Saturday, February 26, 2011


Darwinians find the explanations which “creationists” offer in response to alleged evidence of design flaws or universal common ancestry far-fetched.

What’s ironic about this dismissal is that sociobiology and evolutionary psychology are notorious for offering fanciful explanations of human behavior.

One man’s science is another man’s special pleading, or vice versa. 

"How the Human Got Its Spots"

What You Can Find Here

We get new readers occasionally. Some of them are non-Christians who raise objections we've already addressed. And some of the people who aren't new to the blog may have missed some of our past posts or forgotten them. I think it's worthwhile to remind readers of the material we have here from time to time.

Here's a post from last year in which I linked to some of our material on a variety of topics. Since I was responding to an atheist in that post, I linked to some of our material on issues related to atheism. We have a lot of other material as well. Here's a collection of articles relevant to Roman Catholicism, for example. Here's a series of posts I did on why the Bible contains the books it does. And you can find a lot of other articles on a lot of other subjects by searching the archives.

The gods must be tidy!

Cosmic neat freaks, second-rate engineers, pandas as comic relief, the universe like a piano or a novel with the author as a character, starry-eyed mystics, and hard-nosed, empirical scientists. Read about all this and more here.

(BTW, check out Dickie Dawkins' exploits in inertia here and here.)

A problem with arguments from poor design


As a public skeptic of the ability of Darwinian processes to account for complex cellular systems and a proponent of the hypothesis of intelligent design (1), I often encounter a rebuttal that can be paraphrased as "no designer would have done it that way." A classic example is the backwards wiring of the vertebrate eye (2). If no intelligent designer would have done it that way, the reasoning goes, then a blind, purposeless mechanism must be responsible, with natural selection being the prime candidate. This is a negative argument, reaching its conclusion in favor of the sufficiency of unintelligent processes by ruling out intelligence, which depends critically on our ability to differentiate useless from functional features. That ability has been severely called into question by the recent work of Hirotsune et al (3).

The modern molecular example of poor design is pseudogenes. Why litter a genome with useless, broken copies of functional genes? It looks just like the aftermath of a blind, wasteful process. No designer would have done it that way (2). Yet Hirotsune et al (3) show that at least one pseudogene has a function. If at least some pseudogenes have unsuspected functions, however, might not other biological features that strike us as odd also have functions we have not yet discovered? Might even the backwards wiring of the vertebrate eye serve some useful purpose?

The peril of negative arguments is that they may rest on our lack of knowledge, rather than on positive results. The contention that unintelligent processes can account for complex biological functions should, to the extent possible, be supported by positive results, rather than by intuitions of what no designer would do. Hirotsune et al's (3) work has forcefully shown that our intuitions about what is functionless in biology are not to be trusted.


Michael J. Behe

(1) Behe, M. J. Darwin's Black Box: The biochemical challenge to evolution. The Free Press, New York (1996).
(2) Miller, K. R. Life's Grand Design. Technology Review 97, 24-32 (1994).
(3) Hirotsune, S. et al. An expressed pseudogene regulates the messenger-RNA stability of its homologous coding gene. Nature 423, 91-96 (2003).


Friday, February 25, 2011

True Grit

I recently saw True Grit. Here are some fairly random thoughts on the film.

Spoilers ahead! Please be forewarned.

The plot is simple. A little 14 y/o girl named Mattie is out to get the man who killed her dad. A man named Chaney. She doesn't just want justice, she wants vengeance. She aims to be the instrument of divine retribution against Chaney. She not only wants to see him dead, but she wants him to know who it was that killed him and why. So she hires the tough-as-nails, mean-as-they-come US marshall Cogburn to hunt down the killer. Later a Texas ranger named LaBoeuf joins the pair since he's likewise looking for Chaney who also killed a Texas senator. The entire movie is narrated by Mattie.

I found its overt Christian references interesting and worth commenting on:
  • The movie starts off with a quote from Prov 28:1a: "The wicked flee when no man pursueth."

    The truth is that we're all wicked, and all of us flee God's presence. We are all like Adam and Eve hiding among the trees of the garden from God. We know, deep down, that we have done wrong against God and against one another. So we run. No one has to pursue us. We run from ourselves. Our inward sin and guilt pushes us onwards and awaywards. Further down and further out. East of Eden. We run and wander the barren wastelands like Cain, the man with no God.

    On the other hand, God does pursue us. He pursues us in Christ. And Christ did not come to judge the world but to save it. Not to strike us down, but to offer us forgiveness. The question is will we receive him and the forgiveness found in him?

    God is the hound of heaven. He never ceases to give chase, he never wearies nor flags, he hunts all of us. Eventually he will either drive us to our knees begging for mercy from him, or he will execute justice because we refused to give up our rebellious arms against him and make peace with him.

  • Also at the beginning, as Mattie is narrating, she says, "You pay for everything in this world. There is nothing free, except the grace of God." This is the gospel in a nutshell. "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23). We will pay for all the wrongs we have done in this life, one way or another. So that, unless we turn to God and plead for his forgiveness, which he offers freely in Christ, we will get our due in due time.

