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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Subsidiarity & Religious Psychology

Subsidiarity & Religious Psychology

William James in his work on the psychology of religion, characterizes two types of religious psychology that he observes in the religious experience of humanity. One he calls the healthy minded, morally strong type. A good example is Zen Buddhism which emphasizes self-help and the sufficiency of reason and practice in religious formation. Charismatic leaders play only an ancillary role in facilitating religious development in followers which is neither necessary mor sufficient to their success. Eventually, religious followed should be able to reconstruct the path to religious success for themselves.

The other type is what Janes calls the sick-souled spiritually dependent type. A good example is the Shin schools of Buddhism where the supplicant admits that he is unable to make sufficient progress on his own and must rely on surrogate labors of others. Religious figured are indispensable for their objective work on behalf of others. Fruits of such labor cannot be discovered by reason alone but require proclamation and tradition in the form of legends technique will not obtain this help which can only be acknowledged, requested, and relied on.

In Christianity, the same is observed. Focusing on Western Christianity, believers struggle to avoid two extremes, Pelagianism or autosoterism, in which God's role is only to acknowledge moral perfection when it is achieved by the striving of the saint and Christ's work on the cross is only an example of morality to us. The other extreme is theologism the view that God is the sole cause of all that happens in creation and redemption such that secondary causes are mere illusions.

Within those boundaries, the church in the west has been divided into the Roman Catholic and the Protestant branches. The first seems to emphasize moral strength more. Salvation as justification depends on your works being sufficiently worthy to justly earn heaven. Both the work of Christ and other forms of grace are necessary for success but they are all ancillary to this result. The tradition also gives greater scope to natural reason for moral guidance as well as institutional support through the catholic church hierarchy.

The Augustinian-Jansenist-Protestant branch of western theology reflects the spiritual dependence theme. Salvation is all of grace even to the point of being chosen before time for salvation independently of our own existence. The believer is absolutely dependent on God for salvation. He is not just sick but dead in his guilt and sin and cannot save or seek salvation of himself. In Protestantism, Christ is not merely an example nor even just ancillary to salvation but rather is the complete and sufficient achievement of that salvation for believers. This is known by special revelation only which while compatible with objective morality relies on it primarily to expose the absolute need for grace. This has tended to make the believer immediately present in her own subjectivity before God and has deemphasized the institutional church.

It seems that healthy minded religion and sick souled religion are supposed to be incompatible. Yet either one if not taken to extremes us something that is prima facie good in it's own right. Also each is supported by it's own primary intuition: health mindedness by the intuition of personal moral responsibility and the sick-souled by the intuition of absolute dependence. Both of which is a part of out intuition of God as sovereign and as mysterium tremendum et fascinans.

In spite of these differences, Protestants and Catholics have discovered a very important area if common ground emerging from their respective traditions. From the Protestant side it's called "sphere sovereignty". From the Catholic side, it's called "Subsidiarity". Both terms highlight that there are different spheres of responsibility that a person may act it. The first highlights them as distinct jurisdictions and the second their ordering relations.

An example is the relation between the family and the state. According to Subsidiarity, the two spheres are distinct in that they have specific responsibilities that are primarily theirs. Yet each has on obligation to assure the ends of the other. So for example, the mission of the family is to see to the being and well-being of it's members. This includes their health but also the development of their potential and character. However, the state sees to the security of it's citizens and their prosperity and posterity. It thus recognizes that developing character in it's citizen's is a public good. But it also sees that developing character is principally the purpose of the family. So the state sees to it's proper public good by facilitating the family in it's own pursuit in it's own mission and not by doing the family's job for it (unless the family has become so broken down that it cannot do it's job). Citizens with good character are a public good but the role of the state is subsidiary to the role of the family.

Now I suggest that Subsidiarity may help us to reconcile the the healthy minded and sick souled sides of western Christianity and thus may shed s useful light on some of the plights of Western Christianity today.

One if the great concerns of Protestantism is it's apparent co-belligerency with early modern thought in taking the subjective turn. But a better way of thinking about this is to recognize that it's good for theism to see that there are many ways something could be, one if which is to be subjectively. What the early modern period discovered or re-discovered is the sphere of the individual, that alongside the social spheres of responsibility there is also for each person the sphere of the self that she is accountable for. So if we see that we can see that the priorities of religion of the sick souled are the priorities of religion in the sphere of the individual sphere. On the other hand, the priorities of the religion of the healthy minded are the priorities of religion in the social spheres, beginning with the family. Finally, the priorities of religion per se or per the religious object are the priorities of the sphere of the religious institution, the church, temple, shrine, or mosque.

The western church's primary responsibility is orthodoxology, the right speaking of God in proclamation and worship. But this also includes holding the spiritual and moral well-being of it's members as individuals and as a community since repentance is the appropriate response to the evangel. But the church's role is secondary to the family in cultivating the pedagogy of moral and compassionate becoming that makes for community. The real know-how and direct supervision for that belongs to parents and peers. But such wisdom will be a natural wisdom common to all families with a presumption of virtue and prudence. All this is wholly appropriate to cultivating moral strength. Here is the grist that helps us understand the theology of sanctification, mortification, and divine chastening.

But it also is an aim of the church to see to the salvation of souls. This takes up the soul's own responsibility for her own happiness and her intimate knowledge of fallenness, sinfulness, and irreconciliation with God. The church guides with Christian direction but this is ancillary to the soul's own response to grace. This can only be appropriate to the soul based on self-awareness even though this is sabotaged by self-deception. The awareness of one's own helplessness appropriately calls for dependence. The soul may balk at this because of uncertainty created by worries that melancholia is misleading them but that is yet another feature that makes total dependence rational. But the church seeks to direct the individual to the word of God as to the truth apart from all self-deception. But the soul must choose to apply that truth to itself. And here we have the whole forensic and relational theology of graces like substitution, justification, assurance of salvation and so on.

So the consistency of healthy mindedness and sick souledness is consistent because these modes of the psychology of religion are true relative to a sphere. The fact that individuals are placed immediately before the presence of God in the individual sphere of concern for salvation is consistent with the fact that communities as communities are directly present to God according to the other social spheres and their specific economies, including the church.

Of course, this solution does not automatically dictate how specific doctrinal conflicts between branches of the church should be worked out. But it should take off the table objections to doctrines that are based on consequentialist arguments such as that this or that doctrine leads to either rugged individualism or group think.

Friday, December 07, 2012

H. P. Lovecraft's Cave

Oh, that I may never have taken that option that I might have remained comfortable in my naïveté - only thinking that I knew anything when in fact knew nothing. Oh to not know now what I didn't know before.

I was content with my daily life. I was doing fine watching shadows on the wall. But some wise man unlocked the shackles that bound me. He told me that this world of appearances was a meager reflection of a more real and more perfect world, bathed in more pure and illuminating light. He seemed strange and queer - in fact, dangerous. I saw no reason to doubt the reality of my world, but he said that was only because I grew up bound to this world and simply knew of no other possibility. I decided that if it was possible there was greater truth to be found it was worth the risk.

