Saturday, August 20, 2011

Plain meaning

Here are two posts by a Catholic philosopher, critiquing some popular arguments which Catholic epologists deploy against Protestants. Although his comments are directed at Jonathan Prejean and Scott Carson, the folks at Called to Confusion are recycling the same arguments, so his critique is equally applicable to the copycat tactics at Called to Confusion.

A Challenge to the Church of NFP

How NOT to argue against Sola Scriptura

Adam had 'em

Both Christianity Today and BioLogos have recently argued that in light modern science, it’s time for Christians to ditch the historicity of Adam and Eve. This raises several issues:

1) There’s nothing inherently wrong with exploring alternative interpretations to the traditional interpretation of Scripture. That can be a useful exercise. It helps us to avoid overlooking what may be a better interpretation. That’s something the Reformation did.

2) What’s wrong is when theologians say to scientists, ethicists, et al., “Just tell us what to believe, and we’ll come up with a new interpretation to match.”

Christianity is a revealed religion. If the Bible is divine revelation, then you can’t treat the meaning of Scripture as modeling clay or plasticine, to be refashioned into whatever shape the establishment demands at any given time. Do you need a giraffe? Then we’ll shape the Bible to form a giraffe. Do you need a kangaroo? Then we’ll reshape the Bible to form a kangaroo? Just tell us what you need to the Bible to say, and we’ll find a corresponding interpretation!

Any alternative interpretation must be grounded in the text and context. And it should be the best interpretation.

3) What motivates the exhortation to ditch the historicity of Adam and Eve is the conviction (held by some) that modern science has rendered this doctrine unbelievable. Therefore, to salvage the credibility of the Christian faith, we must adapt Christian theology to the current realities.

However, this strategy is bound to fail on its own terms. It doesn’t make the Christian faith more believable to admit the Bible is less believable. If you take that concession seriously, then that’s just one more reason to disbelieve the Christian faith.

As far as the Pentateuch is concerned, Adam and Eve are no more or less historical than Noah, or Abraham, or Moses. The record of their creation and their downfall is no more or less historical than the flood, the calling of Abraham, or the Exodus. You can’t bracket Gen 2-3 from the rest of the Pentateuch narrative. It’s all of a piece.

So this strategy fails to solve the problem it proposed for itself.

4) This isn’t a novel challenge to the Christian faith. This goes all the way back to the 19C. If you believe in universal common descent, then you can’t believe that Adam and Eve were the first human pair.

At most, this is introducing new ostensible evidence for an old objection.

5) Genomics is a fairly recent science. And mapping the human genome is even more recent. To my knowledge, comparative genomics is still a very fluid field of research.

Likewise, “Mitochondrial Eve” and “Y-chromosomal Adam” have been kicking around for a while. It’s not as if some far-reaching discovery was made this year to challenge traditional Christian theology.

What about the specific scientific evidence?

6) From what I’ve read, these are the basic arguments:

i) Humans are genetically closer to apes (including common pseudogenes and retroposons) than other species,

ii) If you retrace the process by backward linear extrapolation, you don’t end up with one human couple.

iii) A single breeding pair (i.e. Adam and Eve) doesn’t have enough genetic information to account for modern human diversity.

7) By way of response:

i) The comparative genetic evidence is disputed, viz. W. Dembski and J. Wells, The Design of Life.

ii) Likewise, we can explain commonality either by appeal to common design or common descent, viz., J. Sarfati, The Greatest Hoax on Earth? (chap. 6).

iii) If the special creation of Adam and Eve is true, then it’s fallacious to retroengineer the process, for the point of origin is a singularity rather than a continuum. Adam and Eve would jump-start the process.

Put another way, if the first human pair were created as adults, then it’s as if they had human ancestors. As if they inherited their genetic makeup from mothers and fathers and grandmothers and grandfathers.

They embody trace evidence of a genetic prehistory even though, as a matter of fact, they initiated the cycle. If they were all you had to go by, you’d infer heredity further up the line. But that’s fallacious.

iv) The objection raises a parallel problem for any evolutionary candidate to be our common ancestor. Must a common ancestor contain all the genetic information necessary to account for current genetic variation?

v) From what I’ve read, the common ancestral genetic information must be augmented by genetic drift:

Evolution from the origin of life to the level of modern diversity must have required more variation than existed in the original population. Where did the extra variation come from?…Mutation also introduces new variation…In all species, mutation is an abundant source of new variation, providing raw material for evolutionary change. M. Ridley, Evolution (Blackwell, 3rd. ed., 2004), 87-88.

vi) So this seems to be the actual objection: Adam and Eve could not be the first human pair, for they alone don’t have sufficient genetic information to supply the current gene pool, and there wasn’t enough time for random mutation to compensate.

If that’s the objection, then there’s an obvious problem with the objection. Why assume mutation is a random process rather than a guided process? Likewise, why assume a uniform rate of mutation?

Perhaps the objection is that mutations can be harmful as well as beneficial. But on a theistic interpretation, there are providential controls on the process.

While that’s incompatible with naturalistic evolution, that’s not incompatible with a providentially directed process. And creationism allows for microevolutionary factors.

Therefore, the historicity of Adam and Eve remains internally consistent.

vii) In addition, the BioLogos material I’ve read doesn’t discuss the potential role of epigenetic factors, or alternate splicing.

viii) Even if Adam and Eve are deemed to be unscientific, that doesn’t settle the factual question, for there’s the thorny issue of whether scientific theories are true, approximately true, or useful fictions. You still have longstanding debates over idealization, underdetermination, verisimilitude, and paradoxes of confirmation. In addition, evolutionary biology is reconstructive science, with all its the besetting imponderables.

To take a trivial example, suppose you walk into a kitchen and find an egg splattered on the floor. Can you reconstruct the accident from the outcome? Perhaps gravity, acting on the slighted tilted surface, caused the egg to roll off the edge. Or maybe a child rolled the egg off the edge of the table. Or maybe a house pet like a cat jumped on the table, and swept the egg off the edge. Too many theories chasing too few facts.

ix) On the related note is the issue of doxastic warrant. If the Bible is divine revelation, then it ought to enjoy at least as much credence as science. Indeed, that’s an understatement.

[I’d like to acknowledge constructive feedback from James Anderson, Patrick Chan, and Greg Welty on a preliminary draft.]

Friday, August 19, 2011

Ambush polling

Dale Tuggy has done a post on an informal poll he conducted on his blog. I myself never took the poll since I knew the poll was a set-up.

Pose a set of trick questions, based on the pollster’s idiosyncratic definitions or hidden qualifications, then gleefully exclaim that you succeeded trapping the respondent in a logical inconsistency. Wow! What an achievement!

Dale must be deeply self-deluded if he imagines for one moment that this deceptive exercise proves anything.

Any accurate formulation of the Trinity must be carefully qualified. Key terms must either be explicitly defined, or else their definition must be tacitly understood.

In a questionnaire, the key terms must have the same meaning to the pollster and the respondent to avoid equivocation, viz.,

Hot dogs are tasty

Dogs can overheat in summer

Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?


I saw Brazil (1985) recently. Or, to be more precise, I got bored about halfway through and stopped watching it. Maybe I’ll go back some day and watch the other half.

That’s not a criticism of the film. The film satirizes a futuristic totalitarian bureaucracy. After a while I find that bit tedious because life in a totalitarian bureaucracy is tedious–however absurdist the satire.

But as I was watching the film, I couldn’t help thinking that this is what life would be like if the “progressives” have their way. A crushing, multistoried regime with more layers than a skyscraper. Dysfunctional, pointless, punitive agencies spitting out pointless, contradictory, punitive regulations–like miles of clogged plumbing. Agencies overseeing other agencies overseeing other agencies. Stiff penalties for made-up crimes. Stiff penalties for purely technical infractions.

A world in which the upper echelon bureaucrats have all the rights and privileges while the rest of us have all the onerous chores and duties. People whose only goal in life is to tell other people how to live their life. 


Venice Beach, California is the only place in the world you could see a hipster riding his bicycle past a Bohemian painter selling crystal meth to a tattoo artist who just pierced the nose of a vegetarian cross-dresser. A few feet away is a body builder who tries to impress a Wiccan who would rather just watch the nearby snake charmer who is drawing onlookers away from the Hari Krishna dancers. All this gains the attention of a passing rollerblader who is chain-smoking outside the vegan market, which is owned by a palm reader who probably should have anticipated the street artist who vandalized the side of her building, which just so happens to be the very spot where Charles Manson recruited Squeaky Fromme. Across the street, a parolee picks a fight with a hacky sack enthusiast for interrupting his Haiku recital he was performing for a group of Minimalists who have grown tired of traditional Bikram Yoga now that the hipsters have embraced it. The circle of stupidity is complete.

