Saturday, August 19, 2006

Do unto others...

Daniel Morgan responded to something I posted here:

Let me say at the outset that compared with some of critical feedback, Danny’s reply was a measured and levelheaded response.

I’ll confine myself to two of his criticisms:

DM: This is another difficult thing for me to respond to. I can cite OT verses that certainly differentiate between the Jew and Gentile, Pauline verses that basically say to consider the conscience of the other in your outward activities [1 Cor 10:29, etc], and verses by Jesus pointing out that how one treats another person who doesn't love them is the measure of goodness, since it is easy/natural to love those who love us back.

Again, it really depends on which verses you want to emphasize. Certainly, the Confuscian/Epicurean/Jesus ethical precept of reciprocity [do unto others] is certainly an agreeable enough ethos. Conversely, killing an apostate to prevent them from leading you away from God, as commanded in the OT, is not a value system I want my treatment based upon.

SH: Both Bridges and Hiraeth have responded to this with some very sensible comments.

I’ll just make a few observations of my own. Let’s take a step back and recall the broader context of this debate.

There are unbelievers who quote the Sermon on the Mount against a hard-hitting Christian apologetic. But this is to take the words of Christ completely out of context.

An outspoken apostate or militant atheist is not my personal enemy. He has done me no personal wrong. Loftus isn’t persecuting me. Dagood isn’t smiting my cheek.

Hence, when I critique the Debunkers or other suchlike, I’m not exacting private vengeance on my enemies. That has nothing to do with it.

It’s not as if I’m getting even with Loftus for slashing my tires by slashing his tires.

Likewise, to take an analogous example, the parable of the Good Samaritan is irrelevant to blogging. The Debunkers are not my neighbors. Danny and I didn’t attend the same high school. Loftus doesn’t live across the street from me.

The do-unto-others ethic of the Sermon on the Mount has something far more immediate in mind than the impersonal, mass medium of blogging.

If Danny were living next door, and his car broke down, and he needed to hitch a ride, then, according to the ethics of Christ, I should give him a ride.

That’s the sort of application that the Sermon on the Mount or the parable of the Good Samaritan envisions.

It has nothing do with offensive apologetics. Loftus isn’t persecuting me, and I’m not retaliating in kind. This is not a personal vendetta.

Modern readers are apt to allegorize or trivialize biblical injunctions. But the Biblical prohibition against taking revenge has reference to a literal blood feud. It isn’t a metaphor for observing the social amenities at the soiree.

DM: Picking these examples is a bit disingenuous though. It's like me basing my appraisal of your behavior towards atheists on Mather, Calvin, or some fun fellow from the Spanish Inquisition.

SH: I disagree. It seems to me that unbelievers like Dawkins, Dennett, Russell, Ingersoll, and Harris are quite representative of atheism, both in tone and content.

I’m not picking examples of the village atheist: of men and women who are uncouth or stupid or embarrassing to the cause of unbelief.

If I wanted to be unfair, I could have gone down the list at and picked out such luminaries of free thought as Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Clarence Darrow, H. L. Mencken, Madalyn Murray-O’Hair, Thomas Paine, Eddie Vedder, Jesse Ventura, Gore Vidal, or H. G. Wells, to name a few.

Instead I chose my examples from the cream of free thought. The men I mentioned are highly regarded in secular circles as articulate and generally well-educated spokesmen for infidelity. These are heroes of humanism.

Did Jesus And The Earliest Christians Teach That The Second Coming Would Occur Within Jesus' Generation?

In other threads, I've been discussing early Christian eschatology with Jon Curry. For those who don't know, Jon recently left Christianity and now maintains that Jesus didn't exist. Our eschatological discussions have primarily been about Matthew 16:28 and 24:34, though he's recently put more emphasis on Paul's eschatology. I want to quote, below, some portions of my most recent response to him, since I think these things might be helpful to some of you. Knowing the background of my discussions with Jon would make some portions of what's below easier to understand, but I think anybody should be able to follow the general thrust. In addition to addressing Matthew 16 and 24 and the eschatology of Paul, I'm addressing Jon's argument that 2 Peter 3 is "making excuses" for a false prophecy that Jesus would return within His generation. My response to Jon consists of more than what I quote below, and those interested can read that other thread for more.

People can ask why God hasn't done something yet even if He didn't set a generational time limit on it. See the examples I cited from the Old Testament in my previous post (Isaiah 5:19, Jeremiah 17:15, Ezekiel 12:22). Similarly, there are references in ancient extra-Biblical Jewish literature to people objecting to the lack of fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, regardless of whether the prophecies had any time limit on them (Michael Green, 2 Peter & Jude [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1987], pp. 139, 148). Jews had believed for centuries that the day of the Lord was at hand without setting generational or other dates (Joel 2:1, Obadiah 15, Habakkuk 2:3), and Psalm 90:4 had been cited in this context by Jews before Peter cited it (Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability Of The Gospels [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1987], p. 34). No generational time limit is mentioned in 2 Peter 3, and a promise without a generational limit makes more sense of 2 Peter 3:9....

If Jesus had said that His second coming would occur in His generation, then why would the scoffers Peter refers to not cite that promise of Jesus, but instead object to the slowness of a promise that could still be fulfilled in the future (2 Peter 3:9)? There's a difference between the slowness of a fulfillment that could still happen and the failure of a promise that can't be fulfilled as a result of the time limit having already passed. The situation addressed in 2 Peter 3 is the former, not the latter. We should ask, then, why scoffers would object to the delaying of the day of the Lord, much as people did in Old Testament times, rather than citing something more explicit, like a promise by Jesus that His second coming would occur before the end of His generation. They probably didn't cite such a promise because there wasn't one.

You still haven't given any examples of the earliest Christians responding to a false prophecy made by Jesus, with the sort of shift in belief and counterarguments we would expect to accompany such a false prophecy. Christians living after Jesus' generation continued to view Christ's return as imminent and continued to cite the comments of Jesus about not knowing the day or hour, as if they applied beyond the lifetime of Jesus' generation. Documents like Aristides' Apology and Justin Martyr's Apologies and Dialogue With Trypho address non-Christians and discuss many objections to Christianity, but they don't address any alleged false prophecy of Jesus, even when the second coming is discussed. Some of the early sources who comment on eschatology were eyewitnesses or contemporaries of the apostles (Clement of Rome, Papias, etc.). Their lives overlapped both the first and the second generations of Christianity. If a shift had occurred in eschatology like the one you're suggesting, with such significant implications, these people should have known about it. As David Aune notes, "The very paucity of references to a supposed delay of the eschaton is indicative of the fact that the delay of the Parousia was largely a nonproblem within early Christianity" (cited in Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids, editors, Dictionary Of The Later New Testament & Its Developments [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997], p. 873). Christian sources of the second century (Ignatius of Antioch, Letter To The Ephesians, 11; The Epistle of Barnabas, 4; Second Clement, 12; etc.) make the same sort of references to living in the end times, the imminence of Christ's return, etc. that we find in first century sources. Ignatius even refers to Christ's coming, more than a century earlier, as occurring "in the end" (Letter To The Magnesians, 6)....

Matthew 16:27 also speaks about the glory of Jesus, which is reflected in the Mount of Transfiguration. So are His identity and His authority, which are relevant to His power to judge and His relationship to the angels....

The Mount of Transfiguration involves more than "seeing Jesus shining". Jesus is visited by Moses and Elijah, an eschatological figure, He's overshadowed by a bright cloud reminiscent of the Shekinah, and He receives Divine sanction. It's a foretaste of the "glory of the Father" referred to in Matthew 16:27. The Father says that the Son is to be heeded, in language reminiscent of Moses' comments about heeding the Messianic prophet to come (Deuteronomy 18:15). The passage doesn't just involve "Jesus shining", but involves a manifestation of His identity, glory, and authority. It is a foretaste of Matthew 16:27....

The phrase "we who are alive" [in 1 Thessalonians 4:15] doesn't reflect an assurance that Paul and all of the living people he was writing to would live until Jesus' return. People in the churches of the first century were dying on a regular basis, just like people outside the church. Paul would have known that some of the people living when he wrote could die, just as he knew that his own death was a possibility once he finished the work he was called to do (Acts 21:13, Philippians 1:22-23, 2 Timothy 4:6). Thus, in 2 Corinthians 5:1-9, Paul can refer to how "we" might be in the body or out of the body through death. The same Paul who refers to "we" who are alive at the time of Jesus' second coming in 1 Thessalonians 4 goes on in the next chapter to refer to how "we" might be alive or dead (1 Thessalonians 5:10). Similarly, Paul refers elsewhere to how "we" will be raised (1 Corinthians 6:14, 2 Corinthians 4:14), which assumes that "we" would first die, in contrast to other passages where "we" are transformed without having died (1 Corinthians 15:51). Apparently, Paul thought it was possible that he and his contemporary Christians would be alive or dead at the time of Jesus' second coming, so he assumes one possibility in some places and the other in other places....

We're discussing Matthew 24:34. I'm appealing to the same phrase ["all these things"] in verse 33. You're appealing to a different phrase in verse 3. My reference to verse 33 is more relevant. But if we look to verse 3, the closest parallel to "all these things" is what the disciples asked about the temple (they use the phrase "these things"), not all of their questions collectively....

Matthew 24:33 tells us that "all these things" happen before Jesus' second coming. The "all these things" indicate that Jesus is at hand. The second coming itself isn't included in the "all these things". If by "apocalyptic events" you're including the second coming itself and the events that follow it, then those events can't be included in the "all these things" of verse 33....

The "all these things" of Matthew 24:34 are general signs, types of events, like the ripening of a fig tree. He's addressing the signs of the end times, not the end time events themselves. Jesus can't be referring to everything discussed earlier in the chapter, since the second coming itself and the events following it were part of what was discussed, yet we know that He wasn't including those events.

What all would be included in the "all these things"? Apparently, what's in view is all of the signs that are comparable to the signs a fig tree gives as it ripens. The ripening suggests that summer is coming, but it doesn't give the specifics of the timing. Similarly, the general birth pangs Jesus referred to earlier (Matthew 24:4-8) are signs of something coming, but only in a general sense, since "that is not yet the end" (verse 6) and "all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs" (verse 8). General signs lead to a brief sequence of specific events, including the second coming itself and the events that follow it (angels gathering people, etc.). Jesus' generation would see the general signs, which would warrant their preparation for Jesus' return. They shouldn't be like the foolish virgins or the unfaithful slaves who were unprepared. Once the general signs are in place, Jesus' return is at hand. It could happen quickly, like a thief coming in the night (Matthew 24:43). What Jesus is conveying in verses 33-34 is the fact that those general signs, like the ripening of a fig tree, will be present as early as that current generation. That generation has to be watchful. They can't assume that the Master will delay His coming....

