Saturday, April 09, 2011

E. Randolph Richards Responds To Bart Ehrman

Ben Witherington has been reviewing Bart Ehrman's latest book on his blog, and he's made many good points in the process. I'm more conservative than Witherington. I disagree with him regarding the origins of Daniel, the authorship of the fourth gospel, and some other issues. But he does make many good points.

Regarding the use of secretaries by the New Testament authors, he comments:

Finally, on pp. 133-39 we come to his rebuttal to secretary or scribe theories. Bart relies on the work of E.E. Richards here, and he acknowledges Paul and others certainly used secretaries. What he disputes is that secretaries were given any latitude in the composition of documents, or at least, he wants to see the historical evidence for such latitude. This is a reasonable request, but there is more to attend to here. Bart wants to argue that what we have in Paul’s corpus is letter-essays. This however is not quite correct. What we have is rhetorical discourses within an epistolary framework. In the largely oral culture of the Greco-Roman world, Paul’s so-called letters and documents like Hebrews were orally delivered by Paul’s co-workers as speeches, and more importantly they reflect the structure and practices of ancient rhetoric. About this Bart is completely silent. He does not consider as an option, he does not rebut it as in error. He is simply silent. And here is the point—- secretaries took down speeches in a variety of ways, including using short-hand, taking notes and then filling out in a more elegant rhetorical form, and so on. We have an abundance of evidence about the taking down of ancient speeches by scribes. Of this Bart says nothing. Here then is a major fly in the ointment and flaw in the analysis in ‘Forged’. We don’t need to track down how secretaries handled philosophical essays, we need to track down how they dealt with speeches. And the previous comments of Thucydides and Polybius are relevant here as well.

There is another assumption in Bart’s argument that surfaces here, namely it is only the elites who have secretaries that have literary skills and could produce Pauline like documents (or Petrine ones). This is forgetting how many slaves were not only educated but trained to be excellent secretaries. We must remember that many persons who had become slaves in the Empire, had previously been teachers, land owners, and in fact amongst the elite in their own region. There were many slaves who became Christian converts, some from elite households. For example, Paul mentions in Romans 16 people from the household of Aristobolus, or the Herodion slaves, and indeed Philippians mentions Caesar’s own household had converts. Various of these persons were domestic slaves, and some of them were likely able scribes. In other words, the social situation was such that Paul and Peter and others could definitely have access to very competent, and rhetorically skilled former slaves who were secretaries.

Bart concludes this section by referring again to the unlikelihood that Peter used a skilled and rhetorically and Scripturally knowledgeable scribe to compose 1 Peter in Greek with Peter perhaps speaking in Aramaic and giving the gist of what he wanted to say. Really? Let us consider for a moment what Papias says about the composition of the Gospel we know as Mark’s Gospel….

Bart’s parameters of either single or joint authorship or forgery and fabrication, are much too narrow to account for what we find in the NT itself, and in its era. And finally, it will not do to suggest that with Cicero and Tiro we have some sort of isolated and singular example of where a scribe might compose a document for his master. Read Anthony Everett’s fine life of Cicero or William Johnson’s excellent monograph (both reviewed on this blog), Readers and Reading Culture in the High Roman Empire, (Oxford 2010). There are lots of good reasons to question Bart’s conclusions about secretaries and for that matter about what counted as authorship or forgery in antiquity. At the end of the day, I do think Paul mostly dictated his letters— all of them with the possible except of the Pastorals. This didn’t mean that the secretary would not put it into a more apt rhetorical form after he had taken notes for the composition of the document in a fair hand. We do need to make some allowance for the contrast in 2 Corinthians where the Corinthians say Paul’s letters are powerful and rhetorically impressive, but his ethos and in person speech was weak.

In the comments section of the same thread, Ehrman's own source, E. Randolph Richards, apparently wrote the following (Ben Witherington responds as if the post is authentic and confirms what the poster has said):

My copy of Bart’s book seems to be slower arriving than everyone else’s, so, I have not yet read it. I’m wondering if I am misrepresented. Bart and I briefly exchanged emails prior to his book. I reiterated my position that I think there were no innocent apostolic pseudepigrapha. The influence of my professor, Earle Ellis, is evident in me. In my 2004 IVP book on Letter Writing, I attempted to demonstrate that secretaries did have an impact upon the text. For evidence, I would cite the old study on Cicero that showed remarkable variation in writing style across undisputed letters of Cicero. I am not surprised Bart is quite resistant to allowing any influence from a secretary (or co-author). I suspect this is because it would undermine his argument against Pauline authorship. (I believe all 13 letters are Pauline.) Like you, I believe ancient authorship was quite different. In a paper I’m reading next month, I will address some of these differences. I enjoy your postings, Ben. Thanks for all your work.

