Jeremy Pierce: August 2005 Archives

Christian Carnival LXXXV

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The 85th Christian Carnival is at Crossroads. This week I remembered to submit a post, so my post from yesterday is there (about justification not being based on belief in justification by faith but simply in faith).

This is the the twelfth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear.

So far I've looked at the problem Hume raises for scientific knowledge and some less helpful attempts to respond. This post looks at some responses with more promise. Each corresponds to a style of responding to skepticism that I've already discussed in earlier posts.


Hume didn't intend his argument to lead to skepticism any more than Descartes intended his own to lead to skepticism. Hume's response wasn't anything like Descartes', however. It's actually a good example of Forced Pragmatism (see the pragmatism post) with respect to this very specific brand of skepticism. He admits that we can't know anything about scientific laws. He insists that we have to pretend we do. We have no choice. That's simply how we're constructed. We form habits or customs, and then we rely on those as we observe uniformities in nature. As things consistently happen together, we conclude that something must be making it that way. We have no rational reason to believe such a thing, but we're brought to believe it by our need to have simple explanations for things in order for our existence to be livable. This explains why we do believe in the results of science, but does it answer why we should?

When we consider Jesus' parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32, we usually think about the father's love for his son. We less often think of the second major point of the parable, the older son's refusal to accept his brother back. One element of the first part that I think we think about even less is the reason for the father's love. He doesn't love this son and accept him based on what the son has done. That much we do think about. Why does he do it, then? He loves him because it's his son.

Now consider this not in terms of what the son has done but in terms of what the son believes. Does he love him because his son has the correct view on what the father's character is like? Hardly. The son thinks the father will perhaps allow him to become one of his slaves so that he can work his way back into his father's good favor. He doesn't think he'll welcome him the way he does with no works to earn it. The father's welcome for the prodigal son is thus not based on the son's works or on the son's theology. The son's theology is in fact very much like the theology that many Protestants consider heretical. He thinks that he might be able to earn his father's good favor back. What is the import of this?

Skepticism About Science

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This is the the eleventh post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear.

David Hume argues that we can't know anything about scientific laws or laws of nature. He, like Descartes, considers what's immediately before our senses. From that, how do I get information about what will happen if I hold my pen out and let go? How do I know it will fall? I may remember it falling in the past. Does that mean it will continue to fall in future cases just like past ones? Even if it's fallen lots of times in the past, how can I be sure it will continue to do so? We can revise scientific laws because we had ignored facts (as Einstein showed that there was data Newton hadn't account for, and as Copernicus showed there was data Ptolemy hadn't accounted for). But Hume argues that one fact will never be available to us -- the future. Will nature always be as orderly as it has been in the past? What if in 3 seconds everything will go haywire? Can we rule that out? Knowing scientific laws requires trusting that nature is uniform. Hume gives us reason not to be sure about that. What gives us reason to think science is better than studying your belly button at discovering truths about the world?

Ryan Miller at The Buckingham Inquirer raises some interesting worries about Intelligent Design arguments. I'm having trouble understanding what the argument is supposed to be, though. He says that intelligent design arguments confuse final and efficient causes. As I argued in a previous post, you can accept final causes in nature based on God's purposes without denying efficient causes that a naturalist might have accepted. I don't think it follows that a strong view of God's providence "makes no claims about efficient causes", as Ryan claims. Final causes are what things point toward, but why do they point toward them? In God's providence, Judas' betrayal of Jesus served the plan of redemption, and that doesn't require that God efficiently caused Judas' betrayal of Jesus, but it does require that God oversaw the efficient causes in a way that ensured that Judas would do it. It thus does make a claim about efficient causes. The efficient causes had to have been what they were, or the final cause never would have been realized. Whatever your view on how God ensures that final causes will be realized, you have to admit that God's provides isn't completely unrelated to efficient causes. It in fact requires God's oversight of efficient causes, including efficient causes behind the creation of human beings, however that might have come about.

I'm really having trouble with Ryan's statement that final causes must be a "fundamentally religious matter". The statement is given in support of the claim that we shouldn't be sure of any final causes (except, presumably, those we have on religious grounds that we should be sure of for entirely religious reasons). I know Aristotle wouldn't have liked that idea. He thought it was just obvious that leaves are for absorbing light and that teeth are for chewing food. Those are final causes. The efficient causes involve chemical processes that lead to the growing of teeth and leaves, and none of that requires talking about what they're for. Final causes don't seem to me to require religious talk at all, at least on the level of describing them and concluding which ones there are. Some final causes might indeed be knowable only through revelation of some sort, but that doesn't mean final causes are in principle knowable only through revelation. I'm not sure final causes make sense without God, but that doesn't mean you need specific information from God about a cause to know of a particular final cause in nature. I don't think Thomas Aquinas would have been any more friendly to Ryan's claim than Aristotle would have been, for exactly the reasons I've been explaining.

The 85th Christian Carnival will be held at Crossroads this week. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Second, please submit only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from last Wednesday through this coming Tuesday).

Then do the following:

For those who pay attention to my commentaries posts but haven't been following the comments on my Forthcoming Commentaries list, I've been gradually updating it as people give me more information. The reason for this post is that the whole list went through a major overhaul today. I realized that some major series weren't even there (NTL, HCOT, maybe others I'm not remembering at the moment), and I hadn't listed some information I had written down somewhere that I had thought was in my list on the computer but wasn't.

