Saturday, February 10, 2007

Why is there something instead of nothing?

john w. loftus said...

"I don't see any reason for God to create anything...anything at all."

Loftus has leveled this objection to David Wood's position. And he also brought it up in his book, Why I Rejected Christianity:

"Why did God create us rather than not create us at all?...This God needed nothing, and they must stress here that God needed NOTHING, otherwise there are problems with the Christian understanding of God needing anything. So why did God create us? Why ruin this prefect existence he previously had?...Why do this at all, if life was already perfect for him" (85-86).

As I've pointed out before, the problem with this objection is that the goodness of the world doesn't add to the goodness of God, since God is not the world. And, by the same token, the badness of the world doesn't subtract from the goodness of God since, once again, God is not the world, or vice versa.

The world does not affect God. It doesn't ruin *his* perfect existence. Life doesn't cease to be perfect *for God* if there is evil in the world.

At the same time, the creation of the world does bring good to some of God's creatures. It is good *for them.*

It is not good for all of them. But those who lose out, justly suffer, and they suffer for a greater good.

One of Loftus' tactics, when his objections have been answered, is to ignore the answers and dust off the same objections in a different forum. Like a crooked businessman who, once he acquires a bad reputation, moves to a new town, Loftus recycles the same discredited objections by finding a new audience, hoping that his reputation won't precede him.

Now, one of the problems with trying to address this objection is that the question is equivocal. By asking what *reason* God may have had, this could either mean:

1. What was God's motive or rationale for creating the world?


2. What was God's justification or warrant for creating the world?

Loftus seems to be asking #1, but he's really asking #2.

He's trading on #2, and tacitly reading that back onto #1.

That is to say, the unspoken assumption behind his question is that the existence of the world needs to be justified. That there's some antecedent presumption against it.

Not what reason did God have to make the world, but what right did he have?

This ties into the argument from evil, as Loftus's views it. He acts as if making the world were an injustice against its creatures. They were wronged by merely existing.

That would make some sense if he were asking about the existence of a fallen world. But he is conflating two different questions:

1. What reason did God have for making *any* world?


2. What reason did God have for making a *fallen* world?

Now, his objection to #1 is, as we have seen, muddle-headed.

The only antecedent presumption against #1 would be his argument about the creation of *any* world somehow subtracting for the optimal state of God's solitary existence.

But if that object is muddle-headed, then there is no presumption to overcome. No need to *justify* the existence of creation qua creation.

The only direction in which one could find such a negative presumption would be in the creation of a fallen world.

However, the mere existence of evil is insufficient to launch the argument from evil. What is needed, among other things, is the identification of *gratuitous* evil.

And there are only two possible grounds for establishing the existence of gratuitous evil:

1. An external argument from evil, predicated on the unbeliever's value-system;


2. An internal argument from evil, predicated on the believer's value-system.

A necessary condition to meet in the case #1 is a version of moral realism consistent with secularism.

Another necessary condition to meet the case of #1 is the existence of beings who are capable of suffering pain or injustice.

Conversely, a necessary condition to meet the case of #2 is to show that certain evils are gratuitous in the light of Christian theology *as a whole.*

Loftus has consistently failed on both counts.

He thinks that he can generate a logical dilemma by simply abutting three premises: (i) God is good; (ii) God is sovereign; (iii) there is evil.

But that is a grossly simplistic syllogism because it leaves out of account many other premises in Christian theology which relieve the logical and evidential problem of evil, internally considered.

Loftus generates an artificial dilemma by artificially isolating and limiting the relevant premises to just three in all.

But such an arbitrarily restrictive version of the internal argument from evil is a straw man argument.

The case for physicalism

The primary direct argument for physicalism is the correlation between brain states and mental states. To take a few examples:

It has become possible in recent years to use magnetic and positron scanning devices to observe what is happening in different parts of the brain while people are doing various mental tasks. For example, brain scans have identified the regions of the brain involved in mental imagery and word interpretation. Additional evidence about brain functioning is gathered by observing the performance of people whose brains have been damaged in identifiable ways. A stroke, for example, in a part of the brain dedicated to language can produce deficits such as the inability to utter sentences.

Let’s extend this inference to a couple of analogous cases:

1. Using a polygraph, we can tell when a person is probably lying based on certain *physiological* (rather than neurological) correlations.

By parity of argument, wouldn't this imply the identity of mental states with physiological states like blood pressure, pulse, respiration, and skin conductivity?

But if this inference is obviously absurd, then doesn't that undercut the parallel argument from brain scans, and so on?

2. Likewise, a good poker player can predict, in large part, what a bad poker player will do, or what hand he has, by being able to *read* the player's body language.

By parity of argument, wouldn't this imply the identity of mental states with body language? But if this inference is obviously absurd...

So it seems to me that the argument for physicalism from the correlation between brain states and mental states either proves too much or too little.

Irreformable Mormonism

Mormonism is undergoing a stereotypical identity crisis. I say “stereotypical,” because this is something it shares in common with a number of other sects, cults, and denominations.

Many religious movements begin on the margins of society. At first, their fringe status is self-reinforcing. By being persecuted or ostracized, this only serves to confirm and bolster their sense of in-group identity and solidarity.

But over time, they may become the victims of their own success. Or they simply grow weary of being on the outside, looking in.

As long as they operated as a closed subculture, they could maintain their own mythology. But when their kids begin to attend mainstream institutions, the in-house view of history doesn’t hold up.

This is the crisis facing Mormonism. When the intellectual cream studies abroad, under someone like Kenneth Kitchen or I. H. Marshall, the Mormon scriptures, the Mormon view of church history, and the Mormon exegesis of the Bible can’t survive the scrutiny. The result is a lot of soul-search and retrofitting.

Now, some religious movements are capable of internal reform. In principle, Seventh Day Adventism could reform itself to become an evangelical denomination. And that’s because, apart from its aberrant deviations, its theology isn’t all that different from, say, 19C Methodism.

I’m not saying that’s going to happen. Unfortunately, it seems to be headed in the direction of open theism. So maybe the window of opportunity is gone, assuming it was ever open a crack.

But there is a difference between Seventh Day Adventism and, say, Mormonism or the Watchtower.

Cults like Mormonism are irreformable because there’s nothing to work with. It’s rotten from the top down.

People like Owen act as if it’s possible to graft something more orthodox or evangelical onto Mormonism.

But you can’t do that with Mormonism, for Mormonism is thoroughly heretical. It’s a homegrown brand of paganism.

There’s no foundation to build on. Pruning won’t do. You’d have to cut it down root and branch. Completely excise the writings of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young at al. and start from the ground up.

Or, to put it another way, you wouldn’t attempt to start from scratch. You would simply ditch Mormonism and either attach yourself to some preexisting evangelical tradition or mix-and-match one evangelical tradition with another.

Mormonism itself is a lost cause. There’s nothing to salvage. You might as well attempt to graft Evangelicalism onto Scientology. Don’t seek the living among the dead.

Mormons, to have any hope of salvation, must make a clean break with their religious traditions. Their spiritual heritage is a yellow brick road to hell.


There’s a dogfight going on between the iMonk and Fide-O.

Jason reproduced part of an essay by Spencer to document his charge that Spencer has a liberal view of Scripture.

Apparently, Spencer then emailed Scott, demanding either an apology or evbidence to back up the allegation:

Spencer’s reaction is illogical, but predictable.

