Mailvox: the Gordian theologian

In which Cartusiae metaphorically shakes his booty for our amusement:

To clarify, does Calvinism have any relation to the historic man, “Jean Cauvin”?

If so, were these beliefs present in the early Latin edition of ((Institutes)), the French edition following, or the more sizable final editions? Were they present in the documents currently in libraries, either as manuscript editions, editions commonly referred to as critical editions, including critical translations?

Given the historically extended second period of Calvin’s ministry in Geneva, which of the sermons and/or extended glosses and scholia exegetically or eisegetically (as you, or something utilizing your denotation, claims) postulates AND sustains the theses you present under the rubric of ‘Calvinism’?

Whether Scots, UK (anachronistically deployed to refer to the various jurisdictions emerging from the 16th century), Dutch, HRE, Swiss, or other congregations, consistories, presbyteries, synods, bishoprics, Electorates or Palatinates, could you indicate which of these in public confession, commentary on confession, commentary on laws emerging from Scriptural reflection, or in merest battlefield support of ‘Reformed’ polities held the positions attributed to Calvinism?

Or, logically, given a universe of propositions, can you inductively construct a probable argument that conforms to ‘Calvinism’ as you define it and a reliable construction of the varieties of historic and constituted bodies, polities, jurisdictions, or even German encyclopediae of the 19th century?

Something as FOL as “For all R such that R is a set of propositions…” and “There exists a c contained in C such that the union set of r contained in R is to a set of c contained in C where C is the superset of statements I attribute to Calvinists, even if I haven’t made them yet but they can be translated by a Jovian sociologist 500 years hence as I would hope them to be translated when ascribed to me.”

Or, please inform me what your understanding of “bereshit bara elohim et haeretz vet hashamaim” might be.

We’ll start there.

Once I’ve determined a baseline of your understanding of causation, then I can better comprehend your stance vis-a-vis your understanding of the relation between causation, determination, agency, the attribute commonly ascribed to God as ‘justice’ but understood in terms of the originating words, since the cognates emerging from proto-Semitic ANE are drastically different than the extended and quite contradictory–in the strong sense–definitions currently punting about under the cloak of justice; then perhaps I can adequately meet your conversation about the adequation of warranted and credible models of divine responsibility and the coherence of ‘calvinism’ with said scriptures.

No, we really won’t. I pay absolutely no attention to the overblown theological autoeroticism of the sort Cartusiae is exhibiting here with his rhetorical questions. One thing I have observed over the years is that people who don’t actually know what they’re talking about and cannot defend either the facts or the logic of their positions invariably retreat into impenetrable jargon when the mere fact of their waving credentials is insufficiently effective. What Cartusiae has written might intimidate some, but it merely makes me laugh out loud. I mean, I studied economics under economists who wrote the econ textbooks. Do he seriously think I haven’t seen the high-flown jargon tactic before… or had any trouble dealing with it?

VD: “That’s not true. Your argument falls apart here.”

CE: Well, Mr. Day, only after you demonstrate that you have first grokked the confarbulation of the schixamotroid can we begin ascertaining if you truly possess the One True Understanding of the Grand Moxistic Illuminastine’s definition of the upper middle will of God, which of course you must exhibit before we can deal with your impertinent observation that I appear to have calculated 342 as the sum of 2 plus 2.”

VD: That’s all irrelevant. The problem is that 2+2 simply isn’t 342, it’s 4. The foundation of your vast monstrosity of an argument hangs on a miscalculation. So, it’s wrong, your collection of impressive credentials and recitation of irrelevant encyclopedic details notwithstanding.

CE: You know nothing about [insert subject here]!

Perhaps I don’t. And yet, ironically enough, I don’t need to. It doesn’t matter what term is applied, whether it is Reformed, Calvinist, or omniderigiste, because I am not objecting to the labels, but to the specific ideas and the arguments that have been presented to me. In this case, all the navel-gazing theological babble in the world will not change the fact that X!=Not X nor will it make the observable evil in the world vanish. Cartusiae and others who fancy themselves credential experts in the field of God can tie as complicated a Gordian knot as they like, but any sufficiently practiced logician will simply avoid all the extraneous nonsense and cut through the relevant rope.

