Saturday, August 07, 2010

Steven Carr: Bible Answer Man

Paul Manata said...

Steven Carr said:

"CARR: Tim has not read the Bible, where Paul says Christians were persecuted on the issue of circumcision.

Apart from the logical blunder of assuming that if S is persecuted for X, this means that S cannot also be persecuted for Y, Z, etc., Steven Carr has not read his Bible:

Read Acts 4:1-20, e.g.,:

1The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. 2They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. 3They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. 4But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.

And read Acts ch. 23, e.g.,:

"6Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, "My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead." 7When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8(The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.)"

And also Acts 17, where Paul is ridiculed by the intellectuals for preaching the resurrection.

So, Steven, you might want to read the Bible before you claim other people haven't. But it's your "rep," I guess.

August 07, 2010 4:36 PM

Sola gratia


“Putting on hold the issue about defining synergism for the moment... you seem to be saying we are accountable for a part of our salvation, despite the fact that we don’t cause it. But the issue with ‘saved by grace through faith’ one of accountably – God’s reason for saving by grace through faith is so we will be unable to boast. If the cause of faith doesn’t determine accountability, and accountability is the issue, then the cause of faith isn’t the real issue at hand. In short, you are not really denying one of the premises, so you are stuck with the conclusion.”

i) I’m discussing “accountability” because you’re trying to artificially reduce and shift the issue to “responsibility,” and in the process you equivocate. That obviously doesn’t mean I accept your framework. Indeed, I made it clear that I don’t accept your framework.

ii) Accountability is by no means the only issue. There’s the central issue of what it means to be saved solely by grace, which you’re attempting to divert attention away from.

iii) ”Responsibility” is a moral or legal category. It isn’t “synergistic” in the sense of “two parties working together.” You’re jumping categories again.

That’s analogous to the distinction between justification and sanctification. Justification, like responsibility, is a forensic state, not a subjective process.

“As for your statement that we do not cause faith, many Calvinists are satisfied by saying we do not cause regeneration even if we do cause faith.”

What Calvinists typically say is that faith is a gift of God. They also say monergistic regeneration causes faith. Born-again Christians exercise faith, but they don’t cause faith.

“We are saved through faith.”

I never said we're “saved through faith.” Faith is a necessary condition of salvation. And we are justified by faith (alone).

“If salvation includes coming to faith, then we come to faith through faith.”

Wrong again. We “come to” justification through faith, we “come to” faith through regeneration, and we “come to regeneration” through saving grace.

“From this it’s clear (at least to me) that in the context of saved by grace through faith, that saved is equivalent to justified, forgiven, redeemed and adopted. The grace that leads to faith is a different topic.”

”Clear to you” because you confuse and oversimplify the process.

“Faith and justification are related concepts, but the two are conceptually distinct.”

I never conflated the two. That’s just your tendentious way of first imputing to me something I never said or implied, then “correcting” my alleged mistake.

“We believe; God justifies the believer. It’s true, simple, and cleanly solves the problem you find yourself in above.”

To the contrary, that only pushes the problem back a step. What’s the source of justifying faith?

You’re doing a fine job of illustrating how little credit Arminians give to God. You want the least God you can get away with.

“To my knowledge, the reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Melanchthon, Bullinger, Knox….) didn’t use the terms monergism or synergism, nor did their Roman Catholic opponents.”

You’re back to your bad habit of committing the word=concept fallacy. The question at issue is the concept of sola gratia. Is it monergistic or synergistic?

“Likewise, when Calvinists say sanctification is synergistic, they are not denying sanctification is by grace, nor are they saying man has LFW with respect to sanctification.”

i) When using “synergism” in the technical sense, they avoid “synergism” in reference to sanctification. Instead, they use “cooperation.”

ii) The comparison with sanctification doesn’t help you, for that’s another case in which Arminianism denies sola gratia. In Calvinism, the process of sanctification is the inevitable result of monergistic regeneration. Moreover, God preserves the regenerate from committing apostasy. So the human will is not an independent variable, unlike Arminianism. Rather, we have a cause/effect relation.

Is God unpicturable?

I was glancing through a book by Virgil Dunbar entitled Why Christ Can’t Be Pictured. Here’s the underlying principle which seems to ground his overall position:

“Because the triune God is holy, no member of the triune Godhead can be pictured: God’s holy nature separates Him from artistic creation. The holiness of God’s nature reveals that He is a separate category of being, ontologically separate from the world, unpictureable by means of art” (111).

On the face of it, one obvious problem with this contention is the fact that Scripture contains picturesque descriptions of God. Take this example:

"As I looked,

thrones were placed,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames;
its wheels were burning fire.

(Dan 7:9)

That's not a graven image of God. It is, however, a verbal image of God: a word-picture. And it's only natural for the reader to visualize the divine self-imagery. This picturesque description appeals to the imagination of the reader.

It's also hard to tell the essential difference between the mental image which this picturesque description is designed to evoke in the mind of the reader, and an extramental (i.e. artistic) image of the same thing.

If God pictures himself, then God is picturable. Perhaps Dunbar would draw a distinction between divine self-portraits and human efforts to picture God without reference to revelatory exemplars.

Yet his metaphysical argument, which hinges on divine transcendence, seems to disallow that sort of distinction. So what are we to make of Dan 7:9 and analogous depictions in Scripture?

Keep in mind, too, that Dan 7:9 pictures God discarnate (the Father) rather than God incarnate (the Son). So the question of God’s picturability antedates the Incarnation.

fMRI limitations

The Christian Delusion rests several key conclusions regarding religious belief formation and related phenomena on what functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging scans tell us about the brain. But many philosophers and scientists argue fMRI scans (as well as other technologies) have their limitations. Here are a few examples:

Drain bamage

Many secular scientists believe the mind emerges from physical processes originating in the brain. However, there are a couple of problems with this:
  1. Some secular scientists argue, for example, that certain neurological disorders which impair the brain's function demonstrate that the mind reduces to the brain because, if the brain was not damaged, then the person's mind would not be likewise "damaged." They would not suffer from certain personality disorders, for instance, which are associated with brain lesions or somesuch. So these secular scientists see a causal relationship between the brain and the mind, with the brain causing the mind.

    At best, I'd think this might prove the brain is necessary to mediate the mind. But I don't see how it'd prove the brain generates the mind.

    It's like water flowing through pipes. If the pipes are damaged, the water can't flow through. Thus the pipes are necessary for the water to flow from one end to the other. But pipe damage doesn't somehow prove pipes generate water.

  2. Moreover, psychiatrists often use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to help patients who suffer from mental disorders like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Depending on the disorder, CBT can be quite effective. BTW, Google "neuroplasticity" here too. As such, this would seem to show that the mind has some influence on the brain, that the influence isn't necessarily unidirectional from brain effecting mind as some secular scientists might argue, but that it might involve the reverse.

  3. Near Death Experiences (NDEs). There have been NDE cases where the patient is clinically dead. Brain dead. After resuscitation, the same patients were able to accurately report what they saw happen to them in the emergency room or operating table. It's hard to sift the wheat from the chaff as far as NDEs are concerned, but Steve and Jason, among others, have provided helpful info in the past. For example, see this post.

Preconceptual science

(Click on each image for full size.)

Remembering Calvin

No doubt John Calvin is a controversial historical figure. Many regard him as having been an austere man. Others criticize him for his role in what happened to Michael Servetus. If memory serves me correctly, historian Will Durant went as far as to claim Calvin was a monster and ran Geneva as a police state. Even among Christians, some have exclaimed in disbelief “What love is this?” with regard to the theological system known as “Calvinism.”

Others have had a much higher esteem for Calvin. B.B. Warfield believed Calvin deserved the title “the theologian of the Holy Spirit.” D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once compared the Puritans to the Alps but Calvin (along with Luther) to the Himalayas (and Jonathan Edwards to Mt. Everest).

Speaking for myself, I think the negative charges are probably based on an overly simplistic and possibly even faulty understanding of the man and his beliefs, whereas the acclamations are at least somewhat overstated.

In any case, we don't (or shouldn't) look to Calvin in the same way, for example, as Catholics look to the Pope or the Magisterium. Calvin was merely a man of his times, warts and all - which Calvin himself would have been the first to admit. He tried to serve God and God’s people as best as he could according to the light God gave him to understand and unfold the Holy Scriptures. Calvin himself prayed: "I offer my heart to you, O Lord, eagerly and earnestly."

Personally, I find reading Calvin wonderfully sweet. He lived in harsh times and suffered quite a bit in his life—probably more so than most of us in the West have or will ever suffer. Yet, by God’s grace, his hard life made his pen flow with such beautiful words. When I read his writings (in the context of such a polemical period of history), there’s a tremendous sense of humility and love which exudes from his writing, which draws me to worship and thank the Lord our God for what he did in and through such a servant.

Perhaps the following words will seem excessive as well, but I’m tempted to say, if Luther was the bright, blazing fire which ignited the Reformation, then Calvin was the still, deep waters which settled the Reformation. If Luther burned as hot as the sun in the fight for the truth of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, then Calvin was as profoundly reflective as the moon in his philosophical and theological systematizing of these same biblical truths. If Luther was like Elijah challenging Ahab and Jezebel, calling down fire from heaven, slaying the prophets of Baal, and riding into the heavens upon a chariot of fire, then Calvin was like Elisha quietly and graciously feeding the hungry with bread, curing Naaman the Syrian of leprosy, and restoring a poor woman’s only son to life again. Perhaps the difference between the two Reformers is accentuated in each of their most famous hymns: in Luther’s case the vigorous and stalwart "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," and in Calvin’s case the gentle and honeyed "I Greet Thee Who My Sure Redeemer Art."

Friday, August 06, 2010

Mind does really matter

Apparently, the science (if you like) runs contrary to what certain contributors in The Christian Delusion claim:
This article reviews neuroimaging studies of conscious and voluntary regulation of various emotional states (sexual arousal, sadness, negative emotion). The results of these studies show that metacognition and cognitive recontextualization selectively alters the way the brain processes and reacts to emotional stimuli. Neuroimaging studies of the effect of psychotherapy in patients suffering from diverse forms of psychopathology (obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, unipolar major depressive disorder, social phobia, spider phobia, borderline personality) are also examined. The results of these studies indicate that the mental functions and processes involved in diverse forms of psychotherapy exert a significant influence on brain activity. Neuroimaging investigations of the placebo effect in healthy individuals (placebo analgesia, psychostimulant expectation) and patients with Parkinson's disease or unipolar major depressive disorder are also reviewed. The results of these investigations demonstrate that beliefs and expectations can markedly modulate neurophysiological and neurochemical activity in brain regions involved in perception, movement, pain, and various aspects of emotion processing. Collectively, the findings of the neuroimaging studies reviewed here strongly support the view that the subjective nature and the intentional content (what they are "about" from a first-person perspective) of mental processes (e.g., thoughts, feelings, beliefs, volition) significantly influence the various levels of brain functioning (e.g., molecular, cellular, neural circuit) and brain plasticity. Furthermore, these findings indicate that mentalistic variables have to be seriously taken into account to reach a correct understanding of the neural bases of behavior in humans. An attempt is made to interpret the results of these neuroimaging studies with a new theoretical framework called the Psychoneural Translation Hypothesis.
Beauregard M. (2007). "Mind does really matter: evidence from neuroimaging studies of emotional self-regulation, psychotherapy, and placebo effect." Progress in Neurobiology, Mar 81: 218-36.

"The problem with Calvinism is…"

According to Roger Olson:

Second, I am not a Calvinist because (hold on!) IF I WERE A CALVINIST I would have trouble distinguishing between God and the devil. Some Calvinists have misinterpreted this saying. They think I’m accusing them of worshiping the devil. Nothing could be farther from the truth. All I am saying is, if I were a Calvinist, being of the bent of mind that I am (striving for logical consistency as much as possible), I would have trouble clearly distinguishing between God and the devil in my own mind.

But if a worshiper finds it psychologically difficult to distinguish between a divine object of worship and a diabolical object of worship, then isn’t Olson, in fact, accusing the Calvinist of worshipping the devil?

To my Calvinist acquaintances who take umbrage at this...

I don’t take umbrage. But it does give the lie to the notion that Arminians are more tolerant than Calvinists.

The point is–God’s character. IF God elects people to salvation unconditionally and IF God IS love (1 John) why doesn’t he save everybody?

Of course, that oversimplifies 1 John. For one thing, John writes in very divisive terms about believers and unbelievers. If God is light and love, then a loving God hates darkness. A loving God hates the antithesis of light.

IF I could be a universalist, I could be a Calvinist. I don’t care about free will for its own sake or for any humanist reasons. Hell is the sticky issue. The Calvinist God could save everyone because his election to salvation is unconditional and his grace is irresistible. Apparently, he purposefully chooses to “pass over” some (which is in effect the same as foreordaining them to hell). Why? For his glory? Some Calvinists say hell is necessary for the full manifestation of God’s attribute of justice. I ask what that says about the cross-was it not a sufficient manifestation of God’s justice?

But it isn’t clear why the Arminian God couldn’t save everyone. Is Olson claiming that there is no possible world in which the inhabitants freely choose God?

Even in this world, there are many people who, according to Olson, freely accept Jesus. So why can’t the Arminian God create a world consisting of people like that?

The devil wants everyone to go to hell. The God of Calvinism wants many to go to hell. Is that enough of a difference of character? Not to me.

That could scarcely be more simpleminded. It’s like claiming that everyone who kills another person has identical motives. A father who shoots a house burglar who threatens his wife and kids is morally equivalent to the house burglar who shoots the family.

Assuming that the devil wants everyone to go to hell, his reasons are quite different from God’s. The devil is a sore loser. He presumably wants to take as many others down out of sheer spite (e.g. Rev 12:17).

That’s hardly equivalent to God exacting retributive justice on the wicked. What does it say about the level of Olson’s moral and theological discernment that he can’t tell the difference?

The God of Jesus Christ is absolutely, unconditionally good. The God of Calvinism, from my perspective, is not absolutely, uncondtionally good and, in fact, has a dark side that includes willing that people perish eternally (contrary to 2 Peter 3:9 and 1 Timothy 2:4).

i) Of course that’s dishonest because it disregards alternative interpretations.

ii) For that matter, it’s not even consistent with Arminianism. How is the Arminian God unwilling that people perish eternality when he deliberately and knowingly makes hellbound sinners even though it lay within his power to spare them that fate by not making them in the first place?

What I think is that Calvinists are confused insofar as they believe God is love (as Scripture clearly says) and yet hold onto their belief in unconditional election, limited atonement and irresistible grace.

It’s both patronizing and implausible to say sophisticated Calvinists are “confused,” as if they hadn’t thought through that issue before.

What really bothers me at a personal as well as professional level is the present, on-going attitude of superiority and even exclusiveness being fostered among many of the young, restless, Reformed Christians.

