Saturday, March 31, 2007

"Consider the ant!"

“You'll watch as a parasite grows out of an ant's head, how a polar bear preys on Walruses, how hunting dogs kill prey, and so on, and so on. Yes, this is a majestic earth, and wonderful in so many ways. But when you watch this series I want you to ask why God didn't create us all as vegetarians. To me the horror of the law of predation negates the existence of an omni-God...period. And I just don't see how anyone who watches what takes place every second somewhere around the globe can still think God is good. He isn't. The horror of predation in this world proves such a God doesn't exist beyond a shadow of doubt.”

Loftus ran out of ideas a long time ago. Indeed, he never had any ideas of his own.

So he picks the mould spores out of his stale objections with a pair of tweezers, and keeps on serving them to his omnivorous readers.

He assures us that there is no Christian God.

Apparently, God didn’t get the memo. I guess that DC is a poor medium for communicating with the Omnipotent.

The problem with his current objection is that it doesn’t make any sense on either secular grounds or Christian grounds.

i) What’s so bad about a parasite growing out of an ant’s head, any way? This serves a natural purpose in the ecological balance. So it’s not a gratuitous evil.

ii) Does he think the ant is suffering? Does he attribute consciousness to an ant?

iii) Even more to the point, his reaction illustrates a typical tension in secularism. Take wolves. In traditional literature, wolves are described as cruel, savage, and vicious.

But you’re not supposed to say that any more. It’s politically incorrect. A naturalist will scold you for falsely imputing human motives and emotions to the wolf.

And, in one sense, the naturalist is right. This is a case of human projection. Treating an animal as if it’s a human being.

Nature isn’t cruel. Human beings can be cruel. But nature is amoral.

Yet Loftus’ whole case is predicated on his childishly anthropomorphic view of the animal kingdom. He identifies with that poor little ant. He imagines what it would “feel” like to be an ant.

But, of course, that has no basis in reality. He is taking himself as the standard of reference. An ant doesn’t share his viewpoint. Indeed, an ant has no viewpoint.

That would be the consistently secular interpretation. And, at a certain level, a Christian would agree.

iv) So why do we automatically tend to ascribe human traits to animals? There’s a theological explanation for that. The material world is one big parable.

God speaks to us through the world—as well as the Word. He teaches us things through the ritual morality play of the natural world.

Consider the symbolic dimension of so many animals in Scripture, viz. the ant, badger, bear, dog, dove, fox, goat, hornet, lamb, leopard, lion, locust, maggot, owl, ox, serpent, sheep, spider, warhorse, wolf, &c.

Indeed, the same animal can have more than one symbolic function, viz. dogs, sheep.

So, at another level, there is a genuine sense in which, by divine design, the animal kingdom has an emblematic and pedagogical function. It mimics human virtues and vices.

These are object lessons. Sermon illustrations. Bards and poets have always understood this.

Why Timothy Ware has Two Mommies: Ecclesiastical Polygamy and Alternative Church Families

Yet there seemed to be a yawning gap between Orthodox principles and Orthodox practice. If the Orthodox really believed themselves to be the one true Church, why did they place such obstacles in the path of prospective converts? In what sense was Orthodoxy truly "one," when, for example, in North America there were at least nineteen different Orthodox "jurisdictions," with no less than thirteen bishops in the single city of New York?

In order to enter the Orthodox house, I had to knock upon a particular door. Which "jurisdiction" should I choose? I felt strongly drawn to the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile — the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), as it is today commonly styled. What I admired in particular was its fidelity to the liturgical, ascetic and monastic heritage of Orthodoxy. While still sixteen I had come across Helen Waddell's book The Desert Fathers, and from that moment I was fascinated by the monastic history of the Christian East. I found that most of the monasteries in the Orthodox emigration belonged to the Russian Church in Exile. In Western Europe I visited two women's monasteries under its care, the Convent of the Annunciation in London, and the Convent of the Mother of God of Lesna outside Paris, and in both I was given a warm welcome. I also admired the way in which the Russian Church in Exile held in honor the New Martyrs and Confessors who had suffered for the faith under the Soviet yoke. On the other hand, I was disturbed by the canonical isolation of the Exile Synod. In the 1950s this was not so great as it has since become, for at that time there was still regular concelebration between Russian Exile clergy and the bishops and priests of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. But I saw that the Russian Church in Exile was becoming increasingly cut off from worldwide Orthodoxy, and that troubled me.

Had there existed in Britain a Russian diocese under the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as there was in France, then I would probably have joined it. As matters stood, the only Russian alternative to the Church in Exile was the Moscow Patriarchate. This had some distinguished members in Western Europe, such as Vladimir Lossky in Paris, Father Basil Krivocheine in Oxford, and Father Anthony Bloom (now Metropolitan of Sourozh) in London. But I felt it impossible to belong to an Orthodox Church headed by bishops under Communist control who regularly praised Lenin and Stalin, and who were prevented from acknowledging the New Martyrs slain by the Bolsheviks.

Despite my love of Russian spirituality, it became evident to me that my best course was to join the Greek diocese in Britain under the Patriarchate of Constantinople...If I became a member of the Ecumenical Patriarchate I would not have to take sides between the rival Russian groups, and I could maintain my personal friendships with members of both the Moscow Patriarchate and the Church in Exile.

The true church for you, but not for me

At the time this puzzled me. In my reading about Orthodoxy I had quickly discovered that it claims to be, not just one among many alternative "denominations," but the true Church of Christ on earth. Yet it seemed as if the Orthodox themselves were telling me, "Yes, Orthodoxy is indeed the one true Church, but you should on no account join it. It is only for us Easterners, Greeks, Russians and the rest." Adherence to the saving truth appeared to depend on the accidents of birth and geography.

