Saturday, February 14, 2009

Purgatory, Inc.

The debate over indulgences is a small part of a larger racket. This gets started whenever the church of Rome invents a pseudoproblem for Christians. Having manufactured this fictitious problem, it then proposes a fictitious solution. And, not surprisingly, the church of Rome is the only body on earth which is authorized to dispense the antidote.

It’s a very convenient arrangement. Keep churning out new necessities which only you can remedy. The solution is necessitated by first fabricating an unnecessary problem. Given the gratuitous problem, only Rome can solve the problem—for a price.

Indeed, the commercial illustration is more than a metaphor. For example, Peter’s Pence was a very lucrative way in which the papacy funded its building projects. Same thing with the requiem Mass.

It’s like a small business partnership between a funeral home and a serial killer. The serial killer provides the funeral home with a steady supply of cadavers while the funeral home remunerates the serial killer with a prorated kickback (computed according to the weekly headcount) for drumming up new business.

What’s striking is that we see such an inexhaustible supply of suckers for such transparent scam artistry. Long before the advent of televised faith-healers and swooning invalids, we had the church of Rome.

For every con man, there’s someone just waiting to be conned. If you’re looking for job security, this is the most reliable investment in the world. Forget about gold or real estate or Wall Street.

Sacred Tradition

Besides, our Histories of six thousand Moons make no mention of any other Regions, than the two great Empires of Lilliput and Blefuscu. Which two mighty Powers have, as I was going to tell you, been engaged in a most obstinate War for six and thirty Moons past.

It began upon the following Occasion. It is allowed on all Hands, that the primitive way of breaking Eggs, before we eat them, was upon the larger End: But his present Majesty's Grand-father, while he was a Boy, going to eat an Egg, and breaking it according to the ancient Practice, happened to cut one of his Fingers. Whereupon the Emperor his Father published an Edict, commanding all his Subjects, upon great Penaltys, to break the smaller End of their Eggs. The People so highly resented this Law, that our Histories tell us there have been six Rebellions raised on that account; wherein one Emperor lost his Life, and another his Crown. These civil Commotions were constantly fomented by the Monarchs of Blefuscu; and when they were quelled, the Exiles always fled for Refuge to that Empire. It is computed, that eleven thousand Persons have, at several times, suffered Death, rather than submit to break their Eggs at the smaller End.

Many hundred large Volumes have been published upon this Controversy: But the books of the Big-Endians have been long forbidden, and the whole Party rendered incapable by Law of holding Employments. During the Course of these Troubles, the Emperors of Blefuscu did frequently expostulate by their Ambassadors, accusing us of making a Schism in Religion, by offending against a fundamental Doctrine of our great Prophet Lustrog, in the fifty-fourth Chapter of the Brundrecal (which is their Alcoran.) This, however, is thought to be a meer Strain upon the Text: For the Words are these: That all true Believers shall break their Eggs at the convenient End: and which is the convenient End, seems, in my humble Opinion, to be left to every Man's Conscience, or at least in the power of the Chief Magistrate to determine.

Now the Big-Endian Exiles have found so much Credit in the Emperor of Blefuscu's Court, and so much private Assistance and Encouragement from their Party here at home, that a bloody War has been carried on between the two Empires for six and thirty Moons with various Success; during which time we have lost forty Capital Ships, and a much greater number of smaller Vessels, together with thirty thousand of our best Seamen and Soldiers; and the Damage received by the Enemy is reckon'd to be somewhat greater than Ours.

Fallacy of Equivocation

1. Everything is water.

2. If something is water, then it is all wet.

3. Thales' argument is water.

4. Therefore, his argument is all wet.

5. If an argument is all wet, then it is a bad argument.

6. Therefore, Thales' argument is a bad argument.

"The hope we taste in the promises we trust"

I've not yet failed to receive sweet succor from Jon Bloom's God-graced pen. His latest post is no exception. To paraphrase C.H. Spurgeon on Thomas Brooks: "There is a bright, vivacious, bounteous sound in the name 'Bloom,' and as is the name, such is the man." More from Bloom here.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Harold Hoehner, R.I.P.

Harold Hoehner died yesterday. Due to its central interest in OT prophecy, fundamentalism has been producing fine OT scholars for a long time. But it took longer to produce a NT scholar of comparable stature. I daresay that with Hoehner, fundamentalism came of age in the field of NT studies. And he, in turn, led the way for the next generation, viz. Darrel Bock.

Hoehner was a contributor to the ebook which Dr. Anderson and I edited (Love the Lord with Heart and Mind).

As I recall, Hoehner answered my questionnaire on the same evening I sent it out.

Superman Returns

Here's my side of an email exchange I had with a friend about Superman Returns:

1.It’s a middling film: not great and not terrible. It has its moments. One moment is when Superman takes Lois on a little night flight over NYC. Another is his freefall from heaven to earth.

2.One problem is the built-in limitations of the Superman character. He’s basically a juvenile fantasy: what every little boy would like to be like, or every adolescent who’s been bullied at school.

Superman is godlike: virtually omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. That doesn’t leave much potential for character development.

Making him vulnerable to kryptonite is a way of giving him an Achilles heel. But that’s a limited plot device.

Likewise, you can try to accentuate his social isolation, as an alien outsider and loner.

3.There are some potential avenues that a screenwriter could explore. What about the temptation to abuse his powers? His potential for evil?

Or you could have him kidnap Lois and try to win her affections by tempting her with all the goodies that his superhuman powers can lavish on her.

4.In this film, the character of Lois isn’t very appealing. A career woman with no time for the men in her life. Not the ideal love-interest. Who’d want her for a girfriend? She’s married to her job.

5.In this film, the character of Lex Luther was also a failure. Comic book villains are supposed to be enjoyable in a perverse way. Have a wicked sense of humor. A flair for the dramatic.

This time around Lex Luther simply comes across as mean. Spacey is a fine actor, but maybe he’s too naturalistic to ham it up and play a melodramatic comic book villain. He can’t chew the scenery.

6.Also, the save-the-world theme is a tired dramatic convention. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be used. But it’s so overused that it requires a lot of imagination to breathe fresh life into that dramatic convention.

Likewise, having Superman restrain muggers and bank robbers and so on has limited dramatic potential. It’s all fairly interchangeable.

7.Finally, there’s an incomplete feeling to the film. I think that’s because directors like to hedge their bets on action films. They need a stand-alone story line. But they also want to leave room for a sequel in case the film is a blockbuster. So you end up with action films that are a dramatic compromise. They aren’t quite satisfying on their own terms because the directors wants to leave the door open for a sequel.

"Health provisions"

According to this Bloomberg report, certain highly objectionable "health provisions" are part of Obama's stimulus bill.

HT: Edwin Leap.


Justin Taylor recently did a post on indulgences which drew fire from some Catholic commenters:

Jason Engwer has already responded to some of what was said, both here and there. For my part I’ll comment on some of the statements made by Bryan Cross:

Principium Unitatis said...

“You can't use sola scriptura to evaluate a Catholic doctrine, if you care about avoiding begging the question.”

If Bryan is going to turn this question into an issue regarding the burden of proof, then both sides have their respective burden of proof to discharge. Bryan must justify his own rule of faith to avoid begging the question. Although Bryan has attempted to do that in the past, I've subjected his effort to analysis and found them wanting.

“First you would need to find sola scriptura in Scripture, but it just isn't there.”

We don’t even need to defend sola Scriptura to attack indulgences. We can attack indulgences on other grounds.

i) How would we be in a position to know this dogma (indulgences) is true? What’s our source of information?

Indulgences assume a certain view of the afterlife. They posit a condition which we must satisfy to gain admission to heaven.

So that raises the question of how and what we know about the afterlife. It’s not as if this is a matter of ordinary observation or experience. Most of us only live once or die once. Even if we credit NDEs, these are too brief to attest Purgatory. The patient is clinically dead for just a few minutes.

So it’s not as if we have sufficient empirical evidence to verify the postmortem presuppositions which underlie the dogma of indulgences.

I suppose we could hold a séance. But that’s not a very reliable source of information. There’s a reason why necromancy is condemned in Scripture.

ii) Put another way, claims about Purgatory (which is a presupposition of indulgences) is analogous to claims reincarnation. Both Purgatory and reincarnation posit certain facts about the afterlife. But since the afterlife isn’t available for direct inspection, how is the Hindu or Catholic in a position to make these pronouncements?

iii) By the same token, the dogma of indulgences is making certain assumptions about the will of God. The conditions under which God is prepared to admit someone to heaven.

But we lack direct access to the mind of God. God must reveal his will to us.

How does Bryan establish the revelatory status of indulgences?

“Where does Scripture say that Christ paid all our *temporal* punishment? __I don't see that in Scripture anywhere.”

