Some Linkity Linkity Links

Pigliucci on metaphysics:

‘At Scientia Salon, philosopher Massimo Pigliucci admits to “always having had a troubled relationship with metaphysics.”  He summarizes the reasons that have, over the course of his career, made it difficult for him to take the subject seriously.  Surprisingly — given that Pigliucci is, his eschewal of metaphysics notwithstanding, a professional philosopher — none of these reasons is any good.  Or rather, this is not surprising at all, since there simply are no good reasons for dismissing metaphysics — and could not be, given that all purported reasons for doing so themselves invariably embody unexamined metaphysical assumptions.  Thus, as Gilson famously observed, does metaphysics always bury its undertakers.’

Single-particle ‘spooky action at a distance’ finally demonstrated:

‘Spooky action at a distance, or quantum entanglement, in a single particle is a strange form of entanglement that could greatly help to improve quantum computing and communications. Unlike regular quantum entanglement, which involves two particles being defined only by being opposites of each other, single particles that are entangled have a wave function that’s spread over huge distances, but are never actually in more than one place.’

Former Orca Trainer For SeaWorld Condemns Its Practices:

‘”As I became higher-ranked, I saw the devastating effects of captivity on these whales and it just really became a moral and ethical issue,” Hargrove tells Fresh Air‘s Dave Davies in an interview about the book. “When you first start to see it, you first try to say, ‘OK, well, I love these animals; I’m going to take care of them.’ … You think, ‘I can change things.’ And then all these things, of course, never improve and then you start … seeing mothers separated from their calves; you start seeing trainers being killed, and then they blame [the trainers] for their own deaths.”‘

A ‘Post Modern Skateboard’ That Ditches The Board:

‘The Sidewinding Circular Skates consist of a pair of 10-inch rubber wheels with foot platforms. Apart from riding with a sideways stance, the gadget appears to be a futuristic take on roller skates.

Rather than pushing off the ground like a traditional skateboard or skates, the user gains momentum from a Segway-like propulsion by leaning side to side. Braking is achieved by touching one’s toes to the ground.’

Tortoise Defends His Lady in a Super Slow Chase:

‘With the explorer in his sights, the lumbering Romeo, weighing in at more than 600 pounds, gave chase—albeit a slow-and-steady one. “But there was absolutely no stopping him,” writes Rose. “He got close, very close, close enough that his snorting and spitting plus the look in his enraged eyes above his snapping powerful beak made us retreat in a panic.”’

Some Thoughts on the Calling of Abraham’s Family

I’m reading ‘A New Heaven and a New Earth’ by J. Richard Middleton, and therein he makes the Wright-esque claim that Abraham’s family was called to ‘set things to rights’ or some variant on that theme – to paraphrase Middleton, it is through Abraham’s family that the nations will be blessed or find blessing. While there is indeed a sense in which this is true, I do not think that it is true in the sense that Middleton wants it to be, namely that such blessings and calling relate to salvation.

As I read the verses which Middleton cites in defense of this thesis (Gen. 12:1-3, 18:17-18, 22:17-18, 26:4-5, 28:14) I’m struck by a couple of things, the first of which is this: the promises to Abraham from God are all that those in his seed or in him (in Abraham) will be blessed. I see this, off the top of my head, as pointing to or anticipating when Jews and Gentiles will be part of the one family of Abraham and not a declaration that Abraham’s family is the agent by which redemptive blessings flow.

Secondly, I really see very little evidence that Abraham’s family was called to set to rights the problem of Adam’s sin or undo Adam’s sin. I honestly think one has to strain fairly hard to really get that from the Genesis texts – the overwhelming sense I get is that Abraham’s family is called to be a witness/light to the nations, not the bearers of salvation. Salvation will come through Israel, not from Israel. In a word, Abraham’s family is not called to be the agent of salvation but a light  to the nations and a witness to the One God – neither of which is the same as being the world’s saviour.

