I thought this would be a good sermon as I begin at the new church


T = theism

N = naturalism

E = there is some evil

I = there is inscrutable evil

I have little direct intuition about P(I|T).  I have to actually calculate.  Start with:
P(I|T) = P(I|E&T)P(E|T).

Now, what is P(E|T)?  The kind of evil we have the best reason to expect a priori is bad free choices by significantly free persons (SFPs), understood in the libertarian sense.
P(God creates SFPs | T) = P(God creates SFPs | T & SFPs are creatable)
P(SFPs are creatable | SFPs are possible & T) P(SFPs are possible |

Now, given that God isn’t a SFP (in the libertarian sense), and given that God if he exists, exists necessarily, I suppose P(SFPs are creatable | SFPs are possible & T) = 1.  After all, given theism, a being other than God is possible iff it is creatable.  And P(God creates SFPs | T & SFPs are creatable) is moderately high.  Not too high, because there is a not too low probability that God would create nothing, since the only-God world is very valuable–it exhibits the values of simplicity, unity, beauty and lack of local flaws to an extraordinary degree.  But given that God creates something, that God creates SFPs is fairly likely.  Maybe the probability that God creates something given that SFPs are creatable is about 1/2 to 3/4, maybe closer to 1/2.  Let’s say it’s half way: 0.625.  And the probability that God creates SFPs given that he creates something is very high, maybe 0.9.  So:

P(God creates SFPs | T) = 0.5625.

Now, P(E | God creates SFPs) is slightly more than P(an SFP sins | God creates SFPs).  Why only slightly?  Because it’s plausible that evils in a world where nobody sins would be unjust or that God would be the author of them in an objectionable way.  Maybe: P(E | God creates SFPs) = 1.2 P(an SFP sins | God creates SFPs).  So, approximately:

P(E | T) = P(someone sins | God creates SFPs) P(God creates SFPs | T) / 1.2 = 0.46875 P(someone sins | God creates SFPs).

Now, what is P(someone sins | God creates SFPs)?  Given that probably God would create several SFPs if he created at least one, it’s not too unlikely.  But God might create SFPs that are very unlikely to sin.  I think such SFPs would probably count as less free, and their free choices would likely be less valuable, but it’s a possibility not to be dismissed.  So, maybe P(someone sins | God creates SFPs) = 0.75.  So, approximately:

P(E | T) = 0.35

P(I | T) = 0.35 P(I | E & T).

Now my intuition is that it is moderately likely that if E, all the evils are either sins or punishments for sin or results of sin needed for freedom, and all of these are scrutable.  So P(I | E & T) is not too high.  So, P(I | E & T) is about 0.3.  So:

P(I | T) = 0.11.

Trent in an earlier post said P(I | T) is not too low, and I guess this is support for that.

Now, let N = naturalism.


P(I | N) = P(I | E & N) P(E | N).

Plausibly: P(I | E & N) is very high, I’d say 0.999 or higher.  (Unless I is taken to entail that there are beings that can discern.)  So, approximately:

P(I | N) = P(E | N).

Now, P(E | N) is approximately equal to P(E | conscious beings & N) P(conscious beings | N).

Next, approximately:

P(E | conscious beings & N) = P(pain or SFPs | conscious beings & N &
values) P(values | conscious beings & N),

where values is the claim that there really are values (which is entailed by E).  Now, P(values | conscious beings & N) is approximately P(values | N), we may suppose.  While P(values | T)=1, since God is by definition good, I think that P(values | N) is no more than 0.5 (think of the plausibility of non-realist accounts of value given N).  So:

P(E | conscious beings & N) = 0.5 P(pain or SFPs | conscious beings & N & values).

If there are values, it’s very likely that damage to the body is bad.  And there are clear benefits to being aware of damage to the body qua bad, etc.  So pain seems likely if damage to the body is possible.  However, the concept of damage to the body depends on the concept of proper function.  Now P(proper function | N & values & conscious beings) is bigger than P(proper function | N), but it’s still not that high.  (Maybe the only values are elegance of laws.)  The naturalistic accounts of proper function all fail, I think (and I have arguments for it).  On the other hand, proper function is very likely needed for consciousness–consciousness needs content, and indicator theories of content need proper function (this is a substantive claim, but I can defend it).  So:

P(proper function | conscious beings & N) = 0.8.

