Saturday, March 09, 2013

The Panopticon State

Making the Path to Jesus As Broad as Possible

Buyer's remorse

Poker and prayer

[SAM] HARRIS: I would put it at impatient rather than angry. Let me respond to this notion of answered prayer, because this is a classic sampling error, to use a statistical phrase. We know that human beings have a terrible sense of probability. There are many things we believe that confirm our prejudices about the world, and we believe this only by noticing the confirmations, and not keeping track of the disconfirmations.

Although his argument is very compressed, I think he’s claiming that Christians mistake some incidents as answers to prayer because outcomes that roughly match our prayers stand out; those are memorable–whereas we forget or ignore all the prayers that went unanswered. So the effect of prayer is actually random. Odds are, there will be apparent answers to prayer every now and then, but that’s coincidental.

Let’s examine his argument.

i) To begin with, if God exists, is there good reason to think he will always give Christians whatever they ask for? Does the fact that Christians don’t always get whatever they ask for make apparent answers to prayer suspect?

In fact, if God exists, there is good reason to think he won’t always give Christians whatever they ask for. For instance:

7 Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Mt 7:7-11).

Many readers stop at vv7-8, disregarding the caveats in vv.9-11. This is a qualified promise. The underlying principle is that God won’t give you harmful answers. If you ask for something that’s bad for you, God won’t answer that prayer. God gives good things. Beneficial answers.

As impetuous or shortsighted creatures, Christians can unwittingly pray for things they wish God would refuse them if they only knew the consequences of their misguided request.

ii) Next, let’s take a comparison. I’m not expert, but I doubt most gamblers who play casino poker cheat. I say that for several reasons. It takes a lot of skill to cheat the casino. Most gamblers lack the skill to pull that off. Casinos are very wary of cheaters. They have cameras trained on poker tables. They have minders eyeing the tables. The dealer is on the lookout for cheaters. Casinos are very familiar with the tricks of cheating at poker. And it’s risky to cheat. If you’re caught, you will suffer. It takes a very wily, intrepid gambler to successfully cheat the casino:

So I expect that only a tiny fraction of gamblers cheat at casino gambling. Moreover, my illustration will still be valid as a hypothetical, even if, in reality, cheating was commonplace.

Suppose Sam Harris is caught cheating. Suppose he defends himself by saying:

“No, I didn’t cheat! You guys are guilty of sampling error. You only notice apparent examples of cheating, but you never keep track of all the times that players don’t cheat. It’s statistically inevitable that some player, some time, somewhere, will get very lucky. But that’s a random coincidence!”

I doubt that excuse would talk him out of a custom pair of cement shoes. The fact that cheating at casino poker may be statistically anomalous doesn’t mean there are no real cheaters, or that cheating is indetectible.

By the same token, even if answers to prayer were rare, that doesn’t mean their recognition can be dismissed as a sampling error.

iii) Finally, Harris’s argument is a two-edged sword. If his reasoning applies to apparently answered prayers, then, by parity of argument, his reasoning applies to apparently unanswered prayers. What about failure to recognize answered prayers? Prayers that apparently went unanswered, but were answered in ways we didn’t recognize because we expected the answer to take a different form? If it’s possible to mistake an unanswered prayer for an answered prayer, it’s equally possible to mistake an answered prayer for an unanswered prayer.

Party animals

Christianity's Network Of Miracles

People often object that there isn't enough evidence for Jesus' resurrection or that the resurrection alone wouldn't give us enough reason to be a Christian. I've discussed both of those issues elsewhere. What I want to do in this post is address the network of miracles that the resurrection of Christ is associated with. Though the resurrection is prominent in Christianity, it doesn't exist in isolation. As Peter explains in Acts 2, the same Jesus who was attested by the resurrection (2:32) also was attested by other miracles he performed (2:22), prophecy fulfillment (2:30), and the miracles of the early Christians (2:33), for example. The resurrection is unusually significant in some contexts, but scripture appeals to a large number and variety of miracles. So should we. One context in which it's important to take a broader view of Christian miracles, instead of limiting our attention to something like Jesus' resurrection, is competition with other miraculous belief systems. Much as Moses outperformed the magicians of Pharaoh and the book of Revelation portrays Christ as overpowering the Antichrist, it's significant that Christianity has demonstrated more supernatural power than its competitors.

I won't try to link to every post we've written about Christian miracles, but I want to link to some representative examples. You can find an index of our posts on Biblical prophecy here. Concerning Jesus' pre-resurrection miracles, see this post. On apostolic miracles, see my post here about Paul. Many of the Biblical miracles are credible without holding a traditional Christian view of the Biblical documents in terms of their authorship, dating, and such. But arguments for a traditional view do add some weight to the case for Biblical miracles. Some of our posts arguing for a traditional view of the documents are linked in the index here. On miracles in the modern world, such as healings and exorcisms, see here and here.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Theological DNA

I have often said, in another context, that if the Reformed Pauline scholars had been in the ascendancy rather than the Lutherans, the ‘new perspective’ would never have been necessary – since a positive view of Israel and the Law would have been part of the DNA of the discipline in a way that simply wasn’t the case.

–N. T. Wright

Threnody for Bambi


Years ago, atheist philosopher William Rowe wrote an influential article on the evidential problem of evil. His memorably used the sentimental example of a fawn burning to death in a forest fire, to illustrate gratuitous natural evil. This tearjerker is appealing to some people.

