Saturday, January 29, 2011

Reality check at the LHC

Soul Train's a-Comin'

Paul Manata plugs a new book on dualism:

Darwinian Intelligence

Suppose you came upon a man lying in a snowdrift, unmoving. You tap the man on the shoulder and he’s stiff as a board. You roll him over and see the snow beneath his body is stained red, and there’s a large cut in the man’s coat around the area of his heart. You unzip the coat, remove his shirt, and see that the cut extends into the man’s body in a thin line that goes between his ribs above his heart.

As you examine the scene further, you notice there are two pairs of footprints leading up to the area of the snowdrift, then what looks like a bunch of hectic overlapping footprints, and finally one set that staggers off to the drift, and another that look like someone ran off in the other direction. In that area, you also see several drops of blood.

Given this evidence, you conclude, “Some kind of non-intelligent forces were involved that just happened to come together at this point in time to make it look like the man’s death was by design.” And then you go happily on your way.

For you are, after all, a Darwinist, and you know full well that any evidence of design must be a hidden God of the Gaps argument.

In Search of Deep Time

Friday, January 28, 2011

Evolutionary Pressures

I was recently asked a few questions about evolutionary pressures in Darwinism. Here’s the majority of my response (certain personal parts have been removed from the original, and some of the grammar has been edited):

When it comes to evolutionary pressures, it is important to keep in mind that even Darwinists must acknowledge the limitations of such pressures. While you listed the example of a giraffe’s neck or a cheetah’s speed, even those run into the problem of “islands” of fitness. While we think of evolution as progressing to better and better organisms, the fact is that this sort of concept is highly anthropomorphic because even secularists want humans to occupy the “highest” niche. For ease of understanding, however, I believe it’s better to reverse the direction.

Suppose that you have a ball on the top of a steep hill. If you release the ball, it will roll down the hill because of the force of gravity. For this illustration, let’s assume that the ball is a species’ genetic characteristics, gravity is evolutionary pressures (such as the environment, competition, and anything else that would result in survival of the fittest), and the farther down the hill you progress the more highly suited the species is for the environment.

Now, if the hill was perfectly smooth, the ball would roll all the way to the base and you’d have the perfect organisms being produced at sea level. But that’s not a realistic perspective. I live in Colorado, and in my backyard stands Pikes Peak. Suppose we were to start with a ball on the top of Pikes Peak and we were going to try to roll the ball to the ocean using nothing but gravity. Would that work?

Obviously not. For while the ball could roll quite some distance from the top of the Peak, eventually it will encounter a section that is uphill in all directions before it gets to the ocean. In fact, there are countless uphill sections from Pikes Peak to the sea, no matter which way you try to roll the ball. If you’re lucky, you might be able to get the ball to roll from the summit (at just over 14,000 feet elevation) down to maybe 10,000 feet, although in most cases you probably wouldn’t get it to roll more than a few dozen feet before it would be stopped by some rocks creating a local valley.

While the actual distance isn’t really that important, the point is that eventually the ball will settle into a localized valley where every direction around the ball is uphill. Let’s stipulate the ball we drop runs into this problem at 10,000 feet elevation. Now obviously, 10,000 feet is long way above sea level, where the ball “wants” to go. If it had the means, it would roll down to sea level—but locally, it is trapped. Every direction is uphill. It cannot go lower using gravity alone, because it is stuck in its valley.

Evolution runs into the same problems. There are valleys that a species will fall into, where they could develop into an even more “advanced” species, but they are so adapted to their niche that any movement the species makes is against natural selection. That is, once in the valley, natural selection will keep the organism in the valley, and ultimately natural selection itself will select AGAINST further evolution.

Ernst Mayr pointed this out when talking about gene flow and genetic drift:

Gene flow is a conservative factor that prevents the divergence of only partially isolated populations and is a major reason for the stability of widespread species and for the stasis of populous species.


In a small population alleles may be lost simply through errors of sampling (stochastic processes); this is known as genetic drift. Indeed, such a random loss of alleles may occur even in rather large populations. This is usually of no consequence in widespread species, because such locally lost genes will be quickly replaced by gene flow in subsequent generations. However, small founder populations, beyond the periphery of the range of a species, may have a rather unbalanced sampling of the gene pool of the parental population. This may facilitate a restructuring of the genotype of such populations.

(Mayr, Ernst. 2001. What Evolution Is . New York: Basic Books. p 98, 99).
Notice, therefore, that in the vast majority of populations, natural selection will seek to keep organisms AS THEY ALREADY ARE. In fact, Mayr says:

With drastic selection taking place in every generation, it is legitimate to ask why evolution is normally so slow. The major reason is that owing to the hundreds or thousands of generations that have undergone preceding selection, a natural population will be close to the optimal genotype. The selection to which such a population has been exposed is normalizing or stabilizing selection. This selection eliminates all of those individuals of a population who deviate from the optimal phenotype. Such culling drastically reduces the variance in every generation. And unless there has been a major change in the environment, the optimal phenotype is most likely that of the immediately preceding generations. All the mutations of which this genotype is capable and that could lead to an improvement of this standard phenotype have already been incorporated in previous generations. Other mutations are apt to lead to a deterioration and these will be eliminated by normalizing selection.

(ibid, 135)
So, on the one hand, natural selection is supposed to be the driving force behind evolution, but on the other hand, natural selection is the very thing keeping organisms from changing. Indeed, as far as the second method goes, I firmly accept the validity of natural selection! We can actually observe that process in work. Natural selection reduces variety; it does not create it. Indeed, Mayr acknowledges this, calling selection “an elimination process”:

Selection is not teleological (goal-directed). Indeed, how could an elimination process be teleological?

(ibid, 121)
So, whether one accepts Darwinism or Creationism, it only makes sense that organisms right now are as close to their “peak” (or, given our illustration, as close to sea level) as possible. Under Creationism, it’s because they were created that way; under Darwinism, it’s because they’ve had millions of years to evolve to their environment. In both instances, natural selection now seeks to keep organisms the way they are, because they are already as adapted as they can be to their environment. The only way to change this is to change the environment in some radical way.

But notice that most of the radical alterations of an environment do not grant us any new species, but rather only makes certain other species go extinct. For instance, the dodo bird was easy prey when Westerners arrived with their pets. The dodo didn’t evolve—it died out. On the other hand, when rabbits were introduced into Australia, their population exploded. In the process, they’ve driven several native species to the brink of extinction too. But notice that neither the rabbit themselves, nor the organisms that are dying out, have significantly altered their genotype in the face of this extremely different environment. The changes are too abrupt, and even granting Darwinism every advantage, there simply isn’t enough time for the species to garner sufficient mutations to avoid doom. The only way they could would be to have the environment slowly change, giving each species time to adapt to the slowly changing environment. Abrupt changes only result in mass extinction.

As far as your argument from incredulity, that it’s unlikely that “mistakes” would result in these types of happy occurrences, I believe that is a fairly strong argument, actually. First of all, life looks like it is designed. This is the strength of Paley’s watch argument. The default assumptions any reasonable person would make, when looking at life, would be to conclude that it is designed. As a result, the impetus really is on the Darwinist to prove that this sort of thing can happen without teleology. When something appears to be designed, the default is to assume that it is designed until it is proven otherwise, so the Darwinism does have the burden of proof here.

Furthermore, the Darwinist himself cannot escape teleological terminology. In fact, Darwinism is seeped with teleological terms. The very fact that they say, “Nature selects the fittest organism” is itself a teleological claim. First of all, there is the claim that nature is actually doing a selection, and selection implies a choice. Secondly, what is selected is the “fittest” and “fittest” implies that the organism has a specific role to play, and it plays that role “the best.” So, “natural selection” itself is a term loaded with teleology—it is claiming that nature is choosing the best organism to play a specific role. But that simply IS an affirmation of design. Darwinists try to get around this by claiming they are just using language metaphorically, but I have yet to find anyone who can explain Darwinism without resorting to teleological statements. And I daresay that if you cannot describe a process without reference to design, then you’re better just admitting that what you’re looking at IS design.

I mean, put it this way. There are certain crystals that have properties that make them take on very cool geometrical shapes and patterns. We know that these processes occur naturally without any apparent design in nature, and we can mimic this in a lab and create these crystal shapes ourselves, etc. A physicist may use teleological language at some point to talk about it—say, “A salt crystal wants to be cubic.” But the same physicist can also describe the chemical bonds and how the sodium and chlorine react to create this structure without using any teleological language at all, if the physicist so chooses.

But I have yet to read a biologist who can explain Darwinism in that way. Now, some may very well claim that trying to explain an entire ecosystem is vastly more complicated than trying to explain the interactions of two elements forming a salt crystal, so the biologist is forced to use teleological metaphors. But given that biology needs to deny teleology, the impetus really is on them to stop using teleological language.

So, as I said, I see nothing wrong with you arguing from incredulity. You are perfectly justified in being incredulous. The Darwinist has told you a counter-intuitive story that he supports with language that he specifically says is disallowed. Why shouldn’t you be incredulous?

More to the point, there are many examples that seem to affirm Behe’s irreducibly complexity argument. It is incumbent upon the Darwinist to explain how those types of systems can arise. The Darwinist likes to just assume Darwinism is true, and then fit all observation into that theory. But that is begging the question. To be scientific, he must derive his theory from the observations, not force the observations to fit his theory.

"The immutable God who creates"

Thursday, January 27, 2011

GTCC Outreach Report 1-25-2011

INTRODUCTION: Today was an interesting mix of discussions with students about election, predestination, soteriology, Islam, pantheism, and denominations.

The Question of the Day: "Does God hate people?"

I'll bet you won't have a problem guessing what the universal answer was. Some people gave me a freaked-out look when I popped that question on 'em. Frankly, given the false gospel preached in many churches nowadays, I can't say I blame 'em.

