Saturday, May 21, 2011

Good-bye to God

I don’t watch Supernatural very often. It was never great drama. For the most part pure entertainment. But it started going downhill after Eric Kripke decided to introduce the war-in-heaven plotline.

The show’s theology embodies finite godism. There’s not much difference between angels and demons. “Heaven” is a cross between a broken, blended family and a cutthroat firm where job promotion involves ambitious, backstabbing executives who betray one another to please the boss. Imagine Gregory Boyd as a screenwriter, and you get the general idea.

It soon became so campy that I only tune in now and then to sample the latest downturn. But it does unintentionally illustrate a neglected truth.

In Supernatural, there is no Christian God. There’s no assurance that in the long run the good guys will win and the bad guys will lose.

As a result, everyone is insecure. You don’t know who you can trust. Since no one is safe, even your best friend might turn on you at any moment to get ahead or save his skin. Loyalties are fickle. The players keep changing sides.

So you have Castiel, an angel who wants to do the right thing, but he’s thwarted by hopeless moral dilemmas.  He has to compromise. Has to be ruthless. Has to cut a deal with the devil.

And when you think about it, this is, unwittingly, a parable of atheism. A godless world is a friendless world. A Machiavellian world. A world where everyone is always at risk. A world where everyone is dangerous to everyone else.

In a risky random world, where everyone is threatened, where there’s no certainly­–or even probability–that virtue will be rewarded or vice be punished, that’s a fundamentally friendless world. In a ruthless world, only the ruthless survive or prosper.

That’s why our pagan forebears practiced witchcraft and divination. It wasn’t superstition. It was fear. Anxiety.

And secular science tells the same story–the story of a pitiless world, indifferent to human existence. Where a stray asteroid may suddenly extinguish life as we know it.

Like movies in which the villain arranges for friends to be in a situation where there’s not enough to go around. Not enough food, or water. No enough room in the boat. In that situation, friends turn on one another.

Like totalitarian regimes where wives spy on husbands while husbands spy on wives. Where, at any time, or any place, the authorities may seize you for unspecified crimes, due to the anonymous tip of your coworker.  Where everyone is on the take. Where every man has his price, or has a price on his head. Like banana republics where nepotism, assassination, and bribery are the common currency.


Okay. Looks like we dodged a bullet today. It was a close call. But don’t let this near miss make you too complacent. For Judgment Day is just around the corner: 

For richer, for poorer

Voodoo dolls

Steve has replied to my previous post (here; apparently I’m now only “siding with the enemy” instead of “sleeping with the enemy” – phew!), and a number of interesting things come to light, though I’m not sure why Steve doesn’t just state them himself. That is, he doesn’t seem to be saying what he really wants to say: that (1) it was an unwise decision for me to be asked to blog at, and (2) that should be shut down until I meet up to Steve’s standards of apologetic ministry. Certainly that is his position – and if not, he is obviously free to publicly deny the above and explain what he really believes is the case. Until then, I think everyone should be wondering, for a well-known blogger who gives advice on how to do apologetics, why didn’t he just say so?

I’m afraid that Jamin suffers from acute Armstrong-syndrome. Patients with this malady place themselves squarely at the center of each and every issue. It’s all about them, all the time.

Jamin evidently needs to have his persecution-complex validated on a regularly basis. He tries to bait critics into feeding his persecution-complex, the better to justify his overwrought feelings of cosmic persecution. Nothing is sadder than a neglected persecution-complex

Enough sowing seeds of doubt against another fellow Christian…

Back to Jamin’s double standard.

...and making assertions with unstated conclusions. Just be honest and say what you believe (and saying my citation of a book “ought to alert one to his presuppositions” is anything but helpful for readers, as it hardly begins to explain why that is the case, or what “presuppositions” they are, or why they are wrong, why any of these things are significant, etc.).

i) I trust that most readers of Triablogue are capable of drawing their own conclusions. I’m sorry that Jamin can’t give his own readers that much credit.

ii) Is it really so hard to follow the trail of breadcrumbs?

If Burge is ordained in the PC-USA, that tells you something about his theological sympathies, or tolerance for liberal theology. If Burge is a regular contributor to Sojourners, that tells you something about his (leftwing) political sympathies. Those are presuppositions that he brings to his analysis of the Arab/Israeli conflict.

Indeed, publicly calling on the people of God to be on the “alert” for the presuppositions of a certain Christian apologist is a serious charge, and whether anyone likes it or not, it cannot just be brushed aside (though I’d sometimes like to!).

What I actually said was:

The fact that Burge is a PC-USA minister, along with the further fact that he’s a contributor to Jim Wallis’s leftwing rag Sojourners, ought to alert one to his presuppositions.

