, Big Art, and Big Media. Consequently there is always the danger that Big Comics will become more like Court Comics. Comics becomes all about genre and not about "pop".

On the other hand, do Big Comics force the hand of the healthy minded consumer who does not want to be dumbed down but who does not fit well with the professionalized paradigm of "good story matter"? Big Comics can always oblige us to listen by their excellent quality (which no one can deny). But equally talented yet contrarian writers may just have to sit and listen and shut up. Maybe we need a blog for comic writers.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Wonderful, Wonderful, Copenhagen!

Here is an excellent "First Things" article by a physicist that explains some of the relevant philosophical features of quantum theory in a clear and useful way.

Links to other related articles.

Monday, May 07, 2007

What is the Emergent Church?

(Reposted from my post at Facebook's White Horse Inn group discussion board.)

After looking at some of Brian McClaren's writings, it seems to me that the emergent church movement has some alternative descriptions to it besides its own self-description which would help us appreciate it more than we do. The matter of self-description is very key to what they are all about as they are strategically trying to choose their words in order to be heard by the current phase of secular culture. However, they are also looking to create an opportunity to correct substantial problems in the culture of the church. The general character of these problems are distinctive in that they are not of the strictly theological sort but rather methodological. On the other hand they are still considered substantial because they deal matters of moral appraisal.

In a way, the emergent church movement is part of the story of the evangelical rejection of fundamentalism, which encouraged an open mind to culture and intellectual achievement and thus encouraged young Christians to put off their original in church upbringing and pursue university educations. The emergent church is the blowback from this move, importing academic culture into the culture of the church on the premise that, as expected, university culture had legitimate criticisms to make about the habits of churched communities and the church itself would have to listen in all fairness. Further it must be the case that these admonishments all point to blocks which prevent sophisticated academics from even considering the church. But this does not just become an issue for an elite but for all citizens receiving a college education.

The problem centers on the issue of what counts as critical thinking which the emergent church views from both sides of the church line. Much of classical evangelical apologetic method as given by Carnell, Schaeffer, Henry, CS Lewis, Van Til, Clark, and Hackett is still very much in the objective idealist tradition of philosophy at a time when professional academia has rejected that tradition for positivism. While not committed to logical positivism in its explicit form general features of the positivist view remain standard. For example, while evangelical apologetics had been emphasizing the importance of formulating a coherent world and life view according to some objective criteria of world-view evaluation (empirical fit, coherence, livability, etc.), the academy has come to reject all such activity as "system building" and to focus more on the analysis of concepts, languages, structures, signs, etc.. The only discipline which can make progress on this account is science which can be cashed out in terms of conditional hypotheses and matters of logic. This not only denies a common ground on the basis of explanatory values, the entrenchment of this view in the university is enforced by gatekeepers who maintain it as the main research framework. This basically creates a kind of culture shock but one such that there is no basis in principle of overcoming, especially if you think of culture shock as a form of shame created by the removal of cultural fig leaves in the eyes of other cultures.

As Christians have gone through the university regimen they have become more savvy about where the university culture is most vulnerable. A good example is Alvin Plantinga. Plantinga altered the agenda of religious philosophy by defending the idea that belief in God could conceivably be a belief that needs no evidence to be legitimate. From the point of view of a traditional apologetics this seemed appalling given that Paul so clearly says that creation leaves a clear witness, enough to oblige belief in all people. It seemed that Plantinga's approach fell far short of the potential of theistic evidence according to the Scripture, thus compromising by implication the authority and inerrancy of Scripture.

I'm not sure if Plantinga believes in the inerrancy of Scripture or not, but that doesn't matter. Plantinga's agenda is not determined deductively from Scripture but rather by learning how the contemporary philosophy game is played and addressing it's weaknesses strategically. It is enough that it is logically conceivable that a person may have belief in God at the foundation of his justification tree, whether one actually does or not. Such a possibility refutes the putative obligation to proportion all beliefs to empirical facts, a tacit restriction of what may count as good thinking. By making such a point Plantinga is raising an internal criticism about the rules of the game, which is a legitimate move. His dialectical strategy is such that the average church goer may have a hard time seeing what he is up to and may in fact think that Plantinga is giving away the store. But this is only because he does not have the wherewithal to see things from Plantinga's point of view.