I’m entirely comfortable with all of the theological possibilities reasonably in play, ranging from the Bible being the imperfect, incomplete, and inconsistent Word of God to God being an omniderigent puppet-master who is typing these words through the mechanism of my fingers as one minute part of an awesomely elaborate Kabuki play. Something is, but none of the concepts absolutely, necessarily has to be… which is why I conclude that the optimal approach is to seek to understand the truth as best we can understand it from the Scriptures, observe it in the world around us, and articulate it through properly applied logic. If the credentialed babblers of the theological world had any utility at all, you would think they would at the very least have been able to come up with a word or two to describe what a significant number of people, both Christians and non-Christians, actually happen to believe regarding God’s relationship with the world.

The only thing of real interest to me is a conclusive answer I have not yet received from anyone capable of speaking for the Calvinist camp. I would like to know if the Wikipedia summary accurate when it states: “Calvin argues that the knowledge of God is not inherent in humanity nor can it be discovered by observing this world. The only way to obtain it is to study scripture. Calvin writes, ‘For anyone to arrive at God the Creator he needs Scripture as his Guide and Teacher.’ He does not try to prove the authority of scripture but rather describes it as autopiston or self-authenticating.”

If this is accurate, then it would explain much about what I have long seen as the logical incompetence exhibited by those holding to various strains of the creed that can be reasonably described as being somehow “Calvinist”.

Mocking the mocker

Mr. PZ Myers unwisely elected to mock Texas governor Rick Perry’s prayer request for some much-needed rain in the face of a drought:

Texans, you have my sympathy. But don’t worry! You have a dynamic governor and a responsive legislature that will do everything it can to aid drought-stricken farmers and parched cities. They will provide the Republican solution.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, RICK PERRY, Governor of Texas, under the authority vested in me by the Constitution and Statutes of the State of Texas, do hereby proclaim the three-day period from Friday, April 22, 2011, to Sunday, April 24, 2011, as Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas. I urge Texans of all faiths and traditions to offer prayers on that day for the healing of our land, the rebuilding of our communities and the restoration of our normal way of life.

IN TESTIMONY WHEREOF, I have hereunto signed my name and have officially caused the Seal of State to be affixed at my Office in the City of Austin, Texas, this the 21st day of April, 2011.

Isn’t that helpful?

Based on the empirical evidence, the only answer one can provide is, apparently, yes.

Mother Nature gave the hundreds of firefighters battling the Possum Kingdom Complex fire an Easter Sunday blessing in the form of rain. On a day that Governor Rick Perry had declared a “Day of Prayer for Rain,” 2 to 3 inches of rain fell over Possum Kingdom Lake. Along with heavy rain and pea-sized hail, the storm brought with it a Tornado Warning in Palo Pinto County that later expired without incident. The much needed rain was a welcome sight to the hundreds of firefighters working to contain the fire.

And yet some dare to say that God doesn’t have a sense of humor. One of the things I most appreciate about God is the apparent enjoyment He takes in mocking His mockers.

A belated TIA correction

In the chapter entitled “Sam Tzu and the Art of War”, I commented that the major military strategists were, with the sole exception of the incompetent Machiavelli, silent on the subject of religion in war. As it happens, that is not entirely true. Over the last two weeks I have been reading a history written by one of the foremost theoreticians of naval warfare, and in doing so came across the following passage in A.T. Mahan’s The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783.