So, we might approximate:

P(proper function | conscious beings & values & N) = 0.9.

And P(pain | proper function & conscious beings & values & N) is close to 1.

So, approximately:

P(E | conscious beings & N) = 0.45.

Now, what is P(conscious beings | N)?  Well, the best stories about consciousness and content (let’s suppose consciousness is contentful–unless pain is indicative to damage, it’s unlikely to be bad) require proper function.  So maybe:

P(conscious beings | N) = 1.25 P(conscious beings | proper function & N) P(proper function | N).

Now, P(conscious beings | proper function & N) is moderately high, but not too high.  From indicators to consciousness is still a leap: we might think we could imagine beings with content and no consciousness, and it’s not clear that proper function and indicators are enough for consciousness.  Moreover, we still need an evolutionary process leading to representational states complex enough for content, though a multiverse might take care of that (we also need organisms, but P(organisms | proper function & N) is close to 1–see argument later).  So, maybe, we can let P(conscious beings | proper function & N) =
0.7, or more likely less.  So:

P(conscious beings | N) = 0.875 P(proper function | N).

Now, plausibly, if there is proper function, there are organisms that exhibit it.  It’s hard to imagine, given N, any place for proper function that in organisms or in artifacts made by organisms.

Now, there are two plausible stories about proper function: the Aristotelian story and the evolutionary.  I shall suppose the two are mutually exclusive.  If the Aristotelian story is true, we’re very unlikely to get proper function in organisms given N.  We would need proper function transmitting laws, or something weird like that.


P(proper function | Aristotelian account & organisms & N) = 0.05

What about the evolutionary account?  I think:

P(proper function | evolutionary account & organisms & N) = 0.95.

This is less than 1, because if there is a multiverse, there might be non-evolved organisms, and there might be problems with making sense of the probabilities that evolution requires given a multiverse.

And maybe there is some other account?  Accounts in terms of agency aren’t going to work given N, since agency presupposes content and hence proper function given N.  Let’s give a probability 0.1 to “some other account”.

Now, the evolutionary accounts of proper function have really, really serious objections.   So, at most:

P(evolutionary account | organisms & N) = 0.25.
So, overestimating:

P(proper function | organisms & N) = (0.05)(0.65) + (0.95)(0.25) + 0.10 = 0.37.

Now, P(organisms | N) is high if there is a multiverse and low otherwise (fine-tuning intuitions).  How likely is there to be a multiverse?  Maybe fairly high, maybe not.  One reason to think it’s fairly high is that if N is true, then PSR is false, and if PSR is false, we expect to see all sorts of weird stuff coming into existence ex nihilo. On the other hand, maybe there has to be an all-encompassing spacetime, and maybe it’s of limited size?  But perhaps the naturalist can’t grant that if N is true, we expect to see all sorts of weird stuff coming into existence ex nihilo, as that would undercut science.  Moreover, there
is a pretty good chance there’d be nothing if N.  So:

P(organisms | N) = 0.05 P(~multiverse | N) + 0.99 P(multiverse | N).


P(multiverse | N) = 0.6.

(Probably less as P(nothing | N) seems high.)


P(organisms | N) = 0.614.
So at most:

P(proper function | N) = P(proper function | organisms & N)

P(organisms | N) = (0.37)(0.614) = 0.28.

P(conscious beings | N) = 0.245.

P(E | N) = (0.45)(0.245) = 0.11.

And so:
P(I | N) = 0.11.

And that’s what we said about P(I | T).  So, inscrutable evil doesn’t provide a significant reason to believe theism over naturalism.

Honestly, I didn’t rig it.  That’s just how the numbers came out.  (But I could kind of see that my intuitions were leading that way.)  🙂

Actually, if one does the calculations to three decimal places, one gets a slight difference (about 0.005) between P(I | N) and P(I | T), in favor of P(I | N), but I can’t claim enough precision in my intuitions above to make that difference count as significant.

