Saturday, April 25, 2009

Dave Armstrong & Cardinal Law: birds of a feather

“[Dave Armstrong] Steve Hays is saying today that the very accusation ruins someone's life. Not in Christianity. We are forgivers because that is God's nature. I could just as well argue that King David's reputation was forever ruined because he committed adultery and murder.”

This is a very revealing statement. It helps to explain the mentality which permits Armstrong to remain a Catholic.

Armstrong’s position bears a startling resemblance to the attitude of Cardinal Law. As long as a predatory priest confesses his sin, then he receives absolution, and he can continue to work with young people.

But what that clearly overlooks, among other things, is that even if the sexual predatory is genuinely contrite, that does nothing to change his impulses. It’s possible for someone to feel genuine remorse about doing the wrong thing, but go right on doing it. Every time he does it, he feels guilty. Yet he does it again and again. Contrition and absolution do nothing to remove homosexual lust. Or penance.

For example, I think it’s pretty commonplace for folks with addictions to hate their addictions, or even hate themselves, yet that doesn’t prevent them from doing the same thing next time.

If a man has a strong sexual attraction to teenage boys, then he shouldn’t be ministering to teenage boys. What could be more obvious?

If a man’s a compulsive gambler, would you first forgive him and then put him right back in the casino?

But you can tell from Armstrong’s attitude that if he were the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston, he’d do exactly what Bernard Law was doing. And that’s because he shares the same twisted mindset. As long as a predatory priest fesses up in the privacy of the confessional, then it’s time to forgive and forget. At most we reassign him to another parish. He may be a repeat offender, but he’s been forgiven.

Finally, the comparison with King David is a very ill-considered example to illustrate Armstrong’s point. It’s not as though God simply forgave David and wiped the slate clean, like nothing ever happened. To the contrary, God made David suffer punitive consequences for his sin:

“Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.' Thus says the LORD, 'Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.'…Because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die” (2 Sam 12:10-12,14.

A Green Stye

I just noticed that Sean Gerety dropped by and offered a comment in the meta of my post critiquing his self incriminating approval of a badly reasoned argument which also made claims at odds with his view on paradox.

What does Gerety offer by way of response?:

I had wrote: The problems here are numerous. Obviously, the paradox is reconcilable, at least by God.

Gerety responded: How does Manata or any Vantilian know there is no paradox for God?

My reply: I would have thought that was rather obvious. In fact, if you check out Anderson's book, for example---and which you've said you've done---you'd note that the paradox is a paradox only for us. It's analytic, Sean. It results from an unarticulated equivocation on the part of the revealer. An example James used was that of flatlander and spacelander. Spacelander---a three dimensional being---reveals to a flatlander---a two dimensional being---the existence of a cone---a three dimensional object. He says something like:

[1] The object, O, is circular.

[2] The object, O, is triangular.

To ask how the above isn't resolvable for Spacelander is just operate at a highly shallow level of analysis. In fact, it's not even a paradox for Spacelander. So, God knows all the ins-and-outs, and he does his best revealing the nature of himself (analogously like a three-dimensional being) to us (analogously two-dimensional beings).

Furthermore, the doctrine is something true about God, it would seem that God would not be in a paradoxical situation regarding himself.

Gerety: By an appeal to Scripture?

Reply: It would seem that it simply follows from the nature of an all-knowing God.

Gerety: Impossible, since according to Van Til “all teaching of Scripture is apparently contradictory.”

Reply: I reject that claim. Of course, all we need is at least one paradox and Gerety is refuted. So no need to focus on this issue since it would do nothing to save Gerety's dismissal of any paradox whatever.

Gerety: Without any reason the Vantilians command us to believe that for God there is no contradiction.

Reply: Um, first, let's knock of the sloppy language. There is no "contradiction" for us, either. There is not one for God either. None for neither.

I never thought I would have to give a reason for this. I didn't know that Gerety thought for God could believe in paradoxes about himself. Probably, whatever reason Gerety thinks is good for why God can't believe in paradoxes will work. But, it doesn't follow that there are not paradoxes for us. In fact, Anderson went to great lengths to show that there were---so long as the desiderata of orthodoxy is to be prized. So, you'd have to deal with those arguments. Of course, holding to some kind of social trinitarianism can help you with the paradoxical point, it's light on the orthodoxy point.

Gerety: Magic “faith,” divorced from logic and Scripture, becomes the means by which they assert “there is no paradox for God.”

Reply: Sean's so typical. His modus operandi is pejorative rhetoric divorced from logic and Scripture.

Gerety: But why wouldn’t it make more sense, even as a matter of simple intellectual honesty, to conclude that if Van Til and Manata are right and these so-called paradoxes of Scripture are logically irreconcilable, then perhaps God himself is contradictory?

Reply: Of course, neither Anderson or myself have claimed that they are irreconcilable for us; though it is a possibility. But, again, without anything else besides Gerety's suggestion that there may also be paradoxes for God, I have to say I find no reason to accept his claim that we have a problem here. Perhaps he can offer an argument?

It also seems just obvious that God can't be a contradiction. One reason might be, no true contradictions exist (apologies to dialetheists), God exists, hence, he's not a contradiction. Care to point out a flaw in that argument, Sean?

Gerety: There is and can be no warrant in Scripture - since Scripture itself is contradictory - for asserting that God is non-contradictory.

Reply: Really, this is sad. Gerety doesn't care to take the care required to honestly interact with opponents. Ironic for a defender of careful, precise, logical, and a rigorous use of language as Gerety is.

Gerety: I’m actually very encouraged by Manata’s poorly written and wild rant,

Reply: It's sad Gerety feels the need to constantly argue at such a puerile and sophomoric level.

Gerety: because it is just more evidence that Vantilans are losing ground and are desperate.

Reply: Is Gerety an evidentialist? Anyway, since Gerety is such a fearless defender of reason, would he care to demonstrate how "Paul's poorly written and wild rant" leads to the conclusion "Vantilians are losing ground and are desperate"? Or is this another unargued assertion?

Gerety: They’re entire epistemic enterprise has been exposed for the theological fraud it is. I guess just more reason to keep banging my “symbol.”

Reply: "They're entire epistemic enterprise..."? Didn't we just read something about "poorly written?"

Anyway, I'd like to see if Gerety can muster up an argument to actually defeat the argument given in response to his embarrassing support of such poorly argued material. Or is repeated gradstanding and posturing all we have to look forward to?

Oh, and I expect the next response from Gerety will include the relevant deductions from Scripture to show that he knows all that he's jawing on and on about. See, his "epistemic enterprise" has been shown to be self-referentially incoherent years ago. Clarkians like Gerety have never recovered, thus all they can do is gnash their teeth and try to yell more loudly than their opponents.


I wrote this reaction to the movie Doubt on another blog that enjoys more popular readership. That is, not in terms of numbers, but in terms of the reading level.

A little over a week ago I saw the movie Doubt, starring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman. My wife and I both liked it – but the purpose of this post is less about recommending the movie than it is about reflecting on a theme that emerges from the movie’s conclusion. Specifically, I have in mind the final scene, which powerfully illustrates the damaging effect that an erroneous theological belief can have upon a person.

(Those planning to see this movie should stop reading right about now).

In the course of the movie, Sister Aloysius (Streep) comes to believe that Father Flynn (Seymour Hoffman) has had inappropriate sexual relations with one of the boys attending the school which is attached to the church. The audience is meant to ask themselves, Are the allegations true? Is he guilty? In the end Flynn tacitly admits his guilt by resigning. It is also revealed that in the last five years he has been removed and reassigned from one church to another three different times. The circumstances surrounding these prior “reassignments” are not given, but viewers are led to make the connection.

After Flynn’s resignation, Aloysius – who was instrumental in forcing Flynn to resign – decides to speak to the monsignor (the ecclesiastical authority presiding over the church and school) to inform him of the real reason behind Flynn’s resignation. She figures that unless she tells the monsignor of Flynn’s illicit sexual relations with one of the children attending the school, he’s just going to do it again the next place he goes. We don’t get to see her meeting with the monsignor, but afterwards, in the film’s final scene, Aloysius admits to another sister that the monsignor did not believe her allegations, not even after Flynn had implicitly confessed his culpability through his resignation. What is more, Aloysius tells the younger nun, the monsignor awarded Flynn with a promotion, giving him control of an even larger school and church.

At this point, Sister Aloysius, whose rigid and forbidding character has revealed little emotional registry throughout the movie, breaks down into tears and appears to be inconsolably shaken. Weeping as she says it, she reveals to the fellow nun that she “has doubts.” The movie ends on that note.

This is very revealing about Roman Catholicism, which sees itself (the Roman Catholic Church) as the continuing presence of Jesus on earth – or said another way, as the mystical extension of Christ’s actual body advancing over the earth. The teaching office of the church – the magisterium – is officially acknowledged as the only agency on earth which can authentically interpret the Bible. Priests themselves enjoy a mediatorial position between God and the laity – being the only officers entrusted with the task of dispensing God’s sacramental grace to common members and even forgiving their sins.

Is it any wonder, then, that when a member of the Roman Catholic Church becomes aware, firsthand, of an insidious corruption among Roman Catholic superiors – that this awareness can become absolutely crippling? Remember, Roman Catholic superiors are not like the spiritual superiors of a Protestant believer. The former are mediators of God’s grace to the common members. The latter are tentatively-acknowledged spiritual authorities whose power resides in the proper exposition of the Bible.

