Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Pixie Chicks

CAPT. HOOK: I thought it might be a good idea to open up a discussion on this topic. The most vituperate and rabid anti-Tinkerbelletrist bigots we apologists have to deal with are theocentrists. Instead of being targets for their attacks, why don't we raise our objections to their system? The best defense is an offense.

JONATHAN TOOTLES: The theocentric theory of the will is nothing other than Nestorian-type monothelitism, which stretches back from the hypersuperousianity of St. Minimus the Transgressor, through the hyposupraousianity of Hilarius the Short, as well as the hypersupraousianity of St. Phosphorus the Stalagmite, to the hyposuperousianity of Simon Magus.

It was only with the transhypersubüberousianity of the Angelic Doctor that fairyology managed to steer safe passage between the Scylla of superüberousianity and the Charybdis of übersuperousianity.

TIMOROUS: Thanks, Jonathan. I’d say that clears up any possible source of confusion.

CAPT. HOOK: How dare you dirty our great and glorious forum at Planet Envoy with your Protty paws! Why, you’re not even a real Prot. You’re just a Protty little half-breed.

Omnes semper - ad Fairylandus, per Tinkerbella, cum Petro Pan!

TIMOROUS: You don’t know what I went through just to get here, Skipper. For years and years I was imprisoned in Castle Uff-da, where Eric the Viking kept me captive in his dungeon. He beat me five times a day with a broomstick, fed me cold gruel, and bombarded me with Gnostic moonbeams from his Exegete-O-Matic machine. I only averted permanent brain damage by wearing a tinfoil cap in my sleep.

Then, late one night, Tinkerbell appeared to me in a dream. She showed me the long Lost Epistle of the Devil to Leviathan, written on golden tablets. And she gave me a pair of golden spectacles to translate the hieroglyphics.

There I discovered the true gospel, the tree of knowledge, and the key of wisdom in the revelation of Medieval Conciliarism.

Many months later, when Igor left the dungeon door ajar, I made my escape.

I booked passage on the H. M. S. d'Ailly, to cross the treacherous Sea of Aomin. But as we neared the other shore, a great White whale submerged our ship.

He was no ordinary whale, I’ll have ye know. All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event—in the living act, the undoubted deed—there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the moldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate—be the White whale an agent or the principal.

Then White whale swam before me as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung. All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, where visibly personified, and made practically assailable in the White whale.

PATTI: Thanks goodness that’s behind you!

TIMOROUS: But it’s never behind me. He tasks me. He heaps me. He haunts me in my sleep.

I'll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition's flames before I give him up!

NOSEDIVER: Why believe in the Bible when you can believe in the Fairy Godmother? Resisting the Fairy Godmother results in Hell!

Mere talk is disingenuous. Satan only talked to Eve—Eve didn't fight!

That’s where Eve went wrong. She didn’t put up a fight!

If only she’d been a butt-kickin’, kick-boxin’ superheroine like Buffy, Bat Girl, Vampirella, Dark Angel, or Spider Woman (sorry, but Xena’s not my type!)—why, we’d still be in Paradise!

CAPTAIN HOOK: I stand WITH the Fairy-Queen and all my objections to theocentrism come FROM the Fairy-Queen. I am not giving you my personal opinions. I am repeating to you what the Tinker Bell has revealed to the Fairylanders and what she has taught in a solemn way. The so-called "reformation" has been judged, found wanting, and condemned. These Tinkerbelletrist teachings are formally infallible and not open to modification. You are not just disagreeing with me, Timorous. You are disagreeing with Tinkerbell!

Consequently when you all get together to "play church," it is all make believe.

Omnes semper - ad Fairylandus, per Tinkerbella, cum Petro Pan!

PATTI: Now, now, Skipper. Can’t you see the poor boy is all tuckered out by his long ordeal? Can’t we at least bring him a tray of peanut butter cookies and a glass of warm milks?

CAPTAIN HOOK Believe me, I have treated the lad with kid-gloves.

When I say that all Prot-talk is fairyological Pelagianism, I am saying that they all sit in judgment on Tinker Bell and find Her wanting in Her superintendence of Fairyland.

They’re a bunch of scrofulous heretics. Their view of salvation is erroneous. They deny purgatory. They deny the sacramental character of the fairy-bath, fairy-mushroom, and fairyhood. They deny the Tinkerbelletrist canon. They deny transfairydom. They deny the infallibility of the Fairy Godmother. They deny that Tinkerbell is the Mediatrix of All Pixie-dust. And there are several fairyological problems along with many other things.

Omnes semper - ad Fairylandus, per Tinkerbella, cum Petro Pan!

NOSEDIVER: So how many Prots are merely INVINVIBLY IGNORANT separated bretheren and how many of them are material heretics? Does a Prot have to be one or the other?

Doubtless a lot are INVINVIBLY IGNORANT separated bretheren. Which is almost as bad as INVINVIDIBILY IGNORANT separated bretheretheren.

But who cares? Saying that a person should in some extreme hypothetical should disobey does not mean that therfore authority doesn't reside on planet Eath with the Vicar of Tinkerbell and that therefore the whole fairyhood has no authority.

That's a crock! People who advocate DISOBEDIENCE to the Fairy Godmother are of SATAN! Snagged by the lubricious tentacles of the Archfiend!


So when you Prots get together to "play church," it is all make believe.

What I’ve told you is all non-negotiable, Tinkerbelletrist DOGMA. As it says in the Acts of Queen Mab, “Tu es Petrus Pan, et super hanc petram aedificabo fairylandam meam.”

Anyone who attacks this principle is an enemy of the Fairy Godmother. (Please Patti do NOT delete this last sentence. It is critical that my fellow fairy godchildren understand who and what Mr. Timorous really is. He says he is not "the enemy," then he attacks the very Authority on which the fairy faith is based.

In other words, he’s accusing me of what it is that HE is trying to do. Carl Jung called it 'projecting the shadow.' That is, trying to project his own inner dark schemes onto other people.

Since Timorous has nothing intelligent to contribute to a conversation between grown-ups on matters of religion, I will ignore him and say what I please about the false religions that have come from the apostasies of the 16th Century.

If he decides to come and talk with us grown-ups, please have something to say that is honest and worth bothering about.

Omnes semper - ad Fairylandus, per Tinkerbella, cum Petro Pan!

TIMOROUS: You're just not listening. To you, seemingly, I am an Enemy to be destroyed, no more. Perhaps from time to time you will be polite as you lob the tactical nukes my way, but you will still lob them and enjoy your victory. I will not be part of that sort of fratricidal foolishness. "Bullfeathers" indeed.

NOSEDIVER: Satan! Yes, I said SATAN!

Wrap it up in as pretty a package as you want to—be as "CORDIAL" and "CHARITABLE" sounding as Satan was when Satan temtped Eve to disobey God—it's just the same old song and dance that's been going on since the beginning of time!

Even before the Sedevacanapeterpantist Schism, when the Fifth Council of Wee Willie Winkie deposed the Anti-anti-anti-anti-Peter Pan; or before the Fourth Council of Wee Willie Winkie, which deposed the Anti-anti-anti-Peter Pan; or before the Third Council of Wee Willie Winkie, which deposed the Anti-anti-Peter Pan; or before the Second Council of Wee Willie Winkie, which deposed the Anti-Pan; or before the First Council of Wee Willie Winkie, which elected Pope Puck I, authentic successor to Peter Pan.

While we're at it let's get another thing straight—HERESY against the authority of the Fairy Godmother IS SATANIC!

Yep, you heard me right. SATANTIC! As in SATANICAL SATANITY. Not to mention SATANISTIC SATANRY. Much less SATANIC SATANISM.

When I served in the Navy, under Capt. Hook’s command, I was told that it was lawful to disobey an illegal order. I was also told that if I had to THINK about obeying or disobeying to OBEY because my leaders who had my country's best interest at heart also had my best interests at heart and would not fail me.

Now if that is true about the civilian military, how much MORE TRUE is it about our Fairy Godmother?

PATTI: Well, folks, that wraps up another day at Planet Envoy.

Does The Gospel Of Mark Contradict The Infancy Narratives?

Among the many false and misleading claims being made about Jesus' infancy at Debunking Christianity, we read the following comments by Steven Carr:

"After such an auspicious start to his life, why were his family suprised when Jesus started his ministry? Didn't those events give them a little clue that Jesus was special? The answer is that such scepticism is only in Mark, who does not have a birth narrative."

I discussed this issue with Steven two years ago on the TheologyWeb boards. He brought the subject up in a thread on another topic, and when his off-topic objection was refuted, he left the thread. And now, two years later, we see him repeating the same error.

Do the gospels refer to Jesus' family as "surprised"? No. Do the gospels deny that some people, such as His family, viewed Him as "special"? No. For more on this subject, see my recent comments elsewhere. All four gospels, not just Mark, portray Jesus' family as sometimes misunderstanding and opposing Him (Matthew 12:46-50, 13:57, Luke 2:48-50, 8:19-21, John 2:3-4, 7:5), much as His disciples sometimes did. See, further, Eric Svendsen's Who Is My Mother? (Amityville, New York: Calvary Press, 2001). Mark agrees with the other gospels that Jesus' relatives and others opposed Him even after seeing and hearing about some of His miracles, so the opposition can't be a result of their not having heard of anything supernatural about Him. And while Mark doesn't have an infancy account, he does suggest that Jesus was God (Mark 1:3) and that He was a descendant of David (Mark 10:47-48, 11:1-11), for example, in agreement with Matthew and Luke, and he agrees with Matthew and Luke about the presence of anticipation of Jesus' ministry before the ministry began (Mark 1:2-8). The gospel of John apparently was written after the gospels of Matthew and Luke, yet John also decided not to include an infancy account. Mark's choice to do the same doesn't prove that he was unaware of what Matthew and Luke report.

