Saturday, March 07, 2009

They that wait upon the Lord

We spend a lot our time waiting for something or someone. To some extent, modernity has accelerated the pace of life–with phones, cars, planes, email, online shopping, &c.

Yet technology can also be used to slow things down. In the past, when you phoned a company, a real live person would come on the line. Nowadays, you have to navigate your way through endless checkpoints of menus within menus within menus for the privilege of being put on hold while a sales rep is speaking with other customers. The automated voice says, every 30 seconds, “We’re sorry for the delay…your call is very important to us!”

Yeah, right! The whole point of the exercise is to discourage customers from ever calling the company.

Likewise, freeways have gridlock, while air-travel is a serial form of waiting–all in the interests of saving time!

For some reason, there’s a venerable tradition in the medical profession according to which a scheduled appointment doesn’t mean a thing. First you wait a long time to even see the nurse. Then you wait some more to see the doctor.

There’s a TV show (Reaper) in which a DMV office is a hidden portal to hell–since many people find waiting in line at the DMV to be a minor case of hell on earth.

One reason we resent having to wait is the nagging awareness of our own mortality. Life is short. We don’t have endless amounts of time to waste. The clock is ticking.

Mind you, many unbelievers make an art of wasting time. They fritter their lives away on trivia.

Yet there are other cases in which waiting can enrich our lives. Having to wait at the airport for a loved one to arrive heightens the sense of anticipation, and sweetens the reunion.

Or the waiting room of the maternity ward. Waiting to see your baby for the very first time.

The flip side of waiting for someone is knowing that someone is waiting for you. That’s what makes a house a home. Knowing that someone is waiting for you to return. Someone who looks forward to your return. An empty house is not a home.

Back in the stone age of snail mail, some soldiers would write home everyday. Everyday they’d write their sweetheart a love letter, and everyday she’d write them back. Waiting for that letter to arrive in the mail was the high point of the day.

There’s a sense in which Christians, especially older Christians, are waiting to die. Not because they have too little to live for, but because they have too much too live for. Far too much for a fallen world.

They’ve done their tour of duty. And they are waiting for their discharge papers. Eagerly waiting for their eternal home. It is well worth the wait. And it’s all the better for the wait.

In God's Waiting Room

In God's Waiting Room - "Learning Through Suffering"

The ship's manifest

I few years ago I had lunch with some relatives on the Queen Mary–berthed in Long Beach. Afterwards I walked around the deck, which had photographs of the rich and famous from a bygone era. Long gone. Dead and buried.

Life is like that. A journey. A lifelong journey on an ocean liner.

It has three ports of call. Passengers embark at one port of call: birth.

They disembark at another port of call: death. And death itself represents two different seaports: heaven and hell.

There’s a constant turnover in the ship’s manifest as younger passengers embark while older passengers disembark.

We begin with one set of passengers—parents, grandparents, siblings, aunt and uncles. We end with a different set of passengers. We lose the older passengers while we befriend the newer passengers. We ourselves grow old while we’re aboard. Some passengers kill other passengers. Some passengers jump ship and drown.

Sometimes the weather is warm and sunny, with a clear, scenic view. At other times the weather is wet, choppy, and gray.

Some passengers enjoy first class cabins. Others, second class or tourist class.

You can’t tell where passengers will disembark from where they embark. But sooner or later, we all disembark. It’s a question of who is waiting to greet us at our final port of call. Who will be the welcoming committee?

That remains to be seen, but we live in confidence that God “will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:4).

All our names are recorded on the ship’s manifest. But is your name recorded in the Book of Life?

Pilgrim's progress

Back in the 19C, “Argonauts,” as they were termed, traveled the Oregon Trail or California Trail to settle the West Coast. It was an arduous trek. Not everyone who began the journey made it to his destination. There were many fatalities along the way, due to accident, exposure, old age, malnutrition, snakebite, Indian war parties, and various diseases like cholera, scurvy, small pox, typhoid, tuberculosis, diphtheria, dysentery, pneumonia, scarlet fever, yellow fever, whooping cough, malaria, measles, mumps, &c.

The death of a loved one is always a wrenching experience, but it would be the more so in this case. Families traveled to get together to avoid leaving anyone behind. And now they had to leave their fallen loved ones behind, buried in an unmarked grave–to lessen the risk of desecration.

In the Christian pilgrimage, the walk of faith has a 100% morality rate. Everyone who embarks on this journey dies on this journey. And the survivors bury their dead.

Yet the Christian pilgrimage is a paradox. Although we bury our fellow pilgrims, who–sooner or later–were felled by death, and forge ahead with a heavy-heart, we leave no one behind.

On the walk of faith, none of the faithful fails to reach his destination. Although they die along the way, and seem to lie behind, they go ahead of us. They await us. They form a welcoming party to greet us when our own time comes. Although we end at different times, we end up at the same rendezvous. Although we finish at different places, we find ourselves at the same place.

For the Christian pilgrim, death doesn’t cut us down before we reach our destination. Death is, instead, the means of reaching our destination. The finish line.

There’s a sense in which unbelievers share the same trail. They are fellow travelers in life and death.

Yet, at the moment of death, there’s a fork in the road. Two destinations in place of one. How you were walking in life foreshadows where you come out in death.

Because the unbeliever walks by sight instead of faith, he lacks the eye of faith to see the final destination over and above the last row of hills–where we part company with the unbeliever, and enter Immanuel’s land.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Old-earth creationism

A number of professing believers regard youth-earth creationism as the least defensible option. Of those, a large number of evangelicals prefer old-earth creationism. It has the advantage, in their view, of doing greater justice to Scripture than theistic evolution, but greater justice to science than YEC. (Catholics are more open to theistic evolution.)

For them, YEC imposes an excessive apologetic burden on the Christian. It has too much to defend. Too much to explain away. It has to wage war on too many different fronts.

The only reason anyone would subscribe to YEC is for exegetical reasons alone–so they say.

Incidentally, even if that were the case, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that position. We might well have better reason to believe the Bible rather than some scientific theory du jour.

But one question we need to ask is whether OEC represents a stable mediating position. This is not simply an issue of accepting the same basic sequence as YEC, but spacing it out or extending the timeline.

If you concede the evidence for the antiquity of the earth (assuming there is such evidence), then this evidence is bound up with a certain sequence of events. On this view, the earth developed in certain stages. And evidence for the antiquity of the earth dovetails with evidence for the emergence and diversification of life.

It’s difficult to isolate evidence for the antiquity of the earth from evidence for the origin of life and emergence of species. The chronology and biology tend to move in tandem.

And, indeed, OEC generally concedes the evolutionary sequence of events. But, in that case, it’s hard to separate the evidence for an evolutionary sequence from the evidence for an evolutionary process. Once you buy into the initial assumptions, it’s difficult to see how OEC can maintain a buffer between its own position and theistic evolution.

Or course, OEC can try to distinguish between microevolution and macroevolution. However, that move also available to YEC.

There are also some professing believers who subscribe to theistic evolution. Is that a more defensible position?

One problem with theistic evolution is that if you concede the evidence for macroevolution (assuming there is any), then there’s a random quality to the fossil record that doesn’t look like it’s guided by a wise and benevolent deity. The “kill curve” seems to be pretty indifferent to which species survive and which go extinct. As one writer put it, “Such a model of fractal continuity in extinction, triggered by sudden impact at all scales and levels, might be conceptualized as a ‘field of bullets’ (Raup, 1991a)–with agents of destruction raining from the sky and death as a random consequence of residence in the wrong place at the wrong time,” S. Gould, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, 1324.

In addition, agreement with macroevolution is only to your apologetic advantage if, in fact, there is compelling evidence for macroevolution, with no serious evidence to the contrary. If, on the other hand, macroevolution is deeply problematic, then the theistic evolutionist is in danger of being swamped by the dead weight of macroevolution. In that case, his position is more vulnerable rather than less so.

The fact is that every option along the continuum, from YEC through OEC and theistic evolution to naturalistic evolution has some unique challenges. I don’t see that any one position is more prima facie defensible than another.

That being the case, it’s logical for the Christian to choose the option with the most Scriptural support, and defend it on whatever other grounds are available.



“Hello Steve,__So, anonymity is OK if it endorses a Reformed cause, but is evil is it portrays a contrary opinion against a Reformed individual…__James White’s diatribe__Got it; crystal clear…__David”

David is confounding a number of distinct issues:

1.TF was commenting on pseudonymity, not anonymity. People can have different motives for both.

Sometimes pseudonymity and anonymity are morally equivalent. If a writer is using a transparent pseudonym, that’s equivalent to anonymity. Or if he’s using a pseudonym that doesn’t point to a known individual other than himself (e.g. Mark Twain),that’s equivalent to anonymity.

2.But oftentimes, pseudonymity is a deceptive practice. It’s an attempt to trade on the authority of respected figure whose name is being co-opted for that purpose. A low-tech form of identity theft. That’s the issue regarding spurious patristic writings which TF was addressing. So David’s accusation is a diversionary tactic.

3.People can also have different motives for anonymity. Depending on the individual, the motive can either be licit or illicit. There are times when anonymity merits censure, and other times when it does not. It depends on the motive

4.David is apparently charging Reformed bloggers with hypocrisy on this issue. Now, David is welcome to hold a Calvinist to basic standards of moral consistency.

At the same time, there’s a basic difference between self-consistency and consistency with what a second party says or does. It is not inherently hypocritical for one party to be inconsistent with what a second party says or does. If Calvinist A is a premil, Calvinist B is an amil, while Calvinist C is a postmil, no one is thereby guilty of hypocrisy.

To my knowledge, Reformed bloggers never held a conference to issue guidelines on moral parameters of anonymity. If they did, I wasn’t invited, and I didn’t receive the memo.

5.All David is doing here is attempting to implement a divide and conquer strategy whereby he hopes to show some disagreement within the Reformed blogosphere over the moral parameters of anonymity, and then allege hypocrisy on the part of the concerned parties.

Even if he were successful in demonstrating individual disagreement between one blogger and another, that–of itself-would fall far short of demonstrating hypocrisy.

Of course, Calvinists are sinners, too. So it’s certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that he can document some instance of moral inconsistency on our part. But I don’t see where the documentation he has furnished thus far succeeds in doing so. And if he’s not alleging hypocrisy, then what does this exercise amount to?

6.From the Catholic standpoint, moreover, disagreement within the Reformed blogosphere is only to be expected. After all, we don’t have Mother Church to whip us into line. Disagreement within the Catholic blogosphere is far more problematic than disagreement within the Reformed blogosphere. Is Mother Church a deadbeat parent?

Thursday, March 05, 2009


I notice that Catholic epologists constantly impugn the character of Turretin Fan because he retains his anonymity. Due to his sensitive dossier, TF is not at liberty to divulge his true identity.

Under the circumstances, I think it’s necessary for me to come to the defense of his much-maligned honor.

The real TF is a retired CIA officer. Because it’s classified, I’m not at liberty to tell you exactly what position he held, but let’s just say that TF is the American equivalent of George Smiley.

Due to his distinguished career in counterespionage, TF can’t reveal his true identity without endangering the lives of his many undercover contacts.

He’s a happily married man, although I’m not at liberty to disclose the real name of his wife (her code name is Josephine). They divide their time between Lake Como and Paris, Texas.

Christian "gladiators"

I just ran across a post that Jason Robertson did last year on MMA:

I’ll comment on some of the negative feedback. For the record, I have seen some UFC matches on TV.

TruthStands said...

“I would add to the conversation on the negative side of UFC, but it is quite clear that it will be met by Junior Highish responses, bad theology, and worse exegesis. Had someone in a comment not said that Jason was a pastor, that would be the last vocation I would have thought based on his responses and comments.”

James Kime said...

“Nice use of ad hominem to insult those who dare disagree with you. They must be sanctimoniously judging, or nitpicking, or religious zealots, or they piosly belittle, and are of course reckless with exegesis. In case anything was left out, they are of course mean spirited.”

If you read through all the feedback, you’ll see that some of those who feign disapproval of Jason’s tone feel free to adopt the very same tone–or worse (by their own yardstick)–in responding to Jason.

I’m always struck by people who make no effort to be morally consistent. It reveals quite a lot about their character.

Hayden said...

“In listening to you and Mark Driscoll talk about UFC I get the sense that both of you think that those who are against it are not manly men.”

The ironic thing about this reaction to Jason’s post is that some of his hostile commenters play right into that very stereotype. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy. They raise all these dainty, girlish objections to MMA.

TruthStands said...

“You cannot, from Scripture, gain any support for a sport where two people beat each other to a pulp.”

i) We need to distinguish between what the Bible commands, prohibits, and permits. All of us do lots of things for which there’s no specific support, such as using a microwave oven or driving a car or listening to the radio, &c.

ii) From what I’ve seen, MMA is not about beating your opponent to a pulp. Rather, it’s about defeating your opponent. Depending on your skill set and his skill set, that may or may not involve “beating your opponent to a pulp.” For example, you can defeat your opponent through wrestling or Jiu-Jitsu techniques. That’s not the same thing as beating your opponent to a pulp. That may do very little damage to your opponent. And it can happen very fast. Not a war of attrition where you wear each other down.

“All you're left with is sinful pride at being ‘the big man’ the stronger man. Of course that is the whole point of all athletics.’

Isn’t that a gross overstatement? Different men have different motives for doing or watching sports.

“But when it is at the cost of someone else's wellbeing I think that crosses over.”

True, but does it come at the cost of someone else’s wellbeing? The UFC is a lucrative career for successful fighters.

“Is it like hockey where a lot of people only watch it because of the fights?”

Once again, different viewers have different motives. And, from what I’ve read, that aspect of hockey is controversial.

TruthStands said...

“For the unbeliever, what is the purpose of althetics? If you get right down to it, it is exaltation of self, self glorification, pride, etc.”

i) The human body is a remarkable piece of engineering. And it has a certain amount of undeveloped potential. Some men like to develop their God-given, physical potential. Is that inherently sinful?

They push themselves to the limit to find out what their limits are. Then they train to overcome their limits. To go a bit further the next time. Is that intrinsically evil?

“Pride” in what sense? While it’s wrong to be proud of ourselves, is it wrong to take pride in God’s craftsmanship?

ii) Many men are naturally competitive. They like to test themselves against other men. They push each other to excel. To develop their potential. Is that inherently sinful?

iii) Some sports cultivate camaraderie through teamwork (e.g. hockey, soccer, football). That’s a large part of the appeal. Is it wrong for men to develop a sense of camaraderie?

“A Christian certainly can participate with pure motives, but I just don't know that one can make a case for Christians having the goal of physically hurting the other person to be a good thing.”

i) The goal of MMA is not to hurt your opponent. Rather, it’s to defeat your opponent. Hurting your opponent is, at most, a means to an end, not an end in itself.

ii) Is it always wrong to hurt someone? Sometimes brothers like to wrestle with each other. Is that wrong? Sometimes fathers like to wrestle with their sons. Is that wrong?

Are contact sports inherently wrong? Is a pick-up game of football inherently wrong?

Running can be painful. Is it sinful to be a marathon runner?

Douglas said...

“You are not going to like this Jason but something or someone is blinding you and you cannot see the demonic occult component in and behind martial arts. Not many people can. The blindness is astounding and tragic. I can tell you but it is only God who can show you. If you want to gain enjoyment and pleasure and thrills from observing people bashing each other and kicking each other in the head and so forth, calling it sports (what a joke) or athletics or whatever, watching them fighting each other with much violence (I do not see anywhere in the Bible where God enjoys or delights in violence or death), knocking each other down to the floor, and yes, they do get hurt, and yes, they do draw blood, well you just go right on ahead and enjoy yourself, I cannot stop you. I know I would never turn to you for any spiritual advice or counsel nor would I direct anyone your way that is for sure. You cannot discern the demonic behind martial arts, I wonder if you can discern demonic activity at all? There are not many people who profess to be Reformed that I would not turn to these days as many of them blindly support martial arts. Did all the demonic activity cease at the close of the canon of Scripture? Us 21st century humans are more enlightened, huh?”

This is a jumble:

i) It’s true that some marital arts have an occultic background. That’s in part because it developed in pagan cultures. And that’s why some men are attracted to martial arts.

However, it’s not as if the only reason that men would want to develop natural techniques of self-defense is due to occultic interests.

ii) There can be a lot of mumbo-jumbo behind lots of things, like herbal medicine and acupuncture. To some extend these are prescientific theories to explain things that may have a basis in fact. It’s like attributing lightning and thunder to a storm god. The theory is false, but the phenomenon is genuine.

iii) The criterion of what God enjoys or takes delight in is vague. Does God enjoy or take delight in chocolate gelato? Human beings find many things enjoyable that God does not find enjoyable, for the obvious reason that God is a very different kind of being than a human being.

“Jason, there will always be people who promote martial arts because they do not see the demonic occult that goes with it. It is invisible until it manifest through the flesh. Many people think martial arts is purely physical and for self defense. It is not, it is as I have said before, it is the art of killing.”

Actually, it’s the art of self-defense. That includes a potential ability to kill your opponent. Is that necessarily wrong?

Don’t we train soldiers in the martial arts? Don’t we train soldiers on how to defend themselves as kill the enemy and hand-to-hand combat–if it comes to that?

Likewise, what about taking karate or judo so that I can fend off a mugger? Is that sinful?

“With whatever means at your disposal, for one example, conditioning the hands so as they are like spears and are able to be thrust into the stomach and reaching up into the chest cavity to grasp the heart and rip it out all in one fluid motion and as quick as the eye can blink.”

I’ve seen that happen in some horror films, but I’ve never seen that happen in the Octagon.

ChosenClay said...

“I suppose the BIG questions to ask are, ‘Does it glorify God?’ or ‘Will it make me more Christ like?’"

Once again, that’s vague:

i) Does eating spaghetti and meatballs make me more Christ-like?

Christ was a bachelor. Should I forego marriage and kids to be more Christ-like?

ii) A Christian athlete might well think that he glorifies God by training his God-given body.

James Kime said...

“UFC has nothing to do with sport and everything to do with bashing someone's head in. That isn't skill, unless maybe you are a hitman or bouncer.”

Of course, that’s a completely dishonest characterization of the sport.

“I can just see the early church cheering on the gladiators but being upset when Christians were used in them. Yeah....... The UFC isn't about athletic competition unless you are willing to say the gladiators did the same thing.”

Of course, gladiators fought to the death.

“The UFC might stop it a bit short of someone getting killed, but what will you say when someone finally is killed?”

i) Once again, it’s dishonest to say they “might stop a bit short of someone getting killed.” The fight has rules. It’s refereed. There’s a doctor in the house. It’s not intended to inflict irreparable damage–much less fatalities.

ii) It’s valid to raise the question of a worst-case scenario. Of course, we all take unnecessary risks. Driving on the freeway is an unnecessary risk. But it’s still justifiable.

“That they are willing participants in the fighting is just to say that you have two aggressors instead of one. So there might be no victim here, but there is are still two people engaging in sin.”

“You go on to say, ‘Many of these men and women are strong Christians.’ Obviously not. Nothing says I love Jesus like the ability to pound someone's head in. I wonder if they say that in the ring? Jesus loves you - wham - Jesus loves you - wham, etc.”

Does eating spaghetti and meatballs send the message that Jesus loves you? Does relieving myself at a urinal send the message that Jesus loves you? Does shaving in the morning send the message that Jesus loves you? Does brushing my teeth send the message that Jesus loves you?

There’s a lot of mock piety in these objections. Not everything we do in life is intended to send a religious message. Nor should it.

Hayden said...

“I will leave you to this---__’Take this rule:whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off the relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.’--- Susanna Wesley in response to her son asking 'What is sin?'”

i) Susanna Wesley was a wonderful Christian woman. But she was a woman. Her piety was a uniquely feminine piety. We shouldn’t hold men to feminine standards, or hold woman to masculine standards. Men and women are different. God made them that way.

ii) And I’d add that some women enjoy a good game of pool or poker. It isn’t just men who take an interest in games of chance or skill. Some of them also study the martial arts.

Craig said...

“It appears you touched a nerve with this one. Back in the day, Christians used to fight lions, infidels, Gladiators,and whatever else got in their way without giving it a thought.”