On reflection, I’d change at least two estimates.  I’d raise the probability of values given N, and I’d lower the probability of evolutionary accounts of proper function.

Atheists Don’t Have No Songs


Atheists Don’t Have No Songs

Christians have their hymns and pages,
Hava Nagilas 
for the Jews,
Baptists have the rock of ages,
Atheists just sing the blues.
Romantics play Claire de Lune,
Born agains sing He is risen,
But no one ever wrote a tune,
For godless existentialism.
For Atheists,
There’s no good news,
They’ll never sing a song of faith.
For atheists,
They have a rule,
The “he” is always lowercase.
The “he” is always lowercase.
Some folks sing a Bach cantata,
Lutherans get Christmas trees,
Atheist songs add up to nada,
But they do have Sundays free.
Some folks sing they sing to heaven,
Coptics have the books of scrolls,
Numerologists can count to seven,
Atheists have rock and roll.
For Atheists,
There’s no good news,
They’ll never sing a song of Faith.
In their songs,
They have a rule,
The “he” is always lowercase.
The “he” is always lowercase.
Catholics dress up for Mass,
And listen to,
Gregorian chants.
Atheists just take a pass,
Watch football in their underpants.
Watch football in their underpants.
Thanks to Return to Rome

Books I’m Reading or Re-Reading Now

Paul: An Outline of His Theology, Herman Ridderbos

The Cross of Christ, John Stott

Counted as Righteous, John Piper

Love Undetectable, Andrew Sullivan

The Justification Reader, Thomas Oden

Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 Years   Philip Jenkins

The City of God, Augustine

The Atonement and the Modern Mind, James Denney

The Reformed Pastor – Richard Baxter

I am also listening to a couple of series from The Teaching Company. One is on Byzantium and the other is on the history of Asia Minor, which was the cradle of early Christianity as it made its move west.

I am seasoning this with reading the Bible in large draughts. I more and more delight in the penal substitutionary model of the atonement and find in it that explanation of what Christ did on the cross that gives my soul true rest. Every once and a while I get angry at those who in fact take away the assurance for troubled souls by throwing this in doubt or who have explanations that are miles long with multiple rotaries to negotiate that at the end leave no real answer to the question of the Philippian jailer, “how can I be saved?” This is my trouble with NT Wright. By the time he argues his explanation of “the righteousness of God,” no one is listening anymore. And, as Piper often comments, it does not pass the “hospital bed test.” Those who are soon to pass to the other side can find nothing there as an anchor for the soul as the pastor fumbles to restate the NT Wright’s view of salvation. It doesn’t mean he is wrong. It just means that if what he says is what the Bible means, then surely only a few are going to be saved – no troubled soul will find it “graspable.”

A reminder to churches of the importance of just being there

There are so many attempts to package the church. I can no longer keep up with them all. I never should have even tried. The thing itself got missed – the importance of mere presence.

Two things happen when we package the church. First, the one to whom we are trying to “sell” the church knows that the transaction has become commercial. He understands that we are treating him as consumer. In other words, right at the point when he needs something outside of himself, bigger, higher, transcendant, heavier, hard to swallow in one gulp, we make it “God in five easy steps.” The effort is appreciated, but he knows intuitively that religion loses something in that deal, something that he needed and which the church has now freely given away. We have told him that if he will come to church we will change our ways and even shadow some of our beliefs. If the truth be known, he doesn’t want us to do that. He wants us to follow through with what we believe, do what we ought, then he will decide.

Second, we take away from him the power of conversion. We will not ask him to wear a yarmulke, wear a cross or in many churches even be baptized. We will just ask him to come. There are no signs of conversion, except perhaps states of mind, which are notoriously illusive and not at all convincing on certain days and in certain phases.

I am always intrigued when some luminary converts to Christianity, but not to the hip evangelical version but to Roman Catholicism and ends up sitting in a sparsely attended church with a remote liturgy, men only priests and moral stances that outrage a good part of our culture. Maybe that’s the best way one can think of themselves as converted. It is to be yoked to a church that takes me beyond my cultural preferences and styles and stands over against me, doesn’t bend, merely is.

