Friday, November 17, 2017

A Bug in the KJV

I've been studying the Bible ever since I was 12 and my parents sent me to a YMCA summer camp in Tennessee.  They take the C in YMCA seriously there, and after two weeks of relentless proseletyzing I finally saw the The Light.  For three glorious days I was born again and felt the Presence of the Holy Spirit.  Then I went home and giddily told my parents the Good News.

My father's reaction was to tell me to study the Bible, which I did, and have been doing ever since.  It only took me a day or two to conclude (as my father no doubt foresaw) that it could not possibly be the work of an all-knowing all-loving deity.  It's just too chock-full of contradictions, weirdness, and out-and-out evil.  But I've remained fascinated by it as a book, not only because so many people do believe that it's the Word of God, but also because it provides an interesting window into deep human history.

One of the problems with reading the Bible as an English speaker is that there are dozens of translations to choose from.  My goto translation is the King James, but every now and then when reading the Old Testament I feel the need to go back to the original Hebrew.  There is only one Hebrew version of the OT, faithfully copied through the generations changing neither jot nor tittle.  Every time I've done this I've come away impressed by the fidelity of the KJV.  Not only does it capture the literal meaning of the original Hebrew, it even captures its spirit because old Hebrew is stylistically different from modern Hebrew in much the same way that Shakespearean English is different from modern English.

But the other day I stumbled upon a bona-fide mistake in the KJV.  It's in Job 6:6, which the KJV translates as, "Can that which is unsavoury be eaten without salt? or is there any taste in the white of an egg?"  The Hebrew word for "egg" is "beitzah" (or plural "beitzim").  But the word in Hebrew that the KJV translates as "egg" is "hallamut" which is a kind of plant that in english is called a malva or a mallow.    It's not a major mistake, but after all these years of being impressed by the KJV's scholarship I was really surprised to discover any mistake at all, let alone such a transparent one.

In case you're wondering, I was led to this through an on-line discussion on Reddit where /u/abram1769 was dissing the Jehovah's Witnesses for translating that passage as "the slimy juice of the marshmallow."  I happen to be personally acquainted with some Witnesses, and they really take their Bible scholarship seriously, so I was skeptical that they would get something so ludicrously wrong.  And indeed they didn't.  It's the KJV that got it wrong.  The Witness's Bible gets it right (and no, it's doesn't say "slimy juice of the marshmallow", it says, "juice of the mallow", which is the correct translation.)

So score one for the Witness's scholarship.  (Too bad they can't seem to get the rest of their house in order.)

94 comments:

Luke said...

> It's just too chock-full of contradictions, weirdness, and out-and-out evil.

Here's what you linked for "evil":

>> I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh because their enemies will press the siege so hard against them to destroy them.’ (Jeremiah 19:9)

First, here's the greater context:

>> Because they have forsaken me, and have estranged this place, and have burned incense in it unto other gods, whom neither they nor their fathers have known, nor the kings of Judah, and have filled this place with the blood of innocents; They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind: Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that this place shall no more be called Tophet, nor The valley of the son of Hinnom, but The valley of slaughter. And I will make void the counsel of Judah and Jerusalem in this place; and I will cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies, and by the hands of them that seek their lives: and their carcases will I give to be meat for the fowls of the heaven, and for the beasts of the earth. And I will make this city desolate, and an hissing; every one that passeth thereby shall be astonished and hiss because of all the plagues thereof. And I will cause them to eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and they shall eat every one the flesh of his friend in the siege and straitness, wherewith their enemies, and they that seek their lives, shall straiten them. (Jeremiah 19:4–9)

So, Israel has grown exceedingly wicked: it is filled with the blood of innocents and burning their children as sacrifices to Baal. YHWH says he will put an end to this. Surely that isn't your beef. But the means of putting an end involves other powers to initiate a siege against Israel (no cannons meant fortresses could be nigh impregnable). A key strategy for sieges is starvation, where the strongest eat the flesh of the weakest. One could say that what was happening in a less overt way (the powerful oppressing the weak) is made more physically evident. Of course, it is disgusting and horrific. But why is it evil?

I can think of two reasons it is evil. One is that God is seen as an agent here, actively ensuring that cannibalism happens. In this scheme, it isn't cannibalism which is bad, but the fact that God is actively involved with it. Another reason is that things could possibly get so bad such that cannibalism is required. One would then be indicting God for created a reality that could get so broken in the first place. Ron, were you thinking along the lines of one of these reasons, or a third one?

Ron said...

> were you thinking along the lines of one of these reasons

Yes. It's evil because God is causing it.

This is not an isolated example, just one of the more horrific. Here are some more:

Genesis 11:7 (God intentionally forces humans to speak different languages in order to thwart their technological development. Not only has that cause no end of trouble, it didn't even work!)

Exodus 7:13, 9:12, 10:1, 10:20, 10:27, 11;10, 14:8 (It was not Pharaoh who refused to free the Israelite slaves, it was God who hardened his heart again and again and again. And in particular God was responsible for the refusal that led to the killing of the firstborn. And as long as I'm on this topic, why in the hell does an omniscient deity need the Israelites to mark their doors with lambs blood in order to sort out who is who?)

Joshua 10:11 (I could give a much longer list from here. Joshua is pretty much a litany of slaughter condoned by God. But in this verse God participates in the killing directly.)

I could go on.

Luke said...

> Yes. It's evil because God is causing it.

So if God merely created reality so that would happen upon humans being sufficiently evil, it would be ok?

I'm trying to get at the precise reason for it being evil. Depending on what the reason is, there may be undesirable implications. For example, if we're going to make God to be a truly separate causal agent than humans, that requires a way of understanding reality which isn't just the laws of nature causing the time-evolution of state. (Or there being no causation, as with Sean Carroll and the movement from "laws of nature" → "unbreakable patterns".)

Ron said...

> I'm trying to get at the precise reason for it being evil.

http://blog.rongarret.info/2015/02/free-will-and-moral-agency.html

> if we're going to make God to be a truly separate causal agent than humans

Make??? We can't *make* God do or be anything. God is what He is (Exo3:14).

So we can ask the question: *is* God a separate causal agent than humans? And AFAICT (though I am hardly the right person to ask) the answer is obviously yes.

Luke said...

> http://blog.rongarret.info/2015/02/free-will-and-moral-agency.html

Does your understanding of physics allow humans to have true moral responsibility, or just something that looks like it if you don't think too hard?

> > if we're going to make God to be a truly separate causal agent than humans
> Make??? We can't *make* God do or be anything. God is what He is (Exo3:14).

What I meant is if we suppose that humans also have causal agency. If you're going to pick out a scenario and say it makes God evil, you are obligated to show that this scenario actually makes sense, that it is free of logical contradiction.

Ron said...

> Does your understanding of physics allow humans to have true moral responsibility, or just something that looks like it if you don't think too hard?

How would one tell the difference? (You might want to review http://blog.rongarret.info/2015/02/31-flavors-of-ontology.html)

> suppose that humans also have causal agency

I'm not sure what you mean by "causal agency" and whether or not it's different from moral agency. But in general I think humans do have moral agency, and so unless your definition of "causal agency" is something very different from what the words imply, I'd say humans generally have that too. But there are exceptions, and one of those exceptions is being coerced by God to do things that they would not have done otherwise. The situation is not symmetric because God is omnipotent and we are not. If God decides to harden someone's heart then God is responsible for the results.

> If you're going to pick out a scenario and say it makes God evil, you are obligated to show that this scenario actually makes sense, that it is free of logical contradiction.

No, I'm not. I am no more obligated to show that God doing evil (and please note that this is not the same as God *being* evil) is free of logical contradiction than I am to show that the Star Wars universe is free of logical contradiction before I can say that governor Tarkin did evil when he ordered the destruction of Dantooine.

BTW, please note that I did not say that God *is* evil. I said that the Bible contained descriptions of God performing evil acts. But God, like Anakin Skywalker, is a pretty complex character.

Luke said...

> How would one tell the difference?

That's easy: psychology and sociology could proceed to find more and more ways that human behavior is determined by aspects not easily identified with a personal causal agency. One could then change how we think about moral responsibility (see e.g. Bruce Waller's Against Moral Responsibility) and ostensibly the result would be better.

> I'm not sure what you mean by "causal agency" and whether or not it's different from moral agency.

I picked out moral responsibility because I wanted to allow for the possibility that it is a stronger condition than mere causal agency.

> But there are exceptions, and one of those exceptions is being coerced by God to do things that they would not have done otherwise.

Wait, are you suggesting that during the starvation-inducing siege, people would refrain from cannibalism if it weren't for YHWH forcing the matter? If so, maybe you should revisit the context of the "evil" passage which describes the Israelites as incredibly unjust and quite willing to burn their sons alive to Baal. If at all possible I'd like to keep things restricted to Jeremiah 19:9 and immediate context, to keep the discussion from getting broad and shallow.

> > If you're going to pick out a scenario and say it makes God evil, you are obligated to show that this scenario actually makes sense, that it is free of logical contradiction.

> No, I'm not. I am no more obligated to show that God doing evil (and please note that this is not the same as God *being* evil) is free of logical contradiction than I am to show that the Star Wars universe is free of logical contradiction before I can say that governor Tarkin did evil when he ordered the destruction of Dantooine.

In that case, you place yourself under zero obligation to try to interpret the text well and the tangent should die.

> BTW, please note that I did not say that God *is* evil. I said that the Bible contained descriptions of God performing evil acts. But God, like Anakin Skywalker, is a pretty complex character.

I don't see how God could do evil without being evil; God is precisely the one agent who cannot do evil by mistake. If you use people as a means to an end—other than to carefully illustrate to them the error of doing so and providing an opportunity for redemption—you are evil. End of story.

Ron said...

> That's easy: psychology and sociology could proceed...

No, I meant how could one tell the difference *now* so that I could answer your question about whether moral responsibility is real or merely a compelling illusion. (BTW, that was really intended to be a rhetorical question. My actual position is that it doesn't matter if it's real or a compelling illusion.)

> Wait, are you suggesting that during the starvation-inducing siege, people would refrain from cannibalism if it weren't for YHWH forcing the matter?

Well, yeah. That's what the Bible says.

> quite willing to burn their sons alive to Baal.

So? I didn't say the Israelites were good in the absence of God's coercion. Nonetheless, Jeremiah plainly states that God will cause them to eat their children. (I'm not taking issue with God's goals here, only with His methods.)

> you place yourself under zero obligation to try to interpret the text well

I consider the Bible a work of fiction (in no small measure because it is not logically coherent) so yes, I agree.

> and the tangent should die.

That's up to you. You started this thread.

> I don't see how God could do evil without being evil; God is precisely the one agent who cannot do evil by mistake.

This is the Euthyphro problem: is it Good because God says so, or does God say so because it it Good?

How can you be sure that the actions I've cited are in fact evil? Maybe it's actually good to eat your children once in a while. If our moral intuitions are broken and not to be trusted, how could we possibly know?

Publius said...

Here is a link to a page which lists all of the English translations of Job 6:6 . Look for the "slime of the purslane".

I like the NIV translation myself.


Publius said...

@Ron
>God is omnipotent

Correction: God is All Powerful.

But if you’re going to pull out the things that define God, include that God is Good and cannot sin against Himself.

Therefore, if you read the Bible and think that God is doing evil, then your interpretation is wrong. You need to re-interpret it as God as doing good and try to figure out the perspective you are missing that would let you conclude that.

Ron said...

@Publus:

> > God is omnipotent

> Correction: God is All Powerful.

What do you think "omnipotent" means?

om·nip·o·tent (adjective):

1. (of a deity) having unlimited power; able to do anything.
synonyms: all-powerful, almighty, supreme,

> if you read the Bible and think that God is doing evil, then your interpretation is wrong.

Go back and read my response to Luke again because I address exactly this point there. (It's at the end.)

Luke said...

@Ron:

Suppose that you agree that the following situations are very different:

     (A) God set things up so that if a people is sufficiently evil, it will be militarily defeated and experience horrors while under siege.

     (B) God actively enforces the laws of (A) every nanosecond.

First, I'm not sure I can see how these are so different. It's not like God couldn't foresee all the possible futures resulting from how he set the universe up to run. If the ruleset created then leads to a terrible situation now, how is God any less culpable than if the ruleset is being constantly enforced?

Second, it's not clear that those in the Ancient Near East could have possibly understood the (A) conception of things. From what I've read, they believed the gods were constantly involved in life. So the import of Jeremiah 19:4–19 would not be that YHWH is acting—it would be taken for granted that some god was acting, if not multiple fighting each other with humans as pawns—but that YHWH is punishing evil. Note that the addressees of the prophecy would not have seen what they were doing as evil. Sacrificing your children to Baal by burning them alive is just something you did.

If we posit that humans cannot become perfect in a day nor can they learn perfectly in a day, we can then ask what kind of moral Δv this may have imparted. Is it really toward more evil, toward more injustice? Not if those carrying out the siege which results in cannibalism get their comeuppance.

BTW, the above has implications for today: it is built on models of human nature which we use in figuring out, e.g., what to do with ISIS or the rape crisis in India (or the rape + other sexual assault crisis among the powerful in the US). Whether or not you want to smash your face into reality and observe human nature instead of decide human nature is of course, up to you. I prefer cold, hard truth to compelling illusions. I think the difference really matters, in all domains. And I think that we humans needed and continue to need much more help to be humane toward each other than to do science.

Ron said...

@Luke:

> Suppose that you agree that the following situations are very different:

I can't figure out whether this is a typo, and you meant to write, "*I* suppose that you agree..." or whether you are asking me to suspend disbelief and accept a counterfactual for the sake of argument.

In any case...

> I prefer cold, hard truth to compelling illusions.

Even if the truth is that God is not all-good? God Himself said that this is in fact the case:

Isa45:7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> I can't figure out whether this is a typo, and you meant to write, "*I* suppose that you agree..." or whether you are asking me to suspend disbelief and accept a counterfactual for the sake of argument.

No typo; I thought there was a good chance I was getting your position correct, but I wanted to leave open the possibility that I had erred. Do you think it's evil/​bad/​whatever for God to do (A)? That is, should he have made it so that never was cannibalism resorted to during sieges, or that sieges would never happen?

> Even if the truth is that God is not all-good? God Himself said that this is in fact the case:

> Isa45:7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/240/3041

Ron said...

> No typo;

OK.

> Do you think it's evil/​bad/​whatever for God to do (A)?

If God is omnipotent and omniscient (O&O) then there is no difference between A and B. An O&O deity is logically incompatible with free will in any other entity. Therefore, if God is O&O, everything that happens is his fault -- including, BTW, me writing these very words! (The Calvinists really get this right.) And yes, I think forcing parents to eat their children is bad, so yes, it's evil/bad/whatever for God to create a universe where this happens. And, of course, my thinking this cannot be other than God's will.

> https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/240/3041

There's a lot of material there, was there something in particular you meant to draw my attention to? Because most of the answers seem to agree with me: God really does create evil.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> An O&O deity is logically incompatible with free will in any other entity.

Really, so an O&O deity just doesn't have the power to self-limit? It sounds to me like you're picking one of the many definitions such that your argument is true, not a definition necessarily entailed by the relevant bits of the Bible. However, I don't want to be too hard on you; people have long worshiped pure power and plenty continue to do so. It's in our DNA. You'll see various depths of veneer of morality of course. Now, how might the Bible push toward true freedom of the human, valuing that freedom, instead of just dominating the human?

> And yes, I think forcing parents to eat their children is bad, so yes, it's evil/bad/whatever for God to create a universe where this happens.

I see, so what should the consequences have been for (i) flooding the streets with innocent blood; (ii) burning one's children alive as sacrifices to Baal? You seem to want them to be less bad than Jeremiah 19 states; how much less bad?

> There's a lot of material there, was there something in particular you meant to draw my attention to? Because most of the answers seem to agree with me: God really does create evil.

It's a polemic against dualism, in particular Zoroastrianism. Key to dualism is that the 'good' deity isn't more powerful than the 'evil' deity. The authors of the Bible have YHWH being way more powerful than any competing deity.

Ron said...

> Really, so an O&O deity just doesn't have the power to self-limit?

That's right. If He can self-limit then he can't be O&O.

Think about it: the existence of an O&O being even at a single instance in time precludes free will in the universe for all time. Why? Because at that instant in time the O&O being knows what is going to happen for all time, and has the power to determine what will happen for all time, including the power to determine what will happen to itself. This is not my position, it's John Calvin's.

BTW, this is the reason I specifically added omniscience to God's powers. Omnipotence by itself is not enough. An omnipotent being can self-limit, but an O&O being can't because (by definition of the second O) it knows the consequences of whatever action it chooses to make while it is omnipotent. Even if God no longer exists, if He was ever O&O then whatever happens now is still the direct consequence of whatever choices He made while he was O&O and therefore His fault. To an O&O being, the Universe is just a gigantic trolley problem.

> It sounds to me like you're picking one of the many definitions such that your argument is true, not a definition necessarily entailed by the relevant bits of the Bible.

It's not the Bible that defines O&O, it's the dictionary. Now, I'm perfectly willing to believe that God is not O&O, but you're the one who will have to stipulate that, not me. I believe God is fictional, and so asking whether He is O&O is like asking whether Batman could beat Superman.

> I see, so what should the consequences have been for (i) flooding the streets with innocent blood; (ii) burning one's children alive as sacrifices to Baal? You seem to want them to be less bad than Jeremiah 19 states; how much less bad?

You're assuming that all this horror should have been dealt with by *consequences*. That's too narrow a view. I think it should have been dealt with by having God be less cagey. How about starting by actually revealing Himself to the people directly and saying, "Dudes, stop killing your children!"