This is meant to be sarcastic, but what does it mean, exactly? Christian participation in gladiatorial combat was involuntary. Moreover, assuming that you were tossed into the Coliseum against your will, did you not have the right to defend yourself against lions or gladiators?

“It is not a sport but cruelty. __The objective it to hurt and maim you opponent. It is wrong on the simple basis of cruelty.”

As I pointed out, that’s not the objective of the UFC.

“My sinful heart may lead me to sin. But if my heart tells me that this is wrong and does not glorify God, then I am going to go with my heart.”

This is incoherent. If his heart is sinful, then going with his heart is sinful. If his heart is sinful, then what his heart says is wrong may be right, and vice versa.

James Kime said...

“Did it ever occur to you that just because something is considered an athletic competition that it still might be wrong? Regulating sin is still, sin. So to remove UFC from the commands in the NT against brawlers and riotous living just because you don't think Paul included athletics is just sad Jason. Talk about being reckless.”

Craig said...

“Scripture is clear on the word cruel, it is an abomination. This standard belongs to the Lord.__Psa 71:4 Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man. __Pro 11:17 A man who is kind benefits himself, but a cruel man hurts himself.”

Douglas said...

“Psalm 11:5 The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.”

i) The problem with these comments (by Kime, Craig, Douglas) is their failure to appreciate a basic function of contact sports. The purpose of modern contact sports is not to promote violence. Just the contrary, one fundamental purpose is to channel and control violence. To domesticate our violent, aggressive impulses. Make a virtue of necessity. It’s a form of bloodless warfare.

You take the gang-bangers of the streets. Take away their knives, chains, guns, and bottles. Put them on the field. Or the ring. Make them play by the rules. Learn some self-discipline.

ii) Moreover, this is the only way to reach a lot of men and boys. The ball field is a mission field. Same with the gym.

TruthStands said...

“Jason, you mention how Paul uses athletics to relate truth about being a Christian. However Paul neither condemns nor condones those activities. In fact his metaphors are ‘sport’ agnostic. He may as well have been talking about ballet competition.”

I seriously doubt that Paul would use athletic metaphors as positive illustrations if he regarded all athletic competition as intrinsically evil. Would he use cult prostitution or pederasty as a metaphor to make a positive point?

“Frequenting bars (and drinking it up) would certainly reach people the church isn't reaching. I'm not equating MMA to bar hopping, but merely comparing the idea of evangelism methodology.”

I used to know a chaplain who did go to bars. He had an arrangement with bartender. The bartender would direct certain customers his way.

And although the chaplain drank a nonalcoholic beverage, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a beer or glass of Scotch.

Jason’s post has smoked out a lot of legalism.

I would throw out this question for all of us, including myself, to meditate on: John says, ‘do not love the world or the things of the world’ (1 Jn. 2:15). How much do we love sports (of any kind)? I fear that too many men in the church love sports many times more than spiritual things... demonstrated by their vast knowledge of teams/players/stats/history, and their deplorable knowledge of Scripture.

That’s a valid concern. There’s no doubt that many men idolize sports. It’s just a game. Keep it in perspective.

Why Trust Josephus?

In an article on New Testament authorship that I wrote last week, I noted:

"Often, critics are inconsistent in their skepticism. The same critic who claims that the textual evidence for the New Testament documents is insufficient, or rejects an authorship attribution as reasonable as Mark's authorship of the second gospel, for example, will accept the text and authorship attributions of many extra-Biblical documents that have comparable or worse evidence, like the Annals of Tacitus. Many critical arguments against Christianity, such as the use of Josephus and Tacitus to argue against the census account of Luke 2, depend on an acceptance of extra-Biblical sources that's far less critical of those sources than the Biblical sources."

Jon Curry has written the following, in response to my comments above and some of my other comments:

Notice what's missing here. An actual description of the critical arguments and a refutation of them....

Let's suppose that the authorship attribution to Josephus is wrong. Do we base our confidence in Josephus on the fact that we know his name? No. Even if the author was really a guy named Steve, this author has demonstrated reliability over and over again. He shows the markers of being a reliable historian and he has been proved to be accurate often (not always). That's why he's preferred to Luke....

But why don't we take a look at the evidence, rather than taking the assertions of various people....

But does this reasoning apply to Jason, or only to Roman Catholics? Scholars don't nit pick Tacitus and Josephus like they do the NT. If they did, and they were consistent, they'd reject the authorship attributions. OK. So what does this mean? Is the solution to therefore uncritically accept everything then? If the evidence does not justify the authenticity of accepting Tacitus, the solution is not to therefore assume all the claimed authorship attributions uncritically. The solution is to reject the authorship attribution to Tacitus. The arguments against the NT authorship attributions stand on their own. They are not dependent on other beliefs regarding Tacitus.

Elsewhere in the article, Jon ignores the content of a quote I provided from the New Testament scholar Craig Keener, and he dismisses Keener with these comments:

Jason offered a quote from the conservative evangelical Christian Craig Keener...

We expect such assertions from Craig Keener. Who cares?

Should we approach Jon and his sources in the same manner? Should we ignore the content of Jon's citations of, say, Richard Carrier by commenting that "Jon offered a quote from the liberal atheist Richard Carrier. We expect such assertions from Richard Carrier. Who cares?" In a discussion I had with Jon a few years ago, he cited an article by Richard Carrier about the relationship between Luke and Josephus. Should I have dismissed Carrier and his data and sources in the same manner in which Jon dismisses Keener and the data and sources Keener cites?

Jon writes, "Do we base our confidence in Josephus on the fact that we know his name? No." Actually, the identity of an author does influence our evaluation of the credibility of his claims. Josephus claims to have been an eyewitness to some of what he reports, for example. The authorship of documents like those of Josephus and Tacitus is relevant to our confidence in those documents.

And how does Jon reach the conclusion that "this author has demonstrated reliability over and over again"? Does he compare the writings attributed to Josephus to other sources? But that would only push the question back one step. Why trust those other sources?

Where is Jon getting his information on the reliability of Josephus? Is he trusting a source like Richard Carrier (a source he cited on matters related to Josephus in a discussion with me a few years ago)? But Jon tells us "why don't we take a look at the evidence, rather than taking the assertions of various people". He doesn't want me citing men like Craig Keener and Kent Clarke in the manner in which I've cited them. Surely, then, we shouldn't accept such citations of somebody like Richard Carrier either. Jon should tell us where he got his information about Josephus. Instead of Googling the subject now, or looking something up on Wikipedia, for example, he ought to tell us what sources he was relying on for his conclusions about Josephus at the time when he wrote the comments quoted above. Was Jon "looking at the evidence, rather than taking the assertions of various people"?

I agree with Jon that we should be consistent in judging the New Testament and Tacitus, for example. I don't think the evidence for Tacitus is insufficient. I'm therefore being consistent by accepting both the Tacitus authorship attribution and the attributions of New Testament documents for which I think I have sufficient evidence as well.

But is Jon being consistent? He's often referred to ancient sources by name in his posts (Josephus, Irenaeus, etc.). Is he going to claim that he didn't intend to affirm the authorship attributions of those documents? How does Jon justify his trust in documents like those attributed to Josephus, whatever he thinks of their authorship attributions, in a manner consistent with what he's argued about Christian documents?

For instance, see the examples of Jon's questioning of the New Testament textual record here. Jon has suggested that a manuscript from the second or third century, for example, isn't enough, even if it's corroborated by other manuscripts. There may have been an alteration of the text prior to those oldest manuscripts. And the ancient Christians may have knowingly or unknowingly agreed with one another, even across large spectrums of geography, theology, etc., in accepting the same or similar textual corruptions. Yet, as Bart Ehrman noted in his recent debate with James White, we have better textual evidence for the New Testament documents than we have for the other documents of antiquity. If the New Testament text is to be doubted as much as Jon suggests, then why trust the text of Josephus and other sources Josephus would be compared to in order to conclude that he's reliable?

What about authorship attribution? If Josephus is to be trusted partly because of passages where he agrees with, say, a Roman historian who's considered reliable, and that Roman historian is considered reliable because of his identity (his access to government records, etc.), then why should we believe that the document was actually written by that person? Jon doesn't accept the authorship attributions of any of the New Testament documents. As the thread here illustrates, his justifications offered for doubting the New Testament authorship attributions are a slender reed.

Surely there are many passages in Josephus, Tacitus, etc. that could similarly be questioned. We could object that we wouldn't write the way Josephus is supposed to have written a particular passage if we were in his position. Tacitus' positive comments about the Roman empire make us suspect that a document attributed to him may have been forged by the Roman government or somebody else interested in presenting a particular view of Roman history. The Roman government is known to have sometimes destroyed documents. Maybe they did the same with documents that would have changed our view of Roman history, including on issues like who wrote the works attributed to Tacitus and other Roman figures. Jon often mentions the existence of Christian forgeries in antiquity, and he uses such forgeries to cast doubt on the credibility of the ancient Christians in general, even if there's no evidence to specifically tie an individual Christian of antiquity with the practice of forgery. But many forgeries existed among the ancient Jews and Romans as well. Should we keep pointing to those forgeries and drawing implications from them about ancient Jews and ancient Romans in general, as Jon has done with Christianity? Etc. If Jon thinks that such reasoning is enough to put every New Testament document (and every patristic document he wants to dismiss) in doubt, then he should be consistent in applying that reasoning. It doesn't seem that he is, though.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Why Doesn't Someone "Try And Deal" With Arguments Like Robert Price's?

Last week, I wrote an article related to New Testament authorship. Jon Curry has responded to it. There are a lot of problems with his response. I want to focus on one of them in this post, and I intend to address some of the other problems later.

Note that he ignores the material I linked in my article, including a thread in which I discussed authorship issues with him at length. Jon uses Robert Price's material, which means that I was interacting with some of Price's arguments in the process of responding to Jon in that thread I linked and elsewhere. Yet, Jon goes on to comment:

This is a constant annoyance to people like Robert Price, who advocates the view that all the NT authorship attributions are not justified. Why doesn't someone actually try and deal with the arguments?

