Wednesday, October 22, 2014


i) I'd like to make a brief observation about the culture wars. Not winning isn't the same thing as losing. For instance, we didn't win the Korean, Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan wars. But we didn't lose. In the last three wars, we simply gave up. All four wars ended in stalemate. We couldn't win, but as long as we were there, the enemy couldn't win, either. 

Now, my point is not to comment on the wisdom of those war efforts. Rather, I'm using that as an illustration. Not winning the culture wars isn't the same as losing the culture wars. A stalemate is better than losing. Never surrender unless and until you're defeated.

ii) Liberals are perpetual malcontents. They see something wrong with the world everywhere the look. Fixing the world is a full-time job. Liberals are chronically dissatisfied with the way things are. They lurch from one cause to another. It's like an addiction. As a result, liberals have something to offend everyone. Sooner or later they alienate every voting block. 

Take the food police. Take Mayor Bloomberg's ill-fated ban on jumbo soft drinks.

Or take attempts to sexually integrate contact sports. 

Or take transgender policies, which give grown men the right to use the locker rooms of women and girls. 

Just watch how that plays out.

Consider the havoc that transgender policies can wreak in medicine. 

You also have factions within the liberal movement. Take environmentalists. When wild animals (e.g. deer, rabbits, squirrels) lack natural predators, they multiply to the point where they destroy habitat. That creates a war between the tree-huggers and the animal rights activists. 

iii) The future is predictably unpredictable. Today's losing team may be tomorrow's winning team. Don't count yourself out. 

The sugar-plum tree by the lollipop sea

Michael Kruger's review of Peter Enns new book was posted both at his own blog and cross posted at TGC. I'm going to remark on some of the comments left at the latter site. Some commenters rehash the same issues I dealt with in response to Lydia McGrew, so I'm ignoring those comments. 
Context is important. But some actions are immoral no matter the context. 


A man forcing a woman to have sex with him is rape even if it occurs in the context of marriage. 

Since marriage implies a general consent to conjugal actives, that's not the best example. I'm not saying there's no such thing as spousal rape, but that's not a clear comparison. 

Is there any context where killing infants and children is morally justified? I say, "No." In every other situation, you (I hope) would agree.

No, I don't agree. 

Can you say that God directly wipes out a civilization with a natural disaster?

Well, by definition, if God does it through a natural medium, then that's indirect. 

Did God send the current Ebola outbreak on the West Africans? That seems quite presumptuous. 

That deliberately obfuscates two distinct issues: are some natural disasters divine judgments? Yes. Apart from divine revelation, are we in a position to say a natural disaster is divine judgment? No. 

If you were to agree that God did directly send a natural disaster, than it would seem to be fighting against God to clean up afterwards. Why would we want to find against God, if God sent that tsunami?

Once again, that would be a case of mediate rather than immediate divine action. More to the point, Caleb seems to be riffing off of the false dilemma in Camus's The Plague. The alleged dilemma is that if a natural disaster (like contagion) represents divine judgment, then it would be impious to aid the victims. However, that's a false dilemma:

i) Apart from revelation, we don't know that any particular natural evil is divine judgment. 

ii) Even collective judgment doesn't assume every victim is guilty. 

iii) If we are able to counteract the natural disaster, then it was never God's intention to kill the people we save. Unless you think God is incompetent. We can't thwart God even if we tried.

iv) Natural evils can also function as a God-given opportunity for God's people to minister to victims. Model God's grace and mercy. Be at our best when times are at their worst. 

Only giving me these 2 options is a false dichotomy. Scripture could be accurate, but it could be accurately reporting what the ancient Israelites believed God was telling them to do. 

That's the secular explanation. God doesn't speak to man. Rather, man speaks about God. That simply denies the fundamental status of Judeo-Christian faith as a revealed religion. It amounts to pious atheism.  

Or as Adam has mentioned elsewhere in this thread, I could follow Origin and other early Church Fathers and allegorical [sic] these passages. They believed the Scripture is accurate, but it must be interpreted properly.

Allegorizing passages you find offensive is a transparently makeshift solution. 

Evangelical questions [sic] often condemn abortion as inherently immoral.

Prolifers often allow some exceptions. 

If that is indeed the case, then one should also condemn the killing of infants and toddlers as inherently immoral.

Unless there is divine authorization. 

But this is just what these passages have YHWH commanding the Israelites to do. If the the killing of infants is always wrong, then what the Israelites did (or are portrayed as doing) is also wrong. 

Taking a false premise to a logical conclusion. 

Someone who would argue that there are situations when the killing of infants is justified, in my mind, has lost all ethical credibility.

As if his approval is the standard of comparison. 

All ancient civilizations were barbaric and corrupt compared to societies today. 

I don't think modern societies are less barbaric than ancient societies. Especially modern societies that secularize.