The Day the Earth Stood Still

The works of John Owen online

Owen was arguably the greatest English theologian:

WSJ defends Perry’s record on Jobs

People and capital are mobile and move where the opportunities are greatest. Texas is attractive to workers and employers alike because of its low costs of living and doing business. The government in Austin is small, taxes are low, regulation is stable, and the litigation system is more predictable after Mr. Perry’s tort reforms—all of which is a magnet for private investment and hiring.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

According to Genesis

According to Genesis, Adam and Eve were created about 4000 BC (Gen. 5 & 11)...

In general, this is an excellent post. I’m just going to pick on this one statement–because it reflects a common, subconscious conflation.

Genesis doesn’t place the creation of Adam and Eve anywhere on our calendar. Assuming the days of Gen 1 are consecutive calendar days, assuming the genealogies have no gaps, it remains the case that Genesis doesn’t date the creation of Adam and Eve to c. 4000 BC.

That’s because the Bible doesn’t give us a continuous calendar marking off the days from the moment of creation to the current date. What the Bible gives us is a rough, internal, relative chronology.

I say it’s “rough” because it doesn’t give us a day-by-day sequence. I say it’s a relative chronology because it places some recorded events earlier or later than others. And it supplies a terminus ad quo or time-zero at the moment of creation. But it doesn’t give us an absolute chronology. Rather, it gives us a set of internal relations.

What’s really involved in calculations like this is an effort to correlate Genesis with our calendar. We begin with a chronology of the ANE, then try to intercalate Genesis somewhere in that framework.

So we’re dealing with a hybrid chronological construct, which has both biblical extrabiblical information feeding into it. And, of course, a chronology of the ANE is a complex historical reconstruction, with various methods, assumptions, and interpolations.

When we talk about the date of creation or the date of the flood, it’s important to distinguish between biblical and extrabiblical considerations.

This goes to a point of tension in young-earth creationism. On the one hand, creationism is sceptical of standard cosmological and geological dating techniques. On the other hand, creationism tries to time Noah’s flood or the origin of the world within narrow parameters. It would make more sense for creationism to be consistently rather than selectively sceptical about standard dating techniques.

The Failure of Liberal Bioethics

Is Michele Bachmann a Scary "Dominionist"?

What's for dinner?

Atheists aren’t all that bad. I hang out regularly with several. They’re civilly good people. Contrary to some myths, they don’t eat children.

I usually agree with Paul Manata, but in this case I must demur. His view of godless cuisine is far too trusting.

To begin with, while evolutionary ingroup/outgroup dynamics might well mean a hungry atheist would be averse to consuming his children, he might well eat your children–especially in the proverbial lifeboat situation.

As for civil goodness, that’s just the gingerbread house which the witchy infidel uses to lure unsuspecting boys and girls into the kitchen. Once the door shuts behind them, it’s curtains for the poor little tykes.

Paul wouldn’t be in a position to know about godless cuisine since infidels only serve kiddy potpie and whippersnapper ragoût to fellow infidels.

Rauser's self-defeating apologetic

Similarly, the fact that biblical authors were incorrect in some of their theological descriptions doesn’t mean that Yahweh doesn’t exist. It means only that they got some of their theological descriptions about Yahweh wrong. Indeed, this is precisely what the doctrine of progressive revelation has always accepted.

Several problems:

i) To redefine progressive revelation as progression from revealed error to revealed truth is scarcely the definition which has always been accepted.

ii) For Jesus and the NT writers, the God of the OT is the God of the NT. Yahweh is the true God. They do not view the relation between OT theism and NT theism as a progression from an erroneous view of God to a truer view of God.

iii) The OT is the foundation for the NT. The OT messianism underwrites NT messianism.

Because Rauser is a liberal, he’s trying to patch together some sort of compromise position. But in the process he ends up sabotaging both the OT and the NT. 

Anderson reviews Analytic Theology

Does sola Scriptura mean sole authority?

I’m reposting some comments I left at Justin Taylor’s blog:

steve hays August 14, 2011 at 7:55 am
Brandon Vogt

“In the first four centuries of Christianity, how could Scripture be, in the words of Leithart, the “final authority” since there was no formal cannon and therefore no official agreement on what Scripture even was?”

Suppose (arguendo) we say the ancient church didn’t have the Bible. Would that invalidate sola Scriptura? Suppose (arguendo) we say the ancient church had to rely entirely on oral tradition. Would that invalidate sola Scriptura?

In both cases, the answer is no. For in that (hypothetical) event, the church would still need a trustworthy standard of comparison to measure the accuracy of oral tradition.

If (arguendo) the teaching of Jesus, or John, or Paul was handed down by word-of-mouth, you’d still need an accurate record of the original words to see if oral tradition corresponded to what Jesus, John, or Paul actually said. Oral tradition would only be true to the extent that it was true to the original source.

So even if (arguendo) you didn’t have that standard of comparison in your possession, that would still be the ultimate and indispensable standard.

For instance, our modern global civilization requires synchronized clocks. What’s called Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). That, in turn, depends on International Atomic Time (TAI). And that, in turn, depends on 200+ atomic clocks.

I don’t have access to the atomic clocks. I don’t have the atomic clocks in my possession. Yet atomic clocks still set the standard for my cesium clocks and watches.

Even if I never laid eyes on one of those atomic clocks, even if I didn’t know how to tell time using atomic clocks, it is still necessary that my own clocks and watches match or at least approximate the atomic clocks.

If I set my wristwatch by my computer clock, and I set my computer clock by the time readout from a TV news station, and the news station set its clock by some other source, it doesn’t matter how many steps removed my wristwatch is from the atomic clocks. What matters is that, at the end of that transmission process you a benchmark to measure that transmission process.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, the NT wasn’t written until the 5C AD. Suppose, until the 5C, the early church had to rely entirely on oral tradition. Then, in the 5C, God inspired 10 men to write the NT.

In other words, suppose the process was completely backwards. You only had the church for the first four centuries, then the NT came later.

Even if that were the case, once the NT was written, that would set the standard for the church. The church would have to calibrate or recalibrate tradition to agree with the NT.

steve hays August 14, 2011 at 8:12 am
Brandon Vogt

“How could Scripture be the ‘final authority’ when some greater authority was needed to affirm which books Scripture consisted of?”

That begs the question. Why do we need some authority to affirm the canon for us? Why is it not sufficient to simply be right?

A general has more authority than a colonel. A general outranks the colonel. Yet that’s irrelevant to who’s right and who’s wrong. Sometimes the colonel is right when the general is wrong.

You don’t need authority to get things right. Indeed, men in authority often get things wrong. Truth and authority are hardly equivalent. Indeed, they are often at odds.

Scripture is authoritative because Scripture is true. That’s the bottom line.

“Finally, Leithart rightfully acknowledges the need for extra-Biblical authority, but he doesn’t define the criteria for that authority. Catholics make it easy–the pope and his fellow bishops have the authority that Christ passed down through the apostles. But what do Protestants claim? Why should I listen to Leithart and not Smith?”

Why should you listen to a pope rather than Smith? You had to exercise your personal judgment. You decided for yourself that apostolic succession is valid. You didn’t begin with the pope. Rather, you had to be satisfied in your own mind that the claims of the papacy were correct.

What was your criterion? Your criterion for the papacy can’t be the papacy itself. For the papacy is only a criterion if papal claims are true. So if criteria are necessary, then you need a criterion prior to the papacy to evaluate the papacy itself.

steve hays August 14, 2011 at 8:27 am
Bryan likes to constantly reduce and recast the issue in terms of “interpretive authority.” That’s his shtick.

Let’s apply that to a real-world scenario. Take Jn 9.

In that exchange, who has the authority–the blind man or the Pharisees? The Pharisees obviously have more “authority” than the blind man. He has no authority at all. He’s a nobody. He has no institutional position. No formal theological education.

The blind man and the Pharisees have two opposing interpretations of Jesus. The blind man thinks Jesus is a prophet of God. The Pharisees think Jesus is a godless Sabbath-breaker.

To use Bryan’s tendentious rubric, both of them exercise their “interpretive authority.” The blind man makes himself the “final authority” when he interprets Jesus to be a prophet of God.

Well, here’s a case where the religious authorities were dead wrong while the unlettered layman was absolutely right.

Jeff Steinberg, a Masterpiece in Progress

My dear friend Jeff Steinberg turns 60 today, and I’m conflicted. I want to tell him “you’re an old, old guy,” but on the other hand, I recognize that I’m not far behind him.

Jeff was born in 1951 with no arms and deformed legs – you may have heard the term “Thalidomide baby” – Thalidomide seems to have been introduced some time after his birth, but Jeff’s physical deformities are very similar to those you’ll find among children who can trace their maladies to that drug.

