Saturday, March 21, 2009

Molinistic determinism

Dan recently replied to something I wrote:

I’ve been busy with more important business, such as my review of Ehrman’s silly new book. Now I’ll get back to Dan:

“So my contention is that the question of why dictionaries and lexicons are what they are is not relevant to the business at hand. The questions should be: “what does the dictionary say” and “does that conflict with determinism”? Since dictionaries speak of possible alternatives and determinism rules out possible alternatives, it seems like an open and shut case.”

i) That’s not an open and shut case since, for various reasons I’ve already stated, I don’t accept Dan’s standard of comparison in the first place. While I’m prepared to debate him on his own grounds, that doesn’t mean I accept his amateurish appeal to English-language dictionaries to settle the dispute over determinism.

ii) And, yes, the question of how dictionaries are the way they are is quite germane to the business at hand since Dan is overinterpreting lexical usage and trying to abstract the end-result from the process.

ii) Moreover, I’ve already corrected him on his misstatement that determinism rules out possible alternatives. That’s demonstrably false. In supralapsarian Calvinism, for example, God chose a particular means to achieve a particular end. There were other possible ends, with corresponding means available to him, but he chooses the end that best furthers his purpose (i.e. the glorification of God in the glorification of the elect).

iii) Calvinism distinguishes between divine and human agency. The conditions for one are not interchangeable with the conditions for another. But although I corrected Dan on that point, he simply repeats the same mistake the next time around.

That’s the mark of an opponent who’s not debating in good faith. He raises an objection. You respond to his objection. Then he repeats the same objection as if no response was given.

iii) Furthermore, as I also pointed out, appeal to alternate possibilities is fatally ambiguous since it fails to distinguish between the psychological process of deliberation and the extramental structure of the world. What do these alternative possibilities refer to? The ability of the subject to conceive of hypothetical situations, or the nature of the external world?

But Dan, in his latest reply to me, merely repeats his original objection as if nothing was said by way of response.

“The first definition descends to a tautology.”

As I already explained to Dan in some detail, dictionary definitions are typically tautological. He’s the one appealing to dictionaries. To reject my definition as tautological is a violation of his own standards.

A dictionary is a vicious hermeneutical circle. You can’t break into the circle unless you already have some working knowledge of the language apart from the dictionary. If you don’t know what any of the synonyms mean apart from the dictionary, then the dictionary definition will be meaningless to you.

“And the second is handcrafted to fit Kane's unique philosophical theory. Neither is suitable for understanding scripture, though Kane's definition is useful for understanding Kane. I have already made my case against leaving out essential ingredients and technical, philosophical definitions.”

i) That’s just a tendentious assertion on Dan’s part. Notice that he makes absolutely no effort to defend his claim that Kane’s definition is technical or philosophical or distinctive to Kane’s action theory.

ii) Once again, here is Kane’s definition:

“A choice is the formation of an intention or purpose to do something,”

How is that an especially technical or philosophical definition–much less a definition distinctive to Kane’s action theory?

Dan needs to actually explain how that’s a technical or philosophical explanation. What makes Kane’s definition more philosophical than the other definitions that Dan prefers?

Let’s compare two definitions of choice:

a) ”A choice is the formation of an intention or purpose to do something” (Kane).

b) ”A choice involves the power to instantiate alternate possibilities” (Dan).

Explain to me how (i) is technical or philosophical while (ii) represents popular usage or ordinary language?

On the face of it, Dan has things exactly backwards. (ii) is clearly more technical or philosophical than (i).

iii) Far from being technical or philosophical, Kane’s definition eschews metaphysical assumptions. Kane offers a very conservative definition, bearing on the psychological dynamics of choice.

By contrast, Dan’s preferred definition is freighted with metaphysical assumptions.

iv) But suppose, for the sake of argument, that Kane’s definition were a technical definition. So what? As I’ve also pointed out to Dan, dictionary definitions include technical definitions as well as popular definitions. It’s quite arbitrary for Dan to cite the dictionary as his frame of reference, then arbitrarily restrict what definitions are “suitable.”

v) Dan also needs to show that Kane’s definition is distinctive to Kane’s action theory. Even if, for the sake of argument, we grant that allegation, so what? Kane is a libertarian. Dan is a libertarian. I, by contrast, am I Calvinist.

When I, as a Calvinist, debating a libertarian on the definition of choice, cite a definition by a leading libertarian, then I’m answering my opponent on his own grounds.

For Dan to reject that definition is special pleading in excelsis.

vi) Kane’s definition is clearly not distinctive to his action theory since I, as a Calvinist, agree with his definition–even though he’s a libertarian. He and I have opposing positions. Yet I find nothing objectionable in his definition of choice.

Dan isn’t simply losing the argument on Calvinist grounds. Dan is losing the argument on libertarian grounds.

“I generally think of choices at three levels: 1) contemplation, 2) choice and 3) execution of choice.”

i) Notice that Dan isn’t quoting a dictionary.

ii) Moreover, why should I prefer the definition of an accountant to the definition of a college prof. who edited the Oxford Handbook of Free Will? Dan must be very egotistical to think that his definition trumps Kane’s. I don’t share his conceited self-opinion.

iii) And even on its own terms, it’s problematic to include “execution of choice” in your concept of choice–considering the fact that a finite agent often fails to execute his choice.

“The dictionary defines choose as selection between possible alternatives (or options). Steve trades options for "hypothetical options" (#3 for #1). Doing so misses the dictionary (common sense) definition. Thinking about eating chocolate should not be confused with eating chocolate.”

i) At the risk of belaboring the point, dictionaries aren’t limited to “common sense” definitions of words. Dictionaries include technical definitions of words. This is Dan’s idiosyncratic restriction on lexical usage. And it’s another mark of his dishonesty.

ii) ”Selection between possible alternatives” is a mental act involving deliberation. Resolving on one alternative is also a mental act. That’s irrelevant to the extramental structure of the world. That’s a psychological claim, not an ontological claim.

iii) Besides, I reject Dan’s amateurish appeal to dictionaries to settle the dispute over determinism. Imagine the grade Dan would receive if he wrote a term paper for Robert Kane or Peter van Inwagen in which he tried to disprove determinism by quoting dictionary definitions of “choice”!

“Steve uses several examples of "failed attempts" to disprove LFW…Maybe not what we had in mind, but possible alternatives none the less.”

I see that Dan can’t keep track of his own argument. So we’ll have to take him by the hand and walk him through his own argument.

i) I didn’t cite failed attempts to disprove LFW. Rather, I cited fail attempts to disprove the ostensible evidence for LFW.

ii) Dan was forced to admit that there’s absolutely no empirical evidence for LFW. His fallback was to invoke intuitive evidence for LFW.

iii) That, however, would require a one-to-one correspondence between the hypothetical options we thought were within our power to realize, and what we could actually achieve. Failed attempts destroy the intuitive evidence for LFW since they demonstrate that Dan’s intuitive criterion is unreliable.

iv) To take stock, Dan has no empirical evidence for LFW, and he has no intuitive evidence for LFW. He can’t prove it by experience, and he can’t prove it by reason. What’s left?

“Determinism cuts off alternative possibilities at the source (level 2 – I cannot choose chocolate). If determinism is true, there are no alternative possibilities at level 2 or level 3. If I am predetermined to eat vanilla, eating chocolate is impossible; I can neither eat chocolate nor fail in the attempt.”

i) It doesn’t cut off alternate possibilities for God.

ii) In addition, all that Dan’s statement, even if accurate, would amount to, is a contrast between Calvinism and libertarianism. It goes without saying that, in Calvinism, the freedom of the creature is more limited than the freedom which libertarianism imputes to the creature.

That description doesn’t begin to prove libertarianism or disprove Calvinism. And it disregards the inherent tensions in the libertarian position. Yes, libertarianism claims a lot of freedom for the human agent, but can it make good on its claims?

iii) But there’s an even deeper problem: Dan’s own position is self-refuting. For Dan is not a classic Arminian. To the contrary, Dan is a Molinist.

a) But Molinism is at odds with Dan’s definition of choice. In Molinism, God is the only agent who can instantiate alternate possibilities. It’s God who determines which possible world to actualize, not the human agent.

In Molinism, human choice is purely counterfactual. There’s a possible world in which Dan does A, another possible world in which Dan does B, yet another possible world in which Dan does C, and so on.

But the Dan of each possible world lacks the power to instantiate these alternatives. The human agent is not the agent that instantiates a possible world. Only God can do that. So the human agent lacks access to alternate possibilities.

In Molinism, God chooses which possibility to instantiate, not the human agent. God chooses in light of what the human agent would do, but the human agent, in a possible world, isn’t free to make that happen himself. For a human agent in a possible world has no objective existence. A possible agent is not a real agent. A possible agent can’t do a thing.

b) What is more, once God chooses which possible world to instantiate, the agent has no freedom to do otherwise in the actual world to which he belongs.

The freedom of choice representing possible worlds might be significant if, in addition, a Molinist agent had the freedom to choose which choice would be actualized. But since he lacks that complementary freedom, the freedom which the Molinist scheme imputes to him is quite illusory.

c) Summing up, a Molinist agent lacks the freedom to choose between one possible world and another. That’s because each possible world (or world segment) represents a choice (or set of choices, involving other agents as well). Within each possible world, a Molinist agent only has one choice available to him. They pair off: one alternate choice per world, where a possible world (or world-segment) corresponds to an alternate choice.

