Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Sean Carroll, the arrow of time, and the beginning of the universe

I've been trying for a while now to understand Sean Carroll's explanation of time and how it fits into his model of the universe. I think I have a better understanding of what he's saying now than I used to, but there are still some gaps. And I may still have a misunderstanding. But I thought I'd explain it as best I can in hopes that maybe somebody else will leave a comment correcting what needs to be corrected or telling me I'm on the right track or something.

If time is static, in other words, if eternalism is true, it raises the question of why it seems like time has a direction. After all, on a spacetime block, moments of time are analoguous to places in space. Space doesn't have a direction in which we can only travel one way. But it does seem like time has a direction since we can only go in the future direction. Why is this the case if time is not dynamic?

Carroll's answer is that the arrow of time is determined by the direction of increasing entropy. The problem I have with this answer is that it strikes me as being backward. It isn't increasing entropy that determines the arrow of time; rather, it's the arrow of time that determines increasing entropy. Let me explain that.

For any configuration of stuff (matter, energy, legos, or whatever) there are far more random or chaotic configurations than there are ordered configurations. For example, if you have a bowl of Alphabet cereal, there are far more possible arrangements of individual pieces of cereal that don't spell any words or sentences than there are configurations that spell words or sentences. So if you were to shake the bowl, it's far more probable that you'd end up with a random ordering of letters than an ordering that spells words and makes sentences. Since disorder is more probable than order, we should expect that as a system changes, it will tend toward less order, more homogeneity, etc.

There are endless examples of this in our experience. If you have a hot cup of coffee in a cold box, heat will flow from the cup to the rest of the box until it's evenly spread out, but you wouldn't expect the process to reverse. If you put folded clothes in a dryer and turn it on, you'd expect the clothes to become a jumbled mess, but you wouldn't expect them to end up folded again. If you drop a wine glass, you'd expect it to shatter into a bunch of random pieces on the floor, but you wouldn't expect those pieces to randomly come together in the form of a wine glass again.

And that's basically the second law of thermodynamics. Heat and energy tend to spread out. Nature tends toward equilibrium. While the total energy in a system may remain constant, energy can only be used as it is converted from an ordered state to a disordered state. The amount of energy that is no longer available to do work is called entropy. So entropy can be thought of as the amount of disorder, or randomness, or homogeneity, or equilibrium, or whatever. It always increases in a closed system where energy is not added to or taken away from the system.

It seems to me that it is because time has a direction that entropy increases. In the next moment of time, it is far more probable that we will end up with a more random configuration of stuff than that we will end up with a more ordered configuration of stuff. So I don't understand why Carroll thinks it's the other way around. If we assume time has a certain direction, it's easy to see why entropy will increase in that direction. But if, as Carroll thinks, time is static, there's no explanation for why entropy increases in any particular direction. He appears to simply define the arrow of time as pointing in the direction that entropy just happens to be increasing. Somebody please correct me if I've got this wrong.

Carroll's definition of the arrow of time leads to another mistake that I think William Lane Craig misunderstood in their debate. Since the second law of thermodynamics is based on statistics (disordered states are vastly more probable than ordered states), it is not an absolute law. It is possible for entropy to spontaneously decrease in a closed system.

Let me digress for a minute. Of course we see it decrease in open systems all the time. When water freezes, it forms crystals which have a lower entropy than liquid water. But this happens because it gives off heat. So while the entropy of the water decreases, the total entropy of the universe still increases since the increase of entropy surrounding the ice is always greater than the decrease in the entropy of the ice.

Okay, so it is possible, though unlikely, that in a closed system, the total entropy of that system will spontaneously decrease. This improbability can be overcome with enough time. Currently, the entropy of our universe is increasing. Eventually, the universe will undergo "heat death" or "thermodynamic equilibrium," which both amount to the same thing. But given enough time, it should spontaneously become ordered again, resulting in another big bang.

In some models of the universe, space is infinite, and there's an infinite amount of stuff out there. It's all in thermodynamic equilibrium, and always has been. But statistics being what they are, there are localized areas of low entropy that spontaneously emerge, and our big bang was just one of them.