However, Rowe’s expertise lay in philosophy, not forestry. As the field of fire ecology demonstrates, forest fires are not gratuitous evils, but beneficial to fauna and flora alike. Although some animals die, forest fires contribute to the common good of the ecosystem. For instance:

Out with the Bible and the Bill of Rights

Holder, Drones, and Due Process

Lesbian rapists

Feminism finds it polemically expedient to foster the image of men as natural-born rapists. This is a way of keeping men in their place. Vilify men, then use that as a pretext to promote anti-male policies.

However, feminism suffers from an internal contradiction in this regard. To begin with, feminism stresses the empowerment of women. Yet feminism equates rape with power.

In addition, the more radical expressions of feminism reject heterosexuality for lesbianism. Yet the combination of lesbianism and will-to-power fosters a lesbian rape culture. Woman on woman violence.

The Papacy: Changing in History, Theology, and Dogma

In previous blog posts, I’ve given some short history about the development and growth of the historical papacy.

The papacy is 1600 years old, not 2000 years old

The Crafting of the 4th Century Roman Church, Doctrine, and Papacy

The Papacy: “Self-Consciously” Modeled After the 4th Century Roman State

“Pope Leo the Great”

When you are talking about the papacy, there are three things to consider:

• The history of it
• The theology behind it
• The doctrine of it

Views of all three of these are changing, and they are changing precisely because we’re learning more about the history of the [nonexistent] early papacy.

Shotwell and Loomis, in the 1927 introduction to their work “The See of Peter” (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, ©1927, 1955, 1991), describe how closely these (especially history and doctrine) are intertwined:

What is the value of tradition as a basis for the papal claims? … although it is safe to say that few traditions are more solidly fixed, and few groups of them so readily fuse, as regards their essential facts, as those which support the Petrine clams of the papacy, this does not finally settle the matter. Indeed it can never be settled, so far as historical evidence is concerned. The Catholic scholar is sure to see more in the argument than the Protestant, because one is predisposed to accept and the other to refuse (pg xxiii).

To be sure, this is the way the discussion has worked over the years. The problem for Roman Catholics, however, is that the history, as we have come to understand it over the last 100 years, and especially the last 50 years, has tended further and further away from Roman accounting of things.

Shotwell and Loomis continue:

With reference to the Petrine doctrine, however, the Catholic attitude is much more than a “pre-disposition to believe.” That doctrine is the fundamental basis of the whole papal structure. It may be summed up in three main claims: They are: first, that Peter was appointed by Christ to be his chief representative and successor and the head of his Church; second, that Peter went to Rome and founded the bishopric there; third, that his successors succeeded to his prerogatives, and to all the authority implied thereby.

I hope to address each of these three “main claims” in the near future. My hope is to show how those claims historically manifested themselves, what the Roman Catholic church has said about them historically and doctrinally over the centuries, how the growth of our historical knowledge has been pushing back on these claims, and how the “doctrines” of the papacy have been evolving in a way that tries (but fails) to take into account the history as we know it.

Shotwell and Loomis continue:

In dealing with these claims we are passing along the border line between history and dogmatic theology. The primacy of Peter and his appointment by Christ to succeed Him as head of the Church are accepted by the Catholic Church as the indubitable word of inspired Gospel, in its only possible meaning. That Peter went to Rome and founded there his See, is just a s definitely what is termed in Catholic theology a dogmatic fact. This has been defined by an eminent Catholic theologian as “historical fact so intimately connected with some great Catholic truths that it would be believed even if time and accident had destroyed all of the original evidence therefor” (pgs xxiii–xxiv).

In a very real sense, this is almost precisely what happened, except: it was not “time and accident” that has destroyed “all the original evidence”, but rather, an increase in our knowledge about how the ancient world functioned.

In an era in which (during the last 200 years) there has been an amazing increase in our understanding of ancient Palestine, the ancient Roman empire, the life, death, and Resurrection of Christ, and the testimonies of the Apostles, one thing is moved in precisely in the opposite direction, and that is, the triple notions that Peter was appointed to succeed Christ as the head of the Church, that Peter went to Rome and founded a bishopric there, and third, that his successors succeeded to his [so-called] prerogatives.

This three-fold assertion is repeated throughout time: according to Shotwell and Loomis:

…the student who has read the records of the Papacy of the Roman Empire is also aware that the famous sermon of Leo on the Petrine supremacy, quoted in so many textbooks, and his assertion of doctrinal authority over the Council of Chalcedon were but repetitions in forcible terms of the claims that were first enunciated by his predecessors two hundred years before (Stephen in ~250 AD), (pg xxvi).

Vatican I makes these same claims, as does Pope Leo XIII, as does Joseph Ratzinger in his work “Called to Communion”. But whereas Leo I, Vatican I, and Leo XIII make these claims in “forcible terms”, Ratzinger in 1991 makes them in somewhat less “forcible” terms, and an official document, produced by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1996, following some of the major historical studies, makes these claims in less forcible terms still.

In fact, it is so much less “forcible” that it very much appears to be a different doctrine.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Sick faith-healers

I used to be a "faith-healer," and people routinely accepted the belief that miracles had been performed through me.

Born in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, in 1958, Avalos attended the Church of God, a Pentecostal church. He said as a child he had powerful "spiritual experiences," which he now says were caused by socio-psychological factors.

Avalos moved to Glendale, Ariz., to live with his grandmother when he was 7 years old. He became a child preacher, speaking about God before congregations of hundreds of people.

"We talked about sin and salvation," Avalos said. "That you needed to be saved because Jesus died for your sins, and it will help you transform your life. We were against abortion. We were against pre-marital sex. We were against homosexuality. We were against rock 'n' roll."

