Saturday, August 21, 2010

Forgiving and forgiven

JD Walters said...

"I'm not sure about 25 words or less, but very briefly: the death part of the Incarnational narrative was necessary so that Christ could truly claim to be the one sinned against in all our transgressions against each other, and thus the one who can genuinely forgive us for our crimes against each other. Remember the principle that only the victim of an injustice can truly offer forgiveness to the perpetrator. In order for Christ to be the true victim of all that injustice, he actually had to have that injustice inflicted upon him. To use the rape analogy, he had to make it so that whenever anyone is raped, he's actually the one being raped."

i) I don't see how that follows, even in terms of Mosaic penology. If, under the Mosaic law, you committed murder, the murder victim wasn’t the only wronged party. The surviving family members were also wrong by that action.

ii) But even if the survivors forgave the murderer, that doesn’t mean he was thereby acquitted in the eyes of the law. He was still liable to capital punishment.

iii) God can forgive those whom we refuse to forgive.

iv) God can still judge those whom we forgive.

Say a woman who suffers from battered-wife syndrome forgives her abusive husband (or boyfriend). Does God thereby forgive him? Does he rubberstamp her action?

Conversely, if an atheist can’t his son for becoming a Christian, does God withhold forgiveness as well? Are his hands tied?

Blood atonement

According to JD Walters,

“Doesn't the necessity of slaughter indicate that here indeed we have penal substitution, the infliction upon an innocent animal the punishment which should rightly have befallen the worshipper? Actually, no. In Leviticus 17 we read that what is actually atoning about the whole process is not the killing itself, but the blood of the sacrificial animal: "for the life of every living thing is in the blood. So I myself have assigned it to you on the altar to make atonement for your lives, for the blood makes atonement by means of the life." (Leviticus 17:11) Here we have a very clear statement that the blood is atoning, not because it represents the just punishment suffered for sin, but because it carries the life of that which was offered. What the worshipper is really offering here is life itself.”

In context, we’re not dealing with blood in itself, but shed blood. Because blood represents life, shed blood represents death. Sacrificial blood signifies the death of the sacrificial victim, as in bleeding to death.

“The spotlessness of the sacrifice does NOT however mean that the sacrifice is an 'innocent' substitute which bears the punishment of the sinner. There is no sense in which animals are innocent or guilty, because they do not sin.”

That’s just inept. It fails to draw a rudimentary distinction between a symbol and what it stands for. Penal substitution doesn’t assume that the animal is literally innocent.

Words and woods

Christopher Hitchens is a many of many words. Words pour forth from his lips and fingers in a torrent of books, articles, essays, interviews, speeches, and debates.

A man who talks that much is clearly trying to leave his mark, like carving your initials in the trunk of a tree.

Yet Hitchens is also a dying atheist. Dying of cancer.

So, in the long run, what good will all those words add up to, anyway? Like carving your initials in a tree, to be felled by a logger next week.

Or like carving your initials in a tree that, over time, is overtaken by other trees. Suppose, three hundred years after a boy carved his initials in a tree, in what is now an overgrown orchard, which the forest reclaimed, I stumble across the tree. I can still make out the faint initials in the bark. But the boy who carved them is long gone. No one remembers who they stand for. The few who ever knew have come and gone, just like the owner of those initials.

By contrast, a Christian can truly leave his mark. If he brings a friend to Christ, or if he raises a child who grows into the faith, that will leave its mark for all eternity. That tree will never be felled. That tree will never be lost in a forest full of trees.

Corporate responsibility

JD Walters raises three objections to penal substitution:

1. Methodology

“I've read the introduction and some chapters [of Pierced for Our Transgressions] and I don't think the authors do a good job of responding to the moral and logical difficulties of the idea of penal substitution.”

i) Suppose that’s a deficiency of the book. It seems to me that the book in question is mainly an exercise in exegetical theology rather than philosophical theology.

ii) This brings us to the next point. Is it JD’s position that every Biblical teaching must receive independent philosophical justification before we are obligated to believe it?

If so, that overlooks the underlying principle of revealed religion: some truths are revealed truths because their truth is inaccessible to ordinary channels of knowledge, like sense knowledge. We don’t know why God commands some things or does some things unless he volunteers his rationale.

It would be more efficient to establish the Bible as the word of God. In that event, if the Bible teaches penal substitution, then that teaching is authorized by the nature of the source. We don’t require independent philosophical justification for each individual teaching. That fact that God reveals it is sufficient warrant.

2. Personal Responsibility

“Penal substitution goes against the clear biblical standard of justice whereby only those who sin will suffer the penalty of their sin, and the innocent cannot be punished in place of the guilty (note that this does mean one person's sin can't have bad consequences for an innocent person, but simply that the innocent person cannot be said to suffer the guilty person's penalty).”

i) One of the problems with this statement is that it begins at the wrong level of abstraction. The question at issue is not, in the first place, the specific question of whether one party can be punished for the actions of another, but the general question of whether Scripture inculcates a vicarious principle–of which collective punishment would be a special case or special application.

On the face of it, it’s easy to come up with examples of corporate responsibility:

a) We have the programmatic statement in Exod 20:5-6 (par. 34:7; Num 14:18; Deut 5:9-10; 7:9-10).

b) In the Abrahamic covenant, God and Abraham are the two contracting parties. Yet that arrangement is binding on Abraham’s posterity.

c) Likewise, God, Moses, and, to some extent the Exodus generation, are the contracting parties to the Mosaic covenant, yet the terms of the Mosaic covenant bind subsequent generations of Israelites.

d) Likewise, Paul, in Rom 5, indicates that Adam’s posterity is held responsible for Adam’s sin.

ii) In addition, we have particular instances in Scripture where a second party is punished for the misdeeds of another party.

a) The fate of the Saulides in 2 Sam 21 is a case in point. Their ritual execution is an act of propitiatory restitution for the misdeeds of their deceased father, King Saul.

Moreover, this isn’t simply a case in which the narrator relates an incident without endorsing the incident. For the effect of the execution is to purge the land of bloodguilt, thereby lifting the divinely-imposed famine.

b) Another example is 2 Kgs 24:3-4.

iii) JD doesn’t tell us where he finds the “clear Biblical standard” of personal responsibility–as over against corporate responsibility. Perhaps he’s alluding to stock prooftexts like Deut 24:16 & Ezk 18:4.

If so, then what we have is prima facie evidence for a Biblical standard of personal responsibility alongside prima facie evidence for a Biblical standard of corporate responsibility. I don’t see that the Scriptural witness to corporate responsibility is less clear than the Scriptural witness to personal responsibility. At a superficial level, we have apparent tension between two different principles.

The immediate question at issue is not how JD proposes to resolve that apparent tension. Rather, the immediate problem is that his one-sided appeal fails to even acknowledge the counterevidence.

iv) One possible way of harmonizing the two sets of statements is to note that, in Deut 24:16, there’s a corollary between legal accountability and individual accountability. Israelites are not to punish a man for the crimes of a second party.

That would be in distinction to God’s prerogative, where God reserves the right to punish a man for crimes committed by a second party. A difference between the divine and the human administration of justice.

Underlying this distinction might be the fact that even a divinely inspired law-code dispenses rough justice. Only the final judgment will render perfect justice. In the meantime, the law code exists to establish some general boundaries of socially permissible or impermissible conduct.

This can be someone arbitrary in various individual cases, which is why an OT judge must exercise appropriate discretion in considering legislative intent as well as mitigating circumstances.

That, of course, still doesn’t address the question of “fairness,” but for now I’m simply expounding the Biblical standards.

v) Ezk 18 isn’t as clearcut as popular prooftexting would suggest. For one thing, this is set in the historical context of the Babylonian exile. Yet the Babylonian exile was, itself, a collective punishment for the cumulative sins of generations covenant-breakers. And personally innocent parties like Daniel were swept up in the collective punishment.

Arminians get this backwards. The point is not that personal responsibility obviates corporate responsibility; rather, corporate responsibility doesn’t obviate personal responsibility. The exilic community can’t simply blame its current woes on the misdeeds of its errant forebears. It must move forward on its own. The specter of ancestral guilt doesn’t mean the present generation is trapped in the past. For there’s the standing duty to repent, which has future repercussions.

3. OT offerings

“Penal substitution rests on a misunderstanding of the sense in which sin-offerings and other sacrifices were substitutionary. Jesus was a substitutionary sacrifice, but not a penal one.”

This commits a level-confusion. It fails to distinguish between what these offerings did, and what they signified. The fact that these offerings weren’t inherently expiatory doesn’t mean they don’t typify penal substitution. That confuses type and antitype, sign and significate. Although they don’t effect vicarious atonement or penal substitution, they illustrate those principles and prefigure their fulfillment.

Speak, O Lord

Friday, August 20, 2010

GTCC Outreach Report 8-20-2010

Today, we had the opportunity to kick off our Fall semester campus outreaches by interacting with many different types of unbelievers. I interacted with many faux "christians", three committed Muslims, several people who affirmed a nebulous version of theism (deism?), and, one professed atheist. I'll provide some relevant details below.

Question of the Day: "Can Anything Happen?"

As you can imagine, given the conjunction of relativism and a simple lack of ability think critically regarding the question of the day, I received the expected "Yes." A few times, a person actually responded, "Yes . . absolutely!" I then asked, "If anything can happen, is it possible then for a house cat to give birth to a baby elephant?" Sadly, most people responded, "Yes, they can do just anything in a science lab these days." So, not only does relativism hold sway over our culture, but scientism does too!