There is, it seems to me, an eschatalogical element here in that, as noted above, the promises of God to Abraham look ahead to when in the fullness of time both Jew and Gentile will be brought into the one family of God. These are cursory sketches and stand in need of development but the basic gist should be clear: the thesis that Israel is the means by which the world is set to rights at the very least can be challenged on the grounds of textual evidence

For a more developed critique along these lines, see this helpful summary of Hurtado and Witherington’s thoughts.

Some Late Links

We May Have Snakes To Thank For Our Acute Vision:

‘McGrew’s snake-encounter analysis in the paper Snakes as hazards: modelling risk by chasing chimpanzees is one test of what’s known as the snake-detection theory of primate origins, a set of hypotheses that suggest we (along with other primates) owe certain features of our evolution to the risks posed by death and injury from snakes.’

New flying reptile found in Transylvania:

‘Using the only fossil found of the new pterosaur, a neck vertebra, paleontologists have determined that it was much smaller than at least one of its fellow Transylvanian compatriots. It belonged to a family of pterosaurs called the azhdarchids which are known for their big bodies, incredibly long necks and overall gracile form so it was a slight departure from that general plan. These azhdarchid pterosaurs, along with myriad other animals, populated a subtropical ecosystem called Haţeg Island.’

Beetles beat out extinction:

‘The study explores beetles as far back as their origins in the Permian period, 284 million years ago. When compared to the fossil record of other animal groups such as clams, corals, and vertebrates, beetles have among the lowest family-level extinction rates ever calculated. In fact, no known families in the largest beetle subgroup, Polyphaga, go extinct in their evolutionary history. The negligible beetle extinction rate is likely caused by their flexible diets, particularly in the Polyphaga, which include algae, plants, and other animals.’

China’s wind farms produce more energy than America’s nuclear plants:
‘Just last year, the total amount of energy harvested from China’s wind farms went up an impressive 16 percent from the previous year, and was enough to power 110 million homes. That’s pretty incredible. Compared directly to their nuclear power output, the 115 gigawatts of wind power produced by China in 2014 dwarfed the 20,000 megawatts (a gigawatt is 1,000 megawatts) from its nuclear sector, as Richard Macauley points out at Quartz, and is more than the total output of power from all of the nuclear plants in the US.’

New Experiments in the Search for Quantum Gravity:
‘Yale University has received a grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation to fund experiments that researchers hope will provide new insights into quantum gravity. Jack Harris, associate professor of physics, will lead a Yale team that aims to address a long-standing question in physics — how the classical behavior of macroscopic objects emerges from microscopic constituents that obey the laws of quantum mechanics.’

Prehistoric crocodile discovered in Chatham County:
‘This specimen was about 9 feet long and was probably a top predator, feasting on armored reptiles and early mammals found at the time, about 231 million years ago. This is the beginning of what’s known as the late Triassic Period, when what is now Chatham County was near the equator in a warm, humid environment of ferns and conifers.

Scientists know the age of the creature not from its bones but from the age of the rocks in which it was found, in a quarry more than a decade ago.’

Stanley Jaki on Einstein’s Failure

‘The year of that Slovay Congress, was, it is well to recall, the year in which Heisenberg gave his derivation of the principle of indeterminacy concerning measurements in physics. One can therefore in a sense understand Einstein’s tactics in taking on the Copenhagen interpretation at its nerve center, which consisted in the insistence that measurements were inconceivable without someone doing them. Thus it would be argued that the act of measurement, which in one way or another implied pointer readings and therefore a reliance on light quanta, deprived the measurement of absolute precision. Such insistence when elevated into a first principle became equivalent to withdrawing into a citadel. Once confined to measurements within that citadel, one could declare that physical theory was limited to the measurable and therefore had no need of hidden variables. Withdrawal into that citadel also meant the the viewing of anything outside it as unreal. It was such a citadel that Einstein wanted to conquer from within, by trying to devise a thought experiment in which absolute precision was in principle possible. He was bound to fail for the very reason that no measurement is possible without observation. But it did not follow from this that knowledge of reality was equivalent to measuring it with absolute precision. Philosophically the citadel in question did not represent the full range of man’s knowing reality, and it certainly did not represent the full range of modern physics. Einstein’s own theory of relativity was a case in point, and all members of the Copenhagen school could have been forced to admit that it was a telling case.’ (Stanley Jaki, ‘The Road of Science and the Ways to God’, p. 209)

