Friday, October 18, 2019

Shades of assurance

1. Kinds of certainty

One of the perennial debates in Christian theology is the assurance of salvation. Let's begin by drawing some philosophical distinctions regarding different kinds of certainty:

There are various kinds of certainty. A belief is psychologically certain when the subject who has it is supremely convinced of its truth. Certainty is often explicated in terms of indubitability.

A second kind of certainty is epistemic. Roughly characterized, a belief is certain in this sense when it has the highest possible epistemic status. According to a second conception, a subject's belief is certain just in case it could not have been mistaken—i.e., false (see, e.g., Lewis 1929). Alternatively, the subject's belief is certain when it is guaranteed to be true. 

2. Objective certainty

i) In Calvinism, if true, or universalism, if true, salvation is objectively certain. If you're elect, you will be saved. Your salvation depends on God's unfailing will. Universalism is similar except in scope. On both positions, salvation is a sure thing. The outcome is guaranteed. 

ii) In most varieties of freewill theism, by contrast, salvation is objectively uncertain because you can slip in and out of salvation. You can gain it, lose it, and regain it. So at least up until the moment of death, your salvation is constantly indeterminate. 

iii) There's a question of whether universalism is consistent with freewill theism. In addition, postmortem salvation is becoming more popular. 

iv) In that respect, it's rather like whether you're genetically predetermined to develop a degenerative illness. You either are or you aren't. If you're tested, and the result is negative, that's a relief, but there's the risk of having a positive result, in which  case you might be better off not knowing in advance. So long as you're asymptomatic, you will enjoy peace of mind by not knowing. Ignorance is bliss.

v) In that respect, there's a fundamental difference between Calvinism and freewill theism. 

3. Psychological certainty

i) However, psychological certainty is harder to nail down regardless of the theological system. In freewill theism, psychological certainty is well-nigh impossible given the fact that you can slip in and out of salvation. The future is unpredictable. 

ii) And in both Calvinism and freewill theism, there's the possibility of false assurance. Indeed, that's commonplace. 

iii) Even universalism can't offer psychological certainty since a universalist may harbor nagging doubts that universalism is true. 

iv) According to the "free grace" position, justification by faith alone is sufficient for salvation. If that condition is met,  the assurance of salvation is a given.

The "free grace" position has a grain of truth. It's true that whoever is justified is heavenbound. However, the "free grace" position artificially detaches justification from other necessary elements of salvation by grace alone. 

And in any case, it suffers from the same problem as universalism: if it's true, then the assurance of salvation is warranted, but that doesn't forestall doubts and misgivings about whether it's true. 

v) As a rule, traditional Catholicism (Tridentine theology) denies that the assurance of salvation is ordinarily attainable. 

vi) Depending on the theological system, this relation between objective certainty and psychological certainty is like having an illness that is fatal unless you take the right antidote, only you don't know which antidote is the right one. Suppose there are three pills: two are the right antidote while one is the wrong antidote. You can only take one pill. If you take two, you will die from an overdose. It's nerve-wracking not to know which pill to take. Likewise, suppose you won't know for 48 hours if you took the right pill or the wrong pill? That's nerve-wracking, too. 

Still, your level of anxiety has no bearing on your survival. If you took the right pill, you will survive. What ultimately matters isn't your state of mind but what will happen. Even if you're robbed of the comfort of knowing you took the right pill, that's fairly inconsequential compared to whether or not you did indeed take the right pill. 

vii) In Calvinism, paradoxically, one of the elect might be wracked by self-doubt or even (due to clinical depression or mental illness) be convinced he's damned, only to be pleasantly surprised by what awaits him after he dies. Indeed, there's a special kind of relief and gratitude enjoyed by those who assume the worst, only to find out that the best lay in store for them. 

viii) Of course, it's possible for God to simply grant some Christians psychological certainty. Indeed, I think God does that in many cases. 

4. The burden of proof

In classic Protestant theology, the foil was traditional Catholicism. That studiously cultivated dread and foreboding about your eternal destiny in order to keep Catholics chained to the sacerdotal system. It compiled an artificial list of mortal sins. 

But once we clear away the manmade obstacles to the assurance of salvation, then that puts the issue in a brighter light. Is there a presumption that God is out to get you, even though you're a conscientious Christian who struggles with sin, yet you're staking everything on Christianity? 

Catholic assurance

Image result for the uncertainty of the afterlife wiley ink images

See “The Blacksmith who Made the Nails” at your church!

