Saturday, January 19, 2008

Competition In Religion

Earlier today, John Loftus posted two segments of video footage of a discussion involving Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett. The discussion is about two hours long. There are a lot of problems with the assertions and arguments made by the four participants, but I want to focus on one point made by Daniel Dennett, a point that the other three men seemed to agree with.

Around 35 minutes into the first hour, there was an exchange about competition among scientists. Supposedly, the fact that scientists compete with one another, have motives for arguing against the theories of other scientists, etc. gives science a significant advantage over religion. Daniel Dennett claimed, with emphasis, that there's "nothing like that" in religion, and the other three men indicated that they agreed, either by saying so or by gesture.

Surely they would want to revise the argument, though, upon further reflection. Not only do religions like Christianity and Islam compete with one another in the modern world, but they also competed with each other in more significant contexts in which the evidential foundations of a religion were at stake. One of the reasons why most scholars, Christian or not, accept the historicity of the empty tomb, for example, is because the evidence indicates that the earliest Jewish opponents of Christianity acknowledged the fact. Jesus was executed, and the earliest church leaders were persecuted and put to death, by competitors. As I've noted in previous discussions concerning issues like New Testament authorship and the historicity of the infancy narratives, some of the most significant evidence we have is hostile corroboration. It's not just that many ancient Jews or Romans, for example, would have been interested in arguing against Christianity, but also that many within professing Christianity - Gnostics, Marcionites, Ebionites, etc. - had reasons for wanting to dispute popular Christian beliefs. Claims such as that Jesus was a descendant of David, that His tomb was empty, or that a document was written by the apostle John, for example, were made and maintained in contexts in which people would have had the desire and means to argue effectively against such beliefs if they were false.

In the modern world, scholars working in religious fields often go through the same sort of process of competition that scientists practice. When the large majority of relevant scholars affirm the historicity of the empty tomb or the early Christians' belief that they saw the risen Christ, for example, those are conclusions that scholars have reached in an atmosphere of competition. Christianity didn't originate as a state religion that disallowed competition or as a religion that was unchallenged or uninterested in competition, and it isn't such a religion in today's world.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

His Anti-Catholic Voodoo Doll Won't Work Anymore

Answering Dave Armstrong at his own level...

Dave Armstrong points to his Triablogue voodoo doll. It won't work anymore, daddy!

Recently Steve Hays wrote a couple of posts pointing out what most would think is obvious - Dave Armstrong has no authority to offer theological or spiritual advice as if it were true. He can err just like the Reformers. Why would Catholics run to Dave for his private interpretations on various religious, spiritual, and moral issues? Perhaps he's a Catholic antirealist? He's just offering useful advice. Not to be confused with offering anything that gets at the truth. Much like a fortune cookie. Perhaps a Joel Osteen. No theology, but your best life now.

How did he respond to this eminently plausible point? By throwing another temper tantrum. The essence of his response:

"I am an importent Catholic mind, Hays! My friend's grandma says so. She even gave me meatballs for my advice. Don't take my word for it? Here's the picture!"

Well why'd you go messing with a T-blogger anyway, Dave?

We all remember what happened the lat time you messed with Steve. Or was it Gene? They both look so much alike.

This is the house that Dave built

“[Steve asked] Have his online articles received the imprimatur?”

“[Dave answered] Nope, but The New Catholic Answer Bible has…So has The Catholic Answer Bible (where I alone wrote the inserts).”

So, out of Armstrong’s extremely prolific apologetic output, the only thing he’s ever written which has received the imprimatur are the inserts to The Catholic Answer Bible.

Moving along:

“My book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism has a Forewrod by the late Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., close advisor to Pope Paul VI and also Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity. He is now being considered for sainthood.”

Notice this friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend style of argument.

If Bob likes Betty, and Betty likes Debbie, and Debbie likes okra, then Bob likes okra.

How does the fact that Hardon was a close advisor to Mother Teresa say anything about the theological pedigree of Armstrong’s book?

“But I suppose that is not sufficient. You guys require a signed letter by the pope himself, authorized by a Notary Public and witnessed by a board of 12 anti-Catholic nitwits like yourselves. Then you'll admit that I can write on behalf of the Church on Tuesdays and Thursdays on odd-numbered years, between 12:30 and 5:30 when the moon is full.”

Well, Dave, you’re getting close. I’m sure you’ve already satisfied the lunatic condition. I’m prepared to stipulate, without further ado, that Dave has been writing under a full moon.

However, it’s not quite enough to have a signed letter by the pope. We need an ex cathedra signed letter by the pope.

We’d also request some compelling evidence that the putative pope is not an anti-pope. Maybe the Avignonese papacy was the real papacy after all.

“I am on the staff of the Coming Home Network International (Facilitator of Online Apologetics and CHNI Discussion Group). As its website states:__’This lay apostolate has also received constant encouragement, from such Church leaders as His Eminence Cardinal George, Bishop Paul Dudley, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Mother Angelica of EWTN, Karl Keating of Catholic Answers, Patrick Madrid of Envoy Magazine, Thomas Howard, Dr. Scott Hahn and Fr. Michael Scanlan, TOR, President of Franciscan University of Steubenville’."

Well, Dave, that’s very revealing, although not necessarily in the way you intend.

Only two of the leaders (Cardinal George, Bishop Dubley) are members of the magisterium.

And the bare fact that they “encourage” this “lay apostolate” furnishes absolutely no evidence that either one of them has read all of your stuff, or even a fraction thereof.

BTW, does his Eminence agree with you on the curative power of hot tubs?

How does the (distant) association with Mother Angelica serve to validate your writings? To my knowledge, she’s a high school graduate with extensive experience scrubbing floors and baking bread.

She may be an admirable woman, but is she a theological expert?

And unless the Catholic church has changed it’s mind on the ordination of women, she’s not even a priest—much less a bishop.

BTW, did you become a staff-member before or after her stroke? What is her level of mental competence, much less theological competence, to evaluate your writings?

No doubt it comes in handy to have a stroke victim validate your work. Does she also sign blank checks made out to your apostolate?

“The following clergy are spiritual advisors to CHNI:__Most Rev. Gilbert I. Sheldon, Retired Bishop of Steubenville_Most Rev. Paul Dudley, Retired Bishop of Sioux Falls, SD_Fr. Raymond Bourque, O.M.I._Deacon Dominic Cerrato_Fr. John McClosky, III, S.T.D._Fr. Mitch Pacwa S.J._Fr. Benedict Groeschel C.F.R._Fr. Charles P. Connor.”

“Spiritual advisors to CHNI”? That’s at six degrees of separation from anything that you have actually written. Have you noticed that Armstrong’s logic resembles a nursery rhyme?

This is the pope,
That knew the antipope,
That knew the cardinal archbishop,
That knew the cardinal,
That knew the archbishop,
That knew the bishop,
That knew the monsignor,
That knew the priest,
That knew the monk,
That knew the nun,
That knew the deacon,
That knew the subdeacon,
That knew the subdeacon’s cousin,
That knew the layman,
That lay in the house that Dave built.

Once again, only two of these advisors are members of the magisterium. Have they read all of your stuff? How much have they read?

“Moreover, you obviously don't have a clue about express approval from the magisterium of lay Catholic ministries or apostolates in general.”

Which illustrates the duplicity of the Catholic rule of faith. On paper you can’t do without a divine teaching office, but in practice it’s every man for himself.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

When to Baptize And A Note on the "Altar Call."

From time to time, I and my fellow Baptist brethren like to discuss the timing of baptism among ourselves. Of particular concern these days is the fact that many of our churches, particularly IFBx and SBC churches have become de facto Paedobaptist churches. The SBC statistics last year showed that 70 percent of young adults ages 23-30 stopped attending church regularly for at least a year between ages 18-22. It went on to say

In most cases, the decision to leave was not planned far in advance. Only 20 percent of these "church dropouts" agree that while they were attending church regularly in high school they "planned on taking a break from church once [they] finished high school."

This is alarming for a number of reasons.

1. It demonstrates that these churches have some serious problems. Many of our churches are de facto Paedobaptist institutions. A dropout rate this high says something about what is going on in the churches. It should be of particular concern to Baptists who criticize Paedobaptist churches. In my personal experience visiting the local PCA church here regularly, they do a very good job of retaining their students compared to the average Baptist church. Maybe this is because they are highly involved with RUF, but I think there is much more to it.

2. To a certain extent, I agree that it is a product of the gospel to which many of these are "won," eg. the gospel of semi-Arminianism, decisionism, and revivalism.

On the last of these, Fide-O and Founders are both hosting discussions at this time. I refer the reader there.

3. However, I also think, based on past interactions with some folks on the net and in person that there is a tension within Baptist circles relative to the simple question, "When should we baptize?" I have at times commented on that issue in comboxes, and I'd like to develop my comments further here. I will not deal at all with the issue of Paedobaptism.

Simply put, I agree with Mark Dever on the timing of baptism.

We live in an age where folks, particularly my brothers in TX, are talking more and more about "Baptist tradition." Well, if we followed "Baptist tradition" a bit more closely, we wouldn't be a de facto Paedobaptist institution.

It is sometimes argued that we should baptize a person (of any age) relatively close to the time of their conversion,because that is the pattern we find in Acts.

1. That's true, this is the pattern we find in Acts.

2. However, I would argue that the Bible actually contains no command or example intended to direct our answer to this question.