Where does Scripture say you can’t murder your wife?

Scripture contains a general prohibition against murder. That covers specific instances of murder.

Likewise, if Scripture teaches the general sufficiency of the atonement, then that would cover specific sins.

“That's why it seems to me that you are trying to get Scripture to say what it doesn't directly address (i.e. whether Christ already paid the debt of temporal punishment for all believers.)”

Even if we accept Bryan’s distinction for the sake of argument, the lesser is included in the greater. If Christ atones for mortal sin, then he atones for venial sin. If he atones for eternal guilt, then he atones for temporal guilt.

“In Catholic theology, temporal punishment is that penalty that we justly deserve for turning inordinately toward a mutable good. In every act of sin, a disordered disposition toward the mutable good chosen in that act of sin is formed or enhanced. The debt of temporal punishment must be paid, and the disordered dispositions must be removed, in order for us to enter heaven.”

Keep this definition in mind. Indulgences assume a theory of retributive punishment, not remedial punishment. The demands of divine justice must be met. The assignment of a just punishment. Just desert.

“Protestants typically do not make a distinction between temporal punishment and eternal punishment.”

That’s true—since, by Bryan’s own admission, both forms of punishment involve the same principle: retributive punishment. Therefore, if the atonement satisfies the justice of God in reference to the greater guilt of mortal sin, then it also satisfies the justice of God in reference to the lesser guilt of venial sin. That follows from the logic of Bryan’s own assumptions.

“Catholics, however, believe that in the sacrament of baptism all past and present sins are forgiven, but not future sins. So, for Catholics, at baptism all eternal punishment is removed *and* all temporal punishment is removed. This is why there is no penance assigned in the sacrament of baptism.”

Notice that Bryan is appealing to one Catholic dogma to prop up another Catholic dogma. But that begs the question twice over.

“But, for Catholics, a person after his or her baptism can, by sinning, accrue a debt of temporal punishment (by venial sins) and/or eternal punishment (by mortal sins).”

Did Christ not atone for postbaptismal sins? If not, then Bryan admits the insufficiency of the atonement. But if he did atone for postbaptismal sins, then why the rigmarole of penance, indulgences, and Purgatory?

“But since baptism cannot be repeated…”

Yet another Catholic dogma. Yet another question-begging appeal.

“And since the sacrament of penance removes eternal punishment by absolution but does not itself remove temporal punishment, therefore penance (for the payment of temporal punishment) is assigned to the penitent by the priest in the confessional.”

Still another Catholic dogma (penance). Still another question-begging appeal. Bryan is piling on Catholic assumptions, each of which requires a separate argument.

An exposition of Catholic dogma is no substitute for a defense of Catholic dogma.

“Catholics believe that God uses the sufferings of temporal punishment to bring us into conformity to the image of His Son, and that it is more perfect for Him to do this, and let us cooperate in our salvation, than simply to zap us and make us immediately and eternally perfect without our participation.”

i) Notice the bait-and-switch. The original rationale he gave for indulgences was predicated on the theory of retributive punishment: temporal guilt incurs just punishment. The sinner must cover that debt. On this view, Purgatorial suffering is retributive rather than remedial.

Now, however, Bryan is swapping out retributive punishment and swapping in remedial punishment. That’s a fundamentally different rationale.

ii) Even if we accept the remedial punishment as a supplementary rationale for Purgatory, Purgatory would still imply the insufficiency of the atonement on the retributive grounds that Bryan also gave. If we suffer in Purgatory because we deserve to suffer—then that is retribution rather than remediation.

“When you take these three points into consideration, then you can see how the need for temporal punishment does not imply that Christ's sacrifice was insufficient.”

To the contrary, when you take Bryan’s equivocations into account, you can see how the need for temporal punishment entails the insufficiency of the atonement.

iii) Moreover, Catholicism does believe that God can zap us and thereby produce an instantaneous, subjective change. Both baptismal regeneration and holy orders are supposed to effect an instantaneous change in the soul.

“From the Catholic point of view, the satisfaction made by Christ is sufficient for all punishment: eternal and temporal. In fact, our suffering of temporal punishment is satisfactory only by the merits of Christ, because our sufferings are united with His, such that we are allowed to (privileged to) be united to Him not only in His resurrection but also to share in His sufferings.”

i) If I must suffer to pay the debt of temporal punishment, then the suffering of Christ is insufficient to pay the debt of temporal punishment on my behalf and in my stead.

ii) Hovering in the background of this debate is Bryan’s tacit allusion to Col 1:24. Let’s quote Moo’s exegesis at this juncture:

Paul is not, of course, suggesting that the redemptive suffering of Christ requires any supplementation. As 1:19-20 and 2:15 in this letter make clear (quite apart from the evidence of other Pauline letters), Paul is convinced that Christ’s death on the cross is completely and finally capable of taking care of the human sin problem. It is not that there is anything lacking ‘in’ the atonement suffering of Christ but that there is something lacking ‘in regard to’ (TNIV) the tribulations that pertain to Christ as the Messiah as he is proclaimed in the world. The difference may even be suggested in the vocabulary that Paul uses, since he shifts from sufferings’ (Gk. pathema) to ‘afflictions’ (Gk. thlipsis), this latter word never being used in the New Testament for Christ’s redemptive sufferings,” D. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon (Eerdmans 2008), 151.

“Jewish literature speaks of the ‘messianic woes,’ tribulations to be endured by God’s people in the days immediately before the coming of the Messiah. Jesus and New Testament authors use similar language to describe the ‘last days,’ initiated with Christ’s first coming and awaiting their fulfillment with the glorious return of Christ (see esp. Mt 24:4-14 and par.). The early Christian consciousness, surely shared by Paul, that Christ’s coming had inaugurated the ‘last days,’ is an important backdrop to what Paul is saying here,” ibid. 151.

“Strictly speaking, indulgences are not necessary to alleviate temporal punishment, because it is not *necessary* that temporal punishment be alleviated. It is necessary under justice that the debt of temporal punishment be paid, but not that it be alleviated.”

I quote this to reinforce the retributive character of Purgatory suffering. “Necessary under justice” that the “debt be paid.” That is not equivalent to remedial punishment. There’s a categorical difference.

“If Christ has already suffered for you, and His suffering is completely sufficient, why then does He ‘mete out’ suffering to you in this present life? If you think the Catholic position is ‘contradictory’, then your own position has the same 'contradiction'.”

i) Why assume that a Christian even suffers for his own benefit, rather than the benefit of others? The analogy to Purgatory would be if I suffer for my own benefit—to pay the debt of temporal punishment which I incurred. But it’s quite possible to suffer for the benefit of others.

I might undergo a painful bone-marrow extraction to donate bone-marrow to my cancerous son.

I might hide my Jewish neighbors during WWII. If the Nazis find out, they’ll cart me off to the concentration camp.

ii) Notice, once again, the equivocation. What kind of suffering are we talking about? Retributive suffering? Remedial suffering? The two examples I gave in (i) don’t fall under either domain.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Catholic magisterial anti-Semitism

Since the issue of Catholic anti-Semitism has arisen, here’s an official specimen of Catholic anti-Semitism:


Summary. Jews should be compelled to make satisfaction for the tithes and offerings e churches, which the Christians supplied before their properties fell into of the Jews.

Text. The more the Christians are restrained from the practice of usury, the more are they oppressed in this matter by the treachery of the Jews, so that in a short time they exhaust the resources of the Christians. Wishing, therefore, in this matter to protect the Christians against cruel oppression by the Jews, we ordain in this decree that if in the future under any pretext Jews extort from Christians oppressive and immoderate interest, the partnership of the Christians shall be denied them till they have made suitable satisfaction for their excesses. The Christians also, every appeal being set aside, shall, if necessary, be compelled by ecclesiastical censure to abstain from all commercial intercourse with them. We command the princes not to be hostile to the Christians on this account, but rather to strive to hinder the Jews from practicing such excesses. Lastly, we decree that the Jews be compelled by the same punishment (avoidance of commercial intercourse) to make satisfaction for the tithes and offerings due to the churches, which the Christians were accustomed to supply from their houses and other possessions before these properties, under whatever title, fell into the hands of the Jews, that thus the churches may be safeguarded against loss.


Summary. Jews and Saracens of both sexes in every Christian province must be distinguished from the Christian by a difference of dress. On Passion Sunday and the last three days of Holy Week they may not appear in public.

