Thursday, May 28, 2015

What about kid's rights instead of queer rights?

Atheist takedown of Neil deGrasse Tyson

The TurretinFan/Albrecht Debate On Intercession Of The Saints

TurretinFan recently debated William Albrecht on the subject of the intercession of the saints. Albrecht claimed that none of the church fathers opposed praying to the deceased. He said that he didn't know of anybody who opposed the practice before John Calvin, though he later added the qualifier that Vigilantius opposed it in the fourth century. He cited a passage from Hippolytus, popularized by Ludwig Ott, to argue that Hippolytus supported the practice of praying to the dead. He also claimed that Origen supported it, among many others.

Actually, the evidence suggests that prayer to the dead wasn't practiced by believers in the Biblical era, is sometimes contradicted by the Biblical authors, and was rejected in the earliest generations of patristic Christianity. You can find a collection of many of my posts on these issues here. And here's a listing of our posts under the Prayer label. (Keep clicking "Older Posts" at the bottom right of the screen to see more.)

In a post on Hippolytus here, I explain that he seems to oppose praying to the dead rather than supporting it. I don't know if Albrecht read more of Hippolytus' commentary on Daniel than the one passage he cited. He may have just been repeating what he saw in Ludwig Ott. But Tom Schmidt recently published the first full English translation of Hippolytus' commentary, and I've read the entirety of it. If you read the passage Ott cites in context, it doesn't support the conclusion Ott and Albrecht have used it for. Similarly, the evidence suggests that Origen opposed prayer to the dead rather than supporting it. Celsus, a second-century opponent of Christianity Origen wrote against, suggests that Christians reject prayer to deceased humans, angels, or any other beings other than God, and Origen suggests the same in response. See here and here, among other posts I've written about Celsus and Origen's comments on these issues.

In a thread here you'll find a lengthy comments section in which I address Hermas, Athenagoras, and many other patristic sources. You can use the Ctrl F feature on your keyboard to find the material you're interested in. For example, if you search for "Vigilantius", you'll find my comments on how he wasn't alone in opposing prayers to the dead in the fourth century. Other church leaders and laymen held the same view.

In our index post on prayer, you'll also find links to posts in which we address the Biblical evidence. On the issue of deceased believers being spiritually alive, which supposedly exempts them from Biblical passages about not trying to contact the dead, see here. For example, go to the comments section of that thread, and read my posts at 4:55 A.M. and 4:59 A.M. on 6/4/10. On Revelation 5:8, which was cited by Albrecht, see here. See here concerning catacomb inscriptions. Albrecht made much of the fact that deceased believers in heaven are sometimes portrayed as being aware of events on earth. On that subject, see here. The same post expands on a good point TurretinFan made during the debate, that prayer to the dead is absent in scripture across so many passages and so many contexts addressing so many timeframes.


Recently, I was debating a "progressive Christian" (for want of a better term) who hurled the Josh Duggar scandal at me. I'm of two minds about commenting on this scandal. I don't think it has any intrinsic significance. However, one might use it to make some general points:

i) I don't keep tabs on what 15-minute celebrities of reality shows say or do. Indeed, I avoid informing myself about the private lives of 15-minute celebrities. The fact that somebody is famous for being famous doesn't make his beliefs or lifestyle any more important than men and women who live and die in obscurity.

The only folks taking a serious interest in the antics of celebutants are folks who are just as vapid as the celebutants they obsess over. Airheads of a feather flock together. 

ii) Christian faith is faith in Christ, not faith in Christians. Christian faith is putting faith in Christ, not putting faith in fellow Christians. If a professing Christian is a hypocrite, that's irrelevant to the Christian faith.

iii) I had to do a bit of Googling just to write this post. The Duggar parents are famous (or infamous, depending on your viewpoint) for having 19 kids and counting. 

Historically, that's not unusual. Before the advent of modern contraception (and abortion on demand), mothers often continued having babies until they hit menopause or died in childbirth. 

By contemporary standards, the Druggars are a freak show, but historically, that was the norm. The main difference is that, in the past, due to high child mortality, most kids didn't survive into adulthood.

iv) I assume the Duggars agreed to do a reality show to help finance their domestic expenses. It's very expensive to raise 19 kids. Of course, that turns your private life into a fishbowl.

v) It wouldn't surprise me if their squeaky clean public image isn't the whole story. We generally put our best face forward in public settings.

vi) I've read claims that the Dugger parents belong to the "Christian Patriarchy movement." I don't know if that's true, and I don't know what that means, specifically. I don't care enough to research the issue.

I'm a complementarian, but that can be taken to extremes. TGC recently did a post on hyper-headship:

vii) I don't have a firm opinion on the size of families. 

a) On the one hand, so long as parents provide for their kids, it's none of my business how many kids they choose to have. 

b) On the other hand, above a certain number, parenting suffers. Above a certain number, you can't individualize in childrearing. It's a choice between more time for fewer kids or less time for more kids. It also depends on spacing pregnancies. 