So I stood up from my chains and saw that the world that appeared to me was indeed nothing but shadows reflecting on the wall of a cave. I was disoriented but turned around to find another area of the cave where the light came from. But as I examined this area, I discovered that there was nothing but a random hedge if briars and that the light of a fire was passing through it and casting the shadow from it on the wall. But the fire was but a dying glow from mere residual embers and there was no definite shape to the briars. The random flickering and crackling of glow created mere blots of shadow and the illusion of noise that I took to be animals and people and their voices speaking to me. But there were no other people here besides myself and no rhyme or reason to what was going on.

I noticed that behind the embers was indeed an exit from the cave. It was rough and meandering. But I went out looking forward to a more perfect world that I longed for even more. It was indeed a torturous journey but I pressed forward taking my perplexity as as a measure of the lack if understanding that would yet be more than overcome by that brighter light of reality. But it was just the darkness that ever increased as I moved further and further away from the weak light of the embers back behind me.

I had discovered that I had already exited the cave for a while before I realized it. I had wandered randomly and tripped at the edge of a lake. But the surface had frozen over and some silt had been mixed in with the ice. I saw nothing but an empty cipher when I tried to look at my reflection on the surface. There was nothing to see. All the lines on the ice were not natural to it but had been scratched into it by what must have been giant claws scratching across it over time.

As I looked up, I could see that the only light was from distant stars that defied being formed in any constellation. The empty spaces of the cosmos were underlined by the fading paleness of the eternal twilight. There was no sun, no moon.

In the pale cold darklight all I could see were obtuse formations of grey rock and crystal. There was nothing of any particular shape. All I heard was the mechanical drone of static from the icy wind blowing hollowly through rocks like so much feedback.

Suddenly, I realized that I had been deceived. Worse, that I allowed myself to be deceived. I turned, hoping to find my way back to the cave before it was too late, - and then I saw the Ancient One. And I knew that I would never go back to any semblance of sanity.

I could not look away from the Great Perversity, even though my mind was slipping away. I was despairing of any illusion of dignity and meaning, I was absolutely terrified and denial could not keep up with the fresh stinging realizations that this was the real world I was told about. Yet I was laughing, laughing hysterically in the midst of tears that drained my ducts dry. I had lost my mind.

Then I saw that there were others like me, all attached to the Thing, with several of It's tentacles and antennas piercing there bodies brains. I saw tubules from It penetrating them draining their blood and body fluids and infusing them with disgusting phlegms of It's own. There faces grimaced into awful grins, reflecting a gnosis other than what the must actually possess.

Then I saw the wise man who released me in my cave, tubes going in and out of his head and belly. "See him, master, I have brought him to you", he gurgled. "Bring them," they all began screaming, "Bring to the master all bodies, all brains, all blood!"

I bolted, but too late. It was upon me instantly, and I was suddenly swallowed in terror as the tubes went into me. I was overwhelmed with an orgy if pain as the last bit of my sense of humanity faded into ubiquitous flesh.

But now here I am going back to my cave and to my fellow cave citizens. But thus time I come with an alien host that has taken me over like a marionette. I want to warn you not to believe anything without evidence and do not act on mere theoretical hopes like I did. I want you to go with your natural instinct. I must sound crazy. Please lock me up. For your own sake and mine, PLEASE KILL ME!

But what will I say? "Don't you think that we will be better people if we assume a brighter world even if we cannot find it, then becoming lax and give up inquiring?"

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Imminent Supernaturalism

Two types of scientists:

Suppose some astronomers are looking at Jupiter through a telescope. Call this Group A. While they do this, another group of material engineering researches confiscate the telescope and analyze it's material properties. They look at it's shape and the shapes and situations of it's components. They examine each piece for it's physical properties and interactions and for it's chemical properties. Finally, they publish a complete physical chemical description of the telescope and insist that this is all there is to it. Call this second group of scientists, Group B. It is quite likely that Group A will say wryly to Group B, "No that's not all there is to the telescope. One thing that is a fact about the telescope that is not in your description is that you can see Jupiter through it".

Group A might be amused by the selective approach of Group B, saying that they looked at only what they wanted to and prejudiced themselves against the most important feature of the telescope. And then after a laugh, Group A returns to their study of Jupiter.

But Group A turns out to be trying to determine a physical and chemical description of the Jovian planet. They also want to determine it's physical, mechanical, and chemical (including possible biochemical) features, with the belief that when they have this they will have a true and complete description of Jupiter.

And here Group B may justly fault Group A for it's own selectivity. There is the same difference between what we see when we look at Jupiter and the alleged final description of Jupiter. Just like Group B, Group A has neglected the most important fact about Jupiter, namely that Jupiter is itself a certain kind of "scope", showing us an object distinct from the true description of it's extended and extrinsic interaction. Whatever may be found in this description, Jupiter is also and on top of that an intentional object and an embodied artificial substance.

We cannot really separate the idea of the supernatural from the natural into air tight zone. How "ordinary nature" presents itself to our minds is more that the instrumental conditions that are correlated with that presentation. So even the ordinary objects of the world are signs of supernatural realities.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

There is no Dancing without a Dancer.

No Dancing without a Dancer

Rather, there can be no dancing without a choreographer.  There is dancing, therefore there is a choreographer. 

The support for the premise is that we have often seen or at least heard reports from people who have seen people dancing, whether they call it ballet, square dancing, ballroom dancing, or disco. In all these cases, we have people who observe that dancing is going on and with the certainty of direct perception.  We may ask what are we seeing when we see what we call dancing.  One thing we might be saying is that there is some behavior of description XYZ that when we see it we say, “Look! Dancing!”  But it seems that something can exhibit behavior of description XYZ but not be dancing. 

This is because dancing is taken to be a form of self-expression, a complicated gesture to express a person’s ideas and feelings.   Imagine a humanoid automaton that a scientist builds to behave strictly according to a description of the behavior of a dancer when she performs according to certain choreography and imagine the automaton doing this alongside the choreographer performing her own choreography which is the same as that used by the scientist.  In the case of the choreographer, we would say that her dance expresses her ideas and feelings, but the automaton is not being expressed by its “dance”. This is because dance is not mere behavior but also has intentionality.  To dance is to express one and so there is something to be expressed.  Dancing is about something and indicates something.

We can imagine a quadriplegic choreographer who is able to program a computer by hitting keys on a keyboard with a dowel in her mouth.  She may have the keyboard to program the scientist’s automaton and program it to perform original choreography.  Someone observing may think they are watching a dancer that is not an automaton.  In this case, what makes possible the perception of a dance is the ability of the audience to recognize the behavior of the automaton as dancing, as a gesture that indicates someone’s ideas and feelings.  The choreographer is expressing herself through the automaton.  In this case, the expression of the dance in the automaton is derived from and presupposes the original expressive design of the choreographer which is intelligible to the audience.  If the automaton were to behave that way without the choreographer and without the audience, there would be nothing expressed and no dancing going on.

