Saturday, October 10, 2009

Private charity & social justice


“I recently read Friedmans ‘Capitalism&Freedom’ where he puts forward som good arguments for laissez-faire. He does however agree that alleviation of poverty should be state financed, due to the fact that everyone benefits from the fact that poverty is alleviated. I was wondering if you agree that the state should have some responsibility in these matters? How much in that case and how is it justified, on capitalistic grounds?”

That’s a very broad question, so it’s not simple to answer.

The poor may be poor for a variety of reasons.

1.They may be poor due to institutional poverty. You might have a Marxist regime with economic policies which impoverish the populace.

In a sense, the state could alleviate that problem by changing its policies. But the state is the source of the problem, so short of armed insurrection, we can’t look to the state to solve the problem when the state created the problem.

Likewise, you might have a banana republic in which drug lords confiscate most of the wealth, and bribe or extort gov’t officials to insure their monopoly.

Since, in that situation, the state is on the take, we can’t look to the state to clean up the mess. It’s like asking a junkie to police the pharmacy.

You can also have well-intentioned social programs that foster a culture of dependency, delinquency, and poverty.

2.Or people may be poor because the area in which they live is too inhospitable to support that population density. Not much the state can do about that.

3.Or people may be poor due to their lifestyle choices. Once again, there’s not much the state can do about that.

4.Apropos (1)-(3), people can be poor through no fault of their own, or bring it on themselves. Take people with preexisting medical conditions.

i) I saw a story about a woman whose mother, grandmother, and three brothers all died from diabetes. She herself has diabetes because she’s morbidly obese.

In that case, she knowingly and willfully engages in self-destructive behavior. I have no obligation to foot the bill for her healthcare. Same thing with chain-smokers who contract lung-cancer.

ii) Then you have coal miners who come down with black lung disease. That’s an occupational hazard, but that was contracted from an honorable effort to provide themselves and their kin. A very different situation than (i). They were trying to do the responsible thing, given their limited opportunities.

At the very least, the company should be required by law to provide worker’s comp.

iii) Then you have people who indulge in high-risk behavior when they are young and foolish, but have tried to kick the habit. They realize that their past “indiscretions” were imprudent and destructive. They’d like to turn their life around. Yet they may have ruined their health in the process. So they can’t completely turn back the clock.

Recovering alcoholics and drug-attics are paradigm-cases. They’re entitled to more compassion that someone who’s impenitent. Someone who continues to pursue his self-destructive behavior.

iv) Then you have people who are disabled or incapacitated by an accident or illness through no fault of their own. They, too, are entitled to more compassion than someone who is willfully reckless.

v) Social responsibilities also vary according to our relationship to the individual.

If a junkie is a perfect stranger, then I don’t have the same obligations to him that I have in case the junkie is my kid brother or childhood friend.

In the case of a sibling or best friend, I have an obligation to do whatever I can–within reason. I don’t have the same degree of obligation in the case of a perfect stranger.

vi) A supportive family should be our first resort. Private charity should be our second resort. Public assistance should be our last resort.

5.Let’s also keep in mind that many social ills are due to sin. Evangelism and discipleship can lessen many social ills.

6.Finally, Greg Bahnsen summarizes some Biblical principles of charity and social justice:

How, then, would God's word direct us to show concern for the poor and needy?[3]

First, by not hiding from their needs -- isolating ourselves so that we need not encounter the cries of the poor. The Bible condemns "stopping the ears" and "hiding the eyes" (Proverbs 21:13; 28:27), not so subtle ways of remaining insensitive to the plight of the less fortunate around us. "The righteous takes knowledge of the cause of the poor" (Proverbs 29:7). Indeed, when he gives a dinner, he is acquainted with and able to invite the poor who cannot recompense him (Luke 14:12-14).

Second, and most obviously, we are urged to show neighborly pity to the poor (cf. Proverbs 14:21) by giving generously to relieve their specific needs -- making direct gifts to buy groceries or clothes, pay utility bills, underwrite medical treatment, etc. (Matthew 25:35-39; Luke 14:12-14). "The righteous gives and withholds not" (Proverbs 21:26; cf. 22:9).

Third, God's law protects and provides favorable social arrangements for the poor and needy, such as the prohibitions on taking the necessities of life as collateral (Exodus 22:26-27; Deuteronomy 24:22-13) or charging interest on loans made to them (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:35-37; Deuteronomy 15:7-11; 23:19-20). It sometimes happens that a person cannot afford a donation to a brother in need, but can loan him some money for a time. It is a Christian virtue not to turn away those who would borrow from us (Matthew 5:42), expecting nothing in return (Luke 6:35). In such a case, it would be immoral to profit from your brother's distress: the loan may not carry interest charges. God Himself will pay back such a good deed (Proverbs 19:17), whereas the violation of this command from God will lead you to lose your financial gain to someone else more gracious (Proverbs 28:8).

Fourth, the law of God also provides for the poor through the favorable social arrangement of requiring us to allow gleaning (Leviticus 19:9-10; 23:22; Deuteronomy 24:19-20). The leftovers in our fields, the pickings which fall to the ground, and the unreaped corners of the fields are to be made available to those who are in need. The poor may hereby work to support themselves and may meet their families' needs with whatever they are able to carry away (thus placing natural requirements and restraints upon the scope of this provision). The application of this divine requirement outside of agricultural settings is not inconceivable (e.g., donation of our still-useable clothes, furniture, appliances, cash change from the market or restaurant, etc.).

Fifth, the word of God offers us wisdom to see that it is inappropriate and worthy of disapprobation for someone to use his advantage in the free market to drive up prices on items which are basic necessities of life. "He who withholds grain, the people shall curse him; but blessing shall be upon the head of him who sells it" (Proverbs 11:26). The greed which would corner the market on some commodity which is a staple of life, calculating to withhold it from sale in order to make people desperate and increase the profit on its sale later, will be cursed.

Sixth, the scriptures require us to protect the property rights of those in society who virtually have no voice, who are easiest to exploit, and who have the least political clout -- people like the orphans and widows (Deuteronomy 10:18; Psalm 68:5; Proverbs 15:25; 22:28; 23:10-11). Tampering with their boundaries or in other ways diminishing the use and value of their property and belongings -- whether through legislation or deceptive contracts or manipulative lawsuits -- provokes the vengeance of their Redeemer according to the Bible, and we should intercede to take their side as well. This is especially needful in a culture where it has become so costly (and tricky) in civil court to resolve disputes and guard one's rights.

Seventh, Christians who plead for the rights of the needy in lawsuits as well as those who are entrusted with judicial authority, such as judges in our courts, are especially commanded by God to relieve the easy social oppression of the needy and to guard against judicial prejudice toward them. God expects kings to "deliver the poor and needy" (Ps. 72:2-4, 12-14) -- which means, according to the Biblical text itself, that they are to "break their oppressors" by securing fairness in the courts and protecting them from "bribes," "fraud and violence" (Leviticus 19:15; Ex. 23:3, 6; Ps. 82:1-4; Amos 5:11-12; cf. Proverbs 22:22-23; 29:14).

Eighth, another way in which those in need are defrauded is when wealthy employers take advantage of them by delaying or holding back the wages of their workers (Leviticus 19:13; James 5:1-6). In such cases the Christian must come to the worker's defense and seek the fulfillment of obligations made to him, lest his economic condition be further worsened. Likewise, Christians ought to take a stand for protecting the freedom of the poor in the marketplace so that they are guaranteed an opportunity to compete for jobs (e.g., over against closed union shops, etc.; cf. Matthew 20:1-16) and to compete at a price that renders them more likely to be hired (e.g., over against wage requirements set by the state, etc.; cf. Revelation 13:17). To deny people the freedom to compete in the marketplace and thereby enjoy upward economic mobility violates the love we are to have for our neighbors and transgresses the golden rule.

Ninth, Christian families must make it a point to make provision for meeting the economic needs of their family members (1 Timothy 5:8), in particular those who fall upon hard times. This will call not only for industry and avoidance of sloth to take care of ordinary living expenses (e.g., Proverbs 6:6-11; 10:4; 19:15; 20:4; 23:21; 24:30-34), but also foresight and frugality to meet emergency needs which could not be predicted (cf. e.g., Leviticus 25:25, 49). Likewise, as an extension of such loving provision, families may show benevolence to fellow-believers who have become insolvent debtors by allowing the poor brother voluntarily to sell himself (actually, his labor) into their servitude, thereby coming to be treated and cared for as part of the household. His debts would be paid (Leviticus 25:39), he would learn responsible labor and financial saving (perhaps enough to buy his own release: Leviticus 25:49), and in time he would be given liberal provisions to start a new life (Deuteronomy 15:14).

Tenth and very importantly, the Christian congregation should corporately minister to the needs of the poor. The office of deacon was specifically ordained as a ministry of mercy to the needy, for instance the daily assistance to widows (Acts 6:1-6). Tithes and offerings which God calls for are regularly to be used for the relief of the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28-29).[4] And special offerings are to be taken by the church to take care of Christians suffering from special hardships or emergencies (e.g., I Corinthians 16:1-2; Romans 15:25-27; 2 Corinthians 8). The charitable agency of the church is one of the most enduring, powerful and efficient means of distributing financial aid to people in need. Such distribution of charity is motivated by voluntary and divinely sanctioned sacrifices and offerings from God's people. Its resources ought to be a ten-percent baseline of the earnings, however great or small, of all of God's people -- then further fueled by the freewill offerings of grateful believers who have been blessed with enough to meet their own needs. The oversight and administration are local, accountable to the congregation, and far less vulnerable to freeloading, fraud, and the expenses of a top-heavy bureaucracy.