Doesn’t he think his own theological viewpoint is superior to another viewpoint which confuses God and Satan? Surely he regards Calvinism as decidedly and fatally inferior.

He talks about “exclusiveness,” but you have to wonder how many Reformed theologians, Reformed exegetes, and Reformed philosophers he’s personally shared his views with. He comes across is being very insular.

The Web of Truth

Is Christianity fideistic? Some militant infidels quote statements like the following to prove that Christianity is fideistic:

By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record. Of primary importance is the fact that evidence is always subject to interpretation by fallible people who do not possess all information.

We affirm that canonical Scripture should always be interpreted on the basis that it is infallible and inerrant.

Does this prove their point? No.

I. Faith & Reason

To begin with, there are many different models of how faith and reason interrelate in historical theology. So it’s not possible to generalize about how Christians view the relation between faith and reason. For different Christians have different models.

II. The Heart Has Reasons

Some Christians don’t rely on theistic proofs or archaeological evidence. They may rely on things like the argument from prophecy. Of they may rely on their personal experience of God’s daily presence in their lives.


Is the AIG statement fideistic? Not obviously so. For that depends on why AIG believes in the definition. What evidence is feeding into the definition. For instance, AIG has lots of stuff on apologetics. So you can’t isolate their the definition their supporting material.

IV. Chicago Statement

What about the Chicago Statement? Well, consider the viewpoint of the framers. For the framers included Christian apologists like John Wenham, John Gerstner, John Warwick Montgomery, &c. But you can’t very well say these men were fideists.

V. The Web of Truth

As Quine pointed out many years ago, a belief-system is like a spider web. Some beliefs are more central than others. Some beliefs support the web in ways that others do not. Some beliefs are expendable with minor adjustments.

But every belief cannot be expendable, for you can only judge the evidence in light of certain other beliefs. For instance, it’s all well and good to appeal to scientific evidence, but that’s a nonstarter apart from certain metascientific presuppositions like the existence of the external world, the intelligibility of the physical universe, the value of induction, the applicability of abstract numbers and concrete things, the reliability of the senses, the reliability of the human mind, &c. Any attempt to prove these metascientific assumptions is bound to be circular. What kind of worldview is necessary to underwrite these metascientific assumptions?

The appeal of atheism

John Loftus is trying to discredit Christianity by drawing attention to the emotional appeal of the Christian faith. That, however, raises a number of issues:

1. The Emotional Appeal of Christianity

There’s no doubt that many Christians find Christianity emotionally appealing in various ways. However, if I were to generalize, I venture to say that atheism is more appealing to the young, while Christianity is more appealing to the old. And, of course, there are many exceptions in both directions. So Loftus’ objection cuts both ways.

Moreover, if the Christian God exists, then we’d expect Christianity to be appealing in some fundamental respects. God would be the supreme good, and the wellspring of all secondary goods. So Loftus’ objection only has teeth under the prior assumption that the Christian God does not exist. His objection has no independent value.

A final problem with this line of objection is the tacit assumption that it’s wrong to believe something for purely emotional reasons. What’s allegedly objectionable about this is that if we believe something for purely emotional reasons, then we don’t believe it because it’s true.

But the problem with this objection is that Loftus is a moral relativist. For instance, he once got into a debate with David Wood over at David’s old blog ( in which he admitted that nothing is intrinsically evil. But in that event, it’s not intrinsically wrong to believe something for purely emotional reasons.

Loftus bandies the word “delusion,” because of the stigma attaching to that word, yet this is out of sync with his moral relativism. Even if Christian faith were delusive, Loftus is in no position to say that makes it wrong.

2. Tough-Minded Atheism

Infidels also resort to emotional appeals on a regular basis. This takes two basic forms. There’s the tuff-guy atheist. He pretends to revel in the stark, unyielding purity of atheism. Yes, the worldview is utterly bleak, but that’s what separates the men from the boys. Real men can stare the abyss in the face without blinking.

Atheism is not for everyone, but that’s a good thing. Atheism is for a select few. The best and the brightest. The atheist is a breed apart. A moral and intellectual elite. On a brave and noble pursuit of truth wherever it leads, whatever the cost.

He doesn’t lean on the “crutch” of religion. He has no need for the weak-minded bromides of the Gospel. Real men don’t cry. No, he’s like a courageous soldier who volunteers for a suicide mission, to sacrifice his life for the sake of his comrades.

3. Tender-Minded Atheism

Then you have infidels who advertise the bright side of atheism. Atheism is liberating. Atheism emancipates us from the shackles of religion. From blind superstition and ignorance. From all that’s backward and primitive. Atheism stands for the stately march of science.

Christianity is a cringing, groveling, servile religion. At the beck-and-call of its jealous, overbearing God. But atheism frees us from the abject servility of religion. We can stand on our own two feet. Be the master of our destiny and captain of our soul (if we had a soul).

Thursday, August 05, 2010

O Love that will not let me go

From George Matheson on his hymn "O Love that wilt not let me go":
My hymn was com­posed in the manse of In­ne­lan [Ar­gyle­shire, Scot­land] on the ev­en­ing of the 6th of June, 1882, when I was 40 years of age. I was alone in the manse at that time. It was the night of my sister’s mar­ri­age, and the rest of the fam­i­ly were stay­ing over­night in Glas­gow. Some­thing hap­pened to me, which was known only to my­self, and which caused me the most se­vere men­tal suf­fer­ing. The hymn was the fruit of that suf­fer­ing. It was the quick­est bit of work I ever did in my life. I had the im­press­ion of hav­ing it dic­tat­ed to me by some in­ward voice ra­ther than of work­ing it out my­self. I am quite sure that the whole work was com­plet­ed in five min­utes, and equal­ly sure that it ne­ver re­ceived at my hands any re­touch­ing or cor­rect­ion. I have no na­tur­al gift of rhy­thm. All the other vers­es I have ever writ­ten are man­u­fact­ured ar­ti­cles; this came like a day­spring from on high.
HT: Dane Ortlund.

Human flourishing

Although I wouldn't necessarily agree with everything, I do think this article is quite helpful. Especially for college students and the like.

HT: Andy Naselli.

"Neuron firings"

John Loftus said:
Neurology shows us there is an extremely close relationship between our beliefs and neuron firings, which can be drug induced, or even surgically removed. There is therefore no need for the supernatural explanation of the soul.
A few points:
  1. I'll take Loftus at his word. Since he's referring to the rather broad field of neurology without further detail, then I'd like him to cite where in a scientific journal like Neuron or Nature or the latest editions of standard physiology textbooks like Guyton and Hall or Boron and Boulpaep that a scientist claims "neuron firings" (i.e. nerve cells generating action potentials) lead to belief formation in, say, skeletal muscle, smooth muscle, or cardiac muscle cells? After all, nerve cells, which are the predominant object of study in neurology, have a significant role in muscle contraction as well!

    Okay, obviously this is a "cheeky" request. But I make the point to illustrate that in all likelihood Loftus has no idea what he's talking about here. Or is there another reason he seems, at best, clumsy in his communication of the science? For example, does he mean "beliefs" or "neuron firings" can be "drug induced"? Which one? Both? I suspect he means we can use certain drugs to induce a neuron to fire which in turn, I suppose according to Loftus, would somehow produce a belief through a series of other events which involve other aspects of the nervous system such as neurotransmitters and synapses? Of course, Loftus never spells it out for us. Or at least cites a journal article to which we can refer. Likewise, is Loftus referring to "neuron firings" when he says something can be "surgically removed"? How would he propose to "surgically remove," say, an action potential?

    Rather, I think Loftus is just throwing around the authority of science without apparently understanding its content. I'm not asking him to become a scientist, but if he's going to make such sweeping, categorical pronouncements, he should at least familiarize himself with enough of the science to understand what he's trying to say in the first place. If he did, I think he'd not only phrase things better, but more importantly he'd find neuroscientists and related experts aren't all agreed (e.g. he can run a simple search on the topic via PubMed). There's hardly a scientific consensus on the topic, even among secular scientists (not to mention other scholars like philosophers). At this point, it'd behoove Loftus to cut back on the overly confident rhetoric when it's quite debatable whether the science backs him up. A more modest claim would've been the wiser way to go.

  2. But let's say it's true our beliefs are a result of "neuron firings." So what? As Alvin Plantinga points out in Warranted Christian Belief: "To show that there are natural processes that produce religious belief does nothing, so far, to discredit it; perhaps God designed us in such a way that it is by virtue of those processes that we come to have knowledge of him."

  3. Also, Loftus assumes without argument that correlation establishes causation or even identity i.e. "neuron firings" = beliefs. But it'd be like someone saying since rain comes from clouds, therefore rain and clouds are the same.

    (Or possibly he's saying the one supervenes upon the other. If this is what he's saying, we can cross this bridge when we get there.)

  4. By making the claim that "Neurology shows us there is an extremely close relationship between our beliefs and neuron firings," Loftus has to assume the reliability of his cognitive faculties. So how does he know he has accurately read and remembered the scientific journal articles (or whatever) he read which presumably support his claim?

  5. BTW, if a person's beliefs can be reduced to "neuron firings," then is Loftus arguing against the influence of upbringing, people, and other external environmental factors on a person's beliefs? If so, then he's undermining the need for his own Outsider Test for Faith (OTF).

    However, if he'd respond by saying environmental and other factors influence how neurons fire (or something along those lines), then he's not reducing beliefs to neurophysiology alone, in which case his point would likewise work against the atheist's beliefs since the atheist's "neuron firings" would be subject to similar environmental and other influences too. And, as such, the atheist ought to be subject to the OTF on these same grounds, which would contradict what he has said in the past.

Evolutionary Christology?

Liberals typically allege that the gospels reflect legendary embellishment as we proceed from the earliest gospel (Mark) through Matthew and Luke to John.

There are some obvious problems with this allegation.

i) Mark is more miracle-laden than John. And Mark already has a high Christology (as Simon Gathercole, among others, has documented).

ii) John could be dated to the 60s. And even if, ad arguendo, we go for liberal dates, it isn’t clear on what basis liberals date John later than Matthew or Luke. Basically, they use the circular argument that John is more theologically advanced.

iii) However, Larry Hurtado has furnished another argument against the facile thesis of legendary embellishment:

“The human ‘realism’ of Mark’s presentation of Jesus noted by John Donahue also furthers a connection between Jesus and intended readers…The Markan emphasis on Jesus as example explains the treatment of the Twelve, which has been so misconstrued by some scholars…In fact, this concern to make Jesus both the basis of redemption (10:45; 14:22-24) and the pattern for his followers probably gives the best explanation for the overall shape and limits of the Markan account, for what Mark does and does not include in it. We have in Mark a story of Jesus that is shaped just like the life of the disciples. In the words of Philip Davis, the Markan story is ‘a blueprint for the Christian life’: it begins with a baptism and then issues in mission, opposition, and persecution involving death, and ends with divine vindication by resurrection,” Lord Jesus Christ (Eerdmans 2003), 310-11.

“Whether Mark knew of any miraculous birth tradition we cannot say. But if he did, he had good reason for not including one in a story of Jesus shaped to serve as a paradigm for his readers. As Christians, their life too began with their baptism, and Mark emphasizes that they too are called to follow Jesus in proclaiming the gospel and with a readiness to undergo persecution, trusting that if they lose their life for the sake of Jesus and the gospel, they shall receive eschatological vindication (e.g., 8:34-38). Likewise, no resurrection appearance was necessary or even appropriate. For readers who are to live with trust in God for their own vindication, it was sufficient to affirm that God has raised Jesus, the paradigmatic figure for their lives and hopes (16:5-6),” 311.

“Of course, the empty tomb and the announcement by the ‘youth’ in 16:5-6 are to be read in light of Jesus’ prophecies of his resurrection (8:31; 9:9,31; 10:34; 14:28). For the intended Christian readers of Mark, the ending was not nearly so doubtful in meaning as it has often been made by modern scholars,” 311n138.

Monergism & synergism

Dan, you're being duplicitous. If grace is only a necessary condition of salvation, and not a sufficient condition, then we aren't saved by grace alone. Rather, our libertarian consent is an additional factor, independent of God's grace, without which grace cannot save us.


"I'm not at all familiar with these controversies, but it doesn't seem like Arminianism is a denial of salvation through grace alone. God may only give salvation to those who freely accept it by faith."

In which case, saving faith is not included in saving grace. That's not part of the package. Rather, that's something by which the package is received or rejected. Hence, salvation is not by grace alone.

"Rather, the person is sitting inside the cart and gives God permission to push it up."

If permission is a necessary condition of salvation, and saving grace does not entail permission, then permission is an independent factor. In that event, we're not saved by grace alone.

"I don't see how that's being duplicitous. In both Calvinism and Arminianism a person is still helpless to effect their own salvation. Acceptance of God's offer of salvation has always been a prerequisite of salvation."

And in Calvinism, unlike Arminianism, acceptance of God's offer of salvation is, itself, wholly the result of God's grace. Therefore, your comparison actually illustrates the difference, and reinforces my original charge.


"The necessary/sufficient cause or condition distinction is unimportant in this discussion as can be seen by the fact that Calvinism affirms man is responsible despite sufficient causes."

You're jumping categories. The question at issue is not what's sufficient to render us responsible, but what's sufficient to ensure our salvation. Those are hardly convertible propositions.

"The key here is that faith does not save, God's grace does."

Faith is a necessary condition of salvation. So the question is whether or not saving faith is a necessary result of saving grace. If not, then you can't say we're saved solely by grace.


“Salvation, in the expression salvation by grace alone through faith alone) is typically referring to justification, forgiveness, redemption, and adoption. Apparently you mean something else - something that precedes faith.”

Typically, salvation by grace alone through faith alone stood in contrast to Roman Catholic synergism. And that debate certainly included the preconditions of saving faith.

“But it's not like faith is through faith alone.”

Which ducks the question of what causes saving faith.

“Again, even if faith is a necessary result of grace, man still believes, per Calvinism. That's synergistic. By couching the discussion in terms of necessary/sufficient conditions; you enter a labyrinth you can't escape from.”

You’re attempting to redefine “synergism” to suit your personal agenda, but “synergism” has a specialized meaning in historic theology. The fact that faith is a human mental act doesn’t make that relation “synergistic” in historic theological usage.

SLW, Paul doesn't define faith in contrast to grace. Rather, Paul defines faith in contrast to works.

Unless saving faith is a gracious faith, we're not saved by grace alone.


“That right there should tell us that faith isn't the stuff of works, which is often the argument Calvinists make against Arminians. Faith is not at odds with grace, so not contrastible.”

Actually, you just confirmed the accuracy of the charge. Faith would be a work if you decouple faith from grace.

“If salvation is likened to sunlight, faith would be the window that lets in the light. The light is what it is, the window doesn't produce it, it is merely the means for it to get inside the room.”

Your metaphor is not an argument. And it’s not exegeted from relevant prooftexts. It’s just a distraction.