My question for Kruger is this, "Is genocide ever morally justified?" If his response is a qualified yes, (i.e. Yes, if God commanded it) as appears from this review, than he has lost all moral credibility to speak. 

Lost all credibility to whom? To people like Caleb? Who made Caleb the arbiter of right and wrong?

I encourage all readers to check out Randel Rauser's essays on this issue. Rauser is himself a Christian apologist, so you cannot accuse him of trying to undermine Christianity.

Rauser's a flaming liberal. 
Adam Omelianchuk 

"I suppose Enns could say he doesn’t need to justify why “genocide” is wrong—it’s just obvious to everyone (which is also Dawkins’s argument). But why should Enns get a philosophical “pass” on such a fundamental issue like the foundation for ethics, especially if his main argument is an ethical one?"
I wouldn't think he gets a "pass" on the "foundation for ethics"--but one doesn't need that to have a justified belief that genocide is wrong. That much is a moral datum, and if your moral theory can't explain why its wrong, then so much the worse for the moral theory.

Ah, yes, truth by definition. Just call your own position a "moral datum." 

Isn't Omelianchuk a lapsed Calvinist? Striking how often, when people leave Calvinism behind, that's not all they leave behind.

What does he even mean by "bludgeoning babies"? Does the OT contain a divine command to bludgeon babies? 

Perhaps he's alluding to Ps 137:9. If so, even liberal commentators like Goldingay regard that imagery as figurative.

Sure, it gets " more complex," alright, especially when you have to claim that bludgeoning babies, who are made in the image of God (as Scripture claims), is not necessarily or even intrinsically wrong, and that your best evidence for that claim are a few Ancient Near Eastern conquest narratives (for which there is no archaeological backing).

i) So, like Enns, he denies the historicity of Biblical narratives. 

ii) Why think we need archeological corroboration for every event in Scripture? Why think that's a reasonable expectation? 

iii) What's the archeological backing for the Incarnation or Resurrection? 

It gets even more complex when you have to claim that loving one's enemies, a command Christ clearly endorsed, is supposed to be compatible with that sort of thing.

i) Loving one's enemies is not the only command that Christ clearly endorsed. And keep in mind that Christ is the eschatological judge of God's enemies. 

ii) Death is not inherently unloving. Moreover, if God intended to save Canaanites babies, that would be the retroactive effect of Christ's life and death. But if the Israelites were unable to defend themselves, Jesus would never come on the scene. 

Of course, it is doubtful that any such account could undermine our justification for believing genocide (in which baby-bludgeoning occurs) is always wrong and for placing a heavy burden of proof on those who would say otherwise.

Once again, notice the tactic. He stipulates that the burden of proof is on his opponents. Pure sophistry. 

Here's the problem: If you are right, then the belief that bludgeoning babies is not intrinsically wrong is a matter of Christian commitment…

What about babies who die of natural causes (e.g. malaria)? God is the ultimate cause of their demise. 

…and that to follow Christ is to view such an act as morally neutral in itself; it is wrong (or right) only when God says something about it. Do you really believe that? 

I don't really believe it because it's a malicious caricature. 

Funny how he spurns divine command theory, yet he himself presumes to dictate what is good and evil. 

In any case, I cannot believe that genocide is not intrinsically wrong and if that is what is required of me to gain the whole Bible, then I will have to forfeit my soul by forcing myself to believe something I surely don't. That is just dishonest, and I doubt God would be honored by that.

God is dishonored by his false dichotomy. 

Believe me I would love to reconcile this problem, but I will follow Origen and go allegorical before I ever entertain the belief that genocide is not intrinsically wrong.

He's just being willful. And while he's at is, why not allegorize the miracles of Christ? Why not allegorize the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, and Parousia. 

I'm struck by the compartmentalized faith of people like Omelianchuk. They want to reduce the Bible to the sugar-plum tree by the lollipop sea. A sweet, inoffensive book. 

Yet the moment they put the book down and step outside, the real world doesn't look anything like the sugar-plum tree by the lollipop sea. 

Tradition or truth?

I'm going to comment on this interview:

I have had a serious interest in Reformed history and theology for a long time. In the last decade I've been drawn to marginal or less-well-known figures in the Reformed tradition, and have been writing about them (e.g. William Shedd, John Williamson Nevin, John McLeod Campbell, John Girardeau, John Davenant, Donald Baillie, and so on).

There's a reason for that. Most of them aren't exactly topnotch.  

But there is a constellation of divines who are part of our tradition, and whose work informs and fructifies it, e.g. Zwingli, Calvin, Cranmer, Turretin, Ames, Preston, Owen, Schleiermacher, Edwards, Hodge, Barth, and so on. 

I'm puzzled by why he'd included Schleiermacher. Also, although Barth was in dialogue with Calvinism, he wasn't a Calvinist. Barth has a very idiosyncratic theology. A one-man vision. 

