Sunday, November 23, 2014

Peter Is Always Listed First

…except when he isn't.

"Paul…Apollos…Cephas…Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:12)

"the rest of the apostles…the brothers of the Lord…Cephas" (1 Corinthians 9:5)

"James…Cephas…John" (Galatians 2:9)

Catholics often argue for the papacy by citing Peter's position at the beginning of lists of the disciples in the gospels and Acts (Matthew 10:1-4, Mark 3:13-9, Luke 6:12-6, Acts 1:13). But why cite those lists and not others, like the ones I've quoted above? And why think that Peter's position in the lists represents his rank in the church? During the times being addressed by the four passages in the gospels and Acts, there was no system of church government as we have in churches today. And two of the most prominent apostles, James and Paul, weren't apostles yet (at the time of three of the lists for James and at the time of all four for Paul). James was an apostle at the time of Acts 1, but the passage in question is addressing the earlier disciples of Jesus, not all of the apostles, which, once again, underscores the limited significance of the list. Why should we think that Peter's position in lists about the pre-Pentecost era reflect the jurisdictional rank of Peter and his alleged successors throughout church history?

New Age Jesus

http://standupforthetruth.com/2014/11/changing-jesus-calling-damage-control-false-christ/

Tremper's open letter



However, speaking honestly, you have lost my respect as a board. 

That's such a paternalistic statement. Why does he imagine the WTS board pines for his respect? 

And, based on the many emails and private posts that I have received, I am far, far from alone in that assessment. It is indicative of a problem that many of those who contact me privately ask for anonymity because of a fear of reprisal from the present administration at the Seminary.

I don't even know what that's supposed to mean. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the WTS administration is vindictive, surely the only people it's in a position to retaliate against are current employees. How "many" could that be? WTS is not a huge seminary, like SWBTS. It has a fairly small faculty to begin with. 

Does Longman imagine that the WTS administration can wreak vengeance on former faculty, board members, or alumni? How, exactly, does that work? Does Lillback have the power to issue a blacklist? The long arm of Lillback? 

This approach is unprecedented in Westminster’s past and thus represents a departure from the tradition of Westminster Seminary. As a result, until the past ten years, Westminster had been a significant influence in the broader evangelical and even the broader Christian world. 

Well, on the one hand, that would go back to the halcyon days when Enns was working there. Is that the kind of influence Longman sorely misses?

On the other hand, Fantuzzo and Green have a very short paper-trail, that I'm aware of, so it's hard to see how much influence that were in a position to exert outside the classroom. 

Today, Westminster is irrelevant to the broader Christian world. The Seminary, under your leadership, has circled the wagons and become in-grown and parochial.

i) What's his standard of comparison? Fuller Seminary? Eastern University? 

ii) If, moreover, WTS has become so marginalized, how is it in a position to retaliate against critics? 

Indeed, it has become increasingly embarrassing for alums and former professors like myself to say we were connected to Westminster.

If he feels that way, perhaps he should ask WTS to rescind his MDiv.

In the first place, I seriously doubt that the Board will discipline the administration. The problem is that the Board has basically been shaped by the administration after there was a mass resignation of Board members who voted against the continuance of the present administration.

i) Again, I don't know what that's supposed to mean. "Mass resignation" makes it sound like the former board resigned en masse. But if a majority of the board members were opposed to the current administration, they had the votes to fire Lillback. 

So I can only assume that a minority of the board resigned after they were outvoted by the majority.

ii) In addition, doesn't this go back to the termination of Peter Enns? Presumably, the disgruntled board members resigned after they lost that battle. If so, what does it say about their judgment or theological bearings when they sided with Enns? 

The board may be ultimately responsible for the Seminary, but it is accountable to its constituency and owes those of us who are a significant part of the Westminster community an answer to these disturbing questions.

Who is the "us"? Longman is not a member of the Westminster community. By resigning, ex-board members severed connections.  

Already I have received messages from people (including PCA ministers and denominational executives) who have said that they will not hire Westminster students.

How ironic. In the context of attacking the WTS regime for its allegedly Machiavellian tactics, the critics are going to settle old scores by exacting revenge on the students. Guilt by association. Attack the administration through the students. Talk about "reprisal"!