  • Mattie thinks God's providence protects her on her mission: "The Author of all things watches over me." Likewise God sends sunshine and rain to both the lost and to his people. But how many of us acknowledge him who has given us life and all things to enjoy?

  • The language throughout the movie is sprinkled with biblical allusions. For example, at one point Mattie says that sleeping in the same room as dead bodies "felt like Ezekiel in the valley of the dry bones." I suppose this is in part to evoke the language of the Wild West in the mid-to-late 19th century. Indeed, if you read some of the primary source documents from the period, you'll find a lot of common people had a far better command of the Bible than we do today. In fact, much of the Christian worldview was all but assumed in everyday American life during this time. As D.A. Carson has said, even if someone were an atheist, he'd have been a Christian atheist. By this Carson meant that they'd be denying the God of the Bible. Plus, they'd understand enough of the Bible to be able to interact with it a bit more fairly and accurately than for example the New Atheists of our day and age do (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett). It's surprising to me how biblically illiterate we are in the West. Especially in light of the fact that so much of our society and culture is founded on Judeo-Christian principles.

  • A dying man tells Cogburn that he'll meet his brother, a Methodist circuit preacher, "walking the streets of glory." Talk about heaven or hell these days is scoffed at. Yet if this life is all there is, then everything is at best absurd. We are born, we live, we die. In the end the universe will end. Nothing ultimately matters. As atheist historian and Cornell professor William Provine puts it: "There are no gods, no purposes, no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That's the end for me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will for humans, either."

  • At the end of the movie, Mattie falls into a dark pit with snakes. Her fall is an immediate result of the recoil from firing her gun to shoot and kill Chaney. While in the pit, Mattie is bitten on the arm by a snake. Cogburn rushes down to rescue her. He cuts an x mark (or perhaps a cross) into her arm to let the venom bleed out. Her life is saved but she loses her arm. This brings to mind the protoevangelion.

  • There are several hymns and Christian-inspired songs in the background or foreground throughout the movie. For example, Johnny Cash's "God's Gonna Cut You Down." I thought Cash's song was particularly apropos to the flick's main theme. Likewise, "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" which closed out the film. Of course, hymns are generally meant for believers who trust in God. Only a genuine believer can sing that he's leaning on God's everlasting arms. However, even for unbelievers, it's a reminder that, whether they like it or not, they must inevitably give account to God, for all must go to God in the end. Either God's arms will be outstretched to embrace us as his child or they will wield a sword to cut us down for our evil and rebellion against him and his kingdom.
Other thoughts:
  • I haven't seen No Country for Old Men, which the Coen brothers have said was meant to be viewed alongside True Grit.

  • I believe one of the Coen brothers was a philosophy major. This comes out in their films which often raise questions over ultimate meaning, life and death, ethics, and so forth.

  • Chaney is dumb. As such, he doesn't come off as threatening anymore. Perhaps he's meant to symbolize the banality of evil?

    Or perhaps Chaney is meant to be more like the Un-man in CSL's Perelandra, whom Ransom fought against:
    What chilled and almost cowed [Ransom] most was the union of malice with something nearly childish. For temptation, for blasphemy, for a whole battery of horrors, he was in some sort prepared; but hardly for this petty, indefatigable nagging as of a nasty little boy at a preparatory school. Indeed no imagined horror could have surpassed the sense which grew within him as the slow hours passed, that this creature was, by all human standards, inside out - its heart on the surface and its shallowness at the heart. On the surface, great designs and an antagonism to Heaven which involved the fate of worlds: but deep within, when every veil had been pierced, was there, after all, nothing but a black puerility, an aimless empty spitefulness content to sate itself with the tiniest cruelties, as love does not disdain the smallest kindness.
  • Life isn't fair. It sounds like Chaney, not to mention others in his gang, killed several people. But the worst punishment they can suffer is death, yet only once. A man can't die twice. So justice in this life alone isn't complete.

  • Also, Mattie's dad was a good man, at least according to Mattie: "My father would want me to be firm in the right, as he always was." Mattie's dad was apparently trying to help Chaney when Chaney killed him. On the face of it, Mattie's dad didn't deserve to die. But we can't merely weigh a man's good deeds against his bad ones, and then think that if they've done more good than bad then they don't deserve to die. There's no such thing as "deserve" or "don't deserve" among fallen, sinful creatures. We all deserve to die. We all deserve God's wrath for the wrongs we've done against him and others.

  • Besides, from the perspective of the irreligious, death is still the great equalizer. Good or bad, death will eventually come. We will be buried six foot under.

  • Can we take on the role of being the divine executioner like Mattie does? Isn't it God who decides? Plus, God's word forbids murder. For Mattie, is this murdering an innocent man? Well, not exactly, because she's killing a murderer. Not to mention this is the Wild West. Who's gonna act if not Mattie? Numbers 35 allows for avengers of blood and cities of refuge - although for manslaughter or accidental killing, not premeditated or intentional killing, at least as far as I understand.

  • The Coen brothers have said that there's a misplaced righteousness and vengeance in Mattie, and that her churchified Christian upbringing is the source. But if Christianity was meant to be portrayed negatively in the movie, it doesn't necessarily come out this way in the film, I don't think.