For instance, Huldrych Zwingli believed that we are not culpable for being born with original sin, and that God graciously saves humans who have not heard the name of Christ. 

But, of course, Zwingli was one of the very first Protestants. We'd expect Reformed theology to become more reflective, sophisticated, and internally consistent/developed with the passage of time. 

One of the aims of the book is to challenge some of the ways in which this narrative is sometimes presented--as if there is only one acceptable Reformed view about the ordering of God's decrees, about what God intends in salvation, about the scope of salvation, and about the number of the elect. 

One basic problem with how he frames the issue is his failure to distinguish between how we draw the boundaries of Reformed tradition and how we draw the boundaries of theological truth. Shouldn't our primary concern be with the correct "ordering of God's decrees,  what God intends in salvation, the scope of salvation, and the number of the elect"? Shouldn't our theology aim to match reality? 

I discuss various issues in the neighborhood of these claims. For instance, the worry about eternal justification: is my election and justification eternally decreed so that my change of heart on coming to Christ is merely an epistemic matter, or is such a view inherently antinomian? 

That's confused. As the divine act of a timeless God, justification is, in that respect, eternal. However, God has decreed to effect justification in time. Justification is contingent on faith. 

Or, to take another issue, must those who adopt a Reformed or broadly Augustinian account of the divine decrees hold to the notion that only a tiny remnant of humanity is saved, or is this scheme consistent with universalism, the doctrine that all are saved by the work of Christ?

i) That's a gross false dichotomy. Are these the only two alternatives? Either God saves everyone or else God only saves a "tiny remnant" of humanity? 

ii) Moreover, this isn't just a question of ideas, but truth. Yes, it's antecedently possible for God to save everyone. But the real issue is what God has, in fact, decided to do.   

Are we determined to act as we do by God in every single action we perform, or is the Reformed doctrine of bondage to sin consistent with some robust account of human freedom that, in some instances, includes a notion of alternate possibilities?

That's confused:

i) Spiritual inability due to original sin is different from inability to act contrary to what God predestined. Apart from the fall, it would still be impossible to act contrary to what God predestined.

ii) Reformed theology allows for alternate possibilities, but those are ultimately divine options. 

Finally, is it the case that to be Reformed one must opt for the view that the atonement is particular and definite in scope and intention? 

Again, is he asking how broadly/narrowly we should define Reformed tradition, or what is the true scope and intention of the atonement? 


Over at the Secular Outpost, atheist Jeff Lowder approvingly posted this abstract, with a link to the full article:

Abstract. Some people feel threatened by the thought that life might have arisen by chance. What is it about “chance” that some people find so threatening? If life originated by chance, this suggests that life was unintended and that it was not inevitable. It is ironic that people care about whether life in general was intended, but may not have ever wondered whether their own existence was intended by their parents. If it does not matter to us whether one’s own existence was intended, as will be hypothesized, then why should it matter whether there was some remote intent behind the creation of the first unicellular organism(s) billions of years ago? I will discuss three possible scenarios by which life might have originated. I will then argue that, in regard to whether one’s individual life can be meaningful, it does not matter whether life was intended or arose by chance. If complex life was unintended and is rare in this universe, this is not a reason to disparage life, but a reason to appreciate and value our existence.

It's unclear why Jeff finds that's impressive:

i) To begin with, chance really is threatening. In a chance universe, you can suddenly be wiped out for absolutely no good reason. And not just individuals, but the human race. A solar flare might incinerate life on earth. So there's reason to feel insecure. 

ii) However, Trisel seems to be focussed on chance in relation to human significance. He goes on to say: 

Your birth into this world was solely dependent on the actions of human beings (i.e., your parents). 

His analogy is shortsighted. Speaking as a Calvinist, although my parents did not intend my specific existence, God intended my specific existence. God used my parents as the means of creating me. And not just some human being. But the unique, particular human being who is me. And not just my existence, but what I'd do with my life. 

So my birth is not solely dependent on the actions of my parents. To the contrary, it's dependent on a long complex chain of events which God planned and providentially executed.  

Albert Einstein is often mentioned as someone who led a meaningful life. In judging whether his life was meaningful, no one would ever ask “Was his existence intended?” Whether or not a person’s existence was intended is irrelevant to whether this person’s life is meaningful.

To the contrary, if we're doomed to extinction by cosmic heat death, if there's no memory of our achievements or discoveries, then it's all ultimately meaningless. 

However, as I argue in a companion article in this issue, God has not clearly informed us of his purpose or our role in carrying out this purpose. 

i) To begin with, that's equivocal. My life can have a divine purpose even if I'm in the dark regarding my purpose in life. I can do God's will without knowing in advance what his will for my life is. Indeed, I discover God's plan for my life everyday. That's something I perceive in retrospect.

ii) Moreover, this life is not all there is. Some Christians may lead lives that seem to be pointless. They don't understand why certain tragedies befall them. It's only in the afterlife that they will learn how their life furthered God's plan.