Shortly after Jesus' comments in Matthew 24:33-34, He addresses the theme of watchfulness and ignorance of the timing of His coming. You've argued that people wouldn't know the timing within Jesus' generation, but that they did know that it would happen within that generation at some point. Against that conclusion, I've cited the language of Acts 1:7, which uses the broad phrase "times or epochs". Notice, also, that a variety of phrases are used in the Synoptic accounts. We see "day" at one point (Matthew 24:42), "hour" at another point (Matthew 24:44), and "day or hour" (Matthew 24:50), "watch" (Luke 12:38), or "time" elsewhere (Mark 13:33). Hours and days wouldn't be the only units of time that would be unknown within a generation. Minutes, weeks, years, decades, etc. would also be unknown. It's likely that Jesus had more than just units of hours and days in mind. The rabbis of ancient Israel generally condemned the setting of dates in general, not just hours and days (Craig Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999], p. 590). Jesus probably was agreeing with general Jewish condemnations of setting dates. It would make less sense for Jesus to agree with Jewish opposition to setting hours and days while disagreeing about setting a generational date. And if Christians had an assurance of a second coming within Jesus' generation, it doesn't seem that unpreparedness would be as much of a problem as Jesus goes on to suggest in the remainder of Matthew 24 and in Matthew 25.

Since Jesus wanted people to be in a state of readiness, it wouldn't make sense to expect Him to make explicit reference to His second coming not occurring until a future generation. The most we can expect is the suggestion of the possibility of a longer period of time. Some of the illustrations Jesus goes on to use allow for a return within a short amount of time, but others suggest the possibility of "a long time" (Matthew 25:19) or involve events that would never have something like a generational time limit set on them (Matthew 24:43). The spreading of the kingdom and the spread of the gospel (Matthew 13:24-32, 24:9-14) make more sense as occurring over a longer period of time, even though a shorter time would be possible. Paul refers to how Christians of his day could be "waking or sleeping" (alive or dead) when the second coming happens (1 Thessalonians 5:10). Paul also repeats, in a passage addressing children, the Old Testament concept that children will tend to live lengthy lives on earth if they obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1-3), suggesting that Paul thought it was possible for people who were only in childhood at that time to live to an old age. Those children wouldn't reach an old age until after Jesus' generation had passed. When Paul wrote Ephesians, it had been more than 50 years since Jesus' birth. Clement of Rome, who was at least a contemporary of the apostles and probably was one of their disciples, refers to how the apostles themselves had made preparation for future generations of church leadership (First Clement, 44 - see the translation and notes in Michael W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2005], pp. 77, 79). The apostles did think that it was possible, and in some cases apparently probable, that Jesus would return in their lifetime. But they also seem to have thought that it was possible that there would be future generations. It doesn't seem that they thought they had any assurance from Jesus that He would return by the end of His generation....

If the gospels are dated much past 70, then, according to your reasoning, the authors were recording statements attributed to Jesus that were known at the time to be false prophecies. For example, you maintain that the events of Matthew 24 didn't occur surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in the first century. And if you date the documents earlier, then eyewitnesses and contemporaries of Jesus (if He existed) and the apostles were still alive. The year 70 would be less than a decade after Paul's death. Think of all the churches he influenced, how widely he traveled, how well he got along with other leaders like James and John (Galatians 2:9-10), etc. If he taught that Jesus existed in some non-earthly realm, are we to believe that Greco-Roman biographies addressing an earthly life of Jesus were circulating among Christians beginning less than a decade after Paul's death? Wouldn't Paul's disciples (and those of James, Peter, John, etc.) object? Both from what we know of human lifespans and from what early sources report about specific individuals, we know that disciples of the apostles would have lived into the second century. Polycarp lived into the second half of the second century.

Even if you put every gospel in the 90s, for example, you still have eyewitnesses and contemporaries of Jesus and the apostles alive at the time. How would the children of men like James and Jude, who had been told all their lives that Jesus was a non-earthly figure, react to the new claim that Jesus was actually their biological uncle? How would the children, associates, etc. of men like Pilate, Joseph of Arimathea, and the apostle Peter react when false claims began circulating about how these people supposedly interacted with a historical Jesus? Etc.

Whether you date the gospels earlier or later, your theories have major problems either way. Eyewitnesses and contemporaries of Jesus and the apostles would have lived into the second half of the second century. If you put the gospels early, then you have them close to the time when belief in a non-earthly Jesus supposedly was popular, and you have them at a time when eyewitnesses and contemporaries were still alive. But if you give them a late dating, then, according to your assertions about Christian eschatology, you have people putting eschatological material in the gospels that they knew to be false. And why do people in the early second century refer to written documents called "gospels" (or "the gospel" collectively), and refer frequently in their writings to the concepts we find in our gospels, if our gospels didn't exist at the time? Who could have composed the gospels after the apostles were dead, then got them to be nearly universally accepted, by both Christian and non-Christian sources, as works of the apostolic era? Etc.

As difficult as some elements of Christian eschatology are, I would say that they're gnats in comparison to some of the camels you're swallowing. You tell us that you "haven't looked into it [the dating of the gospels] in enough detail", and it seems that the same could be said about much of the rest of your analysis of Christianity.

Tabloid atheism

Having recently discovered a post I did on the Discomfiter late last month, I see that Ed Babinski used this as a pretext to post a very long, unrelated comment in which he attempted to discredit the faith by ad hominem guilt-by-association tactics.

A few elementary clarifications are in order:

1.Traditionally, you had national churches. Church membership was conterminous with citizenship. It has nothing to do with what you believed or how you behaved.

2. In America, we’ve had the opposite experiment. We have no national church. The church is a free association. Anyone can hang out a shingle calling itself a church.

3. Sorry to say, technology has not advanced to the point where we can install scanners in the doorway of the church which will trigger sirens, flashing lights, and ear-splitting alarms when a nominal Christian tries to enter the premises.

Perhaps, with his interest in modern technology, Babinski can point us to some promising research program which will allow us to spiritually X-ray the sheep and goats, wheat and tares, as well as wolves in woolen sweaters or sheepskin suits.

But until such a screening device is installed at every entrance, we can only judge by appearances.

4. The church draws its membership from the ranks of the general culture. As such, the visible church cannot rise a whole lot higher than its source.

It isn’t hermetically sealed away from the world around it. Christians aren’t Borg babies, genetically reengineered in airtight incubators. There’s no eugenics lab in the nursery of the parsonage.

5. Babinski is very promiscuous with the Christian label: “the heads of Enron and WorldCom…were truly devout believers”; “the Reverend Tony Leyva, Pentecostal TV-evangelist who used to wear a Superman costume”; “devout Christian wives murdering their sons and daughters”; “serial killers like the Son of Sam and Jeffrey Dahmer”; “Christian” nudists; Unitarian” Christians; the Cathari; “Christians who accept committed, loving, homosexual relationships (including gay evangelical Church groups like the nationwide Metropolitan Baptist Church)”; the Shakers; the Skoptze; “social Gospel” Christians; Utah Mormons; pot-smoking “Christians,” and so on and so forth.

This sort of thing is only convincing to those who are already convinced. It is written by, to, and for militant unbelievers. Those who are more than happy to believe all the worst about the church.

Babinski makes no honest, good-faith effort to draw any distinction between outright charlatans, nominal believers, and sincere, but struggling believers. No distinction between a genuine believer who may be misguided to some degree, and a charlatan, a cult-member, or apostate.

6.To say that his exposé is one-sided would be a profound understatement. If he’s going to judge the church by the church, then he ought to judge the church by the best as well as the worst.

7.Babinski’s tactic cuts both ways. For an exposé of elite unbelievers, read Paul Johnson’s Intellectuals or E. Michael Jones’ Degenerate Moderns.

8.It should come as no surprise to find a certain number of swindlers and pitchmen in the church. A con artist will go wherever the money is.

For him, one scam is much like another. That it has a Christian angle is irrelevant to the claims of the faith.

And the fact that we have so many willing victims—men and women who permit themselves to be fleeced by a fast-talking preacher with a Rolex and diamond cufflinks—is hardly a strike against Christian theology.

To the contrary, Christian theology should lead us to expect this behavior—a parasitic bond between suckers and swindlers. Babinski’s anecdotes merely serve to confirm the predictive power of Christian theology—confirming its dire diagnosis of the human condition.

The Victory of the Lamb

Welcome to the World of Christianity (by Harry McCall)

As a Christian, you are now following THE supreme God who created the universe. The main facts you need to know are these:
Your God is omnipotent (Having unlimited power and authority).
Your God is omnipresent (He is present everywhere).
Your God is omniscient (Having total knowledge).
Your God commands billions of angels of which just one could destroy the world.

As a Christian, you are part of a large and diverse group totaling over 2.1 billion members that has a worldwide budget that totals approximately one half of a trillion dollars.

Satan (a fallen angel) is your main and only adversary who leads a small rag-tag army (1/3 the size of God's) of fallen angels (demons).

Satan has limited power (Only what little control God gives him).
Satan has no earthly members (Just a few "Dabblers").
Satan has no budget.


According to God's own word, the Bible (especially the Book of Revelation), God, with all the above supreme attributes, is losing a battle He created and even sacrificed His only begotten son to win.

For instance, most of humanity will one day stand before your God at the Great White Throne of Judgment to "give an account" of why they as mortal sinful creatures with limited understandings, screwed up, and then they will be cast into a Lake of Fire (whose smoke rises forever), i.e., blamed for their loss of innocence and (and/or their great great great ancestor's loss of innocence) for all eternity.


It is a divine Mystery. (A theological term employed by the Catholic Church to depict the lack of understanding we mere mortals have of God's ways.)

Harry McCall (former ministerial student, whose testimony appears in Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists)

It's amazing how many unbiblical assumptions these apostates are able to cram into the Biblical narrative:

1. The Bible teaches that God is losing the battle? Really? I wonder where that's found. It's amazing that the book of Revelation is cited because the central theme of Revelation is the victory of the Lamb!

