Friday, August 22, 2014

Is God an evildoer?


I'm going to comment on this interview:


Olson: Reformed theology shares many beliefs with non-Calvinist traditions, even the first and last elements of “TULIP”: totally depravity and perseverance of the saints. But the distinctive beliefs of Calvinism are unconditional election (or double predestination, meaning people are predestined for heaven or hell), limited atonement (which means the atoning impact of Christ’s death on the cross is only applicable to Christians).

So he defines limited atonement to mean: "the atoning impact of Christ’s death on the cross is only applicable to Christians."

That's odd. Don't Arminians take the position that "the atoning impact of Christ’s death" is only applicable to believers? Aren't universalists the only ones who say its impact is applicable to believers and unbelievers alike?

...and irresistible grace (meaning that the grace of God compels people to accept Christ—they don’t have a choice).

Irresistible grace doesn't mean compulsion. Compulsion implies resistance. Acting under duress. A sense of psychological conflict. For instance, someone under hypnosis doesn't act under compulsion. Rather, they act willingly. 

Taken together, these beliefs, as they are espoused by historical and contemporary traditional Calvinists, call into question God’s character—by which I mean God’s goodness. I agree with R.C. Sproul and other Calvinist apologists that these elements cannot be taken singly; they are a coherent package. As I see it, the root problem is divine determinism, which means that God has ordered and directed every detail in creation and in history. Whatever Calvinists may say, traditional Calvinism makes God the planner and doer (even if only indirectly) of everything that happens ... and thus the author of sin and evil.

Notice how he refines "doer" as doing it "even if only indirectly." So even though God is not the actual doer, even though a second party is the actual doer, according to Olson, that still makes God the doer–which, in turn, makes God the author of sin and evil.

Problem with that equation is that it makes the Arminian God author of sin and evil. If an agent can be the doer, "even if only indirectly," then the Arminian God is the doer of sin and evil. Quoting and summarizing Arminius, Olson explains that:

According to this God does not permit sin as a spectator; God is never in the spectator mode. Rather, God not only allows sin designedly and willingly, although not approvingly or efficaciously, but he cooperates with the creature in sinning without being stained by the guilt of sin.  God both permits and effects a sinful act, such as the rebellion of Adam, because no creature can act apart from God's will…For him God is the first cause of whatever happens; even a sinful act cannot occur without God as its first cause, because creatures have no ability to act without their Creator, who is their supreme cause for existence. Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (IVP 2006), 122.
How does Olson exempt Arminian theism from the same charge, since it makes God the doer (evildoer), even if only indirectly?

Calvinism ends up dissolving the very meaning of evil, which is contrary to the Bible and common sense. If God foreordains and causes everything for His glory and there is no room for free will to thwart that at any point, every evil thing is for God’s glory. That means nothing is really evil.

He fails to explain how or why that means nothing is really evil. Where's the supporting argument to justify the conclusion? 

I acknowledge that the vast majority of evangelical Calvinists never say that God is the author of sin or evil; they prefer softer language and often use the term “permit” to express God’s relationship with evil. But however much they wish it to be otherwise, Calvinists imply that God is not good because His “goodness” (in this system) bears no resemblance to Jesus Christ, the perfect revelation of God’s character, or to our human intuitions about goodness.

If Reformed theism "bears no resemblance to Christ," then why does Olson still consider Calvinists to be Christians? Why doesn't he regard Calvinists as a non-Christian cult-members, like Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses? 

The war on drugs


I don't agree with McWhorter's overall position, but in some ways he's a more intelligent critic. Take this statement:

So, what will really make a difference? Really, only a continued pullback on the War on Drugs. Much of what creates the poisonous, vicious-cycle relationship between young black men and the police is that the War on Drugs brings cops into black neighborhoods to patrol for drug possession and sale. Without that policy—which would include that no one could make a living selling drugs—the entire structure supporting the notion of young black men as criminals would fall apart. White men with guns would encounter young black men much less often, and meanwhile society would offer young black men less opportunity to drift into embodying the stereotype in the first place. 
http://www.newrepublic.com/article/119121/ferguson-missouri-and-war-drugs-how-two-are-connected

i) Up to a point, I think that's undoubtedly true. It's the war on drugs that often brings police, including white policemen, into direct contact and conflict with young black men.

In addition, the war on drugs has been the primary impetus for the militarization of the police force. 

I don't have a solution. The war on drugs has many horror stories. Bungled no-knock raids. Police state apparatus. 

ii) But I fear that decriminalizing drugs would just replace one set of intractable social problems with another. Different horror stories.

It's said that prohibition caused organized crime. Probably an oversimplification. But even if that's true, repealing prohibition didn't repeal organized crime. Once established, it was here to stay. Why think legalizing drugs would be any different?

Suppose, instead of fighting the Cali Cartel, Columbia had legalized drugs. Would that put the cartel out of business, or would it simply make it easier for the cartel to do business? Expand business. Have even more citizens and officials on the take? Basically, everyone would be in the drug business. Corrupt everyone by putting everyone on the payroll. Like a company town. 

As long as narcotics are illegal, there's a distinction between gov't officials and narco dealers. But if was decriminalized, then what would hinder gov't officials from having their hand in the till? To my knowledge, libertarians who advocate legalizing drugs also decry the "military-industrial" complex. But wouldn't legalizing drugs create the equivalent public/private sector complex vis-à-vis narcotics?  

In fact, if hard drugs were legalized, then presumably the FDA would step in to regulate them. That would add to the cost of production. And you'd have sales tax. So I imagine there'd still be black market for hard drugs.

iii) One problem with legalizing narcotics is what if it fails? Presumably, legalizing hard drugs would dramatically increase the use and abuse of formerly controlled substances. For one thing, there'd be no danger of arrest and imprisonment. 

But, of course, many of these are highly addictive. And once people are hooked, many are unable to kick the habit.

If legalization failed, you couldn't turn the clock back to the status quo ante. The situation would be much worse. 

That would instantly and greatly escalate the war on drugs. The police would be even more aggressive to rein in a situation which spun way out of control. 

