Saturday, March 17, 2007

Interpreting The Church Fathers

In another thread, I gave Orthodox two links to articles I've written about the sinlessness of Mary (here and here). In response, he wrote:

"If we just take the identified ECFs here, and not the commentaries, there's nothing here about Mary sinning. One quote about Mary not being perfectly righteous (orthodox would say she was born with the propensity to sin of Adam, thus she did lack something to be perfectly righteous.) a quote about Jesus being the only 'Man' who was sinless. Then a bunch of quotes about various things that occured in Jesus' life where you are apparently ASSUMING that must mean she is thought to have sinned."

Notice the unreasonable manner in which he interprets "man". Notice how he ignores the use of other terms in these sources, like "all", not just "man". Notice how he tries to avoid interacting with the scholars I cited, since those scholars aren't original documents.

Here are some examples of what these patristic sources said about Mary. Read these comments of John Chrysostom and see if you, like Orthodox, are unable to discern any references to Mary as a sinner:

"even to have borne Christ in the womb, and to have brought forth that marvellous birth, hath no profit, if there be not virtue. And this is hence especially manifest. 'For while He yet talked to the people,' it is said, 'one told Him, Thy mother and Thy brethren seek Thee. Butt He saith, who is my mother, and who are my brethren?' [Matthew 12:46-48] And this He said, not as being ashamed of His mother, nor denying her that bare Him; for if He had been ashamed of her, He would not have passed through that womb; but as declaring that she hath no advantage from this, unless she do all that is required to be done. For in fact that which she had essayed to do, was of superfluous vanity; in that she wanted to show the people that she hath power and authority over her Son, imagining not as yet anything great concerning Him; whence also her unseasonable approach. See at all events both her self-confidence and theirs. Since when they ought to have gone in, and listened with the multitude; or if they were not so minded, to have waited for His bringing His discourse to an end, and then to have come near; they call Him out, and do this before all, evincing a superfluous vanity, and wishing to make it appear, that with much authority they enjoin Him. And this too the evangelist shows that he is blaming, for with this very allusion did he thus express himself, 'While He yet talked to the people;' as if he should say, What? was there no other opportunity? Why, was it not possible to speak with Him in private?" (Homilies On Matthew, 44)

"For where parents cause no impediment or hindrance in things belonging to God, it is our bounden duty to give way to them, and there is great danger in not doing so; but when they require anything unseasonably, and cause hindrance in any spiritual matter, it is unsafe to obey. And therefore He answered thus in this place, and again elsewhere, 'Who is My mother, and who are My brethren?' [Matthew 12:48], because they did not yet think rightly of Him; and she, because she had borne Him, claimed, according to the custom of other mothers, to direct Him in all things, when she ought to have reverenced and worshiped Him. This then was the reason why He answered as He did on that occassion....And so this was a reason why He rebuked her on that occasion, saying, 'Woman, what have I to do with thee?' [John 2:4] instructing her for the future not to do the like; because, though He was careful to honor His mother, yet He cared much for the salvation of her soul" (Homilies On John, 21)

We've already repeatedly seen Orthodox's poor exegetical skills with regard to scripture. He seems to have a lot of problems with interpreting the church fathers as well.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Praying To The Deceased

In another thread, Orthodox wrote the following in defense of praying to the deceased:

"St. Cyprian of Carthage writing to Pope Cornelius of Rome said that the Saints should keep praying for one another even after some depart to be in the presence of God. And that is all that the Orthodox want to do is ask the Saints to keep praying for us."

Was Cornelius dead when Cyprian wrote to him? No, he wasn't. Asking a living person to pray for you after he dies isn't equivalent to praying to the deceased. See here and here for some discussions of the evidence against praying to the dead.

And is it true that "all that the Orthodox want to do is ask the Saints to keep praying for us"? No, that's not true. Here, below, are some examples of prayers to Mary in Eastern Orthodoxy. Notice that they do much more than asking Mary to pray for them. And even if they did only ask her to pray for them, the practice would still involve praying to the deceased, something the earliest Christians knew nothing about and sometimes condemned.

Here's an example of a prayer to Mary:

Rejoice Mary, Mother of God, Virgin, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb, for thou hast borne the Savior of our souls. Meet it is in truth, to glorify thee, O Birth-giver of God, ever blessed, and all undefiled, the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim, thou who without stain didst bear God the word, true Birth-giver of God, we magnify thee.

O gracious Mother of the gracious God, O most pure and blessed Mary, the Mother of God, pour the mercy of thy Son and our God upon my impassionate soul, and with thine intercessions set me unto good deeds, that I may pass the rest of my life without blemish and, with thine aid, attain heaven. O Virgin mother of God, the only one who art pure and blessed. O Queen of the Heavenly Host, Defender of our souls: being delivered from evil, as thy servants, O Mother of God, we offer unto thee the hymns of thanks and victory; but as thou hast power invincible, deliver us from all calamity, that we may cry unto thee: Rejoice, O ever-Virgin Bride!

O virgin, spotless, undefiled, unstained, all-chaste and Pure Lady, Bride of God, who by the glorious birth-giving hast united God the Word with Man and linked our fallen nature with Heavenly Things; who art the hope of the hopeless, the helper of the oppressed, the ready protection of those who haste unto thee, and the refuge of Christians; despise me not, who am defiled and sinful, who by my wicked thoughts, words and deeds, have become an unworthy servant, and by my slothfulness have turned into a slave to evil affections. O Mother of the God of Love, have mercy and compassion upon me, a sinner and a prodigal. Accept this prayer which is offered to thee from my impure lips; and putting forward thy maternal influence with thy Son, my Lord and Master, beseech Him to open unto me the lovingkindness of His grace; beseech Him to overlook my countless transgressions, to give me true repentance and to make me to be a zealous doer of His commandments. And thou, being gracious and compassionate and tender-hearted, be thou ever present with me in this life as my defender and helper, so that I may turn aside the assault of my enemies, and guide me into salvation; help my poor soul at the hour of my death, and drive far from it all the dark forms of the evil ones. And in the dreadful Judgement Day, deliver me from everlasting punishment, and present me as an inheritor of the ineffable glory of the son, our God.