In Carroll's model of the universe, entropy had to have decreased from a disordered state prior to the big bang. Since he defines the arrow of time in terms of the direction of increasing entropy, the fact that entropy was decreasing immediately prior to the big bang means that time was running backward prior to the big bang. This is the part that seemed to confuse William Lane Craig in their debate. Craig looked at Carroll's diagram which had an arrow of time drawn in opposite directions on either side of the big bang, and this lead him to think Carroll's model implied an absolute beginning at the big bang. But that was a mistake.

But Caroll's position still strikes me as being nonsense. The only reason he says time was moving backward prior to the big bang is because that's how he has defined the direction of time. In reality, time was moving forward like it always does, and it just happened, by a statistical fluke, that entropy was spontaneously decreasing. This is inevitable given infinite time and an infinite universe.

This can be seen just by looking at how entropy decreases in local areas of our own space. Entropy decreases whenever crystals form, but we don't say time is moving forward in the space surrounding the crystals while moving backward inside the space where the crystals are forming. In the same way, we shouldn't say time is moving backwards in a localized region of space that's getting ready for a big bang while moving forward in the rest of the infinite ocean of space. And this shouldn't change if we suppose that there is no infinite ocean of space and that our local universe is all the universe there is. The fact that entropy decreases prior to the big bang does not entail that time is literally moving backwards.

It strikes me as being nonsense to say that time is moving backwards in the first place. The direction of time is the same thing as the way time is flowing. So to say time is flowing backward is to state what seems to me to be a contradiction.

So it strikes me as being mere semantics for Carroll to say that time is flowing backward prior to the big bang since he only says that because he's defining the arrow of time in terms of the direction of increasing entropy. What's really and literally going on is that entropy happens to be decreasing as time moves forward, and this isn't impossible since there is a tiny but non-zero probability of that happening. If time always flows in the direction of increasing entropy, then it would be impossible for entropy to ever decrease.

I think all Carroll's model does as far as undermining the Kalam Cosmological Argument, is that it weakens the argument for an absolute beginning of the universe from the second law of thermodynamics. The argument for an absolute beginning of the universe from the second law of thermodynamics is that if the past is infinite, then the universe should've already reached thermodynamic equilibrium, but since it hasn't, then the past is not infinite. But since the second law of thermodynamics is statistical, and it's possible, though unlikely, for entropy to spontaneously decrease, then it's possible the universe has reached thermodynamic equilibrium, but then given an infinite amount of time, it spontaneously reached a state of low entropy again, resulting in the big bang. (Of course Carroll's model runs up against the Boltzmann Brain problem, but that's beyond the scope of this post.)

The argument from the second law of thermodynamics still carries some weight, though, since Carroll's model is a mere possibility. Not everybody agrees with the statistical explanation of the second law of thermodynamics either. Consider a situation in which you've got a pipe with high pressure air on one end and low pressure air on the other end. We should expect air to flow from the high pressure end to the low pressure end until the pressure in the pipe is evenly distributed. The statistical model tells us that it improbable but not impossible for all the molecules of the air to randomly accumulate on one end of the pipe again, creating a high pressure region at one end and a low pressure region on the other end. But this may not be possible since to do so would require the air molecules to move against the pressure they create as they get closer together. It's the pressure that keeps them spread out. In the same way, the tendency of energy to spread out in the universe and become homogeneous may not be reversible.

It could be that the statistical model of the second law applies to some situations but not to others.

Anywho, I thought I'd leaves some links to some videos on one of my favourite YouTube channels, PBS Space Time, about the second law of thermodynamics for your edification.

The Misunderstood Nature of Entropy

Reversing Entropy with Maxwell's Demon

The Arrow of Time and How to Reverse It

The Impossibility of Perpetual Motion Machines

Friday, June 11, 2021

If the universe is fine-tuned for life, why isn't there more life?

