Saturday, December 31, 2005

The confutation of atheism-2

“When you reject stories about greek gods impregnating woman, but you accept stories about Hebrew god's impregnating women, is this just your methodological naturalism rearing it's ugly head? Or is it because you have rules of historiography from your world-view through which you interpret evidence?”

Your strained attempt at a parallel between the virgin birth and Greek mythology is disanalogous since, in Greek mythology, impregnation takes the form of sexual intercourse, which is totally absent from the account of the virgin birth.

If you’re looking for rough parallels to the virgin birth, the place to look is not in Greek mythology, but in other Biblical examples of miraculous conceptions (Isaac, Samson, Samuel, John the Baptist), as well as passages describing the descent of the Shekinah upon the tabernacle (Exod 4:35), and the eschatological visitation of the Spirit to quicken the barren land (Isa 32:15).

So the virgin birth moves in a completely different universe of discourse than Greek mythology.

“I'm sorry to hear that you think seeing is believing. Personally, I do a lot of investigation to make sure I don't get tricked into believing something that isn't true.”

This is a classic illustration of secular fideism. Even if you were to personally witness a miracle, you would continue to deny the existence of God, following the motto Groucho Marx: “Who are you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes!”

“The only proof I need to establish the possibility that people can rise from the dead is a single confirmed sighting. We aren't that different after all.”

Notice, once again, that our atheist has tacitly conceded that we don’t need parallel cases to establish the Resurrection.

The resurrection of Christ is confirmed by multiple-attestation.

“All attempts to learn what really happened by using historical documents, is historical reconstruction.”

Once more, this assumes that the Gospels don’t tell us what “really” happened.

The only reason you’ve given for disbelieving the Resurrection is your “principle of uniformity”—a principle which you’ve had to recant.

“I didn't think I needed to clarify that because uniformity of physical laws makes miracles impossible, Christianity, a religion based on a miracle, is refuted. Unless you have some sort of evidence that miracles are consistent with uniformitarianism?”

Now you’re resorting to truth by definition. If you define the principle of uniformity as a closed causal system, then, by definition, you’ve excluded the miraculous.

But that’s a tautology, not an argument, and a very self-serving tautology at that.

You, however, have also defined the principle of uniformity as meaning that the past resembles the present.

Yet as Jason and I have already pointed out, a Christian could accept that definition, but reject your conclusion. For a Christian can believe that miracles continue to happen in the present as well as the past. They happen throughout the course of recorded history.

When cornered, you play hopscotch with your own definition.

“Really? How could uniformitarianism be squared with the occurance of miracles? By arguing that the physical laws sometimes break down on their own and permit miracles?”

This is warmed over Hume. Natural law is not a Biblical category. Christians believe in ordinary providence (e.g. Gen 8:22), but that allows for the miraculous.

You are acting as though the universe is a box, so that nothing can enter or leave without tearing open the box.

But Christians don’t operate with such a crude, primitive conception of the universe.

Again, if you redefine the principle of uniformity as a closed system of cause and effect, you thereby exclude the miraculous, but this confuses a semantic ploy with a reasoned argument.

“How could you dare say such a thing without backing it up? Give me your best evidence of modern-day miracles. I will accept even just a single authenticated case. I'll put my automatic rejection of miracles on hold and just see if your best evidence can stand the test of scrutiny. I promise not to make use of my uniformitarian principle in my entire evaluation of your best proof for modern miracle. Deal?”

Of course, the escape clause is “authenticated.” This is a value-laden judgment.

I’ll just give three examples that come immediately to mind, two of which come from my own family history.

1.My mother is 87. She has macular degeneration. She has had macular degeneration for over 20 years, yet her eyesight is as good as mine (I’m 46).

She began going blind early in the progression of the disease. After visiting her ophthalmologist, she prayed about the matter. When she saw him the next time, her eyes had gotten better rather than that worse. Her ophthalmologist was stumped. He had no scientific explanation for the reversal. I take that to be an answer to prayer.

2.At one time her sister was in a doctoral program at the University of London. Her advisor was a misogynist. He was making it impossible for her to complete her degree.

When her sister came to visit us, she asked my mother to pray about the matter. We formed a circle and my mother prayed that the Lord would remove the obstacle.

The next day her advisor dropped dead of a heart attack, and my aunt was assigned a new advisor—a woman. I take that to be an answer to prayer.

3. John Ruskin records the following anecdote in his autobiography:

“Before her illness took its final form—before, indeed, I believe it had at all declared itself—my aunt dreamed one of her foresight dreams, simple and plain enough for anyone’s interpretation; that she was approaching the ford of a dark river, alone, when little Jessie came running up behind her, and passed her, and went through first. Then she passed through herself, and looking back from the other side, saw her old Mause approaching from the distance to the bank of the stream. And so it was, that Jessie, immediately afterwards, sickened rapidly and died; and a few months, or it might be nearly a year afterwards, my aunt died of decline; and Mause, some two or three years later, having no care after he mistress and Jessie were gone, but when she might go to them,” Praeterita (Oxford 197 , 61).

At the time Ruskin wrote his memoirs, he was an apostate. Hence, he had no religious incentive to credit his aunt with heavenly premonitions.

“I don't have to. If I DON'T abide by the ‘present is key to the past’ principle, then there is no more criteria for weeding out embellishments and factual errors. Jesus clapped his hands and made the birds fly away, eh? Well, that sure doesn't square with my experience of the past, then again, whether it square with my past experience is irrelevant."

“That's what I'd have to say under your criticism of me. How then could I ever distinguish truth from error in history books?”

All you’ve done here is to reiterate your original fallacy. This is a leap of faith—what George Santayana, your fellow atheist, dubbed animal faith.

It is irrational to reject a position just because you don’t like the consequences of the position if true. That does nothing to falsify the position or verify the opposing position.

There is no a priori reason why our historical knowledge might not be severely circumscribed—especially if we are merely animals whose cognitive abilities are adapted to bare survival.

The Christian also believes in historical continuities, but that is grounded in the promise and providence of God, whereas your own position is simply groundless.

“The fact nature exhibits a uniform order, and I've never seen a single exception to it, and the fact that seeing an exception to uniform physical laws seems to be a silly premise.”

Our only evidence for the uniformity of natural law consists in the testimonial evidence of those who went before us. But the historical record includes a great deal of testimonial evidence to the occurrence of miracles. You cannot have the witness to one without the witness to the other.

So your appeal is either viciously circular or else selectively lop-sided. Talk about special pleading!

“Should I always be open to the possibility that a pink-elephant may one day float out of the sky and give me a used pair of shoes? After all, just because it hasn't happened in the past....yada yada yada.”

The constant resort to silly, artificial examples affords no counterexample to serious reports of serious miracles.

“Ah, so the gospels are NOT promoting the cause of Jesus?

from, for your convenience:

The systematic propagation of a doctrine or cause or of information reflecting the views and interests of those advocating such a doctrine or cause.

Material disseminated by the advocates or opponents of a doctrine or cause: wartime propaganda.

how can you say the gospels, for example, are NOT "propaganda". Are they not material disseminted by the advocates of a doctrine or cause?”

You are equivocating and prevaricating. “Propaganda” is a word with both a neutral and a negative connotation.

Wartime propaganda is often deliberate misinformation to deceive the enemy.

Yes, the gospels are promoting the cause of Jesus. That doesn’t cast any doubt on their veracity unless, according to your journalistic standards, a news reporter is only believable if he doesn’t believe what he’s saying.

“Sure, so do you think any extra-biblical reports of miracles in ancient religious literature are reliable?”

I don’t generalize. One has to judge on a case-by-case basis. Not all reports of extraordinary events are reliable, just as not all reports of ordinary events are reliable. The rules of evidence are the same for both.

“That's funny, i could have swore that I explained my acceptance of the principle of uniformity, several times, with nobody who denied that principle being able to tell me why they deny the existence of flying pigs.”

To concoct a ridiculous example as a special case excluded under a covering law does nothing to establish the general principle.

“This is twice now, at least, that you have merely asserted that I give no evidence. You wouldn't be convinced if I said ‘but you give no evidence for your view’, why then are you throwing this provocative language out at me?”

You came over to a Christian discussion board to challenge our faith. In so doing you assume some burden of proof. Otherwise, all you’ve done is to say that you don’t believe because you don’t believe.

Judging us by your slanted rules of evidence without giving us evidence for your rules is not a rational way to make a case for your own position or oppose ours.

“Also, you should have already guessed that I, an atheist, would agree that the cogency of that historical rule is quite independent of whether it happens to exclude the divine.”

Why should I have guessed from your identity as an atheist that you’d agree that the cogency of the historical rule independent of its atheistic ramifications?

If, by your own confession, your atheistic identity should lead me to deduce your position regarding the rule in question, then your agreement with the rule in question is clearly implicated in its atheistic ramifications.

