Saturday, September 25, 2010

Malacoda's Eleven

Malacoda’s Eleven
By Roger Ebert

Danny Malacoda (Frank Sinatra) travels to Pandemonium to meet up with his former partner in crime, Rusty Draghignazzo (Peter Lawford), to propose a bank heist. The two devils then head to Vatican City to pitch their plan to Cardinal Secretary of State Giambattista Rubini (Sammy Davis, Jr.). They plan to rob the Treasury of Merit, the better to blackmail Roman Catholic politicians to do the bidding of the Old Serpent.

Cardinal Rubini is initially reluctant to barter his immortal soul, but Danny and Rusty make him an irresistible offer: a night with Gina Lollobrigida.

Danny and Rusty recruit several succubae and incubae from Malebolge, along with a talented safecracker imprisoned in Balogia 13.

The merits of the saints are kept in a safe behind a Veronese painting of the Madonna and child–in the office of Cardinal Prefect Serafino Vannutelli (George Raft). The merits of the saints are embedded in Vatican lira, of different denominations, issued by the Philatelic and Numismatic Office.

Only Pope Celestine VI (Dean Martin) knows the combination. An incubus is dispatched to divine the combination while the pope is asleep–but unfortunately, the pope memorized the combination in Portuguese, while the incubus only knows Sumerian, Russian, Swahili, and Yiddish. So they must utilize the services of their safecracker (Robert Wagner).

Cardinal Rubini gives them the master key to the office of the Prefect. Swiss Guards are always stationed outside his office. However, a succubus diverts their attention while Danny, Rusty, and his crew gain entrance. After bagging the lira, they escape through a hidden passageway (thanks to Cardinal Rubini, who gave them a classified map of Vatican City) to a waiting van, disguised as an ambulance. They then transfer the loot to a private jet, and fly to Lucerne.

Purgatory quickly begins to back up. Laymen who donated to the Purgatorian Archconfraternity demand a refund. Pretty soon the Vatican files for bankruptcy. Vatican City is sold to Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, while the pope becomes a street vendor–selling lampredotto to tourists.

In the meantime, the Old Serpent grants a plenary indulgence to Catholic politicians who enact blue laws against black Sabbath-breakers.


What does it feel like to die and go to heaven? What will the experience of our glorification be like?

There’s a lot we don’t know, but Scripture gives us some leads:

1. There will be a physical transformation. We will be young again. Better than young: immortal. We will be even healthier than we ever felt in the prime of life.

2. There will be psychological changes. Imagine the sense of reliable in knowing that we made it. That we are safe. No harm can befall us. Nothing to fear. No anxieties.

3. Another psychological change will be sinlessness. It’s hard to imagine what that will be like, except as a negation of the unpleasant emotions we feel in a fallen world. But to take a few comparisons:

Some people are born with certain genetic defects which make it impossible for them to enjoy life to the fullest. What is more, they may not even know what they are missing. This is all they’ve ever known. Abnormality is their normality.

Some of them go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for years, until a physician discovers their true ailment, and treats them.

Imagine the sense of wonder and relief when, for the very first time, they suddenly experience what life was meant to be.

On a related note, some students of the occult claim that paranormal powers are hereditary. Because their paranormal ability has an occultic origin, it’s a curse. They can do things or perceive things that normal people can’t, but they pay a high price. It’s also said that they can be delivered from their emotional and spiritual oppression. Renounce their ability.

This analysis may or may not be correct. It’s an argument from experience. Subject to differing interpretations.

But suppose for the sake of argument, that this is true. Once again, imagine the sense of relief when, for the very first time in life, they exclaim: “So this is what life was supposed to be like!”

On a related note, there are horror stories in which a demoniac must die before the evil spirit will leave him, then be resuscitated. They have to be “rebooted.”

That’s fiction, but to play along with this scenario, imagine if you were possessed, you temporarily expired, and you were then brought back to life–with the invasive spirit gone for good.

Imagine the sense of relief. Like a rebirth.

When a Christian dies, for the first time in life he will finally feel what life was meant to be.

What Kind Of Successor Of Peter?

The apostle Peter had many roles. He was a Christian. He was one of the Twelve, the original disciples of Jesus. He was one of the apostles (a group not limited to the Twelve). He was a spokesman for Christianity (e.g., Acts 2). According to some later traditions, he was a bishop of Rome and/or Antioch. He was a martyr. Etc.

When a church father or some other source refers to somebody as a successor of Peter, we ought to ask in what sense that individual is a successor. A person can succeed Peter in one sense, but not in another.

This principle is illustrated in one of the earliest extant commentaries on Matthew 16:

“And if we too have said like Peter, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,' not as if flesh and blood had revealed it unto us, but by light from the Father in heaven having shone in our heart, we become a Peter, and to us there might be said by the Word, 'You are Peter,' etc. For a rock is every disciple of Christ of whom those drank who drank of the spiritual rock which followed them, and upon every such rock is built every word of the church, and the polity in accordance with it; for in each of the perfect, who have the combination of words and deeds and thoughts which fill up the blessedness, is the church built by God.” (Origen, Commentary On Matthew, 12:10)

Is Origen saying that all Christians are Popes? No. He’s saying that all Christians are what Peter was in a particular context. A person can succeed to Peter, or be what Peter was, in one sense, but not another. Somebody who succeeds Peter as a Christian doesn’t necessarily succeed him as an apostle, bishop, martyr, etc.

Keep such distinctions in mind when you see Catholics citing patristic passages that refer to the bishop of Rome as a successor of Peter. A successor in what sense?

Friday, September 24, 2010

But I Want To Know How

In the comments of my previous post, Arminianism in Time, drwyaman, J.C. Thibodaux, Brennon (Bossmanham), and ἐΚΚΛΗΣίΑ have all weighed in to give Arminian or Molinist responses. (And to give the other side, Dominic Bnonn Tennant has also responded against some of those comments.) Now not all of the Arminians/Molinists listed above have contributed equally, and this post is not a direct response to any of them per se. Instead, this post is making a general response as well as pointing out certain things that I believe have been missed in the discussion. So I’m using them more as a launching pad then a foil.

Once again, I want to examine the counterfactual argument. As I originally put it:
“God knows what a man will freely choose. If the man chooses X, God knows that the man will choose X. But if the man would have chosen Y, then God would have known that the man chose Y instead. Therefore, the man’s choice is still free and self-determined, despite the fact that God knows what it will be.”
The angle I want to approach this issue is slightly different from last time. I want to look into the mechanics of how God knows what He knows. The counterfactual argument is actually making an argument about omniscience, and so looking into this is important. How is it that God knows what He knows?