There remained, however, one powerful dissuasive. If Orthodoxy is really the one true Church of Christ on earth, how could it be (I asked myself) that the Orthodox Church in the West is so ethnic and nationalist in its outlook, so little interested in any form of missionary witness, so fragmented into parallel and often conflicting "jurisdictions"?

The Swinging Pendulum Of Doctrinal Development

In another post, I’ve discussed the problems passages like Luke 2:48-50 and John 2:3-4 pose for traditional Roman Catholic beliefs about Mary. Raymond Brown gives an example, related to Luke 2 and John 2, of how a popular belief that develops at one period in history can be reversed by later generations:

“Wherever mariology has been strong, the thought that Mary was limited in her understanding of Jesus has been repugnant. While the Venerable Bede could allow the view that Mary received only a progressive revelation of the divinity of Jesus, by the thirteenth century it was generally agreed that Mary had full knowledge from the time of the annunciation. Peter Canisius (1521-1597) attacked theories of Mary’s limited knowledge as product of the heresies of the Reformers, and only in modern times and gingerly could the question be raised again in Roman Catholicism. See E.F. Sutcliffe, ‘Our Lady and the Divinity of Christ,’ The Month 180 (1944), 347-51; also footnote 19 above.” (The Birth Of The Messiah [New York, New York: Doubleday, 1993], n. 45 on p. 492)

The Papacy And The Eucharist

Two other issues Philip Blosser mentions in his response to Steve Hays are the papacy and the eucharist. Many of his comments are vague, but the most he would be able to argue is that some patristic sources agreed with Roman Catholicism on these issues or held a view that was similar to a degree. But neither doctrine is apostolic in full or in seed form. On the papacy, see here and here. Regarding the eucharist, see here, section 69 here, and section 95 here.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Other Beliefs About Mary

Earlier this week, I posted an article on the perpetual virginity of Mary in response to the claims made by Philip Blosser in his reply to Steve Hays. In addition to his claims about the perpetual virginity of Mary, Blosser refers to other Marian doctrines in the church fathers. For example, he claims that Augustine "clearly argues for the sinlessness of Mary" (as quoted on p. 126 in Steve's reply to Blosser). Readers may be interested in articles I've written on the sinlessness of Mary here and here. Augustine is among the sources I address. Regarding the Assumption of Mary, see here and here. On the subject of the woman of Revelation 12, see here. Regarding prayers to Mary and Mary's status in Heaven, see here. On venerating images of Mary, see here.

Also worth noting is that many of the individual themes and Biblical passages that Roman Catholics apply to Mary aren't applied in that manner by the earliest patristic sources. For example, while Roman Catholics often see the queen of Psalm 45 as Mary, Justin Martyr refers to the queen as the church (Dialogue With Trypho, 63). So does Clement of Alexandria (cited in Eric Osborn, Clement Of Alexandria [New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008], 214). Roman Catholics often parallel Mary to the ark of the covenant, but the earliest ark parallels among the church fathers identify Jesus or something else, not Mary, as the parallel to the ark (Irenaeus, Fragments From The Lost Writings Of Irenaeus, 48; Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, 5:6; Tertullian, The Chaplet, 9; Hippolytus, On Daniel, 2:6; etc.). Catholics often cite Revelation 11:19 as a reference to Mary's bodily assumption, whereas the earliest patristic interpreter of the passage doesn't even see Mary as the ark (Victorinus, Commentary On The Apocalypse Of The Blessed John, 11:19).

Catholics often respond by arguing that the fathers might have believed that these passages refer to Mary, even though they don't say so in their writings. That's possible, but how likely is it? For example, if so many ante-Nicene fathers comment on the ark of the covenant, and none of them draw the parallels that modern Catholics are drawing, how likely is it that they held the modern Catholic view, but just happened to repeatedly mention some other interpretation instead? As these fathers show us, we can make sense of these passages of scripture without appealing to a Marian interpretation. Why, then, should we think that some additional Marian interpretation is appropriate?

Thursday, March 29, 2007


In his reply to Steve Hays, Philip Blosser repeatedly mentions the doctrine of Purgatory. He claims that it had widespread patristic support. But some of the sources he mentions can only be said to have believed in Purgatory if the doctrine is significantly redefined.

The apostle Paul knew he was imperfect both in knowledge of himself (1 Corinthians 4:4) and in sanctification (2 Corinthians 3:18, Philippians 3:12). Yet, he said that he would go to be with the Lord if he died (2 Corinthians 5:1-8, Philippians 1:23). Scripture repeatedly refers to all believers being at peace, having joy, going to be with the Lord, etc. whenever this life ends (Psalm 49:15, 73:24-25, Isaiah 57:1-2, Daniel 12:13, Matthew 25:34, Luke 16:22, Luke 23:42-43, John 14:2-3, 2 Corinthians 5:1-8, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, Revelation 7:14-17). Purgatory is never mentioned, but instead is repeatedly contradicted by references to every believer going to Heaven. The afterlife is a frequent theme in scripture, but Purgatory isn't part of the landscape.