Election, predestination, and soteriology

The first man I spoke with was in his late 30s and heading to the parking lot. After I introduced myself and handed him a gospel/ministry card, he willingly stopped to chat and after I asked him the question of the day he said, "No, God doesn't hate anybody." I then quoted the following passages:
for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, "THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER." 13 Just as it is written, "JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED." (Romans 9:11-13 NAU)
The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all who do iniquity. (Psalms 5:5 NAU)
The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked, And the one who loves violence His soul hates. (Psalms 11:5 NAU)
I then explained the basic context of each verse, especially Romans 9, and he responded, "Man, I've never heard anything like this before. I said, "I figured as much; that's because churches don't teach this nowadays. It doesn't bode well for the multi-million dollar facility you're in when you teach about the judicial hatred of God from Romans 9." He then asked what our church was like and I had the opportunity to explain to him that when it comes to church meetings, form follows function and if you understand the purpose/function of the church, then it will take a particular form and do particular things. He appreciated the chat, I encouraged him to read 1st John and examine himself per 2 Corinthians 13:5.

Mr. "I'm all good"

The next guy I spoke with was a nice kid with crumbs all over his face from eating his vending machine snack while sitting on a picnic table in the quad. His iPod buds were in his ears while he was talking to me, but he heard every word. After introducing myself, and asking the question of the day he said, "Naw, I don't know why God would want to do that." I then started explaining sin and God's righteous judgment to him, he smirked, blew it off, and said, "I don't think He's really like that, I mean, I believe in God 'n all, and I try to be a good person, but I think that as long as you're sincere, you're good to go." I then said, "What if I sincerely believe that the oak tree behind us is Jesus and I repent and believe in the oak tree, will that get me into heaven?" He said, "Uh, yeah, I guess." I then said, "What if I sincerely believe that flying jet planes into the world trade center will get me into heaven, is that okay?" He said, "Naw man, that's wrong." I then said, "Then mere sincerity isn't an accurate test for religious truth claims is it?" He agreed. I then returned to an explanation of God's righteous judgment and said that because God is good, He must give people what they deserve, which is Hell. He disagreed. I then asked him how God could be just and still forgive people willy-nilly (i.e., arbitrarily - without a grounds for forgiveness). He said, "He just does" to which I responded, "then He just does unjustly."

Then I quoted Proverbs 17:15, "He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, Both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD", then explained that for God to justify the wicked without His justice being met would make God Himself abominable. So I asked him, "How does God justify the wicked without becoming an abomination to Himself?" Of course, he didn't know, so I explained to him how God could be both just and the justifier of the wicked by virtue of what Messiah Jesus did in place of sinners when he died on the cross. I then explained from 2 Cor. 5:21 how the sinless Messiah took the punishment of sinners upon Himself on the cross so that those who believe in Him could be counted as righteous before God. He still didn't get it, so I said, "look, if a guy raped and brutally murdered your sister but didn't get caught until 20 years later, and stands before the judge and says 'Judge, I realize what I did was evil, but I've been a morally upstanding guy the last 20 years. Since I raped and murdered that girl, I've changed my ways: I've been working in a soup-kitchen and I went to school to be a RN and now I'm working in a nursing home because I have a love for the geriatric population so much that want to help them in their twilight years. I've earned many nursing achievement awards from the state and national nursing boards and so I ask you to forgive me and please let me go. I'm terribly sorry for what I did. Those old people can't do without me." I asked this dude, "If the judge just lets this guy go willy-nilly, would he be just or unjust?" He said, "He'd be unjust." I then said, "Then how much more should the infallible, holy God of creation who never makes mistakes and has no sin be just with your sin?" He got the point. I then went through a few commands with him (adultery of the heart, lying, stealing, blasphemy, etc.) and he seemed to get a little convicted. I then said, "See man, that's why you need Christ. Without Him, you'll get what you deserve, which is pure and unmitigated justice in Hell forever." He balked, I shook his hand, and I was off.

Some Passionate Muslims

I always enjoy talking to Muslims about religion. They are almost always willing to talk to you and generally, they are amiable. I love it because you can walk right up to them, ask them a question, and then you can almost be guaranteed a 30-45 minute discussion with them about the claims of the N.T., the Qur'an, and the injil (the gospel). Today was no different. I walked up to three male Muslim students, introduced myself, asked the question of the day, and we quickly entered into a discussion about what it means for Jesus to be the Son of God.

