Saturday, July 12, 2014

Totemic animals

As Kenneth C. Way documents in Donkeys in the Biblical World, certain animals had an "ominous" (i.e. omen) or divinatory significance in ANE paganism. This includes talking animals. 

I wonder if there's a conceptual parallel with the role of animal spirit guides in so-called "Native American spirituality." From what I've read, these "totemic" animals aren't confined to American Indians. This is, of course, very popular in the New Age movement. According to this paradigm, animal spirit guides are able to communicate (telepathically) with receptive humans. Likewise, various techniques can be employed to induce a trance, putting one in a receptive state to receive communications. In witchcraft, the tradition of "familiar spirits," which sometimes assume bestial form, intersects with this outlook.  

One wonders, in this connection, if Num 22 might not be, among other things, a polemic against totemic animals. Balaam is a heathen seer, steeped in the occult. Gen 3 may trade on the same sinister connotations. 

I don't know if anyone has ever investigated the connections, if any, between "ominous animals" in ANE paganism, "familiar spirits," in witchcraft, and "animals spirit guides" in American Indian paganism.  

Near to the heart of God

In many writings, John Walton promotes the view that Gen 1 presents an antiquated view of the universe. One of his supporting arguments is that this isn't the only instance of outmoded science in Scripture. In his new book, The Lost World of Scripture (coauthored with Brent Sandy), he says Bible writers attributed emotional and cognitive processes to the heart, kidneys, and entrails. There are, however, several problems with his argument:

i) Walton would be the first to claim that Bible writers had negligible understanding of human gross internal anatomy. Ancient Jews didn't dissect human corpses. So not only, according to Walton, would they not know the true functions of each internal organ, but even their number or general placement. 

But that raises a question: how do Bible scholars and Bible translators know what the Hebrews words are even referring to? What are the intended correlates of these terms if OT writers didn't even know what the human body looks like on the inside when you open up the chest cavity and poke around (like a surgeon or coroner)?

That's reflected in Walton's equivocal ascriptions, when he oscillates between the heart, kidneys, and entrails as the source of emotional and cognitive processes. But those aren't interchangeable organs. How can OT writers intend to attribute reason or emotion to the "kidneys" if they couldn't even point to which organ was the kidney? 

So his argument generates a dilemma. To the extent that OT writers, and ancient Jewish readers, knew next to nothing about the internal anatomy of humans, how could they attribute emotional or cognitive processes to particular organs? 

ii) Another basic problem with Walton's inference is that OT writers also attribute divine emotional and cognitive processes to God's "heart" (e.g. Gen 6:6; 8:21; Hos 11:8). But by Walton's logic, that would mean OT writers thought God was a corporeal, humanoid being with a physical heart. If, on the other hand, Walton denies that, then why assume the attribution is figurative in God's case, but literal in man's case? Why not at least allow for the possibility (or probability) that it's a poetic or idiomatic metaphor in both cases?

iii) In addition, there's evidence that ancient Near Easterners believed in the afterlife. Take Biblical prohibitions against necromancy. If, however, the dead could still think and feel emotion, then emotional and cognitive processes were separable from internal organs. 

Given how much stock Walton puts in the conceptual world of the ANE to supply the "cognitive environment" for OT writers, surely that should figure in his interpretation. If ghosts could still reason and feel emotion, then their psychological makeup was independent of the body.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Obama's opponents are "racist"!

The last-ditch retort of Obama apologists is that criticism of Obama is motivated by white racism. Now, it's really not incumbent on his critics to refute that allegation. Rather, the accuser bears the burden of proof. 

That said, one simple way of responding to this allegation is to ask the accuser which of Obama's policies Republicans and/or conservatives would support if he was a white Democrat rather than a black Democrat. If, say, Hillary Clinton had won the last two elections, and she was doing or proposing the same things, name which of her policies Republicans and/or conservatives would support. Give us a list. 

Calvinism and determinism

"Calvinism and Determinism" by Prof. James Anderson

"Morality is a collective illusion"

Darwinian philosopher and atheist Michael Ruse on morality:

I am on record as an “evolutionary skeptic.” I don’t deny substantive morality — you ought to return your library books on time — but I do deny objective foundations. I think morality is a collective illusion, genetic in origin, that makes us good cooperators. And I would add that being good cooperators makes each one of us individually better off in the struggle for existence. If we are nice to other people, they are much more likely to be nice to us in return. However, as the philosopher J.L. Mackie used to argue, I think we “objectify” substantive ethics — we think it objectively the case that we ought return library books on time. But we do this (or rather our genes make us do this) because if we didn’t we would all start to cheat and substantive ethics would collapse to the ground. 
So I don’t buy the moral argument for the existence of God. I think you can have all of the morality you need without God. I am a follower of Hume brought up to date by Darwin. Morality is purely emotions, although emotions of a special kind with an important adaptive function.

Liberal panic and mob justice

This is a somewhat distasteful, as well as controversial, topic. That's a dilemma for Christians. Liberals decide to make some new issue their great social cause du jour. The latest "crisis." 

Ideally, we'd rather not follow them into the tawdry details, but if we absent ourselves from the debate and let them monopolize the discussion, they win by default. They win without a fight. It would be nice if we could sidestep some of these controversies, but we can't let them do all the talking. And, of course, the Bible itself is not for the squeamish. 

As a Christian complementation, I'm ironically more egalitarian about men and women than feminists are. Let's hold both to the same moral standards. 