Plantinga's strategy is an excellent example of the "David and Goliath" approach -- taking out the most intimidating of Giants with the most meager looking of weapons. In turns out that the most vulnerable spots are only susceptible to the simplest weapons.

If we generalize this case, we can see what the problem is. Imagine the evangelical of the 1970's becoming a parent and sending his child to college not just with the intention of getting a career but in order make a real application of bring all of life under the Lordship of Christ. But after four years, the child has returned home an agnostic having found no leveredge for the evangelical theology he learned to make an impact into his university experience and having to choose between "all truth" and "God's truth". This because he has only learned how he was supposed to think and not how to think simpliciter which is a skill not automatically nor widely possessed by the population, Christian or otherwise. Now if he were to stick with the university and was not afraid of how he would sound to the folks back home he would eventually find the way to hold his faith and learning together as he grew in his abilities. But his doing so would leave the home church unchanged and recreating the drama for each new college student. The church may eventually regret adopting the positive cultural outlook of evangelicalism and retreat back to fundamentalism and isolation.

Hence the program of the emergent church movement which is the radical program of reinventing local church culture to bring it up to speed with the forces pushing from the top down that are isolating it in spite of the churches best intentions. The emergent church uses the language of our "postmodern situation" to communicate its agenda according to its aims. More specificly, it is incorporating the David and Goliath strategy, moving away from overt emphases on truth, argument, and evidence for the more thin looking issues of plausibility and narrative. In spite of the term "postmodern culture" the emergent church is really trying to acclimate the church more to intensified modernity in a way that maintains the essential character of the church more effectively.

The mandate for an emergent church is thus not a call to revival or reformation nor is it a mandate for psychotherapy or church growth techniques. It's a renegotiation of the territory within and between the church and the world. By calling it an emergent church it forces the choice for local Christians between the Old Way of doing things and the New Retrofitted Way of doing things while making the New Way strategically geared to respond to the press of modern quasi-public culture that is driven by the university. In this sense the emergent church is helping the average Christian who cannot see what is going on to be already acclimated to it and thus able to adapt to it.

In conclusion, the emergent church is the offspring of the evangelical movement in the respects that this movement distinguished itself from Fundamentalism. In many ways, the emergent church is being true to the spirit of J. Gresham Machen and Francis Schaeffer if we could only see the big picture. But there are many in the church who cannot do this. In this respect, in which everything comes down to differences with respect to critical thinking, inequalities of ability are unavoidable. The emergent church movement has put aside universal education of all and has adopted the strategy of thinking with the learned and speaking differently to the vulgar.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Just a Reminder

Pancho: !Hey Cisco! !Tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo!

Cisco: !Carumba! ?You know what that means don't you, amigo?

Pancho: !Si! That means that tomorrow is . . .

Pancho y Cisco: !! FREE COMIC BOOK DAY!!

Cisco: Say, Pancho. ?Do you think they'll have any Tijuana Bibles?

Pancho: Only the ones los hermanos Hernandez write.

Cisco: !Oh, Pancho!

Pancho: !Oh, Cisco!

Monday, April 30, 2007

Miller vs. Millar

After the wretchedness of Marvel's non-excelsior unsaga "Civil War" starring Mark Millar as Captain America ("Heaven knows we need more statesmen!", to quote Bloom County), and just when you thought the Dark Age of Comics entailed dark mindedness, Frank Miller comes out as being on the same page as Dennis Miller with respect to national security.

Brad Melzer ruined the contemporary comics scene for the whole professional American comic book industry. He produced a story line for DC which displayed a character building scenario showing how otherwise well minded people can come to be at odds over dilemmas that are only faced by superheroes -- part of an intelligently crafted and surprising mystery for the DC specific universe. Unfortunately, he may have set the bar too high, since the Infinity Crisis never quite rose to the standards set by its prequel.