During the century before the Peace of Westphalia, the extension of family power, and the extension of the religion professed, were the two strongest motives of political action. This was the period of the great religious wars which arrayed nation against nation, principality against principality, and often, in the same nation, faction against faction. Religious persecution caused the revolt of the Protestant Dutch Provinces against Spain, which issued, after eighty years of more or less constant war, in the recognition of their independence. Religious discord, amounting to civil war at times, distracted France during the greater part of the same period, profoundly affecting not only her internal but her external policy. These were the days of St. Bartholomew, of the religious murder of Henry IV., of the siege of La Rochelle, of constant intriguing between Roman Catholic Spain and Roman Catholic Frenchmen. As the religious motive, acting in a sphere to which it did not naturally belong, and in which it had no rightful place, died away, the political necessities and interests of States began to have juster weight; not that they had been wholly lost sight of in the mean time, but the religious animosities had either blinded the eyes, or fettered the action, of statesmen. It was natural that in France, one of the greatest sufferers from religious passions, owing to the number and character of the Protestant minority, this reaction should first and most markedly be seen.

It is hardly news that religion was one of the causes of the Thirty Years War, as it is one of the very small minority of religious wars registered in the historical record, and indeed, is generally the second piece of evidence provided in support of the atheist claim that religion causes war. But while Mahan doesn’t contradict my argument that religion is of no significant strategic or tactical utility in warfare, he does make an interesting point about how religion neither naturally belongs nor has a rightful place in the area of foreign policy.

Now, I would argue that events have shown that Mahan is mistaken about religion not having any place in foreign policy considering the obvious inability to draw a bright line between Islamic religion and Islamic politics; the two are one and the same and as the West is once more learning, one ignores the theology of a religion of the sword at one’s distinct peril. Even so, it is worth noting that on one of the very rare occasions when a military strategist has been moved to comment upon religion, he has done so in a manner that indicates religion is very seldom connected with warfare in any capacity, causal, strategic, or tactical.

Ironically, one of the two men he credits with bringing an end to this unusual period of religious warfare was not only a Christian, but a prince of the Church as well. Mahan credits King Henry IV and Cardinal-Duc de Richelieu with creating a tradition of French statesmanship that reduced religious strife in the name of state unity. Whether this was ultimately to the advantage of the French people or the continent of Europe that eventually lay prostrate under Napoleon’s legions is, of course, entirely debatable.

Islamic democracy

This election news from Nigeria should help sober up those who are still enthusiastic about the demands for democracy in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya.

Violent protests erupted across Nigeria’s largely Muslim north on Monday as youths angered at President Goodluck Jonathan’s election victory torched churches and homes and set up burning barricades. The vote count showed Jonathan, from the southern oil-producing Niger Delta, had beaten Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler from the north, in the first round.

Observers have called the poll the fairest in decades in Africa’s most populous nation but Buhari’s supporters accuse the ruling party of rigging. Results show how politically polarised the country is, with Buhari sweeping states in the Muslim north and Jonathan winning the largely Christian south…. A Reuters tally of results put Jonathan on nearly 23 million votes to just over 12 million for Buhari.

A 66-34 is hardly Bush-Gore in 2000 or the Coleman-Franken senatorial election in Minnesota. It is, in fact, an absolute landslide. It also tends to suggest that Muslims will not necessarily wait until they are in the majority to demand governing power, which could have some interesting implications for countries such as Britain and the Netherlands.

WL Craig indulges in immorality

For did he not purposefully injure Sam Harris’s sense of well-being last night at Notre Dame? Based on the various summaries I’ve read, William Lane Craig had about as much trouble in his debate with Sam Harris as I thought he would, which is to say none at all. Unfortunately, as is all too often the case with Christian apologists, Craig didn’t go for the kill when Harris gave him the opening. I think it’s a mistake to refrain from destroying the credibility of the opponent in these circumstances, because whenever the atheist debater is not completely humiliated in an outright and undeniable manner, all of his little fans who are incapable of following the debate will inevitably declare their hero has triumphed.

But for those who are cognitively capable of following and comprehending the discourse, it was apparent that the outcome of the debate was settled as soon as both men made their initial points. As I expected on the basis of his most recent book, Harris lost the debate almost as soon as he opened his mouth.

Craig: If God exists, then we have a sound foundation for objective moral values and duties, if God does not exist, then we do not have a sound foundation for objective moral values and duties.