And in the actual world, a Molinist agent only has one choice available to him. That’s because the actual world selects for that particular choice to the exclusion of other possibilities. In a possible world, or in the actual world, all other possibilities are inaccessible to the world-bound agent.

The real freedom belongs to God, who chooses which possible world to instantiate. A Molinist agent doesn’t get to choose the actual world in which he will find himself. He’s stuck with God’s choice. Hence, a Molinist agent has precious little freedom.

“What are we to understand by ‘hypothetical options’? Could it mean me imagining I am eating chocolate? Could it mean the thought ‘if I choose chocolate, I will eat chocolate’? Could it mean ‘if I am predetermined to eat chocolate, I will eat chocolate’? It's unclear what Steve means. Let's say it's the first. Why call it ‘options’ unless we also imagine ourselves choosing chocolate. In that case we are to the second. But what if chocolate is sold out? I might think it's a hypothetical option, but I would be wrong. Given the hypothesis (if I choose chocolate), I still don't get to eat chocolate. What about the third (‘if I am predetermined to eat chocolate, I will eat chocolate’). Even if chocolate is sold out, this one entails a counter-factual past in which chocolate is not sold out. That works, but does anyone think this is the key ingredient in the normal definition of choice? In short, not only does Steve trade options for ‘hypothetical options’, he really shouldn't be calling what he has in mind ‘hypothetical options’.”

It can mean I imagine a number of ostensible alternatives. I contemplate different flavors. And it can also mean deciding to eat one flavor rather than another, or deciding to refrain from eating any flavor.

These are mental acts. And there’s no equipollent relation between what I can conceive and what I can do. Indeed, I often lack the freedom to do what I mistakenly thought lay within my power to do.

Anyone with a certain IQ can mentally project himself into various hypothetical situations. There’s no intrinsic connection between that faculty and what is truly actionable. A five-year-old boy may entertain Superman fantasies. That’s both conceivable and impossible.

“Normally people think we are able to choose otherwise before the choice but not after the choice. This seems due to time and perhaps also cause and effect. But in any case, normally we think possibilities lapse. No crying over spilt milk. Steve seems to be calling this into question. One can only speculate as to why.”

No, one doesn’t have to speculate. I explained what I meant in relation to Dan’s position. What Dan needs to do is not to speculate, but pay attention to what was said.

“Does he think God time-travels? Does he disregard time as we know it? Does he think maybe we will wake up tomorrow and God chose Esau all along? In a world with turducken, I am not one to look down on innovation. Perhaps Steve can explain what's going on here.”

Perhaps Dan can pay attention to what was already said. Remember what I said in my previous post? “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.”

Dan is supposedly responding to my previous post. But then he blows right past what I said by trotting out an objection which I already anticipated and disposed of in my previous post.

“In the meantime...we have the freedom to choose otherwise than we will choose and had the freedom to choose otherwise than we did. If God alone had LFW (the uniwiller theory) and has issued one simple, eternal decree, all possibilities should be spoken of in the past tense.”

i) That’s an assertion without an argument. A timeless God would employ tensed language when addressing time-bound creatures.

ii) It’s also erroneous to say that Calvinism involves a “uniwiller theory.” In Calvinism, God is not the only agent.

“God knows the heart and will judge us based on our choices. We trust Him to take care of the consequences.”

Irrelevant to what I said. This is what I said: “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?”

How is Dan’s comment responsive to what I said? It isn’t. Was I discussing human culpability? No.

i) Once again, what’s the value of being able to choose from alternate courses of action if you don’t know, in advance, what the outcome will be? If, on the one hand, you could foresee the outcome, then there are many cases in which you would opt for a different course of action. If, on the other had, you can’t foresee the outcome, then it’s too late to change your mind.

To repeat: what’s the practical benefit of having this arrange of options if you lack the foresight to know which option is the most prudent course of action?

ii) Notice how Dan is trivializing the issue. On the one hand Arminians treat libertarian freedom as all-important. On the other hand, as soon as I begin to pose some rather elementary questions about the practical significance of such freedom, Dan retreats into statements like, “God will take care of the consequences”–as if that distinguishes Dan’s position from Calvinism!

“In analysing Gen 6:6 we should not confuse repentance with remorse. Lexicons provide "a change of heart" or "relenting of a past course" as a possible definition for naham; although another definition is remorse.”

i) Even Dan admits that “remorse” is one of the available definitions.

ii) He is also disregarding the implications of a word. There is more at issue than the meaning of a word. When a word attributes a certain attitude to an agent, that carries certain implications. It’s not just a question of what the word means, but what the attitude denoted by the word implies. The word denotes an attitude. What does the attitude imply? Why would God have a change of heart or feel remorse unless he regretted his prior course of action?

When we read about people, and certain states of mind are attributed to them, we draw certain inferences. This isn’t just a question of looking up some words in a dictionary. Words don’t exist in isolation to the world they denote. They derive their meaning from the world they denote.

iii) Here are some translations of Gen 6:6:

“The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain” (NIV).

“The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart” (NASB).

“God was sorry that he had made the human race in the first place; it broke his heart” (The Message).

“So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart” (New Living Bible).

“He was sorry he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain” (New Century Version).

iv) What’s the common man interpretation of those statements? Wouldn’t the man on the street ascribe regret to God on the basis of such statements? Why would God feel sorry for what he did if could foresee the outcome, and prevent the outcome?

Taken literally, how can Dan avoid admitting that God thought better of his decision (to make man and send the flood) after the fact. After it was too late to undo all the damage? Isn’t the open theist far truer to Dan’s hermeneutical principles than Dan himself?

v) Keep in mind that Dan is the one who tells us we should use English dictionaries to settle the dispute over determinism–since Bible translators know and use English dictionaries.

So, then, the translation committees knew the implications of this usage when they render the Hebrew to say that God was sorry he ever made the human race. What is that if not an attitude of regret, with the benefit of hindsight?

“In particular, the LXX's enthumeomai excludes remorse and only includes a change of course.”

Irrelevant since Gen 6:6 wasn’t written in Greek. We only turn to versional evidence when the Hebrew usage is too rare to construe on its own.

“So in this case "antropromorphism" is overly complex and per Occham's razor should be avoided.”

i) Occam’s razor is irrelevant to the grammatico-historical method.

ii) If the anthropomorphic interpretation is “overly complex,” then the logical alternative is the literal prediction of regret (with all that entails) to God.

So why isn’t Dan a Mormon?

iii) BTW, notice that Dan had to duck every other passage I cited. He originally commented on these. I responded–followed by deafening silence on his part.

“God's knowledge is temporally prior but logically after the outcome, so God still foreknows in a temporal sense.”

i) From a Molinist standpoint, in what sense is God’s knowledge temporally prior? If God is contemplating possible worlds, then that would be apart from time since time itself would be a result of instantiating a possible world.

ii) Of course, Molinism fails to explain how God can know the future actions of free agents.

“On the other hand, if God's knowledge isn't based on the outcome, then it's not knowledge of the outcome.”

This is one of the semantic games that Dan tries to play. And in so doing, he abandons is commitment to common sense and popular usage.

In popular parlance, to know the outcome is to know what will happen.

However, knowledge of the outcome needn’t be based on the outcome itself. That’s a possible mode of future knowledge. Knowledge of the future after the fact. Of course, that falls short of knowing the future as future. Rather, that’s knowing the future as past. After the fact.

If knowledge of the outcome is caused by (i.e. “based on”) the outcome, then such knowledge is inherently ex post facto.

If, on the other hand, the agent is causing the future, then it’s not the outcome that causes his knowledge of the outcome; rather, causing the outcome is the source of his knowledge. God knows the outcome by knowing himself.

God knows what is going to happen because God decreed the outcome and God also executes his decree through primary and secondary causation.

“Steve:’Finding fault’ is conduct. The passage doesn't say why would God still find fault or if no one resists His will. It says why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?”

Dan is too flatfooted to appreciate Pauline rhetoric. Rom 9:19 is a counterfactual objection in which, for the sake of argument, a hypothetical opponent takes Paul’s position, as he (the opponent) understands it, to its logical extreme. To think this is a statement of what the opponent actually believes is to get the objection completely backwards. The objection is a reductio ad absurdum of what the opponent takes to be a Pauline premise.

"I, Josephus"

Jon Curry has written the following about the use of the phrase "I, Paul" in the letters of Paul:

"'I Paul' references are also suspicious as they are in many pseudonymous works as a dead give away to forgery." (source)

"Sprinkled throughout all of these texts we have all of these 'I, Paul' references, which as I've said before and as Bart Ehrman also taught is a technique used by forgers, common in many other documents we all recognize as pseudonymous. If you sit down and write an occasional letter you don't spend a lot of time making strong overtures to prove that you are you. This is something that is done by somebody that has pseudonymity on the mind." (source)

Jon later modified his ridiculous "dead giveaway" comment, but continues to use the argument in a diminished form:

"And I will modify my claim of 'I, Paul' as a 'dead giveaway' to forgery as 'I, Paul' to indicative of forgery. It might be a dead giveaway, but I'm not sure. It's definitely indicative of forgery, and is a technique used by forgers frequently." (source)

There are many problems with Jon’s argument. Those who are interested can consult the threads above, where I discuss some of the problems. This post is intended to add to what I’ve written elsewhere, not to repeat everything I’ve said on the subject.