So childrearing gets subcontracted to older siblings or grandparents. In a sense, that's not fair to children.

If, however, the parents had a smaller family, some kids who lose out through lack of parental attention would never exist in the first place. Arguably, you have more to lose by not existing. So there are tradeoffs between a lesser and a greater deprivation.

viii) I think contraception is morally permissible and morally responsible. I reject abortifacients. 

ix) I don't know that Josh Duggar is a hypocrite. Being raised in a Christian family doesn't make you a Christian. If, moreover, you were indoctrinated in a legalistic theology, that can be even more reason to rebel or misunderstand the Gospel.

x) Some Christians have turned tables on the critics by pointing out that liberals generally give a free pass to Woody Allen and Roman Polanski. So the charge of hypocrisy rebounds. 

Mike Huckabee has pointed out that the law protects disclosure of many actions on the part of minors. That, too, draws attention to liberal hypocrisy. When policemen shoot a teenager, liberals accuse them of shooting a "child."

So we certainly see double standards in the attack on Josh Duggar. 

xi) However, the sisters whom Josh is accused of molesting might have a very different take on the situation. 

David French accuses the parents of stalling tactics to play out the clock on the statue of limitations. 

xii) Mind you, a person can be a cad without being a hypocrite. And it was certainly a mistake for the Family Research Council to make Josh its executive director. That illustrates the dangers of a celebrity culture infecting Christian organizations. 

How the mind uses the brain

In this post I'm going to present a model of dualism. I'm not going to spend much time defending it. I've defended aspects of this elsewhere. And I don't want to get bogged down in supporting arguments.
I think it's useful to explain a certain way of looking at issues. Provide a model. 
According to classical theism, God is timeless and spaceless. I agree.
That raises the question of how to interpret statements about God interacting with the world. God coming and going. Having conversations with Abraham or Moses. 
This, of course, is an issue that crops up in open theism. And open theism serves as a warning against naive hermeneutics. 
I think the short answer is analogous to how a novelist relates to the story. A novelist exists outside the story. He doesn't physically interact with the characters, time, or space of the story. 
Rather, a novelist is involved in the story by writing the story. He's responsible for everything that happens. Directly or indirectly, he causes everything that happens. He controls events. He directs the outcome. 
Sometimes a novelist can write himself into the story by making himself a character in his own story. In that respect, he exists at two different levels. He still exists outside the story. But he has a counterpart within the story who represents the novelist. His counterpart speaks like the novelist, thinks like the novelist, believes whatever the novelist believes. Has the same viewpoint as the novelist. His counterpart can even know everything the novelist does. 
In addition, I'm a Cartesian dualist. An interactionist. I think the soul is immaterial. Same thing with angels and demons. But there is some Scriptural evidence that angels have the ability to materialize. 
In popular Christian discourse, we speak of "casting out" demons. An out-of-body experience. The soul "separating" from the body at death. 
I think popular usage is innocuous so long as we don't derive metaphysical conclusions from popular usage. Otherwise, it's misleading. But it's a convenient shorthand.
However, I don't think the soul is literally in the body. Rather, I think the soul uses the body. The mind uses the brain. 
Neuroscientist Wilder Penfield employed the following analogy: the mind is to a programmer as the brain is to a computer. Likewise, neuroscientist John Eccles talks about "how the self controls its brain." My point is not to expound or endorse the details of their respective positions. I'm just sketching a general way of framing the issue. 
There are various ways of illustrating this relation:
i) Telerobotics. Remote-control signaling. We might say the body is to the aerial drone as the mind is to the operator. The operator is "linked" to the drone. He directs the drone. The drone does what he wills it to do. But he is not in the drone. 
Telerobotics involves teleoperation and telepresence. Through wireless communication, it's action at a distance.
ii) Virtual reality. If all your sensory relays are hooked up to VR equipment, the only thing you can perceive is the simulated world. Your sensory perceptual system is patched into the program. That's all you hear, see, and feel. 
That's in spite of the fact that you are not actually a part of that world. You exist outside the program. And if you are disconnected from the equipment, you resume your perceptual awareness of the external world. But it's one or the other at any given time. You can't be simultaneously conscious of both.
That analogous to visionary revelation. In his altered state of consciousness, the seer is only aware of the visionary scenes. But once he emerges from the trance, he resumes his ordinary sensory perception. 
Let's compare these illustrations to a haunted house. Let's view a ghost as a disembodied mind or disembodied consciousness. 
What would it mean for the postmortem soul to go back to the house where the decedent grew up? Two things:
i) It's a matter of what the soul is thinking about. He remembers the house. In his mind, he "goes back" there. That's the object of his mental concentration. That's what he's aware of. 
ii) In addition, he can act at a distance. He has the ability to point his thoughts and intentions in the direction of that location. Make things happen–within the limits of a finite agent. 
For instance, we might view this as a preliminary punishment during the intermediate state. He is condemned to hang around the scenes of his past, as a passive, frustrated spectator. He laments the past. Laments his loss. Cut off from the life he knew. He can enviously watch others doing what he used to do, but he can't participate. That's before the day of judgment, when there will be a total separation between the living and the dead, the saints and the damned. 
Many miracles are essentially mind over matter. Psychokinetic or telekinetic. Where an agent is able to will a change. He needn't be in physical contact with what he brings out. 