What accounts for the fact that Jamin takes a statement about Burge, and instantly transfers it to himself? Is Jamin a PC-USA minister? Is Jamin a contributor to Sojourners?

Does Jamin have such a man-crush on Burge that he treats any attack on Burge as an attack on Jamin? Is Jamin to Burge what Chris Crocker is to Britney Spears?

In addition to his persecution complex, Jamin apparently suffers from a guilt-complex. If I say something negative about Gary Burge, Jamin takes it personally. What is this? Sympathetic magic? Like stabbing a voodoo doll?

But let’s get into the substantive issues that have at least some bearing on Christian theology, since that’s where I would really want to go (and hopefully Steve is as well…).

If that’s where he really wanted to go all along, why not skip the melodrama cut straight to the substantive issues?

Now I am really confused. Is Steve actually saying that these historical events just didn’t happen?

i) I didn’t take a position on that one way or the other. Rather, as I specified, the question is whether he should be getting his information from a guy like Burge.

What about the allegation?

…Israel is guilty of committing countless war atrocities that qualify and surpass the covenant obligations in Scripture. Mass murder. Torturing men ages 14-60s. Unjust use of water supply and the abusive treatment of aliens and foreigners. The creation of millions of refugees. And so on and so forth.

ii) Jamin is asking me whether I think “and so on and so forth” just didn’t happen. But I’m afraid it’s hard for me to evaluate the historicity of “so on and so forth.” Seems a wee bit vague, if you ask me.

Just for starters, how do I differentiate between “so on” historical events and “so forth” historical events?

iii) “Mass murder”? What does that refer to? You mean, like the fake Jennie massacre?

iv) “Torture?” Of course, that word is bandied about by far left opponents of counterterrorism. For some, playing “I Love You by Barney the Purple Dinosaur” constitutes torture:

I love you, you love me - we're a happy family. With a great big hug and a kiss from me to you. Won't you say you love me too?

Yep. If that’s not a war crime, I don’t know what is.

v) “Millions” of refugees? Shouldn’t we be suspicious of a rubbery statistic like that? Does that refer to the dislocation triggered by the 1948 war? If so, were there “millions” of “Palestinians” living on the West Bank in 1948?

Isn’t a hyperbolic figure like that clearly anachronistic? Taking current population levels, then backdating that figure to 1948?

Was Yasser Arafat a “refugee”? Wasn’t he born in Egypt?

vii) “Unjust use of water supply”? Isn’t the Jordan River the main source of fresh water in the region?  If anyone could manipulate the water supply, wouldn’t that be Arab nations (i.e. Lebanon, Jordan, Syria) upstream from Israel?

viii) Due to international pressure, Israel has to exercise absurd self-restraint in dealing with her enemies. The only thing that keeps Israel from facing economic sanctions is an American veto on the UN Security Council. Even so, Israel still faces the threat of divestment campaigns. Indeed, Burge’s denomination is a case in point.

Ironically, this invites cloak-n-dagger tactics in a way that all-out war would avoid.

I don’t believe any human being (or nation for that matter) should support – either by word or deed – any secular nation regardless of what it has done, is doing, and intends to do.

You’re entitled to your Pollyannaish blather, but the US has a prefect right to support nations that support us in a military alliance against a common enemy. The president of the US has a sworn duty to defend the homeland.

It’s also simplistic to describe Israel as a “secular nation.” Aside from the sizable number of observant Jews in Israel, let’s not demean the leavening presence of Messianic Jews in Israel.

I think it would be a good idea for James White to do another show with Michael Brown, only this time he can ask Dr. Brown to discuss the Arab/Israeli conflict.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Turning back the clock


On the heels of Pres. Obama’s demand that Israel return to 1967 borders, members of the Nacotchtank tribe stormed the White House today, ousting the President, First Lady, and other squatters on their homeland.

Meanwhile, Illinois Indians broke into Obama’s private Kenwood residence, as they began to retake Chicago from the foreign occupation force.   

Obama's Abandonment of America

Obama's Eurabia

Siding with the enemy

Steve Hays at Triablogue doesn’t seem to like me. I don’t know why, and I wish that wasn’t the case. But that’s just the way things are.

For some odd reason, Jamin labors under the illusion that criticism is a one-way street. He imagines that he should be free to publicly criticize other positions and named opponents, but be immune to return fire.

But if you can’t take blowback, don’t be a Christian apologist. Blowback comes with the territory.

It seems to have begun when I started blogging a lot at But things were especially tense after a misunderstanding between Paul Manata and a post I wrote on logic (see here). Manata had wrote a rather absurd satire piece in response (here), ridiculing me as “agent 00777 of the Christian Insularity Agency (CIA),” and so forth. Steve Hays linked to it (here) with no issue (and what seems to be excitement, saying “Click here for the juicy details!”).