For this reason it is entirely legitimate, given Roman Catholic ecclesiology, for Sister Aloysius to experience doubts. The system that is supposed to represent God to her has not simply let her down, but has appallingly exacerbated, indeed, promoted a practice so despicable that the only logical reaction is: “This is the system in which I have placed my trust to instruct me about God? These are my authorities? Men who, despite identifying themselves and the Church as God's abiding presence on earth, fail in such disastrous ways?” It is not only that they fail, but that when they've been presented with the opportunity to reform, the Catholic Church has chosen time and again to suppress their corruption and perpetuate their broken system.

The difference between Roman Catholic and Protestant ecclesiology reduces to a question of authority. For Catholics, authority is found in the magisterium (what the church teaches today) and tradition (what the church has taught in the past). Scripture’s meaning can only be authentically explained by the Church. For Protestants, Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith. This is the principle of Sola Scriptura. So when someone like Ted Haggard is caught buying drugs and sexual favors from a male escort – that isn’t something that affects my faith. Ultimately, my faith is affixed to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Only he forgives my sins. If Ted Haggard were my spiritual “Father” – the one from whom I’d receive forgiveness of sins – then that would send my world into a spiral. But measured against Scripture, Haggard is no authority of mine – or any Christian’s for that matter. He has invalidated himself.

Roman Catholicism sets its adherents up for massive disillusionment. Not even the greatest apostle the church has been given pronounced a wholesale endorsement of his entire life but rather stressed that he is to be imitated only as he imitates Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). That is, insofar as he fails to imitate Christ he no longer “represents God” to the people. The truth is that Jesus is the only person that can never let us down. Those who fix their eyes solely on him experience an invincible faith. For faith is only as good as the one upon whom it is placed.

Jail the guards, release the inmates!

It’s hard to keep up with the daily lunacies coming out of Washington, but this one calls for special attention.

On the one hand, it’s almost inevitable, thanks to all the liberals, that out gov’t will be releasing jihadis onto the streets of America. They will be brought to the mainland to stand trial in civil courts. They will be acquitted on legal technicalities. And they won’t be deported for fear of “torture.” So the only alternative is to release the enemy onto American soil.

That, of itself, is mind-numbingly stupid, yet that’s only half the story. On the other hand, liberals also want to jail every gov’t official who was complicit in the so-called “torture” of jihadis.

So, just to keep score: on the one hand they want to spring our enemies from jail while, on the other hand, they want to jail the men and women who tried to shield us from the enemy.

You know the old line about patients running the asylum. But this is worse. In general, patients in a mental ward are not a serious threat to others. Rather, they’re a danger to themselves.

But what the liberals are doing is more like putting the inmates in charge of the prison. Put the prison warden and prison guards behind bars while we make the convicts the prison guards or wardens.

Isn’t that creative? Let’s reverse the roles. Arm our enemies and disarm our soldiers.

Or, to vary the metaphor, it’s as if passengers simply got bored with having pilots, bus drivers, and railway engineers who were sober, had 20-20 vision, and good reflexes. Where’s the fun in that?

Let’s do something adventurous for a change. Let’s hire junkies and alcoholics to pilot our planes and drive our busses or trains. Add a little excitement to life!

Having Obama as President or Pelosi as Speaker is like being strapped into a bus or plane with pilot or driver who’s drunk or high on LSD.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the passenger manifest was limited to passengers who voted for these whackjobs. Unfortunately, the rest of us are also along for the ride.

Now, this level of mass suicide goes well beyond mere stupidity. It’s something you can only explain by recourse to sin: “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Eph 4:17-18).

Fr. Donahue on fasting


I'd like to give a bit of Scriptural and historical context for "Rome's stupid rules" about fasting...

In addition to teaching the unchanging moral law, the Apostles had the authority to make disciplinary regulations on abstinence from certain foods: “It is the decision of the holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right.” (Acts 15:28-29).

Christians recognized this authority, and that these decisions were binding on all Christians (“necessities”), even though the disciplinary parts were subject to later adaptation as circumstances changed in the Church.

In the Didache (Gk. “Teaching”), which most scholars date at the end of the 1st century A.D., Christians were instructed by their pastors to practice fast and abstinence at specific times:

Prebaptismal fasting: “Before the baptism, let the one baptizing, and the one being baptized, and any others who are able, fast. Command the one being baptized to fast for one or two days beforehand” (Didache 7:4). In a commentary on the Didache, Aaron Milavec comments that although this is the earliest known reference to fasting in preparation for baptism, it is likely “giving voice to a tradition already practiced (although it is impossible to gauge how widespread this practice might have been).”

Postbaptismal fasting: “Do not let your fasts coincide with those of the hypocrites, for they fast on the second and on the fifth day of the week [Monday & Thursday], but you should fast during the fourth day and during the Sabbath preparation day [Wednesday & Friday]” (Didache 8:1).

Further evidence of mandated communal fasts: (1) St. Irenaeus wrote to Pope Victor I in 190 A.D. on Lenten fasting before Easter. (2) Around 213-222 A.D., Tertullian wrote: “But it is enough for me that it is a customary practice for the bishops withal to issue mandates for fasts to the universal commonalty of the Church…” (On Fasting, 13). Granted that Tertullian had Montanist excesses with regards to fasting, but the above quote is evidence of widespread Christian practice, with regional variations.

My conclusions: The prevailing motive for fasting, and penance in general, is a response to the promptings of the Spirit. But I also believe that the Spirit speaks through those placed in authority in establishing foundational practices of communal fasting that are binding on Christians under their pastoral authority. Catholics understand that these disciplinary regulations can and have been adapted to be more suited to the times and that individual circumstances make for legitimate exceptions from universal norms. Ultimately it is about faithfulness to Christ, not legalism.

Fr. Terry Donahue, CC

P.S. Fish is permitted on Fridays primarily because "meat" (Latin: carne) was understood to be the flesh of a warm-blooded animal.

Hi Fr. Donahue. Several problems with your argument:

1. Regarding the Apostles:

i) Yes, the apostles had authority to set dietary guidelines. Keep in mind that the man who actually presided at the council of Jerusalem was not an apostle, but a sibling of Jesus (James). Moreover, James, unlike, say Timothy or Titus, was not a successor to the apostles.

So, if you’re going to cite Acts 15 as your prooftext, you’d have to extend the argument to individuals who are not apostles or successors to apostles.

ii) Even the authority of an apostle is a qualified authority, contingent on divine inspiration. An apostle can’t willy-nilly impose duties on Christians by an arbitrary fiat.

iii) The dietary restrictions in Acts 15 were pragmatic. The purpose was to avoid giving unnecessary offense to Jews or Jewish-Christians. It was not a spiritual exercise.

iv) I notice that you can’t cite any apostolic mandate on communal fasting.

2. Regarding the Didache:

i) The date is in dispute:

“Questions concerning the author, date, and place of origin of the Didache are notoriously difficult. Although several scholars have assigned the Didache to the first century, and others have dated it to the third or even forth, most prefer a date in the first half of the second century,” B. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament, 49-50.

ii) The question of dating is ambiguous or equivocal in another respect. If the Didache is a composite work, then you need to distinguish between the date of the first edition and later recensions:

“Whether it is a unified composition is uncertain. The closeness to Matt has made Syria at the beginning of the 2d century the most plausible situation for its earliest sections,” R. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, 837.

iii) Appealing to the Didache is a two-edged sword. For unless the Didache teaches a Roman Catholic ecclesiology (e.g. the papacy, a la Vatican I), then the Didache undercuts your appeal to the authority of the Magisterium.

iv) In addition, even if we grant your Catholic ecclesiology for the sake of argument, unless the Didache is itself the product of the Magisterium, it lacks Magisterial authority. Was it written by a pope? I don’t think so.

v) You cite the Didache on prebaptismal and postbaptismal fasting, but it’s quite clear from the NT that fasting was not a precondition of baptism.

vi) Your denomination performs infant baptism. Must infants practice prebaptismal or postbaptismal fasting as a precondition of baptism?

3. Regarding the church fathers

What is your appeal to Irenaeus and Tertullian intended to prove? That fasting was an early and/or widespread practice? But many beliefs and practices were early and/or widespread, viz. Gnosticism, Arianism.

4. If ”the prevailing motive for fasting, and penance in general, is a response to the promptings of the Spirit,” then how come the Spirit doesn’t also prompt Protestant believers to fast or perform penance?

5. ”But I also believe that the Spirit speaks through those placed in authority in establishing foundational practices of communal fasting that are binding on Christians under their pastoral authority. Catholics understand that these disciplinary regulations can and have been adapted to be more suited to the times and that individual circumstances make for legitimate exceptions from universal norms.”

Of course, that takes Catholic ecclesiology for granted. As a Protestant, I don’t think the Holy Spirit signed an exclusive contract with the Pope or the Roman episcopate. I have no reason to think that Catholic bishops are blessed with greater spiritual discernment than Anglicans or Baptists or Methodists or Moravians or Mennonites or Lutherans or Baptists or Presbyterians or Plymouth Brethren, &c.

In fact, I find abundant evidence that many Catholic bishops are singularly deficient in spiritual discernment.

