Saturday, December 23, 2006

Because Jesus Was Born

Justin Taylor linked to this piece by John Piper and Sam Crabtree, which is worth reading and thinking about. The list could be multiplied.

Out of the ivory palaces,
Into a world of woe,
Only His great eternal love
Made my Savior go.
(Henry Barraclough, "Ivory Palaces")

Richard Squawkins


“When I ask what epistemic value an explanation has, that's a *scientific* question. In other words, how does this explanation add to the reliability and epistemic confidence of our knowledge?”

Obviously wrong, since every explanation is not a scientific explanation.

“If you have an answer -- and you do, so do I -- that explains everything and anything, than it doesn't help you one bit in terms of science.”

i) I never said that common design explains everything. You resort to a straw man argument because you are incompetent to address the real argument.

ii) I never said that common design explained everything. Rather, I posed a question: how does the evidence differentiate evidence for common descent from evidence for common design?

iii) A creationist doesn’t deny localized forms of common descent. He doesn’t deny that various dog-breeds descend from a common ancestor (the wolf). He doesn’t deny that various subspecies of orchid descend from a common ancestor (the wild orchid). He doesn’t’ deny that the various races of man descend from a common ancestor (Adam).

iv) I don’t care about what is helpful to science. Science is not an end in itself. Science is not an intrinsic value. Science is only a means to an end. The issue is whether science is helpful, and to what degree, and under what conditions.

“Why, because all questions have the same answer! If all questions have the same answer, there's no meaning to the idea of question.”

If true, this objection would be equally explicable to the explain-all of common descent. So the reasoning is reversible. Try to follow your own argument for a change.

“But science builds knowledge by ruling things out. The leading theory is properly described as the theory that is hardest to rule out.”

Other issues aside, I notice that you don’t apply this yardstick to evolution. You treat evolution as something to be disproved rather than proved.

“Because the God hypothesis in science has no way to be falsified.”

Even if this were true, so what? You are arguing that if the “God hypothesis” imposes a limitation on science, then this consequence is unacceptable.

That’s an irrational contention. The fact that something may generate a particular consequence is not, of itself, a reason to deny it.

“As I've said here before, science disavows any claims or knowledge of metaphysical truth.”

Yes, you’ve said that before. But *saying* and *showing* are two different things. You never demonstrate your claim. You simply assert it ad nauseum. And you disregard arguments to the contrary.

Science intersects with metaphysics. Here’s a general definition of metaphysics in a standard reference work:

Metaphysics is a broad area of philosophy marked out by two types of inquiry. The first aims to be the most general investigation possible into the nature of reality: are there principles applying to everything that is real, to all that is? – if we abstract from the particular nature of existing things that which distinguishes them from each other, what can we know about them merely in virtue of the fact that they exist? The second type of inquiry seeks to uncover what is ultimately real, frequently offering answers in sharp contrast to our everyday experience of the world. Understood in terms of these two questions, metaphysics is very closely related to ontology, which is usually taken to involve both ‘what is existence (being)?’ and ‘what (fundamentally distinct) types of thing exist?’ (see Ontology).

Be all this as it may, even if not literally everything, then virtually everything of which we have experience is in time. Temporality is therefore one of the phenomena that should be the subject of any investigation which aspires to maximum generality. Hence, so is change (see Change). And when we consider change, and ask the other typically metaphysical question about it (‘what is really going on when something changes?’) we find ourselves faced with two types of answer. One type would have it that a change is an alteration in the properties of some enduring thing (see Continuants). The other would deny any such entity, holding instead that what we really have is merely a sequence of states, a sequence which shows enough internal coherence to make upon us the impression of one continuing thing (see Momentariness, Buddhist doctrine of). The former will tend to promote ‘thing’ and ‘substance’ to the ranks of the most basic metaphysical categories; the latter will incline towards events and processes (see Events; Processes). It is here that questions about identity over time become acute, particularly in the special case of those continuants (or, perhaps, processes), which are persons (see Identity; Persons; Personal identity).

CRAIG, EDWARD (1998). Metaphysics. In E. Craig (Ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Routledge. Retrieved December 23, 2006, from

You arbitrarily equate “science” with positivism and methodological naturalism. Truth by definition is your modus operandi.

“It's strictly limited to natural contexts.”

And you define “natural” as “naturalistic.” Circular.

“It will be harder than ever for such science to get any credibility after the damage done by Dembski and fellow travelers.”

This is one of your recurrent problems. Your position is driven by anxieties over the PR aspect of ID theory or YEC or OEC.

“And once again, that construal of truth is completely agnostic with respect to metaphysics.”

And once again, that’s a completely ignorant statement of the relation between science and metaphysics.

“Which is the reason it's a mistake to say that I'm a "functional atheist" with respect to science. Science is *agnostic* with respect to metaphysics, and thus cannot take a theistic or atheistic stance.”

If, in doing science, you automatically and systematically rule out the possibility of divine agency in advance of your investigations, then that is hardly agnostic. Rather, that’s an atheistic stance from start to finish.

“If that's what God did, just like mature creation, science will have no way to tell. It will be completely unable to identify that case.”

Which would mean that science is a limited source of information. So what?

“Consider this hypothetical: the earth was 'poofed' into existence 6,000 years ago by God.”

Now your using Babinski’s derogatory lingo.

“It looks old, acts old, yet it's young, per God's powers. “

No, the universe doesn’t *look* any particular age. That’s simply an inference we draw by hypothetically running present processes backwards in time—assuming certain constants and initial conditions.

That’s an operation that *we* perform *on* nature. And up-to-a-point, there’s nothing wrong with that extrapolation—just as there’s nothing wrong with using a rooster as an alarm clock.

Farmers have been using roosters as alarm clocks from time immemorial.

The problem is when Farmer Touchstone begins to equate a rooster with an alarm clock. When he is no longer able to distinguish the natural function of the bird from the artificial function he assigns it.

At that point, poor Farmer Touchstone is captive to his anthropomorphic projections. He now inhabits a cockwork universe. He has “cock=clock” etched on his spectacles. Richard Squawkins book, The Blind Cockmaker, is his Bible.

And he accuses me of being “mystical” and “unscientific” when I deny that his rooster really is a walking, squawking alarm clock.

“Now, as a scientist, how do you propose that we might learn more than that about the process of creation? If this kind of creation, this design for the world is what actually happened, how is that impetus for additional discovery.”

It all depends on the example. What is the point of science? To find answers to certain questions? Well, if we already have an answer to a particular question, then we can stop asking that particular question.

Eve was the product of fiat creation rather than procreation. So we can stop asking how she was made.

This doesn’t mean we should stop asking how you and I were made, since we are the product of procreation rather than fiat creation.

Some illnesses are cured by medical science while other illnesses are cured by prayer. Prayer is the correct answer in some cases, while medicine is the correct answer in other cases.

“Do we start researching how God acts supernaturally to perform miracles? How do we scientifically proceed in this case?”

The problem with you is that you begin with a preconceived framework, then you try to squeeze all of the evidence into you’re a priori framework, and if it doesn’t fit you saw off the offending evidence.

But what is the evidence for your framework? Clearly in your case the evidence isn’t driving the framework, but vice versa. Oh, and that makes it a metaphysical construct.

You feel the need to classify a phenomenon before you investigate it.

I don’t begin with a particular kind of question. I don’t begin with a scientific question, or a historical question, &c. I begin with a factual question: what is true?

Whether the correct answer is historical or scientific or miraculous, &c., is a subdivision of its factuality.

“If that's what happened, there's no point in proceeding scientifically as to the mechanisms of creation. It's a supernatural phenomenon. And the role of science has vanished from the picture. That's not a problem. But it is a fact. Suggesting that's a spur for science is silly. That's where science bows out.”

No, what is silly is the way you substitute something else for what I actually said. I made the *general* observation that “If you think something was designed, then that encourages you to look for an explanation rather than treat it as a brute fact or surd event. Belief in design is an impetus to scientific discovery. You only seek a rational explanation if you believe that a rational explanation is available, which assumes the rationality of nature.”

Creation ex nihilo would be a rational explanation. It might or might not be a *scientific* explanation, but it would be a *rational* explanation.

That doesn’t rule out “scientific” explanations in other cases, or even in this case. Scientific explanations are, at best, a subset of rational explanations generally.

“If you are simply inclined to say ‘Goddidit’ as the explanation for any given phenomena, then there's no *distinctive* evidence for *anything*, *anywhere*.”

Another straw man argument. Because he can’t deal with the real argument, Touchstone always resorts to straw man arguments—universalizing a specific claim.

Revelation specifically attributes certain effects to God. The creation of the world. The creation of natural kinds.

Since I know this to be true, revealed truths figure in my explanation of events.

Revelation also attributes many other events to ordinary providence. Since I know this to be true, that also figures in my explanation of events.

Touchstone, by contrast, is like one of those split-personality accidents from a transporter mishap. There’s the “Christian” Touchstone. Then there’s his agnostic alter-ego. Which is the real Touchstone? Or are they equally real? Now that’s a scary thought! Lock your doors and keep a taser nearby!

“So yes, if miraculous intervention by an omnipotent God is the preferred answer for any scientific question, then there is no distinctive evidence for any scientific theory.”

The rote, straw man argument.

“Science operates on the assumption that nature obeys physical laws and constraints.”

i) To begin with, science operates with no such assumption. Touchstone’s assertion is based on a rather provincial interpretation of natural law. But there is no received interpretation of natural law in the philosophy of science.

And notice that Touchstone can’t avoid appealing to metascientific assumptions.

ii) Also watch for the hidden asterisk. Remember that Touchstone is an alethic antirealist. He doesn’t believe that human beings enjoy access to objective truth.

So his assertions about science are reducible to a purely autobiographical and introspective witness to his own mental states.

“Never before the 20th century has Christianity (or significant parts of it at least) denied the evidence of nature as it has in the last 100 years.”

Many of the church fathers subscribed to instantaneous creation. What evidence, recent or otherwise, would count against instantaneous creation?

“Is my affirmation of 170,000 years too little, too much, or just right? If it's not right, what science are you basing this on?”

Try metrical conventionalism.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Common design

"Now, that said, let me ask: is there any epistemic value in the concept of common design other than co-opt evidence for evolution?"

i) This is a beautifully anachronistic statement of the issue. The concept of common design doesn't "co-opt" evidence for evolution. For one thing, the concept of common design goes back to the Judeo-Christian concept of divine creation, which antedates the evolutionary debate by centuries and millennia.

All I've done is to apply a traditional teaching to a new issue.

ii) In addition, to say it's co-opting the evidence for evolution begs the question of whether the evidence singles out evolution.

"I think there is not. In practice, the invocation of common design is clear in its utility; as Steve Hays says, why can’t any evidence for common descent simply be evidence for common design? The answer is… it can!"

Which is why the evidence for common descent is not, in fact, evidence for common descent. It's consistent with common decent, but it's consistent with common design. At that level, both explanations are empirically equivalent.

"And that’s precisely the problem. Common design is an infallible, unfalsifiable hypothesis, even in principle, and therefore useless scientifically."

Several more problems:

i) Science is not the sole gateway of truth.

ii) Not all truth is hypothetical.

iii) Why assume that reality is always engineered for the convenience of a scientist? Indeed, that would be a design concept.

"The natural response would be: Ok, what would be evidence that doesn’t support common design? Obviously, not all creatures are exactly alike, so common design allows for differentiation and specialization. What then, would argue against common design as an “explanation” for observed similiarities, functional or no? I don’t see that common design could possible be discounted; it can account for anything, as it invokes an unidentified but infinitely capable Designer."

i) The concept of design antedates ID-theory. And the Judeo-Christian concept of creation does not invoke an "unidentified" Designer.

ii) But suppose this were a debate over ID-theory. T-stone's problem is that because he's a dogmatic theistic evolutionist, he can't even stand the watered-down theism of ID-theory. And that's because some, but not all, ID-theorists are opposed to evolution.

"Such is the poverty of ad-hoc creationism."

The traditional, Judeo-Christian doctrine of divine creation is "ad hoc"?

"If you’re undisciplined in you epistemology, “Goddidit” becomes a reflex, and especially useful as a dismissive defensive weapon."

Notice how t-stone, who poses as a Christian, never takes into consideration the possibility that there are times when, in fact, "Goddidit" is the correct answer. He's a functional atheist.

He doesn't ask, "What is true?" but only "What is scientific?"

He'd rather believe something that's "scientific," but false over something that's true, but "unscientific."

"Vitamin C deficiencies shared across primates? No problem, it’s easily explained by common design, much easier than by common descent, by the way. Homologies? Evidence of common design, just like any other similarities you can name!"

Notice, once again, that he never allows himself to entertain the possibility that even some commonalities might be due to common design. As I say, he's a functional atheist.

Although he poses as a Christian, he regards it as utterly illicit for a Christian to ask himself: "If there is a Creator who designed the world and brought it into being, then what would such a world look like?"

To him, a Christian must never begin with revealed truths.

Instead, a Christian must act as if there is no God, as if we inhabit a godless universe. That's the only "scientific" way of doing science.

"We might suppose we have fine grained transitional evidence for evolving morphology and constitution from one species into a markedly different species."

Except that we don't.

"Would that be enough? No, because every evolved step in the sequence can be accounted for by an intervening miracle, a bit of special creation on God’s part rather than the product of variation and natural processes."

He erects a straw man argument to burn it down.

Incidentally, special creation doesn't disallow natural variations. That's another straw man argument.

"Is it wrong, then, to invoke the idea of 'common design in scientific inquiries like this?"

Two problems:

i) He's assuming that this can only be a "scientific" inquiry.

ii) And he defines science in systematically atheistic terms.

"I won’t say it’s wrong, but I will say that brings the inquiry to a stop in terms of science."

No, just the opposite. If you think something was designed, then that encourages you to look for an explanation rather than treat it as a brute fact or surd event. Belief in design is an impetus to scientific discovery. You only seek a rational explanation if you believe that a rational explanation is available, which assumes the rationality of nature.

"If common design is the reason for the similarities, than science can’t hope to account for them by natural mechanisms; the isomorphisms as the product of arbitrary intelligence, and thus beyond the ken of science."

So the mind of God is equivalent to "arbitrary intelligence."

"Steve Hays can wave away the compelling evidence for our common ancestry"

If, according to t-stone, common descent and common design are empirically equivalent, then there is no compelling evidence for common ancestry. Indeed, by his own admission, there would not even be any *distinctive* evidence for common descent, much less *compelling* evidence.

"In that respect, common design is a recapitulation of the idea of “mature creation” that YECs have adopted in response to the lopsided scientific evidence against their beliefs."

Yet another anachronism. Belief in mature creation was not adopted in response to modern science. This is simply an application of a traditional belief to a modern issue.

"Sure, the universe looks old, but God just created it to look and act billions of years ago, even though He created it all just a few thousand years ago."

i) As I've said before, the universe doesn't look any particular age.

ii) As I've also said before, a theistic evolutionist like t-stone believes quite passionately in a gap between appearance and reality as far as the age of the universe is concerned, only—for him—it's in the opposite direction.

For him, stars look younger than they really are, rather than older than they really are.

"Forced into a bind by the evidence for common descent, creationists invoke common design in the same way they invoked the idea of 'mature creation' when vexed by the overwhelming evidence for an old earth and universe."

i) But if, by his own admission, mature creation is empirically equivalent to the alternative theories of establishment science, then there is no "overwhelming" evidence for an old earth and universe. Indeed, there's no *distinctive* evidence for either.

ii) What t-stone does is to equate achronometic, natural processes with chronometric, artifactual processes, in a completely anthropomorphic fashion.

In t-stone's preschool universe, a rooster exists to tell us the time. And if the rooster doesn't wake him up in time for work, then God is a fraud.

"But they are both the epitome of the ad-hoc “just so” story, appealing to God’s plenary powers as a way out of the evidential vise they are in."

If you want examples of ad hocery, study the many versions of cosmology and evolutionary biology.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Good News Of Great Joy

"The joy which this first gospel preacher spoke of was no mean one, for he said, 'I bring you good tidings' [Luke 2:10] —that alone were joy: and not good tidings of joy only, but 'good tidings of great joy.' Every word is emphatic, as if to show that the gospel is above all things intended to promote, and will most abundantly create the greatest possible joy in the human heart wherever it is received. Man is like a harp unstrung, and the music of his soul's living strings is discordant, his whole nature wails with sorrow; but the son of David, that mighty harper, has come to restore the harmony of humanity, and where his gracious fingers move among the strings, the touch of the fingers of an incarnate God brings forth music sweet as that of the spheres, and melody rich as a seraph's canticle....We have already said it is a 'great joy'—'good tidings of great joy.' Earth's joy is small, her mirth is trivial, but heaven has sent us joy immeasurable, fit for immortal minds. Inasmuch as no note of time is appended, and no intimation is given that the message will ever be reversed, we may say that it is a lasting joy, a joy which will ring all down the ages, the echoes of which shall be heard until the trumpet brings the resurrection; aye, and onward for ever and for ever....O blessed thought! the Star of Bethlehem shall never set. Jesus, the fairest among ten thousand, the most lovely among the beautiful, is a joy for ever." (Charles Spurgeon)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"I'm the ultimate arbiter!"

Jonathan Prejean has posted his final reply:

“I can't see excusing the use of an argument that is unsound in and of itself based on its function anything other than sophistry.”

Sorry, but this is just plain silly. Of course I can use an argument I don’t believe in. It’s just a matter of context.

It would be dishonest to use an argument I don’t believe in to prove my own position. And it would be dishonest to pretend to believe in an argument I don’t believe in.

But there’s nothing wrong with using an argument I don’t believe in to disprove the opposing position as long as that’s an argument my opponent believes in.

And no one reading this thread can be under the illusion that I believe in the argument I’m using as applicable to my own position.

One of the ambiguities here is that we’re really talking about more than one argument. In the case at hand, there are three different arguments in play:

There’s Prejean’s argument against Reformed determinism.

And there’s the parallel argument of Perry Robinson and Daniel Jones against any deterministic theological system, which would be equally applicable to Calvinism and Catholicism.

Then there’s my ad hominem argument. My ad hominem argument makes use of the other two arguments. It deploys the Orthodox version of the argument against the Catholic (a la Prejean) version of the argument.

I do believe in my ad hominem argument. But, of course, what makes it an ad hominem argument in the first place is the distinction between Prejean’s argument and the way I turn his own against him.

Prejean’s upset because he thought he had a silver bullet against Calvinism. He’s been firing this bullet at every Calvinist he could find.

But now he’s shot himself in the head with his own silver bullet. For the inner logic of the argument is equally applicable to such Roman Catholic schools of thought as Scotism, Molinism, and Banezian Thomism.

So now he’s in a quandary. On the one hand, he can try to salvage his own position by distancing himself from Catholic tradition.

On the other hand, he can indulge in special pleading by applying a double standard to Calvinism and Catholicism.

Both escape maneuvers are desperate, but because he’s in desperate straits, he has resorted to both.

It’s also embarrassing for him because it exposes a rift between Prejean and his Orthodox homiez.

When push comes to shove, they will defend Orthodoxy at the expense of Catholicism, and if Prejean gets in the crossfire, they will sacrifice his pawn for the cause of Orthodoxy.

Moving along:

“But I am ultimately the arbiter of what I am ‘supposed to believe;’ indeed, I can specify what that term means by ipse dixit. Unless you are interpreting ‘supposed to believe’ in the very way that the person does, then you haven't showed a conflict. At best, you've made an argument for why the label ‘Catholic’ is confusing for others, but that doesn't have anything to do with rational argumentation, so it isn't ‘fair game’ at all. This is why I subjectively consider most Protestant arguments against particular Catholics useless. The Protestants have some idea that Catholicism is a monolith that can be imputed to each individual, but that's not the way Catholicism works.”

“I’m the ultimate arbiter!”

How very Protestant! Sounds just like the right of private judgment.

Eric Svendsen has been saying this about Catholicism for years on end.

No, an individual Catholic qua Catholic doesn’t have the right to define what is Catholic for him.

As soon as he does that, he becomes a de facto Protestant.

He may still be a Catholic in many of his beliefs, but his methodology is Protestant.

At that point he’s only an accidental Catholic. Where his beliefs just to happen to coincide with Catholicism.

If Prejean wants to be a one-man show, that’s fine with me. But it’s really funny to see him accuse me of being unfair because I hold a Catholic to institutional standards of faith and morals.

Prejean’s radical individualism is that very antithesis of Catholic identity—although, as Svendsen and others have long pointed out, it’s unavoidable in practice.

“In particular, there is nothing wrong with saying that even large number of individual Catholics have made mistakes.”

Back to blatant special pleading. If a Calvinist does it, it’s heresy—but if a Catholic does it, it’s just a “mistake.”

Moreover, this is not just a question of what individual Catholics believe. We’re talking about entire schools of thought within Catholic tradition.

And while the Magisterium has never ruled in favor of one, it has never ruled against the others.

If one or more of these schools of thought is even “materially” heretical (another face-saving distinction), then it is the duty of the Magisterium warn the sheep.

Otherwise—what’s the point of having a Magisterium? After all, these positions have been kicked around for centuries.

“Hays is entirely wrong about me wanting to ‘discredit Calvinism as a whole.’ All I want is to know truly and accurately whether certain Calvinist beliefs do or do not entail a belief identified in the historical records as being condemned by the Council of Chalcedon that bears the label Nestorianism. That's it.”

One would have to be very naïve to believe this disclaimer. Why should he care whether Calvinism falls under the condemnation of Chalcedon unless there’s something bad about falling under the condemnation of Chalcedon?

Prejean acts as if his opponent is under a solemn obligation to be gullible. And it would no doubt confer a tactical advantage if he had credulous opponents to debate. But I’m not about to play dumb for Prejean’s benefit.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas flickery

[The following is a lightly edited excerpt from an email I wrote to a friend.]

As far as Christmas movies, I'd recommend Die Hard. Just kidding.

I've actually not seen too many Christmas movies, I don't think. For example, I've never seen It's a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart. Or White Christmas. Or Miracle on 34th Street. And I don't really have a desire to see these either.

I'd like to watch A Christmas Story, though, since I've heard it's quite funny.

But I'm not always moved by movies which are tailored to a certain holiday, just because they are holiday films which happen to play during the particular holiday.

Unless it's the Charlie Brown holiday specials. Well, actually, I had a fondness for them when I was a kid, but I don't know how they'd fare if I were to rewatch them today. Same goes for other children's Christmas specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Although ones like How the Grinch Stole Christmas and the more mature A Christmas Carol (with George C. Scott) might still work for me. But maybe that's because they're based on children's books which I once enjoyed rather than because the movies themselves are worth watching. I'm not exactly sure.

Also, it probably goes without saying, my tastes are not necessarily other people's tastes -- and vice versa. I tend to like dark comedy, for instance. So Scrooged (which I've not seen in a while) or A Nightmare Before Christmas (which I've never seen in its entirety) might suit me, but not others.

Speaking of Christmas funnies... do you watch NBC's The Office? They had a Christmas special last Thursday which you can download via iTunes for $1.99. It's called "A Benihana Christmas" and I thought it was a good laugh. Not "must-see TV," just throwaway fun.

On the other hand, it's true that Christmas time puts one in a certain mood, which in turn affects the sort of movies one wishes to watch.

What's more, and despite my own poor viewing habits, for Christians Christmas should be a time to reflect upon our Lord and Savior. This should be true all the time, of course, but perhaps especially during Christmas (and Easter). So, as is the case with all movie-watching, our Christmas movie-watching should reflect this as well.

On that note, maybe The Nativity Story currently out in theaters would be good to watch? Or One Night With the King about the Book of Esther, even though it's about Purim. I've not seen either, but they could be appropriate to watch during the holidays. Given the main theme and atmosphere throughout the film, last year's The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe might be suitable to watch during Christmas time, too.

Generally speaking, though, I just like to watch good movies whether or not they have a seasonal theme, and whether or not the flick fits the season -- as long as I'm in the mood for it. So I wouldn't mind watching, say, the LOTR trilogy over Christmas. Or The Gospel of John, etc.

And if all else fails, there's always our Governator's Jingle All the Way! ;-)

Prejean on the run

Prejean’s latest reply is a typical specimen of how he performs under pressure. He makes a sweeping, unguarded claim. When that is shot down, he introduces some face-saving distinctions which were absent from his original post, and the pretends that his opponent is at fault for failing to take his retrofitted argument into account in his previous response.

Needless to say, I respond to what people say when they say it. I appreciate Prejean’s need to do a patch-up job on his earlier performance, but I’m not responsible for the inadequacies of his earlier performance.

I’d add that Prejean is a repetitious writer, so I won’t respond to every redundancy.

Moving along:

“For the purposes of rational argumentation, ‘Catholicism’ is whatever this particular Catholic believes.”

No, for purposes of rational argumentation, Catholicism is whatever a professing Catholic is supposed to believe. If his actual beliefs are in conflict with what he’s supposed to believe, then it’s fair game to point that out.

“What often causes confusion is the use of certain labels in the form of a synecdoche. This is a conventional linguistic device that uses some generic label in place of a more specific characteristic.”

Wow! He knows what a synecdoche is. Very impressive. In his next reply I expect he will also flaunt his command of the multiplication tables.

“A responsible participant in reasonable dialogue can never deliberately make an argument that he considers to be not valid, not sound, or not directed toward a true conclusion.”

To the contrary, there’s nothing irresponsible about using an argument you yourself regard as unsound as long as it is sound *for your opponent* given *his* intellectual commitments—in contradistinction to your own.

The only issue is what you’re trying to accomplish by that maneuver. It would be irresponsible to use an unsound argument to prove your own position. It is not irresponsible to use an unsound argument to disprove the opponent’s position as long as it would be sound for him.

“I am doing no such thing, and in fact, Hays admits that I am doing no such thing by pointing to the fact that the argument isn't directed at showing the falsity of monothelitism.”

To the contrary, this is exactly what Prejean is doing, and it’s his modus operandi. He can never win an argument on exegetical grounds, so he tries to win an argument on tactical grounds through guilt-by-association. Whenever he gets into a debate over Calvinism, he attempts to discredit Calvinism as a whole by tarring it with the odium of Nestorianism.

“Two important things to note here. First, Hays admits that you have to consider the argument valid and sound by the admission that the counterargument trades on ‘the logical structure of Prejean's own argument.’ That is an admission by Hays that White could not have the legitimate ad hominem use of the argument against me that Hays was urging, because White by his own admission considered the argument fallacious (defective in its logical structure).”

I make no such admission. It doesn’t have to be valid and sound for me, only for my opponent.

Prejean’s problem is that he fails to distinguish between the argument and the function of the argument. An argument needn’t to be sound, in and of itself, for me to put it to use as a sound argument against my opponent as long as it is sound for him. That’s the point. There’s the argument in and of itself (e.g. determinism [allegedly] entails monothelitism), and then there’s the purpose it serves as *part* of an ad hominem argument (ex hypothesi, Catholicism would be guilty of the same).

“Second, to avoid sophistry, the argument would have to be directed at a premise in particular, and more specifically, it would have to be directed at a premise that the proponent of the argument considered untrue.”

No, it doesn’t. As I said before, I, in principle, could be a monothelite and still turn Prejean’s argument against him in order to discredit Catholicism as a whole, even if I didn’t regard the implication of monothelitism as essentially problematic. For Catholicism being what it is, it cannot sanction heresy in particular and still be a true church in general, even if its other dogmas were true.

And, conversely, even if I thought monothelitism was not heretical, yet as long as Catholicism regards monothelitism as heretical, and I regard other Catholic dogmas as false, I could honestly use Prejean’s argument to invalidate Catholicism.

I am, in fact, a dyothelite. But I wouldn’t have to be to exploit his argument.

“The purpose of any "internal critique" can't be to show inconsistency generally; it MUST be directed at using the inconsistency to change some particular belief. It would be sophistical (not aimed at producing true belief) to simply point out a dilemma without the goal of forcing a choice between the two premises.”

Which is what I’m doing. I’m not taking issue with monothelitism. I’m not attempting to argue anyone out of monothelitism.

What I’m taking issue with is the alleged connection between theological determinism and monothelitism.

I can use a bad argument to produce a true belief. For the bad argument is my opponent’s own argument. And the point of turning his argument against him is to show what a bad argument it is.

This is not a direct argument for a true belief, but an indirect argument for a true belief.

"’Exploring the options’ can't include asserting an argument that you consider to be fallacious or unsound or leading to an untrue conclusion.”

Untrue with reference to what? It’s untrue to conclude that Prejean has a good argument against Calvinism. It’s not untrue to conclude that Prejean has an argument that boomerangs on Catholicism.
“And pointing to the application against someone else's position as a defense of your own is the fallacious use of tu quoque.”

As I already noted, I’m using the ad hominem argument as part of a cumulative argument. You make your case, in part, through process of elimination.

“It would appear that if you accept Perry's argument that all of these other positions entail the same sort of determinism as Calvinist determinism, then any sort of defense that would excuse the argument from applying to you would apply mutatis mutandis to Catholicism.”

Wrong! This is the issue: Prejean thinks that Reformed determinism entails monothelitism. Perry thinks that determinism generally entails monothelitism.(At least that’s what I take him to mean.) Catholicism does regard certain forms of theological determinism as orthodox, viz. Scotism, Thomism, Molinism.

This doesn’t mean that it necessarily regards any one of these is correct. But they are not heretical.

If, then, Prejean shares a key assumption in common with Perry, and if, however, he artificially limits the force of that assumption to Calvinism when, in fact, it would implicate his own communion as well, then he’s impaled himself on the horns of a dilemma. So which horn will he relinquish?

“Note the fallacy of the Accident. Certainly, I can think that Scotus, Suarez, Molina, Cajetan, et al. made mistakes. They're human, after all. That doesn't make them heretics. If it turns out in the mature reflection of the Church that some ideas can't be reconciled with Catholic doctrine, then those views will be labeled erroneous. This is hardly unusual. Epiphanius's views on icons are considered wrong; Augustine's opinion on infants being damnable for original sin has been rejected; Thomas Aquinas's view on the impossibility of the immaculate conception was wrong; numerous Fathers belief that Mary sinned is wrong. They're no more morally culpable for these errors than they were for not knowing the atomic number of uranium; the state of theological inquiry had not reached the level of sophistication to analyze them meaningfully. In the meantime, there is nothing wrong with numerous Catholics having different and even conflicting opinions as to the viability of certain speculative doctrines of various authors. That's why, on matters in which legitimate theological diversity is allowed, anyone attacking Catholicism must attack all of the legitimate alternatives.”

This is where Prejean’s special pleading goes into overdrive. Note the screaming double standard. If Reformed determinism entails monothelitism, then Calvinism is guilty of heresy.

If, however, broad swaths of Catholic tradition entail monothelitism, that is merely an innocent mistake.

For Prejean, “mature reflection” implicates Calvinism, but the parallel argument lets Catholicism off the hook.

I asked: “From what version or representative of Catholic (or Orthodox) natural theology is Prejean getting his information?”

To which he answered: “All of them. Divine impassibility and unchangeability are dogmatic in both East and West.”

For this claim to be true, two things would need to be true:

i) Orthodox natural theology teaches divine immutability and impassibility.

ii) Natural theology, whether Catholic or Orthodox, teaches dogma.

I don’t believe that Daniel Jones would agree with this. I wonder if Perry would either.

“But the analytic framework in which that distinction becomes coherent requires a certain ontological view or reality, and particularly, of evil as a privation.”

The distinction between potentia ordinata and potentia absoluta doesn’t depend on a particular ontology of evil. For this is not, of itself, a distinction between good and evil, as if the only things that God didn’t choose to instantiate are evil things. There would be other goods which God did not instantiate. Lesser goods. Alternative goods. For certain goods are incommensurable.

“I don't understand what it means to say that 'God has beliefs.' Are beliefs something other than God? If not, then what sense does it make to say that He has them.”

I *have* thoughts. Are my thoughts independent of my mind? No.

But if you prefer, God believes various things.

“Literal election strikes me as similarly nonsensical.”

“Strikes” you as nonsensical. Where’s the argument?

“No. It isn't necessary to have a fully-developed rational theology in order to believe. The Jewish people were prone to anthropomorphic thinking, even when they got beyond their primitive philosophical roots, and it isn't illegitimate to express views in a way that is understandable to the audience. At the same time, we've got a couple of thousand years of intervening experience on what is and is not entailed by the existence of an Incarnate God, so that excuse is not really available to us. We have to respond to our surroundings as well.”

i) The immediate question at issue is not whether you think OT Jews needed natural theology to *believe* the Bible. Rather, did they need natural theology to understand the Bible?

Put another way, did the authors of Scripture write with the intention of being understood by their target audience?

Was the original audience to whom the Scriptures were addressed capable of correctly understanding what was revealed therein?

Apparently you think we can only understand the Bible 2000 years after the fact.

ii) Or to put it yet another way, according to you we can’t understand from Scripture itself what is literal and what is anthropomorphic. We can only draw that distinction extrascripturally some 2000 years fact.

The *language* of Scripture is understandable to the original audience, but the original audience is incapable of grasping what it literally denotes. Is that it?

The Bible was comprehensible in the sense of being meaningful, but it was incomprehensible in the sense of being referentially opaque. Is that your claim?

iii) Apropos (i)-(ii), will your 21C Catholic theology be just as anthropomorphic to a 41C theologian as 1C Biblical theology is to a 21 Catholic like yourself?

Is 21C Catholic theology meaningful to you, but referentially opaque in relation to the way it will appear in another thousand years or so?

“Not so much. None of that is dogmatic in Catholicism; it is in Calvinism.”

The question is not whether Scotism, Molinism, and Banezian Thomism enjoy dogmatic status in Catholicism. The question, rather, is whether these are implicitly heretical.

“Even if Thomism entailed the results of Calvinism, the fact that Thomism is directed at preserving the dogmas of the Church, even if it turns out that it cannot do so coherently, distinguishes it from open rebellion.”

I see. So as long as heresy is directed at preserving Catholic dogma, it gets a slap on the wrist. Time off for good behavior?

Jesus' Birthplace (Part 5): Early Non-Christian Sources And Conclusion

The early enemies of Christianity were far from apathetic about the religion. They crucified Jesus. They followed and opposed Paul as he traveled. Justin Martyr refers to how the leaders of Judaism "sent chosen and ordained men throughout all the world" to oppose Christianity (Dialogue With Trypho, 108). This sort of activity is reflected in many sources and in many contexts from the earliest generation of Christianity onward. Issues surrounding Jesus’ infancy, including His birthplace, were of interest to Christianity’s enemies and were discussed by them. Justin Martyr’s Dialogue With Trypho and Origen’s Against Celsus, for example, repeatedly discuss such issues. Some of the arguments used by modern critics of Christianity on issues like the meaning of Isaiah 7:14 and whether Jesus was born of a virgin were used in the earliest generations of Christianity by the critics of that era.

According to ancient Jewish tradition:

"If a man is suspected of apostasy, the circumstances of his birth are to be investigated. For the mamser (bastard) is inclined toward rebellion and blasphemy. (Lev. 24, 10 ff.; Targum same place; S. Lev. 24, 10 ff.; Kalla 41 d. The mamser must be distinguished from the beduki and the shethuki. The beduki is a child whose birth still requires investigation [Kid. 4, 2; B Kid. 74 a; J Kid. 4, 65 d]. The shethuki is a child whose father can no longer be determined [Kid. 4, 1; B Kid. 69 a; 73 a; Yeb. 100 b].)" (Ethelbert Stauffer, Jesus And His Story [New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1960], p. 207)

A mindset similar to what's reflected in these Jewish traditions probably would have existed among the earliest Jewish opponents of Christianity. The suggestion in the gospel of John that people were interested in Jesus' background and His birthplace in particular early on (John 7:42) is likely to be true. Thus, not only would Jesus' birthplace have been an issue discussed by Him and among His relatives and other people close to Him, but it also would have been discussed by the early opponents of Christianity. Skeptics sometimes suggest that the issue of Jesus' birthplace would have gone undiscussed for decades, followed by people guessing and making up stories about His birth late in the first century. But such a scenario is highly unlikely. It's probable that an issue like His birthplace would have been discussed widely long before the time when the gospels of Matthew and Luke were written.

People knew who Jesus’ relatives were (Mark 6:2-3). The Jewish leadership probably would have had an interest in influencing and gaining information from Jesus’ unbelieving relatives, and the Jewish leaders and Jesus’ unbelieving relatives probably would have had some overlapping interests (Mark 3:21-22). Many of the people in Nazareth would have been willing to cooperate with the Jewish leadership (Mark 6:3-6), and so would other sources with information relevant to Jesus’ birthplace. If some of the events associated with the Bethlehem birthplace, such as the Slaughter of the Innocents and the census, didn’t occur, then critics of Christianity could have refuted or raised doubts about those claims without much difficulty.

But it seems that the early enemies of Christianity believed that Jesus was born in Bethlehem:

"Contemporary Judaism had not forgotten Micah’s indication that the Messiah would hail from Bethlehem (Jn 7:42; Edgar 1958: 48; cf. Jeremias 1969: 277; Justin 1 Apol. 34); those who later polemicized against the Christian appeal to the Bethlehem prophecy did so on other grounds (Gen. Rab. 82:10; cf. Herford 1966: 253-55; Bagatti 1971:15). Nor did Matthew’s opponents deny that Jesus had been born there (Stauffer 1960: 20); as early as the second century Bethlehemites knew the exact cave where Jesus had reportedly been born in Luke’s manger (cf. Jerome Letter 58 to Paulinus 3; Paulinus of Nola Epistle 31.3; Stauffer 1960: 21; Finegan 1969: 20-23)." (Craig Keener, A Commentary On The Gospel Of Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999], p. 103)

"The decisive factor in favor of Bethlehem is once again the absence of discussion. Jewish writings never asserted that Jesus was born in Nazareth, nowhere denied his birth in Bethlehem. On the contrary, as Origen states, the Jews after the birth of Jesus were prone to pass over the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. To be sure, we find the rabbis discussing this point in a commentary to Micah 5, 1, the basis of which probably goes back to pre-Christian times; but in later commentaries they let fall only an occasional isolated remark about it. Origen’s explanation appears logical: Jewish polemicists could not deny the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and therefore expurgated any mention of Bethlehem in connection with the Messianic prophecies, in order not to foster belief in Jesus, the child of Bethlehem." (Ethelbert Stauffer, Jesus And His Story [New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1960], p. 20)

Raymond Brown, though he raised some doubts about whether Jesus was born in Bethlehem, acknowledged:

"If there is any truth in Origen's charge of suppressed references to the Messiah's birth at Bethlehem (footnote 2), such suppression would represent a tacit acknowledgment of Christian tradition concerning the birthplace of Jesus." (The Birth Of The Messiah [New York, New York: Doubleday, 1999], p. 514)

It’s likely that Origen was correct, given the reasons Stauffer mentions, the ease with which Origen could attain such information about Jewish responses to Christianity, Origen’s claim that there was corroboration of the Bethlehem account from the people of Bethlehem and other non-Christians, and the indications of no Jewish opposition to the Bethlehem claim in sources prior to Origen (the New Testament, Justin Martyr, etc.).

Justin Martyr, in his Dialogue With Trypho, mentions many Jewish arguments against Christianity, such as the argument that Jesus' disciples stole His body from the tomb and Jewish responses to Christian usage of Old Testament prophecies. But Justin shows no knowledge of a Jewish denial that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. As he recounts his debate with Trypho, he describes an exchange in which he refers to Jesus’ being born in Bethlehem, and Trypho responds by accusing Justin of misrepresenting Old Testament prophecy (Dialogue with Trypho, 78-79). It seems that Trypho doesn't argue for a different birthplace, nor does Justin seem to be aware of any rival tradition. Origen accuses the Jewish leaders of trying to avoid discussing Micah's prophecy, and he mentions that both the people of Bethlehem and present day non-Christians refer to Bethlehem as Jesus' birthplace (Against Celsus, 1:51).

Justin Martyr (First Apology, 34) refers to a census record that corroborates Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, and Tertullian refers to such a document (Against Marcion, 4:7). "Finally, though never at Rome, on authority he [John Chrysostom] knows that the census papers of the Holy Family are still there." (Catholic Encyclopedia) We know that census records were kept, but it's possible that Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and John Chrysostom were all mistaken. Perhaps they were just repeating unreliable accounts they had heard. But they, or one or two of them, may have been correct. I would assign some weight to this evidence, but not a lot. At the least, it demonstrates that the early Christians were so confident of the Bethlehem account that they thought it was corroborated even by the Roman government.

The lack of controversy over the birthplace should be seen in light of the presence of so much controversy on so many other issues. Documents like Justin Martyr’s Dialogue With Trypho and Irenaeus’ Against Heresies address hundreds of individuals and groups and what they believed, including many individuals and groups of only minor significance. If the Bethlehem birthplace was significantly disputed, we would expect to see that dispute reflected in the historical record, much as we see disputes over issues like the meaning of Isaiah 7:14 and whether Jesus was born of a virgin.

We don’t know what would have convinced the early enemies of Christianity that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. They would have had access to a lot of relevant sources, and any one of them or combination of them may have been most influential. If they were undecided or skeptical on the issue, they could have said so.

To summarize what we’ve seen over the past few days:

- Jesus’ birthplace would have been known to and discussed by people prior to His public ministry.

- His birthplace would have been of interest to the earliest Christians and their earliest enemies.

- Many sources likely to have relevant information, both Christian and non-Christian, would have been available for decades. In some cases, they would have been available for several decades.

- Both the early Christians and their early enemies had motives for being honest on this subject, and there are indications within the Bethlehem accounts suggesting that the claims were being made honestly.

- Disagreements on other issues, including other issues surrounding Jesus’ infancy and disagreements of a minor nature, appear in the historical record, often in multiple places. Significant disputes over Jesus’ birthplace seem unlikely to have existed without leaving traces in the historical record.

- The Bethlehem account was accepted early and widely and doesn’t seem to have been significantly disputed by Christians or non-Christians. Some non-Christian sources didn’t just refrain from disputing it. They affirmed it.

If we judge this issue as we judge other historical matters, we ought to conclude that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

"in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light" (Phillips Brooks, "O Little Town of Bethlehem")

Monday, December 18, 2006

A priori inerrancy

Christian apologists often complain about New Testament critics who bring an a priori rejection of the supernatural to their studies of the New Testament…I also agree with them that there are some NT critics who do reject the supernatural a priori (e.g., the members of the Jesus Seminar, Gerd Ludemann, etc.).

Several problems with this characterization.

1.Exapologist is shadowboxing with invisible adversaries. Inerrantists vary in their epistemology. So what are we to make of his sweeping generalities?

2.The underlying assumption of his post is that critics of methodological naturalism object to the very idea of a priori commitments. But is that the objection?

i) Speaking for myself, I don’t object to a priori commitments. There’s nothing wrong with having an precommitment as long as you also have sufficient reason for your precommitment.

The problem with methodological naturalism is not that it’s held in a priori fashion, per se. The problem, rather, is that it’s arbitrary and tendentious.

Not every a priori is arbitrary and tendentious.

ii) To begin with, methodology should follow subject-matter, not take the lead. The nature of the subject matter ought to dictate the corresponding methodology.

iii) On a related note, methodological naturalism fails to respect the inherent limitations of naturalism. Even if naturalism were true, we couldn’t know it to be true—to the extent that we could ever know it to be true—in advance of actual investigation. Its truth would a result of discovery rather than stipulation.

iv) I’d add that naturalism is unverifiable, although it’s not falsifiable. We could never know it to be true, although we could know it to be false.

Ironically, methodological naturalism isn’t true to naturalism.

“Rather, the point is that apologists too often attack straw men here, viz., by attributing to NT scholars a metaphysical basis for their conclusions, when in fact they're often based on epistemological considerations.”

Do they? What apologists are guilty of this? And who have they falsely targeted?

I’m not saying that his charge is false. But it would be nice to know who he’s talking about. Otherwise, why should be take his charges seriously?

If he doesn’t tell us who he’s talking about, we can’t judge if his allegations are accurate or inaccurate.

“There are plenty of NT scholars who are also serious Christians, yet who nonetheless reject the doctrine of inerrancy, based on their research.[1] …Thus, a non-conservative account of Jesus in particular and the New Testament in general often results from ordinary, non-controversial use of source criticism, redaction criticism, and the criteria of authenticity -- it need not be based on an a priori rejection of the supernatural.”

This is simplistic and misleading:

i) Some Bible scholars treat the Bible as a historical source of supernatural claims. They don’t regard the Bible itself as supernatural. Rather, it’s a record of supernatural claims.

They regard the Bible as uninspired, but historically reliable to the degree that Josephus or Tacitus or Thucydides are reliable. John Meier seems to fit fairly well into this category.

So, in a sense, the supernatural character never enters into their deliberations one way or the other.

ii) Then you have scholars who represent a confessional tradition. Some of them simply relocate the supernatural question. It lies with the Magisterium rather than the Bible. The Magisterium is the safety-net.

They feel that they can sacrifice the inerrancy of Scripture because their Church will rescue and preserve what really matters. Luke Timothy Johnson is an obvious case in point, with his two-story faith.

iii) Likewise, you have Catholic scholars like Fitzmyer and Brown who represent a transitional stage in Catholicism. They straddle modernism.

If they were born a generation later, they might well be even more liberal, but they came of age during the gray phase between anti-modernism and Vatican II.

As such, they end up with an ad hoc position which isn’t consistently naturalistic or supernaturalistic.

iv) Then you have scholars like Allison or Hugh Montefiore who, all other things being equal, would likely be more consistently naturalistic, but there are certain restraining factors in their own situaion. Where Montefiore is concerned, owing to his personal experience with, and research into, the paranormal, he is more open to the supernatural that he would otherwise be absent that exposure. In a sense, he approaches the Bible the same way he would approach case-studies in the parapsychological literature.

Allison has also been on the receiving end of the paranormal. In addition, he admits that the existential price of secularism is too costly for him to pay. So, for ethical reasons, he can’t go all the way with naturalism. It’s just too bleak and despairing.

Of course, the Dawkins’ of the world have nothing but contempt for this squeamish attitude. Yet why should Allison go down with the sinking ship of secularism? Even if his lifeboat is a leaky, patchwork affair, that still makes more sense than self-immolation before the god of godlessness.

v) Theological moderates don’t represent a principled position. Instead, they carve out a makeshift compromise.

They believe as much of supernaturalism as modernism gives them permission to believe.

Naturalism is still in the driver’s seat, but it nods off from time to time. They take the wheel whenever they catch naturalism napping. But as soon as naturalism wakes up and glares at them, they retreat.

“Finally, if some NT critics are guilty of an a priori commitment to naturalism, a large number of conservative NT scholars are guilty of an a priori commitment to inerrancy. Yet many apologists don't seem to mind when the latter determines the conclusions of conservative NT scholars. This leads one to question the sincerity of apologists in their criticisms of a priori commitments creeping into NT scholarship.”

Everything exapologist has said up to this point is simply a build-up to this point. He doesn’t care about theological moderates. After all, he’s an apostate. So what does he care about mediating positions? He doesn’t.

That’s all preparatory for what he really cares about, which is to charge the inerrantist with a double standard. By slapping the all-purpose label of hypocrisy on inerrantist scholarship, he hopes to preempt attacks on methodological naturalism.

But for reasons I stated at the outset, the charge of duplicity is facile and superficial.

“For I take it that the basis of their criticism is that such a priori commitments are liable to result in an inaccurate historical reconstruction of Jesus. But if that is the basis of their criticism, then they should be equally diligent in their criticisms of conservative scholars who have an a priori commitment to inerrancy -- and to a conservative view of Jesus in particular and the New Testament in general.”

This is trading on equivocations to yield a false conclusion, for the respective cases are hardly symmetrical.

The inerrantist is not attempting a historical reconstruction in the same sense that a liberal is. He is not sifting through the layers of inauthentic material to arrive at a historical core. As an inerrantist, he rejects the disjunction between authentic and inauthentic strata in the record of Scripture.

An inerrantist may attempt to fit the complementary perspectives of the Scriptural account into a continuous narrative, as well as filling the gaps with extrascriptural sources of information. But he takes all of Scripture as his raw material. It’s not a pile of peelings with a few nuggets of truth.

By contrast, the liberal assumes that there are opposing traditions within Scripture, as well as factual errors and unhistorical claims. For him, a historical reconstruction involves a process of authentication to isolate and identify the residual kernels of historical truth, as well as correcting the Biblical record by reference to extrabiblical sources. In case of apparent or actual conflict, the Bible is always wrong, while the extrabiblical source is always right. So the two approaches have precious little in common.

“In other words, the potential danger here is not naturalistic a priori commitments, but to a priori commitments per se.”

No, just the reverse. The danger here is not with a priori commitments, per se, but with naturalistic a priori commitments. For not all a prioris are born equal. Exapologist is burning a straw man.

“But it's hard to deny that there is an a priori commitment to inerrancy among the majority of conservative NT scholars. For one thing, many of them work at conservative seminaries, where one must subscribe to and even sign extremely conservative doctrinal statments in order to obtain and keep one's job.”

This is a silly observation. The truth is that institutions select for like-minded members. They apply to institutions they already agree with. For example, Gleason Archer left Fuller because it became too liberal.

“Such scholars can't let an admission of errancy through the door, no matter what the data, and no matter what sort of convoluted just-so stories are required to reconcile a given set of biblical texts.[2]”

Are they telling “convoluted just-so stories”? Let’s draw some distinctions here:

i) Geisler is a philosopher and popularizer, not a Bible scholar.

ii) Archer is an OT prof. Not surprisingly, he’s better at explaining the OT than the NT.

iii) Blomberg is a NT scholar. I’d add that, from a hermeneutical standpoint. Blomberg is the most sophisticated of the three.

However, Archer was a formidable scholar, so his explanations of the OT should not be dismissed out of hand.

iv) Do they retail just-so stories? Depends on what you mean.

Unbelievers love the argument from silence. They raise conjectural objections to the Bible. To the extent that someone like Archer or Blomberg floats a speculative explanation, he is simply answering the unbeliever on his own level.

Call it a just-so story if you like, but it’s a storybook response to a liberal just-so story.

v) Moreover, there’s a difference between responsible speculation and irresponsible speculation.

If you want to see just-so stories run amuck, watch the way liberals tell us, 2000+ years after the fact, with no independent information to work from, how the Bible was really composed, or what really happened.

By contrast, inerrantist scholarship doesn’t presume to go behind the Bible, reconstruct the creative process of the author, or tell us what really happened—as if the scholar was right there, on the scene, to set the record straight. So there’s no comparison between liberal and conservative just-so stories.

Missing Parsons Report

Jeff Lowder has posted a reply—of sorts—by Keith Parsons to something I posted a while back.


Several things may be said in reply:

First, it is always enjoyable, when confronted by an accusation, to have a tu quoque ready to hand. William Lane Craig and other apologists quite blatantly employ a "heads I win, tails you lose" strategy in arguing with atheists. Craig challenges atheists to show that the balance of evidence favors atheism, but states quite frankly that, whatever the objective evidence, the Christian's conviction is secure since it is guaranteed by the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. If it is unfair for the atheist to say to God "Show me that you exist, but(nyah! nyah!) nothing you do will convince me," then it is equally unfair for Craig et al. to demand that atheists present evidence against theism, but then declare, in effect, "Evidence be damned; our assurance comes from on high."


i) Is this a reply to me, or to Craig?

If it’s directed at me, how is it the least bit responsive to what *I* said? How is Craig’s religious epistemology relevant to what I posted?

ii) If he disapproves of Craig’s apologetic method, why doesn’t he take it up with Craig?

iii) What does fairness have to do with anything? Suppose that Craig is being unfair. So what? If Parsons had cancer, would he choose an eminently fair, but inept oncologist over a terribly unfair, but world-class oncologist?

I’ve often observed that liberals are far more concerned with what is fair than what is real or realistic.

iv) It’s odd that in the space of a few days I’m again having to address an objection to a tu quoque argument. Without repeating everything I’ve already said, I’d simply reiterate that a tu quoque argument is a perfectly legitimate move within its intended limits. Cf. P. T. Geach, Reason & Argument (Blackwell 1976), 26-27.

So why is Parsons, as a philosophy prof., taking umbrage at the use of a tu quoque argument?

v) He acts as if it underhanded to point out an inconsistency in your opponent’s position. But that’s a standard move in rational dialogue.

It’s not a gimmick or cheap trick. As Quine pointed out a long time ago, our belief-structure is like a spider web in which some beliefs are more central than others, some beliefs are better anchored than others.

If our belief-structure is unstable, the way we generally respond is not to chuck all our beliefs out the window, but to make an internal adjustment by ditching a belief we’re less certain about in order to relieve the tension and restore consistency.

The purpose of pointing to an inconsistency in your opponent’s position is not to watch him squirm, but, in part, to reveal his intellectual priorities.

Moreover, that’s a basic element of persuasion. Persuasion often involves an attempt to change someone’s mind. And a basic way of doing that is to draw his attention to a contradiction in his belief-structure.

Doesn’t Parsons believe in rational persuasion? If not, why is he a philosophy prof.? If so, why does he take offense at a tu quoque argument?



Second, the miracle that God could perform would not have to be something wildly histrionic, like flying mountains or elephants giving birth to Republican congressmen. God's miracle could simply be to remove the delusions of unbelievers. God could say the word and the scales would fall from our eyes. We would suddenly see that our objections to theism are just empty quibbles. The theistic arguments, instead of looking like thin, watery, and nutritionless metaphysical gruel, would suddenly be seen in their true light--as solid as geometry,as irrefragable as arithmetic. The arguments of Christian apologists, instead of looking like self-serving spin, obfuscation, and special pleading would be seen as abundant common sense and sound scholarship.The problem of evil, instead of an enormous impediment to belief, would simply become transparently feeble. "Why, of course," we would say "the death by starvation of 20,000 children in the world each day is no reason at all to doubt that we are under the tender providential care of an all-powerful and perfectly good being!" The Atheist blogs and discussion groups would be jammed with messages like "How could we have been so blind?" and "Surely, Satan must have deluded us!" No one could say that God would be acting unreasonably in performing such a miracle. On the contrary, he would be removing a major source of delusion and irrationality from the world.


Several issues here:

i) If defining down a miracle to mere enlightenment is an adequate response to the divine hiddenness argument, then we can safely disregard the contention of unbelievers who insist that God, if there is a God, must perform something truly spectacular in their presence.

For a common objection to God’s existence is that they have no personal experience of the kinds of miracles one reads about in Scripture.

But if, according to Parsons, one doesn’t need that sort of exhibition to answer the divine hiddenness argument, then their demand is unreasonable.

ii) Yet he goes onto to describe this miracle of enlightenment as compelling belief in the face of evidence to the contrary. That we would believe in spite of all the counterevidence. That we would find otherwise unsound theistic arguments convincing.

iii) So why does he frame the solution in such coercive or irrational terms? Does he really believe that a miracle of enlightenment would harmonize the Humean objection to miracles with the divine hiddenness problem?

When he describes the miracle of enlightenment as overriding all of the damning evidence—to his way of thinking—for God’s nonexistence, this doesn’t look like a serious proposal on his part.

Rather, it appears to be a pretext for him to parade some of his favorite atheological arguments.

But if his proposal is insincere, then it fails to harmonize the two conflict atheological arguments, viz. divine hiddenness vis-à-vis Humean objections to miracles.

iv) One gets the impression that Parsons is so contemptuous of Christian theology that he will seize on any opportunity to be mocking and snide.

Yet in so doing, he’s forgotten the problem. The question at issue is whether an atheist can consistently deploy both arguments. Mockery is no solution to the problem.

This is a problem for his position, not mine. It’s internal to his position.

A Christian apologist may have his own set of problems, but that doesn’t let Parsons off the hook.

v) If Parson’s contribution to TET is any barometer, then he’s in no position to assail Evangelical scholarship, for he has made absolutely no effort to acquaint himself with the best of moderate-to-conservative Bible scholarship.

Why does a seasoned philosophy prof. imagine that he’s entitled to write on religious subjects without bothering to do any serious research in the field? What comes through in his bibliography is self-reinforcing prejudice.

vi) When he trots out the argument from evil, is he using this as an internal objection or external objection to the Christian faith? If the former:

a) How does starvation count as evidence against the existence of God? Where does Parsons get his concept of God? What concept of God is he targeting? Is he targeting the God of the Bible? Or is he targeting some generic, philosophical, off-the-shelf version of God?

b) If he’s targeting the God of the Bible, then how is starvation incompatible with the existence of *that* God? Were Bible writers unacquainted with famine? Indeed, isn’t famine sometimes depicted in Scripture as a form of divine judgment?

So how does the mere existence of mass starvation evidence the nonexistence of God? Does the Bible foster the expectation that if God existed, then no one would ever starve to death?

c) Parsons appears to be confusing the existence of God with the likeability of God. If God isn’t to his liking, then God doesn’t exist.

Is this the best that philosophy prof. can come up with?

d) How is this even germane to the relation between Humean objections to the miraculous and the argument from divine hiddenness?

In Scripture, some miracles are miracles of judgment. Some miracles are intended to make sinners suffer or die, viz. the Flood, Sodom & Gomorrah, the Plagues of Egypt, and other suchlike (e.g. Num 16; 25; 1 Sam 5; 2 Chron 21).

So how would the absence of miracles of deliverance evidence the nonexistence of God if, according to Scripture, some miracles are actually miracles of judgment?

Granted that Parsons doesn’t believe in Scripture, but for the sake of argument, if he’s going to deny the existence of God, and if two of his arguments involve divine hiddenness and Humean objections to the miraculous, then how can he drive a wedge between suffering and miracles—given the above-stated considerations?

vii) Or is he mounting an external objection. Not attacking Christian theism on its own grounds, but according to his own atheistic criteria? If so:

a) What is his source and standard of morality? Is he an ethical realist or antirealist?

b) If the former, what version of secular ethics does he espouse? How does he ground that in a secular outlook? How does he avoid the naturalistic fallacy? Or the is-ought fallacy?

c) If the latter, then he can’t deploy the argument from evil as an external objection to the Christian faith.

d) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that he can get past (a)-(c), is a human being the sort of organism that it’s even possible to wrong?

For example, is eliminative materialism the only philosophy of mind which is full consonant with naturalistic evolution? If so, then human beings can’t suffer. That’s a relic of folk psychology.

If not, then what’s his alternative? It’s easy to attack eliminative materialism on its own terms. But it’s difficult to attack eliminative materialism if you buy into the operating assumptions of Daniel Dennett or the Churchlands.

e) Even if he can steer his way clear of (d), why is it wrong, from a secular standpoint, for human beings to suffer and die? Isn’t that a natural part of the life-cycle and ecosystem?


Finally, speaking for myself and addressing Mr. Hays' quote from my master's thesis written twenty five years and three graduate degrees ago: I would still say, as I did then, that we know pretty well when some event lacks a scientific explanation, but we have no clear idea at all about what sorts of occurrences would be permanently inexplicable.The history of science is full of instances of events that, at the time, were seen as explicable only as divine punishment or providence, but which later got perfectly mundane explanations. The great mortality, the black death, of the 14th Century was seen, by educated and ignorant alike, as a manifestation of divine anger, the Scourge of God. Now, of course, we have a perfectly good scientific explanation of the plague interms of rats, fleas, and Yersinia pestis. Comets, of course, were once portents of doom, God's fearsome messengers foretelling of war, famine, pestilence, and death. Now we know that comets are dirty snowballs. It seems, then, quite reasonable that if something were to occur today that appeared too marvelous for science to accommodate, the wise course would be to wait for science to catch up.


There are two basic problems with this argument:

i) Is Parsons so ignorant of Scripture or traditional Christian theology as to suppose that a knowledge or “discovery” of natural mechanisms somehow invalidates the idea that a natural disaster could be a divine judgment?

a) In Scripture, many divine judgments do employ natural mechanisms, the Flood, Sodom & Gomorrah, Plagues of Egypt, &c. The scale of the event, or timing, or conjunction of circumstances may be preternatural, but such judgments nevertheless employ the forces of nature.

Same thing with portents and prodigies.

b) Does he think OT Jews were unacquainted with the concept of contagious disease? What about OT laws which quarantine the sick?

Once again, Parsons seems to be one of those unbelievers (Dawkins is another) who exhibits a self-reinforcing ignorance of the position he opposes.

He’s ignorant of Scripture and Christian theology because he doesn’t think it’s worth his time. But, as a result, he levels ignorant objections to Scripture and Christian theology.

That’s the most charitable explanation. The less charitable explanation is that he knows better, but is deliberately careless or inaccurate.

ii) Speaking for myself, the reason I don’t classify contemporary catastrophes as divine judgments is not because I rule that out, but because I have no revelation to that effect.


But I don't take quite so hard a line as I did as a fiery young atheist convert in his twenties. If the marvelous pictures of the Eagle Nebula taken by the Hubble Space Telescope had been underscored by light-years high luminous cursive writing in the wisps of nebulosity that read "I did this--Jehovah" --and if we could be quite sure that the scientists were not playing a gag--that would probably do it for me. Or maybe if all the galaxies in the Virgo cluster suddenly were rearranged so that, when viewed from earth, they read "Prepare to meet Thy God!"or "Turn or Burn!" that would do it. Or, maybe, if all the lurid, revolting fantasies of the "Left Behind" books started happening--a"rapture" occurred, or banks started requiring that you have "666" on your forehead to approach the teller--that would convince me.

The upshot is that I still cannot spell out any criteria for what it would take to convince me that something is scientifically inexplicable, but I do say now that certain conceivable events would be so dramatic and so contrary to my expectations and so consistent with some version of theism, that I would throw in the towel.


So he’d be persuaded by a sufficiently “dramatic” or counterintuitive event. But how does that cohere with his early claim that “the miracle that God could perform would not have to be something wildly histrionic”?

On the one hand, “the miracle that God could perform wouldn’t need to be something wildly histrionic.”

On the other hand, “certain conceivable events would be so dramatic and so contrary to my expectations and so consistent with some version of theism, that I would throw in the towel.”

Remember that the original problem was a contradiction between two atheological arguments.

Parsons has said nothing to remove the original contradiction. And he’s piling one contradiction atop another.

This is from a seasoned philosophy prof. who’s been writing against the Christian faith for years. And yet his critique of the Christian faith is riddled with factual errors and point-blank incoherence.


But, of course, Christian apologists have nothing to offer even vaguely approaching such public and stupendous events. The Resurrection? That allegedly occurred 2000years ago in very obscure circumstances. The narratives reporting this event were written by persons unknown many years after the supposed fact. These narratives are not eyewitness accounts, but hand-me-down stories, elaborated and redacted propaganda, riddled within consistencies, and with no external support or corroboration.


So he says. Has he ever read Keener or Hagner on Matthew? Evans on Mark? Bock on Luke? Keener on John?

Has he read Casey’s Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel, or his sequel work—An Aramaic Approach to Q?

Has he ever read Millard’s Reading & Writing in the Time of Jesus?

Has he read Bauckham’s new book on Jesus & the Eyewitnesses?

Or Evans new book on Fabricating Jesus?

Is he capable of rising to the challenge?



I think the way to see Hume's argument is that it spells out just how heavy the burden of proof is on theists who want to invoke alleged miracles for apologetic purposes, not that it provides an in-principle, once-and-for-all, knock-down way of ruling out miracles. My reading of Hume's argument is that he says that it is, in principle, possible to confirm, on the basis of human testimony, that an event has occurred contrary to the predictions of a recognized natural law, but (a) the testimony would have to be of impeccable quality, and (b) you should be so lucky as to ever get testimony of that quality. When we consider the paltry offerings of the actual apologetic literature, we see how right Hume was.


Yes, well—a pound of assertion to an ounce of argument.

One would like to see him wrestle with the nature of testimonial evidence in such nuanced writers as Richard Bauckham, Jesus & the Eyewitnesses (Eerdmans 2006), C. A. J. Coady, Testimony (Oxford 1994), Paul Ricoeur, Memory, History, Forgetting (University of Chicago Press 2004), and Nicholas Wolsterstorff, Thomas Reid & the Story of Epistemology (Cambridge 2004), chap. 7.

Argumentum ad leprechaunum

I see that Jeff Lowder, my old schoolmate from college days, has hosted a reply by Doug Krueger to something I posted a while back:

Krueger begins with the following quote from Parsons:

"In conclusion, we have seen that there are a great number of practical difficulties in confirming the occurrence of an apparent miracle. Even if these difficulties are overcome, however, we have seen that there are no grounds for considering any event to be scientifically inexplicable...In sum, we have no good grounds for thinking that any event is a miracle."

Speaking for himself, Krueger then says:


Stating that there are "a great number of practical difficulties" and "no good grounds" for a conclusion, such as that a miracle has taken place, does not rule out that at some time in the future one might acquire good grounds for belief in a miracle event.

The charge that Hume rules out miracles a priori is a common one among fundamentalists, but many Hume scholars read Hume as doing no such thing. Instead, many Hume scholars see him as arguing against testimony about miracles.


Several comments are in order.

1.Krueger doesn’t quote as much of Parsons as I did. Here’s the full quote which I gave in my original post:

"In conclusion, we have seen that there are a great number of practical difficulties in confirming the occurrence of an apparent miracle. Even if these difficulties are overcome, however, we have seen that there are no grounds for considering any event to be scientifically inexplicable. Finally, we have shown that we have no reason to attribute the occurrence of any event to the activity of a supernatural agent. Even if a pattern of extraordinary events were discovered that pointed to the existence of a superhuman power (and it is questionable whether we do possess any genuine instances of such events) there is no reason to think that that power must be supernatural. In sum, we have no good grounds for thinking that any event is a miracle."

So Parson’s position is even more preemptory when you read it in full:

2.How does Krueger define a “fundamentalist”? Is he claiming that only someone who subscribes to the secret, pretribulational rapture would read Hume this way?

3.The charge which Krueger imputes to “fundamentalists,” according to whom “rules out miracles a priori,” is equivocal. For this could either mean that Hume:

i) Rules out the *possibility* of miracles a priori or else he

ii) Rules out the *verifiability* of miracles a priori.

So exactly which charge is Krueger imputing to “fundamentalists”?

4.From my own reading, Hume takes both approaches.

5.What’s the difference between (i) and (ii)? They have the same cash value, do they not?

But the tactical advantage of (ii) over (i) is that it allows the unbeliever to assume a lower burden of proof. To show that miracles are impossible is a tall order.

So, for tactical reasons, a shrewd unbeliever will downshift to a weaker thesis because that is less demanding to defend.

It has all of the advantages of the stronger thesis, but the sticker price is far cheaper. It enables the unbeliever to shift the debate from metaphysics to epistemology. Not what is possible, but what is provable. Focus on the observer rather than the event.

6.But even on the weaker reading, is Hume open to the idea that “at some time in the future one might acquire good grounds for belief in a miracle event?”

7.Anyway, who cares about Humean exegesis? Isn’t the issue at hand what Krueger happens to believe? So what is *his* position?



In "Science and Miracles" (1998), Ted Drange considers whether the proposition "No scientist could ever believe in miracles under any circumstances" is defensible, and he concludes that it is not. In fact he acknowledges that one could be a methodological naturalist and not also a metaphysical naturalist. That is, one could adopt a naturalistic worldview as part of one's method of doing science, but this would not entail that one must adhere to naturalism as a metaphysical view.


Several more problems:

i) It’s unclear how this summary is consistent with what I quoted from Drange:

"What possible evidence could there be that there are events which science will be forever unable to explain? The only possible evidence is that certain events have not as yet been given naturalistic explanations. However, many such events in the past later came to be explained naturalistically. Thus, the mere use of induction should lead us to infer that, eventually, the events presently unexplained may very well, and perhaps even probably will, be explained. It would seem, then, that the epistemic stance most compatible with a scientific way of thinking would be to withhold judgement on whatever events have not as yet been explained naturalistically. To reason that what has not as yet been explained can never be explained would be invalid. It would be a non sequitur (more specifically, a kind of hasty generalization). Furthermore, one should not adopt a pessimistic outlook on science by calling such events ‘miraculous,’ for to do so would be not only unscientific, but anti-scientific as well."

Here Drange appears to be taking the position that miracles are simply unverifiable. There could never be sufficient evidence to believe in a miracle. At most, we should reserve judgment—although even our suspension of judgment is based on something over which we do not withhold judgment, which is the scientific method, naturalistically construed.

So Drange’s stated position, as quoted above, is more preemptory than Krueger’s summary.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that Krueger has misrepresented Drange’s position. It may only mean that there are points of tension in Drange’s own position.

And there’s a reason for this inconsistency. For Parsons and Drange are attempting to do two things that don’t go together:

a) They want, on the one hand, to have some failsafe principle which will enable them to dismiss any miracle in advance without having to examine the evidence for any miracle in particular.

b) On the other hand, they don’t want to end up looking like the mirror image of the *fundamentalist* they oppose. If they’re opposition to miracles comes across as too dogmatic and preemptory, then they’ve substituted secular fideism or authoritarianism for religious fideism or authoritarianism.

They are in a genuine bind, which is why we find these tensions in Hume, Drange, and Parsons—among others.

ii) What’s the difference between methodological naturalism and metaphysical naturalism? Once again, the difference is purely tactical. They have the same exchange rate, but methodological naturalism seems to be neutral. However, that’s misleading:

a) According to methodological naturalism, we should act *as if* there are no supernatural causes.

But why should we act that way unless we have good reason to believe it *is* that way, and not as *if* it is that way? So far from being neutral, it’s quite prejudicial. It begs the very question at issue.

b) And as soon as you have to *defend* methological naturalism, you are back to metaphysical naturalism, for the only way to defend methodological naturalism is naturalistically.

Any defense of the method must go beyond the method. As such, any defense of the method will involve metaphysical assumptions about the way the world really is, which is why we should adopt a corresponding methodology.

iii) An even deeper problem is that methodological naturalism is the gatekeeper. The distinction between methodological naturalism and metaphysical naturalism is empty because methodological naturalism will not allow you to get past a naturalistic checkpoint. Even if metaphysical naturalism were false, methodological naturalism erects a barrier to forever prevent the falsification of metaphysical naturalism.

So it’s not a method, but a roadblock or bodyguard. The inquirer isn’t allowed to sneak past the checkpoint to see for himself if reality is naturalistic or not.

iv) Methodological naturalism is just a sham. Since an unbeliever subscribes to methodological naturalism for naturalistic reasons, why doesn’t he drop the pose, ditch methodological naturalism, and argue directly for metaphysical naturalism?

Or is he keeping up appearances for political reasons?

Moving along:


I don't see any incompatibility with arguing that there is insufficient evidence for a proposition (such as "A miracle has occurred in relation to event E") and at the same time hold both:

(i) one might not be able to see in relation to an event E at what point one would decide that a miracle has occurred, and
(ii) a proposition P (such as "God exists and opposes events such as E occurring"), if true, would entail that one would expect miracles to occur at least sometimes.


Several more issues to sort out:

i) Is the question really one of (not) knowing at what point a miracle occurred?

This is very abstract, but doesn’t the average unbeliever have very specific examples in mind? He doesn’t believe in Biblical miracles. Or ecclesiastical miracles. Or a popular faith-healer, &c.

His objection is not that we don’t know at what point a miracle may have occurred. To the contrary, he is coming to the table from the opposite presumption. He is very clear on when a miracle has not occurred. He has very concrete examples in mind. And he’s very sure of himself.

So (i) is just an atheological ploy. He has his real reasons for disbelieving miracles, but his real reasons are harder to turn into an argument, so it’s easier to recast the debate in terms of (not) knowing at what point a miracle has happened.

ii) What is the status of expectations? At one level, whether I’m a theist or atheist will certainly figure in the way I initially probilify a miracle.

Yet it’s easy to overstate the force of that truism. If I’m an atheist, then, all other things being equal, I will reject miracles in the abstract.

But that’s only as good as my atheism. How firmly to I hold to my atheism? What are my reasons for being an atheist?

I might be a default atheist. I may be an atheist due to a simple lack of religious experience.

If that’s the case, then all I may need to believe in miracles is a religious experience or direct evidence. There is no heavy-duty presumption to overcome. Merely the difference between experience and inexperience, evidence and inevidence.

Suppose my best friend has end-stage terminal cancer. I’m holding vigil with his family at his deathbed.

His pastor comes in, prays for him, and a day later my friend undergoes complete and spontaneous remission.

In principle, that may be all it takes to move me from the atheistic column to the theistic column.

Or suppose I have a more robust rationale for my atheism. I’ve boned up on Oppy and Everitt and Perrin.

Still, just one miracle, like my best friend’s spontaneous remission in apparent answer to prayer, might cause me to chuck all the prefabricated arguments and start from scratch.

So it’s one thing to dismiss miracles in the abstract, quite another if you’re confronted with one up-close and personal.

iii) I’m not saying that a personal encounter automatically has that effect. There are often moral or emotional considerations that block out the evidence.

My immediate point is simply that framing the question in terms of expectations and prior probabilities is often a very artificial exercise which has little connection with the way people really think and operate.

Moving along:

“Regarding (i), I don't believe that leprechauns exist, but I can't say that I know precisely what one would have to do in order to show that a given being is, in fact, a leprechaun. Would being of exceedingly short stature, having green clothes, and speaking in an Irish accent be sufficient? Surely not. But while I may be open to the discovery of leprechauns, I don't know exactly at what point in such an investigation I would finally concede that a given being is a leprechaun.”

Ah, yes, it doesn’t take them long to get around to leprechauns. That’s a fixture of the atheistic genre.

i) Comparing miracles with leprechauns is an argument from analogy minus the argument.

ii) The concessive language amounts to a throwaway argument, meant to make an unbeliever seem more reasonable and open-minded than he truly is.

Ironically, it’s the flipside of a tactic employed by some Christian writers:


Conservative apologists will sometimes say that they are not bound to the absolute inerrancy of the Bible. As we shall later see, there have been those who maintained that there could not be a single error anywhere in the Bible, because the smallest error, if a real error, would totally destroy the inspiration of the whole. Others, unwilling to commit themselves to this drastic doctrine, pretend to allow a slight flexibility here. “We are delivered from the paralyzing fear that if one single discrepancy should be found in Scripture we should have to abandon all belief in its authority.” This argument of Green’s is not against the theme of this section, that inerrancy is basic tot he conservative evangelical approach to the Bible. Inerrancy is their approach even if they allow very occasional theoretical exceptions…The flexibility of the “possible occasional minor error” is to be understood as a convenient escape route: no actual instance of error is admitted. In all actual cases, therefore, the Bible is interpreted in such a way as to avoid the possibility of error; the flexibility, as Green himself well shows, has no effect other than to avoid the psychological consequences entailed if complete inerrancy was affirmed as an absolute doctrine.

J. Barr, Fundamentalism (Westminster Press 1978), 54-55.


Krueger resorts to the same “convenient escape route” when he floats the hypothetical of leprechauns. His theoretical flexibility is utterly inflexible in actual practice.

The admission is tactical rather than practical. It doesn’t cause him to make any adjustment in his actual position. The intended effect, rather, is to lower his own burden of proof. He doesn’t need to disprove the occurrence of miracles anymore than he needs to disprove the existence of leprechauns—which assumes, all along, that the respective cases are, indeed, parallel.

So this is really a stalling tactic. You simply put miracles in the same category as leprechauns. Since no one believes in leprechauns, you thereby relieve yourself of any onus to deal with miracles.

Of course, that’s an illusion, for it turns on the classification of miracles with leprechauns. So it only pushes the problem back a step. But as long as you play to a sympathetic audience, you can get away with the ruse.


“Similarly, we have nothing even approaching sufficient evidence that a miracle has taken place in any given instance.”

Where’s the argument?

“And we can know this lack of evidence pervades miracles claims.”

Where’s the argument?

“And yet at the same time I don't know at what point I would say that a given event is indeed a miracle, and saying the latter does not entail that I am ruling out a priori the possibility of miracles.”

The problem with his concluding remarks is that it doesn’t follow from anything he’s argued for up to this denouement. He’s attempting to extract an existential proposition from a fact-free discussion.

All he’s given us, leading up to the conclusion, is an exercise in prepositioning. So the factual conclusion (“Similarly, we have nothing even approaching sufficient evidence that a miracle has taken place in any given instance, and we can know this lack of evidence pervades miracles claims”) doesn’t follow from the preceding discussion.

“Similarly” takes for granted what it needs to establish. “Similarly” is not an argument. And “similarly” is not a conclusion to an argument if the supporting argument is missing. As it stands, “similarly” is an argument from analogy minus the argument.