We need not feel threatened if life arose by chance. There are many natural occurrences that people value, not because they were intended and it was inevitable that they would occur, but for the opposite reasons. They are valued, in part, because it was highly improbable that they would occur, which makes them special. One such occurrence that comes to mind is the natural emergence of rainbows.

i) In relation to Reformed theism, natural occurrences like rainbows are both divinely intended and inevitable. 

ii) Something can rare can still be inevitable. 

iii) Yes, an atheist may value rainbows. If, however, he asks himself why he values rainbows, that's because a blind physical determinism programmed him to value rainbows. 


A generally good article. 

I don't agree with Last that this is a reason to "panic." For one thing, it's very unpredictable. It may burn itself out. 

Moreover, I'm fatalistic about these things. I have no control over whether or not there will be an ebola epidemic in the US. So "panic" is futile. It doesn't change whatever the outcome will be. 

He does, however, raise some valid issues.  

“Obama is a Republican”

A liberal friend linked to this “American Conservative” article on Facebook, which is provocatively entitled, “Obama is a Republican” by Bruce Bartlett.

I disagreed with him that Obama was anything like a Republican on “social issues”, but I may have been wrong about that (my point now being that there are many unhelpful Republicans). Bartlett continues:

In my opinion, Obama has governed as a moderate conservative—essentially as what used to be called a liberal Republican before all such people disappeared from the GOP. He has been conservative to exactly the same degree that Richard Nixon basically governed as a moderate liberal, something no conservative would deny today. (Ultra-leftist Noam Chomsky recently called Nixon “the last liberal president.”)

Here’s the proof:

And he goes on to list a number of items wherein Obama has either willingly or fecklessly been “helpful”:

Bibliography: “Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview”

Jacob Aitken has helpfully compiled the Bibliography (or a large portion of it, anyway) from Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview [“Craig and Moreland (2003): 627-639”].

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Darwinian Bourne Legacy

Over at The Secular Outpost, Jeff Lowder has been conducting a rearguard action to shore up the flagging fortunes of secular ethics. For instance, he posted Quentin Smith's attack on theistic ethics. Problem is, Smith's post is just a crude version of the Euthyphro Dilemma, and as I recently documented, even a prominent secular ethicist like Richard Joyce doesn't consider conventional formulations of the Euthyphro Dilemma to be sound. So Jeff is just kicking up a dust cloud to obscure the issue. 

Aside: isn’t it amazing how apologists like William Lane Craig will quote Michael Ruse to make an argument from authority to support the claim that atheism leads to nihilism, but then conveniently ignore the fact that equally well qualified authorities disagree with Ruse?

I don't know why Jeff assumes that's an argument from authority. Speaking for myself, when I cite Ruse on moral nihilism, my appeal is not an argument from authority. Rather, I have different reasons:

i) Many atheists are blissfully unaware of the fact that many atheist philosophers reject moral realism on secular grounds. They think that's just an ignorant or malicious caricature of atheism by Christians. They think we're slandering atheists. In that regard, it's useful to show them that this isn't just a Christian characterization of what atheism leads to. Rather, many noted secular philosophers concede that consequence. So this is to correct their ignorance of what their own side is saying.

ii) Apropos (i), I've seen many atheists confuse moral psychology with moral ontology. They infer that because evolutionary psychology can account for our moral instincts, that's sufficient to ground right and wrong. 

iii) I don't merely cite Ruse for his opinion. Ruse presents supporting arguments for his position. So that's not an argument from authority. 

Jeff quotes him saying:

My claim is that the recognition of morality as merely a biological adaptation shows that there can be no foundation of the kind traditionally sought, whether by evolutionists, Christians or others!

I think Jeff then misconstrues Ruse's argument because Jeff overlooks an unstated presupposition of Ruse's argument. Remember that naturalistic evolution is Ruse's frame of reference. Now, if theistic evolution were true, then some biological adaptations might be morally normative. But he's not considering the issue from that vantage-point. 

In addition, I disagree with Jeff's interpretation of Ruse's argument. At the bottom of this post I will quote Ruse. Here's my interpretation of Ruse's argument:

Evolution brainwashes us into believing that certain behavior is right or wrong. This confers a survival advantage on the species. 

But there's a catch. Brainwashing only works so long as the test-subject is oblivious to the fact that he's been brainwashed. If he becomes aware of the experiment, then he's in a position to break the programming. He may not be able to change what he perceives or feels about morality. It may be like a phobia or optical illusion. You can't suppress it, but you can override it.

Unlike other animals, humans are smart enough to reflect on the fact that our moral instincts have been programmed into us by an amoral, unintelligent process. At that point, we're in a position to realize that what we took to be right and wrong is a psychological projection rather than a moral fact. There is no particular way things are supposed to be. 