ἐΚΚΛΗΣίΑ said (although from the way the comment was structured, this may actually be a quote from William Lane Craig—I couldn’t tell):
The point is, that just because something is known to be true, doesn't mean that knowledge itself, makes it true.
Now it is certainly true that just because something is known to be true, that does not mean that knowledge of the thing is what makes it true. However, this type of response is only relevant to time-bound creatures. That is, we understand the truth of this statement because we learn. And we know that how we know something is independent of the veracity of the thing itself.

But this is disanalogous from the way God knows what He knows. First of all, in classical Christian philosophy, God is eternal and omniscient, which means He never learns anything at all. He has eternally known everything that is possible to be known (my preferred definition of “omniscience”). Therefore, right off the bat we’re running into problems with the above argument, as stated by ἐΚΚΛΗΣίΑ.

Suppose that you know a specific fact, but that you never learned that fact. You’ve always known that fact. By what basis do you know that fact? You cannot appeal to “I learned this fact” or “I saw this fact as it occurred” because you’ve always known the fact. Indeed, your knowledge of the fact, in such a structure, must be independent of any manner of learning.

So let’s give a more specific example. Suppose I say, “I have always known, since the instant I became aware of anything, that on September 25, 2010 [tomorrow, at the time I write this] I will eat chocolate chip cookies after dinner.” How would you examine that claim? How would you verify whether what I have said constitutes knowledge or not? I daresay everyone would deny that my statement actually is knowledge, because none of us has the experience of knowing something without having learned it.

But let’s suppose this is a genuine occurrence. How would it be possible? The only way that it would be possible for me to have always known that I would eat cookies after dinner tomorrow is if the basis of my knowledge is coextensive with my own existence. To use truth-maker terminology (although I’m not completely sold on truth-maker metaphysics), the truth-maker that determines my knowledge of eating chocolate cookies tomorrow must exist at least as long as the entire duration of my existence, in order for me to have always known this fact.

The same thing would be true of God. If God knows that I will eat chocolate chip cookies tomorrow (and, if that is a true statement, then God’s omniscience requires that He does know this), then the truth-maker for that statement must be eternal. Why? Because God doesn’t learn. And therefore, the truth-maker for this knowledge must be eternal like God is eternal.

This immediately rules out any created thing or action as being a truth-maker for God’s knowledge. The only option that remains is that God Himself is the truth-maker. Which ultimately is saying, “God knows that X will occur because God is the truth-maker for X occur.
How could that happen? Well, Biblically we know that God decrees what will happen. He foreordains whatsoever comes to pass. He has declared what will happen, and then He does it. In other words, it seems that Calvinism is the inevitable result of a belief in the eternal omniscience of God. The only way to avoid determinism or compatibilism is to assert that God is capable of learning—a denial of omniscience.

Believe it or not

David Hart:

I think I am very close to concluding that this whole “New Atheism” movement is only a passing fad—not the cultural watershed its purveyors imagine it to be, but simply one of those occasional and inexplicable marketing vogues that inevitably go the way of pet rocks, disco, prime-time soaps, and The Bridges of Madison County. (keep reading).

Reparations for the damned

According to JD Walters:

“The New Testament is unanimous in affirming that there are only two final destinies for all people: either the enjoyment of eternal life with God in a new heavens and a new earth, or the 'eternal destruction' of the lake of fire. For theological paradigms in which God's retributive justice is ultimate, this separation is entirely on the basis of one's works, in accordance with the principle of 'just desserts': everyone gets what's coming to them. Those who did well are granted eternal life, while those who did evil are sent into the lake of fire.”

In classic Protestant theology, while the damned get their just desserts, the saints do not. Rather, the saints get Jesus’ just desserts. The saints get far better than they deserve. Indeed, the saints deserve the same fate as the damned. God’s retributive justice is exacted on the Redeemer on behalf of the redeemed.

(JD will revisit this issue below.)

“The immediate problem is that the notion of just desserts seems incompatible with there being just two ultimate destinies, because in this scenario the penalty for doing evil completely annuls any reward a person might receive for doing good.”

This assumes that someone ought to be rewarded for doing his duty. But there’s no moral obligation to reward someone for doing what he was morally obligated to do.

Of course, he could still be rewarded. Rewards can serve more than one function. But it’s not as if that’s his due.

“On some accounts, even the smallest sin, the most seemingly innocuous white lie is enough to condemn a person to eternity in hell…”

Of course, many Christian ethicists think it’s permissible or even obligatory to lie under certain circumstances.

“…while nothing good that a person does can counter-balance that sentence.”

i) If a serial killer donates to an orphanage each time he murders the parents, does his donation counterbalance the crime?

ii) JD is also confusing the general punishment of the damned with the specific punishment of the damned. It’s like claiming if all convicts are incarcerated, then there’s no distinction in their level of punishment. But there’s a difference between incarceration as a general punishment which all prisoners endure, and the specific punishment which individual prisoners may endure in prison.

“To answer this question we must first think about what it really means for God to once and for all intervene to put the world right, to do away once and for all with injustice and evil. In the eschatological kingdom there is no space whatsoever for anything destructive, anything the least bit devious or out of harmony with God's perfect justice, which in its broadest sense means the world functioning exactly as it was meant to function in the beginning. God's restorative justice takes many forms at the end of history, some benefits of which are felt in the here and now: the forgiveness of sins, the healing of diseases and illnesses, the annulment of the 'sting' of death, etc. But it also means, of course, the complete annihilation of anything that stands in the way of God's justice, as Revelation affirms of the beast, the false prophet, and even death and hell themselves. Since God means to completely do away with the old order of sin and death, no vestige can remain of that old order. Now this is truly an either/or scenario: either you are entirely on the side of God's restorative justice, passionately longing for God's will to be done on earth as it is heaven, or you are still clinging to the old order, which is destined to perish.”

Far from being an “either/or” scenario, that’s a false dichotomy. Scripture indicates in numerous places that the damned are quarantined. There is “space” for the enemies of God. There’s one “space” for the damned, and another “space” for the saints.

“There is no middle ground here, no 'neutral' island to stand on which is 'safe' from God's cleansing justice, which in addition to being a mighty stream is also a 'consuming fire'.”

i) That’s an assertion in lieu of an argument.

ii) Moreover, it equivocates. To say that God’s judgment is inescapable is not to say that God’s judgment leaves no room for how or where the damned spend eternity.

“In light of this conception I would suggest that the final judgment is based, not on people receiving 'just desserts' for the actions committed in this life, but on whether people get on board with God's program of restorative justice initiated in Jesus Christ or not. The condemnation of the damned is not that they had done evil things, but that they did not accept God's gracious offer of reconciliation and forgiveness of sins and did not participate in bringing about God's sovereign rule.”

The damned aren’t damned for disbelieving the gospel. Many of the damned never hear the gospel. They are damned as sinners whose sins go unatoned.

