Saturday, October 30, 2010

The covenant of works

I've been asked if the Mosaic covenant "is structurally continuous with the Covenant of Grace or a republication of the Covenant of Works?"

My answer:

1. The Gen 2 doesn’t explicitly label God’s relationship with Adam in covenantal terms. However, Gen 2 contains some basic, stereotypical features of a covenant, so I think there’s nothing wrong with that classification.

There are elements of threat and promise, life and death, in that arrangement. And those elements are contingent on obedience or disobedience to the terms of the prohibition.

What’s important is the presence of the concept, and not the presence of the term. And we’d expect, at this stage of sacred history, to have a simpler, more prototypical “covenant” that we find in later phases of sacred history.

2. Before we proceed further, it’s necessary to distinguish between unmerited favor and demerited favor.

3. In what sense, if at all, does Gen 2 describe a covenant of works? The obvious element would be the conditionality of that arrangement.

However, that’s insufficient. For there are elements of conditionality to the new covenant as well. Faith and repentance are conditions of conversion and forgiveness. Moreover, faith and obedience are standing requirements for the Christian.

4. So what’s the differential factor, if any?

i) The covenant of works in Gen 2 involves the continuation (and possibly confirmation) of a preexisting status, whereas subsequent covenants involve the initiation of a new status.

ii) The covenant of works reflects the unmerited favor of God. The gift of life was a gratuitous favor. And the offer of eternal life (signified by the tree of life) was a gratuitous favor. In the nature of the case, Adam could do nothing to deserve the gift of life, for he wouldn’t even exist apart from God’s unilateral gift of life. And since he owed everything to God, he could do nothing to properly earn a divine reward.

However, the covenant of works isn’t gracious in the redemptive sense, for Adam was not a sinner at the time.

Covenants like the Abrahamic covenant and the new covenant go beyond unmerited favor to demerited favor. The sinner deserves punishment, not mercy.

In dealing with Adam and his hypothetically unfallen posterity, it’s a simple case of promise and reward. God makes a promise, if Adam complies, he receives (without earning) the reward.

But when dealing with sinners, atonement must be made for sin. In the nature of the case, a sinner has disqualified himself from atoning for his own sin.

iii) This also introduces another degree of discontinuity between the “covenant of works” and the new covenant. Even if God implicitly promised Adam eternal life (i.e. access to the tree of life), eternal life for an unfallen creature isn’t interchangeable with eternal life for a redeemed creature. They share in common the blessing of immortality.

However, the experience of a forgiven sinner is very different from the experience of a sinless creature. There’s a resonance to eternal life in Christian redemption that wouldn’t obtain in the case of unfallen Adam.

iv) This also raises the question of whether the Westminster Divines overinterpret Gen 2-3. Do life and death in Gen 2-3 signify salvation and damnation? Spiritual life and spiritual death? That clearly goes beyond the immediate terms of the text.

But in defense of the Westminster Divines, we can say the following:

a) Even in Gen 2-3, physical death is not only the only sanction for transgression. There is banishment from the garden. Although that bars them from the tree of life, it also represents a rupture in their fellowship with God.

b) The sanction meted out to the woman isn’t purely punitive. It also contains an enigmatic promise (3:15)–the significance of which will be progressively revealed in the subsequent unfolding of that seminal motif.

c) Gen 2-3 were never meant to be understood in isolation to the remainder of the Pentateuchal narrative. It’s part of a literary unit. Part of a larger story. Part of a promise and fulfillment arc. There’s a subtextual and intertextual significance to Gen 2-3 which only becomes clearer as the historical action proceeds. So there’s more to these terms and incidents than meets the eye at first glance.

v) Finally, while there are contingencies for both, even in that regard there’s a key difference between the “covenant of works” and the new covenant. For the promise of the new covenant includes a divine promise to keep his people from falling away. Although the new covenant is conditional, God’s grace will see to it that the conditions are met in the life of his elect.

By contrast, nothing prevented Adam from losing his preexisting status with God.

5. The Mosaic covenant doesn’t exemplify just one overriding principle. It serves a number of different functions:

i) It is, in part, a civil and criminal law code for a nation-state. In that particular respect, it isn’t specifically religious. In that particular respect, it has a manward rather than Godward significance. Regulating human society. Man’s obligations to his fellow man.

Of course, even that is grounded in the man’s divinely created constitution.

ii) Its conditionality is evident in the fact that material blessings are indexed to obedience, while material curses are indexed to disobedience. The land-promises are contingent on obedience. In that particular respect it’s a covenant of works. Something you kept through obedience– something you lost through disobedience.

iii) The sacrificial system makes provision for the forgiveness of observant Israelites. That is not a covenant of works. That’s a redemptive covenant.

iv) The ceremonial laws have a Godward significance. They symbolize the sanctity of God over against the profanity of man. In so doing, they point to the need for atonement (iii).

v) Beyond external compliance, the Mosaic law ultimately required “circumcision of the heart” (Deut 30:6) to be in true fellowship with God.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Popessa Priscilla

As I recently demonstrated, Popessa Priscilla was the real bishop of Rome. Over the centuries, millions of the faithful have damned themselves by going to the wrong address. They mistakenly thought The One True Church was situated on Vatican Hill when, all along, The One True Church was situated on Aventine Hill. They mistook to San Pietro for Mother Church when that honor properly belongs to Santa Prisca.

You can never be too particular about your geography.

The vicaress of Christ

As all good Catholics assure us, this verse refers to the church of Rome:

[15] But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim 3:15, Douay-Rheims Bible).

Speaking of which:

[3] Salute Prisca and Aquila, my helpers in Christ Jesus, [4] (Who have for my life laid down their own necks: to whom not I only give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles,) [5] And the church which is in their house (Rom 16:3-5, Douay-Rheims Bible).

So the house of God is the church of Rome, and the church of Rome is the house of Aquila and Priscilla.

How can it be both? Well as Catholics also assure us, we must distinguish between the earthly head of the church and the heavenly head of the church.

So it follows, from Catholics premises, that Aquila and Priscilla are the vicar and vicaress of Christ.

Don’t be taken in by imposters like Benedict XVI. And for you conclavists or sedevacantists, Pius XII is just another usurper.

The Aquilan-cum-Priscillan lineage represents the true succession.

The first pope

The traditional list of popes starts out like this:

1. St. Peter (32-67)
2. St. Linus (67-76)
3. St. Anacletus (Cletus) (76-88)
4. St. Clement I (88-97)
5. St. Evaristus (97-105)

However, we know from a more reliable source that this is incorrect. Here is where the "papacy" actually begins:

3Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila. They have not only served Christ Jesus together with me, 4but they have even risked their lives for me. I am grateful for them and so are all the Gentile churches. 5Greet the church that meets in their home (Rom 16:3-5).

As you can plainly see, the original "bishops" of Rome were Pope Aquila and Popessa Priscilla. They headed the 1C church of Rome.

Any papal claimant who can't trace his succession back to Aquila and Priscilla is an Antipope.

The Doctrine of the Word of God

The Doctrine of the Word of God by John Frame is available for pre-order.

Has science disproven Dante's inferno?

According to Ed Babinski, contemporary Christians generally “reinterpret” the Bible to deny the subterranean location of hell. But among other issues, why does he think modern Christians would be motivated to do that? Does he think modern geology has disproven the (allegedly) subterranean location of hell?

I’m one of those contemporary Christians who doesn’t take the subterranean imagery at face value. Is that due to scientific pressure?

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Scripture literally situates hell somewhere “under” (or “inside”) the earth–a la Dante. Has science disproven that geographical setting?

It’s not as if terranauts have explored the interior of the earth, mapped every cubic inch, and discovered, much to their chagrin, that there’s no room for a hellish compartment.

From what I’ve read, our knowledge of the earth’s interior is quite sketchy and indirect. Geologists use seismic waves to get a general sense of what’s solid and liquid. But they don’t have anything like a detailed, 3D map of the earth’s interior.

In principle, I don’t see that science has disproven (ad arguendo) the subterranean existence of hell. Maybe at some point, due to technological advances, that can be ruled out on empirical grounds, but we’re far from that point.

So if contemporary Christians reject the subterranean location of hell, that isn’t due to some scientific finding of which prescientific Jews and Christians were blissfully ignorant. We don’t know something they didn’t.

Journey to the center of the flat earth

According to Edski:

Discussion of the location of hell is not a hot topic these days. Most educated Christians have abandoned offering even the slightest defense of hell's classic locale (beneath the earth) even though the truth of such a belief appears to have been assumed by most people in the past, from Old Testament times (Sheol) to Inter-Testamental times, to New Testament times (Hades, Tartarus).

So it appears that after more than two thousand years, a majority of religious believers have chosen to reinterpret the Bible, in effect, to correct its authors, as well as theologians and evangelists of the past, without of course rewriting the Bible, except in their own minds.


