Saturday, July 21, 2012

Yes, we have a soul, but it’s made of lots of tiny robots

I don’t know how much more we’ll learn about the shooter’s motivations. Right now he’s lawyered up, so maybe he won’t volunteer any more incriminating information. But perhaps the police will find incriminating statements on his computer files.

One thing I’d note is that neuroscience has a very reductive view of human nature. In Daniel Dennett’s catchphrase, “Yes, we have a soul, but it’s made of lots of tiny robots.”

If Holmes imbued that philosophy, then it might explain why he places so little value on human life.

Morality is a human invention

Massimo Pigliucci

Finally, the problem of morality, which I'm sure we'll have more to say about--oh yeah, I agree with Dr. Craig when he cited Dr. Ruse, a philosopher of science. There is no such a thing as objective morality. We got that straightened out. Morality in human cultures has evolved and is still evolving, and what is moral for you might not be moral for the guy next door and certainly is not moral for the guy across the ocean, the Atlantic or the Pacific Ocean, and so on. And what makes you think that your personal morality is the one and everybody else is wrong? Now a better way of putting this is that it is not the same as to say that anything goes; it is not at all the same. What goes is anything that works; there are things that work. Morality has to work. For example, one of the very good reasons we don't go around killing each other is because otherwise the entire society as we know it would collapse and we'd become a bunch of simple isolated animals. There are animals like those.

Let's go back to this thing of objective morality. I think that there's a little bit of twisting and turning around here with terms. Again, it's not a matter of "Is there out there an objective morality?" We know that there isn't. There are some components of your own morality that are not shared by other human beings. So either you are pretentious enough to think that your morality for whatever reason is the only correct one, or everybody else in the world is wrong.

I think that that is pretentious. Of course there are some universals that all human beings share. Just today, for example, I told my students in a biology class that there are some things that human beings and society would never approve because of the way human societies are built. One, of course, is homicide; another one, of course, is rape. However, what we call homicide or rape or, in fact, even infanticide is very, very common among different types of animals. Lions, for example, commit infanticide on a regular basis because they want to make sure that the little offspring that is being raised by the lioness is their own and not someone else's. Now, are these kinds of acts to be condoned? I don't even know what that means because the lion doesn't understand what morality is, that's for sure.

Morality is an invention of human beings. It's a very good invention. I'm not suggesting we should abandon morality. I'm not suggesting, more to the point, that we should abandon ethics. Ethics is a perfectly valid way of thinking about things. We can all agree as a society that there are things that are wrong and things that are good. We can act on them, and we can enforce those things, but there is no higher power or no higher reason to tell us that this is right or this is wrong. Unfortunately, we are on our own; that's my humble opinion. I would really like for somebody to come down from the sky and tell me what is right and what is wrong. My life would be much, much easier. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen.

Curt Allen on Love Gives Life

At the risk of shameless self-promotion, here is a blurb from Curt Allen on Love Gives Life: A Study of 1 Corinthians 13 (get your copy here for $0.99) that didn't make it into my first post:
If you’re like me, you have either heard or taught love from 1 Corinthians 13. You may even think that you have heard most, if not all of the insights of 1 Corinthians 13. I did. That is, until I read Evan May’s take on the text. Evan brings us into Paul's thoughts in a clear and engaging way, which is somewhat hard to do. Not only that, he brings clarity to the definition of love which has been hijacked and is now defined as “undogmatic” and “untheological.” However, love is very dogmatic and very theological. In a world where social media has made us, “fall for the delusion that what makes us significant is mainly what causes us to stand out from everyone else, rather than what helps us to serve everyone else,” what we all need now is a little bit of love, properly understood that is. Read this book!
Curtis Allen, Rap artist Voice, author of Education or Imitation: Bible Interpretation for Dummies Like You and Me

Conflicted feminism


Some comments I left over at Rebekah Wilson’s blog, on this thread:

steve hays
July 20, 2012 at 11:30 am

Hi Bekah,

I grew up watching movies and TV shows with Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Mae West, Katherine Hepburn, Joan Blondell, Barbara Stanwyck, &c. These were strong-willed, self-made women who succeeded in a man’s world long before women’s lib. It’s odd to see feminists like Rachel Evans act like fainting violets.

steve hays
July 20, 2012 at 1:21 pm

Why are some defenders of Rachel Evans trying to put Bekah in her place? Why is it praiseworthy for Evans to be so outspoken, but blameworthy when another woman is outspoken in response to Evans? Why, in the name of feminism and egalitarianism, are some commenters faulting Bekah for not being more dainty, demur, and docile?

Reminds me of the double standard in the media, where it’s okay for liberal women (e.g. Rachel Maddow, Ellen DeGeneres, Janeane Garofalo, Roseanne Barr, Kathy Griffin, Joy Behar, Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O’Donnell) to speak out, but if a conservative woman (e.g. Sarah Palin) speaks out, she’s demonized.

steve hays
July 20, 2012 at 2:32 pm


“Rachel Held Evans is speaking out against abuse (and as much as complimentarians [sic] like to sweep it under the rug, tons of women have been abused in complimentarian [sic] marriages and have left that lifestyle for that very reason) and she never attacked anyone personally.”

No doubt that’s the back-patting role she’s cast herself in. The dauntless superheroine, speaking up on behalf of the voiceless and oppressed.

In the course of which she indulges in a lot of stereotyping. That’s the problem with identity politics. You only care about your special interest group.

For instance, there’s also a war against boys in this country, and that has casualties too. But you and Rachel turn a blind eye to that.

It’s the one-sidedness I object to.

steve hays
July 20, 2012 at 3:12 pm


“A war against boys? What pray tell, is that?”

Thanks for illustrating my point to perfection. Because you practice identity politics, you only know about the grievances of your own special interest group. You’re oblivious to anyone outside your bubble.

The war against boys is the title of a well-known book, written by Christina Hoff Sommers.

“…but I think in a patriarchal society in which men are the ruling class…”

That’s an example of how your feminist bigotry blinds you to the facts. Women can run for public office. And female voters outnumber male voters, so there’s nothing to prevent women from “ruling.”