Longman and his cohorts are so fanatical that it's blinded them to any semblance of moral consistency. They've become the very thing they feign to hate. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Three modern myths in interpreting Genesis 1

"Three Modern Myths in Interpreting Genesis 1" by Vern Poythress.

John Bugay speaks about the history of Roman Catholicism

My presentation on the history of Roman Catholicism 11/21/2014Here is a link to the slides I used in my Agora Forum discussion on Roman Catholicism Friday night.

There were about a dozen people in attendance, and the discussion lasted about 2.5 hours. It was not recorded.

My thanks to Dr. David Snoke for the invitation, and to all who attended and took part in the discussions. I had a great time.

2014-11 Agora Forum on Roman Catholicism.

Water witching


I've read that Joseph Smith was into water witching. I haven't studied that accusation in depth, and I haven't studied water witching in depth, so in this post I'll discuss the issue hypothetically.

If we assume that at least in some cases, water witching is more than randomly successful, two explanations present themselves:

i) The douser might be genuinely clairvoyant. By dabbling in the occult, he acquires extrasensory knowledge. Of course, that's a nice way of saying he's in league with evil spirits. 

ii) If a douser plants evidence, or if he's already familiar with the area, acquainted with spots where there's surface water, then he can "discover" what the client paid him to find. That's impressive…unless you consider the possibility that he went to places where he already knew what he was going to find.

In that case, the rod is just a prop. The rod points because the douser is manipulating the rod. 

Inventing apostolic succession


They began to be concerned with their own history…The Marcionite church had is beginning with Marcion…The Montanists went back to Montanus…All of these bore the names of founders whom people knew, while the Christian churches normally went back beyond the turn of the first century into the time of the apostles. Only that which can trace its history back into the earliest time, either directly or through fellowship with churches which are able to document it directly, can be genuine. In this way the concept of apostolic tradition developed and along with it, apostolic succession. 
In this context people sometimes proceeded quite liberally in building the chain of tradition...Then, as now, historical thinking was overlaid with wishes.  
The idea that both of them [Peter & Paul] first came to Rome after the church had already existed there for a longer time had no place in early Christian thinking, which in this case wanted to forge a connection between something they knew and the earliest and best-known men whose names they knew.  
In the first century and the beginning of the second, the Roman church was led by a college of presbyters, as we learn reliably from 1 Clement which we have frequently mentioned. We can no more speak about an apostolic succession, by which Peter passed on the episcopal office by a laying on of hands, than we can about many other things. This idea was a product of the second century when the idea of apostolic succession inevitably developed from the concept or requirement of apostolic tradition. Both existed only after the second half of the second century. K. Aland, A History of Christianity (Fortress 1985), 1:118-120. 

Science's incomplete metaphysics

"Thomas Nagel is not crazy" by Malcolm Thorndike Nicholson.

How Many People Were in the Exodus from Egypt?

OT numbers are often puzzling to modern readers. Sometimes they're round numbers, sometimes they're symbolic numbers, sometimes they're idiomatic descriptors.

https://www.scienceandchristianbelief.org/serve_pdf_free.php?filename=SCB+12-1+Humphreys.pdf

https://www.scienceandchristianbelief.org/serve_pdf_free.php?filename=SCB+13-1+debate.pdf

Friday, November 21, 2014

BW3 reviews Interstellar

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/bibleandculture/2014/11/18/interstellar-lots-of-stars-not-so-stellar/

Interstellar

I just watched Interstellar, the new movie by director Christopher Nolan (of The Dark Knight, Memento, and Inception fame). Interstellar is a good flick, well worth watching, but isn’t quite the action flick that Nolan’s previous movies have been. It is a very cerebral movie, but in that regard it may have bitten off a little more than it could chew, even at nearly three hours long. Due to the length, it is the kind of movie that probably will not have as much mass appeal and may leave the normal fans of Nolan’s other works disappointed (as a corollary, the type of fans that love dissecting every movie Nolan has made will love this film). There will be a few minor spoilers in this review, but I will try to keep out any of the major plot points.