“That confounds grace and faith. Faith by this reckoning is just a category of grace. In that case, the five solas should be reduced to four to avoid repetition.”

Illogical. Grace/faith is a cause/effect relationship. As such, faith isn’t reducible to grace–anymore than effects are reducible to causes.

Godismyjudge said...

“The Protestants did not deny that men cooperate in their own conversion, taking that word in the sense in which the Romanists used the term (and the still broader term justificatio), as including the whole work of turning unto God. No one denies that the man in the synagogue cooperated in stretching out his withered arm or that the impotent one at the pool was active in obeying the command of Christ, ‘Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.’ But the question is, Did they cooperate in the communication of vital power to their impotent limbs? So Protestants do not deny that the soul is active in conversion, that the ‘arbitrium a Deo motum’ freely assents.’

You’re using “cooperation” as if it were a synonym for “synergism.” That’s incorrect.

i) In historical theology, “synergism” is a technical term. It’s not equivalent to “cooperation.”

If you want to use “synergism” in a popular, modern sense (i.e. “interaction”), you’re free to do so, but don’t anachronistically substitute that innovation for historic theological usage, then accuse me of using “salvation” in “atypical” fashion.

ii) To say man is “active” in “conversion” is also equivocal. At which stage of the process? In Reformed theology, man is passive in regeneration. However, regeneration produces faith (among other things). Man is “active” in believing, but saving faith is the effect of saving grace.

So the “activity” or “cooperation” is still grounded in monergism.

Godismyjudge said...

“This is because faith does not save us, God’s grace does.”

You keep resorting to that evasive, palpably defective formula. But in Scripture, faith in Christ is clearly a necessary condition of salvation (excluding special cases).Therefore, you can’t separate faith from salvation.

Your only out is to separate faith from grace. But since faith and salvation are inseparable (see above), if you separate faith and grace, then you deny salvation by grace alone.

“If you hold that 1) believing is our act, 2) we are responsible for our acts and 3) believing is part of salvation, then it follows that we are responsible for part of our salvation.”

That’s another one of your evasive equivocations. “Responsible” has more than one meaning. It can mean “accountable/liable,” or it can denote a causal relation, as in: “pilot error was responsible for the crash” (i.e. the pilot caused the plane to crash).

In Calvinism, we are “responsible” in the sense of having a duty to believe, and being culpable in case we shirk that obligation.

But a Christian is not the cause of saving faith. Rather, God’s grace is the cause of saving faith. So a Christian is not “responsible” for saving faith in the causal sense. And that’s what makes it monergistic rather than synergistic (in the technical sense of the terms).

“As I explained to Steve, in the phrase, ‘saved by grace through faith’ saved must be taken in the narrow sense as justification – otherwise we end up with the absurd idea that faith is through faith.”

To say that saving faith is the result of saving grace is hardly a tautologous formula. That’s not reducible to “faith is through faith.”

That’s just one of Dan’s rhetorical gimmicks. And it fails.

“He rejected the narrow sense and maintained the broad sense. In which case it follows that, per Calvinism (or at least per Steve), we end up being responsible for part of our salvation. This violates grace alone in the expression ‘saved by grace through faith’…”

The “violation” only ensues if we allow Dan to trade on conspicuous equivocations.

“Further I would define synergism in terms of two parties working together.”

Which is not what “synergism” means in the conflict with Rome.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

"The Darwinian problem of evil"

Over at DC, Neal is making life difficult for John Loftus. Too much logic gives Loftus acid indigestion.

Neal said...
I'm not sure why Loftus perceives animal pain as being a "problem". Let's look at this line of reasoning:

P1: If creatures sin, they will suffer.
P2: All creatures suffer.

C: Therefore, all creatures must be sinners.

How is Loftus not affirming the consequent?

August 4, 2010 11:15 AM

Neal said...
Very well...

(P) Any creature that sins must be aware of god's commands
(P) Animals sin

(C) Therefore, animals are aware of god's commands

Second premise is rejected by Christians.


(P) To be aware of god's commands, creatures must have received revelation from god
(P) Animals are aware of god's commands

(C) Therefore, animals have received revelation from god

Again, second premise is rejected by Christians.


(P) To not go to hell, a creature must accept Jesus as his/her personal savior
(P) All animals are creatures

(C) Animals must accept Jesus as their personal savior to not go to hell

Christians would reject the first premise since creatures who have not sinned will not go to hell.


(P) God created all creatures perfect and any who are not perfect (i.e. who sin) have been made so by their own free choice against god
(P) Animals are not perfect

(C) Animals have been made so by their own free choice against god (they have free will)


Your second premise here is ambiguous. What is meant by "not perfect"? Are you talking about moral perfection or something else? If you are talking about moral perfection, this premise is rejected by Christians as a non-sequitur. If you are talking about something else, then there is an equivocation with the way it was used in the first premise.


"Do you accept all of these conclusions? I see them as what follows if we go down your path. Most of the time Christians want to maintain quite the "healthy" divide between humans and animals because if evidence of consciousness, free-will, and morality were present in animals it would tend to reduce the need for a soul-hypothesis to separate us from them rather than positing a continuous transition via natural selection."

The distinction between humans and animals is in the former being God's image bearers. Animals are not moral agents. This is evident in the fact that we don't hold animals accountable for killing other animals. They're animals. They do what they do.

"Will they join us in heaven?"

I don't know, but if they do it will be based on factors other than moral accountability.

August 4, 2010 2:54 PM
Neal said...

After I posted my reply, it occurred to me that you may have misunderstood my syllogism. It wasn't an argument that I was presenting as my own, I was trying to summarize Loftus' objection. The conclusion is fallacious because it affirms the consequent. I think you and I are actually on the same page here.

Now perhaps Loftus would object that this isn't the argument he was making, but that raises the question as to exactly what argument he was trying to make. He rhetorically asks a number of questions, and most Christians would agree with the answers he gave for his questions 1-3. His answer to his forth question is offered without an argument.

August 4, 2010 3:37 PM

Neal said...
"Neal, I'm tired of your pseudo-logical thinking and misrepresenting of my arguments."

Your attempt to evade logical critique is noted.

"I doubt you even know what I'm making reference here to. Unless you do you're not worth my time."

Well you're one arrogant cuss aren't you? You seem to think you can turn bad arguments into good ones by dressing them up in the scientific method.

August 4, 2010 8:05 PM

Neal said...
"The existence of the Christian God is improbable given (2)."

By what criteria? What other unstated assumptions are you working with in order to come to that conclusion? What is your justification for holding those assumptions?

August 4, 2010 9:27 PM

Neal said...
"The bottom line is that there is no justification for this massive animal suffering in any of the Christian literature, none, and I've read extensively on it."

How exactly would you know what constitutes "justification"?

"You are either interested in my arguments and will read them for yourself or it won't be worth my time here with you."

I'm interested in the ones that you make on this blog, in which you make lots of ignorant claims, then insult people who dare to criticize your arguments. You can whine all you want about people not reading your book, but why should anyone care when you aren't even competent enough to defend the arguments you make here? You like to lob molotov cocktails at Christians then you start whining when people start throwing them back at you.

But then there are plenty of sycophants here to stroke your ego, so maybe that's all this is about anyway.

August 4, 2010 9:55 PM

Moses & the Flood


“So you cannot name one working, credible Biblical scholar who thinks that Moses wrote the Penteteuch…”

Oswald Allis, Gleason Archer, John Currid, Duane Garrett, Richard Hess, Walter Kaiser, Alec Motyer, John Oswalt, Vern Poythress, Allan Ross, John Sailhamer, Douglas Stuart, E. J. Young, to name a few.

“…or who thinks the ‘Flood account’ is actual history.”

T. D. Alexander, John Currid, John J. Davis, James Hoffmeier, Gordon Hugenberger, Kenneth Kitchen, David Livingston, Jeffrey Niehaus, Vern Poythress, Allen Ross, Ronald Youngblood, to name a few.

What's evidence?

Unbelievers insist on telling us that “there is no evidence for the Exodus!”

This, however, raises a number of questions. For instance, unbelievers constantly tout refereed journals. Now suppose an article in a refereed journal mentions a scientific experiment or scientific discovery. Is that evidence for the discovery or experiment in question?

Well, an article about a scientific discovery is not, itself, a scientific discovery. Likewise, an article about a scientific experiment is not, itself, a scientific experiment. Suppose we discover a new bat species in Borneo. A scientific article on a newly-discovered bat is not itself a bat.

So what the article really boils down to is reported evidence. Is reported evidence real evidence? Well, unbelievers who quote scientific journals sure act as though reported evidence is evidence. As it’s not as if the average reader can go on his own expedition to Borneo to confirm the reported finding.

If reported evidence is evidence, then that’s a case of indirect evidence rather than direct evidence. Likewise, if a book of the Bible says the Exodus happened, that’s reported evidence.

And there are other types of indirect evidence. Here’s one line for evidence for the Exodus:

i) Messianic prophecy is evidence for Jesus

ii) The teaching of Jesus is evidence for the OT

If Messianic prophecy vouches for Jesus, and Jesus vouches for the OT, then that’s evidence for the Exodus–among other things.

Of course, you might say that relocates the issue. That shifts the question from evidence for the Exodus to evidence for the Gospels.

But there’s nothing wrong with shifting the question. For the question of whether there’s evidence for the Gospels is very different from the question of whether there’s evidence for the Exodus. Yet the way we answer the former question impinges on how we answer the latter question.

Prop 8

Not surprisingly, a sodomite judge overturned a constitutional amendment banning sodomite marriage.

It’s important to be clear on the real issue. The question at issue is not whether sodomite marriage should be legal or illegal. Rather, what’s at stake is whether the people control their gov’t, or their gov’t controls the people. If the citizens of a state don’t have the right to amend the state constitution, then they don’t have any rights. At that point, popular sovereignty has been abolished. In its place is a self-appointed, self-perpetuating bureaucracy answerable to no one, but holding everyone answerable to itself.

What Social Science Does---And Doesn't---Know

The first section of The Christian Delusion utterly, totally, and faithfully rests and cobbled together scraps from "the social sciences." As I pointed out in my section of TID, among the many problems the authors of TCD have, one of them is that it is debated whether or not the social sciences are even a science. In any event, this piece was very apropos given TCD's fauning over the supposed findings of the social scientists:

What Social Science Does—and Doesn’t—Know: Our scientific ignorance of the human condition remains profound.

Here's the conclusion of the article:
Experiments are surely changing the way we conduct social science. The number of experiments reported in major social-science journals is growing rapidly across education, criminology, political science, economics, and other areas. In academic economics, several recent Nobel Prizes have been awarded to laboratory experimentalists, and leading indicators of future Nobelists are rife with researchers focused on RFTs.

It is tempting to argue that we are at the beginning of an experimental revolution in social science that will ultimately lead to unimaginable discoveries. But we should be skeptical of that argument. The experimental revolution is like a huge wave that has lost power as it has moved through topics of increasing complexity. Physics was entirely transformed. Therapeutic biology had higher causal density, but it could often rely on the assumption of uniform biological response to generalize findings reliably from randomized trials. The even higher causal densities in social sciences make generalization from even properly randomized experiments hazardous. It would likely require the reduction of social science to biology to accomplish a true revolution in our understanding of human society—and that remains, as yet, beyond the grasp of science.

At the moment, it is certain that we do not have anything remotely approaching a scientific understanding of human society. And the methods of experimental social science are not close to providing one within the foreseeable future. Science may someday allow us to predict human behavior comprehensively and reliably. Until then, we need to keep stumbling forward with trial-and-error learning as best we can.
(HT: Hermonta Godwin)

Diacritical marks

Reaction to TID took a weird turn recently when apostate Hector Avalos channeled the shade of Francis Turretin on the Hebrew vowel points. I'm going to post the comments left by two commenters in the meta:

In regards to the Hebrew of son-in-law and father-in-law, not only were the vowel pointings not added for thousands of years after the events the texts are meant to discuss, but holem, qames-hatuf and qames are all related and can reduce to the other in many situations.

The hilarious thing is that the first comment is by Avalos, who commends Tobin for this comment on Hebrew vowel pointings! Could Avalos have any less credibility as a scholar at this point? He's been known as a crank for years at SBL meetings, but this kind of stuff is simply ridiculous.

Here is a visual illustration of the point about son-in-law/father-in-law made by Steve:

‏‏חֹתֵן - this is the word for "possessing a son-in-law" which makes you a father-in-law.

‏חָתָן - Here is the word for "daughter's husband" or son-in-law.

Even without a knowledge of Hebrew you can see that the main three characters are identical. The point Steve is making is that in the original form, the three identical characters are all that was there. Whether you were writing son-in-law or father-in-law, the word you used was ‏חתן.

In most of the old cognates (Old Arabic, Syriac, Musnad, etc.) the word can mean either son-in-law or father-in-law.

Later scribes placed the vowel-pointings into the text and thus decided based on their own analysis of context, tradition, etc. which word was meant by the three consonants and created a way to distinguish based on adding vowel pointings.

The vowel pointings of course are not inspired, and in this regard the latter scribes that added them could have been incorrect.

This is but one of the many examples where Tobin (and Avalos) show themselves incapable (or willfully reluctant in the case of Avalos) of handling even basic grammatical/linguistic issues.

Notice that Dr. Avalos ignores the point being made above to talk about my usage of "reduce" and other diversions from the actual point being made by us against Tobin (which deals with the usage of vowel pointings to differentiate between forms of חתן.

For those paying attention, notice how each of his "points" divert from the actual discussion, and how his citations only back up the diversions and do not deal directly with the issue at hand.

To clarify things, here is what Tobin said:

Hays suggestion – which he referenced from yet another evangelical author – that the same word is used for father-in-law or son-in-law - is simply incorrect. Anyone with a good lexicon of Biblical Hebrew[30] can check for themselves that the words are pointed differently. Although these words share the same consonant Het-Tav-Nun (Ch-T-N) the vowels use for the word for ‘father-in-law” are different from the word denoting son-in-law or bridegroom. In its most basic form, father-in-law is pointed with a holem (with an “o” sound) above the Het and a sere (with an “e” sound) below the Tav and can be written as choten. The word for son-in-law is pointed with qames (an “a” sound) below both the Het and Tav giving the word chatan.

Hector said, "Tobin is correct, and he speaks to the fact of how often Triabloggers don't have enough expertise in biblical languages to form sound exegetical and historical conclusions."

The argument we are making is that Tobin is incorrect in this assessment because the vowel pointings (which are his central means of differentiating the usage of חתן) come much, much later in the history of the text. Thus, the original words for son-in-law and father-in-law in the pre-Masoretic texts are both simply חתן, which can be interpreted either way depending on context.

In Hebrew, the later tradition differentiated by assigning vowel pointings based on their interpretation, but not every language did this as evidenced by continued non-differentiated usage in the Syriac, Old Arabic and other cognates (see any standard lexicon for evidence of this, ala Kohler Baumgartner).

