Friday, December 09, 2011

A New Age Angle on Newt Gingrich

Supporting apologetics

Some comments I left at Wintery Knight's blog  

stephennhays says: 12/07/2011 at 8:58 PM 

Ironically, Mike Singer has to do apologetics in the very process of demoting apologetics. When he tries to defend charity as the Christian priority, when he tries to make a case for his position, he’s doing apologetics. It’s just that he’s trying to prove something different.  

In addition, telling Christians that charity ought to be their priority, even if that were true, takes for granted that you have Christians in the first place. But without apologetics, you don’t win as many converts to the faith, and you don’t retain as many.  

Finally, reducing the true faith to charity is a classically leftward move that eventually empties the church. At that point, charity is co-opted by secular charities like the United Way.  

stephennhays says: 12/08/2011 at 1:37 PM 

Asking us to prooftext apologetics is like asking us to prooftext evangelism or discipleship. Apologetics is a type of evangelism, a type of discipleship. When, in Acts, the Apostles reason from Messianic prophecy, that’s both apologetics and evangelism. When the author of Hebrews argues with congregants about not abandoning the faith, that’s apologetics and discipleship. Quite a few NT epistles defend the true faith against false teachers. That’s apologetics. 

stephennhays says: 12/08/2011 at 4:36 PM 

Mike Singer says: “Again – I am not against critical thinking or apologetics using a secular argument secular apologetics is your gift then do it by all means. To place apologist at the same level as a apostle is again not scriptural.”  

Now you’re moving the goalpost. This wasn’t a question of putting an uninspired apologist on “the same level” as an apostle, but documenting the practice of apologetics among apostles and NT writers. That supplies NT precedent.  

Moreover, your argument either proves too much or too little. By your logic, we shouldn’t pay pastors or evangelists, for that would be putting an uninspired preacher on “the same level” as an apostle.  

stephennhays says: 12/09/2011 at 8:39 AM 

Mike Singer says: “I dont see ANY scriptures presenting to a case to atheists – sorry to say.”  

I don’t see ANY scriptures in which 21st century Canadians or Americans or Australians present the gospel to 21st century atheists living in the New World. I only see commands given to 1st century residents of the Roman Empire. So I guess that you and I can skip evangelism.  

“Where does it say to pay pastors / evanglelists ? If you have scripture – it would be great to see it.”  

I see you can’t follow your own argument. You indicated that paying apologists put them on the same level as apostles. By parity of argument, paying pastors/evangelists puts them on the same level as apostles. My argument isn’t predicated on a duty to pay pastors/evangelists. Rather, it’s an argument from analogy, based on your own premise. In future, try to keep track of your own argument.  

(Mind you, I could mount an exegetical argument for paid clergy, but that’s a side issue at the moment.)  

“To be a “Christian” there means something and has a cost to the tune of your life as well as your families. History shows – the Body of Christ is most effective under persecution.”  

Well, that sounds very brave behind the safety of your computer keyboard. Why don’t you put that into practice by purchasing a ticket to Mecca or N. Korea or Iran and then begin evangelizing the locals. See how far you get.  

BTW, when are you going to stop talking about our duty to provide for the poor, and lead by example? Why don’t you sell your computer and give the proceeds to the poor?

The Rose and the Amaranth

(The following contains spoilers for the movie Limitless.)

I recently watched Limitless on Netflix. The movie centers around Eddie Morra and his chance discovery of a drug that augments mental abilities. As a fellow viewer pointed out to me, while Inception is a simple epistemological mind-teaser, Limitless raises more fundamental and practical questions.

Morra is an aspiring writer who seems to suffer from an inability to accomplish much of anything at all. He's several months behind on his book contract, having yet to write a single word. His personal life is no better either, with his longtime girlfriend moving out, leaving him with no financial support. He spends his days lagging about, hoping to stumble upon some sort of inspiration. His physical appearance, an important theme throughout the movie, is self-described as that of a homeless man or drug addict. (This latter description is perhaps ironic.)

Circumstances change--dramatically--when Morra meets his dubious ex-brother in law, Vernon. He offers Morra a sample of an "FDA approved" drug, NZT, that promises to turn his life around. Desperate, Morra downs the pill.

The drug affects an incredible change, similar to Liquid Luck in Harry Potter. Suddenly Morra's intellect is working in overdrive. Yet it is not an uncontrollable rush of ideas. His now tumescent mind is paired with the ability to perceive the necessary means to achieve his goals--whatever they might be.

The effect is conveyed through lighting techniques and lensing distortions. The world of Morra moves from bleak, drab and astigmatic, to vibrant, vivid and panoramic, and switching between the two as Morra is subsequently on and off the drug. The intended message is clear: when on NZT, Morra is fully alive.