Expect a miracle!


A village atheist who goes by the moniker of porphyryredux tried to leave some belated comments on some old posts of mine. After a post has been up for five days, comments are automatically routed to moderation, where they usually die of benign neglect. I'll respond to some of his comments (including some related statements he made on his blog). 
The critic’s basic argument is that, assuming god is the omni-everything that the bible says he is, the lack of medically verified regrowing of limbs among those who claim documentation of miracle-healing, is suspicious, given that the regrowing of a missing limb, clearly beyond the abilities of current science, would be the acid test of the miracle-healing claim. 
Since God never promised to heal amputees, there's nothing suspicious about God not doing what God never said he was going to do. 
I think my fellow skeptics are unwise to pursue this particular argument, since, as proven from the article at Triablogue, this particular criticism emboldens apologists to lure us into areas of pure speculation.
So even though he admits that it's unwise for atheists to pursue this particular argument, he persists in doing so anyway. Go figure. 
I argue in another post that the minimum expenses and and time lost from work/family necessary for skeptics to track down important evidence and otherwise do a seriously thorough investigation on miracle claims, make it absurd for apologists to saddle skeptics with the obligation to “go check out the claims”.  If the apologists at Triabolgue [sic] are serious, they would obligate a skeptic living in America to expend whatever resources necessary to get to southern Africa (‘Gahna), properly interview all witnesses and get back home.  Absolute nonsense.  
i) A classic strawman. I never suggested that evaluating a miracle claim requires you to reinterview the witnesses. If, however, an atheist is so irrational that he refuses to believe testimonial evidence unless he personally conducts the interview, then that's his self-imposed burden of proof.   
ii) I'd add that his complaint is very quaint, as if he were living in the 18C, and had to interview witnesses face-to-face. Has he never heard of email or telephones? In fact, even before the advent of airplanes, people wrote letters to solicit information. 
No Christian is going to travel half way around the world to investigate a claim that the ultimate miracle debunking has happened, so they have no business expecting skeptics to go halfway around the world in effort to properly conduct an independent investigation of a miracle-claim.
There's no parity between these two positions. Atheism posits a universal negative with respect to miracles. An atheist must reject every single reported miracle. By contrast, it only takes one miracle to falsify atheism. Therefore, the atheist and the Christian apologist do not share the same burden of proof. Not even close. 
Would it be too much to ask apologists to do something more with their claim of miracle healing, than simply provide references?

i) Actually, that would be asking too much. Just as we accept documentation for other historical events, we ought to accept documentation for miracles. Miracles are just a subset of historical events in general. 

ii) His complaint only makes sense if there's a standing presumption against the occurrence of miracles, so that miracles must meet a higher standard of evidence. But as I've often argued, that begs the question. 

iii) I'd also note in passing that if God exists, then it would be extraordinary if miracles didn't happen. If God exists, then miracles are to be expected

iv) I'd add that belief in miracles doesn't require prior belief in God. Evidence for miracles is, itself, evidence for God. 

If you seriously believe you have evidence of a modern day healing that cannot be explained by current medical science, set forth your case. 

Testimonial evidence is setting forth a case. 

All this stuff about what Keener said, what he didn't say, how critics misquoted him…

Where did I say critics misquote him?

...God having the sovereign right to avoid doing monster miracles, accomplishes nothing more than helping distract the less educated Christian readers from the simple fact that you have ZERO medically documented medically inexplicable healings.

That's just an empty denial in the face of explicit documentation to the contrary. 

Steve says Craig Keener has cited documented cases of body-part regeneration. Cf. Miracles The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts. So there’s prima facie evidence that God heals some amputees (or the equivalent). Does Steve know of anybody who has attempted to obtain the medical documentation and/or witness statements that Keener has cited?

Do atheists make the same demand for cures in general? If a patient recovers from stage-1 cancer, do they refuse to believe it unless they can read the medical records for themselves and interview the patient? Notice the unexamined bias.  

It would be helpful for apologists to provide the one case of body part regeneration they feel is the most compelling, and lets get the ball rolling on the subject of just how good the medical documentation, diagnosis and witness statements really are.

Demanding evidence of body-part regeneration is an artificial litmus test for miracles. I never took that demand seriously in the first place. I'm just calling their bluff.

Atheists who refuse to consider evidence for miracles in general, and instead resort to this decoy, betray their insincerity. Logically, the case for miracles is hardly confined to one artificial class of miracles. 

Apologists think they score big on the objectivity scale by insisting that skeptics and atheists do their own research into the claims for miracles that appear in Christian books.  A large list of miracle-claim references may be found in Craig Keener’s two volume set “Miracles (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011)”.
But if we are realistic about the time and money required to be expended in the effort to properly investigate a single modern-day miracle claim, it becomes immediately clear that the apologist advice that skeptics should check out those claims, is irrational for all except super-wealthy super-single super-unemployed super-bored skeptics.
That's ironic, considering the obvious fact that Keener isn't "super-wealthy, super-single, or super-unemployed." Indeed, as Keener said in the introduction, "I have no research team, no research assistants, and no research funds; nor have I had sabbaticals to pursue this research" (1:12). What hinders an atheist from doing what Keener did?  
Apologists, desperate to cut the skeptic’s costs as much as possible so as to leave them “without excuse”, will suggest ways to cut the costs as described above...
Another strawman. Atheists are already without excuse. 
What bright ideas do you have for the married miracle skeptic whose wife homeschools their children, who has only one job?
Since when did atheists join the Christian homeschooling movement? 
If skeptics need to stay open to the possibility of miracles merely because they cannot rationally go around investigating each and every miracle claim, then must you, the Christian apologist, stay open to the possibility that miracles don’t happen, on the grounds that you don’t have the time or money to investigate every single naturalistic argument skeptics have ever come up with?
Once again, these are asymmetrical positions. It only takes on miracle to exclude atheism, whereas atheism must exclude every miracle. 
And the bad news is that it doesn’t matter if we investigate a single claim and come up with good reasons to remain skeptical of it….there are thousands of other miracle claims complete with identifiable eyewitnesses and alleged medical documentation that we haven’t investigated.
i) That's the dilemma for atheism. A position with an insurmountable burden of proof. Good luck with that. Not my problem. 
ii) Atheists are like paranoid cancer patients who refuse treatment until they can verify the treatment for themselves. They make irrational, time-consuming demands on the oncologist to prove the efficacy of cancer therapy.
But the oncologist is under no obligation to accede to their unreasonable demands. He's not the one with the life-threatening disease. He has nothing to prove to the paranoid patient. It's the patient whose life is on the line. It's the patient who has everything to lose. 
If the patient is diagnosed with stage-1 cancer, but refuses treatment for 8 months while he conducts his own "independent" investigation–by interviewing other patients–then even if he succeeds in satisfying his personal curiosity, and is now amendable to therapy, by that time he will have stage-4 cancer–at which point therapy is futile. 
If the apologists here saw video footage of a dog flying around a room using biological wings sprouting out of its back, would they insist on making sure all other alternative explanations were definitively refuted before they would be open to considering that this was a real dog with real natural flying ability? Then skeptics, likewise, when confronted with evidence for a miracle healing, would insist on making sure all other alternative possible explanations were definitively refuted before they would start considering that the claimed miracle was genuinely supernatural in origin. 