Last month, George Will wrote a controversial column on the alleged rape epidemic on college campuses:

His column provoked outrage, and demands that he be fired. Several issues:

i) Will is not a stereotypical conservative. He's an atheist with libertarian leanings. So he doesn't fit the popular caricature of the rightwing theocrat. 

ii) Critics accused him of blaming the "survivors." But I don't think that's what he was saying. Rather, I take him to mean that a culture of victimhood proliferates false accusations of sexual assault. 

iii) Which brings me to the next point. It's as if his critics were willfully twisting his words. Do they deliberately misrepresent his position, or do they have a hair-trigger reaction that renders them incapable of even understanding what someone they disagree with means? 

iv) Another issue which he alluded to is the relationship between intoxication and consent. But that's complicated:

a) Inebriation doesn't automatically negate responsibility for your actions. If get get drunk, get behind the wheel, and kill someone, the fact that you was driving under the influence is not exculpatory, or even mitigating. For although, at the time, you was in a state of diminished responsibility, you're responsible for getting drunk in the first place–with the resultant consequences. 

b) Why do college students go to clubs, bars, or parties where they know there will be heavy drinking? Where they themselves go to get plastered? It's not exactly a secret that intoxication lowers sexual inhibitions. Isn't that why some people get drunk in the first place?

c) If inebriation negates consent, where does that leave the sexual transaction if both parties are drunk? Who's raping whom? Are they raping each other? Is the woman as well as the man a rapist under those conditions? 

v) Secular universities aggressively promote a highly-sexualized campus climate, with coed dorms, coed locker rooms, &c. It's duplicitous to then turn around and scream about an epidemic of sexuality run amok. 

vi) Will cites this case to illustrate his point:

Consider the supposed campus epidemic of rape, a.k.a. “sexual assault.” Herewith, a Philadelphia magazine report about Swarthmore College, where in 2013 a student “was in her room with a guy with whom she’d been hooking up for three months”: 
“They’d now decided — mutually, she thought — just to be friends. When he ended up falling asleep on her bed, she changed into pajamas and climbed in next to him. Soon, he was putting his arm around her and taking off her clothes. ‘I basically said, “No, I don’t want to have sex with you.” And then he said, “OK, that’s fine” and stopped. . . . And then he started again a few minutes later, taking off my panties, taking off his boxers. I just kind of laid there and didn’t do anything — I had already said no. I was just tired and wanted to go to bed. I let him finish. I pulled my panties back on and went to sleep.’”
Six weeks later, the woman reported that she had been raped. 
i) Notice that even according to her own testimony, she didn't put any physical resistance. 
ii) Suppose we change the story:
“They’d now decided — mutually, he thought — just to be friends. When she ended up falling asleep on his bed, he changed into boxers and climbed in next to her. Soon, she was putting her arm around him and taking off his clothes. ‘I basically said, “No, I don’t want to have sex with you.” And then she said, “OK, that’s fine” and stopped. . . . And then she started again a few minutes later, taking off my boxers and performing fellatio on me. I just kind of laid there and didn’t do anything — I had already said no. I was just tired and wanted to go to bed. I let her finish. I pulled my boxers back on and went to sleep.’”
Six weeks later, the student reported that he had been raped.
Would feminists say the coed raped the guy in that situation? Would they demand that the coed be expelled and be prosecuted for sexual assault? 
There is also the kangaroo court atmosphere:
Liberals have a habit of declaring some positions off-limits. You are not permitted to disagree, or even raise questions. You are not permitted to question the facts or question the logic. This false premise in turn becomes the basis for liberal policies.
It's necessary that we challenge these developments before they become entrenched. Consider the whole notion of hate crimes. That should have been challenged at the outset. Same thing with "disparate impact," "racial profiling," and other liberal axioms. We must not allow these to harden into indisputable presuppositions.   

Non-Calvinist Calvinists

First, it’s important to pay attention to the fact that Romans 9 was never interpreted as teaching unconditional double predestination to salvation and damnation before Augustine in the early fifth century. For four centuries Christians read the New Testament including Romans 9 and never came up with that interpretation.

A few quick observations:

i) It's funny to see Arminians take refuge in early church history. After all, no one taught Arminianism until the late 16C or early 17C, and no one taught Wesleyan Arminianism until the 18C. Not to mention more recent permutations of Arminianism (e.g. purgatory, postmortem salvation, open theism).

ii) You needn't be a Calvinist to believe Paul teaches double predestination in Romans. Heikki Räisänen, in The Idea of Divine Hardening, and Ernst Käsemann, in his magisterial commentary on Romans, both think Paul taught double predestination or even supralapsarian predestination, yet both scholars are liberal Lutherans. You can be a non-Calvinist Calvinist in the sense that you believe Scripture teaches Calvinism, but you aren't committed to the authority of Scripture. You don't submit to what it teaches.

And, in a way, that's not essentially different from Olson's own position. He frequently tells us that if he thought Scripture taught Calvinism, then so much worse for Scripture. The only difference is that his position is more hypothetical. Yet he too admits that Scripture teaches things he rejects (e.g. the "genocidal" passages).  

So this isn't ultimately a question of Scriptural interpretation, but Scriptural authority. 

Kept feminists

Recently, three women drew the ire of feminists: Kendall Jones, who's into big game hunting (ditto: Axelle Despiegelaere); Holly Jones, who posed with a Bible and a machine gun; and Nia Sanchez, who said women should learn martial arts to protect themselves against sexual assault. 

Why are feminists outraged by women who project strength? Perhaps they feel threatened by women who project strength. There's an obvious sense in which radical feminists live like kept women. Dependents. The government or the university administration is their keeper. 

Which God You Love Matters

Oh, if Thou carest not whom I love,
Alas! Thou lovest not me.
(John Donne, "A Hymn To Christ")

Impossible to bootstrap

"Impossible to Bootstrap" by Peter Pike.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The food police state

Vegans make a big deal about "meat is murder." That's their wedge issue. How can you love a puppy dog but eat a piglet? 

Admittedly, that's not a wedge issue for me. But in any event, it's important to keep in mind that veganism, as well as the animal rights movement that's driving it, is far more radical than eliminating meat from your diet. Vegans are equally vehement about dairy products. They claim dairy products are the result of the same inhumane, exploitative process as the meat industry. 

That means that if the vegan food police had their way, they'd not only ban beef, fish, pork, poultry, &c., but they'd ban pizza, ice cream, &c. If meat is murder, pizza is rape! As one vegan put it:

Most people believe that dairy isn’t a bad thing because an animal doesn’t have to die in order for you to get it.  But the truth is that an animal does have to die – in fact, many animals have to die – for the sake of that slice of cheese on your sandwich, or that milk in your cereal.  If you really care about animal rights, the first things you must eliminate from your diet are eggs and dairy. 
If you are a feminist like I am, dairy should really hit home for you.  This is because dairy is a business that profits off of the exploitation of the female reproductive system.  The entire life of a dairy cow is a never-ending nightmarish cycle of depression, torture and rape. 
These aren't just eccentric, powerless fanatics. They influence police policy. No idea from the loony left is too preposterous to catch on. Today's absurdity is tomorrow's law. 

God plays with loaded dice

I. Introduction
Last Spring, Vern Poythress published Chance and the Sovereignty of God. It's an outstanding treatment. I've been planning to do a post on it, but I was waiting for the ebook edition to come out, because it's easier to quote from the ebook:
Although he doesn't use the terminology, his Scriptural illustrations are textbook examples of coincidence miracles. Likewise, his analysis of chance and probability is useful for unpacking the nature of a coincidence miracle, as well as supplying criteria for the identification of coincidence miracles. Before I quote from his book, let's review some preliminaries.
Traditionally, systematic theology distinguishes between miracles and ordinary providence. A miracle is classically defined as an event that bypasses natural processes. By contrast, ordinary providence employs natural mechanisms. To take a comparison:
i) The development of an acorn into an oak is providential. The acorn has the innate information necessary to turn into an oak. That development follows a continuous process of gestation. 
ii) Take a miracle like turning a stick into a snake (Exod 4). That's naturally impossible. There is no natural mechanism to account for that. 
iii) However, there's a third class of events that overlaps providence and miracle. Suppose a guy dies in an elevator mishap. The elevator suddenly plunges 50 stories, crashing in the basement. 
Normally, we'd consider that a tragic accident, due to a mechanical malfunction. But suppose the victim was an investigative reporter who was about to publish a story that would bring down the president. In that event, we suspect the elevator mishap was a "planned accident" rather than a freak accident. 
Ordinary providence is like a machine that's programmed to do something. It always does and only does what it was programmed to do. Like invariable chemical reactions. 
Compare an assembly line using human workers with robotics. Robots can be programmed to perform some of the same tasks which humans used to do. Although robots are unintelligent, they can perform tasks which require intelligence because they were designed by intelligent engineers who programmed them to perform that task. 
In Scripture, some events are "natural" events in the sense that the outcome is the result of natural means. Yet the outcome is too selective to be the result of blind physical causes. The outcome reflects special guidance. 
Many answered prayers are coincidence miracles. God often answers prayers through natural means. Yet it's not something that would happen if nature was left to operate on its own accord. The result is too discriminating. God coordinated causally independent chains of events to converge at just the right time and place to benefit the Christian.  
The next two sections are verbatim excerpts from the book. 


Arminian theologian Randal Rauser was raised in a "fundamentalist" church. Since then he's shifted to the opposite end of the theological spectrum. Only the ventilator of philosophical theology keeps his moribund faith from expiring. Yet he's discovered that he seems to possess a genuine, albeit low-grade, paranormal ability:
He finds that credible since it's something that happens to him personally. Assuming that this constitutes evidence for natural psychokinetic ability, imagine how much more someone could do whom God specially empowered (e.g. apostles, OT prophets), or someone in league with the devil (i.e. the Egyptian sorcerers). Yet Rauser undoubtedly rejects most Biblical miracles. His conflicted attitude nicely illustrates the unbeliever's rationalist/irrationalist dilemma (a la Van Til).  

Paranormal Maladies

In an earlier post, I linked a recent interview with Stephen Braude. Something that stood out to me when I listened to the interview was the negative or trivial nature of so many of the paranormal phenomena Braude discusses. He discusses some cases in which the negative nature of the phenomenon is widely recognized, like the cases involving shlemazels. But I suspect that much of what isn't treated as negative ought to be thought of that way. I don't know much about ectoplasm, but what I've heard of it suggests to me that it's not something most people would want to experience. I find it repulsive. Braude discussed some organ transplant cases that some people take as evidence of reincarnation, possession, or something similar. Given that these cases only represent a tiny minority of all recipients of organ donation, given that the organ recipient's adoption of the donor's character traits seems so partial (in contrast to taking on more of the donor's traits and doing so more consistently), and given that continuing to live on through your organs in another person's body seems so undesirable, the phenomenon seems better explained as some sort of malfunction rather than the activity of an intelligent agent (e.g., the soul of the organ donor or a demon).

Stephen Braude On His New Book And Recent Paranormal Research

Here's a recent interview with Stephen Braude that covers a wide range of topics, including his latest book, his experiences with opponents of parapsychology in academia, and an update on his research into the Felix Circle. The interviewers take up a lot of the air time, but Braude has some significant things to say when he gets a chance to speak. It's worth listening to, especially from around the middle of the program onward.

The interviewer who talks the most, Laura Knight-Jadczyk, the one who discusses the alleged reincarnation of her son, seems to have some significant credibility problems. See the thread here. But I'm citing the interview primarily for what Braude has to say.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Bioethics in the Buffyverse

Now, to talk about something serious for a change:

Chance and the Sovereignty of God

Chance and the Sovereignty of God: A God-Centered Approach to Probability and Random Events (PDF) by Vern Poythress.

