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Friday, May 25, 2012

Add to the "to do" list.

I've been reading Plantinga's new book on faith and science and reading Francis Beckwith's posts on faith and reason in the courts. Both authors are tracking the fact that it is commonly held by so-called experts on religion that religion has nothing whatever to do with reason, including common sense, logic, norms of evidence, and science. Religion is outside of reason and not subject to reason. This is apparently the official view of society and shapes the presuppositions of politics, media, academia, and the courts.

This, in spite of the major work accomplished in the last decades on religious rationality and epistemology. Even religious experts seem not to be acquainted with it in their preparation. In fact, reason fits positively with religious perspectives while remaining an intractable problem for materialist ones. See:

This means that Christians cannot count on an existing literacy about religion and reason, and that the must take it on themselves to make the case for religious reasoning. That has to be on our apologetic "to do" list.

And this certainly reflects on the impact that Karl Barth has had on religious studies. Barth's view had become "the best thing going" for a "conservative" version of religion among religious studies. But Barth's view, even especially compared to other sympathetic thinkers like Emil Brunner, strongly required that faith be wholly other than reason. Now we have to fight this trend, both for the sake defending the faith and religious freedom.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Philosophicity of Adam

Many evangelicals have been disturbed by a recent trend in faith science reporting that rejects the idea of a historical Adam and Eve. Peter Enns work has utilized this idea to go so far as to reject contemporary believing biblical scholarship and to return to the older critical scholarship as a way if saving Christian faith, an approach many take to have the opposite effect of replacing Biblical Christianity with a religious sentimentalism akin to liberalism. If this is what it takes to save faith, better to just dump faith for some other philosophy.

Enn's case seems to overreach. But the issue itself is pressing. The reason is that the evangelical gospel as it's told in the Scripture requires a historical Adam to make sense of it's account of redemption, as many theologians have argued. The problem is that there seems to be no reason to think that there could be a single first ancestor to the human race.

One of the surprising features of the fossil record is not merely the paucity of apparent transitional forms, contrary to what Darwinian evolution expects, but also the sudden "explosions" of the appearance of new species, starting with the Pre-Cambrian Explosion. Millions of years pass without any great sign of a species. Then suddenly not only does one appear but a lot do in a very short period of time relative to the scale of evolutionary history.

Evolution's bane is Theism's boon, except that science seems to be converging on the theory that the appearance of human beings is one of these explosions or at least that the critical mass of selected sophistication in our more ape-like ancestors was reached at several points over the wide spread population to firm humans. There are problems relating this idea with evidence that the whole human race descended from a specific region in Africa, but I don't intend to get into such matters. I'm not a scientist.

I am a philosopher or at least I play one at school, and I wonder if philosophy may have any light to shed on this. This suggestion comes from several sources, from Plantinga to Pope John Paul II, but the suggestion is mine.

Assume for the sake of argument that the theory that several humans (say 250,000) appeared more or less at the same time all over the accessible continents. This is certainly a scientifically testable hypothesis. It may be what science can speak to.

But we also know more keenly is that science confronts one of it's epistemic limits in trying to relate the mind to the brain. This was a key point in the methods of science and phenomenology in the Pope's statement on evolution. The phenomenological and intentional character of thought is impossible to relate to the dynamic and extensional categories of science and thus it is difficult to relate the mind to the brain. Some vehemently dispute the idea that mind cannot either be reduced to or explained away by the physical features of the brain. For now, I only point the reader to the intractability of the debate over this even among philosophers with no theistic ax to grind.

This means that while science can tell us that there are likely to be 250K original samples of the Hunan species, it may not in principle tell us about whether or not they were "minded". No doubt that sounds implausible since just as we would assume that as a member of a species, a feature of a zebra will also be true of many other zebras, then a feature of a human will likely be true of other humans. And since the other humans of our acquaintance have minds so did all the original ones.

But having a mind is not a typical feature. One of the features of the mystery of mind and brain is the emergence of an agent mind from non-minded animals in evolutionary history. Again the categories seem to make difficult any gradualist account of the emergence of mind. Suppose that God exists and set the initial conditions of the universe to arrange a point in evolution to produce a myriad of human species to make the result more likely that one of them would become minded.

So it's not epistemically impossible that there is only one Adam given the limits to the categories of science. It's important to see that this is not merely a lack of data but based on a principle limitation to our inquiries.

In conclusion, science is not able to rule out the possibility of a first minded human who stands apart from an unawakened human herd, and this is because of the natural limits of empirical science.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Yes, Virginia, there is a Holy Spirit!!!

There are two kinds of kids that don't get any toys from Santa on Christmas and they are not necessarily excluded from each other. One kind are kids who are bad, who don't pick up their toys or do what their loving parents tell them to do. You only get toys if you are a good kid.

The other kind are kids who don't believe in Santa which means they don't expect Santa to do any good for them like give them toys. They will manage without Santa's toys. But as you can imagine, it is often because bad kids are bad and don't expect toys for being good so they excuse their disappointment by refusing to be taken in by belief in Santa.

Now the reason bad and/or unbelieving children do not get toys is not because Santa is some magical law or mysterious fairy compound that fails to work unless the brain chemistry of kids is balanced in a certain way. Santa is not some impersonal principle that has not been activated to get the desired result. The reason bad and unbelieving kids don't get presents from him is precisely because Santa is a person. Santa's actions are reasonable for one who wants to do good but not to reward evil or to those who refuse it. Further, not only is Santa a person but Santa is also the one taking the initiative. The presents that good children receive are not entitlements but remain gifts.

Santa is s myth and the Holy Spirit is not. But Santa is misunderstood by bad kids in the same way the work of the Holy Spirit is misunderstood by defeated Christians.

