Tuesday, December 01, 2015

If only I had known

Freewill theists frequently distinguish between "determining" (or "causing") evil and permitting evil. They regard the latter as exculpatory.

Suppose I buy a set of steak knives as a wedding present. A few years later, the couple's 5-year-old son stabs his 3-year-old brother to death with one of the knives. Had I not give the couple that particular wedding present, that tragedy would not have happened. Am I culpable?

We'd say no, because I had no idea my gift would be used that way. Had I known, I would have given them a different (harmless) wedding present instead. 

But suppose, when I was in the cutlery store, looking for a wedding present, I had a premonition that if I gave the couple a set of steak knives as a wedding present, that would be the outcome. Would I then be culpable? 

Presumably, we'd say yes. Given advance knowledge, that tragedy was easily avoidable, and it's not as if my choosing to buy them a different (harmless) wedding present would violate anyone's libertarian freedom, or destabilize the natural order. 

A testimony


The origins of the Koran

According to Sunni Muslims, copies of the Koran mirror an eternal heavenly exemplar. However, early accounts of how the Koran was compiled tell a very different story. For instance:

Zaid later said, "I then searched out for the various parts of the Qur'an, finding them preserved on palm branches, on the surfaces of flat stones, in the hearts of men, on pieces of leather, and on (the) shoulder-bones (of camels and/or sheep). The Biography of Abu Bakr As-Siddeeq, 519. 

You can read similar accounts. Let's assume for the sake of argument that the angel Gabriel spoke to Muhammad. Problem is, the text of the extant Koran is a compilation of oral traditions. Recollections of what Muhammad said. So that creates a gap between what Gabriel allegedly said to Muhammad, and the actual record. 

i) There's no way to sift apocryphal sayings of Muhammad from authentic sayings.

ii) At best, people generally remember the gist of what someone said, not the verbatim statement. 

Although the Koran contains autobiographical material, it's an oral history, passed down by word-of-mouth. Sayings attributed to Muhammad. But there's no way to authenticate the sayings. And even if apocryphal sayings could be eliminated, the remainder paraphrase what people remember that he said. They don't preserve the exact wording. 

The Anti-Catholic Mary Of Christmas

It's become popular in many Protestant circles to say that we need to find a balance between Protestant and Roman Catholic views of Mary. Supposedly, Protestants, especially Evangelicals, are overly negative about her. In an attempt to resolve that alleged problem, we're often encouraged to give a lot of positive attention to Mary during the Christmas season. She's often featured in Protestant sermons, for example, as a model believer. Sometimes we're even told that Protestants have a problem with being "afraid of" Mary, being "suspicious of" her, etc.

"Transgendered leftist activist"

It's funny how liberal outlets like Salon, HuffPo, and Think Progress have pounced on the offhand statement of Ted Cruz concerning Robert Dear:

“Well, it’s also been reported that he was registered as an independent and a woman and transgendered leftist activist, if that’s what he is.”

It doesn't even occur to them that his statement might be satirical. They blame it the attack on prolife rhetoric, so he turns the tables on them. Cruz was alluding to a voter form in which Dear identified as a unaffiliated female voter. It's a brilliant riposte that sailed right over their heads.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Importing time bombs

1. Before getting to the specifics, I'd like to start with an illustration: Suppose a brewery makes beer for export. 99 out of every 100 cases of beer are just beer. Cans of beer. But every 100th case contains a time bomb. Not accidentally, but intentionally. Suppose another brewery makes nothing but beer for export. No hidden time bombs.

Suppose the captain of the cargo plane refuses to let the plane be loaded with cases from the first brewer. He says it's too dangerous. 

But critics counter that most of the beer cases aren't dangerous. Just a small fraction. 

He replies that we can't detect which is which. And why would we take the risk? Given a choice, moreover, why not ship beer from the brewery that doesn't pack time bombs in any of its cases? 