The “principle of uniformity” is self-refuting. For if we already knew that historical causation was uniform, then we wouldn’t need to impose this heuristic methodological axiom on the data. The introduction of this principle assumes that we don’t know that to be the case. But in that event, the principle is underdetermined by the evidence and thereby lacking in evidentiary warrant. Methodological naturalism is not derived from the evidence of history, but functions as a filter to screen out unwelcome evidence. All that “scepticdude” ever does is to cite the principle of uniformity to justify his criterion—which is viciously circular.

“My imposition of that axiom upon the evidence is not because I forgot that historical causation is uniform, but is only for YOUR benefit in knowing why i believe what I believe. But by myself, I do not apply this rule to historical sources much like you'd apply a ruler to paper to see how long 2 inches is.”

“You are right, we ATHEISTS don't need to impose that axiom, we only do it when Christians ask us why we reject miracles. When we aren't talking to you, we impose nothing more on historical books than anybody else. We all have inevitable bias, which cannot be snuffed out completely.”

Our atheist is substituting a disguised description for an explanation. Why doesn’t he believe in miracles? Because of the principle of uniformity.

And what does the principle of uniformity amount to? “Because I first assume uniform order in historical causation.”

All he’s done here is to repackage his original rejection. He appears to be giving a reason for his rejection of miracles, but when you unpack his reason, it comes down to the presumptive principle that the uniformity of historical causation doesn’t allow for miracles.

Why does he reject miracles? Because he “assumes” a causal model in which there’s no room for miracles. But this is just a circumlocution for saying that he doesn’t believe in miracles because he doesn’t believe that miracles ever occur.

Notice how that sidesteps the question of why he assumes the principle of uniformity in the first place. He defines uniformity by the absence of miracles.

So he hasn’t, in fact, given us a reason for his rejection. All he’s done is to paraphrase his original rejection. He’s done nothing at all to move the ball forward. The real question remains unanswered.

Moving along:

“Yes it is. It is the result of seeing the same result over and over and over and over, otherwise known as uniformity, which becomes methodological naturalism.”

Here he seems to be giving a reason for why he believes in the principle of uniformity, but this, too, is deceptive.

To begin with, he’s failing to distinguish between personal and impersonal causation. Impersonal causation has reference to the cyclical processes of nature. For example, once a man impregnates a woman, that sets an automatic process in motion. A process which is repeated over and over again in the course of human history.

However, whether or when a particular man impregnates a particular woman is not, of itself, a cyclical or automatic process. If he does so, certain things will follow, but it is not certain that he will do so, or at what time.

Now, the Resurrection is a case of personal causation. God the Father raises his Incarnate Son from the dead. This has nothing to do with the regularities of nature.

And even if natural law were in play, if our belief in natural law is based on seeing the same results time and again, then natural law is descriptive rather than prescriptive since it is based on observation of the way things usually work. It doesn’t dictate to reality what reality is permitted to do.

However, “methodological” naturalism is prescriptive and stipulative. For a detailed analysis of methodological naturalism, cf.


“Any rule which helps you refute the possibility that a crayon talked to you, is a good rule, amen? Or, would you rather not have that rule and just evaluate the evidence itself? ha ha ha, crayons talking? How silly....oh wait...I only say "silly" because I first assume uniform order in historical causation.”

For the umpteenth time he gives us an ersatz example of a miracle, as if that’s comparable to a biblical miracle like the Resurrection.

In the nature of the case, there’s no evidence for an ersatz miracle, and you can make it as silly as you please.

How is that the least bit relevant to the Resurrection, which is neither silly, nor bereft of evidence?

Proceeding along:

“You are just preaching to the choir. I came here of my own freewill and laid out my main presuppositions on the table and gave arguments for why I believe them. You are just using provocative language because you failed miserably to refute the very rule that protects you from believing everything you hear as soon as you hear it.”

What he did was to lay out his presuppositions and then offer circular arguments for why he believes in them.

At one level there was nothing to refute because he never gave a non-circular, non-question-begging argument for what he believes. All he did was to make baseless claims and groundless assertions for what he believes.


“Fallacy of confusion, I couldn't possibly do as you say I do, because the principle of uniformity IS my criter [ion].”

So, when push comes to shove, he is unable to justify his criterion. By his own admission, he can give no reason why he should believe it or we should believe it. So what is there to refute?

By contrast, we can certainly gives reasons for what we believe. Indeed, this all got started because Jason was discussing messianic prophecy in relation to the nativity of Christ.

Likewise, there’s no dearth of reasons for believing in God. But why should we have to reinvent the wheel each time when the arguments are only a mouse-click away? Cf.

It is not our duty to do an unbeliever’s reading and research for him. If an unbeliever can study liberal attacks on the veracity of Scripture, he can just as well study the many essays, articles, commentaries, and monographs which rebut the liberal attacks on Scripture.

It is not as if these objections have never been broached before, or answered before. These are oft-answered stock objections. An honest unbeliever would at least acquaint himself with the answers, and if he finds them unsatisfactory, explain why.

Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience. A very genealogically conscious audience.

They could read 1 Kings just as well as our atheist. Indeed, they could read it in the original. They knew their way around the OT genealogies. This was, after all, a tribal society and covenant community based on God’s covenant to Abraham and his seed, as well as a dynastic priesthood. They hated Herod because Herod was a usurper—an Idumean, which made him an Edomite, which made him kin to Esau, the outcast. They were looking forward to a restoration of the Davidic kingship.

Matthew is making use of a literary convention known as gematria. The numerological arrangement of genealogies goes all the way back to Genesis, where you have ten generations from Adam to Noah (Gen 5), and ten generations from Shem to Abraham (Gen 11), as well as ten generations from Perez to David (Ruth 4:18-22; 1 Chron 2:5,9-15). For a numerological arrangement based on multiples of seven, cf. Gen 46:8-27.

The obvious way to achieve numerical symmetry is to skip over various descendents. Indeed, if you think about it, gaps are the rule rather than the exception.

The stereotypical formula is: A begat B, B begat C, C begat D, and so on. Notice the singular form. But most fathers in fact had more than one son.

In Scripture, there’s a principle of theological legitimacy as well as genetic legitimacy. An apostate son is not a legitimate heir. His name and progeny may disappear from the family tree (e.g. Dan; Cain). The firstborn may be mentioned, but sometimes Scripture overrides primogeniture in favor of a younger son.

Driving the numerology is an overruling concern with tracing out the lineage of the seed of promise. Cf. “Seed,” New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, T. Alexander & B. Rosner, eds. (IVP 2000), 769-774.

So the messianic motif is driving the numerology. As such, Matthew’s practice is sanctioned by venerable Biblical precedent.

The confutation of atheism-1

An atheist wormed his way into the the Areopagus. For the full context, as well as Jason’s ever-splendid side of the argument, go there:

I’ve strung together my side of the argument below. The atheist is in quotation marks.

"Do you have any non-controversial established cases of resurrection from the dead, so that I might stop seeing Jesus' resurrection as impossible and at least grant that it was within the realm of possibility?"

How is the absence of parallel cases relevant to the historicity of the resurrection of Christ? It is presented in Scripture as a miraculous and unprecedented event, the archetype and prototype of an eschatological resurrection of the just at the end of the church age.

It is not comparable to the cyclical processes of nature. So your denial involves a category mistake.

Again, you are confounding epistemology with metaphysics. To say that you know of no parallel event is not to say that the event in question is impossible--which is a metaphysical category.

"My first question to you to begin this phase is: What other source of ancient religious propaganda, outside the bible, do you accept as being a report of facts only and containing not the least bit of embellishment or untruth, as you view the New Testament? Your answer will tell me whether your view is based on analysis of the data, or whether you are committing the fallacy of special pleading by asking that we accord the religious propaganda of the NT gospels the special place of "facts-only-reporting" and refusing to grant this huge leap to other non-biblical ancient religious propaganda."

Why should we exclude the Bible from discussion? The NT is a 1C primary source of 1C history. Evidence doesn't get any better than that.

"To be plausible, he would have to have been resurrected, which I don't think is plausible, since historical reconstruction cannot occur unless one uses the present to interpret the past (principle of uniformity), which rule of historiography automatically excludes all allegations that would require suspensions of the known physical laws. You don't believe a report that somebody taught a pig to fly on it's own, and I don't believe a report that somebody rose from the dead, and both of us support our respective skepticism by appealing to this principle of the uniformity of the physical laws, which apologists hate."

What is there to reconstruct? When we turn to the historical record of the Gospels, we are not reconstructing a historical event, but consulting a contemporaneous account of the historical events.

You call yourself an empiricist, but empiricism is supposed to be based on observation and discovery. You, however, by appealing to uniformitarianism, are going way beyond the limits of induction.

Empirical science is supposed to be descriptive, not prescriptive. Your appeal is prejudicial and stipulative in character. That is not empirical. That is secular dogmatism masquerading as science.

The first thing to observe is that our atheist has chosen to interact with very few of my counterarguments. You can assess the weakness of a man’s position by what he chooses to ignore.

“The absence of concretely established parallel cases is the reason you don't believe stories about flying pigs.”