Queen of the hill

Islam's depopulation bomb

I recently read a prediction that Islam is the world's fastest growing religion, on track to overtake Christianity in a few decades. I find that wildly implausible. Islam has very little appeal.

But be that as it may, here's another trend that may undercut that prediction:

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A survivor's guide to organ harvesting

In light of stories like this:

we need to take precautions so that if we're ever wheeled into the ER unconscious and hooked up to a ventilator, we won't be euthanized and carved up for our organs. 

i) Assiduously cultivate an unhealthy lifestyle. Be obese. Look like Dan and Roseanne Conner from the sitcom (Roseanne).

ii) Carry one or two packs of cigarettes on your person (in a purse or shirt pockets). You don't have to smoke them. They are just stage props.

iii) Stuff your wallet with dogeared business cards from establishments like:

a) Take out/delivery pizza joint

b) Tavern

c) Liquor store

d) All-you-can-eat buffet

e) Dairy Queen

f) Dunkin' Donuts

g) Taco Bell

h) KFC

j) Drug rehab facility

That way, when the ER staff rifles through your wallet for ID, health insurance, &c., they will instantly see that you are a totally unsuitable candidate to be an organ donor.

iv) Make sure the business cards are broken in to look convincing. Bend them. Get your hands dirty to cover them with smudges. 

What goes around comes around

The fountain of youth

They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them (Rev 9:5-6).
Immortality is the Holy Grail of medical science. The basic purpose of medical science is to postpone death. A secondary purpose is to improve the quality of life. Reduce physical suffering. 
One reason science has been unable to find the cure for death is because it hasn't figured out why we age. There are competing theories of senescence.
But suppose medical science does figure out the key to immortality. Would that falsify the Christian faith? After all, Scripture says human mortality is not a natural condition, but a penal condition. A divine punishment for original sin. 
If, however, medical science can keep people youthful, does that mean the Biblical explanation for the aging process is false? A superstitious prescientific explanation?
Several issues:
i) This isn't really a new issue. Medical science in general has been ameliorating some natural evils caused by the fall of man. If that is not inconsistent with Christian theology, then neither is figuring out how to block the aging process.
ii) From an eschatological perspective, medical science simply delays the inevitable. Humans will still face the judgment.
iii) In addition, although death is punitive, there are situations in which the inability to die is punitive. Take Rev 9:5-6. There's a sense in which torment is worse than death, if death brings relief. That's why some people commit suicide. That's their way to escape physical pain, psychological pain, or the prospect thereof.
iv) In fact, Rev 9:5-6 suggests a point in the future when humans will be unable to die. But that will be a curse. And that will still be temporary. Eventually, they will face the final judgment. The day of reckoning awaits.
v) What would a fallen world populated by immortals be like? At first blush, that might seem to solve our greatest problem. But consider the consequences.
The ruling class would impose draconian birth-control measures. Mandatory sterilization. Forced abortion. Maybe even universal sterilization–with sperm banks as a backup. 
Of course, that would meet with stiff resistance in some quarters. The desire for children runs deep.
You'd need a police state to enforce a moratorium on pregnancy and child-bearing. Right off the bat, utopia would take a dystopian turn. 
vi) To be ageless doesn't make you indestructible. Even if you can't die from disease or old age, you can still be killed. Accidents. Murder. Natural disasters. 
Because we know that death is inevitable, humans take calculated risks. Driving a car carries the potential for death or disablement. But we accept the risk. It's a tradeoff. The benefits usually outweigh the risk.
If, however, death was not inevitable, then that would drastically change the risk assessment for many things we ordinarily do. We'd become a society of hypochondriacs. We'd become fanatically risk-averse.
If death is not inevitable, then the stakes of undertaking potentially life-threatening activities is immeasurably higher. It would lead to social paralysis. Most folks would be petrified to do anything slightly hazardous. Yet almost nothing humans do is risk-free. Many necessary, mundane activities are potentially harmful or fatal. 
We play the odds. Most of us take reasonable precautions. 
But paradoxically, a world in which death is not inevitable is far more dangerous than world in which death is inevitable, for you have far more to lose. In a fallen world, immortality would quickly degenerate into hell on earth. 
All by itself, immorality doesn't make you safe. You can still be harmed. Still be killed.
So there's a sense in which the fountain of youth is poisonous. Even if it conferred immortality, there's a hidden cost. 
vii) In the new Jerusalem, there's more to immortality than eternal youth or agelessness. There's providential protection. Not to mention impeccability.

Incrementalism is incompatible with reconstructionist theonomy

Abolitionist John Reasnor had been debating Clinton Wilcox. And AHA has been sponsoring Reasnor's presentations, both on Facebook and on its blog. So he's an approved spokesman for AHA. 