6. ”Ultimately it is about faithfulness to Christ, not legalism.”

If fasting is ultimately about fidelity to Christ, then why didn’t he or his apostles mandate communal fasting?

7. ” Fish is permitted on Fridays primarily because ‘meat’ (Latin: carne) was understood to be the flesh of a warm-blooded animal.”

Doesn’t that illustrate how unreliable tradition is? A tradition predicated on a prescientific classification of fish?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Totalitarian nihilism

Unbelievers are deeply irrational in so many different ways, but one of the most conspicuous symptoms of their irrationality is the incongruous combination of moral nihilism with social engineering.

A secular worldview logically conduces to moral nihilism. And, indeed, some secular thinkers are candid enough to admit that.

At the same time, many secular thinkers are also social engineers. They have a social blueprint for their moral nihilism.

Their motto is: “Life is meaningless! Now I’m going to tell you how to live your life!”

You’d think that someone who vehemently denies the very existence of moral absolutes would adopt a pretty laissez-faire attitude towards social conduct. Why would a nihilist care how others choose to live their lives?

But, no, they’re really quite dictatorial about the right way to live a meaningless life. They harness the coercive apparatus of the state to impose their social blueprint on an unwilling populace.

We can see some of this inconsistency in the Obama administration. On the one hand, human life is a pretty cheap commodity to Obama. You can see this in his views on abortion, stem cell research, and euthanasia.

On the other hand, he has a very authoritarian social agenda. He presumes to impose his iron will on 300 million Americans through force of law. His very personal vision should be the law of the land. Everyone must genuflect to Obama’s value-system. He is the Ethicist-in-Chief.

Unbelievers pride themselves on their rationality, but they betray their intellectual pretensions at every turn.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

John Hagee refuted

"John Hagee Refuted by Dr Michael L. Brown"

Evolutionary ethics in action

"Slouching Toward Columbine: Darwin's Tree of Death"

Skepticism, Infallibilism, and Knowledge

I found it odd being recently called a skeptic. The oddity is compounded because you have, on one end of the spectrum, some Clarkians complaining that I allow too much to be given the honorific title, "knowledge." Hence, for some, my epistemology is not skeptical enough. Given that I afford a whole lotta propositions to be serious candidates for knowledge, I'm incredulous that I'm a skeptic--or that my epistemology is skeptical.

However, I had a phone conversation today with someone who thought that the label 'skeptic' should stick. Based on a slightly edited reproduction, here's why:

i) I was given two candidates for knowledge:

(*) S's wife testifies to S that p, S believes that p, p is true.


(**) S, who knows me, meets me on the street and forms the belief : I am meeting Paul Manata right now.

ii) I was then told that (*) cannot rise to the level of knowledge while (**) can.

iii) Putting aside questions regarding knowledge by testimony and its transitive character, I queried why (*) could not be a candidate for knowledge while (**) could be such a candidate.

iv) I was told that the reason why (**) could be known while (*) could not be, is because it is possible for (*) to turn out false. More clearly, the reason why (*) cannot rise to the level of knowledge, ever, is because it is possible that the wife could be lying. This would mean that p would be false and, following the received view, you cannot know that which is false.

v) This means that the constraint on knowledge expressed in (iv) is what is known as an infallibilist constraint. This means that S cannot know that p if it is possible that p be false. I, and quite understandably, find this hard to swallow.

vi) Without getting into a discussion on infallibilism as such, I wondered how (**) could be known given that epistemic infallibilism is the position of my correspondent. So, "How is it that you know (**)?" I asked.

viii) The response given to me was that God's revelation was infallible and I, being created, indeed; bearing the imago dei, am revelation.

ix) Okay, let's put aside analyzing all of this for the moment, it is still unclear to me how S could know in situation (**). Just as it is possible that S's wife could be lying about p, the below also seem possible when it comes to the situation in (**).

(***) S was dreaming when he "saw" me.

(****) Unbeknownst to S, I have a twin brother, and it is he that S sees, not me.

x) Thus, it seems clear to me that given considerations like (***) and (****) my correspondent cannot know (**) given the reasons he has given for why he cannot know (*). Indeed, with a small amount of effort one can show that someone, S, doesn't "know" things like: (1) Calvinism, (2) paedobaptism, (3) theonomy, (4) etc., all things my correspondent strongly endorses. Perhaps he would bite these bullets. However, it remains why he would claim that he knows (**) but doesn't know, say, Calvinism.1 And, it also remains how he even knows (**) given his strictures.

One might also point out that S might later obtain a defeater for his belief in (**)--say, S comes to believe he is a brain in a vat--and thus lose his knowledge due to the no-believed-defeater constraint.2

Anothe problem is his belief that I, the person he meets on the street, am "revelation," being created and an image bearer. Perhaps I'm a cleverly constructed robot, and hence, not an image bearer. To respond that since I am created I am still revelatory doesn't get you to the claim you said you knew, namely, "I met Paul Manata."

Therefore, and quite ironically, the "kick me, I'm a skeptic" sign has been pulled off of my back and placed on his. Am I off here?


1 See Certainty, Irrevisability, and Theological Beliefs by Michael Sudduth.

2 See Epistemic Defeaters by Michael Sudduth.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Corporate welfare

Because George Bush has spent his way into the largest deficits in American history, the retirement of millions and the future of our children are now at risk. A child born today will inherit a $20,000 debt – a “Birth Tax” that he or she had no part in creating. And middle-class Americans who have worked a lifetime may be forced to choose between a retirement of more hard work or hard times. That’s wrong, that’s a betrayal of the middle-class, and we can’t let it happen in our America.

When this President took office, he inherited the largest surplus in American history -- $5.6 trillion that could have saved Social Security for generations.

As my friend President Clinton likes to say, if you see a turtle sitting on a fence post, you know it didn’t get there by itself. The surplus was the culmination of a 15-year, bipartisan battle to get federal spending and the federal budget under control. Back in the 1980’s, I broke with my party and joined with reformers like Warren Rudman, a Republican from New Hampshire, to push for deficit reduction. It wasn’t a popular position, but I believed then – as I do now – that it was the right thing to do.

Second, every budget I send to Congress will detail how we intend to pay for every proposal. And we’ll restore the simple rule that George W. Bush opposes: pay-as-you-go.

That’s what we have done in this campaign. Every proposal I have made details how we plan to pay for it.

And we’re going to go further – we’ll go after wasteful government spending and bloated government contracts – because you deserve a government that works better and costs less.

Third, I will ask Congress for constitutionally-permissible line item veto to slice the pork out of the federal budget.

Fourth, John Edwards and I will fight for automatic spending cuts if Congress can’t keep spending in check.

This President not only ignored the spending caps we had in place since the 1990’s --he got rid of them.

He got rid of these rules, I will restore them.

Finally, I will implement the McCain-Kerry proposal to end corporate welfare as we know it.

It’s time to stop asking taxpayers to subsidize loopholes and giveaways to make rich corporations richer. Today, there are more than 100 corporate welfare programs in the budget that cost you more than $65 billion a year.

The historic inauguration of President Barack Obama went a long way toward renewing American hopes for a better future. But our nation's economy remains on shaky ground. We must act immediately to solidify our economy by addressing weaknesses in our financial and housing industries, while at the same time kick-starting job creation with our national economic stimulus plan...In response to this crisis, President Obama has correctly called for an economic recovery package focused on job creation and short-term growth while boosting productivity in the long term.

BOSTON – Senators John Kerry and Edward Kennedy today announced the release of $437,865,255 from the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act to support critical repairs to Massachusetts’ aging infrastructure.

“This investment will produce or save thousands of jobs here in Massachusetts over the coming months. It will also help bring some of our state’s aging infrastructure into the 21st Century, ensuring that every single bridge and road in Massachusetts is as safe as it can be. President Obama committed to invest recovery dollars in efforts that save jobs and help those who are struggling, and folks across our state can attest that this funding is proof that he’s keeping his word,” said Senator Kerry.

Senator Kennedy said, “Saving and creating jobs is at the heart of reviving our economy, and this vital investment in infrastructure will help significantly to do that for Massachusetts. All across our Commonwealth, men and women will be able to repair and revitalize our roads and bridges, contributing to our economy, protecting the public and providing benefits that will last long into the future. I commend President Obama for his strong commitment to this goal for every state.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) introduced a bill to create new jobs by updating the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. The High-Speed Rail for America Act of 2008 would transform America’s outdated and underfunded passenger rail system into a world class system.

“At a time when our economy desperately needs a jumpstart, we need an effective national investment that puts Americans back to work,” said Sen. Kerry. “A first-rate rail system would protect our environment, save families time and money, reduce our dependency on foreign oil, and help get our economy moving again. The High-Speed Rail for America Act will help fix our crumbling infrastructure system, expand our economy, and match high-tech rail systems across the globe.”

Celebrate Earth Day!

Tomorrow, I plan to do my little part for Earth Day. In honor of the occasion, I'll be having a charcoal BBQ in the backyard!

Pregnancy & paedocommunion

There’s a fight going on among some Presbyterians over the propriety of paedocommunion. Mainstream Presbyterianism rejects paedocommunion.

I have one question: If a pregnant woman takes communion, is that a form of paedocommunion?

Next question: if paedocommunion is prohibited, then should we prohibit pregnant women from taking communion?