You continue to invoke a silly illustration. A flying pig would be a surd event, something out of the blue.

The resurrection is not a surd event. It fits within a theological framework.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s play along with your illustration. Your implicit argument seems to be that I do not have good reason to believe in some extraordinary event apart from multiple instances of some extraordinary event. Of course, that demand would turn it into an ordinary event.

This is a principle which you need to justify, not merely assert.

On the face of it, the principle is obviously false. All I need to have good reason to believe in some extraordinary event is adequate evidence for that particular event.

And the evidence I need to establish the occurrence of an extraordinary event would be no different than the evidence I need to establish an ordinary event.

What evidence would we need to prove the existence of a flying pig? One flying pig would do.

If, say, Scientific American did a story on the discovery of a flying pig, in which a team of scientists had examined the pig, then that would be sufficient reason to believe in the existence of a flying pig.

“Just because something is called a miracle, doesn't automatically protect it from the rules of historiography. Calling it a miracle assumes the existence of god, that this god is the god of Christianity”

You continue to appeal to the “rules of historiography.” In so doing you assume what you need to prove.

You are using the “rules of historiography” as code language for methodological naturalism. That begs the question of what reality is like by stipulating in advance of the fact what is discoverable.

As an atheist, your atheism is not based on your historiography; rather, your historiography is based on your atheism. By definition, atheism will exclude the miraculous by its secular rules of evidence. All you've done is to beg the question in your own favor.

Once again, you’re confusing epistemology and ontology. A miracle implies the existence of God. But it doesn’t imply belief in God. If I were an atheist, and if I were to witness a miracle, then that would convince me of God’s existence. I don’t have to be a believer to come to a belief in the miraculous.

“On the contrary, the absence of any concretely established parallel event is the very reason one would say that something in a report is false/impossible...and so the opposite is true as well, namely, that the existence of many concretely established cases of X, is what gives you confidence that X is not impossible. Again, the main reason you say flying pigs are impossible is because you know of no concretely established proof that pigs have ever flown before (maybe in airplanes? ha ha ha)... which will let you consider that the story about the flying pig is at least within the realm of the possible.”

As I’ve said above, this criterion is quite illogical. The only proof I need to establish the possibility that pigs can fly is a single confirmed sighting.

“I accept a rule of historiography called "uniformitarianism" not to be confused with the same word that describes geological phenomena. In historiography, "uniformitarianism" is defined as "the present is the key to the past". That is, the only way we can reconstruct history with any confidence is to compare what history says, with what our present experience and knowledge in life tells us is either possible/impossible, or likely/unlikley.”

As I said before, belief in the Resurrection does not entail any historical reconstruction of events. The gospels are not like a crime scene or archeological dig in which you have to piece together a past event from mute clues.

“Now aside from the fact that uniformitarianism certainly falsifies almost all your Christian beliefs, do you have any objective reasons to reject this otherwise common-sense principle?”

You are assuming, without benefit of argument, that uniformitarianism is inconsistent with Christian faith. That, again, is illogical.

The suppressed premise of your assumption is the presumption that the present is uniformly non-miraculous. But this doesn’t follow from a principle of uniformity, per se. You are smuggling in a tendentious interpretation of your principle.

One can have a naturalistic version of uniformitarianism, but one could just as well have a supernaturalistic version of uniformitarianism.

There is, indeed, evidence that miraculous events happen throughout the course of history up to and including the present. Hence, I could grant you your premise that the past resembles the present, but draw an opposing conclusion.

In addition, I reject your principle because it is patently fallacious. What you’ve done is to mount an implicitly consequentialist argument. What you are saying is, in effect, “We cannot reconstruct the past unless the past resembles the present; ergo: the past resembles the present.”

But the inference is clearly invalid. At most, all this would prove is that “if” the past does not resemble the present, then we cannot reconstruct the past. But you’ve done nothing to prove the conditional itself.

Perhaps our ability to reconstruct the past is very limited. What makes you, as an atheist, assume that the causal order is arranged for the convenience of the historian?

“To put it even more graphically, are there any sources of ancient religious propaganda outside the bible, whose miracle-claims you accept as really having occured as described? Why not? Is your acceptance of everything the bible says, a fallacy of special pleading, because you don't accept truth claims from any other source of ancient religious propaganda outside the bible?”

To describe the Bible as religious propaganda is an invidious characterization. You are poisoning the well.

Since I believe that miraculous (supernatural, paranormal events) happen throughout the course of history, I’m open to extrabiblical reports.

Having said that, the reports are only as reliable as the reporters. It is not special pleading to abode more confidence in some reporters than others. It’s a question of evidence.

“How exactly did you get from ‘secular rules of evidence’ over to "beg the question"? You lost me there.”

You have done nothing to establish a secular worldview, which is a presupposition of your skewed historiography. Absent a compelling argument for your axiomatic assumption—and you’ve given us no argument whatsoever—you are begging the question.

“If my secular rules of evidence cause me to beg the question in my favor, then do your religious rules of evidence cause you to beg the question in your own favor? Why not?”

I would be begging the question if I, like you, appealed to the rules of evidence without ever giving any evidence for the rules.

“However, I wish you luck trying to prove that the historiographical rule "the present is the key to the past" (i.e., principle of uniformity) was originally made up by historians for no other purpose than to exclude miracles/God.”

Now you’ve committed the genetic fallacy. Whether or not the principle of uniformity was originally devised to exclude the divine is irrelevant to its cogency, or lack thereof.

“So are you going to answer my question?”

Your question is way too vague to answer as it presently stands. Sorry, but I’m not a mind-reader. The onus is not on me to go trolling through every possible example of what you privately deem to be
“ancient religious propaganda outside the Bible” and comment on each example.

What I did, instead, was to offer a general reply to a general question by explaining how I’d approach the answer in terms of my principles and procedures.

If you want a more specific answer, you’ll have to ask a more specific question.

“First, ALL discussion on separating true from false in historical reports is historical reconstruction, whether you are talking about Roman emperors in Tacitus, Constantine in Eusebius, or Jesus in the gospels.”

This assumes that the Gospels are an admixture of truth and error.

“Second, are you aware that there is NO SCHOLAR IN THE ENTIRE WORLD, that thinks the gospels are contemporary with the events they describe? You are even more conservative at dating the Gospels than Robinson!”

“Contemporary” and “contemporaneous” don’t mean that x occurred at exactly the same time as y, but that they occur within the same period, such as the commonplace distinction between a younger and older contemporary of x. According to the traditional authorship of the gospels, which has been defended by many conservative scholars, the Gospel writers were contemporaries of Jesus. They were alive at the time of the events they record. Depending on the author, their record was either based on eyewitness observation or eyewitness testimony.

My dating is more conservative than Robinson since 1C Jewish and Greco-Roman culture was a literate culture, such that there is no good reason to greatly delay the publication of the Gospels. For documentation, cf. A. Millard, Reading & Writing in the Time of Jesus (NYU 2000).

“However, until the Christians come up with some concretely established cases of miracles…”

There’s an extensive body of literature on this very subject.

“First, you are wrong to say empiricism doesn't involve prescription. Empiricism wouldn't be possible unless we made deductions and inductions at SOME point before we reach our main hypothesis. But to deduce or induce, is to prescribe. Do you seriously think someone who is a true empiricist, does nothing at all but describe stuff all day?”

There’s a fundamental difference between drawing inferences from the evidence and prescribing what counts as evidence in the first place. You are now confounding evidence with the rules of evidence.

“Second, you would have been more intellectually responsible to leave my philisophical proclivities out of the picture, and just concentrate on refuting the evidence I gave to support my denial of the inerrantist interpretation of Micah 5:2.”

Your discussion was by no means confined to Micah 5:2. Your appeal to the principle of uniformity has nothing to do with the exegesis of Micah 5:2.

You have chosen to broaden the scope of the discussion, not me. Your philosophical proclivities are directly germane to your particular version of historiography.

As to Micah 5:2, this says it all: "But Micah does not say that the Messiah will come immediately, deliver them from the Assyrians now, and set up his universal kingdom over their enemies at the present time. First there will be a time of agony and exile (4:9-10; 5:1,3a)," Gary V. Smith, Hosea/Amos/Micah. NIVAC (Zondervan 2001), 526.

“Sorry, but to me, ‘theological framework’ is just as silly as ‘resurrection’ and ‘flying pig’.”

You are welcome to your opinion, but it still destroys your argument from analogy since the objection at that juncture has now shifted from allegedly parallel examples to the underlying conceptual scheme, or absence thereof.

“Right, and what qualifies as "adequate evidence" for some event?”

Adequate evidence for a “particular” event in contrast to “parallel” instances of a king.

“Ok, so if I told you I got a flat tire on the way to work, you don't need anymore than just my word, but if I went on to say an angel of the lord miraculously healed the blow-out and now the tire has no signs of'd believe likewise upon no more basis than my word? After all, you said the amount of evidence you'd need to believe an extraordinary event (angel healing blow-out) would be no different than the evidence you'd accept for an ordinary event (tire blew out), right?