i) That's an argument from analogy minus the argument. Where's the supporting argument to show that miracles are analogous to flying dogs?

ii) Instead of dealing with the actual evidence for actual miracles, atheists deflect attention away from the evidence by floating hypothetical examples. But that's a diversionary tactic.

iii) Moreover, it's self-defeating. If an atheist concocts the most ridiculous hypothetical he can think of, then, yes, the example strains credulity. But that's because he went out of his way to concoct an artificially ridiculous example. That's a circular exercise. Unbelievable because he made it unbelievable. 

Inerrancy and open theism


As a conservative evangelical who accepted the “inerrancy” of Scripture, I used to be profoundly disturbed whenever I confronted contradictions in Scripture, or read books that made strong cases that certain aspects of the biblical narrative conflict with archeological findings. 
In my previous blog, I expressed one of the reasons why these things do not bother me anymore. The ultimate foundation for my faith is no longer Scripture, but Christ. I feel I have very good historical, philosophical, and personal reasons for believing that the historical Jesus was pretty much as he’s described in the Gospels. 
http://reknew.org/2012/05/scriptures-god-breathed-imperfections/

That's a serious problem for open theism. You see, open theists like Boyd and Sanders try to prooftext their position from Scripture. But if Scripture is errant, then even if their interpretations are correct and their inferences are valid, the conclusion is no better than the erroneous source.

There are apologist who don't think inspiration and/or inerrancy is necessary. As long as Biblical accounts are based on eyewitness testimony, that's sufficient. After all, our historical knowledge in general is based on uninspired testimonial evidence. Testimonial evidence can still be reliable, even if the witness is fallible.

And that's true as far as it goes. But the problem with Boyd's position is that the claims of open theism aren't based on publicly observable events. Rather, they concern the nature of God. Whether or not God knows the future, or is affected by the world, is not an empirical fact. That's not detectable by the five senses. Our knowledge of God's nature in that respect is contingent on revelation rather than observation. 

OT prophets and Bible narrators are only privy to God's nature in that regard through divine self-disclosure. That's not something uninspired observers can see for themselves. That kind of information is inaccessible to sensory perception. 

Due to unforeseen circumstances


Due to unforeseen circumstances, ha! The website is currently under construction and the content will be restored as quickly as possible. Thank you for your patience and understanding. 
http://opentheism.info/
That's the problem with open theism. God didn't see it coming. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Love your neighbor


Denny Burk transcribed some statements by Albert Mohler:


We do know this much. It is an unmitigated tragedy. It’s a tragedy that an 18-year old young man is dead. 

That's one of those typical statements which people often make in situations like this. It seems like the right thing to say. But is it?

Frankly, whether or not his death was an "unmitigated tragedy" depends on what he would have done with his life. Isn't there footage of him roughing up a convenience store clerk? For all we know, his death may have saved innocent lives down the line. If, say, he was going to murder someone two years later, it would be tragic if he didn't die before he had the chance to commit murder. In that case, it would be tragic for the murder victim. 

I'm not saying that's a reason to shoot him. It isn't. Whether or not the shooting was justified depends on whether or not the officer had good reason to fear for his own safety. Lethal force is warranted in self-defense. Whether or not it was justified depends on the present (i.e. the circumstances at the time of the shooting), not a hypothetical future.

But when we attempt to evaluate someone's death, especially someone who died young, that's speculative. That makes assumptions about the future. We don't know what they would have done with the rest of their life if they had a normal lifespan. And speculation is a two-way street.

To take a dramatic example, when the explosive belt of a suicide bomber accidentally and prematurely denotes, just killing him rather than the intended victims, his death is not an unmitigated tragedy. And, of course, it's easier to say in that case because we can foresee where his course of action was headed. 

In the case of Michael Brown, we can't say one way or the other. It's best to resist the pious platitudes and withhold judgment either way. We are short-sighted. 

And after all, Eric Holder is the first African American attorney general of the United States and one who has spent his life as an activist and advocate in the civil rights movement. In this case, he is uniquely equipped and qualified to deal directly with the questions on the ground in Ferguson, Missouri. The rest of us need to hold back and allow the justice system to do its work.

What a preposterous statement. Holder's a radical, like Julian Bond. He views these issues through his jaundiced prism. 

But there is another dimension to this… “Americans need to lead with empathy.” That too is something important to the Christian worldview. We need to lead with empathy understanding that the ability to empathize is an ability to understand every single human being around us as our neighbor. Love of neighbor—one of the most important commands of Christ—…should lead us to lead with empathy… And in this case, that means we empathize with those in the African American community who are outraged at what they see as racial injustice. It means we empathize with those who look at the situation and see it as part of a larger pattern of inequity and injustice against young African American males…

No, we shouldn't pander to groundless outrage. The question is whether they are entitled to see a racial injustice. Does that have a basis in fact? Are they seeing an actual injustice, or are they projecting a racial injustice onto something that isn't? They are only entitled to see it that way if they see it as it is. 