Next, I asked, "Okay, if anything can happen, is it possible for us to have this conversation here (i.e., on the campus proper) and in the parking lot at the same time and in the same way?" Most people didn't understand the question, so I had to ask it one or two more times. Everybody agreed that it was impossible, but I did have one guy try to argue that it was possible because of other dimensions. I told him he watched too much T.V. So, once I got folks to admit that it's impossible for absolutely anything to happen, I then asked them to explain why that was the case. Most people responded with things like, "I dunno . . . . beats me . . . or 'what?'" It gave a great opportunity to explain the gospel to several groups of unbelievers, most of which were church attenders.

"Faux" christians

Please understand that I do not desire to simply demean the folks that I'm about to describe, but I'm sad to say it; these folks oftentimes cannot answer the simplest of questions nor do they demonstrate any ability to think critically. I'm not asking for people to perfectly state the fundamental laws of logic verbatim nor am I asking for an answer to Zeno's paradox; I simply would appreciate at least a willingness to grapple with ultimate questions. To make matters worse, these folks fill the church pews of most so-called "evangelical" churches of America. They think that they know God yet they can't explain the gospel in even the most basic way. When I ask them questions about their spiritual life its also evident that they simply have no love for God, God's people, and many of them admittedly sin habitually and willingly and make light of such things. As I interacted with folks like this today, I asked several of them to explain the gospel to me, and the usual response was, "well, you gotta ask for forgiveness."

I then would ask, "Who do I ask, and why?" and they were clueless in response. I then asked, "If you claim to be a Christian, yet you can't explain Christianity 101, what reason do I have to believe you're really a Christian?" At this point, folks either blew me off, or became angry and accused me of being harsh. Of course, my intention is not to be harsh, but I do want people to think about the implications of their lack of knowledge of even the most basic rudimentary knowledge of Biblical Christianity. When a person said, "I think you're being harsh", I responded; "If I was a neurosurgeon and I burst into the exam room and bluntly told you that the reason you were having migraines was because you had a huge intracranial tumor pressing on your left frontal lobe and if we don't operate next week you're doing to be dead in six weeks, and then I showed you MRI images and blood tests, would that be harsh and unloving because I bluntly, directly, yet accurately told you the truth about your condition?" This person said, "no", I then said, "Then why is it that if you can't explain the gospel message in the most basic way and I am justifiably lead to conclude that you simply don't know that gospel, why do you call me harsh? Upon what basis do I have to conclude that you really do know the Lord of the gospel if you don't know that selfsame gospel?" I received no response, but only a convenient ignoring of my presence. I thanked these folks for their time, and went looking for another person to speak with.

Three Committed Muslims

I have always enjoyed talking to committed Muslims because they are always eager to discuss spiritual things even though they strongly disagree. I have found them to be generally respectful and open to dialogue. After initial introductions, I asked them how they could disagree with the Bible given this argument based upon the teachings of the Qur'an:
P1 - The Qur'an says the words of Allah cannot be changed or corrupted.

P2 - The Qur'an says the Bible is the Word of Allah.

C - Therefore, on the authority of the Qur'an, the Bible could not have been changed or corrupted, as many modern Muslims claim.
I gave a few surahs from the Qur'an to ground my premises and they didn't try to disagree with me. They simply skirted this argument like the plague and instead wanted to ask some good questions about why Jesus had to die according to Christianity and that gave me an opportunity to explain to them that Allah's forgiveness is necessarily grounded in something other than His own arbitrary determination to forgive sins (the Muslim view), for if Allah forgives sins arbitrarily, then He's unjust. Thus, I was able to answer our Muslim friend's question with 2 Corinthians 5:21, "He made Him who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." At this point, our Muslim friends had to leave for their afternoon prayer, we shook hands, I thanked them for their time, and we went our separate ways.

Nebulous Theism and an Atheist

When I speak of nebulous theism, I'm referring to what Christian Smith has termed "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism", which is basically summed up in this way:
1. "A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth." 2. "God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions." 3. "The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself." 4. "God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem." 5. "Good people go to heaven when they die."
Most people I speak with affirm the above, and our relativistic society combined with the help of cotton candy "preachers" (read = religious motivational speakers) feeds it quite nicely. These folks are generally open to talk, at least up to a point. When I begin to speak of things like sin, righteousness, and judgment, they tend to turn me off, either mentally or they say, "I gotta go to class." I was speaking to one of these folks today, a young attractive woman, and this dark-skinned, Arab American young man walked up, interrupted our conversation and said, "Hey, do I know you? Would you like to talk to me?" I'm speaking to her about the gospel, and this guy interrupts me and proceeds to use cheesy pick-up lines to try to ask her out on a date. I then handed him a "Narrow Minded" postcard and said to him, "Hey, I'd like to talk to you about your soul since you're more concerned about this girl than you are about what's going to happen to you on the Day of Judgment." He awkwardly paused, said goodbye to the girl, and we attempted to resume our conversation; however, it was destroyed at that point, she wasn't interested in talking anyway, so we went our separate ways.

Finally, among the last two girls I spoke with, one claimed to be a believer and the other did too initially, then she confessed 5 minutes into the conversation that she was really an atheist. I then said, "So, you were lying to me?" and she laughed, and then "Yeah". So I said, "Why are you an atheist?" and she responded, "Well, I just feel like there's no god." So I said, "Hey, if I feel like it's okay to make up a god and claim that I must sacrifice children to appease this made-up god, would that be okay since I felt in my heart that it was true?" They both said, "No!" I then said to the atheist girl, "then how's that any different from what you are doing?" If you determine truth by your feelings, then what feels right to you may not feel right to me and you have no way to contradict me since you determine what's true based upon your feelings. Thus, given your justification for your worldview, I can sacrifice children to appease my made-up god and you can't provide me any logical reason why I'm wrong since you use the same justification for your own worldview." At this point, she said, "Okay, I gotta go to class." I tried to offer her a Sinner Ministries card and commended the website link on it but she said, "No, I don't want to go to any website . . . I don't want to get a virus in my computer." I let her and her faux "christan" friend go their merry way since they both were more interested in upholding pipe dreams than having respectful and rational conversation. I have found that time and time again atheists like her have no desire to even have rational conversation. I realize that they think we're real nutjobs. We expect as much (1 Cor. 1:18); but I sure would appreciate a decent conversation with them at times, especially when their statements are shown to be self-defeating. They could learn much from the respectful behavior exhibited by our Muslim friends mentioned above. However, given naturalistic presuppositions, why bother?

In conclusion, I look forward to continued evangelistic discussions on campus by asking thoughtful questions to challenge people to think carefully about the foundations of their worldview. May God bless these efforts and may I maintain a loving and caring disposition as I interact with those who are both respectful and disrespectful. Soli Deo Gloria!

Vicarious atonement

Ken Pulliam said...
If Christ does not deserve to be punished and yet he is punished, that is itself an unjust act.

steve said...
We're not talking about just any old "person," but the divine lawmaker who sentences himself to acquit others.

steve said...

That still does not explain the justice of the act. If a judge decides to punish himself instead of the guilty, that may be his prerogative if he is sovereign over the law but it doesn't explain why the punishment is a) necessary..."

It is necessary because:

i) It is morally obligatory that injustices be rectified;

ii) If the guilty are to be forgiven consistent with justice, then retribution must still be exacted (though not necessarily on the offender).

"...or b) just. It would seem that the necessity of the punishment would have to be satisfy the demands of justice and yet it is itself an unjust act."

i) To say vicarious punishment is itself an unjust act is arguing in a circular.

ii) One of your problems is that you're appealing to moral intuition; however, many people find the idea of an innocent party volunteering to take the rap for a friend to be morally compelling.

iii) Apropos (ii), this works in reverse. If Jim and John have a mutual friend in Justin, and Jim offends John, then Justin may be able to intercede on behalf of Jim, as favor between friends. Jim is the vicarious beneficiary of Justin's friendship with John. John wouldn't do it for Jim (with whom he's currently estranged), but he will do it for Justin. John is treating Jim as if Jim were Justin. As if he were entitled to the same treatment as Justin.

steve said...
Ken Pulliam said...

"How does punishing someone who is not guilty of the crime rectify justice? The act of punishing such a person is itself an injustice."

That doesn't advance the argument, Ken. You keep repeating the same claim. But that's the very contention in dispute.

"The central element of retributive justice is that the person who commits deserves the punishment."

That's a red herring. Whether the offender deserves to be punished is not the question at issue.

"If as Lewis says..."

That's not a reasoned argument. That's an appeal to authority. The opinion of C. S. Lewis doesn't settle anything. That, itself, is something to evaluate.

Try that on Reppert, not me.

"...then to punish an innocent person is an injustice."

That's not unqualifiedly true.

"That is all well and good but that is not the same as Justin suffering the penalty that Jim deserves. How would it satisfy John's sense of justice if he punished Justin in Jim's place?"

Jim is getting better treatment than he deserves because John owes it to Justin. That illustrates the principle of transmissible merit.

steve said...

"You state that the contention that punishing an innocent person is itself an injustice is the very contention in dispute. Precisely and you have failed to show how it is not an injustice."

i) And you have failed to show otherwise. Repetitiously asserting your claim doesn't make it so.

ii) In addition, if all you're appealing to is moral intuition, then you can't prove your position. At best, you can cite illustrations which most readers find persuasive. But intuitive appeals lack the demonstrative value of, say, correspondence between belief that it's raining outside and rain outside.

Hundreds of millions of people find penal substitution intuitively compelling, so your intuition can't pull rank on their intuition.

The only thing that could pull rank is a divinely revealed norm.