Jon is one of the "people like Robert Price", and I'm "someone" who has addressed such arguments. See, for example, this thread, which I linked in the article Jon is responding to. I've also discussed authorship issues with Jon in other threads at this blog (here, for example).

Steve Hays has addressed arguments like Price's, including in threads in which Jon Curry participated (here and here). Such arguments have been addressed by J.P. Holding as well. J.D. Walters has addressed the subject at CADRE Comments (here and here), a blog Jon Curry has visited in the past.

Christian and non-Christian scholars have interacted with arguments against the traditional New Testament authorship attributions. Robert Price is a minor figure in scholarly circles, and his view on this issue is a tiny minority position, so we wouldn't expect much scholarly interaction with him and his positions in particular. But the general principles involved in Pauline authorship of Romans or Pauline authorship of Ephesians, for example, are frequently addressed by scholars, and some scholars have interacted with Price in particular on such issues. See, for example, Price's January 2007 discussion with Gary Habermas and Mike Licona on the resurrection. The discussion wasn't primarily about New Testament authorship, but Habermas and Licona do interact with some of Price's claims about the Pauline authorship of some of the documents commonly accepted as Pauline. Note Price's frequent comments about his minority status in modern scholarship during the program. I think the neglect of his arguments has more to do with their unpopularity than it has to do with an inability to refute the arguments. The other material linked above sometimes references other scholarly sources who have interacted with such argumentation. In previous discussions with Jon, we've cited scholarly works he could consult on authorship issues, including Pauline authorship of the documents commonly accepted as Pauline. In a past discussion with Jon, Steve recommended Harold Hoehner's commentary on Ephesians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2002). There are some responses to scholars like F.C. Baur, either directly or indirectly through the citation of other works, in commentaries like Peter O'Brien's on Philippians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1991) and Gene Green's on 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2002). In previous discussions with me, Jon has argued against Pauline authorship by citing characteristics of the letters that are frequently addressed in Biblical commentaries (Paul's use of "I, Paul", Paul's references to his writing style, etc.). It's not as though a scholar has to respond specifically to somebody like F.C. Baur, Hermann Detering, or Robert Price in order to address the relevant issues.

I doubt that Jon has made much of an effort to research this subject. Rather, I suspect that he's relying inordinately on sources he comes across online, like Robert Price and Wikipedia, as he has so often in the past. And he doesn't even exercise much effort or discernment with what's available online.

Are 75% Of Gary Habermas' Scholars "Conservative Christians" Who Believe That Jesus Was "Actually Raised"?

Jon Curry has written a response to my post from yesterday. He begins by saying:

This is perhaps not all that important, but I want to clarify on an objection Jason Engwer recently re-posted regarding a statement I made.

But he later writes:

Many Christian apologists point out the scholarly consensus on certain issues. They often rely on studies done by Gary Habermas, who writes here (HT DagoodS) that 75% of all scholars believe that the tomb of Jesus was found empty on the Sunday following his crucifixion. He also notes that of the scholars he's surveyed, 75% are what you would call "moderate conservatives."...

I pointed this out at Debunking Christianity, but instead of using the phrase "moderate conservative" I used "conservative Christian." For Jason, this is "misleading".

But the reason I did this is because to me, and also to the people I'm writing to at Debunking Christianity, "conservative Christian" is a better phrase for the definition Habermas has offered. As far as I'm concerned "moderate conservative" would best describe someone like Bart Ehrman. Ehrman has very conservative views regarding the dating and reliability of the gospels as well as the authenticity of many of the sayings of Jesus. Someone like Craig Bloomberg or William Lane Craig would be called "moderate conservative" in the eyes of Habermas, but from my perspective these people are not moderate at all.

They would be for Gary Habermas, and that's perfectly fine with me. I'm not objecting to the way Habermas is writing. He can define words any way he wants as long as he's being clear, and he is. I'm likewise being clear about what I mean when I say "conservative Christian" so there's no reason to object. I just think referring to people like William Lane Craig as "moderates" at DC would cause more confusion. The goal here is clarity.

He says that he's being clear and that the goal is clarity. Does he acknowledge, then, that his comments at Debunking Christianity were unclear, which leads him to want to make his comments clear now? The comments he made at Debunking Christianity weren't clear, if they had the meaning he's now claiming for them.

Jon ignores most of what I said in response to him. He writes:

I could deal with Jason's other objections, which are also quibbles, but for now I guess I feel they are just too irrelevant and not worth it.

What are those "quibbles" that "aren't worth it"? Jon's multiple misrepresentations of the work of Gary Habermas and resurrection scholarship in general. Here are some comments DagoodS made last year, which Jon endorsed:

In other words, 75% of the scholars are moderate conservatives—people who hold Jesus was actually raised from the dead.

Is there any surprise, that those who hold to Jesus actually being raised from the dead, believe an empty tomb is historical?

Within this particular topic, 75% of scholars writing on it believe Jesus was actually raised from the dead. The same 75% hold to an empty tomb. What is so remarkable about that percentage?

Notice that DagoodS is defining "moderate conservatives" as people who believe that Jesus was "actually" raised from the dead. He explains that there's not "any surprise" if such people believe in the historicity of the empty tomb. The implication is that DagoodS is claiming that 75% of the scholars Habermas studied believe in a physical resurrection of Christ. And Jon endorsed DagoodS's post. In the thread at Debunking Christianity last year, Jon wrote:

The vast majority of scholars are conservative Christians (see DagoodS's comments under my own blog entry here.)

In that thread he links to, he responds to DagoodS by saying:

Excellent information DagoodS....Apparently that majority precisely maps to the 75% who believe the tomb was empty. Fascinating.

DagoodS and Jon are wrong, for reasons I've explained. The two 75% figures DagoodS is citing are taken from significantly different groups of people. The phrase "actually raised from the dead", followed by a reference to these people's belief in an empty tomb, implies belief in a physical resurrection, yet Habermas doesn't say that these people all believe in a physical resurrection. And how would Jon know that these people are Christians? Non-Christians can believe that Jesus was raised in some manner. Some non-Christians even affirm a physical resurrection of Christ. And one of the issues under dispute is what sort of scholarship would affirm the data relevant to the resurrection. If an otherwise liberal scholar affirms such data, it's misleading to refer to that liberal as a "conservative Christian" just because his conclusions on those particular issues are in agreement with the conclusions of other scholars who are conservative Christians in general. The point of citing hostile corroboration is that the hostile party is generally hostile in a relevant way, not always hostile. It's misleading to refer to scholars as "conservative Christians" because they agree with a traditional Christian perspective on some issues relevant to the resurrection of Christ. Why does Jon cite Habermas for his conclusion about the "conservative Christian" nature of the scholarship when Habermas doesn't identify the scholars as such?

Even if we accept Jon's latest "clarifications" of what he allegedly meant, which I find dubious, his claims are still problematic. Instead of being a series of false and misleading assertions, Jon's claims would be a series of assertions that are still somewhat false and misleading, but not as much as I thought, because Jon was being unclear.

Jon concludes his latest post with the following:

The title of the post for Jason was "How Significant Is It When Modern Scholars Affirm the Historicity of a Biblical Account?" That doesn't sound like a quibble. It's a good question, and Jason's thoughts on that could be worthwhile. Unfortunately Jason doesn't answer that question but instead talks about my "misleading" terminology and other such nonsense. We call that "majoring in the minors".

What I posted was more than "quibbles" and "nonsense". It's not insignificant to, for example, correct Jon's misrepresentations of resurrection scholarship or to point out that even most critical and unbelieving scholars Habermas studied affirmed some of the data relevant to the resurrection. I documented several examples of skeptics posting at Debunking Christianity who seem to be ignorant of the information I went on to provide in response to them. Much of what those skeptics said is highly inaccurate. It's not a "quibble" or "nonsense" to correct them. Does Jon think that these skeptics were raising objections that, if true, would only be "quibbles" and "nonsense"?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Daniel's cosmic tree

“The visions of my head as I lay in bed were these: I saw, and behold, a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great. The tree grew and became strong, and its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth” (Dan 4:10-11).

This reminds me of some descriptions I’ve read about Olympus Mons. For example:

“Both the size of Olympus Mons (roughly the size of the American state of Arizona) and its shallow slope (2.5 degrees central dome surrounded by 5 degree outer region) mean that a person standing on the surface of Mars would be unable to view the upper profile of the volcano even from a distance as the curvature of the planet and the volcano itself would obscure it. The only way to view the mountain properly is from orbit. However, one could view parts of Mons: standing on the highest point of its summit, the slope of the volcano would extend beyond the horizon, a mere 3 kilometres away; from the three kilometre elevated caldera rim one could see 80 kilometres to the caldera's other side; from the southeast scarp highpoint (about 5 km elevation) one could look about 180 km southeast; from the northwest scarp highpoint (about 8 km elevation) one could look upslope possibly 240 km and look northeast possibly 230 km.”

In his inspired dream or vision, Nebuchadnezzar sees a tree so big that its height and breadth fills the horizon. This is, of course, an imaginary tree. Still, he “sees” it in his mind’s eye. So it forms a coherent vision.

As such, the vision simulates the perspective of a ground-based observer. And that, in turn, raises an interesting logistical question: what shape would the earth have to be for a ground-based observer to perceive a tree so big that it appeared to fill the horizon?

Question: do the sightlines in Dan 4:11 implicitly assume the curvature of the earth?

How Significant Is It When Modern Scholars Affirm The Historicity Of A Biblical Account?

As the thread here illustrates, many critics of Christianity are largely ignorant of modern scholarship. Here are some of the comments of various posters in that thread:

[A majority of scholars in "a Christian dominated culture" has] The same weight that a majority of scholars in Iran has on the reliability of the Koran?...

Habermas is seemingly not telling the whole truth of the matter with regard to the 75% of scholars claim...At best it is a divided score...Or maybe Craig made up a figure he found reassuring?...

Aren't these "Biblical Scholars" anyway? People who study with the intent of proving the Bible 'true'? I had the idea that among general scienctific archeologists, there was no 'historical' evidence for odd happenings at a crusifixion and that there is scant evidence that Jesus even was a real person. Among archeologists and historians who don't have the word "Biblical" in front of their titles, anyway....

