Saturday, October 27, 2012

"An institutional disorder"

Wilson’s novel, pretty much forgotten now, tells the story of a writer called Bernard Sands who is married but homosexual and ends up living next door to a woman, Mrs Curry, who procures children for paedophiles. The book was deemed shocking on publication and would perhaps be thought even more so today, given the way the subject grows and grows to become our chosen national nightmare. Whatever else it has been in the past, paedophilia was always an institutional disorder, in the sense that it has thrived in covert worlds with powerful elites. Boarding schools and hospitals, yes, churches certainly, but also in our premier entertainment labyrinths.

Make history: vote for Mitt

In the last presidential election cycle, many Obama voters proudly said they were voting for Obama to make history. Electing the first black president would make history.

I assume that this time around the same voters will switch sides and cast their vote for Romney. After all, electing the first Mormon president would also make history.

2-Kingdom abortion proponents

On issues like abortion and homosexuality, the liberal establishment tries to gag Christians by preemptive ruling those issues off-limits. How dare you even raise the issue! They try to silence dissent by declaring their pet issues out-of-bounds in political discourse.

Of course, this makes it difficult to even get a fair hearing. A prolife politician (e.g. Richard Mourdock), church-planter (e.g. Tim Keller), or apologist (e.g. Scott Klusendorf) has to spend of a lot of time first taking out the garbage just to make room for rational debate. In the public sphere, they have to deal with an audience that’s often ignorant, hostile, and bigoted. It takes a lot of time just to peel away all the layers of prejudice.

Someone in this situation has to cultivate a constituency from the ground up. Spend time disarming knee-jerk reactions. Spend time deprogramming the godless cultural-conditioning which many people receive in college. Spend time educating them on history, theology, and ethics.

That’s a necessary, but time-consuming process. As such, someone in this situation has to be very politic about his tactics and rhetoric.

By contrast, it shouldn’t be necessary in intramural Christian discussion to engage in these elaborate softening-up exercises. The church is not the world. We set the bar higher. There ought be far less tolerance for the attitude we encounter in the liberal media or academia.

Of course, a pastor still needs to make a case. But he’s not starting from scratch. Christian presuppositions will be a given.

Recently, Joe Carter and Justin Taylor both posted on the Richard Mourdock kerfuffle. Predictably, two commenters (“Lou G” & “JR”) rushed in to oppose their consistent prolife position. And they claim to be professing Christians. They are to the church what Log Cabin Republicans are to the GOP.

Not coincidentally, JR is using the code language of the 2-kingdoms paradigm, promoted by some WSC professors. This illustrates the pernicious, corrupting influence of the 2-kingdoms paradigm. Instead of defending the unborn, or defending defenders of the unborn, they attack defenders of the unborn.

October 26, 2012 at 3:14 pm

So, to restate my position, as posted in TGC blog, this difficult issue ought to remain in the arena of Christian conscience. 1 – I do not see a command in scripture that requires it and 2 – a legal requirement for a woman to make this decision goes beyond what is ethically right to impose on another.

October 26, 2012 at 12:56 PM

…it's no wonder that even fair-minded and moderately conservative people regard our blanket application of Biblical principles to very difficult issues such as this as irrational and possibly laughable.

My assertion is that this decision is a matter of Christian conscience and is not governed by a specific commandment in the scriptures. Thanks.

October 26, 2012 at 7:12 PM

If we are going to bind consciences and hold people legally accountable, we have to make sure that we are not simply applying a principle, as we choose to practice it.

October 26, 2012 at 7:38 pm

The thing that we cannot get away from is the fact that the extreme position that doesn’t allow for exceptions requires us to make matters of conscience a legally binding requirement.

Here’s a key point:
At the end of the day, only the Christian worldview would compell someone to act in the way we are trying to mandate for all people. Very different from natural law issues, which are obvious to all regardless of whether they have a Christian basis or not. (Of course, that sort of two kingdom thinking, which I know some people here don’t really buy into.)

The limits of science

From an email exchange I had with a friend:

i) I think scientific realism is paradoxical. Here’s one reason. Scientific realism aims at providing an objective, third-person description of the world. Not only is that the aim, but that’s a presupposition.

However, science ultimately depends on observation. On the human observer. So underlying the third-person perspective is a first-person perspective. And it’s hard to see how science can bootstrap a third-person perspective from a first-person perspective.

ii) But the paradox runs even deeper. According to a scientific analysis of sensory perception, we don’t perceive the world directly. Rather, our perception of the world is mediated by various intervening processes. Physical objects generate sound waves, light waves, &c. That’s a form of coded energy or coded information. When that reaches our eyes, ears, and other sensory relays, that’s translated into different coded energy. Say, from electromagnetic signals to electrochemical signals.

The upshot is that my internal representation of the external world is coded information. I have a mental image of a tree. But if the scientific analysis of sensory perception is correct, then my mental representation isn’t a miniature image of the tree, but a coded analogue.

Yet if that’s the case, then there’s no reason to assume the mental representation resembles the external object, any more than musical notation resembles sound.

We tend to think of the eyes as cameras which take photographs of the outside world. The difference between the tree “out there” and my mental image is basically a difference in scale and dimensionality (i.e. a 2D image of a 3D object).

But it’s hard to see (pardon the pun) how a process of coding energy is likely to yield a readout that resembles the distal stimulus.

iii) And that’s not the end of the paradox. For we’re having to use sensory perception to analyze sensory perception. A circular procedure. So we can’t get behind the process to study the process apart from the process, for we are part of the very process we study! The percipient perceiving himself.

In a scientific analysis of sensory perception, we’re tacitly assuming a viewpoint independent of the observer. A viewpoint over and above the process. We imagine the tree “out there.” We imagine the tree generating light waves. We track the light waves as they impinge on the retina. We continue to trace the process from the outside into the brain.

But that’s an illusion. For the scientific analysis is ultimately on the receiving end of the process. Hence, we’re never in a position to retrace the process.

But in that event, the deceptively objective scientific description is even further removed from reality than appears to be the case.

So the conclusion circles back and falsifies the premise. That leaves us totally in the dark.

iv) And it’s truly insoluble given naturalism. Contrast that to Christian theism. If God made us, if God made the world, then I can understand how God could coordinate what the tree is really like, outside the observer, with the observer’s mental picture of the tree. God could design a process in which the output resembles the input.

But how would an unguided evolutionary process be able to compare what the tree is really like with our mental representation of the tree? There’s no overarching intelligence to compare the two in advance and create a chain-of-custody in which appearance and reality eventually match up.

v) Unbelievers argue for methodological naturalism on the grounds that leaving divine intervention out of the picture contributed to the tremendous progress and success of modern science and technology. Science continues to explain things that ignorant, superstitious folk used to explain by recourse to gods and demons.

From a historical standpoint, there may be a grain of truth to that portrayal, but I think it’s largely true of pagan polytheism. In polytheism, there is no unifying principle, no centralized command-and-control. Rather, you have a turf war between competing gods, who vary in their knowledge and power. Indeed, the gods themselves are the product of a cosmic process.