John Loftus Vs. Richard Carrier

"According to Luke’s own genealogy (3:23-38) David had lived 42 generations earlier. Why should everyone have had to register for a census in the town of one of his ancestors forty-two generations earlier? There would be millions of ancestors by that time, and the whole empire would have been uprooted. Why 42 generations and not 35, or 16? If it was just required of the lineage of King David to register for the census, what was Augustus thinking when he ordered it? He had a King, Herod. 'Under no circumstances could the reason for Joseph’s journey be, as Luke says, that he was ‘of the house and lineage of David,’ because that was of no interest to the Romans in this context.' [Uta Ranke-Heinemann, Putting Away Childish Things, (p.10)]. The fact is, even if there was a worldwide Roman census that included Galilee at this specific time, there is evidence that Census takers taxed people based upon the land they owned, so they traveled to where people lived." (John Loftus)

"Some have pounced on Luke's description of the census as being inauthentic and therefore false. There are two problems with such an argument: first, an author who knew Jesus was born during a particular census could still err in describing that census, so such errors would not discredit the entire account.[1.1.5] Second, Luke's errors are not that grievous to begin with....The second 'mistake' lies in supposing that people would be called back to ancestral towns to be counted, rather than be counted in the actual towns they were in. This charge has been formulated a dozen ways, but none of them really carry much force. Though Jesus' family appears to have resided outside Judaea in Nazareth, there could easily be any number of reasons why an ancestral connection with Bethlehem would require them to journey there for a census of Judaea (so much as a tiny plot of ancestral land would be enough, and Judaic law made it unusually difficult to get rid of such properties), though it does seem oddly unnecessary to take a woman on the verge of labor on such a dangerous trip (as all journeys were in such regions). We do know that censuses could have such requirements for travel, not only from papyri [1.3] but also from common sense: it is a well known fact that even Roman citizens had to enroll in one of several tribes to be counted, and getting provincials to organize according to locally-established tribal associations would be practical (see also Endnote 8 in my essay Luke and Josephus; and also [1.3.5]). Finally, even if Luke were making this up, he would sooner make something up that sounded plausible: in other words, such procedures were probably followed in at least one census within the author's memory, and we have no way to disprove the use of such a practice in previous provincial assessments." (Richard Carrier)

Some Warnings About Christmas Apologetics

During this Christmas season, a lot of arguments will be going back and forth between Christians and their critics on issues involving the infancy narratives. I want to warn about a couple of arguments that should be avoided, one sometimes used by Christians and the other sometimes used by critics of Christianity.

The first argument concerns some claims made by Jerry Vardaman regarding the census in Luke's gospel, claims popularized by Lee Strobel. Here's an article I wrote on the subject last year.

The second argument, one sometimes used by skeptics, involves a passage in R. Joseph Hoffmann's edition of Celsus' treatise against Christianity, a passage in which Celsus supposedly denies that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. If you look at the passage as it originally appears in Origen's Against Celsus (1:28), though, there is no denial of the Bethlehem birthplace. I recommend reading the article here by Roger Pearse that discusses Hoffmann's rendition of Celsus. Pearse quotes a review of Hoffmann's work in an academic journal, part of which reads:

"More seriously, he [Hoffmann] adds, omits, and alters words with no warning or warrant. Sometimes Hoffmann's alterations are merely puzzling, as when he omits crucial statements from Celsus's arguments in CC 3.65 and CC 4.5. Other additions and omissions seem to be intended to make Celsus more convincing. Although in his introduction he expresses confidence in Origen's transmission of Celsus's text, Hoffmann surreptitiously incorporates Origen's criticisms....Hoffmann does not allow Celsus to appear credulous....This is not a bona fide translation. It would almost appear that Hoffmann deliberately wishes unsuspecting readers to see Celsus as a detached and skeptical professor of religious studies rather than as a pious Hellenist."

Richard Dawkins: Man of Faith

Jonathan Miller: Mmm. Now the objection that is constantly raised by people who hear this, to me and to you, extremely persuasive argument, they say, "Aha! But what is the source of these fruitful novelties upon which natural selection exerts its pressures?" People would say, "Well surely the novelties themselves, even if, um, they are then... pressure is exerted upon them, something has to explain the novelties themselves."

Richard Dawkins: Well the novelties themselves of course, are genetic variations in the gene pool, which ultimately come from mutation and more proximately come from sexual recombination. There's nothing very inventive or ingenious about those novelties. I mean, they are random. And, um, they mostly are deleterious - most mutations are bad. And so you really need to focus on natural selection as the positive side, and it's only natural selection that produces living things that have the illusion of design. The illusion of design does not come from the novelty, it comes from what happens to the novelty as it is filtered through.

JM: But the argument was constantly leveled about the, um, the imperceptible changes which might in fact, as they were developed and recurred, would have culminated in something as useful as a feather. They constantly emphasise the fact, what was it about that early novelty before it had accumulated to the point where it was recognisably doing an adaptive job... where could natural selection get it's purchase upon something which was no more than a pimple?

RD: Yes. Um... well it's a fair point. It's one that I've talked about quite a lot. Um... there... we... there cannot have been intermediate stages that were not beneficial. It's... there's no room in natural selection for the sort of foresight argument that says, "Well, if we're going to persist for the next million years it'll start becoming useful.” That doesn't work, there's got to be a selection pressure all the way.

JM: So there isn't a process as it were going on in the cell saying, "Look, be patient. It's going to be a feather, believe me.

RD: Um no. Yes.

JM: Sydney Bremner satirised that beautifully when he said he imagined some protein arising in the Cambrian which was kept because, "It might come in handy in the Cretaceous".

RD: Um... it's... it doesn't happen like that. Um, there's got to be a series of advantages all the way in the feather. If you can't think of one then that's your problem, not natural selection's problem. Natural selection, um, well, I suppose that is a sort of matter of faith on my, on my part since the theory is so coherent and so powerful. You mentioned feathers. I mean it's perfectly possible that feathers began as fluffy, um, extensions of reptilian scales to act as heat insulators. And so the final perfection of the sort of, wing feathers that we see in flying birds might have come very much later. And the earliest feathers might have been a different approach to hairiness among reptiles keeping them warm. Over and over again we come across, um cases where an organ starts out doing one thing and then gets modified to doing another thing.

1.Notice what an extremely demanding theory evolution is:

“There cannot have been intermediate stages that were not beneficial. It's... there's no room in natural selection for the sort of foresight argument that says, ‘Well, if we're going to persist for the next million years it'll start becoming useful.’ That doesn't work, there's got to be a selection pressure all the way.”

“There’s got to be a series of advantages all the way in the feather.”

2.Now ask yourself whether we have evidence anywhere near to being commensurate with the demands on the theory. For millions of years on end—indeed, multiplied millions of years on end—every intermediate stage must be beneficial. There’s got to be a *series* of advantages from start to finish. A continuous series.

And do we have serial evidence for this series? Do we have evidence every step of the way for every intermediate step on our way to a feather? Continuous evidence for a continuous series?

3.It won’t do to say that if we end up with a feather, then somehow it had to happen that way.

For one thing, this assumes descent with modification. But if there are vast intervals of time in which we have gaps in the fossil record, then how do you establish lineal descent?

For another thing, it assumes that an evolutionary pathway is the only way to make a feather. But that begs the question.

4. “There’s got to be a series of advantages all the way in the feather. If you can't think of one then that's your problem, not natural selection's problem.”

Observe how the theory outpaces the evidence. He takes the theory for granted.

Lack of evidence is not a problem for the theory. If you point to the lack of evidence, then that’s *your* problem.

The theory doesn’t depend on having actual evidence of beneficial adaptations. The theory has achieved the axiomatic status of an unquestioned datum.

The onus is on you to reconcile yourself with the theory.

5.Evidence is irrelevant. At most you only need to *think* of a *possible* benefit.

And even if you can’t think of one, that’s your problem.

6.No wonder he ends up saying: “Natural selection, um, well, I suppose that is a sort of matter of faith on my, on my part.”

Jesus' Birthplace (Part 2): Prophecy And Honesty

What sort of influence would the prophecy of Micah 5 have had on Christian claims about where Jesus was born? Raymond Brown wrote:

"It is probably true that many Jews of Jesus' time expected the Messiah to be born at Bethlehem, but we must be aware that our chief evidence for this is Christian, not Jewish....Without reference to Micah 5:1, Bethlehem appears as the birthplace of the Messiah in passages like TalJer Berakoth 5a, and Midrash Rabbah 51 on Lam 1:16. As for Micah 5:1 (RSV 5:2), L. Ginzberg, Legends, V, 130, traces the messianic interpretation of the passage back to relatively old rabbinic traditions....I mentioned in the previous Appendix (footnote 6) the expectation of a hidden Messiah who would appear suddenly, without people knowing where he came from. (This expectation is described in John 7:27, in contrast to 7:42 which involves the expectation of the Messiah's birth at Bethlehem.) If Jesus had not been born at Bethlehem, why could Christians not have been content to present him as the hidden Messiah, who made his appearance at the Jordan to be baptized?" (The Birth Of The Messiah [New York, New York: Doubleday, 1999], p. 513, n. 2 on p. 513, p. 514)

The early Christians did have other options available to them, as John 7:27 reflects. However, the Bethlehem view seems to have been more popular in ancient times, and it makes the most sense of the Old Testament data.