"If you read about retributive justice you will find that the key component is that the person who commits the crime deserves punishment."

i) Once again, no one denies the fact that the offender deserves punishment. That's not the issue. The issue is whether a second party can punished in his stead. That's not the same issue.

ii) And at the risk of stating the obvious, ethics is a value-laden discipline, so it's not as if everyone from Aquinas and Kant to James, Singer, and Ruse (among others) is going to agree on the key concepts.

"The evil act is deserving of punishment."

So you think the act is deserving of punishment rather than the agent.

"To decouple punishment from guilt is contrary to retributive justice. It is blatantly unjust to put the punishment that someone deserves as a result of his evil act upon an innocent person. This is self-evident and is recognized by virtually all men."

i) I didn't know that virtually all men excluded virtually all Christians. For historically, millions of Christians have found penal substitution morally satisfying. Same thing with OT Jews.

And, of course, non-Christian sacrificial religion is also commonplace throughout history. The notion of vicarious atonement has been quite popular in time and place. That doesn't make it true, but it certainly falsifies your appeal to moral consensus.

"Again, go back and read your Reformed heroes, they all say that."

Imputation is a classic case of penal substitution.

"As to your illustration it may illustrate 'transferrable merit' but it doesn't illustrate 'transferrable demerit.' In order to show that penal substitution is legitimate, you need an illustration in which the demerit of one is transferred to another resulting in the just punishment of the innocent."

No, I don't. You have to show how the two are fundamentally asymmetrical.

steve said...
Owen doesn't recognize any such problem. He begins by defining the "formal nature" of sin as a "as it is a transgression of the law."

On that construction, what constitutes guilt, and liability to punishment, is a matter of what the law assigns.

And he goes on to say, "There is, therefore, no imputation of sin where there is no imputation of its guilt...therefore, which we affirm herein is, that our sins were so transferred on Christ, as that thereby he became אָשֵׁם, ὑπόδικος τῷ Θεῷ, 'reus,' — responsible unto God."

So, on his construction, it's possible for a second party to assume responsibility for the guilt of the first party.

You may disagree, but that is hardly a concession on Owen's part.

steve said...
Of course only the guilt is transferrable. In the nature of the case, one party's actions (e.g. sin) aren't transferrable to a second party, for the second party didn't do what the first party did. He's not the same agent. So you can't say a second party did it. It's not attributable to him.

But it doesn't follow from this argument that moral properties (merit/demerit) are intransmissible. For the same moral properties can be shared by more than one agent.

No one denies that "there is no guilt without sin." That's not the question.

The question is whether the effect of sin (guilt) is transmissible, and not what causes the effect. You keep confusing distinct issues.

"My point was that Owen, Hodge and virtually everybody recognizes that it is unjust to punish an innocent person."

You're confusing issues again. Owen, Hodge, et al. don't think it was unjust for God to punish Christ. That's a different issue from whether Christ suffered unjustly at the hands of Pilate or the Sanhedrin. It may be morally licit for a second party to permit another party to do something morally illicit.

steve said...

"How can guilt be transferred? Guilt is only caused by the demerit or evil action. If the acutal demerit is not transferred, then the guilt is not actual (it is a fiction)."

i) You're confusing actual guilt with an actual guilty action, as if those are interchangeable. But deeds and moral properties of deeds are not conterminous, since more than one deed can exemplify the same moral properties. I already explained that to you. You're not advancing the argument.

ii) How can Justin expect John to forgive Jim as a favor to Justin, when Jim did nothing to obligate John? How can John's obligations to Justin transfer to Jim? Yet, intuitively speaking, we regard that type of transaction as a defining feature of friendship. A will do a favor for C as a favor for B.

"Crisp was talking about the justice of God and he argued that hell has to be real in order for God's justice to be demonstrated. He says it was not demonstrated in the death of Jesus because Jesus died 'undeservedly.' If Jesus died undeservedly, then his death was a miscarraige of justice."

You oversimplify the issue. As I already explained to you, to say it was unjust for the Sanhedrin to convict Jesus doesn't mean it was unjust for God to allow (or decree) that event. You're not advancing the argument.

"Owen and Hodge think that it would have been unjust to punish Jesus (an innocent person) unless somehow the guilt of sin was transferred to him. Once the guilt is transferred, then it becomes just."

And transferring the guilt is, itself, just.

"My point is that their position undermines the argument that Crisp is making in his paper."

Crisp doesn't argue that it was wrong of God to punish Jesus. God is not the referent of the injustice.

Try not to chronically oversimplify the issue.

steve said...

“What is the difference between ‘actual guilt’ and ‘actual guilty action’?”

A moral property is not an action. Even if a moral property is the effect of an action, a moral property is not, itself, an action.

“It seems that what you need to be able to show is how the moral property of a deed can be disconnected from the deed itself.”

I already did that with my illustration of the three friends. Your only response was to postulate a possible asymmetry between transferable merit and transferable demerit. But you didn’t begin to demonstrate that postulate.

“It is also not clear how even doing this helps you with the imputation of sins to Jesus. What precisely was imputed to him in your opinion?”

The guilt of the elect.

“I take it not the deeds (sins) but the moral property (evil) that is attached to the deeds? If that is the case, how does Jesus escape the charge of possessing evil?”

Imputation doesn’t implicate his moral character, as if he’s personally evil.

“Crisp nowhere mentions the Sanhedrin or any human actions for that matter in his paper. He is talking specifically about divine justice and how that needs to be demonstrated. He maintains that particularism is necessary because God needs to be able to demonstrate his justice and that justice was not demonstrated in the death of Jesus.”

Crisp is a fairly orthodox Christian, so it’s not as if he’s impugning God’s character or rejecting penal substitution. He clearly doesn’t believe that God committed a grave injustice regarding the vicarious atonement of Christ. And in his article, he wasn’t attempting to justify penal substitution. That’s a presupposition of his article. Not something he tries to argue for in that particular article.

“How so? How would it ever be just to transfer the guilt of a crime committed by one person to another person?”

Take my analogy with the three friends.

“And how could one do so without transferring the actual demerit associated with the crime?”

There’s a difference between actual blame, and an actually blameworthy agent.

steve said...

“But it is descriptive of the qualitative nature of an action. There is still no way to separate the quality of an action from the action itself. If the action disappears or is not present, then the quality of the action also disappears.”

Well, that’s a rather bizarre claim. Does the continuing existence of an effect depend on the continuing existence of a cause? Do we die the moment our parents die?

“So its a legal fiction? He is treated as if he were guilty but in reality he is not?”

i) You have an inability to grasp rudimentary distinctions. Guilt is hardly equivalent to an evil personal character. Guilt involves a violation of the law, or a violation of a duty to a superior.

If a soldier defies a direct order from his commanding offer, and that’s a lawful order, then the solder is guilty of insubordination–yet the soldier may be morally justified in defying the order.

ii) Also, the whole notion of a legal fiction is something of an oxymoron. The son of a king enjoys certain birthrights that a commoner does not, even though he’s no better than the commoner–and maybe worse. But he’s entitled certain prerogatives due to his ascribed social status. That’s not a legal fiction, for his social status is legally defined in the first place. His relation to a second party (his royal father) automatically transfers the same regal standing to the son.

“Again, since guilt has no meaning apart from the action that produced it, how can the two be separated.”

Repeating the same tendentious denial doesn’t make it any truer on the tenth repetition. From the time you first commented on this post, all you’ve done is to paraphrase the same claim. That doesn’t rise to the level of a reasoned argument. You’re just moving in circles.

“Simply saying as you have above that one is the act and the other is the moral value of the act does not help because as I stated, if there is no act, then there is no moral value.”

There is an underlying act–Adam’s. The sins of the elect.

“Moral value cannot be attributed to something that doesn't exist.”

That’s absurd on the face of it. Are you claiming that we can’t make true, morally ascriptive present-tense statements about past events or individuals?

“While he doesn't say in his article that the punishment of Jesus was an injustice, he does say that it was not an act of justice and therefore for God's justice to be demonstrated, hell must exist. I think it is a blindspot on his part not to recognize that not only was the punishment of Jesus not an act of justice, it was in fact an act of injustice, if he suffered undeservedly as he claims.”

You continue to reiterate the same simplistic claim, contrary to my careful distinctions.

“It seems you have the same problem because you want to say that Jesus was punished for the guilt of man's sin but not for the sin itself.”

That is not what I said. He is punished for the sin of a second party. He assumes the guilt of the sin.

“Blame is an abstract idea…”

No, it’s a moral property.

“…and has no meaning unless attached to a person or thing.”

Of course, “attached” is just a spatial metaphor.

“How do you transfer the blame for an action to one who did not do the action?”

I already told you.

“You can only do so as an act of injustice. ”

That’s not an argument. That’s a tape recorder on playback. Repeating yourself ad nauseum like a loop-tape does nothing to further the argument. You really shot your wad with the first comment. You have no fallback argument. Nothing in reserve.

“Your analogy of the three friends does not illustrate imputation or the penal sub. theory. You have an innocent person mediating for a guilty person and the offended person agreeing to forgive the guilty person and treat him as if nothing happened because of his admiration and respect for the innocent person. Yes, that can happen and it would be closer to Thomas Aquinas' view of the atonement than to the Penal Sub. theory. For in your analogy, the offended party is forgiving the guilty party on the basis of the superlative righteousness of the mediator not because the mediator is suffering the punishment that the guilty party deserves. In your analogy, the offended party is giving up his right to demand punishment.”

You’re missing the point. My analogy operates at a higher level of generality. I didn’t use that analogy as a specific model for penal substitution. Rather, I used that analogy to illustrate the broader principle of transmissible moral properties. The vicarious principle. In this case, a transmissible obligation. Penal substitution or vicarious atonement would be a special case of that broader principle. Try to follow the argument.

steve said...