I was just watching this video clip of Luke Barnes talking to Robert Lawrence Kuhn about extraterrestrial life. Kuhn brought up an interesting point. He said that if it turned out that the universe was teaming with life, an argument could be made either by a theist or an atheist, and both would make sense. The theist could say, "See? With all this life, clearly the universe was fine-tuned to have life." An atheist could say, "See? With all this life, human life is not special; therefore, the universe was not created for us." These aren't exactly opposite claims, but I still found it interesting.

But anyway, it inspired this post. I just want to talk about the theist response. This response is an answer to an objection to fine-tuning I hear a lot. This is not one of my original objections, but since it comes up so much I figured it was worth responding to. The objection is that if the universe were fine-tuned for life, then we should expect there to be more life. But most of the universe is hostile to life, so the universe isn't fine-tuned for life.

I have a lot of things to say about that. First of all, the universe could be fine-tuned for life even if there was no life in the universe. To be fine-tuned for life only means the universe has the necessary laws and constants so that life is possible in the universe. The universe could, given its laws and constants, support life under some set of circumstances constrained by those laws and constants. In other words, with those laws and constants, it's possible to create a scenario in which life could exist. Without those laws and constants being what they are, life wouldn't even be possible.

Second, if you draw the conclusion that a Divine Engineer fined-tuned the universe so that life is possible, that tells you nothing about how much life that engineer wanted the universe to support. So you can't make any predictions about how much life the universe should contain just from supposing that the Divine Engineer wanted the universe to have some life.

Third, the existence of any life at all, be it ever so rare, shows that the universe is capable of supporting life, and if those laws and constants have to be tuned to precise values in order for that life to exist, then the universe is fine-tuned for life. If life is extremely rare, that does nothing at all to undermine the claim that the universe is fine-tuned for life because if it wasn't fine-tuned for life, then no life could exist anywhere at all in the universe. So you only need one example of life to support the claim that the universe is fine-tuned for life.

Fourth, if the Divine Engineer made the universe in such a way as to make life possible, that doesn't mean life was the sole purpose for creating the universe. As an analogy, suppose you want to design a smart phone capable of taking pictures. Well, you'd need to make the phone in such a way that it could support the existence of a working camera. The fact that you had that purpose in mind when designing the phone doesn't mean that the whole phone is nothing but camera lenses or camera hardware. In the same way, the divine Engineer may have had all kinds of purposes for creating the universe besides just life. But it would still have to be fine-tuned for life in order to support life.

Fifth, it could be, for all we know, that even if you had the most ideal life-friendly laws and constants, the actual emergence of life is still an improbable event. If that were the case, then we should expect life in the universe to be rare even if it is fine-tuned for life. But as long as it still emerges, then the purpose of fine-tuning the laws and constants will have been served. Until we figure out what the chemical pathway was from simple elements and compounds to the first functioning cell, it will be very hard for us to say how probable or improbable the emergence of life is given those basic elements and compounds.

Sixth, the fact that most of the universe is hostile to life is kind of necessary for there to be life at all. I got this point from Luke Barnes. Imagine if instead of most of the universe being empty space, it was filled with life-friendly atmosophere. Well, that would be a disaster because then you couldn't have stable planetary orbits because the atmospere would create too much drag, and all the planets would burn up in the atmosphere or fall into their stars and burn up. Also, gravity would cause all the atmosophere to clump up and probalby form stars or something, and you'd end up with empty space anyway. There'd be so much mass in the universe that you'd have to counter it by a whole lot more dark energy just to keep the universe from collapsing. That's just one example of how trying to make the universe more life-friendly would accomplish the opposite. Luke said that you really need a lot of empty space in order to make the universe habitable.

