Saturday, October 05, 2013

One fewer god

I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours. 

This statement is very popular among atheists. To the extent that there's an argument buried in there, it seems to be along these lines:

Monotheists are inconsistent atheists. Monotheists reject polytheism for essentially the same reasons as atheists reject monotheism. The only difference is that atheists are more consistent. They simply take the monotheist objection to polytheism to its logical conclusion. 

An obvious question this raises, although it doesn't seem to occur to atheists who are fond of quoting this statement, is what reasons monotheists actually give for espousing monotheism. Did Stephen Roberts bother to investigate that question before penning his oft-quoted statement? You'd think that would be a logical preliminary step. Let's take some examples.

William Wainwright summarizes an argument by Duns Scotus for divine unicity based on God's total causation of everything else. Wainwright thinks that as it stands, the argument is defective, but he also thinks it can be reformulated to eliminate the defects:

Question: do atheists reject the existence of any God for the same reason Scotus and Wainwright reject the existence of many gods? Surely not. Atheists don't think God causes anything, much less everything. 

Likewise, Wainwright summarizes an argument by Al-Ghazali based on God's omnipotence. Once again, Wainwright thinks that as it stands, the argument is defective, but it can be reformulated to eliminate the defects:

Question: do atheists reject the existence of any God for the same reason Al-Ghazali and Wainwright reject the existence of many gods? Clearly not. After all, that argument is predicated on divine omnipotence. But you can't premise divine omniscience if you don't believe in God. 

Let's take another example. Here's what Calvin says about polytheism:

Hence we must hold, that whosoever adulterates pure religion, (and this must be the case with all who cling to their own views,) make a departure from the one God. No doubt, they will allege that they have a different intention; but it is of little consequence what they intend or persuade themselves to believe, since the Holy Spirit pronounces all to be apostates, who, in the blindness of their minds, substitute demons in the place of God…Paul's declaration remains true, that the wisdom of God was not apprehended by the princes of this world, (1 Cor 2:8). Institutes 1.5.13.
Question: do atheists reject the existence of any God for the same reason Calvin rejects the existence of many gods? Do they attribute atheism to demonic deception and their blinded minds? But perhaps Roberts spoke better than he knew. 

For my follow-up post:

Obamacare macht frei!

Obamacare reminds me of this scene from an episode ("Reunion") of Harsh Realm:

TRACKERs keep a vigilant eye over the new prisoners. 
FIND Hobbes and Pinocchio in line with the others, 
speaking in hushed tones.
What is this place?
Work camp. Forced labor. Prisoners work like slaves, 
down to the bone.
Stands front and center. Eyes scan the prisoner.
Observe the fence around you. It is your protection. 
Everything you feared in Harsh Realm no longer 
matters. Because from now on, you are free.
Scared and beaten. Listening.
As he walks past the assembled prisoners.
All your worries about food, water, shelter, they're 
gone. You work here now. And you'll get everything 
you need. considering what's out there, this is 
Slater stops, nods to a Tracker who moves towards 
the prisoners.
There is a price for freedom. You do your work, you 
respect the rules. Violate the rules, and you will 
be punished.
The Tracker pulls out a gun-like WEAPON. Behind him, 
a TRUSTEE follows, a bedraggled prisoner, 
expressionless with a small circular scar on the3 
center of his forehead. We TILT DOWN from the SCAR to 
a BOWL in the Trustee's hands:
Crawling with small CHROME SCARABS, beetle-like, 
articulated legs and wings, writhing.
Dips the GUN into the bowl, and SLURP! the gun sucks 
in a SCARAB round, recoiling as it enters. WE FOLLOW 
THE GUN as it RISES out of the bowl.
AND UP to a PRISONER'S HEAD. The Tracker presses the 
barrel up to the base of his SKULL. Pulls the 
trigger. THWACK! -- his head jolts forward. Then back 
His eyes open. He seems okay. To his amazement.
Simple security measure. Respect your freedom, and 
you have nothing to be afraid of.

No Bible for Christian Academia?

Friday, October 04, 2013

I’m Still Not Going Back to the Catholic Church

Breaking news: Darwin lived!