Interstellar is primarily a story about survival and the drive within nearly all human beings to live for as long as possible despite all the odds. Having it set in a science fiction universe helps Nolan to craft his universe as he sees fit for the story. Indeed, this is one of the powerful aspects of science fiction. As Arthur C. Clarke’s third law states, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” This enables a film maker to allow literally any possible universe by simply declaring that at some point in the future there will be technology that will enable it to be that way.

Because of this, we can capture a genuine glimpse of how Nolan views the world. When he creates his own universe, how do people behave in it? What does this show us of human nature in general? There is a scene early on in the film where the astronauts discuss whether or not nature itself is evil, and one of the characters (Amelia Brand, played by Anne Hathaway) concludes very strongly that nature is not evil—only man is. Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey, disagrees. (This dispute actually leads toward one of the most on the nose metaphors of the movie involving a character named Dr. Mann, but I won’t put that spoiler in here. Believe me, if you watch the film you won’t miss the metaphor because it’s so obvious.)

While some reviewers have criticized Anne Hathaway’s acting, I actually thought she did a very good job with this movie. In fact, every actor in it was at least competent (there was no bad acting in it), and the leads turned in, pardon the pun, stellar performances. While the script could have allowed a little more breathing room (and probably should have cut about 10% of the material to get the movie to a more manageable time), there were only a few points that took me out of the suspension of disbelief. This is mainly because I’ve studied a lot of physics.

The first moment that broke the spell was when one of the characters claimed that in physics time couldn’t run backwards. This is actually the exact opposite of what the laws of physics state. Indeed, one of the conundrums of modern physics is trying to figure out precisely why time seems to have an “arrow” that consistently moves from past toward future. The laws of physics do not require this arrow of time.

The second moment that took me out of the film was when the astronauts wanted to fire a probe to skim just past the event horizon of a black hole in the hopes that, if the probe was moving fast enough, it would be able to transmit a little bit of the quantum information from inside the singularity out so people would know what to do with it. Of course, the event horizon is where photons cannot even escape the gravity of a black hole and they’re moving at the speed of light, so I wonder just how fast the filmmakers were thinking this probe would be going…

There was another glaring problem with the time distortion in relativity, but it would involve a couple of spoilers so I won’t get into that one here.

One final point that is quite interesting is Nolan’s take on love. Throughout the movie, love drives the main characters. Thankfully, it’s not so cliché that Cooper and Brand are in love with each other, but rather Cooper loves his children and Brand is in love with one of the scientists first sent to explore various planets for human habitability. At one point, Brand states how love is the one thing that can transcend space and time, since you can love someone after they have passed away with just as much intensity as when they were still living. And while Nolan never states anything about the existence of God, he does have the influences of love actually affect things in a way that is not scientifically verifiable. And of course, without knowing Nolan’s beliefs about God, it is interesting to note the emphasis on love given the Bible’s statement that God is love. I’m quite sure that Nolan was aware of that even though it was never discussed in the movie.

So for my final verdict, I would give the film overall an A-. I definitely plan on picking it up when it comes out on DVD, and would even watch it in the theaters a second time. If you like movies that involve a bit of thinking and some philosophical conundrums, Interstellar is well worth your time. And even if you don’t like that, the visual special effects are quite impressive.

More About Clement Of Rome

Steve Hays' recent exchange with a Catholic on another blog involved a discussion of First Clement. For those who are interested, here's a post I wrote last year about inconsistencies between First Clement and Catholicism. And here's something I wrote about the authorship of First Clement, the author's relationship with the apostles, and the significance of his letter.

Was there a Jewish Magisterium?


i) One problem for Catholic apologists is the fact that there was no equivalent to the Roman Magisterium in OT times or the Intertestamental period. But how can a Magisterium be essential to the new covenant community when it was inessential to the old covenant community?

Some Catholic apologists bite the bullet and say OT religion was inferior in that respect. Yet that fails to explain how Jews could even know what the Bible was, if a Magisterium is so indispensable.

