Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Faithful waiting

How to read Genesis

I recently read/skimmed Reading Genesis Well: Navigating History, Poetry, Science, and the Truth in Genesis 1-11 (Zondervan 2018) by John Collins. 

1. It's a seasoned and erudite exegetical defense of old-earth creationism. Collins has a sophisticated hermeneutic that he applies to Genesis. 

The book fights on two fronts. On the one hand, it takes aim at the hermeneutics of young-earth creation. 

On the other hand, it takes aim at scholars like Peter Enns, Dennis Lamoureux, Robin Perry, Paul Seely, Kenton Sparks, and John Walton–who think the Bible suffers from a hopelessly obsolete, prescientific outlook. (Kyle Greenwood is another example, but he doesn't figure in the discussion.) That target looms larger in his treatment than young-earth creationism. 

Collins does a nice job of showing that the way Enns, Walton et al. read the Bible is naive. Does a nice job of showing that ancient Near Easterners were more observant than Enns, Walton et al. give them credit for. 

That's not just his conservative opinion. Take this quote: 

People in the ancient Near East did not conceive of the earth as a disk floating on water with the firmament inverted over it like a bell jar, with the stars hanging from it…The textbook images that keep being reprinted of "the ancient Near Eastern world picture" are based on typical modern misunderstandings that fail to take into account the religious components of ancient Near Eastern conceptions and representations. O. Keel & S. Schroer, Creation: Biblical theologies in the Context of the Ancient Near East (Eisenbrauns 2015), 259-60n34.

So his monograph defends the inerrancy of Scripture against an influential academic fad that's eroding evangelicalism. In that regard it's useful for young-earth and old-earth creationists alike. 

2. I disagree with some of exegetical decisions. And there's a disappointingly thin discussion of the flood account. But in general this is an exceptional treatment. 

3. I'd like to focus on one particular issue, and that's his provocative endorsement of anachronism in Scripture (6.C). 

i) Normally, anachronism is a telltale sign of fiction, forgery, or the limitations of an author who's out-of-touch with the period he's writing about. However, Collins argues that anachronism can be a technique to make the past come alive for a later audience. If successful, his argument pulls the rug out from under a stock objection to the historicity of some biblical accounts. 

ii) One concern his whether his argument proves too much. Anachronisms are a way in which we distinguish apocryphal Gospels from 1C Gospels. Or take the Donation of Constantine. Likewise, what if a Mormon apologist redeployed this argument to salvage the Book of Mormon? Admittedly, Mormonism has many defeaters. 

iii) At least from my reading, it isn't clear to me if by anachronism, he means a Biblical narrator sometimes updates the treatment, or if he's staking out the more radical position that there's nothing in the past which underlies the narrative. Consider two possible illustrations:

a) Long-range prophecy depicts the future in terms of the past. It uses imagery familiar to the original audience. The oracle reflects the kind of world they knew. 

b) The Warriors (1979) is a cinematic adaption of a novel by Sol Yurick, which is, in turn, a modern adaptation of a true story by Xenophon. In the original, the Greeks are trapped deep behind enemy lines and must fight their way back to the homeland. In the modern adaptation, this is recast in terms of New York street gangs. That preserves some correspondence between the original setting and the modernization, but with great artistic license. 

I don't know if that's the sort of thing Collins has in mind. One issue is whether that's too loose a view of historicity. I find some of his examples more plausible than others. 

Gunshot victims

Two additional observations about the contretemps between the ACP and NRA:

i) No doubt ER physicians see lots of gunshot victims. But to extrapolate from that to an epidemic of gun violence suffers from selection bias. For instance, suppose an oncologist discovers an ominous pattern: all his patients have cancer! Does that mean there's an epidemic of cancer? Obviously not. He's in a profession that selects for patients with cancer. The fact that a disproportionate number of ER patients are gunshot victims doesn't make that a representative sample of the general public. 

Gun violence in the USA is concentrated among certain demographic groups in certain cities in certain states. 

ii) Some people are gunshot victims because they were unarmed. They couldn't defend themselves thanks to cities with gun bans. Some people are gunshot victims because bans on guns eliminated the deterrent to armed robbery, armed burglary, and armed mugging. 

Yes, it really is a homosexual scandal

Hospital security

There's currently a row between the NRA and the American College of Physicians. The ACP is lobbying for more gun control. I'd like to draw attention to an obviously irony in this debate. Ever heard of hospital security? Increasingly, hospitals have armed guards on the premises. So doctors demanding more gun control for private citizens have a job in a workplace where they're protected by armed guards. They benefit from the very thing they deny to private citizens. How many of them would even go to work without a security detail on hand? 

Perhaps the rejoinder will be that if we had even more gun control, there'd be less need for hospital security. But that goes to the debate about how effective gun control really is.

And is it coincidental that states which abridge Second Amendment rights increasingly abridge First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights. Gun control becomes a subterfuge for security forces which exist to protect the ruling class and force at gunpoint the social policies of the ruling class.