2. A Righteous God accomplishing justice by condemning all sinners would have been a win. In fact, with God it's pretty much always going to be a win-win, considering that he is self-sufficient and has no need for his creation. The cross, rather, wasn't some last resort of a losing god trying to stay on top. Rather, from eternity past, it was the Trinity's intention to accomplish fellowship with God's own people through the cross.

3. Notice how this author assumes an unbiblical posture towards sin. Sinners are just people with limited knowledge who "screwed up." Yes, forget everything the Bible says about sin's hostility towards a holy God. Forget what the Bible teaches about radical depravity. Forget about the federal headship of Adam in the fall of man. Forget all that, but let's still attempt to critique the Bible on its own merit.

You see, these apostates love to fluctuate in and out of internal critiques. They'll do a post like this one where they appear to be taking Biblical data into account (consider the "statistics" that were cited), but then they'll push aside everything the Bible says about the subject only to insert their own atheistic presuppositions. But of course the Bible disagrees with atheistic assumptions!

Evan May.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Wing Woman

Hyper-preterist/futurist slayer, Dee Dee Warren gets her God-improved body. See what she would look like with Loftus' wing improvement and the Discomfiter's gills and tusks improvements.

To Albert

Albert asks about Dan Barker,

"Makes you wonder what Barker was really like as a preacher one time. Did he defend Christianity with the same emotion laden, intellectually superficial techniques he now uses to defend his atheism?"

Good question Albert.

Here's some quotes from Barker's loosing faith in faith.

"And I really haven't changed. I'm still searching for intelligence and reason and values, and I still love the truth. I still the same person, the same minister, who wants to know what is real and what is true, and I have decided that the evidences for Christianity are not good evidences." LFF, p.14

"I took only one class in apologetics - I think it was called Christian evidences - and I don't remember that we delved very deeply into the evidences or arguments for or against Christianity. It wouldn't have mattered anyway, since I wanted to be out on the streets, preaching the gospel, not stuck in some classroom doing worthless philosophizing." LFF p.22

[Interesting to note that first he says he was a "truth-seeker" and a "reason-seeker" but below he implies that he was somewhat anti-intellectual. Also interesting is that this seems to not have changed. Barker seems very ignorant about philosophical issues, yet still spread the good news of atheism.]

"On thing [my parents] taught me by example is that you should never be ashamed to speak what you think is the truth. My earlier ministry in the pulpit and my current activism for freethought are really one and the same thing. The message has changed, but I haven't." LFF p.34

"The Freedom From Religion Foundation ... has given me an opportunity to continue 'spreading the good news,' and to utilize (and improve) some of the skills that I gained from preaching." LFF p.48

"The motivation that drove me in to the ministry is the same that drove me out. I have always wanted to know." LFF. p. 53, emphasis his.

[Check out Barker's knowledge of "the gospel."]

"It was a mystery to me how anyone could be blind to the truths of Gospel. After all, don't we all want love, peace, happiness, hope and meaning in life." LFF p. 55

"I was a preacher for many years, I guess it hasn’t all rubbed off." LFF p. 55

[One last thing...]

Dan Barker is "willing to change his mind" (LFF p.91) if "you give [him] some evidence" (LFF p. 119), but remember that he "can never again be a Christian" (LFF p.88, my emphasis), even though he's "willing to change his mind", because he's an atheist, and here's why: "I am an atheist because there is no evidence for the existence of God" (LFF p.87, emphasis mine). So, Dan Barker is "willing" to look at the "evidence" even though there is "no evidence" and he is willing to "never again" become a Christian.

Snakes on a plane to hell

Many unbelievers, as well as sensitive members of the religious left, are easily roused to fits of indignation.

Among the preferred objects of their outrage are the pit of hell and the sterner measures of the Mosaic Law.

But I find it instructive to compare their quivering indignation with the sanguine taste of the pop culture.

Take the enduring genre of the horror flick. Every year there’s a slew of these. Indeed, one loses count. But here are just a few titles that come to mind:

The Amityville Horror
The Blair Witch Project
Final Destination
Friday the 13th
I Know What You Did Last Summer
Night of the Living Dead
Nightmare on Elm Street
The Omen
Rosemary’s Baby
Sean of the Dead
The Shining
The Silence of the Lambs
The Sixth Sense
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

There’s an insatiable appetite for this sort of thing. And I daresay that not a few people who are so disapproving of the Biblical hell have run through many buckets of hot-buttered popcorn as they revel in the safety of their virtual hell.

They enjoy watching people suffer and die. Suffer and die under the cruelest scenarios imaginable. They enjoy watching people writhe in torment. Indeed, they pay for the privilege.

Oh, but this is play-acting, you say. No one is really hurt. No one actually dies.

But this disclaimer only pushes the question back a step or two.

Is the emotion any different? Is the voyeuristic emotion any different whether it’s directed at a simulated chamber of horrors rather than at the real thing?

And isn’t the whole point of this disclaimer to excuse our enjoyment on the grounds that even though the feeling is just as real, the object evoking that feeling is make-believe?

It’s a way of making ourselves feel justified in indulging a certain impulse as long as no one is hurt. Harmless fun.

But it also makes you wonder if some of these same people wouldn’t get a kick out of the real thing if only they could get away with it.

After all, are we really all that different than the Romans who used to frequent the Coliseum to watch real people torn apart by wild animals or impaled in a staged duel to the death?

The only difference is that simulated horror is a socially acceptable outlet for the same set of emotions which, in a pre-Christian culture, were nurtured on the real thing.

Although comedy and horror are opposite genres, they have this in common: their appeal lies in the fact that we are watching these mishaps befall someone else.

Now, you may say that this sort of fare is a bit twisted. And, in many cases, I’d agree. But a guilty pleasure is still a genuine pleasure.

My immediate point is that you have a lot of unbelievers who pretend to be offended by various things in the Bible, and yet you’ll find them forking over gobs of money to feed the very feelings which they profess to deplore.

Or, to take a somewhat different example, consider comic book heroes like Batman, Spiderman, Superman, Hellboy, or the X-Men.

Now, a comic book hero is only as good as the comic book villain. And when this medium is transferred to film, some distinguished character actor, usually with a crisp foreign accent, is cast in the role of the bad guy.

And the audience is expecting to see the bad guy get his comeuppance at the end of the movie.

Or, to take one more example, I sometimes wonder how many unbelievers who disapprove of in-your-face believers also watch the pay-per-view channel to catch the latest smack down in the octagon. Were they disappointed when the match was called before Tito Ortiz could send Ken Shamrock to the hospital?

So is my point that many unbelievers are hypocrites?

Well, yes, but that’s not my ultimate point. For there’s more than one direction in which you can relieve a contradiction between what you say and what you do.

The deeper point is for unbelievers to come clean with their true emotions. Drop the pose. Get in touch with their inner warrior. Honestly compare their real feelings with their flights of feigned indignation, and admit to themselves that what they affect to disdain in Scripture they positively relish in another venue.

Is my purpose to sanctify the taste of the pop culture? No. Most horror films are degenerate.

But they also tap into a set of feelings that have a moral basis, even if it’s often misdirected.

To take one example out of many, what about those Nazis who absconded to South America with Jewish money, and eventually died of old age on a sandy beach—cupping a Tequila in one hand, and a mistress in the other.

Hardly seems fair.

Now, suppose we were to change the passenger manifest and put them on a snake-infested plane instead of an FBI informant?

That would be poetic justice.

Anonymous comments

Every now and then the issue of anonymous comments comes up.

1.When T-blog was first set up by Ryan McReynolds, the combox was shut down. About a month later he opened the box for comments.

However, much further down the line, some folks began to complain that it was only open to fellow bloggers.

I then changed the settings, since restricting commenters to fellow bloggers was rather arbitrary.

2.As a rule, how a blogger administers his blog is none of my business.

The only time I’d have anything to say about this is if his policy is hypocritical.

That aside, different bloggers have their own priorities, and it’s their judgment call to make, not mine.

Blogging is free. If you don’t like how the next guy does it, you can start your own blog.

3.Some blogs close the combox. Others have a very restrictive policy. There can be both good and bad reasons for that.

A good reason is that a blogger may not have the time to respond or to police the content of the combox.

Another good reason is that a blogger may wish to maintain a certain tone. Suppose he’s a Christian blogger, and his blog is basically devotional in character. So he wants to maintain an edifying tone.

A bad reason is that a blogger is too thin-skinned to take the heat. So he closes the combox, or moderates the combox, or bans every critic, or deletes every critical comment.

Frankly, if you’re that delicate, then you’re out of your natural element in the blogosphere. Take up knitting or badminton.

4.It comes down to two competing priorities or blogging philosophies: which is better or worse—to preempt many constructive comments for fear that someone someday may say something naughty, or to allow for the possibility of some unsuitable comment in order to allow the constructive commenters to speak their minds?

In terms of how I run things, I don’t punish good people for what bad people do. I’d rather have more good with some bad than have no bad at the price of having no good.

There’s a tradeoff. The good comes with the bad. Good feedback and bad feedback.

I have a lenient policy—not for the sake of the bad, but for the sake of the good.

One policy plays it safe. No gain, but no loss.

I prefer to assume a certain risk for a certain benefit. I can put up with a bit of urban graffiti to have my Monets and Botticellis and Da Vincis. A small price to pay.

One of the nice things about being a Calvinist is that you don’t live in a state of fear. You don’t feel the need to be in control of everything. You don’t feel responsible for everything that happens.

You don’t live behind barred widows and padlocked doors out of a spinsterish, schoolmarmish apprehension that if you took a walk in park, you might see something risqué—like the mating dance of the pink flamingo.

In a fallen world, the bad is unavoidable. So why avoid the good for fear of the bad? The bad will find you out in another venue, without the compensatory good.

5. Just as there are good and bad reasons for closing or censoring the combox, there are good and bad reasons for anonymous commenting.

The bad reason is the coward who wants to make vicious and malicious comments without being accountable for what he says.

Even in this case, his strategy may backfire. He ends up making his own cause look bad.

So, even in the worse case scenario, I think there’s often a value in giving a creep enough rope to hang himself.

But there are also innocent or legitimate reasons for preserving one’s identity.

Some commenters fear professional reprisal. Others fear for their own safety.

Some commentators are libertarians for whom it’s nobody’s darn-tootin’ business who they are, what they do, where they live, &c.

Some commenters turn anonymous commenting into a running joke. X chooses to post a comment as Anonymous, so Y chooses to post a counter-comment as Anti-Anonymous. That’s followed by Anti-Pseudo-Anonymous, Pseudo-Anti-Anonymous, and so on.