That sounds like you just believe everything you hear, not just ‘I went to the store today’, but also ‘bigfoot seen at Whitehouse’"

You’re using examples of frivolous miracles. But the miracles of Scripture aren’t frivolous miracles. So you comparison falls apart.

And it also depends on the credibility of the source.

As to your second illustration, you regard the existence of Bigfoot as an extraordinary claim, as opposed to an ordinary claim.

Very well, then, what evidence would we need to prove the existence of Bigfoot?

All we would need is to capture one specimen. We wouldn’t need any parallel cases.

In that respect, the evidence for an extraordinary claim is no different than the evidence for an ordinary claim.

It’s like the old conundrum of induction. All it takes to prove that all crows aren’t black is one albino crow.

All it takes to prove the existence of flying, fire-breathing dragons is one specimen. The reason we don’t believe in dragons is not because we lack parallel cases, but because we lack even a single case.

“How about if the evidence for that flying pig came from ancient religious propaganda? Would that qualify in your mind as "evidence" for that flying pig's reality?”

Sifting the evidence depends on both the credibility of the informant as well as the intrinsic credibility, or lack thereof, of the event. Does it fit into larger framework, or is it just a surd event?

“Did Scientific American ever do a story on Jesus, in which a team of scientists examined Jesus? Case closed.”

Does this mean that you now retract your original criterion and admit that we don’t need parallel cases to establish the occurrence of an event?

Of course, many historical events are not subject to scientific confirmation, but they are subject to other forms of confirmation.

I simply used this example to challenge your axiomatic assumption that we need multiple instances of x to justify our belief in any instance of x.

Now that you’ve evidently admitted your erroneous assumption, you need to retract your original objection to the resurrection of Christ since that was predicated on a standard of evidence which you’ve now withdrawn after you were forced to back down.

“I don't see anything wrong with that. All you are doing is saying that I interpret the world through my particular world-view, which makes me about as unique as everybody on earth.”

Except that you’ve done nothing to justify your worldview. You’ve come over to a Christian discussion board, and appealed to your secular worldview as the standard of comparison to disprove the resurrection of Christ.

Since we, as Christians, obviously don’t buy into a secular frame of reference, what’s the point? You’ve done nothing to advance the argument.

To make your case you either need to appeal to some point of common ground and then demonstrate that we are inconsistent with our own methods and assumptions, or else you need to challenge our methods and assumptions.

But as it stands, you’re like a gerbil on a wheel, moving at a furious pace without moving an inch from your starting-point.

“You yourself have rules of historiography, which you use to help you discern between what is probably true and what is probably false.”

And there’s an extensive body literature in Christian apologetics whereby we justify our historiography.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Go for broke

I’ve been hearing that this year has been a bad year for Hollywood. Box office receipts are down—way down.

The reason is that the key teen demographic—especially among young men—is tuning out of the movie theater.

Once reason I’ve heard is that in the age of home entertainment, there’s ever less reason to go out to see a movie.

That might be—but I have another theory.

Hollywood is using the silver screen as a soapbox to promote its pansexual agenda. For example, action pictures naturally appeal to guys. To the extent that they appeal to women, the appeal consists in virile men who come to the rescue of women—as well as women who bring out the best in men.

But, nowadays, there are more and more action flicks—and this holds true for TV fare as well—in which we have a ninety pound, kick-boxing superheroine who can beat the stuffing out of half a dozen Marines.

A few years ago this was papered over by giving the superheroine some sort of genetic or bionic enhancement. But nowadays even that pretence of plausibility has dropped out of sight.

Nowadays the moviegoer is expected to swallow the spectacle of a featherweight fashion model beating the holy tar out of well-muscled men twice her size and leading Green Berets into battle.

Like unisex bathrooms, no one ever put this up for a vote. There was no national debate. The general public was never consulted.

Instead, it just came down from on high by the Anointed Ones in Hollywood. It is our civic duty to accept this palpable lie without reservation—like taking a dose of bitter medicine. To challenge the new code as so much hokum and bunkum would invite a charge of hate-speech.

Now, I ask you, why would any self-respecting male plunk down good money to see his manhood belittled?

On a related note, I also observe, when I’m channel surfing, a new double standard, which is a reverse of the old double standard. A male detective is not allowed to humiliate a female character by asking embarrassing questions about her sexual history, but a female detective is allowed to humiliate a male character by asking embarrassing questions about his sexual history. Typically the man breaks down before the female detective after she gleefully badgers him into tearful submission.

Likewise, you have female officials who subjugate men, using their coercive authority to do what they could never do by physical force or force of character. They command, but they do not lead.

There’s a political agenda going on here, and you have to wonder how many male viewers resent the subtext.

It’s not that there isn’t a place for the heroine. Ironically, in the days before feminism and women’s lib, there were actresses like Crawford, Davis, Dietrich, Garbo, Hepburn, Stanwyke, and West, who dominated the screen in a way that no contemporary actress does. There were star vehicles written just for them. Moviegoers went just to see them. The actress carried the whole show.

This is because, back then, a woman had to make it in a man’s world through sheer talent, grit, and force of personality. And that translated onto the screen.

I’d add that, back then, a movie star looked like a grown woman—not a high school cheerleader.

Then you have a movie like Brokeback Mountain. This is a “love story” between two queer cowboys.

Predictably, it gets rave reviews from the critics for its “courageous” treatment of the forbidden theme.

BTW, I’ve never known what is so courageous about making movies in which you’re rewarded rather than punished by the Establishment.

Now, bracketing the whole question of social morality, who is the audience for a film like this? At least ninety-nine out of a hundred moviegoers are straight.

There are a lot of moviegoers who are not necessarily disapproving of sodomy, but that doesn’t mean they want to pay good money to see a couple of catamites rolling in the hay.

It they’re going to see a love story, it will be boy meets girl, not boy meets boy.

Just as market share of the liberal news media has atrophied over time by becoming so elitist, by putting ideology above popularity and realism, the audience for Hollywood movies is withering away for the very same reason.

These films are not about art or even entertainment. They are simply a political statement dressed up in sepia.

Renewing Your Mind vs. Changing Your Mind

David Kupelian has given us some excellent insight regarding the hollywood based propaganda in the movie Brokeback Mountain in his article, Brokeback Mountain: Rape of the Marlboro Man.” This film has already earned seven nominations for the Golden Globes, and multiple Oscar nominations will surely follow. To give some backround of the movie, let’s first look at a review by Marcy Dermansky:


Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain,” based on the short story by Annie Proulx, is frank in its depiction of homosexuality. Unlike the chaste coupling of Tom Hanks and Antonio Banderas in 1993’s “Philadelphia,” Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger’s gay relationship happens on screen. Not only do the lovers establish their connection on an emotional level, they also kiss and hug, repeatedly, and make love in a tent on the titular mountain. Genuine progress has definitely been made. “The Celluloid Closet” provides an excellent grounding in the subject, and Lee can be commended for his contribution. “Brokeback Mountain” is an epic love story about gay cowboys and that, in itself, is something. Otherwise, the film is not one to get particularly excited over. (“BrokeBack Mountain”)


Kupelian provides a fuller plot script in his article. Kupelian points out Hollywood’s usage of the “Malboro Man” as a means of propagating this relationship. The “American cowboy, with all of the powerful feelings that image evokes in us, of independence, self-confidence, wide-open spaces and authentic Americanism” is utilized in the portrayal of an emotionally tragic homosexual relationship that eventually ends in the death of a partner as the supposed result of a hateful and homophobic society. The pains of Ennis Del Mar pierce the hearts of the audience. As Kupelian says, “Mission accomplished.” We feel the hurting in Ennis. Kupelian writes:


Lost in all of this, however, are towering, life-and-death realities concerning sex and morality and the sanctity of marriage and the preciousness of children and the direction of our civilization itself. So please, you moviemakers, how about easing off that tight camera shot of Ennis’s suffering and doing a slow pan over the massive wreckage all around him? What about the years of silent anguish and loneliness Alma stoically endures for the sake of keeping her family together, or the terrible betrayal, suffering and tears of the children, bereft of a father? None of this merits more than a brief acknowledgment in “Brokeback Mountain.”

What is important to the moviemakers, rather, is that the viewer be made to feel, and feel, and feel again as deeply as possible the exquisitely painful loneliness and heartache of the homosexual cowboys – denied their truest happiness because of an ignorant and homophobic society.

Thus are the Judeo-Christian moral values that formed the very foundation and substance of Western culture for the past three millennia all swept away on a delicious tide of manufactured emotion. And believe me, skilled directors and actors can manufacture emotion by the truckload. It’s what they do for a living.