Remission, redemption, & punishment


“Even with the most serious serial killers, we have not merely practical limits, but moral limits on the degree to which we may punish.”

i) The only moral limit is the principle that a punishment should not exceed the crime.

ii) That, however, doesn’t mean the punishment should be limited. Rather, it means the punishment should be limited in case the culpability of the crime is limited.

Yes, there are degrees of punishment commensurate with the crime. But that doesn’t prejudge the gravity of the crime. Hence, that doesn’t prejudge the severity of the punishment.

If there is no limit to the degree of culpability, then there is no limit to the degree of punishment.

iii) Put another way, the moral limitation is not a chronological limitation. Rather, it’s an abstract principle of proportionality. It doesn’t tell you in advance where, if at all, the cut-off point may lie.

iv) Since moreover, you’re so fond of intuition, I don’t share your intuitive confidence in the moral limits on the degree to which (to take one example) the killer of Jessica Lunsford–(the 9-year-old girl who was kidnapped, raped, and buried alive) deserves to suffer for his crimes.

“Yes, we may believe that we ought to execute a Dahmer or a Himmler, but we may not torture them, in spite of the tortures that they inflicted on others.”

i) If you’re arguing on the basis of moral intuition, then you can’t take that for granted.

ii) It also depends on the “we.” Intuitively speaking, I don’t intuit a moral prohibition against the victims of Dahmer or Himmler inflicting pain on their killers.

iii) However, I have no reason to define severe punishment in terms of torture.

Punishment can take various forms. A lost opportunity can be punitive. To be denied a one-time offer to do something you always wanted to do can be punitive. You forever regret the lost opportunity. Rue what you missed

Likewise, despair can be punitive. To live with the realization that things will never improve, never get any better for you, can also be punitive. And that doesn’t mean your situation has to be as painful as possible.

“But suppose we had all of the resources of the Catholic Purgatory. We have all the time we need to inflict whatever punishment the action deserves. Let's assume we have a repentant sinner, someone who is not reoffending. Let's say we have Hitler or Stalin, so we have worst of evil deeds to be punished. Let's say we make Hitler feel the suffering of every Jew he sent to the camps. At some point, maybe in 1000, or 10,000 years, isn't there a point at which it makes sense to say ‘OK, justice has been served, he's suffered enough, the punishment has gone far enough.’ The evil deeds, at least from the perspective of the justice system, are finite in the harm they do. If we think that these actions harmed others to a finite degree, then it looks as if there has to be some finite degree to which the punishment has to be calibrated. Whereas in hell, you've no less days to roast away than when you first begun. We can't inflict on Hitler all of the pain he inflicted on others, but if we could, surely it would have to come to an end sometime.”

I don’t share you’re unspoken assumption. You seem to assume that punishment is exculpatory. That punishment remits guilt. The offender has “paid his debt to society.”

I see no reason to accept that assumption. The only thing which can absolve the offender is redemption, not punishment.

The fact that an offender is getting his just deserts doesn’t mean his just deserts are exculpatory.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Our secret weapon

I’ve just discovered a secret weapon to defeat the forces of godlessness.

Atheists recruited to be part of a lawsuit that is trying to rid government ceremonies such as the inauguration of a president of any invocation or other prayer have claimed they are made physically ill by prayer.

"As I watched the inauguration, my stomach did a somersault with disgust for how much our country was violating the constitution (sic), the most important document in our country," wrote a 15-year-old in testimony being given to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

"All the prayers made me feel excluded from the political process and a second-class citizen," wrote another. "But, when Chief Justice Roberts asked the president to say, 'So help me God,' I felt threatened and sick to my stomach."

The next step is for card-carrying members of the religious right to form roving prayer posses. Prayer posses will be stationed within earshot of strategic locations like the White House, Supreme Court, Capitol Hill, Harvard Yard, Berkeley, San Francisco, Sacramento, Hollywood, the UN, ACLU, CNN, NEA, New York Times, and so forth–to incapacitate godless liberals from promoting and implementing their godless policies. The sound of prayer will cause all godless liberals to double over in pain.

Prayers will also be uploaded onto iPods, and FedExed to members of the President’s Cabinet as well as members of the House Democratic Caucus.

In addition, subliminal prayers will be encoded in TV commercials, rock music, and AOL email–using backmasking and 25th frame effect.

As liberal paralysis spreads up and down the East Coast and the Left Coast, Taliban Republicans will be prepositioned to seize the reins of power and impose a Christian theocracy on the nation.

Surfer dudes will be required to dress like Mormon missionaries while Valley Girls will be required to dress like characters in Little House on the Prairie. Public school students shall be given remedial English courses in the King James Bible.

"Scripture or Science?"

An excellent response -- thoughtful and thought-provoking -- from Dr James Anderson regarding the question of how one might reconcile Scripture and science (specifically, in this case, the theory of evolution). Well worth reading if one has the time and inclination.


“Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses” (1 Tim 5:19).

I see that Scott Clark has done a new post, which is really not so new after all, on Tim Keller and the usual suspects. Clark is one of those folks who likes to write the same post 50 different times in 50 different ways. Same cast of characters. Just rearrange the furniture.

For now I’m not going to discuss the pros and cons of his post. I’m not evaluating the merits of the issue. On issues like sola fide, I take the same position is Francis Turretin.

Instead, I’m going to make a point of order. Like a Chimera, Scott Clark is two persons trapped in one body.

In his day job, Clark is a high churchman. A faithful and dutiful son of the Magisterial Reformation. Canon lawyer. Doing all things decently and in good order. Everything by the book.

But on the night shift, Clark is the Heidelbaptist or Anablogger. A true heir to the Radical Reformation.

You see, if Clark were serious about church order and church discipline, he’d go through channels. For one thing, he attacks people who don’t even belong to his own denomination. The URC, PCA, and so on, each has its own appellate system. Its own authority-structure.

It’s not his place to bring charges. He’s out of order.

And even if he were to take issue with someone outside his own denomination, the proper course of action would be for him to privately present his evidence to the authorities-that-be. To the pertinent session, presbytery, synod, stated clerk. Quietly draw their attention to his concerns, to his supporting material, if any, then leave it in their hands to deal with. To let the process take it’s course according to the bylaws of that Reformed denomination.

But he doesn’t trust the process. Or respect the process. So he behaves like that most noxious and libertine of all ecclesiastical entities: the radical Anabaptist!

He goes outside the system. Outside the chain-of-command. A one-man church court with universal jurisdiction.

When you run him through the CT scanner you discover a subdermal low-churchman inside an epidermal high-churchman. That makes for a fairly crowded coexistence–or so I’d suppose.

Perhaps someone should contact his ecclesiastical superiors to ask him why he doesn’t honor the institutional mechanisms for resolving these alleged abuses.

Dawkins' new book

Here are some excerpts from two consumer reviews of Dawkins' new book.


A good book, but didn't live up to its subtitle, September 28, 2009

By The Agnostic Apatheist (New York, NY) - See all my reviews

This book is the latest among a long list of evolutionary texts by Dawkins. By his own admission, this book differs from his previous works. While his other books assume the truth of evolution, and thus, sought to answer specific and common criticisms against evolution (often espoused by creationists), this is the first time Dawkins has attempted to lay out the actual evidence for its acceptance by the scientific community.

My number one complaint is that he did not provide much in evidence, and where he did provide evidence it was short on detail. For instance, in Chapter 2, Dawkins mentions that all dog breeds are descended from the wolf. Similarly, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and other commonly distinct vegetables today are all descendants of the wild cabbage. While this might seem evident to the scientifically literate, if you don't accept evolution, you might need some convincing to show that this is true. But he doesn't provide evidence or even an explanation of how we know that dogs descended from wolves or broccoli from cabbage. He merely asserts this as evidence and then moves on to chapter 3, which concerns natural selction.

In chapter 3, he discusses flowers and insects (and birds) and presents this as evidence for evolution (specifically by natural selection). But he doesn't provide much explanation of how we know this to be true. For instance, why should we conclude that this arrangement between pollen producing flower and pollinating insect to be the result of co-evolution? How do we know that the pollen producing flower was not always the way it is and that the pollinating insect was not always the way it is and that these two merely "found" or discovered one another, in essence, falling into and exploiting a niche that was always present? [This might seem crazy, but this was actually used in an argument by a creationist]

Another criticism. He was careful to define the distinction between a scientific theory and a mere hypothesis or conjecture. Yet through much of the first few chapters of his book, he is short on evidence and long on speculation. For instance, he mentions the Heika japonica crab, with the resemblance of a samurai warrior on the back of its shell. While Carl Sagan states that this was the result of natural selection, Dawkins states it probably was not; it was likely coincidence. But this very case has often been cited as evidence for evolution (by selection). Is this evidence of evolution or not? And if not, then why is Dawkins' mentioning this in his book. If anything it calls into question how we determine that something is the result of evolution (and therefore qualified as evidence), as opposed to coincidence or something else? From this example, it seems almost arbitrary.