For the record, I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m just curious about the logic of this debate.

John the Baptist and infant baptism

Baptism, we believe, is one of the miraculous means of grace (together with God's written and spoken Word) through which God creates the gift of faith in a person's heart. Although we do not claim to understand how this happens or how it is possible, we believe (because of what the Bible says about baptism) that when an infant is baptized God creates faith in the heart of that infant. This faith cannot yet, of course, be expressed or articulated, yet it is real and present all the same (see, e.g., 1 Pet 3:21; Acts 2:38-39; Titus 3:5-6; Matt. 18:6; Luke 1:15; 2 Tim.3:15; Gal. 3:26-27; Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:11-12; 1 Cor. 12:13).

It’s ironic that some Christians use John the Baptist as a posterboy for infant baptism. According to Lk 1:15, John the Baptist was already in a state of grace in his mother’s womb. If he was sanctified in his mother’s womb, then what would baptism do for him? Are you sanctified before you’re regenerated?

Perhaps, instead of infant baptism, we should practice prenatal baptism by baptizing pregnant women!

Far from being a prooftext for infant baptism or baptismal regeneration, the case of John the Baptist, if it’s even germane to the issue, would be a prooftext to the contrary.

Ms America

According to one outspoken judge, Miss California was disqualified because she gave the “wrong” answer to a question about sodomite marriage.

Of course, in the make-believe world of the liberal establishment, it’s a criminal offense to state the obvious, but consider the setting. The Miss America contest is a babe-a-thon. A heterosexual institution, albeit cheesy and decadent.

I haven’t bothered to study the demographics, but at the risk of going way out on a limb, I have a sneaky suspicion that the primary viewership for beauty pageants are normal boys and men–from adolescence up. The whole show is an elaborate pretext for men to ogle gorgeous women. And I seriously doubt that homosexual men are the market niche.

If the organizers of the event were truly concerned with being all-inclusive, then contestants would include drag-queens, circus ladies, and dominatrices. Nothing is more elitist than a beauty pageant.

Calvinism & determinism

I recently had a longish discussion about Calvinism and determinism in the combox. I'm going to rescue it from the combox and post it here.


“Steve, but of course those billions of people make millions of decisions each and therefore have a very good chance of doing wrong over the course of their lifetimes.”

i) Not a single exception? And the human lifespan varies considerably from one individual to the next.

ii) Why do you think sinning is a matter of chance? The sheer odds of sinning?

If you think that, like a game of dice, the outcome of one throw is unrelated to the outcome of another throw, then why do you think a particular outcome is more likely the more often you throw the dice? Isn’t that committing the Monte Carlo fallacy?

Dropping the metaphor, if you think that human decisions are indeterminate, then there’s no causal relation between one decision and another. In that case, each decision is like starting from scratch. A series of decisions doesn’t have a cumulative effect on the relative probabilities down the line. Each decision is a discrete, self-contained event–like a throw of the dice.

Certain combinations may be more probable or improbable than others, but if you take them serially, one at a time, then one decision is no more likely than another.

iii) Likewise, if you’re serious about the freedom to do otherwise, then you need to discount any bias that would load the dice.

“The main problem I have with Calvinism is that it doesn't have the honesty to call God what He is: The Author of Sin.”

Of course, authorship is a literary metaphor. You’ve called God a metaphor.

That accusation doesn’t amount to much unless you can specify what you mean by that metaphor in application to God. How do you delimit the range of the metaphor?

“By the time omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence are ascribed to God.”

Those attributes are scarcely distinctive to Calvinism.

“And it is said that He sustains the very physical laws such that the world disappears if He stops thinking about us.”

Who says that? You seem to be describing a form of idealism or occasionalism. But that’s hardly mainstream Calvinism. Mainstream Calvinism believes in second-causes.

“And it is also stated that He determines our actions and intentions, you are describing a world that resides in the imagination of God.”

That conclusion only follows (if at all) from objective idealism or occasionalism, not from divine determinism alone.

You also have yet to put your own cards on the table? What is your alternative?

I was responding to an Arminian. Very well, then, how does Arminianism avoid the same charge?

According to Arminianism, God foresaw that if he made this world, it would include moral and natural evils. It was within God’s power to prevent that outcome by not making this world.

Yet God went ahead and made this world in full knowledge of the outcome. At a minimum, then, that makes God partly responsible for the outcome, since he put into place all of the necessary and sufficient conditions which resulted in the moral and natural evils we see in this world.

If you fall back on open theism, you turn God into a mad scientist.

And if you fall back on atheism, you lose the argument from evil since atheism cannot underwrite moral absolutes.

Since you pride yourself on your intellectual honestly, how do you escape from your own dilemma?

4/18/2009 2:04 PM


“If by sinner, you mean someone who has sinned even once, and there is a non-zero probability of them sinning at every decision point, then the likely-hood of someone sinning is quite high. Suppose that someone has to make a decision that will be either moral or immoral 10 times a day with a 1% chance of making the immoral decision. They would have a 10% chance of sinning on any given day. There is a 1 in a billion chance of not sinning over 206 days. :)”

i) You are still in the clutches of the Monte Carlo fallacy. If, a la libertarianism, you treat each human decision as indeterminate, then there is no cumulative increase in the probability of a particular outcome. Each indeterminate decision is causally unrelated to the preceding or succeeding decision.

The sum total doesn’t raise the probability of any particular outcome in any particular case.

ii) You’re also acting as if every decision is a choice between good and evil. But many decisions involve a choice between alternate goods.

“Realize, doing one bad thing over any extended period would be quite easy.”

I’ve already pointed out one problem with that claim. Now I’ll point out another.

I’ve treated people like dice for the sake of argument, since that’s a way of modeling the libertarian position. However, real people aren’t like dice. With a pair of dice, you have a fixed set of physical variables. The outcome is random.

With humans, by contrast, there are many internal and external variables that figure in our decisions. There’s no way you can quantify the outcome of a human decision the way you quantify the outcome of throwing dice. That’s a fictitious mathematical abstraction.

“Why would we expect to find examples of sinless people? Why would a person subscribing to libertarian free will expect sinlessness?”

Because the freedom to do otherwise implies that you can either be a sinful or sinless. So, if people have the freedom to go in either direction, we wouldn’t expect every single human being to go in the same direction.

“The Author of Sin: because God determines all things, and sinful acts are a subset of all things, then God determines that sin occurs. This is if determinism is true (current events are determined by prior events all the way back to the moment of creation) and that God sets the whole thing up and determines who goes where, etc.”

i) You’re equivocating–probably due to your ignorance of Reformed theology. Predestination is not the same thing as casual determinism, where you have a chain of cause-and-effect from the first cause through a series of second causes to an end-result.

Predestination has reference to God’s plan for the world. A plan doesn’t cause anything–in the sense of a chain reaction. Just as a blueprint of a skyscraper doesn’t build a skyscraper.

Everything happens according to plan, but how it happens is a separate issue. There are different theories of causality. And one can postulate different causal mechanisms. That goes beyond Calvinism. That takes us into the realm of philosophy.

ii) In addition, you’ve tripped yourself up. If you take the position that sin is statistically inevitable, then an indeterminate outcome could be–and, in this case, would be–identical with a determinate outcome.

Sooner or later, according to your own calculations, the chances are that a series of indeterminate decisions will yield the same result as a determinate decision would.

In that event, what difference does it make if God’s plan happens to coincide with what would happen anyway, even if the end-result were random rather than predetermined?

iii) Apropos (ii), your objection only makes sense if, given the chance to do otherwise (i.e. not sin), a human being would do otherwise by not sinning.

For if, even when given the chance to do otherwise, a human being would refrain from doing otherwise; if, instead, a human being would sin, then the abstract freedom to do otherwise is morally irrelevant to the concrete outcome. What’s the point of giving him a choice if he’s not going to take it?

“Since Calvinism does not subscribe to idealism, what is meant by God sustaining the universe?”

It doesn’t mean that God sustains the universe by continually thinking it into existence. Indeed, Calvinism traditionally regards God as timeless, so no continuous creation is possible.

But God created natural cycles and forces that effect physical outcomes.

You make a few other remarks which are predicated on erroneous assumptions I already addressed.

4/18/2009 5:31 PM


“I have always thought that the libertarian position was focused on particular acts and not necessarily whether someone might hypothetically avoid sinning throughout their entire lives.”

If you define libertarian freedom as the freedom to do otherwise, then that hypothetical ought to be a live possibility.

“We do indeed have different (and opposing) desires within us and that influence our decision. My understanding of free will is that we can have within us competing desires and choose to take the action that comports with one but not the other.”

Competing or opposing desires are not the same thing as desiring to do either good or evil. I look at a menu. I have conflicting desires about which entrée to order. That’s not a choice between good and evil.

“My understanding was that Calvinism implied determinism (but not causal determinism as you say?) Is this correct?”

Calvinism is deterministic, but determinism isn’t Calvinistic. There are different versions of determinism.

“Of course, we have very few examples of people leading sinless lives. :)”

That’s irrelevant to libertarianism. You’re grafting a theological position onto a philosophical position.

“Moreover our desires do influence our decisions, so I don't think we always act as though we are flipping a coin.”

In which case your way of calculating the odds of sinning is fallacious.