There is little evidence of pre-Masoretic markers significant enough to differentiate between the holem/sere pointing for חתן, and the qames/qames pointing. It's origins are in the Akkadian ḫat(a)nu, which simply means any relative by marriage (see Huehnergard or even Tawil). For instance, the Samaritan Pentateuch uses the unspecified and unpointed חתן, which is why it remains in the indeterminate Arabic form in the Arabic version. There is nothing to indicate at this point of the textual history how a scribe would differentiate between the two terms outside of context and tradition. Since the actual differentiation in the text comes much, much later in the history of the language this brings the possibility of misinterpretation and error.

Dr. Avalos leaves out in his answer that there are many instances in which the Masoretes made decisions on what the "real" reading of the text is, called the "ketiv-qere" readings. Don't let all of the talk about vowel reduction throw you off, because there are many different ways in which vowels reduce.

I might just ask him to use his expertise to translate dalet-waw-dalet.

The celebrity circuit

Anne Rice has deconverted, after reconverting, after deconverting, after…

It’s very important that we cover this story. Why, you ask?

Well, the importance of this story ought to be self-evident. For one thing, if a single news outlet covers a story, then the fact that a story is reported is a very important reason to report the reported story.

In addition, Anne Rice is famous for being famous. By making her famous by making her famous, everything she says or does or doesn’t say or do is instantly invested with deep existential significance.

It’s like a TV celebrity who goes on the Late Show, where she talks about the time she went on the Late Late Show–then she goes on the Late Late Show, where she talks about the time she went on the Late Show–then she goes back on the Late Show to talk about…

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Darwinian Problem of Good, Vizualized

Since The Christian Delusion has been shown to be a massive flop, John Loftus isn't trying to give actual arguments anymore, but is, instead, appealing to emotions with pictures. Dr. Seuss atheology.

If his video shows that there's an unanswerable problem of evil for the theist, then this video is just as good for showing that there's an unanswerable problem of good for the Darwinian.

Pass me a hanky, John!

"It never occurred to me"

Josh Thibodaux has written a third post, to shore up the wet cardboard playhouse of his second post, which was meant to shore up the wet cardboard playhouse of his first post.

Since he’s generally targeting suspects other than yours truly, I’ll leave that to them. For now I’ll just concentrate on one of his generic claims:

Further problems arise when God Himself refutes such a notion through the prophet Jeremiah [32:35]…God made it very clear that He not only didn’t command such a thing, but distances Himself from the concept entirely in stating it didn’t enter into His mind that they should do this abominable act – a plain denial that it was His contrivance at all.The Calvinist responses I’ve heard given this would be funny if they weren’t so desperately bad. They often try to set up a straw man “literal interpretation” of “nor did it enter my mind” meaning “I didn’t know they were going to do it”, then insist that taking the passage ‘literally’ amounts to Open Theism, so therefore one should accept their view that the passage is some sort of anthropomorphism.

How is it a straw man to point out that if something literally never entered God’s mind, then God didn’t know they were going to do it? What else could a literal construction of “It never entered my mind” amount to?

Literally speaking, that exclamation indicates the speaker was caught off guard. He didn’t see it coming. He was blindsided by the event.

Thibo can reject the propriety of the literal interpretation, but that’s what the literal interpretation conveys.

Besides there being apparently nothing conveyed by this supposed ‘anthropomorphism,’ contextually speaking…

If Yahweh attributes ignorance to himself, then unless you’re a Mormon or open theist, that’s a contextual clue of anthropomorphic discourse.

…the concept of “didn’t enter my mind” is most readily interpreted idiomatically as “I didn’t think this up”, not, “I didn’t see that coming.” This being the case, the choice of ‘Open Theism or Determinsim’ is a false dichotomy.

Of course, that's only Thibo’s convenient assertion. While the phrase is idiomatic, it doesn’t follow that it’s “more readily interpreted” to mean, “I didn’t think this up.”

Why not take it to be a hyperbolic expression of disapprobation?

Robert Price On Christianity And Slavery

The Christian Delusion often raises objections to Christianity based on the religion's treatment of slavery. One of the contributors to the book, Robert Price, recently discussed the issue with a Christian scholar, David Instone-Brewer, on the Unbelievable? radio program (June 19, 2010). I don't agree with every comment made during the program, and some significant issues were neglected, but both Price and Instone-Brewer make many good points. Price criticizes some of the simplistic approaches taken by his fellow skeptics, in addition to criticizing some simplistic Christian arguments. He's much more reasonable about this subject than he is about a lot of others related to Christianity.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Why Arminians say Arminians are damned

Arminian apologist and theologian Roger Olson questions the Christian faith of his fellow Arminians. As he recently observed, “I have my doubts about the authenticity of a person’s evangelicalism (to say nothing of his or her Christian faith) who blatantly and knowingly denied…salvation by grace alone through faith alone…”

Needless to say, Arminians, including Olson, blatantly and knowingly deny salvation by grace alone in favor of synergism. For them, God meets us halfway with grace, while it’s up to us to say yes or no. Grace is a necessary condition of salvation, but salvation is also contingent on the independent variable of man’s libertarian freedom.

The fact that Olson doubts the salvation of Arminians must be unsettling to Billy Birch, whose devotion to Scripture is second only to his devotion to Olson.

Ergun Caner, Ergun Caner, Ergun Caner, Ergun Caner, Ergun Caner, Ergun Caner, Ergun Caner, Ergun Caner, Ergun Caner, Ergun Caner, Ergun Caner

"I don't know about you, but could it get any weirder? I mean, you have people running around the web pulling down conference talks and sermons, while at the same time some organization of non-English speakers is posting nonsense articles in praise of Ergun Caner as a "renowned" theologian. All while Caner continues his silence, and his critics ignore the real issues (while engaging in the politics of personal destruction). Simply amazing." Click here for more on Ergun Caner's phantom persona.
p.s. This most recent episode of Ergun Caner attempting to collect all the feathers from a burst down pillow on a windy day is reminiscent of when Caner had 32 publicity glamor shots on his website.

From goo to you

I’m resuming my dialogue with JD Walters, which was interrupted by some other controversies.

About comment iii): Perhaps I should have made this clearer, but my hermeneutical method is to derive a theme or motif from Scripture, where I am dealing with it primarily as a literary text (in line with recent discussions by Sailhamer and Goldingay). The way I see it, the Bible tells various stories about God and how he acts. Some of these are historical, that is, the writers meant us to believe they actually took place in the past, whereas others are more parabolic in nature. But all, whether historical or parabolic, do give us truth about God. So I can read the stories of Genesis and attempt to extract their point about the nature of God, without taking them literally as things that actually happened. For example, I don't think that the creation of the woman happened just as Genesis 2 describes. Rather, I see that the point of the story was to show that God is committed to working through his creation step by step rather than directly bring about the perfect outcome. __Thus there is no inconsistency between the two hermeneutics. I can accept the truth conveyed by the Genesis stories without accepting them as a literal account of creation, just as I can accept the truth conveyed by the story of the prodigal son without assuming that somewhere at sometime it actually happened.

Assuming we accept that for the sake of argument, what you’re describing is really a 3-step process rather than a 2-step process. If you think Genesis is more parabolic than literal, then you can’t jump straight from your parabolic interpretation of Genesis to God’s “commitment” to creation. Rather, there’s an intervening step in which you must translate the parabolic depiction into literal terms. What does the parable literally stand for?

For your thesis of divine “commitment” to creation turns on the details. But which details are parabolic window-dressing, and which details correspond to how God actually relates to his creation?

Let me see if I can articulate my objection to Omphalism a little better, drawing upon my discussion of the Genesis and other texts: over and over in the Genesis creation accounts I see God refusing to make his creation exactly as he wanted it from the start. Rather than speaking the ordered world of the climax of Genesis 1 directly into existence, God first creates the primordial waters without form and with darkness on the face of the deep. He then works with and through that material to bring about the world of land, sea and sky that he wanted. __What this tells me is that the impression of development and accumulation that the world presents is no illusion. And here is where I find the Omphalist position troubling: the geological evidence presents a narrative, not merely of great age, but of development. We see layers of stratification in rock, with older layers on the bottom and younger layers on the top. We see landmasses that bear the marks of erosion due to wind and water, processes we know take a very, very long time. We see evidence from the tectonic plates that there was a time when the continents were squished together, and only separated over the course of millions of years.

i) Keep in mind that I’m not defending Omphalism, per se. I use that as a limiting-case.

ii) A basic problem with your objection is that it tacitly rests on a non-Omphalist interpretation of the text (or the event). For Gosse could easily say the apparent development you describe is simply the prochronic backstory. So I don’t see that you have really gotten around the Omphalist interpretation, for that’s all consistent with the Omphalist interpretation.

Like Berkeleyan idealism, Omphalism is a self-contained, self-consistent global explanation of the world. So it’s hard for you to point to any empirical evidence that falls outside the parameters of the explanation.

iii) Moreover, isn’t there a sense in which a thoroughgoing Omphalist interpretation is every bit as parabolic as your parabolic alternative interpretation? So doesn’t that come down to competing parabolic interpretations?

Now what is the Omphalist's answer to this? That a landmass which bears the marks of erosion did not actually exist for the millions of years which would be required for the air and sand to eat away at it, but instead sprang into existence fully formed and already eroded? If so, then the evidence of the natural world is indeed quite misleading. It is like the difference between a house which actually deteriorated over 100 years, and a ruin of a house put together in a few days on a movie set. The builders of the set might have taken exquisite care to make the illusion convincing: they could coat the walls with layers of patina which would actually accumulate over the decades. They could oxidize the copper plumbing just as if it was really 100 years old. And to the casual eye there may be no difference. He or she would conclude that both houses were 100 years old. But in only one case do appearances tell the truth about the house's development.

i) But what’s “misleading” is context-dependent. The period stage set isn’t misleading to the stagehands. Or the actors. Or the director. Or the audience. They know a stage set is just a stage set.

ii) Likewise, “evidence” is value-laden. Babies are ordinarily evidence that a man and woman had sexual intercourse. But in the case of a miraculous conception, that would not be evidence of normal procreation.

So an effect is only evidence of a particular cause if, in fact, that was the cause–rather than some other cause. “Evidence” takes for granted a certain type of process. That’s a presupposition of the evidence. Not something that’s given in the evidence itself, but a framework for understanding the evidence.

iii) What about optical illusion?. Mountains appear smaller at a distance. Is that misleading? Is that an argument for naïve realism?

So we have biblical reasons to take the appearance of the development we find in nature quite seriously as evidence that it actually did develop as it appears to have done. God did not start creation 'in medias res'.

If you take the appearance of development literally in Gen 1 (i.e. creation over the span of 6 calendar days), then that would involve a genuine creative process. But since you don’t construe Gen 1 literally, I don’t see that your parabolic gloss gives us reason to take the appearance of development seriously.

If nature appears to tell the story of its development from the primordial quark-gluon plasma to the gradual emergence of distinct elements to the formation of stars and supernovas to the formation of planetary bodies, etc. then we have good reason to think that it happened that way, and that God didn't just make it seem that way because he wanted a more authentic stage for his salvific drama. If so, why would the Bible not just say about creation that God said, "Let there be a fully formed world with plants, animals, people (both man and woman created at the very same time), lights in the heavens, etc. and it was so"? Why doesn't the Bible show God creating exactly what he wanted directly and without intermediate steps?

Because, a Gossean might say, that’s not a good story-telling technique.

Now, what about that miraculous fish that looks just like an ordinary fish? Would that miraculous fish bear all the marks of the evolutionary history of its ancestor-fish? I think it would, but this is no reason to conclude that God created something ex nihilo. Remember, in my reading of Genesis, the potentiality of the primordial waters to produce dry land, and that of dry land to produce vegetation and land animals, was already inherent within it. It seems the Bible indicates that God created ex nihilo only the primordial raw material of creation, whatever that happens to be, and everything else after that results from the ordering and manipulating of that raw material. If that is the case, and if the fish that developed by the ordinary tempo of natural processes came from that raw material, there is no reason why the miraculous fish could not also as well, except at a much accelerated pace.

Well, that alternative is not without its oddities:

i) You seem to be suggesting that whenever God performs a miracle like the multiplication of fish, he recapitulates the entire history of the universe in miniature. To multiply a fish, he reenacts the big bang, cosmic expansion, galactic evolution, primordial soup, &c. From goo to you. And he does that with each miraculous fish.

But isn’t that explanation every bit as exotic as Omphalism?

ii) Likewise, isn’t that at least as exotic as mature creation? And isn’t the YEC interpretation of Gen 1 largely a case of accelerated development? What would normally take more time to replicate “after one’s kind” is speeded up?

Now you will ask, if the miraculous fish could develop at such an accelerated pace, why not the rest of the natural world? Because as you have noted, God generally works according to the slow, steady rhythm we observe and which science studies. The miraculous fish are the exception which proves the rule.

I think Scripture teaches a doctrine of general providence. But that also presupposes the initial set-up.

But the real question might be, if someone were to examine the miraculous fish without knowledge of its miraculous origin, would that someone conclude that it had been conceived and developed according to the natural processes of fish reproduction, and at the ordinary pace? I would say yes, but notice that this inference presupposes that most other things actually do develop at the natural pace. If that were not so, the person would be in no position to say anything at all about where this fish came from and how long it took to get here. Unless the world does by and large develop by the rates which we observe now (we know it takes 9 months for a human baby to develop, etc.) knowledge of nature would be impossible.

i) A difference between you and me is that I don’t feel your need to nail down what nature is like. I seem to be more open to the ambiguities of experience than you are.

ii) To recur to my prior example, suppose you have a sick friend. You take him to the hospital. But you also pray for him.

Maybe he’s healed by conventional means. Or maybe he’s healed miraculously, in answer to your prayers. The outward effect may be the same in both cases.

Does this mean medical science is pointless? No. Does this mean prayer is pointless? No. Sometimes (many times) medicine will do things prayer will not, but at other times prayer will do things that medicine will not. I don’t feel the need to pin down one modality rather than another.

Paul Tobin's credentials

From the back cover of the book The Rejection of Pascal's Wager: A Skeptic's Guide to the Bible and the Historical Jesus (click on image for full size):

From the "Contributors" section of the book Small and Medium Sized Enterprises in East Asia: Sectoral and Regional Dimensions (click on image for full size):

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Truth by definition

Apostate Paul Tobin has posted a reply to TID. Like a typical apostate, he continues to define himself by the Christian faith. He still lives in the shadow of the church, only now he pelts the stained-glass windows with rocks.

Apostates have nothing to live for. Nothing better. Nothing half as good. So their only purpose in life is to attack their former faith. It helps them to pass the time. While away the boredom of their vapid existence.

I’m going to quote some of his statements more than once to make different points.

