Friday, July 19, 2013

TrueU

It looks like TrueU has some helpful resources aimed at college students. For example, see here.

What is evolution?

"The Meanings of Evolution" by Stephen C. Meyer and Michael Newton Keas.

How to Answer the Fool


Sye Ten Bruggencate asked me to review his film: How to Answer the Fool: a Presuppositional Defense of the Faith. I'm going to comment on some representative statements in the study guide, which supplements the film.

Why is it then that when someone says: "I don't believe in God," we believe him, we give him evidence, and we don't think that he's a fool, when Scripture calls him a fool?

That's a non sequitur. How does giving someone evidence for God's existence imply that you don't think he's a fool? 

When someone denies the existence of God, what do we do? We think they are of sound mind. We believe them enough to accept their arguments as valid. Then we give them evidence that we contend they have the right and ability to accept or reject as if they are gods!
We have seen that when we present evidence to the unbeliever, we elevate them to the position of judge, and now we see that evidence is not even the issue, the issue is the authority with which we interpret evidence. Either we submit to God as our authority, and interpret evidence according to His standards, or we deny God as the authority, and interpret the evidence according to our own standards. 

This jumbles several things together that need to be distinguished:

i) To say unbelievers may have the "ability" to assess the evidence is not to say they assess the evidence by their own standards. Likewise, that is not to say they have the "right" to judge for themselves. 

Unbelievers have no choice but to use their God-given minds. To that extent, they can't avoid divine standards. They have to use God's logic. They can't escape their creatureliness.  They have no alternative. Try as they might, they can't be truly autonomous. To some degree they must fall back on divine standards. 

ii) Unbelievers vary in the degree to which their standards are consciously and consistently opposed to Christian theism. Due to common grace, many unbelievers retain a lot of common sense. They operate with the residual standards of a Christian worldview, even if they are unaware of that fact. 

It's remarkable that many leading apologists are teaching Christians how to defend their faith in a probability. A probable "god," however, is not God at all.
Why do you think that Christians use arguments representing a probability rather than the certain God of Scripture? 

i) Not all "traditional" Christian apologists have the same epistemology. Some Christian apologists think it's rational to believe in God and rational to disbelieve in God. They think both belief and unbelief can be justified or warranted. You can be a sincere unbeliever. The evidence for God is ambiguous. Clearly that's contrary to the outlook of Scripture, which views belief as culpable–the result of rebellion rather than ignorance. 

ii) However, you don't have to take that position to acknowledge the limitations of human argumentation. It's important to distinguish between what we can know and what we can prove. 

By claiming that "a god" might exist, and there is evidence that might lead an unbeliever to consider the existence of a god, is not the approach of the Bible. The first verse of the Bible states: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." There is no attempt to prove that God exists. It's the fact of His existence that makes sense of the world that He created for us.

That's misleading:

i) To begin with, Genesis was addressed to the covenant community. So it natural takes God's existence for granted. Consider the target audience.

ii) In addition, if we accept the ostensible life-setting of the Pentateuch, Genesis was initially addressed to the Exodus-generation. These are people who personally observed God's miraculous deliverance from Egypt and miraculous provision in the wilderness. Sye is overlooking the background of the audience. The historical context of the text. 

iii) Although there were probably some atheists in the ANE, the predominant viewpoint wasn't belief in no gods, but belief in many gods. Not atheism, but polytheism. Gen 1 is singling out the God of the patriarchs and the God of the Exodus as the one true God. He is the actual Creator, in contrast to the pagan pantheon. 

Read Isa 40:12-31. Does the image of God portrayed in Isaiah 40 reflect the way Christians defend their faith?

In Isaiah 40-48, the Jewish prophet doesn't simply take God's existence for granted. Rather, he argues for God's existence based on God's foreknowledge. The classic argument from prophecy. He sets that in contrast to pagan idolatry. 
Who needs evidence that God exists?…Scripture tells us that they are "without excuse," precisely because God has made Himself evident to them (Rom 1:18-22; Ps 19). 
No one needs additional evidence for God. According to Scripture, everyone has sufficient knowledge of God to be condemned for their sin against Him.  Even the most brilliant people in the world are condemned by God as fools if they claim there is no God. 
Read Ps 14:1; 1 Cor 1:18-20; Eph 4:17-19. What is the common theme presented regarding those who deny God?

i) It's not that clear-cut. There's a shift in Rom 1 from what they "know" to what they "knew" (a shift in tense or verbal aspect from present tense to aorist). This is reinforced by Paul's statement that their understanding has been "darkened" (v21, cf. Eph 4:18), as well as their "suppression" of God's self-revelation (v18).  So are unbelievers still in the condition of knowing that God exists, or has their darkened understanding obscured that awareness? If the latter, then they may indeed need to be confronted with the additional evidence to remind them of what they blocked out or to correct their distortions. 

ii) Moreover, even if we grant that unbelievers already know God exists, this doesn't mean they know that Christianity is true. So don't they still require evidence for the specific claims of Christian theology? 

Read Lk 1:3-4, Jn 17:6-8, Acts 2:36, Heb 11:1, and 1 Jn 5:12-13. What do those passages say regarding whether or not people can know things of God with certainty?

Of course, that has reference to Christians, not unbelievers. 

i) Another problem with Sye's position is how his denial that unbelievers need additional evidence meshes with his chapter on proving God's existence. In chap 4 he sketches a transcendental argument for God's existence. He does the same thing in chap. 6 (e.g. objections #2, #7, #11).

But if additional evidence is superfluous, what is the value of TAG? What does that contribute? Isn't presenting a transcendental argument for God's existence giving the unbeliever additional evidence for God's existence? How is that essentially different from the moral, cosmological, or teleological argument?

Sye may say it's a different kind of argument, but it remains supplementary evidence for God's existence. Yet, according to Sye, isn't that redundant if unbelievers already know God exists? TAG is giving them an additional reason to believe in God.   

ii) Moreover, TAG doesn't single out Christianity. A theistic justification of truth, knowledge, or logic operates at a more generic level than Christian theism or Christian theology. That doesn't prove Bible history. 

iii) I'd also add that Sye's version of TAG is very crude and simplistic. It's scarcely an argument. More assertive than argumentative. 

Indeed, there are people in this world who claim that miracles are impossible. So what do Christians do? Rather than speak on the authority of God's Word, we try to prove the possibility of miracles! We give them evidence that they will judge for themselves independent of God!…We reduce miracles to the realm of the plausible in order to satisfy the demands of the skeptic, and then we are amazed when they don't see the truth. We remove God from the equation.

Sye cites a rationalistic explanation for the miracle of Jonah, as if his survival inside the fish can be explained in purely naturalistic terms. But proving the possibility of miracles doesn't require "removing God from the equation." 

What is incredible to believe is that the world came into existence on its own, that life spontaneously appeared out of a biotic soup and that that soup produced the information necessary to gradually evolve over billions of years into the life forms we see today, including living, breathing human beings with minds and a moral sense.

I agree. However, when Sye appeals to "information," he's getting that from intelligent design arguments. 

You see, we all get the same evidence, but we examine the evidence according to the beliefs we take to the evidence, our pre-beliefs if you will–our presuppositions.  With a presupposition that God does not exist and miracles are impossible, it doesn't matter what evidence we give the unbeliever, apart from the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, they cannot conclude that God exists and that miracles are possible. 

That depends on how tenaciously the unbeliever clings to his presuppositions. Unbelievers are not all alike. Some unbelievers are impervious to the evidence. But evidence can wear down other unbelievers. Keep in mind that many unbelievers are very ignorant, thoughtless, and superficial. 

When we challenge unbelievers with the fact that they must assume God to argue against Him, and ask them to justify truth, knowledge, and reasoning apart from Him, we will see, with their inability to do so,  that this Biblical apologetic is not merely a tool in the toolbox, but is the very floor on which the toolbox rests. 

That fosters false confidence. An apologetic method is no substitute for expertise. Some unbelievers are very savvy. They do have alternative models for grounding truth, knowledge, and reasoning apart from God. Yes, those are inadequate, but demonstrating their inadequacy isn't always a quick and easy task.  

After watching debates by Christians who do not employ the Biblical method of apologetics, I often hear the comment: That Christian is so smart, I could never debate like him." The second biggest compliment I get after a person listens to one of my debates is: "Oh, I can do that!" Apologetics is easy, when you read your Bible and do what it says.

i) Once again, that fosters false confidence. To be blunt, an apologetic method is no substitute for brainpower. Brainpower is a great advantage in debate. Take the Gospels. Jesus bested his opponents, not merely because he was right, but because he was bright. He outsmarted them. When they set traps for him, he trapped them in their own traps. 

ii) In addition, unbelievers can also watch Sye's public debates. They can learn what to expect. I'm reminded of an episode from The Ultimate Fighter. One contestant had a great guillotine. He had that maneuver down pat. But that's all he had. He won two matches with his guillotine. But he lost the third match because, by that time, his competitors wised up.  If all you have is a method, it won't take long for some unbelievers to catch on. 

Rather than concede our position at the outset and argue according to the unbeliever's presuppositions, we must argue according to God's own presuppositions that are carefully set forth in the Bible. 
The more complex answer is an internal critique of each worldview to expose their inability to account for rationality without presupposing the God of the Bible. 

i) But an internal critique does involve arguing according to the unbeliever's presuppositions. You're evaluating his position by his own criteria. Therefore, Sye seems to be giving contradictory advice. Perhaps he merely means that when we internally critique a position, we adopt the unbeliever's standards or presuppositions for the sake of argument.

ii) An internal critique is not the same thing as TAG. Performing an internal critique on Scientology or Rastafarianism isn't equivalent to mounting a transcendental argument for God's existence. Disproving Scientology or Rastafarianism doesn't prove God, or vice versa.  Hence, there now seem to be three disparate elements to Sye's "presuppositional defense of the faith":

a) No one needs additional evidence for God. Everyone already has sufficient evidence for God, because God has made himself evident to everyone.

b) We should deploy the transcendental argument for God's existence.

c) We should internally critique opposing positions.

But if (a) is true, then doesn't that render (b) and/or (c) redundant? Isn't that overkill? Why resort to (b) and (c) unless (a) is inadequate? Either (a) moots (b) and (c) or (b) and (c) moot (a).

transcendental arguments do not argue from facts and evidences to a conclusion by induction or deduction like traditions arguments (which assumes that logic is more fundamental/ultimate/epistemologically necessary than God), but rather asks how facts, evidences, etc. can even exist, have meaning, and be intelligible to human beings in the first place. Thus, transcendental arguments "attempt to discover the preconditions of human experience."

Do traditional theistic proofs really assume that logic is more fundamental/ultimate/epistemologically necessary than God? Did Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, or Leibniz (to name a few) make that assumption?  

We are trying to get unbelievers to see the truth SO that they will repent, when Scripture tells us that they need to repent SO they can see the truth. We have it exactly upside-down. Without repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, NO amount of evidence will convince the unbeliever of the truth, and with repentance and faith, no amount of evidence is needed. 

Why would they repent unless they perceive the truth of their lost condition? What is the object of their faith if not perceived truths about the Gospel? Sye has them repenting in vacuum. Believing in a vacuum.  

Apologetics 315 links

http://www.apologetics315.com/2013/07/weekly-apologetics-bonus-links-0712.html

What Sort of "Worldview" is Brannon Howse Promoting Over There?

Brannon Howse is threatening a lawsuit.

Jimmy DeYoung is promoting allegorical-type Bible interpretation.

John Whitcomb seems to deny the doctrine of Original Sin.

Chris Pinto is peddling a conspiracy theory undermining the trustworthiness of the Bible.
peddling his error-contorted, emotionally-riddled “Da Vinci Code” - See more at: http://www.alankurschner.com/2013/07/15/chris-pinto-and-his-ignorant-kooky-conspiracy/#sthash.DonJYfoh.dpuf
is peddling his error-contorted, emotionally-riddled “Da Vinci Code” - See more at: http://www.alankurschner.com/2013/07/15/chris-pinto-and-his-ignorant-kooky-conspiracy/#sthash.DonJYfoh.dpuf
is peddling his error-contorted, emotionally-riddled “Da Vinci Code” - See more at: http://www.alankurschner.com/2013/07/15/chris-pinto-and-his-ignorant-kooky-conspiracy/#sthash.DonJYfoh.dpuf
is peddling his error-contorted, emotionally-riddled “Da Vinci Code” - See more at: http://www.alankurschner.com/2013/07/15/chris-pinto-and-his-ignorant-kooky-conspiracy/#sthash.DonJYfoh.dpuf

All just recently. This does not sound like a "Christian" worldview. Perhaps we need to discern this discernment ministry.



Thursday, July 18, 2013

"Vigilante justice"


This year, Russell Moore took over as head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission — the huge Protestant denomination’s highest-profile post, particularly on matters of politics and policy. 
How do you feel about the verdict? 
Regardless of what Trayvon Martin was doing or not doing that night, you have someone who was taking upon himself some sort of vigilante justice, even by getting out of the car. Regardless of what the legal verdict was, this was wrong. And when you add this to the larger context of racial profiling and a legal system that does seem to have systemic injustices as it relates to African Americans with arrests and sentencing, I think that makes for a huge crisis. ... I think many people assume our racial tensions are in the past because we have a Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, an African American president, but these sorts of situations demonstrate the raw reality that that’s not the case. 
http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/an-interview-with-russell-moore-of-the-southern-baptist-convention/2013/07/18/40957c32-ef2a-11e2-bed3-b9b6fe264871_print.html

i) How is monitoring the movements of Trayvon equivalent to "vigilante justice"? Doesn't "vigilante justice" connote lynching? Charles Bronson in Death Wish

ii) As Bill Vallicella put it recently, "Why say that Trayvon Martin was racially profiled by Zimmerman when you could just as well say that he was gender profiled or age profiled or behavior profiled?  Old black females walking down the street are not a problem."

iii) Moore acts as if we have a white establishment oppressing blacks. He's trapped in a timewarp. We have multiracial juries and multiracial police forces, as well as minority mayors, judges, governors, legislators, law professors, police chiefs, district attorneys, attorneys general, &c. 

iv) I'm guessing that white men are arrested and sentenced for violent crimes at far higher rates than Asian-American women. Does that imply a legal system that does seem to have systemic injustices as it relates white American men? Or does that reflect the fact that men are generally more prone to crimes of violence than women? 

v) Maybe racial tensions are kept alive by folks like Moore who continue to peddle a false narrative. 

Schreiner's biblical theology


I was thumbing through Tom Schreiner's new monograph: The King in his Beauty. From what I've read, his interpretations don't break any new ground. His interpretations are often indebted to writers like Desi Alexander, G. K. Beale, Brevard Childs, Stephen Dempster, William Dumbrell, Peter Gentry, Paul House, Meredith Kline, Jon Levenson, von Rad, Bruce Waltke, Barry Webb, and Stephen Wellum. As you'd expect, he has a Baptist view of the covenants. 

I think this would be a good book to give a recent convert to Christianity. It's a roadmap, guiding them through the Bible. Gives them a good overview of the Biblical storyline. How various book of the Bible contribute to an integrated message. 

Book Review: The Poverty of Nations

The following is an extended review of The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution (Crossway, 2013) by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus (hereafter referred to as TPN).  I received an advanced digital copy of this book through the NetGalley program.  TPN will be published August 31 and is available at Amazon.

___________________________________

The discipline of economics is in a state of confusion. This is no more apparent than when surveying the myriad solutions offered to alleviate poverty around the world.

Enter Wayne Grudem, a theologian, and Barry Asmus, an economist. This pair has undertaken to create a “sustainable solution to poverty in the poor nations of the world, a solution based on both economic history and the teachings of the Bible” (25). Written primarily to leaders of nations and lay persons, it is concerned with the laws and cultural principles that govern the economic arrangements of nations as a whole, rather than how local ministries or relief efforts should operate. With a major focus on the creation of goods and services, it advocates the free-market as the most efficient and morally superior method of increasing worldwide wealth. With its global perspective on poverty reduction, this is an ambitious book.

Grudem and Asmus claim that their contribution is “unique” inasmuch as it comes from both a Biblical and economic perspective. I suppose this is true insofar as I am unaware of a work of this caliber with such an interdisciplinary focus. On the other hand, many of their recommendations come from an old economic tradition and will be familiar to those who study or even merely follow politics. (Grudem and Asmus seem to acknowledge as much.) Many of the issues they discuss, such as whether multinational corporations pay unfair wages in poor countries, are not particularly in depth. As such, the value of this book is that it constitutes an introduction to the conservative perspective on international poverty.

One danger of books on economics is a lack of clarity. Here the book avoids serious pitfalls: the material is accessible and the writing generally clear—a refreshing change from other many other economic or theological works. Additionally, TPN has footnotes rather than endnotes, greatly enhancing the value of its citations.

Unlike some authors, Grudem and Asmus have done their homework—at least for the most part. They are conversant with many leading economists or other relevant scholars (Easterly, Collier, Novak, Ferguson, Acemoglu, Mauldin, Soto, etc.) and have sought to incorporate relevant historical evidence in their analysis. This has led to an impressive, if not daunting, list of seventy-eight specific causes of poverty.

The nuance is most welcome; indeed, it is necessary for a subject as complex as economics. Poverty is not reduced to a single cause—say, the laziness of individuals. The authors acknowledge, for instance, that structural corruption can allow leaders to act in ways that prevent individuals from escaping poverty.

However, sometimes it felt as if they were arguing with popular slogans or ideas rather than with leading liberal economists; the arguments against socialism felt anachronistic. What modern, currently living political leaders or economists are Grudem and Asmus critiquing? This was unclear to me, and the book risks shadowboxing with conservative caricatures or historical ghosts. This is additionally problematic given that the national leaders Grudem and Asmus would like to reach are likely to have more sophisticated views on economic matters than whatever passes for popular wisdom on a liberal blog or The Daily Show, and might not feel their position has been adequately addressed (or even that it has been addressed at all).

One of the great strengths of TPN is that it defines and explains core concepts in economic policy. Wealth and poverty are explored with reference to critical ideas such as GDP, per capital income, market value, commodity dumping, comparative advantage, composite price, what constitutes wealth creation and so on. Anyone who wants to make a lasting and serious comment on economic matters needs to understand these concepts and how they function as indicators of or factors in economic growth.

The Bible and Economics

TPN attempts to find support, perhaps even justification, for its free-market views in the pages of Scripture. To be frank, sometimes it felt as if Scripture was being tacked onto an economic philosophy. For example, Ephesians 4:28, 1 Thessalonians 4:11 and 2 Thessalonians 3:10 are invoked to imply that Paul “wanted [Christians] to continually create goods and services that were of value to other people” (61). It is difficult to see that in these texts. This is not to say that Paul would have been against this idea, but these passages seem to be dealing with work from a different angle, and I do not know if our Enlightenment understanding of goods and services is coterminous to Paul’s Jewish understanding of work.

One familiar argument is their use of the eighth commandment to justify the ownership of private property, as the law could not function without the assumption of ownership. This is true enough, although this kind of argument seems stuck in the concerns of the previous generation. Communism is all but dead; even ostensibly communist countries like China functionally operate under principles much closer to a free market than communist ones (China has introduced private property legislation). The danger to private property tends not to come from unsound economic policy, but the selfish actions of governments, many of which care not one whit about the Bible’s commandments.

Much of what we call economics we might otherwise call wisdom. For example, it is wise to learn from the failures of, say, sixteenth century Spain toward the accumulation of gold and apply those lessons to modern, oil-rich nations (80). Yet while wisdom is Biblical in one sense, it is inappropriate to loosely cite Scriptural passages in defense of free-market economics, especially when many of the leaders in the world who are not Christian do not take Scripture as a reliable source for economic policy. It often felt as if the Bible was being used to justify the cultural position of its authors, rather than being exposited to challenge and shape it.

This touches on the debate between Christian economists over whether Christians can offer anything substantially unique to the field of economics that cannot already be discerned through secular study. In some ways this book inadvertently vindicates the critics of a distinctively Christian economics, as its value lies primarily in its economic prescriptions rather than its Biblical injunctions.

Morals and the Free Market

Grudem and Asmus spend chapter six arguing that the free market contains the greatest moral advantages as compared with other economic systems. This chapter is one of the weakest in the book.

What constitutes morality varies from nation to nation, so it is not clear that this appeal will successfully translate in an international context. Additionally, claims that the free market system provides the best incentives for the development of virtue seem exaggerated, at best, or naïve, at worst. For example, Grudem and Asmus argue that the free market promotes more truth-telling than any other system. Given the enormous amounts of deception in the American market, especially in areas such as marketing or finance, this hardly seems like an advantage worth commending as morally superior!

Additionally, their appeal to the free market as the best solution to environmental problems assumes people will act in the long-term interest. Yet what is to prevent one generation from plundering the local environment for their own gain?

In another example, Grudem and Asmus argue that the free market promotes social cohesion. This is not so clear. Some of the most popular technology that has been invented, developed, produced and marketed in the United States—the mobile device—has led to a serious breakdown of relationships. Even secular sociologists have warned about these trends (cf. Sherry Turkle’s Together Alone). This is anecdotal, but one of the chief complaints I have heard from refugees who come to this country is how lacking the community is in the United States, and these people often come from countries run by brutal dictators.

Most importantly, their distinction between greed and self-interest seems weak. The idea that markets are the best, even if inadequate, corrective to greed does not account for how people who idolize greed tend to be those who dominate industries. Consider the hours required of the modern CEO and the negative effects this has on his family life (if he can even have a family), to say nothing of serving his local church or community.

It hardly seems useful to talk about the moral superiority of the free market when true behavioral change—the kind that makes for sacrificial, selfless living—arises from the kind of community Jesus promotes in John 17. The Church in Acts lived under an oppressive dictatorship, yet they gave more generously than most American Christians today, who are comparatively far richer.

Influences and Perspective

TPN is informed by the work of Corbett and Fikkert’s When Helping Hurts, which strongly warns against the ills of a paternalism wherein those helping others approach the situation as a parent over the needy rather than partner with the “poor” in mutually giving relationships. This is refreshing. It also signals a change in the thinking of Christians on relief efforts.

It is also heavily informed by David Landes’s The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, which in turn is derived from the classic (and highly disputed) work of Max Weber, who argued that the ethic of Protestantism led to the economic prosperity of the West. In addition to other familiar appeals and conservatives sources, such as to the Laffer Curve or The Heritage Foundation, economic liberals are unlikely to find this work convincing.

Changing the World

Many of the recommendations in this book will be familiar to political conservatives. Given that it comments on many issues, this work is best suited as an introduction rather than an in depth discussion. In some ways, I suspect this undermines their desire to speak to national leaders in two critical ways. First, many national leaders are already trained in or familiar with economics; it will take more than an introductory level book to change their minds. Second, few lay persons are likely in any position to change economic policy in either the West or poorer nations. The average American voter has surprisingly little influence on foreign policy arrangements and the actions of foreign governments, and the American Evangelicals who read this book are increasingly irrelevant in the major cultural institutions that actually do shape international policy. How much more so for American missionaries in countries ruled by brutal dictators or unelected oligarchies!

Rick Warren closes his foreword to TPN by exhorting its readers to: “Study it! Reread it and make notes, then put it into practice and teach it to others” (20). Not only is the book described as a new classic that should be “recommended reading” for every major Christian educational institution, local pastor and relief organization, but the book “could change the world” (Ibid.). Grudem and Asmus are no less fervent, as they tell national leaders that “there is a solution to poverty that really works. It has been proven again and again in world history. And it is supported by the moral teachings of the Bible. If this solution is put into place, we are confident it will lift entire nations out of poverty” (32).

The driving assumption, all but explicitly stated in Rick Warren’s foreword and otherwise claimed in the introduction (“preaching and teaching can eventually change a culture,” 32), seems to be that if enough people spread the ideas of the book, those ideas will become policy in other nations. As much as this would be nice, culture does not change through the popularity of an idea or even though how many pastors believe and preach it. This is a democratic, individualistic approach to change, but I don’t think it has any real historical backing, and it certainly overestimates the cultural capital of conservative Christianity. Additionally, having Rick Warren write the foreword automatically alienates a significant number of the people Grudem and Asmus believe would most benefit from reading this book.

Final Verdict

I would recommend this book with some caveats. Its value lies chiefly as a popularization of conservative economic philosophy. Its theological arguments are less impressive, and here I would hesitate to commend the book as an example of sound exegesis. The arguments are too loose and there is a risk it will serve as a negative example of Scripture use for impressionable lay persons, especially with the endorsement from Warren. I suspect the book would have been more successful without the Biblical arguments.

Attempts to end poverty are not new. I remember a talk at NYU several years ago by Columbia professor and economist Jeffrey Sachs, who was promoting his (then) new book, The End of Poverty. With opening remarks by U2’s Bono, the event was charged with anticipation and hope. Sachs went on to make a presentation that would have inspired even the most languid liberal. Yet what has come of that effort today?

The only material difference I see between Sachs and Grudem and Asmus is which portion of the white, American, Enlightenment-indebted economic tradition they embrace. Moral sentiments draped over economic philosophies will never change the world. And what Bono was to Sachs, Warren is to Grudem and Asmus: a celebrity endorsement.

In their introduction, Grudem and Asmus state that what they are recommending is hardly new (20). And in sense they are right: like so many books claiming to have solutions to enormously complex, intractable problems, it will make a splash and fall by the wayside.

I am reminded of something wise someone once said:

“You will always have the poor among you.”

James Anderson on the Meaning of Life

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2013/07/17/can-life-have-meaning-without-god/

HT: @proginosko

Truth will win

Image Source: NASA
Psalm 19:1 – The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.


Romans 1:19-20: For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.


Genesis 1:26-28: Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”


These are the things that went through my mind this morning as I got up early to watch the International Space Station fly across the sky. It appeared around 5:07, and it lasted just a few minutes, but it was, as advertised, the brightest object in the sky (apart from the sun and the moon).

You can sign up for email updates about when it appears (it actually appears quite regularly; however, the time and the weather are frequently unaccommodating).

http://spotthestation.nasa.gov/

Anyone in the world can see it, as it appears on a regular schedule. It appears as a bright star, yet it moves quickly (“like a fast-moving plane in the sky, but it is dozens of times higher than any airplane and traveling thousands of miles an hour faster”), and my impression is that this is but one small fruit of the God-given ability of man to “have dominion”.

* * *

At the moment [and I use the word “moment” in the sense that John Richard Neuhaus used it, in the sense of “this era in history”] we lament certain laws and judicial statements, and the harm brought by them to people and cultures. But I think we can all agree, that these things are artificial – they have been put into place as the result of coordinated efforts at misinformation that seek to circumvent the truths about God that are “self-evident”.

I don’t recall the precise citation, but I’ve cited the Roman Catholic historian Paul Johnson as saying, in the middle ages, the intention of the rulers was to guide the masses rather than to control their passions – hence events like the Crusades were mighty movements of rabble across seas and continents that frequently got out of control.

Today, we still have “masses” of uneducated peasants in the world. However, these “masses” are comprised of individuals created in the image of God, who have it in their hearts to look up, to seek after Him. As well, in our “moment”, more people than ever before have the availability, on their own initiative, to take advantage of the kind of world-class education that can be gotten for free on the Internet.

Through sources like iTunesU and others, courses in world history and literature and math and sciences and engineering are available, and courses from the finest Christian seminaries and universities are available (via “Massive Open Online Courses”, or “MOOCs”, for example).

In this case, it is the “professional educators” who are concerned:

"No technology has ever developed this quickly in academia; not electricity, not the telephone, not the Internet," Sreenivasan told The Morningside Post, one of the university's student newspapers. "My role is to help Columbia navigate this in a strategic way, without panicking."

It is the shapers of the present mutant forms of misinformation who are panicking.

Nearly 80% of people in China who are engaged technologically “surf the web” via their mobile devices, according to a story that appeared this morning in ZDNet:

China's Internet population hit a record high of 591 million by the end of June driven by a growth in mobile Internet usage, which now makes up nearly 80 percent of all users.

China's mobile Internet user base comprised 78.5 of all users at 464 million compared with 72.2 percent a year ago, according to the government-affiliated research group. Such users have been actively using services like instant messaging platforms such as Tencent's WeChat and payment modes like e-commerce giant Alibaba's Alipay on handsets.

Web applications with strong growth included online music, video, games and literature, according to CNNIC.

Those are massive numbers, and we know those kinds of numbers are being replicated globally on a massive scale. Yes, there is clutter, but the sum of the learning in human history is also contained among those “web applications”, and it is being spread throughout the world.

And one particular seed that is being scattered is the Gospel. “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom.”

One way or another, people will learn the truth.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Pope Tetzel


As soon as the tweet from Pontifex pings,
The soul from Purgatory springs.

Atoms run amok

http://calvindude.org/dude/2013/07/17/the-point-of-freedom-in-atheism/

Think alike freethinkers

If you have a high tolerance for blue language, this is an amusing expose of freethinkers who champion free inquiry as long as everyone thinks alike:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/hallq/2013/07/beware-outrage-at-a-not-guilty-verdict/

On Spiraling into Chaos

http://dougwils.com/s7-engaging-the-culture/on-spiraling-into-chaos.html

Where you stand depends on where you sit


I'm going to comment on this because it was posted at the TCG:
When I hear about a young black teenager walking home from the store, and the man who assumed he was a criminal before knowing anything about him, I can relate. You may not be able to. Maybe you've never been followed around in a department store by a security guard for no reason. I have. Maybe you've never had a convenient store clerk scream at you to leave, assuming that the blackberry on your hip is a gun that you plan to shoot him with. I have. 
Maybe you've never smiled and greeted people you've passed on the street, only to have them avoid eye contact, clutch their belongings, and quickly walk away. I have. Maybe you've never been pushed against a wall, held at gunpoint, and handcuffed by police (who are supposed to protect you) because you "look like a suspect we were looking for." I have—and I looked nothing like that suspect. All of these incidents are minor and none of them significantly threatened my life. Most, if not all, of my black friends have been through similar situations. And countless others have endured much, much worse. 
If you've never experienced this sort of thing, you may not understand why this case resonates so deeply with us. But when I hear his story, I hear my story. And my father's story. And my son's story. I have no idea what happened after Mr. Zimmerman made assumptions about that young man, but before the altercation, there was nothing extraordinary about the incident. It happens every single day. 
Profiling is real, and it's often racial. Some people think they have the gift of discovering character just by looking at a person. Just like a dark blue uniform and badge means law enforcement, dark skin and a hoodie means lawbreaker. No conversation has happened, but an imaginary rap sheet is attached. Violent character is assumed. They think about the gangster image they saw on TV, or the danger their parents told them about, or the horrible crime they witnessed—and they place all of that baggage on a person they've never even met. We never have the right to draw unwarranted conclusions about a person—even if they do turn out to be troubled 
http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2013/07/16/should-we-move-on/ 
i) I understand Trip Lee's viewpoint. The problem is, his complaint is so insular and one-sided. Does he think whites are never harassed by the police? Does he think whites are never treated unfairly by the police? What if the policeman is black, Hispanic, or Asian? Should the white driver automatically chalk that up to racial animus? 
ii) Lee accuses Zimmerman of profiling Martin. For all we know, that might well be true. But notice the irony. Lee accuses Zimmerman of stereotyping blacks, while–in the very same breath–Lee is stereotyping Zimmerman. Lee assumes that Zimmerman was racially motivated. But isn't that racial prejudice? Prejudging Zimmerman's motives? 
iii) I once had a coworker who attended one of the predominately black inner city schools in Seattle. He was East-Indian. His family emigrated from Fiji. He was picked on by the black students. I had a Chinese coworker (whose family emigrated from Hong Kong) who attended one of the predominantly black inner city schools in Seattle. He said the Asian students were picked on by the black students. I once talked to the son of a coworker. He was a white Jewish kid who attended one of the predominantly black inner city schools in Seattle. He was picked on by the black students.
Now, you might object that it's unreliable to generalize from anecdotal evidence. I agree. Yet that's precisely what Trip Lee is doing. Appealing to his own personal anecdotes to establish a pattern. So I'm just responding to him on his own level.
iv) What does he mean by "profiling"? We might distinguish between invasive and noninvasive profiling. For instance, there have been times in the past when I walked around Chinatown in Seattle. Likewise, there have been times in the past when I walked around the Central District in Seattle–which is predominantly black. I wouldn't be surprised if more eyes were trained on me there. If you're white in a predominantly black or Asian neighborhood, you stick out. You're noticeable.
Should that bother me? No. For one thing, it's inevitable. No point being upset all the time by something you can't control or change.
In addition, nothing was done to me in those situations. I'm just being watched. Maybe I don't like to be watched. But I'm in a public setting. And it's noninvasive. I'm not being harassed. 
By way of comparison, I believe teenage girls are more likely to shoplift than middle-aged men in business suits. I wouldn't be surprised if stores scrutinize teenage girls more than middle-aged men in business suits. That might be "profiling," but it wouldn't be racial.

And although there's a sense in which it's unfair for all teenage girls to experience heightened scrutiny, it's also unfair to merchants (as well as consumers–who effectively subsidize shoplifters by paying higher prices to defray the expense of theft) to be put in that situation. 

Trip Lee complains about suspicious convenience store clerks. But that's a dangerous job. So naturally they are on edge. All those stories about convenience store clerks who are shot by armed robbers. Lee also skates over the fact that young black men commit crimes of violence at disproportionate rates. 

Can Life Have Meaning Without God?

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2013/07/17/can-life-have-meaning-without-god/

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

From logic to God

http://www.proginosko.com/2013/07/vallicella-on-the-argument-for-god-from-logic/

Extreme examples


How your opponent reacts to an extreme example is usually a good litmus test of whether your opponent is rational or irrational. Many folks don't understand the nature of argument, of the function of extreme examples.
Suppose a supporter of Trayvon Martin says "It's always tragic when someone dies young." That's a blanket claim.
The danger of making blanket claims is that these are apt to be overgeneralizations. They overlook exceptions.
The way to challenge a blanket claim is to cite a counterexample. If there are exceptions to the claim, then it can't be said as a matter of principle that dying young is always tragic. 
Suppose I counter the claim by asking, "If Pol Pot had died at 17, would that be tragic?" 
Suppose my opponent exclaims, "How dare you equate Trayvon Martin with Pol Pot!" 
Of course, that misses the point of the analogy. I'm not equating the two. I'm not comparing them at the level of character. I'm not suggesting that Martin would grow up to be the next Pol Pot.
Opponents who react that way don't grasp the function of extreme examples. The value of an extreme example lies in the fact that, being extreme, that's something both sides should be able to agree on. A reasonable person ought to agree that Pot Pot dying at 17 would not be tragic. 
So you begin with an extreme example to establish common ground, and work back from there. The purpose of the extreme example is not to compare Trayvon Martin with Pol Pot, but to establish a principle. Namely: dying young is not inherently tragic. It depends on what the decedent would have done with the rest of his life, given a normal lifespan. It may also depend on what would have been done to him, had he lived longer. And it may also depend on the long-range consequences, which may outlive us. 

Hearing dog whistles


I'm going to comment on this article because it was posted at TGC:
I've kept up with the Trayvon Martin saga from the beginning. Like many of you I watched the news coverage, read the articles, and talked about it with friends.
By contrast, I haven't followed the story closely. 
It dominated public conversation and provoked a much-needed discussion about race in America. The ugly reality of racism was pushed in front of our faces, and even those who like to pretend it doesn't exist were forced to talk about it.
From where I sit,  most of the "ugly reality of racism" is currently emanating from Barack Obama, Eric Holder, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, La Raza, the Black Panthers, the NAACP, &c. 
I know there are many who wonder why this particular trial has captured the attention of so many. Others wonder why some black folks are so quick to sympathize with Trayvon Martin, despite the fact he had issues of his own. After all, none of us were there and we don't know exactly what happened. While that's true, I did find myself emotionally invested in the whole ordeal.
I think one reason for that is a breakdown in the distinction between reality and fantasy, strangers and acquaintances. Many people act like these are movie characters. They "identify" with the character in the movie. They have an imaginary sense of camaraderie with perfect strangers.  
When I hear about a young black teenager walking home from the store, and the man who assumed he was a criminal before knowing anything about him, I can relate. You may not be able to. Maybe you've never been followed around in a department store by a security guard for no reason. I have. Maybe you've never had a convenient store clerk scream at you to leave, assuming that the blackberry on your hip is a gun that you plan to shoot him with. I have. 
Maybe you've never smiled and greeted people you've passed on the street, only to have them avoid eye contact, clutch their belongings, and quickly walk away. I have. Maybe you've never been pushed against a wall, held at gunpoint, and handcuffed by police (who are supposed to protect you) because you "look like a suspect we were looking for." I have—and I looked nothing like that suspect. All of these incidents are minor and none of them significantly threatened my life. Most, if not all, of my black friends have been through similar situations. And countless others have endured much, much worse. 
If you've never experienced this sort of thing, you may not understand why this case resonates so deeply with us. But when I hear his story, I hear my story. And my father's story. And my son's story. I have no idea what happened after Mr. Zimmerman made assumptions about that young man, but before the altercation, there was nothing extraordinary about the incident. It happens every single day. Profiling is real, and it's often racial. 
Frankly, Lee Trip's reaction is egocentric. I mean that in a literal, not pejorative sense. Whatever you are, that's your immediate frame of reference. You have direct experience of what it's like to be you.
If, say, the article was written by a Laotian convenience store owner in the ghetto, I suspect that it would reflect a very different perspective on race relations. A very different view of who the good guys and the bad guys are.
Lee Trip knows what it's like to be Lee Trip. He doesn't know what it's like to be a white American, or Asian, or American Indian, or East Indian, or Latino. I daresay that many white Americans have had unpleasant run-ins with the police, including minority cops. But, of course, Trip will never find himself in that situation. His personal experience is necessarily parochial. He knows what it feels like to be picked on as a black man, but not as a white man. Take a white kid at an inner city school. 
Because Zimmerman has a Peruvian mother, that immediately complicates the simplistic white-on-black narrative. Ironically, identity politics is all about segregating ethnic and racial categories. Treating individuals en bloc.  

Is This Still America?

By a black commentator:

http://www.nationalreview.com/node/353502/print


A common thread

http://calvindude.org/dude/2013/07/12/a-common-thread/

Monday, July 15, 2013

Was Trayvon Martin's death a tragedy?


I'd like to make an observation about the George Zimmerman case. I'm going to preface my observation by stating that I studiously avoided coverage of the trial. 
I have read a number of conservative commentaries on the affair. They denounce the media, governor, prosecutors, and judge. They stick up for Zimmerman, claiming that he acted in self-defense. They draw attention to Martin's rap sheet. 
However, in the midst of all that, they usually include a caveat: they hasten to add that Martin's death was "tragic."
I'd like to consider that for a moment. In one sense I agree. Hypothetically speaking, his death was tragic because we can imagine better outcomes. What if he had lived long enough to turn his life around?  
Christianity is a redemptive religion, so we celebrate redemptive story endings. And even secular filmmakers like redemptive story endings.
Measured by that counterfactual, his death was tragic. But, of course, there are other counterfactual outcomes that go in the opposite direction. And, if anything, these may be more probable. 
We tend to think it's tragic that someone dies at 17. His death was "untimely." "Premature." A life cut short. Think of all the lost opportunities. He had his whole life ahead of him. But whether or not that's tragic depends in part on what the decedent would have done with those opportunities. 
What if Tamerlan Tsarnaev had died at 17? Would that be tragic? Well, it might seem tragic at the time. But if we knew where his life was headed, that would not be tragic. 
Likewise, if a suicide bomber accidentally detonates the device before reaching his destination, thereby killing himself instead of the target, is that tragic? It's tragic that he was talked into becoming a suicide bomber. It's tragic that he wasted his life on an evil mission. But there's an obvious sense in which his death is a good thing.
What if Martin was going from bad to worse? What if he was on a familiar trajectory of escalating violence? What if he was a murderer waiting to happen?
Under that scenario, there's an obvious sense in which his death was not a tragedy. Rather, his death forestalled real tragedy in the making. If, sooner or later, he was going to kill one or more innocent men, women, and/or children, then Zimmerman's bullet prevented a tragedy. If a junior hoodlum is on the cusp of becoming a truly dangerous thug, then the fact that he died at 17 rather than 30 is a relief. Think of all the prospective victims who were spared his life of crime.   
Now you might say that's speculative. True. But, then, calling his death "tragic" is no less speculative, for we don't know how the alternative ending. 
In one respect I think it's fine to say his death was tragic. But I also think that can be a cheap, shortsighted sentiment. 

Carving marble


A presupposition of the perennial quest for the historical Jesus is that we can't take the Gospels at face value. We can't accept the Gospels as is. Rather, we must go behind the Gospels to determine what really happened. The Gospels are like an archeological dig. You must scrape away layers of detritus and debris to uncover some shards of the historical Jesus. As best, the real Jesus is hidden somewhere in the Gospels, rather than out in the open, as they stand. 
But, of vary the metaphor, the exercise often resembles carving marble. Give Bernini and Michaelangelo the same slab of marble, tell them to carve the same thing (e.g. David), and they will come up with two completely different statues. That's because what they find in the marble matches the image in their heads. 
In the hands of more conservative questers, the results of the quest can be of some apologetic value. Often, though, this is not a bridge, but a destination. 
What is lost sight of is that Christians are obligated to believe in the Jesus of the four Gospels, not the reconstructed Jesus of any particular scholar. The quest for the historical Jesus is essentially misguided, not because we can't find Jesus, but because he was never out of sight. 

Bates Motel


I largely agree with this post by Peter Enns:
Of course, Enns is using evolution as a wedge tactic to further his own agenda. He's hoping Christians will break in his direction, whereas I think they should break in the opposite direction. 
Indeed, he's in no position to snicker, for he himself is trying to rebuild the ship after it left dry dock. 
It's odd, but not surprising, to find professing Christians who fight for evolution rather than the Bible. They act as if we should be martyrs for evolution rather than Scripture. As if evolution is the doctrine to die for. They do battle with critics of evolution. 
Professing Christians who are, by turns, desperately or fawningly laboring to harmonize evolution with the Bible remind me of the Bates Motel. In the Hitchcock movie, Norman  dutifully changes the sheets in every room every day, even though the motel is perpetually vacant. In the TV series, Norma buys the motel, sight unseen. Unbeknownst to her, the unscrupulous realtor never informed her that City Hall has plans to divert traffic away from the motel by rerouting the main drag.
Theistic evolutionists are trading the Bible for the Bates Motel. In exchange, they will have a vacant motel on the far side of town.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

It's not just the NSA:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323823004578593591276402574.html#printMode

7 habits of a highly effective philosopher

Here is a follow-up post on William Lane Craig from Nathan Schneider. (It's a follow-up to this article.)

Missing Jesus


Roger Olson
First you answer my question: If it was revealed to you in a way you could not deny that God did NOT command Israel to do what the OT texts of terror report would you still worship him? It seems to me yours is a book faith that requires you to wait for every issue of Biblical Archeology Review to know whether you can still be a Christian. Mine is a Jesus faith like that of the disciples and apostles who didn't have a full Bible yet and still knew Jesus was Lord of all. 

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2013/07/the-old-testament-and-contemporary-christian-ethics/#comment-962717936

Several obvious problems:

i) Why does he assume that faith in the veracity of Scripture is contingent on archeological corroboration?

ii) As a matter of fact, Christian faith (as well as Jewish faith), is a "book faith." 

iii) The disciples had direct knowledge of Jesus. They heard what he said and saw what he did. 

Olson lacks that kind of unmediated access to the person and work of Jesus. Our knowledge of Jesus relies on the historical record and theological interpretation of the Bible. 

iv) In addition, their faith in Christ was also conditioned by the OT. That supplied a standard of comparison as well as an interpretive frame of reference. 

Updates on the recent Edinburgh Peter Conference

The Centre for the Study of Christian Origins located at Edinburgh recently held a conference on Peter in History. As you might guess, the historical work here will be extremely important. Peter Lampe, Markus Bockmuehl, Tobias Niklas, Timothy Barnes, Margaret Williams, and Larry Hurtado all were speakers at the conference.

They’ll be dribbing out some of the results from the conference before a book is published a year or 18 months down the road. You can check on the progress here.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Church authority


Some critics of Abolish Human Abortion are making very loose claims about church authority. To put the issue in perspective, I'm going to quote some judicious statements by A. A. Hodge, in his classic commentary on the Westminster Confession.

I have one caveat with how the position is formulated. It would be better not to prooftext the claim by appeal to Mt 16:19. For one thing, the meaning of the metaphors ("keys," "binding," "loosing") is too disputable to secure the claim. In addition, prerogatives conferred on apostles aren't ipso facto transferable to church officers.

However, the substance of the claim can be easily proven from other NT passages. So nothing hangs on that particular prooftext. 

All Church power must be exercised in an orderly manner through the officers spoken of above, freely chosen for this purpose by the brethren ; and it relates — " 1. To matters of doctrine. She has a right to set forth a public declaration of the truths which she believes, and which are to be acknowledged by all who enter her communion. That is, she has a right to frame creeds or confessions of faith, as her testimony for the truth and her protest against error. And as she has been commissioned to teach all nations, she has the right of selecting teachers, of judging of their fitness, of ordaining and sending them forth into the field, and of recalling and deposing them when unfaithful. 2. The Church has power to set down rules for the ordering of public worship 3. She has power to make rules for her own government; such as every Church has in its book of discipline, constitution or canons, etc. 4. She has power to receive into fellowship, and to exclude the unworthy from her own communion."   

This last power is commonly styled "the power of the keys" i. e. of opening and closing the doors of the Church, of admitting or excluding from sealing ordinances. Matt. xvi. 19. In view of two unquestionable facts — (a) to forgive sin is an incommunicable attribute of God and Christ ; (b) God has given to no class of men the faculty of absolutely discriminating the good from the bad — it follows that the Church power of opening and shutting, of binding and loosing, spoken of in Matt. xvi. 19 and in the second Section of this Chapter, is purely ministerial and declarative. Church censures declare simply what is, to the best of their knowledge, in the opinion of the church officers pronouncing them, the mind and will of Christ in the case. And they have direct binding effect only in so far as the relations of the person censured to the visible Church is concerned. They can have effect upon the relations of the censured to God and to Christ only in so far as they represent the will of Christ in the case, and because they do.  

It belongs to synods and councils (a) at proper times to form creeds and confessions of faith, and to adopt a constitution for the government of the Church. (6.) To determine particular controversies of faith and cases of conscience, (c.) To prescribe regulations for the public worship of God, and for the government of the Church, (d.) To take up and issue all cases of discipline, and, in the case of the superior courts, to receive appeals and complaints in all cases of maladministration in the case of individual officers or subordinate courts, and authoritatively to determine the same.  

All synods and councils since the apostles' times, whether general or particular, may err, and many have erred ; therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice; but to be used as a help in both. That is, these synods and councils, consisting of uninspired men, have no power to bind the conscience, and their authority cannot exclude the right, nor excuse the obligation, of private judgment. If their judgments are unwise, but not directly opposed to the will of God, the private member should submit for peace' sake. If their decisions are opposed plainly to the word of God, the private member should disregard them and take the penalty.  

But in every case in which the decrees of these ecclesiastical courts are consonant to the word of God, they are to be received by all subject to the jurisdiction of said court, not only because of the fact that they do agree with the word of God, but also because of the proper authority of the court itself as a court of Jesus Christ, appointed by him, and therefore ministerially representing him in all of its legitimate actions.