3. Indeed, we don't choose our deacons by lot and we don't run around with holy handkerchiefs. Not every example in Acts is an example for the church to follow in its normative state. As one of my former professors, Dr. James Peterson, once said, "Some examples in the Bible are there to tell us what not to do." Others are there to show us what they did then, but not necessarily for us to do today.

4. There are those who don't want to baptize quickly and "on the spot" because they feel that it would be giving too much to the Campbellites who affirm a form of baptismal regeneration,whereby baptism is an instrumental cause. The same can be said of the Oneness crowd. Typically, these folks affirm Zwinglian view of baptism in credobaptist form, that is, baptism is a symbol, not a means of grace. Benjamin Keach, of course, would disagree. On occasion, I have encountered those who will say we should do this quickly so that those persons can be communicants and partake of the Lord's Table.

5. We all agree it is an essential part of Christian discipleship.

What are we to make of all this?

First, when I read Scriptures like Acts 2, I see that their baptism was not the instrumental cause of their regeneration/salvation. Rather it was their profession of faith. Dr. Kostenberger, I believe, notes that John's baptism was "prospective," that is to say, it's purpose was, according to Scripture itself, intended to reveal the Messiah to Israel (John 1.31). It was Christological in orientation, not an end to itself.

In Acts 2, Peter tells them to repent and be baptized? Why would this be important? Simply, baptism - an act that was Christological in orientation under John the Baptist's ministry - now took on a retrospective orientation. Baptism still has a Christological orientation. It is, in essence, depicted as their public profession of faith.

When Paul speaks of people "confessing with their mouth 'Jesus is Lord'" this would be a typical baptismal creed. The accent here is not on baptism as an instrumental cause but on their faith in publicly professing Christ - in Acts 2 - in the heart of the very city in which Jesus had just weeks beforehand been crucified, in full view of the religious authorities who immediately begin trying to persecute them.

However, the next baptismal narrative takes place in Samaria. What happens? A group is baptized, and the first false professor, Simon Magus, is included. Later, he is put out of the church by Peter, the first example of church discipline. I would also note that the subapostolic church, which was already dealing with the rise of false teachers from the previous generation (which we read about in the New Testament itself and now in their own, came to separate baptism from a profession of faith often for this very reason. They also withheld the Lord's Table from the catechumenate.

The next narrative concerns the Ethiopian Eunuch. He is baptized upon profession too. I would say this is not normative, since there was nobody else to baptize him and he was heading far from the reach of the new Way at that time.

Then we have the baptism of Cornelius and his household. Note that here, the sign of the Spirit is given prior to their baptism, a thing which did not occur in Samaria.

From these four main narratives, then what can we say about the timing of baptism?

1. Baptism is a public profession of faith in Christ alone. It signifies, for the person baptized, their own experience and their public repudiation of their past way of life and of all false gospels and systems, in their case Second Temple Judaism, the Old Covenant administration, in favor of the New Covenant.

2. Professor baptism does not always weed out false professors. Of course, we already know this.

3. Professor baptism should be done after, and not before, we can properly discern whether or not a person's profession of faith in credible. Here, by profession of faith, I do not mean full and complete or for that matter basic understanding of a standard confession of faith, though those do supply the basis of such a profession. Rather, I have in mind a very general idea of "credible profession" of faith, one that includes an understanding of basic doctrine, including justification by faith alone - particularly an understanding that their personal faith is in Christ and his merits alone, not their merits, a ecclesiastical community, etc.

4. There are some exceptions to this rule, for example, if there is no way to baptize a person except very quickly. This should not be normative, even on the mission field.

Within the trajectory of Baptist history, it is true that our forefathers often practiced close or closed communion. Why? Because they lived in a time of declension in the churches at large. Professor baptism was, therefore, for them, what it was for those gathered in Jerusalem on Pentecost. However, today, I would argue that such baptism is commonplace, so commonplace that it no longer has that significance. Rather, it's significance is more like the Paedobaptism that my Baptist forefathers witnessed.

Given that we know they view church attendance is highly indicative of the state of the heart, surely they would have much to say about the recidivism rate among the young people in SBC churches, not to mention the fact that less than half the "membership" of the SBC shows up to church on Sunday.

1. What then of the Lord's Table? Should we keep those making professions of faith but unbaptized from the Table? Baptist tradition says "Yes." I disagree. Why?

a. The accent of the NT is not on baptism - but the profession of faith itself, even in Acts 2.

b. I disagree that baptism is "the" sign of the covenant. It is, at most, "a" sign of the covenant. The Lord gave the sign of the covenant to the Lord's Table, not baptism. The proper requirement for the Lord's Table is, at a minimum, a (credible) profession of faith. Nobody in the New Testament partook of the Table and was unbaptized, but, again, the accent is on the meaning of baptism, not the act of baptism.

c. One can so fence the table that it results in little more than control freakery. I have in my library a history of the Charleston Presbytery of the Southern Presbyterians detailing the giving of communion tokens in the Antebellum period in lurid detail. This flies in the face of Scripture that, while I would agree licenses the elders of the church to fence the table by warning, does not license them to give out "communion tokens" of any kind. The Table, when we gather, is self-selecting. Scripture says "let each man..." It does not say, "You shall keep those making a credible profession but not baptized by immersion" away. That said, I believe that each local church should have its own say; it should not, in this matter, force its opinion on another. I'll also add here that the best way to fence the Table is to know your members and visitors and practice church discipline. No one should be cut off from the means of grace who is not under discipline, unless they are an unbeliever and have no way to say, "I know Christ died for me and I have appropriated His benefits by faith in Him alone." The job of the elder is to warn the people and equip the people, not hand out passes to the meal like tickets or, worse, put them under house arrest. Such actions make the eldership a paternalistic institution that varies little from that of Roman Catholic priests who hand out the wafer and keep the host, literally, under lock and key. As Steve said in August,and I second,

Since communion is a covenant sign, the only communicants should (ideally) be members of the covenant community. It would therefore be wrong for a pastor to knowingly administer communion to an open unbeliever.

However, one can easily get carried away with policing the communion rail. Various denominations begin to practice closed communion, as if each denomination held the patent to the Lord’s Supper.

And some of them become so petrified at the prospect of administering communion to the wrong person that they rarely perform communion, and put members through a screening process every time communion is scheduled. The pastor has to interview every member and issue a communion token to show that this member is preapproved to partake of communion.

All of this is well-intentioned, but it’s also an exercise in control-freakery. An otherwise valid principle as been overrefined to the point of absurdity, under the assumption that it’s better if no one rightly takes communion for fear one person will slip through the barricade and wrongly take communion.

It also assumes a very paternalistic polity, in which the elders are the official grown-ups while the laity is reduced to the rank of perpetual minors, in a state of diminished responsibility. The laity is no longer answerable for its actions. Rather, laymen are kept under curfew. They can only go outside with an ecclesiastical chaperon to escort them and keep them out of trouble.

Yet the true job of pastors is to equip the laity, and not to keep them under house arrest. Not only does this attitude keep the laity in a state of arrested spiritual and intellectual development, but it also has a corrupting influence on the clergy, for the clergy are by no means impeccable or infallible. Accountability is a two-way street.

The question may arise, "If that's how you feel about the Lord's Table, then why not baptize early since you are saying that a person should be allowed to the table who has made a credible profession of faith?" Don't those propositions pull in opposiing directions?

No, they do not.

1. Again, the Table is ultimately self-selecting. It requires a warning, not communion tokens. Also, visitors from Paedobaptist churches aren't generally there to be members of your church.

2. Baptism requires an adminstrator and is also viewed by us as "the" door, or at least "a" door to local church membership. It's requirements would seem more stringent. It is also possible to "police" baptism in a way that most Baptist churches cannot because of the way they celebrate communion.

Leaving aside any issues relative to administrator baptism and baptisms on the mission field and their relation to local church membership or sponsorship (Wade Burleson has addressed these already), I would argue that, in our present situation, because of the way we Baptists in places where the churches are already established, index baptism to church membership, we should baptize later, rather than sooner.

What does Baptist tradition,therefore, say about this? First, in the modern period, delaying baptism is common on the mission field, while Tony Hemphill (Practice of Infantile Baptism), noted that between 1977-97 there was a 250 % increase in SBC baptisms of churches under the age of six. Baptists in England tend to disapprove of baptisms at young ages in comparison to Southern Baptists.

What of the older Baptists?

According to Mark Dever ("Baptism in the Context of the Local Church" in Believer's Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, ed. by Thomas Schriener and Shawn D.Wright, p.246, footnote 24):

John Gill was brought up in a Baptist home and baptized at age 19.

Samuel Medley, was brought up in a Baptist home and baptized @ age 22.

Richard Furman was brought up in a Christian home, baptized at age 17.

J. Newton Brown, baptized age 14.

J.M. Pendleton (a name known to my Landmark brethren), baptized aged 18.

P. H. Mell, brought up in a strong Christian home, baptized @ age 18.

J.R.Graves, also brought up in a Christian home, baptized age 18.

Sylvanus D. Phelps, also brought up in a Christian home, baptized @ 18.

John A. Broadus, former SBC President and President of SBTS, baptized age 16.

Charles Fenton James, baptized @ 20 while a Confederate soldier.

Charles Spurgeon baptized his 2 sons when they were 18.

John R. Sampey, age 13.

Frank Stagg, age 11.

Dale Moody, age 12.

E.Y. Mullins, reared a Baptist in a minister's home, baptized @ age 20.

H. Wheeler Robinson, brought up by a Christian mother, baptized @ age 16.

I humbly submit that we should baptize, at this point in Baptist history, prudently, given the current state of the churches. Each church should decide this matter for itself. Just be certain you are not conflating a biblical example with a biblical command. Those who are de facto Paedobaptist churches should repent immediately. It is no shameful thing to put off baptism from a profession of faith for some time, for persons of any age, as long as it is recognized that baptism is an essential part of Christian discipleship. I think the Lord would rather us be careful than careless. We have been careless far too long. Let us not, however, run to the absolute polar opposite and put it off as if it is not at all important,for that would be even more careless.

One more thing - a suggestion. Many of us Reformed/Sovereign Grace Baptists are often chided for not practicing an "inviation," to wit,the altar call. I would suggest that your gathering around the Lord's Table on Sunday is a perfect time to do this, if your church is of a size that allows for it. I've seen this done with up what appeared to be about a hundred people. It could easily be done in larger churches if you had more than one aisle.

Brother David Rogers will like this idea. Practice, if you do not already, for a change, common cup communion. Segue from your sermon to, ideally, a baptism if you have folks who need to be baptized. So, you'll need to do whatever it is you do before baptism to schedule that event. If there is no baptism, segue to the Lord's Table. Fence your table through your explanation of the elements. Tie your sermon into your hosting of the Table too. Then, have all those who are believers walk the aisle if they are able (take the elements to those who are physically unable). Ask unbelievers to remain seated. If you choose to close your Table to the unbaptized, then do so. As I said, each church should make its own decisions in that regard. If you practice close communion proper, ask the non-members to remain seated. This will be your "altar call."

Notice that it turns the idea of the altar call on its head, so to speak. Typically, the altar call is made to those who need to "make a decision." It is used for everything from receiving new members to making professions of faith, to asking the elders to pray for you.

Folks, the Lord's Table, like baptism, is also a public testimony. We sometimes forget that. The churches have gathered around a table since the beginning of their common worship. This table is what is often called the "altar." Indeed, do we not already place the elements upon it when we gather around the Table? Put it to good use. Instead of passing round some crackers and little cups, have your people actually walk the aisle and do a proper altar call. Make their walking the aisle a testimony to the unbelievers (or any others if you so choose) present. Paul said this was a testimony of the Lord's death, burial, and resurrection, and His coming, for it is to be done until he returns.

Won't this make the unbelievers feel uncomfortable? Yes, it probably will. It should make them ask questions. It should "provoke them to jealousy" as it were. We are accused of not practicing the altar call. True enough for many of us, but maybe the real problem is the already improper use of the altar call, not simply its abuse. I would suggest that it is for the members of the church, and the most proper way to practice it as a tool for evangelism is this way, not be having the unbeliever take a stroll to the front as if walking the aisle or making a decision constitutes conversion, but having your members do so to testify to the unbelievers around them. Note, if you choose to have only the properly baptized participate, not simply those who are professing believers, then you can also use this as a testimony with respect to Christian discipleship in baptism (be sure to include this in your explanation of the Table if you do so). The choice is yours and your church's to make.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

More on Natural Selection

It is rare that an anonymous commenter will write something worth responding to, but one such anonymous comment did occur here. Unfortunately, the other anonymous commenters went the usual path of obstruction. I will therefore first post the entire relevant comment so you don’t have to suffer, and then refute it.

Anonymous said:

Natural selection is really not such a hard concept to "get". I am no scientist, and yet I can see why a pack of wolves charging a herd of caribous will preferably go after the weaker individuals, hence reducing their chances to pass on their genes to the next generations. It’s a logical behavior motivated by the harsh requirements of their subsistence. (No need to invoke a mysterious force behind it.) Changing environmental conditions, including competition with other predators and preys (who themselves keep evolving) will keep changing the parameters of the equation, and lead to fortune reversals. For example, under certain conditions, it may be advantageous for a given species to become larger. Should the environment change (e.g., isolation of a population from the mainland), the opposite may become true. The fact that natural selection favors one evolution trend under certain conditions, and another (perhaps opposite one) under other conditions, hardly makes it irrelevant.

To go back to the moth example, maybe it’s true that natural selection will lead to the extinction of the slow white ones, given the evolutionary pressure they are facing (see the dodo for a real life example). But let’s not forget that it’s also natural selection that caused them to be slow and white in the first place. They are now at a disadvantage simply because something has changed in their environment. Being fast and dark is temporarily the winning combination of attributes, until something else changes yet again.

As for the relative stability of species, I would venture that fitness to a particular environment is always a matter of optimization under (many) constraints, and the capacity to adapt is one of critical components of success. Many species have become too "perfect" for their own good, and ended up extinct.

First off, I would agree that Natural Selection is not a hard concept to “get” but that is precisely because, as my original argument stated, Natural Selection is trivial. In fact, Darwinists play on their loose defining of this term to their advantage (and we see many examples of this in Anonymous’s post). But let us survey some of the popularist Darwinists. First, let us consult the glossary that Mark Ridley has in his textbook, Evolution to give us the starting framework (note, in all quotes that follow, the italics is in the original):

natural selection The process by which the forms of organisms in a population that are best adapted to the environment increase in frequency relative to less well adapted forms over a number of generations (Ridley, 2004 p. 686).
This leads us to look at the definition of “population” which is:

population A group of organisms, usually a group of sexual organisms that interbreed and share a gene pool (Ripley 2004, p. 687).
Compare this to the definition for fitness:

fitness The average number of offspring produced by individuals with a certain genotype, relative to the number produced by individuals with other genotypes. When genotypes differ in fitness because of their effects on survival, fitness can be measured as the ratio of a genotype’s frequency among the adults divided by its frequency among individuals at birth (Ripley 2004, p. 684).
Now these definitions are fairly dry, but they serve an important purpose. First, they are about as precise as you will ever see a Darwinist define the terms. But how precise is that? Look at the definition for Natural Selection once more. There is nothing in that definition that is inconsistent with Creationism. All Natural Selection is, according to Ripley, is when one population (which is a shared gene pool) increases in number (frequency) because it is the most adapted to the environment while maladapted organisms decrease.

And this is a problem for Creationism because…?

This definition will hardly do for the Darwinist to stake his claims. Let us therefore look at what Ernst Mayr wrote:

Almost all of those who opposed natural selection failed to realize that it is a two-step process. Not realizing this, some opponents have called selection a process of chance and accident, while others have called it deterministic. The truth is that natural selection is both.

At the first step, consisting of all the processes leading to the production of a new zygote (including meiosis, gamete formation, and fertilization), new variation is produced. Chance rules supreme at this step, except that the nature of the changes at a given gene locus is strongly constrained.

At the second step, that of selection (elimination), the "goodness" of the new individual is constantly tested, from the larval (or embryonic) stage until adulthood and its period of reproduction. Those individuals who are most efficient in coping with the challenges of the environment and in competing with other members of their population and with those of other species will have the best chance to survive until the age of reproduction and to reproduce successfully (Mayr 2001, p. 119).
First I must note that if it is true that “[a]lmost all of those who opposed natural selection failed to realize that it is a two-step process” it is equally true that Ripley failed to realize this. In reality, Mayr is synthesizing two aspects of Darwinism together and fusing it all under the term Natural Selection, which is improper. Only the last paragraph of what Mayr wrote actually deals with Natural Selection. That is, selection is a winnowing process; the “first step” Mayr proposes is actually a separate entity, namely chance mutation.

But what is most interesting about this quote is the fact that Mayr seeks to demonstrate that Natural Selection is “deterministic.” And this deterministic pressure is on every stage of the organism, from larva (or fetal) up through reproduction. However, just 22 pages later, Mayr writes:

Much of the differential survival and reproduction in a population are not the result of selection, but rather of chance. Chance operates at every level in the process of reproduction, beginning with the crossing-over of parental chromosomes during meiosis to the survival of the newly formed zygotes. Furthermore, potentially favorable gene combinations are undoubtedly often eliminated by indiscriminate environmental forces such as floods, earthquakes, or volcanic eruptions before natural selection has had the opportunity to favor specific genotypes (Mayr 2001, p. 141).
So which is it? Is it deterministic, or is it chance? Darwinists are hardly clear on this issue, so it’s no wonder their followers cannot speak cogently on it. One thing is certain: Natural Selection cannot be teleological!

Another widespread erroneous view of natural selection must also be refuted: Selection is not teleological (goal-directed). Indeed, how could an elimination process be teleological? Selection does not have a long-term goal. It is a process repeated anew in every generation (Mayr 2001, p. 121).
(Note that this quote on page 121 demonstrates that Mayr is fully aware that Natural Selection is only “an elimination process” and not his two-step process he claimed on page 119.)

So, while Mayr seeks to synthesize two aspects together under the term Natural Selection when it suits him, he is quick to keep them separate when it does not suit him to combine the ideas.

With this in mind, let us return once again to Anonymous’s comments. He said:

I am no scientist, and yet I can see why a pack of wolves charging a herd of caribous will preferably go after the weaker individuals, hence reducing their chances to pass on their genes to the next generations.
I assume that anonymous meant the reduction in chances to pass on genes to the next generation occurs for the “weaker” caribou and not the wolves that pursue them…

In any case, the language of this sentence requires us to ask an immediate question. What does this term “weaker” mean?