As I mentioned yesterday, much of what’s recorded in the gospels concerning the Bethlehem birthplace is of a significantly public nature. If the gospel authors or their sources were fabricating their material, and they were trying to portray the events as occurring outside of the public view, so as to explain the lack of evidence for them, they surely wouldn’t have constructed the accounts as they are in Matthew and Luke. A Bethlehem birth could have been claimed without involving Herod the Great or a census. If there was dishonesty among the early Christians on this subject, it was dishonesty to an unnecessary and counterproductive degree and had to have involved many people in either dishonesty or a high degree of carelessness.

We don’t have any reason to conclude that the early Christians were dishonest about Jesus’ birthplace. Those who want us to believe that they were need to present evidence to that effect. The early Christians had high moral standards, and the earliest extant references to Jesus’ birthplace are in documents written in a historical genre, which would invite historical scrutiny.

The early opponents of Christianity wouldn’t have knowingly gone along with Christian dishonesty. They, like Christians, had the human faculty of memory and had access to sources with relevant information. They would have had access to Jesus and His initially unbelieving relatives (Matthew 13:53-58, Mark 3:20-35, Luke 8:19-21, John 7:5), and they would have had access to other relevant sources, such as the people of Bethlehem and historical records and memories pertaining to the census mentioned by Luke. They would have known what the earliest Christians were claiming and would have been able to compare it to later claims.

Jesus’ public ministry didn’t begin until He was about thirty. What did people believe about His birthplace prior to that time? Any argument for later widespread dishonesty or carelessness among the early Christians would have to address what was believed about Jesus’ birthplace prior to that time and how the prior belief was replaced by the later claim.

Given factors such as the other options available to the early Christians (as reflected in John 7:27), the public nature of the accounts involving the Bethlehem birthplace, the motives the early Christians had for being honest, the presence of many hostile sources (including some unbelieving relatives of Jesus), and how late in His life Jesus began His public ministry, we would expect the Bethlehem claim to be widely disputed if it was false. The more widespread belief in a Bethlehem birthplace is, the more difficult it is to maintain that Jesus was born somewhere else. Over the next few days, I’ll be addressing what the earliest Christian and non-Christian sources believed about the subject.

Friday, December 15, 2006

"20/20" On Jesus' Birth

I just watched the segment on Jesus' birth on ABC's "20/20". As could be expected, they repeated a lot of misleading claims that have long been refuted, and they didn't go into much depth. The segment was largely about asking scholars what they believed, without presenting much supporting evidence.

As is common in programs like this one, the gospels are referred to as having been written "70 to 100 years after the event". How many scholars would date Matthew and Luke to around 95 A.D.? Notice that they include such a late date in their range, but don't include the early dating supported by other scholars.

Paula Fredriksen repeatedly made ridiculous claims, such as the assertion that it was "necessary" for Luke to include his census in order to have Jesus born in Bethlehem. Why couldn't he have just had Joseph and Mary living in Bethlehem at the time? Or have them stay there while traveling for something less unusual and less public than a census? The concept that it was "necessary" for Luke to fabricate a census account in order to have Jesus born in Bethlehem is absurd.

Marvin Meyer made the ridiculous claim that "There is much more evidence to suggest that Jesus was born in Nazareth. That he came from Nazareth, and that's why he's called Jesus of Nazareth". Yes, Jesus is called "Jesus of Nazareth", and He's referred to as such repeatedly by the same gospels that tell us that He was born in Bethlehem. I'll be addressing this issue in more depth on Sunday, in my ongoing series on Jesus' birthplace. Meyer's claim that we have "much more evidence" for a Nazareth birthplace is unreasonable. None of the alleged evidence for Nazareth is as explicit as the evidence for Bethlehem, and the Bethlehem account was accepted early and widely. Meyer's comments are another example of some modern scholars' willingness to advocate highly speculative theories based on weak evidence while rejecting conclusions that are supported by far better evidence.

We're also told by ABC:

"Although it is difficult, if not impossible, to confirm the events recounted in the birth narratives, outside the Gospel stories themselves, almost everyone agrees that applying today's factual standards may miss the whole point of the story."

There are a lot of ways some of those phrases could be interpreted. But the impression I got, from watching the program, was that the viewer was being led to interpret those comments much as somebody like Paula Fredriksen would.

We have many sources outside of Matthew and Luke who refer to Jesus' Davidic ancestry, the names of His parents, the virgin birth, the Bethlehem birthplace, etc. Matthew and Luke are the best sources for some of the details within the infancy narratives, but being the best source isn't equivalent to being the only source. And even if they were the only sources, they're credible. If Josephus or Tacitus is the best source we have on a particular issue, and later sources corroborate him, we often accept what's reported as credible, and the corroboration by later sources can be significant.

The people who put together programs like this segment on "20/20" ought to stop focusing so much on scholars' conclusions and focus more on supporting evidence. And they ought to stop ignoring so much of the evidence for the conservative position. They also ought to ask liberal scholars more difficult questions instead of letting people like Paula Fredriksen and Marvin Meyer make such ridiculous comments without being challenged much, if at all.

Prejean in a bind

“White is using this argument as either a defense against my argument or an attack against my consistency (the ‘or’ is inclusive; it could be both). If used as a defense against my argument, which certainly appears to be how it is being used, then it is simply fallacious. It can't logically be deployed for the purpose White is advancing it, because my being wrong doesn't have any implications for White's being wrong.”

The point is to pose a dilemma for the opponent. He can only stick to his position on pain of self-incrimination.

If the opponent admits that he was wrong, then he can’t deploy a wrong argument against the other side. So, if Prejean were wrong, that would have direct implications for the wrongness, or lack thereof, of White’s position—if the cases are parallel.

Of course, it’s unlikely that the opponent will admit he’s wrong. But in that event, before he can use that argument against Dr. White, he has to win the argument with his Orthodox disputants.

“If being advanced as a serious challenge to my consistency, then White must consider the argument both valid and sound (else it wouldn't actually demonstrate that inconsistency). If White is advancing an argument that he himself doesn't consider valid and sound as applied for the purpose you describe, then he would just be dishonest.”

Hardly. He would simply be raising the objection for the sake of argument. There’s nothing the least bit dishonest about that tactic. Rather, it takes the form of an internal critique. You don’t have to share your opponent’s assumptions to answer him on his own grounds.

“Ironically, in that case, it would be a legitimate use of Geach's tu quoque rationale against White to point out that he is using an argument which, if he conceded its validity, would be compel him to accept premises that conflict with other premises he holds.”

That is a complete misreading of Geach’s explanation. In his illustration of the foxhunter and the animal rights advocate, the foxhunter does not have to concede that the opposing position is cogent. To the contrary, he’s raising this objection for the sake of argument, on the assumption that the opposing position is false.

“I suspect that White is actually trying to render forth some sort of proverbial platitude like ‘If you attack people with fallacious arguments, then people will attack you with fallacious arguments.’"

No, the comparison is far more specific. Prejean contends that Reformed determinism entails monothelitism. Prejean’s Orthodox opponents contend that Scotist, Thomist, and Molinist versions of determinism entail monothelitism.

The common denominator is determinism, regardless of the particular version it takes.

“But the ‘make a conclusion in this field of theology, transport it over here and use it as a club to beat someone over the head’ fallacy is not in any logical textbook that I have ever seen.”

Actually, I believe that White treated that as a separate objection. One of the points of dispute is theological method.

Calvinism has direct Scriptural prooftexts for predestination. Prejean, as well as Perry and Daniel, act as if they can simply sidestep the direct exegetical evidence for Calvinism and negate its Biblical foundations by appeal to some inference-of-an-inference-of-an-inference from philosophical Christology.

“Even though this wasn't what White was doing, it's just irresponsible to use the same argument that is being used as a defeater against you without mounting a defense against it yourself, and most of the time, that will mean that your use of it against someone else would be inconsistent with your own defense. That is why tu quoque actually has some legitimate uses, because people are not always particularly careful about checking their own consistency. Neither you nor White have any responsible use of this argument unless you can show why it is unsound as applied to your view.”

A couple of basic errors in this reply:

i) It isn’t necessary to mount an independent argument every time if a preexisting argument is available.

ii) Moreover, it is not irresponsible to use the same argument against your opponent which he is using against you when he is subject to the very same criticism.

iii) Furthermore, this is not based on assumptions shared in common between White and Prejean, but Prejean and his Orthodox critics.

iv) It is also true that at some point we also need to show why it is unsound in application to our own view. But the initial countermove is hardly the only arrow in our quiver:

a) Both White and I have marshaled many direct arguments in support of Calvinism.

b) Both White and I have also marshaled many direct arguments in objection to Catholicism—and, in my case—in objection to Orthodoxy as well.

So it’s not as if our defense is limited to a tu quoque response.

c) In addition, both Prejean and his Orthodox critics are guilty of the very thing he falsely accuses us of.

For he acts as if raising his Christological objection automatically discharges him of any duty to respond to the exegetical arguments for Calvinism or against Catholicism. So he is using his Christological objection to deflect attention away from the exegetical debate because he knows he can’t win on exegetical grounds.

d) Apropos (c), the underlying issue remains the issue of theological method. Does philosophical theology trump exegetical theology?

That is what renders his argument unsound in objection to Calvinism. For his argument to have any traction, it would need to have a traceable basis in divine revelation. Otherwise, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. You can’t do theology by stipulation.

“This requires a great deal more than a verbal adjustment, which is why God's freedom qua divine is never defined this way in Catholic theology, but rather in terms of ontological independence. Good and evil actions have different ontological status, so there's no such thing as a freedom to "choose" evil (evil is no power; it is simply the corruption of another power). Mutatis mutandis, the definition holds, but it's more than a mere verbal change.”