The only reason Christian's refer to "the majority of scholars" is because the only scholars they know are the ones they hang out with in their christian circles. Since birds of a feather flock together, they think the majority of scholars agree with themselves. They then make stupid points like this in debates only to be embarrassed to have their opponent point out, as Ehrman did, that in fact most historians are not Christians and that most historians do not believe a man rose from the dead 2000 years ago....

Habermas informs us that of the scholars he's surveyed, 75% would be called conservatives. He defines a conservative as someone that believes that Jesus was raised from the dead in some manner. Then Craig thinks we should be impressed that 75% of the scholars Habermas surveyed believe the tomb was empty....

Craig should be a politician - he seems to have certainly mastered the "double speak answer" (ie flat out lie) to the extent of one.

Case in point from the linked article: "it is fair to speak of them as established facts about Jesus that need to be explained. That doesn’t mean that they are certain or indubitable.....but merely that they have a degree of credibility comparable to other commonly accepted facts of ancient history."

These two statements are completely contradictory. If something is an established fact (ie Lincoln was assassinated) then by definition there is sufficient evidential proof to conclude that the even is certain. What we see Craig doing here is a deliberate attempt to redefine (to his custom meaning) the term "fact" so as to make room for the vague and poorly attested assertions he bases his arguments and faith on.

Such deliberate deception, common in Christian circles, is beneath contempt.

There are too many errors in these posters' comments for me to address all of them. Just how ignorant does one have to be in order to think that William Lane Craig "made up a figure he found reassuring"? Or to think that men like Habermas and Craig "think the majority of scholars agree with themselves" because "the only scholars they know are the ones they hang out with in their christian circles"? Or to think that Biblical scholars are "People who study with the intent of proving the Bible 'true'"? Gerd Ludemann, John Dominic Crossan, and Bart Ehrman can be classified as Biblical scholars. Do they "study with the intent of proving the Bible true"? Do these skeptics apply the same sort of reasoning to philosophers, scientists, historians, and other scholars who agree with them on various issues? Should we be as dismissive of such non-Christian scholars as these skeptics are of Christian scholars? After all, non-Christian scholars have a non-Christian bias. Etc.

I addressed some of the relevant issues in a thread last year:

Gary Habermas and Michael Licona refer to majorities of "critical" and "non-believing" scholars, not just professing Christians or just conservative Christians....

Jon also makes the following claims about what Gary Habermas has reported concerning trends in resurrection scholarship:

"The vast majority of scholars are conservative Christians (see DagoodS's comments under my own blog entry here.) Conclusions about the beliefs of the majority of scholars are based upon studies by Christian apologist Gary Habermas. Habermas further informs us that a full 75% of these scholars believe that Jesus rose from the dead."

But if we go read DagoodS's comments, we see that he refers to "moderate conservatives", not "conservative Christians". Habermas, from whom DagoodS derived that phrase, is discussing the conclusions people reach about some issues related to the resurrection, not their beliefs in general. Many people who aren't "conservative Christians" in general fall into Habermas' "moderate conservative" category. And, as I've mentioned above, Habermas sometimes specifies that majorities of unbelieving scholars accept the relevant facts.

Concerning one of the issues I addressed in my reply to Touchstone, Habermas writes:

"From considerations such as the research areas above, perhaps the single most crucial development in recent thought has emerged. With few exceptions, the fact that after Jesus’ death his followers had experiences that they thought were appearances of the risen Jesus is arguably one of the two or three most recognized events from the four Gospels, along with Jesus’ central proclamation of the Kingdom of God and his death by crucifixion. Few critical scholars reject the notion that, after Jesus’ death, the early Christians had real experiences of some sort....Fuller elsewhere refers to the disciples’ belief in the resurrection as 'one of the indisputable facts of history.' What caused this belief? That the disciples’ had actual experiences, characterized as appearances or visions of the risen Jesus, no matter how they are explained, is 'a fact upon which both believer and unbeliever may agree.' An overview of contemporary scholarship indicates that Fuller’s conclusions are well-supported. E.P. Sanders initiates his discussion in The Historical Figure of Jesus by outlining the broad parameters of recent research. Beginning with a list of the historical data that critics know, he includes a number of 'equally secure facts' that 'are almost beyond dispute.' One of these is that, after Jesus’ death, 'his disciples . . . saw him.'" (source)

Thus, the fact that early Christians, such as Jesus' disciples, thought they saw Him risen from the dead isn't just accepted by "conservative Christians". It's also accepted by most non-Christian scholars.

Furthermore, Curry is misleading in his claim that "Conclusions about the beliefs of the majority of scholars are based upon studies by Christian apologist Gary Habermas." I've also cited similar conclusions by other scholars, such as William Craig, and, as the quote above illustrates, men such as Craig and Habermas cite other scholars agreeing with them about the widespread scholarly acceptance of conclusions relevant to the resurrection. Both Craig and Habermas frequently cite other scholars, including non-conservatives, agreeing with their conclusions about scholarly trends.

Curry is also misleading in his comment about 75% of scholars believing "that Jesus rose from the dead". Habermas is including scholars who believe in some type of non-physical appearance of Jesus. For Curry to make an unqualified reference to "rose from the dead" after misleadingly referring to these scholars as "conservative Christians" doesn't imply the sort of nuance that Habermas had in mind.

Furthermore, neither Curry nor DagoodS mentions Habermas' qualifier in note 35 of the article linked above:

"These percentages reflect only those publications that answer this specific question"

In other words, the 75% figure has to do with those scholars who comment on the subject. That's not all scholars. Because of the nature of the issues involved, more scholars comment on a subject such as the empty tomb or whether the early Christians thought they saw the risen Jesus than comment on an issue like what these early Christians actually saw.

In the comments of DagoodS that Curry has referenced, we're told:

"Is there any surprise, that those who hold to Jesus actually being raised from the dead, believe an empty tomb is historical? Within this particular topic, 75% of scholars writing on it believe Jesus was actually raised from the dead. The same 75% hold to an empty tomb. What is so remarkable about that percentage?"

Where does Habermas say that the two groups overlap in that manner? He doesn't. DagoodS and Jon Curry have both misrepresented Habermas on multiple points.

Interrogation Techniques

Did anyone catch tonight's 24 episode?

The show is a non-stop orgasm of action. Mindless carnage. One of its redeeming qualities, however, is its frequent presentation of moral dilemmas.

Now Jack Bauer, the main character, is the embodiment of American virtue. Yet he's willing to go as far as it takes during "interrogations" of suspects withholding information. This is a fascinating feature of Jack's character.

On tonight's episode, the Senator leading the campaign against Jack to convict him of using "torture" methods in interrogations, exchanged heated words with Jack after barging in on one of his interrogations. It went something like this:

Senator: Jack, you're barbaric.
Jack: You're soft. You're unable to look evil in the eye and do what is necessary.

How fantastic is that? TV's manliest, most patriotic figure labels all those who would call tough interrogation methods "torture" (whatever the hell that means) and implicitly brands them as little pansy-ferries that don't have the man-organs it takes to do what is necessary against evil forces. Beautiful.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Another prooftext bites the dust!

“From at least the time of Gregory the Great (who lived AD 540-604), this verse [1 Cor 3:15] and all of vv11-15 have been cited in the teaching of the Western Church about the ‘purifying fire’ of purgatory (Dialogues 4.41.5: de igne futurae purgationis, ‘about the fire of future purification’; SC 265.150). These verses are quoted explicitly in the letter, ‘Sub catholicae professione,’ of the First Council of Lyons, AD 1254 (DH 838); cf. Council of Florence, AD 1439-45 (DH 1304). That teaching, however, freely accommodates not only the metaphorical sense of these Pauline verses, but also other biblical passages, 2 Macc 12:39-45; Mt 12:32,36, so that Cevetello rightly recognizes that it is ‘based on tradition, not Sacred Scripture’ (‘Purgatory,’ NCE 11:825); and Gnilka has shown that the tradition is neither precise nor constant (Ist l. Kor. 3,10–15),” J. Fitzmyer, 1 Corinthians (Yale 2008), 201.

Dude, that's a caricature!

This is what I originally said:

I was making a point about Robinson’s apologetic method. So often he uses the following tactic to “disprove” Calvinism:
i) Compare and contrast Reformed theology with Orthodox theology.
ii) Arrive at the conclusion that Reformed theology is different than Orthodox theology
iii) Case closed!
Of course, that begs the question of why Orthodox theology should supply the standard of comparison. He almost never tries to prove his theological criterion. He takes that as a given. And the few times I’ve seen him try to prove his theological criterion, he did so in a way that took for granted his Orthodox ecclesiology. I have yet to see him offer a defense of his theological criterion that doesn’t assume what he needs to prove. And most of the time he doesn’t even try.

This was Nick’s original response:

Sounds remarkably like Perry employs a presuppositional apologetic! I might be wrong about this (please correct me if I am), but I think I read once upon a time that Steve Hays was a presuppositionalist (or maybe it was Paul Manata, they both write for Triablogue). If this is the case then the above statement has more than a twinge of irony. In any event, give it a read as I’m sure it will exercise your mind.

And this was (part of) my comeback:

i) It would be more accurate to say that, according to Van Tilian apologetics, the unbeliever is taking certain truths for granted that only make sense within a Christian worldview. The unbeliever is a closet presuppositionalist. And the job of a Van Tilian apologist is to make the unbeliever aware of his tacit, theistic presuppositions.

ii) And a Van Tilian apologist doesn’t simply take his own position for granted, and leave it at that. On the one hand he tries to disprove the unbeliever’s worldview by exposing its residual and irreducible commitment to certain theistic truths.

On the other hand, he tries to prove his own position by process of elimination.

Here is Nick’s latest reply:

I’ll grant that this is presuppositional apologetics simplified, but not caricatured. Saying that the presuppositional apologetic is circular or takes its position for granted is like saying that air is breathable or water is wet, which is to say that it’s fairly uncontroversial (or so you’d think).

i) Of course, that’s a caricature of what I originally. Every apologist assumes the truth of his own position. That doesn’t single out presuppositionalism.

ii) The real question at issue is whether you make a case for your operating assumptions. Perry didn’t do that. I was quite specific about what was lacking in his approach. Go back to my reply (see above).