Text: In some provinces a difference in dress distinguishes the Jews or Saracens from the Christians, but in certain others such a confusion has grown up that they cannot be distinguished by any difference. Thus it happens at times that through error Christians have relations with the women of Jews or Saracens, and Jews and Saracens with Christian women. Therefore, that they may not, under pretext of error of this sort, excuse themselves in the future for the excesses of such prohibited intercourse, we decree that such Jews and Saracens of both sexes in every Christian province and at all times shall be marked off in the eyes of the public from other peoples through the character of their dress. Particularly, since it may be read in the writings of Moses [Numbers 15:37-41], that this very law has been enjoined upon them.

Moreover, during the last three days before Easter and especially on Good Friday, they shall not go forth in public at all, for the reason that some of them on these very days, as we hear, do not blush to go forth better dressed and are not afraid to mock the Christians who maintain the memory of the most holy Passion by wearing signs of mourning.

This, however, we forbid most severely, that any one should presume at all to break forth in insult to the Redeemer. And since we ought not to ignore any insult to Him who blotted out our disgraceful deeds, we command that such impudent fellows be checked by the secular princes by imposing them proper punishment so that they shall not at all presume to blaspheme Him who was crucified for us.

[Note by Schroeder: In 581 the Synod of Macon enacted in canon 14 that from Thursday in Holy Week until Easter Sunday, .Jews may not in accordance with a decision of King Childebert appear in the streets and in public places. Mansi, IX, 934; Hefele-Leclercq, 111, 204. In 1227 the Synod of Narbonne in canon 3 ruled: "That Jews may be distinguished from others, we decree and emphatically command that in the center of the breast (of their garments) they shall wear an oval badge, the measure of one finger in width and one half a palm in height. We forbid them moreover, to work publicly on Sundays and on festivals. And lest they scandalize Christians or be scandalized by Christians, we wish and ordain that during Holy Week they shall not leave their houses at all except in case of urgent necessity, and the prelates shall during that week especially have them guarded from vexation by the Christians." Mansi, XXIII, 22; Hefele-Leclercq V 1453. Many decrees similar to these in content were issued by synods before and after this Lateran Council. Hefele-Leclercq, V and VI; Grayzel, The Church and the Jews in the XIlIth Century, Philadelphia, 1933.]


Summary. Jews are not to be given public offices. Anyone instrumental in doing this is to be punished. A Jewish official is to be denied all intercourse with Christians.

Text. Since it is absurd that a blasphemer of Christ exercise authority over Christians, we on account of the boldness of transgressors renew in this general council what the Synod of Toledo (589) wisely enacted in this matter, prohibiting Jews from being given preference in the matter of public offices, since in such capacity they are most troublesome to the Christians. But if anyone should commit such an office to them, let him, after previous warning, be restrained by such punishment as seems proper by the provincial synod which we command to be celebrated every year. The official, however, shall be denied the commercial and other intercourse of the Christians, till in the judgment of the bishop all that he acquired from the Christians from the time he assumed office be restored for the needs of the Christian poor, and the office that he irreverently assumed let him lose with shame. The same we extend also to pagans. [Mansi, IX, 995; Hefele-Leclercq, III, 7.27. This canon 14 of Toledo was frequently renewed.]


Summary. Jews who have received baptism are to be restrained by the prelates from returning to their former rite.

Text. Some (Jews), we understand, who voluntarily approached the waters of holy baptism, do not entirely cast off the old man that they may more perfectly put on the new one, because, retaining remnants of the former rite, they obscure by such a mixture the beauty of the Christian religion. But since it is written: "Accursed is the man that goeth on the two ways" (Ecclus. 2:14), and "a garment that is woven together of woolen and linen" (Deut. 22: ii) ought not to be put on, we decree that such persons be in every way restrained b the prelates from the observance of the former rite, that, having given themselves of their own free will to the Christian religion, salutary coercive action may preserve them in its observance, since not to know the way of the Lord is a lesser evil than to retrace one's steps after it is known.

Jay Dyer: Puppet of the International Jewish Conspiracy

“With his usual vitriol, Calvinist Steve Hays of Triablogue…”

Vitriolic? Dyer posts a vitriolic attack the Jews and then feigns indignation at my (alleged) vitriol. Anyway, my post was satirical rather than vitriolic.

“Who mocks and derides conspiracy theories (though apparently he doesn't read the news which speaks on a daily basis about the ‘New World Order’) , has decided to attack yet again, this time in defense of Zionists.”

In other words, Dyer gets his information about the International Jewish Conspiracy from reading the newspaper. But didn’t he tell us that the news media is a front organization for the International Jewish Conspiracy?

So Dyer is getting his information about the International Jewish Conspiracy from organs of the International Jewish Conspiracy. Dyer has been duped by the International Jewish Conspiracy. He’s a pawn of the Zionists. A puppet of Nathaniel Philip Victor James Rothschild.

That’s not surprising. After all, I happen to know that his coblogger, Mack Barnes, is a Zionist plant.

(Nat Rothschild told me that when I saw him last—at the annual meeting of the Trilateral Commission.)

“Hays here ventures into a realm in which he knows absolutely nothing, calling the article a ‘theory.’ Its not a theory that the Jewish organizations listed are pro-abortion, Steve.”

I didn’t venture a comment on that claim. Dyer is tilting at windmills.

“It's a sad fact that ‘Jews’ make up around 2% of the population and provide around half of the funding for abortion.”

It’s an equally sad fact that in 2005, the American Life League identified 72 pro-abortion Catholics in Congress:

It’s also a sad fact that Catholic Justice William Brennan was the brains behind Roe v. Wade:

“There are no liberal Catholics that support abortion. They are not Catholic and according to canon law are ipso facto excommunicated.”

The Vatican is quite capable of publicly excommunicating someone when it wants to send a message, viz. Luther, Cranmer, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Frederick II, Castro, Perón, Lefebvre, &c.

Why has it never seen fit to publicly excommunicate an influential proabortion Catholic politician?

By contrast, Joe Lieberman was publicly excommunicated because his voting record went against traditional Jewish ethics:

“World Jewry is undeniably anti-christ to the core in its upper-echelons of power: banking, finance, etc. How does Hays not know this?”

Irrelevant to any of my comments. Dyer likes to scatter little decoys hither and yon to deflect attention away from his inability to address my specific criticisms.

“The point of the post is the predominance of Jewish organizations in the promotion of abortion.”

No, the point of the piece is to smear Jews qua Jews.

“Why is Hays denying this and defending Zionism?”

I didn’t take any position on Zionism in my post. Yet another diversionary tactic on Dyer’s part.

“I believe the Jews will convert to Christianity in the future (Romans 11).”

And when will Catholics convert to Christianity?

“Arabs are semites, so for Jews to hate Arabs or Jesus is ‘anti-semitic.’ Pro-life Jews make all these same criticisms: are they anti-semitic?”

Meaning is based on usage, not etymology.

“There is nothing in my views that precludes the Inspiration of the Old Testament: I defend it frequently.”

The article which he approvingly posted verbatim on his blog says “The old testament, in Exodus 21:22-23 shows us that the Jews did not regard unborn lives as human beings as reflected in the laws during that period.”

That means the Mosaic law merely codifies Jewish opinion. It’s not a divine law code.

“Moses said they were a ‘crooked and perverse race’ in Deuteronomy, foreshadowing their rejection of Christ. Is that anti-semitic?”

Moses was Jewish, too. Did he include himself in that statement? Did he include the Jewish Messiah in that statement? Did he include the Jewish Apostles in that statement?

“Hays is obviously unaware of Talmudic teaching as well.”

Is Dyer a Talmudist? Does he read the Talmud in the original?

Helm on heaven

Last month, Paul Helm did a brief, but provocative post on heaven:

Before I comment on the specifics, I’ll make a few general comments:

i) Any guesswork about the details of the afterlife is bound to be somewhat speculative. However, if it’s all right for Christians to write science fiction, it’s all right for Christians to speculate about the afterlife. In the long-run, reality is more edifying than fiction.

ii) There are degrees of speculation. There’s a difference between speculation that extrapolates from something we know (e.g. Scripture, experience), and speculation which is totally disconnected from all that what we know.

iii) Finally, anything we can imagine, God can imagine—and infinitely more. Many things are realistic for God. The only limits on omnipotence are wisdom and logic. So it’s not as if we can outdo God in our conjectures about the afterlife. There are far more possibilities in a Christian worldview than secularism can furnish.

