Saturday, June 05, 2010

"Deception" and healing

Critics object to mature creation (or “apparent age”) on the grounds that this would implicate God in a web of deception. Deceptive appearances.

YECs typically counter by citing paradigm-cases of mature creation–such as Jesus turning the water into wine.

I’d like to consider a different kind of example. Consider the healings of Jesus. These healings tend to restore the sick to state of health such that you couldn’t tell by examining them that they were ever sick.

Take the case of Jesus healing the man born blind (John 9). The blind man had some congenital defect which left him blind all his life.

When Jesus restores his sight, this doesn’t merely affect the future. It also, or so it seems to me, erases any physical trace of his past affliction. An ophthalmologist, examining the man after Jesus cured him, would be unable to detect the fact that this man ever had that particular birth defect. So it doesn’t merely change the present. It also changes the evidence of the past.

In addition, many Christians believe that God continuous to miraculously heal people throughout church history. To the extent that this actually happens, you have many instances of miniature mature creation throughout the last 2000 years of world history.

I don’t cite this as a positive argument for YEC. I merely cite this to question a facile objection to YEC.

The Messiah that failed

President Obama.

I [Gore Vidal] was all for him. I’d vote for him again if he were up for election tomorrow. But his problem is a very complicated one. It would take me a long time to explain it. He lacks imagination. He doesn’t know what a terrible country he’s president of. He doesn’t know who owns it. He doesn’t know how to talk to the military. He’s an outsider. A lot of people far less intelligent than he have managed to get the point across to the country, but he hasn’t done it...As I said, President Obama is one of the most intelligent people we’ve had in the presidential chair, and George W. Bush is certainly the stupidest by any given standard. But Obama doesn’t know what our rulers are like. He’s met them all by now. But he’s no more up on them than he was before he became president. I mean, when he’s having beers with that policeman from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Staying Focused In Discussions About Prayer To The Dead

There are many hundreds of contexts in which prayer to the dead could have been mentioned in scripture and the early patristic literature. Instead, it's absent and sometimes contradicted.

Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox will often try to make the practice seem more credible by citing references to prayers for the dead, prayers by the dead for us, prayer or alleged prayer to angels, the presence of angels or deceased humans among humans on earth, etc. But a person can pray for the dead, believe in guardian angels, or think that deceased humans sometimes intercede for people or events on earth, yet not believe in prayer to the dead.

I recently discussed the example of Origen, who held some such beliefs while, at the same time, saying that we should pray only to God and not to lesser beings. In our day, Protestants believe that angels are involved in human affairs, and thus sometimes know about our prayers or are active in God's answering of prayer, without believing in prayer to angels or prayer to the deceased. Even in a mostly Protestant nation like the United States, many people believe in concepts like guardian angels and knowledge of earthly individuals and events on the part of the deceased, yet don't believe in prayer to angels or prayer to the dead. In past articles, such as here, I've discussed why such categories should be distinguished from one another. Even if we believed that an angel or deceased human is sometimes nearby or aware of what's happening in our lives, it doesn't follow that he's always present or always aware or that we can pray to him.

We also need to be discerning about the nature of the sources that are cited, such as their dating and authorship. Catholics and Orthodox often cite late, forged, apocryphal, and heretical documents to make their beliefs seem more historically credible than they actually are. See, for example, the work Turretinfan has done to demonstrate the poor quality of some of the sources cited by the Catholic apologist Steve Ray. In a recent discussion at Beggars All, the Orthodox poster Lvka failed to demonstrate any Biblical or early patristic support for prayers to the dead, but he did appeal to some beliefs in post-Biblical Judaism and offered a highly dubious and anachronistic interpretation of a passage in Justin Martyr. Just recently at this blog, a Catholic poster by the name of Christine posted a quote from Methodius that comes from a document that most likely is inauthentic.

Think about the large amount of evidence we see for prayers to the dead in modern Catholicism and Orthodoxy. It's prominent in their church services, their conversations, their television programs, their books, their web sites, etc. Contrast that with the absence and contradictions of the practice in scripture and early patristic church history. Why do Catholics and Orthodox so often resort to changing the subject to something like prayers for the dead or rely on so many late, forged, apocryphal, and heretical sources?

Friday, June 04, 2010

You Sunk My Arminian Battleship!

How Arminianism Allows Calvinism to Escape the Charge of 'Author of Evil'

Did God allow sin to occur? Yes.
Is God committing some moral wrong by allowing sin to occur? No, God is free to allow anything He wishes (take it up with Him if you disagree).

Did God determine sin to occur? Yes.

Is God committing some moral wrong by determining sin to occur? No, God is free to determine anything he wishes (take it up with him if you disagree).

How Arminianism Makes God the Author of Evil

That’s confusing different kinds of sources; I’m using ‘source’ in an originative sense. Look under ‘What is meant by ‘author of sin?’’

Consider the damage caused by this tornado:

Obviously, the tornado isn't an agent with indeterministic free will. Clearly, the ultimate originator of the tornado's action is God. In fact, we can't even say the tornado caused the damage. It's like a puppet. As the Bible makes clear, the weather originates with God. He determines and controls the weather. The evil and destruction caused by tornadoes &c are not ultimately originated by some immaterial tornado self that creates its destructive path ex nihilo.


Psalm. 148:8 lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
stormy winds that do his bidding,

Jonah 1:4 Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up.

Psalm 42:7 in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.

Amos 3:6 When a trumpet sounds in a city,
do not the people tremble?
When disaster comes to a city,
has not the LORD caused it?

Since Arminians consider humans on the Calvinist understanding to be similar to lightning bolts, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc., in that they lack personhood and ultimate originative abilities, as well as ability to do or think otherwise, then the Arminians must call God the author of evil since there is no doubt that children dying from starvation (every day, almost 16000 children die from hunger-related causes) due to droughts God determined is an evil:

And God is the agent who originated this (if a human had the ability to control weather and caused a drought, killing many children, he would be morally culpable) evil, and since origination of evil means author of evil, then God is the author of evil on Arminianism. On Arminian assumptions, humans are no different than the above phenomena under the assumption of what Arminians' claim Calvinism teaches about humans vis-a-vis God's providential control. So what's the morally relevant distinction between God using a impersonal "human" to create destruction and an impersonal tornado? So, there's a similar thing going on in Arminianism that they claim is going on in Calvinism. And it is that thing that Arminians claim makes God the author of evil.

Of course, Arminians can respond that God has good reasons for the evil he allows, and thus isn't the author of evil in a morally culpable way, but then he gives up the argument against Calvinism.

Or, perhaps Arminians can admit that humans-on-Calvinism are quite different than weather phenomena (i.e., they have originative powers in the morally relevant way, they are personal, they act, they intend, and they can be held responsible for it even if they have been determined to act or intend how they do, etc), but then (again!) he gives up the argument against Calvinism.

Or, I suppose they can deny what looks to be the clear biblical teaching about God's relationship of control and determiner of the weather. But apart from the ad hoc nature of this move, the demoted (even for Arminians) status of God and his providential governing, the Arminian loses his appeal to the "clear" sounding passages about God's saving love for all whoever and Jesus' death for all whoever. Much of their arguments here rest on "the clear" teaching of Scripture. Lastly, they have argued that the Bible uses common sense terms that presuppose what common man would assume about those terms. If so, the above passages read by a common man would be read that God controls the weather like a manipulator controls a marionette.

War, What is it Good For?

Absolutely nothing if you claim to be at WAR WITH ERROR while really you're just a yes man for bad atheological arguments. (Sorry this isn't a post on pacifism.)

In response to my claim that John Loftus makes incoherent remakes in explaining his outsider test, like:

* It is impossible that any religion with a non-nebulous god pass the outsider test


** It is possible that a religion with a non-nebulous god pass the outsider test.

War On Error left this defense of Loftus in the combox:

It's a priori vs a posteriori. Loftus is saying, on the one hand, there is nothing a priori that prevents Christianity from passing the OTF. He's trying to show that it is a fair test and then challenging up and coming Christian thinkers to actually apply it. However, when Christians come to him and tell him they've applied it and it has passed, he compares his a posteriori conclusions to theirs. And of course, in a world full of disputes about everything at all levels, we expect disagreement there.

That's really rather ridiculous. Apart from the fact that it is lame to claim that because you didn't pass a test no one else can (I suppose megalomaniacs think that way; or perhaps third-graders who fail a math test), this "defense" supports the Mormon burning of the bosom test for faith, MBBTF.

This has been pointed out by J.P. Holding. If WAR ON ERROR meets up with a Mormon, the Mormon will tell WOE (Ben) that he needs to pray and see if it isn't revealed to him the Mormonism is true. If Ben takes the test and says it doesn't work, the Mormon simply "compares his a posteriori experience" to Ben's. The Mormon will say that Ben didn't "really" take the test, just like Loftus says to whoever claims to have passed the OTF, like Victor Reppert. Of course, the Mormon will say that it is a priori possible that the test fail, so it is a fair test.

Similarly, Word of Faith pastors will often argue that if you have enough faith then certain blessings will come. They ask you to test God's goodness. Since it is a test, then it is a priori possible to pass it; however, in experience, the pastors compare all reports to their own a posteriori experience (say, the notice their mansion, the Benz in the driveway, the Rolex on their wrist, etc) and claim that the parishioners didn't "really" have enough faith.

War on Error bet on a losing horse. If he stayed true to his moniker, he'd be pointing out the flaws rather than trying to salvage planks from a sinking and worthless vessel.

The "doer of sin"


“He hasn't done that - not in the ways you are implying he has.”

That’s a sheer denial, with nothing to back it up. This is how I’ve characterized Thibo’s position: if God is responsible, then we are not responsible; if we are responsible, then God is not responsible. So he framed the issue in symmetrical terms. He did that repeatedly in response to Nemes.

Do you now deny that this is an accurate characterization of his position?

Keep in mind that this symmetrical relationship, as Thibo views it, is central to Thibo’s objection to Calvinism in his various replies to Nemes.

“There would be more to it then that. God is the source of morality (either by nature or choice). But if man was the source of morality, and had the power and knowledge to create worlds... the senario starts to look like what if this man was God - and we are back to the same problem we started with.”

i) To begin with, you’re shifting the goalpost. You originally said: “But we don't create worlds or harden sinners hearts, since we are not God.”

That’s a far cry from saying the difference lies in the fact that God is the source of morality.

ii) Moreover, your response is evasive. You know perfectly well what Nemes, Manata, and I have in mind. Examples where, if I were to allow a foreseeable and avoidable evil to occur, I’d be at least partly to blame.

iii) Furthermore, if you deny that what is intuitively blameworthy in the case of a human agent is blameless in the case of God, then you disarm Arminianism of its intuitively moralistic objections to Calvinism (a point that Manata has been making in response to you).

If our moral intuitions are unreliable or inapplicable in relation to God God, then Arminians forfeit the right to say God is culpable if he decrees a sinful event.

“Overlap, yes. But God does not perform the same act man does. God didn't throw Joseph into the pit or refuse to let Isreal go or crusify Christ. Further, God's motives were different than Joseph's brothers, or Pharaoh or the Jews and Romans.”

i) Now you’re falling back on your old ruse of drawing metaphysical distinctions as if metaphysical distinctions are equivalent to moral distinctions. But as I already pointed out, to merely draw a metaphysical distinction fails to exonerate the Arminian God. A metaphysical distinction is not ipso facto exculpatory.

You need to show how your metaphysical distinctions absolve the Arminian God of complicity in evil.

This isn’t the first time I drawn your attention to the inadequacy of maneuver. And how do you respond? By simply repeating yourself.

This suggests to me that you’ve bottomed out. You’re not advancing the argument because you have nothing in reserve.

“So there are significant differences in the acts and intentions.”

And as I’ve already pointed out, Calvinism can avail itself of the same distinctions.

You seem to have a very limited repertoire of responses. You recycle the same responses. You rearrange them a bit, but it always comes back to the same circular conversation. I say A, you say B. I say C. You say D. I say E, you say A…

Evidently, you’ve run out of arguments.

“You may have missed the point although perhaps I could have been more clear. I am not saying per Calvinism, God performs sinful acts. Just the oposit, per Calvinism God does not perform sinful acts - and that makes sense to me even from an external perspective. The point however, is that since, Calvinism, denies God is the author of sin while He predetermines sin's occurance; the most viable definition of 'author of sin', per Calvinism, seems to be 'doer of sin'.”

You repeat the same confusion. The “doer” of sin is the sinner. The “doer” is the immediate agent–not a second party (even if the second party is somehow complicit in the deed). The doer is the party who performs the actual deed.

This isn’t difficult to grasp. You may not think that distinction is morally adequate, but that’s not the point at this juncture. The point is get clear on the concept. Whether or not that conceptual distinction is sufficient for theodicean purposes is a separate issue.

Patristics and prayers to the dead

When Catholic and Orthodox apologists appeal to church fathers or ancient liturgies to establish the propriety of prayers to the dead, they illustrate the irrationality of their mindset. They’re so used to defaulting to tradition that they don’t stop to ask themselves some elementary questions, or draw some rudimentary distinction.

In matters of theology, the first question a Christian ought to ask himself is what was somebody in a position to know. Now it’s possible that some well-placed church fathers had independent information concerning certain details of NT history. That would at least involve ordinary channels of information.

But when we’re talking about prayers to the dead, we’re talking about the nature of the afterlife. Yet the only direct method of acquiring accurate information on the nature of the afterlife is to die and return from the dead. But, of course, death is normally a one-way street. None of the church fathers spent a week in heaven, hell, or “Purgatory,” then came back to tell the story.

In theory, what sources of information about the afterlife are even possible? And more to the point, what sources of information are reliable? The only reliable source of information is divine revelation.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with Philip Blosser a few years ago. He cited the testimony of Augustine to establish the perpetual virginity of Mary. In reply, I made the common sense observation that Augustine was not an eyewitness to the conjugal arrangements of Joseph and Mary. How would Augustine be privy to the details of their sex life?

But even though Blosser is a philosophy prof., it never occurred to him to consider the obvious. He is so conditioned to default to the church fathers that he doesn’t pause to ask practical questions regarding the competence of his sources.



“And I note, again, that if prayer to the dead had been practiced in Biblical times as it's practiced in Catholicism and Orthodoxy today, we wouldn't expect people to have to resort to the sort of argumentation we've gotten from Lvka and Christine in order to make the case.”

I’d like to piggyback on something that Jason said. We don’t have any examples of divinely sanctioned prayers to the dead in Scripture.

We do, however, see a similar practice in Scripture, although it’s forbidden rather than sanctioned. And, what is more, this practice involves different cultural assumptions regarding the accessibility of the dead.

I’m alluding to necromancy. This was an attempt to contact the dead. And, as I say, Scripture sternly prohibits this practice.

In addition, it’s instructive to see how people in Bible times thought it was possible to contact the dead. The locus classicus is 1 Sam 28.

Saul doesn’t think it’s possible contact Samuel by simply speaking to him directly. In order for Samuel to hear him, Saul deems it necessary to go to a medium to establish contact. In order for Samuel to be sensible to what Saul has to say, it’s necessary to bring Samuel back into the land of the living. You can’t reach Samuel merely by talking to him on your own.

If Christians and Jews in Bible times believed in prayers to the dead, then this would be the mechanism. In order for the “saints” to hear you, you need a living medium, and you also need the medium to bring the decedent back into the sphere of the living.

Of course, a Catholic or Orthodox apologist can reject this framework, but in so doing, he has to reject the only Biblical precedent we have for contacting the dead. And Catholic and Orthodox apologists are thereby rejecting the cultural understanding how the dead could be made aware of the living. In that case they can’t appeal to tradition. For tradition assumes continuity with the past. That you can extrapolate from the practice of Christians in the early church to Christians in the NT church or pious Jews in OT times.

If there’s a fundamental discontinuity in the way in which Catholic and Orthodox theologians deem it possible to access the dead, and the way in which people in Bible times thought it possible to access the dead, then it’s no longer reasonable to assume that Bible writers thought it possible for the saints to be conscious of the living, and available to the living, in the way that Catholics and Orthodox believe.

To the extent that people in Bible times thought it possible to reach out to the dead (and remember that even this is a forbidden practice), that required a link with a living medium. Furthermore, the medium had to bring the dead into the presence of the living.

Perry Robinson On Prayers To The Dead

Perry Robinson posted the following at Beggars All:

"Now request and intercession and thanksgiving, it is not out of place to offer even to men—the two latter, intercession and thanksgiving, not only to saintly men but also to others. But request to saints alone, should some Paul or Peter appear, to benefit us by making us worthy to obtain the authority which has been given to them to forgive sins—with this addition indeed that, even should a man not be a saint and we have wronged him, we are permitted our becoming conscious of our sin against him to make request even of such, that he extend pardon to us who have wronged him."

Origen, On Prayer, X

He posted the same passage in another forum months ago. I responded to him there, and he didn't reply. So, I'll repeat, below, what I wrote in response to Perry in that other forum.

Origen seems to be addressing relations on earth, if somebody like Paul or Peter "appears". And he doesn't limit his comments to saints, but is addressing all men. It would be unreasonable to draw the conclusion that Origen is advocating attempts to contact deceased saints, like Paul and Peter after their death, if those deceased saints don't first appear to us on earth. If you want us to think that Origen was advocating attempts to contact deceased saints who haven't appeared to us, you should explain why.

Later in the same chapter of his treatise, Origen argues that the proper recipients of prayer can be discerned by means of the examples given in scripture. There are no examples of praying to the deceased in scripture, and Origen never advocates the practice in any of his many comments on related subjects. He often discusses deceased saints and angels, including their relation to our prayers, but he never encourages attempts to contact those saints and angels in the form of what we today commonly call prayer. Just as the lack of such prayers in scripture would be unexpected if the people of Biblical times believed in praying to saints and angels, the lack of reference to such prayers in Origen's many comments on related issues is unlikely if he believed in the practice.

In his treatise Against Celsus, Origen uses a wide variety of terms, not just terms like "pray" and "prayer", when addressing such issues. He comments that angels are involved in bringing our prayers to God and bringing God's blessings to us (Against Celsus, 5:4), but goes on to say that we shouldn't "invoke" angels (5:5). He says that it's sufficient to imitate the angels' devotion to God without invoking them (5:5). Angels and other created beings are aware of our prayers to God and our moral character, for example, and they pray with us, but we shouldn't "propitiate" or "invoke" them (8:64). He repeatedly refers to the fact that only God sees our thoughts (7:51; On Prayer, 10), commenting that Christians for that reason pray only to God (4:26).

While we could reconcile such comments with prayers to the dead and angels by adding qualifiers that Origen doesn't mention, why do so? Given how often he discusses deceased saints and angels, including their relationship with our prayers (the role of angels in presenting our prayers to God, etc.), it seems unlikely that he would never advocate what we today call prayer to the saints and angels if he believed in the practice.

Zombie Pope

Truth Unites... and Divides said:
"The pope, Archbishop of Canterbury, and US Conference of Bishops would deplore discrimination against zombies."

I'd think the pope would stand up against the zombies.
I'm sorry, TUAD, but I think it may already be too late!

Of course, this is JPII.

No word on Benedict XVI's undead status . . . yet!

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Zombie rights

Back in February I saw 28 Weeks Later on TV. It’s one of the better zombie flicks. A very efficient piece of filmmaking. Of course, the genre is rather limited. There’s only so much you can do with zombies. Character development isn’t their forte.

Because the Rage virus is so easily and rapidly communicable, there is almost no margin for error. The odds are already stacked against the human race.

Thankfully, this is fiction. But if this were real, the human race would be doomed in short order. Why?

Because all of the usual “human rights” organizations would pivot and swing to the defense of zombies. Rounding up zombies would be “racist.” Zombies would be entitled to Miranda rights. The ACLU would appeal to the 9th Circuit to have them released. The pope, Archbishop of Canterbury, and US Conference of Bishops would deplore discrimination against zombies. Sociologists at Stanford and Harvard would publish studies on how zombies are oppressed and misunderstood. Blue states would hasten to pass new laws criminalizing “hate speech” against zombies. The NYT would leak the classified methods and sources for containing the outbreak. And so on and so forth.

The human race wouldn’t stand a chance.

Craig, Calvinism, and Molinism

A few weeks ago, William Lane Craig unloaded on Calvinism. His performance was underwhelming inasmuch as he fell back on canned objections to Calvinism.

However, I wish to make a different point. Craig is arguably the premier Christian apologist of his generation. Yet it’s clear, to judge by the slash-n-burn rhetoric he resorted to in reference to Calvinism, that if he thought the only logical alternatives were Calvinism, Molinism, and atheism, and if he also thought Molinism was wrong, he’d rather be an atheist than a Christian.

What makes this even more remarkable, coming from a major Christian apologist, is that, by his own admission, Molinism is not a revealed truth. It doesn’t even claim to be divinely revealed.

He compares and contrasts Calvinism with Molinism, and that’s a valid exercise up to a point. But it’s also misleading, for there is a fundamental asymmetry between the two positions.

Calvinism claims to be divinely revealed–Molinism does not. And in the nature of the case, we have a higher epistemic duty to believe the word of God than we have to believe an intellectual speculation.

Of course, you might object that’s possible to mistakenly believe that something or another is revealed truth. And that is, indeed, the case. However, that preserves the underlying asymmetry. For it’s also possible to mistakenly believe that an intellectual speculation is true.

So in both cases it’s possible to be wrong, but our epistemic duties are hardly comparable in each case. Because I have a higher obligation to revealed truth, than I have to intellectual speculation, I also have a higher or obligation to what I take to be revealed truth, than I have to what I take to be a true speculation.

A Christian’s allegiance ought to be first and foremost to the word of God. To make what is admittedly an intellectual conjecture like Molinism the deal-breaker betrays a terribly misplaced sense of spiritual priorities. Especially when Craig is a seasoned believer and veteran apologist for the faith.

Desperate To Justify Prayers To The Dead

The practice of praying to the dead was brought up in a thread at Beggars All, and I linked to a post I wrote on the subject. Lvka responded:

Matthew 27:47 and Mark 15:35.

Some bystanders were attempting to explain what Jesus said, and they were mistaken. How does it follow that scripture is supporting prayer to the dead by recording what some mistaken bystanders said? Scripture also records accusations that Jesus was a sinner and was empowered by Satan.

The Bible covers thousands of years of history and a wide variety of contexts within that history. There are hundreds of passages on prayer. What should we think when people who believe in praying to the dead resort to passages like Matthew 27:47 to try to justify the practice?

And notice that Lvka doesn't even attempt to address the Biblical and patristic evidence I cited in my article. I mentioned sources like Origen and Cyprian, and others could be cited (Irenaeus, Lactantius, etc.).

Update On 10/21/23: If you're interested in more information about the history of opposition to praying to saints and angels, see the collection of posts here.

Crispy critters

slw, on June 3, 2010 at 4:18 am Said:


How is it less problematic to believe there’s no moral problem with God creating the world knowing that sin would occur, since He can do what he wants (and whatever he does is perfect and good, and then believe that God allows (Armininians would argue cause) evil he could easily thwart for some other reason than his value for freewill. What would be his reason in your system: for his own glory, making his wrath known? How is that better? How doesn’t that make God a capricious God, arbitrarily frying ants under a magnifying glass for his own jollies?

By contrast, the Arminian God merely buys a magnifying glass for the 5-year-old psychopath, then looks over his shoulder in mock horror as our junior psychopath fries the ants for his own jollies.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Darkness at noon


“Steve, Have you read my chapter yet?”

Why would I waste time and money on your potboilers when I can read actual scholars in the field?

“Or looking for excuses not to do so?”

I don’t have to look for excuses not to do so. They come running to me.

“What exactly do you believe about Genesis 1 and its relation or non-religion to science, cosmology and geological history?”

I believe that Gen 1 is a somewhat stylized account of how God made the world.

I’m not especially interested in how it relates to science. Rather, all that matters is how it relates to reality. In that respect, Gen 1 is true to reality.

Science is not reality. At its best, science is a human construct, based on human perception, along with various metascientific assumptions and evidentially underdetermined extrapolations.

Lately, science has also been deformed by methodological naturalism.

“If Noel Weeks really said that ‘a three-tiered cosmology isn’t even really identifiable within ancient near eastern creation myths’ then he can argue that point with the Egyptian and Mesopotamian experts I mentioned.”

i) Since I’ve quoted extensively from his article (in another post), there’s no reason to speculate on what he said.

ii) You aren’t attempting to counter his arguments.

“Do you honestly believe that one Young Earth creationist ancient historian Noel Weeks who writes for ‘Answers in Genesis’ is on par with the scholars I mentioned in my blog reply (and in my chapter) whose specialties are ANE cosmologies?”

i) Why not? His doctoral advisor was Cyrus Gordon, the premier ANE scholar of his generation.

ii) Moreover, I quoted two of your own scholars to disprove your sweeping contention. Try not to be blindingly obtuse.

Anyway, this is just a smokescreen on your part because you can’t deal with his arguments.

“The three-tier view was held for thousands of years in both Egypt and Mesopotamia. It's visible in ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian writings and the Bible, and visible in creation myths, creation-related passages, and implied in other passages that do not directly discuss cosmology.”

Once again, I quoted from two of your own scholars to the contrary. Are you illiterate?

But while we’re on the subject, here’s another quote from Horowitz:

“A number of Sumerian incantations may preserve a Sumerian cosmographic tradition of seven heavens and seven earths that can be compared to the three heavens and earths of the Akkadian mystical-religious text KAR 307 30-38,” Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography, 208.

Is that a 3-tier view? Sounds like a contrast between a 14-tier view and a 6-tier view.

“But assuming that is a correct summation of Weeks' view I'd like to know what Week means by ‘isn't really identifiable.’"

If you’d like to know what he means, you might begin by reading his article.

“Lastly, If you want to discuss my chapter, fine. But you should read it first, along with the endnotes, and then tell me how much ‘science’ you think remains in the Biblical creation story in Genesis 1.”

i) I’m commenting on information that you volunteered over at Hip & Thigh, along with your subsequent comments to me (such as they are). You chose what information to put out.

ii) In addition, Ed, you’re just a hack popularizer. If I want to read attacks on how unscientific or mythological Gen 1 allegedly is, there are plenty of “scholars” I could turn to. Indeed, I’ve read my fair share. Since you’re the one who keeps hyping credentials, you disqualify yourself in the process.

“How Genesis 1 fits with the sacred day of the week and sacred festivals of the ancient Hebrews.”

Naturally, since Gen 1 inaugurates the pattern.

“What have you read lately on ANE cosmic geography? Answers in Genesis articles?”

For some reason, you suffer from a compulsive need to make a public fool of yourself. When, in my prior response to you, I quote verbatim (with pagination) from two of your own scholars, doesn’t it dawn on you that I’m getting my information direct from the source? Must you be so dense?

As to who all I’ve read on the general topic, that includes Gregory Beale, Daniel Block, John Currid, Peter Enns, Richard Hess, Wayne Horowitz, Thorkild Jacobsen, Othmar Keel, Kenneth Kitchen, Terence Mitchell, Jeffrey Niehaus, John Oswalt, David Tsumura, John Walton, Noel Weeks, and Donald Wiseman, among others.

“Yeah, those are really going to bring back ‘scientific creationism,’ though I really think the dioramas of Eden with dinosaurs at the Creation Museum are doing the job, a sanctified Flinstones pre-history of man. My what literate heights creationists are reaching these days.”

I wasn’t defending scientific creationism in my response to you. I was merely responding to the execrable quality of your reasoning.

However, if you insist on making invidious comparisons, then YECs like John Byl, Marcus Ross, Jonathan Sarfati, Andrew Snelling, and Kurt Wise stack up quite nicely next to the likes of you.

Spacetime and Determinism

In my opinion (which therefore makes it infallible truth, seeing as how Jesus said “Thou art Peter and upon this rock” etc.), the most consistently funny television show of all time was Whose Line Is It Anyway? By which I mean the American version, because the British version wasn’t as funny, although it still had its moments of greatness too. Whose Line was all about improv. There was no script, just a bunch of comedians who acted out sketches on the barest of suggestions.

One of the better sketches was called “Newsflash” and consisted of two members pretending to be newscasters while a third (usually Colin Mochrie) was put in front of a green screen. He didn’t know what was being displayed on the green screen behind him, but had to pretend that he did. By the end of the sketch, based on clues given him, he had to guess what it had actually been showing.

Here’s one of my favorite examples:

Now that you’re back from following the linked videos and getting your fill of Whose Line clips, I’ll appear to randomly change the subject…

When most of us try to visualize time, we tend to think of it from the perspective in which we perceive it. That’s to be expected, of course, but if we think about it in detail, we find flaws with our typical concepts. For example, we tend to believe that what we are experiencing as “now” is now for everyone, everywhere. That it’s some kind of “universal now.”

But this treats time as an objective reality. However, modern physics (and many philosophies) reject the objective nature of time. Time is relative to the observer in physics—there is no constant “speed” of time, and there is no objective “now” for any two observers. Indeed, one observer may view two events as simultaneous while another observer views those same two events as one preceding the other. Both views are equally valid, if you take their relative motion into account.

In the end, time is intricately linked to space. Einstein’s method of treating time as a fourth dimension worked well in math, and typically physics still keeps time as an extra dimension. Even in M-theory, where there are eleven physical dimensions, time is seen as an extra dimension too (so it’s common for someone holding to M-theory to say “There are eleven dimensions plus time”). String theory typically states there are ten dimensions plus time, and so on. Additionally, in theistic views, time is usually seen as having been created by God along with the rest of the universe. Therefore, time is intimately linked with space under theistic views too.

It’s easy for us to visualize space (or at least objects in space) as an abstract quantity. We can imagine any object, say, a desk. It exists in space, and the dimensions of the desk define the dimensions of the space the desk exists within. It is far more difficult to picture time in here as well, but we can imagine a desk as it progresses through time. The desk starts new, then gets scratches, coffee spills on it, kids draw on it, until such point as the wood begins to rot and eventually the desk crumbles away.

While it is easy for us to visualize the special aspect of the desk, we can’t visualize the entire time-line of the desk as a whole in spacetime, as that would require us to view something in at least four dimensions. But while it is difficult for us to view it, it is not at all difficult to write mathematical equations about it and understand how the variables interact with each other.

Since we view only the special aspects, we usually think of various objects as special snapshots within time. We mentally compare a start point with an end point, but we cannot see the time dimension itself. I would like to suggest that in order to view the entirety of the object, one must also take into account the timeline of the object, viewing the whole in spacetime rather than just in space. I would suggest that that is how God views the universe. Obviously we cannot do it, but we can come up with analogies to help us better understand certain concepts.

One of the better analogies has come to us from the movie industry. This is the epitome of a series of snapshots in time, usually at the rate of 24 frames per second (for movies) or 30 per second (for TV). What’s interesting is if you film at, say 48 frames per second, and play back at 24 frames per second, time will appear to take twice as long for the actors involved. Or, if you film at 12 frames per second and play it at 24 frames per second, time will appear to take half as long. Varying the speed at which action is filmed varies the appearance of time, and gives us such things as the “slow-motion” shot. Alternatively, you can alter the speed at which the film is played back (such as when you press fast-forward while playing a movie) instead of when the film is shot.

So suppose you watch a scene of a movie and you set your DVD player to play it in slow motion. The events unfold and seem to take much longer than they normally would; but, from the perspective of the characters in the video, time does not take any longer than normal. That’s because, from the character’s perspective, everything has slowed in relation to each other. Put it this way: if it takes 24 frames for the character to reach a certain point, it will always take 24 frames regardless if you play it at 12 frames per second or 48 frames per second. Changing the frame rate in playback doesn’t affect the number of frames used for the action.

Let us extend the analogy. Suppose that there are four scenes in a movie: A, B, C, and D. Suppose that for the characters, the events unfold chronologically. A happens before B, B before C, and C before D. What would happen if you took D and spliced it between A and B? You would have A, D, B, C (this would be similar to old theaters when the rolls of film got mixed up). The characters at point D know things that occurred in B and C, but D is played before B or C are played. From the point of view of the characters involved, B and C both preceded D even if D is played back before B and C. That is, as far as the characters in the movie are concerned, they have a specific history that is related to the story itself that has nothing to do with how the film is played back. You could actually randomize the entire movie so that there are no two consecutive frames. Pick any frame at random, and the characters in it will have knowledge of the history of whatever went before them, and will know nothing of the future that is ahead of them, within the context of that frame.

This means that, again as far as the characters are concerned, you could completely randomize time and they would not know it. Someone who watches the movie would know, but not the characters in it. Techniques like this (although not as extreme) have been used by many non-linear movies. Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is an example of such a non-linear story, where the things that occur chronologically at the end of the story are shown in the middle of the movie, etc. As far as the characters are concerned, there is no “jumping” in time—but the audience can see it.

Let’s take that analogy and apply it to reality itself: as long as we have a concept of history, time itself could actually be completely randomized and we would not know it. That is, the “now” that we have could have been preceded by a “now” in the middle of next week, but we wouldn’t know it because we have only the experience of our history in mind at our “now.” While it is certainly unlikely that this is the case, what it shows is once again that our experiences in time do not have any bearing on the way that time actually unfolds from the perspective of an outside observer, such as God. God could have arranged time like a movie director, in that as He “views” the movie of the universe, He might see the Flood occur after the Resurrection. For that matter, time could be flowing backwards.

Of course, such assumes a closed future. That is, it views all objects in their entirety in both space and time. If God views the Flood after He views the Resurrection (on His heavenly DVD player), then the characters at the Flood could not do other than they did do. For God has already seen the Resurrection, which occurred after the Flood in chronological time, and required the actions of the Flood to have already been in the history of the universe at that point, even if it hadn’t yet been viewed.

It is important to note that this truth has absolutely nothing to do with what the people existing in time observe. Again, time could be completely randomized and they would not sense it. This is a function of an outside observer having seen that portion of the spacetime existence of an object, not a function of the character who is in time itself.

In the end, this means that if someone can view a complete object in spacetime, then the future is closed for that object. Whatever will happen is what will happen and it is unavoidable because it has been seen. More importantly, it means that if we exist as objects seen fully in spacetime by someone outside of spacetime, that means that the future is fully, 100% determined for us too! This means that an outside observer could “play” history over and over, just like we do a video, and the same exact results will obtain because the object that exists at any particular point in time (from its perspective) exists in the future and the past as that same object. If it were to change, then it would mean that randomizing time would be observable to people within time.

And this brings me back to Whose Line (bet you thought I forgot). Because of the movie analogy, it is tempting for someone to argue that this determinism is due to a feature of characters following a script. Whose Line has no script, yet the same principals apply. Take a frame from the above video, say one that occurs 30 second into the clip. Colin at that point doesn’t know what is on the green screen. You could splice in a frame from 3:40 in. Colin now knows what was on the green screen. It doesn’t matter what order you play those frames in, nor if you play it forwards or backwards. As far as Colin is concerned within the context of the film clip, how you view it does not alter time for him. You can alter the outside perception of time—play it in slow motion or speed it up—but it will not affect his perception of what went on. When you view the clip, the events are fully determined. The ending will be what it will be as you watch it; it cannot be other than what it is.

Additionally, this does NOT require infallible knowledge on the part of the observer. For instance, if you watch the above clip, it requires a certain history to be true for the characters who have been filmed. This means that if you watch them “now,” it necessitates their history so that they get to that point, yet you are not infallible. And this means that if the last “frame of time” has been viewed by any outside observer, the entire scope of spacetime has been determined, because it must be what it is to get to that last frame.

Ultimately, this means that even if God knows our “future” imperfectly—if He simply knows any of it—determinism obtains up to that point. Whatever God knows from our future requires a certain history for the world to get to that future. If God has seen scene D in the movie, then scenes A, B, and C are determined even if we are only in scene A “now.”

The only way to avoid this is to assert that there is no actual future; there is only the present and an eternally unfolding “now.” But this would require an “objective now” that even God must follow. God cannot have seen the ending, because if He has then all the preceding events are determined even if He didn’t want them to be.

The chief end of man

kangaroodort, on June 2, 2010 at 6:14 pm Said:

Here are a few other good articles with regards to God being glofified in Arminianism more than in Calvinism...


Acronym Definition

GLOF: Glacial Lake Outburst Flood
GLOF: Good Luck On Finals

Reformed Jiu-Jitsu


“(By the way, I'm brazilian and calvinist, sorry by my english and lack of better word selection.)”

Hi Tony!

i) Nice to see the doctrines of grace are making headway in Brazil. To a great extent the future of Christianity lies in the Southern Hemisphere. That’s where the action is.

ii) Your English is just fine. Moreover, your English is much better than my Portuguese!

Finally, if I dared to criticize your English, you might retaliate with some of that Brazilian
Jiu-Jitsu. Submit me in a joint lock or blood choke!

“Some christians ask me: if God determined everything (to decree), he determined my sins, so I must commit sins and bad things (according to christianity) to follow God determined things. How can I explain this?”

i) No doubt it sounds bad, superficially speaking, to say that God predestined sin and evil. However, it also sounds bad to say that God allows sin and evil. But we live in a world with sin and evil, so God had a purpose for it.

ii) In fact, it’s better to say that everything happens for a good reason, including sin and evil, according to God’s wise plan for your life–than to say that sin and evil are pointless events with no redeeming value in the greater scheme of things.

iii) I don’t know what I “must” do until I do it.

iv) Yes, I “must” do whatever God predestined. But this doesn’t mean that I was going to do something else, something better, until God stepped in to make me do something bad.

God is like a novelist or storyteller. You and I are like characters in his story. There’s nothing in particular that you or I were going to do apart from God. In fact, there are lots of different things we could have done, in the sense that a novelist can think of many alternate endings. In one “draft,” Antonio marries the girl next door, and they live happily ever after. In another “draft,” Antonio marries a Swedish exchange student, and they divorce after five years of marriage.

When God creates the world, he makes one of these stories the real story. But it’s not as if he was preventing you from living the other story. For whatever story plays out is dependent on God anyway.

v) In addition, planned events can be the same as chance events. Take rolling the dice. Chances are that, sooner or later, you will roll a pair of sixes. Chances are that, sooner or later, you will roll a pair of sixes twice in a roll.

Of course, the same thing could happen if the dice are loaded. In that case, the dice would come up sixes every time. But this means there are occasions when a random outcome is the same as a predetermined outcome. There are times when cheating and getting lucky are indistinguishable.

It isn’t obvious to me why it is wrong for God to predestine an event as long as there is a possible world in which the same event happens by chance.

Angels in wetsuits

It isn’t easy being the angel Gabriel. You see, commuting from heaven to earth and back is a cumbersome and perilous exercise in a triple-decker universe.

To begin with, the only way for Gabriel to get here is through the sluice gates of the firmament. So every time he makes the trek, he has to don a wetsuit to keep his feathers dry. The wetsuit has zippers on each shoulder so that once he makes it through, he can unzip the shoulders to stretch his wings. But sometimes the zippers get stuck, which makes for a hard landing.

Needless to say, every angelic apparition is preceded by a quantity of rain. For every time the sluice gates of heaven are opened to let Gabriel come and go, there’s a downpour as the cosmic sea pours through the drain. So keep an umbrella handy whenever you’re expecting a visit from your guardian angel.

Gabriel also has to wear a football helmet so that he doesn’t suffer a concussion from banging his head against the solid dome of the firmament when he returns to heaven.

The flood and the flat-earth

One of the glaring incongruities in reading standard attacks on Noah’s flood is the totally disconnect between the view of the world which critics ascribe to the narrator, and the view of the world which critics use as their frame of reference in attacking the flood account.

On the one hand, critics tell us that the narrator subscribed to a triple-decker cosmography. On this model, the earth was flat. The “earth” comprised a single landmass or supercontinent, with mountains at the “corners” or “ends” of the “earth” to support the sky. The sky was a solid dome with sluice gates allowing the cosmic sea to precipitate rain and snow. Under and around the supercontinent was the primeval sea.

When, however, critics attack the coherence of the flood account, they pose objections like this: How did all the animals cross natural barriers to reach the ark? And how did they disperse? How could the ark accommodate so many species? How could animals adapted to very different climates and diets survive on the ark? How much water would it take to submerge Mount Everest? What would be the rate of precipitation to generate so much water? What would be the rate of runoff for the floodwaters to subside?

But an obvious problem with this whole line of attack is the way in which these critics using the wrong model of the world to attack the flood account. Notice the systemic failure to use a triple-decker cosmography as the point of reference when disputing the logistics of the flood. Yet the same critic assures us that the prescientific narrator was operating with a triple-decker cosmography.

Well, assuming for the sake of argument that this is the case, then the stock objections miss the mark. Indeed, we end up with two mutually exclusive arguments.

The critic needs to ask what natural barriers the animals had to cross on a flat-earth with a single landmass to reach the ark as well as disperse. Needs to ask the number of “species” which occupied this supercontinent. Needs to ask the number of ecological zones on this supercontinent. Needs to ask the size of the flat-earth. How much rainwater would it take to submerge the flat-earth?

Is the flood account internally coherent given the “primitive” cosmography which the critics ascribe to the narrator? Isn’t that the proper way to direct the question?

Critics need to get their stories straight. If they are going to attribute a triple-decker cosmography to Genesis 1, then that also has to be the frame of reference for Gen 6-9.

It doesn’t speak too highly of their intelligence when critics raise self-contradictory objections to Gen 1-9. For one set of objections cancels out the other set of objections.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Anti-Christian Delusion

"The only thing we can and should trust is the sciences" (John Loftus, The Christian Delusion, 89)

Unfortunately, this claim isn't a deliverance of any natural science. Science can't tell us something like this.

Furthermore, since the claim includes a normative prescription (i.e., "should"), science is impotent to tell us this.

Therefore, we shouldn't trust this claim.

Besides this, there are many things science cannot give us the answers to. I already mentioned normative truths (either ethical or rational), but there's also the reliability of my senses, the laws of logic, the existence of an external world, the existence of other minds, and a justification of the scientific enterprise itself. None of these things are given to us by science; indeed, most of them are presupposed by science.

I really can't fathom why some of the names that blurbed this book on the back cover did so. Michael Martin called it "arguably the best critique of the Christian faith the world has ever known." But of course, among its many other problems, Loftus' claim I quoted above rules out many of the chapters in the book as not worthy of our trust. Indeed, I've just been cherry picking stuff, a real critique would reveal hundreds of other errors of a similar nature, or worse.

Ambidextrous Arminians

On the one hand:

J.C. Thibodaux, on June 1, 2010 at 1:12 pm Said:

As has already been shown, you keep making this assertion under the unscriptural premise that God has some obligation to stop people from committing evil. If He has no such obligation, then He can’t be an “eligible candidate for blame if he lacks morally sufficient reason for doing it,” as you’re arguing. Your appeal to intuition is then entirely misplaced since you’re dealing with God, not man.

On the other hand:

The objection at first seems appealing, because it is built on the intuitive Arminian assumption of the link between LFW (Libertarian Free Will) and responsibility (i.e. faith is predetermined, therefore we are not responsible for it.

On the contrary, I think it's intuitive to think something is wrong with the argument that foreknowledge rules out freewill, even if people can't quite put their finger on why.

Normally we think we can choose the options we contemplate. Perhaps we are deceived and it’s an illusion, but believing so seems counter-intuitive. Further, it’s intuitive to think that ought implies can (i.e. we shouldn’t be held morally responsible for things predetermined before we were born).

Monday, May 31, 2010

"B.B. Warfield's Path to Inerrancy"

From Paul Helm (PDF).

Childlike Dependence On A Church Hierarchy

Matthew Bellisario writes:

Agree using what means? Your own intellect and historical criticism? Again, how are you going to determine if the Johannine comma is part of the canon or not? If it is not in the earliest manuscripts, should we include it in the Bible or not? Catholics know the answer, do you?...

The 100,000 dollar question is who is going to be the authority that is going to decide what historical account is correct? Who is going to decide what manuscripts are the closest to the original? You have to answer the question about the Johannine Comma. Is it part of the canon or not. If or if not, why?

I've seen a lot of Catholics make unreasonable claims about an alleged need for an infallible church to tell us what to believe. But Matthew Bellisario's use of the Johannine Comma is one of the worst examples I've encountered. Those of you who are familiar with the evidence pertaining to the Johannine Comma should know that it's not difficult to judge whether the passage is authentic. And even if it was difficult to judge, we'd make a decision in the same manner in which we make decisions about the text of patristic documents, papal documents, conciliar documents, etc. We don't need a ruling from an infallible church to arrive at a reliable conclusion.

"Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature." (1 Corinthians 14:20)

That was then, this is now

That was then:

Perry Robinson said,
June 30, 2008 at 11:03 am

And I wouldn’t think that a theory of inspiration would turn on a specific theory of truth like correspondence theory. I don’t see why a deflationary account wouldn’t do just as well.

Perry Robinson said,
July 2, 2008 at 8:26 pm

Prophetic statements can be true without correspondence. I don’t see any reason why they can’t be seen as true on deflationary accounts. Truth is the way things are, but it isn’t at all obvious that “the way things are” entails a congruence relation or correlation between two entities... I can agree that the historical events are the way Paul’s statements say they are, but that doesn’t necessarily imply a Correspondence Theory of truth and some “matching” relation.

This is now:

Perry Robinson said,
May 31, 2010 at 10:36 am

In answer to your philosophical query, in summary form, I am a realist and endorse a version of the correspondence theory of truth as say argued for by people like Richard Fumerton.

The Argonautica

According to the liberal Paul Seely:

"Ancient peoples were scientifically naive [in] that they did not distinguish between the appearance of the sky and their scientific concept of the sky. They had no reason to doubt what their eyes told them was true, namely, that the stars above them were fixed in a solid dome and that the sky literally touched the earth at the horizon. So, they equated appearance with reality and concluded that the sky must be a solid physical part of the universe just as much as the earth itself. "

A few comments:

1. I don’t question the fact that uninspired people living long ago probably had many inaccurate conceptions of the natural world. I’m just dealing with Seely’s overarching principle that the cosmography of the ancients was a transcription of appearances.

2. Take the Argonauts. Did Flaccus and Apollonius Rhodius write about the fantastic adventures of Jason and the Argonauts because the world appeared to have all these fabulous creatures? Likewise, did Ovid write the Metamorphosis based on appearances?

And what about Dante? He is writing from a prescientific perspective. Is Dante’s detailed cosmography of heaven, hell, and purgatory based on appearances? Is this what the afterlife looked like to an earthbound observer? I don’t think so. Rather, this is a literary and theological construct.

3. Even if, for the sake of argument, primitive peoples do judge by appearances, would that give rise to a transcultural cosmography? But don’t appearances vary from one place to another? Doesn’t the world present a different appearance depending on whether you live in the Arctic circle or the equator, Nebraska or the Andes, a tropical forest or a river valley, the East coast or the West coast?

4. Are appearances consistent with a flat-earth cosmography? What do we actually see as earthbound observers? Of course, if we live in tropical rainforest, we see very little. But suppose we have a more panoramic view.

a) We see the sun, moon, and stars appear to move across the sky. We also see that they always move in the same direction: clockwise, from east to west. (For now I’m omitting retrograde motion, which puzzled the ancients.)

Yet if the earth were flat, and the sun touched down because it literally came to the end of the world, then why would we see it rise in the east the morning after?

Why wouldn’t the sun reverse course? Alternate between clockwise and counterclockwise motion?

For the sun to “set” in the west,” but “rise” in the east suggests, does it not, that the sun went full circle? That it went “around” the earth?

b) Indeed, if during the daytime, the sun is moving in a semicircular path (the “dome of heaven”), and the sun rises each day in the same place, then that suggests a circular pathway. But if the earth is flat, then why is that necessary–or even expected? What is under the earth that the sun can pass through? Empty space? Does this mean the earth is floating in empty space?

c) Observers would also notice that the return time is about the same. Day and night are roughly the same duration.

To be sure, that varies. But the variations even out over the course of a year. When the days are long, the nights are short; when the nights are long, the days are short.

Yet if the return trip takes about the same amount of time, doesn’t this also suggest that the sun is moving in circles? But why would it go around and around unless the earth itself was round?

If the earth is spherical, then that’s why the sun would seem to move in the same concentric line.

d) At most, then, appearances would suggest a geocentric setting, but not a flat-earth cosmography.

e) In addition, primitive people were acquainted with relative motion, such as passing ships. So appearances could be consistent with more than one frame of reference.

The waters above

“This ancient cosmology, which the Israelites shared with their neighbors, included a flat disk-shaped earth with mountains at its ends supporting a multi-layered sky, or domed firmament…the dome had chambers through which the water above it came down as rain,” B. Arnold, Genesis (Cambridge 2009), 41.

Paul Seely assures us that “primitive” people simply judge by appearances. Well, if that’s the case, then this description would go against appearances.

Given the water cycle (evaporation>precipitation>evaporation), the same basic amount of water is constantly recycled (with some variations). So the sea level remains fairly steady. Even if the ice caps melted, the sea could only rise so far. It’s a closed system.

But suppose the source of rain or snow comes from outside. If the “firmament” is like a dam, which releases water in the form of rain or snow, then the earth is like a saucer, bowl or fish tank, and every time it rains, the sea level would rise. There’s no place for the water to go. So it just accumulates.

Assuming that the ancients were simply judging by appearances, wouldn’t this cosmography belie appearances? It doesn’t look like the sea level is steadily rising, does it? It doesn’t look like the dry land is incrementally overtaken by coastal flooding, does it?

I’d add that both Egyptians and Mesopotamians lived on flood plains. Both civilizations were intimately acquainted with flooding. Yet the floodwaters receded. But if you’re living in a cosmic fishbowl, how is that possible? Where is the drain?

Enochian cosmography

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

“What do you think of the verses in Enoch 32:1-4 that seem to indicate that Enoch literally went to the extreme edge of the world (where the heavens stop) and saw the gates where the stars are allowed to come out? That seems to be the kind of disconfirmation you were looking for. Or no?”

Well, that’s an interesting test-case. I’ve already quoted two scholars who say the Enuma Elish was motivated by power politics. The same thing can be said for Enoch. It represents the “church politics” of the day.

As scholars like Roger Beckwith (Calendar and Chronology, Jewish and Christian) and David Jackson (Enochic Judaism: Three Defining Paradigm Exemplars) have documented, Enochian literature is pious fiction intended to backdate and thereby legitimate the Essene calendar-–over against rival religious calendars in mainstream Judaism.

So this is polemical literature designed to usurp the status quo. Although the authors of this propaganda might well be banking on a gullible audience to treat their “instant” cosmography as a realistic version of events, the authors themselves were consciously contriving a fictitious backstory to justify their sectarian calendar after the fact.

That’s another reason why I don’t assume that ANE/Hellenistic cosmogonies and/or cosmographies were ever meant to be realistic. Rather, this type of literature is written as the need arises to further a political agenda.

And, of course, I don’t put the Bible in the same category (for reasons I’ve given elsewhere).

As such, I don’t think ancient writers like this were being naïve. Rather, I think modern writers like Peter Enns are being naïve when they fail to factor in the political function of the genre in question.

Instant human: just add water

There are numerous responses to the problem of evil, but first I want to point out an obvious logical problem that anyone who would question the libertarian runs into, and that is the Grandfather paradox. Since the libertarian believes that God foreknows actual future acts, then if God foreknows what a free creature will do in the future, he cannot not create that person, otherwise His foreknowledge of what the person will do would be wrong (since the person would not in fact do what God knew he would do; indeed, God's foreknowledge of the person's existence would be wrong as well!), and God cannot be wrong. If you want to introduce middle knowledge (or whatever you may call God's hypothetical knowledge) then I would just point out, as a friend has done, that "God can only have middle knowledge...of people who will certainly exist at some point. He cannot know what someone who never exists would do; there is no person there to ever know anything about."

There are several problems with this argument:

1. Brennon’s argument assumes that God’s foreknowledge of human actions is the effect of human actions. But since a Christian compatibilist wouldn’t take that for granted, this is only a logical problem given libertarian assumptions which the compatibilist doesn’t concede in the first place. Since I don’t think God’s knowledge of future human actions is causally contingent on future human actions, Brennon’s analogy with the Grandfather paradox is a nonstarter.

2. An ironic consequence of Brennon’s backwards reasoning is that all of God’s creative, miraculous, and providential actions are frozen. God’s knowledge of the future is contingent on the autonomous eventuation of the future such that God’s actions in relation to the future are utterly constrained by the future outcome. God’s field of action is dependent on independent factors. Man is free, but God is necessitated. For the future is inevitable–based on what we will do, rather than God’s doing. And not just human actions–but any future entity.

3. Brennon also makes the eccentric claim that God can’t know what someone would do unless God knows what someone will do, in which case the agent must exist at some point.

But hypothetical knowledge isn’t knowledge of what someone will do, as if there is only one possible course of action. In the nature of the case, hypothetical knowledge involves the knowledge of alternate scenarios.

4. There is also the specter of circular causality in supposing that God’s creative fiat is conditioned by our actual existence at some point down the line.

5. Brennon treats it as self-evident that God can’t know what we will do or would do unless we exist at some point down the line. But that’s a poor argument for libertarian theism:

i) God could know what we would do if what we would do is the reflection of God’s infinite imagination–like a novelist who can mentally entertain alternate endings to his own story.

ii) God could know what we will do if what we will do is the result of God planning our lives and putting his plan into effect.

Brennon reduces God to a cosmic waitress whose creative contribution consists of adding hot water to freeze-dried humans.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The firmament

(Posted on Steve's behalf.)

Last January, Peter Enns posted a diagram of the triple-decker universe:

Many of us have seen diagrams like this. And according to Enns, that’s how Bible writers viewed the world. But let’s consider this diagram for a few minutes:

1. We’re told that Bible writers thought that heaven was literally up. However, if the firmament were truly a dome, then heaven would surround all sides of the hemispheric firmament, from the zenith to the horizon. In that case, heaven wouldn’t just be up. Heaven would be all around us. Sideways. Ahead and behind.

2. That being the case, it should also be possible to walk to heaven or sail to heaven if you went far enough. Did any ancient Near Easterners have that experience?

3. This diagram also presents the earth as a single landmass or supercontinent (like “Pangaea”), surrounded by the primeval sea. However, some ANE peoples were seafaring peoples. Surely there were some adventurous sailors who either accidentally or intentionally found out that the “known world” of the ANE was not the only land mass.

4. Likewise, if ancient Near Easterners really thought the Netherworld was under the earth, would they not have attempted to contact their departed loved ones by exploring caves?

5. In addition, notice that the primeval sea is cropped and squared off, like a picture frame. But that raises another question: if the primeval sea surrounded the earth, then what surrounded the primeval sea? What lay beyond the picture frame? Did the primeval sea float in empty space–like the final scene in Dark City?

Surely there were savvy ancient Near Easterners who would ask these questions.

A Discussion With James Snapp Regarding Mark 16:9-20

Early this year, I had a discussion with James Snapp concerning the ending of Mark's gospel. I left the discussion because of some other things I wanted to tend to. I said, in another thread, that I probably would read James' last responses to me sometime later in the year and make a judgment at that point about whether I should respond to him further.

I had time to read his last posts responding to me earlier today. I've decided that a further response on my part isn't warranted. I think my earlier replies to him are sufficient.

If anybody is interested in reading the exchange, which is very lengthy, it's in the comments section of the thread here. The discussion was primarily about the testimony of three patristic sources relevant to the ending of Mark's gospel: Justin Martyr, Eusebius, and Jerome.

Vegan bioethics

"It's one of those situations where you don't really know what you will do or how far you will go until you are in it. It's best to be thankful you're not in a situation where you have to choose and hope you don't land in such a situation. An old veg friend of mine had no problem admitting he'd eat other humans if he had no other choice (in reference to a flight crash where such a thing has happened)."

This raises another ethical dilemma. If a vegan had to choose between eating a wild pig (or crab or sea turtle) or eating a fellow castaway to survive on the desert island, is cannibalism better or worse than mere carnivory on the vegan scale of values?

More Loftusian Incoherence

I response to my post below, John Loftus writes:

"As I have argued, the only kind of religion that might possibly pass this test is one that embraces some kind of nebulous god (although I don't think one exists)."


"Christianity, for instance, could pass the OTF."

Basically Loftus claims in the first quote that it is impossible that any religion that embraces a descript, definitate, distinct (i.e., not-nebulous) God could pass his test.

In the second, quote, however, Loftus says that it is possible that Christianity pass the test.

These two claims are incoherent (on the reasonable assumption that Loftus isn't as ignorant as to think Christianity "embraces some kind of nebulous god"). Necessarily ~p contradicts possibly p