Stanley Jaki on the Copenhagen Theory

‘Whatever the distance of human passions from atomic physics, the real question was whether one’s epistemological attitude was truly general, that is, consistent or not. The impression Bohr gave was that one was to have two kinds of epistemology, one for atomic phenomena, another for everything else, but it was still to be explained whether the understanding, or episteme, could be split in two. On this decisive point Bohr gave at best an impression which was vague and superficial. Staying with superficial impressions means staying on the surface, and this in turn implies the avoidance of deep questions. Typically enough, Bohr completed the final review of his epistemological conflict with Einstein with the remark that “through a singularly fruitful cooperation of a whole generation of physicists we are nearing the goal wheere logical order to a large extent allows us to avoid deep truth.” The most obvious of such deep truths should have been for Bohr the truth of the complementarity of matter and light, waves and particles, atomic stability and indeterminacy. The truth that they were complementary to one another was not a matter of observation, but an inference, and a genuinely metaphysical one, which had no justification in the Copenhagen theory. The truth in question was about the truth of a reality which had complementary aspects. These aspects could really complement one another only if they inhered in a deeper reality, about which Bohr could only be agnostic. A harmony of relations or aspects, complementing one another, such was Bohr’s epistemological message, a message void of reference to the ontological reality of anything harmonious. About the entity which embodied the harmony of relations he was not permitted by his own premises to make any claim and he carefully avoided doing so. In a truly pragmatist way, which he learned from Hoffding, a forerunner of William James, Bohr could speak of fruits, though not of their harmny (which is never a matter of direct observation) and certainly not of the tree which produced the fruits, to say nothing of the soil which supported and nourished the tree. For Bohr the deepest aspect of existence was pragmatic fruitfulness, the rather shallow perspective in which he saw physics itself: “Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of the present position of physics is that almost all the ideas which have ever proved to be fruitful in the investigating of nature have found their right place in a common harmony without thereby having diminished their fruitfulness.”

As will be seen shortly, this was not even true of quantum mechanics, a fact which should surprise no one. The really creative elements of quantum mechanics are not the data observed by physicists bu the marvelous ideas formed in their heads. Of those heads few were as impressive as that of Bohr, who for many was a twentieth-century Moses with two flaming horns on his forehead. The horns were the horns of complementarity, but as interpreted by Bohr they could not secure reality to the atomic realm, to say nothing of Moses or Bohr himself. Bohr’s pairs of complementarity resembled pairs of horns from which one could not even infer unambiguously that they were rooted in the same head and thereby truly complementary or that the head itself was real, and even more fundamentally real than the horns themselves.’ (Stanley Jaki, ‘The Road of Science and he Ways to God’, p. 205-206)

Notes on Divine Conceptualism as Modal Metaphysics

– Suppose we think of possible worlds (PW) as God’s knowledge of his potential creative acts.

– PW are then real – they really may have been. There is real possibility.

– They are not, however, concrete – this isn’t a divinely inspired David Lewis scheme.

– This account of modality is built on a notion of God’s freedom – and hence, modality is built-in to the world, as it were.

– A challenge may come from divine simplicity – how can we avoid a composition of thought in God on this account? An answer comes from Aquinas (I’m paraphrasing here): God knows/understands thru his nature, which is simple – there is no composition in God on account of his knowledge/understanding.

– Perhaps we could tie this in to an account of God’s self-knowledge.

A Few Thoughts On My Neighbor

This post is also a comment, in reply to Alastair Roberts take on the prophet Oded and the Good Samaritan (there remains a lot of work to be done here, as this is a very rough sketch):

Immediately preceeding Levitucs 19:18, which Jesus quotes in the parable (as you noted) is a series of injunctions of Israel’s practice of justice – treating the poor fairly, no injustice in judgement, no stealing, no swearing, fairly well-known moral teachings. These sayings/teachings/whatever have a fairly universal quality – I have a hard time seeing these commands to properly execute justice as pertaining to *only* Israelites/covenant people.