Here's Ruse in his own words:

I think I would still say—part of my position on morality is very much that we regard morality in some sense as being objective, even if it isn’t. So the claim that we intuit morality as objective reality—I would still say that. Of course, what I would want to add is that from the fact that we do this, it doesn’t follow that morality really is objective.

I’m saying that if in fact you’re Christian then you believe you were made in the image of God. And that means—and this is traditional Christian theology—that means that you have intelligence and self-awareness and moral ability… it’s a very important part of Christianity that our intelligence is not just a contingent thing, but is in fact that which makes us in the image of God.

What I would argue is that the connection between Darwinism and ethics is not what the traditional social Darwinian argues. He or she argues that evolution is progressive, humans came out on top and therefore are a good thing, hence we should promote evolution to keep humans up there and to prevent decline. I think that is a straight violation of the is/ought dichotomy…I take Hume’s Law to be the claim that you cannot go from statements of fact—“Duke University is the school attended by Eddy Nahmias”—to statements of value—“Duke University is an excellent school.”

Ed [Edward O. Wilson] does violate Hume’s Law, and no matter what I say he cannot see that there is anything wrong in doing this. It comes from his commitment to the progressive nature of evolution. No doubt he would normally say that one should not go from “is” to “ought”—for example from “I like that student” to “It is OK to have sex with her, even though I am married.” But in this case of *evolution* he allows it. If you say to him, “But ‘ought’ statements are not like ‘is’ statements,” he replies that in science, when we have reduction, we do this all the time, going from one kind of statement to another kind of statement. We start talking about little balls buzzing in a container and end talking about temperature and pressure. No less a jump than going from “is” to “ought.”

My position is that the ethical sense can be explained by Darwinian evolution—the ethical sense is an adaptation to keep us social. More than this, I argue that sometimes (and this is one of those times), when you give an account of the way something occurs and is as it is, this is also to give an explanation of its status. I think that once you see that ethics is simply an adaptation, you see that it has no justification. It just is. So in metaethics[4] I am a nonrealist. I think ethics is an illusion put into place by our genes to keep us social.

I distinguish normative ethics from metaethics. In normative ethics I think evolution can go a long way to explain our feelings of obligation: be just, be fair, treat others like yourself. We humans are social animals and we need these sentiments to get on. I like John Rawls’s[5] thinking on this. On about page 500 of his Theory of Justice book, Rawls says he thinks the social contract was put in place by evolution rather than by a group of old men many years ago. Then in metaethics, I think we see that morality is an adaptation merely and hence has no justification. Having said this, I agree with the philosopher J.L Mackie[6] (who influenced me a lot) that we feel the need to “objectify” ethics. If we did not think ethics was objective, it would collapse under cheating.

If we knew that it was all just subjective, and we felt that, then of course we’d start to cheat. If I thought there was no real reason not to sleep with someone else’s wife and that it was just a belief system put in place to keep me from doing it, then I think the system would start to break down. And if I didn’t share these beliefs, I’d say to hell with it, I’m going to do it. So I think at some level, morality has to have some sort of, what should I say, some sort of force. Put it this way, I shouldn’t cheat, not because I can’t get away with it, or maybe I *can* get away with it, but because it is fundamentally wrong.

We’re like dogs, social animals, and so we have morality and this part of the phenomenology of morality, how it appears to us, that it is not subjective, that we think it *is* objective…So I think ethics is essentially subjective but it appears to us as objective and this appearance, too, is an adaptation.

Within the system, of course, rape is objectively wrong—just like three strikes and you are out in baseball. But I’m a nonrealist, so ultimately there is no objective right and wrong for me. Having said that, I *am* part of the system and cannot escape. The truth does not necessarily make you free.

There is no ultimate truth about morality. It is an invention—an invention of the genes rather than of humans, and we cannot change games at will, as one might baseball if one went to England and played cricket. Within the system, the human moral system, it is objectively true that rape is wrong. That follows from the principles of morality and from human nature. If our females came into heat, it would not necessarily be objectively wrong to rape—in fact, I doubt we would have the concept of rape at all. So, within the system, I can justify. But I deny that human morality at the highest level—love your neighbor as yourself, etc.—is justifiable. That is why I am not deriving “is” from “ought,” in the illicit sense of justification. I am deriving it in the sense of explaining *why we have* moral sentiments, but that is a different matter.

I think ultimately there is nothing—moral nihilism, if you wish.

Helm reviews Crisp

The dog that didn't bark

I'll make a few comments on Tremper Longman's latest post.