Do you think men are the ruling class in WA state, where both the governor and two senators are women?

In CA, both senators are women. CA voters also had a chance to elect women to the governorship, but chose an old white guy instead. Why did a blue state like CA pass over a qualified female candidate? You can’t rationally chalk that up to California’s “patriarchal society.”

And it wasn’t so very long ago that the Speaker of the House was a woman, until her party took a drubbing in the last Congressional election cycle.

We currently have three women on the Supreme Court. Women can and do hold top jobs in academia.

But that doesn’t play into your feminist narrative.

steve hays
July 20, 2012 at 3:39 pm


“Steve Hays, I’m familiar with all those arguements and like I said, every group faces struggles based on their gender…”

Since there are only two genders, that’s nonsensical.

“…men do have privileges that women don’t.”

No, men in 21C America don’t have any unique “privileges.” The privileged class reflects social class, not gender.

“Women are still told that their ‘proper place’ is in the home…”

Is that what they’re told in blue states?

“Lets have this conversation again when there is a female president of the United States…”

Well, Hillary narrowly lost the nomination. Had she been nominated, she’d probably be president. It was a bad year for Republicans.

Why didn’t Democrats nominate her? Is that because the Democrat party is a patriarchal party?

“…or when 1 in 5 women is not a victim of rape and sexual assault.”

Let’s not forget false charges of rape (e.g. the Duke Lacrosse case). Likewise, as Dorothy Rabinowitz has documented, accusing the ex of incest is the weapon of choice in custody battles.

Likewise, women can also be sexually abusive. Take the Nazareth House scandal.

You keep stereotyping men. Bigots never recognize their own bigotry.

“…or when women stop being told that the only way they can be truly succeed in life is by ‘submitting’ to a man.”

Many men have to submit to women to succeed in our society. Many women hold positions of power over many men.

steve hays
July 20, 2012 at 3:51 pm

You’re obsessed with power. But power is not a priority in Christian piety. Christians don’t live for power.

steve hays
July 20, 2012 at 5:49 pm


“Okay, then why does the complimentarian movement spend so much time telling women that power and leadership is only for men? If it’s not about power, then why can’t men and women share it? Why do we have to say that leadership is for men only, and submission is for women only?”

i) For starters, you need to learn the correct term. The term is complementarian, not complimentarian. It’s based on “complete,” not “compliment.” Men are incomplete without women, and vice versa.

ii) It’s not about power. It’s about responsibility.

iii) Both men and women must be in submission to the word of God.

iv) Most pastors are remarkably powerless. The congregation holds all the high cards.

steve hays
July 20, 2012 at 6:32 pm


“I’m not a Christian, though I suppose I have a great amount of respect for all world religions and spiritualities. I believe there is more to life than what we see but organized religion is way to confining and dogmatic for me a lot of the time.”

If woman are just a byproduct of biological evolution, then women have no intrinsic value (or men, for that matter). On that view, women are just animals with a built-in expiration date. They exist to incubate and raise their replacements.

Likewise, on that view, women have no genuine freedom. They are slaves to their genetics, hormones, and social conditioning.

It’s only if Christianity is true that women have inherent worth. Indeed, eternal worth.

steve hays
July 20, 2012 at 6:42 pm


“I’m not incomplete without a man, Steve.”

Of course you are. Men and women were made for each other.

“…and I don’t want to support a system that continues to tell women they must play second fiddle to a man or else God will punish them.”

Historically, most men have been in subjection to women. And that’s because, historically, most cultures have been hierarchical. At the tippy top of the pyramid were monarchs and aristocrats.

As a result, male commoners were subject to queens, queen mothers, empresses, and noblewomen.

steve hays
July 20, 2012 at 6:52 pm


“Steve I pretty much disagree with everything just said. Everybody has inherent worth, whether they are Christian or not. How on earth can you suggest that people don’t have worth if they don’t belong to a particular religion?”

It’s all a matter of whether a particular religion corresponds to reality. And the alternative to reality is fantasy.

“Do you realize how many people that you just called worthless?”

No, it’s evolution that implicitly calls them worthless.

“And I don’t even know what that has to do with anything I said. I never said anything about biological evolution.”

Don’t be evasive. You said you’re not a Christian, and you said you reject organized religion. So you’re logical alternative is secularism. Which, in turn, dovetails with naturalistic evolution.

“I just said that I’m not into organized religion, but that I also do see value in the spiritual side of life and then you start spouting about how people don’t have worth unless they’re Christian. Like, what?”

You value religion for humanistic reasons, not religious reason. You don’t value it because you think it’s true. So that leaves you with secularism.

“This is why Christianity turns me off.”

Well, that’s a purely emotional reaction. And, ironically, that plays into a stereotype of women which I think you’d be at pains to avoid.

“I actually think Ghandi said it best: “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.’”

But, of course, that’s utterly disingenuous. Gandhi didn’t believe in the Christ of the Gospels.

steve hays
July 20, 2012 at 7:02 pm


“I believe in God, Steve. I just consider myself more of a universalist. I don’t think any one particular religion as all the answers, though I thinkt here are some good moral lessons embedded through out them.”

That makes you just as dogmatic as any organized religion.

“I think everyone on this planet has worth and that God, whoever or whatever Gods, loves them all.”

If you don’t know whether it’s God or Gods or whoever or whatever, then you’re in no position to know if it/he/she/they love everyone or anyone.

You call yourself a critical thinker, but you’re emoting rather than reasoning.

“Even you with your smug, self-righteous attitude.”

That’s not the response of a critical thinker. Rather, that’s just an emotional, defensive reaction.

steve hays
July 20, 2012 at 7:27 pm


“I’m just telling you what I believe…”

It doesn’t matter what you believe unless your beliefs are true.

“I don’t know if you’re doing it to work me up so you can feel good about sticking it to a woman who doesn’t fit into your mold of what you think a woman should be, but you know what? I’m done playing your little game.”

Actually, I’m talking to you the same way I talk to other men. You keep saying women are fully the equals of any man. Well then…why are you so resentful when I take you up on the offer? You can’t be a feminist on a pedestal.