Beginning with some "King James Only" inerrantists, but reaching backwards in time to famed Commentators on the Bible, including Wesley and Calvin

John Gill 1697 – 1771
Though they dig into hell, thence shall mine hand take them, . . .the utmost recesses of the earth, the very centre of it. [John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible, Amos 9:2]

John Calvin 1509–1564
Hence he says, If they dig for themselves passages to hell, that is, to the center of the earth. [Commentary on the Prophet Amos, Amos 9:2]

Let’s briefly examine two of Edski’s examples. Compare his half-quotes with full quotes and see what is missing:


shaul, is here put for the center; thence shall my hand draw them forth; and then, If they ascend to heaven, thence I will draw them down, saith the Lord; If they hide themselves in deserts, if they flee to the top of Carmel, I will trace them out: in short, they shall find no corner either in heaven, or on the earth, or in the sea, where they can be hid from my sight. There is no need here to understand by heavens high citadels, as the Chaldean paraphraser explains it: it is a frigid paraphrase. But the Prophet speaks in an hyperbolical language of the center of the earth, of the heavens, and of the deep of the sea; as though he had said, “Should all the elements open themselves for hiding-places, yet the Israelites shall in vain try to escape, for I will follow them when sunk in the depth of the sea, I will draw them down from heaven itself; there shall, in a word, be no hiding-place for them either above or below.”

Notice Calvin says that Amos is using hyperbolic imagery. So Calvin doesn’t literally situate hell under the earth.

Was Edski simply lying about Calvin’s statement, or is Edski really that illiterate?

Moving along:


That is, they that endeavour to make their escape from their enemies, though they seek for places of the greatest secrecy and privacy; not hell, the place of the damned; nor the grave, the repository of the dead; neither of which they chose to he in, but rather sought to escape them; but the deepest and darkest caverns, the utmost recesses of the earth, the very centre of it; which, could they get into, would not secure them from the power and providence of God, and from their enemies in pursuit of them, by his permission

Notice that Gill specifically denies the subterranean setting of hell. He sets up a contrast between hell, on the one hand, and their actual escape-route–which he identifies as the “caverns” or “recesses” in the “center” of the earth.

Observe the syntax: “not hell…but caverns, utmost recesses,” &c.

Once again, is Edski simply lying about Gill, or is he really that illiterate?

On a final point: does the “center of the earth” suggest a flat earth or a spherical earth? Remember, this doesn’t refer to the surface of the earth (e.g. the center of a disk). Rather, this allegedly has reference to the nether regions of the earth. So if we’re going to play along with the image of a subterranean center, then doesn’t that suggest an inner core within a spherical object?

Michael Licona's Book On The Resurrection Is Out

Michael Licona's The Resurrection Of Jesus (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2010) just came out. It's a revised and updated version of his doctoral dissertation. I haven't read much of it yet. It's around 700 pages long. But I want to make readers aware of it. I should have more to say about it as I read more of it.

It carries endorsements from James Charlesworth, Gerd Theissen, Richard Hays, and other scholars. The endorsements are impressive. Richard Hays comments that "I am not aware of any scholar who has previously offered such a thorough and fair-minded account of the historiographical prolegomena to the resurrection question." Craig Keener calls it "the most thorough treatment on the resurrection and historiography to date". James Charlesworth calls it a "thorough study of beliefs in Jesus' resurrection", and C. Behan McCullagh describes it as "an astonishing achievement" and "full of fresh insights".

If you're still hesitant about getting it, I suggest looking over the table of contents and indexes. Very impressive.

Collected Writings on Scripture

Pastor Aaron Menikoff reviews Collected Writings on Scripture by D.A. Carson.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The logistics of hell

According to Edski:

Discussion of the location of hell is not a hot topic these days. Most educated Christians have abandoned offering even the slightest defense of hell's classic locale (beneath the earth)...So it appears that after more than two thousand years, a majority of religious believers have chosen to reinterpret the Bible, in effect, to correct its authors, as well as theologians and evangelists of the past, without of course rewriting the Bible, except in their own minds.

So theologians before the advent of modern geology couldn't ask common sense questions about the logistics of hell. Let's see about that, shall we?

Here arises the question: If the fire is not to be immaterial, analogous to the pain of the soul, but material, burning by contact, so that bodies may be tormented in it, how can evil spirits be punished in it?...I would indeed say that these spirits will burn without any body of their own, as that rich man was burning in hell when he exclaimed, “I am tormented in this flame,” Luke xvi. 24. were I not aware that it is aptly said in reply, that that flame was of the same nature as the eyes he raised and fixed on Lazarus, as the tongue on which he entreated that a little cooling water might be dropped, or as the finger of Lazarus, with which he asked that this might be done,—all of which took place where souls exist without bodies. Thus, therefore, both that flame in which he burned and that drop he begged were immaterial, and resembled the visions of sleepers or persons in an ecstasy, to whom immaterial objects appear in a bodily form. For the man himself who is in such a state, though it be in spirit only, not in body, yet sees himself so like to his own body that he cannot discern any difference whatever.

Augustine, City of God

Whether the fire in which the wicked are to be tormented in soul as well as in body will be material and corporeal is controverted. The Romanists…do not hesitate to assert this…But others far more truly deny it and wish it to be explained metaphorically or allegorically…Because it is treated of the fire prepared for the Devil and his angels. And yet body cannot act upon a spirit, since it cannot act without contact wither mediate or immediate, which does not fall upon a spirit.

The various other phrases by which infernal punishments are described are to be understood not so much properly as allegorically, when they are expressed by “outer darkness,” “the worm,” “gnashing of teeth,” “chains of darkness,” “lake of brimstone,” “prison,” and “gulf,” and by other things of the same kind…For the same reason a metaphorical, not a proper fire is to be understood.

If heavenly goods are depicted under symbols of the most delightful things (which are to be understood not properly, but mystically and figuratively; as when mention is made of Abraham’s bosom, lying down in the kingdom of heaven with the patriarchs, of paradise, the tree of life, treasures, crowns and the like), why should we not think that the Holy Spirit employed equally figurative terms in the description of the opposite evils, so that the most direful torments are adumbrated by fire, which is wont to create the most intense pain?

Francis Turretin, Institutes, 3: 605-06.

Of course, the real reason that Turretin chose to “reinterpret” Biblical imagery is because he had access to 17th century 3D subsurface imaging technology. After mapping the interior of the earth, he discovered, much to his dismay, that hell was nowhere to be found in the nether regions of the earth. For his part, Augustine used P-waves and S-waves to model the interior of the earth. No fallen angels were detected!

Firelight at the end of the tunnel

Steven Nemes has been blogging on hell. I’m going to excerpt what I take to be his core arguments and comment on them:

“It seems to me problematic to suggest that any particular sin would warrant eternal punishment. This is problematic precisely because justice for that sin could never be served -- because it deserves infinite punishment, there will never be a point in time after which the offender will have paid in full for his crime; and if that is true, then there'll never be a point in time at which complete justice will be dished out. If that's true, then if people in hell deserve infinite punishment for any of their individual sins, then justice will never win out; there will never be a point at which justice defeats injustice, and good defeats sin and lawlessness once and for all.”

Several problems with this argument:

i) It turns on the commercial metaphor of the offender paying his debt. But while that’s a useful illustration of retributive justice, it’s not something we should take too literally. It’s not as if the offender has actually accrued certain numerically specifiable units of guilt which must be recompensed by commensurate units of punishment.

ii) It’s easy to dream up symmetrical penalties for certain types of offenses. Dante was good at that sort of thing.

However, other offenses resist a superficially symmetrical penalty. For instances, some things have sentimental value rather than intrinsic value. It’s a question of how much an individual values them. To it means to someone else.

Take a child’s drawing. It may not be an artistic masterpiece, but it’s precious to her mother. Or, to ratchet up the stakes, suppose the child dies of leukemia. This drawing is one of the few things the grieving mother has to remember her child by.

Objectively speaking, the drawing isn’t worth very much. It lacks aesthetic excellence. Yet the drawing is unspeakably precious to the grieving mother.

Suppose a sadistic offender, just to be mean, burns the drawing. He picks the one thing which would be most hurtful to a hurting mother.

What would be the appropriate punishment? To burn one of the offender’s childhood drawings? But his drawing hardly has the same value for him. Indeed, his drawing may be utterly worthless to him.

Or, to take another example, suppose the offender makes his living by cheating gullible seniors out of their life-savings.

What’s the appropriate punishment? A symmetrical punishment would be for the judge or victim to defraud his own parents of their life savings. But, of course, that wouldn’t be fair to his parents.

iii) We could also turn Steven Nemes' objection around. Instead of first deciding what we think the damned deserve, then meting out a suitable punishment–we could begin with the divine punishment, and take that as our cue for what the damned deserve. If the damned suffer everlasting punishment, then that of itself tells us what they deserve. That’s exactly what they had coming to them.

iv) Indeed, isn’t the unremitting duration of hell punitive in itself? The damned know, from one day to the next, that there will be no let up.

Even something that isn’t inherently unpleasant can become unbearable if that is all we’re exposed to. Indeed, even something that is normally pleasant can become unbearable if that’s all we’re exposed to.

