Saturday, July 01, 2006

Simple for simpletons

Mark Cote said:

“Well you can be forgiven of murder right?

Kill them then repent, and ask forgiveness.

It's so simple.

Two souls in heaven, they won.”

It’s only so simple if you happen to have a simple-minded grasp of Christian theology. But God cannot be conned.

Christian forgiveness is not predicated on the idea that we can sin whenever we please, then cynically repent, and God must rubberstamp our calculated manipulation of his promises.

That’s a roadmap to hell, not a roadmap to heaven.

That Funky White Boy

Marky Mark has teemed up with the funky bunch to reform the unholy alliance Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. Now, those funky-debunkies are at it again - playing who can give the worst argument against Christianity. Well, at least they can dance.

Anyway, the esteemed John Loftus (note: I did not call him John-boy) posted something from Marky Mark's blog entitled: God Doesn't Work. What he posted was a fine piece of how not to argue, called, "Insure He Gets To Heaven."

Basically, the premise is that we should shoot all the infants in the world so as to ensure they get to heaven.

Now in the comments section the funky bunch started in with their laudatory comments of this fine piece of argumentation.

It was none other than D-dizzle Morgizzle who gave the first shout out; what what! He bemoans,

"As sick as it is, the common Calvinist objection (I've heard Manata state it explicitly) is that "there is no guarantee that infants are elected" and thus abortion doesn't prevent hellbound souls, after all...

Yeah, some God they worship."

1. Why is this "sick?" In fact, D-dizzle has argued that it's okay for mothers to murder their unborn children, as long as it's early enough in the pregnancy. Is he arbitrary? For shizzle.

2. And, yes, the claim is that "all elect infants dying in infancy" will go to heaven. Indeed, there is not one verse in the Bible that tells us that all infants who die in infancy will go to heaven.

3. The unstated premise is that "God is wrong for sending infants to hell because their innocent." Once we see the unstated premise we can see that this position simply begs the question against the Christian worldview. If we restate this argument, then, it looks like this: "If we assume that portions of Christianity are wrong then we can show how God is a big meany."

4. Lastly, he points out what us Christians have always wanted people to agree with. We don't worship God, or believe in Christianity, because it fits some soft, humanistic, can't we all just get along, pie in the sky bye and bye, mentality.

This is also an ad-hominem against Jehovah. And, as Dan Barker, an ex-debunker, has told us:

"A strong clue that a person argues from a weak position is that character, rather than content, is addressed." -Barker, Loosing Faith in Faith, p.22

As we proceed I'd just like to point out that the west syde is the best syde, you better recognize. The more we critique the funky-debunkies the more we see how much their posts stunkies.

Then, a Christian interjected and pointed out that man does not have the right to murder. In response to this, Marky Mark himself saw fit to grace this virtual dance floor with his funky moves, hip hop hooray, ho, ay, ho....

In response to the claim that we are not allowed to murder Marky Mark rights,

"Here's the theme in a nut-shell.

Lets say you were a person in hell, wouldn't you wish someone did whatever it took to get to heaven, even kill you at birth? If it's true that this life on earth is just a *blink* compared to eternity. Being killed as an infant would be infinitely better than an eternity in hell."

1. Notice how he doesn't even address the claim that it's wrong to murder? His original argument was that we *should* shoot infants in the head since that gets them to heaven. He is countered with the moral claim that we *shouldn't.* His response to this is to bring in a third party and ask, "wouldn't you have wanted someone to murder you?" I mean, even if the third party would have, does that make it right?

2. This assumes people in hell will want to be in heaven, with God. Actually, no one in hell will ever want to be in heaven with God. They might not want the punishment to stop. They might think it's a horrible place. They might wish they were somewhere else. But it's simply ignorance of basic Christian doctrine that sinners would want to spend everlasting life worshipping God. They hated God on earth and will hate him for eternity.

3. How does he know what people will wish in hell?

4. His solution is to send one soul to heaven while another goes to hell for murder. or, does he think we can just murder infants and then repent, do it again, repent... If so, this is just another example of how theologically messed up all these so-called ex-Christians were. They almost always held to an easy believism.

He continues,

"I really didn't consider the "Elect" issue when I created it, but that is an extremely interesting twist that I'll admit I missed. I come from a stone cambell background, so that concept, that of the "Elect" is a bit foreign to me, and might I add, must be really hard to reconcile with the bible."

1. Yeah, he "missed" the refutation of his entire assumption, along with the other refutation of his argument - that people can not murder others.

2. Well, another dispensational, touchy-feely, anti-intellectual, Arminian, creedless, NT only, doctrine doesn't matter (just unity), Christian bites the dust.

3. Really hard to reconcile with the Bible? Were we going to get an argument for this, or just an ad hoc assertion thrown out to save your theory?

4. Maybe this apostate would like to test his metal against the wealth of biblical and philosophical arguments in favor of God's sovereign predestination of all facts and his pleasure to elect sinners by grace, through faith, on the basis of the active and passive obedience of Christ alone. Note, it is his *pleasure* to do so. God doesn't owe anyone salvation.

So, it's time for Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch to exit the stage. I mean, even THIS GUY gives a better rap that you all. Peace out, word to your mother.

Matthew Green's Attempts To Dismiss The Resurrection Evidence

Matthew Green of Debunking Christianity has posted two more articles on the resurrection. One is about the empty tomb, and the other is about the diversity of Jesus' resurrection appearances.

In his articles, Matthew makes reference to the work of Richard Carrier, though he sometimes distances himself from Carrier and comments that he's only mentioning his view as one possibility among others. He also mentions Robert Price. Carrier and Price, including arguments of theirs like the ones cited by Matthew, have been answered at length by Glenn Miller, J.P. Holding, and Christian CADRE, for example. Since Carrier and Price have already been answered to such an extent, and since Matthew sometimes distances himself from their arguments and doesn't make much of a commitment to their claims, I'm not going to be saying much about their theories. Readers interested in more of a response to Carrier and Price can consult sources like the ones linked above. My focus will be on the views of Matthew Green.

Matthew writes:

"Although I have no philosophical objections to accepting an empty tomb as a core historical fact, I do have serious reservations about accepting it as solidly factual. I do not find the arguments of William Lane Craig or Gary Habermas to be persuasive. However, rather than critique their attemtps to defend the empty tomb here, I wish to focus on a chief reason for my hesitation in accepting the empty tomb as historically factual. It's possible that the empty tomb originated as a symbolic creation. Historian and fellow atheist Richard Carrier has proposed the possibility that the empty tomb is a symbolic creation; pious historical fiction created to teach a metaphorical truth....Carrier argues that Mark falls into the genre of didadic hagiography and that the empty tomb is an example of a didadic creation of Mark to teach a spiritual truth. He argues that it was later taken as a core historical fact and was subsequently embellished as a legend in later gospels....Even if Carrier is wrong about some of the details of his plausibility argument such as Mark using the Psalms to construct his empty tomb story, I see no reason to throw out the core of his theory, that is, the empty tomb story is a symbolic fiction....It's precisely because I cannot rule out the possibility that Carrier is right about the empty tomb being didadic fiction, I cannot agree with Christian apologists that the empty tomb is an incontrovertible historical fact."

Matthew repeatedly mentions Christians like William Craig, Gary Habermas, Michael Licona, and J.P. Holding, but all of those men speak of probabilities, not "incontrovertible historical fact" (unless they use such a phrase in the sense of high probability). Saying that a theory of Richard Carrier is possibly true isn't saying much. The issue we should be primarily concerned about here is probability, not possibility or certainty, and what men like Craig, Habermas, Licona, and Holding argue about the empty tomb is far more likely than Carrier's speculations. A probability isn't a certainty, but it's better than a possibility.

Matthew asks whether the gospel writers intended to refer to historical events. He uses a similar line of reasoning in his second article, regarding the diversity of the resurrection appearances. In that second article, he comments:

"This is made all the more problematic, in my opinion, with the lack of clear authoral intent in some of the narratives. The closest thing we have to an authoral intent to narrative events accurately is the Lukan prologue. Such a statement of authoral intent is clearly lacking in Matthew, Mark, and John. We don't have any stated intent in the other synoptics or John that the accounts are attempts to record and narrate history accurately. There is no critical mindset that I am personally aware of!"