  • Although it turns out Mattie never married. Plus she appears to end up a stern, hardened woman. Perhaps this is the price of vengeance? Perhaps that's what the Coen brothers are suggesting? But this could easily be interpreted in other directions.

  • Mattie is a strong female lead. Yet her desire to exact punishment - and her support of capital punishment no less - cuts against liberal Hollywood's beliefs about the immorality of the death penalty, about rehabilitation over and against retribution, and so forth. Then again, Hollywood liberals don't inhabit the world of the Wild West which was often brutal. Where people lived on the frontier faraway from law and authority. Where might (or the fastest gun) often made right. Where natural disasters loomed so near. Where men and women and children could be cut down in an instant, either by nature, by Native Americans, by bandits, or by their own in town.

  • On a different interpretation, maybe the movie is meant to portray a world without God? An unredeemed world. A world with no hope for a redeemer. A world where we are not only the means to justice but the end of it. Justice begins and ends with humans, which is frightening to consider since it's both men who make the laws as well as break the laws they've made. There would be no objective standard for what's right and wrong other than what society has hobbled together, and which society can change at any time. Perhaps that's why it takes "true grit" to survive this world.

    Or the movie could be seen as what most people think of when they think of the OT world where God is supposedly a God of wrath and vengeance, which is in contrast to the NT world where Jesus is loving and forgiving and so forth. Of course, this is a terrible caricature. After all, God's mercy and love are hardly absent in the OT. Plus God's wrath and judgment are far more palpable in the NT. For example, see the book of Revelation alone. Also I believe Carson has mentioned that Jesus himself speaks of hell more often than the entire OT or at least far more often than any single biblical writer or character/person.

    In any case, living in the world of the Wild West but devoid of Judeo-Christian influence is arguably a Wild West which has no solid foundation for morals such as protection for women and children, defending the orphan and the widow, providing for the poor and downtrodden, helping the weak and helpless, etc. Perhaps that's why Mattie believes she has to take justice into her own hands.

  • There's no obvious moral point or closure to the story. No explicit lesson. Not even any heroes to praise, per se. It doesn't seem to matter to anyone besides the main characters whether Chaney was killed. That Mattie got her vengeance. What becomes of Cogburn or LaBoeuf. Particularly Cogburn who is both the harbinger of justice as well as the person who should be the last to escape justice. Things just "are," and that's all there is to it. Everything is vague and ambiguous. The ending seems unsatisfying because it seems incomplete.

    In a way it's like reading the book of Job before Job's final chapter. We live in a world where everything appears to be meaningless and unsatisfying. Where God appears distant, and inscrutable. Where the good suffer and the evil prosper. Lots of moral shades of grey, no black and white, clear right and wrong. Even within ourselves as regenerate men and women we see good fruit mixed with rotten fruit, strivings toward holiness dappled by the stains of sinful desires. But the truth is that the last chapter of Job is coming. Whether we see or hear it now, God will have the last say. The final word. God will reward the righteous, whom he has made righteous. But God will also punish and slay the wicked. God is the final arbiter of justice. Or as the apostle Paul quotes: "For it is written, vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord" (Rom 12:19).

"I do not believe anything is intrinsically good"

Since this issue crops up periodically, let’s give the exact quote from the exact source:

John W. Loftus said...

David, I am a consequentialist. I do not believe anything is intrinsically good.

But if nothing is intrinsically good, then by the same token, nothing is intrinsically evil.

Yet Loftus constantly acts as if the Christian God is culpable for doing wrong, commanding wrong, or failing to prevent wrong.

He wrote a whole chapter on “The Darwinian Problem of Evil” for TCD. And most recently he said:

I consider the evidential case against a good God from naturally caused suffering to be the most significant problem for believers.

In addition, he can’t logically limit this to a merely internal critique of Christian theism, for if nothing is intrinsically good, then there’s nothing intrinsically good about criticizing Christianity on its own terms (even if his argument was sound).

There’s nothing intrinsically good about being an atheist, nothing intrinsically evil about being a Christian.

So why does he bother?

Helping John Loftus understand theodicy

I see that John Loftus tried to score points with the NZ earthquake. Since he’s intellectually challenged on this issue, let’s explain it to him. If a Christian has a theodicy that accommodates natural evils, then he doesn’t need to reopen the issue each time a natural disaster strikes. For his theodicy already accommodates that type of event. Repetitions of the same kind don’t require a special explanation every time they occur. For the theodicy furnishes a general explanation. 

Yes, every so often a natural disaster will strike, killing or injuring a certain number of human beings. Christians expect that to happen. This isn’t something new or surprising. If a theodicy covers one kind of event, then it covers every event in kind. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Diploma mill

March Course

This March (March 1 to 31) I will be visiting lecturer at CFI's online campus, co-teaching their one-month introductory course in thephilosophy of naturalism, this year taught by Dr. John Shook (author of The God Debates) and myself. Anyone can attend and receive a certificate of completion (though only students at UB receive college credit). It is all online and all flextime (you can work at any time of day or week).