This one-man drama – not the Old Testament prophet Obadiah, but a wholly fictitious character – will take you (via your imagination) to first-century Palestine, where you’ll see and hear and feel what it was like to know Jesus personally, through the eyes of the local blacksmith who made the nails that held Jesus to the cross.

Obadiah was created and is performed by one of my best friends in the world, Dale Crum. He currently has availabilities in his schedule, and if you’d like to consider having Obadiah performed at your church or event, contact Dale at 901-552-8213, or contact him via email, “obadiahdrama” at “”.

Obadiah the blacksmith who made the nails that held Jesus to the cross


1. What's the basis for shapeshifters in pagan mythology and folklore? Are they purely figments of the imagination, which undergo further embellishment, or do they have analogues in reality? 

The werewolf character is the best known example, popularized by Hollywood, but I believe that's a part of some American Indian lore. Not sure how widespread that is, and whether that reflects independent traditions or cultural diffusion.

Is that just a legend, or does witchcraft enable practitioners to become animals? If so, do they retain human intelligence in that condition, or have animal psychology? 

2. This isn't confined to mythology and folklore. The cherubim in Ezekiel's theophanies are tetramorphs. Is that physical, or an optical or telepathic illusion?

What about the hybrid monsters in Daniel's visions? Are those merely artificial symbolic constructs? Or is there something analogous in reality that gave rise to the imagery? 

3. In some narratives, angels seem to have the ability to materialize, dematerialize, or even assume the form of human males. How deep does that go? Complete internal anatomy?

An alternative interpretation might be that angels don't have the power to assume human form; rather, they have the power to possess human bodies. If demons can do it, why not angels? Perhaps some descriptions involve angels taking possession of human males as temporary vehicles to perform a particular mission, then releasing the host after the mission is completed. 

4. On a natural level, the closest thing to metamorphosis might be male sexual arousal, which involves a degree of physical and psychological transformation, although nothing like shapeshifters. Human beings are composite entities: ensouled animal bodies. Male sexual arousal taps into something wild and primal. And that doesn't require an evolutionary explanation.

5. A more clear-cut example is the snake magic in Exodus, where the staff of Moses becomes a snake and vice versa. The Egyptian sorcerers are able to duplicate that feat. There is a naturalistic explanation for what the Egyptians sorcerers do, but for reasons I've stated elsewhere, I find that unconvincing. 

Through the hidden door

1. To unbelievers and Rabbinic Jews, the way Christians interpret some OT and NT prophecies smacks of special pleading. However, Rabbinic Jews face a parallel challenge. There are OT prophecies which, from their own vantage point, were not fulfilled during the Second Temple period or medieval Judaism. So these also look like "failed" prophecies. Put another way, if Rabbinic Jews can claim that many OT prophecies remain outstanding, so can Christians with regard to some OT and NT prophecies alike.

2. Individual Bible prophecies are like houses with basements and subbasements with hidden doors leading to tunnels connecting to the subbasement of the house next-door. On the surface, the houses are separate. But if you go down into the house, the houses are connected at the level of tunnels between subbasements. You start on the ground floor of one house. Go down to the basement, then the subbasement, open a door to a tunnel leading to the subbasement of the next-door house, then go up to the ground floor of that house. Or, to invert the metaphor, imagine an underground city with hidden staircases leading to surface.

3. In that regard, it's interesting that the cosmography of Revelation has three stories: heaven>earth>netherworld. Earth is like the ground floor, the netherworld is like the basement, while heaven is like the flat rooftop living space in mediterranean architecture. And there's a progression from the dark basement to the brighter ground floor to the sunny roof deck. Incidentally, it's always a fatal mistake in horror movies to go into the basement! 

4. Although this is metaphorical, it has realistic counterparts. Reality is like parallel worlds connected by hidden doors. The physical universe often seems to be a closed-system. For many people, that's all they ever experience in this life. Yet that perspective can change in a flash when beings from heaven or hell enter our world. Angels, demons, saints or ghosts. 

Discipling Asian-American millennials

1. Here is a transcript of the conversation.

2. I think I most appreciated what Alex Choi said in his first response. To put it another way, I don't think the rest of the comments (apart from Choi's first response) are necessarily unique to Asian-Americans. At least my impression is things like a "lack of community" and trying to "reclaim" one's conversion experience are common in other races/ethnicities cultures too.

3. The term "millennials" sure does seem to cover a lot of years generation-wise. Aren't many if not most millennials now at least age 30? If so, perhaps we should consider doing the discipling rather than being discipled! (Granted, everyone is always a "disciple" but I'm speaking in terms of leadership roles in the church.)