We have far more than Luke's prologue to go by. Even if we only had Luke's prologue, however, Matthew hasn't given us a reason to reject the historical genre suggested by the gospel of Luke's prologue. And if Luke's gospel was intended to convey history, it seems likely that the three other gospels, written in such a similar manner, had the same intent.

In addition to Luke's prologue, we have a large amount of evidence from the manner in which the remainder of the documents were written, the setting in which they were written, the manner in which the earliest Christian interpreters viewed the documents, the manner in which the earliest enemies interpreted the documents, etc. Matthew's treatment of this issue suggests that he doesn't know much about it. Statements such as we find in Luke's prologue aren't the only means by which an intent to write history can be expressed.

Even if we limited ourselves to such statements, why wouldn't a passage like John 21:24 also qualify? Or when Matthew 28:15 refers to a Jewish argument about the empty tomb still being used "to this day", what are we to conclude other than that the Jewish enemies of Christianity had used the argument in the past as well, and that such an argument about physical evidence related to Jesus' resurrection was part of the discussion occurring between Christians and Jews of the time? Such indications of an intent to convey history are found over and over again in the gospels, Acts, and other relevant sources, including in their resurrection accounts.

Matthew suggests that the resurrection accounts in the gospels might have been derived from or shaped by Old Testament passages, but the Old Testament is rarely cited in the passages of the gospels addressing the empty tomb and the resurrection appearances. The resurrected Jesus in the gospels is never made to appear as the resurrected righteous of Daniel 12:3, for example, and there isn't anything in the Old Testament that's detailed enough to be a plausible basis for something like the resurrection appearances of Luke 24 or John 21. The parallels drawn between the Old Testament and the gospel accounts are far too vague to demonstrate a probability of fabrication.

We know that when Paul discussed the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, he had historical events in view. That's why he uses "then", "untimely born", and other references to chronology. Similarly, we know that the book of Acts was written in a highly historical genre. See Christopher Price's discussion here. Though documents like 1 Peter and Revelation say less about the resurrection, they do, like other New Testament documents, have a historical resurrection in view. Considering that being a historical witness of the resurrected Christ was a requirement for apostleship, and considering that the New Testament documents put so much emphasis on eyewitness testimony (John 15:27, Acts 1:21-22, Hebrews 2:3, 2 Peter 1:16, 1 John 1:1-3, etc.), why should we think that the writers of the gospels and Acts would decide to use non-historical accounts when discussing the resurrection? The idea that all eyewitness accounts of the resurrection witnesses would be ignored or radically altered by the time the gospels and other such documents were written is unlikely. If events like the ones the gospels and Acts discuss didn't occur, then why is there such widespread recording of such events at a time when there was still so much concern for eyewitness testimony and when eyewitnesses and contemporaries of Jesus and the apostles were still alive?

Regarding the genre of the gospels, the New Testament scholar Craig Keener writes:

"Readers throughout most of history understood the Gospels as biographies (Stanton 1989a: 15-17), but after 1915 scholars tried to find some other classification for them, mainly because these scholars compared ancient and modern biography and noticed that the Gospels differed from the latter (Talbert 1977: 2-3; cf. Mack 1988: 16n.6). The current trend, however, is again to recognize the Gospels as ancient biographies. The most complete statement of the question to date comes from a Cambridge monograph by Richard A. Burridge. After carefully defining the criteria for evaluating genre (1992: 109-27) and establishing the characteristic features of Greco-Roman ‘lives’ (128-90), he demonstrates how the canonical Gospels fit this genre (191-239). The trend to regard the Gospels as ancient biography is currently strong enough for British Matthew scholar Graham Stanton to characterize the skepticism of Bultmann and others about the biographical character of the Gospels as ‘surprisingly inaccurate’ (1993: 63; idem 1995: 137)….But though such [ancient] historians did not always write the way we write history today, they were clearly concerned to write history as well as their resources allowed (Jos. Ant. 20.156-57’ Arist. Poetics 9.2-3, 1451b; Diod. Sic. 21.17.1; Dion. Hal. 1.1.2-4; 1.2.1; 1.4.2; cf. Mosley 1965). Although the historical accuracy of biographers varied from one biographer to another, biographers intended biographies to be essentially historical works (see Aune 1988: 125; Witherington 1994:339; cf. Polyb. 8.8)….There apparently were bad historians and biographers who made up stories, but they became objects of criticism for violating accepted standards (cf. Lucian History 12, 24-25)….Matthew and Luke, whose fidelity we can test against some of their sources, rank high among ancient works….Like most Greek-speaking Jewish biographers, Matthew is more interested in interpreting tradition than in creating it….A Gospel writer like Luke was among the most accurate of ancient historians, if we may judge from his use of Mark (see Marshall 1978; idem 1991) and his historiography in Acts (cf., e.g., Sherwin-White 1978; Gill and Gempf 1994). Luke clearly had both written (Lk 1:1) and oral (1:2) sources available, and his literary patron Theophilus already knew much of this Christian tradition (1:4), which would exclude Luke’s widespread invention of new material. Luke undoubtedly researched this material (1:3) during his (on my view) probable sojourn with Paul in Palestine (Acts 21:17; 27:1; on the ‘we-narratives,’ cf., e.g., Maddox 1982: 7). Although Luke writes more in the Greco-Roman historiographic tradition than Matthew does, Matthew’s normally relatively conservative use of Mark likewise suggests a high degree of historical trustworthiness behind his accounts….only historical works, not novels, had historical prologues like that of Luke [Luke 1:1-4] (Aune 1987: 124)…A central character’s ‘great deeds’ generally comprise the bulk of an ancient biographical narrative, and the Gospels fit this prediction (Burridge 1992: 208). In other words, biographies were about someone in particular. Aside from the 42.5 percent of Matthew’s verbs that appear directly in Jesus’ teaching, Jesus himself is the subject of 17.2 percent of Matthew’s verbs; the disciples, 8.8 percent; those to whom Jesus ministers, 4.4 percent; and the religious establishment, 4.4 percent. Even in his absence he often remains the subject of others’ discussions (14:1-2; 26:3-5). Thus, as was common in ancient biographies (and no other genre), at least half of Matthew’s verbs involve the central figure’s ‘words and deeds’ (Burridge 1992: 196-97, 202). The entire point of using this genre is that it focuses on Jesus himself, not simply on early Christian experience (Burridge 1992: 256-58)." (Craig Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999], pp. 17-18, 21-23, 51)

See also the further discussion in the introduction in the first volume of Keener’s commentary on the gospel of John (The Gospel of John: A Commentary [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003]). Keener goes into much more detail than what I outline above, far too much to quote here. Here's a portion of his discussion:

"The lengths of the canonical gospels suggest not only intention to publish but also the nature of their genre. All four gospels fit the medium-range length (10,000-25,000 words) found in ancient biographies as distinct from many other kinds of works….all four canonical gospels are a far cry from the fanciful metamorphosis stories, divine rapes, and so forth in a compilation like Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The Gospels plainly have more historical intention and fewer literary pretensions than such works….Works with a historical prologue like Luke’s (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-2) were historical works; novels lacked such fixtures, although occasionally they could include a proem telling why the author made up the story (Longus proem 1-2). In contrast to novels, the Gospels do not present themselves as texts composed primarily for entertainment, but as true accounts of Jesus’ ministry. The excesses of some forms of earlier source and redaction criticism notwithstanding, one would also be hard pressed to find a novel so clearly tied to its sources as Matthew or Luke is! Even John, whose sources are difficult to discern, overlaps enough with the Synoptics in some accounts and clearly in purpose to defy the category of novel….The Gospels are, however, too long for dramas, which maintained a particular length in Mediterranean antiquity. They also include far too much prose narrative for ancient drama….Richard Burridge, after carefully defining the criteria for identifying genre and establishing the characteristic features of Greco-Roman bioi, or lives, shows how both the Synoptics and John fit this genre. So forceful is his work on Gospel genre as biography that one knowledgeable reviewer [Charles Talbert] concludes, ‘This volume ought to end any legitimate denial of the canonical Gospels’ biographical character.’ Arguments concerning the biographical character of the Gospels have thus come full circle: the Gospels, long viewed as biographies until the early twentieth century, now again are widely viewed as biographies….Biographies were essentially historical works; thus the Gospels would have an essentially historical as well as a propagandistic function….[quoting David Aune] ’while biography tended to emphasize encomium, or the one-sided praise of the subject, it was still firmly rooted in historical fact rather than literary fiction. Thus while the Evangelists clearly had an important theological agenda, the very fact that they chose to adapt Greco-Roman biographical conventions to tell the story of Jesus indicates that they were centrally concerned to communicate what they thought really happened.’…had the Gospel writers wished to communicate solely later Christian doctrine and not history, they could have used simpler forms than biography….As readers of the OT, which most Jews viewed as historically true, they must have believed that history itself communicated theology….the Paraclete [in John’s gospel] recalls and interprets history, aiding the witnesses (14:26; 15:26-27).…the features that Acts shares with OT historical works confirms that Luke intended to write history…History [in antiquity] was supposed to be truthful, and [ancient] historians harshly criticized other historians whom they accused of promoting falsehood, especially when they exhibited self-serving agendas." (pp. 7-13, 17, n. 143 on p. 17, 18)