I. “Modern” Scholarship

The main thesis of my original article in the book The Christian Delusion is that the fundamentalist/evangelical position on the Bible is not reflected by modern mainstream Biblical scholarship, historical research and near eastern archaeology.[3] Before proceeding with the detailed response below I would like to make two general observations.

Firstly, given my thesis, it is quite strange to see that the “rebuttals” are based mainly on quotations from evangelical scholars and publications with frequent references to my not “interacting” with “evangelical scholarship.” An important point of my article in the book, and something I will continue to emphasize below, is that evangelical scholarship is not mainstream and not supported by a consensus of scholars who do not hold the same pre-suppositional biases.

There are several problems with this set-up:

1. In his addendum, he said, “I have argued that the evangelical belief in biblical inspiration cannot be defended in light of modern scholarship” (169).

But how is he in any position to claim victory if he constantly runs away from evangelical answers to his objections? It’s not as if evangelical scholars simply ignore what “critical/mainstream” scholarship has to say. They read what the liberals have to say, and they present counterarguments.

2.That’s not how he introduced his thesis in TCD. Here is what he actually said:

Most Christians claim they have a reasoned faith. This faith claim is based on the Bible being the word of God in some meaningful sense. But modern scholarship has shown us that the canonical Bible:

i) Is inconsistent with itself,
ii) Is not supported by archaeology,
iii) Contains fairy tales
iv) Contains failed prophecies, and
v) Contains many forgeries.

Given all this, the Bible cannot be considered an inspired–“God breathed–document. Rather it seems to be written by a superstitious people who were creating God in their image, as Ludwig Feuerbach charged. Therefore Christianity is not a reasoned faith. It cannot stand up to critical scrutiny (148).

Notice that he originally cast his thesis in chronological terms. “Modern” scholarship has alleged disproven the inspiration of Scripture. The insinuation seems to be that Christians traditionally believed in the inspiration of Scripture because they didn’t know any better. But modernity has discovered disconfirmatory evidence. So his thesis seems to turn on a contrast between past knowledge and present knowledge.

Yet in response to me, he’s using “modern” as if that were “synonymous” with “mainstream.” But, of course, that’s non-sensical. 20-21C evangelical and fundamentalist scholars are just as modern as 20-21C “mainstream” scholars. We’re dealing with contemporaries.

So unless he’s using “modern” as an idiosyncratic synonym for “modernism,” to denote to denote a particular mindset, his contrast between “modern” scholarship and evangelical/fundamentalist scholarship is bogus.

2. In addition, Tobin is simply a contributor to TCD. But the TCD reflects the editorial agenda of John Loftus. As Loftus says in the introduction to TCD:

As the editor of this book I envisioned it as an extension of my previous one, Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2008), which I think of as important background reading for the chapters in this one, although you don’t need to read it in order to understand and benefit from this present book (15).

In addition, it’s not as if John Loftus has a hidden agenda:

I can, and I do argue against mainline and even Catholic Christianity. It's just not my focus. My focus is on fundamentalism because the majority of Christians believe the "literal" passages in the Bible, and because they have a zeal for pressing their views upon me through economic and political power. Liberals are not that much of a threat, period. They do not blindly accept what they read in the Bible, and that's being more reasonable than fundamentalists, who have a Bible verse for every problem, intellectual or social. I can agree with liberals on this, so why bother with them? My goal is to dislodge the evangelical Christian off of center.

And that agenda is clearly on display in TCD. TCD doesn’t target theologically moderate to liberal Bible scholars like Dale Allison, Brevard Childs, Craig A. Evans, Joseph Fitzmyer, Robert Jewett, Luke Timothy Johnson, John Meier. It doesn’t target center-left theologians like Alister McGrath, Richard Swinburne, Keith Ward, or Rowan Williams.

No, TCD concentrates its fire on conservative evangelicals, with special reference to inerrancy. So the title of the TCD is a misnomer. It should really be called The Evangelical Delusion, or the Inerrancy Delusion.

Tobin tacks on a token reply to liberals at the end of his essays, but that’s a tertiary target, both in reference to his own essay and the TCD as a whole.

How can Tobin show that conservative Evangelicals are “deluded” if he refuses to interact with Evangelical scholarship? Tobin raises stereotypical objections to the inerrancy of Scripture which evangelical Bible scholars regularly address. By dodging direct engagement the counterargument, Tobin leaves the counterargument intact. You can’t disprove the opposing position if to you act as though responding to their counterarguments is simply beneath you.

And this is not a problem for my position. Rather, that’s a problem for his position. His failure to press the charge home.

It’s like a rag-tag army that marches up to a fortified city, stands there declaring victory and demanding our unconditional surrender. Well, sorry to disappoint you, but we’re not going to open the city gates without a fight. You need to defeat us.

II. Proof By Quotation

Firstly, given my thesis, it is quite strange to see that the “rebuttals” are based mainly on quotations from evangelical scholars and publications…

The reason I respond to Tobin by quoting scholars to the contrary is that I’m answering him on his own level. His idea of proof is to simply cite or quote “mainstream” scholars or “critical” scholars. That’s his idea of evidence. The sheer opinion of a “mainstream” scholar counts as evidence. Just bare conclusions. He rarely gives a supporting argument.

That’s his modus operandi in TCD, and that’s his modus operandi in response to TID. It’s a tendentious appeal to authority.

In the same vein, he chides me for referring the reader to footnoted literature, but that, too, is standard operating procedure for Tobin.

III. Truth By Definition

Embedded within these rebuttals are quotations from “scholars” who still believe Moses wrote the Pentateuch[1]…

The main thesis of my original article in the book The Christian Delusion is that the fundamentalist/evangelical position on the Bible is not reflected by modern mainstream Biblical scholarship, historical research and near eastern archaeology.

Firstly, given my thesis, it is quite strange to see that the “rebuttals” are based mainly on quotations from evangelical scholars and publications with frequent references to my not “interacting” with “evangelical scholarship.” An important point of my article in the book, and something I will continue to emphasize below, is that evangelical scholarship is not mainstream and not supported by a consensus of scholars who do not hold the same pre-suppositional biases.

Any “research” done seems to be based purely on evangelical and fundamentalist works –filled with speculations and guesses for which little or no evidence is provided.

The main point is this, no serious (i.e. non evangelical) scholar today considers the stories in Genesis 1 and 2 to be anything more than different creation myths “cut and pasted” together by a later scribe to form an uneasy narrative.

I can continue to quote various scholars ad nauseam,[14] but the point, I think, is made. Scholars who respect the methodology of historical research (which, unfortunately, exclude most evangelical scholars) are generally in agreement about the uneasy contradiction which exists between the epistle of James and the epistles of Paul.

In his rebuttal of the obvious anachronism of the reference to “Ur of the Chaldees” that I pointed out in my article, Hays simply quoted the opinion of an evangelical scholar (Duane Garrett)

In his attempt to rebut the anachronism of calling Abimalech “king of the Philistines”, Hays actually quoted an evangelical who still believes that Moses wrote the Pentateuch! No serious Biblical scholar today takes such a position.

Next Hays turned to my comments about the anachronism of the references to camels in the patriarchal narratives. Outside fundamentalist/evangelical circles, the anachronism of the references to domesticated camels during the time of Abraham and Joseph is, more or less, a settled issue.

The one non-evangelical work Hays cites is Hoffmeier’s Israel in Egypt published by Oxford University Press. Archaeologists do not consider the case Hoffmeier is making to be particularly strong. This is what William Dever has to say on Hoffmeier’s Israel in Egypt.

Here Hays accuses me of not interacting with “standard scholarship” on the issue of the historicity of the Exodus and the Conquest. Yet all the references he sites (notes 47 & 48), with one exception, are from evangelical publishers! How is this “standard scholarship”??

In response to my noting the conflicting messages of the epistles of James and Paul, Hays (as in (2) above) has merely resorted to citing an evangelical scholar who thinks that the epistles of James and Paul were not in conflict. That does not really solve anything though, since I can equally site [sic] many critical historical scholars who think differently.

Hays suggestion – which he referenced from yet another evangelical author…

Note also that Hay’s “rebuttal” amounts to nothing more than asserting an evidentially unsupported speculation. Hays quoted his evangelical “scholar” as saying…

Not only has he ignored the references from mainstream scholarship that I provided…

See a pattern?

1. Tobin is trying to win the argument by definition. Define his position as the true position. He doesn’t have to refute the arguments of evangelical scholars. It’s sufficient to merely classify which scholars are “mainstream” and which are “evangelical” or “fundamentalist.”

By definition, real scholars are “mainstream” scholars or “scholars.” By definition, evangelical/fundamentalist scholars aren’t “serious” scholars. Indeed, we should put “scholar” in scare quotes whenever we refer to evangelical/fundamentalist scholars. By definition, “standard” scholarship is non-evangelical.

He talks about evangelicals and fundamentalists the way a Klansman talks about the “darkies.”

He takes “mainstream/critical” scholarship for granted as the standard of comparison. But, of course, that begs the question. A polemical book like TCD needs to make a case of whatever controversial methods and assumptions it employs. It can’t show that Christian faith is delusive by stipulating the rules of evidence.

His appeal to “mainstream” scholarship is an argument from authority. But he hasn’t given the reader a good reason to treat “mainstream” scholars as authority-figures.

2. Notice how he sets up a false dichotomy between “archeologists” and James Hoffmeier. You’d never know from his statement that Hoffmeier is, himself, a seasoned field archeologist.

3. Observe his circular definition of consensus. The only consensus that counts is “mainstream” opinion. Evangelical dissent doesn’t reflect a lack of consensus, for he uses a selective definition of consensus which limits the referent whoever agrees with Tobin.

4. Another obvious problem with such trusting appeals to critical consensus is that today’s critical consensus differs from yesterday’s critical consensus, as well as tomorrow’s critical consensus.

5. Yet another problem with his appeal to “consensus” is that it gives the lie to his appeal to “evidence.” For consensus is a sociological phenomenon rather than an evidentiary datum. The standard for consensus is correspondence with what other people believe rather than correspondence with the facts.

6. If, by this own admission, the dividing line is ultimately presuppositional rather than evidentiary (i.e. “presuppositional bias”), then that’s the very first thing he needs to discuss and defend.

7. What does he mean by the “methodology of historical research?” Is that a tendentious euphemism for methodological naturalism, a la Troeltsch? Is so, then he needs to make a case for his naturalistic historiography. That’s not something he can posit as a fait accompli. And he needs to do that in TCD. If not there, he needs to do that in response to TID.

8. And if a naturalistic historiography is his touchstone, then this also gives the lie to his evidentiary appeals–for in that event he is not allowing the evidence to speak for itself. Rather, he is speaking to the evidence. He is telling the evidence what it may or may not say.

9. Babinski, Tobin’s co-contributor quotes “evangelical” scholars to help make his case for the “primitive” cosmology of the Bible. But according to Tobin, evangelical scholars aren’t “serious” scholars. So we have to choose between Tobin’s chapter and Babinski’s chapter. Which one should we jettison?

IV. Is “Mainstream” Scholarship the Gold Standard?

In lieu of a real argument, Tobin constantly falls back on authoritarian appeals to “mainstream” scholarship. But if that’s the standard, then, as Jason Engwer already pointed out, a lot of atheistic scholarship is decidedly substandard.

i) For instance, so-contributor Robert Price relishes his self-appointed role as the bête noire of mainstream scholarship. He (and Richard Carrier) contributed to The God Who Wasn't There: A Documentary Asserting that Jesus Christ Never Existed, which hardly represents “mainstream scholarship.”

Price’s iconoclastic espousal of radical Dutch criticism hardly represents the critical mainstream:

Likewise, Price’s parallelomania hardly represent “mainstream” scholarship. As James Dunn exclaimed, “Gosh! So there are still serious scholars who put forward the view that the whole account of Jesus’ doings and teachings are a later myth foisted on an unknown, obscure historical figure,” “A Response to Robert Price,” J. Beilby & P. Eddy, The Historical Jesus: Five Views (IVP 2009), 94.

ii) Then there’s co-contributor Richard Carrier. In TCD, does his opinion that Mark’s Gospels “was not even written as history, but as a deliberate myth” (303) represent “mainstream” scholarship? And what about his other imaginative theories on pp303-04? Is that “mainstream”?

For that matter, isn’t Carrier pretty contemptuous of modern scholarship in NT studies?

Many issues I thought were cut-and-dried are actually mired in complexity, and my research in these areas has absorbed far more time than it should have. The two most annoying examples of this (though not the only ones) are in dating the contents of the New Testament and identifying their authorship and editorial history. There is no consensus on either, even though standard references (like Eerdman's Dictionary of the Bible, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, and The New Interpreter's Bible) tend to give the impression there is. Even when acknowledging some disagreements, they do not accurately convey the shear number of disagreements and the complexity of determining their relative merits.

In other words, not only is there no consensus, but there are dozens of positions, and arguments for each are elaborate and vast. It was only after over a month of wasting countless hours attempting to pursue these matters to some sort of condensable conclusion that I realized this was a fool's errand. I have changed strategy and will attempt some sort of broader, simpler approach to the issues occupying my chapter on this, though exactly what that will be I am still working out. It will involve, however, a return to what historians actually do in other fields, which New Testament scholars seem to have gotten away from in their zeal to make sense of data that's basically screwed in every conceivable way. For when it comes to establishing the basic parameters of core documents, I have never met the kind of chaos I've encountered in this field in any other subfield of ancient history I've studied. Elsewhere, more often than not, either the matter is settled, or no one pretends it is.

Now sure, everything above can be debated endlessly. But an endless debate on one detail, multiplied by a dozen details, multiplied by a dozen problems, multiplied by a dozen documents (since the Gospels aren't the only vexations among early Christian documents, not by a longshot), you end up with nearly two thousand endless debates. Even supposing you can fit an eternity into a day and thus nail a conclusion on any one point in under ten hours, ahem, two thousand days still works out to more than seven years (as you'll surely be taking weekends off at least--to drink yourself into a stupor, if nothing else). And at the end of it, you have perhaps only a few pages to show for it all, since that's all that will be needed to summarize your conclusions regarding the basic facts of your evidence before moving on to the actual topic of your book. A handful of pages. Which took seven years of soul-crushing tedium to compose.

No thanks.

The field of New Testament studies needs to get its house in order. Until it does, I'll have to do without what I can normally rely upon in other fields: well-supported conclusions (or a ready consensus on the range of conclusions possible) on the most fundamental issues of evidence.

V. False Dichotomy

i) Tobin sets up a false dichotomy between “mainstream” scholarship and “evangelical” scholarship. Of course, Tobin’s operational definition of what’s out-of-the-mainstream is anything to the right of Tobin. But even on his own terms, how does he determine what represents the “mainstream” position or the “consensus” position. Does he have polling data from seminaries, divinity schools, and professional associations which provide a statistical breakdown of where contemporary Bible scholars range along the theological spectrum? Let’s see him crunch some numbers.