If the world were a space-time block all the way down, there would be nothing being expressed.  All behavior would be just extrinsically correlated phenomena in space and time.  On this view the choreographer would herself be no different from the automaton – an automaton controlling another automaton – so that its automatons all the way down.  But if that is true there would be no dancing.  Similarly, if Hume is right and all behavior are custom forward and backward which is characterized by conditioning all the way down and through and through.  And therefore Hume is wrong in thinking that skepticism does not remove any of the wonder of the world because it would wipe away dancing and similar things.  But if there is dancing, then the world is not just a block of space-time.  Embodied in that space-time are minds that dance and which are distinct from world of mass.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Review of "Truth in the Flesh"

Folks, J. W. Wartick, who blogs at "Always Give a Reason", posted a very useful review of my new book, "Truth in the Flesh".  Take a look. Thank you, Mr. Wartick!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Missing the Fathers

A recent book argues that many of the key Founding Fathers were neither Deists - if Deism is the ad hoc view that God exists just to start up the universe - nor Christian - rejecting as incoherent the defining doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and substitutionary atonement. Rather, they embraced classical theism including the dependence of the world on God's concurrence and even prayed.

This is probably true, and useful in clarifying current debates over homosexuality, abortion, and religious liberty, by bearing an intellectual witness to the possibility of such a position. In part this position was encouraged from within the heart of the church itself by distinguishing natural theology (what can be known of God by our natural lights apart from special revelation, which served as the perambulatory articles to sacred theology) and sacred, specially revealed theology. According to the church, the world prior to Christianity had this knowledge exhibited substantially in many philosophers apart from the church.

Such knowledge included knowledge of God, of man, and of morality. It served to reveal or need of extraordinary mercy and thus at best prepared the heart and mind to receive revelation if God should provide it. At least, the awareness of it acted as a curb on the selfish tendencies of humans and kept many of them from being as bad as possible. It also informed public judgements and made possible states and governments to oversee the public peace.

The rational theism and Unitarian faith of the Fathers is simply a taking on the natural theology of the church and the ancients and foregoing the sacred doctrines. Such a position is tolerant of religion in the classical form precisely because of so much common ground with it. Also, the Church recognized the existence of natural theology, would certainly appreciate that if one could not freely accept Christianity that they be encouraged to live by natural law. The church is distinct from the state but both recognize the same God, albeit from their own respective spheres.

This was illustrated in the debate between Ryan and Biden. Ryan is coherent in affirming the inseparability of his religious life from his political life since the both have an ultimate goal in common, service to God while also affirming that the rationale for his support for pro-life is separable from his Church beliefs such that a non-churched rational person can hold them and a public person can advocate them as laws. Biden on the other hand is incoherent in claiming that abortion is an exclusively church based belief that he doesn't want to impose on others who are not in his church. His Church holds that his pro-life view is that a pro-life stance is only a Christian belief because it is true prior to Christian belief. And thus justice for the unborn is an obligation to all. (One notes in passing that Catholics like Biden often argue that they must advocate left leaning policies because that's what Jesus would do.)

Natural or philosophical theism is thus a public position. There are arguments that metaphorically demonstrate theism that depend on premises that are not obviously false. Further, theism is arguably a necessary practical postulate for statesmanship. If God exists, then that man has a specific nature that makes humans ends as such, then there us nothing puzzling about all humans all the time having a right to life or that there is a purpose to humans being make and female, that stands true apart from church doctrine. Just as the Church appreciates the natural theistic politician, that politician can appreciate the church which treats the dictates of natural theology as God's moral law for life, since such dispositions also make for good citizens by the natural theist's point of view.

Thus the preponderance of both Rational and Christian theists in America created an excellent state of affairs for the institution of the separation of Church and State.

It is also the idea of rational autonomy that encourages free market thought while the idea of the social nature of humanity encourages the formation and protection of free institutions of civil society. Conservativism, whether economic or social finds it's roots in the tradition of rational theology, by finding them in the American Founding.

But the triumph of empiricism and it's inevitable consequences of phenomenalism, behaviorism, emotivism, and prescriptive relativism has cut people off from the sources of rational theism. When given the choice between living passively in the world of images or living actively in the world of intelligible substances and persons, people have chosen the former. Based on that choice both the church and the state make no sense as institutions governed by objectively based principles and can only be the result of successful power manipulation -- not that there could be anything wrong with that.

Hence we get statements like "The Tea Party has been taken over by wackos" and meaning by that that there is a preponderance of social conservatives in an ostensively fiscally conservative movement. Whatever the current character of the Tea Party is it's inception was characterized as a spontaneous people movement unified explicitly around two things: de jure, fiscally responsible government and the reservation of the foundational document, the Constitution. The point was to keep the American experiment going. The second thing, de facto, of those who came out to rally for this cause, from the becoming there was a significantly large percentage of them that were regular church attendees. In that sense, the "wackos" were there all along. Even when they were careful to only use the TP microphone for certain fiscal issues they would still advocate for social issues on the side. This is not surprising since with the triumph of empiricism in public thought, the church has been the last safe ground natural theism of the non-Christian Founders.

Empiricists choose to view the world exclusively from a third person perspective rather than a first person perspective, even though there is no incoherence in viewing the world both ways. Consequently, they don't "see" any philosophical basis for marriage rights, free exercise of religion as a life-system rather than a privatized "spirituality", or pro-life arguments. That is, they don't see because the don't look. As a result, they don't even "see" that their own posture is self-reverentially incoherent. The commitment to empiricism must be a priori, if it is rational at all.

This is also why it's so hard for us to get the Founders right. The only groups that defend their secular philosophy are religious groups.

Friday, October 05, 2012

"Truth in the Flesh": A Gnu Release!

I am please and thankful to introduce Truth in the Flesh from Theocentric Publishing Group.

This book is an introduction to basic Christian Apologetics prepared for our adults here at our churchr in Syracuse and developed for Theocentric Publishing for everyone.  It covers both dealing with objections and putting forth arguments for Christian Theism.  It is meant for the average Christian Church member who may not have a lot of time.  Some of the things we talk about are:

--"Blank Stare" Arguments
-- Christianity and Science
-- Can Christianity be shown to be false?
-- Do we have to be able to defend our faith?
-- The authority of Scripture
-- The Gospel as knowledge and as news

I hope you all find it useful.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Armchair Psychology and Missions

I want to compare and contrast some claims of three kinds of psychology: social psychology, cognitive psychology, and evolutionary psychology.  Then I want to offer some suggestions for Christian psychology.

Social Psychology: Peter Berger and others have argued that the impact of globalization has been detrimental for religion.  As the world, through greater and more rapid forms of technology, political power, and economics, has increased in the awareness of alternative cultures and worldviews it has undermined more and more the presumption of truth that each culture presumes about its own religious beliefs and ways of life.  The experience of alternative total interpretations of life has a strong psychological effect on individuals, which might be called the Rashomon Effect (from Akira Kurosawa’s great film “Rashomon” about an encounter witnessed from four different perspectives with four radically distinct ways of looking at the event).  One wonders what could make one’s own cultural view the true one or the right one.

The impact of this pressure of a larger but dissonant community is what Berger calls “the Heretical Imperative”.  By this Berger means that one’s own experience of one’s own religious beliefs after being exposed to alternative beliefs is simultaneously orthodox and heretical as those positions are subjectively felt.  As a member of one’s own culture, one is satisfied with being considered right-minded.  But as one who is aware that many others totally disagree, one feels like a heretic going against the faith of others.  As a result, one can no longer presume his own faith being aware of alternatives.  One must willfully choose but even if one chooses one’s own faith, there is a social psychological dissonance.  The believer is supposed to be submissive to the assured doctrine but one can only appropriate the doctrine by a willful act more characteristic of apostasy than submission.  How can one be a believer and an apostate at the same time?

As a result, the psychological tendency is to reduce tension by avoiding commitment to any religion.  Thus social psychological dynamics tend to move the person into religious or point of view skepticism.  Forces of globalization guide each person in the world to the sort of arguments provided by philosophical skepticism and methodological doubt.  Not surprisingly this tends to go hand in hand with a tendency toward naturalism, scientism, and emotivism.  Quantifiable results based on direct experiences are not so open to controversy and do not demand religious commitment.  One does not have to really choose between, say, quantum physics and general relativity as a commitment to ultimate truth even though they contradict each other.  They are both continued works in progress demanding no further doubling down.  But metaphysical commitments and ethical commitments are not judge by science or logical consistency and do not have a basis in anything like public truth.

It is important to see that there is a causal account of the prevalence of skepticism, naturalism, emotivism, and scientism that is not simply the logic of holding certain presuppositions.  Yet if these tendencies follow through without any qualification, it is clear that they will lead to one particular worldview, namely Pyrrhonic skepticism like David Hume’s and the related value placed on ataraxia or the absence of conflict.  In fact, ataraxia maximizing seems to be the dynamic.

Cognitive Psychology: On the other hand, we need to be careful about just looking at things from the point of view of social psychology.  For starters, the same Peter Berger has noted that even though the social psychology of the heretical imperative and the craving for ataraxia leads us to predict growing widespread secularization and the adoption of a secular worldview, this is not happening.  Secular societies are the exception not the rule, suggesting that there are other sources of causation that mitigate the effects of globalization.

Research in cognitive psychology suggests that humans are hard wired to believe certain things no matter what.  Developmental psychology has discovered that, no matter what culture they are raised in, children have a common pattern of cognitive development in theoretical and moral judgment making as they age.  Further, linguistic psychology has discovered that all humans seem to have a common capacity to learn a language from birth as if all humans shared a universal grammar behind the particular grammars of each language in the world.

It also seems that we are hard wired to form particular beliefs until later experiences lead us to give them up.  We tend to believe that things have a natural teleology, such as that the stomach is for digestion and gravity is for holding things down.  There are certain moral beliefs that seem immediately true such as that torturing babies for fun is wrong.  We have a belief that we are subsistent subjects that exist through time as well as rational agents that impinge upon the world of causes.  We also seem to believe that there are other people besides ourselves and that there are states of affairs in the world that must have adequate causes.  We also seem to begin life with a belief in God and other non-material agents that cause good or evil.  These beliefs are not necessarily irresistible but they do not just get erased either.

These beliefs point to a species-capacity to form the framework of a non-naturalist and non-skeptical worldview as a feature of humans as a natural kind.  Such beliefs reinforce each other since God could see to it that our belief forming mechanisms are reliable, the world is intelligible, and that morals have objective status and things have objective purpose.

Evolutionary Psychology: In light of these competing visions from two sub-disciplines, it is interesting to read that some evolutionary psychologists are arguing that the evolution of human psychology has brought to a point where the species no longer is adapted to its environment.  This seems other than expected since, if natural selection is true, survival over time is an indication of successful adaption over time.  This does not rule out the possibility that such a thing as failure to adapt may occur.  And so the discrepancy between the exogenic factors of the social environment that tend to lead to skepticism and the endogenic factors of the cognitive powers of the human species that tend to lead to deism at least.  It seems that we have a case of a nearly irresistible force meeting a nearly immovable object.

Of course, evolution will tolerate free riders – the appearance of traits that come up randomly but do not play a role that contributes to either the survival of failure to survive of the organism.  But the cognitive tendencies to such beliefs do seem to effect the behavior of humans in ways that impact survival (the Libyan attacks on Sept 11 for example) so again it is other than expected.  So it seems that at first glance, the evolutionary approach makes conceivable that species and social factors could be so diverse, but it also makes it seem incredibly odd.

Philosophical and Christian Observations:  Obviously I can take no credit for being any kind of psychologist.  There could be many places where my fundamental assumptions which are simply false and lead me astray.  I defer to the experts but don’t spoil my fun now.  But taking things as they stand, it seems that merely empirical approaches to psychology are coming up against each other.  Further, it seems that what is mystifying on the empirical level is what we might expect on a rationalist level.  Instead of tending to think of the situation as bottlenecked. It may make more sense on the view that some tendency toward certain knowledge is baked into the mind.  On this view, those tendencies are common to all members of the human species in virtue of their kind.  But since those tendencies require appropriate contexts to be actualized, it is not necessarily the case that all of them are actualized in all times and places.  But because there is a common feature in all properly functioning persons, the apparent perplexity of diverse narratives is potentially resolvable.  When one is perplexed, it does not seem to be the case that a clear answer is available but there may be “a light at the end of the tunnel” if we keep going further in.  It might be worth our while to endure dissonance to see what may come of it.

It is also clear that on closer examination, the Rashomon effect is not totally peculiar to our time.  Past cultures had to deal with rival perspectives and either survived and thrived or become taken up in a larger but still not a skeptical perspective.  Some cultures survived because their environment prevented interaction with other cultures.  And some cultures actively contained or eliminated rival cultures by force.  There is something to be learned from cases of flourishing cultures in rival environments that seem to have overcome to some extent the Rashomon effect and not sink into skepticism.
One source of explanation for the divergence of cultures is the difficulty of incorporating different types of inquiry.  Certain methods and disciplines may tend to different conclusions and it becomes necessary to take a meta-disciplinary or genuinely philosophical perspective on the whole.  We see that illustrated here in the diverse explanatory tendencies of different parts of psychology.

Finally, in light of this, we see the point of Leslie Newbigin’s claim that though we are Christian in a culture once thought to be a Christian culture, we need to think and live more like cross-cultural missionaries.  This reminds us that the mandate for Christian mission necessarily incorporates a mandate for cross cultural exposure, that one of the engines of globalizing and one of the forces that lead to the Rashomon Effect is global missions.  Christ must know and he assures that in going and making disciples of all nations that he would be with us.  Christ calls us to experience the heretical imperative and to work through the perplexity and apparent contradiction of it.

Friday, August 24, 2012

"Christian Left Appreciation Day"

All of my Left wing and evangelically atheistic friends who teach philosophy in Australia have severally as well as jointly declared today to be "Christian Left Appreciation Day". I also would like to say this much of a word of appreciation for fellow Christians who are on the Left. They bear a living witness to the fact that in Christ there is no Right or Left.

It is not the responsibility of the Church to dictate the specific politics of it's members. Each Christian is responsible to wise judge how the message of the church relates to their obligations as citizens in practice. It was the failure to distinguish between the mission of the church and the duties of citizenship that led to many forms of Constantinianism, including the social gospel movement.

This is not deny a fact of the matter about there being a "Christian Answer" to political issues, it rather puts the jurisdiction for finding that answer in the scope of the Christian citizen rather than in the ecclesial authority. Every Christian answers directly to God for their political judgements. Christians are called to pray and by implication adopt an attitude of good will toward the well being of the communities, cities, and states they find themselves in. It is up to them as to anyone else to decide how best to operationalize that good will.

Of course, respecting the total hardcoreness of this set of people, I charitably expect that by appreciating the Christian Left, they do not mean any Christian who is also left and would also agree with me about the distinction of spheres of church and citizen. What they would have on mind is the religious liberalism expressed by the "Social Gospel" which was not simply the combination of left wing causes with the ordinary historic proclamatory mission of the church, but the substitution of left wing (or right wing) causes for that historic mission. On this view, what Jesus commands when filtered through critical skeptical scholarship just is nothing but these causes. This eliminates the jurisdictional distinction by identifying the church with politics in leu of offering supernatural gifts. That would be more fitting for an evangelical atheist's "Christian Left Appreciation Day". But I admit for that I have no appreciation at all.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

"Truth in the Flesh" will be delayed.

UPDATE: The release of "Truth in the Flesh" has been postponed but is expected sometime in the Fall. I regret any inconvenience to you

Monday, August 13, 2012

Socrates vs Ecckesiastes?

Socrates vs Ecclesiastes?

The famous Socratic maxim, "The unexamined life is not worth living", is one of the defining propositions of the Western tradition. Yet it seems to contradict another defining source of the tradition, the Book of Ecclesiastes. According to the Socratic maxim, accepting one's own views as they are without testing them and replacing them is far inferior to the critical pursuit of objective truth, which is worth sacrificing our naive pastimes for. But the Preacher of Ecclesiastes, named as "Qoholeth" holds that life is futile and one has nothing better to do than enjoy the work of his hands. Thus the wisdom of two great sources of western thought seems to be contrary to each other.

Ecclesiastes does present a prima facie problem for the Socratic maxim. In my opinion, however, we gain better insight into the Preacher's perspective when we compare his views with classical thought than with modern existential thought. Modern thought presupposes a technical empiricism which committed to much more than the Preacher's scope of "under the sun".

The Preacher's view is similar both to Plato's Heracletian empiricism and to one classical interpretation of Taoism. There is a Way that life takes but it is a watercourse that seems to bend from the left to the right and back in a way that seems arbitrary to us. Yet we recognize that it is following a law or principle even if we cannot fathom what it us. There is an a priori sense that life has a purpose but experience fails to catch up with the category. So all we have is an apprehension rather than a comprehension of the point to life. Qoholeth captures something like this when he says that God has put eternity in their hearts. "eternity" is among "the reasons of the heart of which reason knows nothing". (Pascal). This illustrated by Plato's Meno in that we know (and yet never know in the sense of being articulate about) what virtue is. Socratic examination is a process that only entertains a reasonable wager of success. Examination only holds the hope of an answer (maybe in another life) but the process makes us more virtuous than we would otherwise be if we gave up on the pursuit. The ultimate possible reward of truth and the proximate realizable reward of virtue explain the Socratic maxim.

Another important comparison is with Aristotle. According to Aristotle, the good life consists in happiness which is argued to be identical with virtuous energy. Virtue is acquired through virtue including wisdom as a virtue. However, virtue is not a necessary or sufficient condition for happiness. Bad luck could thwart your efforts at happiness with natural disasters or good luck could favor the lazy with a windfall (e.g. trust fund babies). Qs picture of happiness is characteristic of the Old Testament - namely shalom, pictured by each man sitting in the shade of his own vine, enjoying the fruits of his labors. This is happiness through earned success. According to the Aristotelian view, it's clear that while one cannot guarantee happiness by virtue, wisdom will dictate that we strive to be virtuous to secure happiness insofar as the pursuit of happiness depends on ourselves. For Qoholeth, being an Israelite Monotheist, 'luck' is displaced by 'grace' so happiness in the form of Shalom is made possible by hard work and yet remains totally a gift from God. But unworthy descendants may benefit from other's hard work to their own detriment. This vanity but it happens and we cannot understand why. This us a problem for theists (and ultimately for Plato and Aristotle both of whom confront the ontological puzzle of evil and waste with their mitigated theisms).

So Ecclesiastes perception of life is after all closer to Plato's and Aristotle's as well as Taoism and classical eastern thought than to either modern empiricism, hedonism, and existentialism. Unfortunately, modern commentators, even religiously conservative ones are more likely to examine the book through a lens shaped more by modern thought or postmodern thought.

The crucial difference between Ecclesiastes and classical thought is that Qoholeth (and His editor if there is one) deploys his biblically informed version of these insights to encourage Israelites to live life by God's covenant. He supports special revelation by highlighting the limits and inadequacies of natural revelation without denying that natural revelation exists or that it is sufficient to hold all Israel accountable to God. The stream that begins in Ecclesiastes passes through the Wisdom of Sirach and reappears in the presuppositions of Paul in Romans 1-3, where Paul expands the application to all of humanity.

Ecclesiastes, without saying so explicitly, is observing the Socratic maxim. The Preacher is making a reflective assessment of what is really worth living for in the face of the perplexity of life to avoid living haphazardly and taking preventably unreasonable risks. Ultimately that means living life by God's law and enjoying the good things God is pleased to give in this life. In short, godliness with contentment is great gain.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

“Truth in the Flesh: Introducing Apologetics to the Local Church” Release Date

The release date has been set for my ‘Print on demand” book: “Truth in the Flesh” an Introduction to Apologetics, for August 20. It will be published by Theocentric Publishing Group, a desktop publishing service.
The book is a polished up version of notes and reflections from my Introduction to Apologetics course used at church. The book covers both negative and positive apologetics. It deals with the problem of evil and suffering, science, other religions, wishful thinking objections and the falsifiability problem. Positively it argues that Christian theology is a science, that is a disciplined pursuit of truth, giving a complete argument for all the sources of Christian belief. Special features of the book include a discussion of “Blank Stare” arguments, the social dimensions of belief and doubt, guidance in using apologetics in personal conversation. Finally there is also featured a gospel presentation for non-believing readers. I use personal anecdotes from my own experiences in the academy to illustrate the material. Bibiographic sources are given in the footnotes for anyone who wants to follow up and learn more about specific issues. The book avoids going into the presuppositional/classical/evidentialist debate but can be said to be in the spirit of the Old Princeton approach.
So mark August 20th on your calendar, as the book will appear on Note however that Amazon will not indicate that the book is for sale. The book is for sale for $14.95. As soon as I have a link, I will post it. Thank you for your interest. (Reposted from The Gnuvemberist Blog.)