Enter Marvel with its own universe redefining story featuring its traditional focus on 3-D character development, or so we all thought. Unfortunately what looked like another deep exploration of how the gods might disagree about a moral dilemma that only they face turned out to be a political diatribe about the administration -- not that there's anything wrong with that except being dumbed down and boring at best and deheroifying previously sainted characters at worst. Rather than producing a conscience stimulating character developing story where the partisans on both sides of the issue are keenly aware of the difficulties and strengths of each option which manifest genuine moral tragedy and crisis, what we got were "heroes" who couldn't rise above the level of partisan jingoism with one time spouting off nativistic libertarian platitudes and the other spouting sycophantic litanies. Finally, when it does end (looking at both the Mark Millar and Peter Jenkins story lines), it becomes a classic piece of rhetoric where even if you were wrong all along you were right and visa versa. ("You can't touch me here.") At least we succeeded in offending -- or at least dissatisfying -- both sides. Finally, Cap is killed off because he has become a square circle for current writers and readers.

Enter Frank Miller, godfather of the Dark Age, with his outspoken views of how 9/11 helped him to close on patriotism, the American flag, and his WWII era parents. Miller, after all, is a Joneser, the lost sociologically category between Baby Boomers and Baby Busters, that have been tending to the social right since they were born. Frank Miller offers the potentially interesting secular insight that "patriotism" is really a species of rational self-interest, potentially solving Cap's false dilemma, something which merits further thought. But Miller still has the cultural memory that impresses one with the fact that secularization needs a theodicy.

Mark Millar, however, is clearly a generation well after WWII, one which is more like the generation prior to WWI, a product of the new quasi-public, not-for-profit sector of banalized good feelings. It is not surprising that the story of Civil War failed to be the advertized challenging tragedy and turned out to be sophistical formula.

I really shouldn't be the one to say this, much as it seems to need saying. But now I can stop because Frank's coming out. I look forward to "Holy Terror, Batman" (review and video clip) when it comes in print. (/rant)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Meanwhile, at the Academy of Star Fleet Command . . .

Slavik: Ah! Cadets Barrac and Samrat.

Barrac: Ah! Slavik! Back from leave on Vulcan?

Slavik: Indeed. It seemed the logical thing to do. But I was puzzled on arrival.

Samrat: Why so? Oh, you must have heard our friend Kirkson was getting washed out.

Slavik: Even so. Was it not the case that Kirkson came into the academy with one of the highest profiles in the institution's history?

Barrac: That's true but he was also a wild card. Because of his abilities his promotion was accelerated and did not go through normal channels. It is possible to miss evidence of unfitness in the early stages.

Slavik: In what sense was he unfit?

Samrat: The official statement was that he was unable to cope with military life. Oh, look! There he is now boarding the departure shuttle. We came to see him off when we bumped into you here.

Barrac: Too bad. Look at the disappointed expression on his face. It's hard for a young man from Earth to give up on a life of adventure.

Slavik: I still don't understand. What happened?

Barrac: Kirkson was not able to complete the interspace technical operations training.

Samrat: In particular, Kirkson was in class with us during the lecture where the operational principles of transporter operation were explained. You know that lecture?

Slavik: Of course. Vulcans had discovered transporter principles on there own before they adopted federation models. The transporter was considered by Surak to greatly facilitate logical enlightenment -- the one technology that he never criticized. So this must have been the lecture where it was explained that what a transporter actually does is bit map a laser simulacrum of the functional structure of the object and its current state, while the matter synthesizer de-atomizes the object mapped and re-synthesizes a counter part object from ambient particles at the desired location according to the map. Not much different from starship food processors.

Barrac: That's the one - the one where they demonstrate the process by a short, in-class, transporter jump where two senior cadets start by playing a game of chess, stop in the middle, get in the transporter, get beamed to the other transporter, and pick up their game exactly where they left off.