Everything in Morra's life seems to become better, at least in terms of efficiency. Among other things, such as an ever improving, well-groomed appearance, Morra finishes his entire book in what appears to be less than a few days. In a similarly brief amount of time, he becomes fluent in several languages. Soon he becomes an incredible day trader, turning a paltry sum into millions. This attracts the attention of financial kingpin Carl Van Loon, and it isn't long before Morra is brokering a merger between two enormous companies.

Much of the movie is spent this way. Morra is increasingly successful at everything he does, and his life turns into one thrill of success after another. But why should we find that appealing? It's not as if the drug enhanced his moral capacities. He's the same person he was before, simply much more efficient. Efficiency is only good if it's applied to a good process. Yet Morra is using his new-found powers for nothing other than his own agenda.

NZT users are essentially frauds. The drug enhances the mental abilities of everyone who uses it, indiscriminately it seems. At one point a thuggish loan shark manages to get access to the drug. Before his demise at the hands of Morra, the criminal's intellectual rise, and its attendant ambition, seems as meteoric as Morra's. We hear of another individual who has taken the drug and become as wildly successful as Morra. Without NZT, Morra would still be an unaccomplished nobody, his mind and life an inchoate morass of ill-discipline.

There is an important scene near the end where Loon tries to impress upon Morra that he can offer the rising star things that can only be earned by the hard, tedious work of grubbing up the coporate ladder year after year. While Loon's ingratiation is for selfish ends, his appeal to hard work and perseverance--more generally what we would call character development--makes obvious the deficits in Morra's new life.

The drug has its side-effects, of course. Morra learns that everyone who has ever taken it is either dead, dying or suffering crippling mental problems. Morra himself begins to blackout, being unable to account for his whereabouts for stretches of time. NZT is also addictive, for what seems to be both psychological and physiological reasons, and Morra doesn't have the moral fortitude to quit.

The ending is markedly weak. The drug use doesn't catch up with Morra. Rather, we learn that he discovered the methods necessary to distill the negative and positive effects of NZT. In some of the final shots of the movie, Morra is running a highly successful campaign for the Senate, and it's implied he has what is necessary to attain the most powerful office in the world--that of President.

Morra's life should have ended as it did for everyone else who took the drug. Instead, he defies reality and achieves everything he sets his heart to, even if everything he does is fundamentally selfish.

But why would the producers refuse a realistic ending? That would despoil the illusion. After all, what else is the secular dream, but to use God's gifts without consequence, and supplant the divine with our own purposes.

Morra will eventually die like everyone else. Though he has become the most splendid of all roses, the Christian remains the amaranth, destined alone to be the eternal blossom.

"For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?"

The knight on the white horse

Alan Kurschner raises an objection to many popular amil interpretations of Rev 20:

Alan is correct to point out that Revelation 20:1-6 is part of a larger literary unit. And I think he’s suggesting that the overall sequence is premillennial. The millennium in chap. 20 takes place after the return of Christ in chap. 19. So, by definition, it’s premillennial.

What about that?

i) Does 19 describe the Parousia? The Second Coming of Christ?

Keep in mind that when we think about the Parousia, that’s a theological construct based on many different passages of Scripture. So the question is whether we’re subconsciously fitting 19 into that theological framework. If we were just working with the textual clues in 19-20, what would we think?

ii) Apropos (i), another way to cast the question is to ask where the action takes place in 19-20? Is this a scene of Christ returning to earth? Well, that may be implicit in 19, where Christ defeats his earthly enemies or human adversaries. But what about 20:1-6? It could be argued that this scene also takes place on earth.

However, this is modeled, in some measure, on the vision of God’s throne room in Dan 7. Which also lies behind the divine throne room in Rev 4-5. That suggests a heavenly setting. 

So it’s not simply a picture of Christ coming to earth, in premillennial eschatology–where Jesus reigns from Jerusalem. You do, of course, have that motif in Revelation, but that takes place after the “Millennium” (20:1-6), and after the final judgment (20:7-15). 

iii) But let’s suppose 19-20 do describe a premillennial sequence. That, alone, doesn’t settle the issue. For one thing, we need to distinguish between a chronological or historical sequence, on the one hand, and a psychological or visionary sequence, on the other hand.

Likewise, we need to distinguish between a literary sequence and a historical sequence.

John is seeing visions in a certain order. And in his visions he is seeing events unfold in a certain order. But that raises questions of how we ought to correlate the data in real time and real space.

For instance, did John see all these visions in one sitting? Visionary revelation could be exhausting.  A single vision left Daniel bedridden for days (Dan 8:27). That’s just a fraction of what we find in Revelation.

If he didn’t receive these visions in single sitting, then does his account recount the visions in the same order as he saw them? In what order did he see them? Can we reconstruct the process?

Even assuming that he saw them in one sitting, when he committed his visions to writing, did he preserve the original sequence? How could we tell?

For instance, biblical narrators sometimes rearrange events they saw in a topical or typological sequence rather than a chronological sequence. They group similar material together. Or they sequence events in the life of Christ in a way that evokes OT events.

Likewise, is the visionary or literary sequence chronological or symbolic? Is the order of events in Revelation meant to track the order of fulfillment?

iv) What’s the chronological relationship between 19:11-21 and 20:1-6? Are these successive events? Or are these simultaneous events in two different places (i.e. heaven and earth)? Are they distinguished by time or by space?

v) What’s the chronological relationship between 19:11-21 and 20:7-10? Are these successive events? Or does the fact that both events allude to Ezk 38-39 indicate that 20:7-10 is, in some respect, a throwback to 19:11-21?

vi) What’s the chronological relationship between 12:7-11 and 20:1-6? Are these consecutive events, or do these represent variations on a common theme? Assuming the latter, if Satan is cast down from heaven in 12, that would suggest a heavenly setting for 20.

And that, in turn, goes to the question of whether you view John’s narrative plan as basically linear or basically cyclical–with a climactic ending 19-22, that culminates the cycle.

vii) What’s the spatial relationship between 6:9-11 and 20:4? If these are variations on a common theme, then the heavenly setting of 6:9-11 creates a presumption in favor of the same setting in 20:4.

At the same time, we must make allowance for thematic progression as well as recapitulation, where the story is building to a dramatic conclusion. To some extent history repeats itself, but there will be a definitive break with the past at the end of the church age. In a sense, the repeatability of the past functions as a set-up or lead-in to an unrepeatable future (i.e. the eschaton).

viii) There is also the implicit chiasmic parallel between the first/second resurrection and the first death/second death. That affects whether we view the first resurrection as “spiritual” (e.g. the intermediate state) rather than physical.

It’s arguable that the resurrection language in Rev 20:4 is a spin-off from the “resurrection” in Ezk 37. Indeed, the narrative order in Rev 19-22 broadly follows the narrative order in Ezk 37-48.

ix) The issue of how the narrative sequence correlates with a temporal sequence is further complicated by John’s fondness for hysteron-proteron–a literary device which reverses the chronological sequence. Cf. Aune, 1:258-59; 3:1084-85.

All these factors raise the question of the distance at which the we were meant to view the narrative. Are we meant to focus on each scene, up close, as individually significant–or are we meant to view it from several paces back, where what matters is the general impression, the overall pattern, that John wants to convey–like a pointillist painting? Is his technique microscopic or macroscopic?

I’m not raising any issues which Alan isn’t thoroughly familiar with. I’m just discussing some of the considerations I bring to the text. In case Alan decides to eviscerate my post, I reserve the right to finger Evan May as the culprit. He hacked my password and posted this under my name. I’m blameless for what was said. 

US to become top global oil producer, passing Russia and Saudi Arabia

I found this article earlier this week, and my sense is that this is one of those stories that will shape how we live and do business over the next 50 years. It’s one of those things that the doom-sayers have not counted on:

Western energy giants are increasingly hunting for supplies in rich, developed countries—a shift that could have profound implications for the industry, global politics and consumers.

Driving the change is the boom in unconventionals—the tough kinds of hydrocarbons like shale gas and oil sands that were once considered too difficult and expensive to extract and are now being exploited on an unprecedented scale from Australia to Canada.

The U.S. is at the forefront of the unconventionals revolution. By 2020, shale sources will make up about a third of total U.S. oil and gas production, according to PFC Energy, a Washington-based consultancy. By that time, the U.S. will be the top global oil and gas producer, surpassing Russia and Saudi Arabia, PFC predicts.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

I'll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands!

For decades now, gun nuts like the NRA have slandered the liberal establishment by alleging that the liberal establishment rejects the Second Amendment. They’ve suggested that gun-control laws are part of a nefarious, incremental conspiracy to confiscate guns en masse.

But now this lie has been exposed for the libel that it is. Turns out the liberal establishment is deeply committed to the Second Amendment. There was some initial confusion due to the fact that the liberal establishment applies to the Second Amendment to Mexican drug cartels rather than American citizens. On the one hand, the liberal establishment seeks to disarm American citizens. On the other hand, the liberal establishment seeks to arm Mexican narco traffickers.

Indeed, such is the unwavering commitment of the liberal establishment to the right to bear arms that it goes the extra mile by supplying Mexican drug cartels. Transferring American weapons to Mexican drug runners.

You can hardly get more patriotic than that. Yet just when you think things couldn’t get any better, the liberal establishment also defends the Constitutional right of Mexican drug runners to take up arms against American citizens living in Southern Arizona.

It’s truly inspiring to see the liberal establishment’s stalwart adherence to the Constitution.

Friends of Israel

Posted on December 08, 2011 3:48 PM
From Special Report All-Star Panel Wednesday, December 7, 2011
On Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s recent comments on the Mid-East peace process:
It was a statement made over the weekend, and you can be sure it was approved, every word of it, by the White House. It was a very strong attack on Israel, blaming [it] essentially for the absence of a peace process. In fact he said that Israel has to “get itself to the damn table,” meaning, negotiating table.
This is egregious. This is really blaming the victim. The Israeli government has accepted a Palestinian state for the first time in the history of the Likud. It agreed to an unprecedented 10-month moratorium on settlement construction. And in fact, the Palestinian president waited nine of those months before he attended, then walked out and he hasn’t returned.
The Israelis have been ready for unconditional negotiations. And Abbas, the president of the Palestinians, put up all kind of conditions and refused to go to the table, and said openly in an interview with the Washington Post two years ago [that] he wouldn’t lift a finger or make any concessions whatsoever to Israel because Obama… will deliver Israel.
So for the secretary of defense to say the process is dead because of Israel is egregious. It’s kind of Orwellian. And it tells you about the animus and the hostility of this administration which the Israelis are feeling.
I would just add one word on the demographics. Everybody… thinks: “Israel” and [therefore] “Jews.” But 98 percent of pro-Israeli Americans are gentile. It’s a very strong, important issue among the evangelical Christians. The association [of Israel] only with Jews is missing a very large story here.

A 9/10 mentality

Death & despair


I am typing this having just had an injection to try to reduce the pain in my arms, hands, and fingers. The chief side effect of this pain is numbness in the extremities, filling me with the not irrational fear that I shall lose the ability to write. Without that ability, I feel sure in advance, my “will to live” would be hugely attenuated. I often grandly say that writing is not just my living and my livelihood but my very life, and it’s true. Almost like the threatened loss of my voice, which is currently being alleviated by some temporary injections into my vocal folds, I feel my personality and identity dissolving as I contemplate dead hands and the loss of the transmission belts that connect me to writing and thinking.


13But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord,[d] that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thes 4:13-18)  

Dr. McGrew on the Gospels and Acts as history

Here's a recent talk, which Dr. McGrew gave via Skype last month for Brian Auten's Reasonable Faith group in Belfast. The lecture runs 70 minutes; the Q & A goes for an additional half hour. There are a few "skips" in the audio (they sound like slight pops), but they are just fractions of a second, and everything is intelligible.

Video (audio with PowerPoint slideshow):

The lecture moves very quickly, so if you want to get all of the content, the video would be a good choice.

Beth is being admitted to the hospital today

Please remember us in your prayers. Please also keep in mind that I received my last full-time paycheck today; for most of the next 40 days, while I’ll be available to go into work on some occasions, I’ll largely not be getting paid for this period of time.

Please help us out if you are able:

The things to which Roman Catholics must resort in order to retain their illusions

When I was growing up, I believed that Matthew 16:18 said, “Thou art Peter, and on This Rock I will build my Catholic Church”. No kidding. The papacy was that closely identified with the Roman Catholic Church. And even in the mid 1990’s, when I had my kids in a Catholic school, they would bring home papers that said, in effect, that Jesus made Peter the first pope, and that there was an unbroken succession of popes going all the way back to Peter.

Now that historical research has pretty much undermined that little story, Roman Catholics are looking for new ways to sort-of “get around” some of the inconvenient facts. Here’s a very fine example, and an immediate correction from my friend Constantine:

Paul Hoffer is caught by Constantine in a doctrinal prevarication 
The papacy is so clearly defined over the centuries that it simply cannot wriggle itself out so easily as Paul Hoffer would suggest. In fact, the papacy is founded on the notion that Papa=Petrus Ipse (the pope = Peter himself). What follows is the analysis by J. Michael Miller, in his doctoral dissertation, The Divine Right of the Papacy in Recent Ecumenical Theology (Universita Gregoriana Editrice, Roma 1980):

Protestant and Catholic theologians agree that Leo the Great (+464) drew together the threads of a theory on Roman primacy which had been in the process of formation for at least two centuries [emphasis added]. In his theological presentation, Leo taught the dominical institution [the direct institution by Christ] of the papacy in a way which had a great influence on subsequent tradition. His theory explaining the relationship between Christ and Peter, and between Peter and the pope, was at the basis of the classical Catholic understanding of Roman primacy iure divino [by divine right].