In fairness, if what Choi says about Asian-American culture, marriage, and adulthood is true, then the fact that Asian-American millennials and later generations are getting married at an older age might have a significant impact on discipleship as well.

4. I believe at least two of the guys are Korean-American. Perhaps all three.

In any case, there are some significant differences among different Asian-American peoples and cultures. Take Chinese-Americans. There are Chinese-Americans whose families have originally come from mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, as well as various Southeast Asian nations (e.g. Chinese-Americans with roots in Vietnam). For example, one wouldn't necessarily deal with a Chinese-American with parents from communist China in the same way as one deals with a Chinese-American with parents from democratic Taiwan.

More generally, there are differences between East Asians and Southeast Asians. Simply consider how many East Asians have had to interact with socialist and communist ideologies in their modern history (e.g. the Korean war, communist Chinese today). Consider how many Southeast Asians have had to face persecution by Muslims in their own nations (e.g. Malaysia, Indonesia). Persecutions from communists and persecutions from Muslims.

Consider each nation's broader ideological perspective. The Philippines has a Catholic background. Malaysia and Indonesia are officially Muslim. Mainland China is atheist and communist. S. Korea has a strong Protestant Christian influence. Vietnam has a Catholic heritage but became communist, which many Vietnamese-Americans share. Japan is secular. And so on.

Of course there are also Asian-Americans who have only ever known the US. For example, many Asian-Americans can trace their family histories back to the Gold Rush era (c. 1849) and transcontinental railroad. They may have been in the US as long as many Irish-Americans and Italian-Americans, among others.

Asian-Americans have families which come from one or more of these backgrounds.

No place to hide

The following is from the China Law Blog:

This [Chinese cybersecurity] system will apply to foreign owned companies in China on the same basis as to all Chinese persons, entities or individuals. No information contained on any server located within China will be exempted from this full coverage program. No communication from or to China will be exempted. There will be no secrets. No VPNs. No private or encrypted messages. No anonymous online accounts. No trade secrets. No confidential data. Any and all data will be available and open to the Chinese government...All this information will be available to the Chinese military and military research institutes. The Chinese are being very clear that this is their plan.

I hope American businesses and businesses in general won't put money ahead of morals when dealing with China. Unlike (apparently) LeBron James and the NBA.

By the way, here's a recent photo from Hong Kong:

Hidden camera footage of Mormon temple ritual

It's striking how similar this Mormon temple ritual is to Freemasonry (e.g. the square and compass, knocking three times, answering secret questions):

I wonder if there's any relation? I wouldn't be surprised if Joseph Smith and/or other Mormons borrowed copiously from Freemasonry.

Infinite resignation

Here is an interview with Eugene Thacker.

Thacker is an anti-human and nihilist philosopher. He originally comes from a comparative literature background.

Moreover his work In the Dust of this Planet has influenced the writers for the television series True Detective, a series about a pair of detectives chasing a serial killer across many years, a series which is itself awash in nihilism, especially Matthew McConaughey's character. In this respect, Thacker is kindred spirit to David Benatar (Better to Have Never Been?) and Jim Crawford (Confessions of an Antinatalist).

Vampirism, original sin, and redemption

There's an interesting parallel between vampirism, original sin, and redemption. In vampire lore, vampires have a genealogical identity. They turn humans into vampires by biting them. Vampirism spreads from one vampire to the next. So there are family trees of vampires. 

In addition, a vampire killer doesn't have to destroy every vampire individually. If he can track down the master vampire and destroy him, all his descendants instantly revert to human. So he doesn't have to destroy any of the descendants. He can save them from the curse of vampirism at one stroke by destroying the master vampire.  

Of course, vampires are fictional characters, and they make no scientific sense. At best, they only make sense as creatures of the occult. But the parallels between vampirism and Christian theology are striking. 

A New Way to Understand Men and Women in Christ?

Yoga memory

Such phenomena as instincts, child prodigies, love at first sight, and déjà vu are sometimes said to be evidence for reincarnation, but they obviously have little probative value, since it is quite possible to give convincing explanations of these phenomena that do not involve reincarnation. More serious as evidence for reincarnation is the phenomenon of yoga memory - the experience of certain people, usually children, who claim to be someone else reborn and to "remember" the previous life. Consideration of such cases was almost entirely unsystematic and anecdotal until the recent work of the medical doctor Ian Stevenson, who in several books intelligently discusses various cases of yoga memory.19

There are two issues here. The first is whether the cases Stevenson discusses can be relied upon. To my knowledge, no one accuses Stevenson of dishonesty, but criticisms of his methods and conclusions have been raised. For one thing, in the vast majority of the cases that Stevenson discusses, there was contact between the two families - the family into which the child was born and the family the child claimed via yoga memory previously to belong to - before Stevenson was ever on the scene. For another, Stevenson seems to dismiss far too easily the possibility of fraud on the part of the child. For a third, Stevenson has never even attempted to answer the objections of his several critics, and proceeds as if these critics did not exist.20

The second issue is this: assuming Stevenson's cases (and other cases of yoga memory) are genuine in the sense that there was no deliberate fraud, egregious error, etc., what is the most sensible explanation of those phenomena? One explanation, of course, is reincarnation. But are there other, more plausible explanations?