Other Catholic apologists claim there was a Jewish Magisterium. They have two prooftexts: Mt 23:1-3 and Jn 11:51.

i) A general problem is the Catholic conundrum of proving Catholicism from Scripture. Except in the handful of cases where the Magisterium has given its "infallible" interpretation of this or that verse of Scripture, a Catholic apologist who ventures to prove Catholicism from Scripture must tacitly endorse the right of private judgment. The Catholic apologist is offering his personal interpretation of his prooftexts. But unless Scripture is perspicuous, and he has the right to exercise private judgment on the meaning of Scripture, he's conceding Protestant epistemology and hermeneutics. It's a self-defeating exercise. Frankly, it stalls at that point. There's nothing more we need to discuss. 

But for the sake of completeness, let's consider the two prooftexts:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice (Mt 23:1-3).
ii) Catholics take this to mean the scribes and Pharisees taught with the same authority as Moses. However, a glaring problem that interpretation is that Jesus frequently critiques the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees. Indeed, in this very discourse, he calls them "blind guides." It would be wildly inconsistent for him to issue them a blank check. 
iii) As a result, commentators like France and Carson think the statement is a sarcastic set-up for what follows. And that's a reasonable interpretation.
iv) Nolland offers a different explanation. At a time and place, when literacy spotty and most Jews and Christians didn't own private copies of Scripture, the scribes and Pharisees were "walking copies" of the Torah. They had committed large portions of the OT to memory.
If you wanted to know what the OT said, consult a scribe or Pharisee. That's distinct from their understanding of what it meant–or how to apply it. And I think that's a reasonable interpretation. 
49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation (Jn 11:49-51).
What's the significance of his high priesthood in relation to his oracle? What's the intended link? 
i) Some Catholic apologists take this to mean that Caiaphas was prophetic by virtue of his office. Prophetic inspiraton came with the office.
A problem with that claim is that there's no evidence that prophetic inspiraton was associated with the high priesthood in general. At best, some individual high priests were credited with the gift of prophecy. 
Moreover, we must make allowance for our sources. Josephus was, himself, a priest–with prophetic pretensions–so he's biased. We'd expect him to make exaggerated claims about his own profession. 
ii) In context, the link is ironic and topical. As chief priest, Caiaphas is Christ's highest ranking religious opponent. Yet he is, unwittingly, vouching for the mission of Christ. 
There's a double irony. He's prescient, but blind to his own prescience. And he's corroborating the claims of Jesus. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Picking the wrong pope

...outgoing pope, Benedict XVI, who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was asked on Bavarian television in 1997 if the Holy Spirit is responsible for who gets elected. This was his response:
I would not say so, in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the Pope. ... I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit's role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined.
Then the clincher:
There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit obviously would not have picked! 
http://ncronline.org/print/blogs/all-things-catholic/quick-course-conclave-101
But if that's the case, then where does that leave apostolic succession?

Fact-checking Wikipedia on common descent






Banning abortion


From what I can tell, AHA's strategy is to drum up popular support for a national ban on abortion. I assume the objective is something like a Constitutional amendment. A counterpart to the 14th Amendment. 

At the same time, AHA repudiates cooperation with Catholic prolifers. if so, does that mean AHA would oppose a Constitutional ban on abortion if that process required Catholic votes (i.e. Catholic Federal and state lawmakers) to supply the necessary margin for passage and/or ratification? 

The process for amending the Constitution requires supermajorities (2/3) in the House and Senate, as well as ratification by 3/4 of the state legislatures. 

Must there be enough non-Catholic votes in Congress and state legislatures for AHA to endorse a Constitutional amendment to abolish abortion?

Flashcard apologetics


Over at Beggars All, I got into a long impromptu debate with a Catholic apologist. I'm reposting my comments here:

steve said...

People like Guy don't believe in the cult of the saints because they have direct, compelling evidence for the propriety of that practice. Rather, they believe it because they believe in the authority of the Roman Magisterium to promulgate dogma. Their real reason is indirect.

Hence, it's generally a waste of time to debate specific Roman dogmas with people like Guy. That's too far downstream. Their real reasons lie upstream: the alleged authority of the Roman Magisterium. Specific Roman dogmas are merely the effect of that source. If you're going to have a debate, then debate the cause, not the effect. 

steve said...
"I understand that John Piper does not pray that his own children be elect."

He doesn't quote Piper.

In any case, a Calvinist can, without inconsistency, pray that God elected his children.