That's about it. If I think of anything else, I'll edit this post.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

UFO's and the Pentagon

With all these videos coming out over the last year, the Pentegon confirming that there are UFO's (or what they call UAP's, aka Unidentified Areal Phenomena), the Pentagon admitting that they are taking them seriously enough to form a task force to investigate them, the mainstream media covering them, and Navy pilots giving personal testimony about them, it's very tempting to think something is going on. These UFO's seem to defy known physics, which means that if they are real, they come from somebody whose technology far surpasses ours. I was starting to believe it myself, which set my mind to speculating about what it could possibly be. Secret government labs? Foreign drones from their secret government labs? A secret underwater civilization more advanced than ours, like maybe Atlantians? Or aliens? If it was aliens, I wondered if maybe they were surveillance drones inspecting our Navies so they would know what they were up against once they got here.

If you've kept up with what has been going on, it's hard not to get caught up in it. I had seen a few of the videos but the one that finally got my attention was the video of what looked like shiny pyramids floating around. That was one of the first videos that didn't seem blurry all the time. There seemed to be a sharp image for a brief moment.

Thankfully, though, I stumbled across the YouTube page of Mick West. Mick West went into a considerable amount of detail debunking these videos and even responding to pilot interviews. The first things I watched were about four videos he did on the flying pyramid video. It was very detailed and convincing, and I am satisfied that nothing extraordinary was going on. It just shows to go you that "the first to present his case seems right until another comes forward and questions him" (Proverbs 18:17). It pays to look at both sides of an issue.

Of course you never know when you've looked at all sides. Maybe somebody else has debunked Mick West who I haven't found. And maybe somebody else has debunked that person. But for now, I find Mick West's conclusions to be entirely persuasive. If you've been caught up on all this UFO stuff, I recommend checking out his channel. He covers a lot of stuff besides UFO's, so you might want to check out his playlists where he organizes his videos according to topic.

The Pentagon claims they have a lot more information than what has leaked to the public so far. They're supposed to release a big report to Congress some time in June. It'll be interesting to see what happens. My suspicion is that it will be more of the same. There'll be more vidoes that will seem remarkable at first until Mick West comes along and shows what's really going on. Maybe for most of them, the Pentagon has already investigated them and determined they are not super technology from a foreign government and there are just a handful of incidents they haven't figured out yet. Who knows what they know? It's bound to keep Mick West busy for a while, though.

I wonder, though, how long it will be before the information is open to the public. Does it automatically become open to the public just because Congress recieves it? I don't know. I just hope it isn't all a written report and that there are some more video clips to look at.

What is your opinion about all this?

Sunday, April 04, 2021

A quick and dirty argument for the resurrection of Jesus

I think just the survival of Christianity after Jesus' death, combined with the claim Peter, James, and the other apostles made to having seen Jesus alive after his death is pretty good evidence of the resurrection. The reason is because the whole movement centered around the notion that Jesus was the messiah. If you look at all the unambiguous messianic prophecies about the messiah, you see that his coming is always associated with the reunion of Judah and Israel, a full return from exile, the defeat and overthrow of all of Israel's enemies and occupiers (which would include the Romans), national sovereignty, the restoration of the Davidic dynasty, and the beginning of an permanent era of peace and prosperity that eventually extends to all of the nations.

So it was built in to the whole concept of the messiah that his coming would be a big triumph for the Jewish people, and there'd be no more occupation. For Jews living in the first century, that would mean no more Romans. They would live in peace and enjoy national sovereignty. These expectations are even reflected in the gospels. At one point the apostles ask Jesus, "Are you going to redeem Israel now?" At another point, a crowd tried to make Jesus king by force.

With all of these expectations in mind, the last thing you'd expect if you thought Jesus was the messiah was for him to be defeated and put to death by the very people he was supposed to have prevailed against. His death should have proved to any Jew in the first century that he was not the messiah after all.

And that seems to be the case. In Luke, there's a story about a couple of disciples of Jesus walking to Emmaus after Jesus' death, and one of them said, "We thought he was going to redeem Israel." They were disillusioned initially.

Paul said that "Christ crucified" was a stumbling block to Jews, and for good reason. There were several people in the first century who claimed to be the messiah. In each case, they'd gather followers and eventually be killed. Once they were killed, their movement ended. The followers would either find another messiah to follow or else do something else with their lives. During the first Jewish war with Rome, there were three people all claiming to be the messiah who were holed up in Jerusalem during the siege, fighting each other at the same time they were fighting the Romans. But nobody continued to believe in them once they were killed.