The documentation was provided in the very post he takes exception to. Jason simply quoted Spencer verbatim. What further documentation do the Fide-O boys need to provide? This wasn’t a roundabout inference from some oblique statement of Spencer’s. His essay speaks for itself.

The essay articulates boilerplate liberalism. It could have been penned by Fosdick.

To say that Spencer has a liberal view of Scripture is not, in the first instance, a value-judgment, but a simple statement of fact.

Why does he get on the defensive? It’s his stated position which was put on public display. Either he stands by his own words or he doesn’t. Does he believe what he said in his essay?

By contrast, the email is pretty orthodox. There's no obvious way of harmonizing these two statements.

The only way to reconcile the two statements is to read the email with a set of mental reservations supplied by the essay. Spencer is like a politician who makes contradictory policy statements depending on the time, place, and audience.

He is capable of making perfectly orthodox statements. But these have to be caveated by his perfectly heterodox statements.

I think Spencer's problem is twofold:

1.He’s an emotional reactionary.

In this respect he belongs to a stereotypical character type. There are men and women who feel that they’ve been burned by the church, or by some Christians they know.

And they react by turning their back on the Christian faith or—which amounts to the same thing—liberalizing their theology.

And some of these people have a legitimate grievance. There are people have been mistreated by individuals in the church or by members of the Christian community.

But, of course, you can only become disillusioned if you harbor illusions in the first place. If you begin with false expectations about the church, your expectations are bound to be dashed sooner or later.

The best remedy is preventive medicine. Cultivate a realistic view of the church.

I’d also add that some people merely pretend to be mistreated by the Christian community. In fact, the church was right, and they were wrong.

But due to their need for self-justification, they retaliate by attacking the church and all it stands for.

2.This, in turn, can degenerate into a vicious cycle. In the course of defending themselves, they make increasingly unorthodox claims.

Ironically, their reaction only serves to confirm the original charge. They themselves pile up ever more supporting material to substantiate the accusation that got them so riled up in the first place.

When they are accused of making a left turn, they react by moving further to the left.
They try to show that their accusers are in the wrong, but they do so by admitting the original charge. The accusers were correct in what they alleged, but their beliefs are mistaken.

If we can take him at his word, then it’s clear from what he wrote that Spencer has turned a corner on what he believes about Scripture (unless this is what he always believed, but kept mum about it in the past). He has given a series of reasons for his belief.

There is no way for him to back down without retracting his arguments. On the face of it, he's crossed a line of no return.

The Gospel Of The Beloved Disciple

"Most scholars agree that vv. 24 and 25 [of John 21] belong together, and when they are read together it is impossible to read them as referring only to chapter 21. They are plainly a conclusion to the whole Gospel and 'these things' must be the deeds of Jesus recounted throughout the Gospel. It also seems inadequate to take the sense in which the Beloved Disciple wrote them to be only that he wrote a source used by the author. Later we shall show that 20:30-31 and 21:24-25 form together a carefully composed two-stage conclusion to the Gospel. This requires that 'written' has the same sense in both 20:30-31 and 21:24. In both cases it refers to the writing of 'this book,' not of a source. John 21:24 means that the Beloved Disciple composed the Gospel, whether or not he wielded the pen. He could have received assistance of various kinds in the process of composition or his work could have been edited by someone else, but the statement requires that he was substantially responsible both for the content and for the words of the book....that 'we' [of John 1:16] seems to be deliberately distinguished from the 'we' of v. 14 in that the former is no mere 'we' but 'we all.' There is a distinction here between eyewitness testimony ('we have seen his glory') and the experience of all Christians, who are not all eyewitnesses but who have all received grace from the fullness of grace in Jesus Christ....The preceding context of this statement [in John 1:14] reads: 'The Word became flesh and lived among us...' Whether the 'us' in this case are humanity in general or the eyewitnesses in particular, there is undoubted reference here to the physical presence of the Word in the midst of physical humanity. In this context, to 'see his glory' must surely be to recognize his divine glory in this physical presence....This understanding of [John] 1:14 means that the basis of the Gospel in eyewitness testimony is already indicated in the Prologue, but in such a way that empirical observation and theological perception are inextricable. It is the testimony of those - or of one - who saw the glory of God in the flesh of Jesus Christ, something that neither Jesus' unbelieving contemporaries nor later Christian believers did." (Richard Bauckham, Jesus And The Eyewitnesses [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006], pp. 362, 381, 404)

Friday, February 09, 2007

Around the World in Eighty Daze

It looks like Paul Owen has gone from being a Mormon to being…to being…well, it doesn’t appear that he’s gone anywhere except for taking the long way round to end up right back at square one. He’s racked up a lot of mileage just to come full circle. He could have saved himself a lot of gasoline by sparing himself the roundtrip from Salt Lake City to Salt Lake City.

Jesus on the outside, Moroni on the inside. Welcome to the Church of the Latter Day Repaint.

Isn’t catholicity wonderful?

Mark's Gospel Of Peter

"We have seen that Mark's Gospel has the highest frequency of reference to Peter among the Gospels, and that it uses the inclusio of eyewitness testimony to indicate that Peter was its main eyewitness source....In a neglected article published in 1925, Cuthbert Turner argued that a characteristic aspect of Mark's narrative composition shows that the story is told from the perspective of a member of the Twelve and that this must be because Mark closely reproduces the way Peter told the story. Major English Gospels scholars of the mid-twentieth century were impressed by the evidence: Thomas Manson accepted the argument but proposed that it be used to distinguish Petrine and non-Petrine sources in Mark, while Vincent Taylor, though partly critical, thought that 'it would be fair to claim that these usages suggest that Mark stands nearer to primitive testimony than Matthew or Luke.' I am not aware that the evidence adduced by Turner has been subsequently discussed, but it certainly deserves reconsideration. Turner drew attention to twenty-one passages in Mark in which a plural verb (or more than one plural verb), without an explicit subject, is used to describe the movements of Jesus and his disciples, followed immediately by a singular verb or pronoun referring to Jesus alone....Matthew and Luke have a clear tendency to prefer a singular verb to Mark's plurals encompassing both Jesus and the disciples. Moreover, this same tendency is also, very strikingly, reflected in the variant readings of Mark. In no less than eleven of Mark's twenty-one instances of this narrative feature, there is a variant reading (more or less well supported) that offers a singular verb in place of the plural....Turner thought the Markan third-person plurals in these passages were modifications of a first-person plural, used by an eyewitness 'to whom the plural came natural as being himself an actor in the events he relates.' If 'we' is substituted for 'they' in these passages, they read more naturally, since a distinction between first and third-person is then added to the difference between plural and singular. Turner argued that one passage, awkwardly expressed in Mark's Greek, makes better sense if an underlying 'we' is reconstructed. This is 1:29, where the 'they' can scarcely include more people than Jesus, Simon, Andrew, James, and John, since these four are so far the only disciples (cf. 1:21): [quoting Cuthbert Turner] In one passage in particular, i.29, 'they left the synagogue and came into the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John', the hypothesis that the third person plural of Mark represents a first person plural of Peter makes what as it stands is a curiously awkward phrase into a phrase which is quite easy and coherent. 'We left the synagogue and came into our house with our fellow-disciples James and John. My mother-in-law was in bed with fever, and he is told about her....' [end quote of Cuthbert Turner]...Turner was right to see this narrative feature as adopting the 'point of view' of the group of disciples or of someone within the group. If we are to construe this point of view consistently through all these passages, then it should be that of one of the inner group of disciples - Peter, James, and John - since in some cases it is only they and Jesus who are the understood subject of the plural verb....Peter is both the first and the last disciple to be named in the Gospel, encompassing the whole scope of Jesus' ministry, while Peter is also the most often named disciple in Mark, as well as being named proportionately more often in Mark than in the other Gospels. It is also relevant to observe that Mark first uses the plural-to-singular narrative devise on the first and last occasions Jesus goes anywhere with a group of disciples (1:21, 14:32)....Several literary features combine to give readers/hearers Peter's 'point of view' (internal focalization), usually spatial and visual or auditory, sometimes also psychological. It is this literary construction of the Petrine perspective that has so far gone almost unnoticed in Markan scholarship. Not only has Mark carefully constructed the Petrine perspective; he has also integrated it into his overall concerns and aims in the Gospel so that it serves Mark's dominant focus on the identity of Jesus and the nature of discipleship. Thus, in deliberately preserving the perspective of his main eyewitness source through much of the Gospel, Mark is no less a real author creating his own Gospel out of the traditions he had from Peter (as well as, probably, some others). The perspective is that of Peter among the disciples, whether the inner group of three or more generally the Twelve. The perspective is Peter's 'we' perspective, the perspective of Peter qua member of the group of disciples, rather than an 'I' perspective, that of an individual relating to Jesus without reference to the is Peter's teaching, not his autobiographical reminiscence, that lies behind Mark's Gospel. The Gospel reflects the way Peter, as an apostle commissioned to communicate the gospel of salvation, conveyed the body of eyewitness traditions that he and other members of the Twelve had officially formulated and promulgated....The author of Mark seems to have been bilingual, competent in both Greek and Aramaic, a characteristic that suggests a Palestinian, and most plausibly a Jerusalem Jew. Martin Hengel points to the many Aramaic terms that have been preserved in the Gospel: 'I do not know any other work in Greek which has so many Aramaic or Hebrew words and formulae in so narrow a space.' More recently Maurice Casey has argued that substantial parts, at least, of this Gospel were translated from Aramaic." (Richard Bauckham, Jesus And The Eyewitnesses [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006], pp. 155-159, 161, 179-180, 239)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Do Modern People Have Room for the Wrath of God?