In fact, the whole idea that the Baalites should have been punished at all is wrong because, as you yourself pointed out, they "would not have seen what they were doing as evil. Sacrificing your children to Baal by burning them alive is just something you did." (It's also worth noting that God also demanded a human sacrifice on at least one occasion, so the idea that burning children alive is something that God want's is not a priori out of the question. And indeed, if God is O&O then everything that happens, including burning children alive, is His will. If you dispute this, you need to take it up with the Calvinists, not me.)

> The authors of the Bible have YHWH being way more powerful than any competing deity.

Sure, but more powerful != all powerful. You're a Christian, and my understanding of Christian theology is that God is all-powerful, all-knowing (and all-loving, but that's not really relevant here). Remember, the way we got here was from my recounting how I was indoctrinated into Christianity when I was 12, and how reading the Bible caused me to quickly abandon that indoctrination. AFAICT, the hypothesis that there exists an all-powerful all-knowing all-loving deity, and that this deity is described in and/or had some hand in writing the Bible is manifestly incompatible with the observed data.

Luke said...

> Think about it: the existence of an O&O being even at a single instance in time precludes free will in the universe for all time.

Yes, if you define your terms to get that result. So for example, you appear to define 'omniscience' as "knowing everything", with the implication that anything that ever has a truth-value always has a truth-value. If instead you define 'omniscience' as "knowing everything that can be known", then free will of other creatures can [co]exist quite easily.

> You're assuming that all this horror should have been dealt with by *consequences*. That's too narrow a view. I think it should have been dealt with by having God be less cagey. How about starting by actually revealing Himself to the people directly and saying, "Dudes, stop killing your children!"

You think YHWH didn't say that?

> In fact, the whole idea that the Baalites should have been punished at all is wrong because, as you yourself pointed out, they "would not have seen what they were doing as evil. Sacrificing your children to Baal by burning them alive is just something you did."

Just because one has learned to see good as evil and evil as good doesn't mean that punishment is no longer appropriate. If repentance will not come without punishment, punishment is warranted. Sometimes people only understand how unjust they have been by having that behavior turned around on them.

> (It's also worth noting that God also demanded a human sacrifice on at least one occasion …)

That, or he hooked into an existing child sacrifice tradition and then radically altered it. Talk about a potent way of saying, "We don't do that around here."

> Sure, but more powerful != all powerful.

Of course; "more powerful" was the critical aspect which clashed with Zoroastrianism. It would be more specific to say that no being has powers God did not allow him/her/it to have. Find me bits of the Bible which need something stronger than this.

> AFAICT, the hypothesis that there exists an all-powerful all-knowing all-loving deity, and that this deity is described in and/or had some hand in writing the Bible is manifestly incompatible with the observed data.

I look forward to the day when we can directly test the "I could have done better" which seems entailed by your judgment. (With better and better simulators of human beings, we should be able to test more and more out.) Of course, one result may be that with human nature as it is, you couldn't do better, but you'd just make human nature better. That too could ostensibly be tested via simulation. In the meantime, I happily mine the Bible for things it says about human nature and society that we would prefer not to believe. As long as I find such things, I question claims of "I could have done it better".

Ron said...

> you appear to define 'omniscience' as "knowing everything"

Not me. Webster.

As you should know by now, I don't like quibbling over terminology. I am happy to entertain the hypothesis of a deity who does not know everything, but the burden is on you, as the one advancing the hypothesis, to tell me exactly what His limitations are. (And if you really want me to take you seriously, you'll have to show me how you can extract those answers from the Bible, but I'll settle for just having answers.)

Does God know whether the Riemann hypothesis is true? Whether P=NP?

Can God solve the halting problem for ordinary Turing machines? Can He solve the halting problem for Turing machines with an oracle for the halting problem for ordinary Turing machines?

Does God know what's in my head? Does He know the next sentence I'm going to type? Does He know when and how I'm going to die? Does He know if I'm going to go to my death not believing in Him? Does Does He see me when I'm sleeping and know when I'm awake? Does he know if I've been bad or good? (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Does God know when and where the next natural disaster (earthquake, hurricane) that kills people is going to happen?

> You think YHWH didn't say that?

Not to the Baal-worshippers, no. He only said it to Jeremiah.

> If repentance will not come without punishment, punishment is warranted.

I'll grant that for the sake of argument. How do you justify punishing the *children* of the perpetrators?

> That, or he hooked into an existing child sacrifice tradition and then radically altered it. Talk about a potent way of saying, "We don't do that around here."

I think a more potent way would have been to simply say, "You know that child sacrifice thing you've been doing? It's wrong. Stop it."

And BTW, God absolutely did NOT say "We don't do that around here." He said this:

Ge22:12 And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.

God didn't ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to show that human sacrifice was wrong, He did it to test Abraham's loyalty, like a Mafia don would do.

> I look forward to the day when we can directly test the "I could have done better" which seems entailed by your judgment.

I believe I could have done better if I had God's super-powers. I'm not at all sure I, the frail and fallible human that I am, could have done any better than the frail and fallible humans that came before me. But I'm sure as hell gonna try because I see a lot of room for improvement.

> I happily mine the Bible for things it says about human nature and society that we would prefer not to believe.

There is nothing wrong with that. I think there's a lot of wisdom in the Bible. But there's also a lot of (let me try to be more diplomatic here) what may have been wisdom in the bronze age but is now badly out of date. If we're going to glean value from the Bible, or any other work of human literature, we need some way of filtering the good from the bad.

Peter Donis said...

@Ron:
> An O&O deity is logically incompatible with free will in any other entity.

I'm not sure this is true. Even an omnipotent God cannot do something that is logically impossible, so if it is logically impossible for some other entity besides God to not have free will, then that entity must have free will even if God is omnipotent. Raymond Smullyan addressed this (and much else that is relevant to this discussion) in his dialogue "Is God a Taoist?":

http://www.mit.edu/people/dpolicar/writing/prose/text/godTaoist.html

Of course, all of this assumes that these terms we are all throwing around, particularly "free will", have well-defined meanings that support these kinds of logical arguments. Which might well not be the case.

Peter Donis said...

@Ron:
> the existence of an O&O being even at a single instance in time precludes free will in the universe for all time. Why? Because at that instant in time the O&O being knows what is going to happen for all time, and has the power to determine what will happen for all time, including the power to determine what will happen to itself.

You are assuming that free will is incompatible with determinism. That might not be the case. (Smullyan addresses this in his dialogue as well.)

Luke said...

> Not me. Webster.

Really, Webster differentiates between "knowing everything [assuming everything that can be known at any time t1 is knowable at any other time t2]" and "knowing everything [which can currently be known, noting that some things may not yet have truth-values]"?

> As you should know by now, I don't like quibbling over terminology.

I'm not quite sure what this means, given what you did with "total depravity" over at your blog post Free will and moral agency. :-p

> I am happy to entertain the hypothesis of a deity who does not know everything, but the burden is on you, as the one advancing the hypothesis, to tell me exactly what His limitations are. (And if you really want me to take you seriously, you'll have to show me how you can extract those answers from the Bible, but I'll settle for just having answers.)

I am claiming that YHWH has the power to self-limit his power and knowledge, such that we can have meaningful moral agency. If you need me to convince you that the Bible treats people as if they have meaningful moral agency, I can give it a shot. It may be a bit difficult for a number of reasons: (i) I'll bet it's presupposed, not claimed outright, in most places where it is relevant; (ii) there are probably well-developed alternative interpretations you default to finding much more compelling—like Ptolemaic astronomy was to many in Galileo's time; (iii) the Bible is generally not written in an analytic fashion, with zero exaggeration and everything fully qualified.

> Does he know if I've been bad or good? (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Coal it is!

> Not to the Baal-worshippers, no. He only said it to Jeremiah.

Really?

> I'll grant that for the sake of argument. How do you justify punishing the *children* of the perpetrators?

God isn't punishing any innocents; they are suffering the consequences of their evil parents' actions. Feel free to posit a sensible world where that never happens.

> I think a more potent way would have been to simply say, "You know that child sacrifice thing you've been doing? It's wrong. Stop it."

Really, you think that would have made a bigger impact? (see also my hyperlinked "Really?")

> God didn't ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to show that human sacrifice was wrong, He did it to test Abraham's loyalty, like a Mafia don would do.

You cannot logically reason from the available evidence that YHWH would ever have let Abraham kill Isaac. Feel free to try.

> I believe I could have done better if I had God's super-powers.

Sure, but I have no reason to believe you understand those super-powers. So I have no reason to believe you could do what you say you could, with them. I'm reminded of those who have impossible software specs, but don't realize it because they don't understand the logical constraints of systems working together.

> But there's also a lot of (let me try to be more diplomatic here) what may have been wisdom in the bronze age but is now badly out of date.

I would agree if it weren't for stuff like the Holocaust. We want to forget we have that terribleness within us. So let's delete everything that would remind us? No.

Ron said...

@Peter:

> You are assuming that free will is incompatible with determinism.

No, actually I'm not. I subscribe to Daniel Dennett's theory of free will, which is fully compatible with determinism (though, ironically and counter-intuitively, it is not a compatibilist position). See:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=joCOWaaTj4A

The key takeaway is that what we perceive as free will is actually an illusion resulting from our *ignorance* of the details of our internal mental processes. But an omniscient being, by definition, cannot be ignorant of anything.

It follows logically that an omniscient being cannot have free will either, which kind of makes sense because an omniscient being would know what decisions they are going to make and hence be powerless to change them. Omniscence and omnipotence are therefore logically contradictory, kind of like the irresistible force and the immovable object. You can have one or the other, but not both. But since I approach the Bible as a work of fiction I can let this slide.

Re: Is God a Taoist? I am a long-time fan of this dialog, and I really like the theology it advances. But it's not a Christian theology, nor even a Judeo-Christian theology. It is, as the title implies, Taoist, and treats "God" essentially as a synonym for the laws of nature ("I am the scheme of things" says Smullyan's God). I'm perfectly fine with that, but Smullyan's God is neither omnipotent nor omniscient, and certainly not all-good.

Peter Donis said...

@Ron:
> an omniscient being cannot have free will either

Hm, I see. Yes, I think you're right that this follows from Dennett's position. (Btw, doesn't Dennett say that his position *is* compatibilist?)

> Omniscence and omnipotence are therefore logically contradictory

I don't think this follows, strictly speaking. An omniscient being could not, strictly speaking, "choose" to do anything. But it could still do anything--it just wouldn't be choosing to.

Another way to put this is, if the universe is truly deterministic, there is only one logically possible set of events for the entire universe, and so an "omnipotent" being--a being that can do anything that is logically possible--just means any being at all! So not just God but we too would be "omnipotent" on this interpretation.

Of course, the omnipotence of God is not portrayed this way in the Bible; God is portrayed as choosing to do things--more precisely, as choosing to do one thing rather than another. This kind of "choice" is indeed incompatible with omniscience, for the reason you give: it requires some kind of lack of knowledge on the being's part of what it will choose before it chooses it, which is incompatible with omniscience.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> It follows logically that an omniscient being cannot have free will either, which kind of makes sense because an omniscient being would know what decisions they are going to make and hence be powerless to change them. Omniscence and omnipotence are therefore logically contradictory, kind of like the irresistible force and the immovable object. You can have one or the other, but not both. But since I approach the Bible as a work of fiction I can let this slide.

But you don't let it slide, you use the inherent contradiction to your benefit whenever you want to strike down an argument. It's like a hidden weapon in your arsenal. The principle of explosion is perhaps the most potent weapon that exists—you can utterly destroy truth.

BTW, according to your understanding of omniscience and omnipotence, Jesus' existence is nonsensical. It just isn't possible that he could have κενόω-ed (WP: Kenosis)—emptied himself of power and knowledge. Such self-limitation is, according to your understanding of omniscience and omnipotence, impossible. Of course, maybe God just isn't omniscient and omnipotent, per your [Webster + particular philosophical overlay] definitions.

Ron said...

@Peter:

> doesn't Dennett say that his position *is* compatibilist?

I don't know, maybe he does. I don't have time to go back through the video right now. What matters is that Dennett doesn't believe that we have "real" free will (whatever that might actually mean), he believes that free will is an illusion, but that this doesn't matter. We might as well treat it as if it were real (much like the classical universe itself).

> An omniscient being could not, strictly speaking, "choose" to do anything. But it could still do anything--it just wouldn't be choosing to.

That's a very peculiar definition of "able to do anything". Suppose God goes to a Starbucks on a Monday and orders coffee, and then on Tuesday orders tea. Yes, it's true that God can order both coffee and tea, but he cannot order tea on Monday. To my mind, omnipotence entails being able to anything at any time, which entails being able to choose what to do.

> Of course, the omnipotence of God is not portrayed this way in the Bible; God is portrayed as choosing to do things--more precisely, as choosing to do one thing rather than another.

Yep. God is portrayed as regretting some of His decisions too.

Ron said...

@Luke:

> > But since I approach the Bible as a work of fiction I can let this slide.

> But you don't let it slide

I *can* let it slide. But when I'm talking to someone who thinks the Bible is non-fiction, I don't let it slide because in that context, it matters.

> according to your understanding of omniscience and omnipotence, Jesus' existence is nonsensical

Yes.

> maybe God just isn't omniscient and omnipotent, per your [Webster + particular philosophical overlay] definitions.

Indeed, I would say this is the only logically tenable possibility. But standard Christian theology rejects this. e.g. from the very site you cited:

https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_795.cfm

Pay particular attention to Misconception #4 where it says explicitly that Jesus was "still all-knowing, all-powerful, and holy."

[NOTE: will respond to your prior comment separately.]

Ron said...

@Luke:

@Luke:

> > I don't like quibbling over terminology.

> I'm not quite sure what this means

It means I don't like arguing over the meanings of words. If someone wants to define a word in a particular way in the context of a particular discussion, I'm generally happy to let them have their way.

But there are limits to my tolerance. I will push back against redefining a word too far from its established meaning, or trying to remove the emotional baggage from a word by changing its definition.

> I am claiming that YHWH has the power to self-limit his power and knowledge, such that we can have meaningful moral agency.

OK... but that just begs the question. *Has* He in fact done so? And is that self-limitation rescindable? Because I would say that unless he has in fact self-limited in this way, and done so irrevocably, then this self-limitation is meaningless.

> > Not to the Baal-worshippers, no. He only said it to Jeremiah.

> Really?

Well, in the episode recounted in the book of Jeremiah (which is what we were talking about) yes, really.

Jer1:1 The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin:

Jer1:2 To whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah...

The passage you link to is from Leviticus, hundreds of years before Jeremiah. And even there God did not speak directly to the Israelites, he spoke to Moses:

Lev18:1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

Lev18:2 Speak unto the children of Israel, ...

> God isn't punishing any innocents

OK, we'll just have to agree to disagree about that. God said, "I will cause..." That makes Him morally culpable in my book. (Or a liar, take your pick.)

> > I think a more potent way would have been to simply say, "You know that child sacrifice thing you've been doing? It's wrong. Stop it."

> Really, you think that would have made a bigger impact?

Yes. Absolutely. I believe that clarity is more effective than obfuscation.

> You cannot logically reason from the available evidence that YHWH would ever have let Abraham kill Isaac.

I don't have to, because that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about God's *motive* for *asking* Abraham to kill Isaac in the first place. You say it was to demonstrate the unacceptability of human sacrifice. I say it was to test Abraham's loyalty. God agrees with me.

> > I believe I could have done better if I had God's super-powers.

> Sure, but I have no reason to believe you understand those super-powers.

There is this hilarious scene in the movie "Jesus Camp" where the camp counselors pray to God to make their Power Point presentation not crash when they show it to the kiddies. Just because you don't understand something doesn't mean you can't use it to good effect.

> > But there's also a lot of (let me try to be more diplomatic here) what may have been wisdom in the bronze age but is now badly out of date.

> I would agree if it weren't for stuff like the Holocaust.

Huh? What does the Holocaust have to do with the Bible being out of date?

Ron said...

Arrgh I wish it were possible to go back and edit comments.

> What does the Holocaust have to do with the Bible being out of date?

Make that:

What does the Holocaust have to do with PARTS OF the Bible being out of date?

Luke said...

@Ron:

> I *can* let it slide.

Yes, via strategic use of the principle of explosion. Which isn't really letting it slide, it's just playing your cards closer to your chest. You're still very much making use of the contradiction you interpret as being there—you just let it pop up somewhere else.

> Indeed, I would say this is the only logically tenable possibility. But standard Christian theology rejects this. e.g. from the very site you cited:

I don't endorse the whole site; it just provides a nice interlinear reference so one can look at the Greek and Hebrew words and find where else they are used. The details here are important, and I worry that you interpret "standard Christian theology" in a rather Calvinist manner.

> Pay particular attention to Misconception #4 where it says explicitly that Jesus was "still all-knowing, all-powerful, and holy."

Umm, the section "Jesus Did Not Know Certain Things" explicitly supports the doctrine of kenosis—self-imposed limitation. The thing you say cannot happen.

Peter Donis said...

@Ron:
> Dennett doesn't believe that we have "real" free will (whatever that might actually mean), he believes that free will is an illusion, but that this doesn't matter. We might as well treat it as if it were real (much like the classical universe itself).

I don't think Dennett would agree with this description of his position. I think he would say that free will is real, it just isn't what we think it is. More precisely, I think he would say that we do have free will in any sense that actually matters, but this real free will does not have all of the metaphysical properties that most people think it does.

Peter Donis said...