So, I repeat my point: evolution cannot simply be grafted onto evangelical Christian faith as an add-on, where we can congratulate ourselves on a job well done. This is going to take some work—and a willingness to take theological risk.The cognitive dissonance created by evolution is considerable, and I understand why either avoidance or theological superficiality might be attractive. But in the long run, the price we pay for not doing the hard and necessary synthetic work is high indeed.Ignoring reality or playing theological games won’t do—no matter how unsettling, destabilizing, perhaps frightening such a calling may be.It may be that evolution, and the challenges it presents, will remind us that we are called to trust God, which means we may need to restructure and even abandon the “god” that we have created in our own image. Working through the implications of evolution may remind Christians that trusting God’s goodness is a daily decision, a spiritually fulfilling act of recommitment to surrender to God no matter what.That’s not easy. But if we have learned anything from the saints of the past, it is that surrendering to God each day, whatever we are facing, is not meant to be easy. Taking up that same journey now will add our witness for the benefit of future generations.
I've already commented on some of this, but I'd like to make a few more observations:
i) One of Enns's personal quirks is how he constantly writes as though Darwinism presents a novel challenge to the Christian faith. He acts as if this is 1860. Stunned Christians are staggering around the blast zone in groping efforts to piece together the shards of Biblical theology after Darwin detonated his bombshell a year before. Yet Darwinism was a dominant scientific theory long before Enns was born. Moreover, he's now 52-years-old. When did it suddenly dawn on him that there's a theory called evolution which poses a prima facie challenge to traditional Christian theology? Did this epiphany happen 10 years ago? Sooner? Later? 
Several Christian generations have come and gone since Darwin published his revolutionary book. As far as a theological "synthesis" goes, even if you think "evolution demands true intellectual synthesis," what makes Enns imagine we need a new synthesis? Theistic evolution isn't new. There are preexisting paradigms. 
For instance, after the Vatican initially opposed evolution, it backpedaled. How typical! As a result, you have lots of prominent Catholics who've made peace with evolution, viz., Karl Rahner, Cardinal Dulles, Alexander Pruss, Kenneth Miller, Michael Behe, George Coyne, Stephen Barr, Vincent Torley &c. If Enns is so desperate to synthesize Christian theology with evolution, why doesn't he seek inspiration in one of the extant models? 
ii) As far as the Christian "journey" is concerned, historically and biblically, Christians knew the destination as well as the route–ahead of time. They knew where they were going, and how to get there. 
By contrast, Enns requires Christians to precommit to evolution, precommit to a theological synthesis, before we know the theological consequences of that precommitment. Like the Devil handing us a blank contract: "Just sign here on the bottom line, and I'll fill in the pesky details. Trust me!" 
That's worse than a Faustian bargain. At least Dr. Faustus knew the terms of the diabolical pact going in. Enns is demanding that we take a risk without a risk assessment. Let go of Scripture, then jump off a ledge in the dark. 
iii) What about surrendering to the word of God no matter what rather than surrendering to the theory evolution no matter what? 