Samrat: Except the lecturer also mentioned the "Zombification Legend".

Slavik: Oh, yes! The legend that since all that is preserved is the functional state of the person prior to entering the transporter, it may be that the person after leaving the transporter could function and behave as before but without conscious experiences.

Barrac: Yes, as if the person is perpetually sleep walking.

Samrat: Or even making the person cease to exist altogether while the body just becomes a highly realistic zombie. Of course, it's called a legend because we would have no way of telling the difference.

Barrac: Of course, that seems highly unlikely given that we already have conscious experiences before we go in a transporter in this universe.

Samrat: And we still have them after!

Barrac: We do?

Samrat: Don't you? My, that is distinctly bright shade of red in your uniform!

Barrac: Thanks! I'm trying a new detergent wave for clothes maintenance. By the way, check out Ensign Mitchell over there.

Samrat: Gorgeous! I wish they would go back to the official miniskirt uniform. Zing!

Slavik: Humans!

Barrac: Disgusted?

Slavik: Of course not. And of course, all this is beside the point.

Samrat and Barrac: Hahahahahahaha!

Slavik: Humor. It is a difficult concept.

Samrat: Anyway, it turns out that Kirkson could not dismiss the "zombification" possibility and he refused to go in the transporter even once.

Slavik: Now I see. Fascinating.

Barrac: The academy adviser said that this still happens from time to time. They will re-assign him to civilian duties but he cannot be a Starfleet officer. He will probably be assigned to a research position.

Slavik: What a loss to Starfleet.

Barrac: Isn't it? (Begins to snicker.)

Samrat: It sure is. (Both snicker out of control.)

Slavik: What is it?

Samrat: Mmmmff! Well, what can I say? The joke's on Kirkson.

Barrac: Right! Last night we invited him to a "going away" party, got him passed out on black market Romulan ale, and beamed him through the lecture room transporter anyway.

Samrat: That was my idea!

Barrac: Look, he's wiping a tear from his eye and waving goodbye to us! How sentimental!

Samrat: I kill me!

Slavik: Humor. It is a difficult concept.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Written Out of the Saga.

Captain America
is dead,
is dead.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Norman Malcolm and Religious Doctrine

Norman Malcolm has a paper offering an analysis of the way we ordinarily use the phrase "I know". Malcolm observes from cases that we often use the phrase "I know" and "I believe" to refer to the same belief/knowledge situation when all of the objective factors are the same. For example if I say that I know that there are cookies in the cookie jar (because I just got back from the cookie jar and saw that there were plenty of cookies there) and you go and look and see the cookies, I would say that I knew it. But if you went and looked and saw that the jar was empty you would say, "No, you only believed it".

Accordingly, our use of the phrase "I know" is inconsistent with any traditional account of epistemology. According to Plato, when a boy understands the proof for a theorem in geometry, such as that given any square another square whose side is the length of the diagonal of the original square will be twice area of the original square, he not only knows it, he knows that he knows it -- that is he can introspectively inspect the proof in his own mind and see that the conclusion must be true. This opposed to the person who excepts the same claim on the authority of Euclid. Such a person might be willing to say that he knows that the claim is true but also be willing to consider it false if he discovered that many other geometricians disagreed. But the person who actually possesses in their mind the proof would think that such rival geometers must somehow be mistaken.

In other words, we say "I know" in different ways. Specifically, there is a strong use and a weak use of "I know". If I say "I know" in the strong way, what I mean is that I am not open to any counter evidence to what I am claiming. If I say "I know" in the weak way, what I mean is that I am open to any counter evidence to what I am claiming. The two uses are logically exclusive of each other. In other words, my use of "I know" tracks with what I am prepared to do.

