Thursday, September 23, 2021

My Labor Is With My God

"I see exceeding small fruit of my ministry, and would be glad to know of one soul to be my crown and rejoicing in the day of Christ. Though I spend my strength in vain, yet my labour is with my God (Isa. xlix.4). I wish and pray that the Lord would harden my face against all, and make me to learn to go with my face against a storm….If God have given you the Earnest of the Spirit, as part of payment of God's principal sum, ye have to rejoice; for our Lord will not lose His earnest, neither will He go back or repent Him of the bargain….Peace of conscience, liberty of prayer, the doors of God's treasure cast up to the soul, and a clear sight of Himself looking out, and saying, with a smiling countenance, 'Welcome to Me, afflicted soul;' this is the earnest that He giveth sometimes, and which maketh glad the heart, and is an evidence that the bargain will hold." (Samuel Rutherford, Letters Of Samuel Rutherford [Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2012], 43-44, 46)

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

There Are Treasures In The Scripture Passages You've Neglected

Last week, I quoted a passage in John Chrysostom in which he comments on the significance of Paul's remarks in 1 Corinthians 16:9. People often neglect passages like 1 Corinthians 16, where there are references to the Biblical authors' travel plans, lists of names, farewells, etc. But there's a lot of valuable material in such passages, which we'll miss if we're not attentive enough.

In addition to the example of 1 Corinthians 16:9, think of what I wrote last Easter season about the implications of 1 Corinthians 16:20 for the objectivity and physicality of Jesus' resurrection appearances. Or the references to Mark and Luke close by each other near the close of some of Paul's letters (Colossians 4:10-14, 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 24), with implications for the authorship of two of the gospels, their relationship with each other, and Paul's knowledge of the issues addressed in those gospels. Or think of how many undesigned coincidences involve material in such portions of scripture. These are just some examples among many others that could be cited.

"As in gold mines one skillful in what relates to them would not endure to overlook even the smallest vein as producing much wealth, so in the holy Scriptures it is impossible without loss to pass by one jot or one tittle, we must search into all. For they all are uttered by the Holy Spirit, and nothing useless is written in them." (John Chrysostom, Homilies On John, 36:1)

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Some Undesigned Coincidences Related To Peter's Names

Jesus gave Simon the name Peter (Mark 3:16, Luke 6:14, John 1:42), yet Jesus often refers to him as Simon (Matthew 16:17, 17:25, Mark 14:37, Luke 22:31, John 1:42, 21:15-17). In fact, Jesus refers to him as Simon more often than he refers to him as Peter in the records we have in the gospels. Why would Jesus give Simon a new name, yet keep reverting to the original name?

Only two of the gospels report that Jesus had a brother named Simon (Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3), but his having a brother with that name makes his interest in the name Simon, even when he had given the individual a new name, more coherent. And his use of the name Simon occurs in Luke and John as well, not just in the two gospels that name Jesus' brothers. Even in Matthew and Mark, the reference to a brother named Simon is brief and occurs in passing, and that brother didn't have the sort of later prominence that James and Jude had. So, Jesus' ongoing use of the name Simon in those two gospels has some significance accordingly. Jesus' tendency to keep using the name Simon, even after giving him a new name, seems best explained as something the historical Jesus did. Not only is it reported by all of the gospels, but his having a brother named Simon makes the ongoing use of that name more coherent.

It's also noteworthy that James referred to Peter as Simeon (Acts 15:14). Scholars often date Paul's letter to the Galatians close to the time of the events of Acts 15. Contrast how Paul never refers to the disciple as Simon in Galatians, but instead keeps referring to him as Cephas or Peter, with James' choice to refer to him as Simeon in Acts 15. So, we need to explain both Jesus' preference for Simon, even though Jesus is the one who gave that disciple his new name, and James' preference for Simeon, even though James was speaking at a time in church history when Peter was the more common way of referring to the disciple, as we see in Galatians. If both Jesus and James were drawing a connection to the name of one of their brothers, that's an efficient explanation for the use of that name by both Jesus and James when they address Peter.

One potential reason why the name Simon would stand out to Jesus and James is that Simon was their youngest brother. He's mentioned last in Mark 6:3, which may be because he was the youngest, though his being mentioned third instead of last in Matthew 13:55 complicates the situation. Youngest children often get treated differently because of their status as the youngest. Jesus may have had more affection for his brother Simon accordingly. And that may have been a factor not only in Jesus' referring to Peter as Simon so much, but also in his choosing Simon to begin with, giving him such a prominent position among the disciples, and giving him a second name.

It's also striking that the angel who appears to Cornelius in Acts 10 not only refers to Peter as Simon (verse 5), but does so in a context in which there was another Simon from whom Peter had to be distinguished (Simon the tanner). The angel refers to Peter as Simon, only to go on to add a qualifier to distinguish him, which could have been avoided by just referring to him as Peter. The angel didn't have a brother named Simon, as Jesus and James did. But who would have sent the angel? God, perhaps Jesus in particular. And an angel might have deference for Jesus' preferred way of referring to Peter even if Jesus hadn't been directly involved in the sending of that angel.

The situation is somewhat reminiscent of Jesus' frequent references to himself as the Son of Man, a title rarely applied to him by the New Testament authors. Those authors, with the exception of James, also seem to have not had as much interest as Jesus had in referring to Peter as Simon. The difference isn't as pronounced as in the Son of Man context, but there is a significant difference in both contexts.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Greater Suffering Producing Greater Zeal

"Let us then, when we desire to effect any thing great and noble, not regard this, the greatness of the labor which it brings, but let us rather look to the gain. Mark, for instance, Paul, not therefore lingering, not therefore shrinking back, because 'there were many adversaries;' but because 'there was a great door,' [1 Corinthians 16:9] pressing on and persevering. Yea, and as I was saying, this was a sign that the devil was being stripped, for it is not, depend on it, by little and mean achievements that men provoke that evil monster to wrath. And so when thou seest a righteous man performing great and excellent deeds, yet suffering innumerable ills, marvel not; on the contrary, one might well marvel, if the devil receiving so many blows were to keep quiet and bear the wounds meekly….So then, though we be in peril, beloved, though we suffer ever so greatly, let us with the greater zeal apply ourselves to our labors for virtue's sake." (John Chrysostom, Homilies On First Corinthians, 43:6)

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Resources On Prayers To The Dead

We have collections of resources on the topic here and here, including many discussions of the patristic and other extrabiblical evidence. Jordan Cooper has been producing some videos on the subject that make many good points. See here, for example, and you can find more by running a search on YouTube. The Old Testament prohibitions of attempting to contact the dead tend to be neglected in these discussions. The passages either aren't brought up or get dismissed for inadequate reasons. Gary Smith has some helpful comments in the first volume of his Isaiah commentary, in his discussions of Isaiah 8:19 and 19:3 (Isaiah 1-39 [Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group, 2007], 230-31, 357). The passages seem to be condemning all attempts to contact the dead, not merely certain forms of it, like going to a medium.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

The Timing Of The Conversion Of Jesus' Brothers And Their Witness To The Resurrection

I've discussed the subject before, such as the significance of John 19:26-27, which implies that Jesus' brothers either weren't Christians yet or had only recently become Christians. Another issue that should be raised is what best explains the broader pattern of references to the brothers.

They're referred to in several places in the gospels, Acts, and Paul's letters, and we have two letters attributed to the brothers (James and Jude). They're mentioned in multiple places in the gospels as unbelievers. And there's an implication that they're believers in Acts 1:14. They're mentioned many times after Acts 1 (in the remainder of Acts, in Galatians, etc.). But they aren't mentioned in contexts in which close relatives often would be mentioned leading up to and just after the resurrection (e.g., Jesus' trial, the cross, the burial). Jesus' mother is referred to as present at the cross in John 19, but his brothers aren't mentioned there or in any other relevant context. Because of her gender and older age, we'd expect Mary to be less present in these contexts than Jesus' brothers would be, but she's more present instead. And it's striking how wide a diversity of individuals are mentioned in these contexts: Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, the women at the tomb, the men on the road to Emmaus, all of the Twelve, etc. So, the absence of any reference to the brothers of Jesus, especially in light of their later prominence in church history, is significant.

It's possible to reconcile all of this evidence with an earlier conversion of Jesus' brothers. But the issue isn't what's possible. The issue is which explanation is best. A later conversion of Jesus' brothers, one later than the events immediately following his death, makes better sense of the evidence. But the lateness also has to account for evidence like Acts 1:14 and 1 Corinthians 15:7. The best explanation seems to be that one or more resurrection appearances, like the one in 1 Corinthians 15:7, brought about their conversion. They might have converted on the basis of what others told them about the resurrection or on some other such basis, but that explanation has less explanatory power than something like 1 Corinthians 15:7.

Given the plural "brothers" in Acts 1:14 and 1 Corinthians 9:5, the high status of the individuals mentioned in 1 Corinthians 9:5, and the inclusion of a letter of Jude in the canon, a resurrection appearance to at least one brother of Jesus other than James, at least Jude, seems likely. Maybe Jesus appeared to more of his brothers than James and Jude, but it seems probable that he at least appeared to those two.

I suspect all of the appearances to Jesus' brothers happened later rather than earlier. The appearance to James is mentioned fourth among the five chronologically ordered pre-Pauline appearances in 1 Corinthians 15. Furthermore, it would make sense for the gospels to give more attention to the earlier appearances than the later ones, since the earlier ones most closely follow the preceding events and would tend to involve the most intense reactions to the resurrection, since the witnesses' knowledge of the event was so new. The absence of references to the brothers of Jesus in the gospels' resurrection accounts makes more sense if the appearances to Jesus' brothers happened later rather than earlier. I suspect they occurred during the latter half of the forty days referred to in Acts 1:3.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Eben Alexander And Gary Habermas Discussing Near-Death Experiences

They just appeared on Cameron Bertuzzi's Capturing Christianity channel on YouTube. For those who don't know, Eben Alexander had one of the most famous near-death experiences (NDEs) in recent years, and Gary Habermas is a scholar who specializes in the study of Jesus' resurrection and has done a lot of research on NDEs. Here's a comment I wrote in the YouTube thread.

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Men Checking out of College

The Wall Street Journal today has an article called "A Generation of American Men Give Up on College".  In it, we find such statistics as: women make up 59.5% of college students today.  In fact, for the 2021-2022 school year, 3,805,978 women applied to colleges compared to just 2,815,810 men.  That's just under 1,000,000 more women than men, despite the fact that men actually make up 51% of the college-aged population in the US.

White it is true that women have a higher enrollment rate than men for nearly every racial and economic group, the most impact is found in the lack of white men enrolling.  As the article states, "Enrollment rates for poor and working-class white men are lower than those of young Black, Latino, and Asian men from the same economic backgrounds." Given the demographics of the United States, the fact that white men aren't even bothering to enroll in college while white women are is enough to result in the numbers we see.

The article goes on about how perhaps there needs to be support groups for men too, despite the fact that the objection has been, "Why would you give more resources to the most privileged group on campus?"  I find it ironic that the article actually quotes this without realizing the quote itself gives the reason why white men aren't going to college.

After spending K-12 being told that you are responsible for all that is evil in the world for free, why would you pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to be told the same thing for four more years?  Higher education made an environment intentionally focused on preaching hatred of white men, and now they discover that white men don't want to be there.  Insert surprised Pikachu face here. Furthermore, why would anyone willingly subject themselves to such psychological abuse when the classes taught in universities have, by and large, made a university degree completely worthless anyway?

You want a specific demographic to show up in a place? Start by not hating them. A lesson that can be applied in all areas of your life too, if you really want to.

The History Of The Veneration Of Icons

Gavin Ortlund recently posted a video that provides an overview of how the veneration of icons was viewed during the first several centuries of church history.

Sunday, September 05, 2021

Overestimating The Prior Improbability Of Miracles

Stephen Braude wrote:

First, it is moot whether psi phenomena violate any important scientific theory. Only from an already suspect reductionistic perspective would they seem to pose a threat to received science. It is more plausible that psi phenomena, like organic phenomena and the phenomena of consciousness generally, simply fall outside the domain of physics. Second, even if psi phenomena did violate some major scientific law(s), there is nothing sacred about received science. Like the received science of days past, much of it may require modification or rejection, even if only to countenance everyday mental processes such as volition and memory. Third, subjective probability assignments concerning scientifically anomalous phenomena carry little weight, as the history of science amply demonstrates.

Moreover, we know very little about ostensibly paranormal phenomena (especially, I suppose, if they are genuinely paranormal) but a great deal about misperception, naiveté, fraud, etc. But in that case, our assessments of the probability of the latter should be given greater weight than our assessments of the probability of the former. After all, we often have a solid basis for judging the likelihood of misperception, etc., occurring in spontaneous cases. But we have virtually no basis for deciding the likelihood of an event occurring - in the absence of fraud, misperception, etc. - that at least appears to violate some fundamental scientific law or metaphysical assumption. We do know, of course, that phenomena discovered in the past have deeply changed the course of science, and we know that phenomena considered impossible or highly improbable on received scientific principles have been found to be possible or not so improbable after all. So we know that genuine scientifically anomalous phenomena may occur, some of which eventually get incorporated into the science of the day. But earlier on, when the phenomena are still extraordinary and poorly understood, we lack the kind of information customarily needed to assess the probability of their having occurred. To judge whether a given event is likely in a particular circumstance, we must first know something of the event's nature and limits. That is how we determine the likelihood of misperception, fraud, etc. We know what sorts of situations might motivate fraud or encourage misperception, and we can make reasonable and well-informed judgments about their likelihood in the circumstances in question. In fact, we have a substantial and clear background of data to which we can appeal when making these judgments. But it is just this sort of background information that we lack in the case of ostensibly paranormal events. So it seems reasonable to decide the likelihood of an ostensibly paranormal event having occurred on the basis of the evidence against the occurrence of misperception, fraud, etc. (The Limits Of Influence [Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, Inc., 1997], 46-47)

He goes on to quote some comments from C.J. Ducasse:

…assertions of antecedent improbability always rest on the tacit but often in fact false assumption that the operative factors are the same in a presented case as they were in superficially similar past cases. For example, the antecedent improbability of the things an expert conjurer does onstage is extremely high if one takes as antecedent evidence what merely an ordinary person, under ordinary instead of staged conditions can do. The same is true of what geniuses, or so-called arithmetical prodigies, can do as compared with what ordinary men can do. And that a man is a genius or a calculating prodigy is shown by what he does do, not the reality of what he does by his being a genius or prodigy. This holds equally as regards a medium and his levitations or other paranormal phenomena. (47)

Braude then comments:

It would be almost transcendentally foolish to maintain that the unprecedented mnemonic abilities reported by Luria (1968/1987) are unlikely to be genuine, due to their antecedent improbability (based on the population of normal human beings). With reasoning such as this, we could forever avoid acknowledging the existence of exceptional human abilities. But then it is presumably equally indefensible to distrust nearly a quarter-century's worth of reports of decently-illuminated table levitations by D.D. Home, on the grounds that the antecedent improbability of that ability is overwhelmingly high. (47)

Thursday, September 02, 2021

The Worrying State of Medicine

I spent about four hours today at a local Urgent Care facility. Without going into too much detail, the reason I had to do this was because the doctor's appointment I had scheduled for yesterday got canceled because my doctor got sent to cover ER shifts because of labor shortages in the medical industry. The immediate problem I was seeing her for is that my oxygen saturation levels, especially early in the morning, were getting worryingly low, and after starting a new medication I had gained six pounds in a single week, which could be seen as visible swelling in my legs. Since I was measuring my O2 levels with my own pulse/ox, I used the patient portal to say, “This is what I'm measuring. What should I do for the next two weeks before our rescheduled appointment?” Thus, today, I received a call where my doctor informed me I should go to the Urgent Care facility to get examined to make sure there wasn't anything major going on.

Now the fact that my primary doctor wasn't available for a scheduled appointment due to workplace shortages of medical professionals isn't the main focus here. It is certainly worrisome, but I think what might even be more so is the exchange I had with the doctor at the Urgent Care clinic. Since I wasn't getting enough oxygen and had obvious fluid retention from swelling, he ran a litany of tests on me including EKG and a chest X-Ray, even the universal COVID test, all of which came back as “good news” (thank God). But after he got the results back and he was explaining them to me, the doctor mentioned at one point that they'd had a little difficulty with one of the tests because my chest is so large. He then immediately said, “Not that I'm saying there's anything bad about being so large.”

And this is the point I want to bring up. I actually immediately said, “No, I know it's bad. In fact, the increased weight is precisely one of the very things I pointed out to you that had me so concerned.” I immediately saw his demeanor change, as if he was relieved to be able to speak honestly instead of being terrified of offending me, and he said, “Yes, if we could get rid of that weight, it would almost certainly help across the board with everything else here.”

So why did I find this exchange so problematic that I decided to write a blog post about it, especially given that it means I had to divulge (albeit obscurely) some health details I'd rather not talk about? Because I just experienced a doctor telling me something we both knew was a lie because he was afraid that I might be offended had he told me the truth.

There's real danger in this, though. I could have easily come away from that conversation telling everyone, “I went to Urgent Care and the doctor said my weight is fine” when the reality is the exact opposite. If he was so unwilling to state the objective fact that being overweight is detrimental to one's health, then what else are doctors afraid to tell patients? It's extremely worrisome if doctors will lie for the sake of one's ego instead of telling the truth for the sake of one's life.

In the meantime, I still have a case of “We Don't Know”, but at least I know my heart and lungs are sound right now, and I don't have Wuhan Bat Lung either. Prayers would be appreciated that someone in the medical field discovers what the proximate cause is. Or, God could just zap me. I'm fine with that too.

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Some Neglected Evidence For The Enfield Voice

This month and next, I want to discuss a couple of unresolved issues in the Enfield case. My post this month, this one, will address a subject I'm more pessimistic about, and next month's post will be about a topic that's more promising. Something the two posts will have in common is that I'm largely ignorant about some aspects of the issues I'll be discussing. Part of what I'm doing in these posts is bringing these issues to a larger audience with the hope that other people will be able to bring about some progress in the contexts involved.

About 20 years ago, Will Storr went to Philadelphia to spend some time with Lou Gentile, a self-described demonologist who was going to take Storr along with him on some cases Gentile was working. Storr was a British journalist and a skeptic of the paranormal. He didn't expect anything supernatural to occur during his time with Gentile. He thought he would be writing a humorous article about the delusions of a demonologist. Instead, he had some unsettling experiences that he considered supernatural, and he went on to spend a year researching the paranormal and writing a book about it, Will Storr Vs. The Supernatural (New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006). You can listen to Storr discussing his experiences with Gentile here, in an interview several years ago.

There was a subject Gentile brought up in his discussions with Storr, and it would be a recurring theme with other individuals Storr came across in the process of doing his research. Gentile mentioned a poltergeist case Storr should look into: "The Enfield case was just insane. One of the biggest, best-documented poltergeist cases in history. A real bad demonic case. Man, you should check that one out." (page 8 in Storr's book) He would check it out, to the point of interviewing Janet Hodgson, often considered the center of the poltergeist, and twice interviewing Maurice Grosse, the chief investigator of the case. Near the end of the second interview, Grosse played a recording of the poltergeist's embodied voice, and it was at that point that Storr recognized a connection between Enfield and the cases he was involved in with Gentile:

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Increasing Diversity By Killing It

Veritasium recently highlighted what he calls "The Longest-Running Evolution Experiment" on YouTube. The experiment uses E. Coli bacteria and it's been running for 33 years.  This means that there have been 74,500 generations of bacteria.

To put that in perspective, assuming a generation in humans takes about 20 years, it would take humans 1,490,000 years to have this many generations.  For the record, if you ask a Darwinist, they will say that modern humans have only been around for 300,000 to 800,000 years.  Indeed, going back 1.5 million years, our ancestors would be Homo erectus.  The point is, there are huge differences between H. erectus and H. sapiens that supposedly came about in those roughly 75,000 generations.

On the other hand, if you look bacteria after the same 75,000 generations, they are basically unchanged to this day.  Not only that, but E. Coli can be found back well before this 33-year-old experiment began too. And in all that time, no mutant bacteria formed which would be classified as anything other than E. Coli.

But this is a bit aside the point I wanted to make in talking about this bacteria now.  The point raised by the video is that the E. Coli that exists today ought to have evolved to better fit into the environment of the laboratory, and comparing older strains with modern strains show that modern strains of bacteria are, in deed, "more fit."

This is, in fact, how evolution is typically presented. Organisms become "more fit" in their environment.  The problem is that this overlooks one extremely obvious point: becoming more fit for a particular niche environment does not mean that you are more fit as an organism, as a whole.  What I mean can be seen if we hypothesize a bacteria that has 50% capability of survival in a lab and 50% capability of surviving in a kitchen and 50% capability of surviving in a bathroom.  After thousands of generations, we measure that the bacteria now has a 95% capability of surviving in a lab, and that's all we measure. We then declare that the organism is "more fit", despite the fact that for all we know the new organism has a 0% capability of surviving in a kitchen and in a bathroom now.

The point can be even more readily made by considering what happens when a human feeds wildlife.  Birds, for example, may learn that to get food they just eat the seeds from a feeder all winter long. But what happens when the old woman who used to feed them dies and there's no more seeds?  The birds die too, because they have lost the ability to get food on their own.

So the question is, can birds that learn to eat seeds from a feeder be considered "more fit" than birds that know how to search for food on their own?  Only in the extremely specialized context of that specific environment and only assuming that environment never changes could such a bird be considered "more fit."  In all other points of view, it's actually harmful to the bird to make it dependent upon humans.  

E. coli naturally lives in the intestines of a human being.  Would we still consider the E. coli to be "more fit" if we discovered that all these lab grown bacteria would die if placed back into an intestine?  Does the fact that they are the best at living in the lab really mean the organism is "the best" itself, given that without being able to survive in humans, all of these bacteria have no ability to survive the instant there is no more funding for this experiment?

The reason that becomes important is more than just semantics. Evolution is supposed to explain why organisms become more complex over time, yet all these experiments actually show is organisms adapting to a single variable that we have artificially decided is the only thing we should measure for.  In fact, it ought to be predicted that they would become simpler as a result.  After all, if E. coli doesn't need to survive in the stomach because it's environment is now restricted to a laboratory, then the ability to survive in any other environments is wasted effort on the part of the organism.  It's better to streamline the organism and remove that ability.  But, clearly, this is reducing the available functionality, not increasing it.  And in fact, natural selection is a winnowing process by definition.  Death is not a creative function.  You do not increase diversity by killing off something.

So can you really call this an experiment in evolution?  Only in the sense that the bare-bones definition of "evolution" is change through time, and certainly these E. coli have changed through time. But to try to extrapolate from that some grand scheme of Darwinian progression is simply pushing the data way too far from what it actually provides.