O may I obtain this, most-holy Lady and Birth-giver of God, through thine intercessions and mediations, by the grace and exceeding great love of thine Only-Begotten son, my Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, to Whom is due, with the eternal Father and the All-Holy, Good and Life-Giving Spirit, all honor and glory and worship, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

O most glorious Ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ our God, accept our prayers and present them to thy son and our God, that He may, for thy sake, enlighten and save our souls. (source here)

Another example:

Tenderness springs forth from you, O Theotokos, make us worthy of
compassion. Look upon sinful people, reveal your power for ever as we hope in
you and cry aloud: Hail! as did the Archangel Gabriel, Chief Captain of the
Bodiless Powers. Amen. (source here)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Sola Ecclesia

(submitted on behalf of Steve Hays)

Several years ago, Philip Blosser wrote a thoroughgoing critique of sola scriptura entitled:

“Philosophical and Practical Problems with Sola Scriptura.”

At a later date he posted his article online:

I then posted a reply:

And he, in turn, posted a rejoinder.

This is my surrejoinder.

It’s not quite as longwinded as it looks, for a fair amount of the word count involves me quoting him quoting me quoting him.

Because our arguments and counterarguments are so intercalated at this point, there’s not much opportunity to cut it down.

I’ve responded to most of what he’s said. I’ve skipped over a few things where I either thought it was becoming redundant or where I felt that we’d pursued a particular matter as far as it needed to go.

I doubt many readers will complain that it should have been longer.

Download the Acrobat PDF or the Microsoft Reader version.

(Future versions of this document, and Steve Hays' other downloadable writings including This Joyful Eastertide: A Critical Review of The Empty Tomb, can be found here as well.)

Grandma Got Run Over By A Mugger


`There is one general law [natural selection] leading to the advancement of all organic beings, namely, multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die'. - Charles Darwin



When male lions reach sexual maturity they tend to leave the pride otherwise they will have to challenge the dominant male in the pride. Once the young males leave the pride they start searching for other prides where they challenge the dominant males to be able to join the pride. Being younger and stronger, the young males usually kick the old males out, and moreover they kill the old males' cubs to provide better chance for their own cubs.


Territory; lions are social animals, unlike most other members of the cat family, living in a pride (family group) with between 20 and 30 members. Some prides have just one male, others up to four. Lions are strongly territorial and will fight off any strange male who tries to enter their territory. Fights can be vicious, often not ending until one lion is dead. The winner takes over dominance of the territory, and the pride. Old or injured lions who have lost their territory often die trying to fend for themselves.



Wild Facts

Only the strong survive

Predators often catch and kill the weakest animals in the population. Biologists think that wolves tend to kill young, old, weak, or injured moose and deer because they are not able to swiftly escape wolf attacks. The wolf is actually strengthening the moose population by removing the old and sick and leaving the healthiest to have young.


NEW YORK - For a moment, the man in the grainy video looks like a good Samaritan holding the door open for an elderly neighbor. Then he turns and delivers three sharp punches to the 101-year-old woman’s head.


The 85-year-old woman believed to be the mugger’s second victim, Solange Elizee, told police she was punched and pushed to the floor outside her apartment door by a man who had initially offered to help her get home.


Grandma got run over by a mugger
Walking home from our house Christmas eve.
You can say there are such things as ethics,
But as for me and Darwin, we disbelieve.

She'd been trusting too much in Darwinian society,
And we'd begged her not to go.
But she'd left her medication,
So she stumbled out the door into the snow.

When they found her Christmas mornin',
At the scene of the attack.
There were knuckle prints on her forehead,
And incriminatin' Mugger marks on her back.

Grandma got run over by a mugger,
Walkin' home from our house Christmas eve.
You can say there are such things as ethics,
But as for me and Darwin, we disbelieve.

Now were all not so proud of our fellow Darwinists,
They've been being inconsistent so well.
See them in there watchin' the nightly news,
Drinkin' beer and condeming the mugger's actions as not so swell.

It's not Christmas without Grandma.
All the family's dressed in black.
And we just can't help but wonder:
Why care when the elderly are under attack?

Grandma got run over by a mugger,
Walkin' home from our house Christmas eve.
You can say there are such things as ethics,
But as for me and Grandpa, we disbelieve.

Now we all know ethics is a fable.
And the strong will survive to live.
Maybe next time they'll beat down old aunt Mable,
And pull the hair out of your Grandma's wig.

I've warned all my friends and neighbours.
"Better watch out for Grandma."
If we live in Darwin's world,
Who cares if a man gives her a Cerebral edema?

Grandma got run over by a mugger,
Walkin' home from our house, Christmas eve.
You can say there are such things as ethics,
But as for me and Darwin, we believe.


Exodus 20:12 Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee.


Q. 123. Which is the fifth commandment?

A. The fifth commandment is, Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.

Q. 124. Who are meant by father and mother in the fifth commandment?

A. By father and mother, in the fifth commandment, are meant, not only natural parents, but all superiors in age and gifts; and especially such as, by God’s ordinance, are over us in place of authority, whether in family, church, or commonwealth.

-Westminster Larger Catechism


Don't be jealous that you've been borrowing from my worldview when you've been condemning these recent attacks on the elderly.

Bones of contention

Blomberg on the bones.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Missing in action

Mary Magdalene is now missing.

...Essentially, the end to the tomb controversy.

Secular shark bait

A couple of unbelievers have responded to my Benatar post.

