Saturday, January 05, 2008

Atheism for dummies

It’s hard to know how to put a charitable spin on John Loftus’ latest post.

Is he dense, dissembling, or forgetful to the point of senile dementia?

“This argument is touted recently by the Maverick Philosopher which Vic Reppert links to, who merely asks the question of whether or not he's correct. It's used by C.S. Lewis, Norman Geisler, Paul Copan, and others like Steve Hays and David Wood. It concerns the problem of evil and whether or not the atheist can make that argument without an objective standard to know evil. Now I don't usually call Christian arguments asinine, so hear me out...”

Of course, I never said that an amoral atheist cannot mount an argument from evil.

“The fact that there is suffering is undeniable.”

Tell that to Paul and Patricia Churchland.

“I'm talking about pain...the kind that turns our stomachs. Why is there so much of it when there is a good omnipotent God? I’m arguing that the amount of intense suffering in this world makes the belief in a good God improbable from a theistic perspective, and I may be a relativist, a pantheist, or a witchdoctor and still ask about the internal consistency of what a theist believes.”

How does that contradict anything I’ve written on the subject?

“The dilemma for the theist is to reconcile senseless suffering in the world with his own beliefs (not mine) that all suffering is for a greater good. It’s an internal problem for the theist and the skeptic is merely using the logical tool for assessing arguments called the reductio ad absurdum, which attempts to reduce to absurdity the claims of a person. The technique is to force a claimant to choose between accepting the consequences of what he believes, no matter how absurd it seems, or to reject one or more premises in his argument. The person making this argument does not believe the claimant and is trying to show why her beliefs are misguided and false to some degree, depending on the force of his counter-argument. It’s that simple.”

I myself have repeatedly drawn the distinction between internal and external versions of the argument from evil.

However, to make good on the internal version, Loftus needs to identify instances of suffering which, say, Bible writers would regard as instances of gratuitous suffering. Where has he ever done that?

“What counts as evil in my atheist worldview is a separate problem from the Christian problem of evil. They are distinctly separate issues. Christians cannot seek to answer their internal problem by claiming atheists also have a problem with evil. Yet, that’s exactly what they do here, which is an informal fallacy known as a red herring, or skirting the issue. Christians must deal with their internal problem.”

I’ve repeatedly addressed the internal as well as external versions of the argument from evil.

“That this is a theistic problem can be settled once and for all by merely reminding the Christian that she would still have to deal with this problem even if I never raised it at all. That is, even if I did not argue that the existence of evil presents a serious problem for the Christian view of God, the Christian would still have to satisfactorily answer the problem for herself. So to turn around and argue that as an atheist I need to have an objective moral standard to make this argument is nonsense. It’s an internal problem that would still demand an answer if no atheist ever argued for it.”

True, but unconvincing. Loftus wouldn’t get this worked up over the issue if he were an amoral atheist.

“The problem speaks for itself.”

A philosophically contemptible assertion.

“There is nothing wrong with a Christian who wishes to evaluate the internal consistency of her own belief system. To say otherwise is to affirm pure fideism.”

Why would an amoral atheist even care about Christian fideism? Why would an amoral atheist even care about the problem of evil?

The only reason to care if Christians are intellectually consistent is if you think that it’s wrong to believe falsehoods. But an amoral atheist doesn’t think it’s wrong to believe falsehoods. So Loftus’ body language betrays his rhetoric. The guy would make a lousy poker player. He perspires too much.

Steven Carr said...

“When faced with a knock-down argument like why their alleged god passes by on the other side when a screaming child is burned to death in a Kenyan church, what can you expect theists to do other than try to evade answering the question? They are as heartless as their alleged god, and the deaths of children being burned alive, don't trouble their beliefs in the slighest. 'That child died for a greater good', they will say.”

Commenting on anything Steve Carr has to say always feels a bit like taunting a boy in a wheelchair. It doesn’t seem quite fair. But at the risk of overtaxing his atrophied capacity for rational analysis, I’ll make a few brief observations:

i) How is the existence of “heartless” Christians relevant to the internal argument from evil? Isn’t that supposed to be an attack on the coherence of the Christian belief-system?

ii) If the critic who is mounting this argument is an amoral atheist, why would he cast the issue in such emotive and moralistic terms?

iii) Assuming that Christianity is heartless, how is the Christian worldview any less heartless than the secular worldview? What is the moral significance of a screaming biochemical machine? How is burning a biochemical machine to death any worse than roasting marshmallows over a campfire?

Friday, January 04, 2008

"Blogging in the name of the Lord: Paul Helm"

Guy Davies has a good interview with Paul Helm.

The accidental candidate

It’s amusing to follow some of the post mortems on the Iowa primary. On the Republican side, many conservative pundits are horrified by Huckabee’s rout of Romney. I keep reading about how his victory has “set the party back.”

I’m told that he’s too religious. I find this funny since I’m well to the right of Huckabee on the theological spectrum. So it’s unintentionally entertaining to be told that I should vote for a candidate who’s to the left of Huckabee when I’m already to the right of Huckabee in this respect.

Mind you, this intramural snipping is to be expected. The GOP, like any political party, represents a coalition of special interest groups. In a coalition, no one faction expects to get everything it wants, but as long as the party delivers on enough of what each faction cares about, one faction will put up with things it doesn’t like about another faction in exchange for support on the things it does care about.

At the same time, this can be misleading, for the factions often overlap. It’s not as if the various factions have nothing in common.

In the GOP, there tends to be an asymmetry between the factions. You don’t have to be a social conservative to be a hawk or a fiscal conservative, but most social conservatives are also hawkish and fiscally conservative.

I’d hasten to add, though, that “fiscal conservative” is a rather equivocal designation. It generally has reference to tax cuts, budget cuts, and free trade. But it can be extended to laissez-faire capitalism.

There have always be country club Republicans in the GOP. These used to be the Rockefeller Republicans.

The GOP wasn’t always the party of social conservatives. That develop took place in reaction to such things as the Sixties Counterculture and Warren Court activism. This had a polarizing effect on the two parties. The GOP moved further to the right while the Democrats moved further to the left.

The current election cycle has exposed certain rifts in the GOP. County club Republicans generally support amnesty because they like all that cheap, sweat shop labor.

Due to the cultural divide within the GOP, some Republicans are blindsided by a candidate like Huckabee. Giuliani reflects the cultural values of the Upper East Side. Likewise, many “Neocons” are hawkish social liberals.

Ironically, they are now treating Huckabee’s natural constituency with the same disdain as urban and coastal elites in Hollywood and the NYT. They, too, look down on his constituency as flyover country.

What’s ironic about this is that by treating Huckabee as a country bumpkin, they play into his hands. As I recently said to a friend, Huckabee is Reynard the Fox—the fabulous folk hero who is constantly outsmarting the establishment. Every time the establishment underestimates Reynard, he outfoxes them. And the reason Reynard can outwit the establishment is that he must live by his wits. Patricians don’t need mother wit to survive, for they are coasting on their hereditary wealth and power. But this also makes them unsuspecting and slow-witted. The match-up between Romney and Huckabee is a real-life replay of an ancient literary tradition.

There is one sure-fire way for the GOP to lose in November. And that is to treat Huckabee as a threat. Someone to halt at any cost. Rally behind some compromise candidate like McCain to crush Huckabee before he’s unstoppable.

Although it’s risky to extrapolate from one primary, the turnout among the Democrats should send a message. The only way the GOP can match that turnout in the general election is to run a candidate who inspires an equally enthusiastic following. A compromise candidate or establishment candidate won’t inspire the base. If the conservative establishment succeeds in shutting Huckabee out of the race, many grass-roots Republicans will sit out the election, in which event the Democrat nominee will win by default.

The reaction to Obama has been equally amusing. Obama is the accidental candidate—twice over. It was only a fluke that he got elected to the Senate in the first place. The GOP chose to run a “moderate” Republican over a conservative candidate because the moderate was more “electable.” That was before Jack Ryan’s campaign imploded in a sex scandal. The GOP didn’t have time to recover, so Obama sailed to victory.

Likewise, I interpret Obama’s win in Iowa as simply an anti-war vote. Many Democrats have been seething over the war since even before we went to war. When Democrats won the control of Congress, the party faithful expected a Democrat Congress to end the war. The failure of the Democrat Congress to make good on its campaign promises has left many Democrats apoplectic. They’ve been spoiling for an opportunity to strike out, and they seized the moment in Iowa.

Hillary is identified with the war. She voted to authorize the war, and she has never recanted her vote. At least rhetorically speaking. Obama is the anti-war candidate.

So this has nothing to do with his talents as an orator. And, in fact, he’s not a great orator. Most white liberals don’t attend black churches because most white liberals don’t attend church, period. As a result, they’re easily swept away by the Jesse Jacksons of the world.. And Obama is obviously more eloquent than Hillary. But there are countless rural and storefront churches where you can hear more impressive oratory.

It’s also funny to here white Democrats pat themselves on the back because they voted for a black candidate. There’s a word for that: tokenism.

To begin with, it’s a typical bit of politically correct racism to classify Obama as black. In identity politics, if one parent is white while the other parent is black, that makes you black.

In addition, I keep hearing about change, but Obama is not an agent of change. There are a number of black leaders—like Thomas Sowell, Stephen Carter, Shelby Steele, and Bill Cosby—who would be genuine agents of change.

But Obama is a black man with white ideas. He’s a graduate of Harvard Law School, and he’s delivering a script which was written by white radiclibs in academia.

It reminds me of a movie review I read of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner by the late James Baldwin. Stanley Kramer was a bleeding-heart liberal attempting to atone for his white guilt by making “consciousness-raising” flicks like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

He and other blue ribbon liberals like Spencer Tracy and Kate Hepburn prided themselves on these patronizing exercises in self-flattery. They saw the Sidney Poitier character through their blue-eyed paternalism.

Obama is just the stray puppy-of-the-month in the liberal quest for the next social mascot. It doesn’t do anyone any good, but it makes them feel good about themselves.

A Radically Liberal Christmas (Part 5)

Borg and Crossan rightly note that Matthew appeals to prophecies of a typological nature in his infancy account. But they go as far as to claim that all of the prophecies are of that variety:

"In their historical contexts in the Old Testament, none of the five passages is a prediction of the distant future or a prediction of Jesus." (p. 202)

Here's how they attempt to dismiss Micah 5:

"This is the only one of Matthew's formula citations that, in its Old Testament context, refers to an indefinite future....Micah 5:2 expresses the hope for an ideal king who will come from Bethlehem...Is Matthew's use of this combined text from Micah and 2 Samuel a prediction of the place of Jesus's birth, namely, Bethlehem? No. Rather, it is ancient Israel's yearning for a king like David, the great king, the shepherd king. Under the kingship of one like David, 'they shall live secure,' for 'he shall be the one of peace.' It is hope and promise, not prediction. Indeed, rather than being a prediction of the place of Jesus's birth, the passage from Micah is seen by most mainstream scholars as the reason for the Christmas stories narration that he was born in Bethlehem. He was probably born in Nazareth, as the common appellation 'Jesus of Nazareth' suggests. Birth in Bethlehem is a claim in symbolic language that he is the 'son of David,' the ideal king." (pp. 206-207)

Note that Borg and Crossan claim that "none of the five passages is a prediction of the distant future", yet go on to acknowledge that Micah 5 "in its Old Testament context, refers to an indefinite future". How, then, would they know that Micah 5 isn't about "the distant future"? If they're just saying that Micah 5 doesn't state that it's referring to the distant future, but instead leaves the future timing unspecified, then so what?

And what's the significance of their distinction between "hope and promise" and "prediction"? If Micah "promises" (or has promise) that this Davidic, messianic ruler will come from Bethlehem, how is such a scenario significantly different from a prediction of the future? And how would Borg and Crossan know that Micah was doing the former rather than the latter?

I've addressed the "Jesus of Nazareth" objection elsewhere.

What seems to be going on here is that the evidence for what Micah said and where Jesus was born is such that Borg and Crossan don't have a good case against Jesus' fulfillment of a prophecy, yet they don't want to acknowledge such a fulfillment.

They go on to suggest that the Nazareth prophecy of Matthew 2:23 may have been constructed by the author of the gospel so as to reach the count of five prophecies within his infancy material (p. 209). Borg and Crossan argue, elsewhere in the book, that there are patterns of five within the gospel. But some of the ways in which they arrive at that number are unconvincing, and other numerical patterns are included in the gospel. If Matthew wanted to get to five infancy prophecies, why didn't he include one of the many Old Testament passages about the Davidic lineage of the Messiah, for example? Matthew 2:23 seems to primarily be a reference to the prophetic theme of a lowly and despised Messiah (John 1:46, 7:41-42, Acts 24:5), not a reference to one prophetic text (thus the plural "prophets"). There's no reason to conclude that Matthew was being dishonest or that the nature of the Nazareth prophecy is a significant problem for those who hold a conservative view of the infancy narratives. (For a good treatment of Matthew 2:23, see R.T. France, The Gospel Of Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2007], pp. 91-95.) And the low evidential value of the Nazareth prophecy doesn't prevent other prophecies from having more evidential value.

When Borg and Crossan move beyond their historical criticisms of the infancy narratives to explain what meaning they derive from these passages of scripture, what we get is a lot of this:

"We do not think Matthew's story is historically factual. In our judgment, there was no special star, no wise men, and no plot by Herod to kill Jesus. So is the story factually true? No. But as parable, is it true? For us as Christians, the answer is a robust affirmative. Is Jesus light shining in the darkness? Yes. Do the Herods of this world seek to extinguish the light? Yes. Does Jesus still shine in the darkness? Yes." (p. 184)

Borg and Crossan "seek to extinguish the light" in their own way. They claim that the disputes over the historicity of the infancy narratives are "fruitless" (p. 36), yet they engage in those disputes at length, even when they easily could have avoided it. They probably engage in such disputes because, contrary to what they sometimes assert, they do recognize that the disputes over factuality are highly significant. God doesn't need to use historical evidence or philosophical arguments, for example, to save a soul. But He does often use such means, and it's significant to have an objective standard to appeal to when disputes over these issues arise. Borg and Crossan put a lot of emphasis on politics in their book, and the historicity of the infancy narratives and scripture in general has major implications for politics. If the Bible is correct on issues like abortion, the death penalty, and marriage, and it can persuasively be shown to be correct by objective means, then that fact has devastating implications for the sort of liberal politics advocated by Borg and Crossan.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Del Ratzsch on science

A few Del Ratzsch articles for your consideration:

A Radically Liberal Christmas (Part 4)

Borg and Crossan tell us:

"From this scholarly consensus about the dating of Matthew and Luke in relation to earlier Christian writings flows an obvious inference: stories of Jesus's birth were not of major importance to earliest Christianity. Mark wrote a gospel without referring to Jesus's birth, as John later did. Though the end of Jesus's life - his crucifixion and resurrection - are utterly central to Paul, he says nothing about how his life began." (p. 26)

Yet, elsewhere they acknowledge:

"Since Matthew and Luke agree independently on those two points about Jesus - that he was descended from David's lineage and born in David's city - those must come from an earlier tradition than either of their Christmas stories. And, in fact, we find both of those points elsewhere in the New Testament. First, Paul, in opening his letter to the Romans, speaks of 'the gospel concerning his [God's] Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh' (1:3)....This [John 7:41-42] is a typical instance of Johannine irony. He presumes that Jesus was born at Bethlehem and, therefore, the crowd's ignorance confirms what they deny. Jesus is the Messiah, and he was born in Bethlehem. Paul and John indicate that common Christian tradition that Jesus was the Davidic Messiah and was - whether literally or metaphorically - born in Bethlehem." (p. 130)

As I've mentioned elsewhere (here and here), interest in an influential person's background and the Messianic expectations of first-century Israel suggest that there would have been widespread interest in Jesus' childhood even before He died. And passages like the ones Borg and Crossan cite from Romans and the gospel of John reflect such interest. Issues such as whether a person thought to be the Messiah was a descendant of David and where He was born would have been considered highly significant by the earliest Christians.

And Borg and Crossan's reference to the gospel of Mark undermines their argument. We know that there was significant early interest in Jesus' resurrection appearances (1 Corinthians 15:5-8), yet Mark doesn't narrate any of those appearances in his gospel. And, as Borg and Crossan note, John's gospel, which is usually dated after Matthew and Luke, doesn't have an infancy narrative. Yet, we know that there was significant interest in Jesus' childhood by that time, as reflected in Matthew and Luke. See also my discussion elsewhere of Paul's alleged silence regarding the public ministry of Jesus. Some of the same principles apply to the alleged early silence about Jesus' childhood.

While Borg and Crossan date the gospels of Matthew and Luke to the last two decades of the first century, other scholars have argued for earlier dates. If the two gospels were written prior to 70 A.D., as I would argue, then Matthew and Luke would be close to Borg and Crossan's dating of Paul's letters and Mark's gospel. Even if Matthew and Luke were written in the seventies, for example, that would only place them about a decade or less later than the common liberal dating of Mark. Even a date in the eighties or nineties would be within a few decades of Paul's death. As the opening of Luke's gospel tells us, Luke thought that he was passing on what had been handed down to him by earlier Christians. To speak of Matthew and Luke as if they're late documents, just because they're being dated to the closing decades of the first century, is to define lateness in a way that doesn't have much significance. We have good reason to date the two gospels in question earlier than Borg and Crossan do, but even the later dating isn't late enough to have the sort of significance that's been suggested.

Paul was writing letters, not biographies of Jesus, and even in those letters he shows interest in and knowledge of Jesus' background (Romans 1:3, Galatians 4:4, etc.). Where in his letters is he supposed to have had some sort of compelling interest in mentioning something like the virgin birth, the Slaughter of the Innocents, or Mary's visit to Elizabeth? The concept that Luke had access to so much information related to Jesus' background, whereas the more prominent and probably more widely traveled Paul was so apathetic and uninformed as to not have even asked where Jesus was born or have not heard of the virgin birth, for example, is dubious. Borg and Crossan acknowledge that the virgin birth, for example, was a widespread Christian tradition that predated the gospels of Matthew and Luke (p. 123). But Paul never heard of it? Or he did, but rejected it or considered it insignificant? None of those scenarios are reasonable.

Borg and Crossan cite some examples of ancient pagan sources questioning or denying the historicity of pagan accounts (pp. 98, 124-127). They conclude:

"Finally, then, it is unwise to imagine that those pre-Enlightenment ancients told incredible histories, which we post-Enlightenment moderns have learned to deride. It is wiser to realize that they used powerful metaphors and told profound parables, which we have taken literally and misunderstood badly....It would be wiser, therefore, to presume that the ancients were as wise as we moderns are - when we are both wise - and as dumb as we moderns are - when we are both dumb." (pp. 126-127)

But the fact that ancient pagans questioned or denied the historicity of pagan accounts doesn't prove, by itself, that the accounts weren't intended as historical. And the fact that Borg and Crossan can cite so many pagan examples of such questioning and denial, yet can't cite comparable evidence from early Christian sources commenting on the infancy narratives, is revealing. Ancient people, including ancient Christians, were capable of distinguishing between genres of literature and true and false historical accounts. As Craig Blomberg notes:

"A careful reading of the patristic evidence suggests that indeed the vast majority of early Christians did believe that the type of information the Gospel writers communicated was historical fact, even as they recognized the more superficial parallels with the mythology of other worldviews" (cited in Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case For The Resurrection Of Jesus [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 2004], n. 27 on p. 327)

Why, then, didn't the early Christians and their enemies interpret the infancy narratives as Borg and Crossan do?

Borg and Crossan draw some common parallels between the infancy narratives and Old Testament and extra-Biblical literature. They compare Matthew's account of Jesus' childhood to accounts of Moses' childhood in other literature, for example. But the dating of some of the documents is questionable, and the parallels often don't hold up. They tell us:

"And, as with the three elements of divorce, revelation, and remarriage in the Moses/Jesus conception parallelism, so also here with the three elements of dream, fear, and interpretation in the birth parallelism of Moses and Jesus, we expect and get creative variation rather than strict uniformity." (p. 139)

The reason why there isn't "strict uniformity" is because Matthew was giving a historical account. He would be interested in highlighting similarities between Moses and Jesus, but he would include differences between the two as well.

And if the accounts of Jesus' childhood weren't similar to accounts of Moses' childhood in some ways, then critics could choose some other figure to parallel with Jesus. They could look for accounts of Abraham's childhood, David's, etc., then suggest that the accounts of Jesus' childhood were made up in an attempt to parallel those other accounts. Given the fact that Jewish society had existed for so many centuries and had produced so much literature, how significant is it if some sources wrote accounts of well-known figures that have some similarities with, as well as differences from, the accounts of Jesus' childhood? Borg and Crossan, like others before them, have failed to make the case that the similarities between Moses and Jesus are so significant as to make Christian borrowing probable.

They acknowledge that the virgin birth accounts in Matthew and Luke are different from what we find in Jewish and pagan literature:

"In Jewish and biblical tradition, ordinary marital intercourse takes place between aged and barren parents - even if conception is thereafter divinely miraculous....Even with Greco-Roman divine conceptions, the male god engages in intercourse, so that the human mother is no longer a virgin after conception. What pre-Matthean and pre-Lukan Christianity claimed was that Mary remained a virgin before, during, and after conception (not birth) - and that made her divine conception different from and greater than all others." (pp. 122-123)

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

I Was Wrong, nihil ad rem

Yeah, I was wrong, but so what? I figure that it is a good way to build character to admit that you were wrong. So, I’ll start out ‘08 working on the virtue of integrity and honesty.

How was I wrong?

Ron D. has offered some responses to my response to his rather poor attempt to interact with one of my critiques of V. Cheung.

I should note that my original response to him has not been interacted with.

I should also point out that the arguments in my original post (the one he responded to) have not been rebutted.

Be that as it may, we had been discussing my original response (which the essence was never rebutted) and Ron had been making the point that Vincent Cheung could be rational and justified in his beliefs.

I will divide this post into two parts. The first address this main point. The second interacts with some comments from his combox, I offer replies to either him or his commenters various critiques/questions.


Let’s offer a useful categorizing of things so to make the rest of the post flow easier. I will refer to them thorough the rest of this post:

[CSB] = Cheung’s Scriptural Beliefs

[CUB] = Cheung’s Unscriptural Beliefs

Now, my critique of Cheung’s occasionalism was a purely epistemic critique. I only had epistemic rationality and justification in mind. Thus I argued that given Cheung’s epistemological position, then epistemological problems are birthed.

I specifically argued that the point about occasionalism is that Cheung has no rational basis to believe that his caller ID is working. I take it that since God, via divine implantation, immediately gives everyone their beliefs, and since the probability that God is granting you a true belief over a false one is low or inscrutable, then it is irrational for you to believe anything. Cheung's views, if accepted, offer a defeater for all your beliefs. If the probability that your beliefs are true is low or inscrutable given Cheung's Epistemic Program CEP, and you accept CEP, then you have no rational basis to believe anything.

Furthermore, Cheung himself lets us do this. Since Cheung is an infallibilist, and since he says that sources of belief that are fallible cannot convey knowledge, and since beliefs obtained by occasionalism are more fallible than the reportings of our senses (or at least we can't determine which is more fallible), and since Cheung thinks that it is irrational to maintain beliefs given to us by these other fallible methods, then Cheung must think it is irrational to hold beliefs obtained by occasionalism.

Moreover, we should note that if Ron thinks that Cheung's (or G.H. Clark's) arguments against induction are good, and if he accepts other Cheungian propositions, then his critique suffers from the problem of appealing to propositions that your theory of knowledge doesn't allow you to justifiedly believe.

This is an epistemic argument. The terms are used in their epistemic sense. This was even noted by Aquascum in his review of my original argument:

But Ron kept on insisting that Cheung could be justified, he could be rational in his beliefs.

Now, since I know that Ron is a bright guy, I kept interpreting him in the best light. My critique had to do with the epistemic implications of Cheung’s position. So, I naturally took his critique as an attempt to be a relevant response to my arguments. I think this is a fair and plausible way to proceed. So, I couldn’t understand why he didn’t get it. I then tried to offer this argument:

[1] All propositions not in or deducible from Scripture are "unjustified opinions, at best."

[2] Vincent believes many propositions that are not in or deducible from Scripture. (Call all these beliefs, Cheung’s Unscriptural Beliefs CUB.)

[3] Therefore, all the propositions believed in the set of CUB are "unjustified opinions, at best."

[4] If one's belief is an "unjustified opinion, at best," then one is unjustified in holding it.

[5] If one is unjustified in holding an unjustified opinion, then one has no justification for that opinion.

[5] Thus, if one's belief is an "unjustified opinion, at best," then one has no justification for that opinion.

[6] All propositions believed in CUB are "unjustified opinions, at best."

[7] Therefore, Cheung has no justification for his believed propositions contained in CUB.

Ron didn’t like [P4]. He wrote,

"Paul's premise [4] false, which invalidates his argument. The reason Paul does not, or should I say will not see this is that he insists on twisting Vincent's words. Vincent clearly speaks of the opinion being unjustified. Paul chooses to twist Vincent's words to mean that the one holding to the opinion is unjustified."

But I was confused. I thought Ron was trying to be relevant to my argument. And [4] is based off Cheung's internalist constraint. Let's get a feel of what internalism entails:

"[Internalism insists] that agents have cognitive access to what justified their beliefs ... [T]he internalist requirement for all justified beliefs is that before we can hold a belief rationally, we must, in principle in any rate, have cognitive access to the grounds of our belief." - W. Jay Wood, Epistemology: Becoming Intellectually Virtuous, 1998, pp. 155-156.

"What all forms of internalism have in common is that they require, for a belief's justification, that the person holding the belief be aware (or at least potentially aware) of something contributing to its justification." - Michael Bergmann, Justification Without Awareness, 2006, p.9.

"The internalism in question is the view that certain interesting and important epistemic evaluations depend entirely on internal factors, namely reason and evidence." - Richard Feldman, Justification is Internal, printed in Steup and Sosa ed. Contemporary Debates in Epistemology, 2005, 283.

"The fundamental claim of internalism ... is that epistemological issues arise and must be dealt with from within the individual person's first-person cognitive perspective, appealing only to things that are accessible to that individual from that standpoint. The basic rationale is that what justifies a person's beliefs must be something that is available or accessible to him or her, that something to which I have no access cannot give me a reason for thinking that one of my beliefs is" [justified]." - Laurance BonJour, Epistemology: Classic Problems and Contemporary Responses, 2002, p. 222.

Therefore, if someone S believes that a proposition P is "unjustified opinion, at best" at time t, then at t S is unjustified in holding P, according to internalist constraints. We could also add we have no reason to believe that the propositions believed by Vincent in the set of CUB are justified beliefs.

And so I was going to try to re-work an argument. I came up with something like this:

[1] All propositions not in or deducible from Scripture are "unjustified opinions, at best."

[2] Vincent believes many propositions that are not in or deducible from Scripture. (Call all these beliefs, Cheung’s Unscriptural Beliefs CUB.)

[3] Therefore, all the propositions believed by Vincent in the set of CUB are "unjustified opinions, at best."

[4] If it is and always will be the case that that a proposition P in CUB is "unjustified, at best," then there is no justification for P.

[5] If there is no justification for P, then any cognitive agent that believes P has no justification for it.

[6] Therefore, if it is and always will be the case that that a proposition P in CUB is "unjustified, at best," then any cognitive agent that believes P has no justification for it.

[7] All propositions in CUB are, by definition, not in or deducible from Scripture.

[8] Only propositions contained or deducible from Scripture are justified.

[9] Therefore, it is and always will be the case that all propositions in CUB are, by definition, "unjustified opinion, at best."

[10] Therefore, any cognitive agent A that believes P, and P is in CUB, A has no justification for P.

If one knows that there is no justification for any proposition that are not in or deducible from Scripture, then one can’t say that he knows that he has a justification for any of his beliefs that are not in or deducible from Scripture. If one knows that he can’t have a justification for an unbiblical belief, because there are no justifications to be had, then one cannot say that he is justified in believing any proposition no in or deducible from Scripture. It is simply epistemologically dastardly to affirm that you are justified in believing extra-biblical propositions if no justification exists. I took my premise to be something of a tautology. If there is no justification, a person can’t be justified. Just like if all dogs were “unwhite,” you couldn’t have a white dog.

But, as I was thinking about this, a way to read Ron came to my attention. Why didn’t he like the original [P4]? And, if he didn’t like that, he wouldn’t like [P5] in the revised argument. Why not? How could I salvage Ron’s credibility?

The only way is by introducing the distinction between epistemic and non-epistemic justification (and/or rationality). This is the only way to read Ron where his original response to my post, and his subsequent comments, aren’t utterly ridiculous. So, I must take him has drawing this distinction. And with that, it makes me wrong. But so what?

I didn’t read Ron that way because, as I have stated, I was trying to read him in the best light. Here’s what I mean. Since my post specifically refers to epistemic issues, and attempts to issue epistemic challenges for Cheung’s epistemology, then a non-epistemic point brought up in response to my critique is irrelevant. Pointless. A waste of time. So, I was not even looking for the distinction I just drew above. Before moving on, then, I should say something about this distinction.

This distinction is subject to heated discussion. Without getting involved with that debate, we can offer some simple definitions. An epistemic justification is a justification that provides good reasons for the idea that your belief is true. A non-epistemic justification is a justification based on pragmatic, prudential, moral, eudemonic, survival-value, or proper function reasons for belief. To offer some practicality: To say that S believes that P because he clearly remembers that P is to offer an epistemic justification (I do not intend to get into a debate about whether this is a good justification or not, I only attempt to bring out the differences and I think succeed in appealing to basic intuition people have). To say that S believes that P (say, the belief that you will get better from being sick) because people who have a positive attitude tend to get better, is a non-epistemic justification for your belief.

Now, let’s remember Cheung’s epistemological position.

"Scripture is the first principle of the Christian worldview, so that true knowledge consists of only what is directly stated in Scripture and what is validly deducible from Scripture; all other propositions amount to unjustified opinion at best. This biblical epistemology necessarily follows from biblical metaphysics. Any other epistemology is indefensible, and unavoidably collapses into self-contradictory skepticism." (p. 43; cf. “Systematic Theology,” p. 18 para. 4, p. 22 para. 5, p. 41 fn. 42, emphasis supplied)

Cheung also holds to an internalist and an infallibilist constraint on knowledge. Thus Cheung:

"However, unless he constructs his claims upon an objective and infallible foundation, then if he can claim to know..." (SOURCE)

For a analysis of how Cheung is an internalist, see here (sec. 3.2).

So, for Cheung,

(*) For one to know that P, (i) P must be Scripture, or deductively deduced from Scripture, (ii) one cannot be mistaken that P, and (iii) one must have access to how one knows that P. All else is "unjustified opinion at best."

Thus it is clear that only those beliefs in [CSB] have epistemic justification. Those beliefs in [CUB] do not.

Now, my critique was that much of Cheung’s epistemological positions fall into the ken of [CUB] and not [CSB].

If my critiques are correct, this means that there is no epistemic justification for those beliefs. Cheung has no epistemic reason to believe them. Of course I didn’t put “epistemic” before the words I used. But I thought it was fairly obvious as to what I was referring to.

But then Ron comes along and says that Cheung can be justified and rational in holding those beliefs. But we have seen that he must mean that Cheung had prudential or pragmatic or functional justifications of reasons for those beliefs. Of course he didn’t put those words before the words he used. I originally had said he was wrong. But now I admit that I was wrong. But I then add a big SO WHAT?

I don’t give a rip if believing all those propositions in [CUB] make Cheung “feel better.” I don’t really care if he finds it “useful” or “beneficial” to believe propositions in [CUB]. I don’t, and never did, care if he found that he could function better by holding to propositions in [CUB]. That was never the intent of my critique. So, Ron’s response to me, read in its only defensible light, is totally irrelevant to anything I was attempting to do in the posts he critiqued.

But, we don’t need to stop there. Ron’s defense of Cheung actually brings out more problems with Cheung’s position. Specifically, if those propositions in the ken of [CUB] are not epistemically justified, then notice what that implies. Included among propositions believed in [CUB] are a variety of meta-level statements about knowledge, justification, infallibility, and so on. Is it good enough or all these claims to be justified on purely pragmatic grounds? As has been argued, and as has not been interacted with, occasionalism, infallibilism, internalism, and even (*) itself, cannot (has not) be deduced from Scripture. We await the attempt. On top of that, even if a valid argument is given, divine occasionalism is a fallible belief producing source. The probability that one’s beliefs are true given Cheung’s occasionalism are low or inscrutable. So why believe the premises are true? Thus a valid deduction wouldn’t be enough. A reason to believe the premises, viz., an epistemic justification that fits with (*) would be required.

But, yes, I was wrong. Cheung is still rational and justified to believe those things. It is, well, useful for him to believe in occasionalism. It’s helpful for his ability to function to believe that he isn’t being deceived. But, so what? That has nothing to do with my critique.

At best Ron has simply brought out more worries with Cheung. I mean, who “justifies” their epistemological desiderata by appeals to usefullness!? I mean, I guess Cheung can “justify” his occasionalism and his beliefs about not being deceived by saying that it is/isn’t prudent to believe those things, but then of course I think it’s prudent to deny his position! Ron has saved Cheung’s rationality. The price: Who cares. No one was ever disputing those things.

Lastly, we should add that it isn’t at all clear that all the beliefs in [CUB] are justified or rational by appeal to non-epistemic standards. The belief that there are over 500 blades of grass on your neighbor’s lawn doesn’t appear to be useful, for instance. But perhaps it could be in certain contexts. But surely we hold hundreds of beliefs while not being on the context that we would find them useful. Are these all irrational to hold - both epistemically and non-epistemically?


Ron D: "When I say that one can rationally believe by way of inductive inference, I am not constituting such inferences as knowledge. As I've shown on other blog post"

The conversation isn't even over "inductive beliefs." Though, that is part of it. Let's re-familiarize ourselves with Cheung's claim:

"Scripture is the first principle of the Christian worldview, so that true knowledge consists of only what is directly stated in Scripture and what is validly deducible from Scripture; all other propositions amount to unjustified opinion at best. This biblical epistemology necessarily follows from biblical metaphysics. Any other epistemology is indefensible, and unavoidably collapses into self-contradictory skepticism." (p. 43; cf. “Systematic Theology,” p. 18 para. 4, p. 22 para. 5, p. 41 fn. 42, emphasis supplied)

Cheung also holds to an internalist and an infallibilist constraint on knowledge. Thus Cheung:

"However, unless he constructs his claims upon an objective and infallible foundation, then if he can claim to know..." (SOURCE)

For a analysis of how Cheung is an internalist, see here (sec. 3.2).

So, for Cheung,

(*) For one to know that P, (i) P must be Scripture, or deductively deduced from Scripture, (ii) one cannot be mistaken that P, and (iii) one must have access to how one knows that P. All else is "unjustified opinion at best."

Therefore, for Cheung, it is not just inductive beliefs that are "unjustified opinions, at best," it is all beliefs that are "unjustified opinions, at best." Let's see what non-inductive beliefs would be included in our Cheungian ken:


[1] All intentional states are non-physical states.

[2] Beliefs about tomorrow's weather are intentional states.

[3] Therefore, Beliefs about tomorrow's weather are non-physical states.


[1] All moral facts M are grounded in some moral principle P.

[2] X is a M.

[3] Therefore, X is grounded in P.


[1] Non-cognitivist theories of morality cannot make sense of moral discourse.

[2] Mark Timmons' contextualist theory is a non-cognitivist theory of morality.

[3] Therefore, Mark Timmons' contextualist theory cannot make sense of moral discourse.

We could obviously multiply the above. The point: According to (*), (A), (B), and (C) are instances where the premises and conclusions are "unjustifiable opinions, at best." (A), (B), and (C) are not constituted by inductive beliefs. Therefore, it is not only "inductive beliefs" that are "unjustified opinions, at best."

So, I don't know why Ron is stuck on inductive beliefs.

Ron: "If we allow the term "knowledge" to be given to inductive inferences, then having less information can be the source of more knowledge, and having more information can cause one to rationally lose the knowledge he once had."

I don't know how there is "more knowledge" if the claim to knowledge is a probabilistic claim. Furthermore, people wouldn't necessarily lose the knowledge they had, but the knowledge they thought they had.

Ron: "What is below is pasted from a the link I provided immediately above.

1. Justification: Inductive inference that the clock is working based upon history

2. Belief: Believe as true the time the clock indicates, which is 12:00

3. Truth: It is 12:00

Someone might say that since all the criteria for knowledge have been met, one can know it is 12:00 given inductive-knowledge. However, the 3 criteria justify the belief that it is 12:00 even when relying upon a broken clock! Shouldn't this intuitively bother us?"

First, I don't take "justification" to be either necessary or sufficient for knowledge (I am obviously distinguishing 'justification' from 'warrant.') Second, the above doesn't negate inductive reasoning as a source of knowledge, but shows the importance of a congenial cognitive environment as necessary for warrant. It wasn't induction that failed, it was the epistemic environment. Induction doesn't even claim certainty for its conclusions.

Ron: "Can we "know" things based upon false information? The problem with induction is that inferences that are rational to maintain can always be false."

Well, more than that. We can't know things based on true information! Here's an example of why the cognitive environment needs to be congenial for the epistemic agent:

Say that John is passing through Iowa. He comes upon a town that loves to trick visitors into thinking they are passing through the "barn capital of the world." So, they plant thousands of red barn facades throughout the countryside. But, they through in a real red barn here and there, say 1:1,000. Now, John justifiedly believes that all the barn facades he sees are in fact real barns. But, he doesn't have knowledge. But, it so happens that when he happens to look at one of the real barns, he doesn't know that that is a barn either. He had a justified, true belief. And, to meet Ron's criteria, his belief was caused by truth - a real barn. But, do we want to say that John knew what he happened to look at right then was a real barn? No. His belief was obtained by luck. And, he wasn't in a congenial cognitive environment.

Also, is the mere possibility of an inference being false negate that an agent can have knowledge? If so, then Ron is an infallibilist. If not, then his critique doesn't get off the ground.

Ron: "The man who is most informed about the clock is not able to know the time, whereas the man with less information about the clock would be able to “know” the time if inductive inference allows for knowledge!"

No, the man wouldn't be able to "know" the time. Ron's point isn't made more substantive by the addition of an exclamation point. At best, the man with less information will be able to think he knows the time, whereas the man with more information will know that he cannot know the time based only on the information provided by the broken clock.

Ron: "I have rehearsed all of that simply to say this. If Cheung suggests that inferences reduce to opinions at best, I would not take him to mean that he believes he has no rational basis for thinking his caller ID is working on his cell phone."

No, it isn't just "inferences" it is "ALL other propositions amount to unjustified opinion at best" (emphasis supplied). Not all propositions are "inferences," Ron.

Does Cheung know that he has a "rational basis for thinking his caller ID is working on his cell phone"? if so, then let him deduce this from the Bible! If not, then on Cheungian terms, he could not say he knew that he has a rational basis to believe anything that is not deducible from Scripture. So, what epistemic support does his theory give him to make claims like that? I mean, Ron's free to shift the goal posts for Cheung, but that's not a defect in my argument. My argument was an internal critique, a reductio ad absurdem, against Cheung. So, these are just assertions, for Cheung. He may say that he believes all this stuff. He may claim that his position is such and such. But, he doesn’t really know all of that, does he? Perhaps it’s just “helpful’ for him to believe those things. Allows him to function as a Scripturalist in this world.

Ron: "Keith,

I addressed how Vincent can know things and how he can know that he is not being deceived by showing that his epistemology does not put him at a disadvantage over Paul’s epistemology."

Keith, Ron did no such thing, unless he moves the goal posts for Cheung. You see, Cheung can only know that he is not being deceived, and know "things" (whatever those are?), if he can deduce the conclusion from Scripture (or find it stated in Scripture). (Recall Cheung's strictures I cited in (*).) Cheung cannot deduce said propositions. Therefore, he cannot know them. I find it interesting that Ron didn't allow exactly what I said to Keith to be allowed to be posted on his blog. This is a tacit admission of defeat.

Brian: "Anonymous said...

There is no reason to doubt that Mr. Cheung meant what he wrote. What Mr. Cheung wrote is very cogent! Mr. Cheung embraces many propositions that are not justified - but we must - as Mr. Cheung points out. It is not incoherent that Mr. Cheung who defines knowledge as he does to be justified in believing *things* that cannot be *justified*.


Of course I never denied that Cheung couldn’t believe things that cannot be justified.

And, if your response is taken to mean epistemic rationality or justification, then I’d disagree. Let's note that Cheung says that "all other PROPOSITIONS are unjustified." So, how is Cheung justified? Brian has Cheung as someone who is justified in believing that P, even though P cannot be justified. Note that if Cheung is justified in believing that P, and given Cheung’s internalism, then Cheung believes a proposition, namely:

(**) I am justified in believing that P due to justificatory feature(s) F.

But since (**) is a proposition, then Cheung believes that (**) is “unjustified opinion, at best.”

Shouldn’t the virtuous epistemic agent give up (**)? Since (**) is “unjustified opinion, at best,” then how could Cheung be justified in believing it? By appeal to:

(***) I am justified in believing that (**) due to justificatory feature(s) F.*

But (***) is a proposition, and so is unjustified, at best. Why believe it? I hope the reader can see where this is going.

If there is no justification for this proposition:

(****) I see a red car.

Then why is there justification for (**)? We are just as unjustified in believing (****) as we are (**).

We can also ask what would Cheung's justification be? What would fill in F above? An unjustified proposition, at best! How is Cheung justified? What confers this positive epistemic status on his beliefs? Illogical and irrational and fallible inductive inferences? Illogical and irrational and fallible memorial beliefs? Illogical and irrational and fallible sensations? What? And, on top of that, given Cheung's strictures on knowledge, how could Cheung know that "it is not incoherent that Mr. Cheung who defines knowledge as he does to be justified in believing *things* that cannot be *justified*?" Other propositions justify Cheung’s CUB beliefs. But all those propositions are “unjustified opinions, at best.” So, if they justify Cheung’s CUB’s, then we have unjustifying justifiers (I do know that non-cognitive Mark Timmons believes in unjustifying justifiers, but his view is soundly routed by Shafer-Landau in ch. 1 of his book, Moral Realism: A Defense.)

Moreover, none of this refutes my original piece, in the slightest. Cheung can't know that occasionalism is the case since he can't deduce it from the Bible (perhaps he can offer an abductive or inductive case for it, but that doesn't grant knowledge, according to Cheung). Occasionalism is a fallible belief producing mechanism which yields a probabilistic defeater for all (or, at least 99% of) for Cheung's beliefs. It therefore fails another on of Cheung's strictures. Cheung can't know that he is not being deceived since he can't deduce that from Scripture.

If Brian is taken to mean non-epistemic justification. So what. That answer has nothing to do with my original argument.

Lastly, what's most problematic, even for the non-epistemic out, Cheung can't know that he exists since he can't deduce that from the Bible. So, on Cheungian epistemology, if he can't know that he exists then surely he can't know if he is justified in believing anything since non-existent people aren't justified in their beliefs. Non-existent people aren’t even prudentially justified in their beliefs. This is the case, for many reasons, one being that non-existent people don’t exist in order to have beliefs that can be justified in any sense.

Voices of The (Minor) Prophets

In an effort this year to make the blog a bit more pastoral in character, I will be regularly posting snippets from Scripture. I have chosen to begin with the Minor Prophets because they are, quite simply, often neglected - at least in my own experience. I will post bits that are "to the point" and are for use in Scripture memorization. If you have any suggestions for texts, please email me with the references and I will add them to my list. My email is in my blogger profile. Sometimes I will provide a brief exposition. Other times I will let the text stand on its own on the assumption that you all will take a look at the context for yourselves.

This week here is one that speaks for itself.

The Lord is good
A stronghold in the day of trouble, and
He knoweth those who trust in him.

Nahum 1:7

HT: Scripture Searcher

Do Morphological Similarities Imply Common Descent?

One of the most commonly used evidences for Darwinism is the fact of morphological similarities between various organisms. To put it simply, many organisms look like each other. These similarities extend not just through the physical phenotype, but also into the genotype as well. Indeed, much hay is made over the fact that chimp DNA is 98% similar to human DNA (although that figure has been questioned recently).

Rather than looking at some specific examples, I want to first look at the concept as a whole. Is it true that morphological similarities imply common descent from an original species?

It is certainly true that similarities can indicate descent. We see examples of this in the genome all the time, especially with recessive and dominant genes that obviously follow a hereditary tree. But we have equal evidence of similarities that do not follow heredity, that do not imply common descent.

One obvious example of this is found if you look in the parking lot at your local mall. You will see various “organisms” of vehicles out there: Ford, Chevy, Nissan, Mazda, etc. All of these vehicles have similar structure, are made from similar materials, and are used in similar manners. Yet we know that the Chevy did not evolve from Ford except insofar as the design was copied by an intelligent agent. As a result of this simple concept, we see that morphological similarities need not imply common descent; they can also imply design.

And we do not need to restrict ourselves to non-biological aspects to see this. Ernst Mayr, for instance, argued that eyes evolved independently over 40 times in the fossil record. That is, eyes formed in various species in the fossil record after the theorized branching point between the two species had already occurred, which is to say that both daughter species came from a common ancestor that was blind, yet both developed eyes anyway. Further evidence is found in the concept of Convergent Evolution, which states (for example) that all birds have the same basic wing shape because it is necessary for flight, not because they all share a common ancestor. In other words, convergent evolution of the wing shape, of eyes, and of myriad other aspects are already acknowledged by Darwinists to not be evidence of common descent, but instead of common use.

Because morphological similarities need not be evidence of common descent (as evidenced by the convergent evolution theory) and they can be evidence of common design (as seen in a myriad number of intelligently designed machines that look alike in order to perform a specific similar function), morphological similarities do not imply common descent. At most, all a Darwinist can say is that morphological similarities are consistent with Darwinism; but the intelligent design advocate can make the same claim about I.D. As such, this often offered argument for Darwinism proves nothing.

A Radically Liberal Christmas (Part 3)

Much of what I want to say in response to Borg and Crossan's treatment of the historicity of the infancy narratives has already been said in my first post about their book and in the articles linked there. There are far too many problems with the book for me to cover all of them in depth. But I want to say more than I did in my first two posts. I'll be concluding my review of the book with three more posts, this one and two more on the two days following.

Borg and Crossan classify the infancy narratives as parabolic overtures (pp. 34-35, 38-39, 52-53). Just as the parable of The Good Samaritan can include realistic elements such as a reference to going down from Jerusalem (Luke 10:30), so also the infancy narratives can be realistic in some ways without having been intended as historical accounts. The narratives are non-historical stories that foreshadow themes found later in the gospels.

Though Borg and Crossan suggest that Raymond Brown's The Birth Of The Messiah (New York, New York: Doubleday, 1999) is the best resource available on the infancy narratives (pp. 92, 257), their view of the historicity of the narratives is significantly more liberal than Brown's. Compare, for example, my citations of Brown's work here to Borg and Crossan's far more minimalist view:

"Thus, in our considered judgment, Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 contain, and were intended to contain, minimal historical information - probably just the three items that Jesus was a historical figure whose parents were Mary and Joseph and whose home was at Nazareth in Galilee." (p. 38)

Their book is around 250 pages long, yet they never address the large majority of the evidence for a historical genre for the infancy narratives. They don't interact much with the sort of internal and external evidence discussed here.

Ignatius of Antioch was a bishop of the early second century who was a contemporary of the apostles, was the leader of a church that had recently been in contact with multiple apostles, and was in communication with other apostolic churches. He commented on the historicity of some of the events of the infancy narratives in his letters to such apostolic churches. He was writing only about a decade after the death of the apostle John. Do Borg and Crossan discuss his testimony or the testimony of similarly relevant Christian and non-Christian sources (Aristides, Trypho, Justin Martyr, etc.)? No, they don't.

The only citation of an early post-apostolic source that I recall in their entire 259-page book is a quotation of Celsus (p. 104). It's a quotation taken from R. Joseph Hoffmann's edition of Celsus, the same misleading passage I've discussed here in the past.

Since they date Matthew and Luke to the last two decades of the first century (pp. 25-26), their neglect of the early post-apostolic sources is even more inexcusable. By dating the gospels so late, they lessen the amount of time that passed between the original publication of the documents and the earliest extant interpreters. Critics of the New Testament can't have it both ways. If they want late gospels, then they have to pay the price of assigning more evidential weight to the early Christian and non-Christian interpreters. To place the gospels at so late a date, yet assign so little weight to the early external testimony regarding the genre of the gospels, doesn't make sense.

The primary argument for Borg and Crossan's classification of the infancy narratives as non-historical seems to be the alleged historical implausibility of the accounts. Their reasoning is reflected in the following comments on the genealogies of Jesus in the two gospels:

"Nowhere is it so clear as in these two genealogies that theological metaphor and symbolic parable rather than actual history and factual information create and dominate the Christmas stories of the conception and infancy of Jesus. We are willing to make the point in even stronger terms. If you understand properly what minimal history but maximal theology those genealogies contain, you will recognize the similar balance in the Christmas stories as a whole. Understand the purpose of these genealogies, and you will understand the purpose of the parabolic overtures in Matthew and Luke. In fact, just as the overtures are miniatures of the gospels, so are the genealogies miniatures of the overtures." (pp. 81-82)

And elsewhere:

"But what is always clear is that ancient genealogy was not about history and poetry, but about prophecy and destiny, not about accuracy, but about advertising." (p. 98)

Notice the claim that genealogies are always not about history. Borg and Crossan refer to non-historical claims of descent from the gods in pagan sources, but they don't document their claim that genealogies are always not about history. As I said in the first part of my review of this book, the entire book has only eight endnotes taking up less than one page (p. 259). They try to justify the lack of documentation on the basis of the publisher's desire to appeal to a general audience (p. 257), but the fact remains that many claims that people would like to see documented, like the ones above, aren't documented.

How many parables have you seen that include genealogies? Matthew and Luke derived portions of their genealogies from information in the Old Testament. What was the mainstream Jewish view of the historicity of such Old Testament accounts? Borg and Crossan differentiate between the genre of the infancy narratives and the genre of the remainder of those two gospels. Yet, Luke's genealogy is placed at the close of the third chapter of his gospel, after the beginning of the account of Jesus' public ministry. Did Luke keep going back and forth between non-historical and historical accounts? Would you expect a parable to begin with the sort of references to eyewitness testimony and research that we see in Luke 1:1-4? Why did the early Christian and non-Christian sources take the genealogies as historical accounts? Julius Africanus refers to relatives of Jesus who had verified the accuracy of the genealogies, and Eusebius of Caesarea refers to how "every believer" offered a harmonization of the genealogies (Eusebius' Church History, 1:7:14, 1:7:1). Why would it be so common to view the genealogies as historical if two different authors composed them without the intention of conveying history? Were both authors so widely misunderstood?

Though we can think of circumstances in which somebody might compose a genealogy that isn't meant to convey historical information, non-historicity isn't what's normally implied by a genealogy. And even if we were to accept Borg and Crossan's claim that the two genealogies in Matthew and Luke are contradictory, it doesn't therefore follow that one of them wasn't intended as history, much less that both were meant to be non-historical. A genealogy could be intended as historical, yet be erroneous. Or one genealogy could be of a non-historical genre, while another is of a historical genre, thus explaining their differences. But Borg and Crossan don't give us any reason to reject the traditional view that both genealogies are accurate historical accounts.

They tell us that any attempt to harmonize the two genealogies as accurate historical accounts is "love's labor lost" (p. 84). Supposedly, then, the ancient Christian world in general was laboring in vain. They misunderstood what two different authors meant by these genealogies, even though they were in frequent contact with relatives and associates of Jesus and the gospel authors well into the second century.

Like Raymond Brown and other liberal critics of the infancy narratives, Borg and Crossan will acknowledge that the narratives can be harmonized (p. 23), but will tell us that we shouldn't harmonize. They repeat common arguments against the historicity and consistency of the infancy narratives without making much of an effort to interact with counterarguments: the alleged Bethlehem setting of Matthew 1 (p. 22), the allegedly overly precise movements of the star of Bethlehem (p. 182), etc. Their discussion of the census (pp. 145-149) repeats common objections. They don't address the counterarguments of conservative scholars like Darrell Bock and Stanley Porter or data such as what I discussed in my recent series on the census. Their criticisms of the historicity of the infancy narratives are dated and unconvincing.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Paradox in Christian Theology

There was a time when you could only purchase James Anderson's book, Paradox in Christian Theology: An Analysis of its Presence, Character, and Epistemic Status, from the U.K. This meant that American buyers had to pay over $80 if they wanted to obtain a copy. Anderson's book is now available from U.S. retailers. Amazon dot com has your copy for only $38.99. The concepts in Anderson's book are not simply for those in the ivory tower. The beauty of paradox in Christian theology has even been noted by ska-punk bands. Below I will post the lyrics from one such band; you can see how they package the concepts James discusses in the more popular, contemporary ska-punk genre:


So what becomes of those small unwanted souls
Who spend their lives breaking their backs?
Those who dig the gold for the rich and powerful
Who place their feet upon their necks?

The Shepherd is the Lamb
Do you understand
That God became a man?
The Shepherd is the Lamb

Where can the junkies go when high has laid them low?
Are they truly on their own?
It seems we've lost our way
Like sheep we have gone astray
Can anybody lead us home?

The Shepherd is the Lamb
Do you understand
That God became a man?
The Shepherd is the Lamb

The Shepherd is the Lamb
Do you understand
That God became a man?
The Shepherd is the Lamb

Who is the champion?
The friend of the suffering?
Of those who were never born?
The King with the crown of thorns

And I'll consecrate a verse
To the kingdom in reverse
Where the least are most
And the last will be the first

The Shepherd is the Lamb
Do you understand
That God became a man?
The Shepherd is the Lamb

The Shepherd is the Lamb
Do you understand
That God became a man?
The Shepherd is the Lamb

-The O.C. Supertones


A Radically Liberal Christmas (Part 2)

Several days ago, I posted some comments about a recent book on the infancy narratives by Marcus Borg and John Crossan. At the time, I had only read about 100 pages of the book. I recently finished reading it, and I want to add some comments to my earlier post.

The book is largely about the alleged neglect of the political context of the infancy narratives. Borg and Crossan don't deny that the narratives have spiritual and personal significance. But they think that some political elements of the Christmas narratives have been neglected. Some of the titles applied to Jesus (Lord, Son of God, etc.) were applied to Caesar in ancient times. The infancy narratives refer to political figures such as Herod and Augustus as ignorant of who Jesus was and opposed to Him. The references to God as Savior in the Magnificat and elsewhere involve salvation in this world, with political implications, not just spiritual reconciliation with God and an afterlife. Etc.

Borg and Crossan are correct in some of what they observe about the political context of the infancy narratives and the tendency of some people in our day to neglect the temporal and political implications of these passages and of scripture in general. But they go too far in the other direction. They see political implications where there probably aren't any. They often misread the political implications that do exist. And while they object to the neglect of the political implications of the infancy narratives, both authors are guilty of the more significant error of neglecting the spiritual and personal implications.

An example of their imbalance is their treatment of Revelation 12. The passage does have some relevance to Jesus' childhood, but they dubiously identify the dragon of that passage as the Roman empire (p. 194). Satan isn't even mentioned in their discussion of the passage, even though Revelation 12:9 identifies the dragon as Satan. The chapter repeatedly associates the dragon with heavenly warfare, angels, activity throughout the ages of history, and appearances before God to bring charges against His people, all of which make far more sense in reference to Satan than in reference to the Roman empire or even worldly political systems in general. While it could rightly be argued that Satan was a motivating force behind the Roman empire, nothing in the passage suggests Rome as a prominent reference. Satan does use political systems to achieve his purposes at times, but the focus of the passage, as far as the dragon is concerned, is on Satan, not Rome or political systems in general. Judging from what Crossan has said elsewhere, I doubt that he even believes in the existence of Satan. He doesn't seem to believe in the existence of God as the term is commonly defined (Paul Copan, ed., Will The Real Jesus Please Stand Up? [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1998], pp. 49-51). Borg and Crossan's neglect of such spiritual aspects of the Bible is more significant than the neglect of scripture's political implications.

And where there are political implications to the accounts of Jesus' childhood and other passages of scripture, Borg and Crossan often arrive at the wrong place on the political spectrum. They think that the Bible presents some inconsistent views of eschatology and how political systems should operate (pp. 70-72). They side with the Biblical passages that allegedly refer to the attainment of peace through nonviolence and justice, as opposed to other Biblical passages and extra-Biblical political systems that seek peace through violence:

"There are, in other words, two utterly divergent descriptions of God's final solution to the existence of imperialism, one violent and the other nonviolent, one extermination in a Great Final Battle and the other conversion at a Great Final Feast. They are both there from one end of the Christian Bible to the other. Which one, do you think, is announced by those Christmas stories? When Luke's angels announce 'peace on earth' to those shepherds at Bethlehem, is it peace through victory or peace through justice?" (p. 72)

Borg and Crossan repeatedly make ridiculous comments such as the following:

"Judaism and Christianity are, for us, a double covenant and, no matter how each has disputed the other's dignity and integrity throughout the centuries, we hold them as fully and equally valid before God." (p. 40)

"In English 'humankind' [in the Bible] often appears chauvinistically as 'mankind.' Similarly, in Semitic languages 'human being' often appears chauvinistically as 'man' or 'son of man.'" (p. 68)

The book doesn't go into much detail about modern politics. In my first post about the book, linked above, I referred to a recent Boston Globe article that cites some comments Marcus Borg has made that are critical of the war in Iraq. But Borg and Crossan's book is mostly less specific than that. They do refer to "the American empire" (p. 238) as a parallel to the Roman empire, but they also acknowledge that America is different in some ways. They make a positive reference to a recent book by Jim Wallis (p. 239), and there's some brief criticism of George Bush, but I don't recall anything as specific as a criticism of the war in Iraq or conservative tax policy. It seems that Borg and Crossan are both theologically and politically liberal, but the book is more about general principles than the details of political policy. Borg has gone into more detail in other contexts, such as at the event the Boston Globe covered, but he and Crossan seem to have wanted the book to appeal to a more general audience.

Though I think Borg and Crossan are wrong in much of what they say about politics, their errors on other issues, such as the historicity of the infancy narratives, are more significant. I made some comments on some of those other errors in my first post, and I'll have more to say tomorrow.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Jackpot, Baby!

Surfing the web. Found a question re: Plantinga’s EAAN on the Rational Responders site. Question asked by responder Insidium Profundis:


"The evolutionary argument against naturalism states:

Since the probability of natural selection having favored minds that would possess true metaphysical beliefs (such as naturalism) is inscrutable or very low, then believing in evolution and naturalism is self-defeating.

(I probably have not done full justice to these arguments, but you get the idea)"


(As an aside, why did he state that he "probably" hasn't done full justice to the argument? I think it's a safe bet that if you take an argument that is developed in hundreds of pages, boil it down to a sentence, you haven't "done it justice." Anywho...)

Question answered by responder todangst:


"Even if we take this as true, the fact that the probability is low would not mean that it is impossible.

So as long as evolution remains the best viable theory, this argument fails.

And then we can move on to attacking his claim that the odds are 'low'.... which you can bet is equally misguided and flawed as his other arguments."


Translation: Oh yeah Plantinga, well I believe we hit the evolutionary jackpot, baby! Waitress, bring me another double Jack & Coke.

This approach was used here once before, I'll copy and paste the answer I gave in the meta:


I Started Off: We're not talking about epistemic rights, Mr. X. Anyway, the fact that you continute to believe in the reliability of your cognitive faculties R does not entail that R is the case.

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

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

An Atheist Said: "Let’s say this is the case, i.e., that our moral and religious beliefs are completely determined by our genetic makeup, and by when and where we are born. It still doesn’t follow that what I believe is false. I may be lucky and just happened to get it right."

My Response: My argument isn't that your beliefs *are* false (though there's a good probability that they are;-). My argument, rather, is that R is defeated. There is no reason, according to what you admit, to believe R.

Now, you may say that we "got lucky" and attained R via evolution. You hit the evolutionary jackpot. The problem here is that this can be used to defeat a paradigm case of defeat. If the defeater defeats a paradigm case of defeat, the defeater isn't really a defeater.

The lotto belief doesn't seem to work. Suppose that your friend F ingests XX, but you notice R holds for him for the 5 years you've known him. You then find out that F ingested XX 5 years ago. You then find out that XX causes hallucinations in 90% of the cases. You could then say that he "won the XX lottery." But apply this to yourself. With F, you were an objective observer, but XX specified to yourself, there is no objective observer. Say you believe you ingest XX, and you also believe that it causes hallucinations in 90% of the cases, it would thus appear that "I won the XX lottery" is not a defeater-defeater or a defeater-deflector for you.

To say that R is reliable begs the question (see reply to Bergmann). I don't think it can be conditionalized upon, and seems to fall under T. Reid's objection that "If a man's testimony were called into question, it would be ridiculous to refer to the man's own word as to whether he was honest or not."

Why could not the lotto comeback be used to defeat any defeater for a low or inscrutable probability of X? Say S believes that the existence of evil E makes the existence God G low or inscrutable, then S believes in G&E. So P(G/E) is low or inscrutable, but S replies, "well, I guess we won the divinity lottery." Do you seriously consider that a defeater-defeater? If not here, why there?


So, we can see that the 'lil responder hasn't even come close to interacting (and, even "getting") the argument from Plantinga. Also, it's not that evolution is true or false, it's that the conjunction of evolution and naturalism are what provide the defeater. Also, it's not that the probability is simply low, it's at best inscrutable.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

TBlog Special Report...Pope Commissions Exorcism Squads

Film at 11.

Word is already spreading.

On the West Coast of the US:

Ten years ago, a crack commando unit was sent to the dungeon by the Inquisition for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the pontificate, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you are demon possessed, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire... The X-Team.

As for the East Coast:

Who ya gonna call?

HT: Turretinfan

Update: John Bugay in comments has informed TBlog News Service that the Vatican has denied the story. (Actually, it would be more accurate to say part of the story). This is good news for the X-Squad and the Demonbusters. They'll not have to compete with the crop of crack Vatican stormtroopers with their holy water and crucifixes.

That said, they have not, to our knowledge, denied this story.

We at TBlogNS hope that X-Team and Demonbusters have received their certification from the Vatican.

Shallow Skepticism

I recently wrote a post in response to some claims John Loftus has made about Jesus' birthplace. Loftus responded in the comments section:

As I look at the prophecies supposedly fulfilled in the life and death of Jesus I've concluded they were taken out of context. I've also concluded based on philosophical grounds that there is no basis for God to be able to foresee future human continguent actions, even if he exists....

When I examine Matthew's fulfilled prophecies concerning the events surrounding Jesus' birth they all fail. The method of Midrash and pesher was quite common in Matthew's day but fundamentally flawed. There isn't even any expectation that Matthew's prophecies should be taken as a literal fulfillment unless we first discuss this issue.

The difference between us can be summed up in that I judge things in the Bible by modern, more rigourous standards, whereas you do not.

I responded to Loftus' arguments regarding Micah 5 and Jesus' birthplace. I cited an article I had written about Micah 5 and further treatment of the subject by Glenn Miller and Bruce Waltke. Waltke's commentary is one of the most recently published on the book of Micah, by a highly qualified Old Testament scholar, and that commentary has several dozen pages on that chapter of Micah. I also linked to a five-part series I had done on Jesus' birthplace, in which I discussed the Biblical and extra-Biblical evidence in depth. Where has John Loftus discussed the extra-Biblical data, such as what the early enemies of Christianity said about Jesus' birthplace? How much of the relevant patristic literature has Loftus read? Does Loftus think he's being "more rigorous" when he quotes the nearly naked assertions of scholars like Robin Lane Fox and E.P. Sanders? Or when his posts ignore the large majority of the evidence relevant to making a judgment about this issue?

He tells us that we need to address "Matthew's fulfilled prophecies concerning the events surrounding Jesus' birth". Why? Matthew isn't Micah. And Matthew can appeal to more than one type of prophecy fulfillment. It can't be assumed that every fulfillment would be of the nature of Matthew's view of Hosea 11:1, for example. The fact that Matthew sometimes appeals to prophecies of a more typological nature doesn't lead us to the conclusion that Micah 5:2 must be such a prophecy. Does Loftus think that the quality of Micah's prophecy is determined by the quality of other prophecies cited by Matthew when discussing Jesus' childhood? How does Loftus connect those dots? And why is Matthew the relevant source here? Other ancient Jewish and Christian sources discussed Micah 5 as a prophecy as well. Why are we supposed to think that Loftus' arguments represent "modern, more rigorous standards"? Because he asserts it?

Where are the ancient sources who held Loftus' position regarding Jesus' birthplace? Where is Loftus' interaction with my arguments regarding Micah 5, Miller's arguments, Waltke's arguments, etc.? Where has Loftus interacted with the objections to his arguments that I've documented from some of the sources that he himself cites (Raymond Brown and Richard Carrier)?

Why does John Loftus behave this way so often? There must not be much to his skepticism.