“We can choose to do right (and do) some of the time, but do not always do so. So it would seem that some right choices are made.”

If you do right some of the time, then why do you need the freedom to do otherwise (wrong) in those situations where you’re going to do right? Why do you need the freedom to do something you were never going to do? What’s the point?

Why is it necessary to have a long corridor of unlocked doors if there is only one door you were ever going to go through? What would it matter if, unbeknownst to you, the other doors were locked!

“Why give us the freedom to make choices?…The reason we are given for this is that God ‘so loved the world’.”

Where does Jn 3:16 assert libertarian freedom?

“I don't know why God so loved the world that He would do as He has done.”

That’s too vague to respond to.

4/19/2009 3:12 PM


“I am trying to understand what you mean by determinism.”

Since you’re the one who chose to cast the issue in terms of determinism, the onus is actually on you to define your choice of terms.

For myself, I’m inclined to use more specific words like predestination or foreordination.

“Are only moral choices determined, or also ‘neutral’ ones like making choices from a menu?”

All events are predestined, including mental events (e.g. human volitions) as well as human actions.

“How does Calvinistic determinism differ from, say, causal determinism?”

God has a comprehensive plan for the world. Everything happens according to plan.

You’re confusing certainty with causality.

“So all choices are determined?”

God has “predetermined” all human choices. But determinism doesn’t single out a particular model or theory of causation.

“How, other than via determinism at all points, would it be possible that I would only be able to choose to go through one particular door after a long sequence of choices? You were careful earlier to distinguish predestination from causal determinism. What role, if any, does/did God play in the determination of our choices? What ‘locks’ the other doors?”

It begins with possible human beings. God’s idea of human beings. A hypothetical person.

What would a hypothetical person do? There’s no antecedent course of action that a hypothetical person would take. It all depends on how you construct the hypothetical. If you hypothesize that a possible person will turn left, then he’ll turn left. If you hypothesize that a possible person will turn right, then he’ll turn right.

In creating the world, God actualizes one hypothetical rather than another. That’s not making a possible person do something contrary to what he would otherwise do. That’s not robbing him of a choice.

There’s nothing a hypothetical person would or wouldn’t do apart from the hypothetical itself. It all depends on how you vary the hypothetical. Many different permutations may be possible. Creation locks in one particular permutation.

4/19/2009 5:07 PM
Put another way, a possible person has as many possible choices as you can hypothesize–although there are limits to counterfactual identity. There needs to be an element of continuity to keep in the same person who is doing this or that.

In that sense, a possible person could do otherwise. At a hypothetical level, he could do A or B or C. After all, a possible person is, himself, a possibility.

It’s not that a possible person has too few choices, but too many. He can be developed in so many different directions.

But not all possibilities are compossible. The act of creation actualizes one possibility out of many. One possible choice.

4/19/2009 7:47 PM


“If I understand correctly, you are saying that there is a difference between a chain of causation leading to a choice and God predestining and actualizing all events in that chain as well as the choice itself.”

Predestination ensures the outcome. However, predestination doesn’t cause the outcome. How God actualizes the decree is a separate question. The Bible doesn’t offer any particular theory of causation. Different models are available. That’s a philosophical question over which we can speculate.

It’s not cause-and-effect in the sense that God is the cue, which hits the cue-ball, which strikes the 8-ball, &c.

That’s the kind of mental image which I think many people have in mind when they think of casual relations.

“I take it that blameworthiness for an immoral choice attaches to the choice (or the intent of the chooser?), but not to the planning or actualizing of it.”

Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. That all depends.

If a Mafia Don orders a hit, then he’s as culpable as the hit-man.

On the other hand, suppose that organized crime is out of control. To deal with the problem, the police infiltrate the rival crime families, and instigate a battle between the rival crime families. The police then sit back and watch the rival crime families annihilate each other.

While it’s immoral for the mobsters to murder each other, it’s not immoral for the authorities to turn them against each other. The authorities have a different motives than the mobsters.

“We seem to have two entities involved in a choice: the person making it and God actualizing the reality of the choice per plan.__God is only actualizing that which the chooser would choose, as predestined by God. I'm confused about to the boundary between the chooser's agency and God's.”

Actualizing a possible agent and his possible choice is what makes him an actual agent.

Again, there’s no one thing a possible agent qua possible would choose. God instantiates one out of various possible choices.

“Predestination strikes me as verging on a causal mechanism, rather than just a descriptive certainty. Predestination suggests a positive decision to ensure a result, while foreknowledge could just be certain knowledge.”

Predestination ensures the end-result. True.

That, of itself, doesn’t select for a particular mechanism. And it’s possible for an indeterminate outcome to be identical with a determinate outcome.

By stacking the deck, you can cause a royal flush to be dealt. However, if the deck is randomly shuffled, then the odds are that sooner or later a royal flush will be dealt.

Same result, different process. In cases where the results coincide, how would the process be morally significant?

On a related note, God isn’t causing a possible agent to do one thing rather than another, for it’s not as if there was one thing (rather than another) which a possible agent was going to do. A hypothetical person has a range of hypothetical choices. God decides which alternative to instantiate.

“Even so, a God outside of our time line may be able to see our future with perfect clarity without determining it.”

That move has been tried before. It doesn’t work.

4/20/2009 9:39 AM


“I'm having a hard time understanding the differences between ‘predestine’, ‘actualize’, and ‘cause’. ‘Predestine’ seems to be a decision made by God that some event should occur. ‘Actualize’ seems to be God making a hypothetical real. ‘Cause’ seems to be the means by which a hypothetical is made real.”

Predestination refers to God’s timeless plan for the world. God actualizes his plan through a timeless act.

A “cause” can take different referents. It can include second-causes, such as rain from rain clouds.

“Does God ever ‘cause’ anything?”

Depends on how you define “cause.” You defined cause in terms of a chain reaction.

Suppose we use the counterfactual theory of causation: “If A did not obtain, then B would not have obtain”.

In that sense, the predestination causes things. In that sense, God causes things.

But on that definition, it’s equally true that natural forces cause things. That human beings cause things.

So God would not be the sole cause.

“But what if the authorities instantiated the mobsters in the first place? We are sinners and God instantiates this, but I'm not sure why. In heaven there will not be instantiation of sinful acts. What are your thoughts on what God ‘gains’ by His instantiation of the events of this world and not just skipping to the ‘good part’?”

God has nothing to gain. The elect have something to gain. It’s for the sake of the elect.

For example, apart from the fall, St. Peter would never go to heaven. Apart from the fall, St. Peter would never exist. Other people would exist apart from the fall. But Peter would not exist since his existence depends on a multitude of preceding variables in a fallen world which eventually give rise to his parents. So Peter is a beneficiary of the fall.

One could discuss other aspects of this issue, but for now I’m confining myself to your immediate objection.

“The way I am thinking about all this makes ‘God isn't causing...’ and ‘God decides...’ direct contradictions. In short, God isn't causing an agent to do one thing over another, he is merely deciding which thing or another he is going to instantiate. What's the difference? My guess is I am thinking about your terms in a way quite different from the way you are.”

I didn’t deny that God causes things to happen. I denied your model of causation. And I distinguished between causation and certainty.

“My thought is that God is not 'timeless’ but in another time line. C.S. Lewis has a nice analogy of Shakespeare and the characters of his plays. Shakespeare can ‘observe’ any point in the time line of his plays, but is himself in his own time line. For my own part, I am skeptical of the notion of a timeless mind. I don't have any trouble with the notion of God being ‘acted upon’.”

Since you offer no supporting arguments for your claims here, there’s nothing for me to respond to.

4/21/2009 8:16 AM

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Praying for the past

Turretin Fan recently did a post on prayer:

Turretin Fan is an erudite, logical, and thorough apologist. In many respects a model apologist, both in style and substance.

I agree with everything he says about prayers to and through the dead. I agree with almost everything he says about prayers for the dead.

However, the final paragraph of §1 raises an interesting question:

Thus, there is no third category - no third option that exists, where prayers for the deceased would have any value. Accordingly, we reject prayers for the dead as vain and superstitious, and we do not engage in such prayers.

This goes to the larger question of whether it’s ever appropriate to pray for a past outcome.

Keep in mind that God is timeless. At an ontological level, nothing is past, present, for future to God. At an epistemic level, God is, of course, aware of past, present, and future since he himself decreed the entire history of the world.

One unspoken assumption of TF’s denial is that God cannot change the past. What’s past is immutable. Over and done with.

I agree with that assumption. As such, it would be improper to pray for a past outcome if you know the outcome. That would be asking god to do something that even omnipotence cannot do. Asking him to perform a pseudotask.

But that leaves another scenario to deal with. What if the outcome is past, but we don’t know the outcome? Is it permissible to pray for a past outcome under those circumstances?

Offhand, I don’t see why not. That reflects a limitation, not on what is possible, but on what is known. We’re not asking God to change the past.

Rather, we’re asking a timeless God, who knows what we ask before we ask it, to have brought about a particular outcome.

Although it’s not possible to change the past, it’s possible to affect the past. Not to change what was, but to change what would have been–absent prayer.

I don’t think this scenario is that unusual. We hear about a loved one who was involved in a life-threatening accident or natural disaster. A plane crashing. A coalmine caving in. A tornado striking a small town.