His review of the fossil record is compelling but rehashes the same information presented in other books. And he doesn't explain how we know that the discovered fossils represent a history of the same clad, as opposed to distinct, unrelated organisms. This is particularly important since we are often comparing fossils from different time periods, from different geographical locations, and don't have access to the entire skeletal remains (let alone genetic information) of the organisms that we are claiming are descended from one another. For example, how do we know that we aren't merely pattern seeking when we look at Pakicetus, Ambulocetus, and Basilosaurus? Or Australopithecus and Homo? Moreover, he spends most of the chapter on human evolution explaining why paleontologists feud over the specific genus (or species) of particular fossils and why such arguments would be predicted under evolution precisely because they represent intermediates. But his explanation could've been condensed into 1 paragraph. It would've been far better if he spent the time to present more evidence among the mountains of evidence that are claimed to exist.

His chapter, "You did it yourself in nine months", was spent explaining by analogy that matter is capable of self assembly from the bottom-up, rather than a top-down approach as espoused by creationists. He presents his hypothesis that this is possible via "local rules" and uses the analogies of the starling and origami as examples, but this is not evidence. In fact, while analogy can clarify and improve understanding, it does not constitute evidence. Dawkins forgets that the "local rules" are functioning from a template coded in our genome. Thus, can we truly say that it is the "local rules" that create the appearance of design when a recipe is necessary for determining these "local rules"? He needs to show that the genome is capable of self assembly by local rules and that a complex organism can be created from this base. While he implies that possibility during his discussion of viruses, he does not provide much detail. Thus, the reader is left unconvinced and with more questions. Thus, if you get to this point, you will have read 50% of the book and realize that much of the book has been devoted to explanation, speculation, hypotheses, and very few presentation of actual evidence. He uses computer models to illustrate or make his points. But once again, while these models may help explain concepts, they do not constitute evidence.

My final criticism is in regard to his reference section. Most good books concerning scientific topics contain plenty of references to primary articles. But there are very few primary articles listed in this book. In fact, you'll find more scientific literature referenced in a pop diet book than here. And I am not joking! Go to a bookstore and look at the "Notes" section of Dawkins' book yourself. He does include a bibliography, but most of the entries represent secondary or tertiary sources. This doesn't mean the information is inaccurate, but it would've been nice to have citations to primary sources for those wanting to do further research.

There are some experiments mentioned in the book (rather clever ones too), but given the fact that evolutionists are always touting the volumes of evidence (and not just from fossils) for the fact of evolution, I was disappointed to find that only a handful are mentioned in the book. As mentioned earlier, most of the book is either providing background information (about rudimentary chemistry or biology), providing explanation, or tearing down common creationist arguments or criticisms against evolution, rather than focusing on positive evidence favoring evolution. Moreover, Dawkins practically ignores the evidence from molecular biology and glosses over genetics.

In short, Dawkins writes his book as if he is talking to a fellow evolutionist (preaching to the choir). But such a person does not need convincing or evidence of evolution. You can merely point or mention the "obvious" and expect the person to understand. You don't need to go into detail or explain much. On the other hand, if you do not accept evolution or require convincing, then you will likely find that Dawkins assumes too much and does not provide sufficient data or detail as to why evolution is the best explanation for the observations under discussion.

Needless to say, I was disappointed with the book since it failed to live up to its subtitle - "The Evidence for Evolution" [emphasis mine].

Great Show, Lousy Argument, September 22, 2009

By David Marshall (Seattle area) - See all my reviews

But why does an Oxford zoologist insist on "debating" only the most ignorant opponents? Why does he give us a more than four page transcript of his conversation with a representative from Concerned Women for America, whom he tears to pieces to his evident satisfaction, and never mention any proponent of Intelligent Design?

I was hoping he would. I wanted to read Dawkins' best argument against the most convincing arguments the other side could put up, for the curious reason that I really would like to know if there's anything to ID.

Instead, I found a strange but yawning "gap" in Dawkins' argument.

Dawkins knows who Michael Behe is. He wrote a review of his last book, The Edge of Evolution, for the New York Times. He never mentions him overtly in this book, but he does refer to him, at least twice. On page 128, Dawkins refers to "the 'irreducible complexity' of creationist propaganda." Then again on 132, he writes how "creationists" revile a certain set of experiments, because they show the power of natural selection "undermines their central dogma of irreducible complexity." As Dawkins well knows, "Irreducible complexity" is the signal idea in Behe's popular Darwin's Black Box, probably the most widely-cited book in the ID arsenal.

These references occur in an interesting context here. You find them in a chapter called "Before Our Own Eyes," about the fact that on occasion, evolution occurs so rapidly that it can be witnessed. More specifically, Dawkins offers these jibes towards the beginning of a seventeen-page long discussion of Richard Lenski's experiments with e-coli.

Dawkins discussion of these experiments is more than a little flabbergasting, giving his claim to have read Edge of Evolution. Behe discussed those experiments in that book, in quite a bit of detail as I recall. Behe also discussed the mutations Dawkins refers to here in a blog about a year ago. Dawkins mentions none of that. He says nothing about the probility of particular mutations compared to population size. He doesn't even deal with the physiological detail Behe gave. Reading this, it is hard to believe that he even read chapter 7 of Behe's book, still less his blog on how one "tribe" of e-coli found a way to metabolize citrate. He imagines that these experimental results are a great blow to Behe's concept of IC, completely overlooking the fact that these results are just what Behe predicted! A single instance of a probably double mutation in e coli after trillions of cell divisions, is closely in line with Behe's predictions. Surely someone as literate as Dawkins ought to be able to see this. Behe wrote in his blog a year ago:

"In The Edge of Evolution I had argued that the extreme rarity of the development of chloroquine resistance in malaria was likely the result of the need for several mutations to occur before the trait appeared. Even though the evolutionary literature contains discussions of multiple mutations, Darwinian reviewers drew back in horror, acted as if I had blasphemed, and argued desperately that a series of single beneficial mutations certainly could do the trick. Now here we have Richard Lenski affirming that the evolution of some pretty simple cellular features likely requires multiple mutations."

So Behe knows very well that duel mutations can aid in evolution on occasion. How bizarre for Dawkins to treat the same thing here as the death knell of IC!

Dawkins also claims that in Lenski's experiment:

"It all happened in a tiny faction of the time evolution normally takes."

Nonsense. 20,000 generations is the equivalent of 400,000 years for human beings. A trillion individuals would be equal to perhaps 20 million years of human evolution.

Dawkins then talks about how bacteria develop resistance to drugs -- the main subject of Behe's book, but he takes no notice whatsoever of any of the tough details Behe discusses. All we get are glib words of comfort for anyone who might doubt the power of evolution, and an attack on "goons and fools" at some conservative web site led by a lawyer. Dawkins seems to refuse to engage in any but the most childish contrary arguments -- a remarkable act of self-discipline for a scholar.

I'm finding it hard to "place" this guy. There's no doubt he knows a lot about the natural world, and is in love with its wonders. No one can deny that he is a brilliant and evocative writer, that his similes are often moving and suggestive, and that many eminent scientists swear by him. Nor would I deny this book is worth reading.

But Richard Dawkins seems to me less a scholar, and even rhetorical pugalist, than that sort of mythologist, like Freud, Nietzche, or Marx, who cloaks his beliefs in the language but not always the rigor of scientific argument. To the extent he argues, he only seems inclined, to take on the easiest possible targets; indeed one gets the feeling both here and in GD that he is talking down to his readers.

Cold case files

I’ll be commenting on some excerpts from Dawkins’ new book. Here’s the source:

Ironically enough, the title comes from a slogan by P. T. Barnum. Ironic, I say, because Barnum is also famous for another catch-phrase attributed to him: “There's a sucker born every minute.”

So Dawkins is the P. T. Barnum of Darwinians.

“The plight of many science teachers today is not less dire. When they attempt to expound the central and guiding principle of biology; when they honestly place the living world in its historical context — which means evolution; when they explore and explain the very nature of life itself, they are harried and stymied, hassled and bullied, even threatened with loss of their jobs. At the very least their time is wasted at every turn. They are likely to receive menacing letters from parents and have to endure the sarcastic smirks and close-folded arms of brainwashed children. They are supplied with state-approved textbooks that have had the word ‘evolution’ systematically expunged, or bowdlerized into ‘change over time’. Once, we were tempted to laugh this kind of thing off as a peculiarly American phenomenon.”

i) Yes, the last thing we want is for public employees to be answerable to the public. Where did taxpayers ever get the idea that they have some right to say what their tax dollars go to support?

ii) By the same token, it’s outrageous to think that parents should have any say in the education of their kids. After all, their kids aren’t really their kids. Rather, all children are wards of the state. Public education is a form of foster care.

iii) At the same time, I’m a bit puzzled about the specter of Darwinians who lose their jobs. Seems to me the reverse is generally the case.

“What we must not do is complacently assume that, because bishops and educated clergy accept evolution, so do their congregations. Alas there is ample evidence to the contrary from opinion polls. More than 40 per cent of Americans deny that humans evolved from other animals, and think that we — and by implication all of life — were created by God within the last 10,000 years. The figure is not quite so high in Britain, but it is still worryingly large. And it should be as worrying to the churches as it is to scientists… The history-deniers themselves are among those who I am trying to reach.”

That would be more convincing if he didn’t have a habit of studiously ducking debates with the very folks he says he’s trying to reach.

“This book is necessary. I shall be using the name ‘historydeniers’ for those people who deny evolution: who believe the world’s age is measured in thousands of years rather than thousands of millions of years, and who believe humans walked with dinosaurs.”

