Saturday, January 27, 2007

"It can be lonely up here looking down at the rest of you poor pions from the top of the world!" :-(

His Exaltedness, the Right Rev. Vincent Cheung, Dominus Apostolicus, Pontifex Maximus, Archiepiscopal Exarch, Hierarch of all Hierarchs, and Prefect of the per obitum hath graciously condescended to proffer a reply to his most lowly and unworthy servants. In the red-lettered words of the Exalted One:

If you think that something like this can threaten my ministry's survival, I seriously question your intelligence and wonder how much confidence you can have in Christianity itself. I had no respect for you by the time I finished the first paragraph of your message. You are a weakling.

I take great offense that you call many of them "cripples" when it comes to argumentation, and reduce all of them to your level of incompetence. Speak for yourself. I certainly did not allow you to "enter into the world of argument" with this bad attitude. It got my attention this time, but not in a good way, and only so that I could make an example of you.

Do not think that this ministry is mainly about apologetics just because we are very good at it — there is no simpler way to put this.

In fact, I wonder if these objections are meant to destroy me by flattery rather than by argument, because if this is my Achilles heel, and if to misrepresent me as an atheist is one of the best objections, then I am pretty much invincible.

I have spoken harshly to the sender of the message, but I still want this person to do well. I wish him to realize that it is wrong to blame me when the problem lies within himself.

There is no need to despair, but humble yourself and do not blame other people for your shortcoming.

As for the critic who raised the objection, he might read this response and attempt another one. I will probably ignore him, or more likely, I will be unaware of his new attack. But this does not mean that I cannot answer him, or that you cannot answer him. The fact that he was unable to even describe my position, but left God completely out of the picture, betrayed his incompetence and irreverence. Whether he is a man of no account or one of reputation makes no difference to me, I implore him to repent of his atheism and embrace the simple reality and power of God. What he has against me is trivial and I harbor no bitterness toward him — he has a much greater problem than I can ever give him or wish upon anyone. And please, do not send me anymore objections from this person or anyone related to him. He is just not good enough. He possesses an altogether lower class of intellect. There is no competition, no comparison — I have no interest in him and no use for him.

Because the wisdom of God is so vastly superior to the wisdom of man, I will always win any debate with almost disheartening ease. It is this confidence that I wish to impart to every Christian. Indeed, humanly speaking, it can be lonely here looking down at the rest from the top of the world.

Wow! I haven’t seen such abject modesty since Adenoid Hynkel played bounce the ball with his inflatable globe of the world.

The only difference is that Charlie Chaplin was trying to be funny, while Cheung is unintentionally comical.

Other scenes which come to mind include Herr Hynkel’s attempt to seat Napoloni on a low-lying chair so that Hynkel can tower over him—as well as the barber-seat competition, in which Hynkel tries to pump himself higher than Napolini, and vice versa.

But I digress.

Continuing with His Exaltedness:

“Call me a liar first before you call me a coward.”

This, friends, is what is known in logic as a false dichotomy.

At last we come to the Exalted One’s crushing confutation of my Lilliputian argument:



As for the objection, I could protest the analogy, but for now let us work with it anyway. As usual, there is a whole list of things wrong with this one. Here I will take time to mention only the most crucial error. This alone is sufficient to refute the objection, and to do a whole lot more.

Read the entire objection again. I will repeat a portion of it here: "You see, for Cheung, Scripture is like a safe. Occasionalism is the combination. But there's one little snag: the combination is locked away in the safe. Cheung is telling us that he gets the combination (occasionalism) from the safe. But he can only open the safe if he already has the combination in hand. How does he know that occasionalism is the correct combination to open the safe if the combination is written on a piece of paper inside the safe?"

What is wrong with this picture? Do you see what is missing? THINK! Do not assume this person has it right. Whether or not you agree with my epistemology or occasionalism, recount in your mind the process or all the factors involved in my exposition. Then, read the analogy again and see what is missing. Please take at least several seconds to do this before reading on.

Here is the problem: Where in the world is GOD in this analogy? God — remember him? In my exposition of biblical occasionalism, I refer to God's constant and active power again, and again, and again, and again, and again. It is the defining factor in both my metaphysics and epistemology. So, although I put God before him over, and over, and over, and over again, this critic completely blocks God out in his thinking, and in his representation of my epistemology. If the critic is an unbeliever, then he has simply disregarded my belief in God — the very thing we disagree about in the first place — in order to refute my knowledge of God. If the critic is a professing believer, then it is even worse, for this betrays the irreverence — even secret atheism — in his thinking. How is it possible that I can put God before the face of a "Christian" again and again, and then he answers me as if God is absent from the conversation, as if I never mentioned him? This is his "secret fudge-factor" — atheism.

He writes, "He can only open the safe if he already has the combination in hand." This might be true in his atheistic analogy, but in my Christian worldview, where there is a God, the Almighty tears open the door — or any other barrier — and imparts to me his knowledge. Biblical occasionalism is God-centered and God-empowered. But just as an atheist often makes the mistake of removing God out of a believer's worldview when interacting with it, this man-centered critic assumes that his opponent is man-centered as well. Whereas the most crucial factor in my occasionalism is God, in his representation of my view, he puts everything into the analogy except God. He refers to occasionalism as if it is an independent and impersonal thing or a method that is operated by the human person, which is precisely the opposite of what I affirm, although this might be how a self-centered empiricist think [sic.] about his sensations.

"Cheung is cheating"? But who is really cheating? This person removes God from my epistemology when this is the crucial factor. And in fact, from the metaphysical viewpoint, God is the only necessary factor in my position. This relates to another problem with the analogy that I will not discuss in detail — it represents my entire position in physical terms, even though my occasionalism is such that it can work in a dream, in a purely spiritual world, or in heaven, and the Bible is the physical representation of that portion of God's mind that he has revealed to us. That is, if you destroy all physical copies of the Bible, you have not destroyed the "word of God" that is in my epistemology. I have said this a number of times in different ways.

If you take out God from my epistemology, then of course it is going to fail. There is no shame in admitting this. In fact, if you remove God, then Christianity itself fails. Yes, if Christianity becomes atheism, that is indeed a problem. But if you remove God by force and rule him out of the conversation, then there is really no point to this debate at all. For me, if God is gone, then all is lost. You might as well take it all, since it will no longer matter to me what epistemology is right or wrong, or which approach to philosophy and apologetics is best. Still less will I care about what this critic has to say.

I have laid out my case for biblical occasionalism in metaphysics and epistemology in several places and in different ways. I have responded to attacks a number of times. But how about my critics? Where is the case for empiricism? If there is no proof for it, then who is riding this out? And now that I have answered this objection, I ask again: If my critics cannot defend empiricism, then how are they able to read the Bible, and how are they able to read my works so as to criticize them?


At risk of being struck by lightening for my impiety, for presuming to question the Lord High Commissioner of the Universe, I will tender a few obsequious comments on His unanswerable answer:

1.The Exalted One fails to distinguish between my position and His own. I am not presenting my own position. I am merely critiquing His. What role God may play in my own epistemology is irrelevant to what role God may play in His.

For a man of His colossal intellect—and don’t take my word for it, just ask Him!—Cheung is oddly obtuse about this rather elementary distinction.

2.For the record, special revelation is far more central to my own epistemology than to Cheung’s.

As an indirect realist, I do not believe that, left to our own devices, we can know very much about what the sensible world is really like. For we are unable to escape our own subjectivity and interiority.

But with the benefit of special revelation, we can enjoy a God’s-eye view of the world. Special revelation supplies an intersubjectival check on our sensory impressions.

God’s knowledge isn’t filtered through the senses. And by knowing a little of what God knows, via God’s self-disclosure, we can compare our impressions of the world with the world depicted in Scripture.

And there is also, thanks to God, a systematic correlation between sense and object. For God as made the sensible world and the human percipient in a state of mutual adaptation.

3.By contrast, Cheung’s epistemology, as He Himself admits, renders Scripture superfluous—for occasionalism is a form of immediate and private revelation. If there were no Bible, the content of the Bible would, according to him, be piped directly into the consciousness of the Christian.

In fact, in Cheung’s epistemology, that scenario is more than hypothetical. For Him, the paper and ink of Scripture just is a stage prop since occasionalism is implanting Scriptural ideas in the mind of the subject by direct divine illumination.

So Cheung’s position is the polar opposite of sola Scriptura. His occasionalism represents the triumph of nulla Scriptura over sola Scriptura. Who needs a book when you have an instant, neural interface between God’s mind and man’s?

4.By definition, occasionalism is a form of divine agency. Cheung says I leave God out of my analogy. But God is already implicit in the very concept of occasionalism.

5.Notice that Cheung has not done a single thing to rebut my objection. He only says that God is the agent of occasionalism. But that was never in dispute.

What He’s failed to address, and what remains to resolve, is how He’d be in a position to know that. All He’s done is to paraphrase the original conundrum without moving one inch closer to its resolution. Interjecting “God” into every other sentence does nothing to extricate Himself from His self-inflicted quandary.

Once again, it’s passing strange that a thinker of His Olympian brilliance would be unable to see this.

6.Why does Cheung imagine that God needs to tear down natural barriers to knowledge? To whom does He attribute the creation of the world? Why does He regard God’s handiwork as a barrier to the revelation of God rather than a medium of divine revelation? Why would God erect a barrier to tear it down? Is Cheung an open theist?

Of does He believe that our world was made by a runaway Demiurge? And occasionalism must intervene to counteract the blinding effects of this rogue elephant? Is Cheung a Manichaean?

Why should nature be a door rather than a window? Wouldn’t it be simpler for God to install a window rather than bust down a door?

Any why does God need to bust the door open? Did he forget where he put the key?

7. He says He’s responded to His critics. Uh-huh:

8.Finally, if Cheung is the invincible slayer of the infidels, why doesn’t he challenge a sophisticated atheist like Graham Oppy, Howard Sobel, or Nicholas Everitt to a formal, public debate? Watch Him route the enemy once and for all!


“Actually, my skepticism started with a rather simple question: Where would I have attended church during the first 1,500 years of church history? This question, posed by Jargon, has haunted me every day since. Given my Calvinist distinctives, which church would have claimed me as one of their own? Which church father would identify with my protestant doctrines?”

Which church father would identify with the views of Karl Rahner or Bernard Lonergan? This question is equally anachronistic whether you put it on the lips of a Catholic or a Protestant.

Does he think that high mass at St. Peter’s is the same thing as a worship service at 1C house-church in Rome?

“Why do I feel spiritually disconnected from the first 1,500 years of the church?”

i) I don’t know why he feels disconnected. And how does he think that connecting with the Church of Rome reconnects him with the first 1500 years of the church?

The unspoken assumption here is that the Church of Rome is a self-identical entity for the past 2000 years. But even Roman Catholics since the days of Cardinal Newman have given up on that historical fantasy. There’s too much historical discontinuity.

The Paleocrat reminds me of liberals who personify the Federal gov’t, and then accuse the gov’t of hypocrisy if the foreign policy of George Bush differs from the foreign policy of Dwight Eisenhower.

It also reminds me of malcontents who demand reparations from a modern company that happens to have the same name as a company that existed 200 years ago, despite 200 years of continuous turnover.

What we call the Catholic church is not an ageless, timeless, suprapersonal being who was born 2000 years ago, and has been of one mind ever since.

What we call the Catholic church is just a bunch of somewhat like-minded people. Some of them lives at the same time. Others live at other times. What makes one generation somewhat like-minded varies from one generation to the next.

Too many Christians are captive to metaphors. They begin to reify metaphors, as if Mother church really were our mother.

ii) Other issues aside, why does he think that joining the Catholic church reconnects him with the Church of the first 1500 years?

Why not join the Greek Orthodox church, or Coptic church, or Armenian church?

iii) Ironically, it’s the Calvinist who has a far stronger sense of historical continuity with the people of God. With the elect of all ages.

We don’t begin with the NT covenant community. We identify with the people of God during the Intertestamental era, postexilic era, exilic era, preexilic era, theocratic monarchy, era of the Judges, patriarchal period, and prediluvian era, all the way back to Enosh (Gen 4:26) and Abel (Heb 11:4).

We identify with the pilgrim church of Acts 7 and Hebrews 11. With a portable tabernacle rather than a stony temple.

iv) There are two different ways to connect. You can connect with one another at a horizontal level.

Or you can connect at a vertical level. If you’re connected to God, then you are connected to all of God’s people. From the peak of the pyramid to the base.

Connecting to the head automatically connects you to the body. But connecting with various members of the visible church doesn’t automatically connect you to God. Some church bodies are decapitated.

The church, the whole church, and nothing but the church

Michael Pahls has written a response to something I said:

Actually, my remarks were not directed at Michael.

From what I’ve read of his stuff, and I’m not a regular at, Michael, along with Peter Escalante, is a man with whom it’s quite possible to have a constructive dialogue. Both men are erudite and reasonable.

“I don’t have a particular beef with Reformed Baptists (though there are numerous differences).”

For the record, I’m not a Reformed Baptist. I’m a Calvinist, but I don’t fee the need to choose between the Reformed Baptist tradition, Reformed Anglican tradition, Reformed Presbyterian tradition, or Reformed Welsh tradition.

On the sacraments, I’m closer to the Baptist end of the spectrum than the Presbyterian. But I’m not opposed to infant baptism.

However, I do think that one useful way of telling a Christian’s theological priorities is which side of the divide he’d break with if push came to shove.

For example, when a disgruntled Anglican leaves the Anglican Communion, he will often leave it for something more catholic (Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy) rather than something more Evangelical (e.g. Lutheranism, Presbyterianism, SBC). That tells you a lot about his basic theological orientation.

So, to take the example of infant baptism, if I were forced to choose between credobaptism and the Federal Vision, I would, without hesitation, throw in my lot with the Baptists.

I don’t think I have to make that choice, but that is where my theological center of gravity lies.

Continuing with Michael:

“First, one must make the distinction between the original delivery of the ‘bread of life’ discourse and its situation in the Fourth Gospel. The Gospels never claim to present the ipsissima verba (very words) of Jesus and indeed cannot. Jesus likely spoke Aramaic or possibly Hebrew, but the Gospel autographs are all Greek (unless you propose a Hebrew original for Matthew, of course). Thus, the debate will really be the degree to which the recollections of Jesus’ statements in the Gospels diverge from the statements of the historical Jesus. Faith in an inspired Bible requires us to affirm that the Gospels do not falsify the words of Jesus and that they faithfully transmit his very voice (impsissima vox), but it is impossible to claim that the Gospels are a kind of transcript.”

This is not where Michael and I diverge. I stipulate to just about everything he says here, although his thesis is a bit overstated. Maurice Casey, in his studies on the Synoptic Gospels, has demonstrated the degree to which it's possible to retrotranslate the Greek back into the underlying Aramaic.


“All of this is faithful to an Evangelical understanding of inspiration and infallibility. Consult the various articles in Geisler’s Inerrancy to establish the distinction I am making. More importantly, it is true to John’s description of his own task. If stories of the words and works of Jesus are so numerous that the world couldn’t contain the volumes written (John 21:25) and if John selected from this pool a specific number of recollections to establish the faith of his audience (John 20:30-31), then the context of the late first century Johannine community does become important, and in some ways determinative for a proper apprehension of its theological content.”

i) This is true, but it can be misapplied. The understanding of the literary audience (for the Gospel) is a factor in our interpretations. That, however, does not override or cancel out the understanding of the narrative audience (for the speeches recorded in the Gospel).

ii) I’d add that I generally agree with the arguments of Barnett, Robinson, and Daniel Wallace in favoring a pre-70 AD dating for the Fourth Gospel.

(Conversely, the evidence seems to be a bit better for a post-70 AD dating of the Apocalypse, although there are first-rate scholars on both sides of that question.)

iii) Moreover, the Johannine community is responsible for being sensitive to the original setting of the discourses.

iv) And it’s more than possible that the Johannine community included Messianic Diaspora Jews who would appreciate the original setting as well.

“Secondly, this does not require a kind of independent historical access to the makeup of the Johannine community. The Gospel, Johannine epistles, and the Apocalypse allow us to isolate many of the central concerns of the community.”

This is true, although it necessitates the use of the grammatico-historical method to attempt a reconstruction of the Johannine community.

“We do know a bit about docetic/proto-Gnostic thinking in the Greco-Roman world that would have made their obsession with the physicality of Jesus intelligible. The preference for sarx over soma in John 6 is one such example. Its not that Jesus didn’t mandate the consumption of his flesh and blood to an audience of Jews, but the manner in which Jesus raises the stakes of the debate to make flesh and blood explicit probably proved useful to a much later community with a very different ideological opponent.”

This is where Michael and I more clearly diverge. It’s possible that proto-Gnostic thinking was afoot at the time John wrote the Gospel. At it’s possible that his selective emphasis, say, in Jn 20-21, is shadowboxing with that incipient heresy.

However, Jesus was not addressing proto-Gnostics in Jn 6. To backdate that idea to Jn 6 is too much like the old Bultmannian, form-critical view according to which the gospel narratives are not actually about the events they apparently descibe, but are really etiological allegories about the sitz-im-leben of the Church—wherein a fin de siècle church is inventing a backstory to illustrate and validate its later doctrine and practice.

That is not my view of the gospels, and I doubt it’s Michael’s.

“We can also know a bit about the liturgical context of the community from the various descriptions of the heavenly court in the Apocalypse. To the extent that John was anything of a biblical theologian, he would have noted how the Old Testament Tabernacle/Temple mirrored the divine throne room. He would have also been familiar with the manner in which synagogues were constructed as a kind of Temple in miniature (see Donald Binder’s work here). This presumes that the altar, the incense, the degrees of proximity to the throne, etc. found a counterpart in the liturgical space and liturgical practice of the Johannine community.”

Two problems:

i) This assumes that the Johannine community was worshipping in a synagogue rather than a house-church.

(Actually, it would be more logical of Michael to argue that the original discourse was delivered in a synagogue, and use that as his springboard, rather than appealing to the church architecture of the Johannine community.)

ii) Even if we made that very debatable assumption, vis-à-vis (i), it further assumes that tabernacular symbolism is sacramental in character.

Put another way, there were covenant signs under the Old Covenant as well as the New Covenant. So you could possibly speak of OT sacraments.

But that would simply relocate the debate over the nature of covenant signs from the NT to the OT milieu. Instead of debating the efficacy of communion, we debate the efficacy of the Passover.

“Finally, I really don’t have a problem with historical-grammatical exegesis per se. In fact, one can really establish most of what I have written here without recourse to the history of interpretation and reception of these texts in later Christian communities. That said, attending to this can give clues to how an audience could hear these texts without the pressing intrusions of our Western, modernist, post-industrial ontology. If there is a fairly unbroken sacramental understanding of these passages in the Patristic, Medieval, and Reformation-era churches, the burden of proof is really on the modern interpreter who denies that import. Its not that historical-grammatical exegesis is off base, but practitioners need to have a fairly healthy appreciation of the doctrine of Original Sin and thus need to acknowledge its noetic effects.”

Once again we disagree:

i) Appeal to the noetic effects of sin can cut both ways. A high churchman can invoke this against a low churchman, but a low churchman can invoke this against a high churchman. So it’s a wash.

ii) How is an *unbroken* sacramental understanding relevant to exegesis? At most, the only pertinent interpretive consideration would be early Patristic testimony in case that happened to be a historical witness to the primitive understanding of the text.

iii) Even that is very precarious. After all, Michael’s defense of the sacramental reading is that the Fourth Gospel was shaped, in part, by the need to refute certain heresies which were already afoot during the time of the apostolic church.

So it is more than possible for a primitive error to creep into the subapostolic church.

“This latter point might be the most important. Historical grammatical exegesis is an attempt at a quasi-scientific method. As such it is designed to mitigate the presuppositions and biases of the interpreter. The only problem is that the method itself reflects the concerns and pitfalls of post-Cartesian modernity and does not sufficiently deliver on what it promises. Thus the need for the Church and its rule of faith.”

That is not how I’d characterize the grammatico-historical method:

i) It is designed to mitigate anachronistic interpretations, in which the cultural presuppositions of the modern interpreter swap out the original presuppositions of the text.

We will always bring a set of presuppositions to the text. But we can become self-aware of our presuppositions, and thereby position ourselves to compare and contrast our initial cultural viewpoint with the viewpoint of the text, as a result of which we, as Christians, adjust our operating assumptions by allowing the text to correct our initial assumptions.

ii)”Science” is a slippery word. For example, Charles Hodge is often criticized for describing theology as a science.

But the question is whether we are using “science” in the modern sense of the natural *sciences* and the scientific method, or in the Medieval Latin sense of *scientia*.

Hodge, for one, stood at the crossroads of both usages. The motion of theology as the queen of the sciences is hardly a modern, post-Cartesian idea. So this would involve a rather complicated investigation into the history of ideas.

“This is not to say that the church is somehow above the Scripture, but only that there is wisdom in much counsel. If only the whole Church knows the whole truth (a necessary conclusion from 1 Cor. 12), it would seem more probable that reading the Scriptures with the people of God would yield a surer testimony than going it alone with only your self-selected method to save you from error.”

This is riddled with equivocations:

1.Where does Michael locate “the whole Church”? Who is included or excluded in this identification?

2.How does he map 1 Cor 12 onto church history? Where does he draw the boundaries?

3.When he speaks of “the people of God,” who is he really talking about? Is he, in fact, referring to “the whole Church,” or is he really referring a tiny subset of “the whole Church,” consisting in the Church Fathers and Doctors of the Church?

4.What happens when one part of the whole church disagrees with another part of the whole church? How does he adjudicate a difference between the way John Chrysostom construes a passage of Scripture and the way Jerome or Theodore of Mopsuestia construes the same passage of Scripture?

“The Spirit has been given to the Church first and to her individual children only secondarily for her edification. The ability to study the Scriptures with Spirit illuminated insight is not simply something to be kept in some private Spiritual cruvenet for our exclusive personal enjoyment. It is the common possession of the Church and other believers have a claim on our obedience as well as our insights.”

What does this actually mean? Does this mean the Holy Spirit gives the Christian (or the Church) a crash-course in Egyptology when he reads Exodus? Does the Holy Spirit give him a crash-course in Assyriology when he reads 1-2 Kings?

Thomas Aquinas wrote commentaries on the Bible. And they are not without penetrating insights along the way. He was a man of genuine piety, profound erudition, and supreme intellect.

But, in all honestly, I can learn a whole lot more about Job by reading Clines rather than Aquinas; more about John by reading Keener rather than Aquinas; more about Romans by reading Fitzmyer rather than Aquinas.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Evolutionary amorality

Interview of Michael Ruse

The internal argument from evil

To set the stage, I had presented the following, bare-bones presentation of the argument from evil:

1.God is omnipotent
2.God is benevolent (or omnibenevolent)
3.There is evil
4.Given (3), either God is able to prevent evil, but unwilling (pace #2), or else he is willing to prevent evil, but unable (pace #1), in which case there is no God.

Now for Loftus:


“Let's just look at what God can do with water. Can God turn water into wine?”

Which nicely misses the point. By turning water into wine, the water ceases to be wine. The medium of wine is not interchangeable with the medium of water. It is not physically possible for these two substances to share all the same properties in common.

So all Loftus has done is to prove my point rather than disprove it. A finite medium isn’t infinitely elastic.

Thanks, John. You always prove my point by missing my point. Keep up the good work.

“But do you deny that the greater power someone has then the more moral responsibility such a person has? If I had no means to stop a pair of thugs from beating someone to death, then I do not have the same moral guilt that a superman would have for not doing anything about it.”

i) Well, for one thing, it rather depends on who they’re assaulting. If they beat Bin Laden to death, why should I wish to intervene?

Indeed, for me to intervene and save the life of a mass murderer would be immoral.

ii) You see, there’s an equivocal quality these examples. On the one hand, they appeal to our human instincts. Our natural empathy. But that is also an appeal to our human ignorance.

On the other hand, they put us in the place of God. What would we do if we had godlike powers?

Well, if I had godlike powers, I would know the consequences of saving any particular individual from death or injury.

iii) Apropos (ii), there is also the tacit assumption, in all his examples, that these evils are befalling the innocent.

a) Now, human beings can be innocent in relation to one another. I may not have done anything to you to justify what you do to me.

But I’m not innocent in relation to God.

b) I’d add that, left to my own devices, apart from common grace, I would be quite prepared to wrong you if I had the opportunity and it served my self-interest.

c) Likewise, a particular evil may not correspond to a particular sin. But the fact that I’m a sinner leaves me justly liable to harm, even if the harm I suffer is not a targeted judgment.

“Is there something that is impossible for God to do in our world? What would that be, according to you? Just curious. I'd like to know. Specify, specify, specify. What exactly are you talking about here?”

I’ve answered that question in great detail in the past when you came up with your silly birdman “improvement.”

Why would I waste time repeating myself here and now when you ignored my arguments then and there?

“Really? Then this is only because the believer has not spelled out what she believes about God's goodness. I'm listening.”

Loftus is listening with earplugs. I’ve discussed this all before.

The goodness of God includes the justice of God.

Because the goodness of God is the summum bonum, knowing the goodness of God is also the summum bonum.

This includes an existential knowledge of his justice and mercy. Hence, the fall, followed by redemption. Election and reprobation. Heaven and hell.

Ask me something I haven’t told you before, John.

“Now let's say you believe it's good for God to send people to hell, and that it's good for God to do nothing about the many tragedies that happen on a daily basis, as well as the historic ones, like Katrina, the Indonesian tsunami, or the 9/11 attack. That's what you believe, correct?”

No, it’s half-truth. I believe it’s good for God to send people to hell.

I don’t believe that God does “nothing” about many tragedies. Everything happens according to plan, right on schedule. Providence never misses a beat.

“Then I have all I need to mount my internal critique. I will press you on why you believe these things are good, especially when an omnipotent God could easily have averted them all.”

Here is where, once again, Loftus cannot grasp the nature of an internal critique.

I don’t have to prove that these things are good. The nature of the internal argument from evil is not to show that any particular premise is *false*, but to show that the set of premises are mutually *inconsistent*.

If successful, a side-effect would be to falsify at least one premise. But it doesn’t single out any one of the premises. It doesn’t falsify one premise over another.

And that’s assuming the exercise is successful.

As far as my own burden of proof is concerned, all I have to show is that the evils he cites are not incompatible with the character or purpose of God in Scripture.

Once again, this is not a question of veracity, but consistency. I don’t have to show that any or all of the premises are true, only consistent.

Remember, the internal argument from evil attempts to pose a logical *dilemma* for the believer.

So the question at issue is not whether the syllogism is true or false, but merely valid or invalid. Not false, but fallacious.

“Why didn't he do anything, I'll ask? You will try to offer reasons why he didn't. I will question these offered reasons and ask you to clarify and explain them.”

Well, that would be a first. You might begin with my reply to Jim Lazarus.

“Now, if in the end you choose to believe in your God in spite of the glaring problems you have in explaining the presence of intense suffering, then you've left the discussion and punted to faith.”

i) There are no glaring problems to explain.

I may be moved by evil, but I’m unmoved by the *problem* of evil. Why? No God, no evil.

Take God out of the equation and you *solve* the problem of evil by committing moral suicide.

ii) Always keep your eye on Loftus’ bait-and-switch tactic. The problem of evil is not about just any kind of evil, but *gratuitous* evil.

Loftus likes to make things easy on himself by dropping that key modifier.

“Since if we're talking about suffering we need instances of it to know exactly what we're talking about.”

True, except that he’s picking out instances of what *he* deems to be evil, according to his own value-system and/or instinctual reaction.

At that point, the internal argument collapses into an external argument.

N. T. Wright on the genealogies of Jesus

“Obviously, in a small and close-knit community, there is every probability that someone could trace their descent from the same source by two or more different routes. The Maori themselves can give several different genealogies for themselves, depending on which ancestor they want to highlight and how much intermarrying has taken place. Different tribal sub-units can trace their descent in different ways for different purposes, resulting in criss-crossing links of all sorts.”

This is so even in modern Western society. After my own parents married, they discovered that they were distant cousins with one remove of generation. Think of the little country of Israel in the period between David and Jesus; similar things could easily have happened. Many could have traced their descent to the same ancestors by at least two routes,” Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone (WJK 2004), 39-40.

The strawman argument from evil

Many unbelievers seem to think they have a simple, four-step syllogism for the argument from evil:

1.God is omnipotent
2.God is benevolent (or omnibenevolent)
3.There is evil
4.Given (3), either God is able to prevent evil, but unwilling (pace #2), or else he is willing to prevent evil, but unable (pace #1), in which case there is no God.

Many unbelievers also seem to think that this is an internal critique of the Christian theism because it generates a contradiction between a set of propositions which a Christian would affirm. But this argument is deceptively simple.

1.The first premise isn’t especially problematic although some unbelievers caricature the attribute.

i) There is a logical constraint on what is possible.

ii) There is also a constraint on what is physically possible. For the physical is inherently limited. A finite medium is not infinitely elastic.

iii) Finally, omnipotence is not self-referential. It’s not about God’s power over himself. Rather, it’s about God’s ability to make things objective to himself.

2.The second premise is far more ambiguous.

At this point, many unbelievers make no attempt to define divine goodness in Biblical terms. They simply begin with *their* preconception of what a benevolent being would do, equate that with God, then proceed to disprove God because he doesn’t live up to their preconception. But there are two basic problems with that move:

i) It represents an unspoken shift from an internal critique to an external critique.

ii) In presenting an external critique, the onus is now on the unbeliever to justify his own value-system as well as his belief that there are creatures capable of suffering pain or suffering wrong.

3.As with #2, many unbelievers simply begin with *their* preconception of what constitutes gratuitous evil. But at that point it ceases, once more, to be an internal critique.

In sum, the common flaw in the formulation of the argument from evil is that it operates at too high a level of abstraction. It often purports to be an internal critique, but it frequently disregards Christian theology when defining the key terms.

So the argument from evil is generally a straw man argument.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Mind of the Individual Church

Catholic Encyclopedia: (a) Defined Texts.—The Catholic commentator is bound to adhere to the interpretation of texts which the Church has defined either expressly or implicitly. The number of these texts is small, so that the commentator can easily avoid any transgression of this principle. Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. V, Exegesis (New York: The Encyclopedia Press, Inc., 1913), p. 699, 2nd column.

Uh-huh. Let's put that to the test shall we?

Raymond E. Brown: To the best of my knowledge the Roman Catholic Church has never defined the literal sense of a single passage of the Bible. Raymond E. Brown, The Critical Meaning of the Bible (New York: Paulist Press, 1981), p. 40.

Raymond E. Brown, S.S.: Roman Catholics who appeal explicitly to Spirit-guided church teaching are often unaware that their church has seldom if ever definitively pronounced on the literal meaning of a passage of Scripture, i.e., what the author meant when he wrote it. Most often the church has commented on the on-going meaning of Scripture by resisting the claims of those who would reject established practices or beliefs as unbiblical. Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (New York: Doubleday, 1997), p. 31.

Maurice Bévenot, S.J.: But very few indeed are the Scripture texts of which the Church authorities have defined the meaning, and even there, their intervention has generally been to say what Scripture does not mean, otherwise leaving open what it does. See his chapter “Scripture and Tradition in Catholic Theology” in F.F. Bruce and E.G. Rupp, eds., Holy Book and Holy Tradition (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968), p. 181.

Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J.: When one hears today the call for a return to a patristic interpretation of Scripture, there is often latent in it a recollection of Church documents that spoke at times of the ‘unanimous consent of the Fathers’ as the guide for biblical interpretation.(fn. 23) But just what this would entail is far from clear. For, as already mentioned, there were Church Fathers who did use a form of the historical-critical method, suited to their own day, and advocated a literal interpretation of Scripture, not the allegorical. But not all did so. Yet there was no uniform or monolithic patristic interpretation, either in the Greek Church of the East, Alexandrian or Antiochene, or in the Latin Church of the West. No one can ever tell us where such a “unanimous consent of the fathers” is to be found, and Pius XII finally thought it pertinent to call attention to the fact that there are but few texts whose sense has been defined by the authority of the Church, “nor are those more numerous about which the teaching of the Holy Fathers is unanimous.” (fn. 24) Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Scripture, The Soul of Theology (New York: Paulist Press, 1994), p. 70.

R. C. Fuller: Again, Scripture texts are incorporated into Dogmatic decrees in proof or illustration of partiular doctrines. appears in the Bull Inffabilis Deus defining the Immaculate Conception. Infallibility however applies only to the dogma defined and not to any particular argument adduced in support of it; hence the interpretation of , though of great weight, is not infallible by reason of its inclusion in this decree (cf. Durand, art. Exégèse DTC 1838). The number of texts infallibly interpreted by the Church is small: for further examples see Mangenot-Rivière, art. cit. 2317-9. It has been estimated that the total of such texts is under twenty, though there are of course many others indirectly determined (cf. Corluy, 426; Durand art. cit. 1838). It should also be observed that an infallible interpretation of a text does not necessarily exhaust its full meaning. See Dom Bernard Orchard, M.A., ed., A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1953), pp. 59-60.

R. C. Fuller: The number of texts determined by the consent of the Fathers is even smaller than that of the texts determined by the decrees of the Church. Dom Bernard Orchard, M.A., ed., A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1953), p. 60.

Johann Adam Möhler: Except in the explanation of a very few classical passages, we know not where we shall meet with a general uniformity of Scriptural interpretation among the fathers, further than that all deduce from the sacred writings, the same doctrines of faith and morality, yet each in his own peculiar manner; so that some remain for all times distinguished models of Scriptural exposition, others rise not above mediocrity, while others again are, merely by their good intentions and love for the Saviour, entitled to veneration. Johann Adam Möhler, Symbolism: Exposition of the Doctorinal Differences between Catholics and Protestants as evidenced by their Symbolical Writings, trans. James Burton Robertson (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997), pp. 301-302.

Johann Adam Möhler: Catholic theologians teach with general concurrence, and quite in the spirit of the Church, that even a Scriptural proof in favour of a decree held to be infallible, is not itself infallible, but only the dogma as defined. Johann Adam Möhler, Symbolism: Exposition of the Doctorinal Differences between Catholics and Protestants as evidenced by their Symbolical Writings, trans. James Burton Robertson (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997), p. 296.

Stravinskas: In the only declared exercise of papal infallibility, Pope Pius XII, after consultation with all the bishops of the Catholic Church, on November 1, 1950, proclaimed the Assumption of the Virgin Mary a doctrine of the Faith.” Peter M.J. Stravinskas, Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholic Encyclopedia (Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 1991), p. 100-101.

Stravinskas: It is also worth noting that whenever a rare, definitive interpretation is given, it is done only after consultation with the best exegetes of the day, as well as allowing for the divine guidance promised by Jesus to His Church (see ; ).” Peter M. J. Stravinskas, The Catholic Church and the Bible (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987), pp. 15-16.

Patrick Madrid on : . . . the dogma being defined here is Peter’s primacy and authority over the Church — not a formal exegesis of . The passages from and are given as reasons for defining the doctrine, but they are not themselves the subject of the definition. As anyone familiar with the dogma of papal infallibility knows, the reasons given in a dogmatic definition are not themselves considered infallible; only the result of the deliberations is protected from error. It’s always possible that while the doctrine defined is indeed infallible, some of the proofs adduced for it end up being incorrect. Patrick Madrid, Pope Fiction (San Diego: Basilica Press, 1999), p. 254.

Karl Von Hase: If the Catholic Church really believed in her infallibility, and did not prefer to hide the Divine pound in the earth, she would long ago have set forth a clear and well-defined list of all her teaching concerning the faith, instead of which we are now obliged to search for this, especially in its finer relations, from sources which in other respects are not irreproachable. On so many points are Catholic schools at variance with one another, and in rejoinder to every Protestant attack the appropriate subterfuge is of course that the Catholic teaching has been misunderstood or misrepresented.
It is only seldom that tradition, summoned to the support of newly arisen dogmas, corresponds to any extent with the rule upon which Vincentius laid stress, that it should have been believed everywhere, always, and by all. Karl Von Hase, Handbook to the Controversy with Rome, trans. A. W. Streane (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1909), Vol. 1, pp. 128-129.

Note carefully that what's being said is that the dogma, not the Scriptural proof of it is what is considered infallible. So, what, pray tell, is the mind of the church relative to any particular passage of Scripture, particularly John 6?

HT: James Swan & David King

The mind of the individual churchman

I see that Dr. White has gotten into a debate with the usual suspects over at “Reformed Catholicism.” A few quick comments:

1.His opponents appeal to the mind of the church. But the church is an abstraction. This doesn’t mean it isn’t real. But it isn’t something over and above the members who compose it.

When White’s opponents appeal the *mind* of the church, they are surreptitiously appealing to the *minds* of the church. The minds of individual churchmen.

After all, what one church do Tim Enloe, Kevin Johnson, and Paul Owen belong to? They all belong to different denominations, don’t they?

Owen belongs to a schismatic sect. Enloe belongs to a consortium of different theological traditions. And Kevin Johnson is a prominent critic of Doug Wilson, who belongs to the same denomination as Enloe.

So where do we find the mind of the church in their own concrete ecclesiology? How does their theory of the church cash out in actual practice? They are catholic in what they say, but Anabaptistic in what they do.

Hence, when they appeal to the mind of the church, which church are they referring to? Is this some lowest common denominator of what all Christians believe, regardless of their ecclesiastical affiliation or background?

2.They also lodge the recurring claim that there’s a Baptist (or Reformed Baptist) method of exegeting Scripture, and then there’s the method by which the rest of Christendom exegetes the Bible.

The Baptist hermeneutic represents a fringe group, in contrast to the vast majority of Christians.

I, for one, would like to see some documentation for this charge. Is the methodology of James White or Eric Svendsen fundamentally different from the methodology of Catholic commentators like Raymond Brown, Joseph Fitzmyer, and Luke Timothy Johnson, or the methodology of Anglican commentators like Wright, France, Smalley, Barnett, Cranfield, Towner, Gordon Wenham, David Wenham, &c.?

They may differ in how they assess the evidence, but the underlying hermeneutic is the same.

What we have, in fact, is the self-reinforcing ignorance of those who begin with a paper theory of church and sacraments. With their paper theory in hand, they have no incentive to study exegetical theology, and so they have no specific (or even general) knowledge of how exegesis is actually done in transdenominational scholarship.

3.In appealing to the true audience, White’s opponents commit several elementary blunders:

i) They fail to distinguish between the historical audience of the speech (the bread of life discourse), and the literary audience of the gospel, in which the speech is recorded.

Even if the *gospel* of John is addressed to the “church” (whatever that means), the bread of life discourse is addressed to Jesus’ Jewish audience, before the institution of the Lord’s Supper.

So there’s a basic difference between the audience for the speech (as it was originally delivered), and the audience for the documentary record of the speech—when the speech was committed to writing as part of the Fourth Gospel.

ii) Or are they saying that the speech has one meaning, but the gospel has a contrary meaning. That the speech means one thing for the Jewish audience, but a different meaning for the Christian audience?

Are they claiming that we need to bleach out the Jewish coloring of the Fourth Gospel in our interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, and stain it with the dye of the Church?

Does the understanding of the Church cancel out the understanding of the Jewish audience to whom the teachings of Christ were originally addressed?

iii) To which church in particular was the Fourth Gospel written? I’d like to see them reconstruct the target audience for the Fourth Gospel.

Was this a local church? A set of local churches? Was this situated in Asia Minor? What was the ethnical composition of the church to which John originally addressed his gospel? Jewish? Gentile? Mixed?

And does the understanding of the church override the understanding of the Jewish audience? Or do we compartmentalize the meaning of the Gospel?

iv) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that we can disregard grammatico-historical exegesis, then even if Dr. White’s opponents are correct in reassigning the hermeneutical frame of reference from the Jewish audience for the speech to the ecclesiastical audience for the gospel, we are no longer bound by the understanding of the community to which or for which John directed his gospel.

a) If you’re going to claim that the controlling factor is the understanding of the covenant community to which John wrote the gospel, then, to begin with, you must identify that community.

But if you reject the grammatico-historical method, then how do you propose to reconstruct the 1C ecclesiastical audience?

BTW, appealing to the Johannine community is just as “nominalistic” as appealing to the Jewish audience. You are still invoking a concrete historical particular to supply your hermeneutical grid. So Enloe’s objection, even if valid, is a double-edged sword.

b) Bracketing (a), let’s assume that you successfully identify the church (churches?) which was (were?) the intended recipient of this gospel.

Yet if you reject the grammatico-historical method, then the understanding of the Johannine “community” or Johannine “circle” ceases to be binding on modern Christian readers.

If you reject the grammatico-historical method, then whether you identify the implied reader as the Jewish audience or the Johannine community is irrelevant. For by rejecting the grammatico-historical method, you thereby reject the normativity of original intent. If you repudiate the grammatico-historical method, then whatever the Fourth Gospel meant to the Johannine community isn’t what it must mean for you and me.

4.Ironically, White’s opponents exemplify a very radical brand of individualism. They interpret John 6 the same way Hal Lindsey interprets Revelation.

For Lindsey, is perfectly okay to reinterpret the 1C imagery in light of modern military technology.

Johnson et al. operate with the same hermeneutical autonomy, swapping in their own favorite traditions.

Sure, they appeal to historical theology, but they are highly selective in their appeal. What they do, then, is to choose a contemporary denomination according to their personal and prior selection-criteria, and then impose that filter on the text of Scripture.

They start with whatever denomination encapsulates whatever theological tradition they privilege, then map that back onto the bread of life discourse.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

"I disbelieve. Help thou mine unbelief!"

sdanielmorgan Says:

"I have, however, made photocopies of some good stuff from Armstrong on universals."

I believe that Greg Welty discusses the strengths and limitations of Armstrong's theory in his (Welty's) Oxford M. Thesis.

"First, I will tell you that I do not accept the logical validity of any form of relativism or subjectivism. Either good and evil are real properties, just like red and round, or they are not. Our perception of them does not make them so. Neither does God’s. Either logic and mathematical truths and morality constrain the nature of reality (including God’s own definitions), as well as what and who God can be and is, or those things somehow become a contingency of God’s existence, which is not possible."

This is riddled with equivocations. He also betrays no discernible grasp of the opposing position. Try reading Welty or Pruss for starters.

"As Witmer said in his interview with Gene Cook — it is the nature of what it is to be evil to cause harm for fun. It is a real property of that state of affairs (causing harm for fun). It is the nature of what it is to be good to alleviate suffering whenever possible. It is foundational, self-evident and incorrigible, and it matters not one iota whether God exists or not to make it true. That’s my situation. I stop there. The regress ends there for me."

Translation: "I can't ground secular ethics. I only only posit good and evil as an arbitrary surd. Truth by stipulation."

So, by his own admission, Danny is a moral irrationalist.

This also means he's in no position to argue with anyone else over morality.

"To me, the sort of person who requires justification for those propositions is the same as the person who says, 'But why is blue darker than yellow?' I cannot bring myself to waste time in trying to justify it."

An argument from analogy minus the analogy. How does secularism underwrite his threadbare assertion?

Notice, throughout this exercise, his faith in secularism comes first, followed by whatever supporting arguments he can cobble together. He's having to come up with his reasons after the fact.

So his belief in secularism is a faith-postulate. A leap of faith into the dark, hoping against hope that he will grasp a branch or vine on the way down.

Porous borders

Man arrested for smuggling 500 parrots in a car

ALMATY, Jan 23 (Reuters Life!) - Kazakh border guards arrested a man trying to smuggle 500 parrots in his car from neighbouring Uzbekistan, media reported on Tuesday.

"Border guards discovered a live cargo of 500 parrots in his car," Kazakhstan Today news agency quoted a KNB security service official as saying.

It was unclear how the parrots fit into the Kazakh man's Audi. Trade in wild parrots is banned around the world, according to the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Pres. Bush, in his State of the Union speech, drew attention to this international incident as just another example of what happens when a country lacks a comprehensive immigration policy.

As he explained, Kazakhstan needs to put in place a guest parrot program, along with a path to avian citizenship.

Marvin Olasky, of World Magazine, also cited this event as a paradigm example of the need to apply the principles of compassionate conservatism to the plight of undocumented parrots.

Mercy & justice


“The facts remain. Sura 9 portrays a God that is far more merciful than Numbers 31 and I Sam 15.”

A good example of Jon’s moral blindness, which is illustrative of many unbelievers.

1.From an ethical standpoint, the relevant question is not whether a punishment is unmerciful, but whether it’s unjust.

Indeed, there are many cases in which mercy and justice are opposed. To be merciful to a rapist is to be unjust to a rape victim.

2.In addition, as I’ve often said, you can’t be equally merciful to everyone. To be merciful to the rapist is to be merciless to his victim.

3.Likewise, as I’ve said on more than one occasion, if you punish a criminal, that may impose a hardship on his family. But does that mean we should never punish a criminal?

An investment banker who defrauds his clients of their life savings may be a devoted husband and father. If you prosecute him for his crimes, his family will suffer.

To prosecute the man is unmerciful to his wife and kids, yet it would be unjust to left him off Scott free. The better to defraud the next batch of unsuspecting clients. In that case, mercy would be immoral.

4.Jon’s comparison is also shortsighted. To be merciful to the Canaanites is to be merciless to their future victims.

The Canaanites victimized the Israelites. They also victimized their own people through their many immoralities.

Allow a mortal enemy to live, and he will live to fight you another day. He and his descendents.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Doubting and self-doubting

To amplify on a point made by Calvindude, we need to distinguish between doubt and self-doubt. Take the stereotypical case of a young man, raised in the faith, who suffers a crisis of faith when he goes to college.

Has he lost his faith in God? Not necessarily. Rather, he may have lost his faith in his childhood authority-figures.

Or, to look at the same phenomenon from another angle, this may be a loss of self-confidence. He is suddenly seized with the question of whether what he always believed is simply the result of social conditioning.

Does he believe this for himself, or was he, in effect, programmed to believe this as a result of his religious upbringing?

Did he ever believe in God and Scripture? Or did he believe in what other people believed? Did he believe in the pastor or his parents as a surrogate for believing in God?

He believed in God because they believed in God, and he believed in them. So did he really believe in God?

Questioning one’s faith in this sense is not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, it can be a good thing. It can be a mark of maturation.

It’s like teenage rebellion. A little teenage rebellion is a good thing. It’s important for teenagers to acquire a measure of emotional and intellectual independence. That’s part of growing up.

But lifelong rebellion is a mark of immaturity and arrested development. When Loftus says that “when it comes to being inside the bubble of science, education, and rational thought, I'll go with that everytime, since the alternatives are superstitious, and because science has accomplished so much,” all he’s done is to transfer his childish faith from one set of authority-figures to another set 0f authority figures. Instead of the pastor giving him a pat on the head, it’s Fr. Dawkins or Padre Dennett.

Loftus has merely exchanged one form of peer pressure for another. An adult on the outside, but a child on the inside.

As I’ve also said, many times before, there’s no intellectual virtue in doctrinaire scepticism. Indeed, Victor Reppert has an excellent quote on that attitude:


J. R. Lucas, a distinguished Oxford philosopher who was a student during this period, has described the prevailing mindset of that era as follows:

“The philosophical climate in which I grew up in Oxford was one of extreme aridity. The ability not to be convinced was the most powerful part of a young Philosopher’s armory: a competent tutor could disbelieve any proposition, no matter how true it was, and the more sophisticated could not even understand the meaning of what was being asserted. In consequence, concern was concentrated on the basic questions of epistemology almost to the exclusion of other questions of larger import but less easy to argue in black and white terms. The undergraduate who wanted to write essays on the meaning of existence was told to confine himself to the logical grammar of ‘is,’ and was not even allowed to ask what truth was, or how one ought to live one’s life.”


Doctrinaire scepticism is just another form of pseudo-intellectualism.

Witnesses of the Resurrection

Sermon 22. Witnesses of the Resurrection

"Him God raised up the third day, and showed Him openly; not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us who did eat and drink with Him after He rose from the dead." Acts x. 40, 41.

{282} IT might have been expected, that, on our Saviour's rising again from the dead, He would have shown Himself to very great numbers of people, and especially to those who crucified Him; whereas we know from the history, that, far from this being the case, He showed Himself only to chosen witnesses, chiefly His immediate followers; and St. Peter avows this in the text. This seems at first sight strange. We are apt to fancy the resurrection of Christ as some striking visible display of His glory, such as God vouchsafed from time to time to the Israelites in Moses' day; and considering it in the light of a public triumph, we are led to imagine the confusion and terror which would have overwhelmed His murderers, had He presented Himself alive before them. Now, thus to reason, is to conceive Christ's kingdom of this world, which it is not; and to suppose that then Christ came to judge the world, {283} whereas that judgment will not be till the last day, when in very deed those wicked men shall "look on Him whom they have pierced."

But even without insisting upon the spiritual nature of Christ's kingdom, which seems to be the direct reason why Christ did not show Himself to all the Jews after His resurrection, other distinct reasons may be given, instructive too. And one of these I will now set before you.

This is the question, "Why did not our Saviour show Himself after His resurrection to all the people? why only to witnesses chosen before of God?" and this is my answer: "Because this was the most effectual means of propagating His religion through the world."

After His resurrection, He said to His disciples, "Go, convert all nations:" [Matt. xxviii. 19.] this was His especial charge. If, then, there are grounds for thinking that, by showing Himself to a few rather than to many, He was more surely advancing this great object, the propagation of the Gospel, this is a sufficient reason for our Lord's having so ordained; and let us thankfully receive His dispensation, as He has given it.

1. Now consider what would have been the probable effect of a public exhibition of His resurrection. Let us suppose that our Saviour had shown Himself as openly as before He suffered; preaching in the Temple and in the streets of the city; traversing the land with His Apostles, and with multitudes following to see the miracles which He did. What would have been the {284} effect of this? Of course, what it had already been. His former miracles had not effectually moved the body of the people; and, doubtless, this miracle too would have left them as it found them, or worse than before. They might have been more startled at the time; but why should this amazement last? When the man taken with a palsy was suddenly restored at His word, the multitude were all amazed, and glorified God, and were filled with fear, saying, "We have seen strange things today." [Luke v. 26.] What could they have said and felt more than this, when "one rose from the dead"? In truth, this is the way of the mass of mankind in all ages, to be influenced by sudden fears, sudden contrition, sudden earnestness, sudden resolves, which disappear as suddenly. Nothing is done effectually through untrained human nature; and such is ever the condition of the multitude. Unstable as water, it cannot excel. One day it cried Hosanna; the next, Crucify Him. And, had our Lord appeared to them after they had crucified Him, of course they would have shouted Hosanna once more; and when He had ascended out of sight, then again they would have persecuted His followers. Besides, the miracle of the Resurrection was much more exposed to the cavils of unbelief than others which our Lord had displayed; than that, for instance, of feeding the multitudes in the wilderness. Had our Lord appeared in public, yet few could have touched Him, and certified themselves it was He Himself. Few, comparatively, in a great multitude could so have seen Him {285} both before and after His death, as to be adequate witnesses of the reality of the miracle. It would have been open to the greater number of them still to deny that He was risen. This is the very feeling St. Matthew records. When He appeared on a mountain in Galilee to His apostles and others, as it would seem (perhaps the five hundred brethren mentioned by St. Paul), "some doubted" whether it were He. How could it be otherwise? these had no means of ascertaining that they really saw Him who had been crucified, dead, and buried. Others, admitting it was Jesus, would have denied that He ever died. Not having seen Him dead on the cross, they might have pretended He was taken down thence before life was extinct, and so restored. This supposition would be a sufficient excuse to those who wished not to believe. And the more ignorant part would fancy they had seen a spirit without flesh and bones as man has. They would have resolved the miracle into a magical illusion, as the Pharisees had done before, when they ascribed His works to Beelzebub; and would have been rendered no better or more religious by the sight of Him, than the common people are now-a-days by tales of apparitions and witches.

Surely so it would have been; the chief priests would not have been moved at all; and the populace, however they had been moved at the time, would not have been lastingly moved, not practically moved, not so moved as to proclaim to the world what they had heard and seen, as to preach the Gospel. This is the point to be kept in view: and consider that the very reason why Christ showed Himself at all was in order to raise up witnesses {286} to His resurrection, ministers of His word, founders of His Church; and how in the nature of things could a populace ever become such?

2. Now, on the other hand, let us contemplate the means which His Divine Wisdom actually adopted with a view of making His resurrection subservient to the propagation of His Gospel.—He showed Himself openly, not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God. It is, indeed, a general characteristic of the course of His providence to make the few the channels of His blessings to the many; but in the instance we are contemplating, a few were selected, because only a few could (humanly speaking) be made instruments. As I have already said, to be witnesses of His resurrection it was requisite to have known our Lord intimately before His death. This was the case with the Apostles; but this was not enough. It was necessary they should be certain it was He Himself, the very same whom they before knew. You recollect how He urged them to handle Him, and be sure that they could testify to His rising again. This is intimated in the text also; ''witnesses chosen before of God, even to us who did eat and drink with Him after He rose from the dead." Nor were they required merely to know Him, but the thought of Him was to be stamped upon their minds as the one master-spring of their whole course of life for the future. But men are not easily wrought upon to be faithful advocates of any cause. Not only is the multitude fickle: but the best men, unless urged, tutored, disciplined to their work, give way; untrained nature has no principles. {287}

It would seem, then, that our Lord gave His attention to a few, because, if the few be gained, the many will follow. To these few He showed Himself again and again. These He restored, comforted, warned, inspired. He formed them unto Himself, that they might show forth His praise. This His gracious procedure is opened to us in the first words of the Book of the Acts. "To the Apostles whom He had chosen He showed Himself alive after His passion by many infallible proofs; being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God." Consider, then, if we may state the alternative reverently, which of the two seems the more likely way, even according to a human wisdom, of forming preachers of the Gospel to all nations,—the exhibition of the Resurrection to the Jewish people generally, or this intimate private certifying of it to a few? And remember that, as far as we can understand, the two procedures were inconsistent with each other; for that period of preparatory prayer, meditation, and instruction, which the Apostles passed under our Lord's visible presence for forty days, was to them what it could not have been, had they been following Him from place to place in public, supposing there had been an object in this, and mixing in the busy crowds of the world.

3. I have already suggested, what is too obvious almost to insist upon, that in making a select few the ministers of His mercy to mankind at large, our Lord was but acting according to the general course of His providence. It is plain every great change is effected by the few, not by the many; by the resolute, undaunted, {288} zealous few. True it is that societies sometimes fall to pieces by their own corruption, which is in one sense a change without special instruments chosen or allowed by God; but this is a dissolution, not a work. Doubtless, much may be undone by the many, but nothing is done except by those who are specially trained for action. In the midst of the famine Jacob's sons stood looking one upon another, but did nothing. One or two men, of small outward pretensions, but with their hearts in their work, these do great things. These are prepared, not by sudden excitement, or by vague general belief in the truth of their cause, but by deeply impressed, often repeated instruction; and since it stands to reason that it is easier to teach a few than a great number, it is plain such men always will be few. Such as these spread the knowledge of Christ's resurrection over the idolatrous world. Well they answered the teaching of their Lord and Master. Their success sufficiently approves to us His wisdom in showing Himself to them, not to all the people.

4. Remember, too, this further reason why the witnesses of the Resurrection were few in number; viz. because they were on the side of Truth. If the witnesses were to be such as really loved and obeyed the Truth, there could not be many chosen. Christ's cause was the cause of light and religion, therefore His advocates and ministers were necessarily few. It is an old proverb (which even the heathen admitted), that "the many are bad." Christ did not confide His Gospel to the many; had He done so, we may even say, that it would have been at first sight a presumption against its coming {289} from God. What was the chief work of His whole ministry, but that of choosing and separating from the multitude those who should be fit recipients of His Truth? As He went the round of the country again and again, through Galilee and Judea, He tried the spirits of men the while; and rejecting the baser sort who "honoured Him with their lips while their hearts were far from Him," He specially chose twelve. The many He put aside for a while as an adulterous and sinful generation, intending to make one last experiment on the mass when the Spirit should come. But His twelve He brought near to Himself at once, and taught them. Then He sifted them, and one fell away; the eleven escaped as though by fire. For these eleven especially He rose again; He visited them and taught them for forty days; for in them He saw the fruit of the "travail of His soul and was satisfied;" in them "He saw His seed, He prolonged His days, and the pleasure of the Lord prospered in His hand." These were His witnesses, for they had the love of the Truth in their hearts. "I have chosen you," He says to them, "and ordained you that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain." [John xv. 16.]

So much then in answer to the question, Why did not Christ show Himself to the whole Jewish people after His resurrection. I ask in reply, what would have been the use of it? a mere passing triumph over sinners whose judgment is reserved for the next world. On the other hand, such a procedure would have interfered with, {290} nay, defeated, the real object of His rising again, the propagation of His Gospel through the world by means of His own intimate friends and followers. And further, this preference of the few to the many seems to have been necessary from the nature of man, since all great works are effected, not by a multitude, but by the deep-seated resolution of a few;—nay, necessary too from man's depravity, for, alas! popular favour is hardly to be expected for the cause of Truth. And our Lord's instruments were few, if for no other reason, yet at least for this, because more were not to be found, because there were but few faithful Israelites without guile in Israel according to the flesh.

"The will to believe"


“So, I take it you disagree with Pascal and William James then, when they talk about things like going to church and reading the Bible in order to gain faith?”

Several issues to sort out:

1.Pascal and James have very different positions. Pascal was a Christian. James was not. James was a religious pluralist.

James isn’t attempting to offer a model of Christian faith. Rather, James is offering a model of decision-making.

2.As everyone should know by now, James was opposing Clifford. Clifford made the famous or infamous statement that “it is wrong, always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”

Clifford’s developed position has rather more merit than this hyperbolic claim would suggest. Still, his position was open to criticism.

James makes the point that we often lack the luxury of inaction or the suspension of belief. That, in real life, we are frequently confronted with forced options. That we have to make momentous choices with inadequate information.

And he makes the further point that inaction can be just as consequential as action, even if you make the wrong choice. Both action and inaction carry a risk. You can do wrong by doing something, or doing nothing. Indecision is, itself, a decision to the contrary.

Let’s also keep him mind that his position is bound up with his pragmatic theory of the truth.

I happen to think there is some merit in his position. It’s responsive to a real world situation. It reflects the strengths and limitations of pragmatism.

In any event, it is not a model of Christian faith. Some professing Christian has exploited his essay as a way giving them permission to be Christians.

But it’s a mistake to equate his response to Clifford with saving faith, as Scripture defines it.

3.As to Pascal, he had a very dramatic conversion experience. No one was more concerned with urgency of having a living faith in the living God than Pascal. Unlike James, Pascal is in a position to speak from personal Christian experience.

But Pascal was also an Augustinian Catholic. He believed in the efficacy of the sacraments (ex opera operato) as a means of grace.

He is not suggesting that attending Mass is a substitute for faith. Rather, it is, for him, a belief-forming mechanism. A way of coming to faith.

That is not at all the same thing as make-believe or keeping up appearances. Rather, it’s a means to an end.

I don’t agree with his sacramentology, but in a broader sense he is correct to say that the best way and often the only way to acquire Christian experience is to situate yourself in a Christian environment.

The setting doesn’t guarantee the acquisition of faith, but absenting yourself from Christian influence will nearly guarantee the opposite.

4.Once again, one would have to be a pretty poor student of Scripture to suppose that doubt is automatically damnatory.

There are paradigm examples in Scripture of true believers who suffered from an element of doubt. Abraham in the OT, as well as the disciples in the NT.

There are, in addition, paradigm examples in Scripture of true believers who suffered a (temporary) crisis of faith (e.g. Job, Asaph, Elijah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist).

5.Is doubting God a theological virtue? No. It’s a sin.

But Christians can sin. Christians are sinners. Not every sin is damnable. Not every sin is the unforgivable sin.

And there’s something worse than doubting. That is a façade of faith. To be an unbeliever on the inside, but a believer on the outside.

6.There are also occasions when doubt can be a good thing. A professing believer may be a nominal believer or immature believer.

He begins to entertain doubts about his religious upbringing. He may backslide.

But he may also pass through his crisis of faith and come out the other side in much better shape. Doubt can be instrumental to true faith, or to a well-founded faith.

“Besides, everything you wrote is missing the point. My point is that for a Christian operating with the assumption that Christianity is true, he or she does not want to entertain doubts. Doubts can lead to hell. Doubts can lead to the displeasure of God. So since Christians have this aversion against doubting, they also have a very difficult time truly investigating their faith. It's like there is this wall built up around their faith. They are afraid to entertain the very things that any (more or less) dispassionate investigation requires. And if that's the case, they cannot truly assess the truth claims of what they believe, unlike someone without those same fears.”

You’re simply repeating your original claim without addressing the counterarguments.

An unspoken and unsupported assumption of your contention is doxastic voluntarism, according to which the cognitive subject either allows himself to doubt or disallows doubt.

If that’s your operating assumption, then you need to defend it. If that’s not your operating assumption, then your argument doesn’t hang together.

An individual who consciously suppresses his doubts is already a doubter. He just won’t admit it to himself or others.

So your dilemma remains. Either he’s a doubter or he’s not. If he continues to believe in hell, then, to that extent, he is not a doubter. The fear of hell assumes a belief in hell.

If he continues to believe that faith is pleasing to God, then, to that extent, he is not a doubter. Believing that faith is pleasing to God assumes a belief in God.

It isn’t possible to please a nonexistent God. And to the degree that someone doubts the existence of God, he will doubt that faith is pleasing to God. Faith in what? Faith in God? But if God himself is an object of doubt instead of faith, then the fear of displeasing God is, itself, a dubious proposition.

You have yet to lay out a coherent position.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Army of the dead


"However, the Christian sees doubt as opposed to the need to please God with faith. So they do not have this same kind of healthy skepticism. Not you charge we with inconsistency. Where is it? I think the outsider test applies differently to religious beliefs that are communal, exclusive, based upon an ancient text, that requires faith, and where there is a fear of hell. All of these things hinders a dispassionate investigation."

Loftus reminds me of a scene from the 1961 movie El Cid, starring Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren.

El Cid was killed in battle. But most of the troops don't know that. So his wife has the corpse dressed up in full battle regalia, mounted on his war horse, and marched into battle at the head of the army.

His troops are emboldened by the ruse, while the enemy forces flee in terror at the sight of the invincible warrior.

Loftus' precious Outsider Test, like all his other arguments, has been slain many times over. I myself responded to this nearly a year ago, as did other T-bloggers.

But Loftus, like a taxidermist, continues to stuff his cadaverous argument into a rusty suit of armor, prop it on a hobbyhorse, and wheel it into battle—hoping we won't notice the stench.

But that's not all that wrong with his moldering argument:

1. One would have to be a pretty poor student of Scripture to suppose that God is pleased with a feigned faith. Christian identity is not about playing the role of a believing. It's not about play-acting or make-believe. That would be the very definition of hypocrisy.

Pretending to believe in God is not pleasing to God. Going through the motions isn't pleasing to God. Keeping up appearances isn't pleasing to God.

Even before we get to the NT, hasn't Loftus ever read the OT prophets?

But, of course, this is one of his problems. He was never more than a nominal believer. That's why he doesn't understand the nature of faith. He's like a colorblind art critic. He can master the vocabulary, but he cannot see what he describes. So he gropes and fumbles.

2. But it goes from bad to worse. For he has such a pitifully illogical mind. The above-stated argument is self-refuting.

Yes, doubt is opposed to faith. Yet it should be needless to point out, if we weren't dealing with someone as uncomprehending as Loftus, that if you doubt the existence of God or the inspiration of Scripture, then you doubt that faith is pleasing to God. For faith could only be pleasing to God if there were a God to please.

Likewise, the fear of hell is only fearful to those who believe in it. If you're a doubter, then your doubt will extend to the existence of hell.

Loftus' arguments are premised on a faith which his dubious conclusion denies.

Who happens to think that faith is pleasing to God? A believer.

Who thinks that hell is a fearful fate? A believer.

If, conversely, someone is a doubter, then these cease to be operating assumptions. Cease to be unquestionable articles of the faith.

Catholic quackery



That's a coward's response: just what (sadly) I expected from you. You want to run everything down, so put up or shut up, and be consistent and fair-minded. Do you believe her or not, or is she a liar? Or perhaps she is mentally ill, so that her report can't be trusted? You characterized all the reports as "snake-oil testimonials". Does that include my wife's too? Or do you give her a pass? She has integrity and tells the truth because I know her (hence your convenient omission of her case), and these other people are all bald-faced liars and charlatans because they happen to be Chinese? Every last one of them?.. .That's not true. It's firsthand experiential evidence. Would you assume that a loved one of yours was lying if they told you they could now sleep after 13 years, or had far less back pain after literally a lifetime of it? Would you call them a liar to their face? On what basis? You deny them their self-report???!!! Would you laugh in their face and scoff, as you are doing with these other people, and care not a whit that someone you loved was feeling much better, because in your fertile, falacy-filled mind it "zero evidentiary value"? I highly doubt it.


Quite a few fallacies and absurdities to untangle here:

1.This thread operates on two levels. At one level is the inherent silliness of a man who defends aromatherapy and other miscellaneous quackery as hard science.

2.Then there’s the far more serious issue of serving up his overcooked quackery as a credible alternative to medical science when dealing with life-threatening illness like cancer.

In the first instance, Dave is simply being a buffoon. In the second instance, Dave is volunteering medically reckless and dangerous advice.

3. One also needs to distinguish between reasonable and unreasonable claims. To claim that a Jacuzzi can relieve joint and tissue soreness or stiffness is one thing; to claim that it’s a cure for terminal cancer, or spinal cord injury, or a coma, or a stroke is something else entirely.

4. Then you have his transparent and pathetic attempt at emotional intimidation: Who would dare call his wife a liar?

Well, several more issues:

i) Since he chooses to make this personal, the very reasons he gives for believing his wife are the very reasons I’d give for suspending judgment: he knows her and I don’t. Therefore, it’s perfectly reasonable for me, as a second party, to reserve judgment on his very own grounds.

ii) Likewise, emotional leverage only works with people we know and care about, or vice versa.

Since I don’t know Armstrong or his wife, his appeal has no traction with me.

iii) At the risk of stating the obvious, everyone is related to someone else. Everyone is a father or mother or sister or brother or son or daughter or friend or in-law to someone else.

If Armstrong’s wife claimed to be an alien abductee, would that oblige me to credit her claims? Not in the least.

iv) Notice that I haven’t said anything about his wife. That’s because I don’t know her. So I’m speaking hypothetically.

And, hypothetically speaking, why is it okay for Dave to call me a liar, but outrageous for me to call him or a member of his family a liar?

Note that I haven’t done so. I’m simply drawing attention to his double standard.

5.The appeal to “firsthand experiential evidence” begs the question in several respects:

i) What Dave has given us is not firsthand evidence, but a series of product endorsements via the very company which has a direct financial stake in the sale of the produce.

This is, at best, a secondhand source.

ii) Observe how, in the interests of lining his own pockets, Dave throws all evidentiary standards out the window.

I would judge these testimonials the way I’d judge the testimonials of Benny Hinn type “ministries,” or the psychic network, or Dianetics:

a) Let’s see an independent organization investigate these claims. Let’s see the organization interview the witnesses.

b) Let’s see medical records from a reputable physician regarding their prior diagnosis.

c) Let’s see medical records from a reputable physician regarding their subsequent “cure.”

d) Let’s see an outside organization interview *everyone* who was subjected to alternative medicine. Not just the ones who were “cured,” but the ones who were not. What are the percentages?

e) Let’s see a follow-up investigation a year after their “cure.”

f) Let’s see how much of the medical literature supporting alternative medicine is subsidized by a religious cult like the Unification Church.

g) Let’s see if the witnesses received any financial remuneration for their testimony.

In other words, like’s see some basic fact-checking from an outside source.

One can get personal testimonies for anything and everything, from astrology, ufology, reflexology, iridology, psychic surgery, magnetic therapy, crystal healing, pyramid power, psychic surgery, the therapeutic touch, and Scientology to recovered memories of ritual Satanic abuse and male enhancement products advertised on cable stations at two in the morning.

“Furthermore, it's exactly the same sort of evidence that Christianity itself is based on, in terms of how it spread at first, and the evidence that the first Christians presented in order to back up the gospel and the truth claims.”

Once again, this comparison disregards elementary distinctions and evidentiary standards:

i) The question at issue is not whether we accept all eyewitness claims or reject all eyewitness claims. Rather, the question at issue is whether we accept a credible report from a credible reporter.

ii) There are basic criteria for evaluating eyewitness evidence, viz. character, competence, corroboration, &c.

This is discussed in C. A. J. Coady’s Testimony: A Philosophical Study (Oxford 1994).

John Warwick Montgomery also discusses some of the evidentiary criteria for evaluating testimonial claims:

iii) There must also be a correspondence between the type of cause and type of the effect.

Natural effects correspond to natural causes, just a supernatural effects correspond to supernatural causes.

Science deals with the ordinary providence of second causes. There are things a Jacuzzi can and cannot do. A Jacuzzi cannot multiply loaves and fishes.

So the predicated effect has to be of a kind with the predicated cause.

For example, some pseudoscientific exercises may occasionally “work,” not because they’re scientific, but because they’re occultic. And when you dabble in the occult, you may succeed in getting in touch with agents who do have paranormal powers. Of course, that comes at a terrible price.

“The spa I am promoting involves strictly natural processes, all in turn, confirmed in some way by scientific research in reputable journals. You can quibble with the studies if you like.”

Yes, I “quibble” with the power of hydrotherapy to cure terminal cancer or spinal cord injury. I also “quibble” with the science of aromatherapy. Very backward of me, I know. How could I be so retrograde and unscientific!

“In any event, it has no relation whatsoever to claims of supernatural healing because it's not (DUH!!!!!) claiming to be a supernatural product in the first place! What about that is so difficult for you to grasp?”

Notice how Dave is trying to change the subject. The subject has to do with parallel claims of parallel cures, whether it’s astrology, ufology, Scientology, reflexology, aromatherapy, crystals, pyramid power, hydrotherapy, “miracle spring water”, or Benny Hinn’s healing touch.

“But you, of course, being fond of the cynical, often uncharitable behavior.”

Yes, I’m very cynical and uncharitable towards a man who advertises hydrotherapy as a cure for cancer.

Forgive my cynicism, but when push comes to shove, I’m more charitable towards the cancer patient than the flim-flam man.

“Because they are willing to hear any lie about a Catholic apologist.”

Actually, it’s going to be interesting to see if any other Catholic apologist like Jonathan Prejean or Art Sippo rushes to the defense of hydrotherapy or aromatherapy. I can hardly wait.

“Now if you cared more about people's well-being than you did about lying and putting others down without cause, that would make you rejoice, and be curious as to how this happened.”

Armstrong’s idea of “caring for the well-being of other’s” is to make money off of hydrotherapy by encouraging cancer patients and quadriplegics to believe that by buying his glorified hot-tub, they can walk again or overcome stage-four cancer.

Yes, David simply oozes with compassion.

“Make a fool of yourself and parade your ignorance if you must. I, for one, take science very seriously, and I am willing to go where it's confirmed results lead.”

I’m quite happy to “make a fool of myself” by failing to share Armstrong’s faith in the curative powers of aromatherapy. Shame on me for obstructing the stately progress of medical science.

“And it is an unscientific, irrational attitude that would dismiss all such finds of science.”

Yes, it’s irrational to dismiss a hard science like aromatherapy.

“Some logic there, Steve. But I'm not in the least surprised that a guy who thinks the universe is 6000-10,000 years old would thumb his nose at scientific findings, as well as reported health improvements en masse.”

Of course, this is a category mistake. Creation ex nihilo is miraculous rather than providential.

Therefore, it doesn’t operate according to natural processes. Dave is too theologically illiterate to distinguish primary causality (fiat creation) from secondary causality (natural forces).

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Catholics And Moonies Together: The Syncretistic Mission In The Third Millennium

Sura 9

From the Koran (Sura 9:5, 29-30):

So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush. If they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them. ... Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid what Allah and his Messenger have forbidden, nor follow the religion of truth, even if they are of the People of the Book [i.e., Jews and Christians], until they pay the Jizya [i.e., the special tax imposed on non-Muslims] in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection. And the Jews say: Uzair [i.e., Ezra] is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: the Messiah is the son of Allah. These are the blasphemous words of their mouths. They imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before. May Allah destroy them! They have surely turned away.

Robert Spencer comments:

Thus, the difference between the Qur'an's "slay the unbelievers wherever you find them" (Sura 9:5) and the Bible verses he quotes is that in Islam, violence is not justified by twisting a few scattered verses; instead, it's enshrined in tradition and theology.

Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan, translator of the Hadith collection Sahih Bukhari, explains that the Qur'an's violent verses actually take precedence over its peaceful ones: "At first 'the fighting' was forbidden, then it was permitted and after that it was made obligatory." S. K. Malik in The Qur'anic Concept of War explains that Allah gave Muslims "a divine command making war a religious obligation for the faithful." All four schools of Sunni Muslim jurisprudence -- Shafi'i, Maliki, Hanafi, and Hanbali -- teach an elaborate doctrine of jihad that sanctions killing in the name of Islam. Said the great Muslim jurist, philosopher, and historian Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406): "In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the [Muslim] mission and [the obligation to] convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force. The other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty for them, save only for purposes of defense... Islam is under obligation to gain power over other nations."


This is the triple choice: conversion, death, or submission. This verse comes from Sura At-Tawba, the last sura revealed. If any verse contradicts it, Sura 9:29 must be given precedence because the sura from which it comes is the Qur'an’s last word on the subject. Even if the tolerance verses aren't cancelled according to the Muslim principle of abrogation (naskh), the tolerant verses such as those you quote must be understood in light of Sura 9.

I didn’t make up this interpretation. It comes from respected Islamic authorities: Ibn Kathir, Ibn Juzayy, Tafsir al-Jalalayn, and innumerable other classic and respected Qur’an commentaries. And they were working from the Muhammad’s amplification of the triple alternative for unbelievers -- conversion, death, or submission -- in a strong Hadith in Sahih Muslim (4294).