The letter I quoted from Chris raises serious doubts about Lillback’s description and questions about the appropriateness of the President of Westminster’s actions. I sent personal copies to Lillback, Dunahoo, Trueman, and Jue (as I will this one). I did receive an acknowledgement and even a thank you for sending it from President Lillback, but no attempt to defend his interpretation over against Chris Fantuzzo’s.
i) To begin with, why does Longman think Lillback owes him an explanation? It's none of his business. 
ii) More to the point, Longman has already tried to do everything he can to discredit Lillback. So why does he turn around and demand another explanation from Lillback? Since he doesn't trust Lillback, he wouldn't trust any additional explanation that Lillback proffers. Why does he continue to demand answers from someone he assures us is not believable? If he doesn't think Lillback is credible, he's determined in advanced that Lillback's explanations lack credibility. 
Longman has rigged the game. By concluding that Lilback is not a credible source, any further dialogue is futile: "I don't believe a word you say. Now explain yourself!" 
Let’s remember that Doug Green has served in the Old Testament department with great distinction for about two decades. 
That's Longman's rosy assessment. But the current WTS board/administration clearly has a less laudatory view. 
Also, the board fully affirmed Doug’s compliance with the Seminary’s theological position in relationship to the Westminster Standards (and even the narrow interpretive lens provided by the Affirmations and Denials) in 2009. But now Doug is deemed by Lillback as taking “exceptions to the Seminary’s views.”
The composition of the board changes over time.
President Lillback's statement also makes the public debate over the Psalm 23 article completely irrelevant.
True. Green's defenders (e.g. Longman, Bonomo) wasted lots of time on the wrong target. 
I'd like to finish with a general observation: to my knowledge, Green and Fantuzzo have never publicly distanced themselves from Enns. Why not? No one is stopping them. That's the dog that didn't bark. 
If they have fundamental disagreements with Enns, it would have been in their self-interest to disassociate their own position from Enns's when they were still fighting to keep their old jobs. Why didn't they? 
If, in fact, they are quite sympathetic to Enns's position, then it would be dishonorable for them to give him up to save their own hides. It might even be risky. He might have email from them which would document their sympathies. 
But if their view of Scripture is very different from, they had everything to gain and nothing to lose by publicly differentiating their position from his. So why the deafening silence?
Futuzzo has now written two open letters complaining about his mistreatment at the hands of the current WTS regime. What's striking is that he hasn't taken the occasion to state his view of Scripture. Nothing prevents him from running through a checklist of hot button issues on the historicity, morality, and foresight of the OT. 

Feminism vs. truth

The Authority of Scripture and the Science of Theology in the 13th Century

More from Muller:

The doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture stood, in the systems of the great thirteenth-century scholastics, Alexander of Hales, Bonaventure, Albert the Great, and Thomas Aquinas, in a profound and crucial relationship to the emerging concept of theology as a science.

Inasmuch as a science consists in a knowledge of first principles and of the conclusions that can be drawn from them, the issue of certainty in theology is crucial to the conduct of the discipline.

Logically derived conclusions, no matter how expert and precise the logic, cannot be endowed with certainty unless certainty is known to reside in the principles from which they have been drawn.

Wheels within wheels

Christian artists and commentators often scratch their heads over the wheels in Ezekiel's inaugural vision of the theophany in chapter 1. They find it perplexing to visualize how the wheels mesh. There could be two possible explanations for their perplexity:

i) Maybe Ezekiel hasn't furnished enough specific information to enable us to visualize the wheels. If we just had more detailed description, it would suddenly become clear–even obvious. 

ii) Perhaps, though, there really is something incoherent about the wheels. This is, after all, a vision. These aren't physical wheels. Rather, the theophany is a play of light. So the wheels could be an optical illusion. 

M. C. Escher devised witty and ingenious depictions of impossible spatial arrangements. It seems counterintuitive that we could see something that's impossible, yet Escher pulls it off. 

iii) Assuming that what Ezekiel saw confounds sense and reason, that may point to the mystery of the Godhead. Even when God reveals himself, there are dimensions to God's nature which remain concealed to human understanding. 

Compare canine intelligence to human intelligence. Dogs can understand some of the same things humans can. Yet there are many things we can understand that are utterly incomprehensible to a dog. Canine intelligence is quite limited. And just as a dog quickly hits a cognitive wall, so do we. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

In the Director's chair

From time to time, Hollywood directors film parts of the Bible. Usually the Gospels, or Genesis, Exodus, Judges, and 1-2 Samuel. These cinematic adaptions of Scripture are widely variable in quality (not to mention orthodoxy). Sometimes they're visually impressive. Sometimes campy, subversive, or banal. Needless to say, most Hollywood directors aren't orthodox Christians, so they're not concerned with accuracy. 

That said, it's actually a useful exercise for a Christian to put himself in the director's chair when reading the Bible. By that I mean, a director who films the Bible has to visualize what the narrative is describing. He must make judgment calls on how it happened. 