Before I offer a direct reply, I’d just note that both the anonymous commenter and Loftus are attempting to change the subject.

I posted a couple of reviews of book by David Benatar. This is a book which was recently published by one of the premier academic publishing houses in the world.

Here is a little bit more about Benatar:

“David Benatar PhD is Associate Professor in the UCT Department of Philosophy. He has been actively involved with developing and teaching medical ethics in Cape Town, in close collaboration with Professor S Benatar, since these activities were initiated in the 1980s. He is the editor of an anthology on 'Ethics for Everyday' published by McGraw Hill in 2001.”

And who is the other Benatar?

“Program Director - Solomon R Benatar MB ChB, FFA, FRCP, FACP (Hon) was Head of the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Cape Town and Chief Physician at Groote Schuur Hospital from 1980-1999. He has been an invited teacher at many medical schools world-wide. During the past decade he has led the University of Cape Town's Centre for Bioethics, as its founding Director. He is an elected Foreign Member of the US National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine (1989), and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1994). He has been a consultant to the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, Medecins Sans Frontiers and the HIV Prevention Trials Network He is Visiting Professor in Medicine and Public Health Sciences at the University of Toronto (1999-). He is Chairman of the South African National Research Ethics Committee, and President of the International Association of Bioethics.”

Other faculty include:


Associate Director - Theodore E Fleischer JD, LL.M had an extensive career in law in the USA. As a practising attorney, he engaged in a wide variety of legal and government activities, including representation of the Alaska State Legislature and other State and local government agencies. He undertook two years of graduate study (1995-97) at the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law and the Law Faculty at McGill University, where he obtained the LL.M with specialization in Bioethics. He then spent two years as a fellow (later senior fellow) at the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at the University of Chicago. In 1999 he became a Visiting Scholar at the University of Cape Town Bioethics Centre. He taught, and supervised student dissertations, in the UCT MPhil in Bioethics program, and also developed and teaches a course in Law and Medicine at the UCT Law Faculty.

Bernard Dickens PhD, LL.D is Professor, Faculty of Law, Faculty of Medicine, Centre of Criminology, Institute of Medical Science, and Joint Centre for Bioethics, University of Toronto and Adjunct Professor of Law, School of Public Health, Columbia University. He taught at the Law Society' school, The College of Law, in London, England until 1974 when he left to join the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto. He was research Professor there until 1980 when he took up his present position. He was a founder member of the University's Joint Centre for Bioethics, and continues to teach at the University's law school, medical school and bioethics centre. He chaired the Medical Research Council of Canada Committee of Ethics' Workshop Group to develop the MRC's 1987 Research Ethics Guidelines, and was a member of the Tri-Council Working Group developing the 1998 Tri-Council Policy Statement in research ethics. He was also a founder member and, from 1995 to 1999, Chair of the Research Ethics Board of the National Research Council of Canada. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine (London) and, since 1998, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

Lesley Henley PhD, MPhil Bioethics (UCT) is Senior Lecturer in the School of Child and Adolescent Health at UCT. She has supervised students' research dissertations in the fields of nursing science, occupational therapy, and pediatrics and child health: dissertations with a specific bioethics focus that she has supervised include "Professional nurses' perceptions at Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital concerning ethics and ethical dilemmas' (1996) and "The impact of HIV/AIDS on nursing staff as caregivers in a pediatric hospital' (ongoing). She has significant publications in bioethics and serves on the Research Ethics Committee in the Faculty of Health Sciences, UCT and on the Research Committee of the Institute of Child Health in the School of Child and Adolescent Health, UCT. She is a Consultant to the Ethics Institute of South Africa.

Willlem A Landman, DPhil, B Proc is currently Chief Executive Officer, Ethics Institute of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa (since 2000) and Extraordinary Professor of Philosophy, Department of Philosophy, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa. He was Professor and Chair, Department of Philosophy, University of the Western Cape, South Africa from 1986-1995, Full Professor with tenure, Department of Medical Humanities, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC, USA from 1995-2000. He is Co-editor and co-founder of the international bioethics journal Developing World Bioethics. He has been on the Editorial Board of the South African Journal of Philosophy, since 1994. He has had extensive experience teaching bioethics to medical students and PhD research students in the medical sciences.

Paul Roux MD, M Phil Bioethics is Senior Lecturer, Department of Pediatrics and Child Health, Senior Pediatrician and Head of Pediatric HIV/AIDS service, Groote Schuur Hospital. He teaches Pediatrics at undergraduate and post-graduate level and supervisors post-graduate research students. He also works on Community information and liaison projects on the HIV/AIDS epidemic. His community activities include the development and management of Pediatric HIV/AIDS clinic at Groote Schuur hospital and the creation of the Kidzpositive Family Fund for support of families affected by HIV/AIDS. ( He has been a Visiting Scholar at the Hastings Center, and he is collaborating with Angela Wasunna and Daniel Callahan on a project relating to 'Ethical and Legal issues relating to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Southern Africa' (June 2001).

Peter A. Singer, MD, MPH, FRCPC is the Sun Life Chair in Bioethics, Director of the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics and Director of the Canadian Program on Genomics and Global Health. He is also Professor of Medicine at Toronto Western Hospital. He studied internal medicine at the University of Toronto, medical ethics at the University of Chicago, and clinical epidemiology at Yale University. He is a Medical Research Council of Canada Scientist, and an Associate Editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal . He led the development of the CMAJ "Bioethics for clinicians" series, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada "Bioethics Education Project", and the "Ethics OSCE." He is a member of the ethics committee of the British Medical Journal, and Director of a WHO Collaborating Centre for Bioethics.


So Benatar isn’t just some flaky academic writing a flaky book on secular ethics. No, he’s on the faculty of The University of Cape Town Centre for Bioethics.