Moving onto Helm:
I should like to put in a good word for heaven. It’s having a hard time at present, even when it is discussed within the capacious tent that is evangelicalism. First it was hell, now it’s heaven. Whatever is going on? What’s going on is the domestication of heaven, the propounding of the idea of ‘geo-heaven’. One way of Christianising the belief in a global warming contagion, of providing a motive for caring for the environment other than the reason that it’s an intrinsically good thing to do, or that it is in our short-term interests, is to say, ‘The earth is the place to which the Lord Jesus will return, where he will take up his residence with the redeemed, so let’s get busy and make it nice’. Or keep it nice, depending on where you live. The implication seems to be that there is to be a new earth continuous with this earth, with, for example, the same mountain ranges, oceans and deserts, towns and cities, though with their ‘dark Satanic mills’ dismantled, or at least made angelic through having zero carbon emissions. The environmentally-friendly earth is to be the location of the New Jerusalem. Sometimes the parallel with redemption from sin is drawn more tightly, with CO2 emissions taking the place of sin being. Lower the emissions and so make a palace fit for the Great King.
Here, Helm is shadowboxing with anonymous opponents. Perhaps he’s attacking the radical chic environmentalism of some of his trendy colleagues at Regent College:
Paul Williams, an economist and theologian from Vancouver's Regent College, a Christian post-secondary school, warned that our western consumption-oriented society has been living well beyond its means for years. "Has capitalism become a drug dealer in effect -- encouraging our addiction to fossil fuels?" asked Williams."Are the oilsands a 'dirty injection site,' a last, desperate chance for us to feed this addiction?"
This course [INDS 600 UNDERSTANDING CREATION] examines the current concern about human relationship to Creation, in order to come to understand some of the spiritual, philosophical, social and economic forces which have shaped that relationship, to survey and evaluate contemporary ethical and religious responses to environmental issues and to lay the foundations for a biblical ethic of “earthkeeping”: stewardship of creation.
If that is Helm’s target, then I appreciate his backhanded swipe at Green theologians. The church is prey to popular fads.

There is, however, the danger of caricaturing his opponents. Not all theologians who advocate a more down-to-earth conception of the final state are tree-huggers, driven by a global warming agenda. For example, some scholars argue for a more earthly conception based on the OT land-promises. Likewise, Rom 8:20-21 presents a picture of renewal rather than wholesale destruction.

From an eschatological standpoint, the pros and cons of environmentalism are irrelevant, for even if you take a more down-to-earth view of the final state, the condition of the new earth would depend on divine palingenesis rather than Kyoto Protocols.
Sometimes the doctrine of geo-heaven is supported by a critique of what is allegedly the ‘traditional view’, that the redeemed continue as immortal spirits with heaven being the place – if that’s the right word – where such spirits enjoy an unending vision of God. It’s not clear to me whoever held such a view, certainly no mainstream theologian, nor is it the traditional teaching of the Christian church, which affirms the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
Well, I think the question at issue is how successfully, or not, the church has integrated its commitment to the resurrection of the body into its view of heaven. As one scholar observes:
“The problem of the interim [i.e. intermediate state] continued to vex the theologians on into the fourteenth century. Either we have a complete beatitude at the moment of death, or we do not have it before the Last Judgment. If we have to wait to the endtime, where and in what form are we waiting? But if we have it right away, do we have it without our bodies? This dispute racked the church of the early fourteenth century, as theologians ransacked the fathers to support one or another position. Most of the earlier fathers had assumed that souls had to wait until the endtime for the beatific vision. But others took the view that the blessed see God right away at death, and this latter view had become dominant in the West during the scholastic period and was asserted again at the Council of Vienne in 1311. The East on the whole continued to accept the earlier view,” J. Burton, A History of Heaven (Princeton 1997), 138-39.
Continuing with Helm:
The implication seems to be that there is to be a new earth continuous with this earth, with, for example, the same mountain ranges, oceans and deserts, towns and cities, though with their ‘dark Satanic mills’ dismantled, or at least made angelic through having zero carbon emissions.
Well, that raises a number of interesting questions:

i) Our terrestrial topography is dynamic rather than static. Landmarks change over time. Same thing with urbanization. London in 1000 AD is very different from London in 2000 AD.

ii) Apropos (i), people who live at different times experience different landscapes and cityscapes. A 10C Londoner had a very different experience that a 20C Londoner. Very different memories.

iii) So this is not merely a question of space, but the intersection of time and space.

iv) So what might the new earth be like? Would it be reset to a particular period in earth history? Would the towns and cities remain standing? Duplicate towns and cities? Or would it be backdated to virgin forest?

Obviously we don’t know the answers. But what are the possibilities?

a) If we confine ourselves to Scripture, consider the phenomenon of visionary revelation. The seer is a virtual time-traveler. Although he doesn’t actually travel into the future, he foresees the future. And that principle can work in reverse. It’s possible to physically occupy a single timeframe (the present), but experience another timeframe (the past or future).

b) Likewise, remember the Devil showing Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in an instant (Lk 4:5)? It’s possible to experience more than one place at a time even if you physically occupy only one place at a time.

c) Even in this life there are reported cases of retrocognition or timeslips.
As to location, it seems to follows as a matter of logic that if a place is prepared for his people, a place where Jesus is, then space is involved. And if the redeemed are embodied, as Christ teaches, and Paul endorses, then movement, and therefore time, are involved. If there is embodiment then the ‘eternity’ of heaven cannot be the ‘timeless eternity’ of God himself. So, space and time. This line is borne out by the presumably not misleading language of the New Testament that heaven is, or is like, a city. But a transcendent city, the new Jerusalem, prepared as a bride for her husband.
I agree with most of this. However, at the end of Revelation, the New Jerusalem descends to earth. (I’m not attempting to interpret that passage at the moment—just mention a key detail which Helm omits.)
But how are we to think of this? It’s not very easy, and we’d best be cautious. Perhaps the least unsatisfactory way is to think in terms of the analogy of God as a literary author. As an author he has written one book, the book of human prehistory and history. But he’s the author of another book with a timeline that overlaps that first book. As the lives of the characters in the first book come to an end so the characters are transferred into the second book, where Jesus is already present, and where the angels always behold the face of his Father.
i) This reminds me of the scene from The Last Battle, where the good guys exit the old Narnia for the archetypal Narnia.

ii) One problem (among others): it’s as if Helm has a doctrine of the Ascension and the intermediate state, but no doctrine of the Parousia and final state. As if he thinks we go to Christ when we die, but Christ never comes to us. Where does the Second Coming of Christ figure in his eschatology? What about the endtime generation? What about the timing of the general resurrection? Is he a preterist?
What is the metaphysics of the transition from the first book to the second? We can best answer that question by asking another. What does Paul mean by his phrase a ‘spiritual body’? Once we have an answer to this seemingly oxomoronic expression then I suppose we shall be able to fill in the details of the transition.
Unfortunately, Helm doesn’t try to define that phrase. In my opinion, a “spiritual body” is a glorified physical body. It’s similar to our mortal body, but youthful, ageless, and disease-free.
As regards the mode of existence, the New Testament seems to focus on the moral and spiritual transformation that takes place in or at the transition. We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Those with such a hope are motivated to purify themselves here and now.
But that doesn’t select for any particular location. That doesn’t require a setting different from the new earth.
What of continuity and discontinuity? Here also there is room for speculation and debate, though of necessity the debate is rather ill-informed. Are there cultural products of volume one in volume two? If the resurrection of the body, and what we know about the character of the resurrected body as ‘spiritual’ is to be the chief motif of our thinking about the life to come, then this may warrant us in thinking that the new heavens and the new earth, in which righteousness dwells, will be structured by continuity and discontinuity.
i) I’d conjecture that the new earth will reflect a sanctified version of the cultural products from the fallen world. That would be the starting point.

ii) Keep in mind that this process has been underway for millennia in the sense that Jews and Christians have been going to heaven for millennia. Presumably, they took their memories of life on earth along with them. They’ve had centuries in heaven to develop a new culture. To improve on what they knew. They would be in a position to jump-start the process. They have a very advanced civilization—like SF stories about aliens who bring their technology with them when they colonize a planet.
Just as the resurrection body is a ‘spiritual body’, the transformation of the earthly body, are such cultural products carried over in a suitably refined way, fumigated by the Spirit? Perhaps they are. There’s a similar problem with memory, so essential, it seems, to our own present identity. If my memory is to be refined and renewed, how can it still be my memory? Amnesia destroys the sense of self.
i) I’m not quite sure why he thinks that memory is a problem. Perhaps what he has in mind is the fact that, as sinners, our memories are sinful. We remember sinful things we’ve seen or done.

However, I don’t see how that’s a problem. There’s a difference between sinful memories and memories of sin. It’s not inherently sinful to remember sinful things. Jesus saw many sinful things. He remembers what he saw. But his recollection of evil is not evil in itself.

ii) However, the relation between memory and personal identity raises another issue. Our memories are bound up with a sense of place. Where we saw certain things. Where we did certain things.

To that extent, personal identity is also bound up with a sense of place. Living in the same place or revisiting the same place is a way of refreshing our memories.

