Saturday, June 25, 2011

Why atheism fails


Some additional correspondence which Dr. Hess shared with me:

[In lines 11-12 of the Mesha stele] h-y-t implies a feminine subject, such as “city”.  A masculine subject would be “people” and, if singular, should have h-y-h as its verb.  Furthermore, the verb followed by a lamed preposition means “to belong to” and does not say anything about some sort of religious or cultic act of sacrifice.  The reason why Albright and others interpreted the phrase in the way they did was because they were misled to read r-y-t there in place of h-y-t.  R-y-t is a “hapax,” that is, it occurs only here and therefore its meaning is conjectural.  However, André Lemaire was the first epigraphist to go back to the squeeze that was taken before the inscription was smashed (soon after its discovery).  Lemaire read h-y-t there in place of the otherwise unknown r-y-t.  See André Lemaire, “’House of David’ Restored in Moabite Inscription,” Biblical Archaeology Review 20/3 (May-June 1994), pp. 31-37; and especially Lemaire, “New Photograph and ryt or hyt in Mesha,” Israel Exploration Journal 57 (2007) pp. 204-207.  Since that publication this has become the standard interpretation of the text.  Mr. Stark’s appeal to the earlier ANET and the translation of Albright from the 1960’s cites an authority who at the time did not have available the most accurate reading of the inscription.
The ‘olah or burnt offering is one of the most frequent types of offerings mentioned in the Bible.  It also occurs at Ugarit by the same name.  There the offerers could eat of this offering while in Israel it was unique in that the whole of the offering was burnt to God.  So the evidence we do have suggests it was a frequent offering and one that took on different meaning and practice in different cultures of the time.  However, Moab was culturally closer to Israel and Judah than to Ugarit, so my guess is that this is some sort of burning of the prince on the walls as a sacrifice of some sort.  Again, the point is that the text does not emphasize the god to whom it was dedicated or any deity or divine element.  Rather, the whole thing appears as a horrible act of propaganda to demoralize Edom and to turn them in anger against Israel so as to break up the alliance.

Nick Needham on Roman Catholicism Today 5: Vatican II and “The Great Leap Forward”

Here are the first four parts of this series:

Nick Needham on Roman Catholicism Today, Part 1: “New Territory” (0:00 to 6:50)
Nick Needham on Roman Catholicism Today, Part 2: “The Advent of Modernism” (6:50 to 15:55)
Nick Needham on Roman Catholicism Today, Part 3: “John Henry Newman” (15:55 to 21:42)
Nick Needham on Roman Catholicism Today 4: The Nouvelle Theologie Opens the Door to Modernism (21:42 to 27:20)

The opportunity for the nouvelle theologie to change the official face of Roman Catholicism came with the election of a new pope on October 28, 1958. His personal name was Angelo Guiseppe Roncalli. He took the papal name John XXIII. Unlike his predecessor, Pius XII, the new pope, although already an old man, was susceptible to the modernizing agenda of the nouvelle theologie. (27:20)

John XXIII profoundly believed that for a church living in the second half of the twentieth century, it wasn’t sufficient to stand still and just repeat everything it had said in the past. It was necessary, instead, to embark on a radical process of what he called, aggiornamento, that’s an Italian word meaning something like “bringing things up to date”. His instrument for achieving this would be a second Vatican Council. (27:52)

Thus when John XXIII summoned Vatican II, in 1962, his specific intention was not merely repeating or even clarifying what had been taught in the past, but rather, bringing about a religious leap forward, making Roman Catholicism more open to the transformed situation of twentieth century man. (28:16)

As the pope made clear in his address which inaugurated the council, his justification was that the “substance” of the ancient doctrine of the “deposit of the faith” is one thing, and the way which it is presented, is another. This distinction between “the substance of the faith” and “the way it is presented” was amenable to a “nouvelle theologie” interpretation. “The substance” was the person of Christ. “The presentation” was “changeable theological ideas”. (28:50)

The result of Vatican II was a clash of theologies and their representatives, with the neo-Thomist traditionalists fighting the modernizers of the nouvelle theologie. As David Wells recounts, when the two parties came to conflict with each other, three outcomes were possible. On rare occasions, one side prevailed unequivocally. Sometimes, when neither side backed down, a reconciling statement was drawn up, which was ambiguous enough to mean different things to the two parties. And sometimes, no such reconciling statement could be devised, in which case, the two opposing positions were simply recorded alongside each other. (29:41)