Of course, this is just a ruse. Dawkins is equally opposed to young-earth creationists, old-earth creationists, theistic evolutionists, and intelligent design theorists. He singles out young-earth creationists because he thinks they’re easy targets, and then uses that association to tar every other theistic alternative.

“To return to the enlightened bishops and theologians, it would be nice if they’d put a bit more effort into combating the anti-scientific nonsense that they deplore. All too many preachers, while agreeing that evolution is true and Adam and Eve never existed, will then blithely go into the pulpit and make some moral or theological point about Adam and Eve in their sermons without once mentioning that, of course, Adam and Eve never actually existed!”

It’s true that a certain percentage of clergymen lead a double life–saying one thing in public while they believe something very different in private.

“They may add witheringly that, obviously, nobody would be so foolish as to take their words literally. But do their congregations know that? How is the person in the pew, or on the prayer-mat, supposed to know which bits of scripture to take literally, which symbolically? Is it really so easy for an uneducated churchgoer to guess? In all too many cases the answer is clearly no, and anybody could be forgiven for feeling confused.”

Of course, this assumes that many or most churchgoers are uneducated. Since, however, many churchgoers are college-educated professionals, it’s not as though they’re totally dependent on the pastor for their information. For that matter, you don’t have to have a formal education to inform yourself.

“Evolution is a fact. Beyond reasonable doubt, beyond serious doubt, beyond sane, informed, intelligent doubt, beyond doubt evolution is a fact. The evidence for evolution is at least as strong as the evidence for the Holocaust, even allowing for eye witnesses to the Holocaust…Evolution is a fact, and [my] book will demonstrate it. No reputable scientist disputes it, and no unbiased reader will close the book doubting it… Evolution is an inescapable fact...”

Yes, evolution is a fact. Hard, incontrovertible fact.

And how do we know it’s a fact? By the number of adjectives we can line up in one sentence. That’s how you prove a scientific theory. By the cumulative use of emphatic, redundant adjectives. Rows and rows of adjectival evidence.

“It is the plain truth that we are cousins of chimpanzees, somewhat more distant cousins of monkeys, more distant cousins still of aardvarks and manatees, yet more distant cousins of bananas and turnips . . . continue the list as long as desired.”

I haven’t seen any actual polling data on chimpanzees, but I suspect the average, self-respecting chimp would bitterly resent undignified comparisons between his kind and Richard Dawkins.

And for fruits and vegetables, I’ll admit that the quality of Dawkins’ argument may well rival cognitive skills of even the best-endowed banana or turnip.

“We are like detectives who come on the scene after a crime has been committed. The murderer’s actions have vanished into the past. The detective has no hope of witnessing the actual crime with his own eyes. What the detective does have is traces that remain, and there is a great deal to trust there. There are footprints, fingerprints (and nowadays DNA fingerprints too), bloodstains, letters, diaries. The world is the way the world should be if this and this history, but not that and that history, led up to the present.”

That’s not necessarily a bad analogy for the scientific method. But remember that many cases go unsolved. Cold cases. Investigations where all leads lead to dead ends. Moth-eaten boxes on dusty shelves in musty warehouses.

And that’s in the case of recent events. Not events in the distant past. There are so often severe limits on our ability to reconstruct the past from trace evidence.

In addition, some cases go unsolved because the detectives suffer from tunnel vision. And we could apply that analogy to the Darwinians as well.

The Egyptian nanny state

Victor Reppert said...

“I suppose you would have objected to Joseph's confiscatory grain tax had you been living in Egypt at the time. What right does the gummint have to take half my grain away?”

A lovely specimen of Reppert’s perfunctory prooftexting. That example is double-edged.

1. At the risk of stating the obvious, the fact that a narrator records a historical event something doesn’t mean he approves of it. The narrative viewpoint has to be determined by more than merely quoting a historical description.

2. Joseph had the benefit of divine foresight. A prophetic dream.

Now, I realize that Obama suffers from a Messiah-complex, which Reppert evidently endorses, but I’m afraid I don’t quite share their eschatology.

3. Remember that Egyptian statecraft led to a little-known event called the Exodus. So that might be a bit of a cue regarding the Biblical view of the nanny state.

4. Joseph’s policy was not all of a piece. It came in stages. The first phase involves preparatory measures to address an impending crisis:

“Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plentiful years. And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine" (Gen 41:34-36).

This was effective in averting a humanitarian disaster. And there’s nothing wrong with emergency measures in a genuine emergency. The potential problem lies is what happens after the crisis has passed. Joseph decided to standardize this arrangement:

“So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for all the Egyptians sold their fields, because the famine was severe on them. The land became Pharaoh’s. As for the people, he made servants of them from one end of Egypt to the other. Only the land of the priests he did not buy, for the priests had a fixed allowance from Pharaoh and lived on the allowance that Pharaoh gave them; therefore they did not sell their land. Then Joseph said to the people, "Behold, I have this day bought you and your land for Pharaoh. Now here is seed for you, and you shall sow the land. And at the harvests you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four fifths shall be your own, as seed for the field and as food for yourselves and your households, and as food for your little ones” (Gen 47:20-24).

This is a policy of national serfdom. It concentrated wealth in the hands of a nepotistic oligarchy (the house of Pharaoh). The Egyptians became a nation of sharecroppers or tenant farmers.

Even that system might have its compensatory benefits as long as it was administered by a benign dictator. However, for every benign dictator you have twenty despots.

The Bible itself hardly regards an Egyptian-type welfare state as the ideal socioeconomic system. Take Samuel’s classic admonition:

“So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, ‘These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day’” (1 Sam 8:10-18).

And, indeed, there is undoubtedly a Pharaonic quality to Obama’s presidency. So while I deeply appreciate Reppert’s comparison between Egyptian feudalism and Obama’s imperial presidency–I’m afraid I don’t regard that comparison as much of a recommendation to vote for Democrats.

Historical amnesia

“Anybody want to get rid of Medicare today? Many of the arguments against health care reform today were used back in the sixties against Medicare by leading Republicans.”

One of the many oddities of Victor Reppert is his acute case of historical amnesia. By that I don’t mean book learning, or the lack thereof. Rather, I mean his inability to remember certain parts of history he actually lived through.

He and I are roughly contemporaries, so I find it strange that he can’t remember events that I can remember perfectly well. His long-term memory is a sieve.

I do, however, notice a coincidental alignment between his failing memory and his political ideology. He has an inexplicable habit of forgetting things which get in the way of his politics. I wonder if there's a pattern?

Take the above statement. “Leading Republicans?”

Remember Pat Moynihan? Perhaps that was before your time. But it wasn’t before my time. Or Reppert’s.

Moynihan was a liberal Democrat and academic. During his years in the senate, he was its leading liberal thinker.

And yet he could be a prescient critic of the welfare state. Back in 1965 he pointed out that liberal social programs were creating a culture of dependency, delinquency, and institutional poverty:

And for many years he warned his colleagues that Social Security was headed for bankruptcy. (Keep in mind that solvency of Medicare is contingent on the solvency of Social Security.) For example,

The president is in Africa, the Republican Congress is AWOL, but at least one politician has been working. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) last week announced a plan to change Social Security for the better by cutting the payroll tax and letting Americans use the money for private retirement accounts – or for whatever else they want.

Moynihan's credentials as a liberal social reformer can't be questioned. So when he advocates privatizing even a portion of Social Security, it's big news. It's also why his idea is panicking advocates of the status quo.

Something must change, Moynihan is convinced. The "veto groups," as he calls them, cannot prevail. Young people, especially, have lost faith. They wonder why they can't take care of their own retirements with stock and bond investments, rather than trusting a system that either is headed either for bankruptcy or will provide paltry or even negative returns on their contributions.

The senator from New York – former labor economist to President Kennedy, Harvard professor, ambassador to India and the United Nations, author of 17 books, ranking member of the Finance Committee – wants to alter the Social Security system profoundly. It is no longer enough to fiddle around the edges.

In his speech March 16 at Harvard, Moynihan described the process in 1983 that led to saving the system, temporarily, by boosting taxes: "Had we, indeed, just barely escaped bankruptcy? What then did the future hold but more such crises?

Specifically, Moynihan would:

Allow voluntary tax-deferred personal retirement accounts, which each American could finance from the 2 percent tax cut. Through the magic of compounding, a $30,000-a-year worker, putting just 2 percent of pay into an account that earns a modest after-inflation return of 4 percent, would accumulate $350,000 over 45 years.

Put Social Security on a pay-as-you-go basis. In 1997, for example, the government took in $446 billion in Social Security taxes and paid out only $365 billion in benefits. The extra $81 billion went into a trust fund (valued at about $631 billion) and was lent out to finance other federal programs. Moynihan has long wanted to end this nonsense. We're extracting tax dollars from those who can least afford it – and from everyone who might have better uses for it.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

What Medved Did To Dawkins

Michael Medved interviewed Richard Dawkins in the third hour of his radio program today. I think I just heard Jonathan Wells as the first caller. He wasn't identified, except by his first name, but I recognized the voice, and he later went on to refer to his time at Berkeley. Dawkins didn't know who it was. I don't think that speaks well for his discernment skills. Bruce Chapman of the Discovery Institute was the third caller, and he was identified by his full name and association with the Discovery Institute, unlike Wells. Apparently, either Medved planned to allow prominent intelligent design advocates on the air as the first callers or those men decided, together, to try to get on the air without Medved's knowledge. I suspect Medved knew about it. I wonder if Dawkins would have agreed to appear on the program if he'd anticipated such an arrangement.