You used the word “libertarian” to define your own position. You took this word from contemporary philosophical action theory. That is where it derives its meaning.

i) If you wish to invest it with a nonstandard sense, then you need to explain your idiosyncratic usage the first time you first introduce the term to define your own position.

ii) No one said that evil is a power. Rather, evil is an object of power.

iii) To identify your own position as libertarian, only to deny that there is such a thing as the freedom to choose evil, is simply eccentric.

iv) Do you deny that it lies within God’s sheer omnipotence to do evil? Not whether he would, but whether, other attributes aside, he could.

If so, how do you redefine omnipotence?

“God's freedom pertains to potentia absoluta, which in turn pertains to ontological dependence. The notion that different possible worlds represent different potentia in God says that God varies from world to world, which is simply modal polytheism.”

Prejean suffers from reading incomprehension. What I said is that if divine freedom is defined in libertarian terms, then God is pure potentia rather than pure actus since his choices are thereby dissevered from his nature or moral character.

“Also, Hays's remark regarding God's goodness here proves that Hays has defined divine goodness solely in terms of the divine will.”

Prejean suffers from an unfortunate inability to distinguish between my own position and the position I oppose.

I do not define divine goodness solely in terms of the divine will. Rather, that’s an implication of the libertarian position he espouses. Libertarianism is inherently voluntaristic.

“Possible worlds again. This is just anthropomorphism.”

Actually, possible worlds flow from the Scholastic distinction between potentia ordinata and potentia absoluta, for God’s potentia absoluta is not exhausted by his potentia ordinata.

It also follows from certain counterfactual propositions in Scripture.

Strictly speaking, a possible world is a synonym for divine omnipotence (i.e. for what God can possibly do).

“The notion of God being "constrained" AT ALL shows that you don't have a coherent concept of what power is in the first place.”

i) More reading incomprehension. I didn’t say that he was “constrained.” Indeed, I said the opposite.

ii) However, unless one is a voluntarist, God’s choices are characterized by all his attributes. His will is not a sheer will. His omnipotence is inseparable from his other attributes. This is why he cannot do everything of which he is otherwise capable.

“It suffices for me to show that it is irrational and unjustified.”

Yes, it would suffice for Prejean to show that Reformed theology is, indeed, irrational and unjustified. So when is he going to show us rather than tell us?

“You're simply asserting two prima facie incompatible concepts without argument.”

You haven’t shown them to be prima facie incompatible.

“Given your metaphysical assumptions, I don't think it is possible for you to coherently affirm the existence of any of those distinctions.”

He doesn’t *think* it’s possible. And *why* he doesn’t think it’s possible he doesn’t say.

“But my Latin knowledge is close to nil, so I might have got an ending wrong somewhere.”

In that case, he can’t read the Latin Fathers in the original. What about his knowledge of Greek? Can he read the Greek Fathers in the original?

If not, then he has no mastery of the primary sources of patristic theology, in which case his triumphalist appeal to Nicene Orthodoxy and the like should be judged accordingly.

Dawkins in the Dock

More on the Dawkins Delusion.

Et tu, Prejeanus?

According to Jonathan Prejean:

But speaking of fallacies, White's whole attack against me was based on one. Even if my argument could be turned against me, White's use of the fact against me would simply be an example of the tu quoque fallacy. The fact that my arguments defeat my own position doesn't mean they can't defeat White's as well; we could just both be wrong.

I hope that Jonathan is a better lawyer than he is a logician. Here is what the late Peter Geach, a Catholic philosopher, analytical Thomist, and professor of logic has to say:


Ad hominem arguments. This Latin term indicates that these are arguments addressed to a particular man—in fact, the other fellow you are disputing with. You start from something *he* believes as a premise, and infer a conclusion he won’t admit to be true. If you have not been cheating in your reasoning, you will have shown that your opponent’s present body of beliefs is inconsistent and it’s up to him to modify it somewhere. —This argumentative trick is so unwelcome to the victim that he is likely to regard it as cheating: bad old logic books even speak of the ad hominem fallacy. But an ad hominem argument may be perfectly fair play.

Let us consider a kind of dispute that might easily arise:

A. Foxhunting ought to be abolished; it is cruel to the victim and degrading to the participants.

B. But you eat meat; and I’ll bet you’ve never worried about whether the killing of the animals you eat is cruel to them and degrading to the butchers.

No umpire is entitled at this point to call out “ad hominem! Foul!” It is true that B’s remark does nothing to settle the substantive question of whether foxhunting should be abolished; but then B was not pretending to do this; B was challengingly asking how A could *consistently* condemn foxhunting without also condemning something A clearly does not wish to condemn. Perhaps A could meet the challenge, perhaps not; anyhow the challenge is a fair one—as we saw, you cannot just brush aside a challenge to your consistency, or say inconsistency doesn’t matter.

Ad hominem arguments are not just a way of winning a dispute: a logically sound ad hominem argues does a service, even if an unwelcome one, to its victim—it shows him that his present position is untenable and must be modified. Of course people often do not like to be disturbed in their comfortable inconsistencies; that is why ad hominem arguments have a bad name.

Reason & Argument (Blackwell 1976), 26-27.


Which brings us back to the original parallel. Indeed, Perry Robinson just piped in to confirm my comparison:


Truth be told, Prejean's account of the transmission of the tradition at this point is correct.
The argument came from me, then to Daniel (Photios) Jones, and then eventually to Jonathan Prejean along with the readers of Pontifications.

It is rather funny that you guys are stumbling on to this now.
In any case, the argument can go either way, Catholics can use it to tar Protestants and Protestants can use it to tar Catholics.

As an Orthodox, I am quite happy to let you two go picknicking on each other. :)
12/14/2006 11:56 PM

Thomism is very predestinarian and Scotism even more so. Truth be told, Molinism is quite predestinarian since it posits that God selects worlds to create in which agents perform acts determined by their essence.
12/14/2006 11:58 PM


Back to Prejean:

“Tu quoque” is the best you can do? Granted, your philosophical idealism is even sillier than Berkeley's, so it's not as if you are a paragon of logical rigor, but I still wouldn't expect such an obvious mistake from you.

No, Tu quoque is not the “best” I can do. But it will do for now since it’s a legitimate move in a cumulative counterargument.

And, of course, as we’ve now seen from Peter Geach, Prejean is the one who’s guilty of the logical gaffe, not me.

Moving along:

“The reason I think it is unsound as applied to Catholicism is that I don't think St. Thomas means what Photios says he does.”

It’s true that merely quoting Robinson doesn’t prove who is right or wrong. What it does, however, is to draw attention to a parallel debate between Prejean and Robinson over the scope of the argument.

The next question is who has the better of the exchange? Prejean is having to fight on two different fronts. So we should monitor his success or failure on the other front.

“By the way, if I thought the argument were sound as applied to Catholicism, I could have converted to Orthodoxy and still cheerfully used it in the same way against Calvinism, because the success of the argument as a defeater against Calvinism doesn't depend on its success against Catholicism. That's the nice thing about valid arguments; anyone can use them against anyone.”

It’s true that a defeater against Catholicism doesn’t thereby prove Calvinism, for there are more than two logical alternatives on the table.

However, a counterargument often proceeds by process of elimination. To knock the Catholic competitor out of the running by turning Prejean’s own argument against him is one stage of a cumulative counterargument in which you both argue against the opponent’s position as well as arguing for your own.

“Historical dyotheletism says that there are two libertarianly free wills in Christ. You say that there is no such thing as libertarian free will. Why do you care? If you don't believe in libertarianly free moral agents, then there is only one actual will in the whole universe: God's.”

Let’s begin with a definition:

“By ‘libertarian freedom’ is meant freedom such that the agent who makes a choice is really able, under exactly the same circumstances, to choose something different from the thing that is in fact chosen. The choices in question, then, are not causally determined to occur as they do; libertarian freedom is inherently indeterministic. This means that there is *nothing whatever* that predetermines which choice will be made, until the creature is actually place in the situation and makes the choice,” Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Religion, M. Peterson & R. Vanarragon, eds. (Blackwell 2004), 219.

Hasker uses the word “creature” at one point, so we need to make a verbal adjustment when we apply his definition to the case of God or God Incarnate, but that aside, if we plug this standard definition into the case at hand, then, even though Christ was sinless, he was not impeccable.

What is more, if God the Father is a libertarian agent, then God is not impeccable. On this definition, God is free to choose between good and evil. So Prejean’s position commits him to radical voluntarism. Morality is reducible to an arbitrary divine fiat.

If God, or God Incarnate, is a libertarian agent, then God’s goodness is entirely tautologous.

If he’s a libertarian agent, then he’s pure potentia rather than pure actus.

Speaking for myself, God has no “circumstances.” Rather, God is the author of our circumstances. God creates the situation we’re in. God doesn’t find himself in a preexisting situation.

In some ways, God has more freedom than we do, and in other ways less.

For example, God cannot lie or sin. On the other hand, he's not subject to time, space, or causality.

I think we should view the relation between God's nature and the creation more in proscriptive rather than prescriptive terms. God's nature is such that he will not create a world of pure evil, or a world with gratuitous evil, or a world in which evil triumphs over good, or a world wherein evil overbalances good.

God's nature is such that he will not create a foolish or frivolous world.

So God's nature is proscriptive with respect to certain logically possible worlds. These are not live possibilities. They would never make the cut.

But it doesn't follow from this that God's nature is prescriptive with
respect to possible worlds.

On the face of it, there seem to be alternative goods as well as
incommensurable goods. It isn't a choice between good and evil. So God isn’t constrained to choose just one possible world—or any at all.

Continuing with Prejean:

I have yet to see any Calvinist scholarship that exonerates Calvin of the charge of confusing potentia ordinata with potentia absoluta or his fallacy in equating the two.