It also generates a potential dilemma. For what if “mainstream” scholarship merges with “evangelical” scholarship? At that point, Tobin will find himself stranded on beachhead during a rising tide. Indeed, one prominent critic is deeply alarmed by that very development:

My focus is the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), the main organization for Biblical scholarship in North America. In recent years it has changed its position on the relationship between faith and reason in the study of the Bible. I think that it has forgotten the lessons of both Pascal and Spinoza, and is falling into a confused domain of dissension and hypocrisy. The problem, as I understand it, has to do with money.

SBL used to share its annual meeting with the major American organizations for Near Eastern archaeology (the American Schools of Oriental Research, ASOR) and for the study of religion (the American Association of Religion, AAR). But due to petty disputes among the leaders of these groups, ASOR and AAR have dissolved their links with SBL. In order to keep up its numbers at its annual meeting, SBL has reached out to evangelical and fundamentalist groups, promising them a place within the SBL meeting. So instead of distinguished academic organizations like ASOR and AAR in the fold, we now have fundamentalist groups like the Society of Pentecostal Studies and the Adventist Society for Religious Studies as our intimate partners. These groups now hold SBL sessions at the annual meeting. The participation of these and other groups presumably boosts attendance—and SBL’s income—to previous levels.

The problem is that the SBL has loosened its own definition of Biblical scholarship, such that partisan attacks of this type are now entirely valid. When I learned of the new move to include fundamentalist groups within the SBL, I wrote to the director and cited the mission statement in the SBL’s official history: “The object of the Society is to stimulate the critical investigation of the classical biblical literatures.”3 The director informed me that in 2004 the SBL revised its mission statement and removed the phrase “critical investigation” from its official standards. Now the mission statement is simply to “foster biblical scholarship.” So critical inquiry—that is to say, reason—has been deliberately deleted as a criterion for the SBL. The views of creationists, snake-handlers and faith-healers now count among the kinds of Biblical scholarship that the society seeks to foster.

VI. The Argument from Silence

As Christopher Hitchens so succinctly puts it- “That which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

That’s very quotable, but what does it mean, exactly?

i) To take one example, we don’t have any specific evidence that most folks in antiquity ever existed. The hoi polloi never made it onto monumental inscriptions. Classical historians don’t have a habit of naming slaves and peasants. We don’t have marked graves for most people who lived and died. Or birth certificates. Or death certificates. So should we conclude that the human population was limited to those individuals for whom we have specific archeological evidence?

ii) And suppose we measure Tobin’s claims by his own yardstick? Most of the time he doesn’t give us supporting evidence for his claims. All we get are quotes from his favorite liberal “scholars.” And he doesn’t quote their arguments (assuming they have any). He simply quotes their say-so.

Secondly, most of the “rebuttals” amount to no more than suggesting or speculating other possible explanations than the ones I have presented. This is something I have pointed out in my book The Rejection of Pascal’s Wager (pp. 212-214) Evangelicals seems to have difficulty understanding the difference between the concepts of possibility and probability- just because an hypothesis is possible does not mean it is the most probable explanation for something…Simply providing an alternative hypothesis, without providing any evidence or argument, proves nothing.

i) One of Tobin’s problems is the way he illicitly converts the absence of evidence into counterevidence. He acts as if the absence is evidence is just a different kind of evidence: evidence to the contrary.

But lack of evidence doesn’t point in any particular direction. His chronic reliance on the argument from silence is an invitation to speculate. Evidence rules out certain possibilities. In the absence of evidence, we are left with various logically consistent ways to fill the gap. The absence of evidence doesn’t point in one direction rather than another.

ii) He also confuses lack of evidence with the lack of corroborating evidence. Yet Scripture itself is testimonial evidence for various events. So it’s not as if we’re starting from zero.

iii) An argument from silence can be persuasive if there’s reason to expect a certain type of evidence. That’s something which Tobin needs to argue on a case-by-case basis.

iv) When I reviewed The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, a few years ago, the contributors to that work resorted to any alternative explanation, however far-fetched, to deny the resurrection of Christ.

VII. Sifting the Evidence

1. Primary & Secondary Sources

In addition to Tobin’s misuse of the argument from silence, there is also his token appeal to the “evidence.” He likes to talk about the evidence against Scripture. But he’s better at telling than showing. He uses “evidence” as a euphemism for quoting his favorite liberal “scholars.” But if he’s going to make a big deal about the evidence, then secondary sources don’t count as evidence. He needs to show us the primary sources which allegedly contradict Bible history. What he’s giving us is not the actual evidence, but a summary or reconstruction from his favorite liberal “scholars.”

If he’s going to complain about my quoting scholars in support of my position, then he needs to do better, right? If he can quote scholars, I can quote scholars.

2. The Loftus Standard

Apropos (1), Tobin must, in consistency, apply the same standard to his extrabiblical historical sources as he does to the Biblical historical sources. According to Loftus, ancient history is a poor medium of communication. “If God chose to reveal himself in history, then he chose a very poor medium to do so.”

But, of course, that claim, if true, isn’t limited to Bible history. Rather, that applies to ancient history in general.

Indeed, atheists like Loftus assurance us that ancient people were backward and superstitious. That’s why we can’t trust the testimonial evidence of Scripture. For Bible writers shared the same primitive, superstitious views as their contemporaries.

So Tobin’s chapter cancels out the chapter by Loftus, or vice versa. Which one should we jettison?

3. The Carrier Standard

In TCD, Carrier lays down the following criteria for judging the Gospels: “Your doubts become stronger when you can’t question the witnesses; when you don’t even know who they are; when you don’t have the story from them but from someone else entirely; when there is an agenda…we don’t know who really wrote them, or when, or where…That’s what we don’t know. What we do know is that the Gospels were written with an agenda…We have no way of knowing what got added to the version we now have in the Bible…The existence of improbabilities, contradictions, propaganda, evident fictions, forgeries and interpolations, and legendary embellishments in them has been exhaustively discussed in modern literature…We can’t trust our sources, and we have no idea who their sources were or how faithful they were to them. We have no eyewitness accounts… (TCD, chap. 11).

But, oddly enough, I don’t find Tobin asking these same questions of the ancient historical sources he cites (laundered through his favorite scholars) in opposition to Scripture.

Before Tobin is in any position to invoke his ancient extrabiblical sources as the benchmark for measuring Bible history, he needs to run them through the Carrier filter:

i) Identify the sources. What is he referring to? Writings? Inscriptions? Coins? Pottery? Graffiti?

If his sources are literary, what’s the genre?

ii) What’s the date of the source? By what methods did you arrive at the source?

iii) Who wrote the source? Was the author an eyewitness? If he claims to be an eyewitness, how does Tobin verify that claim?

iv) Conduct an séance to interrogate the ancient eyewitness. We can’t trust an ancient eyewitness whom we can’t even question.

v) Does the source have an agenda? Is the source propagandistic?

vi) What sources did the writer use? How faithful was he to his own sources?

vii) How many recensions did the source pass through?

viii) Does the source reflect a superstitious outlook, viz. attributing the success or failure of a military campaign to the gods?

VIII. Evidentiary Duplicity

On the one hand, Tobin denies that certain Biblical events ever happened unless we have corroborating evidence. On the other hand, when we have an event like Noah’s flood, where we also have Mesopotamian flood traditions (Atrahasis, Sumerian King List, Epic of Gilgamesh, Erdu Genesis) which corroborate the historicity of the event, he turns around and cites that supporting material as if it somehow undermines the Biblical account.

So in reality, he has a “heads I win/tails you lose” evidentiary standard. If there’s no corroborative evidence for a Biblical event, then we should deny the historicity of the event–but if there is corroborating evidence, then we should also deny the historicity of the event!

IX. Rigging the Rules of Evidence

Unfortunately this commonly made accusation against any reasonable person who demands extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claim is misplaced. I have written in detail the historical method and how it relates to the treatment of miracles in my book, The Rejection of Pascal’s Wager.[36]

Sagan’s catchy slogan is just the right size to fit on a bumper sticker, but why should we accept that dubious claim? What does it even mean?

1. What makes a claim an “extraordinary” claim? Does that simply mean the event in question is exceptional, out of the ordinary, or unusual?

But unbelievers think that many natural events are extraordinary in that weak sense. Likewise, they think that many human events or historical events are extraordinary in that weak sense. And they don’t demand extraordinary evidence (whatever that means) for such events. So they must have something stronger in mind.

2. They often appeal to the uniformity of nature. So do they define “extraordinary” in the sense that miracles don’t happen, inasmuch as that would run counter to the uniformity of nature?

But, of course, that definition begs the question. Whether miracles do or don’t happen is the very point at issue. You can’t very well presume that miracles never happen without begging the question.

Hence, reported miracles don’t have to overcome the presumption that miracles never happen. For that would assume the very thing the unbeliever must prove.

3. Perhaps, though, the unbeliever thinks the onus is on the believer. Since the believer is asserting that miracles happen, the believer assumes the burden of proof.

However, the unbeliever is asserting that miracles don’t happen, so he—in turn—shoulders a commensurate burden of proof.

4. Frequently, the uniformity of nature is underwritten by appeal to the laws of nature. Here we have a strong claim: miracles don’t happen because miracles can’t happen.

And why can’t they happen? Because that would violate the laws of nature.

Extraordinary events don’t demand extraordinary evidence as long as they’re the right kind of event—natural events, consistent with natural law. A miracle is the wrong kind of extraordinary event for ordinary evidence to suffice.

But there are several problems with this claim:

5. An unbeliever can’t very well presume that the laws of nature preclude miracles. For he’s making a very ambitious claim. A claim about the state of the world.

That’s something he needs to defend. He can’t merely stipulate that his view of the world is right. He must argue for his view of natural law. Therefore, it’s not as if reported miracles must overcome the presumption that natural law precludes their occurrence.

Even if natural law did preclude the miraculous, that, of itself, is a claim which demands a supporting argument.

6. Keep in mind that a natural “law” is just an anthropomorphic metaphor. Literally speaking, there are no “laws” of nature. That’s a figure of speech which is borrowed from human affairs and then projected onto nature.

7. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that we formulate the possibility of miracles within a natural law framework, what would be extraordinary about an event that “violated” the laws of nature?

That would only be extraordinary under the assumption that natural laws are the ultimate factors governing reality. An absolute limiting condition. They demarcate what is possible and impossible.

But, of course, the unbeliever cannot very well presume such a grandiose position. He needs to argue for it.

8. To see the problem with (7), ask yourself the following question: “Is there something extraordinary about the idea that God would do something contrary to the laws of nature?”

On the face of it, there’s nothing extraordinary about such an idea. If God is more ultimate than nature, then God is more ultimate than natural law. So God isn’t bound by nature law. Rather, the laws of nature depend on God.

On the face of it, there’s no presumption that God would never do something contrary to the laws of nature. That would only follow if the laws of nature are ultimate and autonomous.

9. Of course, at this point, the unbeliever will object to the introduction of God into the equation. After all, the unbeliever doesn’t believe in God.

But why doesn’t he believe in God? Does he take the position that God’s existence is an extraordinary claim demanding extraordinary evidence?

But why is God’s existence extraordinary? After all, many theologians argue that God is a necessary being. And if God is a necessary being, then it would be extraordinary if he didn’t exist. Indeed, his nonexistence would be impossible. So his existence is not extraordinary: rather, it’s inevitable.

10. Of course, an unbeliever will deny that God is a necessary being. But if a theologian must argue that God is a necessary being, then an atheologian must argue that God is not a necessary being. An atheist or agnostic can’t merely presume that God is not a necessary being. His own denial is a belief. A belief with its own burden of proof.

On the basis of 1-10, there’s no prima facie assumption that a reported miracle amounts to an extraordinary claim. If an unbeliever is going to classify a reported miracle as an extraordinary claim, then he must mount an argument for his category. It’s not something he’s entitled to take for granted.

He is making a claim about the state of the world. That’s not something he can merely stipulate to be the case—especially when his claim is controversial.

11.What about extraordinary evidence? What an unbeliever really means is that, practically speaking, no evidence will ever overcome the presumption against the occurrence of miracles.

But that, of itself, is a very ambitious claim. It’s an extraordinary claim to claim that, practically speaking, no evidence can ever overcome the presumption against the occurrence of miracles.

Indeed, it begs the question. It really boils down to supposition that since miracles either don’t occur or can’t occur, then there is no possible evidence for miracles. But that’s tendentious.

12. Apropos (11), what does it mean to say that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence?

i) Does it mean the evidence for an extraordinary claim must be the same kind of thing as the event it attests? Supernatural claims demand supernatural evidence? Paranormal claims demand paranormal evidence? Where both evidence and event belong to the same class or category of thing? Is that what this rule of evidence amounts to? The nature of the evidence must correspond to the nature of the event?

Yet that seems to be viciously regressive. After all, the objection to miracles (to take a specific example) is that miracles are inherently implausible. And that is why we need a special kind of evidence to overcome the presumption of their nonoccurrence.

But if the sceptic is demanding the same kind of evidence, if a miraculous report demands miraculous evidence, then the evidence would suffer from the same (alleged) implausibility as the event it attests.

If you say a miraculous event is implausible because it’s miraculous, then miraculous evidence for a miraculous event would be equally implausible.

Yet the slogan seems to concede that a miracle is credible as long as you can furnish the right kind of evidence. On the fact of it, the slogan doesn’t say that no quality or quantity evidence would ever count as probative evidence for an extraordinary claim.

ii) And if, in fact, this is what the slogan really amounts to, then is that a sound standard of evidence? How is the sceptic in any position to rule out the possibility of a miracle? Isn’t his own worldview based on a preponderance of the evidence? If so, then his worldview must make allowance for counterevidence. The evidentiary standard cuts both ways. If he can’t make allowance for any possible evidence to the contrary, then is worldview isn’t based on the state of the evidence.

iii) But what is the alternative? If it doesn’t mean that an extraordinary claim requires the same kind of evidence to attest the event, then it would require a different kind of evidence. But, by definition, a different kind of evidence would be ordinary evidence.

13. It’s also ambiguous to say an extraordinary claim demands extraordinary evidence. This can mean either of two things:

a) It requires extraordinary evidence to attest the occurrence of an extraordinary event.

b) It requires extraordinary evidence to attest the extraordinary nature of the event in question.

i) But (a) seems circular. Unless you can already recognize the extraordinary (e.g. miraculous, supernatural, paranormal) nature of a reported event, why would you demand special evidence to attest that claim? You would only demand extraordinary evidence if you already classified the event in question as an extraordinary event.

For unless the event already fell within your preconception of an extraordinary event, then ordinary evidence would suffice to attest its occurrence.

ii) So that leaves us with (b). But the problem with that interpretation is that sceptics don’t think you need extraordinary evidence to identify a miracle (to take one example) as an extraordinary event.