Suppose that telepathic communication between human minds occurs (and I myself have neither knowledge nor even any particularly firm opinion on the matter). If so, there is the possibility that those who have experienced yoga memory have learned what they know about the past person whom they claim to be identical to by telepathic communication with living humans who know those same facts about the deceased person. This may be completely unknown to the person who is having the yoga memory. Indeed, here is a crucial conundrum for reincarnation: claims based on purported yoga memory will be believable only if they can be verified; verification will normally be achieved via the testimony of people who are in a position to know the relevant facts; but that always opens the possibility that the yoga rememberer was somehow in telepathic communication with those same people. So the point is this: one great difficulty for reincarnation is the fact that the strongest evidence for it admits a variety of explanations.

(Davis, Stephen T. After We Die: Theology, Philosophy, and the Question of Life After Death, pp 26-27.)

Thursday, October 17, 2019


I'm not a Catholic canon lawyer, so I might be mistaken, but I had a question about the coherence of sedevacantism. In my experience, sedevacantists think there's been a string of antipopes from John XXIII to Francis. John XXIII became pope in 1958. 

To my knowledge, a valid priest must be ordained by a valid bishop, and (diocesan) bishops must be appointed by the pope. If, however, the papal office has been vacant for over 60 years, doesn't that rupture apostolic succession? There's a chain reaction down the line: popes appoint bishops while bishops ordain priests. If there's too great an interval, then there ceases to be any living bishops to ordain priests. At that point there's a break in apostolic succession, and once broken, the rift can be restored. 


One issue regarding the scope and historicity of Noah's flood is the depth of the flood waters. I recently ran some questions by a field geologist who specializes in fluvial geomorphology. Before reproducing our exchange, I'll quote something I recently said:

Regarding Gen 7:20, the text doesn't say the waters rose to a depth of 15 cubits above the mountains. The Hebrew text simply says the waters rose 15 cubits above, and the mountains were covered.

So "15 cubits above" may well have reference to ground level, which was sufficient to wash over the surrounding hillside. Think of a flood plain or river basin skirted by hills. Keep in mind that "mountain" isn't a technical term in Hebrew, but a synonym for "hill".

With that in mind:

Is this a correct understanding of the issues:

i) In some river systems, the riverbanks are higher than the surrounding terrain. Due to periodic flooding, which deposits silt and coarse gravel, the riverbanks build up over time. They become high ground in relation to the surrounding terrain. 

Yes, the coarse material carried by rivers tends to settle out on the margins of the channel during floods, thereby building levees and high ground right next to the river.  This means that the surrounding valley bottom can readily flood to the level of the levees when the levees do (eventually) overtop in a big enough flood.  The Mesopotamian rivers are classic examples of this kind of river (which tends to be in estuarine environments).

ii) Is it the case that riverbeds acquire layers of silt? If so, does that mean riverbeds rise/become higher over time?

Rivers can aggrade (fill in) or incise (cut down) over time depending on the balance of sediment they receive to the power of the flow to move it. 

A river with a balance between the two will just shunt sediment on downstream. 

If there was nothing to counteract the accumulation on riverbeds, would that make rivers shallower over time?

The transport capacity of the flow keeps the channel open.  Most channels are adjusted (in the width/depth) to carry what is known as the “bankfull” flow, which tends to be close to the annual high flood.  Floods are events that overtop the banks and spill out on to the floodplain or surrounding terrain. 

iii) Is that offset by (i)? Do rivers retain the same general depth, even if the beds are higher, because the banks are higher? 

In aggrading rivers (those with excess sediment) the bed can fill in and the river can shallow — unless the sedimentation on the floodplain raises it (which happens if the floodwaters can spread across the floodplain).  

iv) This seems to imply that the low ground becomes incrementally lower in relation to the river banks (or levees) as the riverbanks become incrementally higher due to the cumulative effect of flood deposition. 