@Ron:
> To my mind, omnipotence entails being able to anything at any time, which entails being able to choose what to do.

AFAIK it's a pretty consistent feature of the literature in this area that omnipotence does not entail being able to do things which are logically impossible. So if it were the case that only one thing was logically possible to a given being at any given time (which would be true if strict determinism were true), then omnipotence would in this sense be compatible with only being able to do one thing at any given time. I agree this is a weird edge case, though.

Ron said...

@Luke:

> You're still very much making use of the contradiction you interpret as being there—you just let it pop up somewhere else.

I think you're misunderstanding what I mean when I say, "I can let it slide." What I mean is that because I consider God to be a fictional character, resolving the question of His omnipotence doesn't really matter. In fictional worlds, logical inconsistencies are OK.

But if one believes that God actually exists, then it matters. And if I'm engaged in a discussion whose premise is that God exists, then I treat the question as if it matters (even though in reality I don't think it does).

> I worry that you interpret "standard Christian theology" in a rather Calvinist manner.

I think it's safe to say that the vast majority of Christians, whether Calvinist or Arminian, would subscribe to Stewart's point of view here. Do you have evidence to the contrary?

BTW, the page I cited was written by Don Stewart, who is a Pentacostal minister. Pentacostals are Arminians.

BTW2, if I have a Calvinist bias it's because, as should be obvious by now, I think Arminianism is logically incoherent.

> Umm, the section "Jesus Did Not Know Certain Things" explicitly supports the doctrine of kenosis—self-imposed limitation. The thing you say cannot happen.

What can I say? So Don Stewart's position is self-contradictory. Stop the presses.

If you ask a Jehovah's Witness they will tell you that Mark 13:32 (among many other pieces of evidence, e.g. Mark 14:34) clearly shows that Jesus was NOT God. YHWH is the Father and Jesus is the Son, and the the Father (YHWH) knows something that the Son (Jesus) does not, so they must be distinct. Personally, I find this argument compelling, but most Christians don't.

But -- and this is really important, and gets back to what I mean by "I can let it slide" -- to me these arguments are fundamentally the same as arguing over whether Han shot first, or whether Deckert was a replicant (funny how it's always Harrison Ford who winds up in these dramatically ambiguous situations). I'm happy to engage you on this on whatever terms you care to set because it's kind of a fun intellectual exercise, and I appreciate the Bible for its historical and cultural significance. But I'm equally happy to just drop it and go share a beer.

Ron said...

@Peter:

I'm happy to accede to your restatement of Dennett's position. To me, my formulation and yours mean the same thing, but I think you're right that he'd resonate more with yours.

> AFAIK it's a pretty consistent feature of the literature in this area that omnipotence does not entail being able to do things which are logically impossible.

Sure. But getting tea on Monday is not logically impossible.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> > I am claiming that YHWH has the power to self-limit his power and knowledge, such that we can have meaningful moral agency.

> OK... but that just begs the question. *Has* He in fact done so? And is that self-limitation rescindable? Because I would say that unless he has in fact self-limited in this way, and done so irrevocably, then this self-limitation is meaningless.

I don't know how to make much of any sense of the Bible if he hasn't in fact done so. I see no reason why God cannot rescind his self-limitation any way he wants, whenever he wants. But part of him being good is that one can trust his promises to-date—which would place permanent limitations on him, modulo renegotiation.

> Well, in the episode recounted in the book of Jeremiah (which is what we were talking about) yes, really.

> The passage you link to is from Leviticus, hundreds of years before Jeremiah. And even there God did not speak directly to the Israelites, he spoke to Moses:

Why do either of these observations matter? The Israelites were supposed to teach their children the Torah. See Deuteronomy 6. They didn't want a direction relationship with God. See Deuteronomy 5.

> OK, we'll just have to agree to disagree about that. God said, "I will cause..." That makes Him morally culpable in my book. (Or a liar, take your pick.)

You just don't want to see YHWH as saying that the cause-and-effect relationship is moral, do you? That the terrible thing happened because the Israelites were evil, not because e.g. they just didn't weren't good enough at oppressing the innocent or didn't burn enough of their children alive?

> > > I think a more potent way would have been to simply say, "You know that child sacrifice thing you've been doing? It's wrong. Stop it."

> > Really, you think that would have made a bigger impact?

> Yes. Absolutely. I believe that clarity is more effective than obfuscation.

Cool, I'll go around telling people to "be more rational" and see if that works. I'll include a tract with the rules of logic and logical fallacies.

> > You cannot logically reason from the available evidence that YHWH would ever have let Abraham kill Isaac.

> I don't have to, because that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about God's *motive* for *asking* Abraham to kill Isaac in the first place. You say it was to demonstrate the unacceptability of human sacrifice. I say it was to test Abraham's loyalty. God agrees with me.

This in no way entails that YHWH would, under any conditions, have let Abraham sacrifice Isaac. The backdrop to the almost-sacrifice of Isaac is that it was seen [by some] as acceptable to value some end more than the life of one's child. YHWH does want this—truth must be more important than family—but not at the cost of sacrificing Isaac.

> There is this hilarious scene in the movie "Jesus Camp" where the camp counselors pray to God to make their Power Point presentation not crash when they show it to the kiddies. Just because you don't understand something doesn't mean you can't use it to good effect.

Never heard of it, but I can see the need for miracle-power. But I am deeply, deeply skeptical that you could use power wisely without the requisite wisdom. That trope suffuses human literature.

> > > But there's also a lot of (let me try to be more diplomatic here) what may have been wisdom in the bronze age but is now badly out of date.

> > I would agree if it weren't for stuff like the Holocaust.

> Huh? What does the Holocaust have to do with the Bible being out of date?

You appear to want icky human past expunged from the Bible. I think that's a terrible idea. But if you mean something different, please be undiplomatic and give me an idea of what alteration to the Bible would have led to a better human history.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> I think you're misunderstanding what I mean when I say, "I can let it slide." What I mean is that because I consider God to be a fictional character, resolving the question of His omnipotence doesn't really matter. In fictional worlds, logical inconsistencies are OK.

But you won't let it slide, when it comes to your conception of omnipotence and omniscience and humans having free will. You'll let there be logical inconsistency in one place, but not in another. It's like the dust is ok under that rug, but not this one. But it's pretty much the same dust.

> Luke: If you're going to pick out a scenario and say it makes God evil, you are obligated to show that this scenario actually makes sense, that it is free of logical contradiction.

> Ron: No, I'm not. I am no more obligated to show that God doing evil (and please note that this is not the same as God *being* evil) is free of logical contradiction than I am to show that the Star Wars universe is free of logical contradiction before I can say that governor Tarkin did evil when he ordered the destruction of Dantooine.

> But if one believes that God actually exists, then it matters. And if I'm engaged in a discussion whose premise is that God exists, then I treat the question as if it matters (even though in reality I don't think it does).

Then I don't see why you brought up Tarkin in the first place.

> I think it's safe to say that the vast majority of Christians, whether Calvinist or Arminian, would subscribe to Stewart's point of view here. Do you have evidence to the contrary?

The devil is in the details and I wouldn't wager any agreement on that. I happen to have a library book checked out called The Work of Love: Creation as Kenosis and on the back cover it says: "The development of kenotic ideas was one of the most important advances in theological thinking in the late twentieth century." The RCC has condemned some form of kenosis.

> BTW2, if I have a Calvinist bias it's because, as should be obvious by now, I think Arminianism is logically incoherent.

Perhaps we could talk more about that. I am not sure that the denial of free will is coherent, especially for scientists who ostensibly choose things for reasons.

> What can I say? So Don Stewart's position is self-contradictory. Stop the presses.

You've presented zero reason to consider kenosis to be self-contradictory.

> But -- and this is really important, and gets back to what I mean by "I can let it slide" -- to me these arguments are fundamentally the same as arguing over whether Han shot first …

I doubt very much that whether or not kenosis is (i) coherent; (ii) a good idea, is of the same importance as whether Han shot first. Among other things, at stake is how to best understand the relationship of humans to other humans. Are all relationships ultimately based on power, because the distinction between manipulation and consensus is just as illusory as free will? Or is there another way to relate, based on self-limitation instead of stamping yourself on others?

Ron said...

@Luke:

> I don't know how to make much of any sense of the Bible if he hasn't in fact done so.

OK, we agree on that :-)

> I see no reason why God cannot rescind his self-limitation any way he wants, whenever he wants.

A rescindable self-limitation is not a self-limitation. Choosing to refrain from an action is not the same as rendering yourself unable to perform that action.

> But part of him being good is that one can trust his promises to-date

Yes, but how do you know that God is good? I presume that the answer is: because He tells us so, but the problem is that this testimony is self-serving. God would say that He is good even if (perhaps particularly if) He is not.

> Why do either of these observations matter?

Because the further removed evidence is from its primary source the less reliable it is. How can we be sure that Moses and Jeremiah weren't just making shit up? In the case of Moses it's even worse because Moses almost certainly didn't write Leviticus, so in that case we have to ask how we know that the author of Leviticus wasn't making shit up, or even just embellishing things a little bit. The more links there are in the chain, the more likely it is that somewhere along the line the Word got corrupted somehow.

> You just don't want to see YHWH as saying that the cause-and-effect relationship is moral, do you?

That's right. I refuse to believe that forcing people to eat their own children is moral under any circumstances, no matter what sins the parent may have committed. Two wrongs don't make a right.

> truth must be more important than family

But the problem is that God is omniscient. He didn't have to put Abraham through that emotional wringer to know what was in his head.

> You appear to want icky human past expunged from the Bible.

Once again: huh??? What did I say to give you that idea? Because it's absolutely untrue.

> You'll let there be logical inconsistency in one place, but not in another.

Yes, of course. Logical inconsistency is fine in a fictional world. I don't go around complaining, for example, that warp drive violates relativity. But if we're talking about what is actually true in the real world (which I thought we were) then logical inconsistency is unacceptable (because explosion).

> I don't see why you brought up Tarkin in the first place.

It was an illustrative example of how I can judge a fictional character's actions to be evil despite the fact that I have not discharged all of the logical contradictions in that character's fictional world.

> I am not sure that the denial of free will is coherent

You seem to have a problem with context shifts. The claim that Arminianism is logically incoherent is not the same as the claim that free will is logically incoherent. What is logically incoherent is free will IN THE CONTEXT OF THE EXISTENCE OF AN OMNISCIENT DEITY.

Likewise:

> > Don Stewart's position is self-contradictory.

> You've presented zero reason to consider kenosis to be self-contradictory.

I didn't say that kenosis is self-contradictory, I said that Don Stewart's position -- in its totality -- is self-contradictory because on the one had he says that Jesus was all-knowing and on the other hand he says that there are things Jesus didn't know.

Ron said...

Oh, almost forgot the most important thing: Happy Thanksgiving!

Luke said...

@Ron:

Happy Thanksgiving to you as well! I feel really nerdy for writing comments on the internet during Thanksgiving, but hey.


> A rescindable self-limitation is not a self-limitation. Choosing to refrain from an action is not the same as rendering yourself unable to perform that action.

I agree to the second sentence; I don't see why I ought to define 'self-limitation' as you do in the first. Indeed, it seems quite rational for God to give us some amount of rope with which to hang ourselves, but not infinite rope.

> Yes, but how do you know that God is good?

His track record, both as reported by other humans and as experienced oneself. The concept of trust is not all that mysterious, even if we suck at it these days. Goodness itself has a predictive aspect, but not in the analytic fashion that allows you to write out deterministic equations.

> Because the further removed evidence is from its primary source the less reliable it is.

I'm afraid that if you do with this principle what you have, you destroy much of the intergenerational structure one finds in the OT, thereby obscuring patterns which may exist and could be extremely important for us to know, as we too are humans with a history.

Recall that I extend plausibility to a resource if it gets human nature (and societal nature) a lot more right than we do, today, with all of our fancy science and technology. I suspect that one reason we get things so terribly wrong is that we refuse to pay serious attention to psychological and sociological effects which manifest on time spans longer than a few decades. One way we get things wrong is to alter our perceptions of the past to bring them more in line with our ideology. Well, if a set of [multigenerational] sources refuse to do this and thus gets things more right, I think that is worth paying attention to—vs. atomizing those sources.

> How can we be sure that Moses and Jeremiah weren't just making shit up?

We can conclude, from massive amounts of evidence, that humans are intensely predisposed to paint themselves in a better light than warranted or a worse light than warranted. From there, we can figure out where Moses and Jeremiah show up on that spectrum. If they ultimately push toward a good balance (perhaps exploring the extremes), we can guess that they care about truth in precisely the domain humans don't want to face the truth. It then doesn't seem so difficult that they'd care about truth of lesser importance. Indeed, how could they even have obtained the more important truth without getting things right in less important domains?

We can then take whatever results we obtain from the above, and test them in real life. The more those tests turn out well, the more we can draw confidence from the sources of those results. We can explore how those sources could have gotten things so right when all of our science and technology couldn't manage it as well. It might turn out that the "fable" explanation, whereby wise people just made up stories to teach good morals, doesn't actually work. On the other hand, we might find out the opposite. I know of no research on this matter.

> That's right. I refuse to believe that forcing people to eat their own children is moral under any circumstances, no matter what sins the parent may have committed. Two wrongs don't make a right.

So your complaint is really about how God set the world up to operate, regardless of whether the parents had true free will? It seems to me that we should ask whether God was evil for creating a reality where an innocent moral agent could be harmed in the slightest by another moral agent. It would even be harmful for me to give five kids cookies while leaving the sixth out. So, I wonder whether you could imagine a 'good' world which is even remotely recognizable. This goes back to people who suggest how to build software when they have no idea how software works—and thus end up presenting incoherent jumbles of ideas.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> But the problem is that God is omniscient. He didn't have to put Abraham through that emotional wringer to know what was in his head.

It's not clear that YHWH did know. Again, does 'omniscience' necessarily imply that all truth-values are knowable at all times t? This is a big debate; see middle knowledge, a.k.a. "counterfactuals of creaturely freedom". It also seems important for us to know, and getting a mere assertion seems less real and less potent. We humans often don't know what we'd do in an extreme situation until we actually go through it. Sometimes we can come out much better, sometimes much worse. The idea that all this experience could just be replaced with propositions is deeply problematic IMO, and not just "because emotions".

> Once again: huh??? What did I say to give you that idea? Because it's absolutely untrue.

I am officially at a loss as to what you meant by, "But there's also a lot of (let me try to be more diplomatic here) what may have been wisdom in the bronze age but is now badly out of date." I say that deleting such out-of-date material would damage our ability to understand our nature.

> Yes, of course. Logical inconsistency is fine in a fictional world. I don't go around complaining, for example, that warp drive violates relativity. But if we're talking about what is actually true in the real world (which I thought we were) then logical inconsistency is unacceptable (because explosion).

Alcubierre drives, yo. Star Trek just forgot to include exotic matter.

Given that I constantly apply God-stuff, Bible-stuff, and Jesus-stuff to the real world, that would seem to require logical consistency to apply to it quite pervasively. Which again drives me to ask what place there was for allowing logical inconsistency.

> It was an illustrative example of how I can judge a fictional character's actions to be evil despite the fact that I have not discharged all of the logical contradictions in that character's fictional world.

But surely you can do the same in the real world. If we needed a perfectly coherent system for making any judgments of good/evil whatsoever, we'd be screwed. What matters is that there are no contradictions relevant to the matter being judged. And I am not convinced you've passed that par in calling some of God's behavior 'evil'. We shall see how you follow up on the last paragraph of my previous response.

> > I am not sure that the denial of free will is coherent

> You seem to have a problem with context shifts. The claim that Arminianism is logically incoherent is not the same as the claim that free will is logically incoherent. What is logically incoherent is free will IN THE CONTEXT OF THE EXISTENCE OF AN OMNISCIENT DEITY.

I've discussed free will for hundreds if not thousands of hours online, and I'm not sure the matters are as separate as you claim. And, you're once again "quibbling over terminology" quite insistently—you have a very particular idea of 'omniscience' in your head and you just won't let go of it. Maybe I'm just really good at being interested in those terms where you like to quibble. :-p Quibbling kryptonite!

> I didn't say that kenosis is self-contradictory, I said that Don Stewart's position -- in its totality -- is self-contradictory because on the one had he says that Jesus was all-knowing and on the other hand he says that there are things Jesus didn't know.

What scripture is hard to interpret as God knowing everything he needs to know to do what he says he will do? That is, what in the Bible is really hard to interpret well without Ron-'omniscience'? I claim that having access to an ability and using the ability are very different things.

Ron said...


> I don't see why [a rescindable self-limitation is not a self-limitation]

Because a rescindable limitation is not a limitation. God can still do X for any X, it just now takes two steps instead of one, with step 1 being to rescind the self-limitation and step 2 being to do X.

> > Yes, but how do you know that God is good?

> His track record,

Well, I guess that's just another thing we'll have to agree to disagree on, because from where I sit, God's track record looks pretty poor.

> Recall that I extend plausibility to a resource if it gets human nature (and societal nature) a lot more right than we do, today, with all of our fancy science and technology.

Yes, I know that (and respect you for it BTW). But just because human writing contains truth about human nature does not mean that it's historically accurate. Shakespeare's plays contain great truths about human nature. Some of them are even grounded in historical fact. It does not follow that the events they depict actually happened.

> So your complaint is really about how God set the world up to operate, regardless of whether the parents had true free will?

I wouldn't call it a "complaint", but yes. If God is all-powerful, then everything that happens is His responsibility.

My personal belief is that everything that happens is a consequence of physics. But physics is not a moral agent so there's not much point in making value judgements about it. Physics is just How It Is.

