Monday, December 28, 2015

Navajo witchcraft

Sean Gerety has attempted to respond to my post:

His reply is larded with irrelevancies. If I posted a recipe for peanut butter cookies, Sean would try to link it to the Clark controversy. 

even one who tells us there is “extrabiblical evidence” for the possible existence of shapeshifters (can Big Foot be far behind)…
Both questions are evidential questions. How to sift evidence. How to evaluate the credibility of alleged eyewitnesses. 
This makes sense since he believes in the probable existence of shapeshifters. 
I never said I believe they probably exist:
i) This might be an urban legend that feeds on itself thanks to horror films. 
ii) This might be a tall tale for tourist consumption.

iii) This might be a tall tale to intimate rival members of the Navajo community.
iv) This might be for real.

When dealing with reported occult entities, one question is the setting. Is the setting a plausible environment in which we might expect occult entities to manifest themselves? Likewise, do we have any reliable sources of information? It's difficult to acquire information on Navajo witchcraft for several reasons: the reservation is a fairly closed society. The subject is taboo. If they exist, practitioners engage in illegal actives, like grave-robbery, or murdering a relative as a rite of initiation. It will be difficult to penetrate that subculture and get to the bottom of things. 
Take the classic monograph on Navaho Witchcraft (1944) by Harvard anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn, who lived on the Navajo reservation, learned the Navajo language, and studied their traditions.  
According to his informants, Navajo witches practice sympathetic magic (spells and effigies). Likewise, they report the existence of were-animals. 
Is that credible? Hard to say. The Biblical worldview includes occult entities. Certainly there are people who practice black magic. Some witches will commit murder if they think they can get away with it. The question is what paranormal abilities sorcery can confer on practitioners. On a prima facie reading of Exod 7-8, that includes metamorphic abilities. According to Ezk 13, that includes the ability to strike people dead through magic spells. You also have reports of foreign missionaries and exorcists. I don't know the full extent of what's possible. Likewise, the fact that something is possible doesn't mean any particular report is reliable. 
That's how intelligent Christians evaluate such claims. By contrast, Sean simply resorts to posturing. He wants to appear rational, but his actual behavior is anti-intellectual. It's just like village atheists who labor to project an image of rationality, even though their discourse is patently irrational. 