In those days, such children were institutionalized, and Jeff mostly grew up at Shriner’s Hospital in Philadelphia and later at the Good Shepherd Home in Allentown, PA. There, a local Christian couple “adopted” him, took him into their hearts and into the church, and they introduced him to the genre of Northern Gospel Music that’s still popular in that part of the state. He taught himself to sing by singing along with the albums of his favorite Gospel groups, and in 1971 he started a singing trio and has been singing and traveling ever since.

Working for Jeff was my first job out of college. He was singing a song called “The Glove” by Gordon Jensen – “Lord, let me be the glove you wear today”, like a glove worn “on a carpenter’s, or on a surgeon’s hand”. He has a driving and powerful voice, with a raspy Neil Diamondish character. And in his younger day, he could pop around a church stage like nobody’s business.

I had something like a journalism degree, and he had me driving hundreds of thousands of miles in a 1979 Ford van, setting up audio for hundreds of concerts he performed in hundreds of different churches from 1981-1986. In the process, yes, I also held some of the hair-washing and hair-spraying duties you’ll see in the video below.

It’s hard to say how deeply those years have affected my whole life since. When we first found out my wife was sick, and I called him, wondering how we were going to get through it, Jeff’s advice to me was “you’ve got to fight like hell every step of the way.” That wasn’t just idle advice. He lived that way. For years I had the privilege of watching him do it. It’s not right to say that nothing ever got him down. But nothing ever has kept him down.

On the video below, about seven minutes, you’ll see clips of him performing small portions of his signature songs, “I’m a Tiny Giant”, and “Masterpiece in Progress”, autographing a T-shirt by signing with a Sharpie pen in his mouth, and ministering to a group of prisoners in prison, among other things. Jeff has never had a lot of huge success in the world, but he’s been a huge success in my own life and the lives of the thousands of others he’s touched in 40 years of ministry now.

He’s booking his fall tour now, and he’s always got a few available dates open. If you’d like to have Jeff perform for your church or function, give him a call at (901) 754-5333, or email

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Was Flipper smarter?

The greatest

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them (Heb 7:25).

Historians like to rank historical figures based on their historical significance. “Who’s the greatest man who ever lived?”

In this context, greatness is measured in terms of influence on the subsequent course of history. The cut generally selects for conquerors, religious founders, politicians, and scientists.  

Of course, this evaluation can be affected by your value-system. Buddhists think Buddha was the greatest, Mohammedans think Muhammad was the greatest.

Richard Dawkins would be loath to say Jesus is the greatest man who ever lived. And in a sense he’s right.

Jesus isn’t the greatest man who ever lived. Rather, Jesus is the greatest man who ever lives

Intrinsic Canonicity and the Inadequacy of the Community Approach to Canon-Determination

Do atheists eat children?

The Nature of Nature

God and evolution

Perry’s Bernanke Slam

This is Reaganesque, in a Texas sort of way

I don’t intend to be piling on here, and I still haven’t read enough about Perry to make a recommendation one way or another, but this is precisely the sort of conversation that those in the U.S. government need to be having about economics and monetary policy.
The Texas governor, who by some polls is the new Republican presidential frontrunner, went on to say, “We’ve already tried this. All it’s going to be doing is devaluing the dollar in your pocket. And we cannot afford that.”

Well, to me that is exactly right.…

… it turns out that Governor Perry -- even with his overly strong language -- is a pretty sharp economic and monetary analyst.

In fact, Perry’s analysis actually channels recent Fed dissents by reserve-bank president’s Dick Fisher of Dallas, Charles Plosser of Philadelphia, and Narayana Kocherlakota of Minneapolis. They object to a two-year extension of the Fed’s zero-interest-rate policy, and in so doing have set down an opposition marker to a potential new shock-and-awe quantitative easing that many fear will be announced on August 26 when Bernanke speaks to the Jackson Hole Fed conference.

What makes Governor Perry’s position even more interesting is his disagreement with former governor Mitt Romney. When I interviewed Mr. Romney this past April, he essentially defended Ben Bernanke and dollar depreciation. “Well, you know, I think Ben Bernanke is a student of monetary policy,” Romney said. “He’s doing as good a job as he thinks he can do in the Federal Reserve.”

Meanwhile, in Tea Party circles on the campaign trail, Mr. Bernanke is a much disliked figure. Rightly or wrongly he is blamed for bailing out Wall Street. Also, many view Bernanke’s massive money-creation, along with President Obama’s massive federal-stimulus spending, as another failed big-government attempt to revive the economy.