"It seems to taint your view of the Sacraments too."

A tendentious non sequitur.


"However, when the question of a certain miracle was to be attributed to the intercession of St. Joan of Arc or to Mary, it was determined that since even a saint in heaven prays to Mary, both were to be thanked for their intercession."

How was it determined that Joan of Arc in heaven prayed to Mary in heaven? Was a seance held to question Joan of Arc on her postmortem activities?
steve said...
Notice that Guy still hasn't produced a direct quote from Piper to prove Guy's contention.

People like Guy don't argue in good faith. It's all drive-by shootings.
steve said...
A wildly confused statement about reprobation. I already corrected him on that point. God doesn't "simply" make people for hell. They serve a purpose in the here and now.

God doesn't first make people for hell, then change his mind and elect a "few" for salvation.

Moreover, the scope of election and redemption is conterminous. Those whom the Father elects, the Son redeemed (and the Spirit renews). Christ dies for the elect. Jesus is necessary inasmuch as election was for the purpose of redemption, and vice versa. They operate in tandem.

Papal error


Ignaz von Döllinger was the premier Catholic church historian of his generation. He penned a classic historical monograph against papal infallibility, which is available online:

Rome on limited inerrancy

http://vaticanfiles.org/2014/08/88-is-scripture-true-only-in-a-limited-way-the-truth-of-the-bible-according-to-the-pontifical-biblical-commission/

The Law of Graduality

http://vaticanfiles.org/2014/10/93-who-are-we-to-judge-the-synod-on-the-new-forms-of-the-family/

Roman Catholic Theology and Practice

http://vaticanfiles.org/2014/11/95-roman-catholic-theology-and-practice-by-gregg-allison-a-review/

OEC interpretations


i) One of the challenges for old-earth creationism is to specify what happened in Gen 1. Young-earth creationism has a straightforward position: everything happened in the way it's described. 

But for OEC, there's some distinction between what it describes and what it represents. And depending on the version of OEC, there are varying degrees of correspondence. For instance, some versions are sequential (day/age theory; analogical days) while others are nonsequential (framework hypothesis; revelatory days; cosmic temple interpretation). 

Part of the vagueness is due to the fact that OEC tends to treat Gen 1 as a thumbnail sketch whose details are pencilled in by astronomy and geology. But it balks at evolutionary biology. 

ii) One of the internal problems with the framework hypothesis is that it grafts a nonsequential arrangement onto a sequential arrangement. On the one hand, it views the days as a week of days. A 7-day week, based on a 6-day workweek, with one day off (the Sabbath). That's sequential, though it regards that as figurative schema.

On the other hand, it views the interrelationship of the days as nonsequential: 1 is to 4 as 2 is to 5 and 3 is to 6. The days match up in 3 paired days. Three sets of two days, in a staggered collation. 

Now one could be right, or both could be wrong, but they don't mesh. And that's even before you get to the baroque embellishments of late Kline's upper/lower register cosmology. 

iii) Let's turn to the cosmic temple interpretation. It's striking that, to my knowledge, proponents of this view, like John Walton, don't attempt to work it out systematically. By that I mean, if Gen 1 uses that architectural metaphor, then it's proper to ask what events correspond to what features of a temple. How does Gen 1 parallel the construction process of a temple? What items in Gen 1 correspond to parts of the temple? Items like a floor, walls, roof, doors, windows, interior furnishings. 

Let's give it a try:

Day 1. God creates light. A builder must have light to see by. (Anthropomorphic.)

Day 2. The sky corresponds to the ceiling or roof.

Day 3. The dry land correspond to the floor or foundation. Maybe hills and mountains correspond to walls or pillars. Flora are part of the interior decor or furnishings. 

Day 4. Stellar luminaries correspond to windows which admit light to illuminate the enclosed interior.

Day 5. Fish and birds represent the interior decor or furniture. 

Day 6. Land animals supply additional furniture. Man is like a statue of deity in the temple. The imago Dei.

a) There are, of course, some incongruities in this sketch. The order in which things happen doesn't reflect the order in which a temple is erected. Most obviously, you don't install the roof or ceiling before you lay the foundation or raise walls. So the order is backwards in that respect.

b) If flora correspond to decor or furniture, wouldn't a builder wait until the exterior was up? Perhaps, though, we could salvage that by saying they are like murals. Once the walls are in place, they are decorated. The temple had floral decorations.