First, neither Clark nor Robbins nor any Scripturalist I’ve ever met has any problems with the opening words of WCF 1; they simply refuse to impose empirical presuppositions on the text as Hays so foolishly has done.  Instead, Clark writes in the opening pages of What Do Presbyterians Believe (which evidently would exclude Hays):
Is it not possible that knowledge of God is innate? May we not have been born with an intuition of God, and with this *a priori* equipment we see the glory of God upon the heavens? In this way we would not be forced to the peculiar position that the Apostle Paul was giving his advance approval to the Aristotelian intricacies of Thomas Aquinas.
… In the act of creation God implanted in man knowledge of His existence.  Romans 1:32 and 2:15 seem to indicate that God also implanted some knowledge of morality. We are born with this knowledge; it is not manufactured out of sensory experience.
Problem with Sean is that he has no idea how to exegete a text. The question at issue isn't Clark's epistemology, but the epistemology of the Westminster Divines. Even if you think Clark had the right epistemology, it hardly follows that the Westminster Divines shared the same epistemology. When interpreting the Westminster Confession, the salient question is not what a 20C philosopher (Clark) believed but what this 17C text means. Not what the readers believe, but what the authors believe. It's a pretty elementary distinction in hermeneutics, which Sean fails to grasp.
The obvious problem with Clark's interpretation is that the text separates the "light of nature" from the "works of creation and providence" as two (or three) different sources of natural revelation. Even if the "light of nature" refers to intuitive knowledge, the goodness, the divine attributes manifested in the works of creation and providence are distinct from the "light of nature" in the text. These aren't interchangeable sources of natural revelation. If the "light of nature" denotes intuition or innate knowledge, then the manifestation of God's attributes in the works of create and providence must denote sense knowledge acquired through direct observation and testimonial evidence. Clark is superimposing on the text a gloss at variance with the wording of the text. 
First, Hays errs by not including man as one of the things that “have been made” and thinks he can see with the eyes in his head what Paul tells us is invisible. 
i) When Paul says we can see the unseen God, that's a paradox: a figure of speech. 
ii) The question at issue is not whether we can physically see God, but whether we can infer God's existence from the natural world. 
Second, this innate intuition of God is something God shows man and is not something man infers from observing the “empirical evidence.” 
A false dichotomy. We can perceive or discern what God shows us. 
Rather, the Confession begins, in good Clarkian fashion, by positing the truth of the Holy Scriptures and then inferring God from them; along with the entire system of doctrine outlined in the Confession. 
i) That's demonstrably false. Read the first clause of WCF 1. It begins with an appeal to natural revelation. It states the sufficiency of natural revelation to render sinners inexcusable, but the insufficiency of natural revelation to afford saving knowledge. 
ii) BTW, Sean's appeal to the Westminster Confession contradicts his own epistemology. Sean scorns extrabiblical evidence. Yet the Westminster Confession is an extrabiblical object. The Westminster Confession is nowhere mentioned or quoted in Scripture. So Sean's only possible source of knowledge for the existence as well as the content of the Westminster Confession comes from extrabiblical evidence. 
This is one of Sean's chronic problems. He's not sharp enough to apprehend the inconsistencies in his own position, but when someone does him the favor of pointing that out, his response is to repeat the same mistake. 
iii) In addition, Sean is very enamored with the phrase "magic lizard people." But, of course, unbelievers are fond of using the same type of rhetoric to ridicule talking snakes, talking donkeys, magic trees, angelic apparitions, and the virgin birth. 
I quoted Clark's statement that “Assent can never be hypocritical, for it is the voluntary act of according belief to a given proposition” (Today’s Evangelism: Counterfeit or Genuine?), 69.
To which Sean replies: That one is easy and the question itself belies Hays rejection of the Reformed doctrine of perseverance of the saints and a proper understanding of the Confessional doctrine of saving faith. Whether someone holds to the traditional and tautological threefold definition of saving faith, or Clark’s biblical two-fold alternative, it’s not always easy to tell the true believer from the feigned variety. 
Sean is still too slow on the uptake to get it. The question at issue isn't what I believe regarding the relationship between saving faith and the perseverance of the saints, but whether Sean's own position is contradictory. Clark says assent can never be "hypocritical", yet Sean says Sudduth's faith was "feigned."  It doesn't occur to Sean that a hypocritical faith and a feigned faith are synonymous, yet Clark denies what Sean affirms. Sean can never catch up with the actual state of the argument.
I remember Sudduth publicly flying off the handle years ago on a Yahoo Group’s Clark discussion group at Robbins. 
Notice how Sean unconsciously appeals to extrabiblical evidence, even though he disavows extrabiblical evidence. Sean's source of information about Sudduth is entirely derived from extrabiblical evidence, yet Sean is typically oblivious to how his confident appeal contradicts his stated epistemology. 
Oh, brother.  It also seems Hays does think the Amityville Horror is real too, writing:
There’s a difference between the horror film and the alleged experience on which it was loosely based. I haven’t studied that in-depth.
Is Sean just illiterate? I didn't say I think it's real. I gave a qualified, noncommittal response. 
Of course, Sudduth’s experience provides no evidence at all. 
For the record, here's the statement in question:
My two years in Windsor, Connecticut deepened my long-standing and recently re-wakened interest in survival. Within a couple of days of moving into the early Federal-style home built by Eliakim Mather Olcott in 1817, my wife and I (and dog) began to experience a combination of prototypical haunting and poltergeist phenomena. Although we critically investigated the various phenomena as they occurred, we were unable to trace the phenomena to natural causes. Given the fairly astonishing nature of some of the phenomena, my curiosity about our experiences peaked and I began research into the history of the home and the experiences of its former residents. This led to what has been a ten-year long investigation, including interviews with former residents, visitors to the home, and acquaintances of residents as far back as the 1930s.   My inquiry turned up testimony from several prior occupants to experiencing phenomena identical, even in detail, to the phenomena my wife and I experienced. What I found equally fascinating, though, was the fact that occupants of the home prior to 1969, including long-term residents, claimed not to have experienced anything unusual. 1969 was the year resident Walter Callahan Sr. committed suicide in the home. In this way, the pattern of experiences surrounding the home fit a more widespread pattern in which ostensibly place-centered paranormal phenomena are associated with a suicide or other tragic event at the location.

What's especially striking about this testimonial evidence is that Michael has become very hostile to the postmortem survival of personal consciousness. Yet based on his firsthand experience and subsequent research, the obvious explanation is that this house was haunted by the ghost (disembodied soul) of a former owner who committed suicide. 

Back to Sean:

...the dead do not roam the earth and what Sudduth experienced, and evidently continues to experience, supplies no evidence whatsoever for “postmortem survival.”  With the possible exception of the transfiguration, Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus should have been enough to settle that question even for someone who once pretended to be a Christian.  What Sudduth claims to be valid evidence for life after death, Jesus said is impossible (Luke 16:26).
That's deeply confused:
i) To begin with, Lk 16:26 doesn't say there's a barrier between the realm of the living and the realm of the dead, but a barrier within the realm of the dead between the saints and the damned.
ii) In addition, does Sean think the topography of the Netherworld in Lk 16 describes literal geological barriers? 
iii) In fact, Lk 16:31 ironically foreshadows the disbelief of Jews who were unconvinced by the Resurrection. The parable anticipates a paradigm case of someone returning from the grave to bear witness to the living. Far from being impossible, that actually happened. 
iv) What about OT prohibitions against necromancy? But if it's impossible to successfully initiate contact with the dead, what's the point of the prohibitions? 
v) Moreover, we have an actual example in 1 Sam 28. 


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  2. Yeah, I'm waiting on that peanut butter cookies recipe.

  3. Sean wrote: Hays spends the bulk of his reply venting his infected spleen on all things even remotely related to the late Gordon Clark.

    It seems to me it's Sean who's obsessed with the Clark/Van Til controversy. Also, if anyone is venting it seems like it's Sean. Since he's the one who first posted a blogpost in response to Steve and connecting Steve's blogpost with Van Til even though it had NOTHING to do with Van Til. It seems it is Sean who is (to use his words) "venting his infected spleen on all things even remotely related to the late" Cornelius Van Til.

    Sean wrote: This makes sense since he believes in the probable existence of shapeshifters.

    This is another indication of poor reading skills on the part of Sean. Nowhere does Steve explicitly or implicitly state the probable existence of shapeshifters. Steve doesn't give a probability percentage. Much less one of 51% or more.

    Referring to me Sean wrote: Notice, according to this confused soul, the categorical and Confessional rejection of biblical paradoxes that are impervious to logical harmonization at the bar of human reason makes one a reprobate; one of the non-elect.

    Later wrote: In their arrogance Van Tillians like Pinoy (who describes himself on his website as a “Filipino … Baptistic … Charismatic … Van Tillian”) think that acceptance of irresolvable paradoxes in Scripture is what separates “the elect and the non-elect.”

    That's another example of poor thinking skills. I wrote that God could possibly use apparent contradictions to sift the elect and non-elect. That in no way implies that any professing Christian who believes there are no irresolvable apparent contradictions in Scripture is non-elect. That's a complete non-sequitur. Using Sean's use of logic, it follows that Presbyterians who claim paedobaptism is the truly Biblical position also teach [by good and necessary consequence] Credobaptists are reprobate. Come on, we all know that doesn't follow! Also, if Sean were to encounter an apparent Biblical contradiction which he couldn't presently resolve, would he suspend his belief in Scripture until he was able to resolve it? Or does Sean currently claim to have examined every possible apparent Biblical contradiction and to have resolved every one of them?


    1. Sean wrote: Of course, the Scriptures do teach there are no “apparent contradictions in the teachings of Scripture,” for our Lord said; “The Scriptures cannot be broken” and the Confession similarly asserts the meaning of God’s word is not manifold, but one.

      Sean just begs the question here. He eisegetes the text in his favor. For the Scripture to be consistent doesn't necessitate there are no (or cannot be any) apparent contradictions which cannot be [or haven't been] resolved in this life. That's another assumption on the part of Clarkians. Even assuming that every apparent contradiction and paradox could be resolved and understood by humans doesn't necessitate that it's necessarily possible in this Age. Maybe some can only be resolved/understood after the return of Christ by divine revelation or the testimony of the saints who lived during Biblical times [e.g. Peter could tell us exactly how often, when and where the cocks crowed]. Similarly, we do know that modern archaeology has uncovered historical facts which resolved apparent contradictions in Scripture that were irrresolvable in the 19th century. This question is for Clarkians, were atheists in the 19th century (and prior) justified in their rejection of Scripture's Divine origin and message if they (or their Christian neighbors) couldn't resolve an apparent Biblical contradiction or paradox at the time? I suspect Sean believes there are no irresolvable contradictions and paradoxes in Scripture out of respect and reverence for Scripture and God. It's an axiom for him, not something he's inductively proven for himself. However, his position would seem to make room for non-Christians to justifiably reject the Bible's claims of inspiration and divine origin so long as there is EVEN JUST ONE apparent Biblical contradiction or apparent paradox that has yet to be resolved. That would put a massive burden on Clarkians to shoulder [and I haven't been impressed by Clarkian exegesis].

      Clarkians virtually claim that Gordon Clark was the first to resolve the problem of evil (cf. his book God and Evil: The Problem Solved, which is actually chapter five of his book Religion, Reason, and Revelation). If so, then THAT was an apparent contradiction that wasn't resolved until the 20th century. Clarkians might say, their belief in Scripture's authority and consistency isn't dependent on their ability to demonstrate it. They take it by faith and as an axiom. But what good does that do for the non-Christians they witness to if a Clarkian can't resolve a particular problem to the non-Christian's satisfaction? Also, if Clarkians can take that by faith, why is it illegitimate for a Van Tillian to take it by faith that all apparent contradictions/paradoxes are resolveable by God even if not by man (at any given Age)? The Van Tillian position has the advantages of 1. not leaving room for non-Christians to reject Christianity based on a currently unresolved contradiction/paradox, and 2. Van Tillians not having the massive burden of having to solve every and all possible alleged contradictions/paradoxes.


    2. Sean, So, yes, I am critical of Hays favorably quoting Sudduth, a man who subjected the name of Jesus Christ to public ridicule and shame. Hays’ defense: “I quote Sudduth’s experience of living in a haunted house.” Oh, brother.

      Is Sean saying that you should never quote or take into consideration the possible full (or partial) truthful testimony or information/data of a non-Christian or a non-elect person?

      Sean wrote: According to Sudduth the “paranormal occurrences” he claims to have experienced are traced back to 1969 “the year resident Walter Callahan Sr. committed suicide in the home.” This poor delusional soul believes Walther was coming back to spook him and his former wife.

      The evidence for the paranormal from the testimonies of those who have encountered alleged instances can be separated from the particular interpretation of those encounters by those who experienced it. For example, say John Doe III inherited a house from his grandfather and while living in his grandfather's house he experiences poltergeist activity. He may rightly conclude that there is paranormal activity going on in the house, but wrongly interpret it as his grandfather's ghost trying to communicate with him. Rather it could be demons, or some other paranormal options which may be consistent with Christianity.

      Sean wrote: Now, I have no problem saying that Sudduth has a long history of flirting with demons and demonic forces, he does, but the dead do not roam the earth and what Sudduth experienced, and evidently continues to experience, supplies no evidence whatsoever for “postmortem survival.”

      If Sean is willing to grant that Sudduth flirted with demons and demonic forces, is he also willing to grant that demons could have instigated the haunting of Sudduth's former house? If not, why not?

      Regarding the idea that souls of deceased humans can roam the earth, I have no dogmatic position. I don't think it's impossible from a Biblical point of view. Regarding the the OT prohibition against necromancy, it's interesting that God in the OT doesn't state it's impossible. Along with the prohibition why didn't God categorically state that it's metaphysically impossible to communicate with the dead? Why didn't God correct this presumably pagan belief 1. in ghosts and 2. in the possibility of contacting them?

      For the record, my initial comments and reaction to Sean's first blogpost can read HERE

    3. I wrote: But what good does that do for the non-Christians they witness to if a Clarkian can't resolve a particular problem to the non-Christian's satisfaction?

      Someone might say that Clarkians are not required to resolve any apparent contradiction to the satisfaction of non-believers. It's sufficient for it to be satisfactory for believers. That response is available for Van Tillians, but I don't see how it's available for Clarkians since in Clarkian thinking logic and the use of logic is univocal for everyone including God, for angels, for saved regeneration man AND UNSAVED UNREGENERATE man (whether elect or non-elect) [as well as for demons].

      This would also imply that Clarkians need to resolve not just any particular alleged contradiction or paradox, but every possible one that could ever be brought up. Like I said above, that's a heavy burden for Clarkians to bear. For the Van Tillian, he rolls over such burdens to God and His incomprehensibility (Ps. 55:22; Isa. 55:8-9; 1 Pet. 5:7).

    4. For the record:

      1. I believe there are apparent Bible/theological contradictions and paradoxes that have been resolved and can be understood by humans.

      2. Then there are others which may yet be resolved and understood by humans in this Age before the return of Christ.

      3. Others that probably will only be resolved and understood sometime after the return of Christ.

      4. Others which may not be resolved or understood by humans even in the Eternal State because human beings aren't intellectually capable of understanding the resolutions which only God can understand.

    5. Referring to me Sean wrote: Notice, according to this confused soul, the categorical and Confessional rejection of biblical paradoxes that are impervious to logical harmonization at the bar of human reason makes one a reprobate; one of the non-elect.

      What I wrote was about how God might use apparent contradictions to providentially cause certain non-elect persons to wrongly conclude Scripture is untrustworthy. By no means was I saying that a professing Christian who believes there are no humanly irresolvable contradictions/paradoxes in Scripture cannot be a true (i.e. regenerate) Christian. For example, I believe Clarkians can be saved. Though, not all Clarkians (or Van Tillians for that matter) are genuinely saved.

      Notice how I placed it in the hypothetical when I wrote: BTW, I'm generally a Van Tillian partly because I don't see why God couldn't use apparent paradoxes to sift the elect and non-elect. Where does Scripture teach that there are no apparent contradictions in the teaching of Scripture?

      I didn't say that apparent contradictions is the primary or ONLY way God sifts through the elect and non-elect. I could have phrased my words better. I see how Sean could have misinterpreted my words. Nevertheless, nothing that I wrote could be interpreted to explicitly state that a person could only be non-elect and/or unsaved if he believes there are no apparent contradictions in Scripture that cannot be resolved by human understanding.

    6. I wrote: This would also imply that Clarkians need to resolve not just any particular alleged contradiction or paradox, but every possible one that could ever be brought up.

      Maybe Clarkians need not resolve apparent contradictions/paradoxes that haven't yet been brought up, but if one is brought up (it would seem to me) they would have to be able to resolve it. It's my understanding that some Clarkians (or those influenced by Clark like Vincent Cheung) claim that you cannot consistently affirm two apparently contradictory propositions (even if they aren't actually contradictory). If that's true, then Clarkians really do need to resolve all contradictions/paradoxes whenever (and once) they are actually proposed.

      I don't know if this is representative of Clarkians, but Vincent Cheung wrote the following:

      Whether or not there is an actual contradiction, as long as a person perceives an apparent contradiction between two propositions, he cannot affirm both propositions. This is because when there is a contradiction between two propositions, whether it is an apparent or actual contradiction, it always means that to affirm one is to deny the other at the same time. Therefore, to affirm two propositions that contradict each other is in fact to deny both propositions in reverse order.

      If X and Y contradict each other, then X = not-Y and Y = not-X. Then, to affirm both X and Y is the same as affirming not-Y and not-X, which is to deny both X and Y, only in reverse order. Of course, since not-Y = X and not-X = Y, then this means to deny both X and Y is really to affirm both in reverse order. But again, to affirm both is to deny both in reverse order, and this continues without end. To affirm both is to deny both, and to deny both is to affirm both. Therefore, to affirm two contradictory propositions is to say nothing, or worse than nothing, because it shows that the person is stupid.

      He's written similar things through the years. The problem is that he admits that sometimes it requires extra information to resolve a contradiction. He wrote: "Perhaps he has made a mistake in reasoning, or perhaps he lacks some information that he needs to correctly understand the propositions." Why assume that in every instance of an apparent contradiction/paradox the Bible also provides that key datum (or data) that can resolve it? Cheung doesn't address that possibility. Rather, he rules it out a priori. I could say more in critiquing Cheung, but my purpose here is to address Clarkianism in general or Sean's recent comments in particular. Maybe Sean doesn't agree with Cheung on the impossibility of affirming apparent contradictions.

  4. Are Clark's writings Scripture?