If we take the Bible seriously, as we should, then it's good to mentally visualize Biblical narratives. If you were a Christian director, what would you show? When you read the narrative, what do you see in your mind's eye? Part of interpretating Scripture and honoring the historicity of Scripture is to have a realistic picture of what the narrative describes. Let's take some examples:

i) One question scholars debate is whether Gen 1:1 is an introduction to the creation week, or part of day one. If the former, then the primeval sea preexists creation. But I think 1:1 is part of day one. 

ii) How would you depict the Spirit of God hovering over the waters? One possibility is a dove. Obviously, you cann't see anything or show anything absent a light source.

Another possibility, drawn from other parts of the Pentateuch, is to depict the Spirit of God as the Shekinah hovering above the waters. In OT, the Shekinah has the appearance of a plasma cloud. Luminous. Technicolored (like a rainbow). That would enable the viewer to see the primordial ocean, illuminated by the Shekinah.  

The separation of light and darkness refers to the origin of the diurnal cycle. So you could show first light, dawn, morning light, noonday light, afternoon light, and dusk. And fading from day into night would separate each day from the next. You'd show the beginning of each new day by first light or dawn. That would distinguish and transition from one scene to the next.

iii) On day two you'd shift from showing the primordial ocean to showing the sky. Illuminated clouds. The horizon line between sky and sea. 

iv) On day three you'd show the land rising out of the sea. Like volcanic islands. Ascending mountain ranges. Valleys. Coastlines. Lakes and rivers. 

You'd then show, like time-lapse photography, the barren earth erupting in foliage. 

v) Day four might be a flashback to day one, catching up to days two and three. If days one-through-three show lighted objects, day four shows the light sources. The perspective would shift from a downward view of the illuminated earth to an upward view of the luminaries. You could also show moonlight on lakes and seas. Day four would fade out with a view of the star-studded night sky. 

vi) Day five might show fish materializing in the sea, lakes, and rivers–as well as birds materializing. One might show matter organizing into fish and birds. Show atoms forming molecules, forming cells, forming bodies. From the inside out, in ascending scales of complexity and magnitude. Rather like Ezekiel's description in Ezk 37. 

vii) Day six would repeat the process for land animals. 

viii) When we come to the creation of man, day six in Gen 1 shades into Gen 2. Gen 2 is basically a localized expansion of day six in Gen 1. That also means the seventh day would come after the events of Gen 2. 

To some extent, Gen 2 is a microcosm of Gen 1. God plants a garden. God makes plants and animals for the garden. You'd show the same type of process you did in general creation week. 

ix) You could depict Eden as a river valley or river plain. It would be sheltered by steep hills on either side. There'd be verdant foliage on the river banks. 

x) In view of various angelophanies in Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch, it would be logical to depict the Creator in 2:7 as the Angel of the Lord. Adam might materialize as the theophanic angel passed his hand over the ground. Dust particles rising from the ground and arranging themselves a body–like a sand man. He'd animate Adam the way Jesus breathed on the disciples (Jn 20:22). 

Likewise, he'd take flesh from Adam and reconfigure that into Eve. We have other examples of metamorphosis in the Pentateuch, like Aaron's budding rod. 

xi) Day 7 would show the completed creation. 

xii) As I've discussed before, the name for the tempter in Gen 3 is probably a pun. The word can mean "snake," "diviner," or "shining one." Based on the varied connotations of the word, as well as Pentateuchal angelophanies, I think the tempter is a fallen angel. 

That would also explain why Adam and Eve aren't surprised by this visitor. They are used to angels. 

xiii) Let's shift to Exodus. If you were a director, how would you depict the "burning bush" episode? In context, I think the "burning bush" is an observational description of how it appeared to Moses at a distance (presumably at night). But I doubt the bush itself was on fire. 

Rather, the luminosity came from the angel, inside or behind the bush. From a distance, it looked like a bush was on fire, but as Moses drew closer, it becomes evident that the angel is the light source. You see the fire through the bush. Like a candle in a jack-o'-lantern. The bush is not consumed because it's not physical firelight. Rather, it's a radiant angel. 

In Scripture, angels can take on different aspects. Sometimes they look like ordinary men. Sometimes they are luminous. And in the case of the seraphim/cherubim, they have inhuman features. You also have the cherubic "flaming sword" in Gen 3:24. Exod 3:2-3 is a fire theophany or fire angelophany. 

This also relates to the "pillar of smoke and fire" in the desert. It's like a preternatural firenado. A natural firenado is an ephemeral, directionless physical phenomenon. But the pillar of fire is stable and directional. That's probably an accurate way of showing the pillar of cloud and fire. 

In theology, there's a technical distinction between natural, preternatural, and supernatural. A preternatural phenomenon is natural insofar as it employs a physical medium, but it's unnatural or supernatural insofar as it is miraculous. 

xiv) To take a few more examples, if you were filming Balaam's donkey, what would you show? Recent cinematic adaptions of The Chronicles of Narnia have shown how CGI can depict talking animals. Another possibility is telepathic communication, although that would be auditory rather than visual. 

