Saturday, December 13, 2008

More "torture" at GITMO

If you thought waterboarding was barbaric, it gets even worse:

"Ultimately, though, the most overused torture song is I Love You by Barney the Purple Dinosaur. On the face of it, the lyrics may seem deeply inappropriate: 'I love you, you love me - we're a happy family./With a great big hug and a kiss from me to you,/Won't you say you love me too?', but anyone whose child watches the television programme will know how grating
it is. In the torture trade, this is called 'futility music', designed to convince the prisoner of the futility of maintaining his position."

Thankfully, Obama has promised to sign an Executive order banning the use of any music other than Mozart.

Family Reunion


John Shepard was driving to his sister’s house for Thanksgiving. He and his ex-wife broke up before having any kids of their own. It was a bitter divorce, so he celebrated Thanksgiving with his sister and her current boyfriend Daryl. Or was it Darin?

It was a clear, sunny day. Shepard’s mind drifted as the car radio droned. He didn’t notice when a big-rig in the opposing lane began to cross the median. By the time he saw that hulking thing bear down on him at 90 miles per hour, it was too late to avert a head-on collision. Or so it seemed. He blacked out.

After he came to, he found himself on the side of the road. The car was undamaged. How he avoided the collision was a mystery.

He pulled back onto the road and continued his journey. The landscape was oddly deserted. And, except for the occasional car, coming or going, the highway was oddly deserted.

Was he lost? How could he be lost? It had to be the very same road. He hadn’t made a wrong turn—or any turn at all.

Was he going in the wrong direction? But his internal compass told he that he was headed in the same direction.

In this no man’s land, all he could do was to keep driving until he saw a cafe or gas station. After hours of driving, the traffic began to bunch up as he approached a checkpoint. It resembled a border crossing—which made no sense. He was nowhere near the border.

There was an express lane for drivers with an E-ZPass tag, but he didn’t have one of those. Instead, a border guard motioned him into a parking lot. From there, signs directed him to a spacious waiting room. There he was handed a clipboard.

This all seemed surreal. Maybe he had been injured in the accident. He didn’t look like he’d been injured in the accident. He didn’t feel like he’d been injured in the accident. But maybe that was an effect of the accident. An effect of head trauma. Perhaps, right now, he was really lying on a hospital bed, in a coma—with tubes coming out of him.

Still, it seemed real enough. He didn’t want anyone there to think he was crazy, especially since the border guards were well-armed, so he might as well play along with the situation, even if it was a figment of his delirium.

Assuming he was delirious. He just couldn’t tell. After all, if he really were delirious, he’d be the last man to know, right?

After he filled out the application form, they took his picture and issued him a passport. From there he continued his journey. After a few more miles he saw a metropolis on the horizon. It was overshadowed by a thick, clingy layer of smog. The gilded sunlight gave way to slate-gray daylight.


John Shepard had been living in the Underground, as locals called it, for about two months now. As we speak, he was having lunch at the hamburger joint on the first floor of his apartment complex. Outside, it was...gray.

A slatternly waitress took his order. Coffee, black, and a hamburger, hold the mustard. He always ordered the same thing, and the hamburger was always burned.

The Underground was a bit like living in Havana under the Castro regime—but without the sunshine, palm trees, or beaches. You had that damn smog hanging over the city every single day.

Most of the cars were relicts from the Eisenhower era. Newcomers brought newer cars, but if you left a new car parked overnight on the street, by morning it was stripped down to the axel rods for spare parts—as Shepard found out on his first night in the Underground.

The air inside the hamburger joint was heavy with cigarette smoke. A jukebox was playing in the background. It only played one song.

Nothing worked in the Underground. Like the vending machine, which only dispensed Tijuana Smalls.

The ceiling in his apartment was leaky. And when the ceiling wasn’t adrip, the faucet was. The wallpaper was peeling. The dog in the next-door apartment was constantly barking. And with a three-headed dog, it made quite a racket.

At first, Shepard tried to complain to the landlord, but the management was an absentee landlord. He sent a guy around every month to collect the rent—a tall, beefy dude with bad breath, brass knuckles, and glowing red eyes.

It was a serious letdown. Not that Shepard ever expected to find himself standing at the pearly gates. He was never that pious. But he was hoping that the alternative would be a wee bit more interesting. Something out of those Gustave Doré illustrations in his parents family Bible—with vast caverns lit by flickering flames. Majestic! An orgy of naked bodies. Thrilling! Sorry to say, the grim reality didn’t measure up to the glossy ads.

Upstairs, his TV—the old-fashioned kind with rabbit-ears, only played reruns from the “Golden Age” of television—Lassie, Flipper, Lawrence Welk, Bewitched, Romper Room, Room 222, Peyton Place, the Brady Bunch, the Patty Duke Show, Mr. Ed, the Monkees, the Mickey Mouse Club, the Flying Nun.

As a diversion, Shepard would take weekend furloughs to see his old stomping grounds. At first, he didn’t think that was allowed. Once you made it here, there was no way out, right?

But as his neighbor explained—the neighbor with the noisy canine—ghosts and demons were free to frequent the land of the living—until the Day of Judgment, after which the exits would all be welded shut.

Even then, Shepard didn’t find it much a relief to watch his sister change the flowers on his grave. And it wasn’t long before she got tired of making the weekly rounds, and stuck some plastic flowers in his vase.

The landlord also made trips outside the Metro—on a Harley-Davidson, license plate NED666—to check on all his loyal employees at the New York Times.

At this point, Shepard was sorry that when his parents took him to church as a kid, he paid so little attention to the preacher and so much attention to the pretty girl in the front row. The Underground was a place where everyone regretted something, but repented of nothing.

But it was too late to learn from his mistakes—unless, of course, he really was in a hospital bed, waiting to wake up some day.

Assuming they wouldn’t pull the plug, in which case...


John Shepard was driving to his sister’s house for Thanksgiving. He and his ex-wife...

Friday, December 12, 2008

"The Skull Crushing Seed of the Woman"

Jim Hamilton on Gen. 3:15.

Culture Warrior Atheists

Not that I'm a fan of plopping nativity scenes down at Legislative buildings, and there's been plenty of critiques leveled at that expression of evangelicalism, I'm also not a fan of pompous atheists pretending they're so much more intellectually superior than everyone else. The above sign was placed by the Freedom From Religious Foundation. Their president is Dan Barker. I debated Barker. Most people - atheist and theist alike - don't think the debate showed off the superior intellectual skills allegedly possessed by atheists. Anyway, these kinds of stunts are just as silly - perhaps more so - as when theists do it. Plastering your car with Christian bumper stickers as a means of evangelism (as if fellow road travelers will be converted ex opere operato) looks just as silly as plastering your car with that fish-with-legs transitional fossil. Both sides imbue that American value of ubiquitous microwaving. Thinking hard is substituted for bumper sticker slogans. Make sure you offer your platitudes as a catchy jingle so as to get the consumers to buy your product or ideas. Cogent and rigorous argumentation is a faux pas. So both sides - atheists and Christians - have exhibited an anti-intellectual spirit. We should expect this with Christians given all that atheists have told us about religious adherents. We should expect those who "sacrifice reason for blind faith" to act in anti-intellectual ways. But what excuse does the atheist have? So, the "New Atheist," the "Village Atheist," the RRS, the FFR, etc., is just the other side of the anti-intellectual coin. I think this is because most of them are former fundies and have taken their confused view of Christianity - marketing Jesus for mass consumption in order to make it palpable to American consumerism - right on over to their atheism. They still read the Bible like their former fundie selves, and they still "preach" the good news of atheism, making it "culturally relevant," just as they preached (or were preached to) as fundies. They even use their own version of hell fire and brimstone preaching: "Religious adherents are going to destroy the world with nukes!! Repent and bow down to the goddess Reason, now!" But to argue for all of thiscultural analysis is beyond the scope of this post. All I aim to do here is look at the atheists' sign.

i) What is meant by "reason?" And, how can it "prevail?" Didn't Barker tell me in our debate that I "reified" logic? Talk about reification! Anyway, Barker thinks "reason" is the way your neurons fire. So, the opening of the sign should read: "At this season of the Winter Solstice may c-fibers fire in a prevailing way."

ii) Haven't these atheists excluded other atheists? The sign is a sign for strong atheism. How exclusive! Maybe weak atheists should complain to the Governor?

iii) Anyway, how can "reason" tell us something like this: "There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell?" How much would you have to know to know something like that? Has anyone ever proved such a strong claim? Indeed, it is an assault on "reason" and an expression of faith! So, the atheists who constructed the sign stuck their foot in their mouth within two sentences!

iv) The next statement is "There is only our natural world."

a) But then how is there "reason?" Does this happen in a physical brain? How so? A mind? How's that?

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil & bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting
Lizard's leg & howlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell broth boil and bubble.

Macbeth Act IV, Scene 1

The crone throws the wing of a bat and the eye of a newt into the cauldron, mixes it up, and voilà, you have the emergence of some mystical and immaterial "protection" or "love" or "safe trip" or "powerful trouble" spell or charm.