Though Jon cites Bart Ehrman, it should be noted that Ehrman doesn’t consider "I, [author’s name]" to be a "dead give away" of forgery. He accepts as genuine multiple Pauline documents that use the phrase "I, Paul". For example, he not only affirms the Pauline authorship of 1 Corinthians, but even goes as far as to say that "No one doubts, however, that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians." (Misquoting Jesus [San Francisco, California: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005], p. 183) Jon is using Ehrman’s argument in a manner Ehrman didn’t intend. Ehrman doesn’t think the phrase "I, [author’s name]" is as indicative of forgery as Jon has suggested.

In the first thread linked above, an example Jon cites in support of his argument is The Infacy Gospel Of Thomas. It opens with the phrase "I, Thomas". The phrase doesn’t appear again in the rest of the document. Thus, Jon is suggesting that such a phrase is unacceptable even if it’s used in the opening of a document to identify the author and isn’t used again.

Lately, as I’ve discussed in recent posts, Jon has been defending the reliability of the works of Josephus. In his recent work Josephus, Judea, And Christian Origins (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2009), Steve Mason renders the opening of Josephus’ Jewish War with the phrase "I, Josephus" (p. 58). H. St. J. Thackeray uses "I - Josephus" (Josephus: The Jewish War, Books I-II [Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1997], p. 3).

Friday, March 20, 2009

Federal looters

Remember those famous photos we all saw of looters wading through the floodwaters of Katrina with their arms full of stolen goods?

When I think of Obama and the Congressional Democrats, I can’t help seeing Katrina coverage magnified by Federal looters. Mass shoplifting for gov’t officials.

Or I think of one of those game shows in which a contestant is put inside a department store and given 5 minutes to see how much free stuff she can cram into a shopping cart.

How to dig a mass grave in 3 easy steps

Watching Obama govern is like watching a man dig a mass grave. Not that our friendly gravedigger intends to dig a mass grave. The problem is that he just keeps digging. He doesn’t look up, only down. He keeps shoveling dirt over his shoulder. He doesn’t stop to notice that he’s dug a hole that’s deeper than he is tall. Once you dig a hole that’s deeper than your own height, you can’t climb out. Unwittingly, you’ve dug your own grave.

Only, in this case, Obama is digging a mass grave. I do begin to wonder if we can bounce back from all the damage he’s done–with the consent of Congressional Democrats.

I’m a baby-boomer. That was a great time to be alive. I’m becoming concerned about the prospects for the younger generation.

When the Fed pumps money huge sums of money into the economy, isn’t that a recipe for hyperinflation? And when you become a debtor nation, at the mercy of your enemies (e.g. our Chinese lenders), there comes a point of no return. I hope for the younger generation that we haven’t crossed that line.

And that’s even before we get to Obama’s social policies, or foreign policy. It’s alarming to see how much damage can be done in just a few months.

Montgomery on China and Greece

Two articles from John Warwick Montgomery:
  1. "A Critique of Chinese Religious Options"
  2. "Greek Opposition to Evangelism"

When did Lucifer fall?

According to Meredith Kline, Gen 1:1 includes an allusion to the creation of the angels. Cf. Kingdom Prologue, 23-25.

This raises some questions about the timing of Lucifer’s fall. The Bible doesn’t have a lot of explicit information on the fall of Lucifer. As a rule, it's more of a presupposition of Bible history. The Book of Revelation has the most systematic demonology in Scripture, synthesizing a number of OT and NT motifs.

Kline’s position generates the following chronology:

Lucifer was created on day 1. He tempted Eve on day 6. Therefore, he had to fall sometime between day 1 and day 6.

That, in turn, raises the question of whether this chronology allows enough time for Lucifer to become dissatisfied with his station in life and rebel against God. It also raises parallels questions about the other fallen angels.

In principle, there are several different ways of finessing this issue:

1.Since Kline didn’t regard the days of Genesis as consecutive calendar days, there’s a sense in which the framework hypothesis buys him extra time. Of course, that harmonization is only as good as the framework hypothesis itself.

2.We could also challenge the premise of the argument. Maybe God didn’t create the angels on day 1. Maybe their creation antedated the events recorded in Gen 1.

On that view, time antedates space. The creation of time antedates the creation of the physical universe. There’s a spiritual realm of angelic creatures which predates the material realm of physical creatures or embodied creatures.

In that case, he didn’t have to fall during the interim (between days 1-6). Both his initial creation and subsequent apostasy could antedate day 1.

If you opt for this interpretation, then that would introduce a chronological refinement to the YEC/OEC debates.

3.We could draw a distinction between psychological time and real time. For example, time seems to be accelerated in a dream. I’m sure most of us have had the experience of waking up at night, glancing at the clock, going back to sleep, having a long dream, then waking up again to see that only a few minutes have passed. We appear to experience or process time at a different rate in that altered state of consciousness (i.e. dreaming).

Since angels are discarnate beings, the rate of time may seem different to them, just as it seems different to a dreamer. Absent the physical universe, they have no other frame of reference.

(Right now I’m discussing the perception of time, and not the objective structure of time)

4.Scholastic theologians had a somewhat analogous idea. For them, there was a momentary delay (moracula) between the creation of Lucifer and the fall of Lucifer.

In Scholastic angelology, angelic knowledge is totally innate. Angels don’t learn. For one thing, they have no sense knowledge–for they have no senses.

5.There’s a grain of truth to the Scholastic account. Since angels have no a childhood, they don’t undergo the same learning curve as human beings.

At the same time, there’s no obvious reason why they can’t acquire knowledge. Their knowledge is finite. God could reveal additional things to them. They could also reflect on what they already knowledge. Introspection is a source of knowledge.

Moreover, if ESP is true, then it’s possible to acquire information about the sensible world without recourse to the five senses.

OBEs and NEDs would furnish an analogous experience, where the subject seems to perceive the sensible world apart from his body.

If that’s true of human beings, then angelic beings might have an equivalent faculty. And in that event, angelic knowledge is not wholly innate.

6.There’s also the question of whether all the apostate angels fell at once.

7. Another possibility is that Lucifer fell sometime after the 7th day. Although his creation could antedate day 6, his fall could postdate day 6.

From Age to Age

From Age to Age: The Unfolding of Biblical Eschatology
by Keith Mathison

"Filling a crucial gap, From Age to Age is simultaneously sweeping in its scope, deeply informed on the specifics, and so readable that I'll be recommending this as the book to give to any Christian who asks me for an overview of the Bible. If you read, meditate on, and inwardly digest From Age to Age, you will have a deeper, richer, and fresher appreciation of the greatest story ever told" - Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics, Westminster Seminary California.

Available now at WTS Books.

Why Didn't The Risen Christ Appear To More People?

Somebody who attended the recent debate between Richard Carrier and William Lane Craig wrote:

"One last point went back and forth all night, and that is whether Jesus would have appeared to everyone around the world if had in fact risen from the dead. Carrier claims that he would have, and since he didn't, that is further evidence that he did not, in fact, rise from the dead. Craig pointed out that the first premise to the argument is a philosophical one, but I don't see the problem with that since so is Craig's presupposition of the existence of God. Craig responded by saying that Jesus did not even rise from the dead to convince people that he was alive, but just to commission people (something I have told him in person I think is false). He also argued based on a Molinist account of divine foreknowledge that God has so ordered the world so that everyone who would accept God based on their willingness to do so will have a sufficient basis, whether that be in evidence or not, to do so."

Below are some of my comments on that subject when it came up in past discussions. The first are from the thread here:

Regarding the questions from Carrier that you've posted, yes, we have addressed those issues or ones closely related to them. There are a lot of relevant posts in the archives. Briefly, I'll make several points in response:

- The resurrection is significant evidence for Christianity, but not the only evidence.

- Some of the evidence for the resurrection, such as the empty tomb and the testimony of eyewitnesses, has been highly public. We don't have to see the risen Jesus ourselves in order to trust others who saw Him, as we trust others who saw His death or other historical events.

- Jesus appeared to hundreds of people, including opponents of Christianity (James, Paul). There may have been other opponents who saw Him as well. The guards at the tomb and Paul's travel companions experienced evidence of the resurrection, even though we don't have any record of their having spoken with the risen Jesus or their having become Christians, for example. They or some of them may have become Christians. We don't know. But we do know that at least some enemies of Christianity saw the risen Jesus and became Christians, and we know that many people in high positions of leadership became Christians after the resurrection (Acts 6:7). We don't know the names of every enemy of Christianity who became a Christian after Jesus' resurrection or the names of every person Jesus appeared to, but we do know that many former enemies became Christians. The objection that Jesus didn't appear to more enemies is questionable, since we don't know who all He appeared to and since a resurrection appearance isn't the only means of leading a person to a reliable conclusion that Jesus rose or that Christianity is true. For example, if the tomb was sealed and guarded as Matthew's gospel describes (, then the tomb's becoming empty would be significant evidence supporting the resurrection, even without people having seen the risen Jesus themselves.

- Why should we think that critics wouldn't dismiss Jesus' appearances to other enemies of Christianity in the same manner in which they dismiss the appearances to enemies that we know about? If Jesus appeared to Pontius Pilate or performed a miracle of some other type before the emperor, for example, how do we know that critics wouldn't dismiss those reports in much the same way that they dismiss the experiences of James, Paul, and, later on, Constantine?

- When people like Richard Carrier have come up with a sufficient naturalistic explanation of the resurrection evidence we have, then we can be concerned about why there isn't more evidence. But since they haven't even come close to a sufficient explanation of what we do have, then objecting that we don't have more evidence doesn't accomplish much.

And from another thread:

We should keep in mind that the "few" Christ appeared to were at least hundreds of people. For the large majority of them, we don't know whether they were believers prior to the appearances. It seems that James, Paul, and Paul's travel companions, at the least, weren't. And appearances aren't the only evidence for such an event. The testimony of witnesses is evidence for people who weren't witnesses themselves, as is the case in other areas of life. The empty tomb, particularly after a guard had been posted, was evidence. So were the miracles performed by some of the witnesses. Paul's ability to perform miracles after seeing the resurrected Christ would add credibility to his testimony, for example. Why should we limit our evaluation of the evidence people had to the one category of direct sightings of the risen Jesus? That's not the only evidence people had. It's not as if dismissing the testimony of hundreds (or more) of people becomes reasonable just because you weren't one of the witnesses or just because the number of witnesses could have been larger. People had sufficient evidence without Christ's appearing to more people.

When more people did have direct access to an event, as with some of Jesus' pre-resurrection miracles and the darkness at the crucifixion, for example, the early opponents of Christianity tried to dismiss those miracles as works of Satan or, in the case of the darkness, an unusual natural occurrence. We don't have to wonder whether some people would have been willing to dismiss miracles even after having high quality evidence for them. The early enemies of Christianity who dismissed Jesus as a sorcerer or magician, for example, weren't denying that apparent miracles had occurred. Rather, they were looking for a way to dismiss the implications Christians associated with those miracles. Jesus' pre-resurrection miracles, His prophecy fulfillments, the miracles of His apostles, etc. were often of a highly public nature, yet both ancient and modern critics look for ways to dismiss those more public events as well. It's not as though these critics are more receptive of the more public miracles.

When critics can offer an explanation of Christ's appearances to "few" that's comparable to or better than the Christian explanation, then they can demand more evidence. But since they can't offer a comparable or better explanation for the few, but instead offer explanations that are far weaker, why ask for more than a few? In light of the principles Paul lays out in Acts 17:26-27, our focus should be on the evidence we have, not speculations about what might have happened with more evidence. We can speculate that Pontius Pilate would have become a Christian if Jesus had appeared to Him after the resurrection, but we can also speculate that he would have responded along the lines of Mark 3:22.

The Carrier/Craig Debate On The Resurrection

Richard Carrier and William Lane Craig debated on the subject of the resurrection earlier this week. Some early debate reviews and an audience member's audio recording of the debate have been posted on the discussion board at Craig's web site. Click on "OPEN FORUM" in the left column. You have to be registered to access the forum. Here's a link directly to the audience member's audio recording. (There are some problems with the audio, apparently, namely background noise and the volume of Carrier's closing remarks. If you want higher quality audio, wait for another version. That's what I'm going to do.) And here's the blog account of the debate from the person who did the recording. There's been some discussion in the comment section of an old thread at Carrier's blog as well.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Organic chemistry

The 2009 Irving Kristol Lecture
By Charles Murray

Drive through rural Sweden, as I did a few years ago. In every town was a beautiful Lutheran church, freshly painted, on meticulously tended grounds, all subsidized by the Swedish government. And the churches are empty. Including on Sundays. Scandinavia and Western Europe pride themselves on their "child-friendly" policies, providing generous child allowances, free day-care centers, and long maternity leaves. Those same countries have fertility rates far below replacement and plunging marriage rates. Those same countries are ones in which jobs are most carefully protected by government regulation and mandated benefits are most lavish. And they, with only a few exceptions, are countries where work is most often seen as a necessary evil, least often seen as a vocation, and where the proportions of people who say they love their jobs are the lowest.

What's happening? Call it the Europe syndrome. Last April I had occasion to speak in Zurich, where I made some of these same points. After the speech, a few of the twenty-something members of the audience approached and said plainly that the phrase "a life well-lived" did not have meaning for them. They were having a great time with their current sex partner and new BMW and the vacation home in Majorca, and saw no voids in their lives that needed filling.

It was fascinating to hear it said to my face, but not surprising. It conformed to both journalistic and scholarly accounts of a spreading European mentality. Let me emphasize "spreading." I'm not talking about all Europeans, by any means. That mentality goes something like this: Human beings are a collection of chemicals that activate and, after a period of time, deactivate. The purpose of life is to while away the intervening time as pleasantly as possible.

If that's the purpose of life, then work is not a vocation, but something that interferes with the higher good of leisure. If that's the purpose of life, why have a child, when children are so much trouble--and, after all, what good are they, really? If that's the purpose of life, why spend it worrying about neighbors? If that's the purpose of life, what could possibly be the attraction of a religion that says otherwise?

The same self-absorption in whiling away life as pleasantly as possible explains why Europe has become a continent that no longer celebrates greatness. When life is a matter of whiling away the time, the concept of greatness is irritating and threatening. What explains Europe's military impotence? I am surely simplifying, but this has to be part of it: If the purpose of life is to while away the time as pleasantly as possible, what can be worth dying for?

I stand in awe of Europe's past. Which makes Europe's present all the more dispiriting. And should make its present something that concentrates our minds wonderfully, for every element of the Europe Syndrome is infiltrating American life as well.

We are seeing that infiltration appear most obviously among those who are most openly attached to the European model--namely, America's social democrats, heavily represented in university faculties and the most fashionable neighborhoods of our great cities. There are a whole lot of them within a couple of metro stops from this hotel. We know from databases such as the General Social Survey that among those who self-identify as liberal or extremely liberal, secularism is close to European levels. Birth rates are close to European levels. Charitable giving is close to European levels. (That's material that Arthur Brooks has put together.) There is every reason to believe that when Americans embrace the European model, they begin to behave like Europeans.

When familiarity breeds contempt

It’s not that God forces my confession. Rather, suddenly face to face with the awesome reality of God, I can no longer hide behind the barriers of physicality and flesh that sometimes blind us to God. I am confronted by reality. How will I respond? I see two options:

Imagine that, during this all-too-brief earthly life, you have experienced such a distorted version of Christianity and the gospel that you rejected God’s grace. After death, you are jolted with the realization of who God actually is and what Christ actually has done. You finally regret your wasted life and desire to repent and embrace God’s love and grace. Will God tell you it’s too late and turn away?

I can’t imagine that anyone who finds himself before the throne of Almighty God could continue to rebel against him, but I suppose it is possible.

Our starry-eyed universalist raises an interesting issue: what is the impact of God’s presence on sinners?

i) Here’s one example:

“Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb’” (Rev 6:15-16).

Doesn’t look like the presence of God led the wicked to repent and embrace the Lord.

ii) But there’s a deeper issue. There’s a large class of rational creatures who, in fact, stood before the throne of God Almighty. What happened?

About a third of them fell from heaven. The fallen angels.

If a holy creature can become a wicked creature while standing in the presence of God, what makes the universalist think a wicked creature can become a holy creature while standing in the presence of God?

To the wicked, holiness is hateful, repellent. If the original apostasy took place in heaven, there’s no reason to think that God’s presence, in and of itself, turns evil into good.

The cosmic slumlord?

Keith Parsons imagines that this is a good objection to the existence of God:

The chief task facing the proponent of the hypothesis-disconfirming argument from evil is therefore to deduce a class of evils that should not exist if God exists and then to point out clear instances of such evils in the world.[7] The model for an argument of this sort is given in a fable offered by Roland Puccetti:

Suppose we are all tenants in a large apartment building and we meet to discuss common problems. It is clear that the building has many faults. Walls are crumbling, ceilings develop cracks, the heat is sometimes off in winter and on in the summer, the elevators are unreliable, etc. The general feeling is that our landlord, whom none of us has ever seen, is either incompetent or selfishly indifferent to our fate. Some tenants, however, rise to his defence. They say he may have good reason for letting the building go on in this way, though when pressed they can't suggest any which sound convincing to most of us. Now what would we normally do if we saw no prospect of getting a reasonable explanation in the future? Surely we wouldn't just sit back and suspend judgement indefinitely. It is always possible that anyone really had good reasons for what he did, or what he did not do. Ignorance of possible motivation does not prevent us, in human affairs, from making a decision about someone's moral qualities.[8]

The relevance of this fable to the problem of evil is obvious. Indeed, on the face of it, everything Puccetti says about the earthly landlord applies a fortiori to the heavenly one; he seems much more callous than his mundane counterpart. Surely the enormous variety, extent, and magnitude of the evils found in the world place a much greater burden of justification on the theist than the ramshackle condition of an apartment would place on a defender of the landlord.

But there are three or four basic problems with this illustration:

i) If the only evidence we had for the existence of God was this kind of evidence, then we might possibly be justified in concluding that God was a cosmic slumlord.