In the process, I ended up searching for more information to resolve conflicts and found a lot more. Also, I've added the Two Horizons series due to a reader request, which took some major Googling. That's actually what started this whole update. The list for the NLT Tyndale series is also filling out, and there are a few commentaries in various series that weren't listed or were wrongly listed.

Finally, I've alphabetized the order of the series (by actual name, not abbreviation), so it should be easier to look for any given series. Since the list has been getting longer, I think this is important. My original idea had been to list the series in general order of what I liked most, but I didn't even achieve that, so I might as well make it easier to use.

Humorous Searches

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do interracial couples work
Well, they have to earn a living somehow. In our case, I'm the only one who earns an income, and I suppose some interracial couples are fully on the government dole, but I can't understand why being an interracial couple would by itself exempt people from having to work to earn a living.

how big is a small nuclear bomb
Small. Didn't you already specify that? If you want something more precise, then it just depends on what 'small' in that sentence means. Since you wrote the sentence, I'm not sure how precise you meant it. If you meant a ten-foot one, then it's ten feet. If you meant a briefcase-sized nuke, then it's that big. I can't really answer the question unless I know how big you meant when calling it small.

The number of searches I'm getting having to do with Dust in the Wind has increased dramatically since the recent commercial featuring that song started increasing Kerry Livgren's royalty income by a fair amount. What's truly sad is that most of these searches involve someone thinking the song is by Boston or Styx. Come on, people! This song was #6 on the Billboard chart, and you can't even remember that it's by Kansas? It's true that it's nothing like standard Kansas music, but it isn't like standard Boston music or standard Styx music either. Furthermore, people who think this song was by Boston or Styx wouldn't know that it's not typical Kansas music, because anyone who knows what Kansas music is really like would be familiar enough with them that they'd know this is one of their songs. So that means there's even less excuse to think it couldn't be by Kansas.

The Lord of the Beans

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The next Veggie Tales product The Lord of the Beans is now listed at CBD [HT: Marla] with a release date of October 29.

They've also got a third trailer for it (not the same one in Duke and the Great Pie War or the new one in Minnesota Cuke, both found on the Big Idea site here). It shows more of the final look than either of the first two. Any Lord of the Rings spoof is worth my interest, but if it's also Veggie Tales then it will be great for the coolness factor even if the overall story is completely stupid, which is possible but not likely. Since Jonah, they had some I wasn't all that impressed with, but they weren't inane. They just weren't as good as some of their best stuff. Some of their best stories have come since that time as well (Little Joe, the first half of A Snoodle's Tale, Sumo of the Opera, and Minnesota Cuke).

Interestingly, Phil Vischer, who founded the company, wrote this one. I believe he left Big Idea over a year ago when they moved to Nashville and he didn't want to move, and he's now starting up a new company making children's videos. Big Idea has continued to hire him as voice talent, since he's always done more than half of the main characters' voices (Bob the Tomato, Jerry Gourd, Mr. Nezzar, Pa Grape, Mr. Lunt, Archibald Asparagus, Scallion #1 who's been around since show #1 but never given a name, two of the three French Peas, and at least a few more minor characters). Apparently he's still submitting scripts to them too.


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This is the the tenth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear.

Reliabilism responds to skepticism by challenging one of Descartes' key methodological assumptions. He claims that you can't know anything unless you have absolute certainty of that thing, not just having a subjective sense of feeling certain but an absolute, objective understanding of why that thing must be true. No one, of course, has such certainty about most things we believe. Reliabilists just argue that we don't need to. Knowledge just doesn't involve that kind of certainty. Reliabilists simply deny the premise that everyone else seems to assume, that knowledge requires this idea of absolute certainty. Reliabilists consider such a notion ridiculous.

We know all sorts of things without being able to prove them to ourselves and without being able to rule out all the alternatives. How do we ordinarily use the word 'know'? We say we know all sorts of things. How do we find out what words generally mean? We see how people use them. In this case, people use the word 'know' when they don't have certainty.

Eugene Volokh has some interesting numbers on Americans' attitudes toward homosexuality over time and in different age groups. A few of his observations are noteworthy. Over half of Americans are still opposed to any homosexual sex as immoral. I wouldn't have guessed that it was over half, but then again I've lived in blue states my entire life. The most interesting element is that there doesn't seem to be much of a shift in attitudes within each generation over time. In some age groups there's no statistical shift. That means that exposure to gay people and portrayals of gay people in the media doesn't change people's attitudes to whether homosexual sex is wrong, even if it will lead to people's being more accepting of gay people, as it almost surely does. This also shows that a large enough percentage of the population must be able to consider gay sex wrong and yet accept gay people. I wonder if these distinctions are easier for people to make if they happen to think gay sex is wrong than they are by those who don't. In my experience, it's the latter group that seems unable to consider the possibility that anyone could take both of those stances, even though a large percentage of Americans do exactly that.

One of Eugene's conclusions is less sure but very interesting. There seems to be a bigger change in these attitudes in the generation that grew up before 1973. That means this isn't at all a result of the gay rights movement but is more likely a direct result of the sexual revolution. Those who were young during that movement are the first generation to approve more of homosexual sex. It's true that later factors explain why the next generation is more approving than the previous one, but the big change was simply the sexual revolution, and then those raised in that period communicated their values to those in the next generation effectively enough that the next generation had more permissive attitudes.