Likewise, take the physicalist. That crone, Mammy Nature, mixes a few billions neurons, synapses, and some firing c-fibers, into that cauldron called your noggin, and voilà, you have the emergence of some mystical and immaterial mind with beliefs and intentionality and thoughts.

When appeals to the "mustbebraindidit" argument are made, I'm going to point out that this has a name: The bat wing and eye of newt fallacy.

b) How are there any norms? What about "morality?" Didn't the naturalist J.L. Makcie teach us that, "If their were objective values, then they would be entities or qualities or relations of a very strange sort, utterly different from anything else in the universe. Correspondingly, if we are aware of them, it would have to be by some special faculty or moral perception or intuition, utterly different from our ordinary ways of knowing anything else" (J.L. Mackie, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, 1977, p.38).

But this brings up another issue. Why object to the stealing of the sign as if it were really wrong (this really happened, apparently some Christians stole the sign. Perhaps they wouldn't have if they had placed a monument of the ten commandments at the Legislation building ;-). If the consistent answer as that which agrees with Mackie is given, how can you object to the stealing of the sign?

c) Has "reason" proved that "there is only the natural world?" Again, this is a metaphysical presupposition.

v) The last statement is that "Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds." Again, talk about a "reification fallacy."

a) Of course, one wonders what is meant by "minds." And what does it mean to say one is "enslaved?"

b) And, does "myth and superstition" mean "not true?" One would assume so. But why think our minds are aimed at producing true beliefs?

"The idea that one species of organism is, unlike all the others, oriented not just toward its own increated prosperity but toward Truth, is as un-Darwinian as the idea that every human being has a built-in moral compass--a conscience that swings free of both social history and individual luck." (Richard Rorty, "Untruth and Consequences," The New Republic, July 31, 1995, pp. 32-36.)

Or atheist Pat Churchland:

"Boiled down to essentials, a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in the four F's: feeding, fleeing, fighting and reproducing. The principle chore of nervous systems is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive. . . . . Improvements in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing is advantageous so long as it is geared to the organism's way of life and enhances the organism's chances of survival [Churchland's emphasis]. Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost."

Do these guys get to put a sign next to their atheist friends? Belief in naturalism and Darwinism may just be a "useful" myth that helps us survive. We don't believe it because it is true, rather, it has survival value - just like religous beliefs once had.

c) Of course, with these scientifically precise atheists, they must really mean that religion makes that muscle which pumps blood throughout the body, "hard." If not, so much for their critiques against the Bible when it uses phenomenological or metaphorical language.

d) Of course, there's nothing objectionable about "hard hearts" and "enslaved minds." It's not as if moral or epistemic norms are being violated.

So, not only have these atheists violated their own touted strengths, "protectors of Reason," they have made themselves just as forgettable, sad products of American consumerism as the theists they want to do battle with.

Delusions that Kill

According to this article, Dawkin’s book The God Delusion is responsible for at least one suicide. In this instance, 22-year-old Jesse Kilgore was reading The God Delusion because a biology professor had challenged him to do so. Independent witnesses confirmed to Jesse’s father that the book had had a devastating effect on Jesse, causing him to question his faith, and led to him shooting himself in the woods near his home in October.

There are a couple of things to note from the story. First, Dawkins in no way intended that his book would cause people to commit suicide. Be that as it may, The God Delusion offers no reason for someone who deconverts from Christianity not to kill himself. That is, the philosophical justifications that Dawkins uses (poorly, I might add) logically lead to concepts of nihilism and despair. There is no reason, purpose, or value in life under Dawkins’ view. In fact, any humanistic worldview can only provide a useful fiction for atheists to pretend is real; nothing more. Reality itself does not contain these values or any purpose whatsoever. Therefore, whether you invent a God or invent a feeling of universal brotherhood, it’s still just your own mental invention. It doesn’t extend into reality at all, and as such Dawkins’ worldview is just as delusional as the religious worldview he abhors.

This is not as much of a danger to someone who is already a nonbeliever. Nonbelievers who read Dawkins’ books only gain reaffirmation of their beliefs. Since they’ve already suppressed the negative aspects of their worldview and blinded themselves to the nihilistic aspects of their presuppositions, reading Dawkins won’t affect them. A believer, however, who comes from a radically different worldview will be more prone to falling into that nihilistic despair if he deconverts because he has not yet deluded himself with false hope for a destitute world.

Since Jesse apparently did some apologetics work on-line, he may very well have been caught in such a quandary here. It could have been something as simple as the fact that Jesse couldn’t believe in Dawkins’ worldview because his apologetic was strong enough to show Dawkins’ false humanistic optimism to be bunk; but at the same time Jesse’s understanding of Christianity was weak to Dawkins’ attack. The result would be that Dawkins’ book would convince him Christianity is wrong, but not that Dawkins was right, and that left him with nowhere to turn to.

This brings us to the second point from the story. Christians need to have a strong understanding of Christian beliefs. One of the aspects I’ve found (and it is obvious from such folks as the Debunkers) is that most former Christians have no concept at all of Christian theism. Most apostates illustrate that they cannot even properly read a verse of Scripture at all; they have no understanding of basic exegesis; they do not even make an attempt to read the Bible in context. The former Christians that I run into, to a man (or woman), attack Fundamentalist caricatures of Christianity and assume that they are actually critiquing Christianity in that process! Look no further than those who complain about talking snakes and donkeys in the comments for evidence of this. (Granted, that’s personal experience, which is merely anecdotal evidence. But on this issue, I think the case is quite strong since it’s consistent anecdotal evidence and not only my experience on the matter.)

If atheists attack a straw man, it doesn’t affect Christianity. The God Delusion is nothing but burning straw and tilting at windmills. The unfortunate thing is that those types of errors can be very subtle and hard to spot. Fallacies are not always blatant; that’s why you need to study them. Sadly, Dawkins has been responded to by many people online and through books, yet Jesse apparently never discovered how shoddy Dawkins’ arguments are.

This brings us to a third point. I do think Keith (Jesse’s father) was a bit too hard on himself regarding how he should have been there for his son. Jesse wasn’t a ten-year-old; he was twenty-two years old. He was an adult. Keith didn’t put Jesse in danger by allowing Jesse to go off to college. Jesse should have been able to discover these resources by himself.

Keith’s other points regarding secular education are valid though. It is the case that public education is anti-Christian. Christians do need to take the effort to educate their children with this in mind. Public education is not an ally (even if they weren’t anti-Christian, public education is so dismal you still couldn’t consider it an ally). Parents need to teach their children the basics of logic so their children can spot logical fallacies. Parents need to ensure their children do understand what Christianity is so they can defend it against atheism.

But this requires that the parents understand logic and Christianity too. And that requires the Church to understand what she teaches. But this takes hard working. Critical thinking isn’t easy. Weighing arguments takes effort. We, as Christians, must be willing to do that footwork. If nothing else, this story shows us that lives are on the line.

The Christian Understanding of History

(Posted on behalf of Steve Hays.)

There are some theological deficiencies in Latourette's outlook. Still, if you make allowance for his limitations, this draws a useful contrast between secular historiography and Christian historiography.

The Bible, Rocks and Time

Davis Young & Ralph Stearley have just published a book entitled The Bible, Rocks and Time (IVP 2008).

1.According to the authors, “this book is addressed primarily to Christian pastors, theologians, biblical scholars, students and lay people with some interest in scientific questions, but we extend an open invitation to non-Christians to read the book as well because we not only seek to persuade Christians to abandon any idea that the Bible demands belief in God’s creation of the world only a few thousand years ago but also to show non-Christians that acceptance of modern geological conclusions regarding an ancient Earth is by no means incompatible with biblical Christianity” (10-11).

Two things stand out in this statement:

i) Since this book is pitched at a semipopular level, the implication is that a non-specialist is competent to evaluate their arguments for the antiquity of the earth. You don’t have to be a geologist to weigh the evidence which they present.

ii) Their statement is somewhat misleading. Neither of the two authors is an OT scholar. And this book is not primarily about Biblical hermeneutics generally or the exegesis of Genesis 1-8 in particular. Rather, it marshals conventional evidence for the antiquity of the earth. At that level, there’s nothing distinctive about this material. You could find the same material in just about any secular textbook on geology.

The only difference is that our authors take specific aim at flood geology or young-earth creationism.

2.Before I proceed any further, I should lay my own cards on the table:

i) My personal concern is not so much to stake out a particular position on the extent of the flood or the antiquity of the earth. I don’t have a preconceived agenda in that respect.

Rather, my personal concern is to make room for whatever the Bible prescribes, proscribes, or permits on those topics.

ii) Since I’m not a geologist, I’m not going to comment on the technicalities of the geological evidence. Instead, I’m going to raise certain methological questions about the authors’ use of evidence.

3.The authors devote several pages to Henry Morris. I don’t see the point of this. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that flood geology is a genuine science, we’d expect the formulation of flood geology to undergo various modifications over time, just as we’d expect the formulation of cosmology to undergo various modifications over time. Imagine if you were to critique modern cosmology by devoting a number of pages to the very dated theories of Fred Hoyle.