By the time we hear about it, the life-threatening event is past. Our loved one is either dead or alive.

We learn about the event after the fact. We see it on the news. Or receive a frantic phone call.

What do we do? We pray for him. We pray that God spared him. We do so even though, at the time we pray, the outcome is a fait accompli. And we do so knowing that, at the time we pray, the outcome is a fait accompli.

But we also know that God’s answer to prayer isn’t always constrained by our timing. For God doesn’t have to wait until we pray for something to know what we’re going to pray for. And although the result of answered prayer is ordinarily subsequent to the prayer, the answer isn’t subsequent to the prayer. Rather, God answered our prayer from all eternity.

Offhand, I don’t think it’s wrong to pray for the fate of a loved-one in case his fate is unknown to us–even if his fate is sealed. Of course, that would need to be a qualified prayer. We’re not asking God to change the postmortem status of our loved one. That’s irrevocable.

But we’re timebound creatures praying to a timeless God. And there are some situations where time is not a barrier to prayer. Our ignorance of the outcome is not, of itself, a reason to refrain from praying for a particular outcome, even though the outcome is a done deal by the time we pray.

Showing Gerety The Door

Recently, Sean Gerety was kind enough to show Van Til the door. Gerety's urbane behavior was seasoned with debonair speach towards some professed Van Tillians. In doing this he leads by example. Complaining about how certain unnamed persons have referred to Gordon Clark and John Robbins over the years, Gerety makes sure to avoid any charge of hypocrisy. Showing himself the better man, he referred to these Van Tillians as "deaf-dumb-and-blind," shattering the myth that he's a mean and nasty little cuss.

Alas, Sean's Sean. Can a leopard change his spots, an Etheopian his skin color, or a Gerety his gaucheness? So we'll move on, I'm interested in bigger things.

Gerety's latest post natters on about Van Til, irrationality, and paradox in Gerety's typically officious way. With minimal sublimity, Gerety bangs his symbol, playing to a meager crowd--most of who watch for the same reason one watches a train wreck, except that the sound eminating from Gerety's post is more dreadful than the tons of metal colliding at a hundred miles an hour.

However, my beef isn't with the civility of Gerety's tone. Nor is it with that slight problem always facing Gerety: He doesn't know that any of his critiques land since he has not deduced them from the Bible, nor are they so deducible. To the question: Is Van Tillianism irrational? Gerety must answer: I don't know. However much fun it is to point all of this out, that's not the goal here either. The goal is to simply interact with the YouTube post Gerety thinks is such a good critique of Van Til.

The man who Gerety lauds is apparently a pastor and his name his Mark Kielar. I happen to think his YouTube video is bad, and strikingly so. Here's a brief analysis:

0:01 Pastor Keilar sets up the motive for appeal to paradox as a "side stepping of biblical issues." Though this language will cause those who have their minds made up to unthinkingly cheer Kielar, as well as possibly dissuade those who are unfamiliar with this discussion by shaming them into agreeing with Kielar--for who wants to side step biblical issues?--the move is logically problematic. For example, if one has done any reading in this area, one will note that appeal to paradox arises precisely because one is not side stepping the biblical issues. For instance, no one who has read James Anderson's account of paradox can possibly claim that he appeals to paradox because he wants to side step biblical issues.

0:34 One wonders if Gerety even listened to his own reference since pastor Kielar claims that "if those who appeal to paradox really mean that the passages that appear to conflict are only a paradox, "then they would be correct." But Gerety cannot stomach such irrationality. Not only that, that the apparently conflicting passages are only paradoxical is precisely what all thoughtful, in Tuggy's terms, "mysterians," do say. Furthermore, to claim that there are paradoxes in Scripture is to say what "all" orthodox theologians and pastors have said. it is to stand in line with "Spurgeon and Edwards and Luther." However, they would not stand in line with Clark, Robbins, or Gerety. By endorsing this link, Gerety has indicted himself.

0:59 Pastor Kielar claims that the "new expositors" of Scripture who appeal to paradox do not go as far as the above. Their problem is that they claim that the paradoxes are "ultimately not reconcilable by even the regenerate human mind." He emphasizes "regenerate" so as to, again, shame or trick the benighted into accepting his view. Yet, though it is a possibility that some paradoxes could forever remain paradoxes, room is left for the possibility of later resolution.

1:50 The problem for those who appeal to paradox is definitional. Apparently, if you check "any" English dictionary, paradox is defined as "An apparent contradiction that is reconcilable." The problems here are numerous. Obviously, the paradox is reconcilable, at least by God. But why think we must be able to reconcile them? The dictionary says nothing about paradoxes needing to be resolved by us.

Secondly, not all dictionaries define 'paradox' the way pastor Kielar says that they do. For example:

paradox -

1. a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.
2. a self-contradictory and false proposition.
3. any person, thing, or situation exhibiting an apparently contradictory nature.
4. an opinion or statement contrary to commonly accepted opinion.

paradox -

1 [C] a person, thing or situation that has two opposite features and therefore seems strange: He was a paradox—a loner who loved to chat to strangers. It is a curious paradox that professional comedians often have unhappy personal lives.
2 [C, U] a statement containing two opposite ideas that make it seem impossible or unlikely, although it is probably true; the use of this in writing: ‘More haste, less speed’ is a well-known paradox. It’s a work full of paradox and ambiguity.

Third, a defender of paradox would also be free to define his view into the winner's circle.

Fourth, the problem of appealing to dictionaries to resolve substantive philosophical debate are legion, I won't rehash them here.

2:20 Pastor Kielar claims that if a paradox is irresolvable by "the human mind" then it would be a "contradiction." However, this claim is not argued for.

2:50 He claims that some pastors and theologians--we don't know who--try to avoid talk of the problems with paradox by claiming that "in heaven" they are reconcilable. So what's the problem? Didn't he just tell us that "belief in paradox is the majority report of the church" and it is fine to believe paradox so long as "you claim it is reconcilable?" Indeed that is what he told us.

3:33 He picks on some confused claim by a pastor about God's sovereignty and mans freedom being paradoxes. In doing so he again engages in cherry picking, avoiding a cogent critique of paradox and avoiding the most sophisticated attempts to defend their being rationally believed. Also, anyone can pick on some claim by a back woods pastor and use it to critique almost anything Christians have believed. Should we get an atheist to pick on some back woods pastor's butchering of the theory of evolution and then claim that we have done justice to how all Christians handle this issue?

4:50 Pastor Kielar slips and claims that those who defend paradox are claiming that God wants us to believe actual contradictions.

5:02 He then says that these people who believe that there are actual contradictions in the Bible believe that these actual contradictions can be resolved. But of course an actual contradiction cannot be resolved. His butchering of his opponents gets progressively worse. (And, by the way, the pastor he cited never even so much as hinted that we have an "actual contradiction" in the Bible regarding its teaching on sovereignty and freedom.)

5:36 He again claims that it is fine to believe apparently contradictory claims that can be reconciled. Clark would be rolling over in his grave if he knew Gerety, a professed Clarkian, touted pastor Kielar's video as a good statement on the issue.

6:02 Pastor Kielar continues with his critique and it keeps getting more odd. He claims that the pastors he is picking on, those who endorse "a new hermeneutic," admit that paradoxes are reconcilable in heaven yet he says that they claim that they are irreconcilable on earth. He then claims that this claim is logically equivalent to this claim: Paradox df = An irreconcilable apparent contradiction that is reconcilable. He thinks he has them affirming a contradiction when right in front of his face is the old Scholastic adage about making a distinction when faced with a contradiction. Furthermore, the dictionary never mentions that paradoxes must be reconcilable on earth, heaven being too late. This "critique" just gets worse and worse. It indicts Gerety since he put his stamp of approval on it.

7:45 Citing Reymond, he agrees with the claim that just because no one has reconciled a paradox doesn't necessarily mean that no one ever will. First, this is admitted. In fact, Van Tillians would admit that "someone" is able to reconcile them. Surely they wouldn't want to affirm this premise: If God is able to do something, man must too be able to do it. It stretches ones mental faculties how bad and how off Gerety is on this if he thinks pastor Kielar's video even remotely touches Van Tillianism. Not only doesn't it, it drops the ball when critiquing those with what I would wager is a less sophisticated take on paradoxes.

8:20 Continuing with Reymond, he affirms that one would not be able to tell the difference between a real contradiction and an apparent contradiction. However, this just seems false. But the fact that we can debate the issue of merely apparent vs. apparent but real contradictions show that the distinction can be, in principle, made. James Anderson also addresses this issue in his book I linked above, pages 220-230, 285-287. However, Anderson's work is not interacted with.

Overall, I'm unsure what's worse--the criticism of paradox or Gerety's thinking it shows Van Til the door? Probably the latter since the I never heard the former brag about his neural capacity and he never claimed to be analyzing Van Til. In the end, it was quite ironic for Gerety to make that swipe about being "deaf-dumb-and-blind," as it turned out to be simply psychological projection.

(P.S. I will ask that any response given by Gerety include the relevant deductions from Scripture to show that he knows that his critiques are spot on.)