The damned know that things will never get better. And that, itself, is punitive. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. Or if there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, that’s firelight. Hellfire!

v) Let’s also remember that we’re not speaking of justice in the abstract, as if we personified justice. As if justice were a Platonic hypostasis.

No, this has reference to wronging a person. Failing to discharge our obligations to God or man.

So justice is, in part, a question of what is just punishment in the eyes of the offended party.

“The reason is this: on a “vicious circle” view of hell, there will always be some more sin to be punished, and it seems as if the people in hell are going to be getting only more and more callous, more hardened against God, and so on. But then the display of God’s justice—the good that is brought about by it—hardly seems greater than the very unfortunate fact that there exist individuals who are forever doomed to become more and more evil, more and more disinterested in seeking their own good, etc. That state of affair’s obtaining (the latter) surely seems horrible, and it’s not obvious that the former’s obtaining outweighs its ‘badness’.”

i) The question of what’s good isn’t a simple question, for there is more than one potential party to the transaction. Good for whom? The punishment may not be good for the offender, but is the offender entitled to beneficial punishment?

ii) And even intuitively speaking, isn’t there a value in seeing the consequences of evil run their evil course?

“In my last post, I considered the suggestion that there are some states of affairs that are good, but it would be better if they never obtained; I suggested that the punishment of some evildoer was something like that: it is good that evil is punished, but it is better for there not to be a need for punishment. It also seems as if the more evil is performed, and the more need there is for justice to be shown, the less valuable on a whole the states of affairs that obtain are. If someone does what is wrong and is punished once, that is good, though it'd be better if it never happened at all; but if someone is perpetually doing what is wrong and is continually being punished, with no rehabilitation or anything of that sort, and there will always be evil committed, that state of affairs doesn’t seem valuable in the least; the continued need for a display of justice seems unfortunate rather than valuable.”

i) The question of what is “better” is not a simple question. Leibniz famously thought the principle of sufficient reason induces God to choose the best possible world. But a number of modern philosophers don’t think there is one best world to choose form. Rather, they think different good worlds encapsuate incommensurable goods.

ii) On a related note, what is better for one party may be worse for another.

iii) At a concrete level, we live in a world in which it’s easy to imagine just about anyone’s life being better in some respect or another than is currently the case. God didn’t make their life as good as he could have.

Just take our little fantasy about what we’d ask for if a genie granted us our three wishes. The hard part would be narrowing the choice down to just three wishes.

Now Nemes might say this is deceptive. Yes we can imagine many “improvements,” but these have unintended consequences. However, that consideration subtracts from his intuitive appeal.

“I don’t know about the plausibility of this. You might question whether it could be that a person could merit eternal, unending punishment for some particular sin they’ve committed; how could any finite action committed by a finite agent warrant infinite punishment?”

Since I’ve often commented on that objection, I have nothing new to say at this point.

“Of course, it may be that people in Hell will always be sinning, and hence will always have something to be punished for, and thus God’s justice will always be on display. But then I wonder whether or not this is a good thing. I could imagine an objector saying: It seems like some goods may be good, really good even, but the world would be better if they didn’t have to come about—and justice and punishment of evil seems like one of these things.”

That repeats an objection I just dealt with.

“You might even question whether or not an eternal hell constitutes some sort of defeat or failure on God’s part—assuming, of course, that hell is punishment. For if hell is eternal, and if it is eternal in virtue of the damned always having some new sin to be punished for, then it seems as justice will never be served definitively or finally—there will always be some sin to conquer, some iniquity to destroy, and there will never be a final victory of good over evil.”

That’s the classic objection of the universalist. But, of course, it only represents a defeat if God predefined the terms of victory such that this outcome undershoots the mark. But why should success be framed in those terms, anyway? Doesn’t that beg the very question at issue?

Prophetic Failure

Here's a letter (with minor edits) that I recently sent to Dale Allison.


Dear Dr. Allison,

I was reading the section of your new book Constructing Jesus on “Prophetic Failure” (144ff.). I agree with you that millenarian cults resort to stereotypical strategies to save face. However, I think your analysis glosses over a number of issues:

i) You say “millenarian movements sometimes not only survive but also thrive in the face of disconfirmed expectations” (144). That’s true, but is there a general pattern here, or does that range along a continuum?

Some millenarian cults may thrive and prosper, but others peter out after the expectations of the first generation were dashed. You have some diehards who cling to the “prophet” no matter what, but others become disenchanted and leave the movement. There may be a core group based on the “prophet’s” family (immediate or extended) and close friends or associates. That will linger on. Yet it may die out as they die off.

Likewise, don’t dashed expectations sometimes produce rival splinter groups which vie for the “true” interpretation of the “master’s” words?

ii) Don’t you need to distinguish between the original followers and later converts who are unacquainted with the failed oracles?

iii) You note that some disaffected followers leave the group while others reinterpret the failed prophecy (e.g. Millerites). But that’s not a general pattern. It doesn’t really explain anything, for that’s consistent with opposing reactions. So that looks like a disguised description rather than a genuine explanation. It doesn’t point in any particular direction. It’s equally consistent with divergent outcomes. Some stay, some leave.

iv) Apropos (iii), you say “When this revised prophecy also proved mistaken, those who struck with his [Miller’s] cause decided that Jesus had come, but it had been a spiritual coming, and it took place in heaven, not on earth. This hermeneutical maneuver did not, however, annul the expectation that Jesus will come again and that every eye will see him” (150; cf. 149n529).

But isn’t there a sense in which that sort of special pleading applies to your own analysis? You make statements like “Within religious groups, prophecy seldom fails” (149, quoting Melton). That’s a generalization. But you also introduce various caveats which combine a wide range of alternate strategies, as a result of which your analysis becomes so flexible that it can accommodate any line of evidence or counterevidence, viz. failed prophecy is reinterpreted consistent with literal and spiritual fulfillment alike. How can you chart a larger pattern when you immediately qualify the alleged pattern by so many broad exceptions? It’s hard to tell what’s general and what’s exceptional from the material you put at the disposal of the reader. Is there a discernible trend?

To take one example that springs to mind, Gary North used to have quite a following in some Reformed circles before he cried wolf regarding the Y2K bug. I don’t think he ever recovered his reputation or former following.

v) You say, “I am confirmed in this judgment because early Christians responded to prophetic delay in ways typical of other deliverance cults” (148).

a) Isn’t there an evident danger of methodological anachronism when you attempt to explain the psychology of early Christians in reference to later movements which may have been inspired by early Christians? Isn’t your procedure like using the latest iteration of some Hollywood vampire flick to get inside the mind of Bram Stoker?

b) On a related note, don’t you need to distinguish between individuals who fancy themselves to be original prophets in their own right (e.g. Savonarola, Swedenborg, Joseph Smith, Ellen. G. White) and individuals who are dating the Parousia based on their interpretation of Biblical prophecies (e.g. Bengel, Hal Lindsey, Harold Camping)? Surely the psychological dynamics are not interchangeable.

c) On another related note, to the extent that later millenarian groups view themselves as successors to the Biblical prophets, and phrase their oracles in stock, Biblical imagery, don’t we need to differentiate the psychology of a conscious imitator, which is basically a literary adaptation of a preexisting text, from the psychology of the seer or visionary who originated the text? Surely it’s a different process in each case.

vi) You cite some NT passages which you say “betray an awareness of eschatological deferral” (149n528).

However, isn’t eschatological deferral a commonplace of OT literature as well? And since the NT is a self-conscious continuation of the OT, why would we chalk this up to the non-arrival of the Parousia rather than a stock, recycled motif from the OT?

Same thing with point #7 of your analysis, where you say, “the faithful can construct a contingent eschatology, thereby placing responsibility upon insider and/or outsiders for when the end comes” (152). Once again, isn’t that already a standard OT theme? If so, why peg NT parallels to presumed disappointment regarding the non-arrival of the Parousia rather than a generic motif?

vii) On a related note, I’m not sure how you date your sources. Isn’t there a danger of circular methodology, whereby you date some books late because they contain a late eschatology, and you infer the lateness of their eschatology because you think it reflects a rearguard adaptation to eschatological failure? Yet unless you already know, on independent grounds, that the book in question is late (i.e. post-70 AD), isn’t the foundation for your conclusion chimerical?

viii) You say “in early Christian literature, the passion and resurrection of Jesus fulfill prophetic oracles, and Jesus is already enthroned as ruler at the right hand of God” (150), citing Lk 22:69, Acts 2:29-36, and 1 Cor 15:25.

But surely you’re not suggesting, are you, that this represents an alternative to belief in the visible, still future return of Christ for Paul and the author of Luke-Acts? Don’t they still believe this will happen? So that’s not a reaction to prophetic failure, is it? They don’t view the heavenly reign of Christ as a substitute for his early reign, do they?

Or are you suggesting that they are just stalling for time?

But isn’t the notion of a heavenly reign, in distinction to, but not exclusion to, an earthly reign, already entrenched in OT theology?

ix) Likewise, you say “some texts even turn the resurrection of the dead into a present, existential reality” (151), citing Eph 2:5-6, Col 2:12-13, and 2 Tim 2:18).

Again, though, are you suggesting that this was brought forward as an alternative to a future, physical resurrection of the just? And isn’t your citation of 2 Tim 2:18 misleading at best, since the author views that as false doctrine?

x) You say, “In like fashion, the New Testament preserves Jesus’ inerrancy by faulting his hearers, who failed to grasp aright his eschatological teaching” (150).

But as you know, the Gospels represent frequently Christ’s audience, including the disciples, as uncomprehending on a wide variety of issues. It’s hardly confined to eschatology. So why would you construe this subset of passages as having oblique reference to prophetic failure?

xi) You rightly point out that eschatological language can be spiritualized to rationalize failed prophecy. However, I don’t see that the mere use of spiritualized language is itself a clue to retrospective reinterpretation in light of prophetic failure.

a) As you know, the OT spiritualizes certain episodes and events when it develops a new Eden or second Exodus motif. Yet that’s not because it regards the original Eden or the original Exodus as a failed prophecy.

b) Likewise, the Psalms and the Prophets are full of figurative imagery. And they often cast their oracles in figurative imagery.

So distinguishing polemical spiritualization and conventional spiritualization is that cut-and-dried. I don’t think spiritualized language is ipso facto suspect.

c) I’d also add that a person can use good argument to prop up a bad position. For instance, guilt-by-association is frequently invalid. Yet there are instances in which it’s legitimate to judge an individual by his chosen associates (e.g. a Klansman).

The fact that spiritualization can be misused in the wrong hands doesn’t mean we should tar everyone with that odium.

xii) You apparently cite Rev 1:1-3, &c., as an example of prophetic failure. But isn’t that a good deal more complicated?

a) For one thing, not all of the events in Revelation are viewed as future events. Certainly John didn’t think everything in Rev 12 (to take one example) lay in the future. So we can’t apply the language of imminence to every recorded event.

b) As you know, John’s visions are highly symbolic. In that respect his futuristic visions are allegorical rather than photorealistic. As such, it’s not a simple thing to correlate the visionary referent with the future referent. There isn’t necessarily a one-to-one correspondence. Rather, we’re dealing with emblematic, somewhat open-textured imagery.

c) This is reinforced by the rather cyclical motion of the narrative, which often circles back to repeat itself with variations on a common theme. It doesn’t generally single out a discrete, identifiable event in the future.

Put another way, there’s a difference between an unmistakable fulfillment and the apparent absence of fulfillment, which is a good deal vaguer–don’t you think?

So I’m not clear on how, exactly, you’d go about flagging cases of prophetic failure in Revelation.

xiii) Finally, on your view, why did NT authors preserve failed prophecies? Why didn’t they either retrofit the prophecies to fit the circumstances or retrofit the circumstances to fit the prophecies?

Sorry for the long email, but your section opens up many trails.

All things to your remembrance

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you (Jn 14:26)

A presupposition of this verse is that fallible human memory is too unreliable to be a rule of faith. Only inspired memory is sufficient to play that role.

That, of itself, cuts the ground out from under the Catholic appeal to authoritative oral tradition.

Remembering and misremembering

I’ve been reading Dale Allison’s Constructing Jesus (Baker 2010). He makes some statements about memory that strike me as plainly false. Gross overstatements. For instance:

“Remembering is not like reading a book but rather like writing a book. If there are blanks, we fill them in. If the plot is thin, we fill it out. As we constantly revise our memoirs…” (2).

That’s catchy, but is it true? For instance, there are people I remember, whose names escape me. I remember the person, but not the name. I don’t subconsciously assign a name to them.

Likewise, I frequently remember the day something happened even though I don’t remember the year. My memory doesn’t subconsciously assign a calendar date to the event.

Put another way, I can remember where something happened even if I don’t remember when it happened. I remember where I was. Sometimes I could give you the time of day (morning, afternoon, evening). But I couldn’t give you the month or the year.

I have lots of partial memories. Memories with gaps. And I’m aware of the gaps. My memory doesn’t fill in the blanks. That’s despite the fact that I’d like to fill in the blanks.

“Although time’s passage may add perspective, memories are not evergreen; they become less and less distinct as the past recedes” (5).

“As our recollections become increasingly tattered and faded…” (11).

i) But is that true? One of the things that young people find tiresome about old folks is that old folks like to repeat the same childhood vignettes. We say to ourselves, “Oh dear! Not that again! How many times have I heard that story before!”

These memories have a stereotypical quality to them. That’s what makes it monotonous to hear them–time and again. Always the same story. The same dialogue. The same details.

ii) In addition, it’s sometimes possible to check our memories. For instance, I recently ran across some “historic” photos of my hometown, taken around the time I was a kid.

Much of it was the way I remembered it. I’d forgotten a few things. But I misremembered very little.

Likewise, I recently got a copy of my junior high yearbook (1974-75) from a time I attended. It was all very familiar.

There were some students I remembered from high school, but I forgot that we also attended the same junior high. However, even that’s a case of forgetting rather than misremembering. I didn’t misremember a student from junior high.

“Groups do not rehearse competing memories that fail to shore up what they hold dear. Approved remembrance lives on; unapproved remembrance expires” (7).

i) That’s largely true. However, that stands in contrast to the Bible. The Bible is notorious for recording embarrassing details that reflect badly on the community of faith.

i) Finally, the Bible is quite aware of the fact that memory is a fragile thing. That’s one reason we have a Bible. One reason prophets are commanded to record their revelations for posterity.

That’s one reason the Holy Spirit inspired the disciples–to refresh their faded memory of what was said and done (Jn 14:26).

The beloved disciple

Arminians cite passages like Mt 23:37 and Lk 19:41-42 to disprove reprobation. According to them, Christ’s desire for the salvation of the hellbound is incompatible with God having predestined any to hell.

Calvinists have two general replies:

1. Some Calvinists argue that it’s possible for God to feel more than one way about the same thing. He might think something is good (or bad) in its own right, but that comes into conflict with a larger good. All things being equal, God desires a certain outcome–but all things considered, God prefers a different outcome.

This is a complex issue which is worth exploring in its own right. But I’ll pass on that for now.

2. Calvinists also point out that these passages have reference to God Incarnate, not God discarnate. As God Incarnate, Jesus had many human feelings which you can’t automatically impute to God the Father.

Arminians tend to feign outrage at this argument, although it’s a theologically impeccable distinction.

3. However, let's play along with the Arminian inference for the sake of argument. Let’s say passages like Mt 23:37 and Lk 19:41-42 present a window into the heart of God. From an Arminian standpoint, the problem with that argument is that it cuts both ways.

Take the author of the Fourth Gospel. (Let’s call him John.) John styles himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (Jn 13:23-24; 19:25-27; 20:2). That’s striking because it sets up an implicit, but invidious contrast between the way Jesus felt about John, and the way he felt about the other disciples. Not that he didn’t love the other disciples, but that he loved John even more than he did the others.

We can only speculate on why that is, although it’s easy to come up with plausible explanations. For one thing, it’s quite possible that John was Jesus’ first cousin–assuming that Salome was Mary’s sister. Although that identification is far from secure, there’s some suggestive material which may point in that direction. Cf. J. Robinson, The Priority of John, 118ff. And Nazareth, Jesus’ boyhood home, lay within walking distance of Bethsaida, John’s boyhood home. So they may well have been childhood friends.

And even if they weren’t, Jesus and John may simply have had more personal rapport than Jesus had with his own siblings or the other disciples. That’s the nature of friendship. And John was Jesus’ best friend.

But if, a la Arminians, we treat this sort of thing as mirroring God’s attitude towards humanity, then we can rightly infer that God has favorites.

Mind you, I’m simply reasoning with the Arminian on his own terms.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Thank God for denominations

One of the standard Catholic objections to Protestantism is the proliferation of denominations. Ironically, enemies of Christianity like Bart Ehrman raise the opposite objection: they allege that the early church suppressed dissent.

This unwittingly draws attention to one of the unappreciated values of sects, schisms, denominations, and even cults. In a theological controversy, you usually have winners and losers. However, this doesn’t mean the losers surrender to the winners, or ride quietly into the sunset.

Quite often, the losers simply break with the establishment and form their own associations. Rival factions. Even if they eventually die out, they generally leave some trace evidence of their passing. Church history is layered with fossils from extinct religious parties.

And one of the fringe benefits of this phenomenon is that it makes it far harder to for massive conspiracy theories like Bart Ehrman’s version of church history to gain traction. The winners have no monopoly on writing or rewriting church history. They can’t erase the record of past dissent.

If, however, Catholics had their way, that would play right into the worst suspicions of the conspiracy theorist. The official version would be the only version. There’d be nothing else to compare it to. You’d have to exercise blind faith in the official, expurgated version of events.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Ne'er shaw yir teeth unless ye can bite!”

i) For a couple of reasons, this will probably be my final reply to Ben. For one thing, he’s a one-trick pony with a busted leg. His objection to Christianity always circles back to the oft-refuted OTF. It’s an exercise in diminishing returns for me to keeping responding to the same lame argument.

ii) In addition, he intercalates newer responses within older responses. It’s not worth my while to pick out newer responses embedded in the older responses.

iii) I’d also like to make a general point before delving in. Ben keeps acting as if my critique of TCD is inadequate because I responded to TCD on its own terms. He faults me because I didn’t respond to objections which the contributors never made. Because I didn’t make a positive case, over and above what was necessary to rebut TCD.

But his complaint is plainly illogical. I can’t miss a target I didn’t aim for in the first place. That’s not a failure on my part. And there’s no reason I should make their arguments for them, then refute the arguments I put in their mouth.

If there’s some adequacy afoot, that’s the inadequacy of TCD, and not the inadequacy of my response. They need to pull their own load.

But Hays wants to drag us back into the gutter still! He says:

Needless to say, the goal of TCD is clearly to knock down the Christian faith. His chapter on the OTF plays a strategic role in his effort to achieve that goal.

Ben then says:

Duh! Loftus' mission in life is well known.

So Ben backhandedly admits that I was right. Yet somehow it’s dragging us back into the “gutter” to correct Loftus’ disingenuous disclaimer.

However the OTF can't respectably do the job unless it is first and foremost a fair standard. Conflating the fairness of the standard, the application of the standard, and Loftus' motives doesn't get us anywhere with the OTF. Yet the Triabloggers seem desperate to do that (rather than just move on to application mode).

There’s nothing desperate about challenging Loftus when he makes a false statement. That’s called answering your opponent. I’m not responsible for the many deficiencies of John Loftus and his cohorts. If that’s a problem, that’s a problem for Ben, not for me.

Hence Hays complains:

No, the goal is to reduce Christianity to a mere hypothesis.

To which Ben replies:

Aww...the bride of Christ's husband is reduced to mere bachelor status...and that just doesn't feel right, does it, Steve? [*eyeroll*] Down with objectivity, I say!

Needless to say, that doesn’t even attempt to be responsive to what I actually said. And that’s another reason why there’s no point in my continuing to engage him.

Hays says:

[Loftus is] not exactly an impartial judge or umpire.

To which Ben replies:

And Steve Hays is?

Once again, Ben can never figure out what it means to answer an opponent on his own grounds. Whether or not I’m an impartial judge is a red herring. The question at issue is how Loftus chose to frame the argument. Loftus poses as the umpire, with the OTF.

Isn't anyone even trying to have a conversation here?

Ben is the one who refuses to stick with the actual state of the argument.

Just because some aspects are asymmetrical doesn't mean all of them are. Duh. Loftus appeals to a point of more substance, since if demons inspired Christianity or Islam, then they can make up any further "tests" or asymmetries that they like which will be superfluous.

No, that’s not how Loftus framed the argument. Loftus said: “Muslims claim the same exact thing. They say the reason Christians believe is because demons are deceiving them.

Muslims are in no position to say that, for that would be self-refuting. The Koran claims to be a confirmation of Biblical revelation. If, however, Christians are demonically inspired rather than divinely inspired, then that undercuts the ostensible foundation for the Koran.

Ben can’t stand it when I hold Loftus to his own words. He always wants to change the subject.

The natural world (or creation, as Christians would refer to it) is common ground. Miracles, gods, angels, demons, and other supernatural phenomena are not common ground.

Two basic problems:

i) From a Christian standpoint, the only categorical, metaphysical distinction lies between the Creator and the creature. In that respect, angels and demons belong to the natural world. All creatures belong to the natural world.

ii) An atheist has no right to unilaterally dictate common ground. Common ground appeals need to be justified, not unilaterally postulated–especially when the boundaries are drawn at the very point in dispute.

Christians have to admit that genuine sightings of these beings are at the very least exceptionally rare.

Rarity is irrelevant to whether or not something is natural or supernatural. Are four-leaf clovers supernatural?

They also have to admit that naturalistic explanations do work a whole lot more of the time than supernatural ones.

More problems:

i) From a Christian standpoint, natural forces and natural mechanisms are contingent on God’s creative fiat of the natural world, with its internal causality. So that’s not an alternative to divine agency.

You might as well say the cue ball does more work than the pool player.

ii) I have no way to quantify the percentiles. As I pointed out in a recent discussion with somebody else, if answered prayer is a factor in historical causation, the effect of answered prayer would be indetectible further down the line. Same thing with coincidence miracles (e.g. miracles of timing). Except for observers close enough to the situation to rightly attribute the outcome to prayer or special providence, such miraculous factors can’t be ruled in or ruled out by distant third-parties.

That establishes a probability spectrum and hence is prescriptive with the input of a very few common ground facts.

i) ”Probability” is bound up with the presumptive uniformity of nature and the problem of induction. How does Ben get started?

ii) There is more than one type of probability. There is psychological probability as well as physical probability–such as the psychological probability (or not) that all Christians who ever said they witnessed a miracle are delusional.

Hence, not only does methodological naturalism more properly represent an agnostic research program, it also represents the most responsible way to establish supernatural facts by eliminating the more probable naturalistic alternatives.

The most responsible way to establish if something happens (e.g. miracles) is to wait and see if it happens, not to lay down man-made rules that prescribe in advance of the fact what can or can’t happen.

This is especially pertinent since there are many competing supernatural worldviews and a wide spectrum of disagreement even in the conservative Christian worldview.

There are many competing natural worldviews.

Naturalistic explanations would need to be eliminated first…

No. We need to go with the best explanation in any given case, given the available evidence.

Ben quotes me saying:

I find it more than plausible that a man who was dabbling in the occult (Taoism) would leave himself wide open to the demonic—especially in the case of an apostate like [Richard] Carrier. Those that pray to false gods become the devil’s prey.

To which he replies:

*shrug* It's not like Hays isn't known for the accusation (or the overt suggestion, in the case of Carrier).

Since Carrier is one of Ben’s “heroes” (along with other luminaries like Barack Obama, Jon Stewart, Al Franken, Anthony Weiner), I understand why his feelings are hurt when I slight his idol. However, I simply drew an inference from autobiographical material which Carrier publicly volunteered about himself. Since Taoism is an occultic tradition, and Carrier also admits to having undergone an episode of Old-Hag syndrome as a practicing Taoist, there’s nothing untoward about my suggestion.

I think this is the "everyone is doing it" fallacy of justification. Some of us actually do make every effort to apply the OTB (and other relevant standards) to every contentious issue that we have time to think about and research.

Ben doesn’t apply the Outsider Test of Belief to methodological atheism. Rather, that’s his unquestionable axiom.

Is Hays really going to waste so much time and effort writing lengthy responses (and presumably spending the time to think about why he doesn't have to think about it) and disown a critical check on his most important beliefs because of just one other man's supposed inconsistency (that Hays never bothered to demonstrate, btw).

i) Pointing out inconsistencies in your opponent’s argument is a basic element of refutation.

ii) I did demonstrate the inconsistency.

iii) I reject methodological atheism as a “critical check” because methodological atheism is tendentious–for reasons I’ve often stated.

Should McGrath be taking sides with the writers of the Bible or should he be taking sides with modern humanity who has to investigate a world of conflicting claims as responsible epistemologists? Does Steve Hays take sides with Muhammad? Joseph Smith? What if we applied every defensive apologetic gimmick to every other fantastic story and religion in history? Where would that leave us?

i) If methodological atheism represents an outsider perspective in relation to Islam or Mormonism, then Islam or Mormonism represent an outsider perspective in relation to McGrath. So, yes, if you’re sincere about assuming an “outsider’s viewpoint, then that cuts both ways.

ii) To ask if I side with Muhammad or Joseph Smith is stupid since I’m not the one who’s touting the OTF.

I’m just applying the outsider rubric consistently, unlike Loftus, to answer Loftus on his own term. But Ben is too dim to ever figure out the nature of a tu quoque argument.

iii) Moreover, Ben’s objection isn’t even responsive to what I actually said. I was explicitly referring to McGrath’s adoption of methodological historiography. I’ve debated that with McGrath on my own blog.

Methodological atheism hardly represents the golden rule, for it lacks the essential reciprocity of the golden rule. Although atheists wish to be treated as atheists, theists don’t wish to be treated as atheists.

All Hays has done has inverted the OTF so that he doesn't have to pass it.

Because I don’t have to. I’m not a signatory to that charade. Loftus has no right to impose on me a test I’m supposed to pass.

If Hays thinks he can show that methodological naturalism is irresponsible (because of all the magic in the world skeptics are ignoring), then please, hop to it.

An illustration of Ben’s perennial ignorance–as if I hadn’t given my reasons on multiple occasions.

And how do we sort out substantive and contentious claims about the actual state of the evidence? Hays calls Loftus and me cheaters, but it's pretty clear who is doing the epistemic cheating.

To the contrary, methodological naturalism is only justified if metaphysical naturalism is justified. A mere methodology is not entitled to make substantive prejudgments about can happen or can’t happen or what is likely or unlikely to happen. Those are metaphysical claims.

On the contrary, hypocrisy is a word that is associated with a pattern of behavior. That association maps onto that behavior regardless of whether or not there is anything "wrong" with hypocrisy apart from the Christian worldview. This can then channel into an internal critique of Hays' Christian worldview and would result in the conclusion that one has to be a hypocrite in order to be a Christian like Hays. Obviously that would be an unlivable Christian lifestyle, since you'd necessarily be a fake Christian.

As usual, Ben still misses the conundrum of the consistent atheist. Yes, hypocrisy is wrong given Christianity. But by the same token, Christian faith can’t be inherently hypocritical, for (ad arguendo), it’s only within the Christian framework that hypocrisy is wrong. Therefore, one could never mount an internal critique of Christianity on the grounds of hypocrisy, since such a critique must simultaneously affirm and deny the Christian grounding of the vice. To cease to be a Christian because Christianity is inherently hypocritical is to move outside the framework wherein hypocrisy had moral significance.

I never said I knew they did. I'm defending the premise of Loftus' OTF that they probably did. There are plenty of intellectual Christians that will complain about the vast intellectual lethargy in their ranks and everyone knows most people don't think things through or develop a rigorously justified worldview. It's an open door that Hays simply refuses to walk through.

i) It’s true that I don’t walk through every door someone opens–especially when the porter doesn’t have my best interests at heart. Some open doors lead into torture chambers. Some open doors lead into thin air. There’s something to be said for knowing what’s on the other side of the door before you step through the door.

ii) One doesn’t need to have a rigorously justified worldview to have justified beliefs. A child can have a natural fear of heights. He’s in no position to explain why falling from a height is dangerous, yet his instinctual fear is amply warranted. A child may instinctively fear a snarling dog. Even though he can’t rigorously justify his fear, his fear is well-grounded.

I can recognize my father’s handwriting even though I’m not a handwriting expert. I can recognize a friend’s voice on the phone even thought I don’t have voice recognition technology to prove it.

And where did Hays demonstrate that his divine source of information is legitimate?

I’ve been defending the Bible for years on end. Check the archives.

I know I don't know that God exists and Hays claims his divine source says otherwise. Case closed.

Really? Somehow I don’t think that’s the standard homicide detectives apply in a murder investigation. If the suspect denies the crime, does that mean the case is closed? Both the innocent and the guilty routinely deny their guilt. So that’s neither here nor there.

At the very least (if Hays misspoke) it does imply that everyone is in a position to know theism is true and I know I'm not in that position and I don't know of anyone who is. Further, the behavior of most other nonbelievers (and even many believers) is most explicable given the explanation that they have not been given a jump start in the theological knowledge department if theists like Hays would ever bother to try out the hypothesis. It would be extremely difficult if not impossible for a nonbeliever to live like a nonbeliever if they really did have no excuse in regards to knowing that God exists and that they are morally accountable to him (and Hays even seems to agree this state of affairs would gnaw away at them) as the apostle Paul claims at the beginning of Romans.

i) It’s a commonplace of human experience to see people who live in denial. Indeed, Ben’s response is counterproductive, for that’s exactly what the contributors to TCD say about Christians. We are delusional. We persist in our faith despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. That’s the allegation. If Ben now rejects that type of argument, then he has burned a key plank of TCD.

ii) Unbelievers act just like the Bible predicts. They behve like rebels. They try hard to silence their guilty conscience. And they create like-minded communities that mtually vouch for each other’s alibi.

Take contributors to TCD like Loftus, Ellis, and Avalos. Although they deny moral realism, they exert tremendous time and effort in trying to make everyone agree with them. But if you’re a moral relativist, why does it mean so much to you to disprove Christianity?

The obvious reason for their inconsistency is that, deep down, they are trying to evade an unwelcome truth.

This also does not explain the behaviors of believers who have genuine fundamental epistemological struggles with their faith, even though they have every reason to simply know the obvious as we are told they should know.

Natural revelation doesn’t have to explain that. Our fallen condition explains that.

I don't suddenly confuse myself into not knowing my car exists or that my family and friends exist. But apparently people can do that with God.

That’s a poor analogy. God is not a visible, tangible object–like a sports car.

A better analogy would be something like the past. You can’t see the past or touch the past. All you have are traces of the past. But we don’t ordinarily doubt the past on that account–even though, by Ben’s criterion, we ought to.

On any other topic with a similar level of "confusion" these people would be considered insane.

Unbelievers often act crazy. Take the antinatalist movement.

The ‘revelation’ part is an interpretation based on concluding the arguments from natural theology actually work.

To the contrary, it may be a subliminal inference. The inference can also be formalized. But that’s a separate step.

Every Christian has their own spin on things and I'm not psychic.

But that’s the point. The contributors to TCD are in no position to apply a cookie-cutter to the faith of each and every Christian.

Different Christians can have different reasons for why they believe, and they can also be justified in what they believe for different reasons. We don’t need formal arguments to justify our faith–any more than we need formal arguments to justify many of our instinctual or empirical beliefs–most of which are either innate or formed by a subliminal process.

In offensive apologetics, Christian philosophers and scholars make an effort to unpack some of the evidence, and marshal arguments. But that’s not a prerequisite for knowing something. Rather, that’s a type of second-order knowledge.

Why does Hays assume I'm not reading that book?

I didn’t. And if he’s read the book, then he can answer his own question.

It really doesn't matter how Hays cuts the cake here.

It matters when Ben doesn’t know enough to correctly state the opposing view.

I don't see how asking a person to be consistent with their standards is playing with "loaded dice."

Consistent with whose standards? Methodological atheism is not my standard.

I don't see how it is a "juvenile dare" to demand arguments that actually surpass the explanatory power of contrary arguments in a contentious context. And I don't see how "caving in" to intellectual integrity is "weak." Quite the contrary. If we have to "go there" it is emotionally weak to not be able to challenge your most fundamental beliefs.

Which is just his question-begging way of rephrasing the issue.

Further, making an argument like Hays' "atheism would make me sad" is in the same genre of emotional weakness, imo.

Which wasn’t my argument. That is Ben’s substitute for my actual argument. I presented a twofold argument:

i) If atheism is true, then it makes no ultimate difference who believes what.

ii) If atheism is true, then we have no epistemic duties.

If Ben is too slow on the uptake to follow a fairly straightforward argument, then he needs to find a new hobby–like collecting bottle caps.

I also don't see what any of this has to do with my approval.

When someone like Ben invokes the rhetoric ruse of shaming his opponent into agreeing with him, it takes for granted that we should value his opinion of how wonderful or terrible we are.

He can pretend not to care about that, but he is responding to my arguments as though it matters.

Responding to Ben’s arguments (such as they are) is quite different from seeking his esteem.

Hays can stop making this personal any time he wants to.

Ben can stop making this personal by dropping the rhetorical ploy of shaming his opponent.

Being defensive in this context just means that Hays and company are backing up to the wall and complaining that perhaps elements of the OTF do not apply to them.

To the contrary, it means holding the contributors to TCD to the their very own words. The question is whether Loftus et al. can pass their own test by meeting the terms of their argument.

What they don't appear to appreciate is that in light of the actual nature of the OTF, that actually puts them in a position to pass the OTF if that defensive position is legitimate.

Putting me in a position to pass a bogus test is a harlequinade I can do without.

I would then proceed to use Loftus' several examples (that he unfortunately does not spend enough time elaborating on himself) to one up Loftus…

I agree with Ben that it’s easy to one up Loftus. And I agree with Ben that Loftus failed to discharge the burden of proof which he assigned himself.

Needless to say, to refute TCD, all I need to do is refute TCD. I don’t need to refute Ben’s promissory improvement on TCD.

… and demonstrate how in fact the correct way for an intellectually respectable Christian to not assert the conclusion or resort to special pleading. I would also point to any literature elaborating on the evidence and best arguments for those claims. That is the appropriate respectable form of response to Loftus' chapter from an intellectual Christian point of view. It is not the nitpickstravaganza that we got from Hays and Manata that merely exposes how willing they are to avoid taking their religious convictions to a sufficient level of critical scrutiny and many, many other intellectual blunders typical of their brand of thinking (as I've rigorously shown here in my review of everything they said).

i) What’s special pleading is for Loftus et al. to deny moral realism, then turn around and act as if Christians have a moral obligation to renounce their faith and embrace atheism. It’s highly appropriate to point out a fundamental contradiction in their argument.

ii) I’m not going to let the contributors to TCD off the hook. They are in a quandary of their own devising. There’s no reason to move on when their vehicle has square wheels.

Constructing an argument that ideally should convince a hypothetical unbeliever to become a believer and demonstrating that actual Christians are not delusional has considerable (if not complete) overlap.

The contributors to TCD determined the conditions under which TCD succeeds or fails by how they chose to cast the argument. Why should I judge them by a higher standard? Just look at where Michael Martin set the bar:

John Loftus and his distinguished colleagues have certainly produced one of the best and arguably the best critique of the Christian faith the world has ever known. Using sociological, biblical, scientific, historical, philosophical, theological and ethical criticisms, this book completely destroys Christianity. All but the most fanatical believers who read it should be moved to have profound doubt.

So the contributors to TID rose to the challenge.

Hays demonstrates that when it comes to evaluating the legitimacy of religious experiences, he takes them as a given and does not even appear to comprehend scrutiny of them.

No, I never legitimated religious experience in general. That is more of Ben’s sloppy reading comprehension.

Hence, the argument from his religious experiences (assuming he's even had any) does not suffice, since he has not demonstrated a reasonable degree of competency in evaluating some very mundane relevant things here [see the section on evaluating prophetic dreams below].

Why does Ben assume that predictive dreams must be intrinsically religious?

Because of that thing known as a "dumb luck."

Whether or not an ostensibly predictive dream is dumb luck depends on how close and "naturally" inexplicable the parallels are. Some things are too coincidental to be coincidental. So that depends on the details of the dream, as well as the details of the extramental event to which it ostensibly refers.

No...just believing it because it vaguely worked out once or twice is what is arbitrary.

But that isn’t what Ben originally said. He said “Years ago I actually had a couple dreams that seemed to correspond to the events of the following day.

Now he’s suggesting they were “vague.”

That's an unverifiable story in an ancient book.

As usual, Ben misses the point. I didn’t cite Joseph’s dream as a truly prophetic dream. I, of course, regard his dream as a truly prophetic dream, but that’s not the context in which I mentioned it.

Rather, I cited it as an example of an allegorical rather than rigorous presentiment of the future. But even though the imagery is allegorical, it’s not hard to discern the terms of fulfillment–assuming (ad arguendo) that Joseph really dreamt it.

Even if based on some real history, we can't be sure that Joseph didn't get the interpretations of many other dreams wrong and that the Bible only records his success stories.

That doesn’t explain the success stories. There’s a reason that fanatical unbelievers like Dawkins are so adamantly opposed to the very possibility of precognition. They realize what a threat that would pose to their scientific paradigm. So they can’t allow any success stories.

We could subject a modern interpreter to the same tests of rigor I've advocated for more straight forward supposedly prophetic dreams.

Ben doesn’t say what that amounts to. One obvious way to test a predictive dream is for the dreamer to tell one or more people about the dream before the event transpires. But that test doesn’t turn on a distinguishing between modernity and antiquity.

I don't know why we are arguing over just what kind of dream it has to be or whether or not there is a middle man interpreter in the scenario. Hays just won't cut the crap. That's on him. If Hays really wants to fight over this, that's a little crazy, like he's never just plain asked himself an honest question about anything: "How do I know this is actually true?"

One of Ben’s revealing habits is getting ticked off when a Christian apologists holds an atheist to the terms of his own argument. But Ben was the one who introduced the qualification of rigor: rigorous correspondence.

I’m just answering him on his own grounds. He likes to bandy words about “honesty” and “intellectual integrity,” but it’s a mark of his dishonesty that when I beat him at his own game, or John Loftus, he wants to change the rules.

The analogy of dreams is a case in point. Obviously our brains are capable of creating all sorts of experiences that have nothing to do with the rest of reality. Why are theists like Hays so trusting of whatever mental experiences they believe correlate with a real God entity?

Which, once again, is Ben’s polemical substitution for what I really wrote.

And it’s also ironic that Ben is so fond of throwing the “solipsistic” epithet around. For if you’re so distrusting of whether mental experiences map onto extramental realities, then that’s a recipe for solipsism.

It’s not as if Ben can step outside of his mental experience and compare the real world with his mental experience. If he thinks our brains are that unreliable, then he’s in quite a pickle.

We're just on the topic of experiences and so that was what was emphasized. There is also mental architecture in the brain that is already processing experiences through the filters of coherency and relevancy, etc. We can then take those basic mental facets and tune them up even more, pool our resources, and engage in the project of accountable collectivistic science to do even better than evolution ever "imagined."

Ben acts as if he can bypass mental experience by appealing directly to the physical structure of the brain. But that’s an illusion. For what we think we know about the brain boils down to our mental experience of brains. We use brains to study brains.

Ben keeps reminding the reader of his philosophical naïveté. Like the average rationalist, his intellectual rhetoric overshoots his intellectual performance.

Having "an" explanation does not mean it is the best explanation. Hays actually needs to provide an argument that God's communication skills don't suck when the evidence of the world at face value clearly strongly implies that they would (if in fact God existed).

That begs the question of whether divine communication was ever meant to foster unanimity. But that’s certainly not how divine communication is presented in Scripture. The intent of divine revelation is divisive as well as unitive.

Loftus and company are referring to official cases of "apparent" barbarism and superstition that the Bible endorses in addition to pointing out how the Bible let's us know about similar barbarism and superstitions in the surrounding culture. That was obvious. Hays is avoiding the issue.

Ben keeps raising these empty-headed objections as if I hadn’t ever dealt with that objection before. Not only do I address cases of “official” barbarism and superstition in Scripture in the course of my response to TCD, but I’ve also been doing that for years at Triablogue.

For Ben to say I’m “avoiding” the issue when I’ve confronted the issue head-on multiple times just makes Ben look like a lazy, willful ignoramus.

The difference in relevancy here is nonexistent. Any Christian has to take responsibility for any and all official superstitions and barbarisms advocated in Scripture in order to have a coherent moral paradigm. Again, Hays is avoiding the issue and not taking responsibility for his faith in Scripture.

i) Notice the loaded terminology.

ii) And, of course, I’ve been over that ground many a time.

Loftus inserts a footnote in Eller's chapter that points to moral realist positions that Hays does not address.

I address that on 92 and 163n100 of TID. Yet another reminder that literacy isn’t Ben’s strong suit.

I am not a moral relativist.

Which simply means that Ben is not a consistent atheist. Ben isn't exactly the standard-bearer. But a number of prominent secular thinkers have presented persuasive arguments to show the incompatibility of atheism with moral realism.

Regardless, even moral relativists can show the internal incoherency of other moral belief systems as Richard Carrier has pointed out.

I already dealt with that objection in a subsequent response to Avalos:

As usual, Ben is way behind the curve.

Loftus said:

"Just think how it would sound to evangelical Christians if Mormons claimed their faith was 'properly basic,' or that the inner witness of the Spirit self-authenticates their faith" (87).

To which I replied:

For all I know, Plantinga might concede that Mormon faith is properly basic. Proper basically simply means a belief enjoys prima facie warrant. It doesn't mean the belief in question is either true or unfalsifiable.

The Ben says:

It is certainly warranted to consider what your faith related feelings mean, but in practice religious people do use them as defeaters for contrary evidence and difficult issues. So no matter how much lip service a religious person may pay to technicalities, the ball of subjective probability is already rolling in their minds in favor of their religious convictions.

i) Yet another example, as if it’s needed, of Ben’s chronic reading incomprehension. I didn’t indicate that I was endorsing Plantinga’s category, much less applying that to Mormonism. I simply noted that Loftus acts as though Mormonism is a counterexample to Plantinga’s category, whereas I have no reason to think Plantinga would take exception to that.

ii) Speaking for myself, I happen to agree with Plantinga’s general category. However, I wouldn’t apply proper basicality to Mormonism. Mormons do not enjoy prima facie justification for their faith.

And rather than taking all the easily verifiable earthly evidence at face value and coming to the best straight forward conclusion (that religious people are merely rationalizing their subjective investment in their particular brand of religion), they grant the things unseen way too much credit.

Unseen things like human minds. Or the past. Or possible worlds. Or numbers. Or morals.

No, Loftus is saying the same thing I am.

And two wrongs don’t make a right.

He agrees they probably had their subjective experiences. And he also agrees that they fail to take their arguments based on those experiences to a sufficient degree of critical justification. Hays refuses to step up to where the argument actually is. Hays isn't saying anything that helpful here. Loftus' basic point remains that Christians should just as readily dismiss their own subjective feelings as compelling evidence since it is obviously so ubiquitous to many conflicting religious positions.

i) The question at issue wasn’t subjective experiences in general, but self-authenticating experiences in particular. That’s the context.

ii) In addition, the adjective is superfluous. By definition, every experience is subjective. To experience something requires a conscious, individual percipient.

There’s a distinction between a purely mental experience and a mental experience of an extramental object. But the later is mentally apprehended.

There is more than one level to this argument since not only do religious people not subject their experiences to enough scrutiny to sort out the supernatural world, but in addition, they don't sufficiently subject their interpretation of their subjective experiences to the competing naturalistic hypothesis which says it's probably all in their heads (or that at least we don't know that it isn't just all in their heads).

An all-too-typical instance of the type of overstatement which passes for “rigor” in village atheism. Yet you clearly can’t say that about religious people, per se. For instance, that’s not something you can say about Christian philosophers or philosophical theologians.