I can only think of two reasons for this emphasis:

i) Because Davis Young came of age when Henry Morris’ version of flood theology was the reigning paradigm, and because, in fact, he’s written books and articles in the past interacting with that particular model, he can’t let go of that target. It’s like a middle-aged pastor who’s never done much additional study since he attended seminary some 30 years ago.

ii) It’s an attempt to prejudice the reader against flood geology by attacking a dated version of flood geology.

4. On an ironic note, there’s a single reference to Howard Van Till, under the general heading of “Christians in the Natural Sciences” (156-57). But from what I’ve read, Van Till recently defected from the Christian faith. So he’s not a terribly encouraging example of concordism.

5.The authors also devote several pages to Walt Brown. But there’s a very selective, piecemeal quality to their criticisms. They leave most of Brown’s case for flood geology untouched.

6.They devote even more pages to a critique of Steven Austin. That makes sense. If you’re going to attack flood geology, then he’s a major exponent.

And, as you might expect, they raise a number of reasonable sounding objections to Austin. I say that’s to be expected since you’re only reading their side of the argument.

But their critique would be more convincing if they had initiated a correspondence with Austin, then published the correspondence. That way, the reader could see how Austin attempts to respond to their criticisms.

As it stands, they control the flow of evidence. They present the evidence they think supports their position. They present the evidence they think undercuts the opposing position.

Nothing wrong with that, of course. But as a reader, I’m naturally thinking to myself that they have no incentive to present any evidence that supports the opposing position or undercuts their own position. So I have to withhold judgment.

7.For a book on dating, they don’t address the old, ongoing debate between temporal metrical objectivism and temporal metrical conventionalism. But, as I understand it, that debate raises the question of whether anything has an absolute date. That transcends the issue of dating techniques.

8.They cite Paul Seeley on the accommodation of OT cosmography to ANE mythology (182n18; 206n25). This appeal disregards scholarly literature which is critical of his approach, cf. G. Beale, The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism (Crossway 2008); V. Poythress, Redeeming Science (Crossway 2006), 96n8; D. Tsumura, The Earth and the Waters in Genesis 1 and 2 (Sheffield 1989); N. Weeks, "Cosmology in Historical Context," WTJ 68.2 (Fall 2006): 283-293.

9.They say “We suspect that most Christians would agree, as we would too, with the historical Christian doctrine that the initial act of creation that brought into existence the material from which God formed the habitable, orderly cosmos, was an ex nihilo creative act, a sheer, totally supernatural miracle that could not have entailed God’s use of any secondary means or natural processes whatsoever because secondary means and natural processes had not yet been created and did not yet exist. The beginning of God’s work of creation had to be a miracle of the purest kind. The question before us, however, is whether the subsequent creative work of the six days mentioned in Genesis 1 involved purely supernatural, miraculous acts” (186-187).

i) But it seems to me that the admission of creation ex nihilo throws a monkey wrench into geochronology. They want to limit creation ex nihilo to the raw material which God then uses to form the universe. But once you admit that some of the stuff composing the universe was brought about by an instantaneous divine fiat rather than a natural process, then I don’t see, in general, how you could date anything since, on that assumption, I don’t see, in general, how you could distinguish an ex nihilo artifact from a providential artifact.

ii) There might be situations where you could draw that distinction on a case-by-case basis. A providential process of weathering or erosion or sedimentation might better account for a particular effect than creation ex nihilo. But there are other cases in which different causes (providential or ex nihilo) could yield the same effect. For example, could you tell whether the sun was created by a natural process rather than an instantaneous divine fiat?

iii) The authors also confound the issue of fiat creation with instantaneous creation. The question at issue is not whether God created each item instantaneously in the span of six days. The issue, rather, is whether each item was created within the timeframe of the day to which it's assigned. And whether that, in turn, laid the foundation for the next creative stage.

10.The authors say: “One of the earliest arguments for the antiquity of the Earth stemmed from the evidence contained within accumulations of sedimentary rock…Sediments are transported by running water, wind, and glacial ice…By comparing modern processes of sedimentation with the evidences in the sedimentary rock record, geologists have concluded that Earth must be far older than was assumed three hundred years ago. The physical evidence contained within sedimentary rocks provides a powerful argument that Earth is much older than just a few thousand years ago” (217-19).

i) But the problem I have with that argument is this: if you’re going to invoke sedimentation rates to date a rock formation, then don’t you have to know the rate of the processes involved?

If it involves glaciation, don’t you have to know the rate of cooling, the rate of snowfall, the rate of subsequent warming, &c.?

If it involves wind, don’t you need to know the wind speed? As well as fluctuations in wind speed over thousands and millions of years?

If it involves water, don’t you need to know the rate of precipitation or the rate of runoff to calculate the rate of deposition? Don’t you also need to know the original gradient? As well as the presence or absence of groundcover? Can a geologist infer all these variables from the surviving trace evidence?

ii) Moreover, or so it seems to me, sedimentation involves erosion; but aren’t there natural forces that counteract erosion? Forces of accretion as well as depletion? Indeed, can’t the same process yield both effects (e.g. longshore drift)?

Take coastal erosion. A one-day storm surge may rapidly erode the shoreline. How does a geologist infer the occurrence of a one-day storm surge a million years ago?

The authors spend a lot of time criticizing Austin’s explanation of the Grand Canyon. They think the geological phenomena are too varied to be the product of a one-time event (Noah’s flood). Maybe they’re right. Since I think the Scriptural data is noncommittal on the extent of the flood, I have no personal stake in that debate.

However, for reasons just given, their own analysis raises a number of methodological questions which they fail to address. Maybe there are good answers, but you won’t find those answers, if they exist, in this book.

11.The authors say: “Here he [Woodmorappe] criticized geochronologists for attempting to account for poor results by appealing to unusual geological circumstances. Well, exactly! It’s the complexities of geology that make the assessment of analytical results both challenging and fun. It is the business of geochronologists to evaluate their own work and to discard problematic ages…All three of Woodmorappe’s alleged fallacies essentially amount to the same thing, namely, that radiometric dating methods should be discredited and thrown out because bad or meaningless ages are sometimes obtain. But the reason that bad, discrepant, meaningless, puzzling or unexpected ages are obtained has nothing to do with the established physics and mathematics of radioactive decay. Such unusable ages come about because of geologic factors, pure and simple (unless the analyst did a bad job)…Sometimes, a ‘bad’ age for a rock can alert the geologist to a geologic process or event that otherwise might have been overlooked” (401-02).

i) I don’t see how that really addresses the problem. Why go through the motions of dating an object if you’re going to discount the results in case they conflict with your preconception of the “correct” date? If the experimental results don’t matter, then what’s the basis of your expectation? And if absolute dating techniques sometimes yield “discrepant,” “unexpected,” “unusable,” or “meaningless” dates, then why doesn’t that call into question the reliability of the underlying methods?

ii) Also, I don’t deny that other factors could “contaminate” the result, but isn’t that a backdoor admission that assigning the correct age involves a number of other, often imponderable, variables? It is possible to reconstruct all of the salient variables from the trace evidence?

12. As an outsider reading their book, I get the impression that Young and Stearley are so immersed in their field as to be blind to their own assumptions.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The 10 Big Lies About America

Here's a review of an important new book.

"Mutual Joy"

Robert Gagnon reviews Lisa Miller's Newsweek article on homosexuality.

Fallacious Fallacies

In his book (mostly) on informal fallacies, Attacking Faulty Reasoning, T. Edward Damer uses (a caricature of) one particular pro-life argument as fodder to expose fallacious reasoning.

This example takes place in his section on "attacking the fallacy," where advice is given on how to attack fallacious arguments. One of his "attacks" is to employ the standard attack by counter-example. This method uses the same form of argumentation as the argument you're attacking while making sure to argue for an obviously absurd conclusion.

An example of refutation by logical counter-example would be:

  1. All religious adherents are irrational and self-deluded.
  2. John is irrational and self-deluded.
  3. Therefore, John is a religious adherent.

To easily see the fallacy, we just use the same form of argumentation, switch around some terms, and come to an obviously abusurd conclusion. Like this:

  1. 1. All dogs are mammals.
  2. 1. Flipper is a mammal.
  3. 1. Therefore, Flipper is a dog.

This is a very useful way to demonstrate bad arguments. In fact, it is used quite often on this blog when the logic of someone's argument is used to demonstrate the error of their ways. Frequently the conclusion reached by using their logic is attacked as if that is a substantive rejoinder. But the conclusions are not usually endorsed just like the conclusion that Flipper is a dog is not being endorsed. Some of those who frequent here need to keep that in mind.