But in OT monotheism, there’s a single sovereign Creator God behind everything that happens. So everything is coordinated. God creates an order of second causes.

vi) Scientific realism also assumes or stipulates the uniformity of nature. And there’s a measure of truth to that. That’s somewhat analogous to divine providence. But according to providence, natural events are guided by a higher intelligence, unlike the uniformity of nature­–which is driven by mindless forces.

vii) In addition, from a Christian standpoint, historical causation includes factors like answered prayer and coincidence miracles.

These involve divine “intervention.” This type of “intervention” doesn’t necessarily “interrupt” the “natural” course of events. Not like jumping into the middle of things to change course. Rather, it’s more like a stacked deck where the cards were shuffled ahead of time to yield a specific, predetermined sequence of events. Viewed from the outside, it all looks perfectly “natural.” But there’s a higher intelligence directing the process behind-the-scenes to yield a particular conjunction of seemingly fortuitous events.

This is generally imperceptible, because the significance of the outcome is only meaningful to a particular individual in need. He recognizes how this outwardly ordinary event is extraordinarily opportune for him.

There’s no telling how often answered prayer or coincidence miracles are a driving force in history, for you have to be an insider to appreciate the answer or the “coincidence.” But these are “causes” no less than “natural” causes.

Prolife in tough cases

I'm going to repost an exchange I had over at Joe Carter and Justin Taylor's respective blogs. 

steve hays
October 26, 2012 at 5:36 PM

[JR] "My assertion is that this decision is a matter of Christian conscience and is not governed by a specific commandment in the scriptures."

That's a false dichotomy. Something doesn't have to be specifically forbidden in Scripture to be Scripturally forbidden. On various ethical and theological issues, one can make a cumulative case. The position is a construct, based on various lines of evidence from Scripture. Take a biblical case against abortion:

    October 26, 2012 at 7:12 PM

    If we are going to bind consciences and hold people legally accountable, we have to make sure that we are not simply applying a principle, as we choose to practice it.
        steve hays
        October 26, 2012 at 7:18 PM

        You presented a set of false alternatives, as if it came down to a choice between a specific biblical prohibition and freedom of conscience. That's not the choice. That's a grossly simplistic view of Biblical teaching. It disregards the nature of systematic theology.

        Moreover, the line of about "Pharisees" is rich coming from someone who's hiding behind Judith Jarvis Thomson, as if there's anything remotely Christian in that appeal.

        You need to come clean about your true commitments.

steve hays
        October 26, 2012 at 9:38 PM

        We don't require a specific Scriptural prohibition against abortion in case of rape. That's a red herring. The real issue is how Scripture views the status of the unborn, period.

        For instance, we don't have a specific Scriptural prohibition against shoving your wife off the ledge of a skyscraper. Does that make it a "case of conscience"?

steve hays
October 26, 2012 at 6:23 PM

It's hard to believe a Christian would be appealing to the infamous thought-experiment of Judith Jarvis Thomson, which is what you did on Justin Taylor's blog.

    October 26, 2012 at 8:27 PM

    October 26, 2012 at 8:27 PM

    Steve, now you're veering into unChristian discourse and personal attacks.

Would you please understand that not everyone is seeing the issues exactly as you have seen it?

    Why don't you go back and read my comment and then apologize so I can forgive you and we can try to talk to each other like grown-ups.
    Otherwise, we're done here.
        steve hays
        October 26, 2012 at 9:32 PM

        Of course everyone doesn't see the issues the same way. Jack Kevorkian doesn't see the issues the same way. Peter Singer doesn't see the issues the same way.

        I don't seek your forgiveness. You haven't earned the right to make that claim on me. Both on this thread and Justin's, you've demonstrated your lack of commitment to basic Christian ethics.

        steve hays
        October 26, 2012 at 9:51 PM

        I have a better idea. Why don't we reserve our charity and civility for babies in the womb. Treating the unborn charitably. That's a wee bit more important than the niceties of public discourse.

steve hays
    October 26, 2012 at 8:06 PM

    [JR] "It's only hard to believe if you live in an insolated bubble. Read Russ Douthat's article. This position that doesn't even allow exceptions is the extreme minority. There are moral objections that resonate with most pro-lifers who do believe that government needs to leave room for conscience."

    The fact that you call it "extreme" tips your hand. It also reveals your personal sympathy with her argument.

    "Plus, the thought-experiment of Judith Jarvis Thomson is exactly what is brought up in philosophy and ethics courses in ivy league colleges. So, if you can't deal with the argument, you haven't thought thru the issue credibly."

    Oh, I had dealt with it, along with other proabotion arguments. You're the one with the credibility problem at this juncture.

steve hays
October 26, 2012 at 9:41 PM

[JR] "personal sympathy with 'her agrument'?
I'm talking about Russ Douthat's article (via Denny Burk) I think you misread what I wrote! Let's try to be more charitable, okay?"

On this thread (“Please see my post on JT's blog also where I go into further detail, if you're interested”) you referred readers to what you wrote on Justin Taylor's thread. That's where you plug her argument for abortion. And you continue to defend that on Justin's thread. So spare me the dissembling.

steve hays
October 26, 2012 at 10:21 PM

I'm always struck by people who value etiquette more highly than ethics. They think what's ultimately important is not whether we kill babies, but whether we have a gentlemanly discussion about killing babies. They aren't indignant about the moral harshness of killing babies. Rather, they're offended by the rhetorical harshness of uncharitable discourse. They're offended by words rather than evils.

    steve hays
    October 26, 2012 at 11:00 PM

    Lou G
    October 26, 2012 at 9:55 PM

    "Steve Hays, Why are you so hateful toward JR?"

    Why are you and he so hateful towards babies in the womb?

    "You think he has demonstrated a "lack of committment to Christian ethics", but you have demonstrated a total lack of commitment to Christ."

    To the contrary, Christ cared about babies and little children. That's something you and JR ought to emulate.

    "JR has stated that he is open to being convinced and having a debate, but you have ruined your opportunity to be helpful in any way."

    To the contrary, he has an ax to grind. He's made that abundantly clear.

    And, no, we shouldn't have the same tolerance for professing Christians like him. His attitude regarding motherhood and the unborn is inexcusable. Where's your outrage for abortion?

steve hays
October 26, 2012 at 11:12 pm

Lou G
October 26, 2012 at 10:48 pm

“Steve, JR stated that he is pro-life.”

And he’s also branded consistent prolifers as extremists. That tells you where he really stands.

“And he stated that he wanted to have a discussion with other Evangelicals that went deeper than what is typical, and in the process he said he was open to being convinced otherwise.”

No, he wants to talk us out of our position.

“Calling him Jack Kevorkian…”

How people react to comparisons is always a good test of their intellectual seriousness, or lack thereof. You flunk.

JR said “Would you please understand that not everyone is seeing the issues exactly as you have seen it?”

I cited a couple of obvious counterexamples. That’s the level at which the comparison operates.

“I don’t think he’ll waste his time with you anymore. I don’t think I will either.”

You’re blind to (and blinded by) your own bias. You’re hardly an even-handed broker in this debate. You defend him because you sympathize with his position.

steve hays
October 26, 2012 at 11:48 PM

Lou G
October 26, 2012 at 11:20 PM

"You have been both unreasonable and unChristlike in the way you have conducted yourself in these comments. Disgraceful."

Your moral priorities are skewed. You need to save your outrage for at-risk babies.