I suppose you could say bodies of water correspond to the basin in the tabernacle or temple. Fish and birds are a bit of a stretch. 

There's also the enigmatic relationship between light on day 1 and lights on day 4. Part of the explanation is that you can't put lights in the sky before you make the sky. In that respect, day 2 must precede day 4. Likewise, it's the sky as seen in relation to the land, from the perspective of a ground-based observer. In that respect, day 2 must precede day 3, while day 3 must precede day 4–inasmuch as you can't see lights in the sky from earth until the earth (i.e. dry land) is made. 

Put another way, there's a distinction between light without land supplying the frame of reference (day 1), and light with land supplying a frame of reference (day 3). If the land is submerged, an observer can't see light overhead, because he has nowhere to stand. And that analysis of day 4 is true whether or not we endorse the temple interpretation.  

At the same time, I think this exposes some limitations of the cosmic temple interpretation. There's a lot in Gen 1 that doesn't correspond to a temple. Even if Gen 1 contains some temple motifs, the narrative doesn't use that an an extended metaphor to model creation. 

iii) Another possibility is if the the arrangement taxonomical rather than chronological. Based on different kinds of creatures. The day/night alternation is a way of grouping and demarcating different kinds of creatures. God creates one type of creature, then another type of creature. Or God creates several different kinds at a time. God creates groups of creatures.  

Even if God did this all at once, it can't be stated all at once. The narrator can only describe one thing at a time. On that interpretation, this isn't just an account of who made it, but what was made.  

Suppose, as an analytical exercise, we mentally we strip away the numbered 7-day schema. That's like muting the soundtrack on a movie to study the flow of images, as well as the transition from one scene to another. A soundtrack can impose a sense of continuity. 

Even without the day/night refrain, the sequence in Gen 1 still has a functional or teleological progression. Certain things must be in place before other things can be put in place. You can't have fish without bodies of water. You can't have land animals without dry land. You can't have trees without land. You can't have birds without a sky to fly in or trees to nest in or perch on. It's not just the explicit temporal markers (days 1-7) that give it a forward motion. 

So the arrangement isn't merely an abstract classification scheme by natural kinds. There's temporal succession. Mind you, OEC, as I understand it, doesn't deny that some things must happen first, as preconditions for other things happening. 

The oikos formula

http://upper-register.typepad.com/blog/2014/11/2014-ets-annual-meeting-in-san-diego.html

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Handel’s Messiah: Biblical and Theological Perspectives

http://www.sbts.edu/documents/icw/messiah.pdf

A whale of a tale

Apart from the above interview, which I think is well worth watching in its entirety, Berlinski also has other interviews which some may find interesting. For example, he has had two interviews with Peter Robinson over at the Hoover Institute. The first is titled "Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions" (2011), while the second is titled "Science, Philosophy, and Society" (2014). I've watched both, but I thought the 2011 was better, though the 2014 isn't bad.

Berlinski has likewise done at least one debate, but my opinion is he's far better when chatting one-on-one with someone where he has the time to flesh out his thoughts and musings than he is in a time-constrained debate format or similar situation.

Joe Carter reviews Fury

http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-ennobling-humanity-of-fury

What's done can't be undone

Many of those opposed to the death penalty argue it's wrong to wrongfully execute an innocent person, because death would be an injustice which could never be undone. Short of a miracle, it's not as if the innocent person can be raised from the dead.

Of course, I trust most if not all of those on the opposing side would entirely agree it's wrong to wrongfully execute an innocent person. I take it we'd be agreed here.

However, is the fact that death is an injustice which cannot be undone when carried out against an innocent person (or any person) a good reason to oppose the death penalty?

If it is, then why not oppose lesser punishments in our legal system as well? After all, surely there are many wrongful punishments meted out against innocent persons in our legal system, and surely many if not most of these punishments cannot be undone once they've been administered.