Perhaps the most important single victory of the nouvelle theologie modernizers was the rejection of the old traditional Roman Catholic doctrine of Scripture as verbally inspired and infallible. Vatican II instead teaches that Scripture is inspired only in terms of those things which God wishes us to believe for our salvation. In other words, of salvation. [It seems as if there was a bad edit in the recording at this point.] Matters of cosmology, history, geography, etc. (30:17)

Vatican II did a number of other things in its pursuit of aggiornamento, or updating the church, notably getting rid of Latin as the language of worship, and reforming the shape and the content of Roman Catholic worship, to make it more “people-centered”. As a result, a modern post-Vatican II service of worship, in, say, a British Roman Catholic church will now be little different from a traditional Protestant service. Hymns, Bible readings, sermons, all in English. (30:50)

This has all contributed to the view that what happened at Vatican II was a genuinely biblical reformation, such as the sixteenth century Protestant Reformers had called for. But the theological background to Vatican II’s work was, as we’ve seen, very different. Not an acceptance of Reformation theology, but the nouvelle theologie with its modernist ideas. (31:17)

So then, the problem that Vatican II bequeathed to Roman Catholics was a set of council documents which could often be interpreted in varying ways; an ambiguous blend of more traditional notions with the more progressive philosophy of the nouvelle theologie thinkers and reformers. Rather than resulting in clarity, what Vatican II did in many ways was to produce theological uncertainty within the Roman Catholic communion. (31:50)
I don’t imagine any of this is too different from what most of you would have expected. One of the primary things that has occurred in Roman Catholicism over the last 50 years, then was to try to work out these “ambiguities.” Given that Pope Paul VI was largely an ineffective pope after Vatican II, this task fell to Pope John Paul II, and his theological watchdog, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who was Prefect of the Congretation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly the Holy Office, and prior to that, the Inquisition).

The next installment talks about that process.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Same Yesterday, Today, and Forever

I ran across a particularly curious claim by James McGrath. He observes that,
No one confronts the representatives of another tradition with a contest to see which one’s deity will send fire from heaven as Elijah did. No Christian blogger claims that those who comment negatively will be struck with blindness for doing so, as apostles did. God is depicted in many parts of the Bible as knocking down city walls, parting seas and so on. Yet no Christian dominionists are likely to march around Washington D.C. and see it fall into their hands.

Those who claim they “believe the whole Bible” and “take it literally” are being dishonest. Their pastor may have preached recently on the story of the fall of Jericho, but it was applied to God “making the strongholds of sin in your come life crumbling down”, not to a battle plan to take a city.


The question a Christian needs to ask is whether they have the courage to admit that their view of God is not the same as that of many depicitions in the Bible. Do you have the courage to take the Bible’s actual words completely seriously, even when the result is that you are forced to acknowledge that you do not accept their literal truthfulness?

First, it seems to endorse a very odd doxastic principle, we can call it Mcgrath's Doxastic Humdinger:

[MDH] If someone S claims to believe that an agent S believes in now, t, is the same agent A that existed earlier than t, e-t, then for any ¥ A did e-t, then A must do ¥ at t and all times latter than t, l-t. So, if S believes that agent A1 ¥'s e-t, and if S believes that agent A2 does not ¥ at t or l-t, then S must believe that A1 ≠ A2.

Now, I find [MDH] high implausible and I am skeptical of it—chalk it up to my theism. However, I am willing to be persuaded of [MDH] if McGrath can give a good argument for supposing it true.

Second, on what basis does Mcgrath assume that Christians must believe descriptions of what God did at times in history is normative for how God will act now or in the future? That's not entailed by "believing the whole Bible" or "taking the Bible literally" (putting aside the vague and ambiguous nature of these statements). Does McGrath believe in a God of love? Does McGrath believe in an actual Jesus who died for sinners? Does McGrath travel to Jerusalem every year to see the Messiah crucified? Does this mean he doesn't believe in a saving and loving God? (Yes, I applied [MDH] to McGrath.) So, it is actually this statement by McGrath that is dishonest. Believing that the literal parts of the Bible are supposed to be literal does not entail thinking that they are necessarily normative.

Third, on what basis does Mcgrath conclude that God isn't doing anything like this today? More importantly, most Christians believe that God will come back in an obvious way and judge the wicked and resurrect the righteous unto everlasting life. Why is McGrath so self-cenetered to think that because these things aren't happening in his lifetime, they either never did or will never? It's not like the events McGrath points out were happening on a daily basis back then. Often centuries or millennia would pass without God doing anything miraculous.

Fourth, what does McGrath do if Jesus is the "I am" of the Old Testament (as he claims on a few occasions)? What does he do if Jesus Christ is "the same yesterday, today, and forever?"