Darrell Bock will be reviewing Ehrman's book as well.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Craig's conundrum

Craig/Harris Debate: If You Were Scoring Points Craig Won, But Harris Clearly Had the Better Arguments
By John W. Loftus at 4/08/2011
This debate was very instructive to me, and that’s what debates should be for us. Bill has once again showed himself as the best debater of this generation, that's for sure. He had a great opening statement and kept coming back to it in his rebuttals, assessing what Sam might might have said against it, pointing out when Sam didn’t answer him, and if he did, why he was wrong. Bill was out to score points. That’s what he was taught in his High School debate team. Score points.

To judge by how infidels handicap the Craig debates, Craig is caught in a hopeless dilemma. No matter how often he wins, it never counts. The usual excuse is that when he wins a debate with an atheist, that’s just because he’s a better debater. Not because he was right. Not because he had the best of the argument. Had the facts on his side. No, couldn’t be that. Never that.

But then he debated Hitchens, who is, by all accounts, a masterful debater in his own right. Yet Craig won that debate, too.

In that case, the excuse wasn’t: Craig won because he's such a great debater. No, it had to be: Hitchens was unprepared, or Hitchens was off his game that night.

Public debates are not the best forum to dissect complex issues. However, that cuts both ways. Both Craig and his opponents labor under the same time constraints. 

Somehow, Craig could win every time, against every opponent atheism can throw at him, yet we should pay no attention to the scoreboard.

BTW, while Craig is a fine debater, he also lacks some of the virtues of a great public speaker. He doesn’t have a great speaking voice. He’s not an eloquent wordsmith. He’s not a spellbinding storyteller. He can’t manipulate the emotions of the audience the way a great preacher or actor can.

So, in some fundamental respects, he’s overrated as a debater. You can’t chalk up his winning streak to oratory alone.

Debate Announcement: Does God Exist?

On Thursday, April 14th, from 7-9 p.m., the UNCG Ratio Christi club is co-hosting a debate with the Atheists, Agnostics, and Skeptics club. Dr. Richard Howe, a professor of philosophy from Southern Evangelical Seminary, will be debating Dr. John Shook, from the Center for Inquiry, regarding the question "Does God Exist?" The debate will be in the Elliott University Center Auditorium and it is free and open to the public.  We hope to see you there!

Cosmological pantheism


Our present world seems to be a fulsome world. Bustling with activity. Well-furnished.

For this reason, death appears to be a deprivation. A negation. Putting all that behind us. And that’s one reason even Christians may feel reluctant to die.

At this same time, this impression is deceptive. Our present world seems to be so fulsome because that’s all we know. That’s our only frame of reference.

But viewed from the perspective of the past, our present world is a thin, deserted world. For the present pours itself into the past. Empties itself into ages past–live a river into the sea. All that ever was accumulates in the past. Days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, millennia pile atop one another in the vast sprawling warehouse of the past.

The present only retains trace evidence of the past. Scattered, fortuitous remnants. But the past is dense. Complete to the nth degree. Every sunrise. Every sunset. Every falling leaf and budding flower. Every kiss. Every passing cloud. Every word. Every song. Every deed.

Every life, and every set of lives, intersecting with every other life. A cradle within a home, within a village, within a country, within a slice of time.

Yet the past pours itself into the future. Into the world to come. Lost Eden foreshadows New Eden. Solomonic Jerusalem foreshadows Jerusalem anew.

The world to come is thick, luxuriant. The fallen world is a shadowgram. Even Eden was but a shadow.

If you follow a shadow, it will lead you to the shadower. Compared to the shadower, the shadow is a flat, colorless, tenuous imitation. A projection of the shadower. 

The shadow is an evanescent sign pointing to the shadower. A map marking the way back home.

Yet the unbeliever is a shadowist. The shadow is his adopted reality. He lives for the shadow. For the fleeting surface of a mortal life below, cast by the everlasting shadower behind. 