It is actually wrong for Darwinists to use the term “stronger” or “weaker” in describing organisms during the process of evolution. In evolution, we are only interested in one thing: the fitness of an organism. The fitness of an organism has nothing to do with ideas of strength (reread the definition provided above) but is only about reproductive success. Indeed, if it did refer to strength and weakness then Darwinism would be teleological after all. It would have a progression. Yet Gould points out:

Darwin waged such a long-standing internal battle over the idea of progress. He found himself in an unresolvable bind. He recognized that his basic theory of evolutionary mechanism--natural selection--makes no statement about progress. Natural selection only explains how organisms alter through time in adaptive response to changes in local environments--"descent with modification," in Darwin's words. Darwin identified this denial of general progress in favor of local adjustment as the most radical feature of his theory. To the American paleontologist (and former inhabitant of my office) Alpheus Hyatt, Darwin wrote on December 4, 1872: "After long reflection, I cannot avoid the conviction that no innate tendency to progressive development exists." (Gould, 1989 p. 257)
Therefore, it is quite improper for the Darwinist to use terms like “weaker” to refer to those who die out, for that term implies progress, which Darwinism cannot do. However, Darwinists constantly slip into this error.

So we see that what is really going on is that predators must go after those animals that are less fit. But how do we know which animals are less fit?

Well, fitness is defined as those animals that survive to produce offspring. So the only way to tell if an animal is less fit is if it dies before it produces offspring.

Of course, we could use a different term. We could say that those that die are “less adapted” to their environment. And how do we determine which organism is most adapted?

Adaptation is a completely a posteriori phenomenon for a Darwinian, that is, it is based on the inductive assessment of facts. In every generation, all individuals that survive the process of elimination are de facto "adapted" and so are their properties that enabled them to survive. Elimination does not have the "purpose" or the "teleological goal" of producing adaptation; rather, adaptation is a by-product of the process of elimination (Mayr 2001, p. 150).
This, however, leads to an immediate problem, one that Gould recognized even if Mayr didn’t:

Arguments that propose adaptive superiority as the basis for survival risk the classic error of circular reasoning. Survival is the phenomenon to be explained, not the proof, ipso facto, that those who survived were "better adapted" than those who died. This issue has been kicking around the courtyards of Darwinian theory for more than a century. It even has a name--the "tautology argument" (Gould, 1989 p. 236)
Note that Gould was a Darwinist and yet he made the same claims that I have made. If survival is the proof of adaptation, then we are left with a tautology. Gould then informs us of how we can avoid this problem:

In fact, the supposed problem has an easy resolution, one that Darwin himself recognized and presented. Fitness--in this context, superior adaptation--cannot be defined after the fact by survival, but must be predictable before the challenge by an analysis of form, physiology, or behavior. (Gould, 1989 p. 236).
Note first that we have to redefine the term “fitness” to no longer mean “The average number of offspring produced by individuals with a certain genotype, relative to the number produced by individuals with other genotypes.” No, now we define it as “superior adaptation” which is a rather convenient way to resolve a problem—define it away! But note even if we grant this, Natural Selection must therefore become “predictable.” That is, we must be able to predict beforehand “by an analysis of form, physiology, or behavior” which organisms would survive.

I must ask: how does what Gould write differ from what I wrote in my original post?

In any case, Gould immediately admits:

But if we face the Burgess fauna honestly, we must admit that we have no evidence whatsoever--not a shred--that losers in the great decimation were systematically inferior in adaptive design to those who survived. Anyone can invent a plausible story after the fact. For example, Anomalocaris, though the largest of Cambrian predators, did not come up a winner. So I could argue that its unique nutcracker jaw, incapable of closing entirely, and probably working by constriction rather than tearing apart of prey, really wasn't as adaptive as a more conventional jaw made of two pieces clamping together. Perhaps. But I must honestly face the counterfactual situation. Suppose that Anomalocaris had lived and flourished. Would I not then have been tempted to say, without any additional evidence, that Anomalocaris had survived because its unique jaw worked so well? If so, then I have no reason to identify Anomalocaris as destined for failure. I only know that this creature died--and so, eventually, do we all. (Gould, 1989 p. 236-237).
So even granting everything in the redefinition, the Darwinist is not helped out at all.

Once more we see that Darwinists play shell games with the term “Natural Selection.” It means one thing in one context, but it evolves to mean something else when they need it to mean something else. There is no precision in the term Natural Selection (because a precise term neuters it—a precise definition of Natural Selection is agreeable to the Creationist, after all!).

Now that we have seen this, the rest of Anonymous’s comment falls in short order. But to be complete, let us go through it now:

For example, under certain conditions, it may be advantageous for a given species to become larger.
This is a tacit admission that we are concerned with fitness, not whether an organism is “stronger” or “weaker.” After all, what is advantageous in one environment is not in another. Yet if this is the case, then Natural Selection must remain a tautology: those organisms that survive are those that survive. There is nothing of substance to Natural Selection after this admission by our anonymous commenter.

The fact that natural selection favors one evolution trend under certain conditions, and another (perhaps opposite one) under other conditions, hardly makes it irrelevant.
The use of the term “favors” in the above is smuggling teleology in through the back door. There is no consciousness in Natural Selection. It cannot favor anything. Instead, we only have “certain animals survive in certain environments, and we call this Natural Selection.” Very illuminating…

To go back to the moth example, maybe it’s true that natural selection will lead to the extinction of the slow white ones, given the evolutionary pressure they are facing (see the dodo for a real life example). But let’s not forget that it’s also natural selection that caused them to be slow and white in the first place.
Again, only objects that exist can “cause” anything. Natural Selection is not an object. It does not have any existence. It doesn’t cause anything. Saying Natural Selection “caused them to be slow…” is to once again attempt to smuggle teleology in through the backdoor. Everyone knows that teleology is there, but to admit it is to deny Darwinism. That is why we have to smuggle this stolen concept in.

As for the relative stability of species, I would venture that fitness to a particular environment is always a matter of optimization under (many) constraints, and the capacity to adapt is one of critical components of success. Many species have become too "perfect" for their own good, and ended up extinct.
Except the reason I brought up the stability of species was to demonstrate that even granting Darwinist views of Natural Selection as an actual entity that works in nature, it doesn’t mean Darwinism is true. Darwinism has far greater hurdles to mount, and Darwinists use the trivial portions of their theory as the capital for assuming the rest.

Indeed, allow me to propose an analogy of how Darwinism works. Suppose that Chuck Darwin, Charles’s great-great-great-great-great grandson, read a book by Tommy Malthus entitled “An Essay on the Principal of Physical Motion.” In Tommy’s essay, he provides overwhelming evidence that Newton’s Laws of Motion are correct, specifically noting that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Tommy proposes that this means when you step on the accelerator of your car, the tires of your car are actually pushing the Earth backwards.

Chuck examines his vehicle and sees that it is so. Then he realizes something else and makes a connection no one else has done yet. The Earth is rotating, see. But why is it rotating?

Well, if every force has an equal and opposite reaction, then it is most certainly possible that if you had enough cars accelerating over enough time in the same direction, a stationary Earth would eventually begin to spin.

Chuck pens a book entitled: “On The Origin of Earth’s Rotation by Means of Vehicular Acceleration.” In this book, he proposes that over the last several billion years, there have been cars that always go in the same direction which provide just enough kick to get the Earth moving at the rate it is currently spinning.

Naturally, there are skeptics. Chuck is not dissuaded. “Park a car on gravel and accelerate. You will see the gravel spray out behind the vehicle.” And indeed it is so. Of course, we cannot test the entire Earth for this…but that is a simple extrapolation from the available test. Soon, Chuck’s theory is accepted by every scientist. After all, if all the elements were just right, the theory would actually accomplish what it says. And we have scientific proof in the form of watching cars accelerate right now that is consistent with Chuck’s theory. And to top it all off, the theory is based on Newton’s laws which only the Einsteinian fundamentalists have any problems with!

And so in the space of just a few generations, Chuckians use “evidence” that is trivial to prove a theory that is absurd. So goes the course of science…

My God is More Sovereign Than Your God!

Perry Robbinson states,

"First, a Voluntaristic view of God is far more sovereign than your view of God since he is not constrained or limited by his character."


A god that can make a squared circle is far more sovereign (and omnipotent) than your god since he is not constrained by laws of logic.

A god that can kill himself is far more sovereign (and omnipotent) than your god since he's not constrained by his necessary nature.

A god that can make the morning star and the evening star refer to two different stars is far more sovereign (and omnipotent) than your god since he's not constrained by meaning.

A god that can lie is for more sovereign (and omnipotent) than your god since he's not constrained by pesky moral rules.

Monday, January 14, 2008

"The Real McCain Record"

The e-Father ad litem

Replies to Questions on Catholic Teaching Regarding Contraception and Sexual Morality

Compiled from my replies to questions on the CHNI Discussion Board, where I am a moderator.

Question: Why are Catholics treating Dave Armstrong as their spiritual advisor? Why aren’t they going to their parish priest for spiritual guidance?

When is Armstrong going to set up a Dial-a-Dave hotline so that he can function in his self-appointed capacity as the e-Father at Large? When is he going to erect his own Tower of Power, just like ORU, where Catholics around the world can turn to their e-Father ad litem for pastoral counseling.

Trivially True

A few years ago, I went to The Denver Museum of Nature and Science with my cousin, although truth in advertising ought to render the name The Denver Temple for Naturalistic Humanism. In the evolution corner of this temple, they had a computer running a game that was designed to teach Natural Selection. The game was simple: you start with about a dozen moths. Some of the moths were slow, some were fast. Some were dark and some were bright. These moths fluttered around the screen and the person who played the game got to be the predator “eating” moths.