UPDATE: The release of "Truth in the Flesh" has been postponed but is expected sometime in the Fall. I regret any inconvenience to you

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Prezi to accompany "The CPU Has It's Reasons" from "Anime & Philosophy"

Friday, July 13, 2012

Evangelicals, Conservativism, and The Tea Party

Evangelicals, Conservatives, & The Tea Party

There are two great principles that animate the Tea Party: fiscal responsibility and the US Constitution. There are three great principles that animate Conservatives: the defense of traditional social institutions, national security, and the free market. It is not surprising that evangelicals are among those religious demographics that support both.

But because of this association people make the mistake of confusing religious reasons for political ones in the case if evangelicals and other groups.

When it comes to the relation of one's ultimate concerns and political science, many different coordinations are possible. Some religious groups take the view that the politics must be directly deduced from their worldview. On the side of some politicians, the worldview just is what political science says. This us constitutionally true of progressives but not exclusive to them.

Evangelicals have taken more complicated views. They distinguish between different spheres of action and responsibility and apply that distinction to the spheres of religion and politics. From there, some evangelicals identify their worldview with the religious sphere and thus separate church and state. Others hold that their worldview is distinct from both spheres and has the same relation to both. Their worldview illuminates each sphere but in ways the are distinctly appropriate to each sphere. The worldview is not a sphere of action per se but it guides how we act relative to each sphere. On this view also, there is a separation of church and state.

Some argue that because of this distinction, if the individual evangelical participates in politics, then it can only be for reasons specific to the political sphere and not for religious reasons. This seems fair considering the distinction of spheres. Some, however, like atheist Jurgen Habarmas, argue that this is unreasonable because in virtually required the impossible demand that religious believers totally suppress their sincere beliefs in public space. He thus advocates the legitimacy of bringing in specifically religious reasons in debates about policy, not just being sensitive to religious groups and points of view in society but actually allowing religious presuppositions into the debate. We are interested but wait to see what that might look like. On the second version of the separation view, a worldview can control and delimit what expectations we may have about the political sphere but those expectations have to be verified within the sphere. But being a sphere of responsibility, the evangelical must serve according to the moral code and the needs of others as unto God.

The Tea Party insists on the responsible and prudential administration of public revenue by the Government. This is a clear public duty and one that is measurable. For evangelicals, it is also a requirement imposed by biblical morality. But they also see that it is a duty in it's own right. You don't have to be an evangelical to appreciate this. So it is not as being religiously evangelical that the base their participation.

The Tea Party upholds the principles of the Constitution, the rule of law, the social contract, the authority of precedent, and the counter-balancing and limitation of political power, and representative democracy. All of this is naturally restrain corrupting tendencies of power to serve the interests of perpetuating good governance. Evangelicals support the Constitution because it takes seriously the corrupting effects of the fall of Adam. However, the tendency toward weakness of will is well documented in humanity and the constitution has had a remarkable track record.

Most importantly, the Tea Party stands for the rational autonomy of political participants including all citizens and rejects the lack of respect for informed common consent in form of citizens being subject to politically instituted experiments in social engineering in the name of progressivism and "seeing what works". Evangelicals also sympathize with this because they believe that humans are sovereign agents in their own sphere if life because of being made in the image of God. But being a rationally autonomous agent that must be an end in itself is one if those political truths we cannot not know, whatever the ground for it is.

When it comes to conservativism, it holds to national security through military strength. This because a nation has a right to defend itself, that thus task especially belongs to its government, that the governments of nations by necessity have no higher recourse to appeal to for justice, and that those that would militarily threaten a nation cannot be counted on to be moved by anything but the use of force. Practically this means forming alliances with willing nations which are mutual contracts. Evangelicals like this because one if our allies is Israel and many of our enemies are enemies of Israel. Evangelicals recognize Israel as homeland to the Hebrews through whom God made his mercy shown to the world and from whom came the Christ. But evangelicals do not necessarily regard loyalty to the Jews as something absolutely unconditional nor do they necessarily identify modern Israel with the old covenant people. Israel also illustrates a separation between church and state with respect to Judaism and stands as a law governed secular democracy in a theocratic ocean. Evangelicals can agree with the argument for security. They may be said to have contributed to its formulation.

Conservatives defend traditional institutions mainly because an acknowledgement of the limits if reason and the importance of cultural evolution. Institutions evolve over long periods of time by the accumulation of the thinking and acting within local situations and thus embody a wisdom that a single individual or age can fathom. Conservatives thus are skeptical of de novo attempts to rearrange culture according to some theoretical idea. If it isn't broken, don't fix it. On the other hand, Conservatives also believe in rights of belief, speech, and association that allow for cultural evolution to continue rather than just define the status quo into law. This also means defending the rights of those who defend traditional institutions in parity with those who choose not to observe them. This is agreeable to evangelicals that believe many traditional institutions were ordained by God for human good. But the so called culture war has primarily been a defensive one and that includes traditional marriage. While the language does not come naturally to evangelicals, the appreciate attempts to argue for the prior plausibility of a view of human nature that makes human life intrinsically purposeful according to nature, such as is articulated by the Neo-Scholastic Personalism of John Paul II. This provides a philosophical ground that accounts for the non-arbitrary rationality of many so-called social values.

Finally, conservatives uphold the free market as a modern reality that has proven to be the best arrangement for the well being if most people. The ethical argument for capitalism over socialism is clear, as made by Arthur Brookes. Capitalism rather than socialism; makes human happiness possible, satisfies our intuitions of justice, and brings the greatest benefit to least advantaged. Happy because the necessary condition of happiness is earned success, justice, in the firm of merit, because it tends to distribute reward according to effort, and mercy because no other approach has been more effective in lifting and reducing poverty. Further, not only does the necessary calculations of socialism fail to do this, it is clear a priori that the cannot do this, as Hayek argued. Capitalism is driven by the universal and rational desire if all humans to know happiness which is consistent with respect for the rational autonomy of individuals.

Here you might think that evangelicals would have a problem because of their commitment to altruism. But evangelicals do not deny the rightness of the human desire for happiness. They hope to enjoy God as well as glorify Him, the ultimate in delayed gratification. It is precisely the delay of gratification that the market disciplines us to internalize and which proves to be the necessary condition for prosperity. Further more there is no virtue in altruism if the redistribution is an automatic process. Charity must come from a conscious choice. God wants us to work not just for ourselves but for others. But if success is earned a person is more generous with their largess because he already has what he wants in his happiness. Think of Boaz in the book of Ruth. Finally, there is no real contradiction between altruism and egoism once we realize that our happiness is contingent on the well-being and happiness of others. Finally, their is George Gilder's observation that the debts that drive exchanges are debts of gratitude. For reasons such as these, the evangelical will prefer capitalism because the free market allows everyone to freely contract but also freely give and forgive. The evangelical maybe quick to speak to the need for protections from the abuses of the free market such as a safety net for those at risk at the bottom, for regulation to prevent individual egoism to work against the what is rational for society, and allowing corporations that have benefitted from risks taken on the past to continue to be exposed to the consequences if their decisions now. But these protections also work to protect the freedom of the market.