Now, after explaining a useful way to deal with bad arguments, Damer uses as an example what he takes to be a somewhat popular pro-life argument. Damer names this the "fallacy of the continuum," and shows how it is made by the pro-lifer:

"Suppose that an opponent argued in the following manner: The fetus is a human
being at birth. Right? And it certainly did not suddenly become a human being at
delivery. In other words, it would be silly t say that the fetus is a human
being at birth and not a human being a minute earlier or an hour before that or
a day or a month before that. At no time would you be able to say rationally
that the fetus suddenly becomes a human being. So the fetus has to be just as
much a human being at conception as it is at delivery." (p.48-49)

Damer "demonstrates the faulty character of this kind of reasoning" by constructing this counter-example:

"An atmospheric temperature of 100 F is regarded hot. Right? And it certainly
did not suddenly become hot at 100 F. In other words, it would be silly to
insist that a temperature that is one degree, or five, or ten degrees less that
100 F is not hot. And at no time would you be able to say rationally that at
some particular point during a period in which the temperature moves from 0 F to
100 F that the temperature suddenly becomes hot, one could conclude that at 0 F
it is just as hot as it is at 100 F. " (p.49)

I think Damer is guilty of a straw man fallacy here. He is also guilty of violating one of his principles as to what constitutes a good argument - the rebuttal principle. Damer rightly claims that, "An argument is not a good one of it does not anticipate and effectively rebut, or successfully blunt the force of, criticisms of the argument and of the position that it supports" (p.30). And Damer is clearly making an argument. It can be expressed thus:
  1. 2. All arguments that commit the fallacy of continuum are poor arguments.
  2. 2. The no-difference-from-birth-to-conception pro-life argument commits this fallacy.
  3. 2. Therefore, this pro-life argument is a poor argument.

Before I register some concerns, I should point out that I am not objecting to the test by counter-example principle, nor am I objecting to the fallacy of continuum. The latter point means that we will accept premise 1.2. The structure is valid, and so if all the premises are true, the conclusion goes through.

Now, in one sense Damer's conclusion does go through, but that's only because the pro-life argument that he's trying to represent isn't properly stated. And it would be charitable to assume that Damer wants to attack proper representations of arguments. Having qualified, we need to object to a premise so that the conclusion doesn't go through. The only one left to reject is premise 2.2. And so that's what we'll do.

I propose to challenge 2.2 in three ways: (i) A brief, correct statement of the pro-life argument being addressed; (ii) relevant disanalogies between the pro-life argument and the pro-heat counter-argument; and (iii) some possible objections.

A Brief, Correct Statement of the Pro-Life Argument

"Given the facts of embryology and fetal development, at conception, a whole human being, with its own genome, comes into existence, needing only food, water, shelter, and oxygen, and a congenial environment in which to interact, to grow and develop itself to maturity in accordance with her own intrinsically ordered nature. Like the infant, the child, and the adolescent, the conceptus is a being who is in the process of unfolding its potential, that is, the potential to grow and develop itself but not to change what it is. This being, because of its nature, is actively disposed to develop into a mature version of herself, though never ceasing to be herself. Thus, the same human being that begins as a zygote continues to exist to its birth and through its adulthood unless disease or violence stops it from doing so. For there is no decisive break in this physical organism's continuous development from conception until death from which one can infer that the being undergoes a substantial change and literally ceases to exist and a new being comes into existence (like the substantial change that the sperm and ovum undergo when they cease to exist and a new being comes into existence). This is why it makes perfect sense for any one of us to say, "When I was conceived..." (Beckwith, Defending Life, Cambridge, 2007, pp. 72-73).

It is evident that this is the type of argument Damer intended to attack in his example. It is obviously stronger than Damer let on. Once stated, the flaws in Damer's counter-example should be self-evident. But, we will make a few explicit.

Relevant Disanalogies Between the Pro-life Argument and the Pro-heat Counter-argument

a) It is obvious the pro-life argument is talking about essential features that obtain in all possible worlds. In all possible worlds, a human being is, say, made in the image of God. Any world where S is human, S is made in the image of God. If S is not an image bearer of God at W1, then S is not human at W1. We can substitute something like "rational animal" for "image bearer" if you insist. But, with "regarding something as hot," this is not the case. For beings that have lived their whole life on Mercury, 100 F is regarded very cold. For beings that have lived their whole life on Neptune, 0 F is regarded very hot. This applies to humans to a lesser degree. So, with respect to qualia, 0 F can be "just as hot" to some being S as 100 F is to S*. This seems to be Damer's understanding with the use of the word "regard." But pro-lifers don't just "regard" a fetus as human. That's the only way 100 F is "regarded" as hot.

b) Putting aside the subjective elements of the counter-example, the language is misleading. Temperature is a number that is related to the average kinetic energy of the molecules of a substance. Heat is a measurement of the total energy in a substance, both kinetic and potential. All this means is that temperature of 100 F implies a certain amount of kinetic energy. It doesn't have this energy when it is one, five, or ten degrees cooler. It may be regarded as hot, but it certainly did "suddenly" possess the amount of kinetic energy at 100 F that it did not have at 90 F. Thus one could "rationally say" that at some particular point the object had more kinetic energy than it previously did. Damer's counter-example hinges upon equivocations. Between subjective "regardings" and objective "measurements" of energy. This is why steaks objectively "keep" in the freezer and not in the hot sun. Something kept "hot" doesn't freeze. What are the relevant differences between the various stages from conception to birth to infancy to adolescence, then? Is it just that one has "more" of something that the other? The pro-life argument claims that there is no relevant point where the fetus "becomes" human. The pro-life position clearly doesn't believe that "more" of something makes for humanness.

c) So, understood as qualia, the argument proves too much. There is no essential, fixed characteristic that can demarcate human from non-human, thus racist laws that concluded that blacks were 2/3 human were not in error. Understood as objective, the argument proves too much. For I can point demonstrate that 0 F is not "just as hot" as 100 F. But where is this relevant difference between the birthed human and the human 1 minute before and 1 month before, etc.? So the objective "heat" argument tells us that we can point out when something has more internal kinetic energy than something else. But if this is how we demonstrate who is and who isn't human - by who has "more" of some quality - then we're right back at blacks as 2/3 human!

Some Possible Objections

Damer may claim that his counter works just fine because there is no relevant difference between when something is regarded as hot and cold. But considered subjectively, this is false. People can clearly regard when something is not hot anymore. To claim that they cannot pin point exactly when this is, is pedantic and commits the "beard fallacy." Considered objectively, this is false because all we need to do is look at the amount of internal energy. I argued that both views are disanalogous with the pro-life argument. Pro-lifers do not merely "regard" something as human based on subjective qualia, and they do not count something as human based on it have "more" stuff than other things. If so, they would logically claim that infants are "less" human than adults.

The pro-life argument asks what relevant or non-arbitrary difference can be pointed to that shows that the conception of two human parents' gametes is not human while it is human three, six, or nine months down the road. A handy acronym developed by pro-lifers to demonstrate this has been called the SLED test:

Size: Is it that one is bigger than the other, then are infants "less" human than adults?

Level of development: Is it that one is "more" developed than the other, then are down syndrome kids "less" human than geniuses?

Environment: Is it your environment? One is located "outside" the womb while the other is located "inside?" Then when people are located in Africa, may we take them as slaves? Is location a "relevant, non-arbitrary" distinction?

Degree of Dependency: Is it that the 12 week old fetus is more dependant upon the mother than the newborn? Is the preemie in the NICU "less" human than the healthy one down the hall, then?


So it would appear that Damer's counter is totally disanalogous to the pro-life argument he wants to critique. There are relevant differences between when something has more internal energy than something else. But this is disanalogous to how pro-lifers understand human and non-human, i.e., it's not that one has "more stuff" than the other. Even considered subjectively, humans can easily "regard" something as hot or cold. But beyond that, "regarding" is subjective and thus not a "relevant, non-arbitrary" difference, which is what the pro-life argument asks for when claiming that x is not human but y "suddenly" becomes human. So I conclude that Damer's example of a fallacy is fallacious.

Loving and committed pederasty


“The first problem is that scripture never declared homosexuality a sin, it is erroneous to label homosexuals as non christian.”

Both the OT and the NT classify homosexual behavior as a sin. And, in Rom 1, Paul goes beyond that to classify homosexual desire (as well as homosexual behavior) a sin.

Moreover, some sins are worse than others, just as some crimes are worse than others. Not every crime in the OT was capital offense. But sodomy was. That tells you something about the moral gravity of the offense.

“Homosexuals have never been found wanting in any sector of society compared to heterosexuals.”

You could say the same thing about the criminal element.

“They are not less a brother, friend, attorney, teacher, counselor ,doctor,neighbor,father, etc so what evidence do have that being foster parents is somewhat different.”

Several problems:

i) You’re confounding biological relations with social roles. By definition, one can’t be more or less a biological father or brother. That’s hardwired.

ii) Apropos (i), we don’t choose our biological parents or biological siblings. For better or worse, we’re stuck with them. So, frankly, the standard is lower.

But we can and should have a higher standard when placing children in the custody of strangers.

iii) Being a biological father doesn’t automatically qualify you to be a good father. Being a doctor, lawyer, teacher, counselor, &c. doesn’t automatically qualify you to be a good parent. So your argument is illogical.

Moreover, one could be a brilliant doctor or lawyer, and also be a dreadful parent. Excellence in one field doesn’t carry over to excellence in another field. So, once again, your argument is illogical.

“Homosexuals bond out of the same spirit as heterosexuals, which is out of mutual love, respect,affection,devotion, and trust for a shared committed life together.”

That’s a silly statement at several levels:

i) It isn’t even a true statement with respect to heterosexual bonding. You can’t say, as a rule, that heterosexuals bond “out of mutual love, respect,affection,devotion, and trust for a shared committed life together.”

Some do and some don’t. Ever heard of prostitution? Adultery? Hook-ups? One-night stands? Womanizers? Nymphomaniacs? Prenups?

Left to their own devices, a lot of men prefer a no-strings-attached relationship.

ii) Moreover, the sexes are wired differently. Normal men and women don’t necessarily bond for the very same reasons. Isn’t that obvious?

Take the case of the rich old geezer with the twenty-something bombshell wife or girlfriend. Do you really think the old geezer and the young woman are bonding for the same reasons? And is it really out of mutual respect, devotion, and lifelong commitment?

Or is it more like he marries (or shacks up with) her for sex while she marries (or shacks up with) him for money?

I'm not saying that men and women can't marry for better reasons (and often do). I'm just noting some really obvious counterexamples to your bubble-gummy claims.

iii) And this carries over into homosexual “bonding.” You can’t claim that homosexual men and homosexual women have the very same motives.

“What part of that committed love do you feel is offensive to a child.”

How is your definition distinguishable from pederasty—or is it?

“The truth is that children because they are children have less a problem with homosexuality than adults.”

Likewise, the son of a Klansman is more likely to grow up to be a Klansman—just like his old man. Like father/like son. Due to his emotional bond with a dad who's a Klansman, he has less of a problem with the KKK than some adults.

“What part of the spirit of this bonding process mitigates providing a loving nurturing home for raising children?”

A higher incidence of disease, domestic violence, suicide, rampant promiscuity, as well as unnatural role-modeling. They are also at higher risk of sexual molestation when they hit adolescence.

“Fine, then explain romans 1:24-27 how do the words of these verses say homosexuality is a sin. do you propose to transpose the word "homosexuals for all the personal pronouns?”

The question at issue is not the use of the word, but the use of the concept. In Rom 1, Paul both describes and condemns homosexual desire and conduct alike.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Pest control

Since a commenter is complaining about the alleged inscrutability of our rules for banning trolls, I shall, in the interests of blogospheric transparency, declassify the computus by which we calculate when a troll has crossed the line of no return.

Definition: A troll shall be banned if and only if his comment falls on or before the leap-day of an embolismic month, between an ecclesiastical new moon and a nominal full moon (which ever comes first) of a 28-day lunation, on the vernal equinox of the 3rd tropical year of the Metonic cycle of the saltus lunae of the calendarium—provided that the Golden Number is larger than 11 (unless, of course, said sequence happens to fall on a synodic month with a Dominical Letter, in which case one must subtract the tithi from the Lilian epact).

A nice place to visit

(Or see here.)

The Road to Hell

Hell is situated five miles west of Pinckney via Patterson Lake Road. The community is served by the Pinckney post office with ZIP Code 48169. The unofficial population is 266.,_Michigan

The real Hell — located 60 miles west of Detroit — has a population of about 250 and no elected government.

“My only concern is that people will think Hell is an evil place,” he said.

The Virgin Birth

Here's a post I wrote a couple of years ago concerning some issues relevant to the virgin birth and objections to its historicity.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

James Has Been Banned

See here.

"Better to reign in hell"

Fiction can be more influential than Scripture in shaping popular theology. Dante and Milton are two examples. In general, I think that Dante’s vision of the afterlife has been more influential than Milton’s. This is especially the case in his depiction of hell—which is more memorable than his depiction of Purgatory or Paradise.

However, most English-speakers don’t read Medieval Italian, so in some ways Milton’s vision may have been more influential for English-speaking Christians. Of course, he came long after Dante, so Dante’s vision had more time to sink in. And first impressions tend to stick.

Also, I doubt contemporary Christians read Milton as often as they used to. They prefer C. S. Lewis or Tolkien.

Dante situates his epic poem in heaven, hell, and Purgatory, while Milton situates his epic poem in heaven, hell, and earth. So both poems are set in three major localities.

With Dante, it’s a progression from to the next. One at a time. With Milton, they alternate.

Dante’s version of heaven is very ethereal, while Milton’s version of heaven is very earthly. There’s a sense in which Milton’s version of heaven is earthier than his version of earth. For his depiction of the Eden is quite artificial, more like a theme park or formal garden. Milton didn’t have much of an eye for nature. He was an urbanite: a man of books and letters.

Milton’s version of heaven is like a scene from Clash of the Titans. A very Jovian God. More like Zeus than Yahweh.

Dante’s version of heaven is a masterpiece of scientific and theological synthesis: Thomism, Aristotelian physics, and Ptolemaic astronomy fused into one. A work of genius. Still, it can’t rise above the raw materials from which it’s drawn.

Both Dante and Milton have very detailed depictions of hell. I expect this is driven by the need for dramatic parity. If you’re going to write an epic poem about heaven and hell, then there needs to be some proportional balance between the two. In its way, hell needs to be as monumental as heaven to function as a dramatic counterweight.

Dante’s hell is highly compartmentalized. The space is divided and subdivided, like a hotel with many rooms or an office with many cubicles. Very ergonomic. A model of efficient penology.

By contrast, Milton’s version of hell is more like a dimly-lit warehouse or airport hanger. Vast stretches of empty space. Boundless.

There’s nothing very scary about Milton’s version of hell. Perhaps this reflects the outlook of a very bookish Englishman. Nothing better to do on a rainy day than sit in front of a fireplace with a good book.

With his urban esthetic, Milton likes to see big spaces subdivided into rooms with walls and doors. He’s ill at ease with vast expanses of nothingness. If Dante’s version of hell is often claustrophobic, Milton’s version of hell is agoraphobic.

Maybe he’s gripped by Pascal’s fear of the infinite. To be lost—because everywhere is nowhere in particular.

In Milton’s hell, the damned seem to have the run of the place. They make their own rules. By contrast, Dante ‘s damned are assigned to their infernal niches.

The problem with these depictions of heaven and hell is their lack of Scriptural mooring. They don’t represent a logical extrapolation from Scripture. Indeed, they’re often at odds with Scripture.

From a scriptural standpoint, there’s no reason to assume that hell will be a grandiose affair. For all we know, hell may be ticky-tacky place where nothing works. Leaky ceilings. Peeling paint. Drafty rooms. Barking dogs. Broken appliances. With Satan as the slumlord.

Likewise, the Biblical doctrine of the final state of the saints is far more down-to-earth than Dante’s disembodied conception. The resurrection of the just. The renewal of the earth.

What is Hyper-Calvinism?

Jim Ellis explains.

It's a bummer, man!

HT: Mathetes

"Epistemological Defeaters"

Michael Sudduth's excellent paper on "Epistemological Defeaters" is now online at the IEP.

Monday, December 08, 2008

"Resurrection Probably Reported in Same Year It Happened"

Craig Blomberg explains.

Not once saved, never saved

Zane Hodges died last month. Justin Taylor said:

“I join Dr. Wallace in strongly disagreeing with many of Dr. Hodges's views, but it is important to remember that the man was a Christian, called by Jesus Christ, and should be honored in his death.”

I disagree. He should not be honored in death. He was a heretic. And it wasn’t some abstruse point of heresy, but a very practical heresy. Hodges was a high priest of nominal Christianity and false assurance. Hodges was to Protestant theology what Tetzel was to Catholic theology.

Dan Wallace has testified to Hodges’ Christian character:

“Zane was a very honorable and ethical man. He was a man of prayer, and his life was one that was lived for Christ’s glory.”–2008/

That may well be the case. But that also exposes the gulf between Hodges’ doctrine and his private piety. For, according to Hodges, a Christian needn’t be ethical or honorable. Needn’t be a man of prayer. Needn’t live his life for Christ’s glory.

Hodges nailed the sign of Heaven to the gates of Hell—thereby misdirecting many unsuspecting souls from the pilgrim path to perdition’s path.

All too often, “once saved always saved” is synonymous with “not once saved, never saved.”

The best way to honor Hodges’ memory is to forget his life and work as quickly as possible.

"God’s Sovereignty: Two Stories"

Sixty-seven years ago the world seemed spinning towards chaos. But God's work in the lives of two men -- two enemies, to be more exact -- is testament to His sovereignty and the fact that no matter how bad matters might seem, He is in control.
See here for the rest of the story.

"Hell's Bells"

In this post I’ll transcribe some excerpts from a short story on hell. The short story was later adapted for TV. It’s the 29th episode in season 2 of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, which is now available on DVD.

In the TV adaptation, a hippie dies and goes to hell. The lead role is played by the wonderfully zany John Astin (of Addams Family fame).

He is expecting hell to resemble the Gustave Doré illustrations of Dante’s Inferno. Indeed, he’s looking forward to the new adventure. But after he arrives, he finds out that hell is a serious letdown.

The TV adaptation is kitschy and campy and dated, although that contributes to the satirical effect. Indeed, we’d expect hell to be a second-rate joint, like a fleabag motel or greasy spoon on Route 66.

It’s not Miltonian, but it wasn’t meant to be.

The original short story is very British, with lots of dated in-jokes.

Harry Turner

Actually being dead wasn’t as painful as Septimus Throgmorton-Duff had imagined it would be.
Dying itself, of course, was pretty nasty. Nobody with any respect for truth could pretend that getting thumped against a brick wall by an E-type was a “Fun” thing to happen.
It was thoroughly unfunny in fact. Painful too.
At the moment of his dead he knew that Hell was his final destination. No other place could possibly take him after his life on earth—of that he was quite certain.
Septimus Throgmorton-Duff had been a thoroughly bad lot. Blasphemer, fornicator, thief (this in a mild sort of way, his victims usually being British Rail, W. H. Smith and Tesco Supermarkets Ltd) and idolater.
So the prospect of Hell came as no surprise to him, indeed it filled him with a morbid curiosity.
Seconds after the E-type had severed him from his mortal coil he found himself in limbo—a sort of disembodied waiting-room, situated nowhere in particular.
Thin, wispy clouds scudded about his feet and dirge-like singing echoed tantalizingly in the background.
He sat uncomfortably on a tubular steel chair, surveying with cool disinterest a pile of last year’s Punch magazines.
In all, it was not unlike a visit to the dentist’s.
After a couple of hours a door, which Septimus had not previously noticed, sprang open and through it emerged a fussy little man in a white nightshirt carrying a clipboard and pencil.
“Mr Septimus Throgmorton-Duff?” he intoned.
“Yes,” said Septimus. “I am he.”
“You’ll have to wait another hour. Hell is very busy at the moment. The Governor seems to be sending everybody there these days—and it’s driving me frantic I can tell you.”
“Oh,” said Septimus, in what he hoped was a sympathetic tone.
“Yes,” said the little man, “frantic, now sit still and behave yourself—when they’re ready for you they’ll ring a bell and flash a red light above that door.” He pointed with his pencil, dramatically. “That’s when your worries really start.
“Cheerio now, must dash, got to catch up on my clerking.”
And then he was gone in a puff of cloud.
Hell, thought Septimus. At last. I wonder what it’s actually like.
Pits of acid perhaps, with tortured souls writhing in pain. Long tongues of flame scorching and searing the flesh of the damned.
Moaning and weeping, the crack of the Devil’s whip, the stench of brimstone and sulphur.
Ghastly implements of torture, thumbscrews, racks, all the nasty hardware of the Middle Ages sharpened and oiled to inflict agony for evermore nonstop.
Big hooks perhaps, dangling on endless chains from which the victims hang by their skewered bellies like the chap in Madame Tussauds.
There might even be red-hot coals, against which our naked buttocks sizzled like barbecued sausages at a beach jamboree.
Poisonous snakes, puncturing your throat every five minutes and making you swell up like a balloon.
Hairy spiders as big as footballs crawling over your face twenty-four hours a day.
Constipation. Pimples. Earache. Nosebleed. Double-vision and chilblains.
Pretty ghastly on the whole, more or less to be expected though.
He glanced at his watch. Time was not dragging as he feared it might. Only ten minutes to go.
He straightened his tie and combed his hair.
Not long now before the searing pain and relentless screaming began. Just a few more minutes in the little waiting room and then—POW.
The red light flashed and a bell pealed solemnly.
Septimus stood up and braced himself. Slowly the door opened—beyond it was dark and silent. He walked steadily towards it, his footsteps ringing on the stone.
Seconds more, he though, and I’ll see it.
A short staircase covered in tufted carpet led down into Hell.
There was no fire, no smoke, and no anguished howling.
Hell, as far as he could judge, consisted of a small square room with book-lined walls, a record-player, and a couple of comfortable sofas. Over the tiled fireplace hung a print of a Chinese woman with a green face.
Curious, Septimus moved quickly to the bookshelves and took down one of the volumes.
It was a bound edition of the Reader’s Digest. He replaced it and took another. This too was a bound edition of the Reader's Digest, and the next, and the next—
Septimus took a pace back and groaned. Nothing to read for the whole of eternity except the Reader’s Digest—what absolute H—. He checked himself and grinned.
Music, he suddenly decided, might be the answer. The music of Hell—something Wagnerian and heroic.
He switched on the record-player and watched the unlabelled disc fall on the turntable.
“And now,” said an American voice on the record, “sixteen hours of nonstop entertainment from The Sound of Music.”
Septimus switched off the record-player and flung himself onto a sofa.
A hand fell on his shoulder and he turned to meet the gaze of an imposing gentleman with a pointed beard, horns, a tail, and a three-pronged trident.
“Aren’t you going to roast me in sulphur or flay me with red-hot chains?”
“Gracious me no,” said the Devil, polishing the prongs of his trident with a little silk hankie.
“Well I think it’s an absolute fraud,” grumbled Septimus. “And it’s so small. Just this tiny room.”
“This little room is Hell for you, dearie.”
[With that] the Devil turned swiftly and minced towards the fireplace.
“Bye now,” he said, over his shoulder, “have fun.” Then he vanished up the chimney.
Septimus sat humbly for a few minutes and then went across to the bookshelf. He took down a volume of the Reader’s Digest stories and returned to the sofa.
As he turned the first page—“How a Vladivostok Crane Driver Overcome Pimples.”
A celestial choir sprang up in the background, belting out the first verse of I could have danced all night.

Herbert van Thal, ed. The Eleventh Pan Book of Horror Stories (Pan 1972), 82-86.

Is God's will bifurcated?

Annoyed Pinoy said...
Steve Said,

Why doesn’t God save everyone?

i) Either God is able to save everyone, but unwilling—in which case God is not omnibenevolent,

ii) Or else, God is willing to save everyone, but unable—in which case God is not omnipotent.

Those are the only logical alternatives: there is no third.

Absolutely no other logical alternatives?

What about (Calvinist) R. L. Dabney's view ( whereby God has a genuine "desire" (of sorts) for the salvation of the non-elect, but because of higher and more noble ends decrees the non-election of the reprobate. Similar to John Piper's view of there being two wills in God (

When it comes to the Well-Meant offer, I can take it or leave it as a Calvinist. But, is there really no *logical* tertium quid whatsoever? Steve, I'm sure you've encountered these types of arguments before. I assume therefore that you must find them unconvincing. Otherwise you would not have been so dogmatic about there being *no* other options (not even one). Have you posted a blog where you've gone into why you reject these Dabneyian-like type positions? If so, can you give us a link?


This is worth lifting out of the combox and addressing separately.

1.The mediating position of Piper or Dabney doesn’t escape my dilemma. Unless they equivocate, both of them must admit that God was unwilling to save the reprobate. He had the power to do so, but chose not to.

2.Dabney’s position is excessively anthropomorphic, both at the hermeneutical level and the theological level.

We need to remember that God is not a human being, and we also need to consider what that implies.

For example, suppose I’m reading about the downfall of king Saul. It’s a frightening story. He started out as a decent man, but one thing lead to another and he ended up in a moral freefall. Having done one wrong thing committed him to the next step in the downward spiral.

So Saul became an evil man. And we see the process spread before our eyes.

Because he became an evil man, we should disapprove of him. He did terrible things.

At the same time, when you read about him, it’s also hard not to feel sorry for the man. And that’s because the human reader will project himself into Saul’s situation.

We can imagine ourselves in that same situation. We understand how a man can make some wrong choices which cross a line of no return. He’s gone too far to back out. He’s trapped in the vicious momentum of evil.

It’s like a compulsive gambler who keeps playing and keeps losing in hopes of lucking out and recouping his losses. He can’t afford to lose, but he can’t afford to walk away from the table. Each time he falls further behind, but gambling is the only way to make enough fast money to repay his debts. The thing that’s getting him ever deeper into debt is his only hope of getting out of debt. It’s a tragic dilemma.

When we see things like that, it triggers a sense of empathy or compassion. Because we know that we could box ourselves into a similar predicament.

However, God is not a human being. As such, he doesn’t feel the same way. When God shows mercy to a sinner, it’s not because he identifies with the plight of the sinner in the way that you and I might identify with our fellow man.

God isn’t projecting himself into the situation of the sinner. God isn’t saying to himself, “That could happen to me! I could be that man! How would I feel if I were a compulsive gambler?”

There’s a disinterested quality to God’s mercy. Unlike human pity, it doesn’t involve an analogy between my situation and the situation of the next guy.

Up to a point, human sympathy is a good thing. It’s part of what makes us human. We have it because we’re human. We’re needy, vulnerable, and sinful. So we say to ourselves, “I could do the very same thing!”

But God is not a human being. And while I don’t deny that he has something analogous to certain human emotions, they don’t function in the same way.

3. As for Piper:

i) It’s true that, in a sense, God disapproves of some things he decreed. But that doesn’t involve a fundamental tension in the divine will. God didn’t have to ordain anything.

God doesn’t approve of everything that happens, considered in isolation, but he approves of the goal, and he approves of everything that happens insofar as it contributes to the goal—of the greater good.

So it’s very misleading to parse that in terms of two divine wills. For God wills the totality, and wills the individual elements with a view to the totality. Some events are individually evil, but instrumentally good.

ii) Piper’s position is also driven by his understanding of passages like Jn 3:16, 1 Tim 2:4, and 2 Pet 3:9, which he’s prepared to interpret in a fairly Arminian sense, but harmonizes with his overall commitment to Calvinism.

So his position on the bifurcated will of God is a hermeneutical harmonistic device. But I think that’s a solution to a pseudoproblem, since I don’t agree with his exegesis at this juncture.