Malcolm observes that this distinction between the strong and the weak use of "i know" cuts across the traditional distinction between a priori and a posteriori knowledge. Their are certain mathematical claims that we would not hesitate to say we know (like 2 + 2 = 4) and think that anyone who doubted it was dysfunctional. But many others (like e^--(pi x i) = 1) which we would be willing to admit a need to recheck our work to be sure we are right). Also while "the sun is 9 x 10^7 miles away" and even "there is a heart in my chest" are things that I could imagine some measure of countering evidence for, according to Malcolm, I could not imagine any possible evidence that would refute "here is a computer" for me. He further argues that for me I could not have an infinite chain of weakly used knowledge claims for any a posteriori claim, so that there must be a posteriori strong knowledge claims somewhere for me.

So traditional epistemology is completely orthogonal the way I use the claim to know and its logical characteristics. Further, even though its true that for some subject S and some proposition p, if S knows that p, then it is true that p, it does not follow that if I claim I know that p that I either know that p or that p is true, for either the strong or the weak use of knowing. So the description of how we use "I know" teaches us nothing about epistemology and whatever is true about epistemology does not effect our use of "I know". Consequently, traditional epistemology is otiose to ordinary language.

But even if Plato is wrong and there is no way of distinguishing knowledge from mere belief by introspection, introspection does distinguish between my use of "I know" strongly or weakly. Once I am aware of the distinction, I can discern and choose which use to make of "I know" and so such uses are conspicuous to me because I control them.

I think such an account has interesting consequences for faith and reason. One of them is on the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Consider the case of doubting Thomas. He continues to doubt even the authority of his friends' testimony until he sees Jesus alive for himself. We could imagine Thomas saying "I know that no one ever comes back from the dead" but his consideration of criterion for a genuine appearance of Jesus (feeling the nail and spear prints) suggests that this was "I know" in the weak sense. However, seeing Jesus face to face would have been a paradigm case of what Malcolm calls the strong a posteriori use of "I know" -- "I know Jesus is here". In other words, for Thomas:

(1) I knew (in the weak use) that no one comes back from the dead.
(2) I now know (in the strong use) that Jesus is alive.

are consistent. Whatever might be odd about the claim that someone rose from the dead, there is nothing logically odd about it.

Another use for this discussion is in determining the import of doctrinal subscription. Basil Mitchell uses the example of the French Resistance Leader to illustrate how faith is rational without being specific about what would make it false. He argues that we can meaningfully talk of falsification without specifying before hand what counts as a falsifying instance. Suppose you are in the French Resistance in WWII. In a foxhole you meet a charismatic figure that inspires trust and confidence who claims to be the secret leader of the Resistance. But later you see him leading the Nazis in squashing Resistance fighters. Others may give up on him but your original encounter with encourages you to think that perhaps he is tricking the Nazis to let down their guard. There may be some situation that would really compel you to lose faith in the leader but for now you cannot think of what it would be like. It does not mean that you believe in the Leader no matter what. We can imagine the resistance fighter even saying in this situation that he knows (in a weak use of knowledge) the Leader is fighting for us.

According to CS Lewis, though, there are situations in which we would be reasonable to say that we could not seriously entertain any possibility of doubt in someone. If we are on a ledge on the 100th story of a burning building and the fireman on the rope in front of us is telling us to step off the ledge, even though his direction seems to us to be the height of absurdity, we must not regard that absurdity seriously. In such a situation we could imagine steeling ourselves to action be saying "I know (in the strong use) that I can safely step off the ledge". According to Lewis before we can reasonably say this we must have some evidence for it independently of the situation, but in certain situations obstinacy of belief is appropriate.

Consider these claims:

(3) I know that what God tells me is true.
(4) I know that God is speaking to me here in the Bible.
(5) I know that infralapsarianism is true.