This is an institution which is teaching medical ethics to future physicians, nurses, and lawmakers.

Would you want to be treated, or have one of your family members treated, by a surgeon, nurse, or child psychologist or pediatrician who shared Benatar’s outlook on the value of human existence?

Would you want to see his outlook enacted into law? Become public policy?

Remember, this isn’t just a hypothetical. These are real world examples. That’s the mission of IRENSA.

And the faculty is very well connected. This isn’t just a South African thing. It’s international. And it’s political.

Again, I’m not saying that every faculty member shares Benatar’s philosophy. But his philosophy is clearly compatible with the objectives of IRENSA.

And he’s collaborated with Program Director.

Now, I don’t mind if secular commenters want to pose the same questions for the Christian.

But don’t use that as an excuse to shirk your own responsibilities in answering these same questions as well.

Benatar is merely taking an atheistic worldview to a logical extreme.

Except for a one-sentence intro, I didn’t comment on Benatar’s position. Rather, I simply posted a couple of reviews.

At one level, it requires no comment. It speaks for itself. This is the logical alternative to Christian anthropology and Christian ethics.

And I think it’s a public service to simply put this in the public domain so that everyone can see it for what it is.

There are basically two versions of humanism. There’s the hortatory, starry-eyed version promoted by the likes of Carl Sagan, Jacob Bronowsky, and Paul Kurtz.

This is the version which is put out for public consumption. It’s a softening-up exercise. It advertises atheism as a liberating force. It frees humanity from the shackles of superstition and oppression. Hallmark card humanism.

It’s a throwback to European anticlericalism.

After this advertising campaign has lowered popular resistance to atheism—especially among the elite policymakers—we are then treated to the utterly grim reality.

Moving along:


In all seriousness, I fail to see how the Christian philosophy doesn't bring you to question bringing a child into this world more than I will question doing so: while I may, in fact, have a child with a finite life that may or may not be miserable and may or may not have cosmic "meaning" (as if "meaning's" existence is metaphysically objective), you may bring a child into existence which faces an infinite misery and whose "meaning" is to be consigned as a "vessel fit for destruction" and cast into hell.

How can you feel comforted at that thought? "Oh well, God chooses who He will?"


Several issues:

i) The word “child” is ambiguous, and it triggers different associations depending on which definition is in play.

a) A child may denote a young boy or girl.

b) A child may denote an adult descendant.

I don’t feel the same way about (i) as I do about (ii).

We are instinctively protective of young children, although the Singers and Benatars of the world are trying to erode that God-given instinct.

But the status of grownups or adult “children” is a good deal more complex.

ii) Suppose my son grows up to be a serial killer. How will I feel? I will feel conflicted, ambivalent.

iii) There are some parents who completely identify with their own kids. Their children can do no wrong.

If they discover that their son is a serial killer, they will cover for him. Buy him a plane ticket to a country without an extradition treaty. Send him a monthly stipend so that he can live in style. Anything for their boy.

At an emotional level, that may be understandable—but it is also deeply immoral.

iv) Apropos (iii), it’s a mistake to confuse sympathy with morality.

Although Moltmann would disagree, the fact is that sympathy or empathy is, strictly speaking, a human trait rather than a divine attribute.

In the nature of the case, you have to be the same kind of being, or sufficiently alike, to analogize or project from your experience to the other.

And there is often a conflict between empathy and justice.

Suppose my best friend from high school becomes a compulsive gambler or junkie. And suppose, due to his addiction, he robs me in order to support his habit.

Now, he’s guilty on two counts:

a) He’s blamable for becoming a compulsive gambler or junkie or porn addict, even though he may now be unable to kick the habit.

b) He’s also blamable for ripping me off. That’s theft. And stealing from a friend makes it worse.

And yet, I can’t help but sympathize with his plight. It’s a terrible thing to be sucked into vortex of self-destruction. It’s even more terrible when you know the consequences of your actions, but lack the willpower to resist the downward spiral.

One would be inhumane not to feel for someone in that condition—especially a friend or family member.

So I may forgive my friend, despite the injustice he’s done me. I may try my best to reclaim him, even though, in so doing, that gives him yet another opportunity to wrong me.

But God is not a man, and while empathy may be, up to a point, a human virtue, it is not a divine virtue. It is not even a divine attribute.

To be sure, God is often merciful, but that is not because he is literally sympathetic with our sorry situation. God doesn’t feel our pain. He knows our pain, but he doesn’t feel our pain.

By contrast, justice is a divine attribute. A judge whose heart goes out to the perpetrator at the expense of the victim is an unjust judge.

What is a virtue in a parent may be a vice in a judge. Emotional detachment is a virtue in a judge.

That’s why it’s best to assign the adjudication of justice to a disinterested third-party.

A judge who’s own son is arraigned in his own courtroom should recuse himself.

“Have you ever heard of the phrase, ‘you'll wish you were never born?”"

i) As a matter of fact, the Bible admits that it would be better if some people were never born (Mt 18:6; 26:24).

However, Loftus’ objection is predicated on a couple of key equivocations.

ii) Better for whom?

Suppose a serial killer contracts terminal cancer. The cancer isn’t better for him, from his viewpoint, but it’s better for his prospective victims.

Cancer doesn’t do him any good, but it does his prospective victims a world of good, for he will die before he can kill again.

iii) Benatar’s position is that it would be better for everyone concerned if no one was born.

That is quite different than saying that it would be better for some people if they were never born.

For example, it would be better if some people never married. Or if they never married their particular spouse.

Does this justify the general inference that unless everyone has a happy marriage, no one should have a happy marriage?

We should deny everyone the opportunity to be happy unless, in fact, everyone is happy?