Avalos said he was determined to become a Christian missionary. In a testimonial which appeared in Freethought Today, a newspaper published by the Freedom from Religion Foundation, Avalos wrote, "By my early teens, I was a zealous believer, willing to go anywhere, to suffer any sacrifice to preach the word of salvation to the ‘pagan' masses."

When a Jehovah's Witness told him the Bible was mistranslated from its original Greek and Hebrew text, however, Avalos turned to studying in order to defend his beliefs.

"I realized that to be a missionary for Christianity, you had to become a biblical scholar. You had to know the arguments of the other sides as well."

Avalos taught himself Greek and Hebrew and studied Aramaic, Akkadian, philosophy, theology and Near-Eastern history.

"Most adults, up until recently, usually end up in the religion they were raised in," Avalos said. "It's not because they came to that religion through a long period of study or research, but they were just raised that way. To me that was not satisfactory. I wanted to know whether it was true or not."

The more he learned, however, the more he began to question his faith. During his freshman year of college at Glendale Community College, he reached a kind of epiphany.

"Through the process of years of studying," Avalos said, "I came to the conclusion that the arguments I made for Christianity were not the best, and that I could make just as excellent of an argument for other religions as I could for mine.

"One thing led to another, and I realized that I did not believe in Christianity or that the Bible was the word of God, or that the Bible had any kind of divine origin."

Avalos said he also had a problem with the ethics of the Bible, including the endorsement of genocide, slavery and killing of children. He also could not find any evidence that the Bible was factual.

"What I thought were very well-documented arguments with sources from their time turned out to have no sources," Avalos said. "I thought there would be plenty of evidence for the life and doings of Jesus from his time. There are actually no documents from the time of Jesus about him."

Around the same time that Avalos reached his realizations, he became very ill.

What had begun as a cold progressed into early systemic arthritis and conjunctivitis. Eventually, Avalos was diagnosed with Wegener's Granulomatosis, a rare auto-immune disorder.

This raises an interesting question. Is Avalos a disaffected faith-healer? Did he lose his faith because he couldn’t heal himself? Did he lose his faith in faith-healing because God didn’t heal him?

More generally, did his experience as a Pentecostal boy preacher queue him up for disillusionment when, at a later age, he realized that his “miracles” were bogus? Did his religious upbringing foster false expectations that were bound to be dashed?

Of course, the best precaution against religious disillusionment is not to cultivate groundless, unrealistic expectations in the first place. 

He wouldn’t be the first apostate who was disappointed in God. Who turned his back on God when he thought God let him down.

Fire ecology

I’m reposting some comments I left over at Parchment & Pen in response to a militant apostate:

Ryan says:

“It’s fine if you want to accept the contents of the bible at face value. But you can’t ask the rest of us to.”

You don’t represent “the rest of us.” You simply represent people who agree with you.

“Most importantly, I think a good intellectual practice is to expose yourself to and deal with the strongest arguments on the other side of your position.”

So what conservative Christian philosophers, theologians, Bible scholars, and apologists have you exposed yourself to?

“I still think the onus of proof is on the person claiming to believe in a supernatural deity for which there is little evidence.”

The onus is now you to establish your claim that there is little evidence for God’s existence.

“Okay, first, there are no surviving eyewitness accounts to Jesus life, miracles, death and resurrection.”

That begs the question.

“The gospel we have was written well after his death, plenty of time for exaggerations to make their way in.”

A non sequitur, inasmuch as gospels written well after his death can easily be written by eyewitnesses.

“The fawn in a forest fire and many other examples of senseless suffering sure seem to be pointless and the product of impersonal forces that sometimes make biological life experience pain.”

You need to bone up on fire ecology. Far from being pointless, forest fires are beneficial to the ecosystem.

You ought to stop mindlessly parroting the atheists you read and begin subjecting their claims to rational scrutiny.

“I hate how many of the religious have hijacked and watered down analytical philosophy in order to promulgate a message of faith. You’ve made it into a joke in the eyes of many I know.”

Since according to you, we’re all just a bunch of apes, why should your apish opinions matter to me?

“There’s something you’re missing here. Rowe doesn’t claim the fawn dying in a forest fire is an example of evil. It’s an example of suffering.”

Unless suffering is evil, you can’t mount an argument from evil based on suffering.

“All of us have first-hand experience with the impersonal forces that sometimes kill, maim or inflict with disease the just and the unjust alike.”

Time-travel stories, where the protagonist tries to improve the future by changing the past, illustrate the law of unintended consequences.

“…they describe and when they were actually written down. Some of these books were written over 40 years after Jesus’ life.”

That’s just your tendentious assertion. And even if it were true, folks in their 60s and 70s often have clear memories of things they experienced in their teens and 20s.

You need to stop regurgitating thoughtless objections.

C. S. Lewis was a popularizer. You only mention one living Christian philosopher/apologist. Yet you told us that “Most importantly, I think a good intellectual practice is to expose yourself to and deal with the strongest arguments on the other side of your position.”

On the face of it, you’re not holding yourself to your own standards. Just among Christian philosophers, what books and articles have you read by Ed Feser, Win Corduan, Alvin Plantinga, Peter van Inwagen, Michael Rea, Paul Helm, Paul Moser, Greg Welty, James Anderson, Bill Aston, Bill Vallicella, Stephen Davis, Alexander Pruss, Victor Reppert, Tim & Lydia McGrew, Oliver Crisp, John Warwick Montgomery, J. J. Haldane, Stephen Evans, &c.?

I also notice the conspicuous absence of conservative Bible scholars on your list.

“And I’m sorry to have to inform you of something you should already know, but burdens of proof aren’t on those who doubt a claim.”

I regret to inform you that by your own admission, you’ve been making assertions. You’ve been asserting various things to be the case or not be the case. Therefore, you assume a burden of proof to justify your assertions. A denial is still a truth-claim.

“This is one reason the burden of proof can’t be on folks who deny claims.”

Fine. I deny the existence of animal suffering. I deny that animals ever die in forest fires. I deny the operating premise of Rowe’s argument. And since I’m merely denying your claim, the onus is not on me to justify my denial. That was quick and easy.

“You act as though my inability to disprove God’s existence with certainty amounts to a default victory for you.”

No, I’ve said you need to argue for your assertions.

“You need to look up what ‘begging the question’ means.”

Begging the premise means taking for granted a disputable contention not conceded by the opposing side. That’s what you’ve been doing here.

 “There is no possible way I can show you why it’s generally not accepted that the gospels were written by eyewitnesses. The best I can do is cite an expert source. Would you like me to?… Do you honestly not know that historians don’t accept many portions of the gospels to be historically accurate, mainly the resurrection, crucifixion and birth aspects.”

You originally said: 

“Most importantly, I think a good intellectual practice is to expose yourself to and deal with the strongest arguments on the other side of your position.”

So what commentaries, NT introductions, and monographs on the authorship, dating, and historicity of the Gospels by conservative scholars have you exposed yourself to? Likewise, what conservative scholars have you exposed to on the historical Jesus? Remember, I’m just holding you to your own standards.

“The point I was attempting to make with saying the gospels were written well after the events in question is to say that eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. 40-50 years is a long time for exaggerations and fictions to make their way in. Second, who is to say we should take their testimony at face value?”

I see. So when you say “During my undergraduate years in philosophy, I started out as a Christian apologist and very gradually became a religious skeptic,” I shouldn’t take your testimony at face value.

If fact, given how “notoriously unreliable eyewitness testimony is,” you should systematically distrust your own recollection of your undergraduate studies. You think you remember who your philosophy profs. were, but your firsthand observations are notoriously unreliable. Maybe you really majored in ballet, and just forgot.

BTW, if testimonial evidence is notoriously unreliable, then that sinks Hume’s appeal to uniform experience against the occurrence of miracles.

“The gospels being penned well after the events they describe leaves room for fictions to creep in…”

All you’ve done is to repeat the same non sequitur.

“While the scant evidence…”

Which begs the question.

“And the supernatural claims require all the more evidence before warranting any degree of belief, especially strong belief.”

Once again, you’re assuming what you need to prove.

“All ribbing aside, you stink at this analytic argumentation thing.”

Considering the fact that you don’t argue for your ambitious claims, that’s unintentionally comical.

“The fawn is just one example among countless others of senseless suffering that doesn’t discriminate.”

I just demonstrated that it’s not a case of “senseless suffering.” You need to keep up with the actual state of the argument, rather than just repeating your refuted assertions.

“Is it not clear that God – if he is infinitely powerful – could have initiated a forest fire while clearing out the life within it?”

Now you’re changing the subject. You originally alleged gratuitous animal suffering. But if, according to fire ecology, forest fires contribute to the overall health of the ecosystem, then that’s not gratuitous, but functional.

BTW, some animals benefit from the death of other animals. So divinely protecting animals from forest fires would harm other animals. It’s called the balance of nature.

“We’re not apes. We’re primates.”

Primates include homo sapiens. You need to brush up on the taxonomic classification of Hominidae.

“If there’s an all-good, all-powerful God, then he would be compelled to prevent any evil/suffering he could unless he couldn’t without thereby losing a greater good or permitting an evil equally bad or worse. Do you agree with this?”

Unless suffering is evil, suffering doesn’t even pose prima facie evidence against the existence of a good God.

“In the context of philosophy or logical argument, assertion means just what I said it does. Go look it up.”

It means you’re begging key questions every step of the way.

“What is the criteria for establishing which books belong in the bible and which don’t. It was arbitrary”

Your fact free assertion.

“Is it more likely that they developed this religion during a time when superstitious belief systems were commonly employed as a means to explain your world, provide comfort and hope to fearful, ignorant people, to establish a cultural identity?”

Since you furnish no supporting argument, why is that more likely?

“For example, the divine sanctioning of slavery, genocide, rape, the subordination of women – which one would expect in the highly patriarchal, violent societies that existed during biblical times…all of these attributes of the bible bear the stamp of the culture in which the bible was created. If God really inspired men to write a book, you would expect it to not be so subject to cultural forces and biases. The better explanation, given the small scope, the biases, the seemingly evil divine commands…”

i) You haven’t bothered to exegete the texts you’re alluding to.

ii) You can only classify the commands as evil if you can justify objective moral norms on secular grounds. But many atheist philosophers admit to being moral relativists or nihilists.

iii) From your naturalistic evolutionary standpoint, why is simian patriarchy wrong? Likewise, why is it wrong for primates to rape, kill, or enslave other primates? Doesn’t that sort of thing happen in the wild on a regular basis?

“My list wasn’t exhaustive. I’ve read some others, Platinga included, Zagzebski, N.T. Wright, and others, enough that I’ve got a decent grasp on some of the best arguments/perspectives each side has to offer.”

You can’t know the best arguments you never bothered to read.

“I don’t consult conservative biblical scholars often.”

So by your own admission, you have a double standard. You don’t “expose yourself to and deal with the strongest arguments on the other side of your position.” In fact, you avoid it. Classic duplicity. You never had the good faith intention of honoring the principle you urge on others.

“They’re biased and will of course interpret evidence through the a priori belief that scriptures are divinely inspired and the traditional views of biblical authorship are true, and therefore we must cherry-pick evidence that confirms our unalterable beliefs.”

Unbelievers are biased and will of course interpret evidence through their a priori commitment to methodological naturalism, and therefore preemptively exclude any and all evidence that conflicts with their unalterable adherence to atheism.

“Why not respond to those reasons instead of childishly insisting I’ve provided no reason for doubting the bible’s authority?”

You haven’t given reasons–you’ve given assertions. Why should I respond to your nonexistent arguments?

“Please look up why you can’t prove a universal negative. It’s impossible!”

Since I haven’t used that argument, your complaint is confused.

“The whole point about eyewitness testimony is to say that 40 years later, I bet I wouldn’t accurately recall details from college very well.”

What makes you think we can remember something 20 years later, but not 40 years later? For instance, Bart Ehrman talks about his religious upbringing. He’s 57. He’s referring to things that happened when he was a teenager. Should we automatically discount his testimony?

“You don’t know what I have or haven’t read. This is a babyish inference that has nothing to do with our devolved discussion.”

I haven’t inferred anything. I asked you. You admit that you’ve only read a few current Christian philosophers, and that you rarely read conservative Bible scholars. Try to keep track of your own concessions.

“Conservative biblical scholars don’t offer the strongest, most objective or impartial arguments for Christianity.”

Since, by your own admission, you rarely read them, your prejudgment is, by definition, ignorant.

“I and many others don’t take their analyses seriously because they’ve committed themselves to a particular worldview regardless of what the evidence suggests.”

And unbelievers use their precommitment to methodological naturalism to screen out the counterevidence.

“Saying that since I won’t entertain many of their positions that I’m unwilling to consider the strongest positions is like saying that my unwillingness to entertain astrology or flat
earth theories (yes, there is a flat earth society still in existence thanks to religious extremism detached from reality) means that I’m unwilling to entertain the possibility that they’re right.”

Since you deliberately insulate yourself from the best opposing arguments, your unwillingness reflects self-reinforcing ignorance.

“By the way, methodological naturalism is where one assumes for practical purposes that only natural causes exist for natural events. It’s how we do science.”

No, that’s how atheists do science.

“It doesn’t mean one is philosophically committed to the metaphysical claim that only the material/natural universe exists. I believe the phrase you’re looking for is philosophical naturalism. Seriously, pick up a book on this.”

You have a habit of attacking arguments I didn’t use. This reflects an inability to put your cue cards down and think through objections on your own.

 “Every time you post you betray more of your ignorance on philosophy, philosophy of science, informal logic, anthropology, history, and most other forms of systematic inquiry. Yours is a pseudointellectualism common among the uneducated faithful, where dogmatic beliefs are dressed up in inaccurately employed terms and concepts borrowed from analytic philosophy and conservative biblical scholars.”

And you constantly resort to vacuous rhetorical bravado to fill the gaps for your lack of reason and evidence.

“I recommend Eugenie Scott’s: Evolution vs Creationism. She goes over philosophy of science in a way accessible to laymen.”

Well, that certainly reveals the level at which you operate.

Drone wars

It’s striking, but not surprising, how quickly the conversation moved from using drones to target American citizens abroad (e.g. al-Awlaki), to domestic drones, to using domestic drones to target American citizens on US soil (i.e. Eric Holder’s recent letter to Rand Paul).

A few quick reactions:

i) Some hawks (e.g. Andrew McCarthy, John Yoo, Charles Krauthammer) have defended a president’s authority to target Americans abroad without due process. One off-cited comparison is the civil war, where Union soldiers killed Confederate soldiers. But there are two potential problems with that comparison:

a) There are intelligent Americans who don’t think the Federal gov’t ever had the legal authority to wage war on the South. They think states of the Union have the Constitutional right to secede.

Now, I’m not going to debate the pros and cons of that argument. My point is simply that when some hawks cite the civil war as precedent, that’s a legal premise that the opposing side doesn’t necessarily grant. The comparison only works if both sides concede the comparison.

b) Moreover, even if we grant the comparison, Confederate soldiers were combatants. By contrast, some hawks are defending the authority of the president to target American noncombatants abroad.

Now, the distinction between combatants and noncombatants is often morally inconsequential. I’m not saying it’s intrinsically wrong to kill a noncombatant. I’m just considering the hawkish argument on its own terms. The comparison breaks down.

ii) In addition, a stated rationale for targeted Americans abroad without due process is because it’s not feasible to conduct impromptu trials on the battlefield.

However, whatever the merits of that argument, that same argument cuts against targeting American citizens on American soil without due process.

iii) Now, it might be argued that law enforcement does that the authority to kill American citizens without due process. For instance, isn’t that what happens when police get into a shootout with bank robbers?

a) However, doesn’t that involve a basic difference between local authorities and Federal authorities? Between soldiers and policemen?

b) Perhaps that line blurs in the case of ATF and the FBI. Mind you, Ruby Ridge and the Waco siege illustrate the problems when that line is blurred. Of course, the 1985 MOVE bombing in Philly is an example of how badly local authorities can botch a law-enforcement operation.

iv) Holder has since backtracked on his original statement. But if the Obama administration did intend to use domestic drones to assassinate American citizens on American soil, we really wouldn’t expect the administration to publicly announce its intentions. In an unguarded moment, Holder said what the boss really thought.

In addition, this issue touched a raw nerve because the Obama administration has already earned our distrust with its naked totalitarian impulses.

Merely natural theology

Nate Shannon:

I only wish A/W [James Anderson, Greg Welty] viewed it this way, but I don’t think they do. Your approach is presuppositional; theirs appears to be merely natural theology–which is fine–NT is what it is–but it isn’t presuppositional, and it doesn’t prove the existence of the Christian God. Not even Aquinas thought that it did.

i) Arguing for the theistic foundations of logic is a presuppositional argument.

ii) Natural theology involves a cumulative argument for the existence of the Christian God.

iii) The Bible deploys the argument from prophecy. In the OT, a paradigm-case is Isa 40-48, where Isaiah appeals to God’s foreknowledge, in contrast to the blind gods of paganism. In the NT, we have appeal to messianic prophecy in the Gospels and Acts.

But does the argument from prophecy prove the existence of the Christian God? Doesn’t the Bible warn us that false prophets can make true predictions (e.g. Deut 13:1-5)?

Likewise, the Bible deploys the argument from miracles (e.g. Acts 1:3; 2:22; 2 Cor 12:12). The argument from miracles is prominent in the Fourth Gospel, where Jesus appeals to his miraculous deeds to attest his divine mission.

But does the argument from miracles prove the existence of the Christian God? Doesn’t Scripture indicate that the dark side can work miracles (e.g. Exod 7-8; 2 Thes 2:9; Rev 13)? Don’t demoniacs have supernatural strength and clairvoyance (Mk 5:3-4; Lk 4:33-34; Acts 16;16-17)?

Does Shannon fault Scripture for using theistic/evidential arguments that fall shorting of proving the existence of the Christian God?

Weigle Room at Christianity Today

In a web-only interview with George Weigel, the not-quite-converted Chris Castaldo gives Weigel lots of wiggle-room to evangelize Evangelicals with his Roman Catholic message, but fails to alert people of the Borg-like nature of interaction with Rome. From the intro, “Chris Castaldo, director of the Ministry for Gospel Renewal at Wheaton College's Billy Graham Center, spoke with Weigel about obstacles facing Evangelical Catholicism, from secular hostility to challenges inside the church.”

In the process, the assumption that Castaldo allows to run free is that “Evangelical Catholicism” somehow holds “evangelical doctrines” – which it does not – in favor of the notion that it is “being evangelical” in its spread of Roman Catholicism.

Not only is that fact completely unspoken in this interview, but Castaldo permits Weigel to engage in the fiction that Roman Catholicism somehow encompasses and promotes some “biblical realism” [to use Weigel’s phrase] rather than simply “Roman Catholicism”.

* * *

Castaldo also leaves without comment the impact of the fact that there are “Catholic clergy and laity who are in a ‘diminished state’ of communion with the Church”. We’re not talking about “separated brethren” here. What we are talking about is the fact that “doctrinally wayward priests” actually represent “an abrogation of responsibility by pastors, be they priests or bishops.”

The fact that bishops (and there are many of them) may be not only “morally” but “doctrinally wayward” betrays the confusion that exists within “the Magisterium” itself.

Finally, Castaldo himself amplifies Weigel’s fiction that “Bishop of Rome is, above all, the Church's first witness—the witness whose own witness strengthens the witness of all the brethren”.

At a minimum, Castaldo and the editors of Christianity Today ought to be castigated for this in polite company, for exhibiting their ignorance of the non-Christianity of Rome when they allow this tripe to be published under their banner.

The hope is that calling this sort of thing to their attention will give them some opportunity to think through what they are doing.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Unilateral disarmament in the homosexual debate

Christian leaders (e.g. Albert Mohler) are at a disadvantage in debating homosexuality. That’s because the average Christian leader doesn’t feel comfortable describing what homosexuals actually do, much less quoting homosexuals when they describe their sexuality activities in gross, vulgar terms.

So this becomes asymmetrical warfare, where the homosexual lobbyist can frame the debate without fear of refutation. He knows the average Christian leader isn’t going to call his bluff. As a result, the general public has a very innocent view of the homosexual lifestyle. Heterosexuals know about heterosexual vice, but not about homosexual vice.

However, the Bible itself doesn’t hesitate to graphically describe immorality, when the occasion demands. Sometimes we need to sacrifice decorum in the interests of candor. Otherwise, we lose the battle through unilateral disarmament.

"Marriage equality"

That’s Pastor Robert Jeffress, a man so vile that Tim Tebow turned down a speaking offer at his church to avoid controversy… only to then turn around and say yes to the late Jerry Falwell‘s university.

    “What homosexuals do is certainly filthy, but I never said homosexuals were filthy,” said Jeffress.

Jeffress doesn’t hate anyone… but he’s going to do anything he can to make sure those filthy homosexuals never get the same rights he and his wife have.

Just put up billboards featuring local pastors saying awful things. It won’t be hard to find quotations and you can do it in damn near every city in America. Let the entire community know what these pastors say to their congregations. Let the pastors defend themselves to the media. Let the parishioners explain to their friends why they attend a church led by such bigoted men.

It’s important to contrast how homosexual lobbyists like Andrew Sullivan portray homosexuals for PR purposes with the way homosexuals portray each other when their guard is down.

Sometimes we need to listen to what homosexuals say to each other, in their own words, to correct the airbrushed image of “committed homosexual couples.”

Here’s a link. Warning: it’s rough. It’s ugly. 

Jeffress didn’t say anything “vile.” If you wish to read something vile, follow the link. Yes, what homosexuals do is filthy. You don’t need to take the word of an SBC pastor. You can get that straight from the horse’s mouth:

Practicing unsafe sects

The Catholic sex scandal has received saturation coverage in the news media. That’s because the news media loves to cover sex scandals. And clerical sex scandals are even juicier.

However, the myopic focus on the Catholic sex scandal can deflect our attention from the Catholic sects scandal. Although some Catholic clergy practice unsafe sex, all Catholic clergy practice unsafe sects. That’s because the church of Rome is a morally and theologically corrupt sect.

The first resurrection

St. Augustine made a classic case for the amil interpretation of Rev 20 in The City of God, book 20:

The details of Augustine’s argument are easy to criticize. Premils are fond of quoting Dean Alford’s damning verdict:

On one point I have ventured to speak strongly, because my conviction on it is strong, founded on the rules of fair and consistent interpretation.  I mean, the necessity of accepting literally the first resurrection, and the millennial reign. It seems to me that if in a sentence where two resurrections are spoken of with no mark of distinction between them (it is otherwise in John 5:28, which is commonly alleged for the view which I am combating),--in a sentence where, one resurrection having been related, "the rest of the dead" are afterwards mentioned, --we are at liberty to understand the former one figuratively and spiritually, and the latter literally and materially, then there is an end of all definite meaning in plain words, and the Apocalypse, or any other book, may mean any thing we please.

As regards the text itself, no legitimate treatment of it will extort what is known as the spiritual interpretation now in fashion.  If, in a passage where two resurrections are mentioned, where certain "souls lived" at the first, and the rest of the "dead lived” only at the end of a specified period after that first,--if in such a passage the first resurrection may be understood to mean spiritual rising with Christ, while the second means literal rising from the grave; --then there is an end of all significance in language, and Scripture is wiped out as a definite testimony to any thing.  If the first resurrection is spiritual, then so is the second, which I suppose none will be hardly enough to maintain:  but if the second is literal, then so is the first, which in common with the whole primitive Church and many of the best modern expositors, I do maintain, and receive as an article of faith and hope.

Meredith Kline responded to premil criticism by offering a chiasmic analysis of how the first death, second death, first resurrection, and second resurrection were related:

Kline’s analysis was adopted by Gregory Beale and Vern Poythress in their commentaries. Here’s how Vern Poythress summarizes the argument:

The mention of the first resurrection in 20:5, 6 is often seen as counterevidence. The argument runs as follows. The first resurrection must be bodily resurrection. If so, it follows the Second Coming and therefore places all the events of 20:1-10 subsequent to the Second Coming.

But in fact the issue is more complex. The language of the first resurrection obviously implies that there is a second. In this context, the first and second resurrections have a suggestive relation to the first and second death. The mention of the second death in 20:6 clearly implies a first. And we know from the general teaching of Scripture what both of these are. The first death is bodily death. The second death is consignment to hell, the final abode of the wicked (20:14-15). The second death is spiritual in character, and accompanies bodily resurrection (John 5:29). The first death is preliminary, while the second death is final and irreversible. It is last. As there is a first heaven and earth and a second or last (Rev. 21:1), so there is a first and last death. Moreover, the first death, in its curse character, is a sign of the coming of the more terrible second death (cf. Gen. 3:19).

These facts provide the decisive clues for understanding the first and the second resurrection. The first resurrection is preliminary, while the second resurrection is final and last. The second resurrection is clearly bodily resurrection. It is clearly the remedy for the first death, bodily death. Conversely, the first resurrection is a kind of remedy for the second death, according to 20:6. The first resurrection guarantees freedom from the second death. The various symmetries suggest that the first resurrection, like the second death, is paradoxical in character. As the second death implicitly includes and accompanies an act of bodily resurrection, so the first resurrection implicitly includes and accompanies bodily death. We find an allusion to just this bodily death in 20:4, the souls of those who had been beheaded. The phrase refers to those who have suffered martyrdom for not worshiping the Beast. These are now disembodied souls living in the presence of God and of Christ, as represented in 6:9-10. The important thing to see is that these souls are living, triumphant, because of their union with Christ and victory through his blood (12:11). The assertion and enjoyment of their triumph is not simply postponed until the Second Coming. They enjoy victory even at the moment of the death, for God places them in positions of authority and judgment in the heavenly realms (thrones, v. 4). The judges and earthly authorities who condemned them to death are already beaten by this greater authority that the saints exercise in heaven.

I think this analysis has a lot of merit. However, I’d like to quote a scholar who proposes an alternative interpretation. Prigent is rehabilitating the Augustinian interpretation–minus baptismal regeneration. Giving that a more contextual grounding. I will quote some representative excerpts, then comment:

Those who participate in the one also participate in the other. As a result they are even made to be priests of God (5:9-10) to whom they render the worship that is asked of all men. In fact this is affirmed as of 1:5-6, where it constitutes a proclamation that is valid as of now, and not a promise that looks to the future: the author will in fact soon point out that he participates along with the addressees in the tribulation, the reign and the perseverance in Jesus (1:9).

To summarize, ever since Easter, the reign of God and of his Christ has been made manifest. Faithful Christians are associated with this royal function; they are the priestly people of God, the premonitory signs of the last judgment. This implies that participation in the reign and judgment of Christ, as well as constitution as priests, are far from being promises reserved for an awaited future; on the contrary, they are presented in Revelation as present-day characteristics of the life of faithful Christians. We therefore should not exclude the possibility that this is also the case in chap. 20.

Given these conditions, how should one understand the first resurrection? Most of the Fathers concluded that there would be a resurrection in two stages: that of the faithful, then a second, general resurrection. They neglected to notice the total absence of a second resurrection in the book of Revelation. This silence is far from being fortuitous: it corresponds perfectly to a theological intention. The book of Revelation affirms, as we have seen, that the faithful receive their eternal salvation as of now. Their fate is guaranteed; judgment has been pronounced. They therefore have nothing to fear from the second death (2:11; 20:6). They already live a life that is stronger than physical death and already find themselves to be beyond judgment. This is true life, the life that is spoken of in the fourth Gospel (Jn 5:25; 11:25ff.), a resurrected, eternal life.

In reality our author feels that it is more important to emphasize the life that they experience (life that is true, new, eternal…) than their resurrection from the dead. The pairing of the two verbs here [20:4] is revealing: they live and reign as Christ himself lives (1:18, etc.) and reigns (cf. 19:16). This is the life that is beyond death, life that is communion with the life of Jesus.

Only the duration of a thousand years seems irreconcilable with this interpretation. But we have seen in the introduction to chap. 20 that this figure serves only to describe, in traditional symbolic language, the present era as the marvelous restoration of the conditions reserved by God for the first man and woman in paradise, before the fall.

Another interpretation is possible…the first resurrection is present and spiritual; the second will be bodily and universal. For as Swete points out, there is a series of pairs in the book of Revelation (first earth, first heaven, new earth and new heaven; second death, which presupposes a first one; first resurrection which implies second one). In these pairs the first item relates to the present order, and the second item to the future.

This line of reasoning is not satisfying because it does not take into account the constant imbalance of the pairs. To the first elements of the world (earth and heaven), are opposed not to second ones, which would be an indication of chronological succession, but new ones…

…We might add that if one cannot speak of the second death without presupposing the first one, the fact that such a first one is never named (nor is a second resurrection) seems to be highly meaningful. It is because the first death is not necessarily prior in time, nor is the second resurrection necessarily second in sequence with respect to the first. These are realities of another order. In speaking about them our author has used temporal categories indicating succession. But he has recourse to the categories with a casualness that shows his intention to express something quite different. The first resurrection is a reality as of now. A few faithful Christians live as of today the eternal life which has nothing to fear from judgment, nor from perdition. This is the true resurrection. Should it be described a spiritual? Yes, on the condition that we understand quite clearly that it is lived in an incarnate existence. The time will come when all creatures will experience this renewal which will place them in the sight of God for another life. This will take place under the impulsion of the same divine power: there is but one resurrection.

P. Prigent, Commentary on the Apocalypse of St. John (Mohr Siebeck 2004), 556-57; 570-71.

I think there are weaker and stronger elements to his argument. I’ll highlight the stronger points:

i) He doesn’t think the rhetorical omission of a first death or second resurrection is an implicit lacuna waiting to be filled in. Rather, he regards that as a calculated omission. John is leaving that incomplete for emphasis. We should probably respect John’s omission. Those are significant omissions. If John wanted to round the pairings, he could have done so. He left them dangling for a reason.

ii) Apropos (ii), here’s the thrust of the analysis. On the one hand, John doesn’t mention a second, physical resurrection, because the first “resurrection” (i.e. regeneration) guarantees the second. If you participate in the first resurrection, then your participation in the second resurrection is assured.

Eternal life begins now, before you die. Eternal life carries you through death into the afterlife. Carries you all the way through to the resurrection of the body. Regeneration is the all-important event, not because the resurrection is unimportant, or less important, but because regeneration is the gateway experience. Physical resurrection is included in the package.

On the other hand, John doesn’t mention the first death because that’s trivial compared to the second death. Both believers and unbelievers will die physically. That’s unavoidable. What matters is what happens to you after you die. What awaits you after death.

So this is John’s way of prioritizing the issues. On the one hand, if you’ve been born again, if you’ve passed from spiritual death into spiritual life, then you have nothing to worry about when you die. The world can do its worst, but it can’t rob you of what counts in the long run. Death is not for keeps.

On the other hand, if you exit this life without eternal life, then physical death is the least of your worries. It is now or never. If you wait until you die, you waited too long. Death is the gateway to your eternal doom. 

iii) Prigent’s interpretation is very appealing. And from the standpoint of John’s Gospel, his interpretation is theologically correct.

Problem is, while John’s Gospel clearly synchronizes eternal life with the new birth, Revelation does not. This doesn’t mean Revelation denies that relationship. But in the narrative of Revelation, there’s not much reason to synchronize the first resurrection with regeneration.

In John’s Gospel, the entrance to eternal life is found in this life. In the here and now–not the hereafter. That’s also implicit in 1 John’s metaphor about divine seed implanted in the Christian (1 Jn 3:9). But although that’s theologically consistent with Revelation, Revelation has its own metaphors and narrative structure.

Moreover, if we define the first resurrection in reference to the intermediate state (a la Warfield, Beale, Poythress), that’s still consistent with the rhetorical omission of the second resurrection or the first death.

Revelation has a realized eschatology in the sense that Christians enter into glory at the moment of death. In that respect the “first resurrection” is concomitant with the present, for that’s a present experience of Christians who’ve departed this life. And it’s concomitant with life on earth, even though it doesn’t take place here below.

Revelation also has a futuristic eschatology. Because believers and unbelievers die at different times, throughout history, eschatology tracks the reality. The dead have a foretaste of the final state.

But by the same token, there’s a final tally at the end of the church age. After Christ returns, after everyone who will die has died, then there’s corporate judgment–which complements individual judgment. There’s the general resurrection. New Eden for the saints, and eternal banishment for the damned. 


Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.

But is there for the night a resting-place?
A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you standing at that door.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yea, beds for all who come.

(Images from Michael Wimmer.)