A young rich man

Mark 10:17-31 (ESV):
And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'" And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth." And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God." Peter began to say to him, "See, we have left everything and followed you." Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first."
According to Dr James Le Fanu in The Rise & Fall of Modern Medicine:
Lord Horder symbolised the pinnacle of achievement on which every consultant [American: attending physician] in London aspired. He was wealthy and stylish, turning up at St Barts [St Bartholomew's Hospital] in his Rolls-Royce and sporting a top hat. 'Tommy [Horder] was certainly the greatest clinician of his day, based on vast experience and shrewd judgement. His short squat figure exuded wisdom and humanity.' Born the son of a Dorset draper, his reward for winning every prize at medical school was to be appointed for his first job as the house doctor to Samuel Gee, physician to the Royal Household, whose patronage rapidly propelled the young Horder into the most influential of circles.

Horder's private practice read like a Who's Who of the times. It included three Prime Ministers -- Andrew Bonar Law, Ramsay MacDonald and Neville Chamberlain; writers -- Sir James Barrie, Somerset Maugham, Rebecca West and H.G. Wells; and musicians -- Sir Thomas Beecham, Sir Malcom Sargeant, Sir Henry Wood. And in time he succeeded Samuel Gee as physician to the Royal Household, becoming medical adviser to first King Edward VII, then George V, Edward VIII, George VI and finally Queen Elizabeth II.

Tommy Horder's success was well deserved. He was very good at what he did which, in the era before sophisticated medical investigations, was making an accurate diagnosis, relying almost exclusively on what are known as 'clinical methods', the ability to infer what is amiss from the patient's history and physical signs elicited at examination. This was traditional doctoring, unencumbered by the trappings of technology, and its essential feature was the human relationship between doctor and patient.
According to Sir Fred Catherwood:
Martyn [Lloyd-Jones]'s career was medicine. He went from school to Barts, one of the great London teaching hospitals, and was brilliantly successful. He succeeded in his exams so young that he had to wait to take his MD, by which time he was already chief clinical assistant to Sir Thomas Horder, one of the best and most famous doctors of the day. By the age of 26 he also had his MRCP and was well up the rungs of the Harley Street ladder, with a brilliant and lucrative career in front of him. Then something happened.

Slowly, reading for himself, his mind was gripped by the Christian gospel, its compelling power and its balanced logic, like the majestic self-supporting arches of a great cathedral. He had no dramatic crisis of conversion, but there came a point when he had committed himself entirely to the Christian gospel. After that, as he sat in the consulting room, listening to the symptoms of those who came to see him, he realised that what so many of his patients needed was not ordinary medicine, but the gospel he had discovered for himself. He could deal with the symptoms, but the worry, the tension, the obsessions could only be dealt with by the power of Christian conversion. Increasingly he felt that the best way to use his life and talents was to preach that gospel.
In 1927, Lloyd-Jones left medicine to become the minister of a small Presbyterian church in Aberavon, South Wales named the Bethlehem Forward Movement Church ("Sandfields"), mainly among the working class.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Bart Interrupted: Coda

Ben Witherington has posted the coda to his review of Bart Ehrman's Jesus, Interrupted.

The Twitterati

Every time we have the advent of a new communications technology, we have social critics who bemoan the fall of Western civilization. I think it would behoove us to be a bit more discriminating.

I’ll begin by drawing a broad distinction. There seem to be two types of people: people-people and thing-people. People-people are into other people while thing-people are into things.

For example, you can see this in some painters. Some painters like to paint people while other painters like to paint landscapes. Generally speaking, Renoir is a people-person while Monet is a thing-person.

You can see the same phenomenon in movies. Some directors are into character-driven drama while other directors use the plot as an excuse to photograph exotic locations or experiment with computer graphics.

Thing-people relate to nature. To natural beauty. They also relate to art and music.

People-people are often oblivious to natural beauty or artistic beauty. They could happen to be present when the most glorious sunset in the whole history of the world was unfolding before their eyes, and they’d be seated, with their back turned to the sunset, chatting away on their cellphone. It makes no difference to them whether they find themselves in a Wall-Mart, Santa Sophia, or the New Jerusalem.

Now, this distinction is not a criticism. There are tradeoffs between people-people and thing-people. Turner would make a poor father, friend, or husband. He’s never be around. He’d be off painting a Venetian sunset.

On the other hand, some thing-people wish to share their joys and pleasures with others. So even thing-people can be people-oriented to some degree. They discover something wonderful and then describe it to others so that other people can see it through their attentive eyes and thereby participate in their enjoyment.

Since this seems to go to a fundamental divide between different personality-types, there’s no point railing against one or the other. It’s hardwired.

However, there are two-types of people-people. Some people-people are outgoing. They care about other people. Are empathetic. The world is obviously a better place for having people-people of this sort.

But then there’s the egocentric people-person. This is paradoxical sort of person. He doesn’t relate to other people. Rather, other people exist to relate to him. In a way, he treats people in the same way he treats things.

He thinks a Redwood tree grew on that very spot so that he could take a picture of himself under the Redwood tree. He doesn’t stop for the tree. To study the tree. To admire the tree. No, he only stops to have his picture taken. The Redwood tree is just nice backdrop for his self-postcard.

Everything is a background for himself–including other people. If you transported him to the Last Supper, he’d ask the beloved disciple to hold his camera so that he could have his picture taken with Jesus.

Egocentric people-people never notice anything, or observe anything. For them, life is just a checklist.

There’s no point attacking people-people per se. We should at least distinguish between outgoing people-people and egocentric people-people. Egocentric people-people are shallow and blind. And some of the thing-people are no great improvement, either.

Why do textual criticism?

“He [Ehrman] asked why men like Daniel Wallace invest so much time and money in studying textual variants if those variants aren't significant.”

I lifted this sentence from Jason Engwer’s review of the White/Ehrman debate. I’d like to respond to it myself.

1.The fact that most variants are insignificant is a conclusion of textual criticism. That’s not something which could be known in advance.

Although it may sound paradoxical, we often have to investigate something to find out whether it’s worth the time to investigate.

A reporter may sink a lot of man-hours into investigating a potential scandal to see if there’s anything there. Sometimes his investigation turns up nothing of consequence. No one did anything wrong.

2.Ehrman’s objection is also hypocritical on his part. One reason we have to keep revisiting text-critical issues which have already been settled is because militant apostates like Ehrman act as if there’s a problem with the textual transmission of the Bible. So we are forced to cover the same ground time and again.

3.Like any other field of knowledge, textual criticism is a value-laden exercise. Traditionally, textual criticism drew a bright line between lower criticism and higher criticism.

It took for granted the initial existence of an urtext. The objective of textual criticism was to recover, as far as possible, the urtext. To produce a critical edition of the Bible which approximated, as far as possible, the wording of the urtext.

The underlying assumption went something like this: Luke dictated his Gospel to a scribe. Luke inspected the draft transcript, and then directed the scribe to make whatever changes were necessary. The scribe then produced a final draft. That’s the urtext. Maybe Luke also kept a copy for himself.

An authorized copy was sent to Theophilus. As a Roman official, Theophilus had his own scribe, so he probably had some copies made for his friends.

However, if you’re a theological liberal, then you call the underlying assumption into question. Lower criticism merges with higher criticism, for “authorship” becomes a moving target.

On a liberal view, the Gospel of Luke passed through various stages of composition, with various redactors along the way, making their creative contributions to this evolving tradition. There is no bright line between an author and a scribe. There is no final draft or finished product. It’s a work in progress.

On this view, the final stage is when the church decides to canonize a particular book. That becomes the official edition.

On this view, there’s no fundamental difference between canonical books and apocryphal books. That’s an arbitrary demarcation, superimposed on a wider collection of books by the all-powerful church–which represents the “winners.” Canonical books are books sponsored by the winners, whereas apocryphal books are books by the losers.

On this view, textual criticism becomes a way of rediscovering the rival “Christianities” in early Christendom. On this view, the NT itself represents one anthology of competing “Christianities.” The aim of textual criticism is not to recover the text, but to uncover the long-lost history of the winners and the losers–which the winners suppressed.

This approach to textual criticism is appealing in another respect. Textual criticism is a pretty dry field of study. One way to spice it up is to turn textual criticism into a detective story wherein the textual critic exposes the dishy palace intrigues that allegedly fed into the NT as we have it today.

That’s a lot more fun than tracking the frequency of the movable-nu in 5000 Greek MSS.

So one reason we need to spend more time on textual criticism than we ought to is that textual criticism has been politicized. It’s becomes an allegory for class-warfare. Instead of the Contras against Sandinistas, with the CIA arming its favorite faction, it’s the Ebionites and Marcionites and Gnostics against the “Proto-Orthodox,” with the Almighty Church arming its favorite faction.

4.Finally, you always need some scholars in each generation who study the primary sources. Even if Metzger’s textual commentary on the NT is more than sufficient for our needs, you’d want some scholars in every generation who do their own fact-checking. Who go back to the sources and reexamine scholarly conclusions. In many cases the effect may be to confirm scholarly conclusions, but you wouldn’t want a situation in which everyone relies on second-hand scholarship.