However, the world we live in isn’t analogous to one huge, sprawling slum. Rather, it’s a world of starling contrasts. A contrast between good and evil, beauty and ugliness.

ii) This illustration also disregards the character of the tenants. Take public housing. Liberals love public housing projects. It’s one of those nice-sounding ideas that liberals find irresistible. Yet public housing traditionally leads to the "ghettofication" of the neighborhood.

You get give people quality housing, only to have the tenants turn the neighborhood into a slum. Public housing is a notorious magnet for violent crime, drug trafficking, and prostitution.

The problem was not with the facility, or the landlord, but the tenants. The original sin took place, not in a slum, but a garden.

iii) A Christian isn’t limited to the argument of silence to deflect the problem of evil. The Bible does supply some raw materials for a positive theodicy.

iv) And, of course, there’s the familiar question of whether an atheist can muster the moral standards necessary to even mount an argument from evil. A number of secular thinkers frankly admit that atheism leaves a moral vacuum.

Possibility, Probability, And Certainty

Jon Curry writes:

Jason is criticizing me because I “left the discussion” when we argued about whether Romans betrays knowledge of the destruction of the temple. I copied and pasted the thread into Word. It’s 95 pages in length. Nobody that I know of has made a better effort to interact with Jason’s arguments than I have, but it’s still not enough. How long would the thread have to be, Jason, before you might recognize that the reason I left wasn’t related to the force of your arguments or my inability to deal with them?

Overall though I think it’s a useful thread. I reference the thread occasionally at my blog here. What I would suggest to Jason is that to make threads more bearable and shorter he should consider spending more time arguing and less time confidently asserting that he’s in the right and everyone else is wrong. We know you think you’re right Jason. We know you are certain that skeptical arguments are feeble. The question I have is, why do you feel the need to assert your correctness so often?

Just in the course of the discussion on Romans Jason offered the following:

Nothing in the passage suggests the destruction of the temple as a past event.

To assume that the table of Romans 11:9 is a reference to the temple, and that it's already been destroyed, is dubious.

nothing in the context of Romans 11 suggests an application of the theme as narrow as yours.

And you aren’t giving us any reason to interpret Romans 11 as you have.

You had no good reason to interpret Romans 11 as you did in the first place,

You haven't given us any reason to conclude that the table in question is a reference to the temple.

You still haven't shown that a past destruction of the temple is in view.

You're not giving us any reason to think that an association with the temple is in view.

You’re wrong, I’m right. You’re wrong, I’m right. You’re wrong, I’m right. Sweeping and confident claims. I haven’t given any reason for anyone to draw my conclusions. There’s nothing to even suggest such an understanding. What does this behavior really tell us? I’m reminded of a statement from George Salmon.

Indeed with respect to this word certainty I may remark the more people talk about their certainty the less they have. If one of you came in and told me ‘I saw the Prince of Wales just now walking down Sackville street’ I might be a good deal surprised at your news but there would nothing in your language to make me think you were saying anything about which you had not full knowledge. But if you said ‘I am certain I saw the Prince of Wales just now’ I should conclude you were by no means assured yourself of the truth of what you said.

The length of a thread doesn't tell us whether Jon interacted with a particular argument on a particular subject discussed within that thread. The fact that the thread is 95 pages long doesn't make it inappropriate for me to point out that Jon didn't interact with, and still isn't interacting with, what I last wrote in response to him on the subject of Romans 11.

Jon selectively quotes some of my comments in the thread and summarizes them as "You're wrong, I'm right." He then quotes something George Salmon wrote about those who speak of their certainty. Here's something else I wrote in the thread Jon is citing, something Jon didn't quote:

"You're making the assertion that Romans probably is a forgery because it refers to the destruction of the temple as a past event. You carry the burden of proof. I don't have to demonstrate that interpreting the 'table' of Romans 11:9 is something that 'violates the context', for example, in order to conclude that you've given us no reason to believe that the temple probably is in view."

Notice that I said that the issue is probability, not certainty. And if you search the rest of the thread for terms like "probably" and "probability", you'll see that I made similar comments many other times. Anybody who has read much of my material on historical issues should know that I often make comments like the following from the thread Jon is quoting:

"You keep misrepresenting the issue under consideration by referring to what 'can' happen, what’s 'possible', etc., as if we can’t establish a probability if a contrary possibility exists....Our historical judgments are about what we think is probable, not what we think is possible. To say that something is possible isn't of much significance if the evidence suggests that it's not probable."

I haven't claimed certainty regarding my view of Romans 11. What I've argued (not just asserted) is that my view of the passage is probable, and I've argued (not just asserted) that Jon hasn't given us any reason to think that his view is probable. For Jon to act as if I was suggesting certainty for my view, and was denying that his view is possible, is unreasonable in light of the comments I made about probability in that thread and have made in many other contexts. Even if I hadn't made such comments about probability, Jon's interpretation of what I said would be unreasonable, since people commonly speak about probabilities without using a term like "probable".

How significant is it for Jon's view of Romans 11 to be possible? It's also possible that the table of Romans 11:9 is referring to something that neither of us has suggested, such as a pagan altar or a pagan temple. But the issue is probability, not possibility.

Not only is Jon's objection in his latest post incorrect, but it's also a repetition of an objection I had already answered in the 95-page thread Jon is referring to. The length of that thread doesn't prove that Jon has sufficiently addressed the issues discussed there.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


What’s a Hypo-Calvinist? A Hypo-Calvinist is a Christian who thinks that God suffers from conflicted feelings. God can’t have what he wants. So he’s emotionally frustrated.

When a Calvinist denies this, a Hypo-Calvinist calls him a Hyper-Calvinist.

It’s worth noting that by the standards of Hypo-Calvinism, Benjamin Warfield was a Hyper-Calvinist since Warfield made no allowance for a disjunction between what God wants, intends, decrees, and causes. By the standards of Warfield, the theology of the Hypo-Calvinist is sub-Reformed–which is why his theology is a species of Hypo-Calvinism. As Warfield put it:


Probably nobody deceives himself with such palpable paltering in a double sense. If this is God's universe, if he made it and made it for himself, he is responsible for everything that takes place in it. He must be supposed to have made it just as he wished it to be-or are we to say that he could not make the universe he wished to make, and had to put up with the best he could do?

And he must be supposed to have made it precisely as he wished it to be, not only statically but dynamically considered, that is, in all its potentialities and in all its developments down to the end. That is to say, he must be supposed to have made it precisely to suit himself, as extended not only in space but in time. If anything occurs in it as projected through time—just as truly as if anything is found in it as extended in space—which is not just as he intended it to be-why, then we must admit that he could not make such a universe as he would like to have, and had to put up with the best he could get. And, then, he is not God. A being who cannot make a universe to his own liking is not God. A being who can agree to make a universe which is not to his liking, most certainly is not God.

But though such a being obviously is not God, he does not escape responsibility for the universe which he actually makes -whether as extended in space or in time-and that in all its particulars. The moment this godling (not now God) consented to put up with the actual universe-whether as extended in space or as projected through time, including all its particulars without exception-because it was the best he could get, it became his universe. He adopted it as his own, and made it his own even in those particulars which in themselves he would have liked to have otherwise. These particulars, as well as all the rest, which in themselves please him better, have been determined on by him as not only allowable, but as actually to exist in the universe which, by his act, is actually realized.

Is he to be supposed to be watching from all eternity things which he does not wish to happen, coming, coming, ever coming, until at last they come-and he is unable to stop them?

Why, if he could not prevent their happening any other way he need not have made the universe; or he might have made it differently. There was nothing to require him to make this universe-or any universe at all-except his own good pleasure; and there is nothing to compel him to allow anything which he does not wish to happen, to occur in the universe which he has made for his own good pleasure.

Clearly things cannot occur in God's universe, the occurrence of which is displeasing to him. He does not stand helplessly by, while they occur against his wish. Whatever occurs has been foreseen by him from all eternity, and it succeeds in occurring only because its occurrence meets his wish.

A Reply to Francis Collins

A Reply to Francis Collins’s Darwinian Arguments for Common Ancestry of Apes and Humans by Casey Luskin and Logan Paul Gage

The Shadow of Death

Michael Sabom on near-death experiences: Part 1; Part 2

Josephus' "Countless Changes And Contradictions"

Jon Curry writes:

Nobody is suggesting that any inconsistency is proof of forgery. This is just Jason's effort to blur things. As if I believe a text has to be inerrant to be genuine. Some inconsistencies would suggest we're dealing with different authors. Others might suggest sloppiness. Or an honest mistake. Or even a correction. They have to be looked at on a case by case basis.

Jon hasn't explained why he keeps rejecting such explanations of the alleged inconsistencies in the New Testament while accepting such explanations for Josephus. Here are some of Jon's comments about alleged inconsistencies in the New Testament:

As I'm sure you are aware, pretty much all critical scholars admit that Paul could not have written 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. The vocabulary issues and things like the implied church structure (again like Ignatius representing a later, catholicizing of Paul) rule out Paul....

Ephesians is also doubted by most critical scholars for reasons I've already explained. In addition to Goodspeed's table, you also have these long sentences, again completely outside the style of Paul, where these Pauline phrases from the other texts are linked together with clauses, again suggesting that this book is nothing more than an attempt to patch together Pauline phrases gleaned from other texts. The first chapter in Ephesians is only two sentences in Greek. The Pauline pastiche theory fits this data perfectly, whereas the view that Paul just sat down and wrote it and it mapped to this style so well just seems impossible....

With Galatians and I Corinthians you have independent factions with rival conceptions of how Paul operates. In Galatians he's an independent maverick that got the gospel from none other than the risen Christ himself. As opposed to I Cor which says that he got the very heart of the gospel directly from the Jerusalem apostles. There are indications that these texts are patchwork quilts. For instance, what of sectarian strife? At the beginning of I Cor Paul knows all of the issues, what's going on who's involved. Later (11:18) he talks about how he hears there are divisions and he's tempted to believe it, as if he knows nothing of it. In one section women can prophesy in public (11), a few chapters later (14) suddenly they can't.

Jon doesn't even attempt to interact with mainstream scholarship on such issues when he makes claims such as the ones above. He assumes inconsistencies where even the vast majority of liberal scholars don't see any. And when we disputed some of his claims in that thread, he largely ignored what we said.

In contrast, below are some of the apparent inconsistencies in Josephus that I brought to Jon's attention. He dismissed all of them as insufficient to justify the sort of conclusions that he reaches about every New Testament document. And he didn't explain why these alleged Josephan inconsistencies don't suggest forgery, whereas the alleged New Testament inconsistencies all do. He just asserts that the Josephan difficulties are all in a different category.

"Josephus received aid from Greek assistants (synergoi). Two of these -- the principal assistants -- are most visible in the later books, where the author seems to have handed over composition to them. Books 15-16 are the work of an assistant who also worked on the Jewish War, a cultured writer with a love of the Greek poets and Sophocles in particular. Books 17-19 show the marked mannerisms of a hack, a slavish imitator of Thucydides. In these books the two assistants have practically taken over the entire task. In the earlier books they have lent occasional assistance." (source)

Steve Mason also notes other types of apparent internal inconsistency (in Lee McDonald and James Sanders, edd., The Canon Debate [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002], pp. 119-121). Elsewhere, Mason refers to "countless changes and contradictions" (Josephus, Judea, And Christian Origins [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2009], p. 42).

J.J. Scott comments that "Parallel sections of different works have unreconcilable variants." (in Joel Green, et al., edd., Dictionary Of Jesus And The Gospels [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992], p. 393)

Paul Maier writes:

"At times he is inconsistent in statements made in The Jewish War when compared with those in Antiquities, even if many of these may be understood as corrections in the latter writing on the basis of better knowledge. The discrepancies between The Jewish War and his Vita, however, are more serious. They include irreconcilable versions of a brutal incident involving Josephus's activities at Taricheae (Magdala) in Galilee, when enemies tried to attack him in his lodging. The accounts of his escape not only strain credibility but show a streak in his character that is more cruel than crafty." (The New Complete Works Of Josephus [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1999], p. 14)

Much more could be cited. See the first chapter of the second book by Mason cited above, for example. We can reconcile such problems with Josephan authorship, but we likewise can reconcile the New Testament problems Jon cites with Pauline authorship. As I said above, in some cases even the large majority of liberal scholars don't see these characteristics that Jon cites as inconsistent with Pauline authorship. Why doesn't Jon explain why those liberal scholars supposedly are wrong? Does he even know what they would argue?

Does Romans 11:9 Suggest That Romans Is A Forgery?

Jon Curry writes:

Different anachronisms imply different things. Not all anachronisms imply forgery. If Romans is referring to the destruction of the temple then Paul didn't write it. If Josephus refers to events that occurred after he must have died, then I agree he couldn't have written about those events. If the evidence is good I'd accept it. You haven't come close to showing this....

Jason seems to be arguing that since some people think Josephus is a little too forward in his claims about the Canon being settled, this by my standards should make his works spurious, because since I argue Paul shows knowledge of the destruction of the temple in Romans 11 and this is anachronistic, Josephus must similarly be spurious.

Like Jason's argument regarding the use of an assistant I think once again he is making absolutely no sense. Any anachronism means a book is spurious? This is pure nonsense. Look, Jason, this isn't hard. Paul died before the destruction of the temple. If he shows knowledge of it and talks about it like it is an event of the past then he could not have written Romans. Canon selection is a process. It is not necessarily a clear line in the sand. The destruction of a building is. Josephus can misrepresent things. He cannot talk about wars that haven't happened.

Keep in mind that I've answered Jon's claims about Romans 11. He left the discussion without interacting with my last comments on the subject.

He assumes that the table of Romans 11:9 is referring to the temple, even though a table isn't a temple and the Old Testament passage Paul is citing, Psalm 69:22, isn't referring to the temple. And even if we assumed that the temple is in view, why would the temple have to be destroyed already in order for it to be a snare to the Jews who rejected Christ? The book of Hebrews portrays ongoing involvement in the sacrificial system, after Christ's sacrifice, as a stumbling block without assuming that the temple has already been destroyed. To use Romans 11:9 as justification for rejecting Romans as a forgery is absurd. It tells us something about Jon's mindset when he's willing to dismiss the weight of the internal and external evidence in favor of Pauline authorship on such frivolous grounds.

Anybody willing to accept Jon's series of dubious assumptions in order to reject Pauline authorship of Romans should likewise be willing to accept the dubious assumption that Josephus couldn't have written a document in which the Old Testament canon is referred to as undisputed. Just as we could reasonably interpret Josephus' comments in a manner consistent with Josephan authorship, such as by assuming that he was speaking hyperbolically or was being dishonest, the same is true of Paul's comments in Romans 11. All you have to do is interpret the table of Romans 11:9 in light of the Old Testament passage it comes from. Or you can grant Jon's claim that the table is the temple, yet still arrive at a conclusion different from his, as explained above. See the thread linked above for more about the problematic nature of Jon's interpretation.

And how does Jon know that Paul died prior to the destruction of the temple? He isn't getting the timing of Paul's death from a non-Christian source. And he's dismissed the Christian accounts of the apostles' deaths as unreliable in the past. Jon wasn't just presenting an argument as to why Christians should think Romans is a forgery. He was explaining why he thinks it's a forgery. Why does he trust the Christian accounts of the timing of Paul's death?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Josephus, Robert Eisenman, And Scholarly Agreement

Jon Curry has responded to some of what I wrote in my last post on Josephus. He largely makes vague appeals to scholarship and to Robert Eisenman in particular:

Jason will want to know how I know that what Josephus offers looks like an eyewitness report. I accept it because the scholars say it. I'm not claiming expertise myself. That's a rational position when the question is not in dispute. I don't know what their specific arguments are, but this is what they claim....

If a forger gets too detailed he can tip his hand and expose the fraud. I assume Eisenmann isn't seeing that based on the statements he makes.

And again, it's OK to accept the assertions of scholars even if you don't have first hand knowledge....It's perfectly reasonable to accept that Josephus' claims can be cross checked if experts in the field claim they can be. You would expect if that was false there would be some dispute about it....

Again, it is permissible to take the word of a scholar if what the scholar says is not disputed and you don't personally have expertise in the area....

Here is my standard. If I don't have expertise in an area I accept the claims from scholars when what the scholar says is not seriously disputed....

On the case of cross checking Jason doesn't dispute that the reason is valid. He simply demands that I go out and produce the evidence first hand that the scholar is referring to. I have no burden to do that. Jason is the one that says people like Eisenmann are inconsistent....

You'll notice that I put a lot of emphasis on points related to scholars. I argue that it is acceptable to take the scholarly position as a default position when the point is not seriously disputed. I argue that facts asserted by scholars are evidence of a point. I argue that controversial opinions by scholars friendly to one side are not very compelling.

Jon hasn't demonstrated that his view of Josephus is undisputed among scholars. He hasn't even demonstrated that we should assume that his view is undisputed until we come across evidence to the contrary. Nothing in his citation of Robert Eisenman suggests that we should assume that Eisenman's view isn't disputed among scholars.

And I've given some examples of scholars disagreeing with what Jon cited from Eisenman. We're told by Eisenman:

"Josephus is, therefore, inaccurate when it comes to matters having a direct bearing on his own survival...He tells us everything he can remember within the parameters of his own necessary well-being and personal survival. For this reason, we have an encyclopaedic presentation of events and persons in Palestine in this period without equal in almost any time or place up to the era of modern record-keeping and reportage." (source)

The scholars I cited don't limit Josephus' unreliability in the manner Eisenman does. And they don't affirm his reliability in the manner Eisenman does. To accuse Josephus of embellishment and other errors in contexts other than what Eisenman refers to is to present a significantly different view of Josephus' reliability. As I documented, Steve Mason refers to Josephus' reliability as a controversial matter. In Josephus, Judea, And Christian Origins (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2009), Mason lays out his own view, which is significantly less positive than Eisenman's, and refers to other scholars he disagrees with (pp. 7-43). If Jon is going to cite agreement among scholars as justification for his view of Josephus, then he needs to document that alleged agreement.