One of the great blessings of salvation according to the message of the apostles about Jesus is that those who hear and receive the Good News about Christ is that they are said to be sealed with the Holy Spirit and that this sealing preserves them as Christ's for all eternity. The Holy Spirit is the Agent of Divine life on the life of the believer not just at the resurrection of the dead but even now while they live. He is the real basis for the believer's union with Christ.

One of the blessings that comes with this real union is the growth of Christian virtues as the Fruit of the Spirit. Yet because these blessings are said to be secured and because sinfulness is never perfectly removed in life, Christians tend to think about this in naturalistic and physicalistic ways as if this was an automatic process, sort of like a fuel pump of the soul. But this distorts their expectations and they come to doubt when they don't spiritual growth increasing by some identifiable formula.

But this forgets that the Holy Spirit is not a thing or a law or a stuff. The Spirit is a person - Divine Person in Communion with the Trinity from all eternity who covenanted with the Father and Son to deliver the Christian's life.

The security of the Holy Spirit's life giving work is not secured as a law but as a gift secured through a promise. The Spirit cannot by shut off or fail to activate. But He can be grieved and quenched.

He is grieved by our continuing in sin and our neglect of our character. When we try to ignore our sins or try to deny how sin deceives us it is not surprising that we don't see progress in our life.

The Spirit is quenched when we stop trusting in Him to be our seal. When our prayer is cold or flippant or when we neglect to pray or worship or give or serve or in any other way fail to show our gratitude or trust, we cannot be surprised by our lack of progress in the Christian life.

So we discover that the "secret" to the fruitful Christian life is to neither grieve nor quench the Spirit, that is to keep turning from sin and trusting in God's promises. The conditions for continuing in the Christian life are the same as the conditions for beginning the Christian life; repentance and faith. But this is no growth that we credit to ourselves but is only made true in our lives by the gift of the Spirit.

So just as we can understand how good and expectant kids can look forward to presents from Santa, we can also understand how Christians who trust and obey can expect fruit from the Spirt. Yes, Virginia, there is a Holy Spirit!!!

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Psuedo-Conscience of Modernity

The Psuedo-Conscience of Modernity

Today I had breakfast at my favorite vegan cafe - I'm not vegan but the food is good - where I was confronted with anti-cruelty arguments in pamphlets for veganism. The moral certainty that attaches to such arguments is so alien to the secularity underneath them. The fact that hedonism is the real principle is obscured by the Puritanism of the histrionics stating the view. That such hedonism is morally dubious does not seem to enter the mind.

Further, a friend just reported that the American Philosophical Society has politicized their policies against schools that require traditional morals about marriage, life, and family, in the name of defending previously unheard of civil rights. Again, a new kind of Puritanism that is centered on the premise if hedonism seems behind it.

In our present day, it seems that we see a new Victorianism, where the authority of a public conscience has become sacrosanct. But this authority of conscience is absurd given the account that modernity gives us about conscience.

Both traditional and modern accounts agree that the formation of conscience is like the formation of a habit. It grows and develops according to reinforcement which comes through custom and training. However, the modern view argues that this is all there is to it and that the impression that we have that we are obliged to follow duties immediately recognized by intuitions is an illusion created by the reinforcement of what were originally merely hypothetical imperatives but which had become second nature to social custom before we were born into it. Consequently, we no longer are aware of their rationale but are still aware of their imperative force. So we construe it as a basic duty.

Be that as it may. It may well be true that intuited obligations were originally hypothetical imperatives. Still, the epistemological foundation of such an analysis - some version or another of the Verification Principle - is famously self defeating. If we grant that we know anything at all, then there may be most anything that could be a basic belief - including basic moral beliefs. These may even be hypothetical imperatives but ones the that realize an objective good or end to human nature whether individually or socially. These original intuitions would not just be customary. They would be constitutive of the proper functioning of human nature.

A way of trying to grasp what this original moral information wired into nature might be, one might seek to describe the way humans actually make moral judgments in the world. It's here that the thesis of descriptive moral relativism is given - that different cultured hold different duties as valid than other cultures do. However, this picture is richer than is often presented. Fundamental moral codes and moral decision procedures have more in common across different cultures than first appears. The picture is consistent with a moderate moral objectivism that affirms that different codes aim to recognize objective moral truths from the perspective of their own concrete situations - and sometimes they make mistakes.

However, modernity, once it accepts that conscience is purely epiphenomenal to nature, goes about to rescript in totum according to one ideal theory or another, similar to the attempt to rewrite language into a more pure ideal or scientific form. Such extremity can only be a risky experiment. The result is, by it's own lights, a radically altered conscience that has also lost sight of the experimental riskiness of it's project and the cost of what might have been the natural basis of the moral life.

Besides this Cartesian-like radical replacement of our previous formal frameworks, there is the implication that conventional morality is neither necessary nor obligatory but neither is any alternative morality. The wedding of Nietzsche with Mill underneath the mask of the mechanism of conscience shows that modern morality is just a bid for power by the alert morality brokers over those who simply conform to conscience. But for all they know, the sheep may just be the beneficiaries of a kind of induced moral psychosis that both stands as moral truth for them and between them and moral truth.

But to those who bank on the possibility of moral truth will be sensitive to the history and demographics of traditions of moral thought and only change as necessary - rejecting Cartesian remove and replacement for the example of Nurath's boat, fixing leaks by moving boards around whole staying at sea. Such an exploration of tradition will be for them a standpoint that will enable them to see through the power games of modern Victorianism. Rather than moral tradition representing a moral monstrosity, it may be the only cure for a generation where everyone is a moral monster.