I just heard Dawkins define faith as belief without evidence. He offered no evidence for that erroneous definition, of course.

The quotable Dawkins

I don't ordinarily have much occasion to agree with Richard Dawkins, but he recently said one thing with which I wholeheartedly agree:

"I do sometimes accuse people of ignorance, but that is not intended to be an insult. I'm ignorant of lots of things."

Taking a dim view of human nature

“Timothy’s mother, however, was a scandal and a disgrace. Three months after she married Richard Edwards, in 1667, Elizabeth Tuthill (or Tuttle) revealed that she was pregnant by another man. Richard nonetheless protected her by paying the fine for fornication himself and arranging to have the child raised by her parents. The problem proved to be much deeper. Elizabeth was afflicted with a serious psychosis. She was given to fits of perversity ‘too grievous to forget and too much here to relate,’ repeated infidelities, rages, and threats of violence, including the threat to cut Richard’s throat while he was asleep. The Tuthill family was evidence that New England was not the staid place that we might imagine, but rather one where humans suffered the same horrors found in any era. One of Elizabeth’s sisters murdered her own child, and a brother killed another sister with an ax. Jonathan Edwards is sometimes criticized for having too dim a view of human nature, but it may be helpful to be reminded that his grandmother was an incorrigible profligate, his great-aunt committed infanticide, and his great-uncle was an ax-murder,” G. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale 2003), 22.

The Greatest Show on Earth

Richard Dawkins has published a brand new book. To judge by the title, I was expecting it to be a book on the history of redemption–in the tradition of Geerhardus Vos. But to judge by reviews, it’s apparently a book in which he marshals the evidence for evolution. What a letdown!

I haven’t read it yet. I’ve already read various textbooks on evolution by evolutionary biologists. Indeed, I’ve read a few of Dawkins’ other books on evolution.

I’d just note in passing that Dawkins has set the bar very high. He’s the world’s leading apologist for evolution. So this represents the best case for Darwinism. All in or all out.

And therein lies the danger. The evidence for naturalistic evolution or macroevolution is far more persuasive the less evidence you actually present.

Dawkins is like a magician who, after sawing the pretty assistant in half, shoves the box aside to reveal the trapdoor. Magic works best when you don’t disclose your methods and sources. Too much information dispels the illusion.

I expect that theistic evolutionists, old-earth creationists, young-earth creationists, and intelligent design theorists will find this book a priceless exposé of evolution’s many vulnerabilities.

An interview with Steve Hays

[The following is a slightly edited portion of an email interview with Steve Hays conducted by Jesse Wisnewski on the topic of apologetics and blogging.]

From: Jesse Wisnewski
To: Steve Hays

Dear Steve,

If it's not too much to ask, can we begin with these first questions to then leverage them for future dialogue?

1. First off Steve, I would like to personally thank you for taking the time to conduct this interview with me. Before starting, why don't you share a little about yourself and how you came into blogging at Triablogue.

2. For those unfamiliar with the blog, could you briefly share its purpose and what your particular role is within it, and how you and team go about fulfilling its purpose.

Thanks again for your time!!!

Jesse Wisnewski

From: Steve Hays
To: Jesse Wisnewski

1. I'm a native of the Greater Seattle area. I'm a Calvinist. I became a Christian at the age of 16.

A graduate of Westminster in California, whom I knew back when I was John Frame's TA there, encouraged me to become a blogger.

2. Because blogging is an interactive medium, the agenda is, to some extent, set by what's out there. By what we need to respond to. Various challenges to the faith.

As a practical matter, there's a heavy emphasis on apologetics at Tblog. Defending Christianity in general and Calvinism in particular.

Different team members have different interests and priorities. Most of my blogging is consumed by apologetics, not because that's how I like to spend my time, but because there's a need for it.

In my spare time I also write Christian fiction.

Beyond apologetics, I also do some blogging on practical theology–as well as other odds and ends.

From: Jesse Wisnewski
To: Steve Hays

Dear Steve,

Thanks for your responses! Here are some more questions:

1. When you said, "Because blogging is an interactive medium, the agenda is, to some extent, set by what's out there." What in particular do you and the team members at Tblog look to respond to? Are there particular blogs and/or attacks against Christianity that take more precedence than others? Finally, are there particular trends that you have observed taking place that are of importance to address from an apologetic standpoint?

2. Before delving more into the apologetic realm, I found it i nter esting that you look to defend Calvinism in particular. What is it about Calvinism that you look to defend and why do you see this as an important issue?

3. Now, getting back to apologetics. What role do you see blogs playing in the field of apologetics? What would you consider to be the perceived benefits? Are there any drawbacks or shortfalls to apologetic blogging that people should keep in mind?

4. Personally, I see that the local church – and not just individuals – has been called to go and make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28.18-20). With this in mind, how could local churches that are not currently leveraging blogs as a facet of ministry could benefit from having such an interactive presence on the web?

5. What have you found to be successful, and not so successful, in writing apologetic posts? Have you found that a particular style of writing is better received than others? What advice would you give a person in writing apologetic posts?

6. How do you and the team at Tblog go about connecting with a particular audience? Do you'll utilize any form of advertising or do you rely solely upon word-of-mouth or something in between?

7. In your opinion, do you see any present opportunities in Christian apologetic blogging?

8. Finally, where do you see apologetic blogging in ten years?

9. Steve, thanks a lot for taking the time to answer these questions. Finally, I have one last question, "Where can our readers find your work in Christian Fiction and Practical Theology?"

From: Steve Hays
To: Jesse Wisnewski

"When you said, 'Because blogging is an interactive medium, the agenda is, to some extent, set by what's out there.' What in particular do you and the team members at Tblog look to respond to?"

Well, it's inevitably selective, but it tends to cluster around certain issues like the inerrancy of Scripture, the canon of Scripture, atheism, Darwinism, hell, sola scriptura, the doctrine of God, comparative religion, miracles, the culture wars, the doctrines of grace, the problem of evil, the Resurrection, metaethics, bioethics, sexual ethics, philosophy of science, and counterterrorism,

"Are there particular blogs and/or attacks against Christianity that take more precedence than others?"

i) Blogs which are hostile to Christianity or Calvinism tend to be repetitious. So I deal with their stock objections to the faith, then move on to another blog–if it has something different to say.

ii) I tend to ignore what I consider to be lesser issues like one's view of the millennium.

iii) Some other issues, like justification by faith, are quite important in their own right, but I don't focus on them for a couple of reasons:

a) The issue is rather specialized, and there's already a lot of good literature on the subject. Some issues demand a book-length treatment. Blogging is not the best medium for that level of analysis.

b) It's often bound up with one's underlying view of authority. Does doctrine come from divine revelation (i.e. the Bible alone), or from the church? It's more efficient to deal with the underlying issue.

"Finally, are there particular trends that you have observed taking place that are of importance to address from an apologetic standpoint?"

Not really. There are passing fads, like the "new atheism," but we're generally dealing with variants of perennial issues.

"Before delving more into the apologetic realm, I found it interesting that you look to defend Calvinism in particular. What is it about Calvinism that you look to defend and why do you see this as an important issue?"

At a general level, truth is synonymous with reality. It's important, both for this life, and for the next, to adapt our beliefs and actions to reality, for reality isn't going to adapt itself to our misguided beliefs and actions. We don't define reality: reality defines us. When your beliefs and actions lose touch with reality, you can harm yourself and others. And the harm can either be for time or for eternity.

At a specific level, Calvinism is a theology of hope and thanksgiving. We believe that God has a plan for the world. That everything happens according to his plan. Even the evils we see and experience in this world are there as a means to a greater good. For a Calvinist, the whole world is God's world. Light and shade.

On the one hand, Calvinism is a theology of hope, for we seek, and expect to find, in this life or the next, the evident or hidden good in whatever God has purposed. That's the forward facet of Calvinism.

On the other hand, Calvinism is also a theology of thanksgiving, as we look back over our lives and begin to see and appreciate the wisdom and goodness of God's providence in the emerging pattern of events. That's the backward facet of Calvinism. They represent two different perspectives on our position in time–past and future.

If you can't trust God with your life, then what can you trust him with? If God is too untrustworthy to compose every day of your life, then why worship and obey him? Why go through the motions? If you can't trust God with your life, then he's hardly worthy of your worship or obedience.

For a Calvinist, every experience that God sends our way is a way to experience the goodness of God. A way to discover the wisdom of God. The greatness of God. We need to learn how to find the value in each experience that God has given us. For what makes our own life good and meaningful comes from sharing in his goodness.

Incidentally, you don't have to be a Calvinist to blog at Tblog. I'm simply describing my own point of view.

"Now, getting back to apologetics. What role do you see blogs playing in the field of apologetics?"

In our day and age, people increasingly get their information from the internet. It would be good if they read more books, but they don't, so you have to adapt to the culture, fill the void, and take advantage of that cyberspatial orientation.

"What would you consider to be the perceived benefits?"

i) On the one hand, you have seekers who are open to the Christian faith, but suffer from intellectual impediments of various sorts. They have an inaccurate grasp of Christian theology. Or they are impressed by plausible, but specious objections to the Christian faith. Apologetics can help to clear away those intellectual roadblocks.

ii) On the other hand, you have Christians who may suffer from intellectual doubts. Apologetics can help to answer their questions. Give them the reasons they need to achieve a confident faith.