It seems that (3) is an example of a strong a priori use of "I know". Once we know what "God" and "speaks" mean, we can see that its true and in a way that makes it impossible to expect counter evidence. Further, it seems that (4) is an example of a strong a posteriori use of "I know". You might not think so but it seems to me that one could either have an immediate impression of God speaking in the Scriptures (say) in the sense that Malcolm speaks of a strong knowledge claim like "here is a computer", or start by having an encounter with the text that is similar to Mitchell's account of the Resistance Leader but which existential urgency may lead you to strengthen along the lines of CS Lewis' account of belief. In such cases, it seems that (4) is appropriate. But in the case of (5), (note: infralapsarianism is the doctrine that God's decree that there would be a fall of all mankind is logically prior to His decree that some should be elected to salvation) the state of affairs that is the basis of (3) and (4) together leads (if it indeed does) to the acceptance of (5) but it seems that one should only affirm (5) in the weak way rather than the strong way because we may admit the possibility that we may have incorrectly read the text or made a false inference from the textual data. However, Malcolm's account helps us make sense of how it is that we can speak so confidently even in differing conditions of belief formation. I say "I know" in both cases and the logic of saying I know allows this. Further, I could even be aware that saying "I know" in (3) - (5) does not imply that I know or that what I claim to know is true, and yet this would not prevent me from saying (3) - (5) nor would it keep me from being in my rights to say (3) - (5).

Now one way to characterize doctrinal assent is that such an assent is determined by what I am prepared to do and what I am prepared to do can help specify whether I am giving my assent in the intended way or not. Many humanists say that there is no greater bane to thought than holding to doctrines. However, if my holding to a doctrine that p means that I am prepared to say "I know that p" as Malcolm has discussed this, it is difficult to see how that could be a bane to thought. I know (strongly) that doctrine is not a bane to thought.

Further, if someone wants to know if I subscribe to a doctrine and I say "Yes, I know that the doctrine is true", that person can ask whether I am using "I know" strongly or weakly. I say that I can only say that I know that doctrine is true in a weak use, not a strong use. To which the reply might be, "Sorry, but we can only grant membership to those who would say that they know that doctrine is true in a strong way". The difference between the strong and the weak use distinguishes different requirements for assent in the same list of doctrines. Another possibility is that it may not matter which, one must at least claim knowledge in a weak sense.

So when we ask what is intended by the requirement a necessary condition for being a pastor in a Presbyterian denomination is that one subscribes to the Westminster Confession of Faith, we can ask if that means that pastor candidates must be able and willing to say that they know in a strong way that the contents are true. If we allow the caveat that if at any time the pastor changes their mind about any doctrine, they will notify the denominational authorities for evaluation and possible administrative dismissal, then if that means we are asking the candidate to take seriously the possibility he might be wrong, then we are requiring that the doctrinal acceptance implies a weak use of knowledge, but if we take the caveat to be essentially trivial then we are requiring that the doctrinal acceptance implies a strong use of knowledge. Either way, not all candidates who do hold to the doctrine would be acceptable. Of course, this is a false dilemma because it may be that the caveat takes it to be a possible situation even for those who do hold to the doctrine and claim knowledge of it in the strong way and this because the caveat is aware that even knowledge in the strong sense does not imply truth so that even the one who cannot imagine counter evidence my find the unimaginable thrust upon him. The caveat implies that not all doctrinal departures are within the scope of moral irresponsibility, sometimes a responsible person may have to disagree so its not clear that every doctrinal departure is a failure of character even though that is certainly possible and likely. Also, allowing weak uses of knowledge allows that some of doctrines to be accepted just on the authority of a credible tradition which means that one may accept the standards even if one has not personally worked out every article of them. Finally, since if Malcolm is right that there must be some cases of the strong use of "I know" if there are to be any cases of a weak use of "I know" and since some of those cases may turn out to be doctrines as well like (3) and (4), then the best sense of the caveat seems to be that while one must be prepared to say of any doctrine in the set that "I know", the caveat is indifferent about whether that "I know" is strong or weak.

All that to say that some interpretations of subscription, such as that all the doctrine must all be accepted as known in a strong way and never in a weak way, may be abuses of subscription requirements. On the other hand, to say that what one really is required to accept the system of doctrine in the confessions and not every jot and tittle of it suggests that some of the doctrines are different from the rest and whether or not this difference consists in what certain doctrines must be held strongly whether the rest are held strongly or weakly. But since the system of doctrine whatever it is is distinguished from the evangelical essentials there is a further question about the differences among the privileged system of doctrine. However, this may be a case not of distinguishing between what is strongly held from what is weakly held but between what must be strongly held in order to be accepted as a church member and what must be strongly held in order to be a pastor which would include the former. It also seem that another abuse of subscription would be if the real doctrinal requirements for pastors differed exclusively from those required of members including in the respect of whether they were held strongly or weakly.