“Though he certainly meant to turn sinners away from their evil ways, he never approached sinners with a message of condemnation. Who did he actually condemn? Not those who merely did evil things (which is everyone), but those who refused to admit their culpability and insisted that they were blameless, and therefore did not feel that they needed God's forgiveness and mercy…”

That’s deeply confused. Unless culpability is inherently condemnable, why would the refusal to acknowledge one’s culpability be condemnable?

“This also makes sense of Jesus' pronouncements that certain towns which rejected his message would have a harder time at the judgment than even Sodom and Gomorrah! The basis of the greater condemnation was not that the inhabitants of one town had sinned more than the other, but that one town had been confronted with the gospel and had rejected it, whereas the other had not heard the gospel. There is greater accountability for those who hear the gospel and reject it, but one's final destiny is determined ultimately by one's response to the gospel.”

i) Rejecting the gospel is an aggravated sin. In that respect, the Jews who reject the mission of Jesus are guilty of a graver sin.

ii) The fate of the Sodomites isn’t predicated on their rejection of the gospel.

“But what of Paul's reference to God punishing those who do not know and obey the Gospel with eternal destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9)? But notice here again the basis of the condemnation: it is not simply that these people have done evil things, but that they reacted to the gospel with arrogance and hostility instead of with humility and repentance.”

That’s because, in context, Paul is referring to opponents of the gospel. He’s not addressing the case of OT idolaters (to take one example).

“The only eschatological scenario consistent with retributive justice would be one with an infinitely fine gradation of eternal destinies, pleasant and unpleasant in accordance with the balance of good and evil in a person's life. But this would imply that God's eschatological kingdom would feature varying degrees of evil and suffering which would persist in accordance with a person's deeds, which makes a mockery of God's promise that nothing would hurt or destroy in all His holy mountain, and that the new heavens and the new earth would be one without pain, suffering and death…”

i) The damned don’t inhabit God’s holy mountain. They don’t even take day trips to God’s holy mountain.

ii) Reference to the absence of pain and suffering has reference to the saints, not the damned.

iii) Both the saints and the damned share immortality-–but the damned are cursed with immortality, whereas the saints are blessed with immortality.

“Conversely, having just two ultimate destinies would make a mockery of retributive justice because it is impossible to imagine a person being meaningfully compensated for good deeds in the context of eternal punishment and separation from God.”

Should a serial killer be compensated for donating to an orphanage after he orphans the young children of his murder victims? Sounds like a swell racket.

An Oak From A Mustard Seed

There's an ongoing discussion about Augustine at the Beggars All blog. Notice the behavior of the Roman Catholic participants and what it suggests about the weakness of their position.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Yet More Proof That Dave Armstrong is Dishonest

Too bad for Dave I can post my comments in a forum that receives far more than double the hits per day he gets, so when he deletes them it only means more people read them. Here's a comment I submitted:

Adomnan said:
This is enough to put you in the "nutjob" category. Anyone who believes that YEC is "credible" is a kook.

Adomnan, have you ever heard of me before?


But Dave thinks so highly of me that he's placed me "Among Leading Online Anti-Catholic Protestant Fundamentalists." I'm leading the pack here. Right up there with Sproul and White!

It must break Dave's heart to know I don't care about him at all, that I only came here because TUAD mentioned it and I only commented because I found it so hilarious he put *ME* in another one of his stupid lists.

I can't help that he's so incompetent that he forgot how I told him three years ago (back when he called me just a "Lesser-Known Anti-Catholic") that I wasn't YEC. Check it for yourself:

I said on October 2, 2007:
I really loved this, especially since I’m not even YEC (as if YEC has any bearing on Dave Armstrong’s misuse of Scripture).

And now all you can do, Adomnan, is twist a comment I wrote on Triablogue. You didn't read the whole thing, and there's a *REASON* Dave didn't post the whole thing (because he knows if he posts the whole thing everyone will realize he's conducting a shell game here).

Dave doesn't care about the truth, and it's obvious you don't either. You just have an agenda, and a need to twist everything into conformity with your false beliefs.

But who am I to lecture you? Oh yeah: I'm a leading online anti-Catholic.

And you still take anything Dave says seriously? Who's the kook now?
The truth apparently hurts Dave, as he immediately deleted my comment. But now the world knows what he tried to hide.

The metrics of hell


“It might not solve the problem entirely…”

I think that’s a serious understatement of the problem which annihilationism poses for itself. It doesn’t solve the overall problem at all. For even assuming that it solves one side of the problem (which I only assume for the sake of argument), it leaves another side of the problem untouched.

“…but I would much prefer to know that my damned loved ones were out of their misery than to know that they were suffering unending conscious torment.”

The connotations of somebody being “out of their misery” are person-variable”

i) A pet-owner may find it preferable to euthanize a beloved pet rather that see it suffer. Yet he may always miss his beloved pet. He can’t go back to the way things were before he had his beloved pet.

ii) If a loved one is dying of some excruciating illness, and we have reason to believe we will see him (or her) on the other side, then it’s a relief to see his earthly suffering come to an end, even if the separation, while temporary, is an irreparable loss in this life.

If, on the other hand, we have no reason to think we’ll see our loved one again, then we have radically different feelings about his demise. He (or she) isn’t going to a better place. And the pain of separation is unremitting–precisely because it is so hopeless. The survivor feels his own loss, as well as feeling for the loss of his loved one. A double loss. A loss to him, and a loss to his lost loved one. Moreover, the loss to his loved one accentuates the loss to himself.

“The sadness over being deprived of some good is in no way commensurate with the sadness over the infliction of pain and suffering.”

i) I don’t know how you begin to measure such a thing.

ii) Sounds like the sort of thing a young man would say. Very noble sentiment.

However, people can be inseparable in this life. When they lose a loved one, their grief may be inconsolable.

In addition, this can have a cumulative effect. The first loss might not hit as hard. But survivors can reach a tipping point where they’ve lost the people who make life worthwhile. They were able to get by for a while, but one more loss is one loss too many.

What is more, at that point each loss is weighted with every other loss. There’s a delayed effect. What was bearable the first time it hit them circles back and hits them with unbearable force on top of every succeeding loss.

Again, I’m just responding to the annihilationist on his own grounds. Annihilationism raises an emotional objection to the traditional doctrine of hell. Yet annihilationism is subject to emotional objections no less weighty.

iii) Of course, the annihilationist might say that there will be compensations in heaven. God will work it out somehow.

Yet that appeal is equally available to orthodox Christians who uphold the traditional doctrine of hell.

Hypocrisy about hypocrisy

A while back, David Waltz accused James White and John Bugay of double standards. For example, he faults White for objecting to Muslims apologists who cite liberal Bible scholars, even though White doesn’t have a problem with liberal scholars who attack Islam.

But, ironically, Waltz is guilty of a double standard. Waltz is quite sympathetic to Islam. And I believe he’s currently flirting with Bahaism, which is an offshoot of Islam.