What becomes clear in the comments is that the 55% figure for who thinks gay sex is wrong is a marked contrast to the 80% of Americans who associate themselves with the major theistic religions. Now it's true that some of those people are involved with liberal religious groups that don't take their scriptures seriously enough to accept what they say on this issuue, but I don't think those people are over 25% of the population (some of the 55% are surely non-religious to begin with, though I suspect not many, but that would mean more than 25% would associate with the main religions while approving of gay sex). I don't know the numbers on all those. Does this make more sense if you do know them, or is there an alarmingly high percentage of Americans who say they follow a religion but don't really believe what that religiohn teaches?

Unusual Searches

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lord of the rings bestiality fanfiction
Well, then...

do children who die become adults in heaven
Wait, I thought it was adults who have to become like children to enter the kingdom of God.

how long is too long to wait for an answer God 38 years
The most interesting element of this search is that 38 years is exactly how long the blind man in John 5 waited to be healed. Joshua and Caleb waited a little longer than that, 40 years, to get into the promised land. Moses waited twice as long, 80 years, for the release of his people from Pharaoh, then 40 more before seeing the promised land. Judah waited 70 years for the rebuilding of the temple after Nebuchadnezzar destroyed it. Israel waited centuries between the prophecies looking toward a Messiah and the coming of that anointed one. Christians have waited two millenia for his return. So is 38 years a long time?

I think I might have the scoop on this one. CBD is advertizing the first volume of David Tsumura's NICOT on Samuel, which seems to be covering just I Samuel. According to CBD, it will be available on November 15. I saw it in their catalog that was waiting for me when we returned from NH today, and I just now had a chance to look at their website, and it is indeed there. Amazon doesn't have it, and Eerdmans isn't even listing it in their new releases for this fall.

Unfortunately for me, it's just I Samuel, and my congregation just finished I Samuel in our sermons last month. I'm hoping it's like Waltke's Proverbs and Block's Ezekiel and completed at once but coming out in separate volumes a few months apart (as opposed to Oswalt's Isaiah that came out something like 15 years apart). If the second volume is out early enough, I may be able to read some of it as we move through II Samuel in the sermons (probably Easter to June or July of 2006 and then the same period of 2007). Of course, CBD may think it's coming out when it's not. It is a bit fishy that Eerdmans isn't listing it. Amazon has commentaries listed that probably won't be out until 2008, but CBD won't usually list something unless they have a finalized release date, and they are listing one.

Suppose I'm driving down the road, and my son wakes up after sleeping for a while. He really needs to go to the bathroom, and he's likely to go in his pants if we don't find a bathroom really soon. Suppose I'm also in an unfamiliar area with exits that are quite far apart. I don't remember when the last exit was. What might I do? Well, I might pray that the next exit is soon. What would it take for the next exit to be soon?

The most likely way for God to answer such a prayer positively would not involve miraculous transportation of our vehicle to a place near the next exit or miraculous creation of an exit near our current location. It would involve God's orchestration of events such that his awakening and need to use the bathroom would have happened at a point when we were nearing an exit. The prayer is thus retroactive, though it seems not to be on the surface. The same thing can be true of someone asking God for a parking spot to be available upon arrival at a full-looking lot or a prayer that a medical diagnosis will turn up a less severe condition than one might have thought it would turn up (while still being a true diagnosis). People pray like this all the time. I've given three examples. It shouldn't be too hard to think of more.

This means there's a kind of prayer that people engage in fairly frequently that is a sort of disguised retroactive prayer. I've argued previously that retroactive prayer makes perfect sense as long as God has perfect foreknowledge, and this post isn't to repeat what's already in that post. It just hadn't occurred to me that prayers like this are retroactive. Retroactive prayer is much more common than I'd thought.

This is part of a larger project reviewing commentaries on each book of the Bible. Follow the links from that post for more information on the series, including explanations of what I mean by some of the terms and abbreviations in this post.

Waylon Bailey's NAC is probably my favorite of all the commentaries I looked at. It isn't so detailed that it's hard to wade through, but he addresses most issues most people might ask of the text unless they're working on an academic paper. He deals with historical, theological and linguistic matters fairly well, and he's also concerned about connections with the New Testament. He's coming from a conservative evangelical perspective, but he's also good at presenting various views. This is my all-around recommendation for seeking the best balance of what I look for in a commentary. It doesn't shirk anything I consider truly important.

O. Palmer Robertson's NICOT is probably my favorite Zephaniah commentary in terms of theology. His theological reflections are probing and get enough time to explore the issues, with more time than any of the other commentaries on the list given to the task of simply reflecting on what the text means for Zephaniah's view of God. It's much weaker on linguistic matters, sometimes not even addressing important issues that most of the other commentaries will spend some time on. It doesn't get first place primarily for that reason. His perspective is conservative, evangelical, and explicitly Reformed. I didn't notice anything particular to covenant theology as opposed to new covenant theology (the differences between Reformed covenant theologians and Reformed Baptists), though his expertise is in covenant theology. It's a shame that Eerdmans has contracted a replacement for his commentary in this series this early, though Thomas Renz will probably produce a good commentary that will give more detail on the things Robertson doesn't focus much on. See my more detailed review here.