2. I notice that critics who support Muslim immigration always seem to preface their discussion with the same prologue. They say there was a public backlash against "refugees" after the Paris attack. Another variation is to say there was a backlash against Muslim immigrants after the rise of ISIS. This has created a climate of "fear." 

i) Now, suppose, for the sake of argument, that that's the catalyst. For months now, Americans have been bombarded with horrific images of ISIS. And not primarily from news outlets. Rather, ISIS itself takes diabolical pride in producing videos in which its victims are beheaded, burned alive, buried alive, &c. 

Then, a few weeks ago, Obama unilaterally imposes a quota of "Syrian refugees" on US soil. Given the background, it's hardly irrational for Americans to revolt against that policy, even if that's all there was to it. 

ii) At the same time, it's very patronizing to presume that American opinions about Muslim immigration were formed this year. Muslims engage in nonstop terrorism. We're treated to stories about that on a periodic basis. This stretches back for years. In my own lifetime it goes back to Muslim hijackers. 

3. Now let's turn to some recent things I've seen on Facebook:

[SML] Are there terrorists infiltrating the mosques in our country? Are the "moderate" Muslims able to track them and report them to authorities?  
[Rich Pierce] If a terrorist sat next to you this morning in church, how would you know? The fact is that you would have no idea if the next Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols came in and sat down next you. None. The Imams are no more able to track 'undesirable people' any more than your pastor is. 

i) To begin with, it's not so much a question of whether American Imams are able to track terrorists in their midst, but whether they facilitate terrorism. 

ii) The McVeigh comparison is straight out of CAIR's playbook. The obvious problem with that comparison is the quantitative difference between a McVeigh and jihadism. According to one source, there've been 27,351 jihadist attacks (and counting) since 9/11. The source says that's actually underreported. And the figure is regularly updated:

And here's a list of attacks on American soil:

Keep in mind that that doesn't include plots and attacks which the authorities intercepted. The quantitative difference between a McVeigh and jihadism makes the comparison statistically inane. Needless to say, the quantitative difference is highly germane to risk assessment. 

4. On Facebook, James White recently said:

Ignorance and bigotry is ugly, no matter who the ignorant bigot is. Here's a video of what happens when you combine ignorance, bigotry, fear, and with one guy it seems, way too many roids.

White later said:

You see, when someone can look at the video I posted and listen to a man who is clearly not interested in anything but rage and anger, surely not thought or interaction, and think that condemning that is the same thing as defending Islam---well, that's just plain irrational. It again is an abandonment of the necessary element of rational thought that allows for proper categorization and context. Next, you gave the kind of illustration that could be used in a logic class in the "errors of logic" portion: you took the identification of plain ignorance (when some fellow is saying, "Muslims is evil," well, the poor fellow can't even speak the English language, let alone back up what he is saying with any in-depth reasoning) and obvious bigotry (when you do what the big weight lifter dude was doing, yelling loudly, refusing to let the other man, who is NOT yelling loudly, to even interact with you, and then shouting, "Shut your mouth!"), and confused that with folks who are "concerned about the threat of Islam." Seriously? So, anyone who is concerned about the "threat of Islam" will refuse to reason, but will shout, be insulting, etc.? Really? See, it is this kind of irrationality, this kind of emotion-fueled illogic that starts wars and gets lots of non-combatants killed. But more to the point, it is simply NOT A CHRISTIAN WAY OF THOUGHT. 

He's alluding to a public meeting about plans to build a new mosque in Spotsylvania, VA, where one man said: “Shalaby, you can say whatever you want, every Muslim is a terrorist, period!” and “Shut your mouth, I don’t want to hear your mouth!”

A few observations:

i) Sure, that's a hasty generalization. To say all Muslims are terrorists is clearly an overstatement. 

ii) However, White knows as well as anyone, and better than most, that the alternatives are not confined to either terrorist or nonterrorist. There are lots of gradations:

a) Some Muslims are jihadists. Although that may just be a fraction of the total, given the sheer number of Muslims, a fraction of a huge absolute number is still a very large number.

b) Many Muslims who are not jihadists support jihadists in different ways. It may involve material support. Or it may involve tacit or explicit approval. Jihadists come from Muslim families and communities. If jihadism was stigmatized, if jihadists were ostracized, that would deter many would-be jihadists.