Leo based his theory of papal primacy ex institutione divina on the evidence of Scripture: Peter enjoyed a primacy within the apostolic college. Even before Leo’s appeal to the Petrine texts as a justification for Roman primacy, other ecclesiastical writers had already drawn attention to Peter’s leadership role among the apostles. [Miller’s note: “Although in the first two centuries the Petrine texts were not invoked to justify a preeminence of the bishop of Rome, at the same time there is no evidence that any pre-Nicene writer ever suggested that the religious position of Rome depended on its secular importance.” I will challenge this notion at a later time. Continuing with Miller: “Once reflection on the reason for Roman primacy began, the Petrine texts provided an explanation for it.” This is a clear example of what I’ve called The Roman Catholic Hermeneutic.]

Leo interpreted Mt 16:18-19 in such a way that it was Christ himself who gave to Peter personally, and to him alone [emphasis added], a primatial role in the primitive Church. From his reading of the Scriptures, Leo concluded that the Lord gave to Peter, without any human mediation, a real potestas [power] within the apostolic college. Peter’s authority was a sharing in the potestas of Christ. Because of this intimate societas between the Lord and Peter, the apostle’s judgments were considered to be identical with those of Christ.

A second constitutive element of Leo’s teaching on Roman primacy was his theory of the close relation between Peter and the pope. Although the idea of the Roman bishop as successor to Peter was known in the ecclesiastical tradition prior to Leo, such assertions were isolated and not based on rigorous argumentation [emphasis added]. Leo clarified his understanding of the link between the pope and St. Peter by using the legal concept of heredity. In the tradition of Roman law familiar to him, the haeres [heir] was acknowledged as having the same rights, authority and obligations as the one whom he replaced. Legally there was no difference between the heir and the deceased. Leo adapted this idea to the authority received by Peter from Christ: the plenitude potestatis which had been given to Peter was also given fully and immediately to each of his successors. As his haeres, the pope enjoyed the same office as Peter. He took Peter’s place in his absence.

Because he held the pope to be the vicarius Petri, Leo was able to bridge the gap between two fundamental ideas: the pope’s inheritance of Peter’s potestas and Peter’s continuing role in the Church. When the term vicarious was applied to the pope, it implied the identity and continuity of Peter’s office. The bishop of Rome was both successor and vicar of St. Peter. As such he receivd more than a delegationof power to substitute for Peter in his absence. The designation implied the active transcendent intervention of Peter who continued to hold a permanent office in the Church.

The mechanism by which this was supposed to have worked was a complete fabrication, by the way. Leo wanted to be in charge of everything, and he just had a feeling it had to be this way.

This more mystical identification of the person of the heir with the deceased is not found in Roman law. To the idea of juristic continuity Leo added sacramental continuity. From heaven Peter continues to exercise a function in the Church; he not only prays as patron, but also governs it through and with his haeres and vicarius, the bishop of Rome. In this sense Papa=Petrus ipse [Pope=Peter himself]. Leo founded the permanence of the primacy on the idea of Peter’s unfailing role in the government of the Church.

In Ep. 12 Leo expressed his conviction that the care of the universal Church belonged to him on the grounds of divine institution (ex institutione divina), a term which he used explicitly. He made the link between Peter and the pope. As successor to Peter he received from Christ all that Peter had. Referring specifically to papal primacy, Leo repeated this statement in a letter to Anastasius, Bishop of Thessalonica: the bishop of Rome owed his care for the universal Church to divine institution.

At the origin of Roman primacy was institution by Christ, known by the Church from the Gospels. Institutio divina implied more, however, than dominical foundation. The formula also indicated the permanence in the Church of what had been instituted by Christ. For justifying Roman primacy Leo relied on the consortium of Christ and Peter and his theory of Papa=Petrus ipse; papal primacy, and not just Petrine primacy, was dominically instituted.

And this is where the “gap” comes in, and looms so large. There was no haeres to Peter. For 100 years, corrupt Roman presbyters, whom Hermas, a second century primary source eyewitness attested, argued among themselves as to who was greatest.

Roman Catholics want to believe that this “potestas” was hanging around “ex institutione divina” until the Newmanesque time that it was “challenged”, and then, all of a sudden, “development” occurred.

Newman’s theory was just that – a theory – and Newman, at least, had the honesty to call it such. And he provided a “defeater” -- “the one essential question is whether the recognized organ of teaching, the Church herself, acting through Pope or Council as the oracle of heaven, has ever contradicted her own enunciations. If so, the hypothesis which I am advocating is at once shattered” (Notre-Dame edition, pg 121).

If, as Hoffer and Adomnan “accurately point out”, the Petrine office [was never defined nor premised as a monarchical or one-man episcopate], then they put themselves in the position of knowing more than the pope, Leo the Great, who essentially defined the institution not only as “one-man” but “Peter himself”, in the form that it held from 450 to 1950 AD.

Not that we would be surprised if they actually believed this. Steve has documented other Roman Catholic apologists who believe they know better than popes.

But nevertheless, this historical gap, posited by many now, poses an intractable problem to the Roman Catholic doctrine of the papacy.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

One kind of penalty for corruption

Rod Blagojevich sentenced to 14 years
CHICAGO (AP) — Rod Blagojevich, the ousted Illinois governor whose three-year battle against criminal charges became a national spectacle, was sentenced to 14 years in prison Wednesday, one of the stiffest penalties imposed for corruption in a state with a history of crooked politics.

Among his 18 convictions is the explosive charge that he tried to leverage his power to appoint someone to President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat in exchange for campaign cash or land a high-paying job.

Judge James Zagel gave Blagojevich some credit for taking responsibility for his actions – which the former governor did in an address to the court earlier in the day – but said that didn't mitigate his crimes. Zagel also said Blagojevich did some good things for people as governor, but was more concerned about using his powers for himself.

"When it is the governor who goes bad, the fabric of Illinois is torn and disfigured and not easily repaired," Zagel said.
I'm just wondering about Roman Popes who were "more concerned about using [their] powers for [themselves]".

Don't mock Tim Tebow

Is God maximally loving?

I’m going to pick up on a point made by one of Rauser’s respondents. Rauser stipulates that God must be “maximally” loving.

Among other issues, this raises the question of how, if at all, Rauser can tell the difference between a God who’s maximally loving and a God who’s not. What empirical evidence would ever count against Rauser’s stipulation that God is (indeed, that God must be) maximally loving?

On the face of it, we inhabit a world that doesn’t appear to be product of a maximally loving God. A world that’s often brutally harsh.

Oh, sure, Rauser can reach into his grab-bag of theodicean strategies. But the plausibility of those strategies must be measured against the initial plausibility of his purely intuitive supposition that God is maximally loving.

So what type of evidence does he allow to count against his intuition? Or is his intuition unfalsifiable?

But if nothing would ever count as evidence against his intuitive claim that God is maximally loving, then what’s the supporting evidence for his claim? If whatever happens is consistent with his claim that God is maximally loving, then what reason is there to believe that God is maximally loving? If God wasn't maximally loving, how would things be any different? How bad do they have to get?

If no matter how bad things get, Rauser sticks to his claim that God is maximally loving, then a maximally loving God becomes evidentially indistinguishable from a maximally unloving God. 

Again, keep in mind that Rauser isn’t using an argument from authority. He’s not appealing to divine revelation.

No, this all boils down to Rauser’s personal intuition. Indeed, he deploys that as a check on revelation.

Ancestor worship

Catholic epologists justify prayer to the saints by drawing an analogy: if we ask the living to pray for us, then why not ask the dead to pray for us-–since they still exist, just not here on earth?

But like so many Catholic arguments, this falters on a fatal equivocation.  The folks we ask to pray for us are generally folks who know us personally. Christian friends and relatives. Our pastor. Folks on the church prayer-chain we attend.

So, for the analogy to hold, if (arguendo) some of the dead intercede for us, those would be Christian loved ones who preceded us to heaven. Those who prayed for us in this life would (ex hypothesi) continue to pray for us in the afterlife, until we’re reunited in the afterlife.

We don’t normally ask perfect strangers to pray for us. An exception would be charismatics who call into a phone bank, under the illusion that the “anointed” televangelist has special pull with God, and their prayer requests will be forwarded to this mighty man of God. But, of course, that, too, illustrates a faulty conception of prayer.

Yet the intercession of the saints is not analogous to asking someone who knows you to pray for you. The comparison breaks down at that very point. Rather, you’re directed to pray to certain designated strangers who lived and died before you were born.

For instance, the church of Rome doesn’t encourage Catholics to pray to their dead parents. Rather, you should direct your petitions to an official list of preapproved dead people who never knew the first thing about you.

Of course, a Catholic epologist can always shore up the analogy with ad hoc qualifications by stipulating that the “saint” enjoys supernatural knowledge of the penitent. But at that point we no longer have a simple analogy between the living and the dead. No, now we’ve customized the dead. And this is using one conjecture to prop up another conjecture. 

Frankly, traditional “ancestor worship” (e.g. Buddhist, African, or American Indian “spirituality”) is more logical than the Catholic cult of the saints. At least your parents and grandparents actually knew you.

I’m not recommending that, of course. Just pointing out that the analogy which Catholics use to justify the veneration and intercession of the saints would more logically warrant ancestor worship.