Kids Painting

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Sam has gotten the boys into painting. She's got pictures of Isaiah on our porch and pictures of Ethan, Isaiah, and their cousins Micah and Allana on my parents' porch. Porches make it easy to hose the paint off, provided you mix soap into the paint to begin with.


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This is the the ninth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear.

According to the contextualist response to skepticism, we don't literally know things. Strictly speaking, the word 'know' requires absolute certainty, and we can't get that about most things. When speaking literally or strictly, contextualists will admit that the skeptic is right. But most of the time we aren't speaking strictly or literally. Consider some unrelated examples. We'll often describe a table as flat. It doesn't take much pushing to see that no table in real life is truly flat. It's flatter than a bumpy road or a lumpy pillow, but it's not absolutely flat. It's ok to call it flat it most ordinary contexts, though. It's just not ok when talking about detailed physics calculations. Those little bumps make all the difference in that context. According to the contextualist about flatness, the word 'flat' has a different meaning in different contexts. In physics contexts, it has the stricter or more literal meaning. Something isn't flat unless it's absolutely flat. In ordinary contexts, most tables really are flat. The reason it's ok to speak more loosely in ordinary contexts is that the meaning of the word 'flat' itself loosens up in ordinary contexts. Contextualists about knowledge say the same thing about 'know'.

A friend of mine read from the preface to his KJV on 'thee' and 'thou' and 'you' in the KJV. According to that preface, 'thee' and 'thou' are used exclusively for singulars and 'you' and 'ye' exclusively for plurals. I'd always been told that 'thee' and 'thou' were the familiar second person pronouns and 'you' the formal, with 'thee' and 'ye' as the subjective and 'thou' and 'you' as the objective. Does anyone have real information on which of these accounts is correct or if somehow there's something to both of them?

The 84th Christian Carnival will be held at Wallo World this week. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Second, please submit only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from last Wednesday through this coming Tuesday).

Then do the following:

Abednego linked to what people have been calling Alvin Plantinga's press release on evolution and Christianity. I'm particularly interested in the following quote, which I thank Dick Cleary for noticing first:

[The claim that] human beings and other living creatures have come about by chance, rather than by God's design, is also not a proper part of empirical science. How could science show that God has not intentionally designed and created human beings and other creatures? How could it show that they have arisen merely by chance. That's not empirical science. That's metaphysics, or maybe theology. It's a theological add-on, not part of science itself. And, since it is a theological add-on, it shouldn't, of course, be taught in public schools.

His interesting conclusion is that those who oppose teaching ID in schools on the grounds that it's religion are themselves teaching something that's explicitly a religious view by their own criteria. If they just wanted to teach the theory and what it's supposed to explain in terms of efficient causes, that would be ok, but that's not what you get in most high school biology classes. Evolutionary theory is often presented as an explanation in contrast to creationist accounts (where I mean 'creationist' broadly to refer to any view with God as any sort of explanation). Any account that means by 'chance' something that precludes a designer is offering a view that is at least as religious as any of the Intelligent Design arguments are. Just to be clear, I don't think any of this is religious. It's a philosophical conclusion, one very similar to other philosophical conclusions that scientists consdider part of scientific argumentation. I'm just pointing out that the standards of the political hacks who think ID is religion require applying the same conclusion here. Both claims are about things that they themselves consider to be outside the realm of science. Yet they do it themselves.

The latest Veggie Tales, Minnesota Cuke and the Search for Samson's Hairbrush, opens with a philosophical dialogue between Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber in good Socratic fashion. Here's the crucial part for understanding Bob's epistemological framework:

Larry: Eli says here that there's a bully in his school, and ...
Bob: A bully?
Larry: Yeah, you know, a kid that's real mean to all the other kids?
Bob: I know what a bully is, Larry.
Larry: Then why'd you ask?
Bob: Well, it's just that Caleb wrote about the same thing.
Larry: Wow. That's one busy bully.
Bob: Well, it's not the same bully.
Larry: How do you know?
Bob: Well, I don't but...
Larry: But you seem so certain.
Bob: Well, I am certain.
Larry: How do you know?
Bob: Well, Larry, it's just highly improbable statistically speaking that one bully is bothering two kids 500 miles apart! I mean, sometimes being certain of something just means highly probable! Highly probable!

Rene Descartes is rolling in his grave.

As anyone who's been reading this blog for a little while knows, I think most of the venomous language from those who are more conservative about gender issues against inclusive translations is just thoroughly immoral. This includes the literature produced by the Society for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, whose worthwhile original goal of defending complementarianism has been greatly damaged by their vehement ignorance on this issue. I think the overall argument for not wanting any inclusive language is linguistically insensitive. It involves cultural reactionism against what is perceived as a new phenomenon that in reality is so entrenched that anyone resisting it now just seems 19th century. The issue is basically over linguistic facts, and some of the people involved have raised it almost to the level of a gospel issue. That's just incredibly sad.

Still, I don't think all the points against inclusive language are wrong. On some particular issues, the criticism is sound. Some decisions the NLT, TNIV, NRSV, and other translations have made in the attempt to ensure gender neutrality have disguised important theological points. Of course, all translations have that sort of thing. To preserve one element of what a text means, you end up losing another, and sometimes that's something important. The NIV, for instance, translates a word in Philemon 6 that means fellowship in a way that almost guarantees younger evangelicals to interpret it as being about evangelism. It was supposed to make one element of the meaning of that word clearer, and it ended up masking what the passage is really about. One element of the gender neutrality movement in translation does exactly that, and a thoughtful post by Carolyn Custis James at Common Grounds Online points out what that issue is.