In all these cases, evangelicals from their own worldview may find a lot in common between themselves and both conservatives and the Tea Party. But that is a contingent fact rather than a necessary truth. Also, when evangelicals serve in these causes, it is in virtue of doing their civic duty. Christ calls his his own to respect the ruling authorities as God's own servants and to pray and work for the peace and prosperity of the cities they inhabit. This is independent of whether the state or the city is Full of believers or not. We ate to seek their good as best as we understand it. In that sense evangelicals participate because of their worldview but that is neutral with respect to the reasons for construing what is good.

One might at thus point come to the conclusion that the specifically evangelical reasons for preferring conservativism and the Tea Party seem decidedly arbitrary. This is only because we are looking at them from the sphere of political rationality and the interface between them seems a bit crunchy to say the least. But the rationality of evangelical belief has its provinence with respect to another sphere of rationality, the philosophy of divine revelation. Since this is taken for granted here it just seems that defensible political rationales are being coordinated with ad hoc religious ones. But it is rather the case that we see convergences between two independent lines of thought. One can certain examine this to see if it's true. But it is not necessary to see how to see that the actual political reasons evangelicals have for supporting the Tea Party and conservativism are the same as anyone else's.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Best! New! Release! Ever!


A strange, true, and wonderful story about a comic book:

When I was a boy back in the 70s, comics were still a quarter or less. I used to read and collect them until the price topped 50 cents and my mom threw out my collection. But I had two scruples until then. One was that (with the exception of Jack Kirby's move) Marvel heroes were better than DC, because they were so much more three dimensional and had emotional depth. And second, among Marvel titles I preferred the scifi (Deathlok, Kilraven) and horror (Tomb of Dracula, Werewolf by Night, Zombie, Morbius). But my all time favorite was Man-Thing.

Looking back, I realize that what really liked was Steve Gerber who wrote Man-Thing in the 70s. I used to think Man-Thing was way cooler than DCs Swamp Thing, because his condition was even more tragic. (See rule one.) But various reboot attempts of Man-Thing were flops. Only certain writers seem to have the knack for it. Alan Moore would do as much for Swamp Thing as Steve Gerber did for his Marvel Counterpart.

These days comics are driven by great writers and have now earned new respect. Unfortunately for me, my taste in these effusively creative types has declined. There seems to be too much excessive creativity and mind candy. The stream of comic flow is just a cataract of color and sentiment driven mainly by marketing gimmicks. Great writers can hold your attention but they don't have much to say that isn't approved by the mass media complex.

As I was thinking about this, I was recalling yet again that it must have been much the same when I was a kid but I was too young to see. I didn't mind having my buttons pushed back then. But I couldn't help thinking that there were genuine exceptions.

The one I recalled with the most fondness was Steve Gerber's Man-Thing, especially one story that stood out in particular entitled "Song-Cry of the Living Dead Man". That was blazed on my memory as being so much superior most anything I had ever read in a comic. I certainly forget most comics I read but I remembered that one the most vividly.

I often thought that I had a weird psychic power, which can probably be best explained as a statistical cognitive illusion, of anticipating reruns. I would think of a show or an episode of a show, and as if it Deja Vu I would be somewhere watching that very episode.

So imagine my sheer delight walking into my local comic shop today after just thinking about that very story earlier. As I looked at the usual over-choice of the same old new releases, what should I see but a new MT comic "The Infernal Man-Thing" and that the writer is the late Steve Gerber. That alone justified the $3.99 purchase. But when I opened the mag at this coffee place, I was stunned to see that it was the long in preparation sequel to the SCOTLDM story. Then, third hit, it also included in color the original story. The editor wrote an introduction to the book which explains how the book was possible which I'll let you read on your own.

You owe it to yourself especially if you're an old school comic hound to pick this book. Thank you, Marvel, for the greatest new release in the history of time. Verily.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The Agnostic's Prayer

The Agnostic's prayer

I've seen more than one post on FaceBook giving substantial objections to the sinner's prayer in evangelism. Myself, I have led someone to Christ using the Agnostic's prayer.

The prayer is valuable for intelligent friends who are sensitive to the sources of skepticism that are so much part of the modern plausibility structure. I present an apologetic witness, using arguments for theism and criticisms of naturalism. But my presumption is that these are if some value to those whose conscience won't allow them to consider faith due an inadequate and incomplete picture of the philosophical case for theism. My aim is to bring them to the point where their desire for meaning is peaked and where a theistic interpretation of life seems again like a live option.

There is a way one can get stuck here because of caution. That's when I suggest the Agnostic's prayer:

"Dear God, if there is a God, save my soul, if I have a soul."

On the one hand, praying this prayer is a reasonable risk if one cannot rule out the possibility that a good God exists who so to it that human beings exist with inherently religious dispositions. But it is also a commitment to be prepared to accept evidence for answered prayer according to the proportion of what we are able to know.

This prayer assumes that not all demands for evidence are legitimate. If someone wants proof that he is not wired into the Matrix, it may not be forthcoming. And this could be that God could not provide such evidence without contradicting the nature of human reasoning. To overcome such skepticism would be to remake man into a God-like omniscience. And this at not be logically possible for man to be. God could not be obliged to do the logically possible. So the demand for such evidence is illegitimate.

But on the other hand, it is clear that humans have an insatiable desire to understand and phenomenological evidence of cognitive activity that gathers evidence, forms hypotheses, judges their truth, and assumes responsibility for doing so. If God exists then we expect that this cognitive process is as good as what it appears to be. So if God exists, we expect Him to adapt His message to this truth seeking design. If we pray the agnostic's prayer, we are prepared to act on what evidence God may give us.

The Agnostic's prayer is a kind of minimal promise making. It is open to possibilities that may or may not obtain but because it's a promise it brings about a state of affairs that didn't exist before but which adds to the moral reasons for accepting Christ when it is appropriate to do so.

I also suggest whether they pray the prayer or not (and I don't insist the do it in front of me or using this formula) that they must take seriously that God may have already provided for an answer somewhere already since one might expect that such a prayer would be possible for many people. Then I introduce some of the evidence for Christianity and invite them to look more deeply into the matter to see if it's so.

I know one seeking person who was effectively led to Christ, saying that this was just what she needed to hear.

Maybe you are in the same boat. You feel like you cannot responsibly receive the good that God would do you because you see no justification for God. Science seems to have the money in the bank that overrules any plausibility of theism. And yet it seems true to you that your whole being is meant for something rather than nothing, But it is possible to move from skepticism to faith through several gradual steps, each of which based on evidence is a rational risk. If you are willing to expectantly explore the case for God and for Christ you will find the way - because God will be guiding you - to a reasonable, healthy, mature adult and saving faith in Christ.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Philosophical Deism v Ceremonial Deism

The Instability of American Deism

A friend posted on Facebook his objections to taking the Pledge of Allegiance because of its roots in progressivism. After checking this out to see if I thought this was a sufficient reason for not taking the pledge (I don't think it is but the angel is in the details),  I ran across the phrase "ceremonial deism". The phrase indicates certain uses of expressions like "under God" in civil ceremonies. It stands for an argument, well expounded by Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, that such expressions due to formulaic and repeated use, do not bear any robust meaning, much less religious significance, and so do not amount to an establishment of religion in violation of the first amendment.