Roman Catholics: Better Double-Check Two-Faced Dave Armstrong

A couple of weeks ago, Turretinfan posted an article about me by the title, Comparing My Brother to Abraham and Elisha.

I’m going to reproduce it in its entirety here; the associated image is a screen capture of a discussion that I later had about it with Dave Armstrong:

One of my brethren recently has been criticized by a number of people because he did not accept one or more gifts.  There is a lot more that could be said about people whose pride is offended when their gifts are refused, but my brother's own attitude was the thing that caught my eye.  It reminded me of this:

Genesis 14:22-24
And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the LORD, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich: save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men which went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.

I suppose I could have thought instead of another gift refusal:

2 Kings 5:15-16  & 26-27
And he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and came, and stood before him: and he said, Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel: now therefore, I pray thee, take a blessing of thy servant. But he said, As the LORD liveth, before whom I stand, I will receive none. And he urged him to take it; but he refused.
And he said unto him, Went not mine heart with thee, when the man turned again from his chariot to meet thee? Is it a time to receive money, and to receive garments, and oliveyards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and maidservants? The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed for ever. And he went out from his presence a leper as white as snow.

Is my brother Abraham or Elisha?  Obviously not.  His circumstances differ, as do the circumstances of his refusal.  That said, I think that only a Biblically illiterate person could think that there cannot be good reasons for refusing gifts.


Dave removed the discussion with him and me (which got into a bit of personal sniping and which, no doubt, he thought reflected badly with him). Nevertheless, note Turretinfan’s statement, and then see the comment from Dave Armstrong as to the conclusion he draws from it.

For those Roman Catholics who follow Dave Armstrong, what do you think, when Turretinfan asks and answers, “Is my brother Abraham or Elisha?  Obviously not.” And then Dave draws the double conclusion, “You [John Bugay] are Father Abraham, and I am the king of Sodom.”

Better double check his work. 

Tuesday, December 06, 2011


At a conference discussing various religious orders and societies, the Jesuit representative was asked how Jesuits managed to maintain their vow of obedience.
"It's easier than you would think," the Jesuit replied. "Our superiors just ask us what we want to do and then direct us to do it, so that takes care of most of the problems."
Then someone asked about people who don't know what to do.
"Even easier," the Jesuit said. "We make them superiors." 

Why pray?

For some reason, it bugs atheists that Christians pray. Atheists spend time trying to disprove the efficacy of prayer. Trying to convince us that prayer is make-believe. Why is that?

Surely they don’t feel threatened by Christian prayer. After all, they don’t believe in a God who answers prayer. So it’s not as if the Christian is doing something that’s somehow harmful to the unbeliever.

Maybe they object to prayer because they think prayer is a waste of time. But why is that objectionable?

A waste of whose time? Not the unbeliever’s.  He doesn’t pray. And if a Christian wants to waste his time in prayer, how other folks spend their time is none of your business.

In the long run, what does the Christian have to lose? If the atheist is right, everyone loses everything sooner or later. If the atheist is right, he has just as much to lose as the Christian. So it’s not as if the Christian has more to lose.

Besides, don’t unbelievers tell us that what makes life meaningful is whatever is meaningful to you? Atheists admit that life has no objective meaning. God didn’t put you here for a reason. So the only meaning there is to life will be subjective meaning. The things you do to make life meaningful for you, on your own terms. And that varies from one individual to the next.

But in that case, even if (arguendo) prayer isn’t objectively meaningful, it remains subjectively meaningful to the Christian. From an atheistic standpoint, that makes it no more or less meaningful than whatever an atheist does to superimpose personal significance on his own tenuous existence.

Unbelievers also object to prayer because it’s so intangible. How does the Christian know that God is listening? He’s praying to somebody he can’t see, or hear, or touch. He’s making a wish: hoped-for futurities which, in the nature of the case, he can’t see or feel at the time of prayer. So praying to God seems to be empirically and psychologically indistinguishable from talking to yourself.

And no doubt there are times when Christians find the intangibility of prayer a bit disconcerting. Where it has an air of unreality. Where talking to someone and talking to no one feels much the same.

Yet, when you think about it, prayer isn’t in a class apart from other things we experience. Take the past. Certain things that happened to us.

These were real events. But from the present perspective, they are now intangible. You can’t go back in time. All you have are memories. Yet remembered events are just as intangible as nonevents. At that point they aren’t much different than something you see in a movie or read in a novel.

Things that happen to you were real. They happened in real time and real space. But from the present perspective, they don’t occupy your time and space. And yet they may be more significant to you that most day-to-day events.

What about counterfactuals? By definition, that’s a nonevent. Something that didn’t happen. Can’t get more intangible or unreal than that. Yet some nonevents can be more significant to you than real events.

Take a close call. You almost died. Or someone you love almost died. You came within an inch of dying. Maybe a driver ran a red light when you were crossing the street. A bystander tackled you just in the nick of time.

There’s a tremendous sense of relief as you look back on that near miss. Enormous gratitude.

Some people experience life-changing events. But a close call may be a life-changing nonevent. Suddenly you don’t take life for granted. You don’t take your loved one’s life for granted. Every minute counts.

Something that didn’t happen to you on that day can be far more significant to you than something that happens to you everyday of the week.  Even though it’s utterly intangible, even though there’s an obvious sense in which that’s unreal, it seems very real. For it seems as if you could just as well have taken that fork in the road. A split second separates you from the onramp to that alternate timeline. (BTW, determinism can account for this, too.)

In fact, a close call prompts some survivors to reexamine their lives. They must have been spared for a reason. They weren’t taken sooner because they still have something in this life which they need to do.

For now I’m not commenting on whether this reaction is justified. I’m just pointing out that our lives are shaped by past and future intangibles. Prayer isn’t unique in that regard. Even if, to all appearances, all your prayers go unanswered, that wouldn’t reduce it to a psychological projection or exercise in futility. 

William Lane Craig on evolution

Looks like William Lane Craig has changed his position on evolution. Compare his old position to his current position:

Of course, it's not necessarily surprising that he'd have a different position in 2011 than he had in 1974, back when he was a fledging Christian apologist, learning the ropes.

Still, it's worth noting the shift.

That said, I also find it a bit odd that he's more accepting of evolution now, at a time when there are far more sophisticated objections to evolution than existed back in 1974.

Alan's Biblical Prophecy

Creating worlds without evil

Arminians assure us that the Arminian God is more loving than the Calvinist God. Yet Arminians also believe in hell, which doesn’t seem like a very loving way to treat your loved ones.

Their fallback is to claim that God has to take the bad with the good. God can’t make a world in which everyone freely chooses him.

But is that a plausible claim, even on libertarian assumptions? Although this article is specific to Molinism, it raises parallel questions for Arminianism:

HT: Paul Manata 

Has Ron Paul actually read the Constitution?

Anti-Semites and the Future of the Right

Detainee Madness

Is William Lane Craig a theistic evolutionist?

To judge by this recent post, Craig evidently subscribes to theistic evolution:

Jesus' Family

We'll be hearing a lot about Jesus' family this month. Not only is Christmas coming, but so is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Here's a collection of our articles addressing issues related to Jesus' family in the Bible and church history.

Monday, December 05, 2011

The Patriot Act

Is Ron Paul a nanny-statist and an income redistributionist?

I’m going to expand on a point I made in a previous post. Among other things, Ron Paul proposes the following:

Help parents better educate their children by providing parents with a $5,000 per child tax credit for tutors, books, computers, and other K-12 related educational needs.
Provide tax credits and deductions for all medical expenses.

But what does he mean by a tax credit (or tax deduction)?  Isn’t a tax credit an offset for something you pay taxes on?

Does he mean parents currently pay a federal child tax? Does he mean parents currently pay federal taxes for tutors, books, computers? Does he mean patients currently pay federal taxes on all medical expenses?

Or does he just mean that out of the sum total that a family pays in Federal taxes, a designated amount will be credited to the family for educational expenses–even if there’s no connection between what items they are taxed on and what items are credited.

Take a family of seven (mother, father, and five underage kids). Under Paul’s proposal, that family would receive a child tax credit of $25,000 per annum. Notice that this is a fixed amount. It’s not correlated to how much the parental wage-earner(s) actually pay(s) in federal taxes. It’s not a direct dollar-for-dollar offset.

Same thing with the tax credit for all medical expenses. It’s not prorated according to how much the patient pays in Federal taxes.

Indeed, isn’t that the difference between a tax credit and a tax deduction? The tax credit is the same regardless of the tax bracket.

But if they are taking more out of the system than they are paying into the system, then isn’t a “child tax credit” just a euphemism for income redistribution? Manipulating the tax code to transfer wealth?

After all, that’s coming out of somebody’s pocket. Someone is taking up the slack. Someone (else) is subsidizing that family. But not the family receiving the child tax credit. Not if the tax credit exceeds what they pay in Federal taxes. (Same thing with patients.)

What if a single mother deliberately has kids out of wedlock to collect a tax credit for each child? Isn’t Paul’s proposal a recipe for welfare queens?

What about homosexual “couples” who adopt kids or have kids via reproductive technologies. Do they get a child tax credit?

What about junkies, or chain smokers, or the super morbidly obese? Do they get tax credits and tax refunds on all their medical expenses? Isn't that a safety-net for high-risk behavior?  Who is footing the bill?