I think the author's attempt to exonerate Calvin ultimately fails, though, because Calvin throws the matter into "mystery" at exactly the point at which Thomas Aquinas uses the medieval power distinction to do conceptual work. Even if one rejects the later Power Distinction as separating God's will from His wisdom and reason, Calvin doesn't deal with the doctrine of divine simplicity and secondary causation in any coherent fashion; his failure to provide an explanation at this point is just as damning as the assertion (which he condemns) that there can be no explanation. In that respect, he is, as you've noted, identical to the Muslims. Small wonder that they have an almost identical concept of inspiration and sacred texts.

There are two problems with this objection:

i) Prejean is tacitly mapping Catholic theological method onto Calvinism, as if Calvin is to Calvinists what the Pope is to papists.

But Reformed theological method takes its point of departure with exegetical theology, not historical theology.

Even if Calvin were guilty as charged, this does nothing to overturn Reformed theology, for it does nothing to overturn the exegetical foundation of Reformed theology.

At most, it would only mean that Calvin was unsuccessful in presenting a philosophical theodicy.

ii) Prejean makes a string of empty assertions rather than actually interacting with Reformed scholarship, such as chapters 4 and 11 in Helm’s book on Calvin’s Ideas.

Moving along, Prejean quotes me as saying: “"Inspiration is a deterministic process—otherwise it wouldn’t be inspirational. Indeterministic inspiration is an oxymoron."

To which he responds: “The concept of sovereignty is based exactly on the metaphysical error that I cited above.”

Actually, my statement isn’t based on the concept of sovereignty. Rather, it’s based on the concept of causality.

In particular, it’s based on a counterfactual (sine qua non) definition of causation—according to which A caused B in case B would not obtain unless A obtained.

Scripture attributes to divine inspiration a certain effect which would not otherwise obtain apart from inspiration.

But as a libertarian, Prejean is committed to a contracausal model of freedom. He doesn’t even have room in his system for necessary conditions, much less sufficient conditions. So inspiration becomes an otiose category.


“The concept of only being able to compare wills by contrast in turn leads to construing sovereignty in terms of who wins in a conflict (ironically, it was a analogous concept of nature that led to Pelagianism, which Calvin so despised). God's complete sovereignty is established by God's will beating everybody else's will. Inspiration is God's will determining what is written; reception to revelation is allowing God's will to dominate your will. Again, that is nothing other than Nestorian-type monotheletism: union with God means allowing one's will to be dominated by God's. Christologically, you'll see decriptions of Christ equating Christ's righteousness with 'perfect obedience;' that's a sure sign you're dealing with this sort of thing, because the definition of a righteous man is just the predestined man, the one who does what He is supposed to do under complete domination of God's will.”

This is simply a straw man argument because it attempts to redefine the Reformed doctrine of divine sovereignty in coercive, hard deterministic terms whereas compatibilism is a version of soft determination which eschews compulsion.


“The problem is the case of evil, because there simply isn't any coherent way to say that evil is a violation of God's will without violating God's sovereignty, and there is no coherent way to say that evil is the result of secondary causes, because the lack of the Power Distinction renders that assertion incoherent. You can define sin in terms of disobedience to God, but by the definition of sovereignty in play, nothing can disobey God, else His sovereignty would be in doubt. The dilemma is inescapable: God is either an evil sovereign (and a liar to boot for saying that evil is contrary to His will), or there is no such thing as evil, because it is literally impossible to disobey God (this is the Muslim solution: the way things are is simply the way God wants them to be).”

This is simplistic and equivocal because it fails to draw elementary distinctions between means and ends, necessary and sufficient conditions, as well as the prescriptive or decretive meaning of the divine will.

Jesus' Birthplace (Part 1): Early Interest And Potential Sources

Issues pertaining to Jesus’ background would have been known to and discussed by Jesus, His relatives, and other people prior to Jesus’ public ministry. Once the public ministry began and as Christianity grew, interest in such issues would have grown, as the gospels suggest (Matthew 2:4-6, Mark 6:2-3, Luke 20:41-44, John 7:41-42). Jesus’ birthplace would have been one of the issues of interest, not only for the same reasons why anybody’s birthplace would be of interest, but also because of what people believed about Jesus in particular. The background of somebody perceived to be the Messiah, including his birthplace, would be of interest to people.

Many potential sources of information relevant to Jesus’ birthplace would have been available to the early Christians and their enemies (Jesus, Mary, Jesus’ siblings, other relatives, the people of Nazareth, the people of Bethlehem, census records, people associated with Herod the Great around the time of Jesus’ birth, etc.). Though some of the purported events surrounding Jesus’ birth were of a less public nature, some were more visible, such as the Slaughter of the Innocents and the census. Luke’s infancy material comes just after his comments about what was handed down and his concern for eyewitness testimony (Luke 1:1-4). His comments in passages like 1:1-4, 1:65-66, and 2:17-18 don’t suggest that he was addressing issues that hadn’t been discussed before, nor does it seem that he was trying to explain why the information had previously been unknown. Whatever details Luke was adding, the general outlines were already well known, and much of what he was discussing was of a significantly public nature. Matthew and Luke both associate the Bethlehem birthplace with multiple public events, involving both believers and unbelievers (the visit of the magi, the Slaughter of the Innocents, the census, etc.). Each of these events, if it occurred, would offer more potential sources of evidence for the Bethlehem birthplace.

As I’ve discussed in previous posts (here and here, for example), reliable sources on Jesus’ birthplace were available to the early Christians and their enemies for decades. Most likely, Jesus would have discussed His birthplace with His followers. Those followers, such as the apostles, lived well beyond the time of Jesus’ death. Jesus' relatives surely would have had family accounts concerning His birthplace. Some of His relatives were active in church leadership for decades (Acts 21:18, 1 Corinthians 9:5, Galatians 1:19). Hegesippus, writing in the second century, tells us that relatives of Jesus also had leadership positions in the church beyond what’s addressed in the New Testament. He writes:

"They [relatives of Jesus] came, therefore, and took the lead of every church as witnesses and as relatives of the Lord. And profound peace being established in every church, they remained until the reign of the Emperor Trajan [late first and early second centuries], and until the above-mentioned Symeon, son of Clopas, an uncle of the Lord, was informed against by the heretics, and was himself in like manner accused for the same cause before the governor Atticus." (cited in Eusebius, Church History, 3:32:6)

Notice that these relatives were given positions of leadership "as witnesses and as relatives of the Lord". They didn’t just happen to be witnesses and relatives while attaining church offices only because they met the general qualifications for church leadership. Rather, they were sought out because of the additional qualifications they had as witnesses and relatives of Jesus. Hegesippus’ comments are another example of the early Christians’ concern for eyewitness testimony and sources close to others who were eyewitnesses. For more on this subject and many examples of how widespread this interest in such sources was in early Christianity, see Richard Bauckham’s Jesus And The Eyewitnesses (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006).

As I discussed previously, the apostle John apparently lived until late in the first century. Papias and Quadratus refer to other people who had met Jesus who lived until around the same time (Eusebius, Church History, 3:39:3-4, 4:3:2).

Earlier sources would have had influence on later sources. Christians passed down information from one generation to another, and so did their enemies. If Jesus was viewed as having been born in Nazareth during the decades leading up to His public ministry, and the same belief continued thereafter for a few decades, then a Bethlehem account was fabricated late in the first century, we would expect to see reflections of such a change and the variety of beliefs it would produce in the historical record.

We need to ask not only what the early sources reported, but also where they lived and how they presented what they reported. Is a report accepted across a wide geographical spectrum? Is it presented as if it’s commonly accepted? Do the early Christians show knowledge of and interact with objections from their opponents on the subject? Are they interested in evidence and corroboration from non-Christian sources? I’ll be addressing these and other issues in more depth in the coming days.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The unforgivable sin-2


“1) What would you say to a professing Christian who feared they had committed this sin?”

One thing he should do is simply compare himself to the test-cases.

Is what he has done analogous to what the Pharisees did (Mt 12:22-32; Mk 3:22-30)?

Obviously not. The Pharisees who committed this sin (and not all Pharisees were guilty of the sin in question) never believed in Jesus. They never accepted his claims. And they accused him of sorcery to deflect the miraculous attestation.

Is this analogous to the situation of a professing believer who fears that he has committed the unforgivable sin? Not in the least.

To begin with, he doesn’t reject the claims of Christ. Even if, at some point in his life he did, he is now a professing Christian. Unless he were a believer, he wouldn’t harbor this anxiety in the first place. He wouldn’t take the sin seriously.

Did the Pharisees who committed this sin fret over the unforgivable sin? Not at all. They felt entirely justified in their repudiation of Christ.

So, if you compare the two, all you end up with is a point-blank contrast.

What about Lk 12:8-12? There are obviously instances in which professing believers deny their faith under duress.

Taken in isolation, they would seem to be guilty of the unforgivable sin.

But in the very same gospel we have a paradigm-case of a believer who denied his Lord on Good Friday (Lk 22).

Was Peter damned? No. He underwent spiritual restoration.

So Lk 12:8-10, considered in the light of Peter’s experience, has something more permanent in mind than a temporary loss of nerve.

Rather, it’s dealing with people play it safe from start to finish. They never make a public commitment to Christ because they’re afraid of persecution, from being socially ostracized to martyred for the faith.

“2) What would you say to someone who feared that because they had said some disparaging comments about what they thought were strange charismatic occurrences?”

There are several issues here:

i) It depends in part, on the prior question of where you come down on the issue of the spiritual gifts. If you don’t think that Pentecostal writers have made a convincing case for apostles, prophets, healers, &c. in the life of the contemporary church, then the relation to the unforgivable sin is moot.