Of course, the better part of wisdom lies in knowing which questions you can live without answering, and which questions you can't. Striking the right balance between faith and sight.

"Are there any drawbacks or shortfalls to apologetic blogging that people should keep in mind?"

In the nature of the case, apologetics is a polemical, combative discipline. It's also a fairly intellectual endeavor, which appeals to Christian intellectuals. As such, it can tempt an apologist to commit the sin of intellectual pride. There's a danger of substituting justification by truth for justification by faith. John Newton once said:
Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace...We find but very few writers of controversy who have not been manifestly hurt by it. Either they grow in a sense of their own importance, or imbibe an angry, contentious spirit, or they insensibly withdraw their attention from those things which are the food and immediate support of the life of faith, and spend their time and strength upon matters which are at most but of a secondary value.
I don't quite agree with him about "matters of secondary value." I think that Christian apologetics deals with matters of primary importance. At least it ought to. But the rest of what he said does draw attention to the spiritual hazards of a polemical orientation.

You need to have a life outside of apologetics. Your personal fulfillment must come from other sources and resources.

"Personally, I see that the local church – and not just individuals – has been called to go and make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28.18-20). With this in mind, how could local churches that are not currently leveraging blogs as a facet of ministry could benefit from having such an interactive presence on the web?"

They can use their church website as an information clearing house by having a blogroll with links to various apologetic ministries.

"What have you found to be successful, and not so successful, in writing apologetic posts? Have you found that a particular style of writing is better received than others? What advice would you give a person in writing apologetic posts?"

i) Blogging is not like speaking before a live audience, where you can gauge the reaction of the audience. I know from the site meter that most of our audience consists of lurkers who rarely comment on a post. But if it gets a lot of traffic, like we do, then it's clearly reaching many people, who presumably benefit from what we post–otherwise they wouldn't tune in on a regular basis.

ii) Your style depends, in part, on your personality and literary ability. It's good to be memorable. To use catchy phrases and striking illustrations.

iii) Then there's the question of how to deal with hostile opponents. I think it's a mistake to spend a lot of time defending yourself against personal aspersions. You shouldn't make yourself the center of attention.

iii) In general, it might be best to write in a detached, dispassionate, business-like style. That lessens the potential for hurt feelings.

On the other hand, many folks don't hold to false beliefs merely through ignorance of the truth. There's often a willful, defiant quality to their beliefs. In that case I think it's appropriate to point out that their belief is irrational or even sinful.

People don't like being told that, but there is a moral dimension to what we believe. We are answerable to God for what we believe about him, and how we live accordingly. What we believe about him should align with what he's told us about himself.

"How do you and the team at Tblog go about connecting with a particular audience? Do you'll utilize any form of advertising or do you rely solely upon word-of-mouth or something in between?"

By word-of-mouth. For better or worse, blogs tend to self-select for a like-minded audience.

"In your opinion, do you see any present opportunities in Christian apologetic blogging?"

It's a way of reaching the unreached. Making the Christian faith readily available outside the four walls of the church.

"Finally, where do you see apologetic blogging in ten years?"

There's a lot of younger talent in the pipeline. Hopefully, apologetic blogging will improve as more professionals take advantage of this medium.

"Steve, thanks a lot for taking the time to answer these questions. Finally, I have one last question, 'Where can our readers find your work in Christian Fiction and Practical Theology?'"

Some of these posts have been labeled, if you click on the "Fiction" or "Practical Theology" link. Unfortunately, not all such posts have been labeled.

[For those interested in but unfamiliar with apologetical resources from Steve, "Why I Believe: A Positive Apologetic" and "Why I Believe: I'm Glad You Asked!" serve as excellent starting points. Love the Lord with Heart and Mind contains an interview with Steve on the topic of apologetics as well.]

Moral show-boating

“What it is like to be poor. One of them says ‘Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.’ And one boy lost his life because of it. When this stops happening in America, maybe I will sew up my bleeding heart.”

i) Notice what Reppert’s compassion boils down to: “That’s terrible! You should do something about that!”

If Reppert really cares that much about the plight of poor kids, what’s stopping him and his radical chic colleagues from starting a dental fund for poor kids in Phoenix?

For that matter, why doesn’t Reppert post his credit card numbers on his blog so that needy parents can afford to send their needy kids to the doctor or dentist? Doesn’t Reppert believe in income redistribution?

But, of course, Reppert is one of those bleeding-heart liberals who outsources his compassion to a second party. “That’s not my department! Go down the hallway to the second door on the left.”

ii) Glancing at the Washington Post article, I saw numerous references to the boy’s mother. I didn’t see any references to her husband. Or the boy’s father. Or aunts and uncles. Or grandparents.

So this is Reppert’s idea of social justice: Some parents have no intention of providing for the kids they have. Instead of making these parents pull their own load, we should tax other, responsible breadwinners to siphon off money from the care of their own kids, and transfer that income to the pockets of indifferent parents. Breadwinners have no right to use the money they make to provide for their own family. That would be so unchristian, you know.

Instead, the hard-earned wages of responsible breadwinners should go into a general fund which everyone can dip into. Everyone’s paycheck is my paycheck.

“So we don't have to ration care because it is already rationed by affordability. We don't need death panels. All we need is for people to look inside their wallets and see that they don't have enough money to get the medical care that will keep them alive. I'm so glad the status quo takes such a strong stand for the sanctity of human life.”

i) One of the primary arguments for Obamacare was that healthcare is too expensive. It’s unaffordable for millions of Americans. And, as time goes on, even more Americans will be priced out of the market. Remember that oft-repeated argument?

However, in order to cover the uninsured, the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats are scrabbling for various ways to make Americans pay for Obamacare. In order to fund Obamacare, it’s necessary to raise the cost of healthcare for many Americans to subsidize the uninsured.

Therefore, the net-result of Obamacare is to make healthcare less affordable rather than more affordable. Hike the price that many Americans will be forced to pay–to bankroll the uninsured.

ii) In addition, it lowers the overall quality of healthcare. You’d have more folks chasing the same goods and services. The same number of doctors, nurses, hospitals, medical equipment, &c. to treat far more patients.

Reppert has the classic mentality of the Marxist: better to impoverish everybody since, if everybody is equally poor, that’s fair.

Reppert isn’t even a do-gooder. Instead, he’s a feel-gooder. He has no interest in workable solutions. He just wants to bask in the beatitude of his vicarious charity. Claim the moral credit for making someone else foot the bill.

“Not every deontologist has to completely ignore consequences. They can be important considerations, even though, in certain kinds of cases, those consideration can be overruled by deontological ones. I don't have to give up on arguments from the common good if I believe that there are circumstances where utility gets us the wrong answer.”

How does that cash out, exactly? Do you believe in organ farms where we harvest the body-parts of human clones? It’s for the common good.

"Eternal life"

“And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

Among other inconvenient verses for the universalist, Mt 25:46 is hard to get around. So the universalist has to take cover in whatever shelter he can find–even if it’s shivering beneath a freeway overpass. Here is Jason Pratt’s attempt:

On the other hand, I'm not aware of any theologian who thinks "zoe eonian" merely means living forever, either. {wry g} It means something very much more qualitatively important than that, concerning the ultimate source of that life. Which ought to be applied, by parallel, to the "kolasis eonian," too.

The main issue, then (as I stated earlier--but which you notably didn’t address at all, out of everything else I wrote), is whether “eonian” primarily means only some ongoing quantitative continuance when speaking of “zoe eonian”. I’m pretty sure I’m standing with virtually all Christian theologians in history, on this one, when I deny that “eternal life” is only (or even primarily) about mere immortality.

Needless to say, that’s a classic semantic fallacy. The fact that the Biblical concept of immortality involves more than sheer duration doesn’t begin to imply or even suggest that the adjective aionios (or phrase, zoe aionion) means more than that. Pratt confuses the meaning of a word with the meaning of a concept.

Suppose I said Marlene Dietrich had a long life. Now, there was much more to her life than mere longevity. She was a glamorous movie star and nightclub singer. She fell in love with Jean Gabin. And so on and so forth.

Would we therefore define the adjective “long” (or the phrase, “long life”) as synonymous with “a glamorous movie star and nightclub singer who fell in love with Jean Gabin”?

Perhaps I’m mistaken, but to my knowledge not everyone who lives a long time was a glamorous movie star and nightclub singer who fell in love with Jean Gabin.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A Review Of The Second Licona/Ehrman Debate On The Resurrection

Some of the issues raised in their second debate were addressed in my review of their first debate, and I won't be repeating everything I said there. Mike Licona made a lot of good points during the second debate, particularly with regard to his research on hallucinations, but I won't be reiterating everything he argued during the debate. I recommend watching it to hear all of Licona's points in context. What I want to do here is expand on some of Licona's points and bring up some other issues he didn't discuss.

Ehrman criticizes Licona for acting as a theologian rather than a historian in some of his argumentation. But Ehrman's claim that the resurrection has such a high initial improbability depends on his theological assumption that particular entities capable of performing a resurrection, such as God, don't act in history. As Licona noted, though with different terminology than I'm using here, agnosticism doesn't get us to Ehrman's conclusion that a resurrection is so highly improbable. The unlikelihood of a resurrection occurring naturalistically doesn't tell us how likely it is that God or some other entity would raise Jesus from the dead.