Every Muslim I have spoken with believes that the N.T. term "Son of God" means that the Father literally impregnated Mary and that Jesus is a literal Son from a literal divine-human union. However, the orthodox, Biblical understanding is that the phrase "Son of God" is to be understood as a metaphor, a relational term to help humans understand something about the relationship between Jesus and the Father in the Godhead; what's commonly known as the economic Trinity. After explaining that issue and then trying hard to avoid getting sidetracked by my Muslim friends into various irrelevant areas for a total of about 10-15 minutes, two of the original men left and a second young Muslim man listened a few feet away and then walked up and said, "But Zakir Naik has proven that the N.T. isn't reliable"

At this point I immediately asked, "Can you give me an example of any textual variant(s) in the N.T. manuscript tradition that undermines any essential Christian doctrine or changes the essential message of the N.T.?" to which this gentleman gave a confident, smirking grin but said nothing. I said, "If you cannot prove that the message of the N.T. has been substantially changed, then you have made a bare-naked assertion" and he responded, "If you watch Dr. Zakir Naik's videos on YouTube, you will see that I'm telling the truth." and I said, "But Zakir Naik uses examples that have been answered over and over and over again yet he refuses to stop using arguments that have already been answered by men who are experts in the field of N.T. Greek and/or N.T. textual criticism." He then asserted, "The Qura'n has not been changed at all like the N.T. has, and at that point I pulled up the following image on my iPhone:

Though you may not be able to make out exactly what this page is referring to, it is taken from Dr. James White's AOmin blog. I have this page bookmarked in my iPhone for these types of conversations. The photo to the left contains several variant readings that have been discovered in palimpsest manuscripts of the Qura'n. For the uninitiated, palimpsest manuscripts are manuscripts that have had the original writing erased and then written on top of what was previously erased. Through different methods, textual critics can determine what was originally written in the erased portions and determine whether textual variants existed.

After pulling this page up I said, "My friend, that's not true, there are textual variants in the ancient manuscript copies of the Qura'n just like any other work of antiquity. Please, take a look at this evidence." At this point, the young Muslim man refused to look at them and said, "I cannot speak against the Qura'n or Islam." and I responded, "I'm not asking you to speak against either, I'm proving my assertion by pointing you to evidence that contradicts your claim that there are no textual variants in the manuscripts of the Qura'n." He responded, "You don't understand, I cannot speak against Zakir Naik, Christianity, or the Qura'n." I then said, "I'm confused; isn't that what you just did with the the N.T.? Didn't you suggest that it had been corrupted to such an extent that we can't trust its message?" At this point, he took a cell phone call, and I turned to the lone remaining Muslim and said, "Look my friend, if you are truly lovers of the truth, then truth demands that you study these issues for yourself and not take Zakir Naik's word for it. I can tell you based upon my extensive study of the N.T. that his assertions simply aren't true." At this point the other young man briefly returned for a moment and I asked both of them, "Have you ever read the N.T.?" and they both said, "No."

I then replied, "My friends, I have read the Qura'n three times. I have examined its claims and found them wanting. But I did so after examining the Qura'n, not before. I also didn't base my conclusions wholly on what somebody else told me about the Qura'n. I looked at the evidence for myself, listened to other trusted scholarly sources (both Christian and non-Christian), listened to many public, moderated debates re: the claims of the Qura'n and Islam, and came to my conclusions after looking at the data and interacting with the arguments. I didn't just assume it was wrong; I actually examined it for myself in light of the claims that Muslims make for it. Thus, don't you think its disingenuous for you to dismiss the N.T. when you haven't even read and studied it for yourself?" At this point one Muslim agreed with my reasoning, whereas the other who originally brought up Zakir Naik didn't.

I then pointed out to them that their Qura'n put them in a difficult situation:
P1 - The Qura'n says the words of Allah cannot be changed or corrupted (Surah 6:34, 115; 10:64)
  • "Rejected were the messengers before thee: with patience and constancy they bore their rejection and their wrongs, until Our aid did reach them: there is none that can alter the words (and decrees) of Allah. Already hast thou received some account of those messengers." S. 6:34
  • "The word of thy Lord doth find its fulfillment in truth and in justice: None can change His words: for He is the one who heareth and knoweth all." S. 6:115
  • "For them are glad tidings, in the life of the present and in the Hereafter; no change can there be in the words of Allah. This is indeed supreme felicity." S. 10:64
P2 - The Qura'n says the Bible is the Word of Allah (Surah 2:136; 29:46).
  • "Say ye: 'We believe in Allah, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Isma'il, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to (all) prophets from their Lord: We make no difference between one and another of them: And we bow to Allah (in Islam)."
  • "And dispute yet not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say, 'We believe in the revelation which has come to to us and in that which came down to you; Our All and your Allah is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam).'"
C - Therefore, assuming the authority of the Qura'n for sake of argument, the Bible could not have been changed or corrupted as many Muslim apologists claim.
I then said,
"Look friend, if the Qura'n affirms the reliability of the Bible then it's false since it contradicts the very Bible that it affirms. On the other hand, if the Bible is false then so is the Qura'n since the Qura'n affirms the Bible's trustworthiness when its really not trustworthy. Thus, if you agree with the Qura'n that the Bible is reliable, then you'll have to believe the Bible, but that puts you in a very difficult situation since the N.T. contradicts many fundamental doctrines of Islam. Worse, you have a choice to either trust the Qura'n which affirms the trustworthiness of the Bible and so contradict every modern Muslim apologist that claims otherwise, or you can trust the Muslim apologist and deny the Qura'n."
At this point they wanted to get away from that argument as quickly as possible by changing the subject to irrelevant issues. I patiently redirected the conversation back to the gospel.