"I am assuming the Christian view of morality in my critique. The Bible says that God is upright and that all of his ways are just. (Deut. 32:4). The Bible also says that it is wrong to punish the righteous along with the sinner (Gen. 18:25; Eze. 18:20)."

i) Your appeal to Gen 18:25 is equivocal. God is not the speaker. That's a quote from Abraham.

ii) Your appeal to Ezk 18:20 is typical Arminian spooftexting. Have you bothered to read Daniel Block on that passage?

steve said...

“If you try to separate the guilt from the act and apply the guilt to someone who did not commit the act, then you are guilty of a non-sequitur.”

That’s a category mistake. A non sequitur is a logical fallacy, involving an invalid inference.

However, the relation between action and guilt isn’t like a logical syllogism. Rather, that’s a metaphysical relation of some sort. Likewise, cause-and-effect relations don’t occupy the same domain as premise/conclusion relations.

“So if I violate the law, who is guilty? I am. Could you make someone else guilty of my violation?”

That doesn’t follow. A superior officer can be held accountable for the actions of his subordinates–even if he was ignorant of their actions, much less an active participant.

What makes a party legally culpable is simply a matter of how the law assigns guilt.

“You still have not explained how someone can be held guilty for the crime of another.”

Actually, I have–repeatedly. You simply lack the intellectual aptitude to grasp the explanation.

“You must not have read Crisp's article because his thesis is that unless there is a hell, then God's justice is never demonstrated. Thus, the death of Jesus is not a just act, that is why he calls it "undeserved." If someone receives punishment that they don't deserve, that is injustice.”

Are you just too dense to register an explanation, even after it’s been repeatedly explained to you?

There are situations in which it is morally licit for one party to permit another party to do something morally illicit. Do you need some concrete illustrations? Is that your problem? I can try to help you out if you need me to walk you through the process.

“You gave an analogy in which someone is treated as if they didn't sin because someone else mediated on their behalf but that in no way illustrates how someone can bear the guilt for something they did not do. You say that the analogy illustrates “the broader principle of transmissible moral properties.” but it doesn't. There is no transfer of moral properties in your illustration. The guilty person is released from punishment because of the intercessession of the innocent person. The guilt of the guilty person is not transferred to the innocent nor is the innocence of the innocent party transferred to the guilty. You need to come up with an analogy that actually illustrates what you are trying to prove.”

You evince a completely superficial grasp of the issues. It is not simply a question of Justin interceding on behalf of Jim. Rather, it’s also a question of what qualifies him to play the role of intercessor. Because Justin is John’s friend, John has certain obligations to Justin.

And on that basis, John will do something for the undeserving Jim for the sake of the deserving Justin. John doesn’t owe it to Jim, but because he owes it to Justin, John is obliged to treat Jim, the guilty party, as if Jim were Justin, the innocent party. So, yes, that illustrates the transitivity of moral properties.

“You object to my use of Gen. 18:25 because it comes from Abraham's mouth not God's. Are you saying that the truth expressed in Gen. 18:25 is not valid; it doesn't accurately reflect the nature of your God?”

i) You used that as leverage with Christians, as if anything the Bible says is true merely because you can find it said in Scripture. But while Scripture is a true record of what people say, not everything people are recorded to have said is true.

Therefore, the truth of Abraham’s statement wouldn’t follow from the bare fact that the narrator of Genesis recorded that statement. For that you need an independent argument.

ii) For that matter, Abraham’s experience illustrates the vicarious principle in the sacrificial animal that takes the place of Isaac.

“You also apparently object to Eze. 18:20 as representing divine truth although you don't explain why.”

Try not to be quite so dim. Did I say Ezk 18:20 was false? No. I said your interpretation of Ezk 18:20 was false.

“And you do not comment on Deut. 32:4 at all. Do you believe that your God is just and upright in all that he does? Do you believe that punishing a person for what he did not do is just?”

I don’t comment on Deut 32:4 because that was hardly meant to contravene the vicarious principle. After all, much of the Mosaic cultus is based on the vicarious principle. Your isolated prooftexting is acontextual.

steve said...
According to Ken, "The notion that it is wrong to punish an innocent person is a basic intuition that all men possess and it seems to be present in man from infancy. I believe the notion is present in man due to the way our brains have evolved..."

But, of course, that's entirely inadequate to validate the intuition. At best, that would only account for the origin of the intuition. But that doesn't begin to show how the intuition is true.

Indeed, if this moral intuition is simply the byproduct of naturalistic evolution, then it's an illusion. Natural selection has tricked us into believing that, but it doesn't correspond to any objective moral facts.

steve said...
Ken has also said, "I believe that the idea of Jesus Christ dying for man’s sin has its origin in the ancient concept of offering human sacrifices to a deity. We know human sacrifice was common in ancient times."

But if so, then this directly contradicts his appeal to a universal moral intuition against the vicarious principle.

steve said...

“You think that guilt can be transferred without the demerit which caused the guilt and I don't.”

Demerit doesn’t cause guilt. Sin causes guilt. Or law-breaking. Guilt and demerit are synonymous.

“As far as the intitution that it is wrong to punish an innocent person being invalidated by the practice of human sacrifice, here is the answer. Many people will violate their moral intuitions if they are told by a superior, especially what they believe to be a deity, to do so.”

i) That’s a classic example of someone who adjusts the evidence to accommodate his theory, rather than adjusting his theory to accommodate the evidence.

You postulate a universal moral intuition. Then, in the face of counterevidence, you postulate a motive to make the counterevidence fit your original postulate.

But unless you held a séance to interview the individuals in question, you’re in no position to say they were only acting under orders, in violation of their conscience.

Where’s your evidence that all of them were both acting under orders and violating their conscience? Do you have cuneiform polling data from the ANE?

ii) Moreover, your ad hoc explanation only pushes the question back a step: if subordinates only did it because their superiors made them, then why did their superiors issue the orders in the first place? Were their superiors violating their own conscience? Since you don’t believe a real deity told them to do it, what’s your explanation? Why did they believe that was a divine injunction?

iv) Finally, your entire objection is gutted by your evolutionary ethics. Even if natural selection conditioned us to entertain these moral intuitions, natural selection is amoral. Therefore, natural selection can’t provide the moral warrant for these moral intuitions. The product of an amoral process is an amoral product. So you utterly failed to ground the moral intuition which you rely on to attack penal substitution.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Our Father

My father died 11 years ago last month. As I was thinking about him, I tried to think about the things we used to do together, the things he used to do for me, especially when I was just a kid. All the things I fondly remember him for.

Of course, it’s practically impossible to compile such a list since you’d have to remember nearly every day of your life for the first 20 years or so. That’s a list you can easily begin, but never end. You keep coming back to it and jotting down another memory.

But what stood out for me is that no one thing stood out for me. What I remember him for are all of the ordinary, day-to-day mundanities of family life. Just the many things he’d do for me as a boy, without question, all because that was something I needed or wanted. A life of given over to giving. A life of small sacrifices, day after day after day. To give and give until you finally give out.

At one level it’s all so commonplace, but looking back, that’s what I remember him for, what I thank him for, what I can never repay. And I don’t miss him for the “special” things he did–the birthday gifts and Christmas presents and trips abroad. No, I simply miss the opportunity to hear his voice once more, or see him smile once more, or put my hand in his.

Christian apologetics traditionally accentuates the miraculous dimension of the Christian faith while atheism, conversely, unloads its fire on the miraculous dimension of life. And, more recently, the “problem” of “divine hiddenness” is very much in vogue.

But if God is hidden, then he’s hiding in plain sight. Although the walk of faith is sometimes punctuated by striking turns of providence, God is generally present in our lives of his people the same way a devoted father is present in our lives. A quiet, unobtrusive presence that doesn’t call attention to itself, but puts itself at the disposal of others. That gets us through each day, a day at a time. That makes life bearable, and often enjoyable. A rose blooming in the desert.

That gives us just enough from day to day so that our separate days lengthen into years, and before we know it, God has led us by night from Egypt to the Canaan sunrise. We look back over rivers that seemed unfordable, valleys that seemed unbridgeable, and hills that seemed unsurmountable.

The divine foot in the door


“I can't help but do that, because you never make your own positions on these issues plain. I never know whether you're making a point on behalf of someone else's position, which you are noncommittal on, or whether you do hold that position and are actually defending your own views.”

Since I’ve written extensively on these issues, it’s not as if I’m speaking in a vacuum when I respond to you.

At the same time I’m responding to you on your own terms. It’s true that that, of itself, doesn’t tell you where I stand, but then it doesn’t have to. You shouldn’t find it objectionable when somebody responds to you on your own terms.

I speak on behalf of others when I think you misrepresent them.

You also seem to think every issue in this exchange is susceptible to a “plain position.” But in questions of epistemology (among many other things), we must learn to live with certain ambiguities.

“No more duplicitous than it is for you to give biblical evidence in response to those biblically unwarranted arguments. If you think the Bible trumps certain (non-biblical) philosophical arguments, and then I argue that the Bible in fact doesn't provide such a trump card, you can't then complain that the original objection wasn't biblical. I'm simply going where you go, as you claim to be doing with me in another comment. If you offer biblical responses to my philosophical/scientific arguments, I have the right to engage those responses on biblical grounds.”

I think you oversimplify the question. If the Bible is authoritative, then it can rule out certain options. That’s not a direct disproof of the options. But it’s a legitimate move given the premise. Of course, that only works with an opponent who acknowledges the authority of Scripture.

We can also attempt to respond to him on his own terms. If he raises scientific or metascientific objections, like you’re doing, then we can respond to him in kind. That doesn’t have to be biblical, since the objection wasn’t biblical.