Finally, Malcolm's approach sheds some light on how such communities that define themselves doctrinally can be legitimately exclusive. If doctrinal subscription is in part about what we are prepared to say it seems that prima facie it may be related to what we are prepared to do and in the existential sense what we are prepared to be. If a community is devoted to a certain vocation, it may require the right attitude to the presuppositions of that vocation and that attitude may require being prepared to say certain things. And in perpetuation, we may be required to teach what we say we know so anyone who is not in sync with this is an impedance to it. There is a doctrinal aspect to asking a person to either lead, follow, or get out of the way.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Philosophy and Canon

My study on the relation between Scripture and practical wisdom has turned to the threefold division of the OT canon according to Jer. 18.18 into the torah of the priest, the counsel of the wise, and the word of the prophet. The Torah is the five books of Moses, the Prophets are Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah-Lamentations, Ezekiel, and the Twelve, and the Writings are everything else in the OT, particularly the Ezra books, the Psalms, and the wisdom literature. I am especially indebted to Walter Brueggeman's book, "The Creative Word" from Fortress Press.

It is clear that while all scripture is inerrant, there are relations of authority in between these sections of the canon. The Torah is absolutely authoritative,the authority of the prophets is subject to the Torah, and the writings are subject to both of the others. This is seen in the different degrees of care taken in the transmission of the text. Scribes that were nattingly meticulous in copying the Torah took more liberties with the wisdom literature.

The wisdom literature in fact seems to have had to have been "canonified" before they could be canonized. A good example is Ecclesiastes which purports to have been written for the most part by Solomon, identifying himself as the Preacher, at a time when his spiritual status was very much in question -- that is, sometime after his corruption by his wives and the abuses that led into the divided kingdom. He expresses a view that seems at odds with biblical faith which made its canonization difficult. But the book begins with a reference to the Preacher in the third person, and ends with a third person reference to the Preacher along with a general statement about the preacher's speeches as well as a general statement about wisdom. What seems to have happened is that an editor added the more constructive parts -- especially the claim that the sum of the matter is to fear God and obey His commandments -- and this is what makes the book as a whole acceptable in the canon (hence I say that it was canonified in order to be canonizable).

We only need to add that, while the New Testament has not been traditionally classified into such sections the three functions can be seen to be performed in various ways in the New Testament as well.

The wisdom literature is neither the Law of God nor the word of the Lord but rather based on ordinary life experience of the authors in service to the Torah. The purpose of the wisdom lit is to show us how to live life by God's law. Consequently, it is the most humanistic part of the canon. It represents a sanctified humanism and provides a model for our own progress into an adult faith. In the wisdom lit God normifies human understanding within limits and discourages it from becoming either autonomously self-sufficient or despairingly useless.

This is includes speculative matters as well as practical. Consider these three claims about what the Old Testament affirms, along with my verdict on whether such a claim is confirmed or unconfirmed by the OT evidence.

(1) The OT affirms authentic divine predestination. (Confirmed.)

(2) The OT affirms authentic moral responsibility. (Confirmed.)

(3) The OT affirms that authentic divine predestination is compatible with authentic moral responsibility. (Unconfirmed.)

Seeing the careful way God's divine hand is manifest in all parts of the OT canon, the OT clearly affirms divine predestination. Also, it is clear that the OT law holds men authentically responsible. At a first glance, this leads us to expect that it would hold a compatibilist view of the relation between sovereignty and responsibility. But in fact we find no evidence of that and in fact we find a kind of balking at the question in its various forms, especially in the Psalms, Job, and Ecclesiastes. For starters, a compatibilist argument would be quite an elaborate undertaking for the authors of Scripture other than we would expect but it would still not do enough to account for the incompatibilist intuitions people typically have. Rather than deal with the issue, the OT resorts to throwing the whole point back against the Divine voice out of the whirlwind, appealing to the throne rights of God, and/or confronting man with God's incomprehensible mystery. There is a demand for an answer which is never satisfied per se but rather condemned to be inappropriate. And God is choosing to approach the problem this way rather than give us a theory about the relationship between the two.