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This is the the eighth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear.

One general sort of response to skepticism is pragmatism. Pragmatists simply accept the skeptic's conclusion. We don't really know many of the things we thought we knew. They disagree with the skeptic on the import of such a conclusion. Skeptics think it's really worrisome if we don't know much, and we shouldn't believe things we don't have good reason to believe. Pragmatists generally think it's perfectly fine to believe certain sorts of things that we don't know and don't even have any rational reason to believe.

This is a list of all the information I've been able to find about forthcoming commentaries on books of the Bible. I have organized it by commentary series in this post, but if you'd like to see the same information organized by book of the Bible, you can find that here.

If you have any information about forthcoming commentaries that you do not see here, please leave a comment or send me an email at the link at the top of the sidebar. I don't necessarily remove volumes just because they are published, but if something is out and I don't have a publication year listed, I do appreciate knowing about it so I can update that.

I also have an ongoing series reviewing commentaries, which you can find here.

Note: I do update this list whenever I get new information about a forthcoming commentary. I'm not so good at removing forthcoming commentaries when they are published. So don't think the presence of non-forthcoming (because published) commentaries mean it's as out-of-date. 

Four More Searches

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I'm still not getting the hilarious ones I used to get, but these were certainly more interesting than most of what I'm getting.

Where did the causasian race come from
Europe and Asia, for the most part. I've been told that Indians are Caucasion because of bone structure and Indo-European language family background, so it goes that far. Oh, you didn't mean what location? You meant how the Caucasian race came into being? That's fairly straightforward. The human race eventually had a branch-off that lost its melanin. Genetically speaking, that's what must have happened. Genes for extra melanin can be lost, but I don't know of any mechanism by which humans gain them when their parents didn't have them. That's what I've been told anyway. Now your assignment for next time is to go find a member of the KKK and explain scientifically why Adam and Eve must have been black.

speeches honoring someone
Such a vague search is strange in itself, but what really got me was that they clicked on my blog due to the following description:

Parableman ... no more wrong for someone to kill these embryos by ... clarifying questions to see what someone really has in mind ... when he had been giving it in speeches months beforehand ...

The problem with black people
blacks think they are cool
So can we count how many intriguing and/or disturbing assumptions lie behind these two searches?

The 83rd Christian Carnival will be held at all kinds of time... this week. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Second, please submit only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from last Wednesday through this coming Tuesday).

Then do the following:

From Gadfly's Muse:

If we preach the sanctity of marriage then let every man live with the wife of his youth (Mal. 2) and let our witness to the world be one of honoring that institution as holy. If we are indistinguishable from the world in our divorce rates, our adultery, our fornications, then how can we proclaim that political recognition of homosexual marriage threatens "family values"?

The overall post is an excellent argument for Christians to watch the way they describe their views and to serve as a model for reasoned discourse. The reason most people think evangelical Christians are stupid and have idiotic views is because enough of the people who claim to speak for evangelicals on political issues make themselves look stupid and make their views look idiotic, even if they're not. But what's just as important as learning how to speak into the mindset of a culture that shares very little of your underlying convictions, that finds very little of your assumptions plausible, is whether you live what you say.

Many of my students don't bother to use spell-checker, and it shows. Occasionally, I can tell that someone did use it, because some word they obviously didn't intend appears and was probably its suggestion for a word they spelled wrong but simply the wrong suggestion. In an exam I'm grading at the moment, a student says the following about Augustine's view of what takes place with the disordered state of our emotions at conversion:

"Conversion involves a reordering that starts in this life and explains how people become more vitreous."

This was from one of my best students, someone at the top of a class composed entirely of above-average students. She got a perfect score on this essay question, as it happens, and that's not easy in my classes. She just wasn't paying enough attention when her spell-checker suggested this for however she misspelled 'virtuous'. It's never good not to use spell-checker, but you have to be careful. Things like this happen, and misspellings that are real words never show up.

I've (sort of) blogged about the view that autism is basically an exaggeration of typically male strengths and weaknesses (and corresponding lack in typically female strengths and weaknesses) before. It isn't really new. But the major bloggers and news outlets seem to be just getting around it now, so I thought it would be good to give a few links for those who are interested.

Todd Zywicki at The Volokh Conspiracy links to a New York Times piece by Simon Baron-Cohen, one of the most prominent defenders of this thesis. There's an excellent critial discussion in the comments of Todd's post.

Ann Althouse says a little more about it than Todd Zywicki's post does, and the comments there are just as active. I haven't even finished reading them yet.

There's a link amidst the discussion to an interesting piece in Wired about the extremely high incidence of autism in Silicon Valley, land of the nerds and home of the geeks. I haven't finished reading that yet either. I'm only a little over halfway through.