> It's not clear that YHWH did know.

If you don't believe that God knows the future then that puts you at odds with the vast majority of Christians. If God does not know the future, that completely demolishes vast swathes of Christian theology, not least of which is the reliability of prophecy.

Now, this is your theology, not mine, so you get to set the rules. But if you want me to take you seriously you're going to have to tell me unequivocally that you believe that God does not know the future. None of this "it's not clear" wiffle-waffling. It's been clear to every other Christian I've ever met. If it's not clear to you, then you need to go talk to them, not me.

> I am officially at a loss as to what you meant by, "But there's also a lot of (let me try to be more diplomatic here) what may have been wisdom in the bronze age but is now badly out of date." I say that deleting such out-of-date material would damage our ability to understand our nature.

Well, yeah, of course it would. Dude, I'm an idea-ist. My entire moral framework is based on the preservation of memes. The Bible is a collection of memes, one of the most significant ever created. The suggestion that I would want to destroy parts of it is insulting. I don't want to *delete* it. All I want is for people to recognize that it is mythology rather than historical fact.

> you have a very particular idea of 'omniscience' in your head and you just won't let go of it

I'll happily let go of it as soon as you give me an alternative definition that doesn't beg the question. "Knowing everything that can be known" doesn't work: What can be known? By whom? At what time? Under what circumstances?

> having access to an ability and using the ability are very different things

Of course they are. But for moral questions, access is often what matters. If I rob you at gunpoint and you accede to my demands and hand me your wallet, I do not escape moral culpability just because I chose not to shoot you. What matters is that I could have shot you. (Actually, what matters is that I made you believe that I could have shot you. I don't escape moral culpability for robbing you even if the gun wasn't loaded.)

Luke said...

@Ron: (1/2)

> Because a rescindable limitation is not a limitation.

As far as I can tell, the only important aspect of 'limitation' is whether it resolves the problem of omnipotence and omniscience leading to either zero or one moral agents. I don't see how limitation being rescindable matters to opening up space for multiple moral agents.

> Well, I guess that's just another thing we'll have to agree to disagree on, because from where I sit, God's track record looks pretty poor.

From where I sit, it's a trade-off between blaming things on God and blaming things on humans. The more you blame on God, the more you abdicate responsibility to act. Because hey, if he's evil or didn't give you the requisite wisdom/​knowledge/​power or just plain doesn't exist, then you can be doing the best you can while a whole lot of awfulness persists around you.

> But just because human writing contains truth about human nature does not mean that it's historically accurate.

Correct, and I said nothing to suggest such a logical implication. What I questioned is whether we can subsist solely on moral fables and extensively modified history.

> > So your complaint is really about how God set the world up to operate, regardless of whether the parents had true free will?

> I wouldn't call it a "complaint", but yes. If God is all-powerful, then everything that happens is His responsibility.

But are you assuming that God is the sole moral agent in saying this? That is, he could not have created a framework in which moral agents could act, where evil actions ultimately lead to terrible consequences. Or if he did, he'd be evil for doing so. Unless the result of an evil action is that only evil people are harmed—which would undermine the very notion of 'evil'.

> If you don't believe that God knows the future then that puts you at odds with the vast majority of Christians. If God does not know the future, that completely demolishes vast swathes of Christian theology, not least of which is the reliability of prophecy.

It's not a binary matter. God can know enough for all his promises to be held and all prophecies to come true, without knowing everything [that has a truth-value after some time t]. And then, what vast swathes of Christian theology must topple?

As to whether this really puts me at odds with the vast majority of Christians, I am doubtful. I suspect they will be most interested in preserving those vast swathes of theology—which I claim doesn't require Ron-'omniscience'. Instead, Ron-'omniscience' is a good approximation for many purposes. Just like there are many places where F = ma is an approximation but the difference is below the noise floor, I bet the same holds with theology.

> But if you want me to take you seriously you're going to have to tell me unequivocally that you believe that God does not know the future. None of this "it's not clear" wiffle-waffling.

When I said "It's not clear that YHWH did know.", I mean that a rigorous literary analysis of the text does not yield a clear "YHWH did know" result. From there, you branch out and "interpret scripture in the light of scripture". Do other passages truly require God to know everything [that can ever be known, all at t = 0]? I'm not sure.

I see no reason one cannot be fine-grained on how God self-limits and how he doesn't with his omnipotence and omniscience. God can ensure that the future turns out a certain way or give more freedom to his creation. If you were to create a computer simulation of digital sentient, sapient creatures, you would have such choices. You could simulate omniscience by altering the simulation or restarting with different parameters, whenever it enters a state you don't like. You could allow the creatures as much or as little freedom as you want.

Luke said...

@Ron: (2/2)

> The suggestion that I would want to destroy parts of it is insulting. I don't want to *delete* it. All I want is for people to recognize that it is mythology rather than historical fact.

My apologies for the unintended insult. But surely you must admit that mythologizing creates a distance from the text, which allows one to pretend that [s]he is not as bad as "those people" were? We, you see, are more evolved. (It always amuses me when "more evolved" is meant to indicate anything other than competitive/​survival-based superiority.)

> I'll happily let go of it as soon as you give me an alternative definition that doesn't beg the question. "Knowing everything that can be known" doesn't work: What can be known? By whom? At what time? Under what circumstances?

When it comes to QM, what can be known is an open question. It's not clear to me that we've fully explored the implications of weak measurement and interaction-free measurement. So I'm not going to present to you a philosophy that is more sure than scientists are. If that means that you find yourself compelled to return to Ron-'omniscience', then perhaps we will be unable to discuss this matter further. Sometimes it seems you want matters to be rather more settled than the best state of human knowledge allows.

> > having access to an ability and using the ability are very different things

> Of course they are. But for moral questions, access is often what matters.

You appear to be mixing the self-limitation that would allow humans to have true moral agency, and the self-limitation that keeps God from halting every instance of evil once its terribleness passes some threshold (which may be 0). At the very least, I haven't seen you unambiguously allow humans to have true moral agency. Until we establish that, a lot of other topics are premature.

Peter Donis said...

@Ron:
> getting tea on Monday is not logically impossible.

It doesn't seem to be. But it might actually be if the universe is strictly deterministic and if such a universe is the only logically possible one. In other words, it might be that the apparent logical possibility of getting tea on Monday is due to our ignorance of all the requisite conditions, including the conditions on what physical laws are logically possible, what initial conditions for the universe are logically possible, etc.

Again, I agree this is a weird edge case.

Ron said...

@Luke:

> I don't see how limitation being rescindable matters to opening up space for multiple moral agents.

I explained that: a rescindable limitation is not a limitation. God can still do X for any X, it just now takes two steps instead of one, with step 1 being to rescind the self-limitation and step 2 being to do X.

> The more you blame on God, the more you abdicate responsibility to act.

In the real world, I put zero blame on God because God does not exist. (I put considerable blame on some of those who profess to believe in Him however.) In the counter-factual world where God exists and has the characteristic ascribed to Him by most Christians, I put all the blame on Him because he's all-knowing and all-powerful and so He's the only entity with moral agency.

> What I questioned is whether we can subsist solely on moral fables and extensively modified history.

Straw man. No one suggested that we subsist *solely* on such things.

> > If God is all-powerful, then everything that happens is His responsibility.

> But are you assuming that God is the sole moral agent in saying this?

No, I'm not *assuming* it, I'm *inferring* it. Moral agency requires freedom to act, and if God is all-powerful and all-knowing then no other entity can have freedom to act.

> God can know enough for all his promises to be held and all prophecies to come true, without knowing everything

Yes, that's logically possible. Is that what you're asserting?

> Do other passages truly require God to know everything?

I don't know about "require" but there are certainly passages that say that He *does* in fact know everything. Gobs of them.

> God can ensure that the future turns out a certain way or give more freedom to his creation.

No, He can't. Not if He is all-knowing.

> If you were to create a computer simulation ... you could allow the creatures as much or as little freedom as you want.

Indeed I could, but only because I can build a simulation with respect to which I am not all-knowing.

> surely you must admit that mythologizing creates a distance from the text

I have no idea what you mean by "distance from the text." I see no harm is admitting that a text is a myth if the text is in fact a myth. To the contrary, I see a great deal of harm in denying it

> When it comes to QM, what can be known is an open question

No, it isn't. You're confusing theoretical advances with technological ones. Yes, the technology is continually improving. But the theoretical limits on what can be know have not changed since Heisenberg formulated the uncertainty principle.

But according to every Christian I've ever spoken to, God is not bound by the laws of physics. He is super-natural. He transcends space, time, and physics. He *created* the laws of physics, and could even change them if He wanted to.

> I'm not going to present to you a philosophy that is more sure than scientists are.

Really? Every other Christian I've ever met has professed to be privy to extra-scientific knowledge by virtue of their faith (e.g. that there is life after death). If this were not the case, if faith does not lead you to any conclusions that science does not, what's the point?

[cont'd]

Ron said...

[Part 2]

> I haven't seen you unambiguously allow humans to have true moral agency.

I have no idea what you mean by "allow humans to have true moral agency." Whether or not humans have moral agency is a question of fact (and the definition of "moral agency"), not a question of what I do and do not "allow." I believe that in the real world, humans do have moral agency, or at least that this is a good enough approximation to the truth that it might as well be treated as true even if at the margins it is not. But I believe this in no small measure because I believe God does not exist. In a counter-factual world where God exists and has the properties ascribed to Him by most Christians, humans do not and cannot have moral agency. I honestly don't know how I can get any less ambiguous than that.

Publius said...

B -/-> A

@Ron
>What do you think "omnipotent" means?

om·nip·o·tent (adjective):

1. (of a deity) having unlimited power; able to do anything.
synonyms: all-powerful, almighty, supreme,


Except you looked up the wrong definition -- you did the reverse lookup, not the forward lookup.

Recall from math one can prove, say, that if A is true, the it implies B.
A --> B

Now the reverse question is asked - if B is true, does it imply A is true?
B --> A ?

Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't.

Let's look up All Powerful:

all-powerful
adjective all-pow·er·ful \ ˈȯl-ˈpau̇(-ə)r-fəl \

Definition of all-powerful
: having complete or sole power an all-powerful leader

Now check the Bible dictionary on omnipotence:

The noun "omnipotence" is not found in the English Bible, nor any noun exactly corresponding to it in the original Hebrew or Greek

The adjective "omnipotent" occurs in Revelation 19:6 the King James Version; the Greek for this, pantokrator, occurs also in 2 Corinthians 6:18; Revelation 1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7,14; 19:15; 21:22 (in all of which the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) render "almighty"). It is also found frequently in the Septuagint, especially in the rendering of the divine names Yahweh tsebha'oth and 'El Shadday. In pantokrator, the element of "authority," "sovereignty," side by side with that of "power," makes itself more distinctly felt than it does to the modern ear in "omnipotent," although it is meant to be included in the latter also. Compare further ho dunatos, in Luke 1:49.



>God didn't ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to show that human sacrifice was wrong, He did it to test Abraham's loyalty, like a Mafia don would do.

Have you considered that perhaps it was Abraham that needed to go through that experience, and that it was to benefit Abraham?

Ron said...

@Publius:

> Have you considered that perhaps it was Abraham that needed to go through that experience, and that it was to benefit Abraham?

Have you considered that perhaps the whole story never actually happened, and that is was just invented by a human with an agenda?

There are all kinds of possibilities that one could consider. But we don't have to guess because God actually says why He did it.

Luke said...

@Ron: (1/2)

> > I don't see how limitation being rescindable matters to opening up space for multiple moral agents.

> I explained that: a rescindable limitation is not a limitation. God can still do X for any X, it just now takes two steps instead of one, with step 1 being to rescind the self-limitation and step 2 being to do X.

Sorry, I don't see how it matters to the topic at hand. I don't see why God cannot give a creature varying amounts of moral freedom throughout his/her life.

> > The more you blame on God, the more you abdicate responsibility to act.

> In the real world, I put zero blame on God because God does not exist.

Of course, but that doesn't change anything else of what I said in that paragraph.

> > What I questioned is whether we can subsist solely on moral fables and extensively modified history.

> Straw man. No one suggested that we subsist *solely* on such things.

Then to what extent must we subsist on accurate history which provides true renderings of human nature? (Or is that too a straw man, since nobody suggested it, either?)

> > God can know enough for all his promises to be held and all prophecies to come true, without knowing everything

> Yes, that's logically possible. Is that what you're asserting?

I am asserting that as a minimum, God knows what he needs to know and is as powerful as is necessary for his promises to come true. Omniscience and omnipotence are approximations of this, approximations which work remarkably well in many domains.

> there are certainly passages that say that He *does* in fact know everything. Gobs of them.

Really, you want to say that John 10:15 indicates omniscience? "even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep."?

> > God can ensure that the future turns out a certain way or give more freedom to his creation.

> No, He can't. Not if He is all-knowing.

Not if he is Ron-omniscient. (See, I have a penchant for picking terms over which you very much wish to quibble.)

> > If you were to create a computer simulation ... you could allow the creatures as much or as little freedom as you want.

> Indeed I could, but only because I can build a simulation with respect to which I am not all-knowing.

As I explained, you can be all-knowing from the perspective of the simulated beings. Do you deny this?

> > surely you must admit that mythologizing creates a distance from the text

> I have no idea what you mean by "distance from the text."

I mean that one can dismiss the myth as the work of savages—we are more civilized and need not be concerned with such things.

> > When it comes to QM, what can be known is an open question

> No, it isn't.

Only if you think QM is a complete theory can you say that. My point was to suggest that God could have baked limitations into the laws of nature. We just don't know, and yet you want me to give you an answer with precision which far outstrips this one. I see no actual need for such precision, other than to force me to admit defeat because I can't meet your exacting demands. There is so much we simply do not know. Hopefully we will continue learning.

Luke said...

@Ron: (2/2)

> > I'm not going to present to you a philosophy that is more sure than scientists are.

> Really? Every other Christian I've ever met has professed to be privy to extra-scientific knowledge by virtue of their faith (e.g. that there is life after death). If this were not the case, if faith does not lead you to any conclusions that science does not, what's the point?

I should clarify: I meant more sure than scientists are on issues they have the expertise to speak to, given current technology and conceptual lexica. If I believe that lying to the populace (e.g. about our living in anything resembling a democracy) is wrong, that there is a better way, I doubt that I will get much science-based disagreement. I might get pseudoscientific disagreement. It's not that science doesn't bear on this topic—surely there are truths about whether something much closer to a democracy is compatible with human nature—but that science is not the optimal tool for exploring such things.

Belief that creation is good but also corrupted leads one to different conclusions than one will find in e.g. Sean Carroll's poetic naturalism, but I don't see how in doing so, one is more confident than scientists are [in areas of scientific expertise]. If you disagree, perhaps you will convince me that in fact I am more confident than scientists are.

P.S. When it comes to stuff like life after death, I'm happy to point out that information is not destroyed, so all you need for resurrection is an outside agent to reconstruct people from entropy bits. You don't need *magic*.

> > I haven't seen you unambiguously allow humans to have true moral agency.

> I have no idea what you mean by "allow humans to have true moral agency."

In your understanding of God. That is, how much do you really have to weaken Ron-omnipotence and Ron-omniscience to get humans with true moral agency? Actually, I would argue that "being able to create humans with true moral agency" is an ability, and thus you'd really be strengthening Ron-omnipotence so that it can do something you won't allow it to do.

> Whether or not humans have moral agency is a question of fact (and the definition of "moral agency"), not a question of what I do and do not "allow."

You don't seem to be allowing the full semantic range one finds at dictionary.com: allow. If you won't even permit the conceptual development of a thing, you cannot acknowledge the possible existence of the thing.

> I believe that in the real world, humans do have moral agency, or at least that this is a good enough approximation to the truth that it might as well be treated as true even if at the margins it is not.

See, this makes absolutely no sense to me. You seem to be saying that if Ron-God (that is, Ron-omnipotence and Ron-omniscience) exists but everything else stays the same, all of a sudden humans don't have moral agency [or something that is a good enough approximation]. It's as if lots of fuzz is allowed when God isn't in the picture, but things are either clear or expected to be clear when he is. It seems rather suspicious, unless one interprets the entire discussion in light of Mercier & Sperber's 2011 Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory.

Unknown said...

Pardon if this has already been addressed somewhere in the previous 50 comments which I did not read, but the really interesting question is, how does Google machine translation perform on the passage in question? And has someone run the entire Bible through Google translate? And if not why not?

Ron said...

@Unknown:

I don't know if anyone has run the Bible through Google Translate, but the results could not possibly be better than a human translation because that's what Google Translate uses to train itself.

You could just try it yourself and see what happens. It would be an interesting experiment.

Ron said...

> You don't need *magic*.

Then how do we distinguish God from IAs?

> how much do you really have to weaken Ron-omnipotence and Ron-omniscience to get humans with true moral agency?

For me to have moral agency it must be impossible for any other agent to know my decisions before I do.

> You seem to be saying that if Ron-God (that is, Ron-omnipotence and Ron-omniscience) exists but everything else stays the same, all of a sudden humans don't have moral agency [or something that is a good enough approximation].

That's right, though I object to your labeling this hypothetical entity as Ron-God. It's not Ron-God, it's standard mainstream Christian God. It's a straightforward consequence of the principle I just described: if God knows what I'm going to do with 100% reliability, then I don't really have any choices (notwithstanding that I feel like I have choices).

> It's as if lots of fuzz is allowed when God isn't in the picture, but things are either clear or expected to be clear when he is.

That's exactly right. The actual existence of "fuzz" (I would call it uncertainty) depends on there not existing any entity that knows the future with 100% reliability. I don't see why this is hard to understand.