I finally was able to bring the law of Christ to bear upon them and explained the reason for Jesus' atonement while also contrasting it with Allah's arbitrary basis of forgiveness. For those who are unaware of this theological problem, Islam has no grounds for forgiving sins other than Allah's arbitrary will, thus making Allah unjust since he forgives the guilty without someone being punished for their sins. I used the courtroom analogy with them (i.e., an unjust earthly judge merely forgiving a brutal murderer and rapist just because he said he was sorry) and explained that this is the problem with Allah's method of forgiveness. I then explained that the N.T. teaches that Allah can be both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Isa because Isa's substitutionary atonement for sinners is the legal grounds for a sinner's forgiveness since the sinless Messiah bore the punishment that penitent sinners deserve but don't get because Isa died in their place (Proverbs 17:15; Romans 3:21-26; 2 Corinthians 5:21). They didn't accept the last argument due to their pre-programmed Muslim denial of the crucifixion, but they thanked me for the conversation with a warm smile, we shook hands, and we went our separate ways.

Pantheism and Denominational Confusion

The last conversation I had was with two American students smoking cigarettes and waiting on their rides to go home. One student, a male, said that he believed that God hated and loved people, and I said, "I agree, though not in the same sense." The other student, a female, said, "No, I don't think God hates anybody." I quoted the relevant passages of Scripture and explained that God's "hatred" isn't like ours, human, imperfect, and sinful, but is a demonstration of His judicial hatred of sin and sinners. The young man changed the subject and said, "I think God is everything" to which I responded, "do you think the cow pie in the field is God too?" to which he said, "I didn't think about that." I said, "Well, if you're consistent, you'd have to carry it that far" and then he said, "I basically agree with what the Bible says about God" and I responded, "No, the Bible teaches a Creator-creation distinction; the Creator is not the creation and vice versa" and then I quoted Romans 1:18-25 and other passages that prove this distinction. I then told him, "What you are advocating is called Pantheism; i.e., the idea that all is god and god is all. I'm god, you're god, the cigarette smoke is god, and cow pies are god". He said, "I've never heard of that before" and I said, "That's why I'm here." He smiled. I then said, "Look, if god is everything, then you have functionally defined god out of existence."

At this time several people standing around were listening intently and I then asked him, "How do you know if what you believe is true or not?" and he said something like, "Well, I'm not sure about it" to which I responded, "Are you sure of that?" and then said, "If you're sure that you're not sure, then how can you be sure of that?" The female student standing beside him laughed, but he didn't quite get it yet. That's certainly understandable. So I slowed down a little and attempted to patiently explain how his beliefs were self-defeating. He got it, appreciated the explanation, and then I started talking to the female student beside him while she lit up another cig.

I asked her, "You seemed to follow what I'm saying pretty well, so let me ask you this, what is the gospel?" She never answered my question, but said, "I believe in God and know that I'm going to heaven when I die, but I get confused about all the different denominations . . . I mean, I grew up United Methodist and went to Baptist and Catholic churches with my friends and they all say that the differences amount to people's different interpretations of the Bible." I then said, "Well, Roman Catholicism is another animal that I'll deal with later, but most 16th century Protestants originally held to all the same basic doctrine (i.e., Trinity, 5 Solas, TULIP)." I then moved from briefly explaining the Protestant Reformation to discussing the major doctrinal differences between Rome's view of justification and Bibical doctrine of justification. She then understood why I earlier asserted that Rome is no true church. I then explained the gospel to her, exhorted her to examine herself in light of 1st John, and headed off to my car.

, the question "Does God hate people" is an excellent conversation starter. In light of that question, I'll ask you the same follow-up questions I asked a college prof. late last week. Do you love the God of the Bible who not only demonstrates love, compassion, and abundant mercy, but who also:
  • Hates the sinner and not just the sin (Psalm 5:5; 11:5)?
  • Creates most people for the purpose of displaying His justice in their destruction (Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 7:13-14; Romans 9:22-23)?
  • Predestines people for salvation and the rest for damnation (John 6:37-44, 65; Romans 9:11-23; Ephesians 1:4-11; 1 Peter 2:8)?
  • Punishes those whom He's created to destroy forever in Hell (1 Peter 2:8)?
If you know that the Bible teaches this yet don't love that God, you're worshiping a custom-crafted idol that exists only in your mind. Repent of your idolatry or perish (Luke 13:3, 5).