Yet I don’t see Waltz doing the same thing in reverse. I don’t see him denouncing Muslim apologists who cite liberal scholars to attack the Bible even though the same Muslims apologists would never apply the same yardstick to the Koran or the Hadith.

So all Waltz has done is to expose his favoritism. He wants to hedge his bets. Keep his options open. Play both sides of the fence. His rhetoric about fair play is just a cloak for his syncretism and pluralism.

Does annihilationism even succeed on its own terms?

Annihilationism bills itself as a superior alternative to what’s unacceptable in the traditional doctrine of hell, viz. hell is sadistic, hell is disproportionate.

For reasons I’ve given elsewhere, I don’t think that survives scrutiny. But now I want to examine annihilationism from another angle.

Annihilationism typically concentrates on the fate of the damned. But that is not the only objection to the traditional doctrine of hell. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that annihilationism does present a superior alternative regarding the fate of the damned. Even if this were the case, that would be insufficient to make it succeed on its own terms. For it overlooks another leading objection to the traditional doctrine of hell.

Objections to hell aren’t confined to the fate of the damned. Objections to hell also concern the fate of survivors. One stock objection to hell is the issue of how the saints in glory can still enjoy heaven when they know their lost loved ones will never share with them the glories of heaven. How can the saints still rejoice in heaven knowing all the while that some of their loved ones are missing out on heaven?

Annihilationism does nothing to address this issue. It has a myopic focus on the fate of the damned to the exclusion of their loved ones. But eternal separation from loved ones cuts both ways.

So annihilationism fails on its own terms. It was put forward as a superior alternative to what is allegedly unacceptable in the traditional doctrine of hell, yet it evades a major objection to the traditional doctrine of hell. Even on its own terms, it only gets the job half done.

Uncertain Omniscience

I recently read this definition of omniscience (if you go to the link, it’s on page 7 of the PDF file, which corresponds to page 305 of the journal it was taken from):

A being X is omniscient iff:
(i) for every true proposition p, X knows p, and
(ii) there exists no proposition p such that X believes p and p is false.
So for fun….

1. Let p be the proposition: “God does not know p.”
That is, p is a self-referential proposition.

2. Suppose p is true.
3. Therefore, p is known by God, per (i).
4. If p is known by God, then p is false.
5. Therefore, if p is known by God, (ii) is false.

6. Suppose p is false.
7. Therefore, p is not known by God, per (ii).
8. If p is not known by God, then p is true.
9. Therefore, if p is not known by God, (i) is false.

To put this into words, for those who are less inclined toward reading logic, the original definition of omniscience is, in language form: “An omniscient being knows all true statements, and does not know any false statements.” Now, orthodox Christians believe God is omniscient, so we can examine a specific statement, the statement: “God does not know this statement.”

Typically, we would say the statement, “God does not know this statement” is either a true or false statement. If it is true, then God does not know the statement “God does not know this statement.” The result is that there is a true statement that God does not know. But the definition of omniscience includes in it the fact that “An omniscient being knows all true statements.”

On the other hand, if the statement is false, then we are saying God does know the statement “God does not know this statement.” But that means that God knows a false statement, which violates the second part of the definition: “An omniscient being…does not know any false statements.”

As I said, typically we would say the statement, “God does not know this statement” is either a true or false statement, but now we realize that the statement is neither true nor false; or rather, the truth value of the statement is in a constant state of flux. If it is true, then it is false; but if it is false, then it is true. So does God know these types of statements? The above definition of omniscience cannot tell us.

The result is that, at best, the above definition of omniscience is incomplete—it does not take into account statements that have variable truth-value. In other words, this definition of omniscience didn’t take Gödel into account.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Who canonized the gospels?

I’m going to quote some concluding paragraphs from a new book on the canonization of the Gospels. I’m not going to reproduce all of the supporting material, which is copious–both in the book itself, as well as publications by the same author which he cites in footnotes to this and other chapters.

“Where does all this leave us? At a minimum, it seems best to conclude that Papias, writing probably in the 120s, knew all four of our Gospels, for there are sound reasons for acknowledging his use of them in the fragments of his writings that have survived. This would make Papias the earliest first-hand source for a recognition of all four Gospels. Was it he, then, who chose the Gospels?” C. E. Hill, Who Chose the Gospels? (Oxford 2010), 222.

“But Papias also reports earlier tradition. We cannot be sure exactly how early this tradition goes, but a reasonable assumption is that the information he derived from ‘the elder’ was learned sometime around the year 100 and in any case not very many years thereafter. All agree that the information he imparted included tradition about Mark and Matthew, and if Eusebius’ source in EH 3.24 indeed goes back to the same person, it would mean that all four Gospels were known to Papias’ elder at around the turn of the second century, very near the time when, according to most scholars, John’s Gospel was first released for circulation,” ibid. 223.

“The report in EH 3.24.7, on the other hand, allows for an even earlier endorsement of the four Gospels. For it says that the apostle John ‘welcomed’ or ‘received’ the three previous Gospels and ‘testified to their truth.’ He is said to have observed that they only lacked ‘the account of what was done by Christ at first and at the beginning of the preaching,’ which he then supplied in his own Gospel. This would make the aged apostle John the earliest ‘chooser,’ endorser, or ‘canonizer’ of the four Gospels. This is not to claim of course that the this testimony about John ‘choosing the Gospels’ is historically factual, only that it is an extremely early tradition,” ibid. 223-24.

“Origen, in the third century, knew of a similar tradition. In his Homilies on the Gospel of Luke he mentions in passing that he had read in an older writing (it is a pity he doesn’t name it) that ‘John collected the written Gospels in his own lifetime in the reign of Nero (54-68 CE), and approved of and recognized those of which the deceit of the devil had not taken possession; but refused and rejected those which he perceived were not truthful’ (Hom. Lk. 1, fr. 9). These two traditions have a few things in common. Both assign the ‘canonization’ to John; both say John ‘welcomed’ or ‘recognized’ (the same Greek word is used by each author) the other three; and both say John made some assertion of the ‘truth’ of the three previous Gospels (the elder positively, Origen by way of denying the truthfulness of others),” ibid. 224.

The New Perspective on Humpty Dumpty

"Tom Wright Reads Humpty Dumpty" by Jason Hood

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ancient logistics II

I’m going to begin by quoting from a classic attack on the biblical account the flood:

When one reads the story of the great flood in the book of Genesis, one is struck by the matter-of-fact style of the narrative. While it definitely has the larger-than-life flavor typical of legends, the reader would not suspect that he or she is dealing with the bizarre impossibilities we have detailed above. After all, the ancient Hebrews lived on a small, disc-shaped world with a dome overhead and waters above and below. There were only a few hundred known animals, and subjects such as ecology, genetics, and stratigraphy were not even imagined. The deluge was a mighty act of God, to be sure, but nothing that the ancient Hebrews would have found too extraordinary.

