Saturday, July 22, 2006

Homosexuality, Evangelicals, and Divorce

Anonymous said:

What tripe...who "told" you, or "implied" all these alleged things you're spewing here? Spare me...

Garsh, homosexuals are human just like self-rigteous, judgmental, Calvinist prigs.

Garsh, the born again fundy divorce rate is the SAME as the general population.

Puhleeeze...go clean up your own house first before you start the smarmy attacks on others.

No wonder so many people see Christians as hypocrites.

7/22/2006 2:28 PM

1. Our unfortunately-anonymous commenter fails to contradict anything that Gene pointed out in his commentary on this particular current event. He simply asks a rhetorical question and then makes irrelevant assertions. He altogether fails to refute the inconsistency that Gene found in the situation at hand.

2. If Gene had asserted that homosexuals are less than human, anonymous' statements might have contained some relevance. But Gene did no such thing, and if anonymous had any clue about Gene's ministry, he would have never implied the accusation that Gene has anything but love for homosexuals.

3. "Garsh"??

4. The statement that the divorce rate among believers and unbelievers is the SAME is terribly misleading. A great number of those included in this on-the-fly statistic were divorced before they believed.

5. Nevertheless, the divorce rate among evangelicals is very disheartening. However, anonymous confuses pastoral concerns with theological concerns. On a theological level, anonymous hasn't pointed out anything that destroys Christianity, or even takes us by surprise. Christianity has had a theology of the doctrine of indwelling sin since its inception. We are hypocrites until we pass from this earth into a glorified state and leave the ever-present battle of sin. The fact that we fail to meet the Biblical standard does not mean that the Biblical standard is not the standard.

6. On a pastoral level, however, I can only grieve at divorce, preach against it, and continue to nurture a love for Biblical marriage. Hopefully, the church will cease allowing sin to reign in them and will begin reigning over sin.

A Free Fly's Worship

'Tis ridiculous and outrageous to say my life is futile and absurd. The view from the windshield may be a bit messy, but that doesn’t mean my insectile existence is worthless.

I am quite glad that I don't live in a universe wherein some other Being gets to decide my fate, that I am not a vessel fitted for destruction (or grace), but a bug whose fate is decided by the advancing windshield of time.

My life may come to an end on the bespattered surface of a windshield, but I have a legacy to pass on to my larvae, who are a just few laps behind me as they, too, shall meet their inexorable rendezvous with a moving sheet of glass.

It makes a big difference whether I’m a goody-goody insect on the windshield, or a verminous insect on the windshield. It makes a big difference, I say!

Just because my life’s work will go kersplat on a windshield doesn’t mean I my life and labor are valueless. I can use my allotted time for good or weevil.

It’s my philinsectile duty to my fellow flies and skeeters to destroy the pestilent creed of life beyond the windshield, and replace it with a bug’s-eye worldview.

“A Free Fly's Worship,” by Bugsy McRussell.


BOSTON-The lesbian couple whose lawsuit led to legal same-sex marriage in Massachusetts have announced their separation. "Julie and Hilary Goodridge are amicably living apart," Mary Breslauer, a political consultant, said Thursday night on their behalf. Breslauer declined to comment on whether the couple plans to divorce. The Goodridges were among seven gay couples whose lawsuit helped thrust Massachusetts into the center of a nationwide debate on gay marriage. The state's Supreme Judicial Court issued its 4-3 ruling in November 2003 in their favor, saying that gays and lesbians had a right under the state constitution to wed. The Goodridges were married May 17, 2004, the first day same-sex marriages became legal under the court ruling.

A handful of items as commentary: First, we were told that same sex marriage would only improve the value of marriage in our society. The gay community, or rather the portion favoring same sex marriage (not all gays have supported same sex marriage) also implied that they would do a better job with the marriage and separation/divorce rate than heterosexuals. Note also, that the Goodridges were the ones that wanted to put aside their privacy for the sake of the 2003 decision, and now they want their privacy respected--not that we shouldn't respect their privacy, we certainly should since that is their request; but it's just interesting to note, since we were told that their love made them the poster children for same sex marriage in MA and they were courageous for making this bold sacrifice in the name of the cause. So, once again, we have here another example of why marriage must be regarded as a covenant, not a mere contract and as Trinitarian in structure, not modalistic.

My Two Fingers

Nifty play on words, huh.

I've read those who say that you can't affirm the BFM2K and be a "moderationist." Needless to say, that's the single most absurd notion that I've heard in a long time. Furthermore, let's be blunt here, at least one of those allowing such argumentation and not calling it absurd on his blog has stated on the Founders blog that he can agree to the Abstract of Prinicples as long as he gets to define its meaning. Well, quite frankly, if he gets to define the meaning of the Abstract to his liking in order to affirm it, it is grossly inconsistent, if not outright hypocritical of him, not to allow "moderationists" the same respect with regard to the BFM2K...and let's be honest, the BFM2K only mentions "vice" anyway, so, in order to get from "vice" to "all alcohol use" (not just its abuse) assumes what it needs to prove.

What's more, the rationale is becoming increasingly ridiculous. It looks something like this: Many of those in opposition are Calvinists. Presbyterians share the same position. Ergo,these Baptists are paedobaptist sympathizers. Therefore, we are right, they want us to become Presbyterians, so we should separate from them. Sinners! Excise the Calvinists now!

Then there are the innane comments that said things when asked why the Reformers and those prior didn't take the abstinence position like "Romanists are all apostate and the Reformers were too busy to say anything about it." (my paraphrase). Uh-huh. They were too busy to say anything about alcohol, but not so busy to write reams of material like the Institutes, engage in protracted theological debate, to found theological schools, train hundreds of missionaries, and ultimately lead their successors into several synods, drafting no less than 3 major non-Baptist confessions and 2 major Baptist confessions. Riiiiiight.

Those trotting out SBC history itself would do well to remember the words of James Boyce. Yes, he had something to say about it too. James P. Boyce, founder of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, spoke out against the resolution on alcohol, back in 1888 when he ruled, as President of the SBC, that a resolution against the consumption of alcohol “was not germane to the work of the convention.” (1888 Annual of the SBC, pp. 33-34). So, if they really want to make an argument about "who is the historic Southern Baptist on this issue," just like the Calvinism issue, they will find themselves losing that battle as well. Of course, this should be expected from those who wish to reinterpret the Abstract of Principles in order to affirm it.

Stuffed animal atheism

Many unbelievers want to cement a Gentlemen’s agreement between fidelity and infidelity.

One the one hand, the unbeliever wants to pat himself on the back for what a manly, tough-minded boy he’s become.

Unlike those cringing, sentimental Christians, who take pathetic refuge in harps and pink clouds, the atheist is prepared to follow the evidence wherever it leads him, and if that means following the evidence right over the cliff and plunging into the abyss below, so be it.

This is the steely, stiff-lipped front that an atheist likes to present to the church. That’s what he holds the Christian to. The firm foundation of unyielding despair.

On the other hand, he’s rather less appreciative if a Christian leaves the unbeliever strapped into the wheel chair as it goes careening over the cliff.

So the unbeliever plays a selective game of chicken. He’ll dare the Christian to a drag race. But as he approaches the precipice, the unbeliever will suddenly slam on the brakes while his Christian competitor sails over the cliff—or so he hopes.

For when he is staring into his own grave, with nothing on the other side, a militant atheist is the first one to blink. Yet he demands of us that we take no notice. We’re supposed to indulge his illusion of valor.

A militant atheist is like a boy who catches a rattlesnake by the tail and takes it to the birthday party to show it off to the other kids.

He’s very proud of himself for handling such a dangerous animal. And he’s expecting the hostess to honor the Gentlemen’s agreement.

The boy and the hostess both know the snake is a real snake. And a very venomous snake, at that.

But when she expresses mild concern—bordering on polite disapproval—at the prospect of a rattlesnake swimming in the punchbowl, the boy becomes indignant and assures her that it’s only a stuffed animal.

And so the hostess is duty-bound by all that’s good and decent to play let’s pretend.

For her to pertinaciously point out that the creature in question is a real snake, and is distinctly unwelcome at a birthday party, would be a breach of social etiquette—the likes of which have not been seen since Ella-Mae wore a red dress to the square dance. No proper hostess would dream of being so unladylike.

So the boy is free to set the snake on the loose. And so it slithers around under the table, biting the bare ankles of the little boys and girls.

But they’re not supposed to cry. They’re expected to humor the boy and be a good sport about a touch of gangrene. After all, playacting is a natural part of childhood.

When, one by one, they fall down dead, the child in the next chair looks the other way and licks the frosting off the cake.

Finally, the snake bites the boy who brought it to the party. But the hostess doesn’t dial 9/11.

For that would be discourteous. That would hurt his feelings.

Good breeding demands that our hostess play along with the charade from start to finish.

To tell the snakebite victim that he’s going to die—well, that would be rude, you know.

Worse than rude! Why, it would be—cover your ears, now—offensive!

But I have to break it to you, and I confess that this is a blight on the church—there are some unmannerly so-called Christians out there who actually think it’s more considerate in the long run to warn everyone concerned that the colorful critter under the table is not a stuffed animal, but a real live rattlesnake. They refuse to honor the Gentlemen’s agreement. And their impertinence is a stumbling block to many.

Friday, July 21, 2006

The pacifier in the pine box

Daniel Morgan said:

“This is ridiculous and offensive. Simply because I don't believe that my consciousness continues to exist after my body dies doesn't mean that I don't have a legacy via my life's work, children, etc. Just because I don't believe in ‘eternal destiny’ or ‘preordained destiny’ doesn't mean that I will have no good and worthy end, or goals, to my life. I am quite glad that I don't live in a universe in which some other Being gets to decide my fate, that I am not a vessel fitted for destruction (or grace), but a person whose decisions and character, coupled to chance and those of others, determine his fate.”

Ah, yes, I will die and feed the worms, but I will live on in the legacy of my life’s work and in the hearts of my loved ones.

This is the soft, soppy-wet pacifier that many an atheist plants in his silk-lined casket to suck on as he contemplates the prospect of his own impending oblivion.

What does it mean to live on in the memory of one’s posterity? To begin with, that’s a sorry substitute for personal immortality.

For another thing, they, too, will die, and their fond memories of you will die with them.

“Gone, but not forgotten” is a nice epitaph, but the epitaph is quickly overgrown with weeds.

The legacy of your life’s work? Danny, you’re just a replaceable part in the cogwheel of the cosmic treadmill.

As soon as you’re gone, someone will clean out your desk, trade your family photos for his own, and take your place on death row.

Danny, once your gone, the world will continue along its merry way just as if you never existed.

Danny, you don’t make a difference.

Danny, you don’t make a dent.

You’re a bug on the windshield.

As far as secularism is concerned, life is just one vast, collective mortuary. Some cadavers take the dayshift while others take the nightshift, but it’s merely a matter of space management who gets which cubicle when.

I don’t have to be a Christian to render such a bleak value-judgment of secularism. Danny forgets that many Christians used to be where he is now.

I’m not speaking as a middle-aged Christian. No, I’m still speaking as an adolescent unbeliever in junior high.

I’ve held this view of secularism since the time I used to be a secularist.

Oh, yes, there will always doe-eyed humanists like Sagan, Kurtz, Bronowski, and Corliss Lamont to rouge the cheeks and gloss the lips of their secular crowbait, but even as a 14 year old on the cusp of manhood, with the grave a distant and distinctly abstract prospect, I knew better than to mistake embalming fluid for immortality on the cheap.

Danny's game of dodgeball, Part II

Daniel Morgan said:

“ i) Survival is a necessary value for ethics. The question is NOT whether it is a part of our ethics, but whether survival will be promoted or opposed by every moral decision/action, as it is an unavoidable aspect of our universe. If we do not frame ethics in such a way as to promote survival, then do we frame them in such a way as to oppose it?”

Danny continues to beg the question. Why is survival a value?

Many species have become extinct. According to secular projections, the earth and the universe will eventually become uninhabitable.

There are deep-green philosophers who regard the survival of the human species as a threat to the survival of every other species.

According to secularism, every member of the human species is extinguished at death. So, taken collectively and distributively, we do not survive.

Why then, on secular grounds, “should” the human race survive?

All Danny ever does it to punt the question rather than answer the question.

“I am quite unclear as to how ‘survival is good, ethics must value human life’ violates the naturalistic fallacy. I did not say ‘survival is good because evolution promotes survival’ or some other naturalistic perspective. I am not justifying the statement by using some scientific observation. It is a premise, foundational, and self-evident.”

How is survival a “self-evident” premise in secular ethics?

You are committing the naturalist fallacy by trying to extract values from facts when nature is your only frame of reference.

“If we do not value survival, then do we value ethics, or even attempt to make them? If we do not care if our actions bring about our own demise, or that of others, then why do we care if our actions are ‘good/bad’ in any other sense at all?”

The answer depends on whether you are directing this question to a Christian or an atheist.

“In point of fact, you Christians value your own skin as well. Aaron Kinney (and others) have argued that Christians are just as egoistic as any other group. That self-interest (survival) is an innate part of all moral systems.”

i) You continue to make an illicit move from descriptive behavior to prescriptive behavior.

The fact that both believers and unbelievers value life is descriptive, not prescriptive.

ii) The fact that we may have a survival instinct doesn’t make it right. Unlike lower animals, we are conscious of our survival instinct, and since we are conscious of our genetic programming, we are in a position to override our genetic programming (in some instances).

So why “should” we obey our instincts? Some people commit suicide.

iii) The fact that believers and unbelievers alike may regard life as valuable doesn’t mean that their respective belief-systems are equally successful in warranted these values.

iv) Danny is also blurring a critical distinction between collective survival and personal survival.

There are many real world situations in which we face a conflict between the survival of the one and the survival of the many.

From the standpoint of secular ethics, what should an individual do when he’s confronted with a choice between saving his own skin and sacrificing his life to save another or others?

“Why do you obey God? Why do you avoid hell? It is certainly out of a sense of self-preservation, fear, and hope for your destiny.”

Yes, there’s some truth to that. But, of course, I have a destiny to preserve. You, by your own reckoning, do not.

“The basis of utilitarian ethics start with an equal value assigned to all persons, or else it is not possible to calculate the beneficence of any given action or decision. If we ‘tilt the scale’ at the beginning, then the idea of the ‘common good’ is a non sequitur and we go back to ‘all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’.”

This is an absurd characterization of utilitarian ethics. If the common good is the greater good, then this prioritizes the interests of the many above the welfare of the one.

Some individuals are more productive than others. Some individuals make a disproportionate contribution to the wellbeing of the many, while other individuals are a drag on the system.

Utilitarian ethics is a logical fit for a meritocracy rather than a democracy.

In addition, if naturalistic evolution is true, then why shouldn’t the strong exploit the weak?

“This is clearly the view of your God with respect to the Hebrews, and even with respect to Noah, etc., throughout the Bible, as some persons were ‘favored’ over others. Your God does not hold all persons in equal esteem. That is why our values are diametrically opposed.

God doesn’t hold all “sinners” in equal esteem. At the same time, no sinner is treated unjustly.

“We do not start with ‘what value does this person have?’ and use arbitrary tests, but instead ‘all persons are valued equally’ and use the objective measure of how any given action/decision affects every persons' needs and rights (to life and liberty).”

There’s nothing arbitrary about saying that some individuals make an unequal contribution to the welfare of the many.

So why, by utilitarian lights, should we treat everyone equally when everyone is not equal in his contribution to the common good?

“ii)-b) Your assertion about homosexuals being a burden should be supported by some sort of study other than the completely discredited work of one quack (Cameron)”

High-risk sexual behavior generates expensive medical conditions and complications. Since medical resources are limited, they need to be rationed.

On your own utilitarian grounds, why should a fractional sexual minority disproportionately overtax our scarce public and private medical resources?

“I don't believe in ‘homosexual rights’ any more than I believe in ‘Christian rights’ or ‘atheist rights’. I subscribe to equal human rights. It's pretty simple.”

Simply begging the question, you mean.

Why, from a secular standpoint, should we treat all human beings as equal when human beings are inherently unequal in their range of aptitudes as well as their contribution, or lack thereof, to the common good?

“Are you asking me if we should endow governments with the authority (somehow) to prevent consenting adults from engaging in whatever sexual behaviors they choose? That of course would violate the sovereignty over ones own body, which all humans must have in a system which honors liberty, so long as persons do not use their bodies to infringe upon the rights of others. As Jefferson said, "it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg..." How does it pick your pocket, or break your leg, Steve, for gays (or anyone) to engage in anal sex if they choose to?”

No, what I’m asking you as how you’d justify homosexual rights on the basis of evolutionary ethics. You are a Darwinian, right?

What’s the natural function of sex if not to perpetuate the species? To transmit our smart genes to posterity?

So, if Dawkins is right, why should homosexuals enjoy civil rights?

“And, your assertion about the gender disparities is scientifically shown to be a function of education and not intrinsic abilities. Unfortunately, women are not encouraged and educated with equal enthusiasm to go into some fields as men are. This is the only explanation for why boy and girl children start out with equal cognitive capabilities, but over time we see an unequal distribution of adult men and women in certain occupations and career fields.”

This is a transparently paternalistic excuse for disparities in the performance of the sexes.

Do you deny, a priori, that male and female brains may be specialized to some degree to excel in different tasks—as part of the evolutionary division of labor? That they may process information differently?

“You are trying to examine persons to see if they ‘qualify’ for equality, whereas secular humanism defines humans as equal (in the eyes of the law and human rights), and goes from there...What we find is we obviously discriminate and infringe upon a person's rights and liberty if we define some arbitrary measurement of how they need to ‘qualify’ to get equal access, treatment, and protections under the law.

i) What’s wrong, from a secular standpoint, with discrimination? It’s one thing to treat one’s equals equally. All other things being equal, treat everyone the same.

But what about innate inequalities? Is it arbitrary to say that Jim has an IQ of 90 while Tim has an IQ of 140?

Are all measures of aptitude or productivity arbitrary? Are there no fairly objective ways of testing intellectual performance or economic output?

Why should this not be allowed to figure in utilitarian ethics?

ii) Notice how Danny must take refuge in stipulative definitions. Dodgeball at its best.

iii) Even if this is how secular humanism defines social morality, there are many other versions of secularity that are either inequitable or relativistic.

“I have yet to hear you specifically commit to say that morality is contingent upon God, or that morality is necessary for God. Perhaps you can stake out your position and then we can go from there.”

This question is ambiguous. Man’s social and personal ethics are contingent on the will of God, as a consequence of the way in which he engineered human nature.

God also has essential moral attributes.

“Does God have the ability to choose freely among many actions and decisions? If so, when God makes that choice, and acts, or decides something, is it moral just because God chose it (moral contingency), or is it moral only if God chooses a particular set of actions/decisions, which are themselves able to be evaluated as moral/immoral (morality is necessary)?”

God always acts is a manner concordant with his justice. The action is just because he is just.

“If God commanded child rape in the Bible, would it be good? If God commanded that we eat each other? Or, do we agree that God cannot make certain acts/decisions moral simply by acting/deciding them? Please keep the replies as on-center as possible.”

I’ve already answered these sorts of questions in the negative. Divine commands and divine creation are complementary. Divine commands are not an arbitrary fiat. Rather, they presuppose his creative fiat.

Danny has his own dilemma. On the one hand, he’s a social chameleon. There’s a perfect match between his secular social views and the political orthodoxy of his academic environment. The blend between what he believes and what his peers or mentors believe is indistinguishable.

On the other hand, there’s a mismatch between his secular social views and his secular theories regarding utilitarian ethics and evolutionary ethics.

There is nothing in evolution or utilitarianism which either entails or is even consistent with his politically correct egalitarianism.

Rather, he stakes out these two contradictory positions for sociological rather than intellectual reasons. It’s simply the price of admission to his social circle. Evolution and egalitarianism are the passwords for admission to the club.

Danny's game of dodgeball, Part I

Daniel Morgan said:

“Careful Steve, or you'll be starting down the slippy slope towards establishing a moral realism that your divine command theory prohibits.”

Explain how “my” divine command theory prohibits moral realism?

What Danny is trying to do here is to disprove my position, not by engaging my actual argument, but by classifying my position in a certain way, which he defines as inconsistent with moral realism.

My argument was that certain commands are grounded in the nature with which God has endowed human beings.

There is nothing arbitrary about commands that are preadapted to the nature he’s given us.

Danny hasn’t laid a glove on my actual argument.

“Subject-object relationships are required for logic to exist. The only intelligible definitions of logic thus require a subject (observer) and objects (A) to make remarks such as, ‘A is A’ and ‘A cannot be A and B’. They don't require a subject/object to be God, unfortunately for you.”

Unfortunately for Danny, this is an argument for theistic conceptual realism.

If the subject-object relations of logic are limited to human observers (or ETs), then there was no logic before intelligent life evolved in the universe. In that event, Danny’s oscillating theory of the universe wasn’t true before intelligent life evolved in the universe. Indeed, the proposition that intelligent evolved wasn’t true before intelligent life evolved.

If the laws of logic, like the law of identity, or the law of non-identity, are contingent laws, dependent on the human mind, then nothing was true before intelligent live evolved. There was no third planet around the sun before primates evolved to the point of entertaining that proposition. There was no Big Bang before primates evolved to the point of entertaining that proposition.

If, on the other hand, the laws of logic are constituted by the mind of God, then God is the “observer” who grounds the necessity and universality of logic.

“Obviously, one possible world is the world of the naturalist, a world in which matter and energy have no need of ‘creation’ and undergo transformations without a divine mind willing them.”

i) Since Danny, unlike Witten, is not a quantum geometer, his appeal is a blind argument from authority.

ii) Some cosmological arguments, like the Kalam argument and the argument from the principle of sufficient reason, are a priori arguments. A posteriori developments in modern cosmology do nothing to invalidate a priori arguments.

“A creature which cannot access decisions or actions which are wrong/evil/immoral is completely amoral, just as a rock is. If a creature cannot choose wrongly, it cannot choose rightly in the moral sense.”

This is an assertion that requires a supporting argument. A man who cannot bring himself to be a child rapist is completely amoral? A man who cannot choose to murder his mother cannot rightly choose to let her live?

“This was an odd sentiment to read in coming from someone whose blog hosts presuppositional apologists who insist that we ‘account for’ logic/morality/X, and insist that Christianity supplies the only coherent "account of" X.”

Not odd at all. The question at issue is not whether X may require a source or standard outside of X in Y.

Rather, the question is whether this must devolve into an interminable process. You’re the one who’s setting up a false dilemma, as if the only two options are either to say that a drinking fountain must be its own source of water or else a drinking fountain has no ultimate source of water. But we don’t require a source of the water supply ad infinitum.

“On the one hand, you demand rigorous transcendental defenses of the existence of logic and morality, and on the other hand, your God is allowed to sneak under the radar. When God does/is/has it, it just IS, but if I say, "logic exists", Manata et al ask, ‘WHY?’ Your axioms are unassailable, but I am not allowed axioms at all (undefended foundational premises).”

Once again, Danny is ducking the argument by trying to classify the opposing position out of existence rather than directly engaging the argument.

i) One the one hand, transcendental theism does not commit us to a vicious infinite regress. On the other hand, it is not arbitrary to stop with the ultimate standard or source of something if, indeed, that is the ultimate source or standard of something. The error only lies in stopping short of the ultimate explanation, not in supposing that there is an ultimate explanation.

ii) Transcendental theism is not an axiomatic system with unprovable first-principles. Not the Van Tilian version.

The Clarkian version is axiomatic, and you’re more than welcome to attack that version.

“Classical foundationalism denies that you can use your God's existence as an axiom*, but you presuppose it nonetheless.”

This claim goes astray in several directions:

i) A Classical theistic foundationalist like Descartes would take issue with your interpretation.

ii) One can be a non-classical theistic foundationalist. Cf. N. Kretzmann, Our Knowledge of God: Essays on Natural & Philosophical Theology, K. Clark, ed. (Kluwer 1992).

iii) What makes you think that Van Til’s epistemology should be classified along the lines of classical foundationalism rather than, say, coherentism?

iv) Speaking for myself, I favor exemplarism, which involves a two-term relation (exemplar-exemplum), not an infinite regress.

So Danny’s objection falls flat on all possible counts.

“And subsume all subsequent questions into these meaningless propositions: God is good, God is logical, etc.”

If these are meaningless terms, then why does Danny act as if they’re meaningful for purposes of disproving Christian ethics?

“I understand quite well the need to stake out certain premises in our worldview without support.”

Transcendental theism, at least of the Van Tilian variety, does not posit an unsupportable or indefensible premise or set of premises.

Rather, these premises are confirmed by the coherent explanatory power of one’s worldview as a whole.

“But the circularity of your premises (God exists, we know this and God's character by Scripture, we know by Scripture that you know this as well, thus God's existence is self-evident).”

You seem to be confusing the presuppositionalism of Gordon Clark with the presuppositionalism of Van Til.

Van Til never limited our knowledge of God to special revelation alone.

“It seems that theists such as yourself attempt to hide behind the sort of vacuous certainty you are afforded by saying that somehow, some way, i) things are evil because God commands them, ii) things are evil because of man's nature, iii) and things are evil because they just are (see first comment above) -- the latter of which is of course my position.”

Once again, you’re setting a false dilemma.

To say that God prohibits sodomy, and to say that sodomy is unnatural, are hardly unrelated propositions.

To say that God prohibits sodomy because sodomy is unnatural, and sodomy is unnatural because it does violence to the way in which God designed human beings to interact at a physiological, psychological, and sociological level is not a circular argument, but a linear argument.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Choosing Biblical Commentaries

If you're looking for Biblical commentaries and want some recommendations, see here and here.

Steve's hush-hush private life

Since an increasing number of commenters are expressing interest in my sordid private life, I guess it’s time for me to come clean.

In the auspicious tradition of King Solomon, I have a harem.

When my wives and concubines get a little long of tooth, I put some them to work outside the home to support the compound.

The older kids do farm work inside the electrified fence, feeding chickens, chopping wood, milking cows, threshing wheat—that sort of thing.

Some of my other overripe wives and aging concubines are busy nursing newborns, cooking, cleaning—that sort of thing.

This frees up time for me to blog about the Debunkers.

As for my younger, prettier wives and concubines…well, I’ll leave that to your own imagination.

Holy Cow!

Daniel Morgan said:

“3) Circularity doesn't bring home the bacon. Is good/morality/logic/existence contingent upon God's creation of them and direction of them, or are these things which are necessary for God? IE child rape isn't intrinsically evil, only because God commands it so. If God has no frame of reference to be illogical, or define evil, then God is no more logical or moral than a rock. This is the epitome of arbitrary -- if God had commanded murder, then murder would be good, (as you say it is in such passages as Num 31:17 and 1 Sam 15:3)... if God had commanded X, then X is good, regardless of X. Arbitrary to the core, as the simple value of authority makes something right. Hitler's authority to order things, and ability to see them carried out, made nothing "good", no more than your God's does throughout the OT.”

I have to hand it to Danny. It takes a certain amount of undeniable talent to pack so much confusion into such a compact space.

i) All homicide is not murder. There’s such a thing a justifiable homicide, as when a policeman kills a sniper. Or perhaps Danny believes that we should disarm our policemen and give them lollipops instead.

ii) Many things are intrinsically evil in the sense that they are unnatural. That is to say, they are contrary to the way in which God made us as social creatures, with obligations to our Creator as well as our fellow man.

So they are not arbitrary, but grounded in nature.

Some things which are evil would not be evil if God were to change human nature.

Some things would always be evil, such as ingratitude towards one’s Maker.

iii) By contrast, the laws of logic obtain in every possible world.

iv) Is the only difference between a rock and a moral or rational agent the presence of a frame of reference? What about little things like consciousness?

v) Danny is also confusing circular reasoning, which is fallacious, with tracing something back to its source or origin or exemplary standard.

What’s the standard for our time zones? Greenwich Mean Time.

But do we then need a standard for GMT, and another standard for the standard for GMT? And back we go ad infinitum.

There’s a difference between an objective standard and an external standard. GMT is an objective standard.

An objective standard doesn’t need another standard external to the objective standard to be objective. Otherwise we’re lost in a vicious regress.

Do time zones lose all meaning unless we have an independent frame of reference for GMT, as well as an independent frame of reference for our independent frame of reference, ad nauseum, for GMT?

iv) Danny commits the same faulty reasoning with respect to the ultimate source of something.

v) Suppose a houseguest asks me where I got my milk. I say the grocery store.

But, of course, that’s not the ultimate explanation.

If I were Danny, I’d have to tell him that the milk came from the grocery store, which came from the milk truck, which came from the dairy farm, which (skipping over several steps) came from the Big Bang, which came from the oscillating universe, which came from the cosmic turtle, which came from the cosmic subturtle, which came from the…

Or perhaps he’d say the milk came from the cow, which came from the mother cow, which came from the bull that impregnated the mother cow, which came from organic molecules, which came from the Big Bang, which came from the oscillating universe, which came from the cosmic turtle, which came from the cosmic subturtle, which came from the…

Or perhaps he'd say the milk came from the hay, which came from photosynthesis, which came from the sun, which came from the Big Bang, which came from the oscillating universe, which came from the cosmic turtle, which came from the cosmic subturtle, which came from the…

For if the source ever came to an end, why—then the question itself loses all meaning, and things just are as they are, without possible reference to "objective" cows or turtles.

Back to the lifeboat

Daniel Morgan said:

“That said, I don't think that any of us disagree that there are tenable positions where we start with basic human needs and say ‘we ought to do X...for the purpose of meeting human needs’, and allowing human needs (survival, food, shelter, clothing) to trump peripheral and tangential issues. This provides a frame of reference from which social contract, utilitarian, etc., ethics can be derived. The ‘common good’ can be defined in terms of basic human needs, and not human happiness, with much more objectivity than you'll admit.”

i) This begs the central question: is survival good? Is it good to supply human needs?

Even if you can objectively define human need, objective needs and objective values are not the same thing. All you’ve done, like so many others, it to reiterate the naturalistic fallacy along with the is-ought fallacy.

ii) But suppose, for the sake of argument, that we take the common good as our frame of reference. And let’s apply that to some specific examples:

a) Does evolutionary or utilitarian ethics justify equal rights? From a secular standpoint, why should someone with an IQ of 100 have the same rights as someone with an IQ of 140?

In a lifeboat scenario, doesn’t the smarter guy make a greater contribution to the common good?

Isn’t Bill Gates worth a lot more than the guy he employs—precisely because one Bill Gates is the source of employment for the many?

So do you believe in equal rights, or should we scrap that political dogma?

b) Should homosexuals enjoy civil rights? Aren’t they a burden on the common good? A drain on limited medical resources. Elevated rates of suicide and domestic violence, &c.

It’s not as if anal sex is the most efficient method of transmitting one’s smart genes to the next generation.

So, do you believe in homosexual rights? If so, what is your evolutionary or utilitarian justification?

c) What about women’s rights? If men generally excel women in math and the hard sciences, does that mean that men in general, are intellectually superior to women? Or, if not in general, that some men peak at a higher level than women?

If so, do you believe in equal rights for women? If so, what is your secular rationale?

“The responses that theists make to the Euthyphro Dilemma attempt to obscure the basic question: does an objective standard exist, are things good because they are, or not? Yes or no? You get into long and convoluted rabbit trails to evade the simple answer -- they must be, or else we lose all ability to use the word ‘good’ and ‘moral’, and might as well say ‘gwoeiewqnwo’. And if it is the case that they are NOT, then the question itself loses all meaning, and things just are as they are, without the ability to use reference to ‘good’ or ‘evil’.”

i) Notice that Danny is trying to take the easy way out: dismissing our arguments without having to engage our arguments.

He hasn’t shown where we go wrong.

ii) Since the Euthyphro dilemma is prejudicial in the way it frames the alternatives, we have every right to challenge the dilemma as a false dilemma.

Sometimes the first and best move is not to answer the question, but to question the question because the question is a loaded or leading question.

Errant critics of inerrant Scripture

AGuyWhoDoesntLiveWithMom said:

“Thanks, Steve. A friend of mine was asking for an example of an ad hoc argument and I couldn't think of a good one until I read this.”

i) Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Thompson’s interpretation is ad hoc. I’ll return to this charge momentary. But, for now, let us grant the charge for discussion purposes (only), and run with it.

Assuming that Thompson’s interpretation is ad hoc, that doesn’t make it an ad hoc response to Curry. Even if it were ac hoc in relation to Chronicles, it is not ad hoc in relation to Curry.

Remember the form of Curry’s argument. He was supposedly arguing with Evangelicals on their own turf.

He thinks that 1 Chron 22:14 disproves the Evangelical doctrine of inerrancy.

So he is mounting an internal critique of Evangelical Bibliology.

But is it, in fact, contrary to the Evangelical doctrine of inerrancy? Well, shouldn’t Curry begin by asking himself what the Evangelical doctrine of inerrancy actually is?

Where would we find a representative definition? One standard reference point is the Chicago Statement.

Indeed, Geisler, whom Curry cites by name to illustrate the kind of Evangelical he has in mind, was one of the original framers of the Chicago Statement.

Among other things, the Chicago Statement allows for hyperbole and round numbers consistent with inerrancy.

It also doesn’t strike me as altogether unreasonable that if you’re going to claim that 1 Chron 22:14 disproves the Evangelical doctrine of inerrancy, you might first bestir yourself to actually consult one or more Evangelical commentaries on 1 Chron 22:14 so that your disproof is directed against real life Evangelicals, and not a straw man.

So I did what Curry was too lazy to do, which was to pick up an Evangelical commentary on 1 Chron 22:14 and see what it had to say.

And what do you know? It’s perfectly consonant with the Chicago Statement! And I cited two other Evangelical commentators to the same effect.

So I was answering Curry on his own terms according to the way in which he chose to frame the issue. That is not ad hoc. That is the very opposite of ad hoc.

Therefore, even if Thompson’s interpretation is ad hoc, that’s irrelevant to Curry’s argument.

ii) But is it ad hoc?

a) What did Thompson say? One thing he said was that “this sort of hyperbole is often used in ancient literature and speeches.”

Is that an ad hoc assertion? In what sense would it be ad hoc? Is it untrue?

Let’s remember who Thompson is. Thompson is an archeologist as well as a historian in the field of ANE language and literature.

He knows his way around the primary sources.

Is “AGuyWhoDoesntLiveWithMom” claiming that ANE literature does not employ hyperbole?

In fact, since “AGuyWhoDoesntLiveWithMom” presumably denies the inspiration of Scripture, he would regard the OT as just another example of ANE literature, right?

(Mind you, the use of literary conventions is entirely consistent with the inspiration of Scripture.)

But if you don’t think the OT is a class apart from ANE literature generally, but just another example of uninspired ANE literature, then why would you claim it’s ad hoc for a commentator to say the OT employs hyperbole?

b) Or is “AGuyWhoDoesntLiveWithMom” claiming that while hyperbole was a customary literary device in ANE literature, it would be ad hoc to say that 1 Chron 22:14 is an example of that general convention?

But how is it ad hoc to claim that 1 Chron 22:14 is a special case of a generally attested literary convention?

Is “AGuyWhoDoesntLiveWithMom” claiming that while ANE literature employs hyperbole, the OT does not?

Or is his claiming that while the OT does employ hyperbole from time to time, it is ad hoc to interpret 1 Chron 22:14 as a case in point?

But how would that represent an ad hoc interpretation?

c) In addition, this is not all that Thompson said. He gave a supporting argument for his interpretation: “and the round numbers further imply that they are not to be taken literally.”

Is “AGuyWhoDoesntLiveWithMom” contending that figures like “a hundred thousand talents of gold and a million talents of silver” are not round numbers?

They sure look like round numbers. Exact multiples of ten. Not 99,973 talents of gold or 999,977 talents of silver.

But if they’re obviously round numbers, then doesn’t that corroborate Thompson’s interpretation?

Actually, the only evidence of ac hocery is “AguyWhoDoesntLiveWithMom's" ad hoc objection to Thompson.

Moreover, Pratt, in his commentary on Chronicles, gives additional examples of the Chronicler’s use of hyperbole.

Furthermore, this is not the only available interpretation of 1 Chron 22:14. Cf. G. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Zondervan 1982), 223-24.

That’s another standard reference work which Curry was too indolent to read.

Moving along:

“Curry meant I Chronicles 22:14 rather than 24:14. That lists the quantities of gold and silver. I Kings 6:2 is relevant because it gives the dimensions of the temple. With that information and information about the density of gold and silver you can determine that the gold and silver don't actually fit within the dimensions of the temple.”

1 Kgs 6:2 is not germane to the argument that Curry was making. Curry’s argument was that the amount of gold and silver specified in 1 Chron 22:14 was in access of the amount of gold and silver available to David or Solomon—not that the Solomonic temple was too small to accommodate that amount of gold and silver.

Remember Curry’s argument?:


A talent is equal to about 75.5 lbs, cubit is equal to about 17.5 in, the density of silver is 0.379 lb/cu in, the density of gold is 0.692 lb/cu-in. The Bible report 100,000 talents (=7,550,000 lbs) of gold and 1,000,000 talents (=75,000,000 lbs) of silver.

It is estimated that by 1860 the world had produced only 40,000 lbs (regular not troy pounds) of gold (see here). This is far less than what the Bible reports for the temple. It is also estimated that by 600 BC the world’s total production of silver was 112,000,000 lbs (see here). It is implausible to think Israel would have the majority of the world’s silver. Even if the gold and silver were melted down, it would not fit into the temple. (To say nothing of the bronze, iron, timber, and stone).


The dimensions of the temple are relevant to Fred Titanich’s article in the Skeptical Review, but Curry didn’t carry over that part of the argument. Rather, he used Titanich’s data as a springboard to mount a different argument based on the amount of extant gold and silver in today’s world.

Moving along:

Bill Curry said:

“Wow! If Biblical Inerrancy is not negated by the reporting of falsehoods (like say, a false resurrection), what does inerrancy mean, and why do you bother to defend any Biblical claim? Why would you think the ‘inerrant’ Bible does have falsehoods that are of a theological nature?”

Maybe I think that because, unlike Bill Curry, I also think it’s important to make at least a minimal effort to acquaint myself with the opposing position before I attack it.

The “reporting of falsehoods” has reference to quotations. Bible writers, in the course of narrating historical events, quote various speakers. Some speakers are inspired while other speakers are uninspired.

When, for example, a Bible writer quotes a false prophet, this is an accurate quote of a false statement—just as a court stenographer will transcribe whatever a witness says, even if the witness is lying through his teeth.

Curry would know this if he bothered to read the exposition of the articles from the Chicago Statement, such as:

“The truthfulness of Scripture is not negated by the appearance in it of irregularities of grammar or spelling, phenomenal descriptions of nature, reports of false statements (for example, the lies of Satan)…”
Moving along:

Anonymous said:

“OK. If he's equivocating tell us what the phrase means. Inerrancy is not negated by the reporting of falsehoods. What would negate inerrancy?…What is proof of errancy is proof that the Bible reports falsehoods. At least that's what I've always assumed. Is that not so?”

Been there, done that. See above.

Jon And Bill Curry

Those of you who have read Bill Curry's articles at Debunking Christianity (here and here) may be interested in knowing that he's the brother of the Jon Curry I interacted with at length on Greg Krehbiel's theology board last year. Many other people in that forum interacted with Jon as well. I probably wrote hundreds of pages of material in response to him. During that discussion, which covered many topics and spanned several weeks, we discussed some of the arguments of his brother Bill, including the arguments Bill is posting at Debunking Christianity. I discussed, with Jon, the passages Bill is now citing from 1 Kings and 1 Chronicles, and I gave Jon a link to an article by J.P. Holding that discusses some of the relevant information. Apparently, Jon didn't tell Bill much, if anything, about the discussions he had with me and with other people on Greg Krehbiel's board.

The same Jon Curry is the Jon who's been calling in to James White's webcast in recent weeks. At one point in his discussion with James White last Thursday, he told James that he has "nobody knowledgeable" to speak to about these issues surrounding Jesus' resurrection, Biblical inerrancy, etc. I and others on Greg Krehbiel's board have a significant amount of knowledge of these issues, and we gave Jon Curry a lot of our time, so he can only make that claim in the present tense or with the exclusion of people he interacts with online. He can't claim that nobody knowledgeable of these issues has ever taken the time to discuss the issues with him. Apparently, he isn't making much of an effort to remember and properly integrate the information he's getting from the Christians he speaks with.

One of the issues I discussed with Jon was Matthew 16:28 and the parallel passages elsewhere in the gospels. But you wouldn't know that our discussion had taken place by listening to what Jon said when he spoke with James White. I had already given Jon the sort of information James White gave him. I gave him a lot of other information as well, including the comments of scholars like D.A. Carson and Craig Keener on the relevant passages. Jon asked James White why Jesus made the reference to "tasting death" in Matthew 16:28 if the event in question was only days away, but as C.E.B. Cranfield notes:

"I would assume that the point of the solemn language about not tasting death is that the persons referred to would have the privilege of seeing in the course of their natural life what others would only see at the final judgment." (cited in Craig Blomberg, Matthew [Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1992], n. 8 on p. 261)

In other words, Jesus' comment about not tasting death was more about the state in which the event would occur than the timing of it. Why would Jon Curry be calling James White to ask for this sort of information when he had already been given it by me and could find it in commentaries that are available to him and which I had recommended to him?

I discussed many alleged Biblical errors with Jon (the slaughter of the Bethlehem children, the death of Judas, etc.). Each time I would answer his list of alleged Biblical errors, he would move on to another list.

I don't think that my discussions with him on Greg Krehbiel's board are online any longer. But my responses to him on the Real Clear Theology blog are still available. For example, see here. The following comments I wrote in that article are an accurate summary of Jon Curry's problem then and now:

"There are difficulties in defending Christianity. But there are worse difficulties in defending skeptical theories about the evidence. When somebody like Jon Curry decides to renounce Jesus Christ, he ought to have spent less time reading sources like Farrell Till and Richard Carrier and more time reading conservative scholarship. People swallowing camels like a hallucinating Paul shouldn't be straining at gnats like how Judas could have fallen in addition to hanging himself. Skeptics regularly attempt to dismiss miracle accounts with theories that they would never accept in defense of Biblical inerrancy. But the defenders of inerrancy don't need to put forward such theories. We don't need to appeal to mass hallucinations, widespread memory loss, and such in the manner that skeptics do in defending their theories."

Bill Curry isn't responsible for the behavior of Jon Curry. But I would suggest that Bill consult his brother about his brother's past discussions with Christians before he posts more articles on the resurrection and Biblical inerrancy. And Bill should keep in mind that his brother's recollections aren't necessarily reliable.

As those of you who have listened to James White's webcast from last Thursday should know, Jon Curry is now speaking highly of the work of Earl Doherty, who argues against Jesus' existence. I would repeat what I said to Jon last year. He needs to spend more time reading sources like D.A. Carson and Craig Keener and less time reading sources like Richard Carrier and Earl Doherty.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Evolution of Morality

The Evolution of Morality

Richard Joyce, The Evolution of Morality, MIT Press, 2006, 288pp, $32.00, ISBN 0262101122.

Reviewed by Peter Singer, Princeton University and the University of Melbourne

To this point, Joyce has essentially been answering a scientific question: has morality resulted from natural biological selection? After reaching an affirmative answer to this question, he devotes the last two chapters, and the conclusion, to a philosophical question: what difference should this make to the contents of our ethics, or to our metaethical views?

Some think that associating evolution and ethics leads to "evolutionary ethics," of which the most notorious example is "social darwinism" -- a view that Darwin himself never held -- which sees evolution as a moral force that we should allow to do its work unfettered. Social darwinists argued against social welfare, on the grounds that those who are not fit enough to survive in the marketplace should not be assisted in reproducing.

Joyce argues that social darwinism and more contemporary versions of what he calls "prescriptive evolutionary ethics" by Robert Richards, Richmond Campbell, Daniel Dennett, and William Casebeer all fail, although he does not think that they can all be brought down by invoking either the "naturalistic fallacy" or the rule against deriving an "ought" from an "is". Joyce gives rather more space than necessary to showing why this is so. Although there are admittedly counter-examples to the rule that no "ought" statement can follow from an "is" statement, the counter-examples are essentially, as Joyce himself says, "logical tricks". Since anything follows from a contradiction, "You ought not steal" follows from a contradiction. But so what? Tricks aside, Hume's puzzlement over how an "ought" could follow from a series of "is" statements was well-founded. Oddly, in a book that is otherwise precise to the point of pedantry about exactly what the naturalistic fallacy is and whether an "ought" can be deduced from an "is", Joyce twice (pp.145, 191) refers to utilitarianism as an example of naturalism. Since utilitarianism is generally regarded as a normative, and not a metaethical, theory, it is compatible with any metaethics. Sidgwick was an intuitionist utilitarian. J.J.C. Smart is a noncognitivist utilitarian.

In Chapter 6, "The Evolutionary Debunking of Morality," Joyce discusses the reverse of the view that we should take evolution as our moral guide. The debunker regards knowledge that some of our specific moral beliefs are the outcome of natural selection as casting doubt on their claim to be preceptions of moral truth, or moral fixed points with which no sound normative theory would clash. As elsewhere, Joyce states his own position cautiously. He has not argued that any moral belief is innate, but only that we have a "specialized innate mechanism" for acquiring moral beliefs, so that we are born ready to see things in a normative way. As he puts it, "moral concepts may be innate even if moral beliefs are not." It is the idea of a sweeping moral skepticism, not of debunking particular moral beliefs, that primarily interests Joyce. Of course, the mere fact that a capacity has evolved cannot be sufficient to debunk it. Knowing that our capacity for mathematics is the result of evolution does not lead us to doubt that 1 + 1 = 2. But as Joyce points out, the best possible explanation of this capacity is that it helps us to survive by tracking the real world -- if we see three leopards enter a thicket, notice two leaving, and therefore conclude that it is safe to go into the thicket, our reproductive prospects will be diminished. As we have seen, however, there are good explanations of our capacity to make moral judgments that do not assume that it is a faculty for perceiving some truth about the world. Moreover, Joyce argues, there is no fact about the world that can vindicate the inescapable authority that moral judgments purport to have. He concludes: "our moral beliefs are products of a process that is entirely independent of their truth" and while they might happen to be true, we have no reason for thinking that they are. Thus Joyce embraces something like John Mackie's metaethical "error theory," with the difference that whereas Mackie thought our moral language is mistaken because no moral propositions are true, Joyce defends only the more modest claim that we are not justified in endorsing any moral proposition.

The Keystone Cops

According to Bill Curry of DC,

“The issue that had the greatest impact on my thinking about the resurrection was the argument for inerrancy. The inerrancy of the Bible is affirmed by the major defenders of the Christianity including William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland, and Norman Geisler. Members of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) must annually affirm their belief in inerrancy to maintain their membership (see here). If one is a Christian, it makes a great deal of sense to affirm this.”

Yes, and how do they demarcate the parameters of inerrancy? Here’s a standard formulation from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy:

“We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.”

Continuing with Curry:

“However, I think it is quite reasonable for someone to believe that the Bible contains at least one error. Consider 1 Chronicles 24:14 and 1 Kings 6:2: ‘With great pains I have provided for the house of the LORD, a hundred thousand talents of gold, a million talents of silver, and bronze and iron without weighing, for there is so much of it; timber and stone, too, I have provided’ 1 Chronicles 22:14.”

Two problems for Curry:

i) It’s hard to “consider” the Biblical data when Curry manages to misquote two of the three citations. There is nothing in 1 Chron 24:14 or 1 Kgs 6:2 corresponding to issue at hand.

A word of advice for future reference: If you’re going to make a case for errors in Scripture, it’s helpful not to commit errors in your citation of Scripture.

All an erroneous citation goes to show is the ineptitude of the Debunker.

ii) If we turn to a standard Evangelical commentary on 1 Chron 22:14, this is what we find:

“The quantities specified here seem to be exceptionally large. One explanation is that it was a standard figure of speech for stressing the magnificence of the temple and drawing attention to David's vast preparations for the temple that was soon to be erected. This sort of hyperbole is often used in ancient literature and speeches, and the round numbers further imply that they are not to be taken literally. Our western propensity to be precise allows little room for a characteristic feature of the literary methods of the ANE,” J. A. Thompson, 1,2 Chronicles (B&H 1994), 165-66.

Other Evangelical commentaries on 1-2 Chronicles by L. C. Allen and Richard Pratt take the same approach.

So Curry’s case for the errancy of Scripture has established the following indisputable facts:

1.He’s too much of a slob to accurately cite chapter and verse.

2. He’s ignorant of how Evangelicals typically define inerrancy.

3. He’s ignorant of standard Evangelical commentaries on the verse in question.

No wonder he was recruited by Loftus for the DC—where systematic incompetence is a prerequisite of membership. That’s part of the job description over there.

"Big shot"

John W. Lost Us said:

“Now you've really got to answer some tough questions, like: Can God be surprised?”

You’re behind the curve, John. I addressed that question a long time ago.

Continuing with his “tough” questions:

“Can God make a rock so heavy He can't lift it?”

Once again, you’re behind the curve. I addressed that question last month (scroll down to the bottom):


“Why did God make mosquitos? They just don't seem to serve any good purpose.”

Once more, you’re behind the curve. I addressed that question last month as well:

But it’s a funny question coming from an atheist. If a creationist made such an ignorant claim, a secular entomologist would be all over him.

A mosquito is a parasite. Parasitism, like predation, has a central role to play in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem. It’s a natural form of population control. Cf.

“When you can answer those ones, big shot, maybe we'll talk. When you're ready to admit there's no answer to these deeply important questions, I'm ready to receive you over at DC. I'll even put your name under mine. C'mon Steve, whaddya say?”

I’d say I’ve answered your “deeply important questions” before you ever got around to asking them.

Thinking Critically for George.

It’s both sad and amusing to watch skeptics like George bury themselves under their own argumentation. It’s also rather ironic that while George wants us to think critically, it becomes painfully apparent he has not thought critically himself. This is especially true of the claims he makes about the authorship (and by extension dating) of the Pentateuch and the New Testament.

Of course, this should come as no surprise, after all liberal commentators don’t really interact with conservative scholarship. So, while demanding we interact with what he writes, George, displaying his manifest incompetence, doesn’t stop to think that the liberal commentators rarely, if ever, interact with their conservative peers. Thumb through any critical commentary from the liberal side of the aisle, and what do you find? You find a monologue. They talk to each other, but not to others. Look through the index of a conservative commentary, and what do you find? You find a dialogue. They interact with liberals at length. We have to thank the liberals for their behavior in this matter, as it keeps skeptics like George in blissful ignorance of other points of view, and this, as George’s latest spate of comments directed to Paul Manata demonstrate, amuses us no end. If this is the best skeptics can do, then we must thank for doing us a great service.

“You mistakenly believe that by worshipping a somewhat arbitrary collection of ancient writing by countless authors and editors, most of whom are anonymous, you are worshipping something called ‘god’.”

“You believe this huge collection of ancient, anonymous Hebrew folklore…”

“Many ‘reasonable’, ‘liberal’, modern Christian scholars, have come to accept the fact that the Genesis “garden of Eden” story is a mythical allegory of our ancient ancestors, and that it has been completely contradicted by the rational logic and inference of our modern scientific investigation and empirical evidence for the slow evolution of species over the 3+ billion year history of life on this planet.”

As Steve mentioned, George makes this and that assertion with no argument. What editors? Which modern scholars?

Skeptics like George do this all the time. In the midst of calling us irrational, they make wild claims that display their ignorance for all to see, and while demanding evidence of us, they make asssertion without argument.

Let’s do some critical thinking for George. This, George, is why we have books and classes called “OT Introduction” and “NT Introduction.” The point here, George, is not to attack your theory of authorship, per se. Rather it is to point out that if you're going to make an argument in public then you need to do your homework first. I, and I would think Steve, Jason, and Paul, all have far more respect for a critic who is actually informed about the material he is discussing than one who displays their ignorance for all to see. At present, George, while observing you and Steve interact, I feel like I'm watching Duke University (Steve) play Forsyth Tech (George) in basketball. So, consider this some advice from the other side of aisle to help you improve your game.

As a matter of fact, we have a pretty good idea of the authorship of quite a few OT books. The Psalms carry their own authorship monikers. It’s rather well known that the school of the prophets that functioned in the days of Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Elisha, Hosea, had a hand in writing the OT, its redaction, etc. and it does not conflict with conservative scholarship to say that the text was redacted and updated, especially from proto-Hebrew to more modern language forms. Moreover, Mosaic authorship, or at a minimum, single author with occasional edits for readability over time is now very highly favored theory of authorship of the OT coming from modern ANE archaelogy. Its "liberal scholarship" that is behind the ball in catching up; ergo when you appeal to them, the appeal rings very hollow.

Let’s take a quick look, since the Pentateuch is of particular interest here, at some recent work:

Author: Larsson, Gerhard

Title: The Documentary Hypothesis and the Chronological Structure of the Old Testament.

Journal: Z fur die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft

Year: 1985

Volume: 97(3); pages: 316-333

Surveys criticism of the documentary hypothesis and notes the more recent, synthesizing approach. This includes studies of pericopes as units and studies of internal connections between narratives to find common structural elements. A closer study is also made of the feasibility of using the chronological dates to shed light on the structural design and internal connections of the Pentateuch.

Author: Tengstrom, Sven

Title: Exegetisk metod och dateringsproblem i pentateukforskningen (Exegetical Method and the Problem of Dating the Pentateuch in Recent Research)

Journal: Svensk Exegetisk Arsbok

Year: 1989

Volume: 54, pages: 207-225

Recently scholars (Van Seters, Schmid, Rendtorff, Rose, Lemche) have challenged both the documentary hypothesis of the Pentateuch's composition and even the presuppositions supporting literary-critical analysis itself. Likewise thus the dates of the Pentateuchal material come into question. But these studies are not informed by modern structural and linguistic approaches. An approach to exegesis so informed leads to dating the Yahwist's work far earlier than is usually done, well back into the premonarchical period. (Swedish)

Author: van Dyk, P. J.

Title: Current Trends in Pentateuch Criticism.

Journal: Old Testament Essays,

Year: 1990

Volume: 3(2), pages: 191-202.

It is now accepted that the documentary hypothesis is hampered with serious difficulties. Redaction history and tradition history are now considered more fitting points of departure than literary criticism in explaining the origin of the Pentateuch. There is a preference for the view that much of the Yahwistic material was written later than originally thought, implying a much longer period of oral and written transmission of many of the Pentateuchal narratives. The way literary criticism and tradition history were applied in the past is largely invalidated by current folklore research which should be used as a corrective as well as to devise a new theory on how the Pentateuch originated.

Author: Rendtorff, Rolf.

Title: The Paradigm Is Changing: Hopes - and Fears.

Journal: Biblical Interpretation,

Year: 1993

Volume: 1(1), pages: 34-53.

Wellhausen's Documentary Hypothesis has come to an end. Other major scholarly views of the 20th cent., e.g., Gunkel's concentration on the smaller units, and Noth's and von Rad's Israelite amphictyony are cratering. Nothing substantial, however, has replaced these views. Several contemporary scholars advocate "fearful" concepts: Israelite religion was little different from Canaanite religion; one can write a history of Israel without using the Hebrew Bible; more and more OT texts are exilic and postexilic, and their historical allusions are not reliable. Still, a "hopeful" aspect of present work is the tendency to deal with the text as it is.

George should also read here:

and here:

And lest he choose to caricature what it means to affirm Mosaic authorship without bothering to read:

The assertion that Moses is the principal author of the present text of Genesis need not mean that it came from his hand exactly as we have it now. To the contrary, one may confidently assume that the work has undergone post-Mosaic redaction. The main reason such a redaction would have taken place was not to substantially change the book in any way but rather to make it intelligible to a later generation of readers. (Duane Garrett).

I’d add that liberals make this mistake all the time, and insist on large redactions in order to sustain an argument with conservative Christians. Skeptics like George swallow these theories, which pass like fashion fads, and then make ridiculous unthinking claims. If they say that they were redacted in a manner that reflects a particular element of Jewish theology prior to the time of redaction, then they must state that they were redacted faithfully and not unfaithfully, in order to successfully sustain the assertion that the texts paint a faithful picture of views of God prior to the period of redaction, and this further made it past the most likely view of God by the redactors themselves, but this thesis of composition was asserted to attack the faithfulness of the text to its sources, not maintain it, and that the text is setting forth a view of God that is that of the redactors, not necessarily the source texts. What’s more, this happened without any evidence, including evidence of a split in Judaism, for which we have evidence of many splits through the centuries over much smaller items than this would be.

Yes, I know, God forbid George take time to read through current scholarship. He may want to read over the work of Cyrus Gordon. (Hint: George, you don’t have to be a Christian to disaffirm liberal scholarship. Gordon was a Jew). I’d further add that ANE scholarship itself has largely left the old Documentary Hypothesis in the dust...but if George wants to believe 19th century criticism that has been abandoned long ago by liberal scholars themselves, he’s more than welcome to do so. George, don’t call us antediluvian for our beliefs on these while holding to outmoded theories. That’s just lazy.

As Gordon stated:

"When I speak of 'commitment' to JEDP, I mean it in the deepest sense of the word. I have heard professors of Old Testament refer to the integrity of JEDP as their 'conviction.' They are willing to countenance modifications in detail. They permit you to subdivide (D1, D2, D3, and so forth) or combine (JE) or add a new document designated by another capital letter but they will not tolerate any questioning of the basic JEDP structure.

"I am a loss to explain this kind of 'conviction' on any grounds other than intellectual laziness or inability to reappraise.

"A professor of Bible in a leading university once asked me to give him the facts on JEDP. I told him essentially what I have written above. He replied: 'I am convinced by what you say but I shall go on teaching the old systems.'

"When I asked him why, he answered: 'Because what you have told me means I should have to unlearn as well as study afresh and rethink. It is easier to go on with the accepted system of higher criticism for which we have standard textbooks."

The real irony here is that George talks about science, but then he fails to realize that much of liberal scholarship, with which he so infatuated, is contradicted by the science of archaeology.

“Perhaps you don’t realize that the collection of ancient musings you call the bible was written by countless MEN, Paul. Not by any “gods”, not even by “Jesus of Nazareth”. That’s why we call them the “gospel of Mark” (whoever that is) or the “epistles of Paul”, and not the “gospel of god, and the epistles of god”.”

A. What Christians, George, say that the text was written by God, not men? Inspiration takes that into account. Do you ever bother to read what you criticize?

B. What Christian says that the text was written by Jesus?

C. Mark, according to external witness, was Peter’s stenographer. One supposes you are affirming Markan authorship. Thank you.

D. Nice to see you affirm Pauline authorship. Thank you.

E. For one who appeals to science you are remarkably ignorant of the science of textual criticism, George. If you dispute the authorship of the gospels, then lay out your arguments. Skeptics are always crying for evidence. Well, where is your evidence of another author? Where is the textual tradition to the contrary? Why do you disbelieve the external evidence supporting traditional authorship ascriptions? Where is the paper trail proving your objection is valid? What of the internal evidence? The same can be said with reference to the OT. In short, George, before taking Mr. Manata to task for his allegedly uncritical acceptance of the biblical text, why don’t you acquaint yourself with the relevant body of literature and at least make an informed argument? Until you do, all you’re doing is making us Reformed Protestant theists look good, and, as I reach for another bag of popcorn to watch from my vacation, I'd like to at least see a better ballgame.

Explosion of Life

Explosion of Life

Dr. Paul Chien

Dr. Paul Chien was born in China and graduated from university in Hong Kong where he earned degrees in chemistry and botany. He completed his doctorate at the University of California, Irvine, and his post-doc at Cal Tech in marine biology. Presently he is the chairman of the biology department at the University of San Francisco.

A scientist reveals details of the Cambrian explosion, a biological puzzle that confounds the Darwinists

Dr. Paul Chien, chairman of the biology department at the University of San Francisco, recently accepted a unique invitation to travel to China to study fossils of the Cambrian era. What Chien found at the Chengjiang site, and what he has since learned about the Cambrian fauna, has changed the focus of his career. Today, Chien concentrates on further exploring and promoting the mysteries of the Cambrian explosion of life. Subsequently, Chien possesses the largest collection of Chinese Cambrian fossils in North America.

Chien attended Mere Creation, a conference last November sponsored by Christian Leadership, which was featured in the previous Real Issue. The following is an interview with Paul Chien.

RI: Dr. Chien, what is your interest in the evolution/creation debate?

Chien: Even before I became a Christian, I had doubts about evolution. During my college years I was really interested in finding answers, but I got very little help. For a while I lost interest because I thought, one way or the other, it wasn't very important. But since I started teaching, many people ask me about that. In fact, I often speak at churches and youth groups and conferences, and I have been forced back to that question; it's pretty much my hobby now.

RI: Until recently, you have focused on the effects of pollution on marine organisms. How then did you come to study the Cambrian "explosion of Life"?

Chien: In studying marine organisms, and mainly the invertebrate groups, I have a clear vision of the distinct characteristics of each phyla. The theory of evolution never [seemed to] apply well in my field of marine invertebrates. When the news broke concerning [the discovery of] an explosion of animal life, it really excited me because that [had been] my position for many years. Also, Phil Johnson's chapter on fossils [Darwin on Trial, Intervarsity Press, 1991] really ignited my interest in that area.

When an opportunity came up to talk with Chinese paleontologists and to visit them and the original site of fossil discovery, it became something I had to do. So last March I organized an international group to make a visit there.

RI: So is the Chengjiang site a primary site for the Cambrian explosion?

Chien: Yes, it's the site of the first marine animal found in the early Cambrian times we don't count microorganisms as animals.

RI: Are there other places in the world where you find the same organisms?

Chien: In some ways there are similarities between the China site and the other famous site, the Burgess Shale fauna in Canada. But it turns out that the China site is much older, and the preservation of the specimens is much, much finer. Even nerves, internal organs and other details can be seen that are not present in fossils in any other place.

RI: And I suppose many of these are probably soft-tissue marine-type animals?

Chien: Yes, including jellyfish-like organisms. They can even see water ducts in the jellyfish. They are all marine. That part of western China was under a shallow sea at the time.

RI: As you became more interested in this and discovered more about it, did you find it really was an "explosion of life"?

Chien: Yes. A simple way of putting it is that currently we have about 38 phyla of different groups of animals, but the total number of phyla discovered during that period of time (including those in China, Canada, and elsewhere) adds up to over 50 phyla. That means [there are] more phyla in the very, very beginning, where we found the first fossils [of animal life], than exist now.

Stephen J. Gould, [a Harvard University evolutionary biologist], has referred to this as the reverse cone of diversity. The theory of evolution implies that things get more and more complex and get more and more diverse from one single origin. But the whole thing turns out to be reversed we have more diverse groups in the very beginning, and in fact more and more of them die off over time, and we have less and less now.

RI: What information is the public hearing or not hearing about the Cambrian explosion?

Chien: The general impression people get is that we began with microorganisms, then came lowly animals that don't amount to much, and then came the birds, mammals and man. Scientists were looking at a very small branch of the whole animal kingdom, and they saw more complexity and advanced features in that group. But it turns out that this concept does not apply to the entire spectrum of animals or to the appearance or creation of different groups. Take all the different body plans of roundworms, flatworms, coral, jellyfish and whatever all those appeared at the very first instant.

Most textbooks will show a live tree of evolution with the groups evolving through a long period of time. If you take that tree and chop off 99 percent of it, [what is left] is closer to reality; it's the true beginning of every group of animals, all represented at the very beginning.

Since the Cambrian period, we have only die-off and no new groups coming about, ever. There's only one little exception cited the group known as bryozoans, which are found in the fossil record a little later. However, most people think we just haven't found it yet; that group was probably also present in the Cambrian explosion.

Also, the animal explosion caught people's attention when the Chinese confirmed they found a genus now called Yunnanzoon that was present in the very beginning. This genus is considered a chordate, and the phylum Chordata includes fish, mammals and man. An evolutionist would say the ancestor of humans was present then. Looked at more objectively, you could say the most complex animal group, the chordates, were represented at the beginning, and they did not go through a slow gradual evolution to become a chordate.

RI: In the December 1995 issue of Time magazine in the article "When Life Exploded" the writer implied that there was nothing to get worked up about the theory of evolution was not in any danger.

Chien: The scientists come out and say, "Oh yes, we've heard this before and it's very similar to the Burgess Shale," and so forth, but the Burgess Shale story was not told for many years. The Burgess Shale was first found by Charles Walcott in 1909why was the story not reported to the public until the late 1980's?

At the very beginning I thought it was a problem for them; they couldn't figure out what was going on because they found something that bears no resemblance to the present animal groups and phyla. Walcott originally tried to shoehorn those groups into existing ones, but [his attempt] was never satisfactory.

It was puzzling for a while because they refused to see that in the beginning there could be more complexity than we have now. What they are seeing are phyla that do not exist now that’s more than 50 phyla compared to the 38 we have now. (Actually the number 50 was first quoted as over 100 for a while, but then the consensus became 50-plus.) But the point is, they saw something they didn't know what to do with; that's the scientifically honest position they're placed in. Later on, as they began to understand things are not the same as Darwinian expectations, they started shutting up.

RI: Now that the information is coming out, what are they saying?

Chien: We really don't have much of an explanation yet, although there are a few biological and environmental theories that have been kicked around. Stephen Gould was quoted by Phil Johnson [in Darwin on Trial] as saying that things like [the Cambrian explosion] are the trade secret of paleontology, and not many people know about it. And that includes Gould's own crusade for punctuated equilibrium as well.

I know of some people who teach evolution but do not mention Stephen Jay Gould or punctuated equilibrium. They know about it, but they are of the old school and can't accept it. So there's a lot of politics involved in this, even among themselves.

RI: Does the drift of evidence in the Cambrian Explosion lean toward speeded-up evolution?

Chien: There are two major camps on this explosion business. One is the good old Darwinian explanation that we simply haven't found the intermediates. For those who tend to think that way, they say the Cambrian period was just the best time to preserve a lot of fossils, and they refer to it as a "fossil explosion." They hope that by looking more they might find some evidence of evolution, or they simply say (like Gould), "Well, we'll never find it. Fossils are hard to form in the first place." This is called "artifact theory."

But a lot of younger scientists are turning to new ideas. The first idea put out was the oxygen theory. They say that maybe in Cambrian times the oxygen level in the atmosphere and in the oceans suddenly arose to a critical level which could support larger-sized animals. That theory is pretty much shut down because there should be geological evidence for a sudden increase in oxygen.

There are other theories, too, like that of Berkeley professor James Valentine. He is now working on something new that relates to Jonathan Wells' work. (Wells is the Berkeley biologist who spoke at the Mere Creation conference.) In developmental biology the study of embryo development there’s been a big discovery of something called Hox genes. They are regulatory genes, and they turn on and off sequences the development of the eye and so on.

Valentine infers that primitive organisms accumulated enough Hox genes to suddenly make a different body plan. So he's trying to correlate Cambrian explosion with the development or accumulation of Hox genes. But I think there are many theoretical difficulties he's facing.

John Wells has the idea that Hox genes won't do it. He claims that Hox genes are only switches. You can put the switch on different systems and it just turns on and off you’re not getting new information out of Hox genes.

RI: So when they ask you about it, what do you say?

Chien: Well, it depends who is asking. In scientific dialogue I think I can be very honest with whatever present findings we have. We can all discuss objective data, but pretty soon we find out that whatever conclusion each draws is far from what the evidence says. In other words, I think every theory is still more belief than scientific fact. I wouldn't use scientific findings as evidence to support Biblical creation. All science does is begin to tell us what happened 540 million years ago, and we have just little bits and pieces. However, I think we can use the evidence to strongly show that Darwinian gradual evolution did not happen.

In terms of creation I think we still need to figure out what we mean by natural processes, and we need to ask ourselves if all natural processes have an author or creator behind them. Creation itself is a concept about design involvement, and all these fossils are just the physical evidence that is left over; it still has no direct application to a single creator and how He worked.

But when I read Genesis chapter one, the fifth day seems to read very much like the fossil record we see now because it talks about all the creatures teeming in the oceans. Now, to me that sounds like the Cambrian explosion in a very short period of time, [the animals] are all there.

RI: Where do we, as Christians, go from here with respect to the fossil record?

Chien: I think the Christian community should get into this and do more study on it. I remember meeting a linguist, and he told me that Christians pretty much dominate the field of linguistics because of their interest in translating the Bible. In the same way I would like to see Christians get into paleontology and take an interest in doing good science I think that's at least one way to reverse the church's withdrawal from science. Personally, I have an urge to popularize these ideas because although scientists are beginning to talk about the Cambrian explosion, and while a few people in the inner circle know about it, the general public isn't aware of it.

In fact, I have now in my hands a Chinese book on the Cambrian explosion that I would like to have translated into English and published in the United States. It's mainly a picture book there are about two hundred color photographs and some line drawings showing all the different animals from the Chinese Cambrian site. I believe Christians can publish such books in a context that has little to do with religion this is the truth, and the truth will speak for itself.

In fact, [the Chinese scientists and I] were planning to work together further on algae from the Cambrian period. They have collected thousands and thousands of fossils, and they have a lot of fossil algae that nobody is working on.

RI: What were the circumstances which led you to become a Christian?

Chien: It began in high school; my parents sent me to a Christian school in Hong Kong only because the school has a very good educational reputation. After six years of studying the Bible, I finally accepted the Lord just before graduating from high school.

It was a struggle for many years before that. I thought I wanted to be a scientist, but I didn't want to be a superstitious person. But I was really attracted to Jesus Christ, His life and His teaching. In many respects I thought His teaching was deeper than much of the Chinese moral teaching. So in some ways I was converted in my heart, but I refused to become a Christian.

I tried to imitate Christians and I understood what salvation was all about, but I didn't accept it until the final senior trip our class made. We went to the highest mountains in the Hong Kong area, and we had no other place to stay than in a Buddhist monastery. That [experience] gave me a good contrast to compare the religious effort of the Buddhists, which I admired, with Christianity. When I looked at nature, which I was deeply in love with, I suddenly realized that I had to worship the Creator of nature. So during a prayer meeting I came face-to-face with the Lord, and there was no way I could avoid Him any more. So I confessed my sins and accepted Him as Lord and Savior. That was one of the greatest spiritual experiences of my life.

RI: Did you ever have any Christian professors come along side you in your higher education?

Chien: No. I struggled for a long time, and I really needed some guidance there. I tried to read every book available to me on science and Christianity, but they were not very helpful. That's another reason I would like to work on more books in that area.

RI: Do you intend to go back to Chengjiang, the Chinese Cambrian site?

Chien: I would very much like to do that. Somehow I would like to get more involved in fossil work. Although I have lectured so many years in my own area of marine biology and pollution, I think I would like to concentrate on this aspect. This was an opportunity presented to me which nobody else has.

RI: Perhaps you could add "paleontologist" to your credentials.

Chien: Not really; that's not my purpose. I am more interested in working on the popular level. I know of less than a handful of Christian paleontologists, and I always like to establish dialogue with them. In one sense, biologists, geologists, and paleontologists are put in a pretty difficult position: we are in the middle between the Christians and the atheistic scientists we’re really between a rock and a hard place. That's a big battle for the church to look at. Whenever I speak to young people, I encourage them to become scientists.

RI: Do you think perhaps young Christians are going into these areas, but many of them lose their faith?

Chien: Yes, either that or they get so discouraged that they opt out. When I was in grad school and expressed my doubts about Darwinism, my friends would tell me that I was either ignorant or crazy; they probably thought the "Chinese guy" was not very well educated. They would try to convince me on "scientific" grounds, but I would just say, "Well, it just doesn't seem to be very convincing to me."

More tough questions!


Here are some tough questions for the Christian, depending on his or her particular theology:

Why is a supposedly omniscient and completely understanding God so barbaric, even allowing slavery, knowing full well the suffering people would experience because it wasn't one of his ten commandments: "Thou Shalt not own slaves nor buy and sell them for profit."

Why is a supposedly omnipotent God not able to stop the 2005 Indonesian tsunami that killed a quarter million people before it happened? If he had stopped that underwater earthquake from happening none of us would have known that he did and hence he wouldn’t have revealed himself in any ways he might not have wanted to. Since all it would have taken is a “snap” of his fingers to avert that tragedy then isn’t he morally responsible for it? If we were God we would be morally obligated to do so. Why isn’t God? And if he is morally responsible for it, then he wanted it to happen for some greater good. That’s right, he wanted it to happen. What is the greater good here?

—John Loftus


Here are some tough questions for the apostate, depending on his or her or their (for the transgender recreant) particular atheology:

Why is a supposedly omniscient and completely understanding God so barbaric, even allowing atheism, knowing full well the suffering people would experience because it wasn't one of his ten commandments: "Thou shalt not be an infidel!"

Why doesn’t a supposedly omnipotent God put all the sacrilegious scoffers on a desert island in the S. Pacific, and then send a tsunami to wipe them out once and for all?

All it would take is for God to snap his fingers and erase every atheist who ever lived. Why aren’t there more natural disasters to take the life of every whiny, little ingrate like Loftus or his thankless crew?

Why did God stop all those earthquakes, plagues, volcanoes, and tidal waves from wiping the slate clear of every last blasphemer who desecrates the world with his insolent impieties and profanities?

Why do we have to wait until Judgment Day to watch John Loftus roast in hell when we could enjoy a sneak preview of his eternal torment?

Life is so unfair!