In one emotional sweep, “people’s minds have been changed” (according to co-star Jake Gyllenhaal). Hollywood, therefore, utilizes the emotion of the big screen, the seduction of the musical score, and the appealing cinematography and compelling acting to propagate a new perspective. As the loss of a loved one (one loved not just by Ennis, by the way) stings like poison, Hollywood wants us to feel the “hateful” and “homophobic” oppression against a homosexual relationship between two cowboys. The scary part is that this could be done to promote any principle, as Kupelian rightly states:


Do we understand that Hollywood could easily produce a similar movie to “Brokeback Mountain,” only this time glorifying an incest relationship, or even an adult-child sexual relationship? Like “Brokeback,” it too would serve to desensitize us to the immoral and destructive reality of what we’re seeing, while fervently coaxing us into embracing that which we once rightly shunned.

All the filmmakers would need to do is skillfully make viewers experience the actors’ powerful emotions of loneliness and emptiness – juxtaposed with feelings of joy and fulfillment when the two “lovers” are together – to bring us to a new level of “understanding” for any forbidden “love.” Alongside this, of course, they would necessarily portray those opposed to this unorthodox “love” as Nazis or thugs. Thus, many of us would let go of our “old-fashioned” biblical ideas of morality in light of what seems like the more imminent and undeniable reality of human love in all its diverse forms.

A “Brokeback”-type movie could easily be made, for instance, to portray a female school teacher’s affair with a 14-year-old student as “a magnificent love story.” And I’m not talking about the 2000 made-for-TV potboiler, “All-American Girl: The Mary Kay Letourneau Story,” about the Seattle school teacher who seduced a sixth-grade student, went to prison for statutory rape, and later married the boy having had two children by him. I’m talking about a big-budget, big-name Hollywood masterpiece aimed at transforming America through film, just as Hitler relied on master filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl to make propaganda films to manipulate the emotions of an entire nation.

In place of “Brokeback Mountain’s” scene with the castrated homosexual, the “adult-child love story” could have a similar scene in which, as a young girl, the future teacher’s mother took her to see the body of a woman who had fallen in consensual “love” with a 14-year-old boy, only to be brutalized, her breasts cut off, and bludgeoned to death – all by Nazi-like bigoted neighbors. (So that’s why she couldn’t be honest and open about her later relationship with her student.)

Inevitably, such a film would make us doubt our former condemnation of adult-child sex, or at least reduce our outrage as we gained more “understanding” and sympathy for the participants. It would cause us to ask the same question one reviewer asked after seeing “Brokeback Mountain”: “In an age when the fight over gay marriage still rages, ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ the tale of two men who are scarcely even allowed to imagine being together, asks, through the very purity with which it touches us: When it comes to love, what sort of world do we really want?”


“Brokeback Mountain” documents a homosexual “love” story. But how do we define love? This is what is being pushed: if it is emotional, if it can grip your heart by music and successful cinematography, then it is love. Love is obsession, here the obsession that, as Kupelian notes, “destroys marriages and is based on constant lies, deceit and neglect of one’s children.” Is that how we desire to define love? But as long as the music plays, the obsession broadcasted on the widescreen is passionate love: love that can only be broken in death caused by a supposedly misunderstanding, misinformed society. Kupelian further writes:


Ultimately, propaganda works because it washes over us, overwhelming our senses, confusing us, upsetting or emotionalizing us, and thereby making us doubt what we once knew. Listen to what actor Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays Jack, told the reporter for Entertainment magazine about doing the “love” scenes with Heath Ledger:

“I was super uncomfortable … [but] what made me most courageous was that I realized I had to try to let go of that stereotype I had in my mind, that bit of homophobia, and try for a second to be vulnerable and sensitive. It was f—in’ hard, man. I succeeded only for milliseconds.”

Gyllenhaal thinks he was “super uncomfortable” while being filmed having simulated homosexual sex because of his own “homophobia.” Could it be, rather, that his conflict resulted from putting himself in a position, having agreed to do the film, where he was required to violate his own conscience? As so often happens, he was tricked into pushing past invisible internal barriers – crossing a line he wasn’t meant to cross. It’s called seduction.

This is how the “marketers of evil” work on all of us. They transform our attitudes by making us feel as though our “super uncomfortable” feelings toward embracing unnatural or corrupt behavior of whatever sort – a discomfort literally put into us by a loving God, for our protection – somehow represent ignorance or bigotry or weakness.


People’s minds are indeed being changed. To Gyllenhaal, “That’s amazing.” To the Biblically informed Christian, that is devastating. The call to the Christian, however, is not to “change” the mind. But it is to “renew” the mind.

Romans 12 1I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Evan May.

[Hat Tips: Nina and James White]

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Sacramental Santa

The Christmas season is an apt time to reflect upon the tragedy of the Polar Redformation, which precipitated a split between orthodox, high santalism and schismatic, low santalism.

Here I can do no better than to quote the great Nordic historian, Rudolf von Blixem, in his classic Chronicles of Claus:

“Low santalism is generally represented by radical Baptists, Anabaptists, Nonjurors and Usagers. In their Gnostic hatred of matter, mistletoe, snowmen, X-mas trees, and eggnog, the low santalist reduces St. Nick to a mere outward symbol or nude sign of the Christmas spirit of giving.

In so doing they most grievously and impudently violate the canons of catholicity, thumbing their red noses at the Santal Fathers, and Mother Claus.

By contrast, the high santalist honors the Real Presents of St. Nick in the Christmas presents. As stated in the North Polar Confession of Faith,

‘Santa is an outward sign and seal of an inward gift. For there is, in St. Nick, a santal relation or union between the sign and the thing signified.

It hath ever been the firm belief of Mother Claus that the whole substance of the Christmas present is converted to the whole substance of Santa, under the species of ribbon and wrapping paper; which conversion is by Mother Claus suitably and properly denominated transub-Santantiation.

By this ineffable miracle, the Christmas gift, which is not only offered, but really exhibited by St. Nick, is not conferred by any power in him, but by his little helpers in, with, and under the sleigh, when present to the faith of true believers in Santa’ (NPCF XXVII.i-iii).”

"A Defense of Abortion"

Back in 1971, a couple of years before the infamous Roe v. Wade decision, Judith Jarvis Thomson wrote what many regard as the classic defense of abortion. I’ll quote the key portions of her argument and then comment on the excerpts:


Most opposition to abortion relies on the premise that the fetus is a human being, a person, from the moment of conception…Arguments of this form are sometimes called "slippery slope arguments"--the phrase is perhaps self- explanatory--and it is dismaying that opponents of abortion rely on them so heavily and uncritically.

I am inclined to agree, however, that the prospects for "drawing a line" in the development of the fetus look dim. I am inclined to think also that we shall probably have to agree that the fetus has already become a human person well before birth. Indeed, it comes as a surprise when one first learns how early in its life it begins to acquire human characteristics.

For it seems to me to be of great interest to ask what happens if, for the sake of argument, we allow the premise. How, precisely, are we supposed to get from there to the conclusion that abortion is morally impermissible? Opponents of abortion commonly spend most of their time establishing that the fetus is a person, and hardly anytime explaining the step from there to the impermissibility of abortion. Perhaps they think the step too simple and obvious to require much comment. Or perhaps instead they are simply being economical in argument. Many of those who defend abortion rely on the premise that the fetus is not a person, but only a bit of tissue that will become a person at birth; and why pay out more arguments than you have to? Whatever the explanation, I suggest that the step they take is neither easy nor obvious, that it calls for closer examination than it is commonly given, and that when we do give it this closer examination we shall feel inclined to reject it.

I propose, then, that we grant that the fetus is a person from the moment of conception. How does the argument go from here? Something like this, I take it. Every person has a right to life. So the fetus has a right to life. No doubt the mother has a right to decide what shall happen in and to her body; everyone would grant that. But surely a person's right to life is stronger and more stringent than the mother’s right to decide what happens in and to her body, and so outweighs it. So the fetus may not be killed; an abortion may not be performed.

It sounds plausible. But now let me ask you to imagine this. You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, "Look, we're sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you--we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist is now plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it's only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you." Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation? No doubt it would be very nice of you if you did, a great kindness. But do you have to accede to it? What if it were not nine months, but nine years? Or longer still? What if the director of the hospital says. "Tough luck. I agree. but now you've got to stay in bed, with the violinist plugged into you, for the rest of your life. Because remember this. All persons have a right to life, and violinists are persons. Granted you have a right to decide what happens in and to your body, but a person's right to life outweighs your right to decide what happens in and to your body. So you cannot ever be unplugged from him." I imagine you would regard this as outrageous, which suggests that something really is wrong with that plausible-sounding argument I mentioned a moment ago.

For what we have to keep in mind is that the mother and the unborn child are not like two tenants in a small house which has, by an unfortunate mistake, been rented to both: the mother owns the house… We should really ask what it is that says "no one may choose" in the face of the fact that the body that houses the child is the mother's body.