Maybe Loftus has such a sour outlook on life that he actually believes that. Consistent atheism can take an emotional toll. Embitter you to every natural good.

iv) But notice that Loftus and Benatar are presuming to speak for everyone. Yet it’s obvious that most folks, including most unbelievers, don’t feel that way—otherwise they’d commit suicide.

It’s pretty easy to kill yourself. There are many ways to do it. Some are fairly painless.

But most folks, including most unbelievers, don’t take their own lives. So they don’t feel that it was better never to be born.

To the contrary, many or most unbelievers fear death. They regret that this will come to an end. That they won’t get a chance to learn from their mistakes.

“This is what I'm referring to, and all you can do is to joke about it.”

Actually, they’ve been joking about you, John. You’re the joke.

“Because you can't face the problem head on for what it really is.”

I have written quite a lot about the problem of evil, and the argument from evil, and the doctrine of hell.

And David Wood has a blog exclusively devoted to that subject. He’s also debated the issue with Loftus.

So both of us regularly face the objections head on.

“Face the problem head on. There are people according to YOUR own theology who wish they had never been born.”

That’s irrelevant. The question at issue is not whether some people feel that way.

Rather, the question at issue is whether it is unjust to bring anyone into the world because some fraction of the total feels that way about their fate.

To revert to my earlier example, a serial killer will regret that he came down with terminal cancer.

But I don’t share his regret. The fact that he feels that way doesn’t mean that I feel the same way for him. To the contrary, if a serial killer dies of cancer, I celebrate.

“Stop joking about thie real situation from the standpoint of siler spoon in your mouths.”

“Silver spoon?” It’s not as if unbelievers hold the patent on suffering or personal tragedy.

We live in the very same world you do. We’re exposed to the very same calamities. We simply respond differently.

“You actually make me sick.”

“Bottom tier buddy. Sorry. But that conclusion is inescapable.”

Loftus still doesn’t get it. He is merely flirting with unbelief. But he’s the one who can’t face the consequences of atheism head-on.

He constantly uses emotive language to shame his opponents into submission.

But atheism takes the sting out of shame. The rhetoric of shame loses its bite if you take atheism seriously.

And it also loses its bite of Christianity is true.

As I’ve said before, the atheist is gambling with Confederate currency. If he wins, he wins nothing of value—and if he loses, he loses nothing of value (from his perspective).

It’s a high stakes game with worthless money. If you win the bet, you lose by winning—and if you lose the bet, you lose by winning. Either way you lose.

And that isn’t merely my own opinion. Benatar clearly thinks that everyone loses out, merely be being born. Not just some people—but everyone without exception.

Atheism is a philosophy for losers. Welcome to The Losers Club.

Whether you’re on the upper deck or lower deck of the Titanic, you’re all headed down to the bottom of the sea. Secular shark bait.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Liberal tax evasion

I’ve a native of the Evergreen State. Here’s a fascinating example of liberal tax evasion by citizens of two deep-dyed blue states.

Liberals believe in high taxes—as long as someone else pays.


Vancouver [WA] lies just north across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon. Because of its proximity to Portland, many people who live in Vancouver work there. Consequently, much of Vancouver's growth is due to Portlanders moving across the river but keeping their old jobs in Portland. In 2003, 70% of workers in Vancouver worked in Clark County. Those who live and work in Clark County do not have to pay Oregon's relatively high income tax. (Washington State does not have such a tax.) Additionally, they may choose to shop in Portland to take advantage of a wider variety of shopping choices, and the fact that Oregon has no sales tax. Very few other cities in the USA allow for such an easy avoidance of both sales and income tax.,_Washington

Pre-Reformation Disunity

In another thread, Orthodox wrote:

"It may be an unfair exaggeration to say there are 30,000 unique denominations, as is sometimes quoted. Still, there ARE thousands, which is considerably more than 1 that existed a thousand years ago."

I don't know whether Orthodox intended his comment to apply to one thousand years ago and no other timeframe. If so, then the objection doesn't seem to have much significance. If there were other denominations before and after one thousand years ago, then what would be the significance of singling out one short period around 1000 A.D.? Even during that short period, there were many different groups professing to be Christian, with a wide variety of beliefs. He goes on to write:

"Just the other day I was talking to someone from a major protestant group in the Phillipines, who among other wierdnesses, only partakes communion once per year."

I'll assume, for the sake of discussion, that the group in question actually is Protestant rather than being labeled as such just because it isn't Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, for example. I disagree with only partaking of communion once a year, but that difference among Protestants isn't as significant as many of the differences that existed among professing Christians prior to the Reformation.

Pre-Reformation Christians disagreed with each other on many issues, to differing degrees of significance. People may choose not to apply the term "denomination" to these pre-Reformation divisions, but many of these people acted independently of one another and considered their churches governmentally independent of other churches they disagreed with. As early as the second century, the pagan critic Celsus would comment:

"Christians at first were few in number, and held the same opinions; but when they grew to be a great multitude, they were divided and separated, each wishing to have his own individual party: for this was their object from the beginning....being thus separated through their numbers, they confute one another, still having, so to speak, one name in common, if indeed they still retain it. And this is the only thing which they are yet ashamed to abandon, while other matters are determined in different ways by the various sects." (cited in Origen's Against Celsus, 3:10, 3:12)

It's to be expected that there will be a wider variety of professing Christians with the passing of time and with the expansion of social factors like the sort of political freedoms we have today in places like the United States. Just as there's a wider variety of professing Christians today than 500 years ago, we can expect there to be a wider variety 500 years from now than today. The same could be said of atheists, Muslims, etc.