Finally, Joanne Jacobs has some thoughts on the whole matter, most notably catching an incorrect and unflattering description of Lawrence Summers' statement in the Baron-Cohen piece. [I didn't catch this one until I saw Sam's post.] The editors should have pointed this out. I wonder if it's that they simply hadn't paid enough attention to what Summers really said in the first place and just accepted the deceptively simplistic account people were constantly giving of what he said or if they knew but just didn't care if someone misrepesented him. Either is pretty sad. I have to laugh at the first commenter on her post trying to connect this with gay marriage, as if two gay men are going to be able to produce a kid in the first place.

The 82nd Christian Carnival is at The Outer... My post on practical questions about bad things that happen and the post by Sam that inspired it are both there.

This is the the seventh post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear.

How perception works is relevant to skepticism about knowledge through the senses, so it might be nice to get a little background on theories of perception. There are three general views in the history of philosophy on the nature of perception. I'm going to be talking in terms of three prominent philosophers in the earlier modern period who held the three diffferent views. How you interpret some of the responses to skepticism will depend in some cases on which view of perception you have (and one of them, as we saw in the last post, is itself a sort of response to skepticism).

[Note: I'm less confident with this post than with some others that I'm representing the historical figures as carefully as I'd like to represent them. In some ways these figures are standing for the overall view, and I'll sometimes refer to a contemporary response as if it's what the historical figure would say. I'm not really pretending to be accurate to the historical figure when I do this. I'm more trying to explore the view. I do think most of what I say is close enough to what they say, but I don't want to look as if I'm doing history of philosophy. This post is just to get a sense of what these views can look like.]

One way to understand the three views is to consider the following inconsistent triad of claims:

1. We perceive ordinary objects.
2. What we perceive are ideas (something internal to our minds).
3. Ordinary objects exist outside of us -- external to our minds.

Any view will have to deny at least one of these claims. If 1 and 2 are true, 3 comes out false. If 1 and 3 are correct, 2 must be false. If 2 and 3 are right, then 1 must be wrong. This is how the three views we are considering will work. These three claims are inconsistent because they can't all be true.

Purposes in Nature

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Abednego recorded some of his observations of the design language of scientists at a conference he was at. I wanted to connect this with some of the stuff I've been looking into among the ancient and medieval philosophers I've been reading a lot of lately. These scientists are basically doing what Aristotle did. He would speak of trees as having roots in order that they can derive nutrients from the soil, which is for the purpose of growing tall. Most of the materialist philosophers of that time, particularly a number of pre-Socratics, the Hippocratic school, and the Epicureans, said this didn't make any sense, because you can tell an entirely material story about how one thing causes another and leads things to happen, without mentioning purposes at all.

Aristotle wanted to say that this is just ignoring the different kinds of explanations for things. There are efficient causes, which those materialists were talking about, and then there are the final causes, which are goals or aims built into nature. This isn't supposed to be what we nowadays call a cause but simply a purpose that things, by their very nature, tend toward. Some of the neo-Platonists made the point that you could have divine causes and materialist causes, just talking about different levels of explanation.

What happens with Aquinas is very interesting. Before his time there wasn't much interaction with Aristotle, because his texts had been lost. Aquinas thoroughly absorbed Aristotle's works once they were translated into Latin, and he accepted the Aristotelian picture on this issue, with one modification. He didn't think Aristotle had a right to be talking about these purposes in nature unless a mind had given those purposes. He still saw them as final causes, not efficient causes, and thus they would be the sort of thing that modern science isn't supposed to talk about. Yet modern scientists do talk about it all the time. It's just that they have no right to, Aquinas would say, unless they're also willing to talk about an intelligent designer. Aristotle didn't want to call it design, but his view amounts to pretty much the same thing as what contemporary scientists call design when they don't want to speak of a designer. The question is whether they can get away with it if they don't believe in a designer.

Update: Mark Olson sees the main issue here as Why vs. What questions. That's not quite the idea. It's Why vs. How. Efficient causes explain how something comes about. Empedocles makes fun of those who offer divine explanations by pointing out that a bull born with one horn isn't caused in some miraculous way by a god but can be explained through normal mechanisms of nature. That's how it came about. Plutarch the neo-Platonist steps in to say that that's just the how. The why might well be a divine explanation for why those efficient causes were arranged in the way they were in order to produce a creature born as an omen. Final causes answer why, and efficient causes answer how. has taken on a NARAL ad against John Roberts [Hat tip: Eugene Volokh]. Apparently they said he "filed court briefs supporting violent fringe groups and a convicted clinic bomber". Not only did his case have nothing to do with the bombing that they showed in the ad, which was seven whole years later than the case in question, but the case wasn't about the issues they say at all. It was about a blockade, which his brief says is illegal. He calls these people criminals, yet somehow that counts as supporting them. The only thing he says that might remotely be construed as supporting them isn't really supporting them but criticizing the argument of those who said their crime also falls under an anti-discrimination law in addition to whatever else made it illegal. Roberts pointed out that it doesn't fall under an anti-discrimination law, because they were blockading men as well as women. It's thus not discriminating against women. I'm trying to figure out how that line of argument counts as supporting the bombing of abortion clinics, which their imagery is designed to convey.

If this is the best they can come up with against this guy, they have little chance of derailing the nomination. That they stoop to outright and obvious lying to accomplish it rather than the standard misleading political rhetoric shows how desperate they are to prevent someone they know very little about from getting in. That just seems downright irrational, given that the extremist right hates the guy (with much derision directed at Bush while they're at it) even more than groups like NARAL. [Clarification: the ProLifeBlogs post is not an example of the extremist right but merely provides a link to a commentary piece by an extremist right news magazine that I won't link to if I can at all help it. Since I can link to someone who links to it, I avoid the problem.]