Two observations about moral experience

The following is from the combox of Doug Geivett's latest post:
There are varieties of moral arguments for theism. One limitation of the argument presented in the debate is that some naturalists agree that there are objective moral “facts” and claim that these are abstract objects, and that their existence does not depend on God’s existence. These abstracta “govern” human behavior from a transcendent perspective; what it is to do the right thing is not socially determined, purely functional, or evolved through natural selection and social contracts. Now, a naturalist may have difficulty explaining the existence of such abstract entities. But they would’nt be committed to the kind of relativism that Christopher Hitchens is stuck with. Hitchens is in no position to answer Bill Craig’s argument in the way I’ve just described. If he had done so, Craig could simply have quoted from Hitchens’s book, establishing gross inconsistency between two conceptions of morality, one in the book and one during the debate. But Hitchens was vulnerable to the argument because of his fundamentally relativist view of ethics.

I prefer to make two observations about moral experience, either of which provides some evidence for theism. First, it isn’t just that some acts are morally right and others morally wrong, objectively; they are also performed with a sense of responsibility that transcends the value of community or survival. And this sense of responsibility is not caused by abstract moral facts, since abstract objects are causally inert. The existence of moral abstracta may explain what makes an action right or wrong; but their existence won’t explain why moral agents take themselves to be obligated in any deep sense to abide by the dictates of these entities.

Second, it is odd that there should be morally responsible agents in a world that is in no way causally affected by the existence of abstract moral truths or facts. These agents aren’t caused to exist and to be morally responsible agents by abstract objects. So there is this odd coincidence that there is a realm of abstract moral entities and that these apply to creatures such as ourselves, who have come to exist by utterly naturalistic or material processes. (Greg Ganssle has developed this point more fully than I have. See his excellent book Thinking about God: First Steps in Philosophy—IVP 2004.)

A Review Of The White/Ehrman Debate On The New Testament Text

I recently watched the debate between James White and Bart Ehrman, on the topic "Does The Bible Misquote Jesus?", which occurred this past January. (For a link to a transcript of the debate and a link for ordering the DVD version, go here.) I wrote about Bart Ehrman and my expectations for the debate in an earlier thread. The debate went as I expected.

Judging from his reaction to James White's opening remarks, as well as his uncertainties about what White believes and his misrepresentations of what White had said, I doubt that Ehrman knew much about White going into the debate. The difference between the two debaters in their level of preparation for the debate was evident. White frequently cited Ehrman's work, whereas Ehrman never cited White's. White generally went into more detail and made more of an effort to understand and interact with his opponent's arguments.

Unfortunately, some of the most significant comments occurred late in the debate, during the audience questions segment. In response to a question about the transmission of the New Testament documents prior to our earliest manuscripts, White correctly noted that we shouldn't remove these texts from their historical context. He mentioned the presence of eyewitnesses, including New Testament authors like the apostle Paul, during the earliest stages of textual transmission. He cited Richard Bauckham's Jesus And The Eyewitnesses (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006). There are reasons to trust the early transmission of the text, even where we have no manuscripts. White answered the audience member's question after Ehrman had replied to it, so Ehrman didn't have an opportunity to follow up on White's comments before the topic was changed.

However, White had mentioned another reason to trust the pre-manuscript transmission of the text earlier in the debate. He mentioned that if a different version of the text had existed earlier on, we'd expect it to be reflected in the later historical record. And Ehrman knows that the manuscripts aren't our only evidence for the reliability of the text. There are pre-manuscript sources who discuss what the text contained in their day, we can know the general outlines of the text by the beliefs of the people who lived prior to our earliest manuscripts, etc. Though White brought up some arguments in the audience question segment that he hadn't mentioned earlier, such as his citation of Bauckham, Ehrman should have addressed such evidence without waiting for White to bring it up. Instead, Ehrman didn't address such evidence at all. He just made vague references to how we allegedly don't know what the state of the text was prior to our earliest manuscripts.

Ehrman acknowledged that he's changed his position over the years regarding our knowledge of the original text. He's become more skeptical. But, during the opening and rebuttal periods of the debate, he referred to how we don't know the original text in some places. The implication is that we do know it in other places.

He made much of the fact that the text is more varied early on than it is later. The earlier manuscripts differ from one another more than the later manuscripts differ from each other. But he attributed the larger degree of textual variation early on to the more frequent use of non-professional scribes in earlier generations. It should be noted that such an appeal to the use of non-professional scribes implies honest mistakes in textual transmission rather than dishonest alterations. Atheists, Muslims, and other critics of Christianity who cite Ehrman on textual issues often have a dishonest altering of the text in mind, not honest mistakes made by people who lacked the training and experience of later scribes. As Ehrman has noted elsewhere:

"It is probably safe to say that the copying of early Christian texts was by and large a 'conservative' process. The scribes - whether non-professional scribes in the early centuries or professional scribes of the Middle Ages - were intent on 'conserving' the textual tradition they were passing on. Their ultimate concern was not to modify the tradition, but to preserve it for themselves and for those who would follow them. Most scribes, no doubt, tried to do a faithful job in making sure that the text they reproduced was the same text they inherited." (Misquoting Jesus [San Francisco, California: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005], p. 177)

In such an environment of general honesty, despite the existence of some dishonesty as well, why doubt the reliability of the earliest manuscripts we have? On the one hand, Ehrman keeps making much of the fact that we don't have any manuscripts from the earliest years of Christianity. On the other hand, he acknowledges that we have significant evidence for the reliability of the transmission of the text prior to the earliest manuscripts. I suspect that either he's undecided on the issue or he realizes that the overall balance of the evidence favors the reliability of the text, but he chooses to be vague on the issue or to play to people's doubts when it's to his advantage to do so.

Ehrman kept going back to the fact that the earlier manuscripts differ from one another more than the later manuscripts differ from one another, but even if we assume an even higher degree of variation prior to our earliest manuscripts, that variation would still be relatively low. Think about how different the original manuscripts would have to be in order to sustain some of the theories of atheists, Muslims, and other critics of Christianity. There isn't much significance in saying that textual variation increases as we go earlier into church history if the earliest levels of variation aren't nearly what they would need to be in order to sustain the critical theories.

Ehrman repeated an argument he often makes, despite the weakness of the argument and despite the fact that the argument had already been corrected when he used it in previous contexts. He asked why men like Daniel Wallace invest so much time and money in studying textual variants if those variants aren't significant. But there are differing degrees of significance. We can think that a textual variant has some significance without thinking that it has as much significance as somebody like Ehrman claims or implies. James White recently wrote a response to Ehrman on this subject.

Ehrman cited some of his usual examples of the alleged significance of the textual variants in the New Testament. He refers to the significance of the Johannine Comma in 1 John 5 in the context of Trinitarian doctrine, for example. I've discussed Ehrman's misuse of such variants elsewhere.

On the subject of the relationship between the Divine inspiration of the Bible and the preservation of the text, Ehrman argues that God would preserve what He wanted us to have. Since the original texts weren't preserved, why think that God inspired the originals? But the fact that God doesn't preserve the originals for us doesn't tell us whether we should view what has been preserved as inspired. And what's been lost could have been inspired and serve some purpose other than what Ehrman thinks it should, much as the Bible refers to other material that hasn't been preserved for us (John 21:25, etc.). Why think that every detail, down to the spelling of an ancient city name, for example, would have to be preserved? If the vast majority of the text has been preserved, as the evidence suggests and as Ehrman sometimes suggests, then why think that God hasn't preserved enough? The reason why God wouldn't need to keep performing miracles in order to prevent scribes from making mistakes is because the usual means of textual transmission would be sufficient to preserve what God wanted preserved.

I think this debate was useful in many contexts. James White is one of the best debaters in the church today. He's highly knowledgeable of textual issues. He made a good case for a high view of the reliability of the New Testament text. And he effectively demonstrated some of the weaknesses in Ehrman's position. Getting Ehrman to repeatedly acknowledge the New Testament's superiority to other ancient texts, and putting it in terms like "Misquoting Suetonius", was helpful. It was useful to demonstrate Ehrman's desire to avoid making negative comments about Islam, despite how obvious it is that his reasoning concerning Christianity would have to lead one to such conclusions about Islam as well. It was good to see Ehrman acknowledge that his view of how God should preserve the text is different from how Jesus and the apostles viewed the preservation of the Old Testament text. And it was good to see somebody speaking, in Ehrman's presence, about the misuse of Ehrman's material by men like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. I suspect that Ehrman was already aware of some of that misuse and encouraged it, but perhaps he'll make more of an effort to discourage it in the future. We'll see. At the least, we know that he's aware of the problem. Any Muslim who has used Ehrman's textual material against Christianity in the past should be more hesitant to use Ehrman's material in the future, if he watches this debate.

In future debates with Ehrman, I'd like to see his Christian opponents put more focus on the non-manuscript evidence for the reliability of the text. White mentioned Richard Bauckham's book, and I'd like to see Ehrman questioned about that book and its implications for textual issues. I'd like to see him asked about the implications of his acknowledgement that most of the early scribes were honest. Their honesty suggests that the earliest textual variants would primarily consist of honest mistakes. I'd like to see him asked about the general assumption of textual reliability among Christianity's enemies, both heretics and those who didn't even profess to be Christians. Although charges of textual change were sometimes made by Christianity's early enemies, the general assumption seems to be that the text is reliable. Christians and heretics argue over the same texts. Non-Christians usually assume textual reliability in their criticisms of the religion. Etc. There's a lot more I'd like to see asked of Ehrman, but his debate with James White is a step in the right direction. I'd especially recommend the debate to those who are less knowledgeable of textual issues, but even those who are more knowledgeable should find it helpful on some points.