When, however, this same story is brought into the twentieth century and insisted upon as a literal account of historical events, a considerable change is observed. No longer a simple folk tale, it has become a surrealistic saga of fantastic improbabilities. Events which seem relatively straightforward at first glance—building a boat, gathering animals, releasing them afterwards—become a caricature of real life. The animals themselves are so unlike any others that they may as well have come from another planet; genetic Frankensteins with completely unnatural social, reproductive, and dietary behavior, they survived incredible hazards yet remained amazingly hardy and fecund.

How can we account for this transformation? Put simply, the tale of the ark grows taller in inverse proportion to the advance of science. Two centuries ago, when biology and geology were in their infancy, the theory of a worldwide flood as a major event in the earth's physical history seemed perfectly plausible and, in fact, was advocated by various scientists.

Notice Moore’s underlying assumption: the flood account is unrealistic because the primitive, unscientific author didn’t know any better. People back then were in no position to ask common sense questions about the logistics of the flood.

Let’s compare Moore’s assumption with some of Augustine’s observations on the flood account, as he considers various objections to the account by critics of the day:


For, not to mention other instances, if the number of the animals entailed the construction of an ark of great size, where was the necessity of sending into it two unclean and seven clean animals of each species, when both could have been preserved in equal numbers? Or could not God, who ordered them to be preserved in order to replenish the race, restore them in the same way He had created them?

But they who contend that these things never happened, but are only figures setting forth other things, in the first place suppose that there could not be a flood so great that the water should rise fifteen cubits above the highest mountains, because it is said that clouds cannot rise above the top of Mount Olympus, because it reaches the sky where there is none of that thicker atmosphere in which winds, clouds, and rains have their origin...They say, too, that the area of that ark could not contain so many kinds of animals of both sexes, two of the unclean and seven of the clean...As to another customary inquiry of the scrupulous about the very minute creatures, not only such as mice and lizards, but also locusts, beetles, flies, fleas, and so forth, whether there were not in the ark a larger number of them than was determined by God in His command...

For Noah did not catch the animals and put them into the ark, but gave them entrance as they came seeking it. For this is the force of the words, They shall come unto you, Genesis 6:19-20 — not, that is to say, by man's effort, but by God's will.

Another question is commonly raised regarding the food of the carnivorous animals,— whether, without transgressing the command which fixed the number to be preserved, there were necessarily others included in the ark for their sustenance...

There is a question raised about all those kinds of beasts...propagated by male and female parents, such as wolves and animals of that kind; and it is asked how they could be found in the islands after the deluge, in which all the animals not in the ark perished, unless the breed was restored from those which were preserved in pairs in the ark. It might, indeed, be said that they crossed to the islands by swimming, but this could only be true of those very near the mainland; whereas there are some so distant, that we fancy no animal could swim to them.

Ancient logistics

Unbelievers impute a flat/triple-decker cosmography of the author of Gen 1. They assure us that ancient, prescientific people didn’t ask logistical, common sense questions about the physical configuration of the world. They simply didn’t have that mindset.

I’m going to quote from two church fathers on Gen 1. I’m not quoting them because I vouch for their interpretation of Gen 1, or their “scientific” explanations.

I’m simply quoting them to illustrate the fact that ancient readers and writers did, indeed, ask logistical, common sense questions about the physical configuration of the world.


"And God said, let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters front the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament." Before laying hold of the meaning of Scripture let us try to meet objections from other quarters. We are asked how, if the firmament is a spherical body, as it appears to the eye, its convex circumference can contain the water which flows and circulates in higher regions? What shall we answer? One thing only: because the interior of a body presents a perfect concavity it does not necessarily follow that its exterior surface is spherical and smoothly rounded. Look at the stone vaults of baths, and the structure of buildings of cave form; the dome, which forms the interior, does not prevent the roof from having ordinarily a flat surface. Let these unfortunate men cease, then, from tormenting us and themselves about the impossibility of our retaining water in the higher regions.

None of you assuredly will attack our opinion; not even those who have the most cultivated minds, and whose piercing eye can penetrate this perishable and fleeting nature; you will not accuse me of advancing impossible or imaginary theories, nor will you ask me upon what foundation the fluid clement rests. By the same reason which makes them attract the earth, heavier than water, from the extremities of the world to suspend it in the centre, they will grant us without doubt that it is due both to its natural attraction downwards and its general equilibrium, that this immense quantity of water rests motionless upon the earth.

Hear then how Scripture explains itself. "Let the waters be gathered together, and let the dry land appear." The veil is lifted and allows the earth, hitherto invisible, to be seen. Perhaps you will ask me new questions. And first, is it not a law of nature that water flows downwards? Why, then, does Scripture refer this to the fiat of the Creator? As long as water is spread over a level surface, it does not flow; it is immovable. But when it finds any slope, immediately the foremost portion falls, then the one that follows takes its place, and that one is itself replaced by a third. Thus incessantly they flow, pressing the one on the other, and the rapidity of their course is in proportion to the mass of water that is being carried, and the declivity down which it is borne. If such is the nature of water, it was supererogatory to command it to gather into one place. It was bound, on account of its natural instability, to fall into the most hollow part of the earth and not to stop until the leveling of its surface. We see how there is nothing so level as the surface of water. Besides, they add, how did the waters receive an order to gather into one place, when we see several seas, separated from each other by the greatest distances? To the first question I reply: Since God's command, you know perfectly well the motion of water; you know that it is unsteady and unstable and fails naturally over declivities and into hollow places. But what was its nature before this command made it take its course? You do not know yourself, and you have heard from no eyewitness. Think, in reality, that a word of God makes the nature, and that this order is for the creature a direction for its future course. There was only one creation of day and night, and since that moment they have incessantly succeeded each other and divided time into equal parts.