Harris: Good means maximizing human well-being for the largest number of people. Religion is not necessary for a “universal” morality. Religion is a bad foundation for “universal” morality

As I pointed out in my column last November in which I reviewed The Moral Landscape, “Harris simply ignores the way in which his case falls completely apart when it is answered in the negative. No, we cannot simply accept that “moral” can reasonably be considered “well-being” because it is not true to say that which is “of, pertaining to, or concerned with the principles or rules of right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong” is more than remotely synonymous with “that which fosters well-being in one or more human beings.” One might as reasonably substitute “wealth” or “physical attractiveness” for “well-being”.

Desperate appeals to science won’t suffice to paper over the well-known holes in utilitarian philosophy. Harris is so eminently predictable that he not only threw away the debate by basing his case upon his illegitimate redefinition of “good”, as expected, but he also twice engaged in his customary complaints about being misunderstood despite being directly quoted. Possible Worlds took notes and provided a summary of the debate:

Harris’ rebuttal was a strange, 12-minute diatribe where he offered literally zero arguments for his position. I do not mean he offered zero arguments which I found compelling or good. Just zero arguments altogether. He spent the time presenting the problem of evil and criticizing Christian particularism, both of which were irrelevant to the debate. Harris started to look angry during this portion of the debate. He also seemed to have given up the actual debate topic from here on out.

Craig pointed out that not only were no arguments offered for the naturalistic hypothesis, but that no criticisms of any of his arguments were offered as well! Craig did refer the audience to look into the critiques of Harris through Paul Copan’s book, Is God a Moral Monster?. Craig contended the point of Christianity was not eternal well-being, as Harris alleged earlier. Rather, the point is to worship God on account of who he is! Harris had mentioned in his diatribe that Christians are lunatics, and Craig dismissed this as “stupid and insulting.” I don’t know that I would have said it was “stupid,” but Craig did not come off very mean-spirited (but rather annoyed).

In Harris’ second rebuttal, he accused Craig of misrepresenting him, but did not offer any explanation. Harris defaulted to claiming that if you grant him certain axioms, then his account of morality is true, in much the same way as logic or math. The problem is that people generally don’t view morality to be transcendently true based on “nothing;” further note what this is asking the audience to do: just take his word for it. Take it on faith. He relies on objective morality’s being true, but then his argument just begs the question!

However, I suspect the most succinct summary was provided by a commenter at Wintery Knight’s detailed account of the debate: Sam Harris has spent an hour and a half talking about everything except the topic at hand. I’m not sure I’ve heard such a mix of red herrings and ad hominems before.

In which the squirrel meets the train

Sam Harris is debating William Lane Craig tonight at 7 PM EST. Since Harris’s arguments are so inept and factually incorrect that I could beat him in a debate while simultaneously playing ASL and Ms Pac-man, I tend to doubt Craig will have much trouble with him. It should be interesting to see if Craig elects to make his own positive arguments and challenge Harris to refute them or if he takes a cue from TIA and shreds the arguments that Harris puts forth.

Since the title of the debate makes it sound as if Harris is attempting to talk his book, The Moral Landscape, I suspect even many atheists will be underwhelmed by his futile attempt to use science as a basis for deriving ought from is. Anyhow, I’m not staying up to watch it, so if anyone feels so inclined, please go ahead and provide color commentary or summarize it here.

Reason without knowledge

It’s always informative to watch an atheist attempt to stumble his way to a conclusion that justifies his incoherent beliefs about religion and humanity, most of which are formed in near-complete ignorance of the former.

So Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who organized a Koran burning on March 20, wanted “to stir the pot.” Mission accomplished. Perhaps he’d care to explain himself to the family of Joakim Dungel, a 33-year-old Swede slaughtered at the U.N. mission in Mazar-i-Sharif by Afghans whipped into frenzy through Jones’s folly.

On reflection, no, there’s nothing Jones can explain to Dungel’s family, or the other U.N. staffers murdered. Jones is not in the explanation business. He’s a zealot. How else to describe a Christian who interprets his faith not as grounded in love and compassion but as a mission to incite hatred toward Islam?