If, by definition, you don’t believe in Pentecostalism, then you don’t believe such individuals are filled or empowered by the Holy Spirit, in which case there is no Holy Spirit within them to blaspheme. Or even if there is, what they are doing has no connection to the indwelling of the Spirit. It’s something they do in spite of the Spirit, and not because of it.

ii) It’s also a mistake to limit yourself to just two alternatives, as if the only way to evaluate a charismatic claim is to either say so-and-so is anointed by the Holy Spirit or else he’s possessed by the devil. There are other options, viz.,

a) S0-and-so may simply be a standard-issue charlatan. It’s all showmanship. You don’t have to be possessed to be a flim-flam man.

b) So-and-so may be sincere, but self-deluded.

c) Another possibility, if Kurt Koch is correct, is that some men and women inherited a form of mediumistic magic. They may have genuine powers, and those powers may have an occultic origin, but the individual is innocent of their origin. And the individual is not possessed, although his paranormal abilities are something of a family curse.

iii) As you know, the Bible has a lot to say about false prophets, both in the OT and NT.

Now, if a false prophet could silence criticism by playing the card of the unforgivable sin, then he would be immune to criticism.

But that would be a form of spiritual extortion. It would be impossible under such circumstances to ever heed the Scriptural warnings and forewarnings about false prophets in our own experience. We could not obey those admonitions.

So the verses about the unforgivable sin were never meant to immunize a spiritual claimant from honest scrutiny.


“What about the scripture that says, ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’ If we confess the sin against the Holy Spirit, will God forgive us?”

i) Yes, that’s a good Scripture, and it’s one of the things we need to take into account in arriving at a balanced position.

ii) However, the question assumes that the Christian who appeals to this verse of Scripture was guilty of blaspheming the Spirit in the first place.

My impression is that most folks who are haunted by the fear of having committed this sin have simply misinterpreted the relevant verses. They have misidentified themselves as falling under the scope of the verses in question.

The problem is with their self-classification. They never did what the verses are talking about.

“I've had unforgivable-sin phobia for 5 years now. It's very hard to live with.”

Several steps:

i) The first thing you need to do is to achieve intellectual clarity. To think correctly about what the Bible actually teaches on this subject. I hope what I’ve said thus far facilitates that process.

ii) You should then embrace a passage like the one you quoted (1 Jn 1:9). Claim that promise. Personalize that promise. That verse has your name on it. Sign your name under that promise.

iii) Ignore your feelings. Make your head lead your heart. Start with head-knowledge. A correct knowledge of what the Bible teaches. Don’t let the heart lead the head. Not when you’re suffering from spiritual depression or emotional oppression.

You need to wean yourself of your phobia. It doesn’t necessarily happen overnight. Rather, you wean yourself of this phobia by doing several things:

a) Starve it. Neglect it. Ignore it. Consciously put it out of your mind.

b) Replace it in your thoughts with the promises of Scripture (1 Jn 9). Memorize Bible verses that stress the believer’s assurance of salvation.

c) Memorize hymns that stress the believer’s assurance of salvation. Sing them to yourself.

d) Read edifying Christian literature. Poetry. Stuff by John Piper. Christian biographies.

e) Spend time with upbeat Christian friends.

f) You may need to change churches. Maybe you’re in the wrong church. Even if it’s doctrinally sound, you may feel beaten down all the time.

g) Tell the devil to go to hell! :-)

iv) Spiritual depression can also have natural aggravating factors. Some people have a melancholic disposition. Some people have suffered personal loss. Some people are depressed by a dreary climate. There are also differences in national character.

Make allowance for natural factors. Don’t attribute everything to personal failings. No one gets through life without his share of discouragements. Don’t spiritualize everything, as if every regret or setback or foreboding is a black mark against your faith and sanctification. Life in a fallen world is a bruising experience. Look ahead.

Catholicism equals monothelitism

For those who are curious about what, exactly, Dr. White is referring to (, here’s the original:

35. Photios Jones Says:
May 23rd, 2006 at 8:50 am
William Witt,
“I would say inconsistently, as does Damascene, by distinguishing between God’s antecedent and consequent will.”
St. John knows of no such limitation of God’s salvific will, especially ones that would include a collapsing of nature and person, which he says is not just the paradigm of a few heresies, but of all heresey (Expos. Ortho. III.3)
But Thomas’ teaching–which I found your gloss about right–is part of the problem and not the solution. Switching gears over to Christology, Thomas’ doctrine of predestination is monenergism. There is only one possible outcome. This means that merely confessing two wills is not enough for Orthodoxy. And why in the world would consideration of a divine attribute (predestination) precede a discussion of the Person of Christ in the first place? Does the Person of Christ fall under the category of divine providence?

Dear Dr. White,

Regarding your recent post in which Prejean and Enloe attempt to tar Calvinism with the broad brush of monothelitism, I'd just note, in the above quote, that Orthodox apologetes use the very same tactic to tar Thomism—and, by implication, Catholicism—with the odium of monothelitism.

Hence, according to the inner logic of Prejean's argument, Prejean is a monothelite, guilty of the same Christological heresy he imputes Calvinism.

Like the witch-craze, this charge takes on a life of its own, implicating the accuser as well as the accused.


The upshot is that a Catholic polemicist equates Calvinism with monothelitism while an Orthodox polemicist returns the favor by equating Catholicism with monothelitism. Same argument: different target.

My advice to Prejean (as well as Enloe) would be that when you douse your opponent with gasoline, make sure you didn’t spill some on your shirt before you light the match.

The unforgivable sin

What is the unforgivable sin? And how, if at all, is it applicable to our own situation?

The unforgivable sin comes to us in two different versions:

i) In the Marcan/Matthean version (Mt 12:31-32; Mk 3:28-29), it has reference to attributing dominical exorcisms to sorcery.

ii) In the Lucan version (Lk 12:10), it has reference to apostasy under threat of persecution.

We presumably have two different versions because Jesus spoke to the issue on at least two different occasions.

This should warn us against equating the unforgivable sin with the specific circumstances in which it is described, for—as the Synoptics illustrate—the circumstances vary.

So what do these two descriptions have in common?

i) In both cases, the sinner is in a position to know better.

ii) Another possible point of contact is that, in both cases, we’re dealing with public testimony. The Jewish opponents publicly denounce the ministry of Christ. The persecuted believer publicly renounces the faith.

What makes the sin unforgivable? It is possible that (i) is a sufficient condition.

But it may also be that (ii) furnishes a necessary, aggravating circumstance.

On that view, what makes it unforgivable is not simply that the sinner is in a position to know better, but that he is dissuading others from believing in Christ.

In the case of the Jewish opponents, the sinner is bearing public witness against the work of Christ.

In the case of the apostate, his recantation is a public witness against the mission of Christ.

And even if his recantation is an act of cowardice rather than conviction, the effect of his example is dissuasive.

Or it may be that (ii) is a sufficient condition in its own right.

Remember that, in Scripture, the presumption is that, all other things being equal, sinners are lost. It’s not that you have to do something extra-special to be on the road to perdition.

You don’t need to take a wrong turn, for, absent the grace of God, you are already headed in the wrong direction.

How do we account for the distinction between blasphemy against Jesus, which is forgivable, and blasphemy against the Spirit, which is unforgivable?

i) To begin with, the work of the Spirit, in context, has immediate reference to exorcism, although it would presumably include miracles more generally, of which exorcism is a subset.

This thaumaturgical work is not to be confused with the internal witness of the Spirit.

ii) The distinction likely differentiates between corroborated and uncorroborated testimony. Christ bears witness to himself, but his self-testimony is seconded by the prophets as well as the work of the Father and the Spirit as they empower him to perform miraculous deeds. The Resurrection would be the capstone.

iii) If (ii) is correct, then the point is not that blasphemy against the Spirit is intrinsically more heinous than blasphemy against the Son. The distinction is not between the Spirit, per se, and the Son, per se—but between the testimony of Christ, alone, and the corroborative work of the Spirit.

How does this apply to our own situation?

We need to avoid two extremes:

i) For the above-stated reasons, it’s a mistake to limit the unforgivable sin to the specific circumstances in which it is described. These circumstances occasion the teaching, but the sin cannot be tied down to the illustrative exigencies.

ii) If (i) is overly narrow, the opposite error is an overly broad application in which the unforgivable sin is simply equivalent to persistent unbelief. That application is so generic that it fails to explain why this particular sin is singled out, in contrast to other sins, as unforgivable. So it needs to meet stricter criteria.

iii) On a minimalist interpretation, the unforgivable sin would satisfy two conditions:

(a) The sinner is in a position to know better, and:

(b) He goes public with his disbelief to dissuade others.

Both (a) and (b) would be necessary conditions, but insufficient in isolation.

iv) On a maximalist interpretation, the unforgivable sin would satisfy only one condition: (a) or possibly (b).

On that view (a) would be a sufficient condition.

It’s possible that (b) would also be a sufficient condition.

v) In Scripture, there is also a distinction between apostates and backsliders. A professing believer can suffer a lapse of faith, but be restored to the faith.

He may have been a true believer who suffered a crisis of faith or loss of nerve, or else he may have been a nominal believer who, as a result of his temporary defection and restoration, becomes a true believer.

So who can commit the unforgivable sin? Depending on our interpretation, an apostate, a public enemy of the faith, and/or someone who never made profession of faith, but is in a position to know better.

It isn’t necessary for us to draw the exact boundaries, for the larger lesson is that no one should go anywhere near the point of no return.