I noticed in his reply to Wilcox that Reasnor was recycling theonomist arguments. So for him, incrementalism is incompatible with Scripture because incrementalism is incompatible with reconstructionist theonomy. Incrementalism is incompatible with his theonomic interpretation of Scripture. 

My immediate point is not to evaluate theonomy, but just to document the linkage between abolitionism and theonomy. According to their authorized representative, abolitionism is a theonomic ideology.

That connection is made more explicit when I go to Reasnor's Facebook page, which says he's a member of Reconstructionist Theonomists.

Christian Reconstructionists are generally characterized by a comprehensive system comprised of  the following five doctrines:

1. Predestination - because God alone is absolutely sovereign over Creation, able to bring all things He will to pass.
2. Covenant theology - because there is a long-term relationship between covenant-keeping and external blessings in history, as well as covenant-breaking and external cursings in history.
3. Biblical law - because God has put in place legal and moral boundaries, both individually and corporately, which are universal to all times, people, and places.
4. Presuppositional apologetics - because there is no neutrality in any aspect of life - everything is either supporting the Kingdom of God or fighting against it.
5. Postmillennialism - because the eschatology of hope is why we labor to bring everything into cavity under Christ - we actually believe that Christian culture we are working toward will come to fruition in history.

(derived largely from Gary North's book, Tools of Dominion)

One need not necessarily ascribe to all of these beliefs to participate in this group, but the following is required:

1. Belief in the Bible as inerrant and the only authority in all matters of life.
2. Belief in the universal and on-going applicability of God's Law in all areas of society, family, civil, ecclesiastical. (The scope and nature of specific applications are open for discussion.)

We strive to provide a place for edifying, biblical discussion for the application of God's Law in all realms of society. 

Please help Reformed believers spread the Gospel to Roman Catholics when “Pope Francis” travels to Philadelphia later this year

Pope Francis is Coming to Town!
Mark it on your calendar: “Pope Francis” is Coming to Town.

The funds that are being solicited here will help to print tracts and buy meals and T-shirts for those who will be participating in the street evangelization events.

It takes only a few moments to make a donation here. Please consider prayerfully how you might help this effort to move forward.

13 Things You Didn’t Know About “the Papacy”

[Please note: Elsewhere I have written about the trip that “Pope Francis” will be making to Philadelphia, September 26-27, and also the street evangelism efforts that that a number of Reformed believers are going to be participating in. I’m offering this article here (or some edited version of it) as the text for the hand-out piece to be given to Roman Catholics who are coming to Philadelphia and adoring this “pope”. If you decide to read this through, please take a minute to comment -- let me know if I missed anything, or if there is a point that I should not be making -- thank you. - John Bugay.]

13 Things You Didn’t Know About “the Papacy”

Popes over the centuries have enjoyed great power and privilege as “the Vicars of Christ”. And in our days, we still see large audiences giving adulation to the particular man who holds the title of “Pope”.

But “the papacy” is not biblical, and nor was it affirmed by early church writers or councils.

In fact, this document will make the claim that “the papacy” as an institution is a later add-on to Christianity – kind of like a leech – a fraudulent institution that evolved by making claims for its own authority based on illegitimate criteria – these were criteria that earlier writers understood to be fraudulent, but which later history (aided by the wealth of the Roman emperors and the later fall of Rome) could not easily argue against or resist.

Have you noticed that we rarely hear of “the papacy” nowadays? In fact, the words “papal” and “papacy” are not used at all in the “Catechism of the Catholic Church”, despite its history of claiming both worldly and spiritual power. Now we hear of “the successor of Peter” or “the Petrine ministry”.

In fact, concepts like “Roman primacy”, “the Papacy”, and “the Petrine ministry” were concepts “developed” long after the Apostles lived, and they were superimposed back upon history as a way of consolidating papal power in the middle ages:

“It is clear that Roman Primacy was not given from the outset; it underwent a long process of development whose initial phases extended well into the fifth century” (Klaus Schatz, “Papal Primacy”, 1996, pg 36).

Evolution 2.0

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Arminian vs Reformed on Justification

Are bodies superfluous?

i) I'm going to consider a philosophical objection to the resurrection of the body. The objection is not that physical resurrection is impossible, but unnecessary.

Traditional Christian eschatology distinguishes the intermediate state from the final state. The intermediate state is a conscious, discarnate state. When a human dies, their soul is "separated" from the body. The soul (mind, consciousness) continues to exist.

And I think that's correct. I put "separation" in scare quotes because, strictly speaking, I don't think the soul is in the body or attached to the body. Rather, the soul uses the body.

ii) There are different ways of representing the intermediate state. In Scripture, the intermediate state is like an extended out-of-body experience. In Scripture, the mode of visionary revelation employs what is, at least from a phenomenological standpoint, an out-of-body experience.