The same hermeneutical pressures are driving Dabney’s position as well. Since I don’t share their hermeutical assumptions, I don’t need their harmonistic strategies.

iii) Piper proposes an answer to the question, what prevents God from saving everyone if he wants to. Piper says, “What restrains God’s will to save all people is his supreme commitment to hold and display the full range of his glory through the sovereign demonstration of his wrath and mercy for the enjoyment of his elect and believing people from every tribe and tongue and nation.”

To some extent that’s true, but we don’t have to cast that in terms of divine self-restraint, as though God wants something he can’t have because it conflicts with something else he wants even more.

Piper’s explanation makes sense if you grant the underlying tension, but that’s the very point at issue.

We need to remember that mercy for the wicked is quite counterintuitive. We wouldn’t expect a just judge to show mercy to the wicked. Ordinarily, it would be wicked to show mercy to the wicked.

To take a current example, many Americans are indignant at the sight of corporate executives who drive their companies into the ground, then walk away with a multimillion-dollar severance package while their former employees line up at the soup kitchen and the taxpayer is stuck with the tab.

There’s no reason to think that God feels conflicted when he damns a sinner for his iniquities. We sometimes feel conflicted at that prospect because we ourselves are sinners. Because we can put ourselves in the situation of a condemned man.

But that’s a very human tension. God isn’t subject to that kind of emotional turmoil. God’s judgment isn’t torn by human emotions.

There are divine and human goods. What’s good in God may not be good in man. What’s good in man may not be good in God.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Time, like an ever-rolling stream

For some reason, when men think about time, they find it only natural to reach for metaphors of motion: the proverbial “passage” of time. We use ourselves as the proximate point of reference. We see ourselves moving into the future, with the present moving by us, while the past lies behind us.

It’s the metaphor of a journey. Life as a journey. Maybe God has programmed us to perceive time in that fashion. That’s a morally and spiritually freighted metaphor.

The apparent passage of time generates its own paradox. As one philosopher puts it:

“On the one hand, what we perceive, we perceive as present. But on the other, we perceive succession, and so different states that cannot be viewed as present together, for then they would be perceived as simultaneous. Howe, then, we can perceive succession?…Presentness and the passage of time are projected on to the world, rather than being passively perceived. The view is parallel to projectivism about colour,” R. Le Poidevin, The Images of Time: An Essay on Temporal Representation (Oxford 2007), 10.

“I am looking at the clock on the mantelpiece, and note that both hands are pointing to twelve. Here, surely, is a straightforward case of veridical perception. There is the clock, and I am looking at it in near-ideal conditions. Without question, I see the clock, and the position of the hands, and at least a case can be made that I do so in an apparently unmediated way. The direct theory of perception is, if applicable to any case applicable to this one,” ibid. 97.

“But now the clock strikes noon, and I perceive a host of other things: not merely a series of sounds, but one chime as following on from another, the interval between chimes, and that interval as remaining the same in each pair of chimes. All these are instances of time perception, in that the content of the perception seems irreducibly temporal. But perceiving time in this way, and perceiving the clock, seem very different kinds of experience,” ibid. 97.

As Solomon observed long ago, in Ecclesiastes, the phenomenology of time is cyclical. That’s because nature is cyclical. And that includes the human lifecycle. Nature repeats itself.

As Solomon also pointed out, that can be depressing. It looks like repetition for the sake of repetition. No overarching goal.

But nature is not the only thing that affects our perception of time. Israel had a religious calendar. The weekly Sabbath. The annual holidays. This imposed a certain structure on time. Gave it a reflective rhythm.

Then there was the Day of the Lord. This gave time a telos. A forward-looking, goal-oriented perspective.

And that also made the past more meaningful. The past wasn’t merely something that had happened. The cumulative repository of various happenings. Rather, the past was like an unfinished story, with a beginning and a middle. This lent human existence a significance it would otherwise lack.

The OT perspective is refined by the NT perspective. There is the time leading up to the first advent of Christ. Not just an interval of time. But a providential arrangement of circumstances. There’s the interadventual age, which is fraught with anticipation. And then there’s the second advent of Christ, when the fallen world will come to an end, and a new, everlasting phase of history will commence.

Aristotle had a philosophy of time, but no philosophy of history—while the Bible has a philosophy of history, but no philosophy of time. And a philosophy of history is far more significant to human existence than a philosophy of time. A philosophy of time is fairly abstract and impersonal. But the Biblical philosophy of history has a narrative outline. Time as God’s story.

Later theologians like Augustine and Bonaventura tried to work out a Christian philosophy of time. The monastic life regimented time to a high degree. And debates about the Millennium also involve a philosophy of history.

I wonder if modern men are more or less aware of time than their forebears. On the one hand, modern recording technologies preserve an accurate record of the past. You can see people age and places change.

I can buy a DVD set of a TV show that I originally saw as a kid, 40 years ago. Some of the actors have long since died. I myself am older that some of the actors were when they starred in the show. That sort of thing might make you more aware of time’s passage.

We also live in a very mobile society. Many people don’t live and die where they were born and raised. Does that make you more or less aware of time?

Of course, even if you stay in the same place, the place around you may change due to urbanization and suburban sprawl. Businesses go out of business. Buildings are torn down. New buildings take their place—to be torn down a few years later. All that fosters a sense of transience.

In the past, it was common for people to live in the same place. And the place underwent little change over the years, or centuries, or even millennia.

You watched your age-mates age. You had the same set of childhood friends from the cradle to the grave (except for those who died of illness). That would foster a sense of constancy and continuity.

But it would also present change in a different perspective. You would go through the entire lifecycle in the same place, as would your parents and grandparents and your lifelong friends. Cyclical change.

People often comment on the inordinate length of Puritan church services. I expect one reason for their duration was the fact that, in the past, the service couldn’t begin at any precise time. You had to walk to church or ride a horse to church. Road were bad. You had no clocks or watches on the farm. So the congregation was a bunch of stragglers.

In the past, mortality was high. Families were large. And most folks died at home. Parents and Grandparents. Aunts and uncles. Brothers and sisters. In that respect, our forebears were more conscious of time’s passage that most moderns are. You saw a steady turnover, up close and personal. And very wrenching that would be.

The paradox of secular modernity is that while modern man can calculate and measure time with minute accuracy, he has lost the significance of the thing he measures. Our Christian forebears had a crude sense of time’s measurement, but a keen sense of time’s significance.

I’ll close with some observations by a noted historian of time:

“If, like the vast majority of the world’s people, he lives in a rural society, his time is measured for him by natural events: daybreak, sunrise, high noon, sunset, darkness. He needs no more accurate division, for these are the events that demarcate his round of waking, working, eating, sleeping. The sequence of tasks fills the day, and when night falls and the animals are cooped or stabled, parents and children eat their evening meal and go tired to bed, to wake the next morning with the birds and beasts and start another day,” D. Landes, Revolution in Time: Clocks and the Making of the Modern World (Belknap 1983), 1.

“City dwellers measure time by the clock. Animals do not wake them; an alarm does. Their activities are punctuated by points on an abstract continuum, points designated as hours and minutes. If they have a job or class that starts, say, at nine o’clock, they try to get there on time. They have appointments, and these are fixed by points on the time scale,” ibid. 1-2.

“Picture an immensely complicated and uneven but often densely trafficked marshalling yard, with components shifting and shunting about in all directions; only instead of trains and directed from without, we have people, sometimes directed but more often self-steering. That is the world of social and personal interaction, which works only because the member units have learned a common language of time measurement. Without this language and without general access to instruments accurate enough to provide uniform indications of location in time, urban life and civilization as we know it would be impossible. Just about everything we do depends in some way on going and coming, meeting and parting,” ibid. 2.

“One of the most powerful notions to shape a child’s consciousness is that of being late or of missing (the two notions are sometimes equated, which says something about the price of lateness)—missing a program, missing a plane, missing a meal, missing a religious service, missing a ball game, missing a party. Most people operate within a margin of plus or minus several minutes. If they have to a train to catch, they get to this station a few minutes early; likewise for appointments,” ibid. 2.

“The question to ask is: Why clocks? Who needs them? After all, nature is the great time-giver (Zeitgeber), and all of us, without exception, live by nature’s clock. Night follows day; day, night; and each year brings its succession of seasons. These cycles are imprinted on just about every living thing in what are called circadian (‘about a day’) and circannual biological rhythms. They are stamped in our flesh and blood; they persist even when we are cut off from time cues; they mark us as earthlings,” ibid. 15.

“These biological rhythms are matched by societal work patterns: day is for labor, night for repose, and the round of seasons is a sequence of warmth and cold, planting and harvest, life and death. Into this natural cycle, which all peoples have experience as a divine providence, the artificial clock enters as an intruder,” ibid. 15.

“The clock did not create an interest in time measurement; the interest in time measurement led to the invention of the clock. Where did this demand come form? Not from the mass of the population. Nine out of ten Europeans lived on the land…But urban centers developed late in the Middle Ages, from about the eleventh century on, and already before that there was an important timekeeping constituency. That was the Christian church, in particular the Roman branch,” ibid. 58-59.

