Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Multiple Canons Of The Eastern Orthodox

As I've mentioned in some recent posts (here and here), Eastern Orthodox disagree among themselves about the canon of scripture. Though people often claim that Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics agree in accepting the canonicity of "the Apocrypha", the two groups disagree about which Apocryphal books are to be accepted. The Eastern Orthodox scholar John Breck writes:

"'Deutero-canonical' is the qualification given by Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions to writings considered by the Church to be inspired but having a lesser degree of authority in matters of faith and morals. These include 1-2 [some would add 3-4] Maccabees, Tobit, Judith, Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon, Baruch, and certain additions to Esther and Daniel." (Spirit Of Truth: The Holy Spirit In Johannine Tradition [Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1991], n. 1 on p. 93)

In addition to the disagreements over 3-4 Maccabees, some Eastern Orthodox include other material not mentioned by Breck. Thus, the fact that Roman Catholics and many Eastern Orthodox accept "the Apocrypha", "deuterocanonical books", etc. doesn't prove that they have the same canon. Eastern Orthodox don't even agree among themselves about the canon of scripture. As Jan Alberto Soggin explains, Eastern Orthodox hold a wide variety of views on this subject:

"Even today, moreover, the status of the books in the Alexandrian canon is a matter of controversy among the various Christian churches: while the Roman Catholic church after the Council of Trent accepted the canonicity of the greater part of the Alexandrian canon (but not all; it excluded III Ezra and III-IV Maccabees), some Eastern Orthodox churches maintain an equivocal attitude, while others have included different books in their canon; the Protestants and Anglican churches have generally rejected their canonicity, for the most part merely according them the status of devotional books" (Introduction To The Old Testament [Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1989], p. 19)

When Steve Hays and I have mentioned the existence of multiple canons among the Eastern Orthodox in previous posts, Orthodox has responded by arguing that such disagreements are acceptable, as long as there's agreement on other points. And he claims that one thing all Eastern Orthodox agree about is the acceptance of the books defined as scripture at the synod of Jerusalem in 1672. When I documented (here and here) that not all Eastern Orthodox accept all of those books as scripture, Orthodox ignored some of the sources I cited, distorted some of them, and dismissed one of them, Roger Beckwith, with comments such as the following:

"Jo Bloggs said 'all protestants beat their wives'. Give us good reason not to doubt this fellow Jo Bloggs, who by the way is a biased polemicist against protestants....I am no more impressed with the credentials of Roger Beckwith than you are impressed with Jo Bloggs....My scholar can whup your scholar. Fisticuffs between scholars out the back of the toilet block....LOL, Beckwith is a protestant with a protestant agenda."

Notice, first of all, that comments such as the ones quoted above are commonplace in Orthodox's posts. Such comments don't do much to support Orthodox's conclusions, and they reflect more poorly on Orthodox than they do on the position he's opposing.

And notice that, in the thread in which he makes the comments above, he fails to interact with most of the scholars he's dismissing. He asked me about the significance of my citation of The Blackwell Dictionary Of Eastern Christianity, but he didn't respond to the citation after I explained its significance. He said nothing about my citation of F.F. Bruce.

His response to my citation of Timothy (Kallistos) Ware, in another thread, is problematic, for reasons I explain there. Readers should note the inaccurate claims Orthodox makes about Athanasius and Jerome at the beginning of the thread, claims he eventually had to back away from. When somebody is so wrong about church history so often, what should we conclude?

But what about Roger Beckwith? Obviously, the comparison between Beckwith and some little known person named "Jo Bloggs", who argues that "all Protestants beat their wives", is ridiculous. Beckwith is a well qualified scholar who has produced material of a high quality. His assessment of Eastern Orthodox views of the canon isn't logically in the same category as "all Protestants beat their wives", his assessment is supported by the citation of multiple sources, and other scholars have supported similar conclusions and cited some of the same sources. I gave some examples in the previous thread and will give more below.

Orthodox dismisses Beckwith on the basis that one review of his book at refers to that book as "polemical" and refers to Beckwith as "biased and selective". But the same review makes some positive comments about the book, as do other reviews. And why should we make a judgment about Beckwith's discussion of Eastern Orthodoxy based on one review at by a little known person ("M A Baxter")? How much does Orthodox know about this person?

Let's apply Orthodox's reasoning against his own position. On the May 8 edition of James White's Dividing Line webcast, a man who claimed to be Eastern Orthodox called in near the end of the program (about half way through minute fifty-five). He said some of the same things I've been saying about the acceptance of the Hebrew Old Testament canon by some Eastern Orthodox. If Orthodox is going to accept the claims of an reviewer he doesn't know much about, then why can't we accept the claims of the person who called in to James White's webcast, even though we don't know much about that caller? I've offered much more corroboration of that caller's claims than Orthodox has offered for the claims he's quoting from that reviewer.

People can disagree with some of Roger Beckwith's conclusions without dismissing him in the absurd manner in which Orthodox dismisses him. Orthodox refers to Beckwith as "a Protestant with a Protestant agenda", but his work is well-regarded in non-Protestant circles. While disagreeing with the Old Testament canon Beckwith argues for, a Roman Catholic Biblical commentary compiled by some of the foremost Catholic scholars of modern times makes some of the same points about Eastern Orthodoxy that Beckwith does, and it cites Beckwith as a reliable source on the issue we're discussing:

"The Reformers influenced some OT canonical approaches in the Eastern churches. In 1627 Zacharios Greganos, a Greek who had studied at Wittenburg, rejected the deuterocanonical books. Although similar views were held by a few others, the Gk and Slavic branches of the Byzantine church continued to maintain those books. The Synod of Jerusalem, convened at Bethlehem in 1672 by the patriarch Dositheus to repudiate tendencies toward Calvinism, specifically decreed that Tob, Jdt, Sir, Wis, 1-2 Macc, and the additions to Dan are to be considered canonical. At that time the decrees of the synod were intended to be representative of Eastern Orthodoxy as a whole. Within the Gk church, despite occasional demurrals by theologians, the longer OT canon has been accepted, including 2 Esdr and 3 Macc. Since the 19th cent., however, Russian Orthodox theologians generally have not accepted the deuterocanonical books. Yet a Moscow-published Bible of 1956 contains them. A draft statement for the proposed Great Council of the Orthodox Church (Towards the Great Council [London, 1972] 3-4) opts for the shorter canon, as does the negotiation between the Orthodox and the Old Catholics (Beckwith, OT Canon 14)." (Raymond E. Brown, et al., eds., The New Jerome Biblical Commentary [Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1990], p. 1043)

The Eastern Orthodox scholar John Meyendorff wrote:

"The Christian East took a longer time than the West in settling on an agreed canon of Scripture. The principal hesitations concerned the books of the Old Testament which are not contained in the Hebrew Canon ('shorter' canon) and the book of Revelation in the New Testament. Fourth-century conciliar and patristic authorities in the East differ in their attitude concerning the exact authority of Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Esther, Judith, and Tobit. Athanasius in his famous Paschal Letter 39 excludes them from Scripture proper, but considers them useful for catechumens, an opinion which he shares with Cyril of Jerusalem. Canon 60 of the Council of Laodicea - whether authentic or not - also reflects the tradition of a 'shorter' canon. But the Quinisext Council (692) endorses the authority of Apostolic Canon 85, which admits some books of the 'longer' canon, including even 3 Maccabees, but omits Wisdom, Tobit, and Judith. John of Damascus (t ca. 753), however, considers Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus as 'admirable,' yet fails to include them in the canon. Therefore, in spite of the fact that Byzantine patristic and ecclesiastical tradition almost exclusively uses the Septuagint as the standard Biblical text, and that parts of the 'longer' canon - especially Wisdom - are of frequent liturgical use, Byzantine theologians remain faithful to a 'Hebrew' criterion for Old Testament literature, which excludes texts originally composed in Greek. Modern Orthodox theology is consistent with this unresolved polarity when it distinguishes between 'canonical' and 'deuterocanonical' literature of the Old Testament, applying the first term only to the books of the 'shorter' canon." (Byzantine Theology [New York: Fordham University Press, 1987], p. 7)

Friday, May 18, 2007

A fallen seraph


The Triablogue’ers have been engaging, of late, in some critical Ortho-bashing. One of their recent examples is their: Show me your Bible. In it they apparently attempt to demonstrate that the Orthodox biblical canon is a mass of chaos and as a result seem to be attempting to show that Orthodox really have no Bible, since they do not have a standardized critical set of texts of canonical Scriptures.

I say apparently, because the post is just simply three large cites without any commentary from the Triablogue’ers–and the ensuing comments to the post are about something else altogether. But if what appears to be the Triablogue’ers “argument” is indeed their “argument,” then it is sophomoric in the extreme. Indeed it is nothing more than a non sequitor.


It's funny how some men react when I simply quote someone without any editorial commentary on my part.

When they take exception to the quotes, they first have to draw certain negative conclusions for their own position from the cited material, then try to refute the conclusions they themselves had to draw for purposes of criticizing the post. So I can just sit back and watch them do my job for me.

Notice that our fallen seraph doesn’t challenge the substance of the quotes. Indeed, he admits as much. All he can do is to challenge their relevance, and he does so in a very concessive manner.

“First of all it begs the question of a need for a standard critical edition of the set of books that are the Orthodox canon of Scripture.”

I’m not begging any question. Rather, I’m simply pointing out (albeit implicitly) that certain consequences flow from certain facts.

Whether or not these consequences are acceptable to our fallen seraph is beside the point.

If he admits that the Orthodox have no official canon of Scripture, or official edition of the text, then, indeed, the Orthodox cannot be sure of what constitutes their Bible.

“Critical editions of texts are a uniquely modernist development based on Enlightenment epistemological presuppositions not shared by either Jesus or the Apostles.”

Several problems:

i) He’s a little shaky on his grasp of relative chronology. For example, does he think the Massoretes represent “a uniquely modernist development based on Enlightenment epistemological presuppositions”?

ii) In addition, such concerns also go back to the Renaissance, not the Enlightenment. Remember Lorenzo Valla (15C) on the False Decretals?

“To be sure, Origen’s Hexapla and Jerome’s Vulgate are something of precursors to modern text criticism, but the two efforts (Origen/Jerome over against modern text critics) are not the same, and Origen’s and Jerome’s texts (assuming Origen’s could be recovered) would fail most text critical standards today.”

The fact that Origen’s textual criticism “would fail most text critical standards today” is irrelevant to the fact that both are concerned with recovering the Urtext.

“It also presupposes and imposes on the biblical canon an understanding of accuracy that is predicated upon the original texts and the individual words and particles of that text.”

How does what is predicated on the original text thereby *impose* on the biblical canon?

“The non sequitor, of course, is that absent a standardized text critical edition of the Scripture that utilizes modernist presuppositions about accuracy of the text, no group can claim a canon of Scriptural texts.”

i) Even if this were so, our fallen seraph is missing the point. For in that event, Orthodoxy has no epistemic advantage over Evangelicals.

Indeed, it’s at a disadvantage because it also rejects (according to him) modern textual criticism.

ii) At the same time, his comments are also out of step with the examples of Orthodox textual criticism that I’ve quoted in the past from standard reference works on Orthodox and Eastern Christianity.

“That is to say it the other way around, simply because one cannot bring forth a standardized (according to modernist mores) text of, say, Jeremiah (which is a mess in the LXX), or of Mark (shorter, longer or middle?), that one does not have a canonical text of Jeremiah or Mark.”

If the long ending of Mark is a scribal postscript, then that is not, or ought not be, the canonical text of Mark.

“It presupposes that a canon necessitates strict verbal identity between manuscripts, or at least a recoverable approximation of the autograph.”

Once again, he misses the point. The question at issue is whether the Orthodox Church enjoys an epistemic advantage over the Protestant rule of faith. Can the Orthodox be certain of their canon? Can they be certain of their text?

“The Old Testament canon is, seemingly, a bit more so [i.e. problematic]. Are 4 Maccabees and Psalm 151 in or not? What about the ‘additions’ to Esther? And so on?”

Good question! And what’s the answer?

“Unlike Protestants, Orthodox do not believe that Scripture alone establishes doctrine and Tradition.”

Yes, we understand that. But saying that there is more to the Orthodox rule of faith in Scripture doesn’t allow you to escape the issue of where to find the Orthodox Bible. To take his own example, did Jesus say the things attributed to him in the long ending of Mark? Or is that an apocryphal interpolation?

“Of course, looking at Orthodoxy from the lense of Protestantism further assumes that Protestantism is the standard by which the historical Church is to be judged. “

The T-bloggers make no such *assumption*. Rather, we *argue* for our standard of comparison.

“And when you add the lense of modernism that the Triablogue’ers to a man also ubiquitously use, well, the resultant view is distorted in the extreme.”

To the contrary, our disputant’s anachronistic grasp of textual criticism creates a myopic view of sola Scriptura. He needs to schedule an eye examine with a good ophthalmologist like John Calvin or Benjamin Warfield to correct for his astigmatism, lest he mistake his wife for a hat.

Did Dobson betray the prolife cause?

Recently, a Christian blogger whom I greatly respect accused Dr. Dobson of having betrayed the prolife movement for saying that he (Dobson) would never vote for Giuliani. Without going into all the pros and cons of this dispute, I'd simply note that Mark Levin and others have posted some useful material on the conservative movement generally and Rudy in particular:

A failure to miscommunicate

For Touchstone, although I doubt he'd put it quite so plainly, the only truth is the truth that there is no absolute truth (or at least there is no access to absolute truth).

However, he's not consistent in his belief. He himself believes he has good reasons to believe this, sure, but a significant problem arises when others disagree with him.

That is to say, when others disagree with him, Touchstone doesn't simply shrug his shoulders and sigh, "Well, it's too bad they don't understand what I'm saying. But it's not their fault. Or anyone's fault for that matter. In fact, no 'fault' comes into play at all. I mean, I honestly can't blame them or anyone else for misunderstanding me, since I believe we live in a world in which there is no truth as such, in which words only have relative meanings, relative to a person's own biases and experiences and so forth, and in which the very act of communication itself is suspect. So, what can I say? Honestly, I can't say anything at all, really. Neither against anyone or for anyone. It's just what it is."

Nope, that's not how Touchstone replies. Instead, he gets all worked up, and responds in a huff, word-for-word, line-by-line, and even paragraph-by-paragraph to everything that's been said about him and his arguments! He challenges Steve's, or Peter's, or Gene's, or Paul's, or my or whoever else's words, claiming that we have misunderstood what he said when he said such and such, to such and such, or about such and such, or regarding such and such, or pretty much about whatever else comes to mind. Touchstone gets all riled up and goes to great lengths to defend himself by responding to others, heaping words upon words until he feels he's had his say. He quotes chapter and verse, so to speak, of his own arguments and/or the arguments of others. He informs us how and why we must've misunderstood him here or there when he said what he said. Or how we must've misrepresented him in this or that. In fact, I suppose there's a good chance Touchstone will respond in the combox of this very post and so prove the point again.

But a few of the assumptions Touchstone makes are that communication and understanding are possible, that there are objective statements and truths, and that some truth is able to be successfully communicated. Otherwise, why bother to try to communicate in the first place? Why work at it, why work at trying to get one's point across, as he clearly does? Why try to respond to others? Why try to correct others' misapprehensions or mischaracterizations or what not of a particular position?

The simple answer is because, contrary to what he professes to believe, Touchstone behaves as if things like truth and objectivity do exist.

Townes on ID theory

Intelligent design, as one sees it from a scientific point of view, seems to be quite real. This is a very special universe: it's remarkable that it came out just this way. If the laws of physics weren't just the way they are, we couldn't be here at all. The sun couldn't be there, the laws of gravity and nuclear laws and magnetic theory, quantum mechanics, and so on have to be just the way they are for us to be here.

Some scientists argue that "well, there's an enormous number of universes and each one is a little different. This one just happened to turn out right." Well, that's a postulate, and it's a pretty fantastic postulate — it assumes there really are an enormous number of universes and that the laws could be different for each of them. The other possibility is that ours was planned, and that's why it has come out so specially.

Charles H. Townes
The Nobel Prize in Physics 1964

The Impact of Jerry Falwell

The Impact of Jerry Falwell by Mike McManus

From a friend

For what it's worth, here's a more testimonial and evangelistic piece as opposed to our regular apologetics-minded fare. It's from someone I know in response to someone who claims:
I tried really hard to be Christian. It didn't work.
Please allow me to offer two responses, a short one and a longer one.

Short response:

I only wanted to say that being a Christian is not about "trying really hard" to be a Christian. After all, the more one tries to be good, the more one will inevitably fail to be good, since we are finite, imperfect, immoral creatures.

Rather, the change must come from within. That's why the Bible tells us that Christians are "a new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17). It's like Pinocchio trying to be a real boy. Try as he might, he can't be a real boy. He can't do what real boys do. The only way he can become a real boy is if he is miraculously changed into a real boy. Likewise with the Christian. One must be changed by the grace and power of God in Jesus Christ and transformed from a dead sinner into a living saint.

On the other hand, realising that no matter how hard you try you will fail may be the first step to realising you are a sinner. And realising you are a sinner, truly realising it, is all that's required to become a Christian. For the Christian is one who simply but genuinely cries out, "Have mercy on me, God, a sinner!" And a broken and contrite heart, God will not despise.

Longer response:

What you said resonated somewhat with me because I used to think somewhere along these lines as well.

I grew up Roman Catholic, and tried to be "good," at least as best as I knew how and as best as the Catholic Church told me how, since I reckoned they had the inside-track on "goodness" at the time. But I inevitably failed. Of course, the Catholic Church also teaches that everyone is a sinner, no one is perfect, and so on, so in a sense of course we are expected fail. What then could I do? I suppose to ask for forgiveness in confession and then to keep trying.

However, after a while, I noticed as you probably noticed that it's simply a cycle. A cycle of trying and failing, of failing and trying, and on and on and on. There was no end in sight.

Frankly, it became so terribly frustrating, I wanted to tear my hair out, to put it mildly. So, what else could I do? I gave it all up for a life of, shall we say, debauchery! Which, by the way, was probably tame by most comparisons, but coming from a guilt-inducing Catholic Church background, I thought I was being perfectly foul.

In other words, I rebelled against what I thought was "Christianity."

Still, a few years down the road, try as I might, I couldn't shake certain thoughts. Not merely because of what the Catholic Church had taught me, or because of my upbringing, or what not - these things I could explain away psychologically or emotionally or whatever else, after all - but simply because I began to read the Bible for myself (which I had oddly enough never honestly read for myself when I was a youth, despite my family owning one).

What was presented to me in the Bible was in some ways similar to what the Catholic Church taught me, but in other ways worlds apart. Of course, there's God, Jesus Christ, the apostles, etc. But at the same time, I noticed something else entirely different.

For one, Jesus Christ took to task the religious leaders of his day. He called them horrible things, things which would cause a person to be banned in any normal chat room or internet forum, for instance. This took me aback. I had thought Jesus Christ was supposed to be "loving" and "forgiving," but now I discover him making judgemental pronouncement and talking about things such as hell and eternal condemnation more than any other character in the Bible!

Also, I had thought that someone was a Christian, essentially, if someone believed in Jesus Christ. Then I realised that demons believe in Jesus Christ. Satan believes in Jesus Christ, too, according to the Bible. In fact, assuming the Bible is true, they believe in the reality of who Jesus Christ is far more than any Christian does or can, simply because they have seen him and some have talked with him face to face! So mere "belief" in Jesus Christ does not make one a Christian unless one is willing to include Satan and demons as Christian.

And whilst reading another chapter or two in the Bible, I noticed that Jesus Christ doesn't commend giving to the poor, or offering public prayers, or fasting. No, not at all, although one would think he would. Instead, what he commends is the "hiddenness" of these things. The fact that they're done in secret.

Yet, I thought Christianity was about doing good deeds, of loving one's neighbor, of being charitable, and so forth. I thought it was about the Golden Rule. And I thought giving to the poor, uttering holy prayers to God, and fasting and depriving one's body for the sake of spirituality would be good things, not bad things. So why does Jesus Christ tell his disciples not to do these things, except in private, except in secret, except where no one can see, and no recognition or reward is given? Wouldn't he want Christians to do good deeds in front of people, so everyone can witness what this entire Christianity business is all about in the first place?

That's when I realised that this would only be true if Jesus Christ wanted Christianity to be a predominantly external affair. Instead, it seemed, what Jesus Christ cares about is not the external affair, but the internal affair. Not what people see, but what God sees. Not what people do, but who people are. That is, he doesn't seem to care for these externalities unless they are accompanied by internal realities. They are only "good deeds" if they first originate from within, not if they are done to somehow bring more spirituality from the outside in. In other words, good deeds such as giving to the poor, praying, and fasting must be the result of a person genuinely wanting to do these things before God and not for any other motive. It's the inside that counts.

And that's when things began to coalesce for me. First, Jesus Christ was a far different figure than the one I originally had in mind as a youth. If we are to believe the words recorded in the Bible about him, he seems completely arrogant and egotistical, a certifiable megalomaniac, because of all his judgemental pronouncements and worse. Yet at the same time he's known for having lived a loving life, a life of sacrifice, healing people of all sorts of diseases, going about doing good, not having done anything wrong, but tender as a lamb. How do we square these things with one another? As far as I can see, the only way is to believe what the Bible teaches about him: he is God in the flesh, Lord and Saviour, come to save his people from their sins.

Secondly, being a Christian was not about merely believing in Jesus Christ. It was not about believing truths about him. One can believe truths about him, just as demons and devils do, but not be a true Christian.

No, being a Christian is about the third and final point I want to make: an internal change. Being a Christian is about, first, realising that one can never do enough or "try really hard" to become a Christian. It is not something we can accomplish on our own strength or by our own design. For we can never do enough. We can never try hard enough. The harder we try to be good, the more we will fail to be good. And we will always fail to be good for, indeed, we are finite, imperfect, and immoral beings.

No, being a Christian is about something which occurs on the inside rather than something we try to do on the outside. And that "something" is something which God alone can do in us when we realise we can do nothing in or of or for ourselves at all. That "something" is no less than taking a heart of stone - a heart which is pulled downwards towards sin because of its "stoniness," because of its dead weight - and replacing it with a heart of flesh - a heart which is alive with life, a heart which pumps life into the rest of the body, a heart which longs to lift itself with praise to God simply for being alive! Being a Christian is no less than being raised from the dead, because Jesus Christ was first raised from the dead, after having died for the sins of his people on the cross.

And the only prerequisite is that we must realise we are dead. We are dead in our sin. We must realise who we are and where we stand before a holy God. We must realise we are sinners, that is, that we have done wrong, gone against that which is good and right, that we have lived lives without God and on our own, that we have shaken our fists in God's face, and cried out with Frank Sinatra, "I did it my way!" We must realise we are evil rebels against God Most High.

Personally, I knew that I had gone astray from God. And not merely astray, but I wanted to live my life without God and without rules, except my own, to live by my own lights, and by however I felt - although I hated it when others did the same, when what they wanted conflicted with what I wanted (such as when it's somehow well and good for me to gossip and say mean, cruel things about someone, but it's absolutely beastly when they do the same to me!) - and in short, I just wanted everyone to leave me alone so long as I could do what I pleased. I wanted to stay dead, buried, and forgotten, so long as I would be allowed to rot in my self-made crypt.

But God had mercy on me and opened my eyes. Through the Bible, he showed me that I was proud and that my life was full of lies. And I cried out, "Have mercy on me, O God, a sinner!" And he heard my cry and rescued me.

So here I am.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A Friendly Critique of the Cameron and Comfort vs. Rational Responders Debate Part II


In this post we will continue with the second and final critique in this series discussing how not to do apologetics. I've already been on The Narrow Mind discussing this "debate" with Pastor Gene Cook Jr., and now it is time to put this thing to bed by finishing my friendly critique of Comfort's use of the teleological argument.


Kirk Cameron stated, “Existence of God can be proven by faith . . . the reason many do not believe in God is because of a theory that can be likened to a fairy-tale for grown-ups.” [i.e., evolution] Ray Comfort went on to propose that he would attempt to scientifically demonstrate the existence of God through (1) creation and (2) conscience but then defies that later in his opening presentation by making an appeal to the 10 commandments. Comfort stated, “Where there is a design, there must be a designer. . . where there is a painting there must be a painter.” However, as we will see both scientifically and philosophically, appealing to a nebulous designer doesn’t necessarily lead to the conclusion that the proposed designer is the Triune God of Christianity and this type of argumentation has been exposed for its own philosophical inadequacies by both secular and sacred philosophers alike. What that we turn to the argument that Ray appealed to, namely, a modified and simplistic version of the intelligent design argument.

Some Positives of the Intelligent Design Argument (ID):

This movement has produced much literature that indirectly supports the biblical creationist viewpoint.[1] It makes clear that Darwinism/naturalism is based on the philosophical presupposition that the supernatural does not exist, thus inevitably affecting the way one interprets any scientific data.

Some Problems with the Intelligent Design Argument:

1. However, the major problem with the ID movement is a divorce of the Creator from creation. The Creator and His creation cannot be separated; they reflect on each other.

In today's culture, many are attracted to the ID movement because they can decide for themselves who the creator is—a Great Spirit, Brahman, Allah, God, etc. The current movement focuses more on what is designed, rather than who designed it. And so, leaders in the movement do not have problems with accepting an old earth paradigms or allowing evolution to play a vital role once the designer formed and set in motion the basic components (i.e., natural laws) necessary for the evolution of the universe.

Adherents of ID fail to understand that old earth theories have provided a scientific foundation for the edifice of Darwinism. If the Scriptures to not depict a relatively young earth, then maybe other events of the creation week can be called into question; and maybe God was not a necessary part of the equation for life after all. This same type of thinking was evident in Sapient’s rejoinder argument regarding having an eternal universe vs. having an eternal God.

Without the framework of the Bible and the understanding that evil entered the world through man’s sin, God appears sloppy and incompetent per the objection given by the woman who asked the emotionally-charged question about the existence of God as related to the existence of cancer (i.e., a different version of the so-called “problem of evil” argument). People like her ask why God is unable to prevent evil from thwarting His plans, resulting in such poor design, instead of understanding that because of the Fall there is now a cursed design and that it is all ordained for the good of the elect and the glory of His name.

2. God’s role as Creator is absolutely foundational to His role as Redeemer.

In addition, because ID arguments do not formally acknowledge and account for Christ as redeemer, there seems to be no final solution for the evil and supposed dysteleology in this world; and by all appearances evil will continue to reign supreme. However, when starting with Christ and His Word as the presuppositional starting point versus neglecting it, we read that Jesus clearly conquered death with the Resurrection (Romans 6:3–10) and that one day death will no longer reign (1 Cor. 15:26). And so, from a presuppositional perspective, the Triune Creator and His creation are intimately involved and reflective of each other and so they cannot be divorced from each other in order to adequately account for each other.

As already noted in part I of this series, Romans 1:20 clearly states that all men know about God through His creation. However, intuitively recognizing that He is the Creator is only the first step. Colossians 1:15–20 and 2 Peter 3:3–6 demonstrate how God’s role as Creator and Redeemer are inexorably intertwined. Again, God’s role as Creator is foundational to His role as Redeemer. Recognizing a mere “designer” is not enough to be saved from hell; submitting to the Redeemer is also necessary. Thus, as I stated in part I, to purport to enter a formal debate stating that you will avoid the gospel in order to defend the God of the gospel is immoral.

Because the Creator and His creation cannot be separated, knowledge of God must come through both general revelation (nature) and special revelation (the Bible). Louis Berkhof said, “ . . . since the entrance of sin into the world, man can gather true knowledge about God from His general revelation only if he studies it in the light of Scripture.”[2] It is only then that the entire truth about the Triune God and what is seen around us can be fully understood and used to point to understand the bad news in Genesis (which explains things like cancer and supposed dysteleology) and the good news found in Jesus Christ. And now, we turn to a philosophical critique.

Philosophically: The teleological (design) argument for God’s existence as it has been classically constructed has both theological and philosophical problems. It was originally constructed as follows by Thomas Aquinas:

    1. Every agent acts for an end, even natural agents.
    2. Now what acts for an end manifests intelligence.
    3. But natural agents have no intelligence of their own.
    4. Therefore, they are directed to their end by some Intelligence.[3]

For the keen reader, it is clear that this argument neither proves the existence of the Christian God nor can it escape its own philosophical problems in its traditional form. And so I will now turn to a brief critique thereof. The Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) was one of the first philosophers to really put the screws to this argument.

  1. Hume basically said, “Is it true that order shows us that there is a Creator if you are not predisposed to do so?” Hume said that we have examples of order in which we have no idea that there is any intelligent agency behind them. The natural evidence shows us that some cases of order have a designer and some don’t (i.e., no natural evidence for the creator of a tree). The actual evidence shows that only some things have order with intelligent agency and things like trees and stones (which have order, harmony, and intricacy) don’t. So, unless you beg the question (Hume says), only then can you say that every instance of the natural artifacts of the world are designed. Hume took the same premise but came to the opposite conclusion. He said, “I can take the very world that you’re appealing to and prove the opposite conclusion. I can show you that since we don’t see a creator making everything then obviously there are some forms of order that don’t need or have a creator.” Again, this is a similar line of argumentation used by Sapient to argue for uncaused, eternal matter to explain away the necessity of the uncaused, eternal God.
  2. Hume said there are alternative explanations for the order that we do see. For instance, he said that the harmony of the heavens can be explained on the basis of physical laws of motion and the order that we see in the natural world can be explained on the basis of evolution (yes, Darwin hadn’t written yet, but you will see in Hume’s dialogues discussions of “cosmological accidents” [i.e., an early discussion of survival of the fittest] wherein only the worlds that had survival value or were “adaptively adequate” survived. Hume would say that there may have been many creatures that came about by chance but only the ones that had any staying power are the ones that survived and are still around and they have adaptive abilities (not because a creator made them that way), but they have survived so that we see their adaptive abilities. And so, it’s all really just a result of time, chance, and natural processes working on these organisms and all the rest died out. There have been a lot of things that were non-adaptive and didn’t have characteristics that were purposeful and they died out, leaving the more adaptive and fit organisms to propagate themselves. Similar argumentation has been used by naturalistic philosophers to explain what they believe are the natural truths rather than the logical truths of the laws of logic. They say, “The reason we say that ‘A is not ~A’ is because you don’t survive very well unless you say that. Trying living on the premise that there is a bear attacking and there is not a bear attacking me at the same time and the same relationship. And so, those who don’t follow the laws of logic get eaten by lions and since they don’t survive only those who believe and follow the laws of logic hang around long enough. And so, the laws of the logic are not necessary, they just work out best for those who follow them.” And so, Hume is made a similar argument against the teleological argument by saying that it is not necessarily true that all things have their origin in an intelligent creator but can be just as easily explained by saying that only some worlds and organisms in those worlds endured or survived because they were adaptively adequate and ordered in such a way that they survived, and those that were not so ordered, died or passed out of existence. And so, at the end of the day it only looks like they were designed. And so, according to Hume’s reasoning, science can account for this intricacy and order because as scientific knowledge increases, those things that were previously anomalous to us are now easily explained through purely natural causes.
  3. Some philosophers (i.e., Swinburne) have said that there are some things that science can explain, but there are other regularities (i.e., regularities of succession) that science cannot explain. So this philosopher may say to the naturalist, “You appeal from order to natural law, but why is this regularity of succession, and enduring regularity of things.” Why is it true that the universe operates the way that it does over the long haul? Why are their natural laws at all? This is a good criticism because when the naturalist appeals to natural law for an explanation of order and regularity within the created universe the Christian philosopher/scientist may then ask “Well, why is natural law law-like? Why is their natural order in natural laws? Why is it that the law of gravity has been the law of gravity for so long? How do you account for that orderliness in terms of gravitational laws?” And so, Swinburne would take this tact to say that Hume is wrong, but Swinburne has not taken us as far as we need to go to make the teleological argument function properly.
  4. If the naturalist says that the wider laws of nature can be appealed to explain order in the universe and our experience. But the Christian appeals to the wider laws of nature were made laws by God. And to that, the atheistic scientist who is in tune with his naturalistic philosophy would simply say, “The fundamental laws of nature have no explanation at all. You ask me why the law of gravity operates consistently with regularity over the long haul and I will tell you that it’s just a basic given of the universe.” The Christian then says, “You can’t stop your argument there [i.e., who made gravity?]” and the astute atheistic scientist says, “Oh so, explanations can never end?” and the Christian says, “No, they have to end somewhere, and for me they end with God!” and the atheistic scientist says, “Oh, in other words, your explanation of the law of gravity can stop somewhere, but you don’t want my explanation to stop somewhere? But that is special pleading on your part Mr. Christian, and my explanation ends just short of God!” And so the atheist appeals to the fundamental laws of nature as having no necessary explanation because they, in themselves are the explanation. They are just brute, basic facts about the universe that express the way things are in an ultimate sense. Moreover, if the scientist is atomistic in his reason, he can go on to add that the ordinary analytical rules of evidence cease to apply just at the level of our most ultimate and basic laws. This is because scientific explanation is to explain something in terms of the broader context of law, and then you explain that law in the terms of the broadest terms of the most basic laws. But do you explain the most basic laws by more basic laws? But once you get to the most basic laws, there can be no further explanation. In the nature of the case the scientist is not committed to explaining everything ad infinitum, he gets to the basics and then all explanation stops because being atomistic, after breaking things down as far as possible, there can be no further appeal to anything more basic or foundational. Even the atheistic, atomistic scientist will remind the Christian theist that he too must be content with ultimate mysteries. And in that sense, every school of thought has its most ultimate given, and the ultimate given for the atheistic scientist is the basic laws of nature whereas for the Christian it is the Triune God. Mr. Atheist may posit that we can’t prove who is right or wrong based on the order of the universe because the Christian has his account for it and the atheist has his account. But now our atheistic scientist friend can add this little stinger by appealing to Occam’s Razor, “But my naturalistic hypothesis for the human eye is more economical than your supernaturalistic hypothesis.” Occam essentially said that superfluous explanatory devices should be shaven off of our way of speaking and thinking and we should just speak and think of the most elegant and efficient ways of talking about things. Naturalistic hypotheses do not make appeals to God for the origin of the universe, it just appeals to the way things are, and in that sense, it is less complicated than the supernaturalistic hypothesis. So, since we prefer the less complicated hypothesis to the more complicated,” and the scientist also says, “maybe the supernatural hypothesis is not acceptable to science at all.” And so, that’s the way that the thinking of Swinburne may be answered by a perceptive atheist, thus further showing the need for a reconstruction of the teleological argument.
  5. A fifth line of argument against the teleological argument. It is has been said that William Paley’s analogy between the world and human design can be countered with an equally plausible analogy. Paley argued that the world can be likened to a machine (i.e., a watch) because machines have order. But someone devastatingly says that this type of order can also be found in biology. And so, the plant and animal world can be seen as analogous to an organism. The classical Christian apologist says that the painting proves that there was a painter, now look at organisms or the world as a whole and they too prove there must be a maker/creator. And so, someone puts the screws to Paley by moving not from watch, to organisms, to a creator, but from a watch to organisms and thus tries to liken the world to an organism. And so, instead of having a “watchmaker God” you have the world as one giant organism. The point is per the naturalist that if you want to argue by analogy to God then they can argue from analogy too by saying that the world is simply one large organism. And so, per the objector, the world is alive (i.e., Gaia hypothesis; ancient earth religions, etc.). This point here is to show not that any of these objections to the teleological argument are true, but rather that they challenge Paley’s watchmaker argument. If anything, this certainly does not show that the Christian God is the necessary Creator of the world, but that “god” is merely the immanent (vs. being both transcendent and immanent) life principle of the earth, which is itself alive.
  6. A sixth line of argument against this use of the teleological proof for God goes something like this, “When evil and imperfection in the world are taken into account, the argument does not suggest that the creator is both omnipotent and omnibenevolent.” Assuming the teleological argument in its traditional form, one of the classic arguments against it from detractors is, “If God is the source of order and adaptiveness he either could not make the world in such a way that there was no evil or imperfection (hence, he was not omnipotent) or either he could, and chose not to (hence, he was not omnibenevolent).” And so, because evil and imperfection exist in the universe, sin, evil, and imperfection must be attributed to the creator and in that case, it would not work for the Christian because this “god” would be altogether different from the Triune God of Scripture.[4] And so, the above six lines of argumentation show some of the inherent weaknesses in the probabilistic, traditional form of the teleological argument.
Now, positively, we will look at why it is that this notoriously philosophically weak argument has found such endurance in human thought. Philosophers keep coming back to this argument. Even after Hume and Kant criticized it, they granted that it had an appeal and a certain staying power with people. Why does it have such appeal in spite of the fact that philosophically speaking, it is a weak argument in its traditional form? Why do people keep getting drawn to this weak and fallacious form of argument? Well, I will suggest that it appeals to sinful men because of the philosophical borrowed Christian capital which contains the idea of an ordered world has an intuitive appeal to men. And although the autonomous formulation of the argument is poor, there can be another form of the argument that is honoring to God from a presuppositional perspective. And so, the fallacy comes in the autonomous formulation of the arguments. We can reformulate this argument in an explicit fashion so that it corresponds to the intuitive power of the argument. And the intuitive power of the teleological comes from the fact that all men are living on “borrowed capital.” They are assuming the very thing that the argument is trying to prove, it just has to be shown in a more adequate way, via an indirect argument. An indirect line of argumentation says that when you look at the various actual possibilities for explaining the origin of the world that you can show which explanation is sufficient by the impossibility of contrary, actual worldviews.
When you look at a Christian worldview you have some explanation for order in your life experience, but when you appeal to actual (vs. hypothetical, which are not helpful to this discussion) non-Christian views, you cannot appeal to order at all. Worse, you can’t even appeal to reason in a non-Christian world and life view and be consistent with those same presuppositions. It is not that you are making a direct argument by recognizing one or two instances of order in your experience and then moving on from there to prove an orderer; no, this is saying that order is all around us and we can’t even reason and be orderly in our thought patterns without a Christian worldview. And so, the essence of indirect argumentation is that you compare various systems of thought and argue from the impossibility of contrary actual worldviews. We’ll look at a subtle example of this found in the conclusion of Cornelius Van Til’s Why I Believe In God,

Deep down in your heart you know very well that what I have said about you is true. You know there is no unity in your life. You want no God who by His counsel provides for the unity you need. Such a God, you say, would allow for nothing new. So you provide your own unity. But this unity must, by your own definition, not kill that which is wholly new. Therefore it must stand over against the wholly new and never touch it at all. Thus by your logic you talk about possibles and impossibles, but all this talk is in the air. By your own standards it can never have anything to do with reality. Your logic claims to deal with eternal and changeless matters; and your facts are wholly changing things; and "never the twain shall meet." So you have made nonsense of your own experience. With the prodigal you are at the swine-trough, but it may be that, unlike the prodigal, you will refuse to return to the father's house.

On the other hand by my belief in God I do have unity in my experience. Not of course the sort of unity that you want. Not a unity that is the result of my own autonomous determination of what is possible. But a unity that is higher than mine and prior to mine. On the basis of God's counsel I can look for facts and find them without destroying them in advance. On the basis of God's counsel I can be a good physicist, a good biologist, a good psychologist, or a good philosopher. In all these fields I use my powers of logical arrangement in order to see as much order in God's universe as it may be given a creature to see. The unities, or systems that I make are true because [they are] genuine pointers toward the basic or original unity that is found in the counsel of God.

Looking about me I see both order and disorder in every dimension of life. [We might understand this better if I say “I see unity and particularity”. I see the laws of nature but I also see the individuality of things. D] But I look at both of them in the light of the Great Orderer Who is back of them. [Now, that sounds similar to a teleological argument. The difference is that he does not say, “On autonomous grounds when you look at this particular instance of order and see if there must be a god.” No, he is essentially saying that on autonomous grounds you can have any order at all! And only if you renounce your autonomy and think God’s thoughts after him can you then have order. D] I need not deny either of them in the interest of optimism or in the interest of pessimism. I see the strong men of biology searching diligently through hill and dale to prove that the creation doctrine is not true with respect to the human body, only to return and admit that the missing link is missing still. I see the strong men of psychology search deep and far into the sub-consciousness, child and animal consciousness, in order to prove that the creation and providence doctrines are not true with respect to the human soul, only to return and admit that the gulf between human and animal intelligence is as great as ever. I see the strong men of logic and scientific methodology search deep into the transcendental for a validity that will not be swept away by the ever-changing tide of the wholly new, [This is just a fancy way of saying “I see them come back with their very orderly explanations only to admit that it’s all in a random universe.” D] only to return and say that they can find no bridge from logic to reality, or from reality to logic. And yet I find all these, though standing on their heads, reporting much that is true. I need only to turn their reports right side up, making God instead of man the center of it all, and I have a marvelous display of the facts as God has intended me to see them.

And if my unity is comprehensive enough to include the efforts of those who reject it, it is large enough even to include that which those who have been set upright by regeneration cannot see. My unity is that of a child who walks with its father through the woods. The child is not afraid because its father knows it all and is capable of handling every situation. So I readily grant that there are some “difficulties” with respect to belief in God and His revelation in nature and Scripture that I cannot solve. In fact there is mystery in every relationship with respect to every fact that faces me, for the reason that all facts have their final explanation in God Whose thoughts are higher than my thoughts, and Whose ways are higher than my ways. And it is exactly that sort of God that I need. Without such a God, without the God of the Bible, the God of authority, the God who is self-contained and therefore incomprehensible to men, there would be no reason in anything. No human being can explain in the sense of seeing through all things, but only he who believes in God has the right to hold that there is any explanation at all.

So you see when I was young I was conditioned on every side; I could not help believing in God. Now that I am older I still cannot help believing in God. I believe in God now because unless I have Him as the All-Conditioner, life is Chaos. [And so here, we see that Van Til in this sentence reasons from the impossibility of contrary actual worldviews. He says that without the Christian worldview, all is chaos. D]

I shall not convert you at the end of my argument. I think the argument is sound. I hold that belief in God is not merely as reasonable as other beliefs or even a little or infinitely more probably true than other beliefs; I hold rather that unless you believe in God you can logically believe in nothing else. [This explains why Hume, Kant, et. al. cannot get away from the teleological argument. In their heart of hearts they know very well that unless you believe in God you cannot logically believe in nothing else. That isn’t to say that people don’t have other beliefs, but it’s to say that those other beliefs are going to get destroyed by this random view of the universe. D] But since I believe in such a God, a God who has conditioned you as well as me, I know that you can to your own satisfaction, by the help of the biologists, the psychologists, the logicians, and the Bible critics reduce everything I have said this afternoon and evening to the circular meanderings of a hopeless authoritarian. Well, my meanderings have, to be sure, been circular; they have made everything turn on God. So now I shall leave you with Him, and with His mercy.

What Van Til has said is that you cannot account for the ordering of your experience at all without God because the Triune God of the Bible is the hinge upon which everything turns. And so, there is something of a presuppositional reformulation of the basic gist of the teleological argument here. He is saying that you cannot have both particularity and order in your experience assuming naturalism. And so, apart from a Christian world and life view, trying to pull the particularities of the universe together with the unity thereof will always result in a rational-irrational dialectical tension that eventually pulls the worldview apart rather than giving harmony to it.


With all due respect to these Christian brothers, Cameron and Comfort would have done well to defer their assumed debate responsibilities to another who has the philosophical and academic ability/awareness to interact with hardened infidels who spend their entire time ranting and raving about the non-existence of the Triune God. As much as I appreciate these brothers, it is time for them to step up the study time so as to be ready to give an account for the hope that is within them with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15).

[1] See AiG’s views on the intelligent design movement here: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

[2] Louis Berkhof, Introductory Volume to Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1938), 60.

[3] Norman L. Geisleir, The Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 714.

[4] In all fairness, it should be noted that Paley conceded that his argument did not necessarily prove the existence of the Christian God.

Responding to e-Hecklers

Below I will share with you an interesting discussion I'm having with an atheistic physics professor who has started e-heckling me. Below is the caption he e-mailed me from the Freethought of the Day by Katha Pollitt in an attempt to "get my hackles up",

“When you consider that God could have commanded anything he wanted--anything!--the Ten [Commandments] have got to rank as one of the great missed moral opportunities of all time. How different history would have been had he clearly and unmistakably forbidden war, tyranny, taking over other people's countries, slavery, exploitation of workers, cruelty to children, wife-beating, stoning, treating women--or anyone--as chattel or inferior beings.” -- Katha Pollitt (1949-), "Stacked Decalogue," The Nation, September 22, 2003

Dear ____,

As a Christian, it is interesting to note how intelligent Pollitt must think that she is since she (like Eve) arrogates to herself the prerogative to think that she can decide better than God when it comes to moral issues.

What is even more amazing is that she (and by implication you also, since you sent this e-mail), assumes some fixed standard of morality whereby Yahweh's laws as given in historical time can be weighed and judged over and against some moral standard that Yahweh has supposedly violated.

Since both you and she would take umbrage with the validity of the existence of Yahweh and His 10 commandments as given to the ancient Israelites , and assuming that you hold to one of the three major brands of atheistic materialism, I challenge you to answer the following questions:

(1) An Epistemological Question:

What non-arbitrary epistemological basis do you have to say that is it wrong for Yahweh not to forbid war, tyranny, invasion, slavery, exploitation of workers, cruelty to children, wife-beating, stoning and treating women like chattel since on the assumption of naturalistic materialism, you couldn't know it was wrong in the first place given the lack of reliability of your cognitive faculties?

In other words, assuming the truthfulness of your position, God doesn't exist and we are the products of naturalistic evolutionary theory. Given that proposition, consider what Charles Darwin had to say,

"With me, the horrid doubt always arises, whether the convictions of a man's mind, which have been developed from the minds of lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Why would anyone trust the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there were any convictions in such a mind?" [Darwin, C. 1881. Letter to W. Graham. In F. Darwin, ed., The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin. New York, D. Appleton & Co., 1905.]

Also, Richard Vitzhum, who wrote a definitive work titled 'Materialism: An Affirmative History and Definition' also commented in like manner,

"A revised and modernized materialism concludes from all of this [i.e., what he was arguing for in his book], that all human thought and feeling is the product of a series of unthinking and unfeeling processes originating in the Big Bang." [pp. 218-219]

And so, given naturalism and evolution, the probability that you have reliable cognitive faculties is low or inscrutable. This means you have a defeater for your belief that your cognitive faculties are reliably aimed at producing true beliefs (whatever "belief" is in your worldview).

On this assumption, atheistic materialist physicalist philosopher Patricia Churchland has also noted that given evolution, "truth, whatever that is, takes the hindmost." And, materialist Richard Rorty has noted that the belief that your beliefs are aimed at truth is "unDarwinian." (Now, you don't want to be "unDarwinian" do you?)

Worse yet, Darwin himself noted that he has "horrid doubt[s]" when he reflects on the assumption that his mind has evolved from the mind of lower animals. He rightly says that he wouldn't trust the convictions of a monkey's mind, and so assuming evolution and naturalism, why should he trust the convictions of his own mind?

And so, to sum it up, upon what epistemological basis can you know that moral realism exists (i.e., objective, absolute, universal, moral laws) assuming the conjunction of naturalism and evolution?

And to offer a related follow-up question: If what Pollitt says is true, how can you can figure out solutions to these perceived problems since the very cognitive faculties you use to problem solve are called into question by the very process they supposedly arose from?

(2) A Metaphysical Question:

Assuming Pollitt's argument is correct for the sake of argument, it would then follow that her argument against the supposed inferior nature of the decalogue is "true". But given the assumption of the truthfulness of that statement, how do you account for immaterial, abstract concepts of "truth" assuming only the existence of concrete particulars?

Syllogism One:

1. Concepts are immaterial.
2. But some versions of materialism (like yours) hold that anything that exists is material.
3. Our concepts are not material things.
4. Therefore, concepts do not exist.
5. Our concept of "truth" is immaterial.
6. In some versions of materialism (like yours), "truth" does not exist.

Syllogism Two:

1. Material things are extended in space.

2. Our concept of "truth" is not extended in space.

3. Therefore, our concepts of "truth" are non-material.

4. Some versions of materialism (like yours) posit that no non-material entities exist.

5. Therefore, assuming some versions of materialism (like yours), concepts of "truth" do not exist.

Those questions should suffice for now. We'll see if your worldview has any money in its philosophical bank account to support the checks you are trying to write.

Catholic bibliology: sic et non

Interpreting the Bible: Three Views

The Replies of the Biblical Commission

Evan Maybe, or Evan Maybe Not

Evan Maybe said:

And since we're off topic, is Evan May really 17 yrs old like his profile says?


I don't believe I've ever given any background information about myself on this blog (not that information about my life is very necessary). Obviously, I post on here less now than I ever have, and my affections for blogging are increasingly diminishing--while my posture towards the local church as my primary means of growth is strengthening.

But here it is:

The Most Important: Created in God's image, I exist for his own glory and pleasure. My most ultimate purpose and highest commitment is to magnify the Name above all names. My greatest passion and most intense desire is to experience and delight in God. My prayer every morning as I wake up is that my day would be filled with God-honoring, Christ-exalting thoughts and that my God-hating, Christ-belittling sinful unbelief would be mortified more and more, until the day where I will see Christ face-to-face.

The Less Important: I'm a teenager (17, will be 18 August 1st) who loves to study theology because I long to know God more. I love learning the technical skills of grammatical-historical exegesis, not simply because they are fun, but because through them I know Scripture better.

I live in New Orleans, LA. My local church, Lakeview Christian Center, part of Sovereign Grace Ministries, was greatly affected by hurricane Katrina. Our building was completed flooded and eventually demolished. ...But the story does not end there. God's providence has kept our congregation together, and on May 24th, 9am, we will have the ground-breaking ceremony to start the construction of our new $11,000,000 facility. We expect to walk through the doors of this new building less than 15 months from now. God's grace has been very evident because by this devastation the door has been opened to many ministry opportunities that were previously unavailable. We gladly welcome what his sovereign plan has for us in this next chapter. To learn more about what has happened with the church the past few years and how you can help, check out this video.

My current occupation: I work as an administrative assistant at the church office. My responsibilities include mostly minuscule and humbling tasks such as folding and cutting paper, and some other newly learned skills such as managing the website, creating the newsletter, designing the bulletin, etc. I also manage the resources and make sure supplies are ready for the services. Mainly, I work to serve the pastoral team in their responsibilities, whether that means doing research on theological topics or simply making phone calls.

Having just graduated high school, I am now a freshman in college, majoring in history at the University of New Orleans. While God's sovereign plans certainly rule my life and not my own desires, I expect to go to seminary after I complete my undergraduate studies. I also expect to get married soon, even at my young age, because of my conviction that getting married and growing up are so intimately connected that it is biblically irresponsible to put off marriage in pursuit of career or personal fulfillment. Then there's the fact that there's that girl in my life.... :-)

Have I fallen off of the face of the planet? No, I'm still here. You can still e-mail me any time, and I enjoy receiving questions or comments. I hope that this post has helped to put some flesh on the bones of someone that you might have read in the past. I'm certain that I've said many foolish or arrogant things before, and for those I apologize. I simply want to know God more, and I want to stand for his truth in an age that so quickly abandons it for something "better." The cross of Christ is all that I need, and for the joy set before me I will bear it on my back as I lay down my life for Christ's bride and his glory.

Don't forget to send me a present on my birthday (or better yet, I just graduated!), ;-)

Enjoying Him,

Evan E. May

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Jerry Falwell, R.I.P.

Passionate and Restless
Rabbi Daniel Lapin Mourns the Passing of Jerry Falwell
Jerry Falwell, 1933-2007
Three Reasons to Honor Jerry Falwell
A Holy Warrior, Wholly Committed
Educated, Inspired Conservative Christians
The Moral Majority of the Story
Power to the People

"Extensive torture"

The topic of torture came up in the GOP debate last night. Here's a truly chilling example of what goes on at Gitmo.

Beware of the graphic descriptions! This is not suitable reading material for anyone under the age of 21.


'Extensive torture'

Majid Khan, who has been accused of planning to blow up petrol stations in the US...

Mr Khan produced a list of further examples of psychological torture, which included the provision of "cheap, branded, unscented soap", the prison newsletter, noisy fans and half-inflated balls in the recreation room that "hardly bounce".

Touchstone's Subjective Objective in Being Objectively Subjective

The nice thing about asking T-Stone questions is that before I ask them I already know both the manner in which he will respond (obliquely, at best) as well as the fact that he would never pause to consider the reason why I asked the questions I did. As such, T-Stone is actually quite easy to "lead" to a specific area, which was the reason I asked the questions I did.

For instance, I originally asked:
How is it possible for you to even determine that you have a filter that needs corrected in the first place?
T-Stone responded:
If you are asking how can I determine *for certain* that I have such a filter, I can't.

But he then said:

Contradictory accounts of the same event suggest that a) either we weren't witnessing the same event in the first place, or b) one or more (or all) of us has an interpretation of the event that is at odds with what actually happened.

Given the choices of a) and b), b) seems more plausible (emphasis added).

The problem with this is that in order to determine plausibility in any meaningful way, you have to know what things ought to be normal. In other words, for T-Stone to say that b) is more plausible than a), he must know that reality more closely corresponds to b) than to a). In saying which is more “plausible”, T-Stone is smuggling in an objectivist claim.

Similarly, T-Stone continued:

A unified reality with various amounts of distortion in the perceptions of observers would explain the contradictions more naturally than some sort of "personal universes" or "multiple histories" view that maintains the perfection of the observer's perception, and instead messes with the underlying reality to resolve the contradictions (emphasis added).

T-Stone says that accepting his view is “more natural” than other views. This is therefore an objectivist claim. Likewise, he argues that these opposing views “[mess] with the underlying reality to resolve the contradictions.” But in order for T-Stone to know that these view “mess” with this “underlying reality” he is first required to know what the underlying reality is. Again, while claiming to be subjective, he’s engaging in objectivist claims.

This is most obvious in his answer to my question, “You are assuming that you have a subjective filter. Why? Because 'everyone' does?" In response, he says:

Simply because this assumption has proven the most effective for me as a model of the real world (emphasis added).

This statement simply cannot be made subjectively. There is no “subjective” way to determine that an assumption has proven effective, nor that it models “the real world” unless you know what the real world is. T-Stone’s argument requires him to have objective knowledge of the universe in order for him to make his subjective claim.

Naturally, T-Stone may simply reply, “It is only my subjective opinion that it would be more natural to believe what I do, or that it would model the real world accurately, etc.” But note A) T-Stone does not speak as if this is his mere opinion; he speaks using objectivist language while saying we ought to read it as if he applies a subjectivist disclaimer before he says it (but that subjectivist disclaimer refutes his very argument, which is why he never explicitly states it!); and B) if it really is just his subjective appeal all the way down, T-Stone’s denial of objective reality is based on a position of pure fideism. It is T-Stone’s belief that this is the case. There is no underlying basis for his position other than T-Stone’s bare faith. This is, indeed, the very definition of blind faith. He merely believes because he wants to believe, not because there is any reason for him to believe.

T-Stone also said:

I don't know for certain that Abraham Lincoln will not show up on my door tomorrow.

This is the silly sort of thing that T-Stone is reduced to stating because of how hard he must grasp at subjectivity. The fact of the matter is that he does know “for certain” that Abraham Lincoln will not show up at his door tomorrow. He only says he doesn’t know this “for certain” because if he said those two magic words, he’d be committing himself to an objectivist position.

But even not saying those two magic words, T-Stone has still committed himself to an objectivist position, for he has said that reality is objectively such that it he cannot be certain that Abraham Lincoln won’t show up at his porch tomorrow. In saying that he cannot rule out the possibility, he is saying that it is objectively the case that Honest Abe could possibly do this; and he can only know that Abe could possibly do this if he is making an objective statement about reality. Of course, T-Stone hasn’t considered this because he doesn’t really believe it. His subjectivity claims are merely to avoid having to argue for his position (remember, he only has bare fideism—and irrationalism—for his position).

To be fair to T-Stone, he did get close to the truth here:
But I have no experience available to me, no precedent, for the re-appearance of a long dead American President. I can't be certain that it can't or won't happen, but I have no empirical basis to suggest that it will.

I remind T-Stone that I originally asked him:
Is it reasonable for you to couch all your truth claims in subjectivist language, or is it instead reasonable to assert dogmatically that reality is what you think it is because you have no reason to think otherwise?

While I disagree with T-Stone’s empiricism in his above quote, I point out that the existence of it ought to lead T-Stone to an objective position rather than a position of subjective doubt. It is unreasonable to doubt everything. Again, my original post on radical skepticism dealt with this.

T-Stone finishes:
Hey, why am I answering all these questions you offer, when you won't answer the few that I've put to you?

Firstly, how am I supposed to know the inner workings of an irrational mind in or to answer the question of why you do anything? :-P Secondly, I have answered your relevant questions. Thirdly, if you’re referring to the definitions of subjective and objective (as is implied by your previous comments), it’s not like I’ve never provided a definition for them. Look at almost any one of my interactions with Dawson for examples of this. I don’t see a need to continually repeat myself simply because you don’t read.

But if you insist, a basic definition is easy. Objective truth is truth that is dependent upon the object; subjective truth is dependent upon the subject. Objective truth is true regardless of what the subject thinks, dreams, imagines, believes, etc because it is based on the ontology of the object. Subjective truth can never leave the subject. It is confined to each individual subject. Therefore, it is impossible for a subjective truth to be true for more than one subject (even if two subjects hold the same proposition, it is not really the same proposition for the first subject’s proposition is only true for the first subject, etc.).

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Caption This!

Okay, I'm on vacation, technically, til July when I'll resume posting articles on the main page, but I couldn't resist this. We're terribly serious here, but let's all lighten the mood. This is a space where everybody, even those with whom we regularly disagree, can have some fun and set aside some of our differences...okay, so no discussions about who's better Kirk or Picard or any such (wags finger). Those sorts of discussions can be moved to I just couldn't resist a round of "caption this" when I ran across this picture while browsing their forums a few days ago.

So, here you go...have fun and play nice!

Hecklers for humanism

“In the blog world, it’s easy to get sucked into fruitless discussions where you fire off post after long post in response to someone who is about as responsive as a wall.”

This assumes that the aim of responding is to persuade the “atheist heckler.” But, speaking for myself, although I don’t think I’m unique in this respect, the atheist heckler is simply a convenient foil.

“It’s stressful”

Stressful for whom, the atheist heckler or me? I’m not stressed out by responding to the atheist heckler. I have no religious doubts. I have no emotional investment in apologetics. I’ve been blessed with an effortless faith, and my passions lie outside the sphere of polemical theology.

For me, apologetics is a purely intellectual exercise. I’m quite detached about it. I have no personal stake in apologetics, for that’s epiphenomenal to where I live and breathe. And I’m rather bemused by how worked up some bloggers can get. But this is a pretty faceless, nameless mass medium of communication.

To me, the evidence for God is ubiquitous, and the flaws in various attacks on the faith are easy to detect. The atheist labors under the insurmountable handicap of being wrong. Nothing can overcome the handicap of being wrong, dead wrong. No amount of ingenuity or erudition or brilliance can compensate for being wrong, dead wrong.

“And doesn’t produce any results. In other words, it’s a huge waste of time.”

How is Josh in any position to know that? Has the angel Gabriel been whispering in his ear?

“Steve Hays gets sucked into this all the time. He responds to the most foolish crap going line-by-line, picking apart every word of some atheist heckler, undoubtedly spending hours doing so. And what’s it accomplish? Absolutely nothing.”

It’s true that I’ve devoted a lot of time to picking apart ever word, line-by-line, of Tim Enloe, Paul Owen, and Kevin Johnson, although I rather doubt they’d appreciate Josh’s rather harsh characterization of his fellow bores…uh…I mean, boars.

And while we're on the subject, what effect for the kingdom is all the ecclesiastical naval-gazing and spiritual self-absorption over at Reformed Catholicism supposed to have?

“Theological discussion is wasted on hecklers.”

This is a rather faithless attitude. It’s true that I don’t expect to win over the hecklers. But even an atheist heckler is not above and beyond the reach of God’s grace.

Today’s obnoxious, know-nothing heckler may be tomorrow’s zealous soul-winner. Isn’t saving even one of these from the everlasting bonfire worth the time?

I myself am only one person. I’m just one Christian. But it’s very important to me that I’m heavenbound rather than hellbound. If every Christian were instrumental in the conversion of just one unbeliever, wouldn’t that be worth the time and effort? Convincing just one individual literally makes a world of difference, an eternity of difference, for that one solitary individual.

One of the interesting things about heaven is that we don’t know who-all we’re going to encounter when we get there. God can bless and multiple our feeble little efforts so that we may touch lives without ever knowing, in this life, the impact we’ve had in the hands of God’s almighty providence. Where is Josh’s compassion for the lost?

Incidentally, or not so coincidentally, this complacency is more common among liturgical churches.

“A heckler is someone who doesn’t engage what’s being said, continues to parrot silly little propagandistic maxims that have been substantially dealt with, and responds to developed exposition with one-liners. Invariably, one-liners are loaded with all kinds of baggage that takes a substantial amount of material to dissect–and then when you’re done, you just get another one-liner. Hecklers aren’t interested in theology or discussion. They’re interested only in causing frustration.”

This is largely true. But aside from the fact that I’m aiming my reply to the crowd behind the heckler, a lot of the one-liners are just so much bluff, bluster, and bravado. Yelling and screaming to compensate for the lack of reasoning. And there are hecklers who are aware of this. They know it’s a pose. Putting on a brave front to impress their homiez.

In addition, apathy can be a greater impediment to conversion than anger or misplaced passion. At least an atheist heckler, except when he’s just a poseur, genuinely cares about the issues. There may even be a twisted idealism at work. When someone is angry, you’re in contact with the real person. It’s much harder to get a foothold with the morally, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritual indifferent. There’s nothing to work with. Nothing to grab or grasp. Teflon indifference.

Let’s also remember that in our secularized society, many unbelievers are unbelievers because, in part, they really don’t know any better. They swagger around and sally forth in the supreme confidence that Scripture is Tommyrot from start to finish?

How could any halfway intelligent many or woman still believe this obvious or demonstrable mythology? Haven’t we ever heard of science or higher criticism?

But when they briefly leave their compounded of like-minded hecklers and accidentally pick a fight with the wrong person, to suddenly find themselves disarmed at the first blow, not knowing either side of the argument, it can be an eye-popping experience. They’re not used to seeing their one-liners dissected line-by-line. And once they run out of one-liners, they have nothing to fall back on.

As I’ve also said before, not every Christian has ready-made answers to stock objections. Not every Christian has access to a good library.

“In my 5 years of blogging (started here in May 2002), I’ve learned the importance of terminating discussions with hecklers when it’s clear that they’re not going anywhere, although I don’t practice this perfectly.”

That’s always an option.

“Spirited debate with people is great, when they’re engaging–even if they sometimes make me mad (to be fair, I usually return the favor). But trying to respond to hecklers does nothing but make me lose sleep over so much triviality.”

I don’t blog when I’m mad. I don’t get angry over blogging. It doesn’t engage me emotionally. For me it’s just the brain giving orders to ten fingers, while bypassing the heart—which resounds to the beat of another drummer. If you pour your heart into blogging, then blogging means too much to you. If it means that much to you, then it means too much to you. There are a lot of bloggers who have the wrong temperament for blogging. They blog as if their life depended on it.

Show me your Bible

Where can we find the official Bible of the Eastern Orthodox church?


The fact that there are variations of the translations of the Bible indicates most clearly the need for a common edition of the Greek New Testament on which other translations will depend.

The text of the Patriarchate was prepared by a commission in 1904, which also has approximately 2,000 variations compared to the Common Edition, Textus Receptus, prepared much earlier. Despite these efforts there is still no one common edition of the New Testament Greek accepted by all. It must be recognized, though, that the edition issued by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople depended mainly upon the passages and verses designated by the Church to be read during the celebrations on Sundays and feast days, For this reason these passages were kept intact with fewer changes. It is evident that greater efforts involving all the Christian churches must be made to arrive at one common edition in the original language recognized by all Christians.

The Eastern Orthodox Church officially uses the Septuagint-Old Testament Greek which was translated from the original Hebrew language into Greek in the third century B.C.

THE SEPTUAGINT, derived from the Latin word for "seventy," can be a confusing term, since it ideally refers to the third-century BCE translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek in Alexandria, Egypt. There is a complicated story, however, behind the translation and the various stages, amplifications, and modifications to the collection we now call the Septuagint.

In the third century, the great Christian scholar, Origen (184/85–254/55), keenly interested in the textual differences between the Hebrew and the Greek, set out to arrange the Church's Old Testament in six columns: (1) the Hebrew, (2) a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew, (3) Aquila's translation, (4) Symmachus's translation, (5) the Septuagint (LXX), and (6) Theodotion. The volumes were compiled in Caesarea, probably between 230 and 240 CE, a project funded by Origen's patron. The resultant work, the Hexapla, was massive, and has for the most part perished, probably due to cost and labor of transcribing all 3600 folios for posterity. Origen was a very careful scholar, but he did not observe modern editorial conventions. He composed his version of the LXX from several different manuscripts and preferred readings that brought the text into conformity with the Hebrew. Thus, this fifth LXX column, while establishing the first "standardized text" of the Christian Church, created problems for modern scholars who would seek to recover a pre-Christian version of the LXX.

Further rescensions of the Greek text in the fourth century are attested. Hesychius (fl. 3/4th c.) is said to have created a rescension for the Church in Egypt; Lucian (d. 312 CE), in Antioch. Some scholars posit other rescensions from this period. Thus, we find some Greek Church Fathers quoting the same Old Testament texts, but in very different forms. There is no indication, however, that this troubled to Church leadership. The insistence on letter-for-letter, word-for-word accuracy in the Scriptures was a feature that was not to emerge in Christian thought for many centuries, and then in imitation of Jewish and Islamic models. As far as most early Christians were concerned, any Greek version of the Old Testament read in the Church merited the term Septuagint.

Wherever Christianity spread, translations of the Hebrew Scriptures were made based on the LXX. Thus, it became the basis for translations made into Arabic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Old Latin, Coptic, Georgian, and Old Church Slavonic. (It was not the basis either for the Syriac version [known as the Peshitta], which is a pre-Christian translation based directly upon the Hebrew, or for St. Jerome's Latin translation, which is also based on the Hebrew.)

Modern scholars, sifting through this very interesting and eventful history, have attempted to create editions of the Septuagint that reflect as early a text as possible. Rahlfs's edition of the LXX (1935) is semi-critical, utilizing what he believed to be the chief manuscripts. Brooke, McLean, and Thackeray's partial edition (1906–40) sought a more critical approach. The Göttingen edition of the LXX (1931–), now mostly complete, is the most critical edition of the LXX, taking into account over 120 manuscripts, many languages, and a multitude of patristic quotations. Modern Biblical scholars have accepted the Göttingen as the standard working edition, although the ease and accessibility of Rahlfs's edition has made it popular less exacting work and study. It is important to bear in mind that all these editions are eclectic, and reasonable attempts to reconstruct the earliest version of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.

Thus, the term Septuagint could refer to any one or more of the states of the Greek translation throughout history. It is important to understand specifically what is meant in any given discussion of the LXX. A strict, purist use of Septuagint would allow the term to be used only of the earliest, (probably) unrecoverable translation of the Pentateuch made by the Jewish scholars around 282 BCE (some refer to this as the "Old Greek," but with some confusion, since the assignment of this term forces Septuagint to be applied to texts with no direct connection to the legend of the seventy-two).

The LXX is in some sense the "official" Orthodox Old Testament, but from the time of Origen's Hexapla until recently there seems to have been little effort to actually publish a standardized version. Ancient manuscripts and fragments differ so much from each other and from the readings in the Church's lectionary that this is something of a problem. The first "official" (hierarchically approved) printed editions, which appeared in Russia and later in Greece in the XIX Century, were essentially reprints of Western scholarly texts based on the Codex Alexandrinus and other ancient manuscripts rather than on the liturgical practice of the Church. Even now, it is not clear to us that there is a universally accepted Orthodox version based on liturgical usage.