In this altered state of consciousness, the seer has very vivid, inspired dreams or visions. It simulates physical or sensory experience. The intermediate state is like an inspired collective dream. It can heavenly for the saints, and hellish for the damned.

iii) In principle, it seems as though a discarnate state can mirror physical experience. Indeed, because it is liberated from what's physically possible, it is more flexible than physical experience. In that state you can do or perceive things you can't do with the body. By "do," I mean manipulate or interact with the imaginary environment.

But if that's the case, the final state seems to be superfluous. It doesn't add anything to the intermediate state. Indeed, it's more limited than the intermediate state. It is subject to physical restrictions.

iv) We can also model the intermediate state by using SF analogues. These take two basic forms. There's virtual reality. A neurointerface may bypass the subject's sensory inputs. Instead, information is fed directly into his brain. An imaginary world which may mimic the real world down to the last detail. The experience may be indistinguishable from reality. 

A more dualistic version involves uploading consciousness into a computer–or synthetic body. On this view, consciousness is information. It can be digitized. 

It's dualistic in the sense that mind is separable and transferable. However, it still requires a physical platform to subsist. And that's because science fiction is into hardware. 

Examples of both include Avatar, Freejack, The Matrix, Harsh Realm, Total Recall, "Kill Switch" (The X-Files), &c.

A character can become trapped in virtual reality. He can't tell when, or if, it ends. 

Although this is fictional, there are scientists like Frank Tipler and Ray Kurzweil who think it's realistic. That, of course, depends on a particular theory of the mind. As well as the assumption that the brain is exhaustively mappable. 

v) If this is true, then the final state seems to be superfluous. But is it true that the intermediate state is empirically equivalent to physical existence? Or is there some loss as we switch from embodied existence to disembodied experience? 

vi) One possible reason is that we initially need genuine sensory experience in a physical world to stock our imagination. But once we acquire a mental map of sensation and physicality, then, in principle, imagination can take it from there. 

But perhaps sensory deprivation would become psychotic unless our imagination is periodically refreshed by the real thing. If a dreamer never wakes up, will the dreamscape deteriorate the way memories fade unless they are reinforced by contact with the person or place? 

vii) Although this is controversial, one thing VR can't properly simulate is procreation. Imagining a baby isn't a baby. A mental projection of a baby or child isn't the same thing as an independent person. So one irreducible value of a final (physical state) is if the saints can procreate. 

viii) Even if a discarnate state can simulate a physical sensation, yet without a body we may not have the same motivation. For instance, young men are physically restless because they have surplus energy. They burn it off through athletic activity. 

Even if a discarnate state can simulate athletic activity, without a body there wouldn't be the same impulse. They wouldn't have energy to burn, so the incentive would be gone. 

ix) Apropos (viii), what makes some sensations pleasant isn't merely the immediate sensation, but the prior physical state of the agent. 

Tasty food is pleasant even if you aren't hungry, but it's more enjoyable if you are hungry. A chilly drink is more enjoyable if you're thirsty. 

Some physical pleasures assume a degree of physical discomfort prior to the subsequent experience which brings relief. Like eating and drinking.

Sleep is more enjoyable if you're dog tired. Chocolate gelato is always good, but better on a hot day.

A hot bath or shower feels even better if you're chilly. Same thing with sitting in front of a cracking fireplace.

Even if the discarnate state can simulate swimming, the pleasure of merely swimming doesn't capture the pleasure of swimming on a hot day. You must feel initially overheated to fully enter into the pleasant experience of cooling off by taking a dip.

x) This all goes to the fact that in interactionist dualism, the body affects the mind, as well as vice versa. Without a body, you can't have the complete experience. So there's something lost in the absence of a body. It isn't possible to replicate embodied experience in toto minus a body. Not everything carries over. 

Mapping the brain

RK: Right now… our most complex machines are still on the order of a million times simpler than the human brain. Although we’re making very strong progress in reverse engineering of the human brain — in fact we’ve made some very strong progress even since my book came out two years ago–we still don’t have maps or reverse engineering of 99% of the human brain. We’ll get there because brain scanning, our ability to reverse engineer the human brain, as well as computation, communication and miniaturization are all growing exponentially.

Even if we suppose mind is reducible to brain, I don't think his analysis works. We can only map the brain at scales large enough to be detectable. But matter has an underlying subatomic structure. That pattern can't be mapped. We hit a wall in terms of our inability to detect physical entities below a certain scale. 

The basic principle is that bigger things are composed of smaller things. The question is how far down that goes. Where does it bottom out? Does it bottom out? Is matter infinitely divisible? Is there a smallest physical unit? 

We can only map what we can scan. To my knowledge, brain scans only map macro brain structures. 

You can put slices of a brain under a microscope, but a dead brain doesn't give you all the information you need to map the brain. 

High-energy physics would kill the brain. If you put a human inside a collider, what comes out won't be alive. 

And even then, we still hit a limit. The part of the brain we perceive is the effect of elementary particles we can't perceive. It's a larger pattern, caused by smaller patterns–like nested Russian dolls. Dolls inside dolls inside dolls. 

This is why we can't prove string theory. Even if strings were the ultimate physical constituents, they are too small to detect, because we must use something physical to detect something physical, and what we use is bigger than what we hope to detect. 

The structure of the brain we can scan is generated by structures that elude detection. So the resultant map is a very coarse-grained map that misses all the finer details. Like low resolution photography. 

That's not to knock brain scanning technology. It contributes to medical treatment. But we can only take it so far. 

Should I save a zygote over a baby?

Monday, May 25, 2015

Making a deal with the devil

I'm going to comment on this:

In his response, Reasnor's political philosophy is ripped straight from the playbook of theonomists like Bahnsen and Rushdoony. Hs slogans mirror stock theonomic slogans. He says:

All the world is commanded to be subservient to God. Jesus Christ is King… 
Jesus Christ is Lord and King of every square inch of this world. There are no realms of neutrality that one can go about doing evil so good may come (not that I believe pro-life incrementalism has done any good, though that is their claim). 
If you deny that Jesus Christ is King of all the world, and that faith can overcome the world, then incrementalism makes perfect sense. If faith is not a viable option, then all you are left with is political compromise, situational ethics, and moral ambiguity. If you believe that Jesus is King, that all power on earth and heaven has been given to Him, and that by faith we can overcome evil, then immediatism is the natural position to hold. In conclusion, if you understand the terms in their historical context, you serve Jesus Christ as the reigning King that He is, and if you view God’s word as applying to all of life.

Compare this to theonomy. For instance:

No neutral ground means that every square inch of life is claimed by Christ, including law, civil government and social ethics. No neutral ground means that the Bible must be the ultimate authority in every sphere of life. 
CHRISTIAN RECONSTRUCTION A recently articulated philosophy which argues that it is the moral obligation of Christians to recapture every institution for Jesus Christ. It proclaims “the crown rights of King Jesus.” 
But Kuyper today is most famous for his “not one square inch” quotation, one that’s well known to all Christians dedicated to the society transforming strategy of the Dominion Mandate. It’s this: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” Yes! Everything is His, and Kuyper’s proclamation says that without Him there wouldn’t be any square inch or inches of anything for us to ever be concerned about. Every sphere of life has a God-ward component that must be first factored in before interacting with the sphere overall.

i) So that raises a question: Is AHA theonomic? Is it committed to Christian Recon, a la Bahnsen, Rushdoony? 

ii) I'd add that different theological traditions take different positions on how the old covenant is fulfilled in the new covenant. How much carryover there is between OT ethics and NT ethics.

Baptists, Anabaptists, Lutherans, and Dispensationalists see more discontinuity, while Anglicans, Presbyterians, theonomists, &c. see more continuity. There's a spectrum of views.

In addition, different theological traditions may see more continuity in some respects, less in others. That varies from one tradition to another. Baptists of the LBCF see more continuity whereas Baptists of the new covenant theology or progressive covenantalism persuasion see less continuity. 

Since AHA denies that it's an "organization" or even a "group," how can it stipulate a theologically monolithic view of how the OT relates to the NT? That's something you'd expect from a denomination.

Another claim that Clinton makes is that Abolitionists are sacrificing children that would have been savable with incremental legislation. This is a false claim and unprovable. Incrementalists often make the claim that their iniquitous and partial decrees save many lives. However, the primary effect and the only proven effect of any incremental bill is solely the stated effect of the bill. A law outlawing partial birth abortion only does just that. A law banning after 20 weeks only does just that.

How does his denial follow from his admission? How does a law banning partial birth abortion not save the lives of babies protected by that particular law? How does a law banning abortion after 20 weeks not save the lives of babies protected by that particular law? 

Take laws against murder generally. Let's construct a parallel argument: 

Another claim that Clinton makes is that anarchists are sacrificing innocent lives that would have been savable if murder was outlawed. This is a false claim and unprovable. The primary effect and the only proven effect of any law criminalizing murder is solely the stated effect of the bill. Legislation outlawing murder only does just that. 

Well, what else is a law supposed to do? Does Reasnor think laws with penalties don't deter the crimes they ban? 

There are many factors involved (namely the decreasing birthrate and the mass availability of abortifacient birth control methods) that greatly affect any honest statistics. 

How is that germane to the specific claim? The specific correlation regarding what a law bans. 

Notice that Reasnor doesn't present an actual argument. He doesn't begin to show how decreasing birthrates are relevant. It's like saying: "Due to decreasing birthrates, laws against murder don't deter or reduce murder." How does Reasnor derive that conclusion from his premise? 

The pro life movement has yet to demonstrate that these incremental steps “in the right direction” have been in the right direction at all. In fact, incremental legislation has many secondary effects, primarily the reinforcement of ageism within our culture, the legal legitimization of murder, and the protracting of abolition. 

Even if he doesn't think incremental legislation is moving in the right direction, how does that disprove the fact that laws targeting specific forms of abortion save babies covered by those provisions?

If faith is not a viable option, then all you are left with is political compromise, situational ethics, and moral ambiguity.

That's another textbook case of how AHA routinely resorts to fallacious arguments. "Situation ethics" was the title of a book by Joseph Fletcher. He used that phrase to designate his particular ethical system. It's a brand name.

That hardly implies that if you take the situation into account in decision-making, you are a situation ethicist in Fletcher's idiosyncratic sense. That confuses one man's position with a much broader concept. The fact that Fletcher used the word "situation" doesn't mean his usage defines the concept. 

To take a comparison, there are Christian Identity movements. But that hardly implies that if a theologian uses the word "Christian" or "identity," he's endorsing the Christian Identity movement. The fact that words are used as brand names doesn't mean they only or primarily denote that specialized sense. 

This is just a guilt-by-association tactic. "Situation" in "situation ethics" is a technical term for a particular system of ethics. But taking circumstances into account in decision-making is by no means equivalent to "situation ethics" according to Fletcher's position–any more than using "Christian" or "identity" makes you a member of the Christian Identity movement.

Much like Gregg Cunningham, I’m convinced that all the Pro-Life Celebrities and organizations would work with the embodiment of evil itself to save the babies. 

i) Here we see how AHA has fabricated an urban legend. Look at how quickly it took hold:

Abolish Human AbortionMay 20 at 9:05am  
You will never gain a single thing by making deals with the Satan. Not one thing. Not ever. All his promises are false. Obey God and trust God.

Abolish Human AbortionApril 26 at 1:33pm   
"I would not take the Devil's deal to save every baby if he could just sacrifice this one" 
-Gregg Cunningham . . . as he waived a thick stack of papers which is the deal with the devil that he did take.

Abolish Human AbortionApril 27 at 10:46am Fruit from the recent debate!Scott Klussendorf, Jill Stanek, Mark Harrington, and Gregg Cunningham have all clearly outed themselves as methodological moral relativists who stand on the studies of men and twist scripture to support their own fears and faithlessness in the power and gospel of God. 
They are claiming that Jesus is a pragmatist and that he recommends that we only truly fight against the sins which our culture gives us permission to fight and that we survey the culture and determine whether "we have the votes" before we cease making deals with the devil.

Notice, though, that AHA actually quotes Cunningham saying "I would not take the Devil's deal…"

However, they immediately proceed to impute to him the polar opposite of what he actually said. They misattribute to him the claim that he'd make a deal with the devil, even though he explicitly denied that, and they extend that misattribution to other prolifers. 

It's a fascinating illustration of legendary embellishment. What does it say about how the insular groupthink of AHA that this patent misrepresentation, which is dialemmetrically contrary to what he actually said, becomes the unquestioned false premise for their subsequent aspersions?

ii) Moreover, even if Cunningham said what they impute to him, do we really need to explain to abolitionists that making a "deal with the devil" is a figure of speech? 

It's not a literal pact with Satan. Don't abolitionists understand idiomatic metaphors? For instance, it's often used in reference to military alliances, where one country combines forces with an unsavory regime to oppose a more dire threat. We could debate the merits of that strategy, but the immediate point is that there's nothing literally Satanic about it. Don't abolitionists have a basic command of vernacular English? Don't they grasp a colorful colloquial metaphor? 

Daniel Remains A Major Problem For Skeptics

In late 2014, Carol Newsom, an Old Testament scholar at Emory University and president of the Society of Biblical Literature in 2011, published a commentary on the book of Daniel (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014). She takes the position that's now the majority view on the dating of Daniel, placing the composition of the closing chapters of the book in the middle of the second century B.C. John Collins, one of the foremost Daniel scholars of our day, calls Newsom's work "the first major commentary on Daniel of the twenty-first century" (front flap).

I've read the introduction and some other portions of the commentary, but I haven't read the large majority of it. So, these are my tentative first impressions. But I found it striking that "the first major commentary on Daniel of the twenty-first century", written by such a prominent Old Testament scholar, published just recently and with all of the resources of a scholarly majority behind it, has to concede so much to a traditional dating of Daniel.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The shadow church

Some civil libertarians fear a shadow government. Catholics have a shadow church: lay Catholic apologists who assume the Magisterial role of doctrinal gatekeepers and theological police:
The blogosphere as it functions in Catholicism today is an adversarial system.  It’s a mirror of our polarized Church and polarized culture, where you have the Optimates on one side, and the populares on the other; and those populares (whoever they may be) are vile, evil sick beings who must be destroyed.  Engaging in argument and debate is not for the enrichment of the Church as a whole, but for one group of Catholics to stomp out another, even (and especially!) if such discussions have nothing to do with orthodoxy or heresy.
They don’t exist to win converts, they exist to play to their bases and shore up support.  That every blog is not like this, and some blogs are great is irrelevant to the greater point that the problem is real.  Yet if the problem is real, individuals will often limit the problem to those people over there.  What is needed is a transformation of the blogosphere, and that will only happen once bloggers are willing to start calling out their allies for the same sins their foes commit.  So far, this is the exception, not the rule.
And I use their [Catholic Answers] resource as well. But they've also gone out on a limb a few times and had to walk it back because they were playing orthodoxy cop and headhunting other Catholics when they really had no reason to be. (The "Radical Traditionalism" Radio segment in 2013 that blew up in their faces is just one example.)
They thrive off the adversarial mindset, and that holds back what is otherwise a fine apostolate. When you don't have a bogeyman to kick around, you can't succeed, so you gotta dream up new bogeymen. I just think it's time to try a different approach, one less corrosive and less "us vs them" when the "them" is often faithful Catholics.