“You’ve done nothing but push me further away from ever wanting to be a part of Christianity. I wouldn’t want to surround myself with people like you.”

So much for being a critical thinker.

steve hays
July 20, 2012 at 7:53 pm


“You’ve done nothing but push me further away from ever wanting to be a part of Christianity. I wouldn’t want to surround myself with people like you.”

That’s emotional blackmail. And that plays into another stereotype.

“What makes you so sure that your beliefs are true?”

I’ve given my reasons in different venues.

“Does the Bible not say they will know us by our love.’ Where’s the love, Steve?”

You’re alluding to 1 John, which, in context, has reference to Christian love for fellow Christians.

“Haven’t felt anything even remotely like love from you this whole damn time.”

You’re resorting to emotional manipulation. That’s a transparent ploy.

It’s also phony to recast the issue in terms of “love” when all I’ve done is to treat you as an intellectual equal. Do you or don’t you wish to be treated as an intellectual equal? If yes, then stop acting hurt when I take you up on the challenge. If you want to be a feminist you need to get off that pedestal.

“I honestly can’t imagine Jesus behaving this way towards a non-believer.”

Which Jesus would that be? The domesticated Jesus of a religious pluralist, or the real Jesus of the Gospels and Revelation?

steve hays
July 20, 2012 at 8:48 pm


“Hmm, the Jesus I remember reading about was kind and compassionate towards everyone and really only had harsh words for the religious leaders and hypocrites of his day.”

That’s a popular cliché. In actually, Jesus came down hard on anyone who refused to bow the knee to him. That includes you.

“I see a lot of those types of people around these parts.”

The hypocrisy I’m seeing is feminists who keep a bottle of artificial tears handy to daub their eyes when they can’t defend their position by honest means.

“You’re not treaing me like an equal. You are being condescending and rude. If this is how you treat your equals then damn, I’d hate to see how you treat people who you think are beneath you. I know what it’s like to be treated like an equal and you are failing big time, buddy.”

All you’ve been doing for the last few comments is threatening to hold your breath until you turn blue unless we cave. That doesn’t work on me.

steve hays
July 21, 2012 at 8:09 am


“But see, people listened and wanted to follow Jesus because he wasn’t rude, self-righteous and condescending towards them.”

That’s another purely emotional reaction. People ought to follow Jesus because he is who he says he is. It’s about reality, not feelings.

BTW, I imagine the religious leaders felt Jesus was being pretty “rude, self-righteous and condescending towards them” in Mt 23.

And it’s not as if you were polite in your response to Bekah.

Mother Church caught napping while her kids play with matches

When I was in Catholic high school, to provide but one example, I took a mandatory religion class in which Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach was one of the required texts. This was fairly typical of the catechetical infidelity that dominated the era in many parishes and schools in the United States.

Instead of introducing us to great Catholic literature, we were given this sort of tripe (from Bach’s book): “We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill. We can be free! We can learn to fly!”


Years ago, when I was doing research at the UDub, I stopped by the HUB. There I happened to notice a side room with a makeshift sign: “Student Humanist Association”–or something like that. The group was just breaking up. There were some students, along with an older guy. He looked to be 70ish. I’m guessing he was a retired science prof. who moderating the meetings.

Some weeks or months later, as I was going for a walk where I used to live, I saw the old guy out for a walk. Unlike meetings of the Student Humanist Association, where he’d be the ringmaster, here he was alone. Isolated. Without an audience. A sad, solitary, lonely-looking figure. I wonder why he was walking by himself. Was he divorced? Was he a widower?

In any case, time had passed him by. He was on the way out, while the students were on the way in. An aging warrior in the cause of atheism. He probably died several years ago, unless he’s wasting away in a nursing home somewhere.

Like Japanese MIAs who were left behind in the jungle. Rediscovered 50 years later. Who didn’t know the war was over. Didn’t know their side lost.

Right now, Richard Carrier is a 40-something. Still energetic and mentally vigorous. A big frog in the small pond of mythicists and internet atheists. At the center of his miniature universe.

But just add another 30 years to Carrier. Imagine him in 30-40 years, when he’s an old duffer in failing health. A shuffling has-been. Maybe a bit senile. Marginalized by time and age. At the fringes of a fringe movement. Forgotten before he was gone. A washed-up performer reciting old gags to empty seats in the abandoned music hall.

It’s all so ephemeral. Infidels are so disposable. So unimportant in the grand scheme of things. They come and go like Mayflies.

Compare this to an aging pastor or missionary who ministered faithfully in his prime. Maybe he’s been sidelined by geriatric illness. He did all he could do when he able-bodied. Now he’s fading from the scene. Others take his place.

Yet his ministry has an eternal impact. And look at what awaits him in the world to come.

Top Ten Problems with Darwinian Evolution

Miracles That Are Simultaneous Or Clustered In Some Other Way

Critics of the supernatural often suggest that an apparent miracle may have been a naturalistic anomaly instead. Or a type of healing that naturally occurs spontaneously on rare occasions may have just coincidentally occurred at the time when a prayer was offered for healing.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Gay Is Not the New Black

Johnny Guitar


From doubt to doubt

In a recent book by John Suk, Not Sure: A Pastor’s Journey from Faith to Doubt, we are treated to a memoir-ish sketch of one pastor’s formerly firm foundation in the faith into suppressed doubts into doubts in the open, and now from his blog I have learned that he has chosen to resign his ministerial credentials in the Christian Reformed Church.

Irony: many pastors know the condition of serving people when the pastor can seemingly jump out of the scene, examine it all, and wonder if it make sense. Suk’s problems, discussed piercingly in his chp on “Postmodern Faith,” was not only the cosmopolitan relativism but learning creation stories in the Ancient Near East, and the sense of imminency in the New Testament, the politics of the Nicene Creed…

i) The CRC is pretty liberal to begin with. So is Calvin College and Seminary. Hence, Suk’s odyssey is less a journey from faith to doubt that a journey from lesser doubt to greater doubt.

ii) McKnight is alluding to pp62-63 of Suk’s book. It’s as if Suk never read the Bible before he attended seminary.

iii) There are good treatments on comparative mythology, such as John Oswalt’s The Bible Among the Myths.

iv) But what about Gen 1-2 in relation to ANE creation stories? Was Suk surprised to discover the existence of ANE creation stories? If so, why would that surprise him? Don’t most cultures have creation stories?

v) Moreover, even if Gen 1-2 share some generic motifs in common with other ANE creation stories, how does that cast doubt on the factuality of Gen 1-2?