It isn’t a question of knowing where the invisible line is drawn, and then doing everything just up to the trip-wire without stepping on the spiritual land-mine. For that attitude is already a damnable attitude.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Atheism on atheism

Some excerpts from another atheistic critic of atheistic critics:

The Celestial Teapot
by James Wood

The End of Faith starts well and then becomes a bit predictable, because it begins to follow the rules of its rather thin genre. Letter to a Christian Nation, which is an open letter to the many Christians who wrote to Harris in complaint, is even thinner.

Bertrand Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian made a great initial impact on me when I was a teenager--it was like seeing someone in the nude, for the first time--until I began to get bored with its self-exposure. Russell complaining that Jesus was not a moral teacher, that he was really rather a bad example because he threw the money lenders out of the temples and cursed the fig tree, seemed somehow a little undignified. Russell is reliably at his least philosophical when he is at his most atheistical.

The genre tends to proceed thus: the atheist must first remove all possible respect from religious belief. The tone is a little perky, and lively thought-experiments bloom. They go a bit like this: if I told you that President Bush prays every day to his vacuum cleaner, you would judge him insane. But why is there any evidence that the God he prays to exists? It is fun, knockabout. Harris likes to compare belief in God with belief in Wotan or Zeus: "Can you prove that Zeus does not exist? Of course not. And yet, just imagine if we lived in a society where people spent tens of billions of dollars of their personal income each year propitiating the gods of Mount Olympus."

The model is Bertrand Russell's "celestial teapot," gleefully quoted by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion. If, says Russell, I told you that a celestial teapot was orbiting the sun but that you could not see it, nobody would be able to disprove me; "but if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense." God is like the teapot, we are supposed to infer. Dawkins uses Russell to argue that we cannot prove God's non-existence, but then we cannot prove anything's non-existence. "What matters," writes Dawkins, "is not whether God is disprovable (he isn't), but whether his existence is probable.... Some undisprovable things are sensibly judged far less probable than other undisprovable things."

I agree with Dawkins's conclusion, and consider God highly improbable, but I dislike the way he gets there. It seems to occur neither to him nor to Russell that belief in God is not like belief in a teapot. The referent--the content of the belief--matters here.

This brand of public atheism is very good at the necessary disrespecting of religion, and it has a properly hygienic function. But how worthy of respect is it itself? The problem is that its bright certainty about the utter silliness of religion leads very quickly away from philosophy and argument. There is a dismaying gap, in these books, between the righteous anger of the critique of the many absurdities of religious belief and the attempts to account for why people have believed this apparent nonsense for so many centuries. I would rather that these writers refrained from speculation altogether than plunge into their flimsy anthropological kit bag. It is peculiar indeed to read Dawkins's eloquent pages on evolution, and on how evolution may in the end solve the question of who created us, and then to find that very evolutionary theory being applied in the most hypothetical, rampantly unscientific ways to the question of why we have believed in God for so long.

For Dawkins, it may all be explained by our evolutionary need to fall in love, or perhaps by our childish need to have a big friend. At the same time, we have also evolved a HADD, a "hyperactive agent detection device": "we hyperactively detect agents where there are none, and this makes us suspect malice or benignity where, in fact, nature is only indifferent." (Daniel Dennett is also fond of the argument from HADD.) Dawkins's example of this tendency is a moment in Fawlty Towers when John Cleese's car breaks down. Cleese, drunk with HADD, one supposes, starts thrashing his car to death. Dawkins truly appears to think that this high-table guffawing will do as an explanation of why thousands of generations have been drawn to believe in God. And mystical experience of the divine does not detain him, either. We have evolved superb "simulation software in the brain," which is "especially adept at constructing faces and voices.... It is well capable of constructing 'visions' and 'visitations' of the utmost veridical power. To simulate a ghost or an angel or a Virgin Mary would be child's play to software of this sophistication." And he concludes: "That is really all that needs to be said about personal 'experiences' of gods or other religious phenomena." Evolutionary biologists never seem happier than when they are talking about humans as crafty but malfunctioning computers, with "toolkits" and "menus" and "software." The possibility that this might itself be a mad "vision," an example of a highly evolved Oxonian computer on the blink, does not occur to Dawkins's own simulation software.

These are not easy questions, then, but the jauntily unphilosophical way in which most popular atheistic writing simply ignores the Wittgensteinian dilemmas is disappointing, and explains why its explanations of the sources of religious belief are so jejune.

Sam Harris gets himself into a telling knot in The End of Faith, when he attempts to float a kind of vaguely Eastern, vaguely New Agey form of meditation. (The dirty secret of that book is that Harris turns out to be a Buddhist.) He dislikes having to use words like "spirituality" and "mysticism" because they have "unfortunate associations." But use them he does, explaining that mystical meditation makes us happy and is good for us, and suggesting that we should do it from time to time. Of course, he thus falls into the very consequentialism that he dislikes in some religious discourse (the kind that says that you should believe in order not to be sinful). Perhaps realizing this, he explains that his kind of mysticism "is a rational enterprise. Religion is not." He continues:

“The mystic has recognized something about the nature of consciousness prior to thought, and this recognition is susceptible to rational discussion. The mystic has reasons for what he believes, and these reasons are empirical. The roiling mystery of the world can be analyzed with concepts (this is science), or it can be experienced free of concepts (this is mysticism). Religion is nothing more than bad concepts held in place of good ones for all time. It is the denial--at once full of hope and full of fear--of the vastitude of human ignorance.”

But this rational mysticism seems a pretty poor substitute for the grandeurs of religious mysticism, however one judges the latter's empirical content. Harris is welcome to sit on his floor and get off on his Buddhism; I'll go and sit in a cathedral.

Teach yourself Greek

In answer to a correspondent:

Step I:

Buy a set of NT Greek flash cards:

One mnemonic trick is that many English word are Greek derivatives. So, whenever possible, write the English cognate on the translation side of the card.

BTW, this also works for learning Latin. Unfortunately, it doesn't work for learning Hebrew :-(

Go through the flash cards until you've memorized all the words.

Step II:

Buy an A Greek-English interlinear NT. There are several editions to choose from:

Step III:

Start with 1 John. I recommend 1 John because:

i) The vocabulary and syntax is simple:

ii) The letter is short and compact, which makes it easier to master.

Step IV:

Start with chapter 1, reading one verse at a time.

Block out the interlinear translation with an index card and see how much of the verse in the original Greek you can understand/translate.

Whenever you hit a wall, refer to the interlinear translation.

Alternate between the Greek and the English until you can sight-read verse 1.

Continue this process with verse 1, &c.

After you can sight-read every individual verse of chap. 1, run back through the entire chapter from start to finish until you can sight-read the entire chapter.

Progress to chapter 2: same process.

Continue until you can sight-read the entirety of 1 John in the original.

Step V:

Once you can read a chapter w/o the interlinear, buy a Greek NT:

From then on, just read the Greek NT version of chapters 1,2,3...

The above-cited edition also has a dictionary in the back in case you forget a word.

Step VI:

Purchase and work through Baugh's reader for 1 John.

This will give you some formal Greek grammar.

In may sound like we're doing this in reverse, and in a way we are, but it's more logical to learn how to sight-read the Greek NT and then catch up on formal Greek grammar than to rote-learn a set of abstract rules which you woodenly apply to the text.

Step VII:

Graduate to the Gospel of John. Repeat the same process.

Step VIII:

Purchase and work through Walther's inductive Study of the Fourth Gospel.

Step IX:

Buy a simple Greek grammar such as:

At this point I don't see much value in investing in the major Greek grammars. The reason is this:

Greek grammars are presenting undergoing something of a revolution. In the computer age, it's possible to input every Greek text and then perform an exhaustive analysis of comparative usage.

So the major Greek grammars of the past, while still useful, are becoming obsolete.

Keep up with the latest developments at Gramcord:

Step: X

Work your way through the rest of the NT. Save Hebrews for last.

Step XI

Sample the LXX, using a Greek-English edition:

This is a quaint translation (there is a more up-to-date translation available, minus the Greek) without a critical edition of the text, but it will get you started.

Start with shorter units like some of the Psalms.

Step: XII:

At some point you should bite the bullet and invest in the latest edition of BAG:

Step XIII:

Branch out to Greek writers who are useful for NT studies or church history, such as Philo, Josephus, and Justin.

Use the Greek-English editions of the Loeb Classical Library.

Buy/borrow/photocopy the sections must useful for NT studies, like Philo on the Therapeutae, Josephus in 1C history, &c.

There are an increasing number of online resources for NT, LXX, patristic, and Classical Greek stuff which I haven't bothered to investigate. You can look into that yourself.

Abstract universals

“How do I even know what an abstract universal is? When do I know I have it? I can’t argue for them from first principles and they aren’t self-evident, and yet you claim it is incoherent not to just accept them. Incoherent by what measuring stick? If their necessity can’t be formally demonstrated, what other *objective* mode of knowledge informs me of their reality in the absence of *direct* knowledge? All that is left are subjective appeals, it seems to me.”

i) Perhaps we should begin with a description. By abstract objects I mean things like properties, propositions, logical laws, mathematical truths, and possible worlds.

ii) Now, maybe not all of these count as truth-conditions, but some of them do.

You certainly know what logic is, because you’re using logic to ask what logic is (or isn’t).

ii) You know when you have it by using it. It’s part of your consciousness.

iii) You’re operating within the framework of classical foundationalism. Even within that straightjacket, some abstract universals are self-evident, such as laws of logic.

iv) You don’t need to directly prove a truth-condition, for a truth-condition is a necessary precondition for proving anything else. And that, in turn, is an indirect way of proving a truth-condition. You can’t do without it.

v) Whether or not we enjoy direct knowledge of truth-conditions depends, I suppose, on our theory of knowledge. If you’re a radical empiricist, then it’s more difficult to get from here to there.