Luke said...

> > You don't need *magic*.

> Then how do we distinguish God from IAs?

It's in principle impossible. Don't forget Clarke's third law.

> > how much do you really have to weaken Ron-omnipotence and Ron-omniscience to get humans with true moral agency?

> For me to have moral agency it must be impossible for any other agent to know my decisions before I do.

If God doesn't exist in our time continuum, then measuring 'before' is rather difficult unless it's a causal 'before'. As I've indicated with the simulation scenario, the programmer of the simulation can appear Ron-omniscient to the simulated beings. That is, it can be in principle impossible for the simulated beings to distinguish between moral agency-destroying omniscience and moral agency-compatible omniscience.

> That's right, though I object to your labeling this hypothetical entity as Ron-God. It's not Ron-God, it's standard mainstream Christian God.

I'm not convinced it is; even many Calvinists hold that humans have real moral agency. When pressed, I bet they will be more willing to ever so slightly weaken Ron-omniscience than abandon real moral agency. For some reason, you have latched onto Ron-omniscience like a pit bull. Can you not see it as an approximation which is useful in so many domains that people might frequently fail to treat it as an approximation?

> > It's as if lots of fuzz is allowed when God isn't in the picture, but things are either clear or expected to be clear when he is.

> That's exactly right. The actual existence of "fuzz" (I would call it uncertainty) depends on there not existing any entity that knows the future with 100% reliability. I don't see why this is hard to understand.

It's hard to understand because there is no change in causation between Ron-God and no-God: you don't have a single iota more agency in the latter than the former. It's either Ron-God or the impersonal laws of nature—humans are never true sources of causal chains. Mere ignorance changes nothing in the causal picture.

Ron said...

> > Then how do we distinguish God from IAs?

> It's in principle impossible.

That is a remarkable admission.

> > it's standard mainstream Christian God.

> I'm not convinced it is; even many Calvinists hold that humans have real moral agency.

Well, yeah, but just because they hold that view doesn't mean that it's true. Some Christians believe in the prosperity gospel. That doesn't make it true.

> Mere ignorance changes nothing in the causal picture.

That may be, but uncertainty about the future is nonetheless an essential part of the human condition. A big part of the subjective sensation of having moral agency is feeling confident that no part of the universe knows what I'm going to decide before I decide it, even if that entails maintaining a certain amount of ignorance about my own internal decision-making processes.

Luke said...

> That is a remarkable admission.

Do you see any other logical option? The idea that we're anywhere close to a complete description of the laws of nature is absolutely ridiculous to me. That includes the subset of the laws of nature relevant to current everyday life.

> Well, yeah, but just because they hold that view doesn't mean that it's true.

It is relevant if you want to make claims about the "standard mainstream Christian God". If many Christians hold that (i) God is Ron-omniscient; and (ii) humans have real moral agency, then when they are confronted with the contradiction you say exists with (i) ∧ (ii), they may weaken (i) to something not Ron-omniscient.

> > Mere ignorance changes nothing in the causal picture.

> That may be, but uncertainty about the future is nonetheless an essential part of the human condition.

But that has nothing to do with what God knows and everything to do with what we know.

Ron said...

> Do you see any other logical option?

For what?

> when they are confronted with the contradiction you say exists with (i) ∧ (ii), they may weaken (i) to something not Ron-omniscient.

In my experience, when Christians are confronted with a logical contradiction in their beliefs they mostly get angry and defensive and cut off the conversation.

> But that has nothing to do with what God knows and everything to do with what we know.

That would be true if God were a passive observer who cannot interfere with the unfolding of events according to the laws of physics (which, BTW, is the same as not existing). But He's not. God can and does interfere. Just because he might choose not to interfere all the time doesn't make him morally less culpable, it just means that, to God, the universe is a trolley problem. (And, BTW, God created the universe, so He is the one who laid out the track and strapped down the victims.)

Luke said...

> For what?

Distinguishing between God and an intelligent alien. The only way I know of distinguishing is to reject Clarke's third law and that means claiming that we have an awfully good idea of exactly what the laws of nature permit to happen in everyday life (with any non-ludicrously small probability).

> In my experience, when Christians are confronted with a logical contradiction in their beliefs they mostly get angry and defensive and cut off the conversation.

Surely this is what happens with most people on most topics they care deeply about. Must I remind you again of the scientific research in Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government? So … perhaps we could skip past "most people".

> That would be true if God were a passive observer who cannot interfere with the unfolding of events according to the laws of physics (which, BTW, is the same as not existing). But He's not. God can and does interfere. Just because he might choose not to interfere all the time doesn't make him morally less culpable, it just means that, to God, the universe is a trolley problem. (And, BTW, God created the universe, so He is the one who laid out the track and strapped down the victims.)

I thought we were talking about whether humans can have real moral agency while God has something awfully like Ron-omniscience and Ron-omnipotence, but not quite. If one can alter Ron-omniscience and Ron-omnipotence such that God has the power to create beings with real moral agency without the resulting God being theologically problematic, then we will have made a huge step forward and then can talk about how to compare moral culpability between the multiple real moral agents.

Ron said...

@Luke:

> Distinguishing between God and an intelligent alien

OK, that's what I thought you were referring to. But if you concede that there is no way to distinguish between God and IA's, don't you think that IA's are the more likely of the two possibilities? And if the answer to that is yes, why do you nonetheless believe in God?

> Surely this is what happens with most people on most topics they care deeply about

No. It's a true cultural difference. Jews, for example, love to argue. They even argue with God. Sometimes they win (e.g. Exo32:9-14).

> I thought we were talking about whether humans can have real moral agency while God has something awfully like Ron-omniscience and Ron-omnipotence, but not quite.

Oh, is that what we were talking about? If so, then the burden is on you, as the one advancing this hypothesis, to explain to me exactly how that could work while still being consistent with Christian theology. I think you'd have to weaken God far beyond what most Christians would be willing to accept in order to restore human's moral agency.

(BTW, if you haven't seen the movie "Dogma" I highly recommend it. It's on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tA3dzBrXYtc)

Luke said...

@Ron:

> OK, that's what I thought you were referring to. But if you concede that there is no way to distinguish between God and IA's, don't you think that IA's are the more likely of the two possibilities? And if the answer to that is yes, why do you nonetheless believe in God?

I understand the Bible to make a number of claims that reality is this way and not that, such that reality has properties which a random universe generator would be exceedingly unlikely to satisfy (even after the anthropic principle is satisfied). Unless I am a digital being in some IA's computer simulation, IAs probably won't have the ability to make reality satisfy such properties.

One such property is that it is wrong for the powerful to lord it over the weak. That is, for the maximal well-being of all agents as t → ∞, the powerful ought never lord it over the weak. I have seen exactly one way that this actually works out: the powerful get harmed if not destroyed. The only reason to act this way is if you are convinced that reality really has that property. And yet, how could an IA ensure reality has such a property?

Now, IA's can certainly pass along wisdom and provide material aid. But they cannot fundamentally determine the structure of reality without becoming indistinguishable from God. And there is plenty of human action which is ultimately founded on what is believed to be the fundamental structure of reality. (For example: the way to fight violence is with violence. Hellfire missile away!)

> > Surely this is what happens with most people on most topics they care deeply about

> No. It's a true cultural difference. Jews, for example, love to argue. They even argue with God. Sometimes they win (e.g. Exo32:9-14).

Ahh, so Jews are exempt (or statistically different) from the results in Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government? If true, that might explain their over-representation in Nobel Prizes and we could learn much from them. But this is a bit of a digression, unless you're claiming that Christians are outliers in the sense being discussed. Such a claim would of course require supporting evidence.

> Oh, is that what we were talking about?

We are talking about multiple things, but some are prerequisites for others.

> If so, then the burden is on you, as the one advancing this hypothesis, to explain to me exactly how that could work while still being consistent with Christian theology. I think you'd have to weaken God far beyond what most Christians would be willing to accept in order to restore human's moral agency.

What kind of explanation do you desire? I've already pointed you to one place that topics relevant to this discussion have been extensively explored: Middle Knowledge. If you're right in how much I'd have to weaken God, then that whole debate would surely be exceedingly wrong-headed.

P.S. I saw Dogma a long time ago. I recall it being amusing; I'll bet it's better if you have history with the Roman Catholic Church.

Ron said...

> Unless I am a digital being in some IA's computer simulation

But that is exactly what I mean when I mention IAs in this context. (Maybe we need a new term to distinguish IAs who built the simulation that is our universe from the IAs that exist alongside us in that simulation. Any suggestions?)

> I understand the Bible to make a number of claims that reality is this way and not that

> One such property is that it is wrong for the powerful to lord it over the weak.

That sounds like a category error to me. Questions of right and wrong are not matters of objective fact, they are matters of subjective judgement.

BTW, does "the weak" include animals? Because God explicitly gave man "dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth."

> What kind of explanation do you desire?

A list of things God cannot know, and a list of things He cannot do. A good start would be to answer the specific questions I posed earlier:

Does God know whether the Riemann hypothesis is true? Whether P=NP?

Can God solve the halting problem for ordinary Turing machines? Can He solve the halting problem for Turing machines with an oracle for the halting problem for ordinary Turing machines?

Does God know what's in my head? Does He know the next sentence I'm going to type? Does He know when and how I'm going to die? Does He know if I'm going to go to my death not believing in Him? Does Does He see me when I'm sleeping and know when I'm awake? Does he know if I've been bad or good? (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Does God know when and where the next natural disaster (earthquake, hurricane) that kills people is going to happen?

And with respect to what God can or cannot do, I'll add the following:

Can God prevent a natural disaster that would otherwise happen? Can God cause a natural disaster that would not otherwise happen? Can He part the Red Sea? Can He make the sun stand still?

Can God harden my heart and cause me to do something that I perceive as evil that I would not have chosen to do absent His intervention? I understand that God would never force me to do something that is *actually* evil, but God and I seem to have some very significant differences of opinion regarding what is and is not evil.

Let me give you a very specific example to really bring that last one home: let us imagine that there is someone (let's call him Bob) who has done some unspeakable transgression (prayed to Molech perhaps) and the only just punishment for Bob is to be forced to eat his own children as described in Jeremiah. Could God bring this about by choosing me as His instrument, forcing me to kill Bob's children, cut them up, and force them down Bob's throat?

Luke said...

> But that is exactly what I mean when I mention IAs in this context. (Maybe we need a new term to distinguish IAs who built the simulation that is our universe from the IAs that exist alongside us in that simulation. Any suggestions?)

Perhaps 'Simulation Builders'? We talked about this scenario by email; I probably suggested that simulation builders would not necessarily have complete freedom to make their simulation work exactly like they want. For example, we could take the worst possible world Sam Harris imagines in The Moral Landscape, where "all conscious beings suffer the worst possible misery". Who says that such a world can actually be simulated? Just like fiction has long seen ways for God to give the weak ways to oppose the strong, I don't see why God couldn't give the simulated ways to oppose the simulation builders.

> Questions of right and wrong are not matters of objective fact, they are matters of subjective judgement.

"If you act this way, X results" has objective truth-value. Whether it is true depends on properties of reality. Whenever you say it is better to act in some way, you are making a prediction which can come true or false.

> BTW, does "the weak" include animals? Because God explicitly gave man "dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth."

The term "dominion", as used in the Torah, does not mean "you get to [ab]use however you'd like".

> A list of things God cannot know, and a list of things He cannot do.

How does whether God knows whether P = NP matter for our discussion? What theological point or what aspect of morality and moral agency is predicated upon that?

And as I've said before, from the perspective of simulated beings, the Simulation Builders can be omniscient. At worst, they can tinker with the simulation until the simulated beings don't ask questions they can't answer.

> Let me give you a very specific example to really bring that last one home: let us imagine that there is someone (let's call him Bob) who has done some unspeakable transgression (prayed to Molech perhaps) and the only just punishment for Bob is to be forced to eat his own children as described in Jeremiah. Could God bring this about by choosing me as His instrument, forcing me to kill Bob's children, cut them up, and force them down Bob's throat?

Your example is a caricature in two senses: (i) merely praying to Molech was never said to lead to parents eating their children; (ii) the reason they would eat their children is because siege conditions would result in the weakest dying to hunger first, and thus being food for those still alive. You didn't like that God would set up reality such that sieges could lead to such terribleness; when I asked how much nicer God would have to make reality for him not to be evil (or at least engage in evil behavior), you didn't answer.

Now I'll be a good sport and engage your double caricature: God's omnipotence surely permits him to do what you describe; I can even imagine Simulation Builders setting up such a scenario. But you wouldn't then be morally culpable, because the acts would be those of God, not you.

Ron said...

> Perhaps 'Simulation Builders'?

I prefer something that keeps the focus on the fact that they are intelligent aliens, i.e. that they are not God.

Let's not lose the plot here: you've conceded that it is not possible to distinguish God from intelligent-alien-simulation-builders (that's it! IASBs!), and you've conceded (or at least not denied) that IASBs are more probable than God. So why do you believe in God?

> "If you act this way, X results" has objective truth-value.

Of course it does, but "X is good/desirable/as-it-should-be" does not.

> The term "dominion", as used in the Torah, does not mean "you get to [ab]use however you'd like".

What does it mean then?

> How does whether God knows whether P = NP matter for our discussion?

I thought I'd lob you a fat pitch. But in fact that question has much deeper implications than you might imagine. See:

https://www.scottaaronson.com/papers/pnp.pdf

> Your example is a caricature

I disagree, but it's a moot point because:

> God's omnipotence surely permits him to do what you describe; I can even imagine Simulation Builders setting up such a scenario. But you wouldn't then be morally culpable, because the acts would be those of God, not you.

Cool, thank you for that straight answer.

So here is another scenario: I am walking down the street when I see a homeless woman who is starving and about to eat her child. Unbeknownst to me, the reason she is in this predicament is that she has transgressed against God (the details don't really matter -- pick whatever transgression you like that you think warrants such a punishment) and He has arranged things this way as punishment and doesn't want me to interfere.

Of my own free will I choose to offer the woman food so she doesn't have to eat her child. But God sees that I am about to thwart his plans to punish the woman for her transgressions and intervenes to harden my heart and change my mind. I don't give her food, and she eats her child.

Some questions:

1. Is this situation more to your liking with regards to not being a caricature?

2. Would I be able to tell that God had hardened my heart? Or would it feel to me as if I had chosen of my own free will not to help?

3. I presume that it is safe to extrapolate from your earlier answer and conclude that I have no moral culpability in this scenario also. But is there any moral culpability here at all? Everything that happened is the will of God, so it's all good, right?

4. Does your answer to #3 change if the universe was created by IASBs instead of God?

Now, consider the following variation of the above scenario: Same woman as before about to eat her kid because starvation. Donald Trump walks by and, of his own free will, chooses not to help out because he believes (correctly!) that anyone in this predicament must deserve it. God sees that Donald is doing His work and does not interfere. Again, the woman eats her child.

5. Does Donald Trump have any moral culpability for the death of the child?

Luke said...

@Ron:

> Let's not lose the plot here: you've conceded that it is not possible to distinguish God from intelligent-alien-simulation-builders (that's it! IASBs!), and you've conceded (or at least not denied) that IASBs are more probable than God. So why do you believe in God?

Once you tell me how to compute the probability of IASBs vs. God, I'll give you an answer.

> Of course it does, but "X is good/desirable/as-it-should-be" does not.

Plenty of claims about goodness are predictive, and thus have truth-values in that sense.

> What does it mean then?

That's kind of the thrust of the entire Bible. Our actions are supposed to reflect who God is. See Jesus' claim that he only does what he sees his Father doing. Or Peter's claim that we are to be priests and rulers. Priests declare who God is and handle stuff like taking suffering out of the world, while [good] rulers establish order which promotes flourishing [of all creation]. If you want to see an example of how not to do things, see the beginning of Isaiah 58.

> I thought I'd lob you a fat pitch. But in fact that question has much deeper implications than you might imagine.

Why don't you share an implication or three of P =? NP which matters to the discussion at hand? The Scott Aaronson document is a large one. Or, you can select one or two questions which drive home to the heart of the matter. Without narrowing the field, I fear I will get spread broadly & thinly and the whole discussion will veer off into the weeds.

> 1. Is this situation more to your liking with regards to not being a caricature?

It is better. But then you have the problem of Jeremiah 5:1, where God is willing to pardon Jerusalem if there is but one man "who does justice / and seeks truth". So your being there to show the Jews a better way would negate the need for punishment—unless all you'd do is bail out the Titanic with a teaspoon.

> 2. Would I be able to tell that God had hardened my heart? Or would it feel to me as if I had chosen of my own free will not to help?

I don't know. If you had surrounded yourself with friends of solid character who could notice a deviation in your character and trained yourself to listen to them or be restrained by them, perhaps.

> 3. I presume that it is safe to extrapolate from your earlier answer and conclude that I have no moral culpability in this scenario also. But is there any moral culpability here at all? Everything that happened is the will of God, so it's all good, right?

I do not hold that everything you could imagine God doing is thereby good.

> 4. Does your answer to #3 change if the universe was created by IASBs instead of God?

I will answer this if you directly address the paragraph I wrote a while ago containing "cookie"—especially the second sentence.

> Donald Trump walks by and, of his own free will, chooses not to help out because he believes (correctly!) that anyone in this predicament must deserve it.

This has long been debated—should we intervene when God decided not to? The answer should be obvious: God wants us to grow, and thus there are things we must do that he cannot do for us.

> 5. Does Donald Trump have any moral culpability for the death of the child?