To begin with, this is a description of the natural world. The type of world which the audience inhabited. To the extent that the story has primitive features, that’s because it’s describing a primitive world. That’s what the world was really like back then.

It's also not surprising if Gen 1-2 shared some literary characteristics in common with the genre of ANE creation stories. 

For modern readers, who inhabit a fairly artificial world, with fast food and HVAC microclimates–from the home to the car to the business, &c., Gen 1-2 may seem a bit alien to us.

Yet you’d expect a realistic creation account, addressed to people living in the ANE, to talk about day and night, morning and evening, summer and winter, seedtime and harvest, rain, floodplains, river valleys, wild animals, game animals, livestock, sun, moon, stars, fish, fruit-trees, dirt, breath, and so on. Both fictitious and factual creation stories set in the ANE would include many of the same basic ingredients.

If most of us were still ranchers or farmers, we’d find nothing fictitious or mythical about these elements. Of course, the Biblical accounts have some supernatural elements as well, but that’s only mythological on the prior assumption that God, angels, and evil spirits don’t exist. That miracles don’t happen.

Keep in mind, too, that once the garden of Eden was planted and furnished, everything would seem quite natural. There’s no evidence that God or angels paid visits on a regular basis. God appears in judgment. The cherubim appear in judgment. 

People Raised From The Dead In Modern Times

Craig Keener writes:

"Some modern writers argue that raising the dead, unlike most miracle claims, would involve a true miracle, but that no one today even claims that such events occur….[Robert] Price, Son of Man, 20-21, rejects ancient resuscitation accounts because people are not raised from the dead today." (Miracles [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011], 536-537, n. 246 on 537)


Called to an Unfalsifiable Refuge

My conversation with Bryan Cross on the topic of Torrance's analysis of Clement of Rome (try saying that one three times fast!) seems to have come to an impasse. I've posted the following over there; I believe every one of my comments has been getting through over there.

* * *

Bryan, it seems as if we’ve come to an impasse here, as you have retreated (as Mike did above) into an unfalsifiable refuge. You can’t allow Clement to speak for himself. You can’t allow an analysis by Torrance to say what Clement was saying.

But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth. For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner (Acts 26:26).”

Paul did not hide behind an unfalsifiable refuge. Paul preached a Christ and a Christianity that the whole world could see.

It sounds very pretty and even obedient to say that you are “reading Scripture through the Fathers”, but assuming that Torrance is correct in his analysis (and if Torrance is wrong on any specific point, other than his presupposition, I am open to seeing just where his analysis is flawed), here we have one of the “Fathers”, evidently making “Tradition”, in a usage which very much seems to be somewhat different from the New Testament concept of grace.

[It’s funny, but when David King’s work came out, “Holy Scripture, the Ground and Pillar of our Faith” – that title citing Irenaeus, by the way], no Roman Catholic had any really substantive responses to him. The only thing that all the Catholics were saying around the echo chamber in those days was “it wasn’t peer reviewed” And that was a good enough reason to reject it. Now, here you are, telling me, in a non-peer-reviewed way, what Irenaeus meant (up above), and what Clement means here, and the “peer-reviewed” Torrance is dismissed because he doesn’t hold to the correct paradigm. It’s definitely ironic.]

For me, as a Roman Catholic who was attending Mass weekly, attending Opus Dei “evenings of recollection”, in fact, wanting to *do* all the right things, it was this type of thing that sorely turned me off. There are just too many places where the unverifiable had become dogma -- from the supposed “perpetual virginity” of Mary (contra such words as “adelphoi”) to the Immaculate Conception (sourced from a late second-century gnostic/fictional work) to the [in my opinion simply brazen] “Assumption of Mary” dogma (sourced from fifth century transitus literature) -- those were places where I began looking, but there were plenty more, and the weight of the momentum of my investigations on various topics has carried me through to where I am today.

I know that there is such a thing as “obedience of faith”, that you hold that “the Church that Christ founded” had “authority”, but there are just far, far too many things where one must “exercise obedience” and put aside good and sound analyses like the one done by Torrance. He is not one of those bitterly skeptical “critical scholars”. He was one of the truly helpful theologians.

At some point I just came to say “the Church” really isn’t wiser than I am. There are too many such incidents where one has to make excuses, to hide behind the “unfalsifiable refuge”, such as your quick rejection of “the assumption of solo scriptura” or “the Catholic Interpretive paradigm” -- you all just seem to me to be hiding behind things like that.

Whether you call it “solo” or “sola Scriptura”, God HAS spoken in the Scriptures. He HAS proposed what must be believed. In Micah 6, and similar verses, he even clarifies: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”, to cite just one example.

The type of “binding” that the Roman Catholic Church has done is just a travesty when you consider what God himself has said, in many words that are, yes, telegraphed to be perspicuous. “These things were not done in a corner”.

I’m not saying that no “ministerial teaching” is required. And I allow that the church in earliest times did exercise a “ministerial” teaching function.

But the whole authority structure that evolved out of that -- and yes, I mean “evolved” in the way that’s described by even Roman Catholic scholars such as Francis Sullivan and John Meier and others I’ve mentioned – Catholics in good standing whom you choose to reject – the first and second century church did not have the kind of “divine authority” that you all here attribute to it.

I very much appreciate what the Apostles went through. They shaped the world around them by preaching the Gospel to them – a Gospel of things that could be verified by independent investigation. And I appreciate the struggles and the persecutions that the church went through in the second and third centuries. But these were just men - guided by the Spirit, yes, but in no way infallible. They erred, too, in some very important things, and over the centuries, Rome just seemingly ossified those errors under the cover of “infallibility” and for the sake of protecting its own perceived authority.