Do Modern People Have Room for the Wrath of God? by Vern Poythress

Names In The Gospels And Acts

"Thus the names of Palestinian Jews in the Gospels and Acts coincide very closely with the names of the general population of Jewish Palestine in this period, but not to the names of Jews in the Diaspora. In this light it becomes very unlikely that the names in the Gospels are late accretions to the traditions. Outside Palestine the appropriate names simply could not have been chosen. Even within Palestine, it would be very surprising if random accretions of names to this or that tradition would fit the actual pattern of names in the general population....Onomastics (the study of names) is a significant resource for assessing the origins of Gospel traditions. The evidence in this chapter shows that the relative frequency of the various personal names in the Gospels corresponds well to the relative frequency in the full database of three thousand individual instances of names in the Palestinian Jewish sources of the period. This correspondence is very unlikely to have resulted from addition of names to the traditions, even within Palestinian Jewish Christianity, and could not possibly have resulted from the addition of names to the traditions outside Jewish Palestine, since the pattern of Jewish name usage in the Diaspora was very different. The usages of the Gospels also correspond closely to the variety of ways in which persons bearing the same very popular names could be distinguished in Palestinian Jewish usage. Again these features of the New Testament data would be difficult to explain as the result of random invention of names within Palestinian Jewish Christianity and impossible to explain as the result of such invention outside Jewish Palestine. All the evidence indicates the general authenticity of the personal names in the Gospels." (Richard Bauckham, Jesus And The Eyewitnesses [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006], pp. 73-74, 84)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Out of Eden

I’ve been asked to answer the question, why has no one discovered the tree or life or the cherubim who were stationed at the entrance to the garden of Eden (Gen 3:24)?

There are many interrelated reasons why this is so.

1.We need to locate the garden in time and space. The narrator situates the garden somewhere in Mesopotamia (Gen 2:10-14). And, indeed, a river valley would be a logical place for God to plant a garden, since the river system would supply a natural irrigation system.

But where in Mesopotamia? Upper or lower Mesopotamia? The natural landmarks are a bit difficult to pin down at this distance in time.

Rivers can change courses or dry out over time. Natural resources can become depleted. Place names can change.

Some scholars locate Eden in lower Mesopotamia. Indeed, they place in what is today the Persian Gulf.

It that event we couldn’t find Eden because Eden is under water!

The alternative location would be somewhere around modern Armenia.

2.On a traditional dating scheme, Eden was planted about 6000 years ago.

For an explanation of how that ballpark figure is calculated, see here:

In the 19C, W. H. Green famously argued that the genealogies have missing links. See his “Primeval Chronology”:

If you find his exegetical argument plausible or persuasive, that would extend the timeline to some degree, although—even if you think the genealogies have gaps—it would violate the narrative viewpoint to turn Adam into a caveman living in Lascaux or Kenya 200,000 years ago.

OECs also extend the timeline by challenging the diurnal sequence of Gen 1 in various ways. That’s not my own position, but I’ll take a rain check on that debate for now. For some counterarguments, see here:

What all can happen in thousands of years?

3.Since Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden, it went untended. What happens to a garden when it’s left untended? It becomes overgrown. Reverts to a state of nature.

Eden would eventually blend into the surrounding wilderness, like those ancient, Mesoamerican ghost towns which were reclaimed by the forest—only Eden had no permanent structures.

4.In a fallen world, nothing lives forever. Trees die. Even redwoods and bristlecones have a finite lifespan.

5.Parts of the Middle East have become desiccated over the millennia. A forest can turn into a desert.

6.Then there’s whatever impact the flood would have had. How much of the flora could survive submersion for a year?

The loss of groundcover could also mean the loss of topsoil when the floodwaters began to recede.

And if Eden was located in the highlands of Armenia, it might also be subject to considerable erosion.

Eyewitness Memory

"There is no evidence that the Pharisees abstained from writing their 'traditions of the fathers.' There is even less reason to suppose that an insistence on oral transmission alone characterized other Jewish groups at the time of Jesus, such as the (highly literary) Qumran community. However, again it is not true that Gerhardsson entirely neglected the role of written materials: he postulated that, just as private notebooks were in fact used by the rabbis and their pupils, so writing, as an aid to memory, could have been used in early Christian circles prior to the Gospels....In a predominantly oral society, not only do people deliberately remember but also teachers formulate their teachings so as to make them easily memorable. It has frequently been observed that Jesus' teaching in its typically Synoptic forms has many features that facilitate remembering. The aphorisms are typically terse and incisive, the narrative parables have a clear and relatively simple plot outline. Even in Greek translation, the only form in which we have them, the sayings of Jesus are recognizably poetic, especially employing parallelism, and many have posited Aramaic originals rich in alliteration, assonance, rhythm, rhyme, and wordplay. These teaching formulations were certainly not created by Jesus ad hoc, in the course of his teaching, but were carefully crafted, designed as concise encapsulations of his teaching that his hearers could take away, remember, ponder, and live by. We cannot suppose that Jesus' oral teaching consisted entirely of such sayings as these. Jesus must have preached much more discursively, but offered these aphorisms and parables as brief but thought-provoking summations of his teaching for his hearers to jot down in their mental notebooks for frequent future recall. (Obviously, therefore, it was these memorable summations that survived, and when the writers of the Synoptic Gospels wished to represent the discursive teaching of Jesus they mostly had to use collections of these sayings.) This kind of encapsulation of teaching in carefully crafted aphorisms to be remembered was the teaching style of the Jewish wisdom teacher. As Rainer Riesner puts it, 'Even the form of the sayings of Jesus included in itself an imperative to remember them.' Jesus' hearers would readily recognize this and would apply to memorable sayings the deliberate practices of committing to memory that they would know were expected....Such notebooks [as ancient rabbis used] were in quite widespread use in the ancient world (2 Tim 4:13 refers to parchment notebooks Paul carried on his travels). It seems more probable than not that early Christians used them....The eyewitnesses who remembered the events of the history of Jesus were remembering inherently very memorable events, unusual events that would have impressed themselves on the memory, events of key significance for those who remembered them, landmark or life-changing events for them in many cases, and their memories would have been reinforced and stabilized by frequent rehearsal, beginning soon after the event. They did not need to remember - and the Gospels rarely record - merely peripheral aspects of the scene or the event, the aspects of recollective memory that are least reliable....We may conclude that the memories of eyewitnesses of the history of Jesus score highly by the criteria for likely reliability that have been established by the psychological study of recollective memory....[quoting Gillian Cohen] Research has tended to emphasize the errors that occur in everyday memory functions. The picture that emerges is of an error-prone system. This emphasis is partly an artefact of research methodology. In experiments it is usually more informative to set task difficulty at a level where people make errors so that the nature of the errors and the conditions that provoke them can be identified....People do make plenty of naturally occurring errors in ordinary life situations, but, arguably, the methodology has produced a somewhat distorted view of memory efficiency. In daily life, memory successes are the norm and memory failures are the exception. People also exhibit remarkable feats of remembering faces and voices from the remote past, and foreign-language vocabulary and childhood experiences over a lifetime. As well as such examples of retention over very long periods, people can retain large amounts of information over shorter periods, as when they prepare for examinations, and sometimes, as in the case of expert knowledge, they acquire a large amount of information and retain it for an indefinitely long time. Considering how grossly it is overloaded, memory in the real world proves remarkably efficient and resilient. [end quote of Gillian Cohen]" (Richard Bauckham, Jesus And The Eyewitnesses [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006], pp. 252, 282, 288, 346, 357)

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Leaning on a weak reed

Many people don’t believe the Bible because the Bible is soooo unscientific. Here’s a revealing window on the world of contemporary physics:


Stringing physics along
Review: February 2007

The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next_Lee Smolin_2006 Houghton Mifflin 416pp £25.00/$26.00hb

"Hypotheses non fingo," wrote Isaac Newton 300 years ago in the second edition of his Principia Mathematica. It has been variously translated as "I do not make hypotheses" or "I do not feign hypotheses". Instead, Newton established laws of nature such as his theory of universal gravitation – simple, economical equations of broad explanatory power able to account for diverse phenomena both known and yet to be observed. His natural philosophy became the dominant paradigm of the mechanical world-view and, more generally, what we call the scientific method.

In the last few decades, however, physical theory has drifted away from the professional norms advocated by Newton and other enlightenment philosophers. A vast outpouring of hypotheses has occurred under the umbrella of what is widely called string theory. But string theory is not really a "theory" at all – at least not in the strict sense that scientists generally use the term. It is instead a dense, weedy thicket of hypotheses and conjectures badly in need of pruning.

That pruning, however, can come only from observation and experiment, to which string theory (a phrase I will grudgingly continue using) is largely inaccessible. String theory was invented in the 1970s in the wake of the Standard Model of particle physics. Encouraged by the success of gauge theories of the strong, weak and electromagnetic forces, theorists tried to extend similar ideas to energy and distance scales that are orders of magnitude beyond what can be readily observed or measured. The normal, healthy intercourse between theory and experiment – which had led to the Standard Model – has broken down, and fundamental physics now finds itself in a state of crisis.

Lee Smolin, a theorist at the Perimeter Institute, Waterloo, Canada, has written a thoughtful, provocative book that squarely addresses these problems and advocates a solution in bold new approaches to physics. A principal aim of The Trouble with Physics is to re-engage theory with what actually occurs, or may occur, in the realm of observable phenomena. The book also addresses such core questions as: Why do quarks, leptons and gauge bosons have the diverse masses they possess? What are dark matter and dark energy? How can quantum mechanics and general relativity be combined into a single theory?

String theory originally shared most of these goals, but it got caught up in its own mathematical beauty. Like Narcissus, it increasingly began to contemplate its own reflection, to the exclusion of observable phenomena. To evade comparisons with dross reality, for instance, string theorists have invoked an unseen "metaverse" of parallel universes corresponding to the "landscape" of 10500 possible solutions that might exist. The fact that our universe has spawned galaxies, stars, planets and intelligent life is explained away by the anthropic principle. Of late, a few leading theorists have even begun to suggest a radical new philosophy of science, rejecting Newton, in which hypotheses no longer require observable evidence in order to be accepted as valid theories. To a hardened experimenter like me, this is blasphemy.

So it is refreshing to hear from a theorist – one who was deeply involved with string theory and championed it in his previous book, Three Roads to Quantum Gravity – that all is not well in this closeted realm. Smolin argues from the outset that viable hypotheses must lead to observable consequences by which they can be tested and judged. That is, they have to be falsifiable. Newton's theory of gravitation, for example, could later account for the orbit of Halley's Comet – not just those of the Moon and planets for which it was originally formulated. But string theory by its very nature does not allow for such probing, according to Smolin, and therefore it must be considered as an unprovable conjecture.

The Real Reason Blogger Has Problems

All of us using Blogger know the drill. We sign in to the dashboard...oops, Blogger is down yet again; or we go visit a blog to read, and, oops, Blogger is down...again.

The intrepid reporters at Tominthebox have uncovered the real reason.


I must disagree, however, the real reason is that the Devil Priest James White is discussing textual criticism on the DL! Yes, that's right, all them 'xandrian manuscripts is whut's making God call down His judgment on us all!

John W. Montgomery on The "New" Atheism

John Montgomery was on Issues, Etc. yesterday (Feb. 5) dealing with The New Atheists, responding to audio clips, etc:

Part 1
Part 2

HT: Jeff Downs

The Great Divorce

Ebon Muse has posted a book review of The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis.

HT: Victor Reppert.

Let me begin by saying that, at an artistic level, I think The Great Divorce is one of Lewis's lesser efforts.

Lewis was both a man of ideas and a man of imagination. When the two come together, the fusion is ideal. But sometimes the ideas overpower the story.

I also think that there are some serious deficiencies in his theology. And his treatment of hell does disclose some tensions in his theological outlook. That said, let's consider Ebon's objections:

"Regrettably, Lewis has fallen into the same trap many proselytizing Christians fall into when they attempt to speak on behalf of nonbelievers: the black-and-white, us-against-the-world view of fundamentalism that recognizes no similarities between those who believe and those who do not, the mindset that will not for a second entertain the idea that anyone who believes differently might do so for honest or intellectually convincing (even if only to them) reasons, or that such people can ever be moral. In the pages of this book, all born-again Christians are portrayed as noble, kind-hearted, selfless and honest, while all nonbelievers are portrayed as evil, selfish and insincere. Well-poisoning, ad hominem attacks, and other fallacious tactics are frequently deployed, and the sincerity of non-Christians' motives is constantly questioned and slandered. Few converts will be won by such a distrustful attitude. Until Christian proselytizers recognize that those who disagree with them are still human beings with their own thoughts, feelings and honestly held opinions, no meaningful dialogue between the two groups will ever be possible."