“It is worth pausing a moment to consider this temporal discipline of Christianity, especially of Western Christianity, which distinguishes it sharply from the other monotheistic religions…In Judaism the worshiper is obliged to pray three times a day, but not at set times: in the morning (after daybreak), afternoon (before sunset), and evening (after dark)…In ancient and medieval times, nature gave the signals,” ibid. 59.

“Nocturnal devotions, then, appropriately called vigils, were a spiritual watch for the second coming (the parousia) of the Lord…It was in the West, in the Rule of Saint Benedict, that the new order of the offices found its first complete and detailed realization: six (later seven) daytime services (lauds, prime, tierce, sext, none, vespers, and compline) and one at night (vigils, later matins)…hence the very term ‘canonical hour’,” ibid. 61.

“In large part this progress reflects the church’s continuing concern to solve and systematize the dating of Easter and the other so-called movable feasts…This combination of measurement and calculation made possible the construction of horologia giving night and day for every day in the year,” ibid. 64-65.

“We have already noted the contrast between the ‘natural’ day of the peasant, marked and punctuated by the given sequence of agricultural tasks, and the man-made day of the townsman…The two environments differed radically in their temporal consciousness. This difference was growing. (It was not to contract until the nineteenth century, with the coming of the railroad and the penetration of the country by the rhythms and servitudes of the city),” ibid. 72.

“Every locality continued to have its own ‘true time’ as marked by the sun. It was not until the coming of the railway in the nineteenth century that a faster, denser traffic compelled the establishment of regional and national time zones; and not until the end of the nineteenth and start of the twentieth that international agreements reduced these to a global system,” ibid. 94.

“The repugnance for city life in an age of urbanization…was reinforced by the intense awareness of the brevity of life and the imminence of death. This was a society that had experienced and could not forget the great pandemic knows as the Black Death (1347-1350)…The Europeans of these centuries saw death as standing close by, ever ready to take them—who knew when?” ibid. 90.

“This emphasis on time thrift, on diligence in prayer and virtue, was a favorite theme of sermonizers because it was a potent one. It is hard for the skeptics and doubters of our secular and secularist age to appreciate the dread that then gripped small and great people alike, but we must believe them when they talk to us,” ibid. 91.

Newsweek Misrepresents Homosexuality And Polygamy In Judaism And Christianity

Lisa Miller of Newsweek has written a misleading article on religion and homosexual marriage. There are many false or misleading claims in the article, and a lot of relevant evidence is ignored. I don't intend to respond to the article in depth, but I do want to recommend some resources to consult. Here are some examples of how she argues her case:

Let's try for a minute to take the religious conservatives at their word and define marriage as the Bible does. Shall we look to Abraham, the great patriarch, who slept with his servant when he discovered his beloved wife Sarah was infertile? Or to Jacob, who fathered children with four different women (two sisters and their servants)? Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon and the kings of Judah and Israel—all these fathers and heroes were polygamists. The New Testament model of marriage is hardly better. Jesus himself was single and preached an indifference to earthly attachments—especially family. The apostle Paul (also single) regarded marriage as an act of last resort for those unable to contain their animal lust. "It is better to marry than to burn with passion," says the apostle, in one of the most lukewarm endorsements of a treasured institution ever uttered. Would any contemporary heterosexual married couple—who likely woke up on their wedding day harboring some optimistic and newfangled ideas about gender equality and romantic love—turn to the Bible as a how-to script?

Of course not, yet the religious opponents of gay marriage would have it be so....

First, while the Bible and Jesus say many important things about love and family, neither explicitly defines marriage as between one man and one woman. And second, as the examples above illustrate, no sensible modern person wants marriage—theirs or anyone else's —to look in its particulars anything like what the Bible describes....Biblical literalists will disagree, but the Bible is a living document, powerful for more than 2,000 years because its truths speak to us even as we change through history. In that light, Scripture gives us no good reason why gays and lesbians should not be (civilly and religiously) married—and a number of excellent reasons why they should.

In the Old Testament, the concept of family is fundamental, but examples of what social conservatives would call "the traditional family" are scarcely to be found. Marriage was critical to the passing along of tradition and history, as well as to maintaining the Jews' precious and fragile monotheism. But as the Barnard University Bible scholar Alan Segal puts it, the arrangement was between "one man and as many women as he could pay for." Social conservatives point to Adam and Eve as evidence for their one man, one woman argument—in particular, this verse from Genesis: "Therefore shall a man leave his mother and father, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh." But as Segal says, if you believe that the Bible was written by men and not handed down in its leather bindings by God, then that verse was written by people for whom polygamy was the way of the world....

Ozzie and Harriet are nowhere in the New Testament either. The biblical Jesus was—in spite of recent efforts of novelists to paint him otherwise—emphatically unmarried. He preached a radical kind of family, a caring community of believers, whose bond in God superseded all blood ties. Leave your families and follow me, Jesus says in the gospels. There will be no marriage in heaven, he says in Matthew....

If the bible doesn't give abundant examples of traditional marriage, then what are the gay-marriage opponents really exercised about? Well, homosexuality, of course—specifically sex between men. Sex between women has never, even in biblical times, raised as much ire. In its entry on "Homosexual Practices," the Anchor Bible Dictionary notes that nowhere in the Bible do its authors refer to sex between women, "possibly because it did not result in true physical 'union' (by male entry)."...Most of us no longer heed Leviticus on haircuts or blood sacrifices; our modern understanding of the world has surpassed its prescriptions. Why would we regard its condemnation of homosexuality with more seriousness than we regard its advice, which is far lengthier, on the best price to pay for a slave?...

In his book "The Arrogance of Nations," the scholar Neil Elliott argues that Paul is referring in this famous passage to the depravity of the Roman emperors, the craven habits of Nero and Caligula, a reference his audience would have grasped instantly. "Paul is not talking about what we call homosexuality at all," Elliott says. "He's talking about a certain group of people who have done everything in this list. We're not dealing with anything like gay love or gay marriage. We're talking about really, really violent people who meet their end and are judged by God." In any case, one might add, Paul argued more strenuously against divorce—and at least half of the Christians in America disregard that teaching.

Religious objections to gay marriage are rooted not in the Bible at all, then, but in custom and tradition (and, to talk turkey for a minute, a personal discomfort with gay sex that transcends theological argument)....The Bible endorses slavery, a practice that Americans now universally consider shameful and barbaric. It recommends the death penalty for adulterers (and in Leviticus, for men who have sex with men, for that matter). It provides conceptual shelter for anti-Semites....

Monogamy became the norm in the Christian world in the sixth century; husbands' frequent enjoyment of mistresses and prostitutes became taboo by the beginning of the 20th.

In contrast to such critical comments on the traditional Christian view of homosexuality, Miller is much less critical of the weak Biblical case for homosexuality:

Here [in David's tribute to Jonathan], the Bible praises enduring love between men. What Jonathan and David did or did not do in privacy is perhaps best left to history and our own imaginations....

In the Christian story, the message of acceptance for all is codified. Jesus reaches out to everyone, especially those on the margins, and brings the whole Christian community into his embrace....The great Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann, emeritus professor at Columbia Theological Seminary, quotes the apostle Paul when he looks for biblical support of gay marriage: "There is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Jesus Christ." The religious argument for gay marriage, he adds, "is not generally made with reference to particular texts, but with the general conviction that the Bible is bent toward inclusiveness."

The practice of inclusion, even in defiance of social convention, the reaching out to outcasts, the emphasis on togetherness and community over and against chaos, depravity, indifference—all these biblical values argue for gay marriage....

We want our children to grow up in stable homes. What happens in the bedroom, really, has nothing to do with any of this. My friend the priest James Martin says his favorite Scripture relating to the question of homosexuality is Psalm 139, a song that praises the beauty and imperfection in all of us and that glorifies God's knowledge of our most secret selves: "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made." And then he adds that in his heart he believes that if Jesus were alive today, he would reach out especially to the gays and lesbians among us, for "Jesus does not want people to be lonely and sad."

Miller's reasoning could also be applied, in part or in whole, to polygamy, incestuous marriage, marriage between adults and children, marriage between humans and animals, etc. As I said above, though, I don't want to analyze all of Miller's arguments or respond to her line-by-line. These issues have already been addressed in the archives of this blog and elsewhere.

What I primarily want to do in this post is recommend a couple of resources in particular from our archives. Miller doesn't say much about early Jewish and early post-apostolic Christian tradition regarding homosexuality and polygamy, even though that early tradition is much more significant than the more recent tradition she discusses. A source like Aristides or Justin Martyr is more likely to reflect an apostolic view of homosexuality or polygamy than a pastor or theologian of the nineteenth or twentieth century. Remember, Miller makes claims such as that "Monogamy became the norm in the Christian world in the sixth century; husbands' frequent enjoyment of mistresses and prostitutes became taboo by the beginning of the 20th."

The evidence we have from ancient Jewish and Christian sources suggests that polygamy was much less accepted than Miller claims and that there was widespread agreement on the unacceptability of homosexuality. When Jesus discussed marriage, He used language that suggests that He sided with the anti-polygamists of His day, and there was widespread early post-apostolic agreement among Christians that both homosexuality and polygamy are unacceptable. See my article on early Jewish and Christian views of homosexuality here and my article on polygamy here. Both articles address the Biblical data to some extent, not just extra-Biblical sources.