Or again, to return to the story I told earlier, the fact that for continued life the violinist needs the continued use of your kidneys does not establish that he has a right to be given the continued use of your kidneys. He certainly has no right against you that you should give him continued use of your kidneys. For nobody has any right to use your kidneys unless you give him this right--if you do allow him to go on using your kidneys, this is a kindness on your part, and not something he can claim from you as his due. Nor has he any right against anybody else that they should give him continued use of your kidneys. Certainly he had no right against the Society of Music Lovers that they should plug him into you in the first place. And if you now start to unplug yourself, having learned that you will otherwise have to spend nine years in bed with him, there is nobody in the world who must try to prevent you, in order to see to it that he is given some thing he has a right to be given.

I suppose we may take it as a datum that in a case of pregnancy due to rape the mother has not given the unborn person a right to the use of her body for food and shelter. Indeed, in what pregnancy could it be supposed that the mother has given the unborn person such a right? It is not as if there are unborn persons drifting about the world, to whom a woman who wants a child says I invite you in."

But it might be argued that there are other ways one can have acquired a right to the use of another person’s body than by having been invited to use it by that person.

Opponents of abortion have been so concerned to make out the independence of the fetus, in order to establish that it has a right to life, just as its mother does, that they have tended to overlook the possible support they might gain from making out that the fetus is dependent on the mother, in order to establish that she has a special kind of responsibility for it, a responsibility that gives it rights against her which are not possessed by any independent person--such as an ailing violinist who is a stranger to her.

If the room is stuffy, and I therefore open a window to air it, and a burglar climbs in, it would be absurd to say, "Ah, now he can stay, she's given him a right to the use of her house--for she is partially responsible for his presence there, having voluntarily done what enabled him to get in, in full knowledge that there are such things as burglars, and that burglars burgle.'' It would be still more absurd to say this if I had had bars installed outside my windows, precisely to prevent burglars from getting in, and a burglar got in only because of a defect in the bars. It remains equally absurd if we imagine it is not a burglar who climbs in, but an innocent person who blunders or falls in. Again, suppose it were like this: people-seeds drift about in the air like pollen, and if you open your windows, one may drift in and take root in your carpets or upholstery. You don't want children, so you fix up your windows with fine mesh screens, the very best you can buy. As can happen, however, and on very, very rare occasions does happen, one of the screens is defective, and a seed drifts in and takes root. Does the person-plant who now develops have a right to the use of your house? Surely not--despite the fact that you voluntarily opened your windows, you knowingly kept carpets and upholstered furniture, and you knew that screens were sometimes defective.

And so also for mother and unborn child. Except in such cases as the unborn person has a right to demand it--and we were leaving open the possibility that there may be such cases--nobody is morally required to make large sacrifices, of health, of all other interests and concerns, of all other duties and commitments, for nine years, or even for nine months, in order to keep another person alive.

Surely we do not have any such "special responsibility" for a person unless we have assumed it, explicitly or implicitly. If a set of parents do not try to prevent pregnancy, do not obtain an abortion, but rather take it home with them, then they have assumed responsibility for it, they have given it rights, and they cannot now withdraw support from it at the cost of its life because they now find it difficult to go on providing for it. But if they have taken all reasonable precautions against having a child, they do not simply by virtue of their biological relationship to the child who comes into existence have a special responsibility for it. They may wish to assume responsibility for it, or they may not wish to. And I am suggesting that if assuming responsibility for it would require large sacrifices, then they may refuse.


Thomson’s defense of abortion centers on two or three arguments from analogy:

a) The mother/child relation is analogous to the relationship between two perfect strangers.

b) The mother/child relation is analogous to the relationship between a landlady and a tenant.

c) The mother/child relation is analogous to the relationship between a homeowner and a house burglar.

By way of reply:

i) Thomson has no moral authority for anything she says. All she does is to consult her own intuition and appeal to the intuition of the reader under the assumption that the reader will see things the same way. I, for one, do not.

ii) In addition, there is no particular reason to assume that even she or a sympathetic reader finds her case intuitively compelling.

What we could have is, instead, a rationalization in which the writer and sympathetic reader both suppress their natural intuition in order to justify sexual license.

Indeed, rationalizations are especially common when we attempt to minimize our social responsibilities in order to maximize our individual liberties.

iii) Thomson frames the whole debate as itfthere were only two parties at issue: the mother and child.

This assumes that the father is not a party to the abortion debate. This assumes that the father has no rights or responsibilities, either to the mother of his child or to the child which he fathered—even though he is equally responsible for setting this process in motion.

iv) Thomson frames the whole debate in terms of individual rights, acquired rights, and competing rights.

The unborn child only has the right to “use” her body if she “gives” him that right, or if he can otherwise “acquire” the right to use her body.

The mother is only responsible if she “assumes” a “special” responsibility, a responsibility which gives the baby rights “against” her.

This whole framework is highly artificial. Since when are you only responsible if you “assume” your responsibilities? Isn’t it possible for someone to shirk his responsibilities? To act irresponsibly?

Why assume that the baby’s right to “use” its mother’s body must be conferred? Why not assume that its right to “use” its mother’s body is an innate entitlement owing to the very nature of the mother/child relationship and the procreative process?

Again, why assume that these are competing rights, as if the right of a baby to “use” its mother’s body is a right which it deploys “against” its mother?

Why cast the mother/child relation in such an antagonistic fashion? Why can’t we think of motherhood itself as a right, as a fulfillment of womanhood, rather than an abridgement of a woman’s rights?

Notice how feminism subverts femininity. It makes a woman a purely sexual object. Her breasts and thighs had no other purpose except to attract and arouse a man.

Far from respecting a woman’s body, feminism is a war with a woman’s body. It is at war with the distinctive design and nature of feminine physicality and psychology.

Men are generally proud of their ability to father a child. They regard that ability as a rite of passage, a mark of manhood. You haven’t come of age until you father a child.

v) It’s absurd to compare a woman’s womb to an apartment which she rents out to a total stranger; it’s even more outlandish to compare her womb to a house, and a baby to a house-burglar.

Such comparisons ought to be deeply offensive to womanhood.

The baby is not a stranger or intruder. The baby is “her” baby. It is genetically related to her. It inherits some of her character-traits.

A woman’s body is not a multipurpose “space” to let or lease. It is designed to conceive and incubate and nurse a child.

vi) Thomson disregards the concentric character of social obligations. We have greater duties to family than to friends, greater duties to friends than to strangers.

I don’t have the same degree of responsibility to your mother as I have to mine, to your kids as I have to mine, to your wife as I have to mine. Yes, indeed, we have a special responsibility for our own family.

vii) The very nature of family life generates a set of interlocking, lifelong obligations. Parents are responsible for young children. Young children are responsible to their parents. Husbands and wives are responsible to and for each other. Older siblings are responsible for younger siblings. Grown children are responsible for aged and enfeebled parents.

A family member may well be obliged to scuttle career plans and lifestyle choices to care for another family member. Personal ambition doesn't trump our fundamental social obligations.

In Christian ethics, and in many traditional cultures, parents are prepared to die for their children.

viii) Conceiving a child is not a design flaw (“defective bars”), but a design feature. Procreation is a primary function of sex.

ix) Pregnancy is not some gratuitous favor which women do for others. Aside from the fact that most women want children, this is the process by which women come into the world; this is how we propagate and perpetuate the human race.

What they have the right to demand in return is support from the men who help them make babies in the first place.

Sola Scriptura, the Early Church, and Some Blog Comments

I recently posted an article, “Why RC Apologists Will Never Be Exegetes” at my blog briefly critiquing the first principles behind a debate between Protestant Randy Blackaby and Roman Catholic Apologist John Salza on the subject of the Marian Dogmas of the Roman Church, which was documented by RC Apologist Robert Sungenis. I did not interact much with the actual topic (the Marian Dogmas) but chose to pick apart those sections which dealt with the foundations for both positions: the principles of Sola Scriptura and Sola Ecclesia. Salza made many mistakes in his presentation by assuming and asserting the Roman view and then anachronistically reading it back into Church history. For instance, he calls the Marian Dogmas a “2,000 year old tradition” but does not give us the slightest bit of evidence to support such a claim. His assumption is that the Roman Church equals the first century church, and from that basis he makes fallacious argumentations for his position.

However, I received a comment on that post from “Bob” who stated this:


Of course, Catholic scholars know that some popes made mistakes, but have many ways to explain them away — otherwise no one would be Catholic. Look into the explanations; some are convincing.

It’s funny to say the early church believed in Sola Scriptura. None of those quotes say “scripture alone.” Rather, they say “scripture is important.” In other places in their writing, they also affirmed “tradition is important.” I mean, just because I write to my son, “Obey your father,” doesn’t mean I want to say “Obey ONLY your father.”

Augustine, for instance, had a robust view of the infallible authority of tradition, as well as scripture:

“[T]he custom [of not rebaptizing converts] . . . may be supposed to have had its origin in apostolic tradition, just as there are many things which are observed by the whole Church, and therefore are fairly held to have been enjoined by the apostles, which yet are not mentioned in their writings” (On Baptism, Against the Donatists 5:23[31] [A.D. 400]).