Yes. See the end of Ezekiel 22, where God wants someone to stand in the breach.

Publius said...

Permission To Harden His Own Heart

Exodus 4:21
21 The Lord said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.

In Hebrew:
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהוָה֮ אֶל־מֹשֶׁה֒ בְּלֶכְתְּךָ֙ לָשׁ֣וּב מִצְרַ֔יְמָה רְאֵ֗ה כָּל־הַמֹּֽפְתִים֙ אֲשֶׁר־שַׂ֣מְתִּי בְיָדֶ֔ךָ וַעֲשִׂיתָ֖ם לִפְנֵ֣י פַרְעֹ֑ה וַאֲנִי֙ אֲחַזֵּ֣ק אֶת־לִבֹּ֔ו וְלֹ֥א יְשַׁלַּ֖ח אֶת־הָעָֽם׃

In this passage, I will harden (אֲחַזֵּ֣ק) is an example of where an active verb is used in idiomatic Hebrew to express, not the doing of the thing, but the permission of the thing which the agent is said to do.

Refer to Bullinger, page 808:

"Ex. 4:21. -- "I will harden his heart ( i.e. , I will permit or suffer his heart to be
hardened), that he shall not let the people go." So in all the passages which speak of the
hardening of Pharaoh's heart. As is clear from the common use of the same Idiom in the
following passages.. . . "

Your interpretation is wrong. Pharaoh hardened his own heart.

Ron said...

@Publius:

Have you forgotten that I am a native Hebrew speaker? You are mistaken. The KJV translation of "I will harden" is accurate, both literally and idiomatically. And it's not just the KJV. Every major English translation has it the same way: http://biblehub.com/exodus/4-21.htm

There are many ambiguities in the Bible, but this is not one of them.

Ron said...

@Luke:

> Once you tell me how to compute the probability of IASBs vs. God, I'll give you an answer.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayes%27_theorem

P(A|B) = P(B|A) * P(A) / P(B)

Here A = IASBs and B is our observations of the universe.

Likewise for God:

P(G|B) = P(B|G) * P(G) / P(B)

We don't care about the absolute numbers, we just want to compare P(A|B) and P(G|B), so the P(B) terms cancel out. Let us also start with no preconceptions, so we don't need to know what our priors P(A) and P(G) are. It is enough to know that they are the same, and so they cancel out too. We are left with the task of comparing P(B|G) and P(B|A), i.e. the probability of either Aliens or God given what we observe.

So what do we observe? We observe that the universe appears to obey laws that are describable mathematically. We observe that intelligent life can arise via natural processes that obey those laws, advance to the point where they can deduce what those laws are, and build machines that mirror the behavior of those laws. In other words, we observe that we ourselves are on the cusp of being capable of becoming IASBs ourselves.

So there are only three possibilities:

1. There is some insurmountable obstacle to our becoming IASBs that we have not yet realized (or even gotten a hint of).

2. We are extremely unlikely (which is manifestly extremely unlikely)

3. IASBs are likely.

> Plenty of claims about goodness are predictive

They are? Can you give me a few examples?

> Why don't you share an implication or three of P =? NP which matters to the discussion at hand?

If P=NP then creativity would no longer be needed to do mathematics or science.

"If [P=NP] this would have consequences of the greatest magnitude. That is to say, it would clearly indicate that, despite the unsolvability of the Entscheidungsproblem, the mental effort of the mathematician in the case of yes- or-no questions could be completely replaced by machines.

In other words, if P=NP then humans are a lot less special than we like to think we are.

> If you had surrounded yourself with friends of solid character

Doesn't that beg the question? How can I tell if the friends I've surrounded myself with are of solid character? There are a lot of people who think Roy Moore has solid character. I think they're wrong, but maybe I'm wrong about that. How could I tell?

> I do not hold that everything you could imagine God doing is thereby good.

Of course not. But I'm not imagining Him doing arbitrary things. Everything in my scenario is consistent with things He has already done according to scripture.

> I will answer this if you directly address the paragraph I wrote a while ago containing "cookie"—especially the second sentence.

That sentence being:

"It seems to me that we should ask whether God was evil for creating a reality where an innocent moral agent could be harmed in the slightest by another moral agent."

I would say that is contingent on God's powers. If God is all-powerful and all-knowing then everything that happens is His fault, and so all the pain and suffering that happens in a universe he creates is his fault. I'm not sure I'd go so far as to call depriving a child of a cookie "evil", but creating circumstances where people eat their own children (or rape children, which happens regularly) definitely qualifies as evil in my book.

> God wants us to grow

Where does the Bible say that? In fact, Ge1:17 and Ge11:6-9 seem to imply the exact opposite.

Publius said...

@Ron
>Have you forgotten that I am a native Hebrew speaker?

Are you also an expert on Hebrew idioms used in 500 B.C.?

Luke said...

@Ron:

> Ron: Have you forgotten that I am a native Hebrew speaker?

> Publius: Are you also an expert on Hebrew idioms used in 500 B.C.?

Ron, have you encountered any … weirdness to verbs in Biblical Hebrew?

Ron said...

> Are you also an expert on Hebrew idioms used in 500 B.C.?

No. Are you?

Look at: http://biblehub.com/exodus/4-21.htm

There are 22 English translations there, and 21 of them translate it in the same way. That's not an accident. It's because the words really do mean "I will harden his heart."

> Ron, have you encountered any … weirdness to verbs in Biblical Hebrew?

Sure, there's a lot of weirdness. But this verse is not one of them. It's completely straightforward.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> > Ron, have you encountered any … weirdness to verbs in Biblical Hebrew?

> Sure, there's a lot of weirdness. But this verse is not one of them. It's completely straightforward.

In that case, would you be willing to work your magic on Ex 1:17? According to this random site, the literal reading is that the midwives "caused the male children to live". There are other instances too, where it is alleged that active causation is translated as permission. If this is true, I would like to know why you think it's ok to render those instances as permission instead of causation, while Exodus 4:21 "is completely straightforward" as causation instead of permission.

P.S. Apparently Bullinger isn't the only one to understand Ex 4:21 that way; Jewish scholar Marcus Kalisch allegedly did as well.

P.P.S. I happened upon some interesting redaction criticism: Taking Control of the Story: God Hardens Pharaoh’s Heart: "How and why the Priestly authors did not leave the destiny of the plagues to Pharaoh’s own heart."

Luke said...

@Ron: (1/4)

> P(G|B) = P(B|G) * P(G) / P(B)

How do you compute P(B|G)? It seems to me that to actually do that well, you would have to be an IASB. :-) Without that, why should we trust our imagination of "what God would have done"? I can think of an exception: I can test my imagination by trying to improve things here and now. If I succeed I show that part of my imagination to be legit, but I also do something that maybe God wanted me to do in the first place (instead of him doing it for me). So, computation of P(G|B) seems nontrivial.

> So what do we observe? We observe that the universe appears to obey laws that are describable mathematically.

Given that we're talking about simulating sentient, sapient beings, we should care about whether sentient, sapient beings obey laws that are describable mathematically. Do they? Psychologists and sociologists have been searching for such laws for a long time. What I see you doing is lauding the mechanical philosophy because it has accomplished much in … teleologically neutral realms. And then you transfer that success to teleologically charged realms without justification.

What you have to establish is that IASBs can create simulations which lead to sentient, sapient beings, all without shaping the simulation in ways that are teleologically charged. I think you are in danger of presupposing this.

> > Plenty of claims about goodness are predictive

> They are? Can you give me a few examples?

When the US Constitution was drafted, surely those involved talked about various options being good or bad. If you were to ask why, they would tell you about possible futures where the provision under question is or is not in the Constitution. When political parties vie for power, they make promises about bringing into existence a good future; one can turn these promises into arbitrarily intricate predictions which can then turn out to be true or false. Even an advertisement promises that with the product or service, you will judge life to be better than without it. Some people find this to be true in the short term and false in the long term.

What's more obviously screwy with matters of goodness is that various courses of action change what you consider good, thus making the problem recursive. We can be afraid of changes such as Stockholm syndrome, which one might describe as previous-self-contradictory changes in one's conception of the good. But I'm not so sure that judgments of what is are perfectly stable either; Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions casts doubt on that.

Luke said...

@Ron: (2/4)

> If P=NP then creativity would no longer be needed to do mathematics or science.

Do you mean "apart from the postulation of axioms"? (P ≟ NP, 4) Assuming that is not a rich area of study and activity, and that mathematics and science can be reduced to answering yes-or-no questions, sure. But I've talked to mathematicians about e.g. the computer proof of the four color theorem and there is much doubt as to what such proofs actually teach us. There appears to be a deeper understanding, as anyone who has grappled with delta–epsilon proofs can attest to. I'm quite reticent to view life as a combination of subjective qualia and objective yes-or-no questions. That seems exceedingly simplistic.

> In other words, if P=NP then humans are a lot less special than we like to think we are.

Or, we have a lot more growing than we think, other than answering more yes-or-no questions and experiencing more varieties of subjective qualia. I see no reason we won't look on our current selves as children just like I look on my child self making circuits with a few logic gates.

> > If you had surrounded yourself with friends of solid character

> Doesn't that beg the question? How can I tell if the friends I've surrounded myself with are of solid character? There are a lot of people who think Roy Moore has solid character. I think they're wrong, but maybe I'm wrong about that. How could I tell?

You've changed the topic of conversation, to knowing whether your heart had been hardened to what constitutes 'solid character'. But perhaps that's my fault, as 'solid character' connotes goodness, where all I needed to communicate was stability. The topic of goodness would ultimately take us back to the verse which started this discussion; bad character ultimately leads to calamity and terribleness such as famine-producing sieges where the strongest are driven to eat the deceased.

> Everything in my scenario is consistent with things He has already done according to scripture.

So much for Jer 5:1 and Ezek 22:29–31. Furthermore, there's no redemptive or teaching aspect to your scenario, where there most definitely is with YHWH hardening Pharaoh's heart. (I can expand on this if you wish.)

Luke said...

@Ron: (3/4)

> Luke: So your complaint is really about how God set the world up to operate, regardless of whether the parents had true free will? It seems to me that we should ask whether God was evil for creating a reality where an innocent moral agent could be harmed in the slightest by another moral agent. It would even be harmful for me to give five kids cookies while leaving the sixth out. So, I wonder whether you could imagine a 'good' world which is even remotely recognizable. This goes back to people who suggest how to build software when they have no idea how software works—and thus end up presenting incoherent jumbles of ideas.

> Ron: I would say that is contingent on God's powers. If God is all-powerful and all-knowing then everything that happens is His fault, and so all the pain and suffering that happens in a universe he creates is his fault. I'm not sure I'd go so far as to call depriving a child of a cookie "evil", but creating circumstances where people eat their own children (or rape children, which happens regularly) definitely qualifies as evil in my book.

Sigh, we keep slipping back to Ron-God, where humans cannot possibly have real moral agency. And then when I try to deviate from Ron-God, I have to deal with whether God knows if P = NP. Why are you so reticent to deal with humans who have real moral responsibility, who can screw things up as well as do praiseworthy things? You claim that the only God consistent with such humans would be too weak for most Christians' taste, but you've done nothing close to justifying that claim. Oh well, we can hack at P ≟ NP and a few other selection questions from your list and then return to this.

By the way, no fiction writer I know of knows how to have a super-intelligent&wise being interact well with … beings like us. Have you considered the possibility that this is due to our overweening arrogance, that we called ourselves awesome and thus immunized ourselves to correction and further growth? We could then tell ourselves that we are at our limits in helping the poor and oppressed, with any lack left over to be blamed on God and God alone.

You want to know why I believe in God. I suspect the strongest reason is that I believe our current existence is embarrassingly pathetic and that something fantastically better is possible if only we would get over ourselves. If there is wisdom and knowledge and power available for escaping our current mess, it could come from IASBs, and maybe they themselves are working to God's glory. The only way not to get stuck is to expect ever more growth. An IASB who decides to use its simulated beings (and their simulated beings (…)) for its own purposes will ultimately put a stop to that growth, for it will only have finitely much to offer. You may notice that this is not merely a position based on desire: it is predictive. Those who are fully satisfied with (or resigned to) this current pathetic existence will refuse to open their eyes, but: "Science advances one funeral at a time." You will always be able to posit a yet-more-sophisticated IASB. Only continued growth will falsify posited IASB after posited IASB. Which brings me to the next comment given the annoying 4096 character limit …

Luke said...

@Ron: (4/4)

> > God wants us to grow

> Where does the Bible say that? In fact, Ge1:17 and Ge11:6-9 seem to imply the exact opposite.

I don't think I can give you a single proof-text for that, because the very concept of increasing maturity cannot be captured so succinctly. What I can do is claim that permanent limitation is tantamount to permanent slavery, and note that Genesis 1–2 is remarkable when compared to contemporaneous creation myths, in that it does not portray humans as slaves of the gods, to be managed by a human king who has been elevated to divine image-bearer. In Genesis 1, all humans are divine image-bearers. We can then fast-forward to Jacob's wrestling with God, to wrest a blessing from God. This is considered so praiseworthy that God changes Jacob's name to Israel, a name God also uses for his chosen people. God wants to argue with humans on equal ground; that is the only reasonable interpretation of Job 40:6–14 and Ezek 22:29–31. Jeremiah feels warranted in arguing with God (Jeremiah 12) and God's response is, remarkably, to grow up: "If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, / how will you compete with horses? / And if in a safe land you are so trusting, / what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?"

Genesis 2:17 has a plethora of viable interpretations which don't lead to perpetual childhood on the part of humans. One is simply that Adam and Eve weren't ready yet. Another is that deciding on what is good vs. evil vs. discovering it is the problem. Another is that to know evil intimately is itself evil; ingesting something is to make it part of yourself. There are simply too many interpretations if one does not take into account more text.

Genesis 11:6–9 is relativized by the range of desires the Babel humans had. Recall that they refused to be spread into all creation. They were happy in their one city. It doesn't seem to hard to imagine that they had a pathetic imagination of what there was to do and were in danger of imprisoning themselves within a sliver of reality. The most effective prison is one that cannot be smelled, tasted, touched, heard, or seen. You should be sensing a theme by now: I think God wants to avoid us settling on a pathetic imagination of what there is for us to do and be.

I'll throw one more verse out there:

>> Has a nation changed its gods,
>>     even though they are no gods?
>> But my people have changed their glory
>>     for that which does not profit.
>> (Jeremiah 2:11)

Why would it be weird for a nation to change its gods? One reason is if said gods do not demand too much growth from their worshipers. Don't change what ain't broke. If YHWH, on the other hand, sets these [seemingly] impossibly high standards of goodness and excellence, we could easily understand his worshipers going apostate. Growth is awkward and tedious and embarrassing; it's preferable to have "made it" and then mostly coast. God's offer to build into us so that we may build into others may be nice on paper, but we don't really want too much of it. So we switch to the god of shopping malls or the god of nationalism or the god of political power. Those gods are much easier to worship.

Ron, I'd be happy to do a much deeper investigation of this issue—how the Bible can be read for and against the claim that "God wants us to grow". I've been looking for a guiding topic for doing my next read-through of the entire Bible; I could make it this.

Ron said...

> In that case, would you be willing to work your magic on Ex 1:17?

What magic exactly is it that you want me to work?

> According to this random site, the literal reading is that the midwives "caused the male children to live".

Nope. It's just "they let the boys live". (Note that Ex4:17 is just "I will harden his heart", not, "I will cause his heart to harden." The latter is not inaccurate, just overly florid. The "cause" in Jer19:9 is also not a separate word, it's part of the conjugation of the verb "eat". "I will make them eat" would be a more idiomatic translation.)

> Why are you so reticent to deal with humans who have real moral responsibility, who can screw things up as well as do praiseworthy things?

I'm not at all reticent to deal with this. In fact I believe this is how the world actually is (or that it's a good enough approximation to the truth that one might as well act as if it's the truth). I just think this is logically inconsistent with God as described by most Christians I have known.

> You want to know why I believe in God. I suspect the strongest reason is that I believe our current existence is embarrassingly pathetic and that something fantastically better is possible if only we would get over ourselves.

OK, I'm on board with that.

> If there is wisdom and knowledge and power available for escaping our current mess, it could come from IASBs,

OK... but then why could it not come from *us*? The whole point of IASBs is that they are essentially like us, just a little more technologically advanced.

(BTW, I've dropped a lot of branches of this thread on the floor because it seemed to be spinning a little out of control. If there's anything you'd like me to respond to that I didn't, let me know and I'll see what I can do.)

Luke said...

@Ron:

> > According to this random site, the literal reading [of Ex 1:17] is that the midwives "caused the male children to live".

> Nope. It's just "they let the boys live".

Interesting; why do you disagree with Young's Literal Translation: "and keep the lads alive"? (BibleHub: Ex 1:17)

> I'm not at all reticent to deal with this. In fact I believe this is how the world actually is (or that it's a good enough approximation to the truth that one might as well act as if it's the truth). I just think this is logically inconsistent with God as described by most Christians I have known.

That only makes sense if what you said earlier is true:

> Ron: I think you'd have to weaken God far beyond what most Christians would be willing to accept in order to restore human's moral agency.

If it isn't, then Ron-omniscience could just be a convenient approximation and Christians' tendency to "mostly get angry and defensive and cut off the conversation" would be rational response to someone making a fallacious claim they don't know how to dismantle.

> OK... but then why could [wisdom and knowledge and power available for escaping our current mess] not come from *us*?

All the solutions I've seen on offer seem to have the same faults which led to the current mess in the first place. (Humans are really good at "solving" problems this way.) Stepping back, I see no reason we couldn't get ourselves into a Tower of Babel-type situation, where we learn to do all that we find it in ourselves to imagine. That won't necessarily stop our imagination from being pathetic, though.