Regarding Matthew Green's speculation that Mark might not have been attempting to convey historical information about the empty tomb, Richard Swinburne writes:

"It would be very odd indeed if Mark, seeking to tell his readers something, and phrasing his Gospel as a historical narrative and so understood by two near-contemporaries [Matthew and Luke] (themselves familiar with other churches, some of whom must have read Mark and could have corrected any obvious misunderstanding of it by Matthew and Luke), was really doing something quite other than trying to record history." (The Resurrection of God Incarnate [New York: Oxford University Press, 2003], p. 73)

The earliest interpreters of the New Testament documents interpreted them in a highly literal manner. The earliest enemies of Christianity responded to the religion as if the Christians were claiming that events such as Jesus’ resurrection were historical. Craig Blomberg writes:

"A careful reading of the patristic evidence suggests that indeed the vast majority of early Christians did believe that the type of information the Gospel writers communicated was historical fact, even as they recognized the more superficial parallels with the mythology of other worldviews" (cited in Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 2004], p. 327, n. 27)

Ignatius writes in the early second century:

"He was truly of the seed of David according to the flesh, and the Son of God according to the will and power of God; that He was truly born of a virgin, was baptized by John, in order that all righteousness might be fulfilled by Him; and was truly, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch, nailed to the cross for us in His flesh….And He suffered truly, even as also He truly raised up Himself, not, as certain unbelievers maintain, that He only seemed to suffer, as they themselves only seem to be Christians." (Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 1-2)

Similar comments are made by other early sources, such as Aristides and Justin Martyr. The early post-apostolic Christians speak of government documents that corroborate elements of the gospel accounts, because those gospel accounts were viewed as historical, and the early post-apostolic enemies of Christianity responded to the religion, in part, by desecrating sites such as Jesus' birthplace in Bethlehem. That sort of behavior is the result of both sides, both Christians and their enemies, interpreting the New Testament documents in a highly historical manner.

Much more could be said, but the point is that Matthew's suggestion that the gospels might not have meant to convey historical resurrection accounts is unreasonable. Matthew can't acknowledge the general historical genre of the documents, then arbitrarily exempt some passages he wants to dismiss as unhistorical, since there is no way to single out every passage Matthew would need to single out for exemption. The resurrection in general and the details included in the gospel accounts are among the subjects the earliest Christians and their enemies interpreted in a historical sense.

Regarding the empty tomb in particular, we have no good reason to think that an author like Mark would fabricate an account of the empty tomb, especially with elements such as the tomb's discovery by women while the male disciples are in unbelief and are hiding. When other sources, including the early enemies of Christianity, go on to treat the empty tomb as a historical fact as well, Matthew's speculation that the empty tomb account may have been unhistorical becomes even more implausible. Mark was writing in a highly historical genre, so were the other gospel writers, and the earliest Christian and non-Christian interpreters viewed their accounts in a highly historical manner.

Some of the commenters at Debunking Christianity have raised other arguments against the empty tomb account. BruceA suggests that doubt is cast on the historicity of the empty tomb because it isn't mentioned by Paul. But there's no place where we'd expect Paul to mention it. He could mention it in 1 Corinthians 15, but there's no need for doing so, just as there's no need for Paul to go into more detail about his own experience with the risen Christ, for example. The Corinthians weren't denying that Jesus had risen. The primary issue was what would happen to believers. Paul had a variety of potential arguments to choose from, and the fact that the empty tomb wasn't one of the ones he used isn't sufficient to justify the conclusion that he didn't think there was an empty tomb.

We know that Paul believed in the resurrection of the body that died. See Christopher Price's documentation here, for example. See also J.P. Holding's article here. An empty tomb would be implied in any discussion of a physical resurrection. And while Paul never directly discusses the empty tomb, he does seem to have considered Luke's gospel scripture (1 Timothy 5:18), and Luke refers to an empty tomb. It's highly unlikely that associates of Paul like Mark and Luke would believe in an empty tomb, yet Paul wouldn't. Paul had a lot of influence over the churches in Ephesus, Rome, Corinth, and other cities, and those churches are known to have accepted the gospels early on. Are we to believe that Paul's associates and the churches he influenced collectively rejected Paul's view of the resurrection and collectively replaced it with the view found in the gospels, and that this major shift occurred just after Paul's death and without leaving any trace in the historical record? What's far more likely is that Paul doesn't directly mention the empty tomb because there was no place in his extant writings in which there was a need for mentioning it.

BruceA seems to leave open the possibility that the empty tomb was known to Paul, but wasn't considered "significant", but I don't see how such a conclusion follows. Jesus was considered the Messiah. There wouldn't be space in Paul's extant letters to discuss every significant element of the Messiah's life. It seems that the earliest Christians kept a record of the location of the empty tomb, so they must have seen some significance in it. (For further discussion, see here.) And even if the empty tomb had been viewed as relatively insignificant early on, it could still be significant to us today in a context like this discussion.

Another commenter at the Debunking Christianity blog, Daniel Morgan, asks how Jesus' body could be identified after "50 days of rotting". The body would still have some identifiable features, such as height, hair, and crucifixion wounds, and the body would be in the tomb where Jesus had been placed. A corpse in bad condition would be much better evidence against Christianity than no corpse. Yet, the early enemies of Christianity acknowledged that the tomb was empty. You don't acknowledge an empty tomb if you don't know where the tomb is or if there's still a body in the tomb.

It would be implausible to argue that the Christians were fabricating the concept that their Jewish enemies acknowledged the empty tomb, for reasons such as those discussed by William Craig here. Justin Martyr and Tertullian had some familiarity with the Judaism of their day, and they corroborate what the gospel of Matthew reported. They include details Matthew didn't mention, so they can't be accused of only repeating what they read in Matthew's gospel.

Tommykey, another commenter at Debunking Christianity, claims that the gospels didn't widely circulate until the early second century, and he suggests that many witnesses of the events in question would have died in the war between the Jews and Romans. But the gospels aren't the only sources we have on the resurrection. And Jesus and the apostles traveled widely outside of Jerusalem. The destruction of Jerusalem and the events surrounding it wouldn't have prevented the widespread availability of eyewitnesses and contemporaries of Jesus and the apostles.

Even if we focused on the gospels for a moment, for the sake of discussion, why should we believe that they didn't widely circulate until the early second century? It's not as if we have sources from the late first century, for example, who deny that the gospels were widely distributed at that time. What we know is that the gospels are in many places, and seem to have influenced Christian thought to a large extent, in the early second century. Such a scenario doesn't prove that the gospels were only narrowly distributed prior to that time.

Even if they had been, they still would have been known to some people, including church leadership. Papias reports, in the early second century, that Mark had Peter as his primary source for his gospel, and Papias tells us that he attained such information from the leadership of the church. In other words, Mark's gospel was a work of Peter's time, and it was a work known to the church leadership at the time of Papias. All four gospels are either universally or nearly universally attributed to an apostle or an apostle's associate. It's unlikely that any of the four documents would have taken a long time to become well known, given who wrote the documents and how widely influential they were among the earliest post-apostolic Christians.