Through the centuries, we find many disputes among the churches that existed, one bishop writing against another bishop, one church avoiding fellowship with another, councils held in opposition to each other, etc. (see, for example, Hippolytus, The Refutation Of All Heresies, 9:2; Athanasius, Festal Letter 29; John Chrysostom, Correspondence Of St. Chrysostom With The Bishop Of Rome, Letter 1:4; Jerome, Letter 16:2; etc.) A figure like Cyprian comes to mind, who held a high view of the unity of the bishops and church unity in general, yet repeatedly asserted the governmental independence of each bishop and had multiple public partings with the bishop of Rome. People often advocated high ideals with regard to church unity, yet also added many qualifiers to those ideals and were willing to assert independence from other churches and oppose those other churches when disagreements arose. We can't just quote what these people said about unity while ignoring the qualifiers they added and the incidents in which they practiced disunity.

Even in the Middle Ages, when there tended to be more of an effort toward outward displays of organizational unity and assistance in such efforts from the state, we still come across many incidents like this one Philip Schaff described:

"Henceforward the Immaculate Conception became an apple of discord between rival schools of Thomists and Scotists, and the rival orders of the Dominicans and Franciscans. They charged each other with heresy, and even with mortal sin for holding the one view or the other. Visions, marvelous fictions, weeping pictures of Mary, and letters from heaven were called in to help the argument for or against a fact which no human being, not even Mary herself, can know without a divine revelation. Four Dominicans, who were discovered in a pious fraud against the Franciscan doctrine, were burned, by order of a papal court, in Berne, on the eve of the Reformation. The Swedish prophetess, St. Birgitte, was assured in a vision by the Mother of God that she was conceived without original sin; while St. Catherine of Siena prophesied for the Dominicans that Mary was sanctified in the third hour after her conception." (The Creeds Of Christendom [Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998], Vol. I, pp. 123-124)

People who belong to the same denomination often disagree with each other about matters more significant than how often they take communion. Two Baptists who belong to governmentally independent churches often have more unity with each other than two Roman Catholics have with one another.

"For even as the Lord who dwells in us is one and the same, He everywhere joins and couples His own people in the bond of unity, whence their sound has gone out into the whole earth, who are sent by the Lord swiftly running in the spirit of unity; as, on the other hand, it is of no advantage that some are very near and joined together bodily, if in spirit and mind they differ, since souls cannot at all be united which divide themselves from God's unity." (Firmilian, Cyprian's Letter 74:3)

Monday, March 12, 2007

Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence

For an uplifting exposition on the joys of atheism:

Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence
by David Benatar

Editorial Reviews
Book Description
Most people believe that they were either benefited or at least not harmed by being brought into existence. Thus, if they ever do reflect on whether they should bring others into existence---rather than having children without even thinking about whether they should---they presume that they do them no harm. Better Never to Have Been challenges these assumptions. David Benatar argues that coming into existence is always a serious harm. Although the good things in one's life make one's life go better than it otherwise would have gone, one could not have been deprived by their absence if one had not existed. Those who never exist cannot be deprived. However, by coming into existence one does suffer quite serious harms that could not have befallen one had one not come into existence. Drawing on the relevant psychological literature, the author shows that there are a number of well-documented features of human psychology that explain why people systematically overestimate the quality of their lives and why they are thus resistant to the suggestion that they were seriously harmed by being brought into existence. The author then argues for the 'anti-natal' view---that it is always wrong to have children---and he shows that combining the anti-natal view with common pro-choice views about foetal moral status yield a 'pro-death' view about abortion (at the earlier stages of gestation). Anti-natalism also implies that it would be better if humanity became extinct. Although counter-intuitive for many, that implication is defended, not least by showing that it solves many conundrums of moral theory about population.

A True Inconvenient Truth, March 12, 2007
Juggernaught "Peace Through War" (USA) - See all my reviews
What still is never critically examined is the fact that when anyone brings a child to life; they bring on all of life's miseries and ills on to said child. Therefore every single horror brought on to this child is the parents' fault. Wouldn't it just have been better for that child to never have been born? We live and we die without purpose or meaning. Our existence is so sad and pathetic that we invent religions and a host of other nonsense to fit the theme of "ignorance is bliss." Let's think rationally about children shall we?

- Practically: Raising a child is no cake walk. All children are selfish little mongrels bent on getting things their way. Through the early stages of life, you're going to be constantly attending to their waste output. Growing older, they learn how to communicate in our language to say "gimme." Then with another slap to the face, they rebel for the sake of rebelling and eventually move out. You've just lost a generation of your life, congratulations.

- Economic factors: Want to put off your retirement? Want to live below the standards of what your paycheck indicates? Great! Nothing sucks out your money dry with absolutely no gain like bearing children.

- Moral considerations: Is it not immoral to force someone into life without invitation? Is it not the greatest wrong doing to bring a child into a world of untold suffering?

People have children just because they can and this is without any rational considerations. Some people say they want to pass down their genes. While that child may be composed of a similar biological structure, it is still not you and will never be you. Others have children because of hormones and we all know what I mean by that. You're going to cause around seventy years of suffering to someone else just because your hormones were raging? That has got to be one of the most selfish acts one can do.

I suspect that other reviewers will engage in personal attacks upon the author instead of evaluating the message. The author's message is a harsh truth that exposes parents to be the worst of people. Don't you know? Survival for the sake of survival can only cause pain to others.

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A Prairie Home Companion to Evangelical Denominations

Catholic apologetes often decry the number of Protestant denominations. This is their trump card to falsify the Protestant rule of faith (sola Scriptura).

However, our greatest living theologian—by whom I mean, needless to say, Garrison Keillor—has proposed a scientific taxonomy of Protestant denominationalism which is simplicity itself, and one that reduces the superficial diversity to just one fundamental difference. So, the next time a Catholic polemicist wheels out the tired old objection, refer him to the Keillor Classification System of Evangelical Denominations:


Q: Speaking of Charleston, what is the biggest difference you've found between Midwesterners and Southerners?

A: Southerners are less cautious about bringing up unsavory things.

