Thursday, December 12, 2019

Interview with James N. Anderson, author of DAVID HUME

The Bad Roots And Fruits Of Polygamy In Scripture And History

Southern Seminary recently put out a brief video by Peter Gentry on polygamy in the Bible. He makes some good points, and his argument is somewhat reminiscent of an article Matthew Schultz wrote on polygamy several years ago. You can also read my thread here that addresses polygamy in the Old and New Testaments and in patristic Christianity.

For a discussion of some of the reasons why it's important to be informed about polygamy in our culture, see this article by Andrew Dugan of Gallup. He not only notes that polygamy has become significantly more accepted by Americans in recent years, but also explains that their change in opinion seems to have been influenced by television (and surely other sources of a similar nature). He notes that acceptance of polygamy is especially high among the non-religious, being accepted by almost a third of those who don't affiliate themselves with any religion.

That article by Dugan was written in 2017. Here's a listing of Gallup's results on moral issues year-by-year. Polygamy went up to 19% acceptance in 2018 and is at 18% this year.

Monday, December 09, 2019

How To Concisely Argue For A Traditional View Of Jesus' Childhood

There are a lot of ways to argue for a traditional view of the childhood of Jesus, and we've been making those arguments for a long time. But it's often helpful to be able to argue concisely for what you believe. That can be hard to do when a subject is as large and complicated as the earliest years of Jesus' life. We are addressing years of his life, after all, unlike the narrower focus of Easter, for example. But here are a few summary arguments I recommend using:

- Reliable sources on Jesus' childhood were available to the early Christians and their opponents for a long time. Close relatives of Jesus lived for more than half a century after his birth. For a discussion of the credibility of the early reports about Jesus' relatives in general, see here. Regarding how long individuals like Mary and James lived, see here and here. And those relatives held some prominent positions in the early church, as we see in Acts, Galatians 1:19, 2:9-12, 1 Corinthians 9:5, the letters of James and Jude, etc. Keep in mind that Jesus' relatives were critical of him at times, so his enemies would have had an interest in and ability to get information about his background from those relatives. Some of Jesus' neighbors, coworkers, and contemporaries in places like Bethlehem and Nazareth also would have lived past the time of his death, even for decades in some cases. The same is true of the religious authorities and others who opposed him and had him executed. Just as the early Christians passed on information from generation to generation, so did their enemies. The early Christians and their opponents produced many documents in the earliest decades of Christianity, not just the ones we possess today, as I argue here. And see here for some comments from Larry Hurtado about how the literacy of the early Christians is often underestimated.

- We have a lot of evidence for a traditional view of Jesus' childhood. Much of what the early Christians report about the childhood of Jesus meets modern historical standards, like multiple attestation, the criterion of embarrassment, and the criterion of coherence. For some examples, see here and here.

- There's a significant lack of support in the ancient sources for skeptical alternatives to a traditional Christian view of the childhood of Jesus. For example, the early opponents of Christianity not only don't seem to have opposed the Bethlehem birthplace of Jesus, but even corroborated it. Not only does Celsus not agree with the popular modern notion that the virgin birth claim didn't arise until decades after Jesus' death, but he even attributes the claim of a virgin birth to Jesus himself (in Origen, Against Celsus, 1:28). See here for a further discussion of how inconsistent many modern skeptical views of the virgin birth are with ancient non-Christian sources. For more examples of what ancient non-Christian sources said about Jesus' childhood, see here. On the modern skeptical assertion that Luke's census account is radically inaccurate, see this post. On modern skeptical claims about the authorship of the gospels, see here. And so on. As with the other two points above, you'd have to be selective in choosing one or more examples to illustrate the point, but we've provided many to choose from.

To summarize these three points even further:

1. the presence of reliable sources
2. the presence of evidence for a traditional Christian view
3. the absence of support for skeptical alternatives among the ancient sources

And you could make it even easier to remember as: presence, presence, absence.

The importance of these three points can be seen by thinking about how easily the relevant circumstances could have been different than they are and what implications would follow if they were different. What if individuals like Mary and James hadn't lived as long as they did, the earliest Christians hadn't shown so much interest in writing, etc.? What if there wasn't so much information about Jesus' childhood that meets the evidential standards for historically reliable material? What if the early opponents of Christianity had made significantly different claims about Jesus' childhood, such as by corroborating the Christian claims much less than they did?

This approach I've outlined doesn't cover every issue, and you still have to address whatever objections are raised. It's a good way to start a discussion and summarize your view, even if it doesn't end the discussion.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Day and night on the flat earth

This is an issue I keep coming back to, in part because it's gaining ground in "evangelical" scholarship, and in part because it's open to different lines of attack. In this article, Paul Seely attempts to document a monolithic view of the cosmos in primitive, pre-scientific cultures: "The Geographical Meaning of 'Earth' and 'Seas' in Genesis 1:10." WTJ 59 (1997) 231–55. The point I've always made is that the textbound orientation of scholars who support this view has the wrong starting-point. For one thing, there are ancient pictorial representations of the cosmos that are inconsistent with other pictorial representations, as well as inconsistent with observable reality. 

Scholars who espouse flat-earth cosmography disregard the observable world in which ancient people lived. Let's recap one example I've given. The phenomenon of the seasons makes no sense on a flat-earth model. On that model, there should be one season year round. It's a static system. There's no room for variation in the angle or duration of sunlight. As a boy, I used to notice that sunrise and sunset lay further apart on the horizon in summer and closer together in winter. 

Now let's take a related example. The length of day and night isn't just variable by season but latitude. At one extreme are equatorial regions while at the other extreme is the Arctic circle, with polar days and polar nights. 

It might be objected that ancient people lacked a comparative frame of reference to notice the variation. They lived in the same area. 

But that's not true. There were ancient mariners who sailed up and down coastlines. They were in a position to observe rapid changes in the duration of day and night as they sailed up and down coastlines. Changes that didn't correspond to seasons, but location. Once again, that's incompatible with a flat-earth cosmography. 

Ancient mariners would disseminate stories about their adventures. People would be interested in stories by ancient mariners about their discoveries. 

My point is that even from a prescientific standpoint, there were multiple lines of evidence that falsify flat-earth cosmography. Some of these are blatant while others are more subtle. Some require you to think about the incongruence. Not everyone is thoughtful. But some people are.