    October 26, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    Angela, that’s an excellent point! I sure hope that our culture warriors will consider Dr. Mohler’s wisdom to consider compromise for the sake the unborn, rather than insisting on an all or nothing strategy. Thanks for your example
        steve hays
        October 26, 2012 at 10:36 pm

        No, that muddies the waters. There’s a basic moral difference between not attempting to outlaw abortion in case of rape because you couldn’t succeed even if you tried, and not attempting to outlaw abortion in case of rape even if you could succeed because you don’t think abortion in case of rape is wrong. JR is dissembling.

    steve hays
    October 26, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Of course, you’re pirating the infamous thought-experiment by Judith Jarvis Thomson. Two quick observations:

    i) The comparison is fatally equivocal. The relationship of a child to her mother is not analogous to the relationship of a woman to a complete stranger. Parents have an obligation to protect and provide for their own children, even if that means the parent is putting himself/herself at risk. Likewise, grown children have an obligation to protect and provide for elderly parents. Big brothers have an obligation to protect kid brothers.

    ii) There’s also such a thing as secondary moral obligations (as Jeremy Pierce puts it). Take the case of a founding. A poor mother who can’t provide for her newborn places the baby on the doorstep of a neighbor.

    The neighbor didn’t ask for the child. But the neighbor has been put in a position where he now has a duty to care for the child, even though he didn’t volunteer for that job.

steve hays
October 26, 2012 at 9:22 pm


“Fatally equivocal?? Haha.”

Haha? You think aborting babies is amusing?

“Or we being just a tab bit melodramatic, eh?”

No, I’m being accurate. A virtue it would behoove you to emulate.

“What relationship does the ‘mother’ of the unborn child have with the baby in the womb?”

Why do you put “mother” in scare quotes? A pregnant woman is a mother. Don’t you know that? It’s pretty elementary.

“Especially in the early days of pregancy? None.”

To the contrary, she has a maternal relationship. She’s the mother of the child. That’s a pretty fundamental relationship.

“And why would you assume that she couldn’t develop a caring and nurturing relationship with man also?”

Irrelevant. Duties don’t presuppose a caring, nurturing relationship. If a father abandons his kids, he’s still related to his kids. They are his kids. He is their father. Even if he’s indifferent to their welfare, he retains paternal duties to them.

It’s not a caring relationship that creates the duty; rather, it’s the duty that obligates a caring relationship.

And this isn’t a question of “developing” a relationship. The mother/child relationship is inbuilt, just like the father/child relationship.

“The illustration doesn’t have to be perfectly analogous to make the point.”

The analogy breaks down at the essential point of comparison. We don’t have the same obligation to strangers that we do to our children.

To take another comparison, a husband has a duty to protect his wife, even if he must risk his own life to protect hers. He doesn’t have the same duty with respect to a perfect stranger.

“An honest person would at least admit the point that has been made, which is that the legal requirement to force the woman to carry the baby is not firmly supportable.”

You’re lapsing back into the euphemism of a “woman.” But we’re not talking about women in general. Rather, we’re talking about a “mother,” and her maternal responsibilities to her baby.

Every mother is a woman, but every woman is not a mother. You keep disregarding fundamental human distinctions and moral distinctions.

And, yes, the law can properly require parents to care for their children. That’s hardly extreme. If a father abandons his kids, the law can “force” him to pay child support.

“As far as Jeremy Pierce’s argument regarding secondary moral obligations, certain those issue come into play here, but again, at the end of the day, what we’re dealing with is what is the neighbor’s LEGAL requirement in dealing with the baby left to their care?”

Are you now admitting there’s a moral obligation, but drawing the line at a legal obligation?

And why not make that a legal requirement? If the neighbor knows there’s a newborn on his doorstep, but leaves it there to die of exposure, then he ought to be criminally liable.

“The thing that we cannot get away from is the fact that the extreme position that doesn’t allow for exceptions requires us to make matters of conscience a legally binding requirement.”

Calling it “extreme” doesn’t make it extreme. And even if it were “extreme,” that doesn’t make it wrong. Even atheists like the philosopher Keith Burgess-Jackson think the rape exception is illogical. What you call “extreme” is simply a consistent position.

“When liberals do it on social issues, we’re the ones who are outraged. But for some reason when we do it with our own convictions (as wonderful as they may be), we’re blind to our own self-righteousness.”

That’s not because liberals are “extreme” on social issues, but because they are simply wrong.

Moreover, you keep appealing to “conscience.” Well, that’s a just euphemism for your moral blindness, which you then baptize with a nice-sounding label like “conscience.”

“Here’s a key point: At the end of the day, only the Christian worldview would compell someone to act in the way we are trying to mandate for all people.”

Parents can rightly be mandated to care for their children, just as grown children can rightly be mandated to care for their elderly parents.

“Very different from natural law issues, which are obvious to all regardless of whether they have a Christian basis or not.”

Universal recognition isn’t a presupposition of natural law. That disregards the degree to which people like you can be morally warped.

            October 26, 2012 at 9:37 pm

            “the degree to which people like you can be morally warped”?
            Good bye, Steve Hays. Have a good life.
                steve hays
                October 26, 2012 at 10:39 pm

                Pity you deny the unborn the right to a good life.

steve hays
October 26, 2012 at 5:05 pm

To take another comparison, suppose I move into a dumpy apartment complex. The neighborhood is a slum, but that’s all I can afford for now.

After a few weeks there I discover that the tenant in the apartment next door to mine is an elderly woman who’s grown children abandoned her after she become too much of a chore for them to deal with. She’s too infirm to walk any distance, her car was stolen, and she really can’t afford to go shopping.

So I begin having her over to my apartment for lunch or dinner. And I drive her to medical appointments. Mind you, it was hard for me to make ends meet even before I met her. Feeding her further complicates my financial struggles. And driving her to medical appointments is terribly inconvenient. Besides, she’s not even related to me.

So what do you think I should do in that situation? Let her waste away in her apartment?

steve hays
October 26, 2012 at 9:26 pm

And I’m arguing from the lesser to the greater. If that’s what I should do for a neighbor, then there are things I must do for my child.

steve hays
    October 26, 2012 at 10:42 pm

    There’s nothing inherently fallacious about a lesser-to-greater argument. And, yes, sometimes higher stakes do convert should into must.

    For instance, you don’t think the state should require a father who abandons his kids to support them financially?

October 26, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Honest question. Why would a Calvinist find anything to disgree with in Mourdock’s statement? If God controls every particle of dust in the universe (as Piper has stated he believes), then why isn’t the rape of a woman what God intended to happen? It seems like a perfectly reasonable description of the Calvinist stance to me. It’s not just that God intended for good to come from an evil act, but that God ordainded that the evil act should take place. That’s what the media is reacting to. It seems that Calvinists are shying away or distancing themselves from the logical conclusions of their theology.

    steve hays
    October 26, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    Honest answer:

steve hays
    October 26, 2012 at 4:45 pm

    In other words, you weren’t asking a honest question. You’re just an Arminian troll. You were actually posing a dishonest question as a pretext to launch into a simplistic attack on John Piper.

    Jeremy Pierce is a Reformed philosopher. Instead of dealing with his response, you change the subject.