Mary Karr of “Liar’s Club” fame has converted to Christ and to Roman Catholicism. Here is her story.

Thinking about the Keswick Theology

I grew up in a church influenced by the Keswick movement. I early on rejected it, particularly when I came across the Puritans who were for me an example of both holiness, sound theology and honesty about the nature of spiritual experience, i.e., that the Christian struggles with sin until the day he dies and overcomes by a persevering faith that sweats, works, and costs.

Keswick is the name of the place in England where conventions were held focusing on the “deeper Christian life.”Go to Wikipedia for a decent review of the movement. Also Kevin DeYoung has posted on his blog a reflection on JI Packer’s flirtation with the Keswick movement and his ultimate rejection of it. It’s basic assertion is that while justification is through faith alone so is sanctification. In other words, as justification comes to the Christian immediately upon belief, so, too, in a second work of grace, entire sanctification can come to a Christian through faith alone.

Some of its most popular expressions are Watchman Nee, Stuart Briscoe, Columbia Bible College and Seminary, Robertson McQuilken, the ever popular book, The Christian’s Secret of A Happy Life by Hannah Whiteall Smith, and the enduringly popular Keswick Conference center in New Jersey.

The appeal of the movement is the frustration of the Christian with his slow progress in sanctification, growth (or lack thereof) in holiness. There is real suffering and pang of conscience in the Christian who recognizes how far he is away from that full Christlikeness to which he aspires and which the New Testament teaches is his birthright. What a Christian does with that frustration can determine whether he will self-destruct or harness that frustration in a way that leads to a deeper life with Christ. The Keswick movement faces this reality and promises the Christian a better way, a way to total victory and a faith rest in Christ never to be disturbed.

This is the way of faith, of simply believing to be true what God says of us and “reckoning ourselves dead to sin.” Of course, that is just the rub. What does the Bible mean by “dead to sin” and “reckon.” At times the Keswick movement appears to be a “mind over matter” movement, a positive thinking ideology which rightly entered into keeps the Christian at such a high plane of living that victory over sin is a natural overflow of the indwelling Holy Spirit. The struggle has ceased. The life has been surrendered. Now all is at rest.

This can be contrasted to that view which more historic Christianity asserts – the Ephesians 6 model of an alert life that is in constant battle mode until the end of life or the coming of Christ. In this life there are moments of intense suffering and pain, Gethsemane-like experiences which are crushing and a never-to-be-left-behind aspect of Christ-following. It is this model which I believe to be the one that is more fair to the biblical data as well as to the actual Christian experience.

And yet!!! Christians in the midst of the fight against sin, the flesh and the devil can develop a “gee, aint’s it awful” mindset which accepts a low level of Christian living and diminished expectations of what Christ can actually do in our hearts. Before long the Christian is accepting “falling” as normative and “winning” as the exception and the not often expected. In this way, the “deeper Christian life movement” has an appeal and hold out a promise that is dear to the believer – Christ is Lord and powerful over all that opposes His kingdom.

A healthy Christian life is not a balance between the deeper Christian life movement and the historic position of the church. For the Keswick movement is wrong and at key points decidedly unwise in its interpretation of the biblical data. It should be simply enough to maintain the historic view of the church when it comes to sanctification (a never to be completed in this life struggle against sin) but to be careful to give to the promises of God their full weight and motivational power.

Jim Wallis’ Critique of the Tea Party Movement Critiqued

Jim Wallis, like Glenn Bleck, is increasingly reminding me of SNL’s churchlady. They are curmudgeons who show up at everybody else’s party to preach. Perhaps Wallis is the unhappiest of the two. Exaggeration and hyperbole are the stock and trade of their exercises and it is increasingly hard to hear them stereotype and clothe most everything they say in apocalyptic terms.