There are a couple of problems with this criticism:

1. One problem with this characterization is the way it overlooks the well-known fact that Lewis had been on both sides of this fence. He knew atheism from the inside out. So this is not a caricature.

One might also compare Lewis with a couple of his contemporaries, such as T. S. Eliot, both before his conversion (The Waste Land; The Hollow Men) and afterwards (Ash Wednesday; the Four Quartets). Or the early novels of Hemingway, reflecting postwar disillusionment.

2. Another problem is the way Ebon ignores the fact that this is a depiction of the afterlife. So it does accentuate the extremes of virtue and vice. Believers become their best selves while unbelievers become their worst selves.

It isn't meant to be true to life here and now. In the afterlife, the mixed motives and moral ambiguities are gone.

Moving along:

"I would also point out one further injustice of Lewis' conception: there is no real punishment in his Hell. Even the damned who were truly evil during life, those who deserve to be there as much as anyone does, are not made to pay for their deeds in any meaningful way - they are not made to see the wrongness of what they did."

But how does this square with Ebon's other accusations?

"As well, it might be argued that Lewis' Christianity itself - its gloomy and stifling claims about universal depravity and the inevitable damnation of the majority of humankind, its cruel and vengeful God."

"In essence, he is saying, the good people in Heaven should not be troubled by the suffering and misery of the damned."

"It further reinforces the facts that any god who would create Hell would be a monster."

Ebon can't seem to make up his mind. On the one hand, he objects that, in Lewis' depiction of hell, the damned suffer no real punishment. They don't get what they deserve.

On the other hand, he objects that, in Lewis' depiction of hell, the damned endure so much misery and suffering that only a cruel, vengeful, and monstrous God would condemn people to hell.

So which is it?

Another problem, which is all too typical of those who oppose the doctrine of hell, is a traditional conception of hell which owes more to Dante, Hieronymous Bosch, Jonathan Edwards, and horrific B-movies than it does to the actual teaching of Scripture.

The opponent of hell has inherited a literary and artistic tradition of hell, and what he spends his time attacking is this extrascriptural tradition rather than the scriptural depiction.

We need to take a few paces back an exegete Scripture, making due allowance for a degree of figurative imagery.

On the one hand, I think that sound exegesis rules out universalism, annihilationism, and postmortem evangelism.

And hell is certainly a place of punishment, where retributive justice reigns supreme.

On the other hand, once you bracket the picturesque metaphors, the Bible doesn't have a whole lot to say about how justice is exacted on the damned.

This has been filled in over the centuries by literary license and artistic imagination. But let's not confuse that extrascriptural overlay with the core teaching of Scripture.

Finally, Ebon wraps up his attack on this hortatory note:

"What is the solution? Shall we dream up a universalist afterlife where all human beings, perhaps after undergoing a punishment commensurate with the harm they caused to others during life, will be admitted to an eternity of happiness? There is nothing stopping us from inventing such pleasant fantasies, but the problem is that all afterlife scenarios suffer alike from the same lack of confirming evidence. At best, such beliefs inspire complacency in the face of the world's troubles; at worst, they encourage people to throw away what may be the only life they will ever have in futile pursuit of a mirage. Rather than waiting for Heaven to come to us, we should seek to create it ourselves, and make this world a place where hopes of an afterlife where all injustices will be put right are unnecessary. We can only hope that when humanity finally matures, both the pleasing daydreams and the dark nightmares of theism will finally be set aside."

This is boilerplate humanism. And it suffers from two or three problems:

1. It disregards the many arguments for the truth of Christianity.

2. Ironically, it substitutes a secular millennialism for scriptural eschatology.

What is the source of all the world's injustices? Us. Human beings.

That is why human beings can never roll up their shirtsleeves and put an end to injustice. That's like asking the Gambinos to crack down on organized crime. The source of the problem cannot be the source of the solution.

In the end, it's Ebon Muse who pursues a utopian mirage. And that's been tried before.

3. Notice how angered and offended he is at Lewis' rather tame novella. Clearly Lewis hit a raw nerve. Cut too close to the bone of Ebon's insecurities.

In The Great Divorce, Lewis is, to some degree, the anti-Macdonald, opposing the universalism of his literary mentor.

Yet he is also the anti-Dante. The Great Divorce is the anti-Inferno. Lewis is trying to take the sting out of hell. Remove the stigma. Make hell more morally, emotionally, and intellectually respectable to modern sensibilities.

But even his kinder, gentler vision of hell is too threatening to Ebon Muse. Ebon fears the very thing he denies. Denies it because he fears it.

Eyewitness Testimony In Ancient Sources

"The ancient historians - such as Thucydides, Polybius, Josephus, and Tacitus - were convinced that true history could be written only while events were still within living memory, and they valued as their sources the oral reports of direct experience of the events by involved participants in them. Ideally, the historian himself should have been a participant in the events he narrates - as, for example, Xenophon, Thucydides, and Josephus were - but, since he could not have been at all the events he recounts or in all the places he describes, the historian had also to rely on eyewitnesses whose living voices he could hear and whom he could question himself...Of course, not all historians lived up to these ideals, and most employed oral traditions and written sources at least to supplement their own knowledge of the events and the reports of other eyewitnesses. But the standards set by Thucydides and Polybius were historiographic best practice, to which other historians aspired or at least paid lip-service. Good historians were highly critical of those who relied largely on written sources. That some historians pretended to firsthand knowledge they did not really have is backhanded support for the acknowledged necessity of eyewitness testimony in historiography....What mattered to Papias, as a collector and would-be recorder of Gospel traditions, was that there were eyewitnesses, some still around, and access to them through brief and verifiable channels of named informants. It is natural to suppose that those who were writing Gospels (our canonical Gospels) at the time of which Papias speaks would have gone about their task similarly, as indeed the preface to Luke's Gospel confirms. For the purpose of recording Gospel traditions in writing, Evangelists would have gone either to eyewitnesses or to the most reliable sources that had direct personal links with the eyewitnesses. Collective tradition as such would not have been the preferred source....In the present chapter we have shown that three of the Gospels - those of Mark, Luke, and John - make use of the historiographic principle that the most authoritative eyewitness is one who was present at the events narrated from their beginning to their end and can therefore vouch for the overall shape of the story as well as for specific key events....these three Gospels use the literary device we have called the inclusio of eyewitness testimony. This is a convention also deployed in two later Greek biographies, by Lucian and Porphyry, which may lend further weight to the identification of the inclusio of eyewitness testimony in three of the Gospels....Thus, contrary to first impressions, with which most Gospels scholars have been content, the Gospels do have their own literary ways of indicating their eyewitness sources. If it be asked why these are not more obvious and explicit in our eyes, we should note that most ancient readers or hearers of these works, unlike scholars of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, would have expected them to have eyewitness sources, and that those readers or hearers to whom the identity of the eyewitnesses was important would have been alert to the indications the Gospels actually provide....Historians in antiquity did not name their eyewitness sources as a matter of course, but in specific cases they did...In their close relationship to eyewitness testimony the Gospels conform to the best practice of ancient historiography." (Richard Bauckham, Jesus And The Eyewitnesses [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006], pp. 8-9, 34, 146-147, n. 35 on p. 304, 310)

Monday, February 05, 2007

The tail wagging the god

John Loftus' quality of reasoning is definitely going to the dogs—quite literally.

Puppy love as atheology!