To say that the waters were gathered in one place indicates that previously they were scattered in many places. The mountains, intersected by deep ravines, accumulated water in their valleys, when from every direction the waters betook themselves to the one gathering place. What vast plains, in their extent resembling wide seas, what valleys, what cavities hollowed in many different ways, at that time full of water, must have been emptied by the command of God! But we must not therefore say, that if the water covered the face of the earth, all the basins which have since received the sea were originally full. Where can the gathering of the waters have come from if the basins were already full? These basins, we reply, were only prepared at the moment when the water had to unite in a single mass. At that time the sea which is beyond Gadeira and the vast ocean, so dreaded by navigators, which surrounds the isle of Britain and western Spain, did not exist. But, all of a sudden, God created this vast space, and the mass of waters flowed in. __Now if our explanation of the creation of the world may appear contrary to experience, (because it is evident that all the waters did not flow together in one place,) many answers may be made, all obvious as soon as they are stated. Perhaps it is even ridiculous to reply to such objections. Ought they to bring forward in opposition ponds and accumulations of rainwater, and think that this is enough to upset our reasonings? Evidently the chief and most complete affluence of the waters was what received the name of gathering unto one place. For wells are also gathering places for water, made by the hand of man to receive the moisture diffused in the hollow of the earth. This name of gathering does not mean any chance massing of water, but the greatest and most important one, wherein the element is shown collected together. In the same way that fire, in spite of its being divided into minute particles which are sufficient for our needs here, is spread in a mass in the rather; in the same way that air, in spite of a like minute division, has occupied the region round the earth; so also water, in spite of the small amount spread abroad everywhere, only forms one gathering together, that which separates the whole element from the rest. Without doubt the lakes as well those of the northern regions and those that are to be found in Greece, in Macedonia, in Bithynia and in Palestine, are gatherings together of waters; but here it means the greatest of all, that gathering the extent of which equals that of the earth. The first contain a great quantity of water; no one will deny this. Nevertheless no one could reasonably give them the name of seas not even if they are like the great sea, charged with salt and sand. They instance for example, the Lacus Asphaltitis in Judaea, and the Serbonian lake which extends between Egypt and Palestine in the Arabian desert. These are lakes, and there is only one sea, as those affirm who have traveled round the earth. Although some authorities think the Hyrcanian and Caspian Seas are enclosed in their own boundaries, if we are to believe the geographers, they communicate with each other and together discharge themselves into the Great Sea. It is thus that, according to their account, the Red Sea and that beyond Gadeira only form one. Then why did God call the different masses of water seas? This is the reason; the waters flowed into one place, and their different accumulations, that is to say, the gulfs that the earth embraced in her folds, received from the Lord the name of seas: North Sea, South Sea, Eastern Sea, and Western Sea. The seas have even their own names, the Euxine, the Propontis, the Hellespont, the Aegean, the Ionian, the Sardinian, the Sicilian, the Tyrrhene, and many other names of which an exact enumeration would now be too long, and quite out of place. See why God calls the gathering together of waters seas.


Many hold that the waters mentioned in this place cannot be above the starry heaven, maintaining that they would be compelled by their weight to flow down upon the earth or would move in a vaporous state in the air near the earth…Those who deny this theory base their argument on the weights of the elements. Surely, they say, there is no solid heaven laid out above like a pavement to serve as a support for the mass of water. Such a solid body, they argue, cannot exist except on the earth, and whatever is so constituted is earth, not heaven…Water is over earth; and if it rests or flows beneath the earth, as it does in recesses of grottoes and caverns, it is not held by the earth that is above it, but rather by that below. For if a piece of earth drops from above, it does not remain on the surface of the water, but, breaking through, it sinks and falls to the earth. There is comes to rest, for it is in its place: the water is above and the earth below. From this is it clear that while it was above the waters, it was not supported by waters but was help up by the solid earth that forms the chambers of caverns.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Inaugural Worldview Night 9-23-10

This coming Thursday night, 9-23-10 we will have our first "Worldview Night." This is an opportunity for us to interact with those of differing beliefs and proclaim the gospel to them through apologetics and worldview discussions.

Topic: The Textual Reliability of the New Testament, presenter, Pastor Dustin S. Segers

Time: 6:30-8:00 p.m.

Location: Shepherd's Fellowship Baptist Church, 12-J Wendy Court, Greensboro, NC, 27409

Format and Rules for this first meeting:
  • Start time @ 6:30 p.m. and we finish by 8:00 p.m. We can meet & greet, enjoy each others' company for a few minutes and then get started with a 30 minute presentation.
  • The idea is to have a presentation from various perspectives and then open up the floor for a moderated Q&A thereafter.
  • All are welcome to come as long as they follow socially acceptable behavior (no profanity, maintain respectful dialogue without talking over others through continual interruption, yelling, etc.).
  • Anyone can ask questions during the Q&A as long as they follow # 3 above. Sterling Vanderwerker will serve as moderator during the Q&A to prevent the types of things listed in the parenthesis of # 3 above.
  • It's open to the public.
In the future, we plan to do the following:
  • Have our guest presenters make a 15-20 minute presentation from the "Invited Worldview" perspective in general or if invited to deal with a specific subject (Young Earth Creation, Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, Darwinism (atheist/agnostic).
  • Then 15 minute prepared statement from the Christian Worldview to contrast and compare to the presentation. (This requires the invitee to submit their "doctrinal" position in advance if it is not a debate format.
  • Schedule moderated public debates that follow a format agreed upon by both sides.
We look forward to seeing you there this coming Thursday night to hear about the reliability of the text of the New Testament!

"Binding interpretive authority"


Infallibility is incompatible with Sola Scriptura by definition, since it carries a binding interpretive authority.

Aside from his knee-jerk recasting of truth-claims as authority-claims, there’s another problem. The Bible itself contains binding/authoritative interpretations. The OT contains binding/authoritative interpretations of God’s redemptive/judicial deeds in OT history. The OT contains binding/authoritative interpretations of God’s redemptive/judicial deeds in future history. The NT contains binding/authoritative interpretations of God’s redemptive/judicial deeds in OT history. The NT contains binding/authoritative interpretations of God’s redemptive/judicial deeds in NT history. And it also contains binding/authoritative interpretations of God’s redemptive/judicial deeds in future history.

And if he’s going to say that’s insufficient, because we need binding/authoritative interpretations of binding/authoritative interpretations, then the Magisterium is likewise insufficient, for the demand is regressive. Binding interpretations of binding interpretations of binding interpretations as far as the eye can see.

The only way to avoid the vicious regress is to admit the possibility of binding/authoritative interpretations which can stand on their own two feet–which brings us back to sola scriptura.

"The faithful few"

(Posted on Steve's behalf.)

Now if only Bob Sungenis and Gerry Matatics would join forces to consolidate the endangered remnant of the true One True Church.


Monday, September 20, 2010


Traditionally, fire is the element most commonly associated with hell–especially in the popular imagination. Fire is such a memorable metaphor. But what does hellfire signify?

Universalists think it stands for purification while annihilationists think it stands for destruction. Of course, these two interpretations tend to cancel each other out.

I think it’s safe to say that traditionally, hellfire is associated with pain. Fire burns. And it’s quite possible hellfire in the Bible plays on that connotation.

However, there’s another possibility which I haven’t seen explored. Those of us who live in the Frost Belt associate fire with warmth. Nothing like curling up beside a crackling fireplace on a chilly night.

But, of course, the Bible is set in a hot, arid part of the world. A place where drought and wildfire results in famine. Hunger and thirst. Starvation and dehydration.

It’s not coincidental that figures of eschatological judgment depict God drying up rivers and streams. Especially in the Mideast, these were sources of freshwater and drinking water. Or take the famous lake of fire in Revelation. A lake is normally a freshwater body. Consider the “Sea” of Galilee, the Nile, and the Jordan River.