“For the umpteenth time, I'm not trying to. You're the one that insists on taking a factual view of Genesis, and then I engage with you on that level. I don't think there's any factual information to be gleaned from Genesis apart from the overall 'moral of the story', which is that God created the universe as a Temple for him to show forth his glory.”

I’m aware of your eccentric, reductionistic interpretation, which posits a false dichotomy between cosmic temple motifs and factual information about the world.

“And I take issue with your suggestion that I ‘write off’ Genesis 1 as parabolic, as if reading it that way in any way diminished its theological value.”

It diminishes the value of the text if the text is historical rather than parabolic.

“The prodigal son story is no less true, and no less valuable, for not being historical.”

Since it was never intended to be historical.

“I know they make that distinction, but 10,000 years simply isn't long enough to accommodate the full trajectories of all extinct species, even if there was a worldwide flood. So even with a flood some of the fossil evidence would simply have to be construed as fake.”

Maybe yes and maybe no. That’s a debate with many freely adjustable variables.

“You're confusing codification of information with its preservation. When a message is translated from English into Morse code, for example, everything in the original message is preserved, even though the carrier is different.”

A music score preserves the original message in the sense that you can reconstruct the music from the score. Yet there’s no direct resemblance between the music and the score. Notes aren’t tones. The score doesn’t sound like music. It doesn’t sound like anything. It’s just a bunch of marks on a page.

“When a ray of light bounces off an object at a particular angle and it reaches our eye, it gives us real information about the object's location, and that information is preserved through all the different stages of sensory processing.”

But other examples don’t serve your purpose as well. Different types of eyes sample different types of information from the sensible object. So which percept preserves a record of what the sensible object is “really” like?

And even that's tacitly circular, for we use the senses to sense the senses.

“Now it would be true to say that we don't receive ALL true information about objects, but we are certainly in contact with the objects themselves, not just our impressions of them.”

Well, that’s fatally equivocal. What you’re really describing is a chain of transmission. You might say that if I contact you through a letter, then you’re in contact with me via the letter. But that’s not the same thing as having direct access to me or my thoughts. That is mediate, not immediate, contact.

That may be more that adequate for many purposes, but let’s not confuse it with reality in itself. And, of course, it’s possible for me to write you a letter in which a lie about myself. If you had direct access to me, you might be in a position to know that my letter was a lie.

A different example would be a scribe who copies a letter, then another scribe copies the copy, and so on. Suppose you have a 10th generation copy of the original. It’s quite possible for that copy that to preserve the content of the original.

However, you can’t simply assume the process of transmission was reliable. And since you can’t directly compare your 10th generation copy with the original, it might diverge in certain unverifiable ways.

Of course, there are advantages to a text. Either the words and sentences are intelligible or not. If it’s jabberwocky, then you know it was garbled in transmission (unless you’re reading Lewis Carroll!).

But other scribal errors may be harder to detect, or even be indetectible. If some of the numbers are obviously too large or too small, that may indicate a scribe miscopied the numbers–although that could go all the way back to the original. (I’m speaking of textual transmission generally, and not the urtext of Scripture.)

On the other hand, if the scribe is dyslexic, he might reverse two digits, yet you lack the context to tell if that number is wrong.

Compare this to a cheap reproduction of a Renoir. Unlike a transcription, which may be obviously wrong in certain places, if the words and phrases are gibberish, you can’t tell from looking at the reproduction if it accurately reproduces the color scheme of the original. Propositional information has a built-in context in a way that nonpropositional information does not. If a word or sentence is unintelligible, then something is obviously amiss. But that’s not the case with nonpropositional information like a reproduction of a painting.

“What we know is to a significant extent determined by the thing known.”

True, but that conceals a caravan of vagaries.

“That is true of some representationist accounts of perception, but there are many other options. Thomas Reid's 'common sense realism' is one. James J. Gibson's ecological theory of direct perception is another.”

How does that address my example? Does a music score directly resemble the music it notates? If you didn’t know how to read music, could you hear the music from running your eyes over the page?

“If that's true, then your objection to scientific realism on the grounds of undercutting univocal correspondence is also defeated. Proximal stimuli don't have to resemble the distal stimulus in order to convey true information about it.”

Which misses the point. For instance, you can use a carrier wave to transmit propositional information. The carrier wave needn’t resemble the speech of the DJ. Rather, it encodes the speech of the DJ. But, of course, the decoded message does need to resemble the DJ’s speech. And that also supplies a built-in check on the reliability of the transmission process.

But the transmission of nonpropositional information doesn’t necessarily supply the same built-in verification. The colors of an art reproduction don’t have to make sense in the same respect as the words of a radio transmission. Whether the reproduction is brighter or darker than the original isn’t self-evident.

“But that's not the problem I was alluding to. The problem is whether all we have access to are our representations of the world, or whether we can claim that through those representations we have access to the external world.”

And I don’t think our representations alone can answer that question. In the case of successful communication, we can verify the correspondence.

And our sensory input adequately enables us to successfully navigate our environment. However, that’s consistent with a wide gap between appearance and reality, for all you need is a reliable correlation between what there is and what you perceive–like a flight simulator.

“That doesn't refute strict sensationism, since our perception of the intelligibility of the Bible is itself mediated through the senses which, as you claim for scientific realism, don't have direct access to what it is they are sensing.”

You’re equivocating over the word “perception.” There’s a difference between understanding a sentence and seeing a tree.

“No, that begs the question in favor of conventionalism.”

And writers like Van Fraassen and Le Poidevin (among others) give arguments for conventionalism. So that’s not begging the question.

“If you'll admit you don't have a noncircular method of validating Scriptural authority. To say that it's self-authenticating is deeply problematic at best. Even Paul didn't think it was. He appealed to the witnesses to the resurrection, to his own signs and wonders as an apostle, etc.”

You’re shifting ground:

i) I originally asked you if you had a noncircular method of measuring time. You initially offered some arguments, but to judge by this response, you’ve given up on that effort. If so, then we need to be clear on your concession.

ii) Your fallback argument is to see if you can generate an analogous problem for my own position. Unfortunately, all you’ve done is to posit an analogy. And on the face of it, validating the authority of Scripture doesn’t seem to be analogous to validating the measurement of time.

“So what do you think is the range of dating methods' reliability? How far forward and how far back in time can they extend?”

In the nature of the case, I think that’s pretty elusive.

But I can live with these ambiguities. I don’t suffer from your hankering for autonomy. God in his providence will enable his people to know what they need to know. It’s like sense-knowledge. Our senses are generally reliable, but fallible. I don’t have to draw a line. It’s ultimately up to God to ensure that our senses are right enough of the time to accomplish his purpose in our lives. We get it right when we need to get it right, as God would have it.

“The difference is whether the new sub-hypothesis to save the appearances is fruitful and advances the particular research program. The mature creation hypothesis certainly does not. Its only value is to save the appearances. It does not advance our understanding of anything one bit.”

i) To begin with, I was alluding to things like your novel, iconoclastic interpretation of Gen 1.

ii) Its value lies in whether or not its true. And if it’s true, then that does, of course, advance our understanding of the world–as well as our understanding God’s purpose for the world, in that respect.

“Your slipperiness can be incredibly frustrating at times. The aim of science is to discover true facts about the world. If Genesis 1 claims that the world was literally created in 7 calendar days, that is a putative fact about the world, and would fall under the category of attempting to teach 'ancient' science. But Beale explicitly denies that the narrative attempts to convey ancient science.”

Actually, I emailed his last night, and he responded this morning. I reproduced the passage you quote from The Erosion of Inerrancy, then said:

“From this statement he [Walters] infers that you don't think Gen 1 gives a true account of origins. By contrast, I take you to mean that while Gen 1 doesn't teach modern science in the sense of making specific scientific claims which anticipate modern science, you still think it makes general factual claims about the origin of the world as well as the origin of life on earth–and its claims in that regard are true. Is that an accurate summary of your position?”

This morning he told me that my summary of his position is correct.

“Just because it's an 'old canard' doesn't mean the solutions that have been offered are any good, anymore than free will being an old canard means that we've already solved that problem. That's sheer rhetoric.”

Since I’ve studied the issue, and you, by your own admission, have not, I have a considered opinion on that debate. But I’m not going to get into a lengthy digression on the issue.

“So the Genesis 1 days are just as phenomenological as another biblical author saying, for example, that the sun rises and sets? There is no sense in which those days were real time intervals?”

The Bible doesn’t adjudicate between the A theory of time and the B theory of time, or variants thereof. It doesn’t adjudicate between metrical conventionalism and metrical objectivism.

This doesn’t mean “there is no sense in which those days were real time intervals.” It’s not as if the Bible is disaffirming one position rather than the other–in that respect. The point, rather, is that you can’t pose more specialized questions than the Bible was designed to address, and expect to get an answer. There are instances in which you can certainly infer a logical implication from a Biblical statement. But it’s not a treatise on the philosophy of time.

“In other words, you interpret it so that it cannot even in principle be wrong.”

i) Depends on what you mean. The Bible makes claims about the world which, if there was a mismatch between the claim (correctly interpreted) and the referent, then that would falsify the Bible.

Which, however, doesn’t mean that’s a live possibility.

ii) On the other hand, since I think divine revelation is a precondition for human knowledge, then at that transcendental level I don’t believe the Bible could even in principle be wrong. That’s like asking if a truth-condition can in principle be wrong. The answer is, no. For truth and falsehood depend on truth-conditions.