But the believer lives for the shadower. A tireless wayfarer who follows the shadowy map over the last twilight hill–leaving shadowland behind for the shadowless land of the sun. Far from here, behind the huddled hills, awaits the shadower, like the stately tree of life at daybreak, and fleeing shadows all along the fiery rim portend the consummation of a thousand distant dawns. 

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Bnonn on Krauss on Craig

UNCG Outreach Report 4-6-2011

Yesterday's outreach at UNCG was very profitable as I had the opportunity to speak one-on-one to a wide variety of unbelievers over a 4.5 hour period.  I spoke with four Muslims, several skeptics, a few false converts, some hedonists, a couple of pluralists, a few Moralistic Therapeutic Deists, a few who were ready to listen, and at least two Christians.  I also had the opportunity to give out a few small ESV Bibles.  I spoke with nearly every variety of unbelieving college student yesterday and had the opportunity to engage them in pleasant and cordial discussion, even when we strongly disagreed.  Being a good listener and asking follow-up questions to understand the unbeliever's perspective was helpful in avoiding misrepresentation and to further productive conversation, but I'll touch on that a little later in this post.

Question of the day:  "Does absolute truth exist?"

After introducing myself and using that lead in question to start a conversation, I heard the following objections, questions, and statements:
  1. I don't need anybody's forgiveness!
  2. How do you know the Bible is really the word of God?
  3. If God would appear right in front of me, then I'd believe in Him.
  4. How can God send people to Hell who have never heard of Jesus?
  5. How can Allah send people to Hell simply because they don't believe that Jesus is God?
  6. What about the atrocities of the Crusades?
  7. We can't know anything for certain.
  8. I believe in absolute truth, but truth varies from person to person.
  9. Why do I need to become a Christian when I believe in God and am just as happy as you are?
  10. To each his own!
  11. Why did Jesus have to die on the cross?
  12. Why does God need people to worship Him?  That seems selfish.
  13. I was born a Christian!
  14. I'm a Christian, but I think God accepts everybody regardless of their religion.
  15. Why do I have to presuppose the God of the Bible in order to make sense of my experience?
  16. Which God?
  17. These types of disagreements cause war, strife, and bloodshed!
Asking follow-up questions like "How do you know that?", "Why?", and "Why Not?" as well as stating "Let me review what I think I heard you say so that I can make sure I don't misunderstand or misrepresent you" were absolutely critical for furthering the conversation when strong disagreement became evident.  Consider the following examples from yesterday's outreach.

Statement # 1 above, "I don't need anybody's forgiveness!"  A  young man made this statement after I had explained the gospel to him and his other two friends.  His body language indicated that he was upset that God would be angry with him for his sins.  He was also obviously put off by the idea that he would have to ask God for mercy and put his sole trust in the cross-work of Jesus Christ in order to be forgiven.  His personality (from what I could glean in the fifteen minutes that I spoke with him) was that of a strong (physically and psychologically), proud, confident young man.  Thus, a God that demanded his submission and allegiance was naturally repulsive, offensive, and ludicrous to him (Rom. 8:7-8; 1 Cor. 1:18; 2:14; 2 Cor. 2:15-16).  I responded to his assertion with a simple "Why not?  Please explain why you think you don't need God's forgiveness."  He was stumped in a good way, but quickly shrugged his shoulders and confidently retorted, "I don't know and really don't care."  Though this was a negative response, I still was able to finish the conversation in a positive way after receiving his potentially conversation-ending retort simply because I asked him for clarifying questions and showed a genuine interest in listening to him even though he was somewhat difficult to interact with.  He and his friends shook my hand, thanked me for the conversation and I was off to the next person.

Question # 16, "Which God?"  I responded to this person by asking, "What do you mean by that?"  I then shut up and let them explain themselves.  Once they did, I then pointed out how all of the major world religions have competing and contradictory truth claims and so cannot be all true.  They agreed, and this allowed me to explain why the Biblical gospel is the truth.