Having said that, I fully agree that the background question relates to the question of membership in the people of God. I don’t think it follows, though, that the status of ‘neighbor’ is restricted to those who are alienated (sp?) covenant members.

Following from that (my Barthianism is about to show – take that, Wright!) I think that all people are, in a sense, the people of God by virtue of God’s election of humanity in Christ. What follows from that is that while all people are elect, not all people accept said election, and hence resist (I strongly agree with Lewis when he says that hell is locked from the inside out) the grace of the covenant, and are hence alienated from the covenant. So I see there being a distinction between the people of God who are in the Messiah, and the people of God more broadly as those who are elected by God in his election of Christ. The former are charged with, as you said, restoring the alienated and wounded, who are the latter.

Some Bonhoeffer Thoughts

These are my comments on Kevin Davis’ outstanding 2-post series on Bonhoeffer’s religionless Christianity – do give them a read here. At the risk of self-advertising, here are some more of my thoughts on Bonhoeffer

‘We really don’t know what Bonhoeffer meant by “metaphysics,” and that is a big part of the problem with interpreting him here — but it is clear that he wants to secularize Christian concepts in some sense.’

There is definitely a problem there – I suspect, based on his reference to 12th-13th century as being when man ‘came of age’ that he has *some* form of scholastic metaphysics in his sights, but as you note, none of these things are carefully defined or discussed. The safe route would be to take him as simply trying to say how we can be Christians and have something to say to the world when God isn’t a given – stop trying to plug up apologetic/existential ‘gaps’ with God, stop trying to make man feel guilty when he’s oblivious to it, and simply live in faith in the world. That seems to be the safest option. But, again (again) this may not be the case – he speaks of Bultmann ‘not going far enough’ but then he also writes about how the mythology ‘is the thing’ of Christianity. Does he want us to return to the God of the Bible – revealed in weakness, operating in ways that are foolish to the world because of that weakness – or does he (as he almost seems to hint at) want us to do away with god-talk altogether and simply live in the world in faith?

Part of this also turns on the issue of the ‘secular’. You see that a lot, in guys like Charles Taylor, James KA Smith, etc – but who has pronounced us to be residents of a ‘secular’ age? No doubt our everyday experience may reflect a deepening secular-ity, but so what? Experience may be (and often is) wrong – why do we need to make the faith fit into our experience of the world as secular? There’s a lot of baggage here that needs to be opened and subjected to scrutiny when it is all too often simply taken to be truth.

The critique of Bonhoeffer’s uncritical acceptance of modernity or nonreligious man is right and could probably be extended to most modern theology. What’s interesting is that there still is a ‘given’ – only it’s no longer God’s existence but man’s non-religiousness. It’s not enough to just say that man has come of age – to paraphrase Plantinga, you don’t call something into question by simply saying (even loudly and passionately), ‘I hereby call this into question’ – you have to so why such and such is the case. Simply saying that man has learned to live without God as a working hypothesis won’t do it.

‘But I would caution ourselves. For example, the “Hellenization thesis” where Greek and Hebrew thought forms are strictly contrasted, which dominated 20th century theology, is not entirely without merit, even if we now know its over-simplifications.’

I agree completely – one shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater in any case. The ‘problem space’ that we’ve been given by your example of the Hellenization thesis (though I more or less ocnsider the thesis *as a whole* to be wrong) has given us a good deal worth thinking about. Let’s not write off the good that can come from any problem space, even if we see what caused it as quite mistaken (as I think)!

I almost get the feeling that Bonhoeffer really didn’t know *how* to be modern in a way that is recognizably Christian but also not merely an apologetic religion. I think a good deal can be gleaned from his earlier writing – his christology lectures show how he was willing to affirm orthodox doctrines (virgin birth etc) while also affirming that they can’t be verified as an object of strictly historical study. His point being that things like the VB etc aren’t historical in the sense that their truth is contingent upon correct historical methodology. This does away with the need to base faith on ‘evidence’ as apologetics would have us do without relegating it to the realm of ‘myth’.