If we pushed the logic of (1) and (2) with an explicit contradiction of (3), then the Bible would be guilty of asserting an outright contradiction. So the biblical response hovers between fully embracing contradiction and fully satisfying demands for explanation. I think it is relevant that the OT absorbs this hit principally in the wisdom literature, the writings part of the canon. It is clear that the revealed things belong to us, but the secret things belong only to God. It is not forbidden to us to learn what we may about them but we cannot demand that everything make sense before believing. Not everything and a profound lot of things will never make sense to us.

It strikes me then that what the Bible thinks about wisdom comes very close if not exactly getting right the experience of philosophical reflection for the most part. When the philosophy considers the big questions, they invariably run against aporia which never seems to become satisfyingly resolved but which grow deeper ever deeper in undestanding. One can never rise to the level of pure dogmatism about these questions and can never be sure that there is not a further consideration that will refute his best account. Philosophy is a mixture of joy and sorrow, of wisdom gained and lost.

Now the interesting thing is that the Bible frustrates any insistent demand to have all this worked out by God so that this is often used as an objection to its authority. But taking the philosophical experience as a whole, it is clear that not only does the Bible not resist that, but rather it accepts it to the extent it internalizes the whole process into its canon when that process concerns God. And all philosophically interesting questions eventually concern God. This also includes the question of how God could possibly exist (or not exist). This is fitting with the doctrine that God is not a darkness, in which there is no light at all, but rather God is an inapproachable light, to dazzling to be ever taken in all the way but in which we may discern some things at the edges.

Or to quote John Cleese in "Clockwise", "It's not the despair. I can deal with that. It's the hope!"

In Plato's dialogues, Socrates is often described in various metaphors that bring out his mission to show those who think they know that they really don't know as they think and thus realizing their ignorance, they finally have the chance to really seek to understand. In the Apology, Socrates refers to himself as the Gadfly of Athens, irritating the city as if it were a sluggish horse. In the Meno, Socrates is described as a Stingray (or Torpedo Fish) stinging his prey and making them numb, that is making them more unsure of what they dogmatically thought they were sure. In this ministry of awaking people from their dogmatic slumbers, we have the characteristic ideal of western education and enlightenment.

One section of society, that is thought to be in especial need of Socratic therapy are Bible believers who seem to be locked into a dogmatism into which nothing can pry. The limits of this perception can be clearly seen in the function of the OT canon itself.

(A) In the Torah, God is the gadfly of the worldly powers. The Torah is the story of how a God alien to the worldly power and settled establishments of Pharaoh breaks in with greater power in behalf of those voiceless ones who have been unjustly enslaved and who will become a nation that stands in the middle of the crossroads of the world to reveal a different way of life to those passing by.

(B) In the Prophets, God is the gadfly to Israel. The institution of the role of prophet is set up in the Torah itself, in its priestly functions. Out of this the prophets are raised up from the poor in Israel to oppose the Torah experts with the Torah and to recall the kings to justice, speaking in ways that evoke conscientiousness. This function can be seen in Jesus rebuttal to the Pharisees.

(C) In the Writings, God is the stingray to the wise raising difficulties and then leaving them to answer them but not allowing their answers to be established hastily in pride nor allowing wisdom to ultimately despair.

So those scriptures provide the very resources that overcome the ossification of opinion. Fundamentalism is biblical ineptitude. A child-like settled faith in the promises of scripture is compatible an adult struggle with reasoning about nature, so that the Biblical God is more like a Socrates who is killed unjustly rather than a Buddha that we are exhorted to kill.