Course description: "Introduces the philosophy of naturalism by explaining its core ideas, examining what it is good for, and illustrating why it is a better view of reality than supernatural, mystical, or idealistic worldviews. Course topics include: (1) reasoning and the scientific method, (2) science's understanding of the universe and human beings, (3) how naturalism answers questions about morality, beauty, meaning, and society, and (4) making use of naturalism to better understand yourself and the world." 

Students will be able to interact with both of us on a near-daily basis in professional-quality forum discussions of lectures and reading materials (or you can just listen in, although participation is required for a completion certificate). There are required readings but no grades, tests, or papers (we assess your level of participation and comprehension from your interactions with us each week). My book Sense and Goodness without God is the required course text. Tuition is $60 ($50 for Friends of the Center, and only $10 for college students). To learn more, or register, visit the CFI course page:Naturalism (SEC 224).

Hmm. Forgive me for asking, but isn't this a diploma mill? And here I thought infidels touted academic credentials, peer review, and all that good stuff.

Don't infidels typically associate diploma mills with them thar backwoods fundies?

Colossus: The Forbin Project

The specter of computers that conquer the world is a standard theme in SF dystopias. The first example of this I recall seeing as a kid was Colossus: The Forbin Project (c.1969-70).

Here’s a current philosophical analysis of the issues:

Birds are Evolved Dinosaurs?

In an online article summarizing Dr. Carl Werner's work, "Living Fossils, Evolution the Grand Experiment, Vol. 2", Dr. Werner shows that it was impossible for dinosaurs to evolve into modern birds when the very birds that dinosaurs were supposed to evolve into are found in the same sedimentary layers of the dinosaurs with essentially the same morphology.  The following are quotes from the linked article.

Many modern animals in dinosaur rock:

So how many modern animals are represented in the dinosaurian sedimentary layers?
“We found fossilized examples from every major invertebrate animal phylum living today including: arthropods (insects, crustaceans etc.), shellfish, echinoderms (starfish, crinoids, brittle stars, etc.), corals, sponges, and segmented worms (earthworms, marine worms).
“The vertebrates—animals with backbones such as fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals—show this same pattern.”

Modern fish, amphibians and reptiles:

“Cartilaginous fish (sharks and rays), boney fish (such as sturgeon, paddlefish, salmon, herring, flounder and bowfin) and jawless fish (hagfish and lamprey) have been found in the dinosaur layers and they look the same as modern forms.
“Modern-looking frogs and salamanders have been found in dinosaur dig sites.
“All of today’s reptile groups have been found in the dinosaur layers and they look the same or similar to modern forms: Snakes (boa constrictor), lizards (ground lizards and gliding lizards), turtles (box turtles, soft-shelled turtles), and crocodilians (alligators, crocodiles and gavials).”

Modern birds:

“Contrary to popular belief, modern types of birds have been found, including: parrots, owls, penguins, ducks, loons, albatross, cormorants, sandpipers, avocets, etc. When scientists who support evolution disclosed this information during our TV interviews it appears that they could hardly believe what they were saying on camera.
Continue reading the online article here.

The holographic universe

There are secularist thinkers who argue, in all seriousness, that our universe may be a simulation or holographic projection. To take a few examples:

This is ironic. For that position is even further along the antirealist continuum than omphalism.  Indeed, it’s fully equivalent to Last Thursdayism, which is routinely used to satirize young-earth creationism.

Whether or not they believe it, secularists treat simulated reality as an intellectually respectable hypothesis. By contrast, young-earth creationism is reviled as intellectual rubbish.

But how is young-earth creationism more counterintuitive than a cosmic simulation or hologram? Indeed, isn’t young-earth creationism less radical than these secular alternatives?

I’m not using that as an argument for creationism–just observing how a secularist will allow himself a degree of leeway he’d never grant the Christian. 

On a wing and a prayer


Here's my problem with prayer. From the human perspective, it either appears to work, or it doesn't. And there are religious explanations for both. And those religious explanations are subject to interpretation. So really, no matter what does or does not happen, there is a nice religious explanation for it, so you really need to have no expectation either way, because the religious system works well enough in its explanation that it can make prayer seem to work sufficiently well enough either way, in hindsight. Prayer just seems more like something religious people do, rather than something from which they actually expect results.

i) Well, that oversimplifies the issue. I expect prayer to affect the future (or even the past) some of the time. Due to prayer, some things will happen (or not happen), which would not obtain absent prayer.

ii) However, it’s unpredictable because:

a) God doesn’t answer every prayer

b) Not every answer will be evident to the supplicant.

iii) That doesn’t mean the outcome makes no apparent difference one way or another. For some answers to prayer will be evident. But not necessarily for every supplicant.

And keep in mind that these aren’t makeshift caveats. These caveats apply even if prayer is still efficacious on occasion.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Pink unicorns

Colt: Mommy, are there worlds where human beings exist?

Mare: No, dear. Human beings only “exist” in fairly tales.

Back in the dark ages, some terribly ignorant unicorns thought that human beings were real. But modern, scientifically enlightened unicorns have outgrown those primitive, childish superstitions. 