In the second century (around 135, I think), the Jews fought a second war against Rome, and practically the whole nation rallied around Simon bar Kosiba who they thought was the messiah. But once he was killed, not a single person continued to believe he was the messiah. His death proved he wasn't.

So there has to be some explanation for why Jesus' movement survived his death, especially since it survived his death as a messianic movement. Why did anybody continue to believe he was the messiah after he had been utterly defeated without having fulfilled all the major messianic prophecies? Keep in mind all of his earliest followers were throughly Jewish.

Well, the explanation they gave themselves was that they saw him alive after his death. There are a lot of scholars (probably a significant majority) who think they saw something they took to be the risen Jesus. There are some, like Gerd Ludemann, who think they had grief hallucinations. There are others, like E.P. Sanders, who just throw up their hands and say they don't know what they saw, only that it was what gave them confidence in Jesus.

I don't think a hallucination is an adequate explanation, though. Grief hallucinations are fairly common after a loved one dies. I had a really lucid dream about my dad after he died. My grandmother said she had an experience of my grandfather after he died. But these experiences never lead people to believe their loved one is raised from the dead.

Try to imagine what you would do if somebody you knew to be dead was standing in front of you right now. Imagine it's some close relative of yours who died. What do you think you would make of that? Well, you'd have multiple options. You might think you were dreaming, hallucinating, seeing a ghost, or that the person hadn't died after all. But probably the very last thing you'd think was that they had risen from the dead.

In one of the gospels, the initial reaction upon seeing Jesus was that they thought they were seeing a ghost. It wasn't until Jesus ate in front of them, and they could touch him, that they believed he was a flesh and blood human being. And there's lots of stuff in the New Testament about them actually touching the risen Jesus.

That makes a lot of sense if you think about it because probably nobody would've thought Jesus had risen from the dead just because they hallucinated him. It would've taken much more than that. So these reports about Jesus eating and them touching Jesus are probably true because nothing short of that really explains why they believed he had risen from the dead.

So, if Jesus really did die on the cross, and the disciples later were able to eat with and touch a living Jesus, then that's pretty good reason to think Jesus had risen from the dead.

That's the skinny of the argument, though. A whole book could be written on this subject.

Friday, April 02, 2021

The god of the philosophers vs. the Abrahamic God

Let's suppose the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA), the argument from contingency, the fine-tuning argument, and the moral argument are all sound.

The KCA tells us why the universe exists. It's because a spaceless, timeless, immaterial being brought it into existence. But the KCA doesn't tell us why anything at all exists. Why does the being that brought the universe into existence exist? Well, that is answered by the argument from contingency. It's because it's impossible for nothing to exist. Everything owes its existence to a necessary being, and it's impossible for that being not to exist.

The argument from fine-tuning tells us that there was an engineer who fixed the constants of nature in such a way as to make life possible. But why? What movtive might the engineer have had? Well, we get an inkling of an answer from the moral argument. The moral argument gives us a morally perfect being. It stands to reason that a morally perfect being would want to actualize certain moral goods, like courage, humility, and self-sacrifice, by creating other sentient beings. In the Christian story, God himself was able to have these moral qualities through the incarnation of Jesus. It also stands to reason that the being would want to create sentient beings capable of appreciating beauty and virtue. In fact, as Jonathan Edwards argued in The End For Which God Created the World, it would make sense that the being would want to create other beings capable of appreciating the morally perfect being himself since the adoration of that which is most worthy of adoration is, itself, a good we should expect a perfectly good being to want to actualize. And that explains why God wants us to worship him.

The fine-tuning argument also tells us that there was an engineer, but it doesn't tell us how that engineer got its design into the universe. That is answered by the KCA. The design got its way into the universe through the creation of the universe. If the universe hadn't been created, it's hard to see how it could've been designed.