This is his finest argument since birdman.

However, as I read through his three-hanky, I couldn't help thinking of Willard. You remember Willard, don't you? The classic horror flick about a social misfit with his pet killer rats.

Now, if only Loftus would substitute a few beady-eyed rodents for that cute, cuddly picture of the Basset Hound, I wonder if his argument from evil would still tug at the heartstrings. Hmm.

The Cambrian Explosion: Biology’s Big Bang

The Cambrian Explosion: Biology’s Big Bang by Stephen Meyer, Marcus Ross, and Paul Chien.

Initial Impressions Of Richard Bauckham's Book

I recently finished reading Richard Bauckham's Jesus And The Eyewitnesses (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006). I've already linked to reviews by Chris Tilling and Ben Witherington, and Patrick Chan has linked to a review by Craig Blomberg. A lot of what needs to be said about the book has already been said.

The role of eyewitnesses in shaping the New Testament and early Christianity is stated explicitly in many early sources, and it would be reasonable to expect eyewitnesses to be highly influential even without any explicit discussion of the subject in the early documents. Bauckham adds stength to a case that was already strong by bringing attention to a lot of less explicit evidence that's often neglected. It seems likely that the neglect of such evidence, both the more explicit evidence and the less explicit evidence, is often due to the fact that some scholars don't like the implications that follow. Bauckham repeatedly refers to conclusions that some scholars reach with "no evidence" (p. 278) or in the teeth of large amounts of contrary evidence. For example:

"It is a curious fact that nearly all the contentions of the early form critics have by now been convincingly refuted, but the general picture of the process of oral transmission that the form critics pioneered still governs the way most New Testament scholars think." (p. 242)

He comments on how the study of memory hasn't been given much attention by form critics or by New Testament scholars in general (pp. 310-311, 319-320). Bauckham addresses the issue of memory in depth, and his conclusions render many of the theories of modern scholars, particularly more liberal scholars, implausible. Human memory isn't as bad as the more critical theories of Christian origins require.

Bauckham also effectively draws out the implications of the larger context in which Christianity originated. It was commonplace to seek out eyewitness testimony, and the people of the ancient world were often critical of non-eyewitness testimony and miracle claims in particular. Bauckham cites a common expression, found in multiple sources, to the effect that eyes are better witnesses than ears. In other words, eyewitness sources should be sought out rather than relying on sources who only heard an account with their ears. Bauckham cites many extra-Biblical parallels to the circumstances and literary practices of early Christianity. We can often tell that the early Christians were interested in eyewitness testimony because they express that interest in the same manner in which non-Christian sources did.

The book is a little over 500 pages long, and it discusses many subjects and goes into a lot of detail. I'm planning to post some excerpts in the coming days, but I'll only be able to scratch the surface. It's a good book, and I recommend reading it.

I do have some disagreements with Bauckham. One of my biggest disagreements is over the authorship of the Johannine documents. He makes a good case for authorship of the fourth gospel by a disciple of Jesus named John, but he argues for a John other than the son of Zebedee. His view is similar to Martin Hengel's. D.A. Carson is supposed to respond to Bauckham's argument in a commentary on the Johannine epistles that is, as far as I know, not out yet (D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo, An Introduction To The New Testament [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005], n. 23 on p. 235). I assume that, if Carson was still working on the commentary when Bauckham's book came out, he'll include a discussion of Bauckham's latest arguments on the subject. I'm sure that Carson's evaluation of Bauckham's case will be better than mine, but I want to mention some of my initial impressions on the issue after reading Bauckham's book. He discusses this authorship issue at length and in multiple parts of the book. I can't interact with every detail of his argument in an article like this, and I might forget or misunderstand some of the points he made. I'm going by my initial impressions after reading a book that's more than 500 pages long. I did take notes, but not of every detail.

I still believe that the fourth gospel was written by the son of Zebedee, and here are some of the problems I see with Bauckham's case:

- He doesn't produce any explicit evidence that a second disciple of Jesus named John even existed, much less that this second John authored the fourth gospel. All of the evidence he cites, without exception, is of a highly ambiguous nature. For example, while it's true that the Muratorian Canon calls John "disciple" while calling Andrew "apostle", the terminology is too fluid to give much weight to Bauckham's argument. Bauckham himself cites examples of both terms being used of the same class of people in other second century sources. While the disciple/apostle distinction does add some weight to Bauckham's case, he needs evidence much weightier in order to overcome the large amount of more explicit evidence supporting authorship by the son of Zebedee. Similarly, while Polycrates' reference to John as "wearing the high-priestly frontlet" might be derived from Acts 4:6, it seems highly unlikely that Polycrates would have seen the John in that passage as a close disciple of Jesus, and, once again, Bauckham himself mentions some reasonable alternatives that would reconcile Polycrates with authorship of the fourth gospel by the son of Zebedee. Again, Bauckham needs much weightier evidence if he's to overcome the large amount of explicit evidence supporting the traditional view.

- All of the evidence he cites against authorship by the son of Zebedee is highly ambiguous. He asks why the fourth gospel would keep referring to the author as "the beloved disciple", without naming him, then name him in passing in John 21:2. But John 21:2 doesn't name the beloved disciple. It names a group that includes him (the sons of Zebedee). I'm not aware of any explicit evidence against authorship by John the son of Zebedee, in Bauckham's book or anywhere else.

- The second John who Bauckham argues for is supposed to have been close to Jesus as His beloved disciple. Yet, none of the other three gospels, Acts, or the writings of Paul mention this second John. They all mention the son of Zebedee. Bauckham notes that the sons of Zebedee are "barely" in the fourth gospel at all (p. 403), which would be a significant contrast with the other gospels and other early sources. But if the beloved disciple is one of the sons of Zebedee, then the fourth gospel would be more consistent with other early sources with regard to the prominence of the sons of Zebedee. The traditional view that the beloved disciple is John the son of Zebedee makes better sense than Bauckham's theory in this context.

- Bauckham points out that Irenaeus sometimes refers to people other than the Twelve as "apostles", so that he might have somebody outside the Twelve in view when he refers to the author of the fourth gospel as an apostle. That's true. But given the fact that the son of Zebedee was more prominent than Bauckham's second John (assuming that second John's existence), shouldn't we assume that the son of Zebedee is more likely in view when a John is referred to as "apostle" without any attempt to add further qualifiers? If Bauckham's John was considered an apostle, it would have to be in some lesser sense than the sense in which the son of Zebedee was an apostle. An unqualified reference to a John who is an apostle is more likely to refer to a John who was an apostle in the highest sense.

- As far as I recall, Bauckham never addressed the fact that the beloved disciple in the fourth gospel is close to Peter (13:23-24, 20:2-3, 21:20), something we know to be true of the son of Zebedee in the other three gospels, Acts, and Galatians (Mark 5:37, 9:2, Acts 3:1-4:23, 8:14-25, Galatians 2:9, etc.). Apparently, we're supposed to believe that not only was there a second disciple of Jesus named John who became universally confused with another John, but we're also supposed to believe that this second John shared the characteristics of being a close disciple of Jesus and being close to Peter, two characteristics that we know to be true of the son of Zebedee. In other words, Bauckham's theory doesn't just suggest that these two Johns were similar in sharing the same name. It also suggests that they were similar in other unusual ways.