"What a perfect being wants"

"The stench of liberalism"


In the linked article, the author says
Reformed thinkers today are met with a blistering set of powerful [analytic-philosophical] criticisms against the Calvinist scheme, and simply quoting Genesis 50 doesn’t cut it [in] today’s world.
I don’t know anything about the author, but I detect the stench of liberalism, with this allusion to “powerful criticisms” of, well, Christianity. Could any of the Triablogue crew at least summarize these philosophical accusations and their merits, if any?
It’s my impression that Triablogue is a Reformed site. But, as far as I can tell, the linked article claims that certain of the Reformed distinctives have been invalidated, or at least made doubtful, by certain findings of analytic philosophy. As a Reformed Christian, I’d certainly like to know if this is true.
Since the article is linked with no comment, I do not know what opinion of it is held by the Triablogue authors. So I’d like to know what opinion of the claim is held by the philosophically sophisticated Calvinists of Triablogue.

1. Manata can answer for himself. However, he’s a busy guy, so he has to make time-management choices.

2. The fact that I link to something doesn’t ipso facto mean I agree with everything it says. But in this case, I do agree with Manata’s review.

3. Triablogue is not officially Reformed. Rather, it’s top-heavy with Reformed contributors, myself included.

4. Before we comment further, let’s put the Manata quote in its larger context:

The comments on human freedom and providence simply repeated contemporary Reformed theologians’ seemingly complete unfamiliarity with the field of the metaphysics of human freedom, and one didn’t know for sure if libertarian free will was consistently affirmed or denied. There were the typical unhelpful comments like, “God is sovereign and we are free and it all works together somehow but we will never know how,” or, “we choose according to our nature,” etc. Drawing a picture of a little circle contained in a big circle and labeling them “human freedom” and “God’s freedom,” respectively, is hardly illuminating. So is saying that “human freedom is ectypal” equally unilluminating. Reformed thinkers today are met with a blistering set of powerful criticisms against the Calvinist scheme, and simply quoting Genesis 50 doesn’t cut it on today’s world.

I interpret Manata’s statement as follows:

5. Horton failed to rise to the challenge he set for himself. One goal he set for himself was to engage opposing positions. However, his treating of opposing positions on certain key issues is so cursory and uninformed that he fell short of his own goal. He tries to cover too much ground it too little time. His treatment is too superficial. And he doesn’t know his way around the opposing literature.

6. Horton also failed to appropriate insights from analytical philosophy which could be redeployed to refine and defend the Reformed position.

7. Horton also failed to answer the critics on their own level. For one thing, some critics are unbelievers. Therefore, they don’t acknowledge the authority of Scripture. Quoting Gen 50:20 begs the question.

Even if that were adequate for defensive apologetics, that’s inadequate for offensive apologetics.

8. Even when dealing with professedly Christian critics from rival theological traditions, the appeal to Gen 50:20 is insufficient. For one thing, they may offer a different interpretation which is consistent with their own position, but inconsistent with Horton’s. Therefore, Horton needs to exegete Gen 50:20 and defend his interpretation in response to alternate interpretations.

9. In addition, he needs to spell out in what respect Gen 50:20 is germane to the issue at hand. Human freedom and providence are complex issues, both individually and in combination. What aspects of human freedom and providence does Gen 50:20 address or implicate? What theoretical options does it rule out?

For instance, does Gen 50:20 present a theory of the will? Does Gen 50:20 present a theory of causation? Does it define a “choice”? Does it explain what makes something a bona fide choice? Does it distinguish between having choices and making choices? Does it distinguish between compatibilism and semicompatibilism? Does it interrelate and/or distinguish between agent-causation to event-causation? Does it adjudicate between hard determinism and soft determinism? Does it adjudicate between occasionalism and secondary causality? Does it explicate what grounds counterfactuals? Does it define possible worlds? Alternate possibilities?

10. Apropos (9), Manata may well believe that certain theoretical options are underdetermined by Gen 50:20. Although a coarse-grained text like Gen 50:20 can feed into a theoretical construct, Gen 50:20 is not, by itself, a detailed theory of anything in particular. It reveals a general truth, but lacks the specificity to single out one fine-grained position to the exclusion of other fine-grained positions.

Put another way, he may believe that while Gen 50:20 precludes certain theoretical options, that still leaves open a number of remaining options. 

11. Finally, Manata faults Horton for failing to articulate a Reformed alternative. For quitting when the going gets tough, viz. “God is sovereign and we are free and it all works together somehow but we will never know how.” Isn't that a cop-out? 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ancient history


Until then, I'll continue to be skeptical that iron-age mystics, who were necessarily ignorant of modern physics, astronomy, medicine, etc, somehow managed to get metaphysics right, even though their explanations were similar to so many other god-centered stories of primitive humans.

Hi. I'm a time-traveler from the 29C. I study ancient history. I'm skeptical that digital-age infidels, who were necessarily ignorant of modern physics, astronomy, medicine, etc, somehow managed to get metaphysics right, even though their explanations were similar to so many other godless-centered stories of primitive 21C humans.

Longview Baptist Temple

I am a former member of Longview Baptist Temple. I am a lot younger than James of course (19) but I know for a fact everything he has written about the church is true. I went to the church from birth to age 12 when my family and I were basically kicked out of the church. I am the daughter of Russell Hirner and the way we were treated shortly after this particular situation was completely un-Christian. We are only friends with a few families there still. We certainly grew from the whole experience, but still are not completely over it, due to the fact that my father is not yet back with us. We hope that he will be soon. The part of the concealed handguns is definitely true because my own father had one too, and I know of at least 4 or 5 others that also carried them. I mean who in Texas doesn't have one.

Bluffing death

I’m going to quote some comments from an infidel thread on the subject of death.

It’s revealing to see the way infidels confront–or rather, evade–death. They oscillate between bathos and bluster. Infidels talk tough, but they have their own little props and crutches. They tell themselves comforting lies about death. That’s because their belief-system lacks the inner resources to help them out in the hour of their greatest need.

No doubt some will say I’m mean for exposing the charade. But atheism is far meaner. Atheism robs the dying, and the survivors, of genuine hope. Robs them of any possibility of hope. It offers counterfeit comfort. Fake substitutes.

That’s incomparably cruel and malicious.

It might be said that Christianity, with its doctrine of hell, suffers from the same problem. But to begin with, many infidels act as if there own position is problem-free.

Moreover, while Christianity isn’t hopeful for everyone, atheism isn’t hopeful for anyone. So the two are hardly comparable.

There are also comments I don’t quote which are laced with obscenities–as if swearing at death scares the Grim Reaper away. The infidel betrays his fear by pretending to be brave.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Forbidden City

Let’s say that the consensus is that our species, being the higher primates, Homo Sapiens, has been on the planet for at least 100,000 years, maybe more. Francis Collins says maybe 100,000. Richard Dawkins thinks maybe a quarter-of-a-million. I’ll take 100,000. In order to be a Christian, you have to believe that for 98,000 years, our species suffered and died, most of its children dying in childbirth, most other people having a life expectancy of about 25 years, dying of their teeth. Famine, struggle, bitterness, war, suffering, misery, all of that for 98,000 years. Heaven watches this with complete indifference. And then 2000 years ago, thinks “That’s enough of that. It’s time to intervene,” and the best way to do this would be by condemning someone to a human sacrifice somewhere in the less literate parts of the Middle East. Don’t let us appeal to the Chinese, for example, where people can read and study evidence and have a civilization. Let’s go to the desert and have another revelation there. This is nonsense. It can’t be believed by a thinking person. Christopher Hitchens.

1. Well, that’s one narrative. I happen to prefer the narrative that commences with Gen 1, winds through the OT, arrives at the NT, and culminates in Rev 21-22.

2. As far as that goes, our “species” still dies. That didn’t cease 2000 years ago. The more important question is whether happens after you die.

3. Was there “war” c. 100,000 BC? Is that a cross between Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C. and Steven Strait in 10,000 BC? Given a choice, I’d take my chances with Raquel.

4. And just think of the wonderful opportunities for big-game hunting. Not to mention clean air. Clean water. Star-gazing.  

5. Is it worse to die at 25 than 95? If you live to be 95, you live beyond your prime. There are lots of things you’d like to do, but are now too enfeebled to do. In addition, you outlive your friends, your spouse, some of your kids.

What about those SF utopias where everyone above the age of 30 (or whatever) is liquidated?

6. In some ways a sinful world is worse than a sinless world. But even in that respect, there are men and women who exist in a sinful world who never have that opportunity in a sinless world.

7. And in some ways a redeemed world is better than a sinless world. So there are tradeoffs.

Suffering can be a source of good. Take a couple who marry young. Let’s say they lack the maturity for marriage. So they break up after a few acrimonious years.

They wander. Pursue other pairings. Then, ten years later, they come back together. All the suffering makes them appreciate each other in a way that wasn’t possible apart from suffering.

Or take best fiends. One betrays the other. Alienation ensues. One hates the other. They no longer speak to each other.

But after a few years, there’s a thaw. Reconciliation. Forgiveness. Their renewed friendship is deeper as a result of suffering.

Not all goods come ready-made.

8. By condemning “someone”? What about the Son of God incarnate?

9. China had a brilliant civilization. But unless you were among the charmed few who resided in the Forbidden City, you were no better off than somebody in “less literate parts of the Middle East.”

Moreover, does Hitchens really hanker for the Ming Dynasty? Does he feel that he missed his calling in life because he can’t be a royal eunuch in the Directorate of Ceremonial? 

"Mainstream" standards

Imagine if we applied Paul Tobin's idolization of "mainstream" consensus to science:

Cotton Mather (1663-1728), the New England divine, actually proposed a germ theory of medicine when 99.9% of the medical community disagreed with him. Conversely, Georg Ernst Stahl (1660-1734) proposed a “phlogiston” theory to explain combustion (burning) and rusting that nearly every scientist of the day (including Joseph Priestly [1733-1804]), hailed.

Can't you just see Tobin with the powdered wig and gavel sentencing an upstart like Mather to the stocks?

Idolizing the status quo

Whenever Paul Tobin runs out of bad arguments, which doesn’t take long, he retreats into his all-purpose appeal to “mainstream” scholarship.

But that’s intellectually stultifying. Imagine if we applied his policy to medical science. There would be no incentive to advance medical science, for we’d always default to the status quo. Unquestioning allegiance to “mainstream” opinion would lead to scientific stagnation. If Tobin had his way, we’d still be using Galen and the “four humors” of Hippocratic medicine.

Any challenge to the Medieval status quo would be treated as heretical pseudoscience. 

Saying good-bye


Steve, I know you’ve been through your own bout with cancer. Would you be so kind as to write a post explaining your thoughts as a Christian while going through it? I’m sure it would be an encouragement to other Christians who find themselves in a similar place.

There are many different aspects to that question.

At the crossroads of life

I see that my recent post on Christopher Hitchens garnered a lot of hostile attention from the Atheist Foundation of Australia as well as I do want to thank them for all the crossover traffic.

One chap called me a “ pathetic bibleist.” Hadn’t heard that epithet before, but it has a nice ring to it. I think I should have a custom-made bumper sticker or brass plaque with “ pathetic bibleist” on it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Frodo at Westminster

Frodo is currently the Distinguished J. R. R. Tolkien Professor of Middle-Earth languages and literature at Westminster Theological Seminary, where he teaches upper division courses in Orkish, Entish, Hobbitish, Common Eldarin, and Primitive Quendian. 

The Last Enemy

I stumbled onto this interview last night while I was channel surfing:

Hitchens looks and sounds like a dying man. Physically and emotionally vulnerable. Faltering. Unsure of himself. A drastic contrast to the strutting rhetoric of god is not Great. There’s clearly an undertone of trepidation in the glare of death, now that he’s got one foot in the grave. Not so easy to be the cocky atheist when you have nth stage cancer. 

From the viewpoint of the average atheist, death doesn’t merely rob you of your future, but of your past as well. It lops off both sides of your life, for the dead can’t experience the future or remember the past. So you lose both at one stroke. (And from a Christian viewpoint, their fate is even worse.)

Infidels have very conflicted views of death. At least, when speaking polemically.

On the one hand, they try to shame Christians as cowards. We invent heaven because we can’t face the finality of death.

On the other hand, they also act as if the way you live and die is still important. As if it’s noble to confront oblivion bravely. As if it matters that you were a philanthropist rather than a robber baron or a serial killer.

But if we should come to terms with the grim finality of death, then it’s cowardly to ameliorate the grim finality of death by pretending that it matters what you did before you die, or whether your deathbed demeanor is unbecoming. So what if you cringe like a frightened puppy? "Better a living dog than a dead lion!" (Eccl 9:4).

It’s also striking to see how self-conscious many people are around someone who is evidently dying. After all, we are all dying. It’s just a matter of time. Sooner or later, death comes to the best of us and the worst of us.

But usually we’re vague on the timing. Some men die without warning. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. Others linger for years on end, in a state of steady, almost imperceptible decline. They could die at anytime, so there’s no telling when the ax will strike.

But something like terminal cancer makes the end-game a bit more predictable. Foreseeable. The inexorable countdown begins. And that, in turn, exposes the hidden insecurity–which is easier to ignore or conceal when the prospect is safely out of sight.

Some unbelievers greet their demise with apparent equanimity because they are so old, so physically and emotionally worn out that it’s hard to muster much feeling about anything at that juncture.

Some maintain a heroic façade out of pride. Or fear of losing face.

Some would like to live much longer if only they had more to live for, but their best years are behind them. There’s not much to look forward too anymore.

Older scholarship


Whilst age of writing does not determine its truth/falsehood, I suppose that Muslims might say that to the extent Evangelical Christians like to avail themselves of modern conservative scholarship, Muslims should be allowed to do that as well and that a work dating from 1913 is out of step with modern scholarship.

1. I don’t think there’s anything inherently defective about older scholarship. One has to judge that on a case-by-case basis. For instance, Theodore Zahn and Bishop Lightfoot made lasting contributions to patristic and biblical scholarship.

Newer scholarship can relate to older scholarship in different ways. Sometimes newer scholarship will invalidate the conclusions of older scholarship. But sometimes it will merely refine or supplement older scholarship.

If newer scholarship were to ipso facto invalidate older scholarship, then the scholarly enterprise would be futile–since today’s cutting-edge scholarship will soon be yesterday’s antiquated scholarship. All scholarship becomes obsolescent in principle. But if all scholarship has an expiration date, why bother?

2. Some scholars are more distinguished than others. Margoliouth was one of the outstanding scholars of the 20C.

3. There’s an obvious sense in which his work on Islam might be superior to contemporary treatments. At the time of writing, he felt free to criticize Islam without fear of reprisal. By contrast, a contemporary Oxford don would be inclined to pull his punches, at best, and rewrite history along politically correct lines, at worst.

Nowadays, an Oxford don can be prosecuted for speaking ill of “the Prophet.” Or assassinated.