Assertion # 7, "We can't know anything for certain."  The young man that said this was the hedonistic "class clown" type of unbeliever that was with a friend who was just like him.  I can't recall anything that he said that was in the least bit serious.  Not only that, he was clearly "performing" in front of his goof-off buddy, so he wasn't planning on being serious.  After he made the above assertion, I asked, "Are you certain about that?" and he responded, "Nope, I can't know anything for certain, including that.  Sh*t, I don't even know if I exist!"  Although I wanted to slap him to prove to him that he really existed, instead I responded, "If you don't know that you exist, then who is talking to me right now?", he responded, "H*ll man, I don't know."  I said, "You're not really interested in having a serious conversation are you?" and he said, "Naw man, I just want to have fun!"  I then said, "Well, have a nice day" and strangely enough, they both thanked me for the profitless conversation!  Go figure.  The above interaction probably lasted less than a minute.  I point that out to exhort you to avoid wasting time with people like this.  You may be tempted to continue to try to reason with them, but when you get the type of nonsense responses I just described, you are wasting your time, so move on and find someone who will intelligently converse with you.   

Assertion # 3, "If God would appear right in front of me, then I'd believe in Him."  My response to this young man was, "How would you know that it was really God?  How do you know you weren't hallucinating?  How would you know that it wasn't a demon or a space alien?"  He said, "Highly unlikely" but his friend answered, "No, it's not, you don't really know."  It was then that I began to deconstruct this young man's empiricism and then pointed out to him that there's all kinds of things that we believe in that we don't and can't experience through the five senses (i.e., the existence of other minds, logical laws, etc.).  Then he seemed more willing to listen to what I had to say.

IN CONCLUSION, it is important that we think about how to intelligently and courteously interact with the above questions and assertions while giving Biblical answers.  All of the above encounters (except the one with the hedonists), allowed for a profitable conversation that led to a full presentation of the gospel.  Some of these unbelievers (i.e., the Muslims) had never heard an explanation of why the cross of Christ is necessary for salvation.  This is extremely important since the very thing that Islam repudiates is the only thing that can save them from sin and provide the necessary grounds for forgiveness without making Allah unjust (Pro. 17:15; Rom. 3:26).  Examples like this could be multiplied from yesterday, but the important thing is to be ready to answer with gentleness and respect, thus earning an opportunity to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). 

"All" is an Adjective

One of the perennial issues that rises between Calvinists and Arminians concerns the definition of the word “all.” Even in English, “all” has varied meanings depending on the context in which it’s used. But I think one of the most critical issues that is largely ignored by anyone when addressing the word is the simple grammatical question. What part of speech is the word “all”?

“All” is an adjective. As anyone who’s been homeschooled, and as 2.6%[citation needed] of publicly educated people know, an adjective modifies a noun (or anything else that functions as a noun, such as a pronoun); a noun is a person, place, or thing.

This means that whenever you read the word “all” in a sentence, you have to ask the immediate question, “What is the adjective ‘all’ modifying?” In other words, you read “all” and you find the person, place, or thing that it could modify: “All who? All where? All what?”

So let’s look at a verse like 2 Peter 3:9.

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
Now there are two key adjectives in this sentence that cause a dispute between Calvinists and Arminians. Obviously, the “all” in “all should reach repentance”, but also the “any” in “not wishing that any should perish.” “Any”, like “all”, is an adjective that modifies a noun (“Any who? Any where? Any what?”). The Arminian claims that “any” and “all” are universals; that is, they apply to every single person. In other words, they read the above passage in this way:

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any person ever made should perish, but that all persons ever made should reach repentance.
Now, obviously an Arminian might use “man” or “human” or “mankind” instead of “person” there. That’s not really relevant. The point is that the Arminian is inserting into the text a noun that is not found in the sentence itself (which also explains why it could be a different word).

The Calvinist, on the other hand, looks at the passage and says, “There is a noun already in that sentence which functions perfectly well as the noun being modified by ‘any’ and ‘all’; namely, the noun ‘you’.” We read the passage:

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any of you should perish, but that all of you should reach repentance.
Naturally, this itself will not settle every dispute, even if the Arminian grants that “you” is the better noun here.  After all, the next question we must ask is “What is the extent of the noun being modified?” In the above example, it would be to ask, “Who make up the ‘you’ in the sentence.” In 2 Peter, the “you” is the “you” in verse 1 (“…I am writing to you, beloved”). However, I don’t want to delve into that too much, since it would make it easy to miss the point I’m trying to make.

When we see adjectives in Scripture, where do we get the nouns that the adjective modifies? Do we get them from the sentence as it has been written, or do we inject into the sentence whatever noun we need in order for the sentence to make the theological point we want to make? Which method can more rightly be called “exegesis”?

An argument Arminians often use is to say, “If God meant only the Elect when He used the word ‘all’ then why didn’t He have the word ‘Elect’ added there too?” But that argument cuts both ways, as you see in the example from 2 Peter—the word “man” is not there after the “all” either. But what is in the sentence is the noun “you.” If we are to ignore the noun actually provided in the sentence to insert a new noun, we better have an airtight reason to do so.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

For his renown

Now that the thread has apparently run dry, I’m reposting some comments I left over at Jim Hamilton’s blog.

steve hays March 31, 2011 at 11:56 am #
There’s a distinction between offensive and defensive apologetics. Hamilton’s is offering a personal testimony. That’s a variant on the argument from religious experience.

If, in fact, the Bible is what it says it is, then it’s possible, and, indeed, predictable, that many Christians will enjoy a veridical experience of the sort that Hamilton describes.

Of course, that’s unconvincing to an outsider, but that’s true of personal, first-person experience generally. You’re an outsider to my experience while I’m an outsider to your experience. Yet first-person experience is our only port of entry to the external world. So you can hardly discount all such claims without retreating into solipsism.

And the fact that it’s unconvincing to an outsider doesn’t mean you can’t have a veridical experience. It just means your first-person experience is inherently intransitive.

Likewise, to say one’s experience can be veridical doesn’t imply that every ostensible experience is veridical. Hence, the comparison with Mormonism fails to undercut Hamilton’s testimony without further argument. And further argument undercuts Mormonism.

Christian apologists often cite public evidence for Scripture. That furnishes common ground between believer and unbeliever.

However, the reasons that Christians have for being Christian aren’t reducible to common ground, as there is something distinctive about the Christian experience. That’s something one can only appreciate from the inside.

steve hays March 31, 2011 at 12:16 pm #
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Christianity is true. After all, Hamilton’s critics can’t reasonably claim that there’s a standing presumption against Christianity without begging the question.

Now, most folks aren’t intellectuals: including most Christians. Therefore, if the Christian God exists, then it must be possible to know or experience the Christian God without recourse to sophisticated arguments. Knowledge by acquaintance.

You may deny that the Christian God exists, but if he exists, then we’d expect Christians to have the type of experience to which Hamilton bears witness.

And by the same token, if Hamilton had a veridical experience of God, then he’s justified in believing God even if a second party who wasn’t privy to that experience may not be justified in believing God based on someone else’s ostensible experience. The subject of the experience can be warranted in his belief whether or not the same holds true for an outsider. Those are separate issues.

steve hays March 31, 2011 at 12:55 pm #
The argument from religious experience is just a special case of the argument from experience in general. Unless Hamilton’s critics are prepared to say personal experience is inherently suspect, that personal experience can’t be relied upon to access reality–a denial that reduces his critics to windowless monads–they will have to present far more targeted objections.

Hey, physics, get real!

John Horgan is more or less pessimistic about where much of theoretical physics is headed these days. See here for the story.

HT: Doug Groothuis.

BTW, I'd agree with Groothuis' letter to the editor. I'd add it seems a bit ironic that Horgan finds information theory intriguing at the same time as he disdains and dismisses ID out of hand given that it would seem specified complexity makes use of information theory at least in part (e.g. see here). But perhaps I misunderstand information theory, specified complexity, and/or the relationship between the two.

"Lawrence Krauss: No, I won!!!"

Catholic polytheism

HT: Carl Trueman

Tuesday, April 05, 2011


Antinatalist Jim Crawford has posted yet another final(?) final response.

Actually, a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ pretty much covers what I was looking for, with perhaps the added codicil in place (which I also posted)-

It may well cover everything he was asking for. However, Crawford acts as though he wrested a fatal concession from our lips. As if that’s sufficient to dispatch Christianity and establish antinatalism.

That’s because ‘normative’ in the context of the reply falls short of ‘objective’ or ‘universal’, a fact I expanded on by saying “ If your personal standard is that a child is better off being tortured for eternity originating in your decision to procreate, then any of my arguments simply don’t apply to you.” It was always a question of personal standards; thus, no equivocation. Normative simply describes a moral position that (I believe) most people subscribe too, a position that I feel stands against the desire to procreate.

i) To say the damned are “tortured” is another key assumption of Crawford’s position. That’s why procreation is too risky. The stakes are too high.

But Crawford needs to justify his assumption that hell is equivalent to “torture.” Where’s the grammatico-historical exegesis?

ii) “Normative” moral standards don’t typically mean person-variable standards. And if Crawford is going to redefine “normative” in such relativistic terms, then he forfeits the right to be judgmental about damnation.

Imaginary people don’t require empathy. Isn’t that rather obvious?

No, it’s not. The speciously obvious appearance is a rhetorical trick. Use a word like “imaginary,” with its fictitious connotations, to make the idea seem ridiculous. But potential kids are hardly equivalent to imaginary people like, let us say, Aurora in Sleeping Beauty.

Pruss on perdition

There is one New Testament text directly related to HT, given in Matthew and Mark:
As for that man [the betrayer], it would have been better [kalon] for him had he not been born [ei ouk eggenêthê] (Matthew 26:24, Mark 14:21). 
But that text simply does not sufficiently support HT.  First, it does not say that it was better for Judas not to have existed, but at most that it would have been better for him not to have been born.  Since Judas had already existed by the time of his birth--I say he existed about nine months before his birth, but in any case surely he existed some time before his birth--the counterfactual taken literally compares two scenarios: Judas being born and Judas dying in utero.  Now had he died prior to birth, his eternal destination would be wherever Jewish babies ended up after death--either heaven or limbo.  On this reading, then, we are told that Judas would have been better off dying in utero and ending up in heaven or limbo than wherever he ended up.  (If he would have ended up in heaven had he died prior to birth, then the text does not even entail that Judas went to hell.  Maybe he would have been better off had he died in utero because then he would have ended up in a better state in heaven or because then he would have avoided purgatory.) 

I don’t know on what he bases his interpretation. I take the phrase to be an idiomatic way of saying it’s preferable had he never existed. This phrase has an OT counterpart in Job 3:3, as well as paraphrastic equivalents in other Jewish literature. Cf. D. Clines, Job 1-20 (Word 1989), 81-82. And, by the same token, it’s an idiomatic way of expressing the worst conceivable fate. Cf. C. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Eerdmans 1999), 626. An avoidable fate had he never existed. He’d be better off not to exist in the first place given the doom that awaits him.

Second, the word kalon might also have been translated as "noble" or "honorable"--in classical Greek that is the primary meaning and the word seems to have that meaning in some New Testament uses as well.  Thus, even if we take the "had he not been born" non-literally as meaning "had he not existed", the text could simply be telling us that it would have been more noble or more honorable for him had he not existed, rather than altogether better.

In context, the meaning of the word is determined, not by its isolated occurrence, but by its semantic contribution to an idiomatic phrase.

The other part of HT's Scriptural warrant are the scary descriptions--lake of fire, worm that dieth not--of what existence in hell is like.  But we should read Scripture consistently with Scripture.  And Scripture also tells us of a God who loves all, whose sun shines on sinner and righteous alike, who created everything and it was all good.  Thus we should temper our interpretations of the harrowing descriptions with the conviction that God does not create or sustain in existence that for which it would be better not to exist.

i) Pruss needs to exegete his prooftexts.

ii) His objection is also simplistic. God doesn’t create an ensemble which is worse overall, but it doesn’t follow that the fate of each individual component might not be worse for them.

(Objection: Maybe it is agent-centeredly worse for the person in hell to exist than not to, but it is better that she exist than not.  Response: But better for whom or what?  God's activity is primarily guided by love.

i) Why is God’s activity primarily guided by love rather than justice?

ii) As far as that goes, is God really acting in the best interests of the damned?

When he acts for a good cause, he does so for someone or something.  Is it better for God that the person suffer?

That’s misleading since the question at issue isn’t suffering, per se, but penal suffering. Isn’t justice intrinsically good?

Tertullian suggested that the saved will get joy from watching the punishment of the damned.

That’s also simplistic. It can be good to know that the wicked finally receive their comeuppance. That doesn’t require a public spectacle–although there’s sometimes a place for that as well.

One might ask, of course, if it is possible to have eternal suffering and yet to have a life worth living.

But what if eternal suffering is meant to be punitive? Retributive? Then it’s not worth living for them damned, even though it’s still worthwhile.

Moral improvement (though one never actually reaches moral purity)

Why should hell be a place of moral improvement? What’s the point?

With so many alternate readings, the probability of the reading that Judas is going to go hell and in hell will suffer such torment as to make it that it would have been better for him not to have existed seems low.

Pruss is one of those men whose strength is also his weakness. He has an agile mind. But this betrays him into misplaced ingenuity. Intellectual ingenuity should be deployed to defend truth, not evade unwelcome truth. 

Postmortem on antinatalism

Antinatalist Jim Crawford has apparently given his concluding thoughts on his challenge to Triablogue.

Anonymous: My original post was never ‘an attempted internal critique of Christianity’. It was, as you wrote in your own sentence,...‘hypothetical ...trying to argue that, given Christianity, it's too great of a risk for a Christian to have a child because the child would likely end up in hell since "narrow is the way, and few there be that find it." As you’ve plainly seen, Christianity’s doctrine regarding hellish condemnation was accepted as a given. And my original hypothetical merely asked the question ‘...wouldn't it have been better FOR THE CHILD if she had never been born in the first place?’ Obviously this is meant to elicit a subjective response. Do YOU feel it would be better for the child? How do you think the CHILD would feel? Actually, given the original wording it’s even simpler than that, and could be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. So, no rules broken, just a rather tedious response that misses the point in some areas, repeats the logical mistakes in others, and rambles on rather incomprehensibly in still others, especially the prologue. I’ve usually found that this is the manner in which apologists ‘win’. (I'm speaking of the Triablogue response here, not yours).

This is a fallacy of question-framing. Jim acts as if a “yes” or “no” answer settles the question in favor of antinatalism. But that’s grossly simplistic.

You can’t turn my argument around, because I’ve never argued for ‘objective’ or even universal standards. Mine is simply a plea aimed at normative moral sensibilities based in empathy. If your personal standard is that a child is better off being tortured for eternity originating in your decision to procreate, then any of my arguments simply don’t apply to you.

i) Notice the blatant equivocation. On the one hand he denies that his argument was predicated on “objective” or “universal” moral standards. On the other hand he appeals to “normative” moral sensibilities based on empathy.

ii) But an appeal to “normative” standards is equivalent to “objective” standards. That’s not equivalent to empathy, which is descriptive rather than normative. A psychological observation about one’s mental state.

iii) Crawford has to justify the shift from empathy to “normative” sensibilities. To my knowledge, antinatalism takes the position that it’s wrong to procreate because human existence does harm to humans. But moral realism is a prerequisite for that argument to go through. (And even then it requires many subsidiary arguments.)

iv) Even on its own terms, the appeal to empathy is a double-edged sword. What about empathy for those denied the opportunity to enjoy eternal bliss–a la antinatalism?

v) Underlying this objection is Crawford’s systematic failure to distinguish between harming someone and wronging someone.

a) Take a grown child who commits a heinous crime. How do the parents feel about their child? Well, it varies. Some parents excuse everything their kids do, right or wrong.

Other parents feel deeply ambivalent about the grown child. On the one hand they have fond memories of what he was like as a child. Those fond memories make the contrast all the more jarring with what their child has become. So they now have profoundly conflicted feelings about their grown child. Affection and repulsion.

b) However they feel about him, the grown child merits punishment for his crime. To punish him isn’t to wrong him.

“Because in the context of possible damnation, any risk is too great considering the possible horrific downside one’s child might face, especially when we consider that the potential child- or perhaps I should say ‘imaginary’ child- faced no deprivation, and thereby didn’t require being place in harm’s way through risk in the first place.”

i) Crawford is attempting to generate a dilemma for Christians. But he’s also generating a dilemma for his own argument. To generate a dilemma for Christians, he must grant Christian theological assumptions for the sake of argument.

However, those theological assumptions include the assumption that God is trustworthy. Therefore, on Christian assumptions, it is not an unacceptable risk to procreate, even if (ex hypothesi) one of your kids will be damned. On Christian assumptions, it is never an unacceptable risk to trust God’s providential wisdom. 

ii) Crawford also assumes, without arguing the point, that children of Christians are at risk of hell. Since that’s a key assumption of his argument, he needs to argue for that assumption. As I noted in my previous reply to him, that’s not a given.

iii) Even if Christians have a child who will go to hell, it doesn’t follow that they must be forever inconsolable. Even in this life, our feelings about our “nearest and dearest” are subject to dramatic change.

iv) It is a deprivation to miss out on the prospect of eternal bliss. That’s an incomparable lost opportunity. 

Monday, April 04, 2011


BW3 on Bell

Ben Witherington has completed his serial review of Bell’s book Love Wins. While I don’t think his review is quite as good overall as Bock’s, it has some worthwhile features:

i) It’s more detailed than Bock’s review.

ii) BW3 has a very catchy prose style.

iii) He corrects a number of Bell’s flagrant misinterpretations.

iv) BW3 writes from a Wesleyan perspective. So, of course, I disagree with some of his comments.

Since, however, Bell’s position is apparently a murky synthesis of universalism and freewill theism, the fact that BW3 comes at this from a libertarian perspective is a way of meeting Bell on his own turf. So that’s still a useful exercise.……-chapter-three-bell’s-hell/‘for-whom-the-bell-tolls…’-chapter-four-does-god-always-get-what-he-wants/‘for-whom-the-bell-tolls…-’-chapter-five-dying-to-live/‘for-whom-the-bell-tolls’-chapter-six-water-from-the-rock/…-‘love-wins-chapter-seven/……-chapter-eight-coda/

Defending exclusivism

I'm reposting some comments I left at Kevin DeYoung's blog:

steve hays March 31, 2011 at 4:38 pm

“Unfortunately, Kevin’s points 3 and 4 are offensive, repulsive, illogical, unbiblical nonsense. Kevin apparently believes that babies from Christian households go to heaven and ones from non-Christian households don’t.”

That’s a malicious distortion of what he actually said. He was silent on the fate of babies from non-Christian households. He doesn’t say what he doesn’t know.

"This opinion is also illogical and repulsive in stating that a still-born baby in Michigan has a chance to go to heaven but a still-born baby in Saudi Arabia has no chance. Those two babies are identical in their sin-nature (or lack thereof) and there’s no reason to say one goes to heaven and the other doesn’t except that Kevin knows people who would be really angry if didn’t make an exception for babies from Christian households.”

In the nature of the case, mercy may just discriminate between equally guilty individuals.

“Kevin’s point 4 is frankly just stupid. Kevin tries to distinguish the results from the grounds of punishment. This is merely typical reformed playing with words.”

Your objection is frankly just stupid. The default conditions of sinners is to be lost. Disbelieving in Jesus is not what damns someone. That’s an aggravating factor. But sin is suffient.

“The reality is that Kevin thinks that all people (leaving to one side the babies and mentally disabled issue) who have never heard of Jesus automatically go to hell to be tortured for eternity and there’s nothing they can do about that.”

What makes you equate eternal punishment with “torture”?

“Whatever playing with words Kevin wants to do about grounds and results, that’s what Kevin believes. So that makes Kevin’s God morally far worse than, say, Stalin or Hitler: at least both of those guys didn’t torture people for eternity for something they couldn’t not do.”

Ted Bundy hated women. He was so evil that he couldn’t not hate women. Is that exculpatory? No. That’s culpable.

“And to cap it all, Kevin doesn’t seem to understand that some people find this God of his utterly repulsive.”

And you don’t seem to understand that some people find you utterly repulsive. Cuts both ways.

“It’s hardly surprising there are militant atheists (or for that matter, people like Brian McLaren) around when Kevin and his friends write this stuff.”

Militant atheists like…yourself?

Tomorrow is the Single Most Important Vote a Wisconsinite Will Make in Their Lifetime

What is at stake.

And it has national implications:
“Seven weeks ago, this looked like a very sleepy campaign,” Prosser said. “This race is now the most significant judicial race in the country. It is full of symbolism.”
Vote tomorrow (Tuesday) for David Prosser for state supreme court justice!

No More Dhimmitude

Better never to have been?

We've been having a debate with some antinatalists. See the following posts listed in chronological order: one; two; three; four; five; six; and seven.

In light of this, it might be useful to read Christopher Belshaw's review of Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence by David Benatar. Belshaw's piece lands some solid blows.

HT: Steve.

Robbed hell


HT: Steve.