Name that atheist

... thought history was bunk but compensated for this deficiency by focusing almost entirely on the present, and the wide open future. He was not a scientist, but he found science a way of "affirming" and demythologising a world made (he thought) sick by religion.
He made enemies far more easily than he made friends.
...was as tireless in the promotion of his brand of secularism as America was unready for its promulgation. He was reticent, often inarticulate, artless, rude, charismatic - but above all a self-promoter.
...Many of the titles were by unknown writers; the press could not count on sales generated by a stable of names.
One of Ralph Waldo Emerson's friends, William Furness, once complained that while Emerson wrote on a variety of subjects, he could write "only one book - the one I write over and over". The same can be said of...
He was prolific in the way only a man with a single message can be, authoring humanist "manifestos" - and always much addicted to various sorts of "declarations" and "statements" whose closest literary cousins are Papal bulls. His...books are largely accessible to a popular audience, and while not lacking in depth are not prolific in insight. His appeal was always to the village atheists, the town sceptics, the debunkers and grumps of small-town America. His local heroes were men like Robert Ingersoll and Joseph McCabe, common sense unbelievers.
The ideologically confused opposition to religious fundamentalism that had driven secular humanism through much of his career was finding fewer targets. Not only was Christianity not going away, it was proving remarkably able to adapt - better even than social theorists like Peter Berger had prophesied...Secular humanism by the millennium had become a movement that needed to create enemies to stay in business.
He had become isolated...quaint, curious and ineffective - a small ship tossed in a sea of change. The boy stood on the burning deck.
Alas, many humanists still live under the spell that once they move beyond religion, they have become moral. This biography suggests otherwise. But it is not a finding of Shakespearean depth: more like the Wizard, caught out when Toto reveals him for what he is, saying "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain." Ordinary people are made no bigger through magnification.

i) Richard Dawkins

ii) Richard Carrier

iii) John Loftus

iv) Robert Price

v) Christopher Hitchens

vi) PZ Myers

vii) Other

Thy paths drop fatness

Alan has invited a dialogue on gluttony. A few quick reactions:

1. Hypocrisy Watch

In one respect, this is a corrective to a certain type of hypocrisy in certain quarters of evangelicalism. Consider the corpulent Bible-thumper who rails against Demon Rum while extolling the supererogatory virtues of teetotalism. Drinking in moderation is a sin, but eating in excess is next to godliness!

2. Stewardship

i) In an obvious sense, this is a question of stewardship. We can broadly argue that since our bodies are a God-given gift, we should treat that gift with great respect. Not abuse our bodies.

ii) On the other hand, we ought be stewards of time as well as stewards of the body. While it’s good to be fit and trim, the more time devoted to diet and exercise, the less time for other things which may be equally or more important.

So we need to balance different duties and desires. On the one hand it’s possible to eat yourself into invalidism. On the other hand it’s possible to be overweight to some degree, but function well.

iii) Ironically, people tend to be trimmer and exercise more at a time in life when they need it least. When you’re young you’re naturally healthier. More energetic. Your body is more resilient. More forgiving.

Conversely, people tend to put on the pounds and exercise less at a time in life when their body is less able to carry the extra load. It places greater strain on a body that’s already weakened by the aging process. In that respect, physical fitness is more important as you pass your prime.

3. Mortality

No matter how well you care for your body, it’s going to age, sicken, and die. With that in view we may choose to do some things that risk or shorten life to some degree. Get more out of less time or less out of more time. That’s the tradeoff.

Whence & Whither American Presbyterianism?

Two Kingdoms and Cultural Obedience

Tom Martin's testimony

Tom Martin's testimony from Covenant Life Church.

Early Jewish Acknowledgment Of The Empty Tomb

A few early Christian sources tell us that their Jewish opponents acknowledged that Jesus' tomb was found empty after the body had been placed there. Were the later sources just repeating what the first one, Matthew, told them?

Even if so, there's no good reason to reject Matthew's report. The gospel seems to have been written by a Jew and seems to have been written for an audience with a lot of knowledge of Judaism, Israel, and other elements of Christianity's early Jewish context. R.T. France notes that the idea of non-Jewish authorship of the gospel "enjoyed quite a vogue" during the third quarter of the twentieth century, "but is now not widely supported" (The Gospel Of Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2007], n. 26 on p. 15). Grant Osborne comments that "One major consensus is that Matthew writes a Jewish gospel." (Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2010], p. 31) Matthew comments that acknowledgment of the empty tomb by Jewish opponents of Christianity originated just after Jesus' death and existed "to this day" (Matthew 28:15), a claim that easily could have been falsified if untrue. William Lane Craig discusses some other evidence that Matthew's account is reliable.

Around the middle of the second century, Matthew's account is corroborated by a passage in Justin Martyr in which he seems to quote from a Jewish source on the subject. In section 108 of his Dialogue With Trypho, Justin seems to cite a Jewish document or tradition, in which Jesus is referred to as a "deceiver" and reference is made to Jesus as Him "whom we crucified", apparently speaking from the perspective of non-Christian Jews ("we"). This passage in Justin contains multiple details not found in Matthew's gospel. For example, Michael Slusser's edition of Justin has him referring to how the Jews "chose certain men by vote and sent them throughout the whole civilized world" in order to argue against Christianity, including by accusing the disciples of stealing the body from the tomb (Dialogue With Trypho [Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Of America Press, 2003], p. 162). It's not as though people would have been dependent solely on Matthew for information on such subjects. Justin had more than Matthew's account to go by. And he seems to be quoting some sort of Jewish document or tradition.