So the question is whether we can retain personal identity over time on Helm’s scenario. If we forever leave the earth behind, then we will lose the physical associations which reinforce our memories. Our memories of life on earth will fade. And that, in turn, will precipitate an identity crisis.

Theoretically, there are solutions to this problem. God could miraculously restore and solidify our memories. But that solution is somewhat ad hoc in terms of how Helm has chosen to frame the issue.

It's certainly true that in thinking about heaven we need to echo the New Testament’s caution as regards the details. In at least three respects. In terms of location, continuity and the mode of existence in heaven. We see through the mirror darkly. Nevertheless the trajectory of the biblical teaching, of Christ’s own teaching, is clear. Jesus, presumably not a Platonist, speaks pretty clearly about the transcendence of heaven. ‘I go to prepare a place for you…..’ Can this be spiritualised? It is hard to see how we can do this with a straight face. Peter writes of the heavenly bodies being dissolved. 'Eye has not seen……..' Surely at points such as these, maybe at all points in its teaching, the New Testament stresses not sameness but difference. Jerusalem which is above; here we have no continuing city; we are to inherit an eternal weight of glory. After all this emphasis on the unearthly, on the glory, on the transforming face of Christ, wouldn’t a eco-friendly Basingstoke or Blackpool be rather a let down? ‘As long as the earth remains’ there will be seedtime and harvest, implying, presumably, that there is coming a point when it ceases to remain.
Supporting this trajectory is Christ’s own physical resurrection and ascension. Why has he ascended, but as a foreshadowing of the Church’s own ascension? What does Christ’s own ascension foreshadow but his handing over the kingdom to his Father after having put down every rule and every authority and power? (I Cor. 15.24) So shall we ever be with the Lord. Such words seem to promise more than the transformation of Sheffield or Cincinnati into garden cities.

Here Prof. Helm alludes to a number of prooftexts to support his position. Unfortunately, he doesn’t bother to exegete any of his prooftexts. Let’s look at them:

Gen 8:22

In its postdiluvial context, this verse accentuates the stability of the earth. A divine promise of preservation from further destruction—on a comparable scale, much less on a greater scale (cf. 8:21; 9:11).

Jn 14:2-3

I don’t know where exactly Helm is going with this passage. The wording of the passage is ambiguous. But, as a practical matter, I don’t think it would be very meaningful for Jesus to tell the disciples that hundreds or thousands of years after they died, he will come back for them and take them to be with himself. It’s not as if they’re waiting for him, here on earth, long after they died.

So I assume this has reference to the intermediate state. They have reserved seating (as it were). It’s a case of inaugurated eschatology. A foretaste of things to come. And that, of itself, is neutral on the nature of the final state.

1 Cor 2:9

I’m sure the world to come will surpass our experience of a fallen world. That doesn’t mean the world to come is totally alien to human experience. For example, the Risen Christ was recognizable to his friends. He had a tangible body, with a functioning digestive system.

2 Cor 4:17

I don’t see how that’s supposed to single out Helm’s version of heaven.

1 Thes 4:17

Once again, I don’t know where exactly Helm is going with this passage. It’s a classic prooftext for the Parousia—an endtime event which triggers the resurrection of the just. It’s not about Christians going to be with Christ when the die, but about the return of Christ to glorify his people.

The imagery involves the literary convention of a delegation that goes out of the city to greet a visiting dignitary, and then escorts him back into the city. For detailed exegesis, see Beale and Bruce.

Heb 13:14

How we construe this verse depends on how we construe the author’s eschatology—which is bound up with his typology. There’s a certain amount of platonic imagery in Hebrews. However, the author uses platonic imagery as a metaphor for a more dynamic or historical worldview: space as a metaphor for time, the past as figure of the future. The two worlds (spatial/vertical dualism) symbolize two overlapping epochs (temporal/horizontal dualism). The author is using spatial metaphors to contrast the provisional character of the old covenant with the finality of the new covenant. Cf. A. Lincoln, Hebrews: A Guide (T&T Clark 2006), 92-100.

2 Pet 3:10-11

i) Here Peter uses stock eschatological imagery wherein the day of judgment is depicted as a cosmic conflagration. The question at issue is what this stands for. Fire can denote literal destruction or figurative purification. Logically speaking, the objects of divine judgment would be personal agents, not sticks and stones.

ii) Not only does Scripture use cataclysmic endtime imagery, but it also uses golden-age endtime imagery. It’s arbitrary to take the cataclysmic imagery literally, but the golden-age imagery figuratively. Both types of imagery are figurative.

Gallup On

Since Darwin turns 200 today, Gallup has released a poll (actually, they released it yesterday) about the number of Americans who believe in evolution. The question asked is:

Do you, personally, believe in the theory of evolution, do you not believe in evolution, or don’t you have an opinion either way?

There are a couple of things to note with this question. First: “Do you, personally, believe…” As opposed to what? Do I corporately believe? Do I impersonally believe? That’s a dumb way of phrasing the question.

But even dumber is the “in the theory of evolution.” There is no such thing as THE theory of evolution. There are many competing (no pun intended) theories of evolution, of which neo-Darwinism is the most prolific currently.

So my answer to that question would have to be a “depends on how it’s defined.”

Because of the poor wording, the numbers we get back are probably not very relevant. In any case, according to Gallup, only 39% of Americans believe in evolution, while 36% have no opinion either way and 25% do not believe in evolution. Interestingly enough, Gallup is spinning this result as: “Only 4 in 10 Believe in Evolution” whereas I’m sure most Darwinists would rather spin it as: “Only 1 in 4 Do Not Believe in Evolution.”

You can read the Gallup article to see how they’ve tried to correlate belief in evolution to lack of church attendance and increased education, but I find it more interesting that despite a monopoly on publik edjukashun and despite a monopoly in the universities, only 55% of Americans could correctly answer Can you tell me with which scientific theory Charles Darwin is associated?

(BTW, not to be overly picky, but I actually think no one got this question right. The correct response is not, as Gallup indicated, “Evolution, natural selection, etc.” but rather “Yes” or “No.” The question asked is CAN you tell me, not Please tell me.)

Darwinists can complain that their message just isn’t being taught correctly all they want, but there remains an interesting correlation in the Gallup poll that must be explained:
Younger Americans, who are less likely to be religious than those who are older, are also more likely to believe in evolution. Still, just about half of those aged 18 to 34 say they believe in evolution.
Younger Americans are more likely to have not yet gone through college, since they aren’t old enough to be post-docs. Which to me seems like a contradiction to the rest of the poll. Namely, if younger Americans believe in evolution at the rate of 49% to 18% who don’t, then how is it that those who are only high school educated disbelieve it at such a high rate? The way I see it, the only way to reconcile that is to say that the sample of those with only a high school education must include an awful lot of people who are older than 34 years to “correct” for the high younger American statistics.

And by the way, if that is the case, then I don’t find it at all amazing that someone who last studied Darwinism 20, 30, 40 years ago won’t remember what it was, exactly.

I think if I were to spin this poll myself, I’d say that what it actually shows us is that those who are currently studying the theory of evolution believe it. And that, too, is logical since the dissent is never presented while you are studying the theory, and when you have intellectual peer pressure being put upon you to conform to the will of the professor (or high school teacher), you’re going to go with the crowd. Once you get out on your own, you realize two important facts: 1) Darwinism means absolutely nothing to you in your day-to-day living and 2) there are actually arguments against Darwinism out there.

That’s my take. I figure it’s worth just as much as anyone else who wants to cherry pick data from a Gallup poll.

Islam and Arminianism

Reppert linked to a post that takes some claims from the unscholarly work of Geisler on Islam and then proceeds to quote-mine from that book and quote-mine from Calvin and Calvinists in order to show that the two positions are similar.

Of course, no care was taken to show the context or meaning behind quotes centuries apart. It is also safely assumed that the author of the post Reppert linked to has studied neither Islam or Calvinism. The smart money is that he grabbed his two Geisler books (Crescent and Cross and Chosen but Free) and slapped some similar sounding statements next to each other and then let the careless reader infer some sort of identity between the two. So, we're off on a bad foot already.

But besides this, Reppert makes the correct point that, "I am not sure of the value of this line of argumentation in a critique of Calvinism, however. First, a similarity to something is Islam is not an automatic problem. Muslims do get some things right." Right. As if either author will now denounce the Kalam cosmological argument because of its associations with Islam. Indeed, both Islam and Arminianism deny that man is actually affected by original sin, prevenient grace having swept that problem under the rug.

Reppert says, "The Calvinist responses here seem to involve theological voluntarism, which is certainly a natural inference from some things Reformed theologian say, but I don't think is essential to Calvinism." Not only is it not shown that voluntarism is a "natural inference", Reppert knows that I have linked to a paper that discusses this very point in detail. I know Reppert popped off a couple responses to that, but I showed him where in the paper his rebuttals were answered. Reppert gives the impression that he only skimmed Sudduth's paper, at best. Indeed, when I showed his response to Sudduth, the reply was, "Paul, didn't I cover that in the paper?"