Matthew Green goes on to argue:

"Suppose I believed that Jesus was temporarily interred in the tomb by Joseph of Arimithea and was subsequently reburied elsewhere and that the reburial not only left the tomb empty but triggered visions among Jesus' followers. If I constructed such a theory, this theory would have sufficient enough explanatory scope to explain how the tomb got empty as well as what caused the followers of Jesus to have visionary experiences. In fact, I believe that a theory of reburial would probably be the best explanation if I accepted the empty tomb as a core historical fact. This may not be sufficient in itself to fully answer the objection, but I do believe that it is a step in the right direction. Suppose reburial is historical implausible. I could simply opt for agnosticism regarding the the cause of the empty tomb."

Matthew repeatedly suggests that an empty tomb may have "triggered" some "visions" of Jesus. As I've told Matthew before, he needs to be more specific. The term "visions" is too broad. Which psychological disorders does Matthew have in mind with each individual involved (Paul, James, Peter, etc.)? Why doesn't he demonstrate that the purported resurrection witnesses meet the standards for experiencing such a psychological disorder? Replacing the term "vision" with the term "altered state of consciousness", as Matthew sometimes does, doesn't give us enough detail either. These terms are vague enough to cover a large variety of experiences, and whether a person experienced a psychological disorder has to be evaluated according to the details.

How would an empty tomb "trigger" what Matthew calls "visions" of the resurrected Jesus? Why should we think that an empty tomb account alone would produce widespread visions? The earliest sources we have repeatedly tell us just the opposite of what Matthew is arguing. They tell us that empty tomb accounts weren't sufficient to bring about belief in Jesus' resurrection (Luke 24:11, 24:21-24, John 20:2, 20:15, 20:25).

If the visions Matthew has in mind are hallucinations or something else requiring particular mental or physical conditions, why doesn't Matthew demonstrate that the resurrection witnesses met such conditions? Why would an empty tomb report produce visions among skeptics like James and Paul? Why would the people undergoing these visions think that they had seen a resurrected Jesus? Why didn't they think they saw a resuscitated Jesus or something else more consistent with traditional Jewish thought?

As I discussed in an earlier article, the information we have concerning the resurrection appearances is highly inconsistent with what we know about hallucinations and other psychological disorders that critics sometimes suggest. For reasons like the ones I discuss in the article linked above, it's implausible to dismiss all of these details in the resurrection accounts as unhistorical. Critics like Matthew Green can't just arbitrarily assert that all resurrection details inconsistent with his theory are unhistorical. He has to have some objective means of leading us to the conclusion that the details inconsistent with his theory are unhistorical details. So far, he hasn't produced any such objective means. On the other hand, I've given reasons for believing that such details are historical. See the article linked above.

Matthew goes on:

"If the postmortem appearances and the empty tomb were both supernaturally caused, Christianity would not have naturalism to contend with but rival supernaturalist theologies to counter....A Zoroastrian could argue that Ahura-Mazda had sent a angel or ghost, disguised as Jesus, to trick his followers into thinking that he rose from the dead. A Muslim could argue that Allah allowed an evil spirit, a demon if you will, to appear as Jesus in order to decieve Jesus' followers, because Allah wanted a rival religion to flourish so by the time that Islam originated, Allah could test the faith of Muslims with a heresy like the Christian gospel."

Matthew isn't a supernaturalist. But when Christians are responding to supernaturalists, they do provide answers to arguments such as the ones Matthew mentions above. If a Zoroastrian or Muslim wants to acknowledge Jesus' resurrection, but attribute it to some source other than the God of the Bible, then the issue under discussion would no longer be whether Jesus was resurrected. Rather, the issue would be something like who raised Jesus or why He was raised, not whether He was raised. We would then take the relevant philosophical considerations and other relevant data into account. The suggestion that the resurrection appearances were demonic would be considered in light of issues such as whether it's likely that God would allow a demon to fulfill detailed prophecy and claim to be God, for example, then appear to rise from the dead. We would also consider the source of the claim of demonic deception. Do we have any reason to trust such an assertion by a Zoroastrian or Muslim? If nothing in Zoroastrianism or Islam compels me to acknowledge the truthfulness of those religions, then why should I trust those religions to interpret Jesus' resurrection for me? More could be said, but Matthew Green isn't a supernaturalist, so such supernatural theories aren't the issue of primary concern here.

Matthew writes:

"It is true that simpler theories always have greater explanatory scope. But there is a point where a theory can have too much explanatory power in which it explains everything, and actually doesn't really explain anything because there is no observation or fact which it cannot explain. Such a theory, having too much explanatory power ceases to be a simple theory and becomes simplistic."

But the resurrection of Jesus doesn't "explain everything" in the sense Matthew is suggesting. It does explain the data we have, but there could conceivably be data it wouldn't explain. We have no such data, but it would be absurd to reject a theory because it's consistent with all of the data we do have. "Explaining everything" is a problem only if the "everything" includes all conceivable possibilities. But the "everything" that Jesus' resurrection explains isn't every conceivable possibility, but rather the data we do have in the historical record. That sort of "explaining everything" isn't a disadvantage. It's an advantage.

Matthew goes on to cite some examples to illustrate his argument, examples involving Santa Claus and aliens building the pyramids, for example. He writes:

"As to why some kids believe that they both 1.) see a man looking like Santa Claus at a local mall and 2.) they will open gifts placed under the tree with, we can put forth two hypotheses. The first is the 'Santa Claus' hypothesis. This hypothesis states that there really is a jolly old man from the North Pole who does visit shopping malls before Christmas and really does visit houses, placing wrapped gifts under the tree for kids to discover and open the next morning. The second hypothesis is called the 'Cultural Trickery' hypothesis. This hypothesis states that it is parents and other grown adults working in collusion with each other to fool kids into thinking that Santa Claus is real....Notice that the 'Santa Claus' hypothesis is a much simpler explanation for the two observations 1 and 2 and that the 'Cultural Trickery' hypothesis is a more complex theory of causation regarding observations 1 and 2. Should we not, then, accept the 'Santa Claus' hypothesis as the more rational hypothesis because of its simplicity and greater explanatory scope?"

Matthew is using an example of something we know to be false for reasons other than the reasons he mentions. We know people who dress up as Santa. We know that different Santas have different physical features. We know that parents buy gifts for their children in the name of Santa. Etc. Nobody reading Matthew's example is going to evaluate his example without taking such factors into account. Matthew acts as if he's appealing only to people's knowledge of "observations 1 and 2", but every reader is going to take other factors into account as well. We don't have evidence against Jesus' resurrection comparable to the evidence we have against the Santa theory. And we don't have evidence for the Santa theory comparable to the evidence we have for Jesus' resurrection.

If you take all of the data related to Santa into account, including photographs of different men putting on Santa clothing, parents explaining that they bought gifts in the name of Santa, etc., then the Santa theory doesn't explain the evidence well. We have explicit and widespread evidence for what Matthew calls the "Cultural Trickery" theory. That theory explains the evidence well. Matthew's speculations about Jesus' resurrection, on the other hand, don't explain the evidence. He has no equivalent of malls giving men paychecks to dress up as Santa or parents acknowledging that they bought gifts in Santa's name.

It's advantageous, not disadvantageous, for a theory to have features like "simplicity and greater explanatory scope". Other factors have to be taken into account as well, but Matthew hasn't shown us that there are other factors that lead us away from the conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead. Saying that other factors have to be taken into account does nothing to show that those other factors make Matthew's theory more plausible.

He goes on to use the example of aliens building the pyramids:

"Let me recall an example I mentioned above, the theory that alien visitors with superhuman technology, are responsible for the origin of the pyramids of Egypt. Suppose that actual archeological or written evidence of the actual origins of the pyramids was nonexistent, forever lost to history. Would that make the alternative alien theories somehow more credible, more likely? Not really. In the lack of historical evidence for the actual origins of the Egyptian pyramids, I would simply choose to be agnostic."

If we had a "lack of historical evidence", then why would anybody think that an alien theory is the best theory? We have a lot of historical evidence relevant to early Christianity. Christians don't just argue that Jesus must have risen because the raising of Jesus would be simpler than a series of naturalistic events. Simplicity is one factor among others. As I said above regarding the Santa Claus example, saying that other factors have to be taken into account does nothing to show that those other factors make Matthew's theory more plausible. Instead of discussing Santa Claus and aliens, Matthew needs to do more to explain how his vision theory supposedly better explains the evidence related to the resurrection of Christ.

Matthew writes:

"Agnosticism would be prima facie more likely, more rational than any alternative theory of alien origins of the Egyptian pyramids, for a reason as simple as that alien theories are extraordinary theories requiring extraordinary evidence. Reasoning by means of analogy, then, even if I had no clue whatsoever as to what caused the empty tomb, I believe that because extraordinary or even supernatural evidence for the resurrection is lacking and the New Testament is historically errant, I would simply declare agnosticism as to the cause of the empty tomb."

A term like "extraordinary evidence" is vague and allows critics to keep claiming that whatever amount of evidence they're given isn't enough. Humans will receive and communicate any evidence they have for a historical event through ordinary means (eyesight, speaking, writing, etc.). If you see a man who has risen from the dead, you see that man with ordinary eyesight. You write about your experience with ordinary writing. Etc. If you're going to ask for "supernatural evidence" for the resurrection, then do you also need supernatural evidence for that supernatural evidence? You have to rely on the ordinary rather than the extraordinary at some point. A resurrected Jesus would be seen with ordinary eyesight and heard with ordinary hearing, and we would evaluate the testimony of the eyewitnesses by ordinary standards. The resurrection is the miracle. Seeing the resurrected person isn't.

It's reasonable to want to be careful with something like a resurrection claim, since such an event isn't part of the normal course of life and since it would have significant implications. The Christian claim involves hundreds of witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:3-8), including people who had been enemies of Christianity, and we have many examples of those witnesses' willingness to suffer and die for what they had seen, for example. Nobody is being asked to believe in the resurrection because of what one anonymous source thought he saw one time out of the corner of his eye. There's a lot of depth and many layers to the Christian case for Jesus' resurrection. That's why critics of religion in general tend to spend far more time on Jesus' resurrection than they do on something like the miracles associated with Buddha or Muhammad. Critics wouldn't be appealing to widespread memory losses among the early Christians, widespread psychological disorders, widespread apathy among Christianity's early enemies, etc. if the evidence for Jesus' resurrection was easy to dismiss. The demand for extraordinary evidence probably results from the fact that the evidence is indeed extraordinary by normal standards for ancient history. But the term "extraordinary" is vague enough to allow the critic to keep changing his standards however he needs to in order to avoid an unwanted conclusion.

Matthew writes:

"First of all, I believe that the New Testament accounts of the resurrection are highly discrepant and are impossibly inconsistent, especially in terms of secondary details despite whatever core historical facts underly the accounts."

The issue under discussion is the resurrection, not Biblical inerrancy. But while Matthew refers to the resurrection accounts as "impossibly inconsistent", he gives no examples of an impossible inconsistency.

Matthew continues:

"As Robert M Price notes, the very admission of a need to harmonize the accounts is an admission that the accounts cannot be taken at face value and that the burden of proof is on the resurrection narratives themselves, not on the critics who would call these narratives into question."

What does Matthew mean by "cannot be taken at face value"? If one account tells us that people A, B, and C witnessed an event, while another account tells us that people B, C, and D witnessed it, then the two accounts differ. They can be taken at face value in the sense of accepting them as possibly consistent with each other. They can't be taken at face value in the sense of accepting each account as giving us every detail of what occurred. But why would anybody assume that either account was attempting to give every detail? Sources often differ from one another without contradicting each other in historical research, courts of law, etc. See the examples cited by J.P. Holding here. Harmonization is commonly practiced in historical research and in other fields.

Matthew tells us that those who want to harmonize have a "burden of proof", but he doesn't tell us what it is. The sort of burden of proof that historians would try to meet would be to demonstrate that two differing accounts can be harmonized and that we have reason for trusting the two sources who give the differing accounts. And Christians have harmonized their sources and have given reasons for trusting those sources.

In his latest articles, Matthew makes much of alleged inconsistencies in the gospels, but some of the most significant problems for his vision theory are in elements of the gospels (and other documents) that are only mentioned by one source or are reported in a similar manner by more than one source. All of the sources who comment on Jesus' tomb agree that it was empty. All of the sources agree that Paul had been an enemy of Christianity prior to seeing the risen Christ. Etc. When an event is reported in only one place, such as the appearance to James in 1 Corinthians 15 or the appearance on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24, we can't claim to know that the event must not have occurred because of supposed errors in the gospels. If John's gospel is wrong on some issues, it doesn't therefore follow that it's wrong on all issues, much less that the other three gospels, Acts, Paul, Peter, etc. are unreliable as well. Arguing that two gospels contradict each other can only prove the unreliability of one gospel, not both of them. Why would questioning a detail in Mark's gospel, for example, give us reason to doubt what Paul reports in 1 Corinthians 15? Matthew hasn't given us any reason to reject Biblical inerrancy, but even if he did, his vision theory would still be untenable. A passage like 1 Corinthians 15 or John 20-21 would be highly problematic for Matthew's theory even if documents like 1 Corinthians and John weren't Divinely inspired scripture.

Let's consider a detail found often in the resurrection accounts. All of the sources agree that the resurrection witnesses weren't expecting to see Jesus resurrected (Matthew 28:1-6, Mark 9:10, 16:1-3, Luke 24:11, John 20:25, Acts 9:1, etc.). Yet, we know that expectations play a major role in hallucinations and other psychological disorders. Are we to believe that all of the sources commenting on this subject were mistaken? With somebody like Paul, who refers to himself as a former enemy of Christianity, how would it be plausible to argue that he was expecting to see the risen Christ? Were his travel companions expecting to experience something? All three accounts of Paul's conversion in Acts mention the fact that Paul's companions shared in the experience (9:7, 22:9, 26:14). The three accounts can be reconciled, but even if we were to grant the claim that they're contradictory, why should we think that a first century author (apparently somebody who knew Paul) would three times refer to an element of Paul's experience that didn't actually occur? The author of Acts apparently was with Paul when he spoke about his conversion (Acts 26:12-27:2). It's not just that one or two sources refer to this concept that people weren't expecting to see Jesus. Rather, the concept is referred to often, by a variety of sources and in a variety of contexts. These weren't people gathered together, expecting to see something. Often, they saw something they didn't expect.

What about other details in the accounts that aren't mentioned as often, but are credible? Luke and John refer to how the risen Jesus sometimes ate with His disciples, for example. That would produce physical evidence that something like a hallucination wouldn't produce. Since eating food is something that would be expected to commonly occur among any group of people who are together a lot, and since nothing said elsewhere in the New Testament contradicts such accounts, why are we supposed to believe that these events didn't occur?

We could broaden the issue by asking about the desire for physical evidence in general. All four gospel authors refer to physical evidence produced by the resurrection (Matthew 28:9, Mark 16:4-6, Luke 24:42-43, John 21:9-13, etc.). Similarly, the early Jewish opponents of Christianity acknowledged the empty tomb, and Ignatius of Antioch reports a possible extra-Biblical tradition involving the disciples' touching Jesus' resurrected body (Letter To The Smyrnaeans, 3). Since the desire for physical evidence makes sense from the standpoint of common human experience and in the context of first century Jewish beliefs about resurrection, why should we think that the sort of desire for physical evidence reflected in these sources is unhistorical?

This is a context in which the number of resurrection appearances is significant. 1 Corinthians 15 reports six appearances, and Luke refers to Jesus as appearing to people over a period of 40 days, for example. Jesus didn't just appear once or twice. How likely is it that people living in a context like first century Israel, with its beliefs about the physicality of resurrection, would repeatedly think they saw the risen Jesus without seeking any physical evidence?

Much more could be said, but we don't have to accept inerrancy before asking questions like these. Matthew hasn't given us any reason to reject inerrancy, but even if he did, the presence of error in some details wouldn't justify the sort of radical non-historicity that Matthew would have to advocate in order to dismiss all of the evidence inconsistent with his theory. If you go through the relevant documents and take note of all of the details Matthew would have to dismiss, it becomes apparent that he isn't just suggesting common human fallibility. He's suggesting radical, widespread delusions, memory lapses, misunderstandings, dishonesty, and apathy, and not just among the early Christians, but in some cases among their early enemies as well. I'm not aware of any other place in human history, any place other than those early decades of Christianity, where critics have to make such radical speculations in an attempt to dismiss a reported miracle.

Matthew writes:

"Matthew records an appearance of Jesus to his followers in Galilee while Luke places the first appearance of the risen Jesus to his followers in Jerusalem on the night he rose from the dead. Christian defenders of biblical inerrancy and the resurrection will argue that the two accounts are complementary. What if they really do contradict each other?"

Why would anybody think that there's a contradiction? What's supposed to be contradictory?

Matthew writes:

"The problem, then, is that Christian apologists like Bill Craig and Gary Habermas may be milking the New Testament for data that simply may not exist, trying to squeeze as much juice out when the accounts may be completely dry. The 'diversity' they have in mind, I would contend, is simply imaginary. This is not to say that there wasn't a diversity of appearances, only, that it seems to me that Bill Craig and Gary Habermas and their apologist cohorts are basing their argument for a diversity of appearances on illegitimate grounds. They are treating the New Testament accounts as if they are reliable narratives, to be completely accepted at face value....The bottom line seems to me to be that any such 'diversity' presupposes harmonization and inerrancy and that has to be argued for despite appearances to the contrary, not simply assumed at face value."

It doesn't seem that Matthew is as familiar with the work of Craig and Habermas as he suggests he is, or he isn't being careful in representing their views. Here's a representative example of what Craig has argued on this subject:

"On multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead....there is no single instance in the casebooks exhibiting the diversity involved in the postmortem appearances of Jesus. It is only by compiling unrelated cases that anything analagous might be constructed." (in Paul Copan and Ronald Tacelli, editors, Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment? [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000], pp. 33, 190)

And Habermas:

"The wide variety of times and places that Jesus appeared, along with the differing mindsets of the witnesses, is another formidable obstacle. The accounts of men and women, hard-headed and soft-hearted alike, all believing that they saw Jesus, both indoors and outdoors, provide an insurmountable barrier for hallucinations. The odds that each person would be in precisely the proper and same frame of mind to experience a hallucination, even individually, decrease exponentially." (see page 5 here)

Do these comments by Craig and Habermas require "harmonization and inerrancy"? No. All that's required is an acceptance of the historicity of some portions of the relevant documents. That's why Craig and Habermas regularly explain that their argument for the resurrection doesn't require belief in Biblical inerrancy. They frequently appeal to what's commonly accepted in modern scholarship, including among non-Christian scholars.

If you accept the historicity of the resurrection appearances of 1 Corinthians 15, for example, which doesn't require inerrancy, then you have a wide diversity of resurrection appearances from that passage alone. 1 Corinthians 15 alone mentions appearances to individuals and appearances to groups, appearances to believers and appearances to unbelievers. In groups as large as the eleven disciples or the more than 500 men mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:6, we would expect a wide variety of personalities. And 1 Corinthians 15 alone, even if we considered nothing else, mentions six different appearances, which suggests the sort of diversity William Craig and Gary Habermas refer to. You don't have to believe in the inerrancy of the gospels and Acts in order to conclude that the women who went to Jesus' tomb had a different mindset than Saul of Tarsus had on the road to Damascus. You don't have to accept Biblical inerrancy in order to conclude that an unbeliever like James would have had a different mindset than a disciple like Peter. Etc.

Matthew Green has said a lot about alleged errors in the Biblical accounts, but he hasn't given us a single example of an error, and the most significant problems with his theory would remain even if we were to reject Biblical inerrancy. He mentions a lot of possibilities, but doesn't commit to much and doesn't go into much detail. But detail is what's needed. Making vague references to "visions" or telling us that something naturalistic may have triggered both the empty tomb and the resurrection appearances, but not telling us what it was that did the triggering and how it brought about "visions", isn't enough. It's also not enough to ignore large amounts of evidence about the genre of the New Testament documents while acting as if we can't know whether the New Testament authors intended to write historical accounts. Matthew can't remain silent or speak only in vague generalities in the places where his vision theory is weakest. The problem isn't that Matthew's opponents are assuming Biblical inerrancy. The problem is that Matthew's theory is absurdly implausible before we even get to a consideration of inerrancy. That's why theories like Matthew's are so unpopular, even among scholars who reject the inerrancy of scripture.

The evidence suggests that the early Christians were attempting to convey historical accounts when they wrote documents like 1 Corinthians and the gospels. The evidence suggests that many details of the resurrection accounts are inconsistent with what we know of hallucinations and other psychological disorders. Matthew Green isn't attempting to give the best explanation of the evidence. He's attempting to give the best naturalistic explanation. But this is a case in which we have a supernatural explanation that's significantly better than any naturalistic theory. And that supernatural explanation is better in a context in which we have a lot of information. We know a lot about first century Israel, common Jewish beliefs of the time, how people viewed Jesus prior to thinking they had seen Him risen from the dead, the details of the settings in which some of the appearances occurred, what the witnesses were willing to suffer as a result of making the claims they made, etc. It isn't a lack of information, but rather the presence of much information, that results in attempts to dismiss dozens of details given to us by first century documents.

Out to sea


Dave said:

As one who owns every major Wagner opera (Flying Dutchman on) and a large classical musical collection, I thought this was a brilliant analysis.

I only regret that you don't seem to use one-hundredth as many of your brain cells and interpretive, analytical prowess when it comes to Catholicism.

A clear (but unfortunately, quite common) case where emotional hostility completely overwhelms sense and rationality . . .

That someone can be out to sea on one topic and profound regarding another is a phenomenon I have long noted and marveled at.

I have many links to papers by James White on the Muslims, Mormons, Da Vinci Code, etc. I also link to a series by Jason Engwer on "Christmas apologetics."

Ironically, White was recently lamenting the fact that he can't get together with a rival "anti-Calvinist") in matters of outreach to Muslims, where they have a common interest beyond their disputes over soteriology.

Sad indeed, yet when it comes to me, White has not (in ten years) ever acknowledged that I write anything of value where we could agree. And there is plenty: I have debated Mormons and Muslims as well, and liberals, and homosexuals, and pro-abortion advocates.

But the man's personal hostility towards me will not allow him to see or acknowledge that I do anything besides oppose anti-Catholics like himself. Even that isn't true anymore: for a year-and-a-half now I have resolved to cease trying to dialogue with anti-Catholics, for the sheer futility of it.

On a final humorous note, White confidently predicted at that time that my blog would falter and collapse without the fodder of dealing with irrational anti-Catholics to keep it prospering. I was receiving about 300 hits a day at that time. Last time I checked, I was at 677.

I've never been primarily about opposing Protestant anti-Catholics. I've done relatively little of that, considered against my entire output of apologetic materials. It just seemed like a lot because my volume is high altogether, and I have debated most of the major anti-Catholics out there today.

In Him,

Dave Armstrong
6/30/2006 12:42 PM
Dave said:

I do commend you, by the way, for allowing comments.

I was just banned from Tim Enloe's website (he removed three of my comments in rapid succession: the last consisting of one word: "test"). I've also been effectively banned from "Reformed"

For all your manifest shortcomings of argument and reason and with regard to charity, at least you do appear to believe in free speech, and possess confidence enough to suffer opposing viewpoints. I always appreciate that.

Good for you.

Your brother in Christ & His Church,

Dave Armstrong
6/30/2006 12:49 PM
Dave said:

ME: "White has not (in ten years) ever acknowledged that I write anything of value where we could agree."

Oops, I forgot. White did mention once that I was a good historian of the Beatles. But he didn't say whether he liked them or not. :-)

In Him,

Dave Armstrong


This is quite a mixed bag:

1. My theological sympathies obviously lie with James White rather than Dave Armstrong.

2.I’m on record as affirming that conservative Catholics can be allies in the culture wars. And I’ve taken a lot of fire for that position. See some of my postings under Church & State. Cf.

3.That said, there are also inherent limitations to such a coalition.

i) It makes it harder to oppose abortion if you also oppose artificial birth control.

ii) The Catholic hierarchy is now committed to a seamless fabric of life ethic in which it not only opposes abortion and euthanasia (good), but is also opposed to capital punishment (bad).

And while it still supports just-war theory on paper, in practice it subscribes to functional pacifism.

iii) The CCC also stakes out a compromise position on sodomy, condemning it on paper, but supporting civil rights for homosexuals:

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

As you can see, it has also carved out a category for Christian homosexuals. This is unscriptural.

And that, in turn, is why the Vatican is equivocal on homosexuals in the priesthood.

4.As to Muslims, I like the policy of Urban II and Pius V.

Unfortunately, Vatican II says that Muslims share the faith of Abraham and worship the one true God (Lumen Gentium 16).

It so doing, it gives Islam the keys to the backdoor of the church.

5.As to Enloe, he suffers from a father-fixation.

6.As to Reformed Catholicism and Communio Sanctorum, this is a homegrown denomination in miniature, like little storefront churches which claim to be the one true church on earth.

Pace, I can’t foresee any eventuality in which Armstrong would ever be banned from the combox of Triablogue.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Polly wanna cracker?

Danny starts out by asking the T-bloggers how many of us “subscribe to a young earth? To special creation? To God-guided common descent? To God-free common descent, with the only ‘miracle’ in the initiation of the universe? I hope there are at least a few of you in the latter two camps.”

I don’t know the answer to that question since I never asked my colleagues that question. I didn’t ask them to fill out a job application. I didn’t interview them.

Speaking for myself, I subscribe to a “young” earth and special creation.


“To make the creation myth more amenable to reality? I especially enjoyed reading Glenn R. Morton, Christian evolutionist, shredding the misconceptions of persons like yourself [eklectos], who claim that the Bible has to be ‘perverted’ to incorporate an evolutionary interpretation of the Hebrew creation myth.”

Danny has become so blinded by his irreligious hostility that he lashes out at anything and everything, like a rattlesnake writhing in a forest fire.

Does he in fact believe that Gen 1-2 is compatible with evolution? Does he regard theistic evolution as a viable option?

Presumably not. After all, he’s an atheist, and a pretty militant atheist at that.

So what’s the point of plugging an evolutionary interpretation of Gen 1-2? That’s hardly consistent with his own position.


“Who gets to define terms like scientific ‘theory’ in your world: religionists or the scientific community itself?”

Note the assumed antithesis between scientists and religionists, as if these were mutually exclusive.


“Because it's pretty clear that the latter decided long ago that evolution is a historical fact and a theory. And, it sure does seem that they have evidence to substantiate their claim...”

Yes, it sure does “seem” that way. Unfortunately for Danny, appearances can be deceiving—especially for those with an appetite for self-deception.

i) To begin with, a lot of the very same “evidence” which Douglas Theobald has marshaled in favor of naturalistic evolution is cited by Kurt Wise as evidence of special creation—or intelligent design, by Michael Denton.

Cf. K. Wise, Faith, Form, & Time (B&H 2002); “The Origin of Life’s Major Groups,” J. Moreland, ed. The Creation Hypothesis (IVP 1993), 211-34; M. Denton, Nature’s Destiny (Free Press 1998).

ii) Another problem is that what the reader is actually treated to is not the raw evidence, but graphic reconstructions.

For example, we’re told that “we have found a quite complete set of dinosaur-to-bird transitional fossils with no morphological ‘gaps."

Unfortunately, that’s what we’re “told,” but that’s not what we’re “shown.”

Likewise, we’re told that “We also have an exquisitely complete series of fossils for the reptile-mammal intermediates.”

Once again, that’s what we’re told, but that’s not what we’re shown.

All we’re ever actually shown are diagrams that “arrange” scattered bits and pieces of evidence into an evolutionary pattern.

There’s no slide show from the very same site in which we are allowed to see for ourselves a continuous series of intermediate species given in situ in the natural record itself.

I’m reminded of all those prehistoric nature shows in which computer animation does the spadework.


“What is your scientific theory of creationism?”

That’s an illogical question. One doesn’t need a theory to disprove a theory. Evolution could be a lousy theory regardless of what alternative, if any, is in the pipeline.

“I've yet to find one. I've found all kinds of conjecture and speculation, but never, once, a single, coherent, rational framework within which explanation is cogently argued from the evidence to support YEC or anything resembling.”

We’ve been over this ground with Danny many times before regarding creation ex nihilo.

But because Danny is unable to find a flaw in our answer, all he can ever do is to repeat his borrowed arguments in his very best impersonation of Polly the parakeet.

In the Name of the Corkscrew, the Rolling Pin, and the...

By Martin Marty
The Post-Christian Century

Delegates to a plenary session of the World Council of Churches reconvened today to continue their deliberations over the wording of the new baptismal formula.

The traditional Trinitarian formula—“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”—was rejected by unanimous vote as deeply complicit in patriarchal power structures.

John Spong, Archbishop of Canterbury and titular head of the Anglican Communion, which—after recent developments—was confined to the south transept of Canterbury Cathedral, chaired the proceedings.

Due to the sexist overtones of all androcentric metaphors, delegates agreed that any substitute language should be drawn from the realm of inanimate objects.

After further deliberation, and another round of voting, kitchen utensils were deemed to be a suitably neutral mode of expression.

A draft of the new baptismal formula originally read: “In the name of the Toaster, the Turkey Baster, and the Butterknife.”

Marilyn McCord-Adams, representing the EC-CNOEVIL, rose in opposition to the “Butterknife.”

“It is imperative,” she said, “that we end the cycle of violence against dairy products.”

Rosemary Reuther, representing the UMC-UROK, proposed “Eggbeater” in place of “Butterknife.”

As she went on to explain, an eggbeater would capture the feminine dimension of the godhead, as a hen to the cosmic egg.

Elisabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza, representing the LC-IMQUEER, rose in opposition to the “Turkey Baster” because it connoted the imperialistic oppression of all non-human animals.

Catherine Kroeger, representing the PC-BYOURSELF, proposed the “Spatula” in place of the “Turkey Baster.”

In related news, a transgender representative of the UCC-241&142, died of kidney failure after he/she boycotted the gender-specific bathroom facilities.

Mr. Rogers' opinion of the DC commenters

Dear John,

May I call you John?

You are my friend
You are special
You are my friend
You're special to me.
You are the only one like you.

In the daytime
In the nighttime
Any time that you feel's the right time
For blasphemy, you see

You are my friend
You're special to me.
There's only one in this wonderless world
You are special.

I'm proud of you. I'm proud of you.
I hope that you're as proud as
I am proud of you.

Tree, tree, tree,
tree, tree, tree,

We luv you,
Yes, we do.
Yes, we do,
We luv you.

Tree, tree, tree,
tree, tree, tree,

We luv you,
Yes, we do.
Yes, we do,
We luv you.

It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for apostasy.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?...

King Loftus XIII rules the Neighborhood of Make-Disbelieve.
He gets no respect from commenters,
but underneath his stern and unreasonable exterior
lurks the stern and unreasonable interior
of somebody who wants everybody to be
as extraspecially miserable as he.

It's a neighborly day in this bitterwood,
A neighborly day for apostasy.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?...

I've always wanted to have a neighbor just like you.
I've always wanted to live in a hellhole with you.

So, let's make the most of this impious day.
Since we're together we might as well say:
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won't you be my neighbor?
Won't you please,
Won't you please?
Please won't you be my neighbor?

Thursday, June 29, 2006

What makes a miracle miraculous?

“And once we concede that we do not know what methods or how the miracles occurred, how can we say that miracles even happened at all? Perhaps it was a natural event. Or perhaps the authors did not understand what was occurring and inadvertently attributed it to a supernatural, rather than a natural event.”

i) This is a disingenuous objection on Dagood’s part. For one thing, he happens to think that Scripture is full of reported miracles. That’s if, anything, the leading reason he doesn’t believe in the Bible. If miracles are unbelievable, and the Bible is full of reported miracles, then the Bible is unbelievable. So he clearly has his own methodology for deciding what would count as if miracle, if only to discount it.

ii) Some miracles are “natural” events. What makes them miraculous is the uncanny timing of the event, or series of events, or the extraordinary relation between two otherwise ordinary events, such as life and death (e.g. the Resurrection).