How Bart Ehrman bungles the burial of Christ

Were Eyewitnesses Alive for Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to Consult?

A Wicked Generation Seeks a Sign: Catholics and Private Revelation

From a conservative Catholic site:

The comments are revealing as well.

The virtue of suffering

This chapter is a mixed bag. It comes elements of the freewill defense, a natural law theodicy, and a soul-building theodicy. But there's good material. I've excerpted what I think are the best parts:

It was certainly the first question that occurred to me in 1987 when I was told that my beloved wife Melissa, 34 years old and the mother of our two small children (Chris and Kevin), had cancer of the nose and sinuses, and in 1990 when we discovered that the cancer had recurred.

The cancer recurred two months after this surgery and I was terribly depressed for many years after her death. Since I am a pretty logical person, it never occurred to me to ask “does God really exist?” but I certainly wondered, “is God really good?”

I think most people who claim not to believe in God, say this not because of any shortage of evidence for design in Nature, but because it is sometimes so hard to see evidence that God cares about us, and they prefer not to believe in God at all, than to believe in a God who doesn’t care.

A wonderful little article in UpReach [Nov-Dec 1984] by Batsell Barrett Baxter, entitled “Is God Really Good?” contains some insights into the “problem of pain”...“As I have faced the tragedy of evil in our world and have tried to analyze its origin, I have come to the conclusion that it was an inevitable accompaniment of our greatest blessings and benefits.” In his outline, Baxter lists some examples of blessings which have, as inevitable consequences, unhappy side effects.

Much of an individual’s suffering is the direct or indirect result of the actions or misfortunes of others. Much of our deepest pain is the result of loneliness caused by the loss of the love or the life of a loved one, or of the strain of a bad relationship. How much suffering could be avoided if only we were “islands, apart to ourselves.” Then at least we would suffer only for our own actions, and feel only our own misfortunes. The interdependence of human life is certainly the cause of much unhappiness.

Yet here again, this sorrow is the inevitable result of one of our greatest blessings. The pain which comes from separation is in proportion to the joy which the relationship provided. Friction between friends is a source of grief, but friendship is the source of much joy. Bad marriages and strained parent-child relationships are responsible for much of the unhappiness in the modern world, but none of the other joys of life compare to those which can be experienced in a happy home. Although real love is terribly hard to find, anyone who has experienced it— as I did for a few short years—will agree that the male- female relationship is truly a masterpiece of design, when it works as it was intended to work.

As Baxter writes, 
“I am convinced that our greatest blessings come from the love which we give to others and the love which we receive from others. Without this interconnectedness, life would be barren and largely meaningless. The avoidance of all contact with other human beings might save us some suffering, but it would cost us the greatest joys and pleasures of life.”

Nevertheless, we cannot help but notice that some suffering is necessary to enable us to experience life in its fullest, and to bring us to a closer relationship with God. Often it is through suffering that we experience the love of God, and discover the love of family and friends, in deepest measure. The man who has never experienced any setbacks or disappointments invariably is a shallow person, while one who has suffered is usually better able to empathize with others. Some of the closest and most beautiful relationships occur between people who have suffered similar sorrows.

Of course, beyond a certain point pain and suffering lose their positive value. Even so, the human spirit is amazing for its resilience, and many people have found cause to thank God even in seemingly unbearable situations. While serving time in a Nazi concentration camp for giving sanctuary to Jews, Betsie ten Boom [ten Boom 1971] told her sister, “We must tell people what we have learned here. We must tell them that there is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still. They will listen to us, Corrie, because we have been here.”

In a letter to our children composed after she realized she had lost her battle with cancer, Melissa wrote:

While I no longer feel physically an odd sort of way, I feel even more human. I have seen and felt more suffering by myself and others around me in the last few years than I probably ever would have. I have seen children still in strollers hooked up to IV chemotherapy and young children, my own children’s ages, with monstrous tumors bulging from their necks. In the face of this unjust tragedy, they still had a sweet innocent smile on their faces. I have talked with young women and men my own age who are struggling with the reality of leaving their young children and spouses long before their responsibilities of parenthood are completed. 
I have also discovered a deepness in relationships with others that I probably never would have otherwise cultivated.... I have seen the compassion and love of others towards me. I have witnessed how good and true and caring the human spirit can be. I have learned much about love from others during these times.

We might add that not only the person who suffers, but also those who minister to his needs, are provided with opportunities for growth and development.