c) Many Muslims support terrorism against Israel. And it's hard to separate that from terrorism against the US. To the extent that US foreign policy, as well as many private American citizens, support Israel, that makes America complicit. 

d) Many Muslims support sharia. But that makes peaceful coexistence intolerable. If the infidel is constantly doing things that are anathema to Muslim social mores, that's lighting matches in a gas station. 

iii) We need to be careful about simply dismissing some protesters as "ignorant." For instance, some homosexual apologists, like the late John Boswell, can argue circles around most Christian laymen–or most Christians pastors, for that matter. Same thing with transgender apologists. These debates can get very technical very quickly. The average Bible-believing Christian is no match for a professional homosexual or transgender apologist who devotes full time to their pet issue. 

But that doesn't mean we should dismiss a Christian who's defending Biblical ethics, even if he's not very articulate or sophisticated. A homosexual/transgender apologist can win the argument and still be dead wrong. Picking on a poor spokesman demonstrates the weakness of the spokesman rather than the weakness of the position.

iv) A recipe for vigilantism is when the authorities refuse to protect the public. When that happens, some private citizens take it upon themselves to police the streets. Instead of criticizing vigilantism, we should criticize the root cause of vigilantism, and rectify the problem at the source. 

iv) What are the theoretical options?

a) Expel Muslims

b) Continue to let Muslims immigrate, but do jihadist profiling. Monitor the demographic niche at high risk of domestic jihadist plots and attacks.

c) Don't monitor Muslims. Just accept the fact that jihadist attacks are now an inevitable and increasing part of life in America. 

This is an unforced error. The problems caused by Muslim immigration are both predictable and preventable. They only become entrenched and irradicable through passivity, procrastination, and wishful thinking. It doesn't have to be this way. We've seen this play out in the Europe and the UK. 

ii) One question I have is why White is more charitable towards Muslims than "the big weightlifter dude." Clearly the weightlifter dude is not an intellectual. But what about addressing his concerns, even if he's a poor spokesman? 

What does it accomplish to refer to concerned citizens like him as "ignorant bigots," making stereotypical comments about his appearance, &c.? Is White's objective to persuade people? If so, how does using antagonistic language accomplish that purpose? Suppose he's a bar bouncer. Is that a reason to make fun of his social class? 

Does White really think "weightlifter dude" can't speak English? Many people get flustered when they speak before an audience. They stumble over words. Especially in a confrontational situation, they may use bad syntax and say dumb things.

In addition, his putdown boomerangs, for White himself commits a grammatical error of the very same kind (number agreement) when he says "Ignorance and bigotry is ugly." But that requires a plural verb. 

Does that mean White "can't even speak the English language"? Obviously not. These are little slips that anyone can make. 

What if the "weightlifter dude" is not a Christian. If so, how does White address nonchristians? Why be so respectful towards Muslims, but so disrespectful towards redneck unbelievers? 

Suppose "weightlifter dude" were a member of Hell's Angels, and White had a chance to witness to him. Would White begin by making fun of his tattoos, biker regalia, and working class vernacular? 

Many Americans are understandably frustrated because the political class disregards their concerns–legitimate concerns. We've had a string of jihadist attacks and close calls on Obama's watch. After each attack or near miss, nothing happens. No policy change. 

I'm sure White knows far more about Islam than the "weightlifter dude." But one thing even the "weightlifter dude" knows is the correlation between Islam and terrorism. 

Does White think Americans don't have legitimate concerns about our immigration policy vis-a-vis Muslims? About Islamist values encroaching on a free society? About the importation of sharia and jihad onto American soil? What is White's alternative solution? 

"Weightlifter dude" is an easy target. But after you knock him down, then what?

Inducting ever more Muslims into our country means importing ever more time bombs into our country. Ticking time bombs. 

And, unfortunately, that's not just a metaphor. Consider the attack that Muslims had planned for Paris. They bungled it, but the plan was to have one or more suicide bombers detonate their explosive belts inside the stadium to cause mass panic. Other suicide bombers would be stationed outside the stadium so that when spectators stampeded out of the stadium, they'd be killed or maimed. Explosive belts are designed to eject shrapnel, causing horrific injuries. You'd have spectators killed and maimed inside the stadium. Some trampled to death. And a repeat performance outside the stadium. 

Should we just accept that a trip to the shopping mall or sports event now carries this risk? The more Muslims you induct into American society, the more inevitable that becomes.

Immigration policies have irreversible consequences. Once you reach a demographic tipping point, there's no going back anytime soon–short of civil war.  The entire country becomes a hostage situation. Even if you slam the door on further Muslim immigrants, it's like a lockdown in which you trap the students with the sniper. 

Another Response To Colin Nicholl

Sometime yesterday, apparently, he updated his response to me at his web site. The response is mostly the same, but some parts have been changed. He's added a section to the opening expressing a desire to be gracious, and some of the language has been changed so as to be less critical of me. That's good. He interacts with some of what I said in my response to his article. He occasionally says that he's interacting with that response, and a note at the end of his article mentions that the article was updated on November 29. But most of the changes he's made aren't identified as such, and somebody reading his article for the first time might come away with the impression that nothing significant has been changed. As I recall, he doesn't ever explain that my blog response to him was a response to the first edition of his article. People who have been reading both sides of our exchange should know that, but others might not.

I want to respond to what I think are the most significant changes in his update. There are some changes he's made on topics that are significant, but which I think Steve Hays and I have already covered adequately. What I'll do below is address a few points I don't think we said enough about previously.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Islam, rape, and the fate of Western women


Memories of Santa

Some random thoughts about Halloween and Christmas. Some Christians oppose Halloween due to its allegedly heathen roots. You also have some Christians who oppose Halloween because it has its historical basis in the dogma of Purgatory and prayers for the dead. A Catholic holiday. 

The basic problem with that line of objection is that the history of a holiday is irrelevant to its contemporary significance. The very fact that some Christians feel the need to give people a history lesson on the real or alleged background of the holiday ironically illustrates the irrelevance of their objection. For if people don't know the history of the holiday, then that has absolutely nothing to do with why they celebrate the holiday. It doesn't factor in their thinking at all. 

And even if they did know about its historical origins, that isn't what motivates them to celebrate the holiday. Halloween has evolved. For instance, there was a time in the second half of the 20C where it was influenced by horror flicks. But currently it seems to be influenced by superhero flicks. Halloween represents whatever the pop culture makes it to be at any particular time. 

Now that's not a reason to celebrate Halloween. That's just debunking a bad reason not to celebrate Halloween. 

Nowadays there are seasonal stores that hawk Halloween paraphernalia. I don't object to professional Halloween costumes. But I can't help thinking back to my childhood when kids had homemade halloween costumes. That's more meaningful than taking the kid to the store and buying something off the shelf. That's something mothers used to make for their kids. It made it more of a family experience. Admittedly today's kids are probably spoiled by professional superhero costumes, so they'd sneer at anything homemade. 

As a kid, I think what I most enjoyed about Halloween was being outside at night. That was exhilarating. Although I have fond childhood memories of Halloween, there isn't much riding on that holiday one way or the other. It's a very thin holiday. 

Then there's Christmas and Santa Claus. Although some Christians oppose Santa Claus, here's an atheist (Louise Antony) on the topic:

I have a very strong opinion about this, one that puts me seriously at odds with some of my very best friends: I think that there are no good arguments for teaching a child to believe in Santa Claus, or for not telling the child the truth the first time he or she asks.  
Prima facie, one shouldn't lie to one's children. More seriously, one has a duty not to try to convince them positively of things that are beyond false–that are preposterous…In the case of Santa Claus, the risk of losing trust in one's parents' testimony is, I think, not trivial. Finally, when a parent actively tries to get a child to disregard perfectly sound arguments against a certain proposition, there's the risk that rationality will itself become devalued and the child will get the message that making sense is not terribly important. "But does a reindeer fly?" "It's magic!" Alexander George, ed. What Would Socrates Say? Philosophers Answer Your Questions About Love, Nothingness, and Everything Else (Potter Style 2007).

i) Although she doesn't quite come out and say so, what do you bet the subtext is her concern that childish belief in Santa Claus conditions kids to believe in (gasp!) God (shudder! shudder!).

Of course, one obvious problem with the implied analogy is that all kids outgrow belief in Santa Claus, whereas there's no correlation with regard to kids outgrowing belief in God. Indeed, some kids are raised in a secular environment, but then grow into faith in God as adults. 

ii) In fairness to Antony, I agree with her that if a kid expresses doubts about the existence of Santa, it's a mistake to argue with them. It's a good thing that they doubt his existence. That should be encouraged, not discouraged. 

iv) I don't agree with her that we should simply tell them the truth the first time they ask. Rather, I think it's more useful to draw them out. Ask them why they have doubts about Santa. Discuss their reasons with them. If they have a good reason, explore it and commend it. If they have a bad reason, explain why that's a bad reason. Don't co-opt their reasoning process, but help them to clarify their reasoning process. 

A Christian objection I've run across is that Santa Claus is a godlike figure. A figure with divine attributes. So it's a short step from losing faith in Santa to losing faith in God. However, that's a bad objection for a couple of reasons:

i) It's an argument from authority–parental authority. That's fine for young kids, but teenagers need to have a better reason for believing in God than faith in their parents' opinion. 

ii) It's a very bad analogy. I remember, as a very young boy, sitting at a little table in my grandmother's little kitchen, asking her where God was. She exclaimed that God was everywhere. So, pointing to the teaoit on the table, I asked her if God was in the teapot. She assured me he was.

Much as I adored my grandmother, even at that age I didn't believe God was in the teapot. I never confused God with Santa. I never thought of God as that kind of being. I didn't view God as an embodied being. To me, God existed outside our world. 

iii) I don't think parents have a duty to inculcate the Santa narrative. Although I think it's harmless, I don't see much value in that. I think both opponents and proponents make the issue more important than it is. 

Kill at your own risk

On the internet, I see Christians praising Garrett Swasey, the policeman who was shot and killed by Robert Dear. In one respect, that makes sense. People who hate Christians are blaming the attack on Christian extremism–although, from what I've read, there's no evidence that Robert Dear was theologically motivated. So the counter is that a prolife Christian (full-time policeman and volunteer copastor) died attempting to save the lives of others from the crazed gunman.

That's a good counter in the sense that it answers the critics on their own terms. It does, however, raise ethical questions. I suppose a policeman has a professional duty to go wherever the dispatcher tells him to go.

However, this is the larger issue: Is there a moral duty to intervene to save the life of a killer? Suppose Pablo Escobar is wheeled into the ER with a pulmonary embolism. Do the physicians have a moral obligation to save his life? You see, by saving his life, they ensure that he will kill even more innocent people. You patch him up on Friday and he goes back to ordering hits on Monday.

Refusing medical intervention in that case isn't the same as killing him. The doctor didn't cause his pulmonary embolism. The doctor didn't inject him with potassium chloride. The doctor simply let nature take its course.

Sometimes letting person die is equivalent to killing him, and sometimes not. That depends on the circumstances.

But there's no moral obligation to save the life of a contract killer. People in the business of taking innocent lives should kill at their own risk. They are not entitled to protection. You can't obligate others to rescue you in that situation.

James White in the middle

James White had a recent discussion of how Christians should view Muslims. Well worth watching:

It raises a number of issues I'd like to interact with. I'm going to summarize or paraphrase his position, because I'm interpreting his statements. 

1. He alluded to Donald Trump's recent suggestion that there ought to be a database to track Muslims in our country, we should require religious ID for Muslims, we should deport Muslims, we should monitor mosques, or simply shut them down. 

There's some dispute about what Trump actually said or meant. But we can bracket that since White is simply using his comments to illustrate a point of principle. 

i) White objected on the grounds that such a policy would empower a secular gov't that's already hostile to religion. Our gov't would use the same tactics to suppress Christian freedom of expression. 

ii) I think that's a valid concern. At the same time, we need to avoid sending the message that all religions should be treated alike because all religious are alike. 

If, say, devotees of Santeria began to practice human sacrifice, gov't ought to move against that! Likewise, gov't ought to crack down on Muslim practices like pederasty, honor killings, female genital mutilation, &c. And it's not as if the First Amendment was ever intended to protect religious practices like that

We need to avoid staking out the defensive posture that any official attack on any religion is an attack on every religion. For one thing, even if Christians stick up for Muslims, they won't return the favor.

In addition, we're certainly entitled to disassociate ourselves from the actions of another religion's followers. Expressing solidity can be counterproductive. Atheists are only too happy to lump us all together. We reserve the right to distance ourselves from the behavior of Muslims, not just on pragmatic grounds, but because there really are fundamental differences between Christianity and Islam. 

iii) This goes to the underlying problem: it's a mistake to invite people into your country that you need to monitor. If you think they pose a security risk that justifies surveillance, then don't invite them to come here in the first place. 

Likewise, we can't have a situation where the Bill of Rights is selectively applied to some American citizens rather than others. If some naturalized citizens pose a security risk, they shouldn't be naturalized in the first place.

2. White also made the point that some members ISIS do horrific things, not because they are religious, but because they are sociopathic. They are sociopaths who happen to be religious rather than religionists who happen to be sociopathic.

i) And it's true that some movements are a magnet for sociopaths. Their religious identity is incidental. Sociopaths are on the lookout for opportunities to commit murder and mahem with impunity. Oftentimes, war gives them that opportunity. 

In their case, the relationship between religion and terrorism is adventitious. Religion gives them cover, gives them a pretext, to do what they were spoiling to do all along. 

Depending on when and where they live, if they weren't Muslim sociopaths, they'd be Nazi sociopaths, or Khmer Rouge sociopaths, or Bolshevik sociopaths, or Shining Path sociopaths, &c. 

ii) That said, sometimes it's the other way around. You can have a culture whose social mores foster a sociopathic outlook. Cultures that inculcate vice rather than virtue. Social conditioning can be a force for good or evil. And many Muslim societies are factories of psychopathology. 

3. I'd also like to make a point about "moderate Muslims." At one level, I'm sympathetic to the plight of moderate Muslims. They maintain a low profile because they're understandably afraid to speak out against militant Muslims. If they stick their neck out, it will be chopped off–literally! So I appreciate why they keep their head down–figuratively as well as literally.

But I'd like to compare that to how Columbia dealt with the Medellín cartel. It was taking over. The drug lords bribed police and gov't officials. Those they couldn't bribe they murdered. If a politician opposed them, he was putting a bullseye on his back, and putting his own family at risk.

Yet there came a tipping point when the gov't understood that this situation was simply intolerable. It was us or them. The gov't waged all-out war against the Medellín cartel, and broke the cartel.

That was extremely risky, but sometimes you have to take the risk. Muslims in authority need to do the same thing.

4. White raised the issue of whether Christians have a double standard. "Who speaks for Christianity?" We distinguish between the true faith and heretical cults. If a professing Christian commits a terrorist act, many Christians will either say he's not a true Christian, and/or say that his action doesn't represent the Christian faith. Indeed, is contrary to the Christian faith. Yet we don't make the same allowance for Muslims. 

To what degree should we let religionists to define what their faith-tradition represents? To what degree should we defer to their self-identification? This isn't confined to Islam. Catholicism is another good example. 

That's a good question, but a complicated question, because I don't think there's a one-size-fits-all answer:

i) Some religionists are deceptive propagandists. They intentionally misrepresent their faith to outsiders. Take CAIR. 

ii) What about sincere religionists? Suppose an adherent explains me what he believes. How he views his religion. 

That self-identification is valid in the sense that it tells me what he stands for. What it means to him

And in friendship evangelism, it's good to listen to people explain to you what they believe and why they believe it. 

That's a valid self-representation. How an individual understands his own faith-tradition. It would be a mistake to impute to him beliefs that he doesn't affirm. 

iii) That, however, is different from whether he's a good representative of the faith he claims to embrace. Many religionists are ignorant about their faith-tradition. Deeply confused. 

They are too uninformed to define what their faith-tradition stands for. They are poor spokesmen, poor representatives, in that objective sense. 

iv) Indeed, Christian apologists may use that as a wedge tactic. Pointing out the disconnect between what they believe and what they are supposed to believe, if they were true to the faith-tradition they claim to espouse. 

v) There's an asymmetry between truth and falsehood. Which faction represents the authentic successor to Joseph Smith: the LDS or RLDS? Was Ali the true successor to Muhammad? Is Francis a pope or antipope?

This generates a certain paradox. If the founder was a false prophet, then is there any meaningful distinction between a true and false successor? In that context, the illegitimate founder delegitimates any successor. These are all just variations of error. What is needed is to make a clean break with the past. Make a U-turn. 

If, by contrast, the Christian faith has a foundation in truth (e.g. Jesus, the apostles, the Bible), then we can and should distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate developments, between true and false interpretations. There's a disanalogy between the true religion and false religions, on the one hand, and divisions within a false religion or between false religions, on the other. In that respect, it's not a double standard when Christians make allowances for their own faith which they disallow for adherents of a false religion. 

Of course, Muslims would say that begs the question in favor of Christianity. But right now I'm not attempting to make the case for Christianity. I'm just making a point of principle. 

5. In the video, White repeatedly refers to his Muslim "friends." That raises an interesting issue. We could say there are two kinds of friendship: one-sided and two-sided. Suppose I befriend somebody because he needs a friend. I don't befriend him on condition that he reciprocate my friendship. I simply do it for his own benefit, expecting nothing in return. 

That's a very pure, disinterested form of friendship. And it has a very significant place in Christian ethics and evangelism. 

By contrast, a two-sided friendship is like a mutual defense pact: you have my back and I have yours. 

Insofar as possible, a Christian can and ought to be a friend to Muslims; but whether they can be a friend to him is a different question. There's the problem of divided loyalties and ultimate loyalties. If push comes to shove, won't they break in the direction of their coreligionists? Isn't their final identity bound up with the Muslim community? If push comes to shove, do they have your back or do they have a knife in your back? 

That isn't hypothetical. Consider the number of Muslim American soldiers who've murdered their comrades. 

6. White mentions diversity in Islam. There are, of course, many competing viewpoints in Islam, past and present. The question is the degree to which these share a common core respecting their shared belief in the prophethood of Muhammed and the Koran as the Word of Allah. 

7. White mentions the need for Islam to reform itself. But, of course, that's a conundrum. There's a fundamental sense in which Islam is irreformable. The problem goes right down to the foundations. Short of repudiating the prophethood of Muhammed, there's only so much that can be done, and that's not nearly enough. Muslims must cease to be Muslim. And I doubt White would disagree.

White himself referenced al-Waqidi's massive chronicle (580 pages) on the military campaigns of Muhammad. That can't be domesticated. Either Muhammed is a good role model or a child of his times. 

In theory, Muslims could make all the same moves as liberal Jews and "progressive Christians." Indeed, Islamic modernism has been kicking around since the 19C. The Iranian Revolution was, in part, a reaction to Shiite modernism. 

But it suffers from the intractable inner tensions of religious modernism in general. An unstable intellectual compromise. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

PP and freedom of the press

Abortion rights groups say threats against abortion providers rose sharply this summer in the wake of the undercover “sting” operation that produced the controversial videos. 

A predictable response from the liberal establishment. To begin with, it's too soon to know what motivated Robert Lewis Dear. 

However, the logic of this objection is that we should suspend freedom of the press if news stories that expose wrongdoing might ever be linked to violence against the target of the news stories. We should outlaw undercover reportage, outlaw investigative reportage, outlaw sting operations, that might create a public backlash against the perpetrators. 

We should outlaw criticism of politicians, because that might create a public backlash, thereby putting them at risk. 

We should outlaw undercover reportage that shows a business dumping toxic waste into a river, because that might create a public backlash, thereby putting the CEO at risk.  

We should outlaw undercover reportage that exposes unsanitary practices in the meat packing industry, because that might create a publish backlash, thereby putting the CEO at risk. 

We should repeal the Freedom of Information Act, because that might create a publish backlash, thereby putting gov't officials at risk. 

Gov't agencies should never warn the public of a probable terrorist attack, because that might create a backlash, thereby putting the associated group at risk. 

Fact is, the PP videos simply documented, in their own words and actions, what PP does behind closed doors. Keep in mind that PP is massively subsidized by taxpayers. So we have every right to know what is done with our tax dollars. 

Don't blame the facts. We have nothing to apologize for when it comes to finding out what a business does with our tax dollars. It is not entitled to operate in secrecy. 

Recommended Recent Koine Greek Publications

In no particular order, here is my short list for recommended resources of recent publications on Koine Greek.

Christian Oxyrhynchus: Texts, Documents, and Source by Lincoln Blumell, Thomas Wayment

A Handbook on the Greek Text. Baylor University Press. Get them all.

The Letter to the Romans: A Linguistic and Literary Commentary by Porter

Linguistic Analysis of the Greek New Testament: Studies in Tools, Methods, and Practice by Porter

Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism by Porter and Pitts

Structural Lexicology and the Greek New Testament  by Todd L. Price

Revisiting Aspect and Aktionsart: A Corpus Approach to Koine Greek Event Typology by Francis G. H. Pang

Modeling Biblical Language: Selected Papers from the McMaster Divinity College Linguistics Circle

The Multilingual Jesus and the Sociolinguistic World of the New Testament by Hughson T. Ong

Hellenistic and Biblical Greek: A Graduated Reader by McLean (the best Koine Reader out there IMO).

Biblical Indexes For Christmas Apologetics

In 2007, I posted the text of the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke with links to relevant Triablogue posts. For example, you could click on the text of Luke 2:1 to read a post about Luke's census account. Earlier this year, I updated both indexes:


The indexes now include links to posts from the years since 2007.

What's the purpose of having these index posts? They gather together a large number of our posts on Christmas issues in a way that's organized in accordance with the infancy narratives. If you're studying the passages, or you're doing something like preparing to teach a Sunday school class on a relevant subject, these indexes will allow you to work your way through the text in an easier and more thorough manner. Instead of looking through our archives for each passage and trying to judge which post is best to consult for each text, these indexes gather some of our best material and make it easy to find in one place. A lot of our posts on Christmas issues aren't included, and I may have misjudged which posts would be best to include, but these indexes should be useful. And you can supplement them with Google searches, running searches on Blogger, emailing me to ask where to find something, etc.

Friday, November 27, 2015

2016 Bible Reading Plan: Read the New Testament in Greek!

If you want to start learning Greek so you can read the New Testament in Greek (as well as the OT/LXX), I am expanding my private teaching at the beginning of the year.

You can learn about my one-on-one, tutoring, Greek course at my Greek page here:


Also related, I just got back from a full week of the annual Society of Biblical Literature and Evangelical Theological Society meetings in Atlanta. I picked up some excellent volumes on Greek. So once I find time, I will post what I think are must-have recent publications on Koine Greek.


Alan E. Kurschner

Chic pacifism

I recently got into an impromptu debate with another pacifist. Pacifism is chic in some "progressive Christian" and/or hipster evangelical circles. I don't know how widespread that is. Seems to be a theological fad that's been popularized by folks like Gregory Boyd, Preston Sprinkle, and Stanley Hauerwas.  Of course, these are typically folks whose pacifism has never been put to the test. It's an issue that crops up in debates over immigration, "refugees," and counterterrorism. 

The world's Muslims


Poll of U.S. Muslims Reveals Ominous Levels Of Support For Islamic Supremacists’ Doctrine of Shariah, Jihad


Dershowitz on tyrannical student protesters


"I've been becoming a bit more Reformed of late, and I blame that on the Catholics"


Christmas Resources 2015

Over the past several years, I've posted a collection of resources for each Christmas season. Here are the posts of previous years:


Since the 2008 post is foundational to the others, you may want to start with that one. Here's an archive of our posts with the Christmas label. Make sure you scroll all the way down and click on Older Posts to see more.

The following are some representative examples of our posts on Christmas issues: