Saturday, September 06, 2014

Arminianism and slavery

Did the Calvinistic assumptions of Edward’s theology contribute to his support of slavery? How did prominent Calvinists of the era approach the issue slavery, and how did prominent Arminians address the issue?
Good question. Let's take him up on the offer. Here's how a prominent Arminian addressed the issue:

What if I'm wrong?

I have a few comments on a post by Mike Licona:

As a result, I’ve doubted the truth of my Christian faith many times; sometimes to the point of almost walking away from it.
Professing Christians who feel this way need to stop and ask themselves, where would they be going? Walk away…for what
Imagine if you accidentally slide down a cliff. On the way down you grab hold of a shrub on the face of the cliff. You have two options. You can either try to climb back up, or you can let go. But what does the second option amount to? What does letting go mean? Letting go for what? If you let go of the branch, what awaits you? You will fall to your death. Splat! 
Before you leave Christianity behind, ask what you're leaving it for. What lies ahead? Atheism? How's that any different than a free fall to the rocky ground below? If you're consistent, you will keep falling until you hit the hard surface of nihilism. That's where apostasy logically bottoms out. What breaks your fall breaks you
Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless…It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence. A true nihilist would believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and no purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to destroy. 
Ethical nihilism or moral nihilism rejects the possibility of absolute moral or ethical values. Instead, good and evil are nebulous, and values addressing such are the product of nothing more than social and emotive pressures. Existential nihilism is the notion that life has no intrinsic meaning or value…“the highest values devalue themselves. The aim is lacking, and ‘Why’ finds no answer.”
Many apostates begin with dutiful idealism, which they derive from their Christian upbringing. Dutiful idealism about truth and goodness. A duty to follow the evidence wherever it leads.
They view themselves as honest, virtuous, disinterested truth-seekers. In their view, this led them out of Christianity. Yet by leaving that behind, they implicitly turn their back on the very basis for duty that spurred them on that ill-fated journey in the first place. Their destination contradicts their starting-point. Their sense of duty makes no sense. Transplanted from Christianity to atheism, duty dies on the dry, barren soil. 
I’ve asked myself, “Have I been brain-washed? Am I unable to think objectively because I was brought up to believe?” 
What if that's exactly how God saves many people? By raising them in Christian families? By raising them in Christian churches? 
It can be good to ask, am I Lutheran (or Baptist or Presbyterian) because that's how I was raised. But those are intramural Christian questions. 
“What if I’m wrong?” 
Assuming, for the sake of argument, that you were wrong to believe in Christianity, so what? If you're wrong, it's not as if you have anything to lose. If nihilism is the logical alternative, then you're better off being wrong. Better to cling to that branch. Why let go for nothing? If the "right" answer subverts the very basis of rightness, then why be right? If you jettison normative values, what's the difference between right answers and wrong answers? For instance:
Admittedly, many apostates stop short. They draw an arbitrary line. 
Action #3: Recognize that absolute certainty is an unreasonable expectation. Some live with faith without ever doubting. That’s great. But some of us are so wired that we are incapable of such bliss. 
That fails to distinguish between certainty and certitude. Between what we can prove, what we can know, and a psychological sense of conviction or assurance. 

How Islam's Prophetic Failures Support Christianity

Yesterday, I wrote a post about Muhammad that, in part, addressed Islamic claims that he fulfilled prophecies found in the Bible. I argued that Muhammad's alleged prophecy fulfillments are evidentially far weaker than Jesus' fulfillment of prophecy.

That contrast between Muhammad and Jesus illustrates the absurdity of an objection that's frequently raised against the Christian argument from prophecy fulfillment. Supposedly, according to atheists and other critics, the early Christians inserted Jesus into the Old Testament after the fact, without justification and without anything supernatural having occurred. Well, Islam is a religion with a lot of resources (many adherents, political influence, wealth, etc.), a religion that's had a strong motivation to find prophecies of its founder in the Bible and has had a lot of time to do it. (For those who don't know, the Quran suggests that the Bible predicted Muhammad. See surah 7:157.) So, why has Islam, after all this time, produced such pathetic results in its attempt to find prophecies of Muhammad in the Bible? They've had far more time and other advantages the early Christians didn't have, including a larger range of material to draw from (both the Old and New Testaments rather than just the Old). Yes, you could find alleged typological prophecy fulfillments for Muhammad, much as many of Jesus' alleged fulfillments are typological (e.g., Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15). But non-typological fulfillments are much more evidentially significant, and Christianity has many of those as well. Islam doesn't. If it was so easy to make it look like Jesus fulfilled prophecies as unusual as Psalm 22 and the Suffering Servant Prophecy, to align his life with Daniel's Seventy Weeks prophecy, to fulfill the Son of David prophecy, to fulfill the Bethlehem prophecy, etc., why have Islam and other competing belief systems failed to produce anything that even comes close to being comparable or better? Then there are the Bible's non-Messianic prophecies, which the Quran also has failed to duplicate or surpass.

See here for an index of our posts on Christian prophecy fulfillment, both Messianic and non-Messianic.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Muhammad's Lesser Credentials

There's a lot to criticize in the Quran, but the issue I'd suggest Christians focus on most is authority. We don't have sufficient reason to conclude that Muhammad was a messenger of God. And we have far more reason to trust Jesus than to trust Muhammad.


1. From time to time I see Arminians try to tar Calvinism with apartheid. It's a tactic that's apt to boomerang. For instance, American Methodists split over slavery. So should we link racism to Arminianism via Southern Methodists? It's funny how often Arminian apologists are blind to easy, obvious counterexamples.

This attempted linkage takes different forms. 

i) For instance, Peter Lumkins compares apartheid to a caste system, then compares a caste system to Calvinism:

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, a caste social structure is "any of the ranked, hereditary, endogamous social groups, often linked with occupation, that together constitute traditional societies in South Asia, particularly among Hindus in India."Given this specific description, it seems to socially follow that "apartheid" as it was thoroughly embraced in South Africa as well as "segregation" as it was widely practiced in the United States up until the Civil Rights Movement began to openly challenge it, qualify as at least a similar social construct to the "caste system" of South Asia. Cox included a comparison chart suggesting an ideological affinity between a racial "caste" construct, the traditional Hindu "caste" construct, and a novel Calvinistic "caste" construct he apparently infers from the socio-religious construct.
But there are several basic problems with that comparison:
a) Election and reprobation don't constitute a social ranking system. Election and reprobation aren't hereditary. Election and reprobation aren't linked to occupations. And endogamy has nothing to do with it. So the analogy doesn't fit his own definition.
b) Lumpkins offers no historical evidence to show that belief in double predestination influenced the development of apartheid. 
c) Ironically, Arminianism invites comparison with the Hindu caste system:
The universal law of karma (action and reaction) determines each soul's unique destiny. The self-determination and accountability of the individual soul rests on its capacity for free choice. 
Every person is responsible for his or her acts and thoughts, so each person's karma is entirely his or her own. Occidentals see the operation of karma as fatalistic. But that is far from true since it is in the hands of an individual to shape his own future by schooling his present.

In Arminianism, like Hinduism, individuals are the ultimate source of their own destiny. 

2. Another attempt to link Calvinism to apartheid attributes apartheid to the seminal ideas of Abraham Kuyper. However, that's very complicated, and somewhat counterproductive.

i) From what I've read, there's been historical tension between Holland and South Africa. It's not as if Afrikaners ipso facto idolize Kuyper. 

ii) In some essential respects, Kuyper's position was antithetical to apartheid. For instance:

Kuyper's Stone lectures do not argue for the superiority of race or civilization, but for the superiority of Christianity. It is not always easy to distinguish between the two, but it is dear that, for Kuyper, historic development is not a process determined by race. Neither is the superiority of race fixed, but can be lost by the white and gained by the yellow race—as Kuyper himself wrote.  
In 1896 he formulated rules for church planting in the Dutch East Indies, where Kuyper's churches had their main mission field. In these rules he stated that, according to the gospel, different races and nations had to live together in one church. This unity might only be broken up in case of difference in language or confession.4 
In 190l, the year Kuyper became prime minister of the Netherlands, he introduced an important change in Dutch colonial politics, when he introduced the so-called ethical policy. The basics of this policy were an application of his view of human equality and of the responsibility of people and races to spend their superiority in the service of God. In the program of his administration he described the responsibility of the Dutch nation towards the East-Indian peoples as guardianship, over against the realities of colonization or exploitation. The underlying idea is dear: the Netherlands were not allowed to abuse their superiority over the Dutch East Indies. I do not deny the paternalistic character of this view, but this policy marked a major advance over the nineteenth- century Dutch colonial policy of exploitation. And it shows that Kuyper was not guided by the culture of racism of his day, but by his Calvinistic creed of human equality.

iii) In one respect, Kuyper's position may have had some influence on Afrikaners. Kuyper espoused the principle of "pillarization." Holland had different factions, viz. Jews, Calvinists, Catholics, socialists. Pillarization was a type of religious, political, and socioeconomic pluralism. The right of free association, in which different factions were at liberty to form their own parallel institutions, viz. denominations, political parties, trade unions, schools, universities, hospitals, media, employers. This allowed for various fairly self-contained subcultures to function and flourish side-by-side within the nation at large. 

I'm guessing that Kuyper espoused pillarization in part because Kuyper was European, and sensitive to the history of religious warfare in Europe, including civil warfare. When the state tries to impose a single cultural or religious regime on the general populace, that can, and often does, provoke social unrest and instability, sometimes culminating in civil war. Pillarization is a kind of safety value that releases the pressure. At least in theory. 

Although that may have had some impact on the development of apartheid, there are two essential differences:

a) Pillarization wasn't race-based. At most, that would be incidental. 

b) Pillarization involved voluntary separatism rather than legally mandated segregation. Indeed, this reflects another Kuyperian distinctive: sphere-sovereignty was a way of curbing the power of the state. 

Pillarization has counterparts with Zionism, Welsh nationalism, Indian reservations, black churches, the Amish, &c. A faction or people-group who resist assimilation by practicing separatism to preserve their identity and autonomy. 

If Arminians are going to attribute apartheid to Calvinism via Kuyper, they need to explain why they think pillarization is inherently evil. The question isn't whether apartheid in particular is evil, but whether the general principle of pillarization is evil. Given that many Arminians are Baptists who support church/state separation and maintain their own churches, educational institutions, &c., it's unclear how Arminians will be in a position to consistently oppose pillarization.   

3. Another popular theory is that 19C Afrikaners viewed themselves as recapitulating the experience of ancient Israel: the Exodus and Conquest. There are, however, some problems with that theory:

i) There's nothing uniquely Calvinistic about Christians who see analogies between their own experience and the experience of God's people in OT times. And, up to a point, there's nothing wrong with drawling those analogies.

ii) Likewise, there's nothing essential racist about that hermeneutic. For instance, Black American slaves did they same thing in reverse. The white man was Pharaoh, while the black man was Israel in Egypt. 

iii) Even if Afrkaners filter their experience through this OT narrative, the Israelite/Canaanite dialectic doesn't select for black Africans to play the role of Canaanites. British imperialists (e.g. Cecil Rhodes) were at least as much or more of a threat to Afrikaners than Zulus. Afrikaners could just as well cast the Brits in that role. 

iv) From what I've read, Afrikaners don't view themselves as invaders. They say they got to the Cape before the African natives. They claim it was unoccupied before their arrival. They settled virgin territory. Whether or not that's true, that's a very different story than driving out the indigenous people-groups (e.g. Canaanites). 

4. Let's examine how an Afrikaner theologian defends apartheid, taking Francis Nigel Lee as a point of reference. 

By way of general observation, there's nothing specifically Calvinistic about Lee's arguments. He didn't appeal to any Reformed distinctives to justify apartheid. Rather, these are generic arguments I've run across in other segregationist/white supremacist literature. 

As there is a variety within the unity of the Triune God, it is only to be expected that He would also plan and approve of a variety within the unity of the universe which would similarly reveal Himself as He really is -- a variety within a unity.

The fact that God embodies "variety" doesn't entail that creatures mirror God in that respect. God is both like us and unlike us. 

Then the Triune God proceeded "to divide the day from the night" and the living creatures of the water from those of the air -- all after their kind."14 "And God made the beast of the Earth after its kind, and everything that creeps on the earth after its kind." And "God saw that it was good" and that all these creatures were destined not to interbreed, but to mate only with their own kind.

That actually subverts Lee's argument. In terms of Gen 1 taxonomy, humans are all of a kind. So that's an argument against bestiality, not miscegenation

The Sethites disobeyed and displeased God by terminating their separation, by allowing themselves to be seduced by the good looks of the godless Cainite women -- by biologically integrating with them in acts of sexual intercourse between the two breeds of men. The result of such activity, was a morally degenerate and hybrid breed of men who filled the Earth with violence, until God exterminated then in the death sentence of the Great Noachic Flood.

i) Sethites and Cainites aren't two different "breeds" of men, but the same biological breed. Lee is equivocating. 

ii) In addition, his appeal to variety is in tension with his apposition to hybrids. Hybrids add variety. Consider hybridization in horticulture. 

It is instructive to note Ham's sin against God and its consequences, when he vilely dishonoured his father Noah. 
When one considers Extra-Biblical History, it is remarkable that all the great monotheistic world religions started in the tents of Shem -- namely, pure Old Testament religion among the Semitic Jews; early pure Christianity among the Semitic Ex-Judaists; and later even apostate Islam among the Semitic Arabs. It is also remarkable that God truly enlarge the Caucasian or Japhethitic white race -- which, by and large, has until recently progressively more and more dwelt in the religious tents of Shem since making the acquaintance of Christianity. And it is equally remarkable that the dark-skinned races of the world have, on the whole, been culturally and especially technologically backward -- alienated from the spiritual blessings of the tents of Shem, and until very recently the colonial servants of the Japhethitic white race and the vassals of the Semitic Arab slave-traders.
But here at Babel, we find disobedient men defying God in Heaven, and making a name for themselves on Earth by sticking together in a cosmopolitan city -- lest they be scattered over the whole Earth. Here we find an early example of unbiblical ecumenicity, a sort of 'United Nations Organization' for a godless one-world government under the leadership of the African Hamite Nimrod the Ethiopian.

A fundamental problem with his appeal is that the Table of Nations isn't subdivided by race, but geography. Hamites aren't a racial category. As one scholar notes:

The basic coverage is northeast Africa, Arabia/Levant, and Mesopotamia, with outliers to the north and east. K. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003), 436.

Is Lee going to contend that all the inhabitants of northeast Africa, Arabia, the Levant, and Mesopotamia were negroid?  

When Israel's or Jacob's son Joseph and later his children went and dwelt in Egypt for some four hundred years, they long maintained themselves racially and residentially -- separate from the Egyptians. Even when they left under Moses -- the 600,000 pure Israelites are mentioned separately from the much less numerous "mixed multitude" that accompanied them. On their journey through the wilderness back to Palestine, they were to preserve their racial and religious identity (and sometimes even to eradicate their enemies). And this principle was enshrined also into the Mosaic Law.

That's demonstrably false. The Mosaic law made allowance for Gentiles to convert to Judaism and become incorporated in the covenant community. Indeed, Rahab is a paradigm-case. 

This Solomon married scores of foreign wives, though only to create political liaisons. Nevertheless, the degeneration which this caused--soon split the kingdom.
In the days of Nehemiah, although many of the people "had separated themselves from the people of the lands unto the Law of God" and promised "that we would not give our daughters to the people of the land nor take their daughters for our sons"63 -- Nehemiah still saw "Jews that had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon and of Moab." He noted that "their children spoke half in the speech of Ashdod.They could not speak in the Jews' language, but according to the language of each people."

That fails to respect the elemental distinction between interracial marriage and interfaith marriage. 

Sexual and racial differences--for "Can the Ethiopian change his skin?" -- are unalterable and genetically predetermined creational categories.

Assuming that we define race in biological rather than sociological categories, racial diversity is not unalterable or creational. Lee himself espouses monogenism rather than polygenism.

From what I've read, racial variation is a natural adaptation to climatic variation. Moreover, Lee opposes miscegenation precisely because it demonstrates the fact that race is fluid rather than fixed.   

Perhaps also as a further development of the tower of Babel, the words of Paul in his address on Mars' Hill to the Athenians -- words going back to creation, and going forward into the future too -- seem to support the above view. There he declared that the Triune God of variety in unity "made all nations of men, for to dwell on the whole surface of the Earth -- and has determined the times before appointed and the boundaries of their habitation."25 Paul distinctly declares here that God made all the nations "to dwell on all the surface of the Earth". God made them for the purpose that they might leave one another, spread out, and be separated by the boundaries of their habitation -- made them in order that they should become nations. And God pre-ordained, "before appointed," that each of these nations would have its own time of activity and place of operations in God's world programme for which God "made...all nations" – made them in creation, quite apart from their later fall into sin.
In Deut. 32:8, Afrikaner Calvinists will tell you, it specifically states that when God divided the nations He did so according to the number of the tribes of Israel. In other words, the segregation of the nations by God into the different tribes and nations, took place so as to promote the expansion of the covenant people.
As a Biblically-oriented philosopher and theologian, the writer believers Holy Scripture teaches that racial and national differences are God-given, and should therefore be preserved -- and not be eradicated or even treated as unimportant. The writer further believes Holy Scripture teaches that any transgression of any Biblical principles, including Biblical principles for national and racial conduct -- any transgression by either an individual or a government -- renders the transgressor subject to the wrathful judgment of an angry God.

i) There's an equivocation between race, ethnicity, and nationality. These aren't interchangeable categories. Some nations are racially or ethnically diverse.

ii) If Lee is claiming that nationalism is predestined, then that's self-defeating for his thesis. For every outcome is predestined. Border wars that redraw national boundaries are predestined. Events (e.g. war, famine) which trigger mass migration are predestined. Ethnically/racially heterogenous countries are no less predestined than ethnically/racially homogenous countries. 

6. Finally, I'm going to propose my own theory of what motivated apartheid. 

i) If you do much reading in South African history, one thing which comes through loud and clear is the belief that, throughout their history, Afrikaners have been in a constant struggle for survival. At different points in their history, real or potential threats to their survival have come from a variety of adversaries, viz. Dutch imperialism, British imperialism, Islam, Cold War Communism, the UN, Zulu warriors. 

In the context of this overarching narrative, the impression I get is that what motivated apartheid wasn't theology. Rather, Afrikaners resorted to separatism to maintain their national identity and political autonomy. It reflects a certain siege mentality. Africa is a dangerous continent. Life is precarious. Apartheid was a policy of self-preservation. How a religious and ethnic minority group could resist assimilation. I view the theological arguments are ex post facto rationalizations for an essentially pragmatic policy.  

ii) From what I've read, apartheid wasn't a fundamentally black/white contrast, but an Afrikaner/non-Afrikaner contrast. The volk v. the outgroup, viz. Uitlanders, Brits, Zulus, Anglicans.

iii) Up to a point, there's nothing wrong with Afrikaners wanting to practice their faith or protect their way of life. The problem is when religious identity is conflated with racial identity. Likewise, the method was wrong. Apartheid went well beyond self-defense. It became very oppressive. 

Do babies have a right to life?

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Irreligion and violence

I'm going to comment on Keith Parsons' alarmist screed:

1) When someone challenges your religion, they appear to denigrate your customs, traditions, community, history, and your whole way of living. It feels like they are being ethnocentric and condescending. If someone insults your religion, it can feel like they are insulting your family, and, in a sense, they are. The Apostle Paul spoke of fellow believers as his brothers and sisters in Christ, and the family metaphor is apt. A perceived insult to one’s biological or religious family can provoke a violent response.

This assumes that, as a matter of fact, Christians take an attack on Christian theology as personally as they take an attack on one's own mother. Where's the empirical evidence that, in fact, most Christians make the same emotional connection that Parsons is laboring to make?  

2) Challenging religion can appear subversive, an attempt to dissolve the glue of society and sow discord. The low will be incited to indulge their envy of the high, and the high will be left with no means of preserving their position except by brutal repression. If you take away their pie in the sky, the lowly will fight to get it now by any means necessary, and the high will fight to hold on by any means necessary.

Once again, that's just armchair psychology. In the US, atheists have been denigrating Christianity for a very long time. Take Madalyn Murray O'Hair, Robert Ingersoll, or H. L. Mencken–to name a few. Where's the empirical evidence that they were "brutally repressed"? 

3) Anyone who questions your religion seems to be attempting to relegate you to insignificance. Nobody likes to be made to feel that they do not matter. If your religion is what gives you a sense of meaning in life, then, you will surely bitterly resent anyone who seemingly wants to deny you that comfort.

Unless we respect them, why would we respect their opinion of us? What makes Parsons suppose Christian self-esteem is contingent on the approval of atheists? 

4) Unfortunately, biases are all too often among the beliefs that religion reinforces. Among the comforts that religion offers is the reassurance that God hates the same people you do. Indeed, if God hates, say, liberals, feminists, evolutionists, environmentalists, gays, lesbians, atheists, Democrats, and smarty-pants college professors, then you have a duty to hate them too. I have on my office door a hilarious picture of a horrid Phyllis Schlafly-type woman saying “God told me to hate you.” Religion did not create hatred, but it can make is so much easier and more fun to hate. It makes it easier and more fun by combining the pleasure of hating with the pleasure of self-righteousness.

If Phyllis Schlafly is the worst thing he has to worry about, he doesn't have much to worry about. Does she have a history of fomenting violence against atheists? 
Ironically, Parsons is a stellar example of a self-righteous atheist who despises Christians. 
5) As with every topic, St. Thomas Aquinas was impeccably logical when discussing heresy. In the 13th Century murderers were always and everywhere put to death. Yet, notes Aquinas, the murderer only destroys the body. The heretic does not destroy merely the mortal body, but leads the immortal soul into perdition. The heretic is therefore far more dangerous and despicable than the murderer, and far more worthy of being punished by death. If you accept Aquinas’s premises, this conclusion is inescapable. If eternal punishment is the consequence of departing from true belief, then must we not oppose the spread of false doctrine by any and all means? If you accept this conclusion, the stake and the rack cannot be far behind.

Of course, medieval Catholicism was very authoritarian. Unquestioning submission to your religious superiors. 

By contrast, Protestant theology accentuates the necessity of personal conviction. External conformity is no substitute for genuine faith. Coercion is not persuasion. 

Religion is the high-octane fuel of ideologies. It touches deep things, like personal and collective identity, fears and hopes, and a fundamental sense of worth and security. Carelessly or maliciously handled, religion can be explosive. A Bible or Koran in the wrong hands has done, and is doing, vast amounts of harm. I would recommend putting a warning label on every Bible sold: "Warning: Use with extreme caution. Do not take literally. Do not take with self-righteousness. Admits of very different interpretations. Misuse can result in symptoms including but not restricted to genocide, persecution, crusade, intolerance, obscurantism, sexism, homophobia, and racism."

i) One could just as well say we should put a warning label on The Communist Manifesto. Consider the humanitarian devastation that wrought. 

ii) Parsons also assumes, without benefit of argument, that "persecution, intolerance, homophobia" &c. are bad consequences of religion. But many atheists espouse moral skepticism, moral relativism, or moral nihilism. So he needs to explain the secular basis for his value judgments. 

Thanks for the comments and clarification, but I think that you are still underplaying the particular potential of religion to incite violence. Of course, John Locke, in "A Letter Concerning Toleration" makes the same point as Lactantius: Force can only make people into hypocrites who say the right things to avoid harm while sill disbelieving. True religious commitment requires an unforced assent.Fine, but I still have to wonder whether the "no coercion" policy is really grounded in principle or whether it is based on an empirical claim that, as a matter of fact, force does not work. As a matter of fact, it might. The most terrifying sentence in Orwell's 1984 is the final one: "He loved Big Brother." The point was that torture, systematically and "scientifically" applied could not only bring about external assent, but change perception. If you are tortured severely enough, Orwell implied, you may be able actually to think that 2 + 2 = 5. Suppose Orwell is right and it is discovered that belief can be coerced. What would the Christian response be?So long as eternal destiny hinges upon a decision--the decision whether or not to accept Christian salvation--just how far can one go in good conscience to make sure that someone makes the "right" decision? If not outright violence, how about extreme persuasion, using all the tools of propaganda and manipulation so artfully developed by advertisers and politicians? We live in an environment where, whatever you do, you can hardly escape advertising. If in doubt, check the distracting and moronic ads running right now on this site. Why not 24/7 hard-sell proselytizing? I understand that there is something now called "The Good News Movement" that aims at evangelizing elementary-school children? Is this OK? Doesn't the logic of Christian theism imply that if one child is saved from eternal perdition, then hard-core propagandizing of kids is OK?

Committed atheists think society has a huge stake in the success or failure of atheism to inform social policy. They think Christian theology poses a clear and present danger to human flourishing or the very survival of the human race: 

When belief in ancient myths joins with other negative forces in our society, they hinder the world from advancing scientifically, economically, and socially at a time when a rapid advancement in these areas is absolutely essential for the survival of humanity. We now may be only about a generation or two away from the catastrophic problems predicted to result from global warming, pollution, and overpopulation. Our children and grandchildren could be faced with flooded coastal areas, severe climatic changes, epidemics caused by overcrowding, and increased starvation for much of humanity. Such disasters would generate worldwide conflict on a scale that is likely to exceed that of the great twentieth-century wars, possibly with nuclear weapons in the hands of unstable nations and terrorist groups.
By Parsons' own logic, atheists have an incentive to suppress Christianity by any means necessary. 

Elect infants

i) The eternal fate of those who die before they can exercise saving faith isn't an issue unique to Calvinism. For instance, John Wesley, in his Treatise on Baptism, says:

As to the grounds of it: If infants are guilty of original sin, then they are proper subjects of baptism; seeing, in the ordinary way, they cannot be saved, unless this be washed away by baptism. It has been already proved, that this original stain cleaves to every child of man; and that hereby they are children of wrath, and liable to eternal damnation. It is true, the Second Adam has found a remedy for the disease which came upon all by the offense of the first. But the benefit of this is to be received through the means which he hath appointed; through baptism in particular, which is the ordinary means he hath appointed for that purpose; and to which God hath tied us, though he may not have tied himself. Indeed, where it cannot be had, the case is different, but extraordinary cases do not make void a standing rule. This therefore is our First ground. Infants need to be washed from original sin; therefore they are proper subjects of baptism.

ii) For his part, Warfield summarizes no fewer than five different positions in Reformed historical theology, of which I'll comment on two:

Many held that faith and the promise are sure signs of election, and accordingly all believers and their children are certainly saved ; but that the luck of faith and the promise is an equally sure sign of reprobation, so that all the children of unbelievers, dying such, are equally certainly lost. 
More held that faith and the promise are certain signs of election, so that the salvation of believers' children is certain, while the lack of the promise only leaves us in ignorance of God's purpose; nevertheless that there is good ground for asserting that both election and reprobation have place in this unknown sphere. Accordingly they held that all the infants of believers, dying such, are saved, but that some of the infants of unbelievers, dying such, are lost. Warfield, Studies in Theology, 9:432-33.

i) It's not clear from this why some Reformed theologians tie the fate of dying infants to their parentage. This may be related to the argument for infant baptism, where parents sponsor their children. Or the notion that children of believing parents are in the covenant by virtue of their parentage–and thereby suitable baptismal candidates. In both cases we have a representative principle at work. 

There are, however, problems with tying the fate of dying infants to their parentage:

ii) What if one parent is elect, but the other is reprobate? How to split the difference? 

iii) Election can, and sometimes does, cut across family lies. The following combinations are possible, and actually play out in various cases:

a) Elect children of elect parents

b) Elect children of reprobate parents

c) Reprobate children of elect parents

d) Reprobate children of reprobate parents

Given that fact, it's unclear why some would argue that the eternal fate of dying infants is tied to the spiritual status of their parents. 

iv) It might be argued that God is more likely to save the children of believers. 

Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth: so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word (WCF 10.3). 
i) I don't know for a fact why the Westminster Divines settled on this ambiguous formulation. Perhaps that's covered in the minutes of the Westminster Assembly. The historical question doesn't interest me that much. I'm guessing there were two reasons for the studied ambiguity. 
a) Since Scripture doesn't specifically address this issue, the Westminster Divines thought it best to be circumspect in how much they said on the subject.
b) As a consensus document, the Westminster Confession must sometimes finesse disagreements among different parties or individuals at the Westminster Assembly. 
ii) The formulation is committed to the existence of heavenbound dying infants. And the formulation is amendable to two additional, but opposing views:
a) All dying infants are elect
b) Some dying infants are reprobate
Both (a) and (b) are logically consistent with the Confessional wording. Neither (a) or (b) is logically entailed by the Confessional wording. Beyond a certain point, the Confession is noncommittal. It doesn't imply the salvation of all dying infants or the damnation of some dying infants. Rather, it leaves that an open question.
Many professing Christians, as well as many opponents of the Christian faith, find the whole subject of infant damnation morally appalling. This is sometimes caricatured as babies roasting in hell. I'll just make a few brief points:
i) It seems a bit ad hoc to claim that if Attila the Hun died at 5, he'd go to heaven–but if he died at 25, he'd go to hell. That makes damnation a misfortune of timing. 
ii) As I've discussed on several occasions, there's no reason to think hell is the same for all the damned. Dante popularized the notion of hell as physical torture, but that's a literary tradition. 
iii) Assuming (ex hypothesi) that some who die before the age of discretion are damned, that doesn't mean they remain in the psychological condition in which they died. There's no reason go think death freezes the decedent in the physical or mental condition he was in at the time of death. To take a comparison, if a Christian dies in a state of advanced senile dementia, that hardly means he will be senile for all eternity. Heaven is restorative. 
By the same token, if Attila the Hun died at 5 and went to hell, I take that to mean that he'd mature psychologically. But he'd mature without common grace or special grace. His eternal condition would be characterized by the absence of grace. There'd be nothing to mitigate his sinful predisposition. It doesn't require any external punitive environment. Rather, it's a deprivation.

Of blastocysts and embryos

A reminder from Wesley J. Smith: "Waddya Know: A Blastocyst IS an Embryo!"

(A minor quibble: I don't agree blastocyst = embryo. But this is a matter of technical terminology or semantics if you like. Smith's main point more than stands.)

Be Prepared To Address Polygamy

Polygamy has been in the news lately. As the polygamist movement gains more legal victories and advances in other segments of our culture, we'll have to address the issue more than we have in the past. How prepared are you to do that? Here's an article I wrote several years ago about the Biblical and patristic evidence against polygamy. (I interact with some defenders of polygamy in the comments section of the thread.) And here's an article Matthew Schultz wrote about polygamy and the Bible. I've written some posts about mistakes Christians and their allies have made in the dispute over same-sex marriage, and it's important that we avoid those mistakes when addressing polygamy. See, for example, here, here, and here.

“The mandate to create includes a mandate to display the glory of God”

Human beings have an aesthetic need built into their being…
Stephen Wolfe works to define a Groundwork for a Reformed Theology of Public Aesthetics.
How one ought to love one’s neighbor is the subject of much discussion in Christianity.... What is often left out in these discussions is the aesthetic demands of loving one’s neighbor. We always ask, what ought we do? or what ought we think? But why not the question, how ought things look? Following much modernist thought, Reformed Christians have separated the aesthetic from the ethical and, I submit, the Gospel. We have come to believe that only ideas are formative of character, virtue, and holiness in a community. My contention in this post is that human beings—as created beings meant to belong in creation—have an aesthetic need built into their being. I also argue that loving one’s neighbor includes seeking to fulfill this aesthetic need through proper community and town/city development. In addition, I argue that the modern view of nature as something other than and separate from man is problematic and must be rejected.

We should keep in mind that the Son of God did not come to earth simply to show the way of righteousness, or even just to bear the sins of humankind. He came to restore creation and finish the work that God set for Adam. To love God and to love man is not simply to fulfill a set of disconnected ethical demands, but to work toward the original intent of creation, namely, to build beautiful and harmonious communities that express a love for God and each other. The ultimate demand of God for humankind is a unity of the aesthetic and the ethical. We are not simply to love, but to love with beauty….

This is an important concept because, as he says, “Reformed theology rejects the nature/grace dualism of medieval theology. This theology, made explicit by Thomas Aquinas, states that even prior to sin, nature required a superadded feature, namely, grace in order to keep it from falling. In other words, nature did not have an original integrity; it required an addition supernatural category to remain away from corruption.”

On the contrary, Genesis relates in many places that God’s creation was “good”, “good”, and “very good”. As I’ve related earlier:

The typical Reformed understanding is that Adam was created upright, or righteous, and that God justified, or declared righteous, the initial creation as well as man in his declaration that everything was “very good” (Gen 1:31). We see the Westminster Larger Catechism (q. 17) echo this point when it states that God created man in “righteousness, and holiness, having the law of God written in their hearts, and the power to fulfill it” (John Fesko, in “Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing Company, pg 372).

Stephen argues that the goodness, righteousness, and holiness extend to all of creation. “Reformed theology rejected this [Medieval/Thomist] dualism by positing that nature has its own integrity, that it does not require a superadded supernatural category to be good.” Read the entire article here.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Abortion and infant salvation

Some Christians espouse two positions: (i) they oppose abortion; (ii) they espouse universal infant salvation. 
Some proabortionists recast this as a dilemma for Christians: if you espouse universal infant salvation, then you ought to support abortion, for abortion ensures their salvation. 
Obviously, this is not a dilemma for Christians who espouse (i) but don't espouse (ii). But what about Christians who espouse both?
To even begin to make this a true dilemma, we need to add a missing premise. A Christian would also have to believe the following: If the same person who died in childhood died later, he'd be damned. 
In other words, if you die in childhood, you go to heaven. But if you die later, you may wind up in hell. Once you pass the age of discretion or age of accountability, you are suddenly at risk of damnation. You lose your chronological immunity to damnation. You acquire that fearful liability. 
And there may, indeed, be Christians who think this way. Of course, that may be because they haven't thought it through.
I'd simply point out that that's not a necessary implication of universal infant salvation. Universal infant salvation doesn't entail that if everyone who died in childhood died later, some of them would go to hell. Universal infant salvation doesn't imply that there's a subset of infants who, if they hadn't died in infancy, would be damned.
Although that's logically consistent with universal infant salvation, it's also logically consistent with universal infant salvation that only those who actually die in infancy are automatically heavenbound.
Put another way, a Christian who espouses universal infant salvation could, in principle, believe that anyone who is heavenbound as an infant is heavenbound as an adult. Anyone who would have gone to heaven had he died in infancy would likewise go to heaven had he died later.
Of course, that's speculative, but then, the alternative is speculative. And we shouldn't kill people based on unverifiable conjectures. 
Thus far I haven't said anything that turns on the Arminian/Calvinist debate. But I'd add that, from a Reformed perspective, salvation or damnation doesn't turn on lucky or unlucky timing. From a Reformed perspective, your eternal fate was sealed before you ever came into existence. Dying young or old doesn't ipso facto change that. 
At most, it would be a question of whether, in his providence, God takes some of the elect to himself sooner rather than later because, counterfactually speaking, had they lived longer, they'd suffer a crisis of faith. 
There are, of course, Christians who think a born-again believer can lose his salvation. If they also believe in universal infant salvation, then they may believe that some people lose their salvation when they grow up. And that's a pressure point when it comes to abortion.
Mind you, they could still take the position that it's not our prerogative to take life absent divine authorization. The ends don't justify murder. 

The Prince of Peace

As Christians, we know that there is a Prince of Peace who came to set right what humanity continues to destroy through oppression, injustice, and violence.
It's striking how often pacifists mouth this messianic title out of context. They imagine that "Prince of Peace" means Jesus is a peacenik. But consider the title in its original setting:

3 You have multiplied the nation;    you have increased its joy;they rejoice before you    as with joy at the harvest,    as they are glad when they divide the spoil.4 For the yoke of his burden,    and the staff for his shoulder,    the rod of his oppressor,    you have broken as on the day of Midian.5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult    and every garment rolled in blood    will be burned as fuel for the fire.6 For to us a child is born,    to us a son is given;and the government shall be upon his shoulder,    and his name shall be calledWonderful Counselor, Mighty God,    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.(Isa 9:3-6) 

In this passage, the messiah is a divine warrior. He's a "prince of peace" in the sense that peace is the end-result of defeating the enemy by military means. V3 refers to plundering the vanquished enemy. The proverbial spoils of war. The "day of Midian" alludes to battles in Judges 6-8. The bloodstained garments reflect hand-to-hand combat. Burning the military hardware was part and parcel of holy war. Dedicating to God a portion of the plunder (cf. Josh 11:6,9). The imagery is thoroughly militaristic. 

How should Christians respond to ISIS?

"Science flies us to the moon–religion flies us into buildings"

I'm going to comment on some statements by the late Victor Stenger in The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Reason and Science (Prometheus Books 2009), 59. 
We trust scientific method, logic, and mathematics because they work. They give us answers that we can independently test against objective observations. They give us electric lights, computers, and cell phones. 
i) Is there just one scientific method?
ii) Apropos (i), seems to me that there's a distinction between great scientists and average workaday scientists. The average scientist is methodical. But great scientists operate more from intuition. Flashes of insight. Take Einstein's thought experiments involving clocks, trains, elevators, or riding a light beam. Is that a method? 
A method is reproducible. A set of instructions. Just follow the instructions. Do it yourself. 
But the average scientist can't imitate Einstein. Einstein had a remarkable knack for visualizing physics. That's not a method–that's a talent. Ironically, as Einstein got older, he became more methodical, but less insightful. 
Same thing with Newton's cannon, Schrödinger’s cat, and the EPR paradox. Is that a method? 
What about Feynman's sum-over-histories interpretation of quantum mechanics? In a sense, that's a method. But how did he arrive at that in the first place? Was there a method by which he hit on that interpretation? 
Or take this example:  
I was in the cafeteria and some guy, fooling around, throws a plate in the air. As the plate went up in the air I saw it wobble, and I noticed the red medallion of Cornell on the plate going around. It was pretty obvious to me that the medallion went around faster than the wobbling. I had nothing to do, so I start figuring out the motion of the rotating plate. I discovered that when the angle is very slight, the medallion rotates twice as fast as the wobble rate—two to one. It came out of a complicated equation! I went on to work out equations for wobbles. Then I thought about how the electron orbits start to move in relativity.

How many physicists sitting in a cafeteria would draw that analogy? Is that a method? Great scientists employ analogical reasoning. They discern parallels which lesser scientists don't notice. Like Newton's bucket. That's a real experiment. A simple experiment. Anyone can do it. What made it special was not the experiment itself, but Newton's extrapolation. He used that as a springboard for a thought-experiment. One which, in turn, proved to be a stimulus to Mach and Einstein. 

Great scientists resort to thought-experiments, in part because that's a short-cut, and in part because the technology may not exist to perform a real experiment. So they have to experiment in their heads. For instance, the double-slit experiment was originally a thought-experiment. When Feynman proposed it, the technology did not exist to do it for real. 

iii) Do we trust logic because it works? How could we tell what works apart from logic? What works doesn't prove logic; rather, logic proves what works. There's no way to "independently test logic against objective observations," for that comparison depends on logic from the get-go.  

iv) Do we trust math because it works? If math didn't work, how could we tell? Not by taking measurements to see if math matches our measurements, for measurement depends on math.

How can we independently test math against objective observations? Suppose I observe some marbles. How many? Are there five marbles or six? Unless I have a preconception of number, I can't count how many marbles there are. Absent math, I can't register their number. How does Stenger think math works in that setting? How could he ever detect a mismatch between math and how many marbles there really are? 

Science flies us to the moon. Religion flies us into buildings.
That's a catchy slogan. Appealing to the rabble. 
i) From a Christian standpoint, that's a false antithesis. Absent God, there'd be no moon, no astronauts, no rocket scientists. No electricity. God is the ultimate source of science and scientists. God is the ultimate source of logic, mathematics, and the physical world. 
ii) It wasn't religionists in general who flew airplanes into buildings. It was Muslims in particular. A very specific theology. 
iii) Yes, science flies us to the moon. Science also gives us tanks, missiles, stealth bombers, battleships, bioweapons, chemical weapons, thermonuclear weapons, and predator drones. In future, it may give us orbital weapons.