- Bauckham acknowledges that some second century sources identified the son of Zebedee as the author of the fourth gospel, and he comments that attribution to the son of Zebedee seems to be "universal" in the third century (p. 452). If sources of the late second century, such as the Muratorian Canon and Polycrates, were still attributing the fourth gospel to some other John, then how likely is it that attribution to the son of Zebedee would be universal in the third century? Some of those third century sources lived in the second century also. If a large variety of second century sources identify the author of the fourth gospel as a person named John, all of those references can reasonably be identified as the son of Zebedee, Bauckham acknowledges that some of them are references to the son of Zebedee, and attribution to the son of Zebedee seems to be universal in the third century, then why should we think that proposing a second John never explicitly mentioned anywhere makes better sense of the evidence?

- As far as I know, the earliest source to explicitly advocate the theory of a second John is Dionysius of Alexandria, around the middle of the third century. He doesn't seem to have known of any long-standing tradition of a second John, but instead was speculating on the basis of internal evidence and what he had heard about the existence of tombs for more than one John in the city of Ephesus (Eusebius, Church History, 7:25). Similarly, not long after Dionysius, Eusebius (Church History, 3:39:5-7) offers another speculative and unlikely argument for another John based on a passage in the writings of Papias and an appeal to Dionysius' argument for two tombs of John in Ephesus. Both men would have had reason for mentioning a long-standing tradition of the existence of multiple Johns, but they don't. If their highly speculative theories left explicit traces in the historical record, and other theories about authorship by somebody other than the son of Zebedee left explicit traces in the historical record (the claim by the Alogoi that Cerinthus wrote the Johannine documents), doesn't it seem likely that arguments surrounding the existence of Bauckham's second John would have left more explicit traces? Instead, he has to rely on highly questionable readings of sources like Papias, the Muratorian Canon, and Polycrates.

- Bauckham repeatedly states or suggests that early Christian sources would have had a strong desire to attribute the Johannine documents to the son of Zebedee rather than Bauckham's second John. But if that second John was not only a disciple of Jesus, but even Jesus' close "beloved disciple", then why would the early Christians have much of a problem with attributing documents to him? They attributed documents to Mark, Paul, Barnabas, and other men who weren't as close to Jesus as the beloved disciple was. What motive would have been so strong as to result in a universal replacement of Bauckham's second John with the son of Zebedee? Bauckham never proposes a motive that I would consider anywhere close to sufficient.

- The idea that Eusebius or other early Christians were trying to suppress what Papias wrote about a second John is highly unlikely. Papias' work was extant until the Middle Ages, and a large variety of people had access to it and commented on it. (See here.) Some of the people who commented on it either say that Papias attributes the fourth gospel to the son of Zebedee or write as if Papias' testimony is consistent with that conclusion. I don't remember Bauckham ever discussing this fact in his book. At the web site linked above, see the comments of George the Sinner and Balthasar Cordier. If Bauckham is correct about his second John and the son of Zebedee becoming merged into one person in the minds of later sources, then when a later source like Jerome refers to how Papias was a disciple of John the evangelist, shouldn't we conclude that Jerome had John the son of Zebedee in mind? But if Papias refers to some second John instead in his writings, writings that men like Jerome had access to, wouldn't they know that some other John was in view? If somebody like Eusebius was deliberately ignoring what Papias said about a second John, then what about all of the other sources who also had access to Papias' writings and who either state or suggest that the John in question is the son of Zebedee? Were all of these other sources suppressing the truth along with Eusebius? Did all of them misread Papias?

Again, I would expect D.A. Carson to offer a better response to Bauckham on this issue than I can. I hope that Craig Keener, Craig Blomberg, and other advocates of the traditional view will also interact with Bauckham on this point.

I think that Bauckham's theory is the second best option available, but authorship by John the son of Zebedee still best explains the evidence. Though I disagree with Bauckham on this point, I think highly of him as a scholar, and I recommend his book. I consider it one of the most significant books in Biblical scholarship in recent years.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Dawkins-of-the-gaps hypothesis

Check out this "interview."

Nouthetic counseling

Last Sunday a guest speaker at church did a little promo for an upcoming seminar on nouthetic counseling. Since this movement has a following in some Reformed circles, I’ll take the occasion to briefly evaluate nouthetic counseling.

I. Preliminaries

Nouthetic counseling was founded by Jay Adams. Adams is even better known as a world-class skateboarder.

On second thought, that’s a different Jay Adams. Sorry ‘bout that!

Moving along—as soon as you slap a “Reformed” adjective ontp something or another, a number of people in the Reformed community let down their guard. “Well, if it’s ‘Reformed,’ then it must be good!”

But we need to observe a few cautions:

1.The fact that a Calvinist may believe in something doesn’t automatically make his belief a Reformed distinctive or Reformed essential. Let’s not confuse an adventitious association with a logical implication.

For example, Harold Camping made a name for himself as a Calvinist. But this doesn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, mean that some of his eccentric beliefs are the least bit Calvinistic.

2.Even if something is Reformed, there can sometimes be more than one Reformed viewpoint.

3.And even if something is Reformed, it still needs to acquit itself before the bar of Scripture.

I don’t say any of this in criticism of nouthetic counseling. But just as a reminder that not everything which flies under the banner of Calvinism should go unexamined.

II. The Upside

1.There’s no doubt that modern psychology is chock-full of quackery and irreligious ideology. Indeed, the two often go together. Irreligious ideology promotes quackery, while quacks promote irreligious ideology.

Nouthetic counseling has rightly summed us to be alert to the humanism and charlatanism embedded in so much modern psychology.

2.Apropos (1), it’s often impossible to give sound advice without a sound view of human nature or morality. This Bible is the first place we should turn for such guidance.

Once again, nouthetic counseling has rightly redirected the conversation.

3.Adams has accentuated the importance of behavior modification. Not merely the attempt to break off bad habits, but forming good habits to take the place of bad habits. Up to a point, this is useful advice.

4.Although Adams is best known for nouthetic counseling, he has also written a number of very useful books on preaching. Indeed, I regard his writing in the field of homiletics as preferable to his psychological stuff.

5.Adams has the voice, vernacular, and stage-presence of a natural-born preacher. Some of his taped sermons are good models of manly preaching.

III. The Downside

Adams is a reactionary. As such, he’s distinguished by the strengths and weaknesses of a reactionary.

1.Certainly we should look to the Bible as our primary source of guidance. When, however, we look to the Bible, we also find that the Bible points us to the real world as another source of knowledge.

To the extent that modern psychology can never entirely escape natural revelation or common grace, there is much to be gleaned from a discriminating study of modern psychology.

We can learn from experience. We can learn from case studies. We can learn from abnormal psychology, child psychology, clinical psychology, criminal psychology, empirical psychology, parapsychology, neuropsychology, neuropharmacology, psycholinguistics, psychoendrocrinology, &c.

There’s an anti-scientific bias to nouthetic counseling, but Calvinism has a doctrine of ordinary providence.

2.Apropos (1), we can also learn a thing or two from Christian practioners outside the Reformed stable, such as Paul C. Vitz, Gary Collins, Paul Meier, Norman Wright, and James Dobson.

3.Nouthetic counseling has a problem with mental illness. Ironically, Adams is also influenced by academic fads and secular authors. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a fellow Calvinist, has pointed out:


The third category [of illness] to which your patient, or enquirer, may belong is the psychological. I use that general term, but if you prefer it, it could be “mental illness.” This is at the present time an important consideration because we are now in the midst of one of the latest crazes, or fashions, in the Christian, and even evangelical, world. The concept of “mental illness” has come under attack at the present time, mainly as the result of the writings of Thomas Szasz…Unfortunately, too, he now has a number of followers who are writing up his views in popular books. One of the best known is Jay Adams with his widely selling Competent to Counsel. But he is just a popularizer of Thomas Szasz and he is simply affirming, with Szasz, that there is no such entity as mental illness, that patients are really suffering from sin and need to be dealt with purely in a scriptural manner,” Healing & the Scriptures (T. Nelson 1988), 153,155.