Lay Apostolates

I see that Dave Armstrong has done me the inestimable honor of citing me in a recent post about Catholic apologetics.

To this I’d just say a couple of things:

1.What does his local bishop think of Dave’s “apostolate”? For example, does his bishop arrange any speaking arrangements for Dave?

2.Yes, the papacy encourages a lay apostolate the way a principal encourages student government. Just as student government gives a gullible junior high or high school student the illusion that he has a real say in the process, papal encouragement of the laity gives them the illusion that a layman has a real say in the process.

The policy-makers learned along time ago that the best way to avert a grassroots insurrection is to give a gabby member of the hoi polloi his own office—preferably a windowless room in the subbasement—with his own name on the door, his own letterhead, and a fancy title; then steer a lot of busywork his way—like polishing the brass plaque with his name on the door, sharpening departmental pencils, and filing departmental memos on interdepartmental pencil-sharpening protocols.

Something along the lines of:

The Acting Assistant Undersecretary to the Ad Hoc Committee for the Department of Interdepartmental Acting Assistant Undersecretaries.

La Stupenda or La Divina?

If you happen to be an opera buff, and you buy your recordings at, you’ll see, from customer reviews, that the Callas clique is alive and well.

I’m not exactly an opera buff. Most 19C opera music is second-rate at best. But I do have a soft spot for the female voice, and if you wish to hear great voices, opera is where you go to hear them.

Why is it that so many fans of Callas can’t stand Sutherland, while so many fans of Sutherland can’t stand Callas?

The same thing holds true for the Callas clique in relation to Renata Tebaldi.

What accounts for the emotional investment in a mere opera singer?

Callas has been dead since 1977. And she retired from the operatic stage in 1965. Tebaldi retired from the stage in 1973, while Sutherland retired in 1990.

At one level it’s a choice between passion and beauty. A choice between womanly passion or sexual passion, on the one hand, and a different sort of sexuality—the sensuous or sensual appeal of a lovely voice, on the other hand.

But it runs deeper than that. Each soprano projects a feminine ideal.

A beautiful soprano voice is, itself, a feminine ideal. It projects a distinctively feminine allure.

In addition, there is more than one feminine ideal. Early Sutherland had a girlish timber. Flagstad had a maternal tone. So does a contralto like Forrester.

Tebaldi had a womanly tone, while Sutherland later developed a more womanly timber as well.

Some opera buffs prefer Frida Leider to Kirsten Flagstad because Leider’s instrument was womanly without being matronly.

For many opera buffs, this is sufficient. A soprano needn’t be an expressive actress, as long as her voice is expressive as well as emblematic of certain feminine virtues.

But for others, that’s not enough. They want a voice that’s suffused with emotion. Given a choice, they prefer an emotive timber to a sensuous timber.

They also judge a soprano by the eye as well as the ear. Does she physically embody a feminine ideal?

Of course, voice lovers like beautiful women as well. But they don’t hold a soprano to that standard. If she happens to be nice on the eyes as well as the ears—like Te Kanawa—that’s a bonus point.

Beyond theatrically, they also judge a soprano by her star-power, her charisma—the glam factor.

In other words, they want a diva who personifies in real life what she impersonates on stage.

Callas was a soprano who projected another feminine ideal. Whether you like or hate her, or have mixed feelings, depends on whether the image she projected happens to correspond to your ideal of womanhood.

She was a fiery performer on-stage, with a fiery love-life offstage. Her exciting good looks complemented her electrifying stage-presence.

One of the ironies of this type of feminine ideal is that her personal and professional crises, rather than diminishing the appeal, augment the appeal.

Can you imagine Joan Sutherland having a fling with Aristotle Onassis? Leaving Richard Boning for the life of an international jet setter and socialite?

But, for her fans, the ill-fated affair with Onassis made Callas all the more compelling. So did her vocal crisis, which forced her into premature retirement. So did her death at the early age of 53.

For some people, tragedy and romanticism are intertwined. A life that is more intensive because it is less extensive. A shooting star. A life of highs and lows, rather than a happy mean.

This exemplifies the escapist version of the feminine ideal. Of those who risk all and lose all for a few moments of undiluted ecstasy.

At a still deeper level, there is another feminine ideal. The idea of the church as the bride of Christ.

Unlike any other religion, Christianity has an integral role for feminine and masculine virtues alike.

Feminine appeal has a theological grounding. God has encoded these universals in the human psyche, and when a woman (or a man) exemplifies the universal, this triggers a subliminal association with the theological fabric of the universe. For the material order is a metaphor for the moral order.

Callas represents the anti-heroine—the fallen woman. Delilah, as the flipside of the Church. The attraction of the candle to moth. Brilliant, but brief.

"Jesus Loves Porn Stars"?

There has been some recent conversation in the blogosphere concerning I won’t take the time to portray the vision of this internet ministry for you here, though I certainly suggest that you give the website a look.

So what should Christians make of a ministry that visits porn conventions and hands out Bibles (or, The Message, a Bible “paraphrase”) that contain the phrase “Jesus Loves Porn Stars” displayed on their front cover? Well, first let me state that I definitely give these Christians the benefit of the doubt. They are, to me, innocent until proven guilty. My assumption is that they are genuine Christians with a love for the gospel and a burden to see the lost saved. That is certainly commendable, and that is not something I here question.

Rather, the question that lies before us concerns their method of evangelism. How far is too far?

Before we even take the “Jesus Loves Porn Stars” Bibles into consideration, my primary concern is the fact that these Christian individuals visit porn conventions. Obviously, such conventions do not encourage sanctification. What business, I ask, does a Christian man have visiting such a sin-nurturing environment, regardless of how noble his intentions may be (and what the wives and mothers of these men think of this, I can only imagine)? Seriously, where should we draw the line? I’m sure that none of these guys would be willing to get in bed with a prostitute to preach the gospel to her. And the fact is, Jesus’ internalization of the commandments revealed when he told us that even looking at another woman in lust is spiritually equal to adultery tells me that we should avoid this type of situation just as much as we would avoid finding ourselves in bed with a woman to whom we are not married. As Christians, our mentality should not be one of pushing the envelope, walking the line, playing in fire and pretending we won’t get burned. Rather, I think we should be more like Joseph: when he found himself in the situation he did, he did not remain to teach Potipher’s wife a theology lesson. Rather, he fled as fast as he could, leaving his coat behind. If our eyes cause us to sin, cut them out. Do even allow an opportunity for sin.

But let’s now examine this method of evangelism on its own merit. Let’s say, for example, that this ministry didn’t attend porn conventions (though it does). Rather, let’s say that it simply gives out these Bibles through the mail or some other medium. In other words, should the phrase “Jesus Loves Porn Stars” ever appear on the Bible?

Obviously, this phrase is after two things. The first is shock-value. And I understand this. Jesus himself often used shock-value in his teaching, portraying the great antithesis between the religious ideas of his day and the gospel of grace (though his shock-value examples were certainly never quite like “Jesus Loves Porn Stars”). Shock-value is something that is generally utilized in gospel tracts, to get someone to actually pick them up and read them.

The second thing that is attempting to be portrayed is the “Jesus, friend of sinners” concept. This is certainly a Biblical concept. But we must not be gospel-uninformed. Jesus doesn’t, contrary to the thinking of many people today, accept you as you are simply because he loves you. No, as you are his wrath against you is infinite. As you are, you are depraved and absolutely needing his grace. Christ accepts you, and he saves you as you are because he views you as you are not. Christ doesn’t love porn stars; he hates them, just as he hates murderers and children who disobey their parents. But the good news is that he satisfied God’s wrath on the behalf of those who would believe. And so, Christ, viewing you not as you are but as he is, saves you and transforms you into his own likeness, for God’s glory. This is the gospel, and I find the phrase “Jesus loves porn stars” to be a very inadequate summary of it.

Our sovereign God is certainly capable of using this method of evangelism, and perhaps he already has. But I think that, rather than seeking to push the envelope in our creativity (though creativity in evangelism is certainly a good thing), we should seek to present an accurate gospel to the lost in a way that reflects the Biblical model, not in a way that offers a confusing and potentially misunderstood message.

Any thoughts?

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.