Indeed, wouldn't it be generally wrong to wrongfully punish an innocent person, even if the punishment is less than death? Say someone has been wrongfully imprisoned for a year. Financial or perhaps other restitution might be given to the wrongfully imprisoned person. But it's still a year of freedom he or she can never get back. This, too, cannot be undone.

But let's say the person who is against capital punishment bites the bullet and argues we should do away with lesser punishments for this reason. If so, then what sort of a legal and penal system would we have left? There wouldn't seem to be much of one left, for it would seem to rule out punishing many if not most crimes.

Finally, I think there might be some tension (albeit perhaps a tension which could be relieved) for those who are against capital punishment for this reason but in favor of euthanasia, for it's possible the person who euthanizes themselves may come to regret the decision in the future if it were somehow possible for them to choose again. But, of course, it wouldn't be possible.

Comparing blueprints


i) A number of "evangelicals" or post-evanglicals are bailing on the historicity of Adam. The tipping-point is said to be genetic evidence for evolution. Supposedly, that cinches the argument for human evolution. 

One of the oddities about this appeal is that long before comparative genomics came on the scene, both naturalistic and theistic evolutionists assured us that the fossil record and comparative anatomy established evolution beyond reasonable dispute.

Now, however, we're told that it's really genetics which supplies the decisive evidence. Does that mean the fossil evidence and anatomical evidence was oversold? Were they stalling for time until better evidence came along?

ii) I'd like to discuss one alleged line of genetic evidence for human evolution. And that's how much DNA we share with the great apes, especially chimpanzees.

From what I've read, that's puzzling on its own grounds. What's puzzling to scientists is how chimps and humans can be so alike at the genotype level, but so unalike at the phenotype level. The more DNA we have in common, the harder it is to explain our radical dissimilarities (e.g. behavior). 

iii) However, let's assume, for the sake of argument, that genetics directs morphology.  

Say humans and great apes have similar faces. Say we discover that this is based on similar DNA. 

Does the genetic basis add anything to the alleged evidence for common descent? I don't see how.

If we think physical appearance is due to genetics, then we'd expect similar appearance to be due to similar genes–wouldn't we? If the DNA code programs for the expression of particular traits, then a common effect would be the result of a common cause. The morphology is encoded in the DNA. Am I missing something?

If so, then I don't see how that contributes any additional evidence to the alleged evidence for common descent based on comparative anatomy–for surely the operating assumption has always been that comparable anatomy had an underlying genetic cause. It was never a question of discovering whether there was such a correlation, but discovering what it was. 

Compare two sedans of the same year, make, and model–only one is a 2-door sedan while the other is a 4-door sedan. They are quite similar except for the number of doors, and certain correspondence adjustments. 

Suppose we discovered the blueprints for the 2-door and 4-door models. We'd see that this difference goes back to the original blueprints.

But would that really add any new evidence to our comparison? Didn't we assume all along that one model had two doors while the other model had four doors because they were built according to respective blueprints which specified that difference? The same comparison operates at a different level, that's all. You're comparing blueprints rather than cars. Blueprints of cars. 

If comparative anatomy is evidence for common descent, then comparative genomics doesn't really add anything to the evidence, because we already knew that the genotype dictated the phenotype. We just didn't know the details of how that happens. 

Conversely, if comparative anatomy is explicable apart from common descent (e.g. common design, convergent evolution), then comparative genomics would simply underwrite the alternative explanation.  

iv) Admittedly, there are other, more specific genetic arguments that are deployed against the historicity of Adam. There's the claim that one breeding pair can't produce that much diversity. There's the claim that a chromosome 2 fusion site between chimps and humans indicates a common ancestor. 

I've discussed that before, as well as linking to other discussions. 

Redeeming Philosophy

Redeeming Philosophy: A God-Centered Approach to the Big Questions by Vern Poythress is available to download for free.

John Bugay to speak on Roman Catholicism

Here's a little bit of shameless self-promotion. My church has asked me to speak to its Apologetics Group, the Agora Forum, on the topic of Roman Catholicism, and "how Roman Catholicism is different from Protestant Christianity". This coming Friday night, November 21, on the University of Pittsburgh campus. Email me, johnbugay [at] gmail [dot] com for questions or directions.