Is there a larger pattern of inequity and injustice against young black males? To take a dramatic comparison, consider how Hamas or ISIS perceives the world. Is perception a substitute for reality? 

Mohler means well, but it's tiresome to read these morally and intellectual soft-bellied statements. Especially on issues like this, we need clearly thinking. 

"Feeling the pain despite the facts"


Over the years I’ve been challenged by my white brothers and sisters to just get over this. Their refusal to attempt to see things from my ethnically different perspective is a subtle, stinging form of racism. 
http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/august/its-time-to-listen.html?paging=off

Actually, the truly subtle form of racism is the writer's suggestion that white evangelicals mustn't treat blacks a rational adults. We should feel their pain in spite of the facts. We should suspend logic when dealing with their sense of outrage, regardless of whether their outrage has any basis in the reality of the situation at hand.  

The security theater


Thabiti Anyabwile continues posting on the Michael Brown shooting. I have a few brief observations:

i) I'm struck by the studied absence of rational persuasion. He doesn't reason with his readers. He doesn't present evidence in support of his operating assumptions. Instead, he resorts to emotional manipulation to shame white evangelicals into submission. 

ii) I'm struck by the retrograde nature of his complaint. It's like he's trapped in a Jim Crow timewarp. 

His complaint is retrograde in another respect. There are black social commentators who are far more candid about some destructive aspects of contemporary black culture. Stanley Crouch and John McWhorter have criticized the influence of Gangsta rap on the social malformation young black men. Thomas Sowell as written extensively about the deleterious effect of the welfare state on the black community. Likewise, compare Thabati's reaction to the Michael Brown shooting with Shelby Steele's analysis of the Trayvon Martin shooting.  

The sad thing is that Thabati is short-changing the black community. His anachronistic blame-shifting does nothing to resolve social problems in the black community or advance their economic situation. Unfortunately, reactionaries like Thabati are enablers who empower the liberal establishment to use blacks a pawns. The liberal establishment doesn't care about black voters–it only cares about black votes. 

iii) One point I briefly made in my previous post is the impact of black juvenile delinquency on the black business community. This ranges along a continuum. Shop-lifting. Armed robbery. The fact that many consumers won't venture into high-crime areas. Not to mention the economic impact of looting and rioting.

I imagine this is economically devastating to black small businessmen. If Thabiti really cared about the black community, he'd be more concerned about juvenile delinquency and its causes, viz. single motherhood, high school drop-outs. 

iv) One of my concerns is the toxic mix of political correctness with the militarization of the police and the evolving police state. We end up with police protecting criminals from citizens rather than vice versa. For instance, why do officers on the scene (Ferguson) allow the looters to act with virtual impunity? I think the obvious reason is that they are afraid of the political repercussions if they crack down on black looters.
White police officers have a built-in incentive not to shoot black criminals. And the Ferguson fiasco is a classic illustration. 

The police are already intimidated by routine charges of "racial profiling" and "disparate impact." If certain protected classes are practically off-limits to law enforcement (e.g. Muslims, illegal immigrants, black juvenile delinquents), then who's left to pick on? The police will increasingly turn their attention to innocuous white and Asian citizens. The police have so much to lose by cracking down on minority perps, with their special interest groups spoiling for a media circus, that it's politically safer for them to harass law-abiding citizens.

This can begin with petty technical infractions like speed traps or expired license tabs. But it quickly escalates to more drastic infringements on our civil liberties, like domestic drones, random checkpoints, sneak-and-peek searches, stop-and-frisk policies, as well as domestic espionage:



In the security theater, everyone is secure, but no one is safe. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

David and Goliath


I'm going to comment on some related statements by Arminian theologian Randal Rauser:



First, every person is informed in their reading of the Bible by moral (and rational) intuitions. Tolstoy believed that witnessing the act of killing another person punitively allowed him to see it was wrong. I agree with him on that. I suspect we would also agree that this moral perception is a God-given truth-producing faculty. You might consider it one of the deliverances of what is classically called "general revelation".
i) There's an elementary difference between claiming that your moral intuitions transcribe general revelation, and proving it. All we're getting from Rauser is his tendentious assertion. It's very convenient to baptize his radical chic social conditioning as "general revelation."
ii) Clearly, Bible writers and their target audience didn't share Rauser's sensibilities. The same holds true for ancient and medieval people generally, as well broad swaths of the modern world. If Rauser's "moral intuitions" map onto general revelation, why aren't his views more widespread in human history? If anything, his perspective represents a tiny, modern, ethnocentric viewpoint. Something you find among certain Western elites. 
Second, as long time readers of my blog would know, I take a Christocentric approach to reading the Bible. I believe that Jesus unveils the illegitimacy of redemptive violence. And that becomes a key principle to read the rest of the Bible.
What about NT depictions of Jesus as a divine warrior (e.g. 2 Thes 1:6-9; Rev 19:11-21)? 
Finally, we need to deal with the facile assumption that the Bible is a revelation something like the Qur'an. It isn't. While I do believe that every word of the Bible is minimally human words that were divinely appropriated, that doesn't mean that the human voice is equivalent to the divine voice.

I agree with him that the Koran isn't revelatory in the same sense as the Bible. That's because Muhammad was a false prophet. The Koran isn't divine revelation at all. 

The Bible typically identifies prophetic words with God's words. That's what distinguishes a true prophet from a false prophet. A true prophet transmits God's message. 