> (BTW, I've dropped a lot of branches of this thread on the floor because it seemed to be spinning a little out of control. If there's anything you'd like me to respond to that I didn't, let me know and I'll see what I can do.)

I'd be interested in your responses to the first two parts of my (1/4) comment. I'd also be interested in your thoughts on "no fiction writer I know of knows how to have a super-intelligent&wise being interact well with … beings like us.".

Ron said...

> why do you disagree with Young's Literal Translation: "and keep the lads alive"?

I don't. The problem with rendering Hebrew into English is that Hebrew uses conjugations where English uses modifier words. So, for example, "I will cause them to eat" is all one word in Hebrew ('wə·ha·’ă·ḵal·tîm). The first-person ("I"), future-tense ("will"), and imperative ("cause") are all part of the conjugation (And just for good measure, this is actually a compound word with the first syllable meaning "and"!) So there are multiple ways to translate a Hebrew word into English. Jeremiah 19:9 cold also be "I will make them eat" or "I will coerce them into eating" or "I will bring about circumstances under which they will be forced to eat". All of these are defensible translations of a single Hebrew word.

The word in question in Exo1:17 is "wat·tə·ḥay·ye·nā". The root is the word for "to live" and the conjugation is third-person plural feminine past tense (but see note below) transitive permissive (or something like that), with the object being "hayeladim" which means "the boys" or "the lads" or "the male children" or even "the young men." (Yes, Hebrew conjugations can be a bitch.)

Note on the tense: the difference between past and present tense conjugation is the difference in a vowel sound, and Biblical Hebrew is written without vowels. However, the context -- the fact that a story is being told about the past -- makes it clear that the intent here is for it to be past tense. Young's "literal" translation ignores this and really translates it literally into the present tense, but any Hebrew speaker will tell you that this is clearly wrong, and it should be "kept" rather than "keep." You can see this kind of weirdness throughout Young's, even in Genesis 1:1, which Young's has as "In the beginning of God’s preparing the heavens and the earth..." Yes, that really is a literal translation of the words (except that even here there is an ambiguity because the word for "God" can also be plural -- "the gods"), but it does not at all capture what the words are clearly intended to mean.

> That only makes sense if what you said earlier is true:

We can resolve this empirically. How about if we bring this up at your next Bible study?

> All the solutions I've seen on offer seem to have the same faults which led to the current mess in the first place.

That would imply that a new solution is called for. But religion is hardly new.

I also think that "the current mess" is a lot less messy than historical messes. I think humans have made huge progress since the days of witch hunts and the inquisition. This is not to say that we don't have a ways to go, but the long-term trends all seem to be positive (except for climate change, which really does have me very worried).

I'll respond to the dropped threads later.

Ron said...

By request:

> How do you compute P(B|G)?

OK, so I must confess I screwed up here. I wrote:

"We are left with the task of comparing P(B|G) and P(B|A), i.e. the probability of either Aliens or God given what we observe."

I got the math right, but the narration is wrong. P(B|G) and P(B|A) is not the probability of God/Aliens given what we observe, it's the probability of what we observe given God or Aliens.

So one of the essential differences between God and Aliens is that God can't lie whereas Aliens can (because IASBs by assumption are like us just more technologically advanced, so if we can lie so can they). Also, God wrote the Bible (or somehow saw to it that the Bible would get written) and His inability to lie extends to the Bible, which therefore cannot contain falsehoods.

So if there is even a single falsehood in the Bible, then P(B|G) is zero. at least on the above definition of God.

AFAICT the Bible is chock-full of falsehoods (because, among other things, it is chock-full of internal logical contradictions). But we're probably going to have to agree to disagree about that.

There are other arguments that P(B|G) is zero, but that's the cleanest one I can think of.

> By the way, no fiction writer I know of knows how to have a super-intelligent&wise being interact well with … beings like us. Have you considered the possibility that this is due to our overweening arrogance, that we called ourselves awesome and thus immunized ourselves to correction and further growth? We could then tell ourselves that we are at our limits in helping the poor and oppressed, with any lack left over to be blamed on God and God alone.

I would say that it's because it's hard to channel the thought processes of hypothetical beings who are much more intelligent than you are.

But I also think it's a serious mistake to draw cosmological conclusions from the limitations of science fiction authors.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> > > > > According to this random site, the literal reading is that the midwives "caused the male children to live".

> > > > Nope. It's just "they let the boys live".

> > > Interesting; why do you disagree with Young's Literal Translation: "and keep the lads alive"? (BibleHub: Ex 1:17)

> > why do you disagree with Young's Literal Translation: "and keep the lads alive"?

> I don't.

I guess I don't see the huge difference between "caused the male children to live" and "keep the lads alive" which doesn't exist between "keep the lads alive" and "let the boys live". There appears to be a grammatical ambiguity between active causation vs. passive permission, which you reconcile via idiomatic interpretation. That's fine—we do it all the time—but you also think it is "completely straightforward" that YHWH actively hardened Pharaoh's heart, vs. permitting it to be hardened (when he could have prevented it). You may be right, but you've left doubt in my mind with how you've handled Ex 1:17.

> We can resolve this empirically. How about if we bring this up at your next Bible study?

The next one is 1 Cor 13 on 12/18. But if your sampling of Christians is good, my Bible study is a very biased sample—I bet everyone there would be quite happy to examine the issue rather than "mostly get angry and defensive and cut off the conversation".

> > All the solutions I've seen on offer seem to have the same faults which led to the current mess in the first place.

> That would imply that a new solution is called for. But religion is hardly new.

Ehh, I'm more inclined to go with G. K. Chesterton's "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried." For example, to what extent have humans ever systematically tried—and had significant success—with the "do not lord it over each other" of Mt 20:20–28?

From what I can see, those who achieve excellence are rather more interested in maintaining their own security than raising others up to, if not past, their attained level of excellence. This is reinforced by lots of people not wanting to strive toward increased excellence (why bother when what we have now is fine?). And so you have a refusal to serve on the one side and a refusal to be challenged on the other. These are statistical claims and as long as they are sufficiently good approximations, you get a rather bad self-reinforcing dynamic.

This relates to my take on the Tower of Babel: those humans were on the route to being able to do anything they propose to do, with nothing said of how glorious or pathetic those propositions would be. In my experience, we humans just don't want that much except in very narrow senses. The ending of poverty and injustice and disease are good things, but what do we do after? Watch Netflix and visit shopping malls?

I am growing increasingly convinced of an interpretation of the Bible whereby God wants to give us ever-more of everything—knowledge, wisdom, relationship, beauty—but we will only accept it in fits and starts because oi vey, it makes demands on us and is hard and we even have to, my oh my, repent from time to time. It takes the problem of evil and turns it almost exactly on its head. But we would rather dominate each other or whine and complain—actively serving each other (and not in the Charitable–Industrial Complex sense) is just not a viable route. For some reason.

> the long- erm trends all seem to be positive

I would be interested in the standards of falsification for this "seems". There are plenty of good things we have, but you seem to be Pollyannish. Better Angels for the win?

Ron said...

> I guess I don't see the huge difference between "caused the male children to live" and "keep the lads alive" which doesn't exist between "keep the lads alive" and "let the boys live".

Heh, I just realized that there's an ambiguity in English that is very similar to some of the ambiguities in Hebrew. The tense of the word "let" is ambiguous. Consider:

1. Last Tuesday they opened the door and let the cat out.

2. Every Tuesday they open the door and let the cat out.

When I wrote the word "let" in "let the boys live" I intended it to be past tense, as in #1. But the "keep" in "keep the lads alive" is unambiguously present tense, which is wrong (though not a huge mistake).

> you also think it is "completely straightforward" that YHWH actively hardened Pharaoh's heart

Yes. Explaining why would require me to get into some pretty significant linguistic weeds. For starters, it turns out that there are two different Hebrew words that get translated as "hardened" in English: wayachbed and wayahazik. They derive from roots that mean "heavy" and "strong". You'll see this reflected in Young's e.g. Exo7:13 "the heart of Pharaoh is strong". But even Young's drops the ball at Exo8:15, which, if one were being literal, should be "the heart of Pharoah is heavy" (but which Youngs has as "he hath hardened his heart."

Then there's the problem of conjugation. The difference between "I will harden his heart" and "his heart was hardened" is a difference in vowel sounds, and Biblical Hebrew is written without vowels, so the original text is ambiguous. However, since 300 BC or so, vowels have been inserted, and they correspond to the KJV translations.

But there is one place where even the original vowel-free text is unambiguous, and that is Exo4:21, "but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go." In this case there can be no doubt. The preamble says, "And the Lord said unto Moses..." And the word "I" is actually explicit: "ani".

> The next one is 1 Cor 13 on 12/18. But if your sampling of Christians is good, my Bible study is a very biased sample—I bet everyone there would be quite happy to examine the issue rather than "mostly get angry and defensive and cut off the conversation".

That would be a refreshing change for me. But again, let's not lose the plot: the question we were going to try to resolve by polling Christians is not whether they'd get defensive, but whether they'd be willing to accept a God who is sufficiently weak to make human free will a logical possibility.

> This relates to my take on the Tower of Babel: those humans were on the route to being able to do anything they propose to do, with nothing said of how glorious or pathetic those propositions would be.

Well, you can't have it both ways. Either God leaves us free to make our own mistakes or He doesn't. And BTW, the collateral damage caused by confounding our language seems to me to be immeasurably worse than anything we could have done if we all worked together. Look at us: do you really think that quibbling over vowels in ancient Hebrew is really the most effective use of our time?

> The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.

For 2000 years?

(And, BTW, this is just the no-true-scotsman fallacy.)

> you seem to be Pollyannish

No, I'm a student of history. As bad as things are, they used to be much, much worse.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> I got the math right, but the narration is wrong. P(B|G) and P(B|A) is not the probability of God/Aliens given what we observe, it's the probability of what we observe given God or Aliens.

Whelp, I paid attention to the math and not the narration, so no harm done. :-)

> So one of the essential differences between God and Aliens is that God can't lie whereas Aliens can (because IASBs by assumption are like us just more technologically advanced, so if we can lie so can they). Also, God wrote the Bible (or somehow saw to it that the Bible would get written) and His inability to lie extends to the Bible, which therefore cannot contain falsehoods.

A pure product of God would surely manifest his qualities perfectly, but why would a God–human product manifest God's qualities perfectly? Take for example the scientific inaccuracies in the Bible. Do they matter for any of the purposes of the Bible? The fundamental claim here must be that if the Bible were more like what you think it should be, then the world would be a better place. Because if you're suggesting a change which would have deleterious consequences on history, it seems quite rational to question your P(B|G).

The general idea you seem to be after is that there ought to be some pure place where God has touched down (see what I did there?), to which we can go in order to see what kind of order is best to impose on the rest of reality. Arguably Israel was supposed to develop toward such a state (Deut 4:5–8). But this idea that we can take part of reality and bring the rest of reality in conformity to it is not something I take for granted. Indeed, that seems like a distinctly less glorious reality than one where each part contributes to the definition of what is right, good, and beautiful. Who would want you to believe the local-pure version? I can think of non-God agents who would very much like you to believe such a thing …

> I would say that it's because it's hard to channel the thought processes of hypothetical beings who are much more intelligent than you are.

Judging by what I see day-to-day, many humans find it hard to channel the thought processes of anyone markedly different from them. But is this a limitation of our nature or a bad configuration we could escape—perhaps with … non-human aid in doing so? BTW, Christians have a long history of holding that God condescends or accomodates our limitations; Jesus is the prime example. Perhaps he is willing to help us be more intelligent & wise and stuff but … maybe we just don't really want it? Unless we can just use it to amass more power and toys, of course.

> But I also think it's a serious mistake to draw cosmological conclusions from the limitations of science fiction authors.

What cosmological conclusions am I drawing? I was criticizing humanity for its smallness.

Luke said...

@Ron (1/2):

> When I wrote the word "let" in "let the boys live" I intended it to be past tense, as in #1. But the "keep" in "keep the lads alive" is unambiguously present tense, which is wrong (though not a huge mistake).

Ok, but my contention is not with tense but active causation vs. passive permission. That distinction, of course, only really exists if there are truly multiple agents with moral responsibility.

> Then there's the problem of conjugation. The difference between "I will harden his heart" and "his heart was hardened" is a difference in vowel sounds, and Biblical Hebrew is written without vowels, so the original text is ambiguous. However, since 300 BC or so, vowels have been inserted, and they correspond to the KJV translations.

That's interesting, given that the first four times Pharaoh's heart hardened, the vowels indicate YHWH was not involved. (See the nice set of excerpts in the source I mentioned in my P.P.S.)

Anyhow, if I go through the OT and look at all the instances of active causation vs. passive permission, will I find the rule followed which you indicate, here? That is, if there is active causation in the grammar, there will never ever be enough context to indicate that actually, passive permission is what went on. Because there is an intermediate between "I did X" and "X happened and I really had no control over it": "X is going to happen and I could stop it, but I choose not to". Remember that a big theme in the OT is that YHWH is not in competition with any other god; this is not something dualistic like Zoroastrianism, where the power of the good guys is precariously balanced against the power of the bad guys.

Luke said...

@Ron: (2/2)

> That would be a refreshing change for me. But again, let's not lose the plot: the question we were going to try to resolve by polling Christians is not whether they'd get defensive, but whether they'd be willing to accept a God who is sufficiently weak to make human free will a logical possibility.

Sure. But I kind of have an ace in the hole: aside from pretty stringent Calvinism, there's no reason that Jesus had to die for us if we aren't truly responsible for [enough of] our actions. There's a pretty strong current in Christianity which tries hard to not have God be "the author of sin".

> > The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.

> For 2000 years?
>
> (And, BTW, this is just the no-true-scotsman fallacy.)

Chesterton was being slightly poetic. The banal, technically correct version would be that Christianity has been rolled out, to some extent, to various places at various times, but has always stalled out for one reason or another. This is the technical response to the idea that we tried religion and it failed so we should try something else. For concrete data, we could look at the Jesuits who set up a [quasi?] democratic nation of natives in South America where the natives were treated as equals (or almost that). Their little social experiment got crushed by the Europeans of course.

BTW, there is a raging debate about how much of our current cultural attainment is due to Christianity. Liberal Protestantism is credited with doing a lot among quite a few of the scholars I've read. Our idea of 'charity', that one should expend appreciable resources on all of your nation's poor instead of letting them eat cake and mostly just investing in the promising ones, is arguably unique to Christianity. The idea that it might not be right for the powerful to dominate the weak may also be rare (yet present in Christianity). But many would claim that even if Christianity delivered much to Western culture, it has little more to offer. Perhaps you are of that position. Such claims ought to be laid bare to critique.

> No, I'm a student of history. As bad as things are, they used to be much, much worse.

I'd love to know if you think the dystopias of Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age or Ready Player One would still constitute "better" when compared to times past. Because if we are Icarus flying through the clouds as our wings melt, that ought to be factored into the discussion.

P.S. That 4096 character limit is obnoxious. My comment was ~4300 characters.

Ron said...

> I paid attention to the math

Cool. So do you agree that if I can demonstrate even one falsehood in the Bible that proves that it was not written by God? If you don't agree, where was the flaw in my reasoning?

> A pure product of God would surely manifest his qualities perfectly, but why would a God–human product manifest God's qualities perfectly?

The OT was written before God (supposedly) became human. And the NT was written after he (again supposedly) stopped being human and become God again.

> Take for example the scientific inaccuracies in the Bible. Do they matter for any of the purposes of the Bible?

The depends on what you think the purpose of the Bible is. If the purpose of the Bible is to give us a glimpse of how bronze-age people thought, then no.

> The fundamental claim here must be that if the Bible were more like what you think it should be, then the world would be a better place.

No. The fundamental claim here is that if the Bible were written by a deity with the qualities imputed to Him by Christians, then it would be more effective than it is. For starters, it would be more *evident* that this book was in fact written by a deity with (at the very least) extraordinary insight and wisdom rather than by ordinary bronze-age humans.

> The general idea you seem to be after is that there ought to be some pure place where God has touched down (see what I did there?), to which we can go in order to see what kind of order is best to impose on the rest of reality.

What??? No. That doesn't even make sense.

> maybe we just don't really want it?

Maybe. But don't forget that you are part of "we" here. So if "we" don't want it, then by existential generalization, you don't want it.

> What cosmological conclusions am I drawing?

That this universe was created by God and not IASBs. Isn't that the matter at hand?

> Ok, but my contention is not with tense but active causation vs. passive permission.

Then you've chosen a terrible analogy. Remaining alive is not at all like heart-hardening. Remaining alive is something that living things just do by default until they are thwarted by time or unfortunate circumstances. Heart-hardening is optional (at least if you believe in free will).

> the first four times Pharaoh's heart hardened, the vowels indicate YHWH was not involved

No, the (absent) vowels in the original make it ambiguous. The vowels that have been included since Ezra added them in 300BC make it clear that God did the hardening at least some of the time. And you also keep ignoring Exo7:3.

> there's no reason that Jesus had to die for us if we aren't truly responsible for [enough of] our actions

You mean Christianity is not internally consistent? I'm shocked! Shocked!

> Christianity has been rolled out, to some extent, to various places at various times, but has always stalled out for one reason or another

And how many times would you want to repeat that experiment and get the same result before you were willing to concede that it doesn't work?

> we could look at the Jesuits who set up a [quasi?] democratic nation

Did Jesus endorse democracy? That's news to me.