Continuing with Nick:

Frame said that “argument is always circular when it is an argument for an ultimate criterion of truth.” (Five Views on Apologetics, 197) And also that circularity is “unavoidable for any system, any worldview.” (Ibid., 207) Perhaps Steve thinks I’m accusing presuppositional apologetics of being viciously circular or something like that (I’m not), but I fail to see the caricature. What follows in Steve’s post may be entirely true, but I don’t see how it rescues presuppositionalism from charges of begging the question or circular reasoning.

i) On the one hand, Nick says he’s not accusing presuppositionalism of vicious circularity. On the other hand, he charges presuppositionalism with begging the question. But if it’s not viciously circular, then how is it begging the question?

ii) Moreover, Nick says that “What follows in Steve’s post may be entirely true, but I don’t see how it rescues presuppositionalism from charges of begging the question or circular reasoning.”

Well, this is what I said about the Van Tilian apologist in my post:

On the one hand he tries to disprove the unbeliever’s worldview by exposing its residual and irreducible commitment to certain theistic truths.

On the other hand, he tries to prove his own position by process of elimination.

Now, if that’s entirely true, then how is that two-pronged approach begging the question?

Continuing with Nick:

Steve admits that the presuppositional apologist takes his position for granted when he says: “And a Van Tilian apologist doesn’t simply take his own position for granted, and leave it at that.” Good and well, I’ve not said that they ”simply” or “ just” anything, only that Steve’s description of Perry’s apologetic sounds ironically presuppositional. Steve’s response has failed to convince me otherwise (of course I’m sure that all boils down to our differing presuppositions).

i) On the one hand, Nick doesn’t accuse the Van Tilian apologist of simply or just taking his own position for granted. On the other hand, Nick accusing the Van Tilian apologist of begging the question. But how would he beg the question unless he were simply or just taking his own position for granted?

Nick comes across as hopelessly confused. The more he tries to explain himself, the more deeply mired he becomes in the quicksand.

ii) Now, it’s also possible for a Van Tilian to perform a reductio ad absurdum on the opposing position. That, however, would not be begging the question. Moreover, Perry didn’t perform a reductio ad absurdum on Calvinism in his reply to TF.

iii) However, let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Perry was mounting a presuppositional critique of Calvinism in his reply to TF. According to Nick, this would mean that Perry was begging the question. If so, then Nick is confirming my original allegation.

iv) BTW, one commenter by the name of Fletcher is offering some useful correctives in the combox.

One man's heaven is another man's hell

Music is an extremely popular art form. It seems to be a cultural universal. People with disposable income are often major consumers of music. Not to mention radio and the Internet.

The popularity of music makes all the more striking the diversity in musical taste. While some music lovers are fairly omnivorous in their musical taste, many music lovers are quite discriminating. One man’s music is another man’s noise. One man’s noise is another man’s music.

And this is representative of a broader phenomenon: it’s quite possible for two people to have the opposite reaction to the identical experience. Indeed, that’s rather common.

To someone with bad taste, good art is bad art and bad art is good art. Same thing with other matters of taste.

And that, in turn, raises an interesting possibility: one man’s heaven could be another man’s hell.

In pop culture, hell is depicted as the opposite of heaven. Hell is a torture chamber and all that good stuff. Fire and snakes and demons with pitchforks. The negation of all that’s good.

But, in principle, hell could be a lot like heaven–for a large part of what makes something pleasant or unpleasant is not merely the objective experience, but the subjective taste of the individual.

The damned might find heaven distasteful because they have bad spiritual taste–like someone who can’t stand to hear a particular musical genre, or a particular musician or singer or instrument.

In that respect, hell wouldn’t have to be the opposite of heaven. Rather, the damned would have to be the opposite of the saints. The setting could be much the same for both. Even if hell were a duplicate heaven, heaven might well be hellish to the damned.

I’m not, of course, stating this to be the case. The details of heaven and hell are bound to be speculative to some degree. But, hypothetically speaking, you can lavish someone with the best of everything, and thereby make him utterly miserable if, in his inverted scale of values, good is bad and bad is good.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Wiktionary exegesis

Dan has responded:

“I didn’t say Calvinists define choose as “You can choose X if it’s your strongest desire”.”

If you didn’t mean that, then your original objection is stillborn.

“I said they avoid the common sense definitions and use exotic, philosophical counter-definitions; like the ones Paul provided. But Calvinists seem to have at least three options: 1) inconsistently hold to common sense definitions, 2) exotic, philosophical counter-definitions, or 3) use boiled down definitions that are missing some (or all) of the essential ingredients in the common sense definitions. If one removes enough essential elements of a definition, they end up with a tautology (choose = choose). Take for example the Wiktionary. Choose means decide and decide means choose. Hence choose means choose. Unhelpful.”

This is another example of Dan’s linguistic ineptitude:

i) To begin with, dictionary definitions are typically tautological. A dictionary will typically define word A by using synonym B. If you then look of the definition of synonym B, it will use synonym A. So, yes, A defines B and B defines A. To “fall” is to “drop” or “descend.”

In cases where a dictionary uses other words (not synonyms) explicate the definition, such as to descend “rapidly,” if you look up the definition of “rapid,” it will, in turn, use synonyms to define “rapid.”

For someone who resorts to the dictionary to prove his point, Dan is remarkably oblivious to how dictionaries actually go about defining words.

Dictionaries presuppose a general knowledge of the language. If you don’t know, apart from the dictionary, what any of the synonyms means, then you won’t understand the definition.

ii) One of Dan’s problems, as I pointed out once before, is that he doesn’t know the difference between a definition and an explanation. To revert to my example, an explanation of what makes falling possible is not the same thing as defining the word “to fall.”

Explanations answer why-questions. Why did I fall from the cliff? Perhaps I was standing too close to the edge and the ground gave way under my weight. That, however, is irrelevant to the meaning of the word.

iii) And whether the “Reformed” definition of choice leaves out “essential ingredients” is simply a question-begging assertion on Dan’s part.

iv) Furthermore, it’s a basic rule of thumb in translation theory that, in a case where the meaning of a word is in doubt, or where the context can’t select for which of several meanings is preferable, then the least meaning is the best meaning. In that event a translator should choose the word with the most neutral sense available Cf. M. Silva, Biblical Words & Their Meaning (Zondervan 1994), 153ff.

In fact, in some cases, Bible translators will transliterate a Biblical word rather than translate it because there’s too much controversy over what constitutes the correct rendering.

For some reason, Dan thinks that he can make confident pronouncements about ordinary language without bothering to acquaint himself with the rudiments of lexical semantics. As a consequence, he commits one semantic blunder after another, and he repeats the same mistakes even after he’s been corrected. That’s not the conduct of a truth-seeker. Rather, that’s the conduct of someone with a foregone conclusion.

“Steve, could you please A) define ‘choose’ and B) explain it.”

i) To choose=to make a decision.

ii) Or, if you prefer a definition from one of your own, how about this:

“A choice is the formation of an intention or purpose to do something,” R. Kane, “Libertarianism,” J. Fischer, et al, Four Views On Free Will (Blackwell 2007), 33.

I trust that Dan is not going to reject a definition of choice by a leading libertarian thinker. That would be special pleading in excelsis.

Notice that there’s nothing in Kane’s definition that involves freedom to do otherwise or alternate possibilities. Rather, Kane defines “choice” in purely psychological terms. And that’s because Kane, unlike Dan, knows the difference between words and concepts.

iii) I don’t think this calls for a lot of explanation since definitions are not explanations.

Of course, depending on whether the agent is human or divine, choice will involve different preconditions. Since God is timeless, his mind was never in a state of uncertainty or indecision. His intent or purpose is timeless. Due to his omnipotence, various alternatives were available to him. Many things were possible. But it took no time for him to “form” an intention or purpose. It’s a timeless intention.

iv) However, if you insist, we could even include “alternatives” in our definition of choice. That doesn’t get you anywhere close to LFW, for there’s a difference between the hypothetical options I contemplate–on the one hand–and whether that process of deliberation matches accessible alternatives in the real world–on the other.

It’s child’s play to come up with many examples in which the conceivable alternatives I imagine to be possible are not, in fact, available to me. Hence, even if it seemed intuitively obvious to me that when I imagine I am able to do otherwise, I must be able to do otherwise, this intuition is not a reliable guide to a set of live possibilities.

Steve: It does nothing of the kind. In the nature of the case, “common usage” ordinarily is preanalytic. Most language users aren’t metaphysicians. They don’t use a word like “choice” with a lot of conscious, metaphysical baggage. Most folks aren’t conversant with modal metaphysics or Frankfurt examples.

“Dan: Sure it does. The dictionary provides what common usage is; it doesn’t get into why it’s that way. It doesn’t matter if it’s the result of metaphysical analysis, it’s preanalytic or it comes out of a fortune cookie. If that’s common usage, the dictionary reports it. And rather than reporting exotic philosophical determinist definitions of choose, it reports a definition that leaves the determinist saying we never actually choose.“

i) Notice how, in his attempted rebuttal, Dan is quietly conceding some of the very points I made.

ii) Moreover, some words have technical meanings as well as ordinary meanings. A dictionary will report the “exotic, philosophical” sense of a word if, in fact, the word is sometimes used with a technical meaning in scientific, philosophical, or theological usage.

iii) Also notice how Dan equivocates over “never actually choosing.”

As I pointed out before, this fails to draw an elementary distinction between the mental act of choosing and the extramental availability of choice.

I may choose to take Esmeralda to the prom. That’s my decision. To my consternation, I find out that Esmeralda didn’t choose to take me to the prom. At the time I made my choice, I thought she was eligible. I was wrong. Instead, she chose Derrick to be her prom date.

I made a decision– on the assumption that I had a certain freedom of opportunity in my “choice” of a prom date. As it turns out, I didn’t actually have that freedom of opportunity.

Now, if Arminianism were true, there would be a one-to-one correspondence between the mental act of opting for A, B, or C, and the extramental availability of A, B, or C.

But in the “common sense” world that I happen to inhabit, this hypothetical correspondence has a troublesome way of breaking down in actual practice.

“Steve seems to be trying to switch actual possibility for hypothetical possibility, but it doesn’t work because you can’t talk about an actual and a hypothetical at the same time.”

i) To begin with, I’m under no obligation to make sense of Dan’s “dictionary definition.” That’s his problem, not mine.

ii) He also skates over the question of possible for whom? From a Calvinistic perspective, what makes a possible world possible is that it’s possible for God to instantiate that possibility. And that’s because a possible world is a way of explicating divine omnipotence.

“Also, Steve seems to be granting that, given determinism, we don’t actually choose (understanding choose as defined by the dictionary).”

Dan continues to equivocate over key terms. There’s a point beyond which that practice calls his honesty into question. When he’s repeatedly corrected on elementary equivocations, and the next time around he simply repeats the same equivocation, then he’s not debating in good faith.

“The med students restrictions are post-choice, and don’t interfere with volition.”

Notice that Dan is limiting the essential ingredient of “choice” to “volition.”

Hence, by his own admission, choice is reducible to a mental act. Choice doesn’t not entail a corresponding, extramental outcome.

So, according to Dan, you can make an “actual” choice, in the sense of executing a volition (i.e. mental act of the will), even though you can’t actually act on your choice by enacting or acting out your preference. As such, a choice is simply a decision, nothing less and nothing more. It doesn’t require metaphysical access to alternate possibilities. You can make a real choice even though you are unable to carry through with your intentions.

“On the contrary, I think it's intuitive to think something is wrong with the argument that foreknowledge rules out freewill, even if people can't quite put their finger on why. While some questioning on the subject of foreknowledge and freewill is natural, most Christians don’t drop either foreknowledge or freewill. So I think saying common sense says they are irreconcilable is a bit of a stretch. Only a small minority of Christians (Calvinists, Thomast and Open Theists) think that, and in my experience those that do tend to favor philosophy.”

i) It’s amusing to see Dan classify Thomists as a “small minority.” Catholics vastly outnumber Arminians, and Thomism is the default position in Catholic theology.

ii) Furthermore, how are percentages relevant to intuition? Apparently, Dan is claiming that the intuitions of one set of Christians trump the intuitions of another set of Christians. But intuition itself can’t broker that disagreement–since both sides would be appealing to their respective intuitions.

So Dan’s intuitive evidence boils down to the circular claim that some intuitions are more intuitively reliable than other intuitions, and by a striking coincidence, Arminian intuitions just so happen to be more reliable than Thomist, Calvinist, neotheist, or determinist intuitions.

iii) Even more to the point, Dan is prevaricating. The fact that a certain fraction of Christians (whether in the majority or minority) is unwilling to sacrifice either foreknowledge or (libertarian) freedom doesn’t mean that reluctance has anything to do with the intuitive perception of the issue.

Many people will resist a conclusion for reasons that have nothing to do with intuition. Many parents will deny an accusation that their kids are doing drugs, even in the teeth of fairly compelling evidence to the contrary.

“As for Steve’s time-traveling counterfactual ice cream challenge, it seems to amount to nothing more than pointing out we don’t have empirical proof of freewill.”

Even if it amounted to nothing more than that, it’s useful to have that concession in the public record. It’s useful to have a prominent Arminian epologist admit that no human being has had any experience whatsoever of doing otherwise.

“As Christians, of course we believe in many things we don’t have empirical proof for. Faith is the evidence of things not seen. Since the will is part of our immaterial soul, and we don’t have empirical evidence of the soul, why should we be surprised that we don’t have empirical evidence of the will?”

i) So much for “intuition” and the “common man” appeal.

ii) Moreover, I’m not discussing empirical evidence for the existence of the will. Rather, I’m discussing empirical evidence, or the lack therefore, for effects of the will. Doesn’t Dan believe that human volitions have empirical consequences?

“If this is the whole of Steve’s point, it fails to show the counter-intuitiveness of LFW, since it’s a strawman regarding ‘when’. But perhaps there is a bit more to Steve’s claim here. Today is February 22nd. I can’t live to see tomorrow. God willing, I will live to see February 23rd, but by that point the 24th will be ‘tomorrow’. The restriction is definitional, not causal. So even though I can live till tomorrow, I can’t live to it and have it be tomorrow. This is the type of restriction we have on being able to choose otherwise. I can choose the chocolate and I can choose the strawberry. But if I choose the chocolate, the strawberry is ‘otherwise’ and if I choose the strawberry, the chocolate is ‘otherwise’. So while I can choose otherwise, I can never choose otherwise and have it be otherwise. This is not impossibility, it’s incompossibility. So Steve’s statement that it’s something I can’t do (impossibility not incompossibility) is false.”

i) Dan simply begs the question of what is possible on libertarian grounds. Why wouldn’t libertarianism, if true, entail the possibility of time travel? To do otherwise is only incompossible if you can’t repeat the past–up to a certain point, then do something different. But if you have the ability to do otherwise, then you should be able to repeat the past–up to the point where you do otherwise.

So Dan is admitting that agents can’t do otherwise. They can only do one thing–one thing rather than another thing. If you choose A, you can’t choose B. If you choose B, you can’t choose A.

ii) And there’s a practical as well as theoretical issue here. What’s the value of having libertarian freedom if you can never explore the consequences of each alternative in advance of committing yourself to just one course of action? In that event, what’s the benefit of libertarian freedom?

It poses an acute moral dilemma for libertarianism. Haven’t we all told ourselves that, if we could only go back and do it all over again, we would do some things differently? We did what we did at the time because we couldn’t foresee the outcome. We could only know the outcome of A by doing A. But at that point it’s too late to learn from our mistake. The damage is done.

On Dan’s view, the agent is free to choose between door A, door B, or door C, yet the agent doesn’t know what’s behind each door–until he chooses, at which point he’s stuck with that result. So it’s a game of chance. A blind choice. A stab in the dark.

What’s behind the door he chooses? A sports car? A pin-up girl? A man-eating tiger? He can only find out the hard way. His choice is irreversible (as Dan defines “choice”).

“This example is questionable, but even if it’s granted, I am not sure it matters because I don't think most folks first response to ‘ought implies can’ is to think of this or similar examples.”

Is Dan having to admit that what “most folks” find intuitively plausible or implausible is wholly contingent on what example you happen to use to illustrate your claim?

“The scriptural obligation seems counter-intuitive; that we are to love them as Christ loved the church. The movie Fireproof shows how counter-intuitive it is.”

And how does that concession help his case? Isn’t he undercutting his case?

“All translators who had access to English dictionaries translated the words bâcha and eklegomai as choose.”

i) And notice what they don’t do. They don’t translate bacha or eklegomai as “the freedom to do otherwise” or “the power to access and then instantiate alternate possibilities.”

ii) Incidentally, the overwhelming occurrence of these Greek and Hebrew words in Scripture take God as the subject–where God does the choosing. Or, in a far smaller number of cases, God presents man with a choice–where God determines the options. If you were trying to formulate libertarian freedom of scratch, would you begin with such a severely restrictive framework?

iii) In addition, where the verse involves a choice among a range of hypothetical alternatives, it is not the verb alone that carries that concept. Rather, the verse has to spell out the range of hypothetical choice. In and of itself, the verb (“to choose”) doesn’t carry all this metaphysical freight.

iv) Finally, Dan has a simplistic view of who constitutes the audience for Scripture. The audience for Scripture is not monolithic. It doesn’t target just one social class.

For example, many scholars have noted that a complete understanding of various NT books requires a detailed familiarity with the text of the OT. And they’ve also noted, in that same connection, that these literary allusions would be lost on many Gentile readers or listeners–who didn’t have the OT at their literal or mental fingertips.

NT authors are writing on more than one level, for more than one audience. The Christian movement was represented by different social strata. And that’s reflected in the implied reader, to whom the books of the NT are addressed.

To take another example, a number of scholars have noted that Luke is, in part, writing with an apologetic agenda, to demonstrate the legal respectability of the nascent Christian movement. Yet that isn’t directed at the common man, for the common man didn’t make public policy in the Roman Empire. Rather, that’s implicitly directed at Roman officials who might have occasion to read Luke-Acts. Indeed, Theophilus may be a case in point.

Likewise, the Book of Hebrews was addressed to Messianic Jews, not illiterate slave boys. It takes for granted a certain educational level on the part of the target audience.

The Bible expects some readers to be more astute than others. To some extent it’s pitched at a popular level, but it also contains a lot of subtextual subtleties that only a better-educated reader would register. The very fact that Bible writers could read and write put them in something of a social elite at that time and place.

“Hm... I am not quite sure this is accurate. At least some of Calvinism's stronger theologians have called into question the coherence of LFW, which implies God does not have LFW…But if a Calvinist holds God’s decrees were a choice (understood in and LFW sense), then God did truly have alternative possibilities. However, since the decree is done and immutable, it is fair to say all counterfactuals are no longer possible, given the decree. So Calvinism seems unable to maintain the existance of alternative possibilities.”

i) Once again, Dan resorts to his favorite ploy of equivocation. The decree is the logical consequence of timeless divine decision. The fact that the consequence is immutable doesn’t mean that God lacked the freedom to decree otherwise had he chosen to foreordain a different alternative with a different consequence.

Alternate possibilities exist because alternate possibilities inhere in God’s omnipotence. The finite world does not exhaust the unlimited resources of divine omnipotence. There are many unexemplified possibilities: things which it was within God’s power to do, but he refrained from doing.

ii) It would also behoove him to read Cunningham’s article on “Calvinism, and the Doctrine of Philosophical Necessity.” Calvinism is not interchangeable with a necessitarian scheme.

“Since interpretation is simply picking from the range of meanings left open by ‘what it says’, clearly the interpretation cannot contradict what it says.”

Except that Dan defines “what it says” by his common man appeal. Yet, as we will see, Dan abandons the “common man” meaning of words as soon as I cite some of the prooftexts for open theism (see below).

“Open to be interpreted via context (if what it says isn’t specific and is open to interpretation). Context gets bigger and bigger. We should start from the immediate context and move outward (a word, a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, a book, an author….) rather than starting on the fringes and moving inward.”

Except that, for Dan, “what it says” exerts no ultimate control over the interpretation (see below).

“Please see Paul Manata's quotes regarding the Jewish understanding of choice and freedom.”

Since Manata was citing examples of Jewish determinism, how is that documentation the least bit helpful to Dan’s thesis?