4.Apropos (3), the proudly amateurish quality of nouthetic counseling would potentially endanger a counselee who suffers from mental illness.

For example, nouthetic counseling doesn’t have much use for psychotropic drugs. Indeed, a nouthetic counselor, unlike a psychiatrist, lacks the medical training or certification to administer psychotropic drugs.

Now there’s no doubt that we live in an overmedicated culture. But this doesn’t mean that mental illness is an illusion, or that mental illness can never be treated by psychotropic drugs.

5.Because nouthetic counseling is theologically oriented, it is only as good as the theology feeding into it.

For example, on matters of divorce and remarriage, it is only as good as its exegesis of the pertinent passages of Scripture. And, in that respect, there’s no particular reason why we should first turn to Jay Adams or some disciple of his for the exegesis of Gen 2 or Mt 19 or 1 Cor 7. Begin with the leading commentators.

In my opinion, Adams is not a terribly discerning or reliable exegete.

6.Likewise, Adams is a cessationist. And since nouthetic counseling is theologically-oriented, this has a direct impact on a certain type of counselee.

Adams doesn’t believe in demonic possession during the church age, or other forms of occultic bondage.

But if he’s wrong on that, then nouthetic counseling will be ineffectual at best, and harmful at worst, in dealing with a counselee who is suffering from some form of demonic oppression.

7.Adams has a rather mechanical, push-bottom approach to sanctification, as if by running down a checklist you can outgrow a besetting sin or compulsive behavior.

But our sins and character-traits are often far more entrenched than that lawnmower will successfully uproot.

8.Apropos (7), nouthetic counseling fosters a cookie-cutter attitude towards the counselee. You don’t really listen to them. Or you only listen long enough to locate them in a preexisting slot, then quote Scripture to them.

In my opinion, a number of the Puritans, like William Ames, Richard Sibbes, and Richard Baxter were far better at dealing with cases of conscience than the fairly formulaic and confrontational methods of nouthetic counseling, viz.

The Bruised Reed (Puritan Paperbacks) (Banner of Truth Trust)
by Richard Sibbes

ISBN#: 851517404

Works of Richard Sibbes. Volume 1 (Banner of Truth 1973)

Conscience: With the Power and Cases Thereof (Still Waters Revival Books, reprint)
by William Ames

Christian Directory (Soli Deo Gloria Ministries; New Ed edition 1997)
by Richard Baxter, J. I. Packer

9.And don’t forget to read commentators like Waltke and Longman on the Book of Proverbs.

10.Finally, Christian bloggers like Jeremy Pierce, Adrian Warnocke, and JollyBlogger have evaluated nouthetic counseling in the past. Check it out.

Blanshard on The Problem of Evil

"The treatment of evil by theology seems to me an intellectual disgrace. The question at issue is a straightforward one: how are the actual amount and distribution of evil to be reconciled with the government of the world by a God which is in our sense good?" -Blanshard, Reason and Belief, 546

Well that's the problem, isn't it? Talk about stacking the deck in your favor. I can just as easily say:

"The treatment of evil by atheology seems to me an intellectual disgrace. The question at issue is a straightforward one: how are the actual amount and distribution of evil to be considered problematic with the government of the world by a God which is in God's sense good?"

Furthermore, why is "our sense of good," considered good? Is it "good" to allow mothers their own "choice" in the matter of the unborn they carry? To not tie them down with the hassle of children (mistakes) if they don't want to be? To complain about a God who (allegedly) commits mass murder, while we do the same, seems a bit prejudicial. Seems a bit hypocritical. And, just who is the "we" Blanshard is referring to? Cannibals? Christians? Islamic terrorists? Secular humanists?

At any rate, as you can see with Blanshard, the problem of evil for most atheologians stems from what they take to be good or evil. But I don't think it's an understatement to claim that most people would agree with the tautology that if the secular humanist assumes that man is the highest standard, and then gets to define evil as whatever is offensive to man, or lowers him from his exalted platform, and good as whatever lifts man up, places him on the pedestal he deserves, then the argument from evil which runs thus: The amount of evil in this world is hard to reconcile with a God who is supposed be good in the above sense of good, seems to follow most naturally (at least if you're a moral realist).

But without that assumption, without the importing of secular humanism on to the Christian God, the argument doesn't even get off the ground. The great Blanshard's argument was foiled before it began. It may cause secular humanists to pat each other on the back while they mock the Christian God at their candlelight dinners, but the theist doesn't even bat an eyelash at this. It doesn't register on our radar. People say that the problem of evil is a problem for the theist too. But what is the problem of evil? If it's really no more than what Balnshard suggests - that God isn't good in the sinners sense of good - then, rather than having a problem, I wholeheartedly concur. But this is about as problematic as saying that my 7 year old can't hit hard in the Mirco Cro Cop sense of "hit hard."

You want some advice from a Christian theist? You want to have us take seriously your problem of evil argument? Well, I suggest an argument which shows that if the Christian worldview were true, what God allows and ordains is atrocious. That is, give a de jure objection that is not independent of the de facto question. Sure, we may have a psychological problem with evil, we may fail to act consistent with our worldview by not trusting God that he "works all things together for good after the council of His will," but as for an objection aimed at the rationality of belief in God, or against God's existence, though we may try to help you see the error of your argument, it really doesn't cause us to bat an eyelash.

Arguments for evolution

The arguments for evolution seem to take two or three stereotypical forms:

1. The Default Argument (a la Dawkins):

i) The spontaneous origin/evolution of life is wildly improbable.

ii) However, the existence of God is even more improbable since God would have to be more complex than anything he designed.

iii) Hence, naturalistic evolution still comes out on top by process of elimination.

iv) Given (i)-(iii), even if we had no physical evidence for evolution, the theory of evolution would still be warranted. Indeed, there is no justifiable alternative.

v) Given (iv), we don’t need any physical evidence for a stepwise, evolutionary pathway. It is sufficient to postulate a hypothetical pathway.

vi) Given (iv), we don’t even need to spell out a stepwise, working model. It is sufficient to postulate that B co-opted A on the way to C.

vii) Given (iv), we can substitute computer simulations for physical evidence.

2. The Metascientific Argument (a la Lewontin)

i) By definition, the scientific method is predicated on the uniformity of nature.

ii) Creationism, whether in the form of special creation or theistic evolution, would violate the uniformity of nature, and thereby undermine the scientific method.

iii) Given (i)-(ii), the only scientific explanation for the origin and/or development of life will be a naturalistic explanation.

iv) Hence, the scientific presumption will invariably favor naturalistic evolution, even if we had no physical evidence or feasible theories for naturalistic evolution.

3. The Cumulative Argument (a la Ernest Mayr)

i) The best evidence for evolution is the fossil record.

ii) Unfortunately, the fossil evidence for evolution is underdetermined by the fossil record because the fossil record is incomplete.

iii) However, we can supplement the fossil record with other, admittedly inferior, lines of evidence (e.g. morphology, microbiology, biogeography).

Hillary Clinton's Religious Roots

Newsweek has an article on the subject.