Even if we concluded that Jesus' resurrection is highly unlikely upfront, the evidence for the resurrection can be such that it overcomes that initial improbability. See Timothy and Lydia McGrew's article here for a discussion of some of the principles involved.

Ehrman frequently mentions miracle accounts in other belief systems, such as the purported miracles of Apollonius of Tyana and Marian apparitions, and he did so again in this debate. He didn't argue that the evidence for such miracles is sufficient by Christian standards, and he didn't argue that the miracles didn't occur. He just asserts that there's sufficient evidence for those miracles by Christian standards and asserts that the miracles didn't occur. But he needs to argue for both. Christians, such as Mike Licona's mentor Gary Habermas, have addressed such non-Christian miracle accounts frequently and sometimes in significant depth, and a Christian worldview allows the possibility of miracles among non-Christians. Ehrman can't just assume that the non-Christian miracle accounts in question have sufficient evidence, and he can't just assume naturalism. He needs to argue for both. If a Marian apparition, for example, is inconsistent with what we know about hallucinations, then Ehrman needs to do more than assume that something naturalistic occurred and replace the word "hallucination" with the word "vision". Such a change of vocabulary, accompanied by an assumption of naturalism, isn't an argument. It's an evasion. If Ehrman can't adequately explain the evidence for Marian apparitions, in addition to not being able to adequately explain the resurrection evidence, then bringing up the Marian apparitions doubles his problem, in that sense, rather than eliminating it. We've addressed Marian apparitions and other miracle accounts often raised by critics of Christianity elsewhere on this blog. See the relevant links in my review of the first Licona/Ehrman debate, linked above. When will we see Ehrman offer a comparable treatment of the subject?

As Licona noted in his closing remarks, Ehrman is wrong about the phrase "the twelve" in 1 Corinthians 15:5. And there's much more evidence Licona could have cited. Group names like "the eleven", "the twelve", or "the apostles" are often used when it's known that not every member of the group is present. Thus, John refers to "the twelve" when he knows that Judas has already left the group (John 20:24), as does Paul (1 Corinthians 15:5). Craig Keener cites similar examples from non-Christian sources, such as Xenophon and Plutarch (1-2 Corinthians [New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005], n. 272 on p. 124). Retaining the number twelve as a group title would be particularly significant in this context, since there's so much significance in a parallel to the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28). Paul knew that Jesus had been betrayed (1 Corinthians 11:23), and accounts of Judas' betrayal of Jesus are widely reported and unchallenged early on. Luke's gospel refers to the betrayal, and Paul cites Luke's gospel as scripture in 1 Timothy 5:18. (Even if Pauline authorship of 1 Timothy is rejected, the document would still be evidence of a high view of Luke's gospel in early and influential Pauline circles.) The idea that Paul was unaware of Judas' defection in 1 Corinthians 15:5 is dubious. Ehrman often relies on such bad reasoning in the process of claiming contradictions among the Biblical accounts. His use of that sort of argumentation reflects more poorly on him than it does on the New Testament.

At the start of the audience questions segment of the debate, Ehrman argued against the use of scribes in composing the gospels by claiming that the early sources who comment on gospel authorship don't mention scribes. Actually, some sources who had access to the writings of Papias claim that he was a scribe of the apostle John. See the Codex Vaticanus Alexandrinus 14 and the Anonymous Catena On John here. 1 Corinthians 16:21 suggests that Paul was using a scribe in the composition of that letter, yet Clement of Rome comments concerning 1 Corinthians, "Take up the epistle of the blessed Apostle Paul. What did he write to you at the time when the gospel first began to be preached?" (First Clement, 47) Paul is seen as the author of 1 Corinthians, even though the letter itself refers to his use of a scribe. We know that Paul used a scribe in the process of writing his letter to the Romans (Romans 16:22), yet Irenaeus (Against Heresies 2:22:2, 3:13:1) and other early sources refer to Paul as the one speaking in Romans, without any mention of the scribe. The use of scribes was common in antiquity. People often refer to somebody as the author of a document even if he's known to have used a scribe. The fact that the four gospels are attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John doesn't tell us whether scribes were involved in the process. Similarly, we today often refer to what the head of a company or a politician said in a particular document, even if one or more other people participated in the drafting of the document. Ehrman's argument against the gospel authors' use of scribes is unreasonable.

His treatment of the argument from martyrdom is misleadingly selective. It's true that the earliest sources don't refer to Peter's being crucified upside down. But we do have earlier references to Peter's suffering and martyrdom, even though the upside down crucifixion isn't mentioned. See here for more about the martyrdom argument and the inadequacy of Ehrman's objections to it.

Much more could be said, but I've covered a lot of this ground in previous reviews of Ehrman's debates. We have a lot of material on Ehrman in our archives, if any of you are interested.

It doesn't seem that Ehrman's argumentation improves much from one debate to another, even though the arguments leave so much room for improvement. He spends a lot of time traveling, debating, speaking on the radio, and such, but he doesn't seem to spend much time reconsidering his arguments or researching his opposition.

How to parse Grayling


“I think a fair reading of Grayling in context suggests that the passage of time without punishment is not grounds for not inflicting the punishment now.”

We’ll see about that.

“However, if Polanski had spent time in prison for his offense, and his term was up, I don't think you would find Grayling complaining that his crime was so heinous that we can't let him out.”

The particular illustration is beside the point. Maybe he wouldn’t think that Polanski’s crime is unforgivable. Maybe he doesn’t rank Polaski’s crime on the same plane as the Nazis.

But the point at issue concerns the underlying principle, and not which historical illustrations are apt. According to him, are some crimes so heinous as to be unforgivable? That’s the point.

There’s an fundamental difference between whether the illustrations are debatable, and whether the principle they illustrate is debatable. Even if a particular instance fails to illustrate the principle, that doesn’t, of itself, falsify the principle.

“When he says that certain offenses cannot be forgiven even after a long passage of time, it's pretty clear that what he really means is that the proper judicial punishment ought to be set aside because it happened a long time ago. I would think this reading of Grayling should be pretty obvious, given everything else we know about him. Forgiving, in context, means foregoing criminal prosecution. (So I would withdraw my complaint about his saying we ought not to forgive.)”

Well, if that interpretation is so obvious, then why are you having to retract your previous interpretation (i.e. “So I would withdraw my complaint about his saying we ought not to forgive.”)? Evidently, your previous interpretation wasn’t based on a “fair reading of Grayling in context.” So much for clarity.

Speaking for myself, I wouldn’t even assume that Grayling has a consistent position. Rather, it seems to me that he tries to bundle two positions into one.

On the one hand, there’s his visceral revulsion against certain crimes. Crimes so heinous as to render them unforgivable.

On the other hand, Grayling the philosopher and editorialist tries, in some measure, to rationalize this visceral revulsion by appealing to the principle of deterrence.

Yet he says some other things that go beyond that pragmatic appeal. And, indeed, unless he thought the underlying crime was sufficiently and inherently heinous, there’d be no overriding reason to deter it.

Like many unbelievers, he’s conflicted. His residual sense of moral absolutes is in tension with his secular relativism.

“But I think a proper sense of the sitz im leben of the text, and other contextual matters, suggest to me that you can't get a refuation of the proportionality objection out of Grayling's comments without eisegesis.”

If it’s eisegesis, then why did you have to reverse yourself on your prior interpretation?

Seems like an interpretation is “pretty obvious” as long as it suits your preconceived agenda. But when your “pretty obvious” interpretation backfires, you have an epiphany which leads you to discover the really honest-to-goodness “pretty obvious” interpretation–in contrast to the deceptively merely apparent “pretty obvious” interpretation.

“I'd better stop before I start sounding like a pedant.”

You’d better stop before you backpeddle over a cliff.

Jesus Christ Superstar


“I went to Catholic parochial school from the 1st through the 8th grades. Academically, that was a good thing, but my Catholic education also resulted in about 20 years of trying to rid myself of feeling guilty, especially about things pertaining to sex or what we were told back then were ‘impure thoughts’."

In other words, Rick is a stereotypical apostate. It’s funny how many self-styled “free-thinkers” are straight out of central casting.

I mean, how many times have we seen this movie before? “I had all these Christian hang-ups about sex. Then I had this wonderful feeling of liberation when I was able to shed the guilt-trip.”

The only folks who find this rerun appealing are folks who had an unhappy religious upbringing. A Carrie-style background.

For the rest of us, who were socially and emotionally well-adjusted, this has no traction at all.

“I suppose my whole life has turned on that one, beautiful moment, when I finally stopped long enough to think about what I had been told to believe--what those who had converted me said I was supposed to believe, what they said I had better believe...or else--in order to entertain some doubts. It was then that the process began in earnest, the process of really questioning each and every assertion that I had in my youthful zeal swallowed hook, line and sinker. Maybe it's easy for most Christians to passively accept all they're told they must believe.”

Here’s another example of Rick as the typecast apostate. Once again, it’s funny how so many apostates think these confessions somehow burnish their credibility when–in fact–they come across as emotionally and intellectually stunted losers.

“Whether Jesus was God or not, whether I believe in God or not, Jesus did not believe in Hell.”