“You can evade any factual challenge, for example that an ark of the size depicted in Genesis 7 would not have had room for all the species we know existed at the time, by appealing to the limits of the mental horizon of the author.”

i) That’s a straw man argument since, even on the global interpretation, the ark only has to accommodate representative natural kinds, not every species–which is a modern taxonomic classification.

ii) You’re also confounding the metascientific issue of how, if at all, we can independently compare one interval with another, with the practical issue of comparing one interval with another–given an agreed-upon metric.

iii) In addition, you’re also confounding the measurement of time and space, but these are asymmetrical. We can directly compare two spatial lengths if we lay them side-by-side in a way that’s not possible in the case of temporal “lengths”–given the linearity of time.

“Oh, no, you're not going to weasel out of that one.”

I daresay the Mustelidae family would bitterly resent your onerous comparison.

“If you claim that Genesis 1 gives us a fact about the world, that it was created in six calendar days, you have to give content to that statement, which means specifying exactly how long those days were, and how you came up with that length. Otherwise there's no traction with the real world, and no way to either confirm or disconfirm that statement.”

Yes, we have to give content to the statement, but that doesn’t mean we have to be more exacting than the author. It’s question of how Bible writers told time.

“By the way, I hope you know that Bas Van Fraasen considers as a logical corollary of his empiricist non-realism about science the empiricist non-realism of religion.”

You have a simplistic habit of taking acting as if I must issue a blank check to the scholars I cite. I quoted him on a narrow question regarding the measurement of time. That hardly commits me to his entire philosophy of science. And, of course, his philosophy of science has evolved over the years.

“If everyday perception and scientific observation don't put us in touch with things as they are in themselves, neither do religious experiences, including the so-called 'self-authenticating' ones or some appeal to revelation.”

i) That’s a very sloppy inference. First of all, everyday perception and scientific observation are often at odds.

ii) Why would knowing revealed truths depend on knowing the fine structure of atomic matter?

iii) Objects of knowledge are not all of a kind. How we know about one domain isn’t interchangeable with how we know about another. For instance, how we’re “put in touch” with moral truths or mathematical truths, is not equivalent to how we’re “put in touch” with tables and chairs.

Your final paragraph overlooks key distinctions that I’ve already drawn, so I’ll skip all that.

Is Luke's Census Historical?

Some points to keep in mind regarding Luke's census, in light of what Paul Tobin has recently argued on the subject:

- The passage in Luke's gospel is brief and open to multiple reasonable interpretations at some points. See, for example, the possibilities discussed in Darrell Bock's Luke, Volume 1, 1:1-9:50 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1994), pp. 199-206, 903-909. If a critic is going to choose to criticize the passage, he should take its brief and sometimes vague nature into account before issuing his criticism. If the passage is truly open to multiple interpretations, then the critic shouldn't object if Luke's defenders appeal to that fact.

- Christians aren't the only ones who disagree over the meaning of the passage. As I recently documented, two atheist contributors to The Christian Delusion (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2010), Paul Tobin and Richard Carrier, have contradicted each other on a series of issues relevant to the passage.

- People usually tell the truth. Even a liar has to tell the truth most of the time in order to seem believable when he lies. We don't assume that somebody is mistaken as our default position. That general principle is applicable to Luke.

- Luke had access to early Christian traditions formed at a time when the church was under the leadership of people who were close to Jesus and/or close to the events of His childhood (Jesus' brothers, Peter, etc.). Such sources continued to be available for many years (1 Corinthians 9:5, Galatians 1:19, 2:9-10). At a minimum, Luke had met one member of Jesus' immediate family (Acts 21:18).

- Luke's general historical reliability has to be taken into account. See here, for example.

- An indirect line of evidence for the census is the evidence we have for the Divine inspiration of scripture. See the many relevant posts on that subject in this blog's archives.

- The critics' claim isn't that ancient sources directly deny the historicity of Luke's census (or a traditional Christian understanding of the census). Rather, the claim is that the census (or a traditional understanding of it) is indirectly denied by sources who aren't discussing Luke's account. For example, Josephus wasn't responding to Luke when he wrote on subjects like Quirinius and the census of 6 A.D. The alleged inconsistencies between Josephus and Luke are indirect in that sense.

- As I argued in a series of posts in 2007, Luke's account doesn't seem to have been disputed by the ancient Christian and non-Christian sources who were directly addressing it. Rather, the account is widely affirmed, by a large diversity of sources. There was a lack of controversy about it. In contrast, many other claims of the early Christians, including other elements of the infancy narratives, were questioned or denied. To get a better idea of the significance of this evidence, see especially the first two posts and the last one in my census series linked above.

- What we have, then, are alleged indirect denials of Luke's account by some ancient sources accompanied by widespread affirmation of the account among those directly addressing it. The issue is how we best make sense of that combined data.

- It should be noted that critics of Luke often ignore or say little about the ancient affirmations of Luke's account. While Evangelicals and others defending Luke often discuss the sources cited by critics (Josephus, Tacitus, etc.), and sometimes do so in significant depth, critics have much less to say about the ancient sources supporting Luke. That sort of disparity often arises in discussions concerning early Christianity. What should we conclude when one side of a dispute tends to discuss more of the evidence than the other side does?

- Notice that an Evangelical (or another type of defender of Luke's account in some cases) has multiple reasons for trusting what Luke wrote. It's not as though an Evangelical must assume Biblical inerrancy without any concern for evidence, then assume Luke's reliability as a result. Rather, Evangelicals have argued for their conclusion that the Bible is inerrant, and there are other lines of evidence for Luke's account independent of inerrancy.

- In the opening post of my census series linked above, I mention some recent defenses of Luke. Sources like those raise many arguments that Tobin doesn't address. As I've documented, some of Tobin's arguments are so simplistic that even his fellow contributor to The Christian Delusion and fellow atheist, Richard Carrier, disagrees with him and thinks the issues are more nuanced.

- We should discard the notion that either side of this dispute has an easy solution. A defender of Luke could argue that one or more of the sources who allegedly contradicted Luke were mistaken. Or it could be argued that all of the sources should be harmonized. I think that's the majority position among Luke's defenders, and it's the position I take. Both approaches involve some difficulty. But so do the positions that are critical of Luke. I've discussed some of those difficulties in my series on the census linked above. This is a question that has no easy answer. It would help if critics of Luke's account would make more of an effort to notice and acknowledge the difficulties involved in their own positions. Defenders of Luke are sometimes unrealistic about their own difficulties, but that problem is worse on the other side of the dispute.

- Pointing out that one aspect of a position is unlikely when considered in isolation isn't enough. We're all trying to explain multiple lines of evidence. Something that's unlikely when considered by itself might be a crucial aspect of a theory that's more likely than its alternatives overall. It's not as though Luke's critics are giving the most likely explanation of the patristic data or the most likely explanation of the evidence we have from early heretical and non-Christian responses to Luke's account, for example. Rather, critics want us to focus on sources like Josephus while they say little or nothing about other sources that are problematic for their position.

- Somebody could conclude that Luke was partially wrong about the census without thinking he was entirely wrong. Even if somebody thinks the passage is as mistaken as Tobin considers it, he wouldn't have to draw the same implications from that conclusion that Tobin does. Many scholars have considered Luke's account erroneous to some extent without concluding that the implications suggested by Tobin follow. There's a large gray area between an inerrantist's view of Luke's passage and Tobin's view.

Recall how much emphasis Tobin placed on the alleged non-historicity of the census:

"With the links now completely severed between the nativity and world history, we can now see the rest of the nativity accounts for what they really are...Removed from the anchors of history provided by Herod and Quirinius, the nativity accounts drift into the realm of myths and legends." (in John Loftus, ed., The Christian Delusion [Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2010], p. 163)

He was wrong to think that the infancy narratives only have those two anchors. And he's failed to demonstrate that either of those two anchors has been removed.

Update On 12/14/17: Here's some more material I've written arguing for the historicity of the census account.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Entertaining angels unawares


“There's plenty of Christian silliness to go around. Think of televangelists who sell blessed 'healing handkerchiefs' or 'miracle wafers'. Think of Christian groups that refuse to use modern medicine and have their children die as a result. It's not as if there's a few Christians tainted by bad experience with supernatural claims and the rest are lily-white innocents who happen to have chanced on exactly the right combination of beliefs, so they don't have to worry about being critical of such claims. Every Christian should be equipped to critically test other people's claims. Even if Scripture is (rightly) part of that critical apparatus, the Christian must exercise reason to properly interpret Scripture and apply it to claims she encounters.”

How is that supposed to create a general presumption against the occurrence of miracles (or, conversely, a presumption favoring naturalistic explanations)? Your illustrations undercut the principle, for the presumption is only as good as the examples you cite to illustration your objection. But, in that event, it doesn’t turn on taking a presumptive stand, but judging individual claims on the merits of the case.

In cases involving manifest charlatans or deluded cult-members, then of course we’re justified in dismissing their testimony. That goes to the type of witness, which also goes to the credibility of the witness. The credibility of a claim has always been tied to the credibility of the claimant. That applies with equal force to claims about ordinary events.

To “critically test” miracle claims doesn’t mean we treat every miracle claim as suspect unless and until it is proven otherwise–any more than we treat every mundane claim as suspect unless and until it is proven otherwise. A liar is just as prone to lie about something mundane as he is to lie about something miraculous.