Lastly, Reppert says, "I did say at some points in my exchanges with Calvinists a few months back that I thought that the theodicy moves they were making could as easily be made on behalf of Islam as well as on behalf of Christianity." Of course this claim gains its force by the shared level of ignorance on both Islam and Calvinism.

For example, if we want to wax contemporary, I recently interviewed a Muslim Imam (PhD at Leeds in Arabic) and he told me that Islam taught that man had libertarian free will and that Allah has only revealed what man is to do and not do, it is up to man to do it. He makes the same moves Arminians make, viz., Allah is loving and merciful, he could not cause people to sin. The Koron uses the words "choice" and so it must be read as affirming determinism, etc. He said the teachings some of thought implied determinism or fate just mean God has exhaustive foreknowledge. Muslims have just expressed this in ways foreign to some Western ears, i.e., "write their deeds in a book." Dr. Sahibzada said this means only that he knows all they will do.

But if we need to wax historic, how about the Mu'tazili school of Islam? In the 8th century Mu'tazili argued that evil is the result of free will. Islam has its "Arminians" just like Christianity has its Arminians. But those who want quick and easy refutations of another religion are loathe to represent it in all its various sophistications. It is known that Islam makes room for a variety if views. In the interest of time, I cite the unscholarly, but useful-on-the-fly, Wikipedia:

"From early days of Islamic civilization, and because of both internal factors including intra-Muslim conflicts and external factors including interfaith debates, several questions were being debated by Muslim theologians, such as whether the Qur'an was created or eternal, whether evil was created by God, the issue of predestination versus free will, whether God's attributes in the Qur'an were to be interpreted allegorically or literally, etc. Mu'tazili thought attempted to address all these issues."
Here another Islamic scholar used the FWD:

And from the Quran we can understand that Allah has given humans free will, in order to test them to prove who is better in good deeds:

*{Every soul shall have a taste of death: and We test you by evil and by good by way of trial; to Us must ye return.}* (Al-Anbiyaa' 21:35)

One consequence of freedom is that humans may choose evil instead of good. But if they are forcefully prevented from choosing evil, there will not be any freedom.
Another Muslim writes,

As for your question regarding the will of Allah, each human being has been given the ability to choose his/her own path in this life and to follow either what is right or to follow what is wrong. If a person chooses to do something good and is able to follow through and perform that deed, then it is only because Allah has allowed it. The same is true if a person has chosen to perform a bad deed. He/she is only able to perform that deed if Allah allows it to happen.
Here an Islamic scholar addresses the issue and sounds very Arminian. He appeals to an "age of accountability," and makes the traditional "foreknowledge does not imply determinism" arguments used by so many Arminians:

Therefore, according to the post Reppert linked to, using the same logical form, we can test for validity by counter-example and claim that Islam and Arminianism have many things in common when it comes to free will and theodicy, therefore Arminianism must be "naughty."

So, we have, yet again, another poor attempt to undermine Calvinism. And yet again, we see that Calvinism has no undefeated defeaters.

Calvinism doesn't get treated charitably. Its opponents typically want to malign it and dismiss it as fast and as easy as possible. I have seen Arminian philosophers take more care to make sure that physicalism or atheist philosophers are represented charitably than I have seen care to make sure Calvinism is represented properly. Bertrand Russell is defended and let off the hook easier than Calvin. In this we find common ground with Jesus. His fellow Jews sought to defend and let off Barabbas over him. His fellow Jews strove to misrepresent him and his teachings, searching for quick ways to dismiss him before the people. Calvinism walks this road too.

The "Universality" Of Roman Catholicism

Francis Beckwith wrote:

"After all, if Catholic soteriology were merely a Roman invention, its presence in the Eastern Churches in one form of another would be unlikely. And yet it is there, in spades: seven sacraments, infused grace, etc. So, in a sense,the universality of this soteriology shifts the burden to those who claim it is 'unbiblical.'"

Why do you have to refer to the soteriology "in one form or another"? Because there are many differences, in addition to the similarities.

And why should we think that the soteriology in question was "universal"? Roman Catholicism and the Eastern churches you seem to have in mind aren't the only groups that existed at the time or that have claimed some sort of pre-Reformation lineage. Anglicans, Waldensians, and others have made such claims as well. Even in Roman Catholic circles, there was a wide diversity of soteriological beliefs at the time of the Reformation and in earlier generations. See here. Somebody like Thomas Bilney could believe in the papacy and transubstantiation, yet be sympathetic to a Protestant view of justification. For some examples of soteriological diversity in patristic times, see Augustine's comments in The City Of God 21:17-27. See, also, here.

Was belief in seven sacraments, to take one of Francis Beckwith's examples, universal in apostolic times? No. In patristic times? No. In the Middle Ages? No. The Eastern Orthodox bishop Timothy Ware writes:

"Only in the seventeenth century, when Latin influence was at its height, did this list [of seven sacraments] become fixed and definite. Before that date Orthodox writers vary considerably as to the number of sacraments: John of Damascus speaks of two; Dionysius the Areopagite of six; Joasaph, Metropolitan of Ephesus (fifteenth century), of ten; and those Byzantine theologians who in fact speak of seven sacraments differ as to the items which they include in their list. Even today the number seven has no particular dogmatic significance for Orthodox theology, but is used primarily as a convenience in teaching." (The Orthodox Church [New York, New York: Penguin Books, 1997], p. 275)

If the concept of Roman Catholicism's seven sacraments becomes popular, not universal, so late in history and under such dubious circumstances, what significance does that popularity have?

What about "infused grace"? Many groups could be said to believe in some form of infused grace, involving a combination between grace and justification through works. The concept of justification through works is popular, and not just in professing Christian circles. Any group of professing Christians is likely going to include grace in its view of justification, even if it contradicts the Biblical definition of justification by grace by means of the inclusion of works. A professing Christian, whether a Mormon, a Roman Catholic, or whoever, is going to claim to believe in justification by grace. The fact that the groups Francis Beckwith mentions have believed in some form of "infused grace" isn't of much significance. Such beliefs were popular prior to the Reformation, but some professing Christians believed in concepts such as justification through faith alone and the preservation of the saints (eternal security) in pre-Reformation times as well. See the articles linked above for some examples. Again, why should we think that the Roman Catholic view was "universal"?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The International Jewish Violinist Conspiracy

A friend has drawn my attention to a hydrophobic post by Jay Dyer:

As you’re recall, Dyer is the Protestant turned Catholic turned Orthodox turned Catholic turned…

First thing I’d say is that anyone who anticipates coming into contact with Mr. Dyer should have a rabies shot as a precautionary measure.

Regarding the “substance” of his post:

1. It's true, of course, that Jews are disproportionately represented in certain fields. That, of itself, isn't very meaningful. For instance, I can’t help noticing that popes often have Italian surnames.

2. By the same token, Dyer might as well develop a conspiracy theory about the dominance of Jewish violinists.

On second thought…Dyer may already have a well-developed conspiracy theory about the dominance of Jewish violinists. Clearly, this high-strung infiltration is just the prelude to full-scale invasion.

3. There are some obvious inconsistencies in his theory:

i) It's not as if Jewish physicians only abort gentile babies. Israel has a very lenient abortion policy.

ii) And it's not as if Jewish physicians go out of their way to murder gentile patients.

On second thought…given Dyer’s suspicions, I’d suggest, if he ever lands in the ER, to carefully check the nametag of the attending physician. If it begins with a Gold- or Rosen- prefix, that’s a very ominous development.

As a precautionary measure, Dyer should learn a few Yiddish expressions and have a Star of David tattooed on his tuckus.

4. His comment on Exod 21:22-23 is odd:

i) He misinterprets the passage.

ii) Moreover, it's hard to square his comment with belief in the divine inspiration of the OT. Yet, as a conservative Catholic, that ought to be an article of faith.

5. Needless to say, many liberal Catholic officials have also been instrumental in creating and preserving our current abortion policy, so he leaves his own flank wide open to counterattack.

6. I also don't see why a conservative Catholic would oppose a ban on abortion.

7. On the other hand, there's a certain amount of official anti-Semitism in traditional Catholic theology, so to that extent his Catholicism dovetails with his anti-Semitism.

"Semantic Challenges to Realism"

A useful article on the realism-antirealism debate in science.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Obamanation: mainstreaming kiddy porn

"DAG Nominee David Ogden and Knox v. United States"

Obamanation: soldiers need not apply

Barring the military from campus?