This can, I believe, be tied in with a remark he made about Bultmann in which he states that he doesn’t believe that Bultmann went far enough – and that remark really puzzled me. I think we can reasonably assume that he meant that, as a matter of consistency, Bultmann should have also demythologised God instead of rather arbitrarily stopping with him. So Bonhoeffer is perhaps caught between the affirmation of orthodoxy and his rebellion against apologetic religion – one of which leads to demythologization (which, as you noted, he saw as ‘the thing itself’) and one of which leads to a form of historical rationalism.

Sunday Links

The Legacies of Idealism:

‘We’re coming into a different state of materialism and pessimism right now. Philosophical topics about agency, animals, thinking machines, the hard problem of consciousness, and the ethics of just about everything look like they are up for grabs. We are living in a philosophical age, and it is not exactly clear if professionalized philosophy is up to the challenge. It’s maybe no wonder that people are looking back to modern philosophy’s heroic period, when Kant, Reinhold, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel et al. took on modern life in all its complexity and tried to fit it all together in a fully rigorous fashion. After all, Kant said that in the darkness of pure reason, it’s philosophy that gives us orientation, and that’s what people by and large seek from it. In large parts of the world outside of the USA and Europe, big chunks of everyday life are lived out in terms of philosophical questions such as “What would it mean for me to be leading my own life,” or even “What is it to be modern? Do I have to stop being me to be modern?” When people ask those questions, it’s not long thereafter that they start turning to the idealists to see what they had to say. The idealists believed that we had to look at things in a big holistic way, to ask our questions in terms of what Heidegger later called the “meaning of being.” We are always orienting ourselves in terms of the “whole,” even if much of it necessarily has to remain the background and defies full explicitation.’

Breaking News: Aramark Goes All-In on Cage Free, Marking More Progress for Hens:

‘Aramark is the largest U.S.-based food service company, running dining operations at thousands of locations across the country, including healthcare institutions, universities and school districts, stadiums and arenas, and businesses. Today, I’m proud the company is announcing that it will switch all 20 million pounds of liquid eggs it uses each year in the United States to cage-free by 2020, after working with us. This decision will improve the lives of roughly 750,000 chickens per year and it reinforces the larger food industry trajectory on this issue: cage confinement has no place in the future of the egg industry. I wrote recently that Sodexo had made a similar announcement, so now two of the largest food service providers have partnered with us to the benefit of an extraordinary number of birds.’

No, You Cannot Catch An Individual Photon Acting Simultaneously As A Pure Particle And Wave

‘Technically, the headlines are not incorrect. Yet, to me and others, they imply something more radical than what was actually observed. To cut to the chase, an individual photon cannot be observed acting as both a pure particle and wave at the same time. But if you assemble a group of many different photons, you can observe some acting like particles and others acting like waves. Many stories did not make this clear.’

Big Bang for Birds:

‘On the heels of one of the greatest findings in the field of ornithology, announced last month, bird researchers are now entering a new frontier in the study of what makes birds tick. A multinational project involving 200 scientists from 20 countries revealed that the bird species we know today in fact originated right after the dinosaurs became extinct. Science Magazine declared the news as one of the 10 biggest discoveries of 2014.’

Car-Size Stingray May Be World’s Largest Freshwater Fish:

‘Scientists working in Thailand’s Mae Klong River made a big find last week: an enormous stingray that they think is a contender for the largest freshwater fish ever documented by researchers.

The ray was caught and released in about 65 feet (20 meters) of water in the Amphawa District, about an hour outside Bangkok.

Nantarika Chansue, a veterinarian and professor at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, helped catch and measure what she calls the “big one.” The ray (Himantura polylepis or H. chaophraya) was 7.9 feet (2.4 meters) across and 14 feet (4.3 meters) long and weighed an estimated 700 to 800 pounds (318 to 363 kilograms), she said via e-mail.’