Remember, Jon thinks that the vast majority of scholars are wrong about Jesus' existence, New Testament authorship, and other issues. He's written:

"When I was a Christian I kind of just took Pauline authorship for granted, because of course mainstream critical scholarship admits that. But I also knew I didn't really know why they did, and I couldn't really defend Pauline authorship on the merits....Well of course it's not just one scholar, but even if it was I am of the opinion that the merits of the argument need to be considered first....I do have a 'commitment to skepticism' if by that you mean I do not just accept the received wisdom, especially in matters of history." (source)

To be consistent, shouldn't Jon make more of an effort to look into the merits of Josephus rather than relying so much on wisdom received from Robert Eisenman?

Here's what Richard Carrier, one of Jon's most frequently cited sources, recently wrote about Robert Eisenman, including his use of Josephus. This is from an account of a conference Carrier attended with Eisenman:

Everything was so awesome up to this point. But then up went Robert Eisenman (formerly of CSU Long Beach, now working at Oxford). He's the author of quite a few controversial books, advancing a theory of the origins of Christianity that I consider as far-fetched and bizarre as most historicists consider any mythicism to be. His talk this day was weirdly titled "Every Plant Which My Heavenly Father Has Not Planted Shall Be Uprooted: An Inquiry into the Sources of Certain Sayings of Jesus," which as far as titles go was presciently long, as his talk was equally annoying, and he rambled on far beyond his allotted time, to the point that fellow scholars in the audience started standing up and openly shouting for him to shut up already (no, I kid you not).

I have to admit, if I had the balls I would have been one of them. At one point in his talk, for no clear reason, he read (verbatim) the entire (and rather elaborate and uninformative) table of contents of his new book The New Testament Code: The Cup of the Lord, the Damascus Covenant, and the Blood of Christ, which advances the thesis (as far as I can tell--I found the book so rambling and disorganized it was practically impossible for me to follow or understand) that the entire New Testament is a deliberate parody of an equivalent collection of documents at Qumran (plus various consequent theories even stranger still). He even read the entire Dead Sea Damascus Document without pause or commentary (hence also to no useful purpose). Making things worse, in subsequent roundtables his interruptive and paranoid manner pretty much pissed off everyone in attendance, until he eventually snuck out of town in the middle of the night before the conference even concluded.

Okay, I'm gossipping. But honestly, this is behavior well deserving of a literary bitch slap. So there it is. His talk was essentially a summary of his argument in The New Testament Code, with emphasis on his claims to have found secrets to the history of the church in the writings of Josephus, whom he claims actually speaks frequently of the Chrisian Paul under the name Saul (a prominent Jewish ambassador whom Josephus often talks about), and other such claims that IMO are no less fringe than anything you might hear from Earl Doherty or Joseph Atwill. I got the distinct impression (reminiscent of Acts 26:24) that he's become passionately seduced by an elaborate retrofitting fallacy as a consequence of reading the Dead Sea Scrolls one (hundred thousand) too many times. But that's just me.

How much should we trust Eisenman to reflect what's undisputed in scholarship regarding Josephus? Jon recently wrote the following about the biases of scholars. He was trying to explain why even liberal scholars disagree with him:

Personally, I think these liberals may want to believe the Bible is true more than you know. For many Jesus is this feminist liberal crusader. Do you think maybe these liberals want him to be that? They don't want Jesus to be a mythical character, because then they can't invoke his example as if it is something we should emulate.

If Eisenman has a theory involving "finding secrets to the history of the church in the writings of Josephus", might he have an interest in making Josephus seem more reliable and more significant in antiquity than he actually was?

I was a teenage werewolf

This post is a mopping up operation. It will complete my projected review of Bart Ehrman’s new book, Jesus Interrupted. I don’t plan to review the whole thing. Just enough to convey what’s wrong with it.

Darrell Bock is also reviewing his book. And I hope other scholars like Craig Blomberg will weigh in as well. I’m just a pitch-hitter.

Reading Ehrman is like watching one of those B-film horror flicks of the I was a teenage werewolf variety that kids in the 50s used to see at drive-in movie theaters. You know from one scene to the next exactly what’s going to happen. Stock villains. Predictable plot. Corny dialogue. It’s not even bad enough to be good.

“There are other books that did not make it into the Bible that at one time or another were considered canonical–other Gospels, for example, allegedly written by Jesus’ followers Peter, Thomas, and Mary” (5).

Really? What church or churches regarded these apocrypha gospels as canonical scripture? And what’s the timeframe?

“The Exodus probably did not happen as described in the Old Testament. The conquest of the Promised Land is probably based on legend” (5-6).

These are assertions in search of arguments. Various scholars like Kitchen, Hoffmeier, and Younger have argued to the contrary.

“Genesis 1 is very different from the account in Genesis 2…the two chapters use different names for God…Are the animals created before humans, as in chapter 1, or after, as in chapter 2?”

i) That’s because Gen 1 is a global creation account whereas Gen 2 is a local creation account. Gen 1 describes the creation of everything in general whereas Gen 2 is specifically concerned with the creation of man and his immediate environment (the Garden).

ii) This also reflects a standard compositional technique: “Synoptic/resumption-expansion. A Hebrew author will at times tell the whole story in brief form (synopsis), then repeat the story (resumption), adding greater detail (expansion).”

“If ‘light’ was created on the first day of creation in Genesis 1, how is it that the sun, moon, and stars were not created until the fourth day? Where was the light coming form, if not the sun, moon, and stars? And how could there be an ‘evening and morning’ on each of the first three days if there was not sun?” (9-10).

That’s a good exegetical question, and I could to an entire post in answer to that question. For now, though, I’ll simply point out that the narrator was hardly oblivious to the fact that light normally comes from natural luminaries like the sun and moon. After all, the narrator lived long before the invention of the light bulb.

“When Noah takes the animals on the ark, does he take seven pairs of all the ‘clean’ animals, as Genesis 7:2 states, or just two pairs, as Genesis 7:9-10 indicates?” (10).

i) This is another example of the synoptic/resumptive-expansive technique (see above). “In typical Semitic style, the summary injunction to take pairs of animals into the ark is now developed by the more specific injunction to take seven pairs of clean animals,” B. Waltke, Genesis (Zondervan 2001), 137-138.

“In the Book of Exodus, God tells Moses, ‘I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name ‘The Lord’ [=Yahweh] I did not make myself known to them’ (Exodus 6:3). How does this square with what is found earlier, in Genesis [15:7]?” (10).

It’s the difference between promise and fulfillment, knowledge by description and knowledge by acquaintance. Yes, God revealed his name (Yahweh) to the patriarchs, but that was in the form of covenantal promises. Now, as he is about to deliver the Israelites in fidelity to the Abrahamic covenant, the Israelites will actually experience Yahweh in the context of fulfillment.

“The fifth plague was a pestilence that killed ‘all of the livestock of the Egyptians’ (Exodus 9:5). How is it, then, that a few days later the seventh plague, of hail, was to destroy all of the Egyptian livestock in the fields (Exodus 9:21-22)? What livestock?” (10).

But as one scholar explains, “The Hebrew word kol, usually translated ‘all,’ can mean ‘all sorts of’ or ‘from all over’ or ‘all over the place.’” D. Stuart, Exodus (Broadman 2006), 223-24.

“Are we really to think of God as someone who orders the wholesale massacre of an entire city?” (10).

i) From a moral standpoint, it ultimately makes no difference whether or not God ordered it. The mere fact that it happened must mean that, at some level, God willed it to happen. That God had a purpose for that outcome. Therefore, adding an explicit divine command doesn’t change the morality of the transaction.

ii) If sinners deserve to die, God does no wrong by having them executed.

“Or what is one to make of Psalm 137…Knocking the brains out of the Babylonian babies in retaliation for what their father-soldiers did? Is this in the Bible?” (10-11).

i) What we’re to make of Ps 137 is, at a minimum, that Scripture records the bitter, grief-stricken outburst of a Jewish exile. Why does Ehrman think that inspiration is incompatible with recording a range of sentiments expressed by various speakers? Should Scripture only record the nice things that people think, do, and say? Wouldn’t that make Scripture a very unrealistic book? Presenting an airbrushed version of human experience?

There are people like the Psalmist who, under extreme duress and provocation, really feel that way. They understandably lash out at those who hurt them. Why is Scripture not allowed to even record their feelings?

ii) Does Ehrman think that Scripture automatically approves of everything it records? That’s obviously not the case.

“The God of vengeance is found not only in the Old Testament, as some Christians have tried to claim. Even in the New Testament God is a God of judgment and wrath, as any reader of the book of Revelation knows” (11).

Ehrman states this as if it were a bad thing. He doesn’t even feel the need to explain why that’s a bad thing. He treats this as self-evidently wrong. But why?

There are banana republics in which all the judges are on the take. Drug-lords murder and plunder the populace with impunity. They are answerable to no one.

Does Ehrman think that’s a good thing? What is wrong with a God who will exact vengeance on the wicked? Isn’t that what we expect a just judge to do?