Had Abraham slammed the door on the divine foot (Gen 18:1-10; Heb 13:2), he would have missed out on God’s gracious promise. Don’t flee into the arms of David Hume to escape the clutches of Elmer Gantry. In the end, one is just as diabolical as the other.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water

On the one hand:

There is an on-going controversy at La Jolla Children's Pool involving the presence of California Harbor Seals. Please note that to local San Diegan's this is a very emotional issue. The vast majority of locals and visitors would prefer the Children's Pool be reserved for the use of the seals. However, there is a small but vocal and sometimes intimidating group of divers and other ocean users that believe the Children's Pool should be for humans only--even if that means the loss of a small but important seal habitat. As noted above, we strongly recommend that visitors find another beach to enter the water--both for their personal safety and the safety of the seal population that uses the beach for resting and giving birth to their young.

On the other hand:

Lifeguards are urging caution after half a dozen great white shark sightings have been reported along the Southern California coast in the last week, but experts downplayed the risk of attacks on humans, saying there is no cause for alarm.

San Diego lifeguards issued a warning Sunday for two miles of coastline from La Jolla Cove to Scripps Pier after a kayaker reported seeing what appeared to be a large great white swimming off La Jolla Shores. Later that day, lifeguards spotted a shark's 20-inch dorsal fin sticking out of the water about 50 yards from the beach.

"We didn't close the beach, we just let people know — the scuba divers, kayakers and swimmers — that there's been shark sightings and just use your own judgment on whether to go out or not," said Maurice Luque, a spokesman for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.,0,2013223.story?track=rss

I'm no expert, but isn't there a fairly obvious correlation between the presence of prey species and predatory species? Wouldn't we expect sharks to be more prevalent where their natural prey species prevail?

And that, in turn, raises another question. Are so-called conservationist putting surfers, swimmers, scuba divers, &c., at risk by protecting the seals and sea lions on beaches frequented by beach-goers? More bluntly, are environmentalists to blame raising the incidence of shark attacks on humans?

Mind you, there are environmentalists and conservationists who just don't care.

Rocks of ages


“Nothing in the Bible suggests that inspiration included that kind of knowledge. Did Paul say that every scripture is profitable for reproof, for instruction in righteousness, and knowledge of biology and geology?”

i) Inspiration covers whatever the Bible teaches. Genesis concerns itself with the origin of the world, including the origin of natural kinds–like birds, fish, and land animals.

You may say the Genesis account lacks technical specificity, but it’s true at the level of specificity it aims for. It’s speaking at the categorical level. Natural kinds by category.

ii) Perhaps you’re endorsing a more liberal theory of inspiration, like partial inspiration/limited inerrancy, where inspiration is confined certain types of subject-matter.

If so, that’s vulnerable to familiar objections.

“The only factual claims it makes that intersect with science are that God ordered and structured the Universe to make it a place fit to manifest his glory. Again, see Walton and Beale.”

i) I wouldn’t assume that Walton and Beale have identical views. Walton makes some useful points, but he overstates his case.

ii) There are also temple motifs in Gen 2-3, but this doesn’t mean Beale treats those chapters as nothing more a proleptic allegory for the tabernacle. It’s not as if he denies the historicity of Adam and Eve, or the Fall, &c.

“Even the number and sequence of the days and what was created on them is a stylized literary patterning, with two pairs of three days for God to create the structures and then the creatures to fill them. The number 7 is highly symbolic: It took seven years to build the Jerusalem temple, and the root of the word is 'savah' which means 'to be full or satisfied, to have enough of'. Therefore obviously (according to the Hebrew writers) God had to complete his work on the seventh day, the day of rest, the day of completion.”

That’s not all of a piece:

i) A basic problem with the framework hypothesis is the way it overrides the explicit septunarian sequential progression by subordinating that pattern of a nonlinear, hexadic pattern.

ii) Yes, the seven days may reflect a stylized numerological pattern. However, the fact that Scripture frequently uses round figures for numerological purposes doesn’t mean these figures don’t approximate real time (or space or units of something). It doesn’t obliterate a linear sequence. At most it rounds up or rounds down real time intervals for symbolic purposes. To take your own example, while the interval given for the construction of the temple may well be chosen for its numerological significance, this doesn’t mean it either took a nanosecond or a billion years to build the temple. Rather, it’s a round number.

You may say it does more than that, but if so, that requires more of an argument than numerology alone.

Of course, numerology sometimes occurs in literary genres (e.g. Revelation) where it does not approximate a real-world analogue, but that’s a side-effect of the genre, not the numerology, per se.

“I wasn't talking about ancient people, I was talking about modern YECers. My point is that, from their context of acquaintance with modern biology, they pose questions to the text that it never intended to address.”

Whether or not that’s the case, it’s hardly germane to my own responses to you.

“Not when you load it with speculation about what point in the cycle God started from. There is a difference between the biblical and philosophical concepts of ex nihilo.”

The Bible teaches creation ex nihilo, as well as the creation of periodic processes. So that leaves it an open question where in the cycle the cycle is instantiated. Exegesis may further pin that down.

“My objection is predicated on science, on philosophy and on exegesis. I've already argued repeatedly that there is no evidence in the Genesis text for God starting at any particular point in the development of vegetation and animals when he created.”

It doesn’t have an evolutionary narrative in which self-reproducing plants and animals are the end-product of an age-long process, beginning with the Big Bang, cosmic expansion, formation of galaxies, primordial soup, development of microbes, &c, until we finally reach the types of birds, plants, and animals familiar to the target-audience for Gen 1.

“Except with creation there's no reason, other than the Genesis 1 timeframe (which is a literary construct), to assume that God worked as fast as he did with the loaves and fishes.”

Well, I don’t view the timeframe as just a literary construct.

“Maybe not with respect to modern biology, but intertestamental exegesis was full of attempts to get information from the text that it never intended to give. The same goes for medieval and more recent Jewish and Christian exegesis.”

You’re shadowboxing with people other than me.

“It's not a non-sequitur. The Bible doesn't give that information, we get that from science. My point has been precisely that the biblical account is neutral about the issue.”

Which is duplicitous when you demand biblical warrant for all my counterarguments to your biblically unwarranted arguments.

“Again, you're getting too much information out of the text. It doesn't specify what form the emergence of those creatures took. Can we stick with what the Bible says please? The Earth 'put forth' vegetation, and the waters 'swarmed' with creatures. At some point in the process there weren't these things, and then there were. That's all the information we get.”

Which doesn’t mean you can shoehorn the evolutionary narrative into Gen 1-2. You can write it off as a parable, but don’t act as if that’s consistent with your alternative.

“To accommodate the Genesis creation account as interpreted by YECers, all the evidence we have of those species is evidence of events which never took place.”

You’re conflating YEC with Omphalism. YEC doesn’t attribute the fossil record to creation a la prochronic time. It attributes the fossil record to a global flood. Since you know that’s the YEC position, I don’t know why you pretend otherwise.

Of course, you can take issue with flood geology, but that’s a different question.

Strictly speaking, the Bible is silent on the origin of fossils. Scripture doesn’t affirm or deny extinct species. Since I grant the existence of animal death before the Fall, that, per se, is not an issue for me.

“Simple. If you're going to make a radical disjunction between appearances and the external world, so that all we have access to are mental contents, then the Bible and its accounts are only part of those appearances, since we only have access to the Bible through appearances.”

That disjunction isn’t simply *my* disjunction. Rather, that follows from a *scientific* analysis of sensory perception, where the observer does not and cannot directly perceive the external world. All he perceives is coded information, viz. electromagnetic input translated into electrochemical information.

This is one of the dilemmas of scientific realism. If you accept the scientific analysis of sensory perception, then it undercuts the univocal correspondence between the distal stimulus and the proximal stimulus.

What we’re left with is a plaintext/ciphertext correlation, like the correlation between music and a music score, where the score represents the music even though the score doesn’t resemble the music.

“You can't arbitrary stipulate that one set of appearances (the ones we have when we hold and read a Bible) can provide our anchor to the external world. The kind of sensationism you're talking about is too strict for that.”

That simply commits a different level-confusion. Communication (apart from alleged instances of telepathy) involves symbolic discourse, where word and object don’t resemble each other. Yet that doesn’t prevent the successful transmission of ideas, since an idea of an object doesn’t have to physically resemble the object, and the medium of communication doesn’t have to physically resemble the object.

That’s quite different from the question of whether grass is really green, tables are really solid, &c.

“If you're going to espouse that kind of extreme Lockean sensationism, where all we have access to are our mental contents, you'll quickly be threatened by skepticism about the external world from which even appeal to the Bible or revelation won't help you. After all, you couldn't claim that you have access to revelation, you could only claim that you have access to a mental image of revelation.”

i) Revelation is the revelation of ideas. Propositional content. If that’s garbled in process of communication, then the result is gibberish. Since, however, the Bible is intelligible, we know that God successfully communicated his message to the percipient. The process of transmission is self-confirming.

ii) You also act as though you have some alternative which sidesteps the consequences of my position. But what alternative would that be?

You think human beings are embodied creatures. Whether you’re a dualist or physicalist, you’re committed to the proposition that our knowledge of the external world is mediated by the senses. The mind/brain lacks direct access to the external world. If you stick a needle in my arm, what I’m sensing is a nerve impulse.

“Unless the understanding that we have access to the external world through our mental images is primary, and that our connection to the external world is grounded in those experiences themselves, all we can be is Chesterton's madman, locked up in the endless circle of our own mental images, but which is a very small circle indeed.”

No, it would have to be grounded in a God who has designed the encryption/decryption process so that what we perceive is relevantly analogous to what there is.

“For the reasons I gave above, any YEC account is going to have to resort to Omphalism to explain away the fossil record, light we receive from stars that are billions of light years away, etc. To save the appearances, YECers have to postulate that many events from the distant past we have evidence for simply never took place.”

That’s not how YECers account for the fossil record. It’s true that they often say starlight was created in transit, but that’s a different principle. That involves the initial set-up conditions of a cyclical process.