But as I've recently discussed, given the fact that Balaam was a seer, this may have been a vision. 

xv) What about Joshua's Long Day? Due to the poetic nature of the description, it's hard to pin down the precise cause. The main thing is to depict the physical effect of Joshua's Long Day. An analogy would be the miracle of the "sun dial" (a la Ahaz, Isaiah). 

xvi) To take a final example, what about Lot's wife? Consider the pyroclastic flow that instantly fossilized the victims of Pompeii and Herculaneum.  

xvii) In filming the flood, you'd have to decide whether to depict a global or local flood. If global, you'd show rising seas. Coastal flooding, which continues to moving inland and upland to overtake the hills until the mountains are submerged. 

If a local flood, you could depict torrential rain downing trees. Rivers become clogged with debris, causing them to back up–submerging a huge floodplain. Yes, water can move upstream if it has no outlet.  

In Case of Apocalypse Break Glass

With the current Ebola scare, concerns about an upcoming apocalypse are once again ramping up.  But I don't want to talk about your petty viral apocalypse.  Instead, an article ( I read in July detailed how Earth had nearly been hit by a gigantic solar flare a couple years ago that would have taken out most of the electrical infrastructure of the developed world.  It was so close, Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado said, “If the eruption had occurred only one week earlier, Earth would have been in the line of fire.”

Ironically, if all the electrical power in the world went out, the safest place you could be is a third world country.  That’s because third world countries already have systems in place that do not rely on electricity, whereas the first world countries are 100% dependent upon it.  Consider what would happen to your food supply if there was no more power in the world—even for as little as a month.

Most people would be unable to cook food.  Microwaves won’t work.  Ditto electric stoves.  After just a few days, all the food in your refrigerator would begin to spoil anyway.  Perhaps you have canned food—that’s good, but do you also have a non-electric can opener to open the cans?  If not, you’re going to have a hard time even with canned food.

If you live in a temperate climate, or if it’s summer, you’ll probably be fine for heating concerns—but if you live in a cold place and rely on electric heat, then hopefully you have a lot of blankets available or food will be the least of your concerns.  You can live for up to 40 days without food, but can die of hypothermia in as little as 15 minutes (of course, that’s worst case scenario).

Perhaps you’d think that you’ll just use a generator.  But of course that requires gasoline (or some other kind of fuel) to run, and when you’re out of your supply how are you going to buy more?  Stores will not be able to use their electronic cash registers, and even if they break out mechanical ones, most of our money supply exists solely in the electronic realm right now.  Speaking just of my own bank account, my actual cash on hand is less than 1% of what’s in my bank account.  Thus, I already almost live a 100% cashless lifestyle.  This would mean that I couldn’t go out and get any new supplies, and even trying to barter for them would not work very well since most of what I have to barter with requires electricity to run in the first place.

In addition, we must consider the fate of food at the local grocery store.  They will be running into the same problems.  Their freezers will cease keeping food cool, and if things are not purchased with hard cash (or outright stolen), they will quickly spoil.  And before we forget, if a solar flare did take out all the power on Earth, it is quite likely that you wouldn’t even be able to drive your car to the store even in the event that you had fuel for it.  How much of our modern cars are based on computer technology?  You cannot even start new cars if the onboard computer is malfunctioning.  So this leaves people with old cars being the sole drivers on the highways.  And again, when they are out of fuel, trying to buy more gas is going to be next to impossible for an American.

Of course, people aren’t stupid (not even those who live in Detroit).  They will look for non-electrical devices to help survive, and I’m sure that we would quickly come up with some other kind of non-electronic funds.   Furthermore, the electronic grid will be repaired over time. But in the short term there will be massive problems simply because we lack a large pool of non-electrically dependent devices.  Since our world assumes a constant supply of electricity, there aren’t a lot of household items you can purchase at your local Wal-Mart that don’t have a plug or battery.  Until production on non-electrical devices ramps up, supplies will be extremely limited no matter how much cash or how many other goods you have to barter with.

But that’s in the first world.  In third world countries, where lack of electricity is the norm, and even places where electricity is found are subject to rolling blackouts, these non-electrical items are already far more plentiful.  For people in those areas, the entire world losing power would have negligible effects.  They already have stock and supplies, and a month without electricity would at worst be a minor inconvenience.  In America, there would be a noticeable death toll (we haven’t even gotten into the medical side of things, with pacemakers, dialysis machines, even refrigerated medications and blood supplies being affected).  In the third world, there would be at most a minor bump in the stats.

So ironically if the world were to lose the entire electrical grid and all electrical devices, it is much better to be living in the third world than in the first world.  There aren’t many times that can be said, but our reliance on electricity does bring about this result if the power apocalypse ever occurs.