This is a red herring on Hays' part since obviously we're only referring to the religions and the sects of various religions who do actually appeal to the argument from experiences. Again, Hays isn't saying anything helpful.

Well, to say Islam is a red herring cuts a very big piece of territory from the religious map.

Confronting others challenges our untested assumptions. Religious people apparently need their assumptions to remain untested, because their God apparently has only provided them subjective means of persuasion.

Once again, that’s not an intellectually earnest claim. It is clearly false to make that claim about religious people in general. They range along a continuum.

But Ben can’t afford to concede that, for the same reason the contributors can’t afford to concede that, since their objective is to discredit religion in toto.

That's not responding to TCD on its own terms. Loftus would agree that subjective experiences can be a valid reason to believe something and was never advocating automatically doubting every memory (any more than I was). In context, the argument is still on the table and unaddressed that religious people who make an appeal to their subjective religious experiences are not providing a verifiable means of telling that it's not all in their heads, or that their version (if it has mutually exclusive contents against other religions) is more legitimate.

I remember things my grandmother said and did when she was alive. Many of those things are unverifiable. Private conversations. Things the two of us did. Should I doubt every memory that I can’t independently corroborate? But that’s plainly unreasonable. The average atheist doesn’t live that way. And he couldn’t if he tried.

The religious epistemology is failing at more than one level. Hays still isn't saying anything to salvage that situation and isn't taking responsibility for the part of the debate that is not common ground.

What does it mean to “take responsibility” for something that’s not common ground? When I was a boy, I had a dog. We’d sometimes go for walks. I’d walk through the woods to park nearby. Usually it was just the two of us. There were no eyewitnesses. No security cameras. So the walks with my dog weren’t “common ground.”

Should I therefore “take responsibility” for the non-common ground of walking my dog by myself? Should I subject my remembered walks to competing hypotheses? Maybe I hallucinated taking my dog for a walk? Maybe that’s an alien simulation.

Hays is too eager to jump on his "Ben is naive" narrative and simply has misread my response. I've added the word "different" to be more clear in the sentence above that Hays is responding to. The issue on the table was always the interpretations of the "self-authenticating" experiences and Hays still fails to say anything helpful to distinguish what the proper interpretation is.

He rewrites what he said, then blames me because I didn’t respond to his backdated revision.

All self-authenticating religious experiences (and non-religious self-authenticating delusions) could easily correlate to no genuine spiritual reality and we have no way to verify any differently. Hays' job would be to show that we do have a way. He consistently refuses to do that.

As usual, Ben doesn’t know what he’s talking about. A “self-authenticating delusion” is oxymoronic. By definition, a self-authenticating experience is a veridical experience. By the same token, you can’t have two or more veridical experiences which contradict each other.

If I feel pain, that’s a self-authenticating experience. If you feel pain, that can't conflict with my experience.

Hays is taking us in circles.

That’s because Ben’s evasive maneuvers are circular. I follow the spinning target.

The original issue was that atheism couldn't justify the value of epistemic duties. Hays attempted to show this by saying he'd be too sad to take truth seriously if atheism were true.

That’s a demonstrable misrepresentation of what I said. Is Ben just playing dumb, or is he really that thick?

Nevermind that Hays did actually appeal to being a proverbial cry-baby in order to dismiss atheism and continues to do so. If Hays feels "bullied" by me turning the force of his subjective appeal around on him, again, that's his problem. Grow up.

i) To begin with, the fact that someone acts like a verbal bully doesn’t mean his readers “feel” bullied. If Ben isn’t smart enough to know the difference, then he should avoid venues that expose his intellectual deficiencies.

ii) It’s also amusing to see a twenty-something whose favorite TV shows include Superman and Batman tell someone else it’s time to “grow up.”

iii) The fact is, moreover, that a twenty-something hasn’t “grown up.” Growing up encompasses the entire lifecycle. Ben lacks the life-experience to know what it’s like to suffer certain losses.

iv) Finally, when I point out that he resorts to the rhetoric of shame, he responds to me by resorting to the rhetoric of shame! Needless to say, that’s not an intellectual response. It’s just emotive, tuff-guy bloviating.

Round and round we go. Hypothetically being "able" to ground epistemic duties is not the same thing as actually grounding epistemic duties.

If you want concrete examples, Robert Adams has written two monographs on the subject: Finite and Infinite Goods: A Framework for Ethics and A Theory of Virtue: Excellence in Being for the Good.

Moving along:

Considering Christianity would mean taking seriously that we don't know the Christian basis is correct.

Nice job of begging a key question.

Hence, Hays has not pulled out of his own Christian dilemma nor established that atheists have no motivation to tend to epistemic duties. If we are that "mythical" agnostic (if you ask Hays) who is searching for the correct worldview, obviously we already have the motivation to tend to our epistemic duties.

Notice the bait-and-switch. To say some atheists are “motivated” to take epistemic duties seriously doesn’t mean they have a principled motivation. People can be motivated in very unscrupulous ways for whatevever they do.

So why are all atheists not gratuitously suffering?

Because they blink. They live a lie. They distract themselves.

Ultimately life may be meaningless, but that doesn't have to cancel out a meaningful life in the meantime before you die.

Sure, you can turn life into a game of croquette. Invent artificial rules. Erect artificial obstacles. Dictate artificial goals. Award artificial prizes. Then you die, and the next generation fills the time playing croquette.

I expect to be able to rigorously show that Hays is incorrect for everyone else to see and to provide leverage in the debate which often resembles a game of whack a mole.

Ben has rigorously shown his lack of rigor. But for the sake of argument, suppose our debate resembles a game of whack a mole. Playing whack a mole is how we give meaning to our meaningless lives.

Hays continues to assume some absolute status of "social conditioning" that I never argued as though he is talking to Loftus, David Eller, and Jason Long. There is some overstated rhetoric on the issue in TCD, which I have blasted in this very post.

Notice how often Ben faults TID, not because it failed to rebut the TCD, but because it succeeded in rebutting the TCD!

Loftus did not call each and every Christian "psychotic." In fact he went out of his way to say the opposite in TCD.

TCD alleges that Christian faith is delusional. That attributes a psychotic state to Christians. And TCD makes no exceptions. Takes no prisoners.

Admittedly, one of the basic problems with TCD is its failure to define a “delusion.” Let’s rectify that strategic omission:

“A delusion is a fixed, idiosyncratic belief, unusual in the culture to which the person belongs. Unlike normal beliefs, which are subject to amendment or correction, a delusion is held to, despite evidence or arguments brought against it. Delusions are usually taken to indicate mental illness, but something akin to them is occasionally to be observed, at a meeting of scientists, for instance, when a person insists on the correctness of an idea he overvalues, and denies any significance to evidence appearing to refute it. There is a difference: usually he gets angry, whereas in mental illness the patient’s emotional response when a delusion is challenged tends to be bland or otherwise inappropriate,” The Oxford Companion to the Mind, 184.

(BTW, notice how this standard definition directly contravenes a central plank of TCD. Christian faith can’t simultaneously be culturally conditioned and countercultural. It can’t be both abnormal and culturally inherited.)

i) It’s not enough for contributors to TCD to say Christians are mistaken. They don’t content themselves with documenting the allegedly objective errors of the Christian faith. No, Christians aren’t merely wrong. There is something wrong with Christians. It’s not just that their beliefs are wrong. There’s something deeply defective with the very way they think–or refuse to think.

ii) Now perhaps we could chalk up the “delusional” meme to polemical overkill. A way to sell books. Rally the base.

However, unless and until the contributors are prepared to retract the “delusional” meme, there’s no reason I should gloss over their emphatic charge and give them a pass. This is not an incidental feature of TCD. Rather, that’s a core allegation.

iii) And there’s no prima facie presumption that my Christian faith flies in the face of the evidence when I have subjected the TCD to a sustained reply–not only in TID, but in many follow-up replies.

Hays does not owe anyone a spiritual biography unless he actually wants us to take his worldview seriously or give other Christians the defenses they need to confront the nonbelieving world. F: On Christian terms (1 Peter 3:15), it would seem Hays is basically obligated to do this.

Ben acts like a Borg baby that just popped out of the incubation chamber. I’ve been prolifically defending the faith since 2004. Where has he been?

When Hays meets someone with different natural intuitions and inferences he apparently has no argument.

I don’t take it to the next level when I’m responding to TCD on its own level. I’m not going to give the contributors an easy out. If they wish to retreat, they must do so in plain view. Not under cover of darkness.

All kidding aside, I've agreed in other parts of my review of TCD that there are aspects of it that aim low (even though there are other chapters in the anthology that aim appropriately higher). I don't consider that an excuse to do the same in my own review, and I even allienated Loftus in the process.

Of course a refutation is aimed at the same level as the target. What do you expect?

Reading Ben, I’m reminded of what my Scottish forebears used to say: “Ne'er shaw yir teeth unless ye can bite!”