And on the other side of this, no, I do not believe Roman Catholics are damned. As I continue to think through the implications of my position, I think it’s fair to say that Roman CatholicISM retains many Christian features, which are obscured, first of all, by the supposed (yes, supposed) authority of the present Roman Catholic hierarchy. But what I see is not an infallible body, protected [in some supposed “infallibility”] by Christ, but a very large body of men simply play-acting at authority, who are doing real harm, not only to the cause of Christianity by their posturing at authority, but harm to many thousands of sex-abuse victims.

Have you all seen just how swiftly the Penn State Board of Trustees has been acting to simply uncover the whole story about the Sandusky sex abuse, and Paterno’s efforts to hide it? They can’t rid themselves of Paterno fast enough. And yet, we are talking about this body of bishops and their motivations to hide the abusers, in a completely opposite response.

IMO, at best, Roman CatholicISM is one of many denominations -- a bad one that has gotten many things wrong. I do appreciate the spirituality of someone like my mother, who remains Roman Catholic. (My sister has since become a Baptist and my brother is one of those who just simply doesn’t go to church, even on Christmas and Easter.)

I’m glad to have had an opportunity to go through this long exercise here, just to see where you do and don’t draw the lines. And how you draw them.

If you all honestly want “the Reformation” to “meet Rome”, it seems to me that you need to do a lot better job of genuinely responding to objections, rather than just hiding behind your own presuppositions.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Cowboys and Indians

I'm an educated white American (I have five college degrees, including a Master's Degree in history), and I'm not the least bit embarrassed by Custer. Just the opposite; he is one of my heroes. Why does Carson insert "educated," anyway? Is he suggesting that going off to college helps one see things clearly, so that if one doesn't go off to college, one is doomed to ignorance? It's actually the opposite. Colleges are indoctrination factories. History professors (to take just one discipline) try to make their students "see" the evil in American history. Their aim is to turn their students against (1) the people (such as Custer) they once viewed as heroes, (2) American institutions (such as the rule of law, the electoral college, and the free market), and (3) American values (such as self-sufficiency, individual liberty, and personal responsibility).

Custer is easy to hate, since—gasp!—he killed Indians. But (1) Indians were hardly innocent (they were, in fact, quite bloodthirsty and ecologically destructive, as any serious student of history knows) and (2) Custer was neither more nor less ambitious (or arrogant, or violent) than any other prominent military officer or politician. Barack Obama kills innocent Muslim civilians with drones. Is he an embarrassment to educated white Americans? Don't hold your breath for Carson's answer.

Burgress-Jackson links to this book to corroborate his claim about American Indians:

The Blackfeet: Raiders on the Northwestern Plains

The Blackfeet were the strongest military power on the northwestern plains in the historic buffalo days. For half a century up to 1805, they were almost constantly at war with the Shoshonis and came very close to exterminating that tribe. They aggressively asserted themselves against the Flatheads and the Kutenais, shoving them westward across the Rockies. They got on fairly well with English and Canadian traders during the heyday of the fur trade on the Saskatchewan River, but on the upper Missouri they took an early dislike to Americans, whom they called "Big Knives." American fur traders, such as Manuel Lisa, Pierre Menard, and Andrew Henry, were literally chased out of Montana by the Blackfeet.

John C. Ewers, the first curator of the Museum of the Plains Indian on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, serves as Ethnologist Emeritus in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. He is the author of The Blackfeet: Raiders on the Northwestern Plains and Indian Life on the Upper Missouri and the editor of Edwin Thompson Denig's Five Indian Tribes of the Upper Missouri, all published by the University of Oklahoma Press.

I appreciate the fact that he’s giving the other side of the story. It’s important to set the record straight by correcting the myth of the noble savage.

However, I don’t see how that makes Custer a hero. And that doesn’t justify massacring anyone who gets in your way.

Ultimately, the land belongs to God. Early America was a sparsely populated continental nation, so there was plenty of room for everyone. It’s not clear which people-group made it here first, and even then, that leaves vast tracts of land unpopulated. For instance:

Sex as power

Jared Wilson recently quoted some statements by Doug Wilson which ignited a firestorm. I think the statements are tactless. The wording is ill-chosen. A formal retraction would be in order.

Predictably, the incendiary statements gave egalitarians an opening to attack complementarians. Again, this is a case of self-inflicted wounds. Doug and Jared Wilson brought in on themselves. An unforced error. They have only themselves to blame.

That said, while a negative reaction is warranted this has also led to an overreaction. To take a few examples:

And, best of all, we can support alternative visions—visions of equality, mutuality, and healing. We can support and build up women like Hillary McFarland of Quivering Daughters, who has devoted her talents and passions to helping women heal from emotional and spiritual abuse within authoritarian families.

i) Let’s not forget that sons as well as daughters can be harmed by “authoritarian” families. Consider Nate Phelps, the estranged son of Fred Phelps.

ii) Likewise, mothers as well as fathers can be emotionally abusive. Take William J. Murray’s classic exposé of family life under the boot of Madalyn Murray O’Hair. Cf. My Life Without God.

iii) Sure, there are horror stories about kids who grow up in “authoritarian” families. But there are horror stories about kids who grow up in irreligious families.

As I was venting about all of this last night, Dan reminded me of something important, something to which we need to return:

“Remember,” he said, “rape isn’t really about sex. Rape is about power. This all goes back to what you’ve been saying from the beginning, Rachel. This is about power, not sex. So focus your post on that.”

He’s right. For all of our debating about gender roles and church leadership, motherhood and singleness, sex and housework, women working in the home and women working outside of the home, this conversation isn’t actually about any of those things. It’s not about sex. It’s not about church leadership. It’s not about roles. It’s not about the Bible.

i) Is rape about power instead of sex? That’s a popular cliché, but is it true? Or is it just a politically correct false dichotomy?

ii) At the risk of stating the obvious, there’s a double standard here, but it’s not the double standard that critics are talking about. Sex as an expression of power is hardly confined to men. That’s very much a two-way street. Some beautiful women use their looks to wield power over men. That’s very conscious and calculated.