“But the admonition that he [Cyprian] gives us, ‘that we should go back to the fountain, that is, to apostolic tradition, and thence turn the channel of truth to our times,’ is most excellent, and should be followed without hesitation” (ibid., 5:26[37]).

“But in regard to those observances which we carefully attend and which the whole world keeps, and which derive not from Scripture but from Tradition, we are given to understand that they are recommended and ordained to be kept, either by the apostles themselves or by plenary [ecumenical] councils, the authority of which is quite vital in the Church” (Letter to Januarius [A.D. 400]).

(I’m not Catholic nor Protestant, so don’t care either way…but y’all have to admit the evidence is firmly on the Catholic side)


Let’s deal with is comment part by part:

Of course, Catholic scholars know that some popes made mistakes, but have many ways to explain them away — otherwise no one would be Catholic. Look into the explanations; some are convincing.

This was really more of a response to a comment that Gene Bridges had made on the post than it was to my actual post. Gene had pointed out the inconsistency of the popes on certain matters and even showed how early church history is against the modern Roman position. In any case, we note that Bob does not actually interact with the information that Gene posted but instead assures us that RC scholars have “many ways to explain them away.” Well Bob, I’m sure that the Roman position makes an effort to defend itself, but since you have not offered anything in favor of its defense, we cannot interact with it.

It’s funny to say the early church believed in Sola Scriptura. None of those quotes say “scripture alone.” Rather, they say “scripture is important.” In other places in their writing, they also affirmed “tradition is important.” I mean, just because I write to my son, “Obey your father,” doesn’t mean I want to say “Obey ONLY your father.”

It is obvious that Bob completely missed the point of the citations that I enlisted in my post. They affirm that Scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith for the believer. That is Sola Scriptura. It will be evidenced further on in this comment that Bob does not know the correct definition of Sola Scriptura.

Augustine, for instance, had a robust view of the infallible authority of tradition, as well as scripture:

From the citations that follow we will find out two things:

1. That Bob does not understand the correct definition of Sola Scriptura
2. That Bob believes that a support of tradition is “a robust view of the infallible authority of tradition.”

Definitions are half of the battle when it comes to this debate. We affirm Sola Scriptura, not Solo Scriptura. That is, we affirm that Scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith for the believer, not that Scripture is the only means that truth can be learned. Tradition is absolutely important, and no protestant with a correct understanding of Sola Scriptura denies this. However, tradition is to be subjected and compared to the infallible authority of the Holy Scriptures.

“[T]he custom [of not rebaptizing converts] . . . may be supposed to have had its origin in apostolic tradition, just as there are many things which are observed by the whole Church, and therefore are fairly held to have been enjoined by the apostles, which yet are not mentioned in their writings” (On Baptism, Against the Donatists 5:23[31] [A.D. 400]).

Does anyone else besides Bob see Augustine here affirming “a robust view of the infallible authority of tradition”? Augustine states that the custom of not rebaptizing converts “may be supposed to have had its origin in apostolic traditions.” Does it immediately follow that Augustine viewed tradition as an infallible authority? Note this: Augustine denies that doctrine can be obtained apart from the infallible authority of Scripture:

“What more shall I teach you than what we read in the apostle? For Holy Scripture fixes the rule of our doctrine, lest we dare to be wiser than we ought. Therefore I should not teach you anything else except to expound to you the words of the Teacher”

This is an incredible statement. First, he asks the rhetorical question, “What more shall I teach you than what we read in the apostle?” In other words, “We have no other doctrine other than what can be read in Scripture.” Can we read about the bodily assumption of Mary in the book of Ephesians? Does Romans cover the Immaculate Conception in the gospel presentation? And surely we can flip open 1 Corinthians and be informed of papal infallibility! Then Augustine takes that rhetorical question and restates it in the declarative: “For Holy Scripture fixes the rule of our doctrine, lest we dare to be wiser than we ought.” According to Augustine, to affirm anything that is not found in the Holy Scriptures is to be “wiser than we ought,” or, more frankly, arrogant. He restates the same concept one last time: “Therefore I should not teach you anything else except to expound to you the words of the Teacher.” Once again, Augustine affirms that nothing that is not found in the Scriptures should be taught by the church.

“But the admonition that he [Cyprian] gives us, ‘that we should go back to the fountain, that is, to apostolic tradition, and thence turn the channel of truth to our times,’ is most excellent, and should be followed without hesitation” (ibid., 5:26[37]).

So Augustine affirms that we should hold to apostolic tradition. Did Augustine, however, believe that the apostolic tradition was anything different than what was found on the very pages of Scripture? Obviously, he did not, given the quote we looked at above. It is simply a misunderstanding of Sola Scriptura to consider an affirmation of tradition to be a denial of the Scriptures as the sole infallible rule of faith for the believer.

“But in regard to those observances which we carefully attend and which the whole world keeps, and which derive not from Scripture but from Tradition, we are given to understand that they are recommended and ordained to be kept, either by the apostles themselves or by plenary [ecumenical] councils, the authority of which is quite vital in the Church” (Letter to Januarius [A.D. 400]).

The nature of these Augustine quotes have not changed. They continue to inform us that Bob 1) misunderstands Sola Scriptura, and 2) believes that an appeal to tradition is placing tradition on the same authority as Scripture. But Augustine is asking us, “What more shall I teach you than what we read in the apostle?” Here he tells us that tradition is to be “recommended and ordained to be kept.” Are we to believe that Augustine has in mind the same traditions that the modern Roman Catholic has in mind when he hears the word “tradition”? Is Augustine alluding to doctrines such as the Immaculate Conception or papal infallibility? He is not.

(I’m not Catholic nor Protestant, so don’t care either way…but y’all have to admit the evidence is firmly on the Catholic side)

Well, for not being Catholic you have surely made the same mistakes that Roman Catholics make. You first misinterpreted the definition of Sola Scriptura. Then you took the Roman concept of tradition and anachronistically read it back into the citations of Augustine. Therefore, I certainly cannot admit that the “evidence is firmly on the Catholic side.” It would simply be untrue.

Evan May.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Really Cool Dead Guys: Today, John Bunyan

Today's excerpt for "Really Cool Dead Guys" (a series of posts presenting excerpts from the great men of Church history, hopefully provoking you to ever-increasingly love truth as well as to purchase the book referenced) is from John Bunyan's work, A Vindication of the Gospel Truths Opened, from the "To the Reader" section:

Since it hath pleased the Lord to work in my soul by his holy Spirit, and hath translated me in some measure from darkness to light, I have seen and heard, that such things have been done by those who did once pretend themselves to be the servants of Jesus Christ, that it hath made me marvel: Partly, while I have beheld the vile conversation of some, and also the seeming legal holiness of others, together with their damnable doctrine; which have, notwithstanding their professions, made shipwreck of the faith, both to themselves, and their followers. I having had some in-sight into such things as these, was provoked to publish a small treatise touching the fundamentals of religion, supposing that God might add his blessing thereto, both for the establishing of some, and the convincing of others; which things I doubt not but they have been accomplished; and will be still more and more.

But, as it was in former days, so it is now: That is, some in all former age have been on foot in the world, ready to oppose the truth: So it is now, there are certain men newly started up in our days, called quakers, who have set themselves against the truth of our Lord Jesus Christ, and do in very deed deny, that salvation was then obtained by him, when he did hang on the cross without Jerusalem's gate. Now these men do pretend, that they do verily and truly profess the Lord Jesus Christ; but when it comes to the trial, and their principles be thoroughly weighed, the best that they do, is to take one truth, and corrupt it, that they may thereby fight more stoutly against another.


Evan May

Monday, December 26, 2005

What Shall We Expect?

When Steve first informed me that he would be posting less frequenlty on Triablogue, I was disapointed. I was not disapointed in the person of Steve Hays; it takes wisdom to prioritize your life, utilizing the best of your time for the glory of God and the fulfillment of His will in your daily walk. (The Reformers and the Puritans lived under the principle and standard of Carpe Diem, and I assume that it is difficult to both seize the day in all respects and manage a blog regularly). Rather, I was disappointed that I would no longer be able to pull up one of my favorite blogs and receive fresh content that Steve posted diligently at least once or twice a day.

However, this somewhat sad event opened an opportunity for me personally. Steve very simply asked me through email, "Evan: I'm planning to scale back on blogging next year. Would you like to blog at Triablogue?" Of course, such an offer surprised me. Did Steve Hays really want to make certain the tragic death of his blog?

Who Am I?

Well, if you are not already familiar with my blog, Veritas Redux, then you are probably wondering, "Ok. Who in the world is this guy?" There will probably be two major responses to my blogging on Triablogue:

1. He's No Steve Hays! If you enjoy reading Pyromaniac, Centuri0n, or CalvinistGadfly, then you very well might enjoy reading me. However, I certainly do not play in the same league as these guys (for one thing, I don't have the gift of including comic-strip-like illustrations in my posts), nor can I compare myself to Steve Hays. Steve has the ability to be both powerful in writing and humble in spirit. He is very good at what he does. Nevertheless, most of all my goal is to post content that would be worthy of representing the name of Jesus Christ, and if it represents the name of Steve Hays as well, then that's just dandy!