Obamanation: mainstreaming euthanasia

"Obama Makes Lawyer for Terri Schiavo's Husband Third-Ranking Justice Official"

Obama's immigration reform

"Obama opening floodgates by inviting Hamas to 'migrate' to the U.S.A.?"

A Two Minute Overview of Abortion

Darth Nader

Revelation & reader-response theory

In attempting to justify his conversion to Rome, Al Kimel advocated an ecclesiastical version of reader-response theory. He demoted the historical audience in favor of the implied audience, which he identified with “the Church.”

Ironically, the author of the standard Catholic monograph on hermeneutics has drawn attention to some of the fundamental ambiguities of this appeal:

“According to most religions, the audience intended by the divinity is not the historical audience [i.e. ‘the audience contemporaneous with the author of the text, which is part of the culture to which this author belonged,’ 71], but rather the audience composed of believers throughout history…The intended audience is the audience for which the text is intended,” J. Gracia, How Can We Know What God Means? The Interpretation of Revelation (Palgrave 2001), 72.

“Nevertheless, this position is not without difficulty. The most obvious is that the intended audience cannot be taken as being composed of just the group of believers contemporaneous with the author. It cannot because, if this were the case, it would exclude believers from other times and places; only those believers alive at the time of the revelation would count. But this makes no sense, inasmuch as the intended audience must be composed of all believes, regardless of the times and places in which they live,” ibid. 73.

“This raises a second problem of demarcation. If the understanding of believers constitutes the criterion of interpretation of revealed texts, and believers differ in what they understand by these texts, how are we to settle these differences?…To say that the understanding of only some believers counts and, therefore, not that of others also creates problems. The most important of these concerns the criteria for choosing those believers whose views count. Where do these criteria come from, and how can we know they are the right ones? The text itself cannot provide the answers to these questions…so where do we turn?” ibid. 73.

“The third alternative is that only the understanding common to all believers counts, but this notion of ‘consensus’ itself generates problems of demarcation that cannot be solved with reference to interpretive doctrine…Finally, if it is the understanding common to all believers that counts, how can any believer or group of believers at any given time be certain of an interpretation, not having access to the understanding of those who have not yet lived? This assumes, moreover, that there is access to the understanding of all believers from the past, something that is logically possible but practically unlikely,” ibid. 73-74.

“Of course, an audience, unlike an author, is usually composed of many persons who find themselves in different circumstances. This means that there may not be a single understanding that one can point to and call audiencial understanding. There may in fact be many understandings of the same text in an audience, some even contradictory,” ibid. 165-66.

I’d add that Al Kimel can’t very well identify the intended audience with the Magisterium, for the Magisterium is, itself, a diachronic entity. On the one hand, Catholics don’t restrict themselves to past Magisterial interpretations. On the other hand, Catholics lack access to future Magisterial interpretations.

To identify the intended audience with the contemporary Magisterium is extremely selective. Since, moreover, the present is a moving target—what is today for me is tomorrow for you, or the day before—the contemporary Magisterium cannot supply a fixed frame of reference. So this leads to hermeneutical relativism.

God will wipe away every tear


“Hmm... This doesn't address the objection if it goes like this: How could we be happy in heaven knowing that our loved ones are experiencing hell?__Is that not part of the objection that you've been encountering?”

What our lost loved ones would experience in hell is divine justice. I don’t think that, of itself, is a reason for consternation.

Now, there’s a pop tradition which equates hell with a torture chamber. If that’s what’s bothering them, I think the source of the problem is their preconception of hell—which owes more to watching one too many slasher films than what you can responsibly exegete from Scripture.

Put another way, we have to distinguish between two different objections:

i) I can’t be happy in heaven knowing what they’re missing out on.

ii) I can’t be happy in heaven because I miss them so much.

Your formulation is closer to (i). My post is addressing (ii).

I think that (i) without (ii) doesn’t have as much emotional purchase.

If the objection takes the form of: “I’m pained by how much pain they’re in,” then I think that loses a lot of its traction if we discount the pop tradition of hell as a torture chamber.

We also need to distinguish between how the afterlife looks to us from the perspective of this life—which, at present, is our only point of reference—and how it will look when we get there.

To go back to the illustration in my original post, when I’m 16, and my brother is 14, he and I may be so tight that I can’t imagine life without him.

Yet, 20 years down the line, when I’m married, with my own growing family, days may pass when I don’t even think about my brother. I’ve put him out of my mind, not deliberately, but due to intervening circumstances. The physical distance between us. The fact that my wife and kids consume most of my time and attention.

People can change how they feel about each. Drastically. Romantic love is a case in point. A guy may be madly in love with a woman (or vice versa), but feel completely different about her five years later.

At the time, she occupies his every waking thought. But now he’s “gotten over her.” He may still have fond memories of what they had together, but he no longer feels that insatiable need to spend every minute of the day in her company. He’s moved on to other things and other people. He’s found a new love in his life.

This can also hold true among blood relatives. Brothers who used to love each other may come to hate each other. Brothers who used to hate each other may come to love each other.

The attitude of a parent towards a child can also change. How would you feel to be the proud parents of Ted Bundy?

So even if you use this life as a frame of reference, it’s quite conceivable that we might feel very differently about someone in the world to come. I think we tend to resist this possibility, not because it’s inconceivable, but for two other reasons:

i) It’s not that we can’t imagine it, but we don’t want to, or we don’t think we ought to feel that way. We don’t want to let go. And we don’t feel that we should.

And there’s some truth to that. In this life, there are some people we should never give up on.

But, of course, that’s one of the differences between this life and the afterlife. We don’t have all the same duties in this life and the next.

ii) The other thing is that, for many people, family is the bedrock of their emotional security. That’s the one thing they can always count on. Or so they hope. When all else fails, they have family to fall back on, for love and support.

Therefore, the idea that some of these relationships are temporary is very unsettling. It strikes us where we feel most vulnerable.

But, of course, heaven is stable in a way that life in a fallen world is not.

iii) I’d add that (ii) is somewhat idealized. Many people did not come from stable homes. That’s something they long for. Something they miss. But they miss it because they never had it, and not because they lost it.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Creative bookkeeping

When it comes to our eternal fate, the average atheist likes to practice creative book keeping. When he’s attacking hell, he plays up the claim that no decent man could bear the thought of his loved ones in hell. Heaven wouldn’t be heaven unless all our loved ones our heavenbound. The joys of heaven would be overshadowed by the nagging thought that some of our loved ones are missing from the roll call. We sit there, starring at an empty seat across the table.

When, however, he’s making a case for the meaning of life on secular terms, he whips out a very different balance sheet.

If we’re candid, what does life amount to if secularism is true? In that event, life is a conveyor belt which carries row upon row of captive humanity to certain oblivion. When you’re young, there’s a buffer between you and the black hole of all-devouring time. Passengers between you and your impending oblivion.

When you’re young, you can see the black hole at a distance. It’s so small because it’s still so far away.

Passengers indulge in various games of distraction to take their minds off the black hole that looms a little larger and a little nearer every time they look up.

As the conveyor belt continues its steady and inexorable progress, they play bridge, poker, Monopoly, croquet, Mahjong, a Mozart minuet, read a book, text-message, or whatever else they can dream up to divert attention away from the relentless and ever-mounting body count of time.

As you get closer, you can see over the heads of the next few rows. You begin to make out row after row disappearing into the black hole of nothingness. Generation after generation vanishes on contact.

The black hole grows larger, the buffer grows smaller. Instant by instant, the leading edge ceases to be. Then the row just before that. Then the row just before that. Without exception or interruption.

The conveyor belt never stops or slows down or speeds up. With pure efficiency and mathematical precision, time annihilates absolutely everything and everyone its path.

Nothing escapes the universal holocaust of time. People and trees, cats and dogs, stars and pyramids, lovers, mothers, brothers, fathers, and friends. Everything is swallowed up in the insatiable appetite of time’s lethal efficiency. Exhaustive and inexhaustible, it leaves no remains. No teeth or bones.

Yet the average atheist assures us that atheism is liberating. Death is nothing to fear. Indeed, morality is what makes life worthwhile.

Somehow, the saint is unable to forget the doom which may or may not await some of his loved ones, but the atheist is able to forget the doom which awaits each and every one of his loved ones. Somehow the atheist is able, or so he says, to live life to the full, yet the Christian is unable, or so he says, to do the same in this life, or the next.

Heaven for the survivors

There are two emotional objections to hell. One is that God wouldn’t torture anyone for eternity.

I’ve dealt with that objection on many different occasions. So I won’t repeat myself here.

Another objection is that heaven won’t be heaven in the absence of our loved ones. Won’t we feel guilty and lonely, like the survivors of a terrible tragedy?