Your strictures wouldn’t permit God to create a coastline without going through the whole process of stratification, coastal erosion, &c. That’s a ridiculous restriction on God’s freedom of action.

“It is if you believe in a God who would plant traces of a history that never happened.”

You mean, like God planting the garden of Eden? What do you make of landscape engineering? Is it deceptive when a landscape engineer creates artificial ponds and waterfalls, or transplants flora from a tree farm, &c? All those traces of a nonexistent history. How deceptive!

“So you wouldn't object to the idea that God started real history five minutes ago, or more generally that we have no way of knowing where real history leaves off and the apparent history begins?”

You mean, like when Adam opened his eyes for the first time, to find himself a full-grown man, with innate knowledge, in a preexisting Garden–none of which existed a few hours before?

There’s also a difference between antecedent objections and subsequent objections. Since the Bible demarcates real history from apparent history, I object to Last Thursdayism. But I’m not Adam. I have a different history than Adam. A different real history.

“But on your own account, your knowledge of what Genesis says is only an appearance, a mental image. You can't use that to ground knowledge that those events took place.”

You’re confusing a carrier wave with what it carries.

“So you take back what you said in your previous post about how accepting the full evolutionary history has no bearing on whether and how many supernatural influences there have been throughout history?”

That depends on how hostile or open to supernatural factors a particular version of evolution happens to be. That ranges along a continuum. Your own version is pretty hostile.

“So yes, in a sense we just 'posit' them, but we posit them to account for our existence in a life-supporting universe, and thousands of experiments confirm that they are indeed constant through time.”

So you admit that you don’t have a noncircular method of measuring time.

“So that makes it more reliable? Now you're sounding silly.”

What’s silly is the way you change the subject. The question at issue wasn’t what’s more reliable, but you’re anachronistic application of modern physics (i.e. physical constants) to Gen 1:14ff. It doesn't speak to that issue one way or the other.

“You're going to have to explain how you think armchair philosophical antirealism invalidates the evolutionary narrative.”

As far as that goes, there are many things which invalidate the evolutionary narrative.

“After my repeated statements of accepting the veracity of boatloads of miracles, you think I'm trying to convince people that they shouldn't believe in miracles. Your extremism is not only callous at times, but also downright dishonest.”

The question at issue, as you yourself framed it, is your standing presumption against miracles. So you’re dishonestly misrepresenting your own position.

“There's plenty of Christian silliness to go around. Think of televangelists who sell blessed 'healing handkerchiefs' or 'miracle wafers'. Think of Christian groups that refuse to use modern medicine and have their children die as a result. It's not as if there's a few Christians tainted by bad experience with supernatural claims and the rest are lily-white innocents who happen to have chanced on exactly the right combination of beliefs, so they don't have to worry about being critical of such claims. Every Christian should be equipped to critically test other people's claims. Even if Scripture is (rightly) part of that critical apparatus, the Christian must exercise reason to properly interpret Scripture and apply it to claims she encounters.”

That tirade is irrelevant to the issue I raised. As I’ve repeatedly explained, is not an immediate miracle, but the way in which past miracles impact the present. Past miracles, like answers to prayer or providential timing, affect the “course of nature” further down the line. Yet in many cases that would be indetectible further down the line. For the long-range effect of a supernatural cause is indistinguishable from the long-range effect of a natural cause. Yet we know, on theological grounds, that answered prayers (to take one example) are factors in historical causation. Therefore, you cannot stipulate a presumption against supernatural causation in world history.

“Ooh, perish the thought! You think holding those beliefs is incompatible with saving faith?”

It’s incompatible with revealed truth.

“You think Martin Luther was damned for entertaining the possibility of postmortem salvation? You think it put him on a slippery slope to apostasy?”

Are you equally nonchalant about his anti-Semitic diatribes?

Luther never meant to break with Rome. So he was having to make up his theology as he went along. He was right more often than wrong, but you can’t use him as the yardstick, for your situation is different from his. You have advantages he did not.

“Your problem is that you see a straight line leading from certain beliefs to apostasy. The Church has outlined clearly which beliefs put someone beyond the pale, and those aren't among them. Nor can you legitimately extrapolate from someone's entertaining them to the conclusion that they are in danger of apostasy.”

A straw man.

“By the way, I'm not saying that I do hold to those things. In proper critical mode, I won't assent or withhold my assent until I've examined all the Scriptural evidence. I certainly won't take your word for it that those beliefs are beyond the pale until I've researched the matter for myself.”

Another straw man. You have a habit of projecting “Father David” onto your opponents. (At least where I'm concerned.) You need to outgrow that father-complex. It clouds your judgment.

Unlike “Father David,” I never ask anyone to accept something I say on my personal authority. I argue for my positions. I’m not claiming the angel Gabriel whispered this in my ear. And that includes my extensive critique of universalism.

“Just because he personally became more skeptical doesn't mean his strategy was ill-fated. Many Christians throughout history who never apostasized held similar views to his theory of 'robust formational economy'. Again, that straight line idea.”

Howard Van Till took his strategy to its logical conclusion. He kept pushing God to the margins until there was nothing left on this side of the margin–at which point God became an expendable postulate.

“We can stop talking about time and instead talk about placing events in sequence. Fine. Either way if you look at the evidence, you're going to find the event of the landing on the moon in between our 'event' and WW1, and the time when Genesis was supposed to happen according to Biblical chronology in between our 'event' and the event of the Cambrian explosion. And one interval is a whole lot bigger than the other.”

The sequence is objective. However, as Poincaré pointed out long ago, you can’t directly compare one interval with another:

“The second half of Poincaré’s essay ‘The measure of time’ is the more famous because of its connection with special relativity. But I will concentrate here on the first half, where Poincaré begins with the problem that we do not and cannot have a direct intuition of the equality of successive time intervals (equality of duration of successive processes). This is not a psychological point. Two successive periods of a clock cannot be compared by placing them temporally side by side, that is why direct perception can’t verify whether they lasted equally long,” Bas Van Fraassen, Scientific Representation (Oxford 2008), 130.

“In the case of two sticks we can check to see whether they are equally long (at a given time) by placing them side by side; that is we can check spatial congruence (at that time) by an operation that effects spatial coincidence (at that time). We can check whether two clocks run in synchrony during a certain interval if we place them in spatial coincidence. These procedures do not suffice for checking whether two sticks distant from each other in time or space are of equal length, nor whether distant clocks are running in tandem, nor whether a clock’s rate in one time interval is the same as some clock’s rate in a disjoint time interval. But in physics, criteria for spatial and temporal congruence are needed. Poincaré is concentrating on this need,” ibid. 130-31.

“What measures duration is a clock, and physics needs a type or class of processes that will play the role of standard clocks. What type or class to choose? One answer might be: the ones that really measure time, that is, mark out equal intervals for processes that really take equally long. While certain philosophers or scientists might count his demand as intelligible, it must be admitted that there could be no experimental test to check on it. We cannot compare two successive processes with respect to duration except with a clock; but clocks present successive processes that are meant to be equal in duration. This is similar to Mach’s point about thermometry: whether the melting of ice always happens at the same temperature, or the volume of a substance expands in proportion to temperature increase, can be checked only with something functioning as a thermometer–and thus cannot be ascertained in order to check whether thermometers are ‘mirroring’ temperature,” ibid. 131.

“Poincaré wishes to reveal by these examples two problems that arise in developing a measurement procedure for duration. The first is the initial one, illustrated with the pendulum: we cannot place successive processes side by side so as to check whether their endpoints coincide in time. So there is no independent means for checking whether successive stages of a single process are of equal duration: the question makes sense only after we have accepted one such process as ‘running evenly,’” ibid. 132.

Continuing with Walters:

“And our unit of time might be conventionally defined, but the size of the temporal intervals we are measuring does not change for all that.”

The size of the unit is invariant, but the size of the interval is a different question. That confuses the measuring stick with what it measures.

“Now some will argue that we are only justified in accepting that physical processes we see operating now are in fact operating now, and that we cannot legitimately extrapolate into the past.”

I don’t object to backward (or forward) extrapolation, per se. And I don’t object to using natural processes to date events.

But at the same time I make allowance for the limitations and circularities of those procedures. And if something which was never designed to yield a reliable result turns out to be unreliable when we overextend it, I wouldn’t impute deception to God.

“We should of course grant the inevitability that in some cases God will work in a different mode…”

Notice how he minimizes exceptions to the uniformity of nature. But that’s not quantifiable. How do I estimate the impact of angelic/demonic activity, or providential timing, or answers to prayer, or other miracles along the way? Once they occur, the effects are rapidly assimilated into the new status quo.

“That would be valid if there were any direct biblical evidence for that idea, so that God told us clearly that that's what happened during creation, and if all Christians knew that to be the case even before the rise of modern science. Instead, I see views like this become prominent only after new understandings emerged about the age and development of the Earth (and universe), and about the evolution and extinction of species.”

To take one example, pre-Darwinian paintings of Eden depict mature creation.

“This suggests to me that this is not just one legitimate understanding of creation among others, but that it was put forward specifically to counter the mounting evidence for an old Earth, a long history of life on Earth well before the current batch of species came on the stage, and a vast Universe.”

Even if that were true, so what? Both sides adapt to new intellectual challenges. Both sides coin new arguments which were not in circulation prior to some new development.

“Paul is clearly talking about spiritual death in Romans.”

Really? That’s not even clear to liberal commentators like Fitzmyer and Jewett. While Paul’s concept of death in Rom 5 includes spiritual death, that hardly excludes spiritual death. And your reductionistic interpretation is scarcely compatible with 1 Cor 15.