Justin is familiar with many Jewish responses to Christianity, as his interactions with their scripture interpretations, for example, demonstrate. He "shows acquaintance with rabbinical discussions" (ibid., n. 9 on p. 33). Bruce Chilton writes that Justin "appears to adapt motifs of Judaism", and Rebecca Lyman comments that Justin "is aware of Samaritan customs as well as some patterns of rabbinic exegesis" (in Sara Parvis and Paul Foster, edd., Justin Martyr And His Worlds [Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2007], pp. 83, 163). He wasn't just repeating what he read in the New Testament documents. He's aware of Jewish arguments outside of those reflected in the New Testament, and he's aware of post-apostolic developments in Judaism. His willingness to compose a work as lengthy as his Dialogue With Trypho tells us something about his interest in Jewish arguments against Christianity.

Though Justin wrote around the middle of the second century, he sets his dispute with Trypho earlier, around the year 135. And the Jewish tradition he's citing in the passage I mentioned above would date even earlier.

Late in the second century, Tertullian summarizes Jewish arguments concerning the empty tomb:

"This is He whom His disciples secretly stole away, that it might be said He had risen again, or the gardener abstracted, that his lettuces might come to no harm from the crowds of visitants!" (The Shows, 30)

Notice that Tertullian mentions something that neither Matthew nor Justin had reported. Apparently, the argument that the disciples stole the body was still the primary Jewish response. But some Jews had argued that the body was moved by a gardener, perhaps because of how implausible the argument for theft by the disciples had become in light of the suffering and martyrdom of the disciples. Keep in mind that the argument that the disciples stole the body originated before any of the disciples died as martyrs and before they had suffered much. The argument was better early on than it would become later.

It should also be noted that Tertullian, like Justin, wrote an entire treatise against Judaism (An Answer To The Jews). The idea that he would have been dependent solely on Matthew for his knowledge of the Jewish response to the Christian claim about the empty tomb is unlikely.

All three of these early Christian sources include information not mentioned by the others. All three would have had easy access to the Judaism of their day, and they all show interest in interacting with Jewish arguments against Christianity. Matthew and Justin are making highly public claims that could easily have been discerned to be false if they had been false (e.g., "to this day" in Matthew, men "sent throughout the whole civilized world" in Justin). All three include information unlikely to have been made up by a Christian (see Craig's article about Matthew; Justin seems to be citing a Jewish source; Tertullian or a Christian source he relied on probably wouldn't have made up an alternate argument about the removal of Jesus' body that avoids the main problem with the theft argument). For reasons like these, and because there isn't any good argument to the contrary, it seems likely that there was early and widespread Jewish acknowledgment of the empty tomb.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"Jesus Is Dead"

"Christian antinatalism

Just when you think you’ve seen it all comes a comment from a “Christian antinatalist.”

Actually, antinatalism is anything but nihilistic. You effectively admit this in your comment, Ironically, antinatalism is so nihilistic because it’s so idealistic. When idealism comes into contact with a fallen world, the result is bitter disillusionment. To be idealistic, one has to believe in some sort of standards by which to judge a thing – again as you effectively admit in your comment about antinatalists having “bitter disillusionment”. To be “bitterly disillusioned” at having this world fall short of our standards presupposes we do believe this world should be something other than the way it is.

i) There's an elementary difference between having “standards” and having standards that map onto what is right and true. Skinheads can have ideals–twisted ideals. A suicide cult can have ideals. Perverted ideals.

Antinatalism seeks to prevent more suffering in this world – including the suffering of a soul in Hell. It also seeks to minimize suffering of others through generously giving a helping hand to others, comfort others, and so forth – in short, values any civilized and human person would strongly agree with.

Yes, like a civilized sniper. He’s been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Now he’s mad at the world. Mad that others have a chance to go on living while he is dying. So he decides to take as many with him as possible. “If I can’t be happy, then no one deserves to be happy!”

And, really, the sniper is doing them a favor, right? After all, life is so dog-gone rotten. Our schoolyard sniper isn’t committing murder. No, he’s euthanizing all those kindergarteners. Sparing them a life of pain and suffering.

He’s a philanthropist, you see. We should give him a humanitarian medal for every kindergarten he empties with his machinegun.

Or the civilized serial killer who works as a psychiatrist. All those depressed patients. But he puts them out of their misery with a shot of pentobarbital. That’s the generous thing to do.

All this actually supports the idea that we DO have standards of morals by which to judge the worthiness of the world – so antinatalism is not nihilistic at all. QED. In fact, antinatalism – even its atheist varieties - actually has more in common with Christianity than Nihilism.

Ah! Orwellian doubletalk. To be so despairingly pessimistic that you wish to terminate the whole human race isn’t nihilistic. Nah. Banish the thought!

Aren’t we Christians ourselves disillusioned (or at least disappointed) with the human condition? Or find there is something terribly wrong with this world? As a Christian myself, I know this is true, and I think you are too.