Tea partiers and many others fervently believe in lower spending, reduced tax burdens, and a regulatory rollback to strengthen small businesses and the private economy. They’re against Uncle Sam just throwing money at problems.

So in this sense Governor Perry’s red-hot riposte at Bernanke may be shrewd politics, as well as a much needed defense of stable money….
Edit at 9:40 am: I forgot the link to the article that this was taken from:

The Credibility And Commonality Of Near-Death Experiences

Here's a video clip jayman777 posted about some near-death experiences reported by a doctor. It illustrates the credibility of the witnesses involved in so many of these cases and how common they are.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rick Perry and the TX job numbers

HT: Matthew Schultz

Contraception and capital punishment

Catholic epologists typically raise this objection to birth control:

Few realize that up until 1930, all Protestant denominations agreed with the Catholic Church’s teaching condemning contraception as sinful. At its 1930 Lambeth Conference, the Anglican church, swayed by growing social pressure, announced that contraception would be allowed in some circumstances. Soon the Anglican church completely caved in, allowing contraception across the board. Since then, all other Protestant denominations have followed suit. Today, the Catholic Church alone proclaims the historic Christian position on contraception.

According to this line of argument, the weight of Christian tradition creates a tremendous presumption against the licit use of "artificial" contraception.

But let's take a parallel case:

Turning to Christian tradition, we may note that the Fathers and Doctors of the Church are virtually unanimous in their support for capital punishment, even though some of them such as St. Ambrose exhort members of the clergy not to pronounce capital sentences or serve as executioners. To answer the objection that the first commandment forbids killing, St. Augustine writes in The City of God:
"The same divine law which forbids the killing of a human being allows certain exceptions, as when God authorizes killing by a general law or when He gives an explicit commission to an individual for a limited time. Since the agent of authority is but a sword in the hand, and is not responsible for the killing, it is in no way contrary to the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” to wage war at God's bidding, or for the representatives of the State's authority to put criminals to death, according to law or the rule of rational justice."
In the Middle Ages a number of canonists teach that ecclesiastical courts should refrain from the death penalty and that civil courts should impose it only for major crimes. But leading canonists and theologians assert the right of civil courts to pronounce the death penalty for very grave offenses such as murder and treason. Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus invoke the authority of Scripture and patristic tradition, and give arguments from reason.
Giving magisterial authority to the death penalty, Pope Innocent III required disciples of Peter Waldo seeking reconciliation with the Church to accept the proposition: “The secular power can, without mortal sin, exercise judgment of blood, provided that it punishes with justice, not out of hatred, with prudence, not precipitation.” In the high Middle Ages and early modern times the Holy See authorized the Inquisition to turn over heretics to the secular arm for execution. In the Papal States the death penalty was imposed for a variety of offenses. The Roman Catechism, issued in 1566, three years after the end of the Council of Trent, taught that the power of life and death had been entrusted by God to civil authorities and that the use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to the fifth commandment.
In modern times Doctors of the Church such as Robert Bellarmine and Alphonsus Liguori held that certain criminals should be punished by death. Venerable authorities such as Francisco de Vitoria, Thomas More, and Francisco Suárez agreed. John Henry Newman, in a letter to a friend, maintained that the magistrate had the right to bear the sword, and that the Church should sanction its use, in the sense that Moses, Joshua, and Samuel used it against abominable crimes.
Throughout the first half of the twentieth century the consensus of Catholic theologians in favor of capital punishment in extreme cases remained solid, as may be seen from approved textbooks and encyclopedia articles of the day. The Vatican City State from 1929 until 1969 had a penal code that included the death penalty for anyone who might attempt to assassinate the pope. Pope Pius XII, in an important allocution to medical experts, declared that it was reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned of the benefit of life in expiation of their crimes.
Summarizing the verdict of Scripture and tradition, we can glean some settled points of doctrine. It is agreed that crime deserves punishment in this life and not only in the next. In addition, it is agreed that the State has authority to administer appropriate punishment to those judged guilty of crimes and that this punishment may, in serious cases, include the sentence of death.

The Holy See has consistently sought the abolition of the death penalty and his Holiness Pope John Paul II has personally and indiscriminately appealed on numerous occasions in order that such sentences should be commuted to a lesser punishment, which may offer time and incentive for the reform of the guilty, hope to the innocent and safeguard the well-being of civil society itself and of those individuals who through no choice of theirs have become deeply involved in the fate of those condemned to death.
The Pope had most earnestly hoped and prayed that a worldwide moratorium might have been among the spiritual and moral benefits of the Great Jubilee which he proclaimed for the Year Two Thousand, so that dawn of the Third Millennium would have been remembered forever as the pivotal moment in history when the community of nations finally recognised that it now possesses the means to defend itself without recourse to punishments which are "cruel and unnecessary". This hope remains strong but it is unfulfilled, and yet there is encouragement in the growing awareness that "it is time to abolish the death penalty".
It is surely more necessary than ever that the inalienable dignity of human life be universally respected and recognised for its immeasurable value. The Holy See has engaged itself in the pursuit of the abolition of capital punishment and an integral part of the defence of human life at every stage of its development and does so in defiance of any assertion of a culture of death.

Ironically, conservative evangelicals generally uphold the historic Christian tradition on capital punishment whereas the modern magisterium bucking tradition. In both cases you have a break with venerable tradition in the 20C. 

Ryan for President?

Cell Groups Promote Relativism

Biblical minimalism and the Phantom time hypothesis

I’m linking to a document that defends the Phantom time hypothesis–originally propounded by Heribert Illig.

This is generally dismissed as crackpot conspiracy theory by the lunatic fringe.

But what’s striking is the parallel between the Phantom time hypothesis and the minimalist school of archeology (“Biblical minimalism”) championed by the likes of Hector Avalos.

So why is Heribert Illig a crackpot, but Hector Avalos is not?

The lineup

The Republican establishment is in a funk. Pundits label Romney the “establishment” candidate, but he’s only the establishment candidate by default. They wanted Mitch Daniels.

Now the Republican establishment is attempting to arm-twist Chris Christie or Paul Ryan to enter the race. Indeed, the party bosses have been courting those two for moths.

Now doubt Christie would be fun to watch in a debate with Obama. Christie has that bulldogged, in-your-face demeanor. You can just see Obama wilt under pressure.

He’s conservative by blue state standards. And he’s done some good.

But he’s still a northeastern Republican. He’s not conservative by the standards of the GOP generally, much less the base. He’s to the right of New Jersey, but to the left of the GOP platform.

He’d split the party.

Ryan is harder to gauge. He’s best known or only known as a budget guy. What are his social views? Or his foreign policy views?

Ryan has no incentive to step in at this point. Indeed, he has a disincentive.

He’s young. He has plenty of time ahead of him to run for president, if that’s his ultimate ambition. He already has the job he wants. A powerful chairmanship suited to his strengths and interests.

Why gamble what he already has for something he doesn’t really need or want at this point in his career?

Moreover, it’s not clear how electable he is. From what I’ve read, the Ryan plan is quite unpopular. I think that’s unfair, but politics is unfair.

There’s another calculation. Obama may be so weak that Republicans can afford the luxury of running a candidate who actually represents their views, rather than a compromise candidate who’s supposedly more electable. 

Time out

Dale Tuggy has posted a critique of James Anderson’s exposition of the incarnation of a timeless God.

Dr. Anderson can no doubt respond better than I. But I have a few things to say about Tuggy’s critique.

It should be kept in mind that Dr. Anderson’s exposition was pitched for a popular audience. It wasn’t meant to go very deep.

Back to Tuggy:

I’m with Craig. I don’t think his position implies any change in God. Rather: if God hadn’t created, he’d be timeless. But given that God has created, he’s “in time.” It seems to me that if there is time, there’s no where else to be. Our spatial metaphors (“outside” time, “above” time) are wrongheaded.

Several problems:

i) Tuggy says our spatial metaphors are wrongheaded, yet he proceeds to use a spatial metaphor: God is “in time,” there is nowhere else to be.”

ii) Does Tuggy think that time is eternal? Did time already exist when God made the world?

I ask because Tuggy says it’s wrongheaded to speak of God “outside” of time or “above” time. So does he think God always subsisted in time?

Yet he seems to index God’s temporality to the moment God made the world. Wouldn’t this suggest that God was “outside” of time or “above” time until he made the world?

iii) There’s also the question of whether Craig’s hybrid position is coherent:

Tuggy can’t very well accuse orthodox Christians of inconsistency if his own position is inconsistent in a different respect.

That’s right. So the “fathers” never had any good scriptural grounds for their belief in divine timelessness. It was all based on philosophical reasons, and I would say bad ones at that. But that’s another post.