Q: Is that a nice way of saying we lack tact?

A: No, no, no. They're very tactful. Very polite. To give you an example, I was with a group of Southerners who brought up a man who had hung himself with a garden hose in his garage. I just can't imagine Lutherans discussing that.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

More on Plantinga's EAAN



Thanks for the response. I was wondering what you actually thought of Plantinga's argument.

Coming back to Dusman's argument, he was talking about rationality. I took that as proper function rationality. And Plantinga does not believe that N&E is a proper-function rationality defeater against R. Suppose I say that the atheist does not have animal knowledge of ULL. It does not mean that she does not have justification for ULL. It may be that she is just short of warrant. But short of warrant does not necessarily mean that she is not justified.

Now here is an example where an atheist may still have animal knowledge of ULL. Suppose that S comes to believe in ULL through virtue (I'm using virtue epistemology rather than proper function but you can substitute whatever). And now we show that P(ULL/N&E) is low. It does not necessarily mean that S does not have animal knowledge of ULL. N&E may even be a defeater for S, but it may not take away justification nor knowledge. Suppose that the way S forms ULL, with regards to evidence (used broadly), she has .8 degree of belief or justification towards ULL. Given E at t1, her justification is .8. Now suppose N&E is low given R. It is a defeater. But suppose that S also has nonpropositional evidence for ULL (see Bergmann's article in Naturalism Defeated?). E at t2 would include N&E, but it does not necessarily mean that S has no justification for ULL at all. It may be that given new evidence, N&E, she just has to lower her degree of credence or belief to, say, .56. But it may be that .56 is just enough for knowledge. So S can have knowledge. In other words, if N&E is a defeater, it may simply show that S has a lesser degree of justification. It does not mean she is not justified or irrational, but her degree of justification or rationality just dropped.

What do you think?

Quote Taken from here



Good thoughts/questions...

By way of reply,

1. I recently posted about "what [I] actually thought of Plantinga's argument." See Round 1, Round 2, and Round 3.

2. I won't comment as to how Dusman was using 'rationality,' since I'm not sure. There's many subsets, i.e., alethic rationality, internal rationality, etc. Proper function rationality determines what we should do when confronted with one of these cases of irrationality. So, his point may have been more specific.

3. Plantinga does believe that EAAN gives the reflective naturalist a "kind of" proper function rationality defeater - a Humean defeater (see ND? p.209-211).

4. "Short of warrant" does not necessarily mean "unjustified," correct. But, the reflective naturalist has a defeater for his belief that he has "done his duty." Furthermore, the reflective naturalist has no reason to believe R. Similarly, the believer who accepts that his belief in God is the product of wish fulfillment, and beliefs finding their source in the cognitive faculties responsible for producing wish-fulfillment are not aimed at truth but some other purpose, has a defeater for his belief in God. This person's belief in God has no epistemic justification, then. The same for the reflective naturalist, then. Before reflecting, he may be justified, but not after.

5. Even if EAAN didn't take away "animal knowledge," the naturalist would still have a defeater for his beliefs, and so EAAN would still be pretty forceful.

6. Relying on Bergmann's idea of R being properly basic, and so it's a defeater-deflector for EAAN, seems to miss the point of EAAN. Of course proper function would demand continued belief in R, but this is not because this portion of your cognitive faculties are aimed at truth, but, rather, at the avoidance of cognitive disaster. A person S may be in a situation - say, lost in a snow storm on top of a mountain - and S may see a ridge that S thinks could be leaped to. Based on perception, this belief is basic to S. But, S would not have thought this if S were not in this survival situation. So S maintains this belief that the chasm is able to be jumped. Proper function requires this belief to be maintained. The optimistic overrider has kicked in. But the faculties governing this have some other virtue in mind - survival rather than true belief. In normal, reflective situations, S would not form said belief.

Or, suppose S ingests agent XX, a hallucinogenic drug, producing hallucinations in 90% of those who take XX. Proper function would require assuming R so as to avoid cognitive disaster. So, S has powerful inclinations to continue on in belief in R, even though S has come to believe that P(R / XX) is low or inscrutable, and S may take it in a basic way, but of course these powerful inclinations don't count as evidence for R. S would have this inclination whether she was in or out of the lucky 10%.

7. One can only use Bergmann's position that R has non-propositional evidence for it, raising the probability thesis, in cases of an unreflective naturalist. But, can the reflective naturalist have this? Well, if so, then R has warrant for him only if R is produced by proper functioning cognitive faculties successfully aimed at truth. But his beliefs are only successfully aimed at truth if they are reliable, and this is precisely what's in question. And, just to say that he has a strong inclination to believe R, doesn’t get him where he wants (see (6) above). And, if he assumes N & E, he has no reason to assume that his beliefs are aimed at truth. So non-propositional evidence doesn't help S.

8. If all it took was that a belief B could not be defeated D because B had non-propositional evidence, then it would appears that basic beliefs could not be defeated. Say that you go inside a widget producing factory. You see the widgets, and they appear red to you. The belief is formed by your senses, which proper function demands you believe are reliable, and hence the belief is basic. But, the shop manager, and close friend, tells you that the widgets have a red light illuminating them so as to detect otherwise unnoticeable defects in the widgets. He says that there are actually very few red widgets coming down the assembly line. It would appear that your basic belief was defeated that what you were seeing was a red widget because the probability that you were seeing a red widget was low.

Or, say that S comes to believe that she is a brain-in-the-vat (BIV). Further, so has no reason to believe that the Alpha Centaurian super scientists care whether she has mostly true beliefs or not. So, she believes P (R/ BIV) as low or inscrutable. Doesn't she have a defeater for R, no matter how strongly she continues to assume R on an every day basis. After all, the Alpha Centaurians needs to see her in every day life and so have constructed her to continue to believe R, and act as if R, because to not act that way would lead her into cognitive despair. But, when she reflects on her thoughts, she quires a defeater for R, and so gives it up. Same with the naturalist.