The moral argument tells us there is an absolute moral authority. But what kind of being could possibly have that kind of authority? Well, that is answered by the KCA and the argument from contingency. According to these arguments, there is a being that is the ultimate source of everything else that exists. Everything else owes its existence to a necessary being. Reality revolves around that being. It's hard to think of anything else that would suffice as a ground for objective moral truths that apply to all humans across all cultures, no matter where they travel.

Given how these various arguments compliment each other, it's probable that they each refer to the same being. The creator of the universe is the same person as the moral authority, and that's the same person who designed the universe. If these arguments are sound, then there is a necessary personal being who is the absolute foundational ground of all reality, who is spaceless, timeless, immaterial, sentient, intelligent, and morally perfect with absolute sovereignty, autonomy, and moral authority who designed the universe so that it would be habitible by living creatures capable of moral awareness and agency, and brought that universe into being out of nothing, and who rules and governs the universe by imposing moral obligations on its creation, and by investing creatures with moral knowledge so that they can know what is required of them.

That still doesn't prove it's the Abrahamic God, but considering how well it coheres with the Abrahamic God, it ought to make us suspicious. This suspicion should be heightened when we consider the fact that it was not because of these arguments that the Jewish people came up with YHWH. There are many gods in many religions, and there are many origin stories, but hardly any of them have an ultimate, necessary, absolutely sovereign, and morally perfect being who brought the universe into existence out of absolutely nothing. Most creation accounts involve a god who is not without peers who built the cosmos, or some part of it, out of pre-existing material, and they are almost never morally perfect beings. If the Jewish people came up with a God that resembles the God of the philosophers in so many ways, then it's either a huge coincidence, and they made a lucky guess, or else this God revealed himself to them during their history. So although this may not prove with any certainty that the God of the philosophers is the Abrahamic God, it seems likely that that would be the case. At the very least, it should give us reason to look into Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, or any other religion that has a god who coheres as nicely with the conclusion of these arguments.

Here's a couple of other posts I made on this same subject:

"Deism and philosophical arguments for God"

"Natural theology, deism, and theism again"

Tuesday, March 30, 2021


I used to read the Proverbs a lot when I was a kid and into my 20's. It was one of my favourite books in the Bible. I thiink everybody should read it whether they are a Christian or not, because it can inspire you to be a more virtuous person. You may not even agree with all of them, but you can still get something out of it.

The Proverbs have something for everybody. I think almost anybody who reads the Proverbs will find some that address their own vices. So if you're lazy, dishonest, prideful, stubborn, unreasonable, prone to anger, or you talk too much, there's a Proverb for you.

The other day, I was feeling angry about something. I don't remember what it was. But I was so rattled, I read Proverbs 10 through 30 in one sitting. There were lots of Proverbs about anger. For example, "A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult." Reading things like that make me want to be the wise man. I find it calming. It gives me that extra incentive I need to strive to be patient, slow to anger, etc.

So I highly recommend reading the Proverbs. You are bound to find yourself in there somewhere. When I was younger, I would put a mark besides some of the Proverbs that jumped out at me, and I'd go back and read them later. Sometimes I'd quote them in discussions with other people, and eventually I'd have them memorized without even trying. Memorizing them brings them to mind whenever there's a situation in the real world where they apply.

The only liability with reading the Proverbs is that sometimes you recognize not only yourself, but also some of your family and friends. That can lead you to be judgmental. So you have to be careful with that. Otherwise, it's a great collection of Proverbs, and I highly recommend it.

The first time I read the Proverbs, it was in the NIV. I memorized a lot of them in the NIV, but then I read them in the NKJV. I had one of those little New Testaments they pass out on college campuses that include the Psalms and Proverbs. I used to sneak it to work with me and read the Proverbs when I could. I ended up memorizing a lot of them in the NKJV, too. Now-a-days, I read the NASB. Some of them aren't quite as pithy or memorable in the NASB. That may just be because they're not what I'm used to. I don't know. But it seems easier to read them in the NASB and not be sure what you just read. But give it a go, whether you have the NASB, ESV, NIV, RSV, NRSV, or NKJV, you'll probably get something valuable out of it.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Catholic Tradition

Whereas Protestants think the Bible is the only source of God-breathed information available to the whole church, Catholics think both the Bible and Tradition are God-breathed sources of information available to the whole church. Tradition is supposed to exist alongside the Bible and be equally authoritative.

