Saturday, October 13, 2007

Why Pigs Don’t Have Wings

Why Pigs Don’t Have Wings by Jerry Fodor



Tony Baloney was a pizza-delivery boy from Yonkers. He was saving up for college. Tonight, like most nights, he had the graveyard shift—delivering pizzas to other schmucks working the graveyard shift.

And tonight, like many other nights, he was headed for Chronocorp. No one knew very much about Chronocorp. Or, perhaps I should say that those who knew kept mum. It was a secretive company, rumored to be involved in classified R&D. Although he’d been there many times before, to drop off a hot pizza, even Tony didn’t know much about the place.

In fact, it went against company policy for employees to order takeout pizza. Chronocorp had strict protocols to guard against a security breach. Only authorized personnel were allowed to enter the premises—after eyeballing a retinal scanner.

However, it was the management that enforced the security protocols, and the management didn’t work the graveyard shift. So those who did, like custodians, security guards, and lab workers burning the midnight oil, ordered takeout pizza on a regular basis. Indeed, no one violated the security protocols more often than a hungry security guard.

One of the lab workers—Dr. Tweed, a precocious, frizzy-haired twenty-something post-doc from MIT—had a standard arrangement with Tony. Dr. Tweed would order a couple of pizzas. The guard at the checkpoint would get one of them—the one with the meatball, onion, pineapple, pepperoni, and jalapeño topping—then wave him through, while Dr. Tweed would leave the backdoor to Building D slightly ajar for Tony to come in and drop off the second pizza—the one with the sausage, feta, ricotta, provolone, and Canadian bacon.

Building D was the size of an aircraft hanger and fairly dark inside except for a flurry colorful lights on a large array of fancy, unrecognizable gizmos—blinking like Christmas tree bulbs or the Las Vegas Strip.

Tony would normally take the pizza straight to Tweed’s computer station, near the center of the building, where Dr. Tweed was ordinarily performing some mathematical calculation involving transfinite numbers.

Tonight, though, his station was temporarily unoccupied. Tony looked around, but couldn’t see anyone in the darkness. However, he could make out the sound of moaning and groaning in the background. Apparently, Tweed’s scientific pursuits extended to comparative anatomy.

As Tony was waiting for the tip, he decided to scope out the building. After browsing around he discovered a machine that looked like a big bubble with a driver’s seat. He looked around to see if anyone was watching him—not that he could be seen in the dim lighting. He thought it would be fun to slip into the driver’s seat and study the dashboard, which had a superfluity of illuminated buttons and gadgets.

But as soon as he took his seat, the door locked behind him while an automated seatbelt strapped him in. The machine made a series of whirring noises. The “windshield,”—which was really a big computer screen, like you find on a flight simulator—came to life, displaying an image of Salon-de-Provence—a picturesque town of about 40,000 inhabitants in the South of France.

As Tony watched, the scene began to change from newer cars older model cars, to carriages—while barns took the place of town-houses, and the street reverted to a barnyard, with a stable and a chicken coop. It was like watching a segment from the History Channel.

For Tony, the experience was something of a letdown. He was hoping for something more spectacular. Then “windshield” went dark, and the door opened.

He stepped out—into a pasture. It’s hard to say who was more surprised—Tony or the startled cow.


He found himself on the outskirts of Salon-de-Provence. Same town, but smaller—surrounded by farmland. The time-machine was humming in the background as he gazed at the town in utter astonishment. Not that the town itself was all that astonishing. Just the fact that he had been transported in time, he didn’t know the date, or even the place, but he’d clearly left the twenty-first century far behind—or should we say…ahead? It was all a bit disorienting.

He heard a door close behind him. The humming grew faint. He spun about, just in time to see, much to his dismay, the outlines of the time-machine take on a watery appearance, and the interior fade away, so that he could now see the other side of the pasture through the driver’s seat—before the whole contraption abruptly vanished from this segment of the space time continuum.

However, he didn’t despair. After the shock wore off, he assured himself that Tweed would send time-machine back to wherever or whenever he was to rescue him and return him to the twenty-first century—as soon as Tweed discovered the accident.

In the meantime, Tony walked over to an orchard, plucked a green apple, and returned to the pasture—where he sat down and slowly ate his apple as he was waiting for the time-machine to reappear—like a taxicab from the future—to take him home. Wincing at the sour aftertaste of the apple, he told himself that if he had it to do over, at least he’d bring a pizza along.


After Tweed completed his experiment with the test-subject—a shapely young thing who was part of the custodial team—he returned to his computer station. There was the pizza box. Tweed shut the backdoor, returned, once again, to his computer station, and began to munch on the pizza—which was getting soggy and tepid from neglect.

As he absentmindedly pulled up a number of different screens, he suddenly saw, to his horror, the record of a recent teleportation. The time-machine had, indeed, been preset for such an operation, but that was part of a routine diagnostic program. No one was actually supposed to get inside and take a trip.

Then a thought crossed his mind. Tweed went back outside. Sure enough, the pizza van was still there, in the parking lot—with the keys in the ignition.

What was he to do? He should have sent the time-machine back into the past to pick up Tony and return him to the future—or the present, depending on your viewpoint. But what if Tony went on some TV talk-show to describe his experience?

Chronocorp took a dim view of employees who broke the rules—especially if it had the potential of becoming a media sensation. In one sense, Chronocorp offered every employee job security. No one who ever worked there ever left—at least not by the front door.

This doesn’t mean that no one was ever fired. Just that, if they were fired, they had a way of going away without going away. That was one of the fringe benefits of having a time-machine on the premises to enforce the confidentiality agreement.

Indeed, that’s why happened to Tweed’s predecessor. After a serious security breach, they strapped him to the time-machine and sent him back to the Mesozoic era, where he had a rather unfortunate encounter with a largish theropod. This also came in handy when dealing with overly-inquisitive reporters.

To be sure, these disappearances would sometimes cause a homicide detective to pay them a visit. But there was never any physical evidence of foul play since the incriminating evidence had already been transferred to some geological eon in the distant past. And, in any case, Chronocorp was a defense contractor, so it only took a phone call for a pesky detective to be reassigned to Oshkosh, Nebraska.

So Tweed decided to delete the record of this transaction. It’s not as if he was harming Tony. After all, by that time Tony had been dead and buried for 500 years. Tweed didn’t kill him. For all he knew, Tony lived to be an old man. And Southern France wasn’t exactly Siberia.

Besides, if you sent an empty time-machine back into the past, there was no way of knowing who would climb in and go for a ride. Suppose a French peasant found the machine before Tony did? How would Tweed explain away a security breach of that magnitude? Instead of solving the problem, he would redouble it.

It would be necessary to dispose of the pizza van, but since the security guard was complicit in this violation of the protocols, he and Tweed worked together to find a different parking space for the van—at the bottom of the Bronx River.


But as the hours wore into days, Tony’s interpretation of Tweed’s conduct was a good deal less charitable, not to mention a good deal less printable. Still, he was evidently stuck in the past, and a steady diet of green apples only went so far. He needed a job. And a place to stay. Sleeping in a barn was uncomfortable, as well as odiferous.

Tony had a knack for machinery. But unfortunately, auto mechanics and Web design weren’t the most marketable skills in the sixteen-century. Tony tried to open a pizzeria, but the locals were suspicious of tomato products. It was only later, when one of his descendents, who inherited Tony’s cookbook, opened a pizzeria in Naples, that Tony’s crumpled old recipe was put to good use.

Another problem was the language barrier. Thankfully, Tony had taken French in junior high and high school, but they didn’t teach the quaint sort of French that native-speakers were using in sixteenth-century Provence. So it took him a while to get the hang of it. Yet he had a good ear, and since his landlord would swear at him whenever the rent was overdue, that gave our stranded time-traveler a fluent command of vernacular usage.


To support himself, Tony then hit on the idea of becoming an astrologer. Not that he believed in astrology. He wouldn’t be doing astrology for real. But it was a good cover.

Tony was in a unique position to predict the future—since he came from the future. And he’d already boned up on a lot of modern history in preparation for his college major.

But he had to watch his step. Certain forms of fortune-telling were associated with witchcraft. And the church frowned in witchcraft. That would buy you a one-way ticket to the stake. By contrast, astrology was a respectable profession. So he would pose as an astrologer, cloaking his predictions in the rigmarole of astrology and other esoteric verbiage.

In composing his quatrains, he drew from memory on a wide variety sources he’d seen or heard or read about as a boy from Yonkers, including the Psychic Channel, the National Enquirer, Marvel Comics, the X-Files, Dark Shadows, the Da Vinci Code, the Adventures of Asterix, Rosemary’s Baby, the Omen, and a dash of Pig Latin—to strike the right tone.

He also had to come up with a new name for himself—something more distinguished than Tony Baloney. As a football fan, it occurred to him that he could tinker with Notre Dame. And that’s how he came up with Nostradamus. It had a nice Latin solemnity to it: pious, impressive, and enigmatic all in one.

He would also have to fabricate a backstory for himself—inventing relatives, a fake resume, birthplace and birthdate.


At first he thought it would be easy to predict the future. After all, he really did know what was going to happen. But then it dawned on him that this was a bit of a conundrum. He’s predictions would only come true if people didn’t believe him. For if they took him seriously, they were then in a position to thwart it. If they could see what was coming, they could dodge it.

Put another way, he could get it right the first few times. And that would convince his readers that he was reliable. But once he got a reputation for being reliable, they would hire him to cast a horoscope so that, if they didn’t like the outcome, they could cheat fate by doing the opposite of what the quatrain predicted—and thereby avert personal calamity.

Since the past effects the future, a single change could trigger a domino effect. Once you change the future at one point, that realigns the future at other points down the line. Events no longer fall into line the same way. Instead, they veer off in another direction entirely. Because all your predictions were accurate up to that point, all your predictions beyond that point may be rendered inaccurate thereafter.

So it’s only if people didn’t believe him that he could accurately forecast the future. But he wouldn’t make any money that way!

He was also haunted by from another nagging anxiety. What if he were to inadvertently alter his own future? If enough people took him seriously, that might change the outcome such that his mother wouldn’t meet his father.

Then what? Would that rewind and reinitiate the original timeline? Would he go back to the future? Back to the moment just before he stepped into the time-machine? Would he go all the way back? Back to the pizzeria? Back to the womb—and start all over again?

But then what? Would he keep repeating the cycle? Step into the time-machine. Become Nostradamus. Predict the future. Change the future. Rewind the future. Step into the time-machine again, and again, and again—et nunc, et semper, et in secula seculorum?

He found that prospect oppressive. To be forever trapped in the same interminable cycle.

Or would he simply go poof, like a puff of smoke? If, as a result of his “prophecies,” his mother didn’t meet his father, would he be erased from the spacetime continuum? Not merely cease to be—but cease to have been.

And yet that didn’t seem possible. How could an effect negate its cause? Without the cause, there wouldn’t be any effect to negate the cause. Or was it a delayed effect? Both would go poof—one after the other—like a stream of soap bubbles.

Well, he didn’t care for either scenario. And he couldn’t afford to test either one, for the consequences were equally bad. How could he straddle the knife-edge of a self-defeating specificity?

He decided to strike a compromise. Through studied ambiguity, he would make his quatrains sufficiently equivocal that they would be consistent with any outcome. Just enough people would believe him to make the project lucrative, but not enough people would believe him to scuttle the project, annihilate the future, or freeze the future in a Möbius strip. And so he published his “Prophecies,” in the confidence that he had the contingencies and variables under this thumb.


The sun was rising over Ferrara. A dog was barking in the deserted street. Suddenly, a large, bubble-shaped contraption materialized in front of the Palazzo dei Diamanti. Gerry Savonarola, a pizza-delivery boy from Yonkers, stepped out of the time-machine. It’s hard to say who was more surprised—Gerry or the startled dog.

Rain, Rain, Come This Way; Stay Here, Every Day

Just a quick reminder - Please continue to pray for rain for the Southeastern US. The deficit totals are being announced. Parts of AL and GA are under 16 + inches. Parts of NC are 14 + inches under normal for the year thus far.

The media has at last decided to stop talking about Hollywood's latest and give some mention to the extreme to exceptional drought. I understand Lake Lanier, serving Atlanta, has 90 days of water left. Lake Jordan, serving Durham has something like 70 days left. The video I've seen of both makes the former look like a desert, the latter like a field full of brown grass. The NC governor has been candid that, at present, we do not have enough hay for our farm animals in NC. We need help, all of us in this region.

I'd add that Brother Charles , who reads this blog, has preached on this at his church in Coweta County, GA. The text is here.

Folks, I urge and plead with you, as you enter your churches for worship on Sunday morning and/or evening, please ask your eldership (if you are not one of them yourself) to mention this and call for a time of prayer in your services.

It is God who waters the earth. We have a low front coming this way by midweek. It may bring some relief. The God who made the waters, winds, and heavens can by the force of His will make it park over our lands for longer than it might otherwise do and he can soften the earth with the water and replenish some of what we have lost. Remember, the ground is so dry that is also terribly hard. My grandparents reported they received 2 inches of rain two weeks ago, but the ground was so hard it just ran off. We need rain that will last over several days. Please pray for this.

Friday, October 12, 2007


The most popular candidates within the Republican wing of the Republican Party are Huckabee and Ron Paul. At this point, Huckabee’s primary problem is name-recognition, or the lack thereof.

He doesn’t have the instant name-recognition of Rudy, Hillary, or McCain, and—unlike Romney—he doesn’t have the cash flow to buy instant name-recognition. Thus far he’s been unable to break out of the “second tier”—which is unfortunate.

As for Ron Paul, I think more highly of his supporters than I think of his positions. As far as counterterrorism is concerned, I don’t think he understands the enemy, as a result of which he doesn’t understand how to cope with the enemy.

What he says about “blowback” has a modicum of truth. As such, his position has the appeal of a half-truth. Just enough truth to make it plausible, but not enough truth to make it responsible.

His position in a nutshell is that the jihadis wouldn’t be over here unless we were over there. Well, that’s catchy, and it’s true in a sense, but it’s truer than he knows.

The jihadis define American presence far more broadly than our military presence. We are “over there” through our economic might and cultural penetration. We are “over there” when we come into their living rooms via the TV and Internet and Hollywood fare.

The main problem that the jihadis have with America is not due to our physical presence in the Mideast, but our cultural and economic dominance.

We are not going to appease them by withdrawing into the borders of the continental United States and redeploy our resources to organizing the annual State Fair—for the impact of American culture would still extend beyond the Eastern Seaboard to reach the Mideast. This is a war of values as much as bullets. They feel threatened by our values. Western values—for better or worse—undermine traditional Islamic social values (e.g. Sharia). So this is ultimately an ideological battle, and not a war to make the world safe for Standard Oil. They also resent our economic clout.

And I’d add that, of itself, “blowback” is not much of an argument. Yes, when you fight back, you make your enemy mad at you. So what? Should we let a bully rule the schoolyard because we’re afraid of getting a black-eye if we don’t give in to his demands?

Ron Paul is also too rule bound to adapt to the new tactics of a new enemy and offer real time countermeasures. Sorry, but he reminds me of hospital bureaucrat who lets the gunshot victim bleed to death in the ER while the paperwork is being processed.

You can’t fight a suicide bomber in triplicate. Indeed, the jihadis are trying to shackle us in reams of red tape.

Although Ron Paul has cast himself in the part of the doughty Constitutionalist, his method acting doesn’t overcome the suspension of disbelief. I’m sure he’s sincere, but his idea of checks and balances seems to be limited to the role of Congress and the Court as a check on the White House—without any corresponding check on Congress or the Court.

He’d deny that, of course, but as a practical matter he’s attempting to hamstring the Executive in the “war on terror.” At that level he’s interchangeable with a lawyer for the ACLU.

Huckabee is my first-pick. Fred Thompson is underwhelming. But he has a fairly conservative voting record. If Huckabee can’t break out of the pack, then I’d be prepared to vote for Thompson as an uninspiring, but adequate compromise candidate.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

"Single-issue voters"

At the moment, conservatives are divided on which horse to back in the nomination process. On the one hand are conservatives who, not unreasonably, regard Hillary as the worst-case scenario, and so they view Rudy or Romney or McCain as the lesser of two evils—on the assumption that one of these three is more electable than a more clearcut conservative like Huckabee or Ron Paul. Anything is preferable to Hillary.

On the other hand are conservatives who think this would be a case of destroying the village to save the village. This, in turn, embroils us in the perennial issue of “single-issue voters,” which is used as a pejorative label.

Here I want to make a couple of observations:

i) Is there something wrong with being a “single-issue voter”? What does that mean, exactly?

As a rule, prolifers are social conservatives. They aren’t just conservative about abortion (there are exceptions, but that’s pretty rare). It’s misleading to describe them as single-issue voters, as if that’s all they care about.

Rather, I think the position of many prolifers is consciously or unconsciously more broad-based.

a) For one thing, proabortionists are ordinarily social liberals. They aren’t just liberal on abortion. Rather, their views of abortion are symptomatic of their social views generally.

So I suspect many prolifers don’t feel that you need to go beyond this “single issue” in judging a candidate, since his position on abortion is a hendiadys for his social values generally.

Many prolifers may indeed regard abortion as an all-important issue. But, as a practical matter, it rarely comes down to abortion as the only decisive issue, since any candidate who supports abortion on demand will almost invariably support all of the other socially liberal positions as well.

Since they’ve never been giving the option of voting for a candidate who’s wrong on abortion, but right about everything else, it’s pretty meaningless to accuse them of being myopic or obsessive, for it’s not as if they’ve ever had the occasion to vote for a candidate who’s wrong on their “single issue,” but right about everything else they value.

A prolifer may well regard a number of other social issues as equally important. But because a proabortionists is almost bound to be equally bad on equally important social issues, the prolifer has no incentive to go beyond his “single issue.” It’s a defining issue on both sides of the political spectrum. It’s a way in which you position yourself along the political spectrum, which takes in all the other rightwing or leftwing positions.

b) For another thing, the fact that they’re stubborn and single-minded about abortion doesn’t mean that’s the only thing they care about. But I suspect many of them draw the line with abortion on the grounds that we’re not in a position to move beyond abortion until we succeeded in achieve our objectives on abortion.

If Roe v. Wade were overturned, and they had done as much as they could do to restrict abortion on a state-by-state basis (mainly in red states), they would be happy to turn their priorities to another issue. They have a long list of social issues they care about.

But what’s the point of abandoning a bridge that’s only halfway across the river to begin building another bridge upstream, only to abandon that project before it’s complete in order to begin building yet another bridge downstream? They feel they’ve made some progress on the issue of abortion, and they don’t want to scuttle the project before it’s finished. That’s a reasonable position.

c) Apropos (a), the critics of “single-issue voters” act as if the only problem with Rudy is that he’s liberal on abortion. To hear them talk, you’d think that he has the same social views as Abraham Kuyper apart from his pesky, anomalous support for abortion. But his position on abortion is hardly a fluke.

I don’t know if this is misrepresentation in part because the media simple-mindedly highlights his views on abortion while turning a blind-eye to his other equally liberal positions on personal and social ethics. But Rudy is a generic social liberal inasmuch as his views on abortion are part and parcel of a liberal package-deal on social values.

Now, you may still think that Rudy would be better than Hillary, but let’s honestly evaluate what he brings to the table instead of pretending that this all comes down to the single issue of abortion, as if that’s the only position on which Rudy takes a hard left turn.

ii) Conservative supporters of Rudy have a fallback argument. Yes, he’s personally liberal in his social values, but he will nominate conservative judicial candidates.

Well, that’s possible, but is it plausible? Rudy has been in politics for many years now. Does he have any track-record of opposing judicial activism? Or did he suddenly discover the virtues of Robert Bork after he decided to run for president?

And since we know he’s a social liberal, how sincere are his assurances? Isn’t this like George Bush on border control? Since his sympathies lie elsewhere, we get these halfhearted speeches and token gestures, but it’s business as usual. He always reverts to type.

How many times have we been down this road? I don’t regard gullibility as an intellectual virtue. Ironically, the “single-issue voter” is both an ideologue and a cynic. The conservative supporters of Rudy (or Romney) think the “single-issue voter” is being unrealistic. But the “single-issue voter” thinks the conservative supporters of Rudy (or Romney) are being unrealistic by taking their opportunistic campaign promises at face-value. They don’t oppose a RINO just because they’re ideological purists, but because they are also too jaded and worldly-wise to trust a RINO in sheep’s clothing.

Some have suggested that Rudy would keep his word to get reelected. But why would Rudy need to keep his word to get reelected? He doesn’t necessarily need the same voting block to be reelected as it took to get elected in the first place. Depending on how a president plays his cards, he can reconfigure his constituency in office. Look at how Ah-nuld has reinvented himself.

Now, we can still debate the odds of whether Rudy would be as bad as Hillary. One can argue that Hillary’s badness is a sure thing.

My immediate point is that I find conservative supporters of Rudy resorting to a combination of caricature and credulity. If they’re really going to take the pragmatic, tough-minded approach, Realpolitik approach, then they should be a bit more candid.

The Dangers of Listening to the Council of Europe

I read through The dangers of creationism in education, also known as Doc. 11375 (17-SEP-2007) from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (HT: James White). There are many flaws in this document, which makes it difficult for me to know where to begin.

First: some general impressions. This document was extremely frustrating for me to read. I am currently at work on a project examining Darwinism myself. My philosophy is simple: if Darwinism is false, there is no need for me to refute the weakest arguments of Darwinism. I can fully handle the strongest claims Darwinists make. As a result, my goal has been to familiarize myself as much as possible with the current ideas of Darwinian evolution. In fact, my desire would be that any die-hard Darwinist would be able to take the first half of my project (the part that defines Darwinism) and say, “Yes, this is what modern Darwinism teaches.” The goal would be for Richard Dawkins himself to be able to admit everything in the first part is accurately portrayed. Only then would I critique Darwinism.

As a result, I hold myself to the standard of actually reading and interacting with the best arguments that the opposing side has to offer in the debate over Creationism and Darwinism. The Council of Europe, on the other hand, doesn’t even try to interact with the worst arguments ever brought forth by Creationists. Instead, we are treated to outlandish claims that Creationism will lead toward human rights abuses, and similar propaganda. And make no mistake, that is all that this document is: propaganda for religious naturalism.

Because of this, I actually have some reservations about responding to this document. It’s not the best argument for Darwinism, and as a result any effort that I would spend refuting some of the nonsense put forth could be countered by Darwinists who say, “You’ve got a point with this document, but you really need to look at what Mayr said about this issue instead…” etc. As a result, I will leave the critique of evolution itself alone (unless anyone who reads it and responds in the comments has anything specific they’d like for me to address), and instead focus on the misrepresentation of science and Creationism found in this document.

The first claim of the document is found in the summary:

Creationism in any of its forms, such as “intelligent design”, is not based on facts, does not use any scientific reasoning and its contents are definitely inappropriate for science classes.
Creationism “is not based on facts” seems particularly ironic since later on in this document (paragraph 84), the writers complain:

By only presenting facts without any theory or proof, Harun Yahya abuses the credulity of individuals who listen to him or read his works.
So the Creationism that begins with being “not based on facts” suddenly becomes only “facts without any theory or proof” later on. When the goalposts are shifting this much, it’s obvious the document is biased.

But the first quote also says that Creationism “does not use any scientific reasoning” and lumps in intelligent design (ID) with this claim. This is so absurd it can only be outright dishonesty or sheer stupidity. To take just one example, Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe is filled with lots of scientific facts, theories, and proofs. Even if one were to disagree with Behe’s conclusions, one has to admit that he is a scientist and is looking at biochemistry, a scientific discipline. Further, the concept of design itself is scientific: this is why we have forensic science, after all. If you find a dead body, the first thing you have to establish was whether the death was natural or by design. With forensics, we can also determine to a great extent who the designer was. The science of design is scientific; and there are many Creationists who are scientists. To say Creationism “does not use any scientific reasoning” is simply flat out false.

The next problem we see is that this document seems to think that Creationism came about as a response to Darwinism, for they write in paragraph 2 of the Draft resolution:

Creationism, born of the denial of the evolution of species through natural selection, was for a long time an almost exclusively American phenomenon (emphasis added).
And in paragraphs 2 and 8 of the Report of Mr Guy Lengagne (revised) we read:

As creationism is first of all a reaction to the theory of evolution, it appeared important to describe this theory.

Creationism thus came about in opposition to Darwin’s theory of evolution.
One cannot help but laugh at such absurd reasoning. One is tempted to conclude the Council of Europe thinks that Genesis was written in 1860 because someone had to counter the devastating claims of Darwin. In fact, this is a complete misuse of the term “Creationism.” What Lengagne means by “Creationism” is simply “anti-evolutionism.” This is seen in his paragraph 6, when speaking of Darwin, he writes:

His works mark the end of the agreement between natural history and the Christian tradition, as well as the birth of anti-evolutionist movements (emphasis in original).
What is meant by “Creationism” has nothing to do with what “Creationism” actually means. If you ask the average person if he is a Creationist, he will answer the question by understanding “Creationism” to mean simply that at some point the universe was created by someone. This, however, is hardly the same thing as asking, “Are you anti-evolution?” since you can be a creationist who believes in evolution too (Behe once again serves as an example of this). The ambiguity of the term here is most unfortunate (it’s also present in the term evolution, but that can be delved into in a separate post).

With this as the “foundation” for what Creationism is, we read the following definition in paragraph 30:

The most intransigent of the supporters of creationism claim that the world was created by God in six days and maintain that the transformist or evolutionist theories that conflict with the Bible, according to which God created each plant or animal species individually, can only be lies. They say that science is wrong because, in the strictest possible sense, the Bible says something else – which reminds us, incidentally, of the trial of a man called Galileo.
First, you gotta love the poisoning of the well with the Galileo comment. But even that aside, it’s completely inaccurate to claim that the Bible teaches “God created each plant or animal species individually (emphasis added)” as the Bible does not speak of species. In fact, the term “species” is such a meaningless term even in biology that it’s worthless to bring it up here. (Any Darwinists who would disagree would be hard pressed to actually present the definition of “species.”) The Bible merely speaks of various “kinds” that have been created; it’s the Naturalist who anachronistically reads into that term the concept of “species” that causes the problem here.

Finally, let us look at how this document defines science and knowledge, and this is where the document damns itself beyond all hope of recovery. We hear that there are three pillars to science (paragraph 24):

As Guillaume Lecointre, a professor of zoology at the National Natural History Museum in Paris, points out, science is the totality of operations that produce objective knowledge. A statement on the world can only be described as objective if it has been verified by an independent observer. This verification depends on three factors: scepticism, rationality and logic and, finally, methodological materialism. These three pillars ensure the objectivity of a scientific result.
The problem with this is that they consulted a professor of zoology to answer a philosophy of science question. Here we have the first claim: “Science is the totality of operations that produce objective knowledge (emphasis added).” If that is true, it is impossible to objectively know this statement. Further, “A statement on the world can only be described as objective if it has been verified by an independent observer.” This falls instant prey to the brain-in-a-vat argument. After all, all knowledge that we have is subjective knowledge. We do not know what anyone else knows. We can hear what we think they say, but we have no objective way of knowing whether they really exist or whether we imagined them, let alone a way of knowing whether they are lying to us if they really do exist. Further, even if they do exist and aren’t lying there’s still no way we can claim they are “independent” observers. Each observer has his own presuppositional baggage that he brings to the plate. There is no such thing as a neutral, independent observer of anything.

Finally, we see that the three pillars are “scepticism” (which is obviously not applied to this definition of science), “rationality and logic” (which also refute this definition, because either it is a contradiction that science is the “totality of operations” that can produce objective knowledge since this statement is supposedly objectively true, or this statement is circularly reasoned) and “methodological materialism” (which likewise fails the logic test by engaging in circular reasoning: assuming materialism to prove there is only materialism; and is itself an immaterial concept that is being held as truth, hence a contradiction).

But this is all lost on the author, for we read in paragraph 46:

However, let us repeat: it is not possible to establish knowledge without scientific evidence and without verifying its objectivity and scientific character by the reproduction of experiments and/or observations.
One must simply ask: What scientific evidence do we have for this claim? How can we verify that this is the way to determine objectivity? What experiments can we reproduce to prove that reproducing experiments is what will give us knowledge?

It is blatantly obvious that no philosopher was interviewed during the course of the Council’s work. The Council, in essence, is claiming that knowledge can only be established by means which are impotent to establish knowledge. Thus, there is no scientific knowledge under these rules…yet the Council pretends that there are!

So we see that this document mis-defines Creationism and science both; it is based on presuppositions that are self-refuting; it doesn’t bother to actually address specific arguments against evolution (and it really doesn’t put forth any for evolution either); and it commits basic Philosophy 101 errors. On the whole, a very pathetic piece of propaganda.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Integrity In Church Membership -When Pastors Can't Do Math

HT: SBC Outpost

Two Rivers Church (SBC) is advertising the results of a vote to affirm their pastor.

I'll waive commentary about the reasons for the vote, as that's not my concern here. My concern is this:

Brother Bennett Willis noted:

Sutton said “less than 4% of the total church membership” voted for his removal. The 2006 Annual Church Profile showed that Two Rivers had 6,829 members. About 20 percent of the total membership cast ballots.

Unfortunately, I've poked around the TN Baptist Convention website and could not find their ACP. I poked around Lifeway too to no avail. However, I did find this:

Two Rivers averaged 1,836 people in worship services in 2005 among a membership of nearly 7,000, according to the Annual Church Profile.

So, let's break this down, shall we?

1. Two Rivers is getting just about 25 % of it's members into church on Sundays. This is the number we generally use to talk about "active" members.

2. So, if we use that number, 60 percent of the "members" voted to affirm their pastor. (1101/1836 = 60 percent).

3. But Two Rivers is broadcasting that it has almost 7000 members.

4. So, which is true:

a. 60 percent voted to affirm the pastor?
b. 16 percent voted to affirm the pastor?

5. This strikes me as incredibly schizophrenic. On the one hand, Two Rivers is held out as a "flagship" church in Nashville, and its pastor sought the SBC presidency in 2006. Its numbers were put out there to show this, and the church can claim that its pastor was recently "affirmed," presumably, by 60 percent of the active members, or something close that give or take a few percentage points. Yet, on the other, roughly a quarter show up to church on Sunday. The problem is this: the pastor claims that 286 is less than 4 percent of the membership, so is he claiming 1101 represents just over 96 percent of the members? Heavens, let's hope not.

You see, the vote was 1101 to affirm, 286 to disaffirm.

This, folks, is when an "affirmation" is no affirmation at all. Before talking about the way they affirmed the pastor, they need to trim the rolls. Maybe over half of them did affirm the pastor - but maybe they didn't. Until the church is honest about its membership, nobody will really know - but what we do know is that Pastor Sutton is self-deceived or unable to do basic math.

Here are his exact words:
I want to thank you for your overwhelming support. Quite honestly, it saddens me that it ever had to come to a vote. Having said that, I felt like the church spoke very clearly about its desire for me to remain as pastor. There were 1101 votes to affirm me as pastor, with 286 voting for me to vacate my position. That's less than 4% of the total church membership desiring my removal.

1. On the one hand 1101 is overwhelming support.

but on the other

2. 286 people is less than 4 percent of the members.

Maybe he doesn't have any math teachers in his congregation or believes his congregation cannot do math, but if 286 is 4 percent (and I'm using 4 percent because it's a nice round figure that he gives himself so I'll just round up to it) then that means there are 7150 members in the church.

Let's review some basic math for the folks @ Two Rivers. You see, if 286 = .04 (eg. 4 percent) of x (x = membership of the whole church) then we can say:

286 = .04 * x or .04x = 286. To solve for x, we divide 286 by .04. The result = 7150 members.

so, if there are 7150 members in the church, then we take 1101 and divide by 7150. That means...

3. 15.4 percent of the members voted to affirm him. Please, somebody who knows him, kindly point out to this brother than FIFTEEN POINT FOUR PERCENT of your members is NOT "overwhelming" support, and no matter how much you elevate that number to make up for the estimation I've given, you're not going to get much more than that.

Brother Jerry, are you counting on people seeing 1101 and 286 and drawing a conclusion based on that comparison? Had you not given the percentage of members represented by 286, nobody would have known.

This "affirmation" was no affirmation at all
, if, that is, we use your own yardstick as to the membership of your church. However, if you'd rather admit that only 1/4 or a bit more of your members are true members, that's a different story.

This, brethren, is precisely what happens when the SBC's churches systematically lie about the membership numbers. Amen to bloginafogpastor who wrote:

2) The number voting versus membership versus active participants really should be yet another wake up call to us that we as a denomination are collectively lying about our numbers.

Rap on race

Jeremy Pierce did a recent post on Christian racial consciousness-raising:

Jae Ran Kim writes about why she doesn't feel welcomed among groups of white moms. Some of this may well be bias against newcomers (despite official views that newcomers are welcomed) rather than racial bias. After all, white newcomers often experience the same sort of thing. I've certainly seen it happen many times among people who officially want to welcome and accept new people but are not comfortable doing so when they've already got their friends. But I doubt it all is that, since many people are a little intimidated by the prospect of doing all the work to initiate relationships across racial lines (particularly with certain racial groups).
But whether it is actual racial bias or just perceived racial bias isn't really the point. If it can even come across as racial bias, and it shouldn't be there to begin with, it's worth taking stock of that and seeking to avoid sending such signals.
Christians should pay special attention to her advice to those who say they want to reach out to non-whites but can't seem to do so successfully. I know a lot of congregations and Christian ministries that say such things without, to my mind, having a clue that many of the people they're trying to reach out to have exactly the kind of response she's describing here.

Jeremy often blogs on this topic, so I’ll use his recent post as a springboard for some of my own reflections on the same subject.

1.There’s a certain tensions in Jeremy’s advice. I assume Jeremy wants to promote interracial friendships. But what do we look for in a friend?

Is a friend someone I’m very self-conscious about being around? Do I have to choose my words very carefully when I’m in his (or her) presence? Worry about the possible impact of my words? Should I be fearful that I’m going to offend my friend?

Isn’t that the opposite of friendship? Isn’t spontaneity a feature of friendship? Isn’t a defining feature of friendship that you feel free to lower your guard when you’re in the company of a friend? That you don’t have to tiptoe around and worry about how he’ll take what you say?

Isn’t the ironic effect of Jeremy’s advice to create a disincentive to forming interracial friendships? If I have to be that self-conscious and studied and guarded in what I say and do when I relate to someone of another race, then I’m not really relating to that individual as a friend, but as a “project” or mission.

2.Another tension in Jeremy’s advice is the assumption that whites don’t understand minorities, and so we must be extra careful to avoid giving offense. But if my being white prevents me, at least initially, from understanding a minority, then how can I anticipate how my words and actions will be taken?

Isn’t Jeremy’s advice ironically prejudicial? On the one hand, I have to make certain assumptions about a minority. Impute certain attitudes to the minority. Then figure out a tactful way of not provoking a negative reaction. But isn’t that a classic case of stereotyping the minority?

On the other hand, if I don’t know what it feels like to be a minority, how can I predict his reaction? Jeremy generates a conundrum by first imputing ignorance to a white Christian, then advising the white Christian to act as if he can successfully identify with the minority experience for purposes of adapting to his audience. But wouldn’t a minority find that presumptuous and thereby offensive?

3.In yet another irony, isn’t this whole exercise rather patronizing? In order to follow Jeremy’s advice, a white Christian would have to view a minority as someone special. Someone who requires special treatment. It doesn’t seem to me that this is fundamentally different from the attitude of the Southern slave-master.

Likewise, isn’t it unconsciously—or even consciously—patronizing to insist that whites take the initiative? That whites reach out? What’s the underlying assumption?

Incidentally, I don’t object to the general idea of reaching out to people or taking the initiative. But I wouldn’t cast that in racial terms. Christians should befriend strangers. Reach out to strangers. Take the initiative in starting a friendship. Where that involves a minority, this would be a special case of a general principle. “Minority” Christians—who are actually in the majority in terms of world population—should also befriend strangers.

4.In still another irony, and this is true of identity politics in general, you create the problem in order to solve it. You have to begin with a very studied awareness of what it means to be white. You treat the minority as the “other.”

This is a necessary preliminary, for you can only treat a minority *as* a minority by being very self-conscious about your own racial identity, and treating him as the “other.” For racial differences are mutually defining. It involves a process of comparison and contrast. He is the other to you because you are the other to him, and vice versa.

Having first accentuated the racial division, you then devote the rest of your efforts to building a bridge. Of course, you’re bridging over a problem which you created or at least exacerbated in the first place. Dig a racial ditch, then fill it in.

Actually, identity politics never gets beyond the first step. It talks about the second step, but the second step, if successful, would dissove the need for identity politics in the first place, and there’s a vested interest in maintaining the divisions by constantly reminding ourselves of what one bunch of dead people did to another bunch of dead people.

5.Another problem with Jeremy’s advice is that I don’t know how to isolate my racial identity from my other identities in order to position myself in apposition to the minority. There are many different factors that feed into one’s self-identity: race, religion, family, nationality, gender, geography, occupation, education, social class, &c.

Suppose an individual is white, but he’s also a man, an American, a father, son, husband, and brother, a Southerner (or a Southern Californian), a blue collar worker (or a white color worker), a farmer (or an urbanite), a Christian, a twenty-something, &c.

I guess that, to some extent, his racial identity “colors” his outlook (pardon the pun), but that’s only one factor among many. Consider the following thought-experiment:

Suppose, in one of those Heaven Can Wait scenarios, a dying white man was given a chance to come back from the dead. Only there were no eligible white male bodies to commandeer. Instead, he could either choose to take the body of a white woman, or else take the body of some male minority. Which option would he go for?

I expect that, in this situation, every normal Caucasian male would choose to come back as a male minority rather than a white woman. A man’s masculine identify is far more fundamental to his self-identity than his race.

This doesn’t mean he has anything against women. He just doesn’t want to be a woman—not because he doesn’t like women, but because he does—the way a man likes a woman!

I use this example to illustrate the point that the importance of racial identity is vastly overblown. Among the various identities that configure our self-identity, sexual identity trumps racial identity by a wide margin. I can imagine still being me even if I were a different race. I’d have to make certain social and psychological adjustments to my new situation. But I can’t imagine still being me if I were a woman.

Once again, this is not to demean women, because I’m sure than normal women feel the same way about their feminine identity. This is not a question of which is better or best. Rather, it’s a question of either being you or someone unrecognizable.

6.We need to distinguish between racial consciousness and racial self-consciousness. We’re all thrown into situations in which we’re made aware of our race. But why should I go out of my way to cultivate a racial self-consciousness?

I am what I am. Why do I have to think about it all the time? If my racial identity is that studied and self-conscious, aren’t I playing a role?

7.Another problem I have with following Jeremy’s advice is that I don’t know what racial taxonomy he thinks I should employ. Take Latinos. In identity politics, whites belong to one racial box while Latinos belong to another racial box. And you’re only allowed to check on box.

Now, if I you force me to assign individuals or people-groups to a particular racial category, I wouldn’t classify Latinos as non-white. Latinos are ethnically European, just as I’m ethnically European. They hail from S. Europe while I hail from N. Europe.

It makes no more sense for me to classify a Latino as non-white than classify Sophia Loren or Franco Corelli or Maria Callas or Irene Pappas as non-white. It’s all Mediterranean.

And while we’re on the subject of women—which is always a nice subject to be on—when a normal man sees a movie starring Lena Horne or Delores Del Rio, is his first impression to exclaim, “Wow! That’s a person of color who happens to be a beautiful woman!” Or is his first impression to exclaim, “Wow! That’s a beautiful woman!”

8.Assuming, for the sake of argument, that I don’t know what it’s like to be a minority, wouldn’t the most natural course of action be for me to treat a minority exactly the way I’d treat one of my white friends? Not to second guess how he’s going to respond, but talk to him in the very same way I talk to my white friends? Invite him to do the same things I do with my white peer group. Isn’t that a way of treating someone as my equal?

And if he’s black or Asian or Indian or Latino, wouldn’t it make sense for him to do the same thing in return? Seems to me like that’s a good way to avoid patronizing or stereotyping an individual.

That’s also a natural way of learning about each other. If I invite you into your life and you invite me into my life, then we learn by observation and experience.

9.One more problem I’d like to mention is that a lot of racial tension in America is fictive racial tension. Let’s put it this way—suppose the present generation had no knowledge of the past. No knowledge of America’s racial history. In that event, identity politics would largely dissolve.

Past injustices, in and of themselves, having no conscious affect on race relations. Rather, it’s only the real or perceived memory of past injustices that poisons contemporary race relations.

But when we read about the past, it’s like reading a novel or going to the movies. We identify with the characters. Yet the way we bond with actors and characters is a form of fictive kinship. Their situation is not our situation.

Now, what happened in the past was real to folks living in the past. But it isn’t real to you and me because it didn’t happen to you and me. Yet people bond with figures from the past in the same way they identify with a sympathetic character on the silver screen—like Spiderman.

But this isn’t real. It’s memory. And it’s not a personal memory, but something you get from a book. The event may be real. But it’s not *your* story. It’s not your life—any more than Charlemagne or Alexander the Great is your life story.

Of course, the past affects the present. In a sense, the past effects the present. But if we weren’t aware of the cause, we wouldn’t mentally position ourselves in relation to the past and define ourselves by the past. The sense of camaraderie with figures from several generations ago is a form of fictive kinship. At that level, they’re no more related to you and me than Beowulf.

We’re psychologizing history when we make ourselves morally contiguous with the Civil War or the Yamassee War. This isn’t reality. Rather, it’s a reified psychological projection. It affects you because you believe it.

10.Finally, I’d like to close with three anecdotes:

i) Some years ago, John Perkins spoke at Westminster Seminary in California. I happened to be in the parking lot when he arrived, and so I gave in an informal tour of the joint. I’d already read some of his books. He’s a consummate Christian gentleman. Has some excellent practical advice for the black church.

In his chapel address he talked about the civil rights movement. That’s natural given his background. But it was also caught in a timewarp. The composition of the seminary was about half white and half Korean, while the composition of Escondido was about half white and half Latino. Yet his paradigm of race relations was locked conditioned by Jim Crow. Once again, I understand why that was a formative experience for him, but his talk on racial reconciliation didn’t bear any correspondence to race relations at the seminary or the city in which the seminary was located. He was subliminally talking at his audience rather than talking to his audience. It was a history lesson or museum piece.

1990s Escondido, California isn’t interchangeable with 1960s Selma Alabama. For that matter, I seriously doubt that 1990s Selma Alabama is interchangeable with 1960s Selma Alabama.

By contrast, I once went to a talk by the late Tom Skinner which was far more balanced. That may be due to the difference in his background—the difference between the rural South and the urban North. His upbringing was much more cosmopolitan.

ii) Like San Francisco, Seattle has its own Chinatown. Mind you, that’s not the official designation. The official designation is “The International District.” I suppose liberals would regard the unofficial designation as racist. However, since the Chinese residents of Chinatown call it Chinatown, I’ll be politically incorrect.

Anyway, I was browsing the merchandise in one of the stores when the proprietress struck up a conversation. I guess she didn’t get a lot of white customers, and there was something she was curious about. She asked me if I could tell the difference between Chinese and Japanese. Not the language, but the racial characteristics. Could I tell by looking at them if someone was Chinese or Japanese?

I mention this to make a point that is offered ignored in the “national dialogue” on race: racial awareness isn’t just a black/white thing.

iii) One time I was grading a term paper by an Asian student. The topic of his paper was “white privilege” and racial reconciliation. The irony of the paper is that he was naively oblivious to the affect that his radical rhetoric would have on the very folks he was talking about. It was obvious to me, as a white man, that he was getting his information about white Americans, not from interviewing white Americans, but from leftwing textbooks.

He honestly thought his paper was a wonderful exercise in correcting racial prejudice when, in fact, he was unconsciously stereotyping Caucasians from start to finish. You have conscientious men and woman who sincerely talk about racial reconciliation, and yet they have no inkling of *who* they’re talking about. Their “dialogue” is utterly insular and one-sided.

It’s as if they were reading an ebonic version of National Geographic, in which the cultural anthropologist from Howard University goes on an expedition with a nature photographer to study the lost tribe of the Caucasians in their remote native habitat.

(Parental advisory: beware of indigenous nudity at the beach on spring break.)

There’s no doubt that white Christians can fall into the same trap. But the trap is colorblind. Anyone can fall into this trap. And the folks who are most liable to fall into the trap are frequently the very folks who pride themselves on being especially enlightened and racially sensitive.

"Must Good Come From Every Evil?"

Bruce Little, of SEBTS, doesn’t like the greater-good theodicy:

“This response, however, fails when applied to horrific evils such as the Holocaust, 9/11, and the tsunami as well as the suffering of child.”

Where’s the argument?

“The fact is, the greater-good explanation tends to raise more questions than it answers. Questions such as: "If the 'good' obtains, where is it, and who is the recipient?"

i) A greater-good defense is a teleological (means>ends) theodicy, and—to some extent—one can only judge the ultimate good by the ultimate outcome. In other words, we can only judge that outcome at the Consummation, with the benefit of eschatological hindsight, and not within church history—for our historical position is too shortsighted.

ii) At another level, the Reformed version of the greater-good defense involves the principle that God is the summum bonum, such that knowing God is the summum bonum, such that sin and redemption enable us to know God in a way that would not otherwise be possible.

One can flesh this out in considerable detail, but elect men and angels are the beneficiaries (the “who”), while the “where” is located in our enhanced knowledge of God as redeemed sinners.

“"How would we know when enough 'good' had obtained morally to justify God's allowing it?"

i) That turns on the burden of proof, and the onus is reversible: How would the atheist know that enough good had *not* obtained morally to justify God’s allowing it?

ii) In addition, if the Bible warrants the greater-good defense, and if we are well-warranted in believing the Bible, then we know from Scripture that enough good will obtain morally to justify God’s allowance of evil. Scripture can be a source of knowledge. So you would mount a two-step argument: (a) for Scripture; (b) for the greater-good defense as a Scriptural theodicy.

"What if no one can see the 'good', how do we know it is there?"

Of course, good and evil are not empirical qualities. His objection cuts both ways since no one can see gratuitous evil.

"If evil/suffering is allowed by God for some 'good', would it not be reasonable to conclude that once some evil/suffering has entered the human experience that one should not stop it, for to do so would be to eliminate the resulting 'good'?"

i) Every possible evil doesn’t have the potential to facilitate a greater good. The greater-good defense does not imply that every evil should go unchecked.

ii) Some natural and moral evils are humanly insoluble precisely because God has not empowered us to prevent them. If we can prevent an evil, then God didn’t decree it. If he decreed it, then we can’t prevent it. You only know by doing what is possible.

“Such probing questions seem reasonable and must not be ignored. In the end, the weakness of the Greater-Good theodicy seems to be located in its promise of the 'good' and the denial of gratuitous evil/suffering (that which serves no greater good purpose-it is just part of a fallen world).”

That only pushes the question back a step. Is the fall a gratuitous evil? Or does it serve some overarching purpose?

“On what grounds could such claims be made? One possibility would lie in an evidential demonstration that the 'good' obtained. The other would be to find a propositional statement in the Bible that affirms this to be the case. Unfortunately, the possibility of either remains highly questionable, if not impossible.”

Why in the world does he think it’s “highly questionable, if not impossible…to find a propositional statement in the Bible that affirms” the greater-good defense? That’s an oddly prejudicial claim. What a priori impediment would hinder God from speaking to this issue?

“Therefore, if this is the only response the Christian has to the problem of evil, one could understand why the world might conclude that it is more probable that the omni-benevolent, omnipotent, loving God does not exist than that He does exist.”

Is God omnibenevolent? Paul Helm, for one, rejects that assumption. Cf. “Can God Love the World”? Kevin Vanhoozer, ed. Nothing Greater, Nothing Better (Eerdmans 2001), 168-85.

“Part of imageness includes man having the power of moral choice. His moral choice was placed within the larger created framework of what might be thought of as a creation order. That is, not only was creation structured with a physical order, but God, in His sovereignty, established a moral order within which man would have a certain freedom within a prescribed range.”

i) Little makes no attempt to actually exegete libertarian freedom from Gen 1:26. And even if libertarianism were true, it’s hardly a logical or exegetical implication of the imago Dei. He will need to use a very different argument.

ii) This also goes to a tension in his version of the FWD. On the one hand, wouldn't the FWD be, in some sense, a greater good defense?

Evil would be justified, and therefore not gratuitous, because libertarian freewill is either an intrinsic good or else a necessary precondition to some other good (e.g. "true loved can't be forced").

On the other hand, the libertarian wants to deny that God planned the outcome to unfold the way it did, since that would be hard to distinguish from predestination.

But if it wasn't planned, then it doesn't serve a purpose—in which case these evils are gratuitous.

“If there is the possibility of gratuitous evil, then the Christian no longer has the burden of justifying evil/suffering on the grounds that God will bring about a greater good.”

This illustrates a problem when men like Bruce Little spend their time debating other believers rather than other unbelievers. It’s clear that he’s never gotten into a debate with a secular philosopher like William Rowe. To imagine that the admission of gratuitous evil is a solution to the argument from evil shows a complete unawareness of how the argument from evil is formulated.

“Has He promised, however, to do so in every instance of general suffering?”

A greater-good defense, especially in Calvinism, does not imply a one-to-one correspondence between a particular evil and a particular good. The relation between ends and means is a one-to-many relation (i.e. many evils to facilitate an ultimate good), not a many-to-many relation (many means and many ends).

“If the possibility of gratuitous evil exists, then the Christian is not responsible for trying to demonstrate some good and he or she is not responsible to defend God on the basis of the 'good' obtaining. In fact, it is not the ‘good’ God wants us to focus on, but on Him who is the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort.”

But, as libertarian, Little believes that God’s attempt to be merciful is frequently frustrated by man’s freedom. Therefore, a libertarian is in no position to take comfort in the God of all comfort (2 Cor 1:3f.). God may want to be merciful to me, but if Nero wants to be merciless to me, then Nero can thwart God’s merciful intentions. And I, by my own unfettered freedom, can veto God’s merciful intentions.

Divine promises don’t function in a libertarian scheme, for God cannot make good on his promises. Only a Calvinist is logically entitled to trust in the promises of God.

The Historicity Of Acts

Darrell Bock's recent commentary on Acts has a lot of material on the historicity of the book. Below are some representative examples of what he argues. Keep in mind that New Testament documents like Acts are often judged by unreasonably critical standards that often aren't applied to other ancient documents (an issue I've addressed in some posts citing Paul Eddy and Gregory Boyd's recent book), so the positive assessment of Acts by so many modern scholars is all the more significant. See also Chris Price's post here and his article on Acts here.

It is interesting to note that (1) classical historians respect Luke as a historian as they use him (Nobbs 2006) and that (2) a careful look at the details of Acts shows that, where we can check him, Luke is a credible historian (see the discussion of this theme in the introduction to Acts 16:11-40 as it relates to Paul's trials). Here the work of Sherwin-White 1963; Hemer 1989; and the six-volume series launched by Winter and Clarke (1993) suggest that we should not be so skeptical about Luke....

Those listening to the story of Acts (most of Luke's ancient audience would have experienced the book by hearing it read) would have recognized it as a treatment of history with antecedents in Greek and Jewish history.

In sum, Acts is a piece of Hellenist and Jewish historiography...Its details are correct regarding provinces and governors, as well as in elements of local color and judicial practice (for the latter, see Sherwin-White 1963). Barrett (1998: cxiv-cxviii) gives Luke a "mostly favorable" verdict as a historian, noting that even where his sources are not corroborated, Luke must be taken seriously. But Barrett also regards Luke as getting more off the track once Paul and the Jerusalem Council are treated. We shall have occasion to assess this view of Acts 15 and Luke's handling of Paul. Our take is not as skeptical as Barrett's, but this is a discussion that cannot be undertaken without considering the details. So this topic awaits the commentary....

Luke has the largest vocabulary of any NT writer, but this may reflect the wide variety of settings presented in his work. Almost 90 percent of the vocabulary is also found in the LXX (Clarke 1922: 69; Polhill 1992: 43), and 85 percent overlaps with Plutarch (Haenchen 1987: 72). Much of the vocabulary mirrors other accounts, such as Judges, Samuel, Kings, and 2 Maccabees (Schille 1984: 29). This usage shows a "well educated" writer (Haenchen 1987: 72)....

there is good evidence for the church having a well-circulated, reliable tradition, as Jervell (1972: 19-39) the places where we can check Luke against his sources, such as his likely use of Mark, he is shown to be careful with them....

the content of these speeches [in Acts] and their Christology differ enough in the titles used to indicate that some input from tradition is likely. One need only compare the heavy use of the OT in Acts 2 or 3 with the lack of such use in Acts 10, or the shift in those same chapters from Messiah, Holy One, or servant to a singular appeal to Lord or judge of the living and the dead to see the difference (Bruce 1990: 37-39)....

Luke lived in closer proximity to his sources than [the ancient historian] Thucydides did, giving Luke a good opportunity to know what the apostles preached. Bruce (1990: 39) refers to Luke as a writer who is Thucydidean but with "considerable restraint." Quoting Foakes-Jackson and Lake (1931: xvi), Bruce (1990: 39) argues that the speeches give us "an extraordinarily accurate picture of the undeveloped theology of the earliest Christians, and so enable us to determine the character of the most primitive presentation of the gospel."...

In sum, Luke is a careful, ancient historian....

here [in Paul's interactions with the Roman government in Acts 16] is one of four places that we can carefully check Luke against the cultural backdrop to assess his historical reliability instead of merely theorizing about it positively or negatively. Recent assessments have generally rated Luke favorably (e.g., Sherwin-White 1963; the series launched by Winter and Clarke 1993). Omerzu (2002) traces the background in detail related to the rights of Roman citizens and the appeal to Caesar, before working through the scenes at Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, Jerusalem, and Paul's arrest and appearance before the Sanhedrin, Felix, and Festus. He concludes that the material accurately reflects these legal relationships and that the scenes draw from sources that have a historical core going back not to official court records but to oral traditions about Paul (Omerzu 2002: 506, 507-8). This suggests that Luke is a credible ancient historian who needs to be taken seriously, as also his recent treatment by classical historians shows (Nobbs 2006)....

Witherington (1998: 702) notes that it also is possible that Luke had access to notes of this trial [in Acts 24] (see esp. Winter and Clarke 1993: 307-9). Winter (1993: 305-36) shows in more detail how the Greco-Roman background and the form and availability of such legal sources help to illumine the court proceedings in Acts 24-26 and argues that Lukan access to official sources is a good possibility. He suggests that the printing of Lysias's letter is an indication to Luke's readers of access to such sources.

Hemer (1989: 129) observes that both Sherwin-White (1963: 48) and Mommsen (1901), experts in ancient Roman legal practices, view the account [in Acts 24] as "an exemplary account of provincial penal procedure extra ordinem." (Darrell Bock, Acts [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2007], pp. 6, 12-13, 20-22, 530-531, 687-688)

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

How To Frustrate God

John W. Loftus sez:

I hate being laughed at. Being ridiculed and mocked motivates me like nothing else. It’s like pouring gasoline on the flames of my passion. I want to make these people eat their words, and I usually do. Yes, that’s right. I usually do. The reason is that I believe in myself. I know what I am capable of doing if I set my mind to it. I’ve been doing that all of my life. I even have a signature line on one Christian forum that reads: “Personally attacking me is like pouring gasoline on the flames on my passion. I get stronger. I've told you that from the beginning. You didn't believe me. Maybe someday you will.”


So, if you want to motivate me, just mock me. Belittle me. Harass me. Christians have done this to me repeatedly here at DC and elsewhere. In my opinion they are Christianity’s worst enemies, for in doing what they do, they make me stronger. It motivates me to debunk the very faith that justifies their treatment of me. It makes me want to go for the jugular vein of their faith.


Some important and well-read people have already said some really nice things about my self-published book, which I was motivated to beef up because of the riducule I received from a particular Christian forum. I have another month or two to add to my Prometheus Books edition, which is a massive revision from my self-published one, and I mean massive! If what these people are saying about my present book is on the mark, what will they say when this PB edition comes out?


So let me just take a moment to thank all of those Christians who have ridiculed me in the past for motivating me. To you I owe a debt of gratitude. Your God must be very pleased with you.

By this John means that his atheological writings are serious blows to the Christian faith, and causing people to de-convert, left and right.

He allows God to be granted.

He then says that God is mad with us for "fueling John's fire."

Imagine that. If God exists, John Loftus thinks that he is in heaven pacing back and forth, pulling his hair, and strategizing on just how to launch a counter-offensive against the Loftinator - the Arnold Schwarzenegger of atheology. Hans and Franz put together. He's memorized this part from Conan:

Mongol General: Hao! Dai ye! We won again! This is good, but what is best in life?
Mongol: The open steppe, fleet horse, falcons at your wrist, and the wind in your hair.
Mongol General: Wrong! Conan! What is best in life?
Conan: To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of the women.
Mongol General: That is good! That is good.

God tries to get someone to believe, and then bam!, the guy picks up a Loftus book. “Oh great, now what am I gonna do?”

God then stomps his feet, crosses his arms, and curses those Christians who "pushed Loftus' buttons.

He says, "Great, guys; why did you have to make John Loftus so mad? Now look at what he's doing. How can I compete with that?"

I mean, seriously. Let's look at what God is up against and ask ourselves how an all-powerful, all-wise being could compete with it:

. If you were God, what would you reasonably do differently to make this a better world with less suffering?

Let me be the first to suggest an improvement. God could've created human beings by adding a pair of wings to our backs so that we could fly. There would be no more falling to our deaths. We would have better transportation such that there would also be fewer fatalities on our roadways and airways. Such a winged improvement would result in less suffering than our present bodies. We know God could've done this because there are naturally existing birds in this world who fly. So why didn't he? source

And so God pleads with his followers, "Please, stop making Loftus mad. I can't get anyone to convert anymore. He frustrates my plans. Stop it before he argues that I should have made men with gills so they wouldn't drown. Given old ladies tusks to gore possible muggers with. Given them skin of steel so mosquitoes with malaria couldn't infect them. Stop making Loftus mad!"

Okay, so you've won John. We'll stop "pouring fuel on your fire." Just promise to tone it down a bit. Quit writing your works and just give God a fair chance.

Christian meta-ethics

Below is a lightly edited transcript of a discussion I’ve been having with an email correspondent over Christian meta-ethics.

ADEODATUS: On your theory of ethics, I assume you are an absolutist. Now, are you a graded absolutist like a Geisler or a Murray?

In ethical dilemmas, therefore, we should do the greater of two goods (or, stated another way, the lesser of two evils). if you're not GA, where/what is the best critique of it that you know of.

STEVE: In discussions like this, "evil" is a term of art. "Evil" isn't synonymous with evildoing or wrongdoing.

So, in choosing between the lesser of two evils, we're not necessarily choosing one wrong over another wrong.

We never have the right to do wrong, but "evil" and "wrong" are not interchangeable in this context.

For example, if a man can't breathe, and the only way to restore his breathing is to puncture his esophagus and insert a straw, that's a necessary evil, but it's not a wrong (i.e. immoral). Indeed, it's the right thing to do.

All obligations are not coequal. Some duties are higher than others. When a higher duty conflicts with a lower duty, the higher duty suspends the lower duty.

This is in part because some duties have an mean-ends relation. Yes, I believe in moral absolutes, but some duties are instrumental goods rather than intrinsic goods.

In addition, we have concentric social obligations. We have a general obligation to the welfare of children, but I don't have the same (degree of) obligation for your children as I have for my own.

Up to a point, I also think that we make choices based on what options God, in his providence, has made available to us. That doesn't override all other considerations—but it is a consideration.

I could say more about all this, but that's a start.

ADEODATUS: I appreciate the "evil" and "wrongdoing" distinction.

If "we never have the right to do wrong," then are you not a graded absolutist?

And, yes, there are weightier issues, but we should obey them, *as well as* the lighter matters, right? For example, it seems to me that when Geisler (defending hierarchicalism, or, GA) says that we may break the 9th commandment and lie to Nazis looking to find and kill Jews we are hiding, he assuming that the 9th commandment says we can never ever deceive anyone in any circumstance.

But in this instance I don't think it would be a violation of the 9th commandment. It seems to me that GA allows one to *sin* if he "breaks God's law," then does it matter that he had a "tough choice to make?" And, btw, I like a lot of your ethical thinking, what/who have you read and/or profited the most from in this area?

STEVE: I read Geisler's book many years ago, so I'm fuzzy on the details. But it seems to me that the terminology of graded absolutism is confusing or confused.

1. By definition, we never have the right to defy a moral absolute.

2. Belief in moral absolutes doesn't mean that all duties are moral absolutes. Some duties are instrumental to a higher end.

3. Apropos (2), I do not regard truth-telling a moral absolute. Rather, it's an instrumental good.

3. Teleology is consistent with moral absolutes, because the absolute is the higher end to which certain means are adapted.

BTW, I don't regard teleological ethics as a freestanding ethical system. But it's a necessary element in moral valuation.

4. Unfortunately, Joseph Fletcher co-opted the word "situation" in situation ethics, which is associated with moral relativism.

This means, by invidious association, that any position which appeals to varying circumstances in moral valuation is tarred with relativism. But that's a serious overstatement.

Relativism doesn't mean that my obligation may differ in a different situation. Rather, relativism means that I could do the opposite in the very same situation.

If something is a duty in one situation, then it's a duty in an analogous situation. That doesn't mean it's also a duty in a disanalogous situation. Maybe yes, maybe no. Depends.

5. In a fallen world, it's possible for a sinner to maneuver himself into a situation where he can't discharge all of his responsibilities. Suppose a man has four kids by one marriage. Suppose he has an affair, and leaves his wife for another woman. Suppose he has another four kids by the second marriage.

He doesn't have the financial wherewithal to adequately provide for the financial needs of all his kids.

Suppose he becomes a Christian. That, of itself, doesn't change his financial situation. That doesn't turn back the clock. He boxed himself in, and there's no way out of the box.

6. Frame has done a lot of good writing on ethics and meta-ethics.

Although he's Roman Catholic, Peter Geach wrote an insightful book entitled _The Virtues_.

I don't always agree with Frame, and I agree with Geach less often than I agree with Frame. But one can learn some moves from both men.

ADEODATUS: I know some graded absolutists appeal to places like Mt. 12: He answered, "Haven't you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5Or haven't you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? 6I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. 7If you had known what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent. 8For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

They say this proves that you can violate moral absolutes for higher absolutes. If I understand you, would your take be that they didn't violate an absolute, but a moral law that was a means to an end. They were in a situation where a more important obligation - possibly even a moral absolute - took precedence over the other moral law.

STEVE: The appeal to Mt 12 as a prooftext for graded absolutism assumes that all the OT laws exemplify the moral law, and therefore are moral absolutes.

Not all OT laws are moral absolutes. Ceremonial laws aren't moral absolutes.

Moreover, a particular law may be a concrete instance of the moral law, yet it's an instance that's adapted to the socioeconomic and political conditions of the day.

The underlying principle is unconditional, but the concrete way the principle is applied may sometimes be conditioned by the timebound circumstances of that time and place.

For example, male headship is an enduring principle, but there are various ways in which that can be exemplified or implemented, and the details vary according to the cultural perceptions and historical contingencies of the immediate situation.

Furthermore, the idea of one moral absolute overruling another moral absolute is incoherent, for that's a concealed way of saying that one absolute is relative to another. So they first classify an obligation as a moral absolute, then proceed to relativize it. This is ad hoc and incoherent. They need to scrap the framework and devise something more principled and internally consistent.

ADEODATUS: So on your scheme, how do you handle moral dilemmas? Let’s take two examples:

A trolley is coming down a track, and it’s going to run over and kill five people if it continues. A person standing next to the track can flip a switch and turn the trolley onto a side track where it will kill one but save the five.

Most people think that’s morally permissible to harm one person when five are saved.

Another case is when a nurse comes up to a doctor and says, “Doctor, we’ve got five patients in critical care; each one needs an organ to survive. We do not have time to send out for organs, but a healthy person just
walked into the hospital—we can take his organs and save the five.”

Is that OK? No one says yes to that one.

Now, in both cases your action can save five while harming one, so they’re identical in that sense. So why the flip-flop? People of different ages, people of different religious backgrounds, people even with different educations
typically cannot explain why they think those cases differ." This can obviously be answered, but is there a general program, or do you take dilemmas on a case-by-case basis?

STEVE: It depends on how you define a moral dilemma. We can find ourselves in a situation where we don't know the right thing to do. We're confronted with conflicting moral intuitions.

We also need to distinguish between what is “right” in the sense of morally right, and what is “right” in the sense of correct or prudent or best.

In addition, there's also a difference between what's morally permissible and what's morally prescriptive. Take the trolley thought-experiment. Is it morally permissible to sacrifice one life in order to save five others? I'd say, yes—in this scenario.

Is it morally mandatory to do so? What if someone doesn't want to have that death weigh on his conscience? What if he doesn't feel he has the right to do that? Is it wrong for him not to intervene?

I wouldn't go so far as to say someone is obligated to take a life in that situation. After all, he's not responsible for the situation itself. He didn't create the situation. So these are forced options. He didn't choose these choices. And so I can see someone saying, in good conscience, “the outcome isn't my responsibility.”

In moral dilemmas, there may be no obligation to act one way or another. More than one course of action may be licit, without any course of action being obligatory.

I've already mentioned the distinction between ends and means as one way of harmonizing otherwise conflicting duties consistent with moral absolutism.

And I’d also invoke my prior remarks regarding the concentric character of our obligations. I have a higher obligation to God than I have to man; I have a higher obligation to my father/mother; wife/brother; son/daughter than I have to your father/mother; wife/brother; son/daughter.

Suppose my son and your son were trapped in a burning building. Suppose you can't save both of them. It would be right for you to rescue your son rather than mine. Indeed, it might even be incumbent on you to rescue your son rather than mine.

You have an obligation to try and save both if you can, but in case of conflict, the concentric nature of our social obligations supplies another harmonistic principle consistent with moral absolutes.

In principle, it ought to be possible to apply general norms to every situation. Even when we judge on a case-by-case basis, we are bringing certain general principles to bear.

However, the general and the specific cross-pollinate. For specific instances are a stimulus to moral intuition. It's hard for us to reason purely in the abstract. We need concrete examples to refine our intuitions. It isn’t all worked out in our head, in advance of the fact.

The danger is to overgeneralize. A position may seem to be intuitively compelling until someone comes up with a counterexample that didn’t occur to us.

ADEODATUS: Do you know Frame's (and Bahnsen's) breakdown of a someone doing a good act as having the right motive, goal, and standard? If someone doesn't have the right motive, say, then is that act he did, say, saving a drowning victim, not qualified as good? Was he immoral in doing it? Should people do immoral acts? Should he not have saved the life then? Does Frame take these as necessary and sufficient conditions? Is there a problem not separating acts from intentions?

STEVE: It's better to do the right thing for the wrong reason than refrain from doing the right thing.

Indeed, we have a standing obligation to do the right thing (or refrain from doing the wrong thing) whether we feel like it or not.

Something can be objectively right (according to the standard), but subjectively wrong (according to the motive).

However, the standard trumps the motive because the standard is a divine standard, whereas the motive is a human motive. There is a standing obligation to comply with a divine prescription or proscription.

If I do the right thing for the wrong reason (wrong motive or goal), then that says something bad about the subject of the action (the agent), but it doesn't say anything bad about the object of the action (the law of God).

There's a difference between a virtuous law and a virtuous agent. The law of God is good irrespective of the agent, and the law is normative regardless of the agent's incentive. Objective right takes precedence over personal righteousness. Ideally, the subjective and objective aspects of a deed ought to dovetail, but law is prior to motive or goal.

Put another way, there are actually two sets of intentions:

i) The intention of the human agent in doing or refraining from doing something;

ii) The intention of God in obliging the human agent to do something or refrain from doing something.

The law of God is objectively right according to God's standard, motive, and goal.

The human agent may be unrighteous in his intentions, but that doesn't relativize a moral absolute. He ought to do the right thing for the right reason, but absent that, he should still do the right thing, even if he does it for the wrong reason.

ADEODATUS: How do you determine which morals are absolute, and which are means/end? You said truth telling was "means end." What makes you say that? Is there are rule that can be applied that says all x's are absolutes and all y type things are means/end? Do they change? Can means/end also be absolutes in different situations, and vice versa?

STEVE: I don't think there's any rule of thumb. But we do have a revelation. That gives us some examples from which we can extrapolate. It gives us some examples of divinely sanctioned deception—as well as divinely sanctioned Sabbath-breaking. In both instances, the lying and Sabbath-breaking were sanctioned in cases where human wellbeing was a stake.

So truth-telling and Sabbath-keeping would be a means to that end—human well-being. And in situations where they actually frustrate that end, the obligation is temporarily suspended.

This is why the Puritans exempt duties of mercy and necessity (WCF 21:8; cf. Isa 58:13-14; Lk 4:16; Mt 12:1-13; Mk 3:1-5).

Frame has a good discussion of deception:

The Wisdom of Youth

“Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but - more frequently than not - struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God."

Martin Luther could scarcely have worded it better. For the greater part of my life, I held a faith that I believed was unified with reason. I was a devout Christian in every sense of the word, living a life for Christ and striving to place him (or at least my perception of him) at the center of all my endeavors. I was a regular Apostle Paul in regards to my fiery defense of the Word, taking every opportunity to engage in debate with the skeptic and show him the error of his ways

I'd expect this from someone in their 30's or above - but "the greater part of my life?" Friend, you are all of 17 years of age.

By the way, you have no idea what Luther was talking about, do you?

It would help your case if you wouldn't rest quotes out of context.

HT: James Swan who does a good job responding, so I need not go any further.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Who would Jesus kill?

A year ago, Ben Witherington weighed in on the Amish massacre:

I’m afraid Witherington reminds me of the parties which the Bernsteins used to throw for the Black Panthers—immortalized by Tom Wolfe’s satirical prose.

“This friends is real Christianity. Christians do not retaliate. They do not seek revenge, for the Bible says that vengeance should be left in the hands of the Lord. In fact they do quite the opposite. They offer forgiveness even to their tormentors.”

i) Here he fails to draw a basic distinction between vengeance and self-defense. Self-defense isn’t vengeful.

ii) And is this “real Christianity”? Is it really Christian for fathers and husbands to lay down their arms so that violent men can rape and murder their wives and children with impunity?

How is this any truer to Christianity than Jehovah’s Witnesses who refuse blood transfusions to a family member in critical condition, or Hillbillies who die of snakebite in a church service?

No doubt it’s sincere. All three groups are being true to their convictions. Yet that doesn’t make their actions true to Scripture—but only to their distorted understanding of Scripture.

“So I stand with the Amish and I stand with Jesus.”

How does he stand with the Amish? Does he milk cows for a living?

“Not all the armies who ever marched have had the power or effect on history of that one single and solitary life, the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, on all of humankind going on now for over 2,000 years.”

i) Well, that’s true, but that’s’ because you and I aren’t Jesus. I hope Witherington doesn’t suffer from a Messiah-complex.

ii) In addition, it overlooks the fact that a number of wars were fought in the last 2,000 years to preserve Christian freedom of expression. If we never fought back, the knowledge of the gospel would be eradicated from the earth.

“Long ago Jesus said to me and to us all "take up your cross, and follow me". The Amish understand that that is an invitation to lay down your weapons and be prepared to die rather than fight for what you believe. They understand that love and forgiveness are stronger forces than death and destruction. They understand that forgiveness breaks the hideous cycle of violence.”

i) Does it? Is that what God told OT Jews as they entered the Promised Land? Just forgive the Canaanites and that will break the hideous cycle of violence? Would the Canaanites and Assyrians and Babylonians unilaterally lay down their arms and plant daisies if only unconditional forgiveness were extended to one and all?

ii) Of course, there is a sense in which pacifism breaks the cycle of violence. If one side doesn’t defend itself, it will be annihilated. And that will put an end to the violence—since there is no one left to kill.

“That's what a real Christian life can and will do. And yes friends, it takes a lot of courage to stick by these principles in the age and culture and world we live in.”

How much courage does it take to be Amish in the America?

“Make no mistake. Revenge and retaliation come natural to fallen human beings.”

True, but what about justice?

“Some years ago, Mother Teresa was crossing the Allenby Bridge into the Holy Land from Jordan. She was stopped of course by Israeli border guards, who troubled to search this diminuitive little nun. They asked her ‘have you any weapons?’ --a ridiculous thing to ask a nun. ‘Oh yes’ she said boldly. ‘I have my prayerbooks.’ And she held them up.”

Well, that’s real sweet. What does Witherington think would happen if Israel unilaterally disarmed? How would Hamas and Hezbollah and Al-Qaida and Iran react?

How many days or weeks would it take for Israel’s enemies to kill every Jewish man, woman, and child?

“The Amish have said this week that they have felt uplifted by the prayers of millions who have been told about this story. Prayer--- now there's a dangerous weapon that can change the landscape of the world.”

i) Well, that’s true up to a point. But if prayer could bring peace to the world, why hasn’t it done so by now?

ii) Indeed, doesn’t Witherington believe in libertarian freewill? So, from Witherington’s perspective, God couldn’t answer that prayer even if he wanted to. So if human freedom renders many human beings impervious to persuasion, then the only way to stop them is to shoot them.

“This I know for sure. This world is run by a God who answers prayer, not by a God who calls us to other sorts of arms.”

Really? Didn’t God order the Israelites to execute the Canaanites?

“This world is run by a God who died for me on the cross and shouted out with his dying breath about those who were tormenting and killing him ‘Father forgive them, they know not what they do’."

Did Jesus actually say that? This is quite deceptive on Witherington’s part. As a NT scholar, he knows perfectly well that the textual authenticity of Lk 23:34 is suspect.

“My point is this. We desperately need the voice of peacemakers in the choir of our country.”

I’m all for peacemakers. But I don’t see any peacemakers. Instead, I hear a lot of peacetalkers. Talking about peace and actually making peace are two very different things.

“Had I been there on that day, I would have done the following things (I hope); 1) I would have gotten in the man's way and would not have left the room as many did. 2) I would have screamed bloody murder and told the girls to run for their lives. Its much harder to hit a moving target, and he can't hit them all at once any way.”

Isn’t this just precious? He would have raised his voice. Followed by his last ditch appeal: “It’s much harder to hit a moving target.”

I have a better idea—trying hitting a stationary target: to wit, shooting the assailant before he gets off the first round.

“I have no problems with tackling the man and trying to subdue him. But if I kill him in cold blood I am no better than many another murderer. Perhaps you have forgotten that the ten commandments do in fact say 'no murder'. I take it that Moses was deadly serious about that (pardon the pun).”

Unfortunately, this is another mark of his slide into mendacity. Surely Witherington knows the Mosaic law did not equate self-defense with murder.

“Now as for the forgiveness question I quite agree that forgiveness offered is not the same as forgiveness received, but it the obligation of the Christian to offer it, and not just to those who have repented. Notice that Jesus asked God to forgive the tormentors and they were doing the opposite of repenting at the time. So you are wrong--- Jesus actually forgave them. Whether they received it or not does not change that he forgave them--- period. Their reception of that forgiveness is a separate matter. ‘While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the unrighteous.....’ That friends is already forgiveness enacted, not merely offered.”

So why does anyone go to hell? Isn’t hell punitive? Doesn’t the Bible treat damnation as a form of retributive punishment? But if everyone is already forgiven, what is there to punish?

“Jesus said the Mosaic divorce laws were due to the hardness of our hearts. There were plenty of other OT rules like that as well. God requires more under grace than he does under law, and his perfect will is more perfectly revealed in Christ. It is not a question of God changing-- the issue is that we are different now in Christ, empowered by the Spirit.”

Does Witherington take the position that OT Jews were graceless and unregenerate?

“But lets just grant for a moment that killing this person is the lesser of the two evils. Even if this is true, the deliberate killing of the assailant is a sin that still needs to be repented of.”

How is the deliberate killing of an assailant a sin? Where’s the argument?

In the OT, God ordered his people to kill other people. Was he ordering them to commit sin?

For the moment, I’m not debating whether OT ethics apply to Christians. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that that don’t. Even so, was it sinful for OT Jews to comply with God’s command to execute the Canaanites? Should they repent because they obeyed the word of the Lord?

“It may be the lesser of the two sins in this situation, but for sure it is a sin. And I for one am not about to build my Christian ethic on the basis of sin. Neither did Jesus or Paul.”

Here he’s confusing “sin” with “evil.” But in ethics and theodicy, “evil” is a term of art. For example, we may call a natural disaster a natural evil, but there’s nothing sinful about a flood or hurricane or tidal wave.

The lesser of two “evils” is not synonymous with the lesser of two “sins.” In this context, choosing the lesser of two evils is not the same thing as choosing to do wrong—albeit a lesser wrong. To equate these things simply begs the question.

For example, a field medic must choose between amputating a gangrenous limb or letting the patient die of gangrene. He chooses the lesser of two evils—amputating the limb.

He isn’t sinning. To the contrary, it would be wrong be to let the patient die.

On a related thread by a different pacifist:

“Can you picture Jesus dropping a bomb? Shooting an Iraqi?”

Several issues:

i) He’s probably assuming that it was wrong to drop the bomb on Japan. If so, then Jesus wouldn’t commit a wrong. But that begs the question.

ii) As to shooting an Iraqi, I suppose that depends on what mental picture forms in your mind. What about a suicide bomber who’s about to massacre a marketplace full of woman and children and old men?

iii) Didn’t Jesus threaten to kill the disciples of Jezebel? Cf. Rev 2:23.

iv) On a more general note, since Jesus is God, I can picture Jesus doing whatever God does. Didn’t God send the flood? Didn’t he rain down fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah? Didn’t he send the Egyptian plagues? Didn’t he slaughter the armies of Egypt and Assyria?

One could multiply examples. So, yes, I can picture Jesus executing evildoers in large numbers. Indeed, he’s done so in the past.