Last week the world gaped in horror at a photo posted to Instagram by Jihadist Khaled Sharrouf. The photo depicts Sharrouf’s seven year old son proudly holding up the decapitated head of a Syrian soldier. The moral judgment was unequivocal. “Appalling!” “Disgusting!” “Evil!”
i) Problem with Rauser's attempted moral equivalence is that he has the hero and the villain backwards. The proper analogy would make Goliath parallel Sharrouf, whereas Rauser implicitly makes David parallel Sarrouf, or his son. 
ii) On a related note, killing, per se, isn't wrong. A particular method of killing, per se, isn't wrong. Who is killing whom for what reason is morally relevant. 
This moral revulsion provides an opportune time to turn to one of the most familiar stories in the Bible, one that has provided fodder for countless Sunday school lessons. As you might have guessed, I speak of David’s defeat of Goliath in 1 Samuel 17.
i) Rauser's always on the look-out for a wedge issue to undermine Christian faith in Biblical revelation. Problem is, Rauser's position isn't consistently Christian or consistently secular. Attacking the Bible would make more sense if he were an atheist (although atheism is morally self-refuting). It makes no sense for Rauser to put Christians on the defensive for believing the Bible. Christianity is a revealed religion. Logically, Rauser's view of Scripture should lead him, not to liberalize his theology, but to drop all pretense of Christianity. 
ii) Let's assume for the sake of argument that David's action was morally wrong. So what? In narrative theology, the reader can't infer that the narrator approves of whatever he narrates. Even if David's action was morally wrong, that doesn't mean 1 Sam 17 is morally defective. The Bible records many events it doesn't condone. Historians do that. Historians report events without endorsing the events they report. 
While we don’t know David’s age, he is described as a “youth” (KJV) or “little more than a boy” (NIV) (v. 42). Both of these are translations of the Hebrew “na`ar” . (Cf. “na’ar,” Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, ed. Stephen Renn (Hendrickson, 2005), p. 176.)
According to the narrative, David already had a track record of killing bears and lions (vv34-37). He had to be strong enough to use primitive weapons to kill major predators. Minimally, that suggests a young adult (at least in his upper teens). 
And this refers to past events. He'd been guarding his father's sheep for several years prior to the encounter with Goliath. 
One can surmise that he was not a diminutive child given that Saul, an individual of formidable size, attempts to dress David in his own tunic (v. 38), not to mention David’s impressive claim to have defeated both lion and bear (v. 36). Regardless, even if David was a formidable young man, he was still likely in his pre-teen or early teen years.
"Regardless"? How is it "still likely" that he was in his pre-teen or early teen years if he could kill lions and bears at close quarters? And he was tall enough that wearing Saul's armor (Saul being the tallest Israelite around) wasn't patently ridiculous. 
So how old was David, exactly? We don’t know, but we can make a ballpark guess. David was the youngest of eight sons, the eldest three of whom had followed their father into battle (vv. 12-14), a fact that suggests the youngest five were not yet of battle age.
i) Why would Jesse risk sending all his adult sons into battle? Isn't three more than enough? What would Jesse have to fall back on if all his sons were killed in battle? 
ii) Presumably, Jesse needs some of his sons around to help run the family business. Keep in mind explicit military exemptions (Deut 20:5-8). There's a distinction between compulsory military service and the minimum age of eligibility.  
iii) V12 says Jesse was an old man. So old that he delegated the responsibilities of pater familias to his eldest son. Cf. D. Tsumura, The First Book of Samuel (Eerdmans 2007), 447. Since ancient Jews usually married young, Jesse probably began fathering kids when he was in his mid-teens. If he was an old man by the time of the account, all his sons could well be grown men. 
So it is likely that David was about 5-6 years older than the son of Khaled Sharrouf. With this in mind, let’s revisit the horror of witnessing Sharrouf’s son carrying the Syrian soldier’s head. Would our moral assessment have changed if the boy had been 12 or 13? Or would we still consider that an act of indefensible barbarism?
Yes, it does make a difference whether a father is exploiting his prepubescent boy, instead of a young adult acting on his own volition. 
And the issue is not merely about the involvement of children.
David wasn't a "child."
In our day and age we generally consider the desecration of corpses (whether of civilians or soldiers) to be morally indefensible. 
In context, I disagree. Rauser is confusing ethics with etiquette. In context, Goliath was shaming the Israelite army. He challenged the enemy to single combat. Champion warfare. 
This is about winning through dishonoring your adversary, as the representative of his armed forces. Dispatching and dishonoring Goliath spares a lot of lives on both sides. Desecrating his body (assuming that was the motive) is a small price to pay to avoid massive bloodshed on both sides. Rauser's moral intuitions are seriously skewed.
And that includes the beheading of corpses whilst treating the head as a trophy.
That assumes Goliath was already dead when David beheaded him. But the Hebrew is ambiguous. It may just as well be the case that Goliath was stunned, and decapitation was the quickest, simplest way of killing him. With an opponent like Goliath, you wouldn't expect David to take any chances. And this was, after all, a fight to the death. 
Moreover, Goliath was heavily armored, whereas his throat was exposed, in his prostrate position. Beheading him may have been the easiest way to finish him off, rather than trying to impale a vital organ. 
This leaves us with some important questions. Does this divergence between our sensibilities and those of the ancient Israelites reflect merely culturally relative differences? If so, then it follows that we might be mistaken to extend a moral censure to the practice in contemporary Syria. But if we insist that the desecration of corpses in this manner is objectively morally wrong how should we think of the practice in ancient Israel?
If we were living in the ANE, we'd have to adapt to ANE warfare. That doesn't mean we'd do whatever heathen warriors were prepared to do. But shaming the Philistine army into retreat is preferable to sacrificing your own troops in an unnecessary battle. It says something about Rauser's "moral intuitions" that he thinks decorum is more important than avoiding gratuitous bloodshed.  

Atheist Absurdities

http://www.nationalreview.com/node/385787/print

Models of visionary revelation


1. Some books of the Bible draw heavily on visionary revelation (e.g. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, Revelation). It's striking to me that scholars who write commentaries on these books rarely spend much time on the psychology of visionary revelation. They discuss genre, symbolism, schools of interpretation, rules of interpretation, yet they rarely explore the experience of visionary revelation, and how that might impact interpretation. 
2. In theory, visionary revelation could employ two different modes of image-processing:
i) Movietheater model
Visionary revelation might be analogous to watching a movie. The viewer is stationary, while the scenery is in motion (or the illusion of motion). Like a movie theater, where you sit still, in front of a screen, watching a series of rapid fire images. One scene after another.
ii) VR model
Visionary revelation might be analogous to a VR program. Unlike watching a movie, this would be an immersive, interactive experience. The scenery is stationary while the observer is in motion (or the illusion of motion). 
This is also analogous to those time-travel dramas where you can dial up a particular date in the past or future, maybe see a preview, step through a portal, and there you are–right in the thick of things.
The moviegoer model is an extension of looking at a still picture. The observer remains outside the picture.
The VR mode is like stepping right into the picture. The observer finds himself inside the picture. 
3. Does Scripture give any indication which of these models is closer to the truth? It's possible that God uses both modalities at different times. 
Visionary revelation includes revelatory dreams. Dreams are immersive, interactive. That would fit with the VR model. Likewise, in Ezk 40-48, the prophet is given a guided tour of the temple complex. He seems to be moving through the temple complex. That, too, would fit the VR model. 
This may be dream-like, where certain details are fuzzy. Perhaps he doesn't describe the temple ceiling, if there is a ceiling, because he does't look up. 
4. In Rev 19-20 we have a battle, followed by the "Millennium," (and the binding of Satan) followed by another battle. Premils regard this as a continuous action.
Some amils, based on recapitulatory parallelism, regard 20 as a new cycle. I agree with amils that Revelation contains recapitulatory parallelism, but I'm not convinced that there's a hard break between 19 and 20. So it's possible that 20 is a continuation of 19.
Amils also draw attention to the parallels between the battle scenes in 19 and 20. Both are literarily indebted to Ezk 38-39. 
Consider a thought-experiment. Suppose we view the battles scenes in 19:11-21 and 20:7-10 as two sides of the same panel, while 20:1-6 is the hinge. If you swing the panel to the right, that displays 19:11-21. If you swing the panel to the left, that displays 20:7-10. 
Which is the front and which is the back? That depends on the direction in which you approach the panel. If you approach the panel from one side, that's the side you're facing. If you approach the panel from the other side, that's the side you're facing. 
In that respect, which battle is before or after the other depends on where you are standing in relation to the panel. The Apocalypse is written in a particular sequence, in part because writing is inherently linear. 
But John's visionary experience may have been more spatial. Simulated locomotion. He moves from scene to scene. The battle scenes in 19:11-21 and 20:7-10 may have similar features because these are two sides of the same panel. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Millard reviews Currid

http://themelios.thegospelcoalition.org/review/against-the-gods-the-polemical-theology-of-the-old-testament

Spiting themselves

http://www.city-journal.org/2014/eon0818fs.html

Cases of xenoglossy


Keener gives some ostensible examples of modern xenoglossy:
This sort of supernatural knowledge also appears in an extensive survey of possession reports in traditional China, offered mostly from rural areas over a century ago when these experiences were far more common than they are in urban areas of China today. Informants claimed that some spirits spoke with unusual voices or poetic abilities and noted “northerners speaking the languages of the South, which they did not know.”61 Although most of the study’s informants naturally understood and presumably shaped their reports through the assumptions of their own Christian world view, a range of scholars have continued to find their information useful.62  
61. Voices and poetic abilities: John L. Nevius, Demon Possession and Allied Themes (Old Tappan: Revell, 1894), 46–47, 58 (hereafter, Demon Possession). Nevius (pp. 140–43) defends the reliability of his Chinese informants, interestingly noting on p. 143 that their reports are consistent with those from other cultures and eras. As William M. Ramsay also noted (The Teaching of St. Paul in Terms of the Present Day [2nd ed.; London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1913], 105–6), it was only Nevius’s field experience that convinced him that spirit possession was genuine (Nevius, Possession, ix, 9–13; “informants” quotation from ibid.). The use of allegedly alien dialects also appears in some other reports (Horton, “Types,” 29; Shorter, Witchdoctor, 183). 
62. Cf. the use of various missionary reports in Oesterreich, Possession, 143–46, 213–15, 219–23, 229, 362–64. 
https://www.ibr-bbr.org/files/bbr/bbr20b04.pdf

This is germane to the cessationist/continuationist debate.  Cessationists typically contend that glossolalia is xenoglossy. But even if that identification is correct (which is disputable), if there are well-attested examples of xenoglossy in post-apostolic times, then that disproves cessationism on its own terms. 
Mind you, I've read cessationists who attempt to evade this by claiming that even if there were instances of modern xenoglossy, that wouldn't be a "gift," but a one-off event. Of course, that tactic renders cessationism empirically unfalsifiable. 
One problem with Keener's documentation in this case is that he summarizes the material rather than giving specific examples. That makes it harder to evaluate the evidence. One would need to look up the references. Since I'm not charismatic, it's not incumbent on me to hunt it down. I'm not investing in proving it. But for Christians who wish to defend modern xenoglossy, it might be a worthwhile exercise. 

The angels of the churches


12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest…20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands (Rev 1:12-13,20; 2:1).
These verses raise several related issues: what do the lampstands represent? What do the stars represent? What do the "angels" represent? 
i) What's the basis for the imagery of the "golden lampstands"? And why are there seven of them?
At one level, seven doesn't require any special explanation, since that's a stock feature of John's numerology. It's a generic figure he uses throughout Revelation. 
In another respect that only pushes the question back a step. Why does he use septunarian numerology in the first place? Because it's something he derives from the OT. 
ii) The golden lampstand has its background in the menorah, which occupied the sanctuary of the tabernacle. It was made of pure gold. It was a seven-branched candelabra. 
At the very least, there's an opportune coincidence between septunarian configuration of the menorah and John's numerology in 1:12. It's very convenient for John that this was available to him. 
But it's a bit more than that. For OT "sevens" like this are what inspired his septunarian numerology in general. His use of sevens throughout Revelation is an extension of the OT exemplars. 
iii) Seeing Jesus amidst the menorah suggests that John saw Jesus in heaven. In the vision, Jesus occupies a heavenly tabernacle. The model of the earthly replica. That would be consistent with the tabernacle in Exodus, which was inspired by the vision of a heavenly archetype. 
iv) What about the stars? Both stars and the menorah are luminaries. 
Moreover, the menorah was likely designed to evoke the stellar luminaries in Gen 1:14-18. The menorah was to the tabernacle what the sun, moon, and stars are to the cosmos. "Interior lighting" to illuminate the tabernacle, which is a microcosm of the world at large. 
v) What about the "angels"? On one interpretation, this refers to actual angels. And that would be consistent with John's general usage. That's what "angels" typically are in Revelation.
There is, however, a prima facie problem with that identification. In what sense is Christ dictating letters to angels? How does that convey his message to the churches? Doesn't seem very practical. Suppose an angel writes what he says. Then what? How does that get in the hands of the churches? Does the angel appear to Christians in church and recite the contents of the letter?
On the face of it, this interpretation makes little sense. Often, commentators don't feel the need to offer workable interpretations. But if we take the Bible seriously, it ought to make sense.
Commentators float the notion of patron angels or guardian angels in charge of churches. But what does that mean? How do angels interact with churches under their charge? How's the message which Jesus dictates to angels transmitted to churches? Why is Jesus addressing his message to angels when Christians in the seven churches are the target audience? Moreover, it is clearly John, not angels, who is writing this down. 
I'll revisit the angelic interpretation momentarily.  
vi) Another interpretation is that this refers to a delegation from the seven churches. They visit John on Patmos. 
That's more practical. They could function as scribes or letter couriers. Take the message back to their respective churches. 
Yet there are problems with that identification. For one thing, the text doesn't actually say that or imply that. It's a more specific interpretation than the text enunciates. At best, that's consistent with the text. But it's underdetermined by the text.  
There's another problem: assuming that John was a political prisoner, why would his Roman captors give him that kind of access to his followers? Why would they allow him to direct operations from Patmos? Wouldn't that defeat the purpose of his banishment? If they thought he was a politically subversive figure, why would they permit him to communicate with his followers? If he was up to no good (in their view), that would enable him to coordinate seditious activities.
vii) Let's reconsider the angelic interpretation. One problem with the usual angelic identification is the failure of commentators to distinguish between what happens inside the vision and what happens outside the vision. If the "angels" in Rev 1-3 refer to external agents, to angels in the real world, then it's harder to see why Christ would dictate his letters to them. Harder to see how they'd interact with the churches of Asia Minor. 
If, however, the "angels" in Rev 1-3 are already characters within the visionary narrative, then it needn't be realistic. Their function, as messengers of Christ, would be analogous to the angelic herald in 14:6. We need to distinguish between the real world and the imaginative world of the story. Dictating letters to angels is a literary device. In reality, John is the scribe. 
viii) I suppose the reason commentators overlook this explanation is because they view the seven churches as real 1C churches, whereas the narrative proper only takes off at chap 4. On this view, chaps 1-3 are historical whereas chaps 4-22 are fictional. 
Yet it's arguable that the vision begins at 1:9, and continues thereafter. 2-3 don't interrupt the vision. Rather, they, too, are part of the vision. 
It is, of course, true that the seven churches refer to actual churches. However, the visions in Revelation generally have real-world analogues. They may not be a specific as 2-3, but they represent the kinds of things that happen in real life. 
Conversely, although the churches in 2-3 occupy a particular geography and timeframe, they also serve an exemplary or emblematic function. For better or worse, local churches throughout history exemplify some of these characteristics. When a modern Christian reads 2-3, he should compare and contrast the state of the church in his own time and place with these ancient churches. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Ferguson


I'm going to venture a few comments on the Ferguson debacle. It's now become a three-ring circus with the ambulance chasers (Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson) exploiting the situation.
i) I haven't followed the coverage that closely. There are thousands of homicides in the US every year. There's no reason I should be transfixed by this particular homicide. 
ii) In general, I have a negative view of our current law enforcement culture. I'll say more about that under #7.
iii) In my observation, black Americans are the only ethnic group that routinely riots in situations like this. Whites, Latinos, and Asian Americans don't normally riot in situations like this. 
iv) If protesters were really that concerned about dead black teenagers, why aren't they protesting the homicide rate in Chicago? 
v) Apropos (iv), most big cities have been run by Democrats for decades. Why do most blacks keep voting for Democrats if they distrust the law enforcement culture in their city? 
vi) I wonder how many black businessmen there are in Ferguson. How is the black business community impacted by crime? 
vii) Traditionally, conservatives are law-and-order types who support the police, although libertarians and Tea Partiers are changing that. A common criticism of the Ferguson police dept. response is that this epitomizes the "militarization" of the police. Now, I've read some defenses of the police. Here are some related defenses:
The Ferguson police dept. didn't switch to SWAT team tactics until the riots began. Donning riot gear is a natural response to rioting. 
When the criminal element upgrades its firepower, police must upgrade their firepower, lest they be outgunned.
SWAT team tactics seem inappropriate in low crimes areas. But in high crime areas, we'd be upset if the police weren't more aggressive about cracking down on crime and protecting ordinary citizens.
I think these defenses are valid in theory. But in practice, that's not how it works out. For instance, from what I've read, Ferguson police basically let looters ransack local businesses with impunity. Ferguson police use their SWAT team resources, not to restrain the criminal element, but to restraint protestors, ordinary citizens, and businessmen attempting to protect their establishments.
And that's not an isolated incident. Take cities with gun bans and a slow response time from the police. If a homeowner shoots an intruder, it's the homeowner who's at risk of being arrested on a weapons charge. 
What happens is that police end up protecting criminals from law-abiding citizens rather than protecting law-abiding citizens from criminals. That's because the police have more to fear from the criminal element, or special interest groups, than they have from ordinary citizens. So it's a lot easier for the police to harass ordinary citizens who pose no threat to them. Not only can you not count on the police to defend you, your home, or your business, you are likely to get into trouble if you defend yourself, your home, or your business. 
Now I'm going to comment on some statements by Thabiti Anyabwile: 
So I’m watching Ferguson and I’m thinking about Titus. And I’m thinking about the long list of African-American men shot to death for no good reason. And I’m mad as hell.
That epitomizes the problem. Thabiti is locating this event within a preexisting narrative. Instead of judging the event on its own terms, he prejudges the event. It assumes it must part of a pattern. He superimposes that preexisting narrative on the event. 
What I care about is the dignity and life-destroying devaluing of his life because in this country he is “black.” And the absurdity of it all is that he’s not “black” in every country. Only his own. In Cayman, he was Titus. In Cayman, he was free to be Titus. In the States, he’s “a little black boy” long before he’s “Titus.” And that calculation, the “racial” attribution that happens at the speed of sight, is deadly. It’s deadly.
What's ironic about this complaint is that Thabiti clearly singling out the race of Michael Brown. He seems to assume the shooting was racially motivated. He accuses other people of (allegedly) seeing the issue through a racial prism, yet he's oblivious to the fact that this is apparently the first thing and the most important thing he thinks of in cases like this: the dead teenager was black. 
Deadlier still are the many persons who seem not to recognize it. Who carry on without pause, who empathize with the shooter rather than the shot, who express concern for the family of the living but little to no regard for the family of the deceased, who talk of obeying lawful authority while witnessing the unlawful use of authority, who keep resetting the conversation to call into question the teenage victim while granting the benefit of the doubt to the grown up perpetrator.
Speaking for myself, I'm not giving the policeman the benefit of the doubt or Michael Brown the benefit of the doubt. I don't know the relevant facts. I don't know if the relevant facts will ever come to light. 

The menorah


3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. 
14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. 
31 “You shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The lampstand shall be made of hammered work: its base, its stem, its cups, its calyxes, and its flowers shall be of one piece with it. 32 And there shall be six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it; 33 three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on one branch, and three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. 34 And on the lampstand itself there shall be four cups made like almond blossoms, with their calyxes and flowers, 35 and a calyx of one piece with it under each pair of the six branches going out from the lampstand. 36 Their calyxes and their branches shall be of one piece with it, the whole of it a single piece of hammered work of pure gold. 37 You shall make seven lamps for it. And the lamps shall be set up so as to give light on the space in front of it (Exod 25:31-37). 
20 “You shall command the people of Israel that they bring to you pure beaten olive oil for the light, that a lamp may regularly be set up to burn. 21 In the tent of meeting, outside the veil that is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening to morning before the Lord. It shall be a statute forever to be observed throughout their generations by the people of Israel (Exod 27:20-21).

i) I suspect the first thing most modern readers think about when they read Gen 1 is how it comports with science. That's unfortunate. When reading an ancient text, we should try, as best we can, to clear our minds of modern preconceptions and consider what it would have meant to the original audience. What's significant to a modern reader may often be insignificant to the original audience, or vice versa. 
I'm not saying we should ignore the relevance of Gen 1 to scientific debates. Just that that should not be driving our interpretation. 
ii) One leading motif in Gen 1 is the recurrent emphasis on light, as well as the alternation between daylight and darkness. God's first creative command results in light. 
It's easy for modern readers to lose sight of the significance of light and dark, day and night, in Gen 1. The advent of electrical lighting has radically changed our dependence on natural light sources. 
At the same time, it isn't that hard to turn back the clock. If you go camping in the desert or the woods, you rise at sunrise. At night you only have a campfire for light. 
iii) Unlike ordinary firelight, sunlight is unusual for its constancy. It doesn't flicker. Doesn't very in its intensity. Doesn't require constant refueling. 
Apart from sunlight and occasional moonlight (on a full moon), ancient Israelites were dependent on firelight for illumination. Fire serves other functions as well. For cooking. For keeping predators at bay. 
iv) The Solomonic temple was more magnificent than the tabernacle. Yet in one respect, the tabernacle was more impressive. For the tabernacle was translucent. The tabernacle was essentially a series of curtains, enclosing and screening the sacred furniture. 
The Pentateuch was originally written for the Exodus generation. As one commentator (Stuart) notes, the menorah made the tabernacle the brightest object at night in the Hebrew encampment. It as like a symbolic solar system. The illuminated tabernacle, like the sun, surrounded by the tents of the Israelites. 
v) In what passes for modern scholarship, it's a cliche to think Bible writers viewed the divisions of space in vertical terms. The three-story universe. 
Yet the emphasis in the OT is not on vertical space, but horizontal space. Concentrical spacial divisions representing degrees of holiness. Eretz-Israel was holy in relation to the world outside Eretz-Israel. The tabernacle was holy in relation to the encampment. The sanctuary was holy in relation to the outer courtyard. The inner sanctum was holy in relation to the sanctuary. Likewise, separation is a recurring theme in Gen 1. 
vi) The menorah had a practical function. It illuminated the work space within the tabernacle. But over and above its utilitarian function was the symbolism. 
The flame was supplied by olive oil. That's the highest grade of oil, because it burns brightest with the least smoke. The menorah was kept alight from dusk to dawn.
It symbolized the presence of God. The menorah was an artificial Shekinah. If the Shekinah was a preternatural emblem of God's presence (a phosphorescent theophany), the menorah was a natural emblem of God's presence. The Shekinah filled the tabernacle to dedicate the tabernacle (Exod 40;34-38). But most of the time the Shekinah was presumably absent. The light from the menorah was reminiscent of the Shekinah. 
There's a sense in which the Shekinah (in Exodus) is to sunlight (in Gen 1) as the menorah is to sunlight. A twofold parallel. 
vii) It's probably not coincidental that the menorah was a seven-branched candelabra. The seven lights of the menorah correspond to the seven days (i.e. daylights) of Gen 1. In Gen 1, days are measured by daylight and darkness. 
Likewise, the tabernacle was assembled on Rosh Hashanah (Exod 40:1,17). The timing harkens back to Gen 1. A new beginning: the creation of the world and the Jewish New Year.