So it won’t do to automatically cast women in the role of victim and men as the oppressor. There are manipulative women who use their good looks (if they have good looks) to get their way. Sex as power is a very old formula which men and women both exploit to their advantage.

iii) Let’s not forget that women can be sexually abusive too. For instance:

Ironically, feminist Rachel Evans is stereotyping men.

Scalia interview

Love Gives Life: A Study of 1 Corinthians 13

Some Triablogue readers might be interested in this Kindle ebook for $0.99:

Love Gives Life: A Study of 1 Corinthians 13

We are to pursue love as we seek spiritual gifts because love gives life to gifts and love outlives gifts. That's Paul's main idea in 1 Corinthians 13, and this study will help you not only to see that in the text but to seek it in your life. 

The thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians is about having a love strategy. Paul relativizes what we tend to value most (usually our personal distinctives and niches), places love in central view, and summons us to use every power and resource we have for the good of those whom God has placed in our lives. This is the excellent way of love, and it is worthy of our pursuit. 

Here's what others are saying about this work: 

 In this short, helpful book, Evan shows us why love is so crucially important, and why we must pursue love above everything else. If we don’t have love, we don’t have anything. It doesn’t matter how gifted or “spiritual” we are. Evan repeatedly points us to the path of love and shows why love is one of the most important dynamics of the Christian life.  
Stephen Altrogge, Pastor, songwriter, and author of The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment On Your Side of the Fence and Create: Stop Making Excuses and Start Making Stuff 

Evan May’s Love Gives Life: A Study of 1 Corinthians 13 is a good example of what Paul says in 1 Cor. 14:26, “Let all things be done for building up.” It is brief, unpretentious, but says what must be said to bring the message of the “love chapter” to the heart of the reader. May has been personally moved by Paul’s words, and he wants to convey to us the same blessing he has found. He has a wonderful gift for simple, conversational writing, with the most natural and appropriate illustrations. He never assaults the reader, but nurtures him gently, so that we find ourselves growing in grace, almost by surprise. No academic trappings here, but May’s understanding of the passage is substantial. I hope that many take the opportunity to learn from this book. 
Dr. John Frame, Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary and author of the Theology of Lordship series 

 The apostle Paul told his dear friend Timothy, with regard to Christian discipleship, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” That is, love is the necessary consequence of the Gospel he preached. Today, that charge is unfortunately blanched by all manner of social and cultural influences, reduced to the idea that “love” is somehow synonymous with quiet and unconditional acceptance. My dear friend Evan May looks back to Paul as the apostle reminded his students in Corinth about the true meaning of love, and why it actually changes the world. The study notes Evan has produced ought to sting a little as we remember that somehow the love of God is both patient and unrelenting toward wrongdoing, both kind and truthful, both eternal and immediate. I recommend this study without qualification, and hope to see more from Evan in the future. 
Frank Turk, Speaker, writer, and blogger at

Byl on Joshua's long day

I’m going to briefly comment on this post:

The analysis is somewhat confused. Denying the geocentric interpretation of Joshua’s long day is hardly equivalent to denying the historicity of the canonical book–or the specific event in question.


One result of this is that Dr van Bekkum --primarily on archaeological grounds-- places the conquest at the late date of about 1220 BC (and the Exodus at about 1260 BC). This contradicts I Kings 6:1 (480 years between Exodus and the fourth year of Solomon's reign [about 967 BC]).

“480 years” is a Biblical figure. “967 BC” is not.

The Bible doesn’t give a date for the Exodus or the Conquest. Early dates for the Exodus and the Conquest are embedded in an ANE chronology that makes use of various secular dating methods and sources. The calendar that Byl is using to date biblical events is a synthetic construct which pieces together some biblical notices with extrabiblical sources, techniques, and inferences.

Falling apples

I’m going to comment on some statements by John Byl:

Let me note first that the above diagram is more a reflection of the ignorance of modern scholars than of ancient civilization. Ancient man was a much keener observer of the night sky than modern desk-bound scholars. They were well aware that the stellar sky rotates daily. Hence it cannot be a solid hemisphere held up by pillars fixed on the earth. Further, they were well aware of months and seasons. Hence the sun and moon were not fixed in a stellar shell. They were also well aware that the sun and moon were much more distant than flying birds.

Here Dr. Byl is taking issue with the cosmography which liberals like Peter Enns and Paul Seely impute to Scripture. However, let’s compare this criticism with something else Byl has written:

Closely related to these geometrical models are some unusual conceptions of the universe. For example, Fritz Braun (1973) asserts, based on his interpretation of biblical texts, that the Earth should be inverted. The Earth's surface is the inside of a hollow sphere enclosing the Sun, Moon, and stars. Heaven is at the center of the inverted universe, thus making this model literally theocentric (see Figure 4).

However, this model is not that easily dispensed with. It can be devised so that disproof is impossible.      The above tests take for granted that the normal laws of physics hold. In particular, light is expected to travel in roughly straight lines and rockets, in the absence of forces, are expected to move at a constant velocity. But what if this is no longer the case?
The hollow Earth model can be derived from the more usual picture of the universe via a simple mathematical transformation called a "geometric inversion". The procedure is very simple. For each point in the universe, measure its distance r from the center of the Earth and move the point
along the center-to-point line to a new distance 1/r. The result of this operation is that all objects originally outside the Earth (e.g., mountains, houses, clouds and stars) are now inside, and vice versa (see Figure 5). Inversion is a conformal transformation, which means that local shapes are preserved.

The laws of physics are also inverted, with consequences that may seem strange for those accustomed to thinking in terms of the more conventional universe. For example, light now travels in circular arcs. Also, a rocket launched from the Earth to outer - or, rather, now "inner" - space will shrink and slow down as it approaches the central heaven, never quite reaching it (see Figure 5).
Consequently, Braun's inverted universe is observationally indistinguishable from more conventional models of the universe. Yet, although the two models are empirically identical, they involve quite different ways of viewing reality. Braun's model reflects his theological beliefs. Again, the mathematical model functions here to connect a particular worldview with observations, thus making that worldview more viable.

Note that, if we were to take a point on the Earths’ surface as the center of inversion then we would get a flat Earth (i.e., this is the stereographic projection of geography). As you travel to the edge you become infinitely large at the edge, so that you re-appear at the right (see Figure 6). Again, this model is observationally undisprovable.

So, in principle, the apparent sphericity of the earth could be an optical illusion. A flat earth and a spherical earth are empirically equivalent.

But if it’s possible to save appearances in reference to a flat earth, then to say the ancients were “well aware that the sun and moon were much more distant than flying birds” could also be an optical illusion.

Another interesting line of thought is pursued by Peter Leithart (A House for My Name 2000), who sees many similarities between Genesis 1 and the building of the temple. God's universe is described as His three-storied house. Also G.K. Beale (The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism 2008) contends that Genesis is expressing its theological conceptions of the universe, understood to be a huge temple for God (p.163). Hence the architectural depictions of the temple-house are to be understood figuratively. He argues that Israel's temple is a small model of the cosmos, which is a huge temple. (for more on this see the post Cosmology and Heaven). Beale specifically (pp.196-201) rebuts Seely's notion of a solid raqia.

i) Yet the hermeneutical approach taken by Beale isn’t confined to a flat-earth/triple-decker universe. Isn’t that equally applicable to geocentrism? Both could be architectural metaphors which foreshadow the temple and the tabernacle. Yet Byl defends geocentrism. Can he deploy Beale against Enns without having the same approach undercut his commitment to geocentrism?

ii) Apropos (i), assuming (ex hypothesis) that there’s prima facie Biblical evidence for geocentrism, isn’t there, by the same token, prima facie Biblical evidence for a flat earth or triple-decker universe? Does Byl subscribe to a flat earth? If not, where does he draw the line, hermeneutically speaking?

This denies the perspicuity of Scripture and exaggerates the difficulty of reading Gen.1-11. Contrast this with Sproul's own earlier (2006) words ("What is RC Sproul's Position on Creation"):

For most of my teaching career, I considered the framework hypothesis to be a possibility. But I have now changed my mind. I now hold to a literal six-day creation, the fourth alternative and the traditional one. Genesis says that God created the universe and everything in it in six twenty-four-hour periods. According to the Reformation hermeneutic, the first option is to follow the plain sense of the text. One must do a great deal of hermeneutical gymnastics to escape the plain meaning of Genesis 1-2. The confession makes it a point of faith that God created the world in the space of six days.

Is Dr Sproul now repudiating his Reformation hermeneutic of following "the plain meaning of the text", thereby reverting to his earlier hermeneutical gymnastics?

i) That’s a valid critique of Sproul on his own grounds. Byl has caught him in an inconsistency. So that’s fair as far as it goes.

ii) However, that doesn’t mean the rest of us should define perspicuity in terms of the “plain sense” of the text. Is “the plain sense of the text” equivalent to “Reformed hermeneutics”? Suppose you were a 14C Western European. To you, the “plain sense” of Jn 3:5 is baptismal regeneration. To you, the “plain sense” of Jn 6 is transubstantiation.

That’s because you’d be conditioned by your Catholicism. What’s “plain” to one reader isn’t plain to another. “Plain meaning” is really a disguised form of reader-response theory. What’s plain to the reader. By definition, that’s relative. Person-variable.

That’s in direct contrast to the grammatico-historical method, which is concern with ascertaining original intent. What the text would mean to the author. What it ought to mean to the original audience.

iii) What about perspicuity? Does that mean the Bible is equally clear to everyone? Surely that’s overstated. There are parts of Scripture that would be more intelligible to the original audience. In that respect, Scripture serves a specific purpose for the original audience, and a general purpose for subsequent generations. There are lots of oblique topical references which at this distance we’re not likely to catch. But that’s fine, because God doesn’t intend all Christians to need all that. Parts of the Bible can serve different purposes for different people at different times and places.

We may find certain verses in 1 Corinthians (to take one example) a bit obscure. But they weren’t obscure to the Corinthian Christians. So they served their immediate purpose in reference to the situation of the Corinthian Christians. But in the providence of God, 1 Corinthians retains a long-range purpose in the life of the church. It doesn’t all have to be equally clear to everyone to accomplish the multifaceted purpose God assigned to it.

This can even be true at a purely individual level. In the life of a Christian, as he passes through the lifecycle, some parts of the Bible are more significant to him at some points in life than at others–where his situation parallels something in Scripture.

First, Dr Sproul--like many others-- misunderstands geocentricity. The issue was not whether the Sun was the center of the solar system, as Sproul puts it. Rather, the issue was whether the earth--or the Sun--was in a state of absolute rest. Since science can deal only with relative motion, this issue must be settled via extra-scientific considerations. There can therefore be no valid scientific objections if the Bible takes the earth to be fixed in an absolute sense. Science has not disproven Biblical geocentricity (See my post A Moving Earth?).

Historically, the issue was not whether the sun or earth was the center of the solar system, as many people mistakenly believe. Rather, the question was whether the sun or earth was fixed at the center of the universe. Most geocentrists held also that the fixed earth was non-rotating: the sun and stars rotated about the earth every 24 hours.

At one time, when Newtonian mechanics still reigned, it was widely believed that the earth had been proven to be moving in an absolute sense. Since 1915, with the advent of Einstein's general relativity, scientists know better.

Indeed, how could science possibly show that the earth really moves? Any astronomer will tell you that the earth’s absolute motion cannot be proven. To determine absolute motion we need an absolute reference point. What point should we choose? the sun? distant galaxies? But how do we know that, say, the sun, is at absolute rest? After all, even with a telescope, we can observe only relative motion. We get exactly the same observations whether we assume the sun moves around the earth or vice versa. To determine absolute motion we must go beyond the observations.

Nor do mechanical considerations help. Einstein’s general relativity, too, uses only relative motion. Whether we consider the earth to be fixed or moving, we end up with exactly the same physical consequences. According to Einstein, writing in 1938, the two sentences “the sun is at rest and the earth moves” or “the earth is at rest and the sun moves” simply reflect two different choices for coordinate systems, both equally valid. If Einstein had no scientific objections to a fixed earth, why should we?

Much the same points have recently been made by George Murphy ("Does the Earth Move?", Perspectives in Science and Christian Faith 63 (June, 2011):109-115. Murphy, however, argues that, although the center of the earth could be fixed, the earth itself must be rotating, else objects further than Neptune would be moving at speeds greater than the speed of light, which relativity prohibits. On this point Murphy is mistaken. The relativistic constraint that objects can't move faster than light refers only to motion with respect to the local background space--or aether. The aether itself may move at any speed. Thus, if the entire universe--including the aether-- revolved about the earth, this would not violate relativity.

In this regard, it has been shown that, in general relativity, the universe rotating about a fixed earth produces Coriolis and centrifugal forces, the bulge at the earth's equator, and all other phenomena generally adduced to prove that the earth is rotating (see D. Lynden-Bell, J. Katz and J. Bilak, “Mach’s Principle from the Relativistic Constraint Equations”, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 272 (1995), pp. 150-60). The two reference frames--fixed earth or rotating earth--are thus scientifically equivalent.

In short, Dr. Clark's reasoning reveals an out-dated knowledge of science. Ultimately, one's choice of an absolute standard of rest must be based on extra-scientific considerations, based on philosophical or theological factors. A geocentric biblical frame of reference is thus beyond any scientific disproof.

Two issues:

i) I believe Dr. Byl is an antirealist in his philosophy of science. In particular, an instrumentalist:

In that case, he doesn’t think general relativity is true. So when he invokes general relativity to defend geocentrism, that’s presumably for the sake of argument.

But unless all inertial reference frames are actually equivalent, how does general relativity lend support for geocentrism? If general relativity is just a useful fiction, then where does that leave the reality of the situation?

ii) Moreover, Byl is arguing for an absolute frame of reference–the earth. Wouldn’t that be more Newtonian than Einsteinian?

Susan Blackmore's OBE

This is ironic. Susan Blackmore is an oft-cited critic of the paranormal, yet she herself had an OBE as a student at Oxford, when she was dabbling in the occult. She then spent the rest of her career trying to explain it away. Why invest so much effort in disproving her own experience?

EVERYONE THINKS they are open-minded. Scientists in particular like to think they have open minds, but we know from psychology that this is just one of those attributes that people like to apply to themselves. We shouldn’t perhaps have to worry about it at all, except that parapsychology forces one to ask, "Do I believe in this, do I disbelieve in this, or do I have an open mind?"

I became hooked on the subject when I first went up to Oxford to read physiology and psychology. I began running the Oxford University Society for Psychical Research (OUSPR), finding witches, druids, psychics, clairvoyants, and even a few real live psychical researchers to come to talk to us. We had Ouija board sessions, went exploring in graveyards, and did some experiments on ESP and psychokinesis (PK).

Within a few weeks I had not only learned a lot about the occult and the paranormal, but I had an experience that was to have a lasting effect on me—an out-of-body experience (OBE). It happened while I was wide awake, sitting talking to friends. It lasted about three hours and included everything from a typical "astral projection," complete with silver cord and duplicate body, to free-floating flying, and finally to a mystical experience.

It was clear to me that the doctrine of astral projection, with its astral bodies floating about on astral planes, was intellectually unsatisfactory. But to dismiss the experience as "just imagination" would be impossible without being dishonest about how it had felt at the time. It had felt quite real. Everything looked clear and vivid, and I was able to think and speak quite clearly.

She also admitted that she hasn't bothered to keep up with current developments in the field:

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Darwinian Goes Off-Message

John Calvin and the 7 dwarves

"Transgender twins"

By overwhelming majorities in both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, the Episcopal Church scored an historic first, brokering transsexualism into church law. With the passage of the "transgender twins," resolutions D019 and D002, it's now against church law to exclude people who have had sex-changes from the life of the church at any level. Watch out, world, for the first ever "trans" bishop.

In similar vein, both Houses gave a resounding thumbs-up to gay-marriage, breaking with Scripture and twenty centuries of Christian tradition, to authorize rites for same-sex blessing. I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing is due to hit the pews on the first Sunday of Advent, December 2, 2012. Realizing that a small minority of bishops and dioceses are against this unprecedented step, the gay-marriage resolution, A049, contains a conscience clause. No one has to use this innovative liturgical resource, at least not yet.

Putting aside the moral and theological issues, why do homosexuals wish to be patronized in this fashion? It’s like patting a two-year-old on the head, which is fine when you’re two years old.. But why do adult homosexuals have this craving for an Episcopal priest or priestess or bishop to “bless” them? It's soooo paternalistic.

This merely reinforces the impression that many homosexuals (transsexuals, &c.) suffer from unresolved daddy issues. The priest is the surrogate father figure, and they need dad to tell them it’s okay. They need dad to tell them how proud he is.  

That make sense during our formative years, but shouldn’t grown-ups outgrow that? If homosexuals are normal, why don’t they act normal? Why the perpetual father-fixation? Why do they keep advertising their emotional insecurities? Shouldn't they cut the apron strings and stand on their own two feet?

Wheaton College opposes health insurance mandate

Out with the old

The greying of the priesthood

Now, he is a monsignor, and he has been a priest for 67 years. He still runs a parish, St. Luke’s in Mott Haven, and he is 92, making him the oldest working priest in New York City.

“Maybe in the country,” Father Ryan said recently in his broad, courtly accent that is part Bronx, part Fred Astaire. “Maybe anywhere! I’ve been here forever.”

The priesthood is graying: the average age of Roman Catholic priests in the United States rose to 63 in 2009 from 35 in 1970, according to a recent study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. And with fewer young men entering seminaries, more priests are working past 75, the formal retirement age under canon law. In the New York Archdiocese, for example, where only one man was ordained into the priesthood this year, about 25 men over age 75 are still working as priests, and several are older than 85.

He bemoans the state of the Catholic Church — fewer marriages, fewer baptisms. He sees less interest among people in searching for answers to life’s deeper questions. As for the clerical sexual abuse scandal, he simply cannot understand how priests can act that way. “It’s so humiliating,” he said.