‘These questions rarely appear in the work of those analyzing torture through the lens of a state of exception. Instead, these scholars operate a level of abstraction that ignores U.S. history and contemporary punishment. After September 11th, the United States didn’t suddenly enact entirely new torture policies and radically depart from American practices (an assertion found in countless essays on torture and September 11th). Instead, the Senate report revealed variations on practices that have existed in U.S. history stretching back centuries. In some cases, U.S. torturers operated in a state of exception, but in others they received legal sanction. Today, torture occurs in a complex milieu that mixes law and untrammeled exercises of power. Most Americans will never confront the possibility that they will be tortured, but this is hardly true for many who are poor, mentally-ill or in some way marginalized from society. To understand and alleviate their plight, we receive no guidance from those adopting the work of Agamben and Schmidt to talk about states of exception. Perhaps it’s time to abandon such uninformed and one-dimensional approaches to torture.’

Notes on Revelation, Election, and Apophatic Theology

– With Torrance, I say that in Jesus, divine election and predestination has moved from the eternal into time, and thus it follows that election has a temporal aspect to it.

– Election, becoming temporal without ceasing to be eternal, then confronts us (Torrance again) in the person of Jesus.

– While it is temporal, election is not thereby historicized or bound up with us.

– In the act of revelation, God’s being declares God’s reality (see Barth’s ‘Dogmatics’, II/I p. 262)

– Following Barth, I say that as God’s being declares reality, so God determines our capacity to receive Him.

-Bruce McCormack, in his LATC lecture on the atonement, interacted with apophatic theology briefly – his position can be sketched as follows:

Apophatic theology draws on epistemic considerations in order to establish the limit of human knowing and so locate God right on the other side of that line. The problem with this, as McCormack sees it, is that in so establishing this limit we control the epistemic relation. His answer to apophaticism is that the limits of human knowledge are no limits for God. God comes completely into this world – if the God who reveals Himself in Christ is not complete, whole and entire, then it is not God who reveals Himself.

An interesting claim, but it doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny. McCormack rightly recognizes that apophatic theology does recognize a limit to human knowledge of God, but this limit isn’t simply posited but is rather shown by the affirmation of the uncreated being of God. If God is uncreated, and all our knowledge is of created things, then it follows that we cannot know God in the same sense as we know every other thing we experience. The limit is then given by God and not human epistemology. Apophatic theology does, however, agree with McCormack that there is no limit to human knowledge of God – but this is because that God so utterly transcendent and so infinitely more than us that we could never comprehend or know him fully. As Augustine said, if you can comprehend it, it is not God.

‘St. Gregory of Nyssa believed that even in heaven perfection is growth. In a fine paradox he says that the essence of perfection consists precisely in never becoming perfect, but always reaching forward to some higher perfection that lies beyond. Because God is infinite, this constant ‘reaching forward’ or epektasis, as the Greek Fathers termed it, proves limitless. The soul possesses God, and yet still seeks him; her joy is full, and yet grows always more intense. God grows ever nearer to us, yet he still remains the Other; we behold him face to face, yet we still continue to advance further and further into the divine mystery. Although strangers no longer, we do not cease to be pilgrims. We go forward ‘from glory to glory’ (2 Cor 3:18), and then to a glory that is greater still. Never in all eternity, shall we reach a point where we have accomplished all that there is to do, or discovered all that there is to know. ‘Not only in this present age, but also in the Age to come,’ says St. Irenaeus, ‘God will always have something more to teach man, and man will always have something more to learn from God’” (Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, pp 135-138).

Furthermore, apophatic theology is fundamentally based on the Incarnation, the full revelation of God in the union of God and man, or created and uncreated. While Jesus is truly God, fully God, and truly man, fully man, this serves to highlight the truth that while God is present among us in the person of Christ, God is still uncreated and in His innermost essence and being fully beyond our knowledge. As Balthasar says,

‘The “I” of Jesus Christ is the measure of God’s distance from and nearness to man, that unimaginable nearness of him who is, and remains, even more unimaginably sublime above everything in the world (in similitudine major dissimilitudo)–and both things are equally true.  We shall never be in a position to encapsulate the mystery of this “I”, with its nearness and its distance, in a concept or a formula, for at its heart lies the mystery of the relationship between God, the Absolute, and man, the relative.’