To the contrary, sceptics routinely reject extraordinary claims of this sort (e.g. miraculous, supernatural, paranormal) because they have a preconception of what kinds of events are ordinary, and what kinds of events are extraordinary. They accept or reject the credibility of a reported event based on their preexisting classification scheme of what is actual, possible, impossible, probable, and improbable.

For them, it goes like this:

i-b) Miracles are inherently implausible.

ii-b) The reported event falls within the stereotypical domain of a miraculous event.

iii-b) Hence, the reported event is inherently implausible.

iv-b) Hence, it requires extraordinary evidence to overcome the presumption of its nonoccurrence.

But, of course, the major premise (i-b) simply begs the question.

X. Sagan Says

Another problem with Sagan’s facile maxim is that what’s ordinary or extraordinary is person-variable, depending on your individual range of experience. To take just one example, I’m reminded of an encounter between Richard Dawkins and Rupert Sheldrake:

A crusading atheist and author of The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins is Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. He is a Fellow of CSI (The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, formerly CSICOP) and a strong supporter of James Randi. His earlier books were on evolutionary biology, the best known being The Selfish Gene. In 2007, he visited Rupert to interview him for his TV series Enemies of Reason:

Richard Dawkins is a man with a mission – the eradication of religion and superstition, and their total replacement with science and reason. Channel 4 TV has repeatedly provided him with a pulpit. His two-part polemic in August 2007, called Enemies of Reason, was a sequel to his 2006 diatribe against religion, The Root of All Evil?

Soon before Enemies of Reason was filmed, the production company, IWC Media, told me that Richard Dawkins wanted to visit me to discuss my research on unexplained abilities of people and animals. I was reluctant to take part, but the company’s representative assured me that “this documentary, at Channel 4’s insistence, will be an entirely more balanced affair than The Root of All Evil was.” She added, “We are very keen for it to be a discussion between two scientists, about scientific modes of enquiry”. So I agreed and we fixed a date. I was still not sure what to expect. Was Richard Dawkins going to be dogmatic, with a mental firewall that blocked out any evidence that went against his beliefs? Or would he be open-minded, and fun to talk to?

The Director asked us to stand facing each other; we were filmed with a hand-held camera. Richard began by saying that he thought we probably agreed about many things, “But what worries me about you is that you are prepared to believe almost anything. Science should be based on the minimum number of beliefs.”

I agreed that we had a lot in common, “But what worries me about you is that you come across as dogmatic, giving people a bad impression of science.”

He then said that in a romantic spirit he himself would like to believe in telepathy, but there just wasn’t any evidence for it. He dismissed all research on the subject out of hand. He compared the lack of acceptance of telepathy by scientists such as himself with the way in which the echolocation system had been discovered in bats, followed by its rapid acceptance within the scientific community in the 1940s. In fact, as I later discovered, Lazzaro Spallanzani had shown in 1793 that bats rely on hearing to find their way around, but sceptical opponents dismissed his experiments as flawed, and helped set back research for well over a century. However, Richard recognized that telepathy posed a more radical challenge than echolocation. He said that if it really occurred, it would “turn the laws of physics upside down,” and added, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

“This depends on what you regard as extraordinary”, I replied. “Most people say they have experienced telepathy, especially in connection with telephone calls. In that sense, telepathy is ordinary. The claim that most people are deluded about their own experience is extraordinary. Where is the extraordinary evidence for that?”

He produced no evidence at all, apart from generic arguments about the fallibility of human judgment. He assumed that people want to believe in “the paranormal” because of wishful thinking.

We then agreed that controlled experiments were necessary. I said that this was why I had actually been doing such experiments, including tests to find out if people really could tell who was calling them on the telephone when the caller was selected at random. The results were far above the chance level.

The previous week I had sent Richard copies of some of my papers, published in peer-reviewed journals, so that he could look at the data.

Richard seemed uneasy and said, “I’m don’t want to discuss evidence”. “Why not?” I asked. “There isn’t time. It’s too complicated. And that’s not what this programme is about.” The camera stopped.

The Director, Russell Barnes, confirmed that he too was not interested in evidence. The film he was making was another Dawkins polemic.

I said to Russell, “If you’re treating telepathy as an irrational belief, surely evidence about whether it exists or not is essential for the discussion. If telepathy occurs, it’s not irrational to believe in it. I thought that’s what we were going to talk about. I made it clear from the outset that I wasn’t interested in taking part in another low grade debunking exercise.”

Richard said, “It’s not a low grade debunking exercise; it’s a high grade debunking exercise.”

In that case, I replied, there had been a serious misunderstanding, because I had been led to believe that this was to be a balanced scientific discussion about evidence. Russell Barnes asked to see the emails I had received from his assistant. He read them with obvious dismay, and said the assurances she had given me were wrong. The team packed up and left.

Richard Dawkins has long proclaimed his conviction that “The paranormal is bunk. Those who try to sell it to us are fakes and charlatans”. Enemies of Reason was intended to popularize this belief. But does his crusade really promote “the public understanding of science,” of which he is the professor at Oxford? Should science be a vehicle of prejudice, a kind of fundamentalist belief-system? Or should it be a method of enquiry into the unknown?

XI. Historical Knowledge

Tobin has a naïve view of what constitutes historical knowledge. He makes bold historical claims about the past as if these are hard facts in relation to which the testimonial evidence of Scripture is false. But as one scholar explains:

Of course, the past has left traces of itself besides such testimony, most notably materials that an archaeologist can examine: coins, pots, the remains of dwellings, and the like. In the modern period of historiography, some observers (those bewitched by the prestige of the sciences and anxious to ground historical statements in something more solid than testimony) have assumed that such archaeological remains offer us the prospect of independent access to the past. Here, after all, are data that are directly observable and upon which scientific testing can be carried out, akin to the data available to the natural scientists.

Yet we maintain, in our description of the acquisition of historical knowledge, that the assumption is false. Archaeological remains (when this phrase is taken to exclude written testimony from the past) are of themselves mute. They do not speak for themselves; they have no story to tell and no truth to communicate. It is archaeologists who speak about them, testifying to what they have found and placing the finds within an interpretive framework that bestows upon them meaning and significance. This interpretive framework is certainly not entirely or even mainly, derived from the finds themselves, which are mere fragments of the past that must somehow be organized into a coherent whole. The framework is, in fact, derived largely from testimony, whether the testimony of people from the distant past who have written about the past, or the testimony of others, more recent inquirers into that past who have gone before and were themselves dependent upon testimony from the distant past. It is this testimony that enables the archaeologist even to begin to think about intelligent excavation. It is this testimony that helps in the choice of where to survey or dig, imparts the sense of the general shape of the history one might expect to find in any given place, enables a tentative allocation of destruction levels related to specific, already-known events, and permits material finds to be correlated with certain named peoples of the past. The “filling out” of the picture of the world that is thus produced is itself much more general than specific. The reason is that literary remains are much more useful where specific historical issues are to the fore; nonliterary artifactual remains are most useful to the person interested in general material culture and everyday life.

The whole business of correlating archaeological finds with the specifics of the past as described by texts is, in fact, fraught with difficulty. Interpretation inevitably abounds as to what has in fact been found. Is this destruction layer to be associated with this or that military campaign? Is this site in fact the site of the city mentioned in that particular text? Leaving aside specific sites, the data collected evening large-scale regional surveys represent a highly selective sampling at best, and these data are open to a range of interpretations. Interpretation also abounds as to what has not been found, because the absence of evidence on the ground for events described by a text cannot necessarily be interpreted as evidence of the absence of those events, even if a site has been correctly identified.

I. Provan et al., A Biblical History of Israel (WJK 2003), 46-7.

XII. Mopping Up

1. Hays started by defending the contradiction between the creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2 by stating that “numerous scholars” say that Genesis 1 is a “global creation account” while Genesis 2 is a “local creation account”. This is shoddy for a few reasons. Firstly, Hays did not provide even a single reference from these “numerous scholars”…

Since Tobin refuses to read scholars who don’t show up on his preapproved list, why should I refer him to even more scholars he will never read?

2. And secondly, he does not seem to understand that merely providing an alternative possibility does not settle the question.

Sure it does. He posited a contradiction between the chronology of events in Gen 1 and Gen 2. If, however, Gen 2 has reference to the preparations for the Garden, then it doesn’t have to be in sync with Gen 1. That’s not a contradiction. Rather, that’s a separate process–with its own timetable.

3. In response to his, unnamed, “numerous scholars,” I will cite a few modern scholars, among many, who assert that Genesis 1 and 2 are in contradiction to each other – primarily because the stories in those two chapters are woven from two separate (somewhat contradictory) sources.

Quoting scholars who “assert” that to be the case is not a reason for believing their assertion. Merely quoting writers who agree with him doesn’t make it so. That’s not an argument. Just a one-sided opinion survey.

And, of course, the allegation of composite sources has been addressed in standard evangelical scholarship.

4. Similarly his “rebuttal” of my pointing out the discrepancy between the number of animals brought up to Genesis 6:19-20 and Genesis 7:2-3 is to cite one evangelical scholar, Bruce Waltke, who thinks it is due to “the Hebraic literary technique of synoptic/resumption expansion”. He does not explain why this explanation is stronger than that of Friedman[7], Soggins[8], Kugel[9] and the majority of critical scholars who thinks that this discrepancy is real and points to the multiple source origins of the Pentateuch.

And Tobin doesn’t explain why his alternative is stronger than Waltke’s. Name-dropping is not an argument.

5. Here Hays shows shoddiness in reading what is before him. He makes a great effort, subdividing point 4 into three separate paragraphs numbers i, ii and iii asserting how I was wrong in noting that racism makes the Bible untrue. The problem is he was attacking an argument I did not make! In my article[10] I raised the issue of racism in the books of Deuteronomy, Ezra and Nehemiah in contrast against the more racially inclusive book of Ruth to show that the Bible is inconsistent when it comes to this issue. Hays has completely missed the point. This is all the more surprising when one considers the fact that my whole argument is contained only within a single paragraph in my article!

Since, as I argued, his allegation of racism is false, there is no inconsistency between one set of books and another.

6. In my article, I had noted that the markedly different outlooks of the books of Ecclesiastes and Proverbs as another example of how the Bible is inconsistent with itself.[11] Hays response that I fail “to take into account the genre of each” does nothing in resolving this problem. Genres may impact the way an idea is being presented (in music, different genres such as rock, or disco or rap can be used to speak of undying love) but not in its message (all these genres can also speak of hate). The messages of Ecclesiastes and Proverbs if they do come from one god, comes from a schizophrenic one.

Tobin misconstrues both books:

1. Ecclesiastes

Ecclesiastes alternates between the “vanity” passages and the “carpe diem” passages. Tobin isolates the “vanity” passages to the exclusion of the “carpe diem” passages. But these go together:

i) According to the vanity passages, life is fleeting, unpredictable, and unfair. Due to mortality, nothing accrues. You can’t take it with you. Generations come and go, but the world remains the same.

You can plan for the future, but you can’t count on the future. Except for Judgment Day, there are no guarantees. Providence is often inscrutable.

ii) Given the vanity passages, we need to adjust our goals to the nature of our existence in a fallen world. Form realistic expectations. There’s no point making the accumulation of stuff your overriding goal in life. For one thing, you’ll have to leave it all behind. And even before you die, you may lose it all due to misfortune. Fame and fortunate are utterly ephemeral.

So make the most of the moment. Be practical. Be realistic. Live your life according to what is attainable in this life–with a view to the Day of Judgment. Don’t skimp on today for the sake of tomorrow, for tomorrow may never come. Enjoy each day at a time.

2. Proverbs

i) The proverbs are general adages, no promises or prophecies. Elementary rules of life which work more often than not. If you play the rules, things can still go wrong, but they’re more likely to go wrong if you break the rules. All things being equally, you’re more likely to succeed if you follow the rules.

ii) But Proverbs also acknowledges the existence of injustice in a fallen world. You can do everything right, only to see everything to wrong. But the fear of the Lord will never let you down in the long run, for God will rights the scales of justice in the Final Judgment.

7. In response to my noting the conflicting messages of the epistles of James and Paul, Hays (as in (2) above) has merely resorted to citing an evangelical scholar who thinks that the epistles of James and Paul were not in conflict. That does not really solve anything though, since I can equally site [sic] many critical historical scholars who think differently.

i) Certainly it doesn’t “solve anything” when Tobin raises objections, the ducks all the arguments to the contrary.

ii) And it doesn’t “solve anything” for him to simply quote the opinion of critical scholars. For their opinions are no better than their supporting arguments.

The problem with his tactic of truth-by-quotation is that, for every scholar he quotes, I can quote another scholar to the contrary. The only way to break free of stalemate his for him to start arguing for his positions. In the meantime, I’ll continue to answer him on his own level.

8. In commenting on my section on the impossibility of a worldwide flood, Hays refers me to works by young earth creationists who have “marshaled many arguments to the contrary.” May I point him to the fact that even in their “battle” with evolution in the public sphere, most creationists have retreated into the more nebulous claims of “Intelligent Design” which avoids making claims about the age of the earth, Noah flood and anything which has been soundly refuted by scientists. Perhaps I should respond here by telling Hays that he should “refute” all of modern physics, geology, paleontology, cosmology, astro-physics, biology, biochemistry etc.etc. since all these show young earth creationism to be complete nonsense.

i) That’s an ignorant characterization of the ID movement. For instance, Michael Behe isn’t a disguised version of Henry Morris. Behe comes from a very different religious tradition. Theistic evolution is the default position in modern Catholicism.

ii) In my response to Tobin, I didn’t take a position on young-earth creationism. I merely pointed out that he is dismissed that position without addressing the arguments of its best representatives. What Tobin is doing now is to bluff his way through the conversation. Using words like “astrophysics” and “paleontology,” followed by “etc. etc.” is not an argument.

iii) In addition, his original objection was to a global flood, not young-earth creationism in general. If the whole package of young-earth creationism is his actual target, then there are some other creation scientists (e.g. John Byl, Marcus Ross) he needs to engage–besides the ones I already cited.

iii) I also pointed out that he simply ignores old-earth creationism. I guess we need to remind Tobin that TCD purports to show that Christian faith is delusive. So given the apologetic thrust of TCD, it assumes a burden of proof. As such, it is incumbent on Tobin to actually argue for his contentions. He doesn’t get a free pass.

iv) Finally, I pointed out that his attack on Noah’s flood is out of sync with the view of the world which his co-contributor (Babinski) attributes to the author of Genesis. So either we jettison Babinski’s chapter, or Tobin’s.

9. In attempting to discredit my claim that the Genesis story ofNoah’s flood is dependent on ancient Babylonian flood tales like the Epic of Gilgamesh, Hays quotes a “liberal” blogger Peter Enns as someone who does not take that position. But immediately after the section quoted by Hays, this is what Enns wrote:
The literary evidence from ancient Mesopotamia makes it very likely that Genesis 6-9 is Israel’s version of a common and much older ancient Near Eastern flood story. The similarities are clear…[15]
This expressly contradicts the impression Hays was trying to convey about Enns position!