> That 4096 character limit is obnoxious

I agree, but there's nothing I can do about it short of changing blogging platforms.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> So do you agree that if I can demonstrate even one falsehood in the Bible that proves that it was not written by God?

Yup. I just don't think it was "written by God", per your precise meaning of that phrase. I think it has more human in it, and by that I don't mean Jesus' divine–human nature. I'm guessing that a really offensive element lurking in our conversation is that God would want to use icky fallen humans to accomplish his purposes.

> The depends on what you think the purpose of the Bible is. If the purpose of the Bible is to give us a glimpse of how bronze-age people thought, then no.

What if the purpose is to bring us closer to God and help us be more just, merciful, etc.? Do you think that might happen by successive approximation (just as science moves from 'more wrong' → 'less wrong') instead of somehow in a single step to Complete and Perfect Truth™?

> The fundamental claim here is that if the Bible were written by a deity with the qualities imputed to Him by Christians, then it would be more effective than it is.

What is your basis for claiming this? Vague notions of omnipotence, similar to people who know nothing about software hatching grand plans for a software product which is, in fact, logically impossible?

> > The general idea you seem to be after is that there ought to be some pure place where God has touched down (see what I did there?), to which we can go in order to see what kind of order is best to impose on the rest of reality.

> What??? No. That doesn't even make sense.

You don't understand the comfort that the Bible being Perfect Pure Truth™ provides? You don't have to think. You can just take it and apply it to life. It allows ultimate childish dependence. It's so nice to think that you've figured out moral order perfectly, and just need to impose it on everyone else to bring about Utopia.

> > maybe we just don't really want it?

> Maybe. But don't forget that you are part of "we" here. So if "we" don't want it, then by existential generalization, you don't want it.

And you were surprised that I said I struggle with mustering sufficient willpower.

> > What cosmological conclusions am I drawing?

> That this universe was created by God and not IASBs. Isn't that the matter at hand?

I wasn't drawing that conclusion from human science fiction writers.

> > Ok, but my contention is not with tense but active causation vs. passive permission.

> Then you've chosen a terrible analogy. Remaining alive is not at all like heart-hardening.

Yes, but keeping someone else alive is similar.

> > the first four times Pharaoh's heart hardened, the vowels indicate YHWH was not involved

> No, the (absent) vowels in the original make it ambiguous. The vowels that have been included since Ezra added them in 300BC make it clear that God did the hardening at least some of the time. And you also keep ignoring Exo7:3.

On your reasoning, it's all ambiguous. Otherwise, you would accept the added vowels as canonical and your first sentence would be irrelevant. Then we can move on and I can deal with Ex 7:3. But if you won't admit that the first few times we don't have YHWH explicitly hardening Pharaoh's heart, we'll have a problem.

> You mean Christianity is not internally consistent? I'm shocked! Shocked!

I see you're just intentionally ignoring that point of mine.

> And how many times would you want to repeat that experiment and get the same result before you were willing to concede that it doesn't work?

Who says I'm repeating it [sufficiently] precisely?

> I agree, but there's nothing I can do about it short of changing blogging platforms.

More motivation for me to code up something better which encourages collaborative knowledge generation and viewpoint articulation.

Ron said...

> I'm guessing that a really offensive element lurking in our conversation is that God would want to use icky fallen humans to accomplish his purposes.

Offensive to whom? Certainly not to me.

But then I simply go back to these fundamental questions:

1. How can we tell the difference between something that humans do on their own initiative vs something that they do under the influence of some external agent?

2. If indeed humans do occasionally do things under the influence of some external agent, how can we tell whether that agent is God or IASBs? (Or Loki? Or Satan? Or evil spirits, whose existence, I might add, is vouched for by the Bible?)

> What if the purpose [of the Bible] is to bring us closer to God and help us be more just, merciful, etc.?

Then it is failing miserably.

One of the most vocal and influential advocates of using the Bible as a moral compass is Roy Moore. Do you think he is showing us the path to justice and mercy?

> > The fundamental claim here is that if the Bible were written by a deity with the qualities imputed to Him by Christians, then it would be more effective than it is.

> What is your basis for claiming this?

The fact that many people, myself included, read the Bible and conclude in good faith that it was clearly written entirely by humans with no divine intervention. A deity -- particularly a deity who created me in His own image -- should be able to write a book that is, at the very least, *distinguishable to me* from a work written by humans.

> You don't understand the comfort that the Bible being Perfect Pure Truth™ provides? You don't have to think.

I honestly can't tell what side you're arguing here. Do you not believe that the Bible is Perfect Pure Truth? Because most Christians I have met (particularly in the South) do profess to believe this. And I absolutely understand the comfort that this belief provides.

> > Then you've chosen a terrible analogy. Remaining alive is not at all like heart-hardening.

> Yes, but keeping someone else alive is similar.

OK, but even then the causality is not ambiguous. The women could choose to kill the children or not to. They chose not to. To the extent that there was a choice to be made, there is no ambiguity about who made it in Exo1:17.

> > And how many times would you want to repeat that experiment and get the same result before you were willing to concede that it doesn't work?

> Who says I'm repeating it [sufficiently] precisely?

You would have to tell me that. What exactly is the limiting factor on doing the experiment in such a way that would yield a positive result? If you can't answer that, then I'm justified in concluding that the reason there have been no positive results is that the theory is false. (c.f. string theory)

Luke said...

@Ron:

Point of clarification, before I dive in:

> > > And how many times would you want to repeat that experiment and get the same result before you were willing to concede that it doesn't work?

> > Who says I'm repeating it [sufficiently] precisely?

> You would have to tell me that. What exactly is the limiting factor on doing the experiment in such a way that would yield a positive result? If you can't answer that, then I'm justified in concluding that the reason there have been no positive results is that the theory is false. (c.f. string theory)

I don't know what you mean by "exactly" (strictly interpreted, it makes me think of a PhD dissertation if not more) and I don't know if you think that Christianity and Judaism have never delivered something of significant value which wasn't available elsewhere, or if you merely think that it has been a while since they have delivered anything of significant value [perhaps with the additional restriction of "which wasn't available elsewhere"].

Part of my confusion traces to how you dealt with Jonathan Haidt's "But if you try to train people to look for evidence on the other side, it can't be done." (more context at link) You claimed to have the answer to this (your idea-ism and/or "EE&R"—evidence, experiment, & reason) but when I pointed out that Haidt was talking about teaching other people to be more rational, your response changed markedly:

> Ron: Ah, well, I think the jury is still out on that. Modern science has really only been around for 400 years or so, and it is only in the last 100 years that we've really nailed down the fundamentals. We're up against entrenched memes that have been around for tens of thousands of years. The idea-ism hypothesis was only advanced two or three years ago. So it is very early days yet. But I see many hopeful signs: There is an overwhelming trend towards secularization in advanced economies. The U.S. is an outlier in this regard, but even here the cohort of people who self-identify as non-relgious is growing. 400 years ago the whole concept of not believing in God was inconceivable. The fact that atheism is even a thing represents substantial progress. I'd say science is doing at least as well as Christianity was 400 years after its founding.

Perhaps you could reference your own writings (you did provide this list) to show me where you have exemplified your "exactly"? I'm thinking of something that works not just in your head, but out there in the world. Because you're clearly not happy with me merely saying things which work in my own head. :-p

P.S. Unless you can show me EE&R which show that "more atheism" causes "more rationality" and in particular, causes one to be better at what Haidt surmises is impossible ("train people to look for evidence on the other side"), an increase in atheism is utterly useless to your argument. Mere correlation is not sufficient. If secularism is accompanied by birth rates well below replacement, that may be reason to question its durability as well. (Hello, Icarus! I have some wax-connected wings for you to try on. Shall we go flying?)

Ron said...

> I don't know what you mean by "exactly"

I mean: with enough detail that I can understand it. e.g. "We need to be more Christ-like" is not it.

Here is an example: "Previous attempts have failed because they did not adhere strictly to scripture. We need to re-institute the death penalty for working on the Sabbath (exo31:14, 35:2, Num15:32-26), homosexuality (Lev20:13), blasphemy (Lev24:16), adultery (Lev20:10, Deu22:22) and witchcraft (Exo22:18)."

> Unless you can show me EE&R which show that "more atheism" causes "more rationality"

I think the causality runs in the other direction: rationality cause atheism, not the other way around. Most Christians I've met agree with this: they tell me that seeking God rationally is a fool's errand. That's why you need faith.

Luke said...

@Ron:

You ignored the second half of my first paragraph—about whether you believe Judaism and Christianity have ever delivered anything of significant value. Given your bit about "no positive results", that's rather important to know.

> I mean: with enough detail that I can understand it. e.g. "We need to be more Christ-like" is not it.

Ok, so "exactly" was hyperbole. As to the second bit, I should think you would know that I dislike such Christianese simplicities by now. Now, I'll have a much better shot at giving you enough detail for you to understand if you'll respond to this paragraph from yesterday:

> Luke: From what I can see, those who achieve excellence are rather more interested in maintaining their own security than raising others up to, if not past, their attained level of excellence. This is reinforced by lots of people not wanting to strive toward increased excellence (why bother when what we have now is fine?). And so you have a refusal to serve on the one side and a refusal to be challenged on the other. These are statistical claims and as long as they are sufficiently good approximations, you get a rather bad self-reinforcing dynamic.

IIRC we've had some disagreement on how much we expect of people. I think we should expect more people to be involved in self-governance—which is hard because you actually have to be rational, evaluate evidence, try to understand where others are coming from—while you might think that it's ok to subcontract governance to "experts". I don't remember your precise position on this. BTW this governance can exist in the economic as well as the political spheres. For example, lots of people appear quite happy to simply draw a paycheck and not involve themselves in the running of companies. Might it be the case that the long-term consequence of such a mentality is increasing inequality?

My overall answer to your question will involve my "pathetic desires hypothesis", which is really pathetic desires plus strong but stupidly narrow desires. If you think that it's actually ok for many people to have pretty wimpy desires (probably while a good proportion of them develop an increasing ressentiment), then we would be an impasse and it would probably be in principle impossible for me to explain the matter to you with sufficient detail for you to understand it.

> I think the causality runs in the other direction: rationality cause atheism, not the other way around.

Can you cite anything other than anecdotal evidence and dogma (that is, "theories" of how the world works not actually rigorously tested by science) in support of this? Stuff I've read, such as the following chunk of text I've quoted at you numerous times, make me question that truism of the Enlightenment.

>>     Another exaggeration may have been the conventional view of the reach of scientific rationality. One does not have to look at religion only in order to find this thought plausible. It is amazing what people educated to the highest levels of scientific rationality are prepared to believe by way of irrational prejudices; one only has to look at the political and social beliefs of the most educated classes of Western societies to gain an appreciation of this. Just one case: What Western intellectuals over the last decades have managed to believe about the character of Communist societies is alone sufficient to cast serious doubt on the proposition that rationality is enhanced as a result of scientifically sophisticated education or of living in a modern technological society. (A Far Glory, 30)

BTW, the majority of the people Berger is talking about are in the intelligentsia, which is remarkably secular and atheist.

Publius said...

Piel stems, that's the key

@Ron
>But there is one place where even the original vowel-free text is unambiguous, and that is Exo4:21, "but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go." In this case there can be no doubt. The preamble says, "And the Lord said unto Moses..." And the word "I" is actually explicit: "ani".

Unambiguous? Perhaps, but not in the way you're thinking.

Besides E. W. Bullinger documenting the use of an idiom in which "Active verbs were used by the Hebrews to express, not the doing of the thing, but the
permission of the thing which the agent is said to do" in Ex. 4:21 and 14 other passages (p.808-809), we also have:

href="https://goo.gl/oWqPDr">The Heart of Pharaoh in Exodus 4-15, by Matthew McAffee concludes that the best translation of Ex. 9:12 is "Yahweh made the heart of Pharaoh strong."

Then you have to consider the Egyptian context, in which the "hardening" of Pharaoh's heart is seen favorablyl in Egyptian sources (vs. negatively in the bible). See The Hardening of Pharaoh's Heart in Exodus 4-15:21: Seen negatively in the Bible but Favorably in Egyptian Sources, by Nili Shupak

Finally, consider the Documentary Hypothesis, which is one model that explains the origins and composition of the Torah. The hypothesis is that there were four sources, each orignally a separate and independent book, which were joined together at various points in time by a series of editors ("redactors"). These sources are the "Priestly source", "Jahwist source", "Elohist source", and "additions by the redactor". You can read the KJV of Exodus color-coded by source. Analysis by color will reveal that all of the חזק (ḥzq) verses belong to the Priestly or Redactor sources, and all of the כבד (kbd) verses belong to the Jahwist or Eolhist sources. (The single קשׁה (qšh) verse is from a Priestly source). Yale scholar Brevard Childs, using his own source-text, concluded that "a rather clear picture of distribution among the sources also emerges": the Jahwist always used kbd and the Priestly writer hzq (redactional passages varied in his text). He then went on to consider how the Jahwist and Priestly sources understood "hardening" differently, based not just on this vocabulary but their fuller contributions to the passage (see The Book of Exodus (1974): A Critical, Theological Commentary, by Brevard S. Childs (p. 171-172). It may be that kbd reflects early Hebrew usage and ḥzq the vocabulary of a later period.

Publius said...

err...

make that:

The Heart of Pharaoh in Exodus 4-15, by Matthew McAffee concludes that the best translation of Ex. 9:12 is "Yahweh made the heart of Pharaoh strong."

Ron said...

@Luke:

> You ignored the second half of my first paragraph—about whether you believe Judaism and Christianity have ever delivered anything of significant value.

I ignored it because it's not a well-formed question. "Christianity" and "Judaism" are not well defined, and whether or not something has "significant value" is a judgement call. Obviously both produce value for someone or they would not persist. I think it is equally obvious that both leave quite a bit of room for improvement.

> I'll have a much better shot at giving you enough detail for you to understand if you'll respond to this paragraph from yesterday:

> those who achieve excellence are rather more interested in maintaining their own security than raising others up to, if not past, their attained level of excellence

Again, this is not a well-formed claim because different people have different opinions about what constitutes excellence. Has Donald Trump achieved excellence? Roy Moore? Richard Dawkins? Pope Francis? David Deutsch? Joel Osteen? Scott Aaronson?

FWIW, I would cite Scott as someone who has attained excellence, and is extraordinarily generous with his time and expertise. Who would you cite as an example of someone who has achieved excellence but is "more interested in maintaining their own security than raising others up..."?

> > I think the causality runs in the other direction: rationality cause atheism, not the other way around.

> Can you cite anything other than anecdotal evidence and dogma

Well, for starters there's the fact that religious people generally assert that religion requires faith. If religion could be arrived at rationally there would be no need for faith.

As a corollary, if it were not the case that rationality led to atheism then you should be able to lead me rationally to religion -- unless you think I'm irrational. Do you? If not, can you?

@Publius:

> the best translation of Ex. 9:12 is "Yahweh made the heart of Pharaoh strong."

The root of the Hebrew word commonly translated as "hardened" (weyachaZEK) is a noun (CHOzek -- I've added caps to indicate stressed syllables) that can be fairly translated as "strength". So "weyachazek" can be fairly translated that way, but that literal translation fails to capture the idiomatic meaning.

But it doesn't really matter whether God made Pharaoh's heart strong or hard. What matters is that God did it, and so the continued bondage of Israel, and the resulting plagues on Egypt, were God's fault.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> I ignored it because it's not a well-formed question.

By that logic, your "no positive results" is not well-formed.

> Again, this is not a well-formed claim because different people have different opinions about what constitutes excellence.

What do you consider "excellence"? Perhaps that is a good enough approximation for the purposes of my point.

> FWIW, I would cite Scott as someone who has attained excellence, and is extraordinarily generous with his time and expertise. Who would you cite as an example of someone who has achieved excellence but is "more interested in maintaining their own security than raising others up..."?

I wrote "These are statistical claims and as long as they are sufficiently good approximations, you get a rather bad self-reinforcing dynamic."; that is very important. I have specific examples that I'd be happy to share in-person. More vaguely, I would point to the incredible amount of incompetence and sloppiness in my own technical domains: software and embedded hardware. Those who are really good in these areas do not, in my experience, teach very many others to rise to that level of excellence (or exceed it). There are two simple rationales for this: (i) it takes effort; (ii) over the long term it would decrease the expert's salary. Who wants to take a pay cut?

If you're really interested I can say more on this; I ran some experiments on the matter in ~2006. But perhaps you could say whether you think it'd be a big deal if my overall summary (including the "statistical") is true? I'd rather not fight long and hard for a point if the result is "meh".

> Well, for starters there's the fact that religious people generally assert that religion requires faith. If religion could be arrived at rationally there would be no need for faith.

LOL, you criticize me for making ill-formed comments and then you say this, with the word "faith"? C'mon. I'll bet plenty of religious folks will say that their faith results in a superior understanding of reality than they think they could obtain otherwise, which is precisely the argument you used over at Why I believe in the Michelson-Morley experiment. I'm not sure the majority of Christians think that "blind faith" is required for salvation. I am detecting a profound lack of scientific rigor in your statements on this matter, Ron. You've not provided a shred of evidence that your average atheist is more rational than your average Christian and even if you could show that, you'd need to show causation and not just correlation.

> As a corollary, if it were not the case that rationality led to atheism then you should be able to lead me rationally to religion -- unless you think I'm irrational. Do you? If not, can you?

I'm not convinced that what you mean by 'rationality' can possibly lead to the conclusion that God exists and actively impacts reality; if not then either that is because this is in principle impossible or your understanding of 'rationality' is somehow small or distorted.