What a ridiculous statement on so many levels:

i) Hell is only possible if there is a God. So the existence of God is directly germane to the issue.

ii) Likewise, if Jesus is just another fallible, shortsighted, culturebound man, then he’s in no position to tell us what the afterlife, if any, is like.

iii) By the same token, if Jesus is just another fallible, shortsighted, culturebound man, then he’s in no position to make promises or issue threats about the afterlife. He can’t make good on what he says.

“His core message makes it impossible that he could have in that HIS view of God was radically different than the vindictive, angry, and basically, sociopathic view that was common then and now.”

Once again, if Jesus is just another brainy simian, like you and me, then there’s no reason to think his religious opinions square with reality. Who cares?

“As to the idea that the modern Bible is the infallible Word of God, it plainly cannot be! As Steven (Triablogue) himself (perhaps, unwittingly) pointed out, there are a number of different versions of Jesus in the Gospels! Evangelicals/Fundamentalists and the like are compelled by their doctrinal position to blend them altogether into one picture, even though each of of these Jesuses contradict each other.”

Of course, that’s pure, undiluted assertion.

“But not even they would ever make such a mish mash of any other ancient text. Normally, any scholar worth the paper his degree is printed on WEIGHS what is found in every text to discern which passages are most likely adulterations and mistakes and complete fabrications, from those which are most likely true to the original. Much can be detected in the context itself!”

Of course, many conservative Bible scholars with Ivy League degrees have done all that and come to the conclusion that Scripture is the inspired word of God.

“Steve quotes from the story of the Sheep and Goats in Matthew 25, which is actually a very good example of 3 different layers, or 3 different versions of Jesus. I contend that the original layer is the part where Jesus teaches his followers to be as empathetic to the suffering as they would be toward him. This teaching, as it was being relayed (by word of mouth initially, and then written down and recopied over and over), was eventually woven into one of the many typical Jewish Messianic Warning Parables.”

Conjectures like that are self-refuting. If they were true, you could never prove it. For if you postulate a series of oral and literary redactions, then each subsequent redaction erases much evidence for the prior redaction.

It isn’t just a case of adding one layer atop another, where you can excavate the intact layers. Rather, the redactive process would pulverize (literally, rewrite) the previous version so that each previous version is, to that degree, edited out of existence. The metaphor of redactive “layers” is deceptive.

“Then, on the top layer, are 2 insertions (probably added by some Greek Christian scribe LONG after Jesus' death) adding the words ‘and these shall go into everlasting punishment’.”

I notice that he doesn’t cite any MS evidence for this scribal interpolation.

In addition, I have no interest in the “original” Jesus who was allegedly buried beneath “layers” or oral and literary redaction.

Rick evidently thinks the “real” Jesus was groovy guru (a 1C Maharishi Mahesh Yogi) with some really cool ideas about forgiveness.

Well, I’m not interested in following a fallible, shortsighted spiritual guide. I only have to look in the mirror to find a fallible, shortsighted guy staring back at me. That’s not something I need to outsource.

“But of course, the original ideas Jesus had about a kind, loving and forgiving God, don't serve the agenda of the rich and powerful who need a hateful, vengenge God to help get people to side with them.”

Ah, yes, boilerplate Marxism. But one of the problems with a Marxist critique of Scripture is that you also have Marxist theologians who find in Scripture a running critique of the rich and powerful. According to them, God sides with the poor.

My point is not to vouch for Liberation theology. Just to observe that such an argument cuts both ways.

“So converted was I that I left school to join up with a group of ex-hippies who had also gotten saved, and went traveling all around the country and eventually to Europe for almost four years, basically working as a rodie for a Christian rock band.”

Actually, Rick never outgrew his Jesus-Freak paradigm. His view of the “original Jesus,” buried beneath all the redactive rubble, bears an uncanny resemblance to the Messiah of the rock opera: Jesus Christ Superstar.

Try not to get worried
Try not to turn on to
Problems that upset you
oh Don't you know
Everything's alright
Yes everything's fine
And we want you to sleep well tonight
Let the world turn without you tonight
If we try
We'll get by
Close your eyes
And relax

Burning strawmen in hell


“Sorry, but you're arguing with a strawman, against a point that no one is making! Either you're unaware of what we who reject Hell are actually saying or, perhaps, purposedly distorting it. I hope it's the former.”

In the context of fire and brimstone, burning a straw man is an apt analogy.

“In any case, here's the REAL argument:”

Do tell. I’m on the edge of my seat, waiting for your priceless enlightenment on the issue.

“What is usually taken to mean ‘justice,' as the justification for God causing people to suffer pain in Hell, is the idea that they deserve to suffer for the pain they caused others. However, ‘justice’ and ‘revenge’ are normally distinguished by the notion that the pain inflicted is equal to and not exceeding the pain the guilty caused others.”

i) My little post said nothing about “pain.” Therefore, you’re the one who’s guilty of a straw man argument, not me.

ii) It’s quite possible to wrong someone without causing him pain. Likewise, it’s quite possible to punish someone without causing him pain. So your framework is arbitrary.

Mind you, I have no fundamental objection to the idea that God might inflict pain on some or all of the damned. But that’s inessential to my argument. Try again.

iii) Even more to the point, you seem to assume the only reason God would punish a human being is for what he did to another human being.

Evidently, the idea of wronging God is an alien concept to you.

It is, however, quite possible for sinners to wrong God. Indeed, we’re all guilty of this.

But while we can wrong God, we cannot harm him or cause him pain. These are distinct and separable notions.

“Now, since there is no such thing as a human who could have ever caused an INFINITE amount of suffering, then to inflict an infinite amount of suffering in return upon any human would be impossible IF God were going to be truly ‘just,’ at least, according to the common understanding of ‘justice’.”

i) Guilt is not an “amount.” Guilt is a quality, not a quantity.

ii) The damned don’t experience “infinite” punishment. Their consciousness is finite. They experience punishment finitely, from one moment to the next–not all at once.

“No matter how much hurt a human caused (and to be sure, there are some who did a LOT), if he were to suffer the exact amount of suffering in return, there would come a point when he would have suffered an equal amount, given enough time. If Hell were a place, therefore, where justice is meted out, then it could NOT be ETERNAL.”

Once again, it isn’t necessary to hurt someone or inflict pain in order to wrong someone. You have a dreadfully superficial grasp of morality.

For example, it’s possible to wrong the dead. You can do this by besmirching their reputation.

Take a man who’s a preacher’s kid. Suppose his parents were loving, devoted parents. But when he grows up, he turns his back on the faith. And, in order to justify his apostasy, he trashes his parents. He waits until they are dead. When they are no longer in any position to defend themselves or set the record straight. Then he defames his late parents. He dishonors their memory, even though they were honorable parents.

Now, he’s not hurting them, in the sense of inflicting pain or anguish. Yet he’s wronging them. You wrong the dead when you slander the dead.

And, indeed, he’s wronging them in a way that’s worse that mere pain. After all, there’s nothing inherently wrong with feeling pain.

“This has NOTHING to do with a statute of limitations! You're confusing a legal limit which our laws have because it's so difficult to preserve the evidence needed to justly convict someone after long periods of time.”

No. All I’ve done is to play along with Grayling’s argument.

“Quite different from how long a punishment for the justly convicted ought to be!”

I myself drew that distinction in a separate post. You’re behind the curve.

“Presumably, if God were inclined to hurt people in return for every hurt they committed, in equal measure, He would have no such problem as his memory failing, and forgetting or distorting what happened.”

I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean. Were you sober when you wrote that? Or was that the drink talking?

“But the point you're really missing is that Jesus, not only rejected the idea of exceeding the Old Testament ‘eye for an eye,' put taught that God did not want to hurt anyone, but to FORGIVE!”

What Jesus do you have in mind? Is it this Jesus?

31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left… 41"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

Or this Jesus?

God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.

Or this Jesus?

12When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14 The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?"

Continuing with Rick:

“If you'll re-read the words of Jesus in the gospels, and look for where HE said his purpose for coming was to die as a blood sacrifice to PAY for our sins, guess what? YOU WON'T FIND IT. In fact, the one place where he does talk about sacrifice is where he says God doesn't want it! He quotes Hosea, saying that God desire MERCY instead. Look in the book of Acts, at all those first Christian sermons. One would think that would be a real good time to explain what was Jesus' main reason for coming, right? But in none of those sermons, do any of the apostles say Jesus was a blood sacrifice to pay for our sins! No, all these stuff about blood sacrifice was superimposed later on.”

i) First of all, it’s nice to see you lay your cards on the table. You reject hell because you reject penal substitution. It’s useful to see how much else we must jettison to jettison the doctrine of hell.

ii) For a good treatment on the subject, see Steve Jeffery et al. Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution (Crossway 2007).

“Jesus actually said that God just forgives when we own up to our sins and repent. That's it!”

I see. So Jesus really didn’t need to come here at all. He didn’t need to die on the cross.

If, on his deathbed, Joseph Stalin says, “You know, God, now that I’m about to die, I’m sorry for murdering 20 million men, women, and children. Just forgive me!”

“If not, then Jesus/God asks us to do something he, himself, cannot do, to forgive others without demanding any sort of payment or to suffer some painful punishment.”

i) Even if that were true, so what? Why assume that God has all the same rights and responsibilities as we do?

Even at a human level, a soldier, policeman, or judge has different rights and responsibilities than a father, husband, or brother.

ii) You’re also assuming, without benefit of argument, that the possibility of human forgiveness isn’t underwritten by the atonement.