As I recall, Manata did a satirical post. If Jamin is that hypersensitive about satire, he’s in the wrong profession. Apologetics is not for hemophiliacs. If you bleed on contact, consider a career change. 

In fact, he even commented on it himself, furthering skepticism about my character

Based on what I’ve been told about his conduct from trusted, firsthand sources.

But now Steve stoops to a new low in trying to solidify his “pattern” theory. Today he wrote an entire blog post called “Sleeping with the Enemy” (here) for (what appears) no other reason than to make me look bad through association.

Let’s differentiate culpable from inculpable associations:

i) If I have a kid brother who’s a skinhead, that doesn’t make me a racist. To say I’m a racist merely because my kid brother is skinhead would be fallacious guilt-by-association.

If, on the other hand, I belong to the KKK, then my association is culpable. It’s not just an adventitious association. Rather, my affiliation carries with it the presumption that I share the outlook of the KKK.

ii) Jamin isn’t merely “associated” with Burge, in some purely incidental way, because he happened to reference a book of his.

No, Jamin agrees with Burge. For instance:

…Israel is guilty of committing countless war atrocities that qualify and surpass the covenant obligations in Scripture. Mass murder. Torturing men ages 14-60s. Unjust use of water supply and the abusive treatment of aliens and foreigners. The creation of millions of refugees. And so on and so forth.[14]
[14] See chapter 2-3 of Burge, Whose Land, Whose Promise?

Notice how he defaults to Burge as an unquestioned authority, to validate Jamin’s incendiary allegations.

Links are then given, and that’s it for the post. One is simply left wondering: why was this written, and why now?

Why was it written? Didn’t I already give my reasons? “The fact that Burge is a PC-USA minister, along with the further fact that he’s a contributor to Jim Wallis’s leftwing rag Sojourners, ought to alert one to his presuppositions. From what I’ve read by him and about him, Burge is basically a shill for Hamas. Here are some reviews of his book which give the other side of the argument.

Isn’t that self-explanatory?

I have three questions that might help bring clarity. Steve, could you please answer for your readers and mine, and everyone else who may want to know:
Who is the one “sleeping with the enemy” and who is the “enemy” in the title of your blog post, and why did you see those terms as fitting?

i) Burge is the immediate target, but to the degree that Jamin is rubberstamping Burge, then he’s complicit, too.

ii) Because we’re in a counteroffensive against global jihad and creeping dhimmitude. In a conflict of that nature, it’s crucial to know the difference between your allies and your enemies. Burge is siding with the enemy.

How were you hoping your readers would respond to your particular post, in thought and/or action?

By considering Burge’s affiliations and reading the reviews, to alert them to Burge’s agenda.

Did you read Gary Burge’s book Whose Land, Whose Promise? prior to when you wrote your post essentially criticizing the book, and if not, are you willing to read it and discuss the arguments he raises? (I certainly am.)

i) Jamin is recasting the point of the post. That’s a red herring. As I pointed out, the question at issue are the political (contributor to Sojourners) and theological (PC-USA minister) presuppositions which Burge brings to his book. And you don’t have to read his book to know that, for his book is not the only thing he’s written on the subject. For instance:

ii) And I don’t need to read Burge to know about the nature of the Arab/Israeli conflict.

Colbert Bumps Into “Free Political Speech” Laws

“Campaign-finance laws are so complicated that few can navigate them successfully and speak during elections—which is what the First Amendment is supposed to protect. As the Supreme Court noted in Citizens United, federal laws have created "71 distinct entities" that "are subject to different rules for 33 different types of political speech." The FEC has adopted 568 pages of regulations and thousands of pages of explanations and opinions on what the laws mean. "Legalese" doesn't begin to describe this mess.”

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sleeping with the enemy

Last June, Jamin Hubner, who’s a contributor to Alpha and Omega Ministries, did a post on his own blog (“A Brief History of Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology”) in which, among other things, I see him plugging Gary Burge’s tendentiously entitled Whose Land? Whose Promise?: What Christians Are Not Being Told about Israel and the Palestinians.

But the fact that Burge is a PC-USA minister, along with the further fact that he’s a contributor to Jim Wallis’s leftwing rag Sojourners, ought to alert one to his presuppositions. From what I’ve read by him and about him, Burge is basically a shill for Hamas.

Here are some reviews of his book which give the other side of the argument: 

Barack Hamas Obama

Now he's a true Kennedy

Thor review

Steve just posted a link to Lars Walker's review of Thor.

Coincidentally, I saw Thor two days ago. What follows are a few disjointed thoughts. Warning: spoilers ahead!