Meet the Jesus of History

There is no God but Evolution, and Darwin is his prophet

I'm going to comment on this post:
There are two kinds of thinking that get in the way of the conversation evangelicals need to have over evolution.One is a defensive, retreatist approach aimed at maintaining theological parameters deemed non-negotiable in mainstream evangelical thinking despite the evidence of science.
Does Peter Enns have any theological non-negotiables? Or is everything in Scripture up for grabs?
One advantage that the first group has over the second is the frank admission that evolution poses a serious challenge to how Christians have traditionally understood at least three central issues of the faith: the origin of humanity, of sin, and of death. That is true.
It poses a serious challenge if you take it seriously. What about offering a serious challenge to evolution?
"I argue in The Evolution of Adam that sin and death are undeniable universal realities, whether or not we are able to attribute them to a primordial man who ate from the wrong tree. The Christian tradition, however, has generally attributed the cause to sin and death to Adam as the first human. Evolution claims that the cause of sin and death, as Paul understood it, is not viable. That leaves open the questions of where sin and death come from."
Sin is a theological category. If Enns rejects the witness of Scripture, then in what sense is sin an undeniable universal reality?
More than that, the very nature of what sin is and why people die is turned on its head. Some behaviors Christians have thought of as sinful are understood in an evolutionary scheme as means of ensuring survival—for example, the aggression and dominance associated with “survival of the fittest” and sexual promiscuity to perpetuate one’s gene pool.
In which case Darwinism and Biblical theology are irreconcilable. 
So, I repeat my point: evolution cannot simply be grafted onto evangelical Christian faith as an add-on, where we can congratulate ourselves on a job well done. This is going to take some work—and a willingness to take theological risk.
What authority does Peter Enns have to take a theological risk? He's not a prophet. Revealed theology isn't a set of bargaining chips.
Evolution demands true intellectual synthesis: 
A "synthesis" suggests a partnership. Yet for Enns, Darwinism is the cookie-cutter. Darwinism dictates the boundaries of Christian theology. That's not a synthesis. That's leftovers. At best, his position is syncretistic rather than synthetic.
...a willingness to rethink one’s own convictions in light of new data, and that is typically a very hard thing to do.
What's the difference between elastic convictions and no convictions?
The cognitive dissonance created by evolution is considerable, and I understand why either avoidance or theological superficiality might be attractive. But in the long run, the price we pay for not doing the hard and necessary synthetic work is high indeed.
What about the exorbitant price of redefining Christian theology to put evolution front and center? 
Evangelicals are sociologically a defensive lot, tending to focus on the need to be faithful to the past, to make sure that present belief matches that of previous generations.
Although it's sometimes cast in those terms, that's not the real issue. The real issue is the need to be faithful to revealed truth. 
I get the point, but we must be just as burdened to be faithful to the future, to ensure that we are doing all we can to deliver a viable faith to future generations. 
Our chief responsibility to future generations is to be faithful to God in our own generation. That's the best example we can set for the next generation.
That too is a high calling. Ignoring reality or playing theological games won’t do—no matter how unsettling, destabilizing, perhaps frightening such a calling may be.
Darwinism is not reality. Darwinism is a man-made intellectual construct. 
Such a journey must be taken, for the alternatives are not pleasant. Christians can turn away, but the current scientific explanation of cosmic and biological origins is not going away...
How does Enns know that? In the nature of the case, scientists inevitably overrate current scientific theories. That's because, although scientists can judge past theories by present theories, they can't judge present theories by future theories. Until a new scientific discovery comes along, until a new scientific genius comes along, they work with that they have. But current cosmological theories, to take one example, are quite fragile. 
…nor is our growing understanding of the nature of Israelite faith in its ancient Near Eastern context.
What's the basis for his claim about "our growing understanding of the nature of Israelite faith in its ancient Near Eastern context"? To my knowledge, there have been no recent revolutionary archeological findings–assuming that archeological findings are ever theologically revolutionary. 
From what I can tell, the great age of Biblical archeological discovery is past. In the age of French and British colonialism, it was possible to do archeology in key regions of the Mideast. Now those lie within the jurisdiction of Muslim regimes which are often hostile to Biblical archeology. Important archeology is still done in Israel, but it's much harder to do in Muslim countries. 
By faith I believe that the Christian story has deep access to a reality that materialism cannot provide and cannot be expected to know.
Given his uncritical credulity where Darwinism is concerned, his sudden appeal to faith is abrupt and arbitrary. A classic deus ex machina. 
As for evangelicals, perhaps evolution will eventually wind up being more of a help than a hindrance. Perhaps it will remind us that our theologies are provisional; 
Aren't scientific theories supposed to be provisional?
...when we forget that fact, we run the risk of equating what we think of God with God himself.
Isn't that the point of God's self-revelation in Scripture? Not leaving it up to us to guess what God is like, but God disclosing to us what he is like?
It may be that evolution, and the challenges it presents, will remind us that we are called to trust God, which means we may need to restructure and even abandon the “god” that we have created in our own image.
In which God does Enns put his trust? Clearly not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When Enns talks about God, he has no fixed frame of reference. It's all free variables. Everything is adjustable to "science." 
Working through the implications of evolution may remind Christians that trusting God’s goodness is a daily decision…
Is the God of theistic evolution trustworthy? What about extinct hominids? Assuming evolution is true, if Homo erectus or Neanderthal trusted God, wasn't their trust misplaced? Wasn't their faith betrayed? Why presume Cromagnon won't suffer the same sorry fate? 
...a spiritually fulfilling act of recommitment to surrender to God no matter what.
Except that he's substituted evolution for God. Surrendering to evolution no matter what. 
That’s not easy. But if we have learned anything from the saints of the past, it is that surrendering to God each day, whatever we are facing, is not meant to be easy. Taking up that same journey now will add our witness for the benefit of future generations.
Our duty is to preserve and transmit the deposit of faith. Christianity is a revealed religion. A Christian theologian is first and foremost a custodian of revealed truths. It's not a literary tradition which you can constantly rewrite. It's not like the Star Trek canon, where you can invoke time-travel to change the past and thereby reboot the plot, setting, and characters. 

It is what it was. If you think Scripture's metanarrative is wrong, then it can't be fixed at this late date. There is no new revelation. 