No, I’m not disappointed with God’s plan for the world. I judge the process by the end-product.

The only difference is that I came to see that the only way to guarantee non-condemnation for any of my would-have-been descendants is not to have children in the first place.

Scripture treats children as a blessing, not a blight.

 Still, even the “secular” reasons that don’t explicitly contradict Jesus’ teachings were enough to convince me that I had no right to force people into this world who could not consent to it.

Actually, you’re forcing your jaundiced outlook onto your “would-have-been” descendents. And your attitude represents the epitome of ingratitude. 

 Moving to your previous statement Antinatalism represents the reductio ad absurdum of the argument from evil. It takes the argument from evil to its logical extreme, and–in so doing–exposes something fundamentally twisted about the argument from evil–by exposing the nihilistic presuppositions of the argument. I don’t find this any more “twisted” than saying The All-Powerful God’s judgment against the wicked. Christian antinatalists like me seek to prevent souls from going to Hell, as said by not having kids in the first place (among other things).

That reflects a fundamental mistrust in God’s wisdom and goodness.

It also reflects the spiteful notion that no one should have a chance at happiness unless everyone is happy. If just one person is miserable, then he should spoil life for everyone else.

If we believe Hell is a place of eternal torment, and if we believe that Christians are quite literally the “chosen FEW”, then it’s hardly a reducto ad absurdum to say it’s better for them to have never been born.

It’s better for the damned that they were never born. That hardly makes it better for the “would-have-been” saints who will now miss out on the joys of heaven and the new Eden. By your lights, if anyone loses, then everyone ought to lose. Yes, that represents such a generous, magnanimous spirit. 

The secular version of antinatalism simply substitutes “this earth” for “hell”, thereby concluding that nobody deserves to be born onto “this earth” (which even I find imminently sensible – for if a person is not born, then he or she has no spiritual needs or no soul that can be punished.

Except that treating some people better than they deserve is an act of kindness.

Me? I simply weighed the potential rewards and potential benefits and decided that it’s more important to save my otherwise-Hell-bound descendants from eternal torment than it is for my otherwise-heavenboudn descendants to experience God’s glory; for as I said, the nonexistent have no souls that can be harmed.

Which simultaneously deprives your “would-have-been” heavenbound descendents of eternal bliss. Nonentities also have no souls (or bodies) that can be blessed. 

They that wait upon the Lord

Byron Smith responded to me. I’ll going to focus on his key contentions:

The answers for why prayer is “answered” or “unanswered” cover every conceivable possibility without actually requiring any unambiguous or visible activity on the part of the deity. Isn't that a trifle bit convenient?

i) Answered prayer and unanswered prayer are evidentially asymmetrical. Evidence that something never happened doesn’t cancel out evidence that something else did happen. If it rains today, but not tomorrow, the nonoccurrence of rain tomorrow in no way counts against the occurrence of rain today, as if we have to balance one against the other.

Likewise, indetectible answers to prayer don’t count against detectable answers to prayer.

ii) While answered prayer has evidential value, that’s a fringe benefit of prayer. That’s not what prayer is for.

iii) There’s a strangely self-absorbed quality to your objections, as if the only relevant evidence for Christianity is limited to the confines of your personal experience.

But what about the experience of other Christians? Why does that count for nothing? Most of what you and I believe about most things in life is dependent on the testimony of others.

So if, say, you have no tangible experience of answered prayer, yet many other Christians bear witness to answered prayer, or other instances of special providence in their lives, how does your inexperience cancel out their experience?

Sure, you can say this is merely their claim to encounter God in one way or another. Still, how are you in any position to treat their testimony as untrustworthy in each and every case?

Wild Mob Shouts Down CBR at FSU


Columbus, Ohio. February 21, 2011 - The Center for Bio-ethical Reform and the Canadian CBR displayed the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) amidst much opposition at Florida State University (FSU).  During their recent open microphone session, on February 17, a large crowd of pro-death protestors attempted to disrupt their attempts to respond to questions from FSU students.  Despite their attempts, CBR succeeded in fielding dozens of questions from abortion advocates.  

Here's video one:

Here's video two:

To view photographs from the outreach, click here:

Gary Habermas On The Shroud Of Turin

He discussed the subject on Greg Koukl's radio program this past Sunday.

"Birds are dinosaurs"

According to The New York Times:
On Saturday Jack Conrad will show that New York is filled with dinosaurs: they roam the streets, hover over your roof, swoop down from trees, nibble on your garbage. “You can go in Central Park and feed the dinosaurs,” Dr. Conrad said. “That is, if you want to.”

Dr. Conrad is neither a crackpot nor a star in a new release in the “Jurassic Park” franchise. A research associate at the American Museum of Natural History, he will present a program there that demonstrates what he and his fellow paleontologists have learned over the last 15 years: Birds are dinosaurs.
Exhibit A:

Monday, February 21, 2011

Au contraire, mon frère

I know some fine guys have been trying to protect my secret identity. Including fellow Tbloggers Steve and Paul. My deepest thanks to them. But it's not fair that my friends take the heat for me. It's time I took some responsibility. The truth is I am TurretinFan.

No, I'm Turretin Fan!