Caesar Worship and Christian Art

After Augustus Caesar (Emperor from 31 B.C. to 14 A. D.), Tiberius, his step-son, reigned from A.D.14 37, and then Gaius Caligula (A.D. 37 41) was the grandson of Tiberius’s brother Drusus. Everett Ferguson “Backgrounds of Early Christianity,” Third Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, © 1987, 1993, 2003) says, “he foolishly depleted the treasury and became convinced of his divinity, demanding divine honors.”
His reign was marked by conflict with the Jews. When his friend Agrippa I was returning from Rome to take possession of the kingdom assigned to him in northeast Palestine, he stopped in Alexandria. This became the occasion of an anti-Jewish riot in the city: an idiot was parated through the city in royal robes to mock Agrippa, statues of Gaius were set up in the synagogues, and there was burning and pillaging in the Jewish sections of the city. . . . Gaius was a personal friend of Agrippa’s, but he had no appreciation for Jewish religion and customs. When the Jews in Jamnia tore down an altar erected to him in A.D. 40, he ordered a statue of himself set up in the temple in Jerusalem (pg. 32).
This event is reported by three ancient historians, (Josephus, Philo, and Tacitus.) The statue was never actually placed there. Ferguson reports that “Petronius, the legate in Syria, knew what this would mean to Jewish sensibilities and successfully stalled on the order.” But the order had been given; such was the emperor’s desire to show his own divinity.

Ferguson elsewhere goes on to note theories for the beginnings of “Christian art”:
Certainly in style and technique, Christian art borrowed from both classical and non-classical influences on late antique art. As a specific context for the beginnings of Christian art, since pagans decorated their tombs, Christians did too. And, in fact, our earliest identifiable examples of Christian art come from the catacombs, the underground burial chambers, around Rome. The catacombs were not hiding places in times of persecution (the authorities knew of their existence), nor were they normally places of assembly, although funerary meals in memory of the deceased were held there. The rooms (cubicula and their entrances were sometimes decorated with small paintings, and the stone slabs covering the burial niches (loculi) in the galleries were sometimes chiseled with inscriptions or simple pictures. The paintings were often decorative scenes of plants and birds, but many depicted events from the Old or New Testaments. Most popular from the Old Testament was the story of Jonah; from the New Testament, the raising of Lazarus. Symbolic representations were even more common, and the symbolic nature of early Christian art is often noted.

Particularly frequent in Christian art as a whole, as well as in the catacombs, were the pictures of the Good Shepherd (besides its biblical precedents, it was an image associated with philanthropy) and a figure in the posture of prayer with arms extended and hands uplifted (orans—a symbol of piety). Occasionally Christian ceremonies are depicted, such as baptism and meal scenes, of which the feeding miracles of the Gospels, the Last Supper, the eucharist, the agape [meal], the funerary meals are now indistinguishable. Because of the difficulty of working underground with limited light from small lamps or torches, the pictures for the most part employ a limited range of colors and a minimum of detail, more alluding to the scene than describing it.

From the latter half of the third century there began to appear among Christians evidence of a more expensive form of burial, sarcophagi (stone coffins for depositing the bodies of the deceased) with sculptured scenes. The same repertoire of biblical and symbolic subjects continued to be employed, the selection and forms of which was often governed by the existence of an image available from Greco-Roman art. Free standing, three-dimensional sculpture is rather rare in Christian art for many centuries, but from the third century there do survive small images of Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd and as a teacher, as well as images from the Jonah cycle (“Church History, Volume One, From Christ to Pre-Reformation,” Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 169 171).
Given the urge of the Roman emperors to enshrine themselves in statues, and also the developing Christian use of art (especially in funerary situations), Ferguson goes on to note some connections:
Christian art had arisen by the beginning of the third century. This was nearly simultaneous with the first evidence of Jewish pictorial art, so the theory that Christianity inherited a tradition of religious iconography from the Hellenized synagogues lacks evidence.

The earliest distinctive Christian art represented scenes from the Bible. It was decorative, but some have claimed that it helped to teach. The funerary art may further have served to enhance the sacred character of the monuments.

Marks of devotion to pictures seemingly evolved from the marks of respect paid to official portraits of reigning emperors during the late empire. These portraits were considered a substitute for the emperor’s presence, so the same signs of respect due the emperor were shown to his pictures: draperies to set them off, prostration before them, burning of incense and lighting of candles beside them, carrying them in solemn processions. The first Christian images known to have ben surrounded with these marks of cult were portraits of persons venerated as holy while they were still alive. A cult of images is first attested during the fifth century and became suddenly popular during the last half of the sixth and seventh century. The reserve that church leaders such as Epiphanius and Augustine had shown toward the first images at the end of the fourth century had now disappeared (pgs. 336-337).
It should be noted that this notion that “honor” given to images passes through to the person or reality behind them was later picked up by John of Damascus, the Council of Nicea II (A.D. 787) and also Aquinas. But here you have the source for it.

Henry Chadwick provides an account of Epiphanius’s resistance to this practice:
Epiphanius of Salamis (315 403) … was horrified to find in Palestine a curtain in a church porch with a picture of Christ or some saint. He tore it down and lodged a vehement protest with the bishop of Jerusalem. Though Epiphanius did all he could to prevent the introduction of pictures of churches, he was fighting a losing battle (The Early Church, first published in Pelican Books, ©1967, Reprinted in London: Penguin Books, LTD., revised edition ©1993, pg. 281).

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Top Growth, Declining Industries, Next Five Years

For any of you currently considering job or career possibilities:

What scientists believe

Peter Lopatin explains.

Affirmative action

"The End of an Idea: Why Affirmative Action Should Stop" by Victor Davis Hanson.

Redeeming Sociology

HT: David Parker

New Testament Metaphors for the Church

"How Should the Books of the OT Be Ordered?"

A fallible list of infallible books

i) Catholics are fond of quoting Sproul’s adage about how the canon is a fallible collection of infallible books. They make a big deal about how the Bible doesn’t list its contents.

As I’ve pointed out in the past, this is misleading, so I won’t repeat myself here. Now I wish to make a different point.

ii) Suppose the Bible came with a table of contents. An infallible list of the books comprising the Bible. How would a Catholic apologist respond? Would he withdraw his objection? I doubt it.

I imagine that he’d simply shift the goalpost. For he could always say, “How do you know the books listed in the table of contents correspond to the books in your edition of the Bible? How do you know those two go together?”

He’d then say that just goes to show that having an infallible book is useless unless you have infallible church to infallibly identify the book.

iii) However, this merely pushes back the problem which the Catholic posed for himself.

a) Trent has a list of books. Even if (arguendo) the list is infallible, how do we know what the list refers to? How do we infallibly match the books on the list with a corresponding set of books to which the list ostensibly refers? The list itself doesn’t single out a physical book.

After all, different books can go by the same title. Moreover, what if the title is spurious?

b) Trent also mentions the Vulgate, but was there a uniform edition of the Vulgate? No. Was there an official, infallible edition of the Vulgate? No.

So to what edition of the Vulgate was Trent referring?

iv) One traditional line of evidence for the NT canon are patristic attributions. Church fathers attribute certain books to certain authors.

But the Catholic objection to the Protestant canon undercuts that appeal. Before we know that Irenaeus attributed a certain book to the Apostle John, we must know if the book attributed to Irenaeus is authentic. Is there an infallible list of which church fathers wrote which books?

Even assuming the writing attributed to a church father is authentic, how do we know the book he named in his writing denotes a book in our edition of the Bible?

v) And it’s not just the canon. Catholics also try to prooftext the papacy (among other things) from the church fathers. But where’s the infallible list of church fathers?

vi) Likewise, is there an infallible list of papal encyclicals? And even if there were, how do we know that the listed encyclicals refer to the same encyclicals that happen to go by that name? What if some encyclical by that name is misattributed?

Same thing with church councils. Is there an infallible list of church councils? And even if there were, how do we know what historical gathering that list refers to? How do we connect names on a piece of paper with historical events? The list itself doesn’t pick out the corresponding event.

vii) Catholic apologists fondly claim the canon depends on the church. Yet when they try to prove the church, they act as if the church depends on the canon.

For instance, they try to prooftext the papacy from Mt 16. But if the church must first vouch for the canon, then how can a canonical book vouch for the church? If the church must establish the canon, then the same church can’t very well quote from a canonical book to establish the claims of the church.

Unless it already had a canon, independent of the church, it can’t use Mt 16 to prooftext the papacy. For the canon is supposedly a product of the very church that authorizes the canon. How can the church authorize the canon if the canon must authorize the church?

Catholics like to question the Protestant canon. But questions beget additional questions. They start asking questions, but they prematurely stop asking question. Yet answering the question by reference to the church doesn’t logically terminate the interrogative process. Questions don’t suddenly halt where Catholics come to a halt. Once you begin, the questions continue. The questions circle back on yourself. 

Whence Justice?

An Analysis of Brian McLaren's Postmodern Deconstruction of the Christian Metanarrative and A Recommendation to Pursue Biblically Defined Humility

The wing of the evangelical church that is most concerned about the loss of truth and about compromise is actually infamous in our culture for its self-righteousness and pride. However, there are many in our circles who, in reaction to what they perceive as arrogance, are backing away from many of the classic Protestant doctrines (such as Forensic Justification and Substitutionary Atonement) that are crucial and irreplaceable—as well as the best possible resources for humility.1


This paper engages a few of the core philosophical and theological commitments of the Emergent Church, a movement that is attractive to dissatisfied, current and former Christians. Since the movement is broad, and to some extent indefinable, Brian McLaren's works will serve as a representative of its general concerns. One of these primary concerns is how to respond to the enormous quantities of injustice and suffering that have been wrought throughout modernity. According to McLaren, this suffering and injustice flows out of arrogance grounded in normative metanarratives; therefore, the ultimate sin resides in absolute confidence in a worldview. This absolute confidence can be defeated utilizing a postmodern, deconstructionist methodology, and the Emergent Church is the natural outworking of applying this methodology to the modern, Christian metanarrative. While this approach does not entail a comprehensive rejection of absolute truth or a descent into moral nihilism, as some have suggested, it does fundamentally redefine the orientation of sin and salvation toward earthly, rather than heavenly, concerns. A return to a Biblical conception of humility will allow Christians to have both strong levels of confidence and a meaningful concern for others and the cause of justice.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How Universalism Gets Everyone Out of Hell . . . And Heaven

Here’s a rough sketch of an argument

Seems one of the main motivating arguments for universalism is:

[P] It is necessarily unjust that S *deserves* an infinite Punishment for a finite sin.

(I think talk of "infinite" punishment is muddled, but the term is frequently used by universalists. But if you too find it muddled, substitute some term like "endless" or "everlasting" for "infinite.") I take that principle, i.e., [P], if it is true, to be necessarily true.

However, in talk of desert, retribution, etc, punishment is simply a subset of things we may be said to deserve. Other members of the set would be praises, rewards, etc.

If [P] expresses a truth, so does this:

[R] It is necessarily unjust that S *deserves* an infinite Reward for a finite action.

If [P] is a necessary truth, so is [R]. Indeed, seems to me that [P] is true iff [R] is true. How could one be true and the other false given retributivist presuppositions about desert? [P] seems to be thought false strictly on the basis of deserving something infinite for something finite, since they are not proportional, and so unfitting. If the proportionality objection holds for [P], then it would seem to hold for [R] too, and vice versa.

I take [P] and [R] to be instances of a general premise about deserts:

[D] It is necessarily unjust for any S to Deserve an infinite X for a finite Y.

This expresses the proportionality objection. It seems ¬[D] is supported by counter examples; for example, where X = a loss and Y = some action/s. We can forever lose out on many things due to our finite actions, and we can be said to deserve the loss. Suppose Peter was going to be given the highest status in heaven a mere creature could have if he did not deny Christ three times, and he would keep it forever. He did deny Christ, so he loses out on that status. I don’t think many would think this is unjust. Thus [D] as stated is false. Yet maybe [D] could be restored, allowing some to argue that both [P] and [R] are still true.

But I take [R] to have possible counter examples, that is, these things are up for debate and it seems a contingent exegetical fact whether they turn out to be true, here’s two:

[1] Adam would have deserved everlasting (reward) life had he fulfilled the law in the garden—a finite action.

[2] Jesus endlessly deserves glory, honor, titles (reward) for the finite actions he undertook in his active and passive obedience, also earning everlasting life for his people.

So, ¬[R]. Put differently, [1] and [2] may not be true, but whether one thinks they’re true or not doesn’t hinge on [R], just on exegesis or theological presuppositions. Since [1] and [2] are possibly true, then [R] is false, and if [R] is false, [P] is false.

The upshot is: If Adam wouldn’t have failed, “heaven” would eventually be depopulated because it would be unjust for him to deserve an infinite reward for finite actions. And, since Jesus is said to deserve or earn glory, honor, titles, and everlasting life on behalf of his people, and since he did so by finite acts, then he cannot have his rewards in an “infinite” way (“infinite” is the word Universalists have chosen to use, but the above argument goes through if we change it to “unending”). Not only can he not endlessly remain the mediator between God and man (a reward he earned by finite acts), his people cannot have an infinite time in heaven since that reward would need to “run out” too, as it were, so as to ensure proportionality. Of course, the universalist can say heaven was not deserved for us by the actions of Jesus, but then one struggles to find what sense this is evangelical universalism anymore. In fact, sending Jesus here seems positively cruel and pointless.

"God & Evolution"

Guest Lecturer Alvin Plantinga argues (1) that contemporary evolutionary theory is not incompatible with theistic belief, (2) that the main antitheistic arguments involving evolution together with other premises also fail, and (3) that naturalism, the thought that there is no such thing as the God of theistic religion or anything like him, is an essential element in the naturalistic worldview (a sort of quasi-religion in the sense that it plays some of the most important roles of religion) and that the naturalistic worldview is in fact incompatible with evolution. Hence there is a science/religion (or science/quasi-religion) conflict, all right, but it is a conflict between naturalism and science, not theistic religion and science.
May 10th lecture notes here (pdf).

May 12th lecture notes here (pdf).

More info here.

BTW, I don't necessarily agree with everything Plantinga argues.

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

We at Triablogue labored long and hard to contain the faith-shattering evidence. We really did.

From our Cayman accounts we bought off as many contributors to Evangelical Textual Criticism as we could reasonably bribe. In some cases, because their demands were so exorbitant, it was simply cheaper to give them a free ride in the trunk of the car to a remote bayou frequented by alligators.

We had a round-the-clock security detail stationed at the secret archives of the Vatican Library. We had the abbot of St. Catherine’s monastery on our payroll. When Bruce Metzger was about to make a deathbed confession, we slipped him a mickey through the I.V. tube.

We even recruited Bart Ehrman to be a double agent. He’d soften the blow in case our containment strategy failed.

(Just in case you’re wondering, yes–Triablogue used to be the Trilateral Commission before Lyndon LaRouche outed us.)

But despite our best efforts to reset the clock, time and time again, the Christian faith has finally come to an end.

You see, over at his blog, Richard Carrier has just uncovered hitherto unsuspected evidence that scribes make mistakes when they copy the NT.

So that’s it, folks. The cat is out of the bag. The horse is out of the barn. The genie is out of the bottle.

Since I no longer need to maintain the pretence of Christian morality, please excuse me–I’m running late for a Bacchanalian orgy.

Why didn't Jesus appear to everyone?

One of the stock objections to the Resurrection is that Jesus didn’t appear to more people. But the problem with this objection is that infidels will always move the goalpost.

1. Suppose Jesus appeared to Pilate. Suppose we had an ostensible firsthand account of his appearance to Pilate.

How would infidels respond? Their first resort would be to deny the authenticity of the account. It must be a 2C forgery, or something like that.

And they know it couldn’t be authentic since dead men don’t return from the grave. So you have a circular denial.

2. But suppose the account was authenticated. How would infidels respond?

i) Their next resort would be to ask rhetorically, What’s more likely: that Jesus really did appear to Pilate, or that Pilate lied, or hallucinated, or we have a case of mistaken identity, &c.?

ii) They’d add that ancient witnesses can’t be trusted. They’re so superstitious, you know. So that feeds into their confirmation bias. They see what they expect to see. Things that go bump in the night.

3. Suppose Jesus appeared on national TV. How would the infidel respond?

He might says: What’s more likely: that dead men return from the grave, or that his television appearance was a computer-animated illusion?

4. Suppose Jesus made a personal appearance to the infidel? How would he respond?

i) He might say, How do I know it’s Jesus? What does Jesus look like, anyway? And it’s not like I can do a DNA match.

ii) Or he might say, What’s more likely: that dead men return from the grave, or that I had a hypnagogic hallucination?

iii) Or he might say, Even a space alien impersonating Jesus is more likely than Jesus appearing to me. At least space aliens, if they exist, are naturally possible. And any naturalistic explanation, however unlikely, is more likely than any supernaturalistic explanation like a miracle (i.e. the Resurrection). 

A Catholic conundrum

I don’t normally comment on celebrity scandals, but this one raises a striking theological dilemma. Suppose Maria Shriver tries to get the marriage annulled. On what grounds? Adultery? 

Yet it’s a presupposition of annulment that the estranged couple were never really married in the first place. But if they were never married (in the eyes of Mother Church), then Ah-nuld didn’t commit adultery. Indeed, if they were never married, Maria was just his mistress all those years.

Maria can’t seek to annul the marriage because her husband committed adultery, for if their “marriage” were to be annulled, that’s with the understanding that they were never husband and wife in the first place.

No husband>no adulterer

Really Hopeful Universalism vs. Not-So-Hopeful Universalism

A few corners of the Blogosphere are discussing the topic of "hopeful universalism." This recent discussion took off because of James K. A. Smith's post on the subject.

In its most basic form, the idea behind hopeful universalism is that we should hope that all men will be saved. We may hope that if a man doesn't repent now, he will have a chance to repent in the after life, after being subjected to the pains of hell for a time. It is suggested that all Christians should at least hope for this. If you do not, an eyebrow or two is raised in your direction and questions about your moral character are posed.

Even the claim by hopeless universalists that Scripture positively teaches that there is a hell and that there will be some people in hell for an endless duration and so hoping that all will be saved is irrational, doesn't cut it. Hopeless universalists find this odd. They tell stories like this: Suppose you received a news report from a very trustworthy source that a dirty bomb was detonated in a city and some people died. Suppose you believe this source. Given this, it would be irrational to hope that everyone lived. If you believed that not everyone lived, and so you didn't hope for it, would you be immoral?

But the hopeful retort that while you may believe this, you should hope that you're wrong. After all, can you say with epistemic certainty that the Bible teaches this? Perhaps you've misunderstood things. So you can believe that not all will be in heaven, but you should hope that your belief is wrong, hope that you've misunderstood things. On this view, it seems we should likewise hope that every news report is false. So, when we watched the events unfold on 9-11, we should have all hoped that some lived. After all, we didn't have epistemic certainty about the matter. Perhaps we misunderstood things, there is that chance. The hopeless find this an odd way to live they prefer to be realists. This approach to life has the making for a very unsavory epistemic position to have to live in.

But let's answer this objection on its own terms. Almost all hopeful universalists that I am aware of believe that all will be saved, but some only after some time in a remedial, restorative hell. They all claim that their hope is that all those who go to hell will be saved out of it. But this seems like the taxi cab fallacy (arbitrarily getting out of the taxi when you don't went to go any further). I think all hopeful universalists, if they want a hearing from the hopeless, should hope that there does not exist a human who has spent any time in hell. All humans go to heaven immediately after they die.

Every hopeful universalist argument employed against the hopeless can be applied by the really hopeful against hopeful universalism lite, and then some. Not only can the really hopeful claim that it is more moral and loving to hope that none spend any time in hell, they may also raise an eyebrow or two at the moral character of the not-so-hopeful. The really hopeful will ask things like this: "Hell is horrible, and I cannot imagine a loving God sending any of his children there. Indeed, what of my child? If I knew my own child were going to spend some time in hell and I could do something about it, I would. Well then, since God is our loving father, he should do the same. And, we know that God can do so. He may need to intervene and bypass the free will for a moment, but that is worth it, you see. After all, if you knew your own child would use her free will to seriously harm herself, even if temporarily, would you, as a loving father, take action to stop this?"

But the really hopeful universalist can go further with this mirroring. For instance, if the not-so-hopeful claim that the Bible does indeed teach about the existence of hell and that some people will spend some time in it, the uber hopeful universalist will just ask, "Really, and you're sure about this? You know it with epistemic certainty?" Moreover, they will claim that the Bible seems to support their view. They may point to passages like 2 Peter 3 (a favorite passage of hopeful universalism lite). They will point that God desires none should perish, and so that is why he is delaying his return, so that all might be saved from what is to come after his return. So God wants none to see the judgment that awaits after his return. The passage says nothing about an endless hell, just a Day of Judgment. Indeed, in the Bible, salvation from judgment always applies to the here and now, and what all men are saved from is what begins at Jesus return.

Or take Romans 5. This speaks about all men, claim both groups of universalists. The really hopeful universalist points out that this means that all men are saved from "the judgment that follows" the transgression. Since all men are in Christ, then all men reign in life and are saved from the judgment to come. The really hopeful find it incredible that Paul could think some people united to Christ and thus destined to reign in life after his act of law keeping, would nevertheless spend some time not reigning in life at the Day of the Lord. The one act of the Lord resulted in "justification" for all people, and Paul would find it incredible that those justified would be in hell on the day of Judgment. Thus some really hopeful universalists claim, not without warrant, that they are dogmatic really hopeful universalists, insisting that a truly loving God would send exactly zero of his children to hell for any time at all.

Some who hold to hopeful universalism lite still claim that some horrendous people will need to spend some time in hell. But dogmatic really hopefuls respond that if we take seriously the notion of Jesus' death for all men, they claim justice has been fully satisfied for even these people. They claim that there is now no condemnation for them. They point out the arrogance in thinking that Hitler needs to spend some time in hell for what he did so that he could really appreciate the harm he did, when those who claim this don't think they will also need to spend some time in hell for all their impure thoughts and genocide of hundreds of thousands of people in the form of hating them (which Jesus said is murder). If Hitler is caused by God to believe in Him before he dies, surely he will evidence remorse for his crimes once in heaven, admitting how horrible he was. So there's really no need for hell if we take the universalism texts seriously.

So with all this talk of hopeful universalism, let's make sure the hopeful universalist is really following his own strictures and living under the hope that there has never been a human who has spent any time at all in hell. In fact, one would like to see more universalists becoming dogmatic really hopeful universalists. Until then, the hopeless universalist will continue to think universalists—hopeful and dogmatic—don't have the nerve to take their position to its logical conclusion.