But I would say that we do enjoy direct knowledge of certain truth-conditions. We enjoy an innate knowledge of informal logic, counterfactuals (i.e. possible worlds), numerical relations, &c.

“All the arguments I’ve seen make appeals to human intuition. They aren’t formal demonstrations. A subjective element always creeps in, or propositions are merely asserted. That just doesn’t help me…. I have what I’d call intuition about universals too, but I’m holding out for something much more formal than what realist philosophers seem to offer.”

Formal demonstration is no substitute for intuition. Andrew Wiles can write a 200 page proof of Fermat’s Theorem, but at the end of the day his colleagues can only intuit that his proof his compelling.

Formal demonstration can’t go on forever. It still depends on bedrock intuition to perceive the soundness of the demonstration. However technical, it comes down to intuition.

“The problem is *objectively* showing the distinctions between objective and subjective aspects of human cognition. It hasn’t been done, as far as I’m concerned. Not saying it can’t, but if it can, it will be via strict formalism (that is the only way I can see, at least).”

No, it needn’t be by strict formalism (see above).

“I simply reject the notion that I can’t make a factual statement about my mental state. Knowledge of *my* mental state is my paradigm for certainty. I *know* I exist. I *know* I have objects of experience. I *know* logic works. Factuality is a notion that I, in a sense, bring to the table. Without the fact of *my* mental state already intact as absolutely true before even considering a statement like “you are in no position to make a factual statement about your mental states” I’d… well, I’d not exist (or at least I can’t imagine how I could).”

i) I don’t deny that it’s possible to make factual claims about your mental states. What I deny is that it’s coherent to do so if you deny or doubt the reality of abstract universals like logic.

ii) Logic cannot be normative it if is merely descriptive of your mental state. Hence, solipsism is self-refuting.

iii) Apart from logic, you cannot “know” your mental states, for true belief is a necessary condition of knowledge, but apart from logic, truth is meaningless.

iv) Even on its own level, the problem with the Cartesian cogito is that it only applies to your present state of mind. It doesn’t warrant the belief that you existed five minutes ago.

“I must have *subjective* access to unconceptualized reality (which is what abstract universals are). I’d consider it impossible by definition to have objective access. If we *can* have objective access, I’d like to know how (in that case I’d stop calling abstract universals unconceptualized).”

i) I deny that there is any such thing as unconceptualized reality. And I deny that this is what abstract universals are.

ii) I would say that all of reality is conceptualized by God. This extends to truths of fact as well as truths of reason.

iii) Truths of reason are constituted by the timeless mind of God.

iv) Truths of fact are constituted by the omnipotent will of God.

v) A true belief is true by virtue of its correspondence to a divine belief. That is what makes my belief true (or false, as the case may be).

vi) You continue to confuse the mode of knowledge with the object of knowledge. Your mode of knowledge is subjective. This doesn’t mean the object of knowledge must also be subjective.

The question is whether your subjective belief is a true belief. If true, it is true because it corresponds to an objective state of affairs.

We can make a partial exception for mental states, which are self-presenting states. There the distinction between subject and objective thins out—although God retains an objective knowledge of our mental states.

vii) Abstract universals are mental entities. Thoughts, concepts, ideas. They are extramental in relation to the human thinker, but they are mental properties of the divine thinker.

viii) At the same time, the human thinker can know them to some degree. Abstract objects are not ontologically dependent on human cognition, but their concrete exemplifications are, to some degree, dependent on human cognition.

I can have an idea of the Mandelbrot set. A finite concept which is accurate as far as it goes.

“Not *knowing* what is the case is not ‘global skepticism’, in my view. It is a statement of what is factual for me. This doesn’t preclude belief (in ‘abstract universals ‘, for instance) on my part; it just constrains how I’ll talk about my belief.”

Sorry, but if it doesn’t count as knowledge, then it doesn’t count as fact.

If belief invariably falls short of knowledge, then that’s a recipe for global scepticism.

“But you say belief can’t be justified axiomatically and then claim that not to believe as you do is incoherent. How can this be? Incoherence is a *formal* notion, but that will not work for you, by your own admission. So, again, what is left but to appeal to subjectivity?”

You’re confusing a premise with a truth-condition. Invalidity is a formal notion. But the possibility of invalidity is a truth-conditional notion, not a formal notion.

“Infinite regress is in play when talk of universal abstractions is encoded in a non universal framework, which is what ordinary language is. How can non universal descriptors arrive at a *universal* description of abstract universals? The statement “human minds (or the external world) concretely instance abstract universals” leads to infinite regress as soon as you attempt argue for its status as an *objective* truth versus being something you *believe* is true.”

i) The scope of the descriptor doesn’t have to be conterminous with the scope of the universal. It only needs to be accurate or consistent, without being exhaustive.

ii) I don’t believe that we *arrive* at abstract universals via a process abstraction. I don’t use *abstract* in the Aristotelian sense of a psychological process of learning.

You’re assuming a bottom-up procedure rather than a top-down procedure.

Unless we enjoyed an innate capacity to classify property-instances as natural kinds or concrete exempla, the process of forming generalities would never get off the ground.

iii) There’s also a major different between Platonic realism and Christian Platonism.

As Leibniz would say, God has a complete concept of every creature. Not a general idea which the creature merely approximates. So Christian Platonism doesn’t generate the Third Man problem, involving a hiatus between abstract universals and infimae species.

iv) More fundamentally, I reject your philosophical method. I respect the fact that you take philosophy seriously. And I respect your quest for certainty.

But I think you’re looking at the issue through the wrong end of the telescope. You’re approaching this from the criterion of Cartesian doubt. But I reject the presumption. And I’d draw some distinctions:

a) There are truth-conditions we cannot deny on pain of self-refutation.

b) There are also some beliefs like our belief in other minds, the external world, the reality of the past, &c. which we may or may not be able to prove—or prove directly.

These in turn, rest on perceptual beliefs or mnemonic beliefs. Is there a noncircular proof for the reliability of the senses? Or our memories?

But even if these beliefs are unprovable, they are also irrepressible. We may pretend to doubt them, but such doubts are paper doubts. We can’t help believing in other minds, the external world, the reality of the past, &c.

That being so, why should the onus be on you and me to prove something that no one can bring himself to disbelieve?

c) It may be a good question to ask why we believe it. Why such a belief is universal and irresistible. But it’s quite artificial to shift the burden of proof to the other side when there is no other side.

In this respect, I favor the Reidian point of departure over the Cartesian point of departure.

d) Likewise, I prefer to begin with knowledge rather than doubt, and work back from knowledge to its necessary truth-conditions.

Yes, you can start where Quine starts, with referential opacity or the indeterminacy of translation—but why start there? Quine couldn’t even communicate the thesis indeterminacy of translation or referential opacity unless successful communication were possible.

So it’s better to ask what makes successful communication possible rather than fretting over objections thereto.

Likewise, we can tie ourselves in knots over the paradox of analysis. But as a practical matter we are quite able to identify or differentiate natural kinds even if we have no conscious, exacting, ready-made, criterion for telling cats from dogs.

So instead of commencing with a theory of analogical predication, in which we insist on isolating a point of identity between A and B—without which the comparison degenerates into equivocation—why not begin with our successful identification of natural kinds, and work back from that to ask what makes it possible?

Therefore, I prefer a Reidian presumption along with a transcendental method.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The 'Secret' Gospel of Mark

The 'Secret' Gospel of Mark by F.F. Bruce

Planting the evidence


Q: You find parallels between Mark's empty tomb narrative and Orphic mystery narratives, and between Luke's Emmaus narrative and the epiphany of Romulus, but despite the parallels, aren't there still a lot of differences?

A: Of course. But adapted myths acquire meaning precisely because of what is left out and what is kept in, as well as by what is changed. In other words, Mark deliberately left out of his account everything in the Orphic narrative that he rejected, and kept in everything that still had direct parallels with the gospel message. And then he changed details specifically to convey how his message was different from the Orphics (pp. 161-63). The same goes for Luke's transvaluation of the Romulus narrative (pp. 180-82) and so on (like possible parallels to the Osiris myth: p. 159). That is the whole point of including such parallels: certain readers would immediately get the parallel (or be taught it in secret initiations) and then they would understand what it is that Mark is really saying. Mythic elements are in that respect just like words: the words are the same and carry the same meaning, but when you select and rearrange them, you say something different. Readers or initiates would see the elements, the symbols, as words with distinct cultural meanings, and would see their careful selection and rearrangement as what was being said with those symbols. For more on this, see the chapter by Evan Fales, "Taming the Tehom" (pp. 307-48).


Another example of Carrier’s circular scholarship. Of course, if you already knew that x was literarily dependent on y, then, and only then, could you claim that x “deliberately left out of his account everything in the y-narrative that he rejected, and kept in everything that still had direct parallels with the x-message.”

Unfortunately for Carrier’s argument, what is missing is evidence for direct parallels in the first place.

He appeals to deliberate omissions to harmonize his theory with the actual state of the record. But absent independent evidence that x is, in fact, literarily dependent on y, his harmonization is a classic case of backward reasoning.

If he already knew that x and y were truly parallel, in some genealogical relationship, then he might be able to account for the disanalogies by appeal to selective editing—but if the only evidence he as to work with are x and y as they stand, and if he must appeal to selective editing to harmonize his theory with the actual state of the evidence, then the evidence itself does not support his theory. Rather, his theory is trimming the evidence to agree with his preconceived hypothesis.

More desperate still is his rearguard appeal to esoteric teaching, without which even the original audience would be unable to discern the alleged parallels.

This is a backdoor admission that alleged parallels are absent from the canonical text itself.