6. Another problem is that if you try to ban anonymous commenters, they’ll simply return as pseudonymous commenters. Anyone with half a brain can do a fictitious profile.

I can always delete comment that’s way over the line, but prior restraint is not my style.

Apostasy and Scripture

Anonymous asked Steve a good question. It bears showing up in its own thread. S/he writes:

What would you consider passages that demonstrate the treatment of apostates vs. the treatment of believers? Jesus had some pretty harsh words for the Pharisees and scribes, but I don't believe they would count as "apostates" per se.but I don't believe they would count as "apostates" per se.

On the contrary, when Jesus says those things, he is treating them as the ones responsible for the apostasy of the nation from the covenant. The previous generations had apostatized through antinomianism. This generation had apostatized through legalism. Both are equally dangerous. In addition, the presence of sickness and demonism in the nation is a sign of apostasy from the covenant, because these elements are indicative, according to the Law, of curses and consequences of apostasy from the covenant. The trajectory of the gospels is one of a prophetic lawsuit. The lawsuit procedure is the same throughout the OT and Jesus is pictured as using it again in the NT. In the OT, God visits the covenant community through a prophet (or in a theophany), observes, interviews, sometimes heals and teaches, gauges the reaction, then renders the verdict. In the NT, after the temptation, Jesus follows the same procedure. When He goes to the Temple, He is interviewed by the religious leaders, and they think they are interviewing Him as a way to find something against Him. In reality, He is interviewing them, and then He pronounces judgment upon them and that generation. That's the whole point of the cursing of the fig tree and the Olivet Discourse. Because of the leadership of these individuals, that entire generation is rejected, the same way the Exodus generation was rejected and the Exile generation was rejected. They had apostatized from the covenant and assumed that God would treat them otherwise as long as they maintained the Temple. Just as at the time of the Exile, the destruction of the Temple was a sign the nation had apostatized to the level that warranted the rejection of the generation. However, at the same time, the Temple is replaced, in that Christ is the new Temple and, in His physical absence, the church functions in His place, so that pious Jews "of the heart," drawn from the Jews and Gentiles as a whole can participate in the New Covenant.

As to Scriptures dealing with apostates, these have been posted here before, though it has been quite some time.

Acts 8 (New International Version)

20Peter answered: "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin."

1 Timothy 1 (New International Version)

8We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

Hebrews 10 (New International Version)

26If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," and again, "The Lord will judge his people." 31It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

2 Peter 2 (New International Version)

1But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.

4For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment; 5if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; 6if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; 7and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men 8(for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)— 9if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment. 10This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority.

Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings; 11yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not bring slanderous accusations against such beings in the presence of the Lord. 12But these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish.

13They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. 14With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood! 15They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness. 16But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey—a beast without speech—who spoke with a man's voice and restrained the prophet's madness.

17These men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. 18For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. 19They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. 20If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. 21It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. 22Of them the proverbs are true: "A dog returns to its vomit," and, "A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud."

Jude 1 (New International Version)

3Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. 4For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

5Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe. 6And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. 7In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.

8In the very same way, these dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings. 9But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, "The Lord rebuke you!" 10Yet these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals—these are the very things that destroy them.

11Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam's error; they have been destroyed in Korah's rebellion.

12These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. 13They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.

14Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men: "See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones 15to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him." 16These men are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage.

Very few people criticize the sermon on the mount, or matt 6, etc. They (95% of the time or better) criticize something Paul or one of the OT characters wrote.

Mr. Morgan, thank you f0r noticing this, but all this does is highlight the manifest inability for them to read the OT and the Matt. 6, and their cherrypicking the Sermon the Mount but not the commission to the Apostles both of which fall from Jesus' lips, thereby authorizing them to speak for Him after He is gone (ergo, there is no competition between Paul and Jesus to be found). The Sermon on the Mount itself is a repetition of the OT Law. It is the basis of the lawsuit Jesus brings in the rest of the gospel. So, when you pull from the OT Law itself to complain about it, yet hold out the Sermon on the Mount and extol its virtues, all you do is manifest your own incompetence and inconsistency, particularly when you talk to Calvinists. You criticize the OT Law, yet then you say think that the Sermon on the Mount is a wonderful thing. Presumably you'd not have much of a problem being governed by it. But the Law and the Sermon are not at all contradictory.

Calvinism is largely tied to Covenant Theology, and Covenant Theology, unlike the dispensational tripe that most of you unbelievers were taught, is built on the unity of the testaments, through the unity of the covenants. So, when you make these objections, you have to first establish that the covenants and the testaments are discontiguous. This assumption underwrites your objections, but you never justify it. We affirm CT, because the text itself does this, so you can either attack the CT hermeneutic, or you can offer a counterexegesis of the texts in question.

I'll explain. Let's take a quick tour of the Sermon on the Mount. The common belief of all of these objections is that the New Covenant era is governed by a whole different moral standard from the Old Covenant era. They typically argue that this is what the Sermon on the Mount was all about: Jesus was modifying the moral content of the Law. Some even claim He nullified the Law itself, despite Jesus' own explicit disclaimer in Matthew 5:17-19.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones's excellent work on the Sermon on the Mount skillfully refutes those views. I won't repeat all his arguments here, but they are well worth reading—and conclusive, in my view.

The bottom line, however, is that the moral demands of Moses' law are no more or less stringent than, and in no way fundamentally different from, the New Testament ethic of love. The Sermon on the Mount simply amplifies the moral content of the OT law, but it does not abrogate or change any of it.

The expression "But I say into you..." doesn't necessarily imply any repudiation of the principles cited; in most cases it merely introduces a further elucidation of the moral principle underlying the law. To paraphrase: "The law says don't commit adultery, but I tell you that lust violates the same moral principle." It's actually quite clear that there's no contradiction between Moses' standard and Jesus'; after all, lust was sinful in the OT, too (Proverbs 6:25). So this is hardly a "big change." In fact, it's no change at all.

Read again: In no less than six pairs of verses (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, 40-41) Jesus flatly contradicts, or substantially alters, Moses' law, replacing it each time with a more strict new commandment.

There is no contradiction of any OT law in any of those verses, but rather a clarification of its true meaning. Look at each passage you have cited:

vv. 21-22: "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire."

* Moses: "Don't kill."

* Jesus: "Don't hate."

No contradiction there; nothing has changed. Killing is still wrong in the NT, and hatred was wrong in the OT (Leviticus 19:17).

vv. 27-28: "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart."

* Moses: "No adultery."

* Jesus: "No lust."

No contradiction there; nothing has changed. Adultery is still wrong in the NT, and lust was wrong in the OT (Proverbs 6:25).

vv. 31-32: "It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery."

* Moses: "Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement...." But he "...may not take her again to be his wife" (Deuteronomy 24:4).

* Jesus: "Divorce for any reason other than "porneia" constitutes adultery."

Again there is no contradiction, and no change in the standard. Moses' instructions about divorce emphasized its gravity and permanence. Jesus' emphasized that divorce is an extraordinary remedy allowed by God only in certain extreme cases. But even in the OT, God said He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). So the two statements are not in conflict.

vv. 33-34: "Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne. . ."

* Moses: "Don't break your oaths."

* Jesus: "Better not to swear at all."

What Christ was prohibiting was the common practice of peppering one's everyday speech with indiscriminate oaths (often combined with the superstitious notion that if one did not swear, it was OK to lie).

Jesus is teaching that in our daily conversation as believers, we should simply let our yes be yes and our no, no. He is not prohibiting lawful oaths, such as those required of court witnesses, etc. (Jesus Himself testified after being placed under an oath—Matthew 26:63-64. The Apostle Paul even included an oath in the inspired text—2 Corinthians 1:23. And God confirmed His own Word with an oath—Heb. 6:13-18; Acts 2:30.)

So again, there is no change and no contradiction. The OT also prohibited frivolous oaths (Deuteronomy 23:21).

vv. 38-39: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also."

* Moses: "An eye for an eye."

* Jesus: "Turn the other cheek."

The eye-for-an-eye standard of the OT law (Leviticus 24:19-21) was designed to limit the civil penalties that could be exacted for crimes. It was a principle of mercy, teaching that the punishment should fit the crime, and not exceed it.

But rabbinical tradition had misapplied the standard, and people were using it to justify acts of personal vengeance. It was meant to regulate penalties administered by legal authorities; but it was being misused as a rationale for deliberate acts of private retaliation. Jesus forbade that.

The NT elsewhere expressly affirms the right of governments and government agents to use the sword to mete out retribution to evildoers. So both standards ("an eye for an eye" and "turn the other cheek") are valid in their proper contexts in both OT and NT. No contradiction, no change.

vv. 43-44: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you."

* Moses: "Love your neighbor."

* Rabbinical gloss: "Hate your enemy."

* Jesus: "Love your enemies."

No change; no contradiction. This is just a correction of a serious Rabbinical error. The truth is that Moses' law also demanded love for one's enemy (Exodus 23:4-5).

More examples could be multiplied. In each case, the true meaning of the New Testament perfectly accords with the true meaning of the Old, and vice versa. So the Sermon on the Mount offers no proof for the thesis that the moral standard changed in the NT. Instead, it proves the opposite: the very same inviolable moral code governs both covenants, and when your side of aisle trots out objections to the Law while extolling the Sermon on the Mount, you only prove our arguments for us.

The care and feeding of the village atheist

Although I think there are more important issues to talk about, yet since many unbelievers make a big deal about this, I’ll address it.

Many unbelievers seem to think that they are entitled to a certain standard of treatment. Indeed, to a Christian standard of treatment. And if they’re not treated the way they think that deserve, they scream “Hypocrisy!”

By way of reply:

1.I agree that Christians should treat everyone, believer and unbeliever alike, according to Christian standards.

However, secular critics have a very shaky grasp of Christian ethics. They seem to get their idea of Christian ethics from Mahatmas Gandhi or Touched by an Angel.

Then, when a Christian fails to live up to their thirdhand misconception, they scream “Hypocrisy!”

But to say that we treat everyone according to the same standard, and to say that we treat everyone the same way, is a non sequitur.

Although the Bible has the same standard for believer and unbeliever alike, it doesn’t treat believers and unbelievers alike, for the obvious reason that believers and unbelievers are unlike.

Indeed, many unbelievers go out of their way to distinguish themselves from their believing neighbors.

Moreover, not all unbelievers are alike. The Bible doesn’t treat apostates the same way it treats ignorant pagans.

I have the same standard for everyone, Yet its the very same standard that distinguishes between believers and unbelievers, as well as one unbeliever and another.

2.But an even more interesting question is why an unbeliever would want a Christian to treat him according to Christian standards of conduct.

After all, an unbeliever regards Christian ethics as unethical from the standpoint of secular ethics. Unbelievers typically demonize Bible morality.

So why in the world would an unbeliever want to be treated according to the canons of a false value system?

If anything, you’d expect an unbeliever to complain about being treating according to Christian values, and be grateful whenever a Christian is inconsistent.

For example, would an unbeliever really want Cotton Mather to treat the him consistent with Mather’s Puritanical principles?

Unbelievers can’t make up their minds about how they want Christians to treat them. We’re either blamed for being too Christian or too un-Christian. Which is it?

3.I’m at least as nice to the average apostate as Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett or Bertrand Russell or Robert Ingersoll or Sam Harris is to the average Christian.

Why do unbelievers get so lathered up when I treat a secularist according to secular standards of conduct?

If they demonize Christian ethics, then what’s the alternative? If they don’t want us to treat them according to a Christian code of conduct, then what’s the alternative?

The only alternative would be some form of secular ethics. But when we borrow their yardstick and return the favor, they act as if we’d done them a grave injustice.

Once again, unbelievers can’t make up their minds about how we should treat them. If we talk to them or about them the same way that Dawkins or Dennett or Russell or Ingersoll or Harris talk about Christians, then they wax indignant.

4.Finally, unbelievers, or at least militant unbelievers, seem to think they should be treated with the utmost respect while they treat God with the utmost disrespect.

Here’s the deal: I’ll treat you as respectfully as you treat the Lord.

Imagine someone who went out of his way to disrespect my father or mother or sister or brother, but expected me to be respectful in return. Respect is a two-way street.

Review of My Barker Debate

Below is a review of my debate with Dan Barker by an atheist, James Lazarus. He's a metaphysical naturalist, and one of the classiest people I've had the pleasure to interact with.


Thursday, August 17, 2006

Cry Baby Atheism

I've been really interested with what's been going on between the Discomfiter, John Loftus, and Ed Babinski. It's been an excellent show in how atheists are inconsistent with their beliefs, as well as how they’re little cry babies. Here's why:

It all started when someone (it could have been anyone, including Loftus) left a comment from, allegedly, John Loftus. If you clicked on the link it took you to John Loftus' page. That is, if it was a fake, there was no way to distinguish it from the real, allegedly, Loftus. Can two people even have the same thing like that on blogger? Maybe.

Anyway, the comment was from the alleged Loftus to the Discomfiter. Since it's deleted I can't copy and paste it, but essentially it implied that John Loftus had homosexual urges for the Discomfiter.

Next, Loftus, Babinski, and Dagoods started to complain about this, about how mean it was for someone to, allegedly, post falsely under Loftus' name.. All of a sudden these atheists took the moral high ground. Here's a quote:

Ed Babinski: "Or just someone who likes to forge blogger's names and even steal the identities of other people when you post entries on a blog to make it seem like that other person is a "child molester?" Or send people emails from phoney [sic] addresses to make it look like they were sent by that person's friends?

If there's a hell, it appears you're already in it."SOURCE

Likewise, Loftus also called the person who, allegedly, posted under Loftus' name, "sick" and that "they went to far."

They have since called for removal of this, alleged, fake post.

This is funny because there have been PLENTY of posts which were defamatory of Steve Hays, Paul Manata, Josh Brisby, Gene Cook, The Discomfiter, and Jesus himself. Here's a couple:

"Paul, be sure to take Gene's tiny **** out ******** long enough to speak in complete sentences [sic] in your interview tomorrow!"

Here's another,



WHAT A F****** PIECE OF S*** HE IS!!!!! "

And another,

"Suck my Brisby DISCOMFITER!!!!"

SOURCE for the above

Someone else also called Steve Hays gay and a piece of s****. And, I won't even bother repeating what they said about Jesus!

Where was the outcry from the atheists? Nowhere!

What's worse is that Ed Babinski wrote a post about the Discomfiter, BEFORE this brouhaha about Loftus happened, in which he called the Discomfiter a "Gay Atheist". (Interesting to note the use of "gay" as a slam was also what was used by the, allegedly, fake Loftus to defame Loftus!)

In the comments section of the above post (again, BEFORE the comment about John was posted) we see John Loftus making allegations about the Discomfiter. Loftus writes,

Loftus: "I have maintained all along that the only thing that may keep people like the discomfiter from torturing and killing me for blasphemy is that he lacks the political power to do so. He will deny this, of course. But once someone is a non-person you can do anything you want to him, and that's scary. He is too stupid to see it."

This implies that the Discomfiter would murder John Loftus, and that the Discomfiter is stupid. So, John can call someone a murderer but someone can't call John a homosexual? Both are wrong, but the point here is that John's a cry baby hypocrite.

Furthermore, let's look at what Loftus said about me before:

Loftus: "Mark my words, Paul, you will beat your wife when she disagrees with you in the future. If I were her I would be scared to marry you."

That offended me, but did I EVER throw a fit and demand Loftus remove it? On T-blog there are hundreds of defamatory comments about Steve, gene, Evan, and myself. Do we ask delete them? Do we whine? No. But, for us, we know that all that matters is what the Father thinks of us. And, Christians generally have thicker-skin than cry baby atheists.

Anyway, here's another one from Loftus.

Loftus: ""She (Manata's wife) must be the silent type, the agreeable type, the humble/submissive type, and the the (sic) doting wife."

Here Loftus takes a shot at my wife! She's never blogged or commented. Loftus doesn't know here, and yet he attacks her. He's a real piece of work complaining about the, alleged, defamatory comment while he's said the above!

Now, here's what Loftus said to Travis White, a fine Christian who has, in my estimation, never sunk as low as I have (which is much lower than Steve has! :-).

Loftus: "Travis, I cannot believe you are a Philosophy student. You belong here. I did not try to refute Idealism, idiot."

Now, it gets worse. John Loftus has claimed that there is no evil. John overreacted to this incident. he didn't try to "understand" the person who, allegedly, did this. John Loftus writes about "wrong things,"

Loftus: "People don't misbehave because they are evil, they may just be sick. Punishment isn't what people need, so much as healing and understanding."

Why didn't John try to "understand" this guy? Furthermore, in
this post, John Loftus tells us that,

Loftus: "...morals do not have an ultimate foundation."

And so Loftus shows that he's made in God's image. Loftus acts outraged at this incident, he and Babinski act as if this were some morally *evil* and *wrong* thing for the, alleged, fake Loftus to do. But, the problem is that Loftus and Babinski do not believe there are any objective morals. So, Loftus and Babinski are making a big stink about their OPINION. How funny.

Lastly, this is all very interesting. I don't even know if it's possible to have two blogger users with the same ID. Could this have been Loftus trying to discredit the Discomfiter? We already saw he doesn't believe there's any real evil in the world. We already saw how he talked about my wife, Travis, and me. We saw the use of calling people "gay" already used by Babinski.

Furthermore, Loftus and Babinski were the ones who tattle-taled on the Discomfiter. They made it a point to bring this issue to light.

If this was someone who faked Loftus' ID then he took risk. He had possible legal ramifications. If it was Loftus, then he would have no legal issues involved. No risk for him to do this to himself, and an upside - discredit the Discomfiter, who's made Loftus look very foolish IMHO.

Was it Loftus? Who knows. I know the Discomfiter said he was tracing it.

My points are simple:

1) No one said nary a word when atheists were slamming Christians on the Discomfiter’s site.

2) Loftus and Babinski name called before any of this went down and then had a sudden attack of morality when someone else, allegedly, made fun of Loftus.

3) Loftus has said things just as bad, but no one ever tattle-taled on him, like a 4 yr. old.

4) Atheists are, many times, little cry babies.

5) Loftus' outrage is inconsistent with his espoused views on morality. So, his complaining has backfired on him.

Dumbo meets dumb-bunny

Loftus is at it again:

JL: Now some have suggested that with wings the criminal element would have more abilities at their disposal to commit more henious crimes. But there are some reasonable responses to this.

SH: Having given birth to a white elephant, Loftus just can’t bring himself to let the poor beast sink under its own dead weight.

He keeps trying to get his white elephant off the ground—Dumbo-style.

Maybe that’s because this is the only memorable thing that Loftus has ever come up with.

Unfortunately for him, it’s unforgettable in the same way that Barney Fife is unforgettable.

JL: God could still do something about this just like he could (but doesn't) do something about crime today. He could make "sinning" as odious as drinking motor oil is to us today. Sure, we can drink it if we want to, but it would go against what we want.

SH: The problem with trying to patch up his hypothetical this way is that it undercuts the rationale for the original hypothetical.

Loftus proposed this hypothetical as a way to lessen evil in the world.

When, however, we point out that grafting a pair of wings onto a malefactor would simply enhance his field of action, Loftus then proposes that God could remove the desire to sin.

And no doubt he could. But this has nothing to do with the original hypothetical except to render it even more ridiculous than it already was—assuming that’s possible.

If God were to remove the desire to sin, then the presence or absence of wings would be irrelevant to the level of evil in the world.

The choice would not be between a sinful flying man and a sinless flying man, but between a sinful man and a sinless man.

If the original rationale for grafting a pair of wings onto a man was to diminish evil in the world, and if, on top of that, you remove the desire to sin because the mere ability to fly does not diminish evil in the world, then you’ve admitted that wings would not accomplish the purpose you proposed for them under either scenario:

i) They would be useless to diminish evil under the original terms of hypothetical,

ii) They would be rendered equally useless under the terms of the revised hypothetical.

All Loftus has accomplished is to prop up one ham-handed hypothetical with another ham-handed hypothetical.

JL: The police in every era would also have at their disposal new methods of catching criminals because they too would have wings to fly.

SH: So it would be a wash. No net gain either way.

JL: Besides, if saying that giving people wings to fly would benefit criminal minds, then the same things could be said about God creating us with the ability to walk and run upright. Had he created us to run on all fours at a maximum of 5 miles an hour then there would be less crime too, based on this same objection. And if that's the case, then why aren't these same Christians arguing that God did wrong in creating human beings who walked upright? Oh, but wait, God did create us this way, they believe, so de facto what he created was good.


i) Loftus is now projecting his own hypothetical onto his opponent. Since we were never proposing that a particular mode of locomotion would diminish the extent of evil, Loftus’ parallel with slow-mo ambulation is utterly irrelevant to our own position. He’s imputing to us an argument from analogy which we never bought into in the first place.

ii) Even more maladroit is his failure to distinguish between creation and the fall.

A particular mode of locomotion is morally neutral. The abuse lies in the misuse, and not the use, of the ability in question.

JL: The problem here is that since Christians believe God is good and that he created us, nothing I could suggest would ever be acceptable by them. And yet, what I suggest is very reasonable indeed. So they have a choice to make, either question the goodness and/or existence of God, or listen to reason.

SH: Actually, we have a choice between the goodness and/or existence of Dumbo over against the goodness and/or existence of a dumb-bunny apostate.

Given the “very reasonable” hypothetical dilemma confronting us, I choose to:

i) Affirm the fictional goodness of Dumbo
ii) Deny the natural possibility of Dumbo’s existence
iii) Affirm the possibility of supernatural levitation
iv) Deny the actual goodness of our dumb-bunny apostate
v) Affirm the actual existence of our dumb-bunny apostate

Secular-fundy literalism

According to Ed Babinski:


On the Christian blog, "Triablogue," I found a thread titled, "The Discomfiter," that discussed a new blog of that name by someone who claims he has deconverted from Christianity and become an atheist seemingly overnight, but whose arguments are mere parodies of the atheistic types of arguments at "Debunking Christianity." After reviewing the blog of the "The Discomfiter," Steve Hays at "Triablogue," wrote, "The only plausible alternative is that The Discomfiter is legit, but out of his mind."

Is that the only "plausible" alternative? Maybe for Steve, who already views all non-Christians as insane in some sense in God's eyes, but anyone with a lick of commonsense could tell "The Discomfiter" was NOT legit from the start. Apparently Steve's legit-o-meter is broken. Makes me wonder whether he watches "The Colbert Report" and finds the "only plausible alternative" to be that Stephen Colbert is a genuine Right Wing fanatic?


It's funny how literalistic an unbeliever can be. He will mock the "fundies" for taking the Bible at face value, yet an unbeliever can be more literalistic than a flat-earther.

It doesn't even occur to Babinski that my post might have been tongue-in-cheek.

I happen to know who the Discomfiter is. And I knew that before I ever did the post in question.

I know more than I let on to knowing.

However, I won't tell you whether or not he's the real deal since that would spoil the fun. Best to keep the secular-fundy literalists like Babinski guessing.

Shades of truth & error

After I did a recent post on Christian biographies, a commenter complained that my list had nothing on science.

And it’s true that a list of Christian biographies has nothing on science, not to mention a recipe for chocolate chip cookies or a repair manual for a busted carburetor.

Be that as it may, here’s a bibliography of science, with special reference to the philosophy of science and the issue of origins.


J. Byl. The Divine Challenge

H. Dooyeweerd. The Secularization of Science

R. Feynman. The Character of Physical Law

J. Horgan. The End of Science

S. Jaki. The Limits of a Limitless Science and Other Essays

T. Kuhn. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

L. Laudan. Progress and Its Problems: Towards a Theory of Scientific Growth

D. Livingstone. Putting Science in its Place: Geographies of Scientific Knowledge

J. Moreland. Christianity and the Nature of Science: A Philosophical Examination

N. Pearcey, The Soul of Science

W. Newton-Smith, ed. A Companion to the Philosophy of Science,

R. Martin. Pierre Duhem: Philosophy and History in the Work of a Believing Physicist

D. Ratzsch. Nature, Design and Science

_____. Science & Its Limits

N. Rescher. The Limits of Science

R. Rorty. Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth: Philosophical Papers, Volume 1.

_____. Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers, Volume 3.

H. Poincaré. Science and Hypothesis

_____. Science and Method

_____. P. Schilpp, ed. The Philosophy of Karl Popper

M. Ruse. Taking Darwin Seriously: A Naturalistic Approach to Philosophy

W. Scott and M. Moleski. Michael Polanyi, Scientist and Philosopher.

B. van Fraassen, Bas C. Laws & Symmetry
_____, The Empirical Stance

_____. The Scientific Image

P. Yourgrau. A World Without Time: The Forgotten Legacy of Gödel & Einstein


W. Brown. In the Beginning

J. Byl. God & Cosmos

R. Gentry. Creation's Tiny Mystery

J. Woodmorappe, Noah's Ark

K. Wise. Faith, Form, and Time

_____. Something From Nothing

T. Wood & M. Murray. Understanding the Pattern of Life


A. Custance. Without Form and Void

J. Davis. The Frontiers of Science & Faith

H. Ross. A Matter of Days: Resolving a Creation Controversy

_____. The Genesis Question: Scientific Advances and the Accuracy of Genesis

D. Snoke. A Biblical Case for an Old Earth

D. Young. The Biblical Flood

E. J. Young. In the Beginning


F. Collins. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief

P. Davies. The Mind of God

M. Denton. Nature's Destiny

P. Teilhard de Chardin. Christianity and Evolution

K. Miller. Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution

_____. Perspectives on an Evolving Creation ISBN 0802805124

J. Polkinghorne. The Faith of a Physicist

_____. Scientists as Theologians

_____. Belief in God in an Age of Science

R. Sheldrake. The Rebirth of Nature: The Greening of Science & God

R. Swinburne. The Evolution of the Soul

F. Tipler. The Omega Point

B. B. Warfield. Evolution, Science, & Scripture. M. Noll & D. Livingstone, eds.


S. Barr. Modern Physics and Ancient Faith

M. Behe. Darwin's Black Box

D. Dembski. The Design Inference

_____. Design Revolution

_____. Mere Creation

_____. No Free Lunch

_____. Uncommon Dissent

G. Gonzalez & J. Richards. The Privileged Planet

J. Moreland, ed. The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for An Intelligent Designer

P. Nelson. On Common Descent (forthcoming)

C. Thaxton, The Mystery of Life's Origin

J. Wells. Icons of Evolution

_____. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design


H. Van Till. The Fourth Day


F. Crick. Life Itself

F. Hoyle & C. Wickramasinghe. Evolution of Life: A Cosmic Perspective


P. Grassé. The Evolution of Life


W. Craig & Q. Smith. Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology

W. Dembski & M. Ruse, eds. Debating Design: From Darwinism to DNA

D. Hagopian, ed. The Genesis Debate: Three Views on the Days of Creation

J. Moreland & J. Reynolds, eds. Three Views on Creation & Evolution.

R. Youngblood, ed. The Genesis Debate: Persistent Questions about Creation and the Flood.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

This Joyful Eastertide

From Steve:

Last year, Prometheus Books published The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave. Sympathetic reviewers consider this missive to be the definitive refutation of the Resurrection.

Needless to say, I'm of a slightly different opinion. If you follow this link, it will take you to an extensive review which I've written of the title in question.

In addition to my modest contribution, Gene Bridges and Jason Engwer, my able cobelligerents at T-blog, have contribtued an excursus which is, alone, worth the price of the book--especially when you consider that the review (in ebook format) is free for the taking!

Steve Hays

1 Cor 10

A question from an email correspondent:

“What does it mean when Paul says eating the Eucharist is a ‘participation’ in the death of Christ? Doesn’t it mean that the act of eating the bread is an act that connects us to Christ’s death on the cross and its benefits (i.e. salvation)?”

I’d just say a couple of things:

1.We can’t lift 1 Cor 10:16 out of context. This is part of a literary unit, extending from 10:1 to 10:22.

Paul draws a threefold analogy:

i) Communion with Christ via the Eucharist

ii) Communion with the dark side via Greco-Roman idolatry (i.e. consuming meat sacrificed to idols)

iii) Communion with the dark side via ANE idolatry, (i.e., the golden calf affair [cf. Deut 32:15-18; Ps 106:19-20]).

What we therefore need is a unified interpretation. An interpretation consistent with the threefold analogy.

For example, if we apply a high church sacramentology to 10:16, can we also apply a high church sacramentology to the heathen analogues?

If we demand a more forceful interpretation of “participation” in reference to the Eucharist than we do for the Pauline parallels, then we lose a unified interpretation. We do violence to Paul’s argument from analogy by turning it into an argument from disanalogy.

So Eucharistic participation in Christ should not be made to mean more than participation in the pagan analogues which, in context, supply a hermeneutical counterpart.

It ought not be more in one case, but less in another, when Paul is using the pagan parallels to illustrate the nature of the Eucharist.

2. To say that communion connects us with the redemptive benefits of the Christ is ambiguous.

Does this mean that communion connects us to the cross by saving us? That taking communion is what saves us?

Other issues aside, that’s hardly consistent with another Pauline analogy in 10:1-4.

Or does it mean that, if one is already a Christian, then obedience to the Lord’s institution carries with it a blessing reserved for Christians alone?

The truth of this is hardly limited to communion. Rather, it’s true of obedience to the preceptive will of God generally, and not to the ordinance of baptism or communion alone.

If you obey the law of God, you will be blest. But if you disobey the law of God, you will be chastened.

Logical gerrymandering

DM: John's major point, from a scientific point of view, is that there is no specific necessity on the part of a God to apply a homology which restricts the "best features" from each lineage from being packaged into one.

SH: Your attempt to salvage Loftus’ original argument would be a mite more persuasive if your editorial gloss bore any tangible resemblance to what he actually wrote.

Instead, your ex post facto reinterpretation represents an extrinsic improvement over the original formulation.

DM: I've never held that evolutionary biology disproves God's existence. It just disproves creationism.

SH: It disproves creationism assuming that evolutionary biology is true.

JL: That was funny! What was also funny is how you did a little dance around whether or not God can do what I asked. I call what you did logical gerrymandering.


i) He says it was logical gerrymandering, but he doesn’t show that it was logical gerrymandering.

Instead of rebutting anything I actually said, Loftus resorts to a tendentious characterization.

ii) To distinguish between creation, miracle, and providence is not logical gerrymandering. Rather, it’s an axial principle of Reformed theology.

iii) Even more to the point, what I did in my reply was to utilize certain distinctions which Loftus himself chose to draw.

Loftus was the one who began by asking what is naturally possible, in his original post—then shifted gears to what is omnipotently possible.

When I answer him on his own level, he calls what I do “logical gerrymandering.”

If so, then my logical gerrymandering is pegged ever step of the way to his logical gerrymandering.

JL: I am a philosophically minded person and he learns from me.

SH: A philosophically-minded person would know how to classify different models of agency, and clearly distinguish between one and another.

JL: While I have singled out just one feature that could've been different (wings), my real point is about how there is unneccesary suffering in our world that could have been averted had God changed certain features (wings being but one example).

SH: Other issues aside, attaching a pair of wings to fallen creatures would not ameliorate the quality or quantity of suffering in the world. Winged sinners would use their enhanced aptitude to commit otherwise impossible sins.

JL: I have over a dozen things God could've done differently to avert a great amount of human suffering. I'm just arguing for this one at this time.

SH: If this “improvement” is at all representative of Loftus’ other “improvements,” the Christian apologist has nothing to lose any sleep over.

JL: Together I think Daniel and I are like a good one two punch.

SH: More like two frat boys who’ve imbibed too much spiked punch, and are in a resultant state of mental and motor impairment.

JL: What really surprizes me here is that Steve prefers to opt for the "Omnipotence isn't like a genie in a bottle" defense. What an amazing concession to my argument, coming as it does from someone who believes God creates the laws of nature with the universe, especially when I'm asking about why God created such a universe with these laws in the first place. Steve's defense is that God just couldn't do it, and that's utterly amazing to me. That's right. God couldn't do it. Hmmmm. I thought the word "omnipotence" meant something. But I guess not.

So once again, in order to defend God's purported creation, Steve resorts to the God cannot do it response.

There is a much more thoughful and better answer than that from the Christian perspective, and I'm ready for it whenever you think of it. But why Stev continues to say God couldn't do it amazes really does.

Steve, just what can your God do? :-)

SH: Loftus sees what he wants to see.

What I did was to give a qualified answer, utilizing his own qualifiers.

What he did in response was to drop all the qualifiers, and collapse my qualified answer into an unqualified answer.

This is a systematic distortion of what was actually said, and said in painstaking detail.

But that’s typical of Loftus. He will post an ill-focused piece.

I’ll reply with a point-by-point rebuttal.

Then he’ll respond, not with any attempt to demonstrate a flaw in my counterargument, but with a mischaracterization of what was said.

But that’s fine. If he could defend himself, he would defend himself. He does not because he cannot.

Barbara Eden or the Garden of Eden?

John Loftus has replied:

Before I delve into the details, I’ll begin with a couple of preliminary points:

There is more to Calvinism than divine omnipotence. A fixture of Calvinism is a strong doctrine of ordinary providence.

When I distinguish between what is providentially possible and what is miraculously possible, this is not an ad hoc distinction. Rather, that’s an elementary and elemental distinction in Reformed theology.

So when Loftus poses hypotheticals about a better world, the answer depends, in part, on which framework, whether miraculous or hypothetical, is framing the hypothetical.

Second, you’ll notice an evident tension between Daniel Morgan and John Loftus on this issue.

Due to his scientific background, Danny is a little too prudent to indulge in the unscientific speculations that Loftus has gotten so carried away with.

This places him in the awkward position of trying to defend Loftus while putting some distance between himself and Loftus at the same time.

And Loftus isn’t making Danny’s exercise in damage control any easier.

Moving along:

DM: It appears you are referring to the theory that viruses and predation only existed outside the garden here, in response to my comment on them? (Kline)

SH: On my interpretation, predation existence outside of the garden.

Viruses need a host. I assume that unfallen Adam and Eve were originally immune to disease.

DM: I'm not comparing different creatures, but considering the relative suboptimal design intrinsic to each animal's functions and organs and such -- the human spine is always a prime example. Any half-brained engineer could have devised a better bipedal, upright-walking, load-bearing spine. Of course, the apes have a C-curve and do not stand fully upright, whereas we have the same vertebrae, configured into an S-curve, and it leads to multiple problems with slipped discs and herniated discs, etc.

Also, the rib cage supports the organs in animals who are leaned over, and it helps prevent herniated bowels in them. Standing upright, we have no such luxury, and no other attachment points of our internal organs (peritoneal mesothelium anchors in an unfavorable fashion for upright creatures). THat is why it is so easy for human beings to push their internal organs through the muscle wall of their abdomen and get hernias...I could go on and on.

SH: Several issues:

i) Danny, like Dawkins, is fond of “talking” about a better design for this or that.

But I never see them “showing” us a better design. Give us a set of schematics for a more efficient design. Give us a working model. And show how that can be integrated into the preexisting body plan of the suboptimized organism.

It’s one thing to “say” that a better design is possible. It’s another thing entirely to show that a better design is possible.

If a better design is possible, then design it.

The only way of knowing that a better design is possible is by doing it. If you can’t show it, you don’t know it.

The speculations of Danny and Loftus take certain possibilities for granted. But that assumes what they need to prove.

If you’re’ going to propose a hypothetical task for God to perform, then your proposal needs to work out all of the details so that we know what the proposal amounts to.

Absent that level of detailed specification, this is not a genuine hypothetical, but just a form of words—in which words are being used as a substitute for concepts.

ii) Danny may not be interested in the comparative dimension of optimality, but I consider the unit of optimality quite germane to the issue of a better world.

You could optimize a ground squirrel by giving it bite-proof skin, like the honey badger.

This would render the ground squirrel impervious to natural predators like foxes, coyotes, rattlesnakes, bob cats, &c.

At a certain level, that would be better for the ground squirrel. It would be better for the prey, but worse for the predator.

It would be worse for the ecosystem. And in the long-run, it would be worse for the ground squirrel by creating more competition from other ground squirrels.

iii) An upright posture is a perfectly illustration of the incommensurable trade-off between one body-plan and another.

An upright posture carries compensatory advantages as well as certain disadvantages.

For example, you can’t move as fast on two limbs as you can on four. But freeing up one pair of limits enables a degree of specialization (opposable thumbs) which would not be possible if the hands were used for running, like paws or hooves.

So optimality is relative. Optimal relative to what? If speed is the objective, then having a pair of hands with opposable thumbs is a suboptimal design.

If the ability to manipulate one’s physical environment is the objective, then having hands with opposable thumbs is an optimal design.

Is a capacity for flight an optimal or suboptimal design? On the one hand, there are certain survival advantages in being able to fly, in order to exploit that ecological niche.

On the other hand, there’s a tradeoff. It requires a high metabolism to fly. You have to eat more often, and eat more relative to your body weight. Consider the Humming bird, to take an extreme example. And that can be a disadvantage.

What we see in the natural world is that no one species is able to capitalize on every advantageous design feature. That wouldn’t even be possible.

Rather, what we see is just about every possible advantageous design feature exemplified in one species or subspecies and another.

DM: I can strongly argue suboptimal design within humans and many other animals, but I made a larger point which you seem not to have responded to:
is there a logical necessity that whatever God makes is the best it could be?
Does suboptimal design necessarily indicate no God exists? Obviously, theistic evolutionists would have little problem with it. Creationists (like yourself) would probably have much more.

SH: Several issues:

i) Teleology and dysteleology are asymmetrical. Dysteleology presupposes teleology.

Without teleology, there would be no ideal standard to even identify a suboptimal design or defective adaptation.

So even if we admit the existence of suboptimal design, that in no way undercuts the existence of a Creator. To the contrary, it assumes the existence of a Creator.

ii) We also need to distinguish between suboptimal design and suboptimal adaptation. Not every adaptation is a design feature.

Rather, the design is what allows for a certain range of adaptive variation. Having that in-built adaptability is advantageous, whether or not any particular adaptation is advantageous.

iii) I’m not at all sure that the best possible world is a coherent proposition. Rather, it seems to be a choice between incommensurable goods.

Not all possible goods are compossible. There may be a trade-off between one good and another. Between a first-order good and a second-order good. Between alternative goods. Between a lesser good and a greater good.

iv) Apropos (iii), assuming, for the sake of argument, that there is a best possible world, it is not incumbent on God to instantiate the best possible world, or any possible world.

But if he is going to instantiate a possible world, then it must be a good world. And it must be good overall.

v) It is easy to speculate about improvements to the existing world.

But this assumes that you can make discrete improvements in isolation from the various adjustments which might be necessary to incorporate your “improvement” into the whole.

Even if your improvement were a local improvement, would it be a global improvement, or would it be less good overall?

vi) For that matter, I don’t know that what we call the real world is the only world that God has instantiated.

DM: Regarding the opposable thumbs bit, check out the feet of an orangutan the next time you go to the zoo.

SH: You’re missing the point. The question at issue is not whether subhuman creatures can have certain features in common with human beings, but whether we can subtract certain features of normal human design and still call it human.

DM: Also consider that a large addition of muscular back and pectoral tissue and ligaments would be necessary to add wings to a human, but that the amount would correlate to the power of flight.

SH: Which would be a drain on the system. What percentage of physiological resources would need to be diverted from the human brain to flight apparatus?

DM: It is not necessary that humans be able to bound upwards at 100 m/s, of course, and many species of birds glide a lot more than they flap.

SH: The problem is that Loftus floats a pseudotask for God to perform. He proposes a hypothetical, but the hypothetical is so low on actual content that it doesn’t amount to a serious proposition. It’s just a form of words.

DM: But are you suggesting that an omniscient and omnipotent God could not have tweaked the fundamental forces of the universe (or added additional ones) such that the parameters of the medium give rise to properties which are more beneficient to us humans?

SH: A question like this is unanswerable because it’s so very vague. One can talk about tweaking the universe, but what, exactly, is involved? Show me a coherent model in which you tweak some feature of the universe, everything balances out, and the end-result is more beneficial for man.

Matthew: I believe that an improvement in engineering living organisms would be to make it so that the respiratory system wasn't connected to the digestive system the way that it is! The passage way leading to our lungs is closed whenever we swallow, allowing for the passage of food.

But think of how many people have died, choked, and have suffocated, even little children because they got something lodged in their throats that blocked the air supply to their lungs. God could've desiged that system better to where the passage to the lungs needn't have to close when food is passing through.

Now Christians will mock skeptics like me and ask how else would God be able to use the respiratory system for speech when the same tools for speech (tounge, teeth, gums, etc) are also used to eat and digest food? Wouldn't it be an easier system if God killed two birds with one stone by designing them so that they fit together?

No, I don't think that it was particularly smart for God to design it this way. There are more efficient plans he couldv'e used. What if, instead, of us having to breathe in air through nasal cavity and, alternatively, the mouth, what if God designed mammals like ourselves to have symbiotic relationships with bacteria that lived in the cells of our skin?

What if, instead of having to rely on air, we supplied nutrients to the bacteria to help the bacteria remain alive while the bacteria generated the necessary oxygen for our blood stream? We wouldn't have to rely on a nasal cavity nor would we have to rely on having the opening to our lungs have to close in our throat every time we swallow food, thereby risking choking or suffocation. Such a symbiotic relationship would be a feat of engineering design on part of any Creator and seems to me to be a lot more sufficent and safer than our current system.

Just my two cents,

SH: It’s overvalued at two cents.

Matthew, instead of talking about a more efficient design, show us a more efficient design. Go ahead and design a more efficient body-plan. Report back to us when you’re done. Let’s see the schematics when you’ve turned your pretty speculations into a working model.

JL: Are you saying that God can’t? Why? Why can’t he? He’s God. Do you really think God is omnipotent or not? Could God have created us so that we could levitate? Yes or no?

SH: As I said before, this is not a yes or no question since the answer depends on the frame of reference.

Loftus is trying to merge two questions into one:

i) Could God make a man levitate?

ii) Could God make a man naturally levitate?

I would answer (i) in the affirmative.

As to (ii), this is unanswerable because it is a deceptively simple question. Whether it’s possible to have a network of second-causes that naturally allow for levitation is an extremely complicated question. Many preliminary questions would need to be investigated and answered before we were in a position to answer that particular question.

I have never designed an alternative possible world, so I don’t know what all is involved. And I don’t know enough to design an alternative possible world.

We only know a fraction of a fraction of what is to be known about the actual world.

You see, what Loftus is doing is to beg the question at every step. He assumes that his hypothetical is possible. He assumes that we know enough to answer his hypothetical.

But his hypothetical is unanswerable since we don’t begin to know enough to answer it. We would need to know all the details, which he hasn’t given us. We would need to be smart enough to assess all the details.

In addition, the burden of proof is on Loftus to demonstrate that his hypothetical is even possible.

JL: Could he have created the laws of the universe such that they allow for levitation or not?

SH: This assumes that levitation and natural law are interrelated.

JL: Is he in charge of the laws of the universe or not?

SH: Yes, God is in charge.

JL: Or is God limited in what he couls create by these laws such that God must create a universe within the bounds of certain laws of creation which he never created?

SH: This is a very confused question. It’s really two questions bundled into one:

i) Is God limited in what type of universe he can create?

ii) Given that God has created a certain type of universe, is God thereby limited in what he can create via the natural laws or second causes proper to that state of affairs?

Apropos (i), a possible world is just that: a possible state of affairs. Not every hypothetical is coherent. Not every hypothetical is possible.

But God has a range from possible worlds from which to choose.

Apropos (ii), the very way in which the hypothetical is framed imposes a limit on God’s field of action.

Mind you, this would be a self-imposed limitation. God did have to create such a world, but having created such a world, it has certain inherent properties.

God can alter or bypass these properties, but in that event, he’s working above natural law rather than via natural law.

JL: Let’s say he cannot do this by natural means because he never created the laws of nature. Then who did? To say God is limited in his creative power by the laws of the physical universe is to say he did not create the laws of the universe. Then who did create them? Where did they originate from?

SH: And why would we want to say that?

1.Once again, Loftus has bundled two questions into one:

i) Can God do x by natural means?

ii) If God cannot do x by natural means, is this because he never created the laws of nature?

But (ii) doesn’t follow from (i).

If the hypothetical is framed in such a way that God would be acting through natural means, then, by definition, what is naturally possible poses a restriction on the divine field of action.

Of course, that’s only as good as the hypothetical.

2.God created the “laws of nature” by creating nature the natural world.

3.As I’ve said many times before, I believe in providence, not in natural law. If an opponent choose to cast the question in terms of natural law, I may play along with his usage, but that is not interchangeable with my own conceptual scheme.

Speaking for myself, I translate “natural law” into providence.

4.” To say God is limited in his creative power by the laws of the physical universe is to say he did not create the laws of the universe.”

This statement fails to distinguish between primary causality and secondary causality.

i) Natural laws do not limit God’s field of action vis-à-vis primary causality, since primary causality is the source of natural law in the first place.

ii) Natural laws do limit God’s field of action vis-à-vis secondary causality if God is operating via second causes.

iii) God is not bound by second causes to thereby limit his sphere of action to the network of second causes.

But if you’re asking us what God can “naturally” do, then (ii) is operative. But the truth of (ii) does nothing to negate the truth of (i) or (iii).

JL: Furthermore, if God cannot create just anything in the natural world because of these laws, then why can’t God merely supercede these laws? Let’s say that God couldn’t create fleshly creatures who could levitate by virtue of the supposed fact that he cannot change the laws of nature. Then why is it that God couldn’t cause us to levitate whenever we thought about levitating, much like Superman flies through the air by thinking of flying without any known propulsion? Why can’t God do this? He can and any Christian who thinks otherwise is just not thinking. He could do anything in the physical world irregardless of whether he can create the laws of the universe or not. He can make human beings who have wings and could fly. He could make us look every bit like we do with operational wings.

SH: Few men are as muddle-headed as John Loftus.

1.There’s a difference between God creating the natural world, and God creating “in” the natural world. God can create something “in” the natural world, either by natural means (second causes) or miraculously.

2.God is indeed able to supersede these “laws.”

3.God is quite able to change the “laws” of nature. But in that event, we are no longer talking about the same world. Rather, what we really have in mind is the potential for God to instantiate a different possible world, with a different set of properties.

4. God could not to anything in the physical world regardless of whether he made the laws of nature. If, ex hypothesi, he didn’t make the laws of nature, then they would be autonomous, and—as such—might well pose a barrier to divine action.

I reject the operating assumption, but given that assumption, God would not be at liberty to do just anything in the physical world.

5.At this juncture we should introduce another refinement. If God is timeless, then, strictly speaking, God does not make things happen by acting within the world. Rather, he makes things happened by enacting a particular world.

JL: God could do this naturally by reducing our body weight like birds if he wanted to.

SH: A couple of problems:

i) If God is doing this by natural means (JL’s original hypothetical), then you cannot reduce body weight without making a number of other correlative adjustments.

ii) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that (i) is even feasible, what happens to the human brain? Must we also downsize the brain?

If so, do we end up with a flying man? Or something subhuman?

JL: or he could just make us fly when we thought about flying.

SH: By natural means, or supernatural means?

JL: Did you know that God could reduce the size of this universe, this whole universe, by 10 times, or 100 times, or a 1000 times and we would not know the difference since everything will look the same size to those who have been reduced in size?

SH: Yes, he could reduce it in size, but would it still be a functioning universe? John acts is if an agent can make a discrete, but radical change which is isolated from other aspects of the universe, or the planet, or the body.

JL: So, if our body weight is too heavy to fly then he could cut our body weight in half or more by merely reducing the whole size of the known universe? Or he could have reduced the size of planet earth (or whole solar system) and the gravitational field would make us lighter in weight (like the gravitational field on the moon). Or he could have just made gravity such that even with the present size of earth it would allow us to fly with wings.

SH: In what sense are these changes doable? Naturally doable? It’s obvious that Loftus doesn’t have the slightest idea of what he’s proposing. Of how or whether it could all hang together.

JL: And if by changing the present force of gravity may cause other unforseeable problems in the universe, then God could fix those things too. Or God could maintain a perpetual miracle at some point, which would fix any problems with a less intense gravitational force.

SH: Yes, you could have a perpetual miracle. What you wouldn’t have is a perpetual miracle in conjunction with a weaker gravitational force.

Either gravity or a miracle. Not both operating at the same place and the same time.

JL: For those who say God must create and maintain a natural universe with no perpetual miracles I wonder why that must be the case. Does this God ever get weary? Would maintaining a perpetual miracle make him tired somehow? Then how can he truly be omnipotent?

SH: You can strike a balance between natural and miracle. What you cannot have is a parallel system of efficient causality whereby a natural cause and a miraculous cause are both the necessary and sufficient condition of the very same effect.

JL: But my critic has further objected to what I argued for in this way: “If you modify a man, at what point does he cease to be a man?” What can be made of this? This presupposes that God must make a man.

SH: No, what it presupposes is an answer which was responsive to the way in which Loftus originally chose to frame his hypothetical.

JL: Is this because God must make man in his physical image or something? Hardly. If the English word “man” only applies to presently existing human beings, then with a major winged change that English word no longer applies to us, of course. But we would still be able to redefine the English word “man” to include a human being with wings.

SH: The question at issue is not redefining the word, but redefining human nature, at which point it ceases to be human.

JL: What is essential to the Christian for there to be free willed creatures who decide their destiny apart from God’s directly felt presense, anyway?

SH: The question is what is essential to human creatures.

JL: Why do we have to be warm blooded creatures who can’t fly? Why? I see nothing about such creatures that requires that we must necessarily be warm blooded creatures who cannot fly? Nothing. All that’s necessary is that we are thinking creatures who have free will, from the Christian perspective.


i) The creature posing this question is a human being. If the creature posing this question were cold-blooded, it would not be a human being. It might be a rational or moral agent, but it would not be a human agent.

ii) Can a cold-blooded creature have the nervous system of a warm-blooded creature?

JL: And if God created us with a stronger immune system, then what?

SH: Actually, I assume that Adam and Eve were created with a stronger immune system. But sin takes its toll.

JL: And if God created us as cold blooded beings, then what?


i) Why should I grant the premise?

ii) Even assuming the premise, I have no experience with being a cold-blooded animal, so the concluding question is unanswerable.

Since, however, John Loftus is on the payroll of the Old Serpent, perhaps he can fill us in on the details.

JL: And if God created all creatures as vegetarians, then what?

SH: Then the local Black Angus eatery would go out of business. Then I’d have to reformulate my theodicy to accommodate the horrendous evil of life without steak and lobster.

Loftus’ basic problem is that he’s getting his theology from I Dream of Jeannie. He’s confusing the Garden of Eden with Barbara Eden.

But omnipotence is not a genie in a bottle. Omnipotence is not an all-purpose substitute for ordinary providence.

Yet this may explain why Loftus is an atheist. He’s a disillusioned Ali Babist. He gave up believing in God when he discovered that God didn’t correspond to his adolescent fantasy of an omnipotent belly dancer.

Come of think of it, many apostates and other unbelievers suffer from Ali Babist withdrawal symptoms.