That’s not merely an objection to hell, but an argument (or emotional appeal) for universalism.

I’ve also dealt with that objection on many different occasions. So I won’t repeat what I’ve already said on that score.

Instead, I’m going to address the second objection from a different angle.

We tend to see this issue in terms of sheer loss. I’ll never see my loved one again. That leaves a hole in my heart. No one else can fill it.

I’d point out, though, that even in this life we experience emotional tradeoffs. The loss or demotion of one relationship can create an opportunity to form another relationship.

For example, take two brothers who are extremely close to each other when they are growing up. Let’s call them Hector and José.

They remain inseparable until they hit adolescence. At that point they begin to drift apart.

Why? Because they develop a very keen interest in the opposite sex. They spend less time with each other, and more time with the girlfriend.

Eventually, the girlfriend becomes the wife. Eventually, they have kids.

As a result, Hector and José grow apart. They grow apart because they live apart. Because each one has made a life for himself, with its own emotional satisfactions and compensations.

And that, of course, is perfectly natural. A healthy development. A natural good. A natural part of growing up.

But the gain involves a corollary loss. It’s the demotion of one relationship that created the opportunity for another, equally good, but very different relationship.

Love has a competitive element. Love for one tends to edge out love for another. That’s a matter of degree, but love often comes in degrees.

Suppose that Hector and José are both Christian. They hope they will see their wives and kids in heaven someday. They pray for that outcome.

But suppose it doesn’t work out that way. Their wives are unbelievers. And their children rebel against their Christian upbringing.

That will bring a lot of heartache to Hector and José. But what happens when they die?

Even if the two brothers don’t see their wives in kids in heaven, they will see each other in heaven. And since they don’t have their wives and kids in heaven, they will resume the close bond they had on earth. Indeed, it will be even closer than they had on earth. For it won’t suffer from the sinful tensions that are inevitable in a fallen world, even among close loved ones. And there won’t be the same competition for their affections.

We could extent this principle to other relationships. Some people were best of friends in junior high and high school, or college, but after they graduated, they eventually went their separate ways. At first they would maintain regular contact. But as the months and years wore one, they, in effect, became strangers.

Finally, you have the case of Christians who led lives of tremendous personal deprivation. They didn’t have loved ones to lose. They didn’t have fond memories to look back on. For them, life was one ordeal after another.

When they get to heaven, they will be meet other Christians who endured the same privations in this life. And it’s natural to think this will foster a special bond. Heaven will be the family they never had on earth.

If you think this is a bit speculative, I’d simply note that it’s addressing an equally speculative objection to heaven. So you can accept it or reject it on the same level.

Approaching apologetics

Faith Has Its Reasons (2nd ed.) by Ken Boa and Robert Bowman is a comprehensive and detailed introduction to different types of Christian apologetic methods. The authors have categorized them into Classical Apologetics (e.g. B.B. Warfield, William Lane Craig), Evidentialist Apologetics (e.g. James Orr, John Warwick Montgomery), Reformed Apologetics (e.g. John Calvin, Cornelius Van Til), Fideist Apologetics (e.g. Blaise Pascal, Soren Kierkegaard), and Integrative Apologetics (e.g. Francis Schaeffer, John Frame). It looks like you can download the book for free either here (doc) or here (pdf).

Related, Doug Groothuis has an old review of Five Views on Apologetics edited by Steven Cowan. The five views are Classical Apologetics by William Lane Craig, Evidentialism by Gary Habermas, Cumulative Case Apologetics by Paul Feinberg, Presuppositionalism by John Frame, and Reformed Epistemology by Kelly James Clark.

John Frame has written a good outline as well.

And, of course, Triablogue's own Steve Hays penned the immensely helpful "Comparative Apologetic Anatomy" way back when.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Arminian Comicals

Because I’ve had some other matters to attend to, I haven’t been following every twist and turn of Manata’s debate with Dan. I’ll just say that if Dan’s latest reply is at all representative, then the quality of his reasoning has certainly deteriorated since he and I last had our exchange (over God’s knowledge of the future, as I recall).

That’s a pity since, up till now, I think Dan had the reputation of being the most reasonable of Arminian epologists. Let’s look at his latest response:

Determinists require equivocation to survive. Since they don’t hold to common-sense meanings to terms like "choose", "alternative" and "possible", they develop slightly varied definitions to the terms, as opposed to getting rid of the words altogether.

One problem with Dan’s characterization is that he equivocates over equivocation.

i) To begin with, Manata would only be guilty of equivocation if he were inconsistent in his own usage. But the fact, if it is a fact, that Manata’s usage is inconsistent with someone else’s usage is not an equivocation on Manata’s part.

ii) In addition, Dan fails to distinguish between semantic equivocation and conceptual equivocation. Between the meaning of words and the meaning of ideas.

The compatibilist/incompatibilist debate is fundamentally a debate over the concept of freedom, not the meaning of words in a dictionary.

Here’s a few examples of how this works. They might say “you can choose to eat the ice cream”, but what they mean is only “you can choose to eat the ice cream, if it’s your strongest desire.”

Even if we accept Dan’s “common sense” criterion for the sake of argument, what makes Dan think that’s not a commonsensical qualification? Why does Dan assume the common man would reject the idea that he chooses according to his strongest desire?

When I buy ice cream, or when I select my favorite flavor, what other factor is there besides my strongest desire?

Consider the compatibility thesis that the ideas of determinism and freewill are compatible. Clearly they are not, if you must get rid of the determining factors to speak of freedom to choose the undetermined event.

Of course, that simply begs the question in favor of libertarian freedom. Dan needs a sound philosophical argument to justify that claim.

The past and decree are the causal forces at play. I stated “given the causal forces at play, but Paul must remove them and input different ones to talk about the possibility of counterfactuals.

Once again, even if we grant his “common sense” criterion for the sake of argument, why does Dan assume that’s not a commonsensical explanation?

Don’t counterfactual statements frequently have explicit deferential factors? “If only I knew then what I know how, I’d do things differently!”

With the benefit of hindsight, we tell ourselves that if we could do it all over again, we’d opt for non-X instead of X. Here, experience of the consequences is the differential factor.

My primary argument to Paul was that the common sense notion of “choose” includes the ability to choose non-X, so determinists can’t consistently use the common sense notion of choose.

Where does Dan come up with the claim that his definition of choice is the “common sense” notion?

His definition of choice involves the freedom to do otherwise, the principle of alternate possibilities.

How many common men have had the actual experience traveling back into the past and doing non-X instead of X this time around? Does Dan have some experimental or anecdotal evidence to document this “common sense” notion?

Why doesn’t he perform a little demo for you and me? Why doesn’t he show us a concrete example? Perform a successful feat of having done otherwise? That would be very impressive.

We can all go to Baskin-Robbins. He can choose an ice cream cone. We see him with his vanilla ice cream cone. Then, a moment later, we see him with a chocolate ice cream cone. Let’s see some tangible evidence that he can do otherwise by going back and changing the future. A trivial example will suffice.

I supported this based on several dictionaries.

Of course, this is naïve on several counts:

i) Dictionaries don’t go into the metaphysical machinery behind the use of words like “choose,” “alternative,” and “possible.”

ii) Indeed, dictionaries generally avoid taking sides in debates over controversial concepts. If a dictionary would to take sides in the way it defined words, its definitions would be tendentious.

iii) Imagine if Dan were a philosophy major at a topnotch phil. dept. like Notre Dame. Imagine if he wrote his term paper for Peter van Inwagen defending libertarian freedom. Imagine if he quoted the dictionary to prove libertarian freedom. Imagine what grade he would receive for that method of proof.

Dan does an unwitting favor to Manata when he resorts to this Hicksville appeal to prove Arminian theology. It’s an embarrassment to Arminian theology.

I responded that the compatibilist can’t really accept the dictionary definition of choice; they must hold the exotic counter-definition and simply equivocate.

Of course, when Dan resorts to this Hicksville appeal, he thereby forfeits any philosophical arguments for libertarian freedom by libertarian philosophers.

I also pointed out that the bible was written in common language, so using the exotic counter-definition was unbiblical.

Several problems:

i) Isn’t Dan a critic of open theism? But the open theist would say that he is merely taking the popular usage of Scripture at face-value. So would the Mormon. They would regard Dan’s own position as “exotic” and “unscriptural.”

ii) An open theist would also be critical of the scholastic formulations you find in a writer like Arminius.

iii) Ordinary language doesn’t attempt to draw fine philosophical distinctions. That’s the point. That’s what makes it ordinary language—in contrast to technical language.

Dan is assuming a level of ontological commitment to popular usage which is at odds with popular usage.

iv) Needless to say, Manata has biblical as well as extrabiblical reasons for affirming determinism.