Let's grant for the sake of argument that there was an oral Tradition in the early Church that was every bit as authoritative as the written scriptures. It's not an unreasonable thing to believe because (1) we know there were oral Traditions because some of them are quoted in the New Testament (e.g. 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 & 15:3-5), and (2) Paul tells the Thessalonians to hold firm to the Traditions they were taught whether by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thessalonians 2:15). I get the impression from passages like 1 Corinthians 11:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:15, and 2 Thessalonians 3:6 that oral tradition was the primary way Paul conveyed essential Christian doctrines to the churches he established. The letters always came after the new Christians had already been taught what Christianity was all about. Paul sometimes quotes oral traditions to remind people of what they had already recieved. There were probably a lot more oral traditions than what got quoted in Paul's letters. So I don't think it's unreasonable to believe that besides the written words of the Bible, there is also an oral Tradition that's just as authoritative.

But that isn't any reason to think Catholic Tradition carries the same authority as the Bible. In the case of the Bible, if we want to know what was originally written, we have to use the tools of textual criticism. Thankfully, we've got lots of copies we can compare, and that allows us to reconstruct with a good degree of confidence what was in the originals. But whatever oral Traditions there were in the first century obviously weren't preserved in the same way or even in an analogous way. If they were, we should expect the Catholic Church to be able to give us a written collection of these oral traditions. Or, if we accept the Catholic idea of apostolic succession, we could ask all the Bishops of the Catholic church to write down the oral traditions they received, then we can compare them to each other and reconstruct the original wording.

But it looks like none of the oral Traditions that supposedly existed were preserved in their original wording. The wording is completely lost. Now, what the Catholic Church appears to mean by "Tradition" is not a fixed memorized oral Tradition, but an interpretation of those original oral Traditions. The doctrines of the Catholic church, however they are explained and conveyed, are supposed to capture what the oral Traditions taught. How can we know that the interpretation is correct if we can't go back to the original wording? In the case of the Bible, we can at least go back to the original wording if we want to settle disputes about interpretation.

Well, it turns out that the Catholic Church claims to have interpretative authority that applies both to Tradition and to Scripture. I'll come back to this in a minute.

The idea that Tradition has been preserved in an oral form by passing it down from one Bishop to another or one Pope to another is a myth. There are no fixed oral traditions in the sense that Paul quoted them in the New Tesatment. They are all lost. All we have are the Scriptures. And besides that, if there were some fixed collection of oral Traditions that were accuratedly passed down from one Pope to the next Pope, we should expect more uniformity from Pope to Pope. The reality is that there have been Popes who were heretical. There's no point at which an out-going Pope sits down with an in-coming Pope and hands down oral Traditions they received from the previous Pope. That doesn't happen with Bishops either. Usually, a Pope dies, and the Cardinals vote a new Pope in, so the out-going Pope doesn't even know who the in-coming Pope is going to be. How can they pass down Tradition in the idealized way Catholics portray it happening?

It is hard to look at the history of the Church and believe there was this unbroken passing down of a fixed oral Tradition that's just as reliable as the written words of Scripture.

Nevermind for the moment whether Sola Scriptura is theologically correct. It strikes me as being necessary on a practical level. We know what the New Testament originally said because of how it was preserved. We have nothing comparable with oral Tradition. So even if there was oral Tradition that carried the same weight as Scripture in the earliest years of the Church, that oral Tradition is lost. It's possible that some of the teachings of the Catholic Church are reflections of an ancient Tradition that used to be passed on by word of mouth, but there's no way to confirm it with any degree of confidence. Without being able to confirm it with any degree of confidence, it can't carry the same authority as Scripture.