Thom Stark’s Sweeping Claims

Fishy rights

Youthful student syndrome

Richard Hess responded again to an email Steve Hays sent to him asking him to respond to my arguments on Mesha’s sacrifice. Before I quote Hess’s responses and my rebuttals, I’d like to address something Steve Hays said about my argument on Mesha’s sacrifice. He claimed that because Mesha’s sacrifice was not to Yahweh (on my reading), I am wrong to include this in a section arguing that Yahweh accepts human sacrifices. This is totally confused. First, in my review of Copan, I deal with this text for no other reason than that I’m responding to Copan’s attempt to deal with this text. I most certainly do not cite this text as evidence that Yahweh is a moral monster. Second, in my book I deal with this text not to argue that it provides proof that Yahweh accepted human sacrifices, but expressly to offer it as evidence that whoever the narrator of the story was seems to accept that human sacrifices to deities were efficacious. I am not claiming that the author of Kings believes that Yahweh accepts human sacrifices. I make that claim about other texts; not Kings.

Unfortunately for him, Stark lacks elementary reading skills. His own reply is a study in hopeless confusion.

Did I impute to Stark the position that Yahweh accepts human sacrifice in 2 Kgs 3? No. Rather, I made two different points:

i) I said 2 Kgs 3 would only be relevant to Stark’s general thesis that Yahweh is morally repugnant if, in 2 Kgs 3, Yahweh accepts human sacrifice.

ii) I then pointed out that Stark’s actual argument didn’t even attempt to show that Yahweh accepts human sacrifice in that text. Hence, Stark’s five pages of flamboyant rhetoric were beside the point.

Far from claiming that Stark says human sacrifice is acceptable to Yahweh in 2 Kgs 3, I explicitly said Stark does not, in fact, argue for that interpretation.

In addition, Dr. Hess was not responding again to an email I sent him. Rather, as I said in the introduction to my post, he was sharing some email correspondence with me. I’m not the only person in the world who emails Dr. Hess.

If Stark is so incompetent that he can’t exegete what one of his own contemporaries wrote, in Stark’s mother tongue, who belongs to the very same culture as Stark does, what does that tell you about Stark’s ability to exegete a text in an ancient foreign language, written in the 1st millennium BC, by someone belonging to a completely different culture?

Steve needs to talk to Matt Flannagan, who will tell him how important it is to get an interlocutor’s position correct before one attempts to critique it. Matt has relayed this to me quite effectively.

Of course, Stark is propping up one tendentious claim by reference to another tendentious claim. I had criticized one of Matt Flannagan’s buddies (Glenn Peoples). Because Flannagan values cronyism more than truth, he attempted to salvage his buddy’s reputation.

There’s a little clique consisting of Randal Rauser, Glenn Peoples, and the Flannagan power couple. Members of the clique cover for each other. From what I’ve read of him, Matt Flannagan is the best of the lot, but the bar was set low. 

One more thing. Steve critiques me for making convenient claims about redactions and different sources that just so happen to put the evidence where I need it to be to make my case. I am sorry if Steve does not understand how source and redaction criticism work, but I don’t happen to be the one who is identifying the various sources. I am following consensus views that were arrived at for reasons that have nothing to do with most of the arguments I’m making in these debates. Once again, let’s become familiar with what’s informing an interlocutor’s position before we critique it. If we’re not willing to put in the effort to understand source criticism and other historical-critical tools, then let’s refrain from making outlandish claims to the effect that I am conveniently moving textual evidence out of the way for my own purposes.

i) Stark suffers from a common student syndrome. A young student learns something for the first time in class, then is quick to share his “discovery” with the rest of the world, as if no one else ever heard of it before. What’s new to him must be new to everyone else.

ii) Stark suffers from another common student syndrome. The starstruck novice who instantly assimilates with the prevailing groupthink of his academic environment. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Stark in retreat

Instructive to compare the utterly self-confident tone of Stark's first edition with his subsequent backpedaling. 

Due to the substantive and substantial criticisms that have been made recently of my review of Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster?, criticisms both of its content and its tone, I have been hard at work revising the review, removing all of my errors...I hope that this edition will prove more worthwhile than the first.