Wallis has made it clear that the Teaparty movement is not Christian. (Thank you, Jim – we want to make sure we steer clear of mixing politics and religion like the Moral Majority did and which you studiously avoid!!!) I think he wants to prove that the present administration is a better church than the Church. Government can be and ought to be the arm of the arm of the compassionate church, as Wallis sees it. Except that this time around the church through law and force extracts compassion from citizens against their will.

Patheos analyzes Wallis’ assertion. Such quips on Wallis’ part endanger his reputation as a sober thinker and suggest that he is more of an idealogue. The “average” evangelical who has an affinity with the Tea Party knows that what Wallis asserts is nutty, and they won’t take him seriously next time.

“Unarmed Combat” by Henry Reed

In due course of course you will all be issued with
Your proper issue; but until to-morrow,
You can hardly be said to need it; and until that time,
We shall have unarmed combat. I shall teach you
The various holds and rolls and throws and breakfalls
Which you may sometimes meet.

And the various holds and rolls and breakfalls
Do not depend on any sort of weapon,
But only on what I might coin a phrase and call
The ever-important question of human balance,
And the ever-important need to be in a strong
Position at the start.

There are many kinds of weakness about the body,
Where you would least expect, like the ball of the foot.
But the various holds and rolls and breakfalls
Will always come in useful. And never be frightened
To tackle from behind: it may not be clean to do so,
But this is global war.

So give them all you have, and always give them
As good as you get; it will always get you somewhere.
(You may not know it, but you can tie a Jerry
Up without rope; it is one of the things I shall teach you.
Nothing will matter if only you are ready for him.
The readiness is all.

The readiness is all. How can I help but feel
I have been here before? But somehow then,
I was the tied-up one. How to get out
Was always then my problem. And even if I had
A piece of rope I was always the sort of person
Who threw the rope aside.

And in my time I have given them all I had,
Which was never as good as I got, and it got me nowhere.
And the various holds and rolls and throws and breakfalls
Somehow or other I always seemed to put
In the wrong place. And as for war, my wars
Were global from the start.

Perhaps I was never in a strong position,
Or the ball of my foot got hurt, or I had some weakness
Where I had least expected. But I think I see your point.
While awaiting a proper issue, we must learn the lesson
Of the ever-important question of human balance.
It is courage that counts.

Things may be the same again; and we must fight
Not in the hope of winning but rather of keeping
Something alive so that when we meet our end,
It may be said that we tackled wherever we could,
That battle-fit we lived, and though defeated,
Not without glory fought.

Thanks to evethushnet.com

On Losing Sandy

Our dog Sandy slept her final sleep yesterday. I took her in early to the vet after a middle of the night stroke that left her unable to walk.

Growing up, there were no cats, dogs or anything in my home. I think Mom and Dad were just glad us three boys were alive and eating. There wasn’t much left over in life and love to share with a pet. And for the first 2o years of our marriage there were no pets – too much transition and life too fast.

Sandy was with us for 15 years, since our Jon was in the ninth grade and our Ben in the sixth grade. Through lots of stuff the five of us have stuck together – Sharon, me, Jon, Ben and Sandy. And now there are four.

The vet had to keep handing me tissues as she administered the last medications to Sandy. Before she came in, Sandy and I had our own funeral service together. Not very many get to be awake at their own funeral, but Sandy was. I thanked God for her life and all the kindness poured into our family through her gentle and easy spirit. Mostly I thanked God for Sharon’s joy in her and how Sharon got to do what Sharon does – love, nurture, care and pay attention. The love of a nurturing woman is a fierce force in the world. It is more real than anything merely physical could ever be. Men stand on the sidelines and behold. We cannot begin to grasp the depths of such a power that wells up in a woman’s spirit when caring for her own.

So Sandy and I thanked God for Sharon. And we thanked God for the boys who always thought Sandy got treated better than they did. Sandy took care of them in ways they did not know. She and Sharon were the hub of the spokes around here, together in the kitchen, laundry room, wherever. And no matter what the schedules, confusions, and crises were, Sharon and Sandy were in the middle, watching, loving and being there.

Here is a picture of Sandy waiting at the bottom of the stairs for Sharon to come down.