Yes, this can happen when a river aggrades.

v) The upshot, I take it, is that it takes less volume of water to inundate the surrounding terrain when the terrain is lower than the riverbanks. If the surrounding terrain was higher, it would take more water to submerge the area, or submerge the area at the same depth. 

What happens when a river aggrades and builds its levees up higher is that when a big enough flood comes along to overtop the higher levees then the surrounding terrain is inundated under deeper flow.

vi) Not only depth but breadth. It takes less water for the scope of a flood to be on the same scale if the surrounding area is low ground compared to the riverbanks. 

vii) Is that intensified if there's something like a mountain range (or ridge of hills) to form a barrier that contains the water? 

viii) I've read the claim that "Noah's flood" couldn't be merely regional because Mesopotamian topography is a drainage system, so there's nothing to keep the water building up. It will pour downriver into the Persian Gulf. 

I don’t understand the logic of the argument here; a big enough flood there will of course eventually drain into the Persian Gulf, but it could be a monstrous flood while doing so because it can take a lot of time to drain the whole valley bottom after if floods under tens of feet of floodwaters that the levees keep from flowing rapidly back into the channel.  So to me that claim you reference is simply nonsense that demonstrates the writer doesn’t understand what he/she is talking about.


It's my impression that the most popular monsters in supernatural horror films are werewolves, vampires, and zombies. There are countless trashy horror films, but I have in mind the more "upscale" examples. Excluding comedies, the more upscale representatives include:


30 Days of Night (2007)

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Count Dracula (BBC, 1977)

Let Me In (2010)

Near Dark (1987)

Nosferatu (1922) 

Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

The Hunger (1983)


Dog Soldiers (2002)

Skinwalkers (2007)

The Howling (1981)

Wolfen (1981)


28 Days Later (2002)

28 Weeks Later (2007)

I Am Legend (2007)

The Walking Dead (2010-)

1. These monsters share certain things in common:

i) Vampires, werewolves, and zombies were originally human. 

ii) Vampires, werewolves, and zombies are cannibalistic, feeding on humans.  

iii) Vampires, werewolves, and zombies are contagious. They propagate by biting the victim. In the case of werewolves, a scratch will suffice. 

iv) Vampires and werewolves are creatures of the night. If you can fend them off until sunrise, werewolves revert to human form while vampires retreat into windowless buildings to avoid cumbustion. I Am Legend combines the zombie mythos with the vampire mythos regarding the aversion to sunlight. 

v) Vampires and zombies are cadaverous. Functional corpses. The Undead. The Nosferatu variant gives vampires a more famished, cadaverous appearance (e.g. Daybreakers [2010]; Nosferatu [1922] Nosferatu the Vampyre [1979]).

vi) Both vampires and werewolves have a special kinship with wolves.  

vii) Both vampires and werewolves are shapeshifters. 

2. Insofar as the vampire, werewolf, and zombie genres originated independently of each others, it's an interesting question why they have so many things in common. Is this due to subsequent cross-pollination? Or do they reflect a common point of origin in a subliminal Ur-mythos? Is the human imagination wired to generate variations on this theme?

3. These three genres are revealing from a theological and sociological standpoint. In the past, death was all around us. Natural mortality was high, amplified by famine, warfare, siege warfare, epidemics, and pandemics. Heaps of human corpses in public view. Famine and siege warfare also resulted in cannibalism. Although less dramatic, open-casket funerals used to be the norm. But nowadays, due to cremation, modern medicine, and peacetime conditions in many parts of the world, the ugly face of death is easier to hide. And that, in turn, makes it easier for the natural fear of death to recede from consciousness.  

By the same token, travel by car, electrical lighting, and the elimination of wild predators has made the fear darkness recede from consciousness, although it remains close to the surface. Consider a child's instinctive fear of dark. Or walking in back alleys at night. Or your car breaking down on a deserted country road at night. 

So why do we create movies and frequent movies that evoke these primal fears? Perhaps because what's consciously suppressible remains subconsciously irrepressible. Even though modernity makes it easier to push these primal fears to the back of our minds, they remain firmly embedded in the human imagination. The world of nightmares. 

We enjoy scaring ourselves in a safe, controlled environment. And perhaps we feel that spooking ourselves in fantasy exorcises or inoculates us from genuine terrors. 

These genres reflect a throwback to the haunted imagination of the middle ages. They have a number of literal or analogical parallels in the medieval experience, viz. fear of death, fear of the dark, contagion, cannibalism, witchcraft. It's interesting that Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) combines the vampire mythos with plague rats. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Moody Handbook of Messianic Prophecy:

Michael Rydelnik wrote an outstanding monograph on messianic prophecy, so this may well make an exceptional contribution to the field:

The best of both worlds

Shiloh, Gunner's younger brother, was blind from birth. They were about a year and a half apart. When they were still little kids, Gunner enjoyed his brother's constant company. That was the only brother he had. He never knew what it was like to have a sighted brother. So for him, that was natural and normal. And Shiloh adored his older brother. 

But when Gunner came of age, he began to itch for independence. There were things he couldn't do with other boys his own age because he couldn't take Shiloh along. Simple things like hiking with the guys. He developed a festering resentment for Shiloh. Increasingly, he felt like Shiloh was a ball-in-chain, holding him back. He could leave Shiloh behind, but that was mean. He began to hate Shiloh's dependence on him. He began to hate Shiloh. Gunner was missing out on life. You only get to be a teenager once. 

He knew it was wrong to feel that way. If it was frustrating for him to have a blind brother, imagine how frustrating it was to be the blind brother! 

Shiloh sensed the growing estrangement. Gunner was tempted to tell Shiloh what he was feeling, but something restrained him. He knew that if he said what he thought, it would be irreparably hurtful to his loving, innocent brother. 

One time Gunner was temporarily bedridden by a sports accident. Ironically, it was Shiloh who cared for him. But that just intensified Gunner's inner dilemma. He resented the fact that he shouldn't resent his brother. 

One day, Gunner found a time-machine in the woods. He had no idea how it got there. But that gave him an idea. If he could go back in time, he could preempt Shiloh's conception. Of course, he didn't know on which night Shiloh was conceived, but he had a rough idea of the range. If he traveled back into the past enough times, he could disrupt parental activities and soon or later hit upon the crucial evening. 

And that's what he did. When he returned to his own time after several tries, then went into his bedroom, Shiloh was gone. Shiloh's stuff was gone. The clothes, the posters, the pictures of Shiloh and Gunner together. There was no trace of Shiloh's existence because he never existed in that timeline. 

At first it was a relief, but there was a yawning emptiness. A huge hole at the center of his life. 

What he really wanted was a brother who could see. So he went back to the time machine. When he returned to his own time, after several more tries, he was greeted by a…sister! But what's not what he wanted. He wouldn't mind having a sister. But he didn't want a sister instead of a brother. 

It turned out that his mother suffered from polycystic ovarian syndrome. She barely fertile. It was hard for her to conceive at all. Shiloh and Gunner were the only boys she had on tap. 

At this point, Gunner hated himself for hating Shiloh. He felt like he committed fratricide with the time machine. 

So he went back into the time machine and restored the status quo ante. Reset things to the day before he discovered the time machine. After that he torched the time machine. 

A few weeks later, Shiloh was hit by a car–because he couldn't see the car. Standing over him in the ER, stroking his hair and holding his hand, as Shiloh hovered between life and death, Gunner realized that he didn't want Shiloh to die. His brother flatlined several times but they were able to resuscitate him and stabilize him. It was bad enough to scrub his brother from the timeline using the machine, yet that was detached. He didn't see the target. But watching his brother die, repeatedly die in the ER, tugged at Gunner's heart. And all the good memories came flooding back. All the good times together he'd forgotten about. In his seething resentment, he'd been far blinder than his brother. 

After Shiloh came home from the hospital, he sensed a change in Gunner's attitude. And Gunner found new things for them to do together. 

They lived in the same town for the rest of their lives. Gunner outlived Shiloh. When Gunner died, Shiloh was waiting for him. In the world to come, they were young again, only this time Shiloh could see! 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The new emasculinity

Cautionary tale

The astrodome

To revisit a pet issue of mine, there are scholars who insist that Bible writers operate with a flat-earth/three-story cosmography. They say we should interpret the Bible in the same way an ancient Near Eastern audience would understand it. And there's nothing wrong with that general principle. Ironically, I think the scholars in question lack the imagination to do justice to their own principle.

According to flat-earth cosmography, mountain ranges prop up the solid dome of the sky. So the mountain range marks the outer limits of the world. It's like the mountain ranges are flat in back. Half-mountains. Now consider some phenomena that prescientific observers  see:

1. Clouds coming over the horizon or receding over the horizon. The most natural way to explain the appearance is that clouds are coming over the hills and mountains from behind the hills and mountains. So the world continues on the other side of the mountain range. That's not where the world ends. 

But if flat-earth cosmography were true, there'd be no space between the sky and the back of the mountains. In the case of receding clouds, if flat-earth cosmography were true, drifting clouds would strike the side of the sky, spreading up and down the solid dome. 

Visualize putting red or blue dye in an aquarium. It will spread out laterally until it reaches the sides of the aquarium. Then it will spread out veridically (up and down the sides of the aquarium) because it can't go any further in a straight line. 

2. Likewise, in flat-earth cosmology, either sun, moon, and stars rise from behind the hills and mountains or in front of them. But they can't rise from behind the hills and mountains because the solid dome of the sky comes down at the highest point of the mountain range. If the sky is solid and the mountains are solid, the sky will rest on the mountain peaks. It can't go any lower. But in that case, the sky forms a vertical barrier or wall on the ridge of the mountain range. So there's nothing behind the mountain range. 

And even if sun, moon, and stars were positioned behind the sky rather than up and down the face of the sky, the solid dome would have to be transparent to see them, like clear glass. But it's blue, like colored glass. Yet the sun isn't blue. 

The alternative is for sun, moon, and stars to rise out of the earth at the foot of the mountains. If, however, they're in front of the mountains, observers would seem them block the view of the mountains as they ascend to the sky. 

So when we assume the viewpoint of an ancient Near Eastern audience, how is the flat-earth construct that some scholars posit consistent with what ground-based, naked-eye observers see? Even from a prescientific perspective, three-story cosmography doesn't make sense. And these are just two examples. I've discussed several others.  

Getting Geisler right

Christianity and the paranormal

I'd like to piggyback on a post by Jason Engwer:

Many Christians are very skittish about the paranormal. But it's important for Christian philosophers, apologists, theologians, and pastors to be informed about the paranormal:

1. If Christianity is true, and paranormal phenomena exist, then the existence of the paranormal is consistent with the truth of Christianity. In that event, we should be able to integrate the paranormal into a Christian worldview. That doesn't necessary mean we condone the paranormal. Depends on the example. To take a comparison, the occult is consistent with the truth of Christianity. And we need to be able to explain how the occult fits into a Christian worldview.

2. If people, whether Christians or unbelievers, experience the paranormal, but pastors, apologists, and theologians have no answers, then that drives Christians and unbelievers into the arms of New Age quack and swindlers in search of explanations. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when the paranormal is co-opted by charlatans and unbelievers because Christians vacated that field of investigation. 

3. According to the standard paradigm of naturalism, the universe is a closed system and everything is composed of matter and energy. But many kinds of paranormal phenomena are incompatible with naturalism. So paranormal phenomena render a service to Christian apologetics and evangelism by eliminating naturalism from consideration.

4. Now it's possible for an atheist to believe in the paranormal. He can redefine naturalism. Stephen Braude, who's a leading paranormal philosopher and researcher, is irreligious. 

If, however, you concede that minds can act apart from brains and bodies, then that removes a barrier to Christian theism. That opens the door to God, souls, angels, demons, and miracles. 

5. The "paranormal" is an umbrella for a miscellany of phenomena. It's useful to do some sifting and sorting so that we can distinguish the hooey from verifiable phenomena.

6. Many people are atheists because they never experience anything that's out of keeping with naturalism. Never experience anything that can't be explained in mundane terms. At least from their philosophically untutored perspective. 

Yet there are many people who have uncanny experiences that suddenly open a window to whole different realm of reality they never suspected. Something they scoffed at until it happened to them. They were atheists because the Bible describes a world which has no analogy to their humdrum existence. Until, that is, something happens which peels away the wallpaper of naturalism and exposes another dimension of reality that dovetails with the biblical worldview. At once, what was so incredible in Scripture becomes realistic. 

So paranormal experience can be a bridge to the Christian faith. Pastors need to be able to walk them the rest of the way across the bridge.

I'm not suggesting that people should cultivate paranormal experience. In many cases it befell them unbidden. In other cases they were experimenting with the occult, and tapped into something real. That's dangerous and terrifying, but God can redirect it. If Satan exists, God exists. If witchcraft is real, miracles are real. These are two sides of good and evil. 

Go away!

Conflicted about God

Some Christians develop conflicted feelings about God, and some atheists taunt Christians who suffer from conflicted feelings about God. After all, if everything happens according to supreme wisdom, then it's irrational to resent God for what happens. They use that as wedge tactic. 

But is it quite that simple? Suppose I have a special needs brother. Let's say he's autistic. As a result, he gets the lion's share of the attention. My parents have to devote an inordinate amount of time to tending to his incessant needs. So I feel neglected. And sometimes I'm required to take up the slack when they're exhausted or have to concentrate on other things.

So I'm missing out on many opportunities I'd enjoy if I didn't have an autistic brother. I can't go hiking or rafting with my dad because he can't be away from my autistic brother for extended periods of time. My dad can't attend playoffs when I play football because he's needed at home to deal with the perennial crisis of my autistic brother.

It's possible for me to resent my parents, even though I know it's not their fault. It's possible for my to resent my brother, even though I know it's not his fault. There are moments when I might wish my brother was dead, but I know that's horribly wrong. He can't help himself. 

But what I really resent is the situation. Not my parents or my brother but the situation. I resent being thrust into that situation. Everyone is doing the best they can. My parents are doing the best they can. Often at their wits' ends. My autistic brother is doing the best he can. If it's frustrating for me, imagine how frustrating it is for him

By the same token, although there's a sense in which it's illogical to resent God, it can be natural to have conflicted feelings. That's not necessarily a sign of incipient or impending apostasy. The situation really is aggravating to be in. So it's not unnatural or even illogical to find it frustrating or aggravating. That's the reality. Like spiritual hives. 

If anything, apostasy can sneak in from the opposite direction. There's a well-meaning but perilous and precarious piety that clamps the lid on while internal pressure builds. Because some Christians think it's irreverent to harbor conflicted feelings about God, they suppress them and pretend they don't have them–until it finally explodes, blowing their faith apart in jagged pieces flying everywhere. 

This is one of the values in reading the Prophets and Psalmists. They are honest about their frustrations. Sometimes they have intensely conflicted feelings about God, and they aren't afraid to express themselves. That's safety value releases the internal pressure before it becomes unbearable. Healthy piety requires honesty. We can't fool God by feigning what we think we're supposed to feel when that's at odds with what, deep down, we're really feeling. 

Monday, October 14, 2019

The Universe: How did it get here & why are we part of it

Roger Penrose and William Lane Craig discuss:

The Kurds

Trump has come under intense criticism for withdrawing military support for the Kurds. Perhaps that's well-deserved. I haven't studied the issue, so I have no firm opinion one way or the other. But I'll venture a few generic observations:

1. The talk about "abandoning" a military ally is intellectually devious. It's not like the Kurds came to our rescue. The alliance was always enormously lopsided. They need us far more than we need them. They weren't doing us a favor. We were doing them a favor. They were doing themselves a favor by forming an alliance with us. But what do we actually owe them? 

2. Does the US military have a duty to maintain a military presence in the Mideast to prevent some Middle Easterners from slaughtering other Middle Easterners? No.

The job of the US military is to protect the lives of Americans. American soldiers have no duty to be killed or maimed to protect foreigners. Their lives aren't forfeit to save the lives of foreigners. Their lives aren't less valuable than the lives of foreigners. And their own families have a prior claim on them. 

3. I share the concern for the fate of Syrian Christians. But Christians throughout the Muslim world are at risk. Does that mean we should start a war with every Muslim country that persecutes Christians?  

Is it reasonable to believe Christianity is false?

At the risk of triggering Rauser's fragile persecution complex:

1. If Christianity is true, why is it the case that people can reasonably believe it's false? 

In general, it's possible to believe something is false even if it's actually true. We might believe something is false when it's actually true in case we lack access to the relevant evidence for its veracity.

2. However, Christianity, if true, isn't like just any truth. If Christianity is true, then God wants some or all people to know it's true. Now in Calvinism, God doesn't intend that everyone become a Christian. Indeed, in Calvinism, God intends that everyone not become a Christian. In that sense it would be consistent with Reformed exclusivism that some people reasonably believe Christianity is false because God hasn't put them in contact with the relevant evidence. 

But I presume that Rauser is an inclusivist. If so, why would God leave them in an impoverished epistemic condition where it's reasonable believe Christianity is false even though Christianity is true, and he wants everyone to know it's true? If, despite that, people can reasonably believe that Christianity is false, is that because God failed to provide them with compelling evidence for the veracity of the Christian faith? But what hinders God from doing that?

Perhaps Rauser will fall back on postmortem salvation. But if God can and does provide compelling evidence in the afterlife, what prevents him from presenting compelling evidence in this life? 

3. Moreover, I assume Rauser's position is not that it's reasonable for people to believe Christianity is false because they don't have the same evidence Christians have. Isn't Rauser's position that reasonable people can look at the same evidence but draw opposing conclusions? Atheists like Lowder, McTaggart, Oppy, Quine, Rowe, Sobel, Schellenberg, Tooley, and Wielenberg. 

4. So doesn't his position imply that Christianity is probably false? If Christianity is true, and inclusivism is true, we wouldn't expect the evidence to be so ambivalent that people can reasonably believe Christianity is false.