Well, that’s ironic since he just said he sided with Craig on God’s relation to time. Yet Craig thinks there are scriptural grounds for believing that God was outside time until he made the world. Cf. W. L. Craig, Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time (CB 2001), 14-20.

In addition, it’s arguable that Gen 1 depicts the origin of time as well as the origin of space. Indeed, that these go together in the creation account.

The line that God only appears to change, but doesn’t really change, implies that he cannot ever genuinely respond to human beings. He does not open himself to be influenced either way by us. And arguably, that makes a real friendship with God impossible. But that such is possible, is at the very heart and soul of the whole Bible.

Well, that's packed with a number of unbacked assumptions.

i) Is Tuggy talking about how God is depicted in Scripture or the concept of friendship and/or responsiveness?

ii) Does Tuggy accept every Scriptural depiction of God at face value? For instance, when God comes down to earth to find out what’s happening (Gen 11:5-7), does Tuggy think that God is really like Hermes?

iii) How would Scripture depict God differently if God were timeless?

iv) Apropos (iii), if God were timeless, wouldn’t he still relate to human beings according to our timebound experience? If, for example, God has a conversation with Moses or Abraham, where they hear divine speech, either in their minds or their ears, wouldn’t divine speech be sequential? Abraham tells God something. Abraham hears God say something in reply. The back-and-forth you have in dialogue.

Yet that doesn’t require God to be in time. It only requires the audible divine words to be heard by Abraham in time. In a particular sequence. Divine words as successive events which God effected in time, at a particular time.

In principle, that’s no different than other sequential events that God brought about. God has a plan for the world. That include every event in its causal and chronological order.

God instantiates the whole plan. But that doesn’t mean God successively brings about successive events.

v) What about the concept of friendship and/or responsiveness? To begin with, we need to distinguish between two sides of friendship:

a) I’m a friend to you.

b) You’re a friend to me.

Reciprocity is a common element of friendship, especially among peers.

But some friendships are one-sided. A mentor or benefactor may be a friend to someone who’s in no position to return the favor.

Yet that’s a “real friendship.” The benefactor was a genuine friend to the person in need. A genuine friend to the needy person he befriended.

Indeed, that type of disinterested friendship is a very pure type of friendship. Where the mentor or benefactor isn’t motivated by the expectation of reciprocity.

Doesn’t Scripture describe divine friendship as a type of patronage? Doesn’t Scripture describe the profound asymmetry between God’s provision and our need?

vi) Would it be a good thing for God to be impressionable? Would it be good for God to to be influenced by evil creatures?  

vii) There are different kinds of responsiveness. There’s the type of responsiveness in which I don’t know what you’re going to say or do next. I don’t know what you think or feel unless you tell me. I’m waiting for a cue from you, then I react or adapt accordingly.

There’s another type of responsiveness in which I anticipate your needs or desires. I have a prepared response. I know before you ask. I don’t wait for you to ask.

viii) At the risk of stating the obvious, we must make allowance for the difference between God and man.

Even at a human level, the way one adult relates to another adult isn’t the same as the way an adult relates to a young child, and vice versa. The dependence is asymmetrical.

Likewise, the way a man relates to another man isn’t the same as the way a man relates to his pet dog, and vice versa. You can be a friend to a dog. A dog can be a friend to you. Yet that’s not reciprocal in the same that two high school buddies are friends.

The dog can’t relate to you on your level. You have to relate to the dog on his level.

The problem with this is that it seems that what you know-in-a-nature, you know. And what you don’t-know-in-a-nature, you don’t know. So this seems no improvement on just saying that Jesus knows and doesn’t know something, or that he knows all, and doesn’t know some.

Because of Tuggy’s heretical agenda, he acts as though the “qua stuff” doesn’t make a meaningful addition to the analysis. But that’s patently false.

Take two statements:

a) Jesus knows everything yet Jesus doesn’t know everything.

b) Because Jesus is divine, he has the attribute of omniscience, as a result of which he knows everything. But because Jesus is also human, his knowledge is limited.

(b) is not reducible to (a). (b) is more informative than (a). (b) has more explanatory power than (a).

(b) supplies an underlying reason for the difference. So (b) marks an advance over (a). It grounds the difference.

Now that explanation doesn’t explain everything. It doesn’t explain how these two things fit together in one individual. But it’s hardly equivalent to Tuggy’s reductionistic formulation.