Rash vows

Dr. Richard Hess shared some email correspondence with me which, with his permission, I'm posting:

On what Mark S. Smith argues I have no problem.  I read him as indicating both that Deut 32 originally identified two different deities and as indicating that there was a myth tradition behind what Deut 32 purports to read.  Of course, I am not convinced of this but there are a good number of scholars who do follow it (as there are some who don’t). 
I am glad to see that Mr. Stark is citing the correct Dead Sea Scroll fragment, 4QDeutj (not 4QDeutq which does not preserve this reading; he should not cite it at all as it does not demonstrate his point of plural gods), although all of these fragments can be confusing sometimes.  Yes, it is possible to translate elohim as “gods,” but it is not the way it is usually translated nor is it to be preferred here.   The reason is because neither the Masoretic Hebrew text nor any of the Septuagint variants, nor any other ancient witness so translates it.  Of course the MT and most LXX manuscripts do read “sons of Israel.”  A few LXX witnesses read huion theou.  Since you have studied Greek, you will recognize that theou is the singular genitive.  So only one DSS fragment reads elohim and that does not require a plural interpretation.  It can be singular or plural.  Because of the common understanding of elohim as most frequently singular, and because the other ancient versions uniformly read a singular (“god” or “Israel”), Tov translates this phrase as “sons of God.”  Smith renders it “divine beings” in his Early History of God (2nd edition) p. 32.   And that is how I would translate it.
As to the antecedent in 2 Kings 3:26, I refer to the first explicitly identified 3rd person masc. sing. antecedent who is the Edomite king in 3:27.  That would be the first identified figure.  It is true that the “he” in “he took his first born son” refers to the king of Moab.  However, that is not the “first explicitly identified 3rd masc. sing. antecedent.  This occurs at the end of v. 36 and is the king of Edom.   It is an important point because it certainly does allow for the “his” in “his firstborn son” to refer to the King of Edom.  Let’s see, we have at the end of v. 26 and beginning of v. 27 sequentially in the Hebrew references of 3 masc. sing. figures: (1) king of Edom – (2) king of Moab - (3) his son (which I contend refers to the king of Edom’s son).  Compare this with Gen 4:26 where an identical syntactical construction can be found: “To Seth was born a son and he called his name”:  (Seth –) (1) son – (2) Seth – (3) his name.  Syntactically you have the same construction where the last referent (the “his X”) refers back to the first referent (king of Edom or Seth’s son), not to the second referent (king of Moab or Seth).   This is not customary English syntax but it does occur in Hebrew.
But as I say it is the context that remains the crux of the argument.  As to the question of reconstruction.  Indeed, everyone must reconstruct.  Human sacrifice to a god is a reconstruction.  Wrath coming from G/god is a reconstruction.  The question is not whether we need to reconstruct something, but what is most likely.
Mr. Stark writes:  “The answer to his question, “Where is there an example of this in the West Semitic world?” is, right here, 2 Kings 3” 
I can think of no finer example of a circular argument.  He assumes what he sets out to prove and does so in a single sentence. 
Mr. Start writes:  “Let’s put that question back to Hess: Where is there an example of a king offering an enemy prince as a burnt sacrifice in the West Semitic world? The answer is nowhere.” 
The question is a good one but the answer that Mr. Stark provides is not accurate.  Scholars such as Fales and Liverani have written much on the use of terror as a propaganda mechanism in ancient warfare and especially in the Neo-Assyrian annals, which just around the time of the events described in 2 Kings 3.  There was no greater proponent of calculated terror than Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 B.C.)  In the Habur and Middle Euphrates Valleys the leaders (kings and princes) of Beth-eden revolted while Ashurnasirpal was on campaign elsewhere.  He reversed his troops and marched on the rebels without warning.  He horribly mutilated the leaders before murdering them.  Hearing and seeing such atrocities, the Habur and Middle Euphrates never rebelled again during his reign.  You cannot read the Assyrian annals and especially those of Ashurnasirpal without noting the atrocities her perform, impaling enemies on stakes in front of their cities (e.g., ANET p. 276).  Nor was the ritual-like slaughter of leaders and military personnel (and others) limited to the events themselves.  They were recorded in written and pictorial form for others to read and fear.  From the time of Tiglath-pileser III (744-727 B.C.) plate 368 on pl28 of ANEP displays bodies of locals impaled on poles around the town of that the Assyrians were besieging.  While I can find no examples of such human sacrifice by a leader to turn divine wrath on the enemy, there are plenty of contemporary examples that fit the picture of a king brutally killing one of his opponents in order to discourage, dishearten, and strike fear into his enemy’s hearts.  The suggested scenario for 2 Kings 3 fits well into this overall picture.  Like the Assyrian propaganda, such killing was intended to demoralize the Edomites.
The example from Jephthah is indeed one of promising a sacrifice – a human sacrifice as it turns out – in order to fulfill a vow after a military victory.  God gives the victory and Jephthah follows through on his rash vow.  I am not sure what this is supposed to prove in regard to 2 Kings 3.  The point here is not a promise made in advance or even on the wall in the midst of the battle.  No such promise is mentioned.  Nor in the Jephthah story does the death of a human being occasion the “wrath” and the subsequent departure of the enemy.  That there were vows, even rash vows that could involve the sacrifice of one’s own family members, I will readily concede.  But that is not the scene on the wall of the Moabite king.  There is no mention of a vow.  There is no mention of a deity. There is no fulfillment of the promise after the victory.
Now I see you have just sent me another email with a question about lines 11-12 of the Mesha stele.  I understand human sacrifice as a specific ritual to a specific deity for a specific purpose.  While exterminating a town might be later described as done to or for a deity, it would not normally be considered human sacrifice.  However, the point is moot because lines 11-12 should be translated (here following Ahituv, Echoes from the Past, Carta, 2008, p. 394):  “…I took it and slew all the people [and] the city became the property of Chemosh and Moab.” 
This translation assumes that the form of the verb became (h-y-t) is a feminine and refers to the town/city, not to the people (in which case it would be masculine).  

An "extraordinary" achievement

First, I think Thom Stark deserves recognition for his achievement. A three hundred page review of a two hundred page book is an extraordinary thing. I always thought there was an unwritten rule that book reviews should not exceed the length of the books they are reviewing, but Stark has boldly challenged that rule.

How’s that an extraordinary achievement? Nowadays, books are written on computer. It wouldn’t be very hard for Stark to copy/paste a lot of stuff from his book on The Human Faces of God to his review of Copan, with minor editing. Does Rauser imagine Stark did this all from scratch? 

Stark alternatives’s-response-to-thom-stark/’s-interactions-with-thom-stark/

Blomberg on "doctrinal conformity"

I wish you all could meet and get to know Rick [Hess]. He spent years teaching in universities that did not have doctrinal statements of faith. He came to his convictions not because anyone coerced him into them for the sake of a job. He came to us because he believed what he did; he did not believe what he does because he came to us. He is internationally respected by Christians, Jews, Muslims, and atheists. He has been invited by the Chinese government on more than one occasion to teach about religion at major Chinese universities. His books are used as textbooks in schools with no confessional leanings. He is as likely to correct fellow evangelicals whose views are too narrow or just factually mistaken than he is to correct others. Of everyone on our faculty, there is no one I can think of who more often does agree with people of very different backgrounds than his.
Doctrinal statements work in different ways in different institutions. In some contexts, notably Southern Baptist ones, they can be used as clubs to keep people in line. In other places, they are used more in the sense of truth in advertising–like saying, “if you come here, here is what our faculty stand for. We just wanted you to know what you’d be getting.” We’re definitely in the latter category. Does “without mental reservation” mean that we can have no doubts? Not at all. One can believe in the trustworthiness of Scripture and still be very puzzled by many interpretive questions but not be flummoxed by them, because in our finite and fallen humanity we shouldn’t expect to be able to figure everything out. We’ve watched answers emerge after patient study time and time again so that we can proceed with confidence that they will do so in the future as well. We could probably even remove that phrase “without mental reservation” from the document and almost no one would even notice or care. But there would be a dozen (I pick the number almost randomly) loyal elderly constituents who would be befuddled by the omission when they noticed it, so why ruffle their feathers?
I can understand why, as outsiders to our milieu, others could read our literature and imagine a very different environment than what it actually is. I can understand why some who have had quite different experiences with different confessional schools might be very sure they knew what our environment was like. But I’ve just finished serving twenty-five years at Denver Seminary and never once felt stifled by our doctrinal statement, asked tons of questions, have my own set of doubts, am free to air them all, and find it an amazingly healthy work environment. I invite anyone who doubts me to come for a campus visit and I’ll personally introduce you to as many of my friends as time permits, so you can judge for yourself. I can’t make anybody believe me, I realize, but I offer my own firsthand experience nevertheless. All the worst-case scenario suspicions so confidently affirmed in this blog and its responses are just flat-out wrong.


Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim.

– George Santayana

Thom Stark does his level-best to emulate Santayana’s definition of a fanatic:

Copan next moves to salvage 2 Kgs 3:4-27, the story of King Mesha’s defeat of the allied forces of Israel, Judah, and Edom.

Mesha is up against a formidable foe and needs a divine boost if he’s going to come out with a victory. So he does what any heroic Israelite would do: he offers a human sacrifice to his deity in exchange for support in battle. But not just any sacrifice. Mesha already knew what Jephthah learned the hard way: deities wanted a real sacrifice. So Mesha sacrificed his firstborn son, heir to the throne, to his god Kemosh.  But we know how the story’s going to end, right? After all, Yahweh had already promised Israel victory over Moab, boasting that it was a mere “trifle,” easy pickings. And Yahweh is the only real God anyway, right? Kemosh isn’t even real. Mesha’s wasting his time, sacrificed his son for nothing. That’s what happens next, right?

And great wrath came upon Israel, so they withdrew from Mesha and returned to their own land.

Oops! Wait a minute. Israel gets a beatdown and retreats? Turns out it wasn’t “easy pickings” like Yahweh said it was going to be? Turns out Elisha the prophet prophesied falsely? Turns out Kemosh is a real god after all? Turns out the narrator of the Bible believes that human sacrifice really works? 

What makes Stark fanatical? Well, what's his aim?

His ostensible aim is to show that Yahweh is morally repugnant. And one way of showing that is to show that Yahweh condones human sacrifice. Indeed, that’s what the chapter (from which I quoted the above) is about.

Consistent with his ostensible aim, you’d expect Stark to cite 2 Kgs 3 to show that Yahweh condones human sacrifice. Yet Stark’s actual argument doesn’t show that.

After all, it doesn’t show the Israelites performing a human sacrifice to successfully elicit Yahweh’s support in their military campaign. Rather, on Stark’s own reading, it shows pagans performing a human sacrifice to successfully elicit the support of Kemosh.

Moreover, it doesn’t show the narrator condoning the action of Mesha. Indeed, the narrator elsewhere condemns human sacrifice (2 Kgs 16:3; 17:7; 21:6).

Mind you, Stark has a habit of explaining away counterevidence by relegating the counterevidence to hypothetical redactors. Classic special pleading.

Instead, Stark raises two tangential objections:

i) Elisha’s prophecy failed.

ii) Human sacrifice really works.

But even if (arguendo), we concede (i-ii), how is that relevant to Stark’s contention that Yahweh is morally repugnant? Suppose human sacrifice works? How does that prove Stark’s contention?

Let’s play along with his reading. It would mean that a pact with the devil sometimes works. That occult practices sometimes work because they do, indeed, get in touch with powerful, malevolent forces.

Even if that’s the case, how does that validate Stark’s indictment of Yahweh? What’s the connection?

Likewise, even if we grant, for the sake of argument, that Elisha was mistaken, how does that make Yahweh morally repugnant? After all, Stark doesn’t think Yahweh ever spoke to Elisha.

And assuming (arguendo) that Elisha was wrong, how does that condone human sacrifice, which is point of the chapter (in Stark’s rambling review)?

Mind you, Stark’s interpretation is dubious. On the face of it, the narrator regards v25 as a fulfillment of v19. So the narrator believes the terms of the oracle were fulfilled. 

Stark is like a rattlesnake that keeps snapping after it’s been decapitated. It doesn’t bite for a reason. That’s a purely reflexive action.

The Health Benefits of Remaining Loyal

There are genuine health benefits that go along with being loyal: loyal to a spouse, or loyal to an employer or to employees.
Studies looking at loyalty and trust suggest that these qualities may be fundamental to human relationships, some psychologists say. In life, there are few guarantees that another person isn't going to hurt us, they say. Therefore, staying loyal to someone, and preserving a mutual feeling of trust, allow people to be able to function with others without constantly suspecting their motives, they say.

Long-term commitment in relationships is tied to a greater sense of life satisfaction, happiness and a host of practical benefits, such as shared assets and children, research shows. People with strong social support or social engagement have been found to have lower risk of diabetes, hypertension and heart attacks. One study of 4,000 men over a 22-year period found that married men in their 50s, 60s and 70s lived significantly longer than those of the same age who were never married or who were divorced or widowed, according to research by the RAND Center for the Study of Aging.

Another study, of 130 newlywed couples, found that almost all of the couples' conflict discussions were about whether or not they could count on the other person. Couples who were best at developing trust and loyalty in the relationship were those who focused on maximizing the well-being of their partner, not themselves, says John Gottman, director of the Relationship Research Institute in Seattle and an emeritus psychology professor at the University of Washington.

Reason at the margins

For someone like Hess, any interpretation that runs counter to his doctrinal position is impossible.
It’s an interesting problem: how do you hold a discussion with someone who cannot ever accept that you might have a point? No matter how persuasive or logical your arguments, they can never allow themselves to agree.

Of course, that “problem” cuts both ways.

Critical historiography, as it developed in the nineteenth century, had its own principles...Troeltsch set out three principles...(2) the principle of analogy: historical knowledge is possible because all events are similar in principle. We must assume that the laws of nature in biblical times were the same as now. Troeltsch referred to this as “the almighty power of analogy,” (3) the principle of correlation: the phenomena of history are interrelated and interdependent and no event can be isolated from the sequence of historical cause and effect.

John J. Collins, Encounters with Biblical Theology (Augsburg Fortress 2005), 12.

On methodological naturalism, I don’t see how historical study can adopt any other approach, any more than criminology can. It will always be theoretically possible that a crime victim died simply because God wanted him dead, but the appropriate response of detectives is to leave the case open. In the same way, it will always be possible that a virgin conceived, but it will never be more likely than that the stories claiming this developed, like comparable stories about other ancient figures, as a way of highlighting the individual's significance. And since historical study deals with probabilities and evidence, to claim that a miracle is “historically likely” misunderstands the method in question.

For someone like John Collins, James McGrath, or Ernst Troeltsch, any interpretation that runs counter to his doctrinaire naturalism is impossible.

It’s an interesting problem: how do you hold a discussion with a methodological naturalist who cannot ever accept that you might have a point? No matter how persuasive or logical your arguments, they can never allow themselves to agree.

Updates on my wife’s condition

I’ve begun to post updates on my wife’s condition at a personal blog:

The bottom line is that she has been admitted to the hospital for one of two courses of therapy (the difference will involve the relative potency of the chemotherapy she must undergo). It is pretty serious stuff.

Please keep us in your prayers.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

"Who Was Muhammad?"

How Long were Biblical Manuscripts in Use?

HT: Andrew Fulford

John Loftus

Logic loses

Does the outsider test pass the outsider test?

When believers criticize the other faiths they reject, they use reason and science to do so. They assume these other religions have the burden of proof. They assume human not divine authors to their holy book(s). They assume a human not a divine origin to their faiths.
Believers do this when rejecting other faiths. So dispensing all of the red herrings about morality and a non-material universe, the OTF simply asks believers to do unto their own faith what they do unto other faiths. All it asks of them is to be consistent.
The OTF asks why believers operate on a double standard. If that's how they reject other faiths then they should apply that same standard to their own. Let reason and science rather than faith be their guide. Assume your own faith has the burden of proof. Assume human rather than divine authors to your holy book(s) and see what you get. If there is a divine author behind the texts it should be known even with that initial skeptical assumption. For it only takes a moment's thought to realize that if there is a God who wants people born into different religious cultures to believe, who are outsiders, then that religious faith SHOULD pass the OTF.

Sigh! So many mistakes, so little time.

i) Loftus affects evenhandedness, but notice the presupposition of the OTF. The OTF takes for granted that Christians are irrational and unscientific about Christianity. Therefore, the OTF is a necessary corrective.

But, of course, that presupposition is far from unbiased. To the contrary, that treats atheism as a given.

So the outsider test fails to pass the outsider test. It pretends to be equitable when, in fact, it is fundamentally inequitable.

ii) Then there’s the selective Cartesian skepticism. It’s not a hallmark of rationality to methodologically doubt everything you believe. Indeed, that’s not even possible. You can’t only find something doubtful if it conflicts with something else you take to be true.

iii) Loftus limits his Cartesian scepticism to Christianity (or religion in general), but once again, that reflects his bias. So the OTF is not evenhanded. The OTF is the polar opposite of what it feigns to be.

Once again, the outsider test fails to pass the outsider test. It pretends to be equitable when, in fact, it is fundamentally inequitable.

iv) What if a Christian espouses some version of scientific antirealism, viz. Bas van Fraassen?

v) Loftus is isolating science and reason as if these are value-free criteria which transcend any particular worldview. But science and reason don’t have the same status in atheism that they have in Christianity.

If naturalistic evolution is true, then human reason is the byproduct of a trial-and-error process. And science would just be an idea in our brains.

If Christianity is true, then our minds were designed by an omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent God. The same God designed the world, so the world is, to some degree, rationally accessible. Likewise, divine providence lays a foundation for induction.

vi) Morality is not a red herring. If atheism can’t justify objective moral norms, then we have no duty to be consistent. Absent epistemic duties, there is nothing wrong with double standards.

I’m not conceding that Christians are guilty of what Loftus alleges. Just pointing out that he can’t treat morality as a red herring if the OTF assumes a moral obligation to avoid double standards. 

vii) I’m a critic of Roman Catholicism. Yet I don’t demand that Catholics suspend their belief in Roman Catholicism. Rather, I often measure Catholicism by its own yardstick. And when I measure Catholicism by my own yardstick, I argue for my yardstick. Therefore, I don’t shift the burden of proof onto Catholicism.

So Loftus’ blanket characterizing of how Christians allegedly conduct themselves is a straw man.

vii) As a Calvinist, I don’t think it’s God’s intention to save everyone who’s born into a different religious culture. For that matter, I don’t think it’s God’s intention to save everyone who’s born into a Christian religious culture. Therefore, the OTF is predicated on a premise that doesn’t apply to a theological tradition like my own. 

The King is dead, long live the King!

I’ll use this occasion to tie up a few loose ends in my response to Dale Tuggy, and reframe the debate in more general terms.

I. Revelation and apophaticism

The reason I focus on exegetical theology is not due to a totemic adoration of Scripture, or reflexive appeal to Scripture for Scripture’s sake. Rather, it’s entirely practical.

Only God knows what God is like. As such, only God can make known to others what God is like. Hence, propositional revelation must lay the foundation for our doctrine of God. Philosophy can refine or extend our conception, but we can’t begin with philosophy, or use that as the benchmark.

Apophaticism is the default setting. God is not inherently unknowable. However, God is practically unknowable except for when, where, and to whom he makes himself known.

And Israel’s aniconic piety is emblematic of this default apophaticism. God is invisible. He must manifest himself to us–in word and deed.

II. Monotheism and apophaticism

The classic monotheistic passages enunciate the unicity of God, not the unity of God. They’re less concerned with what God is like than what God is unlike. The true God is unlike the false gods of paganism. 

As such, the monotheistic passages are misapplied when unitarians cite them to disprove the Trinity. They don’t say what God can or can’t be like in himself, but rather, accentuate how unlike God is to false gods. In that respect, the monotheistic passages are basically apophatic. They tell us what God is not. The true God is not like the pagan deities. But to find out what God is like, for a positive exposition, you must turn to different passages.

III. Theological method

Unitarianism takes the monotheistic passages as its starting point, using that as a benchmark to reinterpret whatever else the Bible has to say about God.

However, the Bible itself isn’t like a shopping mall map that says You are here, or Start here–radiating out from that indexical. There can be more than one place to start. Logically, you’d begin with whatever passages directly deal with the topic.

You could begin with the monotheistic passages, or you could begin with what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit, or you could begin with what the Bible says about the Angel of the Lord–and so forth. What if you made that your benchmark?

On the one hand, there’s a sense in which the NT can only be true if it fulfills the OT. The NT must be true to the OT.

On the other hand, there’s a complementary sense in the OT can only be true if it is fulfilled. To the extent that the OT is a forward-looking document, to the extent that the vision of the OT looks beyond the horizon-line of OT history, it can’t function as an independent benchmark.

In ascertaining what the Bible says about God, you can always begin with the OT. That’s legitimate. But there’s a certain logic in beginning with the NT. For the view is better from the summit than the valley.

IV. Narrative theology

Unitarians seize on passages that depict Jesus as subordinate to the Father. And they infer his metaphysical status from these depictions.

However, that’s one-sided. Take the major theological motif in which the relation between the Father and the Son is depicted in terms of royal succession. On the one hand, there’s a sense in which that depicts the son as initially the social inferior. He is elevated to the throne by his father.

On the other hand, if that’s a metaphysical statement, then it cuts both ways. Does this mean God is in his dotage? Over-the-hill? It’s the picture of a superannuated monarch who retires when the heir apparent comes of age. An image of senescence and mortality, where sons take their fathers’ place. Le Roi est mort, vive le Roi!

Perhaps the unitarian will assure is that this is merely anthropomorphic. Or perhaps he’ll say that’s a narrative convention, in which a father-figure plays the type-character of the elderly, senile king while his firstborn son plays the type-character of the youthful prince.

And there’s a lot of truth to that, but once again, that cuts both ways. If we’re going to make allowance for one of them, then we must make allowance for the other.

V. One God in three persons

In what sense is God one God? It’s important to clarify whether we’re asking an exegetical question or a philosophical question? From an exegetical standpoint, there is one God in whatever sense accommodates whatever else the Bible has to say about God.

We don’t begin with some preconceived notion of what it must mean for God to be one God, then pare down the witness of the Bible to fit inside our narrow preconception. If there’s a tension between God’s self-revelation and our preconception, then we must expand our preconception to make room for what God tells us about himself.