Most people caught the slow bright moths. After about half the population was “eaten”, the remaining population randomly bred and the characters were passed on based on Mendel’s genetic theories. Then a new generation came forth and you got to eat more moths.

After a time, the slow bright moths went extinct and you’d be left with a bunch of fast dark moths. This would prove Natural Selection.

Except that my cousin and I knew that this was what the game wanted, so we purposely killed the fast dark moths. By the end of the game, we were left with a bunch of slow bright moths. But have no fear. Our version of events proved Natural Selection too.

How’s that? Because we, as predators, selected against the fast dark moths just as much as the average predator selected against slow bright moths.

There is a problem with this kind of “proof” for a theory. A theory that “proves” everything really proves nothing. It becomes an irrelevant factor.

For a simple example of this, consider the equation: x + n = y + n. In this case, we have a “like term” in both sides of the equation. As anyone familiar with algebra knows, we can cancel like terms out because they are irrelevant to the rest of the equation. If the left side has a “+ n” and the right side has a “+ n”, the “+ n” gives us no meaningful information for determining the answer to the problem. If we subtract “+ n” from both sides, we get the simple x = y.

Now suppose that “x + n = y + n” represents a theory that I was going to argue was valid. If my argument consisted of proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that “+ n” was true, does my argument provide any meaningful substance? Obviously not. The “+ n” factor is trivial. It can be true (or false for that matter) and it has no impact on the rest of the theory, because in the end “+ n” cancels itself out.

The reason I bring this up is to make what is a rather obvious, yet easily missed, point. Darwinists are quick to point to Natural Selection as their explanation for what drives Darwinism. However, the way they use Natural Selection renders the term trivial. We return to my original example of the moth program. It is true that selection occurs when the average person kills off the slow bright moths. But it is likewise true that selection occurs when I kill off the fast dark moths. In both sides of this equation, selection occurs. But the fact of selection is irrelevant to which species lives and which dies in that computer program. It does not matter if a choice is made; it matters what the determining factors of that selection are.

This game was supposed to analogize natural functions by using human selection as a pattern of natural selection (no one can fault the programmers as Darwin used the same analogy). But the issue of selection is not relevant, for if it were then it would be impossible for me to go against the outcome. That is, if Natural Selection were not trivial, we would be able to say “The slow bright moths will go extinct” and no matter what they would go extinct. But because I can choose to kill off the fast dark moths, this result is not guaranteed. To then say, “That’s Natural Selection too” is to stretch the term to the point of breaking.

If we use Gould’s concept of “rerunning life’s tape” a second time, we see that Natural Selection is trivial in nature too. If Natural Selection is a viable theory, we must be able to predict beforehand which populations will survive any specific event, and which will not. It is not enough to slap the label “Natural Selection” after the fact. To be a meaningful experiment, we must be able to predict. (This is basic science and should not be controversial.)

But we cannot predict which species will survive and which will not. Even in theory, we cannot determine which fossils would survive and which would not given a “do over” at a cataclysmic event. To say, “No matter what result occurs, that process is called Natural Selection” is to relegate Natural Selection to a completely irrelevant term. This doesn’t necessarily make Natural Selection false, it just makes it trivial.

Put it this way. Darwinists use Natural Selection as an explanatory theory. That is, the reason that one organism lives and another dies is because of Natural Selection. But in the above we have seen that if this were true, we could use Natural Selection to predict which would live and which would not. But that is not even possible in principal. Therefore, Natural Selection cannot be explanatory for it is claimed true regardless of which organism lives and which organism dies. If it is not explanatory, it can only be definitional (that is: “The process by which an organism lives while another organism dies out is known as Natural Selection”). But definitions are tautologies, not explanations.

In the end, Natural Selection cannot be an explanation for why any organism survives. It becomes the “+ n” in the equation, for it is tautologically true regardless of anything else. Natural Selection therefore may be true, but it will remain trivial. Indeed, under this process Natural Selection is true in Creationism and Intelligent Design as well as Darwinism. Since Natural Selection is not explanatory under this system and instead is a definition that those organisms that survive are those that survive, it remains trivial.

Perhaps the greatest evidence of this lies in the fact that while a Darwinist may often claim, “Darwinism is just as proven as Einstein’s theory of Relativity” you will never hear a physicist say, “Einstein’s theory of Relativity is just as proven as Darwinism.” The reason? A physicist can say, “If Einstein is true, light will bend when it passes through a gravity field; and it will not bend if it is false.” There is only one possible outcome, and we can see that light does indeed bend in gravity. On the other hand, the Darwinist says, “If organism X lives, it is Natural Selection; but if it dies it is Natural Selection too.”

There is a world of difference between the two.

Geza Vermes On The Infancy Narratives

In a post late last year, I mentioned that I had ordered, but not yet read, Geza Vermes' book on the infancy narratives, The Nativity (New York: Doubleday, 2006). I recently finished reading it.

Vermes is an Oxford scholar, particularly known in the field of Jewish studies and for his work on the Dead Sea Scrolls, and he's a former Roman Catholic priest who left Catholicism around fifty years ago. The back flap of the book refers to him as "one of the world's leading authorities on Judaism in the age of Jesus...the first Professor of Jewish Studies at Oxford, where he is now Professor Emeritus".

He refers to his book as thorough (p. 16), one that takes into account "all the relevant information" from a large variety of fields (pp. 16-17), and "painstaking" (p. 145). But the book is only 172 pages long, has only two pages of endnotes (pp. 159-160), has a two-page bibliography characterized by liberal and moderate sources (pp. 161-162), makes many highly dubious assertions without supporting argumentation, makes little effort to interact with conservative scholarship, and doesn't break any significant new ground.

The book's prologue refers to the infancy narratives as only "very slightly" historical (p. xv). He later refers to the elements that have "a high degree of probability" as "the names and the place of residence of the child and the parents, but the date of birth could only be approximate, under Herod, and the locale controverted, Bethlehem according to tradition, but more likely Nazareth." (pp. 155-156)

The second chapter in the book is one of the most negative assessments of the conservative Christian view of the infancy narratives that I've ever seen. Vermes' background seems to be relevant here, given some of his comments about the Roman Catholic Church and its scholars. The remainder of the book isn't as bad, but the second chapter does give us a view of the mindset that's behind Vermes' more balanced comments elsewhere.

In that second chapter, we're told that "religious authority dislikes contradictions in its authoritative texts" (pp. 11-12). Thus, "efforts have been deployed from the early centuries of the Christian era by the official revisers and commentators of the Gospels to eliminate the manifest discrepancies between the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke" (p. 12). While that sort of language might suggest widespread textual changes or scenarios from a Dan Brown novel, the example Vermes goes on to cite in the next sentence is Tatian's Diatessaron. But a gospel harmony like the Diatessaron (and many others have been produced and continue to be produced) doesn't "revise" the gospels or "eliminate" the differences among them. Gospel harmonies have circulated along with the gospels themselves. They coexist. And Tatian wasn't much of a "religious authority".

The reason why Vermes can criticize the differences between Matthew and Luke is because those differences were preserved by copyists and other "religious authorities" who were mostly honest in the transmission process. As Bart Ehrman notes, "It is probably safe to say that the copying of early Christian texts was by and large a 'conservative' process. The scribes - whether non-professional scribes in the early centuries or professional scribes of the Middle Ages - were intent on 'conserving' the textual tradition they were passing on. Their ultimate concern was not to modify the tradition, but to preserve it for themselves and for those who would follow them. Most scribes, no doubt, tried to do a faithful job in making sure that the text they reproduced was the same text they inherited." (Misquoting Jesus [San Francisco, California: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005], p. 177)

What's Vermes' objection, then? As I've noted elsewhere, harmonization is a common practice in historical research. The ancient Christians accurately preserved the text of the infancy narratives, and they offered some possible harmonizations of what they considered to be two historically credible accounts.

Later in the second chapter, Vermes criticizes "exegetes [who] have been happy to settle the problem of the virginal conception by simply calling it a miracle" (pp. 12-13). We're not told in what manner the virginal conception is a "problem" or why viewing it as a miracle is supposed to be unacceptable. The suggestion seems to be that belief in a virginal conception would be acceptable only if the event could be explained naturalistically. Why should we expect a naturalistic explanation? Vermes makes similar comments elsewhere. We're told that the "fabulous" elements of the infancy narratives "force" us to conclude that the accounts aren't historical (p. 155). Such assertions are repeated over and over by Vermes, but without any justification.

He goes on to criticize "self-appointed defenders of Gospel truth" who engage in "exegetical acrobatics" (p. 14). After mentioning C.E.B. Cranfield as a Protestant example, he comments that "For scholarly Catholic ecclesiastics equivocation seems to be the name of the game." (pp. 14-15) Who is he referring to? The examples he gives are John Meier and Raymond Brown, neither one a conservative. I would recommend that readers compare Brown's 752-page book on the infancy narratives to Vermes' 172-page book. The contrast is stark, not only in terms of size (Brown's book has larger pages and smaller print, in addition to a far larger number of pages), but also in terms of quality. Compare their arguments on the virginal conception, for example, the primary issue Vermes cites in his criticism of Brown. Brown was a liberal who was wrong on many points, but his work on the infancy narratives was much better than Vermes' book on the subject.