The most ironic thing about the NARAL ad, which unsurprisingly didn't point out, is the reason NARAL says Roberts shouldn't be confirmed. The ad ends with the following statement: "Call your Senators. Tell them to oppose John Roberts. America can't afford a Justice whose ideology leads him to excuse violence against other Americans." Indeed. It's pretty bad to excuse violence unless you have a very good reason for thinking the violence is justifed because of a much more important moral principle. I even think it's much, much worse to excuse unjustified violence than it is to cause the violence oneself. It's too bad they don't realize that they've just condemned the very reason for the existence of their group. Whatever else abortion is, it's clearly violence against a developing human organism. The whole point of their group is to defend violence. If they really wanted to criticize those who excuse some of the most hidden violence in the country, they should go after themselves.


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I haven't been getting very many good searches of late, except the ones wondering if John Roberts is gay or some other speculative proposal about the Supreme Court nominee, but here are some of the more notable ones I've gotten recently.

Myers-Briggs % population annoying
Now is that supposed to be what percentage of people have personalities that are annoying? Or is it what percentage of people find the Myers-Briggs annoying? The first answer is 100%. I don't know the second, because people who find the Myers-Briggs annoying are annoying.

"star trek Enterprise" "Canceled" "Bush"
No, Bush didn't reach out with his all-powerful grasp and order Enterprise to be canceled, and no they didn't cancel it because of anything he did. No, they didn't cancel it because of complaints that they were being too political with respect to issues that reflect on Bush (either the Xindi storyline, which seemed to me to be rather fond of the sort of thing Bush would do or the Vulcan storyline in the last season, which some unfairly compared with Bush the way they did with Star Wars episode three). So what further possibility might this search be referring to?

Is it grammatically correct to say I'm rest assured
No, but it's such a strange construction that it's funny that someone would even use it to begin with, never mind someone else asking a search engine if it's ok.

Sam has a nice post in response to someone who asked her why God would give us two autistic children. I should first note that we have no idea why Isaiah is just beginning to talk as he approaches age three. Most of what we understand is largely repetitive but indistinctly enunciated. Most of it sounds like gibberish, but he might be saying things, and he might not be just repeating things but simply can't say them in a way we can understand. It may just be that the ones that sound like repetition are the only ones we can understand because they occur in a context when we've just heard the thing he's repeating. It might be autism-related, and given Ethan's diagnosis of autism it's more likely that than any one other explanation, but we have no idea. He might just be delayed in speaking with problems enunciating. He doesn't have any other indications of autism besides some signs that there might be sensory issues, and those may explain the delay in speech on their own.

She asks a few questions that people don't tend to think about, and I want to reiterate some of them but also introduce some elements that seem to me to make it a much more complicated issue. We tend to wonder why people might have bad things happen to them, but we don't wonder why good things happen. When this comes from a sense of deserving the good things, it explains why people do one and not the other. Sam says:

How often do you hear someone speculate about why God allowed them to wake up in the morning? Or why God gave them a roof over their head? Or provided them with good health and daily sustenance? Just about never. Why? Because we consider these things to be our due. If we were a little less self centered I think we'd realise that we don't deserve any of the good in our lives.

She goes on to point out that it's radical patience on God's part to spare us at all and allow things to go on long enough for people to repent and for more people to come into existence who will repent.

This has got to be the most rhetorically manipulative blog posts I've read in a long time. It's shameful that a blog purportedly about philosophy, supposedly written by professionals, could produce such a poor post, but I guess it's becoming less surprising to me over time that philosophers cast aside careful thinking when it comes to abortion and related issues almost as much as other people do [hat tip: ProLifeBlogs]. I wrote this post something like a week ago, and I decided to wait a few days to see if putting time between reading the post and posting my response would enable me to soften my language. All it's done is allow me to rewrite it, clarifying what I want to say in a more careful way. I really think a post this bad deserves a response with as harsh as what follows. If a student handed me something like this, I wouldn't just give it an F. I'd give it a zero and then wish I could have given it negative points.

You only have to read the first sentence to see how bad this is. Something's wrong with their formatting, so I can't copy and paste, and I'm not going to type out the whole (really long) sentence, so you're just going to have to follow the link. Just the first sentence does all of the following:

The 82nd Christian Carnival will be held at the outer... this week. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Second, please submit only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from last Wednesday through this coming Tuesday).

Then do the following:

The 81st Christian Carnival is at Dunmoose the Ageless. The description of my series isn't quite right, but the description it links to is. I'm looking forward to actually being able to read Christian Carnival entries for a change when I host in a couple weeks. There's probably lots of good stuff there, but I have to delve some more into Thomas Aquinas before I can think too much about exploring the blogosphere.

Biblical Studies Bulletin is a good resource for recent developments in biblical studies, mostly from a moderately conservative outlook. I was surprised to see the following comment in the June issue, which was just posted online, from a short section on problematic translations:

One reading that really baffles me (and is particularly important in the Church of England at the moment) is the translation of 1 Tim 2.12. The key word 'authenthein' is a hapax, that is, it occurs only here in the New Testament. The more usual word for 'exercise authority' is 'exousiazein' and the commentators agree that 'authenthein' has the sense of 'misusing authority' or 'usurping authority.' So why is it that modern translations, almost without exception, translate this simply as 'have authority'? The AV correctly used the phrase 'usurping authority' and the only modern translation I could find on that continues this is something called the '21st Century King James.' I had never heard of this before, but here it is more faithful to its predecessor than the New King James.