I see that Paul Manata now identifies himself as the elusive Turretin Fan. But I know that can't be so. Why? Because I'm Turretin Fan. I'm the real deal. Don't be fooled by that man behind the curtain.

Extraordinary disclaimers demand extraordinary evidence

Hume famously said, “A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined.”

This was summarized in Carl Sagan’s slogan that “extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence.”

I’ve often criticized this argument. Now I’ll approach it from a different angle.

It doesn’t occur to Humeans that the principle cuts both ways. It only takes a single instance to establish a miracle. One will do.

By contrast, the Humean has to disclaim every single reported miracle. The Humean must take the antecedent, unfalsifiable position that each and every witness to a miracle was either a deceiver or deceived. Just one isolated exception will dash the entire argument.

So there’s no parity between these two propositions. And it’s the Humean position which comes up short.

Surely the claim that there’s a 100% failure rate in the whole of human history to reported miracles is nothing if not an utterly extraordinary claim. And that, in turn, demands extraordinary evidence.

By what possible evidence could a Humean overcome the standing presumption against his extraordinary claim? He wasn’t there. He’s in no position to examine every report. Or interview the witnesses.

Also, it’s safe to say that for every reported miracle, many similar incidents go unreported. Not every witness had occasion to write it down. Not every witness was literate.

Even if he wrote it down in a private diary, many diaries are never published. Many diaries are forever lost to the ravages of time.

If extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence, then extraordinary disclaimers demand extraordinary evidence.



It appears from your post that your beef is with Kline and Kline as understood by Irons. I don't see what I have do in this discussion at all. My theology is that confessed by the Reformed churches in the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards. Have you read the two books I've published on covenant theology? Have you read any of the several articles I've published on covenant theology? Why do you assume that I agree with MGK or Irons on every point? Isn't that a gratuitous assumption?

Which misses the point. You deny that Baptists can be “Reformed” because, according to you, Baptist theology is contraconfessional.

Yet I don’t see you saying the same thing about Meredith Kline. So this presents a dilemma:

i) Either you think Kline, despite his contraconfessional positions, was still Reformed–in which case you need to explain why his contraconfessional positions remains within the bounds Reformed identity while the (allegedly) contraconfessional positions of a Baptist who, lets us say, subscribes to the LBCF, are out of bounds with Reformed identity,

or else:

ii) Deny that Meredith Kline and his disciples are really Reformed.

Horns of what dilemma? In a post-theocratic world (after the expiration of the Mosaic theocracy) no state is authorized by the Creator to enforce religious orthodoxy. Israel was unique in world history. No other state has ever been authorized to enforce religious orthodoxy. The primary function of the state, in the nature of things, is to keep citizens, as much as possible, from killing one another and to punish those who violate that law. That's the plain teaching of Rom. There's not a hint of theocracy in the NT. Never did the apostles ask the magistrate to do anything but enforce the sort of justice I sketched above. National israel was a supernaturally state. All other states before and since are not supernaturally constituted.  This isn't a OT v NT but it is a recognition of the intentionally temporary nature of the Mosaic theocracy, something that is taught explicitly in WCF 19. It was the divines, not Clark, who gave us the word "expired." How is this arbitrary or inconsistent?

That simply ducks the issue which Lee raised. To restate the dilemma:

i) On the one hand, 2k opposes theocracy/theonomy

ii) On the other hand, 2k (of the type that you and others [e.g. VanDrunen] advocate) grounds the duties of the civil magistrate in natural law.

That, however, generates a dilemma. As Lee points out (which I already quoted above):

Since he [Clark] has appealed to natural law as the foundational principle of his theory of civil government, he is caught on the horns of a dilemma. Either he maintains his foundational principle (namely, that the civil magistrate has a moral obligation to enforce the moral law) and applies it consistently to the civil enforcement of the entire moral law, both the so-called first and the second table. Or he backs down and makes a much less dramatic claim: the civil magistrate may enforce parts of the moral law to the extent that it promotes good order and well-being in society. But then Clark would no longer be able to claim that the civil magistrate is morally required to enforce the creational boundaries concerning marriage. The civil magistrate could still enforce the creational boundaries concerning marriage, but now only on the softer ground that various sociological studies have shown that it is better for society, for children, etc., not because natural law requires it.

Accentuating the difference between Israel and the church, the old covenant and the new covenant, &c. does nothing to relieve the dilemma generated by your commitment to natural law, over against your opposition to theocracy/theonomy.

This is why all the American Reformed/Presbyterian churches have revised their confessions. The Dutch churches no longer confess and have positively rejected the old version of BC 36.

i) That’s irrelevant to natural law

ii) Moreover, once you pull that string, your effort to tie Reformed identity to confessional identity unravels. For at that juncture it’s no longer the confessions defining the church, but the church defining (or redefining) the confessions. The churches, rather than historic creeds, catechisms, and confessions, become the yardstick of Reformed identity. Reformed identity is whatever the confessions say, but the confessions say whatever the churches make them say. So your confessional grounding is viciously circular and relativistic.

If, tomorrow, the URC revises the canons of Dordt to accommodate the five articles of the Remonstrants, then that’s consistent with Reformed identity.