Fish, game, livestock, and vegetation were dependent on lakes, rivers and streams. Conversely, figures of eschatological salvation depict God turning the desert into an oasis.

The relationship between fire and water is paradoxical. We normally think of water dousing fire. But fire is a drying agent. Eschatological fire can evaporate bodies of water. Fire represents searing heat (among other things).

So it’s possible that the metaphor of fire is associated with the related metaphors of hunger and especially thirst. Unquenchable fire signifies unquenchable hunger and thirst. And these, in turn, are figures of yearning. The damned forever long for what they shall never have. Dying of thirst, but cursed with immortality.

Dawkins on the warpath

I’ll be quoting from a speech that Richard Dawkins wrote, indicting Pope Benedict XVI as an “enemy of humanity.” But before then, I’d like to make a general observation:

Dawkins has backed himself into a conundrum. In The God Delusion he said: “not all absolutism is derived from religion. Nevertheless it is pretty hard to defend absolutist morals on grounds other than religious ones” (232).

So how can he moralize about religion, or religious figures, when, by his own admission, religion is a precondition for moral absolutes? Without God, there are no moral absolutes. So how can he wax indignant against religion when religion admittedly underwrites his indignation?

“The unfortunate little fact that Joseph Ratzinger joined the Hitler Youth has been the subject of a widely observed moratorium.”

I don’t think he exactly “joined” the Hitler Youth. Wasn’t membership compulsory? And Ratzinger was a teenager at the time. Surely that’s no way to judge the adult. How much say did he have in the matter at that time, age, and place?

“Adolf Hitler was a Roman Catholic. Or at least he was as much a Roman Catholic as the 5 million so-called Roman Catholics in this country today. For Hitler never renounced his baptismal Catholicism, which was doubtless the criterion for counting the 5 million alleged British Catholics today.”

There’s a grain of truth to this charge. Catholicism has very lax standards of membership. And Hitler was never excommunicated. At the same time it’s obvious that Hitler was not a pious Roman Catholic.

“But he certainly knew his overwhelmingly Christian constituency, the millions of good Christian Germans with Gott mit uns on their belt buckles, who actually did his dirty work for him. He knew his support base.”

But that undermines Dawkins’ argument. For in that case, Hitler’s religious rhetoric was just a cynical ploy by pandering to his audience.

“Even if Hitler had been an atheist – as Stalin more surely was – how dare Ratzinger suggest that atheism has any connection whatsoever with their horrific deeds?”

Why not? Even Peter Singer admits that human rights are traditionally grounded in the doctrine of the imago Dei. Once you reduce man to a meat machine, which is, in turn, the byproduct of a mindless machine (a la naturalistic evolution), then why not kill human beings with impunity?

“Unless, that is, you are steeped in the vile obscenity at the heart of Catholic theology. I refer (and I am indebted to Paula Kirby for the point) to the doctrine of Original Sin. These people believe – and they teach this to tiny children, at the same time as they teach them the terrifying falsehood of hell – that every baby is ‘born in sin.’”

Actually, I expect that Catholicism has gone soft on original sin and hell.

“That would be Adam’s sin, by the way: Adam who, as they themselves now admit, never existed.”

It’s true that having capitulated to macroevolution, there’s now a central tension in modern Catholic theology.

“Original sin means that, from the moment we are born, we are wicked, corrupt, damned.”

And Richard Dawkins is a living, breathing illustration.

“Unless we believe in their God. Or unless we fall for the carrot of heaven and the stick of hell. That, ladies and gentleman, is the disgusting theory that leads them to presume that it was godlessness that made Hitler and Stalin the monsters that they were. We are all monsters unless redeemed by Jesus. What a vile, depraved, inhuman theory to base your life on.”

i) That’s ironic coming from a man who reduces human beings to blindly-programmed robots and bacterial colonies. Sounds pretty “vile, depraved, disgusting, and inhuman” to me.

ii) Moreover, didn’t Richard Dawkins also tell us: “If it's true that it causes people to feel despair, that's tough. It's still the truth. The universe doesn't owe us condolence or consolation; it doesn't owe us a nice warm feeling inside. If it's true, it's true, and you'd better live with it.”

“Joseph Ratzinger is an enemy of humanity. He is an enemy of children, whose bodies he has allowed to be raped…”

There’s a lot of truth to that charge. However, Dawkins is in no position to level the charge. The moral outrage of a moral relativist lacks moral authority.

“He is an enemy of gay people, bestowing on them the sort of bigotry that his church used to reserve for Jews.”

i) Dawkins attacks Ratzinger for failing to crack down on pedophile priests, but he also attacks Ratzinger for failing to be more open to homosexuals in the priesthood. But, of course, it’s homosexual priests who prey on underage boys. Dawkins political correctness is at war with his blind indignation.

ii) Moreover, aren’t homosexuals defective by evolutionary standards? They don’t transmit their smart genes to the next generation.

“He is an enemy of women – barring them from the priesthood as though a penis were an essential tool for pastoral duties.”

i) Why does Dawkins even believe in woman’s rights? He denies moral absolutes. And he regards women (as well as men and children) as blindly-programmed robots.

ii) His charge is also paternalistic. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that women ought to be ordained. So what if the church of Rome were wrong in that respect? There are plenty of denominations which ordain women. Does Dawkins think woman are such frail, hothouse plants that they will be traumatized if this or that denomination refuses to ordain them? Do they really need a pat on the head from the Pope to bolster their self-esteem? Dawkins must have a very low opinion of women.

“He is an enemy of truth, promoting barefaced lies about condoms not protecting against AIDS, especially in Africa.”

Where has Benedict XVI actually said anything to that effect?

“He is an enemy of the poorest people on the planet, condemning them to inflated families that they cannot feed, and so keeping them in the bondage of perpetual poverty.”

I disagree with the Catholic position on birth control. However, no one is forcing you to abide by that policy. Indeed, millions of Catholics routinely disregard it.

“He is an enemy of science, obstructing vital stem-cell research, on grounds not of morality but of pre-scientific superstition.”

Which begs the question.

“Finally, perhaps of most personal concern to me, he is an enemy of education. Quite apart from the lifelong psychological damage caused by the guilt and fear that have made catholic education infamous throughout the world…”

This depiction strikes me as an antiquated throwback to pre-Vatican II Catholicism.

Punishing the Pope

Like so many militant atheists, Richard Dawkins is a selective moral relativist.

Punishing the Pope

RICHARD DAWKINS, the atheist campaigner, is planning a legal ambush to have the Pope arrested during his state visit to Britain “for crimes against humanity”.

Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, the atheist author, have asked human rights lawyers to produce a case for charging Pope Benedict XVI over his alleged cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic church.