Here is the response I sent them:

Terry Pruitt tagged me a month ago with the Five Things I Miss From Childhood meme. I was out of town, and when I returned I found that I didn't have enough time to prepare for the class that started the next week and get my grading done before my class started. As it was I was finishing grading into the first day of class in addition to preparing for class, which was next to impossible to complete in the time I had, but it got done. I just didn't sleep enough and still haven't been able to get myself ahead with class prep now that I'm four weeks in, and it's only a five-week course. Anyway, he wanted me to say five things I miss about my childhood. I can now do that, though it's taken me a couple weeks to prepare this post.

I'm not sure why this never occurred to me before, because it just seems obvious now that I've realized it. Open theists are constantly complaining that classical theism takes its view of God not from the Bible but from Greek philosophers. For a couple reasons why this makes no sense, see this old post. The classical theistic picture of God bears little resemblance to anything the Greeks believed.

What didn't occur to me until just now is that the open theists' picture of God really does bear a striking resemblance to some things the Greek philosophers said. Aristotle, for instance, spends a great deal of time struggling through how there can be true statements about contingent events in the future. On one interpretation, he never solved the problem, but on the most popular view he denies that such statements are even true. It's the latter picture that forms the basis of open theism. Their entire view begins with Aristotle, a Greek philosopher. Alexander of Aphrodisias, a follower of Aristotle, clearly held the view that Aristotle may have held. He doesn't just discuss truth about future contingents but even brings in foreknowledge. He makes it explicit that foreknowledge about future contingents is impossible, so the gods can't have it no matter how perfect they are.

I've seen quite a few claims that Bill Frist has abandoned his pro-life principles by proposing federal funding for using stem cells from embryos that will be discarded anyway. See IntolerantElle's post and the links from there for examples. This post started as a comment on her post.

I think this argument goes too far. Frist isn't necessarily inconsistent on this. It's not clear at all that he's contradicting his pro-life stance. What he's proposing is that it's no more wrong for someone to kill these embryos by extracting stem cells than it is simply to throw them away. They will be destroyed. There's no way to prevent that given the current law that these embryos are the property of parents. He's suggesting that in destroying them the stem cells should be retained so that at least this immoral action can have some good consequences.

Idealism: the Arguments

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This is the the sixth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear.

(Note: My presentation of these issues is heavily influenced by Peter van Inwagen's chapter on idealism in his Metaphysics.)

In the last post, I explained the idealist view of George Berkeley. In this post. I'll look at two arguments he gave in favor of that view and one argument against it.

One of Berkeley's primary reason for holding this view had to do with what he saw as a contradiction in the view that there are external objects. One way to reformulate his argument that I think is a little more intuitive is as follows:

A. The whiteness is a property of the paper.
B. The whiteness is a property of an idea (in my mind) of the paper.
C. Therefore, since the whiteness is a property of one thing, the paper must be just an idea (in my mind).

Berkeley's Idealism

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This is the the fifth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear.

(Note: My presentation of these issues is somewhat influenced by Peter van Inwagen's chapter on idealism in his Metaphysics. I agree with his statement that the view Berkeley develops might better be thought of as ideaism, but he's also right that since there is a traditional label for the view, it's probably best to stick with it.)

George Berkeley gives what I consider to be the most creative response to Cartesian skepticism. He argues that we do know of the ordinary objects we believe exist, because those objects are just ideas in our minds. We certainly know of those ideas. I'll save the arguments for and against his view for the next post. In this post I just want to explain what the view amounts to.

Sophia likes chicken bones, and the kids surrounded me while I was trying to do something or other on the computer. Yes, the beard's gone, not that it will be gone for long.

I'm knee-deep in Augustine for now, so I don't know if I'll have a contentful post up tonight. I've got the next post in the Theories of Knowledge and Reality series ready to go, but I wanted to look through it again to be sure it should be one post rather than two or three, and I want to make sure I'm done with my Augustine preparation for tomorrow before I do that. I don't know if I'll get to it before my concentration gives out. I've been up since before 6 am, and I've been reading City of God and various commentaries on it much of that time (in addition to spending two hours teaching it this morning).

Tomorrow afternoon I move on to Aquinas, which takes me through Monday morning's class, after which I'll be trying to compress Descartes into Tuesday and Wednesday's classes. [I've alotted six hours instead of four to him for my fall class. I hope I can do a moderately decent job presenting the Meditations in four hours.] That will complete my actual teaching time. It feels like the home stretch now that it's the penultimate week, but I still have four weeks' worth of teaching time in normal semester reckoning; it's still 12 hours of class until the final. Two weeks in I felt like I'd been teaching this class for almost half a semester, and I have to keep in mind that I still have almost that much time remaining, which will include preparing for twelve hours of teaching (of which I've not taught more than maybe an hour of it before), writing the final completely from scratch (something I don't have to do in most of my classes because I can recycle material from previous classes), and grading the second exam (the most time-consuming aspect of teaching philosophy).

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