    BTW, double predestination isn’t hyper-Calvinism. Limited atonement isn’t hyper-Calvinism. You’re inventing an idiosyncratic definition to trade on the negative connotations of “hyper-Calvinism.

steve hays
October 26, 2012 at 4:52 pm

You’re derailing a defense of the unborn so that you can attack Calvinism. Why do you hate Calvinism more than you love the unborn? If Justin Taylor does a post dismantling the rape exception, shouldn’t you defend his post rather than using his post as an excuse to attack Calvinism? At that point this becomes just another debate over Calvinism rather than a defense of the unborn. Where are your priorities? Are you even a Christian? Why can’t you take time out from the Calvinist/Arminian debate to support Justin’s post?

steve hays
    October 26, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    You were already given an answer. You’re ignoring the distinctions drawn by Jeremy Pierce. You pretended to be asking an “honest question,” but when you’re given a honest answer, you steadfastly refuse to make a good faith effort to interact with the details of the answer.

    You’re conducting yourself in a morally reprehensible fashion.

steve hays
                October 26, 2012 at 6:36 pm

                “BTW, I don’t feel the need to attack Calvinism.”

                That’s further dissimulation on your part. You’re blatantly using your disingenuous question as a pretext to attack Calvinism.

                Why can’t you take a little break from your myopic obsession with Calvinism just long enough to stick up for the right of unborn babies not to be murdered in the womb? Is that really asking too much? Why are you morally impervious to that elementary concern?

David Zook
October 26, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Great question AJG. I hope my response is helpful. As I read the Scripture I have yet to find God ordaining (decreeing) a heinous evil, or any evil for that matter. That would pervert his goodness and justice … and he would no longer be God.

Rather, I see God permitting evil to occur (if he didn’t none of us would be here) to work toward good for his purposes. Outside of the Passion, the story of Joseph may be the clearest story that illustrates this point. This is his story of redemption.

    steve hays
    October 26, 2012 at 5:09 pm

    People have habit of not finding what they’re avoiding. It’s easy to overlook something you weren’t looking for. Funny how that works. Like a burglar who can’t find a policeman.

steve hays
    October 26, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    You are feigning honesty, but your modus operandi is dishonest. If your question was actually sincere, you’d acknowledge and address the distinctions given by Jeremy Pierce. He’s a Calvinist. He’s dealing with the very issue at hand.

    This post is not about Calvinism. This post is about protecting the life of babies conceived in rape. But you can’t bring yourself to defend the right of the unborn. That’s not important to you. The only thing you care about is changing the subject so that you can turn this into yet another debate over Calvinism. What does that say about your moral priorities?

Did Jesus Believe He Was Divine?

Here's a recent discussion between Michael Licona and Dale Martin on the topic "Did Jesus Believe He Was Divine?".

The Eloquence of Mark Steyn

Friday, October 26, 2012

Fishing for answers

Dr. Brian Fishman writes in his post "Losing My Religion, Respecting Those Who Believe":

I was raised in an orthodox Jewish household. I went to a private Jewish day school until my freshman year of high school, when I made my first Christian friends. It was only then that I realized how incredibly sheltered my life had been. Throughout high school and college, I gained a deeper appreciation for science and became fascinated by evolutionary theory. After I graduated, I went back to school for a degree in evolution. As I look back on it now, I feel like I got a good grade school education and learned enough about religion to know that it wasn't for me. I respect faith and the myriad benefits it has for people, but somewhere along the line I lost the capacity to believe in anything that I can't see for myself or prove with scientific inquiry.

When I see otherwise healthy, active, innocent people waste away with diseases like cancer or have their lives suddenly taken from them in tragic accidents or random acts of violence, it's difficult for me to believe that some benevolent deity is letting that happen. I have religious friends who argue that people have free will and god isn't necessarily watching over every aspect of our lives. But if that's the case, why devote time, energy, and faith to someone who isn't listening to your prayers?

Hi Brian,

Thanks for your post. I am religious but I also respect the beliefs of all religions as well as non-religious people.

That said, might I please comment on a few statements you've made (with, of course, the utmost respect)?

somewhere along the line I lost the capacity to believe in anything that I can't see for myself...

1. There are many things which we can't "see" but which we are warranted to believe in. For example, numbers. We can't "see" the number 2 (for example) with our physical eyes because the number 2 doesn't exist as a physical entity. Nevertheless there's no good reason for me to doubt the number 2 does exist. It exists in a non-physical sense, but it does exist even though I can't see it.

2. After all, if we imagine a world where there was no writing, perhaps prehistoric humanity, would this mean numbers did not exist then but numbers only existed once there was a species (homo sapiens) around to think about them? If so, then that would wreak havoc on a lot of other beliefs we hold!

or prove with scientific inquiry

1. This depends on what we mean by "scientific inquiry." How would you define "scientific inquiry" or "science"?

2. Does "scientific inquiry" refer to the scientific method? Yet the scientific method as traditionally understood has its limitations. For starters, check out what the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says here.

3. How do we use "scientific inquiry" to "prove" the rules of logic? Deduction, induction, inference, etc. Don't the rules of logic have to be assumed in order for "scientific inquiry" to get off the ground in the first place? Don't we have to assume logic works in order to conduct science? As such, how can we use science or scientific inquiry to prove the rules of logic?

4. Likewise take the rules of mathematics. These surely exist even though we cannot "prove" with "scientific inquiry" that they exist.

5. Or take aesthetics. How do we use "scientific inquiry" to "prove" something is beautiful or ugly? Yet doubtless some people find certain things beautiful and other things ugly.

6. Or take morality. How do we use "scientific inquiry" to "prove" murder or rape or stealing or whatever is morally wrong (or right)?

7. Or take science itself. How do we use "scientific inquiry" to prove that the universality of scientific laws? It's not as if we've observed the entire universe.

8. Or take absurd ideas like how can we use "scientific inquiry" to "prove" the entire universe and everything in it simultaneously grew twice as big in size (or shrunk half in size), say, exactly 10 minutes ago. If everything grew twice as big in size all at the same time 10 minutes ago, then how would we notice any difference?

9. Or how can we use "scientific inquiry" to "prove" we don't live in the Matrix? Or that we're not brains in a vat, as the philosophical conundrum has it?

When I see otherwise healthy, active, innocent people waste away with diseases like cancer or have their lives suddenly taken from them in tragic accidents or random acts of violence, it's difficult for me to believe that some benevolent deity is letting that happen.

1. Here you're raising the problem of evil and suffering. Of course, various religions have their various responses.

2. However, let's say physicalism or naturalism is true. Let's say there is no God. In that case, how can you ground objective morality? How can you say what's objectively right or wrong if there is no God and physicalism is true? How can you say "healthy, active, innocent people waste away with diseases like cancer or have their lives suddenly taken from them in tragic accidents or random acts of violence" is objectively wrong? Isn't this simply the way nature is? It's just neo-Darwinism in action. But there's nothing objectively right or wrong about neo-Darwinism in action. After all, reasonable people don't think there's anything objectively right or wrong if a few bugs are randomly killed by other bugs or by a stone accidentally falling on the bug or whatever. There isn't anything objectively right or wrong about a few bugs dying, is there? In the same way, if there is no God, and physicalism is true, then what's wrong with a few humans dying of cancer even though they are young? Isn't this just neo-Darwinism in action? And how can a process like the neo-Darwinian process be morally right or wrong? Facts are facts, there's nothing right or wrong about facts, is there?

Please note what I'm not asking. I'm not asking how we can know what's objectively right or wrong. I take it most people - religious or irreligious or otherwise - know what's right and wrong. Nor am I asking whether moral people can behave immorally or immoral people behave morally. I accept this can be the case. Rather I'm asking how you can ground objective morality in a naturalistic universe?

But if atheism and naturalism can't ground objective morality, then given atheism and naturalism, how can the atheist or naturalist even raise the problem of evil in the first place?

3. Finally, this will sound extreme, but I'm being extreme not because I actually believe this but rather to point out a problem. Let's say there is no God and neo-Darwinism is true. Currently we consider rape morally wrong. But why isn't it possible for humans to evolve and believe rape is morally right?

Will he be missed?

R.I.P. Paul Kurtz. We all owe you a great debt of gratitude for making the world a better place. You will be missed.

It’s customary to say nice things about the dead, especially right after they die.

Still, atheists pride themselves on their unflinching honesty, even when it hurts. As Richard Dawkins so charmingly put it:

If it's true that it causes people to feel despair, that's tough. It's still the truth. The universe doesn't owe us condolence or consolation; it doesn't owe us a nice warm feeling inside. If it's true, it's true, and you'd better live with it. 

So is Shermer’s eulogy true? Not only do I see no evidence that Kurtz will be missed–I see no evidence that he was missed even when he was still alive. Indeed, it’s pretty clear to me that time had passed him by long before he died. He was just another old man, filling time, waiting to die.

The intellectual momentum of the infidel movement had clearly shifted to the younger generation. And even among the old guard, the atheist thinkers whom Christian philosophers took seriously were guys like Antony Flew, J. L. Mackie, and William Rowe–not Paul Kurtz.

For that matter, did he leave the world a better place? Even from a secular standpoint, his impact was fairly negligible.

Likewise, it’s been less than a year since Christopher Hitchens died. Honestly, who even notices? Absence is very different than presence. Once you’re gone, it’s only a tight little circle who really miss you.  

Nietzsche was right about atheism. In a godless world, it does come down winners and losers. Young and old. Rich and poor. Healthy and sickly. Powerful and powerless.

A godless world is a shouting match in which everyone is screaming for attention. The prize goes to the loudest.    

And that’s no contest. The young bucks oust the aging bucks. In about three decades, Richard Carrier will be where Kurtz was in his dotage.

The road to apostasy

Then I think about the long history of humanity, reaching back many tens of thousands of years. People with unique stories, who have thought and believed so differently from each other, and continue to do so. And I wonder if God even exists, or, if he does, what possible connection he could have to all of this–and why I bother going to San Francisco to talk about God. 

Satire alert

Jeff Lowder recently posted this:

I’ll make three quite observations:

i) Assuming we take the letter at face value, so what? 14-year-olds are often unsophisticated. Big deal.

ii) We could just as well link to something like the Columbine massacre, with the heading “Is This What Happens When Children are Public Schooled?”

It tells you something about the bubble that atheists like Lowder and Fales inhabit that they can’t anticipate glaring counterexamples.

iii) However, it's pretty obvious to me that the letter is manifestly satirical. Now, there are people who never get satire. They always read it straight. Someone else has to explain it to them.

So we have the ironic spectacle of Jeff and his infidel commenters laughing at the homeschooler, but the laugh is on them. If this is satirical, and they are too dense to figure that out, then it’s not the student who ends up looking dumb, but the "free-thinkers" who are looking down on the student. They are never dumber than when they flaunt their intellectual superiority.

Zombie preparedness

Ben Stein:

"Fathom the hypocrisy of a government that requires every citizen to prove they are insured...but not everyone must prove they are a citizen." Now add this, "Many of those who refuse, or are unable, to prove they are citizens will receive free insurance paid for by those who are forced to buy insurance because they ARE citizens."

Free audio of selected Martin Luther writings

Christian Audio is offering a free download of “Martin Luther: In His Own Words”, read by David Cochran Heath. The download includes the following works:

The Small Catechism
95 Theses
On Faith and Coming to Christ
On Confession and the Lord's Supper
Of the Office of Preaching
Excerpt from Luther's Tower Experience
The Last Written Words of Luther

I’ve listened to a bit of this, and the performance really is excellent.

How Martin Luther “went viral”

A writer for The Economist compares the early printing and re-printing of Luther’s pamphlets with revolutionary events of our day that gained momentum through the “social media”:

Scholars have long debated the relative importance of printed media, oral transmission and images in rallying popular support for the Reformation. Some have championed the central role of printing, a relatively new technology at the time. Opponents of this view emphasise the importance of preaching and other forms of oral transmission. More recently historians have highlighted the role of media as a means of social signalling and co-ordinating public opinion in the Reformation.

Now the internet offers a new perspective on this long-running debate, namely that the important factor was not the printing press itself (which had been around since the 1450s), but the wider system of media sharing along social networks—what is called “social media” today. Luther, like the Arab revolutionaries, grasped the dynamics of this new media environment very quickly, and saw how it could spread his message....

The unintentional but rapid spread of the “95 Theses” alerted Luther to the way in which media passed from one person to another could quickly reach a wide audience. “They are printed and circulated far beyond my expectation,” he wrote in March 1518 to a publisher in Nuremberg who had published a German translation of the theses. But writing in scholarly Latin and then translating it into German was not the best way to address the wider public. Luther wrote that he “should have spoken far differently and more distinctly had I known what was going to happen.” For the publication later that month of his “Sermon on Indulgences and Grace”, he switched to German, avoiding regional vocabulary to ensure that his words were intelligible from the Rhineland to Saxony. The pamphlet, an instant hit, is regarded by many as the true starting point of the Reformation....

The media environment that Luther had shown himself so adept at managing had much in common with today's online ecosystem of blogs, social networks and discussion threads. It was a decentralised system whose participants took care of distribution, deciding collectively which messages to amplify through sharing and recommendation. Modern media theorists refer to participants in such systems as a “networked public”, rather than an “audience”, since they do more than just consume information. Luther would pass the text of a new pamphlet to a friendly printer (no money changed hands) and then wait for it to ripple through the network of printing centres across Germany.

Unlike larger books, which took weeks or months to produce, a pamphlet could be printed in a day or two. Copies of the initial edition, which cost about the same as a chicken, would first spread throughout the town where it was printed. Luther's sympathisers recommended it to their friends....

Amid the barrage of pamphlets, ballads and woodcuts, public opinion was clearly moving in Luther's favour. “Idle chatter and inappropriate books” were corrupting the people, fretted one bishop. “Daily there is a veritable downpour of Lutheran tracts in German and Latin…nothing is sold here except the tracts of Luther,” lamented Aleander, Leo X's envoy to Germany, in 1521. Most of the 60 or so clerics who rallied to the pope's defence did so in academic and impenetrable Latin, the traditional language of theology, rather than in German. Where Luther's works spread like wildfire, their pamphlets fizzled. Attempts at censorship failed, too. Printers in Leipzig were banned from publishing or selling anything by Luther or his allies, but material printed elsewhere still flowed into the city. The city council complained to the Duke of Saxony that printers faced losing “house, home, and all their livelihood” because “that which one would gladly sell, and for which there is demand, they are not allowed to have or sell.” What they had was lots of Catholic pamphlets, “but what they have in over-abundance is desired by no one and cannot even be given away.”...

The surge in the popularity of pamphlets in 1523-24, the vast majority of them in favour of reform, served as a collective signalling mechanism. As Andrew Pettegree, an expert on the Reformation at St Andrew's University, puts it in “Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion”, “It was the superabundance, the cascade of titles, that created the impression of an overwhelming tide, an unstoppable movement of opinion…Pamphlets and their purchasers had together created the impression of irresistible force.” Although Luther had been declared a heretic in 1521, and owning or reading his works was banned by the church, the extent of local political and popular support for Luther meant he escaped execution and the Reformation became established in much of Germany.

Eternity in their hardened hearts

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end (Eccl 3:11).

On the one hand:

What I expect will most probably happen is that my body will fail, my mind will cease to function, and that will be that.

On the other hand:

Sometimes the key to one movie can be suggested by another one. We know that the title refers to early drawings of the shapes and behavior of clouds. Not long ago I saw a Swedish film, "Simon and the Oaks," about a day-dreaming boy who formed a bond with an oak tree. In its limbs, he would lie reading books of imagination and then allow his eyes to rest on the clouds overhead. As he read a book about desert wanderers, the clouds seemed to take shape as a ghostly caravan of camels in procession across the sky.

I was never, ever bored by "Cloud Atlas." On my second viewing, I gave up any attempt to work out the logical connections between the segments, stories and characters. What was important was that I set my mind free to play. Clouds do not really look like camels or sailing ships or castles in the sky. They are simply a natural process at work. So too, perhaps, are our lives. Because we have minds and clouds do not, we desire freedom. That is the shape the characters in "Cloud Atlas" take, and how they attempt to direct our thoughts. Any concrete, factual attempt to nail the film down to cold fact, to tell you what it "means," is as pointless as trying to build a clockwork orange.

But, oh, what a film this is! And what a demonstration of the magical, dreamlike qualities of the cinema. And what an opportunity for the actors. And what a leap by the directors, who free themselves from the chains of narrative continuity. And then the wisdom of the old man staring into the flames makes perfect sense.

What’s striking is how worldly men like Roger Ebert harbor these irrepressible, otherworldly longings. A longing for something this world can never offer. A yearning for something truly out-of-this-world. For Ebert, a film like Avatar or Cloud Atlas is the closest he will ever get to heaven. He thinks this life is all there is, yet he yearns for transcendence. He thinks this world defines reality, yet the world is not enough for him. Having denied real heaven, he escapes into imaginary heavens.

Barring a deathbed conversion, he will someday discover that what he put behind him because it was too good to be true was too good not to be true, only it will be too late to look back.  

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Providence and evil

On Facebook, Jeremy Pierce offers characteristically intelligent analysis of a current kerfuffle. Keep in mind that he's speaking off the cuff. I'll just reproduce his end of the exchange:

Richard Mourdock is being attacked for believing Genesis 50:20. It's not about abortion or rape but divine sovereignty, goodness.

    Jeremy Pierce I would have thought it was pretty obvious that what he was saying is that God has created a life, and that life is a gift, regardless of its origins. It's perfectly compatible for good to come out of something bad, and therefore it undermines the argument that abortion is all right merely because the pregnancy resulted from rape. That makes quite a lot of sense. It basically identifies the genetic fallacy in the argument for abortion in rape cases.

    Jeremy Pierce It's not a sexual ethics argument. This isn't an issue of whether the sex or rape is allowed but what's morally allowable afterward. His point is that not being responsible for being in a situation doesn't remove responsibilities that incur merely from being in that situation. Like the baby on the doorstep situation except that you're also the biological parent and thus have at least a prima facie responsibility to care for the child.


    Jeremy Pierce On the specific point of Mourdock, though, I think some of the complaints assume he's speaking of the rape as good and not the more obvious antecedent, the child. And there's also a further confusion of something's being good in itself vs. used by God for a good. You have to take it the former way also to get their interpretation, and if he did mean to refer to the rape as intended for god he'd almost certainly mean the latter. Standard theodical point in discussions of God and evil.

    Jeremy Pierce There is another assumption, though, that we have a responsibility to take care of what God entrusts us with.

    His comments assume he means the pregnancy. That's what I've been saying. But some of his critics are taking him to mean the rape.

    Jeremy Pierce He's not trying to argue against the person who doesn't think a fetus has moral status. He's trying to argue on behalf of the view that once you have that the rape exception isn't justified. And he isn't arguing for passivity but for proactive care for those entrusted to us.

    The reason to your question in the second comment is that he's a politician, and people who can just give the simplest and most careful argument are usually incapable of getting elected to public office. I don't pretend that politicians are going to make the best arguments for their views. But I do get irked when their opponents take them to be saying something totally implausible when there's a much more charitable and likely meaning. The idea that he thinks God must endorse the rape as good flies in the face of what Christians have always believed about theodicy, going back to Gen 50 but also including the very cross itself, which Peter twice in Acts says was an evil act on the part of Jesus' murderers but was part of God's very plan. So accusing him of thinking the rape is justified is also accusing him of not partaking in the very great tradition of theodicy that his statement sure sounds like it stands within.

    The last few sentences of your second comment seem to me not to distinguish between something's being good in itself and something's being bad but allowed because it serves a higher good. Suppose Mourdock meant to affirm the rape itself was something God deliberately allowed. I suspect he might believe that. Anyone with a view of divine sovereignty that's stronger than open theism must do so, since they accept that God knew it would happen and didn't stop it. I don't think that's what Mourdock's actual statement was about, but suppose it was. It doesn't follow that he endorses rape as good, because it doesn't follow from taking God to have allowed it to happen to serve some higher purpose that God endorses the evil act itself as morally allowable. It's only open theists and hyper-Calvinists who would disagree with that. And I think these critics of Mourdock must be assuming there's no view in between hyper-Calvinism and open theism, because the argument makes no sense unless there is no such middle ground. But that middle ground is exactly where we find the majority of Christians both historically and now.


    Jeremy Pierce I'm not trying to evaluate his argument, just complaining that he's being grossly misinterpreted and strangely being taken as outside the mainstream. The things he's saying are well within the mainstream.

    Jeremy Pierce And these same critics say nothing about Mourdock's opponent's co-sponsorship of the infamous "forcible rape" bill, which for Ryan means he approves of rape and can even be used against Buerkle, who got them to remove that language.

    Jeremy Pierce Gen 50:20 has to do with being sold into slavery by one's own brothers and being separated from one's family for decades. I wouldn't say we can compare easily which is worse when you compare that to rape, but surely it's a great evil that the Bible nonetheless can say quite clearly was intended by God for good, even though the people who did it intended it for evil. What it shows us is not anything directly about rape but that God can intend evil by someone's greatly evil act. The cross is the prime example of this principle. In one sense it was the most evil act in the history of humanity. Yet it was fully intended by God as the most good act of God in all of history.

    Our valuation of our circumstances is perspectivally-located, and sometimes our circumstances and perspective can lead us to be sensitive to truths that others cannot see, but sometimes they can lead us to ignore truths that others can see. Someone in that position is seeing it as good or bad in terms of what she would normally expect, how evil what happened is, how the results differ from what she would normally and should normally expect, how easily she can bear it, and so on. She is not thinking from the perspective of the one whose existence began through that terrible act. There are real people out there who were conceived as a result of rape. I'm not going to tell them that their very existence is an evil or that God didn't want them to exist. Ideally someone commenting on such issues would be able to take into account the experiences of both people. Mourdock didn't do that, and he can be faulted for that.

    But his critics have completed failed in taking account the existence of these real people whose origins lie in a very evil act but who nonetheless are created by God, made in his image, and have the full worth of any person. They are also the children of the woman who was raped and not just of the rapist, despite how this issue is usually presented (as if they're his child, and their mother ought therefore to have no connection with her own child because of that fact), which just furthers the notion that there's something wrong with them that children of rape can often have.

    As I've said above, his reasoning falls short of a good argument. As Jonathan said, would need to bring in other things to make it work, and once those are there this stuff isn't necessary (but I do think they add something, even if they're not necessary). But I think the critics are being unfair, and I think they're criticizing not just this particular view of his but something fundamental to Christianity.

Divorce, Part 2

TFan has offered a 2-part response to my discussion of divorce vis-à-vis domestic violence:

I’ve already responded to part 1. Now I’ll respond to part 2.

Just to review, in discussing the possibility that domestic violence might be grounds for divorce, one argument I used was an a minore ad maius argument.

An a minore ad maius argument is a special type of a fortiori argument, which is, in turn, a special type of argument from (or by) analogy.

There are two types of a fortiori arguments:

a minore ad maius (lesser-to-greater)

a maiore ad minus (greater-to-lesser)

Arguments from analogy are very common in ethics, law, and science. And they are common in Scripture.

For instance, the Mosaic law contains a great number of case laws. A Jewish judge was often required to reason by analogy from a case law to a comparable situation.

Divorce, Part 1

TFan has posted a 2-part response to my discussion of divorce vis-à-vis domestic violence. In this post I’ll reply to part 1:

The Lord hates divorce. That was one of the messages of the prophet of Malachi…So, naturally, I also hate divorce - and you should too.

Divorce is not the only thing the Lord hates. Given what God says about marriage in Eph 5 (to take one example), I’m sure that God also hates domestic violence.

Before we get further, though, it is perhaps important to provide a little background into what divorce is, in Biblical terms.

From a Biblical standpoint, a divorce is the husband putting away the wife. The classical passage is this: Deuteronomy 24:1-4…There is no similar provision for wives in the Old Testament law. A wife could not decide that her husband was unclean and write him a bill of divorcement and put it in his hand and send him out of her house. There was no category of women divorcing their husbands.

There are several serious problems with TFan’s appeal to Deut 24:1-4:

i) TFan doesn’t seem to grasp the nature of case law, even though I already went over that ground. OT case law is illustrative rather than exhaustive. It doesn’t cover every conceivable situation. Rather, when an issue arose which wasn’t specifically addressed in the Mosaic law, Jewish judges had to extrapolate from the nearest applicable law. So TFan’s argument from silence is fallacious.

Notice that TFan doesn’t even attempt to show that my explanation of case law is false. He simply ignores it.

I find it disappointing that he refuses to argue in good faith. When he raises an objection, and I present a counterargument, it’s incumbent on him to acknowledge and interact with the counterargument. For him to simply repeat the same objection, as if no response was offered, is intellectually frivolous.

ii) In addition, I presented another counterargument. To quote myself:

To begin with, the complementarian position is that masculine nouns and pronouns can include women. That follows both from the conventions grammatical gender and generic masculine usage as well as the theological fact that men can function in a representative capacity for women.

For instance, the soteriological and eschatological promises (or threats) of Scripture are often addressed to male referents, yet they implicitly include women. Women as well as men can be saved or damned.

Of course, masculine language is sometimes used to single out males. But there’s no presumption to that effect. Rather, that’s context-dependent.

i) In his latest response to me, TFan blows right past that. Once again, it’s disappointing when he refuses to argue in good faith.

ii) In addition, he’s arguing like a feminist or egalitarian. “Evangelical feminists” deny generic masculine usage. They assume that all grammatically masculine usage is gender-specific and gender-exclusive. TFan seems to share the same understanding. I find it odd that he’s siding with feministic hermeneutics.

iii) Regarding Deut 24:1-4: if you read it carefully, this statute didn’t authorize men to divorce their wives.

This statute doesn’t institute, command, or condone divorce. It’s really about remarriage after divorce rather than divorce proper. It takes a certain custom for granted, then protects the divorcée against certain consequences of the customary divorce.

iv) To take a comparison, the Mosaic law doesn’t ban prostitution across the board. Although prostitution is a sin, not all sins are crimes.

Rather, the Mosaic law takes the status quo (i.e. social reality of prostitution) for granted, then restricts it. Jews are forbidden from being prostitutes.

Likewise, Deut 24:1-4 doesn’t legitimate the right of a husband to divorce his wife under those circumstances. Rather, it takes the status quo (i.e. customary divorce) for granted, then limits remarriage under those circumstances–apparently to limit the harm done to the divorcée, who was divorced against her will.

v) Likewise, it doesn’t address divorce in general, but a very special case.

I’ll have more to say about this statute in a moment:

This is important to remember when dealing with the text of Scripture. It is easy to anachronistically apply contemporary cultural norms to the text. In an age when people are redefining marriage to include reference to same sex couples, one might think that Christians would be on their guard to remember that this is not the first redefinition of marriage.

That’s a nice exercise in well-poisoning. Remember, though, that the question at issue is whether wife-battery is grounds for divorce. Is that “redefining” marriage? Does TFan think wife-battery figures in the original definition of marriage, which contemporary cultural norms are trying to redefine out of marriage?

Regardless of what the practice may or may not have been, the "bill of divorcement" passage was inauthentically interpreted by the Jewish leaders, and this wrong interpretation was corrected by Jesus [Mt 5:31-32; 19:3-10; Mk 10:2-12; Lk 16:18].

Jesus' argument relies on the authority of the institution of marriage [Gen 2:22-24].

The apparent rabbinical view was that the "uncleanness" mentioned was anything that the husband found undesirable. Jesus, however, tightly confined the exception to adultery/fornication.

So, what the law says is that there is one legitimate ground of divorce, and that is fornication/adultery (see Jesus' own interpretation of Deuteronomy above).  Moreover, it was not supposed to be the mere suspicion of that fornication/adultery (for mere suspicion there was a remedy in Numbers 5).

Several more problems:

i) It’s odd that TFan also quotes the Markan and Lukan passages to establish adultery/fornication as the one legitimate ground of divorce, for those Synoptic variants lack the exceptive clauses in Matthew.

ii) This also illustrates the weakness of TFan’s argument from silence. One the one hand, Mark and Luke give no grounds for divorce. On the other hand, Matthew only gives a single ground for divorce.

iii) Moreover, the exceptive clauses in Matthew are worded in terms that apparently exclude any other grounds for divorce. Yet TFan will later concede that 1 Cor 7:15 offers an additional ground for divorce–desertion.

iv) It’s also unclear to me why TFan limits the exceptive clauses to “adultery/fornication.” As I pointed out before, porneia has a wider semantic range. It covers a range of sexual immorality, viz., adultery, fornication, incest, bestiality, and homosexuality.

Now, perhaps TFan would say that although the word has multiple meanings, the context of Matthew narrows the semantic scope.

Or he might say that although incest, bestiality, and homosexuality aren’t inherently adulterous, inasmuch as single men and women can commit these sins, yet they are adulterous if a married man or woman commits them.

But as it stands, his usage lacks due qualifications.

v) I’m also unclear on why he thinks fornication is grounds for divorce. In standard usage, fornication denotes premarital sex, in contrast to extramarital sex. Is he claiming that unless a man or woman is a virgin on their wedding night, that that’s grounds for divorce?

What about someone who was sexually active before he (or she) became a Christian? Is he debarred from marriage? Considering the fact that many 1C converts to Christianity were former pagans, it’s unrealistic to think most of them were celibate prior to marriage. For instance, Greek males typically deferred marriage until the age of 30. In the interim, they had recourse to prostitutes.

vi) For some strange reason, TFan seems to think Jesus is correcting the rabbinic interpretation of Deut 24:1-4. I don’t see where he finds that in the text. Rather, I see Jesus doing something more radical. Rather than correcting their misinterpretation of Deut 24:1-4, he corrects their misvaluation of Deut 24:1-4. He denies the normativity of Deut 24:1-4.

Jesus bypasses the appeal to Deut 24:1-4 by going back to Gen 1-2. He treats Gen 1-2 as the primary, normative passage, while he demotes Deut 24:1-4 to a pragmatic, ad hoc concession to the reality of sin.

Put another way, he abrogates Deut 24:1-4 by sidestepping and sidelining Deut 24:1-4. Jesus opposes Gen 1-2 to Deut 24:1-4.

vii) It doesn’t make sense to think Deut 24:1-4 alludes to adultery as the ground for divorce. The Mosaic punishment for adultery isn’t divorce, but execution. There’s a different statute that deals with adultery (22:22).

Based on linguistic and contextual evidence, Bock and Walton think Deut 24:1 has in view a chronic menstrual irregularity which renders the wife ritually impure, thereby precluding conjugal relations (cf. Lev 12:2-8; 15:14).

However, it’s unnecessary for us to identify the underlying condition. It’s sufficient to point out that adultery is contextually excluded.

For a post entitled “Understanding Divorce from a Biblical Perspective,” I’m afraid don’t see the evidence that TFan has actually done his exegetical spadework. It seems to be more a matter of rote prooftexting to retroactively validate a foregone conclusion.

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul describes marriage and provides for the case of a believing spouse married to an unbelieving spouse.  Jesus and Paul command:

So, Paul announces the general rule that husbands and wives should stay together and if, despite this command, they separate they should only remain unmarried or be reconciled to their spouse.

Paul then turns to the specific case of unbelief.  Husbands are not to divorce their wives and women are not to leave their husbands over disbelief.  However, if an unbelieving spouse desires to break the marriage, the believing spouse is allowed to permit this.

This provides a second exception to the general rule.  The general rule is "no divorce," and the two exceptions are a breaking off of the marriage by an unbeliever and adultery/fornication.  For those of us who are Presbyterian, our confession of faith also affirms this (Westminster Confession of Faith 24:5&6).

There are no other grounds for divorce authorized in Scripture.  So, it gives me great sorrow to read Christian brethren promoting the idea of divorce in other cases.

For example, I recently read a Christian brother's blog, in which he tried to argue that "domestic violence" is a legitimate ground of divorce.  The Scriptures don't teach this, and our confession doesn't recognize this ground.

P.S. It might be interesting to get into the question of whether women should be permitted to divorce their husbands at all (given that the law does not provide for it), but that question goes beyond the scope of this post.

This is confused on several grounds:

i) To begin with, TFan has offered what appear to be contradictory statements on 1 Cor 7:15. In an earlier response to me, he said:

Turretinfan10/18/2012 2:50 PM

Where does the Bible ever speak of a woman divorcing her husband?

Turretinfan10/18/2012 4:01 PM

In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul addresses the issue of the attempted desertion of a believing spouse by an unbelieving spouse. You are right that a kind of gender neutrality is maintained. Neither a Christian man nor a Christian woman is to prevent the desertion of the unbelieving spouse. You should notice, however, that divorce is not mentioned. May I encourage you to re-read the context of the verse you quoted, and you will see the contrast between men divorcing and women leaving.

Here he seems to deny that 1 Cor 7 is even referring to divorce. “You should notice, however, that divorce is not mentioned.”

Yet in the same paragraph he also says “you will see the contrast between men divorcing and women leaving”–which seems to concede that it does address divorce, but limits that to a male prerogative.

Yet in the same paragraph he also says “You are right that a kind of gender neutrality is maintained.”

And in his latest reply, he says:

“There is some question about whether women ever divorced their husbands even in the NT era. There is no discussion about wives writing writs of divorcement for their husbands, and yet the discussion of marriage relationships is sometimes balanced (see Mark 10:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 7).”

But if the discussion is “balanced,” if  “a kind of gender neutrality is maintained,” then there’s no “contrast between men divorcing and women leaving.”

On the face of it, TFan is twisting himself in knots. I think the reason for his contradictory explanations is that he wants to reserve 1 Cor 7:15 as a prooftext for the right of men to divorce women, but not vice versa. Unfortunately for him, appeal to 1 Cor 7:15 either proves too much or too little. If it’s a prooftext for divorce, then it applies irrespectively to husbands and wives. The only way of denying that to women is to deny it to men.

Apparently, that’s why TFan is so equivocal in his treatment of 1 Cor 7:15.

ii) Sensing, perhaps, the inadequacy of his exegetical arguments, TFan tries to bolster his case by a last-ditch appeal to the Westminster Confession. But that’s an illicit appeal to authority. You can’t rightly invoke the WCF to leverage the interpretation of Scripture. Your exegesis just stand or fall on the merits.

iii) Moreover, his appeal to the WCF is self-defeating. For the WCF doesn’t confine the right of divorce to husbands. For the WCF says:

Adultery or fornication committed after a contract, being detected before marriage, gives just occasion to the innocent party to dissolve that contract. In the case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorce and, after the divorce, to marry another, as if the offending party were dead (24:5).

That clearly applies without respect to gender, for wives as well as husbands can be the “innocent party.” Clearly a husband can be the “offending party.”

iv) That’s also the traditional understanding of the passage. As A. A. Hodge says, in his classic commentary on the WCF,

It is allowed by Paul to the Christian husband or wife deserted by their heathen partner.

v) In addition, the WCF is a 17C document. But 17C society was quite hierarchical. You had upperclass women and lower class men. For instance, when Richard Baxter married Margaret Charlton, he married up. She was his social superior. His father was genteel poor whereas her father was a wealthy justice of the peace.

Does TFan think Puritan or Anglican women in the 17C never had the legal right to divorce their husbands? If we’re going to interpret the WCF in its historical context, we have to take social class into account. Some women outranked some men. And that had legal implications.