The pair believe they can exploit the same legal principle used to arrest Augusto Pinochet, the late Chilean dictator, when he visited Britain in 1998.

Dawkins and Hitchens believe the Pope would be unable to claim diplomatic immunity from arrest because, although his tour is categorised as a state visit, he is not the head of a state recognised by the United Nations.

They have commissioned the barrister Geoffrey Robertson and Mark Stephens, a solicitor, to present a justification for legal action.

The lawyers believe they can ask the Crown Prosecution Service to initiate criminal proceedings against the Pope, launch their own civil action against him or refer his case to the International Criminal Court.

Punishment is unenlightened!

Ask people why they support the death penalty or prolonged incarceration for serious crimes, and the reasons they give will usually involve retribution. There may be passing mention of deterrence or rehabilitation, but the surrounding rhetoric gives the game away. People want to kill a criminal as payback for the horrible things he did. Or they want to give "satisfaction' to the victims of the crime or their relatives. An especially warped and disgusting application of the flawed concept of retribution is Christian crucifixion as "atonement' for "sin'.

Retribution as a moral principle is incompatible with a scientific view of human behaviour. As scientists, we believe that human brains, though they may not work in the same way as man-made computers, are as surely governed by the laws of physics. When a computer malfunctions, we do not punish it. We track down the problem and fix it, usually by replacing a damaged component, either in hardware or software.

Basil Fawlty, British television's hotelier from hell created by the immortal John Cleese, was at the end of his tether when his car broke down and wouldn't start. He gave it fair warning, counted to three, gave it one more chance, and then acted. "Right! I warned you. You've had this coming to you!" He got out of the car, seized a tree branch and set about thrashing the car within an inch of its life. Of course we laugh at his irrationality. Instead of beating the car, we would investigate the problem. Is the carburettor flooded? Are the sparking plugs or distributor points damp? Has it simply run out of gas? Why do we not react in the same way to a defective man: a murderer, say, or a rapist? Why don't we laugh at a judge who punishes a criminal, just as heartily as we laugh at Basil Fawlty? Or at King Xerxes who, in 480 BC, sentenced the rough sea to 300 lashes for wrecking his bridge of ships? Isn't the murderer or the rapist just a machine with a defective component? Or a defective upbringing? Defective education? Defective genes?

Concepts like blame and responsibility are bandied about freely where human wrongdoers are concerned. When a child robs an old lady, should we blame the child himself or his parents? Or his school? Negligent social workers? In a court of law, feeble-mindedness is an accepted defence, as is insanity. Diminished responsibility is argued by the defence lawyer, who may also try to absolve his client of blame by pointing to his unhappy childhood, abuse by his father, or even unpropitious genes (not, so far as I am aware, unpropitious planetary conjunctions, though it wouldn't surprise me).

But doesn't a truly scientific, mechanistic view of the nervous system make nonsense of the very idea of responsibility, whether diminished or not? Any crime, however heinous, is in principle to be blamed on antecedent conditions acting through the accused's physiology, heredity and environment. Don't judicial hearings to decide questions of blame or diminished responsibility make as little sense for a faulty man as for a Fawlty car?

Why is it that we humans find it almost impossible to accept such conclusions? Why do we vent such visceral hatred on child murderers, or on thuggish vandals, when we should simply regard them as faulty units that need fixing or replacing? Presumably because mental constructs like blame and responsibility, indeed evil and good, are built into our brains by millennia of Darwinian evolution. Assigning blame and responsibility is an aspect of the useful fiction of intentional agents that we construct in our brains as a means of short-cutting a truer analysis of what is going on in the world in which we have to live. My dangerous idea is that we shall eventually grow out of all this and even learn to laugh at it, just as we laugh at Basil Fawlty when he beats his car. But I fear it is unlikely that I shall ever reach that level of enlightenment.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

William Lane Craig Interviewed About Stephen Hawking

Greg Koukl just interviewed William Lane Craig regarding Stephen Hawking's latest book. The entire radio program should be posted at the Stand To Reason web site later this week. The interview with Craig was in the third hour. And Craig has addressed Hawking's claims (and some similar claims made by Lawrence Krauss) more briefly in some of his recent audio blog entries found here. Near the end of his interview with Koukl, Craig said that he's written an article responding to Hawking, which should be posted at the Reasonable Faith web site soon.

Is Eastern Orthodoxy Eastern heresy?

Because Protestantism and Catholicism have developed together in the past 500 years (not to mention historic antecedents to the Protestant Reformation), Protestantism has a finely-honed view of what’s wrong with Roman Catholicism.

By contrast, Eastern Orthodoxy has been an outlier to this process. So how should Protestants view Eastern Orthodoxy? Is it just as bad as Roman Catholicism? A little bit better? A little bit worse? A whole lot better? A whole lot worse?

Here are two simple ways of answering that question:

1. I’ve read Orthodox churchmen who classify Protestant theology, or some variant thereof (e.g. Reformed theology) as heretical. But if Protestant theology is heretical by Orthodox standards, then Orthodox theology is heretical by Protestant standards.

(I’m confining my comparison to the points where they conflict, and not across the board.)

So we can simply take the Orthodox viewpoint as a proximate reference point, then reverse the logic. If our “heresies” are their orthodoxies, then what they take to be their corresponding orthodoxies are heretical from our own vantage point.

2. A minor error, or even a minor truth, can become a major error if it is elevated to the status of an all-important truth. Take Seventh-Day Adventism. The day on which we celebrate the Sabbath is of no essential significance. Its importance is strictly symbolic.

And even in that respect it doesn’t have quite the same significance it had in the 1C. At a time when the Jewish Sabbath was the frame of reference, a shift from the seventh day of the week to the first day of the week was highly significant.

But the very effect of that shift over time makes that particular the day of the week loses its original significance precisely because we no longer use the Jewish calendar as our frame of reference. We’re not consciously contrasting the first day of the week with the seventh. By making Sunday our Sabbath, Monday becomes the first day of the week. By shifting one day, the entire sequence is shifted by a day.

(Of course, we can still preach on the original significance of the Christian calendar.)

The problem is not so much that Seventh-Day Adventists celebrate the Sabbath on the “wrong” day. The larger problem is the way they turn this into an all-important issue. Indeed, even if they happened to celebrate the Sabbath on the “right” day, they would still be gravely wrong for hyping the significance of this penny-ante issue.

Likewise, consider the theological priorities of the Eastern Orthodox. What do they consider all-important? And compare that with the theological priorities of the Bible.

A God Given Functioning Conscience

TurretinFan On The Sinlessness Of Mary

TurretinFan was on Chris Arnzen's Iron Sharpens Iron radio program on September 2 and 6, discussing the immaculate conception and sinlessness of Mary. I recently listened to the two programs. Those who are interested in those Marian doctrines and their history may want to listen, since TurretinFan makes a lot of good points, including some that aren't often mentioned.