This seems to focus on the denuded aspect of such language but the perceived value of introducing such language shows we can't see ceremonial uses as totally empty. For example the phrase "under God" was added to the already existing pledge by the efforts of religious organizations like the Knights of Columbus and by President Eisenhower who was a newly minted Presbyterian at the time. Further, the legislative argument looked back to the Founding Fathers and specifically to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and the appeals made to God there.

Civilian justice arguably requires an adequate functional concept of God as a practical postulate of statecraft and regime design. As many philosophers of religion have observed we may not have by reason alone a concept of God that gives a clear sense of it's necessary or sufficient conditions, and that in practice most actual religious language is about some unknown that occupies a certain role. (Creator, Redeemer, etc.)

For civic purposes, God is the objective ground of universal and perpetual equity and thus sets the standard of justice that the formation, enforcement, and adjucation of the Laws must comport to. God also grounds the possibility of legal reasoning as the means to secure justice and fairness as opposed to appeal to the stars or combat. Finally, God fulfills the role of final Judge of statesman and grounds the probationary climate of the practice of the state, holding the leaders accountable and making it rational for them to maintain the rule of law in difficult situations. Thus, statecraft is not left to brute nature, either by seeing society as a jungle or as the debris of natural processes. God also grounds the society as a humane economy.

Because God is taken to exist, the possibility of God as a religious object of worship must betaken with prima facie credibility by the state. However, the paucity of the concept of God postulated for civil society does not speak to what the true religion must be but only provide space for the free and peaceful exchange and expression of the variety of religions. The state, though it presupposes God does not do so as a religious object but as a political one.

So it's not surprising that the God postulated by the state is a via media between a reductionistic secularism and revealed religion, a God that does "some work" but is not "robustly meaningful". A God who is most always referred to in the third person in our civil ceremonies.

Martha Neusbaum remarked that ceremonial deism was odd because Deists (i. e. philosophical deism) believes in an impersonal cosmic principle and not the personal God supposed by our ceremonies. She is no doubt thinking of Aristotle who only supposed "God" to be only an ultimate final cause, thought thinking itself, and having no regard for what's going on outside of it, while everything else is attracted to it.

Such a concept would certainly by stable and answer to some of the civic functions. Such a God would not be creative in any supernatural sense but only directive and only inadvertently so with respect to the world. Such a God would neither be imminent nor transcendent but simply be "at the edge of reality".

But the Deists of the Founding period were not Aristotelians. Even though not Christians the still held that God was a moral law giver and therefore a personal agent. This thanks to the work done between Aristotle and that time in which God was seen as first in the order of efficient and formal cause as well as final. God is agent and not just thought. In fact, even thought thinking involved agency in the same sense as pure act as classical theism. Further, even if pure thought itself takes no regard for those that it influences, it would still ground a principle of karma that rewards justice and punishes injustice in a next life.

Philosophical Deism is an effort to maintain a tension between God as Moral Ground and God as involved in the affairs of humans. But pushing the latter makes God so remote as to fail to fulfill civic functions adequately. But pushing God as Moral Ground makes God a propeaduetic for a rational revealed theology. Bishop Butler famously illustrated this in his Analogy of Natural and Revealed Religion, arguing against the Deists that the grounds and methods of Deism by parity of reasoning also supported Christianity.

But while Deism as a philosophy is in tension, a Christian theism that recognizes different spheres of responsibility mitigates those tensions. By recognizing that religion, politics, and science are distinct spheres from each other and also from the Christian worldview, they can recognize that the same God is primary in all spheres, have space to attend to the possibility of revealed religion on the religious sphere, while preserving God's role as a political object in the civic sphere where the share life with non-Christians on equal terms.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Newcomb Rationality and Hebrews 6

Can A Genuine Tulip Fall Away?

From the Epistle to the Hebrews (6.1-8, ESV)

1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,
2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
3 And this we will do if God permits.
4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit,
5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come,
6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
7 For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God.
8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.

This text is often used to support the thesis that true Christians can lose their salvation. The argument is here that the author is warning his readers of the real danger they face - that of spurning the grace they once accepted and thus being lost forever. Therefore it could not be the case that true Christians persevere until the end. Otherwise, if a Christian believed that he could not take a warning about falling away seriously, there would be no point in giving such a warning. Thus, the Calvinistic doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is false.

However, Calvinism has many places in apostolic teaching to argue for it's doctrine. But then how do you deal with the apparent contradiction of giving a warning. I want to argue that the answer is by appealing to Newcomb rationality, which we discussed in an earlier post/note: "Religious Luck and Newcomb Libertarianism"

True Christians who have received God's necessary and sufficient regenerating grace have been sealed with the Spirit and will endure unto the end. However, there are cases of people who receive many blessings from God but not regeneration. They receive good things from God but not grace sufficient to overcome sin. These do not remain faithful to God in Christ and leave the faith. These are actual cases that will happen but there are other cases were we see fruitfulness and steadfastness into the end.

In Newcomb's paradox, the fallen case is the case of someone who takes goes back and takes the second box before both boxes are finally opened, as if to think he can fool the wizard into believing he's a one box chooser by waiting enough time before taking the other also. Of course, the wizard cannot be fooled.

Similarly, the Calvinist knows he either cannot lose his faith or that he never really had an effectual regeneration but he dies not know which is true. But he would be encouraged to press on on faith since that is what a saved person would do now.

Just as the full description of a Newcomb's paradox case makes clear the rationality of choosing one box, so the assurance of perseverance is essential to explaining the choice to make sense of it's Newcomb-like character. So is the admonishment of the real cases of apostasy.

So because Calvinism is taken as true, the admonishment has force. And this is not so puzzling since God can ordain the ends, He can also ordain the means by which it is accomplished. Those who are saved are saved in part by hearing the warning of Hebrews.

That this is present in the text is clear from the context. The author is in the first verses encouraging the readers to move on from the preliminary matters that concern new believers and to make progress in love, service, understanding, and to keep going forward.

But then to reinforce that standing still as a newbie is not only regressive but also dangerous, he warns be describing an alternate hypothetical possibility that is actually true in some cases. There are some that have enjoyed the more superficial gifts of God, such as the fellowship of believers, the exposition of the Bible, even the touch of the Holy Spirit, or even some Charismatic gifts. They may have all this without the deeper work of God's Spirit regenerating them. So instead of enduring the walk away from God and His people. This is especially relevant here because his audience are said to have not yet moved on to the larger fields of the Christian life. They still revisit the first lessons of Christianity.

And this is important since it's clear from the last part of this section that "moving on" means serving and bearing fruit, the real signs of an actual work of God. The last verses bear a striking analogy to Christ's parable of the Sower, where some of the good seed lands on bad ground receives blessings like sun and rain but bears nothing useful and gets burned. But some seed is fruitful.

So it is true that both the assurance of grace in the saints and the failure of some seed to bear fruit and thus get burned, that warnings about final falling are real and genuine, and that the latter is true not in spite if but because of the former, plus the fact that there is no way for the audience to know which one applies to them prior to their choice. But in choosing to endure another day, they are accepting the description that they have been chosen for grace from the foundation of the world.