Update: Check out Steve's post on the book as well.

Warfield on predestination

A classic overview:

Hardening Pharaoh's heart

A classic analysis:

"It is the Lord!"

7 That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea (Jn 21:7).
Jn 21 is one of the major accounts of the post-Resurrection appearances of Christ. Liberals typically discount the historicity of John because it's too theological. Mind you, that's difficult to finesse even on their own terms inasmuch as John's Gospel often includes many historical details lacking in the Synoptic Gospels. 
One critical test of authenticity is the criterion of embarrassment. And v7 fits the criterion. Indeed, commentators seem a bit embarrassed discussing the verse.
Commentators typically contend that the Peter wasn't totally nude. Rather, he was wearing a loincloth or short tunic. They say this in part on the assumption that Jewish scruples about public nudity would inhibit Peter from fishing in the buff.
However, one problem with that explanation is that, if Peter was already wearing just enough to avoid "indecent exposure," it's less understandable why he'd then don his outer garment. Was he that self-conscious about appearing bare-chested in the presence of Christ? Was that considered unseemly in the hot Palestinian climate? Was that not something Jewish men did? Seems unlikely. 
Richard Bauckham takes issue with the conventional wisdom:
Richard Bauckham However, as you say, everyone went to the [Roman] baths. Even the rabbis went to the baths. I think even Jews, who were more sensitive about nudity than most people, just thought it was natural to be naked around and in water. Fishermen worked naked, even on shore. The Victorians were the first to invent bathing trunks.
Assuming that's correct, it would better explain the account. It's just a bunch of guys here. Like a locker room. And it was so much simpler, when working in water, checking their nets, not to be bogged down by wet clothing. 
There's a certain theological irony about his feeling the need to clothe himself in the presence of his Creator (cf. Jn 1:3). it's not as if God doesn't know what we look like underneath. But people can be (and often are) illogical in that respect. Consider how many Christians still think you ought to dress up for church. Wear your "Sunday best." So it's psychologically realistic. 
Commentators sometimes puzzle over donning an outer garment just before diving into the water. Surely the less you're wearing, the easier it is to swim. Mind you, that objection applies regardless of whether we think Peter was wearing nothing all, or wearing a loincloth or short tunic–before he donned his outer garment and dove in. 
Again, though, that objection misses the point. People will often sacrifice practicality for decorum. Yes, his sense of modesty interferes with swimming, but modesty has nothing to do with efficiency.
So you have this somewhat comical, down-to-earth detail in the midst of an account about the Risen Lord. One of those parenthetical details that lends credence to the account. Not something you'd expect the narrator to invent. 

Why is Roman Catholicism Respected Today?

I’ve been aware of these kinds of incidents for a long time. But seeing them in one place, as they are shown here, really presses home the corruption of the whole Roman Catholic system. The history here is valid – by trusted names like Philip Schaff, Williston Walker, and J.N.D. Kelly.

Roman Catholic Apologists will claim, “well, infallibility doesn’t mean impeccability”, meaning, there will still be sinners in an imperfect “Church”. We don’t deny that all men are sinners; but the Roman Catholic authorities portrayed here were not merely imperfect – they were so bad, that some of them make modern day Islamists look like mischievous Sunday School students by comparison.

I invite you to watch for a few minutes and understand how the Roman Papacy has conducted itself at many times throughout history. Again, Roman Catholic Apologists will suggest that these men contributed nothing to “the deposit of faith” – at best, that’s a concession that they were mere placeholders in an “unbroken succession” of popes. But at worst, these things verify what Jesus said: “a tree is known by its fruit (Matthew 12:33)”. This is the fruit of Roman Catholicism in its full, rotten, smelly aroma of death.

HT: Sam Shamoun

Free Will: Pagan and Unbiblical (a short film)

This is not perfect, I don't think, but very useful for showing where the notion of Arminian "free will" comes from; and there is an excellent scriptural summary of the Sovereignty of God at the end.

More here.

The pink elephant in the room

Over on his blog, Arminian theologian Randal Rauser has been offering a one-sided "review" of the Brown–Vines debate. Guess which side he takes?
Not surprisingly, this becomes a pretext for Rauser to legitimate homosexuality and transexuality. Perhaps it's time for rename Rauser's workplace Gaylor Seminary rather than Taylor Seminary. 
Speaking of which–the Society of Evangelical Arminians has mastered the fine art of overlooking the pink elephant in the living room. When was the last time you witnessed SEA critique a prominent Arminian philosopher, theologian, or Bible scholar for being too liberal? SEA presents a sanitized version of Arminianism for public consumption, while gingerly stepping around the noisy pachyderms under its roof. 

Questioning Darwin

Stephen Meyer relates the following story (starting at about the 23:15 mark in this video) about a Chinese professor of paleontology giving a lecture in which Meyer was in attendance. Meyer recounts:

[The Chinese professor is speaking:] "The strange thing about these Cambrian fossil finds is that they turn Darwin's tree upside down. Instead of having the simple forms at the bottom and gradually morphing and then the complex forms arising and then branching out, we have the disparity between form at the very beginning of the [Cambrian] explosion, with nothing underneath."

So there was some uncomfortable shuffling. And then we went to the Q&A time. And one of the geologists from the University of Washington raised his hand and he said, almost as if in warning, "Professor, aren't you a little bit uneasy about expressing scepticism about Darwinian evolution coming as you do from such an authoritarian country?"

And suddenly you could cut the tension with a knife, to use the old metaphor. But this Chinese professor - no one's fool - got a wry smile on his face, and he said, "In our country we can question Darwin, just not the government." And then he said, "In your country, you can question the government, but you can't question Darwinism."

Meyer also relates the same story in his book Darwin's Doubt (see chapter 3, "Soft Bodies and Hard Facts"):

So there was little doubt about the significance of the discoveries that [J.Y.] Chen came to report that day. What was soon in doubt, however, was Chen's scientific orthodoxy. In his presentation, he highlighted the apparent contradiction between the Chinese fossil evidence and Darwinian orthodoxy. As a result, one professor in the audience asked Chen, almost as if in warning, if he wasn't nervous about expressing his doubts about Darwinism so freely - especially given China's reputation for suppressing dissenting opinion. I remember Chen's wry smile as he answered. "In China," he said, "we can criticize Darwin, but not the government. In America, you can criticize the government, but not Darwin."

Economic indicators

Are we in a recovery? Seems like the situation is steadily worsening, yet the mainstream media ignores it or denies it:

Microcosm? Justice Blackmun and theology

Internet Arminians wear tinged bifocals. They see themselves through rose-tinted glasses while they view Calvinists through jaundice-tinted glasses. For instance:
July 3 at 3:05pm · Edited ·
As we approach July 4 where we celebrate freedom, I have been pondering this historical tidbit. John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards were contemporaries who lived at a time when many Christians accepted slavery. Wesley, however, was an outspoken critic of the practice, and his last letter was to Wilberforce, encouraging him in his fight to end it. Edwards, by contrast, owned a slave. Of course, we cannot read too much into this and I am sure both opponents of slavery as well as supporters can be cited on both sides of this theological divide. Still, I wonder if it is suggestive.
On paper, Walls is a philosopher. And a basic feature of philosophical reasoning is to test your hunches by considering counterexamples. But where Calvinism is concerned, Walls is a demagogue first and a philosopher last. Since he insinuates a link between Calvinism and slavery, let's consider some links between Arminianism and slavery (or analogous evils):
The Methodists split over slavery:

And here's Frederick Douglas on Methodists of his acquaintance:

Conversely, John Newton was a Reformed pastor and abolitionist. 

Finally, the architect of Roe v. Wade was a devout Methodist:

Same denomination as Ben Witherington and Jerry Walls. I guess Blackmun is a microcosm of Wesleyan Arminianism. 

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

All creatures great and small

Physicists have a reputation for being the smartest scientists. Smarter than biologists. That's ironic since biology is far more varied and complicated than physics, so–if anything–you'd expect great biologists to be smarter than great physicists.
One of the putative evidences for evolution is the functional and structural similarity between otherwise diverse organisms, &c. Darwinians chalk this up to common descent. Mind you, that inference is tricky even on Darwinian assumptions inasmuch as Darwinians attribute some functional or structural similarities to convergent evolution rather than common ancestry. 
Anyway, they contend that if God really is the Creator, and more so if natural kinds originated in divine fiats of special creation, then we'd expect more diversity in how organisms are designed. 
But suppose, for the sake of argument, that God went back to the drawing board for each type of organism. In that case, the world would be far less comprehensible to man. The life sciences would be basically impossible.
Take a veterinarian. In a way, it's harder to be a vet than a doctor. That's because a vet must be competent to treat a variety of pets and farm animals, whereas a doctor only has to know about the human body. Human diseases. What is good or bad for humans, in terms of food, medicine, toxins, &c.
Even so, I imagine that in a pinch, a vet could operate on a human while a doctor could operate on a dog. If, however, every kind of organisms had a fundamentally different design, you couldn't be a vet. There'd be way too much to master. 
Likewise, you couldn't be a marine biologist if every marine species had a fundamentally different design. Admittedly, a marine biologist usually has a specialty, like dolphins or whatever. But a marine biologist is probably expected to know a lot about one (or maybe a few) species, and a little about a lot of species. Fish in general have a lot in common. That's what makes them fish. Marine mammals have a lot in common. 
But if God designed each type of organism from scratch, so as to share very few functional or structural similarities, then the natural world would be pretty incomprehensible to man. There'd be far too much to sort out. 
Or take something as "simple" and basic as yeasts. Essential to life. But imagine if every kind of yeast was radically dissimilar to every other type of yeast. Where would that leave us?
That, in turn, would make it basically impossible for man to adapt natural organisms to human use. Lacking any common frame of reference, it would be too complex to figure out.
It's beneficial to humans to live in a world that's understandable. That's something we can take advantage of. That's a sign of God's benevolence. 

New Age Arminianism

On Facebook, Arminian philosopher Jerry Walls plugged this interview:
Yesterday at 8:21am · Edited ·
Part 2 of Tom Morris's fascinating interview with Patricia Pearson, author of "Opening Heaven's Door."
I don't object to investigating NDEs. I'd add that Pearson has some useful statistics and interesting anecdotes. 
But the study of NDEs also requires us to sift and evaluate the evidence. For instance, consider the following excerpt from the interview that Walls is promoting. Does he agree with his? Given his views on purgatory and postmortem salvation, maybe he does. 
If not, doesn't he have some responsibility to his groupies to winnow the wheat from the chaff?  
Tom: Ha! Good point. In these accounts that you've heard and told us about, there's always a measure of mystery, or uncertainty, which most people think of as a bad thing. And, yet, perhaps it's a good thing. What do you think? 
Patricia: Well, there are a number of ways to answer that question. From a spiritual perspective, as the 19th century Baha'i prophet Bahaullah said, "If I told you what paradise was like, you would slit your throats to get there." Islamist suicide bombers believe they know what paradise is like, and are eager to arrive ASAP and wallow with virgins. They clearly have no idea what's entailed in being a spiritually mature human being. So what advantage is there in a false certainty that strands us with people like that? 
Humans are in their spiritual adolescence right now, in the Baha'i view. They may be smart as hell, but they're dumb as beer-addled teens in speedboats. How would you trust them with the certain contours of another realm when they would view it as a simple opportunity, and not understand the complex obligations of spiritual maturation that should precede it? 
Tom: That's an excellent point. It reminds me of an old expression: "just enough light for the step I'm on." And then, there's a new expression, "What got you here won't get you there."

Scientists discover that atheists might not exist

"The Non-Existence of Atheists" by Peter Pike.

The future of Scripturalism revisited

Retreating into pious nonsense

I'll comment on this post:
God is in time because there is no time unless God is in it.
Unfortunately, Shannon gives the reader no reason to agree with that claim, on its own terms. It's just a tendentious slogan. 
At best, he shifts gears to a different argument:
That’s a little Vos-Van Til talk, but we could infer the same from omnipresence and eternity. Eternity does not mean that God as God cannot touch temporality (again, unless you are entangled in Thomistic simplicism; but then you have created your own problems). It means that he fills all time, just as omnipresence doesn’t mean that God cannot be in places (spatially located); it means that he fills all places. This is an unbiblical non sequitur: He fills all time, therefore he cannot be in time. So is this: He fills all space, therefore he cannot be in a place.
It doesn't even occur to Shannon that his comparison might backfire: just as omnipresence doesn't mean God literally fills space, eternity doesn't mean God literally fills time. Shannon doesn't anticipate that move, or give the reader reason to deny it. 
So if we affirm, say, omnipresence, what then is condescension (which the divines worked into the confession—WCF 7.1)? If God fills all space, what does it mean that he ‘comes down’? To where does he come down? Well, to the top of Mt. Sinai (Ex 19), for example—even though being omnipresent, he was already there. He ‘comes down’ to covenant with Israel. Mt. Sinai is a particular place; and Ex 19 records the Lord’s presence there at a particular time. And so: if God fills all time, we may say that he condescends in order to covenant with his people at Mt. Sinai, at that time. The Lord speaks to Moses, then and there. 
That's a theophany or angelophany. A manifestation of God's presence. A manifestation is the effect of something else, and not the thing itself. 
Take a hologram. I could see and hear your holographic presence in my living room, but that doesn't mean you are physically present in my living room. It's a concrete representation
In principle, I might be dead by the time you receive the hologram. In that event, not only am I not actually in your living room, I'm not even offsite. 
And this presence of God with his people is no innovation; it is the telos of covenant history:
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” Rev 21:3 
That presumably alludes to Christ dwelling with his people. That involves the communication of attributes. The usual Reformed construction is that what's said of each nature can be said of the person, but what's said of one nature can't be said of the other.

Grammar nazis

I'll make a few quick observations about the grammar nazis. 
i) A certain percentage of the population does suffer from a degree of illiteracy. Due to ignorance, they make grammatical blunders. It reflects the state of public education and pop culture. To that extent, grammar nazis sometimes identify genuine problems.
ii) But oftentimes, people make mistakes, not because they don't know the difference between "there" and "their" or "its" and "it's" (to take two stock examples), but because they are writing fast, and their mind gets ahead of their fingers. 
ii) Moreover, grammar nazis are self-incriminating. That's because they lack a basic understanding of how language works. "Proper grammar" is ultimately based on predominant usage. If enough people make the same grammatical mistake, that becomes idiomatic English. Sheer usage makes incorrect grammar correct. Today's solecism may be tomorrow's idiom, for language evolves, and usage drives grammar. Grammar is ultimately descriptive, not prescriptive. It follows, not leads. Grammar is a social convention, and conventions change. Get used to it. 
iii) By the same token, the spoken word is the basis of the written word. The written word cannot long resist how most people actually speak. 
iv) "Proper grammar" is relative to social class, ethnicity, and region. Grammar is sensitive to dialectical variations. It depends on who you are, where you are, and who you're with. 
v) Likewise, slang pumps fresh blood into the language. Some slang is quickly dated, but other slang becomes standard usage. 
vi) The "rules" of formal written English can be stylistically uncouth. If, say, "proper" grammar requires you to use "that" three or four times in one sentence, the repetition is monotonous and confusing. 
Likewise, forbidding contractions or split infinitives can lead to rhythmically awkward sentence construction. Same thing with the "rule" that you should never use a long word when a short word will do. But a writer with a good ear may use a longer synonym to give the sentence a nice cadence. Or he may choose a longer word to rhyme with another word in the sentence. Redundancy can serve the same purpose. Omitted a word or adding an extra word to make the sentence roll off the tongue. 
Grammar nazis sacrifice euphony for arbitrary rules. They produce stilted sentences. 

Why a 1000 years?

Traditionally, amils–following the lead of Augustine–identified John's millennium (Rev 20:1-6) with the church age. However, that's fallen out of favor. Amils like Beale and Poythress now identify the millennium with the intermediate state.
Assuming this identification is correct (which, of course, premils deny), why would John use a 1000-year interval to designate the intermediate state? Although you have a few dissidents, most scholars agree that persecution and the impending threat of martyrdom is a major theme in Revelation. Indeed, amils interpret 20:1-6 in light of 6:9:11. The point is not that the saints in 20:1-6 are confined to Christian martyrs, but that martyrs represent the faithful. (Incidentally, this is quite pertinent to contemporary Christians in the Muslim world.)
A martyr is a Christian whose life is cut short when he is murdered (by a mob) or executed (by the state) for his faith. On the one hand, the 1000-year afterlife stands in contrast to his untimely death. Although he died prematurely, his afterlife in the intermediate state is far longer than if he had a normal lifespan, or even exceptional longevity.
On the other hand, the intermediate state is still a temporary condition. It's not the final state. It's not eternal. For the saints, eternal life is about more than the afterlife, more than immortality: it's about the resurrection of the body. Restoration of our physical existence. And that's illustrated by the new Eden, New Jerusalem denouement in the last chapters of Revelation. 
The duration of the intermediate state is more than this life has to offer, but less than the resurrection of the just–which is forever. And, of course, there's a qualitative as well as quantitative distinction. Reigning with Christ in heaven is better than life in a fallen world. 

What's the sticking point?

The sticking point here has to do with the psychology of the OT writers. When they wrote passages interpreted by the NT as references to Christ, did they consciously have these Christological meanings in view? The advocates of “christotelic” interpretation argue that at least some such Christological content was extrapolated by NT writers in light of the Christ event. Their critics contend that this threatens the authority of Scripture, destroys the “organic unity” of the OT and NT, and stands in tension with the Westminster Standards.
I'm not a WTS insider, but I doubt that's the sticking point. Now, I don't think Gaffin's explanation was altogether clear, but I suspect this was the sticking point:
It is this point of the entire truthfulness of the history of revelation and Scripture-- involving “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” as Vos says, and critically essential for any doctrine of Scripture, like that set out in chapter 1 of the WCF, intent on doing justice to the unity and coherent harmony of the Bible as God’s own written word--it is just this crucially important point that is compromised or at best obscured by the Christotelic approach to Scripture.
Gaffin quotes Vos as saying, among other things:
… Reformed theology has with greater earnestness than any other type of Christian doctrine upheld the principles of the absoluteness and unchanging identity of truth…But the Reformed have always insisted upon it that at no point shall a recognition of the historical delivery and apprehension of truth be permitted to degenerate into a relativity of truth. The history remains a history of revelation. Its total product agrees absolutely in every respect with the sum of truth as it lies in the eternal mind and purpose of God...It is an unchristian and an unbiblical procedure to make development superior to revelation instead of revelation superior to development, to accept belief and tendencies as true because they represent the spirit of the time and in a superficial optimism may be regarded as making for progress. Christian cognition is not an evolution of truth, but a fallible apprehension of truth which must at each point be tested by an accessible absolute norm of truth. To take one’s stand upon the infallibility of the Scriptures is an eminently religious act; it honors the supremacy of God in the sphere of truth in the same way as the author of Hebrews does by insisting upon it, notwithstanding all progress, that the Old and the New Testament are the same authoritative speech of God.  
With the greatest variety of historical aspects, there can, nevertheless, be no inconsistencies or contradictions in the Word of God. 
It's the absolute truthfulness of Scripture, and not the "psychology of the OT writers," that's the sticking point. Inerrancy, not hermeneutics. Peter Enns clearly denies the absolute truthfulness of Scripture. Indeed, that's an understatement. 
Unfortunately, Evans seems to be taken in by the "christotelic" verbiage, which makes it sound like it's just a recondite hermeneutical issue. But, frankly, that's the sales pitch. That's a mock-pious decoy to deflect attention away from what Enns is really up to. 
Now, I can't comment on Doug Green, because he's published so little. But, presumably, he was let go for the same reason Enns was let go. 

Why Ayala is wrong

Here is a great post from Ann Gauger summarizing the responses to Francisco Ayala's attempt to demonstrate that humans had to have come from more than two individuals based on his comparison of the HLA gene complex (focusing on HLA-DRB1). Gauger is fairly gentle about it, but in my opinion her summary response is devastating to Ayala's position. More like a summary execution!

Monday, July 07, 2014

Getting to know you

Life is but a dream

Have you ever had a dream in which you try to write something down to remember it? I don't mean writing down your dream after you wake up. I mean, in the course of a dream, you think of something insightful, or a character says something catchy, and you're afraid you will forget it, so you attempt to record it by writing it down. 
The problem, of course, is the piece of paper and the words you write down are part of the very same dream. That's just as unstable, as evanescent, as everything else in the dream. What you write in a dream is just a figment of your imagination. The writing on the paper only exists in your conscious memory. If you start writing in a dream, the sentences begin to fade way before you complete them. The words only the page only exist to the degree that you are thinking about them. The moment your attention shifts, they vanish. And that's the thing about dreams. The scenes constantly change.
In principle, physical reality is more objective. More stable. It has durable objects. 
Ironically, though, physicalism is a lot like idealism. They might seem to be polar opposites, but atheism erases the distinction. According to physicalism, logic is all in the brain. Math is all in the brain. Morality is all in the brain.
But when people begin to develop dementia or brain cancer, the logic, math, and morality begin to disappear. It might as well be a dream, or subjective idealism, where something exists for only so long as you are conscious of it. Reality is the awareness of reality. 
If there is no God, if matter is all there is, then temporary brains are hard to distinguish from dreams. Grounding logic, math, and morality in the brain is like inscribing a book in a dream. As soon as the brain begins to deteriorate, the "world" of math, morality, and logic slips away like fleeting scenes in a dream. 

Annotated prooftexts

Many Arminians labor under the misapprehension that the case for Calvinism begins and ends with Rom 9. In my observation, that's common due to their self-reinforcing ignorance of the exegetical literature.

In this post I'm going to quote a number of Reformed prooftexts, in canonical order, then quote interpretive comments by various scholars. So the post has a simple structure: I quote a text of Scripture, then I quote one or more scholars expounding the passage. Taken by themselves, Reformed prooftexts might seem to beg the question by presupposing a Reformed interpretation thereof. (Arminian prooftexting is open to the same objection.) I've gone beyond bare prooftexting to provide exegetical arguments for the Reformed interpretation. 

I'm doing this in part for the benefit of laymen who don't have easy access to the best modern commentaries. But it's also useful to have some of this material collated, at one's fingertips.

Although both Calvinists and Arminians have their one-verse prooftexts, Reformed theological method is based less on snappy one-liners than tracing out the flow of argument or narrative arc in larger blocks of Scripture (e.g. Gen 37-50; Exod 4-14; Isa 40-48; Jn 6, 10-12, 17; Rom 9-11; Eph 1-2, 4). 

I'll quote Calvinists, Arminians, an open theist, and some scholars I don't know how to classify. All the quotes will support or be consistent with Reformed theology. You might wonder why a non-Calvinist scholar would offer an interpretation consist with, or supportive of, Calvinism. One reason is that some commentators compartmentalize exegetical and systematic theology. They think you should interpret each book on its own terms, without shoehorning passages into a harmonious system of doctrine. Likewise, some scholars think some verses are more Calvinistic while others are more Arminian. They don't interpret one in relation to the other. In addition, some liberal scholars don't think Scripture has a consistent theological message. 

This post is not exhaustive, either in terms of Reformed prooftexts or supporting arguments. It's a sampler. It understates the exegetical case for Calvinism. 

(Because everything below the break consists of direct quotes, I won't bother with quotation marks or indented paragraphs.) 

Greatly Helped By Apologetics

When people are attempting to justify apologetics (it's remarkable how often that needs to be done, even in Christian circles), passages like 1 Peter 3:15 and Jude 3 often come up. A passage that ought to be mentioned more often is Acts 18:27, along with the context provided by verse 28. Ben Witherington writes:

"We are told that on his arrival, Apollos was a great help to those who had come to believe through God's grace. The help he rendered was apparently not just in teaching those who were already Christians but in doing apologetics….This last verse reflects the language of public debate used of a contest in which rhetoric is used, which involves arguments (or 'proofs') and refutations offered back and forth to convince the audience." (The Acts Of The Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1998], 568)

Darrell Bock writes:

"This strong verb appears only here in the NT. It means 'overwhelm' someone in argument (BAGD 184; BDAG 229)." (Acts [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2007], 593)

Apollos' apologetic activity isn't described as something counterproductive. There's no suggestion that faith is a blind leap in the dark or belief that goes against reason (two anti-Biblical notions that are popular in the modern world), so that Apollos' work was superfluous or undermining people's faith. His apologetic efforts aren't described in neutral terms either. Nor does Luke merely say that Apollos' work was helpful. Rather, he emphatically refers to how it "greatly helped".

That isn't true of every apologetic effort. But the potential is there. Apologetics is important work. That's especially the case in a rapidly developing information age like ours. People have so much access to so much information and are in such frequent contact with so many people and ideas. Work like Apollos' is even more important than usual.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Holy Spirit, living breath of God

Holy Spirit, living Breath of God,
Breathe new life into my willing soul.
Bring the presence of the risen Lord
To renew my heart and make me whole.
Cause Your Word to come alive in me;
Give me faith for what I cannot see;
Give me passion for Your purity.
Holy Spirit, breathe new life in me.

Holy Spirit, come abide within;
May Your joy be seen in all I do—
Love enough to cover ev'ry sin
In each thought and deed and attitude,
Kindness to the greatest and the least,
Gentleness that sows the path of peace.
Turn my striving into works of grace.
Breath of God, show Christ in all I do.

Holy Spirit, from creation's birth,
Giving life to all that God has made,
Show Your power once again on earth;
Cause Your church to hunger for Your ways.
Let the fragrance of our prayers arise.
Lead us on the road of sacrifice
That in unity the face of Christ
Will be clear for all the world to see.


When trials come

When trials come no longer fear
For in the pain our God draws near
To fire a faith worth more than gold
And there His faithfulness is told
And there His faithfulness is told

Within the night I know Your peace
The breath of God brings strength to me
And new each morning mercy flows
As treasures of the darkness grow
As treasures of the darkness grow

I turn to Wisdom not my own
For every battle You have known
My confidence will rest in You
Your love endures Your ways are good
Your love endures Your ways are good

When I am weary with the cost
I see the triumph of the cross
So in its shadow I shall run
Till He completes the work begun
Till He completes the work begun

One day all things will be made new
I'll see the hope You called me to
And in your kingdom paved with gold
I'll praise your faithfulness of old
I'll praise your faithfulness of old


WARNING: Jerry Walls Ahead

Wintery Knight has posted a recent Jerry Walls video, “Jerry Walls lectures on objections to Reformed Theology”, with the comment, “WARNING: This lecture is a very sharp and pointed critique of Calvinist theology. Viewer discretion is advised”.

I have good friends who are Arminians (I know the retort: “friends don’t let friends be Arminians”), and so normally I don’t take much interest in these types of discussions. I like WK and I wanted to see what he found so compelling. But after watching this video, I can’t understand how anybody can take Jerry Walls seriously, at least from a theological perspective. I left the following comment:

I was not impressed. Walls begins with TULIP, but genuine Reformed theology begins with very careful prolegomena and the doctrines of God and Scripture. If an Arminian wants to try to score an easy win against Calvinists, I guess a caricature of TULIP is a good place to start. But if an Arminian really wants to understand the genuine Reformed faith, he must start way earlier in Reformed systematics.

As it is, Walls’s big trump card is “the character of God”, but without an analysis of the Reformed Doctrine of God, Walls’s “character” is something of his own making.

I would disagree, too, that his description of TULIP was accurate. It was accurate within the bounds of stereotypes, but I think his whole simplified message is wrong-headed.

What I find most alarming is that he gets an audience for this kind of thing among evangelical Christians.

For just one response, see Steve Hays’s critique of Walls’s article in Philosophia Christi: