Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Dagood's junkyard


Christians, Please Respond!

“I've never done this before, but I want to highlight a post that demands a Christian response. It's this one by Dagoods. Why no response?

posted by John W. Loftus @ 7:08 AM


Why no response? Several reasons:

1.Dagood only posted this yesterday afternoon. The fact that his post did not receive a same-day reply is hardly surprising.

Christians actually have other things to do with their time, like eat, sleep, and work, in addition to blogging.

2.It always takes less time to raise objections than it does to answer objections.

3.There is nothing here that “demands” a response, for the simple reason that we’ve already responded to this before. There is nothing new here.

Dagood’s title is ironically apt. All he’s done is rummage through the DC junkyard for spare parts from Loftus stuff on miracles, Paladin’s stuff on Joshua’s Long Day and Noah’s flood, as his own stuff on the Exodus, along with other odds and ends, to piece together a rickety little skateboard.

Moving along:

Which Part fits in Which Slot, Again?

“In discussing miraculous occurrences as recounted in the Bible, we often see apologists swing back and forth as to what part of the miracle was actually supernatural, and what part of it was natural. Obviously, God could use both to his advantage, having the foresight to utilize an opportune moment and make it look like a miracle, yet there would be no way for us to tell.”

Dagood is confounding two different levels of explanation. On the other hand, there is the exegetical question. What does the text assert? What events or incidental details does the text attribute to the direct action of God or else to secondary causes?

The text is often silent on the intervening mechanism, if any.

On the other hand, the unbeliever will frequently raise extra-Scriptural objections to Scripture.

Now, where the text is open-textured, in cases where the text is silent on the mechanism, if any, then this leaves the effect open to more than one possible cause.

Since the unbeliever is raising a speculative objection, if the believer offers a speculative answer, he is merely answering the unbeliever at his own level.

There is nothing inconsistent about this, as if the apologist were “swinging back and forth.”

To the contrary, it’s quite consistent. It’s consistent with the way in which the unbeliever chose to frame the objection.

If the unbeliever finds this behavior inconsistent, then he only has himself to blame.

“How does a Christian come up with a system, by which we determine God just had good timing, as compared to God actually intervening? There is no way.”

This is part of Dagood’s shtick. He likes to demand a “system” or “method” for sorting Scriptural events into miraculous and providential columns.

But as I’ve said before, this is a silly way of approaching the Bible.

i) To begin with, history is particular, not universal. Every event is unique.

So there is no universal system or all-purpose method which will classify every event. The typology is generated by the event, not the event by the typology.

ii) Likewise, there is no extratextual system or method which will predict how much information any given text is going to contain about the nature of the event it records.

There’s no substitute for actually reading the text. For listening and learning instead of imposing and dictating to the text what the text is allowed to say.

Dagood wants to take a woodenly mechanical approach to the historical record.

“I was reading elsewhere as to a re-definition of the First Plague, that of turning the water into Blood. The author was indicating that ‘Blood’ may actually have been a color, and that the First Plague may have been some sort of pestilence, red in color, that killed all the fish, and made the water undrinkable.”

No, this is not a “redefinition.” Rather, Stuart’s point is that the Hebrew word has more than one meaning. It can designate a color, or it can designate hemoglobin. Which meaning is operative at any given time is context-dependent.

“If I read this correctly, the author was arguing that instead of the water being Blood, which would be red, it was a pestilence that was red. Instead of the blood killing the fish, it was the pestilence killing the fish. Instead of the blood rendering the water undrinkable, it was the pestilence. I was trying to figure out, for the life of me, why it made a difference? About the only difference I could tell, that was not even addressed in the Biblical account, was that blood would coagulate, and the ‘pestilence’ would not.”

Even if it made no practical difference, an accurate exegete will point out that a text may be open to more than one interpretation, if a key word has more than one meaning, and if either meaning would make sense of the text.

This isn’t a case of trying to solve a problem, but merely explicating the semantic range of the word, and how that would affect the meaning of the passage, or implications thereof, depending on which meaning we plug into the occurrence of the word.

“As if the author was attempting to explain away that it could not be Blood, so as to avoid people asking why the Nile did not turn into one big scab.”

i) Even if he was, that’s a separate issue from the semantic question.

ii) As a matter of fact, Stuart explains exactly what he’s up to. He points out that the cyclical nature of the plagues charts an ascending spiral of destruction. He therefore favors an interpretation of the first plague which is less destructive because that fits the overall context of the narrative.

The problem is not with Stuart’s agenda, but with Dagood’s agenda. Because Dagood comes to the text on a search-and-destroy mission, he is unable to hear the commentator explain his exegetical choices even when the commentator makes his reasoning explicit.

“Excuse me? I thought the idea of the plagues was that God was doing something miraculous. If God could turn an entire river into Blood, He certainly could have made it blood without the ability to coagulate! Somehow, the author had no problem with God intervening with the entire water system of Egypt at once, but not creating something that is physically impossible to exist. Curious. If God made water into Blood, he was stuck with all the properties of Blood.”

“God doing something miraculous”—as opposed to what? Things happening all by themselves?

The idea of the plagues is not that God is doing something miraculous, but that God is doing it. Whether we call it miraculous or not is a bit redundant.

The point is that God is doing it. And from a biblical perspective, this is just as true with respect to providential events. Whether it’s a miracle or ordinary providence, there is no event that does not involve divine agency.

The Bible doesn’t have a classification system for miracles. There are certain events which it characterizes with words like “sign” or “wonder.” But there are analogous events for which no such descriptor is used.

“I have seen the argument that the crossing of the Reed Sea was done at the time of a tsunami, and the reason why the water had receded. Did God cause the tsunami? Or was it good timing? Or was it a natural event that people attributed to God? (The timing is all off, anyway. It would take more than 30 days for 2 Million to cross a sea, and no tsunami lasts that long.)”

Once again, we need to distinguish the exegetical question from the apologetical question.

“Probably one of the biggest contenders of this characteristic is the Flood. Christians talk about the supernatural aspect of enough water being produced to cover the entire earth.”

Are we posing an exegetical question or an apologetical question?

Actually, flood geology denies a miraculous production of water. It attributes the floodwaters to preexisting reserves.

“Then they use the fact that all this water is there to give natural explanations for fossils, continents, and mountains forming. Couldn’t the fossils also miraculously appear? Occasionally we mix and match parts of natural/supernatural. Like God supernaturally calling all the animals into the Ark, but naturally fitting them in, and then supernaturally causing them to hibernate, rather than require food.”

Again, is this an exegetical question or an apologetical question? The text may be open-ended as far as the mechanism is concerned. If so, that leaves the apologist free to speculate on the hypothetical mechanism.

If an unbeliever like Dagood doesn’t like conjectural answers, then he shouldn’t be posing conjectural questions.

“Even Christians understand the problem of fitting all the provisions and animals on the Ark, so they begin inserting ‘miracles’ as necessary to resolve the problem. Re-define ‘kinds’ so as to require supernatural evolutionary rates. Or have the animals all shrink. Or have ‘pockets’ of fresh water for some fish to survive. As the natural explanation is being given, if there is a speed bump, simply interject a ‘miracle.’ Shoot, the whole thing is a miracle, what is wrong with a few nudges of miracles along the way?”

i) One would like to see some direct quotes. Who does this? Give us the name, title, page, and verbatim quote.

ii) Christians do not “redefine” a natural kind. Biblical usage is one universe of discourse, while modern taxonomy is another universe of discourse.

On the one hand, Scripture has more than one classification scheme for animals. For example, in Gen 1 they are classified according to natural habitat. In Lev 12, they are classified according to ritual purity or impurity.

In Biblical usage, a natural kind is obviously broader than the modern concept of a species or subspecies.

On the other hand, the modern concept of a species is inherently fluid if you accept evolution. Indeed, one of the controversies in evolutionary theory is the unit of evolution. Does evolution operate on individuals? Populations? Species?

iii) A further level-confusion occurs if we correlate every postdiluvian species with every prediluvian natural kind. This is blatantly anachronistic.

A Christian is not inserting a miracle when he distinguishes between Biblical usage and modern taxonomy.

iv) What Christian has all animals “shrink”? Can Dagood cite Kurt Wise to the effect? Or Walt Brown? Or John Woodmorappe?

v) To say that we would need pockets of fresh water for some fish to survive is loaded with extratextual assumptions.

It makes extratextual assumptions about the relative salinity of prediluvian bodies of water. It makes extratextual assumptions about the saline tolerance of prediluvian fish. And it makes extratextual assumptions about the survival rate of fish outside the ark.

“The problem comes in that we no longer can determine how much was a miracle, and how much was not. If it was ALL a miracle, why the silly charade of having a flood, a boat and a dramatic rescue? Easier to kill all but a few humans and animals with God’s laser-beam eyes.”

That’s a pseudoproblem, not a real problem. Dagood is superimposing extraneous concerns onto the Bible. Scripture itself draws no firm line between providential events and miraculous events.

Some events are flagged with words like “sign” or “wonder.” Other events are not identified, yet are analogous in character. Then you have a lot of providence events which make use of second-causes. And you also have a lot of recorded events which are silent on the mechanism, if any.

“For some reason (that the Christian enthusiastically admits they cannot even hope to explain) the God must be mixing and matching natural and supernatural events. Either there is some limitation in which he is bound by some laws, or the humans are picking and choosing which parts to label ‘miracle’ and which to not by arbitrary means.”

i) There is a difference between an arbitrary distinction and an absolute distinction. There is, in Scripture, a principled difference between miracle and providence, but that is not an absolute distinction.

On the one hand, human life is regulated by certain natural cycles, like the divisions of the day (Gen 1:14), or seedtime and harvest (8:22).

That introduces an element of stability and predictability to human existence. It makes it possible to plan for the future.

On the other hand, the natural order is a fallen order. So there is a place for divine revelation and redemptive intervention.

And even if the world were unfallen, God is a father, not an absentee landlord or deadbeat dad. He remains involved in the lives of his children.

ii) The antithesis between nature and supernature is not a Biblical dichotomy. This confuses nature with naturalism. In Scripture, no natural event is naturalistic in the sense of excluding divine agency. Even “natural” events are natural by virtue of God’s creative and providential activity.

Dagood is unable to think outside his secular box. He generates pseudoproblems by reinterpreting Biblical phenomena according to secular categories, then throws his hands up in exasperation at the lack of internal consistency in the record of Scripture.

Dagood is a slave to secularism. He has a pair of godless contact lenses glued to his eyeballs. When he reads the Bible, he reads it with naturalistic categories projected onto the text.

“Instead we see blogs, and articles, and even entire books dedicated to explaining how a world-wide deluge could only supernaturally occur, but preservation of animal-life could naturally occur. Was God reduced to one miracle a year?”

As usually, he’s confounding exegetical answers with apologetical answers. On the one hand, there’s the exegetical question of what the text specifically attributes to direct divine agency in any given instance.

On the other hand, there’s the apologetical question of reconstructing the details where the text is silent—especially when an unbeliever chooses to raise extraneous objections to the text.

“Or Joshua’s extra day, which was recently discussed. Again, a miracle. Yet Christians are often caught in attempting to explain how the earth rotated differently, or ‘time bubbles’ were created or how the axis spun differently, or the earth’s crust stopped spinning. We have even seen the urban legend of astronomers attempting to account for the “lost day” as natural proof of a supernatural event! Natural explanations for a supernaturally claimed event.”

i) This is not how I explained the passage in question.

ii) What is more, this isn’t distinctive to exegesis or apologetics. There is often more than one possible explanation for a historical event or natural event. Historical causation is complex. Different scientific theories are proposed to account for the same phenomenon.

And some explanations are better than others. Some historical reconstructions are more plausible than others.

“Why not just shrug, and toss yet one more of millions of other things into the ‘We don’t know, but by labeling it as God just did it makes it a more intellectually satisfying explanation than We don’t know.”

Because that would be exegetically irresponsible. A text may allow certain option, but disallow others. And where the text is silent, that leaves a certain amount of play for the apologist to speculate.

But the Bible does not attribute every event to the agency of God, to the exclusion of second causes; neither does the Bible attribute every event to second causes, to the exclusion of divine agency.

There is leeway where the Bible leaves us with leeway, but it’s not a forced option between treating everything as either providential or miraculous.

“Another common natural/supernatural event is the Resurrection. We all agree that a person that is dead for 2 days does not come back to life.”

Do we all agree to that? No. We agree that, all other things because equal, the dead do not return to life.

“That is a supernatural event.”

Yes, although it also depends on whether we are equating nature with naturalism.

“But then Christians insist on Jesus having a very natural body. One that walks, talks and eats. (Luke 24:42-43) Not so natural to fly, so that one gets chalked down to the miracle bit. (Acts 1:9)”

This is a semantic game.

“Or, more interestingly, Jesus having the ability to teleport in and out of rooms. (Luke 24:31, 24:36; John 20:19, 20:26) Again, we have arbitrary choices, as mandated by various books, attempting to claim that parts of Jesus were natural, and parts were supernatural.”

i) Arbitrary in what respect? It is not arbitrary to attribute to Christ whatever the Bible attributes to Christ. Far from arbitrary, that is consistent.

ii) As for the rest, all Dagood has done here is to arbitrary redefine nature naturalistically. That will, indeed, generate some arbitrary distinctions. But the arbitrary distinctions are due to his manipulation of terms.

“’Visions’ and supernatural ghosts appear in and out, without requiring open doors. ‘Physical bodies’ require opening and shutting doors. Which was Jesus? Well, that depends on the moment.”

Once again, Dagood is redefining physicality naturalistically. But the fact that teleportation is extraordinary rather than ordinary doesn’t render it physically impossible. Given our experience of ordinary providence, this may condition us to regard teleportation as unnatural. But experience is an epistemic limitation, not a metaphysical limitation. A noetic boundary-condition, not an ontological boundary-condition.

“If Jesus could teleport from room to room (and teleport from city to city) why did the Stone have to be removed from the tomb? Could you see Jesus coming back from the dead? There he was, in a tomb, the linens neatly folded. “Great. Here I am back from the dead. I can vanish, appear and even fly. But I can’t get out until somebody moves this blessed rock.” Talk about frustrating!”

Dagood must be pretty ignorant—so what else is new? You ask—if he thinks he’s raising a question no one has answered before.

The stone was rolled away, not so that Jesus could leave, but to allow the women and the disciples to inspect the tomb for themselves.

“Why would the rock need to be moved from the tomb? According to the tales, Jesus convincingly no longer needed doors.”

I just answered that question, as have many before me.

“Only Matthew recounts even how the stone was moved by indicating an angel moved it. An angel so bright that the soldiers fainted. Is that when Jesus escaped? (Matt. 28:2-3) Remember, this was Jesus that could vanish and re-appear at will. He just needed that rock out of the way! The angel even says, ‘Come see where he lay.’”

Yes, “lay.” Past tense. Jesus was gone before the angel rolled the stone away.

“By the time the Gospel of Peter was written…”

Who cares what we find in a mid-2C apocryphon?

“In the very earliest elements of the resurrection story, Jesus can’t get out without that stone being moved.”

None of the gospels say any such thing.

“Apparently having Angels appear at the tomb, and say ‘He is risen’ would not be enough. Seeing Jesus would not be enough. Placing one’s fingers in the wounds would not be enough. Watching Jesus eat, hear him talk, watching him cook and clean fish would not be enough. Watching him fly off into the sky. Nope, all that would never quite convince the disciples that Jesus was resurrected. God needed to have that stone moved, so the Disciples could clearly see it was not a clever imposter.”

Notice that Dagood has just answered his own question. Only he doesn’t like the answer.

“(‘Course a clever imposter could have also moved the body, once the tomb was open, but let’s not think about that.)”

Variants on this hypothesis have been repeatedly addressed in the standard apologetic literature.

“In order to look, the stone had to be out of the way. From this simple story, Mark incorporated the myth of the moving Rock. Only later, in order to add panache, did stories develop about how Jesus could teleport—never realizing it made the earlier stories of a moving rock unnecessary.”

Dagood has no independent evidence for this theory. And his theory runs counter to all the evidence there is. It’s not as if he has a rival, 1C account of what “really” happened.

All that Dagood can offer us is his own make-believe theory of events. Secular make-believe takes the place of Christian belief.

“Again and again, we see an interesting mixture of natural and supernatural explanations, without a system for us ever to determine which could be miraculous, and which can be naturally explained away. Odd that Christians, in order to bolster their claims of miracles, often hinge the miracle’s effect and aftermath on natural events.”

No, what we actually see, again and again, is Dagood mixing his secular outlook into the original account, because he lacks the critical detachment to put any distance between the text and his own faith-commitments, which take the form of secular fideism.

“No, I do not assume miracles cannot exist. I am having a hard time, though, hearing Christians agree as to what is a supernatural miracle, and what is good timing, and what is natural. If Christians cannot agree what is a miracle, why should I assume that what some particular Christians claim is a miracle—really is?”

He is having a hard time because we don’t apply a naturalistic cookie cutter to the inspired record, but take it as it comes to us. What factors or cofactors are given in the text?

And if the record of Scripture is silent on the instrumentality, then that may leave the event open to more than one hypothetical explanation.

And since, in Scripture, an event can either be miraculous or providential, either causal option may be available to the apologist.

It comes down to a question of which hypothetical explanation enjoys the most contextual support or explanatory power.


  1. If secular scientists cannot (fully) agree on a number of naturalist explanations, why should I assume that what some particular scientist claims is true-really is?

    I noticed John Loftus added his comment that Christians are somehow more prone to circular reasoning. As if secular science is devoid of any circular reasonong.

  2. For a person who claims he can read well, Dagwood surely misses several key points. He wants the Nile to be blood. However, does he also believe that Joel was stating the moon would turn into a large pool of literal blood as well? I've never seen atheists raise that objection. In fact, Stuart stated this by way of comparison texts: “It has often been suggested that the Hb. Word for ‘blood,’ ‘dam,’ is actually a biform of the Hb. word for red/be red, ‘adam’…The word’s use in connoting the color (dark) red is found in Joel 2:30-31 [Hb. 3:3-4]…and 2 Kgs 3:22-23,” ibid. 199, n.38. I would also add that a far older commentary Keil and Delitzch states: "The changing of the water into blodd is to be interpret in the same sense as in Joel 3:4, where the moon is said to be turned into blodd; that is to say, not as a chemical change into real blood, but as a change in the color, which caused it to assume the appearance of blood (2 Kings 3:22). According to the statements of many travellers, the Nile water changes its color when the water is lowest, assumes first of all a greenish hue, almost undrinkable, and then while it is rising, becomes as red as ochre, when it is more wholesome again. K&D,Vol.1, p.310.

    I'd further add that when that happens, it is believed to be because of silt and /or mud deposited further upstream being washed down or by cryptogamic plants and infusoria. It is by no means a stretch for this event to have produced some sort of pestilence. For a person who professes to believe in science, Dagwood ignores it quite a bit.

    Dagwood needs to deal with these texts and these explanations of the possible mechanism, before raising such infantile objections.

    “I have seen the argument that the crossing of the Reed Sea was done at the time of a tsunami, and the reason why the water had receded. Did God cause the tsunami? Or was it good timing? Or was it a natural event that people attributed to God? (The timing is all off, anyway. It would take more than 30 days for 2 Million to cross a sea, and no tsunami lasts that long.)”

    Here, Dagwood needs to read the very text he is citing, specifically, the bit about the wind. Here, the text gives us a rudimentary description of the mechanism. Perhaps, he needs to go back to reading See Spot Run before commenting further.

  3. Hey, nobody would ever accuse me of circular reasoning....

    John W. Lost Us

  4. Oh, that name is realy cute, Frank, or whomever. Imposter I tell ya. Imposter!

  5. Steve check this out.

    Cary Grant apparently was secretly marriefd to a man:

    Hollywood legend Cary Grant’s shocking new biography alleges the late actor shared a secret “gay marriage” with American movie hunk Randolph Scott. Marc Eliot’s book Cary Grant: Grant’s Secret Sixth Marriage goes a long way to blow away the Nort by NorthwestT icon’s image as a heterosexual lothario, although chronologically it would have been his first marriage. Eliot claims Grant embarked on a homosexual relationship with the rugged actor, who was known as Randy, after they met on the set of 1932 movie Hot Saturday, and their mutual physical attraction was immediate and strong. The actors lived together for the next 12 years, but separated when Randy became jealous of Grant’s blooming romance with actress Virginia Cherrill.

  6. I wish I had thought of that one, John, -- or somehow mistakenly typed it as I did with DagoodS as "Dagwood" -- but it wasn't me.


  7. What's anonymous doing here?

    Oh, and John, how do you know someone isn't really called Lost-Us? I think there's a Staffordshire Lost-Us family in Debrett...

    Okay, not really, but...