He later returns to his criticism of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in a discussion of Joseph Fitzmyer's treatment of the virginal conception in the gospel of Luke. Commenting on Fitzmyer's abandonment of the position that Luke's gospel doesn't refer to a virginal conception, Vermes writes, "Some may think that it was a pity, but quite understandable during the papacy of John Paul II." (p. 68)

What kind of scholarship does Vermes approve of, then? In the paragraph after his comments about Raymond Brown, he writes:

"Other Christian scholars have felt no reluctance to call a spade a spade. In the considered judgment of Rudolf Bultmann, one of the greatest New Testament exegetes of the last century, the original Semitic report of Matthew's Infancy Gospel contained nothing about the virgin birth. It was a motif unheard of in the Jewish environment of the age, he stated, and it was first added to the Gospel account in the course of its transformation in Hellenism. More recently, one of the most respected Jesus scholars, E.P. Sanders, also asserted without the slightest hesitation that the birth narratives are 'the clearest cases of invention' in the Gospels. As for the saying, 'I wouldn't put it past God to arrange a virgin birth if He wanted, but I very much doubt if He would,' it is attributed, genuine or apocryphal, to David Jenkins, the outspoken former Anglican bishop of Durham." (pp. 15-16)

Why should anybody find those claims by Bultmann, Sanders, and Jenkins convincing? Concerning whether Bultmann was "one of the greatest New Testament exegetes of the last century", see the discussions of his work in Richard Bauckham's Jesus And The Eyewitnesses (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006) and Paul Eddy and Gregory Boyd's The Jesus Legend (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2007). Did Bultmann have a copy of an earlier version of Matthew's gospel that doesn't refer to a virgin birth? No. Do the early Christian and non-Christian sources tell us that there was such an "original Semitic report of Matthew's Infancy Gospel"? No, they don't. Vermes will later appeal to a series of dubious, highly speculative scenarios in which Matthew's sources and the author of Luke's gospel initially didn't believe in a virgin birth. Compare Vermes' assertions on such issues to the better arguments offered against Vermes' position by Raymond Brown and other less liberal scholars. Vermes' appeal to the speculations of Bultmann tells us something about his mindset.

He repeats many of the oldest and weakest objections to the infancy narratives without even acknowledging the counterarguments, much less refuting them. He'll sometimes acknowledge significant evidence supporting the historicity of the infancy narratives, but without following that evidence to its conclusion.

We're told that the authors of the two gospels probably had access to genealogical records related to Jesus, and that they probably consulted such records, but that they didn't intend to convey a historical account in their genealogies (pp. 35-37). We're not told why they would be seeking genealogical records to "prove" Davidic descent (p. 36) if "the aim pursued by Matthew and Luke in compiling their genealogies was doctrinal, and not historical" (pp. 35-36). Apparently, the gospel authors were writing in a fictional genre, yet they wanted to consult genealogical records in the process of writing that fiction in order to prove that Jesus fulfilled a prophecy that was expected to have a historical fulfillment. Vermes' mixture of fictional and nonfictional elements doesn't seem to make sense, and he makes little effort to clarify his train of thought.

The book repeatedly uses such shallow, and sometimes inconsistent, argumentation. Vermes repeatedly accuses Matthew of distorting the Old Testament texts he cites, on the one hand, while claiming, on the other hand, that Matthew made up stories about Jesus to fulfill those texts he distorted. For example:

"However, in the light of Matthew's previous record of manipulating the scriptural text, it is more likely that the Greek wording employed in this passage was his own handiwork. In that case one may infer that just as the parthenos-virgin formula of the Greek Isaiah 7:14 prompted the story of the virginal conception, the Hosea text thus understood supplied the inspiration for the story of the flight of the infant Jesus to Egypt. Jesus had to be transferred to Egypt in order to allow God to summon his Son from there to his home country." (pp. 107-108)

But, then, why did Matthew allegedly distort the text to begin with? If there was no Jewish expectation that the Messiah would go to and come out of Egypt, if the text of Hosea didn't refer to any such event, and if Matthew didn't think that such a thing actually happened in Jesus' life, then what was Matthew doing?

Vermes argues that the gospel authors were writing in a non-historical genre, yet he fails to demonstrate that the infancy narratives were initially read in that manner. To the contrary, he repeatedly acknowledges that the early sources took the narratives as historical accounts (pp. 91-92, 94-95). He'll often refer to how something in the infancy narratives "obviously" isn't historical (p. 92), but will make no effort to explain why the ancient sources, both Christian and non-Christian, interpreted the narratives differently than he does. He claimed that he would address "all the relevant information assembled from the parallel Jewish documents, biblical and postbiblical, and from the sources of classical literature and history" (pp. 16-17). But he has little to say about the large majority of the external evidence that runs contrary to his conclusions.

There are far too many other problems with the book for me to discuss them in detail. I'll give several more representative examples.

He assigns too much weight to the small minority of professing Christians in antiquity who denied the virgin birth, yet he doesn't attempt an explanation for why there was such widespread acceptance of the doctrine, including among churches around the world that had recently been in contact with the apostles. He mentions the rejection of the virgin birth among the Ebionites without acknowledging that other Ebionites accepted the doctrine (pp. 61-62).

In the process of arguing that Luke's gospel doesn't refer to a virginal conception, he dismisses Luke 3:23 with the comment that the passage "in the context also appears as another patent retouch made on second thoughts" (p. 69). He doesn't cite any manuscripts or other evidence to support his conclusion, but refers the reader back to a discussion on p. 33. What do we find there? We find another assertion without evidence (pp. 33-34), accompanied by a reference to further discussion in chapter 5 (the chapter from which I quoted at the beginning of this paragraph). On p. 33, Vermes refers to the comment in Luke 3:23 as "patently secondary". On p. 69, he refers to it as "another patent retouch made on second thoughts". I doubt that many people would expect a source such as a family genealogical record to discuss a virgin birth. But if Luke was using such a family record and knew that there was a virginal conception, then how would his mentioning of the virginal conception be "secondary" in a problematic manner? If we're supposed to believe that it was secondary in the sense that the original gospel of Luke didn't include it, then we'll need more than Vermes' cross-referenced assertions to justify that conclusion.

He misreads John 7:42 (p. 80) without interacting with the sort of data I discuss here.

He misrepresents what the Protevangelium Of James says about the census of Luke 2 (p. 85).

Like so many other critics of the infancy narratives, he speculates that vague similarities between the infancy narratives and some extra-Biblical literature of an unhistorical nature should be taken as evidence that the infancy narratives are similarly unhistorical. Extra-Biblical accounts that don't associate a star with somebody's birth are compared to Matthew 2 anyway if they involve some sort of "light portent" (p. 96). Thus, a Jewish tradition about Moses' house being filled with light when he was born is compared to Matthew's account of the star of Bethlehem (p. 96). Vermes will acknowledge that Jewish sources around the time of Jesus didn't associate stars with the births of significant figures, but he'll then go on to appeal to pagan sources in order to find some sort of precedent (p. 97). Vermes will look to Jewish or pagan sources, before or after the time of the gospels, pointing to either close or distant parallels, in order to provide a potential source from which the authors of the infancy narratives borrowed.

He comments that "Dreams seem to be essential in infancy tales" (p. 114), but Luke has none.

He repeats Raymond Brown's erroneous argument for discontinuity between the infancy narratives and the gospel accounts of Jesus' public ministry (pp. 132, 147-148, 152), an argument I've addressed elsewhere. He claims that Matthew's gospel is unaware of the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus that's portrayed in Luke 1 (p. 132), but Matthew 3:14 suggests that John thought highly of Jesus prior to Jesus' baptism. Vermes says nothing about Matthew 3:14. Why should we accept his assertion that what Luke reports about the earlier life of John the Baptist was "totally unknown" to Matthew (p. 132)?

He accuses Jesus of being "haughty" in Luke 2:49 and other passages in the gospels in which He interacts with His family (p. 142). He makes no attempt to interact with any Christian defense of Jesus' behavior, including the explanations offered by the gospels themselves (John 7:5, for example).


The front flap of the book refers to it as "A masterful work of biblical scholarship" that "gives readers a new and more powerful understanding of the events celebrated every Christmas season", and Vermes claims near the conclusion of the book to have presented a "painstaking" analysis (p. 145). Actually, the book seems to be aimed more at a general audience than a scholarly one, there isn't much about it that's new, and his analysis is far from painstaking. The book is another example of the liberal tendency to repeat bad arguments without much of an effort to interact with counterarguments that have been circulating for a long time.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Postcard From the Edge

Dave Armstrong has decided to attempt to mount a reply to my rebuttal of his Scripture citations with respect to holy water.

There is very little here of substance, because if you'll note, he doesn't bother to exegete a single passage of Scripture to demonstrate his assertions.

Instead he tries to salvage his original "argument" if it can be called an argument. The basic problem here is that nothing he says touches what I said.

He tries to call me "illogical." Poor Dave, if that's true, it is only because I was responding to him on his own level, on the terms that he himself laid out. If my argument is "illogical" it is only because his is illogical to begin with.

In dealing with proposed Old Testament examples of holy water or reasonable facsimiles thereof, "Illogical" Bridges writes
I've put a particular phrase in bold. Here is what he originally stated:

Believe it or not, there are examples of holy water in Scripture:
Poor Dave can't seem to follow his own argument. He never argued for "reasonable facsimiles" he argued that the texts in Exodus, Numbers, and 2 Kings were all examples of "holy water." That said, how, exactly are these "reasonable facimiles" of "holy water?" One is a promise of God blessing water for ordinary use as a blessing of the covenant, as is the last. The middle two are related the OT ceremonial law, which has passed away. What Dave lacks is a supporting argument.

Do you see how this can be annihilated logically? Take a moment to consider this, and see if you come up with what I am about to demonstrate. The argument presupposes that in order to be a prototype or forerunner of something else, there must be absolute equation in all particulars. But clearly, something that is a prototype or forerunner is not required to be absolutely identical, nor could it be, by definition.
Except, of course, nothing about this sort of thing is in his original argument. Dave, I responded to what you wrote, not what you didn't write. Try following your own argument. If you'd like to insert caveats not present in your original, you are welcome to do so, but I'm afraid that you'll now need to demonstrate by exegesis of the texts how these are "forerunners." Where is the supporting argument?

As I stated above, however, prototypes or forerunners or more primitive kernels of later developments do not have to have all particulars in place in order to be validly pointed to as forerunners. Protestants fully acknowledge this themselves, because they have long used various Old Testament indications of the Trinity to argue for that doctrine, even though the Trinity is by no means made clear in the Old Testament, and even though all Jews deny that it can be found in OT texts. According to "Illogical" Bridges, Christians must either throw out the Trinity or at least stop using Old testament proof texts to support it, because not all elements are in place.
Of course, this is obviously disanalogous, since the Trinity is made clear in the New Testament, and the argument for OT precursors is used in tandem with what the New Testament says. That's how systematic theology is done; that's how exegetical theology works. The explicit makes clear what is implicit. In contrast, the argument for "holy water"is dependent not on the exegesis of Scripture, but on a specific set of inferences derived from Roman Catholic dogma itself. This in turn, is read back into the text when false teachers like Dave Armstrong need to find some sort of straw upon which to clutch to justify their superstitions.

This horrendously absurd fallacy is found throughout the first part of "Illogical" Bridges' post, and so we need not delve into those examples in detail. They rest on a manifestly false premise. For example, "Illogical" Bridges writes: "God Himself is here blessing the water, not a priest." In other words, it can't be used as any evidence for holy water because not all NT and "Catholic" particulars are present in the example.

1. The Roman concept of "holy water" is, as it happens dependent on the actions of an ecclesiastical class, which, I would argue is directly contrary to the New Testament witness, and is also a pale imitation of the OT class, which has, of course, passed away as an ecclesiastical class.

2. I wrote that with respect to the text in Exodus. My argument is not that it is out of bounds simply because God is the one blessing it Himself, but that His blessing is simply a covenant promise. The water is not "holy water" set aside for a specific use, but pure, ordinary, and plentiful water for ordinary everyday use. Nothing in this text is useful for anything at all relative to "holy water."

3. Just to drive this home, here is what I stated in full:

The point of the text is that God will bless the nation with food and water - ordinary sustenance - on the condition that they are faithful to His covenant.

From Keil & Delitzch: Exodus 23: 20 - 33Relation of Jehovah to Israel.—The declaration of the rights conferred by Jehovah upon His people is closed by promises, through which, on the one hand, God insured to the nation the gifts and benefits involved in their rights, and, on the other hand, sought to promote that willingness and love which were indispensable to the fulfilment of the duties incumbent upon every individual in consequence of the rights conferred upon them. These promises secured to the people not only the protection and help of God during their journey through the desert, and in the conquest of Canaan, but also preservation and prosperity when they had taken possession of the land.

Jehovah would send an angel before them, who should guard them on the way from injury and destruction, and bring them to the place prepared for them, i.e., to Canaan. The name of Jehovah was in this angel (v. 21), that is to say, Jehovah revealed Himself in him; and hence he is called in Ex. 33:15, 16, the face of Jehovah, because the essential nature of Jehovah was manifested in him. This angel was not a created spirit, therefore, but the manifestation of Jehovah Himself, who went before them in the pillar of cloud and fire, to guide and to defend them (Ex. 13:21). But because it was Jehovah who was guiding His people in the person of the angel, He demanded unconditional obedience (v. 21), and if they provoked Him (tammeir for tameir, see Ex. 13:18) by disobedience, He would not pardon their transgression; but if they followed Him and hearkened to His voice, He would be an enemy to their enemies, and an adversary to their adversaries (v. 22). And when the angel of the Lord had brought them to the Canaanites and exterminated the latter, Israel was still to yield the same obedience, by not serving the gods of the Canaanites, or doing after their works, i.e., by not making any idolatrous images, but destroying them (these works), and smiting to pieces the pillars of their idolatrous worship (matseivot does not mean statues erected as idols, but memorial stones or columns dedicated to idols: see my Comm. on 1 Kings 14:23), and serving Jehovah alone. Then would He bless them in the land with bountiful provision, health, fruitfulness, and length of life (vv. 23-26). “Bread and water” are named, as being the provisions which are indispensable to the maintenance of life, as in Isa. 3:1; 30:20; 33:16. The taking away of “sickness” (cf. 15:26) implied the removal of everything that could endanger life. The absence of anything that miscarried, or was barren, insured the continuance and increase of the nation; and the promise that their days should be fulfilled, i.e., that they should not be liable to a premature death (cf. Isa. 55:20), was a pledge of their well-being.

Conclusion: Dave and Nicholas have successfully ripped this text out of its context and utterly misapplied it. This does not bode well. Indeed, they should be ashamed for their abuse of God's Word in this manner.
By this "logic" every Christian ought to try to sacrifice his first son, because Abraham did that and he was the father of the faithful.
This is obviously disanalogous, because I'm not the one arguing that the text of Numbers is an example of the Romanist concept of "holy water." So, Dave needs a supporting argument that it is, and this, of course, not forthcoming. Note he never exegeted the text at all.

He then quotes Steve Hays on biblical typology, and later myself. Of course, the problem here is that we're talking about what the Bible itself says and itself licenses. The substance of what we were quoted saying is dealing with the concept of progressive revelation. That's a cornerstone of the discipline of biblical theology. So, at the critical point of comparison, Dave's criticism of me falls short of the mark, yet again. Steve and I are more than happy to argue for biblical typology - where the text itself makes the connections. If Dave wishes to muster Steve and I to support his own argumentation, then he'll need another argument supporting the notion of progressive revelation after the time of enscripturation itself, or, absent that, an argument the New Testament has a clear doctrine of "holy water" (in the Roman sense) that can then be used to find the OT precursors the same way that Christological prophecies in the OT were made plain by the NT authors and the NT teaching on the Trinity sheds light on the OT.

Unbelievable. Now we go beyond manifest logical deficiencies to difficulties in simple reading comprehension. My first section title was: "God Uses Created Things In Order to Produce Supernatural Effects In Our Lives." This is setting up a prior or antecedent premise that will support a later premise. The first sentence in this section was:
There are many examples in Scripture where Jesus and the apostles use created things to produce supernatural effects in the lives of human beings.
So to spell it out for "Illogical" Bridges with an appropriately simple chart:
1. First premise: "God Uses Created Things In Order to Produce Supernatural Effects In Our Lives."

2. Biblical examples of the first premise are given.

3. Second premise: "In Scripture, Water is Used to Cleanse, Purify, and Heal Human Beings."

Biblical examples of the second premise are given.

And the conclusion is that this licenses the Roman concept of holy water, Dave's conclusion.

The problem the conclusion does not follow from the premises, either major or minor, and as I pointed out, I spoke to the texts he selected, not his overall argument. His criticism here is a diversionary tactic; and notice even here he never mounts any supporting/exegetical argumentation. His conclusion and the validity of his argumentation depends on supporting arguments and exegesis, none of which was given. It was merely assumed without argument.
Now, is this rocket science? I don't think so. It's quite simple. I think my six-year-old daughter could easily grasp the concept and the logic involved, but anti-Catholic blinders preclude such a possibility, I guess.
I agree, Dave's logical argument is something a six year old could understand. It's also one a six year old might offer. Go figure.
Nice touch there. So because snake oil salesmen pervert and corrupt a Bible verse for nefarious ends, I must be tainted because I also cite it legitimately. This is the old trick of guilt-by-association: yet another logical fallacy.
1. Guilty as charged, I think there is some common ground between these "snake oil" salesmen and Dave Armstrong.

2. But I never used "guilt by association" rather, I don't write for Dave's ego or benefit, but the benefit of others - and that includes people other than those involved in Roman Catholicism. I chose this one because it is a common one for those persons, one to which they might wish to find a response. Dave, of course, ignored what I said next: I somehow doubt Dave and Nicolas believe that getting a prayer cloth as a "point of contact" is a valid use of holy water.
No one is denying this, in the sense of ultimate cause. It is a non sequitur. It's also a rather ignorant remark to make in light of the fact that the Bible states over and over that people healed others (i.e., they were God's instruments of healing, just as the text above states: "God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul"): Acts 8:7; 10:36-42; 28:8; 1 Cor 12:28,30; James 5:14-16. Not only that; Jesus also virtually commands His disciples to "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons" (Matthew 10:8).
1. Dave doesn't demonstrate the nonsequitur.

2. Notice that this what Dave originally posted to preface his citation of Acts 19:
Paul’s handkerchiefs cured disease and expelled evil spirits
That's it. I respond to what people write as they write it.
The virtue was not found in the materials themselves - that would be witchery - it was in God and the faith of the recipients.

Of course. No orthodox Catholic ever argued otherwise. But this doesn't wipe out the fact that materials were used: and that is all we are arguing.
Of course, here is what Dave actually had stated:
The bones of his apprentice, Elisha, brought a man back to life:

Elijah’s mantle parted the Jordan

Paul’s handkerchiefs cured disease and expelled evil spirits
I am glad Dave has provided a helpful corrective, but in doing so he has overturned the subject/predicate relationship in his original statements. His original statements state that a mantle, a handkerchief, and bones were what did these things. These are all materials themselves. His need to refine his argument could have been obviated if he'd done something more than list some texts without exegeting them and/or included some supporting argumentation.
Catholicism as gross paganism and heathenism . . . every Catholic miracle is from the devil (and if "Illogical" Bridges is a cessationist, every Protestant and post-apostolic miracle also is from the devil or never happened at all). They said the same about Jesus, remember: that He was casting demons out by the name of Beelzebub (Luke 11:14-23; Matt 12:22-37). He predicted that His followers would receive the same treatment (Matt 10:24-25). This has been fulfilled yet again, above. In the same context that Jesus speaks about being falsely accused of performing demonic miracles, He warns about blaspheming the Holy Spirit (Matt 12:31-32).

Gene Bridges endangers his soul to the extent that he denies miracles from God simply because they may have come through the instrumentality of a Catholic vessel. He is already bearing false witness against brothers in Christ (by denying that we are brothers and fellow disciples of Jesus), which violates the Ten Commandments and fosters the very serious sin of schism. So he is in very deep and perilous waters, spiritually-speaking. He'll laugh this off as a "threat" no doubt, but I am quite sincere (all polemical ribbings and tweakings aside) about warning him of the inherent dangers of such spouted falsehoods. It's his soul. I would suggest that he think very seriously about these matters.
1. Dave, you are obviously unregenerate, so you need to cast yourself on the merits of Christ alone and repent of your ecclesiolatry - period. I have no reason to think you are a brother, because (a) you are a false teacher and (b) you simply give no evidence that you are regenerate, and you give us no reason to think you are with every passing stroke of the pen. I make no apology for this statement. My trust, Dave is in Christ alone. I assure you that my soul is not the one in danger.

2. I take Trent @ face value. It says that the things I affirm are "anathema." So, it's your communion that has stated that I am not a brother. I'll take the information your hierarchy provides over your ipse dixit any day.

3. The Eastern Orthodox don't seem to think there can be a sin of "schism."

I'll take their word for it over yours any day.

4. It is true that the Pharisees said Christ cast out devils by diabolical means. However, the proof that this was untrue is found in Christ's preaching as a whole, not simply his intrinsic authority or his claim. Note that Christ did not make a simple claim to be the Messiah the way Rome makes simple claims to apostolic succession to verify its claim to cast out demons by the power of God. Rather, Christ's works were verified by the content of His teaching and vice versa. Given the inaccurate and cavalier manner in by which Dave has defended his position from Scripture, it should be manifestly apparent that if he raises this objection, he is merely mirror-reading. Rome is a false church, a synagoge of Satan, and an agent of death preaching a false gospel of works righteousness. It's claim to cast out demons by God's power is controverted, not confirmed by its message. The error of the Pharisees was not in believing that demons could be cast out by diabolical means; rather their error was in mismatching that with the content of Jesus' message and His identity. They had more knowledge of the Scriptures than any in their day and they knew full well who Jesus really was, yet in attributing the power of the devil to His works, they were committing apostasy from the covenant. This is not true of our attribution of the power of demons to the work of Rome, for she is certainly apostate, and you, Dave are her willing thrall.

Theology at sea

“The impression grew steadily that nothing was now stable in the Church, that everything was open to revision. More and more the Council appeared to be like a great Church parliament that could change everything and reshape everything according to its own desires…If the bishops in Rome could change the faith (as it appeared they could), why only the bishops? In any event, the faith could be changed—or so it now appeared, in contrast to everything we had previously thought. The faith no longer seemed exempt from human decision-making but rather was now apparently determined by it. And we knew that the bishops had learned from theologians the new things they were now proposing,” J. Ratzinger, Milestones, 132-33.

“The ‘signs of the times’ that I had begun to detect in Münster were now becoming more obviously dramatic. At first Rudolf Bultmann’s theology still dominated the theological climate, in the particular variation given to it by Ernest Käsemann…At almost a moment’s notice, there was a change in the ideological ‘paradigm’ by which the students and a part of the teachers thought. While until now Bultmann’s theology and Heidegger’s philosophy had determined the frame of reference for thinking, almost overnight the existential model collapsed and was replaced by the Marxist. Ernst Block was now teaching in Tübingen and made Heidegger contemptible for being petty bourgeois…Existentialism fell apart, and the Marxist revolution kindled the whole university with its fervor, shaking it to its very foundations. A few yeas before, one could still have expected the theological faculties to represent a bulwark against the Marxist temptation. Now the opposite ws the case: they became its real ideological center,” ibid. 136-37.

Ratzinger’s observations expose the inevitable fallout when theology ceases to have a functional doctrine of revelation. In the absence of revelation, theology is reducible to an exercise in the history of ideas. To a Hegelian dialectic in which one idea will supplant or modify another idea.

A thinker comes up with an idea. A disciple may modify his master’s idea. Further modification may occur until we reach the point where the original idea is unrecognizable after all the permutations.

Or, what also happens, one idea suggests an opposing idea. And that, in turn, suggests a contrary notion.

Now, even if the original idea happened to be true, it cannot survive an endless process of mutation and still be true. Rather, it becomes like a literary tradition. The story is told and retold with many variations, many changes in time, place, plot, and characterization. Even if the original story had a basis in fact, it ceases to be factual once the creative process has taken over and subjected the story to imaginative variants of every sort.

Once an idea undergoes open-ended internal development, it quickly loses its correspondence to an external state of affairs. It no longer describes the real world—assuming that it ever did. Instead, the idea undergoes endless refinement—like plastic surgery. Adding and subtracting.

One idea bounces off another idea. One idea invites its own negation. Inbuilt obsolescence.

Without revelation, theology becomes unstable and arbitrary. Without revelation, theology becomes a cipher for the theologian’s social conditioning. Without revelation, other disciplines like science, politics, history, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and economics supply the methods, aims, and content of theology.

And these other disciplines are also subject to the Hegelian dialectic as one academic fad supplants another. Unless theology is anchored in revelation, it cannot be anchored in reality. For these other disciplines are also fleeting and competing currents in the history of ideas.

The next generation is impatient with the last generation. The next generation wants to say something new.

When you read Moltmann’s autobiography (A Broad Place) or Küng’s autobiography (My Struggle For Freedom), theology becomes indistinguishable from biography and culture. Indistinguishable from European political and intellectual history. 20C European history. The theologian is simply reacting to what went before. Reacting to the past. Continental theology becomes a transcript of the intellectual climate at their particular time and place in the history of ideas.

This doesn’t mean that he necessarily rejects the past. But he has his favorite thinkers from the past. He may be an Augustinian, Thomist or Origenist. If he’s a Thomist, he may filter his Thomism through Kant or Heidegger.

Once upon a time, the Catholic church had an answer to this problem. It may not have had a good answer, but it had an answer. It appealed to tradition, and it had a static model of tradition. Tradition was oral, dominical tradition. Jesus allegedly taught his Apostles a set of doctrines which were not committed to writing in the form of the canonical Scriptures. The distinctive dogmas of Rome were allegedly traceable to this disciplina arcana.

That introduced a measure of stability in to Catholic theology. Of course, old ideas can be erroneous ideas. And it’s possible to erect a tremendous superstructure over a false foundation.

Older Protestant theologians spent a lot of time attacking Catholic tradition as an alternative to sola Scriptura. But there’s a sense in which this particular debate has been mooted. For the Catholic church eventually ditched the static model of tradition for a dynamic model of tradition. At Vatican II, it codified Newman’s theory of development.

But the problem with this move is that as soon as Catholicism commits to the theory of development, it suffers the same fate as liberal Protestant theology. At this point, Catholic theology is just one more current in the history of ideas. Just another fluid expression of the theologian’s social conditioning. Just another a cultural phenomenon—like Andy Warhol or a Pepto-Bismol commercial.

Of course, Catholic theology has never been otherwise. Catholic theology has always been culturally conditioned and reactionary as well as traditional. It’s just that, with Vatican II, the mask was off. With Vatican II, it made this official.

Fr. Copleston is a microcosm of that development. As he explains in his Memoirs (94-96), he began his History of Philosophy as a Thomist, and ended his history as a Hegelian. And his own career straddled the paradigm-shift in Catholicism.

Liberal Protestant theology is prone to one intellectual revolution after another because it lacks a functional doctrine of revelation. Because its outlook is so secularized, it denies the possibility of divine revelation, or imposes so many constraints on the category that it ceases to have an operative doctrine of revelation. So you end up with the Hegelian dialectic applied to Protestant theology. Only it’s not progressing. It’s not moving from error into truth. Rather, it’s merely changing. Mutable for the sake of mutability.

With Vatican II, Catholic theology is officially prone to the same dialectical process. The same aimless evolution—like a stimulus-response organism which is merely reacting to its environment, adapting to its environment, changing color to suit the season.

There’s a symbiosis between 20C Roman Catholic theology and 20C liberal Protestant theology. They influence each other. Infect each other.

Of course, evangelical theology is not immune to social conditioning or the history of ideas. And, up to a point, there is nothing wrong with that. That’s the effect of God’s providence.

But because evangelical theology retains an operational doctrine of revelation, it can be countercultural. Scripture is a seawall against the ideological erosion. Against the reabsorption of theology into the historical flux.

Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with a theological system that has an ear for other fields of knowledge. But it must have a discriminating ear. An ability, not only to listen and learn, but to criticize what it hears.