Actually, Tobin is the one who’s trying to foster a misimpression. He began by saying “It has long been known that the story of the great Flood told in Genesis chapters 6-9 is a scientific impossibility” (151). That’s the context in which he then appealed to the alleged dependence of the Genesis account on Mesopotamian accounts. The implication of his statement is that Gen 6-9 is fictitious because that derives from earlier, equally fictitious exemplars.

He never suggested that the Genesis account is based on a true story. That there was a real flood. Yet even Enns admits that this goes back to a real flood. (Just not a global flood.)

10. Hays sidestepped the reasons given by Cyrus Gordon on why the Noah’s story is dependent on the Babylonian one.

Gordon’s objections are perfectly consistent with the historicity of the account:

i) The Genesis account doesn’t situate the flood in Israel rather than Mesopotamia. If the flood originated in Mesopotamia, how does that disprove Genesis? Gordon’s objection wouldn’t cut any ice with a scholar like Walton, Alexander, or Youngblood who favors the local interpretation.

ii) As far as familiarity with flooding, the Exodus generation was acquainted with the annual flooding of the Nile, as well as flashfloods in the Sinai.

iii) If the flood was global, and survivors repopulated Mesopotamia before migrating elsewhere (because the ark settled in Mesopotamia), then we’d expect Mesopotamia to be the nexus of diluvial traditions.

11. The quote he gave mentions nothing about dependence of the various stories – but merely asserts that these stories recall “a common event.” Again there is no attempt to show how such a possibility is stronger than the theory of dependence.

The question is whether or not Gen 6-9 has a factual basis. Even according to Gordon (whom Tobin cited), it does. But if it has a basis in fact, then you can’t very well say it was a scientific impossibility.

Perhaps Tobin is tacitly assuming the global interpretation. If so, he needs to deal with the scholars I cited (on both sides of that issue).

12. In his rebuttal of the obvious anachronism of the reference to “Ur of the Chaldees” that I pointed out in my article, Hays simply quoted the opinion of an evangelical scholar (Duane Garrett) taken from, presumably, a private e-mail correspondence between the two. The suggestion that the Ur referred to in Genesis 11:26-28 may refer to a location different from that accepted by most scholars is just that: a suggestion. This flies against the consensus held by most historians on the matter, a consensus based on firm archaeological findings.[16] Let me provide a quote from archaeologist and historian Eric Cline:
The biblical writers’ reference to Abraham’s father city of Ur of the Chaldees is, therefore clearly anachronistic. This point is accepted by virtually all scholars, without argument.[17] [Emphasis added]

i) To say “this point is accepted by virtually all scholars, without argument” is a damning characterization of “consensus.” If it’s accepted “without argument,” then so much the worse for consensus.

ii) Victor Hamilton (whom I quoted) also cites archeological evidence for his interpretation.

iii) Tobin disregards the arguments I gave by Currid and Kitchen.

13. Again note how Hays, and Garrett, are merely presenting another possibility without attempting to show how it is superior to the consensus opinion.

That’s demonstrably false. Garrett gave an argument for his interpretation, which Tobin simply ignores.

14. In his attempt to defend the anachronism of Genesis 26:1 where reference is made to a city (Gerar) which, as have been shown by modern archaeology, simply did not exist during the time of Abraham, Hays suggested that “scribes sometimes updated archaic terms.” There are a couple of objections to this. First, merely speculating that the anachronism could have been caused by a later scribe does not prove that it actually happened that way. Hays needs to provide evidence why he thinks this is the most likely explanation here. There is no textual evidence that I am aware of that supports his speculation. Second, such a suggestion surely opens a can of worms for a fundamentalist such as Hays. If scribes can “update archaic terms” why can’t he update the archaic stories as well.

i) There’s nothing outré about my suggestion that scribes sometimes modernized obsolete terms. Emanuel Tov, in Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (Fortress 1992), has a section documenting how scribes would replace rare words with more common words (259f.), and another section documenting different phases in the orthography of the Hebrew text (221ff.).

He also has a section on conjectural emendation, where–among other things–he says, “Justification for conjectural emendation comes, first and foremost, from the recognition of the imperfections of the available textual evidence: Only a very small part of all the readings that were created and copied throughout the many generations of transmission of the text that are known to us. Many readings have been lost, among which were necessarily readings that were contained in the first copies. Since the evidence that has been preserved is arbitrary from a textual point of view, it is permissible to attempt to arrive at the ancient texts by way of reconstruction (353).

So my suggestion represents “mainstream” scholarship.

ii) There’s no comparison between updating archaic terms and updating “archaic stories” (whatever that means). To update obsolete terminology is a conservative procedure–a way of preserving the story by replacing long-forgotten place-names, &c., in the interests of intelligibility.

iii) I didn’t know I was a “fundamentalist.” I thought I was a Calvinist. Tobin needs to read a church historian like George Marsden to learn the difference.

15. Note also that Hay’s “rebuttal” amounts to nothing more than asserting an evidentially unsupported speculation. Hays quoted his evangelical “scholar” as saying that “perhaps there was an early wave of Aegean invaders…[that] Moses applies the generic name ‘Philistines’ to them.” Err…Perhaps not.

This objection assumes that Tobin knows what "really" happened. But as his co-contributor, Robert Price is fond of pointing out, we can’t hop into our time-travel machine and see for ourselves. Reconstructions of the distant past can’t avoid speculation. All we have is trace evidence. We interpolate the gaps with educated guesswork.

16. The last point is not an ‘argument from silence.’ It is not as though we lack evidence from that time about what beast of burden was used during the middle bronze age (around 2000 to 1500 BCE - the purported time of Abraham’s existence). The point is that we know what kind of animals was used the beast of burden during that time - donkeys!

Are archaeologists so ignorant or stubborn that they refuse to accept the evidence presented before them? No, the real reason is simple: the evidence for widespread domestication of the camel prior to the 12th century BCE is simply non-existent!

i) The Biblical record is, itself, a historical witness to that phenomenon.

ii) Evidence for donkeys hardly counts as evidence against the existence of domesticated camels. You might as well say any evidence for the existence of Cadillacs counts as evidence against the existence of Porches!

iii) Why would we expect to find significant evidence for something like that so long ago?

17. Perhaps I can make the issue clearer with an hypothetical example. Imagine the founder of a new religion in Iran or Saudi Arabia - where almost everyone is Muslim, and practice circumcision – telling his followers, “To set you apart, God has commanded that you remove the foreskins from your penises.” This would have been met with utter lack of comprehension, since everyone around them was already circumcised!

That oversimplifies the issue. There were other differential factors:

i) The timing of circumcision. Jewish circumcision was a birth rite, applied to babies on the 8th day, unlike a rite of passage applied to adolescents (which is the case in some other cultures). What makes a ritual sign significant is not just the sign itself, but the whole ceremony.

ii) The subjects of circumcision. Jewish circumcision was restricted to males, unlike some other cultures which observe both male and female circumcision.

18. Here, like the stories of the flood, creation and paradise, the parallels between this and story of Moses told in Exodus 2:2-10 are amazing:

· The mother had a baby in secret. (Exodus 2:2)

· Due to dire circumstances, the baby had to be cast away. (Exodus 2:3a)

· This was done by making a basket out of bulrushes and sealing it with tar. (Exodus 2:3b)

· The baby was put into the basket and left adrift on the river.(Exodus 2:3c)

· The baby was discovered by the person who became his foster parent. (Exodus 2:5-6)

That ignores the disanalogies, as well as analogies with other, intertextual, incidents.

i) It’s well documented that the Bible sometimes makes ironic, polemical use of certain pagan motifs. So even if Exod 2 contained a literary allusion to Sargon or Horus or whoever, this wouldn’t create any presumption that Exod 2 is unhistorical. It would just be another case in which a Biblical writer or speaker is trying to trigger an association for polemical purposes.

ii) In Exod 2:3, the word “basket” is “the same word used of the boat that Noah built to save his family and the world’s animals from the Flood (Gen 6:14). The fact that the Bible only uses the word here and in the flood narrative (‘the ark of the covenant’ uses a different Hebrew word) strongly suggests that there is an intentional connection being made between two accounts,” J. Oswalt, Exodus (Tyndale House 2008), 292.

So there is, indeed, a literary allusion. It is not, however, an allusion to a pagan myth or legend. Rather, it’s an intertextual allusion to the flood account in Genesis.

iii) Oswalt points out another parallel in the same verse: “The Hebrew word used for ‘reeds’ here is the Egyptian loan word sup, which is the same word used in 13:18 and elsewhere to identify the sea that God led his people across (28 occurrences; see also Jonah 2:5). This creates a strong impression that the narrator wanted the reader to make a connection between the two events,” ibid. 292-93.

So this would be a case of literary foreshadowing, where one story anticipates another.

In that event, we now have two strategically placed narrative clues. The proper way to interpret Exod 2 is not, in the first instance, to reach for extraneous parallels–but to notice the intertextual parallels which the narrator intended to trigger.

iv) The form of the Sargon legend involves a first person intro and an epilogue that concludes with 1 of the 4: blessings/curses, didactic lesson, temple donation, or prophecy. None of this applies to the Moses story.

v) First, the meaning and function of the story are unclear. Second, there is no threat to the child Sargon. The account simply shows how a child was exposed, rescued, nurtured, and became king (see Brevard Childs' commentary on Exodus). Third, other details do not fit: Moses is never completely abandoned, never out of the care of his parents; and the finder is a princess and not a goddess. It seems unlikely that two stories, and only two, that have some similar motifs would be sufficient data to make up a whole genre. Moreover, if we do not know the precise function and meaning of the Sargon story, it is almost impossible to use it as a pattern for the biblical account. The idea of a mother abandoning a child to the river would have been a fairly common thing to do, for that is where the women of the town would be washing their clothes or bathing. If someone wanted to be sure the infant was discovered by a sympathetic woman, there would be no better setting (see A. Cole, Exodus, p. 57). While we may not be dealing with a genre of story-telling here, it is possible that Exodus 2 might have drawn on some of the motifs and forms of the other account to describe the actual event in the sparing of Moses--if they knew of it. If so it would show that Moses was cast in the form of the greats of the past.

19. Hays suggestion – which he referenced from yet another evangelical author – that the same word is used for father-in-law or son-in-law - is simply incorrect. Anyone with a good lexicon of Biblical Hebrew[30] can check for themselves that the words are pointed differently.

Needless to say, there were no vowel points in the original text. That’s why commentators on various books of the OT often challenge the Masoretic pointing if they think a different understanding makes better sense of the text.

20. Here Hays takes me to task for noting Moses’ name was originally Egyptian not Hebrew. He asks rhetorically “how does that cast doubt on the historicity of the account, exactly? Since Moses was adopted by the Egyptian princess, why wouldn‘t his adoptive name be Egyptian rather than Hebrew?“

Not only has he ignored the references from mainstream scholarship that I provided, he has forgotten (or have not read) Exodus 2:10 which erroneously states that the name Moses is derived from the Hebrew word masah which means “to pull out” from water. As Niels Lemche noted:
Obviously this represents “folk etymology” taken from the narrative structure but without any linguistic support. In Egyptian, the name occurs in compounds[31] referring to certain pharaohs, including Kamose, Tuthmosis and Ramesses (Ramose).[32]

i) Folk etymologies like Exod 2:10 are puns. You might as well say a pun is erroneous. That misses the point entirely. It’s just a play on words–a nickname based on homophonic associations. It was never meant to be a true etymology.

ii) Tobin also fails to distinguish between the narrator and the princess. The narrator is translating an Egyptian statement into Hebrew.

iii) Moreover, the Hebrew word sounds like an Egyptian word, which forms the basis of the pun.

Once again, Tobin could easily consult the relevant evangelical scholarship on this penny ante issue. Cf. J. Currid, Exodus 1-18 (Evangelical Press 2000), 64; J. Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt (Oxford 1999), 140-42; K. Kitchen, The Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003), 296-97; J. Oswalt, Exodus (Tyndale House 2008), 293; D. Stuart, Exodus (Broadman 2006), 93.

21. The answer to Hays question is simple: there is simply no time in the period where the Exodus may have happened. If we date it according to the biblical chronology – around the mid 15th century BCE – then we have a problem because Exodus 1:8-11 says that the Israelites were forced to build the cities of Pithom and Ramses. But the first Egyptian Pharaoh with the name Ramses appeared only in 1320 BCE. There is evidence that a city called Pi-Ramses was built – by Rameses II who ruled Egypt from 1279-1213 BCE.

Of course, that old chestnut is repeatedly discussed in evangelical scholarship. There’s a viciously circular quality to Tobin’s objections. He raises a stale objection to the evangelical view of Scripture. An objection that's been repeatedly addressed in the evangelical literature. He acts as if his objections are unanswerable. But when you then point out that his objections have already been answered, he turns a deaf ear to the answers since that’s “evangelical” or “fundamentalist” rather than “mainstream.”

For standard treatments of this complex issue, cf. J. Currid, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Baker 2001), 125ff.; J. Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt (Oxford 1999), 117-21; K. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003); 255-59; D. Stuart, Exodus (Broadman 2006), 67f..

22. Throughout the period of the New Kingdom (c1569-1076 BCE), Egyptian armies have been known to march through Canaan as far north as the Euphrates in Syria. From the 15th to the 11th century BCE, Canaan was a province of Egypt!

It is important here to pause and let this evidence sink in and see how it relates to the story of the Exodus and the Conquest of Canaan (see below). If Canaan was under complete control of the Egyptians throughout this period, then the Israelites could not have escaped from Egyptian rule. They would be merely leaving one region and entering another – all under the administrative control of the empire of Ramses II![33]

Israel’s survival was never predicated on her innate ability to repel her enemies. Rather, her survival was always dependent on God’s protection, which was–in turn–contingent on her fidelity to the covenant. Tobin’s objection is premised on his atheistic assumptions.

23. Hays says my statement on the extent of David’s kingdom to be “deceptive” – yet it seem to me that he has been rather disingenuous in his accusation. I never compared the Davidic or Solomonic empire to Rome – merely to what is claimed for it in the biblical narratives.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the issue is whether we’d expect the Davidic or Solomonic “empire” to be on a scale which would leave behind significant amounts of monumental evidence.

24. His ”defense” is based mainly on explaining away the absence of evidence (i.e. destruction and/or rebuilding by the Babylonians, Persians, Romans and Muslims and lack of access to possible archaeological sites). In other words, it is an implicit admission that he has little evidence to support the claims made about the united monarchy in the Bible.

Notice how he begs the question by assuming that there ought to be extant evidence, despite Kitchen’s entirely reasonable explanation. There is nothing to “explain away” unless there’s a prior expectation of the contrary. Tobin needs to justify his expectation, which is a chronic failing of his.