Lost and found

He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life (Gen 3:24). 
13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city (Heb 11:13-16).
Virtual reality supplies a striking allegory for the Biblical metanarrative. Suppose you woke up one day to find yourself in a virtual world. At first you try to get back to the real world. But search as you might, there is no door, no exit, no escape. The virtual world is seamless. 
Although you remember the real world you came from, and even though you miss the real world in which you were born and raised and came of age, yet as the months and years wear on, you find yourself having to adjust to life in the virtual world. It's inevitable that you will adapt to your new surroundings. That's what you experience every hour of the day. And by the same token, the longer you live there, the virtual world becomes more real to you than the real world you left behind. The real world fades. You never forget it. You yearn to return. But it's less tangible, less immediate, than the simulation into which your consciousness is constantly immersed. 
Suppose you have kids in the virtual world. Your kids are artificially intelligent virtual characters. Left to their own devices, they'd be totally unaware of a real world beyond the confines of the virtual world. The virtual world is the only world they've ever known.
Suppose you teach them about the real world. Recount to them how you came into this world from another world. Share with them the life you had in the other world. Your story would be handed down from one generation to the next, as an article of faith. A record of testimonial evidence.  
Although your virtual posterity has no natural existence outside the simulation, yet in principle, God could reify them–give them corporeal form. They could then cross over from the virtual world into the real world. 

Jason Stellman Joins Called to Communion

What a surprise!

Jason Stellman Joins Called to Communion
The Circle of Life

Sokal redux

"Science reporter spoofs hundreds of open access journals with fake papers"

Christian nihilism

I argue in The Evolution of Adam that sin and death are undeniable universal realities, whether or not we are able to attribute them to a primordial man who ate from the wrong tree. The Christian tradition, however, has generally attributed the cause to sin and death to Adam as the first human. Evolution claims that the cause of sin and death, as Paul understood it, is not viable. That leaves open the questions of where sin and death come from. 
Likewise, in an evolutionary scheme death is not the enemy to be defeated. It may be feared, it may be ritualized, it may be addressed in epic myths and sagas; but death is not the unnatural state introduced by a disobedient couple in a primordial garden. Actually, it is the means that promotes the continued evolution of life on this planet and even ensures workable population numbers. Death may hurt, but it is evolution’s ally. 
So, I repeat my point: evolution cannot simply be grafted onto evangelical Christian faith as an add-on...
An obvious question this raises, although it seems to elude Peter Enns, is whether his embrace of evolution dooms a doctrine of the afterlife. After all, if death is natural and inevitable, then is there life after death? Is there a future life? 
Traditionally, Christians espoused the immortality of the soul, which grounded the intermediate state–as well as the resurrection of the body, which grounded the final state. More recently, you have some professing Christian physicalists who ditch dualism. And that, too, is consistent with evolution, which is a physical process. 
Having repudiated the immortality of the soul (the existence of which they deny), they pin their remaining hopes on the resurrection of the body. That's their fallback. 
If, however, death is a natural and necessary part of the evolutionary process–indeed, an essential component of population control–then isn't continued faith in the afterlife just an "add-on"? A relic of an obsolete theological paradigm? 
If Enns going to be a consistent evolutionist, then don't we suffer the fate of all other animals? Isn't human mortality irreversible? No hope beyond the grave. We watch our pious parents and grandparents pass into oblivion, without recall. We are replaceable and recyclable. Reducible to our raw materials. Nothing lasts, except the perennial cycle of life and death.  

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Scripture and the sphericity of the earth

Evidence of the earth's sphericity follows from the teaching of Moses himself, who stipulates (according to Philoponus) that the earth was initially entirely covered with water [Gen 1:2,9-10]. But for this to take place it would be necessary for its form to be spherical…Water tends to cover earth's sphere also in a symmetrical way, in a form of a sphere of larger diameter. According to Philoponus, the fact that earth was entirely covered by water necessities this theory, and so demonstrates earth's sphericity. E. Nicholaidis, Science and Eastern Orthodoxy: From the Greek Fathers to the Age of Globalization (John Hopkins U Press, 2011), 37. 

The gay part of "gay marriage"

Lots of liberal heterosexuals support "gay marriage." Of course, being straight, their knowledge of "gay marriage" is usually limited to the noun rather than the adjective. For a corrective:

Hodge on Currid

Harsh Realm

Harsh Realm was a short-lived series by Chris Carter. In my opinion, it was terribly underrated. I don't know why the show didn't catch on. Here's a snatch of dialogue between two characters in the Leviathan episode:

HOBBES: What is wrong with you? 
PINOCCHIO: It doesn't matter, Hobbes. Can you get that through your head? She's vc, a virtual character. These people got no reason to help you, no moral compunction.  They programmed the game, they forgot one thing: you die here, you disappear. These people know no Christian virtues. They know no God.   Judgement day in Harsh Realm is when somebody points a gun at you. Ask Johnny, he'll tell you.  
PINOCCHIO: Get erased here, it's over.  These people got no notion of an afterlife, it's not even a concept. 
HOBBES: What about the real world? Don't they believe in that? 
PINOCCHIO: What good would it do them? The only world they know is Santiago's.

Harsh Realm is an excellent allegory of the atheistic worldview. No God. No hope. No soul. No cosmic justice. No afterlife. No morality. Just physical determinism and impending oblivion. 

By the same token, that's an excellent allegory for the unregenerate. Like the virtual characters in Harsh Realm, the unregenerate have no conscious awareness of a larger, greater, better reality beyond the range of their five senses. They sense nothing on the other side. For them, the simulation is all there is. That makes them ruthless, desperate, and despairing. 

To my knowledge, Carter is not a Christian, although he had a religious background of some sort. So it's striking that he'd create such an accurate, unsparing allegory of godless existence. 

Faith & science

i) It might seem as though modern-day believers face unique and novel objections to the faith. It was easier for our forbears to believe, before the rise of science. They were blissfuly ignorant of scientific objections to the Bible. 

Now there's a grain of truth to that contention. Obviously there are some very modern, very specialized scientific objections to the faith that weren't on the horizon centuries ago. 

ii) Of course, that cuts both ways. There are scientific arguments for Christianity that weren't on the horizon centuries ago. So that balances out. 

Christians often focus on the scientific arguments against the faith rather than scientific arguments for the faith. But scientific arguments against the faith are offset by scientific arguments for the faith (e.g. fine-tuning argument, specified complexity, irreducible complexity). 

Moreover, you have scientifically trained Christians who field scientific objections to the faith. They know how to push back. They know as much as the opposition. So it's not one-sided.

iii) Furthermore, the novelty of scientific objections is easy to exaggerate. I think we exaggerate them because we were apt to be more familiar with the present than the past. We're not necessarily aware of what objections were leveled against Christianity centuries ago. So we're not necessarily aware of how stale these objections really are. 

This also means the (allegedly) unscientific aspects of the creation account and the flood account can't be chalked up to the scientific ignorance of the narrator. For he shares the same prescientific outlook as ancient critics and commentators, who pose much the same questions as their contemporary counterparts. 

Of course, from a modern standpoint, we might consider these to be prescientific rather than scientific objections, because they antedate the rise of modern science. But that's significant. They've been quietly repackaged as scientific objections, which sounds more impressive. Our culturally-conditioned instinct is to unconsciously reclassify them as scientific objections because science is our default frame of reference. 

My point in quoting them is not to endorse what these ancient writers say, but just to document how old these questions are. To cite a few examples:

What is the meaning of the expression, "He brought a breath over the earth, and the water ceased?" (Gen 8:2). Some people say that what is here meant by "a breath" is the wind, at which the deluge ceased. But I am not aware that water is diminished by wind, but only that it is disturbed and agitated into waves, for if it were otherwise the vast extent of the sea would have been wholly dried up long ago. Therefore it appears to me that the sacred writer here means the breath of the Deity, by which the whole universe obtains security at the same time with the calamities of the world, and with those things which exist in the air, and in every mixture of plants and animals. Since the deluge of that time was no trifling infliction of water, but an immense and boundless overflow, extending almost beyond the pillars of Hercules and the great Mediterranean Sea, since the whole earth and all the spaces of the mountains were covered with water; and it is scarcely likely that such a vast space could have been cleared by a wind, but rather, as I have said, it must have been done by some invisible and divine virtue.
Philo, Questions and Answers on Genesis
There was a time when her whole orb, withal, underwent mutation, overrun by all waters.  To this day marine conchs and tritons’ horns sojourn as foreigners on the mountains, eager to prove to Plato that even the heights have undulated. 
Tertullian, On the Pallium 
But although all these things were composed with such great skill, some people present questions, and especially Apelles, who was a disciple indeed of Marcion, but was the inventor of another heresy greater than that one which he took from his teacher. He, therefore, wishes to show that the writings of Moses contained noting in themselves of the divine wisdom and nothing of the work of the Holy Spirit.  With this intention he exaggerates sayings of this kind, and says that in no way was it possible to receive, in so brief a space, so many kinds of animals and their foods, which would be sufficient for a whole year. For when "two by two" from the unclean animals, that is two males and two females–for this is what the repeated word signifies–but "seven by seven" from the clean animals, which is seven pairs, are said to have been led into the ark, how, he asks, could it happen that that space which is recorded could receive, at the least, four elephants alone? And after he opposes each species in this manner, he adds above all to these words: "It is evident, therefore, that the story is invented; but if it is, it is evident that this Scripture is not from God." 
But against these words we bring to the knowledge of our audience things which we learned from men who who were skilled and versed in the traditions of the Hebrews and from our old teachers. The forefathers used to say, therefore, that Moses who, as Scripture testifies about him, was "instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians [Acts 7:22]," reckoned the number of cubits in this passage according to the art of geometry in which the Egyptians were skillful. For with geometricians, according to that computation which they call the second power, one cubit of a solid and square is considered as six if it is derived in general, or as three hundred if singly. If this computation, at least, be observed, spaces of such great length and great will be discovered in the measure of this ark that they could truly receive the whole world's offspring to restore it , and the revived seedbed of all.

Origen, Homilies on Genesis and Exodus, R. Heine, ed. (CUA 1982),  75-77.

For who that has understanding will sup­pose that the first, and second, and third day, and the evening and the morning, ex­isted without a sun, and moon, and stars? And that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? And who is so foolish as to suppose that God, after the manner of a husbandman, planted a paradise in Eden, towards the east, and placed in it a tree of life, visible and palpable, so that one tasting of the fruit by the bodily teeth obtained life? And again, that one was a partaker of good and evil by masticating what was taken from the tree? And if God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indi­cate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally.
Origen, De Principiis, 4:16
But they who contend that these things never happened, but are only figures setting forth other things, in the first place suppose that there could not be a flood so great that the water should rise fifteen cubits above the highest mountains, because it is said that clouds cannot rise above the top of Mount Olympus, because it reaches the sky where there is none of that thicker atmosphere in which winds, clouds, and rains have their origin. They do not reflect that the densest element of all, earth, can exist there; or perhaps they deny that the top of the mountain is earth. Why, then, do these measurers and weighers of the elements contend that earth can be raised to those aerial altitudes, and that water cannot, while they admit that water is lighter, and liker to ascend than earth? What reason do they adduce why earth, the heavier and lower element, has for so many ages scaled to the tranquil ether, while water, the lighter, and more likely to ascend, is not suffered to do the same even for a brief space of time? 
As to another customary inquiry of the scrupulous about the very minute creatures, not only such as mice and lizards, but also locusts, beetles, flies, fleas, and so forth, whether there were not in the ark a larger number of them than was determined by God in His command, those persons who are moved by this difficulty are to be reminded that the words “every creeping thing of the earth” only indicate that it was not needful to preserve in the ark the animals that can live in the water, whether the fishes that live submerged in it, or the sea-birds that swim on its surface. 
Another question is commonly raised regarding the food of the carnivorous animals,— whether, without transgressing the command which fixed the number to be preserved, there were necessarily others included in the ark for their sustenance; or, as is more probable, there might be some food which was not flesh, and which yet suited all. For we know how many animals whose food is flesh eat also vegetable products and fruits, especially figs and chestnuts. What wonder is it, therefore, if that wise and just man was instructed by God what would suit each, so that without flesh he prepared and stored provision fit for every species? And what is there which hunger would not make animals eat? 
Augustine, City of God, 15.27

Those who want to make a closer study of the truth of what is told us about Noah's ark according to the letter have to search out two things in particular namely, its shape and its size. Now Origen with reference to the shape says: "I think myself that, from what is said about it, the ark must have rested on a quadrangular base, of which the corners, as they went up, were drawn together gradually, so that it narrowed at the top to the space of a single cubit." 
Many things seem to refute this view; for one thing, this shape does not appear such as would keep afloat. For it is indisputable that so massive a structure, laden with so many and such large animals, and also with provisions, could not possibly keep afloat when the waters came, unless the greater portion of its bulk were at the bottom; this fact we can put to the proof today with ships that carry heavy loads. If, then, as is stated, the ark began to narrow from the bottom upwards, so that the sides sloping towards each other took the swelling billows and did not throw them back, and it was thus not so much the waters that carried the ark as the ark the waters, how was it that the whole thing did not forthwith sink to the bottom? 

Hugh of St. Victor, Noah's Ark, chap. 12.

Be the One.

Morality and mortality

Here are some comments I left on this post:

steve hays
September 28, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Sooner or later, directly or indirectly, God ends every human life. Sometimes by “natural causes” (e.g. disease, miscarriage, old age), sometimes by accident (e.g. a fatal head-on collision), sometimes by disease (e.g. cancer), sometimes by violence (warfare, murder). 

Death by natural causes isn’t necessarily preferable to death by the sword. You can die a quick death by violence, or you can die a painful, lingering death by natural causes. For some reason, critics get hung up on how people die. But in a fallen world, death is inevitable one way or another.

So God’s command to execute the Canaanites doesn’t create a special issue, over and above human mortality generally. Ultimately, it’s what happens to you after you die that matters. That’s for keeps. 

Unbelievers attack the divine command to execute the Canaanites, but atheism has no principled basis for human rights. Atheism can’t ground objective moral norms. And even if it could, atheism has such a reductionistic view of human beings that there’s nothing sacrosanct about human life from a secular standpoint. Nothing to make us “special,” compared to any other organism. Or extinct species.
According to atheism, humans are essentially expendable, disposable, replaceable. We’re just carriers for our genes. Atheists wax indigent over OT ethics, but fall oddly silent when it comes to the amoral and dehumanizing implications of naturalistic evolution.

steve hays
September 27, 2013 at 11:42 pm
”Likewise, we know that– just for instance– Deutoronomy was a later addition to the pentateuch…”

No, we don’t “know” that. That’s just your assertion.

“…and could very well be acting as a revisionist attempt to explain away the distasteful nature of the Israelite’s purges.”

How do you square that with Deut 20?

“Even if you personally are willing to dispense with scholarly consensus…”

There is no scholarly consensus to that effect. Your claim suffers from blatant selection bias. 

“…and maintain that Moses wrote Genesis, etc. you cannot deny that my acceptance of said consensus will change the way I read the text.”

Meaning an atheist reads the text differently than a Jewish or Christian believer. And the sky is blue. 

“There is no grand thread running through it except for the one provided by the editorial work of later academies and councils– and that’s not even perfect (look at the history of ‘Ecclesiastes’ and the wrangling that led to its canonization).”

That’s all ex post facto. It takes the canon for granted. 

“it still doesn’t follow that a mitigated evil is not evil.”

Likewise, it doesn’t follow that an asserted evil is really evil. You assume what you need to prove.

“I personally see no reason whatsoever to believe any of those statements.”

You offer no reasons.

steve hays
September 28, 2013 at 10:25 am
”I’m remembering what I was taught (at a conservative Christian college no less). From my understanding, there were stages of textual manipulation by Priestly and a later Deuteronomical redactors, the latter of which operated to implement and solidify a whole raft of religious reform during the Babylonian Exile. Do you think the last two hundred years of scholarly work on source criticism is moot and so easily voided by your theological convictions?”

i) That’s a loaded question. You built your own tendentious assumption into the question: “Do you think…so easily voided by your theological conviction.” You act as if source criticism is a value-free exercise. Needless to say, source critics have their own philosophical assumptions and objectives. 

ii) Source critics moot each other by contradicting each other’s hypothetical reconstructions. 

iii) You’re disregarding scholarly work to the contrary.

“You ask me to give up the idea that these texts were written and manipulated by human beings (a practice that happens everywhere texts are written) and instead believe that they were conjured whole cloth out of the mind of God and never touched again. But why should I?”

I didn’t ask you to do anything. I simply challenged your gratuitous, fact-free assertion. 

You also equivocate over the nature of editorial activity. Editorial activity doesn’t imply manipulation according to a theological agenda. Rather, it can involve updating a text, or collating texts. 

“Why believe that when I don’t believe miraculous things that have been attributed to, say, Alexander the Great? I understand that you have your personal reasons to believe it, but why should anyone else?”

Why do you believe anything attributed to Alexander the Great? Why do you believe he even existed? Clearly you accept and sift testimonial evidence to some degree. 

Why do you believe ordinary things that have been attributed to some people, but not believe every ordinary attribution? 

Or do you automatically draw the line with miraculous attributions? If so, why? 

BTW, you seem to be insinuating that Christians automatically deny extrabiblical miracles. If so, where did you come up with that? 

“By that logic there is no scholarly consensus that the earth revolves around the sun since I can point to a few fringe “astronomers” who dispute it. Your presupposition here draws dangerously close to epistemological subjectivism.”

Ironically, your appeal to alleged consensus draws dangerously close to epistemological subjectivism. You’re making collective belief its own justification. I believe it because you believe it and you believe it because I believe it.

Is consensus your best argument for heliocentrism? The real question at issue is the basis for a “scholarly consensus.” Collective belief is not self-validating. Do you think there’s no underlying evidence for heliocentrism? Is it just a matter of which position garners the most votes? 

“But it doesn’t, really. The very idea of a scriptural canon is a relatively late period– an artifact of the exile, when the Jews were afraid of losing their culture. Heck, the thing wasn’t even a finished product until early in the Common Era (again, I point you to the controversies surrounding Koheleth which weren’t resolved until the 90s A.D.). Canonicity is a complex subject, far more interesting than your two-dimensional caricature of it.”

i) Ironically, you’re the one who’s guilty of a 2D caricature. Why assume canonization is a late, one-stage process? Why not view canonization as a multistage process that tracks the chronology of composition? Earlier books are canonized earlier. 

ii) The Council of Jamnia reflects the disruption of Judaism due to the disastrous war with Rome–which proves my point. This is ex post facto. 

“God said to. We were just following orders. It can’t be laid at our feet!”

What makes you think the writer is distancing himself from the legislation? What makes you think the writer is motivated by plausible deniability?

steve hays
September 28, 2013 at 3:17 pm

”Steve, Admittedly, I do think that the first options to consider in all cases of belief is the naturalistic ones. But so do you in everything but your religious life”

i) No, my first option is to opt for the best explanation, not the “naturalistic” explanation. 

ii) Your appeal to “naturalistic” explanation is equivocal. That could denote a natural cause. But Christian theism is not opposed to natural causation. Christianity has a doctrine of ordinary providence.

Or that could denote “naturalism,” viz. the universe as a closed system. If the latter, then that is not my first option. That’s not even my last option. That’s not a live option, period. 

“As tired as it is, the old saying about extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence rings true to me.”

That’s wholly ambiguous in terms of what constitutes an extraordinary claim, what constitutes extraordinary evidence, and why the former entails the latter. So you need to define your terms and present a connecting argument.

In what sense are miracles “extraordinary” in a theistic universe? 

Your position amounts to a universal negative. Every reported miracle is a false claim. But to say every observer who ever reported a miracle is mistaken or untrustworthy is, itself, an extraordinary claim. Your universal negative is an extraordinary claim. So where’s your extraordinary evidence to show that every witness to a miracle, throughout human history, was mistaken or untrustworthy?

“Rather, like anybody else, I discount the things that are patently untrue or that make no sense. I do the same thing with the Hebrew bible and the New Testament.”

That begs the question of whether OT and NT miracles are “patently untrue” or nonsensical. 

“But, I’ve never seen a miracle.”

You’ve never seen the 18th century. Maybe that’s something historians just made up. 

“No purported miracle withstands rational scrutiny (I am open to contradiction here).”

Who have you read? How do you define “rational scrutiny”? 

“All of my knowledge about the world (admittedly sparse) leads me to doubt the existence of miracles. Therefore, why should I accept them in texts (when I’m supposed to read them as historical artifacts)?”

Your provincial autobiographical impressions don’t amount to an argument against miracles.

steve hays
September 28, 2013 at 10:34 am

”I would say that your placing Joshua (and Samuel for that matter) within the entire sweep of Christian theology doesn’t really respect the integrity of the text, however. Most obviously, these works were created by Jews (Judaism didn’t exist until much later, of course, but you get my idea) and at best they serve their historical and literary purposes. To me that’s problematic.”

Except for Luke (who may not be a real exception if he was a God-fearer or proselyte), the NT writers were also Jews. So you’ve erected a false dichotomy.

“‘Then is God’s character or nature good because he wills it, or does his character conform to it because it is good?’ The dilemma itself is just pushed away, not answered.”
God's will isn't separate from his nature. 

steve hays
September 28, 2013 at 3:29 pm
”Hi Steve, They may have been ethnically and culturally Jewish…”

Not just that. They were religious Jews.

“but they were also committed Christians…”

They were Messianic Jews. Followers of Jeshua. 

“…who (in the Gospel of John, for instance) seem to go to a lot of effort to distinguish themselves from their origins.”

No, they distinguish themselves from opponents of Jesus.

“Obviously, they believed that the Hebrew Bible was subsumed under the new covenant. But equally obviously, observant Jews disputed that and still do.”

Which makes it an intramural Jewish dispute. 

“Just assuming that the former were right doesn’t achieve anything beyond reinforcing doctrine– important for believers but irrelevant to answering the challenges of anyone else.”

If you’re going to attack OT ethics as an outsider, then you need to justify your own moral standards.