There’s no discussion with a bigot like this: You can’t be argued out of something you haven’t been argued into in the first place.

There are so many things wrong with Roger Cohen’s column that it’s hard to know where to start. So, let’s begin with the aphorism, one that is popular among atheists, and like most popular atheist aphorisms, is easily shown to be both factually and logically incorrect. Cohen presents a modified form of the usual saying, which is that one cannot be reasoned out of a position one has not reasoned oneself into. But this is clearly false. Most of us possess opinions that are based on assertions that were made to us as children by parents, teachers, and other children, in fact, that is how we obtain most of our opinions.

Therefore, when one changes one’s long-held opinion based on a consideration of the relevant facts and logic, either internal or external, one is usually reasoning one’s way/being reasoned out of something one has not reasoned oneself into. As a child, I thought the crust was the healthiest part of the bread because my mother told me that when I was very young and I had never once stopped to think about the matter. Years later, when Spacebunny asked me to consider it, I quickly reasoned myself out of the instilled belief.

Now, why would the Rev. Jones have any need to explain himself to the family of Joakim Dungel? He didn’t put Dungel in harm’s way in Afghanistan. The government of the United States, the government of Sweden, and the United Nations bureaucracy all bear some responsibility for Dungel’s presence in the war zone that is Afghanistan, as did Dungel himself. Those who attacked the UN workers were not forced to attack them, they made a conscious choice to do so. And Korans are incinerated literally every day around the world, so the decision of Afghani Muslims to react with violence to a symbolic gesture is actually nothing more than scientific evidence in support of Jones’s hypothesis regarding Islam. If Rev. Jones is to be held “responsible” for burning a Koran, then the likes of P.Z. Myers must be held equally responsible for desecrating a Communion wafer.

It is ironic that Cohen, whose name indicates Jewish heritage despite his professed status as a non-believer, should attempt to utilize the term “zealot” as being somehow incompatible with genuine religious principles. To be zealous in one’s Christian faith is an excellent thing, as to whether that is true of Jones or not, neither I nor Cohen can possibly say with any degree of accuracy. Where Cohen goes wrong, as do so many ignorant non-believers, is to state that Christianity is grounded in love and compassion or that it has no place for hatred.

It all depends what the object is. Christians are told to love their neighbors and enemies alike, but also to hate evil and to shun the wicked. Compassion and forgiveness for the repentant is required, but wickedness is not to be tolerated. Jones did no harm to any individual man, woman, or child, he simply attacked what every Christian believes to be false.

Cohen goes on to write that believing Islam and the Koran serve violence, death, and terrorism is as dumb as equating Christianity with Psalm 137 that says the “little ones” of the enemy should be dashed against stones. But it is Cohen’s comparison that is almost epically stupid, as Psalms predates Christianity and isn’t even part of the Mosaic Law anyhow, whereas the Koran is the core of Islam. And it is a historical fact that Islam accounts for 50 percent of all the religious wars in history, which should come as no surprise given that it has always been a religion of the sword which has grown through military conquest rather than personal transformation. It takes an atheist to conclude that the core tenets of Christianity should be represented by pre-Christian poems from a different religious tradition.

Cohen claims that religion has much to answer for, in Gainesville and Mazar and Omagh. But atheism has even more for which to answer, in Pyongyang, Beijing, Colombo, Yangon, Hanoi, and Brussels. In any event, Terry Jones does not represent the worst that religion can do, in fact, he is one of the brave few calling attention to the worst that religion actually does, considering the bloody centuries of rule by the mighty caliphates of the past that the modern jihad is actively seeking to restore. Unlike Bush, Obama, Gen. Petraeus, and media figures like Cohen, Jones clearly recognizes for what the so-called Religion of Peace is and what it is not.

In conclusion, I note that like most non-believers, Cohen does not realize that it is not hatred and murder that are the antithesis of mercy and forgiveness, but rather self-assurance and pride.