“The Lake of Fire is stoked up and ready for everyone who is opposed to God. This will involve eternal burning–an everlasting punishment, even for those who have sinned against God, intermittently, say, for twenty years. Twenty trillion years of torment in exchange for twenty years of wrong living, and that’s only the beginning. Is this really worthy of God” (11).

i) First of all, this objection gets carried away with the figurative imagery.

ii) The ironic thing about someone like Ehrman is that he’s so moralistic and morally shallow at the same time. What makes him think the duration of sin ought to have any intrinsic bearing on the duration of punishment? Suppose one man is a shoplifter for 20 years while another man is a serial-killer for 20 years. Since they committed their respective crimes for the same amount of time, do they merit the same punishment?

iii) The reason that sinners sin for a finite amount of time in this life is because they die. Mortality limits their earthly career in sinning. But suppose they were immortal. Suppose they never died. In that event, they’d keep on sinning indefinitely–whether they lived to be 100 or a 1000 or a 1,000,000 years old. So what difference does it make? Death marks a cut-off point for their sinful lifestyle, here-below, but not for their sinful disposition. Were their life extended, they would continue to sin. Sin continuously for as long as they live.

iv) At it’s not as if they cease to sin once they die. They continue to sin in hell.

v) Suppose the damned spend eternity tormenting each other. How is that unjust? What is wrong with letting bad people do bad things to each other?

It’s not the place that makes hell hellish, but the hellish inhabitants.

“The authors of Job and Ecclesiastes explicitly state that there is no afterlife” (12).

To the contrary:

i) ”Qoheleth’s view of the postmortem state can be summarized by contrasting what he sees under the sun with what he knows in his heart. Under the sun human beings share the same fate as animals: both die, cease to breathe, and go to the same place (i.e. the dust), with no assurance that the fate of their spirits differs (3:19-21). In his heart, however, Qoheleth knows that God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked (3:17; 11:9), and that the human spirit returns to God who gave it (12:7). The epilogist agrees and argues that people should guide their lives in light of ultimately justice,” B. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology (Zondervan 2007), 964-965.

“The tension between those texts that represent death as annihilation and others as a state from which all will be raised–the righteous to everlasting life and the wicked to everlasting shame–can be resolved in the same way the similar tension in Ecclesiastes between futility under the sun and hope is resolved: by distinguishing between what can be known by sight and by faith. Texts that refer to annihilation depict the visible phenomenon that the dead cease to exist in the land of the living and are annihilated, and texts that refer to the final judgment beyond are faith statements,” ibid. 968-969.”

ii) Ehrman should also read Elmer Smick’s commentary on Job 19:25-27.

“For me, it started making less and less sense to think that God had inspired the very words of the text if we didn’t actually have these words, if the texts had in fact been changed, in many thousands of places, most of the changes insignificant but many of the of real importance. If God wanted us to have his words, why didn’t he preserve his words?” (16).

Of course, Ehrman couldn’t even begin attack the inerrancy of Scripture unless the text were fairly secure. If he’s just attacking scribal errors, rather than the original text, then that hardly impugns the inerrancy of Scripture.

“There is no much senseless pain and misery in the world that I came to find it impossible to believe that there is good and loving God who is in control, despite my knowing all the standard rejoinders that people give” (17).

i) How does he know the pain and misery is senseless? He’s like a character in one chapter of a Russian novel.

ii) He shows no evidence of knowing all the standard rejoinders.

iii) Moreover, he’s too dimwitted to realize that atheism has no basis for morality. Even a number of secular thinkers candidly admit as much. There can be no problem of evil, much less argument from evil, if there is no evil

“It is an extremely well-documented phenomenon that people sometimes have visions of their loved ones after they died. A man sees his wife in his bedroom a month after she was buried; a woman sees her dead daughter; a girl sees her dead grandmother. Happens all the time. It is extremely we documented. In many instances the person having this experience can talk to the dead person, can give them a hug and feel them” (178).

i) The only evidence that Ehrman cites for this sweeping claim is a book by Dale Allison. Unfortunately for Ehrman, I happen to own that book. This is what Allison actually says: “Typical encounters with the recently deceased do not issue in claims about an empty tomb, nor do they lead to the founding of a new religion. And they certainly cannot explain the specific context of the words attributed to the risen Jesus. Apparitions do not, furthermore, typically eat or drink, and they are not seen by crowds of up to five hundred people,” Resurrecting Jesus (T&T Clark 2005), 283.

ii) Some Bible scholars think the intermediate state involves immediate resurrection. That’s debatable, but if it were true, then “tangible” apparitions of the dead (assuming there is such a thing) would not count as evidence against the bodily resurrection of Christ.

iii) Gary Habermas had done a lot of research on visions and apparitions, including a review of Allison’s book. As usual, Ehrman ignores evidence that’s inconvenient for his position:

iv) The Bible itself reports on visions and apparitions of the dead. Yet it distinguishes between visionary/ghostly phenomena and resurrection phenomena.

“There are documented instances of multiple people having some such visionary experience together, and not just visions of relatives. The blessed Virgin Mary appears to groups of people all the time–there are thousands of eyewitnesses” (178).

From these vague, elliptical references, I don’t have a lot of confidence that Ehrman has done much personal research on the subject.

“Maybe these things happened. But it is unlikely. In fact, from the historian’s point of view, it is virtually impossible” (178).

So it “happens all the time,” but it’s “virtually impossible.”

“If the very notion that Jesus is coming back down assumes that there is an ‘up’–what does one do with that idea in a universe such as ours where there is, literally, no up and down, except in relation to where you happen to be standing at the moment” (281).

i) But that’s exactly how Acts 1 describes the Ascension. From a local frame of reference.

ii) Moreover, Jesus didn’t keep going up, up, up until he disappeared from view or entered the Empyrean. Rather, he levitated to a certain point before the Shekinah enveloped him.

Finally, I think it’s instructive to compare Ehrman’s view of NT history with the view of his mentor, Bruce Metzger. Metzger was famous for his scholarship, Ehrman is famous for his apostasy. Put another way, Ehrman is famous for being infamous. Just compare his approach to NT history with the approach of a real scholar like Metzger:

There were several circumstances that tended to prevent the free invention of Gospel traditions. One was the presence of original eyewitnesses (Luke 1:2), who would have acted as a check upon wholesale distortion of Jesus’ words and works. Another was the rabbinical method of teaching that Jesus seems at times to have employed when impressing his message upon the memory of his disciples, thus guaranteeing a high degree of fidelity in its transmission.

A consideration of the actual state of the evidence will lead one to the conclusion that there was no large-scale introduction of extraneous materials into the Gospels…The total absence of parables in the teaching of the apostles, as reported in the book of Acts and the twenty-one Letters of the New Testament, indicates that, so far from their being the creation of the early church, the Gospel parables reflect the authentic teaching method and message of Jesus.

A simple test can be made to determine the extent to which extraneous materials have been taken into the gospels. One of the most influential figures in the early church was the apostle Paul. His Letters, which date from the time when many of the Gospel traditions were taking shape, abound in pithy sentences and spiritual insights that could easily have been transferred to Jesus and presented as oracles of the Lord. If it be asked how many times this has happened, the answer must be Not once!

Furthermore, it is noteworthy that Jesus’ followers felt obliged to transmit his sayings even though some were not understood at the time and others became increasingly embarrassing to the church…The early church could have allowed such sayings to fall into oblivion, yet these and others have been faithfully preserved despite strong pressures to modify or forget them.

It is also necessary that the historian have access to reliable source material. What were the sources, both written and oral, available to Luke? The following have been suggested, with more or less probability, as sources lying behind the book of Acts.

(1) In three sections of Acts (16:10-17; 20:5-21:18; and 27:1-28:16) the author changes his style from the third person (“he,” “him,” “they,” “them”) to the first person plural (“we,” “our,” “us”) These “we” passages give the impression that the author was present and participated in the events that he describes. It may be that in these passages, which contain a wealth of details, Luke utilized notes that he had taken in diary form. If this is so, the “we” passages rest upon written sources drawn up by an eyewitness.
(2) At Antioch a copy of the decrees of the apostolic council (Acts 21:25) may have been available to Luke.
(3) It is not improbable that there were written archives in the possession of the church at Jerusalem that Luke would have been able to consult.
The “we” sections provide evidence of the author’s presence in a variety of places and in company with various persons, from whom he could have secured additional information for his history of the church. Among the possible oral sources that have been suggested are the following:
(4) While living at Antioch Luke may have received information concerning the Herodian dynasty from Manaen (Acts 13:1), an Antiochian Christian who was a member of the court of Herod the tetrach. In this way one could account for the fact that among the four Gospels the one by Luke contains the most detailed information about the Herodian family.
(5) Luke’s intimate acquaintance with Paul would have enabled him to secure information concerning the earlier life and work of the apostle before they became companions.
(6) At Caesarea Luke stayed at the home of Philip the evangelist (Acts 21:8), from whom he could have learned about events that led to the appointment of the Seven (Acts 6:1-6), as well as Philip’s experience with the Ethiopian official (8:26-40).
(7) In Acts 21:6 reference is made to the author’s lodging with a certain “Manason of Cyprus, an early disciple.” It is possible that Luke learned from him concerning affairs of the church in Cyprus which, so far as we know, Luke never visited.
(8) While in Jerusalem, Luke would have had opportunity to consult with James, from whom he may have learned about the apostolic council (Acts 15:1-29) and other events in Judea of importance concerning the growing church.
(9) Finally, from remarks made by Paul at the close of several of his letters (e.g. Colossians and Philemon), it appears that Silas and Timothy were with Paul when Luke was also present. From these and other leaders of the early church Luke would have had opportunity to glean further information.

B. Metzger, The New Testament: Its Background, Growth, and Content (Abingdon 2003), 103-106,199-200.