I vow to thee, my country

Last Sunday, to commemorate Veterans Day, the church choir sang "I vow to thee, my country". It has inspirational lyrics set to a classy tune. Here's the text:

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

And there's another country, I've heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

And here's a fine performance:

1. Patriotism is a controversial issue in Christianity. On the one hand there's the knee-jerk cliche about how patriotic displays have no place within the four walls of the church. Likewise, that nationalism is idolatry. Our only allegiance should be to Jesus. On the other hand you have churches that bilk patriotic holidays. It's easy to get more emotional charge out of patriotism than the average sermon, and some pastors piggyback on that sentiment to give their preaching a boost.

Then there's the more balanced view that a Christian is a citizen of two worlds. Although Christian identity takes precedence, that doesn't cut earthly ties. Indeed, Christian identity is naturally expressed through earthly ties–though not exclusively.

2. Then there's the question of the message. Pretty music and inspirational rhetoric can seduce us into singing things that aren't true.

i) The two stanzas present a point contrast between heaven and earth, this life and the afterlife. That's nice.

ii) I don't know what Rice means by "all earthly things above". Typically, heaven is above and earth is below. So the imagery seems confused.

iii) Especially in the context of war, "the love that asks no question" seems like blindly following orders.

iv) Then there's the question of what your "country" stands for. Does that represent your family? A way of life? Liberty? A common history and culture? A people? Freedom to practice the true religion?

What's the altar? Is that a metaphor for willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice (i.e. dying in combat)? And how does that relate to the "dearest and best"? If the "dearest and best" stand for things like family, does that mean you should be prepared to sacrifice your family for your country? In one sense, Rice may mean patriotism requires parents to risk their sons in battle. On the other hand, doesn't paternal or filial duty require you to protect your family at the risk of your own life? You're not putting them at risk, but endangering yourself for their sake. So the message seems confused. But perhaps it depends on which family member is in view. Men protecting women and children. Some family members are required to make the final sacrifice on behalf of other family members. Or for the common good.

3. The theology of the second stanza is vague. Is a faithful heart the ticket to heaven? Faithful in what sense?

4. The message of the hymn is fuzzy. I'm not sure if Rice had a clear idea of what he meant. It may be impressionistic. More intuitive than exact.

5. When parsing hymns, we should make some allowance for the fact that the dual constraints of a metrical scheme and rhyming scheme limit the choice of words, so that precision of thought and expression may suffer. And poetic imagery is open-textured.

6. In light of (2) & (5), it's better to bring our theology to hymns rather than taking our theology from hymns. In one respect, what's important isn't so much what the hymn means to the hymnodist but what it means to the singer.

Stay in their lane

Political Map: how Democrats see America

“Life After Google” (Introduction)

Life After Google
Life After Google
My blogger profile says that I work in “marketing automation”. As a young writer, with a then-young family, I gravitated toward advertising copywriting as a career, and later into other forms of marketing and marketing communications.

Marketing and advertising have been around for a long time, and the most successful marketers and advertisers have long used “data” of one form or another – information about you that they could use either to target you or to personalize their messaging to you or both. With TV and radio and even printed publications, the information was very generalized – marketers appealed to certain “demographics” rather than to individuals.

The founder of Macy’s, John Wanamaker (1838–1922), an early pioneer in marketing, is credited with saying, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half”. That was a big problem in the world of business where, it was known, “if you can measure it, you can manage it”. Advertising in print, radio, and TV, were expensive, but the results were largely unmeasurable and therefore the entire system seemed unmanageable.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Schreiner interview on Romans

Medieval bestiary

A common argument against the inerrancy of Scripture is to compare Scripture to alleged parallels in pagan sources, then infer that Bible writers shared the prescientific outlook of their pagan neighbors. In that regard I'd like to expand on a comparison offered by John Collins in Reading Genesis Well (Zondervan 2018), 260n34.

Suppose a modern reader thought a medieval bestiary was a reliable source for what medieval folk knew about animals. Yet medieval peasants clearly had accurate knowledge of farm animals and game animals. So a medieval bestiary is not a representative sample of what-all they knew about animals. Which is not to deny that a bestiary may reflect a degree of ignorance and superstition, just as pagans in the ancient Near East suffered from ignorance and superstition. But it means we need to be avoid the knee-jerk assumption that some of their depictions were necessarily meant to be realistic. 

What's a rainbow?

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth” (Gen 9:8-17).

i) As a rule, the aim of biblical exegesis is to read the text like the original audience would read it. Modern readers know both more and less about the world than the original audience. We know less about a particular time and place in the ancient world than the original audience to whom a book of the Bible was addressed, but we know far more about the world in general than the ancient audience. This carries the risk that we sometimes unconsciously import assumptions into the text that the original audience didn't share. 

For instance, a 21C American doesn't have to travel to Africa to recognize African animals. In theory, a 21C American could never travel beyond a 50-mile radius of his birthplace, but know a lot about the rest of the world. By contrast, many ancient readers had an extremely provincial knowledge of the world they lived in. In many cases, no knowledge of the world at large. Just their little corner of the world. Their village and thereabouts. 

ii) In addition, the same text can reflect more than one viewpoint. In the case at hand, there's the viewpoint of Noah and his descendants (e.g. Abraham), to whom the covenant sign was first revealed. In addition, there's the viewpoint of audience that Moses was writing for. The Exodus generation.

iii) Consider the impression a rainbow might have on the original audience. Let's assume that Noah resided in Mesopotamia. And that's certainly Abraham's fatherland. At least by modern standards, rain is rare in most of that region. Mind you, we have to be careful about extrapolating from the present to the past. From what I've read, the ancient Near East has become more arid over the millennia. But that means for Noah and his descendants (e.g. Abraham), sightings of rainbows might be highly unusual. 

Egypt is much drier. And depending on the area, rainfall is rarer by far in the Sinai desert. 

Now the implied audience for the Pentateuch consists of people who migrated from Egypt to the Sinai. It's possible that most of them never saw a rainbow. An unheard of phenomenon. Imagine the impact of a downpour in the Sinai, followed by a rainbow–if that was a novel experience. An extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime spectacle. 

On the other hand, Palestine has rainy seasons, so they will be moving into a region where rainbows are more common. As such, the text had a shifting significance, depending on the reader's experience of rainbows. It's a useful exercise for a modern reader to put himself in the situation of Noah and Abraham, then Israelites in Egypt, then Israelites in the Sinai, then Israelites in Palestine, to consider the impression a rainbow would making depending on the regional climate. 

Studied inaccuracy

Here's a neglected consideration in debates over inerrancy. Consider artwork. It's sometimes amusing to see Medieval depictions of exotic animals (e.g. African animals), because it's clear that the artist never saw a real animal like that. Likewise, before the advent of linear perspective, artistic representations were often inaccurate in terms of scale. 

On the other hand, we know from cave paintings of animals that "primitive" cave painters using primitive resources under poor conditions could nevertheless depict animals with amazing accuracy. It required talent rather than formal training. 

However, in some cases the inaccuracy isn't due to technical deficiencies. Take paintings of the Madonna and child where Jesus looks like a tiny man. A miniature adult. It's not because the painters didn't know how to draw a baby. Rather, that was an artistic and theological convention. Likewise, Byzantine icons are stereotypical. 

Although these depictions are inaccurate from a representational standpoint, that's intentional and functional. They achieve the purpose they were designed for. Theological code language. Not unrealistic because they don't know any better. A modern counterpart are comic books. 

That's something to keep in mind when critics allege that Scripture is inaccurate. A consideration they're failing to make allowance for. 

I'm a schismatic!

In light of Catholic ecumenism, it's worth recalling that all Protestants are still officially classified as schismatics: 

schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff (1983 CIC 751). 

Pining for the ethnostate

This is interesting because it presents a true alternative, "minority" viewpoint, in contrast to the ersatz perspective of Reformed Margins and the like. The perspective of a genuine "outsider" (in relation to the USA). 

In that regard he takes an unexpected, iconoclastic position. There is something to be said for slowing immigration until we can absorb what we've already have taken in. 

That said, I can't relate to making 

a goal the cultural and genetic assimilation of new Americans to the traditional Americans of each place. This would mean immigrants and their descendants tended to become culturally and genetically whiter, but the older diversity of now-indigenous American cultures (not only White but also Black and Amerindian) would better emerge as these native peoples’ cultural interests were protected by statute and custom.

i) I guess he defends the notion of an ethnostate because he identifies strongly with the ethnostate of China, so he accords the same prerogative to other countries. That said, I don't see the value of linking cultural assimilation to genetic assimilation. Although culture often originates in a particular racial or ethnic milieu, it's separable from the original milieu and portable. In addition, culture is also a product of cultural diffusion–a synthesis between two or more cultures. Take the impact of Greece on Rome, or the impact of Greco-Roman culture on Diaspora Judaism and Christianity. 

ii) I don't know quite what he means by protecting cultural interests by statute. 

iii) Then there's the whole question of which American culture immigrants should be assimilated to. Even white America doesn't have a homogenous culture. For instance, there's the legacy of Western civilization, but most Americans are consumers of pop culture rather than high culture. Most Americans aren't into classical music, Renaissance/Baroque painting, the 19C novel, Shakespeare, Dante, Racine, Greco-Latin literature, philosophy, &c. Their culture is lowbrow rather than highbrow. Rock and country music, Hollywood movies and TV fare, national sports, cars, comic books. Ethnic (albeit Americanized) food. Musical subcultures (blues, jazz, black Gospel).

In addition, there's the national mythos. The Pilgrim vision of America as the Promised land. The pioneer vision of America as the New Eden (e.g. Hudson River School). The Antebellum South. The iconic Old West of Hollywood lore. The Roaring Twenties. The high school caste system. And so on and so forth. 

iv) It's interesting that he and Dominic Foo identify so strongly with Anglicanism. Is there some affinity between the pageantry of the Chinese imperial court and Anglican worship that makes it appealing to them? 

Monday, November 12, 2018

Cut your nose to spite your race

Arminian theologian Randal Rauser has posted a response to my own:

Since Rauser and I occupy opposite ends of the theological spectrum, he may disagree with some of my illustrations. 

All it would mean is that one should carefully evaluate which are the serious psychological cases where accommodation to the requested use of alternative pronouns, titles, and proper names would be justified for the sake of minimizing psychological harm.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The next gen: going where no apologist has gone before

I follow some of the next generation Christian apologists. Nice to see new talent in the pipeline. A few general observations:

1. Because the UK is increasingly threatened by Islam (abetted by politicians who collaborate with Muslims immigrants), some Christian apologists in the UK include Islam as a major component of their apologetics.

2. Younger apologists study older apologists. Up to a point that's good. But itt carries the danger of tunnel vision, where they copy all the same menu and arguments. That unduly narrows the resources of Christian apologetics. 

3. Some Christian apologists have a particular area of expertise. However, a Christian apologist is required to cover a wide range of objections to Christianity. To some degree a Christian apologist must be an autodidact and jack-of-all-trades. If someone has a high enough IQ, they can teach themselves just about anything. 

There are different kinds of intelligence. Some people are philosophically-minded, some are scientifically-minded (with a knack for math), while others are historically-minded (with a knack for foreign languages). Apologetics is interdisciplinary, so it's useful to have apologists with different fortes. 

4. A Christian apologist ought to have a firm grasp of systematic theology with considered positions on most topics in systematic theology. He needs to know what he believes before he's in a position to defend it. The basic task of a Christian apologist is to defend the Bible and systematic theology. Don't go hiking without a weather report. Don't go hiking unless you know what to put in the backpack. Bad idea to find out what you need when it's too late to bring it with you. In the age of social media, it's easy to garner a following. But the danger is to become successful before you're ready. 

I've only sampled the apologists I'm about to comment on, so this represents my provisional impressions. 

Andy Bannister

The most seasoned of the bunch. Has a doctorate in Islamic studies. Does lots of clever YouTube shorts as well as debates. 

Cameron Bertuzzi

Bright philosophy type. Quick study. Does some good interviews. 

Cameron has lots of potential. However, he's theologically off-center. Has some bad theological role models (e.g. BioLogos, McNabb, Rauser, Swinburne, Walls). Center-left evangelical theology bleeding into progressive Christianity.

Seems like he's trying to build his boat and sail it at the same time. Needs to figure out what he's supposed to believe–as well as developing a more traditionally evangelical center of gravity. 

On Facebook as well as his own site:

Blake Giunta

Very bright philosophy type. Quick on his feet. Has a clever interactive apologetic platform:

Wesley Huff

NT scholar. I think he picked up Arabic when his parents were missionaries in the Middle East, so he also debates Muslims. Seems to have both feet on the ground theologically. On Facebook and Youtube. 

Jonathan McLatchie

Strong formal background in the life sciences. Conducts helpful webinars. Smart and wide-ranging with an ink-blot memory. 

Neil Shenvi

Ivy League scientific background. Branching out into the culture wars as well as apologetics:


"The question is whether acceding to a *specific kind* of request ... reinforces a person's false self-perception."

One can have morally sufficient reasons for reinforcing a person's false self-perception. For example, if you're interacting with an Alzheimer's patient in a care facility who believes he's a fifteen year old boy living on the farm, the ethical response is to agree with his false self-perception because challenging that perception would lead to greater harm.

That's ingenious but it depends on the example:

i) I doubt the transgendered are any one thing. Some people genuinely suffer from that psychotic disorder. Some impressionable people (mostly adolescent girls) have been swept up in a social contagion. In many cases, gender dysphoria naturally resolves itself. Some people are gaming the system. Claiming to be trans instantly elevates their social status. 

ii) Sure, there are people with incurable conditions we need to accommodate. But the degree of accommodation varies. Take doping adolescent with puberty blockers. That does irreparable damage to their physical (and psychological) maturation. Adolescence is an irreversible phase in the life cycle. Not to mention sex change operations, which are even more harmful. 

A better comparison would be body dysmorphic disorder. Does Rauser think surgeons should amputate perfectly healthy, functional body parts to accommodate their delusion?

iii) To take another example, if someone suffers from lycanthropy, should they be allowed roam naked in the woods year round, where they are likely to die from hunger, thirst, infection, or exposure since they lack the natural equipment and survival skills of a real wolf? Or should they be committed to a secure mental institution for their own good?

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Were they never saved in the first place?

I brief exchange I had with a Roman Catholic on YouTube:

"But the Calvinist position on eternal security requires not just that this 'possibly' be the case. It requires that this ALWAYS be the case in such situations as when a person no longer fulfills the conditions by which a Calvinist regards another person to be regenerate and justified."

To some degree you and I are arguing at cross-purposes because we're making different points. There are critics of Calvinism who act as though the very idea that an apostate wasn't saved in the first place is a rationalization you'd only resort to if you have a fanatical precommitment to Calvinism. I'm making the point that as a matter of principle, that's not an artificial position or stopgap. Now, your objection isn't to the principle but to universalizing the principle. 

"My point was less that I think a No True Scotsman Fallacy is going on - if eternal security is true, then texts like 1 Cor. 10 HAVE to be read as if loss of salvation is impossible. My stance is that the bulk of such texts are reduced to nonsense if this effort is attempted. It is not so much the issue that I think a fallacy is being committed. I think that Calvinists are pre-committed to missing out on certain paradigms. Looking at a typological argument in such a way that you keep pointing out that not all the Israelites were saved might be how to salvage that text within the Reformed perspective, but it's just *not* the right methodology for exegeting the text in its own context. The text must be exegeted rightly within its own context alongside its compatibility and being rightly informed by and informing other texts. I do not believe that the Calvinist effort succeeds in this."

As far as that goes, I think 1 Cor 10:1-4 is counterproductive to Catholicism. Why does Paul draw a parallel between the experience of the Exodus generation and baptism/communion? Why does he say most members of the Exodus generation perished despite having an analogous experience? 

The only explanation I can see is that some Corinthians were treating baptism and communion as talismans that would protect them from certain kinds of harm. That false confidence made them indulge in risky behavior. Paul is warning against that brazen, superstitious mentality. Otherwise, I don't know the purpose of Paul's comparison. 

"Even if a Calvinist knows zero, zip, zilch about a person prior to the present moment, if the indications given in the present moment are that said person doesn't meet the 'salvation' criteria, then the Calvinist is *dogmatically* required to believe the person never met said criteria, even if the person believed that he did, and even if on the surface the person appeared to meet those criteria previously."

That's an issue of theological method. How do we deal with points of tension in Scripture? Can someone who's elect, regenerated, justified lose their salvation? If so, does that mean they lost their election, justification, and regeneration? If so, is there something they can do to regain their election, regeneration, justification? How you answer one question raises additional questions. There are different potential responses:

i) The Bible is contradictory. It contains divergent theological paradigms.

ii) It's all true but paradoxical and we have no way to resolve the tensions, so we must leave them as is.

iii) Harmonize the tensions. If so, in what direction? Do we harmonize "eternal security" passages in light of apostasy passages or vice versa? 

iv) This isn't just an issue in Calvinism. Take the role of election in Thomism and Augustinianism. Surely it's nonsensical to say that someone God eternally elected can end up in hell. 

v) Traditional Catholicism also makes categorical claims about humans without knowing anything about any human in particular. Take the doctrine that no one is sinless (except for Jesus and Mary). The doctrine that grace is a necessary preliminary (pace Pelagianism). 

"I am not so willing to think, as the nonbelievers do, that the faith of so many if it *seems* to come from social conditioning is ultimately a bit more superficial of a faith. Nonbelievers make this argument in order to try to and impress upon people that their religious beliefs are not particularly special and are just absorbed by them because of the peer group and/or culture into which they are born - the old "if you were born in India, you'd be a Hindu" argument. Don't you think that, by employing this sort of approach, you are going a little too far?"

I'm not claiming there's a universal correlation. But there's more than enough to establish my point that in principle, someone can believe in Christianity even though he hasn't experienced saving grace. As such, if he ceases to believe, he was never saved to begin with. 

"Sociologically, we believe a LOT of what we believe because Mommy and Daddy do. We don't even have to necessarily talk about peer group because I think familial belief is more fundamental - my impression, at least, is that one's peers have less to do with one's views on politics, morals, religious beliefs, etc., than one's parents. Most Protestants who profess, say, Sola Fide do so because it was taught to them by Mommy and Daddy and the church that Mommy and Daddy took them to and modeled listening to. Even so, I don't believe that the question before us is reducible to a sociological calculation. People convert. People choose to 'own' their religious beliefs after serious reflection, certain experiences, etc."

i) No doubt God uses social conditioning to foster Christian faith. But in the case of "true believers," that must be undergirded by saving grace.

ii) In addition, the exceptions are striking. On the one hand, people from non-Christian backgrounds who convert to Christianity. On the other hand, people from a Christian background who resist assimilation when put in situation hostile to Christian faith. That illustrates the hidden power of saving grace to counteract peer pressure.

Distrusting God

I'm going to comment on an essay by the late Richard Gale. He was one of the more competent philosophical atheist. In this essay his primary target is freewill theism: R. Gale, "Evil as Evidence Against God", J. P. Moreland, C. Meister, & K. Sweis eds. Debating Christian Theism (Oxford 2013), chap. 15.   

What, in general, is an evil and what are the different types of evil? An evil is something that, taken by itself in isolation, is an ought-not-to-be, an "Oh, no!" Examples are physical and mental suffering by a sentient being, including lower animals, immoral action, bad character, and a privation in which something fails to measure up to what it ought to be, such as a human being born blind. The qualification "taken by itself" is important, since some evils are justified because they are so-called a blessing in disguise, being necessary for the realization of an outweighing good or prevention of an even greater evil. As members of such a larger whole, they are not an ought-not-to-be. 

In some respects that's a good definition. However:

i) To say congenital blindness is a natural evil is a teleological judgment. But naturalistic evolution rejects final causes. If there's no telos, there's no dysteleology. Congenital blindness is only a natural evil if the eyes were designed to see. But naturalistic evolution is a nondirective process rather than a goal-oriented process. Eyes have no purpose in naturalistic evolution. 

ii) How much mental and physical suffering do lower animals experience? And is that a natural evil? Notice how some animals deliberately seek out what looks like a painful experience. Like lions fighting for control of the tribe. If it's excruciating, why don't they avoid it? 

Using theology to solve engineering problems

Is Trump’s Rhetoric Responsible for Acts of Political Violence?

George Gilder: Human Creativity, Christian Capitalism and “Life After Google”

After the mid-term elections last week, I’m sure we will now find ourselves being cast hot and heavy into the 2020 presidential election. The Democrats are going to have two key areas of focus.

On the economic front, their focus is going to be “Democratic Socialism”. This is portrayed as a “kinder, gentler” form of Marxism – less caustic than Soviet communism, because, well, we’ve got the “kinder, gentler” left-wing Antifa/Resist/“you’re not welcome here” Democrats running the show.

And on the cultural front, their program is “Cultural Marxism”, which is their version of morality. It features Marxism’s classical “oppressor/oppressed” paradigm, supplemented by the aggregation and advocacy of various “victim groups”, and modified what’s known as “intersectionality” – that is, a hierarchy of “the oppressed”, whose opinions, depending upon how many victim identities that they can claim, carry more or less weight vs. the key class of oppressors, largely white men of European descent.

Both of these thought systems are related, and they operate according to well-defined methods, that many of us see, but have historically had difficulty opposing. I’m sure we’ll be writing more about both of these phenomena on the pages of Triablogue.

One key feature to note is that both of these programs have clearly articulated communications objectives, strategies, and even “talking points”. How many of you have been called a “racist”, “sexist”, “homophobe”, “Islamophobe”, “xenophobe”, etc.?

This name calling is no accident; rather, the names are the tip of the iceberg of communications efforts that have been borne in university programs, which are repeated ad nauseam by thinkers and politicians on the left, and echoed endlessly in the media.

Too often, this form of juvenile name-calling (which tends to work on the uninitiated, even some Christian writers, because many of us still carry with us our childhood fears of being rejected) is rarely opposed. This is not an accident – it is the predicted outcome of a well-defined strategic and communications program on the left.

Even those Christian writers who ought to know better, when faced with such truly baseless accusations tend to hem and haw and say, “erm, uh, no, we’re not”, and they go to great lengths to explain why Christians are not racists, sexist, homophobic xenophobes” – and in the process, they become “useful idiots” for those on “the Left”, describing how “we support social justice” etc.

For our part, Reformed Christians need not only to be advocating a positive political program and agenda of our own, which needs to feature conservative Christian principles for sure, but which will need to be articulated clearly and winsomely, using Christian language, and not being sucked into using the language of “social justice”, in which case, we would already be cast on the losing side and put on the defensive.

“Christian Capitalism” as an Economic program to espouse

We seem to have a clear vision on the cultural/morality side, which ranges among us somewhere between extremes characterized by “theonomy” and what’s been identified as “R2K” (the “R” standing, alternatively, for either “reformed” or “radical”, depending on who is doing the writing). The notion is that Christians can and should be working at some level to have a positive (and Christian) influence on the broader culture.

However, one thing we don’t seem to have a good handle on, and that’s the economic program that needs to oppose “Democratic Socialism”. We seem to keep that under the heading of “Conservativsm”, and we have tended to allow that to be the realm of the “country club” Republicans, but in the Trump era, that positive program seems to have shifted somewhat, and the messaging that used to clearly advocated as “conservative” has now become somewhat muddled.

Reformed Christians need to advocate a particularly winsome economic program that Christians can espouse and advocate. In not doing so, those of us on “the right” often tend not to have a cohesive communications message – a positive program that is easily articulated and one that Christians can understand, espouse, and more importantly, advocate.

I believe that George Gilder, as a writer on business and economics over the past 40 years, is a seminal thought leader who can provide language and ideas, based in Biblical, Christian morality and even language, that we can use in the public sphere, that can clearly and succinctly serve as messaging that we can use (and more importantly, that politicians can use) to craft counter-messaging to “the Left’s”.

I think that program can be called something like “Christian Capitalism” – a free-enterprise system that’s based on Biblical principles of private property, hard work, thrift, the deferment of rewards, and sharing – all values espoused by Calvin and re-articulated in the form of “the Protestant Work Ethic”.

George Gilder: An Introduction

George Gilder is a prolific writer in the field of business, economics, and technology. I hadn’t heard of him until just recently, having read his work “Life After Google”.

He was a writer for Forbes Magazine, and also a thing called “Forbes ASAP”, which I had never checked out. It always seemed like an add-on to the real thing. Later he had his own technology newsletter, “The Gilder Technology Report”, his own publishing firm, and he later became a venture capitalist.

He is a co-founder of “The Discovery Institute” – yes, THAT same Discovery Institute that advocates for Intelligent Design (Stephen Meyer) and other leading conservative thinkers are represented (Michael Behe, William Lane Craig, Michael Medved, Nancy Pearcey, Bill Walton, and others).

Gilder writes on the business and technology side of that organization. Below are some brief descriptions of his works.

Wealth and Poverty

Gilder’s 1981 book “Wealth and Poverty” (which was not his first book, by a long margin) “advanced a practical and moral case for supply-side economics and capitalism during the early months of the Reagan administration and made him Ronald Reagan's most quoted living author”, according to Wikipedia (citing the publisher of the work, and probably echoing “a study of presidential speeches”).

I don’t own the book, but here is a YouTube video on “Wealth and Poverty” that has been edited down to provide the high points. These include such notions as “Capitalism was not simply a practical success. It is the supreme expression of human creativity” – it is not simply an efficient way to allocate goods and capital. It is “a moral good”.

Gilder explains:

Capitalism is ultimately altruistic; capitalists begin with an imaginative response to the needs of others. They have to forego their own consumption and save to assemble resources to deploy for a process, the outcome of which is determined not by themselves, but by customers and investors, neither of whom are under the control of the entrepreneur himself. The entrepreneur has to collaborate; the entrepreneur follows “the golden rule”. He wants others to succeed. Any business is completely dependent on the success of all the other around it. (adapted from the video).

On the other hand, while “greed” is often mis-attributed to Capitalists (who often become wealthy, but who more frequently see their businesses fail), is better attributed to socialism and the welfare state, where:

They seek comfort and security first. They collaborate with government to get special privileges and contracts (“crony capitalism”) and seats at the public trough … (adapted from the video).

From what I’ve read, Reagan purchased copies of this book and handed them out as gifts to many of his senior advisors. Here is a positive review of the book. Citing Gilder:

“Capitalism offers nothing but frustrations and rebuffs to those who wish because of claimed superiority of intelligence, birth, credentials, or ideals to get without giving, to take without risking, to profit without sacrifice, to be exalted without humbling themselves to meet the unruly demands of others in an always perilous and unpredictable life. It is not surprising therefore that the chief source of the misunderstanding of capitalism is the Intelligencia, one of the many aristocracies that preen themselves on the contempt for bourgeois or middle class values and that refuse to acknowledge the paramount role of individual enterprise in the progress of the race.”

Men and Marriage

In 1992, his “Men and Marriage” (which I have not read yet), some part of which Swindoll had cited approvingly, Gilder makes the following comments:

The crucial process of civilization is the subordination of male sexual impulses and biology to the long-term horizons of female sexuality. The overall sexual behavior of women in the modern world differs relatively little from the sexual life of women in primitive societies. It is male behavior that must be changed to create a civilized order…

In creating civilization, women transform male lust into love; channel male wanderlust into jobs, homes, and families; link men to specific children; rear children into citizens; change hunters into fathers; divert male will to power into a drive to create. Women conceive the future that men tend to flee; they feed the children that men ignore. George Gilder. Men and Marriage (Kindle Locations 160-165). Kindle Edition.

In this 2010 interview of Gilder at, Gilder summarizes his beliefs about the destructive nature of feminism:

the woman holds in her very body a link to the long term future of the race. Her sexuality determines her long term goals. As a very physiological consciousness, she knows she can bear and nurture children. She has a central role in the very perpetuation of the species. The man is estranged from this process; his sexuality arises merely as a compulsive drive to pleasure. It’s short term by nature. It’s predatory and quickly gratified.

The Women’s Movement tragically reduces female sexuality to the terms of male sexuality. When this happens, she reduces herself to the male level of recreational sex. Paradoxically, when that happens the woman loses all her power over men and the reverence and respect toward the procreative potential of woman is lost. And that really destroys the family. But if the power of “choice” is given up, the woman actually ascends to a higher level of sexuality and her body attains an almost mystical power over men.

See also his more recent National Review article, “The Feminist Economy

I haven’t noticed that Gilder cites Scripture, but he certainly advocates a robust Christian morality. Here is a summary of Christianity and the family:

Giving, beginning within the family and extending outward into the society, is the moral center of the system. It does not succeed by allowing the leading capitalists to revel in riches; if they hoard their wealth the system tends to fail. It succeeds by inducing the capitalist continually to give his wealth back to the system in the form of new gifts and investments. George Gilder. Men and Marriage (Kindle Locations 2363-2365). Kindle Edition.

The Israel Test

In his “The Israel Test”, Gilder suggests that Israel is hated (and anti-Semitism exists) not because the Jews have been dishonest or have dealt unfairly with the global culture at large, but because of the jealousy and envy of those who fail to put in the efforts to duplicate Israel’s successes.

… Israel represents one of the most extraordinary transformation stories in the history of economics. Just over sixty years old, with a population slightly over seven million, and located in a hostile region, Israel is home to more high-tech start-ups per capita than any other nation on earth and has surpassed the combined venture capital investment of France and Germany…

In a decade, Israel went from being a nondescript industrial economy to one of the world’s leaders in research and technological creativity on a per capita basis. Then-senator Joseph Lieberman, from Gilder, George. The Israel Test: Why the World's Most Besieged State is a Beacon of Freedom and Hope for the World Economy. Encounter Books. Kindle Edition.

Gilder himself posits the difference:

The central issue in international politics, dividing the world into two fractious armies, is the tiny state of Israel. This central issue is not a global war of civilizations between the West and Islam or a split between Arabs and Jews. These conflicts are real and salient, but they obscure the deeper moral and ideological war. The real issue is between the rule of law and the rule of the leveler, between creative excellence and “fairness,” between admiration of achievement versus envy and resentment of it. Gilder, George. The Israel Test: Why the World's Most Besieged State is a Beacon of Freedom and Hope for the World Economy (p. 1). Encounter Books. Kindle Edition.

“Life After Google”

Life After Google” is Gilder’s most recent work (very impressive, given that Gilder is now 78 years old), describing both the limits of Google and the new technologies in its wake.

In the work, Gilder first provides a history of Google, its ideas, its pseudo-religious underpinnings; then he shows the weaknesses of the system, the ways in which it is “maxing out”, and finally, he points to emerging technologies (such as virtual reality and blockchain) which are already in growth mode, and in which entrepreneurial Capitalists are creatively devising a new “distributed” computer architecture that is going to be more secure and more equitable than the mountainous system where all roads lead to Google.

Google has certainly had an impressive run. They have pushed existing technologies to their limits, and in the process, they have not only created the second wealthiest company in the world (with market capitalization second only to Apple’s), but they have also created what Gilder called “a new system of the world”, which supplanted the old (monetary-based) system, to create a system “where everything is free, you are the product” for sale, in the form of your privacy and the accumulated data they own on you, which is sold to advertisers.

On a deeper level, the world of Google—its interfaces, its images, its videos, its icons, its philosophy—is 2D (compared with a 3D world). Google is not just a company but a system of the world.

And the Internet is cracking under the weight of this ideology. Its devotees uphold the flat-universe theory of materialism: the sufficiency of deterministic chemistry and mathematics. They believe the human mind is a suboptimal product of random evolutionary processes. They believe in the possibility of a silicon brain. They believe that machines can “learn” in a way comparable to human learning, that consciousness is a relatively insignificant aspect of humanity, emergent from matter, and that imagination of true novelties is a delusion in a hermetic world of logic.

They hold that human beings have no more to discover and may as well retire on a guaranteed pension, while Larry Page and Sergey Brin fly off with Elon Musk and live forever in galactic walled gardens on their own private planets in a winner-take-all cosmos.Gilder, George. Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy (Kindle Locations 129-136). Gateway Editions. Kindle Edition.

All of these notions may be challenged, and in the process, Gilder deals with them. The foil for this kind of dull and deterministic technology is one that is distributed, entrepreneurial, and dependent more on human inventiveness and entrepreneurial creativity and generosity. My hope is to provide some overview of this vision in the near future.

Is George Gilder the C.S. Lewis of Christian Capitalism?

C.S. Lewis was an original thinker. But more than that, he characterized the Christian faith in ways that, even though he was a brilliant scholar, virtually anyone could understand what he was talking about.

The economic system that we live in has always had tendencies toward “Christian Capitalism” (with a “C”) – this is inherent in Calvin’s views of biblical wisdom, thrift, saving, and perhaps reinvestment – via “the Protestant Work Ethic”.

I think that because Gilder writes primarily in the Business/Economics space, folks in our circles (Reformed Christianity) haven’t run into him a lot, but there are cross-overs.

Gilder takes difficult financial and technological topics and explains them in relevant ways. He views human beings (“man”) as created in the image of God, and human creativity to be an analog to God’s creativity via, among other things, the mechanism of science:

Real science shows that the universe is a singularity and thus a creation. Creation is an entropic product of a higher consciousness echoed by human consciousness. This higher consciousness, which throughout human history we have found it convenient to call God, endows human creators with the space to originate surprising things. Gilder, George. Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy (Kindle Locations 1579-1581). Gateway Editions. Kindle Edition.

I believe that Gilder’s work gives us the kind of language that Reformed Christians can use in the public sphere, and to which we can attribute the various attributes of God (and to God Himself). Lord willing, I’ll be writing more about this in the coming weeks and months.