“Also, here’s evidence from and extra-biblical Jewish source.”

Why is Dan citing an apocryphal writing which was influenced b y Greek philosophy to bolster his position?

“I don’t find the objector’s argument common sense; I find it absurd to think we can challenge God’s authority.”

Dan’s interpretation (of Rom 9:19) is quite implausible. According to him, Paul’s hypothetical critic is raising a nonsensical objection. But if it were so patently nonsensical, then why would Paul bother to put this objection in the mouth of a hypothetical critic? On Dan’s interpretation, Paul’s audience wouldn’t take the objection seriously. So there would be no reason for Paul to raise it in the first place.

The reason Paul anticipates this objection is because it does have some apparent force, and so he wants to knock it down before someone lodges that objection when Paul is not around to rebut it.

“The objection is why does God blame us since He set the rules and doesn’t have to listen to our input. The issue is God’s authority, not His power.”

No, the objection is not to God, but to Paul. The critic is not objecting to God’s conduct. Rather, the critic is objecting to Paul’s doctrine of God. He takes issue with Paul’s teaching. He’s attacking Pauline theology based on what he deems to be the unacceptable consequences of Pauline theology. He doesn’t concede Paul’s claim. Rather, he’s challenging the veracity of Paul’s claim.

“To read 'who resists His will' as predeterminism is incorrect.”

Irrelevant. My immediate point doesn’t turn on the Reformed interpretation of Rom 9:19). The point, rather, is that whatever you take Paul to mean, his meaning is offensive to common sense. It offends the common sense of the hypothetical critic. And Paul would only bring that up because those sentiments are representative of how real people might react to his teaching.

“Further, if we read ‘who resists His will’ as predeterminism, the objection becomes self-contradictory. It would become Calminian.”

i) Irrelevancy aside (see above), this also exposes Dan’s incompetent grasp of Reformed theology. Even if we assume the Reformed interpretation of this verse (which I do, although that’s beside the point), it’s quite possible for human beings to resist what the Bible teaches about predestination. While they cannot resist the fact of predestination, they can certainly resist the teaching of predestination. Indeed, many human beings are predestined to resist predestinarian doctrine–and thereby expose the folly of fallen man.

ii) In fact, that’s precisely the point. Ironically enough, Pharaoh irresistibly fulfills the decretive will of God in the very process of resisting God’s perceptive will.

“I only opposed the practice of reading technical, philosophical definitions into scripture.”

Au contraire! That’s exactly what Dan does in the case of “choice.” He defines it according to libertarian metaphysics.

“Given the wording, the question isn't if God repents or not. The passage makes it plain that He does. Rather the question is, is God’s repentance the same as man’s repentance.”

A telltale instance of Dan’s hermeneutical naïveté. Suppose we applied his reasoning to another verse of Scripture: “He will cover you with his feathers” (Ps 91:4).

By Dan’s logic, we’d have to say, given the wording, that the question isn't if God has feathers or not. The passage makes it plain that He does. Rather the question is, are God’s feathers the same as pigeon feathers.

Contrary to Dan’s flatfooted literality, it’s very much a live issue whether or not God is actually repentant. Do we construe the passage literally or anthropomorphically.

“While ‘if, with the benefit of hindsight, he could do it all over again, God would not have made mankind in the first place’, holds good of man’s repentance, I don’t think it does of God’s repentance.”

But that’s not “what it says.” That’s not the common man meaning of the passage. Dan didn’t get that from the actual wording of the verse. He didn’t get that from looking up the word “repentance” or “grief” or “sorrow” in the Wiktionary. He didn’t get that from consulting a Hebrew lexicon, and then opting for the rendering that best fit the context–assuming the lexicon gave more than one meaning for the Hebrew word. Dan’s appeal to the common man is just a charade.

“The repentance in this case seems to be that up until that time God wished His creation to exist and flourish, but based on their sinful state, He decided they should not exist but rather should be destroyed (Noah and family excepted). This does not entail that God would have redone things differently, only that from that moment on He willed things to be different.”

This is special pleading on Dan’s part. On the common man view, the notion of repentance involves regret for past actions. You regret having done that. And implicit in that reaction is the wish that if you could turn back the clock, you wouldn’t do the same thing all over again.

“Though God has an overall plan for all time, that does not mean He cannot will X from T1 to T3 and then nonX from T4 to T6. Rather, His will from T1 to T3 and T4 to T6 is included within His overall plan. So the overall plan does not change. Please note this is not an explination of Gen 6, rather it's reconcilation of Gen 6 with other truths.”

He’s right–that is not an explanation of Gen 6. And that’s the problem. His attempt to square Gen 6 with other truths doesn’t follow from the “what it says” level of text–especially in relation to his Wiktionary methodology.

“The grief relates to man’s sins, not over His prior choice to create.”

That is not “what it says.” Indeed, that is in direct defiance to the explicit wording of the text: “And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth,”

The text doesn’t say that God grieved over man’s sin rather than grieving over his prior decision to make man. Instead, the text says both, and it links the two. God regretted having made man because he was so upset over man’s subsequent iniquity.

This is not a small point. Remember what Dan said? “Since interpretation is simply picking from the range of meanings left open by ‘what it says’, clearly the interpretation cannot contradict what it says.”

But Dan isn’t “simply picking from the range of meanings left open by “what it says.” Dan isn’t making a selection from the range of meanings supplied by the dictionary. Quite the opposite: Dan is disregarding the specific wording of the text; disregarding the explicit assertions of the text. In addition, his interpretation is despite the common man meaning of the key terms.

Yet Dan solemnly warned us that “doing so seems to leave the scripture open to almost an unlimited amount of interpretations (as opposed to just a few). This seems to deliver a deathblow to the clarity of scripture.”

So Dan’s bait-and-switch interpretation delivers the deathblow to the clarity of Scripture.

“The grief is not a physical emotion, since God is a Spirit, and does not have a body.”

That has absolutely nothing to do with the meaning of the word.

“Rather it tells us that God wills for us not to sin and hates our sins.”

“It” tells us that? What’s the “it”? Not the word. The word (“grief,” “sorry,” “repentance”) doesn’t tell us that. And the text as a whole (Gen 6:6) doesn’t tell us that. Not at the “what it says” level. And Dan’s interpretation is in spite of the “what it says” level.

“The passage does not deny God foreknew the event,”

If we go along with Dan’s Wiktionary exegesis, then it clearly does deny God’s foreknowledge of the event. Notice the temporal indexical: “now”. “Now I know…”

So God’s knowledge of the outcome is subsequent to, and dependent on, the outcome itself.

“But it does seem to indicate that the basis of God’s knowledge was the event. So likewise, the basis of His foreknowledge was the future event.”

If God’s knowledge of the outcome derives from the outcome, then God is ignorant of the future. He only knows the future when the future is past. He only knows the future after the fact.

“Similar to Gen 6, before Moses’ intercession, God willed to destroy Israel. After, He willed to spare them…Though God has an overall plan for all time, that does not mean He cannot will X from T1 to T3 and then nonX from T4 to T6. Rather, His will from T1 to T3 and T4 to T6 is included within His overall plan. So the overall plan does not change.”

But that’s not “what it says.” It doesn’t distinguish between God’s “overall plan” and his will at any particular time.

Not only is Dan interpolating that distinction into the text–his interpolation is at variance with the text. At the “what it says” level of the text, God changed his plan because Moses persuaded him to change his plan. So this is not the same thing as sticking with the same long-range plan all along. Rather, God is ditching his own plan and adopting Moses’ plan instead.

“This one is different and admittedly more challenging. No conditions were given, but apparently there was an implicit condition.”

If no condition is given, you can hardly say an implicit condition is “apparent.” To be “apparent,” it would have to appear somewhere in the text. Once again, Dan disregards the “what it says” level of the text.

“Perhaps God was only saying that the disease was deadly.”

Imagine if a Calvinist helped himself to these ad hoc qualifications to defend Calvinism. Dan and his fellow Arminians would be all over his case.

“But if it is ‘thought’ and ‘will return to me’, the we could look at this statement as a metaphor (part of the overall metaphor) representing God as a husband seeking to bring back his unfaithful wife.”

You can’t get that interpretation from Wiktionary exegesis.

“’Nor did it come into my mind’ refers to God’s command, not their sinful act. God did not think of Himself commanding them to burn their sons, but He did know that they could and would.”

But that’s not “what it says.” The text attributes two distinct things to God: he didn’t command child sacrifice, and–what is more–that outcome didn’t even cross his mind. The second attribution is not reducible to the first. For the second intensifies the divine repugnance.

To say God “did know that they could and would” is not something Dan is getting from the text, but something that Dan is imposing on the text–in the teeth of what it actually says.

“It seems that Jonah and the Ninevehites understood there to be an implicit condition in the prophecy (Jonah 3:9, 4:2).”

But that’s not “what it says.” Rather, it tells us that God repented in light of the outcome. To the man on the street, that’s something you experience when you didn’t anticipate the outcome. In light of unforeseen circumstances, you adapt to the new circumstances.

If we stick with Dan’s hermeneutical principles, then God is making things up as he goes along. Improvising on the fly.

Dan then refers the reader to his same failed strategies on Gen 6 and Gen 22 to explain away the man-on-the-street meaning of Num 14:12,20; Deut 8:22; 1 Sam 15:10-35; 1 Chron 21:15, & 2 Chron 32:31.

Let’s take stock. I never conceded that Calvinists are guilty of investing biblical words with philosophical meanings. We don’t do that. To the contrary, Dan is the one who’s guilty of doing that.

In addition, Dan is quite unable to consistently apply his Wiktionary/common man approach to various prooftexts for open theism.

I, of course, have my own approach to said passages (which I’ve discussed on more than one occasion), but that’s a separate issue. For now I’m merely answering Dan on his own grounds. He used his Wiktionary/common man approach to attack Calvinism. Assuming, for the same of argument, that it disproves Calvinism (which is not the case), then it also disproves Arminianism.

Indeed, it disproves Arminianism is a way that it doesn’t disprove Calvinism since a Calvinist doesn’t operate with Dan’s hermeneutical grid. So it disproves Arminianism while leaving Calvinism unscathed.