2. He's Worse Than Steve Hays! If you tend to side with iMonk, the Boars Head Tavern, or Cyberbretheran on controversial matters then you will probably not like me. In some ways, you will think that I am worse than Steve Hays in the effect that I tend to critique everything. My brain works in, well, strange ways. However, I will be posting at least some content with which I am sure you will find a few points of agreement. My goal is to defend and promote truth in whatever context needed.

All that aside, first and foremost I love Jesus Christ. I love His gospel. I love the Scriptures. I love truth. I long to edify the church. My mark is set at proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to the extent that it permeates my life as a believer. If I ever deviate from that goal, God help me. Or, you help me: humbly tell me, "Evan, you have missed the point. You have failed to keep the main thing, the main thing."

I will enjoy posting here, and I hope that my stay here is enjoyable to you as well. I hope that the Spirit uses me to amuse you, to edify you, to stretch you, and possibly even to sanctify you should you learn to exercise the fruit of patience.

Thank God for the Cloud of Witnesses

Here at Triablogue I will be joining a few folks whom we know for their generous willingness to give even past the two cents. There's Alan Kurschner from Calvinist Gadfly whose talent has entertained us ever since his blog began. We have Eric Vestrup from Pedantic Protestant whom I haven't had the chance to get to know just yet but am excited to do so in the near future. Then there's Gene Bridges. I have insisted in the past that Gene get a blog of his own. I see him around the blogosphere all the time, always offering whatever insight he has in a particular situation. I know that it is the goal of all of us that you would "lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely," and that you would "run with endurance the race that is set before [you]" (Hebrews 12:1). Enjoy!

3 John 1:4 “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth”

Evan May

[A Quick Note on Cross-Posting: I will be posting the content that I post here on my blog as well. However, I will release it here first before I do there so that Triablogue will receive the priority as far as comments are concerned]

False expectations

Over the years I’ve read five books by Christians who suffered a family tragedy: Lament for a Son, by Nicholas Wolsterstorff; Sometimes Mountains Move, by C. Everett Koop and his wife; In God’s Waiting Room, by Lehman Strauss; A Grief Observed, by C. S. Lewis, and Where is God? by John Feinberg.

Feinberg is a Christian philosopher and theologian. He’s the son of Charles Lee Feinberg, the Messianic Jewish Bible scholar.

Wolterstorff is a Christian philosopher with a Dutch-Reformed background.

Koop is a Presbyterian layman who was converted under the ministry of James Montgomery Boice.

Lewis is, of course, the Oxford Don, Christian apologist, and Anglican layman.

Strauss is a Bible teacher and fundamentalist.

Both Koop and Wolterstorff lost sons to mountain climbing accidents. Lewis lost his wife to cancer. Feinberg’s wife was stricken with Huntington’s disease, a degenerative and terminal neurological disorder. Strauss’s wife suffered a massive stroke shortly after their golden anniversary.

Of the five men, four underwent a crisis of faith brought on by their bruising experience. Strauss was the only one whose faith was not shaken by the ordeal.

This, of itself, is interesting. After all, Feinberg, Lewis, and Wolsterstorff are men of considerable theological sophistication.

You can see how personal tragedy would trigger overwhelming sorrow—and even anger. But why would that cause them to doubt their faith?

Feinberg distinguishes between the intellectual problem of evil and the emotional problem of evil. Having the right answers doesn’t make you feel any better.

This is a valid distinction up to a point, and it’s a vital distinction in pastoral theology, when ministering to the grief-stricken.

But it’s also a little too facile, for as you read their accounts, there is also an intellectual problem that aggravated the grieving process and precipitated a crisis of faith. They were not merely devastated by the experience—they were disillusioned.

In the case of Koop and Wolterstorff, they couldn’t understand why God would allow this to happen.

Now, in context, this doesn’t seem to require any special explanation. Mountain-climbing is a high-risk behavior. That, indeed, is part of the appeal. The element of danger. Tempting fate. Holding your life in your hands.

A better question to ask is, why wouldn’t God allow it? If you take an unnecessary, calculated risk, you may lose. It’s as simple as that. It’s not that simple emotionally, but it is that simple intellectually.

You may say I’m missing the point. When a person is in a state of in mourning, he isn’t going to think straight. He’s overcome by emotion.

Yes, I understand that. But these books are written in retrospect. Yet while they were able to work themselves back to a state of faith, they never seemed to work their way through the intellectual problem. Or, to put it another way, they never seemed to recognize that there was no intellectual problem which cried out for an answer. If you indulge in high-risk behavior, you put yourself at risk. What’s there to explain?

Likewise, Lewis knew that his fiancé had cancer when he married her. So why would Lewis act like he was caught off guard when she died? Sure, the separation would be emotionally wrenching. But why would that be a reason to question the providence of God? It’s hardly surprising that a cancer patient would die of cancer. Once again, what’s there to explain?

In the case of Feinberg, he felt for a long time that God had deceived him. God led him and his wife into believing that it was his will for them to get married.

After she was diagnosed, he felt that God has tricked him. He was angry and confused.

He finally came around to the view that God had willed them to marry so that he could care for her.

But the unspoken assumption is the assumption that you can know God’s will for your life on such topical matters as whether you chose to marry the right spouse.

What all these things have in common is a false expectation: an expectation that God would intervene to prevent some event which he never promised to prevent in his Word.

God never promised that if you or a loved one engages in a hazardous recreational activity, your faith will confer immunity from mortal injury.

God never promised that if you knowingly marry a person with a life-threatening illness, he or she won’t succumb.

And God never promised that if you pray about who you’re “supposed” to marry, you will receive a divine sign of his approval or disapproval. Why assume that there’s just one right person for you? If Scripture is silent on many detailed questions, why not conclude that there may be more than one morally licit option?

Some readers may feel that I’m being censorious or judgmental. But these are questions which the writers themselves are raising. They are questioning God out of a tacit assumption that what happened was somehow inconsistent with the providence of God.

And it’s that false expectation which is aggravating their grief as well as triggering a lapse of faith.

There is a link between thinking and feeling. The link is indirect. There is often a lag factor or delayed effect. And the two never coincide.

But thinking influences feeling, and feeling influences feeling. For example, both Wolterstorff and, to a lesser extent, Feinberg have readjusted their theology to their false expectation by moving away from classical Christian theism and closer to process theism. Feeling drove their thinking. Instead of questioning their expectations, they question their God, and bend their belief in God to conform to their prior expectations.

A sandy foundation is easier on the sole, but a rocky foundation is easier on the soul. A barefoot faith is tougher than a padded faith.

Contrast their reaction with the reverent resignation of Lehman Strauss. Now perhaps the difference is due to his spiritual maturity. He was a seasoned believer at the time his wife suffered a stroke.

Or perhaps it’s because we expect old folks to suffer a stroke or heart attack. And so, even though that is emotionally shocking, it isn’t intellectually or spiritually shocking. The emotional trauma isn’t magnified by a sense of divine betrayal.

It is important to get your theology on track before disaster strikes. It won’t spare you heartache. But it will spare you gratuitous heartache, and it will hasten the healing process.

Nothing can prepare you for the emotional kick in the groin that comes of losing someone close to you or watching a loved one disintegrate.

But it is much harder to take if, at the same time, your expectations are dashed--for when the props are knocked out from under you, you have nothing left to catch your fall Wishful-thinking is no match for the worst that life has to throw our way.

Indeed, a false expectation is a form of false assurance. It sets you up for the fall.

One problem many Western believers have is that we’re cage-fat. We have a sense of entitlement. Two-hundred years ago, death and suffering were to be expected. There were no painkillers or anesthetics. When you got sick, you stayed sick, or got worse. In your weakened condition, other opportunistic diseases moved in. There were no antibiotics or miracle drugs. Many mothers died in labor. Infant morality was astronomical. Most men and women, boys and girls were nursed at home and died at home. You were likely to die at any age—whether young or old.

Death was conspicuous and ubiquitous. Suffering was omnipresent. Sorrow was a way of life.

It’s not that I’d like to turn back the clock. But we need to guard against taking our blessings for granted. To remind ourselves that we are all living on borrowed time, drawn on the good credit of God’s mercy in Christ.

Apologetics gone wrong

The "Highland Host" is doing an interesting mini-series on apologetics.

Change of pace

I plan to scale back on blogging next year. I want to write a devotional, and I don’t have time to do that, blog full time, do school work, and attend to my domestic duties.

Thankfully, a lot of fresh new talent has appeared on the horizon since I began blogging. I will be bringing Evan May, Alan Kurschner, Gene Bridges, and Eric Vestrup on board as team members of Triablogue.

All these guys have other commitments, but between us, as well as such stalwarts as Jus Divinum and James Anderson, Triablogue should be better than ever. Indeed, I’ll be a fleabag motel compared to their Ritzy contributions.