Catholics trust both oral Tradition and the written scriptures because of a third source of authority, namely the teaching magisterium of the Church itself. But why think the Catholic Church has this authority? Well, that's because of Scripture and Tradition. Yes, it is circular reasoning, as I explained in this post.

Catholics think Sola Scriptura is problematic because before you can know which writings are Scripture, you need an outside source of authority. They have the Church, but the protestants don't. This assumption is what leads Catholics to circular reasoning. If you need one source of divine authority in order to tell you about another source of divine authority, then you've either got to engage in circular reasoning or else an infinite regress of divine sources of authority. The only way to break out of that is to argue for a divine source of authority using premises that are not divinely inspired. That's essentially what protestants do. When the church tried to settle disputes about canonicity, they used arguments, not fiat. Protestants accept the canon because we believe the best arguments won out, not because the Church is infalliable. If Catholics try to establish the authority of one of their sources (the Bible, Tradition, or the teaching magiesterium), not by appeal to another source of divine authority, but by using reason, evidence, and argument, then they are basically arguing like protestants, and they have lost their basis for objecting to Sola Scriptura or for saying potestants can't know the canon.

James White accuses Catholics of subscribing, in practice, to Sola Ecclesia--the Church is the sole infalliable rule of faith. I think he's got a point. From a Catholic point of view, it all goes back to the teaching magisterium of the Church. That's what tells us what writings are Scripture, what they mean, and what is contained in Tradition and what it means. If Scripture and Tradition are subordinate to the Church (since the Church determines what Scripture and Tradition are and what they mean), then for all practical purposes, Catholics subscribe to Sola Ecclesia. But, as soon as they try to establish the authority of the Church by appealing to Scripture and Tradition, they are engaging in circular reasoning, and I'm not sure you can accuse them of Sola Ecclesia anymore.

If we accept the divine authority of the teaching magisterium of the Church, then the accurate preservation of Scripture and Tradition shouldn't matter that much. The Church knows correct doctrine even if it has forgotten the original wording. As far as I know, the Church doesn't claim to have an infallible critical text of the New Testament. They still rely on secular fallible means of preservation. We can know the original wording only insofar as we can use textual criticism to reconstruct it, and the Church doesn't claim this process is infallible. All they claim that's infallible is what the Church claims the Scriptures teach. But just as they lack the original wording of the oral Traditions and have preserved only the teachings supposedly contained in those Traditions, so also could they preserve the teachings of the New Testament without having the actual New Testament. The wording of the New Tesatment is really secondary when it comes to sound doctrine. It all basically comes down to what the Catholic Church teaches, and not to the original wording of the Bible or the oral Traditions. That's Sola Eccelsia.

I had more to say, but after taking a break, I've forgotten what it was. Maybe I'll edit this post later if it comes back to me.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Knowingly doing something wrong

There have been a handful of times when I've run into somebody who could not wrap their head around the idea that somebody would do something wrong if they knew it was wrong. Two of them thought it was impossible. Just as they could not wrap their heads around such a thing, I could not wrap my head around how they could think such a thing. It seemed obvious to me that people can knowingly do what is wrong. I've done things I knew were wrong. Who hasn't? I remember talking to somebody about this a couple of years ago, and both of us were dumbfounded at each other. It made me wonder if there was some big misundertsanding going on. How could he be unaware of something that was so obvious to me? Or how could I be unaware of something that was so obvious to him?

Anywho, I was just watching This Crime Watch Daily video on YouTube about a murder for hire plot. There was one part of it that caught my attention. The woman who was hiring an undercover cop to kill her husband said, "This is such a horrible thing to do," and yet there she was doing it. Clearly, she was doing something wrong, and she knew it was wrong.

If you are reasding this, and you are one of those people who doesn't think a person can knowingly do something they think is wrong, can you explain this to me? I feel like there's something I'm missing. Nevermind the fact that I disagree with it. I wonder if I've just got some kind of misunderstanding about what people mean when they say they hold this position because it seems so obviously and demonstrably false to me.