9. Lastly, S is irrational because proper function for internal rationality that S give up one of S's beliefs: R v N&E. If S came to believe that she had ingested agent XX - which caused hallucinations in 90% of those who took it, and S also held to R, proper function would require S to drop R. Or, say that S believed his head made of glass, and believed that he could play football without a helmet, then he would be internally irrational to not give up one of the beliefs (if, following Alston, one wishes to say that S should drop N&E rather than R, I still think that gets you to ~R, but just takes the long way. For without a story on the purpose of your cognitive faculties, how they got here, or anything, S should remain agnostic A about R, and so P(R/ A) would be inscrutable, and the defeater for R has not left. Though she still might act as if R, upon reflection, rationality demands R to be dropped. We would call someone who believed both of the above propositions, irrational. If S is in a similar situation with P(R / N&E), then S is irrational for holding to R in the Humean and alethic-rationality way.

The Significance Of 1 Corinthians 15

One of the most significant New Testament passages illustrating the nature of the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is 1 Corinthians 15. Regarding a creed Paul cites in that passage, Gary Habermas and Michael Licona write:

"In fact, many critical scholars hold that Paul received it [the creed of 1 Corinthians 15] from the disciples Peter and James while visiting them in Jerusalem three years after his conversion [Galatians 1:18-19]. If so, Paul learned it within five years of Jesus' crucifixion and from the disciples themselves. At minimum, we have source material that dates within two decades of the alleged event of Jesus' resurrection and comes from a source that Paul thought was reliable. Dean John Rodgers of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry comments, 'This is the sort of data that historians of antiquity drool over.'" (The Case For The Resurrection Of Jesus [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 2004], pp. 52-53)

Though we can attain a lot of data on the resurrection from the gospels and other sources, notice some facts we can establish just from this creed in 1 Corinthians 15 and its immediate context:

1. The testimony to the resurrection is early. The whole spectrum of scholarship, from liberals to conservatives, is in agreement that 1 Corinthians can be dated to within 30 years of Jesus’ death and that the creed in 1 Corinthians 15 can be dated even earlier (1 Corinthians 15:3).

2. The testimony to the resurrection is Jewish. Paul refers to the resurrection occurring "according to the [Jewish] scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:4). The mainstream Jewish view of resurrection at the time Paul was writing involved a resurrection of the same body that went into the grave. As Paul goes on to explain, that which goes into the ground is what comes out in a transformed state (1 Corinthians 15:36-38).

3. The testimony to the resurrection is accepted by people other than the professing eyewitnesses, and is still considered credible decades later (1 Corinthians 15:1), even among people who doubted the resurrection of individual believers (1 Corinthians 15:12-13).

4. The testimony to the resurrection is from multiple sources. Paul mentions hundreds of people (1 Corinthians 15:5-8).

5. The testimony to the resurrection is detailed. Paul names people and mentions identifiable groups, he mentions witnesses in their chronological order ("then", "after that", and "last of all" in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8), and he knows what proportion of the witnesses are still living (1 Corinthians 15:6).

6. The testimony to the resurrection comes from eyewitnesses. Paul was an eyewitness (1 Corinthians 15:8), and other eyewitnesses were giving their testimony (1 Corinthians 15:11).

7. The testimony to the resurrection comes not only from individual experiences, but also from group experiences. Hallucinations are individual experiences, but the apostles saw the risen Jesus together, as did more than 500 people at once (1 Corinthians 15:5-7).

8. The largest group mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15 is referred to as seeing Jesus "at one time" (1 Corinthians 15:6), not just around the same time. The fact that such a detail is included indicates that the early Christians were aware of the significance of group appearances and were interested in preserving such details.

9. Some of the witnesses saw Jesus more than once. Peter apparently was present for at least three of the appearances (1 Corinthians 15:5, 15:7)

10. The appearances must have occurred over a lengthy enough period of time to allow Peter to be alone or with different groups of people for multiple appearances.

11. The testimony to the resurrection doesn’t just come from people who were already believers when they saw the risen Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:9).

12. The testimony to the resurrection is given realistically. Paul understood the significance of what he was asserting ("of first importance" in 1 Corinthians 15:3 and 1 Corinthians 15:14-19).

13. The testimony to the resurrection was given by people willing to suffer for what they were testifying to (1 Corinthians 15:30-32).

14. The testimony to the resurrection was reevaluated on an ongoing basis. Even about two to three decades after the resurrection occurred, Paul was following the lives of the other resurrection witnesses so closely that he knew that a majority of the more than 500 people he mentions were still living, though some had died (1 Corinthians 5:6). Apparently, Paul was being careful with the data he was citing and was continually thinking about it and rethinking it. He wasn’t being careless.

15. The testimony to the resurrection is unified. Whatever false views non-leaders in the early church may have adopted, the leaders of the church, including Jesus’ closest disciples, were agreed in what they were teaching on the subject (1 Corinthians 15:11).

Such facts and others can also be derived from other early Christian sources. But even from 1 Corinthians alone, especially chapter 15, a document that both liberals and conservatives accept as early and as written by Paul, we can dismiss many popular arguments against the traditional Christian view of Jesus’ resurrection. The claim that the resurrection belief came from unhistorical legends that gradually developed over time is refuted by the earliness of 1 Corinthians and the creed of 1 Corinthians 15. The theory that the witnesses of the risen Christ were hallucinating is inconsistent with the unbelief of some of the witnesses, the realism and carefulness of Paul’s testimony, and the fact that Jesus sometimes appeared to multiple people at once. Other skeptical theories likewise can’t survive the scrutiny of this one passage, much less the combined scrutiny of all of the evidence.