The same is true of the earliest patristic sources. When Clement of Rome refers to deceased believers, he always refers to them being in Heaven, never Purgatory (First Clement, 5-6, 44, 50). The same is true of other early sources, such as Polycarp (Epistle To The Philippians, 9) and a document written by the church of Smyrna after Polycarp's martyrdom (The Martyrdom Of Polycarp, 19). Other early sources refer to all believers going to Heaven or a heavenly region of Hades that doesn't have the suffering associated with Purgatory: Justin Martyr (Dialogue With Trypho, 5), Athenagoras (A Plea For The Christians, 31), Irenaeus (Against Heresies, 5:5:1, 5:31:2), Hippolytus (Against Plato, On The Cause Of The Universe, 1-2), Cyprian (Treatises, 7, On The Mortality, 6-7, 26), etc. It should be emphasized that when somebody like Irenaeus refers to all deceased Christians being in Paradise, such a view isn't just an undeveloped seed form of Purgatory. It's a direct contradiction of Purgatory. Also worth noting is that Irenaeus cites the elders of an earlier generation, who knew one or more of the apostles, in support of his anti-Purgatorial views.

Catholics sometimes appeal to comments made by fathers such as Tertullian and Origen, and they appeal to apocryphal documents and catacomb inscriptions, for example. But all of these arguments are problematic. The catacomb inscriptions, for example, are from people we don't know much about, such as just how orthodox they were or how widespread their views were. Many of the inscriptions are late or can't be dated. And when somebody like Tertullian advocates praying for the dead, the doctrine of Purgatory doesn't logically follow. If an increase in the blessings of Heaven were expected from these prayers, then they can't be cited as evidence for Purgatory. The historian Philip Schaff wrote:

"These views of the middle state in connection with prayers for the dead show a strong tendency to the Roman Catholic doctrine of Purgatory, which afterwards came to prevail in the West through the great weight of St. Augustin and Pope Gregory I. But there is, after all, a considerable difference. The ante-Nicene idea of the middle state of the pious excludes, or at all events ignores, the idea of penal suffering, which is an essential part of the Catholic conception of purgatory. It represents the condition of the pious as one of comparative happiness, inferior only to the perfect happiness after the resurrection. Whatever and wherever Paradise may be, it belongs to the heavenly world; while purgatory is supposed to be a middle region between heaven and hell, and to border rather on the latter. The sepulchral inscriptions in the catacombs have a prevailingly cheerful tone, and represent the departed souls as being 'in peace' and 'living in Christ,' or 'in God.' The same view is substantially preserved in the Oriental church, which holds that the souls of the departed believers may be aided by the prayers of the living, but are nevertheless 'in light and rest, with a foretaste of eternal happiness.' Yet alongside with this prevailing belief, there are traces of the purgatorial idea of suffering the temporal consequences of sin, and a painful struggle after holiness. Origen, following in the path of Plato, used the term 'purgatorial fire,' by which the remaining stains of the soul shall be burned away; but he understood it figuratively, and connected it with the consuming fire at the final judgment, while Augustin and Gregory I. transferred it to the middle state." (section 156 here)

The Purgatory scholar Jacques Le Goff, when commenting on the views of Cyprian in the third century (a church father who is often misrepresented as having believed in Purgatory, even though he rejected the concept), remarks that the doctrine of Purgatory "did not yet exist" (The Birth Of Purgatory [Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 1986], p. 58). Regarding appeals to the catacombs, apocryphal documents, Origen, etc., Le Goff explains:

"The abundant epigraphic and liturgical evidence available for the first few centuries of the Christian era has often been used to prove that belief in Purgatory is very ancient indeed. But it seems to me that the interpretation goes beyond the evidence. The favors that God is urged to grant the dead essentially involve the pleasures of Paradise, or at any rate a state defined by pax et lux, peace and light....A Greek apocryphal work from the late second century, The Acts of Paul and Thekla, speaks of prayers for a dead young girl. The pagan queen Tryphena asks her adopted daughter, the Christian virgin Thekla, to pray for her real daughter Phalconilla, who has died. Thekla prays to God for eternal salvation for Phalconilla....The importance of the Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas in the prehistory of Purgatory should neither be exaggerated nor minimized. It is not Purgatory as such that is being discussed here, and none of the images contained in Perpetua's two visions recur in medieval imagery associated with Purgatory. The garden in which Dinocratus [the dead boy being prayed for] finds himself is almost paradisaical in nature; it is neither a valley nor a plain nor a mountain. The thirst and feebleness from which he suffers are described as psychological rather than moral defects. He suffers psychic and physical pain rather than the pain of punishment for a wrong, labor rather than poena, whereas the texts that foreshadow Purgatory or that concern Purgatory per se prefer the latter term to the former. The Passion makes no mention of either judgment or punishment....In this vision of the other world [advocated by Clement of Alexandria and Origen] a number of ingredients of the true Purgatory are lacking, however. No clear distinction is made between time in Purgatory and the time of the Last Judgment. This confusion is so troublesome that Origen is forced both to expand the end of the world and to collapse it into a single moment, while at the same time making its prospect imminent. Purgatory is not really distinguished from Hell, and there is no clear awareness that Purgatory is a temporary and provisional abode. The responsibility for postmortem purification is shared by the dead, with their weight of sin, and God, the benevolent judge of salvation; the living play no part. Finally, no place is designated as the place of purgatory. By making the purifying fire not only 'spiritual' but also 'invisible,' Origen prevented the imagination of the faithful from gaining a purchase on it." (pp. 46, 50, 57)

Regarding Tertullian:

"Between Tertullian's refrigerium interim [a region of the afterlife some believers go to] and Purgatory there is a difference not only of kind - for Tertullian it is a matter of a restful wait until the Last Judgment, whereas with Purgatory it is a question of a trial that purifies because it is punitive and expiatory - but also of duration: souls remain in refrigerium until the resurrection but in Purgatory only as long as it takes to expiate their sins." (pp. 47-48)

Tertullian sees some believers going to a different region within Heaven, a place of enjoyment that lasts until the time of judgment. Purgatory, on the other hand, is a place of suffering that can end before the judgment. Tertullian writes:

"there is some determinate place called Abraham's bosom, and that it is designed for the reception of the souls of Abraham's children, even from among the Gentiles (since he is 'the father of many nations,' which must be classed amongst his family), and of the same faith as that wherewithal he himself believed God, without the yoke of the law and the sign of circumcision. This region, therefore, I call Abraham's bosom. Although it is not in heaven, it is yet higher than hell, and is appointed to afford an interval of rest to the souls of the righteous, until the consummation of all things shall complete the resurrection of all men with the 'full recompense of their reward.'" (Against Marcion, 4:34)

Did Tertullian believe in different regions within what we commonly consider Heaven? Yes. Did he believe in praying for the dead and offering sacrifices for them? Yes. He didn't believe in Purgatory, however.

Augustine is widely regarded as the father of the doctrine of Purgatory. Roman Catholics often quote him referring to something similar to the modern Catholic doctrine. But what these Catholics don't explain is that Augustine acknowledged that he was speculating. In other words, he wasn't passing on some tradition handed down in unbroken succession from the apostles. Rather, he was speculating about what might happen in the afterlife. Jacques Le Goff explains:

"[Joseph Ntedika] has put his finger on a key point, showing not only that Augustine's position evolved over the years, which was to be expected, but that it underwent a marked change at a specific point in time, which Ntedika places in the year 413....In the Letter to Dardinus (417) he [Augustine] sketches a geography of the otherworld which makes no place for Purgatory." (The Birth Of Purgatory [Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 1986], pp. 62, 70)

In other words, Augustine's views on the subject developed over time, and he was inconsistent. George Salmon explains the significance of these facts:

"In like manner, when Augustine hears the idea suggested that, as the sins of good men cause them suffering in this world, so they may also to a certain degree in the next, he says that he will not venture to say that nothing of the kind can occur, for perhaps it may. Well, if the idea of purgatory had not got beyond a 'perhaps' at the beginning of the fifth century, we are safe in saying that it was not by tradition that the later Church arrived at certainty on the subject; for, if the Church had had any tradition in the time of Augustine, that great Father could not have helped knowing it." (The Infallibility Of The Church [London, England: John Murray, 1914], pp. 133-134)

Here's an example of Augustine expressing his uncertainty:

"And it is not impossible that something of the same kind may take place even after this life. It is a matter that may be inquired into, and either ascertained or left doubtful, whether some believers shall pass through a kind of purgatorial fire, and in proportion as they have loved with more or less devotion the goods that perish, be less or more quickly delivered from it." (The Enchiridion, 69)

Although people like Augustine were speculating about something like Purgatory, other fathers continued to make comments more consistent with the Biblical and earlier patristic view:

"'Knowing therefore that whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: we are of good courage, I say, and willing to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord.' Seest thou how keeping back what was painful, the names of death and the end, he has employed instead of them such as excite great longing, calling them presence with God; and passing over those things which are accounted to be sweet, the things of life, he hath expressed them by painful names, calling the life here an absence from the Lord? Now this he did, both that no one might fondly linger amongst present things, but rather be aweary of them; and that none when about to die might be disquieted, but might even rejoice as departing unto greater goods....'We are of good courage, I say, and willing.' Wonderful! to what hath he brought round the discourse? To an extreme desire of death, having shown the grievous to be pleasurable, and the pleasurable grievous. For by the term, 'we are willing' he means, 'we are desirous.' Of what are we desirous? Of being 'absent from the body, and at home with the Lord.'" (John Chrysostom, Homilies On Second Corinthians, 10, vv. 7-8)

And some sources continued to advocate views that are inconsistent with both Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism (Lactantius, The Divine Institutes, 7:21; Aphrahat, Demonstrations, 6:14, 8:20, 8:22-23, 22:9). But the Evangelical concept that all believers go to a place of peace and joy, without the sufferings associated with Purgatory, is the Biblical view and the view of the earliest church fathers and some of the later fathers.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Perpetual Virginity Of Mary

I recently finished reading Steve Hays' reply to Philip Blosser on the subject of sola scriptura. Steve makes many good points, and I highly recommend reading it. In the coming days, I want to add some comments to Steve's, primarily concerning the church fathers. Blosser made a lot of false or misleading claims about the fathers, often without providing many details to interact with. I want to emphasize or expand upon some of the points Steve made.

Near the end of his response to Blosser, Steve spends several pages on the issue of the perpetual virginity of Mary. The issue isn't of much significance in itself, but becomes more significant in light of the claims some groups, like Roman Catholicism, make about subjects like tradition and church infallibility. It's also a significant issue in that there's a common perception that the historical record leans heavily in favor of the doctrine. We often hear of how large numbers of church fathers and other prominent figures in church history, including Protestant reformers, believed in it.

In reality, however, the doctrine is an illustration of the fact that what the earliest generations of Christians believed sometimes conflicts with what later generations believed. Focusing on later church history, while ignoring or neglecting earlier sources, leads to a distorted conclusion. Steve discussed the most significant evidence in detail, and I won't be repeating everything he said. I would second his recommendation that people read the work of Eric Svendsen on this issue, as well as the work of Roman Catholic scholars like John Meier. As Steve's citation of Meier illustrates, and as Eric Svendsen's work documents in more detail, the Biblical evidence not only doesn't support the doctrine, but even leans heavily against it. The other first century source we have on the subject, Josephus, also contradicts the doctrine, as John Meier mentions in Steve's citation.

Something Steve doesn't directly address, however (though it's addressed indirectly through his recommendation of Eric Svendsen's work), is evidence against the doctrine in early post-apostolic sources. Just as some readings of the gospels and other New Testament documents are more probable than others, the same is true of the writings of later sources. If we don't begin with the assumption of a tradition of the perpetual virginity of Mary, then sources such as Hegesippus and Tertullian read more naturally as having rejected the concept than as having accepted it. See, for example, Eric Svendsen's discussion of such sources in his Who Is My Mother? (Amityville, New York: Calvary Press, 2001).

Proponents of the doctrine often point to Jerome's work against Helvidius, an opponent of the doctrine, as an illustration of how the early church believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary and considered opposition to it unacceptable heresy. Yet, the sources Steve discusses and the ones I've mentioned above (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Josephus, Hegesippus, etc.) predate Jerome by a century or more. And while Jerome reacted to Helvidius in a highly negative manner, a contemporary of Jerome took a different approach. Basil of Caesarea commented that the view that Mary had other children after Jesus "was widely held and, though not accepted by himself, was not incompatible with orthodoxy" (J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines [San Francisco, California: HarperCollins Publishers, 1978], p. 495).

Update on 11/27/14: Here's a post discussing more early opponents of the perpetual virginity of Mary.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The unhistoricity & illogicality of Loftus

On the one hand, there is the historical evidence concerning the resurrection of Jesus from the grave, along with the other beliefs the resurrection commits many Christians to, i.e., a Trinitarian God, and the Incarnation. On the other hand, it seems logically incoherent that one God eternally created two others Gods, and it seems logically incoherent that one person can be 100% God and 100% man, as I previously argued.

Several things go awry here:

1.To say the Resurrection commits one to the Trinity or Incarnation is very loose reasoning.

Although these are interrelated at certain levels, it’s not as if proving one depends on proving another. There are direct lines of evidence for all three doctrines.

2.Furthermore, the Resurrection hardly commits one to Swinburne’s version of Nicene subordinationism.

Indeed, Reformed theologians like Calvin, Warfield, Frame, and Helm reject Nicene subordination in favor of the autotheos of each Trinitarian person.

For someone who prides himself on his grasp of Reformed theology, Loftus ought to know better.

3.Yes, Loftus likes to *say* the Incarnation is incoherent, but he doesn’t do a very presentable job of *showing* it to be so. I’ve criticized his so-called argument on more than one occasion.

And the way Loftus responded was the way he usually responds to criticism, which is to keep repeating his original claim after it was shot down the first time around.

Loftus’ racehorse broke a leg on the last lap. He keeps trying to drag the fallen, crippled equine over the finish line. But heave, huff, and puff as much as he will, the dead weight of his steed is much too much for poor old Loftus.

Monday, March 26, 2007


Recently, James White blogged about an e-mail he received from an atheist fundamentalist. You should read White’s response by clicking the above—what he said was spot on and thus I have no need to repeat it below.

The person who e-mailed White is apparently the webmaster of This person (who remains anonymous throughout his website) offers $100,000.00 to anyone who can prove God exists. It’s rather easy to offer rewards when you remain anonymous and thus no one can reach you to win it. At least Randi has his name attached to his million dollar challenged for the supernatural…

But that’s really a side issue. Other side issues include the vast amount of political nonsense this person spouts too. Instead, we are going to look specifically at the way the challenge was stated and the underlying philosophy behind it to demonstrate its fallacious nature.

Firstly, we observe:

Millions of people worldwide are searching for God in their lives. I began searching at five years of age by praying to learn whether God answers prayers. At the age of thirteen I read the entire Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Since then I have read documents of other religions. I have attended services of different religions and spoken with believers of various faiths. In 1996 I began offering a reward for proof God exists. GodsReward expands the offer to reach more people to pursue the first goal to search for God.
This, of course, is written to sound as if this person is an “honest seeker” who wishes to know that God really does exist. Yet we shall quickly see that this is not the case. The first clue is found in the stipulation:

As payer of the reward, I reserve final judgment for acceptability of the proof.
This alone demonstrates that the challenge is bunk. This individual is not demanding proof of the existence of God; he is demanding that we meet whatever standard of “acceptability” he decides to enact at any given time. After all, $100,000.00 is not a trivial sum. In addition to the depravity of natural man, this person has added on the extra financial motivation to never accept anything as proof.

At the very least, an impartial third party ought to be the “final judgment”. But this webmaster is not interested in a valid challenge; he is only interested in scoring “points” with other atheists.

This individual also writes:

The second objective is to defend the individual right to believe as one chooses. In various nations religion is forced upon individuals by inclusion of religious dogma in politics and the law of the land.
The second sentence is written in a negative tone (as the rest of the paragraph bears out—it’s the second paragraph under the “Welcome to the Search for God” header); yet the author is seemingly unaware that he is actually NOT defending “the individual right to believe as one chooses” when one chooses to believe one ought to include “religious dogma in politics and the law of the land.” In short, he only defends the individual rights of those who agree with his position, while claiming a universal defense of rights.

We see that later under “Part II: Reasons Proof God Exists Is Needed.” There we read:

Each individual has the right to personal beliefs.
Firstly, such a statement is absolutely false. It is not the case that each individual has the right to personal beliefs. Just look at any third world country, for example. Or try to be a blogger in China…

So we begin with a factual error. (Note, he did not say that each person ought to have this right; he says each person does have this right.)

But let us assume that each individual does has this right, for the sake of argument. Where did this “right” come from? Presumably, given his “manmade” proof position (see below), these “rights” are nothing more than manmade rights created by different individuals. In which case, the “right” is nothing more than a consensus of various individuals. As such, people only have “the right to personal beliefs” when society allows them this right. If society does not allow them this right, they do not have this right. There is nothing “wrong” with a society who decides that people do not have these rights—it is simply what is.

This is a fundamental human right of utmost importance that deserves respect.
Really? If it is fundamental, then why wasn’t this right codified until the 17th Century? If this is so fundamental, then why isn’t it universal? Why have 99% of societies that have ever existed on this Earth not held to this “fundamental” human right? Indeed, why did it take a bunch of Christian Protestants to get this concept into popular culture?

Secondly, in what way does this right “deserve respect”? This right is just as “manmade” as any other strain of thought, including Nazism. Why does this concept “deserve respect” but not Hitler’s Final Solution?

Even concepts that have been proven by science to be false are within the right of belief of the individual.
Of course this begs the question that “science” is the final arbiter of what is true in the first place. But the truth of science changes on a daily basis. Just a few generations ago, scientists believed in phlogiston and the ether…

Secondly, the right to believe something surly must imply the right to act upon one’s belief. Yet this author has already demonstrated that if you act on the belief that others ought to believe as you do, you’re “wrong.” (The self-contradiction in this concept is impossible to make up!)

Thus, this author claims:

Assertion of God in public policy violates the right of individuals to believe there is no God, or of individuals who believe in other Gods. When unfounded beliefs guide public policy, it violates individual rights.
Yet advocating this violates the rights of those who believe we should assert God in public policy. It violates the individual rights of these individuals to deny them the ability to live as their beliefs would dictate, wouldn’t it?

It should be noted that this self-contradiction destroys the very basis for why this individual demands proof of the existence of God. Naturally, he can still have personal concerns, but his social complaints are based on self-refuting ideology.

This contradiction is only exemplified by his standard of proof. For instance, we read the following under the header “Evidence [For The Existence of God] That Will Not Be Considered”:
Manmade products of any sort will not be considered. … Manmade products include (but are not limited to):

* words, whether spoken, written, sung, or electronically generated
* art, whether painted, sculpted, or crafted by any manmade process
* fabric or other materials manufactured by manmade processes
* architecture
* scientific devices
* humans themselves
* human actions
* etc.

I’m not quite sure how one is supposed to even respond to this individual. After all, any argument that you decide to make for the existence of God entails, at the very least, words that you speak or write. One is left wondering how, exactly, we are supposed to communicate with this individual in the first place if words and even pictures are not allowed!

It also bears pointing out that under such rules, evidence of any historical claim is invalid. Imagine if I asked for proof that Mt. St. Helens erupted in 1980, but you couldn’t prove it to me using words, art, fabric, architecture, etc. How could you prove it happened? Even if you could demonstrate that an eruption did occur at some point (by, for instance, taking me to the location), that does not prove it happened in 1980!

In fact, with such restraints on what constitutes proof it is impossible to prove anything aside from the fact that this radical skepticism fails miserably.

In short, all this fundamentalist atheist has done is set up a fictional challenge with rigged rules that serves to disprove his own philosophy in the process! This is the type of game you must play, however, when you deny the existence of God.

Paradox in Christian Theology

After delay, the much anticipated book by James Anderson (based on his doctoral dissertation) is out. You can order Paradox in Christian Theology now. Having read bits and pieces of the book, I can say that it is a useful tool for the philosophical theologian. It should be included in every Christian's--esp. those interested in philosophy and theology--library. Also, atheologians should get their hands on this book since it provides an orthodox, and analytically rigorous way of looking at, and dealing with, apparent contradictions in the Bible. Everything from warrant to dialethism is looked at in this book. For the followers of Gordon Clark, no longer can they be content to sit back and snipe Van Tillians by simply quoting his claims about paradox. If they use the "footnote refutation," we can reply with a much more thorough and forceful "footnote refutation" of our own. For those interested in the logical headaches the incarnation and the trinity have provided some, this is a fresh tool to include in your kit as you seek to understand these "paradoxes" in a way that submits to the Bible as the authority. So, order now.

Here is the description:

'An accomplished engagement of important recent work in analytic philosophy of religion.' David Fergusson

How can Jesus be fully human and fully divine? How can God be Three-in-One? James Anderson develops and defends a model of understanding paradoxical Christian doctrines according to which the presence of such doctrines is unsurprising and adherence to paradoxical doctrines can be entirely reasonable. As such, the phenomenon of theological paradox cannot be considered as a serious intellectual obstacle to belief in Christianity. The case presented in this book has significant implications for the practice of systematic theology, biblical exegesis, Christian apologetics and philosophy.

James N. Anderson is a Research Fellow of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland

Sunday, March 25, 2007

MC Loftus: You Can't Touch this

John Loftus breaks back into the Blogosphere after finally recovering from his surgery. He was neutered, to be precise. What? Neutered you say? Surely you jest? No, not at all. After all, John Loftus recently claimed that he'd, "rather be treated like a dog in my wife's house than a human being in God's world!" And so given John's aversion towards hypocrisy, he opted to live up to his end of the bargain. No dog in Loftus' wife's house remains unneutered. And so what John now lacks in manhood, he certainly makes up for in principled resolve.

At any rate, we're not here to talk about John's fortitude, nor his surgery. The sickos only concerned with John's surgery can stop reading now. We're here to comment on his latest post. Of course, Steve Hays already weighed in on it below. What my post lacks in intelligence, it will be made up in its brevity. Basically, we'll see the untouchable position John has maneuvered his atheology into. Like a child on who is 50 yards away from a bigger kid who's trying to chase him yells, "Nee ner nee ner nee ner, you can't get me," John has his version of this. And it's a smash hit with atheists 'round the world. You Can't Touch This.

Notice that John can't be touched by any historical argument for Christianity. Says Loftus,

"A foreknowing and omniscient God should've easily known that history is a poor medium to reveal himself in, especially if he did so in an ancient superstitious era. If he did so, he's not too bright, for there is every reason for us to disbelieve today."

Heads John wins, tails God looses. If God is all knowing he wouldn't reveal himself in history, especially ancient history, when all the morons lived. And, if we could show that God did reveal himself, then God is stupid, and hence not omniscient, and therefore not the God of Christianity.

So far so good... for Loftus. His next maneuver is this:

"I'll go with logic over history everytime, especially a miraculous history which can be attibuted [sic] to visions."

Loftus gives the impression that he's open minded. Willing to look at arguments. As long as we can prove these metaphysical truths from logic, John will listen. One could go off on a brief detour, talking about that ancient superstitious Aristotle - who believed God made the world move by thinking about himself, or, rather, thought thinking itself - and that silly thing called "logic" that he formalized and believed in. In the words of Loftus, "Why should I believe what they did? Why? We reject many ideas that the ancients believed. There are many ancient philosophical, theological, historical and psychological ideas which we reject today." But, such a digression would make this post longer than it needs to be. So, back to my post. Loftus is willing to listen, not to history, but to logic. The search for God is a metaphysical truth, and Loftus will listen to logic here.

But, in a stroke of genius, Loftus has an ace up his sleeve! Check this maneuver out. Says Loftus,

"I am finding that logic doesn't help us much at all in the quest for metaphysical truths."

So, to avoid any historical argument, Loftus consigns it all (well, all of it that the ancient stupid people said) to the flames. But, since he has put much stock into his appearance as an "open minded, intellectually honest skeptic," he didn't want to give the impression that he has his eyes closed to any argument for God's existence, and so says that he'll accept logical arguments for these metaphysical truths. But, and this is the great part, he banks on the fact that hardly anyone remembers what he has posted about in his inane ramblings of days gone by, and so if ever confronted by a logical argument he can dismiss that as well since it "doesn't help us much at all in the quest for metaphysical truths."

Hence, we can't touch Loftus, stop, stammer time.

John Lost Us

Last Monday, Loftus told us that he was going to take a long needed break. He felt that he was wasting his time. This Sunday, he did another post:

Being the agreeable guy that I am, let me assure him that, yes, indeed, he was wasting his time, and this is no exception.

He follows his usual tactic of referring the reader to already rebutted pieces that he and his fellow Debunkers have written to prop up his current post.

“Why should I believe anything an ancient person believed?”

Well, that’s a rather sweeping dismissal. At one stroke, there goes Tacitus, Strabo, Cicero, Pliny the Elder, Pliny the Younger, Julius Caesar, Thucydides, &c.


“Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, didn’t actually see angels, he saw a vision (Luke 1:22). The women who went to the tomb of Jesus said they didn’t see angels, just a vision. (Luke 24:23).”

What Loftus is attempting to do here is to argue along the lines that Bible writers like Luke believed in visions, visions are hallucinations, the Resurrection was visionary, therefore, the Resurrection was hallucinatory.

But there are several problems with his reasoning. Loftus is assuming that optasis denotes a “vision” in the sense of a purely subjective psychological process. There are two things wrong with this:

i) That is not the only meaning of the word.

ii) He’s confusing the meaning of words with the meaning of concepts.

Let’s look at the meaning of the word:

Optasia, -as

Mal 3,2; Est 4,17w; Dn (Theodotion) 9,23; 10:1.7
“appearance” Sir 43:2; “act of appearing” Mal 3,2; “public appearance” Est 4,17w
J. Lust et al eds. A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft 1996), 2:336a

Optasia, as, he “vision, appearance”

“The two occurrences in Luke refer to the appearing of an angel.”
H. Balz & G. Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Eerdmans 2000), 2:525a

So the bare meaning of the word isn’t limited to “vision.”

And beyond the dictionary definition is the concept. Even if it were a vision, what is a vision?

A “vision trance is a state in which audio and/or visual experiences imperceptible to others are perceived by the intermediary,” D. Aune, Prophecy in Early Christianity (Eerdmans 1991), 33.

Aune also adds that “ecstasy and rationality should not be regarded as two mutually exclusive states of consciousness,” ibid. 33.

Luke is not distinguishing between an actual angelic sighting and a vision of something else.

The word he uses is synonymous with an objective appearance. The angel or angels appeared to them.

The visionary language is used because angels are ordinarily invisible.

Even more to the point, an angelophany is irrelevant to the case of the Risen Christ. For Jesus, unlike an angel, is not a discarnate spirit.

Indeed, in Lk 24, Luke goes out of his way to distinguish the Risen Christ from a spectral or ghostly apparition.

To cite visionary instances from the Gospel of Luke or Book of Acts and then superimpose that on the Resurrection account is not honest exegesis, for that is not how Luke describes the Resurrection. That is not how he meant the account to be understood.

So it’s duplicitous of Loftus to transfer the visionary category to the Resurrection by appealing to Lukan usage when that runs flat contrary to Lukan intentions.


“Ancient people would put themselves in a trance to gain divine knowledge. How often did Peter and Paul do that?”

There’s no evidence that Peter and Paul “put themselves” in a trance to gain divine knowledge.

Zecharias didn’t put himself in a trance. An angel appeared to him. The women at the tomb didn’t put themselves in a trance. The angels appeared to them.

This came from the outside. An external stimulus.

Of course, Loftus can deny that, but he cannot deny that by appealing to the NT.

“The Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon tells us that…”

Does Loftus think that this is a scholarly reference work?


“Why should anyone today believe what an ancient person was led to believe because of a dream-like trance-induced vision? How does anyone know that such visions were actually from God, especially when we have logical difficulties with Christianity that we can think through? I'll go with logic over history everytime, especially a miraculous history which can be attibuted to visions.”

So no matter what the quality or quantity of historical evidence, Loftus would reject historical testimony to a visionary mode of knowledge every single time.

Where's Protestantism In Early Church History?

In another thread, an anonymous poster writes:

"No one (and I mean no one) disputes the existence of Orthodoxy throughout the ages. An historical remnant is far less plausible (though, to be sure, not impossible)....If historical evidence alone is our guide, then there is far more evidence for the continuity of Romanism and Orthodoxy then there is for Protestantism. If, on the other hand, the argument is one that answers primarily to theological considerations, then what established theological criterion makes your position superior? And does the theological criterion have a *clear* basis in sola scripture?"

Those comments were directed to Steve Hays. But they're common sentiments, and I want to comment on the issues involved.

If the writer has Eastern Orthodoxy in mind when he refers to "Orthodoxy" in the first sentence, then I reject the concept that "No one (and I mean no one) disputes the existence of Orthodoxy throughout the ages". Any group outside of Eastern Orthodoxy that claims to be the true church, such as Roman Catholicism, would deny that Eastern Orthodoxy has existed throughout church history. They might acknowledge that Eastern Orthodoxy has some degree of continuity by means of a succession of bishops, for example, but they would maintain that the earliest bishops in such successions differed in their beliefs from the beliefs of modern Eastern Orthodoxy. They wouldn't call the earliest links in the chain "Eastern Orthodoxy". And just as Roman Catholics would make such an assessment of Eastern Orthodoxy, Eastern Orthodox would say the same about Roman Catholicism. Neither group accepts the entirety of the other group's claims about its origins. Neither group can claim that its historical roots are undisputed. And the same is true of any other such group that professes to be the true church.

If the anonymous commenter wants to say that he's only referring to a group having a degree of continuity, such as the sort of succession of bishops I referred to above, then why did he only mention "Orthodoxy"? Eastern Orthodoxy isn't the only group that traces itself back to the apostles through something like a succession of bishops.

And why should we think much of such a succession? Successions are claimed by groups that contradict each other to a significant degree in their teachings. There are significant doctrinal contradictions within single lines of succession, and Roman Catholics, for example, disagree among themselves about which bishops of Rome have been legitimate and which haven't been. The fact that people in ancient times were interested in maintaining a church in the capital of the Roman empire isn't of much significance. Christians would want there to continually be a church in such a heavily populated area of the world, and there was some significance to the city in Christian memory (the martyrdom of Paul and Peter there, etc.). The location of the Roman church would attract a lot of esteem and wealth. It's not as if the continuing existence of a church in a city like Rome is something that should impress us as highly significant. Similarly, the fact that religions like Buddhism and Islam have survived for so long isn't something that ought to impress us much. There are multiple, doctrinally inconsistent (self-inconsistent and inconsistent with others) groups that claim a succession from the apostles.

When somebody like Steve Hays refers to theological reasons for thinking that God maintained a church since the time of the apostles, I would assume that he's making a judgment based on what scripture tells us about God and the church. He would justify his conclusion by appealing to the authority of scripture, and this blog has a lot of material arguing for that authority. The anonymous poster I've quoted above makes some comments (that I didn't quote) about how Steve's interpretations of scripture would be disputed by other people, but the fact that the interpretations are disputed doesn't prove that they're wrong or that Steve can't be confident about those interpretations.

The anonymous poster claims that "An historical remnant is far less plausible", but offers no argument that would lead us to that conclusion. To begin with, why would we think that we need documentation of each individual or group involved in the remnant for belief in that remnant to be plausible? There are periods of Old Testament history for which we have no historical records of anybody faithfully following God, yet it's plausible to think that God probably had some faithful followers known to Him, but not to us.

The issue isn't whether a denomination or a highly specified system of doctrine can be traced throughout church history. For example, while people identify Protestantism by sola scriptura, I don't know of any Protestant who maintains that belief in sola scriptura is necessary for salvation or was an appropriate belief for every Christian in history. I often cite the example of Papias. He apparently didn't believe in sola scriptura, but the form of extra-Biblical tradition he held wasn't Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, for example. He believed in some extra-Biblical traditions that he received through men like Aristion and John the Elder (probably the apostle John). His rejection of sola scriptura would prevent us from considering him Protestant. But we have no reason to consider him a Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Copt, etc. either. And he doesn't have to be considered a Protestant for it to be considered plausible that he was part of a remnant of Christians preserved by God. A Protestant could even consider it plausible that many Roman Catholics, Copts, etc. have been believers and, thus, part of the church God has maintained.

When people ask about identifying a church God has preserved since the time of the apostles, they often have in mind a church with a particular degree of verifiable presence in extant historical records, visibility, and doctrinal continuity. And those assumptions often aren't stated or defended. They're just assumed. But if such assumptions are false or unverifiable, why should we accept them? Nobody reading Jeremiah 31 could have known much, from that text alone, about how God would preserve Israel in accordance with His promises mentioned in that passage. If there are multiple ways that such promises could be